What to Watch

25 Best Films of 2022

As another year draws to a close, our writers choose their favourite films, from daring debuts to boundary-breaking blockbusters

If 2021 was the year where cinema stuck it out, 2022 was proof that it's here to stay. For a while there, we might have genuinely wondered whether a blockbuster could still make a billion dollars in a post-COVID landscape, in a world rife with streaming options and less “movie stars” than ever. And so – of course – it was Tom Cruise and James Cameron who came through, reigniting the multiplexes and cementing the true theatrical experience as something singular and sacred. Elsewhere, great auteurs returned with their most personal projects yet, and the smallest releases smashed expectations, breaking down long-standing cultural boundaries to tell stories of the most intimate and often elaborate kind. Safe to say, it's good to be back on sturdy ground.

So, which movies proved themselves to be a cut above the rest? To compile this list of 2022's best filmic features, our regular contributors voted for their ten favourites of the year (according to UK theatrical release dates alone): the higher up an individual's list a film appeared, the more points it was worth (between 1 and 10), with the total number of points deciding the final order here. You can also see which films each contributor voted for with our list of individual ballots.

Contributors: Tom Barnard, Alasdair Bayman, Jack Blackwell, Steph Green, Ella Kemp, Jordan King, Emily Maskell, Anna McKibbin, Lilia Pavin-Franks, Savina Petkova, Rafa Sales Ross, Alistair Ryder, Adam Solomons, Fedor Tot, Jasmine Valentine, Laura Venning


=25. Cyrano

“Words fail me,” sings a loving Cyrano to his oblivious darling Roxanne – three brief yet all-encompassing words coming from the town’s most prolific wordsmith, made speechless by the presence of his beloved. This is one of many poignantly composed moments in Joe Wright’s adaptation of Erica Schmidt’s stage musical of the same name, in itself based on Edmond Rostand’s classic play Cyrano de Bergerac. The film, which sees the protagonist transformed from a man with a protruding nose to a little person, has Peter Dinklage reprising the career-best role he played onstage, ditching pitch-perfect vocals in favour of raw emotion. He's joined by the always-great Hayley Bennett and the endlessly charming Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the best-acted love triangle of recent times. To top it off, Cyrano has perhaps the greatest score in a year of great scores, written by the National’s Aaron and Bryce Dressner. As a retelling of a classic, it is beyond competent. As a musical? Perfection. Rafa Sales Ross


=25. Turning Red

Suffusing maximalist animation with deeply personal, culturally specific storytelling, Domee Shi’s Turning Red perfectly balances tradition and innovation to deliver Pixar’s finest film since Inside Out. The film centres on Chinese-Canadian tween Mei’s (Rosalie Chiang) experiences as she deals with puberty, smothering parents, and the startling discovery that when she’s emotionally overwhelmed she turns into a giant, fluffy red panda. Where Shi’s wildly creative work of autofiction delights – beyond its gorgeous anime stylisation, Finneas and Billie Eilish-penned nostalgic boyband earworms, and Shi’s many loving nods to her early 00s upbringing – is in its refreshing narrative boldness. Here’s a mainstream animation that frequently literalises its allegorical exploration of menstruation, encourages audiences to embrace rather than hide their inner freak, and turns its Kaiju-sized blockbuster climax into a simple exchange between mother and daughter that powerfully speaks to the generationally inherited struggles of womanhood. The fact that it is also a great girl-turns-into-massive-red-panda-and-shenanigans-ensue romp is merely a bonus. Jordan King


24. Ali & Ava

Following an unlikely pairing who share a vested interest in a young local girl, Ali & Ava (the titular two played by Adeel Akhtar and Claire Rushbrook) is a cinematic love letter that extends beyond the confines of romantic connection. It’s an ode to place and duty of care, singing from a hymn sheet that faithfully explores the power music can hold to unite the polarised. Director Clio Barnard effortlessly holds the reins of a dual perspective – a wider lens that examines socio-economics and an emulsion of culture that congeals to become “British,” and a tender close-up of touch and speech that says more about intimacy than most relationships ever could. Nothing feels forced with Akhtar and Rushbrook’s chemistry, finding the peaks and pits of each other’s character with a familiar ease. Viewers could well be watching their own neighbour fall for someone who has been there all along – which is exactly what sets it apart. Jasmine Valentine


23. Bergman Island

Mia Hansen-Løve’s long-awaited English-language debut, Bergman Island, is a profoundly layered work that utilises the austere world of Ingmar Bergman’s cinema and Fårö – the iconic island where he made many of his feature films – as a personal canvas for the French director to reflect on the nature of loss, brilliantly blurring the lines between real life and fiction. Vicky Krieps portrays Chris, a filmmaker on a writing retreat with her partner, Tony (Tim Roth), and whose differing artistic approaches come to the forefront as they settle into their quaint new surroundings, coupled with sincere reflections on the long shadow cast by Bergman’s cinema. As Krieps comes to embody Hansen-Løve’s on-screen avatar, alongside an equally captivating Mia Wasikowska, who appears in Chris’ interwoven film-within-a-film, any sense of impersonation or charade feels secondary to the film's deep emotional heft. Imprinting her languid style upon the English language for the first time, Hansen-Løve maintains her unique status as one of our finest contemporary filmmakers. Alasdair Bayman


22. Memoria

Some movies change the way you see the world – Memoria changes the way you hear it. Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s first film set outside of his native Thailand is a mystical odyssey across Colombia, as Tilda Swinton’s Jessica aims to find the source of the mysterious sound imperceptible to the wider world. What sounds on paper like an arthouse in-joke – a seemingly jump scare driven narrative from a filmmaker who has encouraged audiences to sleep through his previous films – quickly transforms into something much more poignant. It’s the gently surreal waking dream we’ve come to expect from Weerasethakul, but its ruminations on the power of memory make it his most richly realised work to date. As audiences have returned to the cinema post-pandemic, several directors have claimed their films should only be seen on the big screen; through offering pure immersion instead of spectacle, Memoria was the first of this new era that it would be unthinkable to watch anywhere else. Alistair Ryder


21. Vortex

It’s a rare career where an unsparing study of the ravages of dementia can be considered a director’s kindest and most accessible work, but that’s the sort of fearsome reputation that Gaspar Noe has fostered. Vortex is a deeply affecting and distressing look at the dying days of an elderly couple, magnificently performed by Francoise Lebrun and Dario Argento, informed by Noe’s own near-death experience, made utterly (and terrifyingly) convincing by great performances and the central stylistic conceit. Noe’s formal audacity can come off as showy, but here the split-screen never feels like a gimmick, the separation of the leads integral to a convincing portrait of a long-term couple that has been doomed simply by the amoral march of time. Noe immerses you in the couple’s life and flat (one of the best pieces of set design of the year) before knocking you out with the devastating inevitabilities of ageing. Jack Blackwell


20. No Bears

In No Bears, Jafar Panahi tells two love stories that are both coloured by their limitations, capturing the overlapping threads from the centre of this increasingly complicated web. You don’t need to know anything about Panahi’s imprisonment, or the state-mandated limitations imposed on him as a filmmaker, to feel the impact of the film, though knowing it will amplify the questions rippling from within. What do we assume? What do we need from filmmakers? What do they need from us? In reckoning with the real cost of moviemaking, we are invited to question our position as consumers effortlessly wandering through hand-crafted art. No Bears infects the viewer with its prickly, entrancing sense of foreboding and with it we are reminded that Jafar Panahi’s ability to blend real life and fiction remains singularly entrancing. Anna McKibbin


19. After Yang

A recurring problem with many sci-fi stories is that they forget their heart, but there would never be any risk of that in a Kogonada film. The honest, warm and quiet filmmaker of Columbus fame tackles grief in a story of family and what comes after life – the act of mourning but the act of searching, and trying to figure out how you hold onto love in the empty spaces that remain. After Yang gives Colin Farrell the opportunity to be gentle, and finds a convincing breakout star in Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja as now-single child Mika. There’s specificity, too, in the wrestling with Asian-American identity and the rifts between us and our parents that, so far, not even technology can paper over. A rich meditation on what it means to be alive, come for the moving directorial effort, stay for the best opening sequence/dance-off you’ll see all year. Ella Kemp


18. You Won't Be Alone

If you were looking for pure originality in your 2022 movies, nothing would have suited you better than Macedonian-Australian director Goran Stolevski’s sensational, beautifully shot debut You Won’t Be Alone. Mixing together traditional folk tales and a coming-of-age story, it seems to invent a whole new language as you watch it, finding new and thrilling ways to convey eons-old information about sex, violence, nature, and evil, brilliantly performed by not just the actors but one of the most well-wrangled animal casts I’ve ever seen. Red in tooth and claw yet with a profoundly empathetic heart, Stolevski’s film feels ancient and modern at once, telling a timeless story in a way that feels genuinely new, perhaps the rarest of things in modern cinema. For most filmmakers, You Won’t Be Alone would be a career-defining triumph – for it to be one’s first foray into feature directing is an achievement almost beyond words. Jack Blackwell


17. Corsage

There have been many films about Empress Elisabeth of Bavaria over the last century, but this one is really special. In it, Sisi (Vicky Krieps) travels the whole empire by herself, smokes, and is not afraid to voice out her desires all things unthinkable for a woman in the 19th century Habsburg court. With Corsage, director Marie Kreutzer happily defies genre conventions by inventing stories – save for the anchor tattoo, that one is real! –while tucking anachronisms away into the frame for the audience to pick out. All of this tuned to Camille’s glowing sad girl pop music. Krieps is, of course, extraordinary and rules the film with gravitas against her corseted vulnerable body. At the core of Corsage is the female body as a tool for self-emancipation, even in the strictest court rules. But the film is not afraid to poke fun at all that fin de siecle rigidity with blistering candour, testifying to the power of cinema as a means of vindicating feminist histories. Savina Petkova


16. The Northman

Robert Eggers’ third film may have been his most expensive thus far, but thankfully it emerged with minimal compromise to his vision. Few directors are as committed to historical detail, but the trick with Eggers’ work is that he doesn’t fetishise said detail as an end unto itself: he uses it as a means of elevating his material, bringing both performers and audiences closer to the psychological makeup of the world he aims to create. So it is with The Northman, a film that goes some way to imagining – or as much as it is possible to imagine with the archeological and historical evidence at our disposal – how the world may have been experienced by Icelandic Vikings in the 10th century. The performers commit themselves fully: Aleksandar Skarsgård in particular is animalistic and brutal, all aided by the muddy chaos built by the production design teams and the ethereal wonder of the cinematography, taking in the full beauty of the breathtaking landscape. Fedor Tot


15. Tori and Lokita

This one goes for all of us who believe cinema should change the world: Tori and Lokita is the latest film by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne and their devotion to social realist issues is as urgent as always. The film tells the story of two child refugees (played by fantastic newcomers Paolo Schils and Joely Mbundu, respectively) seeking asylum in Belgium after fleeing from Benin and Cameroon. The humanistic purpose of Dardennes cinema is channelled through the excellent dual performance and paints an unfailing friendship even in the darkest moments of the children’s plight. And there are plenty: when they’re caught in an elaborate web of illegal drug dealings, they are separated and exploited. By showing how every political decision on their behalf seems arbitrary and deeply cruel, Tori and Lokita inspires deep empathy and calls for preserving human dignity in times of cynicism and outright xenophobia. Savina Petkova


14. Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio

It took Guillermo del Toro 14 years – half of his career – to realise his longtime dream of adapting Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi’s classic tale about a wooden puppet who dreams of becoming a real boy. Much like with Andrew Dominik’s white whale Blonde, Netflix stepped in to allow the Mexican filmmaker the budget and creative freedom to bring his vision to life. Del Toro then onboarded animation expert Mark Gustafson (of Fantastic Mr. Fox fame) as a co-director and the result is a work of stop-motion animation of almost unprecedented scale, shot over a thousand days. This painstaking attention to detail is one of many laurels to be placed upon del Toro’s cautionary tale turned manifesto, a moving work of art that sets the classic tale in Mussolini’s fascist Italy to retell one of cinema’s most beloved stories as a beautifully existential ode to disobedience. Rafa Sales Ross

13. Benediction

Terence Davies charts the life of British poet Siegfried Sassoon in Benediction, exercising a staggering degree of care and conviction when exploring his relationships with other men. Davies’ switches between Sassoon’s life as a young veteran and older man, but it is really Jack Lowden’s performance as the younger Sassoon that elevates the film. Lowden grounds Peter Capaldi’s depiction of the curmudgeonly older man with an unspecified longing, an inexpressible hopefulness driven by loneliness. Through careful editing, Benediction traces how fear and desire, duty and instinct, tragically collide. The film embodies James Baldwin’s observation from Giovanni’s Room: “what was strange was that this was but one tiny aspect of the dreadful human tangle, occurring everywhere, without end, forever.” No director more potently lays bare the way in which the English allow their unexpressed passions and desires to cool into something hard and cruel by life’s end. Benediction only confirms that. Anna McKibbin


12. The Souvenir Part II

Films like The Souvenir – small, independent, achingly personal and unconnected to established IP – are rarely, if ever, granted sequels. And that’s before you even ask the question: why would such a film need one? But here’s a follow-up that’s as important to the original as The Godfather II was to Coppola's classic, a deeply layered and introspective work of meta-fiction that deepens and enriches its forebear and arguably surpasses that film's emotional throughline in the process. Writer-director Joanna Hogg doubles down on The Souvenir’s autobiographical airs as we follow her cinematic surrogate, Julie, through film school and into the present day (and into the making of this very film), Hogg laying her cards on the table in bold, superior fashion, continually upturning what we think we’re seeing – and how we’re seeing it. It’s a film about how we wield the past to construct the present: clever, funny and playful, with heaps of the observant (and very British) detail that has come to define Hogg’s increasingly vital canon. Tom Barnard


11. Red Rocket

Another stellar Sean Baker film about sex work and America’s scarcely seen underclass, Red Rocket is also about how all life is a performance. Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), a failed ex-pornstar forced to move back home to Texas to live with his ex-wife and ex-mother-in-law, takes that principle literally. A near-pathological liar with just about enough charisma to believe his own bile, Saber charms his way back into the hearts of those he needs most at any given moment, including teenage doughnut shop worker Strawberry (Suzanna Son). He’s convinced she will take the California porn world by storm — and lend him a route back, too. Baker’s never-better film photography and a wonderfully self-aware performance by Scary Movies and ex-adult film star Rex place Red Rocket among the highlights of a brilliant filmmaker’s burgeoning filmography. The director shoots Texas City with all the grace and indictment of someone who, at least in the stories he chooses to tell, will never leave. Adam Solomons


10. Happening

A film being prescient in this day and age does not automatically equate to being a great work of art – witness the flotsam and jetsam of many a film festival lineup telling “important” stories poorly – but Happening sustains itself via a determined focus on its own emotive core. Adapted from Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical work, we follow teenager Anna (Anamaria Vartolomei, in one of the year’s great breakout performances), as she struggles to obtain an abortion in 1960s France, still illegal in those years. Vartolomei’s eyes are seemingly calm and collected, but forever hiding an ocean of turmoil and anguish lingering underneath. Audrey Diwan’s direction fuses cool blues with splashes of bright, vivid colours, the camera often trained directly on her lead’s face. These stylised touches – small but crucial – elevate powerful material into a heart-in-mouth drama that is as prescient as it is painful to watch. Fedor Tot


9. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

While it was Drive My Car that zoomed away with critical revere and an Academy Award, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s anthology film Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is equally, if not more, deserving of praise. Comprising of three “episodes” that in turn interrogate chance encounters, lost loves and insurmountable dislocation, Hamaguchi’s ability to mine potent emotional currency out of jarring scenes of interpersonal misfire is a marvel to watch. He unspools an impossibly heightened level of female-led intimacy across talky, but always playful, long takes; when one character says “I didn't know conversations could be this erotic,” the viewer can’t help but nod in entranced agreement. The third of the triptych, in which two school friends re-fuse a hazy connection only to find themselves working through trenchant buried emotions, is proof that Hamaguchi is king of the lo-fi plot twist. Steph Green


8. Bones and All

Sensuality and seduction are synonymous with a Luca Guadagnino joint, and ever since his 2018 turn with Suspiria, we can add spine-chilling to the mix. His latest feature, the enthralling and violent coming of age story Bones and All, was no exception, weaving the macabre with the magnificent to create one of 2022’s most heart-wrenching love stories. Starring Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell as the film’s star-crossed lovers, Bones and All takes carnal desire to new heights and delivers some of the most impactful performances of the year – with Michael Stuhlbarg expanding his very own “memorable monologues in Luca Guadagnino films” cinematic universe. Cannibalism was diet du jour in 2022, with others like Fresh and the TV series Yellowjackets taking a stab at the taboo trope, yet through buckets of blood and gore, Bones and All set itself apart with its sincerity and raw emotion. Tender is the flesh, and so was this standout release. Lilia Pavin-Franks


7. Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick opens with Tom Cruise almost touching the stars in a sequence that is at once totally exhilarating, profoundly silly, and unexpectedly poetic. Originally scheduled for release in July 2020, Cruise (at this point an action movie auteur) held out against the streaming services and insisted on a purely theatrical release. His gamble paid off, Maverick style: Top Gun: Maverick has since been rewarded with both an enormous box office haul and an unprecedented level of prestige. As daft and politically dubious as it is, it’s impossible to resist the golden-hued landscapes, spectacular dogfights, and simple but stirring story of a man confronting his legacy and doing his best to make things right. And, on a shallower note, let’s not forget the drop-dead gorgeous cast, whether oiled up playing volleyball on the beach at sunset or belting out “Great Balls of Fire” in tribute to Tony Scott's original. Laura Venning


6. The Banshees of Inisherin

The concept of somebody not wanting to be my friend anymore terrifies me. But it’s also deeply pathetic, and funny, and Martin McDonagh knows this better than anyone. He capitalises on the tiny, basic, but hugely entertaining concept for The Banshees of Inisherin, a two-hander which sees Colin Farrell and his eyebrows try to break through to Brendan Gleeson who just wants a bit of feckin’ peace. The despair and exasperation both men share, and pass back and forth, taps into panoramic existential concerns about what exactly to do with the time you have left in this world, and the lengths you’ll do to protect that if somebody is quite simply bothering you. Comedy reigns, but there’s great beauty in the film, too, as the fictional island of Inisherin is lensed in gorgeous tones and wide-reaching, isolated sets. But don’t worry, these men aren’t alone: led by Jenny the donkey, animals provide all the moral compass (and genuine relief for us) they need. So much goodness in such a silly concept. Ella Kemp


5. Nope

Nope – a film about a doughnut-shaped alien nicknamed “Jean Jacket” who is led astray by multicoloured inflatable tube men in arid outer-Los Angeles – shouldn’t work. It’s unwieldy and galaxy-brained; there’s a subplot involving a face-chewing chimpanzee. But Jordan Peele’s third feature somehow manages to tackle the notions of filmmaking, trauma and spectacle with ice-cool elegance, with Daniel Kaluuya (movie star) re-inventing the blank-faced cowboy hero of yore to bring us a neo-western of blinding originality. It’s rather delicious to get a big-budget blockbuster that keeps its thesis out of obvious reach (the kind that spawns “Nope Ending EXPLAINED” YouTube videos), but this is a genuinely scary, handsomely mounted piece of cinema about the ghastly, all-American urge to monetise and exploit. And, just maybe, one of our finest ever films about the primal, filmic pursuit of getting that One Perfect Shot. Steph Green


4. Everything Everywhere All at Once

There is nothing more mind-numbingly painful than doing taxes, and yet financial filing is at the heart of one of the most thrilling, imaginative and moving films of the year. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s absurdist but grounded comedy-drama, Everything Everywhere All at Once, is centred on Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese-American laundromat owner being audited by an unrelenting IRS agent (Jamie Lee Curtis) and tasked with saving the multiverse. With input from Evelyn’s well-meaning husband (Ke Huy Quan) and her rebellious daughter (the incomparable Stephanie Hsu), Daniels’ film veers into wonderfully weird territory – hotdog fingers included – as a disarming mother-daughter drama, a tale of generational trauma, and so much more. With warmth and wit across time and space, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a kaleidoscopic, life-affirming visual spectacle that will bring you to tears one minute and then have you crying with laughter the next. Emily Maskell


3. Licorice Pizza

Cruelly kept off the top spot of June’s WeLoveCinema best of 2022 so far by a little-known Norwegian film, Licorice Pizza kept its place among the year’s highlights in part because the rest of 2022 proved a little weak, but mostly because it’s among Paul Thomas Anderson’s very best work. Perhaps America’s most consistent living filmmaker produced, shock, another funny, charming, intimate and awe-inspiring romcom of the bittersweet kind two decades after Punch-Drunk Love. And this time with two debutant actors. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s son Cooper (as Gary Valentine) got the anticipation, but it was caustic, crush-of-the-year material Alana Haim (Alana) who really stood out. The use of Wings rock ballad “Let Me Roll” was among Anderson’s most effective needle drops in a career that hasn’t been short of them, Licorice Pizza cannily opting for edgier music picks than the seminal Boogie Nights, which takes place in the same setting at roughly the same time. Licorice Pizza might – might – just be even better. Adam Solomons


2. Aftersun

“Don’t you ever feel like you’re sinking?” In Charlotte Wells’ masterful debut, thirty-something Sophie remembers a holiday spent with her father (Paul Mescal) at a Mediterranean resort when she was eleven, an experience that encompasses both the warm glow of nostalgia and a creeping sense of dread. Frankie Corio, a newcomer who plays young Sophie, is extraordinary as a girl on the cusp of adolescence – not only experiencing the first flutterings of sexuality, but also coming to the painful realisation that her father is living, breathing human with his own private world of struggle and quiet desperation. Mescal, meanwhile, is the best he’s ever been, as tender as he is tortured. Soundtracked by late 90s hits, Wells creates a hazy landscape of memory that is intimate and ever-shifting, building to an inevitable, emotionally devastating climax. It might just be the best British debut film of the decade so far. Laura Venning


1. The Worst Person in the World

What does it mean to truly live? Is it the career milestones, measured by money and grandiose things? The number of people we have loved or who have loved us? How many times we have laughed or cried? Joachim Trier's The Worst Person in the World asked such elusive, loaded questions and, with them, made for one of the most profound and genuine films of the year. Renate Reinsve is radiant in the lead role as troubled young woman Julie, a photographer so desperate to find her place in the world, struggling to find the balance between integrity and impulse across a series of complicated romantic relationships. If you didn’t think it possible to feel a lifetime’s worth of emotions over the course of a single viewing experience, think again: The Worst Person in the World will lift you up, only to tear you down, evoking guttural sobs from a place of genuine relatability, before leaving you with that singular feeling that cinema often does best: a growing sense of hope. Lilia Pavin-Franks

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