The best movies of 2022, from ‘Avatar’ to ‘Everything, Everything’

The movie industry is undergoing a transformation, fueled by declining box-office revenues as more people prefer to watch movies at home. That also calls for a slightly different look back at the movies released in 2022, from the most disappointing to, in this case, the most satisfying.

The majority of the time, this is the case.

“Apollo 10 12: A Space Age Childhood”: Richard Linklater’s rotoscope-animated look back at his childhood growing up in the shadow of NASA is the kind of breezy nostalgic exercise that really captures what life was like back then, when TVs were small and everyone carried a phone everywhere.

13 years later, “Avatar: The Way of Water” returned to Pandora.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” on IMDB: Overcoming skepticism about a 13-year-later encore with a wave of dazzling spectacle, James Cameron transforms a fairly simple story into an epic, state-of-the-art demonstration of movie magic that practically demands you get off the couch, put down the remote, and drive to a theater to see it on the biggest screen you can.

Everything Everywhere All at Once“: Not everything about this foray into alternate universes and paths not taken worked, but this action-comedy-sci-fi mashup was one of the year’s most inventive efforts, happily striking a chord with audiences while showcasing the remarkable Michelle Yeoh and the uplifting comeback of one-time Indiana Jones kid Ke Huy Quan.

In Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans,” Gabriel LaBelle plays Sammy Fabelman.
In Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans,” Gabriel LaBelle plays Sammy Fabelman.
Amblin Entertainment and Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal Pictures
The story of “The Fabelmans”: Steven Spielberg’s deeply personal look at how his childhood experiences shaped him into the filmmaker he became is obviously nostalgic, but it also serves as a welcome ode to the power of film. Despite its disjointed format, the film works as a superhero origin story for a director whose half-century of filmmaking has left so many memorable moments in our memories.

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”: Writer-director Rian Johnson has reloaded while retaining the whimsy, wit, and fun of his original whodunit, with Daniel Craig serving as the lone holdover in a film that should have spent more time in theaters before landing on Netflix.

“Good Luck, Leo Grande” stars Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack.
Sundance Institute provided the footage.
“Best wishes, Leo Grande”: This two-hander for Emma Thompson as a widow who retains a sex worker (Daryl McCormack) and peppers him with questions about his life and work, which was sent directly to Hulu, was sweet, funny, and generally delightful, a little gem in a year with a lot of rhinestones. (As a side note, Thompson is also fantastic in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.”)

“RRR”: Like “Avatar,” don’t be put off by the three-hour-plus running time (you’ll probably watch it on Netflix anyway). This Indian historical fantasy has it all: a lot of energy, wild action sequences, and exhausting dance numbers. A film that draws upon any number of genres, from superhero to western, and still manages to feel fresh and invigorating.

“Till” stars Jalyn Hall as Emmett Till and Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie Till Mobley.
“Till” stars Jalyn Hall as Emmett Till and Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie Till Mobley.
Photographer: Lynsey Weatherspoon/Orion Pictures
“Till”: Danielle Deadwyler’s heartbreaking performance as Mamie Till Mobley, grappling with the murder of her son Emmett in Mississippi in 1955, elevated and renewed attention to this tragic story in a film that sensitively addresses the murder in order to focus on how it gave a civil-rights activist her voice.

“Top Gun: Maverick”: Despite arriving 36 years after the original (apparently, time flies), this sequel waited through the pandemic to share the experience with moviegoers and rewarded them with a stirring flight that gave Tom Cruise a perfectly tuned encore while flying what amounts to a rescue mission for movie theaters. After that, it would be nice to leave well enough alone, but nothing that makes that much money can stay grounded for long.

The young protagonist in Pixar’s “Turning Red” transforms into a giant red panda.
The young protagonist in Pixar’s “Turning Red” transforms into a giant red panda.
“Turning Red” from Disney/Pixar: Pixar hasn’t been treated well by its parent company in the Disney+ era, which explains why this wonderfully warm and very funny coming-of-age story – a genre so overworked that it’s really difficult to do this well – was funneled directly to streaming. The film works on multiple levels, but transforming into a giant panda is a wonderful metaphor for the humiliations and confusion of puberty.

That approach also reflects a year in which many of the traditional awards-bait films were flawed in some way, and some of the highest-profile commercial fare (see “The Batman” and Marvel’s Thor, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange sequels) failed to live up to expectations to varying degrees.

In a movie industry built on franchises and relying on familiar properties, the challenge of pulling off those extensions well is both critical to the industry’s financial health and, creatively speaking, deserves applause when done right.

There were numerous releases this year from acclaimed directors, including Darren Aronofsky, Noah Baumbach, Damien Chazelle, Antoine Fuqua, Martin McDonagh, Sam Mendes, and David O. Russell, that were seen, considered, and didn’t make the cut. With a few exceptions, if there was a bias this year, it was toward films that entertained everyone.

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