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 Nell Minow.
Look, I love going to superhero movies, starry romantic comedies, chases-and-explosions blockbusters, and Oscar-worthy prestige films as much as anyone, but I do not for a minute think that anyone waits for the critics to decide whether to buy a ticket to those films. Where critics can make a difference and where we love to make a difference is with the kinds of films we cover here, the indies too quirky to be an audience favorite at Sundance, the international films not nominated for an Oscar by their home country, or just the films that get lost among the shinier Hollywood multiplex fodder.
There are other films I could have picked. I loved “The Bad Guys” for its dry-martini sophistication, terrific voice talent, and imaginative animation. I might have tried to sneak in the series “Somebody Somewhere,” just because, as Dolly Parton said in “Steel Magnolias,” “Laughing thorough tears is my favorite emotion.” Bridget Everett’s honesty and vulnerability gave us one of the best performances of this or any other year. For some reason film scholars will be examining for decades, 2022 was the year of the meta-movie, when everyone seemed to be layering the screenplays with air quotes. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is justifiably recognized as the best, and Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal were a hoot in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” but I have to say also in that category “Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers” was exceptionally sharp and funny. Props to writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand for sly wit and genuine insights into the human as well as the chipmunk and cartoon conditions, and extra props to Disney for letting them take some daring chances with some of their iconic characters.
This was also a year of exceptional autobiographical films, and it is not surprising that two of them are on my list. These are the films I picked.
“Skies of Lebanon”
Chloé Mazlo directed and, with Yacine Badday, wrote this exquisitely filmed romantic drama, based on the story of her parents. Alice (played by Alba Rohrwacher, and possibly named for the girl who visited Wonderland) is a young woman from Sweden who goes to Lebanon to become a nanny. She meets a rocket scientist named Joseph (Wajdi Mouawad) and they fall deeply in love. Mazlo’s poignant, delicate, and exceptionally imaginative visuals give the film a fairy tale quality, as though we are hearing Alice and Joseph tell their story to their daughter many years later. There are a blissful few years and Alice becomes close to Joseph’s family. But then civil war breaks out. Alice and Joseph try to keep their little world safe and separate, but family members come to live with them, and the perilous world pervades their lives. Alice loves her home but thinks it is time to leave. Joseph loves his work and wants to stay. This is a tender love letter from Mazlo to her parents, and one of my favorite films of the year.
Henry Lawson’s 1892 short story The Drover’s Wife is a core Australian text, the tale of a brave, resilient woman living in a remote rural cabin in the outback of the late 19th century. Writer/director Leah Purcell has now remixed the story, giving its central character a name, a history, and an inner life. Molly Johnson, played by the director herself, is inspired by her own family’s history. It is especially impressive that Purcell, who has already told this story as a novel and a play, was willing to jettison word-based storytelling to make the film rely so effectively on the visuals to communicate its emotions and details. Like John Ford and Howard Hawks, she understands the power of the landscape in framing the challenges of individuals struggling with the harsh environment, physical and cultural. And like all the best filmmakers, she understands how a close-up of an actor’s face can tell us more than a page of dialogue.
Graham Moore, the Oscar-winning co-screenwriter of “The Imitation Game” co-wrote and directed an expertly crafted puzzle box of a movie set in a bespoke suit shop in post WWII-Chicago. It all takes place in one location, with a very small cast of characters, but it keeps the twists and turns coming until the last few minutes. Mark Rylance plays a cutter (don’t call him a tailor). He creates men’s suits, a 228-step process and profession that requires exquisite precision, concentration, patience, and skill. His most prized possession is his lovingly honed fabric shears. In the world of this story, even names are doubled and language is used to obscure, deflect, and demean. The cutter is called “English” by his most important customers, a gangster group known as “The Outfit.”
The film's powerhouse cast includes Simon Russell Beale as a mob leader, Dylan O’Brien as Ritchie, his impetuous, hot-headed son, Johnny Flynn as the man Ritchie thinks of as his sidekick but who is really his minder, and Zoe Deutch as the receptionist who dreams of traveling the world but has never been outside of Chicago. "The Outfit" is a movie with one surprise after another, but it's every bit as gripping on the second watch as the first. I’m already looking forward to my third and fourth.