Hidden Cinematic Gems from 2022 You Might Have Missed
The year 2022 has been, I think, one of the better ones for cinema in recent times. Not least because of a relative return to normalcy in how the pandemic interacts with trips to the cinema and release schedules. The number of great films that came out across the last calendar year has reinstated a sense of optimism and excitement for the future of film that I had started to lose over the last couple of years.
It’s pretty easy to point to some of the films that have made the biggest commercial success as indicators for this uptick in cinema at large; Top Gun: Maverick, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Everything Everywhere All At Once, The Batman, and more recently Nope, The Woman King, and Barbarian were all huge commercial successes as well as being high quality, full-throttle cinematic experiences. But part of why I think this has been a great year is that the quality has trickled down into many of the smaller, quieter releases along the way.
Hopefully this can point you in the right direction to fill up your summer watchlist with great films from 2022 that you might have missed.
The Worst Person in the World
While some would argue this film counts as a 2021 release, it wasn’t actually widely available in Australia until 2022, so I’m letting it slide. Besides, I will take any opportunity I can get to talk about this film; it is sharp, funny, romantic, heartbreaking and profound, all in equal measure. The third film in Danish filmmaker Joachim Trier’s “Oslo Trilogy,” following Reprise (2006) and Oslo, August 31st (2011), The Worst Person in the World is a romantic comedy with lashings of drama that follows Renate Reinsve as Julie, a young woman who is trying to navigate life as a young adult with all of its complexities. College, careers, family, relationships; with all of them she struggles with the sort of impermanence that is so easy to slip into in a postmodern society that screams for your attention at every turn.
There is a montage towards the beginning of the film that compiles all the occasions Julie tells her mother that she is quitting something to pursue her new passion, each new attempt at finding direction inevitably coming to the same conclusion as the last, that is so specific to the experience of young people today that it felt genuinely uncomfortable in how close to home it hit. For a comedy to be so effectively funny while also being completely heartbreaking is no mean feat, and The Worst Person in the World excels in both areas. There is one sequence in particular that breaks the reality of the film that is up there amongst my favourite scenes in any film this year. The film effortlessly slides from a neo-realist tone to a lucid magical realism, and the way it contrasts the giddy joy and child-like excitement with the crushing weight of reality in the very next scene following it is, on its own, reason enough to seek out this film if you haven’t already.
Bones and All
Genre films can be a hard sell for those not already immersed in the world of genre, but if I were to attempt to convince anybody not already interested in horror films to seek out one genre picture this year, it would be Bones and All. For all intents and purposes, Bones & All is a road movie and a romance narrative – that just happens to feature cannibals.
Focusing on the wonderful Taylor Russell as Maren, the film is about this young woman’s attempts to come to terms with her identity as she discovers that there are, in fact, others out there just like her. Much like the 2016 film Raw, it is an appetite for human flesh that marks her as an other, her cannibalistic tendencies functioning as a genre-appropriate stand-in for any other (more grounded) variety of otherness the audience may have experienced in their lives; sexuality, gender, cultural identity, whatever it may be. The result is a film that is genuinely moving and deeply resonant in a way that feels universal despite interfacing with very taboo subject matter and material usually more at home in the exploitation cinema of the 1970s or ‘80s.
In the end, all horror is about otherness in one way or another, and Bones & All knowingly and tenderly approaches this with real intent to engender empathy in its viewer. Timothee Chalamet is wonderful, and Mark Rylance turns in one of the most effortlessly creepy performances of the year. Nobody shoots intimacy quite like Luca Guadignino, and in a sense the best way I can describe Bones and All is by saying it is a combination of Guadignino’s last two feature films; Call Me By Your Name and the quietly revolutionary Suspiria remake.
It certainly isn’t for everyone, and the genre elements will almost certainly be enough to turn off most audience members with a weak stomach, but if you can buy into the metaphor Bones and All is a wonderful and genuinely moving film about love, identity, family, and belonging.
Bones and All is now playing in cinemas.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a film that far too few people saw this year, and I think deserves all the praise that is sent its way. It is a rather stagey two-hander starring Emma Thompson as the slightly repressed Nancy, a retired school teacher, and Daryl McCormack as the titular Leo Grande, a sex worker Nancy has hired to bring her up to speed with everything she feels like she missed in her life.
Most of the film takes place in the hotel room that Nancy books for their encounters together, and while it does feel stagey, it does so in a way that enhances the film, not the other way around as so often is the case with films that are either adapted from the stage or simply feel like they were.
There is an intimacy inherent in the constant location, beaching the audience with these two characters at two completely different places along their timeline discovering that they actually have far more in common than they initially think. The phrase “sex positive” is often used to refer to films that simply have loads of sex in them, but in the case of Good Luck to You, Leo Grande the phrase rings true.
Positive discussions about sexuality, body image, and the ageing process are so rare in films, and all the rarer in cases of genuine profundity and nuance. This film is one that embodies the famous William Faulkner quote that “the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.” In a world dominated by superhero mega-blockbusters, a film like this that has two characters talking (and doing other things) in a room for two hours is the one that might just change your life.
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is now available to rent or buy on digital stores.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
There may have been some warranted confusion amongst audience members this year around the arrival of two Pinocchio films, which is incredibly disappointing given the vast schism of quality that stretches between the two. Ignore the depressingly bad live-action Pinocchio film from Robert Zemekis, and seek out this stop-motion animated film from visionary director Guillermo del Toro if you haven’t already. Del Toro said while doing press for this film that it serves as a conclusion to his trilogy about fascism, the other two films being The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth.
That might seem odd at face value, comparing an animated kids film to two very adult films working in the fantasy/horror genre, but it’s actually a great way of describing what makes this film so magical. The beats from the classic tale are all there, but imbued in the film is a wrestling with and unpacking of the idea of death that is deeply moving to adults and gentle enough for children. Translated into 1930s Italy under the rule of Mussolini, the film takes on a rich anti-fascist approach, effectively skewering and underlining the absurdity of all fascism.
What is truly remarkable, though, is how it effectively achieves this whilst still managing to be the perfect film to show your kids. There is a small amount of scary stuff that you will need to consider whether your child is ready for, but it is stunningly animated, charismatically voiced, and an achingly tender exploration of family, grief, and death that will not fail to get the waterworks going for the parents.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinnochio is streaming now on Netflix.
After Yang is the sort of film that doesn’t get made in this day and age without the financing and creative backing of smaller studios like A24, which is a real shame. Because After Yang is, to me, an example of the sort of science fiction cinema that defined a lot of the late 1960s and the 1970s. Ideas-driven science fiction films using genre to explore an idea through narrative, and with the conviction to commit to a tone and pacing that serves the ideas at the heart of the film. After Yang follows a family who deal with the unexpected loss of their A.I. helper, Yang. Much like Pinocchio, it is about how family units deal with death and grief; how different family members inevitably process and externalise grief in different ways, and how in the end it is in these times that it is most important to hold your family tight.
It also grapples with memory and the nature of human life in ways reminiscent of Blade Runner, and even functions as a sort of science fiction companion piece to something like Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. The cinematography is stunning, but most of all the thing I love about After Yang is its pacing. It lulls you into its rhythm effortlessly, and rewards you for slowing down your external experience of the film to match its meditative cadence. Movies like this just don’t get made that often anymore, so it’s important to treasure them when they come around.
After Yang is streaming now on Binge and is available to rent or buy on digital stores.
If you find yourself still in need for some recommendation for 2022 films that might have slipped through the cracks for you, here are a handful more:
- All Quiet on the Western Front
- Phantom of the Open
- The Innocents
- Three Thousand Years of Longing
- The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Jonty Cornford is the host of the Blue Rose Film Podcast, and works at Uniting Heart & Soul, Woollahra, where he is the host of the Filthy Hope Podcast.