It’s time for Part 2 of my top ten films of 2022! In this post, I’ll be talking about my top five picks from the last 12 months of films. For my choices from #10-#6, you can see that part of the list at this link!
As usual, a quick clarification of my rules for making this list. I combine both my analytical opinion and my own tastes when making my ranking, and to be chosen, a film must have released in the UK during 2022. That makes a film such as The Banshees of Inisherin eligible.
I’ll also place links to my lists from other years at the end of this post. Now, let’s proceed with my top five films of 2022!
#5 – Living
Living is an English remake of the classic 1952 film Ikuru by Kurosawa Akira, with the new version directed by Oliver Hermanus and starring the ever-brilliant Bill Nighy in the lead role. In fact, I could easily see him winning the Best Actor Oscar for this phenomenal yet understated performance as Mr Williams, a very private but hard-working man in 1950s London. Mr Williams is in charge of the London County Council Public Works Department, but learns he has a terminal illness and only a certain amount of time left to live. He starts uncharacteristically not turning up to work, but soon realises he doesn’t know how to make the most of the time he has left. His relationship with his son and daughter-in-law is fractious, and Mr Williams can’t bring himself to tell anyone about his illness – so instead, he starts forging new friends.
To start with, he meets the shady Sutherland (Tom Burke) and has a spontaneous evening out (complete with a touching song by Bill Nighy), but it’s befriending his young co-worker Margaret (Aimee Lou Wood) which really helps Mr Williams open his eyes and get a new project into motion before he passes away. The 1950s look of classic London cabs, buses, and cars filtering through smoky streets and richly-coloured buildings is a joy to look at, and the restrained use of dialogue throughout makes the moments when Mr Williams does open up oh-so-effective. The casting of Bill Nighy was ingenious, and is key to why this film feels as cohesively fulfilling as it does. He has the ability to mix below-the-surface wit with humble quietness in a way that makes Mr Williams very endearing; and as sad as his impending death is, the climax to this film is actually very uplifting in the way it celebrates the small victories of life.
#4 – Drive My Car
How do I describe this movie? A three-hour introspective epic. Yeah, I know, that might turn immediately turn some of you off, and it’s bold for this Japanese film directed by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi to only show the title card approximately an hour into the runtime. But stick with it, and Drive My Car will stick with you too. Ironically, the film is based on a short story by Haruki Murakami! The film follows Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a famous actor/director whose wife dies early in the film. Two years later, Kafuku is making a new stage play that reflects his life, and has a new driver named Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura) shepherding him to and from rehearsals.
Kafuku has myriad back-and-forths with both her and young actor Koji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), resulting in conspiratorial conflicts and contemplative character development; a particular highlight is a final-act monologue that felt like a dream in the theatre. So much of this film is about listening, whether it be the tape recordings Kafuku uses to rehearse his play, or the way different languages are navigated by the cast of characters. There’re scandals below the surface driving the plot forward amongst it all, keeping the pace up as Kafuku’s play accelerates towards its opening day. There’s a simmering tension within Drive My Car that kept me engaged throughout, and it’s one of a handful of films on this list that really nails the ending to the story. The runtime of Drive My Car may be daunting, but I highly recommend letting yourself sink into this (say it again) three-hour introspective epic.
#3 – Decision to Leave
If Drive My Car is the raw, authentic character-focused conspiracy that stood out to me in 2022, then Decision to Leave is the quirkier older sister, also showing an early character death as a key plot point but going for a more surreal take on the fallout. Oh, and I love Decision to Leave for it. After her husband falls off (or is pushed off… ?) a cliff in South Korea, the mysterious Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei) becomes a prime suspect for married detective Park Hae-il (Jang Hae-joon). However, their dynamic quickly transforms from formal detective-and-suspect into a flirtatious burgeoning affair, where excitement and double-crossing enlivens their existence – and it’s a thrill to follow.
Park Chan-wook directs the film with a hyperreal visual flair full of memorable imagery, and the crimes switch between gaining layers and unfolding them, all set to an intoxicating pace. Song Seo-rae and Park Hae-il have an irresistible but restrained chemistry as they become entangled together, but the film injects a tongue-in-cheek knowing humour to it all without undermining the suspense. The seamless way Decision to Leave toes this line without becoming satire is why it places so high on my 2022 film list. Decision to Leave feels like stepping into another heightened reality for roughly two-and-a-half hours, where everything feels both surprising and inevitable in a rare way that I encourage you not to miss.
#2 – The Worst Person in the World
For the vast majority of 2022, The Worst Person in the World was my frontrunner for my top film of 2022 – and that should speak to both the quality of it and the film I ultimately place at #1 in this list. I did write a Film in 500 review for this Joachim Trier-directed film where I go into more specifics, but let’s reiterate the plot quickly. Renate Reinsve plays Julie, a woman in her early-20s living in modern Oslo and attempting to find her place in the world. So far, so standard slice-of-life, right? Not so fast, because the presentation immediately marks the film as something different, whether it be the 12-part structure, or the otherworldly cinematic style that weaves together authentic grounded scenes with fantastical moments. Take the sequence displayed in the promotional photos for the film, where Julie finds herself running through a world on pause.
The Worst Person in the World is a mix of drama, wit, and romance, showing how the various people Julie meets impact her and her outlook without ever defining her entire character by them. At times, the dialogue is so well-thought-out that it feels like you’re watching a biopic instead of fictional character arcs, and as I touched upon in my original review, it feels wrong to even cast a particularly critical eye upon it. Instead, switch it on, and let yourself get swept away.
#1 – Aftersun
So, Aftersun, the film that came in at the end of 2022 and knocked The Worst Person in the World off my top spot. First, the facts: Aftersun is written and directed by Charlotte Wells, and revolves around the father/daughter duo of Calum (Paul Mescal) and Sophie (Frankie Corio) on a summer holiday in Turkey. We discover Calum is separated from Sophie’s mother, and doesn’t get to spend much time with Sophie; this grants Aftersun a ticking timer that gives every moment, happy or sad, an extra layer of melancholy. Calum and Sophie go swimming, they go to the arcades, and they make new friends, all making us care deeply about them – but we progressively see the cracks beneath the surface, too. Between these cracks are flickers of visuals that tell us there’s more going on here with Calum, Sophie, and their stories, with the lingering shots never patronising the audience. Refreshingly, we’re trusted to follow along as if we’re going through the home video tapes ourselves.
In such a character-driven story, Mescal and Corio are key reasons for why Aftersun excels to the extent it does. Mescal has a fatherly authority combined with breaks of devastating vulnerability, whilst Corio is impressive in the youthful curiosity she portrays. Children can often empathize more than we realise, and Aftersun isn’t ignorant of that, instead showing us Sophie noticing the troubles Calum is facing and becoming the audience point of view. I, for one, expect we’ll see Frankie Corio appear in many more projects off the back of her performance in Aftersun.
Furthermore, it’s easy to underrate the way Aftersun assembles itself; the film avoids overdoing the use of time-jumps and video recordings, and credit goes to editor Blair McClendon for that. For me, Aftersun transcends the rigid film format at multiple points, instead just being a story without any necessary beginning or end. As the plot escalates, Calum and Sophie become even dearer to us, and that’s when the final revelations of Aftersun come along for maximum effect. The ending is a cathartic gut-punch, and in my opinion, the best final shot of a film for years.
There we have it! As always, thanks for reading. I’m sure there’ll be plenty more brilliant films to experience in 2023, and I’m excited for that. For my Top Ten Films lists from other years, you can go to the links below:
Have an amazing day!