The year 2022 may not go down in the history books as a landmark for cinema, but if you saw 200+ new movies like I did, there was plenty to like, and a few takeaways as well.
For starters, Tom Cruise proved that the endangered species known as Movie Stars still matter with Top Gun: Maverick, which topped the global box office with nearly $1.5 billion, though Avatar: The Way of Water is currently hot on its heels. On the domestic side alone, it took in $718 million, which is nearly $300 million more than second-place Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Truly remarkable.
It was certainly a great year for mainstream queer cinema thanks to movies like Bros, TÁR, My Policeman, The Whale, The Inspection, Spoiler Alert, and Fire Island, and I’ll even throw in movies like Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery and Bodies Bodies Bodies. You can also include, depending on how you look at it, Top Gun: Maverick. (Yes, that was a joke, lighten up, people!)
To that last point, outside of Jackass Forever, it wasn’t a great year for comedy at the box office, largely because industry execs are afraid of what social media might say about this or that, which is why half the country has largely tuned Hollywood out. Thankfully, Jackass is allowed to remain wildly offensive and still be successful because it has practically been grandfathered in, much like South Park has on TV. I also appreciated the small, decidedly un-PC joys of indie comedy 4th of July from controversial comedian-director Louis C.K.
I was not terribly impressed with the industry’s documentary offerings this year, though I loved Jonah Hill‘s Netflix doc, Stutz, and there’s no question that Navalny boasts some powerful scenes. On the animation side, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and Pixar’s Turning Red led the pack.
There were some wonderful foreign films as well, such as Edward Berger‘s German film All Quiet on the Western Front, S.S. Rajamouli‘s Indian action epic RRR, and Lukas Dhont‘s French drama Close. I’ll also throw a shout-out to that country’s epic drama Athena (now streaming on Netflix and featuring the best cinematography of the year) as well as the creepy genre film The Innocents from Joachim Trier‘s frequent co-writer Eskil Vogt.
And before we get to my favorite films of the year, here are two films to watch out for in 2023—the activism thriller How to Blow Up a Pipeline from director Daniel Goldhaber and the midnight movie Sisu from director Jalmari Helander, the latter of which follows a gold miner who takes on an army of Nazis, and plays like Inglourious Basterds had that unit been comprised of one badass old man.
Without further ado, here are my 15 favorite films of 2022:
1. Top Gun:Maverick
What more really needs to be said at this point? I mean, believe me, I’m as surprised as you are. I don’t even like the original Top Gun! But this long-in-the-works sequel was the perfect movie at the perfect time, and it hit the industry like a lightning bolt. I had lunch with a very high-ranking Paramount executive the day before Maverick screened at CinemaCon and even they weren’t expecting the kind of success this film had. Now, I relay that tale not to make the executive look bad—hardly—but to illustrate how this movie truly caught everyone off-guard. Joseph Kosinski has barely been talked about in the Best Director race but the idea that he isn’t one of the year’s top-five filmmakers is patently absurd, as he practically did the impossible here, aided, of course, by the one and only Tom Cruise, whose unique blend of charm, charisma, and old-fashioned movie star magnetism—his X-factor, if you will—is simply unparalleled. He’s surrounded by a supporting cast that is absolutely aces (Miles Teller, Glen Powell, freakin’ Bob) and together they soar. The question is, will we get more installments? Or is another sequel mission: impossible for its ageless star, who will soon be heading off into space (naturally), the only frontier left for him to conquer? Cruise has defied the odds like no other, and I can’t wait to see him try to top himself again, though if this is his last time in the cockpit, the flight was well worth the wait.
2. My Policeman
This was the most misunderstood film of the year, featuring a devastating performance from David Dawson as a man who loves someone so much—someone he can’t be with— that he must deny himself love altogether. Does it get more heartbreaking than that? This movie has a 46 percent fresh rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes… and a 96 percent score from audiences. Now, first of all, do I care about either of these numbers on Rotten Tomatoes? Not in the slightest. And could Harry Styles fans have inflated the audience score in support of their handsome king? Yes, of course. Or… and hear me out here… could critics have just entirely missed the boat because they are largely dead inside? I know a lot of critics, so believe me, I know it’s true! Here’s what else I know. I was an utter wreck after watching this movie. It left me emotionally shattered. I needed a moment to compose myself after. Harry Styles was good. Emma Corrin was fine. Oddly enough, I didn’t love the movie because of them, but rather, because of their older counterparts — especially Gina McKee, and the sadness that haunts Rupert Everett‘s eyes as his heart sits entombed in a prison that only one man holds the key for. Director Michael Grandage is 60 years old, which is basically what I expected to find when I just googled it, because this is the kind of film that only an older person can make. Every now and then, the critics get one wrong and are so blinded by one thing (Styles) that they judge the whole movie based on that thing without giving the rest of the film a fair shot. I loved it though. Call the cops and report me if you must.
Heartfelt and hilarious, Billy Eichner‘s groundbreaking rom-com may have only grossed $14 million worldwide, but who cares? It was practically perfect. The fact that Eichner did not receive a Golden Globe nomination for his performance is yet another embarrassment to the entire Hollywood Foreign Press Association. It is a crime worthy of investigation by the Awards Police, of which I am a volunteer patrolman who has been properly deputized. I recently watched this film a third time and not only did it hold up, but I was crying my eyes out in between laughing at various punchlines. Luke Macfarlane should be on every studio’s casting wishlist this holiday season, and Nicholas Stoller can hold his head high, as this movie is every bit a winner as the box office hits he directed such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Neighbors. Get over the gay sex, folks, because this movie is fabulous. Speaking of fab…
4. The Fabelmans
This is Steven Spielberg‘s best movie in years. It’s funny, powerful, inspirational, and surprisingly confessional—the act of a master filmmaker who has been yearning to get something off his chest. Fantastic newcomer Gabriel LaBelle leads a great ensemble that includes Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch and, in an Oscar-worthy performance that has also gone misunderstood by (largely gentile) critics, Michelle Williams, who absolutely nails her “big” portrayal of Spielberg’s mother, in case you ever had the privilege of meeting her. If Top Gun: Maverick is deemed too light to win Best Picture, the award had better go to this film, or else I’ll be as bummed as young Sammy Fabelman when he takes a closer look at the footage from his family’s camping trip.
5. She Said
Make no mistake, this film represented a very tough assignment, but kudos to everyone involved, as I was there for its premiere at AFI Fest and there was an electric current in the room after, likely because this movie features the best ending of the year. Then again, I’m a journalist, so maybe I’m biased. Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan are solid as New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, but it’s the supporting cast (Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Morton, and Ashley Judd as herself) that makes this one shine. Alongside another film that’s a little further down on this list, this is the best feature debut of the year, courtesy of director Maria Schrader, whose film demonstrates remarkable empathy and sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault and abuse.
6. The Whale
Critics have been ganging up on this movie as well, but I was on Darren Aronofsky‘s wavelength, which ain’t always easy. I can’t blame the critics too much here, as this movie is divisive, I’ll admit it. But Brendan Fraser delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as a gay man so devastated by the loss of the love of his life that he has let food take over his life, to the detriment of his own health and relationships, and though I hate being one of those critics to go around calling everything and everyone “Oscar-worthy,” so too, quite frankly, is Hong Chau as his caretaker. This is a tough watch and a stifling sit for some but the emotional payoff at the end is worth the journey you take with this heartbreaking character, who Fraser brings to life with his soulful eyes.
Who would have thought that Jonah Hill would deliver the documentary of the year? Not me, but that’s precisely how I feel about Stutz, which offers actual tools you can use to improve your quality of life, in addition to being a beautiful character study of both Hill’s therapist, Phil Stutz, and to a lesser extent, his patient, Hill himself. There was just something so moving and beautiful about this film, which finds both men opening up in ways you rarely see about the pain in their lives. It really is a minor miracle of a movie, and not only does it expose people to what a great therapist is, but it’s a sly encouragement to get into therapy in the first place. It has helped me immeasurably over the past decade, and I learned even more by really listening to Stutz’s methods and finding ways to apply them to my own life. You just have to give yourself over to it and stay present (i.e. no surfing IG or doing laundry), and I guarantee you’ll learn something helpful.
8. Cha Cha Real Smooth
This is a modest indie gem from Cooper Raiff that has lingered since its Sundance debut. He plays a bar mitzvah party starter—trust me, it’s a thing—who befriends a young woman (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter, played with aplomb by newcomer Vanessa Burghardt. Raiff’s much-praised debut Shithouse was a little annoying, but his sophomore effort demonstrates a wisdom well beyond his years, and serves as proof of the potential that many saw in his first film. He may want to reconsider casting himself as his own leading man going forward, however, as he’s a better writer-director than an actor. I suspect he knows that though, and would rather stay behind the camera, acting only out of necessity. He feels quite real here, very natural, but I’m not sure his range as a performer matches his ability as a storyteller, especially as he continues to mature and hone his voice. Though his second film may not be a home run, it’s a solid triple.
9. Thirteen Lives
OK, so it’s not The Rescue, but I’ll be damned if director Ron Howard didn’t do this story justice with the help of Colin Farrell, Viggo Mortensen, and Joel Edgerton, three actors who are very hard to dislike. If I had seen this before the documentary The Rescue, it might have had even more of an impact, but I get that features can take a little longer, and this one was worth the wait. Howard imbues the proceedings with an epic quality, and you can tell that real attention was paid to certain details—of both the caves and the Thai locals, who came together in an effort to do everything possible to save the boys who were trapped. You know of already know what will happen, but that doesn’t make this survival thriller any less gripping or compelling in Howard’s able hands, and your pulse is guaranteed to quicken at some point, such is the strength and confidence of its direction.
10. The Inspection
Though I realize that higher-ranked She Said is Maria Schrader‘s first film as well, this is really the directorial debut of the year, and if I had to bet on one of this year’s new filmmakers going forward, it would be Elegance Bratton, who did a commendable job in dramatizing his own life story as a gay Marine. Bokeem Woodbine is excellent as the film’s hard-nosed drill instructor, and the always-soulful Raul Castillo is strong in support, but this movie succeeds to the extent that it does on the shoulders of Jeremy Pope, who is dynamite as Bratton’s surrogate, and absolutely deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance. Gabrielle Union is also great as his homophobic mother, and worthy of a nomination as well.
11. The Good Nurse
This nasty little thriller is one of the better Netflix movies I’ve seen, featuring an excellent performance from Eddie Redmayne, who plays Charles Cullen like a tightly-coiled snake just waiting to strike. I knew this movie would boast a great story, but as we know, stories are all about their execution, and this one is really quite expertly told by director Tobias Lindholm (A Hijacking), as I could tell I was in good hands right away. Jessica Chastain is always good, as she is here once again as Cullen’s suspicious co-worker, but it’s Redmayne who has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. When he snaps, that’s the moment you’ll sit up in your chair and grab the armrest a little tighter. Just know that most nurses are good people, and you shouldn’t hesitate to go to the hospital if you feel sick, though watching this movie might just have that effect on you.
12. All Quiet on the Western Front
I recently caught up with Netflix’s German-language war movie, and it was fantastic. If 1917 was in the Best Picture conversation, remind me, again, why this movie is not. Is it because it’s in another language? That didn’t stop Parasite. It is pretty objectively terrific, featuring superb direction from Edward Berger (Patrick Melrose) and a committed lead performance from Felix Kammerer as Paul Bäumer. It may not be for the faint of heart, but those with strong stomachs should still be able to see the beauty among the carnage.
13. Empire of Light
This is another movie that was unfairly dismissed by critics at TIFF, as Sam Mendes‘ poignant drama features two excellent turns from Olivia Colman and rising star Micheal Ward as her much younger paramour. Sure, the story is a little all over the place—it’s a romance… but it involves mental illness… and racism… and the movies — but it captures a certain feeling and for that I have to give Mendes, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross credit. This is another memoir movie set in a very specific time and place, but if you look closer, its themes are rather universal, and they certainly resonated with me.
People went nuts for Pearl, but its predecessor was the superior Ti West film, a perfect piece of ’70s B-movie trash in which some folks attempt to shoot a porno and pay dearly for their poor location scouting. West earned much acclaim early in his career with slow-burn, low-budget horror movies like The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, but I didn’t really become a fan until The Sacrament and his 2016 western In a Valley of Violence, which was his last film since X. Again, it seems to be a theme of this list, but it was well worth the wait, as this was probably the most fun I had in a theater all year next to Top Gun: Maverick and Bros.
15. Avatar: The Way of Water
I mean, how can you not be impressed with this movie — another one that was well worth the wait, mind you. They say “don’t bet against James Cameron,” and now we know why, as this sequel was at least as good as the first film, if not better. Wisely or not, it successfully moved the focus from Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) to their offspring, emphasizing that the youth really is the future. And about those youth… in the run-up to The Way of Water, I’d heard that the kiddos might be, gulp, “annoying.” And sure, if you want to dismiss teenage ennui as “annoying,” that’s fair. But I found the relationship between the Sully siblings to be quite engaging, and I look forward to seeing where Spider’s (Jack Champion) allegiance lies in future installments, where he’ll inevitably be forced to choose between the family that raised him and his biological family. There may not be enough story here to support a three-hour-plus movie, but thank god for the most dazzling visual effects to ever grace the big screen, am I right?
I’ll see you all in 2023! Happy New Year!
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.