The cinematic story of the past year is a complicated one, even putting aside our conversation about the best movies of 2022. We entered the year bracing for bad news. Will the advent of streaming continue to dominate at the expense of theatrical releases? Will the year’s major tentpole blockbusters make enough box office to justify their further existence? Will we finally get a normal year in film, whatever that means?
The answers to these questions will obviously vary. To many of our critics here at InBetweenDrafts, 2022 was a stellar year for film. Especially compared to 2021, which itself was an odd mix of delayed releases and projects mired by the heaviest pandemic restrictions of the year prior. But there’s no doubt the filmmaking world has rebounded and adapted over these last three years of disruptions and existential threats to our shared artistic enterprise.
2022 itself had no shortage of false starts and disappointments, though. A lackluster Jurassic World sequel came and went. Pixar and Disney Animation each put out arguably their most ho-hum animated movies in years — the one notable exception from Pixar not even getting a theatrical release, by the way.
Where was Marvel? Putting out plenty of movies, that’s for sure, and people certainly watched and enjoyed them. But let’s be honest. The cinematic universe that inspired one of the decade’s most ill-advised production trends in perhaps a generation has mostly whimpered by with increasingly less fanfare from audiences and critics alike, even when the movies themselves are pretty much business as usual.
The best movies of 2022 were mostly originals.
But this is not a list dedicated to where cinema went wrong in 2022. We’re here to celebrate the movies that did their job. That brought people together, either in the theater for massive spectacle or on their couches a short time later. You’ll notice that this list by our critics at InBetweenDrafts overflows with original projects. Very few are adaptations or derived from existing franchises, and even the ones that are certainly strive to be more than a payout. You know it’s been a good year when we finish this list aching for what didn’t make the cut.
So here it is. The 15 best movies of 2022, and our first year-end film list on InBetweenDrafts, as chosen by our wonderful community of writers and editors. Starting with a film that might’ve been closer to the Top 10 or higher if it had come out last year.
15. Turning Red
It’s not uncommon for a movie to offer its audience a new perspective. When we put on our Sunday best and head to the theater, we consent to be taken on a journey to a world we’ve never inhabited before. It might be very similar to our world, there might be some major or minor differences. Maybe people in this world wear their shoes backwards, maybe they don’t wear shoes at all. Maybe they have the ability to transform into a giant red panda whenever they lose control of their emotions.
For Pixar’s Turning Red, that’s the case, but it won’t even be the most unique or intriguing thing about your first viewing. Instead, you may find yourself venturing into a complicated pocket universe inhabited by teenage girls going through their first major stages of puberty. If you are a teenage girl, then you’ll find a charming, hilarious, and extremely real moviegoing experience. An experience that, yes, is still about a giant red panda.
Turning Red leans into reality as heavily as it does fantasy. The smooth, beautiful animation delivers some truly incredible visuals based in Chinese art and folklore, while the film’s main message — the drive behind main character Mei Lee’s transformation, isn’t hidden behind any vague metaphors. Instead, the “giant red monster” is faced head on and proudly. A film that aims to tell a multi-generational story to a multicultural audience, Turning Red delivers its coming-of-age tale without alienating anyone — despite what the darker corners of the internet would have you believe. Whether you can relate to Mei Lee directly or not, with fleshed out characters and a lived-in world, you’ll find something to connect to in Turning Red within the film’s first 10 minutes.[Adonis Gonzalez]
14. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
We all feel lost and lonely in the big world around us, and the journey to find ourselves can be incredibly intimidating. It helps to have someone to root for in that same position, even if you need a powerful zoom lens to see them.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On may seem like A24 trying to make a Disney/Pixar adventure for adults on the surface, what with plenty of adorable scenes of its title character finding fun ways to get around the house he and his grandmother hang around. What makes the story hit home is the wit and optimism of Marcel himself, feeling real-world emotions of loss and uncertainty while facing them with child-like optimism and fascination.
It’s the perfect vehicle for Jenny Slate’s wit and energy, while co-writer/director Dean Fleischer-Camp and his team prove truly skillful with live-action stop-motion work to make Marcel glide across the screen. [Jon Winkler]
13. The Bob’s Burgers Movie
I watched this on my phone. I know. Hear me out. The Bob’s Burgers Movie hit theaters days before my daughter’s birth. It was the conclusion of a complicated pregnancy and my fondness for the series wasn’t enough for me to make the film a priority, especially when combined with the skepticism brought about by two years of buyout — and pandemic-induced delays.
The film’s digital release caught me at a kinder time. The baby was home after a lengthy NICU stay and our long nights together quickly turned into regular viewing sessions. I put The Bob’s Burgers Movie on expecting a lighthearted distraction but was surprised to find the film’s humor matched by its ability to deliver solid, emotional blows. And my infant daughter was equally captivated, letting out excited grunts with the start of new musical numbers and haphazardly craning her neck whenever I moved my phone screen beyond her field of vision. The next day, visited by well-wishers neither of us had proper energy to entertain, we snuck off to replay our favorite scenes whenever we needed a brief reprieve.
Very few television series manage to stay great for a decade. Even fewer manage to survive the transition to theatrical film with their spirit fully intact. But here, “Bob’s Burgers” is as good as it’s ever been. [Brogan Luke Bouwhuis]
12. Return to Seoul
Early on in Return to Seoul, a French citizen sits in an adoption agency in South Korea trying to find information about her birth parents. She’s told that her birth name means “docile and joyous.” At this point in the film, it’s obvious to anyone paying attention that Freddie receives this news as a sort of obvious joke that the rest of us are in on and for good reason.
This is just one simple ingredient to a larger whole of what makes Davy Chou’s follow-up to his 2016 film Diamond Island so affecting. It’s affecting because like Freddie, many millennials spent a good amount of the 20teens as 20-something teens, ambling from place to place being told what we are and what we “mean” by the people who brought us into the world.
Freddie is played by a revelatory Ji-Min Park in her first feature role, which is honestly hard to believe. We watch her soulfully wander her extended adolescence with something deeper and more interesting than empathy. It’s more like a secret between generational siblings, that we know how the world outside our millennial bubble will perceive our actions and growth and lack of both as oddities and cultural failures to be balked at later. Instead, Davy Chou managed to make a film about what’s going on in our heads years before it becomes rote. [Jon Negroni]
11. The Banshees of Inisherin
The Banshees of Inisherin relishes in quick dialogue and mundane banter between its characters. The quiet, simple life on the shores of Inisherin are no longer enough for Brendan Gleeson’s Colm Doherty, and his former friend Padraic (Colin Farrell) is included in that as well. What starts as a simple break up between friends turns into a bloody and hilarious stand-off between Colm and Padraic.
Amongst the lingering landscape shots of this small, fictional island off the coast of Ireland, director Martin McDonagh spins a tale of friendship and mythology, legacy and normality. Banshees is quietly funny and darkly human, with great performances from Gleeson, Farrell, Barry Keoghan, and Kerry Condon. [Katey Stoetzel]
10. Girl Picture
Steely-eyed and desperate for affirmation, love, and pleasure, the young women in the Finnish film Girl Picture shine bright as they take on the limits of their world over the course of three weekends. Directed by Alli Haapasalo with a deft, empathetic touch that invites the audience into the open and spirited hearts of the three characters, Girl Picture may not be the biggest film of the year, but it beautifully explores the inner lives of young women. It affirms their plights of young love and companionship, an active, declaration which acts to advocate for the messy interiority of teenage girls.
Shot lush and dreamlike to best represent their moments of transition into womanhood, with a standout scene where an act of artistic expression also acts as a moment of love at first sight bliss, Haapasalo takes the coming-of-age genre and douses it in vibrancy. The story and characters and their relationships, all of it so electric and drawing us in. [Ally Johnson]
9. Decision to Leave
Given his status as a 21st century master of artfully extravagant genre mayhem, it’s easy to forget that twisted love stories are often at the core of Park Chan-Wook’s wild and frequently violent films. With Decision to Leave, the auteur behind modern classics like Oldboy and The Handmaiden solidifies his command of the filmic form by toning down the bloodshed and nudity featured in his prior work. While ratcheting up the tension and longing between his two complex central characters, and using every cinematic trick in the book to communicate those feelings to the audience.
Wrapped up in a neo-noir plot that initially feels surprisingly simple, this is a film with many surprises up its sleeve — technical, narrative, and emotional in equal measure. A language barrier, mysterious deaths, intimately edited conversational flashbacks, and some exceptionally creative drone cinematography represent just a few of the many cinematic pleasures hiding under the surface.
Yet the key selling point, the reason why Decision is one of the year’s very best films, lies right in the center of its twisting, turning maze: the sensual tension between its two protagonists, portrayed by Tang Wei and Hae il Park, threatening to set the screen ablaze. [Leonora Waite]
Guilt is one of the worst feelings one can carry throughout their life. Why did I do or say that one thing? What did I gain from it? Was there anything I could have done to change my current fate? We can’t say for certain whether Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) asked herself these questions throughout her titular film, but what we do know is that the guilt of her actions hovers over each frame like a ghost.
Todd Field’s eerie direction stretches an almost unbearable amount, but not without reason. The viewers are forced to see almost every aspect of Tár’s life crumble due to her own selfish decisions, with them lingering on camera in the moments you least expect. And yet, we never actually know the full truth behind the allegations, her life before conducting, or whether there are ghosts actually haunting her apartments. Perhaps it’s best that we don’t. [Erin Brady]
7. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
There was no shortage of Pinocchio movies to be found in 2022, but only one adaptation ultimately brought new life to the tale. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio — Netflix’s lyrical, heartfelt, spellbinding stop-motion re-imagining — blended the Oscar-winning director’s signature fascination with the mythical and magical with a profoundly humane desire to explore the echoing depths of its timber-based, man-made protagonist.
The result is not merely one of Del Toro’s most enrapturing pictures but also one of his most effectively soulful and poetic, letting us see a daring and surprisingly original vision of Carlo Collodi’s enduring fairytale. That allows its eponymous ligneous laddie not simply to yearn for boyhood but to discover what it means to be alive. Even in times of great, unending suffering.
Fated with immortality, Pinocchio sees a world filled with depravity, debauchery, God-fearing, and festering fascism with searching eyes, child-like wonder, and an inquisitive soul. As such, Del Toro and co-director Mark Gustafson invite us to explore the material with renewed interest and fresh understanding, thus crafting an elegant and moving celebration of remembrance, artistic pursuit, creative exploration in times of great restriction, and everlasting love that will withstand the test of time and become one of the most enriching and lasting depictions of this well-crafted parable ever made. [Will Ashton]
S.S. Rajamouli’s historical fiction about the bromance between Rama and Bheem, two Indian revolutionaries part of opposing factions, blends genres and creates an unforgettable experience that has it all. Like the numerous musical numbers, including the unforgettable “Naatu Naatu,” where Bheem and Rama dance rather amazingly to show off their skills to snobbish British colonialists. Combined with the dramatic “Komuram Bheemudo,” these scenes add an almost operatic feeling to a film that includes wild action sequences that often challenge the laws of physics in order to serve the emotions of the characters.
In addition, the wide array of subplots features elements of war dramas via extended flashbacks and even story beats for what could easily be a romantic comedy between Bheem and the niece of a British colonialist. In theory, a movie with such a vast amount of different cinematic parts should not work. But in this case, it’s all to solidify a world that feels dynamic and presents what is arguably one of the best friendships in any film this year.
RRR is a triumph for maximalist filmmaking and a reminder of how in film, and in the world, seriousness and fun can easily coexist. [Pedro Luis Graterol]
Movies still have magic, you just need to know where to look. Aftersun, the feature directorial debut of Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells, can’t be summed up easily, to that effect. It’s a movie that speaks truths you might know instinctively but don’t have the words for and maybe never will. It’s a movie that realizes the sensation of figuring out our memories are like real places. In the sense that we can never really go back there again, because we don’t belong there. How children don’t really know their parents until it’s too late, and the moment has passed.
Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio are the central characters and pure messy hearts of Aftersun, a seemingly simple story about a young single dad who takes his 11-year-old daughter on a resort vacation despite him being utterly broke. It’s a film about how memory itself can be put to film, in which grainy 90s footage can swiftly transition to the real thing, if only to mark the distinct difference between seeing our past lives in our heads versus the archival recordings we might’ve haphazardly set in motion without realizing the implication of their importance. In that way, Aftersun is a warm reminder of how closely we should guard the moments that pass us by too quickly to cherish them all. [Jon Negroni]
4. The Fabelmans
Steven Spielberg proved he’s never lost a step with The Fabelmans, one of the filmmaker’s best movies of his distinguished career. Studying his parents and their failed marriage, Spielberg provides the best manual yet for understanding and appreciating his overwhelming filmography even more than we already do. It’s a tender, unpredictable family dramedy with a bevy of great performances and a script for the ages. In a year chocked full of celebrations of cinema, Spielberg’s bittersweet ode to his folks stands tall. [Cory Woodroof]
3. Bones and All
While the review InBetweenDrafts ran on the film might contradict its placement on this list, it can’t be understated how uniquely romantic the film is regardless. Even those who may not appreciate it on a technical level will fall in love with the tragic romance between eaters Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothée Chalamet). As they traverse the American Midwest looking for meaning, they echo the same feelings of loneliness and isolation many of us have felt throughout our lives. Bones and All’s brilliance hinges on making a universal feeling like loneliness and turning it into something monstrous, yet binding.
The key to this effectiveness, however, is Russell. Her performance is calculated and teeming with nuance, portraying Maren as an actor herself – she pretends to act normal, even though she knows that she will never be like the girls she goes to high school with. Without her at its core, Bones and All would not be as enchanting and powerful as it is. [Erin Brady]
Jordan Peele’s third directorial feature film confirms the triple threat’s ability to be consistent and arguably solidifies his place amongst the greatest horror filmmakers of all time (although he certainly begs to differ). Nope captures all of Peele’s traditional elements of layered subtext, criticism of society, and a twist ending. But it also separates itself from his first two films with the addition of science fiction.
The chemistry between Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer is outstanding. The two give the most realistic performance as siblings since Katara and Sokka. Kaluuya, of course, never disappoints, but because of how well-written the film is, Palmer is especially able to excel in a much-deserved leading role that utilizes her wide range of talent.
While Nope may require a few watches to catch every easter egg, Peele’s hidden details are part of what makes the film so spectacular. It’s witty and thought-provoking, with remarkable visuals. And with so many comparisons to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I can certainly see it being a contender for Best Cinematography at the upcoming Academy Awards. [Alyshia Kelly]
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once
Nihilism is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can be seen as a belief freeing you of the crippling fear or crushing expectations from the world’s more hateful landscape. On the other, it can make you forget how important it is to stay connected to one another and express our true feelings. True human connection is more vital now than ever, regardless of where you are, what you do or what kind of pork products you have on your fingers.
Ridiculous hot dog appendages aside, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a colossal achievement for Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man) in terms of storytelling, scope, style and presentation. Impressive as it is to see the duo stage a fight scene anchored by a fanny pack or pay homage to Wong Kar-Wai and Ratatouille, the Daniels never lose the emotional throughline of fighting cynical worldviews with genuine sentiment. It can be easy to see when that’s faked in a movie, but Everything Everywhere makes every emotional beat land with performers that believe in every universe they’re in while having a blast at the absurdity of it all.
Whether it’s Michelle Yeoh and Stephanie Hsu fighting each other with dildos and googly eyes or Ke Huy Quan looking like the coolest romantic to ever hold a cigarette, Everything Everywhere All at Once is the most powerful argument for risk-taking cinema the year has seen. [Jon Winkler]
There were certainly a number of terrific films we just couldn’t find a place for on our best movies of 2022 list. So here are at least a few of them. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, a haunting coming-of-age screen-life drama written and directed by Jane Schoenbrun. Top Gun: Maverick, the box office ruler of 2022 that reminded us how much fun summer movie season can be when Tom Cruise is in the cockpit. Benediction, a sublime biographical drama written and directed by Terence Davies, in which Jack Lowden makes his case for best male gaze of the year.
The Batman, probably the year’s best superhero film by default, in which Robert Pattinson and Matt Reeves lend their auteur bonafides to a franchise that has seen far too much at this point. The chilling and soothing After Yang, Kogonada’s follow-up to Columbus and further proof that Colin Farrell had a truly stellar year (he was also in The Batman, by the by). Glass Onion, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out spin-off mystery, was a true subversive treat for its return of Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc, aided by a memorable ensemble to rival the previous film.
Our critics certainly enjoyed The Woman King, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s stellar follow-up to The Old Guard, centering Viola Davis at her best and a breakthrough performance from Thuso Mbedu. Despite only just coming out, Avatar: The Way of Water has already captivated our community with its jaw-dropping visual achievements and expected James Cameron flair for the theatrical.
Cha Cha Real Smooth, a Sundance favorite cementing Cooper Raiff as a talent on the rise, not just behind the camera but in front of it as well. And last, Nanny from director Nikyatu Jusu, probably the best horror film of 2022 in all its atmospheric dread, anchored by Anna Diop in what is hopefully a string of unmissable lead performances to come.
Did you have a favorite film of the year that we didn’t include as one of our best movies of 2022? We want to know what it is. Tweet us your personal picks (@InBetweenDrafts) or use the comment section below. In the meantime, we’ll be decompressing before we start all over again this January.
Featured image illustrated by Jon Negroni