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If 2021 was a roller-coaster year for filmgoing, then 2022 was a tilt-a-whirl set afire. We started the year with shuttered cinemas thanks to Omicron, watched the Netflix Apocalypse arrive and upend the streaming business, saw Tom Cruise conquer the world just as Xenu prophesized, and then stumbled into a fall awards season littered with excellent fare that just couldn’t muster much box-office interest.

And there still may be one more Pandora-sized twist to come, as James Cameron unleashes his once-unimaginable Avatar: The Way of Water next week. (The sequel is also the lone high-profile 2022 film that I wasn’t able to watch before compiling this list; doesn’t Cameron understand newspaper deadlines??)

There will be plenty of time in the frozen depths of January, though, to fully dissect what went wrong in the film world this year. For now, let’s celebrate the many things that went right, against all odds. Here are the 10 best films of 2022, and how to watch (most of) them right now.

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1. Top Gun: Maverick

I’m just as surprised as you, but seven months after first watching Tom Cruise’s love letter to speed/himself, I cannot recall a more engrossing, perfectly executed piece of big-big-BIG movie-making than Top Gun: Maverick. A potent combination of star power and sky-high cinematic craftsmanship, director Joseph Kosinski’s epic is a tremendous ride that shockingly retains its power on second, third, fourth viewings. (Available on-demand, including Apple TV and Google Play; streaming on Paramount+ starting Dec. 22)

2. RRR

One of the year’s biggest joys has been to watch the cult of Telugu filmmaker S.S. Rajamouli, and specifically his masterpiece RRR, steadily grow as audiences dive deeper into their Netflix queues or stumble upon viral clips shot during raucous screenings. While Rajamouli has been dazzling Indian audiences for a while now, the historical action epic RRR taps into something on a global scale. Hypnotic, hilarious, rousing and not a little politically problematic, RRR is a true feast for the cinematic senses. (Streaming on Netflix)

3. Aftersun

One of the more affecting feature-film debuts to come along in years, Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun follows the short, bittersweet summer vacation taken by 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) and her young single dad Calum (Paul Mescal). As the pair hang out by the pool of their Turkish resort, Wells produces a carefully measured, lyrical portrait of a bond that is both natural and unconventional. It also features one of the more devastating final shots in recent memory. (Now playing in select cinemas)

4. Petite Maman

Time, as Celine Sciamma’s magical-realist drama understands, is a funny thing. Is Petite Maman even a 2022 film? I first saw it during the dark virtual days of the February, 2021, Berlinale, though it didn’t finally make its way to Canadian cinemas until this past May. Timing ultimately doesn’t matter given that Petite Maman is one of the best films of this or any other era. A delicate look at the bridge between parents and their children, Sciamma’s film follows a lonely eight-year-old girl (Joséphine Sanz) who encounters her mother (Gabrielle Sanz, twin sister of Joséphine) at the same age. Quiet, tender, beautiful, this is a film to treasure year after year. (Streaming on Prime Video)

5. Tár

The more audiences slowly discover Tár, the better and messier the conversations have been. An engrossing and exacting work of cinema, Todd Field’s character study follows the career of brilliant composer Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett, precisely perfect). But something is seriously wrong with Lydia – a problem that Field teases with such ferocious artistic confidence that you will leave the theatre (or, I guess, your living room) with questions, arguments, demands, but most of all a supremely fulfilling sense of cinematic satisfaction. (Now playing in select theatres; also available on-demand, including Apple TV and Google Play)

6. Athena

Directed by French music-video veteran Romain Gavras, Athena is a Greek tragedy by way of cultural polemic, wrapped in the guise of a pulse-pounding war movie. It is at times brash and thick-headed in its characters and politics, but it is engineered with such an electric ferocity – a beautiful marriage of high-performance technical expertise and gonzo aesthetic imagination – that it cannot help but knock you flat out. (Streaming on Netflix)

7. Crimes of the Future

David Cronenberg’s first film in eight years is many things: a climate-change cri de cœur. A tender love story in which matters of the heart involve other, less traditionally sexy internal organs. A darkly hilarious satirical riff on the ineffable power of art in the face of tragedy. A self-referential noir-tinged tour through the sicko-cinema Cronenbergian canon, with its obsessions on the limits of both the human body and audiences’ stomachs. But mostly, Crimes of the Future is a testament to the twisty, squishy, uncompromising vision of a brilliant filmmaker whose imagination is endless, and endlessly terrifying. (Streaming on Crave)

8. Women Talking

Sweeping yet intimate, Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’s novel about a group of women trying to decide whether to leave or stay within an isolated, abusive religious colony is a devastating wonder of a film. Stacked with rich, thoughtful performances from Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley and Sheila McCarthy, Women Talking cements Polley’s standing as an essential artist. (Opens Dec. 23 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto before expanding to other locations in January)

9. Scarborough

Another technicality of timing, Scarborough might be considered a 2021 film (and in fact made my roundup of the Best Canadian Films of last year), even though it only opened theatrically this past February. But the benefit of making a list is also making the rules, and Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson’s adaptation of Catherine Hernandez’s novel has lingered in my mind all this very long year. Heartbreaking without being manipulative, authentic without being sentimental, Scarborough will transform the way you see the world. (Streaming on Crave)

10. Babylon & Everything Everywhere All At Once & Elvis (three-way tie)

Three of the best films of the year are also the movie-est movies of the year: extreme, intense, dizzying exercises in cinematic maximalism that showcase their respective directors’ commitment to emptying their souls onto the screen. Hats off to the first art house to program a back-to-back-to-back triple bill: it’ll cost a lot to mop up the floors, given that audiences’ brains will be leaking out from their ears. (Babylon opens in theatres Dec. 23; Everything Everywhere All At Once is streaming on Prime Video; Elvis is streaming on Crave)

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