A short selection of must-see movies
I hate “best of” lists, especially enumerated ones. I love reading them, I just hate making my own. It feels reductive, subjective and sometimes I look back at my Top 10s from years past and cringe. Not so much because my choices were misguided. They rarely are. It just all seems performative.
But it was only in the last couple of years that I decided prestige films don’t mean much unless I’d be willing to watch them again. There were plenty of years where I saw something great, that deserved all the accolades, and despite being impressed, I never wound up going back for seconds. Invariably, the films of any given year that I still revisit today rarely made the cut.
So, in celebration of the thankfully dead year that was 2022, I’m bearing that in mind. This isn’t just a list of the best movies, per se, as opposed to a list of films that will stay in the rotation. So, yeah. Watch them. And like this list, in no particular order.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” —The Daniels (brothers from other mothers Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) return to feature co-directing for the first time since 2016’s surreal “Swiss Army Man.” Here we get a genre-bending treatise on the nature of circumstance and humanity that is equal parts drama, love story, action film and a horrific, time-hopping multiverse dreamscape of sad choices—all of which miraculously combine into one of the few films this year that seemed to resonate with pretty much everyone. That might be the weirdest part. Performances from Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan are award-worthy standouts, as well as The Daniels’ kinetic direction of a complex, imaginative and unforgettable world.
You’ll never look at Everything bagels or googly eyes in the same way again.
“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”—A Nicholas Cage action movie starring Nic Cage as himself (in a way) sounds like some “Snakes on a Plane”-level pandering. But writer/director Tom Gormican crafts it into perhaps the warmest and funniest, most unlikely buddy comedy of this, or many other years.
Cage, having failed as a family man and given up on his acting career, is forced to take on one last job—hanging out with his biggest fan, Javi (Pedro Pascal) on his opulent Spanish estate. Javi is suspected of being an arms dealer, and human trafficker, while Cage is inadvertently conscripted to work for the CIA as a spy to get to the bottom of it all. To say more would be criminal. But, yeah, the uncertain bromance between Cage and Pascal, combined with the sharp script, and the uniformly hilarious and sincere performances make this one a joyous blast that, alongside classics like “48 Hrs.” and “Midnight Run”, will always demand a place in the rotation of great action comedies.
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, whose previous directorial outings, “Whiplash”, “La La Land”, and “First Man” garnered much critical acclaim and some good box office, “Babylon” seems like the natural progression of his cinematic ambitions—dialed up to insanely self-indulgent proportions. Somewhat based on the Kenneth Anger novel “Hollywood Babylon”, in essence, these are the chronicles of Hollywood’s elite during the transition between silent films and sound, while the real-life players behind it all devolve into bacchanalian excesses that would put Caligula to shame. The cast is star-studded, and the incredible cinematography from Chazelle’s go to guy, Linus Sandgren (“No Time to Die”) paints a Boschian tryptic whose arc devolves into ruin for (almost) all of them. Of everything on this list, I hope that Chazelle’s ambition here eventually pays off in ten years. It’s a masterpiece.
“White Noise”—Director Noah Baumbach is known for his mumblecore roots, with his debut “Kicking and Screaming”, then moving on to his better-known work with Wes Anderson for “The Life Aquatic” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, as well as his own, award-winning “The Squid in the Whale”. “Greenberg”, marked his first (and ongoing) collaboration with Greta Gerwig, falling back into their mumblecore roots. With 2019’s wonderful “Marriage Story” he finally connected with Adam Driver.
“White Noise” unites them all, with Gerwig playing the wife to Driver’s stoic college professor, as an idiosyncratic couple raising a family in an era of doom. Driver teaches a class in Hitler studies, and who is completely convinced that nothing bad can happen to any of them, despite every semblance of the ‘80s, Regan-era consumerist reality surrounding them (and a toxic event) screaming otherwise. By far Baumbach’s most ambitious and strange film, it’s hard to nutshell. And it doesn’t totally work. But the sense of artists working without boundaries is something that we don’t see enough of, which makes it somewhat akin to “Babylon”, and something that also, somewhat ironically, defies commercial conventions.
“Bones and All”—I’m still enamored of this dark, romantic tone poem. You can see my last review for more details, but in essence Luca Guadagnino’s latest (after his equally sexy and horrific remake of “Suspira”) is a cousin to “White Noise’s” period ‘80s period malaise, as three cannibalistic rogues on the outskirts of Midwestern society (or really any society) find solace in their shared affliction. The influences from films ranging from “Near Dark” to “Let the Right One In” offer a barometer to the antisocial dystopia, and nomadic tone, that comes into play when outcasts fall in love, because they need to survive.
“Top Gun: Maverick”—Despite my love of most things from director Tony Scott (particularly “True Romance”), I was never a fan of 1986’s “Top Gun”. It’s a sports movie with jets. The soundtrack, the militaristic jock vibe (I know that’s kinda the point) never resonated with me in the way it did with the culture—outside of Scott’s acuity for shooting great action. It is cotton candy, melodramatic propaganda with the barest of plots to string together a cadre of paper-thin characters, with all the sincerity of an overly elaborate music video. Danger Zone sounds better coming from Sterling Archer.
So, I couldn’t have been more surprised that “Top Gun: Maverick”, while serving some of those same elements, completely blew my mind. One of those rare instances where a sequel utterly surpasses the first film. Replete with a sincerity and warmth the original lacked, and an absolute stunner on the big screen, due largely to the incredible—and shockingly practical—flight sequences, “Maverick” proves that crowd-pleasing, technology-pushing commercialism can still have a heart, while reminding us (with billions of dollars) that Tom Cruise is our last real movie star.
“Decision to Leave”—South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s latest (whose “Old Boy” still ranks as one of the more emotionally brutal films ever made) is an anxiety-laden crime drama, which evolves into a psychosexual thriller comparable to the best of Hitchcock, or his later protégé Brian De Palma.
Two detectives from Busan are assigned to a case involving the seemingly accidental death of an immigration officer. One of the detectives becomes obsessed with the dead man’s wife—and apparent suspect. She’s hot. He’s married to someone he’s not attracted to anymore. You can do the math. Much like any mystery (especially another one on this list), the less said, the better. Suffice to say, the twists, turns, and red herrings are enough to keep anyone on the edge of their seat. Between the fantastic, cinematic tableaus, and tense storytelling, “Decision to Leave” is something to stick around for.
“Mad God”—Phil Tippett isn’t necessarily a household name. Known largely for his creature design and special FX work on films ranging from “Star Wars” to “Jurassic Park”, Tippett’s romance has always been with stop-motion animation (he created the concept of “go-motion” which improved on the techniques of his heroes, Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brien).
But over the last half-century of creating Tauntauns and dinosaurs (among other things) Tippett, on his “off time”, spent the last 25ish years (with an occasional crew of acolytes) making his arcane, psychedelic passion project, “Mad God.”
It’s something that largely defies description. A Dante-esque descent into grotesque levels of an increasingly dystopian hellscape full of society’s excrement” is about the best I can do for a pull-quote. But the fruition of the meticulous craft involved, and the morbid, gory, often-appalling beauty of Tippett’s vision make for, by far, the most surreal, gorgeous and memorable images I saw this year. Alter your perspective accordingly.
“Glass Onion”—Everyone loves Benoit Blanc. A modern day Hercule Poirot, born from the mind of writer/director Rian Johnson, this sequel to his equally lovable 2019 murder mystery, “Knives Out”, capitalizes on his deconstructed version of a Byzantine Agatha Christie whodunnit—for my money this has some “Evil Under the Sun”, or in this case “Moon” vibes—but which winds up a much more entertaining and funnier film than its predecessor. The cast is fantastic, with Daniel Craig reprising his role as the erudite sleuth, while the eclectic ensemble of wisely chosen actors (from Kate Hudson to Dave Bautista) chew scenery like bubblegum. Bonus points for Ed Norton, who somehow brings his Tyler Durden snark to a character who is essentially a parody of Elon Musk. And, as should be expected from Rian Johnson, a craftsman who defies the sterile, watchmaker sensibilities of someone like Christopher Nolan, this film has a warm, hilarious pulse while looking flat out gorgeous.
Here’s the thing about a mystery. Once you find out the reveal, that seems like it. Why bother going back for more? “Glass Onion” much like the best Christie adaptations, offers so much to amuse, and entertain that going back for seconds (or thirds) is a pure pleasure.
“Prey”—If you had told me a sequel (or prequel) to the long running “Predator” franchise would be a good idea, much less the best “Predator” film since the original, I would have asked if I could have some of whatever it is you’re smoking.
Director Dan Trachtenberg (who proved his worth with another sequel, 2016’s “10 Cloverfield Lane”) reimagines and reinvigorates the well-known action/horror series with a thoughtful and epic eye, telling the story of a rebellious, indigenous girl, at the literal bottom of her cultural totem pole, who defies the conventions of her society to fight a ruthless, intergalactic hunter.
That it was a Hulu flick is only sad because pretty much everyone who saw this watched it on their television (unless you caught that one-off screening at Circle Cinema). Everything about the scenic vistas of the 1700’s American wilderness, the scope of Jeff Cutter’s luscious cinematography, and the pulsing suspense and scares that Trachtenberg elicits with the finesse of a master, demand the big screen and make for one of the best, and most unlikely surprises of 2022. Amber Midthunder, as Naru, is an obvious rising star in a film that defies and exceeds all expectations.