Sunday, January 22, 2023

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My Top Ten of 2022

In alphabetical order, my Top Ten Films of 2022. With apologies to the five that almost made it: BabylonGood Luck to You, Leo Grande, Halloween Ends, The Menu, and NOPE.

Avatar: The Way of Water
dir: James Cameron
pr: James Cameron / Jon Landau
scr: James Cameron & Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, story by James Cameron & Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver & Josh Friedman & Shane Salerno
cin: Russell Carpenter

Lots to love on a pure entertainment level - the action! the music! the visuals! - but gosh, it doesn't skimp on the deeper stuff, either. The new twists in both its sci-fi and spiritual aspects are unexpected, cleverly interwoven in plots like the whale-hunting (fantasy whales being targeted and mutilated, soul bonds with Na'vi broken) or the resurrection of Colonel Quaritch (he must become what he hates to avenge his own death). There is the tale of alienation, as Jake and Neytiri's son Lo'ak bonds with the outcast whale Payakan, both learning the consequences of engaging their enemies without thought for those around them, both wanting to prove themselves to their family, both finding new connections to the planet and people around them through opening up instead of "toughening" up - and, OK, kicking ass when the chips are down. And of course, there is the "mystery" of Kiri's paternity and her special relationship with Eywa and Pandora. Works on its own, works as a setup for the next one, just works.

The Banshees of Inisherin
dir/scr: Martin McDonagh
pr: Graham Broadbent / Pete Czernin / Martin McDonagh
cin: Ben Davis

Genuinely funny and hauntingly real. There are people like Colm, people who so convinced of how interesting they are that they'll blow up their lives - or someone else's - to prove to themselves and others that, yes, they are The Better One. And there are so many people like Pádraic who, dealt a sudden blow, refuse to admit defeat or pick up the pieces and move on or even decide that maybe the asshole isn't worth the fuss - no, instead, they push to get what they had back, no matter the consequences for everyone around them. Pádraic doesn't deserve the unkindness of his best friend suddenly declaring, "I just don't like ya," but the way he handles the fallout is just as increasingly melodramatic and illogical as Colm's. That a film can be so devastating and so funny simultaneously? I mean, gosh, how impressive!

The Bob's Burgers Movie
dir: Loren Bouchard / Bernard Derriman
pr: Loren Bouchard / Janelle Momary-Neely / Nora Smith
scr: Loren Bouchard & Nora Smith

I've watched Bob's Burgers since the first episode aired, possibly the only show that I discovered completely on my own, and the movie did not disappoint. Is it cribbing from certain other episodes? Yeah, but that's not unusual for a TV-to-film adaptation. I don't even know how this would play for someone who doesn't know the show, or if it would make my Top Ten if I hadn't been an obsessive viewer since the beginning. It also doesn't matter: this is my list, and I love watching my Belchers struggle to keep their business afloat, solve mysteries, sing and dance, and come together as a family by the third act. The heart of the show translates to the big screen.

Bodies Bodies Bodies
dir: Halina Reijn
pr: Ali Herting / David Hinojosa
scr: Sarah DeLappe, story by Kristen Roupenian
cin: Jasper Wolf

Why do I love this movie? Part of it is an odd nostalgia factor: how many times did my group of friends and I imagine a scenario where a hurricane trapped us all together - and one of us is a murderer (being drama kids in South Florida, the scenario was not so far-fetched). The other part is the recognition of its sharp writing, its mystery among supposed intimates exposing how tenuous our knowledge of our friends is, how quick people are to mistrust each other, how fogged our perception of reality is by our own self-centeredness. Yes, this is all through the prism of GenZ-ers who've weaponized the language of therapy, self-help, and progressiveness to suit their own needs, but that kind of specificity proves its universality: there are always going to be people well-acquainted with the language Of The Moment who can use it to smokescreen and manipulate and deflect. Catty, bloody fun.

The Eternal Daughter
dir/scr: Joanna Hogg
pr: Ed Guiney / Joanna Hogg / Andrew Lowe / Emma Norton
cin: Ed Rutherford

Each scene, another layer: what is real, what is memory, is that a ghost, is this past, is this present? Having Tilda Swinton play both mother and daughter sounds gimmicky until you hit the climax, a real gut punch. My understanding is that this movie, about a filmmaker who takes her mother on holiday partly as research to make a film about their relationship, is based on the filmmaker's relationship with her own mother and her attempts to make a film about it. I love that memoir element, but even before knowing that, I was reminded of when my father said we kids should ask our elders about their lives, the past - without the conversation being tied to a project of some sort. Just talk to them. Something about trying to establish this deeper, more personal connection with such mercenary motives but also from a place of genuine curiosity, love, and worry that these stories will soon be lost, that that connection will soon be's something most of us will deal with, if we aren't already. Very moving, this film, and one that's grown on me the more I think about it.

Everything Everywhere All At Once
dir/scr: Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
pr: Daniel Kwan / Mike LaRocca / Anthony Russo / Joe Russo / Daniel Scheinert / Jonathan Wang
cin: Larkin Seiple

A one-of-a-kind showcase for a veteran performer who's never gotten a role like this: glamorous and ass-kicking and completely average and funny *and* completely frustrating *AND* moving. It's an inventive narrative whose numerous threads are somehow navigable, the filmmakers never losing the plot despite having so much of it. Its heart is so large and so earnest: what other movie this year is directly saying that irony, cynicism, jadedness, apathy, it all may have the patina of wisdom - "I've seen it all, it's all bad" - but love, human connection, caring, investing in others, that's the stuff that makes memories, that makes life worth living, that will save us all? A simple message, but one I think many people need to hear now.
The Fabelmans
dir: Steven Spielberg
pr: Tony Kushner / Kristie Macosko Krieger / Steven Spielberg
scr: Steven Spielberg & Tony Kushner
cin: Janusz Kaminski

The selling point of this film has been that it's Spielberg's memoir of falling in love with filmmaking as his parent's marriage dissolved. It is much more complex and guilt-ridden than you might expect. I'm thinking of the crucial scene in which his parents tell the family of their divorce - as family weeps and reacts, it cuts away to Sammy Fabelman (the Spielberg character) watching...and seeing himself with a camera creating the very shots we just saw. And he's spooked, horrified by it: how can he think of such a thing in such a moment? And yet, here we are, witnessing that moment in the very way that he - well, you get it. It's a much rawer, more bittersweet film than one expects, acknowledging the messiness of life, embracing it but not always so warmly.

dir: Masaaki Yuasa
pr: Eunyoung Choi / Fumie Takeuchi / Akiko Yodo
scr: Akiko Nogi

The marriage of the visuals and rock music left me genuinely awestruck: lanterns and rope pulleys allowing a man to surf on a whale, the crowd clapping in time, cheering, dancing. All this to prove the power of music - all this to prove the power of storytelling. The blind musician-priest and the deformed dancer are unlikely allies, but together they bring to the people the legends of a clan long dead, long dishonored - and, naturally, now a fresh threat to those in authority. But that's the power of a story, of a song: it doesn't just inspire headbanging, it has the potential to reshape thought, to recntextualize past and present, to come to new conclusions. How dangerous! A feast for the eyes, a heartwrenching story, a banging soundtrack: that's why I love this movie.

Please Baby Please
dir: Amanda Kramer
pr: Gül Karakiz / Rob Paris / Mike Witherill
scr: Amanda Kramer / Noel David Taylor
cin: Patrick Meade Jones

Nothing else this year looks or sounds like it. The sets are sets - an apartment number is penciled onto a scrap of paper and scotch-taped to an otherwise anonymous door; a "better" apartment is all smooth blue surfaces. The dialogue is camp and intellectual, discussions of gender expression and sexuality interspersed with stylized line readings of, "Boy, what a kick," and "DraGOOned!" There's spoken word poetry and dance sequences, homoerotic film loops and knifings, leather-clad hunks stalking the streets and a floral diva singing in a phone booth. What's not to like?

dir/scr: Todd Field
pr: Todd Field / Scott Lambert / Alexandra Milchan
cin: Florian Hoffmeister

Sometimes it's fun to watch one of the Greats just Do Their Thing, and Cate Blanchett gets a lot to chew on as conductor Lydia Tár. I certainly had fun - even just watching her do an interview about conducting and history and theory, my gosh, I could have spent another hour there. It's beautifully put together - the grey cinematography, the subtle playing with the sound mix, the production design that gives Lydia a cold home and a warm study, the inclusion of social media. It's masterful.

The Top Five of this ten will be revealed tomorrow - alongside the other nominees for the 2022 Hollmann Awards!

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