When the year started, we were coming out of a cinematic dead zone, one that didn’t seem to be catching up to reality all that quickly. The upcoming blockbusters seemed dire and the selection for the first half of the year was few and far between. Although my top 10 includes one of the first films I saw this year, it was the 2nd half of 2022 that really carried the year over the finish line in style. From May onwards things began to look up, leading to an eclectic top 10 films of the year, full of spectacle and flair as well as a few well handled dramas that just do everything right. Here they are.
The 10 Best Films of 2022
10. Top Gun Maverick
While I had more than a little trepidation when it came to a second instalment in the Top Gun series, something very few were actively asking for or needed. The original had a closed off story that felt told by the end. Maverick however doesn’t just open up this world, it heightens the story of its original film with the 2nd film serving as a form of bookend in a 35 year story. The action is spectacularly realised, Tom Cruise turns in a surprisingly tender performance and the film never pushes its legacy plot points to pay credence to the original, instead allowing the film to have its own story and moments, using the past to inform the present instead. Not just a good sequel, Top Gun: Maverick gives life to a franchise that feels raring to go at the end.
9. Licorice Pizza
There is something not quite right about Licorice Pizza and thats the point of Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest feature. Starring Alaina Haim and Cooper Hoffman as an unlikely romantic pairing in 1970s Los Angeles, Anderson’s film lacks a plot instead following Hoffman’s Gary Valentine as he ventures on various different get rich quick schemes, dragging the older Alana (Haim) along for the ride with the two unable or unwilling to escape each others orbits. Not only is Haim brilliant but Anderson’s directing, a love letter to the LA valley, is delightfully light, a soft touch constantly drifting from moment to moment, each one dripping with romance and young, dumb love. It might not be quite what you expected but you shouldn’t be surprised, its called Licorice Pizza after all.
Fall is pure unadulterated terror wrapped in the pretty bow of a survival film. Telling the story of two women who decide to climb the highest TV tower in North America when everything goes wrong for them. Scott Mann’s film is minimal in its execution but vividly builds tension with every single frame. With one of 2022’s best twists to boot, Fall is a good old fashioned survival film with a great soundtrack, some stunning cinematography and two impressive performances in Grace Caroline Currey and Virginia Gardner. Its simple, smart and terrifying and that’s something I didn’t know I needed as I squirmed in my seat the whole time.
7. Glass Onion
Rian Johnson’s follow up to Knives Out manages to feel similar to its predecessor while moving into a more comic world. Not only does it feel like ‘worlds best detective’ Benoit Blanc, gamely played by Daniel Craig, fake southern drawl and all, suits this film far more than he did in the original but Craig has a comic timing that fits far better in this ludicrously over the top follow up. With an impressive cast including Kate Hudson, Edward Norton and Janelle Monae. Glass Onion doesn’t so much build on what came before but tell its own story. Much like Death on the Nile did for Poirot, Glass Onion tells a unique story in the Benoit Blanc series and this one had me laughing out loud and enjoying every minute of it.
6. Cha Cha Real Smooth
Cooper Raiff’s coming of age story is well intentioned but sickly much like the grown man child he plays and strangely, despite the off-putting taste the whole film gives, that is why it works. Telling the story of a 30 year old who is struggling to grow up but makes a connection with a woman named Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) he meets at a Bah Mitzvah. Cha Cha Real Smooth is a really delicate portrayal of fear and how people struggle to push through it in their younger life, either when it comes to settling down with someone of just finally deciding to grow on your own. Raiff is excellent and Dakota Johnson gives a delightfully messy performance. The real highlight however is Burghardt who really grounds this story in reality despite what can be at times an exaggerated plot.
5. Avatar: The Way of Water
Many doubted James Cameron’s need to produce another Avatar. While the world was open for another chapter, it had been over 14 years since the last one came to cinemas and ignited a 3D revolution. The sequel despite having a similar plot strangely feels more grounded with The Way of Water playing like a family adventure film in many ways. At over three hours long, this new area of Pandora is a sight to behold, a visual masterpiece that proves unlike with mainstream Marvel movies at the moment that taking your time perfecting the visuals adds to the immersion the film offers. Despite lacking the novelty, The Way of Water actually feels more welcoming, less alien and it makes for a family film with a depth of emotion that the first struggled to tap into. Add to that an exemplary score and some shining performances by Kate Winslet and Zoe Saldana and you have a sequel that not only justifies its existence, it makes you hopeful for the next three movies.
4. The Road Dance
Most likely the hardest watch on this list, Richie Adams’ The Road Dance tells a tale of romance, rape and control all to the backdrop of the beautiful Scottish Hebrides. Based on the novel by John Mackay, the story is a simple one and there is a beauty to the simple approach Adams has taken to tell his story as a young woman destined for marriage and happiness is plunged into a place of darkness and fear when her beloved is sent away to war and she is raped the night before he leaves. Hermione Corfield is tremendous, the scenery is beautiful but harsh at the same time and Mark Gatiss and Morven Christie are excellent supports in a film that is conventional but incredibly evocative.
3. Good Luck To You, Leo Grande
There is a lightness to this sex comedy from director Sophie Hyde and writer Katy Brand that makes its subject matter, three meetings between uptight school teacher Nancy (Emma Thompson) and sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack), one of the most approachable films of the year. Not only is Thompson’s comedic skills well harnessed here but McCormack makes Leo a brazen but understanding character who understands the industry he is in and has chosen to accept the good in what he is doing. Hyde and Brand together have crafted a sex positive story that isn’t so much a romance or a sexual awakening, rather a new understanding of what it means to be alive for two people that think they know everything there is to know about life for entirely different reasons.
2. Everything Everywhere All At Once
This Michelle Yeoh starring, science fiction drama that picked up buzz in the early months of 2022 and finally landed in the UK in May is an utterly spellbinding take on families struggling to understand each other in the modern world. Despite the multiversal premise and some excellent action set pieces, the best part of directing duo The Daniels film is the heart it wears on its sleeve. Both Michelle Yeoh and Stephanie Tsu give career best performances and Ke Huy Quan in his long gestating return to acting shines but the real highlight is how through a script with so much taking place, Everything Everywhere All At Once tells a story that is so simple and relatable. Be it how we all find it hard to connect through the constant noise of an over complicated world or the simple fact that children are different from their parents and through no fault of their own, they cannot easily come to terms with it. The Daniels have told a story about connection in the 21st century and that’s what makes their film such a triumph.
While it was challenging to properly place the last two films on this list, Oliver Hermanus’ Living, a story of a dying gentleman taking one last stab at taking life by the horns took the top spot on my list this year for one simple reason. It is a film that is perfectly constructed, one that uses time to tell a heart-warming story instead of one that builds to misery. Bill Nighy is at his best here and despite the cold, lifeless bureaucracy that Living tells its story within, Hermanus’ film is anything but. Coming alive through a warm use of colour, some expertly framed close ups and shots of a London teeming with life behind all the mindless drones walking to and from work that doesn’t matter to them. It’s easy to see Living as a remake of Kurosowa’s Ikuru but it tells its story so well and brings about such a feeling of gratification through a story of impending sorrow that it doesn’t feel sentimental but in the end has a poignancy that quietly breaks its audience only to build them back up. Its gleeful and melancholy and everything great cinema should be and it was the best film of 2022.
So there you have it, the best and worst of 2022 in the rear view mirror and a whole new year of cinema on the horizon. But first a few days off to watch a few films and hopefully I’ll be back with a few reviews in the next week. I hope you enjoyed this list and reading a few of my thoughts about what is worth watching going into 2023 and beyond.