While Imo and I have been podcasting over the last year, I haven’t had a chance to write reviews for all the films I’ve managed to see at the cinema in the last twelve months.
2022 has been another fantastic year for film, with a few impressive entries from the Disney-Marvel-DC hegemons (particularly Matt Reeves’ The Batman and Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) and from outside the UK (special shout-outs to Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, Juho Kuosmanen’s Compartment No. 6, Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave and Fernando León de Aranoa’s The Good Boss).
It’s also been a year for a lot of films oriented in or around the kitchen – Mark Mylod’s The Menu, Peter Strickland’s Flux Gourmet and Philip Barantini’s Boiling Point. All three entries leave food for thought on a variety of meaty themes such as addiction, artistry and anarchy.
So, MY TOP 10 FILMS OF 2022 (in no particular order):
- THE BATMAN (Dir. Matt Reeves, Screenplay. Matt Reeves, Peter Craig)
- GREAT FREEDOM (Dir. Sebastian Meise, Screenplay. Sebastian Meise, Thomas Reinder)
- FLEE (Dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen)
- EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (Dir. Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, Screenplay. Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert)
- BENEDICTION (Dir. Terence Davis, Screenplay. Terence Davis)
- HIT THE ROAD (Dir. Panah Panahi, Screenplay. Panah Panahi)
- NOPE (Dir. Jordan Peele, Screenplay. Jordan Peele)
- THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (Dir. Martin McDonagh, Screenplay. Martin MacDonagh)
- RETURN TO DUST (Dir. Li Ruijun, Screenplay. Li Ruijun)
- THE MENU (Dir. Mark Mylod, Screenplay. Seith Reiss, Will Tracy)
Wondering what’s so good about some of these films? I’ve selected my four favourites to review briefly below.
FLEE: Innovative Documentary Crosses Boundaries to Chronicle a Refugee’s Experience.
Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen / Subject: Amin Nawabi
In this beautifully haunting yet stylistically novel documentary, Afghan refugee Amin Nawabi recounts his arduous journey from Kabul to Copenhagen in the late 1980s when he and his family were forced to flee his home country. In a series of interviews with Danish filmmaker and friend Jonas Power Rasmussen, he charts the harrowing plights, personal issues and sacrifices made that helped him not only to escape, but to discover himself.
This is an incredibly powerful docudrama from Rasmussen, combining evocative animation with the real recorded voices of the documentary’s subject. It allows for an original intimacy with Nawabi’s experiences while also visualising the abstract, traumatic and sensual in mesmerising, seamlessly flowing illustrations. This documentary is a deeply affecting watch which also provides penetrating insights.
Not only does it explore the sheer precarity in a refugee’s journey for safety and security, but emphasises how much is owed to others on that odyssey (especially, in Nawabi’s case, his mother and siblings). With the refugee crisis across the Middle East, Africa and now Europe continuing to worsen, this is a must-watch for everyone.
My Verdict // ★★★★★
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE: Michelle Yeoh Kicks Ass and Captures Hearts in her own Multiverse of Madness.
Director: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert / Screenplay: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), the owner of a laundromat, has everything going on all at once – an audit, a husband who wants to divorce her, an estranged daughter, and an elderly father whose ailing presence nevertheless invites stressful levels of self-scrutiny. A trip to the tax office results the weirdest set of circumstances that she has faced yet – is it a mental breakdown brought on by the multiple crises, or is she entering the multiverse?
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s quirky, inventive, bizarre, stimulating new movie is a frenetic, visual feast and yet extremely heartfelt. Reduced to a single strand from its sheer multiplicity of themes, narratives and character roles, the Daniels’ movie is about the difference between connection and disconnection, with the director-writers proffering the ‘moment’ over the momentous. Yet, living parallel with such philosophical disquisitions, the delightful cast are sublime, with Yeoh as the shining centre and given full opportunity to show her range – exhausted woman, actress diva, martial arts star, complicated mother.
Unexpectedly, while the film kicks and punches you with its madcap cinematography and pacing, it opens moments for real introspection. Not only is Everything Everywhere All At Once one of my top films of the year, but perhaps of the last ten years!
Where to Watch: Everything Everywhere All At Once can be watched on Amazon Prime
My Verdict // ★★★★★
HIT THE ROAD: Panahi’s Deeply Affecting Debut Is A Journey of Hope and Despair.
Director: Panah Panahi / Screenplay: Panah Panahi
An Iranian family undertake a perilous road-trip to get the eldest son Farid (Amin Simiar) out of the country. Along the way, father Khosrow (Hassan Madjooni) and mother (Pantea Panahiha) must keep this fact a secret from their younger, tearaway son (Rayan Sarlak) to avoid raising suspicion. Scraping from moments both hilarious and dangerous, the family grow ever more uncomfortable at the inevitable moment of parting.
Panahi’s feature debut is an eccentric yet melancholy journey through the social issues, pop culture and evocative, expansive landscapes of contemporary Iran. In the proximity of the car, we are invited to spend time in the idiosyncratic dynamics of the family. They alternate between being brittle, unbounded, comforting and all seem struck with the same ‘gallows’ humour’. Panahi builds warmth and tension with great subtlety, striking with both surrealism (scenes clearly evoking Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) and social realism. Young Sarlak is a complete scene-stealer, a very believable depiction of a child’s callousness and carefreeness in a coming-of-age moment.
Where to Watch: Hit the Road can be watched on Mubi
My Verdict // ★★★★★
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN: Gleeson and Farrell Quarrel Sublimely in McDonagh’s Comic Tragedy.
Director: Martin McDonagh / Screenplay: Martin McDonagh
Life changes dramatically for Pádraic (Colin Farrell) when his old friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) decides he won’t speak to him anymore. Such a simple yet potent act ignites a chain of events that will unsettle the entire community on the weather-exposed island of Inisherin.
This is a paradoxically small yet theatrically powerful film from McDonagh. Filled with his usual brand of black humour (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and ear for the provincial people of this island, the director-writer captures more than just the tension and desperate longing in the aftermath of a friendship. Such a simple conflict invites existential questions over mortality, legacy and reflections on what to do with life. Gleeson, Farrell and Kerry Conlon are a terrific trio to watch, breathing believability into the lives of these people living in the afterglow of ‘better’ times and broken dreams. Alongside the sublime sardonic wit in the dialogue, McDonagh captures the beauty and banality in his cinematography of the island’s rough natural environment.
As with his previous work, McDonagh doesn’t shy away when events take a desperate, violent turn. Unflinching yet fulfilling, The Banshees of Inisherin is one to watch before the year closes out.
Where to Watch: The Banshees of Inisherin can be watched on Disney +
My Verdict // ★★★★★
Now, some honourable mentions, passing remarks on some other releases, and, finally, the films to avoid!
Return to Dust (Dir. Li Ruijin, Screenplay. Li Ruijin): A heartening yet incredibly sad story told naturalistically by Chinese director Li Ruijin. The two untrained actors, Hai Qing and Wu Renlin, give superbly absorbing performances as an odd yet optimistic couple rising above local social judgements. The slow building of love, hope and dreams (and its inevitable crushing) won’t leave a dry eye in the house. My Verdict // ★★★★★
Benediction (Dir. Terence Davis, Screenplay. Terence Davis): An unconventional biographical film on the life of soldier, poet and dissident Siegfried Sassoon. By no means perfect – often hysterical and hilarious with its dialogue- Davis’ film does oddly capture a sense of the loss, longing and stolen lives of those young men that lived in the stifling wake of the First World War. My Verdict // ★★★☆☆
Nope (Dir. Jordan Peele, Screenplay. Jordan Peele): Full podcast review here. Peele’s latest ‘social horror’ subtly reveals the true monster of Hollywood in this gripping, frightening yet thought-provoking movie. Partnering a laconic Daniel Kaluuya with charisma-charged Keke Palmer is a further treat in a movie that should become a classic. My Verdict // ★★★★☆
Great Freedom (Dir. Sebastian Meise, Thomas Reider): A gritty, yet tender portrayal of a difficult period in post-Nazi Germany, when citizens were still held to the unreformed anti-gay law ‘Paragraph 175’. While an exploration of one man’s journey from one form of prison to another, it is also a depiction of the struggle to recognise and inhabit personal freedom. Franz Rogowski (an uncanny doppelganger of Jacquin Phoenix) gives a phenomenal performance as the central character- boyish yet rough. His relationship with the acerbic yet brotherly cell-mate Victor (Georg Friedrich) captures the film’s depiction of love and joy amid physical and social brutality. My Verdict // ★★★★☆
The Batman (Dir. Matt Reeves, Screenplay. Matt Reeves): Full podcast review here. Director-writer Matt Reeves proves that the famous caped crusader can have new life after Christopher Nolan’s seminal trilogy. This atmospheric, grungy and extended descent into the rainy gloom of Gotham is definitely the dour knight rises, but it does revitalises the Bat’s aesthetic for the next era. Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz prove entertaining as sparring, afflicted anti-heroes in the roles of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Only the Albert-Bruce relationship needs work, with Andy Serkis’ beefed-up butler a bum note in Reeves’ otherwise riveting blockbuster. My Verdict // ★★★★☆
Decision to Leave (Dir. Park Chan-wook, Screenplay. Jeong Seo-kye, Park Chan-wook): Continuing his fascination with eroticism, gazing and murder, Park Chan-wook returns with a cinematographically absorbing thriller that evokes the best of Hitchcock. Its early scatty focus can be disorientating but the movie’s themes and subject are rendered clearly and melodramaticaly. This is a visually compelling piece of cinema, though its characters seem to possess shallow or even baffling motivations (that might be a result of translation issues or cultural specificity). My Verdict // ★★★☆☆
The Menu (Dir. Mark Mylod, Screenplay. Seith Reiss, Will Tracy): Mylod’s ‘dining experience’ movie is both bonkers and wicked as it first skewers then flambés the rich and famous. A delicious piece of satire that is at once obvious, anarchic, eye-rolling and yet extremely amusing. Ralph Fiennes is reliably hammy yet severe as the executive chef who has clearly lost his head. Curiously cathartic for our present moment of ever-increasing class division. My Verdict // ★★★★☆
She Will (Dir. Charlotte Colbert, Screenplay. Charlotte Colbert, Kitty Percy): This debut from Colbert is a bit ‘hokey’ and cliché with its familiar imagery of midnight woods and witches’ covens, yet somehow it does cast a spell. Alice Krige is eminently watchable (that glorious Gothic face) as a cold Norma Desmond-type, yet she slowly becomes soft, sympathetic and delightfully fierce. Colbert stirs the film into a balanced mixture of the uncanny, disconcerting and amusing (Rupert Everett’s tweedy host) with the smouldering history of misogynistic violence that has defined the concept of ‘the witch’ lurking among it all. My Verdict // ★★★☆☆
Compartment No. 6 (Dir. Juho Kuosmanen, Screenplay. Andris Feldman, Livia Ulman, Juho Kuosman): A low-key, yet unexpectedly stirring watch. Cramped into a train compartment and sent across the unforgiving Russian landscape, Seidi Haarla’s uptight Finnish student and Yuri Borisov’s unreformed Russian companion shine as they develop an unlikely rapport. A romantic train ride that dispels with pretension to deliver an optimistic, yet believable message about connection. My Verdict // ★★★☆☆
Boiling Point (Dir. Philip Barantini, Screenplay. Philip Barantini, James Cummings): Stephen Graham simmers until boiling over in this taut, single-take, restaurant-based drama. There are some terrific observations of life in a high-end restaurant, from fraying tempers, fraught actions, desperation and nonchalant waiting service. Chekhov’s ‘nut allergy’ emerges early on and it’s a sheer tour-de-force when the proverbial ‘spinning plates’ begin to slip and smash. My Verdict // ★★★★☆
Drive My Car (Dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Screenplay. Ryusuke Hamaguchi, based on a novel by Haruki Murakami): Hamaguchi’s expansive adaptation of Murakami’s story is a serene yet intense experience. Hidetoshi Nishijima plays a grieving theatre-director who develops a platonic yet confronting relationship with his driver (played by Toko Miura) during a poignant production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Laboriously paced yet emotionally acute, Hamaguchi reveals an uncomfortable yet honest depiction on the difficulties of loss, communication and questioning what is ‘really’ felt. My Verdict // ★★★★☆
Don’t Worry Darling (Dir. Olivia Wilde, Screenplay. Kate Silberman): A lavish production that hides a very simple, derivative idea with some relevance to current socio-cultural issues over gender relationships (especially concerning incel and toxic masculinity). Despite the queasiness in the sheen of 50’s Americana and Florence Pugh doing her best with the material (working off a good-looking, well-tailored, yet merely competent Harry Styles), it never escapes a sense of building up to its inevitable twisted revelation. My Verdict // ★★☆☆☆
Belfast (Dir. Kenneth Branagh, Screenplay. Kenneth Branagh): Branagh’s passion project is basically a musical theatre depiction of his 1960’s childhood. Nostalgic, sweet and a sumptuous visual treat in black-and-white. Certainly a child’s eye view of that troubled period in Northern Irish history but borders on the sugary and romanticised. Young actor Jude Hill is an annoyingly endearing presence, supported by Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench’s annoyingly lovable grandparents. My Verdict // ★★★☆☆
Flux Gourmet (Dir. Peter Strickland, Screenplay. Peter Strickland): An acquired taste, if you’ll pardon the pun. A short film about some esoteric artists (sonic caterers) who get a residency in a controlling artistic institution. It is satirically crude and yet absolutely bursting with absurdity. Beneath the weird, disturbing visuals and soundscape, themes about the artist’s sense of working independently and creatively within an institution keep bubbling to the surface. My Verdict // ★★★☆☆
The Woman King (Dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood, Screenplay. Dana Stevens): A classic historical-epic romp with all the blood, battle-fuelled action and pure gusto that comes with a sword-and-sandals movie (alongside pitfalls of melodramatic coincidences and historical revisionism). In contrast to the usual male caucacity of this genre (see Spartacus, Gladiator, Troy, 300 etc), director Gina Prince-Bythewood tells a story of the Agojie warriors in the West African kingdom of Dahomey in the early 19th Century. A hardcore Viola Davis leads a fierce female-focused cast that exposes the power and problems of this once elite fighting force. My Verdict // ★★★☆☆
The Good Boss (Dir. Fernando León de Aranoa, Screenplay. Fernando León de Aranoa): Javier Bardem is a perfectly charismatic presence in Aranoa’s slightly dark comedy about a manager aiming for the appearance of perfection. The conceit of ‘balance’ is rather obviously foregrounded and yet the story remains intense, satisfying and very funny throughout, especially when events starts to unsteady the life and business of Bardem’s wily, self-serving employer. My Verdict // ★★★☆☆
Death on the Nile (Dir. Kenneth Branagh, Screenplay. Michael Green): The follow-up to 2017’s star-studded, noticeably expensive yet dull Murder on the Orient Express. Exchanging a luxurious train for a luxurious river boat, the ridiculously moustached detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) attempts to solve another murderous mishap. It’s a similar silly sequel with a bunch of famous faces (Gal Gadot, Letitia Wright, Annette Benning, Russell Brand, Armie Hammer, Sophie Okenedo, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Ali Fazal), features almost parodic cameos from French and Saunders, and a terribly superfluous backstory for Branagh’s facial fur-rug. Very forgettable. My Verdict // ★★☆☆☆
The Northman (Dir. Robert Eggers, Screenplay. Sjón, Robert Eggers): This latest film from Robert Eggers is characteristically atmospheric yet also the most blatent and bonkers depiction of a mythologised era since John Boorman’s Excalibur. Pent-up, masculine rage is allowed to brood and brawl as the hulking Alexander Skarsgård strides along the path to vengeance trodden by other aggrieved boys such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Ridley Scott’s Maximus. Unoriginal, though packed with enough violence, gore and grimness to suit any Viking fans. My Verdict // ★★★☆☆
The Tragedy of Macbeth (Dir. Joel Coen, Screenplay. Joel Coen, based on Macbeth by William Shakespeare): It’s all sound and flurries not signifying much in Coen’s visually arresting and eerie adaptation of Shakespeare’s play on regicide and regret. Kathryn Hunter stands out as the contortionist, deeply voiced witch(es) and yet there’s little passion in Coen’s direction of the text. With the stark, minimalist sets lit in a chiaroscuro style, the usual symbolic blood is drained of its luridness fortunately. Instead, Coen drives to make this play seem almost otherworldly, apocalyptic and timeless. Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand gives us all the psychological wrangling and forlornness of the careerist couple. Yet, a story decision to create an ‘agent of chaos’ robs them of agency. So fair yet foul an adaptation I have not seen. My Verdict // ★★★☆☆
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Dir. Tom Gormican, Screenplay. Tom Gormican, Kevin Etten): Nicholas Cage gets a harmless, mostly funny film dedicated to the actor’s own eccentric career. The only standout feature is an unexpectedly sweet bromance between Cage and the enthusiastic, hapless ‘gangster’ fan played by Pedro Pascal. My Verdict // ★★★☆☆
Jurassic World: Dominion (Dir. Colin Trevorrow, Screenplay. Emily Carmichael, Colin Trevorrow): Full podcast review here. A bombastic, bloated pile of faeces that hopefully marks the extinction event of a flagging, rung-out old franchise. Its genre free-wheeling can be as amusing as it is perplexing (just give DeWanda Wise her own swashbuckling, Indiana Jones-inspired action film already) but otherwise it’s a dead-end for the dinos. Scariest moment: our past-it palaeontologists (Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum) descending some rather well-polished marble stairs. My Verdict // ★☆☆☆☆
Thor: Love and Thunder (Dir. Taika Waititi, Screenplay. Taika Waititi, Jennifer Kaytin): Full podcast review here. Uh-oh. Proving you can squander successes like Thor: Ragnarok and (contentiously) Jojo Rabbit, Waititi goes full adolescent in this cringey, boring chapter of Thor’s saga. Strained and messy, it’s best to believe that Hemsworth’s hunky Nordic god blasted off into the distance forever after Avengers: Endgame (and never know that Russell Crowe plays Zeus in ‘Greek-face’). My Verdict // ★★☆☆☆
Morbius (Dir. Daniel Espinosa, Screenplay. Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless): Full podcast review here. A mortifying entry from Sony-Marvel after the success of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, though perhaps foreshadowed by the two dreadful Venom films. A potentially interesting premise for a tragic character is chewed up by poor CGI, lacklustre performances from leads Jared Leto and Matt Smith, atrocious dialogue (‘I’m hungry, who won’t like me when I’m hungry’) and weak plotting. This film sucks out your soul. My Verdict // ★☆☆☆☆