CINEMA RETROSPECTIVE-2022 EDITION
2021, 2020, 2019, 2019 MID YEAR, 2018, 2018 MID YEAR, 2017, 2016, 2015
The "Big Tuna" Vito Carli weighs in with Summation of the Year in Film

A Comprehensive Look at 2022 in Film

(011223) My top ten lists are never merely qualitative rankings of my favorite films of that year. They are also reflections of my overall viewing experiences or how much pleasure I receive from seeing the films. Poor viewing circumstances might cause me to devalue a film or I might lower a great film or elevate one that is deeply flawed. Although many (or most) critics preferred Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s earlier film: Drive My Car, I had a much more profound experience watching his next film: Wheels of Fortune and Fantasy despite the fact that I saw Drive My Car (which I am considering a 2021 film) at the theatre. Perhaps it has to do with my mental state when I saw the films or maybe I was too tired at the time to fully digest or engage with a three-hour subtitled film on that particular day.

Also, I have a confession to make which might get me kicked out of any self-respecting cinephile society. For the first time ever (I have been doing top 10 lists since around 1994), the two best experiences I had seeing films this year were actually on the small screen streaming little films that hardly any one saw that I did not have the opportunity to see at the theatres. Even on the small screen, I was utterly enthralled by Joel Coen’s version of Macbeth (although I admit that it might not replace Welles’, Polanski’s or Kurosawa’s versions), and I endlessly pondered about the philosophic implications of before mentioned Wheels of Fortune and Fantasy  after I saw it on the Gene Siskel web site. Like Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” It made me consider how every little choice I made has affected my destiny, and of all the films I saw this year this one has occupied my mind and energy the most which is why it is number one.

Also, I had a wonderful experience driving down 87th street to Cinema Chatham (a theatre I had never been to or heard of before) to see an all-African American sci-fi film that got great reviews that was only showing in two Chicago area theatres. I felt a great rush like I had made a great discovery, and it was more than seeing a film it was like having an adventure. I was shocked and blown away by the immense creativity of Neptune Frost which I viewed alongside just a hand full of other film fans. After the screening, I found out they were all diehard cinephiles, young film makers, or what they called Afro Surrealist artists. I relished the experience of talking to them about the movie almost as much as I enjoyed watching the film. The film did more than entertain, it created a vortex of creative energy in all of us. That is often what you do not get from Netflix or Hulu screenings, the sense of community.

Despite the rise of right-wing nationalism and anti-globalism in many countries (often partially as an extreme reaction to immigration such as in Italy) the year was perhaps most defined by the rise of internationalist or multinational films that represent no one country often in several languages. Tar was a German/American production while the Palm D’Or winning, Triangle of Sadness was a Swedish/French/UK/German co-production. Neptune Frost is a Rwandan/ American film in English, while Everything Everywhere all at Once was in American. Mandarin, and Cantonese. Finally, The Northman which is listed as an American film is in English, Old Norse and Old East Slavic. The line between a foreign film and a domestic or English-speaking film is becoming as hard to define as the line between Indy and mainstream music.

In a recent discussion with fellow critic, Jim Rutkowski, the topic of how the cinema industry never completely recovered by Covid came up. Because of what happened during the virus people got into the habit of not seeing important films in the theatres. They learned that they could wait just a few weeks for the film to stream or go to Redbox. I am sometimes guilty of this, and I abstained from driving all the way down to the Gene Siskel Center to see The Tragedy of Macbeth because I knew in advance that this remarkable film would appear on Apple TV which meant home viewing.

This is contributing to the situation that many if not most of the serious, highbrow early Oscar contenders like Tar  (featuring a lead by the greatest current English-speaking greatest actress), Triangle of Sadness  and She Said are all underperforming and failing to meet the industry expectations in terms of their earnings. A manager at a local theater told me that basically only sequels, superhero and horror films are doing extremely well. While I like or very much admire some films in those genres (I loved Pearl and Werewolf by Night which was on Disney Plus), but this is kind of like skipping the turkey at Thanksgiving and only devouring the stuffing and desserts (my apologies to my vegan friends.). If this does not change the movie theatres could become completely dominated forever by big box office spectacles that remain in theatres six or eight months while hardcore aficionados have to comb through endless streaming stations to find a film with decent dialogue or aspirations above the average slug or splatter fest, All is not lost however because some of these films might make a lot of money streaming or in DVD sales (remember both Blade Runners were initially seen as financial failures because of their box office.)

It is hard to remember a year that was packed with so many outstanding female performances in everything from highbrow to low brow films (the male ones even the great ones tended to make lesser impressions on me). Kate Blanchett hit a high point in her career peak playing an often un-likeable character in Tar. Clair Dennis directed two perplexing, complex and multi layered female performances in Both Sides of the Blade (Juliette Binoche) and Margaret Qualey (Stars at Noon). Indy maverick, Aubrey Plaza who was also great in Ingrid Goes West gave one of the most edgy, brave and gutsy performances in Emily the Criminal for which she got nominated for best actress at the Independent Spirit awards. Also excellent were Mia Goth (in the horror films X and Pearl ) as more likely Oscar nominees, Viola Davis (The Women King ) and Zoe Kazan plus Carey Mulligan, the co-stars of the solid Me-too era journalism drama, She Said. And let’s not forget the terrific veteran Asian star, Michelle Yeoh for her fresh and creative work in one of her best films, Everything Everywhere all at Once. The only male performance to me that was nearly as impressive was Brendon Frasier’s awesome lead in The Whale, but I was not able to see Banshees of Isnisherin yet which features a highly touted Collin Farrell performance.

It was also a good year for many formerly obscure or under recognized directors such as Robert Eggars (who did his best film so far, The Northman), Todd Field who completely hit the bulls eye with Tar, his first film in 16 years, as well as tag team film makers, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (for Everything Everywhere all at Once) and rapper, Saul Williams and Anisa Uzeyman (for Neptune Frost.)

Asghar Farhadi had one of his best and worst years. The Persian film maker delivered one of the best foreign language films, of the year with, A Hero (although he did not get an Oscar nomination). However, he was accused of stealing ideas from a doc made by his former student, Azadeh Masihzadeh. Then other former students have since come out to accuse the film maker of also poaching their ideas. It is too bad because A Separation (2011), The Past (2013) and The Salesman (2016) was one of the finest trilogies of films made by a director anywhere in the world in the last twenty years. I hope the charges end up being untrue.

Now without further ado here are my best films of the year list. At some point a much longer list may appear on my www.artinterviews.org  website.
 

1) Wheels of Fortune and Fantasy (Japan)
Director-Ryusuke Hamaguchi
The phenomenally talented Japanese director of Drive My Car offers a brilliant trilogy of vignettes spotlighting nonprofessional actors which show alternate realities that are dependent on slight changes that show us the importance of chance. I wish that the What If show was one tenth as thought provoking or ingenious. In Japanese with English sub-titles. On YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, and Google Play.
 

2) The Tragedy of Macbeth
Director-Joel Coen
Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand (who would not be my first choices to play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth) give effective, non-conventional performances in this stylish, handsome adaptation of the Shakespeare classic. Unfortunately, this beautiful, imaginative piece of work only showed for a short while at the Gene Siskel Center before it showed up on Apple TV, so the film was criminally overlooked and few saw it hence it was mostly overlooked at the Oscars. Coen’s adaptation is brilliantly idiosyncratic plus the cinematography and set design are superb. Shot in glorious and stark black and white. The first solo film made by a Coen brother more than exceeds expectations and bodes well for the future. Apple TV and Amazon TV.

 

3) Tar
Director-Todd Fields
A brilliant composer/conductor at the peak of her career gets in hot water when details begin to emerge about her potentially improper relations with students. This morally ambiguous and timely drama makes you question whether great genius should ever excuse abuse. At this point I am not sure there is a better actress on the planet than Blanchett. Todd Fields who made the near masterpieces, In the Bedroom and Little Children delivers the most brilliant, thought-provoking comeback of the year which is supremely relevant to the Me-too generation. To see another view on this timely issue, catch the also excellent She Said. The evocative soundtrack ended up hitting number 1 on the Billboard charts, and like Amadeus it might lead to many people trying classical music.
 

4) The Northman
Director- Robert Eggars
The director of The Lighthouse and Witch delivers a visually arresting, raw and violent Viking action flick based on the legend that Hamlet was based on. Prince Amleth (the Nordic version of Hamlet) is visited by a ghost who insists he must avenge his premature death. The terrific cast includes, former True Blood star, Alexander Skarsgard, rising star, Anya Taylor-Joy of The Queen’s Gambit as well as Nicole Kidman (as the selfish and almost demonic mom). Oh, and Bjork appears as a blind, ornately decorated seer. What more do you want? This film is so full of rage and nasty action scenes that it makes Braveheart look like The Breakfast Club. In English, Old Norse and Old East Slavic. On Amazon Prime, YouTube, Redbox, Vudu and Google play.
 

5) Neptune Frost (Rwanda)
Director-Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman -Terrific dystopian Afro futurist film about a small rebel village in Africa which rebels against the corporate control of the world wide web. They live in shelters made of repurposed computer lab top parts and many of the costumes are made of recycled garbage. This film makes a great companion piece to the terrific recent MCA Nick Cave exhibit (many of his art pieces are also made of garbage), and the Afro Futurist anthology (it’s one of the newer art genres), The Future of Black: Afrofuturism, Black Comics and Superhero Poetry. In English, Kinyarwandan, Kirundi, Swahili, French and English. On Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu and Google play
 

6) The Triangle of Sadness
Director-Ruben Ostlund
Traditional power dynamics are reversed when a ship crashes and a poor toilet cleaner becomes the lord of the island over a bunch of rich people because she is the only one who can get food. Woody Harrelson (of Cheers and People vs. Larry Flynt) is wonderful as an American communist ship captain who continually argues with a Russian capitalist who made a fortune off selling manure (which is a great metaphor for what Taco Bell and many other companies) do. This highly original dark comedy channels both Luis Bunuel and Monty Python. The film’s main protagonists who play models (in real life they are models) are delightfully vapid and South African actress, Charlbi Dean Kriek who is perfect in her role, died a few months after the film was released. From Ruben Ostlund, the terrific director of Force Majeure (2014), and The Square (2022), who only makes great two and a half hour plus films. On Amazon Prime, YouTube, Redbox, and Google play.
 

7) Everything Everywhere all at Once
Director-Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Shrewd and compelling action animated/ comedy/drama/fantasy/ sci fi film about a female underdog who is about to lose her laundry and husband who learns that she is a great savior in some alternate realities and that she is also, the only one who can save this reality. Like many heroes she first denies the call but gradually fulfills her destiny. The script is smart, ingenious, and clever and this matches and perhaps even surpasses The Matrix. In English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. On Amazon Prime, Showtime, Hulu, YouTube, Fubo, Redbox, Vudu and Google play
 

8) Emily the Criminal
Director-John Patton Ford
This gritty neo noir features the always delightful Aubrey Plaza, who is quite remarkable in a career making performance. She plays a young woman with high student loans and an art degree who finds it almost impossible to get a decent job because she committed a petty crime and has a record. When she spews out vitriol at a prospective employer who wants her to work for nothing, it is as if she is) channeling all the class resentment and anger of her whole generation (this is one of the year’s best scenes.) Emily is highly sympathetic at first, but like the protagonist in Breaking Bad, she becomes less likeable and less human as she gets deeper into criminal waters. But, she could be any one of us who is financially strapped and makes the wrong choices. This was put out by Plaza’s production company Evil Hag which is also the name of her web page. On Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu and Google play.
 

9) A Hero (Iran)
Director-Asghar Farhadi
A well intentioned man returns some money he finds and becomes an instant hero, but when little details emerge that contradict his official story then his fortunes suddenly reverse. This film which is based on a true story proves the adage, “no good deed goes unpunished.” In Persian, French and English. On Amazon Prime.
 

10) Apollo 10 ½
Director-Richard Linklater
This animated film by Richard (Boyhood) Linklater is more “real” than almost any live action film of the year, and it is a more rewarding family memorial film than Spielberg’s The Fabersons. I could not imagine a better chronicle of the more innocent 60’s time period piece and it culminates in the glorious moon landing (which of course the kids don’t appreciate). On Netflix.
 

11) Luana: A Yak in the Classroom (Bhutan)
Director-Pawo Choyning Dorji
Charming drama about a teacher who is stationed to teach in a remote town in the Himalayas and he must create a classroom from scratch and yes, he keeps a yak someone gives him in the classroom. This exceptional, crowd-pleasing, warm-hearted film has some commonalties with Ciao Professore, and it is guaranteed to give you a smile. It was a nominee for Best International feature at the 94rth Academy Awards. In the language of Dzongkha. On Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu and Google play.
 

12) Both Sides of the Blade (France)
Director-Claire Denis
A woman trapped in a drab marriage is torn between her current predictable husband and her more passionate ex. As usual Juliette Binoche (one of the best actresses) is magnificent. One of the two excellent films that the African born film maker, Clair Denis directed this year, and this is by far the better one. On Amazon Prime, Sling, YouTube TV, Redbox, and Google play.
 

13) The Whale
Director-Darren Aronofsky
Charlie (Brendan Frasier in one of the year’s best performances) is a reclusive 600-pound college teacher who teaches only online classes. He is estranged from both his daughter and ex-wife (who he left for a gay ex-student), and the only people who seem to care for him are his nurse and a young missionary who wants to convert him to an apocalyptic religion. Packed with painfully realistic confrontation scenes and fine supporting performances by Sadie (Stranger Things) Sink and Hong (The Watchmen show) Chau, this challenging, and emotionally explosive film from Darren (Black Swan, Requiem of a Dream) Aronofsky will likely receive some Oscar nominations.

The next two tied films are under recognized biopic's from the UK anchored by strong male lead performances:

14) Duke
Director-Roger Mitchell
Jim Broadbent gives a delightful performance as an eccentric and stubborn senior who becomes a working-class hero when he steals a Goya painting to raise money for the poor. The last film from the late British director, Roger (Notting Hill) director may be his best. On YouTube, Google Play, Google Play, Redbox, and Amazon Prime.
 

15) Benediction
Director-Terrence Davies
Davies, who previously made a film about Emily Dickinson, directs this exemplary highbrow drama about the brilliant poet/literary critic (played at different parts of his life by both Jack Lowden and the ex-Dr. Who Peter Capaldi), Siegfried Sassoon, who suffered terrible oppression for speaking out against the continuation of WW II (after a certain point he though it was all about imperialist nation building). This very English art flick reminds me of an old Merchant Ivory art house classic, and it is filled with witty dialogue exchanges and fine live readings of hypnotic poetry. Streaming on Hulu. Vudu, Amazon Prime, YouTube. Google Play, and Amazon Prime.
 

16) Eo (Poland)
Director-Jerzy Skolimowski
Very moving and unpretentious film is told through the point of view of a lovable donkey like its main inspiration, Au Hazard Balthazar (my favorite film ever), it follows his life through a series of vignettes and he frequently changes locales and owners. Some humans are kind to him and others brutally mistreat him. Ironically, he is happiest and treated best in a circus where he has a female protector, but it is closed because of charges of animal cruelty. The film may make you feel solidarity with all living things or if you are religious, it may make you think that we are all God’s creatures. French film goddess, Isabelle Huppert has a brief but memorable cameo. Hard to find but not to be missed. In Polish with English subtitles. At press time playing at the Gene Siskel Center.
 

17) She Said
Directors-Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner
This Spotlight and All the President’s Men-like journalism film about the two daring female reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein sex harassment story. The story is inspirational and the two female reporters are shown to have untraditional marriages with the usual gender roles flipped.
 

18) I’m A Cliché
Directors-Celeste Bell and Paul Sng
This rewarding doc on the ferociously talented and little-known (at least in America) punk rock heroine, Poly Styrene who had severe mental health problems and eventually found peace as a Hari Krishna. The title comes from one of the songs she wrote for the band X Ray Spex which appeared on their classic. Germ free Adolescents album. Must see for punk and new wave fans as well as feminist musicians. On YouTube, Paramount, Showtime. Hulu, YouTube TV, Sling. Fubo. Google Play and Amazon.
 

19) The Happening (France)
Director-Audrey Diwan
This film about all the obstacles that a suffering young woman in France encounters when she tries to get an abortion. Very timely and extremely relevant after the recent Supreme Court decision dissolving Roe vs, Wade. In French with English subtitles
 

20) The Pink Cloud (Brazil)
Director-Lull Gerbase
Tense Covid 19 influenced dystopian film about a toxic pink cloud that forces everyone to stay in. A man and a woman forced to stay in together have a kid then then their staying in and isolation begins to have negative effects on their relationship. Eerie, timely and disturbing. In Portuguese with English subtitles.
 

Vittorio Carli, who teaches at area community colleges and has reviewed films for The Star and The Examiner. He is an avid film buff and an author.
His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.
You can find more of his writings at www.chicagopoetry.org.

For more of his reviews including previous Top 10 lists go to www.artinterviews.org,
www.artinterviews.org/best.
and www.reelmoviecritic.com

 
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