As the final few days and hours start to wind down on 2022, looking back at the year in film is a chance to remind myself of just how full 12 mohths really can be. Memories of heading to the theater to see Black Widow, a film that, at the time, was supposed to kick off an exciting new phase of the MCU, with Reeve’s Batman and a fresh iteration of the DCEU right around the corner, remain seared in my mind. I really enjoyed both of those films, but oh the stories my future self could share about the current state of both of those franchises.
I have equally fond memories of venturing out into the long, cold January days to see the surprisingly fun The 355 at our now defunct and closed down independently run downtown theater. The loss of an icon. Or finding time at the last minute to sacrifice some sleep for a late night showing of Belle at a theater halfway across town. A truly amazing big screen experience.
One thing that I did not anticipate is the insanity that would become the current state of the theatrical landscape. Most pundits, including me, were predicting that theaters would become increasingly dominated by big blockbusters, while smaller films would go to streaming or VOD. In truth, in all my years of movie going I have never experienced this many films being released week after week at the theater. It is, to say the least, an embarrassment of riches for a filmgoer like me. In truth, even the most avid movie goers as myself can’t keep up. The other side of this picture, however, is that the landscape remains incredibily nconsistent along with the stress of trying to keep up. It feels, to put it lightly, unsustainable at the moment on all fronts, and who knows what the future will bring. The industry hasn’t adjusted yet to the overall box office being much smaller, especially when you have such a glutton of films releasing every single week. The industry hasn’t adjusted yet to the overall box office being much smaller. It’s nearly impossible to know how long films will be in theater for, making the whole thing more than a little frustrating when it comes to figuring out what I should prioritize and when. And sadly more and more films end up the causality of this disarray.
And yet, what putting together this list has reminded me of is that I am blessed. Blessed to be able to support this artform. Blessed to have the time to invest in it and experience it. Blessed to be part of different communities that share this passion. Blessed to be able to have these memories to look back on and be inspired. With that in mind, this is the culmination of a painful process, attempting to narrow down these titles from a strong representation of many memorable titles into something that can represent my year honestly and well. What I did is break it into three parts- three honorary mentions, a snapshot of my #20-11 picks, and then spotlighting my top 10 films of 2022. These films do not include horror, animated or documentary as I have dedicated other space to those genres.
Mrs Harris Goes To Paris (Directed By Anthony Fabian)
A charming and delightful film featuring the charismatic Lesley Manville and a story which weaves together a clash of cultures, class divisions, and the personal longings of this unassuming maid from England. A strong first three quarters and a satisfying finish come together to make this one of the more heartwarming stories of 2022.
She Said (Directed By Maria Schrader)
I so wish that I could have found a spot for this film in my top 20, but alas. It’s an important film that utilizes some raw and sometimes rough editing to keep it grounded and honest. Whatever shortcomings this might and likely has, the films qualities lie in its passion. It there is a line between entertainment, art and commentary, this film would make a great case study. It’s a must see simply for its ability to shed light on the womans voice along with highlighting some important aspects of an often compromised industry. It made me think deeply about my own role in feeding a problematic system as a patron and a consumer of art. It also reminded me of why we need art like this to exist and to speak for itself.
Don’t Worry Darlimg (Directed By Olivia Wilde)
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood films of 2022. This continues the trend of Olivia Wilde making films that are decidedly on the nose in terms of messaging. What anchors this films unhurried approach to telling a straight forward narrative though is the fact that in making the message clear it also opens this up for some rich discussion. This is the kind of film one is meant to ruminate on, and I think the more one does the more the story itself comes alive. Here we get a portrait of systemic realities which inform the way the particular relationships are able to live and breathe. The film traverses certain themes such as sacrifice, control, shame, economics, expectations, social pressure and demands, and communication. All driven by genuine expressions of love fleshed out in complicated ways.
The Woman Kimg (Directed By Gina Prince-Bythewood)
Good old fashioned storytelling undergirds this entertaining blockbuster which, despite all the conversation that has taken place surrounding its approach to the historical narrative (it takes a liberal approach that brings together different truths about the past in a way that accentuates and privileges an emphasis on the women of this story and the eventual outcome of the events- the dismantling of the slave trade) remains an important voice and message to bring to a more complex and nuanced historical discussion. That and it seriously kicks some butt as an epic, entertaining, big screen experience.
Diaspora (Directed By Deco Dawson)
I found myself caught off guard by this Canadian made film which features one of the most intimate and revealing depictions of my hometown (Winnipeg). It’s not a flattering look at my city, but it’s willingness to dig into the most calloused corners, particularly of our North End, holds love and empathy. This is slow cinema, and it is built intentionally around the use of repetition. As we spend time with our main character, a young recently immigrated Ukrainian woman relocating to a famed neighborhood in Winnioeg once bustling with Ukrainian heritage, we get to discover the paths and sights and streets with her as she finds herself lost in what has since grown into a mosaic of mutli-cultured communities. The films final word is every bit as human as it is particular in its exploration of her as a Ukrainian, and the filmmaking, channeling a kind of Wes Anderson symmetrical vibe, features some of the best and most detailed framing of the year
Till (Directed By Chinonye Chukwu)
Not everything in this unassuming and deeply affecting racially charged drama works, but in its own imperfect way it manages to stake its claim on some of the best sequences of 2022. The real star of the show I feel is actually the camerawork, the set design and the cinematography. There are some framing shots here that are simply spilling over with expertly crafted emotion and a real sense of place. You feel the storied landscape of the spacious Louisiana countryside and small town flavor, and the timrless captures of a young Chicago bustling with the fervent energy of a city caught at the crossroads of older tendencies and a need for change. You can feel the gradual drum beat playing in the background foreshadowing where this story is going, and it’s really effective as a visual and sensory experience.
Triangle of Sadness (Directed By Ruben Ostlund)
Hands down one of the best theatrical experiences I had all year. This had most of my theater on the floor in stitches. And for as funny as it is it also packs a punch when it comes to the social commentary
God’s Creatures (Directed By Anna Rose Holmer)
This would make a great double feature with The Banshees of Inisherin, both of which follow an isolated Irish character dealing with life in an Irish village where things never appear to change and where life stays the same. Both explore existential questions and both exhibit darker edges to their story which beg for moral complexity.
In this case Paul Mescal, in a break out role, never mind that Afrtersun will go on to outshine even this, plays a young man who returns home bringing with him some hidden baggage. It is his relationship with his mother, played with equal perfection by Emiiy Watson, that drives the narrative forward into a storied and difficult moral landscape, forming this into an atmospheric slow burn character study that makes full use of sound and setting.
Scarborough (Directed By Rich Williamson)
This film resonated with me to such a degree that I immediately went out and purchased the book (which the film follows almost word for word). Distinctly Canadian and set exclusively in a neighborhood within the GTA, the film follows a group of children by way of a government funded language learning center which is designed to give children and their families the tools they need to foster healthy home environments and enable the kids the foundation they need to learn and develop. The film is lengthy as it takes its time fleshing out each of these children and their respective families, all of whom have their own unique stories and context. At the same time it explores the nature of the system itself, focusing in on the well weathered Director of the program.
Taken together- families and system, this provides a tension which operates as the subtext for the lives that we then get to observe in both the parents and the children, along with the Director. We move in and out of this learning space naturally digging deeper into their everyday patterns of life. The camera never shies away from following the children when they are either neglected by their parents or when they retreat from them. This has a way of taking us down these side trips and random excursions into methods of coping, exploration, or even surviving. The camera spends less time doing this with the adults but it has the same effect, and taken together it becomes a really powerful portrait of our shared humanity across these different generational roles and perspectives. A truly emotional ride.
Cha Cha Real Smooth (Directed By Cooper Raiff)
A feel good, ridiculously entertaining story built on the Directors unique sensibilities and traits, which is all about love and life, growing up and growing older. It features really strong performances, honest human moments, and plenty of emotions that navigate the ups and downs of this particular group of individuals simply figuring stuff out as they go. Loved the generational element as well.
Hit The Road (Directed By Panah Panahi)
This was one of the last films I saw in 2022, and if I had more time to sit with it I could absolutely see this moving into my top 10 slot.
It is the quintessential road trip movie, but it is also so much more. We are never quite sure why this family is traversing the Iranian highways on route to the Turkish border, and that is not really the focal point of the story. In fact, the characters themselves often don’t know where they are, why they are there and even where they are going precisely, What we get here instead is a deeply felt portrait of a dysfunctional and obviously unsettled family carrying some unspoken baggage. There is pain that lies underneath the surface, almost to the point where it seems if they stop moving it might consume them. And so they keep going, driven by an innate ability to use things like laughter and dancing to fuel their way forward.
One of the most heartfelt, deeply enjoyably, and also incredibly funny films of 2022, one that features one of the great child performances of the year as well.
Help (Directed By Marc Munden)
Immediately landed in my top films slot early in the year, and it is a testament to the films staying power that it managed to hang on for this long, just missing my top spot. Much of this hangs on the power of Comers commanding performance, but perhaps equally so for the way it gave me permission at a time when the world found itself divided over Covid to remember that we all just went through something significant and that this historical moment had real world consequence. It captures this from the vantage point of someone inside a burdened system in the early goings of a virus still not fully understood, and it plays to powerful emotional effect and an unsettling use of tension
A Love Song (Directed By Max Walker-Silverman)
An intimate portrait anchored by two invested and heartfelt performances helps to formulate a memorable love story out two well crafted and well realized characters. It’s a wondrous thing witnessing these two old souls reestablishing a connection out in the desert, but the journey itself finds this connection by way of two individual journeys bridging the passage of time from within their own unique spaces. These are the quiet and subtle moments that prove truly special.
Elvis (Directed By Baz Luhrman)
Just go ahead and give Austin Butler the Oscar for best performance. Luhrmans frenzied style is absolutely part of what makes this one of the most entertaining films of 2022, but it is Butler that manages to anchor this in his commitment to digging underneath such an enigmatic figure in a way that allows us to feel like we are learning something we didn’t already know. The film utilizes a narrative of victims and villains but breathes into this a lot of nuance. And for as much as this features a larger than life performance, it is equally so a narrative told through its mix of visuals and sound and style. This is, for example, where we find the deeply felt spiritual concern of the story, using these different sequences to tie together the earlier and later parts of Elvis’ personal story. We see what makes him who he is, and subsequently what makes where his story ends up so heartbreaking and emotionally resonant. We also feel and hear it, and that’s a testament to the power of visual storytelling.
Tar (Directed By Todd Field)
Likely the most talked about and controversial release of 2022, I am clearly on team Tar. This is a phenomenal accomplishment in filmmaking and a fascinating story about cancel culture- what it is, how it works, and the implications of it in a world where art is connected so directly to the people that make it. One of the amazing things about this script is how it never allows us to settle into black and white judgments of its characters and their actions. It expertly weaves into matter of fact realities notes of uncertainty that bleed into uncertain empathy, a choice that ultimately pays off in a powerfully poetic final sequence. Certainly one of the best performances of the year in Blanchetts Tar, but I would also argue this is a studied Directorial achievement,
Three Thousand Years of Longing (Directed By George Miller)
“Humanity has superseded us. They no longer have room for us.”
“And yet here you are. My impossible.”
The film is not simply a love story, it’s a story about the numerous relationships that define this world. And in particular it’s about humanitys relationship to the divine imagination. It is a profound and deeply moving portrait of our need to make sense of things through story. Stories told and stories heard. Lying underneath the essential fabric of this developing relationship between the Jinni and the woman are subsequent stories of longing, isolation, meaning, desire and emotion. This is a story that requires imagination,using sparse images and subtle visual effects to move us between the mortal and immortal realities. It feels real, but the film is intentionally designed to play with our sense of what is real, and that becomes a way of unsettling our senses in both time and place. It invites us into a story with both a beginning and an end but one that is also seemingly eternal at the same time, giving us a way to put hands and feet and faces to the fleshing out of our stories in the here and now. In this sense the film also functions as an invitation to the viewer to relearn how to tell and how to hear the necessary stories of this world in their truest and most formative sense.
The Banshees of Inisherin (Directed By Martin McDonagh)
On its surface this is a film about the value of friendship and the dissolution of friendship. It is about the ebb and flow of life through the lens of these two aging men confronted by what it is to live a meaningful life, a sentiment that seems intimately attached to questions of legacy. There is a definite melancholic tone to the whole thing as it explores some deep and resonating themes surrounding fear and longing and perhaps even the sort of bravery required to live in the face of lifes great uncertainties. What lingers in the background is a real sense of loss, both potential and actual, along with the possibility of gain.
The film doesn’t simply stay with these two men, rather it sets them in relationship to this small Irish village, captured through exquisite detail and framing, to family, to home, and even to their domesticated animals. For me all of these thiemes hit with a particular force, so when the somewhat inconclusive nature of the ending arrives it lingered for a good long while, unsettling my spirit in some unexpected and welcome ways.
Top Gun: Maverick (Directed By Joseph Kosinski)
The big story surrounding this film, aside from its unprecedented success at the box office, is the fact that what seemingly should have been a project destined to be forgotten alomg with a lengthy list of ill advised sequels preying on waned nostalgia, turned out to be the quintessential model for the perfect blockbuster and a reminder of what makes going to the movies so important and so special. It is intelligent, meticulously crafted, without flaw, and features a final quarter that is as edge of your seat as they come.
Petite Maman (Directed By Celine Sciamma)
It’s hard to find the words to describe just how beautiful and perfect this film is. So simple. So profound. Deeply human.
The cast is small and the context extremely detailed and focused, but the depths it is able to mine from such a contained portrait is incredible. I don’t want to say too much to keep from spoiling the story, but suffice to say it provides a family portrait made up of deeply broken and flawed individuals who are also bursting full of beauty. Sadness is a word that emerges near the beginning and remerges near the end, but for as defining as the word is these characters are also not bound to it. In its own way this might also be one of the most uplifting and inspiring stories I’ve seen this year.
Babylon (Directed By Damion Chazelle)
Proving to be a love or hate it effort, and certainly one that has proved to be a hard sell at the box office, this is my new favorite Chazelle along with being an incredible love letter to cinema and the big screen experience. It’s an ambitious and epic tale that is equally complex in its detailing of an era, using the transitional period between silent film and talkies to say something astute about our present day. This is a reminder of why film matters as an artform, but even more than this it is a reminder of how something beautiful can be found in what is often a messy and problematic industry. The devil is in the details, profoundly imagined through the allure of Babylon, and yet so is the transcendent.
The Fablemans (Directed By Steven Spielberg)
Five minutes in and I knew this film was going to be special. Spielberg might have stronger projects in his filmography, but this is likely his most important. And despite it being grossly underseen I do feel like it will go on to age like a fine wine, cementing itself in future years as a bona-fide classic. It has all the markings and characteristics to become this.
What makes this film so special is that it is Spielbergs most affectionately drawn and honest portraits to date. It’s autobiographical nature allows him to simply tell his story and explore why this artform matters so much to him. It’s far less concerned with the normal polish he might ordinarily provide, giving this story some freedom to be a bit more unwieldy and raw. Where we might expect him to reach for transcendent qualities, which is what he is so good at evoking, he stays decidedly grounded. And it is here where the film is able to revel in the detail of the artform more so than simply demonstrating its final expression. If Babylon stands as a larger than life love letter to a messy film industry and the artform it so carefully curates, what Spielberg offers here out of the messiness of his own life is a pared back and personalized love letter to the workings of the form itself, highlighting its immense potential to transform.
Aftersun (Directed By Charlotte Wells)
Stunning is the singular word I can use to describe this film. Stunning in the fact that it is a debut. The emotional depths this film finds is indicative of a seasoned master. Stunning in its commitment to simplicity. And stunning at the same time for its sheer emotional depth. This is about the relationship between a father and a daughter. More so its a story about the power of memory and the art of looking back. The film opens with an aged daughter who stumbles across an old home movie of a vacation she took with her father. We obviously know something happened in the gap between this vacation and this present moment, and as we go on this journey of recollecting this vacation we also know that this vacation was somehow significant. The power of the film lies in these moments between her reflecting on the trip through thus VHS tape and the Directors reenactment of these memories as a story which is able to fill in the gaps. This becomes a way of moving in and out of specific points of perspective, discovering the hidden details of this relationship along with the daughter. A simply powerful and dismantling emotional journey,
After Yang (Directed By Kogonada)
For most of 2022 After Yang has occupied my number one spot, standing far and above the others in this respect. For me this is a film that managed to transcend all of my normal measurements regarding what makes an exceptional film truly exceptional. Aftersun put up a good fight in threatening to derail it, but a rewatch of After Yang confirmed for me that this remains the best of 2022 and an appropriate representative. It asks big, life altering questions about the nature of memory, what it means to be human, and how it is that we make sense of life in the face of this existing tension between our mortality and our longings for the eternal. It showcases a striking commitment to fleshing out the humanity behind their well established questions about existence, which is made all the more poignant by the fact that Yang himself is not human. He is a robot in a future where such automated persons are becoming the norm. This provides the grounding for fleshing out such questions in light of this quiet, sci-fi premise as a larger existential concern.
There is a necessary investment in the world building that expresses itself in a subtle and low key fashion, resulting in some haunting and lingering sequences that are busting full of emotional concern. This is accented by the equally beautiful and captivating performances that help this story come to life with meaning and purpose. From here the film grows into an expertly crafted portrait of the connection between the particulars of being human and the cultural touchpoints of being Asian. Equally pertinent then is the multi-layered presence of the “after” in the title. It is as much about what lingers I the face of deeply felt loss (after death), as it is about recognizing how life after Yang has left them a changed people navigating the world differently. There is so much worthwhile subject matter sitting on the surface of this story, which only makes the obvious layers that much more exciting to explore and peel back on subsequent viewings. This is the sure sign of a master storyteller, one who shapes this story with compassion, insight, skill, care, and creativity