What’s so amazing about 2022 is that it’s been a great year for movies, despite the fact that I haven’t really been going to the movies! But a lot of the titles I did take the effort to see on the big screen found ways to couch keen observations of the times in which we live—within the pleasurable trappings of genre convention.
It’s a theme you’ll find running underneath my choices for my top 10 best experiences in cinema for this year:
10. GLASS ONION
Rian Johnson expertly toyed with the mechanisms of the whodunit in “Knives Out”—by revealing who “did it” halfway through the movie, then turning that revelation on its head. With this sequel he sets his sights on a more ambitious goal: layering the genre’s penchant for misdirects until we end up questioning our very perception of this supposed era of genius. Devilishly clever.
9. AFTER YANG
Video essayist Kogonada uses the cold sheen of science fiction to deliver a deeply tender contemplation of sorrow as a family deals with the sudden crash of a trusted nanny android. Also heralds the start of the year of Colin Farrell.
8. TOP GUN: MAVERICK
Director Joseph Kosinski builds upon the nostalgia of the original and deepens it into an exploration of mortality—contending with regret, passing the torch, the whole midlife crisis thing. Tom Cruise is still up to his old daredevil stunts, but he’s never been more vulnerable or worn his age more nobly.
7. THE MENU
I love horror movies, but none have been more delicious (pun intended) than this cut-to-the-bone satire on class—lots of these in pop culture this year, and expect more as people get disillusioned with late-stage capitalism—and commerce’s parasitic relationship to art.
6. THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN
Thanks to auteur Martin McDonagh, this year also had its healthy share of small oddities in this story of two friends living in a tiny isle off the coast of Ireland whose friendship suffers a mysterious cataclysm. Colin Farrell goes through befuddlement, denial, then frightening anger in an amazing yet understated performance.
And for my money, the real supporting actor contender here isn’t Brendan Gleeson (who can’t seem to sell his character’s motivation with a clarity equal to Farrell’s transparency of emotion), but Barry Keoghan, who starts out being the comic relief and ends up being the biggest heartbreaker of the island’s quirky cast of denizens.
Pakistan’s official entry to the Oscar international feature film race is that wisest and most compassionate of LGBTQ movies: In telling the story of a man in an arranged marriage who falls in love with his transgender boss, “Joyland” broadens its scope to shine a light on his dissatisfied wife and dysfunctional nuclear family, coming to the conclusion that a patriarchal society oppresses not just its women and sexual minorities, but even the men it’s supposed to privilege.
4. HOLY SPIDER
If you’re a fan of the police procedural, is this film a doozy. Inspired by the true story of a killer targeting sex workers in the Iranian holy city of Mashhad in the early 2000s, “Holy Spider” has it all: a heroine as dogged and vulnerable as Clarice Starling, a villain as warped by society’s restrictions as Buffalo Bill, and one murder sequence that is equal parts chilling and funny (!). But somewhere in its third act, the movie stops being a cat-and-mouse thriller…and starts milking suspense out of the question of whether Iran’s oppressive theocracy will actually deliver justice.
3. DECISION TO LEAVE
Director Park Chan-Wook dials back the perversity to tackle a classic film noir in the tradition of “Double Indemnity.” As a police detective (Park Hae-Il) starts to fall in love with the Chinese immigrant (Tang Wei) he is investigating for possible murder, Park places his camera in uncomfortable positions relative to his characters, all the more to interrogate the opacity of their motives. And like the best noirs, the story takes a breathtaking twist, hitting you with the whammy of a haunting climax.
If Glass Onion took a potshot at the blind acolytes of genius (ie: us), auteur Todd Field’s first movie in 16 years can be seen as its bookend: an inside look at genius’ misuse of power, and the social mechanisms that condone and propagate it. Cate Blanchett delivers a performance for the ages: Galvanized with such conviction, marinating in her contradictions, Blanchett inhabits her character and world so completely, Lydia Tár feels like a real person.
1. EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
The next phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are supposed to be exploring the multiverse; if I were Kevin Feige, I would be sweating bullets after watching this movie. Following a harried grocery store owner (Michelle Yeoh) who discovers that she is the designated savior of the very foundations of multiple realities on the same day that she’s being audited by the IRS, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” rewards your undivided attention with hilarious hotdog fingers, a skillful tribute to Wong Kar Wai, and a riveting plea to disconnect from the chaos of living in the internet age using a pair of desert rocks. Mind-blowing and heartwarming in equal measure.
Photos from IMDB