Top 10 of the Year
|1. Tár||Todd Field|
|2. Babylon||Damien Chazelle|
|3. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths||Alejandro Iñárritu|
|4. Everything Everywhere All at Once||The Daniels|
|5. The Batman||Matt Reeves|
|6. Avatar: The Way of Water||James Cameron|
|7. Blonde||Andrew Dominik|
|8. The Northman||Robert Eggers|
|9. Decision to Leave||Park Chan-wook|
|10. All Quiet on the Western Front||Edward Berger|
Tár. This was not high up on my list of anticipated films at the beginning of 2022, mostly because Todd Field had not made a film in sixteen years, and I had not seen his previous two efforts. Tár marks a thunderous formal achievement for him though which now has him in everyone’s sights. The writing is refreshingly topical in its nuanced wrestling with cancel culture, unchecked power, and social elitism, but it also wraps these issues up in a daunting character study of Kubrickian precision. Cate Blanchett is a tour-de-force as the gifted yet abusive orchestra conductor Lydia Tár, and Field traces her psychological disintegration through an uneasy array of visual and aural motifs. His camerawork is subtle yet powerful, and there is a strong argument to be had that his 10-minute long take in the lecture scene is the single best shot of the year. To top it off, Field even has Martin Scorsese singing his praises – “The clouds lifted when I experienced Todd’s film.”
Blonde. To be fair, it isn’t that surprising to see this miss out on the ’50 Most Critically-Acclaimed Films of 2022′ consensus list on They Shoot Pictures Don’t They. It also has a pretty damning Metacritic score of 50. There are two ways you can come at Andrew Dominik’s controversial Marilyn Monroe biopic though: as a cultural object, and as art.
As the former, there are reasonable arguments made against its historical accuracy, moral stance, and treatment of Monroe. This places the emphasis on content though, which I don’t find particularly conducive to evaluating cinematic form or style, hence why I stick to the latter. It reminds me a fair bit of Lars von Trier’s films, which are often considered problematic and deliberately aim to put their audiences through hell, yet which pull through with boldly composed narrative structures, innovative camerawork, and rich characterisations.
I’ll be far more likely to argue for Blonde’s success as a surreal, self-reflexive deconstruction of the nightmarish Hollywood dream machine than any personal arguments for whether or not it crosses some subjective line. As The Guardian critic Mark Kermode puts it, “Blonde isn’t really about Marilyn at all. It just happens to be wearing her wardrobe.” I do expect that over time there will be a more positive re-assessment of the film though, and you can see that growing among critics based outside of the United States.
Saint Omer. There are a few films in the top 10 of TSPDT’s 2022 consensus that don’t make my own list, but Saint Omer (sitting at #6) is the only one among them I found completely unarchivable. I think it is important to note the difference between minimalism as a purposeful artistic choice, and lack of visual invention altogether. Alice Diop falls hard into the trap of believing that just because her script has an intelligent take on gut-wrenching subject matter, she should leave her actors to handle all the emotion. And Guslagie Malanda is very good in her role – her control over her breathing, micro expressions, and contained bitterness remarkably finds great empathy for the mother who killed her 15-month-old child in this French court drama. But when there are forty minutes stretches where the film itself is doing nothing other than cutting between five different shots in a courtroom, you have to question the craft behind this. No script, no matter how good, can survive that sort of bland cinematic treatment.
Best Directorial Debut
Aftersun. Charlotte Wells is the Scottish director who emerged from New York University with three short films under her belt, and then dazzled audiences at Cannes Film Festival with Aftersun’s melancholy ruminations. Every second of the holiday shared between eleven-year-old Sophie and her father Calum is savoured as if it were their last days together, which it very well might be. Paul Mescal’s poignantly understated performance grinds away at you, and lands its ending with a devastating emotional punch. I’m not yet sold that she is a filmmaker who will keep climbing to greater heights, though there is certainly promise here.
Gem to Spotlight
Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths. I would typically choose a film lower down in my top 10, but given that it just barely missed out on the Most Underrated category, I want to give this the time it deserves. Alejandro Iñárritu does something really special here that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate. It has been seven years since his dual masterpieces Birdman and The Revenant, and Bardo combines the best aspects of both – the wide-angle lenses, the darkly comic self-awareness, the surreal awe, and of course the intricately choreographed long takes. The result is something that doesn’t quite measure up to either, and yet which is still far more ambitious, exciting, and thoughtful than most other films coming out right now. He has effectively carved out his own narrow niche in the arthouse cinema landscape, turning the indulgence and extravagance he is so often criticised of into Bardo’s greatest strengths, and thereby lulling us into a lucid dream that seeks some unity in the metaphysical absurdity of his complicated life.
Best Male Performances
Unlike the women this year, there isn’t a male performance which stands out far above the rest. I am going to give the first couple of mentions though to Robert Pattinson and Austin Butler, who both put unique spins on established cultural figures. Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne in The Batman is darker and more reclusive than we have seen before, feeding well into the inquisitive detective side of the character. Meanwhile, Butler goes full method as the King of Rock in Elvis, matching Baz Luhrmann’s hyperkinetic style with a performance that is like watching electricity personified.
Daniel Giménez Cacho is front and centre in Alejandro Iñárritu’s surreal character study Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, playing a surrogate for the director who is at once fully self-indulgent and self-critical. It isn’t too often you see an actor pull off physical comedy and weighty drama with as much dexterity as this – though perhaps you can draw that connection to my next mention, Ke Huy Quan. His role in Everything Everywhere All At Once accomplishes so many things, from being the film’s scruffy comic relief to its sweet moral centre.
When Alexander Skarsgård isn’t running on all fours, howling, and biting his enemies in The Northman, he menacingly saunters through muddy battlefields with tightly hunched shoulders, standing out in crowds with his furrowed brow and dark, unsmiling eyes. He is animalistic on every level, delivering a raw physical performance that follows on from Leonardo DiCaprio’s in The Revenant. Brad Pitt will get the final mention in this category for his part in Babylon. He comes off second best in this ensemble, and is only beat out by Margot Robbie, but he completely owns his storyline of a fading silent star with melancholy charm.
Best Female Performances
The collection of female performances this year is actually a good deal better than the male category. I’m especially feeling good that Cate Blanchett gives her best performance to date in Tár, even outmatching the film at points – and it is a very a good film. She is pointed, cutting, and incredibly intelligent, inhabiting the famous conductor’s elite social status with assertive poise. Her deep voice resonates as she rips her inferiors to shreds, and she throws her entire body into every orchestral beat and cue, like a dance that furiously produces its own musical accompaniment. Equally, her deterioration is fascinating to observe, carrying out a full transformation that changes the shape of the woman we see before our eyes.
The next two actresses Margot Robbie and Ana de Armas also join Blanchett by giving career-best performances. Robbie in particular has proven herself a particularly versatile actress over the past decade since her breakthrough in The Wolf of Wall Street, and she absolutely shines as the silent movie star Nellie LaRoy in Babylon, rising to fame through sheer charisma, talent, and a little bit of luck. She luminously draws attention in crowds, mouths off in a noisy New Jersey accent, and burns bright during her brief time in the spotlight. Meanwhile, de Armas plays another celebrity representing a different vision of Old Hollywood in Blonde. It would be easy for any actress to fall into mere mimicry of Marilyn Monroe’s breathy voice and smouldering smile, and yet she plays affectingly to a more fractured, deeply wounded interpretation of the famous actress.
Michelle Yeoh won the Oscar for Best Actress in Everything Everywhere All at Once, and she gets a mention here for playing exasperated laundromat owner Evelyn – as well as a countless number of alternate versions of her. The Daniels also make superb use of her physical screen presence, letting her indulge in a variety of martial arts styles inspired by the different lives Evelyn could have led. Stephanie Hsu will also get a mention here for playing Evelyn’s troubled daughter Joy and the amusingly terrifying cosmic entity Jobu Tupaki. Finally, Zoë Kravitz earns a nod for playing the familiar part of Catwoman as a classically sly femme fatale in The Batman.
Best Cinematography: Babylon
|1. Babylon||Linus Sandgren|
|2. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths||Darius Khondji|
|3. The Batman||Greig Fraser|
|4. Avatar: The Way of Water||Russell Carpenter|
|5. Blonde||Chayse Irvin|
|6. The Northman||Jarin Blaschke|
|7. All Quiet on the Western Front||James Friend|
|8. Tár||Florian Hoffmeister|
|9. Everything Everywhere All at Once||Larkin Seiple|
|10. EO||Michał Dymek|
|11. Elvis||Mandy Walker|
|12. Decision to Leave||Ji-yong Kim|
Best Editing: Everything Everywhere All at Once
|1. Everything Everywhere All at Once||Paul Rogers|
|2. Babylon||Tom Cross|
|3. Elvis||Matt Villa, Jonathan Redmund|
|4. Blonde||Adam Robinson|
|5. The Batman||William Hoy, Tyler Nelson|
|6. Decision to Leave||Kim Sang-bum|
|7. EO||Agnieszka Glińska|
|8. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths||Alejandro G. Iñárritu|
|9. The Northman||Louise Ford|
|10. Avatar: The Way of Water||Stephen E. Rivkin, David Brenner, John Refoua, James Cameron|
Best Screenplay: Tár
|1. Tár||Todd Field|
|2. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths||Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone|
|3. Babylon||Damien Chazelle|
|4. Everything Everywhere All at Once||Danny Peary|
|5. Decision to Leave||Jeong Seo-kyeong, Park Chan-wook|
|6. The Batman||Matt Reeves, Peter Craig|
|7. The Northman||Sjón Robert Eggers|
Best Original Music Score: Babylon
|1. Babylon||Justin Hurwitz|
|2. Everything Everywhere All at Once||Son Lux|
|3. The Batman||Michael Giacchino|
|4. The Northman||Robin Carolan, Sebastian Gainsborough|
|5. All Quiet on the Western Front||Volker Bertelmann|
|6. Avatar: The Way of Water||Simon Franglen|
|7. EO||Paweł Mykietyn|
|8. Blonde||Nick Cave, Warren Ellis|
|9. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths||Bryce Dessner Alejandro G. Iñárritu|
There are three big breakthroughs this year worth singling out. Starting with the Daniels, huge success was found in Everything Everywhere All at Once, their follow-up to 2016’s Swiss Army Man. Their brand of offbeat yet sincere humour which connects both films effectively sets them up as auteurs for a new generation. This multiversal epic confirmed A24’s dominance by becoming the indie film studio’s highest grossing film and the most-awarded film of all time, culminating in a win for Best Picture at the Oscars. It is one of those years that the Academy made the better choice than the Cannes Film Festival jury, who awarded the Palme d’Or to Ruben Östlund’s bourgeoisie satire Triangle of Sadness.
Matt Reeves is not a new name for many moviegoers, as he already had a fairly sizeable following for his found footage film Cloverfield and his work on the Planet of the Apes reboot franchise. He is the next big breakthrough of the year I’m highlighting though, with his brooding, noir-tinted The Batman officially breaking him into my yearly top 10 for the first time. I think this film indicates a point we have reached in the era of superhero movies that allows for auteurs like Reeves to diverge from the typical studio fare and inject their own unique voices into the genre.
To save the best for last, Todd Field’s breakthrough comes after a sixteen-year break from filmmaking, jumping right back in with his painstaking, psychological character study Tár. It is my number 1 film of the year, and makes me genuinely excited to see where he goes next.
Speaking of directors returning after long breaks, we also see James Cameron come back after thirteen years with his sci-fi sequel Avatar: The Way of Water. Top Gun: Maverick had a pretty solid run at the box office, but nothing could stop Cameron’s financial dominance as this quickly became the third highest grossing movie of all time, giving him three of the top four biggest earners (along with the first Avatar and Titanic). It is a pretty astounding recovery for an industry that the pandemic hurt so badly. Meanwhile, Andrew Dominik makes his first film in ten years with Blonde, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis marks the Australian director’s return after nine years, and Alejandro Iñárritu delivers the astoundingly surreal Bardo seven years after The Revenant.
Joining Iñárritu this year is another one of the three amigos, Guillermo del Toro, who puts his own dark, existential spin on the Pinocchio fairy tale. All in all, this is a good year for world cinema – Edward Berger’s German remake of All Quiet on the Western Front, Park Chan-wook’s Korean mystery film Decision to Leave, and Martin McDonagh’s Irish black comedy The Banshees of Inisherin need to be noted here.
The influence of 2010s cinema can be felt creeping into a lot of films this year, with The Tree of Life’s pensive voiceovers and spiritual imagery emerging unexpectedly in Blonde and Bardo, and The Revenant making its presence known in the long takes and natural light of The Northman and Prey. In 2021, we saw Roma inspire directors Paolo Sorrentino and Kenneth Branagh to create memory pieces based on their childhoods, and this year Steven Spielberg and James Gray continue down similar routes in The Fabelmans and Armageddon Time.
Stylistically, maximalism is a huge movement in 2022 that can’t be ignored. Bardo, Blonde, Elvis, Babylon, Avatar: The Way of Water, and Everything Everywhere All at Once are all brimming with crowded visuals and ambitious ideas – a little to their detriment at certain points, though more often than not beautifully integrated into their stories. They move fast, they swing hard for the fences, and many of them are pushing run times of three hours. It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues deeper into the 2020s and defines it as a decade, or whether it will be unique to 2022.
|Amsterdam||David O. Russell||R|
|All Quiet on the Western Front||Edward Berger||HR|
|Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood||Richard Linklater||R|
|Argentina, 1985||Santiago Mitre||R|
|Armageddon Time||James Gray||R|
|Avatar: The Way of Water||James Cameron||MS|
|Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths||Alejandro Iñárritu||MS|
|Black Panther: Wakanda Forever||Ryan Coogler||R|
|Bodies Bodies Bodies||Halina Reijn||R|
|Bones and All||Luca Guadagnino||R|
|Crimes of the Future||David Cronenberg||R|
|Decision to Leave||Park Chan-wook||HR|
|Empire of Light||Sam Mendes||R/HR|
|Everything Everywhere All at Once||The Daniels||MS|
|Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery||Rian Johnson||R|
|Pinocchio||Guillermo del Toro||R/HR|
|See How They Run||Tom George||R|
|The Banshees of Inisherin||Martin McDonagh||R/HR|
|The Batman||Matt Reeves||MS|
|The Fabelmans||Steven Spielberg||R|
|The House||Emma de Swaef, Marc James, Roels Niki, Lindroth von Bahr, Paloma Baeza||R|
|The Menu||Mark Mylod||R|
|The Northman||Robert Eggers||HR|
|The Pale Blue Eye||Scott Cooper||R|
|The Quiet Girl||Colm Bairéad||R|
|The Woman King||Gina Prince-Bythewood||R|
|The Wonder||Sebastián Lelio||R/HR|
|Top Gun: Maverick||Joseph Kosinski||R|
|Three Thousand Years of Longing||George Miller||R|
|Triangle of Sadness||Ruben Östlund||R|
|Women Talking||Sarah Polley||R|