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The movies that stood out in 2022

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's been a year of recovery for Hollywood. Ticket sales bounced back during the summer. So did the number of films released to theaters. And while the numbers are still only about two-thirds of what they were before the pandemic, they represent a big jump from the last two years. As for the quality of the new releases, well, that's up, too, judging from critic Bob Mondello's 10 best list, which positively overflows.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Two solid years of studios holding back, theaters hanging on, audiences thinking twice. And then suddenly, in the spring, it was "Everything Everywhere All At Once" - just as folks were coming out of pandemic-era lockdowns, a comedy about infinite possibilities, less chaos theory than chaos practical.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

MICHELLE YEOH: (As Evelyn Quan Wang) What's happening?

MONDELLO: A middle-aged Asian businesswoman gets a big surprise during a tax audit.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

KE HUY QUAN: (As Waymond Wang) I'm not your husband. I'm another version of him from another universe. I'm here because we need your help.

YEOH: (As Evelyn Quan Wang) Very busy today - no time to help you.

MONDELLO: Doesn't matter. She'll learn to multiverse-hop in pursuit of her best self. "Everything Everywhere All At Once" leads a parade of impressive films this year centering on women. Another is "Tar," in which Cate Blanchett gives a breathtaking performance as a symphony conductor who tells an interviewer early on that she is all about control.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TAR")

CATE BLANCHETT: (As Lydia Tar) The illusion is that, like you, I'm responding to the orchestra in real time, making the decision about the right moment to restart the thing or reset it or throw time out the window altogether. The reality is that right from the very beginning, I know precisely the exact moment that you and I will arrive at our destination together.

MONDELLO: That level of control doesn't work out very well for Lydia Tar, and it's almost unimaginable for the women in an isolated religious colony who are told in Sarah Polley's "Women Talking" that to enter the kingdom of heaven, they must forgive their abusers.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WOMEN TALKING")

CLAIRE FOY: (As Salome Friesen) We know that we've not imagined these attacks. We know that we are bruised and infected and pregnant, and some of us are dead.

ROONEY MARA: (As Ona Friesen) We cannot forgive because we are forced to.

MONDELLO: "Women Talking" is a passionate adaptation of a bestselling novel. For a real-life instance of the power of one woman talking, there's the documentary "All The Beauty And The Bloodshed," which explores photographer Nan Goldin's career as an artist...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED")

NAN GOLDIN: Photography is like a flash of euphoria. And it gave me a voice.

MONDELLO: ...Then shows how she used that voice in a longshot but successful crusade to hold the museum-endowing Sackler family accountable for the opioid addiction crisis caused by their company, Purdue Pharma.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED")

GOLDIN: We need to demand that the Met Museum, the Louvre, the Tate refuse donations from the Sacklers and take down their name.

MONDELLO: "All The Beauty And The Bloodshed" qualifies as art in its own right, something you could also say of the bloodshed-without-beauty epic that is "All Quiet On The Western Front," the first German-made version of the wrenching anti-war classic about a hapless German soldier in World War I.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, speaking German).

MONDELLO: Sweeping and horrifying in its carnage, "All Quiet On The Western Front" feels as if it's acquired fresh resonance as soldiers die by the thousands in Ukraine. A conflict of a more intimate sort fuels "The Banshees Of Inisherin," about a long-time friendship that one day simply ceases to be.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN")

COLIN FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) If I've done something to you, just tell me what I've done to you. And if I said something to you, maybe I said something when I was drunk and I've forgotten it. But I don't think I said something when I was drunk and I've forgotten it. But if I did, then tell me what it was. And I'd say sorry for that, too, Colm.

BRENDAN GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) But you didn't say anything to me. You didn't do anything to me.

FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) Well, that's what I was thinking. Like...

GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) I just don't like you no more.

FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) You liked me yesterday.

MONDELLO: "Banshees Of Inisherin" is a tale of buddies that plays like a blood feud. That's six of my top 10. The next two are foreign language films, though the first of them barely has any language at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EO")

SANDRA DRZYMALSKA: (As Kasandra) EO.

MONDELLO: "EO" centers on a donkey who is cast adrift when a Polish circus is disbanded.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EO")

DRZYMALSKA: (As Kasandra) EO.

MONDELLO: A portrait of modern Europe as seen through the biggest brown eyes imaginable, "EO" is at once a curiosity, an adventure and an emotionally freighted commentary on humans and nature, definitely not for children. The Korean detective story "Decision To Leave" feels far more conventional until at midpoint...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DECISION TO LEAVE")

TANG WEI: (As Song Seo-rae, speaking Korean).

MONDELLO: ...It changes course. "Vertigo"-inspired but very much its own vision, it boasts lush romance, obscure motives and characters you trust about as far as the director can drop them off a cliff. If "Decision To Leave" reminds movie buffs of Hitchcock, the drama "Living" will remind them of Kurosawa. It's a British remake of "To Live," Kurosawa's Japanese portrait of a bureaucrat who doesn't look for purpose in his life...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIVING")

BARNEY FISHWICK: (As Michael Williams) Dad, you alright?

MONDELLO: ...Until a doctor tells him his life is almost over.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIVING")

BILL NIGHY: (As Mr. Williams) If only to be alive for one day, but I realized I don't know how.

MONDELLO: Bill Nighy's character learns to make a joyful noise without ever raising his voice. And rounding out the top 10, "The Fabelmans," Steven Spielberg's fictionalized account of his own childhood and his discovery, with a little help from his mom, that the world - even his model train set - looks different through the lens of a movie camera.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FABELMANS")

MICHELLE WILLIAMS: (As Mitzi Fabelman) We're going to use Daddy's camera to film it. Only crash the train once, OK? Then after we get the film developed, you can watch it crash over and over till it's not so scary anymore.

MONDELLO: "The Fabelmans" qualifies as Spielberg's most heartfelt film, which is saying something. Ten is an arbitrary number, so I'm going to breeze right past it. Spielberg wasn't alone in celebrating the silver screen while a lot of people are watching films on home screens. "La La Land's" Damien Chazelle gives us a three-hour bacchanalian comedy about Hollywood in the Roaring '20s called "Babylon."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BABYLON")

MARGOT ROBBIE: (As Nellie LaRoy) What do you say we come in for my closeup now?

MONDELLO: While he's looking at the '20s, director Jordan Peele has a fresh take on 1950s sci fi in the genre-expanding alien invasion flick "Nope."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NOPE")

KEKE PALMER: (As Emerald Haywood) No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Nope.

BRANDON PEREA: (As Angel Torres) So are you guys going to tell me what's going on?

PALMER: (As Emerald Haywood) Hell no.

DANIEL KALUUYA: (As O.J. Haywood) No.

MONDELLO: Also looking at film itself, the documentary "3 Minutes: A Lengthening," which does a fascinating deep dive into some rediscovered pre-World War II footage, and "No Bears," in which filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who's spent the last decade banned from making movies in Iran, plays a director named Jafar Panahi who's making a film just outside Iran. Panahi was recently imprisoned by Iranian authorities, so "No Bears" registers as a cinematic protest. Also from Iran - Asghar Farhadi's caustic social commentary "A Hero," about a man who becomes a celebrity after seeming to do a good deed. There's also a caustic French commentary, "Happening," in which a college student seeks an abortion - harrowing in the 1960s and sadly feeling way too current for comfort. Meanwhile, parents and children are centered in the eerie thriller "Nanny," about a woman caring for a youngster in New York so she can bring her own child from Senegal...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NANNY")

ANNA DIOP: (As Aisha) Very soon, Lamine.

JAHLEEL KAMARA: (As Lamine) Always very soon.

MONDELLO: ...And the warm but wrenching "Aftersun" about a dad on vacation with his 11-year-old daughter.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AFTERSUN")

PAUL MESCAL: (As Calum) You know, I want you to know that you can talk to me about anything, ever - parties you go to, boys you meet, drugs you take.

FRANKIE CORIO: (As Sophie) Dad.

MONDELLO: Family and youth are also front and center in one of the year's most intriguing sci-fi films, an eco-fable in which humans seem hell-bent on destroying an entire planet - no, not the one that has tall blue folks with tails; a little indie flick called "Vesper," after the 13-year-old who's trying to fix a bioengineering disaster that's wiped out all of the world's crops.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VESPER")

RAFFIELLA CHAPMAN: (As Vesper) I need to find the key to unlock the seeds, make them fertile so we never starve again.

MONDELLO: "Vesper," made for a fraction of what "Avatar" probably spent on catering, uses mostly practical effects to deliver its environmental message, which is not to diss what James Cameron accomplished with a $400 million budget, motion capture critters floating in digitized water that may not be wet but that's satisfyingly drenched with symbolism. Skip the plot, check out the visuals, and let's say we count "The Way Of Water" as the year's most persuasive animated film. That'll round out a second 10 - not bad for a year that Hollywood spent playing catch-up. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.