Leading up to the rush and excitement of awards season, we reflect upon the cinematic pieces of the past year that are (and at times, aren’t) being celebrated. To see heart, story, and culture make a strong appearance in a modern, media-based age shows that we are not constantly losing touch. The film has a way of remaining timeless in an ever-changing era, and 2022 can be said to have gone above this.

10 must-watch films

1. Aftersun

Writer and director Charlotte WellsAftersun reigned among the releases of 2022, proving her as an extraordinary masterclass in human workings and relationships. It is hard to believe that this is Wells’ first feature following her shorts, and it really can be said that she has made a powerhouse of herself with this smashing debut.

Films - Aftersun

With this being said firsthand, we note how much voice needs to be given to female filmmakers, since Aftersun did not receive a single Academy Award or Golden Globe nomination and was snubbed at BAFTAS when it was nominated. And this isn’t to say that the by-standing films of 2022 didn’t deserve a win. Yet it is to say that Wells’ female, independent status has an impact on its external success.

Based on Wells’ relationship with her father, Aftersun follows eleven-year-old Sophie from Edinburgh on a summer holiday in Turkey with her 30-year-old father, Calum. Having separated from her mother, the two live apart, and this is one of the rare moments that Sophie gets quality time with her father.

She decides to record it all on a late-1990s MiniDV camera. Exploring a single father’s balancing of a deep depression with his daughter present all in a brightly graded summertime setting provides a delicately poignant take on the human condition. The impact of Aftersun is its combination of subtle direction, performances focusing on emotional complexities and a simple, hitting storyline.

Wells has showcased what human beings can do with art and it is beyond the aesthetics of her work. Feeling and interpretation are the heart of art, and Wells’ presentation of how energetically and harrowing this can be portrayed onscreen celebrates cinema. 

The Wrap summed up Aftersun as an “exquisite revelation – you don’t walk away the same person”. With a heart-wrenching plot left in the air for audiences’ interpretation, we think, we feel, and we do, indeed, sob in our seats. 

Most emotionally notable: The direction, music, and meaning behind the film’s final ‘Under Pressure’ sequence/scene.

2. Living

Another championing underdog was Oliver Hermanus’ Living. From the producers of Carol (2015) and The Crying Game (1992) and a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, Bill Nighy stars as a stark corporate businessman in 1950s London, who reevaluates his existence after receiving a life-changing diagnosis.

2022 has not seen a film this classically poignant and stripped back against all odds, showcasing the beauty in filmmaking. Being pronounced with six months to live when finding out he has terminal cancer, Mr Williams retreats from a darkly lit office in London to the Brighton seaside to search for meaning. 

Starring Bill Nighy, Aimee-Lou Wood and Tom Burke, this British adaptation of 1953’s Japanese film Ikiru (To Live) acts as an absolute philosophical escape and embrace of value and variety. And no one but Bill Nighy could play this insufferably beautiful character. It is as though he stems from interpretations of his character in About Time (2013) – also a father with a profoundly affecting, fatal diagnosis who embraces the touching pathos of life.  

3. The Banshees of Inisherin

Brit-Irish playwright and director Martin McDonagh’s Banshees of Inisherin had us viewers return to the beauty of human relationships, much like the already discussed films on this list. Utilising landscape and scenario to dictate a storyline and celebrating a strong culture in a political atmosphere, this folktale won over cinephiles with its heart. 

Thinking of cinematic gems that are based on the emotional and physical journey of a singular character, we recall director and feminist pioneer Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7, a tale about one woman contemplating her reality when at risk of an upcoming medical result. Banshees serves as both a cultural metaphor and a visual, painterly film. 

We can call it a study of the effects of living on a remote Irish island, seeing how two men entertain themselves amid a wallowing civil war. Not only this, but we can view a reality we do not know and get lost in the fable-like storytelling and breathtaking cinematography. McDonaugh’s screenwriting is also a testament to his talent, as the combination of wit, Irish slang, and historical referencing marks excellent originality.

4. Pinocchio

Guillermo Del Toro, as he so notoriously succeeds in any feat when presenting a work, makes a poignant political landscape of a story. Del Toro’s Pinocchio takes the classic novel by Italian writer Carlo Collodi and his beloved Disney adaptation and twists it on its head to fit its time and a modern context. 

The astonishing amount of effort that went into 2022’s Pinocchio shows us a gruelling filmmaking process. Over ten years in the making after seeing Gris Grimly’s illustrations of the 2002 edition of the childhood classic, Del Toro had 40 animators in more than 60 departments putting 24 frames per second together. Our generation’s Netflix adaptation of Pinocchio gives a new voice and shows the potential of animation – a wonder for both children and adults.

5. She Said

Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s shocking descent and imprisonment came with many valid stories to tell. Igniting the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment in early 2018, we learned a lot as a global society. Director Maria Schrader and writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz’ She Said recalls publishing the New York Times article that officially put out voices against Weinstein, sparking a riot and encouraging many voices to protest.

Carey Mulligan has starred in numerous roles that present boldly important feminist arguments (2015’s Suffragette and 2021’s Promising Young Woman) and does it again in the lead role of investigative reporter Megan Twohey, with Zoe Kazan starring as correspondent Jodi Kantor. These journalists take the quietened squeak of women across the planet and catapult it into the global news-sphere, shaping a louder voice that says #MeToo. 

Illustrating one renowned article’s literal emotional and performance-driven professional journey, we see how dedication and devotion to a cause can be a beautiful working purpose. The film’s purpose shows how much your career can impact society and that bravery accepts no defeats if we are arguing empathy and basic morality.

6. Good Luck To You, Leo Grande

We all know that Emma Thompson is a powerhouse of an actress and figure for women across the planet, at least in this author’s eyes. The Independent film Good Luck To You, Leo Grande by director Sophie Hyde and writer Katy Brand is a beautifully, sensitively told tale of one’s human nature.

Retired widow Nancy Stokes embarks on a physical and emotional journey of pleasure and introspection as she hires a male prostitute to fulfil a dying, dead, lifeless marriage. The coming-of-age story is all acted out in one hotel room setting, similar to a strong, character-driven, thematic play.

To debunk any shame around traditionalist views on women’s sexuality, sex workers themselves unfold the meaning of fulfilment to celebrate human nature. Emma Thompson is phenomenal and outstanding for women of all ages, acting as a fierce, witty individual and a comforting voice of philosophical, soulful reasoning. 

7. The House

2022 saw us celebrate many spheres of animation, and The House, written by Enda Walsh and directed by a team of women (Emma De Swaef, Paloma Baeza, Niki L. von Bahn), is a new accomplice. It discusses poignant topics in an incredibly thoughtful, comforting, and somehow beautiful way, though the painful way is bound to get to the heart of us.

Set in an apocalyptic world where a flood has overtaken ‘the’ house, we meet a landlord and several tenants who react to their new reality as the water rises. They dream of restoration, both metaphorically and literally. 

If we see diversity in plot and creativity in the form of animation, we recognise the endless methods and possibilities that filmmaking presents. To touch us in ways that we may not usually stir towards. 

8. Everything Everywhere All At Once

Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s smash-hit, great confusion of a film ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ completely swept up a total of seven Academy Awards this season, reinstating a place for diversity in cinema. 

The film follows Chinese-American immigrant Evelyn Wang, who must connect with parallel universe variations of herself and her family throughout the multiverse in a twisting action with heart. Wang and her family’s laundromat business is threatened as the IRA interrogates them on their tax payments.

Blending sci-fi with comedy, action, arthouse, drama, and animation, you do not necessarily need to be a great comic-book or fantasy fan to appreciate the swirling physical and emotional motions of the Daniels’ film. Utilising multiverses, expert editing styles, and beautiful themes following family, class, and generational expression make Everything Everywhere All At Once initially confusing, though painstakingly impactful.

9. Belfast

Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical Belfast narrates a working-class family during the 1960s Troubles in Northern Ireland. Studying religion, integrity, and childhood, it succeeds for the most part in telling a sentimental story, though it lacks any real depth.

The stylistic choices of Branagh’s Belfast make it an aesthetic and emotional treat, as the entire film is in black & white. Paying homage to the technological and emotional discolouration throughout The Troubles, we are invited into the childlike perspective of Buddy, softening the edges of an intensely religious/political landscape (this is the Catholic vs Protestant breakdown we’re talking about).

Yet, Branagh seems to go for a more subtle, cosy, and familial mode of storytelling when illustrating the severe outbreak. And the film itself was not crafted on location but rather in a warehouse studio in London, making us question its authenticity (if we are snobbish). However, this decision to paint a picture of a nuclear, working-class family in an ever-changing, dark era of Irish history recognises The Troubles wretched disruption amongst some normalcy. 

10. The Batman

This generation’s Bruce Wayne comes in at number 10 amongst the cinematic works of 2022, but that’s not to say that it did not succeed. Following Halloween in Gotham City, the Mayor is murdered by the infamous Riddler, whom Batman must track down and interrogate. Matt Reeves writes and directs the modern haze of Gotham City, and audiences delve into the darkened landscape in a deep seeded drama. 

We have a lovely cast to serve as eye candy (Robert Pattinson leads as Batman and Zoe Kravitz supports as Catwoman) and quality entertainment. The production styles and value of 2022’s Batman may also be the best, though we can argue that this means we are overlooking the strength that needs to exist in the plot the same way it once did.