Happy Holidays to you, FITI reader! I hope you’re getting some downtime and seeing a few good films this season.
Here’s the official FLAW IN THE IRIS list of the best movies of 2022, arriving a little earlier than it usually does in the first or second week of January. That’s partly due to my having been at TIFF in September — it gave me a leg up on seeing many of the prestige pictures that are now in the awards conversation. If I haven’t quite caught up to everything I’ve wanted to see this year, this is true of *every* year I attempt to assemble my list — no matter when I do it.
I like to remind readers a big part of my personal criteria for this list comes from asking myself: what movies have aged well in my mind? What scenes have replayed themselves behind my eyes, what characters continue to live in my head and haven’t just vanished as soon as the film ended? A big part of that is an intangible concern: rewatchability. If I want to come back to the film again and again, I tend to rate it higher. The following films, where possible, I’ve seen at least twice.
Click on the title to read my original review.
Amongst the year’s best series was The White Lotus, and while Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness has things in common with that takedown of the privileged classes, where the series’ satire is like a scalpel, the movie is more of a sledgehammer — hilarious and unforgettable, though.
9) I enjoyed The Banshees of Inisherin a great deal when I saw it at TIFF, and seeing it a second time on streaming made the experience deeper and richer.
Credit to writer-director Martin McDonough for the balance between pathos and humour that makes the film so special, the story of the falling out between two old friends (played by In Bruges killers Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell) on an Irish island that simply couldn’t be more elemental or lonely in a film so whimsical and funny. (Disney+)
Aubrey Plaza’s been making some good decisions with her career recently, developing projects with her Evil Hag shingle and appearing in interesting indie projects like Happiest Season and Black Bear. Here’s another, where she’s playing a Los Angeles artist and catering worker bridling under massive student debt who chooses to do something illegal and the complicated, dangerous world that decision leads her into. She carries the picture effortlessly, while first-time feature filmmaker John Patton Ford dials up the suspense. (Netflix)
7) Steven Soderbergh’s Kimi might turn out to be Hollywood’s best representative of the Covid-era, one that echoes the fear and desperation of what we all went through in a terrific, 89-minute movie.
Zoë Kravitz is digital watchdog who hears evidence of a murder over a recording made by one of those desktop home assistants and ends up hunted for it. One part Rear Window, one part The Conversation, and one part whip-smart pandemic thriller. (Crave)
This might be the most controversial pick on this list. A few of my fellow film reviewers pointed to The Wonder as the Florence Pugh picture to see this fall, calling this one a bungle. On the contrary, I’d say this Olivia Wilde picture is the one to prioritize. Don’t Worry Darling is a sharply directed, immersive sci-fi thriller that would’ve made Pugh a star if she wasn’t one already, envisioning an Eisenhower-era fantasy of absolute conservative male supremacy with a pile of resonance to the present day. Some critics called it a poor version of a Black Mirror episode, that’s where they’re wrong — it’s an excellent take on one of those chilly tech visions. (Crave)
Another adaptation of a fairy tale, especially one made famous by Disney, didn’t excite me, but how wrong I was about this dark fable. Naturally, del Toro (with collaborators Mark Gustafson and Patrick McHale) makes it all about brief lives and monsters, turning the little wooden boy into a Frankenstein figure. Gorgeous to see, spotted with sweet songs, the one thing it genuinely has in common with Disney? It might still make you cry in the end. (Netflix)
4) Nope is the roaring return of Jordan Peele, who delivers on the promise of Get Out after the mixed result of Us. Nope has both the scale and intimacy of early Spielberg, delivering a mix of wonder and real creeps.
The film has a lot on its mind, exploring themes around our need for spectacle, our treatment of animals, and the way Hollywood exploits minorities, as well as being both a western and an alien invasion picture. Easily the best of the summer blockbusters this year, or many years. (VOD)
My favourite film at TIFF, a lovely Parisienne drama from Mia Hansen-Løve about a single mother’s relationship with a married man and her attempt to help her father find care while he suffers from a grim neurodegenerative disease. The film, however, is anything but grim, a slice-of-life love story that genuinely transports. (coming in 2023)
2) In the 21st Century, David Cronenberg moved away from the body-horror films he’d become identified with, preferring instead thrillers like Eastern Promises or odd art house experiments like Cosmopolis. In his wake filmmakers like Julia Ducournau and Cronenberg’s own son, Brandon, stepped up to make movies that dug into the horror. Crimes Of The Future is David Cronenberg’s response: “Hold my beer.”
It’s a deeply weird, dryly funny, future horrorshow where people (like Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Stewart) have lost the ability to feel pain while staying busy growing strange mutant organs. Some of these folks incorporate that organ removal into their performance art — surgery is the new sex, etc. If that sounds exciting, I’ve got the movie for you. (Crave)
1) Turning Red
I’ve been a long admirer of Pixar, but while I’ve adored a number of their films over the years — Wall-E, Up, and Ratatouille leap to mind — I’ve never been struck by one right in the chest like I was with Turning Red. That was partly due to its setting — one of my hometowns, Toronto, in 2002 just before I left it — but mostly it’s because I felt like I was watching something genuinely new — the story (from Oscar-winning filmmaker Domee Shi) of the relationship between a mother and daughter in the Chinese-Canadian community that’s really about the secrets held between generations and the changes that naturally come with age. I figured that when its tween heroine transforms into a bear the film would be a puberty analogy, but it’s got a lot more going on than just that. Turning Red is as sophisticated a film as I’ve ever seen ostensibly aimed at a younger audience. It’s simply a bonus that it’s a genuine Canadian story, too.
The Batman is an emo noir that made me care about the Caped Crusader again. The zeitgeist-shaking time-shifting thriller Everything Everywhere All At Once deserved all the accolades it got for its concept, performances, and heart. One of the most purely entertaining, escapist films of the year is Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which sees Daniel Craig return to the role that could make him as well-known as Bond if he keeps making movies this much fun with Rian Johnson. A gorgeous surprise at TIFF was Living, a remake of an Akira Kurosawa picture set in 1950s London, starring a never-better Bill Nighy — expect it in the new year.
Prey is something of a shock, a spin-off of the moribund Predator franchise that is an original and exciting period action thriller featuring a cast mostly made up of Native Americans, but the biggest, most epic (and cheesiest) action blockbuster of the year comes from India, RRR. For something entirely different, consider Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir Part II a clever, semi-autobiographical take on how she became a filmmaker, but maybe see last year’s The Souvenir first.
Tár is a movie I had lots of trouble with in the cinema but it stayed in my mind long after, especially Cate Blanchett’s performance. It also came up frequently in conversations with other cinephiles and now I can’t deny it’s a special, if somewhat confounding, picture. The Woman King is unlike any other movie this year, or many years, a thrilling picture based in the history of African women warriors that gives Viola Davis another stellar role.
And Women Talking is Sarah Polley’s return to feature films following a 10-year-absence, a powerful feminist drama that everyone should see. You’ll get a chance to in the next couple of weeks.
A tip of the critical cap to the local filmmakers who launched or returned to careers as filmmakers this year with pictures like Night Blooms, which screened in cinemas, as well as Bystanders, Compulsus, and Queens of the Qing Dynasty, all of which wowed audiences on the festival circuit. Hopefully we’ll see them on the big screen in the new year.
I don’t see as many documentaries as I’d like to, but I want to flag three this year that left a mark: the gorgeous All That Breathes, Tantura, and Geographies of Solitude, about Zoe Lucas and her work on Sable Island. Hopefully that latter film will arrive in cinemas soon.
And a final nod to Jeff Barnaby, the Mi’kmaq filmmaker who passed away this year. All the features from him I wish we could’ve seen. Do yourself a favour and watch Blood Quantum, now on CBC Gem.
Please click here for my alternate list, the Top 10 Under-The-Radar films of 2022.
If there’s something good to be taken from Black Adam it’s the possibility that studios will learn that they can’t just choose a name from a deep roster of obscure supervillains, attach a popular lead, make a deeply mediocre movie and expect people to care about it.
Speaking of an exhausted genre, Blacklight could be an indicator that it’s time for Liam Neeson to hang up the special set of skills.
If there was an award for the Most Shallow biopic of the year, it would go to Elvis, which has about 25 minutes of good movie in its over two-and-a-half-hour running time. Just cut together most of Austin Butler’s on-stage performance scenes.
And on that semi-sour note, I’ll sign off for 2022. Thank you for reading FLAW IN THE IRIS. See you at the movies in 2023.