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  • Writer's pictureMartin Vaux

Martin's Top 20 Films of 2022

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

In line with personal tradition, I have compiled my Top 20 Films of 2022.

As was the case last year, there are a few movies I haven’t seen that might well change the running order.

With this in mind, I am still looking forward to seeing The Woman King, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, and Avatar: The Way of Water.

Once I have caught up with that lot, I may amend my Top 20 - but here’s where we are as things stand.

I hope you enjoy.

20. All Quiet on the Western Front

I can’t pretend that I’m ever much in the market for a war film, though from time to time I do see one that knocks my socks off.

Although it’s way too long, and in my view skips some of the most important aspects of Erich Maria Remarque’s incredible 1929 novel, this new adaptation just about qualifies – and could do on sheer brutality alone.

The story of Paul Baumer, a German teenager transported to and transformed by his experiences of The Great War, the whole point of Remarque’s novel is to express the absurd, dehumanising nature of armed conflict. It’s a bildungsroman, and actually has a lot in common with Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio.

Essentially though, while very beautiful in many sections, the film easily achieves its main objectives in its first, quite sensational 15 minutes. Then it continues to remake its argument again and again, and again, and again, to a degree that might have become deadening in less skilled hands.

Thankfully, director Edward Berger (TV’s The Terror, Patrick Melrose) uses every conceivable trick to make his film visually and aurally stunning. A section involving tanks and flamethrowers is up there with some of the best bits in any war film, and the performances from everyone in the ensemble cast are top-drawer. The trouble is, if you’ve seen other films like this, or know the story, you ultimately know what’s going to happen, despite Berger’s noble attempts to wrongfoot.

Indeed, there have been a lot of films of this kind. From recent war movies like 2019’s 1917 to the 2017 adaptation of Journey’s End to older classics like Paths of Glory or Gallipoli, not to mention the various past versions of this very narrative, it’s hard to be truly thrilled by this movie.

It’s incredibly impressive, sure, and does make interesting changes to the novel’s story for effect, plus its brutalist electro-inspired soundtrack is cool as hell, but it does ultimately feel a little bit like a nightmare you half-remember having had before.

19. The Wonder

While the 2016 historical drama Lady Macbeth is still probably her best film, followed closely by 2019’s excellent folk-horror Midsommar, Florence Pugh remains one of the best actors working today, elevating everything she’s in, even when the films themselves aren’t particularly good.

Indeed, if you’ve had the misfortune of seeing Don’t Worry Darling then that rather epitomised the problem: people aren’t making films that are nearly good enough for Florence Pugh. But, thankfully, The Wonder comes close.

Adapted for the screen from Emma Donaghue’s 2016 novel of the same name, The Wonder has Pugh playing Lib, an English nurse hired by a self-appointed and decidedly hostile special committee of haughty men in 1860s rural Ireland. These cantankerous elders have recruited Lib, alongside a mostly silent nun, to watch Anna (played by newcomer Kila Lord Cassidy), a teenaged girl who is reportedly manifesting a miracle. Apparently, Anna has not eaten for three months, and it’s Lib’s task to try and figure out if Anna is pulling a fast one.

Slightly let down by far too many long and ponderous travelling shots (Florence certainly got her steps in making this film – probably for the best considering how many bowls of potatoes she has to eat during the runtime), some annoyingly high-minded, finger-pointing style choices, and a bit of a damp-squib final five minutes, when The Wonder is good it’s very, very good.

It’s pretty oppressive on the whole, bordering on body horror at times, and it has moments that are hold-your-breath tense. The very few chuckles and moments of pleasure it offers are incredibly welcome when they come, but on the whole it’s a bit gruelling (pun intended).

Ultimately, what makes the whole thing worth watching is the central dynamic. Lord Cassidy is tremendous as the deeply creepy Anna, keeping up ably with Pugh, who smoulders with shadowy rage throughout. Both traumatised women circle each other like doubtful, wounded tigers, the wind wuthering outside, candles burning. Plus, supporting players Tom Burke (The Souvenir Parts I & II, Mank), Toby Jones (The Pale Blue Eye, Berbarian Sound Studio) and Ciarán Hinds (Amazing Grace, Persuasion) all pop up from time to time to inject varying degrees of charm and menace. Lots of like, really.

Indeed, The Wonder is one of those films that is so close to outstanding that its problems feel magnified. Still, it would make for a great double-feature with The Banshees of Inisherin, though it would certainly occupy the ‘B-Movie’ slot in that pairing.

18. See How They Run

It seems as if everyone went mental for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery in 2022, but for my money See How They Run was a much better, more artful whodunit-comedy – and one that was far cleverer besides.

Set against the backdrop of 1950s London and the 100th performance of the stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, Sam Rockwell (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Iron Man 2) plays Inspector Stoppard, a drunken detective tasked with solving the murder of an obnoxious American film director played by Adrien Brody (The Pianist, Giallo). Stoppard is aided in his task by Constable Stalker, played by Saoirse Ronan (Ladybird, Little Women), an inexperienced trainee who is eager to arrest every new suspect she encounters, to excellent comedic effect.

While Rockwell is unfortunately only workmanlike in the role, Ronan is truly outstanding, with the pair backed-up by an excellent supporting cast as deep as it is long. And while most of the characters are interesting in their own little ways, all having their moments to shine, what elevates See How They Run is the way it plays with formal conventions.

Using The Mousetrap as inspiration, the film sends-up the whodunit genre, using whip-smart references, clever editing, and loads of features of theatrical farce to create a hyper-literate, very funny detective caper that has its cake, throws Adrien Brody into it, and eats it too.

Hardly a wildly-original kind of film, and when Stoppard becomes its focus it does lose its zip a little, but while Glass Onion got smugly and overly involved in its own cleverness, See How They Run takes a different tack, being a parody of itself, and all the better for it.

17. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

A modest, wholly good-natured film, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande sees Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, the Nanny McPhee films) as Nancy, a lonely widow. She hires a sex worker played by Daryl McCormack (Peaky Blinders, Bad Sisters) for a series of trysts at a largely characterless hotel.

This man, who goes by the pseudonym Leo Grande, then helps Nancy to begin to heal from a lifetime of sexual frustration and emotional trauma, although her responses to him show little of the respect that he offers her.

No doubt the movie comes across as rather stagey, consisting of quite wordy two-hander scenes that might have worked just as well in the theatre. Two things elevate the film, namely the subject matter, firstly, which is quite edgy – female sexuality, power and bitterness – plus the central performances, especially Thompson. She definitely gets the showier part, but she can only be as good as she is by virtue of McCormack. He plays the charming, naïve, almost boyish straight man, providing Thompson with a dramatic foil and the stable footing on which to clamber.

It's rare that ideas like these are given this kind of room and discussion, and although there isn’t that much ‘filmic’ about it, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is funny, truly dramatic, and packs quite the emotional punch. It’s well worth a look.

16. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio

In a year when Disney also released their own dire Tom Hanks-starring Pinocchio, another in their ghastly sluice of prosaic live action/CG hybrid remakes, it felt especially strange to see one of the 21st century’s great directors also taking a stab at the same story.

Like many fairy tales, this is a yarn that most of us feel we know backwards and forwards. Originally written by Victorian author Carlo Collodi, it’s also a story that has been told many times onscreen – almost 10 of them in the last 20 years or so, including in Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s still really weird A.I.

For his own take on the tale, Del Toro has drawn heavily on Terry Gilliam, especially The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and on Harry Selick and Tim Burton’s various stop-motion endeavours, most notably Coraline and The Corpse Bride. This is to say that Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is an epic, surreal, macabre clay-based adventure that flits back and forth, sometimes quite jarringly, between life and death, comedy and horror, gross stupidity and wisdom.

The animation is, for the most part, breath-taking, and it’s worth seeing for this alone. There are a couple of moments where CG assistance is sadly obvious, breaking the spell, but from a visual perspective the film is a mostly spellbinding feat of dark magic.

Similarly, the voice cast is overwhelmingly star-studded, including newcomer Gregory Mann as the title character, David Bradley (the Harry Potter series, Game of Thrones) as Geppetto, Ewan McGregor as Sebastian J. Cricket (Shallow Grave, Moulin Rouge), and many others (Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett, Ron Perlman, John Turturro and more).

Visually and vocally then, the film has a lot to recommend it, and the songs aren’t bad, either. Most interestingly though, Del Toro injects the story with sharp, edgy political commentary: it is set during the brutal rise of Italian Fascism, is laden with Catholic imagery, and hinges explicitly on the ongoing and perhaps losing battle between right-wing selfishness and left-wing sacrifice.

All of these elements mostly cohere, though some of the scatological jokes felt really out of place to me. It would also be difficult to imagine sitting a child down to watch it. It’s hard viewing, really grim at times, and much scarier than most intended horror films released this year. It’s also a little overstuffed, could have done with one less subplot, and might have been 30 minutes shorter and better for it.

Overall, it’s definitely worth seeing, but I would suggest more as a curio than a truly great cinematic experience. That said, it’s probably the best animated film since 2019’s truly awesome Klaus, even in spite of its flaws, and it does many of the same things as Eric Berger’s very good 2022 take on All Quite on the Western Front – just with a touch more originality.

15. Top Gun: Maverick

If you are yet to see Top Gun: Maverick then I might suggest you’ve already missed the point.

The most blockbustery blockbuster of 2022, it is a film systematically engineered and expertly honed to be seen on the big screen – one where plucky, old fashioned, rebellious human beings complete nigh-on inhuman acts against conveniently nameless, faceless, meaningless enemies. It’s popcorn entertainment at its best.

That isn’t to say that Top Gun: Maverick is philosophically empty. A film that spits in the face of computers, algorithms and naysayers, it’s unapologetically romantic and refreshingly old fashioned. It basically sidles up to the unfoldingly bleak future of digital Hollywood filmmaking and leads with its chin, begging for a punch. Pretty wonderful in that sense, it’s also great in several others – including the ways in which it serves as an almost total apology for the fascist leanings of its predecessor.

Of course, Tom Cruise (the Mission: Impossible franchise, Jerry Maguire) is disarmingly appealing throughout, yet, as we learned through The Edge of Tomorrow, we really like seeing him fail, so that’s what the film has him do. Again and again. And sure, he sticks it to The Man here and there, but he also cultivates a refreshingly diverse group of ace pilot successors, has an age-appropriate romance, and shows contrition for his previous bad behaviour.

If only America itself was being as thoughtful and progressive as its latest Top Gun movie. What a world.

Anyway, yes, it’s silly in many respects, and it’s also really just a re-tread of the original, only much better. And, despite the filmmakers’ dedication to doing things ‘for realsies’, it does still rely on computer graphics for a couple of less-interesting helicopter gunship sections. Yet, taken as a whole, particularly on the big screen, Top Gun: Maverick was about as thrilling an experience as anyone could have hoped for at the cinema in 2022.

If you missed it, it’s your loss.

14. Blonde

A film that is too horrible for its own good, Blonde still has an enormous number of things to recommend it.

In it, writer-director Andrew Dominik (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) sets out to challenge audiences in just about every way. It’s a masterclass in cinematic technique, bold and tough and savagely beautiful, using dozens of very imaginative tricks incredibly well. The result is 166-minutes of edgy, slurred, leering phantasmagoria that never lets up.

Likewise, his star, Ana de Armas (Knives Out, No Time To Die) puts in a really, really brave, seriously adept physical performance, even if her restless accent can’t quite remain contained.

The supporting cast are all on excellent form, too, and the period details, music, costumes, set dressing, lighting, editing most of all – still, every technical aspect – is all bang on.

What lets Blonde down are two things: firstly, it is increasingly, and almost totally, horrifying. There are a few moments in the second act that shimmer with false promise, where Norma/Marilyn is able to believe in her fantasy life, but even these are shot through with pathos: she doesn’t realise, as we do, that the few things she perceives as nice are actually just hollow illusions.

Otherwise though, the film is a parade of spooky, histrionic, almost gothic nastiness. Exploitation, abuse, manipulation, isolation, neglect… the film certainly wants us to understand that Norma/Marilyn was a victim, but it regrettably shows her as far more stupid than she really was.

There’s a motif about her being, or not being, meat, and it as meat that the film ultimately treats her: she is desexualised, despite Dominik showing more of her than anyone could (or should) really want to see, and this feels wrong. Indeed, by being so relentlessly grim, the collected whole feels overwhelmingly upsetting.

The other main problem with the film is its scope. There are moments during the runtime that are better than anything else I watched in 2022, not least a genuinely terrifying moment when Norma transforms into Marilyn in front of a mirror in a really ghoulish, unsettling way.

Unfortunately though, by trying to sort of hop, stumble and jump-cut through everything, from childhood to death, the film loses focus and direction. John F. Kennedy’s place in the narrative is reduced to a harrowing, almost wordless scene of forced oral sex. The reality of what happened between Monroe and Arthur Miller isn’t even touched on, and her first husband and early years of married life don’t get so much as a mention.

Goodness knows, most biopics boil down to unwatchably trite highlight reels, and I’m thankful Blonde isn’t one of those. Instead though, I wish Dominik had focused in tighter, and given us a narrower, more focused slice. And I say this, in part, because he also inserts several extended sections of utter fiction which muddy debates around his trustworthiness as a storyteller.

In my view, it’s a film people should see, provided they have a strong constitution and are willing to accept moments of narrative deceit. And I can’t see anyone making a better film about Marilyn Monroe any time soon. Yet, for all its brilliance, it does have major issues – including the way it gives its subject more issues than the substantial number she genuinely had.

13. Elvis

Writer-director Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Strictly Ballroom) doesn’t make boring films.

He doesn’t always make great ones, either, as evidenced by 2008’s mostly forgotten Australia, but, despite taking some serious liberties with the truth, and acknowledging that Baz’s whizz-bang style does get in the way a little at times, Elvis definitely falls on the right side of wrong.

What makes Elvis excellent comes down to two factors: firstly, there’s the relentless pace of the first two-thirds of the film, which maintain a level of visual thrill and sonic astonishment that can only impress. It’s like a 50s jukebox fuelled by LSD and sherbet. Secondly, there’s the truly star-making central performance by Austin Butler (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Yoga Hosers). As Elvis, Butler is a revelation. From voice to mannerisms, he embodies Elvis’ evolutionary stages with an unsettling degree of skill. That final performance leading into the credits, for example, is a feat of magic.

Unfortunately, the film does have its problems. Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, the Toy Story quadrilogy) is a little lost and theatrically unhelpful as a sweaty, fat-suited Colonel Tom Parker, leading the movie down some blind alleys it would have been better avoiding. Also, from the moment Elvis shoots out his television screens in Las Vegas up until the film’s final epic moments, it lags, becoming just as flabby as its subject.

There’s no way to make late-stage Elvis particularly appealing, and it’s a shame that it’s in this most doldrumy period of his life that Luhrmann ran out of tricks. Then, there’s the other more muted problems – the truth of Elvis’ relationship with Priscilla and her age at the time, or how his Comeback Special really worked, or the strangeness of his film career: those real stories are disturbing and very interesting, but why let awkward facts get in the way of a good time?

Ultimately, the movie fails because rather than telling Elvis’ life story, or even just sections of it, Luhrmann tries to use Elvis’ career as a mechanism for recounting a fable of white America. The two are not the same, and so the movie keeps hitting potholes. It’s at its best when it’s letting Butler embody the character and perform, and when it does so Elvis is a must-watch film. I just sort of wish that someone had told Baz to reconsider his big idea, because most of his smaller ones are knock-your-socks-off thrilling.

12. Crimes of the Future

All hail, David Cronenberg (The Fly, Scanners) – almost 80 years old and still pushing the envelope!

In this very strange, rather unwieldly film, Cronenberg’s first in 8 years, Viggo Mortensen (the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Captain Fantastic) and Léa Seydoux (The French Dispatch, Inglourious Basterds) play performance artists in a dystopian world who make their living tattooing and extracting cancerous growths in front of live audiences. Mortensen’s character, Saul, takes clear erotic pleasure from being cut open and mucked about with, while Seydoux’s character, Caprice, handles the incisions while helping him walk the line between ‘real art’ and complete physical ruin.

Fun for all the family!

The film features lots and lots of wild concepts, including driller killer lesbians, a world where people can’t feel pain, and bioorganic chairs that feed their users synthetic mush while also wiggling about spasmodically. There’s also a growing cult of plastic eaters, and all the while it’s sort of meant to be a detective noir. Still, I’d rather have too many bizarre ideas in a film than too few.

Certainly, it’s wilfully odd, and it’s also bleak as hell, but Crimes of the Future is so outrageous and unapologetically nihilistic that I could only really respond to it with feelings of deepest respect. And sure, it’s dark and twisted in ways that mean most people wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole, but I laughed an awful lot, and kind of adored it.

11. Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness

I don’t care who knows it: I thought Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness was a riot. And not a January 6th/Tottenham riot – a fun kind of riot, orchestrated by one of the finest, most bombastic directors in modern cinematic history.

When I learned that Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Drag Me To Hell) was making the film, my comic book movie fatigue became supernaturally supressed; I went into the cinema excited, and remained so from the film’s start to its end. Things went boom in juicy, splattery ways, lots of creepy stuff happened with eyeballs, and people and monsters climbed out of reflections every five minutes or so. What more do you want from this kind of thing?

The sense in which the film was part of an endless, hydra-like franchise did mean it was overstuffed, yet it was also so daring, and so odd, and featured so many references to horror classics, that I couldn’t help feeling rather charmed by it, despite its attempts to Marvelise itself.

I liked, for example, that you didn’t need to know anything of other Marvel “content” to enjoy it. I also liked that it picked up from the excellent Wandavision TV series, and made truly excellent use of Elizabeth Olsen (Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene, Wind River). Certainly, Benedict Cumberbatch (Power of the Dog, The Imitation Game) continues to look like an objectionably smug otter, and may even be one, but they did at least kill him, then animate his corpse to kill him all over again. Give the people what they want!

A better film than the equally silly Thor Love and Thunder and decidedly wet Black Panther 2: Wakanda (goes on) Forever, Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness was pretty much the high water mark for comic book films in 2022, bettered only by…

10. The Batman

About 30-minutes too long, and far darker and grimmer than any Batman film to date, writer-director Matt Reeves (Let Me In, the Cloverfield series) took on an unenviable task with this one.

After Zack Snyder’s thunderously dull “DC Extended Universe” films, where the Caped Crusader was played meat-headedly and to approximately no applause by Ben Affleck, and the Christopher Nolan “Dark Knight Trilogy” which signalled the end of most peoples’ patience with comic book films, Reeves came along and tried to revive Batman’s fortunes in the same way he did the languishing Planet of the Apes franchise. And, you know what? He only went and bloody did it.

By reframing the character back inside his Detective Comics origins, The Batman’s main strength is its film noir, potboiler stylings. Robert Pattinson (Good Time, Twilight) is solid as Batman (or ‘Battinson’ as he ought to be known) but as with all good Batman stories this is really an ensemble piece, with the villains bringing much of the colour to proceedings.

In being a story of political corruption and despair at the state of late-stage capitalism, The Batman is more intellectual than just about any comic book film since X-Men 2. Certainly, it has some exciting fights, and the Batmobile section is one of the best car chases this side of the Bourne franchise.

Really though, The Batman’s greatest feat is its pervading sense of dread. It owes a debt to David Fincher’s Seven as much as it does Howard Hawk’s The Big Sleep, and only really falls apart in its final third.

I understand why so many people are exhausted by comic book films, and count myself amongst their number, but The Batman is something a bit different. Forbidding, clever, and intricately crafted, I would have liked it more if it was shorter, but still, it was really rather good.

And I’ll say it again, that car chase… I mean… WOW!

9. Catherine Called Birdy

A very silly, very jolly film, Catherine Called Birdy was adapted from Karen Cushman’s novel of the same name by hipster-wunderkind Lena Dunham (Girls, Tiny Furniture).

Thankfully, you never could have guessed.

As a director, Dunham’s fingerprints are nowhere to be seen, giving this strangely offbeat medieval comedy the space it needs to assume its own identity. Which is appropriate, considering the subject matter.

Starring Bella Watson (Game of Thrones, The Last of Us) as Birdy, the film tells the story of the daughter of a louche, foolhardy minor nobleman played by Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Fleabag). In need of money, Birdy’s father decides to marry her off, hoping for a healthy bride price, only Birdy isn’t ready to grow up. With no other choice, she sets about systematically destroying any chance of her various suitors wanting to marry her, much to her father’s frustration.

With an excellent supporting cast including an unrecognisable and, frankly, amazing Billie Piper (Penny Dreadful, Doctor Who), Paul Kaye (Dennis Pennis, Game of Thrones), Sophie Okonedo (Death on the Nile, Hotel Rwanda) and many, many others, Catherine Called Birdy is a lightweight, pleasingly mischievous film.

A bit like a vol-au-vent, it’s more of a snack than a meal, but it’s a wholesome treat nonetheless, even if I wanted more of, and from, it.

8. Emily

So, aside from the last 10 minutes, where it takes wild and annoying liberties with history, Emily is a fantastic film.

Quite why first-time writer-director Frances O’Connor decided to shank things into the long grass at that late stage will have to remain a mystery, but – trying to get beyond it – Emily is otherwise a very entertaining, interesting, disturbing movie, as befits its subject.

Ostensibly the story of Emily Brontë, poet and author of Wuthering Heights, the film takes time to speculate on the life of one of the most mysterious writers in the canon of English literature. Because she was so private and strange, we have always had to stand outside her, noses pressed up against the window of a legend, hoping for a glimpse of who she was.

Part-romance, part-horror film, Emily embraces these ideas and spins a gothic yarn about a person who doesn’t fit in or want to, trying to navigate a world with whom she shares a mutual hostility. The whole endeavour hangs on the film’s star, Emma Mackey (Sex Education, Eiffel), and, thank goodness, she’s absolutely incredible in the title part. With a bit of luck, she will escape the tractor beam of her TV career and make many more excellent movies. Only time will tell on that one.

For true Brontë enthusiasts, I would suggest that 2016’s To Walk Invisible remains the best collective telling of the family’s strange lives, grim fates, and posthumous fortunes, but as a piece of cinema Emily is better by some distance. The sections with the mask, especially, which are based on real events, chilled me to the bone. And although I could nit-pick many of the film’s ideas, not least Bramwell’s dynamic with Emily versus Anne’s, there’s no doubting its appropriately strange, unsettling power.

7. Decision to Leave

From the playful, twisted mind of South Korean auteur Park Chan Wook (Oldboy, The Handmaiden), Decision to Leave is a wonky movie about wonky people.

By turns achingly beautiful, very sad, and really quite silly, it follows Jang Hae-jun, played by Park Hae-il (The Host, Memories of Murder) as an upright, attentive police detective. Hae-jun’s life is precise. He partakes in a loveless but practical marriage, wears suits tailored to ensure he has everything he needs for an efficient day on the job, and has a hot-headed young partner who he is working on keeping in check.

When we meet him, Hae-jun is eking out a serviceable life during which he has little space for joy and suffers from insomnia. Things slide sideways however when he is given a case where an experienced climber appears to have fallen to his death.

The investigation quickly brings Hae-jun into the orbit of the dead climber’s immigrant-Chinese wife, Song Seo-rae, played by Tang Wei (Lust, Caution, Blackhat). Seo-rae is not sad that her husband has died, making her a suspect. Yet, as Hae-jun investigates the case, and begins to learn more and more about the wilful, mysterious, unpredictable Seo-rae, his precise life starts to unravel, lines become crossed, and the pair’s relationship develops into something mischievously and pleasingly complicated.

Far-less violent than Park Chan Wook’s usual fare, and probably to its detriment, Decision to Leave is a flawed movie – much like many of Park’s films. Anyone who has seen Sympathy for Mr Vengeance or Stoker is likely to agree that he is a director who likes to muck about a bit, teasing his audiences.

Sometimes this can be annoying, but sometimes it works amazingly; he will get his pacing and tone to a place on the edge between dreams and nightmares, making unsettling films that stand truly apart. Unfortunately, Decision to Leave is a little more pedestrian than Park’s usual work and, in its lack of surrealism, doesn’t really play to his strengths.

Of course, there are brilliant things about it. Park’s use of colour is second to none, and his camera movements are crisp and very clever. He has a skill for visual storytelling that is pretty thrilling – one rooftop chase was so good that it made me crave more action in the film overall.

The performances are also incredibly strong, especially from the leads, and the whole affair is very stylish and full of character. While some of it is somewhat subtle, there are also ample, off-kilter sections involving aquatic invertebrates (a common feature of Park Chan Wook’s films) and the mix is generally quite enjoyable. What keeps it from excellence though is its structural problems – it is in a sense too long, and in a sense far too short.

Specifically, the film has three acts, the first of which is almost an entire movie, the second of which is almost a sequel, repeating the first with variations, and a third that is a kind of short film of its own which serves as a powerful if messy denouement.

One option would have been to slim down the beginning to create a better balance between the three sections. I could have lost the initial focus on the comedy partner, fun as he was, or some of the stuff about Seo-rae’s job in eldercare, or the two ‘other-crime’ subplots. Then again, all these things were interesting, which made me feel that the whole affair would have worked much better as a long-form TV series. In that shape, Park’s minor ideas could have had a bit more time to breathe, develop, and resolve.

Alas, this was not to be.

No doubt the material was there to make Decision to Leave work across several hours, and I loved the various dynamics in the film, especially the central one between Hae-jun and Seo-rae. As it is, the uneven balance and shifts in tone and palette between the first, second and third sections create problems that undercut the film’s elegance as a whole.

It concludes quite potently, but leaves a mess in its wake – some of which was apropos, some of which felt wasteful. It was a shame that so many cans of worms were opened when nothing was done with them, and, although the end does make sense, it leaves earlier parts of the film feeling insubstantial in retrospect, almost to the point of flippancy.

Even considering these issues, there’s an undoubted power to Decision to Leave. It’s very good, overflowing with tension and great, enjoyable ideas. I just wish it had been a little more cohesive. Either some judicious editing or a shift in form would have really helped.

6. Prey

You might have thought that, by 2022, there would be no need for another addition to the Predator franchise. And, honestly, there was absolutely no need for this film – but that didn’t stop it being an enormously entertaining action movie with some delightfully fresh twists.

In case you missed the memo, the film is set in the 18th century and focuses on Naru (relative unknown Amber Midthunder) who is a member of a Comanche tribe living on the Great Plains. She is a grumpy, wilful person, and wants to be a hunter, like her brother, but is expected to be a gatherer, like the other women in her tribe.

To be a hunter, she must prove herself by hunting something that is hunting her – she expects a bear, a wolf, or a wildcat. What she ends up battling, against everyone’s advice, is a hulking space alien with the same technology that had Arnold Schwarzenegger soiling his britches back in 1987. Seeing her do so is fabulous fun from start to finish.

At a breezy 99 minutes long, one of the strengths of Prey is that it doesn’t muck about: lean set piece follows lean set piece, including some grotty bits involving French Buffalo hunters, and several wonderful wilderness survival sections evoking both The Edge and The Revenant.

The period angle is great, as is the sense of stacked odds. Then, at the heart of it all is Midthunder being categorically awesome. Plus, her best friend, Sarii, is a dog, and that dynamic adds an extra bit of flavour to an already delicious buffet.

If you like a sci-fi action movie, it was the best of the year by miles. That it didn’t get a cinematic release is pretty much criminal.

5. RRR

The most expensive Indian film ever made, RRR is problematic in many, many ways.

It’s an unashamed piece of Indian nationalist propaganda, and one in which the British are presented like the Nazis used to be in Anglo-American films of the 60s and 70s.

It’s also a melodrama, class comedy, and an effects-heavy action film, albeit featuring a lot (and I mean a lot) of very shonky computer-generated animation. But, taken as a whole, RRR is one of the most entertaining, bizarre films of 2022, with sections that are unquestionably and startling original, and others that are gut-bustingly hilarious.

From the truly epic introduction of Raju (Ram Charan) battling literally hundreds of protesters with his nightstick to the chase/duel where Bheem (Rama Rao Jr) captures and then sings to a wildcat, the truly bananas raid on the Governor’s Mansion involving weaponised forest creatures to the Jesus-like public flogging/power ballad sequence, the movie crams far too much into itself, is wildly uneven, and is at times absurd to the point of ridicule.

At the same time though, it’s one of the most inventive, vibrant, uproarious films of the year, and if you haven’t seen it then do – with friends, and drinks, and revel in the madness.

4. Mrs Harris Goes to Paris

Sneer if you will, but Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is an awesome movie.

It fits into a specific genre of British film, sitting alongside the likes of The Full Monty, Brassed Off, Billy Elliot, Kinky Boots and Made in Dagenham. Unashamedly sentimental but packed with social criticism and artistic detail, it follows a tried and tested recipe for success. And let’s not muck about: all of those films are excellent, with Mrs Harris Goes to Paris bring as good as many of them – and better than most.

The film stars the ever-amazing Leslie Manville (Phantom Thread, Topsy Turvy) as the eponymous Mrs Harris, a cleaning lady and all-round good egg whose husband disappeared during World War 2.

When we meet her, she is leading a humble existence and helping her clients with their problems as well as their dusting. Only then she encounters an haute couture Dior dress and decides to start dreaming of a better life. Cue a lively, stylish, very funny adventure of personal growth and romance set against a backdrop of late-50s Paris and London.

If you like dresses and/or underdog stories, it’s impossible not to enjoy Mrs Harris Goes To Parris – and even if you don’t like those things (you maniac) then you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be at least partway charmed by it; with a glittering and very rich supporting cast, and a surprising number of tense twists and turns, it’s a feel-good movie that subverts expectations. Just like its title character.

Vive la resistance, Mrs Harris – vive la resistance!

3. Brian and Charles

This film cracked me open like an egg. By about the 25-minute mark I was crying, having previously been giggling, and then I laughed more, and cried more, and basically continued in that mode until the end, by which time I was on the verge of a blubbery kind of hysteria.

The movie follows budding inventor and lonely soul Brian Gittens, played winningly by David Earl (Afterlife, Derek). Brian lives in rural Wales and spends his days tinkering in his barn, making Heath Robinson machines, nervously going into the village to do his shopping, and occasionally working as a handyman.

An artistic, friendly character who is 10% beard, 5% spectacles, and 85% pathos, he one day decides to make a robot out of some spare clothes, an old washing machine and a mannequin head. Before long, Charles (Chris Hayward) is born, and Brian’s life starts to change in numerous, positive, heart-aching ways.

A kind of “Frankenstein-if-Victor-had-been-a-good-dad” as well as an ode to creativity, there’s no doubt that Brian and Charles is rather kitsch, albeit in a very British way. It feels similar to a Wallace and Gromit adventure, if filtered through the films of Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze.

Earl is incredibly watchable as Brian, and Charles is the best onscreen robot I’ve seen in years – from his initial Dictionary-driven attempts to define household objects to his dancing, his passion for cabbages to his stroppy teenage metalhead phase. It’s a lovely film, and one that ought to launch an auspicious career for first-time director Jim Archer as well as Earl and Hayward, his writer-collaborators.

Suffice to say, I adored it, and can’t wait to see what this trio comes up with next. Indeed, this is a rare occasion where I’d love a sequel, because there’s plenty more that might be done with the conceit, even if Brian and Charles closes itself out perfectly.

2. Everything Everywhere All at Once

An absolutely bonkers film that really benefits from multiple viewings, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a kind of postmodern action-comedy brain explosion. Part family drama, part epileptic fit, it’s wildly inventive and pleasingly bizarre, though no doubt it’s an acquired taste.

The movie stars Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Tomorrow Never Dies) as Evelyn, a crotchety, difficult, workaholic co-owner of a failing laundromat.

Meaning well but riding roughshod over everyone around her, especially her simpering husband Waymond, played by Ke Huy Quan (Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, The Goonies) and her lesbian daughter Joy, played by Stephanie Hsu (Marvel’s Shang Chi, The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel), Evelyn’s life is thrown into crisis when she is audited by the IRS. Right as her audit is happening, she discovers that she exists across multiple parallel universes, all of which are under threat from a deadly supernatural foe that is hunting her down.

Within this totally insane framework, Everything Everywhere All at Once essentially tells a story about identity. Evelyn needs to explore parts of herself she never knew existed, and which she doesn’t want to accept, to become a better person. As she does, she heals her family and self through a combination of manic inventiveness and kicks to the face. It’s a winning formula.

There has never been a film quite like it, and for the sapphic sausage-finger melodrama section alone it is definitely worth seeing. Likewise the surprisingly developed Ratatouille parody plotline. But, despite being really silly, it also features some quite profound discussions of philosophy and great emotional weight, interspersed with head-cracking fights. And it has a superb soundtrack, too.

If you haven’t seen it and have an open mind, settle down before Everything Everywhere All at Once and let your head get mangled. Or don’t. After all, in a universe somewhere there’s a version of you who’s watching it right now and thinking it’s fantastic. Need you even bother?

1. The Banshees of Inisherin

I’m quite surprised to say that The Banshees of Inisherin is my favourite film of the year.

It’s not a terribly showy movie, or a terribly adventurous one either, in some respects. And it undoubtedly owes a debt to playwright Brian Friel. But, it’s really bloody good in just about every way, especially when considered as an allegory for Irish politics. Which, to be clear, is the only real way to enjoy it in my opinion.

The story centres on rural islanders Pádraic, played by Colin Farrell (The Beguiled, The Lobster) and Colm, played by Brendan Gleeson (Braveheart, the Harry Potter franchise). For years, the two have been friends, only one day in 1923, with cannons blasting on the mainland, Colm decides he doesn’t want to be friends with Pádraic anymore, and, despite every effort from Pádraic, the feud between the pair only escalates.

I was worried going in that the film might be a little too blokey, not least with Barry Keoghan (The Green Knight, Calm With Horses) being hyped in reviews for his admittedly great supporting role. But really, the constantly outstanding Kerry Condon (Better Call Saul, Rome) is the lynchpin of the film as Siobhán, Pádraic’s bookish sister. Without her, the movie wouldn’t work, and Siobhán’s role as mediator and voice of reason is as important as those of the two lead actors.

A vital detail lies in the film’s opening scene, where Pádraic and Colm appear wearing green and orange shirts. These colours, as bars of the Irish flag, represent Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, with the white space between them symbolising a hoped-for peace. Yet, as The Banshees of Inisherin makes clear, such a resolution is unlikely, not least because the two sides of the dispute thrive on the opportunities discord offers.

No doubt the film is melancholic, but it’s also very, very funny, impeccably structured, and rammed to the gunnels with on-the-nose metaphors – donkeys, hounds, witches, police officers, and Siobhán’s harp-like yellow coat.

People expect wit from Martin McDonagh’s films, but, for all their zest and crude fun, In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and even Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri all felt a little puerile and very post-Tarantino. For the first time on screen, The Banshees of Inisherin sees McDonagh doing something poetic and, dare I say it, profound, with every idea in the film incisive, provocative, and readable in more than two ways.

Everyone in it also delivers a superb performance, and it’s very pretty. Yet, there’s perhaps a sense in which such a modest, measured film shouldn’t be considered the year’s best. After all, it’s hardly pushing the medium forward, is highly intellectualised, and, although it wouldn’t work as a play, there are definitely stagey qualities to it. Still, it is undeniably beautiful in just about every macabre, romantic, symbolic aspect, and this richness elevates it far and above anything else that came out in 2022.

The kind of movie you could debate or write a thesis on as well as cackle and weep at, it’s as good as film got last year. And that might not be especially high praise compared to other vintages, but still, it’s a noteworthy achievement in its own right, and is very entertaining.

Indeed, I commend it to anyone with two braincells to knock together. Whether those braincells will ever get along or agree about it though, that’s another matter.

Thank you for reading!

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Richard Williams
Richard Williams
Aug 19, 2023

Saw Banshees tonite. Loved it. Shook me somewhat. Would make a great double feature with Breaking the Waves. What fun! Interesting that your two fave films both look at inter-connectedness, albeit in wildly different ways. I also wondered if the locals on the island appreciated the stunning landscapes. Perhaps not. Is anything actually inherently beautiful? And could a miniature donkey really choke on a severed finger?

Martin Vaux
Martin Vaux
Aug 20, 2023
Replying to

Yeah, it's great isn't it? I think both Banshees and EEAAW are corking films... and I do wonder if people recognise the beauty of the places they live. Obviously aesthetics is a whole whacking great area of philosophy, and perhaps we're just conditioned to think some things are more beautiful than others. There are meant to be some mathematical underpinnings behind some of it though, aren't there? As for the choking donkey, I know that horses can't vomit, and that can be fatal for them. Might be the same for donkeys?!

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