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Anyone who would claim that cinema is dead in 2022 was either paying way too much attention to the trades’ Monday-morning theatrical gross reports or wasn’t looking very hard. There were great movies all over the place.

What was most exciting to me in 2022 (and kinda funny in year where my favorite cinematic instigator, Spike Lee, didn’t release anything) was the stream of rip-roaring, bald-faced honesty I saw on display. Post-pandemic, with Covid restrictions loosed enough for them to stop holding their breath, filmmakers let all their pent-up frustrations fly. Turning a critical eye on our histories, current existences, and possible futures makes for good art, and we got to see artists throw those “what the hell are we doing here?” questions out to their audience.

At the same time, highlights of my 2022 film-watching year were a few older masterpieces I finally got around to seeing. Chief among those was Michael Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE, a legendary bomb whose name became synonymous with mega-budget disaster. I spent the entire three-hour-and-thirty-six-minute director’s cut with my jaw on the floor, alternately weeping, raging or gawking in spellbound wonder. HEAVEN’S GATE is not only the most unfairly maligned movie in history, I’d say it ranks with the greatest historical epics ever filmed. My personal theory? In 1980, flush with Reagan’s election, America wasn’t in the mood for Cimino’s unflinching detail of a very ugly chapter in our country’s history, encompassing xenophobia, racism, financial oppression and state-sanctioned violence. Since those issues are, you know, still with us, I urge anyone who hasn’t seen this movie to ignore its reputation and seek it out: HEAVEN’S GATE is the whole package, gloriously designed, shot and realized. And features one of the best Isabelle Huppert performances in her catalog, which ain’t no faint praise.

I also watched two movies for the first time that, on reflection, seem like two sides of the same gender-roles coin: Martin Scorsese’s RAGING BULL and Chantal Akerman’s JEANNE DIELMAN, 23, QUAI DU COMMERCE, 1080 BRUXELLES, both of which ended up on Sight & Sound’s once-a-decade critics poll of the 100 greatest movies ever made. While I find any list of 100 Greatest Films that doesn’t feature the words “Titanic” or “Jaws” immediately suspect, the placement of JEANNE DIELMAN in the top spot was shocking, at least to film geeks like me who follow this stuff. And now, after feeling too intimidated to watch this 200-minute butt-tester previously, I understand why it was chosen: as with every other movie in S&S’s top ten (including my beloved MULHOLLAND DR), JEANNE DIELMAN is like no movie you’ve ever seen, nor ever will again. And, turns out, its examination of the quiet desperation found in an ordinary woman’s repetitive, near-invisible existence is right up my alley. Same with RAGING BULL, the definitive portrait of why and how Men Are Not Okay. Currently demonized – at least in liberal quarters – as the source of all global ills, white, straight men get just as screwed by the roles they are condemned to play as anyone else. Women like Jeanne Dielman are only allowed to express domestic subservience until they implode or snap, and men like Jake LaMotta are only allowed to express anger and violence given the macho culture in which they were raised. I sat in stunned silence after the final shot of JEANNE DIELMAN; I was in tears at the finale of BULL. The last expression on Jeanne’s face is the only time we see her with any peace; Jake just doubles down on the self-delusion that got him to the lost, lonely place he ends up. While I can’t recommend these two as a feel-good double feature, I can guarantee they will change your perspective, on filmmaking, masculinity, and femininity. They definitely changed mine.

2022 was also the year that two of my favorite films by two of my favorite filmmakers got included in the National Film Registry: Dee Rees’ PARIAH and Marlon Riggs’ TONGUES UNTIED. If you haven’t already, go watch them right now.

As for this year’s crop of newbies, bear in mind that any list of the 10 Best Anything is always subject to the taste of the person writing it, so rather than speaking in hoity-toity terms about why this or that film is a masterwork, I’m more inclined to impart why I connected with these particular movies, was galvanized by them, moved by them, or just got the stuffing entertained out of me by them. I have not seen every movie released in 2022 – how could anyone? – and there are plenty still on my checklist to watch (SAINT OMER, RETURN TO SEOUL, EO, and ALL THAT BREATHES are next in line). The films below may not objectively be The Best, but they were my favorites.


Like my personal pick for Sexiest Movie of All Time, Nagisa Oshima’s IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES, what makes the newest version of CHATTERLEY relentlessly hot is not the abundant nudity and no-holds-barred physicality of the sex scenes, but the palpable chemistry between stars Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell. Sex is fun! Sex is playful! Sex is liberating! What I will remember most from director Laure de Clermont-Tonnere’s take is not the heavy-breathing but the joy, and this is the first adaptation that comes anywhere close to the D.H. Lawrence of Ken Russell’s WOMEN IN LOVE, enraptured by the natural world and suspicious of anything that might be called “civilization.”


Let’s call 2022 the year of Eat the Rich at the movies, and I don’t know that I had a more deliciously nasty, morally superior time in theaters than watching these four hilarious satires. This quartet kept upping the stakes, and the outrageousness, until third-act twists that underlined how ridiculous – and, as Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc spits, stupid – contemporary self-appointed tastemakers actually are. Social media influencers, tech bros, billionaires, foodies, politicians, narcissists of all ages: no one is spared, and watching them all get theirs made a supremely satisfying time at the movies for those of us forced to live in the culture they hath wrought. As an added bonus, we got my personal pick for funniest supporting performance of the year via Kate Hudson (“It’s just a lamp!”). Welcome back, girl, we missed ya.


True confession: I only saw the original TOP GUN once, back when I was 11, and it made little impression. The movie of 1986 for me was ALIENS, which has since cemented itself as my favorite film of all time, so I was pretty indifferent to the idea of a decades-later TOP GUN sequel. Why, then, did I spend almost the entirety of MAVERICK with tears streaming down my face? You don’t get a movie this emotional without those intervening decades -- Tom Cruise and Jennifer Connelly’s ageless visages notwithstanding -- and the moment when Cruise stands outside the bar, looking in on new-generation leading men Miles Teller and Glen Powell, I felt I was watching the queasy, heartbreaking final shot of THE SEARCHERS all over again. Unlike John Wayne, Cruise is welcomed back into the fold. Or is he? Life, and Hollywood, goes on, and the fact that three-time Oscar nominee Cruise’s current successes are all based on brainless action movies he made decades ago left me with a tart aftertaste in my mouth and a lump in my throat.


The David Fincher/Christopher Nolan mash-up I didn’t know I needed, THE BATMAN instantly became my favorite Dark Knight movie of all time, this being the only superhero franchise I continue to watch. (I haven’t bought a ticket to a Marvel movie since the original BLACK PANTHER, and that was an anomaly even then.) What I find so refreshing about THE BATMAN is that it offers no solutions to our fucked-up, violent world, just an even-handed depiction of how three very different characters – Batman, Catwoman, the Riddler – respond to that world. As Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne literally drive off in different directions at the end of the movie, we find ourselves left with those same options. Not very upbeat, but honest, which is why I don’t see Marvel movies anymore. No superhero is coming to save us if we won’t exert any energy to save ourselves.


For pure spectacle, these two films served notice to both Marvel and DC to seriously up their games. The most amusing complaint I kept reading about the new AVATAR from cranky critics was “The story is so been-there-done-that,” even though in the 13 years between original and sequel, we’ve continued to destroy the earth, subjugate whole populations of people, and only grown more vicious and violent as a species; clearly the message bears repeating. For its part, RRR goes as batshit-bananas as no movie since FURY ROAD has gone, and proves just as fun, delivering one tough-to-top set piece after another. Oh, and for those distracted by the eye candy, there are very clear bad guys in these crowd-pleasers, and they ain’t the people of color, blue or otherwise.


If HEAVEN’S GATE was unfairly maligned in its time, then my choice for the 2022 member of that club is Olivia Wilde’s sophomore effort. As with Cimino’s film, I got the feeling that critics were reviewing the offscreen shenanigans happening around the movie than the movie itself, which dazzled with its visuals, sound design and editing while asking us to look hard at what we idealize – or romanticize – from 20th century culture. Perhaps my favorite ending of 2022? Translation: Wake. The Fuck. Up.


In terms of content, form and style, you couldn’t find two different movies than these, but there were some striking commonalities uniting them. One: an air of existential dread hangs over the lead characters that ultimately leads to internal and external chaos. Two: those lead characters are brought to multi-dimensional (see what I did there?) life by career-high performances from two veteran actresses – Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh – well past ingenue age. The lives of these women are the sum total of the choices they’ve made or make in real time, and both are cautionary tales. Talk about flipping the scripts: the genre piece becomes a family drama, the character study becomes a horror movie, and both demand repeat viewings. Even if these two weren’t my number one for the year, they are the films I’d put in the time capsule under “What did it feel like to live in 2022?”


And here’s where my selections get really personal. More than any other movie I saw this year, this was the one I wish I’d made. Its unsentimental tone, its rough edges, its whole cinematic vocabulary felt like what’s in my brain when I go back and read scripts I’ve written in the past few years. Plus, it does what I’ve always wanted to do as an independent filmmaker: tell a pointed story about desperation and transformation in the guise of a gritty (preferably L.A.-set) modern noir, one that also gives a possibly underestimated actor the role of their career. EMILY delivered on all of those fronts, and I nominate Aubrey Plaza as a dark horse Oscar contender who holds her own right alongside Blanchett and Yeoh.


Existential crises abounded this year – both on film and in my own household – but no other movie depicted such by focusing on the character who desperately wants to maintain the status quo rather than the one(s) experiencing the crisis. BANSHEES conveys that moment of upheaval when one person wants to evolve, while the other only wants to stay the same. I’ve experienced this conflict in many friendships over the years: if you’re the person who wants to keep learning, growing and changing, you often feel like you’re speaking a completely different language than the person opposite you. Which might make you want to chop off your own fingers in frustration just to spite them. (I once heard a modern spiritual guru argue that death is an easy process; birth is the traumatic one.) You either feel every beat of this movie in the depths of your soul, or you’re just as confused as the protagonist played by a beautifully bewildered Colin Farrell, mourning the loss of a connection he never really had in the first place, without ever knowing why.


There was a point in Laura Poitras’ documentary about artist and activist Nan Goldin in which the ground shifted for me, and I realized I was watching the story of two very different Americas, maybe two different planet Earths for the entirety of human history. There’s a truth expressed here Goldin seems to accept even as she uses all her considerable energy to rail against it: that “justice” only exists for the minority who are wealthy and/or powerful, most of whom seem to lose their souls on the way to that designation. The best that the marginalized masses can hope for are quiet moments of communion, small acknowledgements of our lives and deaths before the camera turns elsewhere. There is more narrative action in one of Goldin’s raw, curious, compassionate photographs than occurs in most feature-length films; more character-specific details; more “world-building.” For me, this film wasn’t just my favorite of 2022, it was fucking seismic: a no-bullshit-allowed reckoning; a validation of my own experience; and a reminder of how little I still know or understand about my fellow human beings, even the ones I see every day. When I got home from watching this movie, my husband asked me what it was about. I paused, lost for words, then said, “...Everything, really.”

Postscript: I didn’t include Charlotte Wells’ AFTERSUN on this list, even though it provoked the most intense emotional reaction. I lost my own father years ago, also unexpected, also violent. And I was left feeling like he barely let us in to the workings of his own head, his doubts, his personal searching, all the questions I never heard him ask or the regrets he never expressed. AFTERSUN exposed my anger at him and my confusion at what he left behind, which was revealing, but not fun, and I don’t ever want to see that movie again.

In the end, I suppose that’s what makes a movie great: not whether it inspires like or dislike, but the specific mix of emotions it conjures in us. I’ll remember 2022 as the year alternative, hidden histories pushed their way up through the dirt, forcing us all to question what we knew – or thought we knew – about the world around us, what we’ll accept, and what, hopefully, we can change.


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