Perhaps the best thing about Aftersun topping Sight and Sound’s best-of-2022 poll is that it’s given us Charlotte Wells’s response. She writes beautifully and humbly about being overwhelmed by the raves and accolades her first feature, which is set primarily at a Turkish resort in the 1990s, has garnered since its premiere at Critics’ Week in Cannes—especially since her first three short films “convinced me that connecting meaningfully with a few rather than superficially with many was enough.”
Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio play a father and daughter—he’s thirty, she’s eleven—on what feels like their last holiday together. “Perhaps in Aftersun’s case its popularity has had something to do with the film’s expression of grief, or the messy, inherently impossible-to-grasp subject of mental illness,” writes Wells. “Perhaps it was the Macarena!” For the Observer’s Mark Kermode, who’s put Aftersun at the top of his ten, “there’s a poetry in Wells’s filmmaking that evokes the finest works of Lynne Ramsay.”
Variety has asked twenty directors to write about their favorite films of the year, giving us Wes Anderson on Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, for example, Tony Gilroy on Todd Field’s Tár, Lee Daniels on Elegance Bratton’s The Inspection, and Mary Harron on Lukas Dhont’s Close. On Aftersun, we have none other than Claire Denis. “Never before have I felt the power of a point of view that immerses us into gazes that dare to secretly spar in front of the lens of a small video camera,” writes Denis. “Charlotte Wells leads us into a dark and frightening space, a moment of night when the father and the daughter split up to test their courage. This separation projects us into a future when the child will no longer be there to watch over—discreetly, intensely—her father, her guardian.”
Among the other contributors to Variety’s roundup is Happening director Audrey Diwan, who writes about Alice Diop’s Saint Omer, which not only comes in at #2 in Sight and Sound’s poll of ninety-three contributors but also tops the list put together by the writers at Cineuropa. Laura Poitras (All the Beauty and the Bloodshed) writes about Jafar Panahi’s No Bears, the #1 film of the year for the Los Angeles Times’ Justin Chang. Panahi “brilliantly interrogates religious fundamentalism, systemic misogyny, and the ethical complications of photography and filmmaking,” writes Chang. “In July, Panahi was detained and jailed by the Iranian government, not long after finishing this searingly thoughtful and provocative movie—neither his first masterful act of cinematic protest nor, I hope, his last.”
Screen has published annotated lists from ten of its contributors, three of whom—Fionnuala Halligan, Tim Grierson, and Allan Hunter—place Aftersun at the top. Wendy Ide’s #1 is Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave, which lands at #3 on the Sight and Sound poll. Jonathan Romney goes for Albert Serra’s Pacifiction, which comes in at #2 on Cineuropa’s list. “Serra deftly introduces the intoxicating, hazy metaphor of politics as a nightclub within a false Polynesian paradise,” writes the Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s Michael J. Anderson at the top of his ten. “This is the post-twilight of the colonial order with Benoît Magimel’s white-suited high commissioner, embodiment of an exhausted libertine archetype and perfectly juxtaposed against the film’s gender-fluid non-professionals, tilting at a power structure beyond his influence.”
Pulling back for a wide angle view, Mark Asch writes at Filmmaker about Aftersun,Saint Omer,All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, Annie Ernaux and David Ernaux-Briot’s The Super 8 Years, Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, and Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, and argues that the “overwhelming proliferation of digital images, recorded by consumer-grade digital cameras with ever-greater resolution, storage capacity, and ubiquity, is the story of the century . . . I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the really notable films of the year were made by filmmakers who look, really look, at their own home movies and personal archives. Their inquiries take the time to insist that, as we are always making images, we are always making meaning, and making art.”
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