As 2022 comes to a close, I once again relish the opportunity to join every other critic in the world in preparing a list of the best films the year had to offer. Overall, 2022 felt like a rather strong cinematic year with some innovative and original films that provided me with that all too rare buzz you get walking out of a theater having seen something really special. There are a few titles I wish I could have seen that do not open in Nashville until after the new year (Women Talking, Saint Omer, EO), but I always leave the door open for those films to possibly jump onto the list once I catch up. Before I reveal my Top 5, I give a tip of the hat to a handful of films that were exceptional but didn’t quite make the cut. My close calls, if you will (alphabetically):
After Yang by Kogonada
Emily the Criminal by John Patton Ford
Everything Everywhere All At Once by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan
Kimi by Steven Soderbergh
Montana Story by Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Nope by Jordan Peele
Triangle of Sadness by Ruben Östlund
And without further ado, here are the 5 best movies of 2022:
5. The Fabelmans by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Gabrielle LaBelle, Seth Rogen
Throughout the years, I have admittedly been curiously out of sync with Spielberg. A lot of his films that are considered all time greats, I find myself with just a lukewarm affection for. So I find it as bizarre as anyone that his last two films – his ridiculously glorious remake of West Side Story and his self-examining family portrait The Fabelmans – are two of my very favorite Spielberg efforts. The Fabelmans is Spielberg’s reflection on growing up with his peculiar family and how he came to discover his lifelong connection with the movie camera. Whereas many filmmakers use movies as a sort of therapy, there is a very specific honesty and bravery to Spielberg’s gaze in this film that really took me aback. For many it would be tough enough just to revisit the dissolution of their parents’ marriage, but to portray the active role that you and your camera played in that breakup is pretty stunning. Newcomer Gabriel LaBelle gives a great star-making performance as Spielberg’s young alterego, and Michelle Williams and Paul Dano are emotionally stirring as the troubled parents dragging their kids across the country trying to salvage a crumbling relationship. It’s not a perfect movie – it has a tendency to lean into a corny moment or two – but as a whole, I found it to be moving and a new level of openness for a director I haven’t always warmed up to in the past.
4. TÁR by Todd Field
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant, Mark Strong
World-renowned musical conductor Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) is a real piece of work. Her entire existence has morphed into a power trip which knows no bounds and has crept into every single aspect of her life. As her partner/first violinist Sharon (Nina Hoss) points out, every relationship in her life is transactional. Writer/director Todd Field’s in-depth examination of a very complicated woman is without question one of the most challenging films of the year. In a style that reminded me of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird (2017), it consists of a series of small moments, some seemingly insignificant, that create a mosaic that ultimately take shape to become a very clear story of a life. Cate Blanchett is ferocious and beyond reproach in the lead role as she commands every moment and refuses to let Lydia’s veneer waver for even a single moment as her life begins to crumble around her. It’s the rare kind of film that dares you to grapple with your own reaction to it, and it’s simply operating on a different plane than most other movies made today.
3. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Rian Johnson)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn
I was lucky enough to experience Glass Onion twice in theaters, and it’s a shame that more people will never be able to experience this film with a large crowd. It’s easily the most fun the movies had to offer this year, and in this sequel to his 2019 hit Knives Out, Rian Johnson improves on the original in nearly every way. Working within a similar formula, the ante is upped in every way, especially with the level of comedy (the film is often hilarious), the perfectly cast group of characters who all work together like a perfect clockwork unit, and the gorgeous location. The screenplay is as tight as a drum, and the film is just as fun to watch a second time even knowing how all of the pieces fall into place. Daniel Craig is once again very game as the wise detective Benoit Blanc, but it’s Janelle Monáe who steals the show here in a show-stopping, captivating performance like she’s never given before. It’s a truly great piece of popcorn entertainment.
2. The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan
No film this year had the unique ability to alternate back and forth between moods and genres like this masterpiece from Martin McDonagh. It’s an unbelievable achievement as this film contains some of the funniest moments of the year contrasted with some of the absolute saddest and most humane scenes of any film in years. Taking place on a small Irish island with a small handful of characters and dealing with themes of loneliness and legacy, McDonagh displays an amazingly light and natural touch on this material considering how heavy-handed 2017’s Three Billboards over Ebbing, Missouri, his previous effort, felt. Anchored by four incredible, Oscar-worthy performances from Farrell, Gleeson, Condon, and Keoghan, The Banshees of Inisherin is McDonagh back at the top of his form and surpassing even his stellar work on 2018’s In Bruges. After this film is over, you walk away feeling like you know these people, and you weep for their plight as they soldier through the brave fight of just being a person in the world. A very quiet, lonely corner of the world.
1. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras)
This totally absorbing and jaw-dropping film joins 1994’s Hoop Dreams and 1995’s Crumb as one of my favorite documentaries of all time. This razor-sharp investigation by Laura Poitras tells a nuanced story of the life and passions of noted photographer Nan Goldin, her originality and indelible cultural influence, her personal struggles, and finally her mission to take down the Sackler family, responsible for unleashing the scourge of Oxycontin to the masses. An incredible added layer is presented in that the Sacklers heavily contribute to the art museums around the world, including some where Nan is featured. Even aside from being a recovering addict, every aspect of her life is touched by the Sacklers and her battle to make things right becomes incredibly moving, especially as we learn more about her disfunctional upbringing and family life. A lot of documentaries include a lot of information that just becomes a jumble, but Poitras organizes everything perfectly and leaves no stone unturned. We walk away knowing everything we could possibly want to know and feeling like we were invited into something private and personal. It’s just stellar filmmaking of the highest caliber. While it is difficult to compare documentaries with narrative features, I just cannot deny the impact All the Beauty and the Bloodshed has and the level of skill involved in bringing this story to the screen in such a clear and involving way. Forget about your boring, standard documentaries with lots of talking heads. This will floor you as much as any dramatic feature this year, and if it is not at least nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars, that will be a permanent history blight on the Academy.