Best seen on screen in 2022

Only the best in 2022

By © Jane Freebury

Back at the cinema sure helped, but the end of lockdown can’t explain the astonishing success of Top Gun: Maverick this year. It was such good fun, and should give the masters of the universe of SFX and CGI pause for thought.

Austin Butler in Elvis. Image courtesy Warner Bros

Tom Cruise must be grinning from ear to ear. His movie, directed by Joseph Kosinski, romped to the top of the international box office, half a billion dollars ahead of the lumbering Jurassic sequel that came second.

An Elvis movie by an Australian was such a cheeky move, yet Baz Luhrmann pulled it off. Elvis, with Austin Butler as the king and Tom Hanks’s malign Colonel lurking in the background, was another that just had to be seen on the big silver screen. A joy to watch, a dazzling experience with Catherine Martin’s knockout costume and production design. Good to see it honoured with a spot in the American Film Institute’s top ten this year.

Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris in The Stranger. Image courtesy Netflix

I was very impressed by another local film, Thomas Wright’s taut, deeply unsettling The Stranger, an investigation into horrific crime that plumbed the depths of human nature while managing to keep violence out of frame.

It was a great year for Australian documentaries. River directed by Jennifer Peedom and Joseph Nizeti, for a start was an outstanding meld of music and image, narrated by Willem Dafoe. Kasimir Burgess’ documentary Franklin was a powerfully told story of successful climate activism, and in part a family story, like the excellent documentary about an Indigenous activist, Ablaze by Alec Morgan and Tiriki Onus.

I didn’t know quite what to expect of How to Please a Woman but Renee Webster’s breezy sex comedy, another local film, but was simply a hoot.

The Woman King has also appeared on the eminent AFI list, and is on mine too. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s striking, visceral drama about women warriors came out of nowhere. And She Said, directed by Maria Schrader, also AFI-listed, was a rivetting tribute to how journalists brought systemic abuse in Hollywood to light.

Renate Reinsve in The Worst Person in the World. Image courtesy Madman Entertainment

A world away from flamboyance or documentary urgency, were a couple of intense relationship dramas from our neighbours to the far north. I loved the hypnotic, intimate Japanese drama, Drive My Car by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, and the Korean film, Decision to Leave by Park-chan Wook, a brilliant tale of lust and deception.

Films from France held their own, with some excellent dramas, both innovative and traditional. Audrey Diwan’s Happening was a deeply personal, impressive drama about a young woman who finds herself pregnant. The intelligence and authenticity of Bergman Island by French director Mia Hansen-Love also impressed. Lost Illusions directed by Xavier Giannoli based on Balzac was a stunning period drama that speaks to the present-day, while Dominic Moll’s The Night of the 12th, was a tightly wound police procedural, both thoughtful and thrilling.

Joachim Trier’s free-form The Worst Person in the World was a captivating youthful interpersonal journey from Norway. Compartment No 6 from Finland, directed by Juho Kuosmanen, covered similar territory between young people developing relationships, in a different way.

Viola Davis in The Woman King. Image courtesy Sony Pictures

I will watch Mark Rylance in anything, but didn’t expect to split my sides watching him in Craig RobertsThe Phantom of the Open.  There’s nothing quite like English eccentricity. I also loved Roger Michel’s The Duke, based on the true daft story of a taxi driver who stole a Goya painting, with good reason.

Ruben Ostlund’s Triangle of Sadness is a last minute entry to my list. Brilliantly clever takedown of what’s considered success among the uber-rich and our brittle celebrity culture. What a way to finish an astonishing year.