It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The time when our HeadStuff film critics gather together to bring you their annual picks for The Best Movies of 2022. Below are 20-11. Don’t forget to check back for 10-1 which will be announced soon!
Few would call Bazz Luhrman’s dizzying, dazzling, and sometimes exhausting cinematic extravaganza a compelling character study of the 20th century’s most iconic musician. Fewer still would find much nuance in Tom Hanks’ batshit take on Colonel Parker, which stops just of mustache-twirling villainy. That being said, in an era of musical biopics dominated by rote, ham-fisted wiki entries, Elvis’ brash freneticism and smorgasbord of pop-culture touchstones feels like a breath of fresh air by comparison. Granted, this still adheres to a cradle-to-grave formula but it does so with such style. Performances, especially a truly boisterous one in the center of a baseball field, are filmed with a titillating dynamism that suitably captures the mania the man could instill in audiences. Luhrman positively delights at the butterfly effect of pelvic thrust to swooning woman, and he wants you to know it too. Was Elvis really the woke ally he is presented as here? Was he really best buds with BB King? Probably no on both counts. As the old saying goes, print the legend. Well, Lurhman went ahead and filmed it instead. Mark Conroy
19. Jackass Forever
Many will tell you that seeing a man getting punched in the balls by the UFC Heavyweight world champion on the biggest cinema screen you can find is crass, crude and unbecoming of modern civilised society. To them I say: So what? It’s funny. But it’s also sad because it’s the last time we’ll see it happen. It’s the last time we’ll see professional wildman Johnny Knoxville get lifted end over end by a 500 pound bull. Never again will we see Steve-O have honey smeared on his nethers and a colony of bees unleashed on them. The days of strapping ‘Danger’ Ehren into a chair, pouring honey and salmon chunks over him and then a bear being set loose in the room are over. I’m sure the guys are glad they no longer have to endure the concussions, testicular torsion and mind-shattering fear but I’m not.
2022 was a poor year for comedies. Most years are but the days of going to the movies for a good laugh are long gone. It’s why Jackass Forever feels like a unique treasure. It’s loud, vile and unruly but that’s so rare in modern mainstream cinema that the film may as well be a unicorn. It’s a testament to cinema’s endless variety. In a year where we saw studio blockbusters come back in a big way to challenge the stranglehold of the MCU, Jackass Forever felt like an underdog. It goes to show that an underdog picture can still make a cool $80 million at the box office, that not everyone needs to wear spandex to succeed and that people are still willing to pay to sit in a theatre and watch a man have gallons of pig semen dumped on him. Andrew Carroll
18. The Souvenir Part II
How does one even get to the final matryoshka doll of metatextuality in Joanna Hogg’s superb The Souvenir Part II. In this film’s predecessor, Hogg recreated her own university years and a complicated, Ill-fated relationship that marked her for years. 2019’s The Souvenir climaxed with lead Julie realising it’s her personal experiences, and not others, which can provide inspirational value for art. Hogg uses the sequel to remind us that simply making a film about your trauma isn’t enough to exorcise past demons. The loose narrative structure compliments a story about how life experience is the maybe the best way to get over the cruelest experiences of life. Julie endures bad sex, loving but not always understanding upper-crust parents, and tense, amateur film productions to come out the other side with a voice.
Yes, the events of the first film haunt her like a Dickensian spectre throughout, but Part II ends up a joyous celebration of creative expression and the many people who helped her find that voice. It culminates, first in a dreamlike, cathartic short film that references Powell and Pressburger, before a bravura act of fourth-wall breaking. In that beautiful closing moment, Joanna Hogg is saying to us that she is, still today, just like Julie; processing that past to say something about her here and now. It’s also a reminder that knowing something is artifice doesn’t take from its real emotional power. A glowing endorsement of cinema itself. Mark Conroy
17. After Yang
It can be argued that 2022 was very much the year of Colin Farrell. There’s a case to be made that his subtle and tender performance in After Yang may just be the best he’s ever given. The story of a family’s struggle to move on from the sudden shutdown of their humanistic android, After Yang is simply wonderful. Weaving manifestations of grief with the struggle of identity, Kogonada’s film is a futuristic glimpse into the perpetual human condition. A beautiful film that will stay with you long after the credits roll… and a dance sequence you will rewatch once a day for the rest of your life… maybe twice. William Healy
The original Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was always an impossible act to follow. From the grimy city streets of Predator 2, through the gnarly, silly fun of Predators, to the misguided rethread of the Predator – every attempt to resuscitate the intergalactic Alien hunter has met with diminishing returns (the less said about AvP the better). Prey succeeds by keeping things to a primal simplicity. The story is as sharp and focused as the original: a young Comanche, Naru, strains against the expectations of her society – she’s expected to be a healer, but she wants to prove herself as a hunter. The opportunity arrives in the form of our titular Predator.
This taut, 90-minute story delivers everything you could possibly want in an action film. Brutal, effective action, and an engaging narrative where you root for the main character – something that’s all too rare in an increasingly low-stakes, oversaturated movie market. There’s a point late on in the film, when Naru’s brother Taabe echoes Dutch’s legendary line from the original: “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” In a lot of modern movies, that’d be an annoying “nudge, nudge, remember the original”, but it’s a testament to how expertly Prey is constructed, that the moment feels satisfying and earned – a true homage to the classic original film. Jesse Melia
15. Crimes of the Future
You could understand if David Cronenberg wanted to take it easy at this point. The maestro of body-horror has built a filmography laden with provocative classics. From a horrific brood of murderous children, to an evolving, deteriorating Brundle-fly, to throat slitting Russian gangsters – it’d be natural to expect him to temper his baser cinematic urges for some respectful, prestige fare ala A Dangerous Method. Not so! Crimes of the Future sees the beloved auteur return to his intrigues of old – the distortion and evolution of the human body, “long live the new flesh!” Crimes of the Future is set in a future where humans have evolved – growing mysterious new organs. A perfect Cronenberg premise.
Viggo Mortensen plays the lead, a performance artist who has live surgery performed on himself – his rapid evolution means he grows new organs constantly. This leaves the character in perpetual pain – leading to a stunning performance from Mortensen, who stalks through the film groaning with gnawing misery throughout. He’s matched by the film’s other performers, like a threatening Scott Speedman, chewing plastic laden bars throughout (don’t ask), and Kristen Stewart who delivers a playfully idiosyncratic performance.
Crimes of the Future shows that David Cronenberg remains a master of bracing body horror, can craft a gnarly narrative unlike anything else, and his powers, after 50 years in the game, remain undiminished – and like his characters, continually evolving… Jesse Melia
14. Red Rocket
Sean Baker’s Tangerine (2015) was a vivid catwalk round the strip with sex workers Ms Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor); filmed on three iphones, it was innovative and thoughtful, establishing Baker as a kind of TikTok-savvy Ken Loach, without the dogma. A perturbing (and sometimes hilarious) polaroid-reel of life in America’s badlands, Red Rocket shares some of the same energy and concerns, in its portrait of the “suitcase pimp” Mikey Saber (the magnetic Simon Rex) as he leeches off his formerly estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod), while grooming the teenaged Strawberry (Suzanna Son), a Donut Shop-worker whom Mikey is convinced will be his “ticket” back into the porn industry.
Odious, charming, indefatigable, Mikey survives on whatever scraps of trust he can scavenge from the people around him, whom he exploits with abandon. When Lexi’s impoverished mother confronts her son-in-law with the question, “are you in this time?” (worried for her daughter’s relationship), the intimate destructions of capitalist society are laid bare: Mikey may be capable of empathy and understanding, but he is unwilling to compromise his ‘dream’ by such indulgences. The sheer verve and intensity of this marginal world Baker depicts has an effect of shock and unshakeable fascination. It’s movies like this that keep cinema alive. Ciarán O’Rourke
Charlotte Wells’ debut arrived with plenty of hype following a hugely successful festival run, so my hopes were high to begin with. Thankfully, Aftersun lived up to all the buzz. I mean, It’s just crazy to think that this is Wells’ first feature. It’s so well crafted and precise, while at the same time loose and natural. Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio are great as the film’s father and daughter pairing.
Although there’s plenty of nods to yesteryear — fans of Steps, rejoice — Aftersun is not just a trip down memory lane for all of us who grew up in the late ’90s, it’s a film that taps into the true nature of nostalgia, that delicate mix of affection and sadness.
The beauty of horror is that it can be a delivery method for a range of complex themes and emotions. Human anxieties and fears can blend beautifully into a story of a dream walking killer or a stalking subterranean beast. In Ti West’s X, the horror is quite simply the rigours of time. X tells probably the foundational horror story: brash out of towners, wander off the beaten track, horror awaits. But Ti West – a veteran horror director, who’s sharpened his skills with recent TV work – keeps things fresh with a fun conceit: these out of towners happen to be filming a porno. It gives the film scope to comment on the genre itself, with porn and horror two sides of the same debauched coin – examples of “low culture” that are eagerly consumed by the masses.
The film boasts rising stars like Jenna Ortega and Mia Goth, the latter of which turns in a stunning performance. And in its villain, delivers one of the first truly original foes in recent years. We won’t go into the details of the character – and the ingenious bait-and-switch of its creation – but it’s one that will have you slapping your head the moment the credits roll. All in all, X is a masterfully executed, fun horror movie – filled with great performances, some genuinely creepy moments, and, of course, some truly gnarly gore. Jesse Melia
11. Decision to Leave
Below the bright, sparkly world conquering music of K-Pop and the softly lit and pretty K-Dramas about young love and endless summers is the dark underbelly of Korean cinema. Over the last 20 years films like Shiri and Joint Security Area paved the way for morally complex and dark films full of sex and violence like Memories of Murder, The Wailing and The Handmaiden. One of the tastemakers for this Renaissance was and is Park Chan-wook. The director of Joint Security Area, Oldboy and The Handmaiden has little to prove these days. So, for his first Korean feature film in 6 years Park decided to dial things back.
Hae-Jun (Park Hae-il) is an insomniac detective in Busan. Haunted by the past cases he couldn’t solve he becomes obsessed with a new case after a man falls or was pushed off a mountain and suspicion falls on his much younger wife Seo-Rae (Tang Wei). So begins a cat-and-mouse game between the two that puts Hae-Jun’s career, marriage and life at risk. Decision to Leave is the closest a contemporary film has come, in my mind at least, to the film noir of the 1940s. Unable to really show any sex and violence these films operated mostly on mood and plot which Decision to Leave has in spades. Not to say that Decision to Leave doesn’t have sex and violence but compared to Park’s other films it’s a very reserved exercise. Maybe the most gorgeous and technically impressive looking film of the year Decision to Leave is achingly sweet, surprisingly funny and packed full of mystery. It also has a scene where Hae-Jun fights a knife wielding thug using only a chainmail glove. Above all the mystery of Seo-Rae and Hae-Jun’s impeccably performed doomed puzzle box romance is what will keep me returning to Park Chan-wook’s latest masterwork. Andrew Carroll