Tom Cruise and Cate Blanchett lead the way with stellar films, but 2022 saw some real stinkers, too
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It’s been a Weird year for movies. A Weird Al year, that is. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story was one of the big-screen highlights for those lucky few who managed to catch it at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it took home the People’s Choice Award in the Midnight Madness section. For everyone else, it’s streaming on Roku.
But 2022 was also a year of powerhouse big-screen releases, none bigger than Top Gun: Maverick, which has earned more than $1.4 billion worldwide to become the top-grossing film of the year and the biggest earner in the career of its star, Tom Cruise. It’s also only the second time during the pandemic that a film has earned more than $1 billion worldwide, after last year’s Spider-Man: No Way Home.
And you know what? It was a great movie, too.
Here are 10 fantastic films of 2022, as well as some lesser-known gems, and 10 stinkers. Because if you’re going to investigate the whole moviemaking barrel, that includes scraping the bottom of it.
Aftersun – Writer/director Charlotte Wells hit it out of the park with her debut feature, a picture-perfect, deceptively simple distillation of longing and memory, as a woman looks back on an idyllic summer vacation she took with her dad (Paul Mescal, incredible here) when she was 11.
The Banshees of Inisherin – Writer/director Martin McDonagh worked with stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson on the 2008 dark comedy In Bruges. This one is equally funny and also deeply sad, sometimes both at once. Bonus points for any viewer who manages not to use the word “feckin’” within 24 hours of watching this brilliant story.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – Check out the almost unbearably sweet shorts from a decade ago (easy to find on YouTube) and ask yourself if you want to spend another 89 minutes with a talking shell voiced by Jenny Slate. And when the answer comes back yes, check out this wonderful film, which is also great for kids!
Nope – Quite the daring title: What if Jordan Peele had made a dud? But did he? Nope. If Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Shining had a baby, it would be this horror-thriller. Taking place on a dusty ranch somewhere in the desert outside Hollywood — the backlot of the backlot, as it were — the movie mixes awe and wonder and loneliness and more than a little terror into a frightening brew.
Pinocchio – To be clear, this is Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, not the new Disney remake (check the worst-of list for that one). “By the time Master Geppetto made Pinocchio, he had already lost a son,” says Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor), by way of introduction. This eerie tale features a touch of Frankenstein, a setting of Second World War Italy, and Cate Blanchett as the voice of Death. It’s superb, and may my nose grow if I’m lying.
She Said – Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan have the kind of workplace chemistry and camaraderie many people only dream of, playing a pair of New York Times reporters investigating sexual harassment in the motion picture industry — and, by extension, one Harvey Weinstein.
Tár – Cate Blanchett will be getting all the nominations this season for her powerful performance as Lydia Tár, a famous (fictional) composer and conductor whose life starts to fray and then unravel through the two hours and 38 minutes of this newest film from Todd Field.
Till – This dramatization of the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till has the potential to be nothing more than a dour, good-for-you movie. And while it’s not entertaining in the traditional sense, it’s a powerful, compelling story of a mother’s love and a nation’s shame. A riveting performance by Danielle Deadwyler means this will also be an awards season must-watch, not that you need another reason.
Top Gun: Maverick – See above.
Women Talking – Take a critically acclaimed novel by Canadian writer Miriam Toews. Then have it adapted and directed by thoughtful Canuck filmmaker Sarah Polley. Oh, and stack it with powerful performers like Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Sheila McCarthy and Jessie Buckley. The result is a beautiful, dramatic, philosophically fascinating story of faith, forgiveness and female empowerment. Not to be missed.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is both a fitting tribute to actor Chadwick Boseman and a rollicking addition to the Marvel franchise. Bodies Bodies Bodies is a horror/comedy that delivers on both fronts. Bones and All keeps getting referred to as a “cannibal romance” but I prefer “coming-of-age romantic horror road film.” Bros is a “gay rom-com,” equal parts raunchy and sweet. Barbarian is four different horror stories for the price of one, with some wild tonal shifts that add to the fun. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery probably has Kenneth Branagh wondering why Hercule Poirot’s exploits can’t be this enjoyable. The Whale gives Brendan Fraser one of those career-reviving roles, playing a housebound English professor. Everything Everywhere All At Once features multiversal philosophy, lo-fi effects and gonzo energy, as if Michel Gondry had remade The Matrix. And The Eternal Daughter is a ghost story with two Tilda Swintons, and if that doesn’t pique your curiosity, maybe you’re the ghost.
10 you may have missed
Let’s be realistic here. Top Gun: Maverick does not need this critic’s help. Neither does Nope. But here are 10 more films that may not have had the advertising budget or notoriety to make themselves widely known. It doesn’t make them any less worthwhile.
After Yang – Though it contains snippets of Blade Runner’s DNA, and bits of Never Let Me Go and Steven Spielberg’s A.I., this adaptation of a short story by Alexander Weinstein is still a wholly original science-drama about an android member of a near-future family, and of what happens when he breaks down.
The Automat – Lisa Hurwitz’s moving paean to New York’s Horn & Hardart eateries, also known as Automats, will transport you to a simpler, tasty age of fast food. Mel Brooks is such a fan he wrote the movie’s theme song!
Eternal Spring – Canada’s submission for best international feature at the next Academy Awards is an odd hybrid, a Mandarin-language, animated documentary. It tells of a 2002 plot by members of the persecuted Falun Gong religious group to counter Chinese propaganda by hijacking a TV signal, and of fallout that stretches all the way to present-day Toronto, New York and elsewhere.
Fire of Love – Katia and Maurice Krafft were romantic soulmates and daring volcanologists who left behind incredible photos and film footage, not to mention research that has helped minimize the death toll when volcanoes erupt. They died in the Mount Unzen eruption in 1991, but their work and their story live on.
Geographies of Solitude – A strip of sand in the North Atlantic, 175 kilometres from the Nova Scotia mainland, Sable Island is home to wild horses, grey seals, innumerable species of birds and insects — and Zoe Lucas, philosopher-scientist, tracking all that ebbs and flows on the tiny islet.
God’s Creatures – Paul Mescal (also in Aftersun) and Emily Watson star in this beautiful and disturbing feature, set in a tiny Irish fishing village. A man is accused of sexual assault. His mother provides an alibi. The film is a conversation-starter and a delicate portrait of trauma and grief.
My Old School – Scottish filmmaker Jono McLeod employs Alan Cumming to lip-synch interviews with his former classmate Brandon Lee, who joined Bearsden Academy in Glasgow in 1993 by pretending to be 16, when he was in fact twice that age. Strange but true!
The Outfit – Mark Rylance (also in Bones and All) stars as a former Savile Row suitmaker who has moved to Chicago, circa 1956, and fallen in with some rough types. Acting, dialogue, score, set design, production design, period slang, suit-making lore and a twisty plot — The Outfit has it all. A perfect fit.
Petite Maman – French writer/director Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) delivers an emotionally powerful time-travel drama (not a common combination) in which a little girl meets her own mother when she was young. The two become friends. Is this a dream? A fairy tale? All I know is that the beautiful ending left me in tears.
Phantom of the Open – Mark Rylance (again!) stars in the true story of Maurice Flitcroft, who entered the 1976 Open Championship despite knowing almost nothing about golf. His score of 121 — a record to this day — did not deter him from future competitions, and when the establishment tried to stop him, he simply donned disguises. A zany screw(golf)ball comedy.
Ambulance – Michael Bay remade a 2005 low-budget Danish comedy-action-thriller into a $40-million, 136-minute chase scene. With shots that look like someone threw a drone off the top of a building, it could win if they give out an Oscar for the MOST cinematography.
Black Adam – An express elevator to mediocrity, D.C.’s latest features a miscast Dwayne Johnson as the almost psychopathically violent Black Adam, who joins forces with the Justice Society — not the Justice League, mind you! — to thwart an even eviler villain. Ho-hum.
Bullet Train – A history of Canadian mass transit probably contains more fun, humour and excitement than the lumbering, overbooked carriage that is Bullet Train. Though, to be fair, it doesn’t contain Brad Pitt. Still, I wanted to get off long before its 126 minutes were up.
Eiffel – A love story awkwardly bolted to a feat of metallurgical engineering, Eiffel in Love had its titled scaled back when someone realized the original was a terrible pun in both the French pronunciation and the English. And the film is terrible enough already.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore – Homophobic Chinese censors demanded six seconds be cut from this bloated Harry Potter spinoff. The rest of us had to wade through all 8,520 seconds of wizarding wand-wavery.
The Grey Man – Never a good sign when the film reviews itself. “This is quite possibly the most spectacular failure in the history of covert ops!” someone yells, as we watch Netflix burn through a $200-million budget on this uninspired action-thriller.
The Man From Toronto – Worth watching if you want to see Woody Harrelson perform a role clearly written for Jason Statham, who dropped out over disagreements with producers. Otherwise, skip it.
Pinocchio – Robert Zemeckis’s Pinocchio is, alas, all the things Guillermo del Toro’s is not — overly talky, under-explained, ugly and creepy in a deep-in-the-uncanny-valley kind of way. Tom Hanks (as Geppetto) should have known better than to get involved.
Spiderhead – Escape from Spiderhead is a short story by George Saunders, published in the Christmas 2010 edition of The New Yorker, and later in the collection Tenth of December. A thoughtful meditation on love, sex and pharmaceuticals, it is worth tracking down. This adaptation, not so much.
Thor: Love and Thunder – Taika Waititi’s second Thor movie ends the streak of them getting consistently better as Thor and Korg must stop Gorr from using the necro-sword to kill the — Borg? Honestly, I’d checked out by this point in the movie.
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