10. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Murder Mystery
Rian Johnson | 139 mins | Comedy/Crime/Drama Daniel Craig | Edward Norton | Kate Hudson | Dave Bautista
If Rian Johnson spends the rest of his life telling Agatha Christie-type Knives Out stories, I would be completely okay with that. Glass Onion, the wildly entertaining follow up Knives Out, tells the story of a dishonest billionaire who invites a slew of his sleezy friends to a private island to solve a murder mystery. Fortunately for viewers, one uninvited guest also shows up: Benoit Blanc, the most brilliant and entertaining detective to shine on the big screen in many-a-moons.
What ensues is a worthy follow-up to Johnson’s brilliant 2019 murder mystery that exceeds its predecessor in twists and turns, even if it lacks some of the natural charm and bliss of the original. Still, in a year that is far weaker than 2019, Glass Onion deserves to be called one of the year’s best, even if its ranking is less favorable than the number two spot that I placed Knives Out at three years ago.
9. Avatar: The Way of Water
James Cameron | 192 mins | Action/Adventure/Fantasy Sam Worthington | Zoe Saldana | Sigourney Weaver | Kate Winslet
Jake Sully’s sons may speak like frat boys, much of the story may be nearly plotless, and the last hour may transform into a predictable, chaotic mess, but when it’s at its best, Avatar: The Way of Water is one of the most beautiful films to shine on the big screen in the history of cinema. And, if prestigious critics around the world can name a nearly plotless three-hour movie as the greatest film ever made, I certainly can name Way of the Water one as of the year’s ten best. Especially when it’s filled with breathtaking underwater scenes that capture the magic of scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef – something that Jeanne Dielman certainly lacks.
All jokes aside, Avatar: The Way of Water proves that James Cameron is every bit as much of an artist as Leonardo Da Vinci or Michelangelo. For much of the film’s hefty 192 minutes, he takes us on a magical adventure under the sea as Jake Sully’s family takes refuge with the Metkayina tribe. Part Finding Nemo and part Days of Heaven, The Way of the Water is a feast for our eyes for its first two hours before retreating to familiar battles with predictable outcomes in its disappointing final act. But what The Way of Water lacks in storytelling, it certainly makes up for it with its vitual beauty and exquisite detail.
8. Hit the Road
Panah Panahi | 93 mins | Drama Pantea Panahiha | Mohammad Hassan Madjooni | Rayan Sarlak | Amin Simiar
Hit the Road is a road trip movie unlike any road trip movie ever made before. It’s the debut film of Panah Panahi, who is the son of Jafar Panahi – a renowned Iranian film director who has been on house arrest for past films that were deemed as propaganda against the Iranian government. Perhaps that’s why Hit the Road focuses on a family who adventures off to help smuggle their oldest son out of Iran.
It’s a film that captures the innocence of childhood, the boundless love of parents, and the oppressing governments that so many other countries face. Hit the Road doesn’t explain why the departure is necessary, but it’s quite obvious that the reason likely wouldn’t warrant an escape in countries with real freedoms. No disrespect to RRR or Decision to Leave, but Hit the Road was the most underrated import of 2022.
Steven Soderbergh | 89 mins | Crime/Drama/Thriller Zoe Kravitz | Byron Bowers | Rita Wilson | Erika Christensen
If Hitchcock were alive today, it’s be interesting to see how he’d be able to turn the COVID-19 pandemic into a first-rate thriller. Since he’s not, Steven Soderberg’s gripping thriller Kimi will have to do. Fortunately, Soderberg’s film is far from a consolation prize. In fact, it may just be his best film since 2000, when he released Erin Brockovich and Traffic in the same year.
Kimi stars Zoe Kravits, the daughter of musician Lenny Kravitz, as a Seattle tech employee named Angela who seeks to improve the search requests for a smart speaker named Kimi. Angela suffers from agoraphobia and anxiety, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic to the point where she refuses to leave her apartment. However, when she uncovers a possible murder that was picked up by a Kimi device, she has no choice but to overcome her fears and bring justice to the victim.
Kimi, along with Glass Onion, made 2022 a great year for fans of mystery thrillers. Glass Onion may be more fun, but Kimi is more original and lingers much longer. In a good way.
6. CHa Cha Real Smooth
Cooper Raiff | 107 mins | Comedy/Drama Cooper Raiff | Dakota Johnson | Evan Assante | Vanessa Burghardt
Cha Cha Real Smooth doesn’t exactly flow off the tongue, but it’s far from being the only flaw in Cooper Raiff’s sophomore release. It’s sometimes choppy, sometimes immature, and sometimes unfunny. It’s also sometimes absolutely brilliant.
There’s simply no denying that Raiff could be the next Richard Linklater if he’s able to mature as a filmmaker. Until then, Cha Cha Real Smooth deserves to be recognized for its enormous peaks, especially in a movie year that had so few highs. In many ways, it reminds me a lot of Before Sunset, Linklater’s first film in what became one of the greatest trilogies ever made. Similar to that film, Cha Cha Real Smooth relies on a budding friendship between recent college grad (played by Raiff himself) and an older woman who has a autistic teenage daughter.
It’s a love story that doesn’t follow the blueprint love story plot, because both characters care more for what’s best for the other person that they do for themself. Raiff has a mature understanding of relationships and their challenges at the young age of 25. I can’t wait to see what he does at 40.
5. The Fabelmans
Steven Spielberg | 151 mins | Drama Michelle Williams | Gabriel LaBelle | Paul Dano | Judd Hirsch
Leave it to Steven Spielberg to take his mostly uneventful childhood story and morph it into one of the most compelling movies of the year. The director who made us all afraid to go in the water and brought us back to the horrors of the Holocaust and WWII shows us how his fascination with film began – and how it almost ended when his family began to break apart.
Spielberg, who has slipped a bit in the past 15 years, has now put together two of his strongest films in back-to-back years, first with his West Side Story remake and now with The Fabelmans. The Fabelmans shines with so many unforgettable moments, from Sammie’s first trip to the movie theater to Michelle Williams drunk dancing in front of car lights, to David Lynch’s brilliant cameo as legendary director John Ford. And by now, fifty years into his career, Spielberg certainly knows that it’s moments like these that make movies last far beyond when the screen stops rolling.
4. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On
Dean Fleischer-Camp | 90 mins | Animation/Comedy/Drama Jenny Slate | Dean Fleishcer-Camp | Isabella Rossellini | Joe Gabler
After the last couple years, we could all use a little more Marcel the Shell in our lives – a character created by Jenny Slate that is so sweet and kind that he makes you wish you had a shell of your own.
In its swift 90 minutes, director and cocreator Dean Fleischer-Camp, who is the ex-husband of Slate, tells the story of an innocent shell who passes the time watching 60 Minutes with his grandma, rolling around in an abandoned tennis ball, and answering questions for a documentary filmmaker who is renting the Airbnb where Marcel resides. Shortly thereafter, Marcel rises to fame after he is discovered on YouTube.
The story isn’t so far-fetched, as Fleischer-Camp’s short sketches of Marcel took off on YouTube 11 years ago. The journey of expanding the story and bringing it to big screen took several years, and fortunately the most daring independent studio in Hollywood (A24) gave Fleischer-Camp the opportunity to bring Marcel’s heartwarming story to the big screen.
Todd Field | 158 mins | Drama/Music Cate Blanchett | Noemie Merlant | Nina Hoss | Sophie Kauer
It may have taken 16 years for Todd Field to find inspiration to make hist next movie, but it was well worth the wait. That inspiration is cancel culture, a topic that has hit Hollywood very hard in recent years, including some directors that Todd Field has worked with in the past. Perhaps that’s why Fields put so much effort into telling the fictitious story of Lydia Tár, a brilliant composer who finds herself in deep water after her objectional past is exposed.
Cancel culture is certainly a touchy subject, but there’s no denying that Fields balances its thin line perfectly. He doesn’t condemn the movement or defend the actions of those canceled, but rather demonstrates how it damages the lives of those uncovered, sometimes in a rather dark comedic way.
Cate Blanchett, who plays the title role, once again proves that she’s the best actress working today. For the role, she learned how to play piano and speak German, yet it’s in her ability to act out anger and fear that will likely win her a slew of awards this season. And deservingly so, as she gives the best performance of the year in a movie that is certainly one of the year’s most ambitious and original works.
2. Top Gun: Maverick
Joseph Kosinski | 130 mins | Action/Drama Tom Cruise | Jennifer Connelly | Miles Teller | Val Kilmmer
Go ahead and admit it: the original Top Gun really isn’t anything special. Top Gun: Maverick, fortunately though, flies way above its predecessor. And, perhaps even more importantly, it may have just saved cinema.
After bringing in $1.5 billion dollars worldwide and providing some much-needed concession money to struggling theaters that were barely hanging on from the drought caused by COVID-19, Top Gun proved that there was an appetite to see movies on the big screen – as long as the movie was worthy of risking illness for. And, as far as blockbusters go, Top Gun is one of the best to be released in recent memories.
In an era that is dominated by worn-out superhero movies, Top Gun brough back the action of the 80s, but also provided the heart that so many action movies lack as Tom Cruise’s Maverick returns to the Top Gun Academy to teach a younger generation of Navy pilots. Filled with thrilling flight sequences and bursts of nostalgia, Maverick won over both fans and critics with its masculinity, heart, and brain. Who knows, it may even convince studios to take a much-needed break from superhero movies to focus on eighties reboots instead.
Charlotte Wells | 102 mins | Drama Paul Mescal | Frankie Corio | Celia Rowlson-Hall | Sally Messham
Movies about mental health have been a dime a dozen in recent years, but none have been as brilliant as Charlotte Wells’ debut feature about a father and daughter who spend a holiday in Turkey together.
Exquisitely told through the eyes of 11-year-old Sophie, Aftersun is so subtle that the average American viewer may not even notice the depth of pain her father Calum is facing until the film’s heartbreaking final chapter. It’s in the books he reads, and the exercises he sneaks in while is daughter is on the telephone. It’s in the way he says “I love you” to his ex-wife, and refuses to do karaoke, despite his daughter’s irresistible pleas.
Quite simply, there are no small or wasted moments in Wells’ storytelling – just moments that feel insignificant until the film’s final tearjerking moments. Grab your Kleenex box, because Aftersun isn’t just the best movie of the year – it’s also the most heartbreaking indie film since 2017’s The Florida Project.