Anthony Pantalone, Editor
As a willing resident of Plato’s allegorical cave, I had the chance to see 53 of this past year’s newest shadows projected on the wall in front of me. 2022 was an incredible year for film—far stronger than both 2021 and 2020. Because this calendar year was so good at the cinema, I am listing and discussing my top fifteen films from 2022.
Honorable Mentions: After Yang, The Batman, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Cha Cha Real Smooth
“RRR” is an awe-inspiring cinematic spectacle. The action in this movie is indicative of what action should look and feel like in films in the present day. Not a bland CGI fight between two CGI characters in front of a green screen with harsh gray color grading. RRR’s action quite literally makes you say “Whoa” and be on the edge of your seat. S.S. Rajamouli serves as an obvious standout with some of the best work from an action movie director in the past decade. On top of that, this movie has multiple musical numbers, and they are all amazing.
Trigger Warning: mentions of suicide
14. On the Count of Three
Jerrod Carmichael has had a huge year. An Emmy for “Rothaniel,” his recent deeply personal comedy special. He also turned heads with jokes aimed at Scientology and the racism of the Hollywood Foreign Press while hosting the Golden Globes. Above all, he released his directorial debut, “On the Count of Three.” I had wanted to include it in my review round-up for summer 2022 but refrained due to the sensitive subject matter of this film. Because it deals with suicide, “On the Count of Three” is a very, very dark comedy. The premise focuses on two friends who have agreed to a suicide pact and have one last day before they die. It’s deeply depressing to say the least but also a really interesting premise. Carmichael plays with the idea of how dark a dark comedy can go. There are scenes that are incredibly intense and sad but are then undercut comedically by a Papa Roach song.
13. Avatar: The Way of Water
“Avatar: The Way of Water” features classic James Cameron blockbuster filmmaking on a grander scale than ever seen before, and it all somehow pays off in the end. This movie feels much bigger than the original Avatar film did in 2009. Special effects that have never looked as good before on the silver screen. Bigger set pieces. Also, a genuine story that is not a “Dances With Wolves” rip-off. Jake Sully is still a pretty dull character, but the time jump and family-focused story make him more interesting and helps the story in general. The children in this family are less boring than Jake; thankfully, Cameron focuses most of the film on them. “Way of Water” feels like Cameron firing on all cylinders in the best way possible. When I watch “Avatar”, I always feel like I’m just watching “Avatar”. This isn’t me saying that I don’t enjoy the first film, because I do think it is well-made and an important piece of cinematic history. With this movie though, I sometimes feel like I’m watching the best parts of “The Abyss” or “T2: Judgment Day”. It made me remember why so many audiences adore James Cameron as a filmmaker. He goes the extra mile with his work, and his movies always end up so exciting to watch. He is willing to fight tooth and nail with a studio executive over a long take of a huge whale because he knows that audiences want to be wowed with a great visual.
12. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
“Glass Onion” is great, and I wish it had a wider release in theaters. Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc returned in 2022 after the widespread acclaim of 2019’s “Knives Out” with a new mystery film that achieves the ideal feat of any sequel: being different from the original yet still feeling similar. The audience knows and likes the prolific detective Blanc and thus follows him as he deals with a new case. This formula works well and presents the opportunity for Johnson to keep making Benoit Blanc movies in the future. Some highlights that really stood out were the set design and costume. Similar to “Knives Out”, the sets were beautiful and intricately detailed. Various decorations of Miles Bron’s house highlight exactly who he is as a person. The Glass Onion as a metaphor for Bron’s own shallowness and stupidity despite his success. A huge mural of Kanye West from the “POWER” music video which has to allude to Bron’s own narcissism and delusions of grandeur. Hanging a Rothko painting blatantly upside down. In terms of costume design, dressing up Bron in the 90s like Tom Cruise in “Magnolia” is hilarious and again indicative of him as a person. He has never had an original thought in his head. He constantly grifts and steals from others whilst propping himself up as an “innovator.” I hope Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig make at least twenty more of these movies.
With a great performance from Cate Blanchett and great direction from Todd Field, “TÁR” chronicles the dark spiral of a composer at the pinnacle of their field. Alongside Blanchett’s career work, the sound design stands out as a major highlight of the film. Seeing this film on a streaming service does not do it proper justice as the sound design in “TÁR” makes it so much better to watch in a theater. The film doesn’t have a score. Portions of it seem completely silent aside from dialogue. Any piece of music that is played feels explosive to the ears due to lack of score. There are random noises and sounds throughout the film that are mixed and edited so well that I genuinely thought they were coming from inside the theater. Also, this main character of the film is simply so compelling to watch and attempt to understand. Lydia Tár is a bad person, and the movie clearly is stating that you should not like her. She is a narcissist who manipulates almost every single person in her life for her own interests and goals. She grooms young employees while in a position of authority over them. She belittles and humiliates students who have any dissenting opinions. Tár even directly threatens to harm a child. Watching her downfall feels somewhat cathartic because of her wrongful actions, and you can’t take your eyes off it in the same way you can’t take your eyes off a trainwreck as it happens.
I love a movie that feels grandiose and absolutely swings for the fences. That’s what “Babylon”—Damien Chazelle’s new film about Hollywood at the end of the silent film era—does. It looks with disdain towards every other movie about “the magic of cinema” or the mythology of Hollywood and the film industry. It’s obvious from this movie that Chazelle loves and is heavily inspired by Boogie Nights and Paul Thomas Anderson. I’m absolutely okay with that though, because I too love “Boogie Nights”. This writer-director approaches Hollywood and movies in “Babylon” in the same way that PTA approaches the porn industry in “Boogie Nights”. Hollywood takes people who have nothing but dreams and ambition and consistently exploits them until nothing remains. The people that do survive the experience are left as shattered husks of who they were before success. In addition, Tobey Maguire’s casting in this film was an inspired decision and reminds me of Alfred Molina’s role in “Boogie Nights”. His seedy underworld character is genuinely terrifying and—similarly to the Molina character—shows the protagonist how low he has fallen.
9. The Fabelmans
The divorce between Steven Spielberg’s parents is probably one of the most influential in cinema. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”, “Hook”, or “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. “The Fabelmans” is Spielberg’s way of addressing it directly while also telling the story of his childhood. In the hands of any other creative or writer-director, dedicating an entire film to your own childhood would likely feel just vain and self-centered. Usually, it would feel like I am paying twenty dollars to go to a theater and watch someone try to process and solve their childhood traumas instead of that person going to therapy. Because it’s Spielberg, though, it feels different. No doubt about it, he is the greatest living American director and likely the most influential filmmaker of all time. In this context, it feels like a person at the end of their road or life looking back on their life and adolescence with maturity and the clarity that might come with getting older. Spielberg isn’t indicting either of his parents with his depiction of their divorce. It’s still charged with emotion but at its core acknowledges that their interpersonal relationships were complex and strenuous but full of love. This movie also has a David Lynch cameo where he wears an eye-patch and plays famed director John Ford—which is a welcome sight.