The big 2022 film story is the return of James Cameron’s Avatar. As you will see later in this article, Avatar: The Way of Water has a dubious distinction on my year-end lists.
The film is memorialized in the illustration, by my brother, Mike Grimm. That’s me dropping money-food into the deliriously boring James Cameron’s Avatar Aquarium of Lies. (Mike is riffing on a putdown from my Way of Water review.) Mike contemplated putting 3-D glasses on my caricature, but opted instead for the glazed, lost look of my naturally despondent eyes.
But enough about Avatar … for now.
Most of this year’s best films were artier stuff, and that’s fine by me. This Top 10 list can stand up to any of my Top 10 lists over the last decade; it was a great film year. That said, the Worst 10 list is just as hearty, and includes of stuff so monumentally bad that it could destroy franchises and streaming services.
Welp … I’ve droned on long enough in this intro. Here be the lists!
1. The Banshees of Inisherin: Writer-director Martin McDonagh solidifies himself as one of the finest current filmmakers with this tale of a dude (Colin Farrell) who has suddenly become way too dull for his friend (Brendan Gleeson). It’s the year’s finest example of filmmaking all-around, from its terrific performances to its fantastic art direction. A triumph on all fronts.
2. The Fabelmans: Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical look at his family growing up, and how he basically became a filmmaker, is must-see viewing for anybody who respects one of the greatest directors to walk the Earth. As great as it is, it was a box-office bomb and is already available on streaming services. That makes me sad.
3. Aftersun: One of the year’s more thought-provoking films, Aftersun reminisces about a final holiday trip for a father and his daughter through the prism of her memories. Told in a dreamlike way by writer-director Charlotte Wells, it’s the year’s most heartbreaking movie.
4. Everything Everywhere All at Once: It came out earlier in the year and was thankfully not forgotten, as it is doing well with the critics’ groups. Michelle Yeoh is phenomenal in this twisted adventure that saw the return of Ke Huy Quan (Short Round!). An instant classic.
5. Bones and All: Just when you’ve had it up to here with cannibal movies, director Luca Guadagino comes at you with a bloody new twist. Timothee Chalamet, Taylor Russell and Mark Rylance are at their best as people with a physiological curse that leads them to eat freshly dead people’s stomachs. It’s all very interesting, truly gross and oddly romantic at times.
6. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio: While Avatar is getting a lot of attention for its visual effects, not enough is being said about the accomplishment that is this stop-motion masterpiece. Guillermo del Toro manages something out of this world here, and he didn’t need 13 years to make it happen.
7. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery: This one improves mightily on the original and takes the whodunnit franchise into hilarious new territories thanks to a stellar cast including Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monae, Kate Hudson and Dave Bautista in his best role yet.
8. All Quiet on the Western Front: This is one of the greatest war movies ever made. This third film take on the classic novel is the first in German—and it is the best.
9. Triangle of Sadness: One of the year’s most-overlooked films, this is a crazy, dark and sickly funny satire of the rich, social media and yachting. Woody Harrelson does some of his best work yet as a blotto sea captain who is constantly drunk and hooked on cheeseburgers.
10. The Menu: Cheeseburgers also figure prominently in this one, featuring Ralph Fiennes as a committed chef who has reached the end of the line. Anya Taylor-Joy is typically divine as somebody unfortunate enough to be dining at his place on a night when he’s in a really bad mood.
Doing just 10 for your “best of” list is so cliché. Let’s take this mother to 20. Well, technically, 21!
11 and 12. Pearl and X: These are two pretty darned good, interconnected horror films from Ti West. While I really liked X, I liked Pearl even more, and I firmly believe Mia Goth deserves an Oscar for what she does in it. It will never happen, but it should.
13. Nope: Jordan Peele continues to rock out in his own weird sub-genre of horror, and his masterful streak continues. I like this one even more months after seeing it.
14. The Bob’s Burgers Movie: One of this year’s very best animated movies, and a fine musical to boot. It increased my appreciation for the TV show and the ongoing great works of creator Loren Bouchard.
15. Tár: Cate Blanchett is her always-awesome self in this spellbinder that goes to some surprising places. Conducting orchestras is hard! Really hard!
16. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent: Nicolas Cage plays himself in what is essentially the year’s best buddy movie, with Pedro Pascal, aka The Mandalorian. It’s good to see Cage get his freak on.
17. Clerks 3: Writer-director Kevin Smith delivers his most emotionally satisfying comedy yet, giving his two infamous convenience-store clerks a fitting conclusion. Or is it? You never really know with Mr. Smith.
18. Top Gun: Maverick: This is the year’s best “big” movie, and Tom Cruise continues to amaze at just how absolutely bonkers he is. He’s going to blow up or fall way too far one of these days. Enjoy these spectacles while he lasts.
19. Barbarian: Hats off to the makers of this creepy-crawly movie, one that had me constantly disoriented and clueless about what was coming next. I love when movies mess me up in a good way.
20. Prey: Did you ever think you would see a good Predator movie again? I certainly didn’t. Thanks, Hulu!
21. Emily the Criminal: What’s criminal in the cinematic world is that Aubrey Plaza doesn’t get enough accolades for her constantly impressive work. It’s her best movie since Safety Not Guaranteed.
The Stanky Worst
1. Avatar: The Way of Water: I hate to be predictable, but my hatred of all things Avatar has continued with this useless, overly long, padded sequel that does nothing but set the stage for unending yet-to-come chapters in this bland universe. We have forever lost James Cameron to the creative wasteland of Pandora.
There’s a character called Spider in this movie, a human teenage boy who wants to be a Na’vi. He paints himself blue and gives himself dreadlocks while frolicking with the people of Pandora. I maintain that all of the Na’vi could’ve been like Spider—just humans with some paint and dreadlocks. The movie would’ve been the same boring dreck, minus all of that effort and money they put into motion-capture suits and CGI. Just have a bunch of people running around in dreads and blue paint, and call it a day. It’s basically the same thing.
I legit despise this movie with passion, and the general popularity of this shit makes me feel like a funky alien on my own planet.
2. Black Adam: James Gunn and company are currently in the DC factory shaking everything up, and garbage like this mundane movie featuring Dwayne Johnson would be the reason. Say goodbye to Johnson’s Black Adam, Henry Cavill’s Superman, Batgirl, Gal Gadot’s next Wonder Woman, and more. Mr. Gunn will hopefully put an end to the crapfest. His wonderful Peacemaker series and his take on The Suicide Squad provide hope.
3. Disenchanted: Here’s the year’s other long-awaited sequel (this one took 15 years compared to Avatar: The Way of Water’s 13 years), and both needed to stay in hiding. An enthusiastic Amy Adams can’t hide the discombobulated script and terrible music in this slandering of all that was once good.
4. Blonde: Ana de Armas works hard in a film about the exploitation of Marilyn Monroe. The movie doesn’t earn her performance, and ironically, it kind of exploits de Armas in the process. One of the year’s drearier viewing experiences.
5. Samaritan: Me before the movie: Sylvester Stallone as a former superhero in hiding who is discovered and stalked by a neighborhood kid? That sounds cool! Bring it! Me after 15 minutes of the movie: OK, scratch that. I was wrong. This is shit.
6. Bodies Bodies Bodies: A lot of critics loved all over this tongue-in-cheek horror movie. I just snored.
7. The Pale Blue Eye: Christian Bale and director Scott Cooper have done good together before (Hostiles, Out of the Furnace), but this strange mystery/horror film involving Edgar Allen Poe is a hilariously bad misfire.
8. Firestarter: Stephen King’s movie about a fire-starting kid was ripe for a remake, but this remake was rotten.
9. Where the Crawdads Sing: I have a lot of good friends who loved the book and excitedly asked me if I liked this movie adaptation. I broke a lot of hearts this year, as did this film.
10. Crimes of the Future: After a nice detour into solid dramas (Eastern Promises, A History of Violence), David Cronenberg returns to his body horror roots. Alas, it’s unwatchable, seeming proof that sometimes you can’t go home, especially when that home involves graphically removing organs during live theater.
The Grimmy Awards
Best Actors: Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin; Ralph Fiennes, The Menu; Paul Mescal, Aftersun; Austin Butler, Elvis; Gabrielle LaBelle, The Fabelmans
Best Actresses: Mia Goth, Pearl; Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once; Cate Blanchett, Tár; Anya Taylor-Joy, The Menu; Aubrey Plaza, Emily the Criminal
Best Supporting Actors: Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin; Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once; Edward Norton, Glass Onion; Paul Dano, The Fabelmans; Woody Harrelson, Triangle of Sadness
Best Supporting Actresses: Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin; Carey Mulligan, She Said; Jessie Buckley, Women Talking; Claire Foy, Women Talking; Janelle Monae, Glass Onion
Best Director: Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin
Best Injector: The guy at Costco who gives me my COVID boosters. He’s a real sweet guy!
Most Overrated Films: Avatar: The Way of Water; The Whale; Till
Most Underrated: Emily the Criminal; Triangle of Sadness; Clerks 3; Spirited
Most Underwear: Babylon (The cast is huge, so I’m guessing there’s a gigantic quantity of undergarments. A lot of nudity, too, not to mention vomiting.)
Best Actor in a Bad Movie: Christian Bale, The Pale Blue Eye
Best Actress in a Bad Movie: Ana de Armas, Blonde
Worst Actor in a Good Movie: Tom Hanks, Elvis
Worst Actress in a Good Movie: Natalie Portman, Thor: Love and Thunder
Worst Sounds Ever Created by a Rock Group: The harmony of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Fuck those guys!
Best Animated Movies: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio; The Bob’s Burgers Movie; the return of Beavis and Butt-head!
Best Guilty Pleasure: Jackass Forever
Best Guilty Ledger: The cooked books of Al Capone!
Best Cinematography: The Banshees of Inisherin; Top Gun: Maverick
Worst Scientology: Tom Cruise. Always Tom Cruise. Tom, I love ya … but come on, man.