David Chen's Top 10 Films of 2022
Because you can't evaluate the films of the year until after the year is over, right?
It’s the new year! 2023! Which means it’s time for me to take a look back at my 10 favorite films of 2022. Why wait until the new year to do this when pretty much every other respectable critic published their list weeks ago? Because I spent the last few weeks cramming in movie viewings to prepare for The Filmcast’s top 10 episode and I’m not going to let all that work go to waste.
[Fair warning: I suspect I’ll have one or two other “best of 2022” posts showing up here on Decoding Everything in the next week or so, at which point I’ll finally feel like I’ve gotten 2022 out of my system.]
Without further ado, let’s begin. Oh, and feel free to let me know what your top 10’s are in the comments!
10. Athena (dir. Romain Gavras) - A 13-year old boy has been murdered by law enforcement officers and Athena covers the aftermath of that death inside a housing complex in France. The film takes place in mostly long continuous shots with intricate choreography and meticulous compositions. It features one of the best opening shots of any film this year (probably of the past few years). And while I didn’t love the script, which doesn’t match the urgency and depth of the filmmaking on display — particularly towards the end — that doesn’t change the fact that this is some of the most bravura work I’ve seen this year.
Athena is available on Netflix.
9. Fire of Love (dir. Sara Dosa) - Fire of Love is about two volcanologists, Katia and Maurice Kraft, who spent two decades studying volcanoes — how volcanoes physically function and how humans can avoid their wrath. The footage in the movie, most of which comes from their archives, is incredible. One of the thing that attracted the Kraft’s to volcanoes is the idea that next to a volcano a human is so insignificant. You get to experience the enormity of time through these things, and that’s part of what this movie allows the viewer to be able to vicariously do.
But Fire of Love is also a love story. At one point in the movie, Miranda July’s narration intones the following:
A set of forces collide inside the planet throughout the enormity of geologic time to trigger one instant, an eruption that forever re-shapes the Earth. And across humanity's two million years, two tiny humans are born in the same place at the same time and they love the same thing. And that love moved us closer to the Earth.
We can’t understand what forces in the universe brought these two people together. But we can be grateful that it happened.
Fire of Love is available on Disney+.
8. All Quiet on the Western Front (dir. Edward Berger) - Edward Berger’s adaptation of the German novel of the same name takes some real creative liberties with the source material. The original book was about German soldiers’ inability to adapt to civilian life, but this new version on Netflix is less about that and more about the horrors of war more generally and how large the gulf is between the old men giving the orders and the young men dying for them. It is the most gut-wrenching and horrifying movie about war I’ve seen since Saving Private Ryan and while Germany is no longer the center of international turmoil, the story it tells is sadly relevant today.
All Quiet on the Western Front is available on Netflix.
7. RRR (dir. S.S. Rajamouli) - My biggest regret this year was not making it out to a in-person screening of RRR. SS Rajamouli’s action epic has everything movie has everything: spectacular over-the-top action; British colonalists getting their comeuppance; and pure, unabashed male friendship. Most importantly, in a world that feels overwhelmed by cynicism, RRR is earnest. It’s okay with being cheesy. It’s okay with being heartfelt and fun. It’s okay with all its characters breaking out into song and dance every once in a while. In a year where people are really looking for a good time, it’s the perfect movie.
RRR is available on Netflix.
6. Prey (dir. Dan Trachtenberg) - I’m just in awe of the vision it took to make this movie. Dan Trachtenberg went out into the middle of the woods to film an action movie set hundreds of years ago with an all-Native cast…that also happens to be set in the Predator universe. The resulting film is a kickass action epic that contributes meaningfully to Predator’s lore and sets up the franchise for countless intriguing possibilities. That Predator was a franchise hugely influential to Trachtenberg himself makes Prey feel like a beautiful full-circle moment.
Prey is available on Hulu.
5. Babylon (dir. Damien Chazelle) - Many Academy Award-winning filmmakers this year seem to be experiencing anxiety about the state of the movie industry. This phenomenon has manifested through different films, including Steven Spieblerg’s The Fabelmans, Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light, and to a much lesser extent Innaritu’s Bardo. Of all of them, Babylon is my favorite. Covering the tumultuous time in Hollywood between the silent film era and the introduction of sound technology, Babylon feels alive in every frame. It tries to capture the the beauty, the exhilaration, the promise, and the intrigue of Hollywood, while also being showing its depravity and its tendency to annihilate people. It is the most movie movie that I saw in 2022.
Babylon is currently in theaters.
4. Top Gun: Maverick (dir. Joseph Kosinski) - As much as I enjoyed Maverick as an action film, I really loved it as a metaphor for Tom Cruise’s career. Here’s a guy who has continued to thrive in an era of superhero- and IP-driven blockbusters (I’m aware Top Gun is a sequel, but still). And yes, there’s a ton of CG in this film. But Tom Cruise also knows at the end of the day, the audience wants to see something real. We want to see a human being do a cool thing in an actual place, as opposed to on a green screen soundstage. And sometimes, that cool thing is a billionaire scientologist flying fighter jets and running really, really fast.
Top Gun: Maverick is currently streaming on Paramount+.
3. Triangle of Sadness (dir. Ruben Östlund) - I think we as a society are in the midst of manifesting a bunch of anxiety about class through pop culture (just look at films like The Menu or Glass Onion this year alone) and the pandemic really amplified these ideas. According to Forbes magazine, the 400 richest Americans added $4.5 trillion to their wealth in 2020, a 40% rise. Meanwhile poor people suffered horribly during the pandemic, dying and getting sick in large numbers. Society arbitrarily hands out these pieces of paper to some people and not to others, mostly based on whether or not your parents had them. And most of the time it’s not even paper or coins. It’s code on a bank computer. We treat the people with more paper or different lines of code much better than others — they get food, shelter, and opportunities denied to others.
This is the absurdity that Triangle of Sadness tries to illustrate. It takes this dissonance to its logical extreme and the results are hilarious, cringey, and painful to watch. But it’s also a movie that kept surprising me and never stopped one-upping itself. One of the most delightful viewing experiences I had, and with a final act I’ll be thinking about for a very long time. Triangle of Sadness is available on VOD.
2. Tár (dir. Todd Field) - Tar is about a conductor’s last big performance but it’s also about the life of an egocentric talent, how they act, and how they perceive their own actions. How does a person like Lydiar Tár move through our society?
The movie also holds up a mirror to us: What do we allow talented people to do and to get away with? What compromises do we make in pursuit of brilliance? Cate Blanchett puts in the performance of a lifetime but the movie’s direction is also impeccable. Scenes often consist of long, static shots that let actors play out the dynamic between them, all while they’re framed by gorgeous concert architecture — the edifice and structure of respectability that perhaps facilitates something more sinister underneath.
Tár is available on VOD.
1. Everything Everywhere All At Once (dir. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) - There was a video clip that went viral this past year. Michelle Yeoh was being interviewed by GQ and she talked about the experience of being invited to work on Everything Everywhere All At Once.
It’s a powerful moment because Michelle Yeoh is a badass who can do martial arts and hold her own with the best action stars in the world. But even someone as famous, powerful, and beautiful as Yeoh often doesn’t feel like people see her for who she fully is. And by being invited to participate, she felt seen.
I feel like that is what Everything Everywhere All At Once does for a lot of people. The story is about multiverse hopping and how it impacts an immigrant Chinese family, but so many people have found something universal in its hyper-specific plot. Depending on who you are, the movie is about coming to terms with parenthood, or depression, or the immigrant experience or whatever you wanted it to be. I personally was deeply moved by how this movie seemed to reflect my anxieties about generational trauma and how difficult it is to have parents who are from the old world and trying to live in the new world while just doing their best.
But that’s the gift that this movie gives us. That’s the gift this movie has given me. Is it helped me to feel seen. I hope it did for you too.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is streaming on Showtime.
Honorable Mentions (AKA Films That Barely Didn’t Make It On My List)
Mad God - Emergency - The Banshees of Inisherin - Marcel The Shell with Shoes On - The Northman - Dual - Women Talking - The Fabelmans - Pearl - Living - Decision To Leave - Eo
Stuff I’ve made
If you want to listen to the above list in podcast or video form, check it out on The Filmcast, or watch below.