Top Films of 2022
2022 has been an important year for cinema, with more inventive blockbusters regaining ground from the superhero hegemony, and international movies finding a surge in popularity. Allow me to take you through the best films of 2022.
#5 – RRR, by S. S. Rajamouli
RRR (an acronym composed of the two lead actors and the director, as well as standing for Rise Roar Revolt) took the world by storm earlier this year for entirely derailing audience expectations about what an epic blockbuster should be. For our minds at least, it's a harkening back to the storytelling of an older era of Hollywood, invoking the spirit of David Lean’s war epics like Lawrence of Arabia. How this will impact cinema going forward has yet to be seen, but like how Parasite brought South Korean cinema into the international sphere so has RRR opened the door for Indian cinema to also flourish in the West.
RRR is so stylish in a way that films just don’t dare to be, sometimes teetering on the edge of being too silly but always staying firmly in glorious camp. Insanely gorgeous visual storytelling pulsates through this mad film, with the central bro-mance a rare combination of sentimentality and pure awesomeness. The musical segments in this film are wonderful, adding levity to some of the darker aspects of the story.
While I can’t quite call this a perfect movie – the British, for example, are very phony, as is characteristic of foreign productions – the sheer ambition of all it does overrides any minor flaws that might exist here, because it’s just so damn fun and so incredibly crafted! A beautiful, brave, brilliant movie that deserves all the love it can get.
#4 – Living, by Oliver Hermanus
Ikiru – Kurosawa’s most beloved non-samurai movie, considered a classic of Japanese cinema – got remade this year as Living, a British tale set during the same time, starring Bill Nighy. The original story of Kanji Watanabe, a middle-aged man who has worked in the same monotonous bureaucratic position for decades before he learns he has cancer, is reimagined as Mr Williams, a veteran civil servant and bureaucratic cog in the rebuilding of Britain post-WWII. Fundamentally, it’s about the search for the meaning of life, and how it’s never too late to make a difference in this world.
Now, this is going to be a very controversial take, but while I can understand people wanting to show bias toward the original, I truly think the remake tells the story much more effectively. Its modern style helps a great deal in creating a more engaging experience, with gorgeous cinematography and a wonderful lead performance from Bill Nighy. The film falls short in the funeral scene, as it completely botches the pacing. Genuinely a masterpiece up until that scene, because it just goes on forever. It’s a scene that the remake manages to fix, because the editing is so brisk, giving more weight to Watanabe/William’s valiant efforts than the drunken pretentiousness of his coworkers arguing over his dead body. Where in Ikiru this scene causes it to stumble in the final stretch. Living it properly kicks into high gear, taking the fantastic story to even greater heights.
Living is a superb film. Beautiful, gentle filmmaking at its best, where every frame is something to fall in love with and pulls to its central character. Nighy proves himself yet again, this time for his sheer vulnerability as a man facing his impending doom with nothing to show for it, mourning the end of his life as though it had never begun. He’s nuanced with minimal speech, his dynamic facial expressions conveying secrecy, regret, and sorrow, but with his usual playfulness. His eventual turning point is made all the more wonderful for it, transforming the piece into a heartwarming, inspiring story.
#3 – The Banshees of Inisherin, by Martin McDonagh
Who would have thought one of the best films of the year would be about friendship and hitting the pub every day? The latest hit from Martin McDonagh – renowned for creating the wonderfully morbid and meta In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards – returns to the big screen with an Irish tragicomedy of immersively small proportions, as two lifelong friends find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship.
On this tiny Irish island where the only interesting thing to do is to go to the pub every day (although to be honest, I do quite fancy that), the people we surround ourselves with become our friends out of necessity, not choice. A desire to stave off the crushing loneliness that leads some to murder, suicide or running away, with most simply bottling it up inside of them until they wither and die. When Gleeson’s character chooses not to waste any more of his time with his supposed best mate, it sets the two on an irrevocable journey of self-destruction that could only ever have ended in despair, along the way revealing the depressing fabric of their society that appears so idyllic.
Without people we can pretend to be our friends, what is there left? In the end, when we’re long gone and rotting under the ground, is it more important that we lived a happy life as a nice yet unremarkable person, or a tumultuous one where our art outlives us? McDonagh doesn’t say either way, because much like the civil war resonating across the water, this feud between friends is shown to be utterly idiotic. For all the dark thematic exploration at play with its gloomy yet beautiful atmosphere, McDonagh keeps the tone playful with his usual comedic style, taking jabs at both characters but still keeping them fully endearing.
It’s a film that finds immense beauty in the tiniest of moments, fully exploring the pristine setting in gorgeous long shots, transforming the character’s existential boredom into an object to be gazed at with awe. While the conflict does lead to some very poignant moments – all of which are played earnestly and enticingly by Farrell, Gleeson, Condon, and Keoghan – a hearty laugh or two were never too far away to save it from wading too far into dreariness.
#2 – Decision To Leave, by Park Chan-wook
Decision to Leave was by far my most anticipated film of the year, for the simple fact that PCW is my favourite director. Finally making a new feature film after the six-year wait from The Handmaiden – plus a little detour with the excellent limited series The Little Drummer Girl – Park continues down his redemption path as a director no longer interested in bombastic violence and tragic revenge, so much as with the torments of love.
Decision to Leave, as characteristic of Park, focuses entirely on a love that shouldn’t exist. Romance has always been central to his films, everything in his oeuvre pontificating on different types of relationships (perverse or otherwise). Tang Weiis resoundingly more mature here as the widow looking for salvation, giving a performance that is so enthralling as she spins a silken web around Park Hae-il, playing the hapless detective tortured by insomnia and incapable of happiness without a murder to solve (or an affair to fall into). The scenes where the two of them occupy a room together purely through the power of imagination are insanely powerful, relying wholly on sensual imagery to convey their increasing bond. It’s a love that feels awful when given more thought, but as a visceral experience it’s overwhelming.
But while this might be the subtlest of his films in terms of gruesome themes, it isn’t devoid entirely of morbidity. The protagonists’ lives revolve around the bodies left in the wake of their idiosyncratic love. The corpses themselves seem to be conscious even in death, with several mesmerising shots that put us directly behind those glazed eyes to gaze petrified at the beautiful life flourishing outside. The dualism between the horror of murder and the beauty of love is explored with such a delicate balance, blurring the line between the two worlds into a mist where morality and the law are thrown to the wayside.
Decision to Leave might not be his best film to date – after all, it’s contending with The Handmaiden, Thirst and the whole Vengeance trilogy – but Park’s directorial style is so far above his contemporaries that he instantly sets this film up as one of the absolute best of the year.
#1 – Everything Everywhere All At Once, by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan
There really is no other film that could be considered the best of this year. Everything Everywhere All At Once is the story of an ageing Chinese immigrant who gets swept up in an insane adventure, where she alone can save what’s important to her by connecting with the lives she could have led in other universes. In a year where multiverses were the hot topic, it's the Daniels’ latest silly yet sincere flick that managed to capture the hearts and minds of audiences across the world. Crashing into 2022 as a masterpiece that will undoubtedly stand the test of time for the uniqueness of its premise and the brilliance of its philosophical weaving with fun action, it is a quintessential encapsulation of our times. Now a yearly watch, this film will go down in history as a cornerstone of cinema.
Such a bonkers story, told in the zaniest way possible, but with an emotional core that grounds the aloofness with genuine poignancy. The comedy is bizarre, in a way that really shouldn’t work; yet it does, and the result is beautiful – with heaps of filmic references, mainstream and arthouse, culminating in an explosion of visual poetry. Idiosyncratic to the point of parody, yet laced with a childishly vivid imagination that justifies itself through the sheer excellence of the craftsmanship at work (seriously, this has to have some of the best editing any cinematic expedition into the furthest corners of filmmaking potential there has ever been). I laughed at Everything, cried at Everywhere, and All At Once felt absolute joy to experience such a mesmerising spectacle of utter humanity.
Cover Illustration: Sarah Knight