Portland Opera The Marriage of Figaro Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon

FilmWatch Yearly: The Top Ten Movies of the Year

Marc Mohan picks his best movies of the year. To find out which ones make the list – and which is No. 1 – read on.


Cate Blanchett in “TAR.”

2022 was the year when movie theaters returned to full operation. It was also the year when it became clear that “full operation” will have a different meaning going forward than it once did. The growing threat to a diverse theatrical exhibition industry that was posed by the rise of streaming content and the fetishization of franchise filmmaking was metastasized by the pandemic. When the only demographic willing to brave the multiplex prefers spectacle to substance, you end up with the hitherto unimaginable: Steven Spielberg directing two huge box office flops in a row.

Here in Oregon, the effects of this seismic jolt included the controversial morphing of the Northwest Film Center into PAM CUT, the apparent demise of the Portland International Film Festival, an unsettled future for the Ashland Film Festival, and the changing of the guard at Portland’s Clinton Street Theater.


However, the year also featured a number of highlights connected to Oregon and Northwest filmmakers. They include Portland-raised Todd Field, who made (spoiler alert) the best movie of the year. Guillermo Del Toro’s brilliant stop-motion adaptation of Pinocchio was made here. And the documentary Claydream provided an affectionate but levelheaded appraisal of the life and career of animation genius Will Vinton.

But it’s the work of artists with access to far fewer resources than those two who inspire me the most. Portland-based documentary filmmaker Reed Harkness wove decades’ worth of home movie footage into the powerful Sam Now. Alicia Jo Rabins and Alicia Rose collaborated on the unclassifiable musical-memoir-documentary A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff, which got a theatrical homecoming after debuting online in 2021. Elisa Levine and Gabriel Miller spent years chronicling the lives of Seattle sex workers for their film Sweetheart Deal, which played the Bend Film Festival and has been accepted into next month’s Slamdance Film Festival. What these folks, and many others, demonstrate is that it takes more than talent and money to make a film. It takes time, which of course is more precious than either. By pouring themselves into their work, and making movies on their terms, they keep the hope alive that the movies might just be all right.


According to the spreadsheet I keep, 168 films were “eligible” for my Best-of-Year rankings. (Make that 169, since I watched Glass Onion on Christmas. It was fun!) Not all of them played theatrically in Portland, but the ones that ended up in the top ten all did, at least briefly. And I guarantee you that all ten of them were best experienced on the big screen. If anyone’s looking for a New Year’s Resolution, try this one: Support your local cinemas. You’re going to miss them when they’re gone.

Top Ten Films of 2022:

1. TÁR: With his first feature in sixteen years (and third overall), Field somehow tops his earlier efforts (In the Bedroom and Little Children) and creates one of the great characters of modern film. I should say co-creates, since Cate Blanchett’s monumental performance as symphony conductor Lydia Tár is equally responsible for this icon. It’s far more than a simple story of gender politics, cancel culture, and the narcissism of the elite, although it’s all three of those. Great job, everybody. No notes. (Available for digital purchase on multiple platforms.)

2. The Banshees of Inisherin: You think you like dark comedies? Well, let’s see if you can handle this one. Writer-director Martin McDonagh re-teams with his In Bruges stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in this pitch-black tale set on a picturesque island off the coast of Ireland in the 1920s. When one longtime pal (Gleeson) tells the other (Farrell, perfectly dimwitted), without explanation, that he never wants to talk to him again, it sets in motion a series of increasingly heated confrontations. To hear dialogue like McDonagh’s flow from the lips of performers who were born to deliver it is a thing of wonder. (Available to stream on HBO Max and for rental on multiple streaming platforms.)

3. Bardo: A False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths: The year’s biggest cinematic crime may have been the lack of a proper theatrical release for this epic, overstuffed, navel-gazing explosion from director Alejandro G. Iñárritu. You’d need a home theater on the scale of Howard Hughes’ to fully appreciate the immersive decadence of Iñárritu’s semiautobiographical tale about a famous Mexican journalist conflicted about his own identity during a visit back to his home country to collect an award. It’s all too much, but then again so is if you’re not willing to indulge it. (Streaming on Netflix.)

4. Happening: Adapted from a memoir by Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux, Audrey Diwan’s second feature centers on a young French college student (Anamaria Vartolomei) faced with an unanticipated pregnancy in early 1960s France, when abortion was illegal. Her efforts to obtain one, and the physical and emotional cost they entail, obviously carry added weight now that millions of American women are being faced with similar dilemmas. (Available to stream on AMC+, and for rent on multiple digital platforms.)

5. White Noise: They said it couldn’t be done, but Noah Baumbach adapted Don Delillo’s purportedly unfilmable 1985 novel into one of the sharpest, funniest, and ultimately most meaningful movies of the year. A Midwestern college professor (Adam Driver) who specializes in Hitler Studies, his warmhearted wife (Greta Gerwig), and his eccentric colleague (Don Cheadle) must flee an airborne toxic event headed toward their town, prompting an examination of mortality, consumerism, and the exasperating joy of family. (Playing at Regal Fox Tower and streaming on Netflix.)

6. Decision to Leave: As Hollywood increasingly avoids smart, serious genre films, the rest of the globe picks up the slack. South Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy, The Handmaiden) serves up a deliciously clever erotic thriller, in which a married police detective falls for the wife of a victim whose murder he’s investigating. Fantastic performances, slick direction, and narrative twists galore. (Streaming on MUBI.)

7. EO: A donkey wanders through Europe, experiencing the agony and ecstasy of existence. Polish veteran Jerzy Skolimowski has been making movies since the late ’60s, but this might be his career peak (so far). Impossible to describe in words, it’s an ode to animal experience that’s by turns psychedelic, inspiring, and downright cruel. It’s still in theaters, and needs to be seen in one. (Playing at Cinema 21, the Laurelhurst Theater, and the Hollywood Theatre.)

Portland Playhouse Roald Dahl Matilda the Musical Portland Oregon

8. Holy Spider: I can’t stop singing this movie’s title in a Ronny James Dio voice, but that’s about its only flaw. It’s based on the true case of a serial killer who preyed on sex workers in Iran’s second-largest city and, after being apprehended, became something of a folk hero to the country’s far-right fundamentalists. Shifting between depictions of the killer’s mundane home life and a female reporter’s investigation of the government response, director Ali Abassi offers a scathing critique of hypocrisy and misogyny that’s all the more relevant considering the recent protests by Iranian women. (Not currently in area theaters, but apparently opening at Regal Bridgeport on January 12.)

9. Bones and All: I guess the title Fine Young Cannibals was taken. A young woman (Taylor Russell), on the run after succumbing to her cannibalistic urges, encounters others with the same addictive needs. Among them are the dreamy Timothée Chalamet and the malevolent Mark Rylance. Director Luca Guadagnino brings his luxurious visual style to this gleefully bloody, ultimately romantic horror story that’s more than happy to push beyond the bounds of good taste. (Available for digital purchase on multiple digital platforms.)

10. The Menu: On a Pacific Northwest island, a small group of diners gather to experience the unique culinary creations of a legendary chef (Ralph Fiennes). Things don’t go well. To say much more would spoil this inventive skewering of both pretentious foodie culture and the cruelties of the wealthy. Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult are among the very game cast, and director Mark Mylod puts the experience he’s had depicting the lives of the rich and unhappy on HBO’s “Succession” to perfect use. (Playing at Cinema 21, Regal Fox Tower, and other theaters. Coming to HBO Max on January 2.)


LAST BUT NOT LEAST, if you’re looking for more 2022 entertainment to catch up on or revisit, here’s how I’d fill out a hypothetical award ballot.

Best Actor

  • Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin and After Yang
  • Daniel Giménez Cacho in Bardo
  • Adam Driver in White Noise
  • Dario Argento in Vortex
  • Austin Butler in Elvis
  • (Honorable mention: Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage as basically themselves in Top Gun: Maverick and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent)

Best Actress

  • Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once
  • Cate Blanchett in TÁR
  • Anna Diop in Nanny
  • Vicky Kreips in Corsage and Hold Me Tight
  • Anamaria Vartolomei in Happening
  • (Honorable mention: Identical twins Joséphine Sanz and Gabrielle Sanz in Petite Maman)

Best Director

  • Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu for Bardo
  • Todd Field for TÁR
  • Jerzy Skolimowski for EO
  • Charlotte Wells for Aftersun
  • Saul Williams for Neptune Frost

Best International Film (not already in the Top 10):

  • Leonor Will Never Die
  • All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Utama
  • Clara Sola
  • Hit the Road

Best Documentary:

  • Fire of Love
  • All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
  • Sweetheart Deal
  • The Story of Film: A New Generation

Best Animated Feature:

  • My Old School
  • Mad God
  • Pinocchio
  • Avatar: The Way of Water
  • Marcel the Shell with Shoes On


And the Lars von Trier Award for most bizarre film of the year goes to one of these:

  • Lux Aeterna
  • Neptune Frost
  • Mad God
  • After Blue
  • Apples

Marc Mohan moved to Portland from Wisconsin in 1991, and has been exploring and contributing to the city’s film culture almost ever since. As the former manager of the landmark independent video store Trilogy, and later the owner of Portland’s first DVD-only rental spot, Video Vérité, he immersed himself in the cinematic education that led to his position as a freelance film critic for The Oregonian for nearly twenty years. Once it became apparent that “newspaper film critic” was no longer a sustainable career option, Mohan pursued a new path, enrolling in the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in the fall of 2017. He can’t quite seem to break the habit, though, of loving and writing about movies.

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