The 15 Best Movies Hardly Anyone Saw in 2022

This year's underappreciated gems span Japanese animated takes on 'Beauty and the Beast', star-studded musicals and Tilda Swinton searching for a mysterious sound.
Sarah Ward
Published on December 19, 2022

In 2022, New Zealand movie lovers felt a need for speed. The nation's cinemagoers flocked to see yellow-hued offsiders spouting gibberish, too, plus oh-so-many superheroes. We also adored rock 'n' roll icons and rampaging dinosaurs, with Thor: Love and Thunder, Minions: The Rise of Gru, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Elvis, The Batman and Jurassic World Dominion among this year's top box-office performers — and Spider-Man: No Way Home as well.

Your memory isn't failing you: Spider-Man: No Way Home did first hit screens in 2021, and was one of the top-grossing movies in Aotearoa in 2021. It was such a box-office smash, though, that it's one of 2022's best money-earners as well. Expect Avatar: The Way of Water to do something similar this year — it's already proving popular.

So, they're some of the massive flicks that everyone saw over the past 12 months, with the literal receipts to prove it. If you only went to the pictures to see huge titles, however, you missed an array of other delights that are well and truly worth your time and attention. Across the year, we've watched far more than just the blockbusters — including top-notch films that released in NZ cinemas in 2022 but didn't rack up fat stacks of cinema takings. Here are our 15 picks that you need to catch up on ASAP.



One of two films by Japanese filmmaker Ryûsuke Hamaguchi that hit New Zealand cinemas this year — the other, Drive My Car, was an Oscar hitWheel of Fortune and Fantasy gives three tales about romance, desire and fate a spin. These three stories all muse on chance, choice, identity and echoes as well, and focus on complex women reacting to the vagaries of life and everyday relationships. Coincidence plays a role in each of the trio, too, and commonalities ebb and flow between each dialogue-heavy narrative. In other words, this is a smart, astute and savvily layered triptych from the director behind Happy Hour and Asako I and II, as brought to the screen with excellent performances, a canny knack for domestic drama and piercing long shots in each and ever chapter.

In the first part, model Meiko (Kotone Furukawa, 21st Century Girl) discovers that her best friend Tsugumi (Hyunri, Wife of a Spy) has just started seeing her ex-boyfriend Kazuaki (Ayumu Nakajima, Saturday Fiction), and grapples with her complicated feelings while pondering what could eventuate. Next, college student Nao (Katsuki Mori, Sea Opening) is enlisted to seduce Professor Sagawa (Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Tezuka's Barbara) as part of a revenge plan by her lover Sasaki (Shouma Kai, Signal 100). Finally, in a world where the internet has been eradicated due to a virus, Natsuko (Fusako Urabe, Voices in the Wind) and Nana (Aoba Kawai, Marriage with a Large Age Gap) cross paths — thinking that they went to school together decades ago.

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy isn't currently available to stream. Read our full review.



Handheld camerawork can be a gimmick. It can be distracting, too. When imagery seems restless for no particular reason other than making the audience restless, it drags down entire films. But at its best, roving, jittery and jumpy frames provide one of the clearest windows there is into the souls that inhabit the silver screen in 90-minute blocks or so, and also prove a wonderful way of conveying how they feel in the world. That's how Compartment No. 6's cinematography plays, and it couldn't be a more crucial move; this is a deeply thoughtful movie about two people who are genuinely restless themselves, after all. Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen (The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki) wants what all of the most perceptive filmmakers do — to ensure his viewers feel like they know his characters as well as they know themselves — and in his latest cinematic delight, he knows how to get it.

How Kuosmanen evokes that sense of intimacy and understanding visually is just one of Compartment No. 6's highlights, but it's worthy of a train full of praise. With the helmer's returning director of photography Jani-Petteri Passi behind the lens, the film gets close to Finnish student Laura (Seidi Haarla, Force of Habit) and Russian miner Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov, The Red Ghost). It peers intently but unobtrusively their way, like an attentive lifelong friend. It jostles gently with the locomotive that the movie's central pair meets on, and where they spend the bulk of their time together. It ebbs and flows like it's breathing with them. It rarely ventures far from their faces in such cramped, stark, 90s-era Russian surroundings, lingering with them, carefully observing them, and genuinely spying how they react and cope in big and small moments alike. Pivotally — and at every moment as well — this Before Sunrise-esque gem truly pays attention to, appreciates and understands its key duo.

Compartment No. 6 isn't currently available to stream. Read our full review.



The last time that Joaquin Phoenix appeared in cinemas before 2022, he played an overlooked and unheard man. "You don't listen, do you?" Arthur Fleck asked his social worker, and the entirety of Joker — and of Phoenix's magnetic Oscar-winning performance as the Batman foe in the 2019 film, too — provided the obvious answer. Returning to screens in a feature that couldn't be more different to his last, Phoenix now plays a professional listener. A radio journalist and podcaster who'd slide in seamlessly alongside Ira Glass on America's NPR, Johnny's niche is chatting with children. Travelling around the country from his New York base, C'mon C'mon's protagonist seeks thoughts about life, hopes, dreams, the future and the world in general, but never in a Kids Say the Darndest Things-type fashion. As Phoenix's sensitive, pensive gaze conveys under the tender guidance of Beginners and 20th Century Women filmmaker Mike Mills, Johnny truly and gratefully hears what his young interviewees utter.

Phoenix is all gentle care, quiet understanding and rippling melancholy as Johnny. All naturalism and attentiveness as well, he's also firmly at his best, no matter what's inscribed on his Academy Award. Here, Phoenix is as phenomenal as he was in his career highlight to-date, aka the exceptional You Were Never Really Here, in a part that again has his character pushed out of his comfort zone by a child. C'mon C'mon's Johnny spends his days talking with kids, but that doesn't mean he's equipped to look after his nine-year-old nephew Jesse (Woody Norman, The War of the Worlds) in Los Angeles when his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffmann, Transparent) needs to assist her husband Paul (Scoot McNairy, A Quiet Place Part II) with his mental health. Johnny and Viv haven't spoken since their mother died a year earlier, and Johnny has previously overstepped when it comes to Paul — with the siblings' relationship so precarious that he barely knows Jesse — but volunteering to help is his immediate reflex.

C'mon C'mon is available to stream via Neon, Google Play and iTunesRead our full review.



When Flee won the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, it collected its first accolade. The wrenchingly affecting animated documentary hasn't stopped notching up deserving acclaim since. A spate of other gongs have come its way, in fact, including a history-making trifecta of nominations for Best International Feature, Best Documentary and Best Animated Feature at this year's Oscars, becoming the first picture to ever earn nods in all three categories at once. Gleaning why this moving and compassionate movie keeps garnering awards and attention isn't difficult. Pairing animation with factual storytelling is still rare enough that it stands out, but that blend alone isn't what makes Flee special. Writer/director Jonas Poher Rasmussen (What He Did) has created one of the best instances of the combination yet — a feature that could only have the impact it does by spilling its contents in such a way, like Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir before it — however, it's the tale he shares and the care with which he tells it that makes this something unshakeably exceptional.

Rasmussen's subject is Amin Nawabi, an Afghan refugee using a pseudonym. As his story fills Flee's frames, it's also plain to see why it can only be told through animation. Indeed, the film doesn't cover an easy plight — or a unique one, sadly — but Rasmussen renders every detail not just with eye-catching imagery, but with visuals that flow with empathy at every moment. The filmmaker's protagonist is a friend of his and has been for decades, and yet no one, not even the director himself, had ever previously heard him step through the events that the movie chronicles. Amin is now in his 40s, but he was once a kid in war-torn Kabul, then a teenager seeking asylum in Copenhagen. His life to-date has cast him in other roles in other countries, too, on his journey to house-hunting with his boyfriend as he chats through the ups and downs for his pal.

Flee is available to stream via DocPlay, Google Play and iTunes. Read our full review.



When Memoria begins, it echoes with a thud that's not only booming and instantly arresting — a clamour that'd make anyone stop and listen — but is also deeply haunting. It arrives with a noise that, if the movie's opening scene was a viral clip rather than part of Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul's spectacular Cannes Jury Prize-winning feature, it'd be tweeted around with a familiar message: sound on. The racket wakes up Jessica Holland (Tilda Swinton, Three Thousand Years of Longing) in the night, and it's soon all that she can think about; like character, like film. It's a din that she later describes as "a big ball of concrete that falls into a metal well which is surrounded by seawater"; however, that doesn't help her work out what it is, where it's coming from or why it's reverberating. The other question that starts to brood: is she the only one who can hear it?

So springs a feature that's all about listening, and truly understands that while movies are innately visual — they're moving pictures, hence the term — no one should forget the audio that's gone with it for nearly a century now. Watching Weerasethakul's work has always engaged the ears intently, with the writer/director behind the Palme d'Or-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and just-as-lyrical Cemetery of Splendour crafting cinema that genuinely values all that the filmic format can offer. Enjoying Memoria intuitively serves up a reminder of how crucial sound can be to that experience, emphasising the cavernous chasm between pictures that live and breathe such a truth and those that could simply be pictures. Of course, feasting on Weerasethakul's films has also always been about appreciating not only cinema in all its wonders, but as an inimitable art form. Like the noise that lingers in his protagonist's brain here, his movies aren't easily forgotten.

Memoria is available to stream via Neon, Google Play and iTunes. Read our full review.



When Beauty and the Beast typically graces the screen, it doesn't involve a rose-haired singer decked out in a matching flowing dress while singing heart-melting tunes atop a floating skywhale mounted with speakers. It doesn't dance into the metaverse, either. Anime-meets-Patricia Piccinini-meets-cyberspace in Belle, and previous filmed versions of the famed French fairytale must now wish that they could've been so inventive. Disney's animated and live-action duo, aka the 1991 musical hit that's been a guest of childhood viewing ever since and its 2017 Emma Watson-starring remake, didn't even fantasise about dreaming about being so imaginative — but Japanese writer/director Mamoru Hosoda (Mirai) also eagerly takes their lead. His movie about a long-locked social-media princess with a heart of gold and a hulking creature decried by the masses based on appearances is firmly a film for now, but it's also a tale as old as time and one unafraid to build upon the Mouse House's iterations.

At first, there is no Belle. Instead, Hosoda's feature has rural high-schooler Suzu (debutant Kaho Nakamura) call her avatar Bell because that's what her name means in Japanese. That online character lives in a virtual-reality world that uses body-sharing technology to base its figures on the real-life people behind them, but Suzu is shy and accustomed to being ignored by her classmates — other than her only pal Hiroka (Lilas Ikuta of music duo Yoasobi) — so she also uploads a photo of the far-more-popular Ruka (Tina Tamashiro, Hell Girl). The social-media platform's biometrics still seize upon Suzu's own melodic singing voice, however. And so, in a space that opines in its slogan that "you can't start over in reality, but you can start over in U", she croons. Quickly, she amasses an audience among the service's five-billion users, but then one of her performances is interrupted by the brooding Dragon (Takeru Satoh, the Rurouni Kenshin films), and her fans then point digital pitchforks in his direction.

Belle is available to stream via Google Play and iTunes. Read our full review.



War makes meat, disposable labour and easy sacrifices of us all. In battles for power, as they always are, bodies are used to take territory, threaten enemies and shed blood to legitimise a cause. On the ground, whether in muddy trenches or streaming across mine-strewn fields, war sees the masses rather than the individuals, too — but All Quiet on the Western Front has always been a heartbreaking retort to and clear-eyed reality check for that horrific truth. Penned in 1928 by German World War I veteran Erich Maria Remarque, initially adapted for the screen by Hollywood in 1930 and then turned into a US TV movie in 1979, the staunchly anti-war story now gets its first adaptation in its native tongue. Combat's agonies echo no matter the language giving them voice, but Edward Berger's new film is a stunning, gripping and moving piece of cinema.

Helming and scripting — the latter with feature first-timers Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell — All My Loving director Berger starts All Quiet on the Western Front with a remarkable sequence. The film will come to settle on 17-year-old Paul Bäumer (astonishing debutant Felix Kammerer) and his ordeal after naively enlisting in 1917, thinking with his mates that they'd be marching on Paris within weeks, but it begins with a different young soldier, Heinrich Gerber (Jakob Schmidt, Babylon Berlin), in the eponymous region. He's thrust into the action in no man's land and the inevitable happens. Then, stained with blood and pierced by bullets, his uniform is stripped from his body, sent to a military laundry, mended and passed on. The recipient: the eager Paul, who notices the past wearer's name on the label and buys the excuse that it just didn't fit him. No one dares waste a scrap of clothing — only the flesh that dons it, and the existences its owners don't want to lose.

All Quiet on the Western Front is available to stream via NetflixRead our full review.



How fitting it is that a film about family — about the ties that bind, and when those links are threatened not by choice but via unwanted circumstances — hails from an impressive lineage itself. How apt it is that Hit the Road explores the extent that ordinary Iranians find themselves going to escape the nation's oppressive authorities, too, given that the filmmaker behind it is Panah Panahi, son of acclaimed auteur Jafar Panahi. The latter's run-ins with the country's regime have been well-documented. The elder Panahi, director of Closed Curtain, Tehran Taxi and more, has been both imprisoned and banned from making movies over the past two decades, and was detained again in July 2022 for enquiring about the legal situation surrounding There Is No Evil helmer Mohammad Rasoulof. None of that directly comes through in Hit the Road's story, not for a moment, but the younger Panahi's directorial debut is firmly made with a clear shadow lingering over it.

As penned by the fledgling filmmaker as well, Hit the Road's narrative is simple and also devastatingly layered; in its frames, two starkly different views of life in Iran are apparent. What frames they are, as lensed by Ballad of a White Cow cinematographer Amin Jafari — with every sequence a stunner, but three in particular, late in the piece and involving fraught exchanges, nighttime stories and heartbreaking goodbyes, among the most mesmerising images committed to celluloid in recent years. Those pictures tell of a mother (Pantea Panahiha, Rhino), a father (Mohammad Hassan Madjooni, Pig), their adult son (first-timer Amin Simiar) and their six-year-old boy (scene-stealer Rayan Sarlak, Gol be khodi), all unnamed, who say they're en route to take their eldest to get married. But the journey is a tense one, even as the youngest among them chatters, sings, does ordinary childhood things and finds magic in his cross-country road trip, all with zero knowledge of what eats at the rest of his family.

Hit the Road is available to stream via Google Play and iTunes. Read our full review.



In Hive, to peer at Kosovo-born actor Yllka Gashi is to look deep into a battler's eyes. She plays Fahrije Hoti, a woman who has never been allowed to stop fighting, although the men in her patriarchal village would prefer that she'd simply attend to her duties as a wife and mother, do what's expected and keep quiet. That's just another roadblock she's forced to rally against with every word, thought and breath. With her husband missing for years due to the Kosovo War, and her father-in-law eager to maintain the status quo, she's been trying to make ends meet in a town — and a male-dominated culture — that's unsympathetic to her plight. Fahrije isn't alone, however, with many of the village's other women also widowed due to the conflict and expected to somehow survive. So, with the beehives she dutifully attends to unable to keep paying her bills, she decides to start a female-run co-operative to make and sell ajvar, a pepper relish.

A picture of blistering resilience, unflappable fortitude and baked-in sorrow, Gashi is phenomenal as Fahrije — and first-time feature writer/director Blerta Basholli puts in just as magnificent an effort behind the lens. They're both playing with reality, drawing upon the real-life Hoti's moving and inspiring story, but Hive could never be mistaken for a standard biopic. Lived-in fury and resolve buzzes through every exactingly staged and observed scene, and each facet of Gashi's performance as well, all as Fahrije weathers even more derision — and worse — for even dreaming of attempting to support herself. At the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Hive became the first movie in history to win its World Cinema Dramatic Competition Grand Jury Prize, Audience Award and Best Director gong, and deservedly so.

Hive is available to stream via Google Play and iTunes. Read our full review.



Every actor has one, albeit in various shades, lengths and textures, but sometimes one single hairstyle says everything about a film. Wildly careening in whichever direction it seems to feel like at any point, yet also strikingly sculptural, the towering reddish stack of curly locks atop Penélope Cruz's head in Official Competition is one such statement-making coiffure. It's a stunning sight, with full credit to the movie's hairstylists. These tremendous tresses are both unruly and immaculate; they draw the eye in immediately, demanding the utmost attention. And, yes, Cruz's crowning glory shares those traits with this delightful Spanish Argentine farce about filmmaking — a picture directed and co-written by Mariano Cohn and Gastуn Duprat (The Distinguished Citizen), and also starring Antonio Banderas (Uncharted) and Oscar Martínez (Wild Tales), that it's simply impossible to look away from.

Phenomenal hair is just the beginning for Cruz here. Playing filmmaker Lola Cuevas — a Palme d'Or-winning arthouse darling helming an ego-stroking prestige picture for rich octogenarian businessman Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez, Truman) — she's downright exceptional as well. Humberto decides to throw some cash into making a movie in the hope of leaving a legacy that lasts, and enlisting Lola to work her magic with a Nobel Prize-winning novel called Rivalry is quite the coup. So is securing the talents of flashy global star Félix Rivero (Banderas) and serious theatre actor Iván Torres (Martínez), a chalk-and-cheese pair who'll work together for the first time, stepping into the shoes of feuding brothers. But before the feature can cement its backer's name in history, its three key creatives have to survive an exacting rehearsal process. Lola believes in rigorous preparation, and in testing and stretching her leading men, with each technique she springs on them more outlandish and stressful than the last.

Official Competition is available to stream via Google Play and iTunes. Read our full review.



Each filmmaker walks in the shadows of all who came before them — and as the cinema's history lengthens, so will those penumbras. With Bergman Island, French director Mia Hansen-Løve doesn't merely ponder that idea; she makes it the foundation of her narrative, as well a launching pad for a playful and resonant look at love, work and creativity. Her central couple, both filmmakers, literally tread in the footsteps of the great Ingmar Bergman. Visiting Fårö, the island off Sweden's southeastern coast that he called home and his base, Chris (Vicky Krieps, Old) and Tony Sanders (Tim Roth, The Misfits) couldn't escape his imprint if they wanted to. They don't, of course, as they're searching for as much inspiration as they can find; however, the idea of being haunted by people and their creations soon spills over to Chris' work.

These Fårö escapades only fill half of the movie, because Bergman Island also brings Chris' budding screenplay to life. There, fellow filmmaker Amy (Mia Wasikowska, Blackbird) visits an island, too — dancing to ABBA and crossing paths with her ex Joseph (The Worst Person in the World's Anders Danielsen Lie). That tumultuous relationship is as bedevilled by other art and the past as Chris' quest to put pen to paper. And, via the film-within-a-film concept, there's a sense of mirroring that couldn't spring any firmer from Bergman himself. That said, the end result is as savvy and soulful as anything on Hansen-Løve's resume (including the stellar Eden and Things to Come) — and, due to Krieps and Wasikowska, as exceptionally acted.

Bergman Island is available to stream via iTunes. Read our full review.



Love can spring quickly, igniting sparks instantly. Or, it can build gradually and gracefully, including over a lifetime. It can be swift and bold like a lightning strike, too, or it can linger, evolve and swell like a gentle breeze. In the sumptuous confines of Cyrano, the newest period piece from Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and Anna Karenina), all of the above happens. The latest adaptation of Edmond Rostand's 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac, this time as a musical via playwright Erica Schmidt's own song-filled on-stage version, lends its attention to two men who've fallen for the plucky Roxanne (Haley Bennett, Hillbilly Elegy) in opposite ways. Charming soldier Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr, The Trial of the Chicago 7) gets the fast-and-infatuated experience, while the movie's namesake (Peter Dinklage, I Care a Lot), a poet also handy in battle, has ached for his childhood pal for as long as he can remember.

Roxanne's two suitors make a chalk-and-cheese pair, with their contrasting approaches to matters of the heart — specifically, to winning her heart and helping ensure that she doesn't have to marry the rich and ruthless De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn, The Outsider) to secure her future — driving much of Cyrano's drama. Also present and accounted for, as all takes on the tale have included (see also: 80s rom-com Roxanne with Steve Martin, the Gérard Depardieu-starring Cyrano de Bergerac, 90s rom-com The Truth About Cats & Dogs with Uma Thurman and Janeane Garofalo, plus recent Netflix teen flicks Sierra Burgess Is a Loser and The Half of It): insecurities about appearance, a way with words and a ghostwriting gambit. Short in stature given Dinklage's casting, Cyrano can't even dream that Roxanne could love him. But he wants her to be happy above all else and knows that she's smitten with Christian, so he secretly lends his romantic rival his letter-penning abilities to help woo her by lyrical prose.

Cyrano is available to stream via Neon, Google Play and iTunes. Read our full review.



On the night of the 12th, the incident that makes that date worthy of a movie's moniker happens quickly, heartbreakingly and horrifyingly so. It's October 2016, in the French Alps-region city of Grenoble, and Clara Royer (Lula Cotton-Frapier, Mixte) is walking home alone after an evening at her best friend Nanie's (Pauline Serieys, Grown Ups). It's 3am, the streets are quiet, and she's giddy with affection, sending a video message telling her pal how much she loves her. All it takes is a hooded figure emerging from the dark, whispering her name, dousing her with liquid and sparking a lighter, and Clara will never arrive home. Before this occurs in The Night of the 12th's opening scenes, director and co-writer Dominik Moll (Only the Animals) shares details just has distressing and dismaying: the French police are tasked with solving 800 murders a year, 20 percent of them never can be and, sadly, the case in this feature is among the latter.

It might seem a strange decision, giving away the film's ending before it even begins; however, while The Night of the 12th is about the search for Clara's killer, it's never about the murderer. Instead, as it adapts 30 pages from Pauline Guéna's non-fiction book 18.3 — A Year With the Crime Squad, takes a Zodiac-style procedural approach and opts for a Mindhunter-esque survey of interrogations as well, it makes clear how easy and common it is for situations like this come about, especially in a world where women are slain at men's whims with frequency (then typically blamed if any of their own actions can be wrongly perceived to have put themselves in danger). Alongside David Fincher's serial killer fare, Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder casts a shadow, too, as detective Yohan Vivès (Bastien Bouillon, Jumbo) and his partner Marceau (Bouli Lanners, Nobody Has to Know) scour the area for suspects and answers. "The problem is that any one of them could have done it," Yohan observes after potential culprit after potential culprit fields their queries and flouts their engrained misogyny.

The Night of the 12th isn't currently available to stream. Read our full review.



Thanks to his Oscar-nominated work co-penning The Worst Person in the World's screenplay, Eskil Vogt has already helped give the world one devastatingly accurate slice-of-life portrait in the past year. That applauded film is so insightful and relatable about being in your twenties, and also about weathering quarter-life malaise, uncertainty and crisis, that it feels inescapably lifted from reality — and it's sublime. The Innocents, the Norwegian filmmaker's latest movie, couldn't be more different in tone and narrative; however, it too bears the fingerprints of achingly perceptive and deep-seated truth. Perhaps that should be mindprints, though. Making his second feature as a director after 2014's exceptional Blind, Vogt hones in on childhood, and on the way that kids behave with each other when adults are absent or oblivious — and on tykes and preteens who can wreak havoc solely using their mental faculties.

Another riff on Firestarter, this thankfully isn't. The Innocents hasn't simply jumped on the Stranger Things bandwagon, either. Thanks to the latter, on-screen tales about young 'uns battling with the supernatural are one of Hollywood's current favourite trends — see also: the awful Ghostbusters: Afterlife — but all that this Nordic horror movie's group of kids are tussling with is themselves. Their fight starts when nine-year-old Ida (debutant Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her 11-year-old sister Anna (fellow first-timer Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), who is on the autism spectrum, move to an apartment block in Romsås, Oslo with their mother (Blind's Ellen Dorrit Petersen) and father (Morten Svartveit, Ninjababy). It's summer, the days are long, and the two girls are largely left to their own devices outside in the complex's communal spaces. That's where Ida befriends Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) and Ben (Sam Ashraf), albeit not together, and starts to learn about their abilities.

The Innocents is available to stream via iTunes. Read our full review.



Despite being nominated for Best Actor for Being the Ricardos, Javier Bardem had zero chance of nabbing a shiny trophy at the 2022 Oscars. The movie he deserves his next nod for instead: savagely sharp workplace satire The Good Boss, which is home to a tour-de-force of a performance from the Spanish actor. Already an Academy Award-recipient for his powerhouse effort in No Country for Old Men — and a prior contender for Before Night Falls and Biutiful, too — Bardem does what he long has, playing a character who uses a set facade to mask his real self. Here, he's a seemingly kindly factory owner who makes a big fuss about treating his employees like family, but happily lets that ruse slip if they want more money, or have problems at home that disrupt their work, or happen to be an attractive intern. He still sports a smile though, naturally.

In his latest Goya Award-winning part — his 12th to be nominated, too — Bardem becomes the outwardly friendly, inwardly slippery Básculas Blanco. Given the darkness that lingers in his self-serving, self-confident, self-satisfied true nature, the character's name is patently tongue-in-cheek. He presides over a company that makes professional-grade scales, which he inherited from his father, and tells his staff "don't treat me like a boss". But filmmakers who put the word 'good' in their movie's monikers rarely mean it literally, and writer/director Fernando León de Aranoa (who reteams with his lead after 2002's Mondays in the Sun and 2017's Loving Pablo) is one of them. As portrayed with quietly compelling magnetism by Bardem, The Good Boss' ostensibly respectable CEO finds his perfectly calibrated public persona cracking slowly, surely and devilishly, all thanks to the weight of his own ruthlessness.

The Good Boss isn't currently available to stream. Read our full review.

Published on December 19, 2022 by Sarah Ward
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