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The best movies of 2022 … you may not have seen

From a sharp comedy reboot to an erotic political thriller, Guardian writers pick the hidden films of the year that people should know more about

Aftershock

Aftershock takes a sprawling, urgent, widely publicized yet still under-addressed national crisis – the shameful maternal mortality rate among Black women in the US – and grounds it in its more personal and galling form. The film, directed by Tonya Lewis Lee and Paula Eiselt, examines the roots and manifestations of dire statistics through the advocacy journeys of two grieving families. Two Black mothers whose concerns were downplayed or dismissed, who died in New York hospitals months apart, who would be caring for their children if not for an extremely preventable combination of medical racism, financial pressure to perform C-sections and inadequate senses of urgency. I was crying within three minutes. The film, available to stream on Hulu, should be essential viewing as a window into the many factors underlying such devastating disparities, but also as a path forward. It shows what woman-centered, choice-driven maternal healthcare could look like in the US, and the families fighting for it after the unimaginable. Adrian Horton

The Forgiven

I wrote a long piece earlier in the year about why liberal critics were wrong to have taken against The Forgiven, John Michael McDonagh’s noir about a ghastly couple who run over a young Moroccan on their way to a lavish desert party. The piece was full of phrases like “performative puritanism” and attempted in an overwrought way to highlight western hypocrisy and take a pop at diminishing tolerance for nuance in an age of cultural intolerance. It forgot to mention that The Forgiven is fun. It’s exciting and tense, good-looking and maybe even slightly sexy. Yes, it’s bracing and challenging and yada yada but it’s also funny: I laughed a lot, and there’s a final reel Ralph Fiennes reaction shot that still makes me smile. How many people have seen The Forgiven? Not nearly enough. Not just because they’d be challenging the status quo. But because they might have a good time doing so. Catherine Shoard

Confess, Fletch

In an era where studios are raiding the vaults for every piece of revivable IP, director Greg Mottola went out and made the best possible Irwin P Fletcher mystery, far superior to the Chevy Chase vehicles from the 80s, and gave it absolutely no support at all. But this adaptation of Gregory McDonald’s novel seems certain to have a longer shelf life on home video and television, where its low-key delights are better aligned with casual viewers. As Fletch, the investigative reporter turned stumblebum detective, Jon Hamm more closely resembles the mumbly, irreverent Philip Marlowe of Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye than the more aggressively obnoxious Chase of the earlier comedies, and Mottola loads up the cast with colorful supporting players, too, like Kyle MacLachlan as a shady art dealer who’s into EDM and Marcia Gay Harden as an Italian countess with a ridiculous accent. 2022 may have produced better movies, but none more breezily pleasurable. Scott Tobias

You Won’t Be Alone

It’s been almost a year now of me breathlessly rambling on about Goran Stolevski’s one-of-a-kind masterwork You Won’t Be Alone, a film I saw digitally at this year’s Sundance before excitedly, impatiently, waiting for the world to follow. But an iffy strategy (its indefinable oddness feels more suited to a Cannes bow) and a fudged release (it went straight to digital in the UK) meant that it’s been an awfully long wait, mostly met with a look of “huh, what?” confusion. It’s a stinging shame that it hasn’t soared in the way it deserved to because for those who do manage to find it within the streaming netherworld, it offers a strange, thrilling and poignant journey through 19th-century Macedonia, courtesy of a young recently cursed witch, like nothing we’ve been on before. While briefly inhabiting the bodies of others, she learns about the horrors of the world – how men subjugate women and how trauma can curdle those who let it – but also the joys – how sex can be a form of liberation and how the act of being truly taken care of can be a transformative thing. Like the world she encounters, the film is a thing of both great violence and great beauty. Benjamin Lee

Anais in Love

The winner for most adored foreign film about an irritating young beauty goes to Worst Person in the World, no doubt about it. But unlike Joachim Trier’s portrait of a manic pixie dreamwaif, Anais in Love was made by a woman, and the tale feels anchored in something solid. (According to interviews with writer-director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet, the quasi-comedy was inspired by a chapter of her own life.) Anais (a radiant Anaïs Demoustier) starts on familiar French cinematic ground: a devil-may-care beauty meets an older man – a book publisher, in this case – and the two strike up “une petite histoire”. But Anais wants to be more than part of a cliche, and she sets her sight on her paramour’s life partner, a writer who is at an artists’ colony (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Carla Bruni’s sister). What follows is electric and improvisational in feel – down to the final shot, where Anais decides against the ending the film has in store for her, and flips the script seconds before the final credits roll. As the heroine tells her parents in an earlier scene, “I don’t want to meet interesting people, I want to be an interesting person” – and by the end of this vibrant and unpredictable charmer, she has entirely succeeded on that front. Lauren Mechling

Get Back – The Rooftop Concert

Overlooked is possibly stretching a point here, but this Imax film hived off Peter Jackson’s epic Disney+ series came and went while everyone was still dazzled by the show itself. It extracts 66 minutes of the climactic live show from the almost-eight-hours running time of beautifully edited and cleaned-up footage showing the Beatles working on what was to become Let It Be; it may not technically qualify, but Get Back was my favourite movie of 2022, and indeed possibly of the entire century so far. Even though it was originally intended as a cinema project, Covid, streaming and inordinate amounts of material put paid to that; this (so far) is the only way we’ll get to see Jackson’s edit on the big screen. Totally and utterly worth it. Andrew Pulver

Stars at Noon

At Cannes this year, Claire Denis’s humidly transfixing political thriller won the Grand Prix from the jury – astonishingly, the veteran French auteur’s first award at her native festival, and an accolade as deserved as it was overdue. Normally, you wouldn’t describe a film so laureled as overlooked, but Stars at Noon was already on the back foot. The prize drew jeers from a critical crowd that had largely written the film off as a disappointment; despite the backing of hyper-cool distributor A24, audiences stayed away when it was released in the autumn. Their loss. This updated adaptation of Denis Johnson’s 1980s novel about a Yank journalist (Margaret Qualley, offbeat and quite magnetic) adrift in Nicaragua and drawn into seamy border intrigue sees Denis enter shadowy Graham Greene territory that suits her detached philosophical worldview and critical post-colonial eye. (Unsurprisingly, it’s a film that goes hard on Ugly American ennui and entitlement.) But it also affords ample room for the tactile eroticism of her cinema: this is the hottest film of the year, whatever the tepid responses have told you. Guy Lodge

Athena

Athena, a propulsive thriller ricocheting through a French apartment complex during an apocalyptic riot, quietly dropped on Netflix last fall without its fair share of fanfare. Director Romain Gavras brings so much of the virtuoso stylings that win guys like Sam Mendes (1917) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant) deafening Oscar hype, packing his film with tricky long takes that are alternatively carnivalesque and poetic. Athena, which Gavras co-wrote with Les Miserables film-maker Ladj Ly and Elias Belkeddar, isn’t just about the the explosive tension between a mostly Algerian and Black community demanding justice for a murder and the heavily militarized police who stand accused of protecting their own. It’s also about the tension between the politics and aestheticization in uprise culture, which Gavras, the director behind music videos for MIA’s Bad Girls and Jay-Z and Kanye West’s No Church in the Wild, knows quite a bit about. He brings a pop sensibility to images where young men in coordinated Adidas track suits lob molotov cocktails, synchronize attacks with roman candles or escort stolen police vans with dirt bikes as they fly the French flag. The aesthetics are less Battle of Algiers and more Vice Media, featuring characters who raise a fist with a purpose but also for the gram. Radheyan Simonpillai

Hello, Bookstore

Channeling the vérité ethos of Frederick Wiseman, newcomer AB Zax offers in this small gem a look at Matthew Tannenbaum’s beloved local institution The Bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts. In spite of the large-scale dramas playing out – Hello, Bookstore intersects with the Covid pandemic and the possibility of The Bookstore going broke – Zax largely eschews the typical documentary commandments to make arguments on hot-button issues or explore the little-known histories of social phenomena, instead opting for the much simpler – and likely far more challenging – goal of giving us the unique ambience and atmosphere of Tannenbaum and his enterprise. It helps a lot that Tannenbaum is a compelling presence, his grandfatherly figure always eager to share one more anecdote, read one more beloved passage, or toss in just a bit more of well-meant bravado. Ultimately, Hello, Bookstore feels like nothing so much as a peaceful afternoon spent browsing a cozy independent bookstore, a relaxing, effervescent cinematic poem on a distinctive pleasure. It’s an intriguing, and impressive, start to Zax’s career. Veronica Esposito

Italian Studies

Adam Leon’s Italian Studies, a quiet and obtuse arthouse vehicle for Vanessa Kirby, seemed destined to be ignored: it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2021, at a time when both the festival and the city were still getting back on their feet, meaning in-person screenings were still few and far between. Then its actual theatrical release arrived in January 2022, just as the Omicron variant was peaking in the US; I loved this movie, and I’ve still never seen it in a theater. Regardless, Italian Studies is transporting; it follows Alina (Vanessa Kirby), a woman who appears to lose her memory while walking around Manhattan, and spends some undetermined amount of time attempting to find herself – possibly literally. Kirby has been a magnetic presence; this movie confirms that she’s just as compelling when thinking silently, or making small talk with a gregarious teenage boy she meets. Though the film was shot piecemeal pre-Covid, Leon’s film takes on greater weight as pandemic viewing. Occasionally, the weather around her shifts – based on clothing, there are glimpses of both summer and winter – and blurs her experience into the realm of memory or dream, as if the movie is remembering a time when getting lost in a crowd and befriending strangers wasn’t quite so fraught. At 80 minutes including credits, this is an ambiguous marvel, even from your couch. Jesse Hassenger

Blue Island

Chan Tze Woon’s second feature, Blue Island, tells real-life stories of resistance across various generations of Hong Kong’s history utilizing one clever but effective device: engaging today’s young democracy activists to portray those of previous eras, often alongside the very people they’re playing (some old enough to be their grandparents) as well as archival videos and photos. Many of these student activists, we learn, were swept up in the 2020 arrests and clampdown in the wake of the 2019 protests that comprised the city’s largest civic movement. Ultimately this groundbreaking, fourth-wall-breaking documentary (made with the support of more than 2,600 anonymous crowdfunding donors) is a poignant tale about time, the endlessly cyclical nature of history, and how Hong Kong has long fostered a desire for freedom that cannot be extinguished – indeed it only grows with today’s rallying call to “ga yau!” (“add oil!”). Lisa Wong Macabasco

Lamborghini: The Man Behind the Legend

If you’re wondering, ‘why hasn’t anybody made a film that’s, like, Ford vs Ferrari meets House of Gucci?’, it’s because you missed Lamborghini: The Man Behind the Legend. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the staggering inspiration (a farm boy named Ferruccio building a luxury supercar firm to rival the Prancing Horse), or Oscar-winner Robert Moresco writing and directing. The 97-minute feature goes sideways faster than Scott Disick at the wheel of an Urus. In an unshocking spoiler the biopic is held together by a race, Ferruccio (Frank Grillo) in a Countach versus Enzo (Gabriel Bryne) in a Mondial – an uneven battle of mid-engine legends. Sure, it’s an artificial framing device, and yet the only one featuring cars of the period. But you’re watching for the phony Italian accents, not for historical accuracy. If Lionsgate hadn’t distributed this film, you’d think it was an arthouse experiment. That’s what makes it such a glorious hate-watch. Andrew Lawrence

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