Ethan Anderton's Top 10 Films Of 2022

If I need to tell you what a great year for movies we just had in 2022, you might be perusing the wrong website. Sure, there may be a lot fewer movies hitting theaters than we're used to, with the theatrical distribution model still recovering from the industry-crippling pandemic, but that just means there was a little less garbage to sift through. However, even with fewer movies at the multiplex, trying to piece together my list of favorite films turned out to be quite the difficult prospect.

Figuring out my absolute favorites toward the top of my list was quite easy, but determining what movies were going to end up towards the end of the list, especially when it came to shifting films outside of my Top 10 Films of 2022, was a lot more challenging. Trying to determine which movies fell just outside of my list was extremely difficult, and there are many movies I was sad to exclude.

So here we are, with a collection of movies that moved me in a variety of ways. Movies about despair, murder, oppression, protest, friendship, filmmaking, legacies, and much more brought me laughter, tears, reflection, exhilaration, and entertainment. If you've yet to see any of these films, I hope you will seek them out and that they bring you the same amount of cinematic satisfaction that they brought me.

Here are some Honorable Mentions

Before I dig into my Top 10 Films of 2022, I couldn't help but quickly point out a handful of films that I loved that ended up getting cut from the final list. But I still love these films enough to sing their praises:

  • "Chip 'N Dale: Rescue Rangers" — Thankfully, I was able to celebrate this film by situating it at the top of our list of the Best Comedies of 2022. It's a spiritual successor to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" that does for CG/live-action hybrid movies what "21 Jump Street" did for big screen adaptations of classic TV shows, and it's just as clever and funny, too.
  • "Nope" — Jordan Peele hit another home run, this time with a summer blockbuster that feels like the "Jaws" of the sky. With an element that also pays tribute to the art of filmmaking, "Nope" was thrilling, suspenseful, and just plain great.
  • Guillermo del Toro's "Pinocchio" — Leave it to the master of fantasy to deliver a refreshing version of the classic tale that blows all others out of the water. With some of the best stop-motion animation ever put to film and a contemporary yet classic spin on the material that has just the right tinge of darkness, this was easily the best animated movie of 2022 for me.
  • "The Batman" — In a rather weak year for superhero movies, it was easy for "The Batman" to come out on top, but the fact that this movie stands among some of the best in the subgenre, especially after having so much Batman over the past decade, is a testament to how stellar director Matt Reeves' new take on the Dark Knight ended up being. Put the Caped Crusader in the middle of a David Fincher movie with just the right amount of pulp and noir? Yes, please! 
  • "Barbarian" – No 2022 horror movie was more satisfying than "Barbarian." With a story that delivered shocking twists and turns and a unique narrative structure that doesn't reveal itself until roughly halfway through the movie, this film is twisted, darkly funny, and deeply unsettling. It was even better if you were able to experience it in theaters, knowing almost nothing about what you were about to see. Top-notch horror!

10. Athena

"Athena" wasn't even on my radar at all when it was released earlier this year, but thanks to David Chen, host of the FilmCast, it was brought directly to my attention. For just over 90 minutes, my eyes were glued to the television as I watched a riveting tragedy of police oppression, racism, and class warfare pushed to its absolute limit in a visually spectacular fashion. Hell, all it took was the first 10 minutes of the movie for me to be completely absorbed in this film. Imagine the unending action of The Battle of Helm's Deep in "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" with the sizzling, white-hot tension of "Do the Right Thing" and you've got some idea of how "Athena" will blow you away.

French filmmaker Romain Gavras tells the story of three brothers, each with a different place in the story of an explosive clash between the small community of Athena and law enforcement following the death of their 13-year-old brother Idir in what seems to be another instance of rising police brutality across France. Older brother Abdel (Dali Benssalah) tries to keep the peace as a member of the military, but Abdel's younger brother Karim (Sami Slimane) stands on the opposite side, inciting a riot at the police station and sparking a street war between the revolutionary citizens of Athena and the police in a high-rise apartment complex. Meanwhile, oldest brother Moktar (Ouassini Embarek) is merely trying to get his drugs and weapons out of the area to keep him out of the crosshairs of incoming feds.

With precise filmmaking reminiscent of Christopher Nolan and Alfonso Cuarón, complete with a pulsing score by Gener8ion (aka French electronic music producer/DJ Surkin) that calls to mind the work of Hans Zimmer, "Athena" unfolds with shockingly complex, long, single-take sequences that have countless moving parts that will make you wonder how the hell this film was made. The camera closely follows each brother as they navigate this increasingly chaotic and dangerous scenario, fireworks flying all around them, smoke billowing into the air, crowd control weapons firing from police in riot gear, flames burning all around. The opening 10 minutes of "Athena" alone contain one of the most incredibly epic single shot sequences of the 21st century, and there are several more sequences throughout the film that are almost as impressive. The fact that the technically awe-inspiring film also houses a gut-wrenching tragedy between these three brothers only makes it that much more remarkable. 

9. The Fabelmans

Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Full stop. At this point in his career, it would be easy for Spielberg to direct a film about his own complicated childhood and adolescence that celebrates the power of following your dreams and the magic of cinema, complete with some winks and nods to what would become his acclaimed filmmaking career. It's a testament to the greatness of Spielberg that his semi-autobiographical film "The Fabelmans" isn't defined by any of that. Yes, it certainly touches upon them, albeit in surprising ways, but the what makes "The Fabelmans" work so well is how introspective Spielberg gets, not just about himself, but the complex family dynamics that would become the driving force of his filmmaking career. 

If anything, "The Fabelmans" seems to demystify the idea that Spielberg is purely a cinematic genius with the gift of telling captivating stories worth of the big screen, even though he absolutely is. Instead, "The Fabelmans" seems to reveal that much of Spielberg's affinity for storytelling originally came from an insecure desire to control and comprehend what scared him, all through the eyes of a young proxy named Sammy Fabelman (a magnificent breakthrough performance from Gabriel LaBelle). Whether it was a massive train crash that he witnessed on the big screen or the crumbling of his family when he discovered his mother (Michelle Williams) was having an affair with their longtime family friend (Seth Rogen), not to mention the complicated relationship that the creative Spielberg had with his more grounded, logic-driven father (Paul Dano).

Filmmaking becomes the way that Spielberg tries to make sense of his world. Spielberg's brilliance lies in the way he creates a human connection with unbelievable stories, and here, he lays out the most pivotal pieces of his young life that would come to define him as a filmmaker. If anything, "The Fabelmans" earns its place in Spielberg's filmography by enhancing his many of his previous films, as we see learn that Spielberg's personal life has always driven many of the stirring relationships we've seen between various characters in his films, whether it's the father and son bickering of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (one of many complicated father-son relationships in Spielberg's films) or the endless pursuit to get a teen's family back together in "Catch Me If You Can." 

With "The Fabelmans," Steven Spielberg has told a story about himself that doesn't rely on sentiment and schmaltz. Instead, Spielberg pours his heart out and comes to terms with himself in a truly moving fashion.

8. Tár

Giving one of the most superb performances of her career (which is saying something), Cate Blanchett is endlessly engrossing in this story of an acclaimed composer who finds herself in a tragic fall from grace that takes her from the tippy top of the most exclusive professional and social circles, where she's conducting one of the most esteemed orchestras in the world, to a total mental, emotional, and professional breakdown.

Aside from Blanchett's stellar performance as Lydia Tár, director and writer Todd Field delivers his best film yet in every way possible. Field lets the camera shift effortlessly through scenes, especially in one particularly engaging classroom sequence that shows Tár at the height of her pompous career while also providing a moment that will inevitably become part of her downfall. Meanwhile, the script offers crisp dialogue that Blanchett makes that much more hypnotizing with subtly venomous delivery. The arrogance that oozes out of Blanchett's mouth is palpable, and it makes her ultimate fate both tragic and deserved. 

Lydia Tár finds herself slowly descending into tragedy as her life starts falling apart. Though her undoing is mostly a result of her arrogance, both in her career and personal life, this isn't simply a "cancel culture" story told through the eyes of a woman. There's also a rising feeling of paranoia and madness that might imply something more unsettling at play in a movie that ultimately becomes a quietly haunting, slow-burning horror story that's only enhanced by an astounding score from composer Hildur Guðnadóttir. It serves as both a satisfying comeuppance for those who look down upon everyone surrounding them after finding great success and a cautionary tale for anyone who seeks to make a name for themselves at the expense of others, making it timeless and relevant at the same time. 

7. The Banshees of Inisherin

The coronavirus pandemic forced many of us to reassess our lives, especially when it came to our relationships with the people that we couldn't see for weeks, months, even years, at a time. That's exactly what happened to Martin McDonagh, as he worked through a failed relationship by writing "The Banshees of Inisherin."

Against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War, the film focuses on Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) in a story that examines friendship, despair, and our own mortality. When Colm suddenly decides he doesn't want to be friends with Pádraic anymore, it sends Pádraic into a perplexed panic, as he desperately wants to maintain the comforting friendship that he once had with Colm. Meanwhile, Colm has chosen to focus on writing folk music, hoping to leave some kind of legacy behind rather than listening to Pádraic's droll stories about his donkey (a stealthy scene-stealer) for the rest of his days. 

What makes "The Banshees of Inisherin" so special is how it tackles these complex subjects. The story may sound depressing as hell, and it absolutely can be, but the film is also funnier than many straight-up comedies, with darkly humorous observations, exchanges, and scenarios that bring about plenty of snickering. However, all those laughs are also bittersweet, largely thanks to the lovely performances by Gleeson and Farrell, with the latter perfectly acting like a wounded puppy in human form. Farrell's big brown eyebrows and eyes can't help but look preoccupied and forlorn at every turn. Meanwhile, Gleeson's weathered face holds grief and frustration simultaneously, showing the pain behind his eyes along with a bit of reluctance in how he's chosen to handle the end of this friendship, no matter how necessary he feels it is. 

Everything that makes us happy will ultimately come to an end, so it can be hard to get a grasp what the point of all of this is. "The Banshees of Inisherin" doesn't necessarily have any answers. But this heartbreaking story certainly feels like it might make those struggling with depression feel a little less alone. 

6. Glass Onion

Rian Johnson's "Knives Out" was a compelling murder mystery with an amazing assembly of talent and a story that was timely while drawing from the classic tropes of the work of Agatha Christie. Somehow, the filmmaker managed to top it with "Glass Onion," bringing back Daniel Craig as the Kentucky fried Benoit Blanc, who Google apparently acknowledges as the world's greatest detective. 

With "Glass Onion," Johnson doesn't try to merely echo or recreate the formula that made "Knives Out" such a hit. Instead, he offers up something bigger, funnier, and somehow even more relevant. With another all-star cast, including Edward Norton and Janelle Monae as the new standouts, the murder mystery is nothing short of gripping, especially with a narrative structure that completely changes the game halfway through the movie. That doesn't even include the whip-smart and fast-paced dialogue that Johnson packs into this thing, including great lines like, "It's a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth," a line that really does sum up the times in which we live.

"Glass Onion" is absurd without getting too ridiculous, sharp and satirical without being too full of itself, and most importantly, it's endlessly entertaining from top to bottom. 

5. Babylon

With "La La Land," writer and director Damien Chazelle delivered a movie musical that felt contemporary and classic at the same time, with charming nostalgia for movies from Hollywood's past like "Singin' in the Rain," "An American in Paris," "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and "The Young Girls of Rochefort." But if "La La Land" was a love letter to the warm feelings that Hollywood classics still give us, "Babylon" sets that letter on fire while doing a mountain of cocaine. 

"Babylon" is three-hour epic that traces the lives of a handful of fictional Hollywood footnotes as they try to evolve from the glory days of black and white silent films in the 1920s to the breakthrough of talkies in the 1930s. It's chaotic and energetic, as if it's driven by the endless amounts of drugs, alcohol and sex seen on screen. Though many have criticized Chazelle for portraying the 1920s as being much more harsh and unwieldy than real Hollywood history, I think they're missing the point.

Rather than simply demystifying the glitz and glamour of classic Hollywood, "Babylon" does something more. Damien Chazelle offers both a critical mirror to the racism, sexism, and general prejudice that fueled Hollywood (and still does to this day) and the acknowledgement that all of this morally reprehensible and questionable behavior also resulted in the kind of movie magic that has fueled creative minds across generations. Even when cinema appears to be on the verge of death, it roars back to life, whether it's because of the advent of sound alongside visuals or the innovation of computer generated special effects that changed the face of blockbusters forever. That's exactly what the montage from the film's ending is about. 

Despite being focused on the late 1920s and early 1930s of classic Hollywood, "Babylon" is about Hollywood at any given moment or time. No matter how many deplorable stories come from behind the scenes, no matter how many famous faces come and go, no matter how often crappy movies outnumber the good ones, there's still movie magic being created every single year. "Babylon" is a big swing, and though box office reports are painting it as a big miss, this movie will be one that sticks with us for years to come.

4. Top Gun: Maverick

If entertainment had a name this year, it would undoubtedly be Maverick. The long-gestating sequel to "Top Gun" felt like it would never happen, but now it's clear that we should never lose faith in the ambitions of the superhuman Tom Cruise.

Despite the fact that "Top Gun: Maverick" is basically a remake of the original "Top Gun," it actually soars far above its predecessor. Not only do the film's practical flying sequences lend an air of realism and exhilaration to the proceedings, but they're so spectacularly choreographed and photographed that you can't help but become entrenched in the aerial action. But there's more bubbling beneath the movie's surfaced thanks to the legacy-quel story element that gives Tom Cruise's Maverick a difficult pilot to teach in the form of Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his late wingman Goose. Surrounding them is an outstanding ensemble of fellow pilots, especially Glen Powell in the antagonistic role of the douchebag pilot Hangman. Combine that with a charming romance, and this movie has something for everybody. 

Though "Top Gun: Maverick" follows in familiar footsteps, it also takes things to another level with a stealth fourth act that has Tom Cruise and Miles Teller teaming up in an even more thrilling way than everyone expected. It's an undeniable triumph, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more satisfying blockbuster this year, especially one that you feel compelled to watch again and again. 

3. After Yang

Though many sci-fi movies land in the realm of blockbuster action, every now and then there's a futuristic story that revels in something a little more grounded and emotional. "After Yang" is one of those movies. 

"After Yang" finds a somewhat estranged couple (Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith) coming closer together after their daughter's big brother android companion Yang (Justin H. Min) malfunctions and shuts down. Rather than being one of those stories where we're warned of the danger of artificial intelligence in lifelike androids, what filmmaker Kogonada delivers is a rumination on the beauty that surrounds us every day in the most ordinary and mundane places and how those moments can define what it means to be human. 

As Jake discovers more about Yang's operating system, he finds that the android has been holding on to fragments of his past, recording little moments that he deems worth remembering, and he lived a full life before becoming part of Jake's family. This makes Jake realize everything he's missing in his own life, including time that he could spend connecting with his daughter instead of relying on Yang. The fact that Yang's memories are presented with some of the most gorgeous cinematography of 2022 only enhances the story that will have you reflecting on the things that you choose to hold onto in your mind.

No matter what's going on in our lives, there's always beauty to behold somewhere, even if it's not instantly recognizable. "After Yang" serves as the perfect reminder that sometimes the most inconsequential memories and observations can be the most potent.

2. Everything Everywhere All At Once

The Marvel Cinematic Universe made the concept of the multiverse go mainstream on the big screen, but it's directing duo Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) who have masterfully utilized the concept with a truly original story that somehow manages to be laughably absurd, emotionally resonant, action-packed, and endlessly engaging. 

"Everything Everywhere All At Once" gives Michelle Yeoh a character that allows her to flex her dramatic chops alongside her impressive action muscles in a story that finds an unsuspecting laundromat owner named Evelyn thrust into the multiverse and forced to deal with a world-ending villain in the form of her depressed and repressed twenty-something daughter. In order to ultimately defeat this multiversal threat, Evelyn learns how to tap into the infinite possibilities of the multiverse where different versions of herself have valuable skills that she can suddenly master (a la "The Matrix"). 

The concept alone makes for a great film, but where "Everything Everywhere At Once" soars is in its emotional core. All the multiverse jumping, martial arts action, and silliness is in service of a story about finding fulfillment in life, coming to terms with the pain that you may have caused others, and the crippling feelings that depression can bring about. By seeing the potential of her life across the multiverse, Evelyn thinks that she's wasted her life, but she soon comes to realize that her life doesn't need to be filled with accolades and excitement in order to be truly fulfilling. Perhaps most importantly, the ultimate way of finding happiness in your own life is by making the lives of those around you happy too. At a time when everything around the world seems to be getting worse all the time, it's nice to have a movie that is simultaneously so strange and yet, ultimately, incredibly sweet. 

Furthermore, aside from the life lessons we can learn from "Everything Everywhere All At Once," this is also an impeccably crafted film that makes phenomenal use of a limited budget for such an ambitious film. Sparing digital effects, creative camera work, expert martial arts choreography, and a truly original story combine to deliver one of the most fantastic, finely-tuned features of the year. 

1. RRR

Stefon from "Saturday Night Live" might say that "RRR" has it all: Two best friends forced to do battle, pompous British soldiers, an explosive bridge rescue sequence involving a horse and a motorcycle, a fight with a lion. And don't look now, but it's a carefully choreographed musical number that turns into a dance-off that brutally embarrasses a sniveling weasel of a man. 

Hailing from Indian filmmaker S.S. Rajamouli, "RRR" is packed with action that will make you spontaneously cheer and smile from ear-to-ear. It also has one of the most beautiful and epic friendships ever put to screen, as Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) and Ram (Ram Charan) team up to save a child in the middle of a train disaster, sparking the ultimate bromance. But little do they know, this is an unforeseen turn of fate which has culminated in this friendship, and it's yet to be seen if this will end in bloodshed. Marking the true test of their friendship, Bheem and Ram will be forced to turn on another, only to bring them back together to fight their true enemy: British colonizers. It's like "The Departed" meets "Mad Max: Fury Road" by way of India. 

Clocking in at a whopping three hours and seven minutes, "RRR" seems daunting, but you've never felt a film go by so quickly. Mind-blowing action sequences are masterfully shot, and they put the biggest American blockbuster franchises to shame. Even at their most ridiculous, the love for the two main characters keeps the audience on their side every step of the way. It's like "Fast and Furious" but with a bigger beating heart. You've never seen two handsome Indian men like this become true big screen heroes in such a spectacular fashion. Oh, and let's not forget that there are several musical sequences throughout the film, including a show-stopping song and dance number that takes the friendship between Bheem and Ram to soaring heights. Honestly, there are over a dozen incredible moments sprinkled throughout "RRR" that will leave your jaw on the floor.

"RRR" is moviemaking at its most magical, especially if you get the chance to see it on a big screen with a crowd that loves the film unconditionally.