Non-Horror Films of the Year

So far in my round up of 2022 I have written about my favourite festival debuts and my favourite horror films. Now, I am turning my attention to films outside of the horror genre. With cinemas back to business as usual, post pandemic restrictions, 2022 has been an incredible year for movies. Streaming services have also managed to snag some excellent independent films, and the output across both cinemas and platforms have had film fans spoiled for choice. Here is a list of films I wholeheartedly endorse.

10. Ambulance

After spending far too many years telling stories about giant robots, Michael Bay finally returned to his roots this year with Ambulance. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ambulance is pure, unadulterated Bayhem. The story sees Abdul-Marteen and Gyllenhaal as brothers, Will and Danny, who attempt to rob a high-profile bank. Whilst the heist is successful in terms of them getting the money, the police arrive early and throw Danny’s plan into disarray. In the gunfight that ensues, a police officer is injured. Seeing no other way out, the two commandeer the ambulance housing the officer and take paramedic Cam (Eiza González) hostage. Cue the ultimate care chase.

Michael Bay has always been great at overly dramatic action sequences and that talent is put to work in Ambulance. Bay’s camerawork has always been frenetic and this time he pushes this style to the extreme with the help of drones. The machines have become an industry standard, especially for indie directors, to achieve impressive aerial shots at a fraction of the cost. Bay however, uses them to maximum effect throwing drones into the middle of the fray, dazzling and delighting those with a thirst for action insanity. A pure action spectacle almost from the very beginning, Ambulance gets the adrenaline pumping and is easily one of the best times I have had in the cinema this year.

9. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nicolas Cage as Nic Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate

There aren’t many out there in the world of movie fans that don’t enjoy a Nic Cage film. The actor isn’t afraid to jump on board any project, and is perhaps the only actor living that can switch from high-brow arthouse to bargain basement action and still be adored by the masses. His varied career has earned him a legion of fans and podcasts analysing his work. Fascination with the beast of an actor reached peak levels this year as The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent arrived in cinemas.

In The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Nic Cage plays Nick Cage, a fictionalised version of himself. In need of money, Nick agrees to attend the party of wealthy fanboy Javi (Pedro Pascal), unwittingly placing himself in the middle of a plot akin to his own movies. Filled with Easter eggs a plenty, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a wonderfully funny and utterly charming film that celebrates Cage perfectly. Featuring stunning support from Pascal, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is an easily enjoyable jaunt and a brilliant meta love-letter to Cage’s career and fame.

8. After Yang

After debuting at Sundance, After Yang dropped on Sky Cinema this earlier this year. The film is a highly emotive and meditative musing on a plethora of different topics, from grief to family; also placing an onus on identity and the power of memory. After Yang also solidifies Colin Farrell as one of the actors of the year. Between this, The Batman, and The Banshees of Inisherin, Farrell has given three of the best performances of 2022.

Set in a near-future version of our modern world, it is possible to purchase a technosapien or “techno” to be part of your family. Parents Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) acquired their own, Yang (Justin H. Min), in order to help their adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) integrate into their home. After being a close family unit of four for years, the household is devastated when Yang malfunctions during a family game night. Tasked with either trying to fix Yang or have him decommissioned, Jake goes on a journey of discovery as he uncovers hidden secrets about the bot. 

Much like Jake’s journey with Yang, there is so much to uncover and enjoy in Kogonada’s After Yang. Meticulous thought has been given to every tiny detail, nothing that you see is there by accident. The little flourishes add genuine richness, a favourite being the fusion of East and West within the decor and costumes. The deep yellow and teal colour palette helps to stir images of nature, and when you combine everything together you get a film as vast and as varied as life itself. Emotive and absorbing, After Yang will leave you with an ache in your heart, a tear in your eye, and a newfound appreciation for the world around you.    

7. Everything, Everywhere All at Once

The follow-up to Swiss Army Man, with Everything, Everywhere All at Once directing duo, The Daniels, proved that they still champion the weird. This time the strangeness of a farting corpse is replaced by googly eyes and hot dog fingers, Starring Michelle Yeoh, the film charts the many lives of one downtrodden woman who finds herself tasked with saving not only her world, but an entire multiverse of them.

Certainly a film wacky enough to alienate a large portion of the crowd (there were at least two walkouts during my screening) if you get past that there is a huge amount of heart. Insanity aside, this film belongs to Michelle Yeoh. She has always been an incredible performer, but here she has found a project that has made award season take notice.

Multiverses have been a popular movie staple for the last twelve months, but whilst it was fun to see three generations of Spider-Men in Spider-Man: No Way Home, the mantle of best multiverse film belongs to Everything, Everywhere All at Once.

6. The Northman

4179_D030_00378_R Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth in director Robert Eggers’ Viking epic THE NORTHMAN, a Focus Features release. Credit: Aidan Monaghan / © 2022 Focus Features, LLC

The Northman is the third feature film from Robert Eggers and it’s another corker. Personally, I really struggled to get on with The Lighthouse (though I expect that has a lot to due with the awful projection at my local cinema), but The Northman was something special. Easily Eggers’ starriest cast, The Northman features Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor Joy, Willem Dafoe, Claes Bang, and Ethan Hawke. The story is a epic, loose retelling of the tale of Amleth, which is the story that inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and in turn The Lion King.

The Nordic setting is the perfect environment for this bloody and brutal slice of action fantasy. Alexander Skarsgård was born to play Amleth, his towering muscular presence is complemented by a careful performance full of pathos and unbridled aggression. The ultimate revenge tale shot in glorious locations, The Northman is a heady blend of blood, magic, and brutality that makes for one Hell of a watch.

5. Top Gun: Maverick

Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

The last true movie star, Tom Cruise, returned to screens this year with the delayed sequel to Top Gun, Top Gun: Maverick. A surprise for the books, Top Gun: Maverick managed to be one of only a few examples of a sequel that surpassed the original. The plot saw Maverick return to the Top Gun academy under the orders of Iceman. This time Maverick is tasked with helping a group of elite pilots prepare for an almost impossible mission behind enemy lines.

Everything in Top Gun: Maverick’s arsenal combines to create a sequel that far surpasses the original. As fun as Top Gun is seen nowadays, it hasn’t necessarily aged well, but the sequel addresses those issues, corrects much of what didn’t work previously, and creates a film that sends adrenaline levels through the stratosphere. Most importantly, it enables a new audience (one not familiar with the original) to access the iconic property without alienating the fans. Nostalgia in cinema has become a recent trend and whilst Top Gun: Maverick pays plenty of fan service, it handles it in a mature manner. Rather than stuff in a load of bloated cameos (they could have easily wheeled out the likes of Tim Robbins, Michael Ironside, and Tom Skerritt), Top Gun: Maverick uses the first as more of a blueprint. The film hits the same beats, some in the same place, others not, and works in the popular aspects of the original, for example that volleyball scene, but twists it slightly, here turning it into a beach-side game of touch football. It also pays a great respect to the soundtrack, resurrecting several of the heavy hitters. Most of all though, it hasn’t changed its title character too much and for fans, watching Top Gun: Maverick is akin to having drinks with an old friend.  

4. Something in the Dirt

For years I’ve been a fan of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Their work is always incredible, thought provoking, and isn’t afraid to bend the viewer’s mind. The newest project from the pair, Something in the Dirt, is no exception. This time rather than distorting audience’s perception of reality it hones in on conspiracy theories in a big way. Filming primarily within Benson’s own apartment, Something in the Dirt follows two tenants as they begin to document the strange phenomena occurring in their building.

Something in the Dirt reveals its story within a documentary format, but not a conventional one. Lines blur between fact and fiction as Levi (Benson) and John (Moorhead) mix in real footage with reenactments, leaving the viewer at a loss as to which portions are true and which are false. It’s the perfect device to deliver the narrative, as a key theme hones in on media consumption and how blindly people will believe what they see or are told. It’s also an entirely relevant topic to explore when you consider the climate of the world and how factions have formed based on the opinions of some distant person on the internet. We are living in scary times where fake news gets more air-time than real; Something in the Air captures this feeling of paranoia and unease perfectly. 

Having five great films is a struggle for most directors, and to have a five film run as strong as what Benson and Moorhead have is almost unheard of, and yet Something in the Dirt is another stroke of genius for the duo. Further proof that the pair are two of the most exciting artists currently working with the medium of film. Their projects continually push the boundary of budget, convention, and ideas connecting with audiences on a level not often experienced. With Something in the Dirt yet another stellar creation from them.

3. Boiling Point

Released in the UK on 7th January, Boiling Point is a film that has stuck with me all year. Told in one take over the course of one busy restaurant service, Boiling Point transported me right back to my days as a waitress. My very first job had me waiting tables in a local bistro pub and so many elements within Boiling Point were dreadfully familiar. From the staff to customers, at times, watching Boiling Point was like looking into my past and I’m not going to lie, it triggered me slightly. The anxiety that it threw up made it hard to sleep that night and if that isn’t an endorsement for the effect of a film, I don’t know what is.

Stephen Graham is always great, but as head chef Andy Jones, he soars. Andy is in dire straits and his stressful life bleeds into the chaos of a hectic service, ramping up the tension. The audience is with Andy every step of the way, and thanks to Philip Barantini’s direction of the camera, they feel like they are in amongst it too. A real-world nightmare set in a pressure cooker environment, this will be a traumatic experience for any that have done kitchen work.

2. Pleasure

Long before getting to see Pleasure, I has an inkling that it would be a film I would love. Sadly after screening at Sundance 2021, it took a whole eighteen months to arrive in the UK. Even then, I had to wait a further few months for access to drop into my hands. I stuck it on immediately and was hooked from the opening seconds. Ninja Thyberg’s debut feature explores the modern landscape of the America porn industry through the eyes of 19-year-old Swedish beauty, Bella (Sofia Kappel).

Prior to Pleasure, Sofia Kappel had little-to-no acting experience. Her work is nothing short of incredible. As Bella she is mesmerising and one would hope that she has a bright future ahead of her. Unflinching in its honesty, Pleasure is often a harrowing watch, but also utterly enthralling. Of the over one hundred horror movies I have watched this year, it is Pleasure that has given me my most uncomfortable moment. Desperate to take her career to the next level Bella agrees to a controversial sex act. It’s an intense scene with a big build-up, and I definitely watched it through my fingers and didn’t breathe for a few minutes. As raw as Pleasure is, Thyberg peppers in humour, generating a more rounded human experience.

As long as it took me to finally see Pleasure, I’m thrilled that the wait was worth it. It’s an incredible debut and one that I look forward to watching again, again, and again.

1. Brian and Charles

Sometimes something special appears out of nowhere and knocks you off of your feet. For me, this year, Brian and Charles was that something. I added it to my viewing list at Sundance knowing not a lot about it and instantly fell in love with a robot called Charles Petrescu (Chris Hayward) and his human creator Brian (David Earl). A British comedy set in rural Wales, Brian and Charles plays as a live-action Wallace and Gromit.

Filmed in a fly on the wall documentary style, there’s an intimacy to Brian and Charles that instantly bonds the viewer to the characters. The camera follows them through their lives without much intrusion, but Brian’s occasional ‘fourth wall breaking’ looks to camera are a reminder of the filming style. His exasperated expressions made directly to the viewer foster more sympathy and empathy, placing the audience in the dual role of friend and co-parent. The camera keeps the viewer exactly where they want to be, with Brian and Charles. Any other method of storytelling would have diluted the rapport and that closeness is vital to the enjoyment factor of this bizarre creation. 

With a familiar core story of the hazards and joys of parenting, Brian and Charles taps into viewers’ own experiences to create a wonderful tale full of heart and humour. A disarmingly humourous tale that tickles the ribs and tugs the heartstrings. Move over Wall-E, Johnny 5, and Chappie, there’s a new robot on a mission to steal hearts, and his name is Charles Petrescu. A joyous and hilarious quirky comedy full of heart, Brian and Charles is an instant favourite with tons of repeat viewing appeal.

All the films on this list are available to watch in the UK across various digital platforms.