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Review of 2022: Top Twelve

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.


Review of 2022: Stinkers of the Year

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 thematically rich folk horror satire of class warfare, robbed of suspense by loose plotting and uneven direction. 

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.

Deep South Taken mashed with cut-price Man On Fire in a tedious, inept splodge of blithering hysteria and blathering twaddle. 

A poorly paced and irritating influencer horror comedy that undermines its laughs with being too knowing and its scares with its found footage conceit.

Quite the set of stinkers. I recommend you avoid all of them.

Review of 2022: There’s Too Much Plot! Overwritten Blockbusters

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.

Review of 2022: Awards in the Year of Women

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. 

Review of 2022: The Return of The Views

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.