Seth’s Favorite Films of 2022

Yes, that movie you think should be on the list is not here. I did see it. I just didn’t feel a connection to it like you did. I’m glad you liked it though. That’s the thing with these lists and why I specifically label them as my “favorites” and not “the best.” I don’t quite know how to really qualify what makes something “the best” but I can talk about why I personally love a film or a book or anything. And this is a time of year I love because I think back on what I saw and in particular what stuck with me.

This year I noticed some themes. One of them was women in difficult situations fighting their way out somehow. I also saw movies about children without guidance, having to grow up way too fast. There are a lot of films here that are angry, the creators have been thinking about something in the world that isn’t right and they are expressing that rage in their work. 2022 was not an easy year and it certainly has shown that things are likely going to get worse for the planet if they ever get better at all. You and I can do what we can in our own small ways. One of those ways is the expression of ourselves through art, like these fine filmmakers have done. It’s a powerful thing to say how you feel and allow others to know they aren’t alone in this cold, harsh world. On to the movies!


Watcher
Written & Directed by Chloe Okuno

The movies near the bottom of a list like this are always the hardest to pick. Some runners-up almost made it, but ultimately I decided on this feature debut from Chloe Okuno. Watcher is the story of Julia (Maika Monroe), who has just moved to Romania with her husband, Francis. He’s a native. She doesn’t speak the language the film keeps us in her perspective by never providing subtitles. Right away, Julia notices a stranger staring from a window across from her apartment. This gets under her skin, and she becomes increasingly paranoid until she believes the figure is stalking her. It doesn’t help that there’s constant news of a serial killer plaguing the city in the background. Okuno shows a masterful sense of atmosphere, making us feel as much of an outsider as Julia. There’s a certain point where suddenly, our protagonist appears to be the unhinged stalker, but not everything is what it seems. This has me very excited to see what projects Okuno chooses next, she has an impeccable sense of building tension.

Check out the PopCult Podcast for our full review.


The Innocents
Written & Directed by Eskil Vogt

This will be one of two appearances of Eskil Vogt on my list, an honor shared only by him and the Ti West & Mia Goth team. The Innocents, set at an apartment complex in Sweden, shows us a world seemingly invisible to the adults who live there. Ida (Rakel Lenora) and her family have just moved in. The parents expect Ida to continue being responsible for her autistic nonverbal older sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), which annoys the younger girl. Ida gets to know Ben (Sam Ashraf), and they engage in somewhat unethical activities that eventually get too dark for Ida. Some of the children in this complex have abilities; ways of manipulating the minds of others and doing amazing things. But not all of them are using these things for good. This is some of the best child acting I have ever seen and it gets very intense. Touching on themes of disability, childhood, and immigration, The Innocents is a quiet horror film that packs a fierce punch.

Check out the PopCult Podcast for our full review.


X
Written by Ti West & Mia Goth
Directed by Ti West

My expectations for X were low. I have enjoyed Ti West’s work before, but I didn’t think this would be one of my favorite films of the year. However, I should have never doubted. West is a master of subversive horror, using familiar tropes to tell stories that don’t go where you expect. The standard jump scares & plot formulas of most horror pictures are absent here. In 1979, a group of amateur filmmakers rent out a cabin on the property of a farmer & his wife in Texas. They don’t let the owners know they are there to make a pornographic film. The star of the show turns out to be newcomer Maxine Minx (Mia Goth) who wants to position herself as a superstar. Then the killing start happening. Pearl (also Goth), the farmer’s elderly wife, begins hacking & slashing away at these “young people” who have stirred up awful feelings she had hoped to forget from her past. I loved the unexpected turns this picture took and West just proves himself such a thoughtful director in the horror genre, a rare exception.

Read my full review here.


Pearl
Written by Ti West & Mia Goth
Directed by Ti West

Little did I know, after watching X, that a sequel was already in the works and set for release in 2022. Mia Goth, the star and co-writer of these movies, returns as the titular Pearl. We are taken back to 1918 when Pearl was a young woman whose husband was fighting in WWI. She’s stuck with her invalid father and strict mother, both austere German immigrants who try to live plainly. Pearl aspires to stardom (paralleling her with Maxine in X) and starts an affair with the local movie house projectionist. Sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies emerge, seemingly from the sexual oppression pushed by her mother. Pearl will eventually snap, which is a bloody spectacle when she does. Goth gives this performance her all. I’m sure you’ve heard about the monologue and the end credits. There’s a lot more here, though, the manic nature of her personality, childlike due to the way her parents have treated her, but also a determined woman who wants what she wants. There is a third picture in the works for 2023, Maxxxine, which will be set in the 1980s and feature the wannabe star from the first film. Here’s hoping West & Goth stick the landing.

Check out the PopCult Podcast for the full review.


Crimes of the Future
Written & Directed by David Cronenberg

Over the last couple of years, I’ve filled in some critical gaps in my Cronenberg viewing (Videodrome, Scanners, The Fly). So I was interested to see what a return to overt science fiction would be like for him. His last film, Maps to the Stars, was okay. However, Crimes of the Future delivers an experience that no one but Cronenberg could give us. Sometime in the future, humankind & technology have progressed to the point that no one feels pain any longer. All infectious disease is gone and people freely experiment on their own bodies as a hobby. In the case of Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) he and his partner Caprice (Lea Sedouyx) have turned it into performance art. There’s a new governmental police unit formed to try and stamp out these “aberrations.” But Tenser comes to learn it may be beyond their control. A secret group of people has changed their digestive systems to process petro-products and believe a new stage in evolution has occurred among one of their own. It’s body horror, just like you would expect, with strong themes supporting transgender people and the idea that your body is yours and no one else’s to control.

Read my full review here.


Emily the Criminal
Written & Directed by John Patton Ford

Aubrey Plaza has been a rising star for a few years, lately showing a deft hand at picking projects. This Sundance darling is a big step for her. It’s an intense feature role dealing very much with the current economic woes of working-class Americans. Emily (Plaza) is deeply in debt, primarily due to student loans. A felony conviction from a shoplifting incident years earlier impedes her from getting a well-paying job. She does a favor for a co-worker at her current catering gig, and he hooks her up with a contact, Youcef. This is a credit card fraud ring, and Emily becomes one of their top shoppers. Emily has dreams, but at this rate, she will never make them, so she decides to go all in with Youcef. They strike up sexual & business relationships with money pouring in. Of course, that puts them in the crosshairs of some nasty figures. This has a surprisingly happy ending, but it still doesn’t dull the edges of how much it sucks to be in the red in the United States. Plaza gives a very believable performance of a woman on an emotional edge who has finally found something that makes her feel empowered, even if it may get her killed.

Check out the PopCult Podcast for our full review.


The Northman
Written by Sjón & Robert Eggers
Directed by Robert Eggers

The incredible genius of The Lighthouse caused many Eggers fans to set the bar far too high. That’s the only way to explain the lukewarm reception of The Northman. I’m no fan of Viking movies or media, but I loved how the director blended Norse culture’s myths with grounded reality. This is another adaptation of the Hamlet story, so it’s in good company with things like The Lion King. Prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) is forced to leave his home when a betrayal occurs. His beloved father King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) is killed. Years later, Amleth is an adult and learns that the betrayer is still alive. He sneaks aboard a slave ship, posing as one of the laborers, and begins worming his way into this new king’s trust. There’s a lot more going on here and knowing that this is based on Hamlet should give you a few ideas of what happens. He ends up romantically involved with another slave, the Slavic witch Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), and she becomes his most trusted ally in his plot to usurp the usurper. Eggers presents some absolutely gorgeous hallucinatory scenes that also portray the myths these people believed as something tangible to them. The final battle takes place inside an erupting volcano but maintains some realism by not letting the fight go on too long or showing either man displaying superhuman abilities. While many audiences seemed lukewarm on this one, I found it to be another great film from a director who pays close attention to period detail.

Read my full review here.


The Worst Person in The World
Written by Eskil Vogt & Joachim Trier
Directed by Joachim Trier

Joachim Trier has amazed me with his work since the second part of his “Oslo Trilogy” in Oslo August 31st. That was a humanistic portrayal of drug addiction told in a single day in the life of a man trying to set his life straight. He gave us a very unnerving horror film in the vein of 1970s pictures with Thelma, not part of the thematic series. And now he’s finished his trilogy with The Worst Person in the World. Julie (Renate Reinsve) is a woman in her late 20s, unsure of what direction her life should take. She bounces around to different fields while in university, unable to settle on something. Julie starts a relationship with a comics artist fifteen years older than her. However, she is still determining if she wants to settle down and start a family. Then she meets Aksel when she crashes a wedding reception, and they feel a spark. However, this could just be another flight of fancy to distract Julie from her life. This is a coming-of-age tale for people going into their 30s, trying to determine what they should be doing in a world that gives no guidance other than just “make & spend money.” Julie is a complex character, and you may not always like her, but there isn’t a second of this film that doesn’t present her as authentically as possible.

Read my full review here.


The Banshees of Inisherin
Written & Directed by Martin McDonagh

There’s beauty in seeing how a horrible thing begins. The Banshees of Inisherin is not about how something is resolved; instead, Martin McDonagh is far more interested in seeing how animosity between people will take seed. We never know a time when Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) were friends. The film begins with the former visiting the latter and being told straight away that the friendship is over. Pádraic wanders around the fictional island of Inisherin for most of the film, talking to people in his community, getting advice, not really listening to much of it, and being generally confused about why his best friend has rejected him. Colm does a horrible job of articulating his existential dread and how he wants to do more with his life than have the same conversation every day. Both men come from a long line of guys who pushed their emotions down deep inside them, using drink to seal the hole. If you don’t find yourself at least a little misty-eyed by the end of this movie, you may need to work on your emotions.

Read my full review here.


Nope
Written & Directed by Jordan Peele

None of us knew precisely what Jordan Peele’s latest movie would be, even after watching multiple trailers. None of the other big-budget, blockbuster movies I saw this year could even touch Nope. From the opening scene, Peele is spooling out the threads of his mystery, and he keeps us on the hook for quite a while. The pace is quick, but he’s not burning through the story. There are asides & flashbacks, and even by the end, you may not see how it all pieces together. You have to go back in and see it again. Peele has said the film is about a “bad miracle.” He couldn’t be more correct. Otis (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Em (Keke Palmer) are the audience surrogates, just as baffled by the thing in the sky as the audience. Evoking the sense of adventure from Jaws with Peele’s own horror proclivities, we got an intelligent movie in the cineplex that never talks down the audience. There are so many brilliant details that you likely miss the first time through, so multiple viewings are required. Peele is 3 for 3. Anticipating what number four will be.

Read my full review here.


Armageddon Time
Written & Directed by James Gray

Right after I finished watching Armageddon Time, I hated it. A day later, I loved it. I realized the thing making me not like the movie is the same reaction James Gray wanted me to have to that. He feels the same way. Set on the eve of Ronald Reagan’s presidential victory in 1980, the film follows adolescent Paul (Banks Repeta). He’s a Jewish-American kid who gets into trouble on his first day of 6th grade. He finds an ally in Johnny (Jaylin Webb), one of the few Black students at Paul’s school. Paul feels tremendous guilt when he watches racism from other kids happen to Johnny. His grandfather, Aaron (Anthony Hopkins), knows something about racism as a Jew from Europe in the 1940s. The connections are made without the film saying it explicitly, and I think many audiences might not realize the statement Gray is actually making here. This isn’t just another “racism is bad” shallow platitude. Gray is drawing a direct connection between the treatment of the Jews by Nazis with the treatment of Black people in the United States. It’s the same thing. The movie refuses to give the audience an ending where everything ends up good for Paul & Johnny. That’s not what would have happened, so we must face reality, where Black kids get thrown under the bus from the day they are born, and most white people don’t even bat an eyelash.


Resurrection
Written & Directed by Andrew Semans

The systemic abuse of women in all levels of society has been a big part of the news, or it seemed to be until the 2020 election when it just evaporated for the most part. Several films have been made in the wake of #metoo, and most feel underwhelming, failing to capture the true horror of what has been done. Resurrection is not a film that is afraid to confront the ugly truth. Told from the perspective of Margaret (Rebecca Hall), a successful businesswoman in Albany. She’s also a single mom, and her daughter, Abbie, is leaving for college soon. Her life feels controlled, how she likes it. Then David (Tim Roth) re-enters her life. Years ago, David hurt Emily very severely. He’s where she got the bite mark scars. He seems to not know he’s in her presence until Emily makes herself known. Quickly, her control over everything begins to slip, and her life becomes centered on the monster who has returned. But it’s unclear if David is there or if Emily, facing several significant changes in her life, has somehow brought the beast back. This is a chilling film, made that way by the stunning performance Hall delivers, with Roth as a great support. I felt this movie truly captured what the sheer horror of having to live with physical and mental scars can be like for some women.

Check out the PopCult Podcast for our full review.


Barbarian
Written & Directed by Zach Cregger

I heeded the internet’s advice and avoided reading anything about this movie until I could watch it. I’m glad I did. Another film growing out of the conversation the culture is having about women and the threats to them, we start with Tess (Georgina Campbell) checking into her Airbnb on a stormy night only to find someone is already staying there. He seems normal enough, but there are some red flags. Eventually, she agrees to stay, and he looks harmless. But, in the light of day, the neighborhood takes on a new color, and by the next night, she has been thrown into a nightmare. This film was written by The Whitest Kids You Know alum Zach Cregger and he is undoubtedly working out some anger he has about the current state of the world. The movie manages to touch on misogyny, rape culture, racism, the police, the privilege of the wealthy, gentrification, intergenerational trauma, and a lot more. It’s one of the only horror films I’ve seen that scared me, made me laugh hysterically, and brought me to tears over the movie’s “monster.” Do yourself a favor and check this one out if you haven’t. Even if you don’t like horror, I guarantee you will like this movie. Cregger thought it would get dropped on a streaming platform somewhere and become a cult movie a few years later. Thank goodness the right audience found this one when it came out in theaters.

Check out the PopCult Podcast for our full review.


Bones and All
Written by David Kajganich
Directed by Luca Guadagnino

My heart aches for young people in the United States today. They have a bleak road ahead of them, the fault of us, our parents, and grandparents. No one seems to be able to guide them in any meaningful way. Maren (Taylor Russell) gets abandoned in the first act of this movie. She is a teenager so she is not entirely helpless. But she’s also an Eater, a subgroup of humans that need to feed on people periodically. Maren finds more of them, but they are all as fucked up & even more stunted than her. One of them, Lee (Timothee Chalamet) is close to her age, and they bond; broken kids from even more broken adults. The pair travel through the nation’s center, finding the same desolate nowhere towns as anywhere else. They have to eat along the way, and Maren is warming up to the idea. But she wonders, how can a life like this keep going on? There’s no way she wants to turn out like the deadheaded husks she’s met along the way. How does someone living so far on the margins of life even have a chance in this world? A convincing metaphor for queer love or even being a houseless person, Bones and All speaks to any youth who feels unmoored. It doesn’t give you the solutions, but it lets you know your pain is felt by other people too.

Check out my full review.


Triangle of Sadness
Written & Directed by Ruben Östlund

So the digital projectile vomit is not the most convincing I’ve ever seen, so what? Swedish director Ruben Östlund delivers another biting satire, this time told through the eyes of a pair of aspiring supermodels. In act one, we learn all about the transactional & imbalanced relationship between Carl & Yaya. In act two, we join them on a luxury yacht cruise full of oblivious wealthy assholes and captained by a man who discovered Marx but doesn’t quite know the next steps. In act three, we wash up on a deserted island and watch as the power dynamics flip when the only one with survival skills is a cleaning woman from the yacht. Östlund is a cynic so he does not come to the table convinced any of this inequality can be fixed. Instead, he focuses on what a horrible absurdity it all is. How idiots that lucked into money or earned it through arms dealing don’t deserve an ounce of respect. Your mileage may vary depending on how invested you are in the concept, but I found myself laughing a lot. I think the characters here are incredibly well-written, with distinct voices and personalities, making the inevitable clash much more enjoyable.

Check out the PopCult Podcast for our full review.


Aftersun
Written & Directed by Charlotte Wells

Memory can be painful. It can also be inaccurate and ultimately necessary. Sophie is an adult now, but when she was eleven (Frankie Corio) she spent a few weeks at a cheap resort in Turkey with her troubled father, Calum (Paul Mescal). The trip is told through the eyes of Sophie and the camcorder footage shot during this time. We quickly realize her father is dealing with tremendous anxiety and trying to keep his daughter in the dark about it. She’s old enough to know something is wrong but still young enough to not know what to do. Sophie hangs out with some older kids, fascinated with that limbo between childhood and adulthood. She even has a mild summer flirtation of her own. Ultimately, she has to go home, and it’s the last time she sees her dad. Charlotte Wells captures that childhood sense of helplessness you have felt if you’ve watched a parent spiraling down. Adult Sophie clearly feels what she suspects her dad felt and is looking back to him to make sense of herself. This isn’t a movie about a narrative but about a relationship and the complicated emotions tied into it. We see how much Calum loves his daughter with everything he has, but by the time we meet him, life has beaten the man down so hard we also understand why he doesn’t want to get back up again for a second round.

Check out my full review.


Decision to Leave
Written by Jeong Seo-kyeong & Park Chan-wook
Directed by Park Chan-wook

Legendary South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook delivers another fantastic story about humans deceiving each other. Decision to Leave begins as a murder mystery, Detective Hae-Jun (Park Hae-il) trying to figure out how a veteran mountain climber fell to his death from a mountain he climbed many times over. Things take a turn for the worse when the good detective meets the victim’s widow, Seo-Rae (Tang Wei), and falls hard. Hae-Jun is married but works in a different city during the week, returning to his bride on the weekends. The images in this movie alone are a great reason to watch it. Park finds such exciting places to put the camera that you just would never think of, but they work to make everything feel so different. The editing is also remarkable, with no time wasted on a scene that doesn’t need to linger. We don’t rush through everything; when we get to the core pieces of the movie, we will marinate in them, absorb them, and study them. The performance here by Tang Wei is one of the best of the year. Yes, she’s a noir film femme fatale, but so much more than the simplicity that implies. This is a complex character who you will come to empathize with tremendously. No one should be surprised at this point that Park Chan-Wook delivers some of the greatest films we’ve ever had.

Check out my full review.


Hit the Road
Written & Directed by Panah Panahi

If you have been sleeping in an Iranian cinema, wake up. Some of the best films in the medium have come out of the thoughtful, nuanced filmmakers in Iran. Hit the Road is a movie that immediately hides information from the audience. There’s a family on the side of the road, some resting in their van, others stretching their legs. We don’t know where we are going, why they are paranoid about being followed, how the father broke his leg, or why there is such an age gap between the sons. We don’t need to know. This feature debut from Panah Panahi is about moods & tones, going from almost slapstick comedy to profound existential dread to cosmic wonder. You may not know why this trip was made in the end, but it won’t matter. You will have spent time with these brilliantly written & performed characters and care about what happens to them. Hit the Road is a movie brimming with life & energy. As in many Iranian films, a child is at the center of the story, their innocence, and defiance a moral touchstone for the picture.

Check out the PopCult Podcast for the full review.


Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths
Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu & Nicolás Giacobone
Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu

I don’t know what the hell is wrong with the critics, but Bardo was a fantastic movie. It is a personal piece from Alejandro Iñárritu, who gets a chance to talk about his struggle with his identity. He’s from Mexico, but he’s spent much of his career in the United States. His kids have practically grown up there. There were chances he wouldn’t have had in Mexico that he seized, but the guilt remains. Bardo is a man’s dream, a Mexican 8 ½ played out at its own pace. The images are some of the most incredible things you will see all year, most years, really. There is also so much humanity beating at the heart of this picture. Early on, we have a scene where protagonist Silvario chases after his wife, Lucia, each undressing as they go, headed to the bedroom for sex. It’s genuinely arousing but not pornographic; you really feel the love between these characters. But even that takes some left turns; the film’s dream logic interrupts their tryst. The spreading of ashes on a beach near the end of the movie is presented with such tenderness that it’s difficult not to weep. Silverio encounters his dead father in a public bathroom during a party celebrating the man’s career as a journalist. His father can tell his son how proud he is of him. Bardo is composed of these little moments, fragments of ideas; some develop further while others are allowed to simply be. No movie this year will provide you with the experience that Bardo can.

Check out the PopCult Podcast for the full review.


Tár
Written & Directed by Todd Field

And here we are, my favorite film of 2022. This is Todd Field’s third film, but he’s been making them since 2001. I’ve seen his previous two in the theater, In the Bedroom and Little Children, and it seemed like he might be done with moviemaking. Instead, Field was just saving something for later. Lydia Tar (Cate Blanchett) is a fascinating character you will grow to hate throughout the film. She is a famed conductor, a wife, a mother, and a mentor to other women aspiring to be conductors. But she is also a predator and a fraud. Lydia takes advantage of women in her mentorship program, and one of them is breaking down. Tar feels like a haunted movie, but we never see or hear a ghost. Things in Lydia’s home move or go missing, and we never know how or why. But this lingers in the background, causing the typically confident, in-control figure to stumble. She meets a new, pretty young thing that looks fun, but it doesn’t go down how Lydia plans. The result is that she seems pathetic, an old woman chasing after far sprier prey. The scene that lets you know who Lydia is comes when she confronts the girls who have been bullying her daughter. She lays it out straight, she can threaten these little girls as much as she wants, and when they tell an adult, no one will believe them because she’s Lydia Tar, and they are nothing. Is it the way she approaches those proteges? This one rubbed some critics the wrong way, and good, it is an uncomfortable movie. But Blanchett has never been better, and Field has reached a new level of filmmaking. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait over a decade to see his following picture.

Check out the PopCult Podcast for the full review.

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