• Ideas
  • Dec 20, 2022

Six Movies That Gave Main-Character Energy in 2022

Image by Peter Chung for ArtAsiaPacific.

On the big screen and across all sorts of smaller screens, 2022’s film selection is far and wide. Here are our editors’ most memorable—for better or for worse—watches of the year. Warning: spoilers ahead.

Both Sides of the Blade (d. Claire Denis, 2022) 

I didn’t think that the nearly seven-hour-long hyperrealistic portrayal of a Soviet research-lab overtaken by a gang of fascists in DAU: Degeneration (2020), shown at M+ Cinema this year, could be topped for brutally memorable cinema, but Claire Denis’s latest film, Both Sides of the Blade (2022), cuts even deeper. The French title “Avec amour et acharnemente,” (“With Love and Fury”) is more descriptive of the plot as a couple is torn apart by the return of a former friend and lover. Denis keeps the camera so close to Juliet Binoche and Vincent Lindon you feel a part of their emotional descent as they wrestle with anger, desire, attachments, and fears of abandonment.


The Rise of Gru (d. Kyle Balda, 2022)

If we were to choose a movie that captured the zeitgeist of 2022, it would be that of the gender and ethnically ambiguous corn kernel-like creatures, and their irrevocable affection toward a child, whose foundational years full of neglect (by his mother, played by Julie Andrews) caused him to be evil-inclined. Arguably one of the world’s oldest collectives, the minions once again wreaked havoc, this time via the tutelage of Michelle Yeoh. What began as an ironic watch became among the most enjoyable, proving that life is best lived with absolutely no (or incredibly low) expectations. 


Morbius (d. Daniel Espinosa, 2022)

Vampire films are almost as old as film itself with early examples such as Nosferatu (1922) and Vampyr (1932), both of which are considered cinematic masterpieces. Morbius (2022) is more of a future cult classic, if anything.

After Jared Leto’s performance in 2021’s House of Gucci, wherein his take on an Italian accent made him sound like the missing Mario brother, my expectations for Marvel’s take on a vampiric anti-hero were six feet under. In the film, Dr. Michael Morbius, an orphan and medical child prodigy who suffers from an unnamed blood disorder, tries to fuse his own DNA with vampire bats to cure himself and his childhood friend, Milo. To no one’s shock—especially after three years of living in a pandemic believed to be the product of cross species transmission—the result of the experiment is disastrous: Morbius slowly becomes a vampire, and despite their codependent friendship, he keeps this a secret from Milo. CGI generated chaos ensues.

The film has all the hallmarks of a vampire film audience have come to expect: the vampire is vaguely foreign (in this case, both Morbius and Milo are Greek immigrants) and a homoerotic undertone as exemplified by Michael and Milo’s camaraderie. I read an interesting tidbit that vampires, which came to prominence in the West with Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), tapped into the fear and xenophobia of Victorian Britain, which had relatively liberal immigration policies. Anyway, Morbius failed at whatever commercial, artistic, or ideological goal it might have had. It’s a good hate-watch though. Maybe not up there with The Room (2003), but on par with The Twilight Saga (2008–12).


Everything Everywhere All at Once (d. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, 2022) 

Everything Everywhere All at Once follows Evelyn and her accidental involvement in a multi-universe conspiracy, while dealing with an impending divorce and an imploding relationship with her daughter. The film is filled with an absurd yet hilarious plot, along with spectacular visual effects—all produced under a tight budget. While it might seem a bit all over the place in the beginning, it wrapped everything up splendidly with an emotional ending.


NOPE  (d. Jordan Peele, 2022)

What are the connections between a flying saucer, inflatable tube men, a sit-com, a Hollywood ranch, and animal wranglers in the American desert? Jumbling all these seemingly random elements together, Nope (2022) is a neo-Western sci-fi horror story that introduces a freaky, highly intelligent flying object that would hide behind a cloud, hunt, and suck everything up off the ground like a beast, squeezing them like smashed potatoes before vomiting them out. The main protagonists, animal-wrangler siblings OJ and Em, struggle to continue their family business while discovering the existence of the flying object. They eventually decide to capitalize on their discovery and risk their life attempting to photograph the beast. 

Mentioning the King Kong and Jurassic Park films and remakes as examples for humanity’s obsession with spectacles, director Jordan Peele once explained that he wrote NOPE at a time when he was most worried about the future of the film industry, so he wanted to create a spectacle for people to visit the cinema in person and see it themselves. Indeed, in addition to a series of high-quality yet predictable jump scares, the film is full of scenes that are too nightmarish to forget, but also evoke a weird (perhaps masochist) sense of joy when I was watching. One of my favorites is when the UFO was excreting all kinds of objects (from a wheelchair to a broken torso and human body parts) on top of OJ and Em’s house, while the siblings were hiding inside trying to survive, and blood quietly pours down their house windows like waterfall. But there are also moments that are inherently comedic to watch—recalling Peele’s talent and background in producing comedy—such as the one where they use colorful inflatable mascots to repel the flying saucer. Despite a mix of comedy and horror, outer-space aesthetics and cowboy traditions, the story conveys a timely and existentialist message, with the siblings succeeding in surviving and photographing the monster at the end.


Mad God (d. Phil Tippett, 2021; streamed in 2022)

A gas-masked figure descends down an infernal underworld in this dialogue-free, stop-motion epic. Instead of sweet punishment, the dwellers of Babel live without aims and consequences. Alchemists, pulped slaves, dirty warlords, and fetid factories toil in splendid, body horror. The gore is of the classical sort, yet everything feels real. The tactility of blood and sweat gives pause to our very own pastel hell.


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