I want to use this blurb to acknowledge a couple of films I’m yet to see that I feel, through a combination of my own personal taste and their critical reception, maybe would’ve made the cut had I seen them this year. The first of which is idiosyncratic anime Director Masaaki Yuasa’s Inu-Oh, a rock opera set amongst 14th century Japanese performers. I’ve been a fan of Yuasa’s bombastic and enveloping style ever since I watched The Tatami Galaxy a few years ago and am dying to see the latest in his ever-growing oeuvre of impressive works. The second film is Kogonada’s After Yang. Anyone who knows me on a personal level will know how much I loved his debut Columbus and to see the filmmaker follow up that up with a quiet, reflective sci-fi sounds too good to miss. That all being said, this was a tough list to form and if you asked me to write it tomorrow the order may be different, that is, with the exception of number one.
Honourable Mentions: Nope, Red Rocket, The Batman, West Side Story, Living, Top Gun: Maverick
10. THE NORTHMAN | Robert Eggers
By taking a familiar revenge story such as Amleth, the text that Shakespeare’s Hamlet was based on, Eggers is able to offer up a simple, easily digestible story but one that is stooped in true Viking realism. By engaging with the historic Nordic culture and not poking fun or trying to modernise, in the way that most modern Viking representations do, he’s able to use his cinematic tools to embellish his world and offer the audience a peek into the perspective of a people who were deeply spiritual, violent and disturbing.
9. TURNING RED | Domee Shi
For me, Domee Shi’s animated feature is Pixar’s best in years as it does away with many of the studio’s overly-repeated motifs and grounds itself in something much more personal. You get the sense that the filmmaker is truly using the medium to tell the story of their childhood and parental relationships, embracing both the cultural specificity and universality of their own narrative. As an anime fan, it’s also chockablock with both stylistic and pointed references (hello Studio Chizu logo), so I may be a little biased.
8. AFTERSUN | Charlotte Wells
A film that is both a reflection of formative experiences and the mediums we use to capture them. The standout aspect of Wells’ much-hyped, and deservedly so, debut film is in the depth of its quietness. How seemingly non-important or throwaway sentences can be vehicles into the interworking of a person’s psychological turmoil. It’s a film for me which didn’t create an immediate impression but has since grown into a lasting one, slowly climbing its way onto this list the more I think about how it wrestles with the formative nature of memories, which feels apt as that’s exactly what it’s about.
7. PINOCCHIO | Guillermo Del Toro & Mark Gustafson
Del Toro and Gustafson twist Carlo Collodi’s classic tale into a Musolini-era parable on the fear of fascism and paternal disappointment. The most enjoyable part of this reinvention, for myself, is in the detail of its animation, the characters are constructed in a slightly misshapen and gnarled fashion, differentiating themselves from the sheen of their Disney counterparts and grounding the textures of the film in the strange and twisted Frankenstein-esque sensibility of the original text.
6. X | Ti West
In the age of the serious themes-first slow-burn horror movie, Ti West’s throwback grindhouse slasher is a welcome reminder that horror films can still be stylistically inventive and fun. It follows an independent film crew as they seek to shoot a porn film in a cabin on a farm owned by two elderly farmers. In typical fashion however, the farmers have other ideas. The joy, for me, in West’s feature comes both in the gorgeous retro cinematography and in the way he constructs his thrills, imbuing the set pieces with tension, terror and laughter, the holy triumvirate of a great horror movie.
5. BELLE | Mamoru Hosoda
It’s rare in cinema, and art in general, to see a positive portrayal of the potential of the internet and digital culture but that’s exactly what shines through in Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle, a contemporary animated adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Hosoda tells his story of a shy teenager who finds online fame in a dense and vivid metaverse known as ‘U’ with a sense of optimism for the power of connectivity and shared space the internet can encourage. He isn’t ignorant though and the darker, malicious side of online culture has a place in his story, it just isn’t at the expense of its hopeful message.
4. APOLLO 10 1/2: A SPACE AGE CHILDHOOD | Richard Linklater
Linklater’s love letter to the space race isn’t so much about astronauts but about the feeling of growing up a few blocks away from where such a seemingly monumental moment of human history is happening. As you’d expect from the director of Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and the Before trilogy, he’s interested in reflecting on the everydayness of this time, whether that be a family trip to a local theme park or the weekly regularity of making school lunch sandwiches, and how those moments intersect with the fleeting imagination of a child for which space travel is but a stone’s throw away.
3. PIAFFE | Ann Oren
The highlight of covering London Film Festival for me this year was discovering Ann Oren’s disarming and surreal sophomore feature film. It’s about a foley artist who becomes completely intertwined with her work but unlike the psychological horror of similar films like Berbarian Sound Studio or Censor, two wonderful works in their own right, this is about the tactility of cinema and its potential for sensual intimacy. Certainly one to watch for the future but I’m also keen to go back and watch her experimental doc The World is Mine and short films too.
2. THE SOUVENIR PART II | Joanna Hogg
Hogg’s follow-up to her personal drama doubles down on the first film’s self-reflexivity by having the main character Julie, who is already a fictionalised representation of Hogg, try to find her artistic voice by making a short film about the tragedy which concluded The Souvenir. On paper, that sounds plot-heavy and self-indulgent but Hogg is able to take this idea and make a sequel that is even more introspective and intimate than the first, and a work with a great sense of humour too, a facet of her filmmaking that is often overlooked. I haven’t yet seen The Eternal Daughter but I for one am all in on the Julie Hart cinematic universe.
1. ELVIS | Baz Luhrmann
As one would expect, Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the life of one of the most iconic figures in musical history isn’t your typical biopic. Yes, it has the skeleton of one, chronicling the titular musical icon’s life from cradle to grave. But Luhrmann tells it his way, rejecting the stale realism of most contemporary biopics and shifting the story of Elvis into an opulent mind play from the perspective of a dosed-up, debt-ridden Colonel Tom Parker (Never a Colonel, never a Tom, never a Parker). In doing so, Luhrmann is able to use his signature Bazmatazz to capture the transcendent electricity of Presley as a performer in a way that feels faithful yet completely modern and dreamlike.