10. ‘The Woman King’ (dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood)
Gina Prince-Bythewood’s historical epic film “The Woman King” reminds us that empathy can be a formidable weapon. Set in the Dahomey Kingdom in the 19th century, the film is not only a thoroughly entertaining blockbuster but also an important entry into the genre that explores the timeless heroism of Black women. Viola Davis delivers a phenomenal performance as General Nanisca, the leader of an all-female group of warriors called the Agojie who fearlessly defend their kingdom against a variety of threats. However, the shadows of slavery and European colonization hang over their community nonetheless. The film’s excellent cast is fierce and dynamic (Thuso Mbedu is a breakout star as new recruit Nawi), and the Agojie's sisterhood remains at the emotional center of the film’s sprawling narrative. Crucially, “The Woman King” engages with a variety of difficult topics, including war, freedom, and empire — all the while thrilling audiences with expertly choreographed action sequences with heavy emotional stakes. Equal parts rousing and reflective, “The Woman King” is a triumphant new action classic. —Jamila R. O’Hara
We reviewed “The Woman King” here.
9. ‘Turning Red’ (dir. Domee Shi)
One of the best animated films of the year, Pixar’s “Turning Red” is an unapologetic portrayal of generational trauma, cultural clashes, and how hard it can be to be a tween girl. Domee Shi’s feature-length directorial debut is visually stunning; scenes are brimming with detail that invoke the tween protagonist’s sense of youth, wonder, and heartache. The story follows thirteen-year-old Chinese-Canadian Mei as she chafes under her controlling mother’s rules, and suddenly discovers that whenever she gets overwhelmed, she turns into a giant red panda. This fantastical metaphor is a powerful vehicle for authentic and meaningful explorations of how difficult it can be to uphold your family legacy, how children can feel misunderstood by their parents, and many of the struggles faced by immigrant families. It’s a feel-good must-watch and an excellent addition to Pixar’s robust catalog of animated features. —Millie Mae Healy
We reviewed “Turning Red” here.
8. ‘X’ and ‘Pearl’ (dir. Ti West)
Director Ti West and actress Mia Goth were a prolific duo in 2022. “X” and “Pearl” constitute two-thirds of West’s A24 slasher trilogy — its third and final installment, “MaXXXine,” will be released sometime in the near future. “X” follows a group of actors who set out to make an adult film at a farm in rural Texas in the 1970s; they navigate professional and personal dynamics whilst trying to conceal their activities from their reclusive hosts. Goth portrays both the film’s protagonist, aspiring actress Maxine Minx, and the elderly Pearl, who resides on the lonely, run-down farm with her husband Howard. “X” is a tension-filled, suspenseful slasher that offers a thought-provoking exploration of youth, desire, beauty, and envy enhanced by unique visuals and Goth’s clever double-casting. “Pearl” returns to the same Texas homestead in 1918, where Pearl (again played by Goth) is a young woman with big ambitions: She dreams of escaping her family’s farm and becoming a movie star, much like the young actors in “X.” Although both are compelling standalone films, “X” and “Pearl” are most interesting when considered collectively: “Pearl” is a clever addendum to its predecessor, re-contextualizing the events of “X” by rendering its setting and antagonist in greater detail. Eventually, the Technicolor world of “Pearl” becomes gruesome as its titular character becomes increasingly desperate, yielding to her darkest impulses. Under all its gore, however, “Pearl” is both a compelling family drama and a fascinating character study that benefits from yet another killer performance from Goth. —Jamila R. O’Hara
7. ‘Tár’ (dir. Todd Field)
Lydia Tár, the virtuoso Berlin Philharmonic conductor responsible for a recent resurgence of interest in Mahler, doesn’t exist — not in real life, at least. Playing her with icy authority in “Tár,” Cate Blanchett commands the screen as a maestro does the stage. Todd Field’s first film in 16 years opens with Tár at the peak of a starry career as she prepares to record Mahler’s monumental Fifth Symphony. Her subsequent fall from grace puts the classical music industry’s pervasive hero worship in the spotlight, showcasing the dangers of mistaking the conductor’s podium for a pedestal. —Clara V. Nguyen
We reviewed “Tár” and admired its sonic and visual excellence here.
6. ‘Aftersun’ (dir. Charlotte Wells)
Scottish director Charlotte Wells’s beautiful and subtle directorial debut “Aftersun” asks what it means to look back at our childhoods through the lens of adulthood. With Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio starring as Calum and Sophie, a young father and his eleven-year-old daughter on a vacation to Instanbul, Wells’s film is a languid, heartwrenching examination of familial relationships. Interspersed with ’90s-era camcorder footage of their vacation, “Aftersun” is both nostalgic and tender in its depiction of Calum and Sophie’s sunny days spent by the poolside, but there is also an underlying sense of sadness that becomes increasingly discernible as the story unfolds. Frankie Corio is endlessly endearing as Sophie and Paul Mescal is impressively dynamic as he portrays a lighthearted father trying to hide his mental health issues from his daughter. As it becomes apparent that the adult Sophie is looking back at the old camcorder footage of their trip as an adult, the audience realizes that this is really a film about the reflective, painful, sweet act of remembering. —Jaden S. Thompson
We reviewed “Aftersun” at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival here.
5. ‘Nope’ (dir. Jordan Peele)
The latest release in director Jordan Peele’s decorated filmography, “Nope,” creatively reimagines the sci-fi and horror genres while criticizing the human need for both control and spectacle. Starring actors Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, “Nope” merges the generational story of the Haywoods, the horse-training descendants of the first Black actor and animal trainer to be depicted on film, with an extraterrestrial being on the loose against a neo-western backdrop. As Peele’s third consecutive feature to hit number one at the box office, “Nope” is just as clever and unnerving as its predecessors. Balancing comedy with pointed social commentary, “Nope” is a novel must-see for thriller and sci-fi fans alike. —Anya L. Henry
4. ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (dir. Edward Berger)
“All Quiet on the Western Front,” an adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel of the same name, following ordinary soldiers and set in the trenches of World War One’s Western Front, might seem like a war movie. It is not. Three minutes into the movie, a shell-shocked tentative protagonist, Heinrich, is forced to join an assault on enemy positions. Confused and utterly terrified, he is killed mere yards away from his trenches. When we meet the actual protagonist — reissued Heinrich’s uniform collected from the dead body, cleaned, mended, and still with the previous man’s name — one thing becomes clear: It is a film about war — actual war with none of the propagandistic heroism and glory. Instead, it focuses on the suffering, the deaths brought about by pride and personal ambition of bureaucrats divorced from reality. Berger does not shy away from poignant visuals to drive home the point. The film’s violence is repulsive and at times almost unbearable. But it is never gratuitous, because it ultimately serves the purpose of putting the audience in the same position as the protagonists and showing that, in the words of Remarque, “death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it.” —Zachary J. Lech
3. ‘Marcel the Shell With Shoes On’ (dir. Dean Fleischer-Camp)
Those who go into the stop-motion/animation/live action film “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” with no prior knowledge might not expect to cry at any point during its 90-minute runtime. But this is your warning to have tissues on hand. You won’t necessarily cry purely out of sadness — no, you’ll find yourself thinking, “this adorable one-inch-tall shell is imparting so much profound wisdom about life and relationships that I can’t help but tear up.” Some are already familiar with the character Marcel, the brainchild of former couple Jenny Slate and Dean Fleishercamp, from his YouTube virality. In Slate and Fleischer-Camp’s feature adaptation, Marcel (voiced by Slate) is living in an Airbnb with his grandma Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini); they’ve recently been separated from the rest of their shell community. Everything changes for them when Dean (Dean Fleischer-Camp), a man going through a breakup, rents the house, notices Marcel, and decides to make an amateur documentary about him, which goes viral. It is impossible not to fall in love with the innocent and endearing Marcel, who is constantly offering pearls of wisdom in his warbling, high-pitched voice. Other times, he succinctly describes universal but ultra-specific human emotions and experiences. Thanks to Slate and Fleisher-Camp’s creative ingenuity, the script is rich and crackling with both warmth and wit. It is not only laugh-out-loud funny, but also an extremely moving meditation on relationships, loss, and the brevity of life. —Jaden S. Thompson
2. ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ (dir. Ryan Coogler)
Following a highly influential predecessor, the sequel to “Black Panther'' grapples with reshaping the Marvel hero following Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing in August 2022 and, in doing so, succeeds on nearly all fronts. Although lengthy, the film is beautifully crafted with a remarkable score that complements each scene. The sequel paves its own legacy through its compelling integration of a captivating villain and a reshaping of familiar faces into novel, empowering roles. Similarly, integral to the film’s appeal is its focus on increasing its representation of the African diaspora. As a highly emotional film focused on loss and grief, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is sure to stir emotions and stick with watchers long after the credits roll. —Monique I. Vobecky
We reviewed “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” here.
1. ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ (dir. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)
“Everything Everywhere All At Once” is a high concept film about family. Without a doubt the best multiverse film to date, the Daniels take advantage of the scope and difficulty of the concept to tell a beautifully simple story about love, acceptance, and the difficulty of being an immigrant in the U.S. It’s witty, charming, and ridiculous in equal measures, balancing tone and form to create an emotional journey that also manages to be hilarious. Michelle Yeoh is captivating and endearing as the selfish and struggling wife and mother Evelyn, who feels beaten-down and underwhelmed with her life since leaving China to come to the U.S. with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). The film’s take on carrying on and overcoming generational mistakes is fresh but relatable, anchoring the film as it hops between realities and mediums. The entire main cast is fantastic, but in particular, Stephanie Hsu shines as she masterfully depicts the pain Joy has felt as a product of Evelyn’s parenting, both as her ordinary daughter and as an interdimensional, all-powerful villain. A24’s highest grossing film to date, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” absolutely deserves all of the praise and attention it has been getting. —Millie Mae Healy