ICO's Best of 2022

Posted on December 22, 2022 by ICO Staff

Categories: Best of the Year

For many of us, the end of the year is a time for reflection on the past twelve months. In this spirit, we asked the ICO team to share some of their cinematic highlights of 2022.

Did we miss your favourite? Let us know on Twitter or Instagram!

Isabel Moir, Film Programmer

A Night of Knowing Nothing (dir. Payal Kapadia)

A dark image lit by red light, showing a woman in a hooded robe looking downwards as hands move around her face.
A Night of Knowing Nothing (dir. Payal Kapadia). Image courtesy of ICA.

I always find it really hard to select my favourite film of the year, but this is one of the films from 2022 that I have often found myself thinking about and recommending to friends. I first saw this film with fellow ICO film programmer Heather as part of FRAMES of REPRESENTATION at the ICA, so I was very happy when they announced their plans to release the film to UK cinemas earlier this year.

I feel fortunate I was able to hear director Payal Kapadia in conversation after the screening; it was fascinating to hear about her creative process, which definitely added to my viewing experience. At the centre of the narrative is a series of letters from a student based in Mumbai writing to her estranged lover. The story poetically unfolds by combining fiction with real life footage of student protests taking place at various universities across India, showcasing the urgency of the political climate of contemporary India and the impact on the country’s youth. Winner of the Cannes Golden Camera award, Kapadia’s stunning feature debut is an intimate collage of dreamlike images, memories and archival clippings accompanied by evocative music and narration. If you missed this one at the cinema, fortunately you can currently catch it on MUBI.

Sarah Rutterford, Content and Events Officer 

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (dir. Laura Poitras)

A picture of the photographer Nan Goldin. She is on the left of the frame, looking slightly past the camera, with cropped red curly hair and horn rimmed glasses, one hand under her chin. Behind her is a woman in a black t-shirt looking into a mirror, facing away, over a bathroom sink.
All The Beauty and the Bloodshed (dir. Laura Poitras). Image courtesy of Altitude Films.

I was excited to see All the Beauty and the Bloodshed as a fan of Nan Goldin’s photography and Patrick Radden Keefe’s book Empire of Pain – an exposé of the Sackler family, their drug company Purdue Pharma and its ruinously addictive painkiller OxyContin, their knowingly deceptive marketing of which kickstarted the US opioid crisis.

While focusing on Goldin’s activism against the Sacklers, All the Beauty… also (spoilers) illuminates the deeper stories of her life: the foundational trauma of her sister’s suicide, her flight from her repressive parents towards a joyful new queer family of friends and lovers, the independence and brilliance of her career, and the terror of AIDS, another era in which she and her community fought back against secrecy, shame and indifference.

I’ve seen Goldin’s photographs before but viewing them on-screen as she describes her relationships with the people they depict – many of whom she lost to AIDS, photographed in the places where she spent time with them – felt raw and layered and very different. The film makes clear that the openness of her intimate, explicit photography is an existential matter for her – that the project of living and producing work entirely free of shame was the only way she could survive and respond to her childhood. I found it really overwhelming.

Altitude are releasing All the Beauty and the Bloodshed in UK cinemas on 27 January.

James Calver, Projects and Events Officer

Aftersun (dir. Charlotte Wells)

A man and a teenage girl stand posing for a polaroid photo in front of a beach and the sea. They both wear sunglasses and smile, the girl wears a stripey green t-shirt and holds one hand to her chin, the man wears a white t-shirt and holds his arms down at his sides.
Aftersun (dir. Charlotte Wells). Image courtesy of MUBI.

My first interaction with Aftersun was an extremely serendipitous one. Whilst struggling with the booking system at Cannes earlier in the year, I had a free slot one afternoon and there was only one film I could book. My thoughts at the time were “well at least I can see one of the Paul Mescal films, that will give me something to talk about with my Normal People adoring friends”. Little did I know at the time that it would go on to be one of the most talked about films of the festival.

On that first watch, I couldn’t quite comprehend what I’d just seen. I recall trying to convey what I felt about the film shortly afterwards, knowing that what I’d watched was peerless filmmaking, but unable to get the words out due to the fact that I was still reeling from the emotional gut-punch.

Seven months later, I think what impacted me so much on that day, and will continue to impact me with every rewatch, is the honesty with which Charlotte Wells is able to deliver the story. There’s a commendable bravery involved in putting yourself on display in such a way. By being so open, every person can find one small aspect of Sophie (Frankie Corio) or Calum (Paul Mescal) that they can relate to.

It’s these small aspects and miniscule yet significant moments which typify Aftersun. Throughout the last act of the film, you’re waiting for some standout event to bring the film towards its conclusion, but nothing of the sort comes. Instead, you’re left to draw the substance from a series of critical moments, and there’s so much to draw upon.

If you haven’t had the joy of watching this film yet, I implore you to try and find this film whilst it’s still in cinemas.

Patrick Stewart, Marketing and Communications Manager

Compartment No. 6 (dir. Juho Kuosmanen)

A woman with shoulder length brown hair rests her head on the edge of a train window, her eyes closed.
Compartment No. 6 (dir. Juho Kuosmanen). Image courtesy of Curzon Film.

I took some hard knocks searching for love in this world, but I never endured the caustic humiliation of my partner throwing a sophisticated Moscow party to toast a solo journey they’ve contrived for me to get me out of town and see the writing on the wall (or as she puts it ‘the petroglyphs of Murmansk’). Finnish twenty-something Laura (Seidi Haarla), on edge, culturally a fish out of water, a little heartbroken yet with great courage, gets on the train to Murmansk anyway and finds herself claustrophobically trapped in the eponymous compartment with a frighteningly boorish miner, Yuri (Yura Borisov). This journey into the soul is set in 1998 in Compartment No. 6 and beautifully captures the end of the era before smartphones allowed many of our fears to be dodged and hearts to be deadened. Perhaps geo-politics were stacked against the UK release of this largely Russian-language title in 2022 but if it whizzed past your platform without stopping — do seek it out.

Eliza Sealy, Assistant Film Programmer

If the Streets Were on Fire (dir. Alice Russell)

A group of young men sit on a small wall in front of the River Thames. In the background, against a grey sky, we see a cluster of skyscrapers. Several bicycles lie on the ground around the men.
If the Streets Were on Fire (dir. Alice Russell). Image courtesy of Dorothy St Pictures.

I watched many amazing films in 2022, but looking back there is one that has left such an impression that I think about it weekly. If the Streets Were on Fire is the first feature from Alice Russell, exploring BikeStormz: a movement led by social activist Mac that aids young adults in escaping the often-harsh realities of London street life. With knife crime and violence in London still wreaking havoc and taking the lives of many, Mac provides young people with a safe space to enjoy themselves, getting away from societal and domestic pressures. Breaking through the common stereotype of what it means to be a kid on a bike, the film is full of incredible shots of the city, showcasing the talent and skill of the riders.  

This documentary has moments of real inspiration, highlighting the ways in which something as small as a bike club can lead to fundamental changes in people’s lives. It is beautiful to watch these young people live and express themselves freely, escaping what awaits them upon their return home. However, it doesn’t shy away from the real and current threat that many young people in London are living with, and the barriers they come up against due to the racism and prejudice which pervades many systems of authority. If the Streets Were on Fire is a lesson to all of us that more has to be done to safeguard our communities, and that due to governmental failures, this action must start with us.

Mikaela Smith, Film Programmer

Decision to Leave (dir. Park Chan-wook)

A woman with dark hair tied in a pony tail stands in front of a wall depicting blue mountains. She wears a peach shirt.
Decision to Leave (dir. Park Chan-wook). Image courtesy of MUBI.

Having spent most of my late teens locked in my bedroom watching South Korean thrillers, Park Chan-wook featured heavily in the watchlists of my formative years. In some sense, it makes it hard to be objective about his work, but I genuinely found a lot to love in this. It’s one of the many films I watched twice (seeing most things at exhibitor previews means I always have to go a second time with my partner – sometimes a curse but in this case, a blessing), and I enjoyed it even more the second go around. It’s richly textured and detailed in a way that made the first viewing a fairly intense one – a mystery that slowly unravels before your eyes and rewards you for paying close attention. On the second watch, once I was already au fait with its secrets, it became something that swept me off my feet. Sumptuous, seductive and romantic, I was lost in its longing glances and forbidden desire.

Kate Ottway, Marketing and Communications Manager

The Worst Person in the World (dir. Joachim Trier)

A woman in a dark shirt runs down the middle of a road smiling.
The Worst Person in the World (dir. Joachim Trier)

I find it tricky to get in many films these days with a little one at home… which makes settling down for a screening ever more precious!

I’m happy to have chosen The Worst Person in the World as my top pick for 2022. Set in Oslo, the film follows Julie’s (Renate Reinsve) struggles with self, love and potential motherhood. I found Reinsve’s performance as the anti-hero incredibly compelling and extremely apt for lots of women in that key turn of the century moment. A chance encounter with Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) leads to Julie’s life as she knows it combusting and whilst sometimes feeling like a lighter romantic comedy the story turns grittier and full circle in a way you wouldn’t expect. Spoiler alert – we don’t see her claim her happy ending in the traditional romantic sense, yet we see her find a stronger self professionally, and perhaps internally. As women, we’re continuously compared and critiqued when it comes to ageing, the choice to have children or not and what this says about our success as a whole. Seeing stories such as Julie’s continues to widen the scope in conversation, showing the messy and imperfect and how to find the beauty in that.

The film premiered in competition at Cannes 2021, where Reinsve won best actress and can be watched in the UK on MUBI.

David Williams, Film Hub South East Coordinator

Athena (dir. Romain Gavras)

A group of young men stand watch over a concrete wall. They wear red & black tracksuits and hold pieces of furniture as makeshift weapons.
Athena (dir. Romain Gavras), courtesy of Netflix.

It pains me to write about a release from a streamer that consistently fails to prioritise theatrical exhibition as it should, but I was mightily impressed by Romain Gavras’s thrilling, chaotic urban epic Athena. The film is a breathless, maximalist assault on the senses that cares as much about visual spectacle as its core melodrama, and treats a modern, localised conflict with the kind of grandiosity typically reserved for historical drama.

The story revolves around civil unrest in the wake of a young man’s death, the latest in a long line of injustices that can be blamed on the police abusing their power. The three brothers of the young man killed are at odds with one another, and the situation – which starts with a bang in the first place – progressively intensifies. By leaning into the kind of narrative contrivances usually avoided for fear of being corny, Athena is brought closer to the Greek tragedy template it aims for, and while the ending is understandably contentious I choose to read it as more of a complicating factor than a cop out.

Favourite 2022 new (and upcoming) releases: Aftersun, Athena, The Banshees of Inisherin, Belle, Blue Jean, Broker, Close, Decision to Leave, Everything Everywhere All At Once, Elvis, Playground, RRR, Small Body, Top Gun: Maverick

Favourite 2022 first watches: Brief Encounter (1945), Drive My Car (2021), Elevator to the Gallows (1958), Holiday (1938), In the Heat of the Night (1967), Mon Oncle (1958), Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Daniel Horseman, Operations Officer

Fire of Love (dir. Sara Dosa)

A man and a woman stand in front of a smoking volcano wearing thick blue winter jackets and wooly hats. The holds a Nikon camera in her hands.
Fire of Love (dir. Sara Dosa). Image courtesy of Dogwoof.

One sequence early in Fire of Love describes how French volcanologists Katia and Maurice first met in 1966; how in a world that often felt unsafe and uncertain, they sought refuge in the mysteries of the natural world.

A sentiment that feels all too familiar in 2022 – so I was grateful to be swept away by this beautiful, thoughtful, moving documentary about the wonders of nature, human curiosity and a philosophical contemplation of love.

I loved how the film explores the role of science – neither belaboured with exhaustive detail or dismissed as being incidental. Framing it as a space of inexhaustible curiosity, under which two people, driven by a shared passion to understand, were bound together forever.

The archival footage that makes up the film is incredible – the visuals of the couple framed as tiny figures stood in front of giant, ancient, angry volcanoes erupting with bright red, lurid lava are mesmerising, and serve to reinforce just how small, fragile and fleeting our time on earth is.

This footage, edited alongside gentle, poetic voice over and a gorgeous woozy score by Nicolas Godin (one member of French electronic band Air), create something truly beautiful and affecting and more than the sum of its parts and I was completely seduced by it!

Jake Abatan, Marketing and Administration Coordinator

Belle (dir. Mamoru Hosoda)

A still from an animation showing a woman with long pink hair leaning over a banister as an explosion out of frame throws debris and smoke into the air.
Belle (dir. Mamoru Hosoda). Image courtesy of National Amusements.

I’m not sure exactly why, but this year I’ve felt a wider acceptance for animation amongst the general public. Maybe My Neighbour Totoro (1988) and Spirited Away (2001) both making it onto Sight and Sound’s most recent critic’s poll (seemingly the first time an animated film has ranked on this specific list) is leading me into making this assumption, but when thinking back to my favourite moments within a cinema this year, it’s the memory of seeing a Japanese anime at my local multiplex that springs to mind. 

I first saw Belle in a seemingly sold out screening at Cineworld Brighton in February. I remember clearly how shocked I was to see the cinema so full. A big fan of Mamoru Hosoda’s previous work (and an even bigger fan of animation in general), I was certainly excited about the film but hadn’t really experienced others around me sharing that excitement. That the film was showing in its original Japanese was also a surprise, there were other screenings using the English dub in my city, even closer to my home, but I had made the extra effort to venture across town for this experience.

But the biggest surprise of all was just how much the audience in the room connected with Belle. The film is a sort of adaptation of Beauty and the Beast thrown headfirst into the metaverse, centering on a shy young school girl who finds herself celebrated as a famous singer within the world of “U” (think The Matrix, but with consenting humans). The film is a coming of age story in the internet era, about learning to accept yourself and those around you. The film also features a powerfully touching and absurdly replayable soundtrack, which I can confidently tell you that audience in February really vibed with.

It’s been a longstanding frustration of mine that animation has been perceived, specifically in the West, as a medium not meant for serious subject matter. Skeptics see the expressive colour pallets and stylistic flourishes as too playful to be taken seriously. I have a similar frustration with the way media often portrays the internet, commonly as a space for children but also one where they are never safe. I think one of the reasons Belle meant so much to me this year is how confidently it corrects both of these assumptions, tackling serious subjects such as abuse and loneliness and even presenting the internet as a tool to combat these social ills (We Met in Virtual Reality is an underrated film from this year that also explores the latter). For those who still haven’t given anime a chance (or perhaps have not ventured beyond the fantastic work of Studio Ghibli) Belle will certainly leave you hungry to explore more, might I also suggest the following: 

Only Yesterday (1991), other Mamoru Hosoda films Summer Wars (2009) and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006), and Your Name (2016).

Sami Abdul-Razzak, Marketing Officer

Wood and Water (dir. Jonas Bak)

A woman in her sixties sits in front of a large class window, her head turned to one side. Seen through the window behind her is a large city (Hong Kong).
Wood and Water (dir. Jonas Bak). Image courtesy of MUBI.

My favourite film of 2022, by quite some distance, is Memoria. But I find myself feeling incapable of saying anything very interesting about it, so I’ve instead opted to use this space to highlight a lesser-known film that operates in a similarly-meditative mode: Wood and Water.

The feature debut of Jonas Bak, the film opens on the day that Anke (played by Anke Bak, the director’s mother) enters retirement. She had planned a family reunion to celebrate the occasion, but (not for the first time) her son Max is unable to travel back to Germany to be with them. So, she decides to visit him instead leaving her quiet rural life in the Black Forest for a solo voyage to the busy streets of Hong Kong (I won’t spoil how Bak opts to depict this journey, but the film’s elegant transition between these two contrasting locations is one of my cinematic highlights of the year).

Max is away when she arrives, and most of the film’s slim runtime is spent following Anke as she spends a few days alone in the city: a late-night hostel room encounter with a young immigrant to Hong Kong, a burgeoning friendship with the kind doorman at her son’s apartment block, a conversation on the bus with a man who misses his son in Shanghai. It’s a film about looking back on fond times, the loneliness of living in a big city, and, most of all, how we can grow distant from our family as we get older. As a fortune teller informs Anke towards the end of the film: her son is wood, she is water. They lack each other, and life keeps them apart. But when Anke walks by the lake in the forest, she feels close to him.

If I’ve managed to peak your interest, you can watch it on MUBI.

(p.s., here are some of my favourite first-time watches of the year)

Duncan Carson, Projects and Business Officer

Favourite first watches of 2022

I write this in the wake of one of my colleagues informing me they have never seen The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). It’s in moments like this that the chasm between any certainties of what a ‘must see classic’ is seems all the harder to pin down. There were some special moments for me this year with films that were not on my radar at all (some of which I wrote about in my piece about Il Cinema Ritrovato’s treasures), but some screenings or curation this year nudged me to finally watch films that had been on my radar for a long time. Cinemas can help with awareness but they can also help us cross the line, because it’s happening RIGHT NOW. I hope everyone gets to discover something as pleasurable as yuletide tiki rats from continuing to explore films. Here’s a bigger list of all of the older films I got a chance to see this year and with deep love and gratitude to everyone who is involved in restoring and exhibiting them!

The Dead (dir. John Huston, 1987)

A woman wearing a pink shawl and a dark dress stands on a staircase with her head raised upwards, looking at something out of frame.
The Dead (dir. John Huston, 1987)

I was moving house when I ventured out to see Badlands Collective’s screening on epiphany night in January. It was a real treat to see how much my mood had lifted between cycling down Constitution Hill and back up it, with John Huston’s final feature, its elegance and earned sadness, spurring me on as I made my way from the ICA. It’d be beautiful if this became an annual tradition, as more moments of grace are needed post-Christmas!

Working Girls (dir. Lizzie Borden, 1986)

Three women lean in close together, smiling at one another. The one on the left has dark hair, red lipstick and gold earrings. The one in the middle has shoulder length brown hair and red lipstick. The one on the right has pink lipstick and blue earrings.
Working Girls (dir. Lizzie Borden, 1986)

Lizzie Borden’s third feature follows her celebrated Born in Flames. Riding a happy line between political consciousness and respecting the consciousness of those who are politicised, Borden manages to make a film with conviction but without resolution. Clearly extensively researched, but able to deliver truth (rather than simply reality), Borden’s picture of a day in the life of a New York brothel is full of characters, not ciphers. One wishes that certain pieces of art wouldn’t continue to be relevant, but I’m grateful to Criterion (who commissioned So Mayer to write this lovely tribute) and others for making it available to broaden all minds.

Vampire’s Kiss (dir. Robert Bierman, 1988)

A man with vampiric teeth stands in a phone booth wearing a suit with a pinstriped shirt.
Vampire’s Kiss (dir. Robert Bierman, 1988)

From the writer of After Hours, starring Nicolas Cage, but brought to you by… memes. As much as I can see memes can be a platform for people engaging in a wider range of cinema, perhaps it’s a sign of drifting towards my forties that something being heavily memed is as likely to get me to shun something than draw me in. Vampire’s Kiss, a deeply weird workplace horror that could sit very comfortably next to Cindy Sherman’s Office Killer, contains Nicolas Cage reciting the alphabet at the peak of his outlandish powers and other moments one can’t escape in twenty minutes on Twitter. It seems self-evident to say a film is ‘more than its memes’ but it’s also a film that defies recommendation in words (at least by my humble end of year energy standards).  Sometimes you just need someone to thrust films upon you. How cinemas can deliver that feeling of a friend offering you heartfelt exhortations is something I spend a lot of time thinking about!

Read more: Beyond the Canon: Looking Past ‘The Greatest Films of All Time’

Header image: A Night of Knowing Nothing (dir. Payal Kapadia)

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