At long last, we are here. My favourite films of 2022. There were a lot of films I watched last year (at time of writing, 110 films) and a lot of them were really great! I feel like there was maybe a slightly higher level of excellence last year, but that doesn’t stop there being a lot of brilliance to see at the cinema or at home this year. Notably, I think there’s also a lot of films that are at the top of other peoples lists that I only thought were great and not masterpieces. We’ll see some of them soon. In the meantime, here is the rest of the stuff I have to say before we see a poster. My full list of films I saw from 2022 is here, feel free to browse my best and worst at your leisure. These are all 2022 releases as by UK dates. That means they have to have come out proper in the UK in 2022, previews or film festivals don’t count. Finally, there are also still lots of films I missed, even at 110. Forgive me, I am only mortal. All these lil things out the way, let’s move into honourable mentions!
All the problems I have with Nope and all the things that stop it from being a masterpiece are exactly the things that I think could make it seen as a masterpiece someday. It was exhilarating big screen entertainment that still makes me think, all these months later.
Aside from having the most gorgeous poster of the year, Aftersun also has a very gentle power that has kept working. It’s a film about time and its effects, so I think it’s only fitting that time is the very thing that is so kind to the strength of this film. A killer ending scene doesn’t hurt though.
I love film noir. Can’t help it, won’t help it. So, when a film is as deliberately and deliciously indebted to that genre as Nightmare Alley is, I can only lay back and submit. I also think it’s one of those perfect examples of a film where seeing the ending coming is an example of great construction, making the story reach its perfect, dark and natural end.
I really liked a lot of Resurrection while I was watching it. Then we hit this long monologue suddenly. Rebecca Hall lays out one of the most bonkers confessions you’ve ever heard in a film. Yet you believe it. Or at least, you believe her. Those aren’t the same thing, and balancing between the two of those is what keeps the fire in the twisted belly of Resurrection.
The Souvenir Part 2
Life rolls into fiction rolls back into life again. Watching The Souvenir Part 2 feels like the sensation of remembering The Souvenir. I know that’s a confusing way to explain it, but there’s a lot going on in this brave sequel. It pushes everything that was subtext in the first film into the full realm of text. And yet again, one of the great endings of the year.
Red Rocket is about a terrible human being who does terrible things that ultimately hurt decent people. It’s also hysterical. That’s not easy, but Sean Baker makes it look like it is. His dirtbag world is charming and sticky, but you cannot look away, no matter how bad things get.
I’ve become a little bit hooked on murder mysteries since the first Knives Out and Glass Onion continues that brilliance. If it didn’t have the humour or the social critique or the sheer momentum, it would still be a knotty little thriller. Except it does have all those things, and more. I only mourn that more people didn’t get to see this in a cinema.
We’re done with the honourable mentions, into the big hitters now!
7. Compartment No. 6
I know what you’re thinking. Such a waste to have a film with 6 in the title place at number 7. What can you do though? The list is the list, we carry on regardless. We also need to stop though and really talk about and appreciate the wonder that is Compartment No. 6. Since I saw it at London Film Festival back in 2021, I’ve been a little obsessed. It’s the story of two travellers on a very long train journey across the east of Europe, where their journey is from one frozen town to another frozen town. Stuck with nothing to do and nothing to see, the two get to know each other. Think that first meet cute from Before Sunrise but at feature length and with a true ambiguity as to whether the two leads are actually going to have a romantic connection. Even while that is ambiguous though, the film absolutely sparks off the screen. The dialogue is a treat for the ears, brought into fruition by two stellar leads. The journey may feel ambiguous, but you trust the crew enough to stay to the final station.
Eraserhead. Annette. Titane. What do all these films have in common? They’re all excellent films about weird little babies. Finally, getting to join those ranks, is Hatching. It’s a Finnish horror movie about a young girl who finds an egg in the woods, looks after it, and then it hatches. Hatches into what, you may ask? So few people have seen Hatching that I’m still really hesitant to actually talk much about what happens after the egg hatches. What I’m not hesitant to talk about is how much I love this weird freak of a movie. From the pitch I’m giving you, you’re probably expecting a very creepy movie that’s very serious. In parts, sure. But there’s also this wicked strain of comedy in the film that injects levity into the creepiness. The mother of the family runs a vlogging channel about her perfect family and their perfect life, while her daughter is still struggling with whether she actually wants to be the gymnast her mother insists on her being. The dad in the family is also brilliant, playing the father of all cucks, an absolutely pathetic loser who would have no idea what to do if his daughter was only going through puberty and not dealing with whatever is in that egg. Quite simply, I had a gleeful ride with Hatching. It was proper fun, playing in horror and comedy with the ease that would suggest a seasoned director, not a first time director. Watch it, because it’s the one on the list you probably didn’t!
5. The Worst Person in the World
Describing a film by saying “it’s everything” is a phrase that is completely useless at describing the film and also makes you think that the critic in question has absolutely no useful phrases in their dictionary to break down cinematic power. The problem is, sometimes films don’t give you many other options. The Worst Person in the World has been described as many things, but is, for me, mainly a romance movie. It’s about Julie, a Norwegian woman in her twenties, trying to fall in love with herself and the people around her. It also uses those stories to explore a sort of existential crisis that Julie is having. As the narrator says in the prologue, “this used to be easy”. It no longer is. It’s complicated and it’s messy and it’s falling in love with the wrong people at the right time. It’s also pretty heart-breaking at the right moments. Director Joachim Trier manages to wrong foot the audience by playing the first half of the film with such a light comedic touch that when more serious moments appear, they devastate. I saw the film with three people from work and we were all absolute wrecks afterwards, but all watched the film again after that screening. If a film can tear you apart that much and still pull you back in, something incredible has happened. To describe the film in two words; it’s everything.
4. Decision to Leave
Park Chan-Wook has made a career out of violent movies about dark people doing horrible things. Even films like The Handmaiden, notably lighter than films like Oldboy by the sole virtue of their lack of [REDACTED], are still full of very graphic sex and violence. Immediately, that makes Decision to Leave stand out. Though there is death and there is romance, it lacks the full on frenzy of director Park’s most notorious films. I mention all of this only because it seems to be the sticking point for so many people in not falling in love with this film. It was very much not my sticking point. For two and a half hours, we watch a master craftsman get to riff on Vertigo, make two people fall in love and tell every single shot in the most exciting way possible. It’s hard to explain it fully, but every single shot has been done in the most breathtaking way possible. A scene where a character is spying on another character? Time to abandon the literal and place the snooper in the room. Time for a chase? Make the shot extremely wide and launch our characters across it. Oh, there’s a mirror in this shot? Time to surprise the audience with which silhouettes are in focus. Nothing is taken for granted and everything is pushed to the limit, while carrying an air of classiness that evokes classic thrillers. It was a cinematic experience whose sheer cinematic qualities made me want to stand up and holler at the screen. That, is what the magic of the movies are for me.
3. Bones and All
I love Luca Guadagnino’s recent films. Call Me By Your Name is a sensuous love story about young people finding their hearts and Suspiria (2018) is a horror film that takes its time approaching its destination and treats you to all the pleasures of the new flesh. So, consider me delighted when I feasted upon Bones and All and discovered it existed as the middle of this Venn diagram of films I already treasure. We follow Maren, a wanderer who discovers a dark side to her at a sleepover (a scene which is such a dark treat) and goes on the run after her father abandons her. While running, she discovers others like her. One is Sully, a brilliant Mark Rylance, who slithers on and off screen with ease. He teaches Maren about herself, but also while demanding she learn about him. Another wanderer she meets is Lee, played by the already legendary Timothée Chalamet. Chalamet is an actor who changes on film. He’s compelling in photos or on the red carpet, but in films I cannot look away from him. There’s an attraction he carries that feeds into his dangerousness here, such a brilliant utilisation of star persona. We know his need for Maren is physical, but in what way? Throw in a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, properly sensuous cinematography by Arseni Khachaturan and an absolute knock-out, one scene performance from Michael Stuhlbarg, you have a film that leaves a mark. It has not been for everyone (and for God’s sake, please make sure people you recommend this film to know what it is), but it is so far up my street that I should be concerned about my confidential information being linked. I was, in short, very well-fed.
2. Everything Everywhere All At Once
Well, here we are . It’s the one everyone has on their 2022 list. In my defence… No, actually I have no defence. I think Everything Everywhere All At Once is just as good as all its fans say. It is everything. Everywhere. Quite a lot of the time. It is also, in weirdly reductive terms, a success story. I’ve been a fan of Daniels since their bonkers debut Swiss Army Man. A story of a suicidal man and a farting corpse (played by Daniel Radcliffe) going on adventures together was not for everyone but it worked wonders for me. That made me both very excited and very nervous about their follow up film. The logline didn’t make me excited. A woman, doing her taxes? Yeah, no thanks. Except, obviously, it’s more than that. It’s an examination of the multiverse, but crucially through the lens of a single verse. We see universes of martial arts, pixar charm, sausage madness, in a matter of seconds, extended over hours that stay with you for years. That multiversal attitude to genre extends to tone. The film begins very funny, becomes very strange and eventually becomes very emotional. I’ve seen the film twice and I’ve also failed to see the ending twice, because of something in my eye, could be anything, dunno what. No film this year (or in years) has pushed and pulled me in the way that EEAAO has, over and over again.
1. The Northman
When I left The Northman, I felt ready to flip a table. It turns out, I mean this as a compliment. With just three feature films, Robert Eggers has marked himself out as a creative force unlike any other. And though you can trace similarities through his films in their exquisitely detailed period settings, the feeling you get from them is completely different. The Witch was a creepy horror film, The Lighthouse was a full tilt breakdown, so the fact that The Northman is an action epic fits in with that pattern of these films not fitting in with each other at all. It’s the story of Amleth, a prince who loses his future kingdom after watching his uncle murder his father and kidnap his mother. This sends the boy (soon a man) onto a relentless quest for vengeance, first as a mercenary and later as a slave. You’re probably already doing the math and going “hmm, Amleth, that feels like an anagram of a famous play about a Danish prince” and I will stop you right there to say that this is based on the legend that Hamlet was based on. No ripping off and pretending it didn’t happen, the influences are worn on the sleeves here. Not that there’s a lot of sleeves to go around, but the point stands.
As you’d hope from a film about vengeance, the action absolutely rips. An early scene where a village is stormed by warriors perfectly sets the tone when it begins with a spear being thrown at Amleth, him catching it and then throwing it straight back at the attacker. There is a confidence to the presentation of this film, a swinging bravado that Eggers has earned. From this early scene and right up until the climactic battle (which, friends and lovers, is a hot treat), you feel safe in the hands of a man who knows how to ruin his characters days. If that were all that The Northman offered, it could probably still be my favourite of the year, but it’s the layers beneath this seemingly simple vengeance quest that keep the tale under my skin. All is not quite what it seems, and while some of that delves into spoilers (and oh, the scene where the true nature of the quest snaps open is delicious), some of it I can still talk about. Like with his previous films, Eggers engages with myths in ways that remain enigmatic, even as you watch your hero wrestle a dead warrior. You can take it as literal or as a refraction of Amleth’s brain, weighed down by the curse of prophecy. Either way fits satisfyingly into the narrative, a flexible little number that appears deceptively simple. Eggers has come out and said that he wasn’t happy with the final product of The Northman. That baffles me. I adore The Northman and think it is yet another singular work from a genius filmmaker who seems set to reshape cinema for decades to come.