My choices for the 10 Best Films of 2022 make up the most international list I’ve logged since starting to review films here back in 2011. Those movies that moved me most represent filmmakers from Belgium, England, Ireland, Mexico, Austria, Spain, and South Korea, as well as a few from America. That’s not to suggest that I’m becoming any more intercontinental in my old age (ha!), but rather that a great film is a great film no matter where it comes from.
Here then, are my 10 BEST FILMS of 2022 starting from top to bottom:
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh
My pick for the best film of this year is this character-driven dark comedy from filmmaker Martin McDonagh. It’s the tale of two lifelong friends, Padraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) in 1920s Ireland, who begin a sort of war with each other when Colm abruptly ends their friendship. Colm wants more out of life than to waste time with a dim bulb like his old friend. And Padraic, well, this simple man just wants things back to the way they used to be. What starts out as an Irish comedy of manners becomes darker with each minute due to the desperate means each will propagate to get their way. It has a lot to say about loneliness, heartbreak, machismo, and pride, and it continually surprised me at every turn. After all my decades of filmgoing, to enjoy so many rug-pulls in a single story is truly an achievement by any filmmaker. I laud McDonagh et. al. for achieving that, and I loved every minute of being thrown off-guard by THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN.
Directed by Lukas Dhont from a screenplay by Dhont and Angelo Tijssens
A close second was this film that I discovered at the Chicago International Film Festival this past autumn. CLOSE is a Belgium character study of the friendship between two 13-year-old boys at that critical stage where identity, peer pressure, and social standing start to influence children into becoming cagey and dishonest adults. Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Remi (Gustav de Waele) are inseparable BFFs until taunting classmates start to question why they’re so close. That leads to a series of unfortunate events that are utterly heartbreaking. Not only was this film an excellent study of human nature and the fallout from a disaster, but it was a rare film where a child stands as the lead character. Quite simply, this movie shattered me, leaving me crying and stunned, yet thrilled by its affecting storytelling.
Written and directed by Sarah Polley
Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’s novel WOMEN TALKING was stunning from its first image to its last. Taking place in 2010, eight women from an isolated Mennonite colony secretly discuss what actions to take against the men from their community who have drugged and raped them, including a three-year-old child. It’s a challenging film to watch, yet it was easily the most riveting film of 2022. The story plays out almost like we’re in a jury room of a courtroom drama, with each of the women arguing their case on what is an appropriate response to such horrific abuses. And despite the women all being fanatical in their traditions and faith, they are fierce warriors demanding justice. Polley gets incredible performances from Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, and Claire Foy, as well as top-rate production design, costume design, scoring, and cinematography throughout. It’s the best ensemble on film this year and a must-see despite the material making for a tough sit.
DECISION TO LEAVE
Directed by Park Chan-wook from a screenplay by Park and Jeong Seo-kyeong
This romantic mystery from South Korea felt like both a tribute and a riff. It’s clearly a noir in the mode of Hitchcock’s VERTIGO and Polanski’s CHINATOWN, but it’s also sly enough to play like a movie about movies the way Brian De Palma and Quentin Tarantino ply their trade. The story of DECISION TO LEAVE concerns a detective (Park Hae-il) who becomes obsessed with the widow (Tang Wei) of a man who mysteriously fell from a mountaintop. His dogged sleuthing crosses many lines and just who takes the role of the cat in this cat & mouse remains a mystery up until the very end. Directed with panache and cheek by Park, it’s one of the most enthralling and clever thrillers of the last decade.
Directed by Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn, from a screenplay by Duprat, Cohn, and Andres Duprat
This was the movie I laughed hardest at all year. And while there have been many ripe satires of filmmaking (SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, S.O.B., THE PLAYER), this Spanish take on show business had its own insights and eccentric comedy sensibilities. Everyone in OFFICIAL COMPETITION is a little crazy and more than a little narcissistic, starting with Lola Cuevas (played by Penelope Cruz), a filmmaker who believes in all kinds of head games to achieve her vision. Her two leading men are an action film star (Antonio Banderas) and a theatrical legend (Oscar Martinez) and she’s not above insulting their manhood or grinding their awards in an industrial shredder to get through to them. And what makes this film even more special is that we never see a second of the movie being filmed, it’s all about the rehearsals and pre-production, making it a wholly fresh and wickedly unconventional take on filmmaking.
Written and directed by Chloe Okuno
Voyeuristic thrillers/horror films are nothing new, so if you’re going to attempt one, you better bring something novel to the party. That’s exactly what Okuno does in WATCHER, her theatrical film debut. She tells the story of a young woman who fears she’s being stalked that ultimately becomes a tale about how men belittle women. Julie (Maika Monroe) and Daniel (Karl Glusman) relocate to Bucharest for his marketing job, and as he becomes inundated with work, Julie notices a spying stranger (Burn Gorman) in the apartment building across from theirs. Soon enough, he’s following her around town, but no one believes Julie’s protests. Julie is objectified by her stalker and dismissed by her doubting boyfriend. Which form of diminishment is worse is left to the viewer. Okuno has made an eerie study of paranoia and sexual politics, ratcheting up the tension with each new minute. It was my favorite frightener of the year.
Written and directed by Marie Kreutzer
With her new take on the famed story of Empress Elizabeth of Austria in CORSAGE, Kreutzer establishes herself as one of today’s superb filmmakers and a powerful feminist voice as well. The spectacular Vicky Krieps plays Elizabeth, a woman ahead of her time in that she was thoughtful, stubborn, and sexually liberated. Hating to bend to the will of her dullard husband, too busy ruling the land anyway, Kreutzer shows Elizabeth finding joy in all kinds of indulgences outside the palace: affairs, horseback riding, smoking, dancing, and even gorging on chocolate syrup. Elizabeth gives protocol the finger throughout and it’s a fascinating take, suggesting that the traps that princesses Diana and Meghan rebelled against have been a part of royalty throughout all of history. This was gorgeous to look at, provocative to watch and starred a bold heroine to cheer.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO
Directed by Guillermo del Toro, from a screenplay by Del Toro and Patrick McHale
Adaptations of Pinocchio have been far and wide with some 30 different versions listed on Wikipedia alone. However, one of the absolute best was GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO, an animated adaptation that honored the original story by Carlo Collodi, while finding some new takes on the venerable premise too. There’s a ton of heart in this version, particularly because it deals head-on with the grieving of Gepetto when he loses his son. His wooden carving is an attempt at a facsimile, but like the old expression “be careful what you wish for,” when the puppet comes to life, all is not well. (It actually feels more like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at times.) With some of the best production design on film this year and another award-worthy score by Alexandre Desplat, del Toro’s take breathed new life into age-old material.
Directed by Graham Moore from a screenplay by Moore and Jonathan McClain
Opening on Valentine’s Day, THE OUTFIT was a love letter to chamber piece thrillers like ROPE, SLEUTH, and FUNNY GAMES. In 1956, Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance) is an Englishman making a fine living as a tailor as well as letting the Chicago mob use his shop as a secret drop-off for illicit parcels. Leonard’s idyllic life is changed when one mobster shows up with stolen money and a bullet wound that he forces the ‘cutter’ to remove. From there, various friends and foes show up looking for the money and the gangster, not to mention answers to all kinds of life-and-death questions. The story becomes a parlor game of deception, gunplay, and twists. Rylance is a coy wonder, ably assisted by a sharp supporting cast headed by Zoey Deutch. It may have been a tight little thriller fitted to the big screen, but its rewards were extra-large.
PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH
Directed by Joel Crawford, from a screenplay by Paul Fisher, Tommy Swerdlow, and Tom Wheeler
The animated Puss in Boots stole the show in the second Shrek movie back in 2004, and after many other iterations, he returns to star in this big-screen sequel that is both hilarious and moving. This time out, Puss (voiced by Antonio Banderas, making his second appearance on my 10 Best List) has used up eight of his nine lives and he fears his time may be up. A swashbuckler like Puss has never known fear, so he embarks on a journey to find an enchanted wishing star in a mysterious forest, hoping to get a new lease on life. That may sound like pure fairy tale hokum, but what the film really has in mind is a close examination of the regrets and reckoning of a man, er feline. With Banderas as the voice, this remarkably poignant and pointed comedy cannot help but earn comparisons to a similar role the actor played in Pedro Almodovar’s PAIN & GLORY back in 2020. That remarkable film and this one should be on a double bill somewhere.
My 10 runners-up, all films I adored as well, are these: THE BATMAN, EMILY THE CRIMINAL, KIMI, MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS, SELENA GOMEZ: MY MIND & ME, BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE, AFTERSUN, GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY, THE GREAT SILENCE, and MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON.
So, those are my picks for 2022’s finest. What were your Top 10 of the year?