Wednesday 28 December 2022

My Top 10 Films of 2022

With 2022 coming to a close, it's time to take a look back at the year that was, and reflect on some of my favourite films from the last 12 months.  

How can and will Hollywood adjust to the post-pandemic world? That's the question the industry is currently asking itself, as we race past the three-year anniversary of COVID knocking cinemas on their arse. 

Right now, it feels like audiences are being given fewer and fewer options in theatres - for every Batman movie making bank, there's a bomb like Babylon to bring us back down to Earth. It should come as no surprise that the business is wary of taking big risks on original ideas or expensive vanity projects. 

But a more detailed dissection of the new status quo is probably better suited to another time. For now, it's time to look back and appreciate the best films to hit cinemas or streamers in 2022. 

A quick disclaimer before we get started: I'll readily admit there's a lot I've yet to see, some of which has come out in Australia (Barbarian, The Banshees of Inisherin), some of which has not (Tar, Babylon, The Fabelmans). 

Unfortunately, that's life – starting a new full-time job, being a dad, moving across the country and everything else life has thrown our way has meant I haven't seen everything I'd have liked to at the time of writing. Inexcusable, I know.

Honourable mentions: Cmon Cmon, The Woman King, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, King Richard, The Menu, Boiling Point, Prey.

10th - Watcher (dir. Chloe Okuno)

An uncomplicated, no-frills thriller, Chloe Okuno's icy Watcher was more about frayed nerves and frightened glances than schlock and gore. The premise is simple and straightforward; Maika Monroe plays Julia, an American who finds herself isolated and alone in her spacious apartment, while a serial killer stalks the streets of Bucharest.

With her husband at work and no friends to call her own, Julia finds herself watching the world go by from her window – only to find someone across the way watching her in return. Could this be the killer, or could it be Julia's own insecurities and uncertainties playing tricks on her mind? That the answer is also quite straightforward, is possibly the scariest thing about it.

With no fancy music to string the audience along or clue us in on the frights, no action or stuntwork to speak of, and no easy answers when those around her start gaslighting and questioning rather than trusting and helping, Watcher was a rewarding, psychological test that stayed with me for a while. Some have called it Hitchcockian, which is pretty high praise indeed.

9th - Everything Everywhere All At Once (dir. Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan)

The other massive multiverse film of 2022, and the only one that can profess to be truly mad and seriously strange. 

Everything Everywhere All At Once is A24 at its barmiest, most bombastic best, with some wackadoo visuals that, and this isn't hyperbole, have to be seen to be believed. Where else can you catch a kung-fu fight with butt plugs, or two rocks with googly eyes pondering the meaning of life? 

Anchored by a fantastic Michelle Yeoh, a wonderful return to movies for Ke Huy Quan and a surprisingly unhinged turn from Jamie Lee Curtis, there's so much to unspool, thematically – from the tension between mothers and daughters to our propensity to wonder 'what if?' and feel unfulfilled with our lot in life. As a window into Chinese or more broadly Asian family structure too, there's nuance and little nuggets of emotion to be found amongst the running jokes about butt stuff and people with hotdogs for fingers.  

A truly original action science-fiction odyssey, Everything Everywhere isn't just one of the biggest box office success stories of the year – it's also a deeply personal and life-affirming examination of existentialism, nihilism and chaos theory. Somehow equally philosophical and punchy, I imagine there's a lot to unpack here on the first, fifth and fiftieth watch. Like, that alternate universe version of Ratatouille with a raccoon. What was that all about? 

8th - She Said (dir. Maria Schrader)

A biographical drama that recounts the New York Times' investigation into Miramax cofounder Harvey Weinstein, She Said was Hollywood seeking to dip into its own recent past and thrust the women in the eye of the #MeToo storm to the forefront of the narrative. 

With the talented twosome of Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan playing a duo of dogged reporters, She Said sees director Maria Schrader craft a compelling and captivating investigative journalism story out of what is ostensibly just a series of people making or taking phone calls, writing emails and knocking on doors. 

It's not easy to make the procedural, day-to-day feel cinematic, and that shows in She Said's camerawork – it's very locked down and basic. Schrader kept the focus on her characters and their journey, which ensures that She Said shines not on a technical level, but on an emotional one. 

It was hard not to get caught up in the stress, the tension and the frustration of the investigation, as Mulligan and Kazan try to peel away the delicate layers of lies, that have built up over decades of misdeeds. Met with cul-de-sac after dead-end, there's some gratification in watching the pieces of the puzzle slot together – even if we know how this story ends.

7th - The Northman (dir. Robert Eggers)

From New England witchcraft to rain-soaked lighthouses, Robert Eggers has developed a reputation for the elemental and the enigmatic – and the man's passion for the past continued in his third feature film The Northman, a sprawling Viking epic that spans the icy Baltic seas and Icelandic tundras. 

With upward of $70 million to play with, The Northman saw Eggers seriously up the ante, in both the scale and action stakes. But crucially, his trademark audacity, artistry and pursuit of authenticity was preserved while making the leap to studio filmmaker.

A blood-soaked revenge story, The Northman is a tale as old as time – and leading the charge but physically and emotionally is a totally transformed Alexander Skarsgard, as a towering Viking warrior with hatred in his heart. Eggers matches that intensity in every aspect of the filmmaking; The Northman is saturated in cultural, historical and mythical detail, from some of the language used (like Old Norse and Old Slavic) to the costuming, production design and the score, which is filled with propulsive drums and choral vocals.

Filled to the brim with fire, blood, mud and guts, The Northman was an unforgettable, ethereal and elemental cinematic experience from start to finish.

6th - All Quiet on the Western Front (dir. Edward Berger)

Soaked in blood and mud, raining bullets and broken bones - German filmmaker Edward Berger's adaptation of the 1929 novel All Quiet on the Western Front didn't shy away from showing us the true horror of the Great War, plunging the audience headfirst into German trench warfare.

Following four young men as they enlist, head to the front and soon find themselves surrounded by the senseless loss and desperation only found on the battlefield, this is my first brush with this story, having not seen the 1930 Best Picture winner. It's the furthest thing from a feel-good film, but it is effective in its aims - war is hell and the young men who were sacrificed in the name of nationalism needn't have died over inches of territory.

The film's standout sequence - a brutal, bruising battle complete with tanks, flamethrowers and aeroplanes - is as technically impressive and emotionally devastating as any onscreen battle I've seen. It culminates in a truly upsetting scene that hit me like a truck. Berger's film is bolstered by some brilliant editing, harrowing musical cues and a fistful of fearful, frightened performances. 

5th - Glass Onion (dir. Rian Johnson)

A late entry to the list! Rian Johnson returned with another Benoit Blanc murder mystery, proving in the process that yes, lightning does indeed strike twice every so often. 

Stagier, sunnier, sillier and more outlandish than 2019's Knives Out, Glass Onion is another sharply-written, smartly-executed film that is just a hoot from beginning to end. 

Written and directed with such gleeful energy, you could almost hear Johnson sniggering from behind the camera, as he pulls the strings and puts his A-list cast into all sorts of silly scenarios. 

With a tight, twisty noggin-scratcher for a plot, Glass Onion kept its audiences both giggling and guessing, with a trippingly light plot that serves as a funhouse mirror for our lives and times. Come for Daniel Craig's delightfully goofy Foghorn Leghorn-sounding accent; stay for Edward Norton's wonderful parody slash homage to the dim-witted billionaire we all love to hate.

4th - Avatar: The Way of Water (dir. James Cameron)

Big Jim is back! Thirteen years since the first, Cameron's long-awaited labour of love, the first of four Avatar sequels, arrived on the back of astronomical expectations. 

The Way of Water sees Cameron continue to plough his own furrow, blissfully unbothered by broader trends or 'the doubters'. Clocking in at three hours and twelve minutes, The Way of Water is a sprawling, soaring cinematic epic that immerses its audience in the oceans and the beaches and the jungles of Pandora. It's a film that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can find, with the clearest, prettiest 3D you've seen since...well, the first one. 

Not once did I feel like the film's pacing dragged; those three and a bit hours just flew by. But, as this is a Big Jim joint, it goes without saying that the action-driven third act is where the film really sings. As much as I loved sitting back and just letting the beautiful oceanography stuff just wash over me (pun intended), there's something so innately thrilling about Cameron letting loose and just going full tilt with the propulsive gunplay and acrobatic aerial shit at the end, much like he did in the first film.

It's Cameron doing what he does best, which is big, broad pictures with sweeping, sincere stakes and universal themes, motifs and melodrama. Who else can balance a rousing family story with some of the most arresting and rousing action this side of Mad Max: Fury Road? Lock in those cinema tickets, before it's gone – you won't regret it.

3rd - Nope (dir. Jordan Peele)

Jordan Peele's third feature film is his biggest, his boldest and his bravest – a $70 million sci-fi thriller with more on its mind than the average tentpole film, which isn't afraid to put character, theme and some oblique storytelling front and centre. 

Rather than crafting another gnarly horror fable in the same mould as Get Out or Us, Peele changed tack and came up with something a little dreamier and fantastical – it's a film that is slow, deliberate and places its trust in the audience to stick with it while it puts all the pieces of the puzzle together.

When you peel back the layers, Nope is grappling with themes like exploitation, spectacle and capitalistic greed, and how those all intersect with tragedy and death. It's about how, even in the face of inexplicable horror, we struggle to look away. There's even religious undertones in here, with explicit Biblical references. It's something that rewards rewatches and repays those who dig a little deeper, eager to unearth meaning amidst the scares and spooks.

There's an unmistakable 'scaling up' here too; Nope is much bigger than anything Peele has done before, with some pretty big influences mixed in here too; shades of Spielberg, Kubrick and Shyamalan. A curious blockbuster that mixes a lot of ingredients into one big melting pot, Nope feels like Peele striving to broaden his horizons as a storyteller – and it's my hope that he continues down this path in future films.

2nd - The Batman (dir. Matt Reeves)

From Burton and Schumacher to Nolan and Snyder, Batman has taken many forms over the years; quirky and Gothic, garish and cheesy, gritty and modern. And Matt Reeves' The Batman might've perfected it? I don't know, that's a bold claim – but for vast stretches of this film, it felt like we'd finally got the mixture juuuust right, with all the right ingredients to make this Gotham, the greatest Gotham of the lot.

Moment to moment, Reeves is firing on all cylinders – the vibes are immaculate, as the kids say. From the opening sequence on a rain-soaked Halloween night to The Riddler emerging from the shadows in Mayor Mitchell's penthouse, to a fiery car chase that ends in carnage, to one of Batman and Catwoman's numerous rooftop liaisons, there's no shortage of memorable scenes in this sprawling three-hour murder mystery.

Take away the capes, and The Batman was a grimy film noir through and through. Reeves and his cowriter Peter Craig honed in on the genre's trappings, eschewing flamboyant fights and propulsive pacing in favour of something much more melancholic and deliberate. Thematically, The Batman is grappling with Gotham's rotten core: politicians, city officials and dirty cops who take their cues from the mob. And there's even a femme fatale in the form of feline friend (or foe?) Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz, perfectly cast by the way).

What impressed me most about The Batman wasn't its gorgeous visuals, its sublime casting, its production design or its riveting plot packed with murder, intrigue and deception. It was its ambition. Reeves could've played it safe and phoned in a Batman reboot that ticked boxes and sold tickets, but instead we were treated to something that was deeply weird, gruesome and at times, pretty bleak. I don't know, it just reaffirms that sometimes, even the hottest of properties can be a haven for creative, talented people.

1st - Top Gun: Maverick (dir. Joseph Kosinski) 

If the concept of the 'movie star' is a thing of the past, someone forgot to tell Tom Cruise. 

With dizzying stunts, propulsive action and stirring character moments in equal measure, Top Gun: Maverick is a peerless piece of blockbuster moviemaking that demonstrates that sometimes, they do make them like they used to.

The action is Top Gun: Maverick is second-to-none; nothing else from 2022 comes remotely close. When a fighter jet races past Maverick's canopy, you can see the speed, feel the forces and almost smell the fumes. On a big cinema screen with surround sound, Top Gun: Maverick was arresting, edge-of-your-seat stuff – loaded with jaw-dropping moments the like of which we haven't seen since Mad Max: Fury Road. It's exactly the kind of theatrical experience that audiences have been starved of for so long; with clean and well-choreographed shots, wide angles and tidy edits that make the action easy to follow, even when there's half a dozen fighter jets engaged in a high-speed dogfight.

And the film was rewarded with $1.4 million in box-office receipts; the most of any film this year – which just goes to show that, when you give the audience what they want, they'll respond in kind. A rare breed of sequel that doesn't just improve on the original, but makes it look a bit naff by comparison, Top Gun: Maverick is a non-stop, full-throttle adrenaline rush. It feels like a throwback to another era, when airless backlots and sheets of green screen weren't the default. Seeing this film in all its glory on the biggest, widest, loudest screen possible is one that I will stay with me for a long time.

1 comment:

  1. I'm still putting my list together but we currently share a few picks with Nope, The Northman, All Quiet, Top Gun, and Everything Everywhere!



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