Best Movies of 2022

2021 may have been the year we went back to the movies, but 2022 felt more like the year that movies were back. “Spectacle” seems to be the theme running concurrently through so many of this year’s releases. We got sprawling epics with meaty runtimes, starry casts, and vast set-pieces that demanded to be seen on the biggest screen imaginable, such as the runaway multiverse hit “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” Damien Chazelle’s wild Hollywood party “Babylon,” and James Cameron’s return to Pandora with the long-awaited “Avatar: The Way of Water.” So many other movies dealt directly with the practice of making and consuming art, such as the new films from celebrated auteurs Steven Spielberg (“The Fabelmans”), Jordan Peele (“Nope”), and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (“Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths”); we really need to retire the phrase “love letter to cinema” in the new year, by the way. It was a fantastic year for first time filmmakers, many of whose debut features made my best-of list below. It was another banner years for comic book movies, for better and for worse, and for reboots and sequels (“Top Gun: Maverick” far surpassed expectations both critically and commercially) and the window between theatrical releases and streaming continues to get more and more muddy, but regardless of how you watched them, there was no shortage of movies to see this year.

That’s the thing: there was a long stretch this year where I knew I was watching a ton of movies, but I felt like I was struggling to come up with films that I really, really loved. So when I started going through lists at the start of the December to get ready for awards voting and a 2022 recap, I was a bit surprised to find that there were a lot of films I was taken with, so much so that I fought to narrow down my list to a reasonable number. Some films I loved immediately; others I had to sit with for a while. Still others I’m just really eager to revisit. So below, you’ll find my list of the best movies of 2022, an amalgamation of the films I thought were the best and that I just plain really enjoy, warts and all (you can click the links to read my full review of each movie where applicable).

Back in 2020 I told myself that I wanted to start attending and covering film festivals when it became safer to do so, and I was very fortunate to get to do that this year (actually, much more so than I ever anticipated). I went to the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival in Hollywood last April for fun, and ended up having some of the most magical theater experiences ever right there on Hollywood Blvd. The first week of October brought about one of my favorite events as I participated in the virtual segment of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival for my third year in a row; the best birthday present I received was the premiere restoration of a mesmerizing 1929 German silent film “Manolescu, the Prince of Adventures.” For local fests I covered the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri (and am so excited to do so again in 2023) and the St. Louis International Film Festival right here in town. And, somehow, inexplicably, I got to fulfill a longtime but always seemingly unreachable dream of getting accredited for the Toronto International Film Festival. If you had told me at the start of the year that I would end up at the world premiere of Steven Spielberg’s new movie I would have laughed at you and maybe also spat in your face. So before I get into my best of 2022 list, thanks so much to everyone who supported all my festival coverage this year, even if you just clicked the links and didn’t actually read anything. It helps a lot!

Tang Wei and Park Hae-il in “Decision to Leave”
  1. DECISION TO LEAVE dir. Park Chan-wook

My expectations for Park Chan-wook’s “Decision to Leave” were admittedly high, based both on the director’s pedigree (Chan-wook’s previous films include the fabulously twisty “The Handmaiden” and the thrilling neo-noir “Oldboy”) and the subject matter: a married Busan detective, Hae-Jun (Park Hae-il) finds himself becoming obsessed with the wife, Seo-rae (Tang Wei), of the man whose death he’s investigating. It’s a tense and frequently funny movie, especially when dealing with the procedural aspects of the cases Hae-Jun is working, but Chan-wook’s primary focus is the erotic energy that manifests between Hae-Jun and Seo-rae, who barely even touch throughout the movie but for who pursuing and observing each other is the real seduction. Tang Wei’s playful performance in the femme fatale role was unexpectedly one of my favorites of the year, and the cinematography by Kim Ji-yong and the purposeful way that Chan-wook makes use of the space he has on screen and the way the characters move within it, whether in a police station or on a beach or in a kitchen also makes “Decision to Leave” one of the most visually entrancing films I’ve seen recently.

“Decision to Leave” is playing in theaters and streaming on Mubi.

Paul Dano and Michelle Williams in “The Fabelmans”

2. THE FABELMANS dir. Steven Spielberg

You guys: I think about “The Fabelmans” all the time. A film that I walked out of my first viewing of thinking little more than “that was a nice movie!” quickly wormed its way into my brain with its layered thoughts on the fraught nature of creation, its preoccupation with watching people watch themselves, and the way it ties creation to pivotal life moments and family drama. It may have been made by Steven Spielberg and heavily autobiographical (he cowrote the screenplay with frequently collaborator Tony Kushner), but to say no one would care about this movie if Spielberg wasn’t the one who made it is just silly. It’s warm and funny, but it’s also surprisingly messy and melancholy, and doesn’t attempt to neatly untangle each relationship in the movie. Gabriel LaBelle, who plays protagonist Sammy Fabelman as a teenager, is a delightful discovery, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another movie this year with so many scene-stealers, from Judd Hirsch to Chloe East to David Lynch, who pops in at the end as “the greatest living film director.” The final scene is such a perfect wink to the future and my favorite ending in any movie this year by a longshot, one that had me marveling that about a decade ago there was a time where I wondered if Spielberg had forgotten how to end his movies.

“The Fabelmans” is now playing in theaters and can be rented on all digital platforms.

Stephanie Hsu, Michelle Yeoh, and Ke Huy Quan in “Everything Everywhere All At Once”

3. EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE dir. Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan

The Daniels’ multiverse movie is occasionally sensory overload, with its fast cuts that move the action between bizarre realities (everything bagels, hotdog fingers, sentient rocks), but as fun and funny as it is, with its breath-taking special effects and well-choreographed action scenes, it’s never not anchored in the family story unfolding between its core trio of characters: overwhelmed laundromat owner Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), her meek but devoted husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), and young adult daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). The narrative correlates Evelyn’s verse-jumping/quest to save the multiverse with saving her strained relationship with her family, and it all unfolds under the perpetually stressful tasking of undergoing a tax audit (performed by exasperated IRS auditor Jamie Lee Curtis). “Everything Everywhere” is as heartfelt as its muchness, and it’s a meaty lead role that’s finally worthy of Yeoh’s immense talents.

“Everything Everywhere All At Once” is now streaming on Showtime and can be rented on all digital platforms.

Nan Goldin, subject of “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”

4. ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED dir. Laura Poitras

I’ve seen several critiques of Laura Poitras’ staggering, essential documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” express disappointment over the film not digging deeper into its subject’s—photographer and activist Nan Goldin—career. I couldn’t feel more the opposite. The film centers around Goldin and the advocacy group she founded, P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), after she became addicted to Oxycontin. The group fights to hold Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, accountable for the opioid crisis that resulted in the misuse and abuse of the drug. On the surface, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” is using fairly conventional documentary filmmaking techniques: talking heads, archival photos, and, perhaps most excitingly, on-the-ground footage captured at some of P.A.I.N.’s many protests and demonstrations as they urge some of the world’s most famous art museums and institutions—many of which have Goldin’s own work on display—to sever ties with the Sacklers (who made frequent financial gifts to said institutions). But Poitras smartly structures the film with details of Goldin’s early life and career so that we see how Goldin’s present-day activism is informed by her past: her sister who committed suicide, the many friends and loved ones she lost during the HIV/AIDS crisis, and her art, which mainly documents LGBTQ+ culture. “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” is a one-of-a-kind meeting of creative minds—Goldin and Poitras, whose more politically-minded previous films include the Oscar-winning documentary “Citizenfour”—using their art to take action.

“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” is playing in select theaters.

Wajdi Mouawad and Alba Rohrwacher in “Skies of Lebanon”

5. SKIES OF LEBANON dir. Chloé Mazlo

Hardly anyone I know has seen one of my favorite movies of the year, French-Lebanese filmmaker Chloé Mazlo’s enchanting debut feature “Skies of Lebanon.” The film screened at festivals last year, opened in only a couple theaters over the summer to little fanfare, and can now be rented or purchased digitally. But it deserves to be seen, however you watch it. Mazlo uses her background in animation and her grandmother’s memories of the Lebanese Civil War to weave a heartfelt love story between an artist and an astrophysicist, and the strain the eventual war puts on their family. Mazlo uses stop motion animation and old-school touches to create a striking aesthetic for her film, but it’s the way every shot is carefully composed to emphasize the characters’ emotions in that moment—and the way sound, or the absence of sound, is used in pivotal moments—that I recall most vividly even months after first seeing the film.

“Skies of Lebanon” is available to rent on all digital platforms.

Colin Farrell with Jenny the donkey in “The Banshees of Inisherin”

6. THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN dir. Martin McDonagh

I knew next to nothing about “The Banshees of Inisherin” when I walked into its North American premiere at TIFF earlier this year: only that it had just received raves out of Venice, and that I very much disliked director Martin McDonagh’s previous film, “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri.” But I couldn’t have been more surprised and moved by the turns the movie takes. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are reliably fantastic actors, but they’ve never been better as a pair of friends in a tiny Irish island around the time of the Irish Civil War who have a falling out. Gleeson’s Colm offers little reason for no longer wanting to spent time with Farrell’s Pádraic, other than “I just don’t like you no more,” and Colm is mystified. Their ensuing back-and-forth, which gradually involves the whole town, is peppered with black humor and a dollop of poetic melancholy as all of the characters are prompted to question their existence. Kerry Condon as Pádraic’s sister and Barry Keoghan as a local boy from a troubled home turn in equally heart-wrenching and essential supporting performances. Beautifully shot and tightly written, “The Banshees of Inisherin” is a gem that begs multiple watches. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out Jenny; 2022 was a strong year for donkey movies, but she’s my MVP.

“The Banshees of Inisherin” is streaming on HBO Max.

Kentucker Audley as James Preble in “Strawberry Mansion”

7. STRAWBERRY MANSION dir. Kentucker Audley, Albert Birney

Did I see a weirder movie this year than “Strawberry Mansion”? Probably not, but what may put off some viewers from this quirky indie sci-fi romance is exactly what I found so appealing. Kentucker Audley (who also stars as the film’s leading man, dream auditor James Preble) and Albert Birney’s latest collaboration is set in a near-future where our dreams are monitored not only so the items within them can be taxed, but also so that ads can be placed in them without our knowing. When Preble is tasked with auditing Bella, an elderly woman who has found a way to live off the grid, he soon finds himself falling for her imaginative dream world, and for her younger self (played by Grace Glowicki). “Strawberry Mansion” neatly sidesteps so many traps it could have fallen into. Where it could have gotten bogged down in exposition about how all the dream stuff works, it doesn’t. And where every bizarre circumstance that occurs in the dream world could have been weird just for the sake of being weird, it doesn’t; it fact, it almost always ties back to something going on in the film’s real world conflict. From its hand-made feel, right down to the costumes and animation, to its anti-corporate themes, to overtly romantic turn the relationship between Preble and Bella takes as she attempts to wake him up to the world around him, “Strawberry Mansion” is one of the most delightful and original movies I’ve seen this year, and one that only held more treasures on rewatch.

“Strawberry Mansion” is streaming on Mubi and is available to rent on all digital platforms.

Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz as Batman and Catwoman in “The Batman”

8. THE BATMAN dir. Matt Reeves

I haven’t been as excited for a comic book movie as I am for “The Batman” is a long time. I’ve been a big fan of the character for most of my life, and I was so impressed by how director Matt Reeves assembled threads from various comic book stories, multiple characters, and merged location shooting with visual effects to create a striking portrait of Gotham City that feels so lived in and real. Does the main conflict involving the Riddler (Paul Dano) recall “Zodiac”? Does it matter? I loved Robert Pattinson’s sad emo boy interpretation of Bruce Wayne in the early days of him fighting crime as the Batman, his red-hot chemistry with Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman, and the visually-interesting action set-pieces that are choreographed in such a way to emphasize the actors’ physicality (we don’t see this enough in superhero movies anymore). This is one franchise I can’t wait to see continue.

“The Batman” is streaming on HBO Max.

Daniel Kaluuya as OJ in “Nope”

9. NOPE dir. Jordan Peele

I was initially puzzled by writer/director Jordan Peele’s third feature film, “Nope.” I went home. I took a shower. I sat down on the couch and probably watched another movie. And then somewhere around 2 AM I sat bolt upright, moved from the couch to my desk, and pounded out a review. For wrapped up in the familiar trappings of a big-budget blockbuster is a film about the nature of filmmaking, of watching, and of being watched. Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer immediately establish a compelling family dynamic as siblings who have inherited the family business, a ranch that trains and handles horses for TV and film productions that exists on the literal and metaphorical fringes of Hollywood. Steven Yeun adds another layer as the owner of a nearby western-themed amusement park, a former child actor who experienced a traumatic event on set. The layers to Peele’s film as these characters interact with a UFI that starts terrorizing them are rich and plentiful, existing in the performances, the shot composition, and the production design. “Nope” wasn’t what I expected, but then again, poo-poo on me for going into a Peele project with expectations. It’s not only a film that I have grown to love and admire over time, but have loved reading about and talking about with others.

“Nope” is streaming on Peacock Premium.

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On”

10. MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON dir. Dean Fleischer Camp

I recall being shown the popular “Marcel the Shell” shorts on YouTube a long time ago. Dean Fleischer Camp’s feature-length expansion of them is just as hilarious and endearing, but also incredibly poignant. Jenny Slate (who also wrote the screenplay with Fleischer Camp and Nick Paley) again voices Marcel, the tiny talking shell whose life with his grandmother is documented by filmmaker Dean (Fleischer Camp), the tenant of the airBNB they live in whose initial focus on how the little shells adapt to living in the big human world soon shifts to helping Marcel find his missing family. Marcel and the other shells are brought to life through stop motion animation and new stop motion cinematography techniques that allow them to interact with the live-action world around them. And the film touches on so many topics with so much sincerity—grief, love, joy, wonder—without ever venturing into overly-saccharine territory. “Marcel” cuts straight through to the heart, and it’s near-impossible not to be immediately won over by its charms.

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” is available to rent on all digital platforms.

Anna Diop as Aisha in “Nanny”

11. NANNY dir. Nikyatu Jusu

I eagerly anticipated director Nikyatu Jusu’s first feature “Nanny” for most of the year, and it didn’t disappoint. The horror film centers around Aisha (a riveting Anna Diop), a Senegalese immigrant hired to work as a nanny for the little girl of a wealthy white family in New York City. Aisha is trying to earn enough money to bring her own son over to America from Senegal, but the longer she stays at her job, the more her employers take advantage of her, and the more it appears that there is no place for her in that American dream she’s chasing. In addition to portraying the ways in which African immigrants are pushed out of that American dream, Jusu deftly weaves African folklore into the narrative, as Aisha is increasingly haunted by the son she’s missing. “Nanny” is richly lit and makes great use of its few locations, particularly the chilly, ultra-modern apartment of her employers. As much as the film centers around trauma, it revels in joy (Aisha strikes up a sizzling romance with the building’s doorman, played by Sinqua Walls). It’s a thrill to unpack the film’s many layers and themes, which build and build to a conclusion that is immensely sobering while leaving room for the tiniest sliver of hope for a new future.

“Nanny” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio in “Aftersun”

12. AFTERSUN dir. Charlotte Wells

I don’t think I realized just how hard I was being emotionally pummeled by “Aftersun” until its shattering final few minutes. I mentioned about that “The Fabelmans” contained my favorite ending of any movie this year, but “Aftersun” is a close second. The story that leads to that conclusion centers around Calum (Paul Mescal), a young father with an 11-year-old daughter, Sophie (Frankie Corio), and a summer vacation they spent together at a resort in Turkey. “Aftersun” is a memory film, and a loose framing device confirms that an older Sophie is looking back on this time through the footage captured on their video camera—footage that we alternately see Calum and Sophie taking throughout the movie. Aided by Mescal’s tremendous performance, “Aftersun” contains one of the most devastatingly real depictions of depression I’ve ever seen on screen; Calum is a man who got married, had kids, and divorced too young, and his frustration with where he’s at in his life only exacerbates his fragile mental state, which manifests itself in ways both subtle and obvious. Corio gives an equally excellent performance as Sophie; so much of the film revolves around just the two of them, and their easy chemistry just masks the turbulent emotions coursing through them. It’s a stunning first feature for director Charlotte Wells that challenges our memories of our loved ones compared to the people they really were.

“Aftersun” is available to watch on demand.

Margot Robbie as Nellie La Roy in “Babylon”

13. BABYLON dir. Damien Chazelle

Damien Chazelle’s 2016 LA-set musical “La La Land” was a pretty general crowd-pleaser. His new film set in the heart of the movie business is geared perhaps toward a more niche audience, but I am absolutely one of those niche audience members. “Babylon” spans the late 1920s through the early 1930s, following a group of varied Hollywood players—including Brad Pitt’s matinee idol Jack Conrad, Margot Robbie’s aspiring star Nellie La Roy, and Diego Calva’s assistant-who-rises-through-the-ranks Manny Torres—during the transition from silent film to sound. “Babylon” may be a work of fiction, but it’s firmly rooted in fact, with Chazelle drawing on real-life inspirations to craft a well-plotted film with clear arcs for every character. I’m an Old Hollywood nerd (the early 1930s specifically are my favorite era), but my enjoyment of “Babylon” was much more than just “I understood that reference.” It’s a sprawling epic that takes a lot of large, ambitious swings, the sort that I love to see and the sort that I think, in this case, really benefit the movie. There are about 20 million more things I could say about “Babylon” (and already have), but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Justin Hurwitz’s rich, thrilling jazz score, the literal embodiment of the fire emoji and my favorite film score of the year.

“Babylon” is now playing in theaters.

“The Territory”

14. THE TERRITORY dir. Alex Pritz

“The Territory” was my favorite film I saw at True/False this year, and it’s remained at the top of my picks for the best documentaries of the year. Director Alex Pritz captures arresting on-the-ground footage of the Uru-eu-wau-wau people, an Amazonian tribe whose numbers are dwindling as invaders—no thanks to the election of Brazil’s current president, Jair Bolsonaro—seize their indigenous lands. The Uru-eu-wau-wau take up the task of protecting their lands themselves, despite constant threats of violence against them. The bravery of those involved in the fight—including Bitaté, chosen as the tribe’s leader despite being only 18 years old, and Neidinha Bandeira, an activist working on the outside to raise awareness for the Uru-eu-wau-wau’s plight—is staggering. But “The Territory,” already an urgent call-to-action, takes an even more fascinating turn when the cameras are handed over to members of the tribe, who start capturing footage of their trips to monitor their land and handle invaders themselves. It’s one more way that the film gives voice to a people it seems like no one is hearing.

“The Territory” is streaming on Disney Plus.

“All Quiet on the Western Front”

15. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT dir. Edward Berger

This is how you make a war movie. Erich Maria Remarque’s novel has been adapted numerous times, most notably with the 1930 film version that won the Best Picture Oscar that year, but oddly never by Germany, despite the story being about recruits into the Imperial German Army in the last year of World War I. Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) and his pals are barely adults when they eagerly enlist in the army, but any romantic notions they harbored toward war are destroyed almost immediately when they are thrust into the grisly carnage and chaos of trench warfare on the Western Front. “All Quiet on the Western Front” occasionally cuts away from the battlefield to depict the armistice talks occurring behind-the-scenes, and while these scenes are essential to understanding how little idea the bureaucracy controlling it has of the true horrors of war, they diminish the impact of the action somewhat. Still, with its heart-breaking performances, tension-filled score by Volker Bertelmann, pulsing sound design, and gritty battle scenes, “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a stellar adaptation that shows how the nearly-century-old novel still packs a major punch.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” is streaming on Netflix.

Cáit (Catherine Clinch) in “The Quiet Girl”

16. THE QUIET GIRL dir. Colm Bairéad

Writer/director Colm Bairéad’s debut feature film “The Quiet Girl,” based on the novel Foster by Claire Keegan, is a potent reminder of just how powerful gentle cinema can be. Set in rural Ireland in the early 1980s, Cáit (Catherine Clinch) is a nine-year-old girl with many siblings, whose impoverished and busy parents don’t show her the love and attention she needs. As a result, Cáit barely talks, and struggles in school. When her mother becomes pregnant again, her parents send her away to the home of her mom’s older cousin Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and her husband Seán (Andrew Bennett) for the summer. Eibhlín immediately shows Cáit the affection she never received at home, giving her her own room and hand-me-down clothes. Seán is initially cold toward her, but after showing her how to help him do chores around the farm, he warms up to her, and Cáit flourishes under their care. Seán and Eibhlín hold a tragic secret, one that likely won’t be difficult for viewers to predict, but that doesn’t diminish its emotional impact in the slightest. The film’s literary roots are eternally present in the film’s dialogue (from nosy townsfolk to teachable moments), but Bairéad equally uses cinematic language (concentrating the camera on gestures and small glances) to gradually reveal information about the characters. Clinch’s curious eyes and steady gaze in particularly contain untold depths; she’s present in almost every scene, even in the background, absorbing her surroundings. The film’s production design and Kate McCullough’s cinematography creates a firm sense of place. If you aren’t sobbing by the end of “The Quiet Girl,” I really don’t know what to tell you. “The Quiet Girl” is a gentle reminder not only of how much children can be saved caring adults, but how much some adults can be saved by caring for a child.

Sheila Francisco in “Leonor Will Never Die”

17. LEONOR WILL NEVER DIE dir. Martika Ramirez Escobar

Of all the ode to movie movies that have been released this year, none are quite so unique as Martika Ramirez Escobar’s wildly entertaining first feature “Leonor Will Never Die.” The Filipino comedy/drama centers around Leonor Reyes (a phenomenal Sheila Francisco), an elderly screenwriter who used to be a major player in the Filipino action film industry. She now lives with her disgruntled adult son Rudie (Bong Cabrera), who struggles to pay their bills while she tinkers with an unfinished script. When a freak accident sends her into a coma, Leonor’s imagination takes hold, and she finds herself thrust into the film she was writing. While she unites with her protagonist, Ronwaldo (Rocky Salumbides), and searches for the perfect ending to her story, Rudie must engage with her world to try to wake her up. Escobar meticulously recreates the low-budget sleaze of 80s Filipino action movies, and it’s great to see such an unlikely protagonist move about that world. But while Escobar has fun playing with genre tropes, she also draws an immensely moving mother/son drama out of it.

“Leonor Will Never Die” is available to rent on all digital platforms.

Rayan Sarlak in “Hit the Road”

18. HIT THE ROAD, dir. Panah Panahi

This Iranian road trip movie is the first film of writer/director Panah Panahi, son of acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (who also had a successful year with his great new movie, “No Bears”). A father, mother, young adult son and their much younger son (the incredible ensemble cast of Hassan Madjooni, Pantea Panahiha, Amin Simiar, and Rayan Sarlak) drive across the country to the Turkish border. They bicker and run into all sort of amusing situations, like any dysfunctional family. But when we learn the true reason for their trip, after learning to love this family unit, their endeavor’s bittersweetness packs an emotional wallop. Panahi exhibits an expert grip on his characters and the tone of his movie as it swings from comedy to tragedy, the tearful moments balanced out by warm and wistful ones. A scene late in “Hit the Road” in which Panahi shoots a climactic moment from a far distance, the characters’ emotions still heart-breaking tangible, is one of my favorite shots in any movie this year.

“Hit the Road” is streaming on Showtime and available to rent on all digital platforms.

Colin Farrell in “After Yang”

19. AFTER YANG dir. Kogonada

I adore writer and director Kogonada’s first film, “Columbus,” a movie about wandering souls evaluating their purpose and what they want from their lives. Kogonada takes those themes to a more ambitious level in “After Yang,” a sci-fi drama about a family trying to repair their malfunctioning robot son Yang (Justin H. Min). Colin Farrell turns in an understated performance as patriarch Jake, Jodie Turner-Smith is his wife Kyra, and Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja is their cute and curious adopted daughter Mika, whose devotion to Yang presses Jake into digging deeper into the robot’s psyche. Kogonada crafts a unique vision of a dystopian future for “After Yang,” one that centers more around natural elements than sleek technology, that includes family dance competitions (the film’s energetic opening is the most fun credits sequence of the year) and ownership of a tea store that sells traditional tea in a world that has largely moved on from such traditions. “After Yang” quietly probes what it means to be human in a way that may be too low-key for some viewers, but that has remained with me long after watching it.

“After Yang” is streaming on Showtime and is available to rent on all digital platforms.

Daniel Giménez Cacho (center) in “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths”

20. BARDO, FALSE CHRONICLE OF A HANDFUL OF TRUTHS dir. Alejandro G. Iñárritu

I was surprised by how moved I was by Alejandro G. Iñárritu latest movie, “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths.” The film’s surreal trappings unveil haunting family traumas as it progresses. Silverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho in one of the year’s most powerful performances) is a Mexican journalist turned LA-based documentary filmmaker. The bulk of the action revolves around Silverio being the first Latin American to receive a prestigious American journalism award, which he speculates as being given to him solely to ease tensions between the U.S. and Mexico, while his latest film’s blending of docufiction and autobiographical elements drums up some controversy. Silverio often sees the world through a blend of reality and dream elements. He imagines a healing conversation with his deceased father. He is plagued by images of his first born infant son with his wife Lucia (Griselda Siciliani), who died a day after his birth. He visualizes a reenactment of the 1847 Battle of Chapultepec, and images of indigenous genocide. “Bardo”’s magical effects, exceptional sound design, and gorgeous cinematography by Darius Khondji (a one-take dance sequence midway through the movie is a highlight) are wonders to behold. The film’s length and surrealism may ask a lot of its audience, but it’s well worth watching and doing the work it demands.

“Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” is streaming on Netflix.

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman

THE LAST MOVIE STARS dir. Ethan Hawke

I’d be remiss if I concluded this list without mentioning one of my favorite things I watched this year, Ethan Hawke’s exceptional documentary “The Last Movie Stars,” which is streaming in six parts on HBO Max. Hawke examines the artistic careers and personal lives of married actors Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, both independently and as a unit, largely drawing from transcripts of interviews Newman had conducted for a memoir he eventually abandoned. It’s a rich study of two of the industry’s most pivotal figures at a time when the very nature of screen acting was shifting, and it’s a love story. I was most thrilled to see equal emphasis placed on Woodward’s work, as her name is generally less known to people nowadays, especially compared to her husband. Perhaps the most important thing “The Last Movie Stars” accomplishes, despite being an entertaining and educational documentary about two great artists crafted by a great artist, is drawing more awareness to her and creating a new generation of fans.

N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan star in the Indian blockbuster epic “RRR”

More 2022 favorites:

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