Welcome to the timely Morning, Roo top ten films of the year. This is the 8th edition of my yearly favourites list. Looking back at previous years, I wonder if I’d change any in retrospect. If I’m honest — perhaps. Tastes and interests evolve, some films age well and others don’t, but you have to capture the moment at some point, and at this point, here are my top ten of 2022.
As always, I try my utmost to keep on top of everything as far as film goes, but I am based in the UK, which means—baring festivals—films such as Babylon and Women Talking won’t show up here until 2023. That said, there has been no shortage of contenders regardless. This year has been a fine one for film, and I’m excited to rundown my picks. As always, this is a subjective list. I am measuring these films through my own personal lens, but I welcome any gripes in the comments!
Please drop by my Letterboxd page for further film endeavours.
Previous Year: 2021.
#10. All Quiet on the Western Front (dir. Edward Berger)
Beginning the list is the third and newest screen adaption of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel, All Quiet on the Western Front. Edward Berger’s film follows the breadth of World War I from a German perspective, as experienced by a group of four school friends and their new comrades, whose romantic view of the war is quickly shattered as they’re thrust into the savage reality of trench warfare in No Man’s Land. As the war rages, German officials attempt to persuade their High Command to agree to an armistice.
All Quiet on the Western Front boasts all the savagery and harshness you might expect from a war picture, capturing in harrowing detail the sheer desolation of conflict, but its abiding quality comes in its more humane moments, with lead actor Felix Kammerer delivering an indelible and empathic performance as the young Paul.
Paul is beaten down from a wide-eyed go-getter to a grieving shadow within the films two and a half hour runtime, yet there is beauty captured in the bleakness; cinematographer James Friend’s lens guiding us through a barren land which, despite itself, frames many humanising and tender moments, which emphasise the tragedy so keenly I could do little than sit in silence and weep as the credits rolled.
#9. Decision to Leave (dir. Park Chan-wook)
At number nine is writer-director Park Chan-wook’s seductive romantic thriller, Decision to Leave. Detective Hae-jun is a touch hard-boiled—he obsesses over a collaged wall of unsolved murders at his home, and disarms a knife wielding combatant with a chainmail glove—but the director describes him as an officer who “carries wet wipes” rather than a gun. Working on his latest murder case, Hae-jun finds himself entranced by the key suspect, the freshly widowed Seo-rae. Detective and suspect combine sleuthing and seducing as they become involved with one another.
Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave is a tantalising pastiche of film noir tropes, with an arresting quality that comes not only through its performances (which are exemplary), but largely through the director’s filmic expertise. Though perhaps (and debatably) not as prepossessing as his 2016 film The Handmaiden, it nonetheless feels like a continued evolution of form.
Park’s use of close-up and focus, of colour and lighting, create a melting pot of style which expound the characters’ emotion and psychology in scene upon scene, building a wonderfully layered and rich viewing experience. Subtle inflections and minute details seem to reside in all components, from the gorgeous dialogue to the creative use of gadgetry. It’s a film which reveals itself slowly, in re-watches and study, and one which abides with a sense of awe in detail.
#8. You Won’t Be Alone (dir. Goran Stolevski)
Moving up is bewitching multinational production You Won’t Be Alone, director Goran Stolevski’s feature debut. The horror-drama film set in 19th century Macedonia follows a mute girl whose sheltered existence is upheaved after she is snatched by a witch. The witch transforms the girl into a witch of her own, allowing her to shapeshift. However, the girl is promptly viewed as a disappointment and is abandoned, leaving her to explore the world independently, whereby she learns about its inhabitants—their emotions, connections, and humanity—by taking over their bodies and living their lives.
The nature of the story in You Won’t Be Alone—that of a mute girl experiencing the world by literally living in other people’s skin—is one which has paved way for a wonderful medley of cast members. Macedonia native Sara Klimoska, Australian Alice Englert, Portuguese Carloto Cotta, and Noomi Rapace from Sweden all play the same character, whose thoughts are delivered only in soft inner monologue. It seemed to me inventive and especially fitting to tell a tale of humanity and identity in such a way with such a collective of actors.
Out of all the films on my list, You Won’t Be Alone was certainly my most pleasing discovery. It’s a striking period piece with a universal heart, with a story delivered like poetry. The visuals, abundant with nature, are captured in all their beatitude so as to become hypnotic alongside the film’s narration. Truly, a refreshing and unforgettable take on folk horror.
#7. The Batman (dir. Matt Reeves)
Matt Reeves’ screen adaptation of The Batman lands at number seven. This new version stars Robert Pattison as the eponymous vigilante, skipping the origin story and beginning two-years into a vocation fighting crime. Tactfully, though, the plot still touches upon Bruce Wayne’s parentage as Pattinson’s character becomes entangled in a web of deep-rooted corruption within Gotham City, with villain The Riddler threatening to enact vengeance of his own.
This is undoubtedly my favourite version of Batman yet, with a Gotham City that is immersive and alive in all its gloomy, musty glory. Pattinson plays a Batman one step from deranged; vampiric and sun-deprived in his day-to-day, the drain of his double life a monkey on his back. It’s a gorgeously realised and cinematic presentation, with a lengthy runtime that allows it to swell to a brilliant crescendo.
The cast inhabit their characters with persuasion and substance, translating from page to screen with great fidelity. Pattinson, Kravitz, Dano, and Farrell are all stand-outs, with the score from Michael Giacchino the cherry on top. The film’s central motif oozes dread, with tracks like ‘The Batman’ underpinning a terrific sense of valiance. It’s a monumental picture both in its undertaking and presentation.
#6. The Fabelmans (dir. Steven Spielberg)
Just skirting on the edge of the top five is Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film The Fabelmans. The film—the first Spielberg has written since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence—chronicles the childhood and young adult life of Sammy Fabelman, whose aspirations to become a filmmaker take shape alongside the conflicts and relationships of his family and school life.
The film opens with a young Sammy Fabelman being taken by his parents to see his first motion picture: Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 film The Greatest Show on Earth. Enraptured by the film’s train crash sequence, he asks for train models from all of his family for Hanukkah, and later uses his dad’s camera to stage his very own recreation of the famous scene. Spielberg captures, with great nuance, the spark of passion. Yet the film is not simply a ‘movie about making movies.’
There is a strong humane tale at the heart of The Fabelmans, chronicling conflicts between the personal and the familial, between talent and expectation, between happiness and responsibility. Spielberg’s camera, and the camera within his camera, explores these themes with a gorgeous eye for detail. We focus staunchly on Sammy, but through the character’s own observations, a wholly empathic account is steadily unfolded, crafting a layered family story that is abiding and altogether moving in its realism and sincerity.
#5. Nope (dir. Jordan Peele)
Marking the half way point is Jordan Peele’s third feature film, Nope. The Haywood family are horse wranglers who sell their services to television and film productions. After the father is mysteriously killed by falling shrapnel in the opening act, son OJ and daughter Emerald begin to encounter more strange occurrences, such as blackouts and horses vanishing. The family soon uncover something of seemingly extraterrestrial origin, and attempt to capture a famed ‘Oprah shot’ of the creature, hoping to sell the footage in order to save their business.
Peele’s new film, like his preceding Get Out and Us, is a mesh of captivating mystery and dread, this time casting an eye on humanity’s obsession with spectacle, which so often builds upon itself like a snowball, endlessly swelling into something impossible to avert from. The original script is loaded with metaphor and reference, crafting a multi-layered assessment on the permanence of and compulsion to pageantry and extravaganza.
As the film unfolds, its atmosphere becomes binding, with grand landscapes and isolated farmhouses framed in the eerie quiet of night, spliced with sparse and ominous footage of a screaming horde nearby, lurking the unsuspecting neighbourhood. The final action-packed act, shot in the midday sun, is fittingly spectacular — taking some inspiration from the imposing dangers in Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s a wild ride with sublime imagery, ending on a beautifully wistful note.
#4. Triangle of Sadness (dir. Ruben Östlund)
At number four is Ruben Östlund’s satirical black-comedy Triangle of Sadness, in which a cruise for the super rich is turned on its head, muddying notions of class structure and hierarchy. When the staff are unable to take no for an answer after one of the affluent passengers demands they take some time off and all whirl down the yacht’s water slide, poorly prepared food and choppy waters that night turn the captain’s dinner service into a stomach churning wasteland.
Triangle of Sadness is, without a doubt, the year’s funniest film. In its second act, grotesque physical humour is mixed with utter pandemonium aboard a luxury yacht, while in the background, two drunken ideologues half-bicker about philosophy over an intercom. It’s a fusion of chaos almost impossible to picture, but it has been committed to screen so expertly that the comedy doesn’t just land, but rather it erupts with unmatched, rapturous effect.
To say too much about its contents will ruin the fun, but each segment is a thoroughly enjoyable satire, poking holes in ideology, hierarchy, privilege, and social roles. It’s very on the nose, with not much in the way of a typical plot, but its mockery is pervasive and effective. Writer-director Ruben Östlund opens the flood gates to invite reflection on social structure and the world’s super rich in ways that are hysterical and absurd, beating out such characters’ usual aggravating context as experienced in the news and on social media. In that way, it’s a breath of fresh air and riotous run in a group setting.
#3. TÁR (dir. Todd Field)
Kicking off the top three is tour-de-force TÁR, written and directed by Todd Field, with a powerhouse of a performance from Cate Blanchett. Blanchett stars as the eponymous Lydia Tár, a world-renowned conductor and composer, with the film charting her fascinating life and ever-compelling downfall as she prepares for an upcoming live recording of Mahler’s 5th Symphony, which she is due to conduct.
Thrusting viewers smack bang into the middle of a high profile interview with Lydia Tár, the film is immediately dense and concentrated on character study — we quickly learn of Tár’s illustrious life and achievements, which seem destined to take their place in the grandiose annals of history. Yet the true study is in what follows, with writer-director Todd Field attentively peeling away the layers (or rather, pulling back the cloak) on Tár’s persona.
Throughout the runtime, we learn that Tár isn’t as straight-laced as her refined interview demeanour would have you believe. The film certainly has a house of cards aspect to it, and watching the mask slip is a superbly gratifying watch, but at its core, the film invites meaty commentary on art versus artist, and whether or not the two can be separated. It’s contemporary in many of its notions, with characters framing their arguments within identity politics and current headlines, but unlike some other films of a similar ilk, it doesn’t feel ham-fisted or artificial. Staggering in its dissection and abundant with subtle detail, TÁR is a sprawling and immense film, which delves into the identity of someone so charismatic and devious with tremendous faculty.
#2. The Banshees of Inisherin (dir. Martin McDonagh)
Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin is at number two. Set on a remote island off the coast of Ireland in the 1920s, the film follows Pádraic and Colm, two (former) friends who find themselves at odds when Colm announces that he simply doesn’t want to associate with Pádraic anymore. Pádraic tries at any cost to repair the relationship, with Colm pushing back ever-drastically, announcing that if Pádraic ever speak to him again, then Colm will cut his own fingers off.
While it is very much led from the front by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin nonetheless sports a fantastic ensemble cast, with villagers all connected through the very remote nature of their dwelling, where they couldn’t avoid somebody even if they wanted to. The island is a gorgeous setting—both inviting and repellent in its solitude—helping to craft the darkly comic aura of its gimcrack neighbourly community.
It’s a multifaceted affair, with many scenes straddling between tragic and hilariously absurd. Although the two leads are very much at odds, director Martin McDonagh doesn’t attempt to sway audiences one way or another. The collapse of a friendship is at its core, but there’s no picking sides. The deceptively simple premise steadily unveils a nuanced and tender tale of legacy and loneliness (as well as a rich survey on obstinate masculinity), ultimately exploring the age old raison d’être. There’s a wistful ambience within the film’s playful cynicism and witty dialogue; an extraordinary feeling of both agape excitement and great sadness at the self-destruction of Inisherin’s lovable dyad.
#1. The Northman (dir. Robert Eggers)
My favourite film of the year is Robert Egger’s viking epic, The Northman, based on the Scandinavian legend of Amleth. Soon after returning from overseas conquests, the viking King of island Hrafnsey is killed by his own brother Fjölnir, who then kidnaps the Queen, snatching the reign for himself. The young prince Amleth manages to escape and vows to avenge his father, save his mother, and kill his uncle Fjölnir. Years later, Amleth manages to track Fjölnir down to a farming community on Iceland, and infiltrates posing as a slave, biding his time.
The Northman is just about everything I hoped from a big budget Egger’s picture — psychological, spiritual, and visceral, all on a grand scale, set amongst Iceland’s terrific peaks. Alexander Skarsgård looks born to play this role, with Amleth hurling himself into jeopardy in order to set his revenge in motion, his very figure a tool for retribution. The desperation and ferocity of his character is ever chilling, with an infectious adrenaline that jumps right from the screen.
Amleth’s tortuous vengeance begins through a series of nightly escapades. One night, he quests for a legendary sword that will aid him in his payback, another he leads a gruesome raid on units of guards unknowingly dosed with hallucinogenic mushrooms. Steadily, he builds the contempt between himself and uncle Fjölnir toward an unforgettable climax.
The action is raw and harrowing, with the revenge toiling and bewitching. Yet for all the earthly grittiness, there remains a distinct Eggers blur between the physical and the spiritual, which works to instil a sublime and ethereal quality throughout the film’s veins, similar in part to last years The Green Knight. Watching it becomes a wonder, as it truly feels a legend rendered cinematic. Seeing the final sequence on the big screen was my most memorable moment from any film this year.