2022 Review

31 Dec

By Tanner Smith

I told myself I wouldn’t make my year-end 2022 list until after I’ve seen White Noise, Women Talking, and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery–but I’ve been real busy this holiday season, I’m very tired, and I decided instead to publish my list as is before celebrating New Year’s Eve. (To quote Greg in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, “Please appreciate how honest I was just now.”)

Besides, I liked many films this year and I feel my list is very solid as is. Why waste time? Let’s get going!

As with my 2021 Review last year, I’m listing my selections in alphabetical order. Beginning with the honorable mentions, they are:

5-25-77, Alan Jones Part One, Bones and All, Bros, Catherine Called Birdy, Clerks III, Elvis, Emergency, Everything Everywhere All at Once, Fall, Halloween Ends, Hollywood Stargirl, Kimi, Mark, Mary + Some Other People, The Northman, Not Okay, Pennywise: The Story of It, Scream, She Said, Spoiler Alert, Stutz, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and Vincent’s Vow.

And this year…I’m going with a Top 25! So, here they are–my Top 25 Favorite Films of 2022 (in alphabetical order):

  1. 7 Days
    This year, we had a couple of comedies set during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic–Judd Apatow’s The Bubble and the Indie Spirit Award winner 7 Days. Maybe it’s because the latter was simpler and sweeter than the former, but to me, Roshan Sethi’s endearing indie romcom 7 Days is unquestionably the superior film. Short, funny, and sweet, and with winning performances by stars Karan Soni (who also co-wrote the film) and Geraldine Viswanathan, it’s a neat blend of screwball comedy and realistic drama–it’s also one of the films I rewatched the most this year.

2. After Yang
Do androids dream? If so, what purpose did they truly serve in the grand scheme of things? What truly matters when a person and a machine are one and the same? As those questions are pondered in the wonderful, moving sci-fi drama After Yang, brought to us by visionary filmmaker Kogonada (whose previous film was Columbus, also wonderful and moving but for different reasons). And with one of the best performances from Colin Farrell starring as a father hoping to repair the family’s beloved malfunctioning humanoid companion (named Yang), I was pleased to ponder the questions along with him.

3. Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
More of a modest memoir than a glorified space opera, I thoroughly enjoyed director Richard Linklater’s latest nostalgia trip. This one has a sci-fi conspiracy twist–NASA put a space module too small for grown-up astronauts and trained and sent a fourth-grade boy up to the moon in it. (Hey, I’ve heard crazier theories.) Available on Netflix.

4. Barbarian
As many film reviewers have pointed out before me, 2022 was a very impressive year for horror. And I include Zach Cregger’s strange, unsettling, unpredictable, even occasionally laugh-out-loud funny Barbarian on this list because I simply cannot get it out of my head. (I know that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, and indeed there are better horror films on this list–but I’ll not dare give away the fun and horrifying secrets this film has to offer, even for a brief retrospective.)

5. The Batman
Don’t ask me exactly where I’d rank this latest cinematic outing of DC Comics’ Caped Crusader (given to us by director Matt Reeves, who already brought dignity back to the Planet of the Apes franchise) among the other Batman films–but it’s up there with the superior ones, like The Dark Knight and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. I love its dark mystery, its moody atmosphere, and its gritty performances (especially from Robert Pattinson as a damn good Batman and Zoe Kravitz as a complex Catwoman). Let’s see where it goes next.

6. The Black Phone
Well, THIS was chilling! Chilling for its late-1970s slasher-movie vibe, the usually-affable Ethan Hawke portraying pure evil as The Grabber, and keeping me on the edge of my seat as the pre-teenage protagonists attempt to escape The Grabber’s grasp and solve his deadly mystery–Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone gave me the chills many different times in its 103-minute runtime. Of all the unique and exceptional horror films released in 2022, this one got to me the most.

7. Bodies Bodies Bodies
I LOVED this crazy movie! Halina Reijn’s horror-comedy Bodies Bodies Bodies kept me intrigued as many times as it made me laugh. Picture Scream mixed with an Agatha Christie mystery, and you have a sharply satirical horror-comedy about a group of young people (in this case, Gen-Zers) who band together for a good time in a big house–only to turn against each other when they get killed one by one. In a time when so many young people live in the moment, cling to their smartphones for comfort and guidance, and completely miss what’s happening around them, this example of social commentary couldn’t be more effective if Zoey Deutch’s narcissistic character from Not Okay suddenly entered the picture. And the ending–PERFECT. That’s all I’ll say about it.

8. Cha Cha Real Smooth
Cha Cha Real Smooth is the sophomore effort from exciting new actor-filmmaker Cooper Raiff, after the refreshingly original 2020 college-dramedy S#!%house–after these two remarkable feats, I’ll happily see what else he has in store for us. Fresh new voices can add something special to familiar stories–for S#!%house, it was coming of age through the college experience; for Cha Cha Real Smooth, it’s coming of age post-college graduation; and in both films, there’s something special to be found. Keep up the good work, Mr. Raiff. Available on Apple TV+.

9. Confess, Fletch
My personal pick for the funniest film of the year. I could credit it to the direction from Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers, Superbad, Adventureland), the sharp screenplay from Mottola and Zev Borow, and/or the colorful supporting cast (which includes Marcia Gay Harden and Kyle MacLachlin)–maybe even the source material, Gregory McDonald’s 1976 novel of the same name. But it really comes down to Jon Hamm taking the lead as Fletch–he IS this movie.

10. Emily the Criminal
This film contains the best monologue of the year, delivered by the wonderful Aubrey Plaza in the title role, about why unpaid internships don’t mean a thing to someone who’s heavy in student loan debt. (Stolen credit cards and fake IDs…I guess they ARE the most practical way to make some easy money.) John Patton Ford’s neo-noir crime thriller is as telling as it is involving–and the great performances from Plaza and Theo Rossi (as Emily’s semi-boss) help too.

11. The Fabelmans
This is the film I’ve been looking forward to all year–a semi-autobiographical portrait of the early days of Steven Spielberg, one of my filmmaking heroes. I remember when I was a kid, I read up on how Spielberg was inspired to make his own films as a youngster and what would become the seeds that would bloom such beautiful artworks as E.T. and Schindler’s List, among others.

And five years ago, there was a wonderful HBO documentary, simply called Spielberg, that went in-depth about WHY he made his films–and a lot of his youth experiences had to do with it. (Check it out if you have HBO–it’s a great doc.)

Now, Spielberg himself has made The Fabelmans, which is not only a love letter to his growth in filmmaking but also a moving memoriam of his parents (his mother died in 2017, his father in 2020). He even wrote the script, which means something since he doesn’t usually write his films and it also says something about how much of his heart and soul went into this one. (He co-wrote it with Tony Kushner, the playwright who also penned Spielberg works such as Munich, Lincoln, and West Side Story.) But it is based on his childhood, so who better to write it than the man himself?

And it shows. Only a visionary and exciting director like Steven Spielberg can take a coming-of-age story and make it such a visual and aural entertainment. Do I care about the characters? Yes. Am I intrigued by their story? Yes. Does it feel long at 2.5 hours? No. So, add all of that to the usual Spielberg flair, and what do you get?

One of the best films of the year.

12. The Fallout
For me, the most emotionally involving film of 2022 was released in January–that film was The Fallout, which is about school-shooting survivors attempting to overcome trauma and guilt. By the end of the film, we get the feeling it’s going to take more than one movie to get through it–but there is a hopeful sense that they will in the future. A wonderful filmmaking debut from actress Megan Park and a remarkable leading performance from 2022’s busiest actress Jenna Ortega (Wednesday, X, Scream). Available on HBO Max.

13. God Forbid: The Sex Scandal that Brought Down a Dynasty
The most entertaining documentary I’ve seen this year–it’s as riveting as it is disturbing. Available on Hulu.

14. Hustle
A Happy Madison production released on Netflix…and it’s GREAT?? OK, OK, I don’t want to sound too snobby about it–but I mean it when I say Hustle took me completely by surprise. It’s not merely great in the same way I enjoy funny Adam Sandler-produced comedies like Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, and Click (as opposed to stuff like Jack and Jill, Just Go With It, and quite a few Netflix comedies released under his studio banner Happy Madison Productions)–it’s great in the way that actor/producer Sandler and director Jeremiah Zagar (We the Animals) found a story deep inside themselves that they wanted to tell in the best way they could. (And given Sandler’s love for the NBA, setting the story within the pro-basketball circuit makes me wonder why it took so long for him to make this film.) It’s a feel-good story of hope and belief with enough gentle comedy (and your typical Sandler fashion of product placements) that truly got me in the heart. This is more than a layup, in basketball terms–it’s a freethrow that wins the game. I loved it. Available on Netflix.

15. I Heard the Bells
I Heard the Bells, the first cinematic production from Sight & Sound Theatres, tells the story of the origin of the well-known poem “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It’s a story of a man who had his faith and his passion challenged before ultimately embracing both. And it’s a warm, uplifting fable that was just what I needed during the holiday season.

16. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Well, THAT was interesting and wonderful! How did I feel feelings for a mockumentary about a talking, walking shell named Marcel?? Just…what…how…why… I mean, not that I’m complaining, but wow, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is kind of a beautiful film! There’s a lot of heart, poignancy, and earnestness here. There’s a lot of humor, but it’s more gentle and quiet than I expected. But most importantly, there was rarely a moment throughout this film where I didn’t have a smile on my face.

17. Nope
Like Jordan Peele’s previous films (Get Out and Us, both of which I love), Nope is another deeply layered horror film that also demands a second viewing. (I rewatched it with my dad–we both got much more out of the film that time.) But as we know, it takes a very entertaining first viewing to warrant one. And Peele is 3 for 3.

This film also contains the most disturbing sequence of any horror film I saw this year–you probably already know the scene I’m talking about: the one that takes us inside…well, if you don’t know, you’ll see when you see it (or see it again).

18. On the Count of Three
It’s gonna take a lot of analysis to get into why I endorse this film wholeheartedly, especially if you saw the Hulu ads and assumed that it’s a dark comedy about suicide. It’s much more than that. Trust me, I wouldn’t recommend the film there wasn’t a whole lot more to it. Director-star Jerrod Carmichael and his writing duo Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch knew exactly what they were doing and gave us a complex story about life and death. Available on Hulu.

19. Pearl
I wasn’t even that frightened of Mia Goth as Pearl in X because she was a frail old woman (who killed people)–and honestly, if I didn’t know that was her underneath all that old-person makeup in X, I would never have guessed. But here in this origin story, called Pearl, in which we see Mia Goth as a younger version of Pearl…yikes is she scary! I don’t think I’m ever gonna look at her smile the same way again (especially after that last shot…I’m gonna have nightmares about this film’s last shot!!).

It’s a performance that is determined to give a casual moviegoer chills and even the biggest fan of X shivers–and Mia Goth is giving it her all; I see her winning numerous awards for this complicated, multilayered role that she must’ve had a ton of fun playing at the same time.

Spoiler alert–X is on this list too; if this list wasn’t alphabetical, I’d include both X and Pearl as a tie.

20. Prey
All it takes is a change of scenery (in this case, Comanche territory in the 1700s) to get people invested in the Predator franchise again–and I dunno if this will actually happen, but I’d be down for a Predator-vs.-Samurai film too!

21. Smile
Another pleasant surprise in the horror category for 2022 in film, Parker Finn’s Smile is more than a cash-grab or a simple scarefest–it’s a unique, intriguing, disturbing, and yes, quite chilling commentary on people around you trying to force you to “smile” (i.e., be happy) while your inner demons continue to torment your every being. Good stuff here.

22. Soft & Quiet
If I Heard the Bells showed me a glimpse of heaven, then Soft & Quiet is like taking a 90-minute tour in hell. (This may have been the scariest film of the year for me due to its frank and realistic manner in which evil is personified.) But thanks to the ambiguous yet optimistic end of the film, we remember that no matter what horrific and inexcusable deeds are committed towards our neighbors here on earth (by other neighbors–in this case, neo-Nazi Karens), no one can get away with them.

23. TÁR
So what is TÁR? A cancel-culture fable? A ghost story? A riches-to-rags tale? A meditation of classical music? Well, the beauty of film is it can be whatever you want it to be. And with Todd Field’s amazing, haunting epic drama with a spectacular powerful performance from Cate Blanchett, I don’t mind pondering what it’s truly about as long as I’m still thinking about it. And I doubt I’ll forget it anytime soon.

24. Top Gun: Maverick
Well, THAT was awesome! There’s nothing I can say about this surprise-smash blockbuster sequel that no one else has said already–so I might as well move on.

25. X
With X and its prequel Pearl, filmmaker Ti West not only shows his versatility as a director but also outdoes himself with a new iconic horror franchise. While stylistically different, both films are wicked, darkly funny, blood-splattered, and chilling to the bone. And it began with X, the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to Pearl’s…”Wizard of Oz” (see, that’s how different they are–I love it), a horrific look at how dark and deep the hole of loneliness, old age, and repression can get…while giving us some multidimensional characters to see through it and some gory murders to see THEM through. What a wild ride. And I can’t wait to see “MaXXXine,” the new entry in the franchise.

Whew! This one was exhausting to make and it’s time to rest for a while. I can’t wait to see what treasures 2023 will deliver either on the big screen or on the streaming channels. However you see it, let’s enjoy it!

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