As of this writing, I’ve seen 250 films released in 2022. I’ll see a few more. There are always “a few more.” That’s 57% more than in 2021. Strangely, the dog walking did not diminish this year. In fact, it doubled in intensity. (We took in another dog who needed a good place to land. His name is Oscar, and he loves to watch movies with me. Dani does not, but that’s OK.)
Of those, 63 were in a theatre. Overall, I’ll have watched about eight movies per week in 2022. This includes 67 directed by women (meeting or exceeding my annual goal of 52 for a fourth straight year), 34 horror outings for Letterboxd’s annual HoopTober celebration, a handful of concise but lascivious erotic-thriller gems at a Fuck, Yeah! Film Festival outing, the entirety of the Harry Potter series (not the Fantastic Beasts stuff, never that), all of Michael Bay’s Transformers films, 90 films with my lovely and patient wife (including the Star Wars prequels, which she had never seen), 28 films from the 2022 Heartland Film Festival, RRR unintentionally alone, and, for the first (but certainly not the last) time, Once Upon a Time in the West.
Throw in another 600-ish episodes of TV and another nearly 550 new albums or EPs from 2022. Oh, hey, I went to a few concerts this year. One in Canada, no less. Not a bad year.
The following article includes:
- Top Six Documentaries
- 10 Favorite Scenes of the Year (alphabetical order by film)
- 10 Favorite Needle-Drops of the Year (alphabetical order by song)
- My 10 Least Favorite Films of the Year (least to most offensive)
- 50 Solid Recommendations (alphabetical order by film)
- The 25 Best Films of 2022
You can jump to any individual section by clicking on the link in the list.
You can also find all of my formal reviews here at Midwest Film Journal and, if you’re so inclined, follow me on Letterboxd for real-time rankings and repartee. In the pieces below with good things, I’ve listed where you can (or soon can) watch the good stuff, starting with streaming services first (free, as applicable, then subscription; mind you, this is as of December 20, 2022). And yes, I reserve the right to add and reorder all of this later (probably on Letterboxd; it will take too much work to do here).
Top Six Documentaries
A simultaneously puerile, poignant and punchy documentary with narrative twists and thoughtful ideas best left preserved. There’s unexpected advocacy for activism that suggests the integral role of intervention and mischief to strengthen, or shake, trust in journalistic institutions. The film also interrogates the conflict between its subjects’ artistic integrity and increased success. By sticking together in the past, they took a path that diverged from some of their prank partners. Now, they must consider whether to let the establishment appropriate their anarchy in a way that turns a middle finger into a high-five. Is it possible that all of these more serious notions are simply another Andy Kaufman-ish put-on? Absolutely. Does a last-act intrusion of reality conveniently arbitrate some of this anxiety? Yes. That last bit is a minor (and admittedly unavoidable) ding on a story that reinforces a necessary reminder for all of us: Whenever you think what you’re good at doesn’t matter or have meaning, someone appreciates it so much they’d go to the mat for you when it counts. Not what you’d expect from a documentary with so much talk of dog penises and Dalton from Road House, but such is the delightful surprise of Chop & Steele. (Screened at the 2022 Heartland Film Festival; U.S. release plans are undetermined.)
An enraging, exhaustive and entirely terrifying documentary in which co-directors Lindsay Keys and Winslow Crane-Murdoch examine the staggering number of lives left to waste due to myriad complications concerning an agreement, by the global medical community, that Lyme disease should not be considered a chronic condition — a debate that has raged in the arena of American medicine for nearly a half-century. Like 2022’s Aftershock, The Quiet Epidemic illustrates yet another convincing case in which arrogant pride and the aggressive pursuit of profit have pushed aside the rights of American patients, their access to treatment and their very quality of life.The discourse surrounding this dilemma is dense, and there is a litany of scientific specifics to consider. But Keys and Crane-Murdoch dole out the details with care, confidence and compassion. In all, The Quiet Epidemic delivers a sometimes dizzying pattern of devious decisions that deprive people of options for care of chronic Lyme disease. While the film makes no bones about its advocacy approach, neither does it lose sight of the humanity under perpetual siege by the ravages of this disease. (Screened at the 2022 Heartland Film Festival; limited theatrical release to come in 2023 before VOD.)
4. AFTERSHOCK (2022)
I have often agreed with, and espoused, the notion that no one wants to be in a hospital unless they’re having a baby. Never again. Aftershock is justifiably incensed and inclined to inspire change in a country where mainstream child-delivery tactics fail all mothers for the sake of margins — and a disproportionately higher number of Black mothers (perpetuating racist roots of modern American obstetrics). Co-directors Tonya Lewis Lee and Paula Eiselt also present a persuasive survey of American pregnancy medicine as yet another avenue through which patriarchy has rendered women’s bodies as proving grounds for tools of systemic oppression. Neither does it let alternative options off the hook in regard to how a lack of diversity in that space creates an imbalance. The film is wise to take its camera somewhere like Oklahoma, too, where media visibility for diverse people is smaller than for two focal-point fathers in New York, and in a way that detracts from neither story. For all of its appropriate anger, Aftershock understands Black joy is not just a notion on a sign, it’s something to be experienced, expressed and embraced; there are numerous moments of beauty, serenity, peace and communion of the pregnancy here as well. (Hulu)
3. BAD AXE
David Siev’s rollercoaster chronicle of a year in the life of his restaurateur family — and their trials and tribulations amid COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement and small-town racism — feels a tad overscored and overstuffed early on, threatening to become a feature-length Google commercial about the power of togetherness in challenging times. However, its power and focus sharpen as it goes. Ultimately, Bad Axe becomes a multifaceted work deftly tying together its seemingly disparate elements into a tough-minded tapestry rich with character, conflict and, ultimately, compassion for clashing ideologies within the Siev family. It’s fascinating to watch the younger generation’s adaptations shift from survival mode to activism, as well as how the parents must compromise with their adult children and how all five of them must peacefully live together. Bad Axe does end on a note of decided hope for the Sievs (and, in an electoral sense, the nation at large). But the tempered and tentative hugs in their celebrations illustrate: All of this time where we were thrown together, as for so many families, helped the Sievs see that any American victory is just a step, not a finish line. (VOD)
2. ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED
Named for a Rorschach response from the sister of primary subject Nan Goldin, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is a stirring work of archival resurrection, activist rigor and affecting personal history. Goldin is a photographer and artist coronated by New York counterculture circa the 1970s. Driven by her own survival of an overdose and addiction fostered by prescription opiates, Goldin today organizes activism aimed at removing the Sackler family name from museums worldwide (many of which include her work because, as one colleague says, “it’s much stronger when the message is coming from inside the house”). The Sacklers were the founders of Purdue Pharma, whose dangerous disregard for the addictive properties of Oxycontin helped fuel America’s current opioid epidemic, with cumulative, climbing costs of a trillion dollars every year. There are plenty of art-world documentaries about art’s essential nature as a weapon to unite, challenge and disrupt. Director Laura Poitras takes a musically dynamic approach, in a film that can shift from hushed prayer to harsh roar on a dime, and daringly so, connecting its distinct motifs into a purposefully aggressive requiem. The struggle between autonomy and dependency is at the center of Goldin’s art, her life and, as Poitras illustrates, our existence. Beauty is an effective reminder that what has inspired many more people of late to political awareness and activism has been a monolith faced by the less fortunate for far longer. An all-consuming fire like that the Sacklers unleashed will always come for people that politicians value as constituents. Goldin’s own history is filled with people toppled forever by little pills dispensed or denied. The result is a film that feels like nothing less than the battle between creativity and destruction, a eulogy for vibrant life lost to greed and malice, and a film that questions where the real American aberrance lies in a society where all the wrong things are kept secret. (In limited theatrical release; coming soon to HBO Max.)
1. I DIDN’T SEE YOU THERE
Equal parts personal exorcism and political activism, I Didn’t See You There offers an impressionistic investigation of Reid Davenport’s identity as a man with cerebral palsy and an artistic spirit that has, at great expense of emotional comfort, separated him from the people for whom he cares most in this world. Using a camera rig he could easily tote while tooling around town in Oakland, Davenport wanted to reclaim and reconcile his own place in society rather than how society saw him. The technology also empowered him to “look for shapes and patterns without worrying about meaning and words.” Just because he hasn’t fussed over them doesn’t mean he hasn’t masterfully fused them to these images, which arrive from a perspective that could only be considered askew to the able-bodied — one that’s instantaneously arresting and demands your cognitive confrontation with the difference of how Davenport sees the world. Indeed, Davenport weaponized the title of his film in so many wise ways — not the least of which is how hard edges of bygone barbarism can be so easily sanded down into a socially acceptable structure we don’t even notice any longer. (Screening as part of PBS’s POV on January 9, 2023.)
10 Favorite Scenes of the Year
- The opening-credits dance of After Yang
- Surgery at 60 miles an hour in AmbuLAnce (2022)
- The sheet-music fighting in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
- We are rocks in Everything Everywhere All At Once
- Sam and Logan’s post-screening heart-to-heart in The Fabelmans
- The parade in Halloween Ends
- What Mussolini’s goon does to Pinocchio in Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
- “Naatu Naatu” in RRR
- Lydia Tár bum-rushing the stage in TÁR
- The end-credits dance of White Noise (2022)
10 Favorite Needle Drops of the Year
“Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” by Nine Days (and as interpreted in various universes) in EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
The scene: Waymond talks to Evelyn outside … or in an RV … or Evelyn is a struggling hibachi chef … or perhaps a dominatrix.
Key lyrics: “As long as she stands there waiting / Wearing the holes in the soles of her shoes / How many days disappear when you look in the mirror? / So, how do you choose?”
“Be My Baby” by the Ronettes in BARBARIAN (2022)
The scene: Someone is regarded with affection.
Key lyrics: “The night we met, I knew I needed you so / And if I had the chance, I’d never let you go / So won’t you say you love me / I’ll make you so proud of me / We’ll make ’em turn their heads every place we go”
“Dancing On My Own” by Robyn in DEEP WATER (2022)
The scene: Vic Van Allen watches his wife, Melinda, let it all out at a party.
Key lyrics: “I’m right over here / Why can’t you see me? / Oh, oh, oh / I’m giving it my all / But I’m not the guy you’re taking home / Ooh ooh ooh / I keep dancing on my own” (Hulu)
“Endless Summer Nights” by Richard Marx in FRESH (2022)
The scene: Noa and Steve share a dance.
Key lyrics: “There’s only so much I can say / So please don’t run away from what we have together / It’s only you and me tonight / So let’s stay lost in flight / Oh, won’t you please surrender?”
“Five Years” by David Bowie in BLACK CRAB
The scene: Caroline and her daughter, Vanja, listen to the radio while stopped in a tunnel.
Key lyrics: “I think I saw you in an ice cream parlor / Drinking milkshakes cold and long / Smiling and waving and looking so fine / Don’t think you knew you were in this song”
“Last Resort” by Papa Roach in ON THE COUNT OF THREE
The scene: Kevin races down the road.
Key lyrics: “I’m running and I’m crying!”
“Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys in KIMI
The scene: Angela gets the drop on her captors.
Key lyrics: “So, so, so, so listen up ’cause you can’t say nothin’ / You’ll shut me down with a push of your button? / But yo, I’m out and I’m gone / I’ll tell you now, I keep it on and on”
“Sailing” by Christopher Cross in AMBULANCE (2022)
The scene: Danny tries to calm himself down.
Key lyrics: “Fantasy / It gets the best of me / When I’m sailing / All caught up in the reverie / Every word is a symphony / Won’t you believe me?”
“Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie in AFTERSUN
The scene: A father and a daughter finally dance together on vacation.
Key lyrics: “Insanity laughs, under pressure we’re breaking / Can’t we give ourselves one more chance? / Why can’t we give love that one more chance? / Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love, give love, give love, give love?” (Currently in theatres and on VOD; coming soon to Blu-ray)
“Your Silent Face” by New Order in BONES AND ALL
The scene: Maren and Lee decide to try on the normal life.
Key lyrics: “A thought that never changes / Remains a stupid lie / It’s never been quite the same / No hearing or breathing / No movement, no colors / Just silence”
My 10 Least Favorite Films of the Year
The only semblance of complexity for this embodiment of Marilyn Monroe (otherwise reduced to sexpot with daddy issues) is her perpetually denied preference to get some creative license with her characters, informed by unassisted research into Dostoevsky and Chekhov. It is otherwise a dutiful slog through the “Personal life” tab of Monroe’s Wikipedia page, which perhaps wisely junks the conspiracy theorizing of Joyce Carol Oates’ source novel but doesn’t fill it in with anything of note. Worst of all, writer-director Andrew Dominik fatally indulges in the same braying-jackass voyeurism he’d like to indict, filming grate-skirt promotional appearances for The Seven-Year Itch from more angles than the explosions in a Chuck Norris movie. Awfully rich to have Monroe turn to the camera and ask what business of ours her life is anyway after a move like that. Ultimately, she’s no less of a plaything in Dominik’s hands than she was in anyone else’s.
THE MAN FROM TORONTO
If director Patrick Hughes really wants to merge this with his Hitman’s Bodyguard work, they might as well just name it the CMT Cinematic Universe after the channel most apt to show such garbage. When supporting players are bringing Kevin Hart energy to scenes alongside Kevin Hart, it’s an ouroboros of obnoxiousness while action sequences essentially rip off Rush Hour, Uncharted, Kingsman and, rather distressingly, The Last Mercenary. Hart and Woody Harrelson share good antagonistic chemistry (and a few good quips), but sweet lord, that’s no reason to threaten The Hitman, the Bodyguard, the Wife, the Men from Toronto and Their Lovers.
THE BUBBLE (2022)
Not the worst movie about dinosaurs — computer-generated and comedic here — this year but certainly close. What an embarrassment for everyone involved.
Depicting the labyrinth of legal loopholes through which it was difficult to charge this cretin is the best thing here. It appropriately stokes both personal and social frustration — the latter emphasizing America’s intolerable state of affairs for matters of the female body. That takes up about five minutes. This thing is otherwise a Dateline special without any nuance whatsoever, its agonizingly amateurish re-enactments repeated ad nauseum … with quite chunky and sloppy nauseum. When it treats the introduction of 23 and Me like a “killer is right behind you” moment and accompanies a ticker of siblings with tawdry Hans Zimmer-knockoff wub-wub-wubs and, good heavens, an ejaculatory moan, it feels like an American Vandal-level troll job. Plus, without any sort of exploration beyond their brief introduction, both the mysterious threats against those speaking out and the notion of the Quiverfull cult only serve to muck this up even more.
Fitting Papa John’s product placement for a movie that advertises itself as pizza but instead tastes like the box in which it’s delivered.
Clearly inspired by all of those Mission: Impossible movies in which the spies executed a bunch of bald assholes in a bazaar, tortured people by blasting open their arteries and otherwise engaged in all the subterfuge of a sonic boom. Strangely, it’s not the worst spy movie Simon Kinberg has written, but with Jessica Chastain’s Oscar win, it’s now 20% more embarrassing for the leading ladies involved.
Matt Smith, professional cooler of franchise cinema. I mean, at this point, I have a hard time believing even his Doctor Who is good.
Narcissism is to film direction as psychopathy is to successful politics. A little bit is necessary. Too much is fatal. Kevin Smith has been creeping ever closer to that edge for a while. He smugly cannonballs over it with Clerks III, a film so blinkered by Smith’s cottage industry of nostalgia grifting that it treats a line like “Fuck you, and oh, by the way, fuck you. Credits!” as a joke and not, well, a succinct summation of Smith’s last decade. Instead, the line Smith falls for, harder than even the most gullible View Askewniverser, is “I trust the director. He wasn’t just my favorite filmmaker. He was my best friend.” The film is essentially a cavalcade of casually cruel circumstances that force counter jockeys Dante and Randal to confront their mortality by … well, making the film Clerks. A second sequel solicited by nothing more than its creator’s supernatural self-absorption, Clerks III exhibits no love for any of its characters — only a maudlin, manipulative need to put them through a semi-autobiographical wringer (and with emotional beats Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson are incapable of hitting). I still love Pearl Jam, but it bothers me that they licensed a song to this. Consider it conspiracy to commit fraud, and time served.
Journalistic integrity requires me to disclose that, in exchange for 146 minutes of my life, I received a promotional hat emblazoned with logos for both this film and Hardee’s. (There is no Hardee’s in the film, but there is non-MCU Chris Pratt, so … same thing.) Although this would have been a pricier promotional item, I would have preferred a branded motion-capture suit to wear that logged each exasperated upraising of my hands. That way, I could simply be hologrammed into a seat for any future installments of this cursed venture.
This is my Vietnam dog meme. We must be in the Biff Tannen timeline, right? Right? This full-blown front-to-back abomination just makes the Robert Zemeckis gag in i’m thinking of ending things even sadder now. I’d say the scene in which Pinocchio gazes in reverie upon a pile of clumpy CGI dogshit would metaphorically sum it up. But the escape from Monstro’s belly is far more odious — so uproariously unfinished as to demand the movie be interrupted, Gremlins 2-style, for an explanation as to why and the Hollywood excommunication of the person who signed off on it. One of the most embarrassing junkpiles I’ve ever endured for the sake of professional obligation.
50 Solid Recommendations
“People want to be good at one thing,” an adult tells young Tommy. “And people like us? We gotta figure it out too early.” That one thing Tommy will be good at is not given an easy answer by the end of 1-800-HOT-NITE; indeed, its final image recalls the frightening uncertainty of that classic Say Anything … But the film balances weariness and melancholy with wisdom, humor that is crisp and dark, and outstanding work from Dallas Dupree Young as Tommy comes to understand his window of opportunity is narrow, dirty and jagged. 1-800-HOT-NITE is a connection you won’t forget. (VOD)
It’s amazing it took so long for someone to weaponize Ryan Reynolds’ wiseass wind-up toy routine toward straightforward, effective defense-mechanism drama. Even more amazing that said someone is director Shawn Levy, an acolyte of the anodyne. But so go two of several pleasantly surprising pleasures of what is among the better outings for Ryan Reynolds, Netflix Troop Leader. The Adam Project is not a better film, but in its own way, it possesses a higher emotional IQ than the Back to the Future franchise — realizing that the power to change the terrible things that happen to us isn’t inherently the solution. It’s effectively keyed into the absences we hope to absolve and the time-travel genre’s yearning vacancies. There is importance to both the connections of life that we lose and the subsequent pain that comes. It’s always easier to be angry about that than it is to be sad. Choosing the former only gets more corrosive as we age. Most Ryan Reynolds movies would use dick jokes to deflect the depth of a moment in which one man tells another that he loves him without reservation or equivocation. Here, it’s played for maximum poignance. (Netflix)
ADULT SWIM YULE LOG
You know that it would be untrue. You know that I would be a liar. If I was to say to you “This is just about a fire.” (HBO Max)
There are any number of reasons why actress / co-writer / director Valérie Lemercier does, well, what she does in the first two acts, ranging from ego to eccentricity. No one does … this without a very specific rationale. The strongest reason is hammered home by a superficially inconsequential cut from a personal moment that Celine … sorry, ALINE shares with the man she loves to a TV appearance in which she reduces anxiety to anecdote and laughs through pain of possibly losing him. Aline’s overwhelming melancholy henceforth sells its initially confounding creative choices as an expression of pitfalls of pending mortality in a perpetually youthful business. On top of that, there is also the subplot of a queen of baby-making music struggling to make babies. And the “what’s five years here and three years there” of it all when the math of music means, generally, it’s the sum total of her global pop-star viability. Look, I won’t tell you the first 40 minutes of Aline is not a deeply goofy sit that feels like a vanity project run absurdly amok. But while Aline is one of the least flashy musical biopics, it’s better than most that drown in razzle-dazzle. (Hoopla / Kanopy / Amazon Prime Video / VOD / Blu-ray)
One moment in this, unrelated to any of the horror elements, put my head spinning in a good way — largely because I was so immersed in the clever shell games going on here. Hoping this gets a release and a larger audience. (This film enjoyed its world premiere at the 2022 Heartland Film Festival; U.S. release plans are undetermined.)
One-shot openers don’t get more five-alarm than that which kicks off director / co-writer Romain Gavras’s latest, scorching over with surprises, savagery and also a sense of community in its depiction of a revolution catching fire and a titular small town in France that becomes a convincing castle keep. Political scientists may protest a scarcity of sociological context to the Algerian experience in France, but at the same time: We all understand the riot as a language of the unheard, especially in such an extremely loud and easily exploited media environment. (As produced and co-written by Ladj Ly, this is a more fundamentally honest version of his 2019 Les Misérables.) Although there are a few conveniences from fringe characters that push the finale into full-blown tragedy, Athena remains an incendiary flex from Gavras about the frighteningly plausible, fascistic pushes into an impossible space between annihilation and adjudication. (Netflix)
THE BAD GUYS (2022)
Legitimate, unexpected and lovingly animated homages to The Matrix Reloaded, Thelma & Louise and The Last Boy Scout would hit my pleasure center anyway. (Same for a line like “Whaddya say we deliver this butt rock to the Chief?”) The bonus is that The Bad Guys blends its own compelling combination of witty jokes, crackling action and heist-team camaraderie — propelled by a pair of terrific vocal performances from Marc Maron and Richard Ayoade. Props for the atypical animation, too, which throws in storybook definition and pop-up dimension that fits with the caffeinated cartoonishness. Sure, the story is an essential reskinning of louses learning to love you’ve seen from the Grinch to Gru. But so many of the gags land here, and in surprisingly layered ways; my favorite was the simplicity of a code that the Bad Guys go to great lengths to acquire, suggesting that people often pursue the simplest, most convenient choices at their own peril. Frankly, all that keeps it from a higher rating is a bizarre over-reliance on Mr. Piranha’s nervous room-clearing farts. Fart jokes in animated movies died with Finding Nemo‘s all-time classic nearly 20 years ago, folks. (Netflix / VOD / Blu-ray)
For the most part, a pretty great parable about where two men’s pride will go before their respective falls, shot through with chilling spectral fatalism and perfectly pragmatic pessimism. It falters a bit, though, in writer-director Martin McDonagh’s over-reliance on a structure of magpie jokes surrounding Pádraic’s (Colin Farrell) interactions with the people of Inisherin. McDonagh’s loquacious, circuitous dialogue lacks the usual violent verve, and the punchlines tend to involve the denizens of Inisherin providing more answers in the form of questions than a Jeopardy! episode. That people repeat things so often to Pádraic because they believe him a dim-bulb dullard is apparent the first time. The fifth time. And the 25th time. Such comedy also never reconciles well with the tragedies toward which the film leads — especially as those titular banshees herald death. In fact, it seems to disproportionately punish one of the men when both prove indirectly responsible for irreversible acts. The problem is not that the other man isn’t made aware of what his actions have wrought. It’s that McDonagh doesn’t convey how that culpability subverts his goals and sinks his soul; he’s too busy rather simply emphasizing (however correctly) that malice isn’t the answer. (HBO Max / VOD / Blu-ray)
Pretty much the epitome of a one-night stand horror movie, in the sense that I can’t imagine enjoying it again (or at least nearly as much) if I’m not watching it with someone else virginal to its WTF-ery. Glad the zig I thought would zag got crushed against a wall and that it keys in on the sorta-supernatural / sorta-fait accompli notion that some places are just destined to house bad people and activities. To further dance around spoilers, this is the sort of movie that the one movie that one actor in this did a few years ago should have been. (HBO Max / VOD)
Indeed, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Yes, Beavis and Butt-head remain sexually inexperienced. Yes, they once again cling to convictions rooted in comically misunderstanding a woman who asks if they’d like to do “it” with her “for real.” Don’t fret over an incongruously computer-animated opening sequence, either: Beavis and Butt-head Do the Universe ports over all the charming crudity of the original series’ animation and aesthetic. But it does go bawdier and bloodier within primarily PG-13 parameters, given visible injuries of Butt-head’s incessant assault on Beavis, collateral damage in a car chase complicated by confusion over what the letters on a shifter mean, and how the hijinks here prompt a (small, non-horrifying) body count. And in its own little way, Universe is also sweeter. (Paramount+)
When you think there’s nothing new in the (home) theater of war, the Swedes suggest otherwise with combat scenarios playing out almost entirely on ice skates. Director / co-writer Adam Berg and co-writer Pelle Rådström mount a persuasively apocalyptic vision while never neglecting their premise’s inherent meathead absurdities. It’s an Alistair MacLean and mean reimagining of such men-on-a-mission monoliths as Ice Station Zebra or The Guns of Navarone, with some effective, efficient updates — namely that a man isn’t leading the mission at all. Noomi Rapace should have become the next Sigourney Weaver but her snub-nosed lethality and nigh-frostbitten fortitude regularly find themselves in the Netflix rotation. This is her best action performance yet. She lets us see Caroline overwhelmed as much by glimmers of hope as the embarrassment of perhaps falling prey to manipulative ruses — bringing that power and poignancy to moments of processing new, devastating information (often before pouncing on its messenger) and even infusing a bit of tenderness when honoring a drowned comrade’s body. Does Black Crab limp a bit (in Caroline’s case, literally) toward its been-there, blown-that-up conclusion? Sure. That doesn’t diminish a mostly-killer, little-filler war film that is as much without relent as it is without remorse. (Netflix)
BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER
Namor, please. (Currently in theatres; coming soon to VOD, Disney+ and Blu-ray)
The cattle have cousins. Or children. Mothers and fathers. Lifelong friends. The provenance of the herd doesn’t matter. Neither does whether they can vocalize their feelings or simply spend their lives roaming in fields. No matter the volume or vastness of memory, there is always a community left behind after a predator rips apart its prey. But the same must hold true for the predators, whose feeding is often a biological imperative rather than a malicious intent. Their ideal life would also not be one of loneliness but to find even just one alongside whom to run, to rest, or even to reimagine the hunt with a partner who reflects and reciprocates them. Such is the scope and complexity of a YA novel as reimagined by Suspiria remake writer David Kajganich and director Luca Guadagnino. It’s ultimately about the pain of filling in the gaps of the life we don’t know without recognizing we are often better off simply attempting to form a new shape. But it invokes pains that are hardly unique to teenage years. It’s tough to think of a more forceful, or forlorn, fable for the forsaken in recent memory. The cattle have cousins. So do their killers. (Currently in theatres and on VOD; coming soon to Blu-ray)
As a real-life bank-hostage story with a social alarm set to squealing-klaxon levels, Breaking finds its most conveniently posterized parallel in Dog Day Afternoon. Both are ethnographies of escalated emotion that acknowledge and affirm uniquely American aggravation. But where Sidney Lumet indulged in New Hollywood’s aesthetic flamboyance, director / co-writer Abi Damaris Corbin invokes more of modern America’s anxious fatalism. That leaves Breaking a high-strung and truthful, if not totally transfixing, transcription of tragedy. As written by Corbin and Kwame Kwei-Armah, its assessment of American priorities is tough but fair. The lead performance from John Boyega is also terrific, and it’s a pleasure to see the late Michael K. Williams (The Wire) go out with such a fine supporting swan song. But the film also makes just enough concessions to bar itself from the upper echelon of such stories. Thankfully, Corbin corrects this moment with a chilling conclusive image that suggests uselessly shed blood is forever stamped into ever-cheapening fiber of American institutions. Like the many other merits of Breaking, such forcefulness renders its flaws forgivable. (VOD / Blu-ray)
The most Snuggie-soft film you’ll ever see about human trafficking (and perhaps also with a body count this high), Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest arrives more ready for a Westernized remake than any of the Japanese writer-director’s previous mainstream-minded meditations on the fluid meanings of family (Shoplifters, Like Father Like Son). That’s because Broker is already ripened with two cops who serve as a discordant chorus contemplating the morals of this story (or lack thereof). They perform a literal social surveillance on two thieves who pilfer abandoned babies from Baby Boxes that wind up forming an ersatz family bond with their latest abductee and his frazzled mother. The business of life is always just a subtle (or not) art of renegotiating terms on deals we long believed done and dusted. Sometimes we gain. Sometimes we lose. Any mediation on the meaning of it all falls to us. Ultimately rising above its mawkish, melodramatic or mainstream trappings, Broker delivers a drama of deeply human tapestry — one threaded with just enough knotty and rough weaves to feel handmade and abrasive where it matters. (Limited U.S. theatrical release forthcoming)
You’ve Got Mail is among the few straight-skewing pop-culture selections referenced in Bros that star / co-writer Billy Eichner doesn’t skewer. A quarter-century ago, in movies like Mail, Eichner would have played the Gay Best Friend — the sassy, socially “exotic” sage that a schlub like Hanks would call upon to soothe his sadness with some snappy patter. Thankfully, Eichner is one of the romantic leads now, and mercifully, the only thing Bros shares in common with Mail is that it’s about a reel too long; being a Judd Apatow production, that’s a baseline expectation upon buying a ticket. That’s because Eichner is not so oblivious to believe that romcom obstacles can be as obvious as they were in the Hanks-Ryan era. Are there old flames and family squabbles that surface in Bros? Yes, but Eichner employs them as a tipped cap to tradition rather than a lazy crutch. Instead, he creates complications for this film’s courtship through where there is divergence in each partner’s culture, confidence and comfort with the nuance of how they identify as gay men. Eichner and Luke Macfarlane also create chemistry as choppy as it is charged, with a hem-and-haw hesitancy to hurtle forward that always feels authentic. (Peacock Premium / VOD / Blu-ray)
CATCH THE FAIR ONE
A dim, grim and trim revenge / human trafficking thriller told with the streamlined intensity and purpose of a boxing match its heroine might enter. Scuzzy workaday details lend it all the authenticity it really needs; a sign reading “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” outside a trafficker’s home lets you know how often such unsavory trades hide in plain sight. That’s before a performance from real-life pugilist Kali Reis (who shares a story credit) punches at a higher weight class than most of her predecessors. It wouldn’t be nearly as effective if Reis didn’t demonstrate a glimmer of hesitation in the horrors she visits upon those who have taken her sister. A scumbag father? Still a father. Women who have chosen silence about violence as their own path out of the latter? That is not necessarily a craven choice. These are among the ways in which Reis infuses passion for her own real-life cause (awareness and recovery of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) into the conviction of genre action. No cathartic sugarcoating here. This is a system in which no one wins on points. You either knock out, get knocked down, or you solidify mutually assured destruction. (Hulu / AMC+ / DirecTV / VOD / Blu-ray)
Superbad director Greg Mottola (who also adapts McDonald’s novel of the same name alongside Zev Borow) reimagines Fletch as a ruggedly handsome rapscallion in the digital age. Gone is the original film’s wordy whirlwind, clod-comedy shtick, daffy disguises and most of the goofy noms de plume, along with the Beverly Hills Cop-lite action beats; outside of a few rideshare rope-a-dopes, modest explosives and judicious climactic gunplay, Confess, Fletch opts for a steady pulse of sedation. It’s a marijuana-mellow manifestation of Fletch, with an aesthetic easily mistaken for mid-2000s Miramax were it not for all the modern automobiles.And as Fletch? Jon Hamm, a fan of McDonald’s book series whom Mottola says approached him with the idea to make Confess, Fletch. Those who mainly know Hamm from Mad Men may marvel at a seemingly surefire mismatch of man to material. Those who’ve seen Hamm cut very loose in Bridesmaids (or on his Emmy-courting turns on 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) will understand why he was interested. Hamm certainly leans into the bemusement of this casting, which feels both like an unexpected gamble and a perfect bet. It’s a gas to see him trust his gut (which also pokes just so against the casual Oxfords worn by a Fletch content to let himself go a bit) and finally roam at freewheeling feature length. With a “why not” mentality, Hamm whips up his own mother sauce of mischief — a béchamel of bullshit — for a movie that piles big laughs on a small plate. (Showtime / Fubo / DirecTV / VOD)
CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (2022)
“Don’t hide yourself in regret, just love yourself, and you’re set. I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way.” Nowhere near David Cronenberg’s top tier, but it’s a fool’s errand to elevate or excoriate Cronenberg for how much he’s viscerally provoking anyone. Instead, making this his X-Men or perhaps his The Prestige (if we’re being really reductive) also yields something tangibly incensed and persuasively melancholy about the experience of increasing, and encroaching, legislation, regulation and limitation of human anatomy, art, identity and experience. The perpetually buzzing fly on the perimeter of every encounter lets you know how Cronenberg feels about where things are going, as do outstanding lines like “An organism needs organization. Otherwise, it’s just designer cancer.” Perhaps he’s got more movies in him, but this feels like a natural swan song — this simultaneously medieval and speculative story of final evolutions away from human paths “to be naturally unnatural.” (An odd side note: Given that Breakfaster Chair’s purpose, I would love to know what Cronenberg thinks of the real-life Squatty Potty.) (Hulu / VOD / Blu-ray)
DAY SHIFT (2022)
Between a hilariously violent carnival atmosphere of flying limbs and bodies — and star Jamie Foxx being game for at least a modest amount of Ash-like self-deprecation — Day Shift is not unlike watching Sam Raimi take a crack at a Blade movie. It expertly integrates visual effects and practical beatdowns while establishing vampire lore well worth exploring in additional films. In all, Day Shift is a spry, confident throwback to horror / action / comedy mashups of the 1980s. Not for nothing is The Lost Boys among the selections on a decrepit mall movie-theatre marquee or the film from which Day Shift adapts its own paraphrased final line. Does the movie feel awfully familiar to other Netflix vampire thrillers? Of course. Perhaps the algorithm had its hand in all of this. But hey, even the algorithm gets it right sometimes. (Netflix)
Certainly the most logistically satisfying setup for … well, it’s not found-footage aesthetics (one of many things on which the film gleefully takes the piss). Regardless, this is shrewdly written in the first act to dispense with all the necessary exposition while we’re being properly oriented to what we’ll see and why. I feared I would tire of actor / co-director / co-writer Joseph Winter’s whiny scream over 90 minutes, but I instead came to enjoy hearing it as more and more things happened to his Shawn. It ultimately arrives at the same sort of place as most of these things, but it’s nice to see, along with Day Shift, the verve and brio of the Sam Raimi salad days still alive. (Shudder / AMC+ / DirecTV)
DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
And, uh, speaking of Sam Raimi himself: Anyone who knows Raimi — and argues that this film isn’t him in blockbuster mode wall-to-wall — is one of three things: willfully obtuse, wantonly denying themselves pleasure, someone who shouldn’t be watching a superhero movie in the first place. I am hard pressed to recall a Marvel movie with a more authoritative directorial stamp, and that includes the one from an Oscar-winning filmmaker. (Disney+ / VOD / Blu-ray)
EMILY THE CRIMINAL
Aubrey Plaza is really coming Limey-style for those Rebecca Hall roles, huh? This splits the difference between indie idiosyncrasies and the sort of thing that would have slayed as a mid-’90s second-tier summer thriller. Everyone knows too many people in our economy wind up in the meat cooler rather than the meat counter. Writer-director John Patton Ford certainly does and wastes no time prioritizing righteous anger over pious sermonizing. While it’s good that the movie doesn’t simply become a distaff Uncut Gems with its own stacked-high club sandwich of cataclysmic choices, it also could have added even just 10 more minutes to lend a bit more oomph and dramatic weight to how things resolve in the end. That said, it’s a perfect bridge for Plaza into a punchier phase of her career. It also sufficiently expresses, and embraces two things: 1) Nobility is often overrated, overvalued and certainly over-leveraged beyond its usefulness in an American economy; and 2) There is no honor among thieves … just a lot of thieves. (Netflix / VOD / Blu-ray)
The most tumultuous response I’ve ever had to a Steven Spielberg movie. Or, in other words: The horizon at the top and bottom with all the young unknowns and upstarts, including an outstanding performance from Gabriel LaBelle, is good and sometimes transcendent. (The resolution of the conflict between LaBelle’s Sam Fabelman and his California high school tormentor, played by Sam Rechner, is a luminous harmony of performance, screenwriting and heavenly lighting by the great Janusz Kaminski. Plus, Chloe East is believably sweet in her exceptional comic relief as Monica, Sam’s eventual girlfriend.) But the horizon in the middle with all the movie stars straining beyond all pretense of believable human behavior (or even how they may have seemed under semi-autobiographical artifice of its director’s memory) is shit. There is at least something infinitely interesting to me about a director who sometimes can’t get out of his own way going at that the hardest in a film about the challenge of finding a way at all. Tumult, I tell ya. (Currently in theatres and on VOD; coming soon to Peacock Premium and Blu-ray)
Everyone farts. Leave it to Peter Strickland’s gastronomical opus to approximate that as an academic and thematic consideration. If everyone does it, why the stigma? Just as pressure can bind and wind someone’s colon, it can do the same to artistic expression. Why strain to hide your noises when you can let them rip and feel great? Flux Gourmet might run out of gas (not sorry) a little earlier than Strickland’s other films but remains meaty meditation on the balance of what you give over to art and what you turn over to others. Here, there’s a nigh-mockumentary momentum (e.g., tee-hee jokes like a band falling apart due to dietary differences) wedded to Strickland’s typically atypical, but never aberrant or apologetic, exploration of kink and macabre. As arts patrons begin to foment dissent and disdain among the central “sonic catering” group, Flux Gourmet explores the limits of flesh and creative articulation under forces of manipulation and suppression. It’s also not above an exquisite Caddyshack gag. Don’t confuse that for accessibility; those uninitiated to Strickland will find this intolerable. But it’s still a cheeky voyage into concepts of cultural consumption, excretion and emulsion — emotion and existence emulsified into entree form. (Shudder / AMC+ / DirecTV / VOD / Blu-ray)
Much as last year’s Fear Street saga on Netflix felt like a horror gateway for teenagers, Fresh fits the same bill for the “fucked-up” midnight movie. While it’s not going to rile up the degenerate faithful, neither will it disappoint them — whether through the amusingly cornball soundtrack of 1980s soft rock, Sebastian Stan’s lunatic energy, or the visual acuity of director Mimi Cave’s directorial debut. Its biggest detriment is a near two-hour running time that affords a Drive My Car-like title drop, sure, but also very little to pay off that 35-minute setup. Screenwriter Lauryn Kahn’s heart is more deeply invested in manufacturing a long con of vengeance than in going beyond the obvious metaphor of the dating scene as a meat market. But again: Still fun as a Little Golden Book version of what it’s doing, and it also shows that the savage wit Richard Marx displays on Twitter has its limits. He didn’t want his song to be the soundtrack to that, after all. (Hulu)
Worth disclosing that I’m an online acquaintance of co-writer Joshua Hull; we wrote at the same site a few years ago. I can’t speak to the provenance of certain permutations of the script for this punchy two-hander, but this really soars on the strength of its performances, how it swerves away from the more juvenile places it could go, and one turn in particular that is both surprising in the moment and sensible upon reflection. Strong, short and the perfect sort of movie to find life on Shudder. (Shudder / AMC+ / VOD)
David Gordon Green hooked everyone with legacy bullshit before delivering what, at least to me, feel like the two movies he truly wanted to make in Halloween Kills and now this. People will surely hate it the most because it offers no escape from its effective exploration of American violence as an everyday endemic part of life. Whether it’s a blowtorch to the mouth or the angle of an object on the table, Ends is riddled with that. The day-and-date drop on Peacock Premium and theatres was demoralizing because Green has crafted and cranked this maximalist metaphor in a manner that will invariably lose something in that format. Depressing. Practical. Satisfying. (Peacock Premium / VOD / Blu-ray)
If only Turning Red hadn’t been taken. (Hulu / Blu-ray / VOD)
HIT THE ROAD
A confident, colorful and culturally sensitive film of delicate surprise, mystery and delight. Perhaps to a slightly less impressive degree as last year’s Flee, Hit the Road finds deep woe, reflection and communion in pop-culture artifacts. Very much its own thing, though, as the accelerating rhythm of this family’s roadside stops reflects its reluctance to commit to its secret plan — one that will involve a collision of imagined comforts and calamitous reality. The film surprisingly invokes (and evokes) 2001: A Space Odyssey several times, particularly its notion about barreling on into the black, but eventually colorful void; the best such moment feels like the mind’s-eye vision of that film’s climactic journey … as envisioned by someone who’s never seen it and is also half-distracted by her husband and youngest son (Rayan Sarlak, perfect in his sweet / demon depiction of loud childhood). Rather than come down definitively on one side of autonomy or anxiety, Hit the Road instead concludes with a moment that caterwauls at a volume meant to chase off all those boundaries that close us off. For the ones that remain, we can always put it under a stone and come back to it someday. (Kanopy / Showtime / DirecTV / VOD)
Amid so much unfettered anger and bloodshed, even the most righteous principles can be rendered unrecognizable and, perhaps, unrecoverable. A quite stellar directorial debut for Lee Jung-jae here, an appropriately operatic fusion of meaty political thriller and VOD-level violence. One of those movies about which everyone will cry that it’s confusing. There is certainly a lot going on, given that there’s a new double- or triple-cross every three to five minutes. But the film demands the attention you have to pay for it, too, with invigorating interludes of action and suspense. Perhaps its only flaw is that it’s almost a purely ideological exercise, with zero breathing room to let land the emotion behind its thesis statement of “You can choose a different life, but will the world flatten that life into the same violent outcome?” (VOD)
Leave it to Adam Sandler to recycle Benchwarmers jokes, quickly reference “The Beating of a High School Spanish Teacher” and deliver a dramatically satisfying sports story all at the same time. There are the usual attention-deficit concessions made for Netflix, but there’s also enough of a handmade touch to this — not unlike the aesthetic of a contemporary Nike ad with appreciable artistry behind it — that renders the nitpicks useless. What’s most impressive is the film’s consideration of double standards in fame and everyday issues. The power here comes not only from Sandler’s agent realizing he is a proxy father to his troubled but gifted prodigy but that he understands the difference privilege makes when it comes to absentee parenting. This might be under Sandler’s Happy Madison fiat and, thus, a little more loosey-goosey than, say, Uncut Gems or The Meyerowitz Stories. But we’re a long, long way from The Ridiculous Six, folks. (Netflix)
LOST BULLET 2
A deep sadness washed over me as they trashed Lino’s supercharged Renault. An improvement in almost every way over the first film, with a pure-chase propulsion as its primary motivation. At the same time, this is an unexpectedly compelling story of bent / crooked cops. The line between them and guys like Lino was thin in the first place, and the facility with which he, Julia, Moss, Marco and others skitter back and forth across it gives this more heft than expected. But let’s face it: You want cars flying into the air in a manner that causes you to swear in your chair, and Lost Bullet 2 offers that in thrilling spades. Bring on Part 3! (Netflix)
A LOVE SONG
Not unlike Nomadland if it had simply been a romantic drama between Frances McDormand and David Straithairn’s characters. Grubbier, though, in a way that simply smudges any rose-colored lens about life at the loneliest fringes of age and place and certainly with a gentler dance of deep feelings between its own two stars, Dale Dickey and Wes Studi. At a svelte 82 minutes, A Love Song doesn’t overstay its welcome but it also undersells the big buildup to when these two finally reunite after decades away from each other. Mind you, that’s still longer than Before Sunset, for which this is also something of a senior-set analog, but that’s Jesse and Celine talking nearly from the start. It’s to Dickey and Studi’s credit that you want so much more from Faye and Lito; the resolution makes sense, but you just want to spend more time with them before it arrives there. Still, it’s an engaging and lightly quirky story, countered by Wes Anderson-like camera whips of whimsy to a family of mourners that uses a little girl as a precocious spokeswoman and a mail-delivery horse for whom the only “express” delivery is an apology for how slow things are. (VOD)
The genre horror elements are underbaked and oversold. The real-world horror elements establish just how much lip service is paid to meaningful efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion at so many American institutions … and how much all that talking just wants to make you fucking snap sometimes and scream at some dumb assholes. (Amazon Prime Video)
This feels like something D.B. Weiss wrote not long after School of Rock and didn’t really touch. Not necessarily a bad thing. It has pieces of the soundtrack Thor: Love and Thunder should have had and a healthy approach to teen sex, mental well-being, cello mimicry and freaking me out with an unexpected bone breaking through flesh. (Netflix)
Perception is reality. But also, fancying yourself James Caan in Thief doesn’t necessarily make you James Caan in Thief. It all comes back to Mann. (Hulu / VOD)
THE PRINCESS (2022)
Raidpunzel. Definitive dumb-fun cinema, in which familiar and friendly narrative confines are converted into a convincing combat story. Given the chintzy credits, digital establishing shot and iffy score by Natalie Holt (for whom I hope some incredible Loki work was not a one-shot deal), it’s an impressive and nearly immediate bait-and-switch. Joey King also commits to the bit here, too. This isn’t just a live-action thing like Princess Fiona Matrix-kicking everyone. Le-Van Kiet’s direction and Clayton Barber’s stunt coordination keeps things spry and spritely even as they scrape superhuman goofiness. Just a fresh, untapped springboard for some fun ass-kicking. (Hulu / DirecTV)
A close approximation to the power of what it must feel like to watch this production in person — David Strathairn one-manning it across a 90-minute moral crisis ignited by dispassionate observation of unfathomable evil and then fueled by incuriousness and inaction on the world stage. (Screened at the 2022 Heartland Film Festival; U.S. release plans are undetermined.)
Too long and repetitive to hit that next level, but there are some unexpectedly gnarly moments here, and I really appreciate that writer-director Parker Finn literalized trauma as a monster in text and delivered something better than all those arty posers who pretend they’re somehow above the genre by using trauma as subtext. (Paramount+ DirecTV / Epix / VOD / Blu-ray)
SOFT & QUIET
The real-time oner works here, less as a technical feature and more as a terrifyingly plausible one: This is the sort of socially destructive shit people walk to from their work, the incremental indoctrinations, prejudice as an accent of affluent living, the sort of instantaneous snap that endangers the innocent. Neither does it spare the enablers, who might find the rhetoric (and its casual nature) troubling but otherwise make no waves — as if they are “good people otherwise.” Ferocious in a way that’s quite hard to shake because it’s just a taunt away from happening in my town, your town, everyone’s town. (VOD)
Director Joseph Kosinski understands the lure of loneliness in large expanses, where communing with yourself can be a coin flip. It might refill your cup … or, as is the case in Spiderhead, turn you over to spill the last drop. In that way, Spiderhead intriguingly inverts the heroic maximalism of Kosinski’s other 2022 film (a little movie you might have heard of called Top Gun: Maverick) for a story about how humans often overdo our saline drip of self-confidence and self-care — not always to our physical detriment but certainly to a diminishment of contentment. Kosinski is aided by a masterfully smug heel turn from Chris Hemsworth, a score from Joseph Trapanese that impressively lowers an oppressive boom when it’s required, and a nimble script from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Deadpool) that sends their cheeky cinematic conceits into collision with the social-engineering satire of their 2000s reality series, The Joe Schmo Show. It’s smartly in lockstep with notions of biochemical opportunity costs. Saying “yes” denies something else. Saying “no” can enable something worse. It’s a domino effect that, for too many, leads to the belief that we’re somehow invincible, that someone else’s number will always come up today. (Netflix)
THE STRANGER (2022)
Far more straightforward than I expected but suffused with sufficiently unnerving dread and atmosphere, and a performance from Sean Harris as Henry that goes deeper than quiet, violent weirdo into oddball-tender appreciation for the friendship he strikes with Mark, Joel Edgerton’s character (an undercover cop attempting to work a very cold case). Thankfully avoids the “wE aRe tHe sAmE, yOu aNd mE” nonsense in favor of something more assuringly, and mutually, destructive — the hope of human connection that Mark gives Henry that must eventually collapse into smoke and the long-armed generational burden Henry introduces into Mark’s home, where he initiates an overprotective approach to parenting. “Can Mark come?” is one of the year’s best line reads, and it’s just a pleasure to watch two greats like Edgerton and Harris do their thing for a couple of hours. (Netflix)
Just as you wonder whether the most interesting narrative development will be whether Neil (Tim Roth) will ever launder his sweat-, sex- and seawater-soaked clothes, Michel Franco’s film escalates into an O. Henry spin on Succession. The early days of Neil’s unexpectedly solitary amblings around Acapulco certainly feel like the sort of gadabout parachute that series’ Kendall Roy would prefer to pull. The longer he stays, the clearer it becomes this chute seems as forever jammed for Neil as it does for Kendall. You could argue that the movie’s melodramatic momentum gets pushed too far, but that also pulls Sundown’s tide away from traditional patterns. It also sells the film’s thesis that sometimes the specter of guilt manifests as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Franco is also smart enough to hint at some of its more shocking developments with background details that will be blink-and-miss only to anyone who has never traveled to a destination where they must remain vigilant about safety. The narrative also covertly weaponizes Roth’s performance, making him a perfect choice to hide among shadows of insolent indifference and internalized anguish. A slender but substantial beach read of its own — an attention-seizing mood piece of malice and melancholy. (Hulu / VOD / Blu-ray)
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
There may be no franchise that benefits more from my comparative lack of bow-down reverence for horror legacy. Respecting its place in the canon doesn’t mean its regular exhumation sends me into apoplectic fits. It took Tobe Hooper 12 years to deliver a sequel anyway, and even that bore little resemblance to the original’s verité decrepitude. But horror as a genre is built on the appeal of lurid apocrypha, one that plants a little bloom of anxiety in the brain before dissipating like ephemera. Who cares that this bears only a passing resemblance to the original? That it’s slick where the other feels sick fits the tale told here about smashed Like buttons for the smallest dopamine rushes, as does the slasher Schitt’s Creek scaffolding of scumfuck social barnacles buying a town on a capitalist whim; what are the every-five-years attempts at a new Leatherface story if not just a bunch of young bucks trying to appropriate the old bones of a franchise for themselves? And what does it matter that it takes 50 minutes before someone actually gets slaughtered with a chainsaw if this movie is, at least of those I’ve seen, the one to feature a true chainsaw massacre? (Netflix)
THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING
What are stories if not an attempt to glimpse the sacred geometry that binds us all? For his epoch-spanning mix of bonhomie and beauty, George Miller brings along his latest largely with two acting titans, talking in terrycloth robes amid the luxury of a Turkish hotel suite. The first two acts are a constantly whirring, whimsical confection, tied together by Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton’s instinctive responses for conversational sparring. For Elba, it’s the solemn ( perhaps manipulative) resignation he brings to his existence as an “extravagantly unlucky idiot,” whose culturally carried-down characteristic of “manipulation” might simply be the byproduct of love that vexes us all. For Swinton, it’s the cool reserve of someone who treats every decision like the devil’s bargain and makes you wonder if the tragedy of this wish-fulfillment story will be this scholar’s pyrrhic proclamation of victory over myth. The problem is a reductiveness to the choices of Swinton’s character, rooted in far, far less soulfulness than any made by Elba’s Djinn. Beyond a blink-and-miss resurrection of a story Swinton shares of her childhood (and a rather cruel tease in the coda), the baring of souls is not mutual, and that’s a rather maddening wish left unfulfilled. (VOD / Blu-ray)
Look, Die Hard 2 needs its homage as well. Largely a speed run through aspects of my preferred holiday films, up to and including that Robert J. Steinmiller, Jr. haircut on Bertrude. Enjoyed, too, that David Harbour’s Santa seemed so pleasantly surprised by his head-crushing abilities. (Currently in theatres and on VOD; coming soon to Peacock Premium and Blu-ray)
WEIRD: THE AL YANKOVIC STORY
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Al-ent. (The Roku Channel)
WHAT WE DO NEXT
A solid if unspectacular morality play that musters its momentum from its shrewd casting — more Michelle Veintimilla, who can navigate even the most overwritten portions of dialogue, and less Corey Stoll and Karen Pittman (although, as befits their presence, they deliver fine facsimiles of their respective TV work on House of Cards and The Morning Show). Essentially, What We Do Next feels like a compelling bottle episode in the middle of a TV series’ fourth season — one you could watch without any notion of what’s come before but which still feels like you’re just missing out on a little something. (Screened at the 2022 Heartland Film Festival; U.S. release plans are undetermined.)
YOU WON’T BE ALONE
I’m a witch. I’m a lover. I’m a child. I’m a mother. I eat innards. I am quaint. I may just die in flames. Life is hell. Life’s a dream. Life’s nothing in between. You know you wouldn’t want it any other way. (VOD)
The 25 Best Films of 2022
Look: This movie turned me into a living manifestation of the Vince McMahon meme. Easily the silver-medal Roland Emmerich diastertron — a quarter-century after he did it for the first time. If this is the last one he’ll ever get because it financially tanked, well … bravo, sir. (HBO Max / DirecTV / VOD / Blu-ray)
24. THE NORTHMAN
“You can have it all, my empire of dirt.” It ain’t deep. But it’s exactly what it needs to be as a reminder that paranoia and paternal guilt keep people from their best interests more often than you’d expect or hope. (Amazon Prime Video / VOD / Blu-ray)
23. TURNING RED
The first Pixar film to truly acknowledge sexual urges and impulses, at least as such hormonal flushes rise under the hot lamps of harried adolescence. Plenty of idiots quipped tired jokes about this as a feature-length period metaphor. Surprise, dum-dums. It’s not even a metaphor. It’s text. It’s also their only one focused on a real-world female character who comes to confront the inequitably small window in which women have to identify themselves and faces the unfair and inequitable consequences that come from acting out. Not for nothing is Mei’s insistence that she has her panda under control overlaid with an interrogative light like a nuclear bomb. Also: Her friendship with a trio of girls is somehow her happy place to hold it down. The problem is that those people often aren’t your friends for life. They might not even be your friends for another school year. Setting Turning Red 20 years in the past seems to set up a happy but bittersweet ending in that regard. Instead, it seems rooted in moving the story away from an age of social media so as to preserve the subterfuge of a seventh-grader turning into a panda all the time. Still, it includes the most terrifying moment involving a mother in an animated film for kids since Coraline and roots some of its betrayals in the cold comfort of a daughter retreating to more of a child-like state than she wants simply because it’s comfortable. The point isn’t to push the bad stuff away but let the untidiness make you who you are. It’s hardly an original message, and it’s still a little bit clouded as Turning Red gets cluttered, but at least it’s a film about conflict planted in individual, and cultural, choices. (Disney+ / VOD / Blu-ray)
22. EMERGENCY (2022)
Supergood. A high-wire balance of bawdy banter and realistic endangerment that accomplishes nothing short of redefinition of the last-night-out comedy — largely because the last thing on its mind is one-upping the R-rated hijinks of its predecessors. The only real goofy thing here is when someone is mistaken for urinating on a fraternity’s decorative lawn sign, and even that moment leads to a bit of minor damage that could have major repercussions. Indeed, the only escalation is that of the existentially terrifying everyday possibility that all three of the protagonists could be blown away before they can even blurt out their best intentions. Masterful work from Donald Elise Watkins and R.J. Cyler as Kunle and Sean, a pair Black friends navigating all manner of easily protected discrimination and stereotyping on a college campus (as well as their own self-imposed, and widening, chasms on their friendship). They’re both comically and heroically complemented by Sebastian Chacon as their Latinx stoner roommate, Carlos, whose comparatively lighter “brown-ness” provides the bridge to certain themes of the third act — when the (mostly) white people seeking the drunk girl in trouble are pretty much the only thing standing between all of these minorities and a hail of bullets. An outstanding expansion of a short film from director Carey Williams and especially screenwriter K.D. Dávila, who crafts an incredible and indelible ending to this that flies in the face of the simple frat-level shenanigans you expect. (Amazon Prime Video)
Far be it from me to insist you insert yourself into the most lightly fictionalized version possible of a tragic mass-casualty shooting. You might have any number of reasons to not watch this, all of them valid. The risk run by anything like Nitram is a disproportionate anonymizing of the victims while the villain is humanized. But what writer Shaun Grant and director Justin Kurzel do here isn’t really that. They seem to know depicting the impetus to mass murder of the result of dreams denied simply won’t cut it any longer. And while an early prologue pulled from actual news footage initially seems like a cheap way to pull in the real perpetrator (whose first name spelled backwards is this film’s title), it becomes clear that its connotations are the context here: If someone is badly burned and survives, sometimes the biggest lesson learned is not to avoid danger … but that it can be survived, so why avoid it at all? The events dramatized here led to what is often held up as some sort of gold trophy of political action toward gun control in the wake of tragedy. Kurzel’s dagger-like timing on the closing credits illustrates that politicians often learn nothing from survival except that they crave more survival — which often arrives as expedient action that looks good but lacks teeth. “But look what they did in Australia!” people might shout after the next American slaughterhouse. Yeah, they did something. But what did it do? What we believe to be easily preventable if just one person forks differently is the stuff of convenient Choose Your Own Adventure fiction. Nothing really gets in the way of such impulses. They are just parasites that find other ways, and deeper crevices, to burrow. (Hulu / AMC+ / DirecTV / VOD / Blu-ray)
20. THE HOUSE (2022)
The only animated film ever made to embrace the banality of homeownership, along with its occasional enmity, envy and obsession, as a thematic totem. Consider the esoteric nature with which you endeavor to make a house unmistakably your home — constantly, over and over again, with endless time, sweat and money as the years pile up, remaking a space in which you live as your body inevitably decays. There’s something dark about how hard the rot is to remove in these three anthological stop-motion segments, but its dark and / or supernatural moments are leavened by genuinely amusing material that puts a silly spin on the Sispyhean struggle of speculative real estate. How you feel about The House overall may be dictated by how often you’ve reimagined your own living quarters and how deep those investments have been for you. For someone entering a third month without a complete, functioning kitchen when watching it, The House burrowed right into the cortex’s crawlspace with its visual and thematic ambition and has pretty well stayed there. Stray notes: Gustavo Santaolalla should score more horror, Jarvis Cocker delivers an outstanding vocal performance, and there’s a great sight gag about what someone might leave as a parting gift for an anthropomorphic cat. (Netflix)
19. ON THE COUNT OF THREE (2022)
Leave it to Jerrod Carmichael and longtime collaborator Ari Katcher (co-writing with Ryan Welch) to turn what, in almost any other hands, would have been a tastelessly flippant concept comedy on two friends planning simultaneous death by suicide into a searing and discomforting treatise on the American experience. For those familiar with The Carmichael Show (for my money, the last great American sitcom), what Carmichael and Katcher (co-creators there) have done will come as little surprise. This is the mix of dramatic gravitas and go-for-broke laughs they perfected in the 22-minute format and have as effectively expanded and expounded upon across 84 minutes. In Carmichael fashion, it deftly walks a thin tragicomic line while also incorporating clear-eyed concepts on race in America. Without going into spoiler territory, it’s a film that escalates the absurdities of the idea that all life is precious and exploits the reality that some lives are simply privileged to persist even when they shouldn’t. For many people, the platitude that life is always worth living rarely gets backed by any sort of present or palpable indication that this is true. There’s a lot more fury in that final scene than comfortable exhalation, and its title suggests less the mutual moment of annihilation than the continual leap into the morass of life in these United States. Throw in a haunting, melancholy score by Owen Pallett and a career-best turn from Christopher Abbott (who blurs the lines between privilege and exploitation, revulsion and disgust with the liberation he discovers, and empathy and danger with his choices), and On the Count of Three earns its place among the best films of 2022. (Hulu / VOD)
18. WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR
A perfect double-bill with Eighth Grade, both in subject matter and existential relief that my chronological age is well advanced in this technological age. While the tour-guide stuff is necessary for people who think ASMR is where Thor lived and the creepypasta horror trappings there as an apocryphal hook to allure renters, this is foremost a weird, little melancholy chamber-piece character study about how even the most meaningful online engagements with strangers are buried under hastily slathered layers of emotional fanfic. (Writer-director-editor Jane Schoenbrun has also said it’s analogous to the trans experience, and while I would yield full extraction on that to someone with that lived background, I can see that here with the notion of change that’s hard to express, slow to reconcile and that perhaps feels performative to those uninformed and looking in from the outside.) On the film’s notion of the fictions we construct for ourselves, there are any number of interpretations for the “truth” of what’s going on here — some openly salacious, some guardedly complex, all of them sad. (A hint at my spoiler-free theory: That house is simply too big for that person to just be the untoward weirdo we initially presume.) Not the sort of always-online movie on which it’s intrinsically easy to smash that like button, but its striking loneliness lingers in affecting ways. (HBO Max / VOD / Blu-ray)
17. WHITE NOISE (2022)
When you have reliable access to anxiety-annihilating bread and circus, it’s easy to presume the most placid pattern — even in something as unfamiliar and seemingly catastrophic as an airborne toxic event. We’ll be OK. The wind will always blow in the other direction, as it has before. But there can too be too much comfort in not much change. Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel concerns itself less with fidelity than feeling like its own wild and woolly thing — which is to say a purposefully tight headlock of academia and artifice, an apocalypse as perceived through an anamorphic lens, a satire of the intersection of conservatism and popular culture, a cautionary tale of nostalgic haze and malaise, a frighteningly relatable story of long-term love, the futility of resisting against the advance of your soft and shitty body, and even an ideological rap battle about the cultural currency of Elvis and Hitler between Don Cheadle and Adam Driver. Indeed, White Noise finds Baumbach turning over and spilling out everything he bottled up while barricaded at home during the lockdown and addressing, in his own way, that insistent beating at the door we all felt. Most of all, you feel Baumbach challenging himself for every second of these two hours to make something mostly unrecognizable next to his previous work — delivering a film that remains invigorating even in its more inconsistent moments. In Oscar-worthy production design, Jess Gonchor infuses a proliferation of product labels with a portent unlike any other movie — a chilling detritus of cans, bags and boxes in which the deliberate discomfort only increases as the film goes on, all the way up to its brilliant LCD Soundsystem-accompanied supermarket conclusion (with choreography from David Neumann that contemplates this mortal coil amid the aluminum foil). Ultimately, White Noise is about the profane things toward which we erect so many transitory temples, the impermanent and often performative deliverance we receive, and the need — as fragile creatures surrounded by hostile facts — to keep inventing hope wherever we can find it. (Coming to Netflix Dec. 30)
No one could fault those who endured the full-blown embarrassment of Robert Zemeckis’s live-action Disney+ Pinocchio film for rolled eyes and exasperated sighs upon learning of yet another high-profile feature-length take on the wooden boy whose nose grows when he lies. Ah, but this one has a Pinocchio whose conjuring runs closer to that of Frankenstein’s monster, whose ersatz papa Geppetto is a grief-stricken drunkard, whose adventures run parallel to Italian fascism, whose impishness includes shit-talking Benito Mussolini himself, and whose cohorts include a rheumy-eyed monkey named Spazzatura with harried howls given voice by Cate Blanchett. Yes, this is Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio, a stop-motion animation adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s classic tale that is radical, raucous and resplendent where Zemeckis’s was simply risible. Diverging from either Disney version in ways that develop Del Toro’s fascination with the intersection of human weakness and political will, Pinocchio also finds brittle but valuable sadness at the heart of this story about simulacra and simulation. Its notions of loss are compounded creatively, deeply and dependably. There is still plenty of adventure here. It’s just the adventure of life — brief and hopefully buoyed by reciprocated love — more than any macabre merriment on Pleasure Island or journeys inside the muck of the Terrible Dogfish (even as both of those turn up here … one “in a way,” as it were). A perfect double bill with Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, another children’s film from 2022 whose daring difference pays in dividends. This Pinocchio film is a triumph that won’t have you rolling your eyes, but it just might have you wiping them. (Netflix)
15. HAPPENING (2022)
“Can we afford to do only what we feel like?” The question is pitched in Happening as the eternal parental plea: Grow up and take responsibility … please. (If only Anne’s mother knew here.) But it also cuts in a different direction as a rhetorical question of the emptied empathy for those who would impose their brutal referendum of depriving bodily autonomy for women. If 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days derived from a place of inescapable oppression and Never Rarely Sometimes Always from an exploration of social stigma, Happening explores abortion as an act of political revolution. It approaches the visceral charge of Months even as the shattering emotional vice-grip of Never eludes it. Every abortion drama will be suffused with subtext, and there’s plenty of that here — from the expression of youthful assertion as a political act (covered in Anne’s high-school classwork) to the snub-nosed title — suggesting that something wonderful, a person’s incremental inch toward independence, is perpetually persisting alongside a culture’s barbaric subjugation of women. Today, tomorrow, forever. Individual inspiration amid repugnant, regressive politics. It’s fueled by the fear, fire and freedom behind star Anamaria Vartolomei’s eyes in every moment, whether she’s potentially trusting the wrong person with privileged information or exploring the pleasure and tenderness that eluded her in her initial sexual encounter. But it also forces us to wonder how many women’s backs will be required to break before we simply don’t have to put up with putrescent policy any longer. (AMC+ / DirecTV / VOD / Blu-ray)
Everyone is listening to me. No one is listening to me. Both cornerstones of the thriller genre sturdily prop up KIMI, the latest micro-budgeted genre mess-around from Steven Soderbergh, in which agoraphobic tech genius Angela (Zoë Kravitz) overhears a murder while auditing smart-speaker audio. (“Trust me. I know bad,” Angela says. “I used to moderate for Facebook.”) It is a COVID thriller, but one in which screenwriter David Koepp wields the pandemic as thoughtful context rather than topical cudgel. His script ratchets up the apprehension that can attend even the most minor movement inside the protective bubbles we’ve formed for ourselves. A persistent loosening and tightening of lockdown mentality cruelly teases a closeness, however minimal, to pre-pandemic living, and even a briefly forgotten safety measure can cripple our progress altogether. It shares similarities with Soderbergh’s Unsane, from the inciting incident for Angela’s anxieties to the way it investigates evolving technology as an infinite loop of how we retreat further inside devices that empower and erode us. However, KIMI is more of a clean-lined, drum-tight thriller, and thankfully not one that finds Koepp and Soderbergh as more old men yelling at cloud storage. Its third act evolves into an effective spin on 2020’s The Assistant with an action edge: Can Angela exact a justice she never experienced for a woman she’ll never meet? Meanwhile, Kravitz deploys a stealthy physicality that finds her shrinking, stooping, scampering, skulking, seducing and seizing the upper hand across KIMI’s fleet-footed 89 minutes. Again, it’s not about COVID, but it’s cognizant of a world where each day brings more to hear and less worth listening to, the little habits a pandemic has wrought for good or for ill, and the heft of human helpfulness held up by the best of us. (HBOMax / VOD / DVD)
13. THE WOMAN KING
An appropriately rousing throwback historical-war epic with a thrumming contemporary energy concerning Black and bodily autonomy. It’s even there in the fight choreography from Daniel Hernandez, Grant Powell and Jénel Stevens, which Gina Prince-Bythewood incorporates into a ceaselessly crowd-pleasing story. Prince-Bythewood specializes in sagas about the fierce, but sometimes futile, search for one’s self. What’s perhaps most impressive about The Woman King is how deeply it considers positions of weakness and the tolls of constant threat and how beautifully it personifies them with scarred, stippled bodies like a road map of warrior wiles and woes. It’s a reminder that the body heals, that you are alive, that even the most rough and rugged memento mori is something on which to be thankful to fix your gaze. And for all the du-jour complaining about portraying a tribe that also profited off slavery itself, well … that’s a historical footnote the film addresses, namely in how staining their souls in that way makes them more susceptible to European control. It’s smart to recognize that for every culture’s considerable and distinct gifts, caste systems persist. The independence of ideology becomes a more important victory to pursue than any martial triumph, and it dovetails with a personal story for Viola Davis that builds to a climactic moment that feels like nothing less than her character’s transcendent rebirth. Furthermore, The Woman King investigates the trap between value and valor across both Davis’s general, who sees the new darkness coming and the potentially cataclysmic dissolution of convenient arrangements, and her green soldiers (most prominently embodied by Thuso Mbedu). This is a film that swings, confidently and compellingly, between extremes of exuberant joy and pervasive pain. It’s also a film in which you can watch Lashana Lynch gouge out someone’s eyes with her battle-sharpened fingernails. (VOD / Blu-ray)
12. THE WHALE (2022)
Darren Aronofsky, 8-for-8. Might as well just put Brendan Fraser’s name on it now. The movie matches him, too, with Aronofsky mostly muting his usual fireworks until the third act. By that point, he has earned the big finish in a film that encompasses consumptive misery, mutually parasitic relationships, parental remorse and even a nice takedown of organized religion in the preceding 100 minutes. Best role Hong Chau has yet had in a film, too. The Diet Pepsi everywhere, the floating lotion bottle and the perpetual apologies of someone who feels they are an inherent burden because of their size and what it dictates are all perfect little heartbreaking touches. (Currently in theatres; coming soon to VOD and Blu-ray)
11. WOMEN TALKING
A comprehensive ethnography of regret, rage and re-envisioned purpose — equal parts the imprinting of language, the imparting of wisdom and the impossibility of ever really knowing what lies next no matter how far ahead you can see. Imagination is wonderful. Imagination is terrifying. No matter how you define it, Women Talking‘s act of female imagination propels one of 2022’s most thoughtfully crafted films. (Currently in limited theatrical release; expands in theatres Jan. 6, 2023; coming soon to VOD and Blu-ray)
10. ELVIS (2022)
As much a gaudy eulogy for the notion of America sold to boomers (and subsequently ground down further by them) as a musical biopic. Those who would deride Baz Luhrmann for making an operatic cartoon would do well to … watch ANY of his movies from the last 26 years? What Tom Hanks is doing is aesthetically ridiculous, yes — a mix of Oswald Cobblepot and Fat Bastard. But what America is doing (and has done) is also quite aesthetically ridiculous, the glitzy excess of its cultural output straying too far into the realm of policy rather than artistic distraction. Elvis knows this, and what’s great about the film is that the shallow people seeking a (relatively) straightforward biopic about a showman will get it without even understanding what his snowing represented for the nation and its culture at large. Naturally, Luhrmann puts the fun back in funeral — at least until he, cinematographer Mandy Walker and their editors understand a more perfunctorily pieced-together rhythm is in order. The Rock of Eternity. What a thing to sell when we all just end up in the ground. Also, Austin Butler disappears into this movie with a true star-making turn. Luhrmann doesn’t strike that often, but he almost always strikes with purpose, passion and palpably thoughtful panache. (HBO Max / VOD / Blu-ray)
No one would ever accuse Tom Cruise of subtlety. Part of Top Gun: Maverick’s long and winding road to theatres came at his insistence that his cabal of new actors experience full-on flight school — in which they would not only pilot jets themselves but serve as self-cinematographers in close-quarter cockpits. There are obviously some digital embellishments 36 years (!) after the original film, but a priority on practical effects ported over from Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise lends a hair-raising authenticity to these aerial sequences, all apt to pin you to your seat in what will certainly be the summer season’s most simultaneously stressful and exhilarating third act. And once director Joseph Kosinski (reuniting with Cruise after 2013’s underrated Oblivion) moves past nostalgic reconnoiters on late Top Gun director Tony Scott’s compositions, his own craftsmanship comes through. Kosinski commandeers a compelling sense of controlled chaos and calculated suspense in the sky, rendering even more ridiculous the original’s toothless climax (a last-minute remembrance that a fighter-plane film should maybe have dogfights). Then again, Top Gun has always been a mood masquerading as a movie. At least the screenwriter surplus that now comes standard for such long-gestating blockbusters (five credited here) pulls together a sufficiently sophisticated story. (Paramount+ / VOD / Blu-ray)
8. GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY
The only fun pandemic movie. And I guess we’ll be finding Rian Johnson on Mastodon, then. (Netflix)
Even for those familiar with the Korean filmmaker’s approach, Park Chan-wook often finds a way to burrow deeper below genre surfaces than you thought possible. Across films concerning vampire priests (2009’s Thirst), historically taboo sensuality (The Handmaiden), and the deep opportunity costs of violent retaliation (his Vengeance Trilogy), Park delivers expansive, exhilarating work that is vigorously existential, often powerfully erotic and perpetually essential. Add Decision to Leave to that vaunted list, a romantic mystery of sweeping panoramas, subtle-gesture performances, sumptuous location work, sly wit, dizzying narrative details and steep-drop emotions. Don’t be dismayed as Park and co-writer Jeong Seo-kyeong serve up the prototypical plot of a married cop falling for a woman who might be a killer. This is a slice of noir infused with intimate context about social composure and emotional entropy in contemporary life. It adapts the genre’s many analog pleasures into an era of digital anxiety and deploys developments with such flourish and flair that the fortissimo emotions of its finale could be definitive or debatable. Many movies co-opt the obsessive overtones of Vertigo. This is one of the very few that dares to dabble in something quite different, and dazzling, with its homage. (Mubi; coming to Blu-ray Jan. 10, 2023)
TÁR Will Be Blood. There is a moment when I was certain that a decidedly innocuous human character was some sort of ghost wriggling into the frame, and I can think of no finer way to express how haunted this film feels. On a long, long résumé, this is easily the best performance Cate Blanchett has ever given. I vastly prefer this to the fine-just-fine melodrama Todd Field previously delivered umpteen years ago, and if this is his new mode now, I hope it doesn’t take him as long to return. Debating whether the film agrees with or roots against its lead character is generally a foolish path that diminishes the ideas about inequality and identity in the digital age at play here. And that last shot is just perfect in expressing full erasure and eradication in a way that, frankly, I haven’t felt since Daniel Plainview declared that he was finished. (VOD / Blu-ray)
5. MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON (2022)
He brings new meaning to simple ideas. Amen, Lesley Stahl. Amen. Ticktickticktickticktickticktick. (VOD / Blu-ray)
4. AFTER YANG
Kogonada has made only two films but has established himself as a master of storytelling about the everyday perception of endemic sadness and the wonder in struggle and growth — this one a lovely slice of emotionally impressionistic lo-fi sci-fi. It’s easy these days to feel adrift in an abyss of unreliable recollection and the sheer monolithic elasticity of time. So it’s worth cherishing a movie that reminds us of the value of the flotsam and jetsam in our psyche, those moments that uphold not satisfaction with service or even comfort of companionship but a feeling of empowerment. In a film like a drawing-room Strange Days, Kogonada couches the more fanciful constructs of a fictitious gentle-tech environment in the dogged disappointments for which we all set ourselves up. “I’ll make more time, I promise”: Words we’ve all said as if we could simply conjure hours or wish away sadness over that which we must sacrifice to really make it happen. Kogonada (who also edits) and cinematographer Benjamin Loeb betray shot-reverse shot expectations in breathtaking, empathetic ways throughout, one head-spinning moment of lighting makes Haley Lu Richardson look not quite human at a critical juncture, moments of micro-conversation play out from both participants’ perspectives (looped back with slightly different semantics, pauses and tones), spaces seem to undergo a tactile shift in someone’s absence after a lifetime of presence, and there’s even the right amount of linger on the sadness of a neighbor (Clifton Collins Jr.) who knows his offer to enjoy a drink will always go unmet. Who knows for how long, or to whom, across this vast organic tapestry, all of us have mattered or will matter? It’s an answer Kogonada finds in yet another of 2022’s best films to cut to a terrific Mitski song. (Showtime / Fubo / DirecTV / VOD / Blu-ray)
3. AMBULANCE (2022)
You wouldn’t expect a 136-minute movie about two guys who steal an ambulance after a bank robbery gone wrong to be one of the greatest action films ever made. But AmbuLAnce crackles with legitimate tension between the altruistic purpose and abusive power of those in American public-service jobs. It’s a conundrum unique to our United States, in which there is no ceiling either to fresh absurdities or continually justified outrage. These notions are captured in some of the most socially explosive, contextually daring imagery director Michael Bay has ever conjured. Upon the film’s theatrical release in April, it was already overwhelmingly difficult to watch indifferently inactive law enforcement officers during the climax. In that specific nanosecond of our crumbling empire, it merely (and Christ, what a depressing qualifier that is) reflected the racial dividing lines of the lives that matter to law enforcement. It hits harder now, after a premixed cocktail of operational incompetence and cowardly ass-covering transformed Texan kids into the latest subjects of useless thoughts and prayers from spineless politicians in the NRA’s pockets Bay takes aim at civic peacekeepers’ military overcompensation, too. You know that old saw about a gun at home most likely turned against its owner? That notion erupts in AmbuLAnce. Does this review feel too incensed? Well, AmbuLAnce is incensed. Does it feel like someone projecting actual anxieties onto a film in which Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II sing along to Christopher Cross? Well, that’s certainly a funny moment in AmbuLAnce. But it’s funny in the way watching a video of a dog that sounds like it’s singing to Billie Eilish is funny. It’s a respite from the heat of society’s consumptive flame. Of course this is Michael Bay’s lowest-grossing movie of all time. (Amazon Prime Video / VOD / Blu-ray)
On paper, an oddball lo-fi sci-fi odyssey in which a woman must encounter her many other selves across a multiverse and engage their divergent skills to save every universe from collapse at the hands of an omniscient, evil force. In practice, EEAAO ceaselessly spikes an anything-goes fever of pliable reality, right down to universes in which human evolutionary adaptations became very different, quite messy and always funny. In principle, it’s an allegory for the fractures and shutdowns we face amid decision paralysis and how, in moments of fear, seconds seem to sustain for lifetimes. It’s a fight for the lives of everyone everywhere in a fermata defined by fear, force and (eventually) tender feeling. Amid its blistering, buoyant and bountiful scenes of hand-to-hand combat hearkening back to Hong Kong martial-arts comedies like Wheels on Meals, the film tackles the unbearable fight-ness of being. During its moments of sublime domestic comedy, it offers a clear, unsparing view of the eternal sunset of the ceaseless grind. It is the very model of what those who hold big-swing cinema dear would hope for from Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s feature-length follow-up to Swiss Army Man — fit to bursting with ideas (and occasionally crude humor) but with confident, unceasing command and control of the purposefully chaotic storytelling that is their stock-in-trade. There is a full, fast-beating heart beneath its caffeinated cheekiness — a hurlyburly that retains its humanity even at its most hilarious summits, not unlike The Matrix housed inside Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is a film of absolutes, absurdities, and the abundant emotion inherent to how deleterious detritus forms in our minds amid overwhelming obligations and a barrage of missed opportunities. Kwan and Scheinert also don’t pretend like they have somehow discovered the power of multiversal narratives. It’s refreshing to see filmmakers comfortable with so readily acknowledging a vast accumulation of influences on their work while still retaining idiosyncrasy and not just offering low-toner copies a few decades later. The three central turns are all remarkable, generous and inseparable from the film’s resonant power: a revelatory career-best turn from Michelle Yeoh, still called upon to do all the things for which you know her but with a deeper palette of personality and a sadness beneath the severities; a breakout performance for Stephanie Hsu, who brings heartbreaking anxiety to a young woman wrestling with the nihilistic view that estrangement and loneliness represent her only possible outcomes; and a truly delightful return for Ke Huy Quan, through whom EEAAO ultimately becomes a roaring plea for kindness amid the chaos. For all this multiversal madness, everyone involved knows this is a story of how compassion must also be a necessary and strategic adaptation, even as so much of the world threatens to corrode it down into nothing. (Showtime / Fubo / DirecTV / VOD / Blu-ray)
Humankind is hardly deserving of this movie, but it was gifted to us nevertheless. Frankly, I cannot recall the last time I saw three straight films in a theatre as collectively thrilling as Everything Everywhere All At Once, AmbuLAnce and RRR — the last being an unintentionally private screening at a volume best described as gloriously cranked and broken off. I will leave it to others better versed in the particulars of history and culture encapsulated by these 182 minutes to grapple with them as necessary. From a perspective of pure cinematic storytelling, RRR is an eminently entertaining and effective story about what happens when two one-man wrecking machines clash as foes and friends — as seen in a comparatively lighthearted interlude (after a late Drive My Car-like title drop). As go the translated lyrics of “Dosti” (one of RRRs many earworm songs), it’s a kinship between an erupting volcano and a violent storm, and it’s one told with all of the elemental and primal power suggested therein — something like a mash-up of Gladiator, Point Break, The Departed and any number of John Woo jams. The emotional and melodramatic maximalism precedes their partnership, though, in a prologue triptych that establishes the brutality they are either fighting or abetting. If there’s any controversial element, it may be a viewer’s comfort with what boils down to religious extremism and the predestined weaponization of children through intergenerational indoctrination. Then again, Hollywood used to make films of similar length and scope under the pretext of Christianity 60 years ago. And by the time these two are ripping apart the entire British empire with cheetahs, motorcycles, explosives, arrows and their own four lethalized hands, the smile on your face simply won’t care. Extremism has never felt so endearing or exhilarating. (Zee5 / Netflix)