1. Neptune Frost – A post-gender Afrofuturist musical that triangulates unlikely holy ground between Black Orpheus, Bacurau, and Hackers. At its best, cinema is honest artifice. At its best, cinema is openly provocative & political; it’s a shared dream; it’s poetry. This is cinema at its best.
2. Inu-Oh – An anime fable about the glories & follies of rock n’ roll fame, illustrating how it can only elevate the marginalized so high before fascists at the top take notice and shut them down. Personally, it’s the best genderfucked feudal Japan glam rock opera I’ve ever seen, but I can’t speak for everyone.
3. Mad God – Both a for-its-own-sake immersion in scatological mayhem & an oddly touching reflection on the creative process, the indifference of time, and the cruelty of everything. It’s meticulously designed to either delight or irritate, so count me among the awed freaks who never wanted this stop-motion nightmare to end.
5. RRR – An anti-colonialist action epic about the power of friendship (and the power of bullets, and the power of wolves, and the power of grenades, and the power of tigers, and the power of dynamite, and the power of bears, oh my). A real skull-cracker of a good time.
6. Jackass Forever – Rewatching the first Jackass movie recently had me thinking about the series as a Reality TV update to Pink Flamingos, but I don’t know that Pink Flamingos ever reached this wide or otherwise unadventurous of an audience. I also don’t know that I’ve ever found a John Waters film to be this heartfelt & sentimental. For all of the Jackass series’ boneheaded commitment to gross-out gags, it’s also now a beautiful decades-long story about friendship (a friendship that just happens to be illustrated with feces & genital mutilation).
7. Deadstream – A found footage horror comedy about an obnoxious social media influencer getting his cosmic comeuppance while livestreaming his overnight tour of a haunted house. It’s a constantly surprising delight, getting huge laughs out of supernaturally torturing a YouTuber smartass with a sub-Ryan Reynolds sense of humor. It effectively does for The Blair Witch Project what Host did for Unfriended, borrowing its basic outline to stage a chaotic assemblage of over-the-top, technically impressive scare gags.
8. Please Baby Please – Ponders the question “What is a man, anyway?” through lofty academic discussions of how masculinity is socially engineered and through kinky 1950s kitsch. Andrea Riseborough gives THE performance of the year, approximating what it would be like if an especially rabid Jerri Blank had a Marlon Brando drag-king impersonation act. Queer menace, artifice, and excellence on a community theatre budget.
9. After Blue (Dirty Paradise) – A sci-fi acid Western that languidly fills the frame with the most mesmerizing, glitter-slathered nightmare imagery I saw all year. Its lesbian orgy planet that cowers in fear of a demonic, almighty Kate Bush reads like someone fed “James Bidgood’s Dune movie” into one of those AI art generators, and the results are intoxicating.
10. Strawberry Mansion – Look, I grew up in a time when Michel Gondry was a golden god to artsy teens everywhere and not a aughts-era fad everyone seems embarrassed to admit they were super into. So, of course I’m happy to see his arts & crafts aesthetic is back in vogue and prominently represented in this twee fantasy epic about dream-hopping lovers dodging pop-up ads in a near-future dystopia. Maybe I should be rolling my eyes at its analog whimsy but I’m happy to swoon instead.
11. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – Expected to enjoy this no matter what, since I’m in the exact Millennial target demographic that would be nostalgic for the titular stop-motion cutie’s original YouTube clips. Even so, I was super impressed by it, both as a rapidfire joke delivery system (where every punchline is “so small!”) and as an emotional defibrillator, shocking me back into the great wide world of communal joy after a few years of intense isolation.
12. Funny Pages – Proudly wears its 2000s indie nostalgia as a grimy badge of dishonor, questioning why Ghost World and The Safdies can’t share the same marquee. You might want to question where its alt-comics slackerdom fits in the modern world, but you also can’t deny that it’s nice to see Real People on the screen again. I say that with full sincerity and full awareness that it makes me sound like the exact kind of dipshit suburbanite poser the movie is brutally satirizing.
13. Flux Gourmet – Cronenberg wasn’t the only fetishist director who reconfigured his early works into a new fantasy world overrun by grotesque performance art last year. Crimes of the Future found an unlikely sister film in Peter Strickland’s latest, which brings the vague outline of Berberian Sound Studio up to speed with the more free-flowing absurdism the pervert auteur has achieved in the years since. The result is not quite as silly as In Fabric nor as sensual as The Duke of Burgundy, but it hits a nice sweet spot in-between.
14. Lux Æterna – In which Gaspar Noé deploys the same disorienting split screen technique he plays with in the much more subdued Vortex to actively attempt to melt his audience’s minds. The most authentically “psychotronic” movie I’ve seen in a while, one that balances out its seething hatred of backstage film set squabbling with a love for witchcraft, strobe lights, leather jackets, and wearing sunglasses indoors. A truly stunning experience; consult your doctor before subjecting your brain.
15. Belle – Pretends to be a sci-fi anime update of Beauty and the Beast, but it’s more a virtual reality teen fantasy drama about the merits & limitations of seeking community online. Weird coincidence that both this & Inu-oh happen to feature whale-themed light shows in their stadium concert fantasy sequences, as if they’re both anime illustrations of The Decemberists performing “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”.
16. We Met in Virtual Reality – Billed as “the first feature-length documentary filmed entirely in VR,” this is basically Belle except for “real” and without all those pesky trips back to the physical world. Most remarkable as a bizarre descent into the niche nerd-culture subdungeons that the internet was built for but rarely makes room for anymore. Happy to see that documented before the Metaverse turns it all into a digital Target.
17. EO – Jerzy Skolimowski’s noble donkey tale only occasionally plays like a colorized TV edit of Au Hasard Balthasar. More often, it takes wild detours into an energetic, dreamlike approximation of what it might look like if Gaspar Noé directed Homeward Bound. It’s incredible that a film this vibrant & playful was made by a long-respected octogenarian, not a fresh-outta-film-school prankster with something to prove.
18. You Won’t Be Alone – A post-VVitch coming-of-age folktale about shapeshifting, bodyhopping witchcraft. If it’s to be dealt with as a horror film, it’s Imposter Syndrome Horror (or maybe just a nightmare scenario where Freddy Krueger is your adoptive mother). Mostly, though, it’s a supernatural drama about all the various ways life can be miserable unless you luck into a well-nurtured youth.
19. Hatching – A great entry in the Puberty as Monstrous Transformation canon, along with titles like Ginger Snaps, Jennifer’s Body, Teeth, and Carrie. Stands out in that crowd by adding an extra layer about mothers living vicariously through their daughters in unhealthy ways. Also achieves a lot on what appears to be a limited budget, leaning into its cheapness to create the kind of plastic world you’d expect to find in a music box.
20. Men – There’s been a lot of pushback against the idea that A24 has a house style, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve guessed the studio that produced this before I would’ve guessed the director. Alex Garland is usually reliable for chilly sci-fi, not atmospheric folk horror with a blatant 1:1 metaphor driving all of its grotesque imagery. Kind of a useless distinction, though, since I’m a fan of both. If it weren’t for the tabloidification of Don’t Worry Darling, this would easily be the most over-complained about movie of 2022.