With a flurry of top-flight films hitting the big screen for the holiday awards season, how do you make sure to catch the best? Use our annual must-see list to make sure you don’t miss a winner. Here — available on your favorite streaming platforms or in theaters (or both!) — are our 12 best movies of 2022, in alphabetical order.
Avatar: The Way of Water
Skimwings and ilus and ikran — oh my! Director James Cameron, 68, captures a waterworld planet patrolled by such whale or dragon-like creatures, plus kindly blue aliens, is a historic advancement in film technology. This may be the movie that most exemplifies why we should go out to the theater for that big-screen, big special effects experience. Who doesn’t love iridescent sea creatures, fiery cinders and weapons poking into the theater through the magic of 3D?
The Banshees of Inisherin
Samuel Beckett, 83, never created a funnier, more existential bickering couple than the pair played by Brendan Gleeson, 67, and Colin Farrell, 46, in this funny, grim fable that transports you to a remote island off the Irish coast. The point isn’t the mystery of why one man violently ends their friendship, but the sheer stubborn cussedness of both of them, the wonderfully colorful village characters and above all, the droll, eloquent language.
In Austin Butler’s curl-lipped performance as Presley, the 31-year-old uncannily captures him in all phases, from hayseed youth to incandescent insta-stardom to Vegas decline. As his shady manager, Tom Hanks, 66, lends a sinister glimmer to 60-year old Baz Luhrmann’s hallucinatory carnival ride of a movie.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
Michelle Yeoh, 60, won fame in the circa-2000 martial arts hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but her biggest triumph is this head-spinning fantasy. Here, she plays a harried laundromat owner menaced by an IRS auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis, 64), who’s also a superpowered villain from one of endless dimensions that Yeoh must visit to filch skills — such as martial arts — from her multiverse doppelgangers to save her family and the universe(s).
In Steven Spielberg’s most personal film, the 76-year-old beautifully weaves two mostly autobiographical tales: the coming of age of a teen who makes brilliant movies starring his classmates and Boy Scout pals, and the coming apart of his parents’ marriage. Paul Dano, 38, is affecting as his quiet, pragmatic dad; Michelle Williams, 42, enchants as his emotionally exoskeletal mom; and Seth Rogen, 40, excels as their jolly, guilty best friend. Finally, Judd Hirsch, 87, is haunting as the circus lion-tamer uncle who tells the kid that art is a lion that can eat your life.
In what critic Martin Tsai calls “a film aimed specifically at boomers,” Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, 54), the mellifluously polysyllabic Southern sleuth from the 2019 whodunit Knives Out, gets invited to a murder mystery party at the private Greek isle of an Elon Musk-like zillionaire (Edward Norton, 53). It’s just as wittily twisty as the first one, a whodunit that keeps you guessing — and laughing.
In the same manner that Spotlight covered predator priests, this true-life journalism procedural follows serial rapist and film mogul Harvey Weinstein. In addition to dramatizing the #MeToo movement, it places us deep inside the hearts of the victims, and also of the history-changing reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (Zoe Kazan, 39, and Carey Mulligan, 37). It shows the emotional impact of the crimes. And it’s one sensational story.
There isn’t a 2022 movie character more complicated than globally hailed Berlin Philharmonic composer-conductor Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett, 53, in the role of a lifetime). She’s a globe-trotting genius egomaniac who’s mean to lovers, little kids and college students who want to cancel Bach — and so mean she gets canceled herself. Totally over the top, this film also feels like an immersion in a real and fascinating music world.
Top Gun: Maverick
The last movie star on Earth soars in his biggest hit ever, putting viewers in the seat of an F-18 at Mach 10. A rare sequel that tops the original, this flyboy epic’s success was propelled by grownup viewers who love seeing their hero, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise) unscathed by age (at 60, he’s the same age Paul Newman was when he played Cruise’s pool-shark mentor in The Color of Money).
Brendan Fraser, 54, properly gets a lot of attention for his titanic performance as a bereaved online writing teacher prone to terminal overeating. But everyone who shares his nightmare life is excellent: Hong Chau, 43, as his acerbic yet caring caregiver, Samantha Morton, 45, as his unforgiving ex, Sadie Sink, 20, as his angry, cruel estranged teen daughter and Ty Simpkins, 21, as an evangelist who connects with him deeply.
The Woman King
OK, it’s not a documentary about the actual 19th century all-woman army of the African kingdom of Dahomey. But it bends history into a ripping yarn that inspires, and Viola Davis, 57, is amazingly transformed into an action heroine who could slice and dice Braveheart for breakfast. And she’s got way more of an inner life than most male action heroes. Made by director Gina Prince-Bythewood, 53, writers Dana Stevens, 59, and Maria Bello, 55, and a Hollywood army of women, it’s a victory for all women — and moviegoers.
The title is truth in advertising: The film pretty much consists of a debate in a hayloft among eight women in a religious community where men have been drugging and raping the female faithful in their sleep, and church authorities demand that the women forgive and forget, or else. But what talk it is! A superb cast (including Judith Ivey, 71, Frances McDormand, 65, Rooney Mara, 37, and Jessie Buckley, 32) turn arguments into arias of acting. Should they knuckle under, stay and fight or flee? The power is in the words — and the bleak, desaturated cinematography is quietly overpowering too.
Tim Appelo covers entertainment and is the film and TV critic for AARP. Previously, he was the entertainment editor at Amazon, video critic at Entertainment Weekly and a critic and writer for The Hollywood Reporter, People, MTV, The Village Voice and LA Weekly.
Renew your membership today and save 25% on your next year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal. Get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life.