Top 10 of 2022

This year was a bit of a contradiction in movie watching and movie criticism for me. After being able to get back into the swing of things with my YouTube channel, TAVERN TALK, in 2021 this year marked the first full calendar year in which I produced a weekly video review of the biggest release of the week on my own. I’m proud of what that channel has become and the people that I have been able to meet reviewing movies in this fashion even if the growth hasn’t been what I’d like it to be. I wish I could dedicate countless hours to the channel and produce multiple videos a day, but that's just not in the cards at this point in life and the amount of work it takes to produce these reviews at the level of quality I like and the consistency I’ve done has come to also hinder my viewing habits - cutting into time I could have spent watching more films. This end of year list would typically be a video I publish on the channel (& may still be, but will also appear here for the sake of timing), but while the video format of reviewing movies has been an experience I’ve largely enjoyed it’s not one I can necessarily keep up with at any kind of competitive rate moving forward and this will be cutting back on those in the new year. I want to be able to see more films in general (I only saw 129 new releases in 2022 where in year's past I typically see over 200) as well as work on projects of my own within the world of film without having to pour all of my time and energy into videos about other people’s movies. All of that to say, I obviously didn’t see everything I wanted to in 2022 and hope to catch-up with many at the top of my watchlist soon, but as it is the final day of the year my ten favorite films of this year are as follows…  

10. Turning Red - Set in 2002 and featuring an era appropriate boy band this had me hooked almost immediately based solely on the nostalgia it elicited, but it soon became clear the film had so much more going for it. Director Domee Shi’s feature debut centers on Mei Mei, a Chinese-Canadian growing up in Toronto. With style to spare, a huge personality, and some rather weighty themes Turning Red took me by surprise with how much it ultimately affected me. It’s pretty edgy (as evidenced by all the Facebook moms freaking out about it), but for a movie essentially about “magical puberty” it doesn’t stray from those themes or topics but instead embraces the big emotions that come along with that stage of growing-up. The film also addresses generational expectations and specifically in relationship traditions that are expected to remain the same in terms of dynamics even when those dynamics have become twisted and toxic over time. Mei Mei breaks this chain and brings her family back to a place of clarity and sincerity about why these relationships matter outside of those expectations so that they are instead honest with one another about who they are rather than pretending to be someone else so as to fulfill an arbitrary belief of who they should be. Now streaming on Disney+. I reviewed Turning Red in full with my daughter which you can watch here.

9. Pearl - In a year filled with rather exceptional horror releases like NOPE, Barbarian, Halloween Ends, Smile, Watcher, The Black Phone, and of course X my favorite among them was Ti West’s Pearl. In all honesty, one could probably switch out a few of the aforementioned films in this spot, but while Pearl might not necessarily be the most “accomplished” among the bunch it was the one that felt the most singular (granted, I need to revisit NOPE) despite being a prequel and despite being released within a week of Barbarian. Mia Goth is totally gonzo in the titular role as this repressed young woman in a small town in texas in 1918 who can’t help but to give into both her temptations and her aspirations for being of being a star; lusting after the glamorous life of the people she sees in the pictures. While the premise serves Goth a platter on which she dines heavily what is most impressive about this feast of a slasher is how it melds the crazy and the melancholy, the darkness of the character’s desires with its turned-up technicolor palette, and maybe - most impressionably - how West’s presentation of the juxtaposition of the aura around “talent” as opposed to the actual execution of it is both incredibly searing yet absolutely impeccable.  

8. Aftersun - This story of a young woman sifting through her memories - both recorded and remembered - and trying to discern the differences while seemingly hoping to understand her father's choices as a way to help guide her own adult and parenthood is deeply affecting even if it doesn’t purport to be about anything as specific. Director Charlotte Wells categorizes her film through beautiful, cinematic moments from the vacation, moments caught on an old camcorder, and a surreal nightclub setting. Respectively, these are meant to elicit the memories, the reality, and the turmoil taking place below the surface and it is through these aforementioned moments that Wells’ camera finds images that both sent me into a dizzying parental state of anxiety as well as letting loose a flood of emotions that sent me spiraling back to my own youth and the innocence of that time period. It is in Wells’ ability to compose - literally and figuratively - these memories, these moments, and these feelings in such a way so as to suggest more than they do explain everything that exists outside of the frame that makes this magic seem tangible. What it meant to me it won’t mean to everyone, but what it meant to me was a hell of a lot. 

7. Elvis - Who better to make a biopic about the most grandiose of celebrities, the most heralded performer in rock history, and the entertainer with the most iconic image of all time than the director who also decided to drop Kanye and Jay-Z into 1920s New York? Baz Luhrmann is a love him or hate him kind of filmmaker. You’re either on the train or you’re not and if you thought he’d treat Elvis Presley more conventionality than he did Fitzgerald then you’ve got another thing coming. Needless to say, I bought a ticket and was first in line to board. Luhrmann is bold. He’s a maximalist. Subtleties aren't his forte…hell, he may not even know the meaning of the word. And if you’re not happy with Luhrmann’s approach stylistically then you may not like the structural choices here either a la shaping Elvis’ rise, fall, rise, fall arc through the eyes of Tom Hanks’s admittedly questionable Colonel Parker. What this seemingly contrasting approach does though is lend the film a throughline that otherwise would have caused the narrative to feel as lawless as the film’s visual sense. Performance choices aside (it’s still Tom Hanks) this compromise of order and chaos leads to some of the best edited sequences of the year that place you within these moments in history that may not reflect exactly what those moments might have looked like, but undoubtedly make you feel what it must have felt like to have actually been there and experienced them. Now streming on HBO Max. I reviewed Elvis with playwright and journalist Werner Trieschmann which you can watch here

6. The Northman - One of the most intense moviegoing experiences of the year and without a doubt my favorite film of director Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse) thus far. While The Northman may at first glance appear to be another Hamlet-inspired story that takes its most engaging cues from that familiar play it instead only uses the basis of that narrative set-up to create a fresh take on the material that utilizes the rich characters dynamics to emphasize a tale about the vicious circle of violence man can't help but to engage with. Both his biggest film is terms of budget and scale (as well as his most accessible) Eggers embraces the Norse mythology his and Icelandic poet Sjón's screenplay uses as the backdrop for his story while simultaneously offering what is an unflinching look at the brutality of the time period in which this is set and what it took to remain alive and atop the food chain. The Northman features some of the most visceral and thrilling action sequences of the year as well as an ensemble that includes Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Björk, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, and Nicole Kidman with Kidman in particular doing some of her best work in some time. While certainly not for everyone, it was without a doubt one of the few movies this year that made me stand up and yell, "Fuck yeah! Cinema!" as soon as the credits began to roll. The Northman is now streaming on Amazon Prime. I discussed the film at length with Doctor Popcorn AKA Saxon whitehead which you can view here.

5. Vengeance - This one really surprised me. Like, kind of blew me away. Writer/director/star B.J. Novak (in his directorial debut) managed to say what he clearly set out to say while seeming to find new ideas and revelations within the writing process along the way and then was able to weave those into a complete narrative that is decidedly more layered than what he no doubt originally outlined or intended while still staying true to his ultimate vision. This sense of self-discovery and reflection might be what I admired most about Novak's objectivity both in his screenplay and direction. Also, Vengeance is really funny (a winning facet given the current state of studio comedies) and at times annoyingly insightful - especially considering one of its main themes resonates with how disconnected we've become with one another in order to create and preserve a record of ourselves that future generations will likely care little about due to their own self-consumption. Novak would like to be a cynic, likely considers himself one even, but Vengeance tells a different story; a story of cycles and myths, of sincerity and hypocrisy, and of the hope that might come again despite the bleakness of our present cultural landscape through the mountains of varied voices being heard and championed. Vengeance is now streaming on Peacock

4. TÁR - While about many things the central conflict of Todd Field's (In the Bedroom, Little Children) latest revolves around the titular character’s slow unraveling as her past catches up to her in ways she wasn’t expecting and ways it never did for her male counterparts of the past. I’ve told many people this is my “one for me” pick this year given I wouldn’t feel safe recommending it to friends for fear they might hate me if I assure them this is worth sitting through. At twenty minutess short of three hours, TÁR is a lot, but it demands you sit up and pay attention while ultimately feeling justified in its length by the ways in which it remains with you. Outside of the obvious (Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-worthy performance, Field’s assured directorial hand) what personally grabbed me about the film is that of how specific the thing is the film is discussing and how it’s contrasted by the grandness of the aesthetic and the world in which it takes place. Field is ultimately questioning how much leverage a person’s talent and their cultural impact buys them if they turn out to be a terrible human being, but while this is certainly a hot topic today it is more Field’s investigation into the bullshit we must cut through when discussing the “brilliance” of an artist that held me clutched in Lydia Tár’s admittedly engaging grasp. My discussion around TÁR with Arkansas Democrat Gazette film critic Philip Martin can be viewed here

3. Glass Onion - Somehow, Rian Johnson did it again. Working as both sheer entertainment and a *modern* parable, the structure here serves the themes and vice versa. The many layers involved this time around unravel to reveal the complicated ways in which the same story can have many different interpretations. Furthermore, Glass Onion is about what those interpretations reveal about the characters themselves. This idea of appearance indicating one thing (the layers of an onion) while the core truth sits in plain sight (in the case of a glass onion) is threaded perfectly through the strategic casting of a certain ensemble member. The way Johnson plays with perception to emphasize larger, timely points around the credibility of sources and the integrity of one’s actions only amplifies Johnson’s skill for crafting a message that serves his story rather than the other way around. The cast, especially Janelle Monae and Daniel Craig, are all having a blast. I loved every aspect of it, have already watched it a second time since it hit streaming, and can’t wait to see where Blanc goes next. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is now streaming on Netflix. Watch my full review featuring whoddunit aficiando Jordan Woodson here

2. The Banshees of Inisherin - Hilariously heartbreaking. Writer/director Martin McDonagh deals in the divide between love and legacy and how men tend to only make things worse by trying to fix situations to our wants/expectations with egos too large to let misgivings go even when incorrect; all of which end up typically placing us back where we began - often times literally, but almost always emotionally. Set in 1923 on a small island off the coast of Ireland the Irish civil war is occurring on the mainland as this war erupts between our two main characters (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) emphasizing the meditation on the innate hesitance towards change and the inability of some to see the bigger picture. McDonagh navigates his drastically different tones effortlessly while exploring the terrain his premise spurns allowing the themes to not just shine, but resonate. With fantastic performances all around -Kerry condon and Barry Keoghan are also of note - and a constantly surprising narrative Banshees is, if not necessarily groundbreaking, at least something very, very special. The Banshees of Inisherin is now streaming on HBO Max. I also discussed this film with Philip Martin, which you can again see here

1. Top Gun: Maverick - What a movie! I realize putting this at the top of my list may feel a little, “really?” and I understand the theater experience of seeing this with a packed crowd who loved every second of it only made me love it more, but as someone who was born the year after the original came out and had no real connection to that film, Top Gun: Maverick offered the ideal theater-going experience and my best one of the year...easily. I also realize that the absence of these kinds of experiences due to Covid might have a certain impact too, but sitting there watching this film unfold for the first time I felt like I was twelve years-old again. It has the power of immediately feeling like an instant classic. Unanimously loved and agreed upon to be the pinnacle of sequels. An adrenaline rush even among star Tom Cruise’s latter career efforts. It’s pure cinematic euphoria from the nonsensical beach football game to the way in which Cruise and frequent collaborator and screenplay co-writer Christopher McQuarrie have fashioned this film to both cement and deconstruct the myth of Cruise himself. I hope they never make another one. Top Gun: Maverick is now streaming on Paramount+.Watch my review featuring my Auntie Amy here as she was someone who always took me to the movies growing up and is a die hard Cruise fan.  

1 comment:

  1. La liberté n'est pas quelque chose qui vous a été donné. C’est quelque chose qui ne peut vous être enlevé. Comme un bon film.