What to Watch

20 Best Films of 2022 (So Far)

With the year at the halfway point, our writers choose their favourite films, from Bollywood bangers to belated blockbusters

What a surprising, chaotic year for cinema it's been so far. In spite of the rise of streaming services (though not without a sudden decline in Netflix subscribers), movie-goers have still turned out to the theatres in their droves – enough to have crowned one particular belated blockbuster the 29th highest-grossing movie of all time. Who said the theatrical experience was dead? Elsewhere, it's been a year of intimate dramas and historical adventures, with bold and inventive works from our favourite auteurs, and a few surprises thrown in for good measure.

To mark the year's halfway point, our writers voted for their ten favourite films of the year so far (according to UK release dates): the higher up an individual list a film appeared, the more points it was awarded, with the total number of points deciding the final order here. With that criteria in mind, here are our picks for the best films of 2022 (so far)…

Words: Tom Barnard, Jack Blackwell, Steph Green, Ella Kemp, Emily Maskell, Adam Solomons, Fedor Tot

 

20. Boiling Point

Andy Jones (Stephen Graham) is stressed out. Estranged from his young son, facing a surprise hygiene inspection at his hipster Hackney restaurant, and visited by an old friend who sure doesn’t seem like a good guy, the rising star chef is losing his grip, and knows it. Over the course of one Big Night – which we see in real time and in a 90-minute oner – Andy is forced to face his demons, and he won't emerge unscathed. First time director Philip Barantini adapts his 2019 short film of the same name and such is its singular authenticity that you can see why he didn’t want to make anything else. What's also clear is that Barantini has spent plenty of time thinking about Boiling Point: his one-take is seamless and ruthlessly well-planned, executed with the same kind of thoughtfulness and presentation Andy might put into a dish. Boiling Point is also full of wonderful performances outside of lead star Graham, including a stellar turn by Vinette Robinson as Andy’s even-more-stressed out sous chef Carly. Brilliant, if you can bear it. Adam Solomons

 

19. Bergman Island

Mia Hansen-Løve’s unconventional, meta-ode to Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, and the trials and tribulations of putting pen to paper, is a pilgrimage in itself. As the film’s couple – played by Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps – arrive on the island of Fårö, a place of inspiration for the titular director, for a summer of screenwriting, the lines between reality and fiction are smudged and blurred. However, in Hansen-Løve’s confident hands, Bergman Island’s layered and contemplative metafiction is fortified with an omnipresent empathy that flows through the film like a refreshing summer breeze. Krieps and Mia Wasikowska are equally phenomenal, the picturesque landscapes are ingeniously captured, and Hansen-Løve gets extra points for the ABBA nod. Every time this filmmaker delves into self-referentiality she comes back to the surface with a chuckle. Equal parts playful and beguiling, Bergman Island makes for one poignant vision. Emily Maskell

 

18. Flee

Flee is not only uniquely moving in its story but also distinctly original in its execution, melding archive footage and animation to spectacular effect. This documentary marvel shares the experience of gay Afghan Amin Nawabi (a pseudonym) as he comes to terms with his own story: a journey from Afghanistan to Denmark as an unaccompanied minor. Director Jonas Poher Rasmussen listens carefully and recounts details tenderly through immersive animation that never belittles or overrides the harrowingly powerful account being voiced. The result is a powerfully raw, uplifting and humanising tale of refugee status, bringing genuine nuance to a story that is too often reduced or compromised for dramatic effect. Most importantly, Rasmussen’s presence never feels exploitative but remains deeply therapeutic throughout. EM

 

17. Ennio

How to do justice to a life as vast as that of Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who died in 2020 and left behind more than 500 eclectic scores, many of them deemed some of the greatest musical scores ever recorded? With an exhaustive celebration of his life and work, perhaps, made by friend and filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore, who worked with the maestro on Cinema Paradiso and here creates a sprawling, definitive account of the man and his music. Slickly edited, built around an extensive interview with the man himself, and carried on the sound of Morricone's iconic compositions, the whole thing – nearly three hours in length – zips along in no time at all. Before you know it, we've covered almost a century of life and heard from close to a hundred talking heads (including Bruce Springsteen). Morricone's gift was to heighten the quality of any movie he happened to score; this film, somehow, does well by his insurmountable legacy. Tom Barnard

 

16. RRR

Between the mainstream success of Everything Everywhere All at Once and Top Gun: Maverick, it seems audiences are gravitating towards a maximalist cinema of overwhelming sensory stimulation. Perhaps it’s the result of two years cooped up in our homes; we suddenly want all of our senses activated simultaneously. Few films are as maximalist and full-throttle as RRR. If you’ve ever wanted to see dancing so hard that British colonialists faint, a protagonist so buff he beats up a tiger with his bare hands, or a set-piece in which the two leads bungee jump off a burning bridge to save a drowning boy… well, RRR is the place to go. A streak of Hindu nationalism may leave a bad taste for some viewers, yet across three explosive hours, it is simply astounding how RRR continually manages to one-up itself in ever more ridiculous – and cinematic! – ways. Fedor Tot

 

15. Memoria

Shooting for the first time out of his native Thailand, and for the first time with a major star in Tilda Swinton, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest film is a transcendental journey through time and space in the Colombian jungle. In his singular, often static images, with shots easily lasting for over 10 minutes, there are layers and layers of depth, as Weerasethakul considers the rural-urban divide, the impact of technological on our day-to-day being, and life at the periphery of violence (the transition from Swinton’s inner-city living in Medellín to a crucial late scene in the countryside is punctuated by the presence of armed military on the roads). Weerasethakul’s style – understated, slow and meditative – has become commonplace in festivals and arthouses, but no other director seems to be as adept as he in tapping into a very specific, dreamlike rhythm. FT

 

14. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

An unassuming two-hander about good sex and vital intimacy, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande finds Emma Thompson like we’ve literally never seen her before. But that’s not all: she’s matched by incandescent newcomer Daryl McCormack as the titular sex worker Leo Grande, the pair flirting around each other’s desires, insecurities and regrets with great sensitivity from all of this charming and surprisingly poignant film's runtime. It’s no mean feat for a one-location talkie to get your senses racing, but Katy Brand’s wondrous script digs so deep that a stripped-back conversation winds up feeling just as revealing as your most daring sex scene. Wonderful. Ella Kemp

 

13. Parallel Mothers

If a vintage Almodóvar melodrama is what’s been missing from your life, look no further. The Spanish living legend’s latest contains all the twists and turns we might now expect from the narratively experimental filmmaker, with with an added, surprise political note underneath which all proceedings take place. Starring Penelope Cruz and Milena Smit as new mothers Janis and Ana, Almodóvar probes the two diverging women’s lives as well, a parallel. After Janis discovers some striking information, she must decide what, if anything, to do with it. Parallel Mothers carefully balances this revelation with an exploration of the undug graves of the Spanish Civil War and the 45-year reign of Franco which followed. Is it better to know the ugly truth or preserve a blissful ignorance? Almodóvar and his film provide a clear, compelling answer. AS

 

12. Nightmare Alley

While many found Guillermo del Toro’s fantastical and visually exquisite Nightmare Alley a little too languid in pace, this writer found its conclusion – inched towards slowly in lustful, frosty steps – deliciously macabre. This pitch-black examination of humans’ most twisted instincts parlays its doom in the same lingua franca as any great American noir, with Bradley Cooper doing his best work yet as a carny-turned-clairvoyant undone by his own hubris. Few scenes this year have matched the sheer sensual electricity of those shared between Cooper and Cate Blanchett’s Dr Lilith Ritter. Simply everyone here is on their A game: Nathan Johnson’s score is cursed and carnivalesque; Tamara Deverell’s production design is jaw-dropping; Dan Laustsen’s photography satisfyingly rich. Sure, del Toro’s penchant for obvious metaphors stops this becoming truly great, and Rooney Mara is saddled with a thankless role… but what a feast of cinematic riches on display. Steph Green

 

11. Benediction

One of the best filmmakers Britain has to offer, Terence Davies’ meditatively poetic cinematic style proved perfect for a film charting the life of renowned poet Siegfried Sassoon. Benediction plays out as an evocative biopic that follows Sassoon from the war-torn battlefield to the eloquence of the poetry world in which he reflects on the nightmarish experiences and excavates the trenches of desire in his mind. The legacy of Sassoon is beautifully realised with Jack Lowden playing the young version and Peter Capaldi as the older man, both performances beautiful but achingly sombre. Capturing numerous eras in the decorated war veteran’s life, Davies’ lyricism depicts the lingering hauntings of war with the observant but sensitive touch of a cinematic master. The film is a work of poetry; structured with the oscillating rhythms and engaging cadence of verses, Benediction features the most overt reckoning with unfulfilled queer longing of Davies’ career so far. Emily Maskell

10. Red Rocket

Sean Baker's dedication to bringing the lives of those on the fringes of American society to our screens reached an arguable high point with this scrappy chronicle of a washed-up porn star who returns to his Texas hometown. Simon Rex stuns as a wayward adult entertainment worker spurned by the sex industry, a cockroach-like opportunist who – despite a stream of terrible decisions made over the course of this movie's relentlessly entertaining two-hour runtime – endears us to him anyway. The movie is both fun and largely funny, packed with brilliant secondary turns – newcomer Suzanna Son is a revelation – and a spontaneous, freewheeling charm that almost has it pegged as the year's best comedy. But there's an underlying melancholy here that adds layers: Red Rocket is an ode to those who have fallen on hard times, a portrait of a grifter whose seemingly inexhaustible supply of self-belief is both admirable and terrifying to witness. TB

 

9. The Souvenir Part II

A sequel that not only improves on the original but elevates it by folding it into a magisterial larger story is the rarest of things, but exactly what Joanna Hogg achieved with The Souvenir Part II. This autobiographical continuation of young filmmaker Julie’s story is more formally and thematically ambitious than its predecessor, packed with stunning shots and odes to the agony and ecstasy of filmmaking, capped by a finale that is both moving and deliciously meta. Crucially, it’s also hilarious, balancing its story of grief with a cast of laugh-out-loud funny characters, none more memorable than Richard Ayoade, expanding on his cameo role from the original for one of the most purely enjoyable performances of the year. He’s a standout in a cast with no weak links, anchored by another superb display from Honor Swinton-Byrne as Julie and Tilda Swinton’s lovely but quietly tragic turn as her long-suffering mum. JB

 

8. Cyrano

Though it failed to make much cultural impact or even a dent at the box office, Joe Wright's take on the infamous 19th century play Cyrano de Bergerac felt like a tonic of sorts in the wake of his near disastrous adaptation of The Woman in the Window. The reinvented premise, casting Peter Dinklage in the titular role and exchanging Cyrano's large nose for dwarfism, is something of a masterstroke, the movie itself gorgeous, swooning, melancholy, and deeply, deeply strange. This is a musical – with music by The National – that never quite feels like a musical, its songs whispered and suppressed, as though moving in and out of states of acceptance and denial, just like its cast of characters. Packed with meticulous, detailed production design and beautifully staged and choreographed (one of the best fight scenes of the year is right here), Cyrano emerges – like its hero – as a true original. TB

 

7. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

Not satisfied with directing one of the year’s most acclaimed films, Japanese art house star Ryusuke Hamaguchi had to make two. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, a COVID-conscious anthology film made up of three vignettes about different facets of contemporary society, is a slight, low-key drama. It’s also more straightforward than Drive My Car, which set its sights on Chekhov and Murakami and Japan today, in case that was all a bit much (and it was for me). But Hamaguchi’s diet offering is every bit as careful, with almost no camera movement until it really matters. Highlight segment “Once Again” is the most dramatic, focusing on Natsuko (Fusako Urabe), a lonesome woman who attends a high school reunion, and meets someone she’s convinced is from her past. Come for the calm and sensitive performances, stay for Hamaguchi’s unmissable aesthetic. AS

 

6. Vortex

With nightmarish clarity and interminable grit, Gaspar Noé’s poisoned paean to “all those whose brains decompose before their hearts” is the most empathetic work yet from the provocateur – though admittedly, that’s not a high bar to clear. With cramped production design and long takes shot and split-screened to feel like real time (though what is “real time” when you have dementia?), giallo master Dario Argento and Françoise Lebrun navigate Vortex's banal terror until the ending caves to a deeply upsetting yet essentially quotidian conclusion. It's nigh-on impossible to leave the cinema unshaken by the inferno of misery; just another jolly day at the pictures! SG

 

5. The Northman

In an era of cookie-cutter blockbusters, something as uniquely weird as The Northman is a blessing, Robert Eggers using by far his biggest budget to date to transport us back to the Viking Age. Incredible scenery and Eggers’ painstaking historical accuracy in his sets and costumes bring 10th century Iceland to rugged, brutal life, but more impressive is the way The Northman reshapes your mindset across its story, never kowtowing to modern morality or logic. Being exposed to Amleth’s alien way of thinking adds so much to the fever-dream mania that pervades this film, from its casual viciousness to the trips into the Norse spirit realms. Eggers has stated that working at this budget level forced him into compromises, but it’s to his great credit that these never show on screen – this is his film through and through and it’s a minor miracle that he got around $70 million to make it. JB

 

4. Happening

Abortion was still illegal in France in the 1960s, a fact that considering today’s climate feels grimly prescient. French writer Annie Ernaux reflected on her experience seeking out an illegal abortion as a bright student in her autobiographical work Happening. Audrey Diwan's immersive feature turns that story about a young woman's life into something that more resembles a devastating thriller. It’s done with great care but no sanitisation – we feel what young Anne feels, we see what she sees, we try to make sense of it all. It's a work that, more than ever in light of recent events, should be taught in schools. EK

 

3. Top Gun: Maverick

Tom Cruise really wasn’t playing around when he promised us he could save cinema. The belated sequel that nobody asked for, the film that almost fell through so many times, Top Gun: Maverick is a masterclass in Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking. Now well into his fourth decade as an actor, Cruise, somehow, continues to impress as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, while his young crop of bright-eyed pilots all bring great vim to the franchise and make any and every viewer desperate to get a little taste of the danger zone. It has it all: adrenaline, anger, excitement, romance, regret, suspense, and even Lady Gaga. A knees-up, head-empty, no-thoughts, fasten-your-seatbelt thrill ride. It’s time to fly! EK

 

2. Licorice Pizza

There’s something so charismatic about all the lopsided grins, pockmarked skin, impish charm and youthful misrule in Licorice Pizza, Paul Thomas Anderson’s sunbaked sketches of two friends running at full speed towards each other with thrillingly childish abandon. And there’s a bagginess to the film’s structure that feels so right and satisfying, too, leaning into a good-hearted goofiness that gives way to heart-expanding joy, bolstered by a score that makes your synapses swell with heady nostalgia. And those cameos… Skyler Gisondo! Sean Penn! Harriet Sansom Harris! Anderson’s ninth feature could be described as a film about how we superficially strive for adulthood while always arriving at something more juvenile, yet more satisfying; or the infective codependency of relationships, writ though obsessive little weirdos surrendering to their most irrational instincts. But who cares, when the finished product is so light and rapturous? SG

 

1. The Worst Person in the World

A rare case where a film is overhyped and screencapped to death on Twitter yet still manages to live up to all expectations, Joachim Trier’s flirty, funny and emotionally devastating The Worst Person in the World is an instant modern classic. Rohmer’s The Green Ray for the millennial generation, it perfectly captures how we’re constantly oscillating between the ennui of life and the ecstasy of love – and how the sheer impermanence of it all makes our tendencies for chaos and bad decisions ultimately forgivable. As protagonist Julie, Renate Reinsve carries the film with easy charm and devastating pathos, flanked by a supporting performance from Anders Danielsen Lie that threatens to steal the show. More than anything, The Worst Person in the World is a masterclass in the ways we experience and share intimacy in the modern age: being emotionally short-changed by parents, set alight by a startling romantic connection, crushed by the chasm of a fading love. If only we could bottle the incandescent euphoria of watching Julie freeze time to run through the streets of Oslo and plant a kiss on the lips of her “one that got away” – perhaps life’s languor and apathy would be a distant memory. SG

All films are now available across UK cinemas and streaming services.

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