This article is part of our 2022 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. In this entry, we assemble our picks for the most interesting new filmmakers we met in 2022.
Questions continue to swirl regarding the future of the theatrical experience. We saw several box office bashes in 2022, but many more films fizzled and found their way to streaming and video on demand seemingly weeks, if not days, later. How we digest our movies is in a transitional state, but while worries for our cinema houses carried over from 2021, they paled compared to the quality delivered in 2022.
The vibrantly bright and imaginative filmmakers are out there, and nothing is slowing them down. Last year saw numerous directorial debuts from every possible narrative species. Some creators promise an elevation in the categories they planted their flags, while others suggest a fluidity where any genre could be called their home.
The creators found below range from mischievous antagonists to deeply empathetic caregivers. Their movies left profound impressions on their audiences and sparked hope in an era fogged with anxiety. Their first films intrigued us, but we’re itching for their sophomores. No slumps allowed.
15. Parker Finn (Smile)
Jump scares have a bad rap. We think of them as cheap jolts designed for the easily goosed. However, when initiated by a magician, relying on distraction and sleight of hand, a jump scare can zap the most hardened of horror moviegoers. Smile is filled frame-to-frame with devilish starts, and they’re good enough to hang its monster story. Parker Finn measures the escalation well, delivering massive thwacks early, a few solid stings in the middle, and saving the lingering grotesque bits for the film’s final act. We’re never allowed to settle or stew in Smile. The mystery intrigues, but our rattled nerves rarely allow us to think too much about it. Jitters are the only flavor required.
14. Lee Jung-jae (Hunt)
As director, star, co-writer, and co-producer, Lee Jung-jae is Hunt‘s one-man band. For foreign audiences, the storyline is nearly impossible to penetrate. Much of the film’s politics and history is assumed, but the details don’t drown the tension. And frankly, a muddied understanding of the plot only enhances the dizzying, chaotic nature experienced by the characters. Lee Jung-jae embraces a hand-held flurry to get his audience through the dense background machinations, relying on our physical reaction to the action to keep us awake when story questions arise.
13. Owen Kline (Funny Pages)
Owen Kline proves himself a filmmaker as happy to dwell in the awkward and the uncomfortable as the cartoonists he and his central character so clearly admire. Funny Pages contains a vicious yet humourous self-loathing. It’s a quiet coming-of-age drama chained to the comic shop lifestyle, where escape is made impossible by its inhabitants and their desperate clinging to cultural authority. Funny Pages is not quite Crumb or American Splendor, but it’s on its way.
12. The Ebo Sisters (Honk for Jesus. Save Our Soul.)
Expanding on the short film of the same name, Adamma Ebo and Adanne Ebo attack the megachurch culture they grew up within without laying waste to those who remain in its clutches. Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. maintains tremendous warmth toward its borderline demented protagonists while never flinching from its takedown of them. The movie is a tonal jumble, never allowing those watching to settle into any particular vibe. The Ebo sisters use the unease to their advantage, delivering an unforgettable ending that goes way beyond what they attempted with their initial effort.
11. Lila Neugebauer (Causeway)
With Causeway, director Lila Neugebauer propels herself from her theater and television work. The film is a tiny slice into the lives of two isolated individuals. You’ve seen this kind of encounter before, but Neugebauer and her actors rely heavily on the unsaid, clasping onto cinematic language rather than what’s written on the page. Neugebauer uses movement, expression, and distance to communicate the emotional narrative. She puts her camera in places where the audience could never go on the stage, creating an unbreaking intimacy between the viewer and the subject.
10. Max Walker-Silverman (A Love Song)
A Love Song is the type of movie you wish all your favorite character actors got the chance to get lost inside. Dale Dickey and Wes Studi find the space to operate in ways they’ve never done before. In the story of two former childhood sweethearts reuniting later in life, you can sense writer/director Max Walker-Silverman’s admiration for his two subjects and their puppeteers. A Love Song ultimately explores our ever-evolving relationship with romance, splaying open its character’s past feelings, present feelings, and possible future feelings. Walker-Silverman lets his American west backdrop and the two actors in the foreground do the work. It’s a sparse but welcome touch.
9. Michelle Garza Cervera (Huesera: The Bone Woman)
Every pregnancy might as well be a David Cronenberg body horror flick. Director/co-writer Michelle Garza Cervera leans into this idea. As a child grows inside Valeria (Natalia Solián), so does a violent, dreadful sensation. The baby is coming, and her body is about to explode. Where family and society promise unimaginable joy, all she can feel is an approaching doom.
The organs, flesh, and bones that once belonged to her now belong to the hijacking beast inside. Her life is over. The finality should hurry up and reach her, but Garza Cervera delights in her slow crawl to rupture. Huesera is a wondrous manipulation of pacing and sound design. Garza Cervera cleverly plays with convention, using genre to upend traditional notions of motherhood and exposing the real-deal horror of the bomb in the oven.
8. John Patton Ford (Emily the Criminal)
Writer/director John Patton Ford crafts an electric gig economy thriller. Life’s tiny failings stack atop each other, providing few options for the titular heroine (Aubrey Plaza). Emily discovers a deft new skill after stumbling into a credit card fraud ring, impressing mastermind Youcef (Theo Rossi). The two embolden each other, and through this symbiotic encouragement, they’re hurled down dangerous new avenues.
Emily the Criminal is mostly a showcase for Plaza, but Ford exhibits a jolly prowess for edging excitement. The film delays its genre for as long as it can. While you’re always concerned for Emily, you’re never quite sure how far into peril the script will take her. This dance creates a tantalizing agitation that Ford holds all the way through the film’s final moments.
7. Mariama Diallo (Master)
Master is a claustrophobic, continuously-tightening horror movie set amongst entrenched Academic racism. Regina Hall is the newly appointed master of a New England university. While she absorbs mounting microaggressions from her white peers, new student Jasmine (Zoe Renee) suffers even more ghastly treatment from her fellow students. In the background are whispers of ghosts, witches, and more. In the foreground are maggots, maggots, maggots. Writer/director Mariama Diallo pumps her movie with venom, and each bite it takes of the audience is charged with knowing recognizable agony. Master is a scream of a movie, not in a silly, gleeful manner but one roaring with rage.
6. Mimi Cave (Fresh)
Mimi Cave directs an infectious romantic comedy for Fresh‘s first fifteen minutes. Then, the title card. Cave is suddenly directing a gnarly, repulsive, and unrelentingly upsetting terror picture. Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan are the cutest of couples until they’re not. Fresh succeeds only because it carries the memory of the film’s introduction well into its ghastly majority. As a result, we feel almost guilty as we hold onto our disappointment for the script’s turn. Cave and her cast succeed so well in their opening that the viewer hopes the two can make it work even when such desire is twisted logically. As a tonal exercise, it’s the best whiplash audiences experienced in 2022.
5. Michael Giacchino (Werewolf by Night)
Michael Giacchino is anything but a new filmmaker. His scores have touched nearly every major franchise of the last fifteen years, from Star Trek to Star Wars to the MCU. Yet, as you can observe in Werewolf by Night‘s Director by Night documentary, Giacchino has spent his entire life working toward the director’s chair. Finally, given the opportunity by Marvel Studios honcho Kevin Feige, the filmmaker digs into his geekiest desires, making a superhero “Special Presentation” that no one else ever would have dared.
Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal) was the last character we would have thought adapted, but the Marvel monster has deep roots in Giacchino’s heart. He allowed the director to pay tribute to the old Hollywood horrors that got him and his brother through their childhood. Werewolf by Night is an earnest black and white lark, unafraid of the melodramatic and the silly. Giacchino shows that not every Marvel property needs to behave like the other. In running wild, he breathes new life into the decade-old franchise that too many are ready and willing to label stale.
4. Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović (Murina)
Murina is a white-knuckled affair populated with fraught family relationships. Director/co-writer Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović leads her audience’s assumptions, dragging us to an explosive ending before subverting it. Slow burn is a tired phrase, and tired for a reason. There are a lot of these wannabe dreadful flicks rolling around out there. Kusijanović succeeds where most fail by delivering compulsively taught sequences that consistently reveal the inner lives of her players without spelling them out. Story is captured on the actor’s faces, and Kusijanović is comfortable enough to let them work where many others would fall into exposition.
3. Nikyatu Jusu (Nanny)
Nanny is a brisk, challenging descent into madness. Scene-stealer Anna Diop plays Aisha, an undocumented Senegalese immigrant who lands a job in New York looking after rich kid Rose. However, the child’s wealthy family seems stretched thin, and paychecks start to dry up while demand increases. Desperate to maintain the job so she can eventually afford to bring her own child to America, Aisha begins hallucinating. Maybe.
Writer/director Nikyatu Jusu layers her script with heaps of haunting style. Nanny swirls with encroaching catastrophe. When it arrives, it’s less tragic and more damning. Jusu is exploring white supremacy’s destructive force and its fragility and the weak fools that sustain it.
2. Domee Shi (Turning Red)
Domee Shi’s short film Bao packed more wallop than most features. The little creative burst suggested something grander on the horizon, and Turning Red, her follow-up, made good on the promise. The Pixar joint was condemned to Disney+ streaming, but in the wake of theatrical failures like Lightyear and Strange World, Turning Red stands tall.
Shi replicates her emotional experience growing up as a Chinese Canadian obsessed with pop culture, using a little mythology to clone the horror/shame cocktail called puberty. Turning Red scores laughter and relatable embarrassment equally while somehow still nailing an absolutely epic kaiju battle climax. Moms, am I right?
1. Charlotte Wells
Aftersun is a debut that makes you a little nervous about the director’s sophomore effort. The movie is too damn good, one of the year’s best films, accomplishing an immersive experience that James Cameron usually spends decades fabricating digitally.
Writer/director Charlotte Wells plops us in the middle of a daughter and father’s family vacation. Their relationship is as sweet as it is strained, but as you linger with them, Aftersun unravels its devastating thesis. Both parenthood and childhood race toward grief. Time demands change, and every little change is a kind of death. And whatever our role, we suck at it.
Then, there’s actual death. Early on, we know that the father doesn’t last much longer after the trip. His end hangs over every scene, and as it floats there, so does your mortality and the mortality of everyone you love in your life. Charlotte Wells’ trick is removing the gloom from the inevitability.
Related Topics: 2022 Rewind