“Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts.” — Roger Ebert
Empathy — the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Coming to you far later than I would have liked, I’m none the less here to present what I consider to be the Top 5 most empathy-generating films of 2022. As a film critic of some 20+ years now, I’ve come to recognize a couple of my “lanes”, and those include action cinema and empathy cinema. They’re perhaps incongruous areas of concentration, but they are mine. I spend my time in my day job working at a non-profit where we provide permanent, supportive housing for formerly chronically homeless individuals in Austin, TX. It’s a glorious opportunity to use my life to generate some hope, and it also requires that I dig deep to find regular inspiration and ever stronger empathy for my brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness. So my pursuit and passion for cinema that deepens one’s empathy may have some self-serving elements to it, but cinema-as-empathy-generator is also what makes movies magic to me: the greatest art form of them all. Nothing else in the world has the power to instantly transport you into the shoes of another quite like “the movies”. You can travel to distance places, or distant times, you can peer into cultures entirely foreign to your own experience, and touch authenticity for just a moment. There’s simply nothing like it, and here are some films from 2022 that transported me into the shoes of others profoundly. Enjoy!
There just really aren’t many cannibal love stories in the world. Bones And All is a remarkable film that will be off-putting to mainstream audiences, but from which much depth and profound meaning can be pulled. This fantasy world introduces us to characters who were simply born differently, with odd “powers” and a need to consume other humans that results in their being outcast from society. Sure, it can be repulsive to join Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet as they attempt to navigate the world while also feeding the emptiness inside them. But while this film is surely a fantastical genre picture, it’s clear that the innate cannibalism our characters were born with, and which causes them to be forced to live on the outskirts of society, is analogous to the situations of so many of our fellow humans who are profoundly and catastrophically disconnected from their families. Our leads here undoubtedly hurt others around them as they navigate how to live their lives, but Bones And All digs deep and asks us to understand and attempt to relate to characters who do repellant things and yet remain human beings who desperately need connection and community.
4: The Banshees Of Inisherin
My own feelings about The Banshees Of Inisherin are somewhat complicated as I feel genius writer/director Martin McDonagh had a whole lot to say with this film and I’ve likely only cracked the surface in my own reflections on the picture overall. Depicting life in a small, isolated (fictional) Irish town, Brendan Gleeson’s Colm simply decides to break off his friendship with Collin Farrell’s Padraic. It’s a movie about a friend break up. It’s whip smart and side splittingly hilarious at times. But it’s also profoundly tragic, and I believe McDonagh has a lot to say about war and intractible societal fractures with this picture as well. In concentrating largely on 2 friends and their immediate family and community wrapped up in the escalating fallout, McDonagh forces us to reflect on our own lives, who we’re saddled to, who desperately need us, and who we might need to break free from in order to fulfill our own potential. Our characters take drastic, decisive, and definitive actions which have dire consequences as their relationship implosion plays out. Audiences can’t help but reflect on the flawed nature of human kind and how desperately we need one another, but how massively a traumatic disconnect between people can ripple out through the communities around us, potentially even leading to full blown war.
Where to watch The Banshees Of Inisherin: HBO Max
Most of the films I talk about for this list are serious, dramatic works. This isn’t that. This is one of the funniest and most cringe inducing movies you’ll ever see in your life. But damn if writer/director/star James Morosini doesn’t absolutely force you to walk a mile in his shoes through a quintessentially modern true story of a father “catfishing” [AKA impersonating a love interest via a false online relationship] his own son.
Wildly entertaining and offensive, I Love My Dad also has a beating heart that’s wide open. Opportunities for reconciliation and redemption and sobriety are all explored through the lens of a broken father/son relationship that may have an ember or two still burning.
Where to watch I Love My Dad: Hulu
“We cannot endure any more violence.” — Ona
One of the very best films of 2022, and now the winner of the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, Women Talking is a triumph of a film for writer/director Sarah Polley.
Women are being systematically assaulted by the men of their community, and these women, members of a vaguely Amish religious community, sit around in a barn and talk. Nothing could be more threatening to those men.
Touching on themes of patriarchy and misogyny that are very specific to this particular community turns out to offer universal truth for all of us to think about. What would we do without women? What would we do if our women collectively organized and stood their ground against systems designed to hurt them?
Women Talking is thrilling, edge of your seat stuff while largely sticking to conversations happening in a barn. But that Oscar winning screenplay and this incredible ensemble cast will make you feel profoundly for these smart, courageous, and fleshed-out women.
“The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind. Please, be kind. Especially when we don’t know what’s going on.” — Waymond Wang
The best film of 2022. One of my favorite films of all time. Winner of 7 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Editing.
Everything Everywhere All At Once has to be the weirdest movie ever to win such widespread acclaim, and it deserves every single accolade. Too weird for many, if you’re willing to look past the chaotic multiversal sci-fi premise, you’ll find a Chinese American immigrant family struggling to cohere, and a wild adventure that results in incredible amounts of healing and hope.
This is ultimately a story about a mother overcoming her feelings of failure, her emotional baggage, and [after an existential and interdimensional martial arts battle] ultimately reconciling with her estranged daughter and pushover husband. It’s the reconnection of a fraying family. It’s the greatest hope and joy of anyone who has experienced profound loss or feelings of disconnection. It’s the weirdest and most wonderful tale of overcoming and finding joy and love once again.
My full Cinapse review here.
Honorable Mentions (& Where To Watch Them)
And I’m Out.