Coming off the two most turbulent years in our recent history, 2022 proved that one of the many ways to unite the world is, as corny as it sounds, through the power of cinema. As the war for streaming continues on, you can feel the sense that filmmakers are determined to reinforce cinema as a vital art, away from the constant death chatter that was so pervasive. In 2022, we received countless original, big-screen epics in all shapes and sizes, and budgets. From bold spectacles like RRR and The Northman, to long-awaited sequels like Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick, to little breakout genre movies that could like Everything Everywhere All at Once, Smile, Barbarian and Terrifier 2. Some of the most necessary and important films in recent years such as Happening, Till and All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. Right now, it has never been easier to get a film into theaters and they need our business now more than ever. As we move further into the new year, it should be our duty to ensure the theater-going experience continues to thrive and that cinema, as evidenced by the immeasurable number of impeccable films released this past year, shall rage on. Here are fellow Defacto contributors Noah Damron and Michael Powell’s list:

Noah Damron’s Top 10 


1. RRR (d. SS Rajamouli)

It’s not hyperbolic to call SS Rajamouli’s jaw-dropping spectacle one of the single most invigorating pieces of cinema in ages. The biggest film to ever come from India is a galvanizing, maximalist blockbuster epic in every sense of the word. RRR reaffirms the need for original, larger-than-life cinema. A film in which one man successfully takes on a mob of hundreds with just a club, a man wrestles a tiger with his bare hands and an epic bromance is formed whilst saving a child from a burning bridge, all before the films title card appears. Over 3 hours in length, including an intermission, RRR simply does not stop in delivering body-pulsating thrills. From its concise, heartfelt storytelling, impeccable action sequences, not to mention a rousing dance battle against colonialists with footwork that would make Fred Astaire jealous, it all sounds like it shouldn’t work, but oh my, does it ever. I’ll never forget seeing this opening weekend in a sold-out auditorium with a rumbling sound system and an audience that cheered, applauded, gasped and cried all in perfect unison. That universality in the collective experience of witnessing Rajamouli’s thunderous spectacle is the very reminder of what cinema can achieve.

(Streaming on Netflix)

2. The Fabelmans (d. Steven Spielberg)

Getting to experience cinema’s greatest living director recount the events of his childhood, and the critical moments that helped define him is among the most profound cinematic experiences I’ve had in years. The Fabelmans is a deeply moving coming-of-age film that offers unparalleled access into the heart and soul of one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers. Elements of Spielberg’s life have appeared in most all of his films, but The Fabelmans shifts the focus directly to those moments, with vivid realization. There’s a universal sense of truth to Spielberg’s memories, even when the memories, themselves, may be fictitious. It’s a film that anyone with a love for cinema can relate to and see themselves in. Spielberg has been waiting his entire life to make this film and the wisdom shared is destined to be treasured.

(In theaters & on VOD)

3. Avatar: The Way of Water (d. James Cameron)

Like his other groundbreaking sequel T2, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water builds upon the shoulders of the previous film, with a far richer, more emotionally dynamic follow-up. A stone-cold stunner for all of its 192 minutes, the consistently jaw-dropping spectacle Cameron conjures up is truly unlike anything we’ve seen. However, its the stirring and heartfelt story at the center that truly elevates the film beyond just its expansive world-building. James Cameron continues to flex his status as one of modern cinema’s greatest visionaries with this rousing achievement in filmmaking that is rich with emotional depth and endless visual wonder.

(In theaters)

4. Guillermo de Toro’s Pinocchio (d. Guillermo del Toro & Mark Gustafson)

Guillermo del Toro’s most poignant and intimate film since Pan’s Labyrinth. Achingly beautiful at every turn — here is yet another example of why stop-motion animation should not and will not ever die — and has a real knack for consistently asking some real profound themes, while still being something you can watch with the entire family. There is such emotional complexity with this new portrayal of Pinocchio, one that feels the most different, yet similar to the original novel. This new retelling is sure to become a timeless film.

(Streaming on Netflix)

5. The Northman (d. Robert Eggers)

Robert Eggers’ The Northman is a viking epic of barbaric violence and operatic emotion. Championing the spirit of films such as Apocalypse Now and Conan the Barbarian, Eggers’ large scale odyssey is unflinching in its bone-crunching depiction of Shakespearean viking vengeance. The filmmaker behind The Witch and The Lighthouse doesn’t lose his grasp of his singular storytelling ability, and offers up one staggering set piece after another. Robert Eggers has crafted a grand, uncompromising film that leaves you shaking.

(Available on 4K Blu-Ray & streaming on Amazon Prime)

6. Everything Everywhere All at Once (d. Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan)

An endlessly inventive, skillfully crafted, genre-bending journey that has, rightfully, captured the hearts and minds of audiences around the world. Pulling from every director’s tool in the book, Everything Everywhere All at Once is both aggressive on a sensory level and tender with its characters. Michelle Yeoh gives the performance of her career, playing to her every strength as an artist, backed by a superb supporting cast including Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, Stephanie Hsu and James Hong. It’s impossible not to get swept away by this crazily hyper, emotionally dense kaleidoscope of self-acceptance.

(Available on 4K Blu-Ray & streaming on VOD)

7. Decision to Leave (d. Park Chan-wook)

Park Chan-wook’s exquisitely crafted Decision to Leave is a twisty and deeply romantic neo-noir. The South Korean auteur behind Oldboy and The Handmaiden has crafted a formally daring, densely layered thriller with a swooning forbidden romance at the center. Stars Park Hae-il and Tang Wei have a fiery chemistry between one another and Wei is a modern femme fatale for the ages. This is the rare thriller that evokes Hitchcock and actually earns the right to do so.

(Streaming on MUBI & VOD)

8. Happening (d. Audrey Diwan)

What unfortunately became the most vital and necessary film following the repeal of Roe v. Wade, Audrey Diwan’s elegantly constructed, yet confrontational Happening is an unforgettable portrait of a reality that too many girls and women have to face. The story of a young woman seeking an abortion in 1960’s France, when abortion is still illegal, shows the true-life horror that is inflicted when laws such as these are enacted. Diwan’s masterful storytelling puts the audience directly in the shoes of our lead, played with quiet ferocity by Anamaria Vartolomei. This is cinema at its most urgent.

(Streaming on AMC+ & VOD)

9. Till (d. Chinonye Chukwu)

Chinonye Chukwu’s harrowing depiction of the lynching of 14 year old Emmett Till told from the perspective of his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, is a film of real emotional intelligence. This is first-and-foremost a film about a mother’s grief for her son and Chukwu cuts straight to the heart of this tragic moment in American history. Danielle Deadwyler’s extraordinary performance is unforgettable. A pivotal courtroom interrogation scene shot in a single 9 minute take is held in an extreme close-up of Deadwyler’s face, making the sequence all the more visceral and raw. Till avoids ever feeling like a didactic lecture, but a powerful and essential piece of cinema.

(Available on Blu-Ray & streaming on VOD)

10. Vortex (d. Gaspar Noe)

Provocateur Gaspar Noe’s most humane and delicate film. Utilizing a split-screen presentation showcasing two differing perspectives, Vortex makes for a unique and thoroughly intimate experience. Like Noe’s previous work, this is emotionally challenging and deeply haunting, with the filmmaker confronting some of life’s bleakest, most grim moments, but the film’s lasting impact is undeniable.

(Streaming on MUBI & VOD)



Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (d. Dean Fleischer Camp)

A gentle, emotionally vibrant little movie, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is life-affirming in its view of the world. A unique film for the entire family, this wonderful and charming film calls to mind the best of Pixar and even Mr. Rogers in how it approaches lofty ideas and big themes to small children. There’s a vivid sense of wonder that comes from seeing the world through Marcel’s perspective.

(Available on VOD)

The Banshees of Inisherin (d. Martin McDonagh)

Equally hilarious and heartbreaking, The Banshees of Inisherin is a thoroughly poignant look at dueling principles. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are shattering in a film that gets to the heart of some profound themes about humanity. Martin McDonagh’s fable of melancholy and despair cuts deep and isn’t shaken easily.

(On Blu-Ray & streaming on HBO Max)

Top Gun: Maverick (d. Joseph Kosinski)

To quote my mother, who was 19 when the original film came out and has been the number one advocate in my life for everything Top Gun, “that was the best movie I’ve seen in 30 years!”. The film that lived up to decades of anticipation and thrilled just about every generation of film goer proved to be a classically constructed, well-oiled entertainment machine that operates at maximum satisfaction. Top Gun: Maverick is rapturous, heartfelt and is undeniably the gold standard of American blockbuster filmmaking.

(Available on 4K Blu-Ray & streaming on Paramount+)

Babylon (d. Damien Chazelle)

A full-throated epic that gobsmacks as much as it does disgust and thrill. Damien Chazelle’s Babylon is a bold cinematic extravaganza. As if the Oscar-winning director took the rejection of First Man to heart and decided to create the antichrist to La La Land. Babylon is anchored by commanding performances from Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt and although it’s as unwieldy as it is stunning, you won’t forget it anytime soon.

(In theaters)

Nope (d. Jordan Peele)

Jordan Peele’s sci-fi blockbuster is the most ambitious film of his career and a thrilling big-screen spectacle. This ode to the art of filmmaking, alongside layered writing and jaw-dropping imagery, shows Peele’s further growth as a master filmmaker. Nope is also witty and frightening — no other sequence of the year reaches the level of horrific dread as the Jupiter’s Claim abduction scene. The unique depiction of the extraterrestrials is unforgettable and the Western-inspired finale is heart-racing.

(On 4K Blu-Ray & Streaming on Peacock)


Honorable Mentions (In Alphabetical Order)

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (d. Laura Poitras)

Ambulance (d. Michael Bay)

The Batman (d. Matt Reeves)

Barbarian (d. Zach Cregger)

Bones and All (d. Luca Guadagnino)

Elvis (d. Baz Luhrmann)

Emily the Criminal (d. John Patton Ford)

EO (d. Jerzy Skolimowski)

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (d. Rian Johnson)

Hustle (d. Jeremiah Zagar)

Jackass Forever (d. Jeff Tremaine)

The Menu (d. Mark Mylod)

On the Count of Three (d. Jerrod Carmichael)

Prey (d. Dan Trachtenberg)

The Sadness (d. Robert Jabbaz)

Stars at Noon (d. Claire Denis)

Sundown (d. Michael Franco)

Tár (d. Todd Field)

Triangle of Sadness (d. Ruben Östlund)

The Woman King (d. Gina Prince-Bythewood)


Michael Powell’s Top 10


1. The Banshees of Inisherin (d. Martin McDonagh)

Martin McDonagh’s Irish fable about loneliness, isolation, and the struggle between ambition and niceness is the best film of the year. Reuniting Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson from his 2008 film In Bruges, McDonagh has created a film that is wonderfully funny one moment and despairingly sad in the next. This is the performance of Farrell’s career so far, charming, vulnerable, and a bit dim-witted. Gleeson especially shines in his scenes with Kerry Condon, and Barry Keoghan does great work as well as the tragic Dominic. The beautiful emptiness of the Irish landscape only serves to reinforce the feelings that the film inspires.

(Available on Blu-Ray & streaming on HBO Max)

2. Tár (d. Todd Field)

In Todd Field’s film, composer/conductor Lydia Tar is a force of nature. She has taken the world by the throat, and has convinced herself that she can do no wrong. Tar, played masterfully by Cate Blanchett, comes up against great change as allegations of sexual misconduct and racial bias shake her carefully constructed life to the core. Field’s film is an achievement, artfully structured and full of depth. From the New Yorker interview/profile that opens the film to the staggering final shot, the film is a masterpiece of design.

(Available on 4K Blu-Ray & VOD)

3. Return to Seoul (d. Davy Chou)

Davy Chou’s drama focuses on Frederique “Freddie” Benoit, a woman who was born in South Korea and then was adopted by a couple in France. Unbeknownst to her family in France, she has returned to South Korea to visit. She is initially outwardly reluctant to the possibility of looking for her biological family, but eventually moves forward with the idea. The film is beautifully written, exploring the lost nature felt by some adoptees, signified here by Freddie’s self-destructive behaviors. By focusing on a series of returns to Seoul over a ten year period, we see Freddie grow and change (and not change) as she finds her place in the world. Ji-Min Park’s performance as Freddie is revelatory, and one of the best performances of the year. Chief Defacto critic Robert Butler saw Return to Seoul after releasing his “The Best Films of 2022” list, but will have a glowing review up when the film releases wide, and expects it to appear on his 2023 Best Of list.

(Opening in theaters in February)

4. Living (d. Oliver Hermanus)

Living is a remake of the 1952 Akira Kurosawa film Ikiru in which a seemingly dull civil servant receives a terminal cancer diagnosis. Hermanus and writer Kazuo Ishiguro transplant the story to 1950s postwar England. The film’s greatest strength is a career-best lead performance from Bill Nighy as Mr. Williams, who mutes his natural charm in the early part of the film to convincingly play a man who is going through the motions of life. Aimee Lou Wood gives a wonderful supporting performance as a young woman who works in Mr. Williams’s office. The film also boasts some of the best cinematography of the year, shot warmly by Jamie Ramsey.

(Opening in theaters January 27th)

5. The Falls (d. Chung Mong-Hong)

In the disappointingly limited promotion given to the film by Netflix, The Falls is presented as a COVID-19 pandemic film. But this gives short shrift to such a deep, and deeply affecting, film. The Falls is a portrait of a family in crisis. Lo Pin-wen (Alyssa Chia) and Wang Jing (Gingle Wang) are mother and daughter, and they open the film clashing with each other when Wang Jing is sent home to quarantine, causing Lo Pin-wen to have to quarantine at home from work as well. As Lo Pin-wen’s home and work life seem to be collapsing, the film appears to be taking a turn to horror in a harrowing scene where her daughter has disappeared and she goes out into the rain to find her. But this is instead a visual representation of an issue with mental illness. The film then becomes a beautiful family drama as Wang Jing tries to help her mother. Fantastically written, The Falls also boasts two outstanding lead performances.

(Streaming on Netflix)

6. Decision to Leave (d. Park Chan-wook)

This new thriller from Park Chan-wook focuses on a police officer who is investigating the young Chinese wife of a Korean man who has died in a mountain climbing accident. His colleagues are convinced that the woman is involved, but as his professional interest turns personal, he becomes torn. The film is the visual feast of the year, with Park’s transitions and edits becoming increasingly complex and creative. Decision to Leave is an outstanding example of modern noir.

(Streaming on MUBI & VOD)

7. Amsterdam (d. David O. Russell)

David O. Russell’s much maligned new film Amsterdam is actually a madcap masterpiece. It feels like a 1930s or 1940s screwball comedy made in the modern day, but with a haunting and angry focus on dark issues just as relevant today as they were in the film’s post World War I setting. The rich still take advantage of the poor, veterans are still treated poorly, and white supremacy is once again on the rise. Led by a trio of outstanding performances from Christian Bale, John David Washington, and Margot Robbie, the film also focuses on the power of friendship. The ambitious ideas and big swings this film takes should have been the focus of critical praise, but instead led to almost universal ridicule.

(Available on 4K Blu-Ray & streaming on HBO Max)

8. Top Gun: Maverick (d. Joseph Kosinski)

2022 ended up being a year of incredible cinematic spectacle. It feels like most recent blockbusters have been products of the increasingly stale Marvel or DC machines. This year, audiences went back to the danger zone. A potent mix of the star power of Tom Cruise, nostalgia, true emotion (that Val Kilmer scene), humor, and exciting practical flight effects led to one of the best big-budget Hollywood films in years. Joseph Kosinski filled in ably behind the camera for Tony Scott and delivered something very impressive.

(Available on 4K Blu-Ray & streaming on Paramount+)

9. Broker (d. Hirokazu Kore-eda)

“Thank you for being born.” Kore-eda’s new film spins a beautiful story of found family out of various threads of tragedy. In Broker, Ha Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) are volunteers at a church which has a “baby box”, which newborns can be left in the care of the church without penalty to the parents leaving the children behind. The men are running a black market adoption business where they steal the babies from the box and sell them to prospective parents, in part to alleviate Ha’s underworld debts. When one of the mothers (Lee Ji-eun) returns to reclaim her baby, the trio decides to work together to place the baby. Along the way, a stowaway from the orphanage where Dong-soo grew up also joins them. They’re also being investigated by a pair of detectives. The plotting gets a little complex, but it adds up to a story with real humor and emotion at its heart. The performances are all strong, led by the always great Kang-ho, and Kore-eda continues to prove himself one of cinema’s great humanists.

(Coming to Blu-Ray & VOD on February 21)

10.  Ali & Ava (d. Clio Barnard)

British filmmaker Clio Barnard continues to use her past as a documentary filmmaker to tell realistic, quiet stories in Ali & Ava, her fourth narrative feature film. The film is a gorgeous romance between two older people who find deep connections despite many differences in their past. Adeel Akhtar and Claire Rushbrook shine as Ali and Ava, both stepping into rare lead roles with aplomb. Two decisions by Barnard really build up the film. The first is the use of music to thematically show the growth of the relationship between the main characters. The second is the choice to allow the characters to have private moments and conversations which the audience see but do not hear. This second choice especially boosts the appearance of intimacy between the characters.

(Available on VOD & streaming on Showtime)


Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)


After Yang (d. Kogonada)

Kogonada’s sophomore film is a beautiful, meditative look at existence. Featuring another of 2022’s great Colin Farrell performances and a wonderful supporting turn from Justin H. Min, After Yang follows in the footsteps of last year’s Swan Song, using light sci-fi trappings to explore the nature of humanity. When a family’s android, Yang (Min), who serves as a sibling to their young daughter stops operating, the father (Farrell) must unravel a tangled web that makes up Yang’s past. It is a quiet film that makes a real emotional impact. It also features one of the year’s best opening credit sequences, with a multi-family dance-off which serves to introduce most of the film’s characters.

(Available on Blu-Ray & streaming on Showtime)

Babylon (d. Damien Chazelle)

Damien Chazelle’s tribute to/takedown of the earliest days of Hollywood history just may be the biggest, wildest swing of the 2022 film year. Beginning with a lengthy orgiastic party sequence, the film then focuses on the last days of silent film and the beginnings of the sound era. The film takes its characters through their highest highs (sometimes literally) to the depths of hell. Two of the film’s moviemaking sequences are among the best sequences of the year. The first crosscuts between Manny Torres (Diego Calva) working his first day on the set of the new Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) film and the first day Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) is working as an actress. Chazelle starts by moving slowly between the stories, increasing the editing to a frenetic pace as Nellie has her star-making moment and Manny is able to get a camera to set during the last moments of golden hour. The other stunning sequence is the first day of shooting on Nellie’s first sound film. While the film is not wholly successful, Chazelle is doing ambitious work here. The film also features one of the year’s best scores, by Justin Hurwitz. What a shame that both of Margot Robbie’s films this year have been largely met with critical and audience indifference. I hope that she continues to make bold, fearless choices – she’s one of the leading lights of modern Hollywood.

(In theaters)

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (d. Guillermo del Toro & Mark Gustafson)

After a seemingly endless list of adaptations, including a disastrous one released earlier in 2022, it would seem that yet another version of Pinocchio is the last thing that the world needs. But with his inventive imagination and grimly playful worldview, master director Guillermo del Toro proves that there’s always room for a new twist on an old tale with this delightful film. ​On a visual and technical level, this film is a constant source of wonder. The work from del Toro and co-director/animator Mark Gustafson is largely traditional stop-motion animation with some added CGI touches. The design work is outstanding. Every time a character returns to the screen, I marveled again at the level of detail and inventiveness given to each. The film returns again to the themes of childhood and fascism at the heart of many del Toro films. With all del Toro has stated recently about animation being a medium and not a genre, it’s a shame the film falls victim to the pattern of animated films serving as musicals, as the songs are really the only misstep in this Pinocchio.

(Streaming on Netflix)

The Northman (d. Robert Eggers)

Robert Eggers’s viking epic The Northman is a muscular masterwork of filmmaking. Drawing on the medieval Scandinavian legend of Amleth, which inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the film takes us from Amleth’s (Alexander Skarsgard) boyhood as a beloved prince, to his adulthood as a raider. When he learns the location of his traitorous uncle Fjolnir (Claes Bang) Amleth poses as a slave to gain access to him. The film is simple on its face, but is shot through by Eggers and co-writer Sjon with threads of mysticism which build the story. The acting is solid, the action is perfectly shot, and it’s unlikely the audience will ever see another film that ends with a nude sword fight on an active volcano.

(Available on 4K Blu-Ray & streaming on Amazon Prime)


RRR (d. SS Rajamouli)

Another 2022 powerhouse of cinematic spectacle, S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR was one of the great sensations of the year. It’s the story of Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.), a man from the Gond tribe who travels to Delhi in search of a girl stolen from his people by the wife of a white administrator. There is an undercurrent of revolution in the city which Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) is working undercover to halt. Though unknowingly working at cross-purposes, the two men meet and become great friends. It’s a friendship that will help topple the local colonial powers. Through a daring bridge rescue, synchronized dance sequences, palace battles, a prison escape, and a beautifully choreographed final battle scene, RRR never stops astounding the audience. 

(Streaming on Netflix)



Aftersun (d. Charlotte Wells)

Avatar: The Way of Water (d. James Cameron)

Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (d. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

Brian and Charles (d. Jim Archer)

Descendant (d. Margaret Brown)

EO (d. Jerzy Skolimowski)

God’s Country (d. Julian Higgins)

Is that Black Enough for You?!? (d. Elvis Mitchell)

The Munsters (d. Rob Zombie)

Nope (d. Jordan Peele)