There was plenty of good viewing last year, but not necessarily from films in contention for an Oscar.
Every year my friend Derek and I post our top 10 films from the previous 12 months or so. There is a little bit of wriggle room on the timing. Our usual practice is to wait until Australia Day (January 26) to allow more time to catch up on films introduced in time for the awards season (BAFTAs, Academy et al). Yet there’s no guarantee a film highly regarded by cinema’s critical cognoscenti will resonate with either of us.
Indeed, in the recent past there has been an almost complete disconnect between what the film festival juries, academy committees and critics’ associations dub worthy of praise and what has provided pleasurable viewing.
A classic example is the highly regarded opus, Triangle of Sadness, from Scandinavian enfant terrible (there’s probably a better Swedish expression) Ruben Ostlund.
The Cannes Film Festival jury awarded the contemporary riff on Lord of the Flies its highest honour. I saw it as a means of taking refuge on a hot Melbourne day (along with my partner Lucy), but found it equal parts pretentious, irksome and risible, boasting a cast of thoroughly unlikeable characters.
Yet 2022 also offered plenty of thrilling, engaging and entertaining films. There were more than enough to fill a top 10. So no, I did not watch every scene of every film, but did manage to check out some good ones.
Turn Every Page
This absorbing documentary explores the extraordinary working relationship between octogenarian writer Robert Caro and editor Bob Gottlieb, a professional partnership that has stretched over 50 years, and continues apace as Caro attempts to put the finishing touches to his landmark five-book exploration of power as manifested in the career of US President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
True, it isn’t exactly hard-hitting, and this is explained by the fact that at the helm of the movie project was Lizzie Gottlieb, Bob’s daughter.
But through Lizzie’s insistence – both Caro and Bob are extremely guarded about their privacy – we are provided some fascinating insights into Caro’s astonishing persistence, dedication and perfectionism, and into Bob’s own remarkable career.
Featuring nuanced, delicate performances from its small cast, particularly Colin Farrell, After Yang is a science fiction film that approaches the question of artificial humanity with no small amount of imagination and curiosity, posing questions about identity, family, memory, and much more.*
The Lost King
The eponymous monarch of the title is Richard III, much maligned throughout history as an evil hunchback villain – and that’s certainly how he’s depicted in the Shakespeare play. But was he? Based on a true story, the film explores how amateur historian Sally Hawkins (Philippa Langley) pours through old records, maps and books in search of the king’s misplaced skeleton so that he might be given an appropriate interment.
Top Gun: Maverick
I thoroughly enjoyed this film even though – or perhaps because – it is so derivative of the original, in terms of plot, style and tone. There is even a beach scene depicting athletic young pilots playing sports (in this case US football rather than volleyball as in the original). The cinematography is amazing, the technical achievement astonishing. And you may well find yourself involuntarily punching the air by the end. But – and it’s a big but – there is nothing at all revisionist in this egregious piece of propaganda celebrating US capability with such jingoistic vervour. It is unapologetically even “more Top Gun” than the original. That’s a bit of a problem.
The North Man
This is the first film from director Robert Eggers I haven’t walked out on (or, if you are my friend Bernard reading this, “on which I haven’t walked out”). I heard it referred to as “arthouse Conan the Barbarian” (actually Derek coined that phrase, hoping the film could live up to it). It’s not quite that, lacking as it does a certain something. Verisimilitude, perhaps.
The Gray Man
In his first mainstream action film, Ryan Gosling plays a Nikita-like blunt instrument of espionage. Rescued from unfair incarceration in the US penal system, he’s moulded into a covert black ops assassin for the CIA. But when corruption reaches the upper levels of the agency and our hero Court Gentry is himself earmarked for termination, his adroit skills come to the fore, across (of course) numerous picturesque international locales.
The Man from Toronto
Yes, my third “Man” film for the year, a comedy/action caper featuring endearingly hopeless athletic industry entrepreneur Teddy (Kevin Hart), who through a “printer toner situation” finds himself at the wrong address, and mistaken for the eponymous hombre (Woody Harrelson), an assassin renowned for his skill and cruelty.
A yappy new age hitman known as Ladybug (Brad Pitt) takes a job on a, yes, Japanese fast-moving train (bullet, get it?) in this “crazy mix of Snatch, Kill Bill, John Wick and Murder on the Orient Express” according to one online review, which pretty much captures it. There are also shades of Snakes on a Plane, El Mariachi, Layer Cake, Grosse Pointe Blank, and any other flick featuring fast-talking killers for hire. Somewhat derivative, but an enjoyable, er, ride, nonetheless.
Glass Onion: a Knives Out Mystery
Master sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is on the case again in this twisty tale of murder involving billionaire tech mogul Miles Bron (Edward Naughton). Bron invites five friends to his Greek mansion, Glass Onion, where murder most foul is committed, and of course, with the renowned Bayou detective on the case, elegantly solved.
Featuring a cast of NBA players and an authentic b’ball story brought to screen (although this one focuses more on the business than playing side of hoops) Hustle tells the story of lifelong basketball lover Stanley Sugerman (Adam Sandler), a career scout who has always wanted to coach, but because he’s so skilled at spotting talent, has never made the transition to the coaches’ bench. In Spanish playground legend Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez), perhaps he’s found a path there?
Everything Everywhere All at Once**
Everyone’s favourite metaverse-set action-comedy is bought to life by a fantastic performance by Michelle Yeoh, who as mild-mannered laundry owner Evelyn Quan Wang must liaise with the many versions of herself to save the fate of the multiverse, or some such thing.
*After Yang was a buzzer beater, after Derek gave me the heads-up on Australia Day. Thanks D,
**This is actually no 11.