The form associated with a ranked best-of-the-year list carries an assumption of objectivity. Some critics will counter this by stating right at the beginning that “art is subjective” as an excuse for where their sensibility overtakes reason. Instead, I have decided to do something different. In addition to my top ten of 2022, there were many great, good, or just decent movies that, for one reason or another, did not make the list. Placing these movies in my top ten, I would have felt like just another whiney voice in the void rather than your supposedly as-distanced-as-possible critic. So this week, we’re all about what I want to spotlight! The following ten films are simply movies (mostly horror, animation, and blockbuster fare) that I liked a lot to varying degrees that I couldn’t quite deem in the ten best of the year.
Kimi (dir. Steven Soderbergh)
While this list is not ranked (the rest is in alphabetical order), I’ve insisted this film be first only because it is the sole reason for this article; if you take nothing else away from this list, remind yourself to watch Kimi because it deserves as much love as I can shower upon it. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven) as an HBO Max original, the film doesn’t find enough praise from critics. Like a modern set version of the John Travolta film Blow Out, Kimi is a tech thriller set during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The protagonist is an agoraphobe (she fears leaving her apartment) unraveling a crime behind the titular Alexa-like voice assistant. In addition to the slick but old-school silly direction, Zoe Kravitz gives an absolutely amazing performance peeling back layers of her character’s psyche in her investigation against forces far beyond her. This movie absolutely has some cheese to it, but I cannot stress enough what a fun ride it makes out of the deep well that is pandemic-era mental health and “big company bad” politics. I debated way too long about including it in my best-of-the-year list only for it to just barely miss the cut, but it still sits as one of my personal favorite watches of 2022.
Avatar: The Way of Water (dir. James Cameron)
Like a few movies on this list, you can find more thorough thoughts in my full review of Avatar: The Way of Water, but more urgently, as of this list’s publishing, you still have scarce moments to find a nearby screening of this film before it leaves theaters. This film was so set up to be a disappointment that I thought that narrative might sour my expectations but truthfully its triumphant energy feels all the more satisfying. As a high frame rate defender, my spotlights of this year’s movies would be incomplete without mentioning the hope that cinema finds a balance from the starting point of this film.
The Bad Guys (dir. John Venzon)
In-person I have overpraised this movie for its child-friendly take on the heist genre that pays homage to Pulp Fiction and Ocean’s Eleven without outright copying anything, including its own shabby source material. On the record, I will simply state that if you’re looking for video game-inspired animation with integrity to resist stooping to the usual Dreamworks-level jokes but with enough energy to satiate your hyperactive child then this is the film for you. Demonstrating solid workbench-like storytelling with a touch of over-the-top editing and silly shenanigans, The Bad Guys cruises into this list for being just a dash cooler than most animation for being the kind of film with enough influences to make it worth introducing to the future cinephile in your life.
Barbarian (dir. Zach Cregger)
While horror just isn’t my preferred genre, 2022 was full of films worth spotlighting within it. As many have pointed out, Barbarian is a dish best served cold, devoid of the heat of context or summary, so I will keep my praise academic and brief. Most online writers have gushed over who the movie chooses to make the enemy (it is immensely unoriginal there, especially in this year) but it is better to highlight underpraised director Zach Cregger, who knows exactly where to place the camera for maximum fear, creating eeriness out of where he knows your eyes are. The audience feels like it is being watched because the camera seems to react to you. It’s dreadfully scary, and of this year’s movies filled with unabashed hatred for privilege, this one definitely takes the cake for bluntness, although a blunt knife here is much more terrifyingly slow to cause pain than a sharp one.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (dir. Rian Johnson)
Although I loved the original Knives Out, somewhere in my soul’s depths I had hoped that Rian Johnson would fail at recapturing its magic in order to expand his horizons as a director past the murder mystery franchise. Instead, as outlined in my review, the sequel reads as far more original than its hamfisted title would suggest. Johnson has a talent in his scripts and direction that his similarly influenced peers (*cough* Colin Trevorrow) should envy; he is unmatched in being able to turn the knowledge of what we want from a film and genre against us while still delighting his audience and revealing depth enough for discussion.
Marcel The Shell With Shoes On (dir. Dean Fleischer Camp)
Unfortunately, you’ll notice next week that no animated movies made it to my best 10 of the year list, although this would be the contender to beat. Although childishly upbeat, this semi-cynical movie about a shell trying to find his family wins my designation as the best-animated film of 2022 (though come Oscar season that might change, stay tuned) for its complex musings on grief, growing up, and finding where one belongs in a world too big to think about. Utilizing slice-of-life anime-like music, soft A24 lighting, and stop motion mixed with live action, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On finds new ground beneath its sneakers. Combining influences (especially in animation) is a reoccurring theme on this list, but Marcel makes its cobbled-together aesthetic entirely unique; its influences are not the best thing about it, but rather their core is used to boost its points. This film also caused the most visually emotional reaction I’ve had to anything in the theater; my sister and I shared the viewing experience of this film through tears in our eyes as we thought about our own relatives and our relationships to them.
The Menu (dir. Mark Mylod)
With an amazing performance from Ralph Fiennes and also Anya Taylor Joy showing up to set, The Menu balances weird B-movie, Twilight Zone energy with its air of sophistication so well as to convince some that this movie wishes to be taken as seriously as suicide. I assure you, it does not, for that would defeat its points. This foodie horror film follows a group of pretentious rich folk as their chef prepares them a dinner composed of an artistic statement extending beyond the bounds of food. This movie is not a scalpel; like Barbarian, it is a dulled knife of self-righteous criticism that proposes the only way to deal with a class divide is violence, an increasingly popular thought that would be easy to dismiss for its lack of complexity in normal B-schlock fashion. Darn though, it does leave you turning over this satisfying meal of a movie in your head long afterward, picking over details and early hints like the last few bites on your plate. Although it isn’t as clever in its direction as Barbarian, The Menu deploys cunning metaphors for a very simple worldview that will surely have you gagging.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (dir. Joel Crawford)
I saw Puss in Boots: The Last Wish as a way to get my girlfriend to go to the theater with me and it ended up being the absolute biggest surprise of my year. Instead of simply depending on the now two-decade-old standards of the Shrek franchise from which it sprung, Puss in Boots uses anime-like (a lot of that going around) action, Spanish-influenced music and production design, and storybook characters to create something that oddly feels like an homage to movie star legend Antonio Banderas.
Unconvinced? Perhaps you are a grown adult who has been stretched too far by my other two animation picks on this list. To separate it from the pack, I will do something I have not done for any of these other movies; I will spoil it. Spoilers: Puss in Boots; The Last Wish is about the main character’s fear of the literal manifestation of death and the arrogance that comes with that fear. Knowing that, if you still don’t want to see this character actually cross blades with death himself, then we have very different ideas of what makes fun moviegoing.
Smile (dir. Parker Finn)
After witnessing a suicide, a fearful doctor finds herself haunted by a supernatural force wearing a terrifying grin. Although many individual films in the soup are good, I hate that the aesthetic of A24 horror, pushed by admittedly talented auteurs like Ari Aster and Ti West, has reduced the genre to slow-crawling movies afraid to dip their toe into simple scariness for fear of not being taken seriously. When I wrote about Smile, the feeling that so delighted and compelled me was that, although it copied the same themes as many of those movies (namely female-focused trauma), this film was deceptively smart behind its rather simple, classical expression. The metaphor was clear, the ideas new but basically showcase, and the filmmaking was, overall, terrifying. This was a banner year for horror with something to add to the conversation, likely because most people don’t go to non-horror, non-superhero movies anyway; if someone wants to get a message out there through film, they have to convey how horrifying the people who don’t agree with that message are, or else (in this case) have you pity those afflicted by not dealing with what the filmmakers consider an issue.
Top Gun: Maverick (dir. Joseph Kosinski)
Lots of sequels on this list! An unexpected treat for the year, Top Gun: Maverick became an unexpected box office juggernaut, owning the summer of 2022 and casting a long shadow upon the blockbusters surrounding it; I may be considered a Marvel fan, but lovers of the MCU will find the gauntlet has been thrown down. Promising (mostly) real thrills rather than computer-generated void, Maverick and Tom Cruise have brought the audience back to late 20th-century filmmaking at its finest, reminding us that we used to go to the movies to see Charlie Chaplin actually endanger his life rather than billion dollar studio bet on surefire odds. If it wasn’t for the aforementioned almost completely CGI blockbuster of the year, the Top Gun sequel would have been the “you need to see it in theaters” experience that should dominate the conversation for years to come in the same breath as every other big-budget action film.