Adieu Godard. Credit:

It’s time for my annual favorite films list … but this year, I need to get something off my chest first.

It was already apparent before pandemic that cinema-going was under threat from Netflix, Amazon and the rest. The pandemic accelerated the process, killed the movie-going experience, and forced many of the Luddites amongst us — including me — to adapt to streaming. Now that we’re in the weird late stages of the pandemic, it’s clear the old normal isn’t coming back: When Berkeley’s last standing commercial theater looks likely to be the Elmwood, something has clearly changed.

What, then, constitutes a “film” in this brave new world? Films are, generally, not even shot on film anymore — and when a digital story is available on any device, no matter how small, what does the experience of watching a film entail? Most importantly for my annual end-of-the-year retrospective, what now counts as a movie?

When I started writing for Berkeleyside in 2009, the answer was an easy one: Movies were for the big screen; anything else was (yuck, sneer) for television. Those rules are gone now, so I need to adjust my approach when preparing my “favorites” list. Admittedly, that change got underway last year, when I included Peter Jackson’s Beatles’ documentary Get Back on my favorites list – but the trend is only going to accelerate. My column isn’t likely to turn into a celebration of Netflix originals and Hallmark Christmas movies, but my old self-imposed standard (“I’m only going to review things that either appear in a cinema, or would appear in a cinema if not for the pandemic”) is no longer fit for purpose.

So without further ado here are my favorite, er, “visual experiences” of 2022.

  1. Mad God: Literally decades in production, this stop-motion masterpiece was far and away the most unique, challenging, and interesting film of the year. And entertaining, too, for those in the right state of mind!
  2. Babi Yar. Context.: This Ukrainian documentary arrived shortly after Russia’s invasion, providing a timely reminder that history is rarely as neat and clean as we’d like it to be.
  3. Mondocane: An Italian action movie with a lot more going on than fist fights and explosions, Mondocane takes place in an all too believable and discomfiting future.
  4. Bad Luck Banging and Loony Porn: Overlook the goofy and disquieting title (and the unsimulated sex that opens the film); this Romanian feature provides wide-ranging discussions of morality, pedagogy, and the purpose and meaning of education.
  5. Adieu Godard: This lovely black and white comedy-drama arrived just prior to the passing of its namesake. Anyone who’s been moved by Godard’s Breathless will appreciate it.
  6. A Life on the Farm: A wonderfully quirky documentary about an eccentric Englishman who had no qualms about videotaping his deceased parents — and lots of other odd things, too.
  7. Emily the Criminal: I wasn’t able to review this film for Berkeleyside — it came and went while I was abroad — but it’s an excellent drama about the perils of the gig economy, confidently directed by John Patton Ford and anchored by a stellar performance from Aubrey Plaza as the titular character, a young woman just trying to pay off her loans.
  8. Farewell Mr. Haffmann: An excellent World War II character study about a Jewish shopkeeper hidden in the basement of his old business by the gentile who appropriated it.
  9. Intregalde: A humanitarian aid delivery goes very, very wrong in fascinating and unpredictable ways in this unique Romanian drama.
  10. Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror: An epic length documentary providing an in-depth look at the influence of ancient legends and folk tales on motion pictures.
  11. The Feast: I caught this Welsh language chiller at the British Film Institute this summer. For some reason it reminded me of Thomas Vinterberg’s A Celebration, which of course is titled Festen in the original Danish. In a post-screening Q & A, the director revealed he’d been in a stage production of Vinterberg’s film many years prior. Spooky!
  12. Ahed’s Knee: A semi-autobiographical tale of government overreach, self-censorship, and personal responsibility in contemporary Israel from writer-director Nadav Lapid.
  13. Farha: The perfect example of a film that would have played at the Shattuck if the Shattuck still existed, this was the best thing I saw this year on Netflix. Even high-def (don’t get me started on how much I hate high-def!) couldn’t ruin this powerful tale of the Nakba.
  14. Deadstream: I’ll conclude this year’s list with a very fun horror comedy filled with great latex monsters, a faux Carpenter soundtrack, and plenty of laughs and scares. It’s currently available via the streaming service Shudder.

Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box...