Surveying the best films of 2022 offers a mixed state of the union. Movie theatres, after nearly two years of COVID-19 closures in Toronto, are open and full of flicks. However, nearly every multiplex in town is screening the same few films. That rarely happened in 2019.
COVID-19-related disruptions are obviously far from over. A system on life support is in recovery mode. Everyone needs to print some money. We get it.
But that doesn’t mean that audiences eager to see movies in theatres and gobble popcorn should be robbed of choice. Sure, there’s an audience that wants to see a new Marvel movie every other week, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us should get left behind.
While many of the studio movies dominating the box office in 2022 are about as bad as the VOD shelf-purge from the first waves of COVID, a handful of movies big and small are delivering. Most of the best films of 2022 so far are really just holdovers from 2021 festivals. There are also Sundance breakthroughs, although surprisingly few of them are screening theatrically, and genuine arthouse hits like Everything Everywhere All at Once and After Yang. There may be fewer riskier films in theatres right now, but they’re rewarding gems.
And then there are the mavericks. Or, by that, I mean the Maverick. The long-awaited Top Gun sequel proves the power of the big screen better than anything this year. Even a cynic about the crazy train of IP renewals and nostalgia recycling has to love how Maverick harnesses the pure thrill of seeing movies in a theatre. Not all blockbusters are flying on auto-pilot. And when there’s only one of them, as opposed to dozens of caped crusaders whose storylines now intersect and leave viewers hopelessly lost if they sit one out, a film like Maverick truly feels like a reminder that sometimes a little escapism goes a long way.
Whether movie lovers like flying in IMAX at Mach 10, juggling multiverses with either Doctor Strange or Michelle Yeoh, though, is all a matter of taste. All contributors for the site were invited to submit their picks for the best films of 2022 so far. Writers could be flexible about what they considered a “2022 film” with awards contenders that didn’t open until this year and new festival premieres both being eligible. Streaming and theatrical were both fair game. That Shelf therefore salutes the mavericks and marvels of 2022. Here’s to many seeing more friends at the movies! – Pat Mullen
The Best Films of 2022 so Far
1. The Batman
Matt Reeves’ Batman lived up to the hype. Not an inconsiderable feat, given how long moviegoers waited for a Batman to actually do some damn detective work! Watching Batman piece together the Riddler’s crime spree in the most thoroughly lived-in version of Gotham was sublime. After years of watching films that get lost in the aura of A-list villains, The Batman offers perhaps the most definitive take on Bruce Wayne/Batman. Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of Wayne as a barely-keeping-it-together recluse was a revelation for those who haven’t followed the actor’s transformation into an eccentric character actor whose every project is worth watching. I already can’t wait to see how Matt Reeves follows it up.
2. The Northman
A brawling, revisionist take on Hamlet, The Northman isn’t dense on story, yet the visceral thrill of Amleth’s relentless quest for vengeance has to be witnessed.
While it doesn’t always stay on even footing, Mariama Diallo’s film succinctly and artfully captures the discomfort of being a person of color in the USA: “It’s not ghosts, it’s not supernatural, it’s America.”
4. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
I was the target audience for this film, and it absolutely delivered.
5. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Just another reminder that Emma Thompson is an international treasure.
You wanna have a great time at the movies? You want to finally understand the phrase “a high-octane thrill ride.” You wanna feel the need…the need…FOR SPEED?! Well, here it is, folks! There are no words to describe how perfectly perfect this movie is. It’s the best. The fucking BEST. A blockbuster for the ages (and I REALLY love that I get to say that again). Experience it in IMAX to feel every drop of jet fuel coursing through your brain and bloodstream.
3. Turning Red
Why this went directly to Disney+ will forever be a crime and a mystery to me, but this ode to growing up, the important of feeling SEEN, and Toronto should be on everyone’s too watch list, if you haven’t gleefully consumed it already.
4. Petite Maman
Céline Sciamma, what did you DO to me??? Beautifully shot and even more beautifully realized, Sciamma’s latest embraces the fantastical to explore universal pressures, pains, and questions, reflecting our need for connection and understanding with all the things we can’t—and shouldn’t—explain. I cried. It was necessary. One of the best from one of the best.
Funny, dark, and actually scary at times (who woulda thought?!), Ti West’s latest metahorror relies on some stereotypical fears of the agéd body to propel its story, but it’ll make your taut skin crawl.
One more thing:
The Trailer for Elvis – I haven’t seen Baz’s latest foray into off-the-wallness just yet, but do I even NEED to watch the whole thing to know it’s excess-personified? Probably not, but I definitely will…
1. After Yang
Every now and then, a special movie comes along and doesn’t just make you think after the screen fades to black—it makes a mark on your heart. After Yang is that movie for me. Kogonada’s follow up to 2017’s excellent Columbus, After Yang is a meditative film that gives beauty to the small, cherished moments in life and asks us to rethink what it means to be alive. Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith lead the ensemble with wonderful performances, and Justin H. Min and Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja have a chemistry you just want to stay with. Kogonada, though, is the movie’s MVP. He builds a world with plenty of texture that feels familiar and entirely alien at the same. After Yang is a quiet, slow burn that may get tragically overlooked, but it’s not only one of the best films of the year so far, it’s one of my favourite science fiction films ever.
The little A24 movie that could. The Daniels did the seemingly impossible in today’s blockbuster franchise-reboot landscape and had everyone talking about a movie centered on doing your taxes. Michelle Yeoh finally receives her dues in the Western world in a kinetic and hilarious movie that has you feeling emotional about rocks.
3. Blue Island
The last few years have been really tough for Hong Kong to say the least. The constant protests and unrest have created an untenable situation for its residents. Blue Island draws parallels to the current political discourse to Hong Kong’s storied history, including the 1967 riots against British colonial rule, the migration from mainland China to the island during the Cultural Revolution, and Hong Kong’s response to the Tiananmen Square Massacre. A moving film that gets to the heart of Hong Kong and its people.
Backed by a quietly powerful performance from Bill Nighy, Living is an adaptation of the Akira Kurosawa classic Ikiru. A masterclass in how a remake doesn’t always have to suck, South African director Oliver Hermanus puts a distinctively post-war British fingerprint on the story about a terminally ill civil servant — and it’s simply beautiful.
A Danish horror movie that is as clever and funny as it is disturbing, director Christian Tafdrup’s first foray into the genre is a visceral success. Satirical and terrifying, Tafdrup takes stranger danger to a whole other level.
Honourable mentions: The Batman, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Slash/Back
1. Fire of Love
The words “burning” and “love” often demand a trip to the doctor’s office, but this thrilling archival film is the prescription for anyone looking to be dazzled by the power of documentary. Director Sara Dosa mines the archives of volcanologists Maurice and Katia Krafft and finds an extraordinary love story. Dosa explores their treasure trove of research with poetic and prophetic wonder, and the film sparks with the thrill of curiosity that drove the scientists to their beloved smouldering peaks. While the footage shot by the Kraffts and their collaborators truly is stunning and meticulously curated to ensure that the science is as fun as it is accessible, Dosa asks the bigger questions. It’s an invigorating, deeply philosophical essay about confronting the unknown as tectonic plates shift beneath your feet. See this epic on the biggest, Top Gunniest screen you can. (In theatres July 22.)
Coming to (hopefully) theatres this summer, this Sundance Audience Award winner is a thrilling feat of participatory cinema. (Out August 19.)
3. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Emma Thompson gives the best performance of the year so far—and one of her best turns ever—in this soul-bearing exploration of aging and intimacy.
Gross, cerebral, twisted, and featuring a twitchy Kirsten Stewart at her articulate best. Tax dollars well spent, Mr. Cronenberg.
5. Top Gun: Maverick
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once
Move over Marvel and DC, The Daniels have set the blueprint for how to successfully tell a story involving a multiverse. This wildly inventive film is packed with both action and humour, and it’s emotionally moving. Stephanie Hsu’ crafts one of the most heartbreaking villains I have seen in quite a while. Everything–from the editing to the performances by Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Hsu–is superb.
2. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Endlessly charming and touching, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a celebration of the connections that make our lives memorable. It is a film that will have you laughing on minute and contemplating the various bonds in your own life the next.
3. Turning Red
Turning Red is a delightful and heartwarming film that perfectly captures the ways puberty can complicate the bonds between mothers and daughters. The film solidifies Domee Shi as a fresh and necessary voice in cinema.
4. After Yang
Kogonada’s meditative exploration of the power of connection did not get the love it should have by audiences. Like many great works of cinema, it may take repeated viewings for people to truly see the full scope of the film’s brilliance.
5. Top Gun: Maverick
Add Top Gun: Maverick to the list of sequels that exceeded the original in every way. While there are a few too many callbacks to the 80’s version, Tom Cruise knows how to construct a thrilling summer action experience.
1. The Batman
The hype behind The Batman was unreal and it did not disappoint. A moody, brooding Robert Pattinson as Batman, a cunning Catwoman with intent played by Zoe Kravitz, and, of course, Colin Farrell having a blast as Penguin, reinvigorated the Batman legacy. This was the emo Bruce Wayne we deserved.
2. Everything Everywhere All at Once
I have never seen anything like it and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I can only hope Michelle Yeoh factors into awards season.
3. Something in the Dirt
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead once again prove they are master of low-fi sci-fi with Something in the Dirt, a pandemic-filmed tale of isolation, loneliness, male friendship, and of course, the supernatural.
A docuseries but presented as one feature at Sundance, Kumau Bell’s We Need to Talk About Cosby is not an easy watch, but it is an important one. Exploring the complicated legacy of Bill Cosby, the doc shows that we really can’t talk about the comedian’s contribution to both comedy and the advancement of Black performers in Hollywood without discussing rape culture, enablement, and victimization.
5. Turning Red
Where was this movie when I was 12?
Honourable mention: After Yang. It is a hauntingly beautiful depiction of grief, love, and loss that may be too slow for some, but is ultimately rewarding.