I have done my best in 2022 to try and catch everything.
Inevitably, I have failed. Nonetheless I think it’s been a stellar year for cinema, even if that is (unfortunately) not reflected in the box office receipts.
It’s been a tough process to whittle down my list to just ten (I did consider arbitrarily doing a list of 13) but I’m happy (for now) with my final standings.
My criteria are these: a film that either got its commercial release in 2022 or that I was fortunate enough to see an advance screening of (spoiler alert: that’s why TAR features).
However there is one film on the list that exists firmly in the 2021 zeitgeist but I simply cannot look away from it as one of my favourites of this year.
It took me a long time to seek out Terence Davies’ Benediction; a sombre, reflective film about the life of famous First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon.
I missed the film’s brief run in the cinema and instead caught up with it just a few weeks ago on Netflix. I’m glad I did because it is not really what I expected.
It is very much not a film about Sassoon’s anti-war poetry or his anti-war stance, though that does feature.
But instead Benediction actually confronts how the war irreparably broke Sassoon for the years post-war, rendering him unable to find and maintain love, or even find much humour in life having witnessed the devastation and mass murder of the trenches. The ending, in particular, I found stunning and perhaps the most heartbreaking since Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
In another world, Athena might have featured higher on this list. The most purely visceral film I have seen this year, it was shafted by Netflix who gave it only a single screening across all of London (perhaps they were put off by the film’s anti-establishment political message).
Romain Gavras dials up the intensity to 11 for a film not interested in characters, dialogue or themes but instead is about the experience, the volatility and the emotion. The opening 11 minutes grab you by the seat of your pants and doesn’t let you go. It’s still streaming on Netflix, buckle up.
8. The Banshees of Inisherin
Martin McDonagh reunites his charges from In Bruges for an allegorical tale of friendship gone awry in early 20th century Ireland.
It is perhaps the most ‘ordinary’ film on this list, though I do not mean that as a slight.
Instead Banshees treads that fine line between dark comedy and just plain dark. Colin Farrell is particularly brilliant as the hopelessly dull and dense Padraic who finds himself suddenly bereft when his best friend (played by Brendan Gleeson) decides overnight he doesn’t want to speak to him anymore.
Barry Keoghan’s simple-minded but profound Dominic almost steals the show, along with the best performance by a donkey for years.
The film that undoubtedly requires the most patience but also that rewarded me with an experience unlike any other.
There is no one working in mainstream filmmaking like director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who orchestrates the sonic detective tale of Jessica Holland, a Scottish ex-pat in Colombia who is haunted by an ominous noise and sets out on a quest to try and replicate it and track it down.
A movie you hear more than watch, there’s been nothing like it in 2022, with the climax overwhelming.
A surprise late entry! Rimini paints a thoroughly bleak picture of humanity as Richie Bravo, an Austrian lounge singer, croons to bus loads of tourists in tacky hotels in an off-season Italian resort. He also sleeps with them (for cash) and is just about getting by.
His world is upended when his teenage daughter shows up demanding, not love or even a conversation, but cold hard cash that was deprived her mother as child support. A deeply cynical film by Ulrich Seidl, there’s an undercurrent of dry humour and unflinching reality throughout.
And Michael Thomas’ Richie Bravo might just be the performance of the year in terms of combining sheer vulnerability and also a kind of off-putting sliminess while also apparently sincere.
5. Decision to Leave
Park Chan-Wook does Hitchock, but with a distinct South Korea flavour as a detective falls in love with a murder suspect.
Chan-Wooks peerless attention to detail is on full display throughout this romance-detective story.
The transition from second to third act is perhaps a bit clunky but other than that this a superior thriller, operating on a level few Western films manage. A fascinating and inquisitive look at love and desire wrapped into what seems at first to be a simple police procedural.
After 15 years out of the game Todd Field’s triumphant return showed the director has not missed a beat in the interim.
TAR is a decidedly 2022 film about the crumbling professional life of the world’s best composer — Lydia Tar, a fictional character so fully realised she already has a burgeoning Twitter following.
Cate Blanchett is, of course, simply superb as Tar, a career-best performance in a career littered with stand-outs. Tar is brilliant but also pretentious, domineering, cut-throat and arrogant. But, Todd Field asks, are those not simply qualities required for true greatness?
My most hyped film of 2022. The reaction was (mostly) visceral loathing but for my money Andrew Dominik made a masterpiece.
His decision to deconstruct the imagery of Marilyn Monroe (and turn them into an oppressive, sexual nightmare) was never going to earn him widespread acclaim but he had the courage to try and get under the skin of the 20th century’s most famous sex symbol.
Blonde is a very difficult, unwieldly film that is likely to make any audience member uncomfortable. But that’s the point.
The film of 2022 that has changed the most in my mind since I watched it. I’d suggest going into Aftersun almost entirely blank.
It’s not a film about moments but rather about memory, and looking into that memory to try and find something, but maybe you don’t know what you’re looking for, or maybe you don’t want to know, not really.
And it’s a film about how little we know of each other, even those closest to us, because they hide things, even when we wish they would not. Sublime.
- Drive My Car
Drive My Car hit me so deeply I readily returned to the cinema within the week to go through the full three-hours again. It’s more than simply a film about grief (although it is very much about that), it’s also about art, the power it has over us and the power we try to exert over our lives. Ryusuke Hamagachi also asks the question, if we don’t really know ourselves, how well can we know other people?
A brilliant piece of filmmaking that takes a simple, perhaps even rote story conceit (connecting with someone as they drive you places), and makes it so much more than the sum of its not inconsiderable parts. A staggering work that will only grow and grow in the years to come.
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