Smaller films that were winners in ‘22

They can’t all be winners.

Not to sound cynical, but neither of us felt that 2022 was a banner year for the film industry. That alone isn’t terribly concerning. We’re still recovering from the global pandemic that shut down the film industry for over a year, with expected side effects.

But there is still some cause for alarm. With the sole exception of “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” none of the many smaller independent movies made a dent at the box office. A few blockbusters made up the difference (“Top Gun: Maverick,” “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “The Batman”), but it’s a sad world when all theatrical releases must have budgets spanning nine figures to be deemed successful.

Let’s highlight a few of the smaller movies from this past year which we found notable.

Take One

Of all the films this year, there is none as surprising as Todd Field’s ultra-highbrow “Tár.” Field, who hadn’t made a film for over 15 years, vaulted back into the conversation with this searing portrait of Lydia Tár, a world-class composer at the Berlin Symphony, depicted with spellbinding and chilly precision by Cate Blanchett. Some view the film as critical of cancel culture and its forebodings, but discerning viewers will notice that Field is skeptical of all forms of power and the potential to corrupt … including his own. Available to stream on Peacock and Amazon.

Despite a bungled release from its distributor, Joanna Hogg’s “The Eternal Daughter” is the deep-cut film of the season. Ostensibly a gothic horror fable about a mid-career filmmaker (a very stressed Tilda Swinton) and her impassive mother (also a very stressed Tilda Swinton, in a dual role) visiting their old residence in the English countryside. Hogg’s film builds tension through grief rather than jump-scares. The twist at its core may be easy to predict, but it’s still potent when it hits. Available to stream on Amazon and Apple+.

Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin” finds the irascible British Irish playwright in his finest form. Another vehicle for his favorite collaborators, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, they each turn in excellent performances (alongside Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan) as two isolated island-dwellers and old friends in a row that has nothing to do with their relationship and everything to do with their independence and personal growth. But this simple setup is, of course, a ruse. A bleak yet tender glimpse into interpersonal relationships and both the pleasures and pitfalls of ego. Available to stream on HBO Max and Amazon.

Take Two

I also thoroughly enjoyed “The Banshees of Inisherin” with its stunning cinematography and quaint 1923 Irish mannerisms. And I would be remiss to not mention Guillermo del Toro’s dark, stop-action animated “Pinocchio.” It’s a masterful retelling of the classic allegory based on the 1883 Italian novel by Carlo Collodi and popularized by Walt Disney in 1940. This version (one of many) is much more thought provoking and certainly not the G rated “Disney-fied” cartoon of your grandparents. Available on Netflix.

My favorite film of 2022 was “The Outfit” by first time director, Graham Moore, and starring the always dependable Mark Rylance and intriguing Zoey Deutch. A crime drama set in 1956 Chicago with Rylance as Leonard Burling, a meek solitary “cutter” who crafts custom made men’s suits and overcoats for various members of an Irish crime syndicate in his small neighborhood tailor shop assisted by his receptionist/bookkeeper Mable Shaun (Deutch). The shop also serves as a dirty money drop for the syndicate with Leonard always looking away. Or is he? The relationship between the diminutive cutter, his receptionist and the younger generation gangsters is complicated. You won’t find this film on any awards list, but you’ll be guessing till the end.

Don’t let the current controversy surrounding the Best Actress nomination for Andrea Riseborough deter you from searching out and watching “To Leslie” from another first-time director, Michael Morris. Riseborough’s tour-de-force performance, as the destitute west Texas single mom (and former $190,000 lottery winner) who is now living in the bottom of a bottle, is harrowing and painfully depressing. After abandoning her only child, she lives a sleazy nomadic existence waiting for her next high. There is not a single false moment in the movie and the viewer sits raptly awaiting not only how, but if, Leslie will survive. The movie’s botched original October release only generated $27,000 at the box office. But the film has been championed by many powerful players in Hollywood and with Riseborough’s Oscar nomination, the film has been re-released in theaters and is available for streaming on Amazon.

(This column is written jointly by a baby boomer, Denny Parish, and a millennial, Carson Parish, who also happen to be father and son.)