best film:  Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave stands tall – a cut or two above the rest – as far as the best in cinema goes for 2022. There is not much separating the second best film of the year and the tenth best film of the year but there was no hesitation here for this top slot. Park Chan-wook is a meticulous artist – and so is his protagonist here – Jang Hae-joon (played ably by Park Hae-il). Jang Hae-joon is a detective caught in a cat and mouse romance mystery (Park Chan-wook actually provides two mysteries for the price of one here inside the film) with Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei) cloaked in sumptuous seas of greens and blues.  Park Chan-wood utilizes a few camera zooms – this is story partially relying on surveillance. This is a complex, interwoven narrative that is not without humor. Ryu Seong-hie’s (production design – Memories of Murder, Old Boy, The Handmaiden) leaves no stone unturned with the décor. There is a green toothbrush, the teal bucket that Song Seo-rae uses to bury the bird (key scene), the teal empty pool.  It is even mentioned in the text – “her green dress was pretty… wasn’t it blue?” Park Chan-wook paints both the color of the sky and the color of the sea in the finale.  There are too many highlights to mention in one short paragraph – but Park Chan-wook’s frame is strikingly set as the two central characters arrive at her place in Buscan – stunning wallpaper – almost halfway through the film. And the Songgwangsa Temple scene blows any other individual scene from 2022 out of the water.

 

among the finest cinematic paintings of 2022

 

most underrated:  There are a few candidates here. Out of the twelve (12) best films of 2022 – a whopping seven (7) did not land on the TSPDT top fifty (50) of 2022. This is, assuredly, more than a little disheartening to see. The Northman is the best of those seven (even if the margin is not much) so that is a fine choice to take this category. This miss is a bit baffling for the critics. But at least The Northman had solid reviews. Films like Bardo, Men, Babylon, Blonde, Copenhagen Cowboy, and White Noise were all below a seventy (70) score on metacritic and all among the best films of the year artistically.

 

Robert Eggers describes The Northman as Andrei Rublev meets Conan the Barbarian. Eggers, clearly an auteur of note and talent, cares about archeology and mythology both – he is a curator, a researcher.

a dazzler from Eggers’ third feature- without a doubt, he is one of the most promising voices in cinema in 2022

from Blonde – for any cinephile, the graphic match edit at the 42 minute mark of the bed sheets to the Niagara waterfall is one of the most memorable moments in cinema for 2022

Andrew Dominik’s Blonde could be described as a nightmare – Requiem for a Dream, Mulholland Drive, and the work of Lars von Trier come to mind. “I’d like to see Hell close up” is in the text (from Marilyn’s mother). The roses in soft focus here (semi-reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni’s use of flowers in Red Desert) creating a frame within the frame of Marilyn (Ana de Armas). There are astonishing sequences aplenty in Blonde, but often the shot choice or stylistic tool employed is a one-off never to be repeated to help give the film a greater cohesive form.

a breathtaking frame from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Bardo. Guillermo del Toro (admittedly a friend of Iñárritu’) was one of the defenders of Bardo and his description of form vs. content should be read https://www.indiewire.com/2022/11/guillermo-del-toro-defends-bardo-1234784634/ . “…it’s extremely hard to explain how one of the aspects that has been the least [talked-about] of this movie is the cinema of it, and I find it absolutely flabbergasting. Seeing a Van Gogh and asking for an opinion, and the opinion is, ‘Well, it’s about some flowers in a pot.’ The flowers are OK, the pot is nice, but nobody talks about the brushstrokes, the colors, the thickness of the paint, the color palette. It’s astounding to me.”

from Nicolas Winding Refn’s 5 hour and 12 minute Copenhagen Cowboy. The ending sort of fizzles out (a trend this year – even among some of the best films of the year).   But Refn’s film is paced, draped in neon, and about revenge (clearly auteur cinema). There are Barry Lyndon-like slow zooms and a strong Cliff Martinez new wave score.   There is a magnificent blue indigo day for night shot to open the second chapter.

 

 

most overrated:   There are a few nominees here as well. EO from Jerzy Skolimowski is a thought-provoking update on Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar but it is not an original idea and there is not enough visually (aside from one stunning frame on the bridge) to support its ranking in the top ten of the year. David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future is just outside the top ten on TSPDT’s list and though it is undoubtedly auteur cinema – there are a number of films from 2022 that surpass it. Also, through three films in his career,  Jordan Peele is unquestionably an auteur. But top five for Nope seems hard to support with evidence from the film – at least in comparison to someone like Alex Garland and something like Men.

 

trends and notables:  This is the third full year of the 2020s and the third underwhelming year in a row in cinema. This all starts with 2020 and the global pandemic (the correlation is hard to track – but it seems necessary to mention).   And, notably, this is all in the wake of 2019 – one of cinema’s finest single years. The depth of sheer archiveable films is there –  probably due to the continued sheer volume of films that continue to get made and released (even if the options seem more limited in the theater). Undoubtedly, the ongoing discussion between theatrical release windows and streaming services seems to dominate much of the discourse in the 2020s (at least when not talking about COVID – which seems to be farther in the rearview as part of of the discussion here in 2022). Netflix gave some artists a plenty of freedom in 2022 and the results account for four (4) of the top twelve (12) films of the year. Netflix’s biggest competitor, as far as companies helping support the auteurs, is A24. A24 had an indie box office revelation with Everything Everywhere All at Once earlier in the year and then of course it won an impressive seven (7) Oscars early in 2023. A24 had a hand in White Noise (so did Netflix), Pearl, Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, Men, X, and many others. 2022 is also a good reminder of the strength of the South Korean New Wave. Park Chan-wook is certainly either 1 or 1A with Bong Joon-ho as this movement’s Godard and Truffaut. Top Gun: Maverick also should be mentioned as a great film that brought many people back to the theater for the first time in years. Lastly, one could dedicate almost this entire page to the list of ambitious films that polarized critics: this is your Blonde, Babylon, Bardo (and frankly Men and White Noise belong here, too). They all have their problems, but they all hit artistic heights that the other films of 2022 (aside from the almost flawless Decision to Leave ) clearly do not.

 

from The Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) and A24. Everything Everywhere All at Once is the best edited film of 2022. There is some Sergio Leone influence, some Wachiowski influence – and Charlie Kaufman, too. But this is wholly their own – and like all good auteur cinema – it actually makes Swiss Army Man (their previous film together – from 2016) a better film – it is now a piece in a larger, connected collection.

Alex Garland’s Men. The flashback sequences are all shot in this magic hour golden hue. The tunnel sequence here is a highlight – and Garland cares about color (green and red in particular). Sadly, the third act does not fully land – but it is at least a companion with Garland’s Annihilation (2018) and that bizarre ending as well.

the 1930 Best Picture winner All Quiet on the Western Front gets a worthy update in 2022 from Edward Berger

 

 

gem I want to spotlight:   It may be worth pointing out the strong year horror had with Barbarian, Smile, and X.  But this space here goes to Noah Baumbach’s White Noise. There are stories about the troubled, overbudget production, the idea of the Don DeLillo’s complex novel being “unadaptable” but time and time again in cinema, the follow-up to a director’s strongest work is far too easily brushed aside upon initial release. If 2019’s Marriage Story does go down as his career peak, then set your watches for 2032 or 2037 when a reappraisal is had for White Noise. The film is highly literate, witty – “she has important hair” and “you’re using the real event to rehearse the simulation?”, Altman-like overlapping dialogue, 360-shots (one of the family in the car, one in the garage with Adam Driver as he sifts through the garbage). Baumbach brings back his strong dissolve edit work here he used in Marriage Story, brilliantly uses color (heavy greens and reds) and there is even a jaw-dropper of a split diopter shot towards the end in the hotel room with Driver and Lars Eidinger.

 

Baumbach’s White Noise is an ambitious film – continuing the visual splendor he put on display in 2019’s Marriage Story. The shot here from the 55 minute mark- silhouette of two with main actors.

Wall art magnificence here from White Noise

 

 

best performance male:    Jeffrey Wright is a veteran actor with now double digit archiveable films dating back to 1990, but he is undeniably riding a career high in 2021 and 2022 with The French Dispatch and The Batman in back to back years. Wright may not make the mentions here for either of the two years alone, but when stepping back and combining the two – there is no choice at all to include Wright here in this category. In Matt Reeves’ The Batman, Wright plays the Lieutenant James Gordon character. Since Reeves is heavily influenced by David Fincher, particularly Se7en, Wright is the veteran Detective Somerset Morgan Freeman role. It is worth pausing on Alexander Skarsgård for his work in The Northman and Hae il Park in Decision to Leave applaud them for their work – but there is still a little doubt as to whether another actor, given those prime roles, makes for the easy choice as performance of the year.

 

best performance female:  It is is a dead heat here with Cate Blanchett’s bigger than life work as titular Lydia Tár in Todd Fields’ esoteric, yet sensational character study. Blanchett dazzles in the long take lecture shot at Julliard. Her character is almost haunted by per skills as a musician (there is no doubt she wields it like a power weapon) – attuned to very sound – keeping her awake at night as she walks that fine line between madness and genius. Like Taxi Driver (1976)and The Piano Teacher (2001) there is an inevitable downward spiral (highlighted with Blanchett bellowing out her “apartment for sale” accordion song).  Blanchett’s rival in this category Tang Wei as Song Seo-rae in the year’s strongest film. Wei is a sort of modified femme fatale and even if the viewer is aware of Park Chan-wook’s penchant for narrative twists – Wei is up the challenge – playing both sides of the coin.

 

Tang Wei gives the best performance in the best film of the year

 

 

top 10

  1. Decision to Leave
  2. The Northman
  3. The Batman
  4. Copenhagen Cowboy
  5. Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths
  6. Everything Everywhere All at Once
  7. White Noise
  8. Babylon
  9. Men
  10. Tár 

 

 

Matt Reeves is influenced by David Fincher for The Batman – and clearly by Edward Hopper’s famous Nighthawks painting here as well. There is also a genius James Gray We Own the Night-like (2007) car chase in rain and darkness.

it never reaches Fury Road – but George Miller’s follow-up Three Thousand Years of Longing has some exceptional moments : overhead shots, establishing shots,  and that final crane shot as they walk off into the sunset. Terry Gilliam (particularly The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) seems is an important text of influence here.

from Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile – the film (particularly the first half hour) is impeccably crafted. This symmetrical composition here at the 17-minute mark is just one of many. Branagh shoots in 65mm and it pays off here – an undeniably handsome film.

Jerzy Skolimowski doing Bresson here in EO. The shot of the bridge in front of the dam at the 79-minute mark is simply sublime.

Martin McDonagh’s ongoing body of work on feuds and vendettas  – here in 2022’s The Banshees of Inisherin. This was a tough film to leave off the top ten of the year.

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Love Song – Walker – Silverman R
All Quiet on the Western Front – Berger R/HR
Amsterdam – O. Russell R
Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood – Linklater R
Argentina, 1985 – Mitre R
Armageddon Time – Gray R
Babylon – Chazelle HR
Barbarian – Cregger R
Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths – Iñárritu HR/MS
Blonde – Dominik HR
Bodies Bodies Bodies –  Reijn R
Cha Cha Real Smooth – Raiff R
Copenhagen Cowboy – Refn HR/MS
Crimes of the Future- Cronenberg R
Death on the Nile – Branagh R
Decision to Leave – Chan-wook Park MS/MP
Elvis – Luhrmann R/HR
Empire of Light – Mendes R
EO – Skolimowski R
Everything Everywhere All at Once – Scheinert, Kwan HR/MS
Fresh – Cave R
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – Johnson R
God’s Country –  Higgins R
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – del Toro, Gustafson R
Kimi – Soderbergh R
Men – Garland HR
Nope – Peele R
Prey – Trachtenberg R
RRR – Rajamouli R
She Said – M. Schrader R
Smile – Finn R
Tár – Field HR
The Banshees of Inisherin – M. McDonagh HR
The Batman – Reeves HR/MS
The Good Nurse – Lindholm R
The Menu – Mylod R
The Northman – Eggers HR/MS
The Pale Blue Eye – S. Cooper R
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent – Gormican R
The Woman King – Prince-Bythewood R
The Wonder – Lelio R
Thirteen Lives – Howard R
Three Thousand Years of Longing – G. Miller R
Top Gun : Maverick – Kosinski R/HR
Triangle of Sadness – Östlund R/HR
Vengeance – Novak R
Watcher – Okuno R
White Noise – Baumbach HR
Windfall – McDowell R
Women Talking – Polley R
X – T. West R

 

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives

*** one final note here. Unfortunately, at the time of putting this page together, I was unable to get to as high a percentage of the best reviewed films of the year as I normally do. My apologies. So before you ask, I was not able (at least at the date of writing here) to get to films like Aftersun, The Fabelmans, Avatar: The Way of Water, Bones and All, The Whale, Saint Omer, and The Eternal Daughter.