Picking out any 10 films from a year with stellar titles is never an easy task; this was especially the case for my 2022 list. In fact, not since 2017 have I had to think as much about the films on my end-of-year list. From David Cronenberg’s return to directing almost eight years since his last feature, to James Cameron’s return to Pandora almost 13 years since Avatar, right through to Tom Cruise’s return to the character that propelled him to A-class status — there was no shortage of the epic, iconic and memorable. That’s just a snippet of the below, so here’s my best 10 films of 2022.
10. Crimes of the Future
Having not directed a film since Maps to the Stars over eight years ago, David Cronenberg’s latest, Crimes of the Future, sees the body-horror mastermind return in resounding fashion.
The film, which I view as one of the dark-horse titles on my list, delivers all the signature Cronenberg goodies that audiences love (blood, guts and more guts) but in a much more toned down display. Of course, Cronenberg never does gore for the sake of it, but instead explores mankind’s deepest rooted fears —experiments gone wrong, tech turning on us etc.— while using the grotesque to amplify his concerns.
Crimes of the Future is no different in that regard, as it looks to a time ahead where humans have a changed digestive system and a hunger that can only be fed through the likes of plastic. Performance art meets the grotesque, with Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) growing organs almost at a whim, and his partner in crime, Caprice (Léa Seydoux) removing them to a much appreciative audience.
Howard Shore’s hauntingly subtle score gives weight to the eeriness at play and even heightens Mortensen and Seydoux’s already brilliant, nonchalant performances. It’s a film that’s creepy but clever in its creepiness, one that captures the festering of the human body and the need to adjust the way we live as our bodies change. That’s only part of it, of course — the real crime is not watching the latest Cronenberg.
9. Hit the Road
There’s few films in 2022 that will throw you an emotional curveball like Panah Panahi’s Hit the Road. Panahi, son of legendary Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, crafts a road trip story that explores the struggle of separation, something that is a staple of Iranian filmmaking and a harsh reality in a country with a turbulent political standing.
Politics aside, the film is peppered in the humour often found in similar works from the region —Jafar Panahi’s, in particular— as it incorporates everyday family bickering and banter that I’m sure everyone who has ever been on an “are we there yet” type road trip with their family, has experienced. Films like this often require a convincing ensemble to help hit home that tense but loving family feel, and fortunately the ensemble here do an excellent job.
A covid-era film that doesn’t make covid its main story point? Count me in.
With an overlooked performance by Zoe Kravitz who nails the agoraphobia-isolated character with her very blank, “leave me alone” facial expressions, Kimi sees Steven Soderbergh pack a lot of nuance into this smaller-scale crime-thriller. The result is a nail-biting search for answers as Angela Childs (Kravitz) is forced by circumstance to venture outside after hearing what she suspects is a sexual assault or a murder, on the Kimi device (this film’s equivalent to Amazon Alexa).
Obvious comparisons have been made to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), though the films are entirely separate in how they approach their subject matter.
7. The Batman
Matt Reeves’ The Batman represents a fresh take on the caped crusader, one that is more akin to the ‘Arkham’ video games in that it explores the Batman’s more detective leanings.
What follows is a crime-thriller worthy of the highest praise and one that is reminiscent of the likes of classics in the sub-genre including Seven (1995). Greig Fraser’s cinematography is wonderous and keeps in line with the very gothic leanings that Reeves is going for here. Michael Giacchino’s score is equally inspired, with the composer using church bells and low hums to create an eerie sensation.
Reeves no doubt looked to the Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton’s films when figuring out how he would approach this, and there are obvious correlations like the gothic-vibe from Burton’s films and the development of the Riddler being very similar to that of the Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). Yet, this film is unequivocally Reeves’. Sure he drew on the films that came before his, but this is a film made up of close-knit conversations, measured action sequences, and clever storytelling. The rowdiest this film gets is during a truly memorable chase sequence involving Batman’s custom V8 Batmobile.
The cast is just as committed, with Robert Pattinson’s emo-like appearance being fitting for the darker aesthetic; Zoe Kravitz once again fits the part perfectly playing Catwoman; Collin Farrell shines as Oswald Cobblepot in what has been a stellar year for him; and the likes of Paul Dano and Jeffrey Wright do well in their parts as well. In fact, all aspects of production come together brilliantly like cogs in a machine. The end product is a welcome addition to the ever-growing Batman story.
6. Jackass Forever
When it comes to practicality in filmmaking, Johnny Knoxville and his crew of misfits are the ones you can count on to put on a show.
Jackass Forever is a film nestled in its own comfy corner of cinema. Yes, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Chan are incredible actors and stuntmen who have put their bodies on the line for the sake of entertainment, but it’s the man-child Jackass group who have done it because they find it fun to face death.
Yet, Jackass Forever isn’t just people doing things that are best left to the imagination, it’s also a culmination of 20+ years of commitment to pushing the boundaries of what can be done in front of the camera. For all of its death-defying moments, Jackass Forever feels like a warm hug that throws you a sucker punch when you’re least expecting it. Bringing in the classic faces that have laid the groundwork for Jackass, along with some new and equally risk-embracing ones, this is a film that celebrates the unimaginable, and doesn’t hold back on the bruises.
It’s a film, like the others in the series, that is built up of ‘firsts’ both in terms of what you’re seeing and for the cinema broadly, and deserves the highest of praise for what it achieves.
You either love him, hate him or tolerate him, but there’s no denying the Michael Bay is a man of the cinema — particularly action cinema.
Ambulance, like all of Bay’s previous films, is set on displaying the biggest and wildest action sequences you can get. The film hits like a heavy dose of adrenaline, and it keeps you infused right from its early stages until its heartfelt finale.
The film is a testament to Bay’s unabashed approach to direction where he keeps the tension boiling, turns up the temperature gradually, and then drops the heat to a boil again while never turning it off. The best examples of this are found in the way the film’s technical elements work together to sing Bay’s chaotic tune: the piercing score, the snappy cross-cutting, the canted camera angles, and the mobile drone camerawork that takes the audience and positions them in unfamiliar situations.
Ambulance works because even with all the absurdity leading up to the characters finding themselves in this dire chase situation (let’s face it, no one would escape that many LAPD officers and vehicles), there’s never any respite to dwell on that aspect of the film. Bay knows what he’s doing and you can either buckle up for the ride, or dive ride out the passenger seat.
4. The Banshees of Inishiren
In what is quite clearly a spiritual successor to McDonagh’s equally witty and heartfelt debut feature In Bruges (2008), The Banshees of Inisherin paints a perplexing picture of the human condition against the beautiful backdrop of a fictional Irish town during the Irish Civil War.
It’s a story of two friends —Colm (Brendan Gleeson) and Pádraic (Colin Farrell)— who decide not to be friends anymore (well, at least one of them decides). But more than that, The Banshees of Inisherin is about the fleeting nature of life; the realisation that nothing lasts forever even if we want it to.
McDonagh’s script here is easily his most realised — even if In Bruges still contains some of my favourite lines from any movie ever. He manages to mesh together humour and poignancy in ways that no other director does, and it leaves you in a state where you’re not sure whether to laugh, cry or both.
Gleeson and Farrell are at the top of their game (as is the rest of the cast), and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the male acting categories be swept up by this duo in the coming awards season.
3. The Fabelmans
Anything I say about Steven Spielberg is superfluous at this stage, and honestly if The Fabelmans is anything to go by, Spielberg tells (or shows) you everything you need to know about him anyway.
This is ultimately Spielberg’s visual diary, one that at once examines the very youthful promise of endless possibility —with the only limitations being your imagination (as symbolised by the camera)—, and the navigation of expectation, of the un-imaginary and the tangible (the reality that hits when the record button is turned off).
It’s clear that Spielberg and co-writer and frequent collaborator, Tony Kushner, have dug into the nitty gritty of the directors’ life. There is a level of verisimilitude coursing through the film whether it be in the performances, the very raw and grounded screenplay that avoids glossiness, or John Williams’ moving score — the duo have cashed in all of the chips Spielberg has accrued and pulled no stops.
The Fabelmans paints an interesting portrait of self-actualisation, of finding your place in the world and pursuing what you love even if it means confronting hard truths in the process. This is Spielberg’s world, and we’re living in it.
2. Avatar: The Way of Water
No one does blockbusters quite like James “Jim” Cameron, and Avatar: The Way of Water is the proof in the pudding.
The Way of Water takes audiences to the far beyond of Pandora, namely to its oceanic vistas that, on their own, make the 13 year wait between the original and the sequel all the more worth it.
Cameron, of course, is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of what is achievable at such a scale; if a project isn’t ready to be pursued, be it because of a lack of technological development or the moment just not feeling right, he won’t pursue it. That was the case with Avatar (2009) which he decided to eventually make almost a decade after writing the treatment. He saw Peter Jackson’s development of motion capture with Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films and King Kong in King Kong (2005) as turning points for technology in cinema, as well as Davy Jones in Gore Verbinski’s The Pirates of the Caribbean films.
But The Way of Water blows all of these titles out of the water with what it achieves visually (and that’s coming from a died hard Jackson and Pirates fan). From the refined look of the Na’vi including the way they move under water and their human-like movement generally, to the bumped up frame rate at 48fps which adds extra fluidity to proceedings — The Way of Water is a visual masterpiece that represents a pivotal turning point in visual effects and motion capture.
Aside from its technical marvels, it’s also a sum of all of Cameron’s experiences up until now. His brilliance ultimately rests in his unmatched understanding of scale — of how to get all of his story points in a basket while showcasing them in the biggest way possible.
He clearly cares for this world and everything within it, and he pours his heart and soul into each and every frame to the point where you can’t help but care for it as well.
1. Top Gun: Maverick
Do you feel the need for speed? I sure did.
Top Gun: Maverick is the Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) of 2022. The perfect sequel to Tony Scott’s iconic Top Gun (1986) and one that goes above and beyond its predecessor in (almost) every department (save for maybe how iconic it is, though we should maybe give it 36 odd years).
Joseph Kosinski’s film is the one that I’ve though about the most throughout 2022, so much so that I’ve been desperate to buy its original poster which has now ignited a fascination with poster collecting that I never knew existed.
Whether it be the death-defying air-scapades that prove how much of a madman Tom Cruise truly is, or the care with which this sequel is able to revisit and reimagine its titular character — there’s no shortage of brilliance behind every decision. The stakes are raised, and Maverick is forced to come to terms with his past, find his place in the world, and pass the torch on to the younger generation — directions in characterisation that screenwriters Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and frequent Cruise-collaborator, Christopher McQuarrie, do a great job of balancing.
This film will make you nostalgic, will leave you in awe, and will sit with you long after its end credits roll by.
Honourable Mentions: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Ticket to Paradise, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, The Northman and Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.