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2022 Top 10

The Year's Best Films


1. Aftersun (in theaters & on VOD) In an astonishingly confident feature directorial debut, writer-director Charlotte Wells explores the coming of age of an 11-year-old-girl (Frankie Corio); the troubled mind, body, and spirit of her father (Paul Mescal); and their loving but frustrated relationship. It’s a memory piece (seen in hindsight by the grown child in her mind and on digital video) of the father and daughter’s Turkish vacation and, as such, deceptively simple. Yet Aftersun proves patient, subtle, intimate, and devastating, with visual language—and two brilliant performances—articulating what the characters cannot.

2. TÁR (in theaters & on VOD, 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital) Writer-director Todd Field (In the Bedroom, Little Children) returns, after a sixteen-year absence, with a magnum opus about the fictional composer-conductor Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett). Convincingly taking us inside the tony, antiseptic world of world-class symphonies, the elites who traffic in and around them, and the ordinary people caught up in their orbit, TÁR deals with the artist’s temperament, as well as abuse of power and cancel culture. Field’s insinuating approach, which slowly drifts from uber-realism into dreamlike psychosis, matches perfectly to Blanchett’s searing tour de force.

3. Benediction (on Hulu & VOD) The great English filmmaker Terence Davies takes on the life and loves of the great WWI poet Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden and, later, Peter Capaldi), making of them a lyrical, spiritual masterpiece. Benediction proves vivid all around, in its imagery, its themes (the holy madness of unlucky love and the haunted, hard-earned nihilism of the “overeducated”), and especially its portrait of Sassoon, in a performance by Lowden that heralds a young talent on the order of Richard Burton or Anthony Hopkins.

4. No Bears (in theaters) Iran’s greatest filmmaker again turns his camera on himself with the endearing, playful, and unsettling metafictional narrative No Bears. Jafar Panahi suffuses his latest with the joy of filmmaking and his gratitude at every opportunity to put into practice his well-honed craft. Panahi’s cherishment of freedom is not merely theoretical: in July, Panahi began serving a six-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the regime.” No Bears depicts the friendly and threatening sides of community, near a border that’s just as dangerous as it is invisible.

5. The Northman (on Amazon Prime Video, VOD, 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital) Robert Eggers’ wild and woolly Norse epic, not for the faint of heart, brims with mysticism and Jungian symbolism as its antihero (a hulking Alexander Skarsgard) doggedly pursues revenge. Through the power of directorial artistry and imaginative acting, The Northman transports us to an ancient, and thereby alien, warrior culture and spirituality and the diction of epic poetry—a time and place when life was truly nasty, brutish, and short. Cycles of generational trauma travel through and culminate in visions both mythic and psychedelic.

6. Decision to Leave (in theaters & on MUBI) This superb neo-noir from Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Snowpiercer, The Handmaiden) cultivates a chilly elegance in telling the story of an insomniac detective (Park Hae-il) and the murder suspect (Tang Wei) who may be his femme fatale, his true love, or both. The romantic obsession that ensues ends up involving a kind of mutual voyeurism, conjuring comparisons to Hitchcock and, in particular, Vertigo. Beautifully performed and photographed, with a surplus of fresh imagery, Decision to Leave is pure cinematic artistry.

7. Playground (on MUBI, VOD, & DVD) Childhood, such an important time in all of our lives, poses a creative challenge in accurately evoking it, due to generation gaps, commercial mandates, and the delicate task of coaching young actors. Laura Mandel’s Playground, then, proves all the more precious in its immediacy, its immersion into a kid-sized world just halfway off the ground from the rest of us. An ensemble of gifted young actors navigates a story backwards engineered from a tragedy, to illustrate how the unthinkable becomes not only possible but inevitable.

8. EO (in theaters) This modernistic reboot of Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthasar by octogenarian filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski (Deep End) still stars an inscrutable donkey and puts forward a jaundiced view of humanity’s runaway domination of nature, which does what it does regardless, plowing forward until it dies. In a way, Skolimowski’s version offers a purer version of the concept, less interested in any one human character or set of characters but rather doubling down on what an episodic structure can reveal about contemporary existence while consistently capturing and arranging arresting imagery.

9. Bad Axe (on VOD) In his feature debut, David Siev turns his documentary camera onto his family and his hometown of Bad Axe, Michigan. That family—of Cambodian descent but grown in diversity through marriages and romantic partnerships—resembles most American families: the product of difficult immigration and assimilation, bonded by a family business and traditions, but divided over the wisdom of public political protest in a town all-too-typically marked by Covid-exacerbated economic depression and racial tension. Deeply emotional and ultimately hopeful, Bad Axe speaks eloquently to our shared American moment.

10. Neptune Frost (on VOD, Blu-ray & DVD) Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman’s high-concept, gender-fluid musical allegorical science-fiction dreamscape contains a fiercely confident, hopeful vision of liberation from the ugliness of modern civilization. Set in Burundi and shot in Rwanda, this tale of workers mining the coltan that we use for our laptops and cell phones and cameras, and awakening to the resistance necessary to overcome exploitation, employs phenomenal costume design, hair and makeup, lighting and photography to create a dazzlingly colorful and truly special cinematic art piece.

Runners-up (Narrative): Close (theaters); Lost Illusions (MUBI, VOD, Blu-ray, DVD); Confess, Fletch (Paramount+, Showtime); The Banshees of Inisherin (HBO Max, VOD, Blu-ray, DVD); The Inspection (VOD); Saint Omer (coming soon to theaters); She Said (VOD); Return to Seoul (theaters); Nope (Peacock, VOD, 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD); A Love Song (VOD); Women Talking (theaters); Triangle of Sadness (theaters, VOD); Great Freedom (MUBI, VOD); Flux Gourmet (VOD); Stars at Noon (Hulu, VOD); The Quiet GirlWhite Noise (Netflix); Hit the Road (Blu-ray, DVD); Funny Pages (VOD); Wyrm (Hulu); Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood (Netflix); Crimes of the Future (Hulu, VOD).

Runners-up (Documentary): Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism (Netflix, VOD, Blu-ray, DVD), My Old School (Hulu, VOD), Wildcat (theaters, Prime Video), Retrograde (Disney+, Hulu), Turn Every Page—The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb (coming soon to theaters), Good Night Oppy (Prime Video).

Animated winners: Wendell & Wild (Netflix), Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio (Netflix), Turning Red (Disney+, VOD), The Sea Beast (Netflix), Belle (HBO Max, VOD).

My Inner 10-year-old's Favorite Film of the Year: The Batman (HBO Max, VOD, 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD)

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