It has been a year of returns. A full return to the magic of cinema after lockdown; the return of the caped crusader; the return of Jordan Peele's social commentary; the return of Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell; and most importantly, the return of Ke Huy Quan.
In honour of Short Round's glorious re-emergence, the team at FilmHounds have ranked their top films of 2022 and crunched it into a definitive top 10. One rule: it needed to have a UK cinematic release in the calendar year of 2022 (before you scream, Pearl unfortunately falls into the 2023 box).
As 2023 beckons, and the (often) hopeless tide of reboots, prequels and sequels washes over the screen, remember that there are original films from Nolan, Gerwig, Scott and Scorsese just over the horizon. But for now, let us reflect on 2022 and the very best it had to offer.
It was only in 2016 that director Park Chan-wook released his deliciously entertaining erotic thriller The Handmaiden, but for those of us anxiously anticipating his big-screen follow-up it's felt like a lifetime. This year, we were finally rewarded for our patience with Decision to Leave, a detective mystery that slowly reveals itself as a tragic tale of obsessive love — and as one of the filmmaker's best yet.
The plot concerns a Busan-based detective, Hae-Jun (Park Hae-il), a workaholic and insomniac who only sees his wife once a week. When a wealthy businessman is found dead at the foot of a mountain, Hae-jun must investigate whether the fall was accidental or not — and whether the man's enigmatic young widow, Seo-rae (Tang Wei), had anything to do with it. It's not long before the lines between Hae-Jun's professional and personal interest in Seo-rae become dangerously blurred.
Apart from anything else, Decision to Leave is an absolute filmmaking masterclass, deploying innovative camerawork, fluent editing, and demonstrating a total command of widescreen composition. At times it feels like Park is showing off, and it's difficult to begrudge him for it; there's an early scene that takes place in an interrogation room between the leads, and the number of creative ways the director finds to frame the pair is astonishing. The film's noirish, Vertigo-riffing narrative hardly breaks new ground, but any film as thrillingly sensual — and then devastating— as this one is surely an instant classic.
There is no doubt that Robert Eggers has joined the list of directors whose first three films are a resounding success, with Jordan Peele since joining the same elite group. Eggers rounds out a trifecta of ambitious films with a blockbuster of epic proportions. The Northman honours the idiosyncratic direction of his earlier features while embracing new scope and grandeur. Loosely based on the story Amleth, which was later adapted into Hamlet by Shakespeare, his iteration is soaked in Scandinavian blood and violence.
Alexander Skarsgård plays the titular role with zeal, depicting a bloodthirsty Beowulf in a visceral tale of revenge and tangible fate. Joined by acting heavyweights Kidman, Hawke and Taylor-Joy, the meticulous design of Eggers' story is imagined with a delectable force that crushes the viewer and evokes a base feeling of savagery. Amleth roaring around a dusk fire before besieging a helpless village sets a primal tone which underpins the remaining barbarous runtime.
The bulk of The Northman is based in Iceland but shot on location in Northern Ireland. The seraphic, celestial shots denoting Valhalla and Scandinavian folklore are balanced against sprawling vistas with a limited palette. Amleth embraces slavery, sails stormy seas and fights in the crucible of an erupting volcano in his mission to confront his regicidal Uncle Fjölnir. It is impossible not to become drawn into the authenticity of every shot, making The Northman a beacon of modern escapism.
When you think about it, it's rather dumbfounding that The Batman feels so fresh and original. After all, it has the same dark and gritty tone as The Dark Knight, along with the realistic take on the characters and lore, taking inspiration from the same comic books, all the way down to the Alfred from East London. Let's not forget too that it has pretty much the same plot as Se7en and even has scenes that are copied and pasted from that film. With all of the above though, The Batman remains one of the most unique and characterful superhero films that western cinema has seen in years. It's by far the most beautifully shot and scored comic book caper of 2022, and probably the last decade, owing to Greig Fraser and Michael Giacchino, two of Hollywood's real heroes. It contains at least three Oscar worthy performances from Robert Pattinson, Paul Dano and Zoe Kravitz, among many others. Ultimately though The Batman is the best cure for Marvel Fatigue. While the MCU is filled with amazing content, it's very much the McDonalds of cinema – easy and quick to produce. The Batman is a Byron Burger or Gormet Burger Kitchen, yeah it's still the same sort of thing but it's cooked with care and love. It's a masterpiece that truly understands the characters and themes it's tackling. It deserves all the love it gets and so much more.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Benoit Blanc returns! This time we find him bored in the middle of lockdown, desperate for a new case. Luckily, with the arrival of a mysterious puzzle box, a new mystery is close at hand.
This time around, Blanc becomes entangled with another group of wealthy individuals. They are influential, powerful, and somewhat talented friends who call themselves, ‘The Disruptors'. The dynamics of the friendships are like those of a family. There are secrets and lies that bind them and have the ability to, disrupt, the group, potentially ruining everything they have ever accomplished. Blanc goes along for the ride as there is far more to this island getaway than meets the eye.
Glass Onion is not just about ‘eating the rich.' There are far more underlying and more interesting layers to this onion and the one that feels most potent is about ownership. The story at the heart of this murder mystery is about how a woman's work and ideas are stolen from her and a man claims them as his own. This is not a new story as history would show but this practice continues to happen, where women are side-lined and deleted from history (particularly women of colour). The Glass Onion hence reveals its true story.
Rian Johnson goes even further in all aspects of the film. Where we had a traditional set up of a Cluedo-like house and family conflicts, we have a gigantic glass onion at the centre of a privately owned Greek island. The setting is more exotic, the characters more outlandish and perhaps even more stereotyped than before, and the Mona Lisa even makes an appearance, but the story is still so carefully crafted it could only be made by Johnson. Fans of murder mysteries and Johnson's style will absolutely love this instalment in the hopefully ever-expanding Blanc universe, in fact, anyone can enjoy this mystery thrill ride, it's not for a selective few.
Writer/director Charlotte Wells' debut feature is a tender, personal story of a father-daughter holiday set sometime in the late 1990s. Amongst a dilapidated Turkish resort – one that should feel amusingly familiar to those who holidayed around this time – we meet young father Calum (Paul Mescal), who is separated both from his child's mother and his daughter's everyday life. The holiday seems to be a last-ditch attempt for Calum to connect meaningfully with his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall), before she can break out into almost-adulthood.
With Sophie on the cusp of discovery, Calum's internal troubles begin to invade the edges of this story, as if light infiltrating a camera's chamber. Yet his depression only brushes up against us, with Calum proving to no one except himself, and perhaps the shop's owner, that he can afford to buy an expensive Turkish rug. A show of redundant masculinity that delicately displays Wells's story of crushing realism. Whilst loving and idealistic, Calum seems under-prepared for a world filled with challenging responsibility.
Through a stylistically interesting and daring edit from Blair McClendon, the film reveals an older Sophie, looking back at the faded memories of her past in a heart-breaking reappraisal of her and her father's youth. It plays out like a hazy memory, beautifully pieced together with pictures, video, nostalgia and devastating hindsight. But Aftersun's touching finale is one that will not fade quickly…
It is always a special moment when you come across a film that you know in an instant is one you'll return to, and one that will mean something different upon each revisit later in life. Joachim Trier's beguiling The Worst Person in the World is one such film. Following the wayward life of the 20-something Julie (the enchanting Renate Reinsve), the Oslo-set film is a lightening in the bottle expression of millennial ennui told with a cracking sense of humour, profound emotion and bucket loads of empathy. As it grapples with themes of hedonism vs responsibility, it captures moments that feel like they could last for infinity, all the while underscoring it with the harsh truth that nothing in this life can last forever.
Reinsve is at the centre of every moment and is wondrous company throughout as Julie tries to lay tracks for the future, struggling to figure out who she is while contending with the expectations that others have of her, from her family to friends and lovers. We can all likely relate to that frustration, of not quite finding the shoe that fits despite our best efforts. The Worst Person in the World is a film that says to enjoy the mess, and that no matter how hard life gets, there will always be a lesson to be learned.
In an era of moviemaking where the blockbuster landscape is dominated by massive superhero flicks, Top Gun: Maverick came along and injected some adrenaline into big-budget filmmaking. It's a film that fires on all cylinders from start to finish by displaying fantastic action but also having a heartfelt story, thereby becoming one of the year's most-watched movies!
The aerial photography captured by Claudio Miranda is nothing short of breathtaking and helps keep the action scenes relentless, jarring but also exciting. Even the scenes that aren't in the air look stunning and are filled with vibrant colours.
The performances across the board are amazing. Tom Cruise and Miles Teller are the clear standouts but everyone has a moment to shine and Val Kilmer's scene truly is a memorable one.
Top Gun: Maverick is a rare breed of a blockbuster. All the action is practical, making it to be a jaw-dropping experience, while also having an emotional side to it that will resonate with many. Cruise's performance here is one of his best and the action sequences are some of the best in the last few years. It may be one of 2022's finest films but it's also a future classic and one of the best sequels of all time; Joseph Kosinski has solidified himself as a masterful director!
Since his debut Jordan Peele has become one of the biggest names in cinema, commanding substantial hype before any of his films come to release. Luckily, his third outing, the enigmatically named Nope, is a resounding success. In a year of legacy sequels, franchise fodder and a surprisingly barren summer Peele's horror-thriller was just what audiences needed. Looking at man's relationship with spectacle and our desire to watch things unfold no matter how grisly, Peele expertly uses big budget CGI to tell a story of epic intimacy.
Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer carry the film as movie heritage siblings trying to come to terms with the death of their father and the industry that uses animals for entertainment, while Steven Yeun expertly plays a supporting role that looks at how trauma can be commodified. The film is ripe for discussion, deconstruction and perhaps best multiple viewings.
Peele's precise direction along with Michael Abels' fantastic score underline a film that lets people use their intellect to deconstruct its more out-there ideas, but ultimately Peele shows himself as a visionary filmmaker who can bring back styles from years gone by. If Get Out was Ira Levin, and Us was Kubrick, this is full throttle Spielberg via Peele's own style.
Whatever he does next is going to have a massive mountain to climb to be as good as his three previous films but if anyone can do it, Peele can
The Banshees of Inisherin is a must see of 2022, and is at once hilarious, heart-breaking, and compelling in a way few films manage to balance. Martin McDonagh has never made a bad film, but this exploration of the breakdown in male friendship between Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) is arguably his finest work, and a topic we haven't really seen explored much in cinema. For obvious reasons The Banshees of Inisherin is reminiscent of McDonagh's In Bruges, also starring Farrell and Gleeson, one of the best dark comedies out there. The Banshees of Inisherin is somehow even more tragic, where Colin Farrell's characters seem to always get the short straw. But this movie is also very different; the humour is more understated and the tragedy bleak and persistent. Throughout the movie the characters have both hilarious and uncomfortable encounters with the mysterious Mrs McCormick, who is perhaps the eponymous banshee, seeming to signal tragedy with each appearance. These encounters serve to ground the characters in the context of this isolated community, and also offer moments of reflection for the audience, as well as a general eeriness at the sight of the foreboding old lady. Tragedy follows her, and she is inescapable on Inisherin.
It is difficult to understand many of the actions of the main characters, despite a friendship breakup being something almost everyone will have gone through, their actions do seem quite extreme. Perhaps this is a product of the remoteness of their home on an isle as harsh as it is beautiful, or of Colm's mental illness and Pádraic's naivety, but the performances are outstanding and the dialogue so heart-breaking that we do not question their extreme actions perhaps as much as we could. We feel terrible for both characters, as well as poor Dominic, a local boy who is abused by his father and befriends Pádraic (Barry Keoghan) during this period, but feel glimmers of hope in the enduring kindness and sense of humour, in particular through Dominic and Pádraic's sister Siobhán, played by Kerry Condon, as well as the adorable animals Pádraic devotes himself to. Siobhán is one of the most likeable characters, the only level-headed one at least, and is tragically the only one who escapes this fictitious Irish isle unscathed, even in the context of the Civil War. There is no way to fix things for the characters, something the audience has to grapple with along with the characters – there is no answer, but there are better ways to navigate these situations. Pádraic wants his friend, Colm to devote himself to his music, Siobhán to feel fulfilled, and Dominic to be accepted and loved, and tragically none of these wants are compatible with those of the others, and the audience feels deeply for these characters trying to reconcile with these facts.
Everything, Everywhere All at Once
If there's one phrase that gets thrown around a lot in film criticism, it's “you've never seen anything like this before”. However ironic that may be, it speaks volumes about the quality of 2022 cinema that the phrase has been used in abundance: from the epic, over-the-top action of RRR to the WTF horror of Barbarian and the obscene amount of bodily fluids seen in Triangle of Sadness. But there is one film that FilmHounds truly believe to be unlike anything else you've seen before. Everything Everywhere All At Once is exactly what is says on the box: a pop culture smorgasbord of genres and themes from high-octane action, to wacky comedy, tender mother-daughter relationships, LGBTQ+ introspectives, and optimistic nihilism – all presented with a loving heart.
“I got bored one day and put everything on a bagel.”
Little was really known about the film before it exploded onto the scene in early 2022. Directors The Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) were coming off the back of Swiss Army Man, which fared well with critics and festival crowds but struggled to make a splash with general audiences. Farting corpses were too much for some people it seems. Having their next project financed and distributed by A24 certainly helped with gaining interest – what with the studio's feverish fans – but it was the trailer that released in December 2021 that set the hype train in motion. In under three minutes the absurdist story pitch and distinct visual style of the film enamoured everyone on social media platforms – but nothing could prepare audiences for the actual experience of watching the film.
Everything Everywhere premiered at South by Southwest back in March and Americans fell in love with the story of Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), the Chinese-American immigrant dealing with taxes, IRS inspectors and the destruction of the multiverse. Word of mouth was so strong that it made us Brits beg for a UK release and we finally got to see it on the big screen in May. With Everything Everywhere currently A24's highest-grossing film and recently garnering multiple award nominations, it's safe to say the film was a hit. And there's a multitude of reasons why it resonated with so many people.
“The universe is so much bigger than you realise.”
When a film quite literally encompasses everything across its two hour twenty minute runtime, it can be difficult to start unpacking it. At surface level though, Everything Everywhere is simply a riotously entertaining time. With The Daniels at the helm, they inject absurdist, black comedy into the film through hilariously straight-faced dialogue (“Raccacoonie taught me so much!”), creative violence (heads exploding into confetti is the tip of the iceberg) and just simply insane concepts brought to life (eating lip balm to access the mind of a parallel version of yourself is the least extreme form of verse jumping). There's a lot of modern pop culture references used throughout the story but they're always tied into the emotional moment or wider narrative, making them feel well-earned, timeless, and all the more funnier.
It helps when delivering truly awesome fight scenes to employ the best martial artists in the business, and you can't go wrong with brothers Andy and Brian Le, Ke Huy Quan and Michelle Yeoh. Acting as two thirds of martial arts club and YouTube channel Martial Club, the Le brothers are self-taught martial artists who not only choreographed fight sequences for Everything Everywhere but also performed on screen too. As talented and experienced as they are, the brothers met their match with Quan – coming back to acting after years of stunt coordinating – and of course martial art legend Yeoh. All four inject comedic but thrilling sequences that evoke classic Hong Kong action flicks – a far cry from typical Hollywood set pieces that rely on spectacle or the now overused John Wick style of choreography and editing.
“I would have really liked doing laundry and taxes with you.”
The stars bring more than entertaining, high-octane action however. Everything Everywhere has let the cast showcase the best of their talents but it has also acted as a personally meaningful project to the core trio of actors in different ways: a breakout role, a highly-anticipated return and a long-overdue star vehicle. The very nature of the story allows Stephanie Hsu, Quan and Yeoh to show off their artistic skills as they play numerous parallel versions of their characters – each showcasing masterful comedic timing and delivery, action chops and emotional depth. It's remarkable that these actors fully commit to the material, that has them fighting with sex toys, to make us feel the overwhelming sense of simply being and to make us cry at the cathartic releases when the character arcs and emotional themes neatly wrap up. Although Hsu has been criminally snubbed by many of the big awards bodies, the fact Quan and Yeoh are dominating awards season in a wacky sci-fi action comedy speaks volumes about the timeless work they've done here.
The secret sauce that binds everything together though is the story and the film's emotional core. It's no surprise that with the film's title and a central theme of optimistic nihilism that Everything Everywhere actually covers a lot of ground. Within the fractured Wang family we see the generational differences – between patriarch Gong Gong (James Hong) and Evelyn, and Evelyn and Joy (Stephanie Hsu) – that also explores the immigrant experience. Joy is the driving force behind the nihilism but also touches on LGBTQ+ issues as she clashes with her mother on coming out to her wider family. And Waymond beautifully reminds us about the power of love and empathy. It's a miracle that so many ideas and themes come together in an earnest way that doesn't feel tacked on – which is testament to the writing and the cast and crew who bring it to life. What other film will have you cry at two rocks non-verbally communicating with each other?
“Please. Be kind.”
Everything Everywhere is the rare film where every production element and department is firing on all cylinders. The production design – particularly with the hand-crafted tech of the Alphaverse – is delightfully endearing, the costume design is wonderfully full of character, the visual effects produced by a handful of people in their homes rival that of the biggest effects houses – I could go on and on. Everything, everywhere in each frame works all at once. Daniels' hit film also feels necessary to watch in this day and age. When day-to-day life is overwhelming and we slip into complete nihilism, Everything Everywhere reminds us that if nothing matters then we have the freedom to choose what does matter and to make the most of that in what little time we have on this rock. Everything Everywhere has, well, everything, that elevates this film beyond the best of the year but a new timeless classic.