We’re fast approaching the end of the third year of Covid and it’s clear by now, if it wasn’t before, that filmgoing will never be the same. The habit is gone, everyone has become accustomed to checking out films at home rather than in theaters, it’s unclear what films people are actually seeing and what they think of them, and it’s evident that most people have, with certain exceptions, simply lost the incentive to mobilize, to actually get off their butts and plunk them down in a theater to see a movie. For a life-long film fanatic as well as a critic for more than a few decades, I’m dismayed that it’s all come to this, but I can’t pretend otherwise, that I don’t see the writing — and the images — on the wall.
Given these dire circumstances, it’s been a tolerably decent year where quality cinema is concerned, as long as you can figure out if, when and where a film you want to see is playing, or if it isn’t already on TV. Film festivals are again taking place, and Top Gun and Avatar have shown that, for certain films (action blockbusters that were sequels to massive hits and demand to be experienced on the big screen), the public will still turn out.
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But I cringe every time I drive by the defunct Cinerama Dome, the former Arclight and the old Vista, and if you want to witness a full house in Los Angeles you have to go the tiny cinemas that resulted from the carving up of the old Los Feliz. At least it’s still in business. With the Oscars in what seems like a downward swirl of perpetual disarray and top-tier talent populating home screens in often very fine series and one-off dramas, it’s easy to understand why the public feels little incentive to leave home unless it’s to see Tom Cruise or James Cameron notch it up to deliver exciting airborne films that absolutely demand to be experienced on the big screen.
Pop quiz: A bag of genuine buttered popcorn to anyone who can actually identify who heads the companies that run what used to be called the major studios and can greenlight the significant big films intended to sustain the industry. It used to be easy.
But regardless of what might be going on creatively, economically and internationally, some good and interesting films keep getting made that reward one’s interest and spark promise that the talent, desire and will is still out there.
Following are my picks for the 10 best films of 2022, alphabetically:
All Quiet on the Western Front (Edward Berger)
Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood (Richard Linklater)
Avatar: The Way of Water (James Cameron)
The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh)
Bones and All (Luca Guadagnino)
EO (Jerzy Skolimowski)
The Eternal Daughter (Joanna Hogg)
The Fablemans (Steven Spielberg)
She Said (Maria Schrader)
Tár (Todd Field)
What immediately pops out is that, on the one hand, you have the battle of the titans, James Cameron and Steven Spielberg, both previous Oscar winners, in one corner with films that could scarcely be more different, and two essentially unknown women, Joanna Hogg and Maria Schrader, in another, and just two directors of foreign-language entries, Edward Berger and Jerzy Skolimowski, the latter of whom, at 84, certainly rates attention as one of the rare filmmakers who has “come back” so strongly at such an advanced age.
Richard Linklater must be one of the very few directors to have ever made an animated autobiographical film, but he’s joined this year by Spielberg in mining his youth for very particular memories that have fed his creative instincts. And then you’ve got Martin McDonagh and Todd Field, both of whom have delivered dramatic works that see their central characters going beyond the pale in the intensity of their mutual obsessions.
It is, to be sure, an eclectic list, but populating it are films excitingly different and distinctive, all quite personal, impressively made and, once you get past Cameron and Spielberg, come in very different styles and grow from wildly different seeds.