Ben’s Favorite Movies of 2022

2022 might have been the best year in film that I’ve been around for. I saw fewer features than almost any other year since I started writing for Middle of The Row, but I don’t think I’ve ever given out this many perfect scores (four) in one twelve month period before either. There were also a couple of cinematic surprises that I had low expectations for, yet ended up being genuinely great. One of them even made its way onto this very list! And from a year of top-tier movies, the twelve listed below are the ones left me the most impressed. Without further ado, these were my favorite films of 2022!

Honorable Mention: Jibaro

While this is technically an episode from Netflix’s animated short anthology series, Love Death + Robots, I couldn’t help myself from bringing up Jibaro when talking about the best films of 2022. Jibaro is the finale of LD+R’s third season, and the show’s best chapter so far. The animation is as distinct as it is captivating, and the sound design is leagues beyond anything else from LD+R. The storytelling is terrific too; without any spoken dialogue, Jibaro manages to convey tranquility, awe, horror, anxiety, pain, and more throughout its brief runtime. The shorts in season 4 have a lot to live up to.

Honorable Mention 2: The Northman

Robert Eggers, who’s known for smaller, yet enthralling films like The Witch and The Lighthouse, got to make a big-budget epic, and the results are pretty damn great. A retelling of the legend that inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Northman is a truly old-school revenge tale. After his parents and kingdom are taken from him, Prince Almleth swears he’ll make the man responsible pay for his actions. Even though the story itself doesn’t feel all that original at times (again, it’s the myth that inspired Hamlet) Eggers’ directorial flair alone is plenty to keep one in awe throughout. Then there’s the cast; the A-list crew of Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, Claes Bang, and Willem Dafoe all share the screen, and all are as amazing as you’d expect them to be. Eggers has also been vocal about being forced to change and cut quite a bit from his intended vision of The Northman, which begs the questions “if this was the lesser version, how incredible is the director’s cut?” and “when will we be able to see it, if ever?” 

Number 10: Top Gun: Maverick

Alright, full disclosure: I never cared all that much for Top Gun. I adore the majority of the 1980’s cinematic icons, but I’ve always thought of the Cruise and Kilmer jet film as… just fine. I never really understood why it was considered a classic or beloved by so many, and I still don’t. With that in mind, you can probably imagine my expectations for a sequel – being released over three and a half decades after the original – weren’t sky high. However, when I finally got around to seeing Top Gun: Maverick, it totally blew me away. Maverick is one of those oh-so rare legacy sequels that not only lives up to its predecessor (and it would have even if I loved the first) but soars far, far beyond it. The super intense action sequences, instantly loveable cast, shockingly effective emotional beats; pretty much every part of Maverick is vastly superior when compared to Top Gun. I may have been skeptical when it was first announced, but I’m willing to admit that I was 100% wrong to feel that way, and I’m happy to say so. 

Number 9: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

As Middle of the Row’s biggest and/or craziest Nicolas Cage fan, I was on board for this movie from the moment I heard that the premise was “Nic Cage plays Nic Cage.”  It’s an ingenious concept, and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent mines it for almost everything it’s worth. The vast majority of the meta humor, and references regarding the legendary actor’s career and extremely varied film roles are executed wonderfully, and there’s even a handful of surprisingly effective moments of reflection that Cage gets to work with too. Also, he spends most of the movie with the Mandalorian himself, Pedro Pascal, and the result is one of the funniest buddy comedy duos I’ve seen in years. There are few actors – if any – other than Nicolas Cage that could make a movie like this work, and there are also few actors that could match Cage comedically and tonally beat for beat as Pascal does. In my book. That makes The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent the cinematic equivalent of capturing lighting in a bottle.

You can read my full review of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent here.

Number 8: Prey

Prey takes the Predator franchise back to bloody, brutal basics while never feeling like a retread and dialing up the horror to an all-time high for the series. Amber Midthunder’s performance as the film’s lead, Naru, a Comanche warrior who’s equally badass, clever, and resourceful is all kinds of awesome. She stands tall with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch as one of the greatest protagonists to tangle with the interstellar hunters. And speaking of the eponymous alien, Prey’s Predator (Dane DiLiegro) is also the best since the first. He’s able to instill plenty of palpable fear when unseen, and becomes even more frightening whenever he decides to show himself. His “low-tech” arsenal – which includes older versions of iconic weapons in addition to tools only seen here – is really impressive as well, and ensures each encounter feels different. Prey’s camera work is also outstanding; The glimpses of the beautiful wilderness, the quiet, tense moments, and each thoroughly gripping battle, everything looks exquisite. All these elements combine into another gem from Dan Trachtenberg, and very nearly the best Predator film since the 1987 classic.

You can listen to our The Greatest Thing About… Prey episode here.

Number 7: The Fallout*

Megan Park’s painfully human directorial debut, The Fallout is an astonishingly powerful film about adolescence, trauma, and the loss of innocence that never feels dramatized, yet constantly bombards you with all kinds of uncomfortable and overwhelming emotions. Jenna Ortega’s lead performance is nothing less than spectacular, and the emotional journey that her character Vada (a teenager struggling to move on in the wake of a school shooting) takes is sometimes excruciating to watch, but also impossible to tear yourself away from. Out of the four performances I saw from Ortega this year, her turn in The Fallout is far and away the most memorable of them. The rest of the cast – which includes Maddie Ziegler, John Ortiz, and others – is great too, and the whole film feels frustratingly, agonizingly real, which is one of its biggest strengths. Like If Anything Happens, I Love You, The Fallout’s message and story don’t make for a relaxing or easy viewing experience, but in my opinion, like the aforementioned short film, the latter is among the most important cinematic works of the 2020’s so far.

*The Fallout premiered at SXSW in 2021, but was only released elsewhere in 2022.

Number 6: Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson’s Pinocchio

It’s weird that three completely different Pinocchio adaptations were somehow released in 2022, and even weirder still that of the two I saw, one was among the worst films of the year while the other was easily one of the very best. Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson’s Pinocchio has pretty much everything that Robert Zemeckis’ version was sorely lacking. The (voice) cast is pitch perfect, the stop-motion animation is often breathtaking, and you can almost feel the immense amount of love that was poured into every single frame. And as you’d expect from a storytelling master like GdT, he and his co-director tweak some aspects of the classic tale while staying true to it in addition to stuffing it full of that dark whimsy that the former’s fans love him for. This Pinocchio is an emotional tale of a father and son – or fathers and sons – a meditation on mortality, and without a doubt my favorite iteration of the world-famous fable I’ve seen so far; one that will likely tear your heart to shreds and put it back together a couple of times before it’s all over. That’s what it did with mine, at least.

Number 5: The Whale

Darren Aronofsky’s newest work is a somber yet beautiful exploration of humanity with some of the best acting that I’ve ever seen at its core. Brendan Fraser is nothing short of marvelous as Charlie, a severely obese man who wants to reconnect with his daughter Ellie, played by Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink, who is also brilliant. Hong Chau is Liz, Charlie’s only real friend, and a key player in a handful of stunningly powerful, poignant moments throughout The Whale as well. The film is often tragic and emotionally taxing, but like some of my other all-time favorite dramas, there’s just enough hope to keep the sadness from completely enveloping you. Charlie made some poor choices in his life, and has suffered much since making them, but he still sees all the good and potential in those around him, even if he has to dig deep – and I mean deep – to find it. It’s Charlie’s belief in people and their inherent inability to not care about others that keeps the bleakness of his circumstances at bay for him, and the audience… At least just enough to appreciate the underlying, more life-affirming themes that sit right below the film’s surface.

Number 4: X

Ti West hadn’t made a horror film in nearly a decade, but X shows that he certainly didn’t lose his knack for telling terrifying tales. In fact, West seems to have refined his technique to reach even greater heights and frights than before with his 70’s slasher/exploitation flick throwback that delivers in every way it should and then some. It’s harrowing, gruesome, darkly hilarious, and often all of that at once. Most importantly, it was able to shock me – an avid horror fan – whenever it wanted to, even in the few moments that I “knew” what was coming. West uses his expertise in and love for the sub genres in tandem with clever transitions and inspired cinematography to create something that’s equally shocking, bloody, and keenly self-aware. The entire cast is terrific too, particularly Mia Goth, who’s on a whole other level in a way that I won’t spoil here, and Jenna Ortega (yup, she’s on this list twice). With all said and done, X is an outrageously entertaining, genuinely scary movie, my favorite horror film since Us, and one that deserves the adoration of genre fans far and wide. 

Number 3: The Batman

The Batman might be the best movie that the Dark Knight will ever get. The Gotham City that Matt Reeve’s stupendous, grounded superhero flick shows off feels like it’s almost as much a character as the Caped Crusader; it’s a living, breathing, brooding thing. No live-action Batman film has ever so memorably shown off Gotham in all its grimey, gloomy glory, or told such a compelling, thrilling tale set in it. Even though the movie is nearly three-hours long, it left me wanting even more. Seriously, it just flew by for me. I didn’t check my watch even once because I was so caught up in The Batman’s world, characters, and the central mystery surrounding the Riddler and his murderous mission. Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell (another actor who’s on this list twice), John Turturro, PaulDano, and the rest of the cast are firing on all cylinders too. It also doesn’t hurt having one of the greatest scores I’ve heard in a film, superhero or otherwise. Michael Giacchino just went for it! I get goosebumps just thinking about the orchestral swells from whenever the action picked up. Whatever is next for the dynamic duo of Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson, I’m all in.

Number 2: The Banshees of Inisherin

It’s honestly kind of crazy how much I love Martin McDonagh’s movies. Three of the four feature-length films that writer-director has helmed are among my top 50 movies of all time, and one is at the very top. The man knows how to craft a story like no other, and gets exactly what he needs from his cast and crew. So yes, I absolutely adored The Banshees of Inisherin. I can’t stress enough how important it is to go into Banshees with as little insight as possible, so I’ll keep the details to a minimum. What I will share is that the film reunites McDonagh with his In Bruges leads Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson for a tale fable about a friendship gone sour; so sour that one of the friends threatens the other with drastic consequences to ensure he’s left alone. It’s bleak as Hell, occasionally hilarious, often both at the same time, and nothing short of riveting throughout its entirety. Farrell and Gleeson are excellent as always, along with their supporting castmates, such as the unbelievably great Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan. Fans of McDonagh – or anyone who likes their dramedies pitch black – will almost certainly enjoy this wonderfully dark picture.

Number 1: Everything Everywhere All at Once

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a true work of art. It’s constantly juggling so many things, but never falters for even a moment. Directing duo The Daniels crafted something really special here, and the cast and crew brought that vision to life perfectly. Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, and Ke Huy Quan’s performances are phenomenal, and the rest of the cast ranges from “great” to “also award worthy.” The result of so much talent behind and in front of the camera is just extraordinary; a wonderfully weird multiversal romp, an otherworldly, brilliantly-choreographed action flick, and a touching, affecting family drama with a simple, yet unbelievably powerful and important message at its core. It’s a stunning film that pulled me in at the beginning, had me simultaneously laughing and crying for the last half hour or so, and kept me in total awe throughout. It’s exceptionally rare for filmgoers to experience something like Everything Everywhere All at Once; a wholly original, totally out there idea that is brought forth with such clarity, passion, and a perfect cast that makes you feel everything that’s happening on screen as if you were there. It’s masterpieces like Everything Everywhere All at Once that remind me why I love movies so much.

You can listen to our The Greatest Thing About… Everything Everywhere All at Once episode here.

And those were my favorite movies of 2022! If you liked what you read, you should check out my favorite TV shows and video games of the year too. You can also follow me on Twitter, Letterboxd, and bookmark my author page to see whatever I write about next. Until then, remember: the best seats are in the Middle of the Row!

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