Fiercely original films, female-focused stories and theatrical-first releases had the clear edge in The Associated Press’s inaugural Top 25 Movies list, released Thursday and topped by Searchlight Pictures’ “The Banshees of Inisherin.”
In a cinematic landscape where it often seems only franchise films have a shot at traditional box office success, the top five films on the AP’s list were all original — and most did find robust audiences in theaters, despite the fact that moviegoing has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Writer-director Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy about feuding friends in Ireland has been a clear favorite of critics’ groups and industry voting bodies since its decorated debut at the Venice Film Festival in September. The Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson starrer continues to find new audiences now that it’s available on streaming.
Second place went to the year’s Cinderella story, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s anarchic, multiverse-hopping “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” an A24 release starring Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan that became a word-of-mouth sensation.
Focus Features’ “Tár,” Todd Field’s challenging classical music drama with Cate Blanchett, placed third. It's the only film in the top five that has struggled at the box office.
Although the top three may sound like many critics’ lists, things took a representative, crowd-pleasing turn with the next several films. Jordan Peele’s movie thriller sendup “Nope” snagged fourth place and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s throwback action epic “The Woman King” rounded out the top five. Both are major studio films (Universal and Sony respectively) from Black directors with Black actors in the lead.
The list also included the biggest blockbusters of the year, “Top Gun: Maverick” (No. 7) and “Avatar: The Way of Water” (No. 16, tied); big studio releases like Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical “The Fabelmans” (No. 8) and Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” (No. 14) and myriad international films like the Telugu-language musical epic “RRR,” prominently featured at No. 6.
Netflix did break into the top 10 with a crowd-pleaser of its own: Rian Johnson’s starry, comedic whodunit “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.”
Female-directed films centered on women’s stories were also prominently represented. In addition to “The Woman King,” with Viola Davis as an Agojie warrior, Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking,” with Claire Foy, Rooney Mara and Jessie Buckley playing women of an isolated, conservative religious community, landed in ninth place. Charlotte Wells’ acclaimed, semi-autobiographical father-daughter film “Aftersun” settled in 11th place, followed closely in 15th by Laura Poitras’ Venice Film Festival-winning “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” about activist and photographer Nan Goldin — the only documentary in the top 25.
Further down the list were two very different biopics exploring systems of injustice — “She Said” (No. 19), about the New York Times reporters who exposed the sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and “Till” (No. 22) about Mamie Till-Bradley, the mother of the slain 14-year-old Emmett Till.
With seven films from female directors, accounting for 28% of the list, representation is slightly better than the industry as a whole, which — according to a recent study by San Diego State University — was at 24% for the top grossing films of 2022. Nine films were also directed by non-white directors.
Two prestigious offerings that left critics quite divided, Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale,” featuring Brendan Fraser as a 600-pound man, and Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon,” a sprawling and raucous film about Hollywood in the silent film era starring Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt, made the list. “The Whale” tied with the “Avatar” sequel for 16th place, while "Babylon" placed 18th.
Many genres were represented in the top 25, including horror (“Nope”) and satire with “Triangle of Sadness” (No. 21). “Glass Onion” (No. 10) wasn’t the only mystery in the bunch; there was also the Korean noir “Decision to Leave” (No. 12), as well as two stop-motion animation offerings ( “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” at No. 13 and “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” at No. 20).
Movies also hailed from many countries around the world including Poland, with Jerzy Skolimowski’s dark donkey-centered fable “EO” at No. 23, and Iran with Jafar Panahi’s “No Bears,” which rounded out the list at No. 25.
Panahi’s film has been as acclaimed as any on the list, and topped several prominent film critics’ best of lists for the year. Its relatively lower ranking is perhaps due in part to a later release date — Dec. 23, when the panelists' ballots were due — and its more limited availability to critics outside of major markets like New York and Los Angeles.
All told, 176 unique movies received votes from 26 panelists. Films that just missed the Top 25 included, in order, “Emily the Criminal,” “The Batman,” “The Menu,” “Bones and All” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
At the bottom of the list, with one point each, were several starry ensembles from high-profile directors: David O. Russell’s “Amsterdam” and Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise.” Both were technically bested by “Jackass Forever,” which got two points total.