Did Anyone Have A Better Movie Year Than Colin Farrell In 2022?

Colin Farrell is not the type of actor you can easily fit in a box. That may sound like a compliment now, a testament to his range, but there was a time when that might have worked against him, or at the very least: his status as a leading man. In the early aughts, Farrell seemed to be everywhere, trying on every role available to him. His insanely good looks and simmering intensity made him an undeniable box office draw, but the burden of the leading man — the hyper-masculine, hyper-cool version that dominated the 2000s — wasn't always a proper fit. That might be because Farrell, for all his conventional beauty and latent charisma ... is kind of a weird little guy. His intensity can often come off a bit like mania, and he seems much more comfortable in roles that subvert all that aforementioned appeal.

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with that. It just means that, until recently, some of Farrell's best work lived on the fringes of "conventional" cinema. His real power as an actor felt like Hollywood's best-kept secret, and though he's worked pretty consistently over the past few decades, he's been quietly inching further from the spotlight for some time.

Though, in spite of his rejection of the leading man label, 2022 finds him more popular than ever. It's been an especially busy year for Farrell: He's popped up in no less than three films, the bulk of which have been enjoying their share of critical acclaim or box office buzz. True to form, none of his performances feel like traditional fare. But in each role, Farrell seems more comfortable than ever before. It's an ironic twist of fate, but it's an amazing transition to watch ... especially because his work this year has been some of his best yet.

In The Batman

Farrell's role in Matt Reeves' "The Batman" is an interesting flex for the actor. As Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, Farrell dials up the charm to astronomic levels — and ironically, it mostly works because the actor is buried beneath mounds of head-to-toe prosthetics. "The Batman" got a bit of flack for this choice, as the practice so often sidelines actors who fit the physical description without the need for as much movie magic. Conflicted as I am about it, I do think "The Batman" needed Farrell (and his charm) to make this version of The Penguin work.

Transformation has become something of a gimmick in Hollywood — especially of late, with the recent boom of biopics and true crime adaptations — and there's definitely no Penguin without the stellar work of makeup artist Mike Marino, among others. But like costuming, lighting, and other aspects of filmmaking, it's something that Farrell uses to craft an entirely unique performance. The actor has spoken at length about how "liberating" the process of becoming The Penguin was, and how much of a gift it was. The prosthetics changed the natural cadence, even the timbre of his voice. Paired with a seamless accent, it's difficult to remember that it's Farrell underneath it all.

As a result, he's free to go to town, and he completely steals the show as The Penguin. Sure, he's a slimy, bottom-rung gangster, but Farrell's performance conjures empathy, even camaraderie, with the audience. He's hilarious; he's been praised as downright likable, and it's got a lot to do with the man beneath the makeup. As an actor, there's a whole lot more to Farrell than meets the eye, and "The Batman" serves as an excellent reminder for anyone who might have forgotten.

In After Yang

If you're at all on the internet, there's a chance you've seen the viral, endearing, absurd title sequence from the A24 film "After Yang." It features Colin Farrell as family man Jake, bossing through some difficult choreography with his wife Kyra (Jodie Turner Smith), adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), and her android companion Yang (Justin H. Min). Director Kogonada has described the opening scene as a burst of confetti, and its aftermath — a quiet character study that explores grief, estrangement, and memory — is akin to the confetti falling. When Yang suddenly stops functioning after their dance battle, it's up to Jake to find a way to restore him, and his quest takes him and the rest of the family out of their comfort zone in a major way.

Farrell's performance as The Penguin lived and died on his gravitas, but the opposite could be said for his role in "After Yang." As Jake, Farrell is quiet, a bit hapless, and a bit distant. This story may be told from his perspective, and through his desperate odyssey to restore order to his home, but he's not necessarily the hero of this story (and that's entirely by design). The scopes of Kogonada's films are decidedly intimate. He's not necessarily interested in outward flourishes, but in the small, profound changes that inform huge transitions in our lives.

In "After Yang," Farrell allows Jake to drift in the silence, to open up to the shifting world around him, and the audience in turn is allowed to experience what he does. It's a beautiful exercise in stillness, and while it subverts nearly everything that Farrell is known for, he's clearly just as capable in this arena.

In The Banshees of Inisherin

And then there's "The Banshees of Inisherin," and the performance that's spelling out Oscar buzz for Farrell. The actor reunites with "In Bruges" co-star Brendan Gleeson — as well as their director, Martin McDonagh — for a darkly funny, deeply devastating break-up film. Farrell is Pádraic, a very nice (if not slightly dull) man whose lifelong friendship with Colm (Gleeson) suddenly breaks down. Colm no longer wants to speak to Pádraic, no longer wants to be friends at all, and naturally, Pádraic can't understand why. Their falling out turns their small island town on its head, forcing everyone to consider just what it is they're doing with the time they have left in the world.

"Banshees" is an unmistakable master class, delivering laughter, tears, and existential angst on just about every level. Gleeson's turn as Colm is a career best: he offers dignity and reverie to a character that'd be easy to write off as a navel-gazing meanie. But as Pádraic, Farrell unleashes yet another layered, vulnerable performance that could very well be his greatest yet. Colm's rejection sends him adrift and desperate, at times bringing out the worst in him. It's devastating to watch him reckon with one change after the next, to watch his whole world spiral into something totally unrecognizable.

Through Pádraic, McDonagh seems to be confronting the nebulous, annihilating pressure of time. It's not an easy concept to contextualize, but Farrell faces the abyss all the same. The residents of Inisherin, Colm especially, give a lot of thought to whether they'll be remembered after they're gone. Pádraic, for all his niceness and simplicity, may not be — but it's very possible that we'll be talking about Farrell's performance for many years to come.