As we enter the final month of the year, much of our focus will be on wrapping up 2022 in cinema with a number of features. In terms of new releases, there are a number of notable offerings sneaking in at the end of the year and we’ve rounded up the essentials.

There are also a few caveats: we didn’t include a handful of stellar films that have qualifying runs and will be properly released in 2023—including One Fine Morning, Return to Seoul, and Saint Omer. And a number of Netflix titles will arrive on their platform this month (Pinocchio, Glass Onion, and White Noise), but received theatrical releases beginning last month, so they were featured on our November list.

Check out our December picks to see below.

12. The Whale (Darren Aronofsky; Dec. 9)

After wildly divisive reactions since its Venice premiere, A24’s tepid marketing for The Whale suggests they hope awards voters recognize Brendan Fraser’s performance without paying too much attention to Darren Aronofsky’s film itself. So consider us vaguely curious to see how Fraser, as well as the rest of the talented ensemble, traverses the rocky terrain of this stage adaptation. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “It is nothing if not succinct: events are explained with basic exposition (“Even if you weren’t fat you’d still be the piece of shit who left mom and me for your student” is roughly something Ellie says); actions draw the expected reactions; there is the occasional twist or turn. It’s all rather straightforward. “

11. Hunt (Lee Jung-jae; Dec. 2)

While he’s been working for the last few decades, Lee Jung-jae gained new fame with Squid Game and has now made his directing, writing, and producing debut with Hunt, which premiered at Cannes earlier this year and arrives this week. Luke Hicks said in his review, “It’s not worth getting deep into the narrative acrobatics of Hunt in a review. It’s the kind of film that changes gears every two minutes. Everyone’s investigating everyone, everyone’s a mole to someone regarding something, no one is what they seem to anyone, and more hyperbolic statements fronting as reasonable claims in the context of a story that ultimately exists in the realm of impossibility. “

10. 2nd Chance (Ramin Bahrani; Dec. 2)

While there is a documentary-like authenticity to much of his work, particularly the early films, director Ramin Bahrani only directed his first feature-length doc with this year’s 2nd Chance. Profiling the rise and fall of Richard Davis, the Sundance hit captures the life of the bulletproof=vest magnate who shot himself 192 times as part of marketing ploys for his product. Jake Kring-Schreifels said in his review, “In 2nd Chance, Oscar-nominated director Ramin Bahrani burrows into that volatile, near-fatal showmanship, attempting to get to the bottom of an empire’s rise and fall.”

9. Living (Oliver Hermanus; Dec. 23)

While it’s easy to agree that most remakes seem solely concocted for economic rather than artistic reasons, every so often one is conveyed with some genuine craft. Living, directed by Oliver Hermanus and written by the great Kazuo Ishiguro, reverently adapts Akira Kurosawa’s classic Ikiru while still finding new life to the story. Dan Mecca said in his review, “[This] makes Living, written by the great Kazuo Ishiguro and directed by Oliver Hermanus, a quite lovely inflection point for the lifelong thespian. It’s quite possible [Bill Nighy has] never been better.”

8. The Super 8 Years (Annie Ernaux and David Ernaux-Briot; Dec. 16)

Following an adaptation of her novel Happening, which picked up the top prize at Venice last year, the 82-year-old Annie Ernaux had quite a bit to celebrate in 2022, earning the Nobel Prize in literature and premiering her new cine-memoir The Super 8 Years at Cannes. It’s now set to arrive this month. Michael Frank said in his review, “At a brisk 60 minutes, Annie Ernaux and David Ernaux-Briot’s mother-son collaboration The Super 8 Years doesn’t leave time for introductions. Ernaux, a recent Nobel Prize winner, narrates each scene, which was shot some 50 years earlier by her then-husband Philippe. She talks about herself in both first- and third-person terms, oscillating between closeness and distance from this material. The film becomes an examination of youth, family, travel, and our place in the world. “

7. Broker (Hirokazu Kor-eda; Dec. 26)

Teaming with the great Song Kang Ho Bae Donna, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest finds him heading to South Korea. Luke Hicks said in his review, “Every focal character in Broker, detectives included, is without traditional family. Those who saw Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters are on familiar ground. Child-trafficking isn’t new territory for the Japanese auteur. Broker marks a thematic continuation of career-length fascination with alternative families and the legal, social, and philosophical values that paint such complicated ethical portraits of them. The director still has plenty to say, and does so quite eloquently.”

65. “Sr.” (Chris Smith; Dec. 2)

Passing away in the summer of 2021, Robert Downey Sr. left behind a career of extraordinary, rule-breaking films. With the support and wisdom of Robert Downey Jr. and the rest of his family, director Chris Smith (American Movie) has crafted a cinematic portrait of the late director and his closest relationships with “Sr.” Michael Frank said in his review, “Robert Downey Sr.’s accolades and popularity pale in comparison to his son. While Downey Sr. focused on writing and directing underground cinema in the 1960s and 1970s, his son became one of Hollywood’s leading men, wrapped up in major franchises, auteur directors, and Academy contenders. “Sr.” focuses on the life and career of the former, who struggled with Parkinson’s in his early 80s before passing away last summer.”

5. Babylon (Damien Chazelle; Dec. 23)

While the review embargo is still in place for a few more weeks, we can confirm that Babylon is, refreshingly, the anti-La La Land. Acidic, unsentimental, and ostentatious in mostly the right ways, it’s also far more comedic than expected, and those beats land better than the dramatic ones. Capturing Hollywood’s transition from silents to talkies, it is a mad, violent clash of high and low art, with a genuinely audacious finale that will hopefully be left unspoiled for all viewers.

4. Corsage (Marie Kreutzer; Dec. 23)

For her latest role, Vicky Krieps stars as Empress Elisabeth of Austria in an anachronistic biopic that skirts genre clichés in thrilling ways. Corsage, directed by Marie Kreutzer, premiered at Cannes to much acclaim (as well as an acting award for Krieps) and following stops at TIFF and NYFF, Austria’s Oscar entry arrives in theaters this month. Rory O’Connor said in our review, “In Corsage, Vicky Krieps delivers a performance brimming with salty despondency and inner life. Gasping for breath in the garment from which this film takes its title, the Luxembourgish actress stars as Elisabeth Eugenie, the 19th-century Hungarian queen and Hapsburg empress tasked with quietly presiding over a kingdom in its early stages of unraveling.”

3. No Bears (Jafar Panahi; Dec. 23)

A radically-defiant artist, Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been making some of the most vital––both artistically and politically––works of the last three decades. Though the filmmaker was recently jailed for six years due to support of anti-government protests, his latest work will arrive this month. David Katz said in his review, “One of the greatest appeals of No Bears is that it feels like Curb Your Enthusiasm: Panahi or Curb Your Enthusiasm: Jabbar, after the northwestern, sub-200-citizen Iranian border village it takes place in. After Panahi’s by-necessity leading roles in his work from This Is Not a Film onwards, the man has really grown into his screen presence; he even now has Larry David’s gait and smart-casual wardrobe, pootling his way into all kinds of trouble from the smallest social misunderstandings.”

2. The Eternal Daughter (Joanna Hogg; Dec. 2)

While it’s not the first time she’s pulled double duty (or beyond), having done so in Hail, Caesar!Suspiria, and Okja, The Eternal Daughter marks the most emotionally profound and impressive use of multiple Tilda Swintons. Re-teaming with Joanna Hogg once again, Swinton plays both daughter and mother in this captivating, haunting tale. As Luke Hicks said in his review, “Hogg layers the horror elements in like Halloween decoration, dressing for a genealogical drama unconcerned with genre tropes outside their bearing on reality. That’s not to say there isn’t a tangible fear or dread baked in, but it’s of an existential nature—the kind that takes hold when you hear yourself organically repeating something your mother said earlier with the exact same tone and diction.”

1. Avatar: The Way of Water (James Cameron; Dec. 16)

While Tom Cruise owned the summer blockbuster, this year will close with the long-awaited return of he who wears the tentpole crown: James Cameron. After toiling away on his Avatar follow-ups for much of the last decade (and will be doing so for most of the subsequent decade), the first is finally set to arrive this month. It’s rare my anticipation converges with the largest-budgeted film of the year (or, in this case, perhaps all-time), but having revisited Avatar and knowing Cameron’s flawless track record with sequels—save for perhaps his debut—this may very well be the cinematic event of the year.

More Films to See

  • A Wounded Fawn (Dec. 1)
  • That Kind of Summer (Dec. 2)
  • Amigo (Dec. 2)
  • Emancipation (Dec. 2)
  • Four Samosas (Dec. 2)
  • Framing Agnes (Dec. 2)
  • Last Film Show (Dec. 2)
  • Nr. 10 (Dec. 2)
  • Blank Narcissus (Passion of the Swamp) (Dec. 7)
  • Empire of Light (Dec. 9)
  • To the End (Dec. 9)
  • The Treasure of His Youth: The Photographs of Paolo Di Paolo (Dec. 9)
  • Children of the Mist (Dec. 16)
  • A Short Story (Dec. 21)
  • The Pale Blue Eye (Dec. 23)

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