This year really was a mixed bag for films. There were big-budget franchise films falling drastically (Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore); some even failed twice (Morbius). There were long-delayed films that did chartbusting numbers (Top Gun: Maverick, maybe even Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva). There was the low-budget comedy drama film with practically no White cast members except Jamie Lee Curtis looking disgruntled, which catapulted Hollywood icon Michelle Yeoh into Oscars talk (Everything Everywhere All at Once). And there was the renewed chatter closer home of Bollywood not managing to keep up with films from the South either commercially or critically. The country’s highest grossing films this year have been K.G.F Chapter 2, RRR, and Kantara (in Kannada, Telugu and Kannada respectively).
The Hindi film industry’s highest grosser, that also got critical acclaim to speak of, was Brahmastra, which, in the duration of its unceasing making, saw its lead actors fall in love, get married, and announce a pregnancy. If a movie didn’t manage to earn enough despite this kind of publicity, that would have been troubling.
All was not bad though. Despite the continued struggle of filmmakers not hitting the right note with moviegoers and financial success being elusive, OTT platforms allowed several movies to stand out and gain following, even more critical acclaim than they might have gotten in the theatrical run. Our writers talk about the films they watched that really made their year.
Ankur (writer, Incurato) – 2022 has been a busy and sad year for me in terms of pop culture consumption – the perils of a corporate job had me at my wit’s end. I did not read more than 2 books (disappointed in myself for that, hoping 2023 will be much better), and did not watch much television as I am not a longer format person. But I watched many films, rewatched even more. Before writing this, I went and looked at my Letterboxd to see how many films I actually consumed this year (80 until the time of this article going to print). It is quite difficult to pick the best of the year, so I’ll mention two of my favourites, one from our country and the other an international pick:
Decision to Leave by Park Chan-wook
Park Chan-wook has always been an elusive director for me. I rewatched Oldboy just a week before watching Decision to Leave, and all the memories of watching Oldboy for the first time hit me again. It was a difficult film to watch because of so many things happening sequentially, but also very intriguing because PCW (the director) gives you the highs at each plot point. Same is not the case with Decision to Leave, however. It is a simple plot – an insomniac detective finding the truth while trapped in an erotic relationship with the victim’s spouse. The film has been by far, the most beautifully shot one by Park. His incredible eye for visuals and never-ending assortment of camera tricks does much of the lifting for his films, but it is the spectacle of the twists that do much of the covering up of the thin plotting. There does not feel a single wasted shot nor statement, every detour from the main path circling back to the finish line in unexpected ways. And not just that, for the first time the plot feels clean. We don't have to just turn a blind eye to certain glaring contrivances because there are none here, at least not any that don't feel inevitable. Watch it for the cinematography, watch it for the subtleties created by the characters, watch it for Park’s excellence of character building.
RK/RKay by Rajat Kapoor
Another director as elusive as PCW above, is Rajat Kapoor. But Rajat Kapoor is maybe not as stylish as a director I would say, as he is precise. Precision in the plot and direction are what I like about him. RK/RKay, a meta-comedy about an actor-director is his new experiment. Kapoor has always been a man who loves to experiment, always shies away from making anything even borderline commercial. In this film, the director plays a filmmaker who's a prisoner of his own obsessions, feeling upstaged when his own creation gains sentience and breaks free, in the most refreshingly entertaining film this year. Manu Rishi Chaddha and Chandrachoor Rai are my other favourites here, and RK has made their characters immensely likeable. To tag this in the “best Bollywood film” list would be unfair, so I would say this is the best of Hindi cinema I have watched this year and I am super glad I was able to catch it in a single-screen theatre in Delhi.
Honourable mentions: Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilaane Le Jaa Riya Hu, Nope, Natchathiram Nagargiradhu, Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Shekhar (writer, Incurato) – This year my movie watching wishlist got little more lengthened since I couldn’t actually sit down to watch most films owing to semester pressure. But, I did watch some interesting ones:
Russia 1985-1999: TraumaZone by Adam Curtis
Adam Curtis’ latest film is as invigorating one, and brings fresh perspectives liked most his other films do. There are few filmmakers who can do magic with found footage, but the kind of narrative structure Curtis gives while bringing together historical, psychological, and anthropological angles, that’s beyond mastery. He pans out the gradual destruction of the USSR by going deep into the Russians’ minds and puts the people in the focal point, rather than an organisation or the government.
Roundabout (1966) by Zvonimir Berković
A deep study of a couple’s lives and the omnipresent yet invisible passion lurking underneath comes out in Roundabout, original title Rondo, in Croatian. A lonely married couple leading their mundane life find it suddenly disrupted, when an old bachelor walks in. The gentle ebb and flow of their marital lives is interrupted. Beautifully capturing the inner psychological tensions between the three, the film adds more drama to the overtly symbolic repetitive chess games being played.
Stranger Than Paradise (1984) by Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch’s ground-breaking debut film familiarises us the vibrant indie filmmaking tradition of the USA. A self-proclaimed urban hippie’s life is thrown haywire by the arrival of his distant cousin from Hungary, whom he initially hates. A gradual relationship soon blooms, but ends in a sad note. Don’t forget to add its songs in your favourites list.
Woman In the Dunes (1964) by Hiroshi Teshigahara
This ground-breaking experiment by Teshigahara with the narrative, human psychology, man-woman relationship, and existentialism had created immense furore when it was released – yet the charm of the film still remains same. An entomologist’s adventures go horribly wrong at a small beach village where he entangles himself with a mysterious woman who lives under a dune – Teshigahara’s moral search to enquire the tension within it remains fresh and vivid with mesmerising visuals.
Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1972) by Jonas Mekas
Mekas, the father of American indie filmmaking, with his second ‘diary film’ opens up about his childhood, growing up and the place where he was born. He visits his birthplace, the village of Semeniškiai in Lithuania, after almost two decades of leaving. With dreamlike visuals, Mekas opens up his childhood memories for the audience, with snatches of family relationship, loss, and longing.
Honey (2010) by Semih Kaplanoğlu
Kaplanoğlu’s third film of the Yusuf trilogy, originally titled Bal in Turkish, is all about childhood, loss, and father-son relationship. Yusuf wanders in a forest trying to make sense of the memory of his father, who doesn’t return from the forest where he went to collect honey. Through the point of view of a child, the drama unfolds in the film as we get to know more, or maybe less.
Withnail and I (1987) by Bruce Robinson
British filmmaker Bruce Robinson’s debut film Withnail and I is a take on friendship, the city-country dualism, man-man relationship, and a sharp critique of Thatcherite policies of the 80s. Two bachelor actors in search of freedom and merrymaking go to the English countryside, but their plan takes a spin, and on the contrary, an ultimate realisation happens. The film is full of quirky dialogues, the beautiful use of background music, and great visuals of the country landscape of England.
Palak Maheshwari (writer, Incurato)
I loved Mani Ratnam's Ponniyin Selvan-1. The epic story, the stunning locales/set pieces, and the great casting aside, my choice is mostly because of Karthi's flamboyant character Vanthiyathevan and how smoothly he flirted with every woman he met. Sample this:
Nandini (played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan): You can use this route but there's a room of treasure on the way, don't be dazzled.
Vanthiyathevan: I have a diamond in front of me here (referring to Nandini).
Nandini: Are you dazzled?
Vanthiyathevan (coyly): A little.
I mean... (this writer still hasn't recovered).
PS: Hats-off to AR Rahman's musical genius and mind-boggling multilingualism as he rendered most of the songs for the Tamil as well as Hindi versions of the film in his own voice.
Melanie (writer, Incurato)
I'm terrible at keeping up with current releases but I'd love to shout out some of the great queer content we got this year. Many viewers have been relying on queer-coded content for a long time, so the recent shift towards actual representation is something to celebrate. Favourite of the year was definitely Badhaai Do (Harshavardhan Kulkarni) – I’m a pretty emotionless film viewer and it takes a lot to make me cry but there’s a scene between Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar near the end that sent me into a full emotional meltdown. Another standout was the Pakistani film Joyland (Saim Sadiq), a quiet powerhouse with incredible, naturalistic performances. And finally, there was Maja Ma (Anand Tiwari), which didn't entirely land for me on all levels but gave us lesbian Madhuri. I repeat: LESBIAN MADHURI. A massive win for gay Bollywood viewers everywhere.
Still from Badhaai Do
As Incurato’s resident Tiger Shroff expert, I’d love to recommend a Tiger movie as well, but his only 2022 release was Heropanti 2, a baffling box office disaster that managed the impressive feat of uniting his worst critics with even his most diehard fans in their widespread panning of the film. Our boy put forth an earnest effort, dancing and backflipping his Tiger heart out, but not even Daniel Day Lewis (or Nawazuddin Siddiqui) could have saved that script.
Fortunately, Tiger enthusiasts were able to take solace in his Instagram account, a joyful repository of entertainment in the form of random dance breaks, backflip sequences, puppies, musical photo montages of abs, and an inexplicable number of stories set to the George Michael song Careless Whisper. Tiger’s recent move to Dharma’s DCA Talent gives us hope for better projects to come, but at least we have thirst trap Insta reels to fill the void till then.
Editor’s Note: Screenshots from the actor’s reels weren’t possible as he was always moving too fast to be captured without blur
Utpal Datta (writer, Incurato)
The Assamese film Upasharga by Kangkan Deka has been hailed as one of the most surprising films of the year. This film is unique because of the growth of the character, and the director's decision not to follow poetic justice. Two musicians in a village, busy with agricultural work to earn their livelihood, come into contact with a vehicle thief who wants to make big money. Money is a necessity for everybody, isn't it? To materialize the project, they will need a woman. They invite a divorcee who leads her life selling clothes to rural households. And all of them embark on the enterprise. Three tiny creatures in their operation, looking small and insignificant in the wide frames that cover the nature and depth of humanity. The first part has witty moments, but the second part is nail-biting suspense. India should be proud to have such a suspense film, especially when it is an independent regional film made on a shoestring budget. Upasharga speaks about life in an allegorical way, but it is the interesting and relatable narration that captivates the audience.
Debasmita (Editor-in-Chief, Incurato) – This year I really slacked off on consuming quantity of pop culture. Quality, however, maybe not so much. I caught RK/RKay in the theatres within that one week it was playing, with some surprisingly low ticket pricing in a multiplex. I cried at Everything Everywhere All at Once, amazed at the amount of originality playing in front of me. My mind was blown by Minnal Murali, a brilliant movie that functions majorly on heart, and that heart broke while watching a rugged Robert Pattinson in Good Time (a 2017 release which I caught this year; inarguably one of his best performances. The Safdies really know how to make an actor work).
(top to bottom) Scenes from Good Time, Minnal Murali, and Everything Everywhere All at Once.
But I want two write about two surprisingly good movies I watched. Not that they were my favourites, but that there is much I would want to write about them, so squeezing that in here:
Dobaaraa by Anurag Kashyap
I know, I know, this is not a movie likely to turn up in a year-end list, and this is definitely not Kashyap’s finest, ignoring the fact that it’s not an original script in the first place (the film is a remake of the 2018 Spanish film, Mirage, which also starred your favourite Money Heist cast member, Álvaro Morte).
Something about the film really got to me though. Maybe it was watching it in Delite Cinema, a single-screen theatre just south of Chandni Chowk, and that the grand interiors of the theatre aligned perfectly with the film. Or maybe it was just me hungry for an engaging movie and willing to place my bets on it. Or maybe it was the fact that two time-travel movies I saw within a month of each other were fundamentally about motherhood (a longer article for another day). Dobaaraa is not path-breaking. But like all Kashyap movies, it uses it actors better than they have been elsewhere. And it gives you a great setting. I did not really mind watching two good-looking people navigating their timelines, or a story that made me use my brain more, if simply to map out the time-travelling everyone in this film does.
An Action Hero by Anirudh Iyer
Now this was maybe The Film of this year, coming in a little late but delivering perfectly. Anirudh Iyer’s debut about a movie star trying to run and hide from the consequences of his actions uses both its leads beautifully. There is no doubt about how good Jaideep Ahlawat can get on screen even when is only making a poker face. I wish he wasn’t typecast but this is one film I will excuse that for, if only to watch him get confused what to do with his food once he gets news of his brother’s death. What does one do with food at that point anyway? Ayushmann, though by now a constant presence in theatres, something that has become mildly annoying, didn’t fall too far behind. There is a certain smugness about him, which comes from the lack of his knowledge about how dangerous the real world gets, and his assumption that he can get away with anything. The movie doesn’t let you relax, and also tackles one of the bigger questions filmgoers have been asking for decades – why doesn’t the villain kill the hero immediately? Why is there always a monologue?
The director answers that for you. It’s ego.
PS: How good is Harsh Chhaya even when he has a total screentime of less than 5 minutes?
Honourable mentions: Gehraiyaan, Dhuin, Bullet Train, Monica O My Darling
Let us know what you think of the films mentioned here, and which 2022 releases took you by surprise, good or bad.