Man, what a year 2022 has been. So much happened in my life in such a short timeframe that it doesn’t feel like it’s been just one year, but several. This year, I not only got engaged and married within the span of just seven months — I also put many miles on my soul from Colorado all the way to Cancun, got to party with my best friends during my Bachelor party in Oklahoma City, started my own Twitch channel, and moved into a new apartment with my wife — twice. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again —2022 was probably the busiest year of my life, but it was simultaneously also the most joyous. My wife and I will no doubt look back on this year fondly as we reflect on the precious memories we made together, all while taking a much-deserved break.
But incredibly, my major life milestones weren’t the only positive things to come out of 2022. To my surprise, the movie theaters also yielded the best lineup of films we’ve seen in quite some time. Normally when we have a really great year in movies, it’s pretty common for the next year or two to be slightly subpar or underwhelming by comparison. After all, when 2019 graced us with the likes of 1917, Parasite, Jojo Rabbit, Knives Out, and Avengers: Endgame all in the same year, are we really surprised that 2020 bombed out as royally as it did? Granted, the pandemic didn’t make things any better, but when Nomadland and Mank are considered your best films of the year, you have a serious problem.
With 2021 being such a great comeback for the movies, I mistakenly thought that 2022 would drop the ball a little bit and yield a weaker slate of cinematic releases. Not so. If anything, it upped the ante as it released several great movies that we can return to admire time and time again. Last year was famously the first time I released my Top 21 Movies of 2021, and this year, I could have easily done a Top 22 list if I so chose. I didn’t because, frankly, that Top 21 list wiped me out more than the Snyder Cut did, and I don’t think readers would be interested enough to stick around for an exasperating Top 22 list anyway.
In either case, these are my 10 favorite films of 2022, and there are a few things to go over before we hop into everything. As per usual, I have not seen every film made this year despite my best efforts to do so. You will not find Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees Of Inisherin on this list because it received such a limited release that I completely missed its run in theaters, and you will also not find Damien Chazelle’s Babylon on this list either since it was released so late into the year. Most upsetting is the fact that The Whale will not be considered for this list because for some reason, Darren Aronofsky decided that a tragedy about an obese gay man trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter was the perfect movie for the family to watch this holiday season. How many times do I need to reiterate this to filmmakers out there — STOP. RELEASING. MOVIES. IN DECEMBER. Unless it’s another Star Wars, Marvel, or Avatar movie, we aren’t watching it. Most of us are too busy Christmas shopping, or in my case, getting married.
Second, since this list is limited just to 10 movies, there are way more movies that aren’t going to be on this list than those that are. Among my favorites this year that didn’t make the cut include The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent, Nope, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Prey, All Quiet On The Western Front, Glass Onion, and The Fabelmans. All of these are phenomenal movies that deserve to be on any Top 10 list. It just so happened that I saw 10 other movies that I liked more than these movies. Most devastatingly, I even had to bump Sonic The Hedgehog 2 off of my list. Believe me, that was the biggest gut punch of all of my favorites.
Speaking of my favorites, let’s start this list off with this year’s special prize. Back in pre-COVID times, I recognized one limited-release film that did not get as much attention as many wide releases did, yet achieved more emotionally despite its smaller viewership. “Smaller” is definitely the keyword here, especially since this year’s special prize winner is…
Special Prize: Marcel The Shell With Shoes On
What’s there to say about this precious little gem that squeaked past everyone’s attention this year, much like its titular star? Based on a series of animated shorts co-created by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer Camp in his feature-length debut, Marcel The Shell With Shoes On follows a sentient shell living life in an abandoned Airbnb home with his Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini). Funny, poignant, quirky, and heartfelt, this lighthearted little film beautifully illustrates how we are all a small part of a constantly expanding and greater world. But just like Marcel, our size isn’t what matters — it’s the friends we meet, the experiences we create, the adventures we have, and the memories we share that make life worth living. Marcel The Shell With Shoes On proves that just because you aren’t that big doesn’t mean that you leave a small impact. Marcel is just the miniature-sized hero everyone needed this year, and you’ll quickly learn to fall in love with him (and his shoes) over and over again.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s hop into the 10 best movies I’ve seen in 2022, starting with…
10. The Batman
In an age where Batman has been done and redone over and over again (this is the fifth big-screen iteration we’ve seen in 10 years), Matt Reeves’ The Batman manages to feel wholly unique, original, and captivating — as dark and ethereal as David Fincher and as daring and dramatic as Alfred Hitchcock. While his Bruce Wayne isn’t as refined as Christian Bale or Ben Affleck, Robert Pattinson’s Batman is the greatest we’ve ever gotten on screen, beautifully illustrating a tortured man haunted by his grief and trauma. Paul Dano plays an excellent foil to Pattinson’s Batman as the Riddler, a Zodiac-esque serial killer who sees himself as the only cure to the corruption poisoning Gotham City. Never before has Batman felt so grounded in a film. Yes, that even includes Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Three and a half stars.
9. The Woman King
A glorious, riveting, and heart-pounding historical epic that makes you feel the power behind the Dahomey Amazons. Gina Prince-Bythewood returns to direct her first feature-length production in eight years since 2014’s Beyond The Lights, and if The Woman King succeeded in anything, it showed us why she should be hired to direct more blockbusters. Great scripting, amazing cinematography, a moving score by Terence Blanchard, brilliant fight choreography, and some of the best performances of the year are all featured in this sprawling narrative about the evils of slavery and colonialism. Viola Davis, as always, is a dramatic powerhouse in every scene she’s in. The Woman King may not be the most historically accurate blockbuster out there, but it is definitively the most compelling and empowering. Three and a half stars.
A snazzy and stylish tribute to the King of Rock and Roll and the best biopic of the year. Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby) brings his traditional flair and pizzazz to Elvis’ iconic story, with the elaborate sets, lightning-quick cutaways, and eye-popping costumes matching the high energy of the King’s larger-than-life shows. But the real scene-stealer here is Austin Butler. He delivers a passionate, mesmerizing, and unquestionably authentic performance as Elvis Presley that you never doubt for a second. Much like Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln or David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr., Butler channels Elvis perfectly to the point where you can’t even tell whose voice you’re hearing when he sings. An engrossing and absorbing historical drama that you can’t help falling in love with over and over again. Three and a half stars.
7. Turning Red
A vibrant, colorful, and eye-popping animated gem that makes you want to get up and let out your inner red panda in a loud and triumphant roar. Directed by Academy Award-winning animator Domee Shi, this fantasy family film tells the story of a 13-year-old girl named Mei, whose family is cursed with turning into red pandas when they feel intense emotions. Turning Red exemplifies the best of Pixar storytelling: equally emotional and heartfelt as it is funny and entertaining. The animation adopts an anime art style that works perfectly for the story it’s trying to tell, and the characters are just as infectious and lovable. Turning Red isn’t just a fun time at the movies: it’s a moving and monumental coming-of-age story that inspires growth, challenges your perspective, and transforms you into something bigger and better: just like its furry red heroine. Four stars.
A compelling and captivating underdog story neatly wrapped into a heartfelt tribute to the sport of basketball. Adam Sandler is following up from his flawless Uncut Gems role to deliver yet another phenomenal dramatic performance as Stanley Sugerman, a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers who dreams of becoming a coach. Real-life Toronto Raptors player Juancho Hernangomez portrays up-and-comer Bo Cruz, and his chemistry with Sandler is so great that his acting ability is never brought into question. This is Rocky for basketball if the perspective was shifted to Mickey, and you’re invested every bit as you watch these two nobodies hustle for something bigger than themselves. A genuinely great basketball drama where Sandler’s deep love of the sport can be felt in every dribble, every pass, and every slam dunk. Four stars.
5. Top Gun: Maverick
A wildly exciting, action-packed and fast-paced dogfighting drama that puts you up in the air with the rest of its adrenaline-addicted pilots and asks you to buckle up for the ride. Taking place 36 years (yowza!) after the original movie came out, Tom Cruise suits up once again as the hot-headed fighter pilot Maverick in a new aerial adventure with Goose’s son, Rooster (Miles Teller). Top Gun: Maverick proudly displays the moviemaking magic that is sorely missing in today’s blockbusters. The aerial dogfights are out of this world and make you feel the G-forces with every maneuver. The stakes are established very well and the tension gradually builds up into the climax with heart-racing execution. And Tom Cruise and Miles Teller are at their very best, with their chemistry embodying the heart and soul of this movie. A masterclass in blockbuster moviemaking that achieved the impossible. Four stars.
4. The Northman
A raw, visceral, and violent revenge tale that explores just how deep mankind’s depravities truly go. Based on the Scandinavian legend, The Northman tells the story of Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard), a Viking warrior who swears to kill his uncle after he decapitates his father and kidnaps his mother. This blood-soaked fable has some of the most brutal and unflinching action scenes out of the whole year, with many of the battle scenes matching the scope and scale of historical epics like Braveheart or Gladiator. Director Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse) builds a brilliantly dark and ethereal world whose lore feels much bigger than what we see here. And the performances are simply breathtaking, with Skarsgard and Anya Taylor-Joy delivering some of the film’s most tragic and heart-piercing moments. A bold, monumental, and powerful Nordic legend that feels destined to be echoed throughout time. Four stars.
Far from the gaudy and horrific remake that Disney+ released earlier this year, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio takes a more mature, true-to-life approach on the beloved fairy tale to bring us a mesmerizing stop-motion masterpiece that is as ingenious and creative as it is heartfelt and emotional. After his son Carlo dies as a casualty of war, woodcarver Gepetto (David Bradley) creates a wooden puppet in an effort to revive him. But when the spirit of the woods (Tilda Swinton) resonates with Gepetto’s grief, she brings the puppet to life and names him Pinocchio (Gregory Mann). This is a remake that breathes new life into the Pinocchio mythos, pulling from history and real life in a way that feels original while staying true to the source material. The stop-motion animation is also the most beautiful and eye-catching out of the whole year, with Del Toro reportedly shooting over 160,000 frames to make the animation feel seamless and alive. A genuinely beautiful and captivating retelling of this classic story that will make you see Pinocchio in a whole new light. Four stars.
2. Avatar: The Way Of Water
A gorgeous, stunning, and visually spectacular sequel that expands the Avatar lore in new ways that makes it feel much bigger and grander than ever before. After the Na’vi successfully pushed back the human invasion 10 years ago, the Sky People have returned to retake Pandora — and this time, they have their sights on the Toruk Makto, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington). This is a sequel that builds on the legacy of Avatar while not feeling repetitive or redundant from the first movie. The new cast of characters are as lovable as the old ones are, with Sigourney Weaver’s Kiri feeling the most majestic and awe-inspiring out of all of them. The movie’s themes of environmentalism and industrialism are as relevant as ever, with a few heart-wrenching scenes adding to the emotional weight of this story. And the visual design is simply breathtaking, with the underwater sequences revealing a whole new world living and breathing beneath the surface of Pandora. Before going in to see this movie, I was hesitant to say Avatar even needed a sequel. Now, I can’t wait for the third, fourth, and even fifth installment of this constantly expanding franchise. Four stars.
And finally, my favorite film of 2022. Talk about a sleeper hit. When I originally saw the trailer for this movie, I thought it was one of the weirdest trailers I ever saw and immediately wrote it off. When I finally gave it a chance and watched it, it was one of the greatest experiences I ever had in the movie theater and made me feel a wealth of emotions all at once. This movie is spellbinding. This movie is transcendental. This movie is…
1. Everything Everywhere All At Once
Never before have I seen a movie so chaotic, so random, so haywire, bonkers, bizarre, and utterly insane, and yet work as brilliantly as it does. Michelle Yeoh stars as Evelyn, a laundromat owner who is dissatisfied with life and her silly, hopelessly optimistic husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and her rebellious daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). But when a menacing force called the Jobu Tupaki seeks to destroy the multiverse as we know it, Evelyn needs to connect with alternate versions of herself to build the skills she needs to defeat Jobu Tupaki and save the multiverse. This is a film that sounds complex and confusing, but at its heart, tells a simple story about family, fulfillment, and finding happiness no matter where you are in the universe. Michelle Yeoh does a brilliant job as its central character, but really, the whole cast is superb in playing all of their alternate selves, especially Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu, who at times feel like different characters entirely. The whole film is a brilliant fusion of genres ranging from action and martial arts to horror and sci-fi. Yet what amazes me is not the mixture of tones, but rather how flawlessly and seamlessly it all blends together in a cinematic collage of genres. A brilliant deconstruction of nihilism that teaches us that the most important thing you can do in the multiverse is love, be compassionate, and be kind. Four stars.
Thank you all for joining me for yet another Top 10 list and yet another great year at the movies. Whatever 2023 brings, I look forward to experiencing it with all of you and hope you have just as amazing a year as I did. I love you all, and I’ll see you at the movies.
– David Dunn