After two years Hollywood would rather forget, 2022 offered some hope.

At the beginning of the year, the December 2021 holdover "Spider-Man: No Way Home" was still rocking the box office, breathing life back into the Hollywood machine after the COVID-19 pandemic completely derailed the movie industry. That movie proved superhero fans were willing to go back to theaters. But what about everyone else?

There were fits and starts, minor triumphs here and there, as people trickled back into their local multiplexes.

Then in May, along came "Top Gun: Maverick" and blew everyone away.

The high octane sequel to the 1986 smash surpassed all expectations, thrilling audiences and keeping receipts ringing throughout the summer, past the fall and even into the holiday season. As of this writing, it's back in theaters once again.

"Top Gun" — as well as ready-made blockbusters such as the latest "Dr. Strange," "Thor" and "Black Panther" entries — showed that for colossal, high-line tentpole entertainment, people are still willing to trek out to theaters.

But those pandemic-reinforced habits of watching almost everything else at home remained. There were exceptions along the way, but up at the top of the box office, the year's Top 10 grossers were all superhero movies or sequels, continuing box office trends that were only sped up over the last two years.

We're not going back to the pre-pandemic days; the business has evolved. Now on any given weekend, there are new movies in theaters as well as at home on streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video and more. It's hard to keep up with everything that comes out, even for those of us who are paid to do so. So many movies, so little time.

But there are still great movies coming out of all corners of that Hollywood machine, movies that do what movies have always done: make us laugh, make us cry, make us cheer, make us think about our own lives and our place in the world.

As 2022 comes to a close, these are the best movies of the year — and a few of the worst, because they can't all be winners — which show that, even coming out of a pandemic, no one puts on a show quite like Hollywood.

The 22 best movies of 2022

22. "Elvis": To director Baz Luhrmann, who took on the King with flash, bombast and no shortage of empathy, we say thank you, thank you very much. Between Lurhmann's whiz-bang direction and Austin Butler's starmaking turn as Elvis Presley, "Elvis" was able to overcome whatever it was Tom Hanks was doing with his Count Dracula-voiced Col. Parker, chief architect of both Elvis' rise and his downfall. Hanks', er, editorial choices aside, "Elvis" is every bit as grand and sweeping as it needed to be. It is truly fit for a King. (Available for rental and on HBO Max)

21. "Fall": Grace Caroline Currey and Virginia Gardner play two adventure seekers who climb a rickety ladder up a 2,000 ft. radio tower and then lose their way down in director Scott Mann's nimble popcorn thriller, which keeps finding new ways to make two people stuck in a fixed position very high in the air interesting and, just as importantly, exciting. How will they get down? What tricks do they have up their sleeve? And how big a threat are those vultures that are starting to circle? "Fall" is a fun, innovative thrill ride that never stops thrilling. (Available for rental)

20. "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent": Nicolas Cage plays the greatest actor alive, Nicolas Cage, in co-writer and director Tom Gormican's outrageous meta comedy, where life mirrors art mirroring Nicolas Cage's wild and crazy career. To his great credit, Cage is fully in on the gag, and there are few actors alive who would send themselves up in quite this manner, or who are worth sending up in the way "Unbearable Weight" celebrates its leading man. De Niro? Stiller? Travolta? Nah, it only works with Cage, he knows it, and so does this ultimate tribute to his singular Cageness. (Available for rental and on Starz)

19. "Bros": The year's funniest comedy is also one of its most groundbreaking, as the hilarious boy-meets-boy rom-com is touted as the first major studio picture featuring an entirely LGBTQ+ principal cast. The manic Billy Eichner, who co-wrote the script alongside director Nicholas Stoller ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall"), stars as a 40-something podcaster who's never been in love, who meets his match (Luke Macfarlane in a head turning performance) and begins to let his guard down. The rest is romantic comedy gold, and history. (Available for rental and on Peacock)

18. "The Black Phone": A gripping kidnapping thriller with a supernatural twist, co-writer and director Scott Derrickson's creepshow is so effectively rendered that you'll forgive that pesky supernatural twist. Ethan Hawke stars as "The Grabber," who terrorizes the Denver suburbs in the late 1970s, a time when kids walked home from school unsupervised and sometimes didn't make it all the way to their front door. Derrickson's sense of mood and atmosphere is so rich with detail that everything else falls in line, and Hawke has never been scarier. (Available for rental and on Peacock)

17. "Watcher": Indie scream queen Maika Monroe ("It Follows") stars as an American woman, new to Bucharest, who is unsure of her place or her environs in director Chloe Okuno's tense, icy cold thriller, which deals with displacement, loneliness and fears of the unknown. It would be enough if Monroe's character was just getting used to her new home, but there are news reports of a serial killer on the loose, as well as the small matter of that strange man who keeps peering at her from the apartment across the way. In a word, yipes. (Available for rental, on AMC+ and Shudder)

16. "Resurrection": In the year's most fierce and tightly controlled performance, Rebecca Hall is a single mother traumatized to the point of physical sickness by her ex-, played by a best-he's-been-in-decades Tim Roth, in writer-director Andrew Semans' simmering psychological thriller, which goes places you'll never see coming. Hall, also tremendous in last year's "The Night House," has become her own brand of elevated horror, and the lengthy monologue she delivers here is one of the year's best moments. Chilling and unforgettable. (Available for rental and on AMC+ and Shudder)

15. "Babylon": "La La Land's" Damien Chazelle pays a different kind of homage to Los Angeles in this unhinged, high-flying, completely over-the-top portrait of Hollywood's early days and the personalities who brought the movies to life as the business changed over from silent pictures to talkies. Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt lead a sprawling ensemble cast and Chazelle doesn't skimp on any indulgences in his go-for-broke direction, filling the frame with chaos and plunging viewers deep into the underground heart of the Tinsel Town of yesteryear. It's a feast. (In theaters Dec. 23)

14. "Living": Bill Nighy is note perfect in this tiny, elegant slice of life, in which he plays a man who, at the end of his life, finally decides to start living. The 72-year-old Nighy, best known on this side of the pond for his role as a cheeky rocker in the perennial Christmastime favorite "Love Actually," doesn't overplay a single moment in this 1950s set adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's "Ikiru," and he winds up giving one of the year's richest performances. Don't be surprised if he sneaks into the Best Actor race come Oscar time. (In theaters TBD)

13. "Jackass Forever": If you can't kick your friends in the junk, then who can you kick in the junk? More than a decade after "Jackass 3D," the boys are back together harming themselves for our entertainment (and theirs) in this raucous celebration of stupid behavior, friendship, and behaving stupidly with your friends. It's the laughter in between the pranks that really ties this entry, and the series as a whole, together, the sense of community and camaraderie that these guys have shared for more than 20 years. Here's to 20 more. (Available for rental and on Paramount+)

12. "Tár": Cate Blanchett gives a monster performance in writer-director Todd Field's first film since 2006, which looks at art, flawed creators and cancel culture, a topic of particular relevance here in 2022. Blanchett is Lydia Tár, and she's so convincing as the EGOT-winning, world renowned classical music conductor that you're forgiven if you walk away thinking she's a real person. (She's not.) Tár's world comes crashing down around her due to her own hubris and Field provides a timely and unsettling look at power, creativity and how we render genius. (Available for rental)

11. "The Fallout": Former Disney kid Jenna Ortega, one of the year's breakout stars (she was also in "Scream," "X" and the Netflix smash "Wednesday"), leads this alarmingly relevant film about a school shooting and its aftermath. Writer-director Megan Park, in her debut feature, takes on the everyday confusion of being a teen and multiplies it by a school shooting, a troubling reality for way too many modern American adolescents. She handles it with honesty, and gets a sparkling performance from her newly minted leading lady along the way. (Available for rent and on HBO Max)

10. "Moonage Daydream": If you want to learn facts about David Bowie, there are plenty of books you can read. If you want to experience Bowie, start here. Writer-director Brett Morgen ("The Kid Stays in the Picture," "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck") looks at the life and art of the Thin White Duke and immerses viewers into a cornucopia of his music, his visuals, his thoughts, his philosophies, his utter being. It's a staggering look at a life lived and works as both an entry point and a master's class on one of the most fascinating artists of the last 60 years. (Available for rental)

9. "Pearl": "X" isn't included here but consider this a nod for both, and the delirious work of star Mia Goth. Of the two films, "Pearl" is more her showcase, and she does more with an unblinking stare than many actresses do with entire monologues. Writer-director Ti West built this homage to early Hollywood around his star and she runs like hell with it, painting a demented portrait of psychosis through a Technicolor lens. She's a new kind of scream queen for the modern age. (Available for rental)

8. "Everything Everywhere All at Once": The mundane (laundromats, taxes) gives way to the extraordinary (hot dog fingers, googly eyed rocks, everything bagels standing in for the meaning of life) in the Daniels' mind-blowing exploration of time, space, fate, family, love, "The Matrix" and reality itself. "Everything Everywhere All at Once" is what happens when truly gifted and original filmmakers are given the chance to make the thing that is in their heads, and its overwhelming success is evidence that model can be good for business. What a concept! (Available for rental and on Showtime and Paramount+)

7. "Decision to Leave": It sounds simple enough — a detective falls for the lead suspect in his latest murder investigation — but nothing director Park Chan-wook ("Oldboy," "The Handmaiden") does is simple, or as it seems, or without layers of meaning and intent. The filmmaker moves his actors (Park Hae-il and Tang Wei, both extraordinary) around like chess pieces, in service of his story about romantic longing, secrets and obsessions. In the end, it adds up to the smartest, most satisfying murder mystery in years. (Available on Mubi)

6. "Armageddon Time": This year, a handful of filmmakers — including Steven Spielberg ("The Fabelmans"), Sam Mendes ("Empire of Light") and Alejandro G. Iñárritu ("Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths") — mined their own personal experiences for material. But none hit harder than writer-director James Gray's look at his own upbringing in Queens, New York in the early 1980s, and his wrestling with his own privilege and how it affected both his childhood and the way his life ultimately played out. It's a stirring, difficult and deeply personal experience. (Available for rental)

5. "She Said": There are no holes to be poked in this grounded, straightforward account of the New York Times journalists who, through good ol' fashioned shoe-leather reporting, took down Harvey Weinstein and in turn sent shockwaves through Hollywood, the workplace and the sexual politics of the entire world. Director Maria Schrader isn't flashy but gets to the roots of how the story came to be, and Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan lead a rock solid ensemble cast in this instant classic of on-screen journalism. (In theaters and available for rental)

4. "Avatar: The Way of Water": Nobody on Earth makes movies like James Cameron, and nobody comes close. The director's sequel to his 2009 mega-blockbuster is a trip to another world, a certified trillion watt banger that looks like nothing else you've seen before, "Avatar" included. If its themes of family are a bit heavy-handed, they're excused by the pure vibes of the blissed-out underwater sequences, which take up about 90 minutes of the movie's middle. (If it turns out they sync up perfectly to the '90s compilation "Pure Moods," would you be surprised?) A true experience. (In theaters Dec. 16)

3. "The Banshees of Inisherin": Colm doesn't want to be friends with Pádraic anymore. And so begins the latest from writer-director Martin McDonagh, who reunites Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell from "In Bruges" in this alternately sweet and devastating look at male friendships, spite and mortality, set off the coast of Ireland a century ago. Colm finds Pádraic to be simple and wants to retreat inward and focus on carving out his legacy, Pádraic just wants to be friends like they always were, and the ambers of those fires soon build to a roaring flame. (In theaters)

2. "RRR": Rise, roar, revolt. Those are the three Rs of "RRR," the most insane action epic of the year and the most thrilling, joyful, exuberant celebration of brotherhood, bromance and anti-colonialism you're likely to see this decade. This import from Tollywood — shorthand for a movie in the Telugu language — combines action, explosions, dance sequences, tiger fights and more into a three-hour epic that creates its own laws of physics, history and cinema. Don't worry about those subtitles: its message is universal. (On Netflix)

1. "Top Gun: Maverick": It was the movie that got us back in theaters. After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the long-awaited sequel to the 1986 original finally hit screens, and delivered the cinematic version of a high-five: a heroic tale of a maverick pilot who defies the odds in front of him and saves the day for all. For star Tom Cruise, it was the ultimate flex of his unmatched movie star appeal; for co-writer Christopher McQuarrie and director Joseph Kosinski, it was a triumph of simplicity in storytelling; and for audiences, it was a reminder of why we go to — and why we love — the movies. In 2022, nothing flew higher. (In theaters and available for rental)

Honorable mentions — 10 more with feeling

"I Want You Back" (available on Prime Video); "Bad Axe" (available for rental); "The Northman" (available for rental and on Prime Video); "Causeway" (available on Apple TV+); "Confess, Fletch" (available for rental and on Showtime); "Sr." (available on Netflix); "Emily the Criminal" (available for rental and on Netflix); "Beavis and Butthead Do the Universe" (available for rental and on Paramount+) "Speak No Evil" (available for rental and on Shudder); "Bones and All" (in theaters).

The 5 Worst Movies of 2022

5. "The Greatest Beer Run Ever": Zac Efron plays a guy who delivers his buddies in Vietnam some beer and co-writer and director Peter Farrelly turns his tale into a dunderheaded lesson on politics and patriotism that goes over like a room temperature brewski.

4. "Mack & Rita": Diane Keaton body-swaps with a social media influencer in this would-be comedy that not only fails to figure out its own logic but completely wastes the talents of one of the true treasures of American cinema. For shame!

3. "Luck": Producer John Lasseter's first project since leaving Pixar is this hopelessly confusing animated tale about the nature of luck that can't find any of its own.

2. "The Adam Project": Consider this lackluster Ryan Reynolds pic a stand-in for all the sluggish Netflix star vehicles and vanity projects the streamer delivered this year (see also Mark Wahlberg and Kevin Hart in "Me Time," Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson in "The Man from Toronto," Rebel Wilson in "Senior Year" and the Judd Apatow dud "The Bubble") and let's hope for better going forward.

1. "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore": OK so what were the secrets, again? It was impossible to make heads or tails of this muddled third entry in the decidedly less than fantastic "Harry Potter" spinoff franchise, which still hasn't clearly established its characters or its direction. If these movies quietly stopped being made, "Divergent"-style, would anyone object?


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