The most anticipated day in the cinematic calendar was August 31st. Yes, that was the opening night of the Venice Film Festival, but this was a mere frivolity in comparison to what was afoot in the Light House Cinema. The Irish Times, en route to the Lido, brought its toothbrush and its folded unmentionables to the press screening of Blackbird. Could Michael Flatley’s take on Casablanca live down to our subterranean expectations?
Well, no. Once again we learned how much better it is to travel hopefully. Film nerds quickly forgot it ever existed.
By then, we already knew what, in business terms, the film of the year was going to be. There are reasons to be wary of Tom Cruise, but one cannot fault his commitment to the big screen. Top Gun: Maverick began shooting as long ago as 2018, but Cruise, co-producer and star, resisted all efforts to send it to streaming or to sneak it out during the pandemic penumbra. The film launched at Cannes and stormed its way to a scarcely believable $1.5 billion. Nothing else has come close (though Avatar: The Way of Water looms). Here’s another thing Cruise helped ensure: Maverick was actually pretty good.
The latest Jurassic World film was hardly a flop, but enthusiastic word-of-mouth caused it to make only two thirds what its Cruisy rival managed. Quality still matters. A bit.
None of which altered the stranglehold that franchise material holds on the box office. At time of writing, nine of the top 10 films at the 2022 box office are US sequels or reboots (and that rogue outlier is a Chinese hit). As older viewers hold back from re-entering cinemas, the grip of men in tights and men in jets is even tighter than it was before Covid.
So we should celebrate those rare films that drew in audiences with original scripts. Baz Lurmann’s Elvis certainly did that, but it was built round a familiar icon. More impressive were the old-school takings for the Daniels’ sci-fi comedy Everything Everywhere All at Once. Neither film made our top 50, but all sensible people should rejoice that original projects can still make coin from theatrical exhibition.
The medium, nonetheless, still feels in queasy transition. Almost everything in our top 50 – one not short of quality – made it into cinemas, but few hung around long enough to warm their ankles. Big festivals such as Cannes and Venice are as busy as ever. Most cineastes will, however, end up watching the winning films on a streaming service. Hold on. The weather is still choppy.
50. TURNING RED (Domee Shi): Pixar’s latest works wonders with a clever analogy for the arrival of menstruation. Charming and a little brave.
49. EARWIG (Lucile Hadzihalilovic): More bewildering, fetid mysteries from the French master of unease.
48. MY FATHER’S DRAGON (Norma Twomey): The latest from Kilkenny’s Cartoon Saloon is a psychedelic blast.
47. PARALLEL MOTHERS (Pedro Almodóvar): Penélope Cruz and Milena Smit give birth more or less simultaneously in the latest from Europe’s most reliable director.
46. EMILY (Frances O’Connor): Yes, it seems we did need a biopic of Emily Brontë starring your one out of Sex Education. Emma Mackey (for it is she) is excellent.
45. RÓISE & FRANK (Rachael Moriarty, Peter Murphy): Delightful Irish-language comedy about a widow who fancies that her husband may have returned as a dog.
44. NO BEARS (Jafar Panahi): The now-imprisoned Iranian film-maker delivers another twisty take on his troubled decade.
43. AISHA (Frank Berry): Berry’s latest social-realist drama tells a harrowing story from the Irish direct provision system.
42. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (Edward Berger): The first big-screen adaptation in nearly 100 years dares to play around with the plot of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel. The result is a disturbing triumph.
41. NOPE (Jordan Peele): Peele’s most perplexing film yet restages Close Encounters – or is it Jaws? – on a Californian ranch. Dense. Rich.
40. ALL THAT BREATHES (Shaunak Sen): Stunning, original documentary about two brothers who have dedicated their lives to saving imperilled birds in New Delhi.
39. HOLE IN THE HEAD (Dean Kavanagh): Kavanagh, long a busy experimentalist, hits top form with a deliberately bewildering meta-drama about a family with terrible secrets.
38. THE BATMAN (Matt Reeves): Robert Pattinson is a solid Batman in a film that takes the character back to his sleuthing roots. Colin Farrell is an unrecognisable Penguin.
37. NOTHING COMPARES (Kathryn Ferguson): Propulsive, revelatory documentary on the phenomenon that is Sinéad O’Connor.
36. CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (David Cronenberg): The Canadian master revisits familiar themes in a relatively low-key addition to the oeuvre.
35. ONODA: 10,000 NIGHTS IN THE JUNGLE (Arthur Harari): Overdue retelling of the famous story concerning the Japanese soldier who, following the end of the second World War, refused to surrender for nearly 30 years.
34. COMPARTMENT NO 6 (Juho Kuosmanen): On the train from Moscow to Murmansk, a Finnish student interacts with a Russian miner. A great railway flick.
33. ARMAGEDDON TIME (James Gray): Gentle, insidious drama brings us back to Queens, New York in the 1980s. Anthony Hopkins is better than ever as a kindly grandad.
32. ALI & AVA (Clio Bernard): Offbeat Bradford-based comedy drama following the relationship between a middle-aged classroom assistant and a kind-hearted British-Asian landlord.
31. HIT THE ROAD (Panah Panahi): Son of the legendary Jafar Panahi (whose fine No Bears is mentioned above) directs a zany, but profoundly serious, road movie in contemporary Iran.
30. BELFAST (Kenneth Branagh): Woozily sentimental, ultimately irresistible take on the director’s coming of age. Divisive. But it works.
29. FIRE OF LOVE (Sara Dosa): Visually striking documentary concerning the career of two French volcanologists.
28. HIVE (Blerta Basholli): Touching Kosovan drama about a group of women who set up an independent business while they wait for husbands to return from war.
27. TORI AND LOKITA (Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne): The Belgian social-realists are close to their best form in this tale of two African youths misused in contemporary Europe.
26. MOONAGE DAYDREAM (Brett Morgan): Captivating montage that brings together classic footage of David Bowie with material newly dug up from the archives.
25. BONES AND ALL (Luca Guadagnino): Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell star as young cannibals adrift in the United States. More romantic than it sounds.
24. PLAYGROUND (Laura Wandel): Searing study of schoolyard bullying all shot at the level of a child’s eye.
23. THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (Martin McDonagh): Gleeson, Farrell, Keoghan and Condon are on board for a return to McDonagh’s rich rural Gothic.
22. CORSAGE (Marie Kreutzer): Vicky Krieps excels as Empress Elisabeth of Austria in an icy take on late European imperialism.
21. PLEASURE (Ninja Thyberg): Bitter glance at the grimy underbelly of the LA porn scene.
20. DECISION TO LEAVE (Park Chan Wook): Park’s twisty noir finds a fresh angle on Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Standout performance from Tang Wei.
19. THE NORTHMAN (Robert Eggers): Breathtakingly raw Viking retelling of Hamlet filmed largely in Northern Ireland. Grunt!
18. RRR (SS Rajamouli): Absurdly lavish anti-colonialist Indian epic featuring strong Irish contributions to the villain contingent.
17. COW (Andrea Arnold): Arnold’s documentary on the life of a dairy cow creeps up on you.
16. THE SOUVENIR PART II (Joanna Hogg): Sequel to Hogg’s autobiographical masterpiece takes in meta-textual diversions.
15. SWAN SONG (Todd Stephens): It’s all about Udo Kier’s performance as an ageing hairdresser on an odyssey across Sandusky, Ohio.
14. LICORICE PIZZA (Paul Thomas Anderson): Yes, it was technically this year. Anderson returns to Los Angeles County of the mid-1970s.
13. BENEDICTION (Terence Davies): The great English director casts Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi as the war poet Siegfried Sassoon in a typically sad, lyrical drama.
12. AFTERSUN (Charlotte Wells): Paul Mescal continues to rise in touching memory piece about a Scottish father holidaying with his daughter in 1990s Turkey.
11. MEMORIA (Apichatpong Weerasethakul): The great Thai director nudges Tilda Swinton about Colombia in his English-language debut.
10. NITRAM (Justin Kurzel): Caleb Landry Jones, an actor who veers from the engaging to the broad, confirms mighty talent with his turn as the disturbed man who killed 35 people in the Port Arthur Massacre in Tasmania. Shows the mechanics of mental dissolution without even hinting at empathy.
9. HAPPENING (Audrey Diwan): Based on a novel by Annie Ernaux, Diwan’s film details the travails of a woman seeking an abortion in France during the early 1960s. Standout performance from Anamaria Vartolomei in a film that strips away illusions about a supposedly liberal country.
8. RED ROCKET (Sean Baker): A degenerate returns to his East Texas home after years in the “adult film” industry and hooks up with a worryingly young woman. Simon Rex doesn’t exactly charm as the protagonist, but we are led to understand his creepy appeal
7. AN CAILÍN CIÚIN (Colm Bairéad): Bairéad’s Irish-language adaptation of a long story by Claire Keegan has proved the most cheering sensation of the year. Catherine Clinch plays a young girl sent to stay with rural relatives during the early 1980s. Grim secrets are uncovered as she makes unexpected emotional connections.
6. TRIANGLE OF SADNESS (Ruben Östlund): Östlund’s nautical satire on the super-rich was a divisive winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes in May, but its vomit-drenched attack landed with audiences open to a little more zest in their comedy. The revenge of the lower orders in the last act is irresistible.
5. SMALL BODY (Laura Samani): This stunning folk tale didn’t get the distribution it deserved (but is now available to rent at a reasonable price). A young Italian woman travels with her stillborn baby towards an alleged place of miracles in early 20th-century Italy. An intimate film that has touches of the epic about it.
4. PREY (Dan Trachtenberg): Emerging quietly on Disney+ in these territories, this raw, propulsive Predator prequel (proved the best in the franchise since John McTiernan’s 1987 original. Amber Midthunder plays a young Comanche woman forced to improvise when the extraterrestrial trophy-hunter lands.
3. LIVING (Oliver Hermanus): A fast-rising South African film director dares to remake Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru and, against the odds, delivers a new classic for the ages. Bill Nighy seems certain to secure an Oscar nomination as a civil servant who decides to do the right thing after being told he has only a short time to live.
2. VORTEX (Gaspar Noé): Gaspar Noé and Dario Argento, respectively former enfant terrible and whatever the Italian equivalent may be, collaborate on a project that takes an uncharacteristically restrained tilt at the horrors of mortality. Argento and the great Françoise Lebrun are an elderly couple fading away in northeast Paris.
1. ATHENA (Roman Gavras): No film this year opened in such spectacular fashion. Gavras propels us almost immediately into a riot around the French banlieues. Triggered by the death of a young French-Algerian man, the escalating mayhem is both appalling and thrilling. There are inevitable reminders of La Haine, but Gavras’s film – in conversation with the Greek classics – proves to be wider in scope and ambition.
The worst films of 2022
10. BLONDE: Among the year’s most anticipated films, Andrew Dominik’s glance at Marilyn Monroe, during which Ana de Armas was encouraged to do most everything half-naked, ended up feeling as exploitative as the Hollywood it sought to inflict.
9. THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL: Good on Paul Feig for shooting his fantasy in Northern Ireland. Boo to Paul Feig for delivering something that looked no less vulgar than the average Des Moines department store window.
8. PINOCCHIO: Not even Tom Hanks as Geppetto could save this slavish live-action translation of the animated classic for Disney+. Can Jiminy Cricket really need the money?
7. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: Give them an award for delivering a film worse than we expected from a TCM remake that ends up on Netflix. Give them a whole Nobel Prize. It’s some sort of miracle.
6. FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE: The first Fantastic Beasts film turned out better than expected. It now feels as if we are swigging rancid fluid from the bottom of JK Rowling’s compost bin. Thanks, miss. May I not have another?
5. BLACKBIRD: Just about the only thing unintentionally funny enough to merit recommendation in Michael Flatley’s legendary self-financed romp was the weird obsession with jauntily angled headgear.
4. DEEP WATER: I hereby predict that Adrian Lyne’s atrocious adaptation of a great Patricia Highsmith book will be the annual crank pick in Cahier du Cinema’s 10 best of the year. They do that sort of thing. De Armas again. Ouch!
3. HOCUS POCUS 2: Will we please stop pretending that dire film you endured as a seven-year-old while your parents were fighting towards divorce has any value other than as a nostalgic comfort blanket. Useless sequel to the useless 1993 original.
2. THE 355: When Jessica Chastain assembled a gang of women stars – Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, others – for a press conference in Cannes one worried this might turn out to be a cast without a concept. So the appalling spy flick turned out.
1. JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION: Maybe there was a worse film released this year, but none had so much money and so much skilled attention lavished upon it to so little worthwhile end. Ladies and gentlemen, Jurassic World Fast and Furiosaurus, the miserable endpoint of late capitalism!
The strange and welcome rise of Irish-language cinema
“It’s something every filmmaker probably dreams about,” Colm Bairéad, director of An Cailín Ciúin, told us in May. “It has exceeded all our expectations.” Little did he know. A full six months later, the film, despite its appearance on DVD, was still attracting audiences at the Irish Film Institute. It has taken over €1 million at the box office and is the Irish selection for best international picture at the Oscars.
As all that was happening, Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy’s Róise & Frank, a charming comedy, was hoovering up the audience prize at the Santa Barbara Film Festival on its way to a successful commercial release. Credit must go to the Cine4 scheme that provides funds for Irish-language film. But none of that would matter if the crowds weren’t eager.
“I think we definitely have audiences that are just more used to subtitles,” Moriarty said perceptively.
12 breakthroughs from deep into the credits
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (Choreographer, Cyrano): Underappreciated hoofing.
Sami Slimane (Actor, Athena): Dynamic, charismatic.
Kaho Nakamura (Singer, Belle): Standout in fine musical anime.
Blair McClendon (Editor, Aftersun): Blending film and consumer video elegantly.
Michael Keegan-Dolan (Choreographer, The Dance): Veteran life force in Pat Collins’s documentary
Hai Qing (Actor, Return to Dust): Great in fine Chinese drama
Aga Woszczyńska (Director, Silent Land): Unsettling Polish morality play.
Lara Perrotte (Focus-puller, Athena): No mean feat to pull focus in that epic opening riot.
Anisia Uzeyman (Co-director and cinematographer, Neptune Frost): Out-there Rwandan musical
Ruth De Jong (Production designer, Nope): Keeping the weird in check
Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović (Writer-director, Murina): Fine Croatian drama
Barley (Canine actor, Róise & Frank): How could we leave out the year’s doggy breakthrough?