I really enjoy the yearly ritual of delving into the depths of the year to reflect on my favourite watches for Directors Notes and have done so now for over a decade. When I went to write my top ten last year, I had just heard about the sudden death of my good friend and artistic mentor in Nottingham; Carol Crowe. I was just too sad to even open my laptop and we ran away to Whitby to see the new year in instead. I needed to feel cold air on my face and see comforting, familiar views.
2022 has been a year of gentle steps, finishing a new, deeply personal film – both shooting in the US and editing as well as starting another. My highlight was at legendary Rak Studios listening to Composer Tara Creme’s score being brought to life by a room full of skilled string players. I spontaneously burst into tears, hearing the temp music we had edited to for months being summoned to life. It was a real career highlight.
I lost another good friend and creative partner in September; Roger Knott- Fayle who amongst many things was a cameraman on three of my features. I’ve found hope, inspiration and sought solace in the cinema, seeking out stories that leaned into deep relationships and mined memories for meaning. I also racked up bangers and pop culture celebrations. Too many really for a tiny top ten. If you haven’t, watch them all. They’re all great.
Honourable mentions: The dizzying and stupifying Elvis. The heartfelt defiance of Nothing Compares. The dance routines and flying tigers of RRR, The intoxicating archive of Fire of Love, the essential eco-thriller The Territory, the urgency of Navalny, the artistry of Nope, a career best Udo Kier in Swan Song and the distant bang of Memoria.
10. MOONAGE DAYDREAM | Brett Morgen
In the opening frames of this musical immersion by Brett Morgen the B O W I E letters seared on my retinas. I was swept along. The film unfurls an evocation of Bowie’s artistic spirit much more effectively than any tired archive + talking head music doc ever could.
9. KARAOKE PARADISE (KARAOKEPARATIISI)| Einari Paakkanen
I saw this warm and moving Finnish film at CPH Dox in Copenhagen, back in April. It has a casual intimacy that belies the intricacy of the filmmaking. Karaoke can banish the melancholy and save your life.
8. THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN | Martin McDonagh
Men childishly fighting over their friendship and severed fingers being flung around is a film for me. Claustrophobic and darkly hilarious.
7. DECISION TO LEAVE | Park Chan-Wook
This haunting film is filled with twists and memorable images that linger. A fly on the eye of a corpse, the most beautiful use of a mobile screen… a sandy grave. Magic.
6. YOUNG PLATO | Neasa Ní Chianáin
This observational doc set in a post-Troubles Belfast focuses on Kevin McArevey, the head teacher of a catholic school that is attempting to harness philosophy to help the students escape conflict. I watched this film for BIFA and it is absolutely beautifully made. A real gem.
5. ASCENSION | Jessica Kingdon
Kingdon’s film is a sharp slice of contemporary Chinese life, from minimum wage day-workers to the super-rich. It’s told in a series of quirky, often darkly witty vignettes, resulting in a complex, nuanced portrait.
4. ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED | Laura Poitras
A documentary about Nan Goldin’s artistry as a photographer – documenting her friendships and personal history, including domestic violence, her time as a sex worker and the decimation of a generation during the AIDS crisis – would make for a fascinating film. Interwoven is a present tense narrative about Goldin taking on the big pharma Sackler company, shaming the biggest art institutions in the world into removing their name from their walls. In the hands of master filmmaker Laura Poitras it takes on a whole other level. I’m betting on this for best documentary Oscar.
3. AFTERSUN | Charlotte Wells
I knew nothing about this film before watching it, one rainy holiday day on a water-marked BIFA screener. It’s not always the best way to see a film but when the film is this good, the lack of big screen is unimportant. The layered, impressionistic memories of a young pre-teen daughter and her barely old enough to be a dad Paul Mescal, sharing one last holiday together in Tunisia knocked my socks off. That final shot, ooofft.
2. PETITE MAMAN | Céline Sciamma
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” Céline Sciamma
Another film about family relationships, this time a mother and daughter. A gentle, fantastical twist that allows the viewer to ponder what would it be like to meet your mother as a girl, as a friend. My daughter loved it as well, she wrote about it here.
1. THE REHEARSAL | Nathan Fielder
The Rehearsal broke my brain in the best way possible. I know this is television (I’m sorry MarBelle but I haven’t done a TOP ten for a year so I figured I’d stretch the rules) but it’s such good, memorable, awkward and layered ART that it has to be my number one this year. Don’t read anything, just seek out The Rehearsal and watch it all. Nathan Fielder is a clever and entertaining weirdo, in the best possible way.
You can check out the rest of team DN’s Top Ten picks here.