Whether you saw them in cinemas or on your laptops, this has been a standout year for film. These are our picks for the 25 best movies of 2022.
(Note: The following picks were limited to films released in Singapore in theaters, streaming, VOD or on Blu-ray within this calendar year.)
As summer approaches again, ripe peaches droop in an orchard that generations of the Solé family have been caring for. But this year is different: the air is thick with the odour of dead rabbits plaguing the crop and with the stench of a tragedy foretold. The Solés face their final harvest as eviction looms, and their peach trees will soon be replaced by solar panels.Shot entirely with nonprofessional actors in the Alcarràs village, this semi-autobiographical work draws on the cast’s palpable connection to the land to depict a tight-knit family reckoning with the loss of its roots— and dignity. As summer comes to a close, the film’s gentle rhythms stir up buried grief and anxiety, yet also undeniable tenderness.
Barbarian is the kind of horror movie that defies expectations so often that it’ll leave you speechless. Go into this as blind as possible. Don’t read up. Don’t watch the trailer. Just trust us on this. Suffice to say that things don’t go too well for Tess (Georgina Campbell), who’s just trying to find a safe place to stay while she’s in Detroit for a job interview. Sketch comedy alum Director Zach Cregger obviously loves the genre, and knows exactly how to manipulate the audience’s expectations for unique scares, creating a quirky rhythm through the film’s distinct acts. It will continually surprise you. It never goes where you think it’ll go. It’s thrilling, suspenseful and filled with twists you won’t see coming.
Directed by Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas, Writing With Fire spotlights the brave reporters of India’s only women-run newspaper, the Khabar Lahariya. This documentary chronicles the experiences of the editorial staff, largely comprised of India’s oppressed Dalit caste, as they use smartphones, determination, and compassion to shed light on scandals, uncover corruption, and speak truth to power. From the challenges of transitioning to digital in villages with little to no electricity, to the daily threats of violence they face as Dalit women – this film is an inspiring look at the tenacity and resilience of these courageous journalists.
Paul Thomas Anderson delivers a sweet and savoury slice of coming-of-age romance in Licorice Pizza. This film is such a joyous, nostalgic, buoyant blast that just immerses you into its 1970s San Fernando Valley setting. With first-rate production values and a gloriously memory-drenched 35mm cinematography, Licorice Pizza is a visual feast brimming with razor-sharp dialogue, hilarious comedic vignettes, brilliant performances from Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim. Paul Thomas Anderson’s vision of this world, this era, these people, is so winning that you feel a part of it, yet with the removal of an observer.
The Souvenir was one of the best films of 2019. Written and directed by Joanna Hogg, the movie was a semi-autobiographical memoir of her experiences in film school. Specifically about a painful period when she fell in love with (and was almost ruined by) a manipulative heroin junkie. The Souvenir Part II picks up in the aftermath of that doomed relationship as she deals with grief and attempts to process what happened to her by making a graduate film… called The Souvenir. Yes, The Souvenir Part II is about the making of Part I – exploring how an artist’s finest work is often rooted in truthful experiences.
Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake is an ecstatic cinematic experience. It’s a vividly dreamed, cunningly modified and visually staggering revival. No one but Spielberg could have pulled it off, creating a movie in which Leonard Bernstein’s score and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics blaze out with fierce new clarity. Working with screenwriter Tony Kushner, Spielberg revitalises West Side Story by giving its cast of characters more depth, insight and drama – with few crucial tweaks. But where a musical must truly shine, is of course, in its musical numbers. And in this regard, the film is an astonishing triumph, buoyed by the emergence of a generational talent in Rachel Zegler.
One of modern horror’s most compelling auteurs, Ti West roared back to the big screen with his first frightening feature since 2013’s The Sacrament, and it was worth the wait. A Texas Chainsaw Massacre remix featuring a van full of pornographers (including Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow and Scott Mescudi) clandestinely shooting their next film at the guest house of a conservative old couple, the blood and surprises comes quickly. Goth is a standout in a sneaky dual role, and West’s control of his material and ability to manipulate the audiences’ exceptions creates one of the year’s most fun rides.
People who only know filmmakers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert from their tongue-in-cheek 2016 indie-movie parody Swiss Army Man may be surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and ambition of the writer-directors’ new movie Everything Everywhere All At Once, which absolutely lives up to its name. It’s a wild, winning multiverse comedy slash kung-fu epic about a depressed laundromat owner (Michelle Yeoh) who’s called on to save billions of alternate universes from evil, but that only scratches the surface of what the Daniels are out to achieve. Part life-affirming argument against despair, and part reckless absurdist action movie – this is a simultaneously hilarious and touching experiment in maximalism.
Pedro Almodóvar gets serious with this poignant investigation of Spain’s buried Civil War trauma, although without ever sacrificing his light touch. Penélope Cruz lights it all up like a starburst, with her performance as a new mum caught up in a case of mistaken identity in the maternity ward a career high. Like many of Almodóvar’s films, Parallel Mothers dramatizes generational divides – and through the motif of matrilineages, he surveys the broader Spanish cultural attitudes through the decades. In the midst of all this, Parallel Mothers also succeeds at being an exuberant and effervescent arthouse version of a telenovela centred on the psychologically fraught relationship between two women. It’s a film of cascading turns, of thickening complication, of high melodrama.
Fire of Love is a stunning documentary chronicling the marriage and careers of volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft. They dedicated their lives to roaming the planet and chasing eruptions before they died in a 1991 volcanic explosion. As the film illustrates, this unconventional couple leaves behind an indelible legacy of breathtaking footage, and scientific discovery, alongside their infectious passion for the natural world. This elemental, awe-inspiring film, narrated by Miranda July, feels like one of pieces of non-fiction filmmaking that will stand the test of time – showing us the kind of spectacular fiery abyss that most blockbusters can only dream of.
Rian Johnson continues to demonstrate a knack not only for twisty, crowd pleasing storytelling in this delightful sequel to Knives Out. The first one was good … but this one is better: an ingenious, headspinningly preposterous and enjoyable new whodunnit romp featuring Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc. This fresh adventure finds the intrepid detective at a lavish private estate on a Greek island, but how and why he comes to be there is only the first of many puzzles. Johnson’s screenplay is consistently fleet-footed and funny, deftly peeling back the layers of the mystery and having a blast doing it.
In terms of action, storytelling, acting, emotion, and just as a purely exhilarating aerial spectacle – Maverick soars above the original Top Gun in every conceivable way. This movie is outstanding, the ultimate package of what you want from classic summer blockbuster entertainment. Top Gun: Maverick has visceral thrills, massive peril, hard-fought victories, captivating romance, searing drama, and poignant pathos. It’s truly impressive how well this movie works as a crowd-pleaser. Part of its success is down to just how brilliantly director Joe Kosinski crafts the supersonic, rocket-fueled, stomach-churning action on display here. But beyond the technical improvements, the real ace up its sleeve is writer Christopher McQuarrie, whose script acknowledges the emotion of the film’s past without pandering to it.
Although it arrived in the wake of director Celine Sciamma’s international breakthrough, the rapturous romance Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, Petite Maman is more in line with the French writer-director’s earlier work. That means it’s a tender, delicate coming-of-age story, bathed in a warm light – both literal and figurative – that offers a delicate, profound and thoughtful look at girlhood, motherhood and friendship. An enchanting, magical realist, time travel ghost story about the transcendent bonds between mothers and their children – this little jewel of a film has a poetic impact that lingers far beyond its modest 72-minute running time.
C’mon C’mon is such a beautiful, gentle and humane drama – finding raw beauty in the wonders and heartbreaks of everyday life. The film follows Johnny (a career-best Joaquin Phoenix performance), who is a kindhearted radio journalist deep into a project in which he interviews children across the U.S. about the world’s uncertain future. His sister asks him to watch her 8-year-old son Jesse while she tends to the child’s father, who’s suffering from mental health issues. After agreeing, Johnny finds himself connecting with his nephew in ways he hadn’t expected, ultimately taking Jesse with him on a cross-country journey from Los Angeles to New York to New Orleans.
Marcel The Shell with Shoes On follows a one-inch-tall shell who ekes out a colourful existence with his grandmother Connie. Once part of a sprawling community of shells, they now live alone as the of a mysterious tragedy. But when a documentary filmmaker discovers them amongst the clutter of his Airbnb, the short films of Marcel he posts online brings them millions of fans, as well as unprecedented dangers. This adorable, delicate little gem of a film is as short and sweet as its stamp-size protagonist, but an uncommon loveliness lingers. Marcel might just be the most purely joyful, stealthily profound movie experience of the year.
Director Jafar Panahi has just moved to a rural village to remotely oversee filming in a nearby town over the border. Parallel stories unfold across these situations as desires—those between partners, for a future, or to craft art—are suppressed by larger forces of social and political authority. While naturalistic in style, No Bears blurs the bounds of documentary and fiction, deftly playing with and eluding narrative anticipation—its framing shaped by the conditions of state repression that Panahi and other filmmakers face in Iran. This reality of his intertwines with the worlds other characters inhabit, throwing loyalties, hierarchies and truths into question amid contentions of criminality and liberty.
Two major Pinocchio films came out this year. While Disney’s live-action remake of the classic cartoon was feeble, Guillermo del Toro’s heart-rending version was a revelation. He sets the tale in fascist Italy (complete with a cameo appearance by Mussolini), and fills it with as much death and darkness as his earlier films, The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. But it’s also a rollicking delight, with rousing songs, gorgeous stop-motion animation and an endearingly pompous cricket voiced by Ewan McGregor. Guillermo del Toro sprinkles his signature dark whimsy on a fairytale classic that’s filled with heart, humour, and historical grounding – it’s a phenomenal feat of animated cinema.
Park Chan-wook returns with a scintillating neo-noir romantic mystery. Decision to Leave follows an insomniac homicide detective investigating the death of a mountain climber. Was it an accident or was he pushed off a cliff by his Chinese wife? As the policeman spends his days questioning the suspect, and his sleepless nights obsessively watching her – a palpable, unrequited romance begins to develop. Although it lacks the overt sexuality of Park’s previous work, this game of simmering longing proves to be more electrifying and erotic than simple lust. This beautifully filmed love story is as twisted as they come.
Great Freedom is a moving, tender and bittersweet portrait of an imprisoned gay man in post-WW2 Germany. As it turns out, liberation by the Allies does not mean freedom for everyone. We follow Hans who is freed from a concentration camp only to be imprisoned again and again under Paragraph 175, a law criminalizing homosexuality. Over the course of decades of incarceration, he develops an unlikely yet tender bond with his cellmate Viktor, a convicted murderer. This contemplative Austrian character study is such an exquisite blend of personal, political and sensual storytelling.
In cutthroat and corrupt Tehran, Leila cares for her elderly parents and four adult brothers. Its fortunes in sharp decline, the family is surrounded by wealth and respect that could have been theirs. Leila dreams of starting a family business as a way out of the smothering debts and to avoid spiralling into poverty. However, her plans are sabotaged by her self-pitying parents, unreliable band of brothers and gendered expectations. Leila’s Brothers delivers a microcosm of patriarchy in Iran, with an emotionally charged screenplay that pierces through the veil of oppressive traditions. And in a society ruled by self-interest to the extreme, a family member would have no qualms throwing another under the bus just to get ahead.
Tollywood steps out of Bollywood’s shadow this year with S.S. Rajamouli’s magnificent period blockbuster. Featuring some of the most breathtaking action, dazzling musical numbers, and supercharged emotion that you’ll ever see in cinema – RRR is a rip-roaring crowd-pleaser that makes its three-plus hour runtime feel like 30 minutes. This fictionalised account of the bromance between legendary Indian freedom fighters, Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem who fought against the British Raj, is an exuberant spectacle unlike any other. RRR will wow you with its gargantuan scope, the escalating insanity of its bombastic sequences, and its adrenaline-fueled anti-Imperial heart.
High schooler Vada navigates the emotional fallout she experiences in the wake of a school tragedy. Relationships with her family, friends and view of the world are forever altered. Megan Park’s directorial debut unpacks the tragedy of a school shooting to craft one of the most sensitive, piercing and defining Gen Z films ever made. From the gloss of social media to the lasting traumas of the survivors, The Fallout is an unflinching look at shell shocked children, grounded in a bravely authentic and realistic portrait of teen life. Emotional, lively, intelligent and lyrical, this film is a gut-punch you won’t soon forget.
Happening follows Anne over a period of several weeks as she seeks to terminate a pregnancy. Since the story is set in 1963, when abortion was still illegal in France, her ordeal unfolds under a miserable cloud of shame and secrecy. Adapted by Diwan and Marcia Romano from Annie Ernaux’s sharply observed 2000 memoir, the film unfolds in the town of Angoulême, where Anne is a top university student. But it also returns us to a more broadly recognizable era when doctors couldn’t perform abortions openly for fear of losing their licenses or worse, and when even the mere act of helping a woman procure an abortion could land a person in prison.
Norwegian actress Renate Reinsve is the heart and soul of this touching and inventive account of one millennial life that unfolds over several years in Oslo. Very much not The Worst Person in the World, her medical student-turned-writer is a perfect avatar for the uncertainties and confusions of young adulthood: a whole mess of conflicting desires, moments of directionless and emotional rawness that feels endlessly relatable. And her showstopping run through a freeze-framed city is possibly the movie moment of the year so far. Any film that can combine questions of mortality with funny, fully alive scenes of sex, social awkwardness, professional screw-ups and throwaway fun is a rich one.
Aftersun is 2022’s best film. Charlotte Wells’ beautifully oblique debut feature follows a young divorced father (Paul Mescal) who takes his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) on a holiday to a resort in Turkey. This is a film of tiny, tender details – of the private, intimate insecurities underneath the sun-bleached nostalgia of a child’s vacation remembrances. All framed in flashback, Wells mixes up the visual aesthetic to communicate the way gauzy, long-ago memories can sink into your bones. Poignant, subtle and emotionally powerful – this dual portrait of a girl on the cusp of adolescence and a young man feeling adrift in adulthood, and it’s a work of masterful and unbearable melancholy.