What has 2022 offered in terms of cinema? A sweet come-back is all I can think about. Some of the best films from 2022 (or ones I can think of) may indicate that.
Now, here are the supporting facts. First, James Cameron makes yet another homecoming with his most successful IP, Avatar. That alone weighs more than the rest of the facts. Yet, let’s just roll with it. Second, Tom Cruise also makes a most anticipated return into the cockpit in a Top Gun sequel. And then, there’s another entry to the Shrek universe; and, that should be a big news. But, that’s not all. 2022 has a lot of amazing films to welcome us back to the cinema.
Wouldn’t that make our sweet return to the cineplexes even sweeter?
Best Films of 2022: Honorable Mentions
Before going deeper into the list of best 2022 films, let’s talk about films that deserve some honorable mentions.
The first one is the list is Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water – in which he makes a film with a 250-million-dollar budget looks like a film with a 250-million-dollar budget & nothing less.
Another sequel, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, also makes another massive impression in 2022. Rian Johnson’s follow-up to his 2019 whodunit, Knives Out, is a different beast of the same breed. In this more modern and confident mystery, Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc makes a solid second foray to further cement his name as a future classic of this genre.
Another veteran filmmaker in this list is Steven Spielberg. His semi-autobiography, The Fabelmans, is carefully crafted for a Spielbergian experience even if this is unlike any blockbuster he’s made before.
Guillermo del Toro’s first foray into stop-motion is a sophisticated take of Pinocchio. Del Toro takes on the source material’s somber theme unstintingly by adding enough macabre and darker backstories in it. His penchant for gothic story full of peculiar creatures with politically grim world-building complements his outlandish vision to the otherwise familiar story.
While taking a break from comic-book duty, Scott Derrickson returns to the genre that has made his reputation – horror. Working on Joe Hill’s story, Derrickson crafts an efficient & entertaining horror thriller out of what looks like a f-up American true crime in The Black Phone.
Last but not least, there’s this title that will be celebrated by filmmakers and cinephile for years to come – S. S. Rajamouli’s RRR. This is a blatant celebration of what cinema can accommodate in terms of imagination. It’s, undoubtedly, an epitome of maximalist cinema; the one Hollywood refused to do in the name of faux subtlety.
These films are, by any means, exceptional. People will celebrate every single of these titles in the future. However, just like the other entry of BEST OF list has trimmed down the top list, the list for best 2022 films will only comprise of ten entries; therefore, they’re the honorable mentions.
Best Films of 2022
The most difficult part of making a year-end list is always picking the top of the list – the crème de la crème. Among hundreds of films watched in a year, it’s always tempting to just throw half of them to the favorite list. Yet, choosing only ten of them takes a lot of consideration (some beating and sacrifices included); and, here we go with the 10 best films of 2022 in a countdown.
10. Joyland (Saim Sadiq)
Plot: Haider (Ali Junejo), a husband and the youngest son in a conservative Pakistani family, takes a quirky job as a backup dancer for a trans woman in a local burlesque show.
The titular Joyland is an illusion in Sadiq’s debut feature. There’s no joy in it even though there’s a glimpse of hope everywhere. Nonetheless, it’s still a rollercoaster albeit slowly-moving. The higher it gets, the more beautiful it may seem; yet, the deeper it goes, the more suffocating it becomes. Through several sophisticated twists and turns, Joyland profoundly observes sexuality and gender roles in a Pakistani family – that is reflective of the country’s patriarchal culture in general.
09. The Batman (Matt Reeves)
Plot: When a mysterious serial killer runs rampant and kill Gotham’s most influential figures, the Batman (Robert Pattinson) has no choice but to investigate the gnarly manhunt case that might lead him straight to his past.
This Batman is a statement that says the world’s greatest detective might have been the most prolific comic-book character there is. Reeves’ film is confident enough to challenge Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight for its grittiness. Yet, it’s independent enough to operate on its own.
And, boy, does this one operate like a true bat — flying closer to the ground, viewing the world upside down, and navigating through the darkness with sonar precision. Pattinson’s Batman is way more broken than even the most somber incarnation before him. The broken bat who hasn’t done with himself gives Reeves the liberty to explore the psyche of distressed Gothamite and translates it eloquently into cinema language.
It’s a Batman who is willing to take the beating, to admit defeat, and to take the lesson. That makes the film an impressive sight to behold as it wears its flaw eagerly, just like the protagonist.
08. Nope (Jordan Peele)
Plot: Two horse-wrangling siblings (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) investigate a peculiar occurrence around their ranch as strange objects rain down their area without any evidence. The message is clear: “don’t look up.”
Nobody makes horror films quite like Peele. NOPE is another example of his storytelling prowess – transcending sci-fi horror tropes in conjunction with a pinch of black history and real-world satire that hits hard. The result is an uncanny blockbuster of no precedent, subverting familiar extraterrestrial thriller tropes into an original ride — with patient build-up & potent reveal. It’s a mixture of beast-of-prey horror with sensation-hungry capitalism; but, you’re not wrong if you find biblical allusions along the way.
The best thing about NOPE is, every single element in it (albeit seemingly distant) is correlated – just like what Peele did in Get Out and Us.
07. Top Gun: Maverick (Joseph Kosinski)
Plot: Thirty years after the event in the firs film, Maverick (Tom Cruise) returns to the elite aviation program to mentor a squad of TOP GUN graduates for a mission impossible. Only this time, his enemies come from the present and the past.
Almost four decades apart and Tom Cruise is still at top of his game. He maneuvers fighter jets like a true daredevil and the camera gets into the actions as they go. For that reason alone, Top Gun: Maverick has soared higher and in a more quintessential fashion than its predecessor.
For all the cinematic achievement and too-good-to-be-true stunt works, this has made a testament of who Cruise is for the cinema. He’s a charming action hero like no other.
06. Broker (Hirokazu Koreeda)
Plot: Volunteers of a local church’s baby box program (Song Kang-ho and Gang Do-won) secretly run an illegal business of baby brokering. When one of the mothers (IU) who has abandoned the babies returns, complication arises.
Japanese auteur, Hirokazu Koreeda, makes a statement with his South Korean foray. One of the reasons this film sets in South Korea is Koreeda’s findings about baby boxes’ popularity there (while heavily criticized in Japan). The idea for Broker was conceived when he’s making Like Father, Like Son. However, this one feels thematically like a sister film to his Palme d’Or winner, Shoplifters.
Broker works in the same vein as Shoplifters by stripping bare the chosen family trope. The goal is to see what being human —being parent, being family, being born— really mean. It’s like rearranging a dysfunctional family into a functional non-family unit. His story grippingly challenges moral codes with tenderness and sensitivity that keep us invested, observing and, at the same time, questioning.
The infamous quote “thank you for being born” says it all.
05. The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh)
Plot: Two long-time friends (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) are at odds with each other. One of them decides to end their friendship abruptly with a reason only he could understand. Suddenly, everything about them becomes a dangerous affair.
Martin McDonagh returns to his root in The Banshees of Inisherin. This pitch-black tragicomedy of no-nonsense shows his riveting storytelling influenced by his playwright time. It’s like a folkloric take on male friendship and solitude blunted with human’s vengeful nature. That’s perfectly reflective of its Irish Civil War setting.
The showdown that seems like an In Bruges reunion doesn’t seem plausible in a glance, but feels real under the skin. That’s what makes it ironically poetic and hilarious at the same time. Like some of his best works, the punchline of this ever-escalating build-up happens after the end-credit rolls. And, that sour aftertaste feels super satisfying.
04. Aftersun (Charlotte Wells)
Plot: Sophie (Frankie Corio) reminisces and reflects on the memory of a summer trip to Turkey with her father twenty years earlier.
The only way to get into Aftersun is by experiencing it, at least once. The best part of it may involve viewers’ own perception of personal memories. Furthermore, it only appears is the final few minutes in a small reflective moment that makes us reassess the way we’ve seen Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio bonding. Suddenly, there’s this unforeseen blues like the one we’ve felt upon staring at an old photograph.
Aftersun‘s sincerity helps transcending the language of the film to get into viewers’ own psyche. And, it’s difficult not to connect this with our personal experience. It gets us thinking whether we re-experience memories as it was or as we adjust to the current state? Wells’ film feature debut deliver those thoughts right into our nerve system – inducing a melancholia.
03. Everything Everywhere All at Once (Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert)
Plot: A middle-aged Chinese immigrant (Michelle Yeoh) navigates through perilous life choices that can risk relationships with her beloved ones and, at the same time, the whole multiverse.
The Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once is a constant reminder of why we’re into cinema. It’s the kind of film that can make you see, feel, and experience everything all at once. And, it finds a use of multiversal storylines perfectly and effectively.
Beneath the eye-popping multiverse transversal glaring and blaring in the background, this film harbors a heartfelt domestic drama of an Asian-American family—that, despite all genre mashup & visual treats, outshines all. The multiverse is real and not gimmicky at all. It’s the main driving force that throws Yeoh into an awe-inspiring voyage of cultural and cinematic pilgrimage.
However, the multiverse – albeit looking otherworldly – has gravitas. The spectacle-heavy affair is reflective of the protagonist’s dilemma – capitalizing on the life choices she makes. There, Yeoh takes the center-stage elegantly – adding layers to her character by nailing in each of her distinctive variants. Clearly, this is something of no precedent.
02. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Tom Gormican)
Plot: Nicolas Cage, struggling to cope with his failing career, finds himself tangled between his newly-found friendship with a superfan (Pedro Pascal) and his duty for CIA operatives led by Tiffany Haddish.
This is a testament to Cage’s career – from his award-winning time through his blockbuster and arthouse period all the way to his B-movie era.
Through the perspective of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Cage is a victim of his own success. Undoubtedly, he’s a true artisan (not overlooking his nepobaby root, though) who bear the massive weight of his own talent. He’s the actor who keeps defying expectation – in a good way or vice versa.
Tom Gormican and co-writer, Kevin Etten, makes a homage to Cage’s life and talent with this absurdist character study that may look out of place but hit all the right spots eventually. It’s hilarious and sometimes sentimental; but it always has something for everyone. But, the most important thing is it isn’t just a film about Cage; it’s a film about coping with the unexpected.
01. Decision to Leave (Park Chan-wook)
Plot: While investigating a man’s death on a mountain, a detective (Park Hae-il) meets the deceased man’s enigmatic wife (Tang Wei) and suddenly the murder mystery gets more bizarre than one can imagine.
In a follow-up to his romantic masterclass in The Handmaiden (2016), Park Chan-wook conceives another masterwork that encapsulates his panache in a Hitchcockian heartbreak called Decision to Leave.
This is a romantic noir with a scalpel precision and sensual mirth that further christens Chan-wook as one of the finest visionary storyteller with established flair. It has all the director’s cinematic footprints — from a voyeuristic affair that is thrilling, sexy, and unapologetically funny all at once. The visual traits are prevalent; and so are neat editing from the director’s frequent collaborator, Kim Sang-bum. It only gets better when viewed with the director’s corpus on mind. The parallels are uncanny.
The whole film is built upon a Confucianist wisdom that Chan-wook expands into his own lore. He’s again announced himself as a heavyweight artist. Every frame of Decision to Leave is like a philosophical painting; and every layer of the plot is full of shocking factors that only gets better as we delve deeper into the narrative. Undoubtedly, this has a place amongst the director’s best works so far.