Over the last near-decade, this site has been a place for me to talk about movies as I watch “the canon,” whatever that means, and 2022 was the first time since I started doing this that we got a release of the Sight and Sound list of director and critic top films of the decade. I’ve seen most of the list and I’ll try to see the rest in 2023. We’ll go over the relevant ones here, probably.
Last year I said I’d write a lot more in 2022 and I didn’t. Let’s try again. What more can you do? The only post here in 2022 was my annual review of the Best Picture winner, which this year was Coda. I thought it was fine. It’s probably in the middle of the pack, which hits strangely because the majority of recent choices were so strong. This year, who knows? We’ll review it when it happens, in addition to probably some other Oscar stuff when we get closer to it.
I saw 48 movies for the first time this year (some are new, some are just new to me). I didn’t write about most of these, so this is as much as I have to say, for now. Some of these will make the Oscar nominations, so we’ll revisit some then, as well as some of them in the context of the Sight and Sound list. For now, some brief thoughts.
As is tradition, here they are, ranked:
|1||The Worst Person in the World|
This movie lost the two Oscars it was nominated for to Drive My Car and Belfast and I think, for my money, it’s significantly better than both of them. I also think that’s not going to be most people’s experience and I don’t think it’s really fair, but it is what I feel. When I walked out of Lady Bird five years ago I felt the same way I did after The Worst Person in the World. This is a story that’s not about my experience and a character whose background doesn’t look all that much like my background, but there are human, undeniable elements that I’ve never seen told this way. I don’t know if everyone who sees it will love it or identify with it or admire it or anything else you need to do in order to rank a movie like this as the best film of the year, but there’s nothing on this list I loved more.
|2||Everything Everywhere All at Once|
This will be most people’s top film of the year and I think it deserves it. I don’t have anything to add that you don’t already know. It’s great, but statistically, you already know that. Not all of the slapstick worked for me, but the structure and the tone really make that a minor complaint, and a personal one. What will be interesting is to see if it makes waves at the Oscars. I couldn’t tell you, but I’ll be curious to see if the hype can carry a strange film through our most resistant-to-strange critics. That said, a few years ago they gave Best Picture to a movie about a fish monster love story, so who knows?
|3||Decision to Leave|
I saw this with three people who disliked it. I don’t think “divisive” is the right word, but more “alienating.” There’s not a lot happening in Decision to Leave and the motivations of the characters, specifically, can be frustrating. People don’t act like this in real life, but they also aren’t homicide detectives, usually, so their personal stakes are lower. I think what I love about Decision to Leave is it shows the people around the two central characters and how they frustrated, lost, left to their own conclusions, about two people who become fixated on what they see as how the world works. What’s on the screen in Decision to Leave might be too sparse to be a truly great film for everyone, but I took away something I really liked.
I struggle to explain why I liked Nightmare Alley so much. It lost all four Oscars it was nominated for, flopped at the box office, and seems to be mostly forgotten already, but I thought it was such a fantastic noir. Maybe I’m a sucker for the genre, but even once you see the ending coming, the knot it leaves in your stomach feels so well-earned. It’s too long, but it feels like that could be said about a lot of movies, and it’s not for everybody, but that definitely feels like it could be said for everything now. If you want something haunting with some strong performances, this is it.
|5||The Asphalt Jungle|
Sterling Hayden is my favorite actor and John Huston is one of my favorite directors, but I’d somehow never seen the classic The Asphalt Jungle until this summer. It’s just a perfect film about a heist gone wrong. There are a half-dozen of these on the list of top films, depending on your list, but this is one of the best and it works just as well today.
I would rank The Wonder in the top half of my list regardless, but it makes my top ten because of a device I don’t really want to spoil. It’s the story of a religious “wonder” who doesn’t need to eat because of faith and a community that wants to believe versus a world that wants to debunk. The story is worth your time, but it turns over in my head because of a structural choice that I want to leave undescribed. You can’t miss it. Why tell your story that way? And do you believe the simple answer, or is that something more?
|7||Drive My Car|
Drive My Car starts with an incredible opening hour that, over time, becomes a satisfying, but less interesting, conclusion. I loved it, obviously, but I can’t immediately think of another movie with an arc like that. It’s worth seeing and I don’t mean to damn it with faint praise, but it’s really, really fascinating, it’s just slow.
|8||Do the Right Thing|
This is too low on this list for a timeless masterpiece, but that’s why this isn’t an objective list. There are probably only one or two movies on this list that rival this for “importance” and if you see one thing here you haven’t seen, it ought to be this one. I don’t know why I’d never sat down to watch the whole thing and I’m glad I took a Tuesday night and just did it.
|9||The Thin Man|
The origin of the Nick and Nora that give their names to the famous cocktail glasses, The Thin Man is a screwball detective story that’s still funny almost a century after release. I really encourage people to check this out, as it’s breezy and funny and silly and it will really surprise you.
|10||Sweet Smell of Success|
This is one of those movies that’s on every list of essential films and I’d always thought I’d seen it, but I hadn’t. It’s a story about the press and celebrity, but it’s mostly a masterclass in dialogue. It’s snappy and funny but it doesn’t require the caveat a lot of pre-60s “snappy” films do in that you’ll follow it with today’s sensibilities. This is the quintessential version of the form for “biting” dialogue and Burt Lancaster gives an unforgettable performance.
I love Twin Peaks more than I love David Lynch’s film work, so I drug my feet on watching Blue Velvet. I’m sorry I did, because I think it’s really something, as dumb as that is to say in 2022 about one of the best-loved “horror-adjacent” films of our time. Why are people like this, you’ll be forced to ask, but more than that, what could possibly happen next?
|12||The Power of the Dog|
It’s a shame that most of the discussion of The Power of the Dog is wrapped up in a dumb culture war discussion, because I think there’s a more interesting discussion to be had about it. It’s another tortured, understandable, but frustrating protagonist who offers us a glimpse into darkness. There’s something to be learned from why we seek stories like that.
Speaking of the above, The Northman is a similar story with a shocking twist. The visuals and the brutality of The Northman will get all the play, but that twist is worth admission twice over. See it, if you can handle the blood, and see it cold.
|14||The French Dispatch|
Your interest in and your patience for Wes Anderson will determine how much you like this. I think that’s overstated, usually, as most of them have a more universal appeal than the style suggests, but this one is definitely extreme. I liked it and I recommend it, but it will try your patience if you struggle with Anderson’s whole deal in the slightest.
I was inspired to watch Putney Swope by the comparisons to one of the final episodes of Atlanta that aired this year and to the excellent Sorry to Bother You. It’s obviously inspirational to both, but it’s also fascinating to watch it for what it was at the time. It’s breezy — honestly, a little exhausting to watch, it clips along so quickly — and it’s worth your time, especially if you don’t know what it is.
I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it yet. It’s cute! I know! Get off my back!
I liked Belfast, charming, wistful, brutal, hard, and all. I found I didn’t have anything else to say about it, immediately as it ended, but I think it nails what it aims to do, which is a huge accomplishment for any movie.
|18||Blade Runner 2049|
I love Blade Runner, the original, but I have learned over time that it’s less important to me than it is to other people who like movies I like. I really, truly love it, but I don’t find myself coming back to it or obsessing over the universe. I think that leaves the door open for me to enjoy this sequel more than the average person. It’s flawed and I think someone hating it has room to do so, obviously, but I enjoyed it for what it is.
La Jetée is twenty-eight minutes long. Go watch it. Don’t read a thing about it. I think this is realistically too low and in the future, this will only go higher on my list. I can’t stop thinking about it.
|20||The Bob’s Burgers Movie|
Bob’s Burgers is the only non-serialized show that I still watch on regular television. I love the world and I thought this movie did a good job with it. There’s really not much more to say than that.
I struggle sometimes with movies like Bullet Train. I saw Logan Lucky a few years ago and genuinely felt like it might have been the best movie of the year. It’s obviously not, with shaggy elements that take away from the heist, but it made me feel the same way Bullet Train did. The parts that work end up working so well that it hides all the mess. I realize this isn’t a very good movie, really, but it’s an effective one, which is important for a genre flick.
|22||West Side Story|
I don’t know that we needed a remake of West Side Story, but it’s a fine one.
|23||The Tragedy of Macbeth|
I didn’t intend for this to be the middle point or so, but it feels right. There’s enough here that it’s an interesting version that feels classic and modern at the same time, but I can’t imagine ever watching this again or wanting anything else out of it.
There is much to be learned from Godard’s sci-fi-nightmare-world of Alphaville and it’s a classic piece of the genre’s history, but at times it feels more like a piece of history than a film to watch today. I suggest everyone see it, but it falls into a category with films like Playtime to me, where the lessons of the originals have been somewhat usurped by the generations that came after it if you see them first.
|25||A Woman Under the Influence|
Fans almost always list A Woman Under the Influence as the best Cassavetes film, but I don’t think so. I think it shows the worst of the director (overlong scenes that accomplish the same thing again and again, improvised-or-hopefully-improvised inane small talk) as well as the best (two central performances that drive the whole thing, strange-but-memorable side characters). Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands are excellent, but this is so, so long, and critics at the time thought it was a lot. Over time the tone on Cassavetes has settled on “genius” and I do think his films are worth a watch, you will feel the weight of the cruft that people tend to explain away.
|26||The Rules of the Game|
This is frequently listed as one of the best, if not the best, movies of all time. That urges one to put a movie very high on a personal list, but at the risk of sounding dim, I found it a little slow for a modern audience. You have to step outside of your current world and you have to view a movie like this for what it was when it came out, but realistically it’s a much more interesting movie to study and to learn from than it is to watch.
This is the only one I wrote about at length this year, which you can read above. As I’ve said before, and with some distance now, it’s a fine film. It still feels “safe” to me, which is not really a fair criticism, and you could do significantly worse.
|28||See How They Run|
A forgettable, but funny, little mystery we watched on a whim one weeknight. It’s fun, but you don’t need to see it.
Ali came out the same year as Training Day, so Will Smith was never going to win his Oscar for this one, but it’s also interesting to see the choices made around Smith’s performance. Roger Ebert said this film lacks what made the real Ali so fascinating and maybe that’s true. Ultimately I think there’s too little of the best parts of Smith’s performance here, but it’s not a bad biopic.
|30||Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai|
I’ve always wanted to see this one because the premise is so weird. At the end of the day, too many people have to say “Ghost Dog” with sincerity for it to not feel a little silly and most of the supporting performances are distractingly bad. There’s an incredible character and performance at the center, however.
|31||Hour of the Wolf|
A lot of the reviews of Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf sum up how I feel about it: difficult, stark, and a regression. It’s very scary and very weird, but I don’t think it accomplishes in me what it sets out to, which may be a personal problem, but doesn’t seem to be based on the response.
I can’t really justify putting this as low as I have. It’s a fine film. I need to see more Almodóvar films.
I don’t think Licorice Pizza ever accomplishes getting you to forget the premise and it needs to in order to feel charming. I liked parts of it but it just feels very weird all the way through.
I know it’s a classic and it’s a sin to put this below many of the movies above it, but you don’t get points for influence on this list. It’s a fine watch in 2022.
|35||Night on Earth|
The thing about a movie that’s made up of vignettes is you have to like all of them. The Helsinki segment of Night on Earth was one of my favorite things I saw this year and the Rome one was one of my least favorite. The average here isn’t as high as the high points, which leaves the film feeling uneven to me.
I liked a lot about this one, especially Andrew Garfield’s performance, but I found a lot of this really exhausting to watch.
|37||The Eyes of Tammy Faye|
Most people seem to be on the same page about The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and I agree that the central performance is interesting and the movie is not.
|38||Being the Ricardos|
Some of the absolute worst Aaron Sorkin moments you’ll ever see are in Being the Ricardos, including a number of scenes where characters talk to each other in ways people do not talk to each other, again. I think I have a higher tolerance for this than most people but even I was just overwhelmed by this one. I think the performances are fine, and J.K. Simmons is incredible, even for him, but it’s just not enough to make this one worth overcoming the frustrating script.
It is not worth going into again, but the choice to tell this larger story about this character was always going to be a hard hurdle to clear, and I don’t think this movie clears it.
There’s a scene in the middle of Spencer where two characters explain themselves to each other and I found it exhausting and on-the-nose. I love the visuals and the weird, Rebecca-esque haunted nature of Spencer, but I don’t think it makes good use of screen time.
John Huston’s last movie views largely as a filmed play about a holiday dinner party on a snowy night. The shocking reveal and final moments are the emotional core of the story and I have to say they don’t hit me as hard as they seem to hit other viewers. I think there’s a lot of little set pieces here I liked, but I walked away a little unsatisfied.
I have watched almost all of Cassavetes’ films for this website at this point and I think Faces is the true test of if you like his work or not. I loved a few scenes but struggled during moments like a lengthy song where Seymour Cassel sings various lines about meat. A lot of Faces reminded me of Husbands, which also feels indulgent and long, but I’d compare this more directly to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? There’s a key difference, but they’re both stories about strife in the home and where it leads on a single night.
Sans Soleil is frequently cited as one of the best films of all time. I found it tremendously boring and repetitive and I cannot come up with something nice to say. I’ll have to see it again, given the legacy, but I bounced off this almost entirely.
|44||The Matrix: Resurrection|
A bold choice up top that never really pays off. If the point is that making more Matrix movies for an audience that wants a very specific Matrix movie is a fool’s errand, what’s the possible justification for the second half? Even if it’s a joke within a joke, which I choose to think it is, watching that joke is not worth your time.
Cassavetes’ first film is only for the truly devoted. There’s an interesting story about race, but it’s a tough watch compared to his later works.
|46||Don’t Look Up|
A lot of people really hated Don’t Look Up. It feels like a continuation of Vice to me, where there’s a political message that is muddied by some intense “choices” and some sanctimony that makes it hard to take the thing seriously as a work of art.
|47||The Lost Daughter|
I struggle to explain why I rank this so low. I found it so joyless, so odious, so negative, but I also understand those aren’t really criticisms of the movie. It’s a bit like saying you don’t like all the war in Saving Private Ryan. I think it requires a second watch at some point because I feel like I’m grasping at straws somewhat, but I just was so defeated by my first viewing that I cannot recommend anyone spend time with this.
|48||Revolutionary Girl Utena: Adolescence of Utena|
I’m mostly a lapsed anime fan from my teenage years. There are a few “foundational” shows from my youth that I always meant to make time for and this year that was Utena, a groundbreaking work and a beautiful, complex story about growing up and sexuality. The movie is a bizarre disaster, nearly unwatchable and unfollowable. The show is a sprawling story with a million things to unpack and explore, but the movie is just so supremely strange and divorced from what makes the show worth your time that I have to put it dead last. There are people who feel it’s essential, but it left a sour taste with me after a show I really got a lot out of.