I had a good time at the movies in 2022. Not sure if this was the first year since 2019 where I saw more new movies in theaters than I did at home, but it more or less felt like it. There was plenty of good stuff to see in the indie sphere, which I did a decent job of keeping on top of, but there were also a surprising amount of blockbusters that had me questioning why we can’t just try a little harder in crafting our big-budget entertainment. Also, I can’t speak for all parts of the country, but this year I was pleasantly surprised that for once, just about all the movies that I felt like I absolutely needed to see before list-making time were actually available in theaters or on streaming. Though that doesn’t mean I necessarily saw all of them.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Everything Everywhere All At Once
The Woman King
Avatar: The Way of Water
There is a certain type of obsessive person who is so passionate about their craft that they would die for it. I don’t completely understand these people, nor do I necessarily feel a need to turn these types of people into martyrs. Luckily, the documentary Fire of Love doesn’t really try to do either of these things while telling the story of volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft. Instead, it lets them speak for themselves by using interviews paired with some of the incredible footage they shot over the course of their career chasing some of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century. And that’s just enough to make for an awe-inspiring documentary that makes you question your own insignificance in the face of nature, especially if like myself, you grew up in the vicinity of one of the volcanoes featured in the doc.
As prestige-y as James Gray’s movies may look, they pretty much always get passed over come awards season time. Granted, I don’t think Armeggeddon Time — telling as specific of a story as it does about Gray’s early ’80s New York adolescence — was ever going to be his breakout film in that regard. But for all that specificity and personal wrestling, it was the most I’ve enjoyed a James Gray movie yet. This time around, these characters felt a lot more human and complicated, and the way Armageddon Time wrestles with Jewish assimilation is fascinating in a way that I haven’t seen explored much onscreen, even if much like The Fabelmans, its casting is sometimes questionable.
There are a few things one could take issue with in RRR, but pretty much none of them will occur to you until after the movie has finished, except maybe that this movie is a little long. But even that feels of a piece with how over-the-top thrilling this movie is and the lengths it goes to in order to make sure that you’ve seen every possible ridiculous thing you could want to see wrung out of this basically fictional story. I was a fool to pass up the many chances I had to see this movie in theaters, but even watching it at home, I wanted to get up off my couch and give RRR a round of applause after multiple scenes, since the magnetic energy of the film’s bro-ed up, over-stylized take on the historical epic is hard to deny in whatever setting you see it.
Martin McDonagh has been a little hit-or-miss for me. I loved In Bruges when it came out in 2008, but was a little less enamored with it upon a second viewing years later. Then there’s Seven Psychopaths, where I felt like he wasn’t trying to say enough, and Three Billboards, where perhaps he was trying to say too much. Either way, I found myself slowly falling for The Banshees of Inisherin, perhaps because it hits just the right level of dark humor mixed with bleak profundities set in a gorgeous Irish coastal town. There may not be a ton of warmth between Colin Ferrell and Brendan Gleeson’s characters in this movie, but the comfort with which they share their irreconcilable differences makes the movie’s tricky tone a lot easier to swallow.
The movies are back, baby! Ok, so maybe that sentiment is never really going to feel sincerely true, but at least for Top Gun: Maverick‘s theatrical run, it didn’t seem like such a crazy thing to say. There were several 2022 movies that proved the blockbuster can still be good and not entirely formulaic, but none of them were quite as thrilling as this long-delayed follow-up to Top Gun. At this point, I’d say this movie is in the Mad Max: Fury Road category of transcending its overdue sequel-dom by giving the kind of analog thrills that old-fashioned action movie-making can provide. That is, if you’re willing to accept Tom Cruise not as a relatable human, but more as vessel for entertainment at any cost.
There are a few different approaches that documentaries about creative people can take. You have your straight biography, filled with interviews and pictures telling the story of the artist’s life. You have documentaries that are more about where that artist is at this moment in time, pertaining more to their day-to-day life. Then you also have ones that are merely there to get you to appreciate what’s great about the subject’s work. All The Beauty and the Bloodshed does all three in a way that feels a little too disparate at first, but then slowly comes together in a really satisfying and often heartbreaking way. Through the career of Nan Goldin, we get to see her recent activism in getting the opiod-peddling Sackler family’s name removed from museums, her crazy younger years during the heyday of New York’s downtown scene, and all the mesmerizing photographs that she’s built her career on in between. The movie covers a lot, but I was fascinated by all of it.
I’m not sure that we deserve Jordan Peele, but I’m sure glad he’s around. Like all of the movies in my top 4, Nope is one that I would’ve loved to have seen for a second time, since it’s full of so many odd little details that certainly add up upon first viewing, but it’s hard to decipher exactly how or why. Still, thinking about all the ways the movie combines cowboy imagery with aliens and chimps and analog filmmaking and so many other things made for one of the more delirious and rewarding moviegoing experiences of the year.
With movies that are trying to be “profound”, they often have a problem of being too ambiguous, giving you too much room for interpretation, or not being ambiguous enough, pummeling you with the feelings you are supposed to feel about the things you are seeing. Aftersun walks a fine line between these two extremes, as we get these very astutely observed memories of a young girl’s vacation with her often absent young father. At the same time, we see flash-forwards that don’t really give us the full story, but certainly point us in the direction of it. It’s a little hard to talk about this movie without getting into spoilers or just sounding a little overwrought, but Aftersun definitely made believe that there are still many new ways to tell a story onscreen, so needless to say I’ll be looking forward to what first-time director Charlotte Wells does next.
I don’t know what it is about late-period Spielberg (or at least when he collaborates when Tony Kushner), but with West Side Story being my number 1 movie last year, I guess I just enjoy where the guy has landed in the twilight of his career. Much like West Side Story, this is a movie that I could easily see myself watching over and over again even if it often becomes a little too prickly to be categorized as the crowd-pleasing entertainment Spielberg made his career on. Sincerity was a quality that worked really well on me in a lot of movies from last year, and it’s hard to beat the way The Fabelmans approaches the mysteries of adolescence, family divides, and cinema itself while waiting until the final frame of the movie to shed that sincerity by giving a knowing wink to the audience.
Speaking of endings, the higher-up movies on my lists had particularly great endings this year, even though that’s not an aspect of a film that I always place that much importance on. What I loved about Tár‘s ending is that it confirmed what I’d been suspecting during the back half of the movie — that this was a satire disguised as a prestige drama the entire time. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Anyways, this gets at all the wonderful contradictions that makes this such a fascinating (and not always easy) film to pick apart.
It’s a movie deeply entrenched in the arts and classical music while also poking holes in the stuffiness and self-importance of these worlds. It’s a movie about an LGBTQ woman in a position of power that unfortunately manages to embody all of the abuses of power that countless straight men have wielded. It’s a movie about cancel culture that has so many more things to comment on than our basic definition of cancel culture. And it’s a movie that’s incredibly high-minded, but also pretty funny at the same time. This is another one I’d love to see again, since I’m not sure I figured out exactly how all these things fit together after the first time I saw Tár, but I sure liked thinking about it in the weeks and months afterward.