Cinematic spectacles, successful second acts, biographical turns from filmmakers: here's what Hollywood got up to in 2022.
Last Updated: 11.57 AM, Dec 26, 2022
We're recapping a year in entertainment with a series of '2022: The Year In...' essays from our columnists. Join us on the journey!
2022 marked a return to normalcy. Of sorts. Compared to the uncertainty we experienced after a year of pandemic extended to two, the normal of 2022 felt a little closer to the pre-pandemic baseline, thanks in large part to the movies. We may still have cosied up with our laptops and huddled around our TVs like they were digital hearths. But going to cinemas was akin to going to the temple, where we could sit together in awe of what our beloved directors and stars had dreamed up. While the paradigm is never going to be reset, the choice of going to the movies rather than having the movies come home to us is a luxury we can never take for granted again.
Cinema returns to full capacity
Audiences turned up in big numbers for the latest Marvel/DC fare and maximalist epics like Top Gun: Maverick. Riding the emotional wave of an adrenaline rush with a bunch of strangers all reacting to the breakneck bravado of the new Tom Cruise vehicle was invigorating. However, the screening experiences that made me fall in love with the movies all over again was Jordan Peele’s latest chiller Nope. I say “experiences” because watching Nope on IMAX and hearing Nope on Dolby Atmos have their own self-evident merits.
The rain-drenched noir detective saga that was Matt Reeves’ The Batman was the only superhero movie I engaged with this year. Everything else felt like a feat of engineering or reverse engineering. James Cameron’s long-awaited Avatar: The Way of Water will make a ton of money, but not leave much of a cultural footprint, much like the 2009 original. Waterboarding the audience with its CGI grandeur, the movie seems so content to meet Cameron’s criteria for blockbuster spectacle, it is its own advocate and advertisement. But when one tends to speak of a movie’s triumphs only in terms of its technical achievements, you know it hasn’t gotten under the skin, never mind reached the heart. On the other hand, at least it wasn’t as bad as the indefensible monstrosity that was Jurassic Park: Dominion.
In March, I went on my first in-person pilgrimage in three years to the Bangalore International Film Festival (BiFFes), where I got to see new gems (Memoria, Murina and This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection) and old (Murnau’s Sunrise and Godard’s Pierrot le Fou). Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s masterpiece Memoria has lodged itself in my mind, much like the sound that haunts Tilda Swinton in the film. It is the kind of meditative experience one needs, to reorient themselves in an age of easy distractions and too much content.
Second acts, scandals and shockers
Who doesn’t love a good comeback story? 2022 was full of them. Brendan Fraser (The Whale) and Ke Huy Quan (Everything Everywhere All at Once) made welcome returns to the screen after a long absence from the spotlight. David Cronenberg and Ti West got back to doing what they do best.
And who doesn’t enjoy the odd scandal? The off-screen drama surrounding Don’t Worry Darling sure was the oddest of them. Add the love triangle, the press tour, the Schrödinger’s Spit conundrum and the missing comma, there is enough for Ryan Murphy to devote a season of Feud or give it the movie treatment. A “‘go to the theatre’ film movie,” as Harry Styles might describe it.
The year’s movies also had their fair share of WTF moments: Nicolas Cage making out with his younger self in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent; Rory Kinnear giving birth to different versions of himself in Men; Rebecca Hall pulling a baby out of Tim Roth’s stomach in Resurrection; Alexander Skarsgård and Claes Bang duelling in the nude at the Gates of Hel in The Northman.
While on the subject of WTFs, Netflix had a shocker of a year. The streaming platform lost almost 1.2 million subscribers. Ted Sarandos’ desire for Netflix to become the new home of the blockbuster isn’t quite translating to the results he would like to see. The Gray Man and The Adam Project were God-awful disasters. Blonde betrayed Marilyn Monroe’s legacy by reducing it to trauma porn. Texas Chainsaw Massacre defiled Tobe Hooper’s legacy. Persuasion didn’t do much better to Jane Austen’s.
MUBI and Amazon Prime Video: the only streaming subscriptions worth the fee
For those who didn’t get to see all the festival favourites on the big screen, plenty of them made their way on to streaming services or VOD. Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave masterfully recasts a police procedural as a tale of romantic obsession. Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman examines our desire to understand our parents by adding a magical twist to the time travel conceit. Both were released on MUBI this year along with Ahed’s Knee, Benedetta, Crimes of the Future, Drive My Car, Great Freedom, Memoria, Prayers for the Stolen, The Girl and the Spider, and Titane among others. Two must-sees in Amazon Prime Video’s growing catalogue: Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers uses a switched-at-birth saga to exhume Spain’s dark past; and Justin Kurzel’s Nitram (on the platform’s AMC+ channel) offers a chilling portrait of a real-life mass shooter.
No room for Fox in the Mouse House
Disney continued to dump some of the best films from its subsidiaries like 20th Century, Searchlight Pictures and even Pixar onto Disney+ Hotstar with little to no fanfare. I would have loved to have seen The French Dispatch, Turning Red, Prey, Barbarian and The Banshees of Inisherin on the big screen, as many would have. But all went straight to the streaming platform in India. No doubt none of these films can earn Disney the kind of big bucks an Avatar or a Marvel title can, but even a limited release for a week must be considered for future releases. The theatrical distribution strategy for the smaller films merits a rethink.
Origin stories and greatest hits
Last year, Paolo Sorrentino and Kenneth Branagh did it. Go back a few years, Joanna Hogg and Alfonso Cuaron did it. Go further back, Bergman, Fellini, and Truffaut have all done it. This year, it was Steven Spielberg, James Gray and Sam Mendes. “It” of course refers to directors looking back on their own childhoods for semi-autobiographical memory pieces. Spielberg turns the camera on a fictionalised younger version of himself in The Fabelmans. The young boy grows up in a fractured family with a pianist mother and an engineer father who embody the push-pull between art and science, sentiment and reason, that informs Spielberg’s own body of work. Armageddon Time documents Gray’s coming-of-age against a backdrop of anti-Jewish sentiment and nuclear anxieties in Queens in 1980. Pan Nalin’s Last Film Show, India’s official selection for the 2023 Oscars, is a similar kind of ode to his childhood. In Ahed’s Knee, Nadav Lapid (who recently landed in hot water for calling Kashmir Files what it is) employs a fictional stand-in to rage against the Israeli machine, the politics of censorship, and an artist’s moral responsibility in times of oppression. Lapid doesn’t shy away from self-criticism, as he confronts his own complicity in a culture of compromise.
Other masters gave us movies that felt like a highlights reel of their careers. Benedetta is a film about sexual repression, queer persecution, and religious hypocrisy within the Catholic church that could only have come from the demented mind of Paul Verhoeven. Sex and religion have always co-existed in some form throughout the work of the Dutch provocateur, and so they do in this story of real-life 17th-century Italian nun Benedetta Carlini (played by Virginie Efira). Even if not quite as subversive as some of Cronenberg’s earlier work, Crimes of the Future blends cerebral and corporeal pleasures like only he can. If the film often plays like a greatest hits compilation, Kristen Stewart sings its defining single with an impishly horny turn.
Stalk and slash
Nope solidified Jordan Peele’s status as a modern horror maestro. As with his previous features, the new one too is more than one thing: a wild new spin on the alien abduction motif, a cautionary lesson about the horrors of seeing and being seen, a treatise on the ethics and very nature of spectacle, a parable about the exploitation of animals for entertainment, a critique of the gig economy, the erasure of Black people from film history — and more. Peele never fails to scare up fresh thrills even as he rewrites the rules of horror. The claustrophobia is as real as it gets when the man-eating UFO opens its maw and sucks up an entire audience whole.
Barbarian was a word-of-mouth hit whose success came from how few words were used to spread the message. Say too much and you ended up spoiling it for others. It begins with a double-booked AirBnB. From there, it goes places not many will see coming. Ti West returned after a six-year hiatus with two back-to-back features. X follows a cast and crew ready to shoot their next porno on a secluded Texas farm, only to be terrorised by the elderly couple hosting them. The follow-up, Pearl, is a Technicolor origin story for the elderly wife of the title before she began her decades-long reign of terror.
We had a pretty tidy, if not bountiful, crop of original horror movies this year. Meanwhile, the sequel conveyor belt kept on rolling. Ghostface, Leatherface and Michael Myers all made bloody returns. But only Ghostface left a mark.
The Nu-Hitchcock wave
2022 saw a resurgence of the Hitchcockian thriller, refashioned for the chronically online generation. Steven Soderbergh’s new film Kimi is a paranoid thriller that evokes Rear Window and (Hitchcock superfan) Brian De Palma’s Blow Out. Zoë Kravitz plays an agoraphobic and possibly autistic tech worker who prefers working from home to say the least. But when she stumbles onto the recording of a murder, she must confront her deepest fear. Chloe Okuno cranks up the voyeuristic suspense in her debut feature Watcher, a film that also owes some debt to Rear Window. Maika Monroe is an expat in Bucharest caught in a cat and mouse game with a stalker. With its noir archetypes and study of attraction-turned-into-obsession, Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave has recognisable parallels to Vertigo. Hitchcock’s shadow also looms large over Charlie McDowell’s single-location thriller Windfall. Netflix’s teen comedy Do Revenge gives Strangers on a Train a Gen-Z update but quickly runs out of steam.
Siblings and soliloquies
The Banshees of Inisherin reunites Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson with their In Bruges director Martin McDonagh for a devastating break-up comedy. Farrell finds heartbreak and humour in the pitiable figure of Pádraic, an unassuming everyman adjusting to a new reality of loneliness after his best friend Colm (Gleeson) decides to stop speaking to him. Playing peacemaker in this absurd war of wills is Pádraic’s sister Siobhan, played by Kerry Condon. In a film about tensions exploding between two feuding men, it is Siobhan who gives the film a firm footing. Condon reveals a woman fighting her own loneliness internally, as opposed to Pádraic’s outward struggle, and looking for escape from the claustrophobia of the small Irish community for which the film is named.
Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya play siblings as well in Nope. If Palmer’s Em is chattier and livelier, Kaluuya’s OJ is quieter and cagier. This plays to each of their strengths as performers. Em and OJ may bicker from time to time. But when a UFO haunts the skies above their ranch, they present a united front, as siblings do.
Due to their horror bias, awards bodies completely overlooked Rebecca Hall’s riveting performance in last year’s The Night House. The injustice looks set to continue for a second straight year. As a single mother who must confront her abusive ex, Hall pulls out all the stops to capture the heavy toll of lingering trauma, best witnessed in a confessional monologue half-way through the film. The cadence, delivery and emotion of each line hits much harder than the gut-wrenching finale. Mia Goth’s confessional monologue in Pearl gave me the chills. West holds the camera on Goth’s mascara-smudged face in an unbroken close-up as the titular character reveals her anxieties and loneliness before the emotions boil over into murderous rage.
Tang Wei and Park Hae-il seem to speak their own love language (full of longing looks and delicate touches) as two lost souls caught on opposing sides of a murder investigation. Conflict of interest has never been hotter than when the two meet-cute in the interrogation room in this tale of yearning and desire.
The rest of the best: Adèle Exarchopoulos in Zero Fucks Given; Anamaria Vartolomei in Happening; Aubrey Plaza in Emily the Criminal; Franz Rogowski in Great Freedom; Gracija Filipović in Murina; Kristen Stewart in Crimes of the Future.
AND FINALLY, 2022's BEST FILMS:
1. Memoria (MUBI)
3. Petite Maman (MUBI)
4. The Banshees of Inisherin (Disney+ Hotstar)
5. Flux Gourmet (yet to release on a platform in India)
6. Aftersun (yet to release on a platform in India)
7. Nope (Amazon Prime Video)
8. Parallel Mothers (Amazon Prime Video)
9. The Girl and the Spider (MUBI)
10. Crimes of the Future (MUBI)
11. Murina (yet to release on a platform in India)
12. Nitram (AMC+ channel on Amazon Prime Video)
13. Happening (yet to release on a platform in India)
14. Ahed’s Knee (MUBI)
15. Prayers for the Stolen (MUBI)
16. Kimi (Amazon Prime Video)
17. Confess, Fletch (yet to release on a platform in India)
18. What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? (MUBI)
19. The Northman (Amazon Prime Video)