Best of 2022: Arnie’s Picks

Picking out any 10 films from a year with stellar titles is never an easy task; this was especially the case for my 2022 list. In fact, not since 2017 have I had to think as much about the films on my end-of-year list. From David Cronenberg’s return to directing almost eight years since his last feature, to James Cameron’s return to Pandora almost 13 years since Avatar, right through to Tom Cruise’s return to the character that propelled him to A-class status — there was no shortage of the epic, iconic and memorable. That’s just a snippet of the below, so here’s my best 10 films of 2022.

10. Crimes of the Future

Having not directed a film since Maps to the Stars over eight years ago, David Cronenberg’s latest, Crimes of the Future, sees the body-horror mastermind return in resounding fashion.

The film, which I view as one of the dark-horse titles on my list, delivers all the signature Cronenberg goodies that audiences love (blood, guts and more guts) but in a much more toned down display. Of course, Cronenberg never does gore for the sake of it, but instead explores mankind’s deepest rooted fears —experiments gone wrong, tech turning on us etc.— while using the grotesque to amplify his concerns.

Crimes of the Future is no different in that regard, as it looks to a time ahead where humans have a changed digestive system and a hunger that can only be fed through the likes of plastic. Performance art meets the grotesque, with Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) growing organs almost at a whim, and his partner in crime, Caprice (Léa Seydoux) removing them to a much appreciative audience.

Howard Shore’s hauntingly subtle score gives weight to the eeriness at play and even heightens Mortensen and Seydoux’s already brilliant, nonchalant performances. It’s a film that’s creepy but clever in its creepiness, one that captures the festering of the human body and the need to adjust the way we live as our bodies change. That’s only part of it, of course — the real crime is not watching the latest Cronenberg.

9. Hit the Road

There’s few films in 2022 that will throw you an emotional curveball like Panah Panahi’s Hit the Road. Panahi, son of legendary Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, crafts a road trip story that explores the struggle of separation, something that is a staple of Iranian filmmaking and a harsh reality in a country with a turbulent political standing.

Politics aside, the film is peppered in the humour often found in similar works from the region —Jafar Panahi’s, in particular— as it incorporates everyday family bickering and banter that I’m sure everyone who has ever been on an “are we there yet” type road trip with their family, has experienced. Films like this often require a convincing ensemble to help hit home that tense but loving family feel, and fortunately the ensemble here do an excellent job.

8. Kimi

A covid-era film that doesn’t make covid its main story point? Count me in.

With an overlooked performance by Zoe Kravitz who nails the agoraphobia-isolated character with her very blank, “leave me alone” facial expressions, Kimi sees Steven Soderbergh pack a lot of nuance into this smaller-scale crime-thriller. The result is a nail-biting search for answers as Angela Childs (Kravitz) is forced by circumstance to venture outside after hearing what she suspects is a sexual assault or a murder, on the Kimi device (this film’s equivalent to Amazon Alexa).

Obvious comparisons have been made to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), though the films are entirely separate in how they approach their subject matter.

7. The Batman

Matt Reeves’ The Batman represents a fresh take on the caped crusader, one that is more akin to the ‘Arkham’ video games in that it explores the Batman’s more detective leanings.

What follows is a crime-thriller worthy of the highest praise and one that is reminiscent of the likes of classics in the sub-genre including Seven (1995). Greig Fraser’s cinematography is wonderous and keeps in line with the very gothic leanings that Reeves is going for here. Michael Giacchino’s score is equally inspired, with the composer using church bells and low hums to create an eerie sensation.

Reeves no doubt looked to the Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton’s films when figuring out how he would approach this, and there are obvious correlations like the gothic-vibe from Burton’s films and the development of the Riddler being very similar to that of the Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). Yet, this film is unequivocally Reeves’. Sure he drew on the films that came before his, but this is a film made up of close-knit conversations, measured action sequences, and clever storytelling. The rowdiest this film gets is during a truly memorable chase sequence involving Batman’s custom V8 Batmobile.

The cast is just as committed, with Robert Pattinson’s emo-like appearance being fitting for the darker aesthetic; Zoe Kravitz once again fits the part perfectly playing Catwoman; Collin Farrell shines as Oswald Cobblepot in what has been a stellar year for him; and the likes of Paul Dano and Jeffrey Wright do well in their parts as well. In fact, all aspects of production come together brilliantly like cogs in a machine. The end product is a welcome addition to the ever-growing Batman story.

6. Jackass Forever

When it comes to practicality in filmmaking, Johnny Knoxville and his crew of misfits are the ones you can count on to put on a show.

Jackass Forever is a film nestled in its own comfy corner of cinema. Yes, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Chan are incredible actors and stuntmen who have put their bodies on the line for the sake of entertainment, but it’s the man-child Jackass group who have done it because they find it fun to face death.

Yet, Jackass Forever isn’t just people doing things that are best left to the imagination, it’s also a culmination of 20+ years of commitment to pushing the boundaries of what can be done in front of the camera. For all of its death-defying moments, Jackass Forever feels like a warm hug that throws you a sucker punch when you’re least expecting it. Bringing in the classic faces that have laid the groundwork for Jackass, along with some new and equally risk-embracing ones, this is a film that celebrates the unimaginable, and doesn’t hold back on the bruises.

It’s a film, like the others in the series, that is built up of ‘firsts’ both in terms of what you’re seeing and for the cinema broadly, and deserves the highest of praise for what it achieves.

5. Ambulance

You either love him, hate him or tolerate him, but there’s no denying the Michael Bay is a man of the cinema — particularly action cinema.

Ambulance, like all of Bay’s previous films, is set on displaying the biggest and wildest action sequences you can get. The film hits like a heavy dose of adrenaline, and it keeps you infused right from its early stages until its heartfelt finale. 

The film is a testament to Bay’s unabashed approach to direction where he keeps the tension boiling, turns up the temperature gradually, and then drops the heat to a boil again while never turning it off. The best examples of this are found in the way the film’s technical elements work together to sing Bay’s chaotic tune: the piercing score, the snappy cross-cutting, the canted camera angles, and the mobile drone camerawork that takes the audience and positions them in unfamiliar situations. 

Ambulance works because even with all the absurdity leading up to the characters finding themselves in this dire chase situation (let’s face it, no one would escape that many LAPD officers and vehicles), there’s never any respite to dwell on that aspect of the film. Bay knows what he’s doing and you can either buckle up for the ride, or dive ride out the passenger seat.

4. The Banshees of Inishiren

In what is quite clearly a spiritual successor to McDonagh’s equally witty and heartfelt debut feature In Bruges (2008), The Banshees of Inisherin paints a perplexing picture of the human condition against the beautiful backdrop of a fictional Irish town during the Irish Civil War. 

It’s a story of two friends —Colm (Brendan Gleeson) and Pádraic (Colin Farrell)— who decide not to be friends anymore (well, at least one of them decides). But more than that, The Banshees of Inisherin is about the fleeting nature of life; the realisation that nothing lasts forever even if we want it to.

McDonagh’s script here is easily his most realised — even if In Bruges still contains some of my favourite lines from any movie ever. He manages to mesh together humour and poignancy in ways that no other director does, and it leaves you in a state where you’re not sure whether to laugh, cry or both.

Gleeson and Farrell are at the top of their game (as is the rest of the cast), and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the male acting categories be swept up by this duo in the coming awards season.

3. The Fabelmans

Anything I say about Steven Spielberg is superfluous at this stage, and honestly if The Fabelmans is anything to go by, Spielberg tells (or shows) you everything you need to know about him anyway.

This is ultimately Spielberg’s visual diary, one that at once examines the very youthful promise of endless possibility —with the only limitations being your imagination (as symbolised by the camera)—, and the navigation of expectation, of the un-imaginary and the tangible (the reality that hits when the record button is turned off).

It’s clear that Spielberg and co-writer and frequent collaborator, Tony Kushner, have dug into the nitty gritty of the directors’ life. There is a level of verisimilitude coursing through the film whether it be in the performances, the very raw and grounded screenplay that avoids glossiness, or John Williams’ moving score — the duo have cashed in all of the chips Spielberg has accrued and pulled no stops.

The Fabelmans paints an interesting portrait of self-actualisation, of finding your place in the world and pursuing what you love even if it means confronting hard truths in the process. This is Spielberg’s world, and we’re living in it.

2. Avatar: The Way of Water

No one does blockbusters quite like James “Jim” Cameron, and Avatar: The Way of Water is the proof in the pudding.

The Way of Water takes audiences to the far beyond of Pandora, namely to its oceanic vistas that, on their own, make the 13 year wait between the original and the sequel all the more worth it.

Cameron, of course, is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of what is achievable at such a scale; if a project isn’t ready to be pursued, be it because of a lack of technological development or the moment just not feeling right, he won’t pursue it. That was the case with Avatar (2009) which he decided to eventually make almost a decade after writing the treatment. He saw Peter Jackson’s development of motion capture with Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films and King Kong in King Kong (2005) as turning points for technology in cinema, as well as Davy Jones in Gore Verbinski’s The Pirates of the Caribbean films.

But The Way of Water blows all of these titles out of the water with what it achieves visually (and that’s coming from a died hard Jackson and Pirates fan). From the refined look of the Na’vi including the way they move under water and their human-like movement generally, to the bumped up frame rate at 48fps which adds extra fluidity to proceedings — The Way of Water is a visual masterpiece that represents a pivotal turning point in visual effects and motion capture.

Aside from its technical marvels, it’s also a sum of all of Cameron’s experiences up until now. His brilliance ultimately rests in his unmatched understanding of scale — of how to get all of his story points in a basket while showcasing them in the biggest way possible.

He clearly cares for this world and everything within it, and he pours his heart and soul into each and every frame to the point where you can’t help but care for it as well.

1. Top Gun: Maverick

Do you feel the need for speed? I sure did.

Top Gun: Maverick is the Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) of 2022. The perfect sequel to Tony Scott’s iconic Top Gun (1986) and one that goes above and beyond its predecessor in (almost) every department (save for maybe how iconic it is, though we should maybe give it 36 odd years).

Joseph Kosinski’s film is the one that I’ve though about the most throughout 2022, so much so that I’ve been desperate to buy its original poster which has now ignited a fascination with poster collecting that I never knew existed.

Whether it be the death-defying air-scapades that prove how much of a madman Tom Cruise truly is, or the care with which this sequel is able to revisit and reimagine its titular character — there’s no shortage of brilliance behind every decision. The stakes are raised, and Maverick is forced to come to terms with his past, find his place in the world, and pass the torch on to the younger generation — directions in characterisation that screenwriters Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and frequent Cruise-collaborator, Christopher McQuarrie, do a great job of balancing.

This film will make you nostalgic, will leave you in awe, and will sit with you long after its end credits roll by.

Honourable Mentions: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Ticket to Paradise, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, The Northman and Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.

Best of 2022: Darcy’s Picks

With films returning to their native home of the theatre, 2022 delivered an interesting year of releases. Returning to some sort of cinema normalcy, even if the industry has been quite radically changed by Covid, the year has been full of quality films, including a large suite of self-reflexive stories from filmmakers old and new, to surprising and uber-entertaining box office hits, and the return to form for some incredible directors.

My 2022 list is surprisingly different to my most anticipated list from March, with Nope being on both lists, as my favourite works of the year came from unexpected places. This list includes two debut features (Hit the Road, Aftersun), a film from a filmmaker I’ve struggled with in the past (Armageddon Time), and a filmmaking blindspot I need immediately filled (Tár). While no five-star classics exist in this year of film, an impressive level of depth made this a difficult list to order and will no doubt change years from now. But for now, here is my list of the best films of 2022.

10. Hit the Road

A cheeky but politically and thematically resonant road trip dramedy of a young Iranian family attempting to smuggle their son out of the country to avoid military duty.

Panah Panahi, son of legendary filmmaker Jafar Panahi, is no stranger to the industry, but what he is still able to achieve on a debut feature is remarkable. Weaving in a deft political statement with a director well aware of where he is crafting his films, Hit the Road is elevated by a delightful and emotive family ensemble, centred by a lightning rod performance by Rayan Sarlak as the little brother.

9. Moonage Daydream

Filmmaker Brett Morgen, known for his wonderful 2015 documentary, Cobain: A Montage of Heck, declared this an experience about Bowie, not a biography of David Jones, and he truly delivered on this promise. Moonage Daydream (2022) is a deeply arresting piece of nonfiction cinema that operates as a mood piece that will be put up next to the very best in the genre.

The film weaponises its breathless propulsion in sly and interesting ways that sneaks up on you emotionally, much like Bowie’s very best work. It takes time to show its form to you, but once it does its effect is moving and profound. Morgen found something deeply relatable in his pursuit of capturing the figure of Bowie on film, unveiling a beautiful portrait of isolation for an artist that created community, showing us an image of the chameleonic legend that you won’t soon forget.

8. Broker

A master of humanist cinema, Hirokazo Kore-eda has crafted his most challenging makeshift family yet. Following a duo of child brokers of babies left at the local church’s baby box, Broker is complicated but deeply enriching in its portrayal of morality in the greyest of areas. Not of the same quality as Kore-eda’s Japan set masterpieces After Life (1999) and Shoplifters (2017), but is still one of the year’s best.

7. Nope

The film that grew on me the most this year. Peele has crafted a deeply engaging and entertaining riot of a sci-fi, Hollywood western that breezes through its first two acts to crescendo at a massive final act with a truly unique antagonist. While the film does lack in character work, its wielding of spectacle while also throwing those audience compulsions back in our faces is extraordinary, and is a brilliant use of the massive studio budget Peele is able to receive for these original stories.

6. Armageddon Time

Armageddon Time is emotionally devastating in ways that evolve beautifully over time, lingering long in the heart like a critical memory. What allows the emotion to thrive is the outstanding cast that could all individually contend come awards season. A gorgeous ensemble that introduced layers of nuance and understanding to each character over the runtime, highlighted by Banks Repeta and Anthony Hopkins.

5. Everything Everywhere All at Once

Floating along a constant stream of intertextuality, self-referentiality, and reverence to the films that paved the way to gift this film into audiences’ laps—The Matrix (1999), In The Mood for Love (2000), any Charlie Kaufman film—Everything Everywhere feels like a cinematic miracle that is at risk of breaking at any point.

Everything Everywhere is a technical marvel of small-budget filmmaking, from its mind-blowing costume and production design to its sound design and visual effects, but the real hero of the film is editor Paul Rogers. Rogers’ work here is nothing short of miraculous. Tasked with building a feverish momentum for over two hours while having each individual emotional moment land with as much impact as each comedic or absurdist one. Rogers moulds the filmmaking duo’s creative madness into a deeply resonant and enjoyable work, not just another overly ambitious indie that feels more like a creative dare than a work of art with deep truths. Don’t take for granted what an achievement this film is.

4. Aftersun

The debut feature of the year (in a uniquely stacked debutant class), Charlotte Wells’ memory drama of a young father bringing his 12-year-old daughter on a holiday to Turkey is so beautifully crafted, teeming with empathy and respect for the perspectives of both individuals’ experiences. Paul Mescal is enthralling in the year’s best performance as Calum, a tortured bird that must force himself to put up a front to protect his daughter. There are some ideas explored in Aftersun, like the fear of parents with mental illnesses handing it down somehow to their child, that will obliterate you. Wells wields a flexible script that is explored with care and restraint that is extraordinary for a first-time feature filmmaker, making her the director to watch in the next few years.

3. The Fabelmans

Spielberg’s whole heart is on the screen, warts and all. What makes The Fabelmans succeed is its lack of pure saccharine while still maintaining his signature warmth. The power of Spielberg’s clear-eyed and impassioned filmmaking, mixed with Kushner’s deft hand at profound characterisation, allows the audience to see themselves in every character. This is as much a film about Mitzi and Burt as it is about Sammy, with Kushner able to establish an extraordinary amount of emotional depth out of these personal stories for Spielberg whilst never feeling overly soft or cruel to their lives. 

2. The Banshees of Inisherin

A densely compacted fable on friendship, breakups, art, passions, and how one chooses to spend a life, that is never less than wonderfully entertaining. A brilliant balancing act that consistently grounds itself in the earth of its characters, never allowing its more ethereal themes to float into wistful abstraction. McDonagh is at the top of his game both as a writer and director here, allowing the non-dialogue-heavy moments to shine as much as the musicality of his feckin’ barbs.

McDonagh has grown exponentially as a visual storyteller, allowing his sharp pen to relax and using the other aspects of cinema to communicate his themes and ideas in deeply rewarding ways. 

1. Tár

In a year without a true five-star film, several films on this list could have made it to number one, and perhaps in a couple years this order will change, but as of posting, this film has a way of burrowing into my subconscious and bubbling up every other day. American films just aren’t like this anymore. A provocative thriller that has no easy answers that will have you enthralled over its long but rewarding 158-minute runtime.

Todd Field returns after a 16-year absence from the cinema with the year’s best film about a deeply flawed figure that’s warts are shown under a fierce precision, never allowing a scene to end with an easy answer. Tár is a tangled web of clashing ideas that have sparked some of the best film writing around an American film in who knows how long. Field has crafted a film of ideas that gives nothing to the audience easily, but rewards all who view this strange and entrancing object.

Tony Gilroy described the film as “hard and perfect on the outside. Mayhem brewing within. Masterwork.” These competing forces of interiority and external poise are the powerful tempest that builds throughout Tár, creating a singular viewing experience, and one of the year’s best films.

Honourable Mentions: After Yang, Barbarian, Crimes of the Future, Kimi, Top Gun:Maverick, RRR, The Northman, and Lingui

The 5 Best Johnny Depp Performances, Ranked

Geoffrey Rush has hailed him as “one of the great character actors of our time, trapped in a leading man’s body” and whether you love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Johnny Depp has cashed in some of the most unique and memorable performances of the last 30 or so years. From Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Donnie Brasco right through to Captain Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka and Sweeny Todd  — there’s no shortage of the irreverent and iconic. These are Johnny Depp’s five best performances, ranked.

5. Donnie Brasco in Donnie Brasco (1997)
Johnny Depp as Donnie Brasco

Directed by Mike Newell and based on a true story (‘Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia’), Donnie Brasco represents the first real instance where Depp plays a straight shooting, no nonsense character on the big screen.

Depp’s character, Joe Pistone, infiltrates the New York mafia under the guise of Donnie Brasco where he befriends Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino) and works undercover to expose mafia leader Sonny Black (Michael Madsen).

It is through the Depp/Pacino on-screen dynamic that this film separates itself from simply being another cliched 90s gangster, mafia type ordeal. Pacino plays a much more heartfelt character while channelling all the qualities (loud voice, edgy movements, alluring eyes) that have underpinned his performances prior.

Depp compliments Pacino’s supporting role by matching him in those qualities while also proving that he has more reach as an actor should he be offered the right role to display it. He plays the anxiousness of this character so effectively and you can sense the difficulty of his characters position as an informant through this anxiousness.

4. Ed Wood in Ed Wood (1994)
Johnny Depp as Ed Wood

The first of two Tim Burton collaborations on this list, Ed Wood is perhaps best known for Martin Landau’s Oscar winning support performance, but Johnny Depp’s portrayal as the titular cult classic filmmaker was just as profound.

Like the real Edward Wood, Depp has certain eccentricities that can come across as quite peculiar, and they have allowed him to play strange characters, like Wood, on-screen in ways that other actors would not have. Depp’s casting as Wood can be considered a “perfect fit” by Richard Dyer’s work on Star Theory, as his star image fits perfectly with all the traits of the character, and he leans into the strangeness of Tim Burton’s own unique vision to bring the character to life.

In this way, Depp’s performance as Ed Wood is the first real instance where the actor finds a balance between the humorous characteristics he would later inject into his performances to a greater extent, as well as the more heightened moments of ecstaticity.

3. John Dillinger in Public Enemies (2009)
Johnny Depp as John Dillinger

Depp’s performance as the notorious American gangster/outlaw John Dillinger is perhaps the most contentious on this list. That might be due to the film in question, with Public Enemies being one of Michael Mann’s less layered works compared to say Heat (1995) or Collateral (2004), but it works because Mann is able to get the best out of his performers.

John Dillinger was evidently quite a misunderstood man by Mann’s depiction as he was more interested in taking from the state rather than from regular folk and found a certain connection to the people, and they to him. Depp can be seen as quite a misunderstood figure as well if not for his really uncanny demeanour, then definitely for the way he approaches his work and collaborations.

His performance as Dillinger is quite a strong one in that sense and it also represents a return to performances and films more akin to Donnie Brasco and a later mafia-esque film in Black Mass (2015).

2. Edward Scissorhands in Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands

Edward Scissorhands is easily one of Depp’s best performances due to how well the actor brings Tim Burton’s interest in outsiders and outcasts to light. Burton has never been shy on exploring characters who separate themselves from the public eye (like in his Batman films) or characters immersed in strange, gothic settings (like in 1988’s Beetlejuice).

A large reason why films like Edward Scissorhands and Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) work is because the synergy between Depp and Burton allows them to get to the heart of why these characters are the way they are.

There’s no doubt that Burton has nurtured Depp’s performances in ways other directors haven’t, but it’s in that very strangeness where Depp is at his best and can convince you that there could well be someone like Edward Scissorhands (figuratively speaking) out there. This performance is one of his best due to how well he uses his facial expressions, physicality and gestures, as the character rarely (if ever) actually speaks.

1. Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean (2003-2017)
Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow

It wouldn’t be a ‘best performances by Johnny Depp list’ without the iconic Captain Jack Sparrow. Aside from the fact that Gore Verbinski’s original Pirates trilogy is one of the most audacious and well worked in cinema history, it simply wouldn’t be as memorable without Depp’s very individualised performance as Captain Jack Sparrow.

Depp not only imbued Sparrow with his own signature idiosyncrasies and oddness, but he also drove a majority of the creative choices around the character. From the Pepé Le Pew and Keith Richards inspired look/feel, to the very specifics of how he walked and talked — this character went against the grain of expectation that Disney had initially wanted.

Depp subverted the image of how pirates historically acted and carried themselves by playing the role in a very caricature like manner. He injected Sparrow with a certain flamboyance courtesy of his gestures, and gave him a drunken demeanour even when Sparrow was at his most sober. Depp went as far as to suggest that the character should walk normally when he is on the ship, while being off-kilter and erratic when on land.

All of these choices alongside the bravado with which Depp delivered them through his performative toolkit are what gave the Pirates franchise such clear bearings. There is no Pirates of the Caribbean without Jack Sparrow and there is no Jack Sparrow without Johnny Depp.

Notable omissions: Sweeny Todd in Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), William Blake in Dead Man (1995), and Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow (1999).

Best of 2021: Arnel’s Picks

With another year having drawn to a close, Rating Frames is looking back at the best new releases of the last twelve months.

It was a difficult year for the medium, owing to numerous delays and cancellations – these retrospectives would be quite different had MIFF been able to run its full schedule – but there were still some excellent films released that we all wanted to celebrate.

In the last of our end-of-year articles, Arnel Duracak will be revealing his ten favourite pictures of 2021.

In arguably one of cinema’s most challenging years ever, 2021 surprisingly stood the test of time to become one of the best years for films and film lovers in the 21st century.

There were films by Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson, Denis Villeneuve, Todd Haynes, Edgar Wright, Jane Campion, David Lowery, Lana Wachowski, Steven Soderbergh, M. Night Shyamalan, Shaka King, Zack Snyder, Sean Baker, Mike Mills, James Gunn, Lin Manuel Miranda, Adam McKay, and Ridley Scott (two from him) all coming last year, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

My point is, as impacted as cinema was in 2021, there was a silver lining in terms of the films we got from the large pool of iconic filmmakers available. My list is a sum of my experiences with some of those filmmakers and their films, and here’s to a promising 2022.

10. The Last Duel

Having one new Ridley Scott film these days feels like a rarity that needs to be savoured, but two? Now that’s like seeing a UFO. But The Last Duel isn’t just rare because it’s a film from a legendary filmmaker in his later years, it’s also a film that doesn’t come around too often. In fact, this film is Ridley Scott at his directing best, all the while bringing in the grit and tension that make his films so enjoyable.

Through a chapter like structure, this film is about the closest thing we have to Scott’s iconic Gladiator (2000) as it keeps you engaged right throughout courtesy of some clever editing and writing, and it sees Jodie Comer deliver her best performance yet (even outshining her male counterparts Adam Driver, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck to a lesser extent given his minimal on-screen time).

The Last Duel is also memorable due to its practical filmmaking (incorporating practical combat rather than taking the easy route through CGI), well worked story, and captivating performances. Unfortunately, Scott’s other film of 2021, The House of Gucci, doesn’t hit the same high as this one but both are worth watching if not for want, then for the icon that is Ridley Scott.

Currently streaming on Disney+.

9. Nobody

I can only imagine that screenwriter Derek Kolstad’s logline to get this screenplay green-lit was “John Wick but with Bob Odenkirk dialled up to 11”. Nobody is the John Wick (2014) of 2021 and this was one of the first films I saw in a packed cinema at the start of 2021. It was an exhilarating experience and one that got me excited to get back into the cinema.

With a relatively simple premise that sends Odenkirk on a revenge killing spree after his daughter’s Hello Kitty bracelet is nabbed during a failed house robbery, Ilya Naishuller’s Nobody is a joy ride from start to finish. While the film doesn’t capture the awe and suddenness that came with seeing a rampant Keanu Reeves in John Wick back in 2014, Nobody is still a rowdy 90 minutes at the cinema.

The closing sequence is one of my most memorable from last year with a shotgun wielding Christopher Llyod going berserk alongside Odenkirk — Doc and Saul Goodman really paint the town red here.

Currently streaming on Prime and Binge.

8. The Mitchells vs. The Machines

When adding films to my top of the year list, I kept asking myself “why does this film deserve a spot on my list?”; in the case of The Mitchells vs. The Machines the answer was pretty simple: there wasn’t an animation like it in 2021.

Michael Rianda does a stellar job with telling a story about family and the drama of family life, while also managing to tap into ever present fears around technology as it becomes more advanced. This animated road movie is essentially We’re The Millers (2013) meets I, Robot (2004) but it’s actually funny and it actually handles its subject matter quite well.

The animation style here has been spoken about a bit, and while it does take a bit of time to adjust to the striking style like with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), the animators prove that animation doesn’t need to be a cookie cutter process.

Currently streaming on Netflix and available on DVD.

7. Minari

The second of my two 2020 films seen in 2021 courtesy of Australia’s awful theatrical schedule, Minari is a compelling piece of storytelling by Lee Isaac Chung that focuses on themes of family, loss, the American dream (or whatever that means today), and the immigrant experience.

With a cast that gives it their all (comprised of Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, and Youn Yuh-jung whose performance won her an Oscar), a well written script, and excellent direction, Minari has a bit of everything for everyone.

Coming from an immigrant background with refugee parents, this film really hit home in terms of the difficulties families experience when moving to a new country and the struggles of growing up relatively poor. If you haven’t seen Minari yet, what are you waiting for!

Currently available on home-video and on-demand services.

6. The Father

The Father is a heartfelt and considerate film that provides a unique outlook on the struggles of dealing with dementia from the perspective of a character dealing with the condition.

Director Florian Zeller directs his play of the same name and he’s evidently had the look of this film down pat for a while — focusing on enclosed spaces with lots of mid-shots, close-ups and extreme close-ups and using space to his advantage.

With Anthony Hopkins winning his second Best Actor Oscar and making history as the oldest actor to win a Best Actor Oscar at the ripe age of 83, this film is all about the performance. It’s an interesting idea to look at the condition from the perspective of the patient, and Zeller does so by brilliantly playing with time through smart editing and staging (take note Nolan).

While this film is technically listed as a 2020 release (as is another on this list), Australia unfortunately has an awful theatrical window so I’ve had to adjust accordingly and this film deserves a place on my list. 

Currently streaming on Prime Video and Foxtel Now.

5. Dune

Having read Frank Herbert’s novel of the same name shortly before its release, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is blockbuster filmmaking at its very best that honours Herbert’s writing through visual splendour that only the cinema can offer.

The film has everything you want from a blockbuster: scale, mesmerising world-building, a lived in feel, a large ensemble, wondrous set pieces, a resounding score, and (for the most part) grounded storytelling.

Villenueve has once again proven his worth by tackling a piece of fiction and an iconic title often deemed unfilmable due to its scope and depth, and he’s left his imprint on it in the process. He incorporates his fondness for slow cinema with plenty of moments of recollection and contemplation to be had, and he sets the stage for a sequel that will no doubt have a lot more riding on it given the success of this picture (especially considering his 2017 feature, Blade Runner 2049 was a box office flop).

The film is not flawless given that characters aren’t all that interesting and the performances are quite mute (there’s not one that stands out from the other), but it’s a fitting first adaptation of half of Herbert’s novel and lays the foundation for a (hopefully) more spectacular part two.

Currently screening in theatres nationwide and will soon be on Blu-Ray.

4. C’mon C’mon

A film that was unbeknown to me for the majority of last year, C’mon C’mon is one of those cozy and warm films that you would just want to hug if it was a tangible object.

Mike Mills writes and directs this tender story of connection and self-discovery, with two resounding performances from the incomparable Joaquin Phoenix and newcomer Woody Norman. Phoenix plays Johnny, the uncle of Norman’s character Jesse, and the two of them spend the film together after Jesse’s mother leaves town for a week or so to tend to her mentally ill husband. What ensues is a sweet and earnest film that revolves around a shared journey of self growth as the two characters confide in one another and open each others eyes to the world around them.

The film is shot in black and white which works to its advantage as, even among the very colourlessness of the world, the two characters stand out like a sore thumb; in other words, by being in each others company and experiencing the world through unfiltered conversations (particularly from Jesse), these two become the most colourful parts of the world. Mills meticulously builds his story through the characters’ shared experience to the point where their bond and relationship leads Johnny to view the world in a different light and have a much needed awakening or wake up call.

Children and their world view is at the forefront of the film as Johnny interviews various child subjects due to his radio profession, but Jesse is his gateway to something more real, and Mills makes sure that reality is felt beyond the diegetic world. 

Releasing in select Australian cinemas on the 17th of February 2022.

3. In The Heights

In what felt like the year of the musical with West Side Story, Tick Tick Boom, Dear Evan Hansen, and Annette, it was In The Heights that reigned supreme in 2021. I’m usually not a big fan of the musical genre — with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) being an exception — but In The Heights rekindled my faith in the genre and in its future in cinema.

Jon M. Chu directs the hell out of this adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda’s first successful broadway musical,  which is filled with brilliant choreography and item numbers, a dedicated cast, an infectious energy that sucks you in the longer the film plays out, and a considerate, thought provoking perspective on gentrification and the Latino community at its core.

I must say, I’m yet to see West Side Story, but In The Heights was really the film to get me excited for everything else that would grace our screens in 2021, and it came at the right time during the despondent events that continue to plague the world. 

Currently available for rent on Prime and for purchase on DVD.

2. Pig

Michael Sarnoski’s Pig moved me in ways that no other film in 2021 had. With a simple yet gripping story and an emotionally charged Nicolas Cage cashing in his best performance in years, this film hit all the right emotional chords for me — leading me to rewatch it a few days after my initial viewing.

Pig doesn’t go down the conventional route of a revenge thriller even though it might appear that that’s the direction Sarnoski is heading; instead, the film is about reflection, mourning and a wider commentary on how we forgo what we love in favour of a life of conformity in a capitalist system where we ultimately lose sight of who and what we are.

There are so many layers in Pig for a runtime of around 90 minutes, and had Licorice Pizza not been released, this would have been at the tippity top of my list. 

Currently available on home-video and on-demand services.

1. Licorice Pizza

That brings me to Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest, or the quintessential film of 2021. It takes everything we know and love about PTA — his undying connection to the San Fernando Valley, the 70s period, characters that are larger than life, the themes that underpin his work, the formal devices from his cinematic toolkit — and meshes it all into one. The result is a heartwarming tale of self-discovery and companionship, and one that traverses the fine line of adolescence and adulthood while managing to bridge the two worlds together.

Acting newcomers Cooper Hoffman (Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s son) and Alana Haim (from the pop rock band Haim), deliver captivating and confident performances of youth angst and free spiritedness. Their chemistry is magical and infectious and it’s hard not to see bits of yourself in their performances (such is the magic of PTA’s screenplays).

Licorice Pizza was always going to be a shoehorn for one of my favourite films of 2021 due to the man at its helm, but it deserves all the praise it has received and it deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can find.

Currently screening in select theatres nationwide.

Honourable Mentions: Encanto, Annette, Judas and the Black Messiah, The Matrix Resurrections

Best of 2021: Darcy’s Picks

With another year having drawn to a close, Rating Frames is looking back at the best new releases of the last twelve months.

It was a difficult year for the medium, owing to numerous delays and cancellations – these retrospectives would be quite different had MIFF been able to run its full schedule – but there were still some excellent films released that we all wanted to celebrate.

In the second of our end-of-year articles, Darcy Read will be revealing his ten favourite pictures of 2021.

The majority of the year was dominated by great television (It’s a Sin, The Underground Railroad) as cinemas were closed and films were delaying their releases as filmmakers faced massive challenges in production due to the pandemic. But absence makes the heart grow fonder as the last three months of the year had me going back to the theatre as often as possible.

In a year spent mostly watching films at home, it’s perhaps surprising to see the majority of my list be films seen in theatres, although that definitely influenced my enjoyment of each film seen on the big screen.

10. The Father

The earliest entrant on my list, with many lists placing it on the 2020 calendar instead, but a very small amount of the audience for Florian Zeller’s The Father actually saw the film that early, so here it is on my list. I am usually not fond of filmed plays, but Zeller’s work is undeniable and the care and consideration taken to adapt his own play into the medium of cinema is remarkable. 

Currently streaming on Prime Video and Foxtel Now.

9. Red Rocket

Sean Baker’s new feature Red Rocket is a unique prospect in modern American moviemaking. It is a difficult and enthralling challenge to the audience that even in its final moments, you aren’t sure what side of the fence you land. Mikey is a true antihero; a loathsome, motor-mouthed, hustling suitcase pimp returning home to Texas City after 20 years working as an adult film star in LA. The film will have you questioning your feelings and emotions throughout, with Baker expertly weaponising his humanist approach towards an individual that may or may not deserve retribution. You will never hear NSYNC’s ‘Bye Bye Bye’ the same way again.

Currently screening in theatres nationwide.

8. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

The year of Ryûsuke Hamaguchi will no doubt culminate in an Oscar for his critically beloved Drive My Car (2021), a film that no doubt would’ve been on my list if it was released in time (the film is not slated to release in Australia until February), but I hope the success of that film does not cloud the achievement of Hamaguchi’s other release of the year, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.

This extraordinary short film triptych floats elegantly through ideas of love, chance, and opportunity in three 40-minute short films that have stuck with me longer than most other films this year. You will bring yourself to each story and each viewer will no doubt have a different personal favourite with mine being the second story “Door Wide Open”, a compelling story that may have been my favourite film of the year if it was stretched into a feature.

Will hopefully be available online soon.

7. Pig

What originally sounded like a Nic Cage led John Wick (2014) film set in Portland, eventuated into a deeply human tale of art, creativity, and love set in the intoxicating world of Oregon fine dining. Michael Sarnoski’s feature debut Pig has the feel of a grizzled vet reflecting on a long career, making it all the more impressive and rewarding to watch. A name to keep an eye on for years to come.

Currently available on home-video and on-demand services.

6. The Velvet Underground

The film I have thought about more than any other this year. Director Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground has crafted an immersive world of 60s New York counterculture on the immortal band that had little to no live performances captured on film, whilst never feeling this absence. Haynes is one of the best working American directors and has crafted one of his most complete works celebrating his favourite band and arts movement. If only it could be seen on the big screen and have the opening credits and ‘Venus in Furs’ wash over a packed theatre.

Currently streaming on Apple TV+

5. Dune

There is an overwhelming visual splendour that can’t be overstated with a film like Dune. In an era of blockbuster cinema dominated by Marvel Studios, the visual flair that Villeneuve developed with the extraordinary Blade Runner 2049 (2017), and has deployed with precision here, is both refreshing and awe-inspiring. Dune is only half of Herbert’s story so rating it as a whole is difficult, but the film works so well on its own to more than earn its place on this list.

Currently screening in theatres nationwide.

4. The Power of the Dog

A striking film from a returning legend, The Power of the Dog is a slow build that creeps under your skin and never leaves. The most anxiety-inducing scene of the year can be found in the film between Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, a piano, and a mocking banjo. Campion weaponises her emotive writing and filmmaking trademarks with a combination of sharp-toothed writing and superb performances that gives the film an off-beat flow that keeps its cards close to the vest and its audiences on the edge of their seat.

Currently streaming on Netflix.

3. The Green Knight

The 2021 released film I’ve rewatched the most, The Green Knight is a well of ideas that is a treat to return to. Each viewing uncovers new elements as well as cementing key moments in this peculiar and deeply rewarding fantasy story that revels in its ambiguity. The director David Lowery’s assuredness throughout the film to be comfortable leaving the audience confused for stretches of Gawain’s quest, knowing the emotionality of the film work as a guide rope through the darkness, is wonderful and all too rare in modern American cinema.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

2. The Worst Person in the World

It’s the quiet moments mixed into the loud ones that make it special. A walk home alone from a party. A conversation with your distant father after he misses your 30th birthday. Taking a friend’s photo as you explore his old apartment building. Joachim Trier’s masterpiece The Worst Person in the World will knock you off your feet early on and send you tumbling down its emotional rapids for its runtime.

His previous film of his “Oslo Trilogy”, Oslo, August 31st (2011) (2006’s Reprise being the first entrant), has a consistent bleakness that slightly calloused the viewing experience, preventing an audience from falling in love with his wonderfully crafted characters. This is not the case with The Worst Person, which mixes humour and pure rushes of love with the ennui that will have you enraptured.

Not enough can be said about Renate Reinsve’s performance as Julie, a truly star-making performance that is by far the year’s best. Where Reinsve shines brightest is when Julie allows herself to be herself, a high we find ourselves chasing with her throughout the film’s 12 chapters. One such moment is the party meeting sequence between Julie and Elvind (Herbert Nordrum); 20 perfectly balanced minutes of the magically intimate waltz of words and emotions that make their inevitable coupling so exhilarating and is among the film’s several transcendent scenes.

For a film with a title like The Worst Person in the World that deploys a post-modern narrator commenting on Julie’s decisions other than merely describing them, Trier has crafted a coming-of-age story that is unbelievably kind and welcoming, which helps the audience feel looked after and willing to give themselves over to the film.

Currently screening at select cinemas.

1. Licorice Pizza

My most anticipated film of the year was always going to feature highly on this list, and Paul Thomas Anderson did not disappoint in this often surprising, frequently hilarious coming-of-age film. Licorice Pizza sees possibly my favourite director loosen his collar and explore ideas of adolescent stagnation whilst never indulging in the nostalgia of his own past. There is no doubt this film will eventually become my most-watched film of the year with an enchanting world that will no doubt grow and evolve as the years go by.

Licorice Pizza is my favourite film of 2021, coming from a filmmaker that feels at his most comfortable while also being able to thrill in equal measure. Anderson is a writer and filmmaker like no other working today. He has created a 70s coming-of-age film with two of the most realised characters of recent American cinema history in Gary and Alana that will live on long in my memory.

Allow this film to wash over you with its gorgeous visuals and recreation of the 70s in The Valley, and find yourself totally engrossed in a story of teenage and early 20s stagnation while searching for your place in the world.

In a year stuck at home with little else to do but take stock of one’s life, it feels only right that the two films that sang to me this year are two that were not these immaculately crafted pieces of artistic achievement but instead worked as mirrors, seeing myself in the eyes of each and every person shown on screen, both their emotional peaks and valleys.

Currently screening at select theatres nationwide.

Honourable Mentions: Zola, Malignant, In the Heights, Azor

Best of 2021: Tom’s Picks

With another year having drawn to a close, Rating Frames is looking back at the best new releases of the last twelve months.

It was a difficult year for the medium, owing to numerous delays and cancellations – these retrospectives would be quite different had MIFF been able to run its full schedule – but there were still some excellent films released that we all wanted to celebrate.

In the first of our end-of-year articles, Tom Parry will be revealing his ten favourite pictures of 2021.

Unlike his fellow critics at Rating Frames, yours truly has spent the last twelve months away from Melbourne, avoiding protracted lockdowns yet also missing frequent visits to his favourite haunts – no theatre in regional Victoria can match the majesty of a communal screening at Nova, nor can any town provide the satisfaction of a post-cinema burger at one of Naarm’s many fried-food eateries.

This author’s temporary relocation has also meant being unable to see many of the titles listed by his two Melburnian counterparts (which shan’t be spoilt… for now) and as such, the following list is of a lesser quality than theirs. But the pictures below are just as worthy of acclaim, and at the very least, offer a more… egalitarian alternative to Arnel and Darcy’s choices.

10. My Name is Gulpilil

The passing of its main subject in November has given even further resonance to this pick, which was always intended to be his final on-screen appearance; yet even without that knowledge, My Name is Gulpilil remains one of 2021’s best, being a poignant, stirring narrative told by David Gulpilil himself – one that is open, honest and never shies away from his demons. It’s nothing short of a fitting, touching finale to a fixture and icon of the Australian screen.

Currently available on home-video and on-demand services.

9. Lupin III: The First

Here’s one that hasn’t been covered on Rating Frames, nor anywhere else by this author until now. Given a limited, brief theatrical release here last January – 13 months after debuting in its native Japan – Lupin III is (ironically) the umpteenth feature-length adaptation of the famed manga series; but it is The First to be drawn and animated via computer-generated imagery, looking fantastic whilst remaining true to the original designs of the manga. Witty, energetic and slightly absurd, it’s an adventure well worth seeking.

Currently available on Blu-Ray and select on-demand services.

8. The Mitchells vs. The Machines

Sony Pictures Animation is possibly the only studio countering the unassailable dominance of Disney and Pixar right now – where the Mouse House and its subsidiary are producing movies more formulaic than the last, Sony is taking the opposite approach and releasing films that are unique to all others, including their own. There’s much to love about The Mitchells vs. The Machines, chiefly an inimitable art-style and zippy animation, both of which need a large screen to be truly appreciated. (We want that theatrical release, Sony!)

Currently streaming on Netflix and available on DVD.

7. The Suicide Squad

It should come as no surprise to know that James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is irrefutably better than David Ayer’s similarly-titled, hapless adaptation; indeed, the more surprising feat is how entertaining Gunn’s film is in its own right, not only besting DC’s recent output in terms of action, humour and heart, but also a majority of instalments in the MCU. Eccentric in nature and distinctive from the competition, it’s a gratifying alternative to the superhero norm.

Currently available on home-video and on-demand services.

6. Nitram

Director Justin Kurzel is no stranger to telling controversial stories, making him the ideal candidate to helm a feature about one of the most chilling events in Australia’s history. Just like his past work, Nitram sees Kurzel handle the sensitive material with restraint and grace, yet he doesn’t shy away from confrontation, demonstrating the brave, bold style of film-making that has been lacking in our industry of late. Be sure to watch for the turns of Judy David and Caleb Landry Jones as well.

Currently streaming on Stan.

5. Judas and the Black Messiah

A biographical drama that benefitted from a delayed and extended Awards season, as well as a powerful debut from an African-American director. There’s an enormous degree of nuance to Shaka King’s Judas, which never defines its characters as good or bad; instead, they’re a group of complex, fluid individuals who constantly evaluate their allegiances and question their choices. And of course, it’s lead by three of the finest actors of their generation, all of whom put forward captivating performances.

Currently available on home-video and on-demand services.

4. Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time

The highest-grossing theatrical release of 2021 in Japan, and with good reason. Hideaki Anno bids farewell to his medium-defining franchise by instilling Thrice Upon a Time with all the usual hallmarks – think philosophical screenplay, exquisite animation, haunting imagery, and majestic soundtrack – while easing back on the bleakness and rectifying the drawbacks of its predecessors. The result is a feature-length anime that ranks not only as the best animated picture of the year, but one of the greatest ever made.

Currently streaming on Prime Video.

3. Minari

A darling of Sundance and another latecomer to the 2020 Oscar race, it wasn’t until February of 2021 that the majority of Australians got to experience Lee Isaac Chung’s drama. Those fortunate enough to see Minari were treated to some astonishing performances from a gifted cast; and a pensive narrative, one that will particularly resonate with migrants regardless of where they’ve hailed from, or where they live now.

Currently available on home-video and on-demand services.

2. Summer of Soul

This music documentary and directorial debut of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson very narrowly misses out on the top spot in this list, its only faults being some questionable choices for interview subjects, and the varying quality of concert footage. Otherwise, Summer of Soul is close to perfect, an insightful and compelling documentary about African-American pride that doubles as a showcase for the greatest musicians of an era gone by, such as Mavis Staples and Mahlia Jackson (pictured above).

Currently streaming on Disney+.

1. Spider-Man: No Way Home

As an unabashed fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and to a lesser extent, the Spider-Man films – this was always guaranteed to be a personal highlight of 2021; yet even with the enormous hype surrounding it, Jon Watts’ threequel was still able to exceed expectations. No Way Home serves as a tribute to its forebears, drawing inspiration from their examples whilst also functioning as the perfect denouement to three separate franchises, all while not forgetting to be a fun, moving and thrill-laden blockbuster.

Currently screening in theatres; available on home-video March 23rd.

Honourable Mentions: Last Night in Soho, Dune, West Side Story, Amphibia: True Colours