Jim’s Top Ten Films of 2022
Jim’s Top Ten Films of 2022
Jim’s Top Ten Films of 2022
2022 was a lot. Signs that the year would be a good one for cinema manifested quickly, with films like Scream (January 14) and The Batman (March 4) releasing early in the year to both critical and audience acclaim as well as box office success. As the calendar pages flipped, pandemic restrictions eased, audiences returned, and the studio dams broke saturating us with a backlog of delayed critical darlings that ultimately resulted in one of the most eclectic group of Best Picture nominees in recent memory and a banner year for horror films that, at one point, constituted 30% of the entries on this very list.
As the tsunami of awards hopefuls threatened to crescendo later in the year, I prepared to welcome the birth of my son and in fearing my contracting and transmitting one or more of the potent ingredients of 2022’s tripledemic onto my pregnant wife and unborn child, I scaled my movie attendance back significantly, ultimately settling on catching many of the most talked about films of the year only after they’d been released on a streaming service. Thus, many pictures I desired to see – The Fabelmans, Babylon, Women Talking, Aftersun, The Woman King – were neglected entirely.
Seeing as babies don’t require less work the older they get, this likely also means that my time as a voracious moviegoer will be put on pause for a while and subsequently that my consumption of new releases will be scaled back to the point where any list of films I’ve seen would not be comprehensive enough to do justice to a Top 10 list. Suffice it to say, I put a lot of thought and effort into creating and curating my 2022 list, which may be my last for a while, so please pardon my prologue. Also, be warned: I cheated when it came to my #1 of the year.
Though I was vaguely aware of “The Whitest Kids You Know,” I had never heard the name Zach Cregger before Barbarian and now that I’ve seen it, his is a name for whose projects I now eagerly anticipate. The best of an intimidating crop of horror films, Barbarian is one of those films that can only be discussed in sparse detail with those who haven’t seen it both because it’s so hard to summarize and because one doesn’t want to spoil the shock and surprise of what it ultimately becomes. The joke I’ve made is that Barbarian takes so many left turns it eventually makes a right, and considering how many times the film shifts between times, locations, and characters without warning, it’s not inaccurate. These shifts, while jarring at first, gradually and satisfactorily converge an initially inscrutable narrative into a focused and effective story that is equally scary in both its horror conventions and its themes, exploring the real terrors of gentrification and toxic masculinity. Though Creggar is making his feature debut with Barbarian, his confidence in execution is reminiscent of the horror debut from his good friend and established auteur, Jordan Peele.
A superficial viewing of Elvis reveals a bombastic and absolutely bonkers film that has an insatiable appetite for spectacle and, in traditional biopic fashion, a tenuous grasp on reality. But when you realize that the story of the so-called King of Rock ‘n Roll is being told through the perspective of Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), a conman huckster who got his start in the entertainment business working in carnivals, it makes perfect sense that the way we experience Elvis is through extravagance. Viewed through this lens, Elvis (Austin Butler in a committed performance perfectly appropriate for a Baz Luhrmann film) is not a fated superstar whose musical aplomb and cultural ignorance provide schadenfreude fuel on the path to an imminent downfall, but instead a naive and overzealous altruist who was insanely talented and well-meaning but also ill-equipped to comprehend that channeling his heroes would constitute cultural reappropriation or to defend himself from the insidious forces – both external and internal – that prey on his vulnerability. Whether you believe this makes his trajectory less or more understandable is up to you, but in the hands of Luhrmann, cinematographer Mandy Walker, and editors Matt Villa and Jonathan Redmond, it becomes an equally exciting and tragic parable of squandered talent.
8. Top Gun: Maverick
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear first: Top Gun: Maverick is military propaganda. Yes, the nebulous identity of the film’s anonymous antagonistic country largely avoids any specific political statement, but everything about the film is intended to make military combat in the Air Force seem really fucking cool and exciting. And you know what? It makes makes military combat in the Air Force seem really fucking cool and exciting, which is an admirable achievement by director Joseph Kosinski considering no military combat of any kind is either cool or exciting. Despite many of the not invalid complaints against it – it’s propagandistic, it’s another franchise installment, Miles Teller’s mustache is terrible – Top Gun: Maverick is a remarkable technical achievement, exemplifying production masteries that make cinema stand out as a unique artform. From Claudio Mirand slapping 6 cameras on a jet to Eddie Hamilton streamlining 800+ hours of footage to Tom Cruise making us care about two core relationships that apparently first developed off camera years before the movie has started, Top Gun: Maverick goes all out to get the blood pumping and pulse pounding, but also provides just enough emotion to tug slightly on your heart strings (“It’s what my dad would have done”).
7. The Batman
Matt Reeves had an uphill battle ahead of him in fighting off cynicism towards and exhaustion of a character that we’ve already seen interpreted on the big screen 5 times previously. From a story standpoint, he knocked it out of the park, writing an already established albeit not fully formed Bruce Wayne/Batman (Robert Pattinson) whose altruism is an unintended byproduct of his quest for vengeance, itself a symptom of a sickness and corruption that has seeped into every level of Gotham City society. In terms of direction, Reeves pulls back on the action and delivers the slowest paced Batman film we’ve ever seen, delivering a detective story that, in the tradition of the best film noirs, rolls out an ensemble of morally complex characters and paints them in a visual palette of stark shadows. In this Gotham as realized by cinematographer Greig Fraser (Dune, Zero Dark Thirty, Let Me In), sunlight initially represents a warning sign of a city about to burn, but which evolves into a symbol of hope dawning on a rooftop collection of rescuers that include a Caped Crusader finally understanding what he could ultimately mean to others. When the Bat Signal lit up the sky on Halloween night, the man who answered was vengeance. Next time it shines, it’ll have summoned the world’s greatest detective.
6. The Banshees of Inisherin
“You used to be nice. Or did you never used to be? Oh, God. Maybe you never used to be.” This line, spoken by Pádraic (Colin Farrell) about halfway through the film, is indicative of not just the existential crisis at the center of The Banshees of Inisherin, but also of writer/director Martin McDonagh’s approach to handling dark material. He’s always been one to wrap comedy around profound tragedy and when Pádraic initially says that line to Colm (Brendan Gleeson), our initial response is to laugh at the manner in which the gentle but dim-witted man delivers it; but at the core of that question-cum-revelation is the ground falling out of a long held belief that gave Pádraic’s life significance and meaning. It is the driving existential crisis in a film about existential crises and how we respond to them. It’s no coincidence, I think, that the film is set against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War of 1923. War is always destabilizing, especially for those like the citizens of fictional Inisherin who are not directly involved, but will imminently be directly affected despite their non-action (the Irish Civil War was not only more deadly than the previous War of Irish Independence, but would establish the two main antagonistic political parties of Ireland that persist to this day). Is it any wonder that Colm, a man who as far as we know led an uneventful peaceful life, finds himself overcome with a desire to find peace? Is it subsequently any wonder that Pádraic never gets an answer to why he no longer has a best friend? By the end of the film, the war may be over and the two men are talking again, but anyone who believes that there’s peace has not been paying attention.
Jim’s Top Ten Films of 2022
There’s something lost in translation when East Asian filmmakers bring their craft to America: Wong Kar-wai’s My Blueberry Nights lacked the introspection of his previous work, John Woo’s action films crumbled under their weight of pulp, and Snowpiercer lacked effective dark comedy that provide ballast to the films of Bong Joon-ho. Were S.S. Rajamouli giving financing to produce a film here or – God forbid – an American studio take it upon themselves to remake RRR, it would be a spectacular failure because of one key ingredient largely absent in American films: earnestness. RRR, the story of two friends on opposing sides of imperialist control loosely inspired by two real-life Telugu freedom fighters, depicts a world in which a man can fight a tiger with his bare hands and win, trains can be outrun on foot, relationships blossom through dancing and singing, and it’s all played with an earnestness that for its entire 3 hour and 7 minute runtime somehow avoids teetering into the realms of camp or soap opera. RRR is a cinematic fable, daring us to put our cynicism aside and believe that love conquers all, that friendship can conquer empires, and that the moviegoing experience can be something it often isn’t anymore: joyful. If you’re not smiling after seeing some of the best choreography ever put on screen, then check your pulse: you might be dead.
Film Twitter was divided last year over PTA’s Licorice Pizza. While a large contingent of viewers loudly hung the film’s morality on the core age-inappropriate relationship, a seemingly smaller collection of discerning voices pushed back against the assertion that a film needs to hold the viewers’ hands and unequivocally lay out a moral message. The former chorus is probably up in arms over Tár, which follows Cate Blanchett’s supremely talented and supremely problematic titular composer-conductor. The first female chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, Lydia Tár is inarguably brilliant and accomplished, but is such a firm believer in her own mythology that the majority of her relationships are transactional to the point of being dehumanizing. Everything she does, she believes, is for the glory of her art, an art that she serves so completely that a challenge to her is a challenge to it and she responds in kind (the dressing down of a Juilliard student is a masterclass in staging and status from writer/director, Todd Field, and cinematographer, Florian Hoffmeister). A superficial take away from Tár is that it’s a film about so-called “cancel culture,” but digging deeper through that dichotomous and lazy declaration reveals a film that is about control – the control that an egomaniac has over the less powerful as a result of the control that her environment has over her (if one’s behavior had been so rewarded for so long, how could they be expected to respond differently?). Field neither condemns nor glorifies Lydia, borrowing enough detachment from his late mentor, Stanley Kubrick, to trust the audience to recognize that an individual can be worthy of both adulation and excoriation simultaneously.
3. Everything Everywhere All at Once
At one exciting moment in Everything Everywhere All at Once, Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is engaged in a kung fu battle in an IRS office attempting to stop a man from inserting a phallic-shaped trophy into his rectum in order to gain special abilities already learned by a parallel-universe version of himself. At another calmer moment, Evelyn is donned in an evening gown speaking to a parallel-universe version of her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), in an alley outside of a movie theater, as he relays romantically and mournfully, “in another life, I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you.” One moment is hilarious, the other is touching, and both feel right at home in the eclectic genre-bending sophomore feature from Daniels, which features the dynamic visual work of their music video past grounded in an emotionally resonant family drama. Released in a time when fatigue with comic book movies has seemed to reach a fever pitch, Everything Everywhere All at Once presents the comic book story trope of the multiverse as a physical representation of how emotional neglect can ripple through generational realities. “Hurt people hurt people,” the film declares and the work necessary to repair that hurt is shown as a literal fight across universes.
2. Decision to Leave
The term “film noir” typically recalls a grit and dourness that initially doesn’t seem to apply to the visually inventive and often darkly comical Decision to Leave. But in addition to its aesthetics and tone, the film noir genre was known for its morally gray characters, doomed romantic relationships, and cynicism towards just about everything and everybody. Taking those tropes into account, Decision to Leave is a phenomenal contemporary film noir. Park Hae-il stars as Jang Hae-joon, a detective who starts falling for Tang Wie (Song Seo-rae), a widow who may or may not have had something to do with her mountain climber husband plummeting to his death. Jang’s and our trust in this possible femme fatale can never be fully established, as director Park Chan-wook filters conversations through glass, phones, mirrors, and a Korean-to-Japanese translation app to highlight a disconnect between our characters and the truth (even the soundtrack, inspired by Tang Wie’s love of rom-coms, prominently features a song titled “Mist”). Like the best detective stories, the mystery is inextricably tied to the emotional unraveling of a narrator who becomes increasingly unreliable. By the time the truth is revealed, our characters’ fates have become so irrevocably intertwined that it not only fails to set them free, but instead ensures their ultimate downfall.
If one wanted to be technical about it, Apichatpong Weerasethakful’s Memoria was first released in the U.S. in December of 2021 when the initial plan for release was to travel city-to-city playing it once for audiences with no option to stream or buy a physical media copy. That plan was eventually abandoned and Memoria was released in multiple cities simultaneously in 2022, which is when I finally saw it. So, I’m cheating, but it’s my list, so deal with it. In a year that saw a number of films that dealt with the direction that movies give our lives – The Fabelmans, Empire of Light, Babylon, Pearl – Memoria was a film that explored the very nature of viewing with a film; specifically, how ephemeral and displacing the moviegoing experience can be. Though the plot has ostensibly nothing to do with cinema, Jessica Holland’s (Tilda Swinton) search for the source of a loud and sporadic noise that seemingly only she can hear perfectly emulates how we reflect on and search for meaning in a film that profoundly affects our lives. At one point in the film, Jessica sits with an audio engineer as he tries to design and emulate the sound that she heard in a prior scene. Similar to how she responds, I found myself saying, “that’s not what it sounded like,” only to immediately second guess my own confidence as all I had to go on was the fleeting memory of a scene that the film would not repeat. Her subsequent obsessive quest to discover the what and why of this singular sensation leads her to discover emotional and existential truths about her own life – the kind of paradigm shifting experience to which all of us who entered film school because of Star Wars or Pulp Fiction or Get Out can relate. Memoria is a film that recognizes that how we respond to cinema is dependent on not just on what experiences we’ve lived through, but how our physical senses are able to process them.
Jim’s Top Ten Films of 2022