Even if James Cameron had not popped up in the final two weeks of the year to drop another $1.4 billion into global box office coffers with Avatar: The Way of Water, 2022 still would have gone down as a great year for film—both in terms of critical hits and bona fide blockbusters.
While you’ve probably already watched Top Gun: Maverick, Glass Onion, Nope, and The Banshees of Inisherin, there are plenty of excellent movies that might have slipped right past you. Here are some of them.
Given its late December release, you probably missed No Bears in 2022—but it’s still playing in theaters. The latest film from Jafar Panahi, Iran’s reigning master of cinema, premiered at the Venice Film Festival, just about one month after Panahi was sentenced to prison for six years after protesting the arrest of fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad. Not that Panahi was supposed to be making movies at all: In 2010, the director—who first broke through to international audiences with 1995’s The White Balloon, a cinéma vérité-style meditation on daily life in Tehran—was banned from directing for the next 20 years, due to his supposedly propagandistic tendencies. But like any great artist Panahi persisted, and he has gone on to assemble a legacy-making filmography that includes The Circle (2000), Offside (2006), and 3 Faces (2018). For his latest opus, he made a movie about a filmmaker named Jafar Panahi (played by himself) who has been banned from making films and takes a daring trip to the Turkish border to create his art. While it’s a fictionalized version of the director’s life, it’s also a deeply poignant and multi-layered reminder of the power of the cinematic art form and the true heroism it takes to fight oppression.
It’s also worth noting that Panah Panahi, Jafar’s 39-year-old son, made his amazing directorial debut in 2022 with Hit the Road—a movie about family that serves as a perfect complement to No Bears (and was included in our list of the best movies of 2022).
Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells made what might be the best directorial debut of 2022 with Aftersun, a heartbreaking family drama that’s as much a coming-of-age story as it is a poignant representation of mental illness. In some ways, this makes it feel like two different films—each telling the same story from a unique yet interconnected viewpoint. Normal People’s Paul Mescal turns in yet another brilliant performance as Calum, a struggling father who takes his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) to Turkey for a summer vacation. While Calum attempts to hide his inner turmoil for his daughter’s sake, she easily sees through the facade and attempts to strike a real and lasting connection with him. The chemistry between Mescal and Corio is both real and beautiful. The bulk of the film is set in the 1990s, and we witness much of their holiday via video footage watched by an adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) years later. While the film has moments of humor and tenderness, there’s a palpable tension that leads to a somewhat ambiguous ending in which Wells leaves it up to the viewer to fill in the blanks. In a lesser director’s hands, that could seem like a cop-out; in the case of Aftersun, it only adds to the movie’s poignancy.
As the upcoming Magic Mike’s Last Dance reminds us: Steven Soderbergh is definitely not retired. And given his prolificacy—he can easily be counted on to release one, if not two, features per year—it’s hard to imagine that he’ll ever stick to any resolution to quit. This is a very good thing for movie fans, as his smaller-scale releases, like 2021’s No Sudden Move, are as immensely watchable as bigger-budget spectacles like Magic Mike or the Ocean’s Eleven series—if not more so. In Kimi, Soderbergh shows us what Rear Window might look like in our tech-obsessed, (not-quite) post-pandemic world. Angela (the always-mesmerizing Zoë Kravitz) is an agoraphobic voice stream interpreter for Amygdala, a soon-to-be-public tech company that sells smart home devices that eavesdrop on your every move. While processing data, Angela hears what she believes is a violent crime. But she’s met with resistance when she attempts to report it, given what could potentially be on the line for the company. But Angela, an assault survivor, can’t let it go—and is forced to face her biggest fears and reenter the big, bad outside world in order to seek justice.
Fans of Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015) will particularly appreciate this gorgeously shot horror film, set in an eerily isolated mountain village in 19th-century Macedonia. In order to spare her newborn daughter Nevena’s life, a mother makes a deal with the town’s infamous Wolf-Eateress (basically, a witch) that she will give the girl up when she reaches her 16th birthday. Over the next decade and a half, Nevena (Sara Klimoska) is secretly raised in a cave in an effort to protect her from said witch. But when that momentous birthday arrives, Maria returns and transforms Nevena into one of her own kind, giving the teen the ability to take on the appearance of any living thing she kills. Not fully understanding what has happened to her, and curious upon discovering the world that exists outside the cave, Nevena uses her newfound abilities to experience the realities of being human (and otherwise)—both the good and the bad—by literally walking in the shoes and everything else of a succession of people who ultimately teach her what it’s like to be human.
Between The Souvenir (2019), The Souvenir Part II (2021), and now The Eternal Daughter, acclaimed British filmmaker Joanna Hogg and the ever-transfixing Tilda Swinton are quickly cementing their place as one of cinema’s most brilliant director-actor pairings. Following the death of her father, filmmaker Rosalind (Swinton) decides to take her mother (also Swinton) to a creepy gothic mansion-turned-hotel that used to belong to their family, with the hope of making a movie about her mom. But Rosalind gets more than she bargained for when family secrets come to the forefront and it’s revealed that this mother-daughter getaway might not be exactly what it seems.