It seems that I am in the minority who thought 2022 was a decent year for film overall. Perhaps it’s due to the increase in volume more than anything, but I sensed a genuine resurgence in quality following the pandemic lockdowns. Saying that, I’m not a huge watcher of summer blockbusters (particularly the Marvel and DC universes) so maybe that’s where others have felt the pain this year?
As usual, I have tried my best to keep up to date with new releases, but equally I have dedicated a lot of time to filling gaps and chipping away at the ever-expanding watchlist. Last year I opted for an “alternative” End of Year review to celebrate a variety of new and older films discovered throughout the year, and this seemed a fitting format for 2022 as well.
This year I have also been indulging my childish side with a new hobby of creating “Alternative Movie Titles” (or CinePuns). I’ll toss some into the mix below if only for my own amusement, but you’ll have to forgive me if I seem completely out of practise with writing properly about films!
Without further ado, here is a selection of my favourite films watched this year:
Best 2022 Film – Cha Cha Real Smooth (2022)
(“The Tender Bar Mitzvah”)
Objectively, this probably isn’t the “best” film of 2022, but sometimes the conditions and timing are perfect enough that an unexpected entry shoots into your top spot without a second thought! There was considerable online buzz when the film debuted at Sundance Film Festival (where it won an Audience Award), then Letterboxd soon told me it was a “Highly Rated Film You’re Yet To See”. In my experience, avoiding trailers and going in ‘blind’ is almost always the best approach, and this was no exception…
Virtual newcomer Cooper Raiff delivers an outstanding breakthrough film, and certifies himself as a triple-threat: writing, directing, and starring as lovable but aimless graduate Andrew, who by chance finds himself repeatedly hired as a party starter (later dubbed “The Jig Conductor”) at various bar mitzvahs for his teenage brother’s schoolmates. It is there he forms a unique but complicated relationship with single mother Domino, played by an increasingly impressive post-Fifty Shades Dakota Johnson, and her autistic daughter Lola.
It is low-key genius and “dramedy” at its best. Raiff’s versatility both behind and in front of the camera infuses the film with joy, warmth, sadness, and heartbreak in equal measure. The emotional highs and lows land perfectly, and this unconventional coming-of-age tale is a delight to watch, as Andrew navigates the too-often fine line between naivety and maturity in your early 20s.
It was so much fun, and I was left with a grin on my face and a fuzzy feeling inside; to me it is one of those “lightning in a bottle” films. It also stars Leslie Mann as Andrew’s mother, who is as radiant as ever (I couldn’t go without mentioning her).
Here is my full 2022 Top 10 list:
- Cha Cha Real Smooth
- Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
- Everything Everywhere All at Once
- The Northman
- All Quiet on the Western Front
- Top Gun: Maverick
- Decision to Leave
- Nightmare Alley
Best First-Time Watch – Cinderella Man (2005)
Back in January, I committed to ticking off a significant number of pre-2022 films that had long outstayed their welcome on the watchlist. It was well worth the effort as I found several new 5-star favourites along the way!
Taking the title this year is Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man: the inspiring rags-to-riches story of world heavyweight champion boxer James J. Braddock (“The Bulldog of Bergen”) whose family, like countless others, suffered incredible financial hardship during the Great Depression of the 1930s. After being forced to quit the sport due to a broken hand, and with suddenly no source of income, the film recounts Braddock’s desperate fight for the survival of his family – sacrificing everything with a perilous return to the ring, where he becomes a symbol of hope and aspiration for the American public.
This film really took me back to the 2000s, around the time I started to watch Oscar contenders past and present. With the likes of Ron Howard, Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger and composer Thomas Newman to its name, Cinderella Man really has that ‘modern classic’ feel. Also worthy of a shoutout is the production design, which put me in mind of similar 00s films like Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004) and Clint Eastwood’s Changeling (2008). From what I’ve seen and heard, not many have seen this one (perhaps the title is off-putting?) but I certainly recommend it.
Runners Up: Half Nelson (2006) & Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)
Best Recommended Film – Dogville (2003)
When it comes to recommendations, I like to suggest something that others generally wouldn’t consider or might be quick to dismiss. As an ex-theatre student, Lars Von Trier’s Dogville was right up my street, and I genuinely believe that despite its unconventional format and aesthetic, there’s nothing remotely inaccessible about the film at all. In my eyes, Dogville would make a great conversation-starter as there is so much to unpack, dissect and discuss!
It is a dark parable told through a series of nine chapters, narrated by John Hurt. When the peaceful day-to-day of a small town in the Rocky Mountains is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious woman called Grace (Nicole Kidman) who claims to be hiding from gangsters, the close-knit community is unsettled by her presence and reluctant to harbour a potential criminal. A local writer (played by Paul Bettany) who believes passionately in “moral rearmament” convinces the townsfolk to let Grace stay on the condition that she can prove herself to be a good person – equally allowing them a chance to illustrate their good nature, to trust and adopt a stranger as one of their own. Grace is initially accepted by the community after being encouraged to help with various chores, but gradually the residents begin to abuse their position of power and they exploit her in increasingly cruel and horrifying ways.
The stage upon which the story unfolds is literally that – a sparse, minimalist space with very little set or props. The outlines of rooms, buildings and roads are demarcated on the floor and labelled accordingly, with all artificial lighting and sound effects exposed. However, the handheld camera and rough editing give a strange documentary feel as if we are watching rehearsal footage. The effect is a unique blend of art and naturalism, and in a story loaded with gossip, suspicion, and looking over shoulders, as a viewer we are invited to be a fly-on-the-wall and peek behind closed doors (ironically, neither are physically present) and eavesdrop on the various goings-on, however private.
Dogville is packed with more big names including Lauren Bacall, Stellan Skarsgård, Chloë Sevigny and James Caan. If you have a philosophical side and enjoy watching humanity tear each other down like me, then you are likely to relish this one, it’s truly a masterpiece. Either way, why not try something a bit different?
Runners Up: The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) & Almost Famous (2000)
Best Re-Watch – Sister Act (1992)
(“Diva in Disguise”)
I re-watched very few films this year (only six to be exact), so this was quite an easy choice. Though not necessarily my highest-rated, 2022 was the 30th anniversary of a childhood favourite which got a cinema re-release so I couldn’t refuse the opportunity to see it on the big screen!
If for some reason you don’t know what Sister Act is about, then where have you been? Whoopi Goldberg stars as Dolores Van Cartier, a Las Vegas lounge singer who witnesses her gangster boyfriend Vince (Harvey Keitel) commit a murder. She is ushered into a witness protection program and hidden in “the last place on Earth” Vince would think to look for her, a run-down convent in San Francisco where she reluctantly becomes ‘Sister Mary Clarence’. Totally unimpressed by her inconspicuousness and frequent bad behaviour, the Reverend Mother (the sensational Maggie Smith) limits Dolores’ activities solely to singing in the tone-deaf choir – which, naturally, she transforms into a national success, revitalising the convent but simultaneously putting her concealed identity at risk.
There’s simply so much to love about this film: a premise that is so bonkers it is genius, a hilarious cast (Kathy Najimy’s Sister Mary Patrick is also a standout), great music, and an endlessly quotable script. It’s as funny today as ever and remains one of my all-time favourites.
Runners Up: Avatar (2009) & Love Actually (2003)
Biggest Surprise – Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (2019)
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom appeared on my radar after becoming Bhutan’s first-ever nominee for Best International Feature Film at the 2022 Academy Awards, and if it weren’t for mixed messages about the official UK cinema release date (if it ever gets one – Google is now telling me March 2023) it might have featured in my Top 10 too. I had no reason to expect the film to be disappointing or bad, but I certainly didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. For this reason, it is my choice for ‘Biggest Surprise’ of the year.
It follows Ugyen (Sherab Dorji) who has completed four out of his five mandatory years of training to become a teacher for the Bhutanese government, but his real dream is to move to Australia and pursue a career as a singer. He is convinced to complete his teaching contract and offered an assignment in the isolated Himalayan village of Lunana – home to the most remote school in the world. Ugyen is less than impressed with the poor conditions, not to mention the perilous five-day trek to get there, but reluctantly stays. However, over the course of the year his eyes are opened by the charming local children, whose lives he enriches and inspires in return, and begins to debate whether he should abandon his dream and remain in his home country after all.
The film has a natural beauty and simplicity, largely due to its incredible setting. It was shot on location in Lunana, and the supporting cast are all real Lunana residents, most who had never seen a film or even a camera before. Fun fact: all the equipment was powered by solar panels and batteries, so it is also carbon negative film! The more I read about the production and the importance of the story’s message to writer-director Pawo Choyning Dorji, the more I fall in love with it. For such a little film it achieves a lot, and I would be thrilled to see more people giving it the praise it deserves.
Runners Up: The Good Nurse (2022) & The Lost King (2022)
A self-confessed cinephile; hopelessly devoted to film! My areas of expertise include film theory and analysis, twenty-first century ‘modern classics’ and Oscar winners post-1970. And who doesn’t love a good quiz? Proud holder of an MA in Film Studies and lifelong advocate of cinema etiquette.