Greetings from the movies corner of the pop culture world. You remember movies, right? All of three years ago, the brightest and the best offerings shined on the big screen. (Your diverse 2019 offerings included universally acclaimed hits such as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Knives Out and Parasite.) But the pandemic changed everything: Who needs to go to the movie theater to pay money to see Cate Blanchett in the erudite and inaccessible drama TAR when the super-juicy White Lotus and The Crown are available from right there on the couch! The industry still hasn’t totally recovered.
That’s not to say the 2022 movies haven’t delivered the goods. Think all the way back to last January and February, i.e., the dumping ground for cinema after all those prestige and popular holiday releases. We got a totally serviceable Scream installment (starring a pre-Wednesday Jenna Ortega), Channing Tatum’s charming comeback vehicle in Dog, the ever-reliable J.Lo playing yet another bride in Marry Me and even the stupidly amazing Jackass Forever. And though the old-school movie-going experience is changing, audiences still turned out to see old-school movie stars in their element. Think Brad Pitt (Bullet Train), Sandra Bullock (The Lost City) and George Clooney and Julia Roberts (Ticket to Paradise). And, of course, perhaps our last true movie star flew higher than anyone.
This brings us to another year-end round-up. The 2022 crop ranges from a dazzling biopic to an unconventional rom-com to hard-hitting dramas. They made us laugh and learn and feel a gamut of emotions and, well, take our breaths away. Just two quick codas: 1. This list was compiled before the press screening of Avatar: The Way of Water. Heard good things! 2. Sorry and welp, I admired but found it difficult to embrace the sleeper hit of the year, Everything Everywhere All at Once. Also, see Coda! It actually won the Best Picture Oscar in March.
Oh, brother. Though the first studio pic to feature gay leads was a financial dud, it succeeds big time as a flat-out funny romantic comedy. So chin up, Billy Eichner. You still squeezed in all those witty punchlines about Dear Evan Hansen, Schitt’s Creek, Glee, Will & Grace and showed off your lovely singing voice. Now that’s a score. (Available for rental and streaming on Peacock)
9. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
If Knives Out sharpened up the murder-mystery genre, its sequel cuts through the mayhem using a shinier weapon. This time, Daniel Craig’s detective Benoit Blanc investigates a new case with a new group of wealthy suspects in an exotic new locale. (Janelle Monae is the stand-out.) Once again, the fun lies not in the whodunit but in how Blanc pieces it all together. (Streaming on Netflix December 23)
8. Thirteen Lives
It took a village — plus intrepid volunteers from around the world — to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped inside the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave system in Thailand in the summer of 2018. Their 18-day ordeal is painstakingly recreated in a harrowing yet truly inspiring white-knuckler courtesy of Apollo 13 director Ron Howard. Starring Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen. (Streaming on Amazon Prime)
7. She Said
Don’t let those DOA box-office numbers dissuade you from checking out this crackling look at the journalism origins of the #MeToo era. That would be in 2017, when two New York Times staffers (Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan) doggedly reported out the gross misdeeds of famed movie honcho Harvey Weinstein. One villain; many, many heroines. (In theaters and available for rental)
6. The Menu
White Lotus meets The Bear meets Scream, courtesy of the writers of Succession. Plot: On a remote island, a handful of ultra-elite foodies — played by the likes of Nicholas Hoult, Anya-Taylor Joy and John Leguizamo — dig in for a highly unique dining experience. Each course delivers delicious and unpredictable drama, culminating in a searing finish. (In theaters)
Young Emmitt Till’s lynching in 1955 was a pivotal yet tragic chapter in the Civil Rights Movement. This heart-wrenching drama focuses on his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley (an Oscar-worthy Danielle Deadwyler), and her fight for justice. The events are told without any distracting stylistic bells and whistles, forcing us to reckon with a time that many would prefer to forget. (Available for rental and streaming on Peacock)
4. The Banshees of Inisherin
On a remote island off the West Coast of Ireland in the 1920s, a musician named Colm (Brendan Gleeson) decides he longer wants to be friends with the simple-minded Padraic (a never-better Colin Farrell). What happens next is a mesmerizing mix of comedy and tragedy. But it’s the interpersonal drama that really resonates. (In theaters and streaming on HBO Max starting December 16)
3. The Fabelmans
Steven Spielberg co-wrote and directed a magnificent autobiographical nod to his two religions: Judaism and cinema. In the process, he shines a light on the influence of his mismatched parents — played with aplomb by Michelle Williams and Paul Dano. This one gets better as it goes long and culminates in the year’s most triumphant closing sequence. (In theaters and available for rental)
The creatively wild, ultra-ambitious kaleidoscope of a music biopic never does quite finds its focus. And guess what? Like the flawed King of Rock and Roll himself, you can’t help falling in love with it. Austin Butler rises to the occasion playing Elvis Presley, a star whose swagger eventually gives way to crushing vulnerability. (Available for rental and streaming on HBO Max)
1. Top Gun: Maverick
It’s plane and simple: This sequel was soaring from the moment that first aircraft carrier launched off in the sonically thumping opening montage. Thanks to dazzling action in the sky and a story with actual depth (RIP Iceman!), the much-needed mega-blockbuster delivered first-rate entertainment on every level. Cheers to Tom Cruise for always keeping it cool under the shades. (In theaters and available for rental)