It’s that time of year again! Time to rank my Top 10 films of 2022. And boy oh boy, this was a tough list. Not because there were so many great films from which to choose–just the opposite–I truly struggled to identify ten films that I liked well enough to rank in a Top 10. Whereas I thought the struggle last year (see 2021) was real, this year’s arduous task of selecting ten films that I thought were outstanding made last year look as strong as 1983 or ’84. After two lackluster years for cinema, perhaps 2023 will surprise us! Since I don’t watch trailers nor overly concern myself with what is being released, you won’t find a Top 10 Most Anticipated Films list from me; however, there are a few for which I am eager: Mission Impossible, Barbie, Knock at the Cabin, S6ream, and Oppenheimer. But I digress, let’s get back to 2022.
Teaching film studies and screenwriting provides me with a particularly refined lens through which I closely read films. And not only the individual 2022 films themselves, but the year as a whole. By surveying an entire year’s films (and by extension, one can apply this to a decade when conducting an historical retrospective), common themes and motifs can reveal themselves. As an academic, this is fascinating because the recurring themes and motifs can, and often do, indicate societal or storytelling trends. For example, a close read of–say–horror films of the 1950s, reveals that society was concerned with the terrors that lie out in space. No surprise really, considering the U.S. was fully engaged in the space race.
So what did I find to be the most common observation in 2022 films? It’s two fold (1) one of storytelling mechanics and (2) one of social commentary or philosophy. 2022 was the year of writer-directors that should stick to being directors and allow a screenwriter to do the writing. There were many films this year that began with a great premise or basic story idea, that wasn’t executed effectively. The other observation from the year is that a great many films simply reeked of the stench of applied postmodernism (commonly referred to as woke). Will this proliferation of the dangerous ideology of applied postmodernism seeping from dark corners of scholar-activism into the mainstream be limited to 2022 or is this simply the beginning? Only time will tell.
While there are some writer-directors that are proficient (or even exceptional) at both screenwriting and directing, I find that most directors are not equally skilled as writers (and the inverse is also true). That’s not to suggest that most directors today do not have great, original ideas for films; but their films would fair better if they were to work with a screenwriter to more effectively craft and structure the director’s idea for the screen. Just like in life, ideas may make more sense in your head than they do to others; therefore, you have to know how to present your idea to others in a manner that does not need an interpreter or a companion explainer guide.
I’ve written at length about the dangers of applied postmodernism in films. But to recap, applied postmodernism is a toxic ideology that is an explicitly anti-liberal, anti-universal approach to achieving social justice. Furthermore, it’s a movement or practice of FIRST positing systemic problems THEN looking for evidence to support them; this practice’s goal is to reveal hidden biases and under examined assumptions about the world. Applied postmodernism manifests itself in identity politics. This position embraces a fantasy utopia world dreamed up by naive, arrogantly bigoted enlightenment thinkers whom think of the world in terms of what ought to be versus what actually is (and how it affects the world on a global scale).
Now that we have the observations out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks!
Here are my Top 10 films of 2022:
Refreshing and utterly delightful! George Clooney and Julia Roberts shine in Ticket to Paradise! Not only does this outstanding romantic comedy deliver a highly entertaining and heartfelt performative dimension, the script is solid! Excellent plotting for the familiar yet fresh story paired with dialogue that snaps, crackles, and pops! It’s an honest romcom featuring authentic true-to-life characters (albeit slightly exaggerated for dramatic purposes) that will resonate with audiences across the relationship spectrum. Whether you are in a new love, still in the honeymoon phase, or a cynic, you will find characters and predicaments that are inspired by real life. It’s been a long time since the romcom dominated cinemas, but Ticket to Paradise is a great example of the classic romcom being reimagined for today’s audiences.
Heartwarming! From the outstanding cast chemistry to the clever writing, you need to make I Want You Back part of your Valentine’s Day celebrations at the cinema (for the limited theatrical run) or on Amazon Prime Video. Much like Broken Hearts Gallery showed us that the romcom can be reimagined for today’s teen and 20-something audiences, Jason Orley’s I Want You Back is the romcom reimagined for 30-something audiences. If it can make cynics like me once again believe that my “plane mask buddy” (you’ll just have to see the film to get the reference) is still out there, you too will find the story incredibly endearing! It’s been a long time since I’ve witnessed such excellent chemistry between an ensemble cast in a comedy, and it is the characters that will command a rewatch of this soon-to-be quintessential romcom.
The unsettling atmosphere will transport, while the macabre mystery intrigues. Scott Cooper’s The Pale Blue Eye is both a period murder-mystery drama and serves as an imaginative origin story for Edgar Allan Poe. With skeletons in every character’s closet, the enigma of a mystery will beckon audiences to solve the mystery along with Christian Bale’s character. Based on the novel by the same name, the film adaptation is in the same vein as The Cursed from earlier this year and Antlers from last year. Both of which are among my favorites of the last two years. So, if you liked either of those films, you will mostly likely enjoy this one as well. Despite the runtime of 2-hours, no scene ever lingers too long. If you enjoy period murder-mysteries, then you’ll undoubtedly enjoy this film.
7. THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT
Massively fun! Nicolas Cage IS Nicolas CAGE in the hilarious yet thoughtful and action-packed The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. You don’t want to miss this highly entertaining motion picture on the BIG SCREEN! On one hand, it’s a fictionalized self-referential character study, but on the other, it’s Taken. It’s a metanarrative that delivers both the exploration of the fascinating career, larger than life persona, and highly publicized financial problems of the screen legend. In other words, this film is in full Cage Rage mode from beginning to end. For the film studies enthusiast, scholar, or just film fan, there is also a running commentary on the evolution of filmmaking spanning over 100 years. The Cage Mythos is alive and well in this film. Cage both embraces and pokes fun at the prolific number of myths inspired by his vast career.
6. THE CURSED (technically 2021, but wasn’t released until 2022)
A throwback to classic Universal Monster and Hammer Horror! After it was received positively at Sundance, The Cursed received a theatrical release. I was first cued into this film after seeing many positive comments on Film Twitter, so naturally, I had to check it out! From it’s foreboding atmosphere to its less is more approach with the werewolf-like creatures and the creepy orchestral score, fans of classic supernatural monster horror will undoubtedly find immense enjoyment in this film. Director Sean Ellis pulls out all the in camera stops in order to craft an incredibly haunting, intense film that is sure to become one of the best horror films of 2022, if not amongst the best in the last few years. Aesthetically, the film will remind you of Barry Lyndon meets The Wolfman meets Burnt Offerings. For fellow sedentary adrenaline junkies (the psychological description for horror fans), The Cursed will satisfy everything we want out of a werewolf film.
A peerless delight! A throwback motion picture as exquisite as the House of Dior itself! Refreshing, uplifts the human spirit. A film to inspire dreamers and doers. Easily one of the best pictures of the year. Slip into Director Anthony Fabian’s meticulously crafted film that is sure to make a beautiful statement in any cinema! Lesley Manville delivers a command performance as the title character that will tug at your heartstrings. While the setting may be in the pretentious world of haute couture, this adaptation of Paul Gallico’s timeless novel takes audiences on a journey that is just as relatable and relevant as it is whimsical! Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is an endearing fairy tale that feels very close to story in which we could find ourselves.
A provocative exploration of the deadly consequences of image obsession and the dangers of forcing others to meet your expectations–hatching them in your own image. Director Hanna Bergholm delivers more than a spine-chilling social commentary on the dark side of social media influencers, Bergholm delivers an inventive cinematic exercise that shines in both form and function. Terrifying puppetry is back! Most of the buzz going into this film was on the use of practical puppetry for the bird-like creature, and that buzz is well-earned! Not since Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal have we witnessed such nightmarishly beautiful puppetry on the silver screen.
Outstanding! Each and every layer of this masterful horror film is crafted with care and precision. Barbarian strikes an uncanny balance of unsettling terror juxtaposed against clever irony and humor. Writer-director Zach Cregger delivers the best horror film so far this year, and among the strongest in recent years. Not only does the film boast exceptional shot composition, the screenplay is sleek and no scene goes wasted. The fine-tuned plot mapping and story structure provide a solid foundation upon which the thoughtful story is told. Just when you feel that you may have it figured out, Cregger throws you for a loop–a loop that was setup earlier in the film unbeknownst to you.
Positively avant-garde! Easily among the best pictures of the year, period. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a brilliant stop-motion picture that will stir the hearts and minds of any audience! In many ways it’s reminiscent of 80s dark fantasies such as The NeverEnding Story and The Dark Crystal. Which should come as no surprise that del Toro worked in collaboration with the Jim Henson Company. Audience will be completely transported to the post-World War I Italian world that del Toto meticulously recreates, complete with the fascist movement, which underscores much of the film. Not since Kubo and the Two Strings have we had such a gorgeous, imaginative animated feature film
And the No.1 film of 2022 is…
What a picture! Cinema at its finest! Top Gun: Maverick is the high energy, funny, exhilarating motion picture cinemas and audiences need–and–it’s full throttle heart! Furthermore, the absolutely brilliant combination of screenwriting, directing, and all the technical elements combine to acknowledge and build upon the nostalgia without resting its laurels on it or hiding behind the cultural and cinematic touchstone that was the original Top Gun. I didn’t know a long-awaited sequel more than 30-years from the original could be THIS good–in fact–it’s better than the original. We are talking Wrath of Kahn compared to Star Trek the Motion Picture here. Maverick represents that some stories, characters, and themes are truly timeless.
Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.
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