In a normal year, this writer would have no difficulty whatsoever in listing his favourite feature-length releases from the past 12 months. But 2022 was not a normal year.
Having obtained full-time employment for the first time in his life, moved even further away from Melbourne than he was before and settled into a place of his own, no time was left for his one true love: the cinema. What few spare moments he did have were spent returning to old favourites, viewing classics from yesteryear, fixated on streaming services or – on the very rare occasion – watching a blockbuster at his nearest theatre.
What’s more, these limited opportunities for moviegoing meant that several of the year’s most-heralded films weren’t seen until awards season, including The Northman, Glass Onion, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and the eventual Best Picture winner, Everything Everywhere All at Once, among others.
As a consequence, the well-established Top 10 format of this website (as utilised by Arnie and Darcy in their retrospectives) has been eschewed on this occasion, with yours truly instead listing seven of the pictures he enjoyed most in a very busy, cinema-sparse year.
Oh, how people groaned when Warner Bros. announced they were rebooting Bruce Wayne’s adventures for the third time in two decades. “What,” they asked facetiously, “can this movie bring to the table that hasn’t already been done before?” In response came a dark and gorgeous spectacle that ranks among the best superhero blockbusters of all time.
There’s so much to admire about Matt Reeves’ picture, from an all-star cast that delivers fantastic performances across the board, to the exquisite cinematography of Greig Fraser, to the fusion of visual elements from Batman films past. And then there’s the exceptional score of Michael Giacchino, who borrows a simple four-note motif from Nirvana and utilises it to great effect. It’s not a perfect film – its screenplay lacks the narrative heft of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, for instance – but in terms of thrills, The Batman can hardly be faulted.
Every time Pixar appears to have lost its mojo, along comes a film that reminds everybody of their creative might. 2022’s reminder came from Domee Shi, writer-director of the critically-acclaimed short film Bao, who delivered a feature with a level of vim and originality not witnessed in the studio’s output for some years. And this is coming from a man who really, REALLY loved Soul (2020).
What particularly makes Turning Red delightful is how it forgoes Pixar’s hallmarks and tropes for a distinctive art-style, self-aware protagonist, rapid editing and energetic animation, all while delivering a resonant and timeless coming-of-age story. If anything, the picture serves as a convincing argument for Emeryville to take more risks with their material.
The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson
This would likely have made yours truly’s Top 10 of 2021, had it been released as scheduled – it was originally slated to premiere at the 69th Melbourne International Film Festival before a spike in Covid infections curtailed that plan, and its subsequent opening in theatres. Cinemagoers finally got a taste of what they missed in May – a Meat Pie Western that proved to be the best Australian production of the year, hands-down.
Juggling treble roles of star, writer and director, Leah Purcell (pictured) handles the grim and at times confronting material with confidence and professionalism. A stellar cast of familiar faces lend further gravitas to proceedings, while the acoustical score of Salliana Seven Campbell proves an ideal accompaniment, and Snowy Mountains a stunning backdrop. All of these elements ensure The Drover’s Wife as a fine addition to a rich, growing list of First Nations stories.
Top Gun: Maverick
It was the sequel nobody asked for that became a must-see cinematic experience and earned praise as one of the best films of 2022 – an acclamation that’s being repeated here. After all, when a picture boasts a bevvy of practical effects, impressive stunt-work, exceptional cinematography, fantastic sound editing and a diverse cast stacked with many likeable, talented actors, it’s hard not to fall in love with it.
What makes Top Gun: Maverick even more enjoyable is how it pays tribute to the first Tony Scott-directed production, via the opening credits and a touching cameo from The Iceman himself, Val Kilmer. Had it evoked its 1986 originator even further and added just a tad more cheese, it would have likely become this writer’s favourite picture of the year.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie
What a shame this had to be released the same week as Top Gun. Had it not, a much larger audience may have paid witness to a bright, wholesome and entertaining caper that ranks as one of the best film adaptations of all time. That’s no mean feat, given its Emmy-winning source material is considered one of the best television programmes currently on-air.
Many qualities carry over from its originator, including the terrific voice-cast, quirky tone and catchy songs, while adding exceptional animation and an intriguing mystery with some great turns. While it doesn’t quite satisfy every itch that fans have ever held, it does fulfil co-director and producer Loren Bouchard’s promise of being accessible to those who don’t watch the Belcher family’s adventures on TV. For that reason alone, The Bob’s Burgers Movie is worth a watch.
Having floored the cinematic landscape with his debut feature Get Out (2017) and delighted just as much with his follow-up effort Us (2019), anticipation was rightfully high for Jordan Peele’s third directorial effort. Not only did he deliver yet again with another smart, engrossing horror flick, he also did the impossible: made a whole generation afraid of clouds.
Among the elements that make this film a winner are the impressive photography of the surehanded Hoyte van Hoytema; the spooky, ethereal score of returning Peele collaborate Michael Abels; the great performances of the entire cast; and an ingeniously-designed UFO – sorry, UAP – that’s bound to influence every science-fiction film that follows. Also, don’t be fooled by that lowly “M” rating – despite possessing less violence and blood than its contemporaries, Nope is nothing short of a scary and most terrifying feature.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
As one of the strongest years for the medium of animation in recent memory, 2022 gifted no shortage of great offerings, be they stop-motion, hand-drawn or rendered with computers. DreamWorks provided the metaphorical cherry atop a most delicious cake in December’s final days with a sequel that could not be more different to its predecessor.
Contained within Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a mature, pensive screenplay where complex, nuanced personalities grapple with conflicts that are usually reserved for adult-oriented dramas, not animated children’s films – a surprising and most-welcome move. Paired with these thoughtful musings is an art-style that, pleasingly, borrows just as many cues from oil paintings or storybooks as it does from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018).