It’s been a bit of a journey over the last few days, so thank you for sticking it out. Here, at long last, are my top twelve films of 2022, based on UK cinema and streaming releases, presented in musical form:
To give a more detailed account:
1. Benedetta. A lustrous, gorgeous and electrifying tale of belief, fanaticism, politics, passion, love and the tension between faith and duplicity.
2. She Said. A gripping, urgent, distressing journalism thriller of investigation, institutional abuse and the power of voices and silence.
3. Happening. A grounded, unflinching, unsentimental and at times harrowing drama of solitude, desperate ingenuity and finding your way through an unsympathetic world.
4. The Batman. An intense, grim, brooding, brutal, intimate, deliberate, street level vigilante/detective revenge journey through brooding atmosphere, intricate plotting and the politics of vengeance.
5. The Innocents. An unsettlingly intimate and by turns chilling, charming and horrifying blend of superpowered discovery, childish cruelty and a secret world.
6. Nightmare Alley. A sumptuous, suffusive and superb modern noir of immersive style, ravishing detail, deceit, deception and dark desire.
7. Everything Everywhere All At Once. An extraordinary, bonkers and brilliant bonanza of concepts, emotion, cinematic invention and finding the meaning of existence(s).
8. Speak No Evil. A deeply uncomfortable, ferociously tense and thoroughly terrifying psychological horror of manipulation, escalating aggressions and social appropriation.
9. The Banshees of Inisherin. A beautiful and touching, melancholic yet humorous, whimsical yet quietly profound dark tragicomedy of wisdom and dullness, niceness and resentment, mental health struggles and the tensions of small communities.
10. Turning Red. Big meets The Incredible Hulk meets Metamorphosis in a super smart, super cute, super fluffy and truly magical animated comedy adventure of growing pains, familial pressures and the power of friendship, fandom and song.
11. The Worst Person in the World. A whimsical yet scabrous, sentimental but honest, beautifully observed and meticulous portrait of the messiness, complexities and contradictions of career, relationships, family and other aspects of life.
12. Belfast. A sublime and immersive blend of charm, tragedy and reflective nostalgia that explores family, community and maturation, the need for movement yet the pull of home, lovingly rendered through gorgeous images, long takes, 360 pans and the wide yet tear-tinged eyes of a child.
Honourable mentions go to:
A ferocious, intense and brutal revenge tragedy of stark visuals, iron resolve and the blurred boundaries of myth and destiny.
A sweet and charming yet spiky and astringent romantic comedy drama of hustling, coming of age and resisted desire.
A sweeping, gorgeous and thrilling, progressive and challenging but never preachy and thoroughly accessible epic of duty and defiance, war and alliance, family and community.
A moving, haunting and sublime visual poem of the beauty of nature, the power of the image and the wonder of wildlife.
A stunning and terrifying found footage What If? political warning of hubris and the perils of technology, infused with musical creativity and critical nostalgia.
A nerve-shredding and intensely vertiginous survival tale of ingenuity, friendship and the combined uses of humanity and technology.
An exquisitely composed, deeply uncomfortable and severely fucked up Welsh folk horror of shifting directions of consumption.
Black Swan meets Turning Red in a gripping and gruesome tale of monstrosity, maternity and maturation.
A compelling, terrifying and brilliantly ambiguous portrayal of body horror, psychological fear, occult suggestion and the terror of motherhood and isolation.
A joyous, exhilarating and witty action adventure of regret, camaraderie, redemptive nostalgia and aerial thrills.
A thrilling and visceral coming of age sci-vival horror that brilliantly balances homage and innovation.
An extraordinary amalgam of referentiality and innovation in a meta sci-fi western horror that captures the terror of open and enclosed spaces and the power of the gaze.
Psycho meets Creep with a dash of The Descent in a compellingly creepy and gleefully gruesome blend of body horror, identity politics and the rot of traditional America.
With so much excellent content, and after a genuinely difficult time deciding on my top twelve and indeed their order, I can honestly say that 2022 was a fantastic year for movies. 2023 is promising some heavy hitters, but it has a tough act to follow.
My last post was a bit of a rant about the overwriting of contemporary blockbusters. Therefore, it’s worth saying that some of those blockbusters, as well as some lower budget releases, make up my personal worst films of the year. Only ten here, because these are not worth singing about, and not ranked, because I found all of them rubbish if in different ways.
An occasionally vertiginous and visceral survival horror, that plummets painfully into convolutions, excessive backstories and looking far too pretty.
A shonky if snappy creature feature with a crocodile in Hampshire.
An intriguing blend of body and folk horror undone by leaden plotting, literally wooden acting and amateurish directing.
An amusing premise with impressive gore drained of tension and humour by a painfully protracted pace.
A wild, overwrought and messy flurry of tired cliches and garish visuals.
A messy jumble of half-baked ideas, half-hearted narrative threads, indulgent nostalgia, underdone stakes, excessive characters and inadequate dinosaurs, elevated by occasional stylish set pieces.
A rather stilted and visually unbalanced superpower horror chase thriller that is ironically rather cold.
Quite the set of stinkers. I recommend you avoid all of them.
My last post drew attention to 2022 being a strong year for female cinema. On a less positive slant, blockbusters were afflicted with a bad case of overwriting. A nonsensical criticism made of blockbusters and especially action movies is that they have no plot. This is patently untrue, as argued eloquently by David Bordwell, and the absurdity of this statement is highlighted by analysing various blockbusters from 2022 in order to understand what worked, what did not, and why.
In terms of the major blockbusters that I saw, all were franchise entries aside from Bullet Train, adapted from the novel by Kotaro Isaka. This film, for my money, had too many diversions and convolutions on its route which led to it running out of steam. While not all action blockbusters lend themselves to transport metaphors, the problems with Bullet Train were not uncommon. As a summary of my thoughts on the blockbusters I saw:
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore – meandering and confused
Avatar: The Way of Water – immersive and spectacular but lacks focus
Black Adam – an interesting premise squandered by excessive cliches and incoherent world-building
Morbius – forced and too referential to the point of being overdone
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – under-developed premise
Thor: Love and Thunder – too concerned with being referential and irreverent
Jurassic World: Dominion – why why why?
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – decently balanced
The Batman – action, spectacle and plot integrated into the detective story
Top Gun: Maverick – clean, crisp, effective
The blockbusters that worked best, for me at least, were those with a focused approach that delivered on a simple premise. The best example is Top Gun: Maverick, which was a huge surprise for someone who does not like the original. The sequel works because it has a straightforward, three-act structure, presented in the most spectacular way possible. By contrast, Avatar: The Way of Water, while even more spectacular and thoroughly immersive, suffers from a lack of focus, too many characters and could easily have been two films. Thus, the recurring problem with these blockbusters – they are overwritten.
The worst offender in this regard was Jurassic World: Dominion. The original Jurassic Park, like Top Gun: Maverick, is a textbook example of efficient storytelling – people come to dinosaur park, dinosaurs escape, people escape from island. Dominion could have used a similar premise or indeed explored the concept at the end of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – dinosaurs running amok across the Earth! Instead, we were treated to a tedious and hopelessly convoluted meander of dinosaur black-marketing and weaponisation, the return of the original film’s stars because reasons, and a separate narrative about corporate espionage and locusts.
Worrying about locusts when we have the promise of dinosaurs is a truly bizarre choice and demonstrates the strange conviction that more plotting is beneficial. That works when the narrative and character drives are investigation, hence the most impressive blockbuster of the year was for me the least blockbustery, namely The Batman. While Matt Reeves did not skimp on the action, including fights, a car chase, a dive off a (very) tall building and a finale of explosions and flooding, The Batman is largely driven by literal mysteries in the form of riddles and deeper investigations into characters and histories.
I guess all this goes to show you can get a lot from a little, such as Top Gun: Maverick, and a lot from a setting, as in The Batman, but when you over-complicate a straightforward set up, you get plagued.
In my previous post, I summarised the quality of films in 2022 with particular attention to horror, and also highlighted the strong output from Scandinavia. This output included The Worst Person in the World, which is a great film rather than a reference to any contenders for that title (most of them in positions of power). Though released in the UK in 2022, The Worst Person in the World was Norway’s entry for International Feature at the 94th Academy Awards. The Oscars in 2022 will likely be most remembered for Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, which is unfortunate because there were plenty of significant awards that night, not least Smith himself picking up Best Actor for King Richard, his third nomination in the category.
Jessica Chastain also won for her third nomination, picking up Best Actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, while Kenneth Branagh, after being nominated in a record-setting seven categories over the course of his career, finally won for Belfast’s Original Screenplay. Jane Campion, the only woman to have been nominated for Achievement in Directing more than once, won on her second nomination for The Power of the Dog, a film that oddly had multiple nominations but only received one award.
Best Picture went to the dark horse contender CODA, a wondrously touching film that also won Supporting Actor for Troy Kutsur and Adapted Screenplay for writer-director Sian Heder.
The wins of CODA, Heder and Campion point to 2022 being a strong year for women in film. Not only did women pick up awards in major categories, but these films and various others were about female experiences. It is a trite observation to say that the film industry is male dominated, but various releases in 2022 presented female experiences for wide audiences. CODA expressed a teenage girl having to grow up too soon, deal with family disability and learn to express herself both personally and artistically, while also navigating the trials of high school and relationships. Other teenage girl experiences were given vibrant life in such contrasting works as Turning Red and Dear Zoe, Piggy and You Are Not My Mother, while female creativity was prominent in Emily and The Lost City.
Fear of men (entirely justified) were key themes in Where The Crawdads Sing, Fresh, Don’t Worry, Darling, Men and Barbarian, while attitudes towards motherhood received critical attention in Mother/Android, Happening, Homebound, Hatching and Huesera: The Bone Woman (holy hell!). Women of power and agency took centre stage in The Woman King, Fall, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and She Said.
Perhaps most refreshingly, female sexuality and desire was a major theme in the aforementioned The Worst Person in the World as well as Benedetta and Three Thousand Years of Longing. These films demonstrated that stories about women can explore a range of different themes, serve multiple genres and entertain various audiences.
Historically, ‘the woman’s film’ was designated (by men) as a specific type of product, with all ‘regular’ films being for men. 2022 gave a strong showing of the range of content that can focus upon women and talk to any viewer who pays attention to what she said.
Hello everyone, sorry to have been away so long. 2022 featured various new challenges and opportunities, some of which led to new outlets for my critical ideas. This includes various websites where my views can be, well, viewed, as well as my ongoing podcast Invasion of the Pody People and appearances on multiple other podcasts. But after all this time, I felt I should come back and offer my view here on Vincent’s Views. And what better way to return than by casting my eye over the films of 2022?
In brief, 2022 was a really strong year for film. It’s a sign of great cinema that, when you decide to whittle down what you saw to a best of list, it is initially very difficult to decide what gets into that list – top twelve for my own musical reasons – and then equally difficult to decide how you would rank them. Indeed, the process of deciding my top twelve involved a great deal of going back and forth. Was I more moved by The Velvet Queen or Belfast? Does the atmosphere of The Batman trump the exhilaration of Top Gun: Maverick? Do the chills of The Innocents surpass those of Speak No Evil? Was Benedetta or She Said ultimately more impressive? These are the questions that occupied my mind throughout the latter weeks of December, once I had seen everything that I thought might break into the top twelve.
Horror was especially strong in 2022, as identified by other critics and in terms of what I saw, since I attended FrightFest both in Glasgow and London. Some of the highlights of this wonderful festival included You Are Not My Mother, Some Like It Rare and Monstrous in March, while August offered such delights as Lola, Huesera: The Bone Woman, Swallowed, Fall and one of the most popular horrors of the year, Barbarian. Other great horror included X, The Feast, Piggy, Halloween Ends, They Live in the Grey, Smile, Nope, The Black Phone, Men, Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, and some especially strong offerings from Scandinavia, which provided Hatching from Finland, the Danish/Dutch Speak No Evil and The Innocents from Norway. Other commentators have described 2022 as an exceptional year for horror, and looking at the evidence I have no argument with that claim.
The disaster movie provides an opportunity to show the experience of, well, disasters from various perspectives. 1970s classics The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno brought together disparate people whose differences proved essential to their survival, a trope also used in Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Ric Roman Waugh’s Greenland follows a similar pattern to those of Emmerich, but with a serious tone more akin to those of Irwin Allen. Rather than treating the impact of a comet on the Earth as a rollercoaster ride, Greenland leans into the grim and frightening aspects of the disaster. Part of this comes from the wide scale destruction, but there is just as much horror to be found in the actions of humanity. Structural engineer John Garrity (Gerard Butler) and his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin) and son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) are selected for evacuation by the US government. However, no one that they know is selected, and their journey towards safety rapidly exposes the severe triage being enacted on the population. Only those designated as healthy and useful are to be evacuated, and desperation leads to panic leads to violence. There is ample destruction and some jaw-dropping spectacle, but Waugh wisely keeps the focus on the human drama, ensuring that we feel every panic-stricken step of the Garritys’ journey. The film’s commitment to this conceit results in a tense and gripping tale of family, fear and hope, that also succeeds in being emotional and moving.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 has all the features of Hollywood’s grandstanding approach to dramatising history. It’s also really good at it. Writer-director Aaron Sorkin combines a typically razor-sharp script with whip smart cuts, interweaving the story of the 1968 events that led up to the eponymous trial with the 1969 trial. In doing so, Sorkin and his ensemble cast, including Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Frank Langella and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, deliver an impassioned, sometimes grim but also witty drama that uses the courtroom as a battleground between social resistance and state oppression. Courtroom histrionics are used judiciously, while the links between potentially disparate social issues are highlighted in such a way as to demonstrate the need for resistance movements to work together. In doing so, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is not only a powerful drama, but also a deeply relevant tale of our times that, while sobering, also finds the space to be triumphant.
Movie archaeologists have been presented as dynamic adventurers, such as Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. It is, therefore, refreshing to see an archaeologist who is quiet, subdued and very careful, played by that most diffident of English gents, Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes is Basil Brown, employed by Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) in 1938 to excavate a mound on her Suffolk land, a mound that proves to be of historical significance. Director Simon Stone, working from Moira Buffini’s adaptation of John Preston’s novel, follows the characters at an intimate level, allowing us to appreciate the close bond that Basil and Edith, as well as Edith’s son Robert (Archie Barnes), share with the very earth that they interact with. This bond is contrasted with other attitudes to the artefacts, and also interwoven with confrontations that the characters make with serious illness, questions of sexuality and the approaching drums of war. The end result is an exquisite and melancholy love letter to the English countryside, that also meditates upon our relationships with time and with history.
2020 was a train wreck, and not the amusing Amy Schumer variety. Amidst a global pandemic and fluctuating lockdown, riots and contested elections, wretched negotiations and a profound desire to move to New Zealand, one of the great sources of comfort and inspiration was, of course, the movies! But cinemas were closed for months on end, forcing me, for the first time, to include online releases in my review of the year. Is this a Bombshell the scale of which were dropped in 1917? Are the Dark Waters of 2020 inducing Sea Fever beyond The Lighthouse? Or can we find a guiding Tenet or helpful Relic in His House, but watch out for The Invisible Man, he can be quite a Parasite.
The year began with awards season, which included some pleasing variety. The biggest movie news of the season was, of course, Parasite becoming the first international film to win Best Picture, which had me jumping for glee. Not that I necessarily rate Parasite as my film of the year, but it helped give the year a strong start alongside Jojo Rabbit, 1917, Bombshell and Queen & Slim.
The next month and a bit brought literally arty-farty fare, Dickens and Lovecraft adaptations rubbing shoulders with comic book action and horrors both fantastical and real (or not) life. Then lockdown rolled in like The Jesus and streaming became the norm.
Horror was well represented, from a tedious Psycho ripoff to a timely oceanic contagion, alongside resurrecting Richards and high school purgatory, while people trapped in single locations veered from the sublime to the ridiculous. More wild environments offered scares and snores, some exotic locations and ample gore. FrightFest offered some of the best and the worst of the year, including spaces both spooky and gory, some sinning, banishing and reckoning wobbles and some dreck.
Streaming services provided outlets for action and sci-fi, as well as opportunities for big name directors like Spike Lee and David Fincher as well as Pete Docter. Unexpected gems appeared with interesting names including Koko-di Koko-da and LX 2048, and my last two visits to the cinema gave me spectacle of the inverted and the nostalgic kind. But perhaps the biggest surprise of the year was a savage mockumentary featuring little dolls. Just goes to show, even in a year as restricted as 2020, the medium of film still manages to impress and delight.
Drawn from this cinematic smorgasbord, here are my favourite films of 2020. As always, my top twelve of the year are based on UK release dates, and completely subjective.
On the twelfth day of Christmas
The movies gave to me
Twelve Manky screenplays
Eleven family Relics
Nine Invisible Men
Eight Vasts of Night
Six in His House
Five Kelly histories
Four jazzing Souls
Queen & Slim
and one take through 1917.
An extraordinary, intense, visceral, immersive, brutal yet lyrical and at times eerily beautiful journey through hell on earth.
A meticulously plotted, impeccably directed, ingeniously inventive suspense thriller/dark comedy of social satire, familial loyalty and the interconnections between us all.
3. Queen & Slim
A beautiful, lyrical, heartbreaking, extremely timely and utterly wonderful road movie of growing love, solidarity and community within inequality, oppression and unwanted notoriety.
A gorgeous, ingenious, moving, dazzling and sublime animated meditation on body and mind, music, mortality and the meaning of life.
A jagged, fragmented and striking drama of masculine identity, homosocial bonds and psychopathology in a deceptively expansive and toxic environment.
6. His House
An atmospheric, terrifying, heartbreaking, timely and utterly brilliant portrait of haunting, loss, asylum seeking and the struggle to belong.
An equal parts hideous and grotesque, hilarious and insightful satire on gender, discourse, hegemony and capitalism.
A beautifully assured, enthrallingly paced and wonderfully engaging blend of physical and social period detail, genre homage and innovation, long takes, jump cuts and the power of sound and communication.
A nerve-shredding, gut clenching and deeply affecting horror of gaslighting, terrifying negative space and the oppressive, predatory gaze of toxic masculinity.
A massive, mind-frying, globe-skipping experiential adventure of espionage, ego and eruptions/inversions through space and time, that falters on scale but delivers with exhilarating pace.
An ominous, petrifying and mournful journey into creeping dread, generations, recriminations and acceptance.
A gorgeous, complex, scathing yet affectionate investigative portrait of creativity, conscience, historical artifice and the interweaving of entertainment and politics.
A striking, gripping and urgent tale of toxic masculinity, institutional oppression, the danger and the necessity of speaking out.
A vibrant, beautiful, whimsical and metatastic romp of family, identity and owning one’s story.
A grim, oppressive nightmare of isolation, stark visuals, crashing sound and escalating madness.
A knowingly witty, deliriously scrappy, gloriously silly comic book crime action smack ‘em whack ‘em of breaking free and flipping the bird at convention.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind spliced with Annihilation blended with Evolution and filtered through The Thing equals a haunting, eerie and often terrifying sci-fi horror of family, body, spatial and mind fuckery.
A grim, dour, moodily lit and ominously atmospheric tale of corporate power, public victims and indomitable courage.
A genre-savvy and effectively atmospheric creature feature/infection thriller that uses the familiarity of its tropes to its advantage.
A visceral, intense, bone-crunching, bombastic and blistering bonanza of action, injury and loyalties.
A somewhat disparate and overdone but still powerful, stylish, timely and urgent drama of legacies racial, historical, familial, national, fiscal and traumatic.
An escalatingly sinister, consistently nasty and genuinely terrifying blend of home invasion, folk and body horror, with strong undertones of class and gender warfare.
A beautiful, intelligent and quite marvellous modern fairytale of identifying true love, living happily and the telling of stories.
An intermittently funny and nasty if blunt satire and thematically confused chase horror of mixed politics, creative kills and the dangers of social media.
A handsomely mounted and efficient if rather jarring and unconvincing transnational neo-noir/psychological horror.
The Dead Ones
A discordant, jarring and rather tasteless teen horror of adolescent angst, cyclical violence and convolution for the sake of convolution.
A limp and uninspired home invasion/surveillance horror of generic cliches, tiresome backstories and obvious recriminations, sorely lacking tension or relevance that literally falls off a cliff.
A garish, confused and awful muddle of genre tropes, wretched people and nonsensical ideas around fame, recriminations and stupidity.
A potentially grim and gory survival slasher mushed clumsily inside an overly convoluted plot and stilted execution.
Turkey of the Year
An incompetent, joyless, clumsy, obvious and thunderingly stupid slasher that ruins possible homage with laboured and nonsensical plotting, inert direction, slopping editing, stilted dialogue, clunky transitions and an utter lack of tension, menace, scares and even a sense of fun.
Certainly a surprising year, and strangely more films than in previous years that I thought were pretty bad. But the good outweighs the bad, and bring on 2021 and all its movies, whenever they may arrive.
Disney have perfected the art of branding, first by establishing a brand and then consistently and skilfully deconstructing it. 2020’s direct to Disney+ release Godmothered demonstrates the House of Mouse’s understanding of their back catalogue, as an idealistic heroine seeks to achieve her destiny, and in doing so encounters ideas and beliefs different to her expectations thanks to the modern world, and yet still sprinkles enchantment wherever she goes. Our heroine is Eleanor (Jillian Bell), a trainee fairy godmother who seeks to grant wishes, and in doing encounters Mackenzie (Isla Fisher), a single mother who gave up on fairy tale endings long ago. Godmothered is essentially Enchanted with a fairy godmother instead of a princess and, like the earlier film, is filled with knowing humour, sparkling intelligence and buckets of charm. Director Sharon Maguire beautifully blends modernity with magic, offering new and relatable versions of true love and living happily, as well as the importance and practice of telling stories.