Best of 2022: Top 10 Movies

This has been the year’s final countdown on Vagrant Rant for a decade now, but it’s usually a relative breeze to put together after the competitive stress of the album and videogame lists – which in fairness do tend to require more time investment. But it also rarely feels like the biggest list of the year, despite its prime slot.

And yet here we are. Not since 2014 has my top ten movies ranking been this ridiculously stacked; I probably wouldn’t hesitate to throw the entire thing at last year’s list and watch it displace the majority of 2021 like an Archimedes dream. Three films that provided mentions on both the characters and scenes lists this year don’t even make the overall top ten here. The Black Phone, Elvis and After Yang don’t even make the honorable mentions. I tried to fit them. I don’t know what else to say; it really was so much fun to watch movies in cinemas this year, and that did not seem likely for the majority of this decade thus far.

I finished 2022 with 41 new-release movies in the can – yes, including Morbius – and because I doubt I’ll ever get up to a number that high again, we’re going for a full deck of ten (still un-ordered) honorable mentions to close out the year – hey, that’s still only covering under 50% of what I watched so it doesn’t feel gratuitous, right?

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VR BEST OF 2022 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is as likely as avoiding MCU fatigue. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. The Batman

For the first time in ten years, the best superhero movie of the year came from DC. Anything is possible, folks; especially when a movie looks and sounds this good. Sure, this is a Batman story with eyebrow-raising things to say about Bruce Wayne, his allies and his enemies; and the vast majority of the new classic character interpretations justify themselves. But this isn’t just a comic book – it’s a movie, and I mean, just look at it. You could probably just overlay the red-and-black film logo over the entire film and it would barely look out of place; shadows and blood-red highlights define a stunning vision for Gotham City courtesy of Planet of the Apes trilogy director Matt Reeves. That main score is also evocative and weirdly catchy, and it’s bolstered by the best use of a Nirvana song since Weird Al gargled marbles.

9. The Stranger

This was surely Netflix’s best-ever year for exclusive new films (I’d love to comb through properly and confirm that though), and The Stranger is a compelling start to that argument. Based loosely on a gut-churning true story, this tale of an undercover cop trying to make friends with a slippery drifter suspected of cold murder is rendered scarily relatable by Joel Edgerton’s anxious two-sided performance. Sean Harris is even better as the mark in question, and the cinematography makes the isolating open plains of Western Australia feel as bleak as the claustrophobic interior shots rife with unsettling buzzing. The Stranger is definitely more about the journey than the destination, but what a journey.

8. Nope

For the second time in his career, Nope sees Jordan Peele break free of the expectations placed on him by his prior work: here is a film that inarguably has its horror moments, but is much more interested in using science fiction and monster movie tropes to make a point about the human compulsion to engage with spectacle. The child star sub-story driving that theme home really stuck with me long after the credits rolled, as did the Annihilation-esque creativity displayed by the story’s main antagonistic force. But as ever, what really seals the Peele deal is the cast – in this case a rag-tag bunch of spicy personalities who draw laughs just as easily as gasps. That Saturday-morning-cartoon finale is a real fist-pumper, too.

7. Ambulance

Colour me teal, orange, and shocked all the way through the drive home: Michael Bay has made a good movie once more. With his shiny new drone camera toys along for the white-knuckle ride, Ambulance starts with bubbling tension and tightens the screws every few scenes, soon sending the audience hurtling along at the speed of the titular vehicle and hanging on for dear life. Said vehicle carries four characters, three of which are conscious, two of which are criminals, one of which might very well be a sociopath; you can imagine the Bayhem that ensues. An advertisement for simple action setups if ever there was one.

6. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

No matter what else Glass Onion achieves – spectacular shot composition, lavish set and costume design, murder mystery references wherever you look, deliciously suspicious performances from a wonderful cast – the crowning achievement of this unlikely Knives Out sequel is that it manages to get into the same bracket of quality as the first movie at all by bamboozling audiences yet again. Not only that, but despite a very different cast of colourful characters and a creative new setup, Glass Onion reaches that level with a remarkably similar rug-pull narrative structure, which can only mean one thing if you ask me: Rian Johnson is committed to establishing his own legacy within the mystery genre via a signature formula to call his own. And that’s the most exciting thing of all.

5. The Banshees of Inisherin

Martin McDonagh re-teams with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson from the In Bruges days to deliver a movie about as far from that 2008 cult hit as you might possibly be able to imagine – except perhaps when it comes to the comedic beats: those still go off with effortless speed and precision. An unapologetically Irish character piece with richly rewarding dialogue, stunning environmental cinematography, two legitimately phenomenal performances from Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan to go along with the two leads, and enough teased interpretations to fill a literature semester, The Banshees of Inisherin is easily the movie on this list I’m most eager to discuss over beers with mates – or anyone, really.

4. Everything Everywhere All At Once

When this movie first hit cinemas it was compared relentlessly to Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which I think was unfair to both films, but now that the dust on that easy marketing win has settled we can all sit down and appreciate the insanity of EEAAO. This remarkable movie has definitively announced “the Daniels” to the mainstream via scarcely believable depths of onscreen visual imagination, and the flexibility required of the primary cast only enhances the reputation of all involved (Michelle Yeoh first and foremost, but what a moment for Stephanie Hsu and Ke Huy Quan) If you’ve seen the movie, though, you already know what takes it over the top: never has such a slow beginning to a movie this off-the-wall paid off so powerfully.

3. Avatar: The Way of Water

Following over a decade of intermittent public ridicule and apathy, James Cameron’s long-threatened conceptual blend between his most successful movie ever and his deep passion for real-life diving shenanigans has done that James Cameron thing again. By which I mean it’s amazing. Avatar: The Way of Water is nothing less than a three-hour antidote to years of poor CGI in blockbusters, delivered straight to the veins of anyone willing and able to experience it; “visually spectacular” probably doesn’t cover this one, folks. But it is also much more: a bizarre excuse for Sigourney Weaver to play another cool character, an indulgently nerdy showcase for sick creature and mech designs, a rare film about a family where every family member actually receives time in the spotlight, a more-than-competent reset for what will now be a full-on franchise. See it in 3D and high frame rate, please.

2. Top Gun: Maverick

In the post-Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol phase of Tom Cruise’s career, it is no surprise to see a Top Gun sequel take such a devilishly real-world approach; this is the kind of film where an aerial shot with Miles Teller’s hand on the cockpit glass is kept in the edit because another take would mean an hour of landing the very real plane, resetting the frame and taking off again. Every sequence above-ground raised me an inch above my seat; the song from the first movie that gets reused may be Danger Zone, but this sequel actually did take my breath away (pause for applause). That said, the real surprise is the earnest heart of the film; an incredibly basic plot succeeds at its inter-generational communication message more than it has any right to. Then it’s back into the air and back to me wondering if I’ll survive the runtime.

1. RRR

This has been a top ten list big on surprising sources of spectacle, and I can’t think of a more fitting capstone to that theme than S.S. Rajamouli’s unbelievably entertaining achievement. RRR‘s flavour of spectacle doesn’t bring the computer wizardry of Avatar 2, the relentlessness of Ambulance, the artistic commitment of The Batman, the kaleidoscopic breadth of EEAAO, the allegorical richness of Nope, or the disbelief-inducing practicality of Maverick. What it does bring is production scale to rival any of these other great movies, a ridiculously clean high-res presentation that made me check I hadn’t unknowingly unlocked a secret extra Netflix subscriber tier, and a series of action set pieces so deadly serious in their absurdity that I couldn’t help but be swept up. Layered on top of all of that is maybe the best cinematic bromance I’ve ever seen? I laughed, I cheered, I cried, I cheered again, I added this one to the top of my list.

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Honorable Mentions

–Prey

A Comanche tribe in early 18th century America with its own internal power dynamics and relationships is attacked by an alien Predator. Brutal deaths happen; one of them fights back with traps, arrows and forest knowledge. It’s awesome.

–Kimi

Steven Soderbergh is back in the thriller saddle at last, and this time he’s decided that casting Zoë Kravitz as an agoraphobe and turning the real-world anxiety levels up to about 13 is a fun way to grip an audience. He’s not wrong. Putting a key in a door has never looked this daunting on film before.

–Hustle

Adam Sandler’s ageing-obsessive dramatic character archetype is becoming a pretty regular source of quality nowadays, and injecting it into a sports movie is a brilliant move that pays off handsomely thanks to the help of some slick editing – and a couple of real basketballers who surprisingly don’t suck that much at acting.

–No Exit

Quite simply one of the best uses of limited film resources I’ve ever seen, this tight 90-minute thriller proves that slick moviemaking on a budget is still possible. The inspired mix of underrated veteran character actors and relative newcomers combine to elevate the sizzling tension.

–The Menu

One of those “is this making a joke from a distance, is it indulging in the joke too much, or is it the joke?” kind of movies, but it’s also consistently gripping, morbidly hilarious at multiple points, has John Leguizamo in it, and ends with the best final shot of the year.

–The Northman

At times unflinchingly brutal, often ponderously slow, always stunning to look at, this grounded-in-the-mud take on Norse mythology probably won’t make too many new Robert Eggers fans but I absolutely loved it.

Bullet Train

2022 gave us two movies with Sandra Bullock, Brad Pitt and Channing Tatum in them, but as much as I desperately want to give the laugh-out-loud physical comedy of The Lost City a shout-out, only one of those two movies contained a giant inflatable mascot trying to kill people.

–The Bad Guys

Turning Red may be a reliably heartwarming ’90s cringe throwback, but the only animated movie to make this year’s de facto top 20 (who have I become) just has to be The Bad Guys. It starts fun and just never stops being fun; DreamWorks’ best in a long ti- wait what do you MEAN the new Puss in Boots is good I DON’T HAVE TIME TO WATCH THAT

–The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

This movie will surprise you – especially whenever Pedro Pascal is onscreen – but ultimately the reason why it works is right there in the marketing: Nicholas Cage is still a really entertaining actor after all these years, and he has very little shame.

–Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Probably the biggest sign of how the movie scene changed in 2022 is that this is the only MCU film to get a mention, but there’s no way I could just ignore it. If not for that ghastly tire screech of an opening act, Sam Raimi’s glorious camp horror show probably would have made the main list.

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