Favorite Discoveries of 2022

If you don’t follow me on any other platform outside of this blog, you might not realize how many movies I watch each year outside of new releases—so many, in fact, that I wonder why I bother subscribing to any other streaming service when I increasingly spend the bulk of my time inside of the Criterion Channel and Turner Classic Movies. You may have already seen my list of the best films of 2022, but I decided to take a page from some other writers I follow and make a list of my favorite discoveries of 2022—that is, older movies that I watched for the first time in 2022. It was hard to narrow down from the approximately 600+ new-to-me pre-2022 films I saw last year, but I think I came up with a solid list that is representative of the many different genres and filmmakers I explored. You can find my 30 picks and some brief thoughts about each movie and how/why/where I watched them below. And if you don’t already, you can follow me on Letterboxd for more of this and to keep up with what I’m watching.

ONE WEEK (1920) dir. Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline

One evening last August, Arkadin Cinema—a local microcinema here in St. Louis—and Silents Please STL hosted an evening of works by Buster Keaton. I’d seen the feature presentation that was programmed—Keaton’s 1924 masterpiece “Sherlock Jr.”—before, but none of the three shorts. I was most delighted by “One Week,” a charming and hilarious two-reeler in which Keaton and Sybil Seely play newlyweds struggling to build a home for themselves over the course of one week. The gags ramp up in scale and absurdity over the course of 22 minutes, and there’s a genuinely warm chemistry between Keaton and Seely. The best part was that I could tell from the reactions of the rest of the audience at the theater that they were with them all the way.

“One Week” can currently be streamed on Tubi.

KENTUCKY PRIDE (1925) dir. John Ford

Criterion Channel curated a collection of early John Ford films last year, and I was able to watch a lot of them and was struck by how tender many of this action director’s first features were, from the epic silent western “3 Bad Men” to the 1933 drama “Pilgrimage,” which centers around an Arkansas mother and her adult son. But I was most moved by Ford’s 1925 silent drama “Kentucky Pride,” an empathy-driven tale told from the perspective of a racehorse separated from its owner.

MANOLESCU, THE PRINCE OF ADVENTURES (1929) dir. Viktor Tourjansky

This was my third year virtually participating in the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, and I felt like this year was especially brimming with gems. My favorite was this beautiful new restoration of the German silent film “Manolescu, the Princes of Adventures,” which features scintillating performances from Ivan Mozzhukhin and Brigette Helm as lovers who turn to swindling, and is gorgeously directed and edited (there’s a stunning transition from Mozzhukhin and Helm embracing to a roulette table that left me gobsmacked and repeatedly rewinding the stream).

THIS IS THE NIGHT (1932) dir. Frank Tuttle

I adore pre-code cinema, and always discover new faves from that era each year. This year I found a lot thanks in large part to Criterion Channel’s Pre-Code Paramount collection that they programmed last spring, and while just about all of those movies made me very happy, I especially adored “This is the Night,” a sparkling and naughty bedroom farce notable for being Cary Grant’s film debut and that made me laugh out loud many, many times.

COCKTAIL HOUR (1933) dir. Victor Schertzinger

I was ready to push people out of my way to get into the screening of this rarely-seen (and newly restored) pre-code at the TCM Classic Film Festival last year. Fortunately I didn’t need to resort to violence, but this truly was everything I love to see in pre-code cinema: great fashion, luxury cruises, independent women, innuendo-laced dialogue and risqué situations, bad men getting shoved out of windows. And it’s all led by a great performance from leading lady Bebe Daniels.

STATE FAIR (1933) dir. Henry King

I was previously familiar with both the 1945 and 1962 film adaptations of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, but had never seen the dramatic 1933 version they are based on (in turn based on a 1932 novel). And I think I’ve found a new favorite take on the story. It’s still wonderfully romantic and heart-warming, but because it’s pre-code there’s a darker edge to some of the relationships explored that it doesn’t shy away from.

KISS AND MAKE-UP (1934) dir. Harlan Thompson

Yet another Cary Grant pre-code comedy from Criterion’s Pre-Code Paramount collection, I was immensely entertained by the ridiculousness of this movie in which Grant stars as a self-centered plastic surgeon who sincerely believes he is helping the world by making women more beautiful. It’s a fun early lead role for Grant that showcases his comedic talents brilliantly.

DAUGHTER OF SHANGHAI (1937) dir. Robert Florey

TCM ran a spotlight on actress Anna May Wong early in 2022, and, having only seen a few of her films before, I watched everything they programmed, making her one of my most-watched stars of the year. My favorite new watch had to be this light mystery thriller from 1937, because it paired the Chinese American Wong with another Asian actor, Korean American Philip Ahn, at a time when it was rare to see Asian actors leading a feature film and not being shoehorned into offensive, stereotypical roles. “Daughter of Shanghai” is fast-paced and runs a little over an hour as we follow the leads’ attempts to expose an illegal smuggling ring, but it’s a good time, and made me mourn the fact that we never got Wong and Ahn paired up in more movies.

SCARLET STREET (1945) dir. Fritz Lang

I watch Noir Alley on TCM every Sunday morning, which leads me to discovering some great noir films I may not have watched otherwise. I do think I would have eventually sought out Fritz Lang’s well-regarded 1945 noir “Scarlet Street,” however, if anything because it features a tremendous performance from one of my favorite actors, Edward G. Robinson. And Joan Bennett turns in one of the all-time great femme fatale performances as the conniving woman who corrupts him.

“Scarlet Street” is currently streaming on Criterion Channel, Prime Video, and Paramount Plus, as well as for free on Tubi and Vudu.

REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947) dir. Alfred L. Werker

Noir Alley aired “Repeat Performance” over New Year’s weekend, coinciding with the release of a new restoration on blu-ray from Flicker Alley, and I was immediately enraptured by the marriage of the fantasy elements and reflection of “It’s a Wonderful Life” with the inexplicable strangeness of a “Twilight Zone” episode. It’s set over New Year’s and finds a woman (Joan Leslie, an actress I like in a type of role I’d never seen her in before) mysteriously getting the opportunity to live the last year over after killing her violent, philandering husband. The supporting cast is terrific, and while the direction of the story is easily predictable, the fantasy conceit is unique and thrilling. I liked it so much I wrote about it for my annual Holiday Classics segment last month.

THE BLACK VAMPIRE (1953) dir. Roman Vinoly Barreto

No film is quite like Fritz Lang’s seminal 1931 thriller “M,” but this Argentinian remake remains a haunting and thrilling watch all on its own. I was especially thrilled by how much more “The Black Vampire” (El vampiro negro) centers the female characters in the story.

HOUSE OF BAMBOO (1955) dir. Samuel Fuller

One of my favorite collections the Criterion Channel has ever curated was its Noir in Color series put out around the middle of 2022, and my favorite new watch from that collection was Samuel Fuller’s “House of Bamboo.” This was not the only Fuller film I visited in 2022 (I also finally checked out his incredible noir “Pickup on South Street” for the first time), but “House of Bamboo was unlike any Hollywood film from that era that I’d ever seen. Filmed on location in Japan in gorgeous color, the film possesses a firm sense of place that most studio films—while sets on a soundstage can conjure their own magic—lack. And it revolves around characters played by two of my favorite Roberts (Ryan and Stack).

THE BIG KNIFE (1955) dir. Robert Aldrich

I was utterly shook by Robert Aldrich’s dark Hollywood tale centered around a movie star (Charlie Castle, played by Jack Palance) struggling to break free from his studio contract. This one boasts an all-time great supporting cast, from an especially slimy Wendell Corey (who I’m a fan of) to Ida Lupino as Castle’s estranged wife to Shelley Winters to Rod Steiger. And they’re all breath-taking.

UNCLE YANCO (1967) dir. Agnès Varda

Agnès Varda is one of my favorite filmmakers, although I’ve far from seen all of her films (I prefer to savor them as little treats). I watched several of her features this year, but my favorite was this documentary short in which she connects with an artist relative she’s never met. I always love how Varda makes aspects of her filmmaking process present in her finished films, and the color photography of this film is particularly vibrant. Oh to retire to a floating house in Sausalito!

LE CERCLE ROUGE (1970) dir. Jean-Pierre Melville

I watched Melville exciting caper when it screened at the Classic French Film Festival here in St. Louis last August. The lengthy heist sequence may be the highlight, but I was equally taken by the unique features of every character, brought to life by a cast that includes Alain Delon, André Bourvil, Gian Maria Volonté, and Yves Montand.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) dir. Philip Kaufman

I had seen Don Siegel’s iconic 1956 sci-fi classic years ago, but dare I say I prefer Philip Kaufman’s remake? It’s terrifying, establishing a sense of dread immediately that only becomes more prevalent as the film approaches its inevitable conclusion. Donald Sutherland is also charmingly nerdy in the lead as a health inspector who figures out that people are being replaced by alien duplicates.

SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980) dir. Jeannot Szwarc

I watched “Somewhere in Time” at the TCM Classic Film Festival with star Jane Seymour in attendance. I had never even heard of the movie before, despite it apparently being a big hit upon its initial release, but this time-traveling love story which also gives Christopher Reeve a solid romantic leading role turned out to be exactly my jam.

POLYESTER (1981) dir. John Waters

2022 was a year where I filled in a lot of John Waters blind spots (I also loved “Female Trouble” and “Pink Flamingos”), but his Sirk-esque take on suburban life had me rolling. Viewed at midnight at the TCM Classic Film Festival…with costar Mink Stole in attendance…and in glorious Odorama…what more could you want from a movie?

BASKET CASE (1982) dir. Frank Henenlotter

The 80s overall are a decade I’m still catching up on movie-wise, so when Criterion Channel curated a collection of 80s horror movies last October, I watched every single one. A few of them appear on this list, but I discovered that I’m really into the cult horror comedies of Frank Henenlotter after watching “Basket Case” and “Brain Damage” back-to-back. “Basket Case” is hysterical and obscene, and the reveal of the creature made me laugh/scream. I can only imagine how much fun this would be to watch with an audience. And I discovered after watching “Basket Case” that it has two sequels, so I guess it isn’t over yet.

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) dir. John Landis

I travel for my job job, which is how I ended up one evening in late September attending a screening of “An American Werewolf in London” at the Maiden Alley Cinema, a single screen theater which, as its name suggests, is situated down an alleyway in downtown Paducah, Kentucky. Landis’ contemporary take on the classic werewolf story had been on my radar for a while, but I was happy to get to see it on the big screen, especially the stunning transformation effects and make-up, which are every bit as impressive over 40 years later.

ILLUSIONS (1982) dir. Julie Dash

I loved Julie Dash’s exploration of the role Black women played in 1940s Hollywood, told through a Black assistant passing as white, and a Black woman who finds work dubbing the singing voices of white actresses. There’s a lot at play in just over half an hour, as Dash tackles gender roles and race in an industry dominated by white men, and the ways in which women of color carve out places for themselves there.

THE HIDDEN (1987) dir. Jack Sholder

Another film I stumbled across on Criterion Channel, “The Hidden” is one of those movies I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of before. Starring an excellently-cast Kyle MacLachlan as an FBI special agent, “The Hidden” is a really strange alien invasion movie meets police procedural loaded with great twists and turns and weird characters and set-pieces.

VAMPIRE’S KISS (1988) dir. Robert Bierman

I can’t believe I only just got around to seeing this iconic Nicolas Cage performance for the first time, but I was still mesmerized by how committed he is to the bonkers nature of the role of a man who thinks he’s turning into a vampire. Is it one of the greatest screen performances of all time? Maybe! But “Vampire’s Kiss” is also cunningly dissects the role of men and women in the workplace through Cage’s character’s increasingly disturbing interactions with his female assistant.

MIRACLE MILE (1988) dir. Steve De Jarnatt

“Miracle Mile” was the other midnight movie I saw at the TCM Classic Film Festival last year, and I found this wacky, “After Hours” meets the apocalypse thriller slash romance so exciting. It’s so very LA, so very funny, and so very sobering. The film opens with an incredible meet-cute at the La Brea Tar Pits between the two leads. It’s the exact sort of character-focused, small-scale disaster movie I would love to see more of.

TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN! (1989) dir. Pedro Almodovar

I like to go on mini-binges of directors’ works, especially if they have a new movie coming out soon so that I can go into it with some context. I did that with David Cronenberg prior to seeing “Crimes of the Future.” That’s how I ended up watching a lot of Almodóvar films just prior to seeing his newest movie, “Parallel Mothers,” at the beginning of 2022. My favorite watch that I hadn’t seen before was “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” a dark comedy romance starring an electrifying Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril. The director’s use of color and the way he plays with the space the characters spend the bulk of their time in has, to me, never been more effective.

DEEP COVER (1992) dir. Bill Duke

Actor/director Bill Duke turned in one of the great 90s neo-noirs with “Deep Cover,” in which Laurence Fishburne has never been better starring as a cop who goes undercover to expose a drug cartel. Propulsive action scenes, a deep dive into racial identity in the midst of the war on drugs, and a scathing indictment of capitalism are married to create a riveting and unfortunately unsung action classic.

LOST HIGHWAY (1997) dir. David Lynch

The release of new 4K restorations allowed me to fill in my major Lynch blind spots this year. I was enthralled by “Inland Empire,” but even more so by “Lost Highway,” which I caught when it played at the Webster University Film Series. It’s everything I love in noir, but with an extra disturbing, dreamy twist. And Patricia Arquette, who seems to be taking a page from Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity,” is now one of my favorite femme fatales.

OUT OF SIGHT (1998) dir. Steven Soderbergh

I caught up with a couple of Soderbergh movies I hadn’t seen before when the Webster University Film Series screened them as part of a tribute to actor Don Cheadle early in the year. The first was “Traffic,” which I liked a lot more than I anticipated. The second was “Out of Sight,” which left me stumbling out of the theater, blinded by joy. It baffles me that so many people continue to dispute Jennifer Lopez’s acting ability when it’s clear, especially here, that she’s always been great. Her chemistry with George Clooney is unreal, the sort that we just don’t see in movies a lot anymore (please, give us movie stars being movie stars!). “Out of Sight” crackles with romance, thrills, and humor from start to finish.

DOWN WITH LOVE (2003) dir. Peyton Reed

I adore the Doris Day sex comedies of the 1960s, and “Down with Love” is a spot-on homage to those both in aesthetic and story. What I was absolutely not expecting was the film’s third-act twist; I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen this, but suffice it to say that Renée Zellweger delivers an epic monologue that left my mouth hanging open.

BRIGHT STAR (2009) dir. Jane Campion

Nobody does erotic period cinema like Jane Campion. “Bright Star” may not possess the streak of danger that runs through films like “The Piano” or “The Power of the Dog,” but it’s still a powerful tale of a doomed romance steeped in literary references, decadent production design, and off-the-charts chemistry between Abbie Cornish and Ben Whisaw. The ending simply destroyed me.

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