My pick for the top film of 2022, Jordan Peele’s UFO attack thriller “Nope,” opens with Old Testament prophecy: “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile and make you a spectacle.”
It makes good on the dire warning — don’t mess with nature, Earthlings!— while also providing the spectacle that was top of mind for many filmmakers this year as they sought to entice moviegoers out of their pandemic hideaways.
The better efforts of the past 12 months, epic dramas like “Nope,” “Bardo,” “TÁR” and even “Top Gun: Maverick,” made me think along with dazzling my eyes.
The worst spectacles just threw stuff at the screen: Damien Chazelle’s Old Hollywood dramedy “Babylon,” one of my least faves of ’22, opens with an elephant defecating on the camera lens and by extension the audience.
The films on my annual Top 10 list offer things to look at rather than away from. Screening/streaming opportunities are listed where available and subject to change:
Yep, there’s a spectacle coming, something in a cloud. Nope, writer/director Jordan Peele isn’t going to explain the paranormal events in the California desert where a sister and brother are struggling to maintain their family’s horse rental business since their father died in strange circumstances. If O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer), can capture “impossible” video footage of the UFO, they can sell it and save their ranch. Terror arrives that may be connected to a horrific back story about a chimp on a killing spree. A survivor of the attack, Jupe (Steven Yeun), now runs a theme park not far from the siblings’ homestead. Peele weaves multiple narrative threads, choosing enigma over the overt racial messages of his earlier films “Get Out” and “Us.” Perfectly puzzling, “Nope” made me want to view it multiple times to parse its clues. It’s the movie I thought about and talked about most in 2022. (For rent or purchase on multiple screening services)
“Something happened.” These words cut through the apparent calm in the early going of Lukas Dhont’s sensitive drama of boys growing up in rural Belgium. What happens from that point changes the movie and the lives within it. “Close” is the story of lifelong pals Léo and Rémi, both 13, played by note-perfect newcomers Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele. They spend idyllic summer days in each other’s company and sleep next to each other like puppies. The quieter Rémi, a musician, spends much time playing the oboe. The more outgoing Léo helps out on his family’s chrysanthemum farm. Then school comes and Rémi and Léo are teased and bullied for their close bonds. It’s the start of lives unravelling; our empathy holds fast. (Opens Feb. 3 at TIFF Bell Lightbox)
Todd Field has much on his mind: cancel culture, betrayal, the demands of fame and Mahler’s “Fifth Symphony.” They collide to make Field’s first film in 16 years a fidgety narrative and a disorienting watch. Fortunately, the title tornado, Lydia Tár, is anchored by the essential Cate Blanchett. As head of the Berlin Philharmonic, Lydia enjoys privileges not granted to most. She expects others to obey and satisfy her, often sexually (all off-camera), giving little heed to the effect her affairs have on her life partner, Sharon (Nina Hoss), and her loyal and adoring assistant, Francesca (Noémie Merlant). Lydia abuses the “robots” around her and declares that time stops and starts when she waves her baton. She’s about to find out that karma is a beast, too. (For rent on Apple TV)
Decision to Leave
Park Chan-wook’s neo-noir about an obsessed cop and a widow of deadly suspicion operates in the misty realm between sleep and wakefulness. The cop, played by Park Hae-il, is an insomniac homicide detective who isn’t easily fooled, except perhaps in matters of the heart. The widow, played by China’s Tang Wei (of Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution”), seems far too sanguine about her mountaineering husband’s death. I felt shivers of “Vertigo” and “In the Mood for Love,” plus an intense desire to see it again. Park encourages such close inspection: every frame is like a painting, with hints to character motivation and plot twists. “Decision to Leave” won Park the Best Director prize in May at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where it had its world premiere. (Streaming on MUBI; for purchase on Apple TV)
A vacation takes on magical meaning in this feature debut by Charlotte Wells, set mainly in the late 1990s. Paul Mescal plays drifting dad Calum and winsome newcomer Frankie Corio his daughter Sophie. Attempting to renew bonds following a parental marital split, Calum, a boyish 30, and Sophie, old for her 11 years, are marvellously expressive, their back stories more hinted at than explained. Their time together at a Turkish resort is like any such holiday in the sun. But Calum is silently fighting depression while Sophie struggles with her transition from girl to woman. Writer/director Wells frames the past by way of the memories of a now grown-up Sophie, as she looks back on faded photos and pixelated camcorder footage. “Aftersun” travels through time and place straight to the heart. (Streaming/renting TBA)
The Banshees of Inisherin
If anybody ever threatens to chop off their fingers if you won’t STFU, take them seriously and mind their sheepdog. This great yarn by Martin McDonagh about men on an Irish island who have ceased speaking to each other features a joyous-but-not-happy reunion of McDonagh’s “In Bruges” stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. Their characters, lifelong pals Pádraic and Colm, become violently estranged when one declares the other dull. Pádraic’s sister (a delightful Kerry Condon) thinks they’re both daft. Reality intrudes as the guns of civil war sound across the water on the mainland. If there’s any message to the film, it’s the caution that small insults left unsettled can lead to bigger and more dangerous battles. (Screening at the Cineplex Varsity and other GTA theatres; streaming on Disney Plus; for purchase on Apple TV)
The great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa used the phrase “cinematic beauty” to describe the deep emotions films arouse. It certainly applies to this impeccably understated English-language adaptation of Kurosawa’s life-affirming 1952 drama “Ikiru,” the story of a man’s 11th-hour redemption. Adapted by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, this remake by Oliver Hermanus is set in 1953 England and stars the inimitable Bill Nighy as a stuffy bureaucrat facing a life crisis. Nicknamed “Mr. Zombie” for his paper-shuffling somnambulism, Nighy’s character must decide whether to choose “yes” or “no” as darkness approaches. The beautiful outcome in both form and spirit makes “Living” an instant classic. (Opens in Toronto theatres Jan. 13; check listings for screenings)
Toronto writer/director Sarah Polley turns fellow Canadian Miriam Toews’ powerful novel of communal violation into an essential cinema inquiry about the meaning of forgiveness, love, justice and faith. It’s a film we must all discuss and think about, inspired by real events — Mennonite women drugged and raped by male members of their community — and informed by #MeToo fury. Strong ensemble acting offers multiple candidates for awards consideration, among them Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy. The women, meeting clandestinely in a hayloft, discuss whether to remain and fight their male assailants, risking censure and violence, or to leave with their children for a new life elsewhere. There’s no easy answer. (Opens Dec. 23 at TIFF Bell Lightbox; expands to other theatres in January)
Top Gun: Maverick
Two miracles are needed for the high-risk bombing mission of the flyboys (and gals) of this vein-popping sequel, directed by Joseph Kosinski. But a third is achieved from the get-go: Tom Cruise and company bring fresh drama and heart to the “Top Gun” tale, exceeding the ’86 original. There’s excellent interplay between Cruise and new characters Rooster (Miles Teller), the angry son of Maverick’s late flying partner, and Penny (Jennifer Connelly), a barkeep who supplies levity and love. There are many callbacks to the original movie, but newcomers won’t have trouble keeping up and the script is a smart improvement on the music video vapidity of its predecessor. But it’s the action that sells the popcorn and this flick really delivers, especially when that “impossible” bombing raid begins. (For rent or purchase on multiple streaming services)
Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths
Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s magical memory tour conveys the disorientation of being caught between worlds: Mexico/America, journalist/participant, parent/child, past/present. It follows the picaresque and often fantastical journey of Silverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), an acclaimed newsman/documentarian who returns to his Mexican homeland after many years of living and working in Hollywood. Even as he basks in career honours, he must come to grips with realities and contradictions in both his birth country and his adopted one, accompanied by his wife (Griselda Siciliani) and kids (Ximena Lamadrid and Íker Sánchez). “Bardo” is an absolute blast, with Darius Khondji’s 65mm cinematography providing spectacle to spare. (Streaming on Netflix)
Five-time Academy Award®-winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu brings us “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths.”
Runners-up (in alphabetical order): “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” “Elvis,” “EO,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “The Fabelmans,” “Falcon Lake,” “Geographies of Solitude,” “Moonage Daydream,” “Navalny,” “Turning Red.”
THREE WORST FILMS OF 2022
“Aline,” the contrived biopic of a fictional Quebec singer who’s “freely inspired” by Céline Dion, is not only the worst movie of 2022. It’s also the year’s weirdest one. Directed, co-written and starring French entertainer Valérie Lemercier, whose ego is apparently boundless, “Aline” poses a question no reasonable person asked: What would happen if a star-struck 57-year-old Céline Dion fan wanted to portray the superstar chanteuse onscreen from age five right up to her late 40s? Avert your gaze from the absurd answer. (For rent on Apple TV)
An over-the-top ode to Old Hollywood, set in the late 1920s, turns into a bad MAD Magazine parody of itself. Margot Robbie is game as an aspiring actor and dedicated partier; so is Brad Pitt as a fading silent film superstar. But both are wasted by a scattershot script. Diego Calva’s immigrant saga and Jean Smart’s journalistic antics impress despite the overall chaos, which includes flung elephant dung and projectile vomiting. Will this come to be known as Damien Chazelle’s folly? I hope so. (Opens Dec. 23 at Toronto theatres)
David O. Russell’s shaggy dog story, stretched over decades and two world wars, is more like a dog’s breakfast. Making “ensemble” seem like a dirty word, he riffs on multiple movie genres with a bandwagon of boldface (including Christian Bale, John David Washington and the unlucky Margot Robbie). Russell might have something serious he wants to say about the rise of American fascism, but he doesn’t know or care how to do it without a whole lot of dopey digressions along the way. (Streaming on Disney Plus; rent or purchase on Apple TV)
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