For your consideration, I present my choices for the greatest films of 2022. These are the awards contenders, the ones that most inspired creativity and intellectual discussion from the audience, the movies that most advanced the medium for future generations of filmmakers.
Best Biographical Film
I want to stress emphatically that the category name isn’t a noun (“biography”) but an adjective (“biographical”) as many of these films are fictionalized semi-autobiographies. The Fabelmans is of course the most prominent example, as it was Steven Spielberg’s hotly-anticipated awards season portrayal of his own upbringing. But this was also the year of Armageddon Time and Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood, respectively dramatizing the respective childhoods of James Grey and Richard Linklater.
Among the more conventional biopics, we of course got Baz Luhrman’s take on the life and times of Elvis, which turned out to be every bit as overblown and starry-eyed as it sounds. The clear winner here is Till, if only because so few filmmakers in history have shown the brass studded balls it would take to dramatize the lynching of Emmett Till and the aftermath of his passing. The film took a supremely difficult yet crucially imperative story, portraying it with all the passion and solemnity this subject rightly deserved. There are a million ways this could’ve gone catastrophically wrong, and the film deserves way more recognition for everything it got right.
Best Crime Thriller
We got so many great candidates to choose from this year. Among the female-driven choices, we’ve got the charming young sleuth with Enola Holmes 2, the sharp-witted thirty-something scammer with Emily the Criminal, and Zoe Kravitz capably playing something in between with Kimi.
See How They Run was a pulpy bit of fun, though it really should’ve been something so much greater for all the talent poured into it. By contrast, The Bad Guys — the other crime thriller led by Sam Rockwell — turned out to be far more clever and engaging than it had any right to be.
For so many months, I wanted to give this one to The Outfit. It’s such a beautifully constructed potboiler, every performance is a knockout, and the script is loaded with so many devastating plot twists without ever going off the rails. It’s a terribly underrated film, well deserving of recognition among the year’s best.
But goddammit, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is just too fucking good. Phenomenal use of a sterling ensemble cast, diabolically clever in its simplicity, funny and charming and whip-smart in equal measure, a fantastic sociopolitical satire with acerbic wit. This movie kept up the momentum from Knives Out, and that in itself is a feat more than worthy of praise.
Best Light Drama
From the department of “older ladies rediscovering their mojo”, we’ve got a sexually charged two-hander with Good Luck To You, Leo Grande and the delightfully wholesome Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. Elsewhere, we’ve got Hustle (2022), which might actually be Adam Sandler’s best effort yet at aging artistically. (Yes, I still think Uncut Gems is massively overrated.) I’m also putting Metal Lords in here, for lack of a better category to place this charming yet slipshod coming-of-age story.
The clear winner here is Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, if only because it made this batshit premise into something genuinely endearing. By way of elegant animation, seamless VFX, and delightfully charming voice work, this movie made Marcel into a deeply sympathetic character with a genuinely compelling personal journey. That shouldn’t even be possible, yet here we are.
Best Heavy Drama
This one’s gonna be tricky, because it’s more or less serving as my “miscellaneous” category.
We’ve got The Wonder, a film that asks a great many fascinating questions but doesn’t quite succeed at asking them in an engaging way. Likewise, Bones and All is merely okay when there’s a strong impression that it could have and should have been much better, or at least better-paced. Oh, and there was also Lady Chatterley’s Lover (2022), a respectable Netflix adaptation of the controversial romantic drama.
Tár is primarily noteworthy for Cate Blanchett’s phenomenal performance, but getting through the film’s overlong running time with such an unsympathetic protagonist can get grating at times. Much as I absolutely adored The Menu upon first watch, that mostly had to do with the initial shock value and I don’t think the film would fare quite so well on repeat viewings. Yet I would still take either one of those movies over Triangle of Sadness, which — for better and for worse — evokes nothing so much as a yacht full of acidic sloppy vomit.
I know the critics and awards voters have already spoken on this and given a boatload of nominations to The Banshees of Inisherin. And rightly so, it’s a marvelous character drama that works deceptively well as a pitch-black war satire. But because it’s my list, I’m giving this one to The Northman, a revenge thriller every bit as timeless and primal as the Norse myths it pulls from. Also, longtime readers will know that I’m a sucker for any film that successfully blends different genres (yes, that will be a factor in later categories), and The Northman works supremely well as a period drama that’s also an action film with occasional splashes of fantasy and horror. The romance aspect could be a little stronger, but it’s played well enough and it works within the historical/mythological context of the story.
Best War Picture
I’m including The Banshees of Inisherin in this category as well, because it absolutely deserves recognition as a diabolically subtle war satire. Munich: The Edge of War also deserves recognition as a skillfully crafted political thriller about Neville Chamberlain and his ill-fated efforts at delaying WWII long enough to give the Allies a fighting chance. Speaking of WWII skullduggery, Operation Mincemeat deserves way, WAY more recognition as a superbly cast drama that explores the human cost of war in a compelling and novel way.
With all of that being said, this is supposed to be a list about the movies that push the medium forward. This needs to go to the movie that’s better shot, better performed, better crafted, more compelling, more heartbreaking, and overall better suited to standing the test of time. With all of that said, can I really justify giving Operation Mincemeat the prize over All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)? I don’t think so.
Best Animated Feature
A highly controversial category, given all the extraordinary candidates we got this year. Even The Bob’s Burgers Movie had its adoring fans, pretty exclusively among those who were already a fan of the source material to begin with.
We got the trippy mindfuck of Mad God, and we got the spellbinding Little-Mermaid-on-acid beauty of Bubble. DC League of Superpets and The Bad Guys both turned out way better than they had any right to. My Father’s Dragon was likewise charming and fun. Wendell & Wild was a gorgeous and sociopolitically savvy work of stop-motion animation, though I personally had trouble getting past the flimsy world-building.
Speaking of stop-motion animated movies, I expect most cinephiles would give this one to Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio. And with good reason. It’s a superbly animated piece of work, brimming with heart and intelligence, giving the title character renewed importance in the context of a complicated world where fascists exist.
But I’m giving this one to Turning Red, a movie brimming over with heart, personality, and unstoppable energy. It really is astounding how much character development, world-building, action, family drama, and deeply emotional themes were packed into a brisk 100-minute runtime. Poignantly funny and whip-smart from start to finish, this one will have a cultural impact for generations to come.
As with so many of the best cinematic mindfucks, After Blue primarily deserves kudos because it feels like the filmmakers successfully got away with something. Likewise, Mad God left me with a bizarre feeling like there was some method to the madness, just beyond my reach. On the subject of stop-motion animated fever dreams, at least The House (2022) presented us with a handful of intriguing themes to go with all the nightmare fuel. I suppose I should also list The Bubble among the year’s cinematic mindfucks because it’s a Little Mermaid riff with a parkour gimmick in an impenetrably bizarre dystopian setting.
Noah Baumbach deserves credit for going so far out of his comfort zone — and ours — with the absurdist satire of White Noise. But of course he can’t hold a candle to the master of mindfuck satire, David Cronenberg with Crimes of the Future.
With all of that said, I’m giving this one to Men, the film that most effectively contrasted psychological horror and gut-churning visuals against a recognizably grounded status quo. A film that capably and clearly made statements on gender roles and toxic masculinity, but did so in a disturbingly creative way that leaves just enough ambiguity to leave the audience thinking about what the fuck they just saw. It all adds up to something deeply unsettling yet subtly profound like only the best mindfucks can deliver.
Do I even need to explain how and why this movie blends so many genres into something far greater than the sum of its parts? What else needs to be said about all the ingenious ways this movie compresses an epic multiversal setting into a brisk 139-minute runtime? I can’t even begin to list all the funny, heartfelt, intelligent, profound surprises packed into this movie, or all the amazing sight gags and set pieces I could never hope to find in any other film.
This movie is something beautifully, defiantly new. Literally every minute had something delightfully fun to discover. It’s a movie infinite in scope and unrestricted in its creativity, yet the plot is skillfully kept on its rails. Any film that can accomplish all of this and more rightfully deserves to change the world in far-reaching ways. It is the crowning achievement of 2022 in cinema, no contest.