All the real cinephiles know that to find the best films in the world, one has to look beyond English-speaking cinema. "Parasite" brought some much-needed attention to non-English language cinema in America when it swept the Oscars in 2019, and the world has not stopped producing incredible films in the years since. Luckily for you, I watched dozens of the best films from around the world this year and picked out the cream of the crop so you didn't have to. I expanded my search beyond the festival circuit and found movies that excel in every genre, from action and adventure to slow-burning dramas, so there will be something in here for everyone.
The global cinema of 2022 is haunted by the pandemic. It is up close and personal and a little bit scatterbrained. It is actively commenting on the cinematic tropes of yesteryear and transforming them into a spectacle. It is pulling references and genres from throughout space and time to deliver a never-before-seen version of familiar stories. If you've never watched anything with subtitles, this list is a great place to start. The canon of must-see, globally renowned films stretches back to the dawn of cinema and expands every year. Forget what normally appeals to you. I encourage you to open your mind and step outside of your comfort zone — for the love of movies.
10. Bardo, False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths
In this 2022 Netflix film, the director of "Birdman" gives his eclectic take on Federico Fellini's "8 ½." A documentary filmmaker navigates a dreamy landscape surrounding his latest work, "False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths." Filmmaking is like a materialized dream — it brings a subjective reality to life. Since the documentary medium claims objectivity, it is all the more false, which adds a totally new dimension to Fellini's original story.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu's signature dynamic camera tracks the main character's movement in and out of scenes. This style lends itself perfectly to the film's dreamscape and illogical progression from scene to scene. We are at Gacho's whim as he navigates his unpredictable universe. The story unfolds slowly, but it does not come easily. Iñárritu trusts his audience to understand his playful approach to narrative. "Bardo" is a spiritual remake of "8 ½" to be sure, but it's fun to see the original film's maximalism and dreaminess applied to the contemporary world, an infinitely more maximalist and incomprehensible climate.
If you're a fan of lush period dramas about angsty women like "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" and "Spencer," look no further. "Corsage," directed by Austrian director Marie Kreutzer, features an unforgettable lead performance from Vicky Krieps as the Austrian empress Elizabeth. As her country clings to their monarchy, the empress clings to her youth while she moves into middle age — and pisses just about everyone off in the process. She embarasses her children and her husband by throwing social convention to the wind, but she seems to be the only one to recognize that this social convention is dying and giving way to a new order. What makes this antihero most interesting is that she's not always sympathetic, but she remains compelling till the very end. No need to take my word for it — the actress also earned the distinction of Un Certain Regard at Cannes Film Festival.
"Corsage" was one of the more beautiful period pieces I've seen in years, which is perhaps the main reason why it earned a spot on this list. No detail was spared, from the distinctive hairstyles of the Austrian aristocrats to the expensive palace interiors to the cartoonishly appetizing pastries. Nothing stood out as cheap or phoned in, so there was nothing to pull me out of 1800s Austria — I was locked in from beginning to end.
The main character of "EO" might be an adorable little donkey, but he does not get the Disney treatment. EO isn't ascribed human characteristics, like "Babe." We sympathize with EO because he is an animal, not in spite of it. He is helpless as people project their own image onto him, one that subjects him to violence and spectacle. The film was full of beautiful landscapes and sweeping wide shots, but even more intriguing were its close-ups of the protagonist. One part of me wanted to ascribe emotion behind his eyes, to feel the animal's pain as my own. Another part of me saw the unthinking and unfeeling way of nature — much like how Werner Herzog describes the bears' gaze in "Grizzly Man."
We see the darker instincts of humanity play out in "EO." Much like in Robert Bresson's classic film, "Au Hasard Balthazar," the cruelty of human nature is crystalized through the eyes of an innocent creature. At times we are even brought into the emotional world of the donkey through POV shots from EO's height or impressionistic lighting so red it feels like the scene has been soaked in blood. Jerzy Skolimowski's award-winning film isn't action-packed, and yet there is never a dull moment — a testament to its subdued power.
7. In Front Of Your Face
The director Hong Sang-soo is known for simple and touching dramas like "On the Beach at Night Alone," and he is at his best in "In Front of Your Face," a contemplative slow-burning narrative about a woman visiting her sister in Korea after moving to America many years earlier. The stakes of the meeting feel high, as if their time apart has made them realize that each meeting could be their last.
"In Front of Your Face" is comprised mostly of very long wide shots, the director's signature style. Scenes unfold like a play before the viewer. The static camera creates few visual changes within a scene, so the slightest adjustment in tone or posture holds a lot of weight. That, which would usually bore me, felt exciting and full of tension, like the subtle flirtations of the main characters in "The Age of Innocence." Hong fits humor, drama, romance, and music into just a few shots.
The film also appears to have been shot on an iPhone, giving it the texture of a vlog or a videogame. The grain of the phone camera made the film feel more true to life than the hyper-realistic detail of the digital camera. I wanted to immerse myself in the world of this film and take a long, peaceful stroll.
6. The Worst Person In The World
"The Worst Person in the World" can be viewed from two completely different perspectives. On the surface, it reads as a modern young woman's triumph of self-discovery. Lots of people loved this movie because this message appealed to them, but this simplistic thesis repelled me. Why would I want to see a male director try to illustrate an innately feminine experience, especially when a female director could accomplish the very same?
When I finally sat down to watch this film, I found something much more cynical than I expected. Every scene made my stomach churn in some entirely new way, an effect that may have been unintentional but was nonetheless incredibly powerful. The B-plot about the subversive comic Bobcat, however, made me question the director Joachim Trier's true stance on contemporary feminist messages.
Julie's path paralleled the protagonist of Eric Rohmer's "The Green Ray," as if Julie was the blob girl millennial answer to Rohmer's Delphine. Does Trier execute this portrait of a modern woman's hysteria more successfully than existing work like Lena Dunham's "Girls?" Maybe not. However, I do feel that "Worst Person" is similarly misunderstood, which is why I felt compelled to include it here.
5. Decision To Leave
What begins as a fast-paced murder mystery devolves into something even more mysterious — the pursuit of a single woman. As a fan of the director Park Chan-wook's films like "Oldboy" and "The Handmaiden," I knew I was in for a twist or two that I wouldn't see coming. What I truly didn't expect was for Park to delve even further into the feminine psyche, as he had begun to do in "The Handmaiden."
"Decision to Leave" felt more like a turn-of-the-century novel written by a woman than a film made by Park Chan-wook. The film still has Park's touch, so his fans will not be disappointed, but the director strays further into the realm of ambiguity than ever before. The narrative spins itself into a furled-up mystery that is perhaps even more impossible to untangle than any of Park's previous work. Rather than tying itself up with a bow, this neo-noir is more comparable to "The Big Sleep" than "Double Indemnity."
This Korean crime film pulls at your heartstrings, so watch at your own risk. My friend and I watched this together and we both cried during the screening … and a little bit after.
Every moment of action in "RRR" was totally hyperreal. One man mows through a crowd of hundreds. People fly through the air and shoot rifles mid-jump, landing perfect bulls-eye shots. War is made into a choreographed dance, and choreographed dances are pure ecstatic joy. The two main characters, Rama and Bheem, are both insanely epic and compelling. They've got moves on the battlefield and on the dance floor, and the ladies love them — even the British ones.
The story is a perfect cat-and-mouse narrative, with the main characters acting as both foils and mirrors of one another. Their friendship is full of upbeat, heartfelt, and complicated moments. Despite the long runtime, the plot unfolds at a perfect pace and reveals happen at all the right moments. I'd highly recommend this movie if fast-paced fun with over-the-top action is at all appealing to you — think "Train to Busan," but with tigers.
Old Hollywood musicals like "Singin' in the Rain" fit their musical moments in with awkwardly crafted scenarios, while contemporary examples like "In the Heights" move the plot along through the lyrics. In "RRR," music is a poetic punctuation of an emotional moment. If you're watching the English dub, I'd recommend turning on the subtitles for full lyrical impact, but the Telugu-language version is, of course, the best method of viewing.
I signed on for a fast-paced crime thriller a la Quentin Tarantino, but what I got was a horror game with beautiful graphics, a haunting score, and a moving plot about war and spirituality in Africa. I laughed, I cried, and I jumped out of my seat. I'm not usually a fan of primary color palettes, but "Saloum" manages to mute everything on screen into a dusky texture that feels gothic and digitally rendered.
The playful tone, gritty subject, and quirky title cards reminded me of "The Hateful Eight" at first, while the landscape and costuming reminded me of "Fallout New Vegas." The score and the growing tension were reminiscent of my favorite anime, "Cowboy Bebop," and the horror elements reminded me of the mystical Thai film, "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives."
"Saloum" is eclectic, with moments of meditation and thrilling action sequences. The plot was full of surprises and didn't lull for a single moment. Once it started, I couldn't look away once — every moment of the 90-minute runtime is utilized to the fullest. I would recommend this film to just about anyone, from action movie buffs to video-game nerds to fans of stylistic horror like "Sucker Punch" and "Crimson Peak." If you love movies at all — and maybe even if you don't — you will find something to love about "Saloum."
2. Official Competition
This is the ultimate meta film for everyone that's exhausted — or shamelessly thrilled — by the tropes of the festival circuit. "Official Competition" is brimming with foils, fabrications, and duplicates. It follows the rehearsals for a film within the film directed by an internationally acclaimed eccentric filmmaker played by Penelope Cruz. The narrative follows two brothers trapped in an intense sibling rivalry. The older and more successful brother is played by an actor with a more serious and intellectual career, portrayed by Argentine actor Oscar Martínez. The younger and more submissive brother is played by a flashy and world-famous actor, who is played by Antonio Banderas.
The two actors are natural antagonists, but we quickly learn that they are much more alike than they seem. "Official Competition" explores how each of the actors is doubled within themselves. They perform their identity as much as they perform their character's identity, and sometimes their true self is closer to a fictional character than who they claim to be. As soon as the character they play must assume a pretend identity or emotion, this performance of self is doubled over yet again. When a film is about a film it is a reflection of itself. The two main characters are reflections of one another, and the actors are reflections of their characters and each other. By this logic, "Official Competition" is a hall of mirrors.
It's rare that such an expertly crafted narrative also lends itself to moments of pure humanity, but "Official Competition" manages to accomplish both feats at once. This film was nothing short of a masterpiece, and I'm declaring it an absolute must-see.
Gaspar Noe is known for creating gut-wrenching, visceral work, experimenting with perspective in his camera work, and editing. His most recent film, "Vortex," follows an elderly couple in the split-screen format as one slips into dementia and their son battles heroin addiction.
"Vortex" naturally bears comparison to Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream." Both leave the viewer with strong feelings of nausea and hopelessness, and both of them made me sob uncontrollably. They each have a strong and distinctive visual sensibility that includes packing multiple pictures within a single frame for maximum impact. Noe employs the split-screen not just to overwhelm the viewer, but to tell two stories simultaneously. Seeing the camera steadily focus on both subjects at once has a kind of meditative power that gets lost in cross-cuts.
I'm a fan of Noe's previous work, but he often relied on extremes to create a connection between his characters and the audience, like the POV shots in "Enter the Void," or the unsimulated sex in "Love" or the prolonged shots of extreme violence in "Irreversible." "Vortex" is the first film of his where I have not felt emotionally alienated from the characters, which made the viewing experience all the more impactful. This shift can also be accredited to outstanding lead performances from Dario Argento and Françoise Lebrun that I won't soon forget.
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