After 2021 course-corrected the film industry after the coronavirus pandemic, 2022 continued to put it back on track.
Having sampled much of what 2021 had to offer, I now feel ready to share my best films of the year. I know that I am late in the game but there were quite a few films I didn’t get to watch in time and felt that it would be a disservice to generate a list that wasn’t truly reflective of the year. By and large, 2022 was a sound year for film and on a par with 2021 in terms of general quality.
Here I rank numbers 25 to 11. Numbers 10 – 1 will be detailed in a separate post so stay tuned for that.
As always, I am following the UK release date calendar from January 1st to December 31st hence the inclusion of some awards films from the start of the year.
25) The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain
Contrary to the overly whimsical trailers for the film, The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain is a thoroughly touching and fascinating biopic about the titular artist, famous for his anthropomorphic large-eyed cat drawings. Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as Wain, deftly balancing the initial misunderstood energy of the artist and his fragmented mental state of mind as the film progresses. The relationship between Cumberbatch and Foy’s governess is tender and director Will Sharpe is able to gracefully shake up the tired biopic formla.
Kimi is the latest by director Steven Soderbergh, whose enjoyed an incredibly varied career in terms of the genres he has worked in. This action thriller follows Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz), an agoraphobe whose previously been the victim of assault and her anxiety has been worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.
Kimi is an efficient, mostly one-location thriller with a terrific central performance from Kravitz. Its first two acts are its best, with Soderbergh excellently capturing and exploring Angela’s agoraphobia, and there are clear parallels to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. In many ways, it’s a modern update for the Alexa-owning, coronavirus pandemic generation. The script is sleek and plays to writer David Koepp’s strengths who’s proved himself in this genre before with films such as Panic Room and Secret Window. The third act leans more into action, which I found less interesting, although still rather enjoyable and the film doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Men is the third film from Alex Garland, whose first two sci-fi films Ex_Machina and Annihilation were thoughtful, thrilling and visually interesting pieces. Garland sidesteps from sci-fi into British folk horror and this film follows a young widow, Harper (Jessie Buckley) who ventures to the Cotswolds for a well-earned break from London city life and to recover from the death of her husband, although she is terrorised by the predatory and patronising men in the village, who are all played by Rory Kinnear.
Men’s first two acts are thrilling and Garland skilfully drip-feeds his audience details of her past trauma a piece at a time. He establishes a deeply unsettling tone and deftly ramps up the tension through Harper’s mental paranoia. The film is as much a metaphorical piece as much as it is a horror, using its frightening elements as allegories for misogyny, grieving and rebirth. Unfortunately, the film nosedives in its third act. On the plus side, there’s some suitably slimy body horror but Garland is self-indulgent and throws away any subtlety he builds in its first two acts. It just becomes rather silly and certainly not as clever as it thinks it is.
The film is bolstered by an eery choral soundtrack from Garland regulars, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, and DOP Rob Hardy vividly captures the beauty yet foreboding nature of the Cotswolds. Jessie Buckley’s great as the prickly Harper (despite my sniffy opinions on her past performances, especially with The Lost Daughter) and this is career best work from Rory Kinnear. Men may be Garland’s weakest film but it’s still a strong piece from the director and I’d rather a filmmaker take a risk and it not fully succeed than play it safe.
Hustle doesn’t particularly stray from sports drama convention but it’s an investing and consistently entertaining drama from start to finish. After giving the performance of his career in the thoroughly unnerving Uncut Gems, Adam Sandler continues to turn his poor comedic career choices around with another excellent performance as Stanley Sugarman, a washed-up NBA scout. Juancho Hernangómez is also terrific as Cruz and is given a compelling back story for why he finds himself in the situation he is initially in at the start of the film. Both Sandler and Hernangómez share an absorbing chemistry, which makes the duo easy to root for. Of the rest of the cast, Latifah isn’t given much to work with as Sandler’s wife, and the ever-versatile Ben Foster is also short-changed as Sandler’s disparaging boss.
21) Top Gun: Maverick
Top Gun: Maverick is the long-awaited sequel to the late Tony Scott’s 1982 original, a film which quite literally propelled Tom Cruise’s career. Very much a product of its time in its tone and treatment of women, while the action sequences are admirable and Cruise’s performance is earnest, I can’t say I’m a big advocate of the original. This sequel is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who most recently directed the excellent forest-fire action drama Only The Brave and he reunites with some of the cast and crew such as Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly and cinematographer Claudio Miranda.
Top Gun: Maverick is a surprisingly good film and is vastly superior to the original. While its story is familiar and fairly predictable, it is significantly more coherent and focussed with a singular narrative to achieve this specific mission. Tony Scott’s original wrangled in different directions and its climax sequence felt tacked on and unearned. The flight sequences are particularly excellent and are nail-biting in moments. It has the precision of Mission: Impossible director Christopher McQuarrie who co-writes and produces the film.
I’ve long been a critic of Tom Cruise and I’d argue he has far more misses than hits. Cruise’s performance works here as he plays an older and jaded instructor, whose ego and arrogance have been somewhat tarnished by his experiences. Miles Teller is reliably excellent as Rooster but there isn’t quite as much meat to the bone to the tumultuous relationship between him and Maverick as there could have been.
Kosinski wisely finds the right balance between relying on nostalgia and creating an original piece. It’s not quite the action masterpiece that some are claiming it to be though – it’s not as radical a piece as George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, which was essentially an entire film of rip-roaring action, and it doesn’t pack many narrative twists up its sleeve. But it doesn’t need to be. For Top Gun: Maverick to be an improvement on the original is a miracle in and of itself and I’m glad it exists.
20) Turing Red
Turning Red is the latest in the Disney Pixar canon and like Soul and Luca last year, it has released straight on Disney+. Director Domee Shi’s feature-length debut is to be commended for its sheer ambition of exploring female puberty, a fairly taboo subject matter for a mainstream film, especially one that also has to appeal to younger audiences. It represents a very different affair for a Pixar film and as is typical for the animation studio, it is moving in parts. It is clearly inspired by anime with its transformative element and colour scheme, down to the extreme facial expressions of its characters. The script, co-written by Shi and Julia Cho, is smart and its characters bursting with personality. Mei is a very well written lead and is endlessly empathetic.
Once you settle into its eclectic tone, it’s a very satisfying journey to watch unfold bolstered by its strongly written female characters. It’s not quite top-tier Pixar for me, as it isn’t quite as effortlessly charming and poignant as its best entries such as Up or Coco, but I’m very glad it exists. The film is sure to launch Domee Shi’s career and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Smile is a psychological horror written and directed by Parker Finn, in his feature-length debut. The film follows a therapist named Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) who starts having increasingly disturbing experiences after witnessing the unexplained suicide of a patient.
Smile is a surprisingly effective psychological horror that deftly explores the themes of trauma, grief and guilt through horror’s generic constructs. It’s not perfect – it overrelies on some classical horror tropes, particularly with its use of jump scares and there’s nothing here you’ve haven’t seen before. It’s also around 10 minutes overlong. That said, it’s impressive that it doesn’t fully reveal what is haunting Cotter right until the very end and as a result, it maintains its tension. There’s also a terrifically creepy yet awkward party and the atmosphere of the hospital Cotter works at is also well-realised. Smile is ultimately much better than it has any right to be and is thoroughly entertaining and meaningful from start to finish. I’m looking forward to seeing how Finn’s career develops.
18) The Good Nurse
The Good Nurse is a thrilling drama based on the true story of a night nurse Amy (Jessica Chastain) who suspects her co-worker, Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne) might be a serial killer. Both Chastain and Redmayne are brilliant and share a palpable chemistry together, with Redmayne particularly charismatic and chilling. Director Tobias Lindholm does an excellent job maintaining the tension throughout and the film is particularly effective as Amy tries to distance herself from Charlie after sharing quite a close and vulnerable relationship with him, prior to her accepting the insurmountable evidence against him.
17) The Batman
The Batman is a new rendition of the Caped Crusader by War For The Planet Of The Apes director Matt Reeves, positioned outside of the DCEU canon, and sees a younger Dark Knight (Robert Pattinson) in his second year of crimefighting and Reeves hones in on his detective skills. It is an interesting, if flawed, depiction of the Caped Crusader. Reeves’ take on the character is certainly admirable. It very much owes a debt to the Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder aesthetic in that it is a darker and grungier interpretation. Experiencing Batman as a detective figure is refreshing. The notion of Batman providing narration is also innovative, yet uneven in that it’s not sustained throughout the film. The extended run time of 176 minutes isn’t to the film’s detriment. It’s always promising to see a director allow a film breathe when it warrants it rather than resorting to quick cuts.
Pattinson’s portrayal of Batman is expectedly excellent, although his Bruce Wayne needs some work. This is more a choice of the script rather than any wrongdoing by Pattinson as Bruce Wayne doesn’t receive a particularly meaningful arc so he isn’t granted the opportunity. Other highlights of the cast include Colin Farrell, who is almost unrecognisable as Oswald Cobblepot in his early Penguin days, and Jeffrey Wright is effortless as James Gordon.
Paul Dano’s Riddler is an interesting villain and poses a genuine threat to Batman throughout much of the film but his character arc is severely let down towards the end of the film to the point where he doesn’t pose a threat and his performance borders on being laughable.
The score by Michael Giacchino is really excellent and he establishes very memorable themes for the characters, although the score doesn’t always fit in with the scenes they are inserted in. The cinematography by Greig Fraser is beautiful, hot on the footsteps of his similarly excellent work on Dune.
The Batman is a strong interpretation from Reeves and I’m looking forward to see where future instalments could go, although I have some reservations with the teases. However, it’s not quite the masterpiece that some have proclaimed it to be and Reeves is just not as competent a director as Nolan or even Snyder.
16) Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
After Black Panther electrified the superhero film genre, earning seven Oscar nominations and winning three, to say Wakanda Forever has its work cut out for it would be an understatement. Not least by the sudden death of its titular star, Chadwick Boseman, director Ryan Coogler had to effectively chuck out the original script and rewrite it to reframe the narrative on the character’s passing.
The result is a significant improvement over its predecessor and Coogler has delivered an intelligent, sombre and politically charged sequel. Coogler makes a strong choice to fully explore the characters and how they react to T’Challa’s death, very much mirroring how audiences have mourned Boseman in reality, recreating a scenario we all understand. In a refreshing change of pace for Marvel and a trait that has plagued many of its films, Coogler retains the sombre tone throughout and doesn’t resort to cheap and disposable quips.
The performances are uniformly excellent, with Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett and Danai Gurira the highlights, as well as Tenoch Huerta’s fiersome yet empathetic villain, Namor. You can really empathise with his position and motivation and this makes him one of Marvel’s best villains.
The action sequences are much better this time around and the third act doesn’t succumb to the usual mindless CGI-fest many comic-book films descend into. The film is crisply shot by Autumn Durald Arkapaw and the score by Ludwig Göransson is once again excellent.
The extended 161 minute run time wasn’t an issue for me and the film kept me engaged throughout. This is much more of a slow-burn, which I appreciated, and Coogler deftly balances a grim tone with the idea of future hope and prosperity for the fictional nation of Wakanda.
Prey is an excellent prequel and is just the gut-punch The Predator series needs. 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg puts his own stamp on the material and the film features some terrific performance among its almost exclusively Native American cast. The very fact Trachtenberg has opted to centre the film around an underrepresented community is to be commended, too, with the only exception to the rule being a group of French fur trappers Naru encounters. Amber Midthunder makes for a formidable screen presence and it’s great the film focusses on her humanity. She is portrayed as both a skilled hunter but also an individual who makes mistakes. Trachtenberg’s mirroring of smaller animals hunting each other and the Predator and anything that steps in its way is also an excellent creative stroke.
14) Terrifier 2
Damian Leone’s blood-soaked sequel is a slasher epic running 138 minutes and received a fair amount of media attention for its gory murders, with reports of some viewers vomiting and fainting. Not only does Terrifier 2 lives up to its gory hype but Leone has also crafted a gleefully riveting and original horror epic. Leone has demonstrably grown as a filmmaker and although there are some holes in the narrative, the time taken to develop the characters is a welcome one and sets the stage for events to unfold.
I particularly appreciated the hallucinatory, dream-like elements, which afford a tangible scope to the story. The practical effects and make-up are brilliant and although it’s a bloody film, there is a sardonic edge to the kills. Terrifier 2 reaches creaky territory in its conclusion, where it starts to introduce some fantastical elements. While I got on board with it and appreciated the over-the-top execution, others understandably won’t.
Terrifier 2 is an excellent slasher that outdoes its predecessor in pretty much every single way, other than the gnarliest kill which I think still belongs to the first film. It’s superbly directed, the increased character development compliments the gore and Leone crafts some arresting images. If Leone proceeds with a Terrifier 3, which an ambitious mid-credits scene alludes to, he has his work cut out to create a sequel that can better this.
13) The Forgiven
The Forgiven sees John Michael McDonagh mostly back on form after the disappointing War On Everyone, although it’s not a masterpiece like his first two films were. The film is uneven and after the opening sequence, it takes a good twenty minutes or so to find its stride. At first, I thought McDonagh had made a straight-faced adaptation without his trademark black humour but thankfully, there’s plenty of that to be found once the film finds its feet. McDonagh balances this satisfying mean-spiritedness with sequences of profundity. Like the rest of his filmography, it’s a cathartic experience and the narrative leads you down some unexpected but satisfying roads.
Ralph Fiennes is excellent in the lead role, a tired and pitiful individual with a pessimistic outlook on life and McDonagh’s characterisation of him is excellent. He’s given some cracking lines in the script, especially one sequence where he is riding a camel in the desert. Fiennes balances this initial pessimism with an individual who has to do his penance and accept guilt.
Nope is an original but flawed third film from Jordan Peele after Get Out and Us. It’s a multi-layered story that explores themes such as spectacle, the media, fantasy and the art of filmmaking and despite its shortcomings, it’s subversive and thrillingly original. Daniel Kaluuya is reliably great as an introverted but principled rancher. The score by Michael Abels is typically strong, ranging from other-worldly foreboding horror riffs to Western infusions. The film is beautifully shot by Hoyte van Hoytema, who captures the spectacle of the wide vistas, through to immersive blood-drenched, nighttime horror.
After a first viewing, you’ll need to ponder the various meanings and storyline and it’s a film that’s designed to be rewatched. Although it doesn’t flow quite as succinctly as Peele’s other films, Nope‘s many arresting images have stuck with me and it’s another success for the filmmaker.
11) Old Henry
Old Henry is a thrilling Western with a particularly satisfying final act with an inspired performance from Tim Blake Nelson. Nelson plays the titular character, a widower whose quite clearly experienced a violent past. He lives with his son, Wyatt (Gavin Lewis) on a farm in Oklahoma, who he is is very protective of.
Directed by Potsy Ponciroli in what is his second feature-length film after the little known Super Zeroes in 2012, Old Henry keeps its cards close to its chest in its first act. But when it gets going, it’s a deeply satisfying romp with an elegiac quality. While it may seem like a fairly typical (but well done) Western, its narrative is elevated by a character revelation in the final act. There are some thrilling action sequences, particularly a chase within some reeds and a customary final shoot-out. The film is also beautifully shot by director of photography, John Matysiak.
So there we go, numbers 20 down to 11. Stay tuned for the Top Ten in a separate post…
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister