Spencer Henderson’s Top 10 Best Movies of 2022

A reflection of the year, and the media that came with it.

by Spencer Henderson
Bones and All

2022 was a fantastic year for film. I have always held the belief that there is no such thing as a bad year for the medium. There will always be multiple great movies released. This holds up even in a strange and game-changing year like 2020, when the future of cinema in a COVID-19-riddled hellscape felt like a true question mark. Personally, 2022 felt like the year that the act of going to the movies came back. There were multiple massive tentpole blockbusters; there were many financial hits that make the future of movie theaters feel more likely and viable; and there were so many utterly fantastic films that making this “Best of” list was by far the most difficult one I have had to do in my time here at MovieBabble. I find this all deeply reassuring as a person who essentially considers the act of going to the movie theater as my personal version of church.

This isn’t to say that there haven’t been some negative developments for the film industry as well. In particular, it seems that people aren’t showing up to the movie theaters for adult dramas anymore. Recent examples of this include The Fabelmans, TÁR, and Babylon. All mid to big-budget adult dramas that audiences just didn’t seem interested in seeing. This is concerning especially when considering the future of certain filmmakers, or what kinds of films will get made. Especially in a year when Netflix stock tanked and it now feels that the era of Netflix funding prestige films by acclaimed filmmakers for budgets they couldn’t get anywhere else (i.e. Roma, The Irishman, Marriage Story, and Da 5 Bloods) is going to be a thing of the past. The future remains uncertain, and while I can’t do anything to change it, I can instead talk about the best of the over 160 newly-released films I watched in 2022.

As I have the previous two years of my “Best of” lists here at MovieBabble, I will begin by listing my honorable mentions categories:

 

Most Surprising Film – This is a hard category this year due to how many films were truly pleasant surprises. Last year, this category went to Malignant, and this year it is going to another truly bonkers and original horror film, Barbarian. This film is genuinely scary, it has some of the funniest moments of any film I saw in 2022, and it has something to say to justify its existence. I love when a horror film is as smart and inventive as this one. If you like horror films that surprise you and aren’t afraid to plummet straight into the depths of Crazy Town, I cannot recommend this film higher.

You Just Didn’t Understand It, Man – In recent weeks, I have seen a lot of contempt for my pick for this category, Triangle of Sadness. This is not a subtle film. It has a very clear and broad statement it sets out to make about the rich and influencer culture. However, the way that it tells its story is so unexpected and surprising that I was consistently entertained throughout its 2.5-hour runtime. The captain’s dinner/storm sequence is the perfect execution of a comedic setpiece. I never knew where this film was going, and by the end, I was so glad I had taken the ride.

Most Criminally Underseen – 2022 saw one of the greatest visual effects artists of all time, Phil Tippett, release a stop-motion passion project thirty years in the making in Mad God. It is relentlessly bleak, grotesque, and chaotic. However, I also find it to be oddly full of beauty. I love it when an artist seems to be creating something that purges the depths of their soul and aims for something wildly ambitious and original. Mad God earns the phrase, unlike anything you have ever seen.” Seek it out and buckle up for a vision of Hell you won’t soon forget.

Film(s) I’m Most Butthurt Didn’t Make the List – Multiple films occupy this spot this year. Glass Onion improves upon Rian Johnson’s already brilliant Knives Out with a stronger cast of characters, a potent commentary on the times, and a thrilling narrative. The Northman sees Robert Eggers working with his largest budget to date and takes you on a revenge-fueled and psychedelic journey that is simultaneously brutal and exhilarating. After Yang is a quiet meditation on grief, heritage, and what it means to be human in a small-scale science fiction film with great performances across the board. The Fabelmans is the most personal film from one of the greatest filmmakers of all time that I loved wholeheartedly. Apollo 10 1/2 is a delicate portrait of nostalgia and time by one of my favorite directors, Richard Linklater. Finally, Emergency disguises a timely and remarkably powerful statement about race and the inherent flaws in our American criminal justice system in a comedy/thriller that packs one hell of a punch. I could go on with many more titles, however, in a year as strong as 2022, I would leave many films I love off the list no matter what. Check out my ranked list at Letterboxd if you are interested.

Most Cinematic Experience of 2022 – It’s Avatar: The Way of Water. This film is why I go to the movies. It is so mind-blowingly incredible on a technical level that I can’t even wrap my mind around it. However, I also think this film serves as exhibit A of James Cameron‘s pure skill as a commercial filmmaker capable of making high-quality pieces of mass entertainment. I can count on one hand filmmakers who execute action sequences as well as James Cameron. The final hour of Avatar: The Way of Water reminded me of what it felt like to be giddy with excitement and satisfaction when watching a blockbuster. Likewise, in an era where sarcastically winking at the audience has become a normal thing in blockbusters with the MCU dominating popular culture, it’s refreshing to see a film that is so earnest and unapologetically corny. Lastly, watching people eat crow for doubting Cameron yet again with this film’s incredible financial success has just been icing on the cake. I SEE YOU.

 

Before I continue, I would like to add two disclaimers:

  1. I did not see every film released in 2022. This list is based on an incomplete sampling, and so while I call it my “Best of” list, I prefer to use the title, “Spencer Henderson’s Favorite Films of 2022.”
  2. Remember that film is subjective. It would be incredibly boring if every writer at MovieBabble presented the same list. If there are films that you haven’t seen or heard of on my list, I have done my job as a film critic because it allows you the opportunity to potentially have the experience I had with new titles. Additionally, I would love to see your list! Feel free to share it in the comment section below! I love when people interact with my work. Tell me about what you saw this year that got you excited about movies.

 

Now, let’s move on to my Top 10 Films of 2022:

#10: The Banshees of Inisherin

Martin McDonagh’s latest effort as a writer/director is, for me, in contention with In Bruges for his best film. This is a very funny film, but it is also sad and it left me contemplating the human condition in a way that only a great piece of art can do. This film takes a fairly small-stakes premise — a man deciding he no longer wants to talk to his lifelong friend — and makes the stakes feel massive, consequential, and challenging. The way the film grapples with themes of despair, loneliness, feelings of insignificance, and legacy has haunted me since I watched it.

Colin Farrell gives an Oscar-worthy and heartbreaking performance as a confused, simple man who is unable to grasp the dilemma presented to him and ultimately, collapses under the weight of it. As someone who has soured on Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri the longer I have sat with it, I am ecstatic to see McDonagh follow up with a genuinely fantastic film.

#9: Bones and All

A coming-of-age romance film about cannibals on the road directed by Luca Guadagnino was never going to be a film that I wasn’t going to love. The backdrop of a Reagan-era America amplifies the theme of a forgotten minority where the cannibalism symbolizes the buried, the marginalized, and the vilified counter-cultures of society treated with utter contempt by the Reagan administration.

Taylor Russell is excellent in the lead role, and the supporting cast is rounded out with memorable characters and performances with Mark Rylance giving the first “weird” performance of his that has actually worked for me. I love films that make the American countryside feel ethereal, vast, and mysterious. Coupled with a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that I would consider the best of the year, Bones and All joins the rank of titles such as Near Dark, American Honey, and Only Lovers Left Alive.

#8: Nope

In my review for NopeI described Jordan Peele as the most exciting filmmaker working today. Nope only further solidifies this status as the best American blockbuster of 2022. To put it broadly, no one is making films like Jordan Peele. Each of his three films has felt like an event, and Nope sees him working with his largest budget to date. As a filmmaker of such genuine talent, it fills me with such excitement that we live in a time where a truly genius horror filmmaker is crafting mass entertainment of this quality. There are sequences in Nope that feel like all-timers, and the way Jordan Peele shoots the night sequences is exceptional.

Beyond all of this, the film has something to say about our human draw to spectacle, our culture’s toxic obsession with violence, and the nature of celebrity. It does all this while providing a provocative and utterly compelling commentary on the lengths to which Black legacy and impact have largely been ignored and erased from Hollywood history. As long as Jordan Peele is making movies, I have nothing but hope that viewers will continue to be blessed with thought-provoking, intelligent, and highly entertaining films. With Jordan Peele in the world, I feel hopeful about the future of cinema.

#7: Fire of Love

Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love was my final film of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, and it was as perfect a closer as I could imagine. This documentary follows the love story of two volcanologists (the Kraffts) who met in the middle of the 20th century, fell in deep love with one another, and committed their lives (and romance) to the pursuit of furthering our human knowledge of the natural world, as well as our connection with it. Throughout their lifetimes, the Kraffts collected some of the most stunning footage of our planet I have ever seen. The footage is paired with a narration by Miranda July that hangs over the film, and viewer, in a deeply haunting way.

Fire of Love is about how small and seemingly insignificant our human experience is on this Earth. In the vast scope of time (in this instance, geologic time, which feels somehow even more expansive), we are here very briefly. But in that brief time, two individuals met, they fell in love, and due to that rare and unlikely course of events, our human connection to the natural world was deepened. I find that to be a beautiful and wondrous thing.

#6: Decision to Leave

Park Chan-wook is kind of good at making movies. I went into this film with incredibly high expectations, and I still felt they were exceeded. On paper, it’s a police procedural, but in execution, it is actually a tragic psychological romance. The two lead characters are endlessly compelling, and the respective performances by Park Hae-il and Tang Wei rank among the great performances of the year.

The editing is likely the best I saw all year (this is no small feat with a film in particular still to be discussed on this list). Chan-wook makes a simple dialogue scene as visually interesting as some of the best-directed sequences in other films. I’ve heard a few voices describe this film as “slight” for a film by the great Park Chan-wook, and I feel like I watched a different film. This is as hauntingly beautiful as anything he has made thus far.

#5: Happening

Audrey Diwan’s Happening is another film I saw at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and it has remained comfortably in my top 10 all year. I saw this film months before the all-too-predictable decision made by the United States Supreme Court to strip bodily autonomy from millions of American women, and I still felt like I was hit by a freight train. In a world where two stolen seats have now made the unimaginable a reality that will cause literal death and chaos, this film becomes even more critical.

A quote I often return to is when the late, and unimpeachably great film critic Roger Ebert described films as “an empathy machine“. For the duration of the time we are viewing and engaging with a story, a viewer is allowed the opportunity to feel represented and seen by the events unfolding in the narrative of the film, or they are provided the possibility to see the world through a perspective that is not their own. I am a man who will never have the misfortune of being in the situation the protagonist of Happening finds herself in; however, when I viewed this film, I was her. This is a horror film. It is harrowing in every sense of the word. Like any film with this subject matter, the individuals who could gain the most from viewing this film will never watch it, and that is a shame because it is one of the most powerful experiences I can point to that displays the absolute desperation, panic, and relentless fear a woman will feel when faced with the prospect of receiving an illegal abortion. As an individual who lives in a country where this situation has now become a reality once again, Happening has become an essential film of 2022.

#4: You Won’t Be Alone

I love horror films. A result of that love is an overexposure to the genre, and while there were many great horror films in 2022, Goran Stolevski’s You Won’t Be Alone feels truly one-of-a-kind and thoroughly original in its execution. The lazy way (that I am guilty of doing) of pitching this film is to say it’s like if Terrence Malick directed The Witch. However, I think that vastly undersells its scope and ambition.

You Won’t Be Alone is proof that the horror genre cannot fit into a box. It is flexible and capable of doing wildly original things on a formal level. It also proves that a horror film can be a transcendently moving experience that informs your life and the emotions you’ve felt. It’s the best metaphor for Plato’s allegory of the cave since The Matrix. A film that captures the beauty, the horror, and the fragility of human existence. It also marks a personal milestone for me as a film critic as it was the first movie trailer I have ever been quoted in. I love this achingly melancholy and gorgeous film.

#3: RRR

There are two types of people in this world: the people who understand that this film is a work of unbridled movie magic, and people who are truly missing out on one of the most purely entertaining blockbuster films ever made. That may sound hyperbolic, but in a three-hour film where every minute displays such grand and epic gestures, it feels right to make such a statement. I saw RRR in a theater, and the number of times I cackled with pure glee at the unhinged levels of ambition filled me with that type of joy that only a truly great film can do.

RRR‘s first action sequence is a man taking on an army of hundreds of men with only a stick as his weapon, and somehow that is one of the more mild action sequences of the film. However, the best part about RRR is that it’s a deeply earnest and sincere film. It never feels as if it is winking at the audience; it plays everything completely straight and I admire that so much. As a man with many male friends, I love a film about male friendship and how beautiful and wholesome it can be. Walking out of the theater into the night after RRR, I drove home ecstatic with the knowledge that I’d watched a film that joins the pantheon of great bromance films. It’s this generation’s Hard Boiled, and it’s streaming on Netflix right now. You have no excuse not to watch something so wholesomely entertaining.

#2: Everything Everywhere All At Once

In my review of The Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All At OnceI referred to it as one of the best films ever made. This is a statement I stand by. This film is a work of mad genius that only comes around every decade, if not even more rarely. I consider it a miracle. The great Michelle Yeoh gives the performance of a lifetime as Evelyn Wong, and for my money, there is no world where she should not walk away without the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. In a touching interview with GQ (I literally can’t watch it without getting choked up), Yeoh tearfully describes that when reading this role, she finally felt that she was given the chance to give a performance worthy of her talents. What an astonishing and beautiful performance it is for an actress who has been undervalued by Hollywood her entire career. Likewise, what a perfect example of how critical diversity in film and storytelling is.

Ke Huy Quan is heartbreakingly great as Waymond Wong in his first performance in two decades. I felt robbed when considering what this man’s career would have looked like if he had been working that entire time.

Saying this film lives up to its title is no small feat. It’s a film about our tiny human scope in the face of something as infinite, frightening, and uncompromising as the universe. Through the character of Joy (Stephanie Hsu is the supporting actress of this film deserving of Oscar buzz), we understand how easy it is to collapse under the weight of something so vast and unyielding. Ultimately the film concludes that when one is overwhelmed in the grand tapestry of “everything” as we stare down the bleak, and relentless black hole of depression, the only thing that matters is the people who surround us and stand by our sides as we brave something so infinite and uncertain. I think that’s beautiful.

#1: Aftersun

As the credits rolled after the first time I saw Charlotte Wells’s sun-soaked portrait of memory, depression, and grief, I felt like I couldn’t move. I sat in the theater in silence attempting to collect myself and I still really haven’t been able to months later. I feel the experience of watching Aftersun has given me a firm understanding of what the term “speechless” means, because I almost find it difficult to put into words how deeply this film moves me. Paul Mescal gives what is easily my favorite male lead performance of the year in a gut-wrenching portrayal of a man trying to be a good father while also drowning in a pit of depression he will never be able to climb out of.

Aftersun is about the incapability of seeing your parent suffocating in real-time through a child’s eyes. It is one of the most devastating films I have ever seen. As an adult who has dealt with suicide and depression in my own family and life, I have come to the crippling conclusion that you can’t fix what is inherently broken. Once someone we love is gone, all we have is our memories with them. We continue on, missing them until the end.


Follow MovieBabble on Twitter @MovieBabble_ and Spencer @SpennyHend

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Nick Kush January 14, 2023 - 1:11 pm

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