After two years of disruption, movie-going in Australia pretty much got back to normal in 2022. After a slow start, loosening of COVID-related restrictions saw audiences coming back to the big screen. Box office receipts were up according to BoxOfficeMojo, though the increase over the pretty miserable 2021 figures was perhaps smaller than studios and exhibitors would have hoped. By and large, audiences wanted to see one film: Top Gun: Maverick. Its $65 million gross in 2022 easily outstripped the $54 million racked up by the top movie of 2021, Spider-Man: No Way Home. Despite being released later in the calendar year, a strong showing from Avatar: The Way of Water has buoyed hopes for a return to pre-pandemic levels in the coming 12 months.
The stronger box office also came on the back of fewer films being released (around 230 compared with about 260 in 2021). And some of those (like Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery) had very limited cinema runs before finding their way to streaming. So the films that were released – on average – did much better than those released the year before.
Apart from Top Gun: Maverick, 2022 maintained the now-longstanding trend of box office gold for sequels and franchises. Apart from Elvis at no. 7, the top 10 highest-grossing movies were all either sequels or part of an established franchise. Indeed, only another three films in the top 20 (Uncharted, Ticket to Paradise and Bullet Train) didn’t fit into those categories. So I guess you could say that nostalgia – in one form or another – was the big winner this year (and I include Elvis in that). But some smaller films managed to make dents. Perhaps fuelled by the publicity/social media storm around it, Don’t Worry, Darling probably exceeded expectations for such a high-concept film. And it was heartening to see really innovative films like Everything, Everywhere, All at Once and Nope in the top 40.
It was another strong year for genre films, particularly in the horror category. The fact several “big” properties – including from Marvel and DC – incorporated horror elements into mainstream fare. It was also an important year in Asian cinema, with RRR a box office hit and several films by Asian directors (including Kogonaga’s After Yang) enjoying critical success.
So, all of that being said, here are our critics’ lists of the top 10 films of 2021
1. The Banshees of Inisherin
Martin McDonagh is back in form with a film that employs dark humour and stunning cinematography tell a story that works on a personal level, and as an exploration of important themes around the causes of violence.
2. Everything, Everywhere, All at Once
A multiverse done right for once, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (a.k.a. Daniels) produce a wildly innovative and completely engaging film that’s about a lot more than inter-dimensional travel.
3. Decision to Leave
Park Chan-wook gives his audience Vertigo and much more in this twisty thriller that transplants a Hitchcockian sensibility to contemporary Korea.
4. The Menu
Mark Mylod delivers one of the most deliciously absurd – and brutal – black comedies of recent years with The Menu.
5. Drive My Car
Director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi transforms a short story by Haruki Murakami into a transcendent exploration of almost unbearable pathos, but with a shining light at the end.
Jordan Peele doesn’t rest on his laurels, taking a big swing with Nope. It’s a film that’s oddly both more conventional and more daring than his other work, and breathes life into an otherwise stale genre.
7. Top Gun: Maverick
What more needs to be said really? Joseph Kosinski and Tom Cruise wind back the clock with a film that genuflects to the original, while adding a more contemporary overlay.
8. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is the greatest Nicolas Cage movie ever. That might be because it’s basically every Nicolas Cage movie ever, but still… the greatest!
9. Bones and All
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year. On paper, Bones and All shouldn’t work. But somehow Luca Guadagnino turns a creepy premise into a transcendent film about healing.
10. Parallel Mothers
Director Pedro Almodóvar and actor Penélope Cruz are a match made in heaven; and Parallel Mothers showcases their talents in a powerful film that asks big questions.
1. Drive My Car
A complex and enchanting work by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car is brilliantly written and executed, with lashings of Uncle Vanya in between the personal dramas.
2. Top Gun: Maverick
Top Gun: Maverick is everything you could have wanted from a sequel 36 years on – and more.
3. Avatar: The Way of Water
Avatar: The Way of Water is an excellent sequel that sees Cameron continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible on the big screen.
4. The Banshees of Inisherin
The Banshees of Inisherin is a remarkable character study of interpersonal relationships.
5. A Hero
Asghar Farhadi is a filmmaker of extraordinary insight and skill whose movies involve ordinary people that have moral quandaries. And A Hero is no exception.
6. Petit Maman
Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) returns with a breathtakingly beautiful film about childhood, loss and memory.
7. Lost Illusions
An intricate and cleverly woven tale of naïveté and deception, Xavier Giannoli’s period drama Lost Illusions echoes Dangerous Liaisons.
Happening is a compelling movie, but a very difficult watch. Anamaria Vartolomei is superb in the lead role.
9. C’mon C’mon
Mike Mills’ film C’mon C’mon is a remarkable, sensitive work about tapping into your feelings.
10. The Quiet Girl
Colm Bairéad’s The Quiet Girl is a slow moving, but accomplished piece of filmmaking.
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television