And so, we close this year’s Listmas series with our Best Films list. A pretty important one, too, given that it marks the first full year of theatrical releases since the pandemic burst onto the scene. This was what studios had been salivating for from the very second that the plague made itself known – seriously, never forget the industry lobbied hard in the early days to re-open cinemas ASAP despite COVID getting worse and worse – and the last of the major pre-pandemic holdovers would rub shoulders with movies made entirely in this new abnormal. Blockbusters whose entire production pipeline would have to factor COVID precautions into proceedings, hopefully with the initial kinks put on full poorly-composited display by Spider-Man: No Way Home dealt with, yet still left with the monumental task of getting audiences accustomed to home comforts over the various lockdowns back into the cinema.
We’ll look at whether that was all a success on the financial side of things in the State of the US Box Office Report next week; the unofficial epilogue to Listmas. On the creative side of things, though? Yeah, 2022 was a pretty alright year for something which still felt like a transitional period. Perhaps tellingly, the biggest films of the year, both in terms of ephemeral Film Twitter word-of-mouth and tangible audience money, were throwbacks to one degree or another. Movies which leaned hard into the tangible spectacle that only really gets done proper justice on the biggest screens and loudest sound-systems imaginable. Whether that be the exhilarating rush of screaming through the skies in a fighter jet, the unbearable tension of being watched from upon high by some wild animal with near-Lovecraftian forms, or the personification of vengeance bearing down on you as what looks like the searing flames of Hell waft behind him.
But maybe what’s most notable was how these kinds of experiences didn’t always need $170 million budgets thrown at them. You can, in fact, provide ultra-satisfying old-fashioned historical epic drama on a budget well under a third of that. You can launch an all-new slasher franchise with, even by the horror genre’s frugal standards, a microbudget. Hell, you can even make the year’s most inventive, acclaimed, and talked-about film and only spend (at most) a third of it outside of the same redressed IRS office set! At the end of the day, talent wins out. Well, usually anyway. Below are our writers’ favourite movies of the past twelve months. We’d love to know what cinematic experiences stuck the most with you in 2022. Give us a shout on social media before the mediocre tech bro who tried to buy himself popularity ruins it forever (a joke which shall remain timeless since it applies to ALL OF THEM WACKA WACKA)!
Happy new year, folks. Thanks for sticking with us at any point over the last five years. Hopefully we got a few more of those to come.
P.S. Lee Thacker fucked around on the pitch stage and found out; in case you’re wondering. – Callie Petch
Top Gun: Maverick
The list of sequels that are better than the original is a short one, though admittedly ever-growing in the modern age of mass franchise resurrection, thanks more to bulk than anything else. But Top Gun: Maverick is a title more than worthy of being added to that list.
A movie no one asked for and even less thought would be any good; the original is a piece of film history, and some sordid cash-cow sequel from a studio desperate for something to sell boded ill. But then we got something spectacular. Taking the core of the original – everything that made it great – into the world of today, it managed to pay tribute to a classic without ever being a nostalgia-fest. Audiences were left breathless from cheering outlandish heroism as well as jaw dropping aerial stunts.
All that being said, one thing alone makes this movie one of the greats of 2022: Tom Cruise. It’s mind boggling how hard the man works. He’s clearly prepared to do whatever it takes to deliver an action film more dizzying than a 4G inverted dive. Keep your over-the-top superhero final fight, or characters mugging to the audience every time they throw out an Easter egg, Maverick, and Cruise, reminds us that real thrills happen when actors engage with their audience. – Paul Regan
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Bones and All
When Call Me by Your Name collaborators Luca Guadagnino and Timothée Chalamet announced they were working on a cannibal drama together, no-one knew what was coming. Armie Hammer was likely inconsolable at the thought of missing out, but the rest of us leant forward with quiet intrigue. The result was Bones and All, a low-key powerhouse that uses cannibalism as the basis for a well-layered and unexpectedly emotional romance.
As Chalamet dominates the frame like the Gen-Z heartthrob he is, co-star Taylor Russell nails the fish-out-of-water flesh-eater whose journey takes us around the very edge of society. The more her character evolves, the more her view makes sense, and the more distant and disorientating the real world becomes. It’s a cool choice by Guadagnino that drives the dreamlike tone. And yes, that is Trent Reznor’s beautiful baritones drifting over the credits, while Guadagnino’s use of a KISS track on film is probably the greatest KISS needle-drop of all time.
Entirely unafraid to spin off into 80’s-style horror and incorporating societal metaphors ranging from on the nose (society eating itself) to deep and probing (the struggles of addiction, race, class, and LGTBQ+), Bones and All charges and challenges its audience from minute one. – Nicholas Lay
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I’d always meant to get round to watching a Jordan Peele movie, thanks to the heaps of praise I’d seen given over to them, but I’d never actually found the time to do so. Due to a mix up I ended up being sent a copy of his latest film, NOPE, to review for this very site and I’m incredibly grateful that someone put the wrong DVD into my parcel. From the very first scene I knew that there was something special about NOPE and, as the film progressed. that feeling only grew and grew. Peele manages to create a story that demands your entire attention, that encourages multiple viewings, and leaves you feeling shocked and awed.
NOPE is easily the best UFO movie ever made, and future film fans will talk about it with the same reverence and awe that is given to films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It has an important message and relevant themes deftly woven throughout, with mesmerising performances and visuals to help deliver them. That is, unless you’re the kind of internet clout chaser that the film is critiquing, in which case it might just go over your head. – Amy Walker
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Everything Everywhere All at Once
Ever since the pandemic shuttered the film industry, I’ve been missing those experiences. You know the ones. The ones where you come out of a movie like some kind of evangelical who’s received a blessed touch from a higher power, electrifying and intoxicating, that it becomes the only thing your brain can think about for weeks on end. They were already drying up before outside circumstances hastened the drought, but especially after coming back they feel so much rarer than before. A movie industry trapped in an IP ouroboros lacking soul.
Or, perhaps, the reserves of such experiences had been cleaned out by DANIELS for Everything Everywhere All at Once, since their masterpiece of a sophomore feature is an almost non-stop barrage of moments designed to make a viewer exclaim “CINEMA!” in pure wonderstruck awe. Glorious inventive absurdism with a film-geek’s magpie eye for combining disparate references and genres into a maximalist package which – for all the hotdog fingers, butt-plug trophies, bagel black holes, and decade-late Ratatouille parodies – explores real sincere feelings of loneliness, alienation, nihilism, and disappointment shot through a pure hopeful heart. Few pieces of media so far this decade have managed to conjure up an image as richly-moving and profound in meaning as Everything does with just two googly-eyed rocks sat overlooking a desert’s cliff-edge.
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For all of its weirdness and initial efforts to utilise that absurdity as a defence mechanism, DANIELS’ film is the definition of accessible earnest popcorn cinema. A movie with culturally-specific details out the wazoo and an all-you-can-eat buffet’s level of ideas flying from all angles, yet one with a universality and focused scale required to frequently reach moments of true transcendence. That’s not even getting into the career-best performances from Michelle Yeoh, who puts on both a complete retrospective with the many Evelyns and also demonstrates that her emotional range still has many untapped stars to explore; Ke Huy Quan, in his full first performance for two decades and almost stealing the entire damn film; and Stephanie Hsu, with the definition of a star-making breakout performance. I saw this movie three times at the cinema and, frankly, that still feels like at least twenty times too few. These are the movie experiences I live for and nothing else in 2022 was in the same multiversal cluster as Everything. – Callie Petch
Bullet Train is not the best film of 2022, but it may be the most fun and the most stylish. Two English hitmen have to collect $10 million and a mob boss’s son and deliver him to Kyoto, having travelled in the titular train from Japan. Meanwhile an American assassin is coming back from sick leave and being eased back in with an easy job collecting the same money. At the same time, a grief-stricken father is trying to find the person who almost killed his son, whilst a young woman dressed as a schoolgirl may (or may not) be pulling the strings.
Fast paced, funny, with inventive action taking advantage of its confined environment; elements of farce, as side characters enter and exit almost at will, with our characters dealing with a range of personal ticks that only add to the chaos. Directed by David Leitch (he of the first John Wick), the film is frenetic, fresh, and almost Tarantino-esque in some of its stylings. It is also highly recommended. – Dave Bond
Given that the character of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego has been rebooted, remade and reimagined so many times over the last few decades, it says a lot about how impactful Matt Reeves’ new take on the character was that it was amongst the very best films of the year. After Gothic interpretations from Tim Burton, epic action dramas from Christopher Nolan, and placing him into a heightened DC universe by Zack Snyder, Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig managed to do something that we hadn’t seen enough of with live action Batman and finally placed him into a grandiose detective story.
While the film was dotted with occasionally memorable action, here was a blockbuster with not only storytelling smarts, delivering a comic book movie with a different flavour to those that had come before. But it was also one filled to the brim with atmosphere, an effectively constructed mystery, and filtered through character and plot that made it an enthralling viewing experience. Its three-hour run time might have seemed a lot, but The Batman made great use of it and in the casting of Pattinson, Kravitz, Dano, Wright and Farrell, managed to put into the ether newly fresh and soon to be iconic interpretations of characters that have been in our lives forever. – Eamon Hennedy
The Predator franchise has been a mixed bag, with the quality of its various sequels being… shaky, to say the least. There have been good moments and bad over the years, but even the highs have failed to capture that special magic the first film had. With the latest entry in the series, Prey, the decision was made to stop telling sequels, and go back. Way back. Set hundreds of years ago, in the Comanche nation, it tells the story of Naru, a young woman who wants to emulate her brother and become a warrior for her people.
Over the course of the film we see Naru fail and adapt, learning and evolving, become a better hunter and warrior; and these are the skills that she uses to take down the alien hunter out to kill her. It’s a huge change for the series, but one that breathes amazing life back into it. Thanks to a story and characters that are actually engaging, some amazing visuals, and stunning music, it may actually rate higher for me than the first film (heresy, I know). The fact that you can also watch the movie in Comanche is also a fantastic feature which makes this a little extra special. – Amy Walker
The Worst Person in the World
It’s hard enough to find a millennial romance that not only captures the complexity of our social currency, it also must find time to dig deep and find and bring about an emotional potency along with bringing about charm, humour, and pathos. The Worst Person in the World harbours all these things with a warmth unrivalled by anything else I saw in 2022.
Joachim Trier’s final instalment of his ‘Oslo Trilogy’ follows Julie (Renate Reinsve) who is doing all she can to navigate finding the right career for her many talents while also struggling to find love. As simple as the basic story is, Trier’s film is anything but, nailing the anxieties and pressurised social contracts that are placed about young adults once their twenties become a reflection in life’s rear-view mirror.
A film that’s quite happy to wrap itself in visual whimsy, The Worst Person in the World works best when it captures the nervous, unsure moments of life and love. From missed chances with partners, to the frustration of truly not knowing what to do with one’s life. Full of vibrancy but unafraid to face the trials of intimacy head on, the thoughts and feelings of The World Person in the World stayed with me throughout the year and will challenge maybe for years after. – Leslie Byron Pitt
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The Phantom of the Open
Phantom of the Open tells the story of Maurice Flitcroft. What? That needs further explanation? Okay, well it is no surprise he is not a household name. The film is based on Simon Farnaby’s book The Phantom of the Open: Maurice Flitcroft, The World’s Worst Golfer. A happily married man with a lovely family, Maurice (Mark Rylance) sees some golf on the TV and tells his encouraging wife, Jean (Sally Hawkins) that he would like to have a go at that. With no background in the sport, and no real aptitude for the game, he enters qualifying for the 1976 Open Championship.
After a truly, well, amateur performance, the rules are changed to prevent a figure like Maurice ever entering again. From there he gets creative, turning up in disguises, and with false names. All of this while staying incredibly good natured and wanting to have a go at something that makes him happy. Quite simply, he is too naïve to understand that he is not talented enough for a professional tournament, yet he not only enjoys himself, but he provides the greatest example to his children about never giving up. A tiny curio of a film, it is a lot of fun. – Dave Bond
Coming in a year that has been very impressive for horror movies, writer/director Ti West (House of the Devil) was going to have to make something pretty unique and interesting to stand out amongst the likes of Smile, Barbarian and Terrifier 2. Fortunately, it’s safe to say that West managed that with X. A late 70s-set, old-school slasher that has all the hallmarks of a future classic of the genre. Not only does it have the shocks, sex and gore that horror fans crave, it also has rewatch value; each viewing you will notice something different that you hadn’t noticed on previous watches. A touch that will make the audience enjoy X over and over again.
For the uninitiated, X concerns a group of filmmakers who travel to Texas to make an adult film and end up staying in a cabin owned by an elderly couple. When the cast and crews’ hosts find out what they are up to, the team on this adult movie end up fighting for their lives in the middle of nowhere. Featuring a solid cast – including future scream queen Jenna Ortega and Mia Goth, the latter in a brilliant dual-performance – X turned out to be a real favourite among horror fans and cinema-goers in 2022. West later surprised everyone with a stealth-made prequel, Pearl; already released to acclaim in the US with a UK release expected in March 2023. His darkly comical, sex-fuelled and satisfyingly gory tale could become the next major horror franchise and, if you’re a horror film fan, the X success story would be more than welcome. – Adam Massingham
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The Woman King
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Gina Prince-Bythewood’s excellent historical epic is how old-fashioned it feels. Was it really so long ago that this kind of swashbuckling, character-centric, tactile blockbuster used to be the norm? Where set pieces came second to engaging interpersonal drama? Archetypal characters granted depth and total emotional sincerity that they rise above and become compelling? A cast allowed to frequently be wrong with a need to grow and change from those flaws? Sets that have a distinct tangibility to them and action which is weighty and satisfyingly intense? A movie unafraid to dive headfirst into heavy themes – like the culpability of certain African tribes in the transatlantic slave trade and their efforts to move past and atone for such actions (even if the historical accuracy in-film is dubious at best) – in an accessible manner that sees them through to the end, rather than shoving them into a corner the second they risk derailing the fun? Is… is this all allowed? Are blockbusters still capable of doing this?
Turns out: yes, at least if you’re Gina Prince-Bythewood. The director’s recent career resurrection has revealed her to be highly adept at this kind of throwback blockbuster filmmaking and, with the Netflix-y hands which restrained The Old Guard from true greatness now nowhere in sight, The Woman King is a thrilling showcase of what she can do. It’s been an absolute age since I’ve seen a third act crest into view and felt my blood rush with total glee over what’s about to happen like it did here. And, in keeping with those old-fashioned blockbusters, this thing is a veritable fountain of Movie Star-making performances running on limitless resources of charisma; Lashana Lynch, Thuso Mbedu, Sheila Atim, being backed up by John Boyega and a commanding Viola Davis.
They don’t make ‘em like they used to? Turns out, sometimes, they do. Let’s maybe let that happen a little more often. – Callie Petch
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Never has one man’s late-onset midlife crisis been so entertaining – yet also so very painful – to watch. Michael Flatley has seen fit to deliver us an utter disasterpiece spectacular, where not only his ego but also his bank balance are writing cheques which his movie making skills sadly can’t cash. Blackbird truly is the ultimate vanity project, with the Lord of the Dance himself hanging up his tap shoes, and swapping them for an improbably large number of different hats, both in front of and behind the camera. Yes, Flatley has delivered us a textbook great bad movie, enthralling in all the wrong ways, failing to deliver on almost any level, yet utterly captivating and addictive, albeit for all the wrong reasons.
Hindered by only getting a limited theatrical release, Blackbird’s recent arrival on all good VOD platforms means that it will get the wider exposure that it so richly deserves, and we can all enjoy large helpings of both turkey and ham this Christmas. Having played to packed houses at London’s Prince Charles Cinema, it seems that Blackbird is destined to become a future cult classic, with a devoted, Rocky Horror-type following. I spy a bright future for this flick. – Lee Thacker