My mom died this year, but I lost her decades ago. Our relationship was radioactive, and I had neither the courage nor the resolve to even begin to repair it--or to investigate whether there was anything left to repair. I lost a mentor this year, too, because I wasn't interesting enough to maintain as an apprentice. I turn 50 in 2023. It's an age that seemed absurd to me as recently as a few years ago. If I live to 54, I'll be how old my dad was when he died. My mom's death brings an end to this season of death for us, my wife and me. We're both orphans now, because everything worked out the way it was supposed to. It's how parents hope it works out. I guess we're lucky that way. Maybe it's just me, yet it felt like there were many films in 2022 dealing with childhood and lost parents, biological or otherwise. Lots of films about ghosts.
Seven years after I started it, my book on Walter Hill's career finally saw the light of day in 2022. I flew down to Dallas to sign the sold-out first, hardcover run of it, staying with publisher Matt Zoller Seitz and his lovely, impossibly kind partner, Judith. I was overwhelmed to hold a physical copy of what had been a work in progress for so long. I confess the thing that finally pushed me over the finish line was that I didn't want to be the guy who could never bring something in. The master of the fish story: it's huge; just wait until I land it. I once read that saying you're working on a thing provides the same dopamine reward as actually doing a thing, and that's haunted me ever since. Hill released a new movie this year. I have plans for dinner with him so he can sign a few copies of the book for its contributors: James Ellroy, Edgar Wright, Ganzeer, Larry Gross, my brother Bill Chambers, and, sure, maybe even me.
The best films of 2022 confront us with questions of time. Maybe all the death of the last couple of years (or climate change, or white Evangelical nationalism) has shortened everyone's timeline. It was another year of mourning, of course--another year of loss, and so a good one for horror. We hear a lament in the cinema of 2022, tied to the desire to make amends, salted by our resignation as a brittle new normal calcifies in us. There were movies about infidelities that I think are tied with wanting to seize moments, plus an unusual number of films about lost infants, the rapture of language so like the deadly rapture of the deep, and the importance of leaving a wake in your passing, however small. I think it was a tremendous year for film, but a strange one in which the only movies that felt like consensus picks were a kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria that would seem to mean the most (if not something exclusively) to Asian-Americans; a sequel to a 36-year-old movie; and a Bollywood maximalist extravaganza. We've lost any notion of a collective "event" culture to the complete à la carte-ing of individual viewing preferences. What happens when you can watch anything you want, whenever you want to watch it? Well, less overlap, for starters.
As has been the tradition of late, I haven't considered documentaries for this list or included films by people who, for whatever reason, I feel too compromised to judge. The following all come, however, with my biased recommendation: Old Man, Glass Onion, Blood Relatives, del Toro's Pinocchio. Traveling Light, and, naturally, Walter Hill's Dead for a Dollar.
I didn't see the Ikiru remake, Living. I also didn't watch Corsage since I'd already reached my Vicky Krieps quota for the year.
Okay: Arranged in the typical fashion of ten groups of five, my Top 50 of 2022. Ready? Here we go.
David Gordon Green rounds out his Halloween reboot trilogy with this fascinating instalment about how trauma is contagious and can infect entire populations. Similarly, in Lucile Hadzihalilovic's hallucinogenic fever dream Earwig, figures trapped in their own small circles of significance bump against one another like buoys in a strange ocean, worked upon by undertows and slipstreams. Machines from a Cronenbergian nightmare collect a young girl's saliva for purposes arcane, and there's a painting that functions as a mnemonic for places and things better left forgotten. The air of Earwig is so still that when characters crack under the pressure, the picture's paroxysms of violence feel like the only natural thing left in this fog-shrouded, sepia-coloured world.
Emmanuel Marre and Julie Lecoustre's Zero Fucks Given follows listless flight attendant Cassandre (Adèle Exarchopoulos) as she does her best to care about her job, hangs out with co-workers during dispiriting stops at nightclubs and Tinder hookups, and is forced to return home to deal with the death of a mother she's never properly mourned. It's the first of a couple of films on this year's list about what hustle culture looks like now that the world has come loose while the income gap continues to expand. It's already the second--the second of many--to take a look at how trauma takes its toll and never stops taking it. Emily the Criminal likewise features a listless female lead (Aubrey Plaza, finding the role she was born to play) unable to escape her past as she falls in love with the wrong guy (Theo Rossi), trusts the wrong friend (Megalyn Echikunwoke), and learns that the only way to make it in this world is to follow none of the rules given to us by the unfeeling masters of the universe.
Then there's Charlotte Wells's diaphanous memory piece--putting together the puzzle of who you are with fragmented memories of the parents you never really knew.
Lost Bullet 2: Back for More (Balle perdue 2)
Jean Luc Herbulot's Saloum is a Senegalese horror film in which a group of marooned drug runners looking for a place to hide with an airplane full of loot finds one in what seems an idyllic retreat in the midst of their country's bloody 2003 coup d'état. The version of Bacurau I like, it's a genre mash-up that deals with not just the decay of traditional values in the face of social collapse and climate change but also a very The Last Winter suggestion that God will not, in fact, forgive us for what we've done. Jammed with ideas and paced with a heedless, headlong breakneck recklessness, it's a sharp evocation of the runaway train of our day-to-day. Herbulot is one to watch.
So are Lithuanian filmmakers Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper, who, with Vesper, have created a sombre, some would say dour look at a future in which ecological collapse has wiped out most of human life on a planet that insists on moving forward without us. A paranoid film about genetic engineering and man-made apocalypses, the focus is on young Vesper (Raffiella Chapman), the headstrong caretaker of her bed-ridden father, who nonetheless accompanies Vesper on her foraging expeditions via the agency of a rickety, cyberpunk drone. The world Buozyte and Samper have created is the wilderness as imagined in the hothouse sequence from Minority Report: overgrown and lush with Baudelairian flowers of our collective evil.
Guillaume Pierret's Lost Bullet 2: Back for More is perhaps the year's most completely satisfying action vehicle, picking up six months after the end of the original to find professional driver and all-around dangerous man Lino (Alban Lenoir) working for the vice squad in pursuit of the bad men who killed his brother and his mentor. Packed chockablock with incredibly intricate car chases, each shot with clarity and tightly choreographed hand-to-hand scuffles, the picture coheres around what feels like genuine grief over the people we've lost and the irresolvable corruption to which we've lost them.
Not a huge fan of Ruben Östlund's on-the-nose Triangle of Sadness, so I give the spot for the year's best social satire to Romania's Întregalde, in which director Radu Munteen and his co-writers, Alexandru Baciu and Răzvan Rădulescu, strand three lefty aid workers on a muddy stretch of forbidding mountain road alone with a demented old man looking for a lift to an abandoned lumber mill--not to mention a local, hostile Romani population suspicious of interlopers. After being asked whether they're the same group of do-gooders who handed out aid the year before, they're told that whatever they were trying to do then didn't work. With much of it unfolding like a horror film, Întregalde is a cold dissection of the myth of altruism as the bright-eyed and well-intentioned are battered by the realities of being an ally when the people you're trying to help hate and resent you for your patronizing air of self-serving superiority.
Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda's Broker is a light-for-Kore-eda piece that packs a considerable punch regardless. Its focus is on the Byzantine moral entanglements of adoption-for-cash and baby dropbox schemes in South Korea; it's a picture about broken families as microcosm for broken traditions and cultures auctioned, cheap, to colonial bidders. Korean superstar Song Kang-ho plays a very different kind of priest from the one he portrayed in Park Chan-wook's Thirst, taking an abandoned infant and trying, along with his partner-in-crime, to place it with a childless couple willing to shell out a cool ₩1000. A pair of women detectives (led by the great Bae Doona) is on the case, and pop star IU plays a mother who regrets treating a church's baby box as a pawn shop. More conventionally structured as a thriller than Kore-eda's other films, Broker is another of the auteur's studies of desperate people slipping past the outermost fringes of acceptance and assimilation.
Beavis and Butt-head Do the Universe
Stars at Noon
Razor sharp and brutally on point, Mike Judge, under the guise of silliness and extraordinary stupidity, is our greatest satirist, if not our greatest postmodernist. While it's arguable whether "King of the Hill" or "Beavis and Butt-head" is the pinnacle of his achievements, it remains true that my first real understanding of the concept of postmodernist critical theory came about contemplating the latter's adroit surfing across the top of MTV's cultural moment. The title characters are a thing that could not exist without the thing they criticize; suddenly, Aldous Huxley and Roland Barthes began to make a different kind of sense to me. This second feature-length Beavis and Butt-head vehicle after ...Do America is the appropriately up-scaled ...Do the Universe, in which the best intentions of a progressive carceral state sentence the sniggering philistines first to NASA, then to a wormhole through which they emerge 24 years later, in 2022. Always in Judge's crosshairs are capitalism (the boys use a phone chip to buy a priceless crystal bowl they then fill with nachos before dumping it in a wastebasket) and the base motivations of young men since time immemorial--young men who become grown men who then lead corporations and nations with the same unevolved monkey brain. It's brilliant.
So is our grandmaster of primal hunger Adrian Lyne, who pairs a jealous heliciculturist with a younger sexpot in an excoriation of human desire and sexual jealousy that only he and Patricia Highsmith, upon whose novel this film is based, can conjure.
Ricky D'Ambrose's The Cathedral is almost a photo-roman--a heavily-narrated piece in which scenes of domestic disintegration play at uncomfortable angles against a child bearing silent witness to his parents' pettinesses and aggressions. In all our conversations in 2022 about generational trauma, here's a piece that tracks the moments of transmission--the little pieces of the future we burden our children with like weights on a diving belt before we've even taught them how to swim. There's a little of that in Claire Denis's Stars at Noon as well, a film that plays a little like In the Cut were it written by Graham Greene. In it, Margaret Qually finds the perfect role for her at this moment in her time--one that uses her peculiar blinking patterns and wide eye movements to fully betray the uncertain theatricality of a character only playing at worldly in a dangerous place and time. Set in an unstable Nicaragua, her foreign correspondent Trish is another of 2022's women adrift on turbulent tides, falling into strange beds for cash to fund her "assignment" while a colony of expats starts shrinking in time to the inexorable rise in totalitarianism.
Park Kang's Seire is a heavy, doom-laden trip through the guilt of a man (Woo-jin (Seo Hyun-woo)) after his ex-girlfriend kills herself within the "seire" of his son's birth with a new wife, i.e., the first twenty-one days of a child's life, when it is most vulnerable to infernal external influences. His wife, Hae-Mi (Sim Eun-woo), terrified about breaking "quarantine," stays locked in their small apartment behind chains of charms and signs warning away strangers, nattering at Woo-jin to take their culture's superstitions seriously, lest harm come to their offspring. But Woo-jin's compelled to attend the funeral: What he hasn't told his wife about is the miscarriage he shared with the ex, how his mishandling of their relationship afterwards may have led to her suicide. How he's beginning to think something terrible will happen to their boy because of the terrible person he used to be. Lately, I keep thinking back to Robin Williams and a line he has as the disgraced shrink in Dead Again: "The karmic payment plan: buy now, pay forever." Seire is scary.
Then there's Nikyatu Jusu's Nanny, which summarizes several of our themes so far: the gig worker; the immigrant and perpetual foreigner experiencing the distinctive racism of the larded liberal gentry. It's not the bigots you have to worry about--it's the rich white democrats who make a fetish of their ideological purity. That describes nanny Aisha's (Anna Diop) boss Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and her photojournalist husband, Adam (Morgan Spector), who returns from an assignment photographing violent protests in France to tell Aisha how he didn't know his wife was going to hire help, so it's going to take him some time to get used to Aisha. He thaws, but we don't. He's a fucking creep with a saviour complex, and Amy is a trainwreck. Jusu layers in overheard snippets of conversation about how Black Lives Matter helps when "they" burn down their own businesses and communities, and a picture forms of a world divided between people who say they're allies and people who don't. (None of them actually are.) It's clear Aisha's seen as something less, something other, and always will be by people who give a shit in every single way but the one that matters. Everyone gains through their exploitation of vulnerable populations except for the vulnerable populations. This is the best horror movie about our current state since Get Out and the second variation on this theme in 2022 after Lorcan Finnegan's less successful but still intriguing Nocebo.
I read an interesting thing about how the last third of Tár, from the time she breaks her face through to the end, might be a dream, or a haunting--a visitation from a possible future. I like that because it makes the tidiness of her fall legible in the context of the messy hyperrealism of the rest of it.
I love Mattie Do's The Long Walk. In its austerity and primitivism, it tells a remarkable cyberpunk ghost story about a little boy who finds something terrible on the long walk to his village one morning and then walks with that something terrible for the rest of his long life. It's exquisite science-fiction in that it honours J.G. Ballard's three pillars of the genre--time, space, and identity--in ways entirely novel, unexpected, and wholly inventive. The picture's theme of excavating the past for the hope of any future is one of the pillars of 2022's cinematic crop, and it is perhaps the best surprise for me in a year full of them. Joanna Hogg's The Eternal Daughter is less of a surprise, given the uniform excellence of her growing body of work, but this tale of a woman haunted by the ghost of her mother and trying, desperately, to make anything eternal out of things that are by their nature ephemeral is the first film of hers to really land for me in a visceral sense. Tilda Swinton plays dual roles here as mother and daughter, both, though Carly Sophia-Davies steals the show as a salty receptionist at a closed-down bed and breakfast who has just about had it with the irrational demands and diminishing returns of the service industry.
A towering debut, Goran Stolevki's You Won't Be Alone is a Stygian fairytale about a young woman promised to a witch at birth, with the bill coming due once she hits her sweet sixteen. The film has about it an atavistic feeling, a sensation so tactile you can almost smell the shit and feel the clamminess of its remote, primitive setting. I was reminded more than once of Lukas Feigelfeld's Hagazussa: A Heathen's Tale, both in the grimy isolation of its setting and in the slyness of its tale of gynocentrism at war with smothering religiosity (shades of The VVitch) designed to suppress the obvious power of women in concert. I was reminded, too, of the Adams Family's brilliant Hellbender in its uncompromised horror and tale of a young woman's tutelage in the limitless extent of her powers. "Blood we need, woman, not playthings," the Whisper-Woman tells her prize, desperate to extend her legacy before her time on this earth is done. I'll say that a few of this year's worst films are also about women working together to usurp male-dominated spaces, women serving as mentors to one another and rejecting patriarchal notions of success and aspiration. Next to Women Talking and especially the disastrous She Said, You Won't Be Alone throws into sharp relief how art is different from screeds (which are, by definition, artless). You Won't Be Alone is a lovely contribution to the field of folk horror, as beautiful and disgusting and disparaging of weakness and indecision as the wide, cruel world. It's worth it for just that one scene where our voiceless heroine carves a hole in her chest and stuffs it full of a mother's heart. How strange that at the end of all that atrocity, what the picture reminds me of most is Ray Bradbury's lilting, nostalgia-drunk short story "April Witch."
Leonor Will Never Die
Laura Wandel's Playground is a little over an hour spent in the company of seven-year-old Nora (Maya Vanderbeque) and her older brother Abel (Günter Duret) on a playground where he's bullied while she watches, losing whatever's left of her innocence concerning human empathy and kindness. There's no real narrative here, just a brutal, documentary-like depiction of the coldness of children and how the seeds for the dysfunction in our lives are planted here in the dirt of childhood. At the other end of life, find aging Leonor (Sheila Francisco), who, in Martika Ramirez Escobar's Leonor Will Never Die, was a screenwriter of big action extravaganzas in her native Philippines. Fallen on hard times and popular obscurity, living with an adult son, Rudi (Bong Cabrera), who's had enough of the island and the family reserve, Leonor's only comfort is the ghost of her other son, Ronwaldo (Anthony Falcon), and an unproduced screenplay her spirit enters when an accident puts her into a coma. Leonor Will Never Die is a slippery picture that slides across multiple aspect ratios, shooting styles, and existential themes as they relate to aging and legacy. Ultimately, the picture is a statement about how we can see ourselves in the movies we love, and how being seen, in the success and self-worth of an individual life, means everything. And of the movies that ended in musical numbers this year, this is the only one that matters.
Karem Ouelhaj's cruel exercise in torture and gore, Megalomaniac is a crimson-soaked gothic horrorshow about how misogyny eats at civilization, how masculinity is more often a scourge than a salve, and the prison of generational trauma.
Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović's Murina is similarly brutal, psychologically if not viscerally, as it follows a few days in the life of unrestful teen Julija (Gracija Filipović) on a pastoral island in the Adriatic. She goes spear-hunting with her itchy, abusive father, Ante (Leon Lučev), bagging the film's namesake, a moray eel, as the movie opens. Its death throes, writhing in a bucket with a barb through its middle, are clearly representative of Julija's boredom and frustration--blaming her mother (Danica Čurčić) for settling on a lesser man and hiding from challenge in their little corner of Heaven. Ante seems to agree to some extent, courting an old rival, successful businessman Javier (Cliff Curtis), in hopes that he'll buy their property and free them to the mainland. Filipović is remarkable: a distillation of adolescence in its florid intemperance, headstrong foolhardiness, and awkward carnality. Her Julija is a bull in a china shop, overhearing snippets she uses to form an imperfect whole and presuming mastery of the impossibly complicated movements of adults in tension and at rest. "You are dangerous," Javier declares, and she is. We all used to be.
We're blessed to be around during Steven Soderbergh's most productive period. There were a few films about sexual stalking in the surveillance state this year--his was my favourite. And Zoë Kravitz, as the heroine of Kimi, is dangerous, too.
Petrov's Flu (Petrovy v grippe)
The Innocents (De uskyldige)
The Novelist's Film (So-seol-ga-ui yeong-hwa)
Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman's Neptune Frost is an afro-futurist film that plays as an extension, and elaboration, of Janelle Monae's "Dirty Computer" film cycle, or "Max Headroom" as applied to anti-colonial and anti-capitalist systems. It's a message from tomorrow in which a miner enlisted in the extraction of a metal vital to the creation of cell technology revolts against his masters to become an intersex hacker in a new reality where the precious resources stripped from poor communities are used to enhance those same communities rather than destroy them. At once mournful social commentary and exuberant cultural celebration, it's a highwire of tone that never slips into proselytization or wholly into ridiculous fantasia. What it manages instead is hope for the oppressed and anxiety, hopefully, for the oppressors. Every moment of it is something new. It's a gauntlet, right across the face of the status quo.
Kiril Serebrennikov's Petrov's Flu is essentially a Terry Gilliam film if Gilliam had any discipline, landing somewhere between Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder. Petrov (Semyon Serzin) is a man of indeterminate profession (mechanic, comic-book artist, maybe both). Stricken by flu, he coughs and fevers his way through the living and the dead in Yekaterinburg, assuming various roles throughout the stream-of-consciousness exercise: an executioner of aristocrats, an alien child-abductor, mostly a drunkard and family man who, in a dazzling film's most dazzling sequence, seduces the moderator of a poet's party at the local library. In truth, all of Petrov's Flu feels like this: fluid, adroit, educational like a Gogol novel or, more to the point, how it feels to read Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita for the first time. I learned more about the state of post-Soviet Russia than I thought I wanted to know.
What Petrov's Flu most feels like, the more I think about it, is an act of defiance. A dangerous one, as it's partly a critique of Putin's murderous, fascist regime. Indeed, Serebrennikov wrote the film under house arrest--framed for the crime of embezzlement, some think, for his outspoken support of LGBTQ issues. Lou Ye's Saturday Fiction feels the same way, originating from the heart of red China as a Pirandello-esque historical noir featuring Gong Li as legendary actress Yu Jin, joining a theatre company in occupied Shanghai just six days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The scope of Japanese atrocity was already known by this point in 1941, the Chinese having become embroiled in the second Sino-Japanese war since 1937 (according to sources in the West) and 1931's invasion of Manchuria (according to the Chinese, who would know). It lends an unleavened sense of doom to a film shot in a stark black-and-white with Gong passing like Hedy Lamarr, shifting from an actress much like Gong herself into the guise of a spy and back again as the film's play-within-a-play spills out into "reality" and the war in the Pacific draws nearer. A third-act shootout is kinetic and deeply satisfying, and while the whole of Saturday Fiction can be enjoyed as pulp pastime, its heart is punk-rock rebellion in the face of totalitarianism. Art wins.
Written and directed by the great Joachim Trier's longtime creative partner, Eskil Vogt, The Innocents is a superhero film the same way Trier's Thelma (written by Vogt) is a superhero film: a story of four children in a low-income Norwegian tenement building who discover they maybe have unique superpowers. Some choose to use it for good (as in providing a voice for the voiceless), and some choose to use it for evil. It's precise in drawing these kids in three dimensions--their imperfections and moments of fear and pettiness, but also their unusual courage and unexpected generosity. The parents see what they want to see, gradually becoming pawns in a larger game with unexpectedly high stakes. It's incredible, and I've thought about it every day since watching it. Ditto Hong Sang-soo's The Novelist's Film, which, in typical Hong style, captures a series of long conversations between artists--some tortured, like novelist Jun-Hee (Lee Hye-young), who's afflicted by writer's block and longs to make an "honest" film, some just looking for a different way to exist, like actress Gil-soo (Kim Min-hee). The ending is elliptical and difficult to parse, but the questions it asks about the sources of creation and the frustrations inherent in any project seeking to tell a transcendent truth are as endlessly fascinating as they are without answer.
Alice Diop's Saint Omer slightly fictionalizes a 2016 infanticide as a courtroom drama in which a novelist and courtroom observer based on Diop herself, Rama (Kayjie Kagame), begins to note uncomfortable parallels between herself and the calm, brilliant defendant, Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanda). Diop shoots the testimony in flat, uninterrupted takes, allowing the frame to swing in smooth, horizontal arcs like the sweep of a surveillance camera--and just as cold and uninflected. What emerges is the portrait of sickness, not only that of the mother who drowned her toddler in the deep blue sea but also the unfixable ills baked into any diaspora. Laurence is a Senegalese immigrant in a mixed-race relationship tasked with raising a child in an essentially hostile place, and Rama, who has dreams of writing the case as a retelling of the Medea story, finds herself reassessing her sense of belonging in this place (France) so far away from home. (I don't think it's an accident that Rama is named for Arthur C. Clarke's unknowable alien artifact.) With this, Nanny, and Saloum, Senegal was well-represented this year.
Provocateur Gaspar Noé's most startling film might be the formally rigid, decidedly sober Vortex, in which a francophone octogenarian named Lui (Dario Argento!) lives in a crowded Parisian apartment with his psychiatrist wife, Elle (Françoise Lebrun), who is suffering from advanced dementia. Their ordeal--Elle wandering away after taking out the trash, her tidying up of Lui's desk (resulting in the destruction of weeks of work)--is exacerbated by a junkie son (Alex Lutz) struggling with his sobriety and trying to navigate his new role as a parent of his frail mother and father. Devastatingly personal and delicately performed, and shot in a surprisingly effective split-screen, the picture betrays not a hint of sensationalism, just the quiet horror of decrepitude and the shocking finality of death. It's a gut punch.
Dan Trachtenberg, master of the stealth sequel, delivered the best Predator since the first two, a movie that centres Native Americans the same year the unquestioning, slavering approval of Avatar: The Way of Water served as an uncomfortable reminder that for whatever advances have been made by Asian-Americans of late, Native Americans are still seen as invisible or negligible. Prey is hope we have the capacity to change that narrative.
The thing about the Jackass franchise I find most touching is how for all its obnoxiousness, what lingers is how much these men-children love and accept each other for their imperfections rather than in spite of them, punching holes in the artificiality of the social strata that slot us into strictured roles. These are at once funny films incredible to watch in a group and incisive looks into the brutal poetry of male friendship.
I fully expected to hate Baz Luhrmann's Elvis, but in its locating of Elvis Presley as a product of the Civil Rights movement and the only possible outcome of successfully pursuing the American Dream, it's exceptional.
Both Sides of the Blade (Avec amour et acharnement)
I love Kogonada's Columbus. His follow-up, the gentle After Yang, is set in a future where human-appearing android helpers provide companionship in addition to service for families able to afford them. When an older model--Yang (Justin H. Min), bought used with an entire life stored in a locked memory bank--malfunctions and "dies," his owner, Jake (Colin Farrell), tries to fix him. Failing that, he seeks to donate Yang's memories to a museum. Jake is white, his wife, Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), is Black, and their adopted daughter, Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), is Asian, leading to an interesting subplot involving Mika suturing to Yang to ease her racial dysmorphia within the family. It's a tough problem (one raised in the concurrent Brokers), and After Yang handles it with unusual sensitivity. Kogonada likes to let his characters talk in settings that enhance their conversations. Jake chats with a local barista, Ada (Haley Lu Richardson), in the atrium of their home, surrounded by green as we discover the damage done by extending lives and existing in uncertain pasts. After Yang is not unlike a live-action version of Don Hertzfeldt's magnificent It's Such a Beautiful Day.
Polish grandmaster Jerzy Skolimowski's ode to Balthazar, EO, follows the last weeks in the life of a circus donkey "liberated" from his life in the performing arts and set adrift in an increasingly hostile European dystopia. Skolimowski's career obsessions with human behaviour at its terminus, aberrant psychologies, and destructive systems are given a different level of objectivity by looking at the universe through the eyes of a true innocent. Arnaud Desplechin's Deception covers similar ground in a film that adapts Philip Roth like Adaptation. adapts Susan Orlean. Philip (Denis Podalydès), an older man, is a legendary novelist who mines his intimate interactions with a much younger mistress (Léa Seydoux) for a new work. Seydoux is so often cast as exotic or strange that seeing her as fully human--warm, funny, smart, wounded, sad, the whole package--is almost overwhelming in its humanity. All of Deception works as time spent in the company of real people you might like to know. By the end of this short time, you may even love them a little. Desplechin has been hinting at a Roth adaptation for years (Roth is to him what Pynchon is to Paul Thomas Anderson), and the fruition at last of their partnership is one of my favourite movies of the year.
Both Sides of the Blade, Denis's second appearance on this list, is, like Deception, a story at one level of adultery, as married couple Sara and Jean (Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon) confront the manifold lies making up their lives and buckle under the pressure of old loves reappearing and the adolescent rebellion of an estranged child. Born of their own infidelities, Sara and Jean's relationship seems built on a minefield, and Denis's merciless exploding of every trap they've set for themselves builds unbearably to a series of sad implosions.
Ti West's Pearl, his prequel to "honourable mention" X, is executed like a Wizard of Oz with bloody axe murders and a domesticated alligator. Mia Goth is the titular farmgirl with dreams of fleeing her isolation--like Julija from Murina--to a bigger world of fame and excitement. She finds some escape in the dark of a movie house, teaches herself to dance like the phantoms on screen, and auditions her heart out at a cattle call where she doesn't stand a chance against the blonde and the blue-eyed. Terrifying, disturbing, and exhilarating, too, it's a horror movie about cinema's transformative power.
David Cronenberg's still got it in a film that's actually somehow hopeful about the potential for humans to survive their penchant for self-destruction by evolving new organs. Kristen Stewart delivers her finest performance as a nerd who gets her groove on, and it all plays as a low-key slapstick comedy.
Top Gun: Maverick is superior to the original in every way, a brilliant metaphor for aging and the limits of nationalism. Its third act is an updating of the Death Star run featuring America's last movie star.
Andrew Dominik's Blonde is a stunner, a meticulous and expert recreation of the iconic images through which we have internalized Marilyn Monroe as a cultural artifact employed in a brutal accounting of the cost of that kind of objectification. It reminded me first of films from the New French Extremity (particularly Inside in its fetus-as-character trope) for how it addresses misogyny and its connection to extreme violence, second of John D. Hancock's slowcore creeper classic Let's Scare Jessica to Death. Ana de Armas is frankly extraordinary as Norma Jeane, desperate for a regular life and haunted by the ghost of her abusive, asylum-bound mother, her only model for normalcy in a world that sees her unfortunate deformities as uncommon, generational beauty. Because of the accident of her birth, she is denied agency, independence, even motherhood, all because she's so attractive she became the focus of collective desire. If the picture's divisive, it's functional evidence of how hard we hold on to these images we've created in our hearts despite those images having contributed to the destruction of the thing we claim to love. There are pieces of Perfume here and of Todd Haynes's banned Superstar, which used Barbie dolls to tell the life and tragic death of Karen Carpenter. (More than a stunt, it forces a reckoning with our complicity in the creation of an unobtainable ideal.) Blonde is a technical marvel and an uncompromising reckoning with our culture's drawing and quartering of its golden calves for our ecstatic pleasure.
Ali Abbasi's Holy Spider strikes at the heart of men and women as investigative journalist Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) checks into a hotel in Mashhad, Iran, only to discover, as an unaccompanied woman, that she's suspected of being a prostitute. One wouldn't want to run afoul of the morality police, after all, and as if the film were not already riding the crest of current events in an almost supernaturally prescient way, Rahimi is on the trail of a serial killer targeting sex workers--and likely to get away with it under the same standards for "morality" that make her a victim in every mundane interaction. Based, like Saint Omer, on a true story, Holy Spider also finds a woman protagonist in the process of identifying the strings that animate our appalling state. And like so many other films on this list, it's cinema as an act of protest, with Abbasi moving the entire production to Jordan in order to escape the laws that would have forbidden its sometimes-explicit depictions of sex and violence. Stark and essential.
Much differently, Alex Garland's Men tells another story of a woman unravelling the simple syllogism of violent men. Recovering from the suicide of her manipulative, unbalanced husband, Harper (Jessie Buckley) hides herself away in the countryside for a period of recollection. Generally despised (see: Blonde), Men boasts as its first image Harper, nose bloodied, watching her spouse fall to his death outside her window. The film cuts to dandelion fluff blowing in the wind and Harper driving herself into a confrontation with a planet haunted by men and the things they would like women to think and believe. Call it an exorcism film, a horror movie--an almost unbearably disgusting one where the demons Harper's seeking to divest herself of are responsible for cycles of pursuit and acquisition. The terms, in other words, in which men see all interaction between themselves and their object choices. Rory Kinnear plays every other male character in the film: a hellspawn, a priest, a bumbling landlord, a naked creeper; it's less a stunt than an explicit call to consider, Anomalisa-style, that for Harper, men have become the same everywhere. Garland is three for three.
Park Chan-wook is a wizard, and each new film is cause for delirious anticipation and celebration. Decision to Leave is his second run at Hitchcock following his Shadow of a Doubt remake, Stoker--this one less explicitly an adaptation/homage and more a tonal consideration of an entire body of work. In it, detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) is tasked with investigating the apparently accidental death of the husband of Seo-rae (Tang Wei, timeless) while climbing a rock spire. I don't think I can adequately describe the delirious pleasure of watching a Park flick: the sensation of being in the hands of someone who not only knows what they're doing but is better at what he does than almost anyone who's ever done it before. It's little things, like how the settings project the hero's interior states. There is certainty when Hae-jun is framed against a mountain; confusion when he's set against the ocean, boiling away as the tide comes into shore. In its obsession with nature, Decision to Leave is most like Hitchcock's North by Northwest and Roger Thornhill's relationship with "town's end" and "prairie stop." But when Hae-jun can't stop thinking about how Seo-rae looks when she tries to think of a new lie, or how the back of her hand caresses a chair, Decision to Leave reminds of the obsessive, awful, smothering love of Vertigo. Even its title is a prediction of doom: the decision isn't to stay, after all. The question of leaving encompasses romantic failure, certainly, but the possibility of suicide as well. Though infidelity was a common thread in the movies of 2022, married Hae-jun's emotional cheating is more devastating than the physical kind. He's lost in an image of Seo-rae's idealized perfection. The tragedy of the film is how Seo-rae knows she can't possibly live up to the version of herself Hae-Jun has created. Decision to Leave is a miracle, and still only the fifth-best picture of 2022.
Martin McDonagh's The Banshees of Ineshirin hit me at exactly the right time, allowing me a little perspective on a personal apocalypse I think I would've handled much worse were it not for the insights offered therein. It's devastating, but it's also the funniest movie of the year.
No Bears sees Jafar Panahi, the most important living filmmaker, wrestling--as so many of the great (and the not-great) films of 2022 did--with the nature of cinema itself and its usefulness as a tool for the manufacture of eternity. Meanwhile, Luca Guadagnino's Bones and All spoke to the goth heart in me, peppering the verses of its poetry with New Order and Joy Division. I haven't felt like this, precisely like this, about a film since Near Dark.
Finally, the Daniels' Everything Everywhere All at Once provided Asian-Americans with a chance to see themselves as exceptional through a lens of the ordinary. We are the things you think we are, along with the things you refuse to see us as. This is a watershed film. It gave me some comfort when my mom died that she was seen, even when I couldn't see her. It's fair to say if Everything Everywhere All at Once doesn't mean something to you--but it demonstrates an extraordinary lack of empathy to say it means nothing.