Welcome to one of the last “Best Movies of 2022” lists. And while other lists try to give you a complete picture in 10 movies, or maybe one specific genre, we here at Heat Vision try to tackle the best of the genres we love, from comic book adaptations to horror to fantasy. And we love the animation medium. The only Tár you’ll find around here is talk of how sTar Wars series Andor is so smart and interesting, and the only one Banshees of Inisherin we want to see is X-Men hero Sean Cassidy flying to save Jenny the donkey.
All kidding aside, 2022 was a pretty good movie year for most of the genres we love. The big one, however, the comic book movie space, hit a rough patch. At times, seeing them became a chore and we sincerely hope that changes next year.
Horror had a banner year, both in terms of box office hits and quality. These movies delivered on being scary. In many cases, they were thought-provoking and tapped into our fears.
And animation hopefully can continue to convince people it’s not just a genre but a versatile canvas to tell stories, big and small. In a year where heavyweights stumbled at least twice, other works thrilled and even popped our eyes open with the blazing return of stop-motion animation.
Let’s hit it.
10. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
There’s never been a movie like it: a movie devoted to the legacy and memory of one man and character, in this case Chadwick Boseman and his Marvel hero, forever intertwined. Ryan Coogler pulled off the impossible with a movie that is a fitting tribute to the man, thoughtfully contemplating ideas of grief and legacy, while also giving viewers soap opera and action in the mighty Marvel style. Angela Bassett delivers an awards-worthy performance as Wakanda’s queen and mother who has lost almost everything while Tenoch Huerta makes an interesting splash as complicated villain Namor.
Let’s face it, your eyes probably glazed over when you heard there was another Predator movie on the way. Another lame entry in a lame franchise, worn down over time. But in the hands of director Dan Trachtenberg, who made the great slow-burn thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane and who co-wrote the script with Patrick Aison, Prey is not only a great Predator movie — the hunt, the kills deliver — it also finds meaning in a story about a Comanche woman (Amber Midthunder) trying to prove herself in a men’s world while seeing her world forced to come to terms with the brutality of encroaching colonialism. Prey doesn’t reinvent the franchise as much as show how underdeveloped and under-utilized it’s been all these years. As the cool kids say, slay.
8. The Black Phone
The kind of movie you would be able to see in the 1980s anytime at the mall cineplex, Scott Derrickson took on this adaptation of a Joe Hill short story after leaving Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Good call. The horror piece allows Derrickson to delve into his downtrodden Denver childhood to show a very rough-and-tumble period of a brother and sister’s life. The filmmaker digs into the bag of tricks he has accumulated over a decade and a half working on all kinds of horror thrillers. The movie has tension and tone, a freaky villain (Ethan Hawke, hiding under a mask most of the time) and great casting of kid actors (the winning combo of Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw).
Holy cow, what did we just watch? Part superhero movie, part Bollywood musical, part historical epic, this was the best action movie of the year, bar none. Filmmaker SS Rajamouli took two real-life Indian figures from the 20th century and combined them in a tale of friendship, betrayal and trust as they eventually team up to take on the British Raj. The movie is spectacularly operatic and over the top, with myth-making action sequences where characters are one man armies, fights are Jack Kirby-esque beat downs, and a dance-off that is your stand-up-and-cheer moment of the year.
6. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
After several years of being unmoored in the seas of animation, DreamWorks Animation made a triumphant return with a sequel to its funny and clever 2011 movie, Puss In Boots. But instead of giving us more of the same, director Joel Crawford and co-director Januel Mercado give us a tale about a cat contemplating his mortality. Yup, good ol’ death and what happens to a cat that is on the last of its nine lives. Oh, it’s not dreary at all — there’s plenty of grin-inducing action, funny repartees, cool switches in animated styles, clever takes on fairy tales and folklore. But there is also actual, gulp-inducing fear for our kitty, and plenty to chew on in terms of what it all means: pure catnip.
A tense roller coaster by Zach Cregger, an actor and co-founder of the comedy troupe The Whitest Kids U Know, who opens up a whole new act for himself with this horror debut. What starts out as an already strong and scary premise — a woman (Georgina Campbell) finds herself double-booked in an Airbnb on a rainy night and reluctantly decides to stay, coaxed on by the nice guy (Bill Skarsgard) already there — goes into bat guano territory the deeper the characters and viewers go into the house. Nothing is as it seems – seriously, try not to read anything about it before you see it – including the addition of Justin Long’s character, which sends the movie into yet another direction entirely.
Ti West serves up a slasher movie that has all of the best 1970s grindhouse vibes as well as big ideas about stardom, aging and the elusive nature of beauty. The story centers on a group of young and beautiful folk who take to a farmhouse to cash in on the growing porn boom that promises fortune and fame. The old couple from the farm, however, are not quite what they seem, and soon, by ways ranging from pitchfork to alligator, the body count begins to climb. The movie is a pure-fun thrill ride, full of set-ups and payoffs, giggles and gore, with a hearty dollop of sex thrown in. X is well cast: Jenna Ortega in scream queen mode is notable, but the real breakthrough is Mia Goth, who plays the heroine who strikes up a connection with the farmer’s elderly wife, and also plays, unrecognizably, said farmer’s wife, named Pearl.
Bonus: Also watch PearlWest’s prequel to X that is more Douglas Sirk Texas homestead melodrama (with a body count and a musical number) than ’70s slasher. The film is a fantastic showcase for Goth, who delivers a climactic monologue that is award-worthy (and has already landed her an Indie Spirit Awards nomination for lead performance).
3. Top Gun: Maverick
The original Top Gun would never have been on a list like this. It had no genre connection and movies like that Highlander and Little Shop of Horrors would have bounced it out. Heck, even The Boy Who Could Fly probably had more reason to be on a list like this. But times have certainly changed. Top Gun: Maverick is now its own outlier genre, a fantasy of another theatrical age, and Tom Cruise his own superhero category. Maverick is the closest we’ll get to having a cruise in a Star Wars movie, and what is Maverick if not the attack on the Death Star three times, with sweat-inducing, teeth-clenching, hand-wringing practice runs and then that truly awesome final mission, with even its own Han Solo / Millennium Falcon moment.
2. The Batman
The superhero movie of the year. Matt Reeves’ epic and operatic opus was part Sevenpart Sawpart French Connection, giving us a Batman that was truly moody and dark. I feel this movie is being overlooked as it was released back in March, which is an eternity in entertainment news cycles. But Reeves’ movie, tilting into emo freak show with Robert Pattinson leading an impeccable cast, is so masterfully made. (Also, if you want to see the range, check out Colin Farrell here as the Penguin and then as a farmer in Banshees of Inisherin.) The movie shows the malleability of the Batman concept and his rogues gallery for all kinds of explorations. And that score by Michael Giacchino? One of the best of the year.
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once
What’s left to be said about this movie, the most original and deliriously head-spinning of the year? Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert combine multiverses, freaky action, parental love, romantic love, genres and mediums in a story that is both big and small and succeeds beyond anyone’s imaginations. Michelle Yeoh carries the film as the beleaguered owner of a laundromat being audited by the IRS, but is also breaking her husband’s heart and suffocating her daughter. Everybody shines here, too, especially Stephanie Hsu as the many-layered daughter and Ke Huy Quan, the former child star who made a splashy return to acting with the role of the husband. The movie is so audacious, it keeps throwing ideas and concepts at you, demanding you keep up. But it’s also so endearing, with a beating heart that opens itself to you and asks you to love it. How can you say no?
Honorable Mentions: Avatar: The Way of Water, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Sea Beast