Chris Dashiell talks about his favorite films from the previous year.
Every year it’s my difficult task to list my favorite films of the past year. And I’m always late, because it takes a couple months for me to catch up. 2022 was a fantastic year for movies, although I still take note of them within the blurry outlines of the pandemic, going back a couple of years. If we must have a theme, for me it’s surviving and emerging from the past into new awareness.
Aftersun (Charlotte Welles).
My favorite film of the year, the feature debut of Scottish writer and director Charlotte Welles, is about an eleven-year-old girl staying for the summer with her divorced dad at a seaside resort. Wells captures a certain time of childhood, when Sophie, played by Frankie Corio, is discovering her own independent thoughts and feelings about life, while learning from and enjoying the presence of her father Calum, played by Paul Mescal, whom she doesn’t get to see much during the year. He is a loving father who pays close attention to what his daughter has to say, and respects her, even though we notice concealed tensions connected to his estrangement from Sophie’s mother. Welles lets us simply observe the interactions of these two, being especially sensitive to the moods and desires of her young heroine. I can’t recall another film that so vividly portrays the real love of a child for a parent. The film keeps hitting the sweet spot of reverie, exploration, and understanding, displaying a level of visual skill and emotional honesty that is astonishing from a new talent. It takes us on a heart-centered journey that is never cloying, but increasingly beautiful and moving, especially after we realize that what we’re seeing is memory of Sophie years later when she’s an adult. Aftersun is the kind of movie people sometimes call “modest,” yet the impact is great.
Eo (Jerzy Skolimowski).
This profound film looks at life from the innocent eyes of its non-human protagonist, a donkey, whose journey from one owner to the next reveals not only the broad spectrum of human yearning and suffering, but an imagined perspective in which the travails of an animal transcend all the drama we may choose to create about ourselves. Skolimowski attempts to create an existential bridge between our human experience and that of an animal by developing a tragic and transcendent vision. Eo, whose name is the sound he makes, is all of us in a sense, yet has a real life and experience beyond us.
Vortex (Gaspar Noé).
Vortex presented one of the most unexpected revelations of the year for me. In Paris, a married couple has difficulty navigating the challenges of old age, especially the wife, played indelibly by Françoise Lebrun, who is slipping into dementia. The subject matter might seem familiar, but the treatment is something completely new. Noé divides the screen in half, left and right. One camera follows the husband, the other the wife, bringing home how we are in a sense always alone even when together. I found the emotions and insights we experience in Vortex, through means of this technique, tremendously meaningful.
Benediction (Terence Davies).
We observe the great World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon, as a young man turning against war and as an older man looking back on his life with regret. The depiction of the gay London art scene in the 1920s is invaluable, but the power of Benediction is fully revealed by Davies’ vision of lost love, and its echo through the entire course of a man’s life.
Petite Maman (Céline Sciamma).
Simplicity is a rare artistic virtue that Sciamma employs with seemingly effortless skill. A little girl sees her mother mourning the death of her grandmother, but wants to know more. The film’s fairy tale structure shows the girl getting to actually meet her mother when she was a girl. A blissfully moving experience.
The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh).
McDonagh returns to the world of his plays in this extremely well-written portrait of shared madness on an island off the Irish coast a hundred years ago. One man (Brendan Gleeson) decides to suddenly end his friendship with another (Colin Farrell, in a career performance), and the sharply observant humor gradually turns to tragedy.
This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection
(Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese).
In Lesotho, an 80-year old woman (Mary Twala Mhlongo) has buried the last surviving member of her family, her son. Now she just wants to die, but the news that the village’s ancestral graveyard will be flooded because of a new dam awakens her defiant spirit. The film’s brutal honesty is conveyed in a unique style reflecting mythical storytelling traditions.
White Noise (Noah Baumbach).
Baumbach’s decision to direct someone else’s material for a change—Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel of the same name—has pushed his art to a higher level. This is a darkly hilarious satire of cultural turmoil in which a college professor (Adam Driver) and his family are caught up in a toxic train derailment (sound familiar?) that exposes the folly and fragility of American life.
Quo Vadis, Aida? (Jasmila Žbanić)
The terror of being at the mercy of one’s worst enemies is portrayed with harrowing veracity in this story of a Bosnian translator (Jasna Đuričić) trying to hide her husband and sons from the Serbians, who have surrounded the city of Srebrenica during the brutal 1992-95 war. The atmosphere of crime that surrounds war is so graphically conveyed that it shook me.
Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths
(Alejandro G. Iñárritu).
Iñárritu turns his gaze inward in this story of a Mexican filmmaker (Daniel Giménez-Cacho) returning home from success in the U.S., and trying to deal with his contradictions. The film takes an epic form: a concatenation of family drama, dreams, and wild imaginings. The artist confronts and celebrates every part of his being until encountering a final challenge.
Want more? Here are ten excellent B-sides:
Decision to Leave (Park Chan-wook).
The Good Boss (Fernando León de Aranoa).
Hold Me Tight (Mathieu Amalric).
Paris Calligrammes (Ulrike Ottinger)
Tár (Todd Field)
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Radu Jude)
Navalny (Daniel Roher)
Huesera: The Bone Woman (Michelle Garza Cervera)
Gunda (Viktor Kossakovsky)
The Velvet Underground (Todd Haynes)
And a happy 2023 to all cinephiles!