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

Hit the Road is a Road Trip Worth Savouring 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Road trip comedies have always been an effective vehicle for cinema, especially for low-budget indie filmmaking. Forcing a collection of people, whether it be friends, family, or strangers, into a contained space for long stretches of time allows comedy and drama to play out in unique ways, assuming the dialogue is airtight. 

A gorgeously written, confident, and assured debut by the son of famed Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi, Hit the Road (2021), wipes away any thought of nepotism in its opening frames. The film feels deeply personal to the story of the Panahi family but is never weighed down by their history. This is due to the film being a comedy-focused film used to buoy not just the scenes, but also the characters who are using humour to hold the serious nature of their trip at bay.

What stands out immediately with the film is the beautifully realistic direction of a family, all with specific, nuanced dynamics that play out in an always engrossing comic drama. Panahi mines the relationships between all four characters to their emotional core with impressive brevity. So many debuts suffer from over-explaining plots or character motives that bog down strong scripts, something Panahi has seemingly mastered already.

Hit the Road operates with such economical storytelling through its extraordinary collection of performances, with a true firecracker from Rayan Sarlak as the 9-year-old brother. The way the family interact with him is a constant source of humour, with a late scene suggesting that the father gets up earlier and earlier each morning to get some time away from his manic energy. 

Mohammad Hassan Madjooni, Pantea Panahiha, and Rayan Sarlak in Hit the Road. Screening provided by Rialto Distribution.

Compositionally, the film is gorgeous and begs to be seen on the big screen. Panahi and cinematographer Amin Jafari capture both the sprawling vistas and confined car sequences with a considered lens. They allow the emotion and tension to play out in contrast in these two locations; the vistas allow the weather and distance to exude emotion, while the confined interiors of the car force us into the family trip and all of its complications.

There is an engrossing amount of ambiguity as to the situation of the family, something that is only amplified by their hesitancy to talk about it at all that is true to their dynamic. The comedy is at the forefront of the film, with Sarlak’s performance as its engine. Even in scenes where he isn’t the focus, his presence is never absent.

Panahi plays not just with what’s seen and not seen in terms of mise en scene, but also with the edges of the family’s story. There is a confidence in the piecemealing out of the family’s backstory, knowing that the strong dialogue and performances will keep the audience engaged instead of focusing purely on the mystery of their trip.

But that mystery is what heightens so many scenes. It works as the riveting narrative pull, running through the entire film, asking us why. Why is this family on a road trip? Why is the mother so concerned as to bury her 9-year-old son’s phone on the side of the road? Why is the driver so crippled with apparent anxiety as to barely speak in the first act? Panahi stretches these questions out, allowing us to peer into the window of this family’s lives and our imagination to run wild with ideas, all within the confines of their small car.

Hit the Road is one of the year’s best films, and a powerful debut to remember. It works as a political thriller, road trip comedy, and family drama all at once, with a keen eye for cinematic storytelling. With a standout cast that is sure to make a star out of Sarlak, this is a trip you don’t want to miss.

Hit the Road is in select cinemas now.