By Pete Hammond
Awards Columnist/Chief Film Critic
It seems this time of year every critic is going to weigh in with their 10 Best List for something or other. It is what we do at the end of the year, and 2022 is no different. And as I always do, I cheated. So sue me.
In what has turned out to be a very good year, I think, for movies, considering the sad state of box office success for the more ambitious and adult-aimed films out there, it has been heartening in this still-pandemic-affected era to see the Hollywood studios so heavily in the game of producing quality crowd-pleasers that also are good enough and deserving enough to make any of these lists — unless you are one of those grumpy critic-types who only go for the most obscure anti-entertainments out there. That ain’t me. I like to cheer on what I call movie movies, and I don’t penalize any of them for making some money along the way and bringing back audiences. If they are good, big or small, they are worth championing, so this annual ritual is just another cog in the wheel of doing just that. Now for the “cheating” part.
My actual list is 11, not 10, because I declared a tie, just because I could. I also am going to lead off this list with some other films that I think stood out significantly in their own genres or specific category. This is a celebration of the best, and it doesn’t have to be finite.
In putting together this list there were all kinds of really good movies I saw, some thrillingly performance-driven that deserve mention including Danielle Deadwyler in Till; Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain in the chillingly good true story The Good Nurse; Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Jean Smart, Diego Calva, PJ Byrne and a great cast in Babylon; Michelle Yeoh in Everything, Everywhere All at Once; the wonderful Lesley Manville in Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris; Viola Davis and the entire ensemble of The Woman King; George Clooney and Julia Roberts doing it old school and channeling Tracy and Hepburn in the welcome rom-com Ticket to Paradise; Olivia Colman and Micheal Ward in Empire of Light; Emma Thompson in Good Luck To You, Leo Grande; Brendan Fraser and a trio of remarkable women (Hong Chau, Sadie Sink, Samantha Morton) in The Whale; Bill Nighy in Living; and the ensembles of She Said, Armageddon Time, Thirteen Lives and Cha Cha Real Smooth. It has been a very good year, and I haven’t even gotten to the “list” yet.
I am happy to also acknowledge three films as part of our look at the year’s best international films (aka foreign language). Each of Deadline’s critics, as we did last year, submitted a detailed reason for their top 3 in the category, and it will publish this week. Mine are Germany’s All Quiet on ohe Western Front, Belgium’s Close and the French romantic charmer My Donkey, My Lover & I.
It actually was a fine year for donkeys in movies, including two films on my list below, as well as the official Polish entry for the Oscars, the wonderful EO. Still, if you are looking for a recommendation for a donkey movie that will leave you happy, not sad, then seek out the aforementioned My Donkey, My Lover & I.
There were some entertaining entries in the horror genre this year, notably The Black Phone, the latest iteration of Scream and the holiday season’s Violent Night, but without question the winner in this category goes to Barbarian, a delicious mixture of smart creepiness, comedy, chills and an amusing turn from Justin Long that simply stood out from the crowd.
For the documentary category, there were many fine and completely depressing movies, but for me the unqualified best of show is Good Night Oppy, Amazon and Amblin Entertainment’s uplifting, moving and magnificent saga of the 14-year Mars Rover mission, which was a combination of The Martian and WALL-E, except it really happened.
Here then finally are the movies that, for one reason or another, made my Top 10 — OK 11 — films of 2022. Arbitrary, yes, but why not?
In alphabetical order:
AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER
James Cameron proved he hadn’t lost a beat in the 13 years we waited for a sequel to the biggest box office hit of all time. This one exceeded all expectations.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN
Martin McDonagh’s wry and human Irish story is undeniably the work of a master storyteller, with a splendid cast along for the ride.
His story has been told many times, but Baz Luhrmann did the definitive biopic of Elvis Presley with a performance by Austin Butler that was astonishing.
Steven Spielberg has nothing left to prove, but that didn’t stop him from proving it again in crafting a cutting-edge autobiographical look at the life we thought we knew, but not quite. A moviemaking dream.
GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY
Rian Johnson shows us again there is life in a time-honored movie genre, the murder mystery, and tops the first film. Agatha Christie would be proud.
GUILLERMO del TORO’S PINOCCHIO
The great del Toro brought his heart and soul to a classic story and made it new and unforgettable in the stop-motion-animated triumph of this year or any other.
TOP GUN: MAVERICK
Thirty-six years later, Tom Cruise demonstrates the sky is not the limit with a movie that was as thrilling and emotional as movies can possibly get.
TRIANGLE OF SADNESS
Ruben Ostlund’s masterful, Palme d’Or-winning comedy not only wildly entertains, it managed to say much about the human race, warts and all. Billy Wilder would have loved it.
(TIE) TÁR : Like its Focus Features stablemate Vengeance, Todd Field’s first film in 16 years has more on its mind than mere plot as it follows Cate Blanchett’s tour-de-force turn as Lydia Tár, an iconic composer/conductor who finds herself in a career crisis at the intersection of social media and cancel culture.
(TIE) VENGEANCE: The generic title tells you nothing as B.J. Novak stars in his stunningly original and very fine feature writing and directorial debut that works not only as a darkly comic mystery but also as a journey into the rabbit hole of red state-blue state America in the era of Trump.
WOMEN TALKING: Sarah Polley’s finest writing and directing effort is anything but talky as a group of Mennonite women gathered together in a barn have 48 hours to decide the fate of the rest of their lives. An extraordinary film that blends social urgency and Hitchcock suspense in ways we rarely get to see in mainstream movies.
Look for the next episode of Deadline’s video series Take Two on Friday, when Todd McCarthy and I take a deep dive into our own choices for the top five films of 2022.
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