Mike’s Top Ten of 2022

2022 was a strange year. Not so much for the film landscape (though that is undergoing a sea change in terms of increasingly limited theatrical windows, an altered viewing experience brought about from the still-ongoing pandemic and an evolving definition of box office success, the consequences of which we won’t know for some years), but for me personally. I underwent a few major life changes and had stuff going on consistently all year (at least that’s what it felt like). As such, my film viewing was all out of whack. I watched the same number of movies I typically watch, but they came in bunches, often months after the films got released. Because of that, I never really got a sense of the film year as a whole. But it did mean I got to see all the films on my own terms, removed from knowing (for the most part) how the public at large felt about them. This is something I strive for, and this is about as close as I’ve ever gotten to having a pure opinion about nearly everything that came out in a year.

Then again, it’s really not much different from how the past two years have been. Most of us haven’t really gone back to theaters in any meaningful way and, if we have watched any quantity of films, it was often done via streaming, usually way after the films came out, if at all. And what I’m noticing, with films becoming more like TV or streaming… they just become part of that mound of content and it becomes harder to have them stand out unless they’re one of the ‘major’ ones. For every Avatar and Top Gun, there’s a dozen other films that so many people might not ever know exist because they’re buried under a mound of other options on that same service they’re on. And, unless you’re someone on the lookout for things, you just see a name and a picture in a little box, and you don’t know what that is. It makes me feel doing this list is even more imperative than other years, since at least I have somewhat of an ability to introduce people (at least like, four of you) to cool stuff that’s out there.

One trend I did see this year, though, is that it feels like a year of self-reflection and self-indulgence. A lot of films feel like personal projects from their filmmakers, who either wanted to tell their own stories or tell the stories they’ve always wanted to tell (likely accelerated by all that down time that first year of the pandemic), often in such a way that you almost can’t believe they were even allowed to do it. That, to me, feels like the overarching ‘theme’ of 2022, and even though a lot of these films were divisive among audiences now, I do think they will end up being looked at as the most interesting things to come out this year.

Mike’s Top Ten of 2022


The Banshees of Inisherin

Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths

The Batman


Bullet Train

Everything Everywhere all at Once

The Fabelmans

Thirteen Lives

Top Gun: Maverick

11-20: All Quiet on the Western Front, Avatar: The Way of Water, Confess Fletch, Elvis, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Jerry and Marge Go Large, Kimi, The Northman, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, The Whale

Tier Two: Aftersun, Call Jane, Catherine Called Birdy, Ennio, Entergalactic, George Carlin’s American Dream, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, Hustle, Living, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, The Menu, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, The Outfit, Prey, See How They Run, She Said, Tár, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, White Noise, Women Talking

Tier Three: Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood, Ambulance, Amsterdam, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Bones and All, Cha Cha Real Smooth, Crimes of the Future, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, Empire of Light, The Forgiven, Fresh, The Greatest Beer Run Ever, Lightyear, Metal Lords, Nope, Rosaline, Spiderhead, Turning Red, The Valet, The Woman King

Tier Four: All the Old Knives, Barbarian, Clerks III, Emily the Criminal, Enola Holmes 2, The Good Nurse, The Gray Man, Honor Society, Jackass Forever, The Lost City, Mad God, A Man Called Otto, Matilda: The Musical, The Pale Blue Eye, Pearl, The Princess, Three Thousand Years of Longing, Triangle of Sadness, Wendell & Wild, Windfall

1. Babylon

“This was the most magical place in the world, wasn’t it?”

This movie was made for about 12 people, and I am one of them. It was the same with La La Land. I knew going in the movie was designed for me to love it, so it being here isn’t remotely a surprise. I won’t defend it as a masterpiece (or even a movie most people would like) and I won’t say it’s subjectively the singular best movie of 2022. But was it my favorite? Sure. In a year where there was so little that I out and out loved, this at least made me happiest when I watched it. And for now, that’s enough.

This is a movie that’s so indulgent and so film nerdy that I can’t even believe they gave Damien Chazelle the money to make this. This is literally 1920s/1930s Hollywood fan fiction sanctioned by a major film studio. The entire first full hour feels like a nonstop party sequence (and that includes the ‘on set’ sequence). The whole thing is just loaded with references (some subtle, some blatantly obvious) to actors, films, famous stories and scandals… it’s kind of like what Hail, Caesar is to the 50s. The Coens took very obvious marker points and told the story they wanted to tell from them based on their interests, and Damien Chazelle did the same. This is the cinematic equivalent of someone playing with their toys and creating their own imaginary world. It’s an interesting mesh of real people (Irving Thalberg) and stand-ins (Brad Pitt for John Gilbert, Margot Robbie for Clara Bow, etc).

I’m not sure the entire film works as a whole, and overall it’s probably Chazelle’s weakest major effort to date (and yes, that includes the criminally underrated First Man). Cinematically, though, it’s exactly what it should be. An over-made, over-long, over-directed film about a period marked by excess. It is what it needed to be. But that might not be for everyone, and I understand that. There are parts of this that I love so much. I love that this is, at heart, a love letter to Hollywood and to cinema. I love that it (gleefully) got to play with scenarios I’ve only read about in memoirs and history books, wondering what it would’ve been like to actually see happen and thinking about how they’d be portrayed on screen. I also love the idea the film presents that, ultimately, something that is so real and vital and important to so many people at one particular time will eventually just become something that gets made fun of and used as content fodder for people in the future. The production design, the costumes, the cinematography, the music, the performances (Diego Calva, Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt and Li Jun Li are all terrific. Plus there are incredible supporting performances here from people like Olivia Hamilton, P.J. Byrne and Spike Jonze)… I can get lost in the three hours of this movie and never be bored.

As I said up top, I’m not sure I found all that much truly interesting from this year. There were a lot of good movies and a lot of fun movies, but not too much immediately jumped out at me as the singular ‘great’ film of 2022. And I find that what I gravitated to most are the projects that felt like the filmmakers had stories they wanted to tell, whether it be their own or something like this, where it’s clear Chazelle had been dreaming for years of telling a story set in this time period and playing around in this sandbox. Watching him recreate all these environments and sequences that have clearly been living in his brain for a long period of time — to me that was more interesting than just about anything else that came out this year.

2. The Banshees of Inisherin

“I just don’t like ya no more.”
“You do like me.”
I don’t.”
But you liked me yesterday.”

I think we all expect Martin McDonagh’s films to feature prominently on these lists. He’s directed four films to this point, and three of them have been in my top 5 in their respective years (and the fourth was in the top 20).

This one you just knew was a winner from the start, when the premise was “two longtime friends find themselves at a crossroads when one of them decides he doesn’t want to be friends anymore.” A brilliant concept. I love that the film never really tries to do too much after that. It really sticks to that premise. And it’s just brilliant. You know how I know it’s brilliant? They get about 20 minutes in before they reveal when it takes place, and I guarantee the majority of people watching went, “Wait, really?” Because the concept is universal and timeless and just works. And the film is so well done that it already drew you in before that point so it didn’t even matter when it took place because we all understood what was happening.

Colin Farrell gives what might be the best performance of his career (which is also coming the same year as two other great performances of his, in After Yang and The Batman, with a shoutout to Thirteen Lives as well, where we forget that he did all his own diving stunts), Brendan Gleeson is terrific as he always is, Barry Keoghan is quietly devastating in a role that is so easy to overlook (until it isn’t) and Kerry Condon finally gets a role that showcases her immense talent.

Do I think this is Martin McDonagh’s best film? Yes and no. In terms of filmmaking, yes, it probably is his best film. Is it my favorite of his films? No. That’s a close race between In Bruges and Three Billboards. However, given what this year is as a whole, this film (which I figured would end up in the lower half of this list before I managed to see everything) easily merits a #2 spot. It gets better upon repeat viewings.

3. Top Gun: Maverick

“The end is inevitable, Maverick. Your kind is headed for extinction.”
“Maybe so, sir. But not today.”

I think we can all safely say how surprised we were by how good this movie is. It’s more of a testament to what this year was for film that this managed to go so high for me, but, honestly, there were few films this year I enjoyed as much as I enjoyed this one.

It’s (narratively speaking) a carbon copy of the original film, but to me, that’s what makes it so good. It takes the same basic structure but uses the fact that it was made 35 years later to its advantage. It incorporates nostalgia but doesn’t use it as a crutch, the way most many-years-after-the-fact sequels tend to do. It’ll give you the things that either you want or it feels you need (“Great Balls of Fire,” the shirtless football scene), but it doesn’t put a giant, flashing neon sign in front of them to signify that it’s being done for nostalgia’s sake. It actually tries to work it all into the story or keep it downplayed.

I found myself pleasantly surprised by a lot of the routes this one took to tell its story, since sequels that get made a significant amount of years after the last entry in a franchise all tend to resort to the same things (mostly the ‘handing it off to a new generation’ bit. The Force Awakens basically ignited/ruined that trope). Granted, I also found myself wondering why they did certain things, seemingly for no reason (still no one can explain to me why Meg Ryan’s character is just dead. She can’t just be off somewhere, living a life, concerned about her son? Why’d they have to kill her too?). But more often than not I thought they really did take what was a very campy 80s movie and add weight and gravitas to it, to the point where even people who wouldn’t be excited for a movie like this come out with positive things to say about it. (Just imagine them doing that with other 80s movies, like Footloose or Gremlins or something. Hell, they already just did that with Ghostbusters.)

Part of me feels like we’re grading this movie on a curve, since, while we all expected it to be fun, we didn’t expect it to be good good. And that usually tends to get people to overrate a film. But honestly, I must have watched this about five times between May and now, and it’s still one of the films I’ve enjoyed the most this year. So why fight it? This movie’s great. And the ‘2 minutes and 15 seconds’ sequence is one of the most thrilling I saw this year.

You can say a lot about Tom Cruise, but the man certainly does everything he can to make sure his movies reach a certain level of quality (especially the ones that mean something to him, namely this and the Mission: Impossible franchise). Almost anyone else would’ve allowed a subpar sequel to get made purely for the money. This is a movie that feels like it had something to say (or at least something to provide that’s more than that). And that’s truly a testament to Cruise’s dedication to giving audiences something worthwhile.

4. Bullet Train

“Well, he seemed like a decent guy.”
“He shot me.”
“Me too. Twice. Still, he had another side to him.”

This is the only film from this year that I watched and then immediately watched again within a day. That doesn’t happen. Most of the time I’ll see something and then only go back and watch it again a couple of months later or at the very end of the year. I watched this and had so much fun with it that I started excitedly telling people about it. And then, the next day, when one of them decided to watch it themselves, I put it on just to be able to see what parts they were up to and watched the whole damn thing again.

This movie is so much fun. It’s a throwback to the kind of movies I grew up with. Fun, low-stakes action movies. The kind you can put on and just enjoy any time. Most people my age who are into movies remember growing up with stuff like Snatch, the kind of movie with colorful characters that’s just fun that you put on over and over because it’s such an easy and entertaining watch, and before you know it you’ve seen it dozens of times. That’s what this movie feels like.

The whole thing is written and directed within an inch of its life. But again — that’s the charm. It actually rewards the people who watch it dozens of times, because you just keep catching little things over and over again and gleefully anticipate every fun little twist. Brad Pitt (two films in the top five for him this year) is perfectly cast as, essentially, Jackie Chan, and the film adds a bunch of great actors in fun parts around him, just leading to a great time at the movies.

This is the kind of movie that I think will hold up well over time. I can see it now. I remember when The Nice Guys came out and people either didn’t really care or didn’t really like it so much, and yet I wholeheartedly was like, “Oh yeah, this is a Top Ten movie for me for sure.” Because how could it not be? Now, I know this isn’t Shane Black, but I do think this is that same kind of movie. We might not go back to this one like people are now doing to The Nice Guys (and Speed Racer, too… another one I said from the jump was amazing that took people some time to come around on) and think, “Yeah, this is better than most people realized at the time.” But not me. I’m saying from right now how awesome this movie is. This is immediately a movie I can put on any time, at any point, and just watch the rest of it. This is everything I could ask for out of a movie and will happily keep this movie in my top five.

5. The Batman

“You’re a part of this, too.”
How am I a part of this?”
You’ll see.”

It’s interesting to me how, no matter what fresh hell D.C. has created using all their other characters, they’ve never truly screwed up Batman. At least, never in a standalone Batman movie. You can knock the two Schumacher films, but those films were what they needed to be for the time period in which they were made. And, I’ll add, were perfectly entertaining films. I’ll put the worst of those two films above every single other film D.C. has churned out since 2013 save maybe two.

I’ll admit.. my expectations from this film were somewhat low. Not that I thought Matt Reeves was a bad choice or would screw it up (on the contrary, I thought he was a fairly inspired choice) or that Pattinson was a bad casting choice (I think we knew immediately he’d be good in this role. If anything he was slightly on-the-nose as a casting choice, but that could also just be how spoiled we’ve been by the exceptional casting of this role throughout the years)… I just saw so much bad out of D.C. with everything that I did not think they could get out of their own way to let this movie be good. And so watching this, I was very surprised. I did not expect to be as invested as I was as quickly as I was, and I did not expect to barely notice the 3-hour run time.

What makes this movie work is they got to one of the core roots of what Batman is, something none of the other films really ever got into: a detective. And so turning this film into a slow-burn murder-mystery immediately made it stand out and become something different. It allowed for them to reestablish all the classic Batman tropes without having to do another damn origin story. Because what’s so interesting about this movie is how it is a kind of origin story (since it’s clear he’s not fully Batman yet, as evidenced by him not picking up on a piece of the clues, or that scene where he just slams into that car and eats shit after he jumps off the building), but never one where, by the end, he’s become the character we know. Really all that happens by the end is him deciding to keep doing what he’s doing, and become more hero than vigilante.

I like how stacked the cast is, and how they get famous actors to do relatively small parts. They find a way to expand the film’s universe without going nuts. I think we can all agree the two best pieces of casting this film made were Colin Farrell as the Penguin and Paul Dano as the Riddler. They were both terrific. I also like how driving the narrative is. For a three-hour movie, it definitely knows what it’s doing and where it’s going, and it builds toward it (especially visually). This definitely is not one of those movies that was written on the fly while shooting. Everything was planned out and all the visual language is consistent  throughout the film. You might not think that’s a big deal, but if you pay attention to things above a certain budget you’ll see just how rare that is.

This film is so good and so well-made that I legitimately consider it on par with (and even greater than, in some respects) the Christopher Nolan Batman films, which I believe are still the bar for which comic book movies are measured, specifically The Dark Knight. I don’t really care much to get into those conversations anymore, about what’s ‘better’ and all of that reductive stuff that only creates situations for people to find negative things to say about the choice they didn’t pick, but I do think a conversation is there to be had that this legitimately is one of the two best Batman films ever made. Which is not something I had on my bingo card going into this year.

6. Everything Everywhere All at Once

“In another life, I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you.”

There seem to be two themes that dominate the Top Ten this year: self-indulgent passion projects from filmmakers and stories that seem simple on the surface yet contain multitudes. What’s the story of this film? ‘A woman attempts to do her taxes’. The rest just goes from there.

This is a film that takes the mundane and turns it into the extraordinary. And you can take that at face value and feel however you want about this film and how it goes about telling its story (some people will just love it as it is and others will wonder ‘what the hell did I just watch’), or you can look at this film as taking a core story (one that has been told throughout the history of storytelling) and doing it in a way that makes sense for the current generation of moviegoers, one that was raised on multiverses and cinematic universes. This is no different than a filmmaker, 70 years ago, using the western as a vehicle to tell a story that is ultimately about fathers and sons.

What I like most about this film is how it does not try to appeal to anyone and everyone (all at once), as so many films try to do nowadays. It just is what it wants to be and does its thing in a way where, if it doesn’t click for you, then that’s okay. And I find that, when people don’t necessarily love the movie, they come away going ‘I just didn’t understand it’ instead of ‘I hated it’. It feels a bit like (and I’m too young to know this for sure) what punk music must have been for older generations. Where it’s just such a fully formed thing that, even if you don’t like it, you at least are aware that it knows what it is and wants to be and seems to strike a chord for a lot of other people who do seem to understand it. And I love when a movie can do that. Where the reaction from someone who didn’t like it is ‘I didn’t get it’ instead of ‘it’s bad’.

This movie is so nuts and so beautiful at the same time. Sure, it’s appropriately ridiculous in the way you’d expect coming from the guys whose previous film was about a farting corpse (complete with a universe of people with hot dogs for fingers, people fighting to try to stick a butt plug-shaped award up their butt (for reasons relevant to the plot, no less), false end credits in the middle of the film and a moment where the villain beats a cop to death with an oversized dildo), but there are also such flashes of brilliance there as well (‘I put everything on a bagel’? Genius). And the storytelling is so good. The building of everything that happens, where you know what has to get done, and you’re just waiting for the characters to get there. Waiting for the moment where Michelle Yeoh finally opens up to her daughter. And when that moment comes, and the movie fully reaches the story it wants to tell… it’s just sublime.

This is the most original film of 2022, probably by a wide margin. And I’m glad this movie reached the level of audience it did, because all too often do movies like this get relegated to ‘cult film’ status, where only a certain number of people see it and appreciate it when it comes out and then it takes some years for it to really hit the level of being seen by an appropriate number of people. On so many levels, this film is a marvel and a miracle, and I am so happy everyone loves this movie as much as (if not more than) I do.

7. Blonde

“Marilyn doesn’t exist. When I come out of my dressing room, I’m Norma Jeane. I’m still her when the camera is rolling. Marilyn Monroe only exists on the screen.”

This was a film I’ve been eagerly anticipating for years. I am always all over anything Andrew Dominik wants to make, as Assassination of Jesse James remains one of my absolute all-time favorite films (full stop). And I really loved Killing Them Softly too (though not many other people have joined me there). It was no secret he’s always wanted to make this film. There were at least a half-dozen people who came and went from this role before it got made. I feel like I’ve been following the story of this film getting made for 15 years by this point. I almost thought it would never be made. But one thing I did know — I was probably going to love it.

Dominik is such a singular visual filmmaker. It’s clear that he thinks deeply about his films, and really plans them before he shoots them. And that’s what made this movie stand out to me above all else. Because the film (and the book it’s based on) is pretty unbearably bleak. It’s the story of a really hard and sad life… one that just so happens to have been given to one of the biggest movie stars of all time. And yes, it’s highly fictionalized, but the core of it feels true. I don’t go into biopics looking for hard facts. I go into them to see if they capture the essence of the person they’re portraying and if the story they tell feels like it should have been told. And this film I think does both of those things. It may not be an essence we all want to see, but it does feel like the essence of Marilyn Monroe. And the film does feel like it needed to be made, as unrelentingly sad as it is.

Ana de Armas… she’s a bolt of lightning. She’s been coming on strong the past four or five years and now people have fully started to take notice of how wonderful she is. And, I’ll admit… I had my reservations about her casting. But those were purely for the vocals. I wondered how she’d pull them off. And honestly — she pulled them off wonderfully. I heard way less traces of her natural accent than I expected to. Which is good, because the work she put in here is absolutely tremendous. She really gave her all to this role and it shows. It’s a wonderful piece of work, especially considering she’s on screen for some absurd amount of time in the film.

Really the star of this movie for me is the filmmaking. And not just the obvious stuff like the mixture of black-and-white and color or the changing aspect ratios and the obvious stuff. For me it’s the shot choices Dominik chose, which are somehow both sympathetic and absolutely brutal at the same time. There are at least four or five times I audibly gasped at a shot during the course of the film. And I like that Dominik wasn’t afraid to embellish reality to make a point.

The best way I’d describe this film (as I already have, in many ways, Babylon already): it’s a beautiful mess. This is a passion project from a director who poured his all into telling the one story he’s always wanted to tell. It’s long, it’s messy and it is at times (most times, in my mind) absolutely brilliant. And going forward, when I look back on this year, I will have taken more away from a film like this than I will have from almost any of the other stuff people will hold up today as the ‘best’ of this year.

8. The Fabelmans

“When the horizon’s at the bottom, it’s interesting. When the horizon’s at the top, it’s interesting. When the horizon’s in the middle, it’s boring as shit. Now, good luck to you. And get the fuck out of my office!”

We take Steven Spielberg for granted. We really do. Watching him make movies is like watching an all-time great athlete in the middle of their career. After a certain point, after you’ve seen LeBron James be great for his 19th season in a row and break yet another record, or you’ve seen Tom Brady win his 7th Super Bowl, it just stops feeling special in the moment, even if you’re kind of aware of how it’s something that’s never been done and quite possibly will never be done again. That’s what Steven Spielberg is to film. The man has been churning out incredible pieces of filmmaking for over 50 years. He’s had arcs within his career that last longer than most people’s careers. It’s nuts that he’s still churning things out this great into his 70s (les we also forget… he made West Side Story last year).

This is the film that, in many ways, he’s been waiting to make his entire career. All his early work was built around this story. The thread of his parents’ divorce can be seen in so many of the narratives of his films. And finally he finds himself ready to tell that story. It’s indulgent in the sense that this is literally him remembering his childhood and turning that into a movie and you almost don’t understand why it needed to be told. And yet, he’s such a great filmmaker and has such a great cast that the film feels absolutely vital. Because it’s not really about his childhood. Ultimately, this is a story about art and what drives someone to create art. I like that it’s not just a sugary ‘love letter’ but actually gets at the heart of how cruel the movie business is and how making films is somehow both magical and a sick compulsion bordering on addiction. The advertising made this out to be a wonderful, magical little story, but really there’s so much more going on here. This film is a love letter to cinema, but the kind that acknowledges how love sometimes means having your soul ripped out and still coming back for more.

I think this is a nice capstone to Spielberg’s career, during which he’s done just about everything one could do (except a western, and I’ve been holding out hope for one of those out of him for a while now). It really highlights how the man was put on this earth to do one thing: make movies. And I hope this makes people remember just how great he is at what he does and how great he’s been for so long. This isn’t just a personal film from a great filmmaker — this is another work of art from one of the greatest people to ever step foot behind a camera that we have ever seen or will ever see.

9. Thirteen Lives

I’ll admit, I was surprised that this made it on the list. I saw it when it came out, having already seen The Rescue (which is great and should also be seen by everyone alongside this. Don’t just see this and call it a day), and figured, “Okay, it’s Ron Howard, his movies are always very good but never more than that.”  So I assumed, “This will be good… but I won’t get anything out of it that I didn’t already get out of The Rescue.” And I tell you… it’s so exciting to be wrong about something. Because now, for me, being wrong about something almost always means being pleasantly surprised. I found myself watching this, going, “Wow… I’m really invested in this.” Even as we got toward the end of the year (since in the middle of the year you figure the thing you think is great will fall lower down the pack when the ‘big’ stuff comes out), I kept revisiting this and realizing how much I liked it.

I think it’s because this film is in the vein of Apollo 13, another film about a rescue (and the only other film of Howard’s that made my Top Ten previously). It’s procedural. And even when you know the story, that still doesn’t make it any less interesting, as they find interesting ways to give you the full breadth of the story and don’t just make it about the white guys who went in to help. A nice piece of the film deals with all of the local people and scientists who help divert millions of gallons of water from the caves to even give the rescue team a chance at getting the boys out. There’s a lot of great stuff here. Plus they find a way to make the cave diving feel real and visceral. This doesn’t feel like a CGI fest. It feels like real people diving in real water in real caves. And the actors — major props to Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen — they really deglamorize themselves and allow themselves to become part of the overall story, rather than taking over the narrative (as so many films of this sort would do).

This is one of those movies — it’s not flashy, but it’s rewatchable. And sometimes that slow and steady movie that I can keep putting on and enjoying is, in the long run, the better Top Ten choice for me because it’ll be consistently there. And this feels like it’s going to be one of those films for me.

10. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths

Some filmmakers went into the pandemic and looked into their pasts to find the stories they always wanted to tell. Some went into their imaginations. Alejandro Iñarritu went into his psyche. This movie is basically him going through his thoughts and memories and fears and turning them into cinema. It follows in a long tradition of foreign auteurs using their main characters as proxies for themselves.

This is not an easy film to watch and demands a lot of the viewer. Some may not like that. Some may prefer the ease of mindless entertainment. That’s fine. There’s a place for everything. I had quite the time watching this movie because I found myself constantly going, “This filmmaking is brilliant,” while also struggling with the notion of whether or not I really even liked it. And the longer I watched it (and as I revisited it), I kept being so engaged by it and so invested in this journey Iñarritu is going on and taking us with him for.

It reminded me of (and don’t think this is a direct comparison of quality, because it’s not) Fellini and 8½. You’re watching someone try to work it all out on screen. And whether or not it works 100% of the time, I find that interesting when it’s done by a filmmaker of this magnitude. And in a year that really wasn’t all that interesting to me, this is the kind of film I found myself gravitating toward. Because even though it’s too long, and even though it’s kind of a mess… the filmmaking here and the fact that he even went here and decided to make a movie like this just felt so much more interesting than almost anything else that came out.

– – – – –


All Quiet on the Western Front — This feels a bit like Spielberg’s West Side Story did last year. It’s taking on classic source material and there already exists a perfect version of the story that’s been told on screen (and again for TV, which I know a lot of people grew up seeing more so than the 1930 version). In a lot of ways, it doesn’t need to be there. And yet, it’s also a perfect thing to exist for modern day audiences. Certain stories should be updated for new generations, and this is one of them. It’s a timeless anti-war story that everyone needs to experience in some form at some point in their lives. And while I expected that I’d like this movie (because I love World War I. I love the trenches, I love anything Hollywood wants to make about World War I, especially since it hasn’t been done to death like World War II has), I did not expect this movie to be half as good as it is. From that foreboding and driving score to the stunning cinematography and effects and production design, to the absolutely visceral direction that really grounds you to the horrifying realities of war. It’s a stunning piece of work. Admittedly I do think it goes on a bit too long, and I think after a while it becomes to get repetitive because every sequence ostensibly goes the same way and feels like it’s just driving the same point home over and over and over. But it’s all so damn well made that I don’t even really care all that much. It’s just a stunning piece of filmmaking.

Avatar: The Way of Water — I think we all know the book on Avatar at this point. Six-star visual effects, two-star plot. You don’t watch Avatar for the story, you watch it because it’s a visual spectacle. And this one especially — getting to the water sections of Pandora — the entire film is like a screensaver. You can just tune out the absolutely generic plot whenever it gets to be too much and just watch all of the incredible animation (since it’s not really CGI, is it? The whole film is ostensibly animated the way The Lion King or The Jungle Book was) in front of you. And I appreciate that. At this point, even though these movies cost so much damn money, James Cameron will always push the boundaries of visual effects whenever he makes one and somehow earn the money back, so I can’t even really get mad. This is one of those movies where I don’t love it so much as I respect the hell out of it. Dude somehow got a three-hour movie made (that is the first of like four sequels) that features a talking space whale, and everyone who financed it, acted in it, animated it and even saw it was like, “I mean, okay, yeah, go for it, Jim.” How can you be mad at that?

Confess, Fletch — I fucking loved this movie. I figured I’d enjoy it, but I really didn’t expect it to be as good as it is. This is exactly the kind of movie I love and have always loved. My favorite movie of all time is The Thin Man. So this kind of movie is exactly my speed. Since the whole movie is Jon Hamm just casually solving a murder without really doing anything. And the dialogue is so damn fast and funny that it just never stops. This is the kind of movie — it’s a hidden gem. People should see it. People are going to like it if they see it. I probably have it rated higher because of who I am as a person and what I like as a moviegoer, but I do really think this is one of the best and most unheralded films of 2022. It’s so damn good.

Elvis — Baz Luhrmann. We all know what we’re gonna get with his films by now. It’s like Wes Anderson. He has perfected a style and will execute that style each and every time. Maybe some people forgot that, since this was his first film since Gatsby, but dude knows what he’s about. And I appreciate that. This movie — it’s an orgy of lights and sound and editing. It’s completely overdone on every level. In short, it’s a Baz Luhrmann movie. And I love Baz Luhrmann movies, so I enjoyed the hell out of this. I really only found that two aspects of it detracted from the overall quality of the film: one is the cartoonish nature of Tom Hanks as a villain. The accent is one thing, but it’s the way the film really leans into him as a villain alongside that accent really does dull the movie a bit. And the second is that Luhrmann’s style is so overwhelming that it really does distract from the incredible performance Austin Butler is giving as Elvis. He’s really committed to this role, and the insane amount of filmmaking on display tends to overwhelm that at times. But Butler is really good here, and I hope people appreciate that.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery — This movie was done dirty. Because it’s a Knives Out sequel, but it’s a sequel in the way a Sherlock Holmes story is different from another Sherlock Holmes story. The only through line is the detective and everything else is different. The shoehorning in of the subtitle just to draw in more people to watch it (and you can blame it on Netflix, but this is something that goes back to the rebranding of the original Star Wars trilogy) really made some people think this was going to be a different film than it is. Because this is, ostensibly, Ocean’s Twelve. It’s not taking itself seriously, it’s having fun. It’s a bunch of people in an exotic location having an absolute killer time making a movie and that’s it. I really don’t know what people were expecting out of this (or why Rian Johnson is such a lightning rod of a filmmaker where every single one of his movies has to have a crazy divisive reaction). It’s not trying to be high art. It’s just trying to be a good time at the movies. And that’s what it is. I love the hell out of this franchise and out of Benoit Blanc and I hope he makes like six of these things at minimum.

Jerry and Marge Go Large — Perhaps the feel-good hidden gem of 2022. I got to the end of this movie and actually said out loud, during the final scene, “This is the equivalent of a Frank Capra movie in 2022.” That’s how this movie feels. If you could bottle the energy and the ethos that Capra had in his films and translate it for today, this is the kind of movie that would be made from it. It’s just so damn likable. It’s based on a true story, about a retired couple who find a flaw in the state lottery and use it to make a bunch of money… which they then involve their town in and use the winnings to help revitalize their dying town. It’s not a perfect movie, and it won’t be for everyone, but if you really are looking for that kind of Frank Capra feeling that you don’t see anymore in movies, this is one for you. It really will put a smile on your face.

Kimi — Steven Soderbergh. It’s pretty much annual at this point that he comes out with a movie and I talk about how his movies are somehow perennially underseen and underrated and are always hidden gems when they should just be widely known as the best movies of the year. Here we go again. This movie came out very early in 2022. It was one of the first movies I saw. And yet it stuck with me all the way through the year because it’s so damn good. The film is, ostensibly, Blow Out meets Rear Window (with a third film in there, that becomes apparent in the last 15 minutes of the film that I won’t spoil for those who’ve not yet seen it. But it’s a fun one). Zoe Kravitz is an agoraphobe who works from home monitoring data from, essentially, the Amazon Alexa device. And during one of her days, she hears what she believes is a murder being committed. So now she struggles with having to leave the house to, you know… report the thing. It’s great. It’s a character piece and a slow burn political thriller at times (since there are definitely shades of those 70s paranoia thrillers in there). Plus it’s one of the only films to openly reference the pandemic and have people wearing masks in the film. There’s a lot going on here, and it remains one of the best and most interesting films I saw this year. But, again, it’s Soderbergh, so what else is new?

The Northman — Robert fucking Eggers. This dude, man. The Witch, The Lighthouse, The Northman. Dude makes awesome movies. This is one where, if you liked any of Eggers’ previous work, the minute this got announced you went, “Oh fuck yeah.” And that’s what this movie is — one giant ‘oh fuck yeah’. It’s a badass viking movie. And you know the story, because it’s the story Hamlet was based on. So it’s simple enough to follow and you just get hardcore viking shit. Which is incredibly Eggers, that he was so determined to be period accurate that he put in stuff that goes against the notion of a Hollywood movie. But to me, that’s what makes this movie work the best. The random throat singing scene, or him fighting the ghost — that stuff is the best part of the movie for me. I love that this dude keeps making weird and awesome movies.

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story — I don’t claim to know about most people, but I know that for me, and a lot of people I am friends with who are my age — Weird Al was a huge part of our childhoods. I can still basically recite every lyric off the Bad Hair Day album, and probably still most off Running with Scissors too (except “Albuquerque.” That one’s a bit of a bear). His songs are part of the fabric of my life. So I expected to enjoy this. That said, I wasn’t expecting a great movie here. I was just expecting something silly and fun. But what I got was a something that was the movie equivalent of one of his songs. It’s doing a parody of the biopic genre, but in a very specific way. And it’s playing it completely straight, the way Al does his songs. I love how this movie does the most ridiculous, clearly fictional stuff, with its full chest out, as if this is what actually happened. It’s so good. Daniel Radcliffe is so damn committed to the part and is such a delight to see in this. And Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna — I don’t think she’s capable of giving a bad performance and I wish I saw her in more things. She’s so good. This whole movie is so good. It fully commits to the bit in the best way. Because the narrative actually builds to what happens. It’s not just doing it as a gag, the way most films do. This film actually layers it in from the first act. Which is just brilliant. I love this movie, and it’s perhaps the best and most fitting Weird Al biopic we could have ever gotten.

The Whale — Darren Aronofsky is another one of those filmmakers whose movies always seem to be divisive. I don’t think there’s ever been a movie of his that was universally loved. He came closest with The Wrestler and Black Swan, but even those I’m not sure really hit the way other filmmakers’ films hit. Most of the time he’ll make something (like The Fountain or Mother!) that you either love or you hate. This one — I don’t know where it landed for people. But for me — I think it’s like all his other films… very good. The story of it is, of course, the Brendan Fraser ‘comeback’ story (even though he never left… people just stopped paying attention to his work), but there’s a lot more that’s great here than just that. Particularly Hong Chau and Sadie Sink, who both give terrific performances alongside Fraser’s. And I love that the film takes place entirely in one location. It never leaves the apartment. Not once. And it still feels like a movie. Which deserves some credit. I’m not sure that, overall, this reaches the height of Aronofsky’s other films, but I do think this is quite a good piece of work simply as a chamber piece full of great performances by great actors.

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Tier Two:

  • Aftersun
  • Call Jane
  • Catherine Called Birdy
  • Ennio
  • Entergalactic
  • George Carlin’s American Dream
  • Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
  • Hustle
  • Living
  • Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
  • The Menu
  • Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
  • The Outfit
  • Prey
  • See How They Run
  • She Said
  • Tár
  • The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
  • White Noise
  • Women Talking

George Carlin’s American Dream is a documentary about, in my mind, the greatest standup comedian who ever lived. I don’t think anyone has done comedy the way George Carlin has. There have been more culturally impactful comedians and more ‘important’ comedians, for lack of a better term, but I don’t think anyone was as more impactful to comedy than George Carlin was. Carlin is the only comedian who consistently has routines he did 20 and 30 years ago brought back up to perfectly encapsulate things that are going on in the world today. He somehow managed to run the entire gamut of comedy with his specials, going from major stuff (religion, politics, war) to small stuff (dogs, food, daily life) to concepts (words, and the use of words) and even managed to throw in a few fart jokes as well. And he did all of that in the span of an hour. And he had something like 15 separate hours that he recorded (and that’s just for television and not counting all the stuff he did before then). He was one of the three most seminal voices in my development as a person. I listened to his stuff religiously as a teenager. I love George Carlin. And this is… I’m not sure we’ll ever get the documentary he deserves, but this is definitely about as good as you can get. It’s a full on deep dive into him the person and who he is as a comedian, mixing his ideas of comedy with the story of who he is and how his life and career went. It’s from Judd Apatow, who also gave us another 4-hour documentary on Garry Shandling’s life and career just a few years ago. And you can tell it was handled with such care, because you know that all the people involved with this loved and idolized Carlin. This was always going to be something I loved more than most things, and I’m just happy it managed to do the man justice. Because I tell you. Years could go by and you could put on any one of his standup specials and not only would I be able to very quickly start reciting it word for word, I could even give you the specific vocal inflections on the jokes as well. That’s how much I love George Carlin. So I highly recommend this for anyone who was a fan of the man’s work.

The Outfit is an amazing single-location thriller from Graham Moore, who wrote The Imitation Game, in his directorial debut. It starts the unparalleled Mark Rylance, and is just one of the most engaging films I saw this year. The entire film takes place in Rylance’s tailor shop over the course of a single night. It’s wonderful. The less you know about this film going in, the better. Because it’s just great. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is the feel-good film of 2022. At least the one most people know about (Jerry and Marge Go Large is the other one). It’s impossible not to like this movie. It’s built into its fabric (pun ridiculously intended). Lesley Manville creates one of the most instantly likable characters we’ve seen in a while on screen and the entire film is just a wish fulfillment fantasy designed to make you happy. The impressive thing about a movie like this is, in such a cynical age, it’s hard to have a movie built around an immensely likable character who gets what they want, while also having the audience want to root for that character the way we do here. I know that sounds like basic storytelling, but trust me, it’s not easy. And it seems like only British films are able to do it successfully anymore. Either way, this film is an absolute delight. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is… Guillermo del Toro making Pinocchio. The title’s not a trick. That’s really all you need to know. Guillermo takes his immense talents and tells Pinocchio via stop-motion animation. And what I like about it is that the original story (not the Disney-fied) version very much fits Guillermo’s style and filmmaking instincts. Kind of like how Roald Dahl fit Wes Anderson. It just works. And Guillermo is such a master filmmaker that he takes a story you’ve seen a bunch and makes it come alive again in a whole new way. This movie is amazing. You don’t need to watch a Pinocchio movie again, but seeing the way he goes about making this one makes it absolutely worthwhile.

Entergalactic is a companion piece to Kid Cudi’s album of the same name. Apparently this was meant to be a ‘special’ and not a movie, but I don’t care. I watched this as a movie and I thought it was great. It’s animated in the style of Into the Spider-Verse, and I love that. I love that it’s just a regular ass movie that uses animation as its medium. Because it’s really just a rom com. It just happens to be animated. But it’s really charming and really looks amazing. There’s something so low key wonderful about this movie and I don’t think this got nearly enough notice. Because this is legitimately better than like 95% of all the animated films that came out this year, and probably in the last handful of years put together. It’s so damn likable and really just wins you over the way it just… is. It’s not pandering to anyone, it’s not trying to appeal to the masses. It tells its story and is just so effortlessly cool in doing so. I loved this. White Noise is Noah Baumbach. And I’ve been pretty open about my ambivalence toward his films. Which is to say — I tend to not like his movies. I find that his films have too often tried to be Woody Allen films (and we all know how much I dislike most Woody Allen films), and the most I tend to get out of his stuff is a ‘Yeah, that was pretty solid’. The only film of his I truly liked was Frances Ha, which is literally built around Greta Gerwig and clearly came about because of her influence more than his. So I didn’t have a whole lot of expectation for this film going in. And I found myself really surprised about 30 minutes in, because I was actually really liking this movie. He takes what was considered an ‘unfilmable’ novel and somehow manages to get the tone across in a way that works. At least it did for me. I loved the complete glibness of everything and how people are just talking over one another constantly for the first half of this movie, almost to no discernible end. It’s wonderful. I was truly, truly surprised by how much I liked this movie, and that was only cemented at the end of the film when it turns into a giant choreographed musical number through the supermarket. So, 2022 has given me something I truly did not expect — a Noah Baumbach movie that I actually liked. Who’d have thunk it?

Prey is the first good Predator sequel we’ve ever gotten. All the other films had the wrong idea of what makes a Predator movie good — they tried to add more. Whereas really all they needed (all so many of the franchises like this one need) is taking the essence of the franchise and setting it in a cool location. The idea of a Predator landing in Colonial America and a Native woman having to take it on? Brilliant. There was no way this wasn’t going to be a good movie. It really cuts back on all the unnecessary story and CGI and instead gives you set characters and a simple tale of survival. Plus it’s finally a starring vehicle for the great Amber Midthunder, who I’m glad is on the road to becoming the star she deserves to be. This movie is what cinema should be. Women Talking is Sarah Polley, her first film in a decade. Ostensibly a play on screen, it’s a single-location drama about women in a Mennonite community who have to decide whether or not to stay after repeated sexual assaults on them by the men in the community. It’s a really engaging film with a lot of terrific performances from its leads. Just a quality piece of work. Living is a beautiful remake of Ikiru, featuring an incredible performance from Bill Nighy (finally getting a proper leading role) and written by the great Kazuhiro Ishiguro. The Kurosawa version is just brilliant and this film translates the material in such a perfect way for its star and setting. A great gem worthy of seeking out.

Aftersun is sort of the indie of the year. There’s always one true independent movie that everyone flocks to and adores. And so by the time I came around to it, the hype train had already left the station. And I didn’t know what I was in for (or was gonna think, since, as we all know, I am more likely to be turned off by immense buildup than most). But I found myself very pleasantly surprised by this. Because it’s in line with what I’ve liked the most this year — it’s a movie borne out of a filmmaker digging deep into their personal life and using film as a medium to try to work something out. It’s self-indulgent but in the right way. It’s the story of the director’s emotions about her father, if not a story specifically about her and her father. There’s something so immediate and devastating about the film, because so much of it exists in between the margins. On the surface, you have a perfectly lovely father-daughter relationship. And yet there’s so much not spoken within the film, some of it picked up on (or viewed through the home movies shot throughout the film) and others just left out there for people to fill in themselves. And the result is a really powerful statement on memory and parental relationships and just how much one may not know their parents and what they’re going through. It’s a beautiful film because it’s a feeling so many people go through, and a lot of times all they have are these little bits of history, these home movies, to try to piece the puzzle of their parents together. There’s something so primal that this film taps into and I really, really liked it a lot. Hustle is Adam Sandler going dramatic. And we know he only does that once every handful of years. And whenever he does (the most recent example being Uncut Gems), he’s great and the film is usually good too. This film — I was surprised at how much I liked it. Because you know the story. You’ve seen it a bunch. Aging, washed-up scout finds a player on the fringes that no one else sees potential in and tries to get them drafted, thereby resurrecting his own career in the process. There have been variations on this movie for years. Hell, Jerry Maguire is that movie in a lot of ways. It’s not new. So I was surprised at how invested I was in this while I was watching it, even knowing where it was going. But Sandler is really great and the film has this grounded nature to it that really makes it feel kind of lived-in and real. It tries to downplay all the ‘movie’ moments and sneaks up on you with how touching it ends up being. I’m a fan of this one.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a movie that could only work because it’s Nicolas Cage. When this movie was first announced, we all went, “Oh fuck yeah. Because it just made sense. Nicolas Cage, playing Nicolas Cage, takes a gig for the money and ends up embroiled in a CIA plot involving a cartel leader. Brilliant. It’s movie that knows just how seriously to take itself, and honestly doesn’t go nearly as nuts as it probably could have or should have. But it does have a lot of heart to it and adds up to more than just a love letter to Cage and his career. Plus, given what a lot of his past decade has been, it’s nice to have another legitimately worthwhile film on his resume, because there aren’t a lot of those after 2010. Tár is Todd Field returning to cinema after 16 years. What an interesting career he’s had. First, as a child, he’s the batboy to the famous Portland Mavericks (wonderfully chronicled in the documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball). Then, he creates Big League Chew (and ends up making no money from it). Then he becomes an actor and musician, appearing in stuff like Radio Days and Eyes Wide Shut. Then he makes In the Bedroom, which is a massive Oscar darling and immediately turns him into a heralded filmmaker. Then he follows that up with Little Children, also very acclaimed. And then he just disappears for 15 years. And here he is, back again, with this movie. Which is a doozie. A movie starring Cate Blanchett as a world-renowned composer (who doesn’t exist). On the surface, I don’t know how anyone could or would find this movie interesting. Especially me. This is exactly the kind of movie I would expect to hate. And it’s a testament to Todd Field and Cate Blanchett that I spent the entire two-and-a-half hours of this film being utterly captivated by it (even if I did roll my eyes at some of the dialogue, which is designed to be that way, so I get it). It’s a movie that defies its subject matter. It’s so compelling (and so impeccably made) that it slowly draws you in even as seemingly nothing is happening. It’s a masterful piece of filmmaking. It really is. The fact that I even rated it this high is a testament to how good a film it is. Because this shouldn’t be my cup of tea at all.

Catherine Called Birdy is Lena Dunham. And I, for one, am shocked that I wholeheartedly liked something of hers, after not really being a huge fan of her previous work. But this movie is absolutely delightful. It’s anchored by an amazing lead performance from Bella Ramsey (now best known as Ellie on the Last of Us show), and it’s just a fun movie. The premise (since I assume most people have no idea what this is) is that it’s set in the Middle Ages, and Ramsey is a headstrong woman whose family is attempting to sell her into marriage. Only she wants no part of it, so she keeps trying to thwart all her suitor as much as possible. That’s really all you need. It’s fun as hell. The dialogue is really great. It’s period, but it’s also modern, and a lot of times that mix doesn’t work. But it very much does here. And the film has this very airy quality about it that really helps it land quite well. (Also shout out to Andrew Scott as the alcoholic father. He’s awesome in this too.) This is really quite the hidden gem and is really one of the better movies I saw this year. The Menu is a movie that seems like something you could read way too much into, or you can just take it for what it is. I took it for what it is, and I fucking loved it. I thought it was really smart, well-written, well-paced and well-told. I’m glad the movie didn’t go down the road I expected it to and instead fully committed to its satire (I was worried it was gonna go down a more horror route, as these things tend to do). I think the way it fully committed to itself was admirable, because after a certain point, it starts to get more uncomfortable to watch, and I love that. I also love that the movie’s not trying to make any major cultural and political statements (past the obvious). It’s got an underlying message, but it’s just telling its story, and that’s that. Wonderful stuff here, and probably a movie that is most likely to be one I go back and watch in the future and gain more respect for the more I revisit it.

Call Jane is a movie that I was not expecting. Going in, I had no idea what it was about and just figured it would be some throwaway dramedy. I left it thinking it was one of my absolute favorite films of the year. It’s about The Jane Collective (which, if you don’t know about them, you can watch the documentary HBO put out this year, which recounts who they are and what they did), a women-led group in Chicago that provided underground abortions for women who desperately needed them in a pre-Roe era. Which in itself is such a vital and great story that I’m glad history is bringing it back into the light (especially given the times we live in and all the unfortunate business that’s recently happened regarding abortion). But the film also manages to tell the story in a very smart way. It takes a singular housewife (played by Elizabeth Banks, in one of her best dramatic performances), who learns that she’s pregnant but that the pregnancy may kill her. And since her doctor refuses to allow her to abort, she discovers the Janes. And we watch her go on her own journey to get an abortion, discover the group, who they are and what they do and slowly become a part of them. It’s really well-made. I was quite surprised how much I liked this. She Said is a journalist procedural into the two New York Times writers who helped break the Harvey Weinstein story. So it’s kind of like Spotlight in that sense, except it’s much more female-focused. Led by two powerhouse performances from Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan, it has what all the great journalism movies have — respect for the process and those who do it and an irresistibility about it. You can’t help but be drawn in as the journalists follow the story (even if you know where it’s going and how it’s going to end). It’s the same as it was with All the President’s Men nearly 50 years ago by this point. There are certain types of movies that are always interesting (even when they’re bad), and this is one of those. I’m not gonna put this on the level of Spotlight or All the President’s Men, but I’m also not gonna say this is some throwaway movie either. I think it might be too soon for some people to confront a fictional version of this story, given how big it was within the culture very recently, but I do think this is (and will be, going forward) a real gem from this year that I hope people discover.

See How They Run is a fun period murder mystery, highlighted by Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan as a detective and police constable investigating what happened. Rockwell immediately creates a Poirot-level detective with all the idiosyncrasies he brings to Inspector Stoppard, and Saoirse Ronan really holds her own in what feels like her first out and out comedic role. Plus there are some great supporting performances here from the rest of the cast, particularly Adrien Brody, as the victim, who steals every scene he’s in. I wish this were slightly better as a film, just so I could really start recommending it far and wide, but it’s really just a solid film and nothing more (which is not a negative). So it’s more of a fun hidden gem for those who like things of this sort rather than a ‘oh my god, you need to see this’ kind of movie. But that’s perfectly fine, because this will be something a lot of people enjoy once they discover it. Ennio is a documentary about the maestro. Ennio Morricone is one of the five greatest and most important film composers of all time. And his friend, Giuseppe Tornatore, with whom he’d worked a bunch throughout his career, took it upon himself to make a two-and-a-half hour documentary about his friend. And I love that. But I also love that we got a really in-depth look at the length and breadth of Morricone’s career. Because a lot of people only know him for the westerns. And maybe some people who go more in depth know him from stuff like The Untouchables or Once Upon a Time in America or some of the later, more notable films. But there’s so much more there that he did that not so many people know about. Composing Italian pop hits, for one. It’s crazy the things this man could do. And how the music was always incredible. Truly, this is a documentary that is absolutely deserved and I hope people who love the man’s music see this one day, because it’ll really put into perspective just how much of a massive presence this man is and will forever be on film music. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is just a fucking delight. That’s what it is. They made a bunch of little shorts about Marcel like ten years ago or something and they were just do delightful that they ended up turning it into a feature. And this is the kind of movie — I am suspicious of anyone who doesn’t love this movie. Because it’s just so pure. It’s so pure and so lovely that it almost seems unreal. It’s hard to think that this movie exists within the cynical world we live in. But I love that it does. And I love that this managed to get an audience, because it absolutely deserves one. Please, do yourself a favor if you haven’t seen this movie and watch it.

– – – – –

Tier Three:

  • Ambulance
  • Amsterdam
  • Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood
  • Bodies Bodies Bodies
  • Bones and All
  • Cha Cha Real Smooth
  • Crimes of the Future
  • Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
  • Empire of Light
  • The Forgiven
  • Fresh
  • The Greatest Beer Run Ever
  • Lightyear
  • Metal Lords
  • Nope
  • Rosaline
  • Spiderhead
  • Turning Red
  • The Valet
  • The Woman King

Rosaline is such a fun idea. A modern take on Romeo and Juliet where he’s initially dating her cousin, but because of plot contrivances, he ends up meeting Juliet instead. It’s the right type of modern take on the story where it’s not too full of itself and has the right amount of great dialogue and smarts to stand out. Plus it’s anchored by the dynamite Kaitlyn Dever, who has been one of, if not the best thing about her films for a decade now. This will never be an all-time classic, but it will be an underrated gem that people will discover and enjoy the hell out of for years to come. And sometimes that is more than enough. Turning Red is a film that I thought for sure I was gonna come out of going, “Really, Pixar? Is this where we’re at?” Because we’re way past the point of ‘(x) as a metaphor for puberty’ films. They’ve been done to death by this point. But, this film manages to work largely because it does feel like a personal story and does manage to overcome the simple metaphor of the premise and become a film about what it’s like to be the child of immigrant parents, and generational gaps, and mothers and daughters, and so much other stuff. There’s a lot of great stuff in this movie, and it’s insanely likable. I don’t think it’s at the tippy top of stuff Pixar has put out, but it is a solid entry in their canon and really does show that they do not shy away from diversifying the voices that tell their stories, which is perhaps the most admirable part of the entire film.

The Valet is a film that I did not expect to like or even enjoy. Eugenio Derbez has been in some questionable English-language comedies (the less said about the Overboard remake, the better). And Samara Weaving, while awesome, is not someone who always is in stuff that ends up being good. Plus the premise: “valet driver ends up in tabloid photo of an actress caught in affair with a married man, so they hire him to pretend he’s dating the actress to avoid a scandal.” It’s set up for a bad comedy. It just is. But, it’s also a remake of a French film and it’s not overtly a comedy. There’s a lot of drama there. Not drama, per se, but it’s definitely not a comedy that is trying to be dumb and funny. Derbez’s character is just a regular guy. And the whole film becomes weirdly grounded after a certain point, and for a lot of it it’s just him and Samara Weaving getting to know one another. And that’s where this movie shines. I was surprised at how much I found myself caring as I watched it, and how much I kept liking it as I got further and further into it. This really is one of the most pleasant surprises of 2022 for me. Crimes of the Future is David Cronenberg. I am so happy that he is back making movies. Maps to the Stars felt like such an unfitting way to go out. So I’m thrilled he decided to come back to film. And this is his best film since Eastern Promises. It’s a wonderful piece of work. Back to the body horror he built his career on and just a fascinating movie with so much about it to like. All the performances — Viggo Mortensen, Lea Seydoux, Kristen Stewart (especially Stewart, who lays on the weird and also gives into her worst instincts as an actor in the best possible way) — just wonderful. And this is the kind of movie where, you may not love it, but I guarantee you will at least find something interesting in it and find yourself thinking about it long after you finish seeing it. And that’s not something you get all the time.

The Woman King is a really solid film. Unfortunately it ends up as a cross between a badass action movie and prestige historical drama, and in the end that slightly hurts the film, but once you’re in it and watching it… it’s one of the best films of the year. All the actors in it are great, particularly Lashanna Lynch, Sheila Atim and Thuso Mbedu. Also John Boyega is wonderful too. I know this is a film about women, but Boyega has that role designed to be showy and over the top and he really does a nice, nuanced job with it. It’s just a good movie. That’s what this is. A very good movie and clearly one of the highlights of the year. In the video package that is 2022 in film, this deservedly is one of the spotlighted films. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is the third one in the series nobody needed. The first one was uneven, yet had its moments. The second one felt like a slog. This one feels like a more streamlined return to form… but that return to form is for this series and not the originals. It’s clear they didn’t have the material for this series that they did with the first one, and there’s just no magic (pun ridiculously intended) there. It feels like how a lot of the new Star Wars films and series feel. You kinda want to be invested because you care about the world, but it’s clear what you’re being given is just okay. And that’s fine. I can accept lesser so long as it feels worthwhile. And this is much closer to worthwhile than the previous film was. I like that we’re just constantly recasting Grindelwald every film (I hope if they end up finalizing this series they keep doing that). I like what Mads Mikkelsen brought to the table here, even if the Grindelwald character has been consistently woefully underwritten. I like that they didn’t lean into the dumb CGI creature stuff here and instead tried to make it more of a politically-oriented plot. I think the film largely works on its own terms, even if the whole series has been a disappointment as a whole. I think they did a fine job of wrapping everything up if this, indeed, is the end of these films. I look at this trilogy as solid enough, but uninspiring (not even the new Jurassic World trilogy can say that).

Empire of Light is Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins. They’ve made four movies previously: Jarhead, Revolutionary Road, Skyfall and 1917. Their collaborations have been wonderful. Sadly, this is their weakest film together. And I think there was a tweet I saw that explained it best — Sam Mendes is far too good a director to be making a film written by Sam Mendes. Unfortunately I think that’s where this one winds up. There’s a lot of good stuff here. The film looks great, there’s interesting stuff in it, Olivia Colman is wonderful and there’s a lot of great filmmaking here. Unfortunately the script just does not hold up past a certain point and it really holds the movie back from being as good as it can be. And that’s not to say it’s a bad movie. Sam Mendes isn’t capable of making a bad movie. It’s just a disappointing one. There are flashes of a better movie here, and some really great stuff on the screen… you just wish there were more of it. I’m not gonna call this a disaster by any stretch though, since this was a film I did quite enjoy overall. The Greatest Beer Run Ever is Peter Farrelly’s follow up to Green Book. Which automatically means most people are gonna have an opinion about that. I was excited for it because I thought the premise was amazing: guy decides to go to Vietnam to bring beer to all his friends who are serving in the war. Brilliant idea, especially because it’s a true story. Now, the movie — yes, it’s not a masterpiece. It’s kinda bland in a lot of ways and doesn’t really do much to elevate the source material. I’m aware of that. But, for me, this was an interesting story told with low stakes and an interesting way. I thought Zac Efron was actually impressive as a lead and did a fine job anchoring the movie. This is not one of those ‘put a quarter in, get a dollar back’ kind of movies. It’s ‘put a quarter in, get thirty cents out’. And to me, that’s fine. Small pleasures. I enjoyed this for what it was. I didn’t expect this to be an Academy Award winner. This hit the spot for me, even if it might not for most people.

Nope is, to this point, Jordan Peele’s best film. That is to say, it’s the best piece of cinema he has made. Get Out was a great piece of writing, Us was a fun horror movie, but this is easily his best piece of direction and most complete film. It’s impressive watching him grow as a filmmaker. And it’s impressive not seeing him settle for dining out on Get Out the rest of his career. This film has such great stuff in it. I love the little nods to film history and the slow burn of discovering what’s happening. I love the entire (and entirely unnecessary, yet perfect) backstory of Steven Yeun’s character. I love how he knows that the best horror films are full of digression and banal stuff before the balls out third act. I do think this might be my favorite film of his. I think it’s really, really lovely work. Cha Cha Real Smooth is from Cooper Raiff, who really surprised me a few years ago with Shithouse, which was a delight of a first feature. This marks a major step forward for him as a cinematic voice. What’s interesting about both of his films so far is how obvious their setups are. That is to say… of course a 25-year-old would be making movies about a guy who feels lonely and not fully at home after going to college and about a recent college graduate who feels aimless and doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. And yet… there’s so much more than just those premises. There’s such honesty in the characters, and the films make themselves feel real. The story here of him feeling aimless could have been the entire film and could have made for an okay, but uninteresting film. It’s the fact that there’s such depth to Dakota Johnson’s character and her story that makes this film as good as it is. There’s such great character stuff here, and this movie is at its best when it relaxes from the narrative and just lets the characters exist on screen together. I was really impressed by this film and I’m excited to see what Raiff comes up with going forward.

­Amsterdam is David O. Russell. The arc of David O. Russell’s career is nuts. He had his ascent, then made I Heart Huckabees, which came with its own fallout (both professionally and personally), then had the whole disaster with Nailed, which honestly deserves a documentary one of these years. Then he reinvents his style and comes back with The Fighter, and then Silver Linings, and then American Hustle. And all of a sudden he’s back on top. And then Joy, which is a bit of a stumble, but not a misstep (since it is a good movie and not the kind of movie that fully stops people’s momentum). And then he disappears for seven years and comes back with this film. Which… is a super expensive period piece that’s also a murder mystery? I’m not really sure what the point of this movie is and wasn’t sure even as I was watching it. It feels like the kind of movie you make when you’re stuck trying to recreate a style you think people want to see. Like American Hustle, this is based on an actual historical event (though is highly fictionalized), and like that film, the cast is even more stacked with famous faces, often in bit parts, who only show up simply to show up and for no other real reason. What’s interesting about this movie is how all the pieces are there, and yet… they just don’t go together. The actors are great. There’s no real chemistry there. The costumes, the sets, the cinematography… wonderful. All of it. The movie… just doesn’t fully work in the end. And maybe that comes back to Russell himself, I don’t know. Sometimes something just doesn’t come together. I find the movie interesting in a lot of respects, and like I always say with super expensive movies… after a certain price point it’s almost impossible for a movie to fall below a certain quality level. With the quality of the film in front of and behind the camera, it’s impossible for this movie to fall below a certain level of interest or quality. That said… it’s not really a movie that works and openly feels like a misfire as you watch it. You never want to watch a movie and wonder why it was made. Especially when it’s not as openly fun as something like Glass Onion, which is having so much fun with itself that you don’t even care. So, it’s a disappointment based on all the pieces, but I do still think there’s some worthwhile stuff here that I’m fascinated by.

The Forgiven is, perhaps, one of the three biggest hidden gems of 2022. I had no expectations for it going in, which is crazy, since John Michael McDonagh has made some really interesting films in his career. And even for the first act of the film, I found myself wondering what I was watching. The film is about a bunch of well-to-do people gathering for a party at a compound in Morocco for a party. And along the way, one of the couples (Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain) accidentally runs over and kills a teen boy along the road. And so a film that started featuring a bunch of awful people gathering turns into something else entirely. Much of the film is about Fiennes having to travel across the desert to the boy’s hometown to answer to the boy’s family. The film cuts back and forth between the goings-on at the compound and all the other guests and Fiennes’ journey. And that’s the part of the film I found most interesting. Fiennes’ performance is really terrific, as you see him completely change over the course of the film in very subtle and believable ways. The rest of the film — it’s whatever. But the journey of Ralph Fiennes’ character and the performance he gives throughout that is just incredible and very much worth seeing. Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood is Richard Linklater. I’m not sure more than two years goes by where a Linklater film comes out and I say, “Richard Linklater films are always worthwhile.” They’re always worthwhile and always better than you think they’re gonna be and somehow always overrated. I say essentially the same thing about Soderbergh films too, but somehow that’s even more true for Linklater. Somehow every Linklater movie is this small, weird, personal thing that you have to defend as a hidden gem. Every one. This one is no different. This is a childhood daydream on film. It’s a story of an adult recounting their childhood, but also the story of a kid getting to live out their wildest fantasies, told in a style reminiscent of those formative years. It feels like all the cartoons we grow up watching (plus there’s some of that rotoscoping Linklater’s used in a couple of films to this point). It’s just a delightful little movie that isn’t trying to be anything more than it is and will make almost everyone who watches it come out happy.

Metal Lords was an absolute joy of a movie to discover. Just a fun movie about a shy, nerdy kid joining a metal band in high school and using the music to come of age. It’s just so much damn fun. I cannot imagine someone watching this movie and not being charmed by it and coming out with a positive reaction. It’s so great (also shout out to Isis Hainsworth, who is an absolute discovery and is incredible in this movie). Lightyear is a movie that fits very well in the ‘Pixar sequel’ category. Which is — you don’t really want them to be making these movies, because the majority of the time their original films are so good and so interesting that you don’t want them ‘wasting’ time going back to the well, but on the other hand, they are still Pixar and the films are still quite solid. Monsters University, Finding Dory — all quite good films in their own way. But also not on the level of films like Inside Out, Coco or Soul. This film fits fully in that camp. It smartly stays away from being part of the official Toy Story franchise, instead being (and this is the one thing that feels weird to me) the movie that the Buzz Lightyear toy is based on. Personally, I was hoping they were gonna tell a more interesting story here. Like, the guy who designed the toy modeled it after his father, who was an astronaut, and so the Buzz story is based on all the things he, as a child, thought his father was doing in space. And I thought they could have told a really emotional story based solely on that. Instead, we get movie that is, itself, a movie within another franchise. This is the Machete of the Pixar universe. It’s weird. But there are some good things in it and the filmmaking is quite solid. It’s Pixar. You know what you’re getting here. It’s good. It’s not all-time good, but it’s good stuff. Spiderhead is amusing to me purely as a piece of trivia. Joseph Kosinski shot Top Gun, it got delayed two years because of the pandemic, he shot this after that, and both films came out within a few weeks of one another. The film is a single location drama, sort of in the vein of a Stanford Prison Experiment or something like that, where a bunch of prisoners are being put through an experimental treatment of different drugs. It’s a film that doesn’t fully work but is one I constantly found myself liking. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in it, even if the entire film isn’t perfect. I think it’s well worth seeing, and I think it has already sort of been relegated to the back wall of films from this year (and even Kosinski’s filmography). And I think it’s better than that and deserves an audience.

Ambulance is — and this is not an embellishment — Michael Bay’s best movie in 15 years. Since the first Transformers movie when he got stuck in giant robot land, he’s only put out three non-robot movies: Pain and Gain (very fun), 13 Hours (solid, but just okay) and 6 Underground (disaster). But this… this is a return to his roots. He’s always gonna be the same type of filmmaker. There’s gonna be explosions, there’s gonna be crazy cuts and fast action, and there’s gonna be borderline terrible humor. We have the book on Bay. We know who he is, and more importantly he knows who he is. No one’s expecting him to change. But, we also have to realize — when his skills are pointed in the right direction with the right material… good things can happen. And this film has what a lot of Bay films have lacked in the past… a story. It’s based on a Danish film. And like other American remakes of foreign films, the groundwork is there. Which means that Bay can focus on things other than the story. And that’s what makes this movie work. The man knows how to make a movie. He’s shown us that. It’s the ‘good’ movie part he struggles with sometimes. And the stakes are somewhat higher when it’s not a $250 million robot franchise, since people tend to care about more than just ‘awesome stuff’. And this movie accomplishes that. The plot works, it’s fun as hell, Jake Gyllenhaal is this movie’s secret weapon. That man goes all out with this performance. And, I will say this with my full chest — Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in this movie is one of the most successful performances of 2022. It may not be the best, but it is hugely successful in what it needs to be and what it is. It’s great. And it adds to the incredibly body of work he’s been churning out in the past decade-plus (though really, he’s been doing it pretty consistently over the course of his career. It’s really only that we started taking notice around Prisoners, since he had that Prince of Persia detour after his Brokeback/Zodiac run. He’s so great here. And the whole film is just really good. Legitimately this is the most fun I’ve had in a Michael Bay movie since the first Transformers. And I hope he continues down this path. He’s one of those guys — if you give him the right structure and a story that doesn’t need much around it, he will hit it out of the park.

Bones and All is the love story about cannibals you didn’t know you needed in your life. Somehow only Luca Guadagnino could have made this movie. It’s the right combination of horrific and tender. It’s half Call Me By Your Name and half Suspiria. And I loved it. Taylor Russell continues to prove she’s an acting powerhouse for her generation (and hopefully one of these years finally gets her ‘Brie Larson in Room’ moment), and Mark Rylance… my god, Mark Rylance. Rylance manages to be one of the creepiest characters you’ve ever seen without ever playing it creepy whatsoever. It’s astounding work. But anyway, yes, this is a movie that is a love story about cannibals. And somehow it works. It’s just a lovely film, that manages to balance horror and romance in a neat, uncomfortable little package. Big fan of this one. Continuing along the same vein, Fresh is such a breath of fresh air. A horror comedy that is smart, well-made and actually follows through on the promise of its premise. What’s great about it is, for the first act, you know where it’s going. The set up, the whole thing… you know it. And then it goes there, and then it becomes about how it goes there that makes it work. The way in which it goes there, and how it doesn’t sensationalize it and even normalizes all the crazy shit that’s happening… that’s why this movie works so well. It also doesn’t give into those bad instincts studio horror films allow themselves to give into that make them end up being disappointing. I had more fun with this than I have for most horror-leaning films I have in years. After a few years without much of note, it’s nice that I had two horror films this year to say nice things about. Bodies Bodies Bodies is an awesome little movie. A really bold debut from its director and writer. A movie that instantly shows you it knows what it is and knows how to handle its tone. It straps you right in and takes you along for the ride. And you’re with it all the way. It’s a Gen-Z horror movie, equal parts satire and cringe. It’s a movie you can overanalyze to death or just enjoy for what it is — a movie where shit slowly gets more and more crazy for reasons nobody can understand. It’s wonderful.

– – – – –

Tier Four:

  • All the Old Knives
  • Barbarian
  • Clerks III
  • Emily the Criminal
  • Enola Holmes 2
  • The Good Nurse
  • The Gray Man
  • Honor Society
  • Jackass Forever
  • The Lost City
  • Mad God
  • A Man Called Otto
  • Matilda: The Musical
  • The Pale Blue Eye
  • Pearl
  • The Princess
  • Three Thousand Years of Longing
  • Triangle of Sadness
  • Wendell & Wild
  • Windfall

Mad God is, in its way, a masterpiece. Phil Tippett, a special effects wizard (who helped create the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park), started working on this film in the late 1980s, and took over 30 years to finish. The story of how the film got made is as good as the film itself. He started making it, then saw that CGI was about to take over the entire industry and decided to abandon the project. But then, 20 years later, the people who worked at his studio urged him to finish it. And so he started a Kickstarter and got help from people who wanted more experience, who came by on weekends to work on the project for free. It’s an incredible story. And the film itself is really quite good. No dialogue, all stop-motion. And it instantly creates such a memorable atmosphere and tone. The artistry is apparent within seconds of the film starting. Narratively this might not be your cup of tea, but in terms of pure animation, this is one of the best films to come out in a long time. The Gray Man is exactly the kind of action movie you’d expect from the guys who made a bunch of Marvel movies. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s overdone, the action sequences reek of directors who don’t really do action not having the safety net of a lot of pre-viz and tons of CGI people to make things look great. You could have telegraphed this one, down to the pre-release hype because of all the big names in it. And you know what? As an action movie, it’s serviceable. The premise is fine, the actors are having fun (specifically Chris Evans) and the only real negative about this movie is how much they spent on it (and how much extra they threw on it to justify spending as much as they did). Clerks III is a lovely final chapter to a trilogy that, by all accounts, shouldn’t exist. The first Clerks is a miracle that it was seen and became such a cultural landmark. The second one was a nice follow up that seemed like it closed the chapter on the story. This one didn’t really need to exist. And even as you watched it in the opening sections, you saw a film that was not as sharp as the other ones and started to feel a little creaky. And then as the film goes on, you start to remember why you love this (askew)niverse so much and why the whole thing worked in the first place. And then before you realize it, you get to the end and you have no idea how you managed to get so damn emotional over the whole thing. It’s not Kevin Smith’s best film. It’s not even better than his weakest film from his initial run. But it is a worthwhile film and does feel like something that should exist. And not every Part III can say that.

Barbarian is probably the singular horror film of 2022. As we all know, horror isn’t my genre. I routinely find horror movies boring, lazy or more akin to junk food than a good meal. I understand why others like it, but to me I just don’t care so much of the time. Usually what makes me appreciate a horror movie is when it’s either smart (and/or fun) or, if it’s supernatural, I can view the creature/monster/entity as something other than what it is (a metaphor for mental illness, etc). That’s usually what does it for me. And if I’m lucky, I’ll get one horror movie a year where I go, “Yeah, I liked that.” This is clearly that one from this year. What makes this movie work is the fact that, at its core, its desire was, “How can we subvert expectations as much as humanly possible?” So you start with one of the most generic horror film openings and let that slowly play out for as long as possible, and have your main character make every single bad decision one could possibly make in a horror movie, and then, right as the expectations are about to crescendo, change the film to something else. And the film does that like three different times. And by the end, you’re just so wrapped up in the insanity that’s going on that you’re just fully along for the ride. It’s really a great piece of work (and provides one of the most terrifying ‘monsters’ a horror movie has come up with in a while). The Lost City is a movie that, on paper, should have been terrible. It’s blatantly a Romancing the Stone ripoff and stars Sandra Bullock (someone who, in her history, has made a couple of not-so-great rom coms) and Channing Tatum (who, for my money, can wear on you when he’s doing the ‘stupid hot guy’ thing instead of the real acting he’s actually capable of). And yet… still kinda works. I’m never gonna claim this is a good movie, but it is a lot of fun and does manage to, for a time, subvert a lot of the expectations from someone like me who (usually very accurately) knows where stuff is going. But the film manages to be engaging enough that you don’t really think about that and are just content to go along for the ride. I fully love this Brad Pitt era where he’s taking fun and interesting supporting parts. I also appreciate Daniel Radcliffe’s entire past decade’s worth of choices. Dude really is a swiss army knife of an actor, who somehow fits in everything he does. Overall, it’s got enough charm and fun to it that I’m able to overlook a lot of the (really bad) ‘comedy in 2022’ aspects of this that I despise.

A Man Called Otto is… and I cannot stress this enough… not as good as A Man Called Ove, the film it is based on. In the end, yes, it is just another lesser American adaptation of a very good foreign film. Also a foreign film that was nominated for Oscars just seven years prior, that anyone who pays attention to that sort of stuff will still remember well. However, as someone who has watched every failed or supremely lesser American remake of a foreign film, this is actually one of the more successful ones, I feel. Tom Hanks is an actor who has reached a point of being so good and so dependable that we fully take him for granted and don’t really appreciate just how great he is every single time he’s on that screen. Sure, the movies may not all be as good as they once were (especially since he started doing smaller, weirder stuff the past decade), but he always delivers. And this movie was guaranteed to be a base level of good simply by having the source material it has. Some people see this as unnecessary and a lesser imitation of a good thing. I see it as an opportunity for expose a good story to people who wouldn’t go out of their way to watch a movie with subtitles, even if it is a slightly watered-down version. Triangle of Sadness feels like a foreign film to me, even though it’s in English. I mean, it is a foreign film, but it’s also a foreign director (the great Ruben Östlund, coming off Force Majeure and The Square, now turning his satirical gaze from masculinity and the art world to extreme wealth) making an English-language film. Which is rare, that he made it in his native country but in English. And the result is the type of satire Östlund is known for in a more accessible way to American audiences, who are not known for their affinity for subtitles. I haven’t seen the show, but I’ve been told it’s similar to what The White Lotus does on TV. It’s a very awkward film that is also one of those movies that’s going to become a great film to see the type of people the film is really about either fully misinterpret or realize (*insert meme*) “is this fucking movie about us?” Like all of his work, this is a very entertaining film, and one that, even when it does things I didn’t love, was constantly engaged by. That’s the mark of a great filmmaker.

Three Thousand Years of Longing is George Miller. And I don’t think we say this enough — it’s really admirable how George Miller made his name on Mad Max, yet has consistently branched out and tried other things over the entirety of his career. He could have done that stuff for his entire career and instead made stuff like The Witches of Eastwick and Babe and Happy Feet. This is him going back to that side of himself, telling a story that is both contained and also massive in scope. You know what it feels like? The Fall. It’s not as visually stunning as The Fall, but it did give me those vibes, telling a small story in one location while also having these fantasy sequences sprinkled throughout that are massive in scale. The entire film feels like a short story — woman finds a lamp with a genie in it and sits in her hotel room, talking to the genie and hearing his story as his lamp was passed down over the centuries to various owners as she makes her own wishes. That, plus being a two-hander with Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba, makes for a film that, while I’m not sure it’s fully successful, stands out simply by being so ambitious and doing something more interesting than just another comedy or rom com or something of that sort. I think we need more movies like this. Emily the Criminal is yet another indie showcase for Aubrey Plaza. She’s terrific here. It’s one of those movies that only exists because independent cinema exists. You could never tell a story like this any other way. But low key this is one of the more solid films of the year. One of those films that manages to consistently be engaging even if you might not think you’re gonna like it going in. And again, further proves that Aubrey Plaza is the Parker Posey of her generation. Wendell & Wild is Henry Selick, returning to animation after over a decade. With a resume that includes The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and Coraline (and yes, Monkeybone), anything he was going to make was going to be met with great excitement by those who know his work. He’s a stop-motion genius. And this film is a lot of fun. Who wouldn’t want to see Key and Peele as scheming demons? Sure, it’s very much a product of 2022, and probably won’t go down as Selick’s best film. But when you see the state of animation and the crap that typically gets put out, this easily becomes one of the best animated films of the year and even very likely of this decade, even with seven whole years still to go.

The Princess is just a simple, fun action movie. I love when you have an action movie with a simple premise that delivers. Especially when you find an interesting way to do said action movie that isn’t the same as all the others. This one’s set in medieval times. A princess wakes up, locked in the top of a tower, with some people invading her kingdom. So the entire movie is her making her way to the bottom of the tower, absolutely just murdering everyone who gets in her way. I read a tweet once that was the most accurate thing I’ve ever heard, which is — when you’re picking great Chinese food, you want to look on Yelp to find the ones rated 3.5 stars. Those will be the best ones. Because anything higher is too trendy and overpriced and it’s not the kind of comfort food you really want. And anything lower is just garbage. 3.5 is, for some unknown reason, the sweet spot (and somehow always checks out). That’s how I feel about movies like this. I look for a movie like this on IMDB to have somewhere in the 5.5-6.6 range. Anything higher and it becomes overrated and anything lower means it’s really not that well-made or worth seeing at all. That middle range though is where a bunch of fun stuff lives. The kind (as I’ve said for years on here) that I grew up watching. That stuff you find randomly on cable and go, “That was fun.” That’s what this movie is. Fun. It’s not the greatest movie ever made and it’s never gonna be anyone’s favorite movie. But for those who do enjoy stuff like this, you’re gonna come out smiling and going, “Yeah… I enjoyed that.” And really that’s all you can ask for. (Also, Joey King is awesome and I hope she has a long and successful career.) The Good Nurse is a fun movie based on a true story. Gotta love that slow burn movie of ‘nurse slowly finds out the guy she works with is a serial killer’. I like that the movie never takes that obvious ‘Hollywood’ turn that most films of this sort would. Which is probably why it didn’t fully catch on with people. But it’s a nice low key character film with some nice performances from Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne.

Honor Society is the type of movie that (temporarily) makes me less jaded about the concept of Netflix as a film distributor. Because for every dozen crappy movies they put out this year, there’s one like this, which isn’t an obvious good one and on paper looks just like one of the bad ones. It’s still a film built on a lot of cliches — it’s a high school film, so it’s impossible not to have one of those be built on cliches — but even as it does things you’ve seen dozens of times… it still kinda works. It stars Angourie Rice, who I think most people have seen as a very good young actor since she played Ryan Gosling’s daughter in The Nice Guys. And the whole thing is one of those ‘smart aleck teenager narrating to the camera’ kind of movies. So immediately when it starts you think, “Okay, I know this movie.” And in a way, you do. But it still manages to do some fun stuff. The point of it is essentially, “I have everything on my life on lock and I am doing everything I need to get into the school of my choice. I am a finalist for a recommendation from the guidance counselor, who is an alum of that school, with three other people. Now watch me as I absolutely ruin these three other people’s lives without them knowing it so I can get what I want.” It’s fun. Rice has a great time with her role, and there’s the right amount of bite to the first half of the film to make it stand out. I also like what it does in the second half, not allowing the film to just be one type of movie. That part was nice. (It also, in a way, is akin to a somewhat similar movie that came out this year called Do Revenge, which I didn’t like quite as much but was also fun and built around ‘let’s actively try to ruin people’s lives’.) The Pale Blue Eye is Scott Cooper, who has carved out a really fascinating space for himself in the film landscape. He just makes interesting movies. You may not like all of them and they may not always work for you, but they’re always solid and always are well-made. Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace, Black Mass, Hostiles, Antlers… dude makes interesting films. Especially when he works with Christian Bale. Arguably (and I know Crazy Heart is its own thing) Cooper’s most interesting films are the ones he’s done with Bale. This one’s a murder mystery set in the early 19th century. Edgar Allan Poe is a character in it. The look feels like something out of Poe and the film, which some might find it tedious to get through, has a lot of interesting elements to it. It’s never going to be for everyone (as is the case with almost all of Cooper’s films), but it’s clear that Cooper is a filmmaker on the page to always putting out interesting, watchable stuff, which is not something you can say for every director.

All the Old Knives is the type of movie you don’t really see made all that often. This movie would’ve been made 20 years ago, not today. It’s a sexy spy drama. No real action to speak of. Just characters talking and the situation playing itself out. I love how simple it is — the majority of the film is two people sitting at a restaurant, and most of the film plays out in flashback. And it’s the story of both the main characters’ relationship but also a recounting of an old case at their agency that ended very badly, which uncovered the fact that there’s a spy in their midst. So you’ve got the air of mystery to it, plus the romance, plus spy stuff. It’s kind of a perfect combination. I’m not gonna say this is a perfect movie, but this is definitely underrated and way more solid than people might think. I’m surprised more people didn’t talk about how good a movie this is. Jackass Forever. It’s weird how wholesome and emotional this movie is. None of us were expecting that. This is, in a way, the less-noticed (but it was noticed) version of Top Gun this year. With Top Gun we all went “how did they take a campy 80s movie and make something so emotional and great out of it?” Here, we took a franchise built around dudes having snakes bit their testicles and jumping bikes off 20-foot ramps just to slam into the ground and turned it into this really nice movie about enduring friendship (and locking your friends in a room with a live bear after putting salmon down their pants). It’s weird how pleasant this movie is, and how they didn’t allow it to just be a rehash of ‘hey, we’re still doing stupid shit, only now we’re middle-aged!’ I’ve always somehow had a soft spot for these films (even if I was never as crazy about them as some people my age were), but this one really did manage to be so much more touching than I could ever have thought. Enola Holmes 2 is a sequel to one of the most pleasant surprises for me in the past couple of years. The first film was such a delight, and this film continues on in that tradition. It’s just a fun movie, wonderfully anchored by Millie Bobby Brown and a cast of great actors around her. This is one of the few franchises I hope they keep making, because it’s the right type of enjoyable.

Windfall is an interesting little single location thriller. A nice companion piece to Charlie McDowell’s other single-location film The One I Love (great hidden gem from the past decade). Though while that was more of a Twilight Zone film, this is more of a noir. A three-hander, with Jesse Plemons, Lily Collins and Jason Segal, with an incredibly simple premise: guy breaks into a rich guy’s vacation home, only to have the rich guy and his wife show up for an impromptu vacation. It’s a fun little genre film. Low stakes, nice character stuff. In the 50s this would’ve been the second half of a double bill, and it would have been awesome. Here, it’s just a nice little gem that exists for those who wish to seek it out. Matilda: The Musical. It is exactly as it says. A film adaptation of the stage musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. If you’re anywhere around my age, Matilda is a seminal film for you and was a major part of your childhood. I must have seen that movie at least 50 times growing up. And so this musical, while it is its own thing and is very different, is still just as charming and winning in its own way. Emma Thompson is perfectly cast as Ms. Trunchbull, but really what makes this movie work is its vibrance and use of expressive colors and sets. The whole movie is just a giant burst of energy that’s impossible to ignore. Plus, the rest of the casting is also quite good, with Cynthia Erivo as Miss Honey and Andrea Riseborough and Stephen Graham as Matilda’s parents (and for anyone who remembers Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman in the original, this is perfect casting). I remember initially hearing the movie was gonna be put out, and at first I thought it was just a filmed version of the stage show (something that’s been done a bunch the past few years). So not only was I surprised when it was a full-on cinematic adaptation but I was also surprised, within 15 minutes, to go, “Oh wow. This… is really good.” And that makes me happy. We all need pleasant surprises like this in our film-going lives.

Pearl is a genre phenomenon. And by default, this entry has to be a two-parter, as one can’t mention this film without mentioning X, the film it is a prequel of and was created from. You can watch this without having seen that, but it’s probably more interesting if you watch them in the order they were released. X came out and was instantly heralded as a great and fun horror movie, the likes of which we get so few of anymore. At least, from my perspective. I’m not gonna put X on my pantheon or anything, but it at least had more going for it than most horror films that come out. That film was set in the 70s and was about a bunch of 20-somethings renting a ranch in the middle of Texas with the idea of filming a porno there. And then of course the elderly couple who owns the ranch are there and… well, shit happens. And the fun thing about the movie is that Mia Goth stars in it as one of the actors but also as the elderly Pearl. Which, when you see the film, will understand why that is so interesting. And this film is a prequel to that film, showing Pearl’s life when she was younger and how she ended up where she was. And it’s… I knew immediately when I started it that it was going to be good when it took the tact of trying to be a big, sweeping Technicolor throwback kind of a film. The classical Hollywood-style credits and the big orchestral score and the melodrama-type acting. It’s a great touch for the story, because it really does underscore who the character is. And then you watch as the film slowly starts to let all the creepiness seep through until the conclusion that you sort of know is going to come. Really what makes it work (aside from the stylistic choices, which are terrific and done with the right balance of tongue-in-cheek and earnestness) is the performance of Mia Goth, who is just so utterly committed as Pearl that you can’t look away, even if at times you go, “Yeah, I get it. I see where this is going.” It would be hard to argue that the final shot of this film isn’t one of, if not the signature film image of 2022. As much as I may have liked other films more than this, it’s impossible to say that this film won’t stay with me more than the majority of things I saw from this year.

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