- THE TOP TEN
- EVERYTHING ELSE
If you thought 2021 was an awful year for cinema, 2022 eclipsed it with a fury. While everything from my 2021 introductory rant remains true, 2022 had me viewing films so staggeringly awful that I considered abandoning this passion entirely. And I do not go out of my way to see terrible movies. Nearly all these movies were either mainstream releases, films that received high marks in terms of critical praise or audience favor, or personal recommendations from friends. I am going to be much more selective in every single one of those categories going forward in 2023. That being said, the cream of the crop this year is a weak collection in comparison to most previous release years with no cinematic masterworks ascending out of the morass. I just barely managed to fill out a Top 10 list without having to dip into a lower rated pool of films (i.e. films I rated below ★★★½). Despite this negative opening, I did appreciate the quality films that did assert themselves by the year’s end and hope this list serves as a helpful recommendation guide to people desperately searching for fine craftsmanship in a world of shoddy ugliness.
Additionally, I have received feedback that my strident criticisms of both middling and poor cinema are as appreciated as my uplifting praise of well-crafted works if not more so. Thus, I have decided to forego an Honorable Mentions section and simply give a review, however brief, of every film I saw in 2022 in this article. With a higher degree of future selectivity in mind, I will never be watching this many movies from a single year ever again, and I just want people to appreciate for once the sheer quantity of footage I digest to present to you what I find the best of the best. If I am unable to produce another ten-movie long best-of list ever again, so be it. Please make use of the table of content links to help navigate around the different section as there is a substantial amount of text in this article. Please enjoy the reviews!
THE TOP 10 FILMS OF 2022
This list is the ten best feature-length, non-documentary films I have seen that had US release dates in 2022. For those curious, I use the year under which a film is listed on Metacritic when in doubt regardless if that film receives an award for a different year. These are movies I could not have seen until 2022.
Director: Charlotte Wells
Writers: Charlotte Wells
Starring: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio, Celia Rowlson-Hall
Runtime: 102 mins
MPAA Rating: R
Aftersun documents a Scottish father-daughter pair Calum (Paul Mescal) and Sophie (Frankie Corio) while on a vacation to Turkey. Separated from Sophie and her mother back home, Paul Mescal convincingly plays a young father soldiering through his resignation to life in order to devote attention to the daughter he cherishes. What follows is a thoroughly depressing coming-of-age and father-daughter bonding story.
In her directorial debut, Charlotte Wells shows innate skill at writing believable child-adult dialogue and extracts expressive performances out of actors of vastly different ages. Paul Mescal gives a memorably convincing performance as a man pushing through his own detachment from life. Subtle hints accrue as the story progresses, revealing more and more just how great the depth of Calum’s depression is. Even still, his likeability as a man trying to fulfill his fatherly duty to spend quality time with his daughter adeptly engenders sympathy, and the sincerity of the father-daughter relationship is more than enough to hold the audience’s attention.
Unconventional editing, timeline jumps, and interspersed handheld footage gathered by Sophie within the context of the movie are a few of the ways Wells gives the visual presentation personality. Though not overlong, the film is never in a rush and stays subdued, never blurting out exactly what it is trying to illustrate. This choice is intentional in order to demonstrate how some things are obvious to adults while a child may remain oblivious. The restrained subtlety in its presentation is refreshing.
While the pain and negative outcomes of a broken family and lack of engaged parenting are plainly evident and just begging for intelligent prescriptive consideration, this film is unfortunately content to just gawk and possibly be a jumping off point for more trite “Men, please go to therapy” discussions currently present in society. Though there are plenty of touching moments, Aftersun cunningly imposes its hopeless outlook onto the viewer by the film’s conclusion. The grim subtleties are made most apparent when the film peers into Sophie’s future. I am not going to spoil anything, but I cannot recommend this movie as an enjoyable experience. I do commend it for being a well-crafted one.
9. The Whale
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Samuel D. Hunter (written by and based on the play by)
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins
Runtime: 117 mins
MPAA Rating: R
Based off a 2012 play of the same name from the same writer, The Whale follows the life of morbidly obese Charlie (Brendan Fraser), a recluse who teaches writing courses online. Having left his wife for a homosexual relationship, Charlie entered a depressive binge-eating downward spiral upon his partner’s death. Assisted by family friend and nurse Liz (Hong Chau) and solicited regularly by local missionary Thomas (Ty Simpkins), Charlie faces his isolation and mortality by trying to rekindle a relationship with his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) and desperately begging for more honesty in the world.
Brendan Fraser delivers an impeccable lead performance; he is disgusting yet endearing, pathetic yet intriguing, and distraught yet thoughtful. Fraser single-handedly brings the film’s rating up to where it is, putting it on this list. Charlie is truly repulsive in physical nature and in character. He abandons his marriage and daughter for a self-serving affair and, upon it all going awry, has sunken into a life of wallowing in self-loathing. All the while, he maintains this facade of being a gentle empathetic bastion of wisdom. Furthermore, as guilt begins to become as heavy as his corpulent body, he seeks to make amends with Ellie with no self-reflection or meaningful repentance for the actions that led to his abdication of duty and the enormous rift between them. The man is deeply afraid yet also seemingly has a death wish as evidenced by his lifestyle choices. Still, you cannot look away. Charlie frantically desires honesty out of those in his life because he cannot be honest with himself and, consequently, others.
The Whale is a completely morally bankrupt film yet there is an earnest desperation at its center. Writer Samuel D. Hunter’s angst-ridden criticisms of organized religion are tired and juvenile but reveal a very real hurt due to perceived hypocrisy. The main target of his ire is a thinly veiled stand-in for Doug Wilson’s Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho which is frankly a strange villain. Additionally, he takes shots at evangelical missionaries and conservative politics to signal he plays on the right team. These jabs feel like reflexive lashings out at moral authority and poorly disguised validation efforts (i.e. virtue signaling) rather than confident takedowns of an opposing worldview. However off-putting these elements are going to be to some people, the plea for honesty is in itself honest, and, as a result, the film cannot help but deliver some authentic truths. Sinful actions that split apart family cause pain, resentment, and destruction. Hypocrisy demonstrated by lack of application of one’s stated principles causes hurt and mistrust. While I am certain Hunter is trying to cheaply engender sympathy via appropriate flag-waving to his target audience, it is entirely possible more perspicacious viewers come to the conclusion that Charlie is the perpetrator of his own turmoil rather than a victim of others’ cruelty.
The Whale notably received a lukewarm reception by the culture because it honestly exposes the uncomfortable truth of obesity as a form of self-harm and a direct path to an isolating moribund existence. You can claim that Darren Aronofsky is just gawking at and profiting off of a burden carried by so many Americans, but the dire straits of many people’s health in this regard is authentic reality. As much as I love Moby Dick allusions, I cannot really recommend this film to most people though Fraser’s performance is something to behold, and there is some wisdom to be gleaned if one approaches the movie from the right perspective.
8. Decision to Leave
Director: Park Chan-wook
Writers: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Park Hae-il, Tang WeiLee, Jung-hyun
Runtime: 139 mins
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (probably would be R)
South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook is most notorious for his tortuous and torturous masterpiece Oldboy (2003), Shakespearean in its tragic scope. With an impossibly high self-imposed standard, Park once again presents a distressing neo-noir mystery. All but estranged from his wife and burdened with insomnia, detective Hae-Jun (Park Hae-il) investigates a potential wife-on-husband murder in Busan and takes an obsessive fascination with the much younger female suspect Seo-Rae (Tang Wei), a Chinese emigrant. Though the husband’s death is eventually ruled a suicide, Hae-Jun’s relationship with Seo-Rae deepens leading to an ill-fated emotional entanglement. Having entered the on-ramp to the tragic spiral, Hae-Jun has to overlook strange behavior and gaps in Seo-Rae’s story to sustain his infatuation. Will it be his destruction?
As always, Park’s skillful direction, artful shot selection, and precise control of atmosphere make the presentation spellbinding. The criminal mystery element is well-written making for tense situations and satisfying revelations of clever machinations. Unfortunately, the central relationship and inevitable conflict are disappointingly simplistic. A depressed, obsessive, and sleep-deprived man succumbs to a femme fatale who is more self-interested than romantically motivated…shocking, I know. The pathetic protagonist is not likeable or intriguing and feels cut from too simple a cloth for a main character in one of Park’s scripts. Still, Park weaves together well-acted, beautifully visualized, and compelling drama from these elements, but I expect to digest a larger meal when I see one of his movies.
7. All Quiet on the Western Front
Director: Edward Berger
Writers: Edward Berger (screenplay by), Lesley Paterson (screenplay by), Ian Stokell(screenplay by), Erich Maria Remarque (based on the novel by)
Starring: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Aaron Hilmer
Runtime: 148 mins
MPAA Rating: R
All Quiet on the Western Front is a German-produced war epic based on the 1929 World War I novel by Erich Maria Remarque which has a quite famous 1930 adaptation. Set in the later years of the war on the Western Front, this film does not hold your hand through the violence of trench warfare while following a young German soldier Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) who has his jingoistic idealism quickly shell-shocked out of him. At the front, death becomes mundane due to its frequency and the accompanying tedious menial labor such as stacking bodies and stripping them of intact boots. Berger cleverly depicts the cyclical nature of the war machine churning through human life to indefinitely sustain the fight on the Western Front by showing the full cycle of the stripped boots being recycled and given to the incoming recruits. The relative cheapness of the young soldiers’ lives is made abundantly clear as Paul and his fellow recruits can become a casualty at any second. The presentation emphasizes the staggering quantity of deaths as exemplified by the repeated depiction of dog tag collection off dead bodies, a thankless task officers give to idle soldiers in the trenches. The anti-war messaging is implicit as the skill of the visual presentation makes explicit communication of such ideas unnecessary.
While by no means groundbreaking, All Quiet on the Western Front is satisfyingly competent in nearly every regard. The period costumes and sets appear authentic, and the make-up department goes the extra mile to make the fighting seem sufficiently dirty. The turbulent battlefield scenes feature adept camerawork that makes prominent characters distinguishable and the foremost action easy to follow amid chaotic backdrops. Despite the clean digital presentation, the warfighting comes across appropriately gritty and grisly. Close-up shots and skilled facial performances communicate the psychological distress and peril of war better than anything else. The most memorable moment of action and confused emotional turmoil is a hand-to-hand combat sequence inside a mud-filled crater in no man’s land: Paul slays his French opponent using a bayonet and, terrified by his victim’s belabored gasps for final breath drawing attention to his position, stuffs the man’s mouth with dirt, only to be immediately overcome by a compassionate desire to service the dying man’s wounds. In more relaxed moments, the film shows touching glimpses of male friendship demonstrating how young and ordinary most of these soldiers are which adds weight to their later individual deaths.
The film is unapologetically honest in its depiction of the boots on the ground experience of trench warfare, which is commendable. Unfortunately, the film is a little too high-minded to the point that it thinks it has standing to make one-dimensional critiques of national leadership. Consequently, the writers add a poorly realized subplot of the German-French armistice negotiations which comes across a bit too cartoonish. The more geopolitically minded viewers might be put off by the myopic cynicism towards international conflict altogether, but the staggeringly brutal presentation of war reminds you the devastating cost of such events. If you enjoy war films and can stomach the violence, I definitely recommend All Quiet on the Western Front.
6. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Director: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson
Writers: Guillermo del Toro (screenplay and screen story by), Patrick McHale (screenplay by), Matthew Robbins (screen story by), Carlo Collodi (based on the book “Pinocchio” written by)
Starring: Ewan McGregor (voice), David Bradley (voice), Gregory Mann (voice)
Runtime: 117 mins
MPAA Rating: PG
The latest incarnation of Pinocchio is a visual marvel from the modern master of creature-features, Guillermo Del Toro. The practical labor that went into designing the myriad of intricate, colorful puppets and sets is truly impressive. The coordinated mechanics and kinetic flow achieved entirely via stop motion rarely feel artificially constrained, immersing you into the dynamics of every scene. Burgeoning with personality, the character animation is natural, expressive, and charming. Moreover, all of this technical excellence is in service of a highly entertaining multi-layered story.
After the death of his son Carlo, grieving Italian woodcarver Geppetto (David Bradley) cuts down a nearby pine tree, residence of narrator Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor), and drunkenly constructs a wooden boy puppet who unbeknownst to him is brought to life by a compassionate spirit creature presiding over the woods. Christened Pinocchio, this wooden boy (Gregory Mann) is full of the innocence, curiosity, and exuberance of prepubescent youth, eager to learn everything he can about the world and human nature. His unrestrained juvenile antics initially annoy Geppetto but Pinocchio’s earnestness grows endearing over time. However, his ignorance of the more sinister aspects of the world leads him into predicaments involving the village Podestà (Ron Perlman) and a crooked showman Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz) and his monkey Spazzatura (Cate Blanchett). He even comes face-to-face and converses with Death herself (Tilda Swinton).
While the beloved Disney version of this story serves as a cautionary horror tale for children who disobey authority, this rendition more serves to encourage an autonomous childlike curiosity and whimsy. Both versions have their place, and Del Toro’s is more appropriate for older children. The mature themes and open discussion of death might be a bit overwhelming for small children. That being said, the story profoundly communicates the necessity of death as a part of life in order to be truly human as one cannot properly value their time, family, and friendships otherwise.
The weakest aspect of the film is tied to its setting in interwar Fascist Italy. Del Toro slyly presents the irony of the numerous flesh-and-blood humans behaving like puppets under the totalitarian Mussolini regime while Pinocchio, a literal wooden puppet, has a freer will. However, this idea gets taken to goofy extremes that feel at odds with the film’s orientation as children’s entertainment. For example, when the Podestà realizes Pinocchio continually resurrects after dying, he sends Pinocchio to a youth boot camp and a whole wartime combat subplot ensues which took me out of the more light-hearted fantastical flow preceding it. The film is disproportionately heavy during this section…though vertically challenged Mussolini is pretty funny. That being said, I recommend this movie for its visual charm, animation prowess, and rich humanity.
Director: Todd Field
Writers: Todd Field
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss
Runtime: 158 mins
MPAA Rating: R
Alpha female maestro extraordinaire Lydia Tár (Cate Blancehett) is at the zenith of her career as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. Supported by assistant and confidant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) and loved by her concertmaster wife Sharon (Nina Hoss) with whom she has an adopted daughter, Lydia leads a fulfilling trailblazing life, highly respected by fellow professionals and her students alike. The only direction for Lydia to goes is down.
Fifteen years since his last film, Todd Field crafts a titanic script, constructing essentially a tragic epic out of an eminently successful woman’s character defects leading to her plunge out of the public’s good graces. He immerses you into a narrow subculture of the fine arts making an otherwise unapproachable world for many viewers fascinating to examine. Tár is a dialogue-heavy affair with scenes often entirely consisting of a single extended conversation. The spectacle lies in the believable authenticity of its titular character in these interactions, achieved through verbal precision, adept control of body language and facial expression, and engrossing line deliveries in Blanchett’s superb performance. I would not be surprised if many people just assumed Tár to be a biopic or inspired by a real-life person. A thoroughly unsympathetic character, she is intriguing precisely because she has nothing in common with the audience. Just as it difficult to avert your eyes from a car crash, the film holds your attention by forewarning the oncoming wreckage of Lydia’s life.
What might be most shocking given the premise is how anti-woke the entire film is. The most attention-grabbing example of this nature is an intense scene where Lydia lambasts a young student at her Juilliard masterclass for prejudiced dismissal of all famous white male composers. More intrinsically, Tár is about an immoral unlikeable woman who bears numerous heralded progressive markers in her character. She is narcissistic to the core and abusively self-interested to the point of predation in all her personal relationships. The film also does not cast non-traditional unions and parental arrangements in a purely positive light. Few American filmmakers are bold enough to make any of these moves at present.
Despite a deliberate pace and a hefty runtime comprised almost entirely of dialogue, Tár is never boring, actively subduing a frenetic character beneath the surface that spills out in energetic bursts with increasing frequency as the story progresses. Field brilliantly illustrates the fact that supreme artistic excellence is often accompanied by madness and narcissism. The age-old truth that fleeting professional success does not provide long-term joy and satisfaction, especially when paired with an immoral way of life, rings true. A self-satisfying lifestyle no matter the achievements gained is worth the destruction of one’s soul. I recommend this movie to adults wanting a deeply compelling character study of a flawed human.
4. The Northman
Director: Robert Eggers
Writers: Sjón, Robert Eggers
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang
Runtime: 137 mins
MPAA Rating: R
The Northman vividly depicts the dirty, bloody struggle of man to honor his lineage and secure a future for his offspring to continue the family tree. Full review here.
Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Writers: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Bae Doona
Runtime: 129 mins
MPAA Rating: R
Broker is a South Korean drama helmed by Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Having only seen his recent film Shoplifters, I am once again impressed by how Kore-eda is able to craft an engaging drama by humanizing peculiar criminals through emphasis on family dynamics.
Ha Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) steal newborns from a church’s baby dropbox and sell them to the highest bidding adopters on the black market. When a regretful young mother Moon So-young (Lee Ji-eun) returns to the church after abandoning her child, she discovers the duo’s racket and demands to be involved in the choice of her baby’s adopted parents. Unbeknownst to the group as they set out on a roadtrip to interview prospective customers, two detectives (Bae Doona and Lee Joo-young) are shadowing their movements, seeking to catch them in the act of child trafficking.
Despite the overwhelming majority of people never considering such heinous actions themselves, there is a shared humanity with these criminals who otherwise pass for ordinary people. The criminal origin story is always a curiosity especially when the crime is of such a peculiar non-violent nature. Kore-eda gives his characters believable motivations and accentuates their plain humanity and how they are ultimately moored by their guilty consciences in spite of their immoral endeavors. The most compelling aspect of Kore-eda’s script is how he initially draws the characters together as self-interested co-conspirators and gradually turns them into a makeshift family forced to think outside of themselves. There is intentional irony in the incidental creation of an artificial family from a criminal outfit that exists solely to profit off of orphans and the infertile, those who cannot be a part of a real family and those who cannot create a real family, respectively.
Kore-eda communicates much development within the film’s slow pace, letting scenes unfold naturally and having the audience sit with the emotions of a given situation. Similarly, the character-focused camerawork is highly restrained without much movement and lingering frequently throughout the movie. Intelligent framing, blocking, and lighting choices are made to draw maximum attention to the character interactions and instill a personality into the visual presentation. Expressive performances from all the leads animate the well-written characters. The burden of guilt is especially well-communicated through skilled acting. These characters all feel like authentic individuals.
More personally, I like how Kore-eda does not celebrate abortion as an option of female empowerment as often done by Hollywood and realistically portrays how distressing an experience child abandonment is even for a mother with the hardest of hearts. Moreover, the overarching message of the story is that what is broken can be redeemed and be made whole again though that process requires turning from wickedness and still facing consequences for evil actions. Ultimately, Broker is a compelling human drama that engages its audience along multiple dimensions, and I highly recommend it to adult audiences in any country.
2. The Banshees of Inisherin
Director: Martin McDonagh
Writers: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon
Runtime: 114 mins
MPAA Rating: R
If last year’s Belfast was not Irish enough for you, have I got a recommendation for you this year. In his feature-length cinematic debut In Bruges (2008), Irish auteur Martin McDonagh presented a macabre comedy about undercover hitmen with leads Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell entertainingly playing off one another. Banking off the established chemistry, McDonagh reuses this leading duo in The Banshees of Inisherin remembering to put his Irish actors in the correct country this time. Once again, black comedy is the name of the game as McDonagh explores just how humorous a deteriorated friendship can be.
On the Irish isle of Inisherin with the throes of the 1920s Irish Civil War raging across the water on the mainland, grizzled fiddler Colm (Brendan Gleeson) begins inexplicably avoiding his nice longtime drinking buddy Pádraic (Colin Farrell) much to Pádraic’s chagrin. Wishing to avoid a dull existence in his elder years, Colm wants to make memorable music with his remaining time and avoid the distraction of a simple man such as Pádraic. As Pádraic gets increasingly desperate to rekindle the bond with his old friend, Colm only becomes more resistant to Pádraic’s pleas for friendship eventually giving an ultimatum involving gruesome self-harm should Pádraic continue to be bothersome.
Now you might be wondering how any part of this premise could be funny. Trust me it is. The humor lies in the incongruence of the characters’ behavior in the context of the film with expected behavior in the context of real life as dictated by contemporary social norms. The unexpected absurdity of a cantankerous elder gentleman deadpan stating he is discontinuing a friendship due to a man being a dullard is extremely funny. Additionally, the outright flippancy with which serious matters are treated is an intentional technique to generate amusement. While the hostile interactions between Colm and Pádraic are the high points of both drama and comedy, Pádraic’s distraught dialogues with his two remaining friends, his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) and island local Dominic (Barry Keoghan), are nearly as entertaining. Blunt straight-faced Irish wit is incessantly endearing.
At the same time, there is a serious film with weighty themes lying beneath the surface. By intentionally making grim social situations humorously absurd, McDonagh draws attention to unpleasant ideas that many people might otherwise avoid considering. Most apparently, the story forces you to grasp how loneliness especially in old age is an overt tragedy. The script mocks the social dysfunction that results from widespread isolated hopelessness, lack of economic prospects, and absence of young families where pub-goers, a nosy town gossip, a violent policeman, and an irritable priest are the most upstanding members of society. More broadly, one could draw a parallel between the civil war occurring in the background off-screen and the tension between Colm and Pádraic as both being unnecessary feuds between countrymen. Both situations contain loss of life and habitat, departures by long-time island residents, and a hopelessly depressive outlook on the future for those who stay.
While wry Irish humor is not going to be for everybody, Banshees of Inisherin is superbly written with highly entertaining exchanges between amusing characters all within an incongruously grim atmosphere. It delivers laughs while also providing meaningful reflections on life, and you cannot ask much more of a film. All mature audiences who get dry, black comedy should enjoy this movie.
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Writers: Ewa Piaskowska, Jerzy Skolimowski
Starring: Sandra Drzymalska, Isabelle Huppert, Lorenzo Zurzolo
Runtime: 88 mins
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (probably would be R)
Who needs a human protagonist? You get to experience a transfixing sequence of almost completely unrelated events through the eyes of a Polish donkey named Eo. The presentation is essentially a series of vignettes connected by the donkey’s presence as ordained by the winds of fortune which blow in both positive and negative directions. EO is the rare film where I had no idea what was about to transpire next at almost any point, making for an exhilarating experience. From Eo’s upbringing in the circus to his stint as a good luck charm for a local football team to his tenure with a fraudulent Catholic priest, every second is entertaining as you eagerly await the next surprising direction that Eo’s journey will take. In this regard, the film strongly reminded me of Good Time, my favorite film of 2017. Nothing in this film is expected storywise nor with regards to social commentary. Multiple visual asides briefly hint at the theme of technology displacing nature. Cynical but humorous jabs are taken at specific person archetypes, social groups, and occupations. Unexpected right-wing immigration messaging comes in out of left field. It is quite an assortment of content that is difficult to holistically discuss.
Jerzy Skolimowski’s cinematic mastery is on full display as the asinine protagonist traipses the European landscape having to interact with both nature and human society. Within a constrained 4:3 aspect ratio, artistically framed external shots dominate but are intermixed with intimate closeups and perspective shots from Eo’s point of view. Natural outdoor backdrops and practical shots of numerous animals abound. Beyond the titular donkey, you get to see horses, cows, birds, a wolf, an owl, a fox, and even a spider weaving a web. Red-and-black filtered flourishes of surrealism feature experimental filming and editing choices, the coolest example being a mesmerizing drone shot that maneuvers along a stream through a forest. Well-integrated into the proceedings, polished sound design and a hypnotic score featuring both classical and electronic elements enhance sensory engagement. Skolimowski’s arthouse sensibilities and the eclectic collection of events make the EO’s brief runtime rife with memorable visuals.
What is most shocking is that EO accomplishes all the aforementioned items in under 90 minutes. It is definitely not for everyone especially those who need a consistent human element to anchor them. However, it is a captivating and rewarding experience for those who will go off the beaten path of Hollywood movies to give a Polish arthouse film a shot. For all these reasons, EO is my favorite film of 2022, and I recommend it to all adults who appreciate quality cinema.
EVERYTHING ELSE (ALL AT ONCE)
And here’s everything else…
The Good (★★★)
Here’s movies I think are a bit better than the average theatrical release and could be worth your time should the premise intrigue you. Plenty of pleasant surprises in this section.
This movie is so wild and horrific it could only have taken place in Detroit. The story starts with everyone’s greatest fear realized: someone else already staying at your Airbnb when you show up late at night. From there, I legitimately had no idea what was going to happen next for much of the remaining runtime. I make no claim that it is the most coherent film that has ever been made, but it is definitely an entertaining one. If ridiculous horror movies are your cup of tea, you should check this one out.
Brian and Charles
Brian and Charles is a charming, light-hearted buddy comedy involving a solitary Welsh inventor and his personally constructed robot. Nothing groundbreaking occurs as the plot is merely a translation of the “child discovers non-human friend that he has to keep hidden so it does not disrupt or frighten the rest of society” story outline (e.g. E.T., Iron Giant, etc.). However, Brian and Charles are so nice and likeable that the film gets by on that plus a witty script. I definitely recommend as a family-friendly watch.
Decibel is a straightforward Korean action movie that does not try to be anything it is not. A military family man is forced to play the dangerous game of an obsessive terrorist who makes it clear that everything is personal. Centered around the defusing of noise-triggered bombs, the action is tense and well motivated. What caught me off guard is the effective emotional dimension to the plot motivation that gets expertly woven in towards the film’s back end. Decibel happened to be playing at a nearby theater when I originally saw it, but I have no idea how you would be able to watch Decibel now as I cannot find it anywhere. In fact, there is barely any other critic reviews of the film in English.
A Hero follows the financially and legally troubled Rahim as he seeks to restore his status in both regards. Tragically flawed, Rahim cannot escape his own web of deception and is unable to follow through on his word putting him into a deeper and deeper hole. However, Rahim eventually grows out of being largely self-motivated and short-sighted to being motivated by a desire to keep his son protected from the sins of his father. An Iranian endeavor, A Hero presents a starkly different cultural context to that of the West which makes some of the more mundane aspects of the film a bit more intriguing. Despite being a bit slow-paced, A Hero is an engaging watch that people willing to sit through a subtitled film should consider.
Steven Soderbergh embraces the atmosphere of paranoia during the COVID-19 lockdown period to construct a tense thriller about a remote tech worker stumbling upon a potential crime being covered up by her corporation. Tightly paced and filled with high-stakes action, Kimi is efficient entertainment within a 90-minute runtime. The movie is a bit bare bones and will probably age poorly, but it is particularly engaging as its themes are pertinent to present technological and social issues.
Living is a British remake of Akira Kurosawa’s flawless Ikiru (1952), which itself drew inspiration from Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Despite Living being an extremely close remake, the only direction to go in this case is down. The filmmakers communicate the existential weight of being faced with one’s final days and being forced to consider the meaning of one’s life and work less efficiently and less memorably. There are still single shots from Ikiru embedded in my memory that this film lacks. Nonetheless, the film had a high ceiling inherently built-in by not straying far from its source material and is a recommendable watch.
The Menu has an alluring premise for those who, like myself, believe something more sinister lurks behind the world of fine dining. Unfortunately, the revelation that juvenile resentment towards hypocrisy and pretention in high society motivates the entire situation is lazy and disappointing; the antagonist’s grievances are valid but extremely hard to buy as motivation for the extreme actions he takes. However, everything leading up to that point is well-acted, humorous, and attention-grabbing. It is refreshing to see pointed critiques of non-constructive criticism and aimless foodie-ism as methods to artificially inflate one’s own ego, but Pig (2021) did the latter better in a single scene last year. Still, I recommend The Menu as an above average entry in the suspense-thriller genre.
Nitram is excellent Australian anti-gun propaganda. Unfortunately, I am American and not anti-gun so I detest this film’s intention. Even still, well done!
A goofy monster flick that I enjoyed more than anything else Jordan Peele has ever done. Full review here.
A prequel to Ti West’s other horror film from this year X, Pearl is a psychological cutaway of deranged female evil. Pearl is a simple farm girl narcissistically obsessed with vain ambition and as she journey inwards she eventually severs all outward relationships in vile and gruesome fashion. Pearl’s innocent and disarming demeanor make the events that transpire all the more disturbing, and Mia Goth’s performance is frightening believable. Unfortunately, genre obligations to vulgarity restrain the film from achieving much else. I cannot recommend this film to many people due to the coarse content, but it is certainly a cut above average horror fare.
Playground is a ground level view of schoolyard bullying featuring exceptionally believable child acting. Every scene is shot extremely close to the actors to construct a claustrophobic atmosphere and communicate the smallness of the children’s world. This film is barely feature length but packs a compelling if unpleasant punch.
Thirteen Lives is a Ron Howard-helmed dramatization of the Tham Luang cave rescue in 2018. Despite my general disdain for biopics, this story is tense and captivating, and the triumph of human ingenuity put towards compassionate ends is a timeless feeling worth celebrating. Well-acted, intelligently structured and presented, Thirteen Lives ignites our desire to see resilience lead to survival and rescue, even though it breaks little artistic ground doing so.
Top Gun: Maverick
Just a finely crafted, American-made summer blockbuster. Full review here.
Provocative auteur Gaspar Noé delivers a measured examination of the familial tension and challenges presented by the onset of dementia to one member of an elderly couple. The presentation is entirely two-camera split-screen simultaneously tracking the husband and wife through the separate events of their daily lives. When they are together, the audience gets two different perspectives of the same event. Surprisingly, this technique does not come across as an unnecessary gimmick and the dual perspectives add extra depth to mostly mundane affairs. This film shows dementia honestly and, thus, is by no means an uplifting experience. So be forewarned.
You Won’t Be Alone
A shape-shifting old witch claims a teenage girl raised in a cave as her pupil and imparts to her supernatural abilities. By killing and placing the vital organs of a living creature inside herself, the girl is able to assume the form of that creature and experience life from its perspective. The presentation is a relaxed and deliberate sightseeing trip through a series of varied life perspectives as experienced by an ignorant child thrust into them. The prevailing meditative atmosphere is immersive allowing one to briefly forget the grisly transmogrification mechanism at play and the soul-claiming witchcraft that initiates the story. Fortunately, positive themes dominate by the story’s conclusion as the reclamation of stolen humanity becomes the primary focus with selfless sacrifice being necessary to stop the cycle of trauma. This film does drag in parts and the occasional gruesome elements are not for everyone. However, You Won’t Be Alone could be a rewarding experience for the right viewer.
The Meh (★★½)
Here is all the movies that are either wholly unremarkable average cinema fare or nearly completely balanced in terms of positive and negative qualities.
The Batman spends more time doing detective things rather than killing people in this incarnation. Full review here.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie
I will preface this review by saying that I have never watched an episode of Bob’s Burgers before. Now the review: I was not offended. It just kinda happened…and then I went on with my day.
Bodies Bodies Bodies
This film is an attempt at a trashy modernized whodunit with a thick layer of ironic Generation Z-tailored social commentary. It is not the worst idea on paper but the people who put the script to paper are not particularly talented. Every character in the movie is purposefully off-putting and obnoxious, which does not really work when the writers of this movie think they are a lot funnier and incisive than they actually are. Consequently, most of the interactions in this movie movie are simply annoying while the plot delivers the bare essentials of a murder mystery in mildly entertaining fashion. I will never watch it again but it could have been worse.
Bones and All
Luca Guadagnino decided that misunderstood monster romance would be the best sphere to focus his latest directorial effort. Littered throughout the running time are plenty of captivating eccentricities, but the film’s central romance has little more to it beyond moody outcasts bonding through sheer forced time spent together. Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet have believable chemistry but it is extremely difficult to make the relationship between two young lovers who…uhhh…eat people terribly endearing. For such a ridiculous plot about cannibalism, the script gets a bizarrely straight delivery with the atmosphere only ever alternating between super serious and super peculiar. The film is painfully humorless and a boring sort of contemplative. Functionally, the story is a thinly disguised vehicle to garner sympathy for the mutual affection of the socially deviant. If you really think about it, Bones and All is a spiritual successor to his previous film Call Me By Your Name.
This story is an exercise in maximizing emotional-manipulation of an audience using traumatic events affecting children. Close is foreign Oscar-bait dross barely redeemed by competent visuals and performances. If you enjoy wading through a fog of somber sadness and being cheaply forced to contemplate the least pleasant tragedies of life, give this one a go.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
A lot of people really enjoyed this movie. Unfortunately, I did not, and that is okay. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a perfectly constructed film to appeal to Reddit users as it attempts to stride atop the morass of mainstream mediocrity on extremely fragile stilts. The film is hopelessly wedded to the present zeitgeist and marred with a painfully cynical self-awareness indicative of millennial filmmakers. Intrinsically by being a multiverse movie, Everything Everywhere All at Once cannot escape being a product of fascination with present cultural novelties, and this characteristic severely constrains imagination. A massive open space of opportunity so trivially developed demonstrates how small-minded writer-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert are. You have introduced a plot mechanism for literally infinite possibilities and these crass vulgarities and inane sight gags are all you could manage to fathom? You clearly espouse absurdism and this the most absurd presentation you could devise? The concept is really just an excuse for any and every trifling silliness to be possible.
In the final act, Everything Everywhere All at Once turns into an anemic message movie whose philosophical content is so integral to how the story wraps up that it cannot be brushed aside. The villain is explicitly condemned for her nihilistic outlook which motivates the harm she causes, while the positive alternative is an embracing of absurdism in the universal scheme of things and a self-motivated existence-affirming altruism in the immediate world. This presented dichotomy glaringly begs the question: why is altruism a morally superior way of living if the universe (or multiverse) is ultimately meaningless as both nihilism and absurdism deny objective human purpose? No positive moral basis is ever presented, yet all harm and chaos gets neatly reconciled and a feel-good emotional catharsis gets injected nonetheless. The saccharine ending feels unearned and rings hollow.
Negativity aside, what is in the film is technically competent, and the story does not drag. There are pockets of amusement and memorable moments of compelling acting. Unfortunately, the whole package is really not the life-changing experience that public reaction made it out to be, and I doubt I will ever see this film again.
The general consensus about this movie from those that both like and dislike it appears to be that it is inferior to the original Knives Out with which I strongly agree. This time around, way too much effort went into developing a colorful cast of characters for the posters and film-accompanying sticker book while little effort went into ensuring the sociopolitical leanings of the filmmakers did not prevent an intriguing setup from developing to fruition. The writers of the movie loathe the archetype they are trying to vilify, the “tech billionaire bro”, so much that they cannot resist castrating his intelligence unnecessarily. This decision precludes any sort of intricate and ultimately satisfying mystery from occurring and presents no intellectual challenge for the protagonist Benoit Blanc. Throughout the film, he comes across as a clairvoyant mind reader rather than simply a master of deduction. Though functional, the story is thoroughly uninteresting after the first act, ultimately reaching a silly pyrotechnics show at its conclusion. Glass Onion is not unwatchable but a far cry from the original.
Hellraiser is a goofy reboot of an already goofy horror franchise that takes itself far too seriously. The sadomasochistic cosmic demon villains are weirdos in plastic costumes. I found this film pretty amusing in ways the filmmaker definitely did not intend. However, the shoddy production design, cheesy script, and atrocious acting are not worth sitting through for the hilarious stupidity of the supposedly horrific elements.
Hit the Road
The substantial cultural gulf combined with an intimate Iranian family situation precludes me from connecting to the story in any meaningful way. I might like this movie more if I was Iranian. I am not sure though…the child actor is really annoying.
Thirty years in the making, Mad God is an extremely weird stop-motion descent though the nine circles of a post-apocalyptic hellscape. I was transfixed by the intricacy and monstrous creativity of the visual presentation while being engaged on no other level whatsoever as the film does little to cohere into something beyond a series of concept art. I wanted to re-watch Eraserhead for some reason after finishing this movie.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
This stop-motion film’s play is to get by on pure cloying innocence yet the whole presentation is a little too strange to be touching. Much like its little shell protagonist, the film is slight and inconsequential, squashed into the recesses of my mind at this point.
The Pale Blue Eye
Spooky period piece murder mystery that takes place in 19th century West Point with Edgar Allen Poe as a protagonist. I’m going to be extremely honest and admit I fell asleep watching this film. I don’t know where else to put it though.
The Quiet Girl
If you thought Banshees of Inisherin was the most Irish film of the year on this list, you would be wrong. A contemplative look into the life of an uncommunicative young girl from a distressed home sent to live with her elder cousin and her husband in the countryside. The story earnestly presents her social development as she learns to overcome her familial trauma and trust her new parental figures. Unfortunately, I could not connect with this story. I am not sure if it was due to having seen too many films from 2022 at this point or possibly due to being neither a prepubescent female nor fluent in Gaelic. Whatever the reason, the movie went through my eyeballs and straight out the back of my head landing it in this purgatory.
The Worst Person in the World
In this critically acclaimed Norwegian film by Joachim Trier, the main character Julie is the personification of narcissism obfuscating the darkness of nihilism as she fails to commit to anything of value outside of her own myopic vision for her life. The major developments in her life and particularly the ending of the film are all extremely grim yet much of the movie is presented as light-hearted and even outright comedic. I understand irony within black comedy can be a powerful highlighting tool, but there is not much to highlight that the title does not reveal. Much like Julie, the film is devoid of meaning and is just a desultory labor to traverse and then forget. However, I will admit it is well-shot, acted, and directed.
A senile old couple murder pornographers on a farm. Surprisingly more tame than you would expect from the premise. I would still avoid.
The Bad AND The Ugly (★★½ or less)
Here is all the movies that fail to meet the minimum functional requirements of filmmaking…and much worse. Many of these films are piercingly painful experiences to endure and a few are affronts to the art of cinema itself. Submerged at the bottom of this cesspit are films that are so offensive to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful that giving them any sort of recognition, however negative, is far more than they deserve.
Argentina, 1985 is a dull, self-important, oversimplified historical narrative full of the typical biopic beats. Trite emotional manipulation abounds with the worst offenders being the cloying scenes where an eager little boy essentially asks his father, “Did you convict the former military junta of war crimes today?”. These forced interactions are unnatural and unconvincing for a child. Worst of all, the movie has to keep going on and on to cover the whole slew of events. Maybe learn about this piece of history from alternative sources.
Avatar: The Way of Water
James Cameron delivers a big blue Avatar 2 for those waiting all these years. Getting through it is not an easy swim. Full review here.
A film so astoundingly and ostentatiously awful that it could only have been crafted by a talented filmmaker given to excess. Coming off three straight directorial hits, Damien Chezelle falls hard on his face as he seeks to glorify the glitz and glamor of roaring 1920s Hollywood and the subsequent transition from silent to sound films. A sizable budget, lengthy runtime, ensemble cast, and complicated set pieces cannot mask this film having a hollow center and, consequently, a lack of coherent engagement. Lacking meaningful character development or engaging storytelling, Babylon relishes in its lewdness, unscrupulous characters, and grotesque elements oftentimes making it little better than pornography. Pockets of amusement and transfixing oddities exist within its elephantine mass but no compelling motivation initiates or connects anything together. My summary is simply a quotation of relevant scripture, “Flee from the midst of Babylon, and each of you save his life! Do not be destroyed in her punishment” (Jeremiah 51:6).
This overwrought cartoon romp through a digital meta-verse is a bizarre mishmash of influences and sub-plots that does not cohere into an endearing anime experience. Full review here.
I despise the music biopic as a genre as such films generally have to aggressively engineer the real life events be even remotely dramatic or engaging. Baz Luhrmann preempts the engagement issue by delivering a full-blown assault on the audience’s senses instead. The editing in the first act is so rapid and dizzying that aversion of one’s eyes is often necessary to moor one’s visual sensibility. Tom Hanks’ performance as Colonel Parker is difficult to take seriously. The film is way too long, disorienting, and annoying. I am an Elvis appreciator but would not start here if you are curious about the man.
Steven Spielberg’s self-indulgent overlong groan-inducing Oscar contender shoo-in is precisely what I expected it to be. A loosely autobiographical recounting of Spielberg’s own coming-of-age experience, The Fabelmans consistently leans into its own self-importance to prop up an otherwise pedestrian family drama. Spielberg is hellbent on making overly emotional interactions with monologues and dialogues that seem tailor-made for Oscars play. The story thrives off its boy protagonist being a perpetual victim in his upbringing. However, few moments feel convincingly genuine or earned emotionally but rather come across as cheap attempts to accrue sympathy. The technical craftsmanship of Spielberg is on full display as always but the self-obsessed unsatisfactory ends make the means a waste. To take my disdain a step further, I want the entire self-congratulatory genre of films about the magic of filmmaking itself to die off.
Father Stu is a profoundly unserious effort to carve out a space for Catholicism in more mainstream cinema. Full review here.
A vile creature of a film that attempts to satirize performance art. Multiple scenes in this movie triggered my gag reflex. I have little else to say. If a film about “sonic catering” and a gastrointestinally-distressed journalist sounds appealing to you, have at it, but do not tell me you were not warned.
Imagine if the most paranoid young woman on planet earth made a movie. This story got pulled from the depths of a frightened delusional female mind, and the movie is just an indulgent projection of her deepest darkest irrational fears. This “horror” film is conceptually over-the-top and amateurish in every filmmaking attribute as the director completely lacks tonal control or sophisticated presentation skills. The script is annoying and indecisive about what it wants to be. The provocative content is obnoxious, an expectoration of mistrustful fantasies from a dim worldview. This film is devoid of any edifying or incisive content and is quite the opposite of pleasing entertainment. Avoid at all costs.
After making a name for himself in the realm of science fiction, Alex Garland decided to make a provocative anti-male horror film. Goofy presentation choices blunt the creepiness factor while reduction of the heroine into a boring cardboard cutout of a woman dulls the acerbic feminist messaging. Full review here.
Predating the other Predator films by a couple centuries, Prey delivers what audiences had always wanted to see in this franchise: a teenage Native American girl fighting the Predator. Surprising absolutely no one, Prey is a poorly acted, turn-your-brain-off action film that does little to engage its audience outside of the violence. The characters are wooden and uninteresting but that is largely irrelevant as most are offed efficiently. You just sit there waiting for the heroine to entrap and defeat the Predator in an extremely telegraphed fashion. The film does include some nice landscape shots of the “Northern Great Plains” which suspiciously include a lot of forests and mountains. As it turns out this film was shot in the Canadian Rockies west of Calgary, a region I am fairly certain no one refers to as the “Northern Great Plains”. Furthermore, since the Native American tribe depicted in the film is explicitly stated to be the Comanche in 1719, I am befuddled by both the fictitious and actual location choices since to the best of my historical knowledge the Comanche lived nowhere near either of these areas in the early 1700s. Were French Voyageurs even in these areas at that time either? Someone correct me if I am wrong. If they did not explicitly state a location and year, you could explain away all these production choices as artistic license. It is just very weird considering the filmmakers allegedly worked closely with the Comanche tribe during production.
The most expensive Indian film ever made, RRR is a bombastic anti-colonial epic filled to the brim with ridiculous set pieces, obnoxious musical numbers, and shoddy special effects. The constant barrage of silly sights and sounds does not make this deluded narrative endearing; rather, it is extremely annoying to digest. The writer’s palpable hatred for British governance animates the conflict throughout the story, and the abundance of cheesiness and saccharine melodrama is even more tiresome than the indulgent anti-Western sentiment. I highly recommend steering clear of this film unless, for some reason, you have a strong affinity for Bollywood (yes, I know it is not technically Bollywood) features.
Triangle of Sadness
I am befuddled how this movie got nominated for Best Picture. I understand this script has many elements that pander to the Hollywood elites’ virtue signaling sensibilities, but, even still, it is pathetically juvenile. The dialogue is clunky, and the “eat the rich” messaging is tired and lacks any sort of subtlety. Satire becomes dull and inelegant when it is obnoxiously on the nose. Triangle of Sadness takes that lack of subtlety a whole step further by introducing Woody Harrelson’s ship captain character to give an impassioned defense of communism against a capitalist in the second act. As for the rest of the film, I do admit I was completely checked out by the time the third act rolled around after being forced to watch projectile vomiting for what felt like ten minutes of runtime. All in all, this film is a thoroughly grating experience. Please avoid!
Turning Red is a box-checking Disney plot that just feels especially lazy. Female coming-of-age story. Check. Minority-centered. Check. Barely functional and coherent plot. Check. Perfect metaphor for subversive child indoctrination…but I digress. As a children’s film, Turning Red is just really boring, predictable, and derivative.
On the surface, White Noise is a series of stilted, awkward, and desultory interactions between hypochondriacs strung together by bizarre subplots. At its core, the film, which is an adaptation of a 1985 novel, is a facile critique of 1980s consumerism and religiosity that seems more like a cynical plea for validation of its nihilistic worldview. Fear of death is the presiding theme and, as such, this film really fears life and reality itself; the abundance of hopeless cynicism and negativity seeping into the script distorts the true and beautiful aspects of life to the point that each scene becomes more off-putting than the last. Now, completely unrelated to my evaluation, a catastrophic train derailment occurs leading to a dangerous chemical waste release over a small town in Ohio eerily similar to what occurred a month after the film’s Netflix release in real life in East Palestine, Ohio. Conspiracy theorists, have at it.
Some may be wondering about the absence of the annual “So-Bad-It’s-Good Award”. That is because there was no film so shoddily realized to the point of hilarity. Everything bad was simply painful and soul-sucking. I genuinely wish I had never seen the likes of Fresh, Flux Gourmet, and Triangle of Sadness; my quality of life briefly but noticeably declined as a result of their effect on my psyche. As previously mentioned, I will be drastically reducing the number of new movies I watch in 2023 for my sanity. That being said, I am optimistic for the future of filmmaking as plenty of visionary filmmakers seem unaffected by cultural trends maintaining a higher loyalty to crafting authentic imaginative entertainment, depicting the sublime and beautiful, and presenting the universal truths of the human experience. Unfortunately, I have to filter out a lot of dross in the process of finding all such films in a given year.
In 2023, expect at least one review a month and a year-end list similar in format to this one but much more compact. Additionally, I may experiment with other types of writing involving film analysis and commentary outside of new releases. I look forward to this coming year and appreciate all support and feedback!
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