At the midpoint of one of the most nerve-racking years in about half a decade (or more), I think that it would be a good way to calm down and look at the films that have come out this year, with the obvious note that I haven’t been able to see everything.
However, I have seen a lot. Living in Alabama doesn’t give me a full range of options, and I don’t feel like driving to Austin yet (though I may get desperate). For example, Triangle of Sadness and Crimes of the Future are interesting new movies that premiered at Cannes but haven’t had a wide-spread American release. Cha Cha Real Smooth is a new Cooper Raiff film that, if I had to guess, will probably be in my top three by year’s end. Of course the favorite of the year for anyone is Jarred Leto’s revelation as an actor in Morbius. It will probably be a film I won’t have any strong feelings about, but anyone who knows me in real life knows how much I bring it up in casual conversation. If you’re reading this, I’m already sorry.
Let’s look at what I have seen and give some brief thoughts on twenty-five films of 2022.
(In order of release)
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania (2 out of 5 stars)
First film I saw this year and the first to be released was Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, the fourth film in the Hotel Transylvania series. Coming from a middle-of-the-road studio with its most middle-of-the-road franchise, nothing is a surprise. After the third movie, the simple charm of Adam Sandler doing a funny voice with some nice animation directed by Genndy Tartakovsky wore off, and by the fourth entry, both of those elements are gone. There is a sound-a-like for the stars Amazon didn’t feel like paying for and some new directors and Tartakovsky is doing some new, interesting projects. The film is so unremarkable that all I can say is that the beloved Fortnite streamer, Ninja, is in it. Yay.
The House (3 ½ out of 5)
The House is one of the most engaging films I’ve seen this year. Gorgeously animated with stop motion by three different sets of directors and animation teams. All of them are stories surrounding a house and all the ugly and complicated feelings surrounding it. Each story has its mix of humor and horror but they also have a unique sense of what’s terrifying. My favorite of the stories is the second with Jarvis Cocker as a rat renovating a house and the bizarre buyers that he comes to inhabit the house with. All of them are very fun but that was the only one that made me feel genuinely uncomfortable. I think as animation becomes more democratized; I’m glad to see more interesting Genre ideas brought to the medium.
Fresh (4 out of 5)
Mimi Cave brings a lot of fun stuff with her directorial debut in Fresh. It’s a very entertaining movie and with its horror and shock, but it’s not world shattering. This isn’t a knock against the film, it just encapsulates the general aura of it; it looks nice, except for a few really ugly shots; it’s scary, but with some really groan worthy moments; and it can be really smart until it points its own cleverness out. Maybe I’m being too mean, but as a horror movie, it really works. The film isn’t a direct commentary, but taps into the fear that is associated with the idea. It looks like it’s a descent into hell and it puts you into this headspace where it doesn’t feel dangerous or spooky, it just feels unsafe in a way that modern horror is really getting good at doing. It’s a great entry into the cannon of women being abused and stalked by a misogynist, they gain the upper hand, and then they brutalize him.
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande (3 out of 5)
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande feels like a play. Small cast, one location, and a very conversation-driven story, all with two great performances from Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack. Those are all things I can like in a movie, but there is one thing that makes this one not work for me: none of it elevates the material. The film has a good script, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is in the running for best original screenplay. I’d support a win if it did happen. The direction, cinematography, and performances are all good, too, but they don’t work in tandem to make a film have a singular voice. As mentioned, the performances, though, are great, but they’re just that: performances. I don’t dislike it; I’d recommend it to anybody who enjoys a fun character piece. I just think with some tweaks this could have been phenomenal. Still a good film.
Jackass Forever (3 ½ out of 5)
With what possibly may be the last Jackass film ever made, everything is brought up to the next level. I’ve only rewatched the first one and I haven’t seen the others since I was a kid, but this one was probably the most stress inducing. They’re all funny but the amount of stuff they put themselves through was just awful. I’m generally an anxious person: I react very physically to things, and this just destroyed me. I watched this and the 4.5 which is just extra, it’s all about the same. There’s not much to say. It’s Jackass. Rest in peace, Ryan.
Death on The Nile (2 ½ out of 5)
Kenneth Branagh just keeps pumping out movies. Continuing with the adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Pierot stories, the film delivers on some genre twists without any elevation or actual intrigue. Most of the performances feel like they all came out of a handful of dramas, comedies, and biopics and the only two who fit the tone of the film is Branagh’s Pierrot and Bouc played by Tom Bateman. The movie is over two hours and with only two entertaining characters and a mystery most people could have gotten about 45 minutes in, all of this compounds with mostly lackluster technical aspects. It all makes for a movie that I don’t think anyone has thought about after watching it.
Kimi (3 out of 5)
I think a sort of Hitchcockian Thriller set against the backdrop of Covid and the modern landscape of tech companies is a fun idea. The film isn’t obnoxious about its relevance though, instead focusing on an interesting remake of Rear Window (one of my favorite films) and the sickly, uncomfortable mood it creates. I think Zoe Kravitz is a great lead with a film like this, which also features a nice, if not underused, supporting cast. And with Soderbergh in the director’s, cinematographer’s, and editor’s seat, everything adds up to be a very small yet interesting film. However, the film is disinteresting for the first twenty minutes, a solid middle forty, and a great last twenty. That last twenty don’t make the previous sixty better even when it pays off very well. Soderbergh makes one or two films a year, and when you do that, you make a lot of interesting choices, but never a choice that will last for any amount of time before making the next one.
Turning Red (3 ½ out of 5)
Pixar’s turnout this year was alright, compared to last year’s Luca. Their first entry was in the same vein as a first time feature director (here Domee Shi) making a personal coming-of-age story. This one was fun — relatively low stakes until the end — and a specific sense of humor that, while hit-or-miss for me, did seem to work very well overall. The child actors do a great job and Sandra Oh is a phenomenal voice actor (I can’t wait for more of her). While the metaphor may not work closer inspection, I think it’s important to show every experience on the screen, and this one pulls off the unstable and weird world of a teenage girl. It’s a movie I know a lot of people either love or hate, but I feel comfortable saying this is just good, clean fun and nothing super sensational.
The Batman (3 out of 5)
I’ve already written about this movie on the site, but my opinion teeters about this film day to day. Sometimes I appreciate the ambition and performance that went into it. Other times I regret that I spent three hours I wasn’t too interested in other than the pure momentum. I’ll probably raise this back up to 3.5, but for now, I feel fine with this being a kinda fun, above average, Batman movie.
Everything Everywhere All at Once (5 out of 5)
I’m not going to sit here and pontificate why I think this movie is great. I’m not the first critic, even on this site, to say that this is one of the best of the year. Looking at this, I was afraid that it was going in the direction of this Puritanical need for order in the universe, but thankfully it finds this universal truth of just existing (or trying). I agree with all the praise of the technical aspects, but when a film can balance two very different thematic stories and a plot all at once (ohhhh, I get it now). It’s about the greatest bouts of existential dread and euphoria matched with all those private moments and little fantasies. Did I mention it’s a universe shattering martial arts sci-fi as well? It’s very comforting, even when it deals with the totality of existence and how scary it all is.
Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood (4 out of 5)
Richard Linklater returns to rotoscoped films after 18 years, making some great work in the meantime. This is a plotless and simple one about a young boy growing up in 1969 Houston, mixing his fantasies of going to the moon with the various mundanities that make up the majority of his life. This continues in a line of intensely personal films about life in suburban Texas, but acting more as a spiritual trilogy of this film (60’s childhood ), Dazed and Confused (70’s high school) and Everybody Wants Some!! (80’s college life). The film spends forty minutes on details, small and simple ideas that most people can relate to, not in the specifics but in such a mundane way that all of it meshes together into an ever present feeling of comfort. It’s all about this disappointment and how people cope with the contrast between fantasies and reality. Even without that element, it’s still a laid back fun way to spend 100 minutes. If your dad is middle aged, maybe watch it with him.
The Bad Guys (3 ½ out of 5)
It’s another DreamWorks new revisionist genre films. There isn’t much here, other than a fun and likable story told with such panache that I don’t think anyone can actively hate it. Other than the animation, there isn’t anything to gush about either. It’s a film I’d recommend to anyone, and as a blast of animated genre filmmaking, DreamWorks is on an upswing after last year.
RRR (4 ½ out of 5)
First things first, Rise Roar Revolt or just RRR isn’t a Bollywood film. It’s a Tollywood film based in southern India. The conversations are mainly in Telagu. RRR is about one of ten film industries based in India. RRR is also one of the most invigorating and intense films of the year. It’s a giant historical epic that states in the beginning that it’s only based on the names. It has a superhero battle musical with two men’s relationship driving this anti-capitalist and anti-colonial romance. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but it balances everything with the aforementioned themes of anti-colonialism and the strong relationship between the two leads (played by N.T. Rama Rao jr. and Ram Charan). Many who have criticized the film have accused it of gigantism and being two outlandish for anyone to believe, but here’s my interpretation: it’s a matter of myth making. American movies now are either the superhero films or nothing else, and the superhero films are American mythology: figures of great strength doing important things, even unbelievable things. This film works in the same key, except it’s driven by an emotional and character based story, good action, and a good visual and directorial style (done by India’s biggest filmmaker S.S. Rajamouli). Bottom line? Marvel needs to take notes.
The Bubble (1 ½ out of 5)
Judd Apatow comes back with his comedy about the film industry and the Covid pandemic. Judd Apatow, who made Knocked Up and Trainwreck, brings some biting commentary on the state of modern entertainment with one of the ugliest and colorless films of the year. Honestly, I just don’t care about The Bubble. It’s obnoxious, loud, and thinks it’s a lot smarter than it is. Stupid, I can handle, but some films are rotten to the core, rife with bigotry and open disgust for people. The one thing I had a strong feeling about was Harry Trevaldwyn; he was a gem.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (3 out of 5)
This was my first theater experience since the Covid-19 began, and it was a comforting reentry to the cinema. I haven’t been a big Sonic fan since I was younger, but with a little bit of knowledge left and walking in excited to see anything in a movie theater again, I had a good time. I like that there can be just some dumb and fun kids’ movies that specifically service fans. I don’t think it should become a market dominating series, i.e., the Marvel movies, but one every now and then seems fine. It’s just some above-average fun.
The Northman (4 out of 5)
Robert Eggers is an artist I really need to reconnect with. I haven’t seen his other two films in too long, but I really want to get back into his work. Gorgeously shot by Jarin Blaschke and with an atmosphere as thick as the fog of the North Sea, this could have been the best film of the year except for the meandering it does towards the end. It’s about the interplay between gender, spirituality, and the effects of generational trauma, but its exploration is so dense and it moves through so many perspectives that it forgets to continue on the path it sets up. It eventually delivers, but it never was a truly great film. I don’t think that a movie should answer all of the questions it poses, but it should have people who think they know the answers.
Rothaniel (4 ½ out of 5)
Jerrod Carmichael’s intensely personal comedy special is probably my favorite thing I’ve seen all year. It’s a comedy special and I don’t want to spoil it other bragging about the cozy atmosphere it creates. Shot intimately with mostly close ups and medium shots (by director Bo Burnham) with a wash of pretty blue lights. It’s on HBO Max, and it’s also one of the funniest comedy specials I’ve seen that could still be hilarious while keeping me actively crying.
Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (2 ½ out of 5)
The first Marvel movie I’ve seen in theaters since Age of Ultron came out, and I haven’t had much reason to go see them. Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness fits in with most Marvel movies. Visually, they either have fun and interesting set pieces and shots or they are just plain ugly. I don’t think I’ve been disinterested in a Marvel movie in a very long time. Most of the time, I’m passively interested in what is happening, but here there wasn’t much other than the horror scenes, where it has actual fun until it spoils itself in one liners. I just wish that I didn’t have to watch a TV show to get the plot.
Top Gun: Maverick (3 ½ out of 5)
Top Gun: Maverick was probably the most surprising movie from this year. I don’t really like the first Top Gun, it’s a hyper sensory mess of ideas that is only real entertainment from the intrigue of the unintentional homoeroticism. In its sequel, though, there are actual stakes and characters doing things that are interesting. Its action scenes are invigorating while its drama is a bit bland, even if those dramatic beats actually contribute to a whole story where characters do things in an entertaining way. That’s what a movie should be, but after the original, it sure is nice to have.
Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers (1 out of 5)
This was awful. So far, it’s the only movie I’ve outright hated. It’s another in the modern series of films that just reference the movie. From the first frames of the logo, all it shows is that Disney, with a few exceptions, is only interested in grasping everyone by the wallet and draining you dry. It’s capitalism actively ruining art. It has good, funny people behind it, but it’s completely squandered by its own self marketing. It convinced me that John Mulaney and Andy Samberg aren’t funny. The thing is, they are, but this is just slosh. All it is is reference, reference, bad joke, man was that a bad joke, and on and on. It has nothing except for the fact it didn’t waste too much of my time.
Elvis (4 out of 5)
The latest in a line of musical biopics, and this is the first one that’s actually worked for me. Elvis takes all of the tropes of the musical biopic and elevates them either stylistically or thematically to make a film with actual ideas about politics, humanity, and its subjects instead of just being a Wikipedia article with a more visual aspect. The film juggles a great many themes and with the maximalist style, and it is able to make all of them tie together with an intensity and dazzle that only Baz Lurhmann could bring. Lurhmann and Austin Butler, who plays “The King,” imbue the person of Elvis with the power of a rock god’s persona; yet, there’s still a great deal of empathy to be had. Is it that Elvis that speaks to this emptiness in the man? The film is an intense epic that goes to the depths of two men’s toxic, manipulative, yet loving relationship as it slowly falls apart. With all the camera tricks and stylistic flourishes, the film is weighted with an enticing drama that is told with regret and admiration for Elvis by an old man dying alone in his hospital bed.
Fire Island (3 ½ out of 5)
Joel Kim Booster writes, executive produces, and stars in Fire Island, one of the funniest and heartfelt movies of the year. The film is directed by Andrew Ahn and co-stars Bowen Yang, my favorite SNL cast member (sorry Pete, close second) and Conrad Ricamora. That’s an immense amount of young talent involved. With a wit I haven’t seen in years, Joel Kim Booster carries some over from Pride and Prejudice (a book I really need to finish) and adds gorgeous cinematography capturing the low light and beach tones of pinks, oranges, and blues. All of it is a very simple rom-com that doesn’t say much, but it’s a lot of fun of watching these characters and learning to understand people more complexly.
Father of The Bride (3 out of 5)
It has been a really long time since there has been this sort of really big family comedy made for a family audience, and I find that fact very comforting. I watched this movie alone in my bedroom in the morning, the exact opposite of how this film should be viewed. It’s a film designed to be watched with a group of friends or your family in a living room or small theater. I don’t think my rating or feeling about the film would change, but that is the best way to enjoy it. Simple, fun, and ultimately a middle-of-the-road film that I’d tell anybody to watch.
Hustle (3 out of 5)
Every few years, Adam Sandler does a dramatic role and everyone goes insane because they don’t believe he can do anything like that. Usually it’s with these respected and semi-independent artists like the Safdies, P.T. Anderson, or Noah Baumbach. Here, Sandler not only works with a second time director, but he acts as a producer. This allows for him to give a very good performance and a fun story without much else. That isn’t really a flaw, it’s a less-than-complex narrative about a relationship. It’s not something that is meant to be pondered on for months on end, but to be watched, enjoyed, and added to the list of fun sports films.
Spiderhead (2 out of 5)
Spiderhead is the second film this year from Joseph Kosinski, and while filmed about two years apart from Top Gun: Maverick, any filmmaker with two films coming out in one year usually doesn’t spell anything but trouble. It shows. This is a movie that I don’t have any thoughts about. That can be fine with some films, but with a film so desperate for the audience to be enthralled in the drama, this one is a slog. For example, it will show something horrific, then pause for effect, then go on with a few jokes, then bam another horror. It wants to be so much and doesn’t do any of it very well. There are a lot of films out this year and this is just another film swept up in the swirl.
Looking at the back half of the year, the movies seem to be in a good position. There are a lot of thoughtful and interesting films coming out with a decent amount of visibility by the mass market and a lot of new voices in film who have made their debut or their sophomoric films. There are still a few I haven’t seen yet: Brian and Charles feels like a fun Taika Waititi-type of sci-fi dramedy; The Black Phone seems cool; The Bob’s Burgers Movie is a nice conclusion to a TV show I enjoy; Men is something I’ve heard mixed opinions on, but I trust Ty, so maybe I’ll like it. Others I haven’t seen, but certainly would are The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Nic Cage is one of the best American actors, but this looks like it doesn’t know how to use him), Jurassic World: Dominion (I’ll probably never watch it), and though it came out in 2021, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On gets a full theatrical release. Hopefully, the year will get better on things like, y’know, respecting people’s basic rights.
At least I can stay in my house and pretend nothing is happening.