My Top 12 movies of 2022, and emphasis on 'My!'

It’s that time of the year when these ‘Best Of’ lists crop up; and here’s my submission, with disclaimers and all. First disclaimer is that this list refers to films I’ve actually watched. So I’m sure there are some worthy ones out there not on this list. Then there’s the unfortunate fact that I did not get to watch many Filipino films during the year - something I hope to rectify in 2023.

So what a year of ups and downs for cinema. While the Doctor Strange and Top Gun: Maverick box office figures had writers talking about a longed-for revival and golden return for cinemas after the COVID-health crisis, this note of optimism may have been premature. The second half of 2022 saw so many highly publicized films hitting the proverbial wall and ‘dying’, as audiences shunned the cinemas and waited patiently for these films’ release on the streaming apps.

And it was a shame, as the year did see a bumper crop of quality films. So in no particular order, here are my picks of the ones I enjoyed the most, and why they make the magic circle:

Triangle of Sadness - Östlund’s Force Majeure and The Square were old favorites of mine, and while for me, this one doesn’t match those two other films, it’s a smart satire about the super-rich and our culture of influencers. Even if this film didn’t have Dolly de Leon, there’d be much to recommend about this film; and how it skewers our fascination with popular culture, social media, and status symbols.

The Banshees of Inisherin - Martin McDonagh gave us In Bruges and Three Billboards, and for this latest, he reunites Farrell and Gleeson from Bruges, and gifts us with an acting piece that speaks volumes about how ridiculous, and yet ripe with dire consequences, feuds, war and battles can be. We often don’t even know how these acts of protracted violence start, and yet, they happen all over the world.

Everything Everywhere All at Once - Absurdist Science Fiction and the multiverse made a great transition to film via this outing from The Daniels, that managed to be thought-provoking, while also just fun and entertaining. Where else can you find SciFi, martial arts, fantasy, and animation all blending together, with a cast led by Michelle Yeoh? Plus Ke Huy Quan, who was Short Round in Indiana Jones’ Temple of Doom.

Top Gun: Maverick - How can we ignore the film that single-handedly had observers proclaiming the return of the ‘box office hit’ in 2022? Sure it was popcorn, but it was gourmet popcorn - with the right blend of nostalgia, a fresh narrative, and a compelling cast of old and new characters working together. That Tom Cruise could make this all work speaks volume of his residual Star Power.

Catherine Called Birdy - Released exclusively on Amazon Prime, this feminist, medieval period dramatic comedy just has so many things working in it’s favor. It’s got a whipsmart script from Lena Dunham, a great ensemble cast led by Ella Ramsey and Andrew Scott, and brilliantly brings the beloved book to screen life. Dunham directs, and does a great job making a 13th century setting speak of today.

Turning Red - Besides making a young Chinese-Canadian girl your central character, this animated feature also makes the onset of puberty and her first menstrual period central elements of the engaging narrative, that takes on themes of identity, coming of age, ethnicity, and parenting. There’s also some imaginative animation to be found here, and I loved the Asian influences in the story telling.

Glass Onions: A Knives Out Mystery - Yes, it may not be a surprising and delightful as the first Knives Out was; but if you’re talking sequels and creating something new and fresh in your second installment, this is one of the finer examples of how it can be done. Daniel Craig is wonderful as the droll detective, Benoit Blanc; and the surprise here is Janelle Monàe in her dual role.

Decision to Leave - This comes from South Korea, and from the director of The Handmaiden and Oldboy, Park Chan-wook. Investigating the suspicious suicide of a businessman in the mountains, the detective develops strong feelings for the dead man’s widow, and his sleuthing brings to light the fact that the widow may well be behind the suicide. The plot twists and layers of plotting are magnificent.

The Batman - If for nothing else, I’ll acclaim this film for taking Ben Affleck’s wooden portrayal of Batman off the books. Robert Pattinson gives us angst-driven, tortured soul Batman, and he’s effective - probably channeling the years of disrespect as an actor for starring in the Twilight franchise. I’ll always remember this for the opening sequence, and how it turned us all into voyeurs.

RRR - A big pleasant surprise; that proved campy, predictable, and Bollywood can still be fun. Sure, it was a cringe-worthy ‘teleserye’ come to vivid cinematic life; but one couldn't resist the energy and enthusiasm of the narrative, and of the two main characters. Never mind that the rest of the cast, and all the ‘white’ actors, were badly in need of acting lessons.

Avatar: The Way of Water - For some it may be overlong, with a middle portion badly in need of pruning; but if there’s a film this year that truly astounded visually, which more than compensated for the one-note narrative, this would be it. I did appreciate how the cast’s second generation held their own as interesting characters, plus how the last half-hour redeemed the tedium of said middle portion. James Cameron still has it.

Elvis - Yes, it’s a bloated biopic badly in need of editing, and marred by the by-now expected excesses of Baz Luhrmann. But if ever an icon of pop music deserved an overblown, hyperbolized biopic, it would be Elvis, as he was the first true pop star that brought rock ‘n roll into mainstream America. Plus it was nice to be reminded that Tom Hanks doesn’t have to always be a nice guy in his film portrayals.

Honourable Mentions: Corsage, Tár, and Fresh - three luminous performances from the films’ leading ladies, even when the films themselves could be faulted for either stretching the conceit, or adding elements that detract from the already evident major strengths of the films. Vicky Krieps, Cate Blanchett and Daisy Edgar-Jones carry these films; and in the case of Fresh, Sebastian Stan is no slouch.

Aftersun, Argentina 1985, Barbarian, The Fabelmans. Nope, The Northman, and She Said are all worth watching; but for one reason or another, didn’t break into my Top 12. But don’t let that exclusion stop you from watching these notable films.