2022 has come and gone, and it’s left many overlooked and underrated films in its wake. From Vengeance to Halloween Ends, let’s go through 10 of them!
2022 was a really great year for film, easily the best of the decade so far. While we’re all looking ahead to what awaits us in 2023, there’s also plenty of time to catch up on films we missed from the previous year. Sometimes we miss films because barely anyone was talking about them, or because the reception wasn’t positive enough for many of us to give them a shot. I have six films to share that fall into that category of being overlooked, and four that I consider to be underrated. The overlooked films either underperformed financially or ended up undeservedly forgotten despite being well-received, and the underrated films are what I consider to be more worthy of your time than the mixed-to-negative buzz around them may have you believe.
But before I begin, I want to quickly mention four overlooked films that I’d also recommend even though I’m not dedicating a whole section to them: Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, Dual, A Love Song, and Pompo the Cinephile. With that said, from obscure indie films to critically derided blockbusters, let’s go through an additional six overlooked and four underrated films of 2022!
6 OVERLOOKED FILMS OF 2022
BEYOND THE INFINITE TWO MINUTES
Director: Junta Yamaguchi
Writer: Makoto Ueda
Full review: Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Review): Infinitely Clever
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is such a small, obscure release that I was expecting it to be overlooked, but it really is one of the year’s most enjoyable films that more people should know about. A café owner named Kato (Kazunari Tosa) discovers that a monitor in his room is showing him two minutes into the future via another monitor in the café, and he and his friends begin experimenting with it to look further into the future and even the past. The entire film is done in one continuous shot. That’s already impressive on its own, but when every single one of the many events needs to line up perfectly down to the literal second for the story to work, this small-budget indie film should be considered one of the year’s best technical feats for pulling it off!
Kato’s a very sympathetic protagonist, often a poor pawn to his friends who force him to confront his fears of trusting what’s supposedly already going to happen. The situation starts out small and with a great amount of hilarious fun, but like in many of the best time-travel stories, the nature of pre-determined outcomes and self-fulfilling prophecies is questioned and observed with increased regularity the more the film goes on. But never does the movie lose sight of its status as a comedy. You owe it to yourself to watch Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes if you love science fiction, comedy, time-travel stories, or amazing indie filmmaking.
Director: Hanna Bergholm
Writers: Hanna Bergholm, Ilja Rautsi
Full review: Hatching (Film Review): Fairy Tale-esque Creature Feature
It’s been said that 2022 was great for horror, but hardly anyone has been talking about what I consider easily one of the best horror films I saw throughout the year. In Hatching, Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) is a girl who lives under the overbearing care of her perfectionist mother (Sophia Heikkilä). She finds a giant egg that hatches a deformed bird-like creature, which she must hide from her family even as it starts to transform and become a growing threat to those around it. On a technical level, the creature itself is grotesquely disturbing to look at, brought to life through a refreshing mix of CGI and fantastic puppetry.
But what really makes Hatching so fascinating is how this creature ties into Tinja’s desperate need for her mother’s approval. The hatching itself can be seen as a metaphor for the ugly competitive nature of those who crave to be nothing but the best, as well as how that can fester in one’s own children to create a different kind of monster. Tinja’s emotions are suggested to be driving the creature in some way, whether it simply senses what’s wrong and takes action, is an actual physical extension of Tinja’s own mind, or something else. You can read the film in a number of different ways and still be unsettled by it, especially with its bleak ending. It may not be getting any long-term attention, but Hatching is an excellently made horror film and an obscene look at the ugliest side of competition.
Writer & Director: Alex Garland
Full Review: Men (Review): Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear Dominate Dark Social Thriller
Alex Garland was already a polarizing filmmaker with Ex Machina and Annihilation, but Men makes those films look mainstream. And while it’s very easy to understand why its reaction was so divisive, the film still deserves to be talked about more than it ended up being. The story centers around Harper (Jessie Buckley), a woman who recently lost her husband (Paapa Essiedu) to suicide. She takes a vacation to the countryside, only to find herself stalked and harassed by strange men who bring her haunting past right back to her present. Men is filled with symbolism and abstract rules, maybe to a fault when the film becomes a bit too focused on them and less on Harper’s more tangible emotions. But Garland still creates a surreal, creepy environment whose pretty surface hides a much more threatening underbelly.
Everywhere Harper goes, something or someone is there to drag her back to the kind of misery she’s trying to forget, and the film cleverly has each of its male characters represent a different form of toxic masculinity or male corruption. Everything comes to a head in a terrifying third act, which ends with one of the most obscene, disgusting, ghastly sequences I’ve seen in a long time. How that scene alone didn’t end up the talk of the town in film circles is beyond me. I can not promise that you’ll enjoy Men, but I still encourage horror fans to at least give it a shot, because I guarantee that for anyone who hates it, someone else will love it, and everyone will remember it one way or another. It’s certainly stayed with me, and for most of the right reasons.
SOFT & QUIET
Writer & director: Beth de Araújo
Full Review: Soft & Quiet (SXSW Review): The Sickening Horrors of Reality
Soft & Quiet may not seem quite like a horror film if you just read its premise, but it’s one of the scariest films I’ve experienced. Playing out in real time through one shot, the film follows a group of alt-right white supremacist women that get into an altercation with two Asian sisters. They seek revenge for the event, taking us through an afternoon and evening of some of the worst hate crimes imaginable. Soft & Quiet is the furthest thing possible from an easy watch. The one-shot format means that you see, second by second, people go from simply sharing problematic complaints about the world to descending into brutality, demonstrating how racism in any form can be a gateway into the kinds of rage-inducing stories of hatred and violence we sadly see so often.
Such rage is painfully clear in director Beth de Araújo, who holds absolutely nothing back in bringing us right up close to every moment of this nightmare. This is a horror film that illustrates that sometimes the scariest thing you can show is reality. Clearly this isn’t something I can recommend to everyone. If you’re not ready to be genuinely appalled and upset, beyond even the limits of most horror films, do not watch this. But if you can stomach it and want to see a filmmaker letting all of their anger and desperation show on the screen, Soft & Quiet is the small, overlooked masterpiece to seek out.
THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING
Director: George Miller
Writers: George Miller, Augusta Gore, A.S. Byatt
Full Review: Three Thousand Years of Longing: Film Review
In 2015, George Miller brought us Mad Max: Fury Road, one of the most beloved action films of all time… and in 2022, when he released his next movie, how many people even knew about it, let alone saw it? Three Thousand Years of Longing isn’t a great movie, but it’s a very unique one that has too many appealing qualities to simply be overlooked. A solitary scholar, Alithea (Tilda Swinton), finds an ancient bottle and releases a djinn (Idris Elba) who offers her three wishes. When she refuses them, he tells her three stories of his long existence that spark a change in her outlook on life.
The film’s very loose structure could have easily sunk it, but the stories all end up meaning something important to Alithea because she values the kinds of older, simpler tales that are less common in this day and age. Plus, the stories themselves are all pretty enjoyable on their own and provide some of the most mesmerizing shots and low-key trippy imagery I’ve seen this year. The third act has Alithea and the djinn’s relationship play out in a way that’s equal parts inspiring and tragic, maybe even reflecting George Miller’s own longing for purer, more honest storytelling in the age of franchises and corporate decisions overshadowing art. The framing device of Three Thousand Years of Longing must be very hard to pull off, and all the emotional threads aren’t perfectly woven together. But the ideas are handled well and the film brings them together in a very touching payoff that’s one of my favorite endings of the year. I get why so many people didn’t see it and even why someone wouldn’t like it, but this unique vision should at least be heard out so it can find its audience.
Writer & director: B.J.Novak
Full Review: Vengeance (Film Review): B.J. Novak Takes America to Task
Written and directed by B.J. Novak, Vengeance is a film that has a lot on its mind and constantly keeps you guessing as to what it’s trying to say. Novak also stars as journalist/podcaster Ben Manalowitz, whose supposed girlfriend Abby (really just someone he hooked up with) has died of a drug overdose. When her family suspects she was actually murdered, Ben travels to their home in Texas, pretending to want to help but really just getting material for a story on grief and delusion. The film then proceeds to play with our perception of what’s real in a way that cleverly ties into its analysis of the relationship between people and media. Ben has clear thoughts on what effect modern media has on our personal desires, but he’s also finding himself part of that system without even realizing it, just another voice in a sea of millions more.
Novak’s performance evolves in a subtly powerful way. His character’s emotionally dismissive nature starts to slowly dissolve and his compassionate facade becomes a truer part of himself, only for these two sides of him to clash as more information is revealed and his understanding of what’s really happening is yanked back and forth. Ashton Kutcher is practically unrecognizable as a mysterious record producer Abby worked under, and he delivers one of the most somber, searingly sharp speeches of 2022 about why everyone’s voice now matters and therefore no one’s voice matters.
The themes and arcs of Vengeance really struck a chord with me when I first saw it, and their impact hasn’t softened since. The film isn’t anything amazing cinematically, but it boasts one of the year’s best scripts and an urgent, timely story that more people should be talking about.
4 UNDERRATED FILMS OF 2022
Director: David Leitch
Writer: Zak Olkewicz
Full Review: Bullet Train (Film Review): Brad Pitt’s Rousing Return to Action
Bullet Train received mixed reviews from critics, but it’s one of the most wildly entertaining films I saw in 2022. The star-studded cast includes Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Joey King, all of whom find themselves in what I can only describe as a tangled web of tangled webs. They all end up on a bullet train to either investigate, aid, or get revenge on a Russian boss known as the White Death (whose casting I will not give away). That’s as simple a plot summary as I can give, because part of the fun of Bullet Train is its constantly intersecting story threads and often comical coincidences regarding who these people are and how they come across each other. That’s part of the film’s blatant theme of fate, but it’s clearly being played for laughs. In fact, everything in Bullet Train is played for laughs, but it’s so creatively, unabashedly outlandish that it can easily get away with that. Even the darkest scenes as just part of the thrill ride that keep the film from being completely devoid of substance or stakes.
Every character has their own quirk that sometimes can get one-note, but they’re such entertaining notes that I’m still on board (haha) with them. The single setting of the train never gets boring, thanks to both these hilarious characters and the dynamic cinematography that seamlessly transitions between sweepingly epic and tightly constrained. The director is David Leitch, who also did Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, which really shows with the constant humorous banter and physics-be-damned action. It’s like a Tarantino film except actually funny and charming. Not every joke lands, but the sheer number of them ensures a ton of big laughs. Bullet Train is nothing short of kinetic from start to finish, and even its imperfections somehow end up being part of the pulpy, eccentric, mind-boggling fun.
THE GRAY MAN
Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Writers: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Full Review: The Gray Man (Film Review): Keeping it Simple
In my list of overlooked and underrated films for 2021, I defended the Russo brothers’ maligned film Cherry. Looks like I’m back in their corner again with The Gray Man. The film, based on a novel of the same name, is about former criminal and CIA mercenary Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling), who comes across terrible secrets about the program he’s a part of. This turns the CIA against him, and they send the psychopathic mercenary Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) after him. The film’s biggest criticism is its clichéd plot, and… yes, it is unoriginal as all hell, with no real surprises whatsoever. But not only is the story still executed serviceably, but it’s boosted by the film’s remarkable technical merits.
The action sequences are quick, energized, brutal, gorgeously shot and choreographed, and many shots astound me when I wonder how they were pulled off. This includes maybe the best car chase I’ve seen in years. I have no idea why The Gray Man wasn’t released in theaters, as it would have looked spectacular on the big screen! Also elevating The Gray Man are the performances, particularly from Chris Evans, who’s proven a couple of times now that he’s even better at playing monstrous jackasses as pure-hearted heroes. The script’s comedic banter doesn’t usually work, often coming across as arbitrary in the style of some MCU movies (which makes sense considering writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are MCU veterans). But I still easily recommend The Gray Man just for the spectacle and visual merits. The story isn’t bad, it’s just very been-there-done-that. But in this case, that’s not enough to ruin the whole experience.
Director: David Gordon Green
Writers: Paul Brad Logan, Chris Bernier, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green
Full Review: Halloween Ends (Review): Not With a Bang, but With a Whimper
Halloween Ends was received very poorly by critics and audiences, but while I don’t think it’s a great movie, I have no qualms with any major narrative decision. It’s been four years since Michael’s attack on Haddonfield, and he hasn’t been seen since. Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), a young man with a traumatic past, begins dating Laurie Strode’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), only to go down a dark path that’s all too familiar to Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis). Another straightforward Laurie vs. Michael story would have been redundant, but Halloween Ends is a clever workaround that both departs from and pays off what came before it. This film is about Michael Myers, but in a spiritual way. Laurie, Alison, and Corey are still indirectly feeling his wrath, caught in the crosshairs of a town whose perspectives have been warped by grief. This sends Halloween Ends away from the conventional formula you’d have expected, but in a way that still continues and evolves the familiar story from this specific continuity.
That’s why I have no problem with the film’s ending, which many hated for reverting back to the Michael/Laurie conflict at the last minute. Michael is the driving force of everything that happens in the movie, so him still being the final obstacle makes perfect sense to me. My problems with Halloween Ends lie in the terrible jump-scares, obnoxiously loud sound mixing, and awkward comedy. But it still features plenty of amazing shots and gorgeously bleak cinematography from Michael Simmonds, and everyone’s performance is pretty much perfect, especially from characters whose mental states veer towards or fully cross over into madness. Flaws aside, I really like Halloween Ends for finding a compelling path when I thought there was nowhere left for this series to go, and for delivering a two-for-one deal: a memorably bloody slasher flick, and a meditation on how pain can turn even the most innocent people into the very thing that’s tortured them.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Samuel D. Hunter
Full Review: The Whale (Film Review): Fraser Excels In Heartbreaking Tale
When I saw The Whale at TIFF, I was so sure that it would be widely considered one of the year’s best films. But while it definitely has its fans like me, a lot of people seem to either dislike it or find it very flawed. I think it’s as close to perfect as it could have gotten. Brendan Fraser stars as Charlie, an online teacher with morbid obesity and life-threatening heart problems. He’s visited by what few friends and family he has, letting us learn more about what went wrong in his life and what he’s looking for now. This is a Darren Aronofsky film, which means the directing is unflinchingly aggressive in showing you the physical and emotional trauma that Charlie’s taken and continues to take, from others and even himself. Almost everyone in his life has done something negative to him for the sake of their own self-fulfillment, while Charlie tries to convince himself that they’re all worth more than him. It’s heartbreaking to watch, but the way he tries so hard to salvage some form of happiness gives you just enough hope that he may end up finding it.
The film is shot in an aspect ratio that enhances Charlie’s perceived size and the uncomfortable nature of being in his house for the whole movie. Fraser’s rightfully gotten major awards buzz, but everyone brings so much multi-layered pain and hope to their roles. Many see The Whale as exploitative or fatphobic, but I couldn’t have felt more sympathy for Charlie. Maybe such a raw portrayal was seen as going too far, or maybe it was considered not cinematic enough. Whatever the case, I think The Whale has been underrated by a large portion of the film community, and I hope general audiences are more receptive to it now that it’s out for them to see.