2022 was a huge year for horror films. It was hard to pick 10 movies that defined the year without the list looking like a roundup exclusively focused on the genre, while even the six movies we wound up choosing that don’t necessarily fall into that category each have something markedly anxious about them—an irrational fear of your best friend waking up one day and deciding they’re completely over you, for example, or a sudden consciousness of the class injustices wracking our society that may speed up the coming-of-age process.
But rather than viewing these films through the lens of nihilism, most of these movies help to provide the viewer with tools to navigate the deepest horrors in our own lives, as the ever-empathetic medium of film is keen to do. More than any other movies this year, we believe these 10 pictures examined our current global moment and offered up a lifeline for those of us struggling through complicated familial drama arising from culture clashes or learning to live outside of the masks we create for ourselves to help detach us from the world around us. That and, frankly, we also really wanted to watch two and half hours of the ruling class puking. — Mike LeSuer
10. Funny Pages
In his debut feature Funny Pages, produced by A24 and the Safdie brothers’ Elara Pictures, director Owen Kline digests our understanding of what a coming-of-age film looks like and squeezes us out beneath the grimy underbelly of New Jersey’s comic book scene. The story follows 18-year-old Robert (Daniel Zolghadri), a talented and equally narcissistic cartoonist with a by-any-means-necessary attitude, who drops out of high school to pursue the higher power that is comic art. After moving out of his family home and into the windowless basement of an illegal sublet in Trenton, Robert latches onto Wallace (Matthew Maher), ex-colorist of an acclaimed publishing house turned full-time loony.
The movie’s atmosphere is consistently palpable—sweaty yet cold, lewd, grotesque, and oddly familiar. Its direction is impressively concise and effective, never straying from its focus. What Kline accomplishes in the film’s 86-minute runtime is equitable to an old wooden roller coaster that shoots you around bends, sails you over hills, shakes your brain until it’s smooth (in a good way) and spits you out before you even knew it was over, just to get back in line to do it all over again. — Ben Mendillo
Read our feature with Owen Kline and Daniel Zolghadri here.
9. Triangle of Sadness
Triangle of Sadness is not for the squeamish. Without giving anything away, there’s a lot of regurgitation of bodily fluids. And it’s nauseatingly incredible. Mainly taking place on a $250 million yacht, writer/director Ruben Östlund’s Titanic-by-way-of-Catch-22 black comedy serves as a properly disgusting satire of the world’s wealth gap and how, whether we like it or not, we’re all bitches to capitalism. This vulgarity is primarily the source of its brilliance; human degradation coincides with portraits of socio-economic debasement. But no character comes out unscathed, and Östlund doesn’t bother with any sense of moral high ground.
Though opposite in tone, Östlund’s oeuvre parallels Wes Anderson’s ability to expose how every action has a consequence, with every character impacting others' storylines—whether they’re aware of it or not. And when you think it’s about to end, Östlund manages to take it further. Performances by Zlatko Burić, who plays jolly shit-seller Dimitry, and Dolly De Leon, cast as mistreated yacht-attendant-turned-survivalist Abigail, are reasons alone to witness the film’s absurdity. Triangle of Sadness doesn’t deliver any novel perspectives or a solution for this corrupt world, but hysterically demonstrates how choppy and unpredictable human nature is when confronted with moral dissonance. — Margaret Farrell
Alex Garland’s latest film is an invitation to reflect on the way its titular gender both implicitly and explicitly enforces oppressive expectations on women—but by “invitation” I mean Garland grabbing you by the shoulders and shaking, and by “implicitly” and “explicitly” I mean that by the time you realize all the male characters we meet in the village are played by one actor it’s already too late, and a man in a leaf loincloth has transported you to an elaborate Biblical metaphor.
The movie focuses on one woman’s experience, and does an effective job at building this character into a believable person while also functioning as a much more poignant allegory for the way patriarchal culture reduces you to your gender (it also serves as the second most effective feature-film-length attack on Airbnb this year). And while vague generalizations can rob some allegories of their potency, they actually reinforce the emotional bedrock of this movie: namely alienation, dread, and incredulity at the gaul of men to pick apples in the nude in your front yard and then blame you for overreacting. A birth scene that is the visual equivalent to reading a Red Pill forum discussion caused at least one person to walk out of the theater when I saw it, but for me the biggest takeaway was that I’m never moving into a house with a mail slot in the front door. — Thomas Boyle
Pearl isn’t so much a slasher—like its predecessor, X, with its echoes of Hooper and Craven—as it is a psychosexual melodrama, a kind of What Ever Happened to Baby Pearl? There are stabbings, sure, and slashings, and a pretty wonderful dismemberment, but the throbbing heart of the film is Mia Goth’s doomed dreamer, the daydream gleam in her eyes when she talks about the success she thinks she so richly deserves, and the way her face contorts into an altogether different kind of expression when she opens up about the darkness roiling inside of her (“I'm worried there may be something wrong with me,” she confesses).
X is a sordid affair, hot and sweaty and sticky; Pearl is prettier, with lush colors, verdant grass and looming trees, and wisps of clouds in the sky. The film is told entirely from the young woman’s gaze; its comely aesthetic, the sense of grandiosity even in simple shots and modest action, reflects her grand hopes for something better, something beautiful. The final thing we see in the movie is Goth’s smile, seemingly eternal; she’s happy and we’re happy for her. — Greg Cwik
You really can’t overstate how welcomed a movie like Nope was in 2022. An original story by a star director embracing big-tent spectacle and heady ideas in equal measure, Nope was a testament to the fact that this kind of thing can still be done. Of course, all that is extratextual. The reason this movie appears on this list is simple: they nailed it. Writer/director Jordan Peele, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, and leads Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer all came together to execute Peele’s stunningly ambitious vision in a movie that works on every level.
The story, which tracks siblings Otis “OJ” Haywood and his sister Emerald as they attempt to capture the “impossible shot” of the otherworldly behemoth terrorizing their family ranch, is a fairly simple one, but it’s everything that’s happening at the periphery that makes Nope so gripping. As with both of Peele’s prior films, there’s as much unsaid as said, themes stacking atop one another until they threaten to overshadow the literal actions of the movie. With Nope, however, the pure spectacle of the action on screen is enough to counterbalance the abstract ideas, resulting in one of the most fascinating movies of the year. — Sean Fennell
5. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
There’s a familiarity to the structure of We’re All Going to the World’s Fair that I’m just now realizing reflects that of the original Catfish documentary film: one of intense, cinematic horror that ultimately and subtly shifts gears into something much more frightening due to its adherence to the internet age’s grim realities. While the first half of World’s Fair feels hardly removed from the found-footage horror revival that’s arrived in the wake of webcam ubiquity, it’s hard to say any of the paranormal scares come close to later scenes of a grown man watching videos of a teenage girl sleeping on the desktop computer of his childhood bedroom.
But writer/director Jane Schoenbrun probes far deeper into psychological corners similarly explored in Catfish before that film’s title took on a more overtly sinister meaning, essentially proposing a bleak contemporary look at Harlow’s dependency study where screen media fills the role of both the wire and the cloth mother. In turn, this sequel to the 20th century’s raised-by-TV comic narratives of Being There or King of Comedy uses the groupthink paranoia of viral trends I’m almost certainly too old to understand to indicate what type of monster the teenage lead “turns into” while growing up plugged into the internet to the point of numbness to the outside world. — Mike LeSuer
4. The Banshees of Inisherin
With The Banshees of Inisherin, writer/director Martin McDonagh—a playwright and author who specializes in the poetry of spite, bloodlust, and friendship—gives us a deceptively simple tale of longtime chums gone asunder. After years of camaraderie and daily pub dates, Colm (Brendan Gleeson) no longer wishes to associate with Pádraic (Colin Farrell), as the former, instead, wishes to lead a more rewarding life of composing music for the sake of self-fulfillment and posterity. Thrown into a quiet panic, Pádraic begins to nag Colm, who only grows more stoically resistant to his old friend. That Colm gives Pádraic an ultimatum—bother me and I’ll cut off one of my fingers with a pair of sheep shears with every nuisance—is just the start of the slow-boiling violent anger for which McDonagh is renowned and resolved.
First and foremost, Banshees finds Gleeson and Farrell—reunited with McDonagh for the first time since 2008’s graceful, grotesque, blackly comic ballet In Bruges—at their subtlest. Farrell, in particular, has been making work within the last five years (including his unrecognizable turn in this year’s The Batman) that’s as supplely shaded as a shadow in the mist. As for McDonagh, tying notions of a war between friends into that of his rowing native Ireland during its Civil War (one that breaks when caring for another man’s dog) and lacing a man’s self-mutilation into a metaphor for the pressure of artistic excellence is sheer, cerebral magic. — AD Amorosi
3. The Batman
After Christopher Nolan’s definitive trilogy, could we really expect anything fresh about the Caped Crusader after so many big-screen adaptations? Thankfully, the answer was a resounding yes. Matt Reeves’ Gotham City is rain-soaked, Nirvana-soundtracked, and inspired by David Fincher (the influence of Se7en cannot be denied here)—a blockbuster redlining with creativity far beyond the car chases and action set pieces.
Reeves ably grabs the bat signal from Nolan and goes further into Gotham’s underbelly for a darker, grittier, and more psychologically cracked thriller. We finally get to see the “world’s greatest detective” trying to hunt down Paul Dano’s unhinged Riddler, a live-streaming nut clearly inspired by the darkest rabbit holes you can find online from the far-right and conspiracy theorist spheres. Along the way, Batman (Robert Pattison) faces off against a film noir–style rogues gallery, including the emerging supervillain Penguin (Colin Farrell) and the femme fatale Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz)—both actors absolutely nailing their respective characters to the wall.
The concept of all-encompassing vengeance in a three-hour comic movie is thoroughly explored here, as Reeves shows that mindset can rot a man and city like a dead body bloating up in a storm drain. That corruption travels all the way to Gotham’s political and social elites and holds a befouled mirror up to Bruce Wayne’s family legacy in a whole new way. This is a comic book blockbuster with a purpose beyond the punches, and year two of Batman’s shadowy reign is eagerly anticipated. — Kyle Lemmon
2. Armageddon Time
James Gray’s last film, Ad Astra, was tampered with by Disney following the 20th Century Fox merger; the director became frustrated working without creative control as the studio rewrote his original vision and turned it into a more accessible commercial work. Gray originally cemented himself as a filmmaker through gritty New York–set stories revolving around family dynamics, particularly the relationship between fathers and sons. His latest, the autobiographical Armageddon Time, is a return to form, working with a markedly more modest production than his last few films.
The film begins on the first day of sixth grade at PS 173 in Queens. The no-nonsense, bigoted Mr. Turkeltaub immediately begins to intimidate Paul Graff, a Jewish boy and the filmmaker’s onscreen surrogate, and Johnny, the one Black student, whom the teacher incessantly mocks and torments in front of the class. Gray uses this classroom dynamic to depict the adolescent realization of social inequality. As the pair continue to get into trouble, Paul’s parents ultimately pull him out of public school and place him in an expensive private school, accelerating the young boy’s class consciousness. After a failed attempt to finance a trip to Orlando, tragedy ensues when the boys get caught stealing a computer from Paul’s new school.
After almost a decade working outside New York, Gray has stopped trying to run away from his roots; for the first time, he embraces the emotions attached to his childhood experiences that continue to permeate his mind and, subsequently, all of his work. Just as Paul learns throughout Armageddon Time, one can never escape their roots, no matter how hard one tries. — Patrick Devitt
Read our interview with actors Banks Repeta and Jaylin Webb here.
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once
In a year defined by movies about the multiverse, Everything Everywhere All at Once stands a head above the rest, offering insight and delight in equal measure through a plot unfolding at breakneck speed across time and space. I can’t think of another film in recent memory that moved so many to tears and prompted so many parent-child relationship breakthroughs while also inspiring so many Halloween costumes (Raccacoonie! Hot dog fingers!).
Just as the film posits infinite versions of each person alive, every audience member can bring to it and take away from it their own interpretation and lessons. Let me offer mine: In a world obsessed with hustle culture and maximizing every opportunity, it’s downright revolutionary to suggest that true happiness is simply doing laundry and taxes. That all you have to do as a rock is…be a rock. It’s the rare A24 crowd-pleaser, a somewhat high-minded indie with an absurdist style, and while there’s star power galore (James Hong!), did anyone expect an immigrant “let’s go, lesbians!” story to do this well? It grossed over four times what Minari made domestically (and just for comparison, it also beat Parasite stateside).
And it doesn’t hurt that the people who made the movie are so seemingly delightful. Before we (rightly) celebrate the return of Brendan Fraser, another toast to the return of Ke Huy Quan. This is the opportunity that brought the incomparable Michelle Yeoh to tears just talking about it, and if you haven’t already watched Stephanie Hsu’s audition yet, allow me to spoil it for you: a star is born. Meanwhile, Jamie Lee Curtis refused to suck in her stomach on screen, and the co-director/co-Daniel even called out trolls hating on critics in defense of his film. Wonderful. Though in this case, unnecessary; we’re calling it the film of the year. — Lizzie Logan