Cannes 2022 Recap: 10 Best Films of the Fest – Mountains & Murder
by Alex Billington
June 3, 2022
What are the best films out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival? Which ones should you be taking an interest in? What films should be a priority for you to see? After 12 days at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, after 35 screenings, it’s time to present my 2022 list of my Top 10 Favorite Films. This was my 12th year back to this festival, and I still enjoy being there right in the middle of all the craziness and all the crowds and all the hype about new cinema. It’s a rush! Every time. And yet there’s always more to see, always more to take our breath away. These ten listed below are the ones that connected with me emotionally or intellectually, and I hope you’ll consider watching a few when they arrive in your neighborhood. They are worth the wait. It might not have been the best year at Cannes, most of the films were rather mediocre, but I am still glad I could discover a number of gems. This is my final recap of Cannes 2022 – don’t miss any of the films below.
My goal at film festivals nowadays is to watch, watch, watch and keep watching as much as possible. I don’t want to miss anything that might be good, and I prefer to get a look at everything just to see what each of the films is about. I don’t do as many interviews as I used to in the past, and that’s okay. Being in Cannes is like being at a giant party that goes on for two weeks non-stop. You can choose to sleep, to party, or to watch films (and occasionally get some food). I’m just there to see any/every good film I can fit into my schedule. I missed seeing a number of other films that are getting good buzz: Godland, Aftersun, Corsage, Pacification, Leila’s Brothers, Falcon Lake, La Jauria, Metronom, and Plan 75. But hopefully I’ll catch up with them at another festival down the road. There’s never enough time to see everything, and it’s hard enough to get to 35 screenings over 12 days and still work on the site, too. I’m always relieved I could see this many anyway.
I won’t delay any further with my Top 10 films of Cannes 2022, as these are the films that I loved the most, or left the greatest impact on me, and they all deserve to gain recognition outside of France. My favorites:
Decision to Leave – Directed by Park Chan-wook
This is my personal pick for the #1 film of Cannes 2022. Nothing else was better. I believe it’s Park Chan-wook’s best film since Oldboy (I’m not particularly a big fan of The Handmaiden or Stoker) and one of his most tender films yet. Decision to Leave is actually a love story, not so much a murder mystery, though it skillfully combines both of these narratives like ballet dancers twirling their way around a stage. At the start we’re introduced to an experienced detective named Hae-joon, played by Park Hae-il, working in Busan. There aren’t many murders in modern South Korea, even though that’s his forte. He’s sent to investigate the intriguing death of a man who fell climbing an iconic mountain near the city, looking into whether it’s a murder. His wife, played by Tang Wei, is the key suspect and becomes an object of affection for Hae-joon. The way these two interact is something film students need to study. I think it will take multiple viewings to truly understand all the subtleties of their love, and how they show affection while this murder investigation is ongoing. I can’t wait to see Decision to Leave again and dig into these details and so much more about it.
Close – Directed by Lukas Dhont
Close is Cannes 2022’s late-in-the-festival gem, as it was one of the last big competition screenings on the second Thursday night just before the festival ended. I always stick around until the end because you never know when one of these superb films will premiere (Drive and You Were Never Really Here also premiered on Thursday evenings at past fests, too). The only problem with Close is that it’s hard to talk about until everyone else has seen the film, because there’s a major event that happens midway through and it’s best to watch it without knowing anything before. Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont has made an achingly beautiful film about friendship and connection, and how everything can change so quickly. The moody score is one of the best of the festival, by composer Valentin Hadjadj, and I adore the cinematography, too. All the shots of the two boys running through the flower fields are breathtaking, now I want to go live there, too. We also need to celebrate the lead performances by the two youngsters: Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele.
Joyland – Directed by Saim Sadiq
This is something special. I am so glad I could discover Joyland, a small Pakistani film in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes this year. Written and directed by filmmaker Saim Sadiq, this stylish and moving film is about a family living in Lahore, following a husband and wife specifically as they question their roles in society. Ali Junejo stars as a kind, caring Pakistani man whose life changes when he ends up working as a background dancer for a trans woman. It’s a sharply critical breakdown of gender roles, examining and questioning them in both comedic and thoughtful ways. Out of everything I watched at Cannes this year, Joyland is one of the most progressive and innovative films. I admire how Sadiq lets the story play out with boundless compassion, giving the audience time to understand the situation that Haider has found himself in, learning how to navigate it alongside him. I’ve already been recommending this one to all of my friends.
Moonage Daydream – Directed by Brett Morgen
Bowie forever and ever!! Moonage Daydream is a cinematic experience like no other. It’s a documentary film about David Bowie, but it’s not really a biopic, and it’s not really a documentary. Much like Bowie himself, it’s a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience that will blow you away. It’s a profound experience – one of the most moving viewings I’ve had at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. Emerging from the cinema it’s like entering a whole new world with a new outlook on life and fresh perspective. It’s a mind-melting, cosmically existential journey through Bowie’s existence and endlessly wise mind. Absolutely amazing to experience. Directed and edited by the extraordinarily talented doc filmmaker Brett Morgen (of another one of my favorites, Jane), the film uses an endless amount of clips and archival footage to tell Bowie’s story, giving it a timeless and somewhat hallucinogenic feel. This is one of the few films at Cannes this year that I wanted to immediately watch again, preferably under the warm influence of some hallucinogenic substances next time.
Rodeo – Directed by Lola Quivoron
File this one under “I can’t believe this is her feature debut” because it absolutely rules. Not that many other critics even saw this film, strangely, but I’m glad I did because it’s fantastic. From director Lola Quivoron, Rodeo is about a young woman named Julia – a tough-as-nails, badass, curly haired fighter obsessed with motorcycles. Julia is pretty much “one of the boys”, not the usual girl, fighting back and not letting anyone mess with her. She’s also a thief, but it’s because there is no other way for her to live than to steal what she wants. She falls in with a motorbike gang on the outskirts of Bordeaux and has to prove her worth and her value to the rest of the boys – most of whom don’t want to ever give her an ounce of respect. Julie Ledru gives a star-making performance as Julia, but it’s also all the motorbike stunts and intimate cinematography that make this film so memorable. I can’t wait until more people watch it and discover it, I think it will end up with a huge following within a few years. Catch this as soon as you can if it’s playing anywhere near you.
Return to Seoul – Directed by Davy Chou
Another one of these films that I can’t get out of my mind. Return to Seoul is the epitome of a film about a messy, problematic lead character – who’s often a serious asshole – yet it’s so authentically sympathetic and understanding and careful handling her story, you can’t help be enamored by her anyway. French filmmaker Davy Chou tells a story about an adopted Korean woman who grew up in France, who takes an impulsive trip to Seoul where she ends up trying to find and meet her biological parents. Unfortunately this screws her up worse, sending her spiraling into depression and anger and sociopathic outbursts. Newcomer Ji-Min Park plays Freddie and does so with such nuance and control, it’s hard to believe this isn’t who she really is, as there’s so many dimensions to her and it’s all there on screen. Chou’s Return to Seoul is one of the most affecting films of the fest, with plenty to think about regarding parenting and adoption. I don’t like the main character, she’s so tiresome, until you get to understand her anger and how she’s dealing with trauma.
Triangle of Sadness – Directed by Ruben Östlund
Even though I don’t think this film should’ve won the Palme d’Or, and even though I have problems with the ending… I still think Triangle of Sadness is one of the best of the festival, and so much of it is brilliant that it’s hard to forget about it anyway. Ruben Östlund is a mad genius!!!! And I loveeee watching him skewer capitalism and wealth, literally throwing these schmucks overboard in this luxury yacht comedy. It’s a bit clunky, with three different segments that play out over 2 and 1/2 hours, but that’s Ruben’s usual style and craziness. He let’s the scenes play and they get weird and wackier as they go on, but he’s bold enough to speak to the viewers through his characters about how bad wealth is and how stupid these people are. The highlights of the film are Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean as a model couple, always arguing about useless topics, while watching the absurdity of rich people all around them; along with Zlatko Buric who plays a wacky, carefree Russian oligarch dropping some of the funniest lines. Everyone in this is hilarious.
The Eight Mountains – Directed by Felix van Groeningen & Charlotte Vandermeersch
This is one of the first films that debuted at the beginning of the festival, yet it has remained with me the entire time. After all these other films, this one still stands out. Yes, it’s because I love mountains and their majesty, and this film is yet another film about how mountains affect us and change us. But I also think it’s about so much more, about the decisions we make and the paths we take in life, and where they lead us, and how we grow and change over time. The Eight Mountains is a remarkably beautiful film both visually and emotionally, and I also adore the unique score made up mostly of songs by Swedish musician Daniel Norgren along with some additional compositions. This film completely swept me off my feet in the way going up into the mountains only can. There’s something mystical about the way it moves so slowly, similar to the way glaciers move ever so slowly on mountains. It is also deeply connected to the way mountains themselves are massive, silent, enduring monuments of stone. They don’t speak, but they do speak deeply to us; and even the quiet, slow parts of this film speak as loudly as mountains do on their quietest days, too…
Broker – Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
All hail Song Kang-ho! One of the greatest actors. Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda already won his Cannes Palme d’Or a few year ago for the film Shoplifters, and Broker is a similar film in many ways. Kore-eda is already a master storyteller and almost every film he makes the potential to be emotionally devastating and an unforgettable viewing experience. Broker may not be his best work, but it’s certainly something special in its own charming way. Broker is another beautiful Kore-eda film about family and how families can be so unique, how they don’t necessarily have to be families based on DNA; they can be families based on kinship, based on understanding and appreciation. Ultimately a family that treats each other with respect and kindness is a better family than one that yells at each other, or controls and manipulates each other. Best of all, Broker has an exceptional Korean cast: Song Kang-ho, Dong-won Gang, Doona Bae, Ji-eun Lee, Joo-Young Lee. They’re a large part of what makes this a terrific film full of humility & compassion.
Three Thousand Years of Longing – Directed by George Miller
I had a feeling I’d end up loving this movie, and I certainly did. I’m a big fan of audacious, bold filmmaking that shoots for the moon and tries to intertwine multiple narratives across time and space (also see: Cloud Atlas). Three Thousand Years of Longing is George Miller’s epic and ravishing attempt at telling a story about loneliness, and how we all need someone to be with, even those who claim otherwise. Tilda Swinton is fantastic, as she always is, but Idris Elba is at his very best in this playing a “Djinn”, a genie-in-a-bottle from Istanbul who regales Swinton with a series of vivid stories about love and power throughout human history. I also completely loved the score by “Junkie XL”, now known as Tom Holkenborg, his best work since he last scored a fun little George Miller movie called Mad Max: Fury Road. I think this movie offers plenty to think about, and while some will not jive with it, many others will. It’s the kind big, all-out filmmaking that is thrilling to watch; and Miller definitely knows how to tell a good story, we all know that.
A few other films from the festival I want to mention even though they weren’t my favorite. First, I really dig David Cronenerg’s magnum opus Crimes of the Future and I’m not sure why critics are being so harsh on it. It’s not the best of the fest, and it’s much tamer than Cronenberg’s earlier films of course, but I still think it’s compelling and definitely has something to say. Not just about “surgery is the new sex”, there’s more to it about expression and humanity and how we might stop evolution because it doesn’t satisfy us correctly. I also already wrote about Ali Abbasi’s Holy Spider, a very disturbing film about a serial killer that should provoke discussions all over the world once more people start watching it. I also was intrigued by The Five Devils (aka Les Cinq Diables), the latest from French filmmaker Léa Mysius. It has a seriously interesting concept regarding a little girl and her special power connected to smell, but it doesn’t stick the landing and the script isn’t as polished as it should be. I also think Thomas M. Wright’s The Stranger is a disquieting dark thriller that might get under your skin, and it’s worth a watch just to admire the glorious beards on both Joel Edgerton & Sean Harris. For the full list of films I viewed this year – check my diary on Letterboxd.
And that’s it for Cannes 2022, finalizing our coverage of this film festival. Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness won the Palme d’Or top prize this year – find the full list of 2022 awards winners here. My coverage wraps up with this list of favorites and all my other reviews from the fest. I’m always looking forward to returning to Cannes again, it’s one of my favorite fests and I always enjoy going back hoping to discover masterpieces.