I watched just under 90 films that had their first wide Australian release in 2022. In terms of honourable mentions, there weren’t a whole lot of films that I was particularly bummed didn’t make the final list. But in terms of other things I liked, I thought Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Scream were both daftly titled, but cool continuations of iconic horror franchises. Lightyear was a better than expected family film and The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special was a blast of a seasonal music special. I dug Fire Island, Look Both Ways and Bones and All, three wildly different rom-coms, while Fire of Love was an excellent doco that had a strong romance element as well. The Woman King was a much needed extension of the historical action movie canon. Here’s my top 10(ish) for the year just gone.
10. The Wonder
As a huge fan of director Sebastian Lelio’s 2017 double Disobedience and A Fantastic Woman, I was keen to check this one out. It’s perhaps not as fully realised as those two, but he takes a fascinating approach to the material here. Bookended by a fourth-wall breaking device that ponders the nature of stories, belief and features an introductory voiceover. The theme of belief carries throughout the film – the deepest well of spirituality rests mainly with a single girl, scientific vs religious narratives. Florence Pugh gives an excellent performance as our unreliable way into the story. The script is nuanced, layers of dialogue with meaning. Maintains a great sense of mystery throughout, but the success or not of the film is not simply based on how that mystery is solved, but how it is filtered through everything else the film has previously established.
Certainly the most flawed film on this list, and probably the one I liked the least straight after seeing it. But ever since, I’ve looked back on it with increasing fondness. It’s such a big, strange, personal beast of a music biopic. Lots of it doesn’t work, but the parts that do leave a bigger impact. Both Tom Hanks and Baz Luhrmann are unleashed here. The director saturates small moments of acting and craft to give them weight. And he has a really good feel for conveying the power of music to make people feel all sorts of things. So important here. The editing, the layering of sequences on top of each other, contributes to this too. A real shaggy dog of a film. Though I think Austin Butler plays it pretty straight as Elvis, in a performance that is really effective. A delightfully deranged film.
8. Mental Health heroes of 2022 cinema
More and more cinema is examining mental health and in an ever-widening array of ways. These two films were both surprising places to find this examination and are a good example of that diversity of consideration emerging.
Selena Gomez: My Mind and Me
Having only a passing familiarity with Gomez, I came to this with a pretty clean slate. It’s extremely raw and open stuff. In a way that is confronting at times. It’s interesting to watch the evolution of her music, and her satisfaction with it, alongside her mental health journey. There’s also this friction between her and the inanity of the cycle of press tours and the particular music she is expected to make. This also does a good job of telling the story of what her mental health struggles were like for the people that love her. Whilst this is universal, it is also a look at her unique situation and the particular crushing loneliness of it all. A much more challenging film than I was expecting.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie
Mental health isn’t the singular focus of this film like it is for the above. But the open struggles and reflections of Louise with anxiety and pressure helps provide it with a lot of the heart that made it such a great extension of the show. They bring that to a really nice circle at the end and the messaging is really strong. The storytelling is excellent, it’s thrilling and fun when it wants to be. And I absolutely loved the songs which were a surprise. I actually think that if this had lent into the musical element a little more, this would be even higher on the list. The big dance routines are so fun and well-choreographed.
A worthy addition to the pantheon of Philly-set underdog sporting tales. And whilst some of the familiar elements are here – this features some of the best training montages in an age – it’s also enough of a twist on the formula to feel fresh. Two individuals yearning to help one of them make it in a team sport. It’s immersive both into the world of basketball (both street ball and NBA) and the location, especially through the Philadelphia hip-hop centric soundtrack (gets a million bonus points from me for using The Roots ‘The Seed (2.0)’). Uses non-professional basketball folks to enhance this really effectively. Absolutely crushes the film’s big couple of emotional moments. For me, this is Sandler’s very best performance as well.
6. European tales of motherhood
Parenting and kids feature as predominant elements in a lot of films on this list. These two are interesting for their focus on mothers, different approaches to nurture and how they use genre to explore those.
An amazing combination of creature feature and thematic concern. Depictions of ‘influencer culture’ in film are often used to pretty thin ends. But here it’s a fascinating place from which to launch considerations of artifice, motherhood, modes of nurture and notions of being replaceable (both as a mother and in broader relationship terms). It feels rather strange from the start, only enhanced by the giant egg that lends itself to some great visuals. The creature design is some of the best of recent years. At first schlocky and imbued with lots of (often charming) character. It evolves into something gruesome, primal and at times downright terrifying. And that plays alongside those other themes already established by the film, particularly considering unwavering support vs cynical exploitation.
A film about the intangibility of the notion of a ‘good’ mother, infused with some old school Almodóvar melodrama. A mix only he could pull off. Here he is pondering the role of community, particularly found community in getting through life. It’s a very rich film and a lot to take in on first watch. Almodóvar is accessing a lot of universal stuff in this very specific tale. The way that people and relationships cycle and circle back around, even over generations. Judgement and a lack of love where it should be overflowing. The pain of loneliness in times of great need. And perhaps most importantly (or what spoke to me most strongly): the fear of being a burden we must all ultimately overcome if we wish to access that communal love and survival.
5. Wash My Soul in the Rivers Flow
Functions as a very good concert film and much more. The way the film uses the metaphor of water and the river sets it apart. Uses loads of lovely imagery of the Murray to an almost meditative effect. The first words are the most beautiful expression of love from Archie to Ruby. And the film fleshes out that relationship, adding depth to a duo many of us felt we knew well due to their performances over a long period of time. They were such different performers and personalities. The film weaves their story in and around the songs really well too. Their love story, wrenching reflections on being part of the stolen generation. A film about the notion of being so broken that you don’t think you can be put together again. And the ability of love and art to overcome that.
4. Foreign cinema where the credits are like 40 minutes in
Ok the heading for this one is a little glib (though for some reason, I get a legitimate thrill when the credits are ages into a movie). But I do think there are similarities with these two. They were both massive breakout hits. And they did that by sitting way outside the traditional ‘western’ mould of storytelling in very different ways.
It feels like everything has probably already been said about this word-of-mouth sensation. Bombastic but tightly directed. It sings and soars for basically it’s entire 187 minutes. Chaos and action with enough grounding in India’s colonial history to add intrigue on a plot level. And it does get bleak and harsh at points. The whole thing has a flamboyance we are not used to in our action cinema, the Naatu Naatu dance sequence being the best example. Ponders male friendship, kinship and connection in really meaningful ways. Manages to be simultaneously incredibly genuine, slightly goofy, but also dripping in cool.
Drive My Car
One of those films that is tricky to pin down in a way that makes you like it more rather than less. A film concerned with storytelling, the mysterious ways in which people move through life and at times how those two intersect. The way that personal informality can contrast with cultural formality. It’s lightly and gently delivered, but is never boring. A film that draws the viewer into its rhythm and holds them there. Observational with a technical formalism and simplicity that is imbued with meaning. Even the twists feel matter of fact. Subtly about all different kinds of relationships and especially resiliences. The stark pain of emotions left unsaid.
3. The Banshees of Inisherin
Given the broad-based appeal of this film, it’s surprising how challenging it is in some ways. It’s a combination of laugh out loud and bleak, that really shouldn’t work. The performances play a big part in that tone working – yes Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, but also the main supports in Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan. Ponders men not in touch with their emotions. Gleeson and Farrell just work together so well. They look cool together onscreen and they just fit. There’s a very unique hurt to a relationship suddenly going away, especially when all was well. Farrell conveying that confusion and the depth of that pain is maybe the finest work of his career. The abrupt jolt in the suddenness of that loss. There’s something universal to the loss of his person and his anchor. Two people grappling with very different things in their life. The very bleak ending to a laugh out loud funny film is the perfect conclusion. A wonderful film.
Of all the films on this list, it is this one that probably feels the most unique. It’s an action film with a relentlessness and feeling of being pitched into the events I’m not sure I’ve experienced before. It’s basically 97 minutes minutes of sheer chaos presented onscreen starkly and with real filmmaking clarity. Opens with a long, uninterrupted barrage that a lot of people have spoken about. But it does not really let up from there. The battle between the police and the migrant communities spilling back to the housing commission. The film has a rad visual style that never obscures and uses the pulsing score to great effect. Amidst the chaos, it’s an almost Shakespearean film of family too, with in-film radicalisation, shifting allegiances and attempts to placate or inflame.
1. The Quiet Girl
Gentle filmmaking but very meaningful and impactful. A film on how neglect can seep into a child and dull them. The insidious fate of the unloved. Of the simple acts filled with love and togetherness that can put them back together. There’s a quiet, and a deep sadness to both the main character and the film as a whole. The direction is controlled and excellent, particularly in how it draws an all-time child performance from Catherine Clinch in the main role. The ending of this film broke me. It involves a melancholy and drawn out journey. A briefly unfinished goodbye. Wrenching, though there’s hope to be found. Interestingly in a year of excellent films about motherhood, it’s this one, perhaps one of the greatest films on childhood ever made, that tops the list.
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