Best and most notable movies 2022


Elliott Austin

This past year saw the release of a slew of amazing movies both big and small. Image credits, clockwise: Universal Pictures (Nope), Les Films du Losange (Saint Omer), A24 (After Yang), CJ Entertainment (Decision to Leave), A24 (Aftersun), Roadside Attractions (Benediction), NEON (Crimes of the Future), Variance Films (RRR)

Elliott Austin, Arts and Entertainment Editor

It’s hard not to be cynical about the current culture of art and entertainment in 2022. Everything popular starts to be treated as only having value if it’s part of a larger franchise, or tailored to those same conventions, while every “prestige” movie targeted to a more adult audience continues to under perform.The Marvel Cinematic Universe, in particular, has become almost ubiquitous in our modern culture. While the Marvel machine still has a strong stronghold on our entertainment, there has been a sense of dissatisfaction with the latest slate of content. Whether this is because of lack of production quality due to Covid budget saving measures, or just general fatigue with the product, is unclear. But don’t worry, the MCU won’t be going anywhere, if their schedule is anything to go by. The real, somewhat surprising, box office winner this year was Top Gun: Maverick, an all-American blockbuster if there ever was one. Beloved by audiences and critics, it quickly became a smash hit with extremely long legs at the box office. The end of 2022 also saw the triumphant return of the Avatar franchise, quickly rocketing to over $2 billion in just over a month. While it’s nothing new to have all the top grossers of any given year be from big franchises, the almost complete lack of success for “adult” pictures, that are otherwise well received by critics and audiences, like Tár, and The Fabelmans, to the point of not even breaking even. It doesn’t help that these movies reach streaming within a month of their release. But there’s also been runaway success by movies like Everything Everywhere All at Once, and there is an ever growing world of independent and underground film. The world of mainstream film may seem dire, but the truth is that every generation has the new hegemonic/defining product, and the movies truly worth remembering will prove themselves with time. Though there are many more movies released this year that are smaller and are very much worth seeking out, I’d like to highlight some films mostly ignored by awards. Not all of these will be a “hidden gem” but are all films I feel were not given their right due, whether that was unexpected or not. 

Nope (Jordan Peele) – Even more ambitious than his last film, Nope trades in the more quiet horror of Us for something larger-scale, without sacrificing any of the terror or personal stakes. OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) inherit the Haywood Ranch, where they train horses for film and television, in the wake of their father’s death by a falling coin. After a series of horse disappearances, the siblings become obsessed with capturing a picture of a UFO. Jupe (Steven Yeun), a former child star who runs a theme park not far from the Haywood ranch, who’s turned his traumatic past as the sole survivor of an incident on a tv show set, into a money making venture. A movie ultimately about how we, as audiences and artists, enjoy and monetize the spectacle and horror of real life. Incredibly striking and surreal images, combining all things science-fiction, horror, and western, captured largely on IMAX cameras. Nope is the kind of Hollywood movie that only gets made every few years. A fantastic, intensely rewatchable, horror blockbuster that sadly seems to have been disregarded by many. Bound to become a classic.

RRR (S.S. Rajamouli) –. Like S. S. Rajamouli’s other Telugu-language Indian blockbusters, RRR is a three hour, largely fictional historical epic action film of fantastical proportions. Contains what are easily the most inspired setpieces of the year, including an incredible and surprising dance sequence. Set in 1920s India, under British occupation, the movie follows an imagined scenario between two real life revolutionaries trapped in different realms. On one side is Bheem (Jr. NTR), on the search for a young girl stolen from his village. On the other is Rama (Ram Charan), a young officer in the Imperial Indian Army, who harbors secrets of his own and will stop at nothing for his goals. The ensuing friendship is unlike any other, but promises a fiery conclusion. Worldwide, RRR proved to be a huge success, but initially opened to poor crowds domestically. But once the word got out and clips started floating online, it rapidly gained an almost cult status and sold out theaters where people would dance along with the movie. Effortlessly engaging, always entertaining and brilliantly made, RRR is an action masterpiece.

Decision to Leave (Park Chan-wook) – Six years after the masterful The Handmaiden garnered near universal critical acclaim, and a brief stint directing the English language miniseries The Little Drummer Girl, Park Chan-wook returns with another immensely stylish thriller. Forsaking the explicitly sexual nature of past films, Decision to Leave aims for something more sensual and romantic, evoking many comparisons to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, specifically Vertigo. But Decision to Leave is much more than just “Hitchcokian.” Hae-Joon (Park Hae-il), a married and experienced detective, becomes obsessed with a woman, Seo-rae (Tang Wei), a suspect in the case of her murdered husband. The tension between the two leads is palpable, slowly circling each other in a tangled web of attraction, lust, and suspicion, all leading to an all too inevitable conclusion. One thing Decision to Leave does better than any other contemporary-set thriller is the use of smartphones. Texting, video calls, and even internet browsing play key roles in the construction of the film, highlighting the confusing and alienating nature of technology, without falling into banal observations. Park Chan-wook has seemingly reached the apex of his craft, with scenes that move at their own defined rhythm and pace, slowly drawing you deeper into the aforementioned web. The sensual, dizzyingly romantic mystery of Decision to Leave is some of the best filmmaking of the year, and accordingly will be ignored by most American awards voters.

Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg) – Ostensibly a return to the body horror that originally defined Cronenberg, ultimately works as a deep interrogation into what it means to be an artist, especially in an always changing, increasingly strange, and even hostile, environment. The kind of thing only an aging master like Cronenberg could create, full of all the images and ideas he’s built throughout his entire career. Maybe it is time for humanity to evolve with our technology, instead of holding on to our barely remaining humanity.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras) – Documentary that interweaves the life and photography of Nan Goldin, with her modern day activism against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, and their role in the opioid epidemic. Turns private pain and grief into a public, almost revolutionary act. A portrait of all the beautiful and brilliant people that would still be with us if it wasn’t for the cruelty and callousness of the rich. 

After Yang (Kogonada) – Perhaps Colin Farrell’s most understated performance, especially noticeable in a year where he goes full ham as the Penguin. He plays a father who tries to repair his malfunctioning robot, Yang, his daughter’s best friend, but ends up pursuing his history and memories too. Yang isn’t a brand new robot, he had a history before being adopted into the family. Taking place in a sci-fi world, complete with clones, automated cars, and museums dedicated to androids, the audience is casually introduced to all these things almost as an extra flavor to the story being told. You have to let this movie wash over you, all the little moments of grief and acceptance adding up to a quietly potent film. 

In the end, despite how negative and anti-art the modern movie space seems, there are many, many, artists still trying to push the envelope and experiment, and just generally make great movies. Other films worth checking out: both popular and not:

Saint Omer (Alice Diop)

Benediction (Terrence Davies)

EO (Jerzy Skolimowski)

The Fabelmans (Steven Spielberg)

Aftersun (Charlotte Wells)

Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh)

Is That Black Enough For You?!? (Elvis Mitchell)

TÁR (Todd Field)

Mad God (Phil Tippet)

The Woman King (Gina Prince-Bythewood)

The Northman (Robert Eggers)

Barbarian (Zach Cregger)

Elvis (Baz Luhrmann)

Top Gun: Maverick (Joseph Kosinski)

The Batman (Matt Reeves)

Happening (Audrey Diwan)

Avatar: The Way of Water (James Cameron)

Both Sides of the Blade (Claire Denis)

Resurrection (Andrew Semans)