The most satisfying movies of 2022, from ‘Avatar’ to ‘Everything Everywhere’
The film industry is undergoing a transformation, driven by declining box office revenues as more people prefer to consume entertainment in the comfort of their homes. It also deserves to look back at the films released in 2022 in a slightly different way, from the most disappointing titles to here the most satisfying ones.
“Satisfying,” in this case, differs from the traditional “best of” lists that many critics compile, as it allows for the inclusion of more populist films that distinguished themselves by nicely accomplishing what they set out to do.
As it happens, this approach also reflects a year in which many of the traditional awards films were flawed in one way or another, and some of the highest-profile commercial box office awards (see “The Batman” and Marvel’s Thor, Black Panther and Doctor Strange sequels) fell short of expectations to varying degrees.
As for the sequels that made this list, in a film business built on franchises and dependent on familiar properties, the challenge of pulling off these extensions is both critical to the financial health of the industry and creatively deserving of applause when done right.
As for omissions, it’s worth noting that there were several releases this year from acclaimed directors—including Darren Aronofsky, Noah Baumbach, Damien Chazelle, Antoine Fuqua, Martin McDonagh, Sam Mendes, and David O. Russell—that were seen, considered and didn’t make the cut. In fact, if there was a bias here this year, it was toward films that broadly entertained, with some exceptions.
So what made the “nice” list? In alphabetical order:
“Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood”: Richard Linklaters rotoscope-animated flashback in his youth growing up in the shadow of NASA is the kind of breezy nostalgic exercise that really illustrates what life was like back then, in an era when TVs were small and before everyone took a phone everywhere.
“Avatar: The Way of Water”: Overcoming skepticism about a 13-year-later encore with a flurry of dazzling spectacle, James Cameron once again takes a fairly basic story and turns it into an epic, state-of-the-art demonstration of movie magic that practically requires you to get off the couch, put down the remote control and drive to a theater to watch it on the biggest screen you can.
“Everything everywhere at once”: Not everything worked about this foray into alternate universes and paths not taken, but this action-comedy-sci-fi mashup represented one of the year’s most inventive efforts and happily struck a chord with audiences as it featured the remarkable Michelle Yeoh and the rousing comeback of one-time Indiana Jones kid Ke Huy Quan.
“The Fabelmans”: Steven Spielberg’s deeply personal window how his youthful experiences forged him into the filmmaker he became is naturally filled with nostalgia, but it also provides a welcome ode to the power of film. A bit scattered in its format, the film nevertheless works as a superhero origin story for a director whose half-century of filmmaking has etched so many moments into our memories.
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”: Writer-director Rian Johnson has managed to reload and still capture the whimsical, knowledgeable and fun of his original whodunit, with Daniel Craig as the lone holdout in a film that really should have spent more time in theaters before landing on Netflix.
“Good luck to you, Leo Grande”: Directed to Hulu, this two-hander stars Emma Thompson as a widow who keeps a sex worker (Daryl McCormack) and pepper him with questions about his life and work. cute, funny and generally lovely, a little pearl of a year with many rhinestones. (Thompson, as a footnote, is also smashing in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.”)
“RRR”: Like “Avatar,” don’t let the three-hour running time scare you off (plus, you’ll most likely watch it on Netflix anyway). This Indian historical fantasy has it all, including an abundance of energy, wild action sequences and exhausting dance numbers. A film that draws on a number of genres, from superheroes to westerns, and still manages to feel fresh and invigorating.
“To”: Danielle Deadwyler’s twisting performance when Mamie Till Mobley, who struggled with the murder of her son Emmett in Mississippi in 1955, raised and brought renewed attention to this tragic story in a film that sensitively treats the murder to focus on how it gave a civil rights activist her voice.
“Top Gun: Maverick”: Despite coming 36 years after the original (time flies, too, apparently), this sequel waited through the pandemic to share the experience with moviegoers and rewarded them with a touching escape that gave Tom Cruise a perfectly timed encore while flying the equivalent of one rescue mission for movie theaters. Honestly, it would be nice to leave well enough alone after that, but nothing that makes that much money can be allowed to be grounded for long.
“Turning Red”: Pixar hasn’t been treated very well by its parent studio in the Disney+ era, which explains why this wonderfully warm and very funny coming of age story — a genre so overworked that it’s really hard to do this well — was sent straight to streaming. The film works on several levels, but turning into a giant panda proves to be a wonderful metaphor for the indignities and confusion associated with puberty.