After two years of pandemic-related uncertainty, movies finally got back on their feet in 2022. Cinemas were open, and stayed that way with plenty of pictures to fill them, from mega-budget crowd pleasers like Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun: Maverick to Charlotte Wells’ devastatingly personal debut Aftersun. Meanwhile, streaming services continued to grow and multiply, delivering another serious awards contender in the form of Netflix’s First World War drama All Quiet on the Western Front. After the triumph of Apple TV+’s CODA at least year’s Oscars, it’s clear the streamers are prepared to compete with traditional distributors for awards as well as audience.
In any case, it’s been another delightfully diverse year for film fans, and while I could never claim to have been entirely comprehensive in my viewing habits, I hope this list manages to scratch the surface of the fantastic range of movies that graced all screens big and small last year.
As usual, narrowing down my ten favourite films proved an agonising task. So, briefly, a few honourable mentions for those which only just missed the cut: Clio Bernard’s Ali and Ava is a tender love story set against a kitchen-sink milieu; Tár, Todd Field’s first film in 16 years, is a complex and quietly unsettling character study, with another virtuoso performance from Cate Blanchett; and as someone who’s never been a huge fan of Baz Luhrmann, I didn’t have particularly high hopes going into Elvis, but three hours later I was in floods of tears.
Now for the top ten…
10. Top Gun: Maverick
Dir. Joseph Kosinski
In what feels like dire times for the action blockbuster, Tom Cruise has emerged as the genre’s saviour. Who knew that a belated sequel to Top Gun, Tony Scott’s thoroughly mediocre 1986 actioner, could be so refreshing? Drawing heavily on Michael Anderson’s 1955 war epic The Dam Busters and placing a welcome emphasis on practical stunt work, Top Gun: Maverick is a finely-tuned machine for generating excitement; an exhilarating spectacle of steel and sweat which demands to be seen on the largest and loudest screen possible. Cruise stars alongside a compelling cast of hot shot pilots, lead by a charismatic Miles Teller, who provide some character and a sense of human jeopardy amidst all the aeronautical adventure – elements sorely missing from many of the cookie-cutter blockbusters which typically clog up multiplexes.
9. The Duke
Dir. Roger Michell
Originally premiering at the 2020 Venice Film Festival, The Duke finally received a wide release in early 2022 after a lengthy covid-induced delay. In the intervening months, director Roger Michell sadly died, turning this into a final, posthumous release. It’s a worthy swansong for the veteran British film-maker, telling the stranger-than-fiction story of a 1961 art theft from the National Gallery. Much more than another tired brit-com, The Duke is a beguiling fable about moral courage and the personal costs of activism, anchored by charming performances from Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent.
8. The Northman
Dir. Robert Eggers
An old-fashioned historical epic with a contemporary twist, The Northman is a gloriously bloody Viking revenge story which takes no prisoners. Director and co-writer Robert Eggers builds a deeply immersive portrait of a medieval society whose values and beliefs are entirely alien to our own. There are few compromises for modern sensibilities, Eggers never disguising the fact that his characters are brutal, vicious people doing what they must to survive in an unforgiving world. Alexander Skarsgård’s fearsome lead performance is similarly uncompromising, bringing a wolfish ruthlessness to his vengeful Viking prince, Amleth.
Dir. Frances O’Connor
Andrew Dominik’s film Blonde caused controversy last year with its lurid and heavily fictionalised account of Marilyn Monroe’s interior life. A more interesting take on the biopic was was Frances O’Connor’s Emily, which renders a similarly fictionalised vision of 19th-century author Emily Bronte. Like Blonde, Emily is not to be taken literally as an account of Bronte’s life; there are wild deviations from historical fact alongside ghostly, supernatural touches of which the author herself would be proud. O’Connor, in her directorial debut, uses Bronte’s story to examine the trauma of bereavement and heartbreak, and the catharsis of finding renewal and vindication through art. It’s an eerie, elemental film which makes striking use of the Yorkshire landscape and its inclement conditions, with a commanding performance fro Emma Mackey at its centre.
6. All Quiet on the Western Front
Dir. Edward Berger
Those expecting a faithful adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s original novel are likely to be disappointed. Although a few character names and sequences have been retained, the narrative of this new German-language picture bears only a passing resemblance to Remarque’s 1929 anti-war tome, or its lauded 1930 Hollywood film adaptation. On its own terms, however, Edward Berger’s modernised take is a brilliantly brutal parable which gives a fresh perspective on the absurd horror of the First World War. Taking place predominantly within the final few days of the conflict (one of many departures from the book), the film cleverly contrasts tense armistice negotiations with the mud and gore of the front line. The sequences of trench warfare are some of the finest ever put to film, depicting the mobile and mechanised fighting of the late-war period which is seldom explored in cinema.
5. Decision to Leave
Dir. Park Chan-wook
An unashamed Alfred Hitchcock pastiche, this serpentine mystery-thriller from Park Chan-wook is another ingeniously plotted and visually delectable tour-de-force from the Korean master of suspense. Insomniac Busan detective Hae-Jun (Park Hae-il), an impressive yet curiously pathetic homicide cop, finds his professional and personal convictions in conflict when he investigates the beautiful Seo-Rae (Tang Wei) for the murder of her husband. It’s a familiar tale of a weary detective obsessed with his young, female suspect, but any expectations that come with this well-worn setup are swiftly upended by a series of mischievous plot machinations. It’s less explicitly brutal than much of Chan-wook’s oeuvre, but packs no less of a punch.
Dir. Charlotte Wells
A film about memory, and a woman’s efforts to understand the father she loved but hardly knew. 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) is on summer holiday with her young father, Calum (Paul Mescal), whose outward affection barely conceals a profound and destructive inner torment. Director Charlotte Wells adopts Sophie’s child’s-eye-view, offering a fragmented and contradictory vision of her father. His repressed anguish is brilliantly communicated by Mescal, providing brief yet intense glimpses at the suffering that lies beneath his affable façade. Structured as an extended flashback, much of what we see seems obscured behind a veil of remembrance, and the distinction between fact and fantasy is blurred. Gregory Oke’s cinematography contributes to this brilliant ambiguity, mixing handheld DV cam footage with vibrant 35mm. It’s a heartrending film which builds towards a kinetic and emotionally exhausting conclusion, with the most powerful final shot of the year.
3. The Worst Person in the World
Dir. Joachim Trier
Julie is woman in her late-twenties whose life stretches out before her. Boundless opportunities present themselves, both romantic and professional, and she moves between them with abandon, yet nothing quite seems to stick. The Worst Person in the World captures the ennui and uncertainty of early adulthood, alongside the intensity of feeling that comes with each new fork on the road. To this end, Director Joachim Trier adopts a malleable approach to time; the birth and decay of an entire relationship might unfold within a brief vignette, while at another point the ecstasy of early love appears to stop time entirely.
2. Everything Everywhere All at Once
Dir. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
A family drama, inside a martial arts movie, inside a science-fiction adventure, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a film which, as the title suggests, has a lot going on. From the film-making duo known collectively as “Daniels,” this is an anarchic and original take on the “multiverse” concept which has formed the basis of several recent blockbusters, but there’s a humanity to this film which sets it apart from its big-budget cousins. The action choreography is slick and the psychedelic special effects are spectacular, but amidst all the multi-dimensional mayhem, this is an intimate and moving portrait of a family falling apart and putting itself back together again. The central cast of Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu form a remarkable triumvirate, their performances bouncing off one another and across dimensions with equal grace.
1. The Banshees of Inisherin
Dir. Martin McDonagh
Click here to read my full, 5-star review
It was with excitement and a hint of trepidation that I first heard Martin McDonagh was to reunite with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, stars of his superb 2008 dark comedy, In Bruges – for my money, one of the best films this side of the millennium. I needn’t have worried; The Banshees of Inisherin is no mere re-tread of past glories, but a bold and complex meditation on some of life’s most uncomfortable questions. Farrell and Gleeson sizzle opposite one another with career-best turns, while McDonagh’s dialogue is as caustically witty as ever. The script moves deftly from hilarious farce into something approaching horror, offering profound reflections on everything from masculinity to civil war and death along the way. A very funny film with a heart black as stout.