AJ’s Top 10 Movies of 2022

The odd/even cycle of movie year quality continues.

Candidly, I don’t think 2016, 2018, or 2020 (the latter for understandable reasons) offered peak cinema, and 2022 is following that trend. My Top 10 this year is unfortunately one of my weaker ones in recent memory. The good news, I hope, is that if this cycle continues, we’re in for a treat for 2023.

Still, like the even years preceding 2022, I came into the new year with a list of movies I truly enjoyed, and I’m excited to share this list of my top 10 movies of 2022 with you.

10. Violent Night

Christmas movies are so rarely praised for their filmmaking quality. Granted, that’s because many of them aren’t worthy of such praise, but some are. Violent Night is one of them.

A love letter to Die Hard and Home Alone, Violent Night featured a perfectly-cast David Harbour as a disgruntled Santa who finds himself in a man-against-an-army showdown on Christmas Eve protecting a family that mirrors the original Knives Out clan.

This movie is joyous, features grin-induing fight choreography, and will certainly be on my watchlist this coming December.

9. Bullet Train

I didn’t have too much fun at the movies this summer, so by the time Bullet Train hit theaters in August, I was ready for something exactly like it. Unlike Violent Night, I’m not sure when or if I’ll watch this one again — but I had a genuinely fun time watching it. In my opinion, that’s worth something.

With his Oscar-winning charisma and physicality, Brad Pitt charms as he anchors this ensemble-supported movie. Even if it’s not necessarily a rewatchable, it certainly is more than watchable.

8. The Batman

I had to do this movie justice (sorry – my roommate and I quoted that ad nauseam for months).

The Batman breathed new life into an IP that was tired and lacking originality. Most importantly, they nailed the tone here. The darkness of Gotham and Wayne himself worked, helping to create a dreadful and gripping tale of The Caped Crusader. And that end sequence? Terrifying and masterfully done.

7. She Said

Here we have the best journalism movie since 2015’s Spotlight. I’m disappointed that She Said didn’t get the love it deserved at the Oscars (Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, and – yes – Best Picture nominations), but I’m also bummed it didn’t resonate commercially. Hopefully it’ll attract a deserved wider audience when it hits streaming. Its two-hour runtime flew by and I was hooked throughout.

6. Triangle of Sadness

I went into this one with very little knowledge of its premise (except that that scene was eventually coming). Although Triangle of Sadness isn’t exactly saying anything that hasn’t already been said, I appreciated how it said what it was saying.

The writing and these performances — particularly those of Woody and Dolly — are top notch. Dolly’s third-act emergence was my favorite character arc of the year, and although they left her out of Best Supporting Actress, I’m eternally grateful to the Academy for recognizing this masterpiece in three of its above-the-line categories, ensuring it will be seen by more viewers.

5. Avatar: The Way of Water

He’s back!

I missed you, James Cameron. This man is a visual moviemaking master, and to see him essentially remake both Avatar and Titanic in the last act of this film had me on the edge of my seat for a full hour. It takes some time to get to where it’s going, but once we emerge from the whale communication and Neyteri absence in the first stretch, we’re treated to this long-awaited return to what we love about Pandora, movies, and of course, James Cameron.

4. Top Gun: Maverick

Admittedly, I’m strongly indifferent towards the first Top Gun, so my expectations weren’t exactly through the roof for this decades-later sequel.

Boy was I blown away.

I’ve revisited this movie a couple times since seeing it in theaters, and each time, I remain just as moved and entertained as my first outing. My heart races in the first moments as Mav strives to hit Mach 10, and I find myself holding back tears of joy during the landing scene at the end.

The music, sound, cinematography, and acting make Top Gun a true feat. Tom Cruise is equal parts mad man and genius, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

3. The Banshees of Inisherin

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) - Photo Gallery - IMDb

The worst title, best movie combo award goes to this one. I was skeptical about a movie with a silly title from the man behind Three Billboards – a film I did not like – but Banshees knocked my socks off.

Banshees is just as much a drama as it is a comedy — and one of my friends (Hi Trevor!) aptly noted it could just as easily be classified as a horror movie with its themes of abandonment, isolation, and futility. I’ve watched this one twice, and know it’ll be in semi-regular rotation in my life for some time for its impending stakes, laugh-out-loud comedy, and captivating performances.

2. The Northman

The Northman (2022) - IMDb

Eggers is slowly becoming one of my favorite up-and-coming filmmakers with three completely unique wins under his belt. Honestly — the man just makes good movies.

The Northman gets points for its dedicated production, use of setting, visceral fight sequences, themes, tone, and acting — all of which surface up into one kick-ass epic.

1. RRR

RRR' Poster: Moving At Rapid Pace & A Massive Feast For The Fans ! | Tupaki  English

Another shoutout to my dear friend Trevor, not only for telling me to see this movie, but to see it in theaters.

I feel like if I call this movie bonkers, insane, or outlandish, you may take it the wrong way, so suffice it to say I mean all of those words in the absolute most flattering ways imaginable. RRR left me gobsmacked — kicking myself for thinking I wouldn’t find a single thing enjoyable about a three-hour-long, non-English, Netflix-distributed Indian film.

RRR is simply one of the finest epics I’ve had the joy of viewing. It has everything one loves about escapism, and although its over-the-top nature leaves a bit to be desired, this is far-and-away the best movie from 2022 that I saw.

2022 Oscar Predictions: Who Will Win and Should Win?

Two of the four major categories are completely up in the air this year, and the results of Best Picture could shape the future of The Academy.

Sunday should be a fun one — even if eight categories are egregiously not being announced live.

Still, seven of my ten favorite movies were nominated for Best Picture this year, so I’m eager to see if one of them is able to pull it out. There are also a couple nominees that just didn’t click with me, and naturally, one of them is a front runner.

Anyways, let’s jump right into it.

Best Picture

Predicted Winner: CODA

I can’t believe I’m predicting that a feel-good, formulaic, Apple-distributed movie will win Best Picture, but here we are. 

As a champion of the underdog narrative, I felt more confident with this pick before CODA went on to win Best Screenplay at the BAFTAs and WGA Awards and Best Picture at the PGAs. With its recent steam, CODA has arguably pushed The Power of the Dog into underdog status, which will make for a fun night of intrigue this weekend. 

If CODA wins, I’ll be elated. Not because it was my favorite movie of the year — or even my favorite of the nominees. It’s just that The Power of the Dog represents so much of what is wrong with the Oscars right now. Dog is a slow-burn Western that makes you work immensely hard for a reward that, honestly, isn’t that great. If it’s victorious, it’ll come off as the most condescending pick in a long time. This is the kind of move that filmmakers believe you should like and feel bad about yourself if you don’t. As the show slips in ratings and the prominence of these awards diminishes, this would be a terrible move from the Academy. 

On a rewatch of The Power of the Dog, I’ll admit I became higher on it, but the first time I watched this movie, I hated it. Viscerally. Ironically, once I became warmer to its win potential, its chances took a back seat. 

But let’s talk about the Sundance darling that could — CODA. The more people watch it, the more people love it. It continues to gain traction with every guild win, and it appears that this crowd pleaser might pull it out after all. 

Looking at the other nominees, Drive My Car doesn’t get to where it’s going fast enough, and Licorice Pizza’s episodic approach might be enough to win it Best Screenplay – but not Best Picture. King Richard and Belfast had early fan-favorite momentum that diminished as they become harder to watch, West Side Story has sadly lost all of its noise in these major categories, and Dune’s epic strengths as a sci-fi are likely to lead it to a similar night that Mad Max in 2016 — lots of below-the-line victories, but no Best Picture trophy. 

That’s a shame, too, as Dune would be more-than-deserving of the win. Despite being half of a story, it’s the most “movie” movie of this year’s nominees. Which brings me to the last two contenders, which arguably have the worst chance of winning — Don’t Look Up and Nightmare Alley. My third and first favorite movies of the year, respectively, I’m praying one of their names is in the envelope on Sunday. But it’s not going to happen. 

And that’s a bummer. 

Don’t Look Up is a hysterical, poignant screenplay, executed with great talent by its cast and director. It’s firmly my favorite Adam McKay film. Nightmare Alley, on the other hand, owns its darkness and feels as though Del Toro made a movie from the 1940s today (which — to be fair — he did). 

AJ’s Rankings (AKA my personal preferences) 

  1. Nightmare Alley
  2. Don’t Look Up
  3. Dune
  4. West Side Story
  5. CODA
  6. Belfast
  7. King Richard
  8. Licorice Pizza
  9. The Power of the Dog
  10. Drive My Car

Should Have Been Nominated

A Quiet Place Part II, Red Rocket, Spider-Man: No Way Home

Best Director

Predicted Winner: Campion, The Power of the Dog

The tide has shifted so dramatically that Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog may walk away with just one award on Sunday. The visual world she built and helped to realize through her actors’ performances is a feat, no doubt. Personally, I’d love to see a Spielberg win for proving his naysayers wrong and crafting a modern, exciting, and differentiated take on a previous Best Picture winner. 

Either way, whoever walks away with the award on Sunday — with the exception of Hamaguchi — will be seen largely as a career acknowledgement. Spielberg has gone Oscarless since the 90s, as has Campion — who herself has never won a Best Director Oscar. Despite being celebrated filmmakers for decades, PTA and Branagh have also never won. But The Academy will likely save their praise for one of those two in the Original Screenplay category.

AJ’s Rankings

  1. Spielberg, West Side Story
  2. Campion, The Power of the Dog
  3. Branagh, Belfast
  4. Anderson, Licorice Pizza
  5. Hamaguchi, Drive My Car

Should Have Been Nominated

Del Toro, Nightmare Alley; McKay, Don’t Look Up; Villeneuve, Dune; Baker, Red Rocket

Best Actress 

Predicted Winner: Kristen Stewart, Spencer

I literally have no idea what will happen in this category. 

There’s very little overlap between SAG, the Globes, the BAFTAs, and the Critics’ Choice here, and if anyone is benefiting from this chaos, it’s Jessica Chastain — a phenomenal, yet-unrecognized actress who might just be given the “here you go” award in a year where the stakes are relatively low. Three of her competitors are former winners, and while they each have a legitimate chance, I’m making my ballsy bet this year in Best Actress and predicting Kristen Stewart. 

An early frontrunner who lost her buzz after losing out on some key nominations, Kristen has as good a shot as anyone on Sunday. In a category with some uncertainty, I wouldn’t be shocked if voters resort to the initial favorite and get Stewart a win. Plus, let’s be honest — was Tammy Faye even that good? We’ve seen Best Actresses for mediocre movies before, but my gut is telling me this year just won’t be Chastain’s.

AJ’s Rankings

  1. Kristen Stewart, Spencer
  2. Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye
  3. Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
  4. Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos
    Also Nominated: Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers

Should Have Been Nominated

Alana Haim, Licorice Pizza; Jennifer Lawrence, Don’t Look Up; Emilia Jones, CODA

Best Actor

Predicted Winner: Will Smith, King Richard

Is a miraculous, unprecedented win for Andrew Garfield brewing? Possibly, but highly unlikely. Will Smith has been the odds-on favorite since early autumn, and every time he gives an acceptance speech, he gets one step closer to the Oscars stage. 

While it’ll be nice to see Smith accept an award and see his peers legitimize his talent, I can’t help feel like this is the gimmie award of the night. Smith’s performance was good, but to call it the best leading male one of the year wouldn’t be accurate. In my eyes, that honor would go to Benedict Cumberbatch. Even though the movie wasn’t my favorite, his performance was its biggest draw.

AJ’s Rankings

  1. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
  2. Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick…Boom!
  3. Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos
  4. Will Smith, King Richard
  5. Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of MacBeth

Should Have Been Nominated

Simon Rex, Red Rocket; Nicolas Cage, Pig; Jude Hill, Belfast

Best Supporting Actress 

Predicted Winner: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story

Honestly, it’s a pretty weak category this year. DeBose has been well on her way to a poetic win in a category that Rita Moreno won in 60 years prior. Out of these nominees, her infectious and layered performance is probably the best. 

While I wasn’t huge on The Lost Daughter, I think Jessie Buckley sneakily had the best performance of the film, and a win for her or Kirsten Dunst wouldn’t be unwarranted in my eyes. Aunjanue Ellis didn’t have enough screen time or impactful moments to warrant her presence on this year’s list to me, while Judi Dench somehow got the spot of her more-deserving costar Caitriona Balfe. Also, while the pundits were favoring Ann Dowd for a nomination, I was hoping Martha Plimpton might be able to sneak in for her performance in Mass.

AJ’s Rankings

  1. Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
  2. Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter
  3. Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
  4. Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard
  5. Judi Dench, Belfast

Should Have Been Nominated

Martha Plimpton, Mass; Caitriona Balfe, Belfast

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Winner: Troy Kotsur, CODA

The only guaranteed win for CODA on Sunday will be for Troy Kotsur. A complicated and charming portrayal in an uplifting movie, his performance is all but guaranteed to send him straight to the Oscars stage. 

All the others…I’ll be honest — I don’t care. 

AJ’s Rankings

  1. Troy Kotsur, CODA

4-way tie for “who cares?”: Ciarán Hinds (?), Belfast; Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog; Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog; J.K. Simmons, Being the Ricardos

Should Have Been Nominated

Jonah Hill, Don’t Look Up

Best Adapted Screenplay

Predicted Winer: CODA

Pay attention when they call this category on Oscar night — it’s likely the winner will also go on to nab Best Picture. Especially if it’s CODA.

Being dialogue-driven tends to help in these categories, and although the dialogue in all of CODA’s scenes isn’t spoken, its ability to support redundant story tropes with characters we care about and words that matter should elevate it to a win. If the love for The Power of the Dog stays true, we might see it win here. I’m doubtful. Some also haven’t counted out Maggie Gyllenhaal for The Lost Daughter. I have. 

AJ’s Rankings

  1. CODA
  2. Dune
  3. The Power of the Dog
  4. Drive My Car
  5. The Lost Daughter

Should Have Been Nominated

Nightmare Alley, West Side Story, Tick, Tick…Boom!

Best Original Screenplay

Predicted Winner: Belfast

Watch out for PTA here, but Branagh has more international and intergenerational support than Anderson does. The Academy is also a sucker for personal movies, and Belfast is the most personal in this category. 

If I had a vote, it’d go to Don’t Look Up. After feeling mostly indifferent towards The Big Short and Vice, McKay finally won me over with one of his serious movies with a comedic twist. 

AJ’s Rankings

  1. Don’t Look Up
  2. The Worst Person in the World 
  3. Belfast
  4. King Richard
  5. Licorice Pizza

Should Have Been Nominated

Red Rocket

And now, the rest of my predictions & preferences.

Best Cinematography

Will Win: Dune
Should Win: Dune

Best Costume Design

Will Win: Cruella
Should Win: Dune

Best Film Editing

Will Win: Dune
Should Win: Tick, Tick…Boom!

Best Makeup

Will Win: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Should Win: Dune

Best Production Design

Wil Win: Dune 
Should Win: Dune

Best Score

Will Win: Dune 
Should Win: Dune

Best Sound

Will Win: Dune 
Should Win: Dune

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: Dune (But watch out for No Way Home)
Should Win: Dune

Best Animated Feature

Will Win: The Mitchells Vs. The Machines
Should Win: The Mitchells Vs. The Machines

Tallied Predictions

Dune: 6 Wins out of 10 Nominations
CODA: 3 Wins out of 3 Nominations
The Power of the Dog: 1 Win out of 12 Nominations
King Richard: 1 Win out of 6 Nominations
West Side Story: 1 Win out of 7 Nominations 
Belfast: 1 Win out of 7 Nominations
The Eyes of Tammy Faye: 1 Win out of 2 Nominations
Cruella: 1 Win out of 2 Nominations
The Mitchells Vs. The Machines: 1 Win out of 1 Nominations
Spencer: 1 Win out of 1 Nomination

AJ’s Top 15 of 2020 & 2021

Hey there. Been a while.

In January of 2021, I made a decision to postpone my annual best-of list until 2022. With release dates being pushed out, Academy eligibility shifts, and simply fewer movies getting shown in theaters, I didn’t want to scrape the bottom of the barrel with a Top 10 List that likely wouldn’t have even come out until April.

And so, I’m proud to finally present the list of my Top 15 Movies from 2020 and 2021.

15. King Richard

The movie on this list I was most skeptical about going into, King Richard was one of my favorite feel-good movies of the last two years. A crowd-pleaser whose emotion and sentimentality is (usually) not a hinderance, the movie is anchored by a captivating Will Smith in a film that honestly shouldn’t be this good. Thankfully, it is.

14. Spider-Man: No Way Home

You know, I’m something of a film critic myself – and I think that while the entirety of No Way Home doesn’t glisten as brightly as its final showdown, it’s worth trudging through the lizard CGI and the “let’s help the bad guys solve their problems” portion of the movie to get some of the best character content we’ve seen in a Spider-Man movie. Holland, Garfield, Dafoe, and Molina far exceeded my expectations going in – and yes, I’m still waiting for my Kirsten Dunst cameo.

13. Red Rocket

Simon Rex is electrifying in Sean Baker’s follow-up to my favorite movie of 2017. I’m always impressed when a movie can make an unlikable character worth cheering for, and Rex’s performance as the gray-moralled Mikey Saber is one of my favorite examples of this trope in action. The movie’s contents are a bit too problematic for me to unabashedly sing its praises, but man did I enjoy myself in that theater.

12. Belfast

I like what I like, and slice-of-life nostalgia does it for me. Belfast‘s blend of innocence and family turmoil created an inviting theater experience for me as I experienced writer-director Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiography. The cast truly shines here – most notably Catriona Balfe and newcomer Jude Hill.

11. CODA

CODA wasn’t convenient to watch – I finally had to buckle and get an Apple TV+ free trial. But it was worth it. Was CODA sappy and emotionally manipulative? Yes. Did I still almost cry? You better believe it. Emilia Jones is being heinously overlooked in the Best Actress race – and if you get an Apple TV account and watch this movie, you’ll see why.

10. Alone

At last – a 2020 movie! Watching Alone was a watershed experience for me. As a road tripper, the preliminary sequences of car-bound cat-and-mouse kept me on the edge of my couch, even though I knew our protagonist would soon be captured. And once she was, I found myself rooting for her harder than any movie character since maybe Chris in Get Out. This is how to make a survivalist movie right. I can only imagine how vocal the crowd would have been had I seen this in the theater.

9. West Side Story

A return to the familiar, the new West Side Story updates the award-winning classic with a modern cast, flare, and pace. For the record, I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but it’s hard to deny the efficacy of Spielberg and his cast and crew here. Of all the movies on this list, West Side Story is one of the films I’m most excited to watch again soon.

8. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Goddamn, Viola Davis. She carried this movie of a heated recording studio session exceptionally. I didn’t want to take my eyes off of her – and the movie’s screenplay and design depicted the ugliness of 1920’s Chicago in every way. Also, while I defend Anthony Hopkins’ win at last year’s Oscars, that shouldn’t take away from the spirited and committed work of Chadwick Boseman in this movie, who keeps us enthralled when Davis is off-screen.

7. The Hunt

I’m a busy guy, so it takes a Grade-A movie for me to watch it one day, then put it back in the DVD player the next day to watch it again. The first time I saw The Hunt, that’s exactly what happened (and yes, I still have a DVD player). The Hunt is a blast. It’s unique, well-paced, hysterical, and poignant. While I can’t say it’s the best film of the past two years, I might say that it’s my favorite.

6. The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aside from the shove-it-down-your-throat racism of Frank Langella’s character, Chicago 7 was engrossing and made its serious subject matter entertaining. A much more promising showcase of writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s dual behind-the-camera abilities than his 2021 effort Being the Ricardos (which – candidly – I did enjoy), the cast, editing, and screenplay make Chicago 7 worth your time.

5. Dune

Another movie I’m excited to revisit, Dune lands the #5 spot on my list largely due to the commitment to its production. Visually visceral and epic and every way, Dune‘s ambitions pay off and effectively create a world of intrigue, power, and adventure. Side note: when Zendaya showed up at the end, I literally said “fucking finally” out loud. Can’t wait to see more of her in 2UNE.

4. Don’t Look Up

Like The Hunt, Don’t Look Up takes rather pressing subject matter in our world and pushes things to the extreme. Also like The Hunt, I loved every minute. It’s my favorite Adam McKay movie, and Leo and Jonah are doing some incredible work here. Maybe I shouldn’t laugh at this movie – but I’ve seen it twice and can’t seem to go a few minutes without doing so.

3. A Quiet Place Part II

Admittedly, I didn’t love the first A Quiet Place. But the second one, I unabashedly do. There was one sequence of the movie where I don’t think I took a breath for nearly two minutes. While the narrative works best when we’re on the Cillian Murphy/Millicent Simmonds adventure, the entire film builds on the premise and tension of its predecessor for a more polished, heart-pounding endeavor. Bring on A Quiet Place Part III – sooner than later please, John & Emily.

2. Nightmare Alley

If I had to describe Del Toro’s last two movies, it feels like he’s making 1940s movies today. Nightmare Alley encompasses deception and manipulation in this harrowing rise-and-fall noir. Everything and everyone in this movie was firing on all cylinders. It is a sheer tsunami of filmmaking talent at its best, building a world I wanted to simultaneously spend as much and as little time in as possible.

1. Promising Young Woman

This movie made me realize how imperative casting is for a motion picture. With this romance movie wrapped in conflict and bookended by a troubling revenge tale, Emerald Fennell immediately cemented herself as the filmmaker to watch with this one. The music choice, dialogue, characters, and production design are all stand-out. After going months without being in the theater, I’ll never forget my first trip back to the cinema, watching this movie, and grinning during its final moments.