Top Ten Films February 21-22

10) Pig

Top ten films movies 2021 2022

Directed by: Michael Sarnoski

Written by: Michael Sarnoski

Starring: Nicholas Cage and Alex Wolff

Pig is the impressive directorial debut of Michael Sarnokski about a truffle hunter, Robin (Cage), who lives a minimalist life in the Oregonian woodlands. His only company is his treasured truffle pig. When his hut is invaded, and his pig stolen, Robin embarks on an unpredictable odyssey through the Portland underground to retrieve his beloved. Along for the ride is his connect Amir (Wolff), who has acted as an intermediary between Robin and Portland’s high class restaurants.

Robin and Amir are something of an odd couple. Robin has long since decided to not care about the facade that is appropriated by highbrow foodies. Amir is upwardly mobile but fiercely in the shadow of his father. A combination which, to Robin especially, makes him come off phoney. 

For those put off by Nicholas Cage, don’t be. This is something different to his latest freak-out roles. It is also different to his much more well-received genre exercises. This is a thoughtful, unpredictable and meditative film, with just enough violence and grunge to keep the viewer gripped. 


9) The Last Duel

Top ten films movies 2021 2022

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Written by: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Nicole Holofcener

Starring: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck

Ridley Scott had two films released last year, this one and House of Gucci, not bad for an 84-year-old. The Last Duel borrows it’s structure from Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 classic Rashomon and also centres on a rape. Set during the Hundred Years War, we see the incident from three perspectives: Jean (Damon) , husband of the victim, Jaques (Driver) the rapist, and Marguerite (Comer), the victim. Each section is subtitled The Truth According to [Insert Name Here]. 

This structure highlights the film’s fascinatingly nuanced screenplay. Little shifts in tone and line delivery changes the audience’s perspective on what has happened before. It is also quite a topical film. Female victims of rape are still vilifed by the media and even in courtrooms. We have moved on from the horrific legislative stance that rape is a crime against the woman but a property crime against the woman’s husband, but not by a great distance. 

The film’s intriguing plot device is coupled with Scott’s panache for swords and shields action sequences and features a devilish supporting turn from Ben Affleck as a Count who has a penchant for high art and orgies. Affleck is inexplicably nominated for a Razzie for Worst Supporting Performance along with Jared Leto for his outrageous performance Pablo Gucci in House of Gucci. Two of the more enjoyable performances of the last year. 


8) The Lost Daughter

Top ten films movies 2021 2022

Directed by: Maggie Gyllenhaal 

Written by: Maggie Gyllenhaal

Starring: Olivia Coleman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Dominczyk, Jack Farthing, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Peter Sarsgaard and Ed Harris

Mystery and dread permeates Maggie Gyylenhaal’s directorial debut The Lost Daughter, a film about a woman uncomfortable with society’s homogeneous ideal of how a woman should feel and desire. Olivia Coleman plays Leda Caruso, a professor of Latin on sabbatical in Greece. Her peaceful holiday is interrupted by a brash Greek family. When a young member of the family goes missing, it opens up old psychological wounds for Leda.

Gyllenhaal intercuts flashbacks of Leda as a young mother and PHd student struggling for balance. Here she is played by an always terrific Jessie Buckley. While Leda inevitably forms a nebulous friendship with two women from the family, a young mother Nina (Johnson) and a soon-to-be mother Callie (Dominczyk), she also keeps a secret from them. She is looking for something to control as her psychological state deteriorates. 


7) Mass

Top ten films movies 2021 2022

Directed by: Fran Kranz

Written by: Fran Kranz

Starring: Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton

Yet another debut feature film on the list, Fran Kranz takes on the meaty and topical issue of a high school shooting. Unlike Gus Van Sant’s Palme d’Or winning Elephant (2003) which depicted the lead up to an horrific act of violence, Mass deals with the fallout. Specifically the psychological effect it has had on the parents of a victim and a perpetrator. 

Mass is shot in one location, a church, and for the large majority of it’s runtime, a backroom there in. Therefore a lot of work has to be done through the acting, and this is the finest work by an ensemble I have seen in years. The way every player holds a close-up and delivers a line of dialogue with such emotional weight is mesmerizing. Credit has to be given to the script from Kranz also, so clearly and thoroughly researched, it taps into the complex psychology of such unfathomable grief. 


6) Annette

Top ten films movies 2021 2022

Directed by: Leos Carax

Written by: Ron Mael and Russell Mael

Starring: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard and Simon Helberg

Annette is a musical written by the art-pop band Sparks. The film begins by clearly setting out its metafictional intentionality, the opening number is called ‘So May We Start’, and begins with the film’s director, Leos Carax, rolling sound in a recording studio. The Sparks Brothers play the first few bars of the catchy tune and sing the first few lines. Then they are on their way. A tracking shot sees them meeting up with the film's stars, Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard and Simon Helberg. This virtuoso opening sequence sets the tone for this wonderfully weird film that acts as a commentary on both high and low brow art as well as the darker side of fame and celebrity.

Marion Cotillard plays an opera singer, calling back to her star-making and Oscar-winning role in Le Vie en rose (2007), who falls in love with a shock comedian played by Adam Driver. It is a doomed relationship despite the insistent song at the beginning of the film where Cotillard and Driver sing ‘We Love Each Other so Much’ repeatedly to each other. Cotillard’s classically trained voice is interestingly at odds with Driver’s deep, almost uncontrolled baritone. 


5) Undine

Top ten films movies 2021 2022

Directed by: Christian Petzold 

Written by: Christian Petzold

Starring: Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski

Undine is a fantasy-romance from veteran German filmmaker Christian Petzold. His artistic obsession lies in representing modern Germany in relation to it’s tumultuous past through the lens of genre filmmaking. His most successful effort being a neo-noir adaptation of James M. Cain’s novella The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)- Jerichow (2008) highly recommended.

Here, Petzold takes from the Greek myth Undine about a water nymph who seeks love on land. However, if that suitor is unfaithful to Undine, he is doomed to die. A version of this story became The Little Mermaid, written by Hans Christian Anderson in 1837 and of course became a classic Disney film in 1989. Undine is played here, by Paula Beer, and sure enough in the opening scene, she is threatening to kill a lover who is breaking up with her- never cross a water nymph.

Undine is a lecturer in Berlin’s architectural past, during one of her lectures she captivates Christoph (Rogowski). Christoph is an industrial diver, they begin a passionate love affair, water a strong motif. While the film has fantastical elements the story is grounded in a realist filmmaking style. A mysterious film that will have you thinking long after the credits roll. 


4) Licorice Pizza

Top ten films movies 2021 2022

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Cooper Hoffman, Alanna Haim, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper and Benny Safdie

At number four on the list, is a third beguiling romance, Paul Thomas Anderson ode to young love in early seventies San Fernando Valley. Anderson returns to his hometown, and setting of his first two hits Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999), to tell a story of former child actor turned young entrepreneur Gary Valentine (Hoffman) and his pursuit of Alanna (Haim), an older, directionless woman who is both taken by Gary’s resourcefulness and confidence and repelled by his boyish immaturity. 

The two form a bond that runs deep and beyond outside societal influences. Once Gary realises he isn’t cute enough for the screen anymore, he goes into the water-bed business, public service announcement production and finally the gaming arcade trade. Meanwhile, Alanna wants to become an actress or change the political landscape of early seventies California by working for mayoral candidate Joel Wachs (Safdie). 

While Licorice Pizza might be Anderson’s most thematically light film since 2002’s Punch Drunk Love, the film’s style and structure is far from rudimentary. As he did with Phantom Thread, Anderson works as his own cinematographer. The costume and music choices immerse you in an era that has long been pastiched in a fresh new way. The film is a joy, and perhaps just the film to sign off a terrible two, Covid dominated years.


3) The Card Counter

Top ten films movies 2021 2022

Directed by: Paul Schrader

Written by: Paul Schrader

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan and Williem Dafoe 

The Card Counter sees Paul Scrader, now 75, continue a late period career renaissance. It is a visually arresting and singular film. The camera glides slowly with William through the casino floor, sits meditatively with him at the blackjack table. The slow-fades employed in the film are reminiscent of the films of Carl Therdore Dreyer and Robert Bresson- particularly Diary of a Country Priest (1951)- also a heavy influence over First Reformed. William is a restless sleeper, the camera slowly zooms to his eyes shut tight but in frantic REM. We cut to nightmarish visions of Abu Ghraib and all the unspeakable depravity that went on in there, an ultra-wide lens depicts a disoriented and hellish space.  

The Iraq war, which served as the reason for Ernst’s grief in First Reformed is brought fully to the surface in this film. The audience must reckon with the awful sins William has perpetrated in the past with the stoic charisma they see on screen. Is William deserving of redemption? Is damnation deserved? These are Scrader’s essential questions, while also making the point that the powers that be, here personified by Major Gordo, got off scot-free. William’s surname, Tillich, is symbolic. Presumably named after philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich, who was an early detractor of Hitler and the Nazi party. Scrader is drawing an obvious line between what went on in Abu Ghraib and what happened in the internment camps during World War II. 

Ashamed of his identity, William Tillich goes by William Tell, a name that also contains symbolic weight. His namesake being a Swiss folk hero who sought bloody revenge on the person who endangered his son’s life. The Card Counter’s Tell is faced with a similar situation, thrusting him out of his self-inflicted limbo, but will it lead to his redemption or perdition? 

Read Full Review Here


2) The Power of the Dog

Top ten films movies 2021 2022

Directed by: Jane Campion

Written by: Jane Campion

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee

The Power of the Dog is Jane Campion’s methodical deconstruction of the western mythology. Benedict Cumberbatch, plays rancher Phil Burbank, who is on the surface, a gruff, tough, chain-smoking man’s man. A vicious bully who doesn’t have any mass in personal hygiene. But like any bully, his callousness comes from a place of insecurity. Phil was not born a rancher, but to wealthy parents. He studied Classics at Yale. Perhaps impostor syndrome has him over compensating. Then there is the relationship he had with his dead mentor Bronco Henry.

While no one escapes Phil’s vile behaviour, not even his brother (Plemons) who he causally calls ‘Fatso’. It is Peter (Smit-McPhee) son of his brother’s wife (Dunst) who bears the brunt of Phil’s wrath. Peter is gangly and effeminate, on the cusp of adulthood. Judging by Smit-McPhee and Cumberbatch’s build, Phil may even see his younger self in Peter. As Phil and Peter spend more time together, Phil takes Peter under his wing. However, Peter may already be tougher than he looks.

Gorgeously shot, with the New Zealand bush doubling for the Montana plains, and hauntingly scored by Johnny Greenwood, this psychological Western has a twist worthy of Hitchcock and is Campion’s strongest film since her Palme d’Or winning The Piano (1993)


1) Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn


Top ten films movies 2021 2022

Directed by: Radu Jude

Written by: Radu Jude

Starring: Katia Pascariu and Claudia Ieremia 

Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is a provocation that studies the pandemic world, sexual morality and what it means to have a private life in the age of social media through the medium of absurdist comedy. The film begins, with an unsimulated sex scene between a couple. There is dirty-talk, an electric pink wig and a parent calling from downstairs- I’m sure generation rent in Ireland will relate to the latter at least. 

The couple are making a sex tape. In the digital age, not the best idea. The footage is accidentally uploaded to Pornhub. Emi (Pascariu) the star of the piece, is a History teacher at a prestigious Bucharest boarding school. She must face a trial board of irate and titillated parents calling for her head. 

This makes up the film’s final chapter, however there are two chapters that precede Emi public persecution. The first sees Emi, travelling on foot towards her meeting. In this extended sequence director Radu Jude, takes the viewer on a tour of Bucharest. This sequence is shot in documentary style, Pascariu seems to be the only subject that knows she is in a film. This is Bucharest in the time of Coronavirus, jumpy, tetchy and oftentimes downright mean. Jude’s roving camera frequently tilts up, to show advertising hoardings when Emi is in the city centre and eventually beautiful architecture as she moves further and further toward her date with destiny.

Before we witness the main event there is a second chapter, an interlude in which Jude matches philosophical concepts with a history of the Romanian state and seemingly stream of conscious visuals in a mesmerising and at times perplexing montage. When it comes time to defend herself Emi pulls no punches in defending herself and calling out the hypocrisies of others. This is the funniest, most thought-provoking and original film of the year.