As the new year approaches, it seems like a good time to look back on the year that was 2022 at the movies.
For me the year started a bit slow, pepped up in the spring, limped through mid summer and early fall, and then closed incredibly strong in November and December.
That’s probably par for the course each year as potential Oscar contenders try to open when Academy voters are thinking about nominations most later in the year.
As I write about my favorite movies this year, I freely admit there may be some recency bias to my choices. I’ve seen almost half of the 25 movies I mention within the last six weeks and four of them in the last week as I endeavored to catch up and more movies became available through streaming.
I prefer to see films in the theater so that my attention is focused on the film and not other things going on around the house, but there are only so many opportunities to get out to the movies. I saw six of the movies streaming at home.
This column is about my favorite movies instead of the “best movies” because my taste for film is subjective, just like everyone else’s. You and I might be able to agree that we enjoy the same movie, but it might be for totally different reasons. Those differences are what makes discussing film or any form of art worthwhile and fun.
Favorite Overall Movies of the Year
3. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery — Titled after the song from the Beatles’ “White Album,” this mystery written and directed by Rian Johnson brings back Daniel Craig as famous sleuth Benoit Blanc in a twisty-turny tale of murder and deception with a fun cast and gorgeous cinematography. The Netflix production should have had more than a week’s run in theaters.
2. The Banshees of Inisherin — Martin MacDonagh’s black comedy/tragedy may be a metaphor for the Irish Troubles or just an odd tale of a broken friendship that leads to sorrow. Either way, fine performances by Collin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, and Barry Keoghan make the tale worthy of your time as does the glorious cinematography of Ben Davis.
1. The Fabelmans — Steven Spielberg does it again with this semi-autobiographical story that’s heart-wrenching yet funny and gorgeously shot by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. The film handles the tough topics of divorce and perhaps mental illness with such a tender touch. It has the Spielberg magic even though it’s one of his most “normal” films.
From here, I’m breaking my choices down by type of movie, but my top three films aren’t eligible for the following categories to make way for more movies.
Favorite Dramas of the Year
3. Elvis — Despite Tom Hanks’ questionable Dutch accent as shyster/manager Col. Tom Parker, Elvis is such a fun and riveting movie. Austin Butler is scintillating as the King of rock-n-roll, and should get a Best Actor Oscar nod.
2. The Whale — As a fat guy myself, this movie was gut-wrenching. I guess that pun was intended. The film is a tough watch, but Brendan Fraser is great in the role and would get my vote for a Best Actor Oscar if I had one. Sadie Sink, of “Stranger Things” fame, and Hong Chau are also very good.
1. Tár — Cate Blanchett gives a tour-de-force performance as Lydia Tar/Linda Tar, a marvelous world-class composer who uses her fame and position to attract, groom, ensnare young female “lovers” for what she can do for their careers. This twist on the usual #MeToo story is fascinating. Blanchett might win another Oscar for her role.
Favorite Comedies of the Year
3. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story — This is anything but a documentary about parody artist Weird Al, but it is very funny, particularly if you are a fan of the artist. Daniel Radcliffe is hilarious as Al, and Evan Rachel Wood is quite good as Madonna.
2. Triangle of Sadness — This biting black comedy by writer director Rueben Ostlund sends up the rich and fabulous when a yacht trip goes haywire in some truly unbelievable circumstances. The satire is unsettling but also terrifically funny in a disconcerting way.
1. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent — Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal bring back the buddy-action comedy in Tom Gormican’s homage to and send-up of Cage, with Cage in the lead role. I probably had more fun at this movie than any other this year.
Favorite Action Movies of the Year
3. The Northman — This brutal revenge flick is the most visceral movie of the year. It’s gore and violence aren’t for everyone, but you can’t say director Robert Eggers doesn’t make interesting movies.
2. Top Gun: Maverick — This movie was an unqualified success for stars Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, and director Joseph Kosinski testifying to the fact that we do indeed have “the need, the need for speed” more than 30 years after the original. Though I think it went a bit off the rails in the third act, the film hit all the right notes in the first two acts, providing nostalgia and fun.
1. R R R — This uproarious Tollywood action-adventure epic — laced with humor and dancing — is tremendously entertaining and more than worth three hours of your time. Hollywood should take notes.
Favorite Sci-Fi Movies of the Year
3. Nope — My original assessment of “Nope” as an average sci-fi flick was a bit harsh. I still don’t love the movie, but it’s unsettling nature has more of an appeal to me after a second viewing than my original impression right out of the theater. Director Jordan Peele created an effective film, even if I didn’t care for all its layers.
2. Prey — Who would’ve thought there was any life left in the “Predator” franchise? Put the aliens in a new time period and setting, and the stale idea is fresh once again. Fine atmospheric work by director Dan Trachetenberg, his cast and crew lift the movie to high levels of thrills.
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once — It took me two streaming sittings to get through writer-director Daniel Kwan’s epic, universe-spanning adventure, but it was worth the commitment. Such an ambitious and yet well-constructed multi-verse adventure has to be the envy of every studio in Hollywood. So much heart and fine performances by Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, and Ke Huy Quan.
Favorite Horror Movies
3. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness — O.K., I admit this is a cheat. I wasn’t overly impressed with most of the horror films I saw this year. Marvel usually attacks a genre with its super-hero movies to give their movies more heft. This time the studio picked two. The storyline focusing on the Scarlet With is horror, while the one where Doctor Strange visits an alternate universe in a sci-fi tinged sub-plot. Since the Scarlet Witch story was better, this is my pick for my third favorite horror film.
2. The Black Phone — If this film gives you Stephen King vibes, you’re not crazy. It’s based on a story written by his son Joe Hill. This movie, by director Scott Derrickson, is creepy and spooky, but perhaps the most unsettling aspect isn’t the serial killer, played by Ethan Hawke, or the super-natural aspects, but rather the child-beating father of the film’s two main characters. Most movies about the 1970s are idealized to various degrees, but this movie delves into the rougher, seedier aspects of the era.
1. X and Pearl — These slasher films by writer-director Ti West are wickedly out there. “Pearl” is a prequel to “X,” although “X” was in theaters first. They are darkly funny, yet brutal movies. I don’t necessarily like the fact that I enjoyed them, but there is a undeniable craft beneath the madness. Mia Goth is a star, just one I don’t want shining near me.
Favorite Animated Movies of the Year
3. Puss and Boots: The Last Wish — I hadn’t even planned to see this computer-animated film after feeling ambivalent about the character in the “Shrek” franchise, but I’m glad I did. The film is utterly charming for kids with a nice message for adults, too.
2. Turning Red — This Pixar-Disney co-production did not get a theatrical release, and that’s a shame because it’s probably their best animated movie in a couple of years. It’s one of the best recent movies about the growing pains we all go through as an adolescent.
1. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio — This isn’t your great grandparents little wooden boy. Director Guillermo del Toro puts his stop-motion animated spin on the Pinocchio legend, and its a weirdly beautiful combination that struck all the right notes for me.
Top 3 Super-Hero Movies of the Year
3. DC League of Super Pets — This is a kid’s movie, for sure, but there is plenty for the adult super-hero fan, too. I hope the film did well enough for a sequel because Krypto (Dwayne Johnson) and Ace the Bat Hound (Kevin Hart) make a great team. Maybe, the Rock chose the wrong DC super-hero project to push with “Black Adam?”
2. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever — I was a bit wary of this film. How could they make a Black Panther movie without its titular star, the late Chadwick Boseman? Director Ryan Coogler was more than up to the task. The film tackles that issue head on, and provides a fine solution, while opening up new corners of the Marvel Universe by introducing Prince Namor (Tenoch Huerta Meija) as the Sub-Mariner.
1. The Batman — I’ve been a fan of The Batman as long as I can remember, and this version by director Matt Reeves and star Robert Pattinson is the closest to the comic books I’ve been reading regularly since 1973. It’s not a perfect adaptation, but it’s as close as Hollywood has gotten.