2022 has been an exciting year for movies.
From the return of David Cronenberg to body horror and the return of Tom Cruise to Top Gun, to autobiographical films from Steven Spielberg and James Gray we’ve had our fair dose of nostalgia. But we’ve also experienced the global breakthrough of a Tollywood hit with RRR, shocking box office success for the shocker Terrifier 2, and more than a fair share of controversy with Blonde.
So this year, Wealth of Geeks is beginning what we hope will be an annual tradition of creating a collaborative list that allows our writers to tell us what the best, worst, and most underappreciated films of the year were in their opinion. Of course not everyone agrees (and some even strongly disagree), but that’s what makes movies, and writing about movies, so special. We all have our own experiences and relationships with the films we see in a given year and here we’d like to share some of that with you all.
We’ll begin with me. I'm a critic who writes film and TV reviews as well as broader pop culture listicles here at Wealth of Geeks, and recently wrote my first travel piece as well. I’m especially interested in genre films, animation, and films about gender sexuality, which is reflected in my list. Along with Wealth of Geeks I’m also a regular contributor to Looper, Cultured Vultures, and Castle of Chills.
Best: The Wonder
The Wonder is a remarkable movie from its first image and it only grows more remarkable from there. The film follows nurse Elizabeth Wright (Florence Pugh) who, along with a nun, is tasked with discerning whether an eleven-year-old girl, who has not eaten in four months, is in fact a living miracle or whether her fast is an elaborate act. The film portrays a cruel world wherein faith is often twisted into something ugly but manages to create a beautiful balance between despair and hope.
It’s a film that’s equal parts indictment of religious abuse of children and affirmation of faith; a feat that must in part be credited to Emma Donaghue, writer of the novel on which the film is based. But The Wonder isn’t only narratively, emotionally, and thematically rich. It’s a film that feels as if every frame were a baroque painting with a score that’s alternately unnerving and divinely soothing. The Wonder is the rare film about faith that feels like a miracle itself.
Alex Garland has written some of the best science fiction movies of the 21st century, and directed two of them as well, but with Men he falls prey to several disappointing and embarrassing pitfalls. The movie follows in the footsteps of Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho and Darren Aronofsky’s mother! as a film made by a celebrated male auteur attempting to make an explicitly feminist film and instead tripping over themselves to deliver something ideologically incomprehensible and/or offensive.
In the case of Men, Garland manages to offer a movie simultaneously confounding and basic. The film’s narrative is an ouroboros of ideas and moments that are never entirely fleshed out, all in the service of delivering the incredibly reductive message: “men are bad.” But it’s not even a thrilling indictment of the gender and instead feels more like Garland ensuring us that he’s one of the good ones.
Underappreciated: Emily the Criminal
One would hope that the universally beloved Aubrey Plaza in a leading role would make a movie a hit, but alas. Emily the Criminal, the Plaza-starring and produced crime drama, is one of the best movies to make its way into theaters in 2022, but it was largely ignored by audiences. The film follows the titular Emily (Plaza) as she makes her way into and then up the ranks of the credit card scamming world.
That premise is simple enough, but Emily the Criminal uses that simple premise to deliver a nuanced and righteously furious indict the current economic landscape while also delivering a heart-pounding crime thriller and an erotic romance between Emily and her criminal mentor Youcef (Theo Rossi). It’s a very special movie that brings lust back to movies that aren’t only about sex in a way that has been missing for what feels like decades.
Boloere Seibidor writes about film, music, and pop culture broadly at Wealth of Geeks. She has written about the overlap of music and film on her list of “15 Movies Every Hip-Hop Lover Needs To See” and we can see that love for films about music in one of her choices below. Boloere is a freelance writer who writes at numerous publications and is also interested in cybersecurity.
Best: The Woman King
In this epic tale directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, a group of all-female African warriors, the Agojie, led by general Nanisca (Viola Davis), fight to protect their kingdom from colonizers and an enemy clan. The film is based on actual historical events, coined through a tremendous amount of quality and meticulous research, and represents what true feminism should be. Its thunderous action scenes and historical awareness would be its biggest selling points if there wasn't such a stellar cast.
There's John Boyega, whose natural Nigerian accent rolls butter-smooth off his tongue. Lashana Lynch, with her torturous wit and ginger, makes a fantastic duo with Thuso Mbedu playing the unruly, stubborn girl-child. Then, of course, the queen herself, Viola Davis, who bodies her role as the vigorous, unyielding general. The Woman King is an explosive, spellbinding watch, worth every second it takes the high-voltage, electrifying plot to unfold.
Worst: 365 Days: This Day
Acknowledging this as the worst movie of 2022 is attesting that this half-baked, criminally asinine hogwash is worthy of being called a film. The only logical excuse for this movie's availability for streaming must be that some horny bozo dug it out of Netflix's garbage and leaked it across their platforms.
This Day is the second installment in Netflix's adaptation of the polish erotic series 365 Days. It follows the general premise of a billionaire, business tycoon, and mafia lord who falls in love with an ordinary woman, Laura. From its insidious glorification of abuse to its hollow storyline to its one-dimensional characters, cliché lines, and nauseating, cringeworthy scenes – there is nothing enjoyable or endurable about it. And to think the torture extends unto a third installment, The Next 365 Days. Humanity may have done a lot of evil, but nothing to deserve this.
Baz Luhrmann deserves more flowers for his dynamic biopic of the legend Elvis Presley played by the clever Austin Butler. Elvis' wife, Priscilla Presley, confessed that watching Austin Butler play Elvis was like watching the real Elvis.
Creating a movie centered on a famous person is an arduous task that many fail at – Blonde, for instance. But with Elvis, Austin Butler takes method acting to a different level. He steps into the skin of Rock ‘n' Roll's hero, adopting his mannerisms, body language, and subconscious habits to a fault. The movie guides spectators on a hover ride of emotions, following the star's rise to fame, his close relationships with the defining figures in his life, his drug addiction, and his resulting fall. Elvis is a deep dive into the life of the King that most of his fans and the older generations who were privileged to experience him never saw. Asides from the cast performance, the visuals, costumes, and association with sub-elements like politics and religion made it an even more wholesome watch.
Noah Berlatsky writes on a number of topics at Wealth of Geeks including reviews of classic Star Trek episodes, music, film reviews of new releases, and more. Noah is also the author of Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948. He has contributed to many other publications including The Atlantic and The Washington Post.
Best: You Won’t Be Alone
Goran Stolevski’s strange, lyrical coming-of-age horror film is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen, and easily my best of the year. Set in Macedonia in the 1800s, it’s the story of a baby who is marked by the wrinkled Old Maid Maria (Anamaria Marinca) as a witch. Her tongue is torn out and she becomes a shape-changer, who can turn into any other creature by stuffing their organs into her own skin.
The conceit sounds grotesque, and it is. But the narrative is not really about the gore, but about the changes, as the baby turns from a young woman to dog to man to young girl again. The witch enters other lives just as film-viewers can, identifying with everyone and no one, taking new forms as a kind of magic, of pain, and of love.
Tom Cruise’s sequel to 1986’s Top Gun has been hailed as a box-office and critical triumph. In fact, though, it’s a slick, glib military recruitment ad trading in nostalgia and cheerfully vapid patriotic bloodlust.
Cruise radiates smug self-regard as the narrative marches him inevitably towards romantic and martial triumph. The film is so cowardly it won’t even tell you which supposed enemy nation we’re blithely bombing for obscure reasons. You never see an enemy soldier’s face either. They all die anonymous and unmourned for the greater glory of Cruise’s redemptive character arc.
Underrated Gem: Big Bug
Jean-Pierre Jeuent’s future dystopian Netflix film Big Bug was greeted by critics and audiences with vast indifference punctuated by a few sad raspberries. Which is too bad, because the film is a wonderfully gaudy pastel-colored pastiche of tech anxieties, hopes and nostalgia. Bourgeois neighbors are trapped in a suburban home by their own security systems, while the smiling, flesh-eating robot Yonyx (François Levantal) insults them and drains their bank accounts.
The film is odd, disjointed, and relentlessly camp; it’s easy to see why viewers were stymied. But if you give yourself over to its arch anti-world-building, you’re likely to find yourself giggling helplessly while casting nervous glances at your toaster. Thirty years from now, Big Bug may be remembered as one of this year’s cult classics. It should be, anyway.
Andrea Thompson is a film critic who contributes film reviews to Wealth of Geeks. She also founded and organized the Film Girl Film Festival and is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics. Alon with Wealth of Geeks Andrea has written for RogerEbert.com, The Mary Sue, and The Chicago Reader.
Best: Happening (L'événement)
Released before Roe V. Wade became a casualty of the collective backlash, Happening so viscerally depicts the turmoil of a body between deprived of all ownership and choices it’s reportedly caused men to faint at screenings.
Based on Annie Ernaux’s memoir of her own experiences, Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) is a university student in 1960’s France who resorts to increasingly drastic, grisly measures when she finds herself pregnant. It's a horrifying portrait of how political and personal forces can drive a promising young woman to an early death, a fate that's narrowly avoided through sheer luck.
Firestarter is a movie in crisis: at what kind of story it wants to tell, what it wants to say, and who exactly is the real monster.
The movie takes a premise of Stephen King's book of the name and places it in a modern world that would make it an unlikely setting for a family to be at the mercy of forces who wish to harness the power of their daughter Charlie, who has the ability to start fires with her mind. By the end things have gotten so muddled that Charlie is deprived of all agency as the movie reveals it prefers to sympathize with the people hunting her down.
Underappreciated: Hold Your Fire
Hostage negotiation is a part of police work we tend to take for granted, but the riveting documentary Hold Your Fire shows how much law enforcement had to be persuaded to talk rather than shoot. Director Stefan Forbes had a remarkable amount of access to the participants in a standoff in 1973 Brooklyn, when four young Black men attempted to steal guns from a sporting goods store and found themselves cornered with their now hostages.
As former officers, gunmen, and hostages speak, a surprising portrait emerges of those who fought for a peaceful resolution, those inside who risked their lives to rescue their fellow hostages, and the possibility of redemption as well as those who never found healing. It's a surprising portrait of how even systems can change, and how some things remain depressingly static.
Marianne Paluso is a freelance artist and writer who writes about film and TV at Wealth of Geeks. She has written about everything from classic cinema icons like Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart to the best romances in Disney films. Marianne’s love of Disney and adventure films is reflected in her choices below, though maybe not in the way you expect.
Best: Top Gun: Maverick
A sequel that was 36 years in the making, what makes Top Gun: Maverick the best of 2022 is that it not only found a way to surpass the original but is simply an exceptional film on its own. Gripping, tense, exciting, funny, and even moving, what I loved about this film was seeing Tom Cruise's Captain Peter “Maverick” Mitchell come full circle and the way the story was propelled for a modern audience. The original Top Gun is a great movie, but what makes Top Gun: Maverick work so well is that it takes the blueprint of the original film and enhances its finest elements. Any sequel, especially a legacy sequel, has a lot to live up to. Thankfully Top Gun: Maverick more than lived up to that task.
From the opening credits that again play the Kenny Loggins song “Danger Zone,” it was obvious that this film remembers its roots. But what is impressive is how story elements from the original are added with purpose and meaning. The brief moments with Val Kilmer are a moving inclusion that honor the actor and character in the best way possible. The training exercises, beach football scenes and maneuvers in the air, are not just fun filler scenes but rather ways of developing the characters and their relationships with Mitchell, giving each pilot their distinctness. Having the son of Pete's fallen friend “Goose” be one of the pilots he trains feels natural. But how their relationship turns from animosity to respect organically is also one of the film's greatest aspects.
Moreover, while the original film's romance has swoon-worthy moments, here we see a mature relationship that does something that needs to be seen more in cinema: finding love later in life. We see a depiction of two people confident in who they are as individuals, coming together to find the one thing they always wanted in a partner. And it does so with a character mentioned in the first film (here played by Jennifer Connolly), solidifying that full-circle nature of the film. Top Gun: Maverick may not be the most revolutionary film. But it became a juggernaut for a reason. It's exceptionally made entertainment.
I don't use words like shameful or disrespectful lightly. While Pinocchio may have good intentions and feature a cast and crew of highly talented individuals, including Robert Zemeckis, Tom Hanks, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the results could have been much better. Even on the surface, the story has pacing issues and uneven special effects. But the problems with Pinocchio run much deeper. These remakes should be able to sit alongside their animated counterparts and serve as companion pieces. They should not be a carbon copy of the original, but add elements that set it apart but also feel natural. Unfortunately, even single addition to Pinocchio is unnecessary and adds nothing to the story.
Tom Hanks tries, but Gepetto's warmth and humor are mostly absent, and Figaro the cat and Cleo the fish have zero personality (a consequence of 3D animation not translating the charms of these characters). Stromboli and the Coach Driver feel like caricatures and have no sense of menace. And Jiminy Cricket is reduced to conveying his wisdom with an oddly folksy accent with forced and unnecessarily modern dialogue.
The most egregious of Pinocchio‘s flaws is that the story's integrity is entirely changed. The original book is dark indeed, and the 1940 animated film is as well, but it considerably lightens that darkness. However, it still possesses the necessary frights, a sense of foreboding, and genuine emotion. This live-action remake is devoid of those elements. Instead of learning his lesson that lies have consequences, the famous nose-growing scenes help him escape? The boys turn into donkeys after drinking root beer? These are odd choices.
Worst of all, the entire point of the story, that if Pinocchio proves himself to be brave, truthful, and unselfish, he will become a real boy, is wholly disregarded. And the reason why escapes me. Therefore, the emotion that should be felt and the story's ultimate message is thrown away. The original Pinocchio is a masterpiece. This film is a hollow imitation that disrespects the true meaning of that story. Some other films could also be called the worst of 2022, but Pinocchio is the worst for me for its utter lack of respect for what came before.
Underappreciated: Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
Anytime a film comes with an inherent sweetness, my first instinct is to say, “I wish they made more films like this.” In this day and age of mostly tent poles and remakes, films like Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris have become rarer. And that is why they should be praised when they do come along.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a straightforward story about a widowed woman in England after WWII who works tirelessly as a maid, a seamstress, and other odd jobs, mainly for those who skimp on her wages or don't appreciate her. After laying eyes on a couture dress one day, her dream is to own a Christian Dior gown. And when she manages to save enough, her trip to Paris becomes quite the adventure. And it is not simply a story about buying a dress. It becomes one of romance, matchmaking, revolution, and enjoying pleasures she rarely experienced.
This film is the very definition of delightful. It manages to portray an undeniable truth about life. There will always be good people who are kind, thoughtful, and generous. And there will always be horrible people who are rude, selfish, and thoughtless. Mrs. Harris herself is the former and the type of person whose kindness, feistiness, and inedible spirit can inspire the best in us. The cast is superb, the production design is exquisite, and the story is poignant. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a lovely demonstration of this quote from Edwin Markham, “All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.”
And that's how our critics picked. With Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Devotion, Spoiler Alert, The Whale, Empire of Light, Babylon, Avatar: The Way of Water and more still coming out this year, our picks for 2023 could be off to a very good start.
Did we hit your favorites? Your least liked films? Are you going to check out some of the underrated choices?
If none of these tickle your fancy, we've got the latest on all the movies, good and bad, in theaters now.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Kyle Logan studied philosophy and now constantly overthinks music and movies.
He’s a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Cultured Vultures, Chicago Film Scene, Castle of Chills, and Filmotomy. Kyle has covered virtual film festivals including the inaugural Nightstream festival in 2020 and the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival. Kyle is interested in horror films, animation, Star Wars, and Adventure Time, as well as older genre films written and directed by queer people and women, particularly those from the 1970s and 80s. Along with writing, Kyle organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.