List-o-mania #3 – The Best Films of 2022

As mentioned in the previous list, I am considering films that were released in Singapore in 2022, hence why 2021 US releases like Licorice Pizza and Spencer are up for consideration. Also, there is a long list of films I have not seen due to one reason or another that might have made it here (and onto my other best-of lists) – chief of which being Top Gun: MaverickBarbarian, the Ti West duo of X and Pearl, and The Whale. Also, The Banshees of InisherinBabylon and Tár will only arrive in Singapore in 2023, so they will be eligible for my 2023 lists.

Honourable Mention 1: Emily the Criminal (dir. John Patton Ford)

At this point, there is no question that Aubrey Plaza has had the best post Parks and Recreation career. 1 2022 was very much the year of Plaza, whose work in Season 2 of HBO’s The White Lotus and Emily the Criminal (which she also produced under her production company Evil Hag Productions) brought her a deserved raise in profile. Emily the Criminal is a clear-eyed, no-bullshit take on the economic situation many millennials find themselves in. Plaza’s Emily Benetto initially seems like a sympathetic protagonist who finds herself trapped in the grueling grind of the gig economy, until a chance encounter brings her in the orbit of the charismatic Youcef (Theo Rossi), a low-level scam artist with big ambitions. What follows is a tense, gripping thriller that feels like a condensed version of Breaking Bad, down to the slow revelation that our protagonist may have had the seeds of criminality in her from the very beginning. Both an excellent character study and societal critique, Emily the Criminal is a strong debut from writer/director John Patton Ford, and I look forward to what both him and Plaza get up to next.

Honourable Mention 2: Bodies Bodies Bodies (dir. Halina Reijn)

And speaking of auspicious debuts, first time feature director Halina Reijn announces herself as one to watch with a scathing satire of Gen-Z politics and culture. Based off a screenplay by playwright Sarah DeLappe (adapting a spec script from Kristen ‘Cat Person’ Roupenian, whose own viral short story sensation has been adapted into a movie soon to premiere at Sundance), Bodies Bodies Bodies slyly morphs from formulaic slasher to a vicious takedown of ‘the youth’, from the self-serving use of mental health jargon (‘triggered’, ‘trauma’, ‘toxic’) to the way their seemingly progressive politics fall to pieces in the face of real danger. If this all sounds too preachy or (god forbid) conservative, rest assured that Reijn and DeLappe deal with proceedings with a deft touch and no shortage of morbid humour, with the satire being less ‘your drunk uncle ranting about woke teenagers’ and more about how seemingly enlightened language can be nothing more than a façade to hide age-old anxieties and insecurities. With a stellar cast of young actresses 2, excellent direction, and a whip-smart screenplay (with one of the greatest plot twists … ever?), Bodies Bodies Bodies is well worth your time.

10: Triangle of Sadness (dir. Ruben Ostlund)

What’s this? Another satire of the wealthy and privileged? It was just that kind of a year, with this film, the aforementioned Bodies Bodies Bodies, The Menu, and Season 2 of The White Lotus on HBO all taking turns to line up and take jabs at the people at the top of the food chain. Hell, there’s another one popping up soon on this list! But at least Ruben Ostlund can claim that he’s been doing this before it was cool, from poking fun of rich snobs at a ski resort in Force Majeure (2014) to poking fun of rich snobs at an art museum in The Square (2017) to poking fun of rich snobs on a pleasure cruise in Triangle of Sadness. In many ways, practice has made perfect. There are multiple flawless scenes in Triangle of Sadness, from a back-and-forth between a wealthy guest who really wants the crew to ‘enjoy life’ and a crew member who really doesn’t, to the heavily memed ‘H&M / Balenciaga’ fashion shoot, to the pièce de résistance – the scene of the 1% puking and shitting out their guts in the midst of a storm. However, I do wonder if Ostlund’s approach is starting to yield diminishing returns – at some point you have to do more than formally exquisite satires of rich people, right? I’ve liked all of his films thus far, but nothing has come close to hitting the level of Force Majeure, including Triangle of Sadness, which for all its scene-by-scene brilliance, never quite coheres entirely, which is why it is on the bottom of this list rather than the top.

9: Bones and All (dir. Luca Guadagnino)

Easily the best cannibal romance movie of all time. Jokes aside, Bones and All continues Luca Guadagnino’s quest after achieving mainstream fame with Call Me By Your Name (2017) to do whatever the fuck he wants, and I couldn’t be more here for it. Bones and All treads a very thin tightrope across its entire runtime, balancing precariously between its dewy-eyed young adult romance and the more outré cannibal elements, and it’s to Guadagnino and his collaborators’ credit that the film feels like a singular whole rather than two ill-formed pieces welded together. And while the veterans like Mark Rylance, Michael Stuhlbarg and The Internet’s Boyfriend Timothée Chalamet perform as well as expected, it is relative newcomer Taylor Russell who shines brightest as a young woman who must suddenly navigate a strange new world that is both dangerous and enthralling. The ‘young lover criminals on the run’ genre has been an American movie staple since Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and Bones and All proves that there is still rich blood in this particular vein, both literally and figuratively.

8: Glass Onion (dir. Rian Johnson)

Probably the most flawed movie to be on this list, thanks to be a denouement that doesn’t strike with as much as impact as the film seems to think it does. However, this is immaterial when considering that Glass Onion is the most fun that I’ve had at a movie all year. With a stellar ensemble cast led by bona fide Renaissance Person Janelle Monáe and a relaxed Daniel Craig (clearly having the most fun he’s had onscreen in ages), Glass Onion would be worth the time only for them 3 to banter Rian Johnson’s rat-a-tat dialogue in a glamorous Greek island. The fact that Johnson continues to play with and refresh whodunnit tropes while also continuing to sharply satirise the bloated self-image of the super-rich is just the icing on the doughnut. I’ve complained a lot about the ubiquity of franchises and sequels in Hollywood, but I have to say, I could watch another five movies of ‘queer Daniel Craig sporting a terrible Southern accent goes to luxurious location filled with horrible rich people to solve a murder’. Now could we just get HBO and Netflix to fund a co-production where Benoit Blanc visits The White Lotus?

7: Spencer (dir. Pablo Larrain)

There has been a lot of British Royal Family #content of late, huh? Just off the top of my head, Liz died, Andrew’s (allegedly) a nonce, Charles being the world’s least convincing king, Netflix is still making The Crown, and (flails hands in the air) everything about Harry and Meghan. The common thread that seems to exist (beyond the obvious fact that this is an institution that needed to be put out of its misery decades ago) is a strange obsession with ‘the truth’. From documentaries to tell-all biographies to disclaimers stating that a work of fiction is … fictional, every bit of #content about the Windsors is weirdly obsessed with trying to uncover ‘the truth’. 4 How refreshing then, to have something like Spencer, which spits in the face of vulgar truth to grasp towards what Werner Herzog calls ‘ecstatic truth’. Did any of Spencer happen? Hell no. Does it come closer to the truth of the myth of Princess Diana that any stuff talking-head documentary does? Hell yes. A biopic filmed like a Gothic horror movie, Spencer relentlessly tracks a weekend of Diana (Kristen Stewart, indomitably fragile) pacing around the gilded cage of Sandringham, tormented by ghosts, anxiety, and the ever-present looming gaze that follows her everywhere she goes. Filmed with inimitable style and panache, Spencer soars above every other biopic (or depiction of the Windsors) by willing to plunge into abstraction and impressionism to seek out a truth far greater than just ‘what really happened’.

6: The Northman (dir. Robert Eggers)

The word that describes every Robert Eggers movie is commitment. It’s in his characters’ single-minded obsessions. It’s in his screenplays, written entirely in period-appropriate dialogue. It’s in his filmmaking process, with their grueling location shoots in natural light. And if there’s any flaw with The Northman, it’s that it’s not committed enough, with the barest tinges of compromise seen in its edges that reflect both its increased budget and scope from Eggers’ last two masterpieces. Yet there is no denying that as a mainstream blockbuster style movie (as opposed to a work from Robert Eggers), The Northman is a trip and a half, a dreamlike reverie that intersperses its remarkably crafted action scenes with sequences of men belching in a cave, some uncomfortable mother-son incest, and Björk … being Björk. And therein lies the aforementioned commitment, in the desire to bring a proper Icelandic saga, replete with digressions and tangents, to the big screen, modern blockbuster tropes be damned. The Northman plunges you into an entire world and never lets up from its characters’ perspectives from its opening all the way to its hallucinatory ending. It is an 80 million dollar movie filmed with the artistic integrity of an arthouse passion project. Now that’s commitment.

5: Nope (dir. Jordan Peele)

Ladies and gentlemen, we found him. It took a while, but we finally got our guy. Jordan Peele is the new Steven Spielberg. And what better way to announce this than with the best ever riff on Jaws (1975), replacing one expanse of ocean with another of sky, and swapping out a hungry shark with an equally ravenous alien predator? Like Spielberg, Peele’s control of tone is note perfect, casually shifting gears between humour and heart whenever the story calls for it. And like Spielberg, Peele understands that the best action sequences are also horror scenes, that there are no greater stakes in a movie than when the audience genuinely fears for the well-being of the characters in it. But beyond the impeccable thrills and scares of Peele’s craft, there is also his message, which is one of the savviest and most thoughtful dissections of our relationship to spectacle – which is of course being conveyed through the medium of blockbuster cinema, which is the closest mankind has ever come to pure spectacle. But all of this wonkery would mean little if it wasn’t attached to a rousing and resonant storyline, and Peele (like ol’ Stevie) is nothing if not a masterful storyteller. Deftly aided by excellent performances from Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, and Steven Yeun, Jordan Peele continues to prove that it is possible to create big budget cinematic entertainment that enthralls the mind and the heart.

4: Licorice Pizza (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

Licorice Pizza is a lower-tier Paul Thomas Anderson film, which means that it is merely one of the best of the year instead of being a generation-defining masterpiece. Operating with a looser, shaggier vibe (more in the vein of Inherent Vice (2017) than The Master (2012)), Licorice Pizza dips in and out of the thorny relationship between former child actor Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and aimless photographer’s assistant Alana Kane (Alana Haim, luminous) across the span of a year or so. Nothing very much happens in Licorice Pizza, but that’s really by design. Instead, Anderson has focused his substantial powers to recreate the San Fernando Valley of his youth, a world so rich in detail and texture that it seems like you could reach out and touch it. And for a filmmaker so focused on toxicity and dysfunction, it’s refreshing to step into the happy memories of his youth, and to bask in the sense of warmth and comfort that radiates through the screen like the California sun. PTA is probably the greatest living American filmmaker 5 and even in a seemingly ‘lesser’ work, there is no mistaking the excellence of his craft. There is just something joyful in watching a master at work.

3: Decision to Leave (dir. Park Chan-wook)

And on that note, here is a master not just at work, but actively showing off. Any random ten minute sequence in Decision to Leave has twice as many interesting directorial decisions than most movies have in their entire runtimes. From shot composition to edits to camera movement, Decision to Leave is Park Chan-wook constantly topping himself at every moment. But don’t mistake this for a movie all about empty style, for there’s plenty of substance beneath, thanks to a devilishly twisted neo-noir storyline that keeps you guessing at seemingly grieving widow Seo-rae’s (Tang Wei) motives. Tang’s phenomenal performance is utterly compelling from beginning to end, and in concert with Park’s direction and the unpredictable screenplay, the viewer cannot help but be drawn in like Detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) even as we know that nothing good can arise of it. Decision to Leave may lack the Grand Guignol touch of Park’s earlier works, with nary a hint of explicit sexuality or violence, but this doesn’t mean it’s squeaky clean. No, if anything, this film becomes steamier and grittier thanks to how it subsumes all of its drives into buried, subtle hints, with the accidental brush of fingers delivering more erotic charge than all the Fifty Shades movies combined. It takes skillful technique to make something so sexless so unbelievably sexy, and (as if there were any doubt) Park Chan-wook has a lot of it.

2: Aftersun (dir. Charlotte Wells)

In any other year, this is an easy number one. Aftersun is so astonishingly assured and confident from conception to execution that it would represent a worthy pinnacle to a veteran filmmaker’s career. That this is Charlotte Wells’ feature debut is nothing short of mindboggling. It’s as simple as can be. Sophie (Celia Roulson-Hall as an adult, Frankie Corio as a child) remembers a childhood trip that she took with her father (Paul Mescal, an all-time great performance) to Turkey, interspersed with camcorder footage from the trip. That’s it. And yet, it’s so much more than that. As snippets and moments bubble to the surface, it becomes increasingly clear that Sophie is looking for something in particular. She’s looking for an answer. But to what? The film never explicitly states it, but as each perfectly modulated scene flows into the next, the sense of impending doom gets greater and greater, through nothing more than Wells’ spectacular ability to convey so much through so little. And by the time it finally hits, it is far too late, with the weight of tragedy far too great to ignore. But Aftersun does not linger on tragedy, instead choosing to conclude on a grace note, on a moment of transcendence punctuating the fact that, regardless of his failures, the one unassailable fact Sophie can rely on is that her father loved her unconditionally. Aftersun is a fucking masterpiece, and again, would be my best film of the year in any other year.

1: Everything Everywhere All At Once (dir. Daniels)

But not this year. Perhaps the best compliment I can give Aftersun is that it made me reconsider this spot for a nanosecond, because for the rest of the year, this was a forgone conclusion. I wrote after watching Everything Everywhere All At Once that it was the best film of the decade, and my resolve in this has remained unshakable. Rarely does a film deliver so completely on the promise of its title. From the microscopic and granular story of an immigrant family to the macroscopic and infinite story of life itself, the scope of Everything Everywhere‘s ambition is matched only by its ingenuity, zipping back and forth between multiple storylines that all ultimately coalesce into one narrative. Every stylistic shift is filmed to utter perfection, with no shortage of creativity and derring-do. 6 And of course, there is the tonal control that the Daniels exert over their movie, splicing together prurient slapstick with sweeping sentimentality while never making it feel jarring or sudden. Add to this the spectacular performances from Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong and Jamie Lee Curtis, and you have a recipe that will probably never be replicated again (though of course Hollywood will try and fail to). Watching Everything Everywhere All At Once reminds me of the iconic Parks and Recreation quote – “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” Except this is a film that whole-asses comedy and drama and humour and characters and action and effects and soundtrack and theme. It does it all with panache and joy and love. It whole-asses Everything Everywhere All At Once.

  1. Best does not mean ‘most lucrative’, which is why it’s not Crisp Rat.
  2. Rachel Sennott would be a shoo-in for my supporting actress list if I had watched this before writing it.
  3. and Kathryn Hahn and Edward Norton and Kate Hudson and Leslie Odom Jr. and Dave Bautista – this cast is stacked.
  4. Yes yes, it’s because they live under such a veil of secrecy and misinformation that it’s only natural to try to see what lies beneath it.
  5. Everyone else is either past their peak (Spielberg, Scorsese, the Coens, Lynch, etc.) or needs to maintain their standard of excellence a little longer (Aster, Eggers, Peele, Gerwig, etc.)
  6. Watching behind-the-scenes footage on how they pulled off some of these effects on a relatively small budget is fantastic.






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