While the slate of big movies remains thinner than usual, the best movies of 2022 were electrifying, optimistic reminders of why we adore the cinema.
Twenty Twenty-Two was the return of the blockbuster. For the first time since the dawn of COVID-19, theaters around the world were fully open, revitalizing the viewing experience and allowing bigger pictures to gamble on the box office. While the slate of big movies remains thinner than usual, 2022’s releases were electrifying, optimistic reminders of why we adore the cinema. This year featured biting social commentary cleverly hidden in visually tantalizing crowd pleasers. It’s the year of the multiverse — where auteurs landed large production budgets and went above and beyond with their final product.
Most importantly, the releases of the year carried audiences to different worlds and new heights, a much needed experience after a claustrophobic past two years.
Here are Okayplayer’s best movies of 2022.
10. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Directed by Ryan Coogler)
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever should’ve been split into two parts. One where Wakanda’s grief is given the space it deserves as people mourn their fallen king and another where the analogy of community coalition between Black and brown people under constant government surveillance is given the space it deserves. The most intriguing aspect of Wakanda Forever is the way director Ryan Coogler extrapolates real characteristics of colonialism and the diaspora. For example, the main conflict between Wakanda and the aquatic nation of Talokan, led by the politically sound Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), calls on the history between the real Black Panther Party and the Young Lords as the two organizations came together to defy policing in Chicago. Still, the loss of Chadwick Boseman, tangibly felt by his real-life colleagues, serves as the driving core of the film, providing emotional depth and significant character development for Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Shuri (Letitia Wright).
9. Bodies, Bodies, Bodies (Directed by Halina Reijn)
Jonathan Lynn’s Clue meets Euphoria; Lord of the Flies meets a hybrid between Scream and The Sex Lives of College Girls; Agatha Christie meets Gossip Girl (the glitzy but unwatchable reboot, for the record). In her English-language feature debut, director Halina Reijn rehabilitates the whodunit genre for audiences whose interests circle around A24 and Twitter discourse. Sharp in its wit and dark nihilism, Bodies, Bodies, Bodies is an unrelenting satire about a group of friends who implode over the course of a hurricane-afflicted evening when a party game turns deadly.
Paranoia — aggravated by a claustrophobic mansion setting, impressive lighting effects, past intragroup grudges that the story holds close to its chest until the perfect moment, and enough drugs to supply Studio 54 for a decade — escalates until only the strongest, perhaps least delusional, survive. Starring Amandla Stenberg (who delivers a perfect performance), Rachel Senott, Lee Pace, and Pete Davidson, Bodies, Bodies, Bodies is a timely black comedy that, much like the attention economy it was born of, never stops entertaining.
8. The Woman King (Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood)
Retold with factual liberties, The Woman King recounts an alternate history of the Agojie, an all-female warrior tribe who protected one of the most powerful African states between the 18th and 19th century: the Kingdom of Dahomey. Often narratively confused and sporadically paced, The Woman King finds its footing through its vibrant costume design and transfixing battle choreography. Most notably, the historical drama shines through the diverse emotions portrayed among its talented ensemble cast (featuring Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, John Boyaga, Thuso Mbedu, Sheila Atim, and more) as the script interrogates trauma, both individual and collective.
7. The Batman (Directed by Matt Reeves)
In modern cinema’s superhero-saturated economy, director Matt Reeves accomplished what many have failed to do since Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke: he made Batman interesting. Clearly, various talented directors such as Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton have shouldered the burden of bringing Gotham and its citizens to the silver screen but where Reeves supersedes his successors is by interrogating the psyche of the man behind the mask. More detective neo-noir than formulaic superhero action, Reeves (also a co-writer along with Peter Craig) explores the thin lines between corruption, honor, and greed for an exhilarating and precise thriller horror.
Robert Pattison steps into a grounded, visually stunning Gotham and exceeds all expectations as the caped crusader. Supported by an engaging, charismatic supporting cast such as Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle, Paul Dano as The Riddler, and Colin Ferrell as The Penguin, Pattison proves himself as a formidable — if not the definitive — Batman.
6. Till (Directed by Chinonye Chukwu)
Chinonye Chukwu’s Till, a historical drama that invokes the somber weight of Robert Mulligan’s classic To Kill A Mockingbird, recounts the violent lynching of Emmett Till, while the 14-year-old Chicagoan was visiting his cousins in Mississippi. The film never shies away from the bigger picture of Till’s story. Telling the story from the perspective of Till’s mother reminds the viewer of the gradual progression of how his murder revolutionized the civil rights movement. Danielle Deadwyler steps into the role of Mamie Till-Mobley with unflinching bravery; her performance, notable for its raw physicality, highlights the emotional toll required of the real Till-Mobley to turn her son into a martyr for Black rights in the late 1950s.
5. Wendell & Wild (Directed by Henry Selick)
With his long-awaited return to animation, director Henry Selick delivers a punk rock stop motion overwhelmed with whimsical kinetic magic. While Wendell & Wild is no cult classic along the lines of Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas — it struggles with plot — the film proves to be Selick’s most impactful. Co-written with Jordan Peele, Selick’s screenplay critiques the prison-industrial complex and its insidious branches such as juvenile detention, foster care, and targeting of Black and brown children. Several years after her parents die in a car crash that she blames herself for, Kat (Lyric Strong) ends up at a boarding school where her PTSD manifests as demons — the titular roles played by comedic legends Keegan-Michael Key and Peele — that she must wrangle into submission. With an Indigenous guidance counselor (Tantoo Cardinal) and transgender teen (Sam Zelaya) as a part of the supporting cast, Wendell & Wild raises the bar for representation and subject matter in children’s films.
4. Barbarian (Directed by Zach Cregger)
A solo screen writing and directorial debut, Zach Cregger’s Barbarian was the most disgusting viewing experience of the year. And also the most riveting. In his three-act slasher thriller starring Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long and Richard Brake, Cregger pulls from horror comedy staples like Scream and Evil Dead to create a fun, ’80s-esque domestic nightmare that excites in leaving audiences in the dark. Centered around the repercussions of Ronald Reagan’s America, Barbarian engages with a range of timely topics: sexual assault in the time of #MeToo, white flight, police incompetence, and Airbnb gentrification. While the film prefers to indulge in its surreal disturbia over establishing a solid moral compass, the thematic content is enough to ground the audience in current reality, aggravating anxieties and terror to the point of mental exhaustion.
3. The Northman (Directed by Robert Eggers)
In this epic thriller, director Robert Eggers makes the most of his biggest budget to date to recount a dynamic Viking tale of revenge. Co-written by Icelandic poet Sjón, The Northman excels in its faithful reverence of Scandinavian lore; The film is a vivid historical archive that treats its mythology as life or death while portraying it for modern audiences with visceral, immediate realism. This aspect is carried over to the story where the young Amleth (first portrayed by Oscar Novak and later an iron-hearted Alexander Skarsgård) vows to avenge the murder of his father (Ethan Hawke) by his uncle (Claes Bang) and save his mother (Nicole Kidman). Easily comparable to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Northman is a high-stakes interrogation of fate, bloodlust, honor, and macho fatalism with ambitious and captivating images to match.
2. Nope (Directed by Jordan Peele)
Already well-established as a master of horror with Get Out and Us under his belt, Jordan Peele ventures into genre-exploding science fiction with his latest neo-Western horror. Peele pulls visual (E.T., Akira, Evil Dead, The Shining) and thematic references (The Wizard of Oz, Jaws, Arrival, Creature From The Black Lagoon) from cinematic staples to recount a story of two horse-wrangling siblings — OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) — who try to capture evidence of an alien presence on their ranch. Jarring and withholding, the narrative examines two approaches to spectacle and exploitation in film: where OJ works with animals and understands how to approach a wild creature, former child TV star and current rodeo master Jupe (Steven Yeun) sees animals as sources of money and fame. As the alien monster is referred to as an territorial animal throughout the film, the two approaches determine different fated encounters.
Nope is a film from an auteur who loves cameras, their technical achievements and rich history, but has grown weary of the vain, capitalistic culture they’ve generated throughout the years. While critiquing society’s addiction to spectacle — Who is this show for? Who is being exploited in this production? Why can’t I turn away from this disaster? — Peele made the biggest spectacle of the year by pulling a page out of Steven Spielberg’s book with his most experimental work yet.
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once (Directed by Daniels)
Ambitious and cathartic, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a love letter to Hong Kong cinema; bilingual children who spend their lives translating and living for their parents; queer, first-generation women of color begging for their mother’s approval; and people drowning too deep in regret over past decisions to see that life isn’t the static trap they’ve made it out to be. Living up to its title, the film is a surrealist anarchy that entertains various genre elements such as dark comedy, martial arts action, domestic realism, science fiction, romance, and fantasy. Daniels, a directing-screenwriting duo composed of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, possess an encyclopedic knowledge of film and effectively leverages it for the most bizarre — yet fulfilling — viewing experience of the year.
LaTesha Harris is a writer, producer, and reluctant talking head from Texas who currently resides in Chicago. She has written for NPR, Bitch Media, Variety and Chicago Reader.