Seattle Times movie critics pick their favorite movies of 2022

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A Seattle Times arts critic, desk editor and freelancer walk into the cinemas in 2022 (at least sometimes; other times, they streamed from the comfort of their homes) and come out with having plenty to say about this year’s offerings.

From soul-searing dramas to clever animated films to norm-defying releases and more, here are the movies that dazzled us in 2022, listed in alphabetical order by critic.

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times arts critic

“The Banshees of Inisherin”: What a strange, dark, wonderful movie, set on a fictitious Irish island in the 1920s and starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two men who aren’t friends anymore. Writer/director Martin McDonagh creates a world on that island, and the actors give a master class in character; particularly Farrell, who finds infinite shadings of gentle heartbreak.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once”: Life is chaos and so is this movie, in the absolute best of ways. The great Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn, a middle-aged woman coping with her chaotic life, as a tower of strength and a beacon of love, as writer-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert take her story and fold it, like origami, into multiple universes, letting us see a parade of Evelyn’s unlived lives. Completely unexpected; utterly compelling.

“TÁR”: Turns out it was worth the wait for Todd Field’s new film, his first since 2006. Cate Blanchett plays the title character, a genius/monster musician with a habit of using people up and tossing them aside. Field makes some bold choices throughout — dream sequences, eerie darkness — but every scene and every performance feels utterly honest and real, particularly Blanchett’s fierce tour de force. I’d happily spend all day watching her conduct; it’s as if she’s willing the music into existence.

“Turning Red”: This Pixar instant classic didn’t play theaters — it went straight to Disney+ — but that’s no reflection of its quality. Domee Shi, drawing on memories of her own Toronto childhood in a Chinese Canadian family, crafts a sweet, graceful ode to growing up, in which an ordinary 13-year-old girl, Meilin, sometimes turns into an angry red panda. That panda is, of course, a metaphor for puberty — and a wonderfully funny concept. If only this movie had been around when I was 13.

Dominic Baez, Seattle Times features desk editor

“Barbarian”: Airbnbs have always felt insidious to me. Who knows what skeletons others hide in their own closets? “Barbarian,” a delightfully twisted horror movie by Zach Cregger, has me sworn off them forever. It starts with a simple, if unsettlingly, enough premise: a double-booked rental in a derelict neighborhood. “Run!” you want to scream, and of course no one does until it’s far too late. That would likely be clichéd in another director’s hands, but Cregger fills this masterfully suspenseful story with clever twists on all your standard horror troupes. You know better than to go into that nightmare-fuel basement, but with “Barbarian,” you can’t get down there fast enough.

“The Batman”: You’d think the “Batman” film franchise wouldn’t need yet another moody reboot drenched in cynical existentialism with a touch of nihilism mixed in. But Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” isn’t even in the same vein as Christopher Nolan’s 2005 “Batman Begins.” It’s hard to think of it even as a superhero movie (the Batmobile aside). Reeves and star Robert Pattinson, who captivates with his all-too-human Bruce Wayne/Batman, take something familiar and craft something simply gripping on just about every level. From the masterful use of darkness to the searing score and visceral action, “The Batman” more than proves itself in the realm of reboots (even with its three-hour runtime).

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”: For a (dazzling) stop-motion animated movie, “Pinocchio” feels breathtakingly alive. Far closer to Brothers Grimm than Disney (if you’ll forgive the obvious overlap), del Toro and co-director Mark Gustafson chart a dark, unsettling course for our favorite wooden puppet. Death, life, grief, joy, fascism, freedom: All these elements, set in Mussolini’s Italy, crash and blend together to make something wholly unique out of a 140-year-old story. 

“Top Gun: Maverick”: I’m still not sure we needed a sequel to “Top Gun.” I’m still glad we got one. Director Joseph Kosinski managed to pull off a rare feat: making a sequel that’s better than its predecessor, thanks in no small part to understanding his audience and the pure charisma of Tom Cruise. The jingoism and nostalgia factors could have been overwhelming. They weren’t. The themes that matter — the bonds of life, however they manifest — could have been overwhelmed. They weren’t. In effect, “Maverick” is what every summer blockbuster sequel should be: entertaining, well-crafted and more than the sum of its original parts.

Soren Andersen, Seattle Times freelance movie critic

Everything Everywhere All at Once”: Baffling, bizarre, breakneck and unforgettable, this singularly unique picture plunges the audience headlong into a maelstrom of multiverses. Writers-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert center their story on a Chinese American immigrant character played by Michelle Yeoh who runs a laundromat, whose marriage is falling apart, who’s on the outs with her daughter, oh, and is being audited by the IRS represented by an virtually unrecognizable Jamie Lee Curtis. Through circumstance almost too strange to follow, she embarks on a wild ride into parallel universes occupying a head-spinning variety of personas where she sprouts hot dogs for fingers, becomes a martial arts maven (of course, she is, after all, Michelle Yeoh) and is thoroughly discombobulated, as is the audience. Confusing? Yes. Worth the price of admission? Oh, most definitely.

“Good Night Oppy”: Made with the full and enthusiastic cooperation of NASA, this documentary uses archival footage, state-of-the-art CG animation and talking-head interviews to track the journey of the Mars rover Opportunity and its twin rover Spirit from their design and manufacture all the way to the surface of the red planet where they vastly overperformed expectations and kept going and going and going. It’s a joyful salute to the best of what humans are capable when they unite in a common purpose to expand their knowledge of matters beyond the realm of the known.

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On”: A tiny talking seashell with a single eye and stylish sneakers charms his way into the viewer’s heart with disarming ease in this stop-motion minor masterpiece. Marcel loves his seashell grandma (voiced by Isabella Rossellini), is a big fan of “60 Minutes’” Leslie Stahl and is achingly lonely for his missing family. The picture is funny, clever and surprisingly moving as Marcel (voiced by co-screenwriter Jenny Slate) tries to make sense of his place in the wide world outside the suburban home where he lives and tenderly interacts with his granny. When fame comes calling (Good grief! That’s the real Leslie Stahl at the door!), his universe expands and his life is turned upside down. A gentle delight, this one.

“Vengeance”: “The Office” star B.J. Novak wrote, directed and stars in this comedy-drama about an East Coast hipster who ventures deep into the heart of Texas to discover what makes the Lone Star State tick. His expectations are both confirmed and overthrown. It’s an insightful commentary on the state of us, which is to say us, the U.S., in this divided, disjointed and distracted age. 

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