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In what was supposed to be the year of triumphantly returning to the movie theater post-pandemic, 2022 ended up being more of a mixed bag. There were triumphs, like Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick” landing almost $1.5 billion at the worldwide box office. But the total box office grosses still haven’t come back to 2019 levels, and the films hurt the most are the types of movies you’d expect to see on a Best Movies of 2022 list.
“Tár,” the Cate Blanchett composer drama that is a near-lock for a Best Picture nod at the Oscars, cost $35 million but made just under $5.5 million. “She Said,” the dramatized story of The New York Times journalists who broke open the Harvey Weinstein case, couldn’t crack $6 million domestically. Even Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans,” the director’s most personal film to date, earned just over $9 million in theaters, and is already available to purchase on-demand.
The culprit was undoubtedly the proliferation of same-day streaming during the pandemic accelerating a change in viewer habits. With studios making it easier than ever to watch a movie on the couch at home, audiences only headed to the multiplex to see big-budget blockbusters enhanced by a theatrical viewing.
As detailed in my article about the Best TV Shows of 2022, those days of profligate spending on streaming may be coming to an end. Warner Bros. Discovery’s new CEO has sworn off releasing new films on HBO Max, and Disney brought back former CEO Bob Iger to help stem huge losses on the Disney+ platform. But if viewers don’t respond in kind, we may be looking at a drastically different cinematic landscape in the coming years — one in which mid-budget dramas all but disappear.
Doom and gloom aside, there were still plenty of great films released in 2022 — whether in theaters or on streaming platforms — which made choosing the best movies of 2022 feel like an impossible task. There are dozens of films sitting on the periphery of this list, and if you ask me next week, my picks might look drastically different.
Boston.com readers seemed to struggle a bit less than I did, to be honest. When we polled readers to find out what they believed to be the best movie of 2022, one film was so overwhelmingly popular that it got more votes than any other movie combined.
Here are the best movies of 2022, as chosen by me and the Boston.com community.
It’s a shock that 20th Century Studios decided to let this latest edition of the Predator franchise skip theaters and debut directly on Hulu, given that it’s probably the best film in the series. Set in the Comanche Nation in 1719, “Prey” follows Naru, a fierce young woman who wants to prove to her tribe that she’s a worthy hunter. Before long, she realizes that the prey she’s been stalking isn’t from this planet, and the hunter becomes the hunted. Large chunks of dialogue in “Prey” are in Comanche, and the cast is predominantly Native actors, which goes a long way to creating a realistic atmosphere — aside from the giant alien, anyway. Bonus trivia for Boston-area viewers: Lexington native Dane DiLiegro, who spent the past decade as a professional basketball player overseas, is the man in the Predator suit.
How to watch: “Prey” is streaming on Hulu.
When seemingly every other studio was sending its biggest blockbusters to streaming platforms during the pandemic, Tom Cruise was adamant that “Top Gun: Maverick” be released in theaters. The decision was a smart one, with “Top Gun: Maverick” remaining a box office draw for seven full months and cementing Cruise as the undisputed king of movie stars. Joseph Kosinski’s long-gestating sequel finds Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) still pushing the envelope as a test pilot years after he should’ve been put out to pasture. Tasked with training a squadron of Top Gun recruits for an impossible mission, Maverick must grapple with ceding ground to the young guns while also knowing when to stand up and put himself back in the cockpit. “Maverick” is an apt metaphor for Cruise’s movie career, with the 60-year-old still jumping out of planes and leading action franchises. It’s also a perfectly calibrated blockbuster, and in an age where shockingly few exist, that’s worth celebrating.
How to watch: “Top Gun: Maverick” is streaming on Paramount Plus.
The original “Knives Out” was one my favorite movies of the past decade, and I would have happily watched Rian Johnson deliver a straightforward, rehashed “Knives Out 2” for Netflix. Instead, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” changes the game in unexpected and delightful ways. The characters and locale of “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” shift from the 2019 original, with Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig of James Bond fame) the only holdover. Instead of an old-money New England family, the mystery centers around Elon Musk-esque tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton, “Fight Club”), who invites a group of his longtime friends to his private Greek island in the midst of the pandemic. Much like the original, the cast of “Glass Onion” is its biggest strength. As fashion entrepreneur Birdie Jay, Kate Hudson gets the most consistent laughs throughout the film, from insisting that everyone at her raucous 200-person apartment party is “in her pod” to her pathological desire to post career-ending tweets. Norton is a winner as well, playing the kind of billionaire who cultivates a worldly image that could nevertheless be deflated by a particularly clever child.
How to watch: “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” is streaming on Netflix.
Despite a critically acclaimed career that has spanned three decades and produced classics like “Traffic” and “Out of Sight,” Steven Soderbergh somehow still feels underappreciated. Soderbergh is a master of genre, as evidenced by “Kimi,” a taut thriller that felt like the first real COVID-19-era film when it landed on HBO Max in February. Angela Childs (Zoe Kravitz, “Mad Max: Fury Road”) plays an agoraphobic woman working remotely for a big tech company whose signature product is a smart speaker (a la Amazon’s Alexa) named KIMI. When Angela hears what sounds like a violent crime captured on KIMI, she must confront her fears and leave the safety of her apartment to make sure the truth isn’t buried.
How to watch: “Kimi” is streaming on HBO Max.
The first of two Colin Farrell (“The Batman”) films on this list, “After Yang” is a small-budget sci-fi that asks questions about our growing attachment to artificial intelligence. Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith (“Queen & Slim”) play parents who have purchased a second-hand artificial child named Yang (Justin H. Min, “The Umbrella Academy”) as a companion for their biological one. When Yang begins to break down, the parents search for a way to repair him, even as the company recommends a replacement. As someone who felt an inexplicable pang of sadness when NASA’s Insight Mars Lander tweeted that its power was running low earlier this week, “After Yang” hit hard.
How to watch: “After Yang” is streaming on Showtime.
South Korean director Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy,” “The Handmaiden”) swore that he reigned in his flashy style for his newest, “Decision to Leave.” Nevertheless, he took home the Best Director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and “Decision” beat a number of other worthy competitors to be this year’s Korean submission for Best International Film at the Oscars. The romantic thriller centers around an insomniac police detective assigned to investigate a suicide that may actually be a murder. The suspect is the victim’s wife, an immigrant from China who quickly puts the married detective under her spell. If you love the repressed romance of “In The Mood For Love” or the crackling noir of “L.A. Confidential,” “Decision to Leave” is a must-watch. (Note: “Decision to Leave” is streaming exclusively on MUBI, a cinephile-focused service that we previously raved about in our 2022 gift guide for movie lovers. The 7-day free trial is worth it just for “Decision,” but there’s a ton more to watch during the holiday break as well.)
How to watch: “Decision to Leave” is streaming on MUBI.
With acclaimed veteran directors like James Gray and Steven Spielberg exploring their own adolescence on screen this year with “Armageddon Time” and “The Fabelmans,” it’s somewhat shocking that 2022’s best autobiographical coming-of-age tale comes from Charlotte Wells, a 30-something first-time director. “Aftersun” follows Sophie (Frankie Corio), a pre-teen Scottish girl on vacation with her 31-year-old dad, Calum (Paul Mescal, “Normal People”), in Turkey. Wells layers on the melancholy as we watch Sophie come of age and come to realize that her dad has worries and struggles of his own, leading to a widening chasm of understanding between them. The film’s finale packs an emotional wallop, one that I still haven’t shaken months later.
“Nope” may not be Jordan Peele’s best movie (“Get Out”), or his most commercially successful (“Us”). But Peele’s third film is undoubtedly the most daring and personal of his young career. So much is happening in the film, which tells the story of two siblings working on the periphery of Hollywood determined to capture footage of an alien stalking their family farm. It’s a meditation on celebrity, on forgotten stories and self-created myths, on “making it” as a Black creative, and on the public’s unceasing desire to consume. Most of all, it’s a thrilling, often funny sci-fi film featuring great work by Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”), Steven Yeun (“The Walking Dead”), and especially Keke Palmer (“Akeelah and the Bee”).
How to watch: “Nope” is streaming on Peacock.
Emerson alums Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known collectively as Daniels) have been putting out some of the weirdest mainstream work of the past decade, whether it’s the music video for DJ Snake’s “Turn Down for What” or their first feature “Swiss Army Man,” which starred Paul Dano as a man who befriends a farting corpse played by Harry Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe). The duo goes even further afield with “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” a movie that’s ostensibly about an immigrant mother named Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) trying to file her taxes, but is really about everything everywhere all at – well, you know. There’s multiverses, talking rocks, hot dog fingers, Jamie Lee Curtis in full prosthetics, and a brilliant return to the Hollywood fold from Ke Huy Quan (Short Round in the “Indiana Jones” franchise). It’s hard to describe, and even harder to forget.
How to watch: “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is streaming on Showtime.
What would you do if your best friend decided one day that they didn’t like you anymore? It’s a depressing hypothetical to consider, and it plays out in tragicomic fashion in “The Banshees of Inisherin,” the lyrical new film from Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”). Set on a remote Irish island in 1923, Colm (Brendan Gleeson, “Braveheart”) wants to make something of his life, and feels bogged down making idle chit-chat with his pal Pádraic (Colin Farrell). Their rift becomes the talk of the island, even as a civil war rages on the mainland. McDonagh is a playwright by trade, and the film’s dialogue has a stage-like quality, each line economical and impactful. Reuniting for the first time since McDonagh’s “In Bruges,” Gleeson and Farrell are perfect together. The former hasn’t scowled this much since “Paddington 2,” and the latter looks like a puppy left out in the rain. “Banshees” is about the human condition, the futility of war, and how we define ourselves by the company we keep.
An honorable mention on my own list, readers were a fan of this Cate Blanchett drama, which chronicles the rise and fall of fictional conductor Lydia Tár, and has a lot to say about contemporary discourse around celebrity.
A searing satire of capitalist excess, readers loved the comeuppance served up in “Triangle of Sadness,” the latest from the darkly funny Swedish director Ruben Östlund (“Force Majeure”).
The first of five movies to appear on both lists, “Glass Onion” will surely pick up even more fans with its debut on Netflix this weekend.
Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical coming-of-age tale was a hit with readers, who got to learn more about the legendary director’s upbringing in Arizona and how his parents’ divorce defined his career.
“It was about love of movies, what movies can do — secrets film can reveal,” wrote Boston.com reader Amy, of Weston. “I loved that it was about a Jewish family and not set during WW2. I appreciated the handling of the anti-Semite who kept bullying the protagonist. It’s second only to ‘Cinema Paradiso.’”
A biopic of the King was long overdue, and readers were a fan of “Elvis.” Austin Butler inhabited the title role perfectly, and what better director to revel in Presley’s excess than maximalist director Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge”)?
How to watch: “Elvis” is streaming on HBO Max.
That’s the one-word review from Boston.com reader Kristine A. of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which was a big hit with readers. Though no one specifically said so, we suspect the frenetic action scenes filmed in Boston, Cambridge and Worcester helped to sway a few voters.
How to watch: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is currently in theaters.
“Nope” makes Jordan Peele three for three with his films being both commercial and critical hits, a combination that landed “Nope” in the top 5 of our community’s list.
Readers who responded to our Best TV Shows of 2022 poll last week praised the Irish humor and lush landscape of Apple TV+’s “Bad Sisters,” two qualities that are also abundant in “Banshees.” Coincidence? We think not.
While it finished more than 100 votes behind the first-place film on this list, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” had plenty of fans in the Boston.com reader community.
“The packed theater shared the experience together,” wrote Todd of Arlington. “Everyone was laughing, crying and clapping. A stellar, STELLAR film.”
The juggernaut that could not be stopped at theaters this year was the unsurprising winner of Boston.com readers’ Best Movies of 2022. A whopping 65 percent of readers picked “Top Gun: Maverick,” with one reader even calling it the best sequel since “The Godfather Part II.”
“It was the first movie I felt compelled to watch multiple times at the theater in years,” wrote Hannah W. of Lexington.
“The good guys win over adversity,” wrote Mike H of New Hampshire. “Something Hollywood doesn’t usually celebrate anymore.”
Even readers with pilot experience could find little fault with “Maverick.”
“Speaking as a fighter pilot: Finally, a movie that shows the physical toll that flying these jets puts on the body,” wrote Scott of Scituate. “I hate to break it to you though, we all don’t have six-pack abs.”
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