Ah, films! I forgot about those. Despite how it may seem by the relative lack of film reviews/articles on the blog front this year, I’ve actually seen many, even outside of the March of the Movies block. 75 films, to be exact (including some online content that Letterboxd recognizes as “film”). Although last year I saw “over 100,” so maybe I have been slipping somewhat…
Regardless, as it is within my nature to chronicle, sort, and analyze, it is the time of year in which I can look back and reminisce on the best of what I indulged in. While compiling this list, I found that there were quite a few within a specific range of quality that made it somewhat hard to choose between the middle portions, so assume they’re all pretty even in my head (meaning “Very good”). Yet the top spot is the top choice without question, so don’t tune out too quickly!
Finally, for those who didn’t register the title of the post, this is a Top 10 of the films I viewed during the course of this year, not of films specifically released in 2022. If you want something like that, look elsewhere, because only two films in this list released this calendar year.
10. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Fun fact: This spot was originally going to go to Ernest & Celestine. However, on the final day of contention (December 31st), I ended up watching Glass Onion with my mother, not expecting to enjoy it that much. I was wrong.
The first Knives Out film was enjoyable for me because it played a lot with murder-mystery conventions while also succinctly delivering a political message all the while, tightly wrapped up in a neat bow. This follow-up has a pretty similar formula, only it decides to go ham with the logistics of the mystery and the bluntness of the political messaging. Messier and looser, what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for threefold in outrageously entertaining cheekiness.
Some may not find this to be a suitable change to the original’s more calculated approach. It’s understandable—Glass Onion seems to be more concerned with the politics of the situation than making an airtight, logical plot. For me, especially having recently left Twitter because I did not agree with the ownership, it was pretty cathartic to watch something so endearingly hostile to ultra-rich, self-aggrandizing assholes who steal/take credit for the work of others for their own gain.
In hindsight, the first film is likely slightly better. Nevertheless, the sequel manages to be just as entertaining in the ways murder-mysteries should be, with great performances, shocking twists, and keeping details close to the chest.
[Spoiler] Though admittedly, I did think to myself, “If it’s anything like the first film, the murderer is exactly who you’d think it would be.” It’s exactly who you’d think it would be.
9. Modern Times
Charlie Chaplin seems like a cool guy. I’ve viewed quite a few films from his catalogue over the years, with this year being no different, having watched Modern Times during the 2022 MotM block. With this one specifically, though, many proclaim it as among his best, teetering the line between slapstick comedy and constructive commentary on the ever-changing technology of the world.
I’d have to agree; there is something really captivating about the way Chaplin manages to encapsulate the world in this. From the very first scenes, with a looming business owner resting in a cozy office as a line of workers stand at a line and perform tediously simple tasks, it points a proverbial finger at the absurdity of “modern” times. (It’s also just fun to see things from 86 years ago.) Seeing Chaplin struggle with a malfunctioning “feeding machine” will never leave my mind.
I imagine a lot of things showcased in this were groundbreaking at the time (probably). To see such meticulous attention paid to workers’ conditions (albeit exaggeratively for humor) and Chaplin interacting with it is something that remains relevant for many today. Life is hard, and spending so much of your life working for the sake of survival is a very tough pill to swallow. At least we can be endeared by a goof making a fool of himself in the meanwhile.
T’was also nice to see a female companion not immediately take on the role of a love interest. Indeed, Chaplin and a female cohort strike up a bond that seems more familial than anything. Makes for a nice sense of camaraderie in a time where women were expected to stay home while men worked; both attempted to work throughout the course of the film.
Fun, memorable, and insightful, particularly for something so early in cinema’s history. It’s no surprise it was Chaplin at the helm for it.
8. Happy as Lazzaro
With the case of Happy as Lazzaro (for us English folk), it’s a bit of a cryptic puzzle at first. Sweeping shots of nature in a small village containing humble workers, clearly in servitude to corrupt higher-ups. A boy named Lazzaro is among them, innocent and pure compared to the rest. The camera moves through his eyes, showcasing the beauty of being alive and the naivety of the vile spirit of those in control of the world.
For the first two-thirds of the film, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Mildly intriguing but somewhat odd, I was waiting for some sort of “point,” a drop of the hat that would make everything clear. That came suddenly, when the film takes on an almost supernatural spin. Without spoiling it, one fateful event brings the whole together in an unexpected way.
Though I never did (even though I should), this is something I believe would benefit from more than a single viewing. Almost like proofreading, once the entirety is complete, it’s great to look back and check on how the progression leads into the focal point of the piece. Happy as Lazzaro has hints everywhere from the very beginning, yet I never knew to look until near the very end.
Thus far, it may seem apparent that the most rewarding film experiences for me are those that make me ponder. About life, about people, about morality and other philosophical conundrums. This does that splendidly in an intriguing way, and looking at various interpretations of the story proved gratifying. Some may look at it and shrug. Even if it’s not the most exciting or gripping plot, it certainly leaves an impact.
7. The Banshees of Inisherin
Another late-ish edition to this list, I saw this in theaters in early December. Having been fond of the director’s former work in Three Billboards, I was enticed to see this new film that promised I would be able to understand about 60% of what the characters are saying due to the very thick Irish accents. (It’s not too bad. I understood about 85%.)
The Banshees of Inisherin is a pretty dark tale that actually hit home for me, personally. Involving someone who decides to abruptly cut off his longtime friend for being “too dull,” it’s something I’ve had to grapple with quite often throughout my life. As cynical as I am (as evidenced by the contents of this blog), I’ve found myself grappling with urges of “This person isn’t interesting enough” or “This person isn’t worth my time,” which had me immediately sympathetic of Gleeson’s character at the start.
As events continued, however, neither is totally viewed as in “the right.” Both take this sudden change to the extreme, with one pushing and the other pulling further and further until it’s a battle of integrity. So much is said underneath the surface of how humans interact that, even in times of such emotional turmoil, simple acts of kindness really stand out—even if out of a sense of irony. If I had to describe the script, I would use the phrase “Cheekily grim.”
The actors are phenomenal, with both Gleeson’s and Farrell’s faces taking on complex forms of inner and outer sadness. Though gray to suit the nature of the atmosphere, the landscapes are as gorgeous and serene as they are tragic. Whatever power this film has is a quiet one, not needing to resort to acts of bombast until the very end to make its point. It’s a war between two people, with strategic battles ensuing every day to settle a dispute not really worth fighting over. Adored it.
6. The Power of the Dog
This section might be fairly similar to Happy as Lazzaro‘s, since a lot of what I like about The Power of the Dog rings eerily similar.
Again, the power of proofreading comes into play. Starting off pretty innocuous, it relies a lot on the establishment of the characters and their environment to tell a story. An old rancher, set mightily in his own ways, takes issue with his brother taking in a wife into their home. What resentment has he against her? As he continues to torture her in specific ways, her son begins to enter into his life, which sets a course for things to finally reveal themselves.
Not until roughly two-thirds in did I realize that the “twist” of the film was hinted at all along. Even with as much as I’ve trained myself, it’s hard to form a conclusive thought when you’re presented with evidence but no case to base it on. If viewed for a second time, one could more aptly understand the nuances that led up to the gripping climax. They only need to be patient.
To be frank, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the film as much as I did if not for the way it ended. Without that sort of alleviation through closure, everything before it would’ve felt pretty dull—slow-paced and dry, much like the nature of being alone on a ranch. Once everything clicked, my mind was hooked on tight. It’s enough to have one go, “Ohhhhhhhh! I see what you did there…”
5. Drive My Car
Slow as it may be, long as it is, and with dialogue that seems more apt for a Catholic confessional, I still found Drive My Car to be gripping and heartfelt. Consider it my propensity for indulging in self-loathing, dramatic works of personal tragedy.
This whopping, near-three-hour-long film crams quite a bit into the contents of its plot. A man dealing with the loss of his wife, which is detailed within the first 40-50 minutes, now has to try and lead a production of a play. Meeting various characters with ties to his late wife and those that will become integral to him, it’s a very moody, elaborative work of fiction that goes in all sorts of different directions.
More than anything, I liked the way the characters interacted with one another. I liked the way the characters brought forth the emotional connections with acting into their own lives. Emotions, specifically, are the driving factor behind the whole plot. What is it to love? What is it to yearn? How do we rid ourselves of the things that haunt us? How do we connect with the people around us now when all we want to do is hide? That sort of thing.
Despite the length, I felt it was paced pretty well. Though I acknowledge that it’s definitely not going to be to everyone’s taste. More for those keen on wallowing in the despairs of human connection and dealing with grief. For those of us who like some bittersweet tragedy. I would heavily recommend it.
4. Official Competition
Speaking of acting and emotions, this is a fun little film about the two, only in a more satirical fashion. Introduced to me by a dear friend of mine, we ended up watching it marginally together, and the results ended up being very pleasing.
Involving someone wishing to make the greatest film ever after finding little sense of purpose in his life, he goes out of his way to hire an eccentric but talented director to work with two of the greatest actors of the time. As the internet once said, “Hilarity ensues.” Butting heads over the arrogance of their very opposite viewpoints, the actors struggle to deal with each other, along with the chaotic whims of their complicated director.
Satirical as it is, a lot of Official Competition is set in a limited number of locations that comprise of performing lines, doing odd rituals, or just speaking about various things. Much is said about the nature of celebrities and their mindsets, whether on one end (openly immoral and flagrant) or the other (faux-selflessness and elitism). Attention is also paid to the lengths directors will go to pull genuine, occasionally unsettling emotions from their actors. Where is the line?
Every single actor in this film is magnificent, too. All three leading actors give it their all, exemplifying the subtly (and not so subtly) toxic relations at place in each scene. What is real, what isn’t—everything is a game of competition, the prize being able to say they one-upped their counterpart. All glory for those that cherish it. Seeing them try and outperform the other, as well as the director’s own spin on putting them in stressful situations, never grew dull.
And if you’re into that sort of thing, Penélope Cruz flosses without pants on in this.
3. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
The director of Oldboy, Park Chan-wook, is kind of a serious guy. He’s made quite a few films dealing with the nature of revenge, hatred, and other negatively fueled emotions at their core. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, or just Lady Vengeance, is another film among his catalogue that includes a plot of finely paced, exquisitely violent points.
When I think of this film, I think of the term “execution.” This can mean two things (generally): the process of achieving a goal/objective, or organized killing. Both apply pretty well here. How the plot proceeds from the very first scene, explaining the details of the main character’s situation, is clean and straightforward. There’s no “fat” to it; with hardly a moment to catch one’s breath, the plot thrusts forward without hesitation.
Much like Oldboy, the devil is in the details. Propped up without much explanation at first, the audience is spoon-fed information at semi-regular intervals, slowly unveiling the path that is to come and the blood that trails far behind. Almost mechanical—effortlessly methodical—the characters come and go, switching between past and present like a pendulum.
Of course, overly elaborative plans for vengeance aren’t much if there wasn’t a deep emotional core behind it. The film’s title does well to remind you that the main character is a tragic figure, and her circumstances are painted in careful detail, along with plenty of others. To share in tragedy and vengeance, questioning whether such circumstances are enough to quell the anger inside. Entertaining and emotional enough to engage just about everyone… except for those not keen on violence.
2. All or Nothing
Stop the presses, everyone. I adored a film with James Corden in a semi-leading role. That should be enough of a recommendation on its own.
Ever since the film Happy-Go-Lucky, I’ve been really enamored with the work of Mike Leigh as a director. Naked, Another Year and now All or Nothing additionally have managed to make strong impacts on me, even if I don’t think any are perfect. There’s just something about the way he writes his characters, and how the actors he employs look, perform, and embody the everyday simplicity of the common person.
All or Nothing has become my favorite of his, if only because it best represents what I desire with his films, and perhaps films in general: deep character studies. I like watching people. I like getting to know the deeper intricacies of why people behave as they do. Perhaps arrogantly, I’ve likened myself to being a “psychologist” intermittently throughout my life. Can you blame me, though? Humanity really is incredibly interesting…
Well, I haven’t said much about the film overall, have I? That’s because there isn’t much to say. It’s just life, life for a large cast of characters living in a rundown part of town, struggling to pay for rent. Seeing how they cope with everything, from medical emergencies to major changes looming, makes this infinitely engaging. It actually stunned me how gripping I found it all. Everything about it is great, and if you like a bittersweet representation of lower middle-class life, this is a great one to try out.
1. Everything Everywhere All At Once
To some, this may be a really basic, safe pick. When this came out, everyone was raving about it. At one point, it had the #1 overall average rating on Letterboxd, past the likes of The Godfather and Parasite. A critic I trust called it “my favorite Matrix movie since The Matrix.” With such overwhelming praise, how was to not see it whenever I got the chance? So in April, I saw it in theaters: yes, it’s worth the hype.
Chaotically inventive, entertaining, emotional, and fun. Hot off the heels of “multiverses” in popular media, it continues a trend of mind-warping absurdity in a way that absolutely works—by not questioning it more than it has to. Even though it had every opportunity to go by the books, it stayed true to its purpose of silly gags overall, predicated on an emotional, turbulent foundation. That’s how something as complex as multiple universes should be. (It’s a fine line, though.)
I also adore how wholesome the entire thing is. Everything Everywhere All at Once harnesses its comic-book energy for good, by spreading a message of inclusiveness that is sure to reverberate with a lot of people. No character is perfect, completely right, or vilified more than they need to be. The focus on the character cast is as complex as trying to explain why anything is even occurring to the lead. Everything has stakes, even if it doesn’t really seem like it.
I want to re-watch it to be totally sure, but the impact the first time around was so spectacular that I awarded this a 10/10, something I haven’t done since my first watch of The Truman Show in late 2017. Perhaps it was the hype, maybe it was because I haven’t seen a whole lot of other films that have dealt with it (I don’t watch much Marvel or superhero media). Whatever it may be, this hit all the correct buttons for me to amazing effect. Watch it now. Your alternate-universe self probably already has.
The rating for these titles and all others can be found on Letterboxd.
For more film review types, check out the associated archive.
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