This is a live list where I rank the movies of 2022. If something isn’t on the list, I haven’t seen it. Leave your comments and we’ll talk. I give a lot of weight to scope, scale, and depth. If a movie is higher than you expect, it probably did one or all of those things very well. If it’s lower, well, it probably frustrated me.
Rankings: updated 3/25/23
- Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
- All Quiet on the Western Front
- Avatar: The Way of Water
- Triangle of Sadness
- Bones and All
- The Black Phone
- The Adam Project
- Turning Red
- Top Gun Maverick
- Crimes of the Future
- The Northman
- Bullet Train
- The Whale
- The Menu
- Violent Night
- Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.
- Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero
- Everything Everywhere All at Once
- The Lost City
- Decision to Leave
- Three Thousand Years of Longing
- Death on the Nile
- Thor: Love and Thunder
- Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers
- The Bob’s Burgers Movie
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
- Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio
- White Noise
- Terrifier 2
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Not For Me
Really Not For Me
- Goodnight Mommy
- Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
- Halloween Ends
- The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
Of all the Oscar movies I’ve watched for 2022, this was probably the most overhyped. It’s good. Great performances. Strong cinematography. Emotional. I just kind of expected…more? It made a lot of sense when I found out The Whale is based on a play. It felt like a play. That’s not inherently a bad thing. There are definitely movies based on plays that I really like. Like Phantom of the Opera (2004), or The Ides of March, 12 Angry Men, Amadeus. I can see the stage inspiration in those and it doesn’t bother me. But for some reason The Whale just really really really had that vibe of theater. Especially with some of the line deliveries. It kept taking me out of the movie.
It also reminded me a lot of The Wrestler. But not as dynamic. Guy who is stuck in his ways, with heart trouble, trying to reconnect with his daughter, but won’t seek help and goes out on his own terms after kind of winning people over and getting a degree of closure. Again, not inherently a bad thing. But that aspect of derivation within a director’s own filmography isn’t usually something I’m a fan of.
Brendan Fraser, terrific job. He sold that performance. I get why he won the Oscar, though I still see the argument for Austin Butler.
There’s also an intense claustrophobia to The Whale. 95% of the movie happens in Charlie’s house. With the other 5% on his front porch. I can see the argument for that. The impact such confinement has on the viewer. But I’m a big proponent of contrast and push-pull in narrative. So if you’re going to stay in that interior, I think there should be a big swing the other way, at some point. Even if, at the very end, it’s just an extreme wide shot of the house in the middle of Idaho and we finally get a sense of where we are, where Charlie was, where all this took place, and how small the story feels in comparison to that expanse. So I came away from The Whale moved by the story it told but a bit unsatisfied.
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
I had a hard time ranking All Quiet on the Western Front. I knew it was going near the top, the question was how high? I think it’s probably the most impressive movie I’ve seen in a while? One of the ways I know a movie is standing out is that I find myself thinking “How did they film this?” over and over again. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s great. So I think it’s fair to say that All Quiet on the Western Front is a masterpiece of the war genre. The scope, scale, the cinematography. The performances. The emotion. The themes. It scores 10s across the board. It’s a statement piece. Everyone involved in making it brought something beyond their A-game. Lighting. Costumes. Sets. Makeup. Everything. I LOVED 1917 and this makes 1917 seem sweet in comparison. It makes Dunkirk feel like a Made-for-TV movie.
So why was I hesitating? Well, because, it’s a realistic war movie. And realistic war movies tend to all hit the same notes. As impressive as All Quiet is, is it anything we haven’t seen before? Even if it’s a superior example of the genre? How much better or different is it than 1917, Dunkirk, Saving Private Ryan, Paths of Glory, etc. etc. etc. Is it telling me something I don’t already know?
Compare that to Triangle of Sadness. Triangle isn’t as big and loud as All Quiet, but it’s still pretty big and has a lot to say about economic systems and power structures. And says those things in new and interesting ways.
Then Avatar: The Way of Water was impressive in a very different way. Its technical achievements were unbelievable. Especially watching 48 FPS. Like All Quiet, the story isn’t groundbreaking but It is effective.
Ultimately, I chose to put All Quiet over those films because I have that sense that it’s the definitive king of its genre. While Triangle and Way of Water are merely fantastic entries in their respective genres. Feel free to tell me what war movie you’d rank higher than All Quiet. In case you’re curious, I don’t quite consider Apocalypse Now a war movie. I know it’s set during a war and looks at the effects of war, but I think the central conceit is more about identity and existentialism, with war being a means to get at that conversation rather than the purpose.Watch on:
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2
I thought Sonic 2 was an upgrade from the first Sonic. They let Jim Carrey do more. And Knuckles has always been my favorite Sonic-centric character, so his inclusion was cool. It felt similar to me to Jurassic World Dominion in that both are blockbuster-y and reliant on a lot of “movie logic” to justify some of their big scenes and move the plot along. Sometimes I find movie logic charming, like in A Goofy Movie or The Waterboy. Others times it just upsets me (see my thoughts, in the entry below this, on Jurassic World Dominion). Sonic the Hedgehog 2 walked a fine line. There were long stretches were I was kind of just not engaged. But then moments that had me laughing or had a cool visual. Plus, I find James Marsden and Tika Sumpter so damn likable. Except they’re also forced into all these moments with Sonic and it makes me mad. Which is really confusing. Because it’s like I’m happy the characters are on screen but annoyed that they were forced to be there.
Same with the use of Super Sonic. Super Sonic is awesome. Seeing it brought to life in a movie was cool. But how it happened, why it happened, and what happened all left me thinking “This could have been so much better.” Which is also how I felt about 99% of the dialogue Knuckles had. Especially at the end. It became painful. And that’s the character I want to like the most. I had a lot of emotional ups and downs while watching this. Ultimately, it came out as a bit of a wash. I could actually see myself putting it in the Flawed category, but, for now, keeping it in Neutral just because it’s at least unique enough and fun enough and I’d like a third one.Watch on:
JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION
Jurassic World Dominion is just so needlessly stupid. It’s infuriating that this franchise isn’t given the prestige treatment in terms of quality. Instead, it’s short cut after short cut. Awful scene after awful scene. Bad callback after bad callback. Sometimes this borders on the self-aware and so-dumb-it’s-interesting, like when Bryce Dallas Howard outruns an assassin velociraptor over the rooftops of Malta, or how Ian Malcolm sometimes outright mocks the movie/franchise. But for the most part, it’s just depressingly poor.
Though. I will say. It does embody a certain classic blockbuster style where you aren’t supposed to think too hard and just enjoy the madness that’s on screen. Films like that are why we have the phrase “It’s just a movie”. There’s always been a brand of cinema that was big, dumb fun. There are many people who love this style. For them, Jurassic World Dominion is probably a delight. I recognize that. I can appreciate that. But it’s not my thing. The whole subplot with the Giganotosaurus and the Tyrannosaurus is so cheap and infuriating that I can’t just enjoy it. It’s not earned. It’s not interesting. I’m embarrassed watching it because it’s so forced.
The only reason Dominion stays out of the I Hate category is because it has dinosaurs. I can never hate a movie that has dinosaurs. But the entire Jurassic World trilogy is an absolute test of what I thought was a core truth of my being. If they make a fourth one, maybe I’ll finally break. I thought I could never hate a Transformers movie. Michael Bay showed me that’s not true, though. Ugh.
We need more and better dinosaur movies. We DESERVE more and better dinosaur movies.Watch on:
THE LOST CITY
I just saw the movie You People and bemoaned the recent quality of romantic comedies. So I’m probably in a place to be a bit forgiving of The Lost City. I don’t know why I didn’t expect a Sandra Bullock movie to be a romcom, but I honestly had no idea it was going to be one. That pleasant surprise combined with the recent disappointment in You People and I was kind of charmed. It’s far from perfect. And takes a huge suspension of disbelief. But I love Sandra. I love Channing. For me, the positives outweighed the negatives.
I will say, the ending is outrageous. It goes from the duo being rescued to them being on an island in Hawaii. We’re told that it’s the end of a book tour. Everyone’s happy. Loretta and and Alan share a moment. Share what seems to be their first kiss. And it seems like the beginning of a nice new chapter. Except. Except. Except. The book tour is for Loretta’s new book. Not the one at the start of the movie. But the one based on the events in the movie. That means between her rescue and the scene on Hawaii that Loretta got home, wrote a book, had the book published, released, then went on a months long tour. And just now her and Alan finally kiss for the first time and start their relationship? It’s one of my big pet peeves in movies like this. They make choices, completely nonsensical in terms of the diegetic world, for the sake of efficiency and the expectation that most audiences won’t think too much about it. But whenever the decision relies on “Hopefully people won’t care” it’s a bad one.
Sandra and Channing are just so good at this that I’m still keeping the movie in the Positives category. Though it got dangerously close to being knocked down just because of that call at the end. Side note, it’s also pretty wild this was initially called The Lost City of D. Bold. Oh and special shout out to Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s character journey in this. Cracked me up. And I’m pretty sure the first phone call with Brad Pitt’s character had a reference to Fight Club when Edward Norton calls Pitt from the payphone and Pitt’s eating when he answers.Watch on:
I’m going to preface this by saying that when I first saw There Will Be Blood, I didn’t like it. When the movie ended, I stood up, looked at my friend, and confidently said, “That’s one movie I’ll never watch again.” Then I thought about it obsessively for 6 months. When it finally was available to buy, I bought it. Re-watched it. And now it’s a top 5 all-time movie for me. So there’s hope for Tár.
Tár was one where the trailer sold me with how abstract it was. Then, for some reason, I never saw it in theaters. So I heard about it for months and months. Which built up a lot of anticipation. Especially with people leaving me comments saying they can’t wait to see what I think of it and how befuddled they were. I expected the movie to get trippy. Then it…kind of didn’t? Except it does?
The big tipping point for Tár will be people realizing, critics too, that it is a surreal movie. There are supernatural elements. The question is: how surreal? How literal are events? How subjective? Does everything we see happen actually happen? There are some speculating that parts of the movie are entirely fantastic. While others think there’s a literal explanation for all the ghostly aspects.
I land somewhere in the middle. Personally, I think of Tár as a retelling of The Tell-Tale Heart. Lydia is haunted by guilt. She knows she ruined Krista’s career. And once Krista’s gone, the guilt hits and won’t leave. Which is when the movie turns more subjective and a touch more surreal. Her past haunts her present and reduces her future. There’s conversation about the division between art and the artist, about the idea of the #MeToo movement as part of a purification cycle in the aftermath of culture shifts, and, of course, power. Also age. We see this in the way in which Olga is not impressed with Tár. She doesn’t censor herself out of diffidence to the great composer. She even makes a suggestion to Lydia new music. And when they’re in New York together, Olga blows Lydia off to go party with randoms. It echoes what we saw in the classroom near the film’s beginning when Max didn’t share the same views as Lydia. There’s a disconnect between her and this next generation. Her career was kind of already over and she didn’t even know it yet.
These are all things I love the idea of. And the cinematography and performances are out of this world. The long shots! I love long shots. The patience Todd Fields has in this film is amazing. So why did I only put it in the Positives tier?
At least as of the first watch, I just found it all a bit…blase? The story is essentially: set up the greatness of this character, bring them crashing down. Within the first 10 minutes, I get it. Which means that I’m just waiting and waiting and waiting for the scale to tip and the other shoe to drop. And it’s all very familiar. Not the presentation of events, but the events themselves. Lydia tries to distance herself from Krista and evidence of their connection. But we know that won’t work. The story gains traction. Lawyers get involved. The New York Post writes a story. People close to Lydia have some questions. They want to distance themselves. We haven’t necessarily seen it on the screen in this way, but we all know the story at this point.
So if the story is that familiar, I’m asking “What else?” And Tár‘s answer is the supernatural aspect. Which is cool. Krista’s continued presence in the film is great. The highbrow Poe-ness is great. But is it enough? Like the scream in the park is something that happens, that has me interested, but becomes more of a surreal, subjective commentary on Lydia’s mental state rather than a meaningful part of the story. Likewise with the trek through Olga’s apartment building. The scene is eerie and cool, especially with the growling and the sight of the dog at the end of the hallway. But, again, it’s not necessarily narratively meaningful so much as an outward expression of Lydia’s interior state. There’s merit to that. There’s style to that. But when I want more from the story itself, it just leaves me wishing these things were more literal and consequential than they’re meant to be.
I guess another way to look at it is if you take these surreal moments out of the story entirely, the story doesn’t change. The screaming in the park adds to the stress Lydia feels, but it’s not a key narrative element. If she dropped Olga off and drove away, rather than having that trippy experience in the basement level—nothing significant changes. She could have fallen and hurt her shoulder in a million others ways that would be stylish and interesting.
This is a complaint you’ll see me make a lot, but I think Tár is missing its third act. I want to see something where it’s 50 years later and we’re back in a classroom and a teacher is talking about Lydia Tár to their students. What’s the conversation? Or it’s 5 years later and we’re seeing Lydia trying to make a comeback. Has she amended? How has this experience changed her? Or what? Going back to There Will Be Blood, one of the things that hooked me is that it didn’t just end with the success of the pipeline. It leapt years ahead to show us the end result. How was Daniel Plainview now? Who was he? He gained everything he ever wanted. So was he happy? That final conversation between Daniel and Eli is so climatic and resounding and incredible.
Tár never gave me that? I feel like whenever it started to head in that direction of delivering something profound, it cut. I wanted Tár to crescendo. Maybe I’ll appreciate it more on a re-watch. But, for now, I’m disappointed. But I wouldn’t be upset if it won Best Picture or any of the major Oscar awards. The filmmaking and performances are that amazing. And it is one of the best pure examples of “show don’t tell” that I’ve ever seen.Watch on:
Man, Babylon. I keep bouncing back and forth between being impressed and disappointed. On the one hand, what it took to make this film is insane. Just the opening party is this frenetic madhouse. I was in awe thinking about how insane the production must have been. On the other hand, it also felt just a bit…try-hard? I think about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and there was a naturalness and casualness to the whole thing that let me flow with its mythologizing of Old Hollywood. But the garishness and absurdity that Damien Chazelle brings to events had kind of the opposite effect. Like it was just a bit too aggrandizing and in love with itself. Garish is the word that comes to mind. It’s likely that was 100% intentional. Especially with how the film comes full circle and begins to imply that Hollywood is always the party on the hill that sweeps people in then spits them out. It is excessive. It is horrible. But it’s also undeniably amazing.
I get all of that. I appreciate the history. More than that, I appreciate how much Babylon feels like a love letter to everyone Hollywood has stepped on and over. I can imagine there are a lot of people who have been in the industry who watch this and feel a validation that’s hard to explained. Like a “Thank you for seeing me.” Even as someone who just loves movies, there’s something powerful in the final moments. Something sad and lovely and right.
Filmmakers making movies about Hollywood is as annoying as novelists writing novels about being a novelist. It can work. Don’t get me wrong. Pretty much anything can be done well and be the exception to the rule. It just means there’s an uphill battle. And I don’t think Babylon really makes the climb. It’s kind of pretty much exactly the elephant in the back of the truck that opens the movie. I guess the elephant eventually gets up the hill, so my metaphor isn’t perfect here. But you get what I mean. It’s also not just another movie about Old Hollywood—it’s another movie about the demise of the Hollywood dream. Sunset Boulevard. The Artist. Mulholland Drive. etc. etc. 2022 already had Blonde. Chazelle does have a unique take on the topic. But it still didn’t really feel like it was telling me anything I didn’t already know. Newer actor flames out. Older actor can’t handle the fall from grace. Hollywood is fake and awesome and awful and magical. Sure. So?
It’s essentially Chazelle saying “I know this industry can suck, but what we do immortalizes us. Isn’t that something?” It is. But is it enough? Is celluloid immortality worth the personal emptiness? Maybe? Through Manny, maybe the suggestion is, “No.” But it also seems like, “Yes.” At least a “It’s complicated.” I just wish maybe there was a bit more contrast. Can no one in Hollywood be successful and have a happy personal life? That lack of antidote, that lack of juxtaposition, became something I couldn’t stop wanting the movie to explore. And it ultimately is one of the reasons I came away unsatisfied. With this being 3 hour movie…I want the exploration to be a bit more kaleidoscopic. Rather than, “Everything’s good. Now it’s bad. Now it’s over.”
Margot Robbie definitely stole the show. And Chazelle reaffirms his potential. I adore Whiplash. But La La Land and First Man weren’t even things I wanted to go see. Now this. I’m starting to think Chazelle and I just have very different narrative interests. I want something present day or futuristic. Not La La Land‘s nostalgia or the actual historical settings of First Man and Babylon. At least we have Denis Villeneuve. I still have hope for Chazelle having another film that hits for me the way Whiplash did. Babylon certainly had its moments.Watch on:
PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH
In the summer of 2020, I had an existential crisis. Before I go to bed, I often listen to music. Playlists. Albums. Whatever. It’s a nice way to decompress. This particular night, I had on Kid A by Radiohead. For those who have never heard it, I’d describe it as beautiful abstract horror. There’s just something haunting and empty about it. Like it’s whispering your future but in a language you don’t understand. In the middle of this ever-so-peaceful chaos, epiphany struck. A switch flipped in my head, and suddenly I felt what it was like to die. There was this void in the pit of my stomach. And it was, one day, going to swallow all my thoughts, senses, memories, hopes, perceptions. Everything. I’d be gone. A TV turned off. Fruit fallen from the branch, rotting in the grass, picked apart by ants. I just lay there in an utter stupor for a couple hours, unable to think of anything else. Finally, I just got out of bed and started the next day. The next night? Got into bed and immediately felt the void. So I hopped out of bed and stayed up until 5am until sleep said “Fine, I”ll do it myself” and knocked me out.
I spent the better part of two years going to bed with a single AirPod in my ear, an audio book playing. The words gave my mind something to focus on that wasn’t the sheer drop of mortality. I started therapy. That sh*t f***ed me up.
The last thing I expected going into Puss in Boots: The Last Wish was to see a perfect distillation of a battle I waged for years and only recently emerged somewhat tentatively victorious. Yet there it was. On the screen. A mid-life crisis in the form of an animated film for children. Amazing. I hadn’t watched a single trailer. I didn’t know anything aside from a single GIF of Puss running across rooftops to attack a giant. I had no idea. The opening song, he talks about being fearless, so I figured his character arc would be an onset of fear followed by a journey to rediscover his courage. Then the bar scene happened. I wanted to applaud then and there. WHAT A SCENE. The atmosphere. The cinematography. The performances by Wagner Moura and Antonio Banderas. The character design. The choreography. Man. Grand slam. At that point, I was hooked.
A cat having an existential crisis isn’t enough for me to rank a movie number one. Even though it is a great concept. The reason I put Puss in Boots: The Last Wish at number one is because of the scope and scale and care with which it told the story. The movie is dynamic. It goes places, but doesn’t rush to get there. It’s just a constant flow of micro narratives and each has a beginning, middle, and end. So the scenes feel complete and unique and self-contained while chaining together consequential plot and character developments. So you’re never stuck in one thing for too long. Though you’re not jumping plot point to plot point in a way that feels superficial. It’s a different style of film from something more literary like Triangle of Sadness, but I think Puss in Boots is the best example of “blockbuster” writing that I’ve seen in years.
I knew the broader concept of what would happen (it is a movie for kids, after all). But the journey to get there kept me on my toes and pretty much just continuously delighted me. That’s all I want. To not be bored by how things are playing out. To feel like something is fresh and taking risks. The story might be as old as time. But the what, when, where, who, and how, just shouldn’t feel stagnant or dragged out. For example, a worse movie would have had Puss spend 40 minutes at Mama Luna’s house and have to be convinced to come out of hiding and only have one more action sequence. Or it would have gone into a long flashback to develop Puss and Kitty. Or only had Big Jack Horner’s introduction and one more scene with Jack at the end. In other words, underdeveloped and dragging. Puss in Boots avoided such pitfalls by…staying light on its feet? Is that a good pun? Anyway, what a movie.Watch on:
I saw M3GAN and was disappointed so a friend recommended Terrifier 2. I was assured I didn’t need to see the original Terrifier to appreciate this. That the mythology and backstory were introduced in the sequel because the first one received a lot of criticisms about its lack of story. Cool. So I went in knowing absolutely nothing about the movie aside from looking at the poster once.
I actually thought the first 15 minutes were the most interesting. The initial tone-setting with Art brutalizing the coroner and heading back out into the world. The laundromat. The ChehkovGunning with Sienna’s costume and sword. I was into it and hopeful. Then the Clown Cafe scene happened. It was so drawn out, inexplicable, and completely without stakes that the payoff didn’t do anything for me. It hit me as indulgent rather than necessary. Which some people might be absolutely fine with. Or even prefer. Especially in the slasher genre. Maybe it would have worked if the film would have done more with the connection between Sienna and Art, but it never developed that part of the story.
Also, the supernatural stuff seemed completely illogical? The Little Pale Girl was just a figment of Art’s imagination…except sometimes she was visible to others. Is that just because of Sienna and Jonathan having a connection to Art? Or what? What are the implication of her existence? Or that there really was a Clown Cafe in the bottom of the carnival? What is this world where Sienna has a flaming sword that brings her back to life? If that kind of power exists, where do we go from here? And is Art just a smaller part of a larger demonic world? Or is he the most powerful entity from it?
I’m not saying I need answers to all of this. It’s just one of those things that as the story introduces stuff like Sienna glowing with light and resurrecting that you kind of wonder how far it goes? It actually makes me appreciate Stranger Things a bit more as Stranger Things really leaned into the premise of the Upside Down and has introduced all of these others monsters. If the Terrifier universe is going to continue, I would hope Damien Leone follows up with some of the concepts he introduced. Like do we get some angel that comes down to fight Art? Kind of going Terminator 2 style where there’s a good cyborg versus an evil cyborg? Does Sienna become some Army of Darkness super badass?
A pile of interesting ideas and style. But definitely not living up to its full potential. I’m rooting for Damien to get there with it. I though Lauren LaVera and Elliot Fullam were great. And is it too much to say David Howard Thorton is in the mold of an Andy Serkis? Would be really interested in seeing him go down that mo-cap route and see where it leads.Watch on:
I’m a huge Don DeLillo fan. I wrote him a letter once and he was kind enough to write me back. He’s one of the most influential figures in my artistic life as a novelist. So whenever there’s a movie based on one of his books, I’m excited. I’m probably one of the few people in the world who glowingly talks about 2011’s Cosmopolis. I’ve watched the movie like 10 times and read the book almost as many. The Body Artist, Point Omega, Underworld, are all novels that mean a lot to me. White Noise is one I haven’t read. Maybe because it’s the most popular? So I was pretty curious how it would be to go in blind and judge the film without any affection for the novel. The result? Eh.
One thing that was discussed after Cosmopolis came out was how unnatural DeLillo’s dialogue is. Watch any dialogue from Cosmopolis and you can see the actors caught between trying to make it natural vs leaning into how stylized it is. The same thing happens in White Noise. A lot of the time, Adam Driver has to talk with a near identical cadence to Pattinson. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just amused me. But it was something that threw Cosmopolis viewers for a loop. Just like it’s thrown DeLillo readers. So I’m sure there will be people who try to watch White Noise and feel like something is off and not be sure what it is. It’s the dialogue. It reads better than it speaks.
Narratively, there were interesting individual scenes. But there weren’t a lot of stakes. Until the disaster, nothing’s really happening. We’re in the world but without much narrative focus. The train crash and resulting toxic cloud provides the missing stakes. I finally felt somewhat invested. It just never really went anywhere. It’s this huge event that comes and goes and is mostly used to give Jack Gladney a medical scare. Given how the whole theme is about death, that makes sense. I wanted more, though. I don’t think we quite got enough of Jack dealing with his impending mortality. Instead, the story swerves into infidelity. And tries to dovetail the marriage, infidelity, and mortality threads? Instead of coming together in a powerful way, it all kind of unraveled for me. Especially because the final confrontation shares its basic elements with Cosmopolis, as in two characters come face to face, with one wanting to kill the other, and they have a big theoretical conversation. The showdown between Pattinson and Paul Giamatti is something I find truly compelling. Adam Driver vs. Lars Eidinger? Far less so.
The best part of the movie, for me, was Greta Gerwig’s performance. It’s actually the first movie I’ve ever watched with her in it. Which is kind of crazy. I’d heard great things. And I very much enjoyed Lady Bird. But she just kind of carried the movie for me.
I definitely need to prioritize the novel, now, though. Maybe the book has flaws and those were accurately ported over by Baumbach? Meaning it’s less about Baumbach’s adaptation and more about the weakness of the source material? Or it’s just one of the many instances of the book being better as a book. Will update once I’ve finished the novel.Watch on:
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN
Banshees of Inisherin is one that could move up, the more I sit with it. It’s a gorgeous movie. And Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are insane in it. Is it okay to say ask if it’s their best work ever? It’s thought provoking, daring, unique. And has the subtext of being a metaphor for the Irish Civil War. Which puts a lot of the absurd stuff into context. Like I’m guessing the cutting off of the fingers is supposed to be symbolic of policies and decisions that did more harm than good. I haven’t looked into it yet, but I’m sure one character represents the Provisional Government of Ireland and another the Irish Republic Army. And I’m sure there were questionable things each side did where you’re like “Why? Why do that?” And that’s what makes the whole fallout between Padraic and Colm so sad—it was entirely unnecessary and came about on a whim and caused real damage.
What’s keeping me from ranking it higher is two things. First, I wanted just a bit more. I prefer movies with scope and scale. And this was just a bit contained. It’s amazing for what it is. But it had a lower ceiling for me. The second thing is an issue with tone. As amazing as Farrell, Gleeson, and Kerry Condon were—the other actors almost sounded more like theater actors than movie actors. Which is a dumb thing to say. I know. Barry Keoghan is very much a capable film actor. I loved him The Green Knight. He’s someone who is just scratching the surface of his potential. But in this, he and others just felt a bit more character-y and exaggerated, like you see in theater. And especially in comparison to Farrell, Gleeson, and Condon.
Take those criticisms for what they are: my idiosyncrasies. And very nitpicky. But it’s that kind of stuff that separates the top movies for me. It still goes into the Impressive category. So it’s not an indictment. It’s a special movie that will really hit the spot for a lot of people.Watch on:
BODIES BODIES BODIES
What a weird ass movie. Especially following up Avatar: The Way of Water. My impression of Bodies Bodies Bodies is that someone who is a Millennial wanted to mock Gen Z culture. And their perspective is that Gen Z is hysterical. Not in a “You’re so funny” way but in a “You overreact about everything and it’s causing problems.” Everyone is cheerfully performative or barely thinking. And that made Bodies Bodies Bodies pretty hard to watch, because I was just so aware of how much the filmmakers seemed to despise their subjects. And I’m fine with satire and lampooning a topic. One of my favorite movies this year (Triangle of Sadness) did exactly that. This just felt…belittling? And I’m not sure how interested I am in that kind of tone? Where as Triangle of Sadness is pretty harsh in its critiques of the rich, but it’s a much larger discussion about economic structure and how that affects people, rather than just a negative statement about people.
There is a bit of the cult film aspect to Bodies Bodies Bodies. Where some of the bad acting and absurd dialogue transcends the idea of quality and is just fun for people. So I can see it being something that a lot of people “get” and enjoy and try and make a thing. It’s just not for me.Watch on:
AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER
Avatar: The Way of Water blew me away. I mean, the story is still pretty basic, which was the big knock on the original. You’re not getting groundbreaking twists and turns like a Nolan movie. Or surprising narrative design a la Barbarian and Triangle of Sadness. Or even subtextual themes and deep meaning. What you do get is thorough. And complete. Way of the Water takes the time to develop character arcs and relationships and stakes. You’re narratively immersed in a way a lot of movies don’t have time for these days. And then visually. My goodness.
Visually, Avatar: The Way of Water is the best looking movie I’ve ever watched. The high frame rate is incredible. The 3D is incredible. And the CGI is incredible. Cinematography wise, it’s not a Roger Deakins movie or anything. It’s not 2001: a Space Odyssey. There are moments that pop. But really it’s just that the floor is so much higher than any movie that’s ever existed. It’s legitimately the best CGI that’s ever existed up to this point. That makes Way of Water a technical achievement, a visual masterpiece. It raises the bar higher than the original did in 2010.
The sequence with the whale hunt was one of the most painful and amazing scenes I’ve seen in years. It’s the perfect example of what I mean by Way of Water being thorough in its storytelling. We watch this whale/tulkun hunt from start to finish and get incredible detail on the tactics and equipment. James Cameron contrasts the fascinating process with the horror from the tulkun perspective. It’s kind of haunting.
Then all the action scenes are wild. Like I kind of felt honored to be watching them? I just couldn’t believe how awesome they looked. How visceral and consequential. It’s kind of the most in awe I’ve been in the theater since watching Inception for the first time.
So, yeah. Even though it’s not the greatest story ever told or anything. It’s arguably the most visually impressive movie ever made. And that deserves the number one spot.Watch on:
GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO
This was a weird one for me. I loved Geppetto and Carlo and found them very endearing. And I grew to like Pinocchio. Oh, and Spazzatura was amazing. But I disliked most of the other characters. Especially Sebastian J. Cricket. His narration was fine, but his in-scene dialogue just always felt off to me. Like not really fitting the tone of the movie or moment. And then there were a lot of the neat Guillermo Del Toro designs and twists. Except they felt kind of truncated? Or maybe too superficial?
For example, the Wood Sprite. She just kind of appears and does this nice thing, vanishes until the end, then saves the day. Her introduction is the individual sprites flowing through the woods and maybe noticing Geppetto’s drunken mourning about Carlo. Sebastian tells us they notice but the actual visual doesn’t provide clear information. And we don’t see the sprites again until they enter the home. Which is pretty much hours after we saw them in the woods. It’s just…muddled and thin. The idea is fine. But the execution leaves, at least for me, a lot to be desired.
It’s the same with the afterlife world. It’s a very cool idea. And the sphinx that turns the hourglass is such a cool design. Yet we don’t really spend that much time there. The world building never goes anywhere. Movies like Mad God and Avatar: The Way of Water spend so much time immersing you in the world. While Pinocchio gives you the elevator pitch. I’m not saying we needed a lot more but a longer scene would have been nice.
I can see why a lot of people would be charmed by Del Toro’s version of Pinocchio. I did appreciate the beauty of the stop-motion and the characters and the last meditation on death. But overall it was a little undercooked for me.Watch on:
Violent Night was fun. I like to think most of the world is rooting for David Harbour to do great things. And this was definitely in his wheelhouse. It’s really not that different from a bizarro episode of Stranger Things. I liked a lot of the fight choreography and humor. Definitely feels like Violent Night has the makings of a cult classic. The highlight, of course, was the Home Alone inspired sequence. And that it feels like Violent Night is the answer to the question, “What if Die Hard was even more of a Christmas movie?” My biggest complaint would probably just be some of the writing around the main family. And the long long time it takes for Santa to really get his fighting spirit back. I think Violent Night will be a lot more enjoyable than people may expect. And definitely something people might watch every Christmas. The Bad Santa for a new generation.Watch on:
THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY HOLIDAY SPECIAL
This was legitimately one of the worst things I’ve ever watched. And I’m a Marvel fan. I’m an MCU fan. I like Guardians and Guardians 2. I know James Gunn can be a good writer. But, Jesus. Almost every single piece of dialogue hurt me. And Mantis and Drax were insufferable. Truly and utterly insufferable. And kind of the main villains? Part of me wants to let it off the hook by saying it’s for kids. Except it’s kind of not. The whole stretch from the bar, to stealing from the woman selling maps, to breaking into Kevin Bacon’s house, to kidnapping Kevin Bacon, to beating up the police, to revealing Kevin Bacon to Peter was excruciating. The only part I liked was Mantis telling Peter she was his sister. That was nice. Other than that, yikes. I like to imagine James Gunn set a kitchen timer for 25 minutes, opened Final Draft, typed until the bell sounded, and that was the entire screenwriting process.
I will say, it’s pretty funny that James Gunn got a Batman reference in there when he’s the new co-CEO of DC Studios. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get a crossover movie one day. Marvel and DC did do a huge thing in the 90s where their entire rosters fought one another. Then merged into hybrid version? Like Wolverine and Batman. It was pretty nuts. I dare both Marvel and DC to base a movie trilogy on it.Watch on:
BONES AND ALL
Bones and All is good. I’m trying to figure out if it’s great. I’m maybe underrating it a little bit? It’s the first movie in a long long long time to remind me of a Cormac McCarthy novel. And Cormac is, I think, one of the greatest American novelists of all time. It’s a better Cormac McCarthy movie than McCarthy’s own movie The Counselor. It’s like a little mini No Country For Old Men. Which is awesome. It also reminds me of Winter’s Bone, the movie that turned Jennifer Lawrence into a star. I think this is probably better overall? But Winter’s Bone felt more…built out? I guess that’s the thing that’s kind of keeping me from heavily praising Bones and All. As great as it is, it still feels a bit more breadth than depth to me? Or just a bit smaller in scale? Even with all the travel. I kind of felt like Bones and All never went full throttle. Like it was always holding back a bit. And that’s great for the first, say, hour. It’s restrained. It’s building tension and tone. I just prefer for that to culminate a bit more.
Trust me, I completely get you disagreeing. I’m kind of disagreeing. I’m not saying this is a legitimate criticism. Moreso just highlighting a preference I have. There are some really powerful scenes. It just felt, especially at the end, that some punches were pulled. The movie ends completely differently than the book. There’s a similar fight but different results. I don’t think the book ending is better, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with how the movie concluded.
But, with that said, Bones and All is pretty stellar. I can see Taylor Russell being huge deal. And Timothée Chalamet is as star-worthy as ever. Mark Rylance was tremendous. Man, and there’s that moment near the end where we go from in the apartment to outside for a few shots then back into the apartment. The change in sound from loud to quiet to loud is amazing. A lot of great choices. A lot of awesome moments. But was still looking for that one thing that made me go, “There! Yes. Amazing.”Watch on:
I’ve seen people say Do Revenge is the new Mean Girls. And I get that comparison. Mostly because Do Revenge has so many callbacks to films like Mean Girls and Clueless. But I don’t think it’s anywhere close to the same quality as Mean Girls. It’s like saying Jurassic World is the new Jurassic Park, simply because both feature dinosaurs. But that doesn’t mean the quality is the same. Jurassic World is to Jurassic Park what Ohio is to Hawaii. And when it comes to Do Revenge…it’s just…not Mean Girls. Inspired by Mean Girls yet far from the quality of storytelling.
Not to sound old, but I feel like Do Revenge is an Instagram-ized version of Mean Girls. Everything is sleek and chic and glam. It’s all wealth and unreality. It wants people to relate but also keeps them at arms reach. The thing that bothers me the most is just how underdeveloped everything is. The characters. The consequences. The relationships. It all felt like completing a checklist to me rather than a legitimate narrative. When I think of high school films like Mean Girls, Clueless, Superbad, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Breakfast Club, The Spectacular Now, hell, even Sky High, what stands out to me is how developed and grounded the worlds are. Yeah, Mean Girls is silly. Clueless is silly. Sky High involves superpowers. But they’re still often pretty grounded. While Do Revenge is so…manufactured. It’s a daydream. Because of that, I never connected to the characters or what they were going through.
And, sure. I’m not the target audience. I’m in my thirties. Maybe I’m just the old guy saying “They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.” But watch Do Revenge then watch Mean Girls and you’ll see a huge difference in the quality of the characters, consequences, and world building.
I guess I can get technical really quick and give an example. In Mean Girls, Cady’s parents aren’t around much. But their inclusion adds to the world building. And they also help establish Cady’s initial character. And then serve as a foil once Cady’s become one of the mean girls and messed everything up. Her relationship with her parents, just like Cher’s relationship with her dad in Clueless, adds another dimension to the character. In Do Revenge, parents don’t exist. Drea mentions her mom but that’s it. The mom is completely absent from the story. It’s the same with Russ art collective warehouse. We’re told it’s an art collective. But no one else is ever there. It’s a minor thing. But it adds to the sense of emptiness and hollowness and performativeness. Ultimately, Do Revenge is a really really really really small and unrealistic movie that’s trying to cover up a lot of the “under construction” aspects of its narrative. The actors all do a great job. The story just needed a lot more work.Watch on:
So I’ve been working on the movie guide for Troll and it had me re-evaluating the movie. I didn’t appreciate how pointed the commentary was about the eradication of Norse history by the church. The whole movie is metaphoric for the loss of the culture, traditions, and myths that predated the arrival and rise of Christianity in Norway. With that in mind, everything the Troll King does is infused with meaning. It doesn’t necessarily elevate the superficial entertainment value of Troll. But I do think it means the movie deserves a bit more recognition than I originally gave it. With that in mind, I elevated it from the Negative category to Neutral. From 39 to 34.
Troll is one I was rooting for but don’t think it quite got there. It’s in this middle ground between being absurd fun like Sharknado and a serious monster film like original Gojira. I’m not sure that’s where you want to be, though. The middle ground is safe. While the extremes are riskier. A polarized film might appeal to less people but resonate more strongly with those who do enjoy it. For example, contrast a zombie movie like Shaun of the Dead with another like 28 Days Later. One leans way more into humor. The other way more into art horror. Or something like the Re-Animator that’s just B-movie fun. Troll tries to do a little of everything. There’s some humor. There’s some emotion. There’s some action. Some romance? But probably not enough of any one thing for it to truly matter. And none of those aspects is all that well done. I’m not sure any one aspect of the film stood out.
With that said, I’m sure plenty of people will watch it and find it harmlessly enjoyable. It hits all the proper beats and you can tell everyone’s working hard. So Troll has my respect. But in terms of Norwegian disaster movies, I’m still very partial to The Wave (Bølgen) and would recommend giving that a watch. I will say, there was this moment in Troll when the troll stopped a helicopter from falling on someone. It’s the one thing that piqued my interest and had me thinking, “Okay, maybe this will get interesting.” But they kind of gave up exploring that angle. Maybe in the sequel?Watch Troll on:
DON’T WORRY DARLING
Yikes. So the presentation of Don’t Worry Darling was pretty great. Good visuals. Florence Pugh doing her absolute best to save the film. Cool sets. Strong sense of place. It’s just the story was so insanely lacking. And that makes me sad to say because I think Katie Silberman is great. I loved Set It Up. Booksmart was a nice spiritual successor to Superbad. I’m not sure what happened here. If there were too many cooks in the kitchen or the shooting script deviated a lot from the original script? It’s little things, like other characters being half-cooked. Or nothing anyone does really having consequences. The movie is 2 hours and for the first 110 minutes the only things that happen are: Margaret leaves, Alice becomes suspicious. Nothing happens to anyone else. No one has an arc. There’s a flurry of stuff in the last few minutes but it doesn’t lead anywhere because the movie ends. Don’t Worry Darling is only the first 2/3rds of a story rather than a full story.
It just felt like a worse version of The Island or that weird Matthew McConaughey movie Serenity.Watch on:
I wish the trailers for The Menu wouldn’t have given so much away. I still enjoyed the movie, but not knowing the twist would have been a far better experience. I think it’s my favorite performance by Anya Taylor-Joy. Absolutely my favorite Nicholas Hoult performance. He was making me laugh so much. And Ralph Fiennes won’t get an Oscar nomination for this but maybe deserves one? Or at least some kind of honorary mention? He was just such a captivating portrait of self-destruction. And, man, Hong Chau has such presence. I’m excited to see her in The Whale. I feel like we’re just at the start of her doing some really cool things.
Such a dark comedy. And even though it’s about cooking, it seems applicable to any industry where there’s a classist dichotomy. On the one hand, I root for that. The idea of valuing the $9.95 cheeseburger over the $1250 multi-course dining experience. On the other hand, I’m a pretentious writing nerd who geeks out over Don DeLillo novels and long shots in movies. I have a site where I analyze and rank movies. I’m “in the restaurant” so to speak. But I also love a $9.95 cheeseburger. And I have two published novels. So I’m not Tyler the foodie who knows but can’t do. I can do. I do…do… Sigh. So, what I’m trying to say is—The Menu spurred an existential crisis.
I ended up putting it in the Positives category rather than the Really Good category—and this is the kind of thing that would get me turned into a s’more—because as entertained as I was, I felt like the story needed something more. I think about Shutter Island and how, even though it takes place on a single island, it has all these chapters to it that feel visually and tonally unique. Same with X and Barbarian. There are these distinct sections and areas. In comparison, The Menu felt a bit static to me. Like it didn’t know how to shift from third gear to fourth then fifth. Some people prefer a quieter film. I get that. It’s not like I needed huge action sequences or anything. Just something that would stir the energy up a bit.
For example, and I’m not saying this is what I’d do, but having a subplot that takes place off the island. Get Out did this with Chris’s friend, Rod the TSA agent. It doesn’t have to be much, but it allows for some cross cutting. Barbarian accomplished this by cutting from Tess to AJ. Or if The Menu was 20 minutes shorter in the beginning and spent 20 minutes in the aftermath of the dinner and the public finding out. What does that look like? Or wove together the dinner with events after the dinner, so we jumped from experience and consequence of the experience. Another option is what X and Shutter Island did and just explore the space a little more. The Menu does that a little bit at the beginning with the boat and the tour, then when they have the guys run, then with Anya exploring the chef’s house. But X does the convenience store, the farm house, the farm house basement, the barn, the lake, and the guest house, and really kind of builds a unique scene around each location.
Overall, The Menu has a lot of great ingredients. Just felt a tad undercooked. I understand though why some people might have it in their top five, though. It has a lot of “this will be a cult hit” energy.Watch on:
Ti West has been a filmmaker that Travis has loved for years now. Hadn’t clicked for me, yet. The Sacrament was well-made but the story was incredibly predictable. Then Pearl was also well-made but also incredibly predictable. Yes, I saw Pearl before I saw X. Which is why I went into X with total apathy. I figured it too would be incredibly predictable. And in some ways it was. Strangers show up on a creepy property. What do we expect to happen to them? But. Buuuuuut. I did not predict X would be startlingly powerful meditation on age and passion and the craving for sensation. There are so many interesting thematic points that a standard slasher film becomes so much more. X has that new wave art horror vibe to it while staying far truer to the genre’s schlocky roots. And it’s gorgeous to boot. That overhead shot of Mia Goth swimming to the dock with the alligator behind her—top 5 shots of 2022. Maybe even the best. Bravo to Ti West on this one.
I did not expect to put X at number 2. It’s funny because I think Barbarian is more my style of film. I had a stronger superficial reaction to Barbarian, in terms of sheer entertainment. But X has stuck with me emotionally in a deeper way than Barbarian. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re both fantastic. We’re splitting hairs here. I just think X was a bit more literary. And how it explored its themes a bit more daring.Watch on:
GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY
Holy hell. This is a mess. A shocking mess. It’s like…the first Knives Out was carefully crafted. Nuanced, thoughtful, fascinating. While Glass Onion is a cartoon. It treats the audience like a bunch of children. It feels more akin to Mama Mia! Here We Go Again than it does to Knives Out. The main commonality is, of course, Benoit Blanc, Daniel Craig’s southern detective. I know a lot of people laughed at/complained about Blanc’s accent in Knives Out but it never bothered me. However, I’m 95% convinced the accent in Glass Onion isn’t the same. And that it shifts on a scene by scene basis.
The cast of Glass Onion does a great job. Janelle Monáe is, I think, the standout. But Edward Norton gets to cut loose. Kate Hudson shows up and shows off. Dave Bautista continues to establish himself. Leslie Odom Jr. had great presence. Kathryn Hahn wasn’t given enough to do. Madelyn Cline got to make a splash. And Jessica Henwick is awesome. But they’re limited by how silly Johnson’s script is.
I can appreciate the idea of the “glass onion” and the anti-mystery. And how Glass Onion is a commentary on some current issues in America regrading people who rise to power based on false perceptions. How people like Miles only succeed because of those who enable them. If the enablers were to just…stop…then how much better would things be? I’m down for the concepts. I just was infuriated by how the plot unfolded. Instead of thinking, “Oh that was clever,” I just kept thinking, “That was indulgent. That was stupid. That was indulgent. That was stupid. That was indulgent and stupid.” I wrote about it: here
So Glass Onion ends up ranking a lot lower than it probably should just because of how good Knives Out was and how much of a step down this is.Watch on:
THE ADAM PROJECT
When The Adam Project first came out, I ignored it. Mostly because I have zero faith in Netflix originals. But, my therapist told me to watch it. And she’s typically right about everything. Sure enough, she was right again. I’ve been a fan of Ryan Reynolds since Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place. He was so damn charismatic. Then Van Wilder was pretty much the funniest thing 16 year old me had ever watched (though I tried re-watching it recently and yeowch). So I’m always interested in anything Reynolds does. Sometimes it works really well. Like Deadpool and Waiting. But other times, you get watered down, boxed-in Reynolds—The Proposal, 6 Underground. I wasn’t sure what we’d get here. But Adam Project is like…everything I love about Reynolds. It’s him getting to be hilarious and cool and emotional and poignant. Then what a debut for Walker Scobell as 12-year-old Adam. The chemistry between him and Reynolds was crazy. His confidence and deliveries had me completely bought-in. And Zoe Saldaña just stole every moment she was on screen.
What’s interesting is that Adam Project is essentially a theatrical way of demonstrating a therapy technique called inner child work. The idea there is that we’re made up of layers of our previous selves. So if you’re 30 years old, the high school version of you is still inside you. The 8-year-old who spent hours at the arcade. Or the 12-year-old who sat alone on the bus. Or the 24-year-old who was scared to move out of the house. Or the 19-year-old who wanted to conquer the world. These people continue to affect us, whether we’re aware of it or not. So inner child work asks you to engage with these younger yous. Sometimes that’s you trying to soothe them. Sometimes it’s them soothing you. But what we see between Adam and Adam is absolutely a defamiliarization of inner child work.
As someone who lost my dad when I was 20, Adam Project hit very hard. Cool movie.Watch on:
DECISION TO LEAVE
I think Park Chan-wook is fantastic. The Handmaiden was such a mesmerizing and interesting film. I’ve been looking forward to his next project ever since. Alas, Decision to Leave just didn’t do enough for me. It’s very compelling. Fascinating. With awesome lead performances from Park Hae-il and Tang Wei. I was completely invested in what was happening. But by the end of the film, I just had an overwhelming feeling of “That’s it?”
I think my most consistent narrative complaint is how often stories end up only being two acts. Typically, narratives fall into some derivation of the three act structure. Not the traditional “beginning, middle, end”. Rather, it’s inciting action, escalation, consequences. Most of the page count/runtime is spent on the inciting action and escalation. But, too often, stories overlook the third act. A conclusion to the escalation isn’t always, or even often, good enough. The thing is, it’s hard to talk about the consequences. Especially since the escalation is the longest and most thrilling part of the story. By the time you write your way to that point, you’re ready to be done. It’s like someone getting to the end of a marathon and you ask them to run another few miles. Or you fly across the country just to be told you have to get back on the plane and go somewhere else. Part of you really wants to say, “You know what? I’m good here.”
Most of the time, the consequences section just has to be a few minutes. Five. Ten. Fifteen. That’s it. Sometimes, it’s less than five minutes. Lion King returning to the the opening scene and the song “Circle of Life” playing is the perfect, one-minute consequences end cap. Jurassic Park showing the characters on the helicopter and Dr. Grant sits with the kids after he’s spent the movie rejecting being a parent—that’s consequence. It’s brief. It’s seemingly unimportant, but it’s tremendously important. There Will Be Blood having the flash forward and the final showdown between Daniel Plainview and Eli—incredible. Triangle of Sadness having the entire island sequence—also incredible.
Decision to Leave had a time jump but it felt to me more like a continuation of the dance between Hae-Jun and Seo-rae. The way they parted wasn’t the climactic event between them, rather just a pause in the action. By the end of Decision to Leave, that’s climax. That’s shattering. Now I’m completely invested in what happens next with Hae-Jun. Except the movie gives us nothing. It just ends. You know he’s going to be in a bad place. But what does that mean? What does that look like? Is it possible for him to ever recover? Maybe? Maybe not? That’s what the whole thing builds up to. It’s also what Chan-wook decided to not explore.
So what’s there is very nice and well done and interesting. I just feel like the script could have used someone pushing for Chan-wook to go a little further with the story. Like No Country For Old Men continuing on with Tommy Lee Jones. Imagine if Full Metal Jacket ended after the drama between Gomer Pyle and Gunnery Sergeant Hartman? Instead, it continues for a whole second section. I just keep thinking, “Ten more minutes. That’s all it needed was ten more minutes.”Watch on:
BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER
Wakanda Forever just kind of bored me. The specter of Chadwick Boseman’s loss definitely hangs over the film. Both narratively and emotionally. Emotionally, I thought they did a nice job of honoring Chadwick and not just moving on but allowing the characters and the audience a chance to mourn and find some catharsis. Narratively, eh. The opening scene with T’Challa’s passing was, I thought, pretty rough. Poor contextualizing. Too quick. It just felt anti-climactic to me. Everything was a bit anti-climactic. Talokan was a great concept, but the actual shots were murky and kind of failed to convey a sense of place, culture, or population. Some kids kicked a ball through part of a giant anchor? And someone else looks at a vase? And a girl waves at Shuri. Okay? Ironheart was a cool concept but she doesn’t do much. The Midnight Angel armor is joked about more than it’s actually used in battle.
Then Namor’s motivation never landed for me. He’s determined no one finds Takolan because he’s scared of what will happen. But everything he does only increases the likelihood Takolan is discovered and viewed as a threat. You might be able to chalk that up to total diplomatic ignorance because he’s literally isolated from the rest of the world. Except he seems very aware of world politics and is never shown to be ignorant, just a fierce protector. We’re never even shown where the vibranium mining that freaked him out so much is relative to Takolan. Was it literally right above them? Was it across the ocean? I guess “close enough” is the simple answer. I just didn’t think the movie did a good job of showing Namor was right to be worried or aggressively idiotic. It landed in some nebulous middle area that I wasn’t satisfied with.
Namor’s action sequences were awesome, though. He’s a literal sky walker. All of his action sequences conveyed a strong sense of power, intelligence, and superiority. Something I never really got from other characters. Nakia didn’t do much, action wise. M’Baku beat grunts and that’s it. Okoye had some cool moments but was limited by her repetitious boss fight. Ironheart didn’t get to do much. Even Shuri as Black Panther just had a couple of moments. Most of the spectacle of being a superhero went to Namor.
So it’s like…I didn’t get much from the action. I was pretty frustrated by the way Namor and Shuri were handling their business. And I just missed Chadwick the entire time. Angela Bassett as Ramonda was kind of the best part of the movie to me then she drowns in what I thought was a completely silly situation. I appreciated the heaviness of Wakanda Forever. But the actual narrative choices and scene by scene decision making was just too rough to me. Better than a lot of other Phase 4 films, so far. But not great. Or even good? Just okay.
I put Wakanda Forever at 29 of 40. It’s in the Neutral category. It’s below Chip ‘N Dale and Bob’s Burgers. I think Wakanda Forever has higher highs than those films but also it frustrated me a lot more. That disappointment was enough to rank it lower. Pearl and Breaking had me harmlessly bored start to finish, so Wakanda Forever comes in ahead just because I actually felt positive emotion while watching it.
For months, I heard nothing but great things about RRR. But I was mad at the recent quality of Netflix programming so refused to watch. Finally bit and the bullet and what a movie! I didn’t realize it was going to be such an epic. Nor that it would use a twist on the “unstoppable force meets an immovable object” concept. Raju being the unstoppable force and Bheem embodying the immovable object. I love both actors. The charisma of Ram Charan and N. T. Rama Rao Jr was off the charts. It kind of felt like a TV show in terms of how the chapters played out. Or a novel. The fact it took so much time to develop its characters and story and really build to the finale was refreshing. Too many movies are scared to take the time they need so end up rushing everything and falling flat. Bravo to S. S. Rajamouli for having the heart to make RRR.
The thing that impressed me most was how much RRR cared about the elemental relationships. It grounds Raju in fire and Bheem in water. Most Hollywood films never really identify characters with elements or archetypes like that. Much less continue to reinforce the dynamic throughout the course of the story. RRR brings back the fire and water aspect in spectacular ways like during the first Raju/Bheem fight on the palace grounds. But also in subtle ways like in the jungle when Bheem uses water for cover and Raju employs fire arrows. I just came home from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever about an hour ago and it completely lacked any kind of additional layering like this. Not to say every action movie needs to be as bombastic as RRR. But there are ways to subtly add dimensionality that very few films take advantage of.
So RRR enters the rankings at 3 of 39, in the Amazing category. It was very close to making the Colossal ranking, but there were just a few things that I knocked some points off for. Like Bheem’s romance subplot was a little silly, especially by the end. And the super healing made some moments feel less consequential or emotional than they initially seemed. But, overall, absolutely one of the best movies of the year and some of the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a long time.
TRIANGLE OF SADNESS
Holy hell. What an experience. I expected it to be good but didn’t know it would be that good. Hilarious. Awkward. Provoking. It goes beyond just being a satire of wealth and becomes an essential explanation of economic structures and the archetypes found within them. It has that same amazing energy and insight as Parasite but through a totally different kind of narrative. Instead of feeling derivative of Parasite or inspired by it, it’s simply familial. Two like-minded projects that put a scathing spotlight on economics. Amazing.
I’m seeing Triangle of Sadness after watching some of the worst movies I’ve seen all year. What’s funny is that it’s not that much longer than them. 149 minutes versus 124 for Black Adam, 111 for Halloween ends, 116 for Uncharted, 115 for Smile. So a solid 30-40 minutes. Yet it felt shorter to me. It never dragged. It never waned. I fully engaged and entertained and ready to see what happened next. While Black Adam, Halloween Ends, Uncharted, and Smile were interminable. They feel almost silly in comparison. Triangle just has a heft and intensity about it that I never felt from the other films. Triangle of Sadness reminded me what it’s like to feel happy while watching a movie.
It enters at number 1 on the list, at the top of the Colossal group. As much as I love Barbarian, it also feels very small in comparison to Triangle. Like a prize-winning short story versus a Nobel-winning novel. Or the best episode of House of the Dragon or Better Call Saul or The Wire versus 2001: a Space Odyssey or City of God. As amazing as Barbarian is, it’s a few main characters in one primary location. It does a fantastic job working within such a confined concept and a relatively quick 107 minute runtime. While Triangle has a larger cast and gives them ample moments to shine. It has these amazing set pieces. As it progresses, the scope and scale increase. Honestly, I think it’s safe to call it a masterpiece. Because of that difference in scale, I felt like I had to move both Barbarian and Fire of Love down a tier to the Amazing level and let Triangle determine what reaches the Colossal tier.
Another train wreck. But. To be fair. Aldis Hodge as Hawkman and Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate were amazing. I’d watch a movie that was just those two hanging out. Hodge had a gravity and star power that exceeded even Dwayne Johnson. Put him in the MCU and he’s immediately the most interesting on-screen presence. He was awesome in Invisible Man, too.
Aldis Hodge aside…I was blown away by how much I disliked Black Adam. Very similar to Halloween Ends, I just hated most of everything. For example, in the opening scene you have all this Kahndaqians digging for Eternium. Someone finds a stone. Little Hurut takes the stone, runs up a cliff, and holds it aloft. He’s HIGH UP ON A CLIFF. With no context. He doesn’t yell, “We found Eternium!” or anything. Just arrives on the cliff, holds this relatively small stone aloft to thousands of people who could barely see him, and they all immediately return the gesture? This is the first time in history anyone has done this. And yet this entire group of people knows exactly how to respond? It’s nonsense. I get “suspend disbelief” but you’re supposed to suspend disbelief for things like “a werewolf exists” or “stones like Eternium exist.” Not for things like “Everyone just knew what the kid was doing and what it meant and returned the gesture without hesitation.”
If it were just that scene that had something stupid like that, fine. I could get over it. But it’s pretty much every scene. Over and over again the filmmakers made decisions that looked logic straight in the face and spit in its eye. I love the fact that this Crown of Sabbac has been undiscovered for 5,000 years but one archaeologist, her brother, and two random guys who seemingly add nothing to the group, manage to locate it. With the sole purpose of hiding it so no one else can find it. No one had found it. So why are you finding it? Why did the Shazam wizards imprison Black Adam only to put the exact words needed to free him right there on the door of the prison? And how ridiculous is it that the Justice Society takes Shazam from Kahndaq to an underwater prison way the hell away from Kahndaq, go immediately back to Kahndaq, only to have Black Adam break free from the prison and return to Kahndaq? That was honestly the best decision anyone could come up with? Ugh.
Don’t get me started on the scene where Ishmael becomes Sabbac. The demons and their speech and the only ceremony was the stupidest thing I’ve seen all year. AND THE SLOW MOTION. Zack Snyder can get away with it because it’s his style. In Black Adam, it’s like they said “Do the thing Zack Snyder does so the Snyder fans like this movie” but didn’t understand any of the artistry of using slow-mo. Every shot of Cyclone using her power didn’t have to be the exact same thing every single time with just gratuitous and ham-fisted slow-motion thrown in.
The only reason Black Adam is in the Bad category at 35 and not in the I Hate category is because of how much I liked Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Cyclone, and Atom Smasher. That core group was the most interesting thing the DCU has done in a while. Most of the scenes involving them were actually tolerable or even enjoyable. Then the film went right back to nonsense. If it wasn’t for that group of four characters, this would be competing with Halloween Ends as the worst movie of 2022.
And Dwayne. Man. I like Dwayne Johnson a lot. But his performance never quite felt natural to me. It’s like he was going for Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2 but was somehow more robotic than Arnold was playing a machine.
Jesus H. Christ. How the hell did we get here? Halloween (2018) was a good movie! It exceeded expectations and rejuvenated what had become a pretty sad franchise. But Halloween Kills and Ends are two of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Garbage-tier story. Garbage-tier dialogue. Ridiculous flashback and montage choices. Every character motivation struck me as either nonsensical or outright stupid. I’d never guess this film was made by the same people who do such amazing work on Righteous Gemstones and Vice Principals. I like David Gordon Green. I like Danny McBride. I think they’re genuinely smart, creative, and talented people. So why the f*** did they make this?
It’s infuriating. I’m angry. Legitimately angry. It would be one thing if it were just a bad movie. But the only thing worse than a bad movie is a long, bad movie. And this is unreasonably long. The entire subplot with Corey and Allyson is ridiculously inconsequential. It hints at a next generation or even a merging of the conflicting sides of Laurie and Michael. The relative of one, the chosen prodigy of the other. You could do something interesting with that concept. But what’s it amount to in this movie? Allyson gives Corey a license to go full Michael. Has no consequences for encouraging his actions. And then celebrates Michael’s demise. It’s nonsense. It’s superficial, ill-thought-out nonsense.
Halloween Ends enters the charts in dead last. At 36 of 36. It joins Goodnight Mommy in the I Hate category. Great job. Stupid.
The only reason Uncharted isn’t ranked lower is because I thought the cast was charming. Otherwise, there isn’t much going right for this movie. Maybe it’s unfair, but I compare all movies like this to Pirates of the Caribbean and how inventive that film (and series) was with set-pieces and the twists and turns in regard to the treasure hunting. I at least hoped the mystery, puzzles, or choreography would be more compelling. But nothing ever stood out to me.
So Uncharted lands at 30 of 35. I almost put it above Doctor Strange just because I felt like Doctor Strange had more potential than it delivered on. But kept Multiverse of Madness ahead because there were a few moments that genuinely made me happy (despite the frustrations). Uncharted was far more bland. I have it above Smile though because Smile was far more disappointing to me. I think it’s arguably the better movie but it’s also, I think, far more predictable, dragged out, and thematically kind of insulting with what it says about trauma.
Smile frustrated me for two reasons. First, it’s predictable. Smile tells you in the very first scene what will happen: possession, several days of this thing taunting you, then it attacks, takes you out, and moves on to whoever witnessed. So when we see Rose go through that exact situation…it takes away a lot of the suspense. Especially when we know it doesn’t actually hurt anyone until it actually hurts someone. So all the scary appearances lack stakes because they aren’t actually accomplishing anything other than freaking Rose out. And Rose is already freaked out. So a lot of the movie just had me waiting for something actually compelling to happen.
And the second issue is that the symbolism is kind of insulting. The demon is symbolic for trauma. Every person it possesses has had some kind of traumatic experience. The demon feeds on that pain then escalates the person’s stress and pain through its manipulations. Once they’re ripe, it devours them. Except when you are so explicit in making the movie a metaphor for trauma and dealing with trauma and have all these characters who have suffered trauma as the victims of the monster, it can take on the thematic implication that “Once you’ve experience trauma, it will ruin you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually it will overwhelm you.” As someone who lost both of my parents by the time I was 25 and has lived with that for almost two decades…f*** off? It’s one thing if the movie shows how trauma can overwhelm a specific person. But Smile takes a step further and seems to be saying “This is what trauma is.” Sure, for some. But not everyone.
So I have Smile at 30 of 34, in the negatives category. It’s well acted. Decently shot. And the monster design is cool and the last few minutes definitely visually compelling. But the mystery element, narrative structure, and thematics left me wanting a lot more. Especially after seeing Barbarian. Barbarian was so dynamic while Smile was more by the numbers. I will say, as harsh as I’ve been, the birthday party scene was one of the cringiest (in a good way) scenes I think I’ve ever watched. That was really well done. If the film had continued to chain together sequences as jarring as that, it would be a lot higher. The reason I put it below Doctor Strange is because Strange kept me guessing a lot more. But I have Smile above Minions because Minions is the most corporate-pleasing movie I’ve ever seen and Smile at least has personality, despite my frustrations.
HONK FOR JESUS. SAVE YOUR SOUL.
Honk For Jesus reminded me of the mockumentary Best in Show. Both films poke fun at their subject matter and capture how the people involved are pretty cooky. Except Best in Show clearly has a fondness for its subjects. Honk For Jesus does not. What starts out as light hearted quickly turns to a lampooning of megachurch leaders. And it makes sense. The people in Best in Show are dog show owners who care a lot about their dogs. The weird things they do are funny but ultimately pretty harmless. They aren’t hurting anyone. The same can’t be said for religious leaders who use their pulpit to amass wealth and trample over others. It’s a huge issue. And one that’s been talked about for decades without anything really changing. Just in the cinematic world, you have films like Primal Fear in the 90s, Spotlight in the 2010s, and now Honk For Jesus. This isn’t new information. But it’s a story that deserves being told as many times and in as many ways as necessary.
Writer/director Adamma Ebo does an amazing job with her debut feature. It looked and felt like a veteran project. Well-shot, multiple viewpoints, some great vignettes. Not to mention the performances. Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown put on a masterclass in Honk For Jesus. The mixture of power and subtly they both deliver is captivating. And the way they peel back layers over time. Honestly, some of the best performances of the entire year.
In terms of ranking, Honk For Jesus lands in the Positives category, at 16 of 33. That might be a bit surprising, given how much I praised the movie. Really, I don’t have much in the way of criticism. The ranking mostly has to do with the scope. As entertaining and well made as it is, there wasn’t a scene or stretch that had me on the edge of my seat or dropped my jaw or made me want to applaud. It was a bunch of smart moments. Which is nice but just not quite enough for me. That’s why it ends up ahead of movies like Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero and Vengeance—I do think it’s more consistently impressive throughout. But it’s below things like Prey and Bullet Train because those surprised me a bit more.
This will be a controversial one.
I saw so many positives comments about Pearl that I went in pretty excited. But minute by minute, my enthusiasm waned. Let me start by saying Mia Goth did an amazing job. Incredible performance. From her and Tandi Wright. And Ti West and Eliot Rockett made a gorgeous film with awesome visual after awesome visual. But the story. Sigh. Here’s the thing. Pearl is trapped and resentful and she’ll eventually snap. We know that will happen. If you’ve watched a few horror movies, you know exactly what will happen. All that’s left is: how long will it take? how interesting is the journey to that point? and, once it happens, how bad is it? From my perspective, the answers, in order, are: too long, not so much, and not that bad. When the movie ended, I was just kind of sitting there thinking, “That’s it?” The most obvious thing that could happen is exactly what happens and it takes all movie to happen. I find that boring. What would have been far more interesting to me is if Pearl had won the dance competition and had to head out into the world. How would she fair? How long could she pretend and hold in all the awful things she feels? There’s so many places the story could have gone. That it’s as small and contained as it is is just…eh.
So I have Pearl in the Neutral category, at 26 of 32. The performance by Goth is so strong and the visuals are so well done that I’d be crazy to give this a “negative” rating. But the stagnant and predictable storytelling was such a buzzkill that I was left incredibly lukewarm. That’s ultimately the reason I have Pearl under movies like Bob’s Burgers, Chip n’ Dale, and Thor: Love and Thunder. I found the stories in those films just a bit more dynamic and interesting. Like Chip n’ Dale having the awful OG CGI Sonic as a character delighted me in a way nothing in Pearl did. Well, that long speech Pearl gives at the end is amazing. But it was too little too late for me. Honestly, I wish the movie would have started with Pearl and Mitzy at the dinner table, with that speech, and told the story of what followed.
Barbarian is amazing. You know why? Because it f***ing goes for it. It doesn’t continuously pump the brakes or scale itself down the way some movies do. A worse movie would take Barbarian‘s opening chapter and draw it out for 90 minutes, finally reveal something, then end. And it would be infuriating. But not Barbarian. It’s smart, self-aware, dynamic, and keeps you continuously on your toes about what will happen next. Well shot. Well acted. It has the confidence to move from presenting like a John Carpenter thriller to a Quentin Tarantino dark comedy to David Fincher’s Zodiac and back to Carpenter. All while developing thematic nuance and depth. It’s not as visually impressive as something like The Witch or Hereditary. Nor is it as tricky as the original Saw. Or as gory as Evil Dead. Nor does it have a performance like Lupita Nyong’o in Us. But it’s visually impressive, tricky, gory, and has some awesome performances. So the power of Barbarian isn’t that it’s best in class in any one area so much as it’s a top performer in every area. I loved every second of it.
I put Barbarian at number 1 on the list. The main reason it goes above Fire of Love is that there’s more to chew on. Fire of Love has a cool story that’s well told and structured but is pretty simple and bittersweet. The main thing it has going for it is the visuals are so insane and incomparable to anything most people have ever seen. Barbarian doesn’t have the same spellbinding imagery but the story is so weird and jarring and unlike 99% of movies that I got a similar amount of delight as I did from the volcanoes in Fire of Love. And I’m just a sucker for chapter stories like this. There’s a great John Hawkes film called Too Late that is similarly chapter-y and one of my favorites from the last 2010s. More popular than Too Late is something like Pulp Fiction. Or Magnolia. Ooh, City of God too.
If you want to ask why I like Barbarian more than a specific movie on this list (like Nope), feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll let you know. Did not expect to love this movie. But this is where we’re at.
I saw the original Austrian version of this film back in 2014 and I remember thinking it was okay but not anything I’d ever watch again. Then this remake came out. So I watched it again. Which was a pretty huge mistake on my part. This version of Goodnight Mommy was just such a let down. Not even a let down, a damn disappointment. At least the original movie dared to be somewhat shocking and eerie. This was so neutered and spineless. The attempts at horror were elementary. Sometimes even insulting. Once I remembered what the twist was, the entire movie fell apart because everything Naomi Watts does as “Mommy” was pretty much the stupidest thing she could do. It’s weird, too, how the whole premise relies on an unspoken deal the mom made to play along with Elias’s mental illness. At least in Shutter Island the whole experiment is based on a medical hypothesis and carried out by medical professionals. In Goodbye Mommy it’s almost nonsense.
With all that said, Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti did great work as Elias and Lucas. And Naomi Watts is as engaging as ever. But man, the script did them absolutely zero favors. It took a pretty good original story and turned the volume down to “mute”. That’s why Goodnight Mommy enters the rankings at 31 of 31 and takes up residency as the only film in the I Hate category. If you’re going to remake an 8 year old movie, you don’t make it worse. You heighten it. You go further. You push the envelope. I’m blown away by how cowardly this movie is. Especially the finale in the barn. It’s melodramatic pseudo-tragedy born on the waves of bad exposition.
Breaking is a noble undertaking, as it brings attention to the true story of Brian Brown-Easley. What you see happen in the movie is mostly verbatim what happened in real life. A former veteran was driven to extremes by the government’s failure to support him. It’s a sad headline that repeats many times a day, every single day. American military veterans aren’t given the care they need. They aren’t given the opportunities. It’s brutal. And Brian Brown-Easley is an example of just how messed up it is. So there’s a lot to admire about Breaking and the care with which the filmmaker, Abi Damaris Corbin, handled the story. You feel for Brian. There’s multiple tragedies that occur. The whole cast does a great job, especially John Boyega and Nicole Beharie. I teared up every time Michael K. Williams was on screen.
But I ended up ranking Breaking at number 25 of 29, at the bottom of the Neutral category. I admire what it went for and how true to life it stayed. But it was more contained than I wanted. Never quite found a scene that soared. Like, Fruitvale Station is a similar movie in terms of scope, scale, and tragedy. It’s the last day in the life of Oscar Grant III. So you follow Grant in his day to day life before he arrives at Fruitvale Station and has a fatal encounter with some awful police officers. You have that same sense of someone who is a victim of a careless system that unnecessarily took their life. When the scene happens in Fruitvale Station, it’s a gut punch. You’re miserable. Or the movie Detroit. Another true story about police corruption and the victims of a horrible system. It really dives into the multiple layers and fallout of the story and paints this broad portrait of the time, place, and people. You see that reflected in the runtime of 143 minutes compared to Breaking‘s 103.
I wanted Breaking to explore more of the fallout of Brian’s story or at least have one scene that had me wanting to scream at the screen. But it doesn’t quite take those risks. Like you have a scene where Connie Britton follows up on a tip about how the VA really did cheat Brian. But it’s quick and nothing comes of it. Even if it’s just a scene or two where we see Britton try to follow up on the story and get stonewalled or meet with Brian’s ex-wife and try to provide some comfort that Brian was cheated. Or hear the hostages give an interview where they defend Brian and call out the police. Essentially what I’m talking about is a stronger third act. Breaking spends a lot of time in acts one and two. But blows through act three, treating it more as a last few minutes of epilogue. Unless act three has the explosiveness Fruitvale Station had, it’s bound to feel a little anticlimactic. And when the second act stretches out as long as it does, there were moments of boredom.
So, I’d still recommend Breaking but I’d do so with the caveat that it’s good but not ever as good as you hope it will be.
THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING
Three Thousand Years of Longing will resonate with a ton of people. Truth is, there are many lonely people in the world. And this is a story for them. It hears them, sees them, and speaks back to them. And there’s something lovely about that. And something each and every person can identify with on some level. But it’s also a very patient movie. So much so that some will accuse it of being a bit narratively stagnant. The present day characters go from a hotel in Istanbul to an apartment in London to a park. And the stuff in London moves awfully quick. The defense is that it’s a movie about story. About connection through story. About the stories we tell ourselves and what we choose to tell others and what that says about who we are. So having characters who do very little but say an awful lot is a choice rather than an oversight. It’s just a matter of how effective the choice is. If you’re identifying with the characters at all, you probably don’t mind it. Though for others it will be the thing that keeps them from being able to identify with the characters.
I’m torn about how I feel. It reminds me of Big Fish and Shape of Water, two films I recognize the charm of but also don’t really work for me. And this feels similar. There’s a lot of beauty and it’s a movie for people who don’t often have movies made for them. A love letter to the solitaries. But I wanted just a bit more. The Djinn’s stories are interesting but I didn’t find them as satisfying as the ones in Big Fish or backstory-driven movies like Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And the romance between “fire” and “dust” was sweet but maybe not as well-developed as in Shape of Water. I thought the sudden statements on technology and British racism a bit jarring in how quickly they came and went.
It is nice that there’s a layered interpretation of events (similar to Pan’s Labyrinth). There’s the fairy tale interpretation where the story plays out exactly as Alithea tells it. There’s also a realistic interpretation where this is merely Alithea’s imagination. She’s a narratologist who finds the inspiration in Istanbul to write a novel. So she does. She imagines the Djinn. Creates him through story. Draws him. Just like she did her imaginary friend from childhood. And in telling herself the story of the Djinn, she finds comfort. The story is enough.
But I’m still not sure if I think that’s enough. I keep comparing it to the father-son dynamic in Big Fish and how that movie explores grief and closure and all these other things through the stories a parent tells a child. And how where we’re at in our lives can affect the impact of those stories. There’s multiple dimensions. And a lovely journey within the stories themselves. In Three Thousand Years of Longing…eh. Alithea starts pretty happy. Becomes happier. And ends happy. I’m not sure it develops her isolation enough because it spends so much time telling us about the Djinn. If you’re willing to just go where the movie wants you to go, I think this will be special. But if you want a bit more, Three Thousand Years of Longing will leave you wanting.
So it enters at the top of the Neutral category, spot 20 of 28. I think it’s similar to Death on the Nile in that both are strongly directed movies by well-established auteurs (Kenneth Branagh and George Miller) but are a tad too drawn out and maybe a bit unsatisfying in their final acts. But Three Thousand Years of Longing is the more daring of the two. And has more potential to really connect with someone. So that’s why it’s higher. In terms of Fresh, Three Thousand Years has the larger scope and better visuals. That alone will rank it higher for some people. But narrative momentum wins out for me here. Fresh carried me along better. So while I admire a lot of Three Thousand Years, especially visually, I wanted a bit more story.
Beast deserves more praise. It’s not as elevated a take on horror as The Witch but it has a craftsmanship many a genre film lacks. Part of that has to do with director Balthasar Kormákur being 56 years old and an outsider to the horror genre. Obviously that in and of itself isn’t good or bad. There are plenty of outsiders who attempt genre and fail completely. Just like there are plenty of younger filmmakers who live and breathe horror but make something generic as hell. But watch any 5 minute stretch of Beast and hopefully you notice how patient Kormákur is. The average shot length is way beyond average. Beast actually lets scenes breathe. I know shot length bothers some people as they think it’s indulgent or try-hard or something. But, to me, it’s superior. There’s a direct correlation between immersion and shot length. Just compare the fight scenes in The Batman vs The Dark Knight. No matter which one you think is the better movie, the amount of cuts Nolan has in a Dark Knight action scene is silly. It makes the action almost entirely incoherent. Which may have worked in The Bourne Identity as an attempt at form-meets-function. But, for the most part, it’s something that automatically loses my respect.
So the visual aspect makes Beast one of the more interesting films of the year. Narratively, Beast is a genre film. So there’s not a lot of surprise in terms of the story beats. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. But I thought Beast made the best of it. You have the thematic through line with the lion representing the specter of death that haunts the family after the loss of their mom. Idris Elba wasn’t around much during his wife’s battle with cancer and says at one point he wishes he could have been there for his girls to look death in the face. So the lion represents the dad and daughters confronting an incarnation of the mother’s cancer. Good. Great. This is the stuff I want. Whether it’s The Babadook or Lights Out or Hereditary, I like when horror defamiliarizes like this.
All of this is why I’m a Beast defender. I will tell people for the rest of my life that this is an underrated movie they should check out. In terms of the 2022 ranking, it lands at 10 of 27, in the Really Good category. I put it below Crimes of the Future because CotF has just a bit more going on and I liked how weird it was. Beast is arguably the more fun watch, though. Some people will probably be upset that I have Beast about Northman and Nope. My main issue with Nope is that I think it ends in a very unsatisfying spot and doesn’t follow through narratively or thematically. And Northman it sloughs a bit in the middle and doesn’t develop characters enough. I think both of them have higher highs than Beast and if they stuck the landing they’re top 5 potential. Unfortunately, the flaws are too great for me. But Beast is impressive enough visually and doing enough thematically that I’m happy to say it’s Really Good.
DRAGON BALL SUPER: SUPER HERO
I’m a huge Dragon Ball Z fan. Started watching it when it first premiered on Toonami in the late 90s. When I was 12, I got on eBay and bought 30 VHS tapes of the Buu Saga from Japan. Not even dubbed or subbed. Just straight Japanese and watched it without understanding any of the dialogue. That’s how into DBZ I was. Love the show. Love the phone game Dokkan Battle. So Super Hero was something I anticipated for a long time. Especially after how much I loved Dragon Ball Super: Broly.
This is the fourth contemporary Dragon Ball movie. Prior, we had Battle of Gods, Resurrection of F, and Broly. Super Hero was way better than Battle of Gods. Slightly better than RoF. And not as good as Broly. I liked a lot of what it did. The characters. The humor. The fight choreography. Bringing back Cell Saga Gohan coolness. It just never felt like it had any stakes. No one was ever actually in danger. Magenta as a villain was pretty generic. Then Dr. Hedo, Gamma 1, and Gamma 2 didn’t want to be villains. So you spend most of the movie not feeling much in the way of tension. Then Cell Max appears and he’s scarier but completely devoid of personality. There’s no character there, just a giant monster to defeat. It’s nice that characters other than Goku and Vegeta got to do something. But it felt pretty empty to me. Then Gohan’s transformation into Gohan Beast was cool but he threw one kick then did Special Beam Cannon. That was it. So you have all that build up for the briefest of climaxes.
With all that said, I still put Super Hero at 14 of 26, midway in the Positives category. It’s above movies like Vengeance and Everything Everywhere mostly because of favoritism. I’m a Dragon Ball fan who got a pretty good Dragon Ball movie. The personal connection I have with the characters and story means Super Hero is more fun for me. If all else is equal, that’s a difference maker. But I have it below Prey because Super Hero just didn’t do enough. Prey is also a bit thin in its overall character building but it at least has a complete arc for its protagonist.
The early reactions to Bullet Train had me geared up thinking it was Morbius levels of bad. It’s a better movie than its Rotten Tomatoes and Meta Critic scores. That’s not to say it’s some genre-defining, decade-defining work. Just that it’s well-made, well-acted, well-executed, and keeps you on your toes. It was kind of refreshing. Granted, I was a big fan of Smokin’ Aces and Lucky Number Slevin back in the day. The whole style and aesthetic of this kind of action film is Ocean’s Eleven meets Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. That slick, smart style that can feel too smart for its own good, with some over the top action sequences.
I think the cast was definitely the highlight. I love Brad Pitt. And as soon as I saw Hiroyuki Sanada I hoped for a sword fight. Sanada is just so captivating. On top of that I’m always excited to see Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. They both have such charisma that even if I don’t like a movie they’re in (Godzilla vs Kong/Savages) I still enjoy their performance. Same with Zazie Beetz.
My biggest complaint would probably be the flashbacks. They felt like the weakest part of everything. None of them landed emotionally for me. So the best case scenario is just “clever exposition.” Which can work and has worked. But that much exposition walks a line between “stylistic choice” and “not so good writing”. I think it plays better in novels than movies. Two of my favorite books, 2666 by Roberto Bolano and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, both use expositional flashback all the time. But they also have a lot more time to really dive into the scenes and build the drama and payoff. Maybe Kōtarō Isaka’s MariaBeetle novel that Bullet Train is based on does it well too. But the film version? Meh.
I’d prefer they just spend 5 minutes at the beginning playing things out a little more linearly. Start with Ladybug in Mexico at Wolf’s wedding. 1-2 minutes showing how a simple job goes wrong. Then cut to another job, 1-2, show how it goes wrong. Then show Bolivia and Lemon popping Ladybug. You cut out so much of the later exposition and allow the movie to have a little more fluidity when it counts. And it really reinforces why Ladybug is nervous about returning to the field.
Overall, though, I still really enjoyed things. So Bullet Train enters at in the Positives category, at 12 of 25. I put it behind Nope because I think Nope still had the higher-highs. But it’s above Prey because I thought Bullet Train was a little more dynamic and inventive.
Prey was very cool. I’m a big fan of the Predator franchise (see my ranking) so was excited and nervous for this. I’m glad it was good and that others like it. Ever since Predator 2, people have discussed having Predator movies taking place in different eras. What would Predator in Wild West America be like? What about Predator in samurai Japan? Or Predator in the Aztec world? Or Predator in modern day Johannesburg? World War 2 Predator. I want all of these. But “Native Americans vs Predator” was also very high on the bucket list. It sounds cool and it turns out it also looks very cool.
Prey is also arguably (though actually unarguably) the best shot Predator movie ever. The original is impressive because of how practical everything is. But that can be limiting as well. I think Predator 2 is fun in the way a lot of early 90s movies are, especially when they have that Verhoeven-like RoboCop vibe to them. But it’s not really a “beautiful” cinematic experience. Prey is. While it effectively blends horror, thriller, and action genres.
My biggest complaint, and I said this in the franchise rankings, is how video-game-y the movie sometimes feels. In the world of video game development, there’s a simple, binary descriptions of “simulation” and “arcade”. Simulation is realism. While arcade leans into exaggeration. Gran Turismo is a video game series known for its authenticity to car racing. Mario Kart is a racing video game known for letting you hurl turtle shells at your opponents. That’s simulation vs arcade. Some games lean heavily into one or the other. While many just blend the two. Like Madden football games have some arcade aspects to them even though they’re mostly simulations. Prey was like that. A lot of the scenes felt more arcade than simulation. Especially in comparison to Predator and Predator 2. For example, Naru’s rope ax. It was cool. I enjoyed it. But it’s more arcade than simulation.
Or compare Arnold covering himself in mud to hide from the Predator’s heat vision vs Naru eating a random plant that instantly drops her body temperature below detection levels with no side effects to her ability to do anything. One is simulation, the other is arcade. The arcade aspects won’t bother everyone. In fact, they might be what some people like the most. But, for me, they can push on my ability to suspend disbelief. Thankfully, Prey handled everything in a way I ended up enjoying despite sometimes bordering on going too far.
Prey enters at 12 of 24, in the upper reaches of the Positives category. I put it below Nope because Nope is just a far more impressive movie in almost every way. Shots, performances, themes, story, etc. Actually, I think Prey is more successful in executing on everything it sets out to do. But it’s also attempting less. Vengeance has a similar scope to Prey but in comparison is less efficient and far more anti-climactic. So Prey goes above.
I honestly confused Fresh with Raw so when friends wanted to watch Fresh, I spent the first 20 minutes expecting the plot from the trailers of Raw. Turns out they’re very different movies but united in their love of forbidden meat. Overall, I liked Fresh. It’s in that category of solid movies where they’re doing a good job with what they have but the scope and scale is really contained. The basic structure, reminded me somewhat of Get Out. Go on trip with significant other, have them try and imprison you, and they’re part of a network of people who want to use your body. In Get Out it’s physically taking over the other person and getting into cultural appropriation. In Fresh these guys want to physically consume the person, getting at the more terrifying aspects of the male-female dynamic. In both Fresh and Get Out, you have the best friend on the outside doing investigative work. Rod is less impactful on the plot, only showing up at the end. While Mollie goes a bit further to find Noa.
There were a lot of nice, non-traditional choices that meant I wasn’t sure exactly which direction the movie would go. How triumphant or tragic would it be? Who would or wouldn’t survive? How bad would it get? So I was thoroughly entertained while also appreciating the emphasis on male weakness. Whether it’s scarf-diva Chad, or Steve’s inability to not want female adoration, or Mollie’s guy running away when he could have been a hero. Fresh does a nice job defamiliarizing a lot of very real issues.
It lands at 15 of 23, at the end of the Positives category. It’s a scope and scale thing for me. What Fresh does it does well, I just feel it’s a little small. Like a short story rather than a novel. And there some advantages to that in terms of how quickly the story moves. But I’m someone who prefers a bit more complexity. Going back to the Get Out comparison, watch these films back to back and I think you get a sense of what I’m talking about. Get Out doesn’t have that much larger of a cast, or that many more settings, but the movie feels larger.
Fresh is below Hustle because I think both have some limitations in scope/scale but Hustle was just so charming. Looking at the list, there’s a lot of heavier things, so giving the edge to one of the more positive films. But Fresh is above Death on the Nile because it was making so many smart choices and was commenting on something that will resonate with a lot of people. Nile didn’t really do either of those things.
Hustle was fun. It’s Draft Day meets Rocky but NBA rather than NFL. Filmmaking style was above average and there was clearly an emphasis on good basketball. It’s always nice when a sports movie takes the time to find people who can actually play the sport. It’s one of the reasons Little Big League stands out above some other baseball movies. The director didn’t have to hide the action through a bazillion cuts. Also cool to have something focused on the NBA rather than high school or college like so many of the popular basketball films are. Sandler and Queen Latifah are charming. Ben Foster is his usual self. Anthony Edwards showed up and showed out as Kermit Wilts. And Juancho Hernangómez was cool as Bo Cruz. I actually didn’t realize he was an NBA player until right now when I looked it up. That makes a lot of sense. What’s wild is that he looked really good in the movie but was just an average to below average NBA player. Just goes to show how much skill the elite players possess.
I ranked Hustle at 14 of 22, near the bottom of the Positives category. The biggest issue is simply a low ceiling. The story is basic, the acting is okay, the cinematography is decent. Everything’s well done but very safe. You don’t have the larger moments necessary for this to elevate above other movies that do have those moments.
I have it above Death on the Nile because Hustle actually had characters I liked and emotional stakes. Which makes me want to move Nile down to the neutral category. Hustle will be our new baseline for the category. But it’s below Everything Everywhere simply because Everything Everywhere has the higher highs and more creativity.
FIRE OF LOVE
Fire of Love is one of the most impressive films I’ve ever watched. And I only saw it on a whim. I hadn’t heard anything about it. Knew nothing about. I watched 15 seconds of a trailer. But I love volcanoes. Always have. Always will. I went to Legazpi in the Philippines just to see the Mayon volcano in person. So a movie about volcanoes is an easy sell. What I didn’t realize is that the footage making up 99% of the film would be some of the most genuinely jaw-dropping visuals I may see in my entire life.
I’m fascinated by how unique of a movie this is. Katia and Maurice Kraft were these groundbreaking volcanologists who spent decades filming volcanoes. In the world of explosive mountains, the couple’s body of work is essentially unrivaled. And it just so happens Maurice was an amazing filmmaker and Katia an amazing photographer. You don’t just have husband and wife volcanologists who are this talented and have decades of such high quality work. That in and of itself is cool. But the way Sara Dosa and team turned decades of footage into a narrative and developed themes and built to what, in hindsight, seemed to be an inevitable conclusion, was just so masterfully done. I’m in awe. I’m so happy I saw this in theaters.
So Fire of Love is the first Colossal entry of 2022 and debuts at number 1 of 21. I didn’t expect a documentary to land that high as I’m not usually a documentary guy. But this thing was undeniable to me. The Batman was a great movie. A nice twist for the superhero genre as it’s essentially Seven but with Batman. That’s a winning formula. But Fire of Love is one of a kind. It’s beyond precedent and without antecedent. It’s this singular, special thing. With that said, it won’t have the wide appeal of The Batman and whatever films get nominated for best picture. Many people won’t feel as strongly about it as I do. Which is fine. Nothing will resonate with everyone. I’m just saying, if you get the chance to watch it, give it a shot. I can’t express with words how incredible some/most of the footage was.
Vengeance was a fun movie. Pretty by-the-numbers character journey (establish routine life, interrupt routine, establish superiority, melt the superiority away, moment of peak connection, nadir, redemption, establish new routine) but told in a modern way so that it feels very present. So even though the journey is standard, it’s not a story that could have been told 10 years ago, 20 years ago, because BJ Novak grounded everything in our present technology and interests. It’s not an uncommon thing for genre films to do but I feel like it’s not often done as well as it was here. Vengeance is smart, fun, charming. Kind of Cohen Brothers-lite. Inspired by them but not trying to be them.
I put it in the Positives category. While I didn’t have any major complaints it just felt like the movie had a bit of a ceiling on it. The cinematography was good but there wasn’t never a shot that made me want to applaud. The acting was good but the story never gave anyone a big moment. The themes were interesting but maybe not fully embodied so much as talked about. And there wasn’t much in the way of a twist. The trailers pretty much told you who the killer was. Which seems like a horrible decision. Despite knowing who the villain would be, I still enjoyed the journey. That’s why Vengeance comes in at 11 of 20 rather than, say, in the top 5.
I put it above Everything Everywhere, something I’ve said a lot so far this year. Everything Everything has become my benchmark. Kind of a film’s first boss battle into the higher realms of the rankings. I have to keep repeating it, but Everything Everywhere essentially being The Matrix meets Cloud Atlas with a parent/child story I’ve seen a lot leaves me less enthused about it than other people. So I keep referring to things like Vengeance as more original and that could probably baffle some people since EE is so often uniquely outrageous. But I’m referring more to the core narrative elements and thematic expression. And Vengeance felt just a bit more unique to me. But it goes below Nope because even though I had more issues with Nope, Nope still had, I think, higher highs. More of a “wow” factor.
But Vengeance is a nice first project for BJ Novak and bodes well for whatever he does next. I hope he continues to lean into exploring familiar genres in a modern setting. But finds the space to go a bit bigger. One example is a scene where there’s a party in the desert and a bunch of fireworks go off. It was the perfect moment to have a long shot of the people, the land, the sky, the fireworks, and feast on that image. Let it linger for a few seconds. But we don’t get it or anything like that. There’s just a quick, standard, medium shot of some fireworks then cutting back to the normal medium shot of people talking. That made me sad. I guess for a first film, it can be helpful to play it safe. Hopefully the next one seizes more opportunities.
I’m frustrated by this one. Part of me wonders if the negative feelings I have for Nope are me being too harsh? Because there’s a lot to like. It’s essentially Jaws in the sky. And has more thematic depth. So I should just be happy with that, right? But I’m not. And that’s because the first half of Nope felt very thoughtful and like it was building not just a narrative but some kind of commentary on the entertainment industry, humans and animals, and more. I was ready for the finale to bring everything together and send me on a months long crusade of “Nope is the best movie of the year so far!” Then we got to the last hour and it fell completely flat. It became simply a monster movie. And that’s cool. But it’s disappointing in context of the first hour. Even if we forget that and just look at what happened at the end—eh. The unfolding of the saucer into this giant, beautiful, terrifying ribbon-monster was cool. But it took that form and essentially did nothing. It stares down OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) then takes off after Emerald (Keke Palmer) then stupidly eats a giant balloon and blows up. I wish the events that transpired would have done justice to how cool the concept was. But it felt anti-climactic to me. Both in terms of action and thematics.
Plus, I have a huge issue with movies ending just a bit too soon. Nope starts us off with the ranch and this issue of legacy and whether OJ and Emerald can keep what their father (Keith David as Otis) built. Will they maintain not just Haywood Hollywood Horse Ranch but also the family itself. Ending with the defeat of the monster is part of the story but not the end of the story. Does the photo Emerald took have the success they hope for? Does the ranch become this huge deal? Do OJ and Em decide they need to forge their own paths and create their own things and not just be burdened by their past? Do people not believe the photo and they lose the ranch? What happens? I think it’s actually kind of unforgivable to not follow up with just 1-5 more minutes of aftermath. It’s like if Inception ended with everyone waking up on the plane rather than with Cobb returning to his kids and spinning the top. Or if Jurassic Park ended with the survivors jumping in the car with John Hammond and Alan Grant saying “After careful consideration, I’ve decided not to endorse your park.” But it doesn’t end there. Instead, we see everyone on the helicopters and Grant sits between the two kids then we end on a shot of birds flying. Not only does it grant closure that everyone got off the island. It concludes Grant’s character arc of going from focusing on work at the expense of having a family to wanting to have a family. Then we also know modern birds are related to ancient dinosaurs, so the last shot conveys this sense of wonder and fear.
You don’t get any of that with the end of Nope. There’s no character journey really for Emerald. Or OJ. We don’t know what happens to them or the farm. OJ’s kind of even outright abandoned at the end. So weird. So so so so so weird. I just have so many little issues. Sigh.
But with all that said I still put Nope in the Positives category, at number 10. It’s above Everything Everywhere All At Once because I think Nope is just a more technically impressive and original film. Everything Everywhere has a nice gimmick that leads to some cool moments, but I’m less impressed with it than a lot of people. Nope has more thematic scope and depth. But I put it below The Northman because I think The Northman tells a more complete story while being even more visually and technically impressive. I think Nope has higher highs but also lower lows.
Maybe I’ll come around on this when I start writing about Nope. But I thought the same thing about Us and my recent rewatch of that left me with a lot of the same complaints. Great idea. Awesome scenes. But takes a lot of liberties with the logic of everything and never fully explores its themes the way Get Out did. This is a good movie. I’m just mad because it could have been amazing.
Well. It was finally Morbin time. I gotta say, this wasn’t the absolute dumpster fire I thought it was going to be. The floor was a lot higher than the Internet led me to believe. But the ceiling was also incredibly low. It’s one of the most cliche-driven movies I’ve ever watched. In terms of main story beats, there’s almost nothing that’s original. This feels like the absolute peak performance of a college screenwriting 101 class. Maybe the guys behind this are way better than their filmography thus far and they’re just playing the “by-the-numbers” game to please studios. Or maybe they’re the next generation of the terrifying duo of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman who had an impressive string of movies that weren’t outright awful but were definitely far from their potential (The Island, Legend of Zoro, Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Cowboys & Aliens, The Amazing Spider-Man 2…).
When you string together a bunch of cliches, you usually get something that works. It’s just cliche. And lifeless. But not necessarily so bad it becomes fun to hate. When something is that bad, you at least feel something. During Morbius, I felt pretty much nothing. The dialogue was never quite bad enough. The acting had effort. The shots and editing were coherent. The action sequences decent. There were even good moments. Just not enough strung together to the point of achieving positive momentum.
Only two moments tripped me up. First, the random “iris-in” during the transition from the first bat cave scene to the flashback to Greece. The iris shot is when the scene closes in a circle or opens in a circle. It’s very old fashioned and not used as much in modern filmmaking (except in Star Wars). So it randomly happening at the start of Morbius absolutely threw me for a loop. The second was when Morbius runs from the police and gets onto the roof. There’s a random echo wind that gusts him all the way across the roof and nearly off of it. It’s INEXPLICABLE. I know later in the movie they reveal it’s currents he flies on? It’s just weird as hell. Why did he feel this at no other point? Why doesn’t he feel it as soon as he’s on the roof? Was the wind on the roof really that strong? Have his bones gotten lighter? Like…what is the mechanism he uses to fly? Bats have wings. Morbius doesn’t have wings.
Actually, the flight thing alone is so infuriating that I’m getting mad. Which feels great. It’s such a dramatic plot hole that I’m actually going to move Morbius from the Flawed category to the Bad category. It’s the first one in the Bad category. So cheers to Morbius. The reason I put it below Minions: Rise of Gru is because Minions was cliche but at least had some scope, scale, polish, and heart. And it goes above Fourth of July because I wasn’t angry. But, you know what, Fourth of July is at least putting in more effort to say something and have heart and go from broke. Even if it pissed me off in its choices. There was at least genuine effort. Man. Okay. I just convinced myself to lift Fourth of July out of the I Hate category and put it into the Bad category. It has to go above Morbius. I can’t put a movie as unoriginal as Morbius over something that was bad but trying.
Very torn on this. On the one hand, Robert Eggers makes gorgeous movies. The way he entwines tone and atmosphere is incredible and immersing. On the other hand, there’s the storytelling. I wasn’t particularly fond of Eggers’s debut, The Witch. Amazing visuals. Amazing world building. But a story that left me going, “That’s it?” It hit all the 1630s New England witch-story plot beats that I expected. Had a pretty cool climax. And then was over. The movie really didn’t start to take off for me until the very last scene. I would have gladly given back 30 minutes worth of build-up to have 30 minutes more of aftermath. The Lighthouse I missed but will watch soon. Northman I was still excited for. So it’s not like I’m down on Eggers. I’m just waiting for a story that does justice to the visuals. Unfortunately, I don’t quite think The Northman is it.
While it’s cool too see the story of Amleth given such production, it’s also very, very, very familiar. It’s the basis for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Which is the basis for so many other works of art. From The Lion King to the novel Infinite Jest. It’s one of the most influential narratives in modern history. So even though Amleth predates Hamlet, there’s still a sense of “I know what’s going to happen.” For me, that takes a lot of the narrative excitement out of the journey. Especially when this clocks in at 2 hours and 17 minutes. Much like with The Witch, I found myself almost more interested in what would happened after the revenge rather than just getting to the revenge. This feels like a story that ends at ACT II rather than giving me ACT III. It actually had me thinking a lot about The Green Knight. And how much more I enjoyed it. Green Knight could have just ended with Gawain finally reaching the titular Knight. And it does, but not before showing us a future. The aftermath of Gawain taking a coward’s way out of the encounter. We see how the rest of his life plays out. So when he opts to do the honorable thing, the future is full of meaning. Because we’ve already seen the negative destiny, we can begin to imagine the antithesis of that. So you can easily project ahead to how the story goes.
With Northman, you can’t really do that. We get some hints about a Maiden King. But it’s only ever talk. The whole stretch of Amleth arriving as a slave and going through the machinations of finally facing his uncle just took such a long time to unfold. And I typically like patient storytelling. But not if it’s so obvious what will finally happen: Amleth fights Fjölnir. I don’t need an hour to get there. 35 minutes. 10 minutes of being there. 15 minutes of aftermath. So, that’s my major complaint.
But it was a hell of a job by the cast. Alexander Skarsgård did an amazing, amazing job. And the final fight in front of the volcano was incredible. And, I think it’s fair to say, worth the wait. It’s just crazy how good of a fighter Fjölnir still was at his age. Amleth was also pretty weak at that point. But Fjölnir was definitely final boss level.
So the Northman goes in at 9 of 17, at the top of the “Positives” list. The familiarity of the story and pacing keep it out of the “Really Good” category. But the visuals and performances put it above many other 2022 movies. It arguably has higher highs than Crimes of the Future, but I think the originality of Crimes wins the day for me. And while Everything Everywhere All At Once had a lot of originality to it, it also had a pretty predictable story. The Northman ended up being more impressive to me so earned the higher rank.
DEATH ON THE NILE
I wanted Death on the Nile to be better than it was. I missed Murder on the Orient Express so wasn’t sure what to expect, quality-wise. It’s hard not to make comparisons to Knives Out but Knives Out has kind of become the gold-standard for modern mysteries. The cinematography of Nile was better than Knives Out. A little more artistic rather than merely productive. And the performances were all impressive. My issue is that I figured out the mystery almost immediately. From the very first dance scene with Margot Robbie, Armie Hammer, and Gal Gadot. Along the way, I hoped that the obvious answer was merely a red herring. And there were moments I started to doubt. But, alas. So while it was a pretty solid movie, it felt not clever enough for the premise at hand. Almost but not quite. I put it below Everything Everywhere because I thought Everything Everywhere was the more ambitious movie. But it goes above Thor: Love and Thunder and Chip ‘n Dale for the same reason. I could see an argument for Thor and Rescue Rangers having higher highs, but I think Nile had higher lows. In this case, , not all the time, but in this case, I’ll take consistently okay over the ups and downs.
Turning Red really surprised me. I expect Pixar movies to be charming but it’s been a minute since I felt how I felt watching Wall-E and Up for the first time. Things like Toy Story 3, Inside Out, and Incredibles 2 were fun and emotional but not quite as powerful, to me at least. It got to the point where I passed over watching Onward, Soul, and Luca because I just wasn’t sure if I’d grow out of the Pixar experience. Now that I’m back to needing to watch everything for the site, I bit the bullet and put on Turning Red. And my nose is still stuffy from all the tears. And it wasn’t even sad tears, you know? Just that welling up of vicarious emotion. The highs. The lows. The breakthroughs. It absolutely surprised me that Domee Shi was a first-time feature director. What an amazing first film. It didn’t quite have the big initial scope of Wall-E or Up but building up to a kaiju-sized red panda was well worth the wait and satisfied my desire for scale. What surprised me was how much Turning Red had in common with Everything Everywhere All at Once. It’s probably jarring to some people for me to compare those. I’m not saying they’re exactly alike or that it’s even a bad thing. Just that both explore the mother-daughter dynamic through the lens of Chinese culture, generational trauma, and fantasy. Both films involve the daughter turning into a monster. And both have the mom ended up with the same powers and that being the thing that ultimately connects them. With the mother having to confront their parent to feel better. Obviously Everything Everywhere went about it in the different way than Turning Red, but it’s the same starting ingredients. It shows just how many ways there are to tell a story. And how the intended audience can shift those story dynamics. The existentialism and nihilism at the core of Everything Everywhere wouldn’t be appropriate for Turning Red, just like the main POV being from the daughter makes more sense in a kid’s movie than it would in Everything Everywhere.
I put Turning Red in the “Really Good” category. It comes in at #6, ahead of TG:M because, while that was very fun and cinematically impressive, I think Turning Red has more value to it in terms of message and is a bit more unique in its story. But below The Black Phone because I think The Black Phone had a bit more going on and was dealing with subject-matter that’s a little more uncommon. Turning Red probably is the more consistent movie, start to finish. But I think the scope and highs of Black Phone give it the edge.
FOURTH OF JULY
I hate to say this is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. But it’s one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. People put time, effort, money, and a lot of hope into this project. So I feel bad dunking on it. But, man, I was miserable. And it wasn’t just a single thing that frustrated me. It was all things. The acting. Cinematography. Editing. Pacing. Characters. I don’t know anything about Joe List but this seemed like a very personal movie for him. And I think there are components to the story that people can 100% relate to: scared of being a parent, hate their family, resentful of their parents, dealing with addiction. A lot of us have experienced awkward family gatherings where you have to constantly bite your tongue. I can appreciate what it was going far. And it did succeed in making me dislike Jeff’s (Joe List) family. But I disliked pretty much everyone who appeared in the movie. And whatever catharsis or redemption Jeff achieves was so anti-climactic that the slog to get there just wasn’t worth it. The movie asked too much of me without giving me anything back. There’s something to be said about “Well, life is often anticlimactic and this is more realistic than it is Hollywood.” Sure. But that doesn’t mean it was good. There was one amazing moment where a frustrated Jeff plays a beautiful classic piece on the piano while his obnoxious Boston family drowns him out by trying to sing Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” It’s this fleeting collision of Jeff’s culture against this family full of dullards. Outside of that one moment, I disagreed with pretty much every decision. Though, hell, one person in the theater applauded when the movie ended. So maybe I’ll be in the minority here. Or maybe they were as relieved as I was.
THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER
Thor was better than I feared but worse than I hoped. I really loved Thor Ragnarok and thought they finally found the perfect tone for the character and movies. Like 65% serious and 35% humorous. Love and Thunder flipped that for me. It was silly to the point of almost being cartoonish. Which probably is fine for a lot of people. These are superhero movies, after all. But I really enjoyed that stretch from Captain America: Winter Soldier up through End Game because it felt like the movies took themselves somewhat seriously while still having fun. Since End Game, it’s been back and forth. Things like Black Widow, Shang-Chi, and No Way Home were still in the ballpark of what I think makes for a great Marvel movie. Even Eternals. But the TV shows, Multiverse of Madness, and Love and Thunder have been tonally all over the place. With all that said, I still enjoyed Love and Thunder. The Goats, Tessa Thompson, and Christian Bale stole the show.
Mad God is genuinely an achievement. Regardless of how anyone feels about the message or bleakness or their own confusion, Mad God deserves recognition for even existing. Very few people in the world could pull off making a stop-motion film of this magnitude. Phil Tippett might be the only one. So bravo. My favorite thing was how genuinely impactful much of the imagery was. Some of those scenes will stay with me forever. My least favorite thing was how long the baby worm cried for. Would I recommend it? If you know what a cult movie is and can name one you like, then yes.
MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU
With Minions: Rise of Gru. I didn’t hate it. I also didn’t love it or even really like it. I laughed a few times. Alan Alda, Michelle Yeoh, and Taraji P. Henson all delivered. Honestly, the thing that disappointed me the most was the backstory with how the minions met Gru. I thought there’d be something more substantial than “They answered a help wanted add and wouldn’t leave.” I guess it being that stupid is charming, in a way? But I had hoped for something less actively anti-climactic. Also, they could just do a spin-off movie with Michelle Yeoh’s “Master Chow” and that would probably be better.
THE BLACK PHONE
Black Phone really surprised me. It looked alright but I wasn’t sure how they’d make the premise of the kid talking to ghosts through a phone anything but ridiculous. It became very poignant, though. Especially as the film is so much a commentary on abuse and how it’s something that’s passed down and on and around. That it couches a coming of age story within a social commentary within a horror premise is pretty great. It being in the 70s, I couldn’t help but think of this as a post-Strange-Things kind of movie. But in a good way. Like this felt like it was an amazing seasons of Stranger Things except it was condensed into two hours. Ethan Hawke was as creepy in this as he was in Taking Lives. And the kid actors, Madeleine McGraw and Mason Thames, were very impressive. I’m torn over whether or not I should put it above Elvis. I think Elvis was probably more impressive overall in terms of filming and Austin Butler’s performance. But The Black Phone, despite some negatives, found some magic.
The Batman maintains the top spot. Elvis has moments that are some of my favorites of the year. But I just don’t find a biopic quite as interesting as, say, Batman. jeen-yuhs maintains such a high rank because the footage is pretty incredibly and almost unprecedented. Top Gun Maverick was a lot of fun and better than I expected. It’s above Everything Everywhere simply because I thought it had higher lows. As fun and emotional as Everything Everywhere was, I had frustrations with pacing and knowing exactly where the story was going to go. Chip ‘n Dale and Bob’s Burgers are kind of neck and neck. I think Bob’s probably had more highs but nostalgia wins out here. Then Doctor Strange is my big disappointment, so far. I think the MCU is at its best when the movies are in the vein of Iron Man (2008), Winter Solder, Civil War, Ragnarok, and Infinity War. As in, they take the logic of what’s happening seriously, even when it’s fantastic or ridiculous. When the logic goes away, it’s easy for the story to feel more like a Saturday morning cartoon for 5 year olds. It’s not like I’m against superhero movies. I love superhero movies. I just don’t want them to get away with lower quality writing simply because they are superhero movies.
Wilm The Foe
Gotta get THE NORTHMAN and MEN on this list. The symbolism be dope. Kanye vibes with em both I bet.
I’ll get to them! I’m sad I missed Northman in theaters.
How about RRR? Would like to know about your view on it
Going to get to it sometime in August, I think! But definitely before the end of the year.
Definitely more my typ of list with The Batman on 1 but some movies like Doctor Strange, Thor, Everything Everywhere All at once and Top Gun would be higher on my list
Haha, Travis and I have joked that our lists are going to be so opposite that it will really divide people and you’ll have people that hate my takes and love Travis’s and vice versa. And yeah, there’s definitely a lot of fun in the movies you named. I do think, for my tastes, I’m extra tough on them. But I get why they would be higher on your list!