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Distributors don’t know what to do about combating the impact of our streaming platforms. For a year that could have been all about return to the cinema after two whole years stuck at home flicking through Netflix, their lack of promotion of films on the big screen in 2022 was a little underwhelming. 

And yet I’ve sensed how eager audiences have been to return to the cinema. Social media complained when a film released directly to streaming platforms was deemed too good not to have had a run in the theatre. One little indie film on screen exceeded expectations, and the streaming services are starting to show their cracks. 

There is something special about the organic process of finding a new film to watch. Reliance on a streaming service’s algorithm, an arbitrary process that tries to rationalise your likes and dislikes, means that many films get lost in a sea of what the system thinks we want. It’s a flawed system, and more and more filmmakers are losing some of their best works to the notion that an algorithm is more effective than human judgement. 

This year we had new films from Richard Linklater, Steven Soderbergh, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro and Paul Feig. Apple released Cha Cha Real Smooth, a pleasing indie that would have gone gangbusters in 2005. Pixar’s Turning Red was a visual feast that deserved a larger scale showing. And Prey, an almost perfect sequel to Predator, makes an excellent case for being better than the original. How many of these have you watched? How many of them did you even know were available to watch? 

Marketing film watching as a theatre experience seemed to be a dying art this past year. Besides the big superhero franchises, distributors should also have capitalised on the chance to appeal to a new audience. Films that had little to no marketing but garnered rave reviews did not have a chance to breathe life into their audience before they were fast-tracked and lost to the streaming algorithm. 

Is this fair? No, but, as Jurassic Park’s Professor Ian Malcolm tells us, “life finds a way”, and the reaction to Netflix not releasing its sequel to Knives Out in the theatre shows that there is still life in the experience of watching a film on the big screen. 

Kicking off the list of the best of 2022, the honourable mentions: Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion, Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey, Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero, Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers, Claire Denis’ Stars at Noon, Stephen Karam’s The Humans, Robert Eggers’ The Northman, Cooper Raif’s Cha Cha Real Smooth and Uberto Pasolini’s Nowhere Special. I admit that one day in the future I may even regret not including them in the final 10. 

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Top Gun: Maverick

Number 10 – Top Gun: Maverick 

The sequel no one knew they wanted becomes the blockbuster we all needed. Uncompromising filmmaking, made with old-school hunger to entertain. In a decade presided over by big franchises created by committees of producers and content generators, Joseph Kosinski channels his best Tony Scott to do more than what was asked of him. Maverick is about what an older generation must do to pass the baton to the worthy. It’s about Tom Cruise coming to terms with his own mortality while proving that no one can do it like he does. The scene with Val Kilmer alone is worth the price of admission. 

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After Yang

Number 9 – After Yang 

Kogonada’s beautifully melancholic sci-fi drama looks nothing like anything else I’ve ever seen. Its vision of the future is so perfect it’s setting us up for the disappointing realisation that society will never look as good. But beneath this minimalist sterile world bubbles a curiosity about art and culture that only a handful of the film’s characters seem to share. The film centres around a man (Colin Farrell) on a quest to fix the family’s android (the Yang of the title). The story is framed by the memories Yang kept in his database. It’s a quiet and simple premise, but also a way for Kogonada to sprinkle references to other creators who have influenced him, from Werner Herzog to Shunji Iwai. It’s a wonder of a little picture. 

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Number 8 – Memoria 

This one’s tricky. Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s first film outside his native country is like the rest of his filmography: a lengthy rumination about mortality. The pace is slow, and the camera is static, but that just gives us more time to watch, listen and ponder. Tilda Swinton plays a British woman trying to find the source of a sound that only she can hear in the streets of Bogotá. Like all of Weerasethakul’s films, it’s hypnotic, and, while Memoria is far from his best, it remains a compelling experience. 

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The Fabelamans

Number 7 – The Fabelmans 

It’s out January 6, so look for the review on LSJ, but it’s safe to say that Steven Spielberg’s last film is a homage to an artist’s will to live. Spielberg deserves this “one last thing” moment to bookend his career, and he knows how to pull it off without the eye-rolling narcissism of an artist looking back on what made him unique. This may or may not be his last film, but it’s a story he needs to tell, and we all owe it to him to listen. 

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Bones and all

Number 6 – Bones and All 

Luca Guadagnino’s depiction of teen cannibals on a road trip in the 80s makes for one of the most life-affirming and heartbreaking pictures of the whole year. It’s about growing up, and how fast we go and how deeply we love, but it’s also about how everything falls in a heap when one of these elements in our lives collapses. It’s Terrence Malick’s Badlands and Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise, as sad and intense and pervasive as a Joy Division song, and it lingers. Oh, it will linger with you for weeks to come. 

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Triangle of sadness

Number 5 – Triangle of Sadness 

Ruben Östlund’s skill in following up one Palme d’Or winner, The Square, with another is unmatched. He has to be the most provoking filmmaker working on narrative films. His films, viewed mainly by privileged middle- to high-class people, are a gigantic mirror in front of his audience, placing the blame for the world’s ills squarely on their shoulders. His new film takes social rage even further, with a set piece midway so repulsive that it comes with a warning for emetophobes. In a world of kitchen sink dramas and poverty porn, Östlund’s take is to go directly to the source and attack capitalism where it hurts, highlighting the revolting nature of wealth and privilege and how this leads to a social rift that will take generations to heal. Out in the cinemas December 22. 

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3,000 years of longing

Number 4 – 3,000 Years of Longing 

Why didn’t the distributors of George Miller’s latest film make an effort to market it to a wider audience? The most successful Australian filmmaker deserves more respect from everyone, let alone his own country. Three Thousand Years of Longing is a marvellous, stunning tale about how liberating the power of storytelling is. Idris Elba is a Djinn haunting Tilda Swinton, inciting her to choose three wishes, a task that comes with a caveat, as she knows well from the word of stories. To convince Swinton’s character there’s no catch, the Djinn tells her his story from the day he was trapped in a container to the moment she discovered him. It’s so well structured, so charmingly done, that it’s my pick for “the film that everyone will regret not seeing when it first came out”. 

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Decision to leave

Number 3 – Decision to Leave 

Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave is the one film on this list I would show to an audience in the knowledge that everyone is likely to love it. It’s a crime thriller so tightly packed I still struggle to recall all its plot points. It’s not confusing, but it’s complex, and also hilariously funny and tragically romantic. In the classic Chan-wook tradition, the story expands past the point of the central premise, and continues to a triumphant third act that is the cherry on top of this sharp and dense thriller.  

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The Banshees of Inisherin

Number 2 – The Banshees of Inisherin 

If you’ve seen the trailer for Martin McDonagh’s new film, you may think you know what it’s about, but you don’t. Set on an isolated island off the coast of Ireland during the civil war, Banshees looks at first glance to be about the nature of male friendship. But underneath is a deeply sad reflection on  the pursuit of change, the importance of ideals and that invisible line that connects us all. Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell play two lifelong friends who have come to that critical point where one of them decides to end the relationship because “I just don’t like you no more”. It’s hilarious and sad in equal measure. It’s McDonagh’s best film since In Bruges. Probably even his best film yet. Out on Boxing Day. 

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Everything Everywhere All At Once

Number 1 – Everything Everywhere All At Once 

What else could it be? If you read my reviews, you probably caught my long-winded rave about this film, and my assurance that I could have written thousands of words more. No other movie has made me go through the same range of emotions in such quick succession as has Everything Everywhere All At Once. It had a strange premise: the protagonist, Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), relives the different versions of herself in all the other universes. It’s sad but life-affirming, ridiculous but cerebral. It made me laugh and pump my fist in the air, and even cry a little tear at the sight of two rocks in front of a cliff, quietly contemplating the end the way only stones can do. It’s also about our relationship with art and how important it is to be inclusive. And it’s about a mother reconciling with her daughter. And a daughter finding peace with her mother.  

Maybe it’s because I was still reeling from the passing of my father, but Everything Everywhere All At Once spoke to me in a brutally personal way, and I think most would feel the same. The truth is that it’s very rare that cinema is so unafraid to be this maximalist. The boldness of including every possible thing, completely disregarding the conventions of art, makes this a unique piece of cinema. Michelle Yeoh deserves her time in the sun, and the triumphant return of Ke Huy Quan (Short Round from Temple of Doom) makes for one of the most heart-warming stories of the year. It makes me happy that a film like this exists.   

I hope that cinema will still be around for much, much longer – and particularly in the form of films shown in movie theatres.