I have always loved movies, especially going to see movies in theaters.
In 2019 I was living in Austin, Texas and frequently visited the Alamo Drafthouse. During the month of December alone I went to see 10 different movies at the Drafthouse. To this day, I say that they are the best theaters in the country. Absolutely necessary for any movie lover to experience. After 2020 happened I moved away to pursue my doctorate at the University of Iowa. Iowa City has a wonderful independent theater called FilmScene where I’ve seen a number of great films. The other theaters in the area leave a bit to be desired from an experience standpoint. However, that has not lessened my love of movies.
2022 was a great year to get back to the theaters and experience movies on the big screen. Box office numbers continue to grow, bouncing back from the COVID shutdowns. I’m hopeful that this trend persists, despite the popularity of streaming services. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Netflix binge. But there’s just something about sitting in a dark theater with a group of people watching a great film. However you enjoy movies, I hope that you’ve enjoyed a good film or two this last year.
My list of favorites this year 18 movies – 8 honorable mentions and a Top 10. The following list is by NO means exhaustive. It’s just the small sample size that I got to watch last year. If your favorite isn’t on the list, I’m sorry! I probably haven’t seen it, or maybe it didn’t quite affect me the same way it did you. And that’s ok! Let’s get into it.
All of my honorable mentions were at some point in the top 10 of this year. It’s so hard to decide on a cut off, but these are 8 movies that I think most people can enjoy. The story, acting, cinematography, musical score, direction, animation, visual effects – it all coalesces into something great in each of these movies.
Prey – If you don’t know anything about this film – GREAT – don’t look up anything and go watch it right now on Hulu. It’s a period adventure movie about a Comanche warrior.
Emily the Criminal – Aubrey Plaza plays a millennial with student debt trying to make ends meet. Relatable, am I right?
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story – Harry Potter playing Weird Al. Do I need to say more?
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers – I knew nothing about Chip ‘n Dale before watching this and it was still incredible enjoyable. Wonderful, smart animation style throughout.
Vengeance – This movie flew under the radar, but it is so good. Very interesting mystery about a New York podcast host in rural Texas.
Kimi – Rear Window updated for 2022 with a great performance by Zoë Kravitz.
Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off – Fascinating documentary about Tony Hawk and his rise to super-celebrity status.
Pinocchio – An incredible stop-motion animated version of the classic tale… with a surprising amount of Fascism.
10 – She Said
Dir. by Maria Schrader
I really loved She Said. It’s right up there with procedurals like All the President’s Men and Spotlight. There are a number of chilling moments that are at times hard to watch, but it’s important that we tell these stories. And I’m so glad that it was told by these filmmakers and actors. This film has a documentary-like quality from to the script to the cinematography. There are recordings of actual events and actors playing themselves having conversations that really happened. Zoe Kazan is particularly great as Jodi Kantor, one of the journalists investigating the story.
Watching the film, I couldn’t stop thinking about how recent all of these events were. The events of the film take place in 2016-17 and the book the screenplay was based on was written in 2019. Time is a flat circle anyway, I can’t believe it’s 2023. It marches ever forward. But I’m thankful this film was able to be captured now before the story was forgotten or twisted. It’s available to rent or buy on Prime Video and other streaming sites. It’s worth checking out especially because movies like this are important and need support.
9 – The Sea Beast
Dir. Chris Williams
The Sea Beast may have swam under your radar this year, but you shouldn’t let this one get away. This animated Netflix movie tells the story of an orphan who joins a group of monster hunters on the high seas. This will definitely become a great comfort watch in the future. From the first opening set-piece I was hooked! The score was thumping and the visuals were completely stunning and evocative.
Jarred Harris is iconic in his role of Captain Augustus Crow III and Marianna Jean-Baptiste steals the show with her flat, self serious performance as first mate Sarah Sharpe. It could be said that this movie is filled with cliches and overused plot points from other movies. Well you know what? Cliches are cliche for a reason. It works! This movie is very reminiscent of How To Train Your Dragon in all the best ways. So if you’re looking for an easy, fun watch – you’ll love The Sea Beast.
8 – Tár
Dir. Todd Field
Tár is a film that, as a classically trained musician, should be catnip for me. The teaser might be the best trailer I’ve ever seen. Seriously check it out. Tár is a film that has a lot to say and it takes its time saying them over the course of a 168 minutes run time. The filmmakers clearly did their musical homework. Even some of the jargon and name dropping went over my head at times. I’m very glad that I was able to watch with subtitles. That said, it’s not necessary to be knowledgable about classical music to enjoy this film.
The main draw of this movie is Cate Blanchett as the film’s namesake – renowned conductor Lydia Tár. She is absolutely magnificent and electric throughout. Especially during a one-take masterclass scene where the camera follows her around for 10+ minutes while she pontificates about the canon of classical music. This film really takes you on a journey and effectively examines the thoughts and inner monologues of those people we hold in the highest regard. I’m excited to talk with other musicians about this film. This film has layers and I’m looking forward to a re-watch. I think it’s absolutely worth checking out for Blanchett’s performance alone.
7 – Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Dir. Dean Fleischer Camp
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is based on a series of YouTube videos from about a decade ago. It fills my heart with joy that this is a movie that was made this year. Jenny Slate’s voice for Marcel is simultaneously hilarious and earnest with little bursts of sassiness in all the right places. It is magical, quiet, thoughtful, and deeply introspective with all the ingredients of a children’s movie.
But the result is much more mature than most movies made for kids. It doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects and conversations. This film concerns mortality, community, family, internet culture, and interpersonal relationships. All while being extremely soft and quiet, but standing up for what you want. I can’t think of a more introverted film and it’s my favorite animated movie of the year.
6 – The Menu
Dir. Mark Mylod
The Menu is a terrific thriller/comedy that takes on the world of ultra high-end fine dining. There are so many layers to this film, and it peels them back slowly and thoughtfully. There are so many surprises it’s hard to remember them all. And it gets funnier and funnier along the way. I was rolling in the aisles by the end.
The whole cast is great but Ralph Fiennes is the glue that holds everything together. He has such an intimidating presence on-screen. I love his pretentiousness so much. Come to think of it, this year has so many movies that take down the richest, most vile people in our society (More on that later). Maybe that increases my enjoyment. Who’s to say? But this film gets better and stranger as it goes along, without going overboard into absurdity, except maybe the last course. You can’t go wrong if you’re looking for something thrilling and fun to watch on a cozy movie night.
5 – Avatar: The Way of Water
Dir. James Cameron
If you think Avatar: The Way of Water is Disney’s attempt to cash-in on the highest grossing film of all time, you’d be right. But it’s a lot more than that too. The visuals of this movie are honestly unbelievable. Yes, the plot is bland with cookie-cutter characters but sometimes that’s exactly what a movie needs. It takes the time to bask in the joy of doing things you love with people you love. There is a particular sequence where Lo’ak, played by Britain Dalton, befriends a lonely space whale and it’s beautiful and awesome and exhilarating.
The final action set-piece is one for the ages. Hot take: James Cameron knows how to make action look incredible. I was on the edge of my seat for the last 45 minutes. More than anything, I’m excited for the future of these movies. I don’t think this movie is for everyone. It’s over-long with a fairly stale story and there are some leftover troubles from the first movie that I didn’t love. But the filmmaking craft is remarkable in and of itself and that’s the reason why it’s so high on my list.
4 – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Dir. Rian Johnson
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is an absolute romp. I loved the original Knives Out. I got to see it at an advanced screening at the Alamo Drafthouse, so I feel like I was a cheerleader for that film since its release. This film was only released in theaters FOR A WEEK. I didn’t get a chance to see it, so I had to wait to watch it when Netflix dumped it on their servers. BUT it was well worth it because I think this is equally as good as, and in some ways better than, the original.
Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc is still incredible, as always. But the stand-out performance comes from Janelle Monáe. She plays the mysterious ex-partner of a tech billionaire and is doing A LOT of heavy lifting. This movie is much bigger than the last movie. More money, bigger personalities, extravagant sets. Director Rian Johnson has created another great entry into the detective mystery genre. It’s so good. It’s so funny. It’s so clever. And it gets better on subsequent watches. Check it out.
3 – Top Gun: Maverick
Dir. Joseph Kosinski
Get your popcorn. Grab a soda. Strap in. It’s Top Gun: Maverick time. This movie literally stars at Mach 10 and doesn’t slow down. There are so many great set-ups, pay-offs and subversions of exceptions. It’s such a satisfying watch. Miles Teller and his mustache are iconic. The flight sequences are incredible. Tom Cruise saluting the deck crew before take-off makes me want to run through a brick wall.
There’s also a poignant tribute to Val Kilmer’s Iceman character from the original movie. The way that it’s handled, given Kilmer’s damaged vocal cords, is beautiful and emotional. The film had the highest grossing domestic box office of 2022 with $718 million. Many theaters have been struggling and to have a movie do incredible numbers like this, seemingly out of nowhere, was the best surprise of the year. It’s awesome. Go find a huge TV, turn the sound to 11, and watch this movie!
2 – The Fabelmans
Dir. Steven Spielberg
I often think about the solitude of being a creative person. So many hours alone in a practice room, sitting at a desk writing an arrangement or editing a video. The Fabelmans explores those themes and more in the real-life story of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is arguably the greatest filmmaker working today and full disclosure, I’m a huge fan. I love the nostalgia and hopefulness of all his films. And this fits perfectly into that pantheon of his best films.
There are so many beautiful aspects of this film. The cinematography, the score, the performances – especially Gabriel LaBelle as the Spielberg proxy Sammy Fabelman. I love what this film has to say about family, creativity, art, bigotry, religion, relationships, mental health. And it does it in an earnest, yet entertaining way. This is also my pick for the best ending of the year, with a flourish and a wink to the camera. I highly recommend The Fabelmans for anyone who has worked in a creative field.
1 – Everything Everywhere All at Once
Dir. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Schreinert (AKA The Daniels)
What can I say about this film that hasn’t already been said? Not much. Everything Everywhere All at Once is my favorite film of 2022 and could very well become my favorite film of the decade. It has something for everyone and seemingly everyone gets something different from it. For me, I love what it has to say about the small moments of life and what it means to be a family.
I could highlight the entire cast, but given his recent Oscar buzz I want to shout-out Ke Huy Quan for being absolutely incredible in his return to acting after many years behind the camera. If you don’t recognize his name, you will absolutely recognize his performance as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. His story is inspiring and I highly recommend looking into it after you see Everything Everywhere All at Once.
This film truly lives up to its name. It is a lot to take in, so be sure to come at it from a place of clarity. The production design, cinematography, and especially the editing are evocative and unlike any other films I’ve seen in recent memory. A truly staggering cinematic achievement. Go seek out this movie as soon as possible, I’d love to hear what you think about it.
And that’s my list! If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading I’m hoping to continue writing on this blog. Making a goal of writing something once per month. It could be music things, entertainment things, life things. We’ll see how it progresses. Let me know if you have any ideas or topics you’d like for me to explore.
What I’m listening to: Dave Matthews Band’s brand new single Madman’s Eyes. Absolute banger.
What I’m eating/drinking: New lemon-lime soda Starry. Better than Sierra Mist, not as good a Sprite.
What I’m watching: The Last of Us on HBO. 2 episodes in and I am hooked. I will watch Pedro Pascal in anything