Monday, January 2, 2023

Reverend's Reviews: The Best (and Worst) of 2022

Here at the beginning of 2023, let’s review what this critic considered the greatest and least cinematic offerings of 2022.

It could be positively considered “the year of the woman,” both in front of and behind the camera. Look for many of these movies to be honored by critic groups including GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, to which I belong, plus Hollywood guilds and the Academy over the next few months:

1. Everything Everywhere All at Once (A24). An endlessly inventive, mind-bending showcase for Asian superstar Michelle Yeoh. She plays a beleaguered laundromat owner who sets out on an unexpected journey through the multiverse in order to stop her estranged lesbian daughter from destroying reality as we know it, complete with time travel-enabling butt plugs and hot dog fingers! It’s a fantastical yet moving odyssey cooked up by talented co-writers/-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (billed simply as Daniels).

2. The Fabelmans (Universal Pictures) and Empire of Light (Searchlight Pictures). Both are intimate stories told against the background of cinema, revealing the medium’s unique ability to inspire and console. They also deal with important social issues: antisemitism in the case of Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film, and racism in Sam Mendes’ similarly semi-autobiographical story.

3. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (Searchlight Pictures). Emma Thompson shines as a newly-widowed former teacher hoping to experience an orgasm for the first time ever with the help of a sexy, polyamorous escort played by the gorgeous Daryl McCormack. Challenging, amusing and touching revelations result for both of them. Beautifully acted and written (by Katy Brand).

4. The Woman King (TriStar Pictures/Sony) and Women Talking (United Artists/Orion). Women rule, literally and/or figuratively, in these films inspired by true events. Viola Davis co-produced and stars in the first as the titular African warrior who wins the respect of her male ruler and peers. It is a dramatically and visually impressive adventure with an almost-exclusively female crew. In Women Talking, actress turned writer-director Sarah Polley powerfully depicts a group of sexually-abused Amish women (embodied by a terrific cast headed by Rooney Mara) who debate whether to abandon their male-dominated community in protest.

5. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Neon/Participant). Academy Award-winning documentarian Laura Poitras turned her camera on renowned photographer Nan Goldin for this bracing, inspiring expose. In addition to her art, Goldin has been an activist in the fight against the opioid crisis and the Sacklers, the wealthy family who profited off the overdose-related deaths of thousands before their pharmaceutical company was forced to declare bankruptcy. Before that, Goldin was one of the first sympathetic chroniclers of the AIDS pandemic. She and Poitras’s eye-opening documentary both deserve praise.

6. Pearl (A24). This deliciously deranged prequel to Ti West’s horror flick X, also released in 2022, deepened the genesis of both films’ anti-heroine. Mia Goth goes all-out with her stunning performance as the title character. She smiles, cries, sings, dances, has sex with a scarecrow, and butchers people with delight. One ends up both scared to death of her and wanting to take her home. Pearl also contains many knowing, reverential tributes to classic films of the 1930’s-50’s. I’m rooting for Goth to snag an underdog Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

7. Amsterdam (20th Century Studios) and The Banshees of Inisherin (Searchlight Pictures). Two decidedly offbeat yet powerful portrayals of friendship tested by external and/or internal forces. Sadly, the first was a big-budget flop upon its release despite an all-star cast that includes Christian Bale and Robert De Niro, but I trust it will find more admirers over time. Martin McDonagh’s Banshees is a very Irish tragi-comedy that could win Colin Farrell his first Oscar as a heartbroken, spurned animal-lover who ends up exacting revenge against his former bestie (the also-great Brendan Gleeson).

8. Thor: Love and Thunder (Marvel Studios). Plenty of fanboys will likely take me to task for honoring what they complained was Taika Waititi’s too-comedic sequel, but I was struck by how it balances serious issues around death, loss and grief with all the enjoyably requisite superhero hi-jinks. Besides, Chris Hemsworth’s too briefly-exposed derriere, bathed in golden light, definitely deserves an award of some kind!

9. A Christmas Story Christmas (Warner Bros) and Spirited (Apple Studios). I hereby proclaim two new holiday classics! The first is the lovingly nostalgic, long-overdue sequel — featuring the original, now grownup cast — to 1983’s yuletide tale. The other is a very modern (i.e. hilariously snarky) musical update of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol starring the winning combo of Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell, who both sing and dance impressively! Additionally, last month’s Santa Claus-themed, gory yet heartfelt Violent Night is bubbling just under my top 10.

10. Elvis (Warner Bros) and Tár (Focus Features). Each of these films focuses on a musically-inclined protagonist, one real and one fictional. Both run nearly 3 hours and have their over-the-top moments. However, Austin Butler and Cate Blanchett, respectively, are never less than sensational in the title roles and these movies are pretty darn unforgettable as a result.

Disclaimer: As usual, there were a few acclaimed end-of-year releases I wasn’t able to see before press time, notably Avatar: The Way of Water, Babylon and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.

My picks for the worst movies of 2022, in no particular order of dishonor:

  • The Batman. A ponderous, excessively dark superhero movie no one needed.
  • Hellraiser. A gruesome, unnecessary remake of Clive Barker’s sadistic horror tale.
  • Swallowed. Although gay-themed and original, this is another uncomfortably gruesome horror flick.
  • Bones and All. A young-cannibals-in-love story no one asked for.
  • Triangle of Sadness. A nauseating, over-the-top critique of the uber-rich that has inexplicably ended up on some critics’ best films lists and has even won some awards.

Reviews by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

No comments: