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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, March 12, 2023

entry arrow7:00 AM | The Movies of Film Year 2022

I have been remiss. I used to write regular movie reviews in this space, and for a number of national publications, for many years—but something happened that made me stop, although I cannot pinpoint exactly why. The pandemic certainly didn’t help. Nor did local cinema chains that seemed bent on screening only the most inane movies—and when a good film did come along, it would be scheduled so haphazardly that if you blinked it would be quickly gone. For a while, around 2018, I gave up on Filipino film because I found that most of the titles being reviewed could only be enjoyed if you were in Manila and had access to festivals. When I would peruse the “best-of” end-of-the-year lists by other reviewers, I could not identify a single title I could readily see—so I gave up. But I think I mostly stopped because I was loathe to contribute opinion in a culture that has become so awash in loud pontifications from all kinds of platforms that everything has erupted to white noise.

But the movie-watching certainly did not stop, and I am rabid. Letterbxd has given cineasts like me a means with which to track our movie-watching, and I have statistics from as far back as 2021, the year I went back to Letterbxd after signing up in 2013 [and then letting my account go idle]. In 2021, I logged 3,649 films. That’s a lot of movie-watching, verging on the impossible, but then again, it was in the middle of a pandemic, and I was also logging in films I had watched in 2020. In 2022, I logged 2,632 films—a considerable decrease, but still a lot; I was returning to normal life around that time, so it tracks. In 2023, I have logged 405 films so far—and we’re only in March!

I would post short commentaries as reviews on Letterbxd, sometimes cross-posting to other social media platforms—but only when I felt like it. I could be rhapsodic [on Bruce Weber’s 1988 documentary Let’s Get Lost, I wrote: “The saddest, the most beautiful documentary I've seen on a music legend. The black and white photography is gorgeous—you can’t expect anything less from the director, the brilliant photographer Bruce Weber. The music is evocative and gets under your skin—a jazz soundtrack to die for. (I kept playing “Imagination” on the OST on repeat because it was just astonishing.) And the subject himself oozes with talent, charisma, and mystery—you can’t help but fall hard for this beautiful asshole of a genius. This film has been on my queue list for months. Why did I wait?”], and I could be sniggering but still admiring [on Luca Guadagnino’s 2022 anthropophagist drama Bones and All, I wrote: “This is like Guadagnino trolling fans of Call Me By Your Name. He makes a cannibal romance—in the light of allegations of Armie Hammer’s cannibalistic tendencies. And he makes demon twink Timothee Chalamet do a gay trick—only to make him turn cannibalistic on that trick!”], and I could be dismissive [on James Gray’s 2022 coming-of-age autofiction Armaggedon Time, I simply wrote: “This film made me not want to have children, ever”].

Consider this then a kind of return to film reviewing—sort of. I just felt like celebrating the films of 2022, which was a fantastic year for films, if also heartbreaking. And this feels like the best moment to do exactly that before it becomes too late.

Tomorrow, after all, is the 13th of March—a Monday—and the 95th Oscar ceremonies will be telecast live in the Philippines in the early morning. [It will be Sunday night, March 12, in Los Angeles, where the actual show will unfold.] And with that, the 2022 film year for the most rabid of cineasts will have “officially” ended, in consideration of all the films that were released in the previous year. Most people come up with their Top Ten lists around the holidays. Not me. I hold off until February or March because there’s so much to catch up around January, it’s impossible to get a more comprehensive idea of what kind of film year the previous year has been thus far.

I thought of writing up this article on Global Movie Day last February 11—but alas I was still trying to catch a bunch of 2022 films I was missing. I had seen almost all the major releases, save for the holdouts such as The Whale [which held out on VOD release until after the Oscar nominations came out] and Living, which comes from the notorious Sony Pictures Classics, a distributor whose annual evil gameplan is always to do a very limited qualifying run in December and then hold off releasing their films until right before the world ends. But as I watch each title over the course of the past months, I’ve ranked them as best as I could—putting together feature films with documentaries and short films and animated films, in a merry mishmash that does not discriminate over length, genre, or tradition. And as usual, I cannot limit myself to ten. For me, there were easily fifty films that were quite excellent.

Todd Field’s Tár [#1] is my favorite film of the year—a divisive film about a celebrated female conductor caught in the ravages of cancel culture that has many people squeamish about its muddled message, cold presentation, and apparently racist undertones [especially the end]—but I connected well with its vibe, I understood what it was trying to say, and I am demolished by Cate Blanchett’s performance. From its startling opening credits and the prologue that was basically a New Yorker interview, to its ghostly manifestations and pan-Southeast Asian fall from grace, I loved every minute of this film, so much so that after watching it, I was compelled to watch it again. It is not, however, everyone’s cup of tea.

Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans [#2] is a film tailor-made for someone like me, a movie geek eager to feast on the Hollywood legend’s attempt at autofiction: fictionalizing [barely] his own life growing up in a family where the father [standing in for practicality] is at odds with the mother [standing in for celebrating artistic impulses]—and learning to bridge both while finding his own cinematic language.

The Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once [#3] is a kinetic wonderland of cinematic chaos that somehow found a sublime unity in its tale of a harassed Chinese-American housewife and laundrymat proprietor who one day faces the terrible challenge of having to deal with a tax audit, a busy business day, a marriage on the rocks, a fraying relationship with her lesbian daughter, a visit from her elderly father, and a Chinese New Year celebration—compounded with the fact that she also has to face a fracturing multiverse where an evil entity [her daughter in another dimension] seeks out to destroy her and the rest of the world. There are also raccoons, and dildos, and googly eyes—and the best sequence for me is an alternate reality where everyone is a rock. Two rocks looking at a precipice and contemplating life while conversing in subtitles made me cry! If that is not a great movie, I don’t know what is.

Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun [#4] is a slow-burner, but when you allow it to get under your skin, you are in for an emotional roller coaster ride. What is it like to love and remember someone who struggles with mental health issues but keeps it hidden, erupting in secret shadows, always under the guise of normalcy and smiles. This film gently unfolds this, and I love it for that. And that last 20 minutes—the long shot of the father and daughter floating at sea, the slowly developing polaroid photo, and peaking with that unexpected David Bowie/Queen needle drop—is heartbreaking.

Lukas Dhont’s Close [#5], the Belgian nominee for Best International Film at the Oscars, is an absolute tearjerker. An intimate drama about two pubescent boys, best friends for many years, who are forced to reconsider their closeness by a hateful heteronormative society, this made me consider my own life. I can count my straight boy friends—those who are really close to me—on one hand, and I’ve had friendships that promised to become closer suddenly and inexplicably terminated simply because the straight guy didn’t want to be seen as being close to a gay guy like me. My boyfriend’s straight best friend in high school suddenly became distant because there were malicious talks about their closeness. In college, a college dean called me in to make me explain why I was very close to the school paper photographer [I was the editor, and we were secretly boyfriends], and I had to deny our relationship and said “he's just my best friend.” So yes, this film cut deep into me.

I bask in the deranged California sunlight of Damien Chazelle’s completely unhinged [and seemingly unloved?] Babylon [#6], a box office flop dismissed by so many—and yet seems to be gathering more positive notices now that it has thoroughly been trashed as an expensive misfire. I love it for recognizing the beauty of Mexican actor Diego Calva, whose face is made for cinema. I love it for putting a spotlight on the glory days of Hollywood in the 1920s, before the talkies changed everything. I love it for the sheer gusto it has in staging its many set pieces, each one more astounding than the last, and each one always ending in death. I have a feeling this film will be remembered more kindly in the coming years.

Sarah Polley’s Women Talking [#7] shouldn’t work. But it does. It is essentially a chamber drama observing a group of Mennonite women who are all haunted by the abuses done to them by many of the men in their religious community, who would regularly gas them with cow tranquilizer in order to rape them. When they would come to consciousness bearing bruises, and occasionally becoming impregnated, the men would gaslight them with tales of demons—until some of these men are caught and then sent to the nearby town’s jail. All the rest of the men then set to bail out the accused, and leaves the women to decide their fate: stay and forgive the men, stay and fight, or leave. The women debating in a barn is the whole drama—and it is searing and strangely affecting.

Dean Fleisher Camp’s Marcel the Shell with Shoes On [#8] is a stop-motion marvel that follows a little creature that lives in a shell, being interviewed by the filmmaker who is occupying the house, and regaling us with how he goes about his every day life using ordinary objects [all bigger than him] as tools for a fruitful life. It is based on a short film I love, and the feature version expands on Marcel’s wonderful world—including a grandmother [also in a shell] voiced by Isabella Rossellini.

I usually do not like the bloodless documentaries of Laura Poitras, but she has something special in All the Beauty and the Bloodshed [#9], an angry and artful diatribe at the Sackler family—the pharmaceutical dynasty behind the misuse of oxycontin, a much-abused and highly addictive opioid used in the treatment of mild to severe pain—using the artist Nan Goldin’s life and work as the frame to tell this compelling story.

In the last spot of my top ten is Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun: Maverick, the Tom Cruise-starrer credited with “saving” cinema in the doldrums of the pandemic. I did not expect the film to be that good. [It’s even better than the 1986 original, which I did not like that much, and which felt too much like brazen military propaganda, which it truly was.] I also did not expect the new film to make me tear up two or three times. [What? Cry in a movie about fighter jets? Yes.] But Cruise gives a fantastic performance here, Jennifer Connelly is more of a goddess as she grows older like fine wine, and the screenplay is perfection. Watching the film, I kept dissecting the latter with my screenwriting-teacher brain, and could not find fault. It's a perfect blockbuster film.

Rounding up my list of 50 is Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Turning Red, Fire of Love, All That Breathes, The Lone Wolf [a short film about a radio personality confronted with a dark secret on air—very gripping], 38 at the Garden [a short documentary film about NBA star Jeremy Lin—but becomes so much more], Last Flight Home [an affecting documentary about a family gathering to celebrate their elderly patriarch who has decided on the option to end his life], Nope, The Banshees of Inisherin, Utama, I Want You Back [the best romantic comedy of 2022], Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, Athena, Is That Black Enough for You?!?, Ice Merchants [a fantastic animated short about a father and his son who sell ice from atop a snow mountain], Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, George Carlin’s American Dream, Good Night Oppy, The Territory, Invisible Demons, Moonage Daydream, All Quiet on the Western Front, Retrograde, Avatar: The Way of Water, The Northman, Fire Island, Triangle of Sadness, Barbarian, The Quiet Girl, Deadstream, RRR, Good Luck to You Leo Grande, Downton Abbey: A New Era, After Yang, Saint Omer, Hit the Road, The Menu, Joyland, The Timekeepers of Eternity, and Sissy.

Of course, there were so many duds—always a subjective consideration. [So many hated The Whale, for example, but I was fine by it.] But the three 2022 films I hated the most were The Harbinger [at #540, Will Klipstine’s inept horror film about a family moving to a town to save their troubled daughter, to disastrous results], Virgin Forest [at #541, Brillante Mendoza’s laughable fantasy erotica about illegal logging in Palawan], and Return to Space [at #542, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s turgid hagiography about Elon Musk and SpaceX].

But mostly there was much to love. To be honest, aside from my Top 50, I love a hundred more films, including Triangle of Sadness [#37], Three Minutes: A Lenghtening [#124], The Batman [#73], Soft and Quiet [#93], White Noise [#85], Catherine Called Birdy [#82], She Said [#72], An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It [#70], Cinema Sabaya [#51], and so many others. As usual, I didn’t get to see many Filipino films, but my favorite is Martika Ramirez Escobar’s Leonor Will Never Die [#201]—which earned the distinction of having been nominated for Best Foreign Language Fim at the Independent Spirit Awards, losing out to Pakistan’s transcendent queer drama Joyland [#48].

But it was also a delight to see so many Filipino talents popping up in major roles in international productions, such as Brandon Perea in Nope [#18], Chai Fonacier in Nocebo [#162], Dave Bautista in Glass Onion [#11], Conrad Ricamora in Fire Island [#36], Soliman Cruz in To the North [unseen by me], Stefanie Arianne in Plan 75 [#174], and of course, Dolly De Leon in Triangle of Sadness—a triumphant performance in Ruben Östlund’s “eat-the-rich” satire which many thought would be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. [When De Leon didn’t get in during Oscar nomination morning, I could not function—the rare time I was affected so much by my cinephilia.]

Enjoy the movies!


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich