2022 at the Movies: Year in Review

2022 at the Movies: Year in Review

This year was kind of a bad year for new movie watching: for Covid exposure reasons I missed the entirety of the Philadelphia Film Festival, which is usually where I see a ton of new movies, especially from international markets. I have also continued to be wary of congregate settings, even if movie theaters are safer than many, and so my theater goings have been greatly reduced.

According to Letterboxd, where I attempt to record and at least one-sentence review all the movies I watch, I’ve watched 351 movies since January 1st. That seems like a lot to most, understandably, since it’s almost one movie a day. But for me it’s a bit of a dip: in 2020 and 2021 I watched 437 and 514, respectively. There was a long period this summer where I was convalescing from both a serious physical injury and a significant mental collapse, and while being bedridden might seem a boon to movie watching, I found it incredibly hard to focus on movies during the period (although I did watch a whole hell of a lot of Real Housewives). Anyway, onward to the year in review!

Year in Review

Movies: 351

Countries: 34

I watched a lot of Japanese movies this year, (15) and they were disproportionately awesome, and I also watched a surprising number from Australia, with 8 movies! But I’m frankly disappointed by the numbers of Indian (2), Hong Kong (4), Chinese (1) and Hungarian (2) films I watched this year, all countries whose cinema I was hoping to dive into more thoroughly. Not enough African cinema by a long stretch. And not a single movie from Czechia?!? Oh well, there’s always next year!

General Trends

The last few years’ incredible flourishing of new movies, from genre, independent and international narrative spaces, the huge burst of aesthetic energy that led to the emergence of amazing new directors (Celine Sciamma, Barry Jenkins, Jordan Peele, Sean Baker etc.) and the ascension to the firmament of some more mature filmmakers (Bong Joon-Ho, Park Chan-Wook, Yorgos Lanthimos, etc) has finally begun to burn out. I think this energy coincided with the accumulation of global political struggle (both fascist and revolutionary) that the pandemic has fundamentally changed. Of course, the pandemic also altered the conditions of movie production and distribution, and as industries and societies reorganize and “recover”, the cinematic output has been in a bit of flux. The upshot has been, however, that cinema culture feels less central and powerful than it did in the preceding half-decade.

On a personal note, while horror continues to be seriously over-represented in my numbers, I feel my love affair with horror movies…if not exactly slipping, slackening a bit. Mainly because, since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve kind of caught almost all of the “classic” horror films—and most of the fan/cult classics too—that are out there to watch. For example, out of the 175 all-time most watched horror films on Letterboxd, I haven’t seen…11. And nine of those eleven are from the last three years.

Which just goes to show, while I’ll never have watched anything like most of the horror movies ever made, you can kind of exhaust all the classics in a genre if you really put your mind to being an absolute horrible shut in (do not recommend).

Ok, now, for my best movies of 2022!

Prey (2022, USA. Dir. Dan Trachtenberg)

According to the Disney/Marvel model, “representation” means dropping a press release outing a particular background character as a homo. But one exciting trend continuing this year was movies actually set in cinematically un- or underexplored settings, and the best of these was somehow a Predator prequel? Honestly this movie would be awesome just to see 18th century Commanche community reproduced this way, but it’s also an absolutely thrilling action-horror with a perfect queen for a lead? Hell yeah!

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front (2022, Germany, dir. Edward Berger).

    As I wrote in a previous newsletter,

    In my opinion, all war movies fall somewhere on the horror-action axis, and they're way better when they let the terror/despair/horror side take hold, but most war movie makers lean heavily towards kinetic, noble, tragic action. This one is kind of a straight up horror movie, with the most effective use of an anachronistic score since maybe There Will Be Blood and some truly harrowing and devastating sequences. Read this book in high school, as many USians did I think, and its vision of the horrible senselessness of war has stayed with me like few other books. The movie can't quite stick the landing but damn if this isn't a good bad time, and feels frighteningly relevant.

After Yang (2022, USA, dir. Kogonada).

Finally a good AI movie! This movie about loneliness, yearning, alienation and memory is a bit sleepy but is very beautiful, strange and sad, and I really dug it. After all the fan momentum behind his debut film, Columbus, the reception of this one was unduly muted. But the film itself is kind of quiet and meditative in a way that doesn’t necessarily give itself over to huge fan excitement.

Official Competition (2021, Spain, dir. Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn)

It is absolutely absurd that Penelope Cruz is still basically the sexiest human being alive while also being such a fabulous actor. Some people get all the luck! This movie about the egos, abuses and absurdities of acting, filmmaking and the art world delighted me in the way most critics seem to be delighted by Tár (which I found well enough made and decent but not that deep). And its focus on the labor, logistics, funding and marketing of filmmaking made its satire very sharp.

Riotsville, U.S.A (2022, USA, dir. Sierra Pettengill)

Watched this on a sheet flapping in the wind on the banks of the Schuylkill river when the Stop Cop City/Defend the Atlanta Forest information tour came up to Philly. Seeing it as part of a direct action info session was perfect, but the movie, about crowd control police training during the long hot summers of the 60s, was great too. Sometimes a movie feels specifically and personally made for you, but then sometimes you spend a half decade writing researching and publishing a book and in that book you talk about how you wish there was more information and record of events that the documentarian has tracked down extensive archival footage of.

Bones and All (2022, USA, dir. Luca Guadagnino)

As the elevated horror trend seems truly and fully spent, filmmakers like Julie Ducournau (Titane), David Cronenberg (Crimes of the Future), and Guadagnino are using horror tropes and themes…and horror violence…to tell fantastical dramas that explore the limits of experience, the body, sexuality and care, bringing the thematic strengths of horror into projects that aren’t necessarily as invested in its generic structures and constraints. Bones and All is kind of just a good old fashioned coming of age American road movie! (With a bunch of cannibalism).

Elvis (2022, USA, dir. Baz Luhrman)

If you told me last year, hell, at any point in the last decade, that I’d have a music biopic in a top twenty list, let alone one directed by Baz Luhrman, I probably would’ve said: “you can time travel but you came from the future to do this?! WTF!” In any case, this movie is a big, stupid, delicious spectacle and is way more fun and powerful than it has any business being, with an incredible performance at its center. Austin Butler, swoon!

The Outside (2022, USA, dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)

My favorite film from Guillermo Del Toro’s anthology Cabinet of Curiousities, this movie is like if Larry Cohen made a movie in the Fargo universe. Which is to say, absolutely unhinged middle American normalness in service of a deeply bizarre, surreal and fucked up story. Oh, but make it feminist!

Kimi (2022, USA, dir. Steven Soderbergh)

How many times has Soderbergh unretired now? In any case, I’m glad he keeps coming back. This is a tight, fun, anti-tech-world thriller. Kimi engages with the pandemic and the uprising without doing so as a kind of rote nod to the outside world or the “current moment”, but as an internal part of the film’s structure and themes.

The Matrix Resurrections (2021, USA, dir Wachowski sisters)

Technically this came out—and I watched it—in the last week of 2021, but I mean at that point the previous year end lists were already over! And can you really celebrate trans excellence too much?

Fear (2020, Bulgaria, dir. Ivaylo Hristov)

This incredibly beautiful anti-racist anti-fascist drama about immigration and Fortress Europe just barely got distributed state-side this year, and has barely been seen by anglophone audiences, if Letterboxd numbers are a good representation, which is a crying shame. This movie is visually gorgeous and presents the case for solidarity between de-industrialized proletariat (like those in the Bulgarian border town where it takes place) and refugees fleeing climate chaos and war without being anything close to preachy.

  1. Weird (The Al Yankovic Story) (2022, USA, dir. Eric Appel)

    As I wrote in a previous column:

    In a year where I actually liked a music biopic (Elvis was good, folks), this send up of music biopics is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen all year, and joins last year’s Nobody in the ranks of evisceratingly excellent parody. Where Nobody was bone dry, this movie, much like Weird Al’s ouevre, went full-on balls to the wall totally stupid and absurd, and it was the most I’ve laughed in a long time. Keeps upping the ante where you think it can’t possibly keep escalating. Finally a challenger to Walk Hard’s throne

  1. Resurrection (2022, USA, dir. Andrew Semans)

    Another one I’ve already told you about! As I said a few weeks ago:

    This movie upset the ever-living shit out of me—this movie is a bad time about gaslighting, abuse and self-harm and you need to be ready for that. I wasn’t, tbh, but it worked out OK anyway because this is what people who have stable jobs in film criticism call a tour de force. Rebeca Hall and Tim Roth are just incredible. It’s also what we in this household call a “ten out of ten elbows picture”, because of my incredibly annoying habit of nudging Sophie when stuff in movies directly relates to their theorizing, and this movie was shockingly relevant to their work. So if you like Full Surrogacy Now and also can handle a super intense psychological horror movie I strongly recommend it.

Barbarian (2022, USA, dir. Zach Cregger)

This movie looks like it’s gonna be a trite air b’n’b stranger danger yarn…but oh it’s so so much more. There’s a big moment in this movie that is maybe my favorite surprise of the year in a movie plot. You just gotta watch this one, go in with as little foreknowledge as you can. Another big movie for nudging Sophie, if those kind of politics are your jam.

  1. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021, USA, dir. Jane Schoenbrun)

    The feature debut of trans director Jane Schoenbrun, this found-footage movie about isolation, alienation, and the possibility of connection and care across scary digital divides got a ton of festival buzz and attention when it came out this spring, but I think people outside movie circles didn’t see it, which is a shame, because it’s scary, beautifully acted and shot and deeply moving.

Nope (2022, USA. dir Jordan Peele)

It’s official, it’s undeniable. With this movie Jordan Peele is officially one of the horror greats, even if he never makes a great film again. Very very few horror directors have 3 movie runs as good as Get Out—Us—Nope (Carpenter from The Fog to The Thing, Romero from Dawn of the Dead to Day of the Dead, Hooper from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Poltergeist—you get the idea). Great movie about movie making, and features one of the scariest scenes I’ve seen in theaters in years.

The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window (2022, USA. dir. Michael Lehman)

Ok, ok, I know this was technically released as a mini-series, but at 200 minutes it’s basically feature length, and it just absolutely bodies a whole range of both thriller and horror filmmakers (James Wan, Mike Flanagan, etc.) and is literally the most I’ve laughed all year, by a long long distance. Bone dry satire, an almost impossibly perfect combination of stupid and genius that is so exactly my shit I feel like it was made specifically for me

Parallel Mothers (2021, Spain, dir. Pedro Almodovar)

I wrote a full review for this film for the (now defunct) AJ+ newsletter subtext, and you can read it here on my Letterboxd. I love Almodóvar best when he merges his visually stunning style and deep interest in feminine interiority with his penchant for soap opera campiness, and this is the first film of his in a long time to just fucking nail that balance perfectly.

Decision to Leave (2022, South Korea, Park Chan-Wook)

Park Chan-Wook’s first film since 2016’s all-time masterpiece The Handmaiden, this was by far the film I was most excited for this year and, except for some quibbles with the ending that keeps it from feeling perfect, I absolutely loved this sexy thriller that inverts the police procedural’s beloved cat and mouse structures. Park Chan-Wook is on the short list for greatest working filmmakers in the business, and even if it takes him almost a decade again, if we get another film this good, I wont be upset. (Oh god I hope it’s not that long though)

  1. Crimes of the Future (2022, Canada. dir. David Cronenberg)

    Cronenberg does a body horror again…kind of?!? But it’s not really a horror movie (in fact, I didn’t include it in my Halloween best of post because I think it’s just a sci-fi movie with body horror elements). This crazy strange movie about a society in which high-tech organ removal has become a wildly popular form of performance art is kinky, sexy, surreal and full of paranoiac social political anxiety— in short, everything I could want from Cronenberg, plus Lea Seydoux and Kristen Stewart! YES!

    Honorable Mentions:

    Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Men, The Lost City, The Woman King, Jackass Forever

You have a fave this year missing from the list? Let me know! Make me watch a cool thing!