As a movie lover, I can’t help connecting the meaning in my life to what I’m seeing on the screen. Sometimes films expand my meaning, and sometimes they confirm it. That mirror reflection is what draws me to certain films and is what motivates which films I put in my top list of the year. There are films that technically could be perfect, but if I don’t feel that connection, I’m out. My 2022, as it was for a lot of people, was a time for healing.
The films on my list all have the common thread of “healing”. Most of these films reflect a hope within that. From women reclaiming their sensuality (“Good Luck to you Leo Grande,” “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”), finding peace and understanding through trauma (“Women Talking”), redefining what trauma looks like (“I’ll Show You Mine”, “Belle”) and how we can heal from that (“Aftersun”). Hope shines through these healing story threads. Mental health has been brought to the screen in a way that is hopeful, through the Selena Gomez doc “My Mind And Me”, and two films that cracked my top list, “The Year Between” and “Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché”.
Two visceral female performances have expanded the way I look at the world with Lily McInerny in “Palm Trees and Power Lines” as a lonely teenager who finds solace in a dangerous relationship, and Kristen Abate in “Straighten up and Fly Right”, who places you in the shoes of a person with ankylosing spondylitis, a condition that I was unfamiliar with. Two Chicago-based films really sat with me and moved me with their exploration of generational healing “(Provo”, “Relative”). There were a few films this year that were led by powerful female ensembles: “Women Talking”, “The Woman King” and the animated film “Turning Red”. These films got me excited about cinema and the genres and mediums they inhabited.
Below is my official list, and next week, Cinema Femme’s top 50 for 2022 will be announced, this year with input from five of our contributors. I’m happy to have a list that’s more collaborative this year. Stay tuned!
25. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
One particular moment won me over in this film: Emma Thompson baring it all. A woman in her sixties looking at her body and embracing who she is. I do believe a woman’s age does not define her beauty, and this film exudes that.
24. The Woman King
Move over “Braveheart”, “The Woman King” is taking its historical place. A loosely historical adaption of a time in African history that could have been forgotten, Gina Prince-Bythewood elevates its power with a Black female ensemble powerfully led by Viola Davis and Thuso Mbedu.
23. Turning Red
This is the first Pixar film I can watch and be like, ‘That’s me.’ I’m not a Chinese woman, but I am a woman of a certain age that can connect her confusing emergence as a pre-teen with this film. The boy bands, the misfit friends, the feelings of awkwardness. I love this film, and it makes me so excited about female animators getting their stories onscreen. Thank you, Domee Shi.
22. Highway One
I was fortunate to see a rough cut of Jaclyn Bethany’s “Highway One” two years ago prior to my interview with the director. The film danced in my mind long after. Seeing the final cut, I saw a symphony of personalities, colors, absurdity and moments of humanity. With shades of “Dazed and Confused” and “Metropolitan”, Bethany brings us to a place that is stimulating and witty with an ending I never saw coming.
21. Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.
The method of play Regina Hall has with comedy and drama is perfect for this dramedy that shows the inner trauma of the mega churches in our country in an unexpected way. Director Adamma Ebo with her sister Adanne Ebo (producer) spoke with me about their film at virtual Sundance this year.
20. Lady Chatterley’s Lover
How can we unlearn the shame that the world has built around a woman’s sensuality and enjoy it in a way that is natural? How can we as women take ownership of our own bodies and our own pleasure? These questions are answered and represented onscreen in a beautiful and powerful way in Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s film.
19 – Saint Omer
This film’s power is in the composition. The first time I’ve seen a courtroom scene in a film where I found myself utterly captivated with the subject. Her colors may blend into the courtroom, but it makes her performance stand out even more in this setting. Alice Diop says about her film, “All my films are always born out of a feeling, an intuition, which grows and grows to become so compelling an obsession that the film is born. I never say to myself “Hey, this subject is interesting.” It always comes from something that hits an intimate story, sometimes something that has been untold for a long time.”
18 – Provo
What has enhanced the film for me is its improvisatory nature, what they used to call “mumblecore.” You can tell that everyone is present in each scene, and there is a realness, like what we are seeing in the scene is authentic and in the moment. Thatcher is carrying on the mumblecore tradition, and is making it her own by elevating female stories onscreen.
17 – Runner
“Runner,” the feature debut directed by Marian Mathais, is infused with poetry and art in every frame. The film is quiet and a thing of beauty that reminded me of Terrence Malick’s work with the vast landscapes, but really unique in its level of intimacy and vulnerability that we feel through the main character.
16 – The Year Between
This film spoke to me because Alex Heller’s story is similar to mine. We both were diagnosed with bipolar in college, and both had to leave college to get help. When I spoke to Alex about her film, she said she knew it was good, and she knew it was funny. It was difficult for her to be so vulnerable and go back to that time in her life, but she felt in a way it was her way to say she was sorry to the people she inflicted pain on in her life. My takeaway was more one of gratitude because I saw myself reflected onscreen in a human way, and it takes bravery to show that, just like Selena Gomez did in her doc this year. Mental health is being shown in a way that is defined by people who have it, which has not really been represented at all in films before. I do think these stories coming to screens will make a difference and take down the stigmas that have been represented before.
15 – Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché
The documentary “Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché” looks at the whole scope of a passionate creative genius punk artist who impacted and represented her musical genre like no one else. The artist is Poly Styrene, a mixed race woman, Somalian and white. She sang about being a woman and a minority in songs like “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” and “Identity”. We are guided through Poly Styrene’s life by her daughter Celeste Bell, who serves as the film’s co-director, and the voice of Ruth Negga reading the artist’s words that came from her journals. The two voices of mother and daughter flow into a beautiful symphony.
14 – Band
Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir is an actress, writer, and also a music artist, who is part of an all-female band called the Post Performance Blues Band (ThePPBB). She felt compelled to make a documentary about her band, which is also comprised of Hrefna Lind Heimisdóttir and Saga Sigurðardóttir. In the film, she shows the spirit of their band, and how they individually show great strengths as artists, but together they are an eclectic sensation. They are a sensation because these bad-ass women are following their dreams, and that inspires me as a forty-something. It’s also, in a way, a coming of age story about how you are never finished in this life as an artist or in your evolution as a person. I’ve never seen anything like it before onscreen, and was so happy I could speak with her about this film.
13 – Relative
This is a film where I got to see my friends bring magic to the screen. I’m reminded of this cheesy made for TV holiday movie where the kids of the Brady Bunch are now adults and they are sitting in their parents kitchen eating Alice’s pie talking about their adult struggles and how their perfect lives are not so perfect. As a child, I don’t know why that stuck with me. But seeing “Relative”, you see a similar thing but in a more relatable way. You don’t just grow up, end of story. We are always evolving and changing. As an adult, I’m seeing my parents differently and my brother and I are evolving as people. This film reflects that experience so perceptively.
12 – I’ll Show You Mine
Megan Griffiths is one of my favorite filmmakers, and a very underrated one, in my opinion. She takes chances and brings stories to the screen that can make you feel uncomfortable. There are movie goers that see a film to escape. Feeling uncomfortable is not what they signed up for. For me, and I know for a lot of cinephiles, feeling discomfort watching a film is not always a bad thing. In fact, it can be a really good thing. If the story is presented onscreen differently and makes you think differently about something deep, it has won as a film in my estimation. Post #MeToo, I feel like my mind is evolving in terms of understanding trauma. There are so many complexities and layers to trauma and everyone deals with those layers in different ways. We all are just people. We should not judge one trauma against another. I’m very grateful for this film and Megan Griffiths as a filmmaker. She is paving the way for a lot emerging filmmakers.
11 – Straighten up and Fly Right
The relationship that Kristen and Steven fostered together over many years brought a nuanced labor of love to the screen. Kristen plays her character with the same name through comedic humanity. We feel her in our bones as she takes us into her day to day routine, while living with ankylosing spondylitis, in this amazing, visceral performance.
10 – Belle
“Belle” cuts to the heart of it. Finding your voice and coming out through the other side of pain is the most inspiring thing. Shout out to Kylie McNeill, the voice of Belle for the english dubbed version of the film. Such a beautiful voice. Also, the visuals of the film are gorgeous, so jealous of people who saw it on the big screen!
9 – Roving Woman
Can a film be a face? In this case, yes, in Lena Góra’s performance. John Hawkes’ cameo is the cherry on top. One of my favorite interviews this year was with Hawkes, Góra, and the director, Michal Chmielewski.
8 – You Resemble Me
Dina Amer could have just done a documentary with all of her research, but for this story, it involved more creativity to get inside the shoes of Hasna. “You Resemble Me” is a narrative that follows the character Hasna from a child to adult to her tragic end at too young an age. The film shows her multiplicity and humanity which is enhanced by a device called “deep-fake technology” that shifts peoples faces into others. This tool was used in a subtle way that fit into the narrative of the mystery of this woman.
7 – Triangle of Sadness
Dolly De Leon.
6 – Medusa
Anita Rocha Da Silveira ties together the story of the mythological tale about Medusa with Brazil’s present day. The ending, without giving anything away, is empowering and makes you want to scream and fight. I was honored to speak with the director about “Medusa”. My interview with Anita Rocha Da Silveira.
5 – The Worst Person in the World
I left it off my list in 2021, so I wanted to make sure I had a place for it this year. Life isn’t a one, two, punch, it’s a kaleidoscope of hops and mis-steps, gut-wrenching euphoric moments. This film cinematically shows this evolution in the most interesting ways. Renate Reinsve journey through love and life mirrors my own in some ways.
4 – Palm Trees and Power Lines
Jamie Dack’s directorial feature debut “Palm Trees and Power Lines” is a revelation in the way she cinematically captures the delicate complexity and vulnerability of being a teenage girl, lost in her identity and looking for it in painful places. Many women will see themselves in the main character Lea, played by Lily McInerny in a powerhouse film debut.
There are few films that have achieved what Jamie has done with “Palm Trees and Power Lines.” She takes us through the eyes of a teenage girl as she meets an older man, Tom (Jonathan Tucker). We see the signs of grooming (targeting a victim; gaining their trust; filling a need; isolation; abuse), and we see Lea fall into it. We want to stop it, but we can only watch, which makes the film very painful, yet very powerful.
3 – Everything Everywhere All at Once
Take it there, and go a few steps more, and then a few steps more, and then what am I looking at? Is that an Everything Bagel? This is the most brilliant sh**t I’ve ever seen. “Swiss Army Man” was great, but this was epic.
2 – Women Talking
Dreamers, imagination, collective, language, stars, map, goodness, think, women. Each of these words signify pieces of the utopian possibility that Sarah Polley brings to the screen. If there was any film that shows healing, and what that can look like, it’s this film.
*My interview with Sarah Polley featured next week!
1 – Aftersun
When I was eleven years old, my family and I went on vacation to Sanibel Island in Florida. I was a nerdy kid. This was when I was wearing my glasses, tucking in my oversized polo shirts in to my khaki shorts, and I was in my own world most of the time reading books, or thinking of stories. This was right before I would get contacts, start buying tiny little t’s and trying to set my wardrobe up like Alicia Silverstone’s. Boys were cute, but not obsessions yet. I remember this all so vividly because on that family vacation we took with our video camera everywhere, and I held the camera most of the time. I made my own soundtrack by humming tunes, I narrated my brother and Dad’s tennis game–in my dad’s favor, of course. “Aftersun” transported me back to that time when family videos were a thing of magic, and it filled in more shades with the complexity of the father’s depression. Bringing the club and dancing into it just added to it more since clubbing was a major part of my twenties. When you dance you feel free and the weight of the world is less, and brings you into the visceral moment. That is how I felt with this film, feeling nostalgic at the same time of being in the moment.