Though theaters fully reopened in 2022, audiences weren't quite ready to return in pre-pandemic numbers. But that didn’t stop filmmakers from delivering some stunning work that deserved to be seen on the big screen.
However, before I get into the list, I must report that 2022 is closing on a sad note. I just received word from Randi Kolender-Hock, one of the trust family members, that the Ken Cinema has been sold and is unlikely to remain a theater.
Kolender-Hock recalled, "My favorite memories are from upstairs with Grandpa (Ken Cinema owner Bob Berkun), the smell of the film — the whole vibe. When we were young, my mom used to leave us there for the day."
The sale to someone who will likely repurpose the building is not a surprise, but that doesn't lessen the grief of losing this landmark.
Here's the Cinema Junkie list of the best and worst in movies for 2022.
I must start by acknowledging that I still haven’t caught up with all the 2022 releases that I wanted to watch. But I saw enough worthy films to fill my top ten list.
On a certain level, I feel a bit curmudgeonly as I grow more and more impatient with bland, formulaic storytelling. “Top Gun Maverick” may have saved cinemas and set the post-pandemic box office on fire, but it left me cold and bored. Similarly all the technical bravado of “Avatar: The Way of Water” could not distract me from James Cameron’s tsunami of tropes. Also underwhelming amongst the top box office draws were: “Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness,” “Jurassic Park Dominion,” and “The Batman.”
But documentaries were top notch with the innovative “Riotsville, USA” and “Fire of Love,” and the deep dives of “Is That Black Enough for You?” and “The Janes.”
My beloved horror genre delivered some of the best but also some of the worst films of the year. Ti West’s double bill of “X” and “Pearl” was a knockout while “Deadstream” was a do-it-yourself, low budget delight. Also noteworthy were "Nope," “The Cursed,” “Barbarian,” “Violent Night,”and “The Black Phone.” But I could have done without “Halloween Ends” and “Scream.” Some things just need to die.
Animation high notes with films not aimed entirely toward children: Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pinocchio” and “Marcel the Shell with Shoes.” Both employing glorious stop-motion animation along with engaging and rather grown-up narratives.
Honorable mention also goes to "3000 Years of Longing," "Dos Estaciones," "Neptune Frost," "El rey de todo el mundo," "Los minutos negros" (from 2021, but not shown in San Diego till this year), "Living," "Resurrection" and "Emily the Criminal."
I also want to thank Fantastic Fest at Home for introducing me to the wild, wacky and impressively DIY Ugandan action film "Who Killed Captain Alex," the ouevre of Charles Roxburgh, and the new "Shin Ultraman."
It’s always an agonizing process to rank my favorites because they tend to be diverse. Does fun rank higher than deep introspection? How can you compare horror, comedy and drama? It’s like trying to pick your favorite child when you love them all precisely because each is unique.
Top 10 films of 2022
So without further ado, let the countdown begin.
This is the year’s most intoxicatingly fun piece of pure cinema: S.S. Rajamouli’s "RRR." It features ridiculously gorgeous stars, crazy action set pieces, an evil empire you love to hate, melodrama to swoon over, and, of course, musical numbers that are absolutely irresistible.
9. "Decision to Leave"
In stark contrast to the over the top flamboyance of "RRR" is the subtle precision of Park Chan Wook’s "Decision to Leave." Park’s film is a police procedural, a film noir, a romance and an intricately conceived challenge to conventional narrative structure. This is a film I wish I’d been able to see on the big screen, because I feel like I missed details on the small screen. Honestly, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of its meaning until I see it again. Its innovative style held me rapt and its characters were fascinatingly unpredictable.
"Broker" is another Korean film, but is directed by Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda. A young woman leaves her baby at a church adoption, only to discover a pair of brokers has stolen the child. She coerces them into letting her come along as they try to sell the child to new parents. Once again Kore-eda reveals that families can be formed from the most unlikely components. The film is achingly human, immensely compassionate, and exquisitely told.
7. "When the Waves are Gone"
Equally exquisite is Lav Diaz’ "When the Waves Are Gone." At 187 minutes, this meditation on power, corruption and violence is long and slow but also stunning and brutal. Diaz takes his time and ratchets up tension with sublime, patient precision. Shot in bleak but breathtaking black and white, it offers little hope or relief yet the filmmaking is so transcendent that you leave exhilarated.
6. "Triangle of Sadness."
Now for some comic relief with Ruben Oustlund’s first English language film "Triangle of Sadness." It opens by poking fun at an audition for male models, then moves to a luxury liner, and ends up on an island where the power structure flips. Absolutely hilarious but the humor has a savage bite as Oustlund skewers the rich and privileged.
Privilege and power are on the table with “TÁR.” Todd Field wrote the title role of a conductor who seemingly orchestrates her own downfall specifically for Cate Blanchett and the actress devours the role. She dazzles us with an unflinching and perfectly calibrated performance.
4. "Speak No Evil"
Precision is key in "Speak No Evil." Christian Tafdrup’s film is intense, anxiety inducing, and puts you through the wringer. The premise is simple: a Danish family is invited to stay with people they met on a trip to Italy. But the couple seem increasingly odd and creepy. Yet, fear of social awkwardness keeps the family from leaving. It’s a brutal slow burn executed with an elegant, subdued style that captivated me from the opening frame to the last.
3. "Everything Everywhere All At Once"
Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn, a put upon laundry mat owner whose problems take on an existential dimension as she’s told the future of the multiverse depends on her. Written and directed by the Daniels (individually known as Dan Kwan and Daniel Schienert) the film comes at you with chaotic energy and sucks you in like a black hole. Yeoh’s stellar performance gives the film an anchoring humanity that makes us care even though the universe tells us that nothing matters.
2. "Crimes of the Future"
David Cronenberg’s glorious return to body horror in "Crimes of the Future." I love seeing a 79-year-old filmmaker who is more radical and transgressive than his younger colleagues. This film offers a stunningly crafted meditation on Cronenberg’s own career and on the relationship of artists to their work.
1. "Mad God"
An artist’s commitment to his work is just one of the reason’s I give the top spot to Phil Tippett’s 30-year passion project "Mad God." The film is a wordless descent into hell for the the characters, the audience, and Tippett himself.
"So it was not unlike Captain Ahab and Moby Dick," Tippett told me. "I went down with the whale, and ended up for a few days in a psych ward and then recovery for about six weeks until I built myself back up."
Tippett gives us a film that’s a fever dream combining madness, chaos, despair and beauty. Every frame of the stop-motion animation is dense with detail. It’s bleak and dark, but also gorgeously seductive in its meticulous craftsmanship. It tells us that we are utterly insignificant and that nothing matters, but the film itself is absolute proof that art matters.
Best actress: (a tie) Michelle Yeoh, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” and Mia Goth, “Pearl.”
Runners up: Cate Blanchett, “TÁR,” Rebecca Hall, "Resurrection," Tilda Swinton, "3000 Years of Longing" and "The Eternal Daughter"
Best actor: Bill Nighy, “Living”
Runners up: Sang Kang Ho, “Broker,” Rory Kinnear, “Men,” Colin Farrell, “Banshees of Inisherin”
Most regal: Angela Bassett, "Wakanda Forever"
Flipping the script: Hong Chau, "The Menu," and Dolly De Leon, "Triangle of Sadness," proved that the "help" can be a force to reckon with.
Most delightful return to acting: Ke Huy Quan, "Everything Everywhere All At Once"
Horror surprise: "Deadstream," thanks to Matt Rotman of Bonkers Ass Cinema for recommending this gem. Not quite good enough for my top ten but definitely the most joyously unexpected surprise in the horror genre.
Studio award: NEON for giving me three of my top 10 films: "Broker," "Triangle of Sadness" and "Crimes of the Future"
How to do a remake right: "Living" adapted from Akira Kurosawa's "Ikiru."
The worst of 2022
I think the worst film I had to suffer through this year was the romantic comedy "Spin Me Round." It was such a slog that I had to stop the screener halfway through and take a break before gaining the fortitude to finish it. But close on its heels would be "Avatar: The Way of Water," "Halloween Ends," "Scream," the other "Pinocchio," "Morbius," "Turning Red" (the level of hysteria trying to masquerade as charming youthful energy was just unbearable), and "The Whale" (for having its emotions drip uncontrollably and annoyingly like snot from a sick child).
Also unbearable this year were the make up and accent Tom Hanks tried to use in "Elvis."
So there you have it, my very personal and eclectic list of the best and the worst of 2022. I hope you will seek the good ones and avoid the bad.
Pandemic-era border restrictions remain in place after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to keep Title 42 active in a ruling announced Tuesday. Then, we replay a piece about San Diego researchers looking to the region’s wetlands to stave off the worst impacts of global warming. Next, earlier this year the city of San Diego apologized for supporting the removal and incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II. And, KPBS film critic Beth Accomando saw hundreds of films this year and compiled a list of her top ten for 2022. Finally, we revisit a segment with author Amy Wallen about her latest book "How to Write a Novel in 20 Pies." It's about her effort to cook up a novel, as well as a how-to guide to write one yourself.