Friday, January 13, 2023

My Year at the Movies 2022


Here you have my review of the 2022 movies I saw this year, mostly the ones I saw in theaters with some notable films I saw on streaming – followed by my nominees and winners for Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Picture, as well as a list of best picture honorable mentions and a list of performance honorable mentions from which I drew Best Supporting Actor and Actress winners. The images above are not meant to hint at a particular nominee or winner. 

As usual, the B sci-fi and horror films come out during the movie doldrums of January and February. In Roland Emmerich’s latest disaster extravaganza Moonfall, another sci-fi epic that pays little attention to physical and scientific reality, our moon jumps out of orbit and heads toward Earth. Not nearly as good as 2012, my favorite Emmerich film. Rather unimpressive CGI though I loved it when the moon approaches so close that they can launch themselves out of the moon’s gravity right into Earth’s gravity without worrying about the space between! Also, in February – I saw the enjoyable romance-fantasy Marry Me in which a mild-mannered teacher played by Owen Wilson marries J. Lo. Yeah, right – but Wilson and Lopez are charming together. I followed this with Uncharted, an improbable, forgettable action movie based on a video game – a kind of cross between Mission: Impossible and Pirates of the Caribbean. I wrapped up February with Dog, the best of the lot this month. Not your overly sentimental dog movie, it’s about two individuals damaged by war – one a man (Channing Tatum) and the other a dog (played by three different dogs). 

 Along comes March and the semi-big movie is The Batman. Pattinson is fine as Batman. I’m not a Batman freak, but I enjoyed the movie. Took a while to get going. Nice brooding atmosphere. Don’t remember too much else about it. On Disney+ it was Turning Red, another Disney offering that focuses on another culture and gives the major roles to people of color. It’s an odd movie, and the “tiger” mom and grandma are scary characters! Back at the movies, I saw X. Gory, diverting, awesome man-eating alligator, with Mia Goth playing an aspiring actress performing in a porn film on a farm owned by a psycho old couple. 

In April I saw The Lost City - can’t say I liked it despite Brad Pitt’s part in this ridiculous rom-com. Also saw Infinite Storm with an admirable Naomi Watts performance and grueling episodes as a blizzard traps a jogger and Watts saves him, set in a mountain range that bears no resemblance to the White Mountains of New Hampshire where the true story took place. Finally, I saw Everything Everywhere All at Once which I enjoyed for its portrayal of a Chinese mother trying to accept the American acculturation of her millennial, lesbian daughter. All the alternate universe stuff kind of lost me. Jamie Lee Curtis gives a tremendous performance as an IRS clerk gone psycho. 

In May, when the movies usually get bigger, I saw Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, a suitable sequel with some suspenseful sequences, revelations about the Dumbledore family, and a fine performance by Jessica Williams - yes, BIPOC may go to Hogwarts too! Then there was Top Gun: Maverick, which has been very favorably reviewed and has appeared on a number of critics’ top-ten lists. I enjoyed it, but I thought that the plot was following a mold – young guy seeks to win the approval of older officer while struggling with bitterness toward him. Cruise gives a solid performance – but he always does so in the many action movies in which he as starred. The action is thrilling but standard and predictable. 
In June came a very different movie: The Northman, directed by Robert Eggers, the director who brought realism and period-appropriate language to stories about witches in colonial America and lighthouse keepers enduring the isolation and claustrophobia of a 1.33 aspect ratio. Here he deals with the often caricatured, inaccurately portrayed Vikings. The actors are given rich, poetic language that suggests the Germanic language spoken by Northmen of that time period, and they are appropriately violent – very violent – and engage in realistic looking rituals and bloody sacrifices. I like Eggers’s The Witch the best. Meanwhile, I had been anticipating the completion of the Jurassic World trilogy for months. In fact, I conducted a “Monster Mayhem Movie Marathon,” posting on Letterboxd on the monster movies I re-watched. When Jurassic Park: World Dominion finally came out, I was disappointed. Much attention is paid to the sale of pirated dinosaur clones on the black market – and to a rather tedious motorcycle chase. When the dinosaur encounters finally reach the jungle where they belong, the man-vs-dino and the dino-vs-dino action is a lot less memorable and spectacular than that of the first two movies, spending too much time reuniting the characters from Jurassic Park and giving them time for individual reaction shots as well as group looks of awe and terror with everyone deliberately spaced evenly apart so that everyone gets seen by the camera. Do people really stand that way in a group? June’s theater viewings ended with Disney/Pixar’s Lightyear the origin story for Buzz Lightyear, an exciting and sophisticated sci-fi story involving the theory of relativity – less of a kids’ film than it should have been perhaps. 

In a slow summer, July featured movies that are only mildly good. Minions: The Rise of Gru is sometimes funny but not nearly as satisfying or epic as Minions. The funniest sequence involves the yellow devils running the flight to San Francisco – but that was spoiled by the trailer I had seen multiple times. Where the Crawdads Sing is based on your typical romantic book-club-book contrivance, but it has picturesque settings and the presence of the delightful Daisy Edgar-Jones – but do crawdads really sing? On streaming I saw Ambulance, a thrilling but overdone action/violence movie with Jake Gyllenhaal commandeering an ambulance to escape from a botched bank job while his brother and a kidnapped nurse operate on a wounded policeman as they flee high-speed from the entire LAPD. 

In August, I enjoyed a number of good movies on the small screen, and one of the best movies of the year on the big screen. On Netflix, Dakota Johnson appears in yet another Jane Austen rendition - Persuasion, modernized in point of view, though not in time period. Here Johnson as Anne Elliot delivers her sardonic evaluation of human foibles and the silliness of interactions between male and female, addressing her comments at the camera with a fetching wink of her eye. In Ron Howard’s epic rescue drama set in Thailand, Thirteen Lives (Amazon), the two most famous rescue divers, played by Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen, devise a risky, radical plan to rescue a soccer team and their coach trapped in a flooded cavern. Very gripping from beginning to end. One of Howard’s best films. Meanwhile, Nope is Jordan Peele’s best film of the three he has made. With Daniel Kaluuya as a movie-horse wrangler and Keke Palmer as his sassy sister, it is a scary, suspenseful, quirky take on the flying-saucer-from-outer-space genre. The invader is an entity that looks like a classic flying saucer but is something else entirely. It also incorporates Western tropes, with the setting and with horse wrangler OJ (Kaluuya) riding hell-bent-for-leather like a cowboy hero. Finally, that month, on Hulu (which I rarely view), I discovered the best adventure/period piece of the year that takes you back three hundred years to a group of Comanche Indians living on the Great Plains. In Prey, however, the hero is Naru (Amber Midthunder) a young Comanche woman who wants to hunt with the boys instead of gathering food and weaving baskets with the girls, and she proves herself worthy when she sets out to kill a beast – SPOILER! that turns out to be that predatory warrior/hunter from outer space we have followed in a number of previous films. This satisfied my love for raw, outdoor, physical action. 

Releases usually peter out toward the end of August. Then, in the middle of September, you start to get a renewal of good releases. The Woman King. Wow! You get Viola Davis, half naked, in battle garb, wielding a sword, slashing away at her enemies. She is the warrior leader of Dahomey in the early 1800s – fierce and formidable – fighting rival tribes working for the pernicious slavers. Has she ever done any physical action? She is the best part of a film that follows the very stock pattern of a young warrior-wannabe (Thuso Mbedu) going through training, making friends among the men, I mean, women, tussling with rivals, and proving herself in battle. Don’t Worry Darling got poor reviews, but I liked it. It’s a chilling Stepford Wives-like thriller in which a housewife (Florence Pugh), new to the community, notices strange things about her husband (Harry Styles) and the other men living in perfect little houses with perfect little robotic wives. You know this is not reality! On streaming, I watched the ultra-violent, vibrantly filmed and edited drama - Athena - about Arab refugees in a French housing project rioting in reaction to the killing of a boy, supposedly by the police. The film’s opening sequence is one of the longest uninterrupted cuts I have seen that runs from a police station, through the station, outside, into vehicles, follows the vehicles full of protestors, runs through a housing development, and ends on a wall looking down at the approaching police. Amazing action choreography, editing, and cinematography. Finally came the Netflix release of Blonde, a fictional interpretation of the life of Marilyn Monroe. I had read the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, and I was ready! It has been strongly criticized for its fictional free-license (but it is clearly intended as fiction – as the presentation of a sort of alternate universe Monroe!) and its graphic sexuality (but Monroe was a very sexual person and sexuality was key to her rise to fame and a pervading force throughout her life). It is a shocking, raw, disturbing film about a person disturbed by haunting insecurities, a person who suffered mental anguish throughout her life yet was able to perform some of Hollywood’s most memorable roles. Ana de Armas becomes the embodiment of Monroe in a totally transformative performance. The film is visually remarkable for its use of different aspect ratios, color, and black and white to evoke the classic decades of Hollywood movies, and the year’s most memorable image is the dissolve from Marilyn’s long hair cascading over the side of her bed into Niagara Falls. 

In October came Fall, one of the best action movie/thrillers of the year, in a genre I call millennials in peril, in which millennials get into life-threatening situations and their cell phones are integral to the action. This thriller puts you at the top of a two-thousand-foot radio tower in the middle of the desert and traps you there with two thrill-seeking millennial women. The dizzying camerawork makes you cringe, as the two young women try to think their way down from their perilous perch – and their cells don’t get a signal up there! Nice commentary about those daring-deeds reels posted on Facebook and YouTube. In another example of millennials in peril, Barbarian, a young woman finds herself in the Airbnb from hell when she ends up bunking with a young man accidentally assigned the same rental. You expect he will be some sort of psycho – until they find tunnels leading down from the cellar into a nether region where they encounter a monstrosity far beyond what you might have been expecting. One of the best horror movies of the year! I had been yearning for a historical epic, something with battles, and out came the German film All Quiet on the Western Front a grim but beautiful adaptation of the novel. At first, I was disappointed because it strayed so freely from the novel, but once the action started, I was impressed with the set-piece battle, when rumbling tanks advance upon Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) and his German comrades in a remarkably intense and violent sequence. In contrast, the film goes pastoral as Paul and his buddies form close friendships in the natural beauty of the French countryside. Another historical film, Till, is a hauntingly unforgettable depiction of the inhuman racism of the Jim Crow South, in which a young Black teenager is brutally beaten and killed for flirting with a white woman, and his mother (Danielle Deadwyler) employs her intense anguish and deep love for her abused son to jump-start the kinds of protests that became the Civil Rights Movement. Deadwyler’s speech, in which she explains how she identified her son’s body despite the horrible mutilation and bloating, is one of the best monologues in a year trending lengthy monologues done as single cuts. 

November’s big movie was the new chapter in the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. It is a sweeping epic with a cast of people of color, and the best part of it is how it pays very emotional tributes to Chadwick Boseman: first by incorporating his sketched image exclusively in the ubiquitous Marvel comics montage at the opening of the film. Then there is the grand funeral procession for the deceased King T’Challa, and the montage of T’Challa memories when SPOILER! the beautiful Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) reveals that T’Challa is the father of her son. It’s a visually grand film, but I found the plot derivative, ultimately unsatisfying, and devoid of the kind of distinctive action sequences that have enhanced previous Marvel installments. In the well-meaning but lackluster She Said about the New York Times article that launched the #MeToo movement, well, you know what happens. 

At the end of the month, there was nothing to go out and see. I thought November was the prelude to the Oscar-hopeful releases of the holidays – but all we got was Wakanda. It came Thursday, my movie outing night, and I decided to see Bones and All. All I knew was that it was about a road trip and it had gotten good press, and I like going to a movie I know little about, so I decided to see it. The movie began. Oh, a high school movie. Boy, I was in for a big surprise! Then SPOILERS! Maren (Taylor Russell) goes to a sleepover, takes her friend’s finger, starts to suck it, and bites it out! Turns out Maren, like a minority of others, is an eater of human flesh. Yeah, then we get the road trip when Maren, joined by another eater, Lee, (Timothée Chalamet), searches for her mother to learn more about her eater heritage. This is the year’s best weird film. 

In December, my daughter and I watched an excellent foreign film on Netflix: The Swimmers about two Olympics-hopeful swimmers who escape the violence in Syria and embark on the dangerous and degrading refugee trail from Turkey to a Greek island on a sinking boat and at the mercy of sleazy transfer agents through an unwelcoming Europe to Germany where a coach trains one of the girls for an Olympics team made up of refugees from different countries. The depiction of what the refugees suffer is visceral and heart-rending! Also, on Netflix, I watched Emily the Criminal, a taut thriller with sharp social commentary, about a young millennial who engages in credit card fraud to pay off her exorbitant student loan. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, the year’s best animated film (Disney/Pixar seemed to be taking a break this year), is a very different telling of the story made classic by Disney. With tremendous set design and stop-motion animation, del Toro presents a grimmer version of the story. Here Pinocchio is sometimes an unlikable pain in the ass, and Geppetto regrets making him. This retelling takes place in Italy, mostly during the Mussolini regime. Here the tubby dictator is a dwarf-sized bully mocked by Pinocchio’s shit-filled song – very unDisney. In contrast, Avatar: The Way of Water is totally in keeping with a Disney-friendly film. It’s about a family – Jake (Sam Worthington) Sully’s Na’vi family, with his wife, Neytiri (Zoë Saldana), and four children – one of them a Na’vi-looking clone of Sigourney Weaver (I was fine with leaving her behind in the first film). In this sequel, the family is imperiled when, no surprise, those dastardly Sky People (humans) return from their ruined planet to colonize Pandora – and in order to do that, they have to “subdue” the indigenous people with Custer-style attacks upon villages. Not taking the effort to think up an original villain, Cameron makes the big bad guy a Na’vi-looking clone of Quaritch (I was also fine with leaving him behind in the first film) played by Stephen Lang, with his voice perfectly suited for a militaristic SOB. When the refugee family flees to the water world, the film dazzles with its visuals. The film is long, but its world building and action move it along expeditiously. 

It was a year of films that pay homage to the medium of film. Spielberg’s The Fablemans is a sentimental tribute to filmmaking and Spielberg himself with some typically overdrawn sequences, much didacticism about the technology of film and Judaism, along with sometimes squirm-worthy overacting especially by Paul Dano as the father and Michelle Williams as the mother. Seth Rogen comes off better, but my favorite supporting character is Monica (Chloe East), the perky doe-eyed teenager who takes Sammy (Spielberg’s alter-ego played by Gabriel LaBelle) into a bedroom decorated with crucifixes and religious images and tries to induce him to let Jesus into his heart. With some nicely subtle sequences mixed in with all of Spielberg’s tendencies to overdo it, The Fablemans cannot fail to move the film lover in us, especially for me when it ends with a glowing tribute to John Ford set to the main theme from The Searchers. The epic Babylon works a wilder, more outrageous tribute to filmmaking, with wannabe filmmaker Manny (played by the very promising Diego Calva) acting as our eyes on the rise and fall of Hollywood stars during the monumental transition from the Silent Era to sound. Through Manny’s eyes, we follow a Clark Gable-like Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) and a hyperactive, profane ingenue, Nellie LeRoy (Margo Robbie), in the wild and woolly Hollywood of the late 1920s, a pagan Babylon of epic orgies, filmmaking excess (the shooting of the men-in-armor battle sequence is a tremendous episode in which poorly paid extras are left wounded and bleeding beside dead horses), and the perversions of the high and mighty with too much money on their hands. Making an impressive visual tribute to the Hollywood films of the 1930s, Pearl, the horror prequel to X, with Mia Goth as a forlorn girl (who grows up to be the psycho farm woman in X) yearning to escape the isolation and boredom of farm life to become a movie star, employs vivid technicolor and an old-fashioned musical score reminiscent of Gone With the Wind to allude to films such as The Searchers (the barn door opening to reveal the first scene) and The Wizard of Oz (the fences and the cornfield – oh, and the scarecrow!). 

In the critics’ favorite, The Banshees of Inisherin Colin Farrell offers a fine performance as a mild-mannered “nice guy,” living on an isolated Irish island, whose best friend, played by Brendan Gleeson, one day unexpectedly and inexplicably says he never wants to talk to him again. I loved the first half of the film with its location shots of the austere beauty of Ireland, the humor, and the unusual language, but the story lost me in the second half. Can’t say I share the critical enthusiasm. Steven Soderbergh’s spare character study, Kimi, examines a young woman (Zoey Kravitz) who has been turned into an agoraphobic recluse by COVID-19. She works at home examining customers’ dialogues on Kimi, a very advanced form of Siri, and her concern for a customer turns the film into a nicely executed Hitchcockian thriller. Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody is a standard bio-pic, but Naomi Ackie, who plays Houston, very convincingly performs to Whitney’s recorded vocals! She fooled me! The popular, highly praised, most-likely-to-be-Oscar-nominated Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is a moderately diverting star-studded mystery, with Daniel Craig hamming it up, that left me cold as glass. In TÁR, Cate Blanchett is superb and chillingly arrogant as the egotistical symphony conductor, Lydia Tár, whose arrogance is her undoing. The film starts out slow but gains ominous momentum. At the end of the month, I finally saw The Menu which had been playing for weeks, and I especially enjoyed the talented performance of Anya Taylor-Joy as a rebellious, snarky millennial who finds herself invited to an exclusive restaurant where Chef (Ralph Fiennes) proceeds to exact punishment upon food snobs and immoral elitists with his uber-gourmet cuisine and elaborate presentation – and don’t say “eat.” On Netflix, I discovered The Pale Blue Eye with Christian Bale as a talented detective investigating murders and satanic rituals at West Point in the 1820s. With authentic, atmospheric locations, it is a substantial film worthy of the big screen, a gothic tale full of dark and disturbing gothic tropes, but the best part of the film is Harry Melling’s mesmerizing embodiment of Edgar Allan Poe, capturing his intellectual acuity and his almost creepy social awkwardness. (And, yes, this Harry Melling is the entirely trim and transformed Harry Melling who played the pudgy, bullying Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films!). I watched Strange World on Disney+, a Disney animated film, featuring dazzling but dizzying visuals, about an adventurous family exploring a strange new world and trying to stem an ecological disaster (ah, global warming!) – but the most noteworthy thing about the film is how it fully embraces the new world of inclusion, something Disney has been doing faithfully with their Disney Channel films long before the Black Lives Matter movement. The film includes characters who are Black, Asian, Latino, gay, and lesbian. Finally, having missed it when it was released, I rented Elvis and found it an irresistible ride through multiple decades and the career of Elvis Presley, told here in a frenzy of fast cuts, intercuts, and montage as frenetic as Presley’s style. Austin Butler is wonderfully passionate in the title role – his stage performances are tremendous; Tom Hanks is simply bizarre. 
THE NOMINEES FOR BEST ACTOR ARE – Austin Butler for Elvis, Diego Calva for Babylon, Colin Farrell for The Banshees of Inisherin, Harry Melling for The Pale Blue Eye, Brad Pitt for Babylon. And the Award goes to – (Below) 

THE NOMINEES FOR BEST ACTRESS ARE – Ana de Armas for Blonde, Mia Goth for Pearl, Dakota Johnson for Persuasion, Keke Palmer for Nope, Margot Robbie for Babylon. And the Bellamy Award goes to – (Below) 
PERFORMANCE HONORABLE MENTIONS: Timothée Chalamet for Bones and All, Danielle Deadwyler for Till, Chloe East for The Fablemans, Colin Farrell for Thirteen Lives, Daniel Kaluuya for Nope, Barry Keoghan for The Banshees of Inisherin, Amber Midthunder for Prey, Taylor Russell for Bones and All, Anya Taylor-Joy for The Menu. 

THE NOMINEES FOR BEST PICTURE ARE – Babylon, Blonde, Fall, Nope, Prey. And the Bellamy Award goes to – (Below) 

BEST FILM HONORABLE MENTIONS: All Quiet on the Western Front, Athena, Bones and All, Thirteen Lives, Pearl, Persuasion 


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Barry Keoghan for The Banshees of Inisherin 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Chloe East for The Fablemans 

BEST ACTOR: Harry Melling for The Pale Blue Eye 
BEST ACTRESS: Ana de Armas for Blonde