In a crowded field of awards contenders, a surefire way to get an audience talking (and tweeting) is to end with a bang. A great film isn’t defined by its final shot, but some of 2022’s best films exemplified the power of a great ending. Some breathed new meaning into a well-known image (see: the poster for “The Banshees of Inisherin”). Others expertly tied together a theme or plot (“Nope,” “Glass Onion”). There were the hilarious (“Tár,” “The Fabelmans”), the poignant (“Corsage”), and the just plain haunting (“Pearl”).
In no particular order, TheWrap presents nine films of 2022 that best stuck the landing.
Spoiler alert: This article spoils the ending of “The Fabelmans,” “Aftersun,” “Tár,” “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” “Corsage,” “White Noise,” “Pearl,” “Nope,” and “Crimes of the Future.”
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There are many reasons that the final shot of “The Fablemans” is also the final shot of the year. For one, it’s a great example of the famous “Spielberg oner,” a single take that conveys several different ideas and includes several different set-ups within the camera move. In this case we see young Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) as he rushes out of an impromptu meeting with director John Ford (played, incredibly, by David Lynch). The camera starts on his hands gripping a metal guardrail, then go up to his flush face, then the camera moves back as Sammy looks up to the window of the office where he just had his chance encounter with one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers. The camera then stays put as Sammy walks away, between two soundstages. The horizon, enhanced by an Industrial Light and Magic glimmer, is at the center of the frame. That’s when the second part of what makes this shot so great comes into play.
In the scene before this, Ford bestows some wisdom on young Sammy. “Remember this,” Lynch-as-Ford says, “When the horizon is at the bottom, it’s interesting. When the horizon is at the top, it’s interesting. When the horizon is in the middle, it’s boring as shit.”
With the horizon in the middle of this image, Spielberg exaggeratedly corrects the image, moving the horizon more towards the bottom of the frame by adjusting the camera. It leaves the movie on such a happy, hopeful note. But there’s more than that too. In a movie as nakedly autobiographical as “The Fabelmans,” it’s also Spielberg’s admission that he might be the most revered filmmaker in the history of the medium, but he still screws up and he’s still got plenty to learn. The master is still a student. It’s easy to forget what John Ford yelled at you all those years ago. – Drew Taylor
“Aftersun” ends as it begins: with Sophie (Frankie Corio) and her father Calum (Paul Mescal) parting ways in an airport. What happens in between transforms these bookends from a seemingly innocuous memory to one of the most devastating final shots of the year. Charlotte Wells’ film reminisces on a Turkish vacation taken by an 11-year-old Sophie and her young father, who does his best to conceal that he’s fighting inner demons. Throughout the trip, they take turns filming on a camcorder, the whirs and wavy grain casting a nostalgic sheen. Brief interludes of a grown woman (Celia Rowlson-Hall) searching for someone in a crowded nightclub set the vacation in a distant past. In the film’s final moments, these fragments come together with heartbreaking clarity. The woman is revealed to be an adult Sophie. When she finally locates Calum, she lets all her feelings loose, her screams muted by the pulsing lights and music. They tightly embrace for a moment before losing each other again. And then, everything comes together full-circle – literally, in a sweeping panoramic shot.
As in the beginning, Sophie and Calum say goodbye in the airport, first from a third-party perspective and then from the viewfinder of Calum’s camcorder. The camera pivots to adult Sophie’s apartment, where she watches the footage from the camera. A final rotation brings us back to Calum in the airport, walking towards the disco in Sophie’s mind, before disappearing behind the door. In one shot, we are simultaneously transported to the place of their final goodbye and to a place where they will always be together. Memory – both its shortcomings and ability to pierce through time – has never been captured on film quite like this. – Harper Lambert
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Strange as it may sound, the top drama of the year takes the cake for funniest final shot. Todd Field’s tale of a world-renowned composer’s fall from epic heights lays it out in the contrast between the first and last shot. We’re introduced to Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) seated on the stage of a concert hall. A doting audience looks onwards and upwards to where she and the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik discuss her illustrious career and forthcoming recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. She is untouchable. It all starts to come crashing down when her former student dies by suicide. Whispers turn to murmurs, allegations gathering speed like a boulder rolling down a hill. The crushing effect of these events is delayed by a bit of misdirection. Tár takes off to Southeast Asia, where she can still get work. She’s greeted like a king. The job is clearly below her station, but we don’t understand just how far she’s fallen until she kicks off the performance… underneath a stage. The camera pulls away to reveal that the once-almighty Lydia Tár has been reduced to conducting the orchestral score to a video game for an audience of cosplayers. In the final shot of a movie named for her, Tár isn’t even visible. It reorients the previous 150-ish minutes to feel like a set-up for the greatest punchline ever. – Harper Lambert
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”
Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion” is a delight. But that doesn’t mean it’s frivolous. The complexity of the mystery, for one, is labyrinthine and ornate. And its social commentary, mostly about lionizing those in positions of power or corporate influence, is barbed and perfectly now. And visually, the cinematography by frequent Johnson collaborator Steve Yedlin, is just as intricate. After all, when every frame of the movie is a potential clue, it’s got to be. But perhaps what’s most impressive about “Glass Onion” is its ability to cluster ideas and images around each other so that they echo and repeat; each time growing more powerful. (The Glass Onion is, of course, the bar where the group of friends in the movie first got together; it’s also Edward Norton’s rococo structure on his island getaway. And it’s also the mystery itself, each clue providing a layer of the onion. Plus there’s that Beatles song that plays over the closing credits.)
In the case of the final shot, it’s a beautiful echo of what came before. At first it seems like a simple close up on Janelle Monae’s very close-up-worthy face. But the longer you stare at her, you realize what Johnson, Yedlin and Monae are doing. Earlier in the movie, there’s a discussion of the Mona Lisa, about how the brushstrokes were applied in a way that the longer you look at her, the more her expression changes, from placid to mischievous and back again. Monae’s character just destroyed the Mona Lisa as payback for her sister’s murder; it burned up on that island. As Monae watches the destruction, the camera pushes in, her face mirroring the famous painting. It’s subtle and genius and no accident, and speaks to the greater, hidden pleasures of “Glass Onion.” – Drew Taylor
It’s only right that “Corsage” should end on the death of its heroine. In Marie Kreutzer’s vibrant portrait of Empress Elisabeth (Vicky Krieps), the Austro-Hungarian monarch fights to keep on burning in a world that wants to snuff her out. Royal life is as dreary and confining as the corridors of Hofburg Palace, where Elisabeth (or “Sisi,” as she was known) is condemned to spend most of her time. On the cusp of turning 40, she tries to exert agency by what limited means she can – flirting with other men, smoking with bed-ridden soldiers, chopping off her long locks – only to be met with disdain by her husband, children and the watchful eye of the public. With every other option exhausted, Sisi hatches an escape plan.
In the film’s final scene, she brings a trio of maidservants to the one place she feels free: the sea. Dressed in identical black gowns, they file onto the deck of a towering ship. Sisi separates herself from the rest as the opening notes of Soap&Skin’s “Italy” begin to play – a few seconds of serenity. Then, a glorious overhead shot of Sisi letting herself tumble off the edge, the camera moving to a side angle as she plunges to her death in slow motion. In the moments leading up to this, Sisi’s dress appears stiff and funereal; while jumping, Monika Buttinger’s design billows around her like a parachute. The same can be said of Sisi’s decision to die, less a tragic ending than a sweet release. All throughout “Corsage,” we’ve watched her struggle in vain against a society that refuses to let her make her own choices. Death is the ultimate act of rebellion for a woman who spent her life in a gilded cage. – Harper Lambert
The final shot of “White Noise,” Noah Baumbach’s bravura adaptation of Don DeLillo’s supposedly unfilmable novel, is a sort of static shot, from up in the rafters of a gleaming 1980s supermarket (an A&P to be precise). But it’s also deeply impressive (you can spot stars Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig towards the bottom of frame, checking out) and speaks to the larger run-up to that shot. The whole movie, up until this point, has been bustling to-and-fro with big ideas and bigger sequences; this is a movie that contains pointed satire on the culture of leafy liberal arts colleges and also elaborate car chases a few degrees removed from “The Blues Brothers.” There is so much stuff in “White Noise” that if you’re not careful, you can tune it out. The final few shots snap everything into focus.
The family led by Driver and Gerwig are back in the supermarket, as are a number of secondary characters like Don Cheadle. And this time they’re all … dancing. To a new LCD Soundsystem song, no less. (LCD Soundsystem godhead James Murphy provided the score to Baumbach’s 2010 film “Greenberg.”) As they gyrate and glide to “New Body Rhumba,” they are willing their lives back to normal, before the “airborne toxic event” and the experimental pills and the Hitler Studies conference. Gorgeously choreographed with a deeply kick-ass song, it ends “White Noise” on a high note and reminds you what a wild, ambitious journey you’ve just been on. Audaciousness has rarely been this groovy. – Drew Taylor
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“Pearl,” the glamorous, blood-soaked prequel to “X” (both directed by Ti West), ends on a moment that isn’t just a stunning shot but also a tour-de-force performance. Over the course of the movie Pearl (a miraculous Mia Goth) has gone from repressed farmgirl to murderous psychopath, having killed several people including most of her family. At the end of the movie her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) returns from World War I. As he enters the farmhouse he sees a gruesome tableau: Pearl’s mother and father are dead and at the dinner table; in front of them is a rotting pig. All the vegetables and sides have mold growing on them. Pearl enters holding what looks like moldering milk. “Oh Howard, I’m so happy to see you,” she says. Then she starts to smile. The camera holds on her. And the credits roll. Tears roll down her cheek but Pearl stays smiling.
It almost comes across like a big Hollywood stunt, her ability to hold and maintain that emotion is so sincere. And it speaks volumes to her character – she wanted desperately to be a big movie star. Now she is, in the movie of her life, beaming for the camera. It’s both optimistic and tragic, hilarious and horrific. It’s everything the movie is, in one perfect final shot. Bravo. – Drew Taylor
“Nope” is, among other things, all about the shot. Since siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) first discovered a sinister UFO hovering outside their family farmhouse, they only had one objective: to get it on film. In the third act they deploy their grand plan, which involves a kite being unfurled at just the right moment, those blow-up waving men you see at used car dealerships and a deranged cinematographer weidling a non-electrical IMAX camera. The plan goes to hell. And both siblings are forced to do what they can to still try and capture the UFO (actually a huge extraterrestrial creature) on camera.
In the desperate final act, Emerald unleashes a giant balloon to get its attention while she tries and snap an old timey photo from a novelty set-up at a nearby Old West-themed amusement park. (This movie is nuts.) Part of the genius of how writer-director Jordan Peele stages the final suspense set piece is that there is a version of this movie where we don’t even know if she got the shot. (The first time I saw it, I feared that she hadn’t and that it would be like “Blade Runner” where we would all ponder whether or not she’d succeeded, for decades to come.) But in the final moment we are given two triumphs: OJ has survived (and so has his horse Lucky!) and in the final moment of the movie, the camera pushes in on the old timey photograph that Emerald took. It’s there. She captured the beast. The threat is over. What remains of her family is safe. The final look at OJ, partly obscured (did he survive?), riding a horse under a sign that says “Out Yonder” is poignant and haunting. – Drew Taylor
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“Crimes of the Future”
“Crimes of the Future” is a weird one. Even describing the movie up until the point of the ending is going to be a struggle. We’ll say this: Viggo Mortensen is a performance artist in the future who grows new organs and has those organs removed on stage by his helpful assistant/lover (Léa Seydoux). Because he’s growing all these new organs he’s deeply uncomfortable and has this weird chair that could only exist in a David Cronenberg movie, which tries to move him around so that he can eat. Keep in mind there’s a parallel subplot to all of this that involves a bunch of evolutionary terrorists who eat plastic (don’t ask).
In the last shot of “Crimes of the Future,” Viggo is trying to eat some goop and the chair is going crazy. Seydoux comes in, with a plastic bar that the extremists eat. “What do you think?” she asks. “Yes, I think yes, it’s time to try it,” he answers. As he eats the plastic, she films him. The chair quiets down. As she pushes in, so does Cronenberg’s camera (manned by Canadian cinematographer Douglas Koch). The very final shot actually cuts away to a grainy black-and-white image (presumably from Seydoux’s camera). A look of rapture washes over Viggo’s face; a single tear rolls down his cheek. The chair is, for lack of a better word, purring. This is the new evolution, the thing that Viggo’s character had been searching for the entire movie; he has embraced the plastic and in doing so will, it is assumed, join the extremists. And his art has never been better.
“Crimes of the Future” is all about expression and art. It’s every bit as personal and autobiographical as “The Fabelmans.” And the final shot speaks to Cronenberg’s attempts with the film, to recapture the spirit of his older films, to do something provocative, to create a new organ. – Drew Taylor