Did the movies really "come back" in 2022? Pandemic restrictions at theaters are in the past, but audiences seem intent on staying home for just about everything besides superhero films, blockbusters, and horror films. Meanwhile, there are now questions about whether the streaming economy can actually be profitable. Those who stayed home, however, missed a lot of great stuff. My picks for the movie year:
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once. Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert's last film together was Swiss Army Man, one of my least favorite movies of the last decade. They've followed it up with one of the best. While the superhero genre has largely fumbled the idea of multiverse storytelling, Everything Everywhere All at Once gives it both clarity and gravitas, in a poignant and exciting family story starring a never-better Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu and Ke Huy Quan.
2. The Fabelmans. In a year full of movies that either represented a "love letter to cinema" or saw a filmmaker wrestling with the legacies of his parents, Steven Spielberg's autobiographical opus did both, and better than anyone else. A funny, poignant tour de force, highlighted by Judd Hirsch's one-scene showstopper of a performance.
3. Top Gun: Maverick. We waited 36 years for the sequel to 1986's Top Gun, including a four-year pandemic delay, but director Joseph Kosinski found a way to bring the most 1980s film of all into the modern day. It involved doing absolutely everything right from an action standpoint, from correct spatial continuity to another true movie star performance by Tom Cruise.
4. RRR. Director S. S. Rajamouli's three-hour Telugu language-action epic was an unlikely phenomenon this year. The film had everything—flying tigers, song-and-dance numbers, and a revisionist take on Indian history. I can't recommend enough that you see it with an audience if you can.
5. Nope. Jordan Peele is now three-for-three, following this film that found a fascinating thing to do with the established tropes of the alien invasion movie, while also deploying Peele's usual mix of remixed iconography (this time, it was "The Horse in Motion," Fry's Electronics, creepy Western theme parks, dancing inflatables, and memories of a murderous monkey).
6. Aftersun. The year's best directorial debut came from Charlotte Wells, telling a gorgeous and heartbreaking story about a girl (Frankie Corio) taking a trip to Turkey with her dad (Paul Mescal), and remembering that trip as an adult. Filled with dreamlike compositions, Aftersun has the year's most gut-punching ending.
7. TÁR. A lot of people this year were stupid about cancel culture, #MeToo, and "separating the art from the artist." TÁR was extremely smart about all of the above. Todd Field's film, featuring Cate Blanchett in the year's best performance, looked at those topics in a nuanced way, while remaining a character study first and foremost.
8. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Director Rian Johnson followed up 2017's well-liked Knives Out with a film that is its equal, putting Daniel Craig's Benoit Blanc into a different mystery involving a different ensemble cast, led by Edward Norton's Musk-like billionaire. It's missing the inventiveness of the original, but its plot is even more intricate.
9. Athena. A French film from director Romain Gavras, this thrilling drama, featuring multiple beautiful single-take shots, debuted in Venice in September and landed with little fanfare on Netflix a few days later, but it's a stunner, telling a complex story about a police shooting in France, and the subsequent chaos.
10. Decision to Leave. The latest from South Korean master Park Chan-Wook combines the structure of a traditional film noir with modern technology, as major plot points hinge on iMessages, Voice Memos, translation apps and more. One of the year's most visually stunning pictures, featuring standout performances from Park Hae-il and Tang Wei.
Honorable mention: Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio, Avatar: The Way of Water, The Menu, Dinner in America, Women Talking, After Yang, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, 5-25-77, Triangle of Sadness, Good Night Oppy, Three Minutes: A Lengthening, Bad Axe, Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb, Living, Bones and All.
The Ten Worst Movies of 2022:
1. The Bubble. The cinema of the pandemic has led to some pretty bad movies, and so has the genre of Hollywood satires. The Bubble, Judd Apatow's Netflix disaster, was both. Devoid of laughs, the film depicts a group of vapid movie stars on a quarantine set in which essentially nothing funny occurs for two hours. Just a bunch of smug nonsense, with nothing to say about what it's supposedly mocking.
2. Win a Trip to Browntown. An abysmal low-budget comedy about a guy who makes a bet with his wife that she'll agree to have anal sex with him if he agrees to lose a certain amount of weight. This would be dicey enough even if director George A. Tramountanas didn't play the lead part himself. Or cast his real life wife… OR HIS REAL LIFE KIDS. I guess on some level this would have been defensible if it was funny, but it wasn’t.
3. The Gray Man. The most expensive film in Netflix history at a reported $200 million, and one of the worst. The Russo Brothers' action blowout exemplifies all of the worst aspects of today's action filmmaking, from incoherent fight scenes to lame plotting, as just about every major element is lifted straight from the Bourne series.
4. The Good Nurse. Hundreds of hours of true crime movies and shows landed on streaming services in 2022, but I can't imagine any of it was as boring as this Netflix dud, featuring Eddie Redmayne as a nurse who kills patients, Jessica Chastain as his vulnerable friend and colleague, and multiple hospital administrators covering his ass. It's slow, boring, underlit, and Redmayne is a complete nonentity as the villain.
5. Morbius. One of the worst superhero movies ever made, this nearly unwatchable early-year Jared Leto vampire curio was an ironic social media meme for some reason, but even that couldn't get people back to theaters for it. The hero was boring, the plot nonsensical, and it was just ugly.
6. Clerks III. Kevin Smith once again went back to the Clerks well this year, with a sequel focused on serious themes of aging and mortality. The problem was Smith forgot to include anything funny, while asking things of the original's amateur actors that were beyond their capability.
7. Jurassic World: Dominion. None of the sequels to Jurassic Park has been great, but the third of the current trilogy was the worst yet, with too many characters to service, lackluster dramatic stakes, and a complete disconnect with why these films are supposed to be appealing.
8. Hot Seat. An embarrassingly chintzy homage to the action cinema of the 1990s, in which the plot of Speed was rejiggered and applied to.. a bomb in an office chair. Featuring Kevin "Johnny Drama" as the hero, Mel Gibson in a bit character part, and a villain easily guessed by process of elimination.
9. Fresh. One of the year's most overused subjects was that of cannibalism, especially if it came as part of a shocking reveal. Bones and All did it well, but this Sundance debut and Hulu misfire tried to tie it to feminist themes in a way that never worked.
10. Return to Space. Could the time possibly be worse for a laudatory documentary, on Netflix, on how America's space program was revised by… Elon Musk?