2022 Year Enders, End of Year Lists, Film

YEAR ENDER: Jack Draper’s Top Ten Films of 2022

Best of the year and some honorable mentions!

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Jack Draper is a college student studying English whose favorite films include Signs, Bound, and Starman. He is currently a contributor for Boston Hassle and hosts Exiting Through the 2010s, a podcast about the films from the 2010s.

Apparently, cinema can still surprise us, if the year in film that is 2022 taught us anything. HBO Max is in a dire state, some box office records were broken, and our good friends Todd Field and James Cameron are back. Along with our most beloved auteurs bringing us their most personal memoirs, we had some thrilling directorial debuts running parallel that show us how bright the future really is. VOD access is overlapping even more with a theatrical release, even for an audience possibly unsure of what they want out of the movies. Novel Coronavirus hangover is still lingering, although it didn’t affect the quality this year as much as what we are seeing in filmmakers pontificating on how to comment in a time of crisis. Now that we’ve seen most everything that was in the can pre-pandemic, here is everything I’ve loved this year.  

10. Strawberry Mansion (dir. Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley)

There is something so deeply felt and lived-in about Birney and Audley’s quiet new feature. Even with the dystopic, indie film feel, the filmmaking feels handmade, with a soothing texture that’s truly original. Finally, we see dreamworlds that look imaginative and inspired again that still offer a sense of loneliness. The craft here embraces its budget and scale rather than feeling compressed by its size; in fact, it’s the greatest strength when the romance at its core can be so bold. Maybe some of my favorite production design ever— everyone should see this! (Currently streaming on Mubi)

9. Armageddon Time (dir. James Gray)

Times are changing in America, and the Graff family doesn’t know what to make of it. James Gray again finds his protagonist trying to decide what’s better for himself and his family, all while recognizing that his parents are people too and that getting into some trouble carries even more weight than young Paul can comprehend. There is a sense of impending doom and tragedy that bleeds through every scene in Armageddon Time, from that Maryanne Trump scene to the moments of discipline from parents Esther and Irving towards Paul. Their parenting can then be recontextualized through the anxiety facing them in a country they’re trying to adapt to, successfully or unsuccessfully, and James Gray can forgive them. (Currently available on VOD)

8. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (dir. Jane Schoenbrun

Even when we are still trying to find esoteric ways to view the internet on film, something vast and rapidly changing and new, Jane Schoenbrun made something at a temperature not yet seen in their feature debut. Since I don’t remember a time when the internet wasn’t a thing, it’s thrilling to see how things have changed and stayed the same, from the teens who engage to the content there is to engage with. The internet that is scary but inciting to Casey as she fearlessly plays the World’s Fair Challenge isn’t meant to comment on 2022, but rather how being online isn’t anything special anymore. It’s the lo-fi, home video-like feeling that’s familiar but not easily definable yet. I just love the specificity of vision this has which could act as a mood piece and a character study, and that avoids having a take on social media despite being online. (Currently streaming on HBO Max)

7. Decision to Leave (dir. Park Chan-wook)

Maybe the best all-around filmmaking of the year? Certainly up there, as Director Park is on another level with this Ang Lee-inspired romance, Hitchcock-influenced thriller, and a sense of humor that he knows can carry the film from good to great. It’s mesmerizing; even if the mystery can get too much at times, it doesn’t matter with the winning Tang Wai performance as the core to which the movie hangs on. As with others on this list, Director Park makes such smart use of phones and contemporary technology, showing that our detective is all the lonelier despite the constant communication. It reminds me of what Olivier Assayas did with Personal Shopper concerning its use of smartphones, as every text, call and app has so much importance and weight that deepens to this pitch perfect romance/thriller. (Currently streaming on Mubi)

6. Fire of Love (dir. Sara Dosa)

My favorite doc of the year is a deeply human one with immense pathos that never failed to capture how indescribable the feeling of discovery can be. And it’s a superb romance, showing how powerful a shared experience can be to fuel two people’s deeper understanding of each other. Maurice and Katia share an enthusiasm for volcanology that is just as poetic, their marriage adding to the film’s power. Rivaling some of the year’s best visual effects, the volcano footage is mesmerizing. No matter the size of your screen, it’s a scope that clicks into you how something so unpredictable and dangerous can be a magnetic connection to the scientists, with humor and wardrobe straight out of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Bringing the heart and the footage to life is filmmaker Miranda July, whose narration really adds a feeling of history and longing that otherwise would’ve felt lost if Dosa let the footage speak for itself (which typically does work fabulously– see LA 92). Her inclusion has been a bit too syrupy for some, although as an omniscient guide through the Kraffts’ marriage, it’s a sensitivity that fits right in line with what we see Dosa is bubbling at the surface for. (Get it?) (Currently streaming on Disney Plus)

5. Tár (dir. Todd Field) 

What hasn’t been said about Todd Field’s instant classic already? Certainly, it feels like the most talked about film of the year; a demanding study of power and creativity with an undeniable performance at its core. Everyone online has calibrated the film to be a timely and intense work. Field hasn’t made a movie in a while, but he shows no signs of ring rust as this psychological character study treats its audience with as much maturity and trust as he sees Lydia Tár’s towering presence. Blanchett gives career-best work as many see it, and she could very well win a third Oscar for it. I had forgotten the power movie theaters wield when you have a performance like this on display, in which she commends an entire without a minute absent from the picture. That the film can already be described as a Rorschach test is a sign of its staying power; it has a thorny exterior, but it’s deeply funny and challenges our expectations of a great artist in a time when we are constantly interrogating. Lydia Tár’s worst enemy was herself, even when she knew it. (Currently available on VOD)

4. Kimi (dir. Steven Soderbergh)

In what’s probably the most effortless and efficient filmmaking of the year, Soderbergh makes his The Conversation or Blow Out through the lens of the pandemic anxiety with yet another dissection on the people on the outside looking into a major corporation or institution. Oh, and it’s 90 minutes. Kimi might’ve been the easiest sell for me all year– it’s lived comfortably in my top five all year since February– and Steven Soderbergh is a master, his late period work thrilling to see unfold post-retirement. Kimi really is a masterclass of an investigation through the lens of someone who has been working from home for some time. Soderbergh and screenwriter David Koepp contrast inside and outside as the primary obstacle for Angela while she’s adjusting to how to cooperate with others (and even trying to date again), along with higher-ups trying to take her seriously amid a pandemic with peoples own selfishness is revealed. Soderbergh knows that it’s not a matter of if Angela is right or wrong or if it’s a struggle of morality; rather, it’s what aren’t we seeing that’s going to be waiting for her when she’s going to arrive back to her apartment, in one of the best climaxes of Soderbergh’s career. (Currently streaming on HBO Max)

3. Nope (dir. Jordan Peele)

The word “Spielbergian” is thrown out a lot with emerging directors and their direct or indirect influences (an interrogation of what that means is something we’ve been seeing this year more than most). Here, its something that’s so pronounced without being redundant in my favorite Jorden Peele film to date: Nope and its pontification spectacle. I think time is going to be kind to Nopeeven if Peele is one of our last brand-name filmmakers left, he is certainly reaching for macro-level ideas just bordering on the edge of alienation.  I’ve always remembered a world where cameras are everywhere. It’s so easy to capture something, and by that extent believe in something that has been captured. Peele gets to the heart of this; we are chasing something that could be out there, as Em and OJ are on a search for purpose even as they’re neglected from the entertainment industry (despite serving a crucial role as the horse trainers). Nope is Peele’s statement on the relationship between trauma and spectacle, from OJ and Em’s dad’s mysterious death to Jupe’s trauma with Gordy (still processing that flashback). The idea of outside forces caving in to see a response from people is something I’ve never quite seen before. It’s just so exciting to see this new modern master keep going. (Currently streaming on Peacock)

2. Aftersun (dir. Charlotte Wells)

With a year of such tender and complex parent/child relationships often pulled from the filmmakers’ own lives (see my number one), none were so esoteric as Charlotte Wells’ excellent debut Aftersun. It’s such a swift and unexcepted moment when we are a tween; it is when we realize our parents are processing a kind of sadness that neither you nor they can describe, even when nothing is wrong between the two of you. That feeling is so well baked into the vacation we take here, and there is so much history and ease visible from before and after the film we see. It’s a complement to the trust Wells has in Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal to carry the weight of Calum (who is just fine as a dad) and Sophie’s endless curiosity. It’s also a study in chemistry between the two as they are in every scene, together or separate; it has such a bigger feel than the hotel they’re staying in. Wells has a script and performances here that are so perfectly internal but never too maudlin with the father/daughter relationship, even when you can see it verging into that tonal territory. Just a delicate portrait of a kid realizing the fragility of adults– not to mention a transcendent remix of “Under Pressure” that needs to be seen to be believed. (Currently available on VOD)

1. The Fabelmans (dir. Steven Spielberg)

As I’ve tried to include at least a few films in here that I have not seen in literally every other top ten list, The Fabelmans is close to seeming underrated by the end of the year? I think of Spielberg when I think of movies, and for a multitude of reasons, audiences now haven’t been thinking about Spielberg between this and West Side Story. Now the subtext has become the text in his most personal work about bearing witness to his parents’ troubled marriage and the forgiveness he can now confess in his mid 70s. Still, it’s a tragedy Sammy Fabelman can’t recognize he has a natural ability for filmmaking while everyone around him is in awe of anything he makes. I think Sammy loves movies, but I’m still unsure if it makes him truly happy; what does he have if not for the gift of placing a camera or directing an actor? Our most influential filmmaker learns how to conduct visual storytelling through his mom’s attraction to his dad’s best friend in a haunting story that writes itself (but thankfully, Tony Kushner ends up doing that better), and Spielberg more than earns the right to mythologize himself. The Fabelmans is just sublime and one of my new favorite Spielberg films, somehow carrying the weight of both a swan song and the humility that’s been there throughout his entire body of work.  (Currently playing at Coolidge Corner Theatre and available on VOD)

Honorable Mentions:  

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