Fave Firsts: Our best first-time watches of 2022

The Letterboxd crew reminisces about our favorite first watches of 2022—from Argento to Avatar.

LIST: Our crew’s favorite first watches of 2022

2022 was undeniably a banner year for new releases. We were cinematically blessed with the divine invective of Lydia Tár, the sneaker-shod sweetie Marcel the Shell and four acclaimed Colin Farrell performances (After Yang, The Batman, Thirteen Lives, The Banshees of Inisherin). Not to mention community favorite Everything Everywhere All at Once, which currently sits at a multiverse-shattering 4.4-out-of-five-star rating and at number thirteen on our Top 250 Narrative Feature Films list.

But even with so many fresh films competing for our hyperactive attention, we still made time for the older cult classics, the arcane underground, the provocative character studies, the sweaty fever dreams, the mid-century movies you can talk to your grandparents about and some sicko ones you certainly can’t (no spoilers, but a certain Cenobite may make an appearance).

Here at Letterboxd, our crew’s watchlists are in a constant state of flux and growth; as director Barry Jenkins said in his 2017 Criterion Closet visit, “There’s just too much good cinema here.” This year, we managed to collectively cross dozens off our lists… and add hundreds more. We also reflected on the film community and industry at large, manifesting our own personal cinema wishes for 2023—many of which involve the survival and prosperity of art-house theaters. If we were all at a big Babylon-esque New Years bash together (maybe someday), these are the films we would be unable to shut up about after a couple flutes of champagne.

Between the Lines (1977)

Directed by Joan Micklin Silver, written by Fred Barron from a story by Barron and David Helpern / Watched by Mia Vicino

All the President’s Men (1976) may have cajoled me to shell out an elusive five-stars-on-first-watch this year, but it was Between the Lines (a Weekend Watchlist shuffle pick!) that stole my heart. Joan Micklin Silver’s naturalistic ensemble comedy about a struggling alt-weekly newspaper’s impending purchase by a media conglomerate hews much closer to the common newsroom experience: instead of breaking Watergate, we mostly sit around and playfully bemoan the death of counterculture. One thing they both have in common? Low pay: the Back Bay Mainline staff survive off $75 a week, while Woodward and Bernstein consistently eat at McDonald’s. Nothing’s changed since the ’70s!

Film wish for 2023: That independent theaters (especially outside of LA/NY) can a.) survive and b.) book more repertory films. This industry can be saved purely off the backs of nostalgia-fueled Twilight screenings.

Silvia Prieto (1999)

Written and directed by Martín Rejtman / Watched by Annie Lyons

A quarter-life crisis distilled into soap packets and endless pieces of hacked-up chicken, Silvia Prieto delivers deadpan banality with a gentle touch and colors to linger in. Repetitive, oft meaningless transactions ripple throughout: a stolen jacket, an unfavorable figurine, a pair of ex-husbands—a static self-perceived identity seems similarly elusive. When Silvia Prieto (Rosari Bléfari) discovers another Silvia Prieto in the phone book, she frets, then bristles over the coincidence. I looked up my name once and found my own doppelgänger: another writer with another black dog and another garden. I’d probably call just to hang up too.

Film wish for 2023: Less a wish than an enthusiastically poised question, but if 2022 was the year that donkeys dominated the multiplex (Triangle of Sadness, EO, The Banshees of Inisherin), what furry critter will get the spotlight in 2023? And perhaps receive better luck?

Game Over (1989)

Written and directed by René Manzor / Watched by Aaron Yap

I was watching Violent Night the other night thinking: hey, seeing a piss-drunk, sledgehammer-wielding David Harbour bludgeoning mercenaries sure is fun, but why is this thing feeling a little twee and overly calculated? Found my answer 24 hours later with René Manzor’s delirious 1989 festive shocker, Game Over. Blanketed in a haze of nightmare-horror logic that dials into genuine kinder-traumas, this oddball slice of home-invasion terror—featuring a Rambo-obsessed kid with an obscene mullet—didn’t come to play nice, resembling a gothic-slasher Home Alone with an ending that brought to mind, of all things, Come and See. Perverse and astonishing.

Film wish for 2023: More 82-minute movies.

Crimes of Passion (1984)

Directed by Ken Russell, written by Barry Sandler / Watched by Rafa Sales Ross

A baby blue satin dress and a cheap blonde wig turn fashion designer Joanna Crane into China Blue, a high-end sex worker who becomes the obsession of a private investigator trapped in a loveless marriage. This neon-infused erotic thriller sees a pitch-perfect Kathleen Turner deliver endlessly quotable one-liners such as “If you think you’re gonna get back in my panties, forget it, there’s an asshole in there already!” If this isn’t enough to tickle your fancy, Psycho’s Anthony Perkins is here as a deprived preacher addicted to peep shows and sniffing amyl nitrite. Ah, the ’80s at its raunchy peak!

Film wish for 2023: For inclusive, community-focused independent cinemas to not only survive, but thrive.

The Naked Kiss (1964)

Written and directed by Samuel Fuller / Watched by Jack Moulton

The victor of the sixth edition of my annual classics watchlist project came to me as a pleasant surprise with Samuel Fuller’s 1964 neo-noir The Naked Kiss (a viewing inspired by The Letterboxd Show’s episode with K. Austin Collins). Not only is it a startlingly subversive and acerbic melodrama for its time, but it deals with strikingly modern concerns, such as the baggage of notoriety and so-called reputable professions’ misguided “Save the Children” rhetoric. The opening moments of the bald prostitute Kelly (a riveting Constance Towers) clobbering her no-good pimp to retrieve what she’s owed are unforgettable and instantaneously gripping.

Film wish for 2023: Let’s bring back one of the few silver linings of the lockdown era: nationally accessible and affordable virtual film festivals.

Chocolate Babies (1996)

Written and directed by Stephen Winter / Watched by Gemma Gracewood

Chocolate Babies, a deeply independent film with a four-star average from fewer than a thousand Letterboxd members, is the perfect example of The Letterboxd Show’s gift for deepening movie viewing habits. One of Liz Purchell’s four favorites (it’s on Vimeo, free for all), Chocolate Babies made me an instant Stephen Winter fan thanks to his exuberantly messy celebration of inner-city queer life, radical activism, rooftop parties, AIDS anger and closet chaos. Also: after meeting Purchell via computer screen for the pod, I later spied her across a crowded forecourt at Fantastic Fest. In-person selfies were had. The power of movies!

Film wish for 2023: For independent picture houses to be considered just as irreplaceable as sports stadia by every city council in the world.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Directed by Tony Randel, written by Peter Atkins from a story by Clive Barker / Watched by Slim

Listen, I’m as shocked as you are. Weeks before this I had watched Hellraiser (1987) for the first time as an adult and I felt the insatiable need for more. More gore, more sensual BDSM, more fun. I fired up this bad boy on Shudder and was blown away! Somehow more gross and revolting than expected—there is a moment in this, and I swear this is not a joke, where I was getting major Return of the Jedi vibes. When Pinhead finally does appear, it felt like Steve Austin helping Mankind win the WWF title in 1998. IYKYK.

Film wish for 2023: More filmmaker audio commentaries, please.

Light Sleeper (1992)

Written and directed by Paul Schrader / Watched by Isaac Feldberg

Paul Schrader’s meditations on the existential torment of a lonely soul are always worth contemplating, and this divine dispatch boasts Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon and Dana Delany—a holy trinity of wasted beauty—as addicts, dealers and insomniacs in search of grace, drawn though they are to New York’s narcotized nightlife. Dafoe’s soft, melancholic narration swirls with the city’s industrial textures—shot slick and heavy then shaded in neon by Ed Lachman—to evoke the lingering end of a long night. You feel utterly transported there; the character’s morbid sense of despair and desire imparting a low, transcendent buzz.

Film wish for 2023: For more publications to find a way forward financially while strengthening essential and distinctive coverage of the arts, particularly of independent and experimental film.

What Happened Was… (1994)

Written and directed by Tom Noonan / Watched by Samm

Tom Noonan’s recently restored directorial debut What Happened Was… is simultaneously one of the most atmospheric yet unendurable films I’ve ever seen. It’s my Joker, my emotional support blanket, my autism anthem. Noonan and Karen Sillas play two lonesome co-workers on an agonizingly awkward first date, a night devoid of any conversational rhythm or social cues. Being autistic, there’s a forced vulnerability that comes with every interaction; unspoken insecurities are unintentionally loud. As the night unravels, the characters reveal to each other their innermost truths around ostracism, isolation and burnout—what starts as a cringe-comedy slowly becomes a Lynchian nightmare.

Film wish for 2023: More and more diverse disability representation. Pleeeeease.

Miracle Mile (1988)

Written and directed by Steve De Jarnatt / Watched by Mitchell Beaupre

Looking through my 2022 list of first-time watches reveals a bevy of delights: Blue Collar, Heartbreakers, The Driver and more. It was 1988’s apocalyptic romance Miracle Mile that eclipsed them all though, hitting me like a lightning bolt and sending shockwaves through my system from the word go. This delirious fever dream scratched my itch for neon-soaked, late-night odysseys of the soul, all catalyzed by a suited man looking for love. In a world where catastrophe lurks on the horizon, aren’t we all seeking someone to hold and give a little smooch before it all goes kablooey?

Film wish for 2023: Moratorium on asking directors for their thoughts on Marvel movies.

White Hunter, Black Heart (1990)

Directed by Clint Eastwood, written by Peter Viertel, James Bridges and Burt Kennedy from a story by Viertel / Watched by Brian Formo

2022 was a year of white male directors revisiting the origins of their love for cinema, so my favorite first watch of 2022 feels apropos since Clint Eastwood plays a fictional John Huston in White Hunter, Black Heart during the pre-production of The African Queen. This is not about the magic of cinema, but the corrosive egomania of a film director. Here, Eastwood’s John Wilson has set a movie in Africa so that he can shoot an elephant to codify the type of adventurer (and artist) he is. Eastwood uses film to parallel colonialism and he’s never been better; perhaps he understands it all too well?

Film wish for 2023: That marketers figure out a way to correct the lack of local awareness (and curiosity) of when festival titles make it to cinemas. And thus we can stop reading the canned “I didn’t even know this was out” comment whenever a film “underperforms”.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

Directed by Robert Hamer, written by Hamer and John Dighton from a story by Roy Horniman / Watched by John Forde

2022 was a turbulent year, and my favorites of this year’s releases (Drive My Car, Aftersun, Women Talking, The Banshees of Inisherin) all spoke eloquently to the mess of being human. This year, I took comfort in the Ealing Studio Comedies, especially Kind Hearts and Coronets, a pitch-perfect black comedy with ice in its veins. Dennis Price plays an impoverished aristocrat who murders eight of his relatives (played with grotesque glee by Alec Guinness) while simultaneously romancing two women. Sex, murder, class warfare and cut-glass accents—what more does one need to survive a global meltdown?

Film wish for 2023: That cinema audiences will switch off their phones, stop talking and start listening.

Kissed by Lightning (2009)

Directed by Shelley Niro, written by Niro and Ken Chubb / Watched by Leo Koziol

With film festivals back in action (and in-person!) I had the privilege of seeing Shelley Niro’s Kissed by Lightning for the first time, presented as a retrospective at imagineNATIVE Toronto. One of the more obscure entries in the global Native canon, a youthful cast of Native stalwarts (baby-faced Michael Greyeyes!) and lead Kateri Walker made this finding-your-roots/​road-trip/​grieving love story an enjoyable journey back in time. I loved the film from start to finish; production values date the work, and the lightning metaphor feels overplayed, but watch it for the grumpy grandma and a surprise interlude with a group of African American soul singers.

Film wish for 2023: An Indigenous woman-directed superhero movie to match the quality and wit of Taika Waititi’s Thor entries!

The Outfit (1973)

Directed by John Flynn, written by Flynn from a story by Donald E. Westlake / Watched by Dominic Corry

Like every reader of Quentin Tarantino’s Cinema Speculation who hadn’t already seen The Outfit, I was spurred to watch the no-nonsense ’70s crime thriller by QT’s passionate (even for him) espousal in the book. As the coolest big-screen embodiment of Richard Stark’s code-bound thief Parker (amongst multiple interpretations), a stone-faced (even for him) Robert Duvall hits the mob where it hurts alongside faithful compatriot Joe Don Baker (at his shit-kicking Walking Tall peak) and a one-of-a-kind, cross-generational ensemble composed of film-noir staples who’d aged out of mainstream Hollywood’s favor. It’s lean, mean and also quite sweet.

Film wish for 2023: That Paul Verhoeven and Edward Neumeier’s planned Washington-set erotic thriller Young Sinner makes it into production and then theaters.

Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Directed by James Cameron, written by Cameron, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver from a story by Cameron, Jaffa, Silver, Josh Friedman and Shane Salerno / Watched by Alicia Haddick

James Cameron, master of the sequel. For the valid issues raised about the original Avatar, one area it succeeded in was immersing you into a luscious alien world you wished never to leave. More of the same can be a bad thing, but when ‘same’ involves a three-hour reminder of 3D’s potential with new characters and a more focused, beautiful, loving family story? With a show-stealing performance by Sigourney Weaver as, of all things, a telepathic teenager? Even the lifeless marine antagonist resurrected in blue feels like a real, flawed and fascinating character this time around—roll on 2024!

Film wish for 2023: A more sustainable post-Covid landscape for cinema beyond Marvel; I fear for the future without major changes. Otherwise, non-major Western films releasing in Japan without a nine-month wait (I type this just weeks after The Green Knight finally released there!).

Suspiria (1977)

Directed by Dario Argento, written by Argento and Daria Nicolodi from a story by Thomas De Quincey / Watched by David Larkin

Not particularly a horror-film fan, so I watched this movie totally randomly and really dug it. It’s a kind of pure cinematic art—I loved how the crazy fluorescent lighting was not motivated by anything in the physical world of the films, instead driven by mood, internality and Dario Argento’s overall plan. And, oh, that music by Goblin was mesmerizing; Argento was one of the composers as well. I was immediately thinking this had a kind of Sergio Leone vibe with the shot composition, editing and close-ups—after I watched it, I was excited to read that Argento worked with him on Once Upon a Time in the West, one of my all-time faves, which totally figures.

Film wish for 2023: Marvel to return to the quality of its early films.

Letterboxd’s annual Year in Review drops January 6. 

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