I’m nearing the end of my 2022 wrap-up, and you know what, it was a MEGA year for movies. I had such a good time at the theater, and at home streaming, that I’ve broken some rules with my movie moments list. I couldn’t get this down to the usual top ten and decided against honorable mentions. I suppose this was inevitable; these lists have been gradually getting bigger year after year. This past year especially, I couldn’t help myself. I was swooning over a lot of moments in 2022 that had me hooting and hollering, screaming, crying, throwing up, etc. Cinema came roaring back in a big way, and I think this list demonstrates that.
My favorite movies list is due to drop. I’m calling it, I’m cutting myself off. We’re a month into 2023 and procrastinatin’ Adrian needs to move on, finally. But not just yet. Here are 16 of my favorite movie moments of 2022. (Some spoilers of the movies below. This is your only warning.)
ORPHAN: FIRST KILL & SIGNIFICANT OTHER – Midway Twist
Kicking the list off with some rule-breaking. Yes I can count, yes these are two movies in one slot, but the element I’m singling out in both are of the same piece. (Also this is my list. I can do what I want.)
The first hour of Orphan: First Kill is nearly a beat-for-beat retread of its predecessor that, understandably, had some viewers wondering why bother. The same goes for Significant Other, a couple’s hike gone awry where the antagonist seems clearly established. It’s at the midway point in both films (both Paramount+ exclusives) where they pull a radical 180, becoming not-so-stock versions of the movie we thought we were watching within the space of a scene. Without spoiling the twists, it’s an impressive shakeup of our expectations. We’re lulled into a sense of familiarity, whether it’s the grooves of a run-of-the-mill slasher sequel, or the gender bias of any romantic pairing. We don’t realize it but we’ve been climbing up on a roller coaster this whole time. And then the motherfucker drops, and I was along for the ride.
KIMI – Sabotage
Favorite needle drop of 2022. Steven Soderbergh’s eerily prescient Kimi went unseen as hype for The Batman came barreling. (Those interested should check this out ASAP because who knows what WB is removing next.) Zoe Kravitz plays Angela Childs, an agoraphobic systems tech who monitors daily streams of Kimi user data – a ubiquitous smart speaker. She overhears a possible murder and takes it to her bosses, disrupting a shady corporate cover-up. Kimi starts out Rear Window, then turns into Panic Room, or Home Alone. In the finale, Angela is cornered in her domain by the disruptors responsible, seemingly overpowered by all the powers and devices that be. Then she remembers, this is my fucking house. Kimi, play Beastie Boys.
5CREAM – Dewey Retires
I’ve cooled off on Scream 5 a year later, but this moment is unforgettable. A new cast brings the usual Ghostface slaughter. Enter the surviving legacy characters: Sidney, Gale, and Dewey. Their status in the current franchise model makes them virtually untouchable. Gotta retain the fans by placating the fanbases, right? This is the wrong series to apply that model to, which is why a Scream reboot is some bloody delicious opportunity to refresh the franchise and culture at large.
Dewey was as foundational to this series as Sidney. In fact, him as officer and Gale as reporter are present throughout the series once the killings begin. They’re pillars of the franchise, and where we find Dewey in Scream 5 shows a teetering one through surprisingly renewed pathos in David Arquette’s performance. He’s on his literal last legs compared to his peers. That didn’t make his demise any less shocking—a devastating gut-punch sealed by the closing of elevator doors.
DAY SHIFT – Scott Adkins / PREY – Dakota Beavers
Another two-fer for ya. This time, it’s a singular jaw-dropping action beat. Day Shift is the 21st century hybrid of Blade and From Dusk Till Dawn. Jamie Foxx is more than game fending off bloodsuckers in close quarters. Respectfully, he cannot match the energy or charisma of one Scott Adkins, who makes a show-stopping appearance. Whether he’s the lead or bit player, Adkins always pulls off a move that my brain cannot comprehend, and he doesn’t disappoint in Day Shift with an acrobatic reload worthy of the man’s highlight reel.
The same goes for Dakota Beavers in Prey. Taabe and his sister Naru throwing down against the Predator is some of the best co-op fighting in the franchise. No disrespect to Naru’s tomahawk skills, Taabe’s bow-and-arrow combat left me breathless. (Since we’re here, Neytiri in Avatar 2 freakin’ OWNS this combat, but there are other moments I’m gonna single out from that movie, so Taabe takes the cake.) My man fires an arrow, spins round the ugly motherfucker, yanks the ammo out of its torso, then fires again in rapid succession. Amber Midthunder gets the movie, bar none. Dakota Beavers nets the moment.
AMBULANCE – Operation High-Speed
I was gonna go with the drone shots, which Michael Bay employs like a madman. But no other moment in Bay’s latest had me on the edge of my seat quite like Ambulance’s adaptation of Hasbro’s Operation. Will and Danny have taken an ambulance hostage—carting the very cop they shot during the botched robbery. The cop’s life becomes their only bargaining chip in the equation, so Will and Cam, the medic, perform surgery without anesthesia, with cops hot on their tail. It’s the kind of gross-out body humor/horror that Bay never shies away from, be it a soldier in 13 Hours with his arm nearly blown off, or more appropriately, Michael Clarke Duncan being operated on in The Island. Bay goes full-throttle – Cam holding the cop’s insides, said cop waking mid-surgery, and Will eventually finding a solution to their anesthesia problem.
GLASS ONION – Birdie Jay
She’s problematic, but goddammit if she isn’t iconic while doing so! Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) is a model turned designer who wouldn’t last a millisecond in today’s media cycle if not for her trusty assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick) holding the keys to her Twitter handles. As vibes go, she’s the Toni Collette-esque hedonist of the bunch, but leading with the stereotype of her hair even more so. She’s a rich blonde dunce who clearly has the most fun while stirring the most controversy. She compares herself to a famed figure in Black History, and god love her, doesn’t know what blood diamonds or sweatshops are. (Though Henwick gets the funniest line, the joke wouldn’t be complete without Hudson’s golden punctuation.) Birdie lives in her own free speech bubble, one that had me bowled over after each killer punchline. She’s not evil; she’s just shockingly oblivious, which is why I cannot single out one outrageous moment. Take the whole Kate Hudson performance. She is Glass Onion’s moment.
DOCTOR STRANGE 2 – Zombie Strange
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hasn’t held up for me on repeat viewings. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled by director Sam Raimi’s flourishes. In a movie with too many boxes to check, Raimi is the only element bringing life to this by-the-numbers MCU outing. His genre idiosyncrasies are the real movie for me. If the Scarlet Witch is Freddy Krueger, then Doctor Strange is Nancy Thompson learning to play by the slasher villain’s rules in the dream world. When a deceased variant of Strange is brought back to life – Raimi flipping the dial of Multiverse of Madness to full-on Evil Dead – I was grinning like the devil. Benedict Cumberbatch’s undead-style speech mimicking Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness was the rotten cherry on top.
RRR – EPIC Handshake
Most people meet-cute at cafes or grocery stores. Raju and Bheem meet EPIC while saving a kid from a fiery train. RRR is one of the most epic maximalist action odysseys I’ve ever seen, and this moment, believe it or not, is just the beginning of the film’s off-the-wall spectacle. It’s utterly cinematic; Raju and Bheem are football fields away so they have to signal their rescue plan to the other – one on heroic horseback, the other on a rip-roaring motorcycle. And things exuberantly come together like distant bodies of land barreling home, or sheer forces of nature colliding. As much testosterone is pumping through their forearms, there’s nothing BRO-y about this handshake that ought to be the new meme format. It’s unbelievable, certifiably insane, and totally endearing—topped off by the ultimate guys-being-dudes montage. RRR makes it clear: when Raju and Bheem first met, the whole universe shifted on its axis.
BARBARIAN – Tape Measure Bit
Justin Long’s AJ Gilbride is in deep shit. He’s been accused of a crime and is mounting a legal defense, and will need to liquidate assets to do so. The hard cut to AJ’s POV seemingly has nothing to do with the first act of Barbarian. Turns out he owns the Airbnb that Tess is currently trapped in—in a deep dark basement he has no awareness of. Then he sees the secret door, a room with a bloody handprint, and… most importantly… all that extra square footage babyyyyy. Blinded by the potential for added property value, down he goes into the horror-movie basement. Facing the opposite direction. With a tape measure in his hands. (I screamed.) As an audience we know what’s down there, but AJ doesn’t. So he passes red flag after red flag, only seeing dollar sign after dollar sign – an EXCEPTIONAL case study in committing to the bit by writer-director Zach Cregger. Some of the funniest movies I saw in 2022, curiously, were horror movies. The aforementioned Orphan: First Kill and Significant Other, including the sleeper hit Smile. Barbarian reigns at the top.
THE NORTHMAN – Final Boss Fight
The Northman may not be the most epic revenge movie, but it’s certainly the raddest one. Robert Eggers is known for attention to historical details. He may secretly be the hardest Elder Scrolls fan out there. His film’s got raids, side quests, mystical weapons, and NPC guides galore. It’s also got the most metal 1v1 showdown of 2022: a boss fight on an exploding volcano. Two lads at the end of their road, trading grunt for grunt, blow for blow, their silhouettes battling against a backdrop of billowing embers. Alexander Skarsgard and Claes Bang, too, are practically the same height, and that sense of equilibrium makes this fiery clash oh so satisfying to witness. Forget what I said earlier, the accompanying Viking choir chanting makes this shit EPIC.
NOPE – Gordy’s Home
The scariest scene of 2022 involved a chimp going apeshit on a sitcom set. What makes it so terrifying is how brutally yet sparingly it’s drawn: shot from little Jupe’s POV under the table, the unspeakable horror obscured as his co-star is savagely mauled (the sound of flesh crunching is some truly harrowing shit), the applause light above flickering, and the cutaway to chimp and Jupe’s fists almost making contact before it ends.
An allegory drenched in symbolism. It’s the theme of Jordan Peele’s Nope in miniature—of wrangling the exploitative beast known as show business, and it rearing back with gory consequences. Jupe won’t grow up learning the human cost of the ordeal, only the primal Hollywood lesson: how to profit from tragedy. It’s the dark undercurrent that powers Jupiter’s Claim – his childhood trauma framed as theme park spectacle for all to see. What follows at the ranch in the present day is also bloodcurdling, in which Jupe tries to make contact with a far bigger animal, and the shoe will finally drop on him. But you don’t feel the maximum impact without the Gordy’s Home flashback.
TURNING RED – AWOOGA
I was hooting and hollering at Turning Red well before Mei turned into a giant red panda. But man, when she does, somehow the film becomes even funnier. It was already brimming with physical comedy gold, yet the transformation enables the shenanigans to go supersonic. We kick off with Mei embarrassed into oblivion by her mother at school. (The classroom unison of “Oooo” is an honorable mention.) Then Panda Mei darts across Toronto to get to the safety of her bedroom, and some catcalling (panda-calling?) hilarity ensues. When my feral girl gets her shot at tipping the gender scales, I HOWLED. A triumph of puberty in all of its forms. The expression alone is an all-timer Pixar frame. This was the hardest I’ve laughed all year, and it ain’t even halfway into the dang movie.
BELLE – A Million Miles Away
Belle’s English dub is remarkable for one reason: Kylie McNeill. Her voice and register is that of an angel on the verge of a breakdown, soft-spoken yet powerful. What I like to call, “the Evanescence zone.” I was on the verge of tears whenever her Belle worked up the courage to sing—none more so than the literal show-stopping number, “A Million Miles Away.”
The loss of Belle’s mother is the tragedy that disconnected her from the world, a thing she’s unable to reconcile growing up. Why did she risk herself for a boy drowning in the river? (An act that took both their lives.) It’s when she meets Kei, the “Beast” to her avatar, and learns of his heartbreaking story that she understands, finally, what made her mother risk herself for a stranger in a heartbeat. Belle does the same, risking her identity and entire being in expressing herself. But it’s not for the world to see. It’s for one boy who’s been crying out for help, and her reaching back, saying, I’m here.
THE BATMAN – THE BATMOBILE
I was floored by Matt Reeves’ street-level reimagining of the Caped Crusader that I kinda forgot about the iconic ride. The down-and-dirty vibes really had me thinking RPatz Bats was just walking around Gotham in slow-mo all night. Of course, his crusade puts him in escalating firefights and high-speed chases, so he’s bound to bring in the cavalry. By god, he does, and it’s a Frankenstein creation that awakens like an unholy furnace. Reader, that V-8 startup had me vibrating, or trembling, in my seat. (Not a gearhead but I’m a big fan of the way engines go VROOM.)
Despite this Batmobile’s false start – the thing initially stalls – it lived up to the hype and legacy. It sounds appropriately like a bat outta hell, one built to intimidate and hunt down rather than impress. That blaring jet propulsion was the sonic high I was chasing all last Spring. I needed the hit so badly that I rewatched The Batman four times in theaters just to re-experience it again and again. Designers James Chinlund and Ash Thorp, as well as DP Greig Fraser for the way he shoots this primordial beast cloaked in shadow and smoke, take a fucking bow.
AVATAR 2 – “The Way of Water” Monologue (both times)
Avatar: The Way of Water nourished my soul when I needed it most. (Beware, personal anecdote to follow.) Year-end is the worst time of the year for me – a time of giving and gathering. Parents know the stress I’m talking about. You want to see everybody for the holidays, just as you want to shower your kid with all the presents you can afford. And it seems like every year, I barely make it through. The hours I put in leaves me with virtually nothing in the tank, and I carry on side hustling any way I can because the cost of living keeps climbing in ways you don’t anticipate. And the work I did just didn’t cut it.
I couldn’t afford gifts for everybody, and I couldn’t spend much on my daughter. Such a silly thing; as a parent you put undue pressure on yourself wanting to top the gifts you gave from the years before. This year I couldn’t and I felt like a failure. Like I wasn’t providing enough. Like I wasn’t doing enough despite using up all hours in the day. This whole living thing (or merely existing) feels like a loftier and loftier code I cannot crack—straining myself further each year and still not being able to sufficiently support my own.
Towards the end of December, a storm hit the islands and knocked out the power in my area for a time. It was my day “off,” a personal inventory day I gave to myself because the presents weren’t gonna wrap themselves and I needed to take care of the pile of things that needed to get done or else it was gonna collapse on me. I was hanging on by a thread, wrapping the meager presents I could afford in the dark.
I decided to give myself a real day off and sought the one vacation I could afford: I went to see Avatar: The Way of Water a second time. (Without my daughter. Don’t tell her.) I went to an early 2D showing by myself. I sat all the way in the back, and even though I’d already seen it, even though it wasn’t in the preferred format, I still had a wonderful time. It felt good to smile, to laugh, to be in awe. To forget.
When Reya gives the first “Way of Water” monologue, I cried. And when Lo’ak does it at the end, I cried a tsunami. I didn’t realize how much I’d been holding in these last few months, me desperately trying to keep it all together. So I let it out (while keeping some composure for those sitting nearby). I let myself fall apart, then looked up towards the bright wall projected before me. The line, “Water connects all things, life to death, darkness to light” as the Sullys make their way up from the depths was the cliche and earnest metaphor I needed at the end of 2022.
The thing about movies is that they’re not life-changing in the ways we make them out to be. The Way of Water is not a way of life. It’s entertainment; an escape. My problems still existed when I came out of the theater, same as when I went in. A monologue didn’t fix them. And yet, that uncomfortable ass seat in that tiny theater at the mall gave me the space I needed to breathe. I’d start struggling again by the time I got home, back to the dark. But I had more air to face it this time.
TOP GUN: MAVERICK – Touchdown on the Helicarrier
I could single out any moment from Top Gun: Maverick. The throwback title sequence, the Darkstar scene (which gets so much cinematic mileage out of Tom Cruise just holding a lever), the training montage, the trial mission run, or the actual mission run. But the one I’m crowning as my favorite moment of 2022 is the triumphant Helicarrier landing. Trust me, there was a lotta back and forth in my brain, and hell, I’ve broken some rules anyhow. There’s just something inherently cinematic about planes landing. Christopher Nolan knows this (Inception and Dunkirk). Cruise knows this in his marrow.
Top Gun: Maverick uses the full audio-visual power of the theater to get the job done, while saving some in the tank for the end. When “The Man, The Legend” plays as Mav and Rooster touch down, that to me was CINEMA. I adore that little fist pump Cruise gives as the two of them bring it in. How director Joseph Kosinski and DP Claudio Miranda were able to recreate that victorious misty-eyed lighting from the original’s ending is beyond me. It was surreal; I forgot where I was or what era I was in, or how Top Gun – a movie I had no attachment to as a kid raised on action movies – suddenly meant the world to me when the entire theater cheered like we won a championship. Seeing this with my family on a crowded Sunday morning was a moviegoing experience I’ll never forget. Months and months later, the dad in me is still there, giving a hearty salute to the screen.