What are the best movies of 2022? I can’t tell you, but I can tell you my favourites from this year. They come from all over the world — and they talk about all manners of topics. Among the 10 below, you’ll find a romantic murder mystery from South Korea. There is a post-#MeToo movie about fall from grace, from Germany and the US. A French and Irish film, respectively, look at the ill effects of misogyny and neglect on women and children. From the UK and the US, we have a couple of films about father-daughter and mother-daughter relationships. A couple are dominated by action — one old-school bombastic fun, another endlessly inventive. Another, again from Ireland, is about war and the foolishness of men. And a couple, from Iran and Russia, are set in repressive regimes, one told through a road trip, and another following a jailed politician.
The thing that unites them is that they are all very good — though they’ve had varying levels of commercial success. Some have failed to recoup their production budget. At the same time, somewhat unusually, the biggest box-office movie of the year has a place on my list too. Unfortunately, only two films on this list came to theatres in India, even as cinemas were more or less fully functional for all of 2022. (I saw nine of them at home.) It speaks volumes about distribution in India, with local and mainstream Hollywood fare sucking up all of the oxygen. (Many of them can’t easily be viewed online in India too.) Despite the rise and rise of streaming services in India, cinephiles must look beyond to get their fix each year.
With that, here are the 10 best movies of 2022 — according to me. I would love to hear about your favourites in the comments below. Or come find me @akhil_arora on Twitter.
10. The Quiet Girl
The first of three films on this list from a first-time director — Colm Bairéad — is about young neglected nine-year-old Cáit (Catherine Clinch), who’s sent to live with distant relatives for the summer, while her mother is expecting. There, in the care of two individuals (Carrie Crowley and Andrew Bennett) who are going through something of their own, she slowly comes to life.
The Quiet Girl is a movie about death, grief, and loss. It’s a film about how a dysfunctional family can impact a child’s growth and personality — and stark proof of how lopsided the nurture vs nature debate is. Bairéad offers a keenly-observed study of minute behaviour. Cáit — Clinch delivers a gem of performance — has never really known love, so when she’s shown it, she’s almost taken aback.
In the hands of a lesser director, the big crescendo scenes in The Quiet Girl would’ve been accompanied by a bombastic, heart-tugging score. Bairéad’s light, restrained treatment is fitting with the movie’s title. Kate McCullough’s cinematography and Emma Lowney’s production design work in tandem to create a simple but vast world in rural Ireland, one that pulls you in.
That less-is-more approach is of immense benefit for The Quiet Girl, because when its deepest moments do arrive — be it the emotional crest or tough — they hit that much harder. And it wraps in the most winning fashion, with the quiet girl realising the value of what she had found.
In early 1960s France, abortion is illegal. Even uttering the word — avortement in French — is too taboo, and why you won’t hear it ever in Happening. So when young standout literature student Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) ends up with an unwanted pregnancy following a one-night stand, she faces a society where she can barely discuss what’s happening with her, let alone discover those who might be willing to come to her aid.
It’s lonely and distressing, more so given Anne faces the derailment of her entire life. But Happening never gives into the powerful didactic or melodramatic forces — it’s based on an autobiographical novel by Annie Ernaux — with director Audrey Diwan retaining a measured, unflinching focus. That carries over into Vartolomei’s understated performance. She might be desperate but remains resolute. (The camera always stays tight on her face, to put us in her mind space.) We don’t see her lose herself in tears.
And though it may be a period piece — it’s staged and shot like a contemporary film — it’s speaking firmly to the present. So little has changed in so many places, despite the decades that have passed. And even in countries where access to abortion has been normalised, attitudes and conversations haven’t changed. Happening is a searing reminder of how society is stacked against women — and how it rubs their noses in the dirt when they inevitably find themselves in a corner.
8. Decision to Leave
Park Chan-wook gives us the most romantic movie of 2022, about insomniac homicide detective Jang Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) who becomes obsessed with caregiver and potential mariticide candidate Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei). He stakes out her apartment, watching her through binoculars and imagining himself inside her apartment. When Song discovers he’s watching her, she lets him know — and even follows him around on his other cases. It’s problematic, but they are infatuated.
Dialling down his penchant for violence and sexualisation — Park has previously given us the original Oldboy, The Handmaiden, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance — Decision to Leave is nonetheless is a thrilling film filled with erotic tension. Jang treats Song to expensive sushi boxes on the police’s dime while interrogating her for details. Song invites him into his flat, and later, Jang lets her into his lair of unsolved cases that haunt him.
Tang is supremely captivating in her role — innocent one second, deceptive the next — even when so much of the film is made up of glances and quiet moments. Powered by Kim Ji-yong’s elegant cinematography and Cho Young-wuk’s background score that hints at the twists and turns (or at times, misleads you), Decision to Leave is a modern-age Hitchcockian masterpiece. Well worth the six-year wait from Park Chan-wook’s previous film.
Watch Decision to Leave on Mubi
When we meet Cate Blanchett’s composer-conductor in Tár, she’s at the top of her career — one recording away from completing a full set of a renowned work: Mahler’s 10 great symphonies. Over the course of the next two-and-a-half hours, we are witness to her downfall. And what a glorious, and exceptionally gripping, one it is. I was hooked.
Lydia Tár (Blanchett) ridicules her students, demeans everyone around her, battles her orchestra, takes a schoolyard bully to class, grants favours to those she falls for, and blacklists those she slept and fell out with. She might be gifted — but she’s not a nice person. And gradually, Tár loses her mind, hearing noises, having nightmares, and being haunted on her evening runs.
Blanchett is at her best in Tár, with writer-director Todd Field — and cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister — hanging on her face in nearly every scene of the film. As the ugliness builds up, with Tár desperately trying to regain the sense of control she craves, it’s impossible to look away from her.
The phrase “cancel culture” has been thrown around in many discussions surrounding Tár, but the film never takes a stance. It simply observes. Field invites and challenges us, asking us to participate in the post-#MeToo debate over whether the art and its artist can truly be separated. Shame that this is Field’s first film in 16 years.
6. Everything Everywhere All at Once
Simply the most inventive film of the year, writers-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as the Daniels) take a tale of an always-on-the-edge family of Chinese-American lowly laundromat owners — mother Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), dad Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) — falling behind on a tax audit, and spin it into a zany, bizarre, mind-bending, laugh-out-loud riot of an adventure.
Everything Everywhere All at Once gives us dildo fights, raccoon chefs, hot-dog hands, and muscular pinky fingers. In one of the film’s best action scenes, Quan uses a fanny pack. It features a near-silent where two rocks with googly eyes share their deepest fears and comfort each other. Characters display outlandish behaviour for narrative reasons, be it deliberately inflicting paper cuts or trying to put things up their butt. And one section is a riff on Yeoh’s extensive career.
Along the way, there are homages to all sorts of movies, including Pixar’s animated Ratatouille, Stanley Kubrick’s epic sci-fi 2001: A Space Odyssey, kung fu films like Clan of the White Lotus, and Wong Kar-wai’s romantic drama In the Mood for Love.
Yeoh displays immense range in the lead role, managing comedic beats as well as she does the action stuff. (It’s in her bones — the 60-year-old got her start in Hong Kong action films.) Quan is equally adept, with the added task of delivering so much of the film’s exposition.
But the film isn’t all just visual innovation and moviemaking tricks. At its core, Everything Everywhere All at Once carries a story about immigrant families, generational trauma, and valuing the life — and those in it — you’ve got. It has a lot of heart.
In an era when Hollywood’s superhero giants turn to multiverse storytelling — there was a movie this year that had multiverse in its title — Everything Everywhere All at Once showed how it’s truly done.
5. Top Gun: Maverick
A sequel to a 36-year-old movie that offered little outside of its aerial scenes, other than a promotion of the US Navy and American jingoism? That sounded like a bad idea on paper. Thankfully, Top Gun: Maverick improved on the original’s every failure. (It’s still a great US Navy ad though.) With a script that benefited from the touches of frequent Mission: Impossible collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, and under the steely-eyed direction of Joseph Kosinski, Tom Cruise’s return to the “danger zone” flew past at breakneck speed, taking us all along for the ride.
The best part of the new Top Gun movie is still its cockpit sequences. Eschewing CGI as much as possible, Cruise and his co-stars — including Miles Teller and Glen Powell — take to the skies on their own. (This drive is thanks to Cruise, who pushes for stunts to be authentic as possible.) The results are gripping and awe-inducing, with the actors subjecting themselves to crazy G-forces for our entertainment. Kosinski transfers his eye for flair and kinetic energy, as seen in Tron: Legacy, by giving us low-flying action, in combination with endless spins, twirls, and other exciting maneuvers.
To top it off, Top Gun: Maverick marries its brilliant action with a much-improved story — with a persistent undercurrent of tension — about father and sons, about taking responsibility for your wingmen, and coming to grips with your purpose. It does admittedly struggle with sketching out its roster of characters outside of Maverick (Cruise) and largely fails its women. It’s a great sequel — and it’s one of the most rewatchable films of 2022.
Watch Top Gun: Maverick on Amazon Prime Video
In a Russia synonymous with Vladimir Putin — the 70-year-old has served as president or prime minister continuously since 1999, and amended the constitution two years ago to allow him to serve uninterrupted till 2036 — the jailed Alexei Navalny is more or less the only recognisable opposition figurehead. The 46-year-old has consistently called out the Russian president for over a decade. Putin hates Navalny so much that he can’t even get himself to take his name in public. Privately though, Putin has done everything possible to drive him off the stage.
Daniel Roher’s 98-minute documentary draws all of its power from Navalny himself, following him from the days of his poisoning in 2020 — agents belonging to what used to be the KGB were implicated, which suggests tacit approval from you-know-who — to his arrest in early 2021 after returning to Russia. In between, we hang out with Navalny in Germany as he tries to figure out who exactly was involved, leading to one of the most harrowing and thrilling sting operation calls ever recorded on camera. It’s also very funny, only if to see the sheer incompetence of those that tried to kill him.
Through it, all, Navalny paints a vivid portrait of the man brave enough to take on Putin. He is, in some ways, the Gandhi of Russia today — he has called for election boycotts and non-violent protests, all through Putin’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, while he’s stuck in prison for his political beliefs. Navalny also understands the power of social media in our world today. When he was free, he would lean into every new TikTok trend to maximise the reach of his message. He knows what it takes to be a freedom fighter in the age of information overload.
With the ugliness of Putin’s regime currently on full display, Navalny is not just one of the best films of 2022 — it’s one of the most important.
3. The Banshees of Inisherin
On its surface, The Banshees of Inisherin is an excellent absurdist black comedy about two old drinking buddies — Colm (Brendan Gleeson) and Pádraic (Colin Farrell) — whose friendship comes to an abrupt halt after the former declares that he wants nothing to do with the latter because he finds him dull and boring. As Pádraic pushes and tries to reason with him, Colm sets out an ultimatum: every time he makes contact, Colm will chop off one of his fingers.
But if you know a bit about Irish history or pay attention to the repeat references on the margins of the story, you’ll realise The Banshees of Inisherin is a clever allegory. It’s set on a made-up island off the west coast of Ireland — “Inisherin” simply means the island of Ireland, which makes the fictional isle a stand-in for the country on the whole — circa 1923, at a time during the Irish Civil War that followed the Irish War of Independence. A terrible time all around.
Through it, Martin McDonagh paints a devastating portrait of men in general. The stupid in-fighting, the self-sabotage, and the endless quarrelling — instead of spending their lives doing something valuable for themselves and those around them. In one of the film’s many terrific moments, Siobhán (Kerry Condon), the only woman with a sizeable speaking role, tells it like it is: “You’re all feckin’ boring.” But they are too thick-headed to perceive the wisdom in that.
Led by exceptional performances all around — the baffled Farrell, the gloomy Gleeson, and the exasperated Condon — The Banshees of Inisherin is one of the funniest and quietly profound films in 2022.
Watch The Banshees of Inisherin on Disney+ Hotstar
2. Hit the Road
As the name gives it away, Panah Panahi’s debut feature is a road movie. It is so from its very first frames, dropping you into the middle of a journey — with an ill dog, a dad (Hassan Madjooni) with a broken leg, a mother (Pantea Panahiha) always close to tears, an agitated older son (Amin Simiar), and a five-year-old (Rayan Sarlak) who has little concern or understanding of what’s unfolding. But of course, just as you would expect from the son of the legendary Jafar Panahi, Hit the Road is so much more.
There are ominous signs from the get-go, be it the things left unsaid, how they hurry each other in every scene, and the scare over the secret phone found in the boy’s pocket. As the answers slowly come into focus — the family is travelling through rural Iran towards the border — Hit the Road transforms from a light-hearted, funny road movie into a heart-breaking multi-tragedy.
Picturesque throughout, Amin Jafari’s cinematography underwrites the emotional beats too. It also makes the most of its metallic cocoon. The car serves an island of freedom for the family, with the final loud-throated musical celebration one of the most joyous and moving moments in the film in 2022.
And like his father’s work, the junior Panahi ensures that the film’s characters and their journey is put first. But underneath it, all is biting criticism of the forces that are tearing this family apart. Hit the Road is a gorgeous, restrained debut that criss-crosses genres and tones effortlessly — and in a year when Iran’s repressive regime has been on full display, it felt more essential than ever.
In a year full of films where directors drew upon their childhoods — Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, Alejandro G. Iñarritu’s Bardo, James Gray’s Armageddon Time, and Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light — the best of the lot came from little-known Charlotte Wells. Making her feature film debut, the thirtysomething Scottish director frames Aftersun from the point of view of thirtysomething woman Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) looking back on a summer holiday with her thirtysomething father Calum (Paul Mescal) when she was 11 (Frankie Corio).
While the adult Sophie understands what Calum was going through, her adolescent self is not privy to that knowledge. Still, she can sense that her father is struggling — he’s not doing well financially, the separation from her mother gnaws on him, he isn’t satisfied with where his life is at, and he admits to a stranger that he doesn’t expect to last another 10 years — and forcing through it to make their Turkish all-inclusive-resort getaway as fun as it can be.
But these rediscoveries are based on Sophie’s memory and the videotapes of her vacation. That means there are gaps she cannot fill, and as a result, there are gaps in Aftersun that are left to the audience. What’s clear from the film’s presentation, the strobe-lit dance floor moments, and the climactic scene is that there’s a sense of finality to it all. Wells has a keen eye for detail and feelings, one she uses to build moment upon moment into a towering emotional crescendo.
Driven by excellent performances by newcomer Corio and Mescal (Normal People), Aftersun is one of the most perfect first films you’ll ever see.
Aftersun coming to Mubi in India on January 6, 2023
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