With Hollywood edging ever-closer to getting back to normal, 2022 bought us a great variety of films. From billion-dollar blockbusters to high-performing indies, the surprises (and letdowns) just kept on coming. The big-budget theatre experience is back in full swing thanks to the release of some heavy hitters that may appear on this list. This is paving the way for a 2023 that is jam-packed with big releases almost every week. There are some films not on this list that may deserve a spot, it’s just that they don’t release here for another month or so… hence I haven’t seen them. But alas, let’s get into the best of the best for 2022.
The film that kicked off 2022 in style was Scream. Talk about a comeback story – after 11 absent years, where all we got was a few seasons of a weak TV series, the iconic meta slasher franchise has returned. Seeing Sidney Prescott and the OG crew was a great touch, and the way they blended with the newcomers made for an entertaining watch. With brutal kills and more meta carnage, it was an entertaining ride. As far as video game adaptations go, Uncharted has to be one of the better ones in terms of pure entertainment. It’s a fun treasure-hunting adventure filled with great action and a few light laughs. The dynamic between Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg provided plenty of entertainment throughout. The best MCU film of the year was Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The character-driven narrative packed an emotional punch, especially with how it dealt with the untimely passing of Chadwick Boseman, and thus T’Challa. Through introducing a great villain and packing in a tonne of action, it became a thoroughly engaging and tense ride, but one that still didn’t make the top 10. As you’ll see by the rest of this list, it’s been an awesome year for horror fans. Not only did Scream impress, but so did The Black Phone, a suspense-filled thriller that is creepy and horrifying from beginning to end. Director Scott Derrickson delivered his best film yet, while Ethan Hawke nailed his performance as a dark and menacing villain. Lastly, the film I’m most bummed about not making my list is Barbarian. This brutal horror flick made waves for its unconventional and daring approach to storytelling – one which made it beautifully unique and insanely unpredictable. It’s a claustrophobic nightmare come to life, with a brilliant use of lighting to induce genuine chills.
#10 – Prey
Just sneaking into this list is Prey, the brilliant revival of the Predator franchise that reminds us all of what made the original so damn memorable. By stripping back the multi-layered narrative and large ensemble of characters, it allowed for a greater focus on the integral horror elements. Dan Trachtenberg uses his skills in slow-burn storytelling to greatly flesh out his lead character (Amber Midthunder) and build a great deal of tension that will leave you on the edge of your seat. It’s tense, exciting and all builds towards a gloriously brutal and bloody climax. The colour palette may be just ‘lots of grey’, but it’s really well shot, ensuring you can always see the action on-screen, even in the night. If you’re up for a film that’s focused entirely on the Predator and doesn’t crack endless unnecessary jokes, this is for you.
#9 – Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
We got two major-release Pinocchio films this year – one wonderfully magical character-focused adventure, and one Disney-led pile of shit. Thankfully, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio takes the classic tale and gives us a beautiful reimagining that captures the essence of the story. On one hand it’s dark and gritty, and on the other hand it’s touching and deeply heartwarming – exactly what you’d expect from master filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. His unique touch is all over this film, showing just how much of a passion project this really was. He understands the characters and themes, delving deep into ‘fatherhood’ and highlighting the strength of father-son relationships. The narrative keeps things feeling new, yet familiar, while the stop-motion animation is truly astounding. I was consistently blown away by the character design and attention to detail in every frame. There’s many reasons this makes my top 10, and many reasons why you should watch it.
#8 – The Northman
What do you get when you combine Robbert Eggers’ signature slow-burn style and a large budget? The Northman. This historical epic is a Viking revenge story on a grand scale, but not in the way general audiences might expect. It’s huge and ambitious in terms of its atmosphere, beautifully capturing the sweeping landscapes with Jarin Blaschke’s award-worthy cinematography. The story is told somewhat unconventionally, heavily incorporating thematic elements in what feels eerily like a Shakespearean tragedy bought to life. It goes deep into its main characters and almost becomes a psychological thriller in certain sequences. The Northman is not for everyone – you need an understanding and appreciation for indie storytelling, but the rewards for sticking through it are one-of-a-kind.
#7 – X
A beautifully simplistic and perfect title on paper… an SEO nightmare in reality. X dropped early in the year and quickly became my favourite horror entry of 2022. Ti West had a clear vision for this film (and franchise) and did a brilliant job in bringing it to life. Evoking the chills of an old-school slasher, X is gloriously gruesome and refreshingly original, offering plenty of scares and terrifying moments that will delight any horror fan. Plus, it goes deeper than just being a slasher – there’s clever theming and commentary weaved throughout that adds greater depth and meaning to the story. With captivating performances from both Mia Goth and Jenna Ortega, there’s many reasons why this should be on your watchlist.
#6 – Top Gun: Maverick
Blockbuster filmmaking at its finest – Top Gun: Maverick embraces being a pure bundle of joy from beginning to end. Is it a deep story? No. But that’s not what it’s made to be. There’s a focus on creating a final product that’s just an exhilarating thrill ride, and they’ve nailed it. The flight sequences and aerial gunfights are undeniably spectacular… so spectacular in fact, that I’d say they’re perfect. The decision to use real airborne fighter jets to film these sequences enhances the immersion, while the IMAX presentation expands the scope. Some of the character work is really strong, and Miles Teller brings a strong supporting performance. But one thing’s for certain – when it comes to action, Tom Cruise knows exactly what he’s doing.
#5 – Everything Everywhere All at Once
How do I even begin to sum up the crazy, chaotic brilliance that is Everything Everywhere All at Once? This ambitious narrative is surprisingly easy to understand, follow and consume – not what I thought I’d be saying when it began. No time is wasted in the film’s setup – kicking off at a rapid pace and putting on a fantastic display of how to introduce your characters and plot without slowing things down. From there, it only gets more and more chaotic, with the story going in unexpected directions that keep you on your toes. The constant satire weaved throughout the film keeps the laughs coming, contrasting the emotional elements that get stronger as time goes on. Headlined by award-winning performances from Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, this is one to check out if you’re looking for something objectively weird.
#4 – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Glass Onion is a murder mystery that does everything right by my books. Rian Johnson’s unique approach to storytelling is a perfect match for this genre, keeping things fresh by effectively subverting expectations in every chance it gets. Glass Onion’s mystery will keep you guessing – and even if you think you know what’s going on, Rian will have you second guessing your every thought. It’s quirky, fun and entertaining, made extra memorable by the array of unique characters and performances, but none more niche than Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc. Daniel’s performance embodies the ‘weird’ factor and creates a great vessel for the audience to witness this story through. At the moment, this is the best Agatha Christie-style murder mystery I’ve ever seen. The huge turning point in this film is ambitious and incredibly well-executed, taking the mystery and turning it up to an 11. For a night of never-ending fun, certainly check out this slice of brilliance.
#3 – Pearl
Well, Ti West has already featured on this list with the release of X, now he cracks into the top 3 with the release of Pearl – the prequel to X that was miraculously filmed in secret. Undoubtedly more unhinged and thematically strong than X, this horror spectacle is an ode to old Hollywood and a deep and disturbing character study. The narrative delves immensely deep into the psyche of Mia Goth’s Pearl, giving us thorough insight into what makes this complex and damaged character tick. It may not harness many traditional horror scares, but it’s thrilling, suspense-driven and genuinely spine-chilling in every moment. Not only is it aptly terrifying, it’s one of the most stunning horror features I’ve seen, with Elliot Rockett’s cinematography flawlessly capturing that old Hollywood look. Plus, if you thought Mia Goth was great in X, just wait til you see her in here. She delivers a phenomenal Oscar-worthy performance that will no doubt be overlooked. If you’re looking for the best horror film of the year, you’ve found it – an artistic and haunting horror marvel.
#2 – The Batman
It’s hard to imagine a masterpiece such as Matt Reeves’ The Batman doesn’t end up on the top of this list. But that doesn’t diminish the phenomenal storytelling and technical achievements it brings to screen. The narrative itself is absolutely riveting, hooking me immediately and keeping me on the edge of my seat the whole way through. Falling just shy of 3 hours, this narrative is jam-packed with clever twists, deep character arcs and way more detective content than I could’ve ever hoped for. It’s also a masterclass in how to build and maintain a dark and chilling atmosphere that enhances the overall effectiveness of the story. This is of course helped by Greig Fraser’s cinematography, for which she should win back-to-back Oscars. And yes, Robert Pattinson is an incredible Batman, presenting himself as a formidable presence in Gotham City. I could talk about this film for ages, but it’s best you go and check it out yourself.
#1 – Avatar: The Way of Water
As good as The Batman was… it doesn’t even come close to what Avatar: The Way of Water achieves. This is without a doubt in my mind the best film of the year (and one of the best in recent years). A cinematic masterpiece through and through, James Cameron has crafted something truly magical. Expanding on everything that made 2009’s Avatar such a memorable event, this sequel is a sight to behold. The visual effects are the best I’ve ever seen on screen. There’s multiple moments in which I was blown away upon thinking about the fact that nothing on screen was real. It’s a moving painting that’s impossible to look away from. The narrative is touching, heartwarming and intense, focusing on the characters and going deep into the family relationships at the forefront. Despite being over 3 hours long, the time flies by as this breathtaking masterpiece expands on the world of Pandora, and makes me want to see more. Having already seen this multiple times, there’s no questioning the fact that this is essential viewing for anyone who likes watching movies… and must be witnessed in 3D at the very least. With that, I’ll leave you to go see this spectacle first-hand… and who knows, I might also see you in the theatre.
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