Nicole’s Top Ten Films of 2022

When I look back in years to come, I suspect that I will remember 2022 as one of my favorite film years. This year – our first truly back since quarantine shut theaters and sets down – has been full of films of all types, from long-awaited sequels to murder mysteries to contemplative period dramas to cannibal films (yes, that’s plural). I wish that I could write about my top fifty films because they all hold a special place in my heart, but I do want to give a shout-out to some honorable mentions: My Father’s Dragon, Do Revenge, Women Talking, See How They Run, Mr. Malcolm’s List, Don’t Worry Darling, and Three Minutes: A Lengthening.

10. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Dir. Rian Johnson)

Between my beloved The Last Jedi and the razor-sharp Knives Out, Rian Johnson has become one of my favorite directors. So I was very excited to see his follow-up in the Benoit Blanc Cinematic Universe, and it definitely did not disappoint. Johnson created another original murder mystery to explore the quirks and downfalls of the rich and famous, this time more centered around influencer and celebrity culture. The fashion was great, the ensemble stunning, the commentary clever, and the jokes funny. Plus, it’s great to see someone finally know how to use Kate Hudson in a film again after too many years.

9. Benediction (Dir. Terence Davies)

As long as I can remember, one of my niches as a historian has been World War I, and it has spilled over into a love of WWI poetry, particularly that of the talented Siegfried Sassoon. In 2021, I discovered a love for Terence Davies’s previous work, so I was so excited to find out that he was making a film about Sassoon. From the first fifteen minutes of Benediction, I knew that it was something special. Jack Lowden gives one of the best performances of the year as Sassoon and the supporting cast – which includes Simon Russell Beale, Peter Capaldi, Jeremy Irvine, Calam Lynch, and Gemma Jones – are more than worthy partners for him. The way that it deals with Sassoon’s anti-war sentiments, art, love affairs with men, and relationship with religion are astoundingly beautiful – it’s a film that only Davies could have made.

8. Avatar: The Way of Water (Dir. James Cameron)

I didn’t see the first Avatar movie until a couple of years ago, and I was blown away by it. (Avatar is fantastic, how groundbreaking.) But I’m a big fan of James Cameron (or Big Jim, as I have taken to calling him affectionately), so I was very excited to see what he had come up with for the long-awaited sequel. But I didn’t expect to fall so fully into an obsession not only with the film’s environmentalist message and gorgeous depictions of the world of Pandora, but also with every member of the Sully family from Jake himself to little Tuk. It’s a film I’ve already seen in the theater several times, in both 3D and 4DX, and just writing about it is making me want to go again.

7. The Wonder (Dir. Sebastián Lelio)

Every year, there are a few period dramas that I cling onto as a historian – examples of how to do the genre right. Sebastián Lelio’s The Wonder is definitely one of them for 2022, as the film artfully depicts the strange phenomenon of “fasting girls” that actually occurred in the nineteenth century. Florence Pugh is fantastic as the nurse brought to watch over a young girl whose family claims that she has been sustained for months by “manna from Heaven,” and Kíla Lord Cassidy shines as her young charge. The way that it explores how religion, Catholicism specifically, was used to oppress young women and its depiction of the early practices of nursing are both excellent. It’s a deliciously atmospheric movie that plays around with its production design in interesting ways, while boasting refreshingly accurate costumes, hair, and makeup design.

6. The Woman King (Dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood)

Sometimes you see a film at exactly the right moment. When I first saw The Woman King at the Toronto International Film Festival, I was reading about the Dahomey kingdom and African involvement in the slave trade for the Slave Trades class I was taking for grad school. That director Gina Prince-Bythewood and writer Dana Stevens were able to capture the same nuance and complexity of the topic that my readings did impressed me beyond belief. Not only is The Woman King a thoughtful depiction of the Agojie warriors and the Dahomey kingdom in the 1820s, it also boasts some of the best acting and craft work of any film of the year. Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, and John Boyega each give one of the strongest performances of the year and their careers. It’s a film directed by and starring Black women that has all the grandeur and epic feel of a classic like Gladiator or Braveheart.

5. Fresh (Dir. Mimi Cave)

Fresh was my first-ever Sundance film when I watched it virtually last year and I couldn’t have chosen a better one to begin with. Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan both turn in some of the best work of their careers in this playful horror film. The cannibalism premise is a creative way to comment on the way that men view women and their bodies, and the film aptly sums up the issues with modern dating for women. There are visuals from this film that have stuck with me for over a year, particularly Stan in the kitchen dancing – one of the most delightfully chilling scenes all year. It’s a fantastic directorial debut from Mimi Cave and I cannot wait to see what she makes next.

4. Bones and All (Dir. Luca Guadagnino)

After all of the hype around Bones and All, I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations when I finally saw it. But it absolutely more than delivered with its tender depiction of young love between two outsiders and the excellent way that Mark Rylance’s character builds tension. Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet give performances that somehow feel both ethereal and grounded, and the cinematography is arguably the best of the year. It’s the kind of film that takes days to process as every thought about it unfurls something new.

3. All Quiet on the Western Front (Dir. Edward Berger)

As mentioned above, I’ve been fascinated by World War I for many years, so it’s perhaps not surprising that ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is one of my favorite novels. From the moment that this new film adaptation was announced, I was so excited about it – especially because it is in German, like the original novel. Edward Berger’s direction is impeccable, as is all the visceral crafts work on the film. This new interpretation proves that the story is as impactful as it was almost a hundred years ago when the novel first came out and its anti-war messaging still stands just as strong.

2. She Said (Dir. Maria Schrader)

A film that I expected to like but was not prepared for how much I loved is Maria Schrader’s She Said. While I was very interested in the story of the New York Times reporters who exposed Harvey Weinstein’s history of abuse, I don’t always love journalism films. But this film becomes so much more than that by focusing on Weinstein’s victims and exploring how he was able to destroy so many careers with his behavior. It also does an excellent job of depicting working mothers and postpartum depression, which means so much to see on film because it’s so rarely depicted, particularly in any sort of realistic form. Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan are fantastic as the film’s co-leads, but the entire cast give beautiful performances and you can feel their dedication to the story they’re telling.

1. Aftersun (Dir. Charlotte Wells)

I was lucky enough to go into Aftersun knowing very little about the film, completely unprepared for the way that it would impact me. This story of a woman looking back on her childhood holiday with her young father and trying to piece together the picture of who he was is a stunning directorial debut from the very talented Charlotte Wells. The way that she plays with memory and perspective is beyond the capabilities of many established directors, and the care that she took in protecting her young actress Frankie Corio is commendable.

But it’s Paul Mescal’s performance as a young parent dealing with depression and trying to hide it from his daughter that absolutely floored me. While I’m not a parent myself, it took me back to my high school years, trying to hide my anxiety and depression from my much-younger sister, determined not to let it affect her. Mescal gives a gorgeously subtle performance and his chemistry as father and daughter with Corio is one of the best bonds I’ve seen onscreen all year. It’s a film that I cannot wait to return to over different stages of my life, even though I know it will continue to destroy me emotionally.

Nicole Ackman
she/her @nicoleackman16
Living out her childhood dreams of being a writer, just like Jo March
Favorite Directors: Kenneth Branagh and Greta Gerwig
Sign: Virgo

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