As the new year begins, I’d like to take my hat off to 2022. I graduated. I graduated! And the amount of movies I saw in that second semester--when my nose was like a block away from the grindstone--was crazy. What a year for movies that was. As Cully Cooper, my Reel Live co-host, can attest, every month there was something incredible dropping. From the shockingly great Scream reboot right off the jump, to box-office juggernauts, Top Gun: Maverick and the long-anticipated Avatar: The Way of Water, this year had no shortage of stories the world was excited to see. Even on the indie side, household names were being born: Jenna Ortega and Mia Goth found mainstream prominence in the X series (the former--I need not tell you, college student--is already slashing her way to icon status headlining Netflix’s Wednesday Addams series) and Everything Everywhere All At Once stamped its flag in the ground as perhaps the defining movie of Generation-Z, as if it were as easy as breathing. On top of these films--these two films that might only come out once in a generation--another might have impressed me even more from an historical perspective. Damien Leone’s Terrifier 2 may well be the microbudget hit of the decade--just like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project were before it. Never before has a sequel to a VOD sleeper-hit such as Terrifer been… not only openly crowdfunded, but also found itself going toe-to-toe with every October release and staying there until it was ready to leave. It was downright inspiring seeing something so niche and repulsive up there. That’s the future of movies to me. Not streaming services, but the harnessing of the internet to give people the choice of what they want to see.
But as much as I’d like to say that any of these movies made my favorites list this year, I must disappoint the lot of us. A year this good begged me to look below the surface and watch as much as humanly possible. I watched an obscene number, people. Upwards of 100. So this prior smattering of titles should serve as a list of “Honorable Mentions,” though I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the brilliant Funny Pages, which touched me greatly as someone who loves comics and anything disgusting; Stanleyville, which felt tailor-made for weirdos; Prey, which was a very creative twist on a formula I embarrassingly loved already; Vengeance, a solid comedy/mystery; and Barbarian which is one of those new favorites that’s going to be so fun to watch with people who’ve never seen it before.
Without further ado, here’s my favorite movies of 2022.
10. Do Revenge
So many people are clicking away right now--but those people haven’t seen Do Revenge. Maybe you’ve seen the little Netflix poster, or flipped past it in the “Teen Movies” category... but how could this movie be better than Everything Everywhere?! Well, first of all, it’s just my opinion, and secondly, this movie is simultaneously both the finest teen movie in recent memory and also a send-up of the genre operating at Scream-level. I kid you not, man. This is it.
The socialite main character trying to get into Yale (and it is always Yale, isn’t it?) and survive teenage politics at a preppy institution has never been a sympathetic heroine to me, but the assumptions I gleaned from its trailer were satisfyingly correct: this movie knows how horrible the archetype really is. Knowing its heroine is a bad person gives Do Revenge a clever leg-up. The issue becomes smartly not, “how does she overcome some trite adversity during her senior year?” and instead “how does she spin an actual traumatic experience into self-betterment?” And that may sound like I’ve blown the whole movie, but the way Do Revenge sticks this landing is hilarious, tense, touching, and unpredictable. Everything the film seeks to do it does, and does so with flavor and a wholly up-to-date spirit. The plotting is ace, the soundtrack is ace, and the casting is incredible. Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke have great chemistry as our two Strangers on a Train-esque co-conspirators; Austin Abrams’ Max Broussard is a teen-movie villain for the ages; and Sarah Michelle Gellar even takes inspiration from Henry Winkler’s bit part in Scream to become the new one-time teen-icon cum torch-passing principal. Move over, Booksmart. This is how it’s done.
HBO Max is going to be remembered as the only streaming service, really, that was any good. They’ve got the crowd-pleasers, sure, but they also seem to very much care about film. Case in point, Steven Soderbergh's Kimi, which dropped on the service in January to relative acclaim and to minimal fanfare, and still the movie was released (legally) on DVD. It’s a shame that not many eyes were on it though, because it’s as solid a thriller as they come and in any other year it would likely be higher. As a divine piece of social commentary, Kimi doesn’t talk down to its viewer--and as a contemporary thriller, it is one of few films I can think of that not only addresses the COVID-19 pandemic, but also utilizes the setting of the lockdown to craft a nailbitingly suspenseful yarn. Angela (a perfectly cast Zoe Kravitz) was an agoraphobe before the world locked up, so now she’s screwed. She lives in an apartment in the city and spends her days logging hours as a worker for an Amazon-like company listening to commands made to Kimi (the film’s Alexa stand-in) and correcting Kimi’s responses to said commands, or she does, anyway... until she hears a murder. Soderbergh clearly has a passion for every story he takes on, and how he manages to keep you on the edge of your seat during this one--a narrative that unfolds almost-entirely in one studio apartment--is bonkers. One little woman becoming a billion-dollar company’s target isn’t a story I’ve seen done before, and I think it’s because it would take a deft mind to even think of how that woman could turn the tables. It’s not an easy thing to fathom in today’s culture and with today’s technology. The dismantling of a corporate entity trading on the NASDAQ seems downright impossible, but as Kimi proves, all you need is more smarts than the people who own you.
8. All My Friends Hate Me
Sometimes my hobby of renting movies digitally for six dollars pays off. There are so many great films out there that are never released in theaters, and All My Friends Hate Me is a must-see for anyone who loves their comedies on the uncomfortable side. The set-up is simple: Pete has just returned from a humanitarian venture in Africa to spend his birthday weekend with a group of friends, and over the course of this weekend, through a series of misunderstandings and blunders, he starts to get the impression that they all hate his guts. It’s a brilliant movie--and a textbook example of a great script salvaging the most innocuous idea. Tom Stourton is fantastic here--Pete's a wonderful guy, by all accounts--and Barbarian’s Georgina Campbell is (as always) great too. But this isn’t your standard British comedy. It’s not dry, it’s not awkward… it’s claustrophobic and nasty. It’s described as a Comedy/Horror movie, and though I might not go that far, this should give you some idea as to what you’re getting into. You’ll laugh, but your throat will seize up. You’ll get goosebumps and maybe even hives. This film rams you so deep into Pete’s shoes that your toes will curl and you’ll wonder if you ever knew anything. It’s ninety minutes of unbearable anxiety, which I say because I know that this isn’t a movie for everyone. For those who love to be uncomfortable though… this is one of the absolute best.
Here’s a general criticism for the film-review community: Jordan Peele is not the only Black director to ever do horror, and implying so is detrimental to the creators of stories by Black directors who don’t have his name to fall back on. It may have been easier for Miriama Diallo to make her film, Master, after Get Out’s success, but by comparing it to the films of Jordan Peele, critics have burned the movie worse than a thousand Rotten reviews could. It’s got a 37% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s pushing the 4-5 range on IMDb. It’s not trying to be a Jordan Peele copy. Diallo’s film is darker. Significantly more mature, and more gut-wrenching than any Peele has done or would want to. It’s a miserable movie--a scary one with an ambiguous script and a twist I’m still thinking about. Regina Hall is one of my favorite actors, and her role here as Gail Beckman is another hard-won feather in her cap. The woman just keeps killing it, and with hardly any recognition (perhaps this one even proved detrimental) but it’s cool as hell that she is always going for it. Maybe Master is a ghost story. Maybe it’s not. That’s by design. What we do know is that it’s a story of microaggressions and how these compounding incidents can grow into something altogether less “micro”. On top of that though, it’s just freaky. It’s very open to weirdness (my favorite) and veers rather often into post-Lynch surrealism and nasty, nasty subtext. It’s unpredictable as hell and you couldn’t find a laugh with a metal detector, but this movie pulls you in like a riptide. It screams. It provokes. It dares to poke at weirdly-unquestioned institutions, and anyone who’s seen it won’t quickly forget it. This is my public service announcement though: not all horror is the same, and that can certainly be said for Black horror as well. This is not Jordan Peele--and in fact it’s a richer flavor than his brand of horror. This is the one horror movie that has stuck with me for months.
6. The Northman
Robert Eggers’ first major studio production is less strange, to be sure, but it’s sacrificed none of his underlying vision. From folk-horror to psychological… cosmic… whatever we’re calling The Lighthouse, he’s proven that dedication to your craft is a surefire ticket to immersing your viewer in the world. And his move from horror to sweeping Nordic epic is a trajectory that isn’t all that surprising though if you’ve been paying attention. He loves bygone worlds and the thrill of the creeping unknown as well as shooting in remote, natural locations. It’s still a grotesque feature though, and while it was produced by Focus Features, it’s hardly mainstream. Eggers trades Puritanism for Pagan mysticism this time around, and over the course of those dirty two hours we’re treated to a marvelously dour tragedy rife with dismemberment, incest, farting and hallucinatory forays to the otherworld. It’s a one-of-a-kind watch, and one I’m glad to have seen in theaters. In terms of casting, Alexander Skarsgard was the only choice for this prodigal son coming home to avenge his father’s death by his uncle. He becomes a slave in his uncle’s kingdom, and worms his way in--all the way causing strife and fostering distrust--until a final showdown that’s way, way too gnarly to spoil, and in doing so out-Revenant's The Revenant. Anya Taylor Joy is always great as well, Nicole Kidman goes nuts, and Bjork makes a fun cameo as an oracle. Eggers though, as always, is the star of the show. No one does a period piece like him, and The Northman is just another high-water mark.
5. Glass Onion
But what could be said about Glass Onion that hasn’t already been said? I’m sure you’ve seen it by now. It’s a bold, audacious movie that, with any luck, does for the comedy what Knives Out did for the mystery--and it is a mystery, mind you, but this one is a comedy first and a mystery second, while the preceding film switches that order. Maybe that’s due to Benoit Blanc, Daniel Craig's southern-fried, bumbling genius who takes up a much greater amount of screen-time than he did the last outing. Daniel Craig is hilarious here, and his co-stars are show-stealers too. Kathryn Hahn is perhaps the funniest woman alive, Janelle Monae confirms she can do anything well, and Edward Norton’s role as Miles Bron--a thoroughly daft Elon Musk pastiche--is his best showing in years. Where did he go, Edward Norton? Why did he go away? Regardless--and this will only make sense once you see it--what makes Glass Onion’s twists so smart is their stupidity. It’s a geniously stupid story that unfolds like a magic trick, making fresh and outrageous use of distraction and misdirection. It shows you everything you need to know, and it’s confident that you’re too dumb to put it together (or, rather, I was. Others I know saw the end coming immediately). The first watch and second watch are facepalmingly different. Where it really veers off from its predecessor though is its ending. It ties up in a way so satisfying--so ballsy--that its final buckshot satire will surely turn off some of those who were sold to begin with. Just take the ride though. Trust me. This is the first studio comedy in ages that felt like a movie, and it convinced me, a skeptic, that there’s still gas in the Benoit Blanc tank.
4. Petrov’s Flu
A Russian film probably won’t fare well in 2022’s greater round of “Hot or Not,” but I don’t think that Kirill Serebrennikov’s Petrov’s Flu is thrilled with Russia either. This was one strange movie. It’s a mesmerizing and funny one. A touching one, and a horrifying one. Semyon Serzin plays Petrov, a man in post-Soviet Russia going about his day-to-day life with the flu. We follow him, his wife, and his son over the course of a night or a week or a month (it’s an epidemic, who knows?), and in that time we learn the ways they’ve made peace with the (almost dystopian) world around them. In Petrova’s (Chulpan Khamatova) case, she murders self-obsessed poets and leering drunks; while in the case of their son, he’s wasting to death with his own flu. Petrov himself is something of a dreamer (or, “observer” might be more appropriate), and his stumbles through the metropolitan underbelly take the viewer from birth to death, childhood to old age, to rebirth and to alien abduction. We see entire lives (some only tangentially related to Petrov) unfold. We see his childhood. The last night alive of an acquaintance real or imagined. And however strange my description sounds to you, it’s stranger. The whole film’s effect is that it is a fever dream, that while you might not be able to describe what it meant coming out of it, you’ve been struck with a revelation. Through its careening camera angles, its long takes and its allergy to a standard plot, the viewer is rendered as delirious as its sickly protagonist. The best I can come to the ethos of Petrov’s Flu is that it’s the hallucination of a nation. Their swirling subconscious, drunken into submission and returning only when it all crumbles down and they’re left standing naked.
3. Triangle of Sadness
One of the many indies to have buzz before its release only to be actually released to lukewarm reception, Triangle of Sadness is a scathing social satire that knocks it out of the park. In this one, the viewer is situated on a ridiculous luxury cruise that caters to the super-rich. We get to know the staff and clientele and remain in this buoyant prison with them while their world falls apart and the power dynamic shifts in hilarious ways. Spoiling anything about this movie would be a great disservice to anyone who hasn’t seen it, but what I will tell you is that what separates this film from other social satires is the unpredictable and daring ways in which it makes its points. It’s foul in the ways it knocks its one-percenters down. It’s cruel and it’s absurd and it’s unique, and secretly--bravely--taking no sides all the way but that against the system itself. Every character in this movie is either a scumbag or is an inch away from becoming one. Harris Dickinson for example is a great protagonist here as Carl, is a fashion model who’s gotten by entirely on his good looks, and the slew of people he meets on the journey are equally dumb. Pay attention to him though, because although he may seem relegated to the sidelines in the beginning, he might eventually prove the key to the entire film's takeaway: we’d likely all be bad people if we could afford to be.
Rest in peace, Charlbi Dean.
2. Something in the Dirt
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead are the Teenage Fanclub of moviemaking. Over the last ten years, they’ve somehow stuck the landing of understated and grandiose; of punk rock and high-brow; and despite the B-movie budgets they operate with, the two have dug their own--might I say, rather classy--niche in the horror-sphere. Something in the Dirt, a hate letter to contemporary L.A., is probably their best. In it, two neighbors (Moorehead and Benson themselves) are forced into a friendship of convenience as they shoot a documentary about paranormal goings-on at one of their apartments. Things float, lights appear in a closet with no bulbs, and codes begin popping up that the two take it upon themselves to solve. It alternates between mockumentary and mumblecore presentation, but Something in the Dirt proves to be their most ambitious and soulful work yet. It’s cosmic and intimate, hilarious and heartbreaking, and despite its insistent science-fiction veneer, what it’s really about is much simpler. This one felt like it was made for me.
Nope is mindblowingly good, and just... a testament to the power a film can have over its viewer. It’s pretty handily Jordan Peele’s best movie, and it isn’t hard to see why. I mean, the concept is creative, the world is immersive, the sound design and mixing are all stellar, and it all adds up to what has to be the best movie-theater experience--and movie--of the year. I saw this one at a drive-in, and that enormous screen and its wide-open flatland made for the perfect place to witness an alien abduction story. For those unfamiliar, Nope takes place on a horse-training farm outside of Hollywood. The Haywood siblings are dealing with their father’s death, so It’s this ensuing desperation--coupled with the bizarre circumstances of his demise and a curiously unmoving cloud over the farm--that forms the crux of a wild, wild, genre-hopping tale. Horror, sci-fi, adventure, fantasy and comedy are all part of the mix, and Peele’s cast is more than capable of lassoing it. The character work is great, the script is great, and the creature-design is a marvel. I’ve been ready to write this list for ages, but I kept flipping my first and second-place movies around. Both are staggering, immensely creative sci-fi/horror yarns, but only one gave me hope for the future of the movie theater. It’s a hugely original take on a well-worn genre, and its storytelling and design are masterful. Everything--everything--coalesces in Nope. Nothing is out of place.
For my money, it’s perfect.