It’s list time again! I love films and I love sharing my love of films with others. As I’ve done for the past decade, I’ve put together a list of what I consider to be the best films of the year that just ended. This was a rather average year for film. I genuinely adore my number one film, but the rest of the list is primarily a 3 ½ to 4-star level, so good to great, but not exceptional. Of the films on this list, 8 of them were directed by women, which while not as high of a percentage as I strive for, it substantially beats the industry average which continues to hover around 10% penetration for women. As always, living in Seattle there are some films that don’t make it out here in time, so films which may have made this list, but I was unable to view include: The Blue Caftan, Broker, Close, Joyland, Living, No Bears, One Fine Morning, Return to Seoul, Saint Omer, and Women Talking. Now without further ado, the list.
25. Triangle of Sadness (Dir. Ruben Östlund)
Swedish director Ruben Östlund follows up his Palme d’Or winning The Square with another Palme winning condemnation of the rich in Triangle of Sadness. The film is broken into three parts, and each elevates the prior while becoming more and more class conscious. The highlight sequence is what the trailer made infamous, a stormy night on a yacht ends in the repeated vomiting of the rich guests all while the captain (played by Woody Harrelson), seemingly unaffected by the turbulence, quotes Marx over the intercom to the highly capitalist boarders.
24. After Yang (Dir. Kogonada)
Five years after his debut film Columbus, director Kogonada returns with After Yang, a film just as deliberate and ponderous as his previous work, but this time with a science fiction twist. The film takes place in the near future where a family A.I. stops working and a man’s journey to fix it. The film uses this journey to turn a mirror on the human condition from the viewpoint of an impartial observer. Colin Farrell continues to deliver stellar performances in off kilter science-fiction films (think his work with Yorgos Lanthimos), and After Yang might be his best yet.
23. Turning Red (Dir. Domee Shi)
Disney and Pixar have frustrated me over the past handful of years. The story telling which had been a strength of Pixar in general had gotten stale as the same voices created film after film. Thankfully Turning Red changes things up by looking to the up-and-coming Domee Shi (known for the short film Bao) for direction. The film is an unabashed first period allegory, and its honesty about the embarrassing moments in any true coming of age story is heartwarming from a studio that can often feel too polished.
22. Elvis (Dir. Baz Luhrmann)
As a rule, I don’t love, or even really like, the music biopics that have been in vogue the last few years, but Elvis has director Baz Luhrmann as a wild card to elevate the film from the tired genre. Luhrmann’s films all have a frenetic energy and Elvis is no different. The film makes use of an extremely short average shot length to heighten the story of the rock star’s life. Austin Butler gives a miraculous performance as the legendary singer, and Tom Hanks gives a memorable, though debatable if good, performance as well.
21. Inu-Oh (Dir. Masaaki Yuasa)
Part anime folk tale, part larger-than-life rock opera, Inu-Oh was the best 2022 animation had to offer (Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio just misses this list). The film combines beautiful hand-drawn animations with a soundtrack of hair metal inspired jams that is surprisingly catchy despite being entirely in Japanese. The film does start a bit slow before the two main characters meet, but once they do its nonstop sensory bombardment is a joy to behold. An innovative take on the power of storytelling Inu-Oh captivates the imagination.
20. The Fabelmans (Dir. Steven Spielberg)
From a craft standpoint, The Fabelmans is unimpeachable. The editing is exquisite and the cinematography brilliant. Michelle Williams is the obvious standout actor as the highly emotional matriarch of the Fabelman family. The energy she brings to the family dynamic provides much of the conflict for the film, and a less ambitious performance would not have served the film nearly as well. The only think keeping The Fabelmans so low on this list is that the script comes off awfully self-aggrandizing. Spielberg may be a genius, but one would hope he had the humility to not boastfully declare himself so.
19. Hit the Road (Dir. Panah Panahi)
First time filmmaker Panah Panahi (he previously worked as an Editor on the Jafar Panahi film 3 Faces) created a wonderfully personal story of a family on a road trip to say goodbye to the eldest son. The three other family members maintain a highly chaotic energy throughout the trip in the face of the upcoming loss. These energetic dispositions allow a lot of introspection into the lives of these people and creates a loving picture of a family on the precipice of a major change.
18. Babylon (Dir. Damien Chazelle)
Damien Chazelle’s most ambitious and messiest film is a depiction of Hollywood excess and debauchery during the rise of the talkie films. Babylon is the most uneven film to make my year end list, but when the film is on, it’s one of the best films of the year. The first half of the film in general left me speechless by its adoration for what Hollywood can be. Margot Robbie while already a star proves she deserves the honorific. Even when the film slows down, the driving beats and squawking horns that make up the best score of the year leave the film in the highest regards. It is only a monumentally awful ending that keeps Babylon so low on this list.
17. Fire of Love (dir. Sara Dosa)
The first of this year’s documentaries to make my list, Fire of Love is as much an informative documentary on the destructive power of volcanoes as it is a heart wrenching love story of two soul mates who died doing what they loved together. Fire of Love is full of warmth from focusing so intently on the Krafft couple. Miranda July lends her unique voice to the film as narrator and transforms the film into something deeply emotional, but while the love story is what stands forward, the dangerous reality of the couple’s occupation is never forgotten.
16. EO (Dir. Jerzy Skolimowski)
The spiritual successor to 1966’s Au hazard Balthazar (dir. Robert Bresson) EO is simply a story of a donkey. Despite the almost complete lack of dialogue, EO is a highly scripted film. Director Jerzy Skolimowski does not seek to tell the story of a random donkey but a very specific, fictional donkey who is constantly given the power to roam the countryside and find various slice of life vignettes. Through the eyes of the animal Skolimowski turns the camera on Eastern European culture. A deeply heartwarming film EO deserves to be spoken of with its predecessor.
15. Cow (Dir. Andrea Arnold)
Andrea Arnold (American Honey and Fish Tank) leaves the world of narrative film making to make her first documentary in Cow. The storytelling Arnold achieves using no dialogue and no human actors is commendable. Cow 29 (we’re never given a name aside from the branding on the left butt cheek) lives the tragic story of a cow forced to give birth and then separated from her offspring. While normal for a dairy cow, Arnold knows that the audience won’t be able to help but personify the girl and feel for her as they would a human in the same situation. All this is done with nothing but closeup photography and careful editing.
14. The Northman (Dir. Robert Eggers)
Revenge tales have been around for decades, but while most use an awful circumstance as a basis for delivering later catharsis, The Northman subverts this formula and focuses on the self-destructive nature inherent in making revenge your only goal in life. Alexander Skarsgård expertly captures this desperation and believably refuses to acknowledge the reality of the situation that has motivated his entire life. Eggers combines this innovative take on the revenge film with his immaculate style to create a fully unique piece of filmmaking.
13. Avatar: The Way of Water (Dir. James Cameron)
Spider as a character didn’t work for me, I didn’t buy Sigourney Weaver as a teenager, and Neytiri was completely wasted, but when it comes to what people expect of an Avatar sequel, the spectacle, The Way of Water delivers and then some. Pandora is once again realized in perfect clarity, and the movement to the water for this sequel just makes the visuals more impressive. This combined with 3D the best it has ever looked create a cinema watching experience that is unmatched.
12. All Quiet on the Western Front (Dir. Edward Berger)
French auteur François Truffaut is credited with saying that “there’s no such thing as an anti-war film.” The implication being that any depiction of war would inherently glorify it. 2022’s All Quiet on the Western Front argues the opposite as every moment of this beautiful film makes war seem completely miserable. This is accomplished not only with meticulously crafted visuals, but with a year’s best sound design creating a hellish soundscape through the non-diegetic decisions highlighted by the eerie Volker Bertelmann score.
11. Armageddon Time (Dir. James Gray)
A small yet deeply personal coming-of-age tale about a young boy growing up on the right side of the tracks witnessing the difficulties of his friend on the other side. Paul (Banks Repeta). a young jewish boy, finds a comradery with Johnny (Jaylin Webb), a young black boy, as they both find themselves in constant trouble at school. Through their friendship, Paul comes to terms with the racism that’s still heavily present in 1980 America. While this could take on a preachy tone, Gray centers the viewpoint on Paul who is wide-eyed enough to keep the film full of innocence.
10. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Dir. Laura Poitras)
A stunning documentary about both the life and current activism of photographer Nan Goldin. Untwisting the two throughlines, it is clear that Nan agreed to the documentary as a way to amplify her fight against the Sackler family and their contribution to the ever-growing opioid epidemic that ravishes the country. Through that access though Laura Poitras is able to bring to light the decades long work of one of the nation’s most important cultural photographers. Poitras blends these two topics seemingly only connected through Nan herself in a way that provides more power to them both.
9. Decision to Leave (Dir. Park Chan-wook)
Park Chan-wook’s foray into neo-noir filmmaking proves that he is a master of all genres with a darker hint to them. Decision to Leave employs many of the genre’s staples: it stars a grizzled detective who falls in love with a femme fatal while attempting to solve a case she is related to. What the film utilizes that separates it from a sea of neo-noirs is a deft hand with melodrama. The melodrama never feels saccharine in Chan-wook’s hands, but they do elevate the attachment to characters and intrigue of the mystery.
8. The Quiet Girl (Dir. Colm Bairéad)
The Quiet Girl follows Cáit (Catherine Clinch) one of many siblings living in an overstuffed and impoverished household. Neglected by her family, she struggles in school and altogether lives a poor life. It’s only upon going to spend the summer with distant relatives that she is shown what love is and she begins to flourish. Watching Cáit slowly accept love into her life and emerge from her shell is the highlight of the film. The Quiet Girl manages to capture warmth and familial love in an extremely special way.
7. She Said (Dir. Maria Schrader)
Just as good if not better than Spotlight in my opinion. By centering the film on women reporters and victims, She Said enhances the Oscar winning, investigative journalism film by adding a deeper sense of heart. Zoe Kazan is excellent as the lead reporter Jodi Kantor and plays up the reporter in over her head quite well. Her performance is supported perfectly by Carey Mulligan’s more experienced and hard-edged Megan Twohey. Together they deliver a powerful one-two punch in this important retelling of recent history. Special callout to Nicholas Britell and Caitlin Sullivan who put out one of the best scores of the year even if it appears they won’t be getting any awards recognition for it.
6. Everything Everywhere All at Once (Dir. Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan)
In their combined follow up to Swiss Army Man (2016) (Daniel Scheinert did have 2019’s The Death of Dick Long as a solo film in between), Daniels delivered a film just as if not more heightened than their feature debut, yet somehow more relatable to the mainstream. Everything Everywhere All at Once hinges on the performance of its lead Michelle Yeoh to take audiences on a journey to the edge of the world and to worlds beyond that. Yeoh delivers on those lofty goals and creates a perfect viewer conduit for the wild imaginations of Daniels.
5. Girl Picture (Dir. Alli Haapasalo)
I don’t have a great explanation for why this Finnish lesbian romance is so high on my list, but upon leaving the theater after watching it I was all smiles. The film’s focus on female friendship and a young lesbian romance was refreshing in a heteronormative movie landscape. Mimmi‘s (Aamu Milonoff) volatile nature as she gets in fights at school, messes around at work, and falls in and out and back in love make her the standout performance, but all three young leads are remarkable in their honesty.
4. Vortex (Dir. Gaspar Noé)
If provocateur Gaspar Noé releases a film it will indubitably make my year end list, and Vortex is no different, even though this one has a much more somber tone than his standard fair. The film utilizes a unique dual screen setup to capture the day-to-day goings on of a couple dealing with the women’s onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Notably, Italian auteur Dario Argento plays one of the leads in a stunning declaration that he can act just as well as make excellent films. Like many of Noé’s films Vortex is a brutal watching, this time just for more emotional reasons.
3. TÁR (Dir. Todd Field)
I’m an auteurist at heart, I believe most films are a product of their director first and foremost, but TÁR is one of those few exceptions. TÁR is 100% Cate Blanchett’s film. The film focuses on one of our greatest working actors for the entire three-hour duration of the film while she slowly begins to reckon with the decisions she’s made over the course of her career. Blanchett’s perfectly captures the fictional composer who exudes charisma while preparing for a new performance and pursuing affairs.
2. The Eternal Daughter (Dir. Joanna Hogg)
The third feature in director Joanna Hogg’s Souvenir series adopts a more mysterious tone than its grounded predecessors. It also trades a mother daughter casting choice of Tilda Swinton and Honor Swinton Byrne for dual roles for Tilda as both mother and daughter. While the film is full of Hogg’s trademark slow conversations with meaning carefully hidden behind meticulously chosen dialogue, the aforementioned changes lead to a single static shot that’s the most emotional moments of the year (at least that doesn’t come from the next film).
1. Aftersun (Dir. Charlotte Wells)
Number one with a bullet, the directorial debut of Charlotte Wells is a meandering memory captured largely on standard def camcorder. What makes Aftersun so special is the underlying emotionality of the film. What may look like just home movies of a father/daughter trip to a Turkish resort takes on a much deeper meaning because of the implications of the present. It’s likely that this is the last time the two main characters ever saw each other and witnessing their personal mostly, but not completely, hidden feelings feels like prying into things which should never be shared. Calum (Paul Mescal) is doing everything in his power to create a wonderful memory for Sophie (newcomer Frankie Corio), but his personal dramas have a way of seeping out in a way that affects Sophie for years to come. Aftersun is the best cinema had to offer this year, and is the best film of the young decade thus far.