We asked ten contributors to pick three films from 2022 that they think everyone should see before making their top ten lists of the year. These are the choices of Marya Gates.
Every year after I drop my end of the year list, a few people inevitably comment with "I've never even heard of that film!". So I'm grateful to the team here at RogerEbert.com for giving me the chance to stump for a few films I feel strongly about that may have been missed by others. All three of my chosen films were made with meager budgets, yet demonstrate just how unique cinematic artistry can be when directors have a strong, clear vision and the means to achieve it.
This magical micro-budget sci-fi romance premiered way back at Sundance 2021 but didn't land in theaters until 2022. It's unlike anything I saw in either year. "Strawberry Mansion" embodies filmmaking for filmmaking’s sake, crafted by co-directors Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley with a love and ingenious inventiveness that's sorely lacking in many movies today.
Audley stars as James Preble, a lonely taxman whose job is to audit dreams that are recorded on VHS tapes. While on assignment to audit an elderly artist named Arabella Isadora (a delightfully mischievous Penny Fuller), Preble finds himself in a dreamlike odyssey through the unknown lands of her mind. He eventually falls for her younger self (a winsome Grace Glowicki) who has come to warn him about the insidious advertisements poisoning his own dreams.
No other romance film this year has touched me so deeply, or features quite as many mouse sailors or frog-headed waiters. The more fantastical elements of "Strawberry Mansion" will surely wow anyone who loves practical effects, creative camera tricks, and stop motion animation, while its colorful art direction is a balm compared to the bevy of drab, beige films currently in vogue. Maybe this all sounds a bit too twee, but there's a heart to “Strawberry Mansion” that transcends its whimsical style. Birney and Audley's film will reignite your sense of cinema's truly endless creative possibilities.
Another Sundance favorite for me was Alli Haapasalo’s delightful horny audience award winner “Girl Picture” (known in its home country of Finland as “Tytöt tytöt tytöt” or “Girl, Girls, Girls”). I wrote about this film out of Sundance and even interviewed Haapasalo for its initial theatrical run in August, but there are few movies I’ve loved as deeply all year as this one. I intend to keep recommending it as long as I can.
Set over four weekends, "Girl Picture" follows teenage smoothie shop workers and best friends Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen) and Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) on their quests for sex and love. Rönkkö is determined to finally experience pleasure through a sexual encounter, and spends much of the film trying out different strategies for communicating her needs and desires while finding a partner who can help her achieve them. Mimmi has her sights on life-changing love, which she finds with a high-strung ice skater named Emma (Linnea Leino).
While this all could easily devolve into generic high school tropes, as written by co-screenwriters Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen these characters are as nuanced, flawed, and complex as those found in the best adult dramas; "Girl Picture" is like Amy Heckerling’s “Fast Times At Ridgemont High,” with a Gen-Z twist. Jarmo Kiuru’s warm, hazy cinematography and tight 4:3 aspect ratio gives it a special intimacy, while the trio’s effervescent performances capture the freewheeling spirit of teenagedom. Anointed as Finland's Oscar submission, “Girl Picture” is one of the best films of the year from any country.
Amanda Kramer’s “Please Baby Please” is the most recently released film I have on this list (although it did first debut at Rotterdam back in January), but I feel like it may still slide under the radar. Like a queer midcentury pulp novel brought to vibrant life, most of the action takes place in and around a rundown apartment on a dark street, a kind of 1950s purgatory that mixes everything from Walter Hill’s “Streets of Fire” to early John Waters to Fassbinder’s “Querelle” to David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks: The Return.” The result is a cinematic cocktail in which everything is heightened and artificial, from the sets to the costumes to the very gendered and sexual roles everyone plays.
Walking home one night newlywed couple Suze (Andrea Riseborough) and Arthur (Harry Melling) stumble across a greaser gang whose violence shocks them senseless. Afterwards, Suze begins exploring a more aggressively butch persona, while the gentle Arthur falls hard for a member of the gang named Teddy (Karl Glusman). The stacked supporting cast includes up-and-comers like Ryan Simpkins, Jake Choi, Cole Escola, and Jaz Sinclair, as well as cult faves like Demi Moore and Dana Ashbrook.
Always horny and often nonsensical, “Please Baby Please” uses the artifice of film to deconstruct the artifice of sexuality and gender and identity. Everything in this dreamscape world is a construct that can be altered at any moment, whether through subconscious urges making their way to the surface or conscious choices finally manifesting in action.