8. Decision to Leave
No other film released in 2022 captured the essence of longing for the impossible quite like Park Chan-wook’s South Korean mystery-romance-thriller Decision to Leave. Steadily paced, with hints of the comic flourishes prominent in the work of fellow Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho, and with dashes of Alfred Hitchcock in its use of framing and in-your-face camera movements, this latest project from the director of Oldboy and The Handmaiden had so many hallmarks of other great films by other great directors and yet there wasn’t another filmmaker on Earth who could have made it, and there wasn’t anything you could see in cinemas in 2022 that even came close to replicating how it felt to watch it.
The mise-en-scene in this tale of a detective growing infatuated with his murder suspect is simply unmissable, so good it should be taught in film classes – the film not only looks delectable but the visual construction of the piece functions as perhaps the most vital aspect of the storytelling, revealing information about characters, about the central detective’s murder investigation, about the filmmaking intention – and the narrative beats are so large and important yet so precise and defined that the story flows along in all of its eccentricities and peculiarities as something totally emotive, worthy of immersion.
Park Hae-il is one of the year’s most charismatic leads, his at times stoic and at others vulnerable performance is like a soft guiding hand through a story of twists and turns, his work alongside his unmissably provocative co-lead Tang Wei grounding some of the film’s more outrageous moments in a sense of reality that brutally hits home in the film’s tantalising final moments.
As an entry into the canon of 2022 cinema, Decision to Leave may not speak quite so loudly of our current moment’s anxieties and truths like so many other films on this list, but its importance to the authorial voice of its director and the uniqueness of it as a standalone piece make it one of the most worthwhile experiences of the year.
7. Ali & Ava
Cinema is so often, at least in terms of studio releases, representative of the dominant ideologies of the biggest number of people, leaving little room for stories about ordinary folk living outside of the key demographics and the most iconic locations. Clio Barnard’s eclectic and hearty fourth feature film Ali & Ava was one release that championed the so-called “little man”, taking us away from the fantasy of the many multiverses and into a smaller, less-represented area of the United Kingdom, Bradford, to tell of a single white grandmother and an Asian divorcee forging an unlikely bond.
A northern drama set in one of the UK’s most-often disrespected and misunderstood cities, and telling of people who are often looked at from the outside as being down on their luck, could be described as a modern day kitchen sink drama, but writer-director Clio Barnard was able to free her film of that genre’s constraints to instead construct an empathetic and hopeful movie about people finding peace in an environment that was simply not made for them.
Coloured with flourishes of eccentricity – featuring some of the most beautiful shots in all of cinema from 2022; Adeel Akhtar’s Ali standing on top of his car, headphones on, dancing in a shroud of fog being the standout example – Ali & Ava successfully captured the beauty and significance of every day people, and did more over the course of its 95-minute runtime to make so many people of a certain class, region and age feel seen than the British government has been able to do at any point over the past decade.
Ultimately, it is Clio Barnard’s choice to represent these people who are so often forgotten about, and to do so respectfully and with such nuanced artistry, that makes Ali & Ava more than just a very good British drama, but a needed voice for the voiceless British underclass.
Recommended for you: Clio Barnard Films Ranked
Romain Gavras’ French political drama Athena is pure operatic cinema, a visually distinctive one-shot thrill ride that should be considered a spiritual successor to one of the great underclass movies of all time, La Haine, in terms of the issues of class and race that it tackles and how effectively and uniquely it chooses to tackle them.
The first twenty minutes or so of this film are incomparable to anything released in 2022 in terms of cinematography, direction and pacing – it is simply the most unique and thrilling opening to a film for a very long time. Youthful underclass protestors start a riot, break into a police station, and drive a number of vehicles back to their run-down and fortified banlieue (tower block-dominated suburb), in a one-shot sequence that will leave your jaw agape. As they arrive and prepare for an inevitable reaction from the police, the terrific pace of the film drops somewhat, but there is so much to appreciate about the performances, the camera work, and the direction of dozens of extras and explosions thereafter that it’s like Athena never lets up, its increasingly tragic narrative becoming more and more like a ballet as it unfurls.
Cinema must have something to say, and Athena certainly delves into the circumstances of those forced to the edges of society courtesy of class and ethnicity, but what makes this film so special is how it highlights so many unique cinematic elements in doing so, its one-shot style warping our perspective and restricting our access to information in a tantalising but beautifully orchestrated fashion. The pieces of the puzzle – the camera, the actors, the extras, the visual effects – rotate in and out of view like they might on a stage, confirming Gavras’ work as some of the most well designed of any filmmaker in 2022.
There aren’t many films like this, and even fewer that so effectively employ such a rich and operatic narrative alongside such visual flair and complicated direction; Athena is truly a special piece of cinema.