Best Films of 2022 (10-1)


This is the second part of my Best Films of 2021 feature detailing my Top Ten films. Click here to read numbers 25 to 11.

10) Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore 

Despite the many controversies riding against the film, as well as acting as a follow-up to the disappointing The Crimes of Grindelwald, I was surprised by how well this film redeems the series. Returning director David Yates deftly melds both Grindelwald’s political quest and Newt’s storyline and unlike the second film which sidelined the titular fantastic beasts, Newt’s briefcase of magical creatures play an important part in the narrative. There are some arresting visuals and the film is directed by Yates with confidence.  

There are some noteworthy performances, with Jude Law the standout in an expanded role as Dumbledore, who retains Michael Gambon’s twinkly personality and Irish lilt. Redmayne carries the film well again and Callum Turner as Newt’s Auror brother, Theseus makes more of an impression in an expanded role, as he was quite wooden last time round. Newcomer Mads Mikkelsen is excellent as Grindelwald but wisely avoids channeling Johnny Depp’s equally strong performance. 

Cinematographer George Richmond replaces Philippe Rousselot for this third installment and he conjures a greyer aesthetic to suit the world that is on the brink of an all-out war, foregoing Rousselot’s more romantic elements. 

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is a thoroughly entertaining ride that justifies the existence of this series. I’m not sure if it’s quite as good as the first instalment but it’s certainly pretty close. Sadly, the film attracted mixed-to-positive reviews and didn’t perform very well at the box office – I really hope it’s not the end for the series and I’d love to see how the story develops.

9) Barbarian

Zach Cregger’s high-concept directorial debut packs plenty of satisfying surprises up its sleeve throughout its run time. This is a taut, claustrophobic and mostly satisfying piece that had me hooked throughout. It runs out of steam a little in its last ten minutes, where the ending is not quite as subversive as the rest of the film and Cregger feels the need to overexplain a little too much. However, this is forgivable considering how reserved the rest of the film is at showing its hand. Cregger balances the horror elements with pepperings of comedy, a notable highlight being Justin Long bringing a new meaning to measuring the square footage of a property. Barbarian is further elevated by its rich exploration of social commentary too, with plenty to say on the state of America, gender and race. I can’t wait to see what Cregger does next.

8) Spiderhead

A controversial choice but director Joseph Kosinski features again with Spiderhead, a straight-to-Netflix sci-fi thriller that received mixed reviews.  Spiderhead boasts a fascinating concept in that it is set in a penitentiary where prisoners are allowed to roam freely, in exchange for being experimented on medically. The characters are subjected to make some dark and difficult decisions and the film is directed with flair by Kosinski. Miles Teller is typically reliable and carries the baggage of his character’s crimes with the will to change his future convincingly. Chris Hemsworth is excellent as the voyeuristic Abnesti, whose charisma walks a fine line between prickly comedy and satisfying ridiculousness. 

Cinematographer Claudio Miranda captures the prisoners’ point of view excellently, the hues of artificial colours inside the penitentiary juxtaposed with the lush, tropical island settling. Kosinski does well to methodically reveal character backstories, maintaining tension throughout proceedings. He constantly keeps the film fresh, being careful to keep audiences on their toes with its narrative. Many feel the film falls apart in its third act, but I found the climax a natural and satisfyingly bleak place to develop its story.  

7) X

X is the new film from director Ti West, who returns to his horror roots after a brief venture to the Western with the giddily entertaining In A Valley Of ViolenceX is a thoroughly entertaining horror that is elevated by its cineliteracy towards 20th-century slasher films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as well as its satisfying exploration of a range of themes. It is most effective in its first half as the build-up is at a constant simmer. The film heads off the rails in its second half in a mostly satisfying way, albeit with some silliness as it leans into the genre tropes of that era.

Mia Goth has impressed in horror films with A Cure For Wellness and Suspiria and makes her mark here again. She brings a down-and-dirty edge into the role of Maxine and she quite literally disappears into her second role under heavy prosthetics as Pearl, the wife of Howard. The rest of the cast are all game too, with Jenny Ortega receiving a meaningful arc and Stephen Ure proving what an underrated actor he is, channeling the nastiness from his most famous portrayal of an Orc in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The score by Tyler Bates and Chelsea Wolfe is haunting using period pieces as well as an original predominantly synth-based score. Chelsea Wolfe’s rendition of Oui Oui Marie is particularly mesmerising.  The film is also beautifully shot by Eliot Rockett. He frames the characters as if they are prey, an aerial shot of an alligator stalking its target and an eagle encircling the air above the film crew are of particular note. 

The score by Tyler Bates and Chelsea Wolfe is haunting using period pieces as well as an original predominantly synth-based score. Chelsea Wolfe’s rendition of Oui Oui Marie is particularly mesmerising.  The film is also beautifully shot by Eliot Rockett. He frames the characters as if they are prey, an aerial shot of an alligator stalking its target and an eagle encircling the air above the film crew are of particular note.

6) Where The Crawdads Sing

Contrary to the generally negative reception the film has received, I was enamoured by Where The Crawdads Sing. An adaptation of Delia Owen’s 2018 coming-of-age murder mystery Southern Gothic novel, director Olivia Newman’s film is consistently compelling and not afraid to explore some dark and tragic sub-plots. It really makes the most of its swampy location, which feels like a character of its own, and the 125 minutes raced by. I’d have been happy for the film to be an hour longer as it was that interesting. The film’s beautifully shot by Polly Morgan and is supported with a thoughtful Mychael Danna score. Daisy Edgar-Jones is tremendous in the lead role, a misunderstood yet ultimately kind and caring young woman.

Where The Crawdads Sing is a haunting adaptation told with beautiful humanity and is one of the best films of the year. It effortlessly melds its murder mystery, romantic and thriller genre qualities into a coherent and affecting drama that is never cheesy. I can’t wait to see what projects Newman and Edgar-Jones pick next as they are clearly both talents to watch.  

5) The Banshees of Inisherin

The Banshees of Inisherin is the latest by writer-director Martin McDonagh, whose three film track record is untarnished so far. Yet another knockout McDonagh feature, the script is full of his signature black, dry humour and the first half of the film is full of comedic moments. The film gets progressively grimmer and McDonagh deftly balances the initial laughs with the heavier subject matter and tone. There’s a lot of substance to the story, McDonagh being both critical and drawing parallels of the events on-screen with the Civil War, infused with a Shakespearean quality. Both Farrell and Gleeson turn in excellent performances, fully deserving of the awards attention.

Having watched the film three times now, it gets better each rewatch as you start to pick out the smaller minutatie and the foreboding signs of the narrative direction the film is heading in. It’s definitely McDonagh’s grimmest watch to date and the film leaves you stone-cold in its closing moments with characters that have lost their way. The film isn’t quite perfect though – it doesn’t seem to have quite as much substance as McDonagh’s first two films and the film’s pacing sags briefly just before it enters its final act.

4) Boiling Point

My top choice in my mid-year report, Boiling Point slips to a commendable fourth position. This single-take drama is thrilling and sharp, constantly ramping in tension and maintaining its momentum throughout. From the opening sequence of the Health and Safety assessment, director Philip Barantini has created a startlingly authentic, cutthroat environment and it’s astonishing to witness a film as riveting as Boiling Point is from seemingly few ingredients.  The script by Barantini and James Cummings is razor-sharp. They introduce a convincing restaurant team from the fellow chefs to the service staff and how they are divided. 

Stephen Graham delivers an astonishing performance as Andy, a man at his wits end and on the verge of a breakdown with his home life and the added stresses of ensuring that the dinner service runs like a Swiss watch. The rest of the cast are uniformly brilliant and are sure to land future roles based on the strengths of their performances here. 

Films that are or have been created to feel like they have been shot in one take have often been labelled as a gimmick, and to some extent this is true. But Boiling Point succeeds as a gripping, anxiety-inducing drama first with searing performances. It isn’t a hollow film that tries to hide behind a showy camera technique – the handheld one-shot take further adds to the hysteria on-screen.

3) Thirteen Lives

Thirteen Lives is a biographical retelling of the nail-biting 2018 Tham Lang cave rescue in northern Thailand.  A tremendous piece of work, it is quite possibly Ron Howard’s best film. Despite its two and a half hour length, it’s taut and constantly maintains tension. The film does a great job of re-dramatising the narrative from different perspectives, be it the local farmers whose land need to be flooded so the water can be diverted away from the cave, to the governor trying to manage the situation and facing pressure from his seniors. Both Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell are excellent, although it took me a couple of scenes to buy their British accents. It’s brilliantly shot by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, most acclaimed for his collaborations with Suspiria director Luca Guadagnino. Mukdeeprom thrillingly captures both the claustrophobia of the situation and the serene yet threatening rural surroundings. 

2) Blonde

A misunderstood masterpiece, Andrew Dominik’s fictional retelling of Marilyn Monroe’s life is searing and provocative. It’s a hellish, unrelenting account that deftly captures the descent of Monroe’s life. The film argues Monroe was used and abused at every turn, a child-like figure who couldn’t handle herself. Redefining the parameters of the biopic genre, Blonde indebted to the style of David Lynch and Darren Aronofsky in its hallucinogenic portrayal of Monroe’s gloomy life. Dominik also experiments with colour and aspect ratios and there are numerous sequences which feel like they have been lifted straight from the 1950s.

The opening twenty minutes is particularly startling, a young Monroe (brilliantly played by Lily Fisher) suffering abuse at the hands of her mentally unstable mother, Gladys (Julianne Nicholson). Dominik’s portrayal of the paparazzi and male gaze is also fascinating, especially how he meticulously recreates iconic images from Monroe’s career. The film is unflinching in its depiction of sexual violence and domestic abuse, thoroughly earning its 18-rating. Its last act is a disorienting Lynchian descent into drug-fuelled mania. A scene where Monroe is sleeping is shot as if from the angle of a voyeur and she awakens from her slumber to check her surroundings. DP Chayse Irvin experiments with shadows and figures and there is definitely someone in the room. 

The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is breathtaking – a haunting and melancholic soundscape that is endlessly memorable and is the glue that holds the film together. Chayse Irvin’s cinematography is similarly mindblowing, regularly experimenting with colours and aspect ratio.

Blonde is not for the faint-hearted but this is a fierce and muscular horror-filled biopic of Monroe. It’s directed with real vigour, backed up by committed performance and a technical crew on top of their game. The 166 minutes fly by and a second watch unlocks even more substance. 

So the best film of the year is…

1) The Black Phone

A film that gets better on each rewatch, The Black Phone sees horror maestro Scott Derrickson return to his roots, reteaming with writer C. Robert Cargill and actor Ethan Hawke. The result is an excellent, intelligent horror film that is very well-directed by Derrickson. He crafts a delicious setting, leaning into 1970’s suburbia and isn’t afraid of unflinchingly portraying playground violence. Derrickson takes the narrative to dark places and the fast pacing grips you instantly. The film is very cine-literate, with Derrickon’s passion for film evident on the screen, be through the inclusion of period television shows from the time and the playful nods to It. On that note of the nods to Stephen King, it’s not unreasonable that his son carries some of his traits such as a community of children going missing, but it’s not derivative and the tone isn’t cynical. 

The script by Derrickson and Cargill deftly humanises the characters through meaningful arcs and avoids resorting to caricatures. There are also some exhilarating set pieces and I loved the creative choice to portray some of the previous victim’s lives on grainy film, which was a highlight of Derrickson’s magnum opus Sinister. The film is further bolstered by an interesting and unnerving score by Mark Korven and it’s beautifully shot by Brett Jutkiewicz. The cast are excellent, especially newcomers Mason Thame and Madeleine McGraw who make an explosive impression. Hawke is also terrific – he has not played a villain on-screen before and ‘The Grabber’ is an unhinged and suitably sinister screen presence. 

The Black Phone isn’t perfect – Hawke’s villain could have been further explored, James Ransone’s character arc isn’t very well executed and I wish the film further explored the link between overcoming one’s demons and the repercussions stemmed from that. But otherwise, it’s pretty terrific and I can’t wait to see what Derrickson has up his sleeve next. 

What are your favourite films of 2022? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister


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