TOP FILMS OF 2022
It is not a simple endeavour to describe what a year was, in terms of its cinema. Discourses and analysis can be made in reference to the post-pandemic era, a topic most of us simply want to leave behind, rightfully so. What does become very lampant is the slight appreciation decline that Hollywood franchises have suffered: perhaps only Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of the Water have been worthy of their originals. Thus, the rise of international cinema that was registered back in 2020 by Parasite's sweep at the oscars is growing continuously and steadily - as some anglophone directors maintain their steady success. 2022 has also been yet another year that has seen several debutants surpass or rise to the level of estabilished filmmakers, and most importantly, a year in which awards often have not been able to fully appreciate the quality of some films that might still become masterpieces over time, in collective memory. Let us examine nine films worthy of being remembered among the best of the year.
9. BABYLON, dir. Damien Chazelle
If the marketing presented Babylon as an extravaganza worthy of Baz Luhrmann's filmography rather than Chazelle's, ultimately it is definitely a film that hits closer to home to the filmmaker of La La Land. It is indeed an enormous feast, that centers on gigantic set pieces for its cinematic impact, but it also does end up having a soul of its own, which seemes quite difficult for a film that is essentially a love letter to the "good days" of early silent Hollywood, ultimately an industry. Yet, Babylon end sup truly being unexpectedly an ode to cinema and even more to filmmaking and does so with confidence. The first hour or so of the film is an incessant flow of high rhytm sequences that never stops. The ending scene has some of the most experimental - if we can call it so - editings in Chazelle. Seeing Singin' in the Rain after Babylon gives it an entirely different perspective for sure.
8. THE WHALE, dir. Darren Aronofsky
Aronosfky has not meditated this deeply about death and rebirth since his 2007 film The Fountain, as this is how The Whale can be best described. It is not a film about eating disorders as it is an existentialist dissertation through the story of a man that happens to be overweight. His condition is the element of a thematic opposition and not the main focus. Existentialism, mortality and immortality make the film a spiritual work, but not a religious one, a clever and relevant distinction. As it is the adaptation of a stageplay, its original theatrical form is palpable in the film, essentially almost entirely set in a living room, yet not claustrophobic or monotonous at all.
7. R.M.N., dir. Cristian Mungiu
Almost ignored at the Cannes Competition was Mungiu's first film in six years. His most epic endeavour - as it encompasses an entire townful of characters - is also his most unique. It is a film that keeps a void at its core, a dark impenetrable mysery, as the forest that surrounds the transilvanian town that serves as setting. It is often described as Mungiu's more political film, as at the center of the plot is the racism of part of the town's community against immigrant workers from Sri Lanka, that eventually reopens the wounds of the ethnic conflicts that characterise the romanian-transilvanian region, divided between the romanian, hungarian and german minorities. Yet, the ending of R.M.N., which is cryptical, even metaphysical, makes this film probably his most spiritual work. There's something in the final frame of R.M.N. that wasn't present in the hyperrealist romanian films of the last decade, not even in his own film Beyond the Hills. R.M.N. is perhaps the film that could reshape Mungiu's direction as for his future works.
6. BLONDE, dir. Andrew Dominik
Being present at Venice when the first press screenings occured, what became very clear was that too many did not understand this movie. Additionally, the absurd controversy that saw in this film an exploitation of Marylin Monroe's life began even before the mentioned screenings, suggesting that most likely very few of the accusers have actually seen the film while they made accusations. Blonde is an adaptation of a modernist novel by Joyce Carol Oates that fictionalises Monroe's character to describe the duality of public personality and private interiority. It is a study of perspectives, of shifting narrators, which the film renders with elegance, often crudeness (toned down, compared to the novel), that ends up being a meditation on the real heritage of Monroe, compared to the edulcorated image of a Hollywood icon that we see, a film that aims at exposing the dirt at the core of the studio system, its abusive mechanisms. The performance of Ana de Armas has been criticised in rather xenophobic terms, despite being simply put, phenomenal.
5. THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, dir. Martin Mcdonagh
Seeing The Banshees of Inisherin leaves a feeling of incertainty. It feels as if something is amiss, not fully explained, even though the plot is perfectly clear, the meaning is not nebulous. Some interpretations want to see in the film a metaphor of the irish civil war, which is distant on the backdrop of the film, or connections to irish folklore, which is estabilished by the title's meaning, but ultimately The Banshees of Inisherin does not hide anything. This inexplicability is the effect of the absurdity of the plot, which shifts from a comical premise to a progressively dramatic turn, only to conclude in the least conclusive way. Colin Farrel and Brendan Gleeson are in a somewhat inverted dynamic, compared to their roles from In Bruges, Barry Keoghan adds a great performance to his sleeve. The irish scenery embellishes the timeless atmosphere of the film.
4. GODLAND, dir. Hlynur Palmason
The reimagined story inspired from a series of XIX century photographs makes Godland one of the most stunning slow burn films of the year. Palmason's careful depiction of time's passing, the religious subtone of the story of a priest, sent from Denmark to oversee a flock in an Iceland, has a bressonian quality. Every single frame of the film appears like a flemish painting. Godland not only proves the director's worth, but will interest the viewer to understand better the peculiarities of a land at the edge of the world. It is my personal hopes that Palmason decides soon to get further back in history and bring to the screen his take on the first norsemen settlers of the island.
3. DECISION TO LEAVE, dir. Park Chan-Wook
A hitchcockian crime thriller, Decision to Leave is a cluster of opposites and dualities, with a dual story structure, an opposition betwen mountains and the seaside as settings, the presence of deuteragonists, Park Hae-Il and Tang Wei. It is a film noir in nature, with a not-so hardboiled detective and a cryptical, but not diabolical femme fatale. The preminence of blue hues in the colour palette of the film, symbolically feminine in korean tradition, adds to the set of meanings that piece together a film among Park Chan-Wook's most structured and least characteristic ones, not being gritty, crude and dark as Oldboy or the other films in the vendetta trilogy nor explicit as The Handmaiden. Additionally, it is also a deeply emotional love story.
2. PAMFIR, dir. Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk
This film is set in the contemporary days, yet, with no alterations, it could easily be a medieval ballad about a bandit-hero. Smuggler Leonid "Pamfir" is a modernised cossack, bound to the traditional rules of honour, angered at God, determined to alter his sealed destiny. The backdrop of the Malanka festival, a carnivalesque feast that is specific to the south-western ukrainan region, further emphasizes the connections to the paganic roots. Mykyta Kuzmenko's neon-filled and vibrantly colourful long takes makes the film lively and dynamic. In Oleksandr Yatsenyuk's performance as the lead, reason and irrationality, human and beast coexist. Pamfir is a film full of energy and strength, an excellent debut and a powerful and entertaining movie, and it deserves its ranking intrinsecally, aside from the sympathy that might be arisen due to its country of production.
1. THE NORTHMAN, dir. Robert Eggers
Lauded first, dismissed right after, eventually forgotten, the best film of the year, and one of the best historical films of the XXIst Century is Robert Egger's viking epic retelling of the original myth of Amleth. Botched slightly by studio requests, it still is an outstanding work of cinema, with a deep understanding of its historical era that extends to the mindset and motivations of characters, which too often are romanticised or modernised by filmmakers. This does not happen in The Northman, where Alexander Skarsgård's character is bound to the hallucinatory psychology of the norsemen. Additionali, Sjon's screenplay includes several nods and references to Shakespeare that further enrichen the narrative. Few films have such an epic and powerful endings as The Northman, which will be most likely Eggers' Andrei Rublev - his most grand-scale and vast film - as he has been very vocal about the hardships he endured for such a massive work.
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