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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Intregalde: A humanitarian aid delivery goes very, very wrong in fascinating and unpredictable ways in this unique Romanian drama.
- 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.
- 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!
- Ahed’s Knee: A semi-autobiographical tale of government overreach, self-censorship, and personal responsibility in contemporary Israel from writer-director Nadav Lapid.
- 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.
- 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.