Pop Mythology’s 10 Best Films of 2022

Let’s face it, 2022 felt loooooong. In fact, the last three years, ever since the world shut down, have felt more like thirty. Sure, when it comes to large scale issues, like finally returning to normal from the aforementioned shutdown, world leaders addressing or even acknowledging climate change, slowing society’s slide into authoritarianism, or combating other factors ushering in global collapse, it feels like the year never started. Yet when looking back on the cinematic and pop cultural landscape, it’s hard to believe that films like Uncharted, Death on the Nile, and The King’s Man aren’t even one year old. This time last year Spider-Man: No Way Home, carried over from 2021, was number one at the box office, and that film feels like some long-forgotten flash of cultural zeitgeist. Even another superhero entry, Black Adam, released last October, seems so far back in time until remembering that the DCEU’s other film, The Batman, also came out in 2022.

It isn’t just the day-by-day existence which felt long, the films themselves are lengthening. Recent studies have shown that after a slight decrease in the 2010’s, the top-grossing films in the 2020’s are an average of twenty minutes longer than those of the 1980’s. This fact is perfectly illustrated by 2022’s Top Gun: Maverick being exactly twenty minutes longer than 1987’s Top Gun. While numbers for 2022 haven’t yet been tallied, between The Batman, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and Avatar: The Way of Water, chances are high that every theatergoer watched at least one film clocking in at over two hours and forty minutes. That’s not to mention the numerous art films running over two and a half hours. Our own list has an average runtime of over 141 minutes with only two entries ending before the two hour mark.

Now, this isn’t a problem, especially when movie ticket prices are trending upward and streaming allows the viewer to control what they watch, when, how much, and in what order, but it is curious that average scene length has also been shortening in the past decade with most movie scenes lasting only two to three minutes (individual shots cutting every two to three seconds). Again, this isn’t a problem necessarily, as long as the whole film, such as those listed below, is good. It is a problem when a given year, such as that written above, has several very good films but few truly great ones. Perhaps time will bring clarity, as it did with my over-validation of Thor: Love and Thunder – rather embarrassed about that one – but as of right now 2022 had several good, even excellent films, but few which feel like they’ll still be talked about this time next year. Yet, much like the contradiction of longer films with shorter scenes, 2022 also saw the release of the third film to ever receive a 5-star rating from this website.

Perhaps part of the reason 2022 in film felt so long is because of the constant demand of streaming, the abundance of such platforms, the seemingly unlimited funds allocated by any studio other than Warner Bros-Discovery, or the disposable nature of “content” over “art.” Maybe after three years that felt like thirty, audiences have lowered their standards, or, conversely, perhaps the last thirty years of cinematic achievement have left such high standards that it’s nearly impossible for any movie to have the same impact that those in previous eras did. Or, as demonstrated by our number one film, maybe none of this matters and time is an illusion.

Here are 2022’s best ways to waste two to three hours:

Honorable mentions:

Prey – Highlighted by solid storytelling from director Dan Trachtenberg and a stellar performance by lead actress Amber Midthunder, Prey stripped the otherwise bloated Predator franchise down further than its action/horror origin. Naru’s combination of cunning, adaptation, and vulnerability make her the Predator franchise’s most compelling character to never have their name in the title. The theme of female empowerment (in a year when American women were stripped of control over their own bodies) and the choice of using a mostly Native American cast (with the film available in Comanche) elevate what could have been a decent but forgettable film above its sometimes decent but always forgettable predecessors. While the ending and the film’s success practically assure that history will repeat with several diminishing sequels, for now Prey is a single, effective piece of entertainment. Exactly as Predator should have been.

Triangle of Sadness – There’s delicious irony in the Cannes Film Festival, with its atmosphere of decadence and elitism, deciding to award last year’s Palme d’Or to a film which portrays opulent muck-a-mucks drowning in vomit and excrement. There’s also tragic irony in one of the film’s stars, Charlbi Dean, dying before the film’s premiere from the type of bacterial infection which rarely affects the affluent. Though writer/director Ruben Östlund’s satire doesn’t always land, is often too literal to be clever, and seems to hold back in its statement on the useless “skills” of the world’s wealthiest, there’s an inherent hilarity in watching an American socialist ship captain and a Russian fertilizer oligarch abuse the yacht’s PA system to debate the merits of Marxism while war profiteers and social media “influencers” slide around in liquid $h!t.
Oh, you’re a social media influencer? And social media is garbage. So what does that make you?

After Yang – In an era when life seems increasingly abrasive, callous, and aggressive, this solemn, introspective film feels like a well-needed realignment: an hour and a half alone in a chair next to a pond with only the lap of water and sparse birdsong disturbing the silence. Through focusing its narrative around the titular companion AI, After Yang offers an inspection of both cultural and human identity that is less probing than gentle: a breeze nudging you down a grassy hill and wafting the scent of fresh dew through the air. Yang highlights how little we understand of the lives of those closest to us, the ones they live when we weren’t around, and the way in which that unseen life influences the one we witness in the same way that the gravity of the moon pulls the tide up an empty beach with a single set of footprints stopping before the edge, never turning back.

10. RRR

And this one of ‘RRR”s tamer action sequences. (Image: Pen Studios/Lyca Productions/KVN Productions/HR Pictures)

Remember what I just wrote about quiet introspection and gentle exploration of what it means to human? Yeah, forget all of that. In fact, take that little pond, those tweeting birds, the damp grass and feed them to a tiger riding a motorcycle while firing two machine guns. Then take that tiger and throw it at a British colonist! And then dance on a platform MADE OF EXPLOSIONS! RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt) is one of the least subtle, most ludicrous, most bombastic, most stupefying things I have ever seen! Everything, ev-er-y-single-thing, is too much! And yet, I can’t stop talking about this movie! Beginning with two real life freedom fighters – Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem – writer/director S. S. Rajamouli offers revisionist historical fantasy that does to Great Britain’s occupation of India what Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds did to Nazi Germany, and then hits it with a tree ripped from the ground one-handed! Sure, there’s nothing historically accurate about it, and the film glosses over serious issues with the Indian caste system, but a disclaimer at the start explains that the film is not real and every second which follows proves that point! From its complete lack of physics, excessive action, overlong torture-turned-musical sequence, and superhuman characters, to its constant overacting, abundant hero shots, and overwhelming homoeroticism, RRR is what the Fast & Furious franchise wants but fails to be. It’s a sui generis experience that viewers will never forget! No matter how much we try!

Runtime: 187 minutes

9. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Extra glass. Hold the onion. (Image: Netflix)

Perhaps where Glass Onion most differentiates from Knives Out is in the timeliness of its satire. Though written during Covid lockdown in 2020, derived from writer/director Rian Johnson’s desire to travel, and filmed in 2021, the film perfectly captures much of the social discourse of late 2022. Headlines following its release furthered the film’s relevance with a possible satirical target arrested for human trafficking. Such a prophetic grasp of character speaks to Johnson’s skill at crafting fully-fleshed figures, even those who are only given a dozen minutes to interact with the film’s loaded ensemble. As the film’s lone returning character, Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc remains an absolute delight, furthering his own brilliance with each scene. Who would have thought that one year after solidifying his place as the best Bond ever, Daniel Craig would place Bond as his second best character? Yet, perhaps the best thing about Glass Onion is in proving that Knives Out wasn’t a fluke and establishing what we can expect from future Johnson/Craig collaborations. If every three years bring another Knives Out film featuring a cast of unexpected but talented performers, twisty scripts with few holes, and overall high-quality filmmaking, then I hope Johnson and Craig keep making new films until the world runs out of mysteries.

Runtime: 139 minutes

8. Blonde

Ana de Armas gives an Oscar worthy-performance unfortunately overlooked by critics who wish she was Marilyn Monroe. (Image: Netflix)

I always preface discussion of Andrew Dominick’s latest fictional biography with this: I can’t recommend this movie as entertainment. Viewers who want to see a celebration of Marilyn Monroe, revel in some gilded age Hollywood nostalgia, or enjoy NC-17 Ana de Armas goodies will be sorely disappointed. As the film’s early critics pointed out, this is not the bubbly, baby-talking, charming Monroe of Hollywood fantasy. And as the film’s defenders (which I suppose I am) point out, that’s absolutely right. The Joyce Carol Oates novel on which Blonde is based is not about Monroe as a person but about Monroe as an idea, an image, an ideal, that the gilded age duplicates of those current critics shackled with expectations and demands. The antiquated notions of these critics match those of the true villains of Blonde: the men who sought to control Norma Jean, be it through physical violence, emotional abuse, or forced abortion (the lattermost receiving its own criticism for being “anti-choice” when the opposite is true, forced abortion is as much a choice as forced birth). Like Prey, Blonde is a statement on women’s rights in a year when women were deprived of those rights. Human rights also aren’t entertaining, but like Blonde, they are necessary.

Runtime: 166 minutes

7. Belle

‘Belle’ shows that trolls, both the lumbering giant kind and the internet kind, exist in fantasy. (Image: Toho)

Calling Belle an anime inspired by Beauty and the Beast (the original story and the Disney movie) is a disservice to the film and an accurate description of it. Mamoru Hosoda’s science fantasy draws much of its narrative from Beauty and the Beast, and yet that entire fairy tale plays as alternate reality accompaniment to the film’s operatic ambitions. Playing on such weighty themes as trauma and abuse and such relatively frivolous ones as social media, celebrity culture, and the importance of music, Belle is at times such a cacophony of chords that it threatens to become atonal. Yet Hosoda manages to blend these motifs and phrases into one beautiful harmony with a conclusion that is less a crescendo of world-breaking grandeur than a caressing solo of emotional cleansing. In mixing the real with the unreal, Belle gets to display the world as it is and the world humanity creates – both composed of equal parts beauty and disgust – as well as their unique art styles with traditional hand drawing for Suzu’s little town and computer-augmented animation for U’s global interface. While the animation is often gorgeous, particularly that of various environments, the most beautiful part of Belle is in watching Suzu overcome the trauma which gave rise to Belle’s voice while silencing her own.

Runtime: 122 minutes

6. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Even death and pandemics can’t stop the Marvel machine. (Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

The post-Endgame era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t been easy. Few of the studio’s phase four films – with more entries than phases one and two – have been up to the studio’s critical or commercial standard (I’ll admit to overrating Love & Thunder and Eternals, though I still feel the latter is excellent as a standalone art film). More importantly, the studio tragically lost one of its flagship stars and the lead of its most successful holdover series. Chadwick Boseman’s absence haunts every frame of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever making an already more serious-minded franchise within the MCU into a notably somber affair where heroics, effects, and action sequences pale to the emotional struggle of the characters. Yet, rather than wallow, co-writer/director Ryan Coogler uses the film as a treatise on the grieving process itself, even citing new character Namor as evidence in the film’s examination of life after a death. In this sense Wakanda Forever takes on a larger significance in the same way that 2019’s Black Panther did, allowing the cast, characters, and the entire audience to process loss together. Never has a film better used real world circumstance to illustrate that being a superhero doesn’t require big fights or technology, but the inner strength to press on when your world has crumbled. Perhaps this is how the MCU may right its course: less super, more hero.

Runtime: 161 minutes

5. Top Gun: Maverick

Highway to the… you continued the song in your head didn’t you? (Image: Paramount Pictures)

Say what you will about Tom Cruise and his insane religion totally legitimate religion that is in no way a scam to siphon money from its followers pleasedon’tsueme, but the man knows how to make great entertainment. Coming 35 years after the original Top Gun, this overdue yet unnecessary sequel is the type of feel-good nostalgia property – a non-agenda (even though the entire film is US Navy propaganda), pro-America (which is also propaganda) popcorn action flick – those filthy Hollywood libs are afraid of making these days. It’s all dog fights and a diverse group of skilled pilots and punishing anyone disrespectful of women and totally homoerotic really super manly beach football. It’s also a statement on happiness, finding your place in the world, the inevitable process of replacement, and a meta-contextual commentary on why at this stage in his life and career Cruise continues to star in action spectacles rather than transition into Oscar-baiting prestige films, or why he stays with an obvious cult. Like Pete Mitchell, Cruise is one of the few people lucky enough to have found something that brings him joy and is content to remain doing so for the rest of his life. The most impressive feat of Top Gun: Maverick is in seamlessly packing such profound observations into a traditional summer blockbuster with absolutely no agenda. That and the jet stunts. Those were impressive too.

Runtime: 130 minutes

4. Tár

‘Tár’ makes us wonder what else we’ve never noticed in plain sight. (Image: Focus Features/Universal Studios)

I’ll be honest, I was tempted to quit after forty minutes of Tár. It was clear that the film was well-made, deliberate, well researched and written, and that Cate Blanchett is on her way to another (deserved) Oscar. What wasn’t clear was the reason Lydia Tarr was a compelling enough figure to justify nearly two-and-a-half hours of close third person narrative. Only now, a week after watching Todd Field’s psychological drama, has it dawned on me how vital those first forty minutes are to movements which follow. Themes and plot threads layer themselves quietly throughout, the way a string section holds a single note in the background, leaving them right at the edge of the viewer’s awareness before unleashing their full force. Like the titular character, Field is in complete control of his composition, dedicating the timing of new revelations, the tone of each scene, and the intensity of every emotion, all while as clearly in sight as a conductor fronting an orchestra. By keeping us firmly planted within Tarr’s worldview, Field leaves room for doubt as to where idol becomes villain, giving as much credence to those who argue that the film indicts abuse of power as there is for those who think it critiques cancel culture, and even those who believe the ending isn’t to be believed. What is clear once the whole piece concludes is that Field and Blanchett have created art as mysterious as a scream and as powerful as a whisper.

Runtime: 157 minutes

3. Aftersun

Starting with the performances, ‘Aftersun’ feels less like a movie than a home video. (Image: Mubi/A24)

The older I get the more I appreciate what my parents accomplished. Even now, with a job I love having, a career I love doing, and a decent grasp on life in general (insofar as anyone can have a “grasp” on life), I can’t imagine handling standard adult responsibilities while raising two kids. Nor can I imagine ever being able to afford raising said kids in a house in the most expensive American state. In Aftersun, first time writer/director Charlotte Wells reflects upon how our understanding of our parents deepens through the years. By splitting the narrative between Sophie at eleven and at thirty, the same age as her father during their holiday together, the film presents both the innocence and melancholy of these memories. Reflective surfaces, long shots, and unbalanced framing lend a beautiful sadness to moments that seem too intimate even for family to share. Although Paul Mescal is outstanding as Callum, wearing a thin mask of confidence over a foundation of complete cluelessness, Frankie Corio gives the performance of a lifetime at only twelve years old. The banter and comfort between the two makes it difficult to imagine them not being related, and makes our view of present-day Sophie all the more painful through omission. In the same way that Sophie witnesses things she won’t understand for years, things she would later learn to appreciate, Aftersun invites us to reflect on our own memories of when once immovable pillars of parental authority became as flawed and vulnerable as we are.

Runtime: 96 minutes

2. The Banshees of Inisherin

Would you believe this is one of the year’s tensest scenes? (Image: Searchlight Pictures)

Since his cinematic debut with 2008’s In Bruges, playwright-turned-screenwriter/director Martin McDonagh has exposed humor in cruelty. On the small island of Inisherin, McDonagh finds the perfect ground on which to blend the two before then yanking both to new extremes within his work. As the Irish Civil War literally explodes in the background, Banshees makes a simple tale of a breakup between two longtime friends into a parable that is as modern as it is ancient, touching not only upon the almost-too-obvious metaphor but also themes of male friendship and loneliness, how humor can negatively affect the humorist, and (most striking for me personally) the sacrifices often necessary to succeed in art. As the stars of McDonagh’s debut film – Colin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson – have an established chemistry which makes it easy to present them as mismatched friends again pushed together by circumstance over choice. Meanwhile, Kerry Condon shines as easily the smartest person on the island, and also the only smart person on the island. Early absurdist humor lulls the view in, allowing later events to land like a sharp and swift punch to the gut. Although, given the subject matter, it’s more like punching yourself in the gut. Although, given the humor, it’s like preparing to punch yourself in the gut, tripping, and kicking five teeth out on a rock. Then deciding to get revenge by cutting off your nose. Sometimes it’s only when shown our own foolishness that we realize how foolish we are. And yet that never stops us.

Runtime: 114 minutes

1. Everything Everywhere All At Once

Nothing I say here matters. (Image: A24)

The title says it all.

Runtime: infinite and instantaneous

About Jess Kroll

Jess Kroll
Jess Kroll is a novelist and university professor born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and based in Daegu, South Korea. He has been writing film reviews since 2004 and has been exclusive to Pop Mythology since 2012. His novels include 'Land of Smiles' from Monsoon Books and young adult series 'The One' and 'Werewolf Council' from Epic Press.