This year, the nervous clench of the pandemic eased up (to some extent), with movie theaters fully reopened and film festivals carrying on like they used to before 2020. The industry, and moviegoing itself, is still in trouble, but, at least, there was a host of thrilling work to celebrate and enjoy throughout all that tumult. So many, in fact, that plenty of worthy films—the hushed memoir piece Aftersun, the prickly fable The Banshees of Inisherin, the scrappy found-family drama Broker—had to be left off this list, for brevity’s sake. The ten films listed below shone brightest for me in 2022.
On paper, Dean Fleischer Camp’s film sounds like a mistake. Based on viral shorts from a decade or so ago, Marcel could easily have been lazy, cloying nostalgia, a too-late attempt to cash in on a bygone era of internet quirk. Instead, Marcel is a wistful wonder of a children’s film, one that carefully balances the silly with the serious. The film’s visual invention and graceful writing distinguish it from many of its peers; Marcel speaks to little ones on their level while gently encouraging them to think and feel more expansively about their lives and the life of the world around them. Anchoring the project is the invaluable voice work of co-writer Jenny Slate, who gives the adorable creature of the title some necessary pepper lest he become too cute. Melancholy without being sappy, mordant without being cynical, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On was the poignant surprise of the year, a marvelous debut feature from a director who, I hope, will take us on many more humane adventures in the future.
9. Saint Omer
Alice Diop’s quiet and somber film is a courtroom drama, but not in the familiar sense. There is no lawyerly speechifying, no sudden discovery of salient evidence. Instead, Saint Omer is a measured consideration of a tragedy: the death of an infant whose mother, Laurence (a forceful Guslagie Malanda), stands accused of murder. Diop, a documentarian making her narrative debut, based her film on the real-life case of a Senagalese immigrant convicted of killing her child. She patiently and compassionately listens to Laurence in the form of Rama (Kayije Kagame), a pregnant writer who sits in on the trial in search of a story. As these two women mull over, publicly and privately, their lives as Black women in France—and as mothers—Saint Omer whispers with the voices of so many drifting in the margins of what is meant to be a progressive and egalitarian society. The slow build of this precisely structured film is remarkable, as if we are watching the reinvention of a hoary genre. Saint Omer is another sterling entry in the recent spate of films, like Mati Diop’s Atlantics and Nikyatu Jasu’s Nanny, that have addressed the West African diaspora with resounding power.
8. Hit the Road