Ben Pearson's Top 10 Films Of 2022

I'm not going to start this with the typical caveats — how this is my list of favorites, it's not a personal attack against you if your choices aren't represented, and blah blah blah. It's almost 2023, so I'll assume we all know how this works by now. You're hopefully here to read about some good movies and maybe be surprised by the selections or their order, and I'm hopefully going to provide an entertaining list and maybe slip in a surprise or two. Ideally, you'll take these as recommendations and add these movies to your queue if you haven't seen them. That's all! That's what we're doing here, and I hope you're ready to join me on a whirlwind recap of ten movies that stood out to me during another hellfire of a year on planet Earth. My list careens from small indies to maximalist blockbusters and back again, and watching all of these in a marathon might be enough to give someone cinematic whiplash. So while I'd love it if every person reading this actually watched every single one of these films, maybe don't fire them up them back to back.

Before we get going, here's a quick list of honorable mentions: "The Fabelmans," "Fire of Love," "Armageddon Time," "Navalny," "Cha Cha Real Smooth," "The Menu," "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish," the first and last thirds of "Triangle of Sadness," the first half of "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story," and that one moment in "The Northman" where Alexander Skarsgård catches a spear that was thrown at him and flings it right back into the guy who threw it.

All right, so let's dig into my Top 10 Films of 2022.

10. The Banshees of Inisherin

Colm (Brendan Gleeson) doesn't want to be friends with Padraic (Colin Farrell) anymore. That's the one-sentence pitch of writer/director Martin McDonagh's Irish period piece "Banshees of Inisherin." With a set-up that simple, it feels like the stakes couldn't possibly be any lower. But the conflict isn't quite as simple as it seems. There's a civil war in full force on the nearby mainland, and a smaller one is happening inside Colm, with his desire to create music and leave a lasting legacy clashing with the temptation to drink his days away with his old pal.

McDonagh is interested in the idea of what it takes to create art, the sacrifices necessary for that creation, and the effect of those sacrifices on those around the artist. Reuniting with his "In Bruges" stars, he's able to explore those concepts through relatable human moments, reflected in Farrell's good-hearted confusion about the whole situation or Gleeson's beaten-down stubbornness when Padraic just won't leave Colm alone. McDonagh pulls off a subtle magic trick here: A stripped-down tale about the breakup of a friendship becomes an examination of contentment vs. ambition, and by the end, those low stakes suddenly feel pretty damn consequential after all.

9. After Yang

With his 2017 debut "Columbus" and this year's sci-fi family drama "After Yang," writer/director Kogonada is carving out an identity as a "stop to smell the roses" filmmaker. That's an overly simplistic summation, of course, but in a world in which everyone has been conditioned to always be grinding toward their next goal, it's actually deceptively difficult to convince viewers to slow down, take stock of their lives, grapple with loss, and find beauty in the ordinary.

There's a mastery of tone on display that few other working directors possess; to watch a Kogonada movie is to fully step into a world where the filmmaker has not only thought through every aspect of what you're seeing, but is also able to wrangle all of the elements in order to achieve that vision. Nothing feels compromised. Everything feels meticulous. And while some filmmakers can get lost in the technical details, Kogonada always brings a warmth to his movies that sets them apart. 

"After Yang," which follows a family coming to grips with their humanoid robot assistant breaking down, features quietly moving performances from Colin Farrell and Justin H. Min, and if you're looking for more Haley Lu Richardson after seeing her in the second season of HBO's "The White Lotus," she also has a small but crucial role here. Don't let this one slip through the cracks.

8. Barbarian

Zach Cregger's horror film "Barbarian" was one of the biggest surprises of 2022, and no other movie this year matched the "anything could happen" vibe this one gave me in the theater. What begins as a simple mix-up where Georgina Campbell books the same Airbnb as Bill Skarsgard quickly becomes something far more sinister, and I loved the way the movie's unexpected structure kept me on my toes. While Skarsgard is wonderfully slippery in a role where you're not quite sure what to make of him at first, and Justin Long comes in off the bench with his best performance in years, the movie really belongs to Georgina Campbell, who delivers an instantly star-making turn and catapults her way into the Final Girl pantheon. As much as I ended up loving the movie itself, I also love that something like this, with a marketing campaign practically begging people to go into it knowing nothing, can still be a hit in our current landscape. I can't wait to see what Cregger does next.

7. The Batman

In the wake of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy and Ben Affleck's world-weary take on the Caped Crusader in Zack Snyder's DCEU films, did we really need another moody take on Batman? Probably not! But gosh darn it, when you have a filmmaker as talented as Matt Reeves doing a riff on David Fincher's "Seven," some of the best craftspeople in the industry working alongside him, and an incredibly stacked cast treating this material seriously, "The Batman" became undeniable. Robert Pattinson and Zoe Kravitz nearly lit the screen on fire with their scorching chemistry as Batman and Catwoman, Michael Giacchino's booming score lent the movie an operatic quality that paired perfectly with this iteration of Gotham City, and Paul Dano's frustrated version of The Riddler was one of the most effective villains I've seen in years.

By nature, Batman doesn't often change very much: The character made a decision to devote his life to fighting crime, and most Batman movies begin and end with him in that same role. "The Batman" ends with Bruce Wayne continuing to suit up and battle the forces of evil, but it also tracks his arc from "scary thug who needs therapy" to "guy who can actually inspire people instead of just scare the crap out of them (and who still also needs therapy)." In a year where it felt like many superhero movies phoned it in, this one genuinely delivered.

6. Everything Everywhere All at Once

In the Daniels' debut feature "Swiss Army Man," the filmmakers were able to imbue a movie about a farting corpse with a surprising amount of pathos. So while it's not surprising they'd be able to make a movie about the multiverse and make it feel personal and human, it's still an impressive feat. "Everything Everywhere All at Once" is bursting with so many ideas that it feels like dipping into the multiverse was the only way to narratively contain them all. Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu give three of the finest (and most multifaceted) performances of 2022, and no other film this year was able to approximate the feeling of being alive in this bizarre and overwhelming era.

It may feel like a cheap shot to take a swipe at Marvel Studios for dropping the ball in a big way with its own multiversal story this year (sorry, Doctor Strange), but knowing this movie had an eighth of the budget of the "Doctor Strange" sequel just makes it all the more awe-inspiring. More than any other film on this list, "Everything Everywhere All at Once" represents pure creativity, and in a landscape where the future of original movies can sometimes feel pretty bleak, it stands as a brilliant example of what storytellers can still do when they take risks.

5. Babylon

Movies matter. That was one of my takeaways after watching Damien Chazelle's grandiose period drama about Hollywood's transition from silent films to talkies. Despite the myriad flaws with the systems through which they're made and the personal foibles (and even outright crimes) of the individuals who actually make them, movies — whether in the 1920s or the 2020s — are magic tricks that can have a truly transformative effect on those who see them. Chazelle knows how tough it is to create that magic, and manages to convey the miraculous alchemy that happens on sets amid utterly chaotic conditions.

Yes, there are moments in which it feels as if the Oscar-winning director is trying a little too hard to shock us, to prove that he can depict "adult" things on screen and convince the world he's not a "safe" filmmaker. But there's something to be said about the way he absolutely pummels the audience with sensory overload during this three-plus hour epic and then wraps it up with a montage that's basically an ode to the power of film

"Babylon" is an operatic, bombastic experience, and as cheesy as it can occasionally be, you can feel the passion and the personality coursing through the whole thing. It's debatable whether this is Chazelle's equivalent of continuing to play music on the decks as the Titanic sinks (have you heard? He really loves jazz), but as Hollywood stumbles through one of the most tumultuous periods in its history, I can't help but admire what he's going for here.

4. Top Gun: Maverick

"Top Gun: Maverick" feels like the Darkstar jet at the beginning of the film: It's designed and constructed for peak efficiency. With Joseph Kosinski in the director's chair and Tom Cruise in the cockpit, this baby is pushed to its limits and delivers something no one thought possible. There's no reason a sequel to "Top Gun" should work as well as this does, but through sheer force of will, these filmmakers honed this down into the ultimate thrill ride and produced something that tops the original in nearly every way. Cruise's obsession with performing stunts for real led Kosinski to capture the most spectacular aerial footage in modern cinema, and the movies soars anytime its characters are in the air.

But great action was expected. What I didn't expect was how effective the film would be when it's on the ground. Through its structure, which basically turns it into a heist film, we get characters laying out a seemingly impossible task and then spending the entire movie attempting to exceed expectations, trying and failing over and over again until Cruise, with his mega-watt star power, actually achieves the impossible. If you look up the definition of "crowd-pleasing" in the dictionary, I suspect the entry will have been updated to include a reference to "Top Gun: Maverick." No other movie left me more satisfied in 2022.

3. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Starting as a series of viral short films on YouTube, Dean Fleischer-Camp's "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" is a wonderful continuation of the adventures of Marcel, a one-inch-tall talking shell who lives in a full-sized human house and has a unique outlook on the world. You don't need to have seen any of the previous YouTube shorts to understand the movie (I think I'd only seen one or two, at least a decade ago), because the innocence and personality of Marcel, voiced wonderfully by Jenny Slate, is immediately apparent, and you fall in love with him instantly. Fleischer-Camp asks the audience to slow down and look at the world from a different perspective, pulling us into Marcel's mindset and telling a tale about loss that's also tinged with plenty of humor and a dash of hope.

There's a quote from the great drummer Steve Jordan that I occasionally think about: "Simplicity is not stupidity." This movie is simple, yes, but there's a power in that simplicity and a confidence in its storytelling that I found incredibly refreshing. Let me put it another way: I watched this on a plane, and it still ended up as number 3 on this list. That's how good this movie is.

2. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Sophie Hyde's spellbinding indie is a masterclass in acting from both Emma Thompson and the far less experienced Daryl McCormack. Sometimes pairing a veteran with an up-and-comer can be disastrous, but McCormack holds his own by exhibiting a quiet charisma as a charming sex worker hired by a skittish widow who's always wanted to be more sexually adventurous. A vast majority of the movie takes place in hotel rooms with these two characters slowly revealing more of themselves to each other (in more ways than one), but Hyde's direction keeps this from feeling like a boring, point-and-shoot adaptation of a stage play.

Thanks to Katy Brand's excellent script and the sizzling dynamic between Thompson and McCormack, this small-scale story feels immersive and magnetic. But the real draw here is Thompson, who gives a career-best performance as a repressed woman who's desperately trying to shake off decades of societal expectations and do something for herself for once. There's a grace and humanity to her performance that's unlike anything else you'll see this year, and I found the act of watching her slowly make her way toward that unforgettable final moment to be a rewarding, powerful experience.

1. RRR

S.S. Rajamouli's balls-to-the-wall "RRR" has it all. It's a historical epic, an action movie, a musical, a class romance, a revenge film, a jailbreak movie, and a borderline superhero film. It features one (and maybe even two) of the greatest character introductions of all time and one of the best dance sequences I've ever seen. This is astonishing filmmaking of the highest order.

The way Rajamouli stages action set pieces puts even my beloved "Fast and Furious" movies to shame — physics don't matter as much as fluidity, and every fight is shot as if it's the most important thing its characters have ever done. The whole movie feels that way: There's an ineffable, larger-than-life vibe to the proceedings that is addictive to watch. I felt giddy watching this. It seemed like every five minutes, there was a new contender for my favorite movie moment of the year. I couldn't believe someone would have the audacity to even try this level of spectacle, let alone pull it off with such bravura and swagger. But Rajamouli straight up crushed this and delivered something I didn't know I needed. I'll be revisiting this one for decades to come.