Truth be told, this is not a comprehensive list. I never get to see all the films I want or have been recommended during the year, although I do try and continue to catch up as I move into the new year. For example, many films released in the latter half of 2021 only caught my eye in 2022, and I think they are worthy of comment in my end of year round-up. For example, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch and Paolo Larrain’s Spencer were magnificent films that won many accolades, and I was astounded (but not completely surprised) by their visual flair and style. The French Dispatch was typical of the Anderson-a-verse that we have come to know (cross-weaving stories, stellar cast and hilarious cinematic gags), while Kirsten Stewart’s nuanced portrayal of the tragic Princess Diana in Spencer was bizarre, haunting and at all times, compelling. I also found the Argentinian-set thriller-drama Azor to be very impressive, with its eerie, unsettling atmosphere. It is so expertly directed and acted – a film with so much intrigue between the lines and yet so little of it ever explained. These three films are must-sees for anyone who loves cinema and don’t necessarily just want to be entertained.
I will get to my favourite films of the year in a moment, but I must make mention of a few that disappointed or just outright annoyed me. All of the latest Marvel movies I watched fitted into one or both of these categories, with Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder being the biggest let-down after the Thor: Ragnarok triumph. I instantly regretted wasting my sacred down-time watching Jurassic Park: Dominion, Death on the Nile and Netflix’s The Bubble, while a number of critically-acclaimed films that I expected more of failed to make a positive impression on me, namely Disney Pixar’s Turning Red, the absurdist Everything Everywhere All at Once and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – these films were not that bad but they all had one annoying thing in common: a lack of subtlety. I had a better time with these, though they didn’t make my ‘favourites’ grade: The Batman (suitably dark but not a patch on the Dark Knight trilogy); Pleasure (intriguing but stilted view of the US porn industry); The Northman (Game of Thrones-levels of unnecessary violence and gratuity but has its moments); Petite Maman (definitely unique and haunting but slightly meh) and The Gray Man (good solid action, but typically b-grade thanks to Netflix’s production values).
As 2022 progressed, I offered a few reviews of new releases: CODA, Red Rocket and along with my mum, The Banshees of Inisherin. My colleagues also provided some excellent reviews: Robin Stevens (Dune, The French Dispatch, West Side Story, The Beatles: Get Back [technically a documentary series, not a film], Nitram, Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, Delicious, The Matrix Resurrections and Belfast); Geraldine Stevens (Nightmare Alley); Shzan Plandowski (The Eyes of Tammy Faye); and Annabelle Davis (Smile and Top Gun: Maverick). Out of those films that I have so far seen, I really enjoyed CODA, The Banshees of Inisherin, Dune, Belfast and Top Gun: Maverick, with the ‘fecking’ Banshees prominent among my top six films of the year. Making the rest of that list are the following:
Boiling Point (Philip Barantini) – released in January 2022
I always admire a film that grabs you and never let’s you go until the end, even if it is to the detriment of your wellbeing! It speaks to the power of cinema, and I love it – Whiplash and Gravity are two such high-budget examples from the past few years. But every now and again you get a low-budget example that manages the same effect. Boiling Point is one of those. Set in a busy, up-market and fairly small London restaurant across a single, extremely busy night, we get intimate with every member of staff and patron as the pressure builds and builds until it is too much to take for its head chef (played by the incredible Stephen Graham). It is remarkably gripping, and notable for its single filmed shot over 90 minutes. I have to admit that after watching this, I am not keen on ever changing my career to hospitality. That shit is intense!!
Elvis (Baz Luhrmann) – released in June 2022
I was reticent towards this film when it was announced, chiefly because I am not a fan of Luhrmann’s brash and gregarious style. However, the lure of a big-budget re-telling of Elvis Presley’s life was too much to surmount, and in the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this heart-thumping thrill-ride. Although Austin Butler’s portrayal of the King was not in any way ground-breaking, nor was it Tom Hanks’ greatest performance (he plays Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker), there was something very satisfying in the way Luhrmann brought it all together. I think in the same way as Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, the attention to important known aspects of the musician’s life coupled with a celebration of their music and artistry is what provides the successful formula. Its not overly cheesy because it is offering a realistic story, but the dazzle and razzmatazz of Elvis’s reign as the greatest performer on the planet is not discounted either. The context behind that live TV performance of ‘If I Can Dream’ is a stunning stand-out, as is the actual footage of Elvis singing ‘Unchained Melody’ towards the end of his life. Breathtaking stuff.
Nope (Jordan Peele) – released in July 2022
As Daniel Kaluuya’s character sheepishly peers up to the sky from the seat of his truck, he quickly recoils backwards with the word ‘…nope…’ having maybe witnessed something unpleasant or something he is not willing to commit to believing in. It’s a fantastic moment, and a worthy exclamation to use as the film’s title. This film is up there with Peele’s Get Out, and sits as a sort of companion piece, given its satire and political commentary about race and exploitation. Peele expertly sides jump-scare terror moments with frequent comedic nods, as well as committing to some pretty hardcore points about animal cruelty, consumerism, and the prospect of celestial beings. It is a quality, entertaining and beautiful watch from start to finish, and there is so much to mull over long after the film has ended.
Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson) – released in January 2022
I have yet to witness a chink in P.T. Anderson’s armour. I have been an Anderson enthusiast ever since I watched Magnolia at my sister’s Dublin apartment in 2001, when I was only 16, so maybe I am institutionalised. But Licorice Pizza, despite it being described as a financial failure, maintains the level of consistency that the director has poured into his creative output since his debut Hard Eight in 1996. In many ways, the film doesn’t really have a lot to say. It’s a whimsical comedy-drama that follows the relationship of two young people trying for success in L.A. in 1973. The time and setting are crucial to the film’s sense and feel, as Anderson hones in on subtle aspects of the lifestyle back then (e.g. the arrival of waterbeds, the arcade games frenzy, and the oil crisis) setting up an impressively realised cultural context to the story. Then you have the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son, Cooper, in the lead alongside the fantastic Alana Haim (who appears alongside her sisters from the band Haim AND her parents), as well as a glorious soundtrack of pop songs from the period. Don’t believe the Box Office – this is an utter gem of a film.
An Cailín Ciúin (The Quiet Girl) (Colm Bairéad) – released in May 2022
There is so much awards buzz around this feature right now, and it is absolutely justified. It has now been established as the must successful Irish-language film ever. Principally set in the Gaeltacht na nDéise region of south-eastern Ireland in the early 1980s, An Cailín Ciúin focuses on the plight of a young girl who is sent away by her struggling parents one summer to stay with her relatives on a quaint farm in the beautiful Irish countryside. Bairéad’s debut feature is an adaptation of the award-winning novella by Claire Keegan called Foster, and it is a marvellous triumph of careful and gentle film-making. The camera’s lens effectively focuses on Cáit, the so-called ‘quiet girl’, and floats to the sounds and sights of nature as the ungraspable complexities of past and present familial traumas permeate her background. It is a wonderful film, and given its keen sense of Irish ruralness, I could not help but feel completely familiar with its tone and its sentiment – the radio commentary of the All-Ireland, Kimberley biscuits, cleaning out the sheds, the dirty wellies, it’s all there in my own childhood. I adored this film, as will you.