Top Films of 2022 | Nic Champion

List-making in film criticism has always been a subject of debate, but the practice has noticeably resulted in far more animosity this year. Things got off to an early start when the 2022 Sight and Sound 100 Greatest Films of All Time poll dropped, with Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles claiming the number one spot. People seemingly unfamiliar with the film and the poll acted positively appalled that such an experimental, “inaccessible” work would be lauded over more popular classics. Setting aside the fact that it’s an aggregate list and not a definitive declaration of the best films ever made (an impossible prospect), this angsty response came off as particularly irrational because the Sight and Sound poll has never appealed to the mainstream. There’s something to try patience and offend conventional tastes in every single decade—Wild Strawberries, Tokyo Story, Man With a Movie Camera, Ivan the Terrible; but especially L’Avventura, certainly an important and thought-provoking film, and one that moves easily ten times slower than Jeanne Dielman despite being a full hour shorter. And those are just from the Top Tens. Still, Jeanne Dielman’s inclusion led to a wave of obtuse rabble rousing that those who frequent Twitter refer to as “discourse”.

And this acrimony had a spillover effect into year-end lists. In an age of fandom-as-identity, followers of certain films respond to the absence of their favorite titles on a list as a kind of personal insult, as if critical attention to art house films represented some form of elitism and snobbery tantamount to cultural oligarchy. Notably, New York Times critic Manohla Dargis faced an onslaught of hemorrhoidal indignance from Twitter Stans simply for not having Everything Everywhere All At Once on her Top 10 of the Year. As a side note, any film that inspires such ugly and senseless devotion among fans makes me actively not want it on my year end list, so the fact that it’s #7 shows how much I really like it, although I could have told you from the first trailer that by its very nature—a sci-fi comedy with themes of identity and generational trauma— EEAAO was destined to have the most annoying fanbase of any non-superhero film in 2022.

This is all just to say that, as exciting as film lists can be, and as integral as they are to cinephilia, they are arbitrary exercises, meant to encourage exploration in readers and reflection in writers, not something to get angry about. If anything, having a list that doesn’t look like everyone else’s should be a point of pride. It means you’re an individual! Besides, there’s only so much time to compile a year-end list, and it’s just impossible to watch the same amount as a professional, full-time critic. I always feel it necessary to advise people that, because so many of the most talked-about films of the year get limited releases (and with the state of film distribution as it is, this will only worsen, I fear), it’s impossible for a lot of us to confidently say which films were really the best. I stand by much of what I had in my Top 10 last year, but if I’m honest, that list almost immediately stopped being totally relevant once I got a chance to see Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s masterpiece, Drive My Car. That film easily would have nudged 90% of the list down a spot had I seen it before January.

Despite all the contention, the subjectivity, and the the navel-gazing, lists do have some benefit. Certain franchises in certain markets may dominate screens, but there are a lot of films being made in a lot of different places about a lot of different things, all the time. There seems to be some prevailing belief that 2022 was a bad year for movies, but I actually think it was one of the strongest of the past five years or so. And I have yet to see some majorly lauded works like Aftersun, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, and Tár. I feel like it’s impossible that things weren’t overlooked if people are really saying 2022 was a bad year for film, and therein lies the value of lists like these. This list is a testament to the fact that in the midst of many obstacles, cinema continues to thrive.

Honorable Mentions: After Yang, The Banshees of Inisherin, Barbarian, Cow, Emergency, Good Madame, Great Freedom, The Innocents, Neptune Frost, Resurrection, Sharp Stick, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, We Finally Watched Nukie: The VHS Grading Video, Women Talking, X

20. Prey

19. Emily the Criminal

18. Elvis

17. Pleasure

16. The Janes

15. Lux Aeterna

14. Dual

13. Crimes of the Future

12. Mad God

11. Hatching

10. Three Thousand Years of Longing

A few films, this year, really made the case for the theatrical experience, but perhaps none more than Three Thousand Years of Longing. George Miller is a master of action and imagination and his take on the Arabian Nights may be his most escapist fantasy yet. Character and set design, impeccably directed action, and breathtaking setpieces, replete with majestic camera moves and intricately blocked extras harken back to the earliest days of epic fantasy in film. There’s a point where storytelling and technology intersect to create something more than the sum of those parts, and that has always been one of the greatest potentials of cinema. Movie magic is back, baby!

9. Strawberry Mansion

Whether successful or not, it’s always admirable when a film takes a big swing, even more so when done on a modest budget. Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley’s psychedelic sci-fi romance Strawberry Mansion makes do with a budget estimated to be in the low six figures (mere morsels in the film world) and a 91-minute runtime. Strawberry Mansion has so much working against it, from limited resources to a premise about dream auditing in the future that risks curdling into twee indie fluff. Through ingenuity, sincerity, and some necessary darkness, Audley and Birney harness the fantastical to ruminate on the ways capitalism invades the most intimate parts of our lives. 

8. Speak No Evil

Speak No Evil is the best feel-bad film of the year. Danish director Christian Tafdrup’s third feature has an acute awareness of the dignified, upper-class tendency to acquiesce to norms of social interaction, and follows such impulses until they result in catastrophic circumstances. Danish actors Morten Burian and Sidsel Siem Koch as Bjørn and Louise give a masterclass in internal performance, one that allows their deeply uncomfortable weekend trip with the subtly transgressive Patrick and Karin (Fedja van Huêt and Karina Smulders) to practically dissolve the fourth wall and make their experience the viewer’s own. Darkly funny, cringeworthy, and astute, Speak No Evil mercilessly depicts the downfall of those who resist gut feelings for the sake of nicety and a fear of being impolite, amounting to the horror movie version of Curb Your Enthusiasm

7. Everything Everywhere All At Once

The Daniels’ (Kwan and Scheinert) have always been very keyed into a certain kind of chaotic humor that’s been very successful in film and television of late. Their debut Swiss Army Man, a movie about a sentient farting corpse that can be used as a multipurpose tool, had a sort of 1920s Surrealist Movement ethos mixed with a Rick and Morty irreverence. Everything Everywhere All At Once, as the title suggests, ramps up this energy into a blindingly maximalist extravaganza, one that retains the Daniels’ best sensibilities while taking a new direction into a very personal place not quite mined in their previous work. While wacky, dark, perverted, lowbrow, referential, and absurdist humor act as jet fuel for the film’s warp-speed sci-fi plot, a thoughtful and therapeutic processing of generational trauma, specifically as it manifests in immigrant families, comprises the heart of the film, taking it beyond the realm of epic comedy, which it very much is.

6. The Eternal Daughter

Joanna Hogg’s latest film ties in with her Souvenir diptych, with the inimitable Tilda Swinton playing both the Julie character and her mother, Rosalind. The complexity of parental-filial relationships, especially between mothers and daughters, makes for an emotional and fascinating script, but in directing the film through a gothic lens, particularly one that pays so much homage to Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, Hogg elevates such dynamics into a nearly supernatural realm, really mining the word “haunted” for all its worth. It provides the pleasures and atmosphere so often found in genre filmmaking without sacrificing the sober and human drama integral to her restrained, Rohmerian voice.

5. Decision to Leave

With Decision to Leave, Park Chan-wook’s whip smart crime thrillers evolve into a cubist suspense film, intent on dismantling or at least reframing the Hitchcockian blend of romance, mystery, and murder. Along with cinematographer Kim Ji-yong, Park creates some of the most audacious imagery of his career, from a mystical mountaintop murder-scene to bugs crawling from the point of view of a dead man’s eyeball. These images, along with their fluid, dreamlike editing and tendency to trick the eye, are integral to establishing the air of doubt pertinent to the film’s themes. Decision to Leave uses subterfuge, ambiguity, caprice, and illusion to prolong and probe the uncertainty inherent in a sordid romance. Like some of the most lingering love stories, it’s a riddle, always leaving matters of authenticity and motivation in question.

4. The Cathedral

Cinematic scrapbooking of the most candid variety, The Cathedral is so sparing and so meticulous, it’s somewhat of a miracle that it feels so full, so comprehensive in the drawing of its characters and their relationships with one another. With very carefully placed details set in a minimalist and essayistic framework, Ricky D’Ambrose evokes the textures of a nineties and early aughts childhood and adolescence both aesthetically and emotionally. A stunningly original, poignant, and resonant examination of the instability experienced by millennials, and the resultant mixture of resentment and empathy towards the generation that raised them.  

3. The Fabelmans

Steven Spielberg makes emotional films, but it often feels like the man himself is at somewhat of a remove. Some filmmakers’ inner lives bleed through the material, but a Spielberg film never feels that direct. Of course, the feelings and themes in films like E.T. and Close Encounters and Schindler’s List come from a personal place, but they aren’t autobiographical. Spielberg always seems to be very carefully hiding his vulnerabilities behind his craft. The Fabelmans is the first time he’s pointed the camera directly at himself. He’s showing us his joy, his memory, his love, and his pain in a very candid way, and he still manages to construct such confessional material into a classic Spielbergian dream, a rich and sumptuous work of cinema filled with easily graspable pleasures. Revealing, heartrending and heartwarming, it stands as one of his greatest accomplishments.

2. Nope

Jordan Peele folds in the themes of his past two films into a layered, complex adventure tinged with sci-fi and horror but in so many ways unclassifiable. It’s thrilling as a story by itself, but the themes of spectacle and exploitation sit with you for days. The way it holds multiple, sometimes competing ideas or viewpoints up in the air at the same time reminds us of the importance of ambivalence in art. For Jordan Peele to so ruthlessly critique the industry and medium he’s working in while, by the very act of doing so, cementing the importance and potency of that medium, stands as one of the most ingenious and thought-provoking cinematic magic tricks of all time. 

1. Bones and All

Luca Guadagnino’s painfully romantic and demented coming-of-age road horror movie will not likely make a lot of year-end lists, but it has the makings of a long-standing genre classic. Disturbing, transgressive, moving, horny…the list goes on. Bones and All boasts several unforgettable performances, from the heartrending Taylor Russell to the demented Mark Rylance. Arseni Khachaturan’s use of 35mm film and expressionistic lighting feels both gritty and velvety, perfectly suited for the layers of warmth and oily darkness inherent to the subjects and themes of the film. The period design is both authentic and evocative, creating an aesthetic so striking that it could be watched on mute, if not for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s minimalist, atmospheric score. Bones and All represents cohesive, collaborative filmmaking with an effective vision at its finest, where beauty and ugliness coalesce to tell a deeply human story. | Nic Champion

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