Saturday, December 31, 2022

2022 Flashback: Movies

Well, we did it! 2022 is over! Now we can move on to whatever the fuck is next. But first, let's take our annual jaunt down memory lane and explore the best and worst in film, TV, music, books, and every category in between!

And here's your annual reminder. While I use emphatic words like "best" and "worst," one's appreciation of art is inherently subjective. These are the movies/etc. that I loved the most. If your taste aligns with mine, check them out! If your tastes don't, give a shot to the stuff I hate. Who cares! Let's have fun here, folks!

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2022 Movies I Missed That I Wish I Had Seen Before Compiling This List: Aline, Significant Other, Triangle of Sadness, Jurassic World Dominion, Slash/Back, Good Luck to You Leo Grande, Crush, Official Competition, Rosaline, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Firebird, Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio, Violent Night

2022 Movies That I Missed, Don't Regret Missing, and Will Go Out of My Way to Continue Missing Until the End of Linear Time: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, Strange World, Terrifier 2, Hocus Pocus 2, Firestarter, My Policeman

The Ten Best Films of 2022

#10 Looop Lapeta

If you had asked me a year ago whether I would want to watch a Bollywood remake of Run Lola Run, I would have told you that was one of the absolute worst ideas on the planet, and frankly that's still a true assessment. Clocking in at nearly an hour over the tightly paced, high-octane original German classic, Looop Lapeta absolutely misses the point, and yet it is so incredibly stylized and thrilling that you hardly notice a bit. It still doesn't quite justify its existence because the original is a masterpiece and this is only pretty great. But "pretty great" is a level of quality that still should have been completely out of the realm of possibility.

#9 Three Months

Three Months feels like a throwback to the old days of MTV moviemaking when they would just throw a pop star onscreen in a coming-of-age story and see how they fare. This film, which follows the life of a disaffected young gay man during the time when he's waiting to hear the results of an HIV test, could have been Troye Sivan's Crossroads. But instead, it's a delightful little confection, simmering its drama and comedy deliciously without sacrificing that loose hangout vibe.

#8 Barbarian

There are several distinct movements to Barbarian that I'm not convinced cohere into a satisfying whole. But taken individually, each of these movements is so intensely pleasurable that I frankly don't give a shit.  In addition to providing some of the year's funniest and scariest moments in equal measure, Barbarian boasts masterful control over its shadowy atmosphere with the best lighting for a studio horror film in what feels like a decade.

#7 The Sadness

The Sadness is a brutal film, violently mocking the societal response to the COVID-19 pandemic while also throwing itself full tilt into depravity as it dumps a virus that turns people into creatures of pure id (who seek the most vulgar and grotesque expressions of violence and lust) directly into the center of Taiwan. It's bloody, shocking, and perfectly cruel.

#6 Fall

Fall is a movie that knows exactly what button it wants to push and slams its hand on it repeatedly. 
This acrophobic tale follows two young women who climb 2,000 feet up a tower only for the ladder they used to crumble beneath them as soon as they reach the top. What happens at the top alternates between being a bit overcooked and totally brilliant, but the 20 minute sequence where they're climbing made me sweat through my shirt in the theater. Its only goal is to engage your adrenal glands rather than your brain, but that's what makes it a tremendously effective genre film.

#5 Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is basically the polar opposite of The Sadness. A gentle, sweetly crafted mockumentary exploring the ways that an anthropomorphic shell reshapes the worldview of a documentarian recovering from a divorce, this is a movie that cannot conceive of cruelty in any way, shape, or form, approaching every topic with wide-eyed curiosity even as it recognizes the deep sadness that can come from the world around us.

#4 Orphan: First Kill

C'mon. How could I not have been curious about the prequel to 2009's Orphan where the original star (now in her early 20s) plays an even younger child through a heavy dose of in-camera trickery? Sure, said trickery lends a smudgy aesthetic to the whole affair that isn't exactly dazzling. But the sheer audacity of its lead character is enough to buoy the first half, which is a satisfying but generic retread of the original film. And then when the second half kicks in, the film makes a gonzo move that proves the screenwriters knew exactly how to keep the off-kilter tone of the original without directly repeating it, delivering one of the most outrageous denouements modern horror has ever seen.

#3 Everything Everywhere All At Once

I'm cooler on Everything Everywhere All At Once than I was on the directors' previous effort Swiss Army Man, but there is no denying the demented pleasures of this film, which wring an emotional storyline out of the swirling, frequently goofy, chaos of the multiverse.

#2 RRR

This year, thanks to its strong word of mouth, RRR became the first major Indian film that many modern American cinema fans ever encountered. While that makes it tempting for more seasoned fans to dismiss it as a watered down version of what the national cinema is capable of (this is technically not Bollywood but rather Tollywood, cinema in the Telugu language), in this case the word of mouth is oh so true. RRR is a maximalist action epic that delivers spectacular action sequence after spectacular action sequence, linked together by the sweet and complicated story of a friendship for the ages.

#1 Scream

I don't know whether the fact that I love the Scream franchise (to the point that my one and only tattoo is of Ghostface from the Scream 4 poster - I roll deep) makes it more or less likely that Scream 2022 would end up in this top slot. The fact that this is the first Scream without Wes Craven was a tough hurdle to clear, but in my eyes they handled it about as perfectly as anyone ever could. This is a Scream that is fully committed to the brutality and horror of serial murder without sacrificing the meta comedy and - for the first time since the original film - tying in that meta vein to the overall killings in a way that feels thematically satisfying.

Honorable Mention: Smile

Smile suffers a bit from the fact that it's so transparently cribbing from films like The Ring and It Follows, but it's the 2022 film that most got under my skin this year, so that's definitely worth a shoutout!

The Five Worst Films of 2022

#5 Black Adam

Black Adam is like somebody adapted a thinkpiece about "superhero fatigue" into a feature film. It's all a bunch of grey-brown CGI nonsense anchored by The Rock doing his darnedest to scrub out every ounce of his usual charisma with a series of dour glares that do not, in fact, provide a viable substitute for character work. 
The only even remotely neat thing about the film is the fact that it takes place more or less in real time, but that only ends up accentuating how crushingly long it feels to sit through. 

#4 They/Them

I really tried my best to like this slasher film set at a queer conversion camp, and the best I could muster was not hating it as much as its reputation would suggest I should. I think there are fun characters and a few solid scenes scattered throughout here (especially an exquisitely terrifying therapy scene performed by Carrie Preston), but they drown in a fundamentally broken screenplay that has its edges sanded off so completely that it slides right off your eyeballs and out the window. This is a slasher movie where the kills are all offscreen and the main cast is neither killed off nor has any participation in the discovery and defeat of the killer, which are three things I would certainly consider pretty fucking fundamental to the genre.

#3 Heropanti 2

Just in case you thought I was willing to give just any Bollywood movie a pass, Heropanti 2 is here to remind us that any form of cinema has its duds. Although it reteams the director and star from 2020's dazzling action fest Baaghi 3, this film about an expert hacker trying to take down a crime lord is incoherent and boring, with only intermittent action scenes (like a car driving through the middle of a train) spicing up its draggy two-and-a-half hour run time.

#2 The Bubble

The bar is really high for comedies about COVID, to begin with. At this point in time, it's just still not very funny to watch people go through the harrowing ordeal of the early pandemic unless they really knock it out of the park. But it's especially not funny when the jokes are allowed to asphyxiate onscreen in a leaden Judd Apatow slog.

#1 The Royal Treatment

Netflix rom-coms are designed to be bland and inoffensive and quickly evaporate from your brain, which - to be fair - The Royal Treatment does. But it does so in such an affectless and unpleasant way, perhaps perfectly embodied by the scene where the prince and his Italian-American lover (you will never for one second forget that she's Italian - if you do, she'll be happy to remind you) make spaghetti for his kingdom's local Sad Orphans, and serve it without meatballs or any sort of flavor whatsoever. No, thank you.

Best Worst Movie: After Ever Happy

I am fully falling in Stockholm Syndrome love with the After franchise. For those keeping count, this is the fourth film based on the fanfiction imagining a universe where Harry Styles (now Hardin Scott) is an abusive prick who also isn't a singer. The best of both worlds, right? This entry follows him and his milquetoast lover Tess through some of the most off-kilter melodrama you've ever seen, and it's deliciously incoherent, swinging directly from the highest of highs (Hardin getting back at his mom by burning down her house because he's so damaged is a good one) to the blandest of lows (that scene is given the same dramatic weight as the one where Tess drives him around in a car for hours and then turns around).

Best Dramatic Actor: Timothée Chalamet, Bones and All

I haven't exactly been on the Chalamet train in the past, but the performance he gives here is so nuanced and full of unpredictable energy, revealing that his range is far wider than he's really even hinted at in the past.

Best Comedic Actor: Luke Macfarlane, Bros

OK yes, he's very pretty. But he turns that into an advantage, using his rock-hard abs as the flint against which he can strike his surprisingly sharp comic line readings and create sparks.

Best Dramatic Actress: Zoë Kravitz, Kimi

Kimi is a serviceable thriller that admittedly falls apart late in the second act, but it's the best depiction of pandemic-era living that I've seen onscreen yet, thanks entirely to Kravitz's jagged physicality, expressing the discomfort of an agoraphobic in a time where the world outside can quite literally kill you. She expresses so much about the character's relationship to the city she lives in with her hunched posture and quick steps, also using nothing but her body language to show how routines and patterns are the only thing that gives her comfort in a world gone mad. 

Best Comedic Actress: Saoirse Ronan, See How They Run

See How They Run might not function entirely well as an actual whodunit, but the main reason it excels as a comedy is Ronan's performance as an overeager young detective, full of vim and vigor but without much of a clue as to how to actually apply it to doing a good job. She's clearly having a lot of fun here, and you have no choice but to match her.

Best Dramatic Supporting Actor: Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All At Once

What a comeback! After nearly two decades away from the screen, Quan has come back as an adult to prove he is able to absolutely commit to the ridiculous premise of EEAAO and ground it in a realistic emotional space without even breaking a sweat.

Best Comedic Supporting Actor: Christopher Lowell, My Best Friend's Exorcism

Lowell bursts onto the scene with a resolutely goofy character that could easily have broken the film if he hadn't calibrated himself perfectly, but instead provides it with a huge burst of energy as it approaches the finish line.

Best Dramatic Supporting Actress: Jessica Harper, Bones and All

A role so supporting, images of it aren't even online yet. But her one-scene appearance in Bones and All is another opportunity for her to show her range. This is an actress who plays glam so effortlessly (in roles including Phantom of the Paradise and Shock Treatment), so seeing her as a suburban grandmother with zero fashion sense is already a shock. But stripping away her look to the bones (and all) also allowed her to deliver the most grounded, powerfully emotional performance of her career.

Best Comedic Supporting Actress: Mia McKenna-Bruce, Persuasion

An excellent Austenian performance if there ever was one. She perfectly embodies the over-the-top satire of her selectively hypochondriacal character, turning her into the cartoon character she was pretty much always meant to be. She also does this incredible thing where she harnesses her small stature to contrast with and thus highlight how much power she holds over the men in her life.

Best Actor Outside the Gender Binary: Skyler Davenport, See for Me

While See for Me doesn't quite deliver on the "girl power Wait Until Dark" premise the log line promises, Davenport (who is both legally blind and agender) is an absolute revelation. This is their first onscreen performance after years of voice acting, and they knock it out of the park, expertly bringing to life the physicality of a character who has more recently become blind than the actor themself but still had some time to get her bearings (for grammatical clarity, the character uses she/her pronouns while the actor does not). Davenport is also delivering excellently subtle work in the dialogue scenes, adjusting the character's prickly personality just enough in each conversation that the audience inherently understands the history of how each person she is talking to has treated her in the past, both in direct reference to her disability and in general.

Best Child Actor: Olivia Fuhrman, Orphan: First Kill

Different viewers' mileage will very on how much the twentysomething actress convincingly looks like her 9-year-old self, but for my money she brings Esther to life with miraculous aplomb, makeup and forced perspective aside.

Best Worst Actor: Tom Hanks, Elvis

The fact that he was playing Colonel Tom Parker like the shambling mummy of a Russian oligarch was a choice and it certainly helped keep the film chugging during the lulls in its grotesquely extended runtime.

Least Actor: Shawn Mendes, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile

What a bizarre choice to brag about casting Shawn Mendes for a character who doesn't actually speak and can only express himself through song. That was probably the right move on paper for casting an untested actor in the lead role of a film, but there is no moment that it feels right to actually connect Mendes to the character. It seems more like Lyle is lip syncing to a series of overproduced Shawn Mendes tracks than actually singing.

Best Hair Acting: Jacqueline Byers, Prey for the Devil

Prey for the Devil is an outlandishly stupid movie, but the one good choice it makes is the lead character's hair, which actually out-acts Byers (not that she's doing a bad job here). Her hair perfectly delivers the story of the character, connecting her past, present, and future in a series of subtle visual motifs depending on whether its tangled and matted, hidden behind her nun's wimple, or embracing full beach waves.

Best Couple: Howie & Charlie, Fire Island

I didn't know I needed himbo doctor James Scully in my life, but Bowen Yang did and their chemistry rockets off the screen.

Best Villain: Harper Dutch, Torn Hearts

Katey Sagal is giving her all as this former country star who is slowly losing her ability to hide the fact that she is cracking up beneath her bedazzled surface. She is incredibly terrifying, able to dominate the room from behind the veneer of a friendly smile, expressing her internal turmoil with the frenzied tapping of a finger that you will come to dread by the end of the film.

Worst Villain: The Patriarchy, Don't Worry Darling

Yes, the patriarchy is bad. But what I'm really referring to is this film's specific vision of the patriarchy. Somewhere along the line, Don't Worry Darling confused "women orgasming" with feminism and accidentally created a patriarchal allegory that has no idea what the patriarchy is or how it works, which blends poorly with a stupid twist that already actively fails to gel with the hints laid out in the first half of the movie.

Best Hero: Naru, Prey

If you can fuck up a Predator, you deserve to be on this list, I don't make the rules.

Worst Hero: Sally Hardesty, Texas Chainsaw Massacre

So you know that thing where your brother and some of your friends were killed by a nonverbal chainsaw-wielding hillbilly 50 years ago, and you've been hunting him down since then? Maybe don't demand that he say your name (something he canonically has no reason to know, nor the ability to say) and then get pissy about it, allowing him to summarily murder you? Why were you even here, ma'am?

Best Cameo: Debra Messing, Bros

I'm just happy she got to yell at Billy Eichner and vent some of the presumably semi-real pent up animus about every gay man assuming she's their best friend.

Worst Cameo: Russell Crowe, Thor: Love and Thunder

I'm sorry, what in the SNL Greek sketch is any of this?

Best Costume: Sierra Belmont, Falling for Christmas

The costume design largely fails Lindsay Lohan in this Netflix Christmas movie (putting a ginger in pink is always a risk, but some of the outfit choices after her all-pink ski outfit prove to be even worse), but this early sleeve-forward look is delightful excess in all the best ways.

Worst Costume: The Midnight Angels, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Ruth Carter, you are a genius, but being asked to bring this already silly look from the comics to life did you no favors. It looks ridiculous in action, but even worse when the helmet is removed to show the actors' face, and there is this creeping metallic half-turtleneck clinging to the back of their heads that is distractingly off-putting to gaze upon.

Best CGI Creation: The Van, Hellraiser

Can't find an image or video of this yet, but the sequence of the back of a van slowly receding into the background (while the street is still visible and in motion through the back window) while revealing the labyrinthine hallways of Hell is super fucking cool.

Worst CGI Creation: Fire Powers, Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva

Look, this might be a cultural thing. Maybe in India, fire looks like strawberry-flavored KY jelly. If so, I offer my full apologies. 

Best Closing Credits: Pearl

The single take shot over which they run the closing credits of Pearl is breathtaking, both as an artistic decision and a piece of in-the-moment performance. I wouldn't hesitate to call it a flat-out masterpiece and the best single cinematic moment of the year if and only if they had committed to making it run even longer, until the very end of the credits, instead of fading to black about two-thirds of the way through.

Best Score: Smile

It's certainly not a score that is listenable in any other context than the film itself, but that's what makes it so special. The angry clattering anti-music works perfectly to jangle the nerves.

Best Soundtrack: Senior Year

Oops, nostalgia got me. The wall-to-wall 1999 hits aren't even exactly my era of music, but it did work for me. Plus, "Sk8r Boi"s and "She's So High"s aside, closing the film on "C'est La Vie" by B*Witched was going to get me in its corner no matter what.

Best Original Song: "Go" Torn Hearts

There are a few songs performed over the course of this country-music-based horror film, but this stripped-down a cappella track is the absolute prettiest. The raw emotion of Sagal's voice and the way it blends harmonically with the two girls is something that crystallizes the complicated relationship at the center of the film, which challenges how far its main characters are willing to go in order to create good art.

Worst Original Song: "Hold My Hand" Lady Gaga, Top Gun: Maverick

There's something about writing a song for a movie that makes a talented artist churn out their most boilerplate, thoroughly bland work. This isn't Gaga's worst song in this category (it's hard to top "Til It Happens to You" from The Hunting Ground, a flop sweaty Oscar play to beat the band), but it's still a snoozefest.

Best Musical Sequence: "Dance Ka Bhoot" Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva

I've waxed poetic about how this film is an excellent showcase for the considerable talents of star Ranbir Kapoor, and nowhere is he allowed to show off more than in this dazzlingly expansive dance number. With the enormity of the sets and sheer number of extras, it should be impossible to parse him out, but the excellent choreography and costume design work in tandem to make sure that the sequence is as much a celebration of his dancing skills as an all-out assault on the senses, both of which are very good things to be.

Worst Musical Sequence: "Love Power" Disenchanted

This one is let down narratively by the fact that it comes in the middle of an urgent third act sequence where the fate of two different worlds is at stake. But it's also a boring and treacly number, and while I have no business being embarrassed for Idina Menzel, the fact that they make her sing the line "let it glow" makes my stomach churn with secondhand shame.

Most Inexplicable End Credits Song: "Lollipop" The Chordettes, Smile

Just... why? Like, it's not a song about a smile or anything. I don't get it.

Best Monster: Pinhead, Hellraiser

I just assumed that after Doug Bradley stepped down from the role there wouldn't be room for another person to really make Pinhead their own, but Jamie Clayton knocked it the hell out of the park.

Worst Monster: Corey Cunningham, Halloween Ends

I get it, David Gordon Green. I get what you were trying to say about Trauma and whatever. But positioning the bombastic final slasher film in a long-running franchise around a random white dude we've never met is dangerously chaotic and does not pay dividends.

Biggest Laugh: The Tape Measure, Barbarian

No spoilers! If you know, you know. God, what a fun movie.

Biggest Cry: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

There's a part with the grandmother played by Isabella Rossellini that will definitely getcha, but basically any moment of the film is so wholesome and pure it might just bring tears to your eyes incidentally.

Biggest Scream: The Hallway, Barbarian

Also no spoilers! But boy does this film have the best interplay between different gradations of darkness that I've seen in a good long while.

Biggest Squirm: The Shoe, Fall

I will spoil Fall, so skip ahead if you still want to see it. ... 

But holy shit the part where she sticks a shoe into the stomach of her best friend's corpse in order to properly convey her cell phone down low enough to get a signal. This scene was so gnarly that it made up for the very stupid twist the script had just inflicted upon us.

Biggest Thirst: The Shower, Scream

I'm always here for making a point to objectify men in slasher movies. As a political statement, of course.

Biggest Crave: Pizza Balls, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

I couldn't find a good picture of the pizza balls in question, but hot damn would I risk a multiverse incursion to get my hand on a basket of them.

Biggest Scene Stealer: Dr. Julia Bulgaria, Heropanti 2

Apparently Indian action filmmaker Ahmed Khan assumed that this was what sexy British doctors wear, and I hope he never learns the truth.

Best Kill: Leatherface Escapes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre

I couldn't find a photo or clip of the exact moment, but the sequence where Leatherface breaks a man's arm in half and uses the protruding bone as a weapon is a hell of a slasher kill. Good work, my dude.

Best Title: They/Them

Get it? "They Slash Them." Too bad it's not really a very good slasher.

Worst Title: After Ever Happy

Like, I get it that this is the title of the book. But that shouldn't have been the case either! What a trainwreck. I secretly love it.

Best Line: "Don't be silly. You look beautiful. The flowers on your skirt bring out the rest of the flowers on your skirt." Disenchanted

This is by far the best moment of the entire underwhelming sequel, highlighting Giselle's cluelessness and indefatigable optimism in the best way possible.

Worst Line: "If you copy it, you encrypt the encryption." The Gray Man

Ain't nothing better than a screenwriter who's never even touched a computer.

Best Poster: Triangle of Sadness

"Gee, what could this Triangle of Sadness movie be about?" said nobody ever while looking at the poster. It's a playfully lurid and grabby image, sure, but it also does all the work to sell the premise that the title is completely failing to do.

Worst Poster: Marry Me

Are you a fan of brown? How about grey? How about off-center brown in front of a bunch of grey? You wanna see this movie yet? No, me neither.

Best Poster For a Bad Movie: V/H/S/99

Now, that's just neat. It had no reason to represent anything about the film itself because it's an anthology, which is greatly to the poster's benefit.

Worst Poster For a Good Movie: RRR

RRR is a movie about friendship where said friendship is painted in flame and blood. Literally the meet cute between these two men is when they are swinging from ropes above a flaming river, bearing a flag. Sure, it has its softer moments too, of course, but why on earth is this poster selling me Roman Holiday in India?

Top Five Movie Discoveries

#5 Till Death Do Us Part (1982)

This Canadian TV movie contains some of the most bonkers plotting I've ever seen in a 1980s slasher, and might I remind you I have seen over 250 of those.

#4 One Cut of the Dead (2017)

I think this movie was perhaps oversold to me, so don't do the same thing to yourself if you haven't seen it. But this meta zombie comedy is an exuberant celebration of the act of creating a film and it's hard not to be won over by the end.

#3 The Last of Sheila (1973)

Stephen Sondheim co-wrote this cult mystery film with Psycho's Anthony Perkins, so I felt compelled to give it a watch after he died earlier this year. I certainly wasn't aware it would provide so much of the spine of Glass Onion, and I'm glad I didn't. It was such a delightful tale full of twists, turns, and surprises that constantly kept me on my toes and ends on one of the greatest murderer reveal gags I've ever seen.

#2 Teen Beach Movie (2013)

This Disney Channel original musical is a bizarre prospect, featuring two modern teens being sucked into a fictional beach musical from the 1960s. The acting isn't tip top, but the script is surprisingly sharp and the musical numbers are blessed with some athletic, electric choreography the likes of which I haven't seen in a modern movie musical in a good long while.

#1 Pontypool (2008)

Pontypool is a small-scale zombie apocalypse film that uses its limited location (an isolated radio station in Canada) to its advantage, forcing you to contend with characters hearing just the audio of something indescribably horrible and struggling to figure out what the hell is actually happening. It's not for everyone, certainly, but it chilled the fuck out of me.
2022 Movie Crush: Tenoch Huerta

Ruth Carter redeems herself from the Midnight Angels debacle by making sure this delightful man spends the entire movie in a Speedo. I've never cared about comic-accurate costumes before and likely won't in the future, but I'm glad she was on the front lines of this battle.

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