This is the first year in which we got to see just what kinds of films artists would make post-quarantine — until now, most of what’s been released were finished or close to being finished before the pandemic hit. Within the strictures of new production models, the division between competent and incompetent filmmakers has perhaps never been starker. Amidst a lot of forgettable, misaimed fare, here are some of the best movies from 2022, with choice quotes from myself and others. —Dan Schindel
1. No Bears
Despite his professed belief in the purpose of art, Jafar Panahi asks bleak questions about its potential. “The power of cinema” is often invoked in a sentimental way, but No Bears considers that concept in a more pessimistic mode. Simply by observing reality with his camera, he finds that he inadvertently makes things worse, while his attempt to make a film with a happy ending ultimately sours … Cinema might be a great art worth fighting for, but it may not be able to save anyone. Given Panahi’s situation, that could be taken as a message of despair, but it reads more like a fiercely clear-eyed assessment of the world, one molded by his unique perspective. —DS
2. Crimes of the Future
Crimes of the Future is a revamped megamix of vintage Cronenberg vibes, featuring the sci-fi stylings of The Fly, the sexual fetishism of Crash, and the bodily transmutations of Videodrome … Funny, serious, and sexy all at once, it plumbs a vein of body horror that, while provocative, has blood pumping in its hot little heart. Cronenberg presents the appetites of these characters without comment. If surgery is the new sex, then so be it … he views the primal urgency driving his characters into the future as the same force guiding us now in the present. —Sophie Monks Kaufman
3. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
The film could be seen jointly as a Laura Poitras political piece and a Nan Goldin artwork. But that would obscure on the one hand Goldin’s razor-sharp political acumen … and on the other hand the tenderness with which Poitras weaves together Goldin’s words and pictures. By re-presenting her works as personal documents, Poitras returns them to their original state, as photographs of Goldin’s loved ones … The structure forcefully posits multiple parallels between the world Goldin grew up in and the one she fights in today — between AIDS and the opioid crisis, between historical and contemporary neglect of the marginalized, between queer life then and now … This film is a survivor’s testimony, delving into the archive to brutally bittersweet effect. —DS
4. Saint Omer
Snuck into theaters briefly toward the end of the year for the sake of qualifying for awards, this movie should not go overlooked. (It’ll be getting a proper release a few weeks down the line; keep an eye out.) The first fiction feature from experienced French documentarian Alice Diop, it turns a disquieting real-life court case around an immigrant woman accused of infanticide into a quiet but strongly felt drama. Diop takes deceptively simple setups — a series of shots of the defendant, a judge, attorneys, witnesses, and other characters in their assigned spaces within a courtroom — and gradually builds her story’s emotional power as their testimonies complicate what, at first, looks like a straightforward tragedy. It’s a terrific film about immigration, alienation, racism, motherhood, parental expectations, and class, without ever once preaching (which is all the more remarkable given its inherently didactic setup). —DS
Saint Omer is not yet available to the public.
5. Decision to Leave
Park Chan-wook became known thanks to his early ultra-violent thrillers. As the years have gone by, though, he’s increasingly become fixated on stylistic exploration, fetishizing form instead of bloodshed (though that will certainly still pop up). His latest is a deliciously involving tumble down a rabbit hole of obsession. Against his better judgment, a detective falls in love with a suspect in his murder case — and don’t they so often seem to? Park loves to deepen cliches until they irresistibly pull an audience under, and each twist and turn of this story makes it all the more engrossing … and ultimately heartbreaking. —DS
Decision to Leave is available on streaming services.
Every inch of Inu-Oh exists in a space between tradition and modernity. It’s in Masaaki Yuasa’s freeform art style, mixing millennia of different Japanese art styles, and it’s in composer Otomo Yoshihide’s blending biwa instrumentation with the sensibilities of Elvis, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Freddie Mercury. The film imagines Noh performances as rock concerts full of color, light, and gleefully anachronistic gyrations. But Akiko Nogi’s script, adapted from Hideo Furukawa’s novel, isn’t all about showiness. It also leans heavily on the relationship between Inu-Oh and Tomona, and the film’s identity is as fluid and malleable as theirs. —Juan Barquin
This biopic of British poet Siegfried Sassoon (known not just for his work but also for being committed to a psychiatric facility for his opposition to World War I) asks hard questions about art’s ability to heal trauma. As he turns what haunts him into poetry, he finds increasing success and acceptance within high society, but little salve for his soul. Terence Davies can construct elegant character studies like few other directors, and this one builds slowly but surely to a masterful crescendo. —DS
Benediction is available on streaming services.
8. Mad God
Phil Tippett is drawing on a dizzying array of inspirations for a project which, at its barbed-wire-wrapped heart, is about the horror of dehumanization in a simple, elemental manner. It’s Bosch by way of artists like Francis Bacon, Zdzisław Beksiński, and H.R. Giger. This is all the more impressive given that a great deal of Mad God’s world was created with found objects — things Tippett sourced from around the house or repurposed from earlier projects. When interviewed, he cites the Surrealist assemblage of Joseph Cornell as an influence … It is sometimes difficult to believe you are looking at dioramas and puppets. The many buildings, landscapes, and terrifying leviathans are convincingly monumental, enhancing the all-pervasive sense of foreboding. The clever framing and especially the intricate soundscape aid in this effect. This is a film of tiny beings making echoes that become whispers against a void. —DS
9. Neptune Frost
What’s most interesting about Neptune Frost is the way it addresses ecological and political crises with blunt force. Hopefully it may help more people recognize the costs of present-day capitalism, albeit through the scrim of so-called “science fiction.” At a fraction of the usual cost, Anisia Uzeyman and Saul Williams have performed a radical intervention upon a genre that has been massacred in recent years by the “cinematic universes” of Disney, Marvel, and so on. The movie is also a referendum — not on the meager trickle of African cinema that makes its way to the United States, but rather on the preponderance of images (many of them engineered in Western documentary labs) that depict the continent as a barren wasteland. In its most startling moments, Neptune Frost is a vivid reminder of the potential for new visions of old catastrophes. —Steve Macfarlane
Read our original review.
But one of the most refreshing things about Jordan Peele is that this theme is just one of the many things on his mind here. It shouldn’t feel so rare for a mainstream filmmaker to be able to create smart works with easy mass appeal, but here we are. Nope is about the philosophy of spectacle, the attention economy, hustle culture, and, believe it or not, the treatment of animals in Hollywood, among other things. That it manages all this without holding the audience’s hand while also being consistently exciting, funny, and actually fucking scary is even more thrilling. —DS
And some honorable mentions: The Fabelmans, The Banshees of Inisherin, A Couple, EO, Aftersun, RRR, Flux Gourmet, The Novelist’s Film, Riotsville USA, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, Petite Maman, Cane Fire, Three Minutes – A Lengthening, and The Tusuga Diaries