Multiverses were the hot trend in mainstream cinema this year with the MCU banking its whole future on the appeal of mirror dimensions and alternate timelines. If you take the trend less franchise-literal, it was even more omnipresent. Multiple films asked us to consider alternate realities, ahistorical timelines, and the multiplicity of identity through the power of both storytelling and our own imagination. It’s through this broad prism that I present my take on the year’s best films.
I hope you enjoy though it always bears repeating that “Best” is necessarily subjective; We each occupy our own universes when it comes to these matters. Before the top ten, a bakers dozen of honorable mentions…
SPECIAL MENTION – BEST UNRELEASED PICTURE
Though I couldn’t consider it for this year’s prizes since it had no US distribution, in a better timeline Saim Sadiq’s Joyland would absolutely have landed on this top ten list. The romantic drama is about Haider, an unemployed young married man who has to reconfigure his life’s possibilities and the patriarchal constrictions of his family, when he falls for a trans performer who hires him as a back-up dancer. The movie is a wonder despite springing from the hilarious accident of Haider’s new employment (he is a terrible dancer). The cinematography is unusually inspired, the performances endearing, and the narrative scope beyond impressive for a debut feature. Oscilloscope Pictures will release the film at some point and you mustn’t miss it. Haider and his vessel twirl endearing awkward circles around most of the films Oscar preferred to name as “Best International Feature” for 2022.
SPECIAL MENTION – DOCUMENTARY OF THE YEAR
Longtime readers will know that I never put documentaries in the ordered “top ten” list. It’s a personal thing but I just don’t find them comparable to narrative features. At all. So rather than comparing apples to automobiles I just want to say that Moonage Daydream was a sensational night out at the local multiplex. I went with three friends and we devoured huge tubs of popcorns and large drinks and resisted any pee breaks in the lengthy running time to fully absorb as much and as many Bowies (so many evolutions) as we could in one night. Director Brett Morgen wisely doesn’t attempt to recount the artist’s whole career. He and his team do something more impressive, giving audiences an audiovisual consideration of Bowie’s grandeur, process, iconicity, and performative magic. For those of us who never had the pleasure of attending a David Bowie concert, or just missed his peak growing up, this is the alternate reality we need and the next best thing.
A DOZEN HONORABLE MENTIONS
Not making a top ten list doesn’t mean you weren’t a special entertainment or a piece of art if the person making the list sees tons of movies. Here are twelve additional favourite pictures from 2022 that I wouldn’t have wanted to live. The number 12 is arbitrary so that it can be a “Top 22 of ’22”. On earlier branches of Nathaniel’s Sacred Film Timeline, half of these did make my official 2022 Top Ten List.
After Yang (Kogonada, US)
Avatar The Way of Water (James Cameron, US)
Catherine Called Birdy (Lena Dunham, US)
Corsage (Marie Kreutzer, Austria)
Elvis (Baz Luhrmann, Australia/US)
Great Freedom (Sebastian Meise, Austria)
Holy Spider (Ali Abassi, Denmark)
The Menu (Mark Mylod, US)
Nope (Jordan Peele, US)
The Northman (Robert Eggers, US)
The Quiet Girl (Colm Balréad, Ireland)
The Wonder (Sebastian Lelio, UK)
Without further ado…
2022 TOP TEN LIST
10 Aftersun (Charlotte Wells, UK)
A24. Oct 21st. 102 minutes
The year’s most striking debut was a mysterious feat of personal excavation and imagination. The new filmmaker, who lost her father as a teenager, shares vignettes from a summer vacation shared by an 11 year old girl (Frankie Corio, a real find) on the cusp of adolescence and her young father who is turning 31 (Paul Mescal, rapidly laying claim to the “best of his generation” title). The astonishingly successful drama and its fragmented shards of feeling, are simultaneously sharp enough to draw blood but elusive and intangible that the only scars they’re leaving are psychic ones. It was perfect for this multiversal year. When we’re young what do we know about our parents, really? They’re their own alternate worlds orbiting are own that we are both intimately familiar with and which we might never visit or fully comprehend.
09 Happening (Audrey Diwan, France)
FilmNation. May 6th. 100 minutes
The past year has been a regressive nightmare for the sanctity of bodily autonomy. Happening, which won the Golden Lion in Venice in the fall of 2021, and is set in 1963 is thus right on time. An adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s memoir “L’Événement” it tells the incredibly tense story of a young woman in France who is desperately searching for a way to terminate her pregnancy. She has no intention of following this path and casting off the future she’s already chosen (continue in university / become a writer). Happening plays like a philosophical thriller with physical consequences. How will Anne get through this and why are there so many other people allowed and authorized to morally or physically weigh in on her decisions?
08 Girl Picture (Alli Haapasalo, Finland)
IFC Films. Aug 12th. 100 minutes
Social norms, languages, educational systems, and youth culture may vary from country to country but the coming-of-age subgenre, when done this superbly and specifically, almost always registers as universal. This involving and touching tale of three young women navigating dating, sexuality, and evolving friendships is a total gem. Our dream is that teens who are fantasizing about those years, twenty-somethings living it, and anyone who remembers it in the rearview mirror (that’s just about anyone!) might from day chance upon Girl Picture and fall in love as completely as we did. They’ll see their own lives reflected back at them even if Finland feels as far from their world as some fictional alternate universe.
07 Triangle of Sadness (Ruben Östlund, Sweden/UK)
NEON. October 7th. 147 minutes
Triangle of Sadness doesn’t take place in an alternate universe. It’s very much our own pathetic one in the death-rattle of late capitalism, with a side plague of social tempat emptiness. What is does do with dynamic craft is construct flippantly flipped scenarios: the rich lady demanding that the peasants enjoy her luxuries; Gender income disparity the other way around via two young models; The powerful become powerless; The toilet manager promotes herself to captain. But no matter how much you shake up “reality”, humans are gonna human.
06 EO (Jerzy Skolimowski, Poland)
Janus Films. Nov 18th. 88 minutes
EO begins with an emotional ending of sorts. The titular donkey is being separated from his longtime performance partner since live animals are cut from the travelling circus due to animal rights protests. For a pack animal like EO this doesn’t mean a life of leisure so he or she (?) is out of the frying pan and into various fires as the donkey travels Europe, mostly without intention, leashed by circumstances, coincidences, and humans. The latter are unpredictable, whether well intentioned or not. Six donkeys play EO which is brilliant because the film’s genius is that it never pretends that we can understand any animal’s inner life. This ass contains multitudes. We can however understand the vagaries of fate and sympathisize with the possibilities of every fork in the road before EO.
05 Fire Island (Andrew Ahn, US)
Searchlight. June 3rd. 105 minutes
The year’s most unexpected and rewatchable treasure proved to be a gay romcom from screenwriter/star/comedian Joel Kim Booster and director Andrew Ahn (Spa Night). Speaking of alternate selves… What if Jane Austen were a 21st century gay man? Booster’s ballsy but thoroughly successful gamble asks us to rethink classic literary heroine Elizabeth Bennett as a romance-averse gay man and her marriage-minded sisters as his family of gay besties, enjoying a week in Fire Island. The mirrored characters and plot turns from “Pride & Prejudice” are great fun to spot — what a sturdy blueprint for a comedy! — but Booster & team queer it up making it all their own.
04 Everything Everywhere All At Once (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, US)
A24. March 25th. 139 minutes
What else is there to be said about this already beloved movie? We’ll be quick since we’re already looking at the whole top ten through its idea of splintered reality and our multiple selves (though there’s only one Michelle Yeoh in this world. Hope she wins the Oscar. Amen). Amid the purposeful sci-fi-action-comedy-chaos, the true miracle is how rich a handle it has on characters and their core feelings and intimacies, presenting us with not one or two but FOUR indelible memorable people to fall in love with, against the odds given that almost all of them are depressed, exhausted, or grumpy. And it does that despite constantly shuffling which version of anybody we’re looking at. While its maximalism can be exhausting — it never stops shuffling and repeating and I stand by my feeling that it’s at least 15 minutes too long — it’s also rich and rewarding. It remains intoxicating and funny on multiple views.
03 TÁR (Todd Field, US)
Focus Features. Oct 7th. 158 minutes
Todd Field’s challenge of a movie — god, it’s thrilling when filmmakers expect the audience to engage — begins with an extended interview. The world famous conductor Lydia Tár pontificates about Time and her control of it with music. Lydia, your God complex is showing! Field, in concert with a whole symphony of absurdly talented artisans, crafts a drama that is part vicious character portrait and part troubling thinkpiece. It’s ambiguous enough to allow for multiple interpretations. As Lydia begins to unravel and lose her place in a rarefied world, we lose our own footing. Increasingly haunting interludes and asides ask us to question reality… or at least our perception of it… and this character…. and these events. Whatever is happening to Lydia is true enough for her even if she lives within a multitude of lies.
02 The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh, Ireland)
Searchlight. October 21st. 116 minutes
The remote island of Inisherin is the setting but it’s really a mirror dimension. Ireland is the true setting and topic of this brilliant tragicomedy from one of the great playwrights. Longtime friends (Colin Farrell & Brendan Gleeson, smartly reunited from the Director’s other great picture In Bruges) are suddenly at war with each other. No one can fathom or articulate just why and how this great divide has occurred or predict what collateral damage may occur. Death hangs around like a creepy neighbor you do your best to ignore. Banshees is at once small and expansive and its blunt metaphor an exquisite darkly comic weapon. Clobber us, McDonagh!
01 The Fabelmans (Steven Spielberg, US)
Universal. Nov 11th. 151 minutes
What would Steven Spielberg have done with his life if he hadn’t become a filmmaker? The Fabelmans doesn’t engage with this question but it does raise it, indirectly. Burt Fabelman (a splendid Paul Dano) keeps dismissing his son’s preoccupation as a “hobby”. At one painful point in the family drama, Sammy (Spielberg’s proxy) sells his camera, tying it too closely to his feelings about his difficult mother. So the question lingers for us… even if the question is thankfully moot and the answer is comforting; as if any paths taken would have still led us back here to the filmography at hand. Steven Spielberg’s best film in 30 years is so rich in implications and feeling and verve that it’s difficult to square with the mostly warm but non-emphatic reception. Is it a matter of impossible expectations? We all come to every movie carrying ourselves with us. Given Spielberg’s extremely mainstream behemoth career, we also come to each and every Hollywood movie carrying multiple “Spielbergs” in our psychic luggage. As a longtime Spielberg agnostic, I felt more true love and gratitude for his gifts and life choices, than I ever had before. The sublime wink of an ending points you toward the sky. As for me, I was already there, spirit soaring.