When looking back on the year of cinema we have witnessed in 2022, it is clear that a prominent number of the world’s most creative minds have sought to explore and dissect a wide range of contemporary issues. We have witnessed a renaissance of sorts for the troubled man stereotype from 1970s cinema for example, only with a softer edge; filmmakers with traditionally boisterous filmographies have delved into the problematic masculinity that has brought about the world’s issues and continues to haunt a generation of men attempting to unlearn problematic behaviour, and others have attempted to unravel the insecurities of man to explore what makes so many men so self-destructive, what causes men to hold on to pain and suffering as if a badge of honour.
Our society’s growing disparity in wealth and the current era’s consideration of gender dynamics and political power struggles has brought cinema about mental health into the mainstream, some of the year’s greatest films openly exploring depression and issues of the mind in more intricate ways than any English language cinema has for a long time. Our context has also caused a number of films celebrating the heroes of our everyday to come to the fore, many of 2022’s most talked about movies highlighting how life is lived in its smaller moments, even the year’s biggest biopics and most action-filled extravaganzas embracing the importance of being happy with one’s self, being the truest version of one’s self.
Perhaps as a direct response to global lockdowns and all the isolation and fear that came with them, we have also seen films about comradery and relationships dominate much of the year’s best cinema. Excitingly, this grounded purpose has pushed some of the year’s most action-filled blockbuster-type movies directly into the Best Films 2022 discussion, the yearslong struggle of studio blockbusters attempting to infiltrate the annual lists of critically praised films and awards nominees finally over. And still, cinema marches on with more diverse filmmakers making a wider variety of films to be exhibited exclusively on the big screen. This year alone, a Scottish independent film broke the hearts of all who saw it, a young ethnically diverse directorial duo captured our current day conveniences and struggles perhaps better than anyone else, a woman from an underrepresented part of the United Kingdom told a universal tale with timely importance, and another found self-actualisation as a filmmaker with of all things a sequel.
Cinema is evolving away from its shared experience roots and towards a more individual, brand-specific type of consumerism, but the quality of filmmaking remains so outstanding from so many – so truthful and hearty and filled with purpose. In this Movie List from The Film Magazine, I will present to you the films that best captured our current moment, that delved most deeply into their subject, that enhanced and evolved the form beyond what it had ever been before, and achieved things artistically that should be remembered for decades. These are the 10 Best Films 2022.
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Far more than a regular biopic of a famed figure, Baz Luhrmann’s best-ever film Elvis reached into the heart of what made rock ‘n’ roll superstar Elvis Presley so beloved and for a few hours invited everyone to experience it. It was the film of the year in terms of sheer sex appeal, Austin Butler being unrecognisable and absolutely terrific in his presentation of the King, and Luhrmann managing even more so to orchestrate the circumstances necessary to truly feel the grasp of one of popular culture’s most significant and recognisable figures.
Luhrmann’s authorial approach was one dripping with passion, and he highlighted the year-topping costume design and some of the best lighting around through perhaps the best example of rhythmic filmmaking to enter the mainstream in 2022. It wasn’t that the Elvis script took the narrative to unexpected places or re-evaluated the legendary figure as anything other than his star persona (like other films tried and failed to do with other celebrities in 2022), but as a piece of cinema it was incomparable in its ability to transport you to another time and place; you could almost click your fingers to the rhythm of the edit.
You can’t help but to root for Elvis in this film when witnessing the control others had over his career, and the pressures he fought from government agencies. Luhrmann uses this to create moments of pure elation as you see Presley revolt at key moments, wagging his pinkie finger when told not to move at all, or singing one of his classics for television instead of the pre-determined list of Christmas songs. As you see him overcome the anxieties of being labelled a criminal or being told he’s a sell out, he comes to be seen as more of a revolutionary, a man who shook up the status quo of our culture and left us forever in the shadow of his impact.
Whether a fan of Elvis or not, this film does more than any before it to explain exactly why so many people loved him, and makes it impossible to reject his impact, his legacy and his talent; this is one of the great biopics of any figure from western popular culture.
9. Top Gun: Maverick
Do you remember how movies used to feel when you were a kid? How they were massive, spectacular, awe-inspiring, inspirational? This is it. Top Gun: Maverick is lightning in a bottle, movie magic the likes of which we haven’t seen for years, the most significant blockbuster of our time.
Tom Cruise has long been championing the cinema experience – he pleaded with us to get our butts back in seats when the pandemic lockdowns began to be lifted, and asked that we change the settings on our televisions so we can watch films as they were intended to be seen. He has, quite literally many times at this point, put his life on the line for the best possible shot, simply to give us all the once-in-a-lifetime experience that only cinema can offer. With Top Gun: Maverick he has done all that and more, his nostalgia-tinted thrill ride of an action movie on one hand a tribute to the great blockbusters of years gone by and on the other hand a lesson to other filmmakers and studios on what blockbuster cinema can be moving forward. Top Gun: Maverick feels real – probably because so much of it is (the actors were in the airplanes after all) – and it exhilarates all the more for it, highlighting how so many other films are lacking in stakes, in that feeling of velocity, in that special something we didn’t even realise we were missing until now.
It isn’t a tremendously well-written movie, but it doesn’t have to be. This film excels in all the ways that cinema can, and that we all wish it would do so more often. It looks fantastic, like it has to be seen on the big screen, and it feels immersive. None of the characters are developed all that well, but they fulfil a purpose, and the story beats that are there aren’t layered on top of each other like in just about every other big budget action film, they’re spread out and made to feel significant. Here, the atmosphere is one of nostalgia and togetherness, there’s a loving tribute to Val Kilmer following his battle with cancer that seems to indicate a togetherness behind the scenes that transcends the film itself, and every character has minor interactions with others that make the universe feel lived in.
Post-pandemic, in an increasingly individualised society, Top Gun: Maverick has a hopeful message of togetherness, is a film that celebrates comradery on the screen and was designed to be watched in public with other people. More than just an action movie, or a great blockbuster, it is a powerful and significant entry into the canon of cinema that has come at just the right time for the theatrical experience, for spectacle-driven cinema, and for each of us.
Recommended for you: Top Gun: Maverick Is in Love with Companionship, Familiarity