As I walked out of a screening of “Aftersun,” a public-relations person asked what I thought of it.
“I’m not sure what I just watched,” I said. “But I loved it.”
That’s the way it is with some movies. They may move you without you immediately knowing exactly why. You need to let them “sit” as you ponder the mysteries behind them, as you attempt to answer the question “What was that all about?”
These often (though certainly not always) turn out to be the best movies. Rather than spoon feed us simplistic messages or attempt to manipulate our emotions with blatant contrivances, these films often capture something deeper, more complex, more challenging about what it means to be alive.
That’s the case with most, if not all, of my choices for 2022’s best films.
I can almost guarantee that most of you haven’t heard of some of the movies listed here. There are several reasons for this: the ongoing effects of COVID on how we view movies, the struggles of movie theaters, the proliferation of streaming sources. There’s also the sheer number of movies coming out. When the Boston Society of Film Critics met this month for our annual vote, there were 1,158 films that qualified as 2022 releases. Is it any wonder, then, that some might not have been on your radar?
That said, what follows are my 10 favorite films of the year, followed by a list of those receiving honorable mention, followed by a list of my favorite performances of the year.
1. “Zero Fucks Given.” Hey, I didn’t name it. And it’s up to my Wave editor and pal Mr. Tarcy on whether you see the title with asterisks or its real spelling. Regardless, it’s a knockout. And, apparently, the only place you can see it at this point is on the Mubi streaming service. Seek it out. The French-Belgian dramedy, directed by Julie Lecoustre and Emmanuel Marre, stars Adele Exarchopoulos (“Blue Is the Warmest Color”) as Cassandre, a flight attendant with no personal or professional direction. She just does what she has to do to get by on her job (a smiling test she performs as part of her training is both hilarious and painful), and parties with random men in her spare time. Why is she the way she is? That question is what gives this character study its weight, and why it’s so much more than it might initially seem. Well, that and Exarchopoulos’ extraordinary performance.
2. “Aftersun.” How well do we know others, even the people we think we know the best? A daughter wrestles with this while looking back at a vacation she spent at age 11 with her father at a second-rate resort in Turkey. In many ways, it seems like a typical, relatively uneventful vacation – you keep waiting for something tragic, or at least highly dramatic, to occur. But newcomer Charlotte Welles, the film’s writer-director, doesn’t compromise in this way; she holds back information, the background details, and instead explores broader – yet more subtle – feelings of connection, loss, regret. Paul Mescal, as the loving father struggling with emotional pain, and Frankie Corio, as the daughter adapting to early adolescence, are perfect in their roles.
3. “After Yang.” In writer-director Kogonada’s moving sci-fi drama, set in the near future, a couple (Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith) have two children, a young daughter (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) and her gentle older brother, Yang (Justin H. Min), who happens to be an android. The film explores what happens when Yang breaks down and might not be able to be repaired. As the family mourns his possible loss, the film considers what it means to be human, and what it might mean to be a different kind of conscious being. This isn’t the first time such subjects have been tackled – consider “Blade Runner,” “Aliens” or “2001: A Space Odyssey,” for starters – but they’ve perhaps never been considered with such tenderness. Also starring Haley Lu Richardson and Clifton Collins Jr.
4. “My Old School.” The less you know about it, the better, but. … Jono McLeod’s documentary presents a stranger-than-fiction true story about an unusual student who attends an academy in an upper-class section of Glasgow, Scotland. McLeod combines animation, vintage photos, current interviews with former classmates and actor Alan Cumming lip-syncing the words of the central character (who refused to go on camera) to create one of the most offbeat, entertaining films of the year. Stick around for the end credits, when Lulu (yes, of “To Sir, With Love” fame) belts out her version of Steely Dan’s “My Old School.”
5. “Emily the Criminal.” Wry, sullen or somewhere in between, Aubrey Plaza always is compelling, whether in comedies (“Parks and Recreation”) or drama (“Black Bear”). Here she plays the title character, who struggles to pay off student loans, has limited employment opportunities, and eventually drifts into crime. Writer-director John Patton Ford makes his feature-film debut with this smart, no-frills look at how desperation can lead people to make bad choices while pursuing the American Dream.
6. “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel about the harrowing experiences of German soldiers fighting on the front lines during World War I, the original film, starring Lew Ayres, won a well-deserved best-picture Oscar in 1930. This year’s German remake, directed by Edward Berger, is just as good. It’s an uncompromising view of the horrors of war and its waste of humanity, as well as a poignant look at the camaraderie that develops among soldiers from different backgrounds. The cinematography and chilling score are especially memorable.
7. “Anonymous Gods.” This Japanese drama was written and directed by a former film student of mine, Steven J. Martin. But that’s not why it appears on this list. A former Cape Codder now living in Japan, Martin makes serious, artistic films about life’s big issues in a way similar to Ingmar Bergman, though with a poetic style uniquely his own. (His “Unplayed Lullaby,” released earlier in the year, appears among the films receiving honorable mention.) Here he focuses on two lesbian couples as they consider everything from what qualifies someone as an artist to the impact of social media on modern life. Nana Akuzama, Chika Kinoshita, Kozue Ito and Ikumi Tsuchiya are outstanding as the four women.
8. “The Banshees of Inisherin.” The “In Bruges” team of writer-director Martin McDonagh and actors Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson join forces again for this dark dramedy about a friendship that turns sour. Set in the 1920s on an island off the coast of Ireland, it begins with Colm (Gleeson) deciding to cut ties with lifelong best buddy Padriac (Farrell) so he can devote more time to composing music. Padriac doesn’t understand, Colm is adamant, and things escalate. Meanwhile, civil war rages on the mainland. The symbolism is obvious, but what makes the film special – besides Farrell and Gleeson working at top form – is the way it questions how we choose to spend our lives. What, for example, is more important: to leave an artistic contribution or simply to be nice to the people around you?
9. “The Eternal Daughter.” British writer-director Joanna Hogg is on quite a streak, with three compelling dramas in the past four years: “The Souvenir,” “The Souvenir Part II,” and, now, “The Eternal Daughter.” In her latest, an artist and her elderly mother – both played, brilliantly, by Tilda Swinton – visit an old hotel that used to be the family estate and are haunted by their memories. Like “Aftersun” (another film about a daughter wrestling with the past), Hogg’s gloomy drama leaves much for interpretation, but in a good way. Carly-Sophia Davis makes the most of a relatively small role as a comically brusque hotel receptionist.
10. “Downton Abbey: A New Era.” If, like me, you can’t get enough of the long-running saga of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, you understand why this second spinoff film from the PBS “Masterpiece” series appears on this list. Sure, it’s more of the same. Sure, it’s a glossy soap opera. But what a soap opera, with unforgettable characters many of us have come to love, including Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary, Robert James-Collier’s Thomas Barrow, Hugh Bonneville’s Robert Crawley and, of course, Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley.
Honorable mention: “Causeway,” “Sundown,” “Broker,” “Living,” “The Quiet Girl,” “Amsterdam,” “Holy Spider,” “Unplayed Lullaby,” “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” “God’s Country,” “Moonage Daydream,” “The Woman King,” “Women Talking,” “Return to Seoul,” “Official Competition.”
10 best performances
1. Ana de Armas, “Blonde”
2. Colin Farrell, “The Banshees of Inisherin”
3. Mia Goth, “Pearl”
4. Mark Rylance, “Bones and All”
5. Rory Kinnear, “Men”
6. Brendan Fraser, “The Whale”
7. Adele Exarchopoulos, “Zero Fucks Given”
8. Tilda Swinton, “Eternal Daughter”
9. Thandiwe Newton, “God’s Country”
10. Nana Akuzama, “Anonymous Gods”
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member and (as of Jan. 1) co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.