Words: Max Rawlinson
2022 offered a great resurgence for Hollywood. After the Covid-19 closures, cinema owners had been waiting for great-quality releases to bring audiences back to their local movie theatres. Whether it was a huge box office juggernaut or a smaller awards-friendly flick, we were spoilt for choice. Here are some of the best releases from 2022, and why, should you have missed them, you should be giving them a watch in 2023. Whether it was their incredible script, on-screen talent, or maybe a genius marketing technique, each of these films were bold creative projects that deserve to be remembered, even if in some cases, they have slipped through the net of pop culture.
'The Batman' is a prime example of how-to genre shift. What could have been just another comic book movie, ‘The Batman’ rose above this, being both accurate in the comic book sense, but also grounded in reality. Matt Reeves was greatly influenced by 1995’s 'Se7en' by director David Fincher and its imagery and tone were a brilliant homage to the classic thriller. Robert Pattinson was also an inspired casting as the caped hero, adding a certain prestige to the role. Paul Dano was also imperative to its success as his portrayal of the Riddler fit within the realistic world Reeves had created, while also remaining a genuinely terrifying villain. At a little over 3 hours, its pacing was impressive as you are kept engrossed throughout. With the movie leaning away from the supernatural, in favour of being more down to earth, ‘The Batman’ was all the more plausible and thrilling, elevating the movie-going experience tenfold.
Top Gun Maverick
'Top Gun Maverick' was a stunning achievement in blockbuster filmmaking. Tom Cruise remains one of Hollywood's last great movie stars, and he delivered once again. The movie's focus on practical stunt work and the use of real fighter jet footage was crucial to why it resonated with general audiences so much. Moreover, many highly skilled Navy pilots were used to create the complex aerial sequences shown. Today’s Hollywood also loves a nostalgia play, and ‘Top Gun Maverick’ is the perfect cocktail of traditional storytelling with a modern take. Its director Joseph Kosinski understood this, delivering an edge of your seat, heart-thumping thrill ride for its third act. It was a gamble for Paramount Studios to bring back such a dated IP and after releasing 36 years later from the original, no one could have predicted the slam dunk ‘Top Gun Maverick’ came to be, both critically and financially.
Avatar the Way of Water
After a 13-year wait, 'AVATAR THE WAY OF WATER' finally hit cinemas this December. With the 2009 predecessor making over $2.9 billion at the worldwide box office, the pressure was on for James Cameron to deliver a worthy sequel. And the wait was worth it. From start to finish, audiences around the world could not believe their eyes as they took in all the mesmerising visuals displayed in glorious 3D. With water being such a major focus, new techniques were created to make each scene look real. For example, actors were trained to hold their breath for up to 7 minutes while filming the underwater sequences in their motion-capture suits. At 3hrs 15min, the movie is paced well and the cast across the board were all great too. Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver & Stephen Lang’s performances were particularly powerful. Critics and audiences alike found the movie incredibly immersive, making it an experience that needed to be seen on the biggest screen to be realised. The Hollywood saying “Never bet against James Cameron” is now truer than ever, as both financially and artistically, Cameron has incredibly made lightning strike twice.
The Woman King
'The Woman King' was in many ways, a perfect movie. This is Gina Prince-Bythewood’s most slick production yet. Besides ‘The Old Guard’, which she directed for NETFLIX, this is one of Bythewood’s first big budget ventures, and she delivered. She effortlessly showcases the majesty of Africa, while also directing the complex fight sequences with ease. The story and script are also incredibly strong, with masterful call-backs and great twists throughout. There was some unfortunate controversy around its initial release as it touched upon many real life sensitive historical topics. Like many “based on true event” period pieces, some creative liberties were taken in service of the story, and ‘The Woman King’ was no exception. Its lead Viola Davis was a force to be reckoned with, commanding the screen with ease. Davis and her co-stars all trained for weeks, learning the fight choreography for all the practical stunt work the movie had. The entire cast was stellar, especially Lashana Lynch, whose electric performance was truly captivating to watch. The movie was shot almost entirely on location in the KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces in South Africa. This gave the movie a timeless quality, which only enhanced the visual storytelling further.
'SMILE' was a major win for 2022 theatrical releases for many reasons which included being a real crowd pleaser both critically and with audiences alongside its impressive box office run. This was Parker Finn's feature film directorial debut. Having only directed 2 short films before this, it is astonishing how he managed to deliver such a profound, slick horror movie on his first attempt. Conceptionally, the movie is not particularly ground-breaking, but it offers enough new ideas, and it is so well produced, that it still stands apart. The story and script were both incredibly solid, and the central performance by Sosie Bacon was also fantastic. Costing just $17 million to make, ‘SMILE’ also made a huge profit for Paramount, grossing over $216 million worldwide. For a movie with that small of a budget, this is phenomenal. Besides the quality of the movie, the advertisement campaign was incredibly smart, and they knew how to attract an audience. From well-placed adverts to hiding hired actors in crowds of broadcasted US sports games around the country to smile creepily into the camera throughout, the movie knew how to maximise media coverage and attention.
Hollywood today is slipping towards being a nostalgia & blockbuster factory. This is not an issue, as they have their place in cinema and they certainly drive the box office. However with ’LIVING’, it is abundantly clear that to tell a compelling story, you do not need an A-list cast or a big budget, you just need a talented screenwriter, a camera, and in this case, Bill Nighy. 'LIVING' was an adaptation of the 1952 Japanese film called 'IKIRU', which translates to "To Live" in English. This sums the movie and its message up beautifully, as it distinguishes the difference between being alive and truly living, something we all should reflect on from time to time. Bill Nighy’s effortless charm paired with his melancholy yet charismatic line delivery was both a joy to watch, but also a real tear-jerker. Aimee Lou Wood and Alex Sharp were other notable performances. Its box office performance was pretty bleak, but with its excellent audience scores and acclaimed critical success, it is a shame that it is being left out of the conversation for this year’s awards season, besides a few nods.
‘SHE SAID’ was a surprise for both audiences and the industry. From the trailers, many worried it may come across as overly preachy or like a Hollywood pat on the back. But it is far from that. Similar to 2020s 'BOMBSHELL', the movie explores sexual harassment in the workplace. Here however, instead of seeing it from within the system, you are on the outside looking in, which was fascinating. The movie follows Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan), the two New York Times reporters who exposed Hollywood's greatest sickness, Harvey Weinstein. Kazan and Mulligan expertly portray the modern working woman, showing the hardships of being career driven, while also balancing a family at home. As well as being an excellently crafted drama, it also plays out partly like a documentay, with real witness accounts and even an audio snippet of Weinstein himself with one of his victims. Carey Mulligan and Screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz are getting most of the attention at this year’s awards season, but it is a shame that the movie itself and her co-star Zoe Kazan are for the most part shut out.