In 2022, moviegoers were treated with a bounty of instant classics at the multiplex that proved that cinema is alive and well. Many high-profile blockbusters that earned impressive box-office receipts and discourse magnets that were showered in accolades have already been discussed at length in the many round-up lists you will come across around this time of the year.
Unfortunately, that means that countless other worthy titles have gone under the radar and remain in relative obscurity in spite of their quality. This list wishes to right that wrong by casting a light upon those films that might have garnered much less attention but are nevertheless worthy of your time. Without further ado, let’s dive in.
1. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
Art and activism intertwine in Laura Poitras’ uncompromising portrait of Nan Goldin, whose brilliant career as an American photographer and icon of the New York counterculture during the ’80s is only outshone by her courageous activism against the Sackler family, a wealthy dynasty that built a fortune with OxyContin during the opioid epidemic in the U.S..
As the title suggests, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” evokes joy and revolt in almost equal measure. First and foremost, this is a celebration of a trendsetting artist that showcases a beautiful selection of Goldin’s now-iconic photographs. The film also burrows deep into her personal background, from her upbringing in suburban Boston and D.C., the tragic death of her sister, all the way up to her adult life, allowing us to understand how all of these events helped shape Goldin’s artistic endeavors. Absolutely essential not only in its incisive observations but as a timely wake-up call, this film is not to be missed.
2. Argentina 1985
Courtroom dramas based on true stories are a dime a dozen these days, but Santiago Mitre’s new film, a Hollywoodized re-enactment of the Trial of the Juntas in Argentina, is telling proof that the formula is yet to be exhausted.
In the tradition of sturdy, academic staples like “All the President’s Men” and “JFK”, “Argentina 1985” manages to weave through decades-worth of investigation and testimonies all into 140 taut minutes, charting the heroic efforts of chief prosecutor Julio Strassera (Ricardo Darín) who, under constant death threats, brought justice to the victims of Argentina’s ruthless military dictatorship during the country’s rocky transition to democracy.
Unspooling leisurely in order to properly give a sense of the arduous and slow work of justice, “Argentina 1985” delivers exactly what it sets out to do. And though the movie hardly reinvents the formula, the fact that it recently picked up Best Foreign Film at the 2023 Golden Globes is irrefutable evidence that instructive stories that help us remember the past will always be valued among moviegoers.
In recounting the final days of an aging, misanthropic civil servant who’s suddenly diagnosed with stomach cancer and grapples with his own mortality in postwar Britain, “Living” provides a poignant exploration of the meaning of life and death that doubles down as a scathing indictment on bureaucracy.
On paper, a shot-for-shot remake of one of the most enduring humanist dramas in 20th century cinema might seem like a self-defeating endeavor. More than 70 years on, “Ikiru” remains one of the crowning achievements of Japanese legend Akira Kurosawa, which leaves Oliver Hermanus with little room for improvement. If his English remake manages to withstand unflattering comparisons, it is mostly thanks to Bill Nighy’s powerhouse performance, a nuanced turn that might very well earn him a long-overdue Best Actor nod. At once sincerely tender yet never cloying or manipulative, “Living” will tug at your emotional heartstrings.
4. No Bears
Despite being officially banned from filmmaking and currently serving a six-year sentence for “propaganda against the system”, Tehran-based director Jafar Panahi continues to beat the odds and defy the powers that be (even if he has to smuggle his work clandestinely to do so). His latest, a delectably provocative experiment on meta-cinema that blurs the line between fiction and reality, finds Panahi playing a version of himself as an oppressed director living in a remote rural village right across the Turkish border remotely overseeing his latest film.
Though it’s virtually impossible to detach the allegory from its thinly-veiled real-life inspiration, “No Bears” is more than just a bravado act of political resistance—it’s a film that tears at the very fabric of the art form, and most importantly, one deliberately intended to leave audiences with a whole lot to chew on. Though certainly entertaining at face value, “No Bears” reaches far beneath its surface.
5. Moonage Daydream
Anyone expecting a conventional David Bowie documentary is setting themselves up with Brett Morgen’s latest, which is anything but that. Whether packaged in two-hour-long feature films like “Elvis” or nine-parter series like “Get Back”, music documentaries often struggle to weave cohesive portraits of the life, career, and legacy of larger-than-life icons, let alone one as eccentric, complex, and multifaceted as David Bowie.
“Moonage Daydream” proved to be the exception to the rule; breathing new life into The Thin White Duke with a vibrant collage of images and sounds that seamlessly plods through decades-worth of archival material and unseen concert footage. And though Brett Morgen somehow encompasses the many faces of Bowie—the singer, painter, activist, iconoclast and silver screen legend—his stream of consciousness mutates into something bigger and transcendental than its central subject. Whether you’re a Bowie diehard fan or just a curious music aficionado, watching “Moonage Daydream” will be time well spent.