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Justin Chang pairs the best movies of 2022, and picks 'No Bears' as his favorite

A24, Neon, Festival de Cannes, Focus Features, MUBI, TIFF
Critic Justin Chang's picks for the best movies of 2022 include (clockwise, from top left): The Eternal Daughter, Crimes of the Future, EO, Tár, Decision to Leave and No Bears.

It was a terrific year for movies but also, in some ways, a dispiriting one. Sure, blockbusters like Top Gun: Maverickand the just-released Avatar: The Way of Waterbrought audiences back to theaters in droves, but romantic comedies and grown-up dramas had more than the usual trouble finding audiences. Some of the movies on my year-end list passed quickly and quietly through theaters. Some are still in theaters, and a few will open more widely in 2023. Whether on the big screen or at home, I hope you'll take the time to seek them out.

Here are my 11 favorite movies of 2022, some of which I've paired thematically, though my No. 1 choice stands alone:

No Bears

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi plays a version of himself in No Bears.

The brilliant Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi plays a version of himself, also named Jafar Panahi, who's spending several days in a remote village, where he becomes embroiled in a tense local drama. It's a fierce critique of small-town traditionalism and religious dogma. But while this is an angry and ultimately devastating movie, it's also a surprisingly playful and inventive one. Here I should note that Panahi, a longtime thorn in the side of the Iranian government, was recently imprisoned. No Bears itself is a powerful act of protest, and one of his very best movies.

Aftersun and The Eternal Daughter

Tilda Swinton plays two characters, a mother and a daughter, in The Eternal Daughter.

Two deeply moving parent-child stories, drawn from their filmmakers' real-life experiences. Aftersun, an achingly sad memory piece from the Scottish director Charlotte Wells, features pitch-perfect performances from Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio as a father and daughter trying to connect on a summer holiday — a journey that builds to an ending of startling emotional force. The Eternal Daughter, the English filmmaker Joanna Hogg's sly riff on the haunted-house movie, stars Tilda Swinton in two roles, a mother and daughter — but this spooky-sad ghost story never feels gimmicky.

Tárand Benediction

Courtesy of Focus Features
Cate Blanchett plays a world-renowned conductor in the film Tár.

Two portraits of queer artists — one fictional, the other real — operating in different eras, different spheres of influence and with dramatically different moral codes and perspectives. Todd Field's mesmerizing, much-acclaimed drama Tár stars a never-better Cate Blanchett as a famous classical conductor whose life is gradually consumed by scandal. You've probably heard less about Benediction, Terence Davies' barbed, tender and finally wretching film about the English poet and World War I veteran Siegfried Sassoon, magnificently played by Jack Lowden.

Decision to Leaveand Kimi

Park Hae-il plays a homicide detective and Tang Wei is the femme fatale he's investigating in Decision to Leave.

Decision to Leave, a grandly entertaining murder mystery from the South Korean filmmakerPark Chan-wook, stars Park Hae-il as a homicide detective and Tang Wei as the femme fatale he's investigating. It's an elaborate romantic riff on the classic Vertigo, which makes it a nice match for the year's other first-rate Hitchcockian thriller, Kimi. Steven Soderbergh's taut and exhilarating genre piece is basically Rear Window for the age of Alexa, starring a terrific Zoë Kravitz as a COVID-cautious shut-in turned amateur sleuth.

Crimes of the Future and One Fine Morning

Kristen Stewart (left) is a fan of the surgery Léa Seydoux performs in Crimes of the Future.

A Léa Seydoux double bill: Crimes of the Future is David Cronenberg's grim dystopian shocker set in a time when surgery has become an artistic and sometimes recreational pursuit. Like a lot of Cronenberg movies, it's not for the faint of heart, though it does touch the heart and the mind in eerily provocative ways. There's no public surgery to speak of in Mia Hansen-Løve's One Fine Morning, just scene after beautifully observed scene in which a single mom struggles to take care of her ailing father while opening herself up to the possibility of new love.

EOand Nope

Festival de Cannes
The donkey's eyes seem to take the measure of modern life in Jerzy Skolimowski's film, EO.

A heartrending story about a donkey making its way through a cruel and unforgiving world, EO is a tribute of sorts to the classic 1966 film Au Hasard Balthazar, but the great Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski approaches his four-legged subject with a formal and emotional brilliance all his own. As it happens, the systemic exploitation of animals is also a significant thematic thread in Nope, Jordan Peele's completely original and wonderfully subversive sci-fi horror Western, which has a lot to say about an entertainment industry that reduces all living experience to big-budget spectacle. Like every movie on my list, it's one I recommend with an unequivocal yes.

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