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For movie theatres, 2022 was a whole new ballgame. After years of lockdowns and patrons unsure about sitting cheek to jowl with masked and unmasked strangers, the film industry rallied to get audiences back in seats.
And it was a year of big swings and foul balls at the movies.
Filmmakers like Damian Chazelle, Alejandro Iñárritu and James Cameron swung for the fences, delivering three hour plus epics that, love them or loathe them, attempted to lure people back to theatres with spectacle and storytelling. Some films knocked it out of the park, while others struck out. Good and bad, though, returning to theatres reminded us that the cinematic experience is the best way to watch a movie. Movies like “Babylon” and “Top Gun: Maverick” offered unique experience; the chance to have an exciting, communal event after years of pandemic isolation.
Not all of 2022’s movies were great. To torture the baseball metaphor just a little bit more, here are my cinematic homeruns and strikes for 2022.
BEST OF THE YEAR:
SYNOPSIS: “Babylon,” an epic film starring Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, is a tale of outsized ambition and outrageous excess, that traces the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood.
REVIEW: There is nothing modest about “Babylon,” the three plus hour epic from “Whiplash” director Damian Chazelle. It is unapologetically epic in themes, in length and in sheer off-the-wall exuberance. A multicharacter treatise on the movies and knowing when to leave the party, it is “Boogie Nights” by way of Fellini’s “Satyricon” with a dash of “Singin’ in the Rain” thrown in for good measure. Love it or hate it, and there are valid reasons for either response, it is audacious, chaotic, vulgar, and, like its leading lady, it always makes a scene. Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jovan Adepo and a stacked list of supporting players, including Tobey Maguire, Olivia Wilde, Flea and “SNL’s” Chloe Fineman, among others, are given lots to do, but the real star is Chazelle. “Babylon” is big and sloppy, but Chazelle shoots for the moon in a way that few other recent films have dared.
SYNOPSIS: In “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Colin Farrell plays a character devastated when his best friend, played by Brendan Gleeson, announces he doesn’t want to be friends any longer. The fracture in their friendship becomes the talk of their tiny island town and leads to some startling consequences.
REVIEW: “The Banshees of Inisherin” would be worth the price of admission only for the inventive use of colloquial Irish swearing. Come for the cussing, but stay for the performances and the palpable sense of devastation that comes when a friendship ends, and there is no one to share a pint with at the local pub. It is a pleasure to see Farrell and Gleeson together again for the first time since they co-starred in In Bruges. There’s an undefinable chemistry between them, one that suggests they have a deep bond, which makes the break in their on-screen friendship so effective.
SYNOPSIS: Told from the point of view of Elvis Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker, “Elvis,” charts the singer’s rise from the birth of rock ‘n roll of the late 1950s, through to the cheesy Hollywood years and legendary 1968 Comeback Special to the Las Vegas rise and fall, as Elvis and the Colonel shimmied and shook their way to the top of the charts and into the history books.
REVIEW: “Elvis” is a great looking movie. A pop art explosion that vividly essays the story’s various time frames and styles, it makes an impact visually and sonically. Director Baz Luhrmann will make your eyeballs dance. Top that off with a performance from Austin Butler, who plays the King, that will make your gold TCB chains rattle, as he plays Elvis through several stages of his life, handing in in a rounded performance that transcends an impersonation of someone who spawned a generation of impersonators.
SYNOPSIS: The crime drama “Emily the Criminal,” starring Aubrey Plaza, uses ripped-from-the-headlines topics—student debt, the terrible job market and the gig economy—to fuel a story of a search for liberation.
REVIEW: Director John Patton Ford and Plaza craft a portrait of Emily, a millennial fighting for her piece of the American Dream, even though it remains just out of her reach. She is a complex character, edgy yet sympathetic, messy but focused. Plaza gives voice to Emily’s frustration of being forever punished for a mistake, but never panders to the audience in an attempt to be likable. She has lost faith in the polite society that hasn’t afforded her opportunity, so she steps outside it, and doesn’t look back. We may not make the same decisions as she, but her motivations, under the weight of a future filled with student debt and crappy jobs, come off as understandable. That is a credit to Plaza’s performance that reveals both Emily’s vulnerability and her steeliness.
Thanks to Plaza, “Emily the Criminal” is a fascinating character study, but crime aspects of the story are just as compelling. Like its main character, the movie is a mix of elements. Social commentary, crime drama, a hint of romance and character work, whose sum fit together like puzzle pieces.
SYNOPSIS: In the wild action sci-fi movie “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a Chinese immigrant is swept up in an adventure, where she alone can save the world by exploring other universes and connecting with the lives she could have led.
REVIEW: You can say a lot of things about “Everything Everywhere All At Once” but you can’t say you’ve ever seen anything quite like it before. An eye-popping reflection on the power of kindness and love to heal the world’s problems, it is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. The directors, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known collectively as The Daniels, mix and match everything from family drama and tax problems to martial-arts and metaphysics into a whimsical story that moves at the speed of light.
SYNOPSIS: Katia and Maurice Krafft were the Jacques Cousteaus of volcanology. Their groundbreaking footage and photographs of Mount St. Helens and others, are as epic as they are educational, charting otherwise unfamiliar territory. The documentary “Fire of Love” captures not only the Krafft’s (ultimately tragic) love of volcanoes, but their love for one another.
REVIEW: The volcano scenes are truly memorable, but it is the relationship between Katia and Maurice that gives the movie real depth. Their bond is evident in their joy, the sheer exuberance on display. The scenes of them talking are limited to talk show appearances and the odd bit of in situ dialogue, but their bond as soul mates, living and loving the life they’ve chosen, is undeniable. They are not stuffy scientists, but passionate, funny seekers with a philosophical bent to their understanding of the natural world.
SYNOPSIS: In “Glass Onion,” the sequel to the Daniel Craig hit “Knives Out,” tech billionaire Miles Bron, played by Ed Norton, invites his friends for a getaway on his private Greek island. When someone turns up dead, Detective Benoit Blanc is put on the case.
REVIEW: There is a lot of talk of disrupters in “Glass Onion.” Each of the guests have caused radical change in their industries, a fact pointed out by Bron as the reason they are all friends. It also applies to writer/director Rian Johnson. He pays homage to a well-worn format, the Agatha Christie ensemble cast and elaborate crime reveal, but breathes new life into the tried-and-true format, updating and disrupting the structure.
SYNOPSIS: In “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” Jenny Slate voices Marcel, an adorable one inch mollusk with one googly eye and a pair of pink shoes. Once part of a community of shells, Marcel and his grandmother now live alone as the sole survivors of a mysterious tragedy. However, when a documentary filmmaker discovers them, the short film he posts online brings Marcel millions of passionate fans, and the hope of finding his long-lost family.
REVIEW: “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” is shot documentary style, with beautiful stop-motion animation to bring Marcel and Connie to life. The star of the show is Slate’s heartfelt vocal performance, at once childlike and wise. Marcel is a singular character. Adorable, it’s as if he just wandered over from a Pixar movie, bringing with him personality to spare but also a level of self-awareness and empathy rarely played out on such a high level in family movies. It may be big screen entertainment about a mollusk, but it feels personal and intimate
SYNOPSIS: In “The Menu,” a new satire starring Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy, a young couple travel to a remote island to eat at one of the world’s most exclusive restaurants. Unbeknownst to them, the chef has prepared a lavish menu, with some shocking surprises and unexpected ingredients.
REVIEW: “The Menu” is buoyed by terrific performances, particularly from Fiennes as the perfectionist chef and Taylor-Joy as the pragmatic Margot, but most importantly, because all the characters are as sour as vinegar, you never quite know where the story is going. That unpredictability is exciting, leaving the characters, and the audience, walking on eggshells and that’s why I gave “The Menu,” now playing in theatres, 4 out of 5 stars.
SYNOPSIS: In “Nope,” the new sci fi film from director Jordan Peele, caretakers at a California horse ranch encounter a mysterious force that affects human and animal behaviour.
REVIEW: Like Jordan Peele’s other films, “Get Out” and “Us,” “Nope” has jump scares and disturbing images but this isn’t a horror film. It’s a sci fi movie that explores the fear of the unknown by way of Hollywood Westerns, monster flicks, and of course iconic Steven Spielberg sci fi films like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” These homages are lovingly assembled to create something fresh, but students of film will have a hoot dissecting the movie’s visual influences and Peele’s obvious love of the form. It’s an ambitious movie that feels less focused than Peele’s other films, but nonetheless, “Nope” earns a Yup.
SYNOPSIS: “Moonage Daydream” is a look into legendary artist David Bowie’s sound and vision like no other. It is an immersive look at the life and career of the legendary artist, that features previously unreleased footage from Bowie’s personal archives and is the first film to be officially authorized by the musician’s estate.
REVIEW: Director Brett Morgen has created an experience, a collage of sound and vision, that over the two-and-a-quarter-hour running time creates a portrait that doesn’t attempt to define the artist as much as it does to illuminate his ever-changing philosophical mindset. To achieve this Morgen mixes never-before-seen footage and performances, forty remastered songs spanning the singer’s entire career and, as narration, excerpts from fifty years of Bowie interviews.
There are no talking heads or re-enactments, and neither is this one long music video. It’s an ephemeral collection of ideas and images about an enigmatic artist who once said, “I’ve never been sure of my personality. I’m a collector. I collect personalities and ideas.”
Fragmented and almost overwhelming in its sensory effect, “Moonage Daydream” is a compelling portrait with a solid intellectual underpinning, a philosophical edge and an emotional component for diehard Bowie fans. It also has a good beat and you can dance to it… most of it anyway.
SYNOPSIS: In “The Outfit” Oscar winning actor Mark Rylance plays a tailor who must outwit a dangerous group of mobsters in order to survive one fateful night.
REVIEW: Manipulation, deceit, double dealings and death are the name of the game in this literate, adult thriller. Although “The Outfit” was written for the screen by director Graham Moore, who took home an Oscar for writing “The Imitation Game,” it feels like a stage play. From the minimal sets—the whole thing takes place in two rooms—to the intimate performances and the intricate, wordy script, it is unabashedly and wonderfully theatrical.
SYNOPSIS: In “Top Gun: Maverick,” the thirty-six years-in-the-making sequel to the sky-high 1986 Tom Cruise movie, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is called back to Top Gun, the United States Navy training program where he learned fighter and strike tactics and technique. This time he’ll be training twelve of the brightest and best recent Top Gun graduates for a dangerous mission to locate and destroy an underground uranium enrichment site.
REVIEW: “Top Gun: Maverick” is a sequel that plays it safe with the story, but lets it rip in the blockbuster action sequences, giving the audience the expected need for speed. But what really sets the new and old films apart is Cruise. He was a movie star then, and he’s a movie star now, but with age, the stakes for his character are higher. Maverick is a still a hotshot, but here the character is tempered by the sins of the past and a real concern for the future. Cruise’s work shaves some of the hypermasculine edges off Maverick to reveal a more human and humane character than the first time around. It centers the movie with some earthbound emotion to counter the sky-high action and that’s why I gave “Top Gun: Maverick,” now playing ion theatres, 4 out of 5 stars.
SYNOPSIS: Based on a 2018 Miriam Toews novel of the same name, Sarah Polley’s drama “Women Talking” follows eight women who conduct a secret meeting in a hayloft to discuss their options after learning that they have been repeatedly drugged and raped by men in their tightly knit religious colony. Inspired by real-life sexual abuse that occurred at the ultraconservative Mennonite community Manitoba Colony in eastern lowlands of Bolivia, the film stars Frances McDormand, Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, and Jessie Buckley.
REVIEW: Polley, who wrote as well as directed, ensures that each of the characters bring dynamic notions to their performances, and aren’t just placeholders representing opposing ideas for the sake of drama. The set-up, based on true events in a religious community in Boliva, offers a fascinating window into a fight for survival and the opportunity to examine the situation from a variety of thoughtful viewpoints.
A film, largely set in one room, whose action is verbal, not physical, could have been dry or, at the least, feel stage bound but Polley’s deep dive into the human condition crackles with life. She has carefully calibrated every line, every pause, to create forward momentum as the life-changing deliberations move toward their conclusion.
“Women Talking” is elegant filmmaking buoyed by emotional intelligence and powerhouse performances.