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Review: Tom Santilli's Top 20 Films of 2022

2022 AFI Fest - "The Fabelmans"
Posted at 9:50 AM, Jan 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-09 09:50:00-05

Tom Santilli is a respected journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association, Detroit Film Critics Society and Online Film Critics Society since 2010. Tom is the Executive Producer and co-host of the syndicated TV show, "Movie Show Plus," which has been on the air for 20+ years in the Metro-Detroit market and Mid-West. He is also the film critic for WXYZ-TV. Twitter: @tomsantilli, Facebook & Instagram: @filmsurvivor.

2022 is nearing its end, and for many, it's good-riddance. The movie industry has shown resilience with some massive blockbusters this year, and a return to people seeing movies in theaters.

Well, certain movies. Be careful what you wish for. The industry has morphed into something that none of us expected, a landscape where films like "Top Gun: Maverick" and "Avatar: The Way of Water" can still make BILLIONS of dollars world-wide, but where most rom-coms or other "adult-slanted" films that we're used to, like "Tar" or "The Fabelmans," aren't able to justify their budgets with theatrical income alone.

And while many of the streaming platforms in 2022 are still losing money, we're still seeing some experimental release strategies as the studios try to navigate the changing landscape. Disney's "Turning Red" was a good little film, but one that made almost nothing when it was released simultaneously on Disney+. One of the greatest "see-it-with-a-crowd" films of 2022, Netflix's "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery," was shamefully only released to theaters for a seven-day run, before landing on Netflix weeks later.

If anything, 2022 was another transitional year, as the movie theaters, the studios and the streaming platforms continue to forge their future business models. Not every superhero film was a financial success (see "Black Adam"), and while "Lightyear" and "Strange World" were box office disasters, "Minions: The Rise of Gru" made nearly a billion dollars.

But 2021 did represent a return to movie theaters, and the future looks bright. With a slew of films from 2020 held over and released into 2021 and beyond, there definitely was no shortage of content in 2021 at the box office or on the ever-increasing streaming platforms at our disposal.

As I gathered my thoughts to put together my year-end "Best of 2022" list, I reflected back on a year where movies, unfortunately, took a back seat to real-life. Don't get me wrong, there were a slew of great movies, both big and small...some harder to find than others. And while I don't have the numbers in front of me, I can say with certainty that I most definitely saw less overall movies than normal. But I have seen almost - if not all - of the movies that are being talked about, or are serious awards-contenders this Fall.

Believe it or not, movies both big and small are actually way more accessible to mainstream audiences than ever before thanks to streaming. There isn't a single movie on this list that you won't be able to find on a streaming platform or in theaters, so I urge you to seek out the films you haven't seen on this list, and to share your feedback as to your top films of 2022.

As for me? Here goes: My Top 20 Films of 2022:

#20: "Everything Everywhere All At Once" (A24)

What I had said about it: ""Everything Everywhere All At Once" just dumps its ingredients in a blender and lets it all fly on high. That's the point of course, but after an Earth-shattering first-half, it slowly loses its mojo, and the most unpredictable of movies becomes somewhat predictable down the stretch. There were almost TOO many ideas and themes splattered on-screen for any one of them to truly resonate.

Some have called "Everything Everywhere All At Once" the best film in decades, the best film ever, a life-changing experience. I'm happy for that, and would not want to rain on anyone else's parade. While for me it was a super-charged whirlwind, a phenomenal effort to give audiences something fresh and different, it wasn't precisely executed, nor did it congeal into some sort of rare magic." (Read Full Review).

#19: "The Outfit" (Focus Features)

What I had said about it: "Mark Rylance is a national treasure. He delivers an astounding performance as a tailor - no a "cutter" - in the surprisingly effective gangster drama, "The Outfit." It's a clever play on words representing not only the main character's profession, but the slang descriptive title of the underground, organized crime syndicate that formed all over America in the mid-20th century.

It features a great ensemble, led by Rylance, and is easily one of the best films of the year thus far, even if its third act prevents it from achieving greatness." (Read Full Review).

#18: "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" (Roku Channel)

What I had said about it: "This movie is one the funniest films I've seen this year, an absolutely absurd, delightful deconstruction and parody of the biopic genre that fits its subject more than perfectly. It starts off conventionally enough, but soon makes it clear that it has no intention of taking itself seriously. Um, like why would it? This is Weird Al. And this is his story...no, not the story of his life, but the story of the parody of his life." (Read Full Review).

#17: "The Northman" (Focus Features)

What I had said about it: "The opening scenes pull you in and the epic climax - a battle between two silhouetted warriors literally at the gates of Hell - are truly impressive. In fact, the first and last thirds of the film are abundantly effective. It's that middle-third that keeps "The Northman" from reaching true Valhalla status as a masterpiece. It slows down considerably and dare I say becomes a bit mundane and even abstract. As rich as the visuals are throughout, this is not necessarily a world that you want to spend any extra time in that you don't have to." (Read Full Review).

#16: "Aftersun" (A24)

What I had said about it: "Being that "Aftersun" is the first feature-film written and directed by Charlotte Wells, it's clear that she is a rare talent. This is more of a visual contemplation, a swirl of feelings and memories, more than a narrative film, and for that reason "Aftersun" is destined to be adored by critics, and loathed by casual moviegoers who may not have the patience to endure this dreamy - and deathly-paced - father/daughter drama." (Read Full Review).

#15: "Selena Gomez: My Mind and Me" (Apple TV+)

What I had said about it: "This movie confirms how rare a celebrity she is: Endlessly talented but bursting with empathy and a longing to make a real difference in the lives of her fans, and the world. Sharing her journey in this film will make a difference, and it's impossible to not fall in love with her and root for her...not just the person on stage or in front of the camera, but that scared, insecure yet courageous and fierce human being buried within." (Read Full Review).

#14: "Good Luck To You, Leo Grande" (Hulu/Searchlight Pictures)

What I had said about it: "We are tricked (in the best possible way) into thinking this is a movie about an "elderly" woman becoming sexually-awakened, but Nancy's age ends up not being the point. "Good Luck to You, Leo Grande" is so subversive and so smart, that it gives us all confidence to be ourselves, to find ourselves...and most importantly, to be proud of ourselves. It's the feel-good movie of the year, and not at all in the way that I might have at first suspected." (Read Full Review).

#13: "Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths" (Netflix)

What I had said about it: "This is the latest masterpiece of cinema from two-time Academy Award winning director, Alejandro Innaritu ("Birdman," "The Revenant"), and it's admittedly not for everyone...and a whole lot to chew on. But it's never uninteresting, and it's one of the most gorgeously shot films of 2022.

This one is sure to divide audiences, but I found it to be a profound and bold piece of work from a vulnerable filmmaker at the top of his game. It's not Innaritu's most focused work, but it may be his most personal." (Read Full Review).

#12: "All Quiet on the Western Front" (Netflix)

What I had said about it: "This is a harrowing, brutal, graphically explicit version of the classic novel of the same name, which was also adapted into the famous 1930 film. And yet, it is cinematically beautiful, a stellar achievement of both sight and sound and a film that will undoubtedly land on many award season "best of" lists in several categories like Cinematography, Costume Design, Sound, Score, Hair & Makeup and Production Design.

It's not for the faint of heart, but it's a brilliant work of cinema, and not easily forgotten." (Read Full Review).

#11: "Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Odyssey" (Netflix)

What I had said about it: "The era is remembered with rose-colored glasses, but it's a glorious trip. Not as big of a deal as sending men to walk on the moon, but close. For those that lived it, I cannot recommend this film enough. But even for those that didn't, it evokes a simpler time - which it really wasn't - not because the world was less complicated back then but because nobody really knew any better. They say knowledge is power, but ignorance is bliss, and if you had a childhood like Stanley's, it's no surprise you would want to remember every small detail." (Read Full Review).

#10: "Fresh" (Hulu)

What I had said about it: "The writing is strong, the laughs and plenty and the shocks are delivered with precision. There's also more than one dance sequences as well as an unforgettable kitchen montage scene with a fabulously loose Sebastian Stan. None of this works though without the stellar performances from Edgar-Jones (as well as Stan), not to mention the large contributions from the small supporting players.

"Fresh" is best if you go into it without knowing too much about it, but it'd be reckless to suggest that you shouldn't also brace yourself for all possibilities. This is definitely an acquired taste that will last with me for a very, very long time." (Read Full Review).

#9: "The Banshees of Inisherin" (Searchlight Pictures)

What I had said about it: "There is a lot of meaning when you dive deep into McDonagh's script, but even on the surface, "The Banshees of Inisherin" is a crowd-pleasing dramedy. This one lives up to the hype." (Read Full Review).

#8: "Till" (MGM Studios)

What I had said about it: "Around the edges, "Till" is structured traditionally. It is, essentially, a courtroom drama. But it is so much more than that. We see the broken system, the deeply-rooted hate and racism, the unspeakably horrific actions. But like Mister Rogers told us, when there is a tragedy, look for the helpers. Mamie refused to allow her son to be just another victim of the system. Her strength bleeds through the screen courtesy of Danielle Deadwyler - my top pick for Best Actress by a landslide - and it does something that few films are able to achieve: It inspires." (Read Full Review).

#7: "Avatar: The Way of Water" (20th Century Studios)

What I had said about it: "Usually a run time of three hours and twelve minutes will leave people running for the doors, but "Avatar: The Way of Water" keeps a surprisingly brisk pace. The immersion is not just in the CG-rendered world (which contains, no doubt, some of the smoothest and most dazzling visual effects in cinematic history), but also in the characters. Cameron's dialogue might be pointed at times, but the time he invests in creating his characters and their interactions pays off grandly by the time that the high-stakes finale rolls around. That final 30-40 minutes is some of the most effective, emotional and gorgeous movie-making I've ever witnessed. I was not only on the edge of my seat, but I'm not sure if I remembered to even draw a breath. Simply. Outstanding." (Read Full Review).

#6: "The Batman" (Warner Bros. Pictures)

What I had said about it: ""The Batman" is as good as a Batman movie has ever been, or possibly ever can be. It might be jarring at first to accept yet another version of this character, in a previously unvisited timeline with yet another actor under the bat cowl, but if you accept this like a Bond film, where this movie isn't meant to connect to anything else and is simply a Batman story, then you will be floored by how effective this rendition can be." (Read Full Review).

#5: "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" (Netflix)

What I had said about it: ""Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" is one of the year's very best films, a magical and moving fable with real stakes and heart-breaking characterizations. With such an old and well-known story at its center, it's safe to say that watching this version is to experience the tale for the very first time. That in and of itself is a remarkable achievement, but then again this movie is jampacked full of them." (Read Full Review).

#4: "The Fabelmans" (Universal Pictures)

What I had said about it: "Film, for Sammy and for many of us, can be fun (like his make-shift Western film), it can be a form of flattery (like when he tries to recreate the train scene from "The Greatest Show on Earth") and it can even reveal ugly, hidden truths about real life (like what he discovers while cutting together a family camping video). But it also has the power to make its subject look as heroic or as villainous as the director wants...it's an endearing film for anyone with a heartbeat, or for those who even share a fraction of Sammy's love for not only movies, but the power and influence that these moving pictures possess." (Read Full Review).

#3: "Bros" (Universal Pictures)

What I had said about it: "Comparing it to "When Harry Met Sally" is the highest compliment I can think to give "Bros," a movie with some of the sharpest dialogue, funniest scenes and the most likable characters that I've seen in a romantic comedy in quite some time. Like Nora Ephron's legendary "When Harry Met Sally" script, Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller's words burst off of the screen with an urgency and with incredible insightfulness. This is a movie that has something to say...hell, it has LOTS to say, and there is so much to discover brimming beneath the surface. Even on the surface, it's the funniest movie of the year." (Read Full Review).

#2: "Babylon" (Paramount Pictures)

What I had said about it: ""Babylon" is one of the most shocking, vile, wild, outrageous and ambitious movies I've ever laid eyes on. It grabs you and shakes you out of your comfort zone and your normal expectations for what a movie is. It destroys your romantic vision of Old Hollywood and the revered stars of the past. It knocks your socks off, then lights fire to them and throws them into a crowd.

It's a masterpiece...a messy, eye-opening, gross, massive masterpiece. It's hard to believe that the same guy who imagined "La La Land" would show us his take of the same town in the form of "Babylon." But "Babylon" is beautiful for its ugliness, and its one of the best films of the year." (Read Full Review).

#1: "Top Gun: Maverick" (Paramount Pictures)

What I had said about it: "This is as thrilling and fun as movies get, folks. "Top Gun: Maverick" pushes the envelope of filmmaking in ways that no other films have, truly. Tom Cruise is in a league of his own when it comes to Hollywood superstars, and he shows here - even as he approaches age 60 - that there is nobody who can command the screen quite like he can, with just a look or that iconic smile.

If not Best Picture, it will surely be recognized in a slew of technical categories, from the breath-taking cinematography, to the score, to the sound that puts you right there in the cockpit.

But it also deserves a look for Best Picture.

In an age of cinema where new ideas seem few and far between, and massive corporate conglomerates scour over their film library to find lost franchises to squeeze some final drops of blood out of, "Top Gun: Maverick" strikes the perfect balance between the old and the new. It dabbles in nostalgia without relying on it. It takes the spirit of the first beloved film and instead of giving us the same motions as before, it expands the story and its characters. It takes a few chances. It pushes the limits. Like Maverick, the film isn't reckless, it just is willing to do whatever is necessary to be the best.

"Top Gun: Maverick" has restored my faith in the movies, with one supersonic swoop, and perhaps a charismatic smile from our greatest living superstar." (Read Full Review).

Honorable Mentions (films I still liked but that didn't make the Top 20 cut, no particular order):

  • Tár
  • Flint: Who Can You Trust?
  • Decision to Leave
  • Bad Axe
  • All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
  • Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank
  • The Menu
  • RRR
  • The Sea Beast
  • A Man Called Otto
  • Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
  • She Said
  • Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
  • Facing Nolan
  • Descendant
  • How To Survive a Pandemic
  • Turning Red
  • Navalny