The movie business is undergoing a transformation, fueled by declining box-office revenues as more people prefer consuming entertainment in the comfort of their homes. That also merits looking back at the movies released in 2022 in slightly different fashion, from the most disappointing titles to, here, the most satisfying.
“Satisfying,” in this case, differs from the traditional “best” lists that many critics assemble, since it allows for including more populist movies that excel by nicely accomplishing what they set out to do.
As it happens, that approach also reflects a year where many of the traditional awards-bait movies were flawed in one way or another, and some of the highest-profile commercial fare (see “The Batman” and Marvel’s Thor, Black Panther and Doctor Strange sequels) didn’t fully live up to expectations to varying degrees.
As for the sequels that did make this list, in a movie business built on franchises and relying on familiar properties, the challenge of pulling off those extensions well is both vital to the industry’s financial health and, creatively speaking, deserves applause when it’s done right .
In terms of omissions, it’s worth noting that there were numerous releases this year from acclaimed directors – including Darren Aronofsky, Noah Baumbach, Damien Chazelle, Antoine Fuqua, Martin McDonagh, Sam Mendes, and David O. Russell – that were seen, considered and didn’t make the cut. Indeed, if there was a bias here this year, it was towards movies that broadly entertained, with some exceptions.
So what made the “nice” list? In alphabetical order:
“Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood”: Richard Linklater’s rotoscope-animated look back at his youth growing up in the shadow of NASA is the kind of breezy nostalgic exercise that really illustrates what life was like back then, during an era when TVs were small and before everyone took a phone everywhere.
“Avatar: The Way of Water”: Overcoming skepticism about a 13-year-later encore with a wave of dazzling spectacle, James Cameron again takes a pretty basic story and turns it into an epic, state-of-the-art demonstration of movie magic that practically demands you get off the couch, put down the remote and drive to a theater to see it on the biggest screen you can.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once”: Not everything worked about this foray into alternative universes and paths not taken, but this action-comedy-sci-fi mashup represented one of the year’s most inventive efforts and happily struck a chord with audiences, while showcasing the remarkable Michelle Yeoh and the uplifting comeback of one-time Indiana Jones kid Ke Huy Quan.
“The Fabelmans”: Steven Spielberg’s deeply personal window into how his youthful experiences forged him into the filmmaker he became is obviously filled with nostalgia, but it also provides a welcome ode to the power of movies. A bit scattered in its format, the movie nevertheless works as a superhero origin story for a director whose half-century of filmmaking has etched so many moments into our memories.
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”: Writer-director Rian Johnson has managed to reload and still capture the whimsy, wit and fun of his original whodunit, with Daniel Craig as the lone holdover in a movie that really should have spent more time in theaters before landing on Netflix.
“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”: Sent directly to Hulu, this two-hander for Emma Thompson as a widow who retains a sex worker (Daryl McCormack) and peppers him with questions about his life and work was sweet, funny and generally delightful, a little gem in a year with a lots of rhinestones. (Thompson, as a footnote, is also smashing in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.”)
“RRR”: Like “Avatar,” don’t let the three-hour-plus running time scare you off (besides, you’ll most likely watch it on Netflix anyway). This Indian historical fantasy has it all, including an abundance of energy, wild action sequences and exhausting dance numbers. A film that draws upon any number of genres, from superhero to western, and still manages to feel fresh and invigorating.
“Till”: Danielle Deadwyler’s wrenching performance as Mamie Till Mobley, grappling with the murder of her son Emmett in Mississippi in 1955, elevated and brought renewed attention to this tragic story, in a movie that sensitively deals with the murder in order to focus on how it gave a civil-rights activist her voice.
“Top Gun: Maverick”: Despite coming 36 years after the original (time flies too, apparently), this sequel waited through the pandemic in order to share the experience with movie-goers and rewarded them with a stirring flight that gave Tom Cruise a perfectly tuned encore, while flying what amount to a rescue mission for movie theaters. Frankly, it would be nice to leave well enough alone after that, but nothing that makes that much money can be allowed to stay grounded for long.
“Turning Red”: Pixar hasn’t been treated particularly well by its parent studio in the Disney+ era, which explains why this wonderfully warm and very funny coming-of-age story – a genre so overworked it’s really hard to do this well – was funneled directly to streaming . The film works on multiple levels, but transforming into a giant panda turns out to be a wonderful metaphor for the indignities and confusion associated with puberty.