Sunday, January 29, 2023

The 2022 movies that contributed to my 2023 mix*

* - And one not from 2022

Every year, when I finally finish the business of the previous movie year, I get to a project that now feels like it's bursting at the seams, waiting to be completed: I make my annual mix.

It's actually a mix for exactly two people. It was only one until recently, but last year I added a second since he's also a close friend and the two of them were making mixes for each other. In fact, the guy who has been reciprocating with me for something like 15 years now was giving the same mix he made for me to this other guy -- though I suppose he could have been making it for him and giving it to me. I like to think he had both of us in mind when making it, but let's be honest -- you make a mix more for yourself than you do for anyone else, because there's a good chance you'll end up listening to it more than the recipient. 

So last year, I decided to start sending my mix to the third guy and have him send his mix to me. Now I get exposed to twice the new music every year without any additional effort on anyone's part.

I don't know how many nearly 50-year-olds -- one actually turned 50 yesterday, the other does so on March 1st, I do in October -- still make mixes. But I never want to give it up. It allows me to use my sound editing software Audacity, which I love, and it keeps me engaged with music on a year-round basis, as I spend the year collecting contenders for the following year's mix. The editing software comes into play because I like to string the tracks together to blend into one another (where appropriate), or so there's no pause between songs with a hard ending and a hard beginning. Then I export it as one 80-minute track and chop it up into proper tracks using the same software. (The 80 minutes comes from the capacity of a CD, and even though we don't send each other CDs anymore, it still feels like a good length for a mix.)

My song candidates come from a number of places, obviously, the most common being the radio. I'll Shazam a song I like, email it to myself and add it to the Excel spreadsheet where I log my candidates for each year's mix. This year I ended up with 73 candidates for what ended up being 23 songs, down from 80 last year. 

But each year, as a benefit of watching in excess of 150 new releases, I also Shazam songs in movies. If I did not, I probably would not be writing about it here.

I swear I've written about this on this blog before, but using the key words "shazam" and "mix" did not find it for me. Well, the next time I do that search it'll at least find this post.

I was inclined to tell you all the songs I've ever selected from movies for one of these mixes, and someday that would be a good post -- then I could also tell you the five best. But that's more work than I have time for today.

So today I'll just tell you which ones contributed this year.

The interesting, and probably obvious, thing is that a movie doesn't have to be good to contribute a song to my mix. In fact, I learned about the banger "Dance Off" by Macklemore featuring Idris Elba from the movie He's All That, which came in at #164 out of 170 last year. There aren't any that low this year, but they do represent a range in my rankings -- with one not actually coming from a 2022 movie, as I teased earlier. 

Here they are, with YouTube links in case you want to check out the songs. I'll go in order of where these movies ranked for me:

1. "Quietly Yours" - Birdy
Film: Persuasion (#59)
Track #: 21 of 23

A quiet, pretty, piano-driven ballad like this has to go near the end of the mix, and there can be at most two of them in any given mix. In this case, the song itself, which plays as the camera draws out from two lovers on a coastal cliff at the end of the movie (no spoilers), was almost responsible for tacking on an extra half-star to Persuasion. I am a sucker for this sort of sentiment in a song, with the piano and Birdy's beautiful voice turning me into putty in both the singer's and the movie's hands.


2. "I Have Never Felt More Alive" - Madison Beer
Film: Fall (#65)
Track #: 8 of 23

This also plays over the closing of Fall, if memory serves, again in a situation where the camera pulls out. This, however, is more of an empowerment song, driven by increasingly industrial synthesizer as the song progresses. This is not only a story of literal survival, but of surviving a relationship betrayal, and the lyrics go well with that. Track 8 is usually a part of any mix where I'm still supposed to be giving you a bit more of a fun, party vibe, but what can I say, there were not as many fun, party vibe songs in this year's mix. 

3. "Barbarian" - Besomorph & Jurgaz
Film: Tar (#88)
Track #: 14 of 23

The song "Barbarian" is not from Barbarian. Who knew? My memory betrays me a little on this one because I was going to say this was from the closing credits of Tar, but then I remembered that Todd Field puts most of the credits at the start of this movie, so I don't know for sure what the context was. But there's something icy about this, which perfectly encapsulates Lydia Tar's fall from grace. It's the only instrumental on my 2023 mix. (I usually have two or three.) Track 14 is a good part of a mix to be dwelling in the dark before either becoming lighter or more romantic by the end. 

4. "String You Out" - Zarah Mahler
Film: The Wretched (from 2020)
Track #: 7 of 23

I said there would be one movie I saw in 2022 that didn't come out in 2022, and here it is. It's probably my favorite of the four -- so sinister! But also playful; I love those vocalizations by Mahler, who impressed me because she is also an actor in the film. It's a mediocre horror that had some things I really liked about it. (It actually prompted a second Shazam of a song I didn't use, even though it's quite good, just because I ran out of room and there were too many similar songs. That's Joypopp's "Desire.") See previous comment about the need to have a more uppy vibe in the first ten tracks, and the lack of such songs this year, but at least this is also a banger. 

When I decided to write this post I really hoped there would be five, but I came up one short. 

But just to give you some additional insight into my tastes and my process, I might as well give you the honorable mentions -- songs I Shazamed but ultimately didn't use. That list is much longer:

"Impossible" - Shontelle, from Sharp Stick (#98)
"Ready" - Montaigne, from Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (#83)
"Sometimes" - Erasure, from Fire Island (#28)
"We're All Going to the World's Fair (Main Theme)" - Alex G., from We're All Going to the World's Fair (#75)
"Wolf Like Me" - TV on the Radio, from Wendell & Wild (#22)
"Born Again" - Rihanna, from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (#25)
"The Girl in the Window" - Mark Lenover, from Banshee Chapter (released in 2013)
"Hot Girls" - Charli XCX, from Bodies Bodies Bodies (#26)
"My Power" - Beyonce, from The Woman King (#128)
"Assassin Montage" - Ramin Djawadi, from The Man from Toronto (#143)
"Topdown" - Channel Tres, from Emergency (#20)
"Glide" - Mitski, from After Yang (#29)

Thanks for letting me nerd out on music there for a minute. I'll go back to nerding out on movies tomorrow. 

Saturday, January 28, 2023

The tear factor

For a couple years now, I've been using the third day after posting my list to do a sort of macro analysis of my tendencies as a viewer, inspired by my new #1. And yes, I found an angle I thought was pretty interesting this year too. (I thought I might have done something like this previously on this blog, but I couldn't find anything when I searched.)

One thing that's been -- not bothering me, but eating away at me just a little bit -- is the role my emotional response played in my naming The Whale my best of 2022. Crying in a movie is certainly an indication that it's doing something for/to you, but it may just be proof of successful emotional manipulation, not laudatory filmmaking. You can cry at a movie that doesn't have much in the way of technique, and sometimes you can hate yourself after the fact for crying.

"Manipulation" is a problematic word when it comes to movies. It is almost always a critique when you say that something or someone "manipulated" you, but I kind of feel like manipulation is the goal of any filmmaker -- any artist, really. If you're an artist, the job entails taking someone who may not ordinarily be inclined to see the world the way you do, and using the skills at your disposal to manipulate them into this new perspective -- or so you hope. Anyway, I think there's a difference between using techniques that could be described as manipulation, and the act of being manipulative. 

I didn't get to see The Whale a second time before selecting it as my #1, to see how much more it may have been than the emotional impact it had on me, and indeed, whether it needed to be any more than that to be a contender. 

But I did get to do this last year, when I selected Our Friend as my #1 movie -- another film that might not be considered technically accomplished, deriving its power purely from the emotions it generated in me. (Though with The Whale, you could certainly argue that Brendan Fraser's makeup and fat suit are a technical achievement worth acknowledging, though obviously not at a level that factors in to best of the year considerations.) Our Friend may have only made me cry more on my second viewing than it did on my first, so that viewing confirmed it was my slam dunk #1.

But why are tears such an influencing factor for us? Surely crying is not a desired outcome every time we go to the movies. I suspect some people might have been disappointed if they ended up crying during Top Gun: Maverick. (Though maybe some people actually did cry, since most Hollywood movies try to tug at your heartstrings at least a little.)

I'm not going explore today why crying at the movies is so fundamentally gratifying -- there are probably both pat and profound answers to this, but also the answers are pretty obvious. We want art to make us feel, and crying is probably the most genuine and involuntary expression of that feeling.

Instead, I'm interested in how many of my past #1s were movies where I cried. 

Because there's one thing a movie where you cry usually does for you: it sets the experience apart from your other viewings. I suppose how much it sets it apart is a function of how easily you cry. For me, I feel myself getting emotional enough to potentially cry, if I pushed it, in about ten movies a year. In half of those at most are there actual waterworks. (I'm not going to do the math, but I did feel tears welling up in four other movies in this year's top ten. None broke through like in The Whale.)

Now let's see how many waterworks there were in my past #1s:

1996 - Looking for Richard - Did not cry
1997 - Titanic - Cried
1998 - Happiness - Did not cry
1999 - Run Lola Run - Did not cry (though I've written subsequently about getting teary when I watch it now)
2000 - Hamlet - Did not cry
2001 - Gosford Park - Did not cry
2002 - Adaptation - Did not cry
2003 - Lost in Translation - Did not cry
2004 - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Did not cry
2005 - Hustle & Flow - Did not cry
2006 - Children of Men - Did not cry
2007 - There Will Be Blood - Did not cry
2008 - The Wrestler - Did not cry
2009 - Moon - Did not cry
2010 - 127 Hours - Cried
2011 - A Separation - Did not cry
2012 - Ruby Sparks - Did not cry
2013 - Beyond the Hills - Did not cry
2014 - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - Did not cry
2015 - Inside Out - Cried
2016 - Toni Erdmann - Cried
2017 - A Ghost Story - Cried
2018 - First Reformed - Did not cry
2019 - Parasite - Did not cry
2020 - I'm Thinking of Ending Things - Did not cry
2021 - Our Friend - Cried
2022 - The Whale - Cried

Well these results are quite interesting, and they may reflect changes in me as a viewer, changes in what I'm looking for in a movie, as I've grown older.

I never would have guessed, before doing this exercise, that I didn't shed a tear in 13 of the first 14 movies I named #1. That's hugely statistically significant.

And it's not like I hadn't recognized how a good cry impacts my experience of a movie. I was a wet mess during my Titanic viewing and that was only my second #1 ever.

Then a dozen straight years without shedding a single tear. Not one.

Oh I likely cried in other movies those years. I'm not a monster. But having cried did not artificially boost the movie, or at least not enough to take out a movie ahead of it that had other things that spoke to me more. 

And it's not like I didn't name any movies #1 that might have made someone cry. I could envision someone having that reaction to Lost in Translation, Eternal Sunshine or The Wrestler, just to name three. I just didn't happen to cry in them, though they obviously affected me deeply. 

When my tear ducts began leaking at the end of 127 Hours, though, maybe it reminded me of the way a good cry purifies you at the end of a truly engrossing movie experience. I'm wondering if that's what boosted this one to #1, even though history has elevated three other movies from that year (Tangled, Rabbit Hole and The Social Network) ahead of it. Those movies all finished in my top four for the decade, while 127 Hours settled for a still very impressive 17th.

But it wasn't just the tears in 127 Hours that sealed the deal, because I also cried in Tangled and Rabbit Hole. Rabbit Hole was only barely in my top ten that year, though obviously my opinion of it has skyrocketed since.

But maybe this whole "crying in your #1 movie" thing was still new to me and I didn't know how to properly calculate its impact on me. And it wasn't ready to stay just yet. From 2011 to 2014, my next four #1s featured no tears. 

Then the floodgates opened with Inside Out and they haven't really closed since. My three #1s from 2015 to 2017 all provoked tears, culminating in a totally surprise bout of weeping at the final shot of A Ghost Story. After three more dry years, I've cried again the past two.

Overall that's still only seven times crying in a #1 movie, out of 27 total #1s. But that's six in the last 13, nearly half.

There's a theory that when you become a parent, you are more in touch with your emotions than you were previously. That seems hard to believe on the one hand, since there are a lot of really emotional teenagers and twentysomethings out there. 

I think it's that the sorts of things that make you cry change. Whereas once you were crying over being dumped, now art strikes you with the ways it presents the fragility of life, the ways people show each other unexpected emotional generosity, that sort of thing. And I also think you are more likely to cry out of joy when you're older. I reckon that what some people call "spectacle tears" -- an involuntary emotional reaction to just seeing something big and wondrous on screen -- also do not blossom until you're older and wiser.

Well, the parent theory really resonates with me. See, my first son was born in 2010, just three months before I saw 127 Hours. Since then, my favorite film of the year has made me cry almost half the time.

I do want to continue to have dry years though.

I like to think that in the coming years, my mind will still be blown by some kind of speculative sci-fi, or a movie with outrageous technique, or a script so clever that its sheer brilliance has to be rewarded. I don't want to be the person who is always giving my #1 to a movie about a woman dying of cancer or a man who is trying to reconnect with his daughter before he succumbs to heart disease.

I guess maybe the best possible #1 is a speculative science fiction film with outrageous technique that has the best script I've ever witnessed -- and also makes me cry.

The start of each year is a time of endless cinematic optimism, and maybe the film I've just described will be my #1 of 2023.

Friday, January 27, 2023

2022 in portmanteaus

Welcome to another edition of the year in portmanteaus, a tradition nearly ten years in the running, with movie titles from the previous year smashed together to make a crazy new movie, and bad artwork to accompany it.

Moon Fall - Two stranded climbers catch a ride down to terra firma when the moon passes them on its collision course with earth. 

Moonfall Daydream - What turns out to be David Bowie's final concert is interrupted by the moon crashing through the roof of the stadium. 

The Batman from Toronto - The story of a polite vigilante who fights crime north of the border, eh?

Don't Worry Dumbledore - Albus Dumbledore learns that Hogwarts is actually the end result of a mysterious project spearheaded by Chris Pine.

Raymond & Prey - Ethan Hawke conscripts a Comanche warrior to help bury his shitty father. 

Enola Holmes Team - Sherlock's little sister really tries to step out of his shadow by coaching a high school football team. 

Thor: Love and The Wonder - Jane Foster transforms into the Mighty Thor after starving herself for 40 days in a rural Irish village. 

I Love My Crawdads - A father crawdad catfishes his son to spend more time with him, both get confused about their aquatic life metaphors. 

Stutz 666 - Jonah Hill is surprised when his therapist's eyes turn red and he starts playing devil worship heavy metal. 

Avatar: The Way of Wakanda Forever - The Na'vi and the Talokans fight it out underwater to see whether unobtanium or vibranium is better. 

Babylonbarian - Damien Chazelle and Zach Cregger fight it out in the multiplexes to see who can make the more batshit movie. 

Avatar: The Way of Deep Water - Neytiri openly tries to make Jake Sully jealous by inserting her ponytail in all sorts of open receptacles around Pandora. 

Mavatar - Tom Cruise insisted on actually transforming himself into a Na'vi to make this more believable. 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madea - In an alternate universe, Madea is played by Martin Lawrence.

Marcelvis - Of course, the small mollusk prefers his shoes to be of the blue suede variety. 

Everything Everywhere Bones and All at Once - Michelle Yeoh jumps to the universe where she's a cannibal, uses those skills to eat Jamie Lee Curtis. 

Is That Black Adam Enough for You?!? - Apparently, owning Black Adam wasn't Black Adam enough for me, as I still did not watch it before my ranking deadline. 

Wendell & Weird - Al Yankovic and a demon voiced by Keegan-Michael Key sustain themselves on magical hair growth cream and song parodies. 

Our Father Stu - A reformed criminal who becomes a priest and then a fertility doctor returns to a life of crime when he starts mixing in his own samples. 

The Banshee Said - Harvey Weinstein wants to know what possible reason there could be for Brendan Gleeson no longer liking him. 

Death on the Lyle - It turns out the singing crocodile was dangerous after all. 

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Tar - Nicolas Cage hides out on a Spanish island after his career as a world-renowned conductor comes crashing down. 

Glass Onion: All the Old Knives - Spies double-crossing each other, rich people double-crossing each other ... it's all the same thing. 

Turning Seriously Red - A Dolly Parton impersonator turned into two red pandas when she was a teen, and they were a metaphor for something else entirely. 

Three Thousand Lightyears of Longing - Even a genie can't get that damn hyperspace fuel crystal to work. 

The Woman Kimi - An agoraphobic African tribeswoman overhears British invaders being killed in her 18th century version of Siri. 

The Men-u - Rich people are served a bespoke dinner prepared entirely by chefs who look like Rory Kinnear. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

A multiverse at the multiplex in 2022

Cinema's reemergence in 2022 had its most profitable example in Top Gun: Maverick, but maybe its most symbolic example in the Daniels' Everything Everywhere All at Once.

One of two prominent 2022 films that dealt with the multiverse, the film fully mainstreamed a pair of directors whose last film was about a farting corpse. It wasn't just a quirky movie that cinephiles needed to see. Everyone needed to see it -- and did, eventually.

Clearly that's not accurate as the movie grossed only $100 million internationally. But it caught up quite a bit on video, and those "cinema curious" people in your life -- those who usually only see the big hits, but have aspirations to broaden their own horizons -- did seek it out, and usually loved it. In fact it was sort of a revelation for them.

It was a bit of a revelation for all of us. Marvel has been teasing the concept of a multiverse for ages, even going to so far as to include the word in the title of this year's Doctor Strange sequel. It's not a conceptually difficult notion for most of us, of course, and if anyone paved the way for us collectively grappling with it in normal conversation, it was probably Marvel. The Daniels probably just benefitted from the groundwork Marvel already laid, while of course injecting it with their own brand of bracing originality.

But in reflecting on this year, I'm interested in considering the multiverse in a different way. Watching movies is, effectively, a belief in the multiverse. It's a belief that all the worlds depicted in all the movies of a given year can be simultaneously true, are emotionally true for us in the moment in which we watch them. They're all "real" for somebody out there. Like Michelle Yeoh, we visit all these worlds temporarily, two hours at a time, extracting what we need from them to make our real lives better, more informed, and more defined by empathy.

So in 2022, as audiences signalled that movies were not dead, and that the pandemic would not get us after all, they embraced not only the literal multiverse in these movies, but the symbolic multiverse that is the very act of going to the movies. In 2022, everyone was "cinema curious" again.

We start the new year hungry for more. 

Best (and worst) performers of the year

Each year in this piece I consider actors and others behind the camera -- one literally behind the camera this year -- who had multiple good movies or multiple bad ones. This doesn't mean they were better (or worse) than the best (or worst) work done this year, just that they were more prolific. These six people (and their honorable or dishonorable mentions) trended either more good or more bad than the other prolific people working in the film industry in 2022. 

Three who had a good year

Samantha Morton
- Samantha Morton has long existed around the peripheries of Hollywood, appearing in big films (Minority Report) and critical favorites (Synecdoche, New York), though really only getting starring roles in independent films or films from her native England. Twenty twenty-two produced two very similar roles in that they both lasted only a single scene -- but what a scene, and what a proof of her abilities when employed in just the right way. In The Whale (#1), Morton's work as Charlie's ex-wife was the first thing to get the waterworks going for me. Her character had already been talked about a fair bit before we meet her, and we've already formed various conclusions: she's a drunk, she doesn't have her life in order, she's a shrew who won't permit her daughter to form a relationship with her own father. Morton explodes all our assumptions during a single scene in which we understand that she was hurt more than anything when Charlie left her for a man -- not specifically because it was a man, though that did complicate things for her. During this scene, in one particular line reading she gives us a moment of such overwhelming emotional generosity that it just left me in pieces, and not for the last time. In She Said (#11) she plays one of two women interviewed in relation to an incident involving Harvey Weinstein back in the 1990s, and she seems as emotionally internalized here as she is emotionally externalized in The Whale. That's obviously not a criticism of the performance; it's an indication of how difficult it was for the character to revisit these events, so much so that she just has to keep her gaze steady and her emotions under control, and baldly repeat what happened 25 years earlier. That the decision to talk to the New York Times reporters involves so much personal risk for her is another measure of the bravery she displays in this wrenching scene, made all the more profound by how little Morton yields to an instinct to be showy. The saying "there are no small parts" was made to describe Samantha Morton's 2022. 

Matthew Libatique
- Has one person ever worked on both my #1 and my #2 movie of the same year? Almost certainly not, but that's what cinematographer Matthew Libatique pulled off in 2022. And it's not like The Whale (#1) and Don't Worry Darling (#2) are inherently similar projects, relying on a similar set of skills behind the camera. Don't Worry Darling is opulent and expansive by nature, taking in large desert vistas, geometrically precise neighborhoods and beautiful people in period wardrobes, intermingling with each other and the period set. The Whale, on the other hand, is cramped and claustrophobic, focusing on a man who doesn't conform to any of society's standards for beauty, staged on a single set that is a drab version of a modern apartment. Yet Libatique's camera brings both worlds so fully to life that they resonated with me like no other 2022 films. The cinematography is clearly an essential component to Darling; in fact, there's a defining moment that comes to mind whenever I think of the film, which involves the camera swooping around the sign for the community of Victory as Florence Pugh's character careens off toward Victory HQ in her convertible, followed by a phalanx of pastel vehicles. That shot doesn't sing the way it does without Olivia Wilde there to order it and Libatique there to execute it. You could argue that the camera is more of a technical necessity than an opportunity to demonstrate virtuoso technique in The Whale, an adaptation of a stage play, but then if so, why hire Libatique to do it? I bet if I rewatched The Whale I would appreciate many subtle choices being made by Darren Aronofsky and Libatique that create the conditions for this portrait to have left me a sobbing, blubbering mess. The confluence of the two projects in the same year reminds me that the movies are a consummately collaborative exercise, one in which you sublimate your own ego to the needs of the greater artistic vision. Libatique sublimated exquisitely in 2022, leaving me exalted in the process. 

Colin Farrell
- Taking the third spot that almost went to Jordan Peele is Colin Farrell, and he gets there partly on quantity. Farrell made four movies that finished in the top half of my 2022 rankings, and even though one is all the way down at #82, that might be his most technically complicated. You might forget you were even watching Farrell in The Batman (#82); he played the Penguin, in case you never knew that in the first place. All that latex provides a great metaphor for the sort of chameleon Farrell has become in the past decade, ever since he left behind his years as a heartthrob Hollywood had always tried to use in the least surprising ways. (He's basically out-Matthew McConaugheying Matthew McConaughey at this point.) As we get progressively higher up my list, he played an utterly realistic cave diver in Ron Howard's surprisingly straightforward and effective dramatisation of the rescue of 12 Thai soccer players and their coach, Thirteen Lives (#42). It's a performance that requires only total realism, which almost seems like the trick itself given how easily and frequently he changes modes. In After Yang, which I tried to move higher than #29 with a second viewing, he gives us a melancholy dose of world weariness as he tries to fix his daughter's AI sibling and understand its attempted grasp at humanity. That tea speech and Werner Herzog impersonation are great. Finally we get to The Banshees of Inisherin (#5), in which Farrell is at his dim bulb best, moving us with his sorrow and frustration over Brendan Gleeson breaking up with him, without resorting to cheap sentiment. When Padraic breaks down after Colm defends him from the cop, it speaks wordless volumes about a fraternal love that is now going unreciprocated. Farrell should have a great next decade on film and I can't wait to see it. 

Honorable mentions: Jordan Peele (Nope, Wendell & Wild), Angela Bassett (Wendell & Wild, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever), Florence Pugh (Don't Worry Darling, The Wonder), Jenny Slate (I Want You Back, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On)

Three who had a bad year

Mark Wahlberg - Mark Wahlberg tried to do three different sorts of things in his 2022 movies, and none of them were successful. First it was the disappointing Uncharted (#154), in which he plays a character who's grizzled and battle worn in the original video game -- not just a baby faced guy like Wahlberg who happens to have turned 50 and grown a moustache. Wahlberg may not have been a big part of why the movie wasn't very good, but he didn't help things, and learning that he was once pegged to play the younger half of this buddy duo -- now played by an actual baby, Tom Holland -- certainly indicates a lack of considering all the options, if nothing else. He went for something with more prestige, maybe even hopeful of awards contention, with Father Stu (#144), in which he plays a rascally boxer criminal type who unbelievably pressures a nice religious girl into premarital sex, without the charm to back it up, before entering a seminary and ultimately getting diagnosed with a disease that leaves him paralyzed. Yes, there's a lot going on in this movie, and the fact that it didn't work for me, even though I have a friend whose father recently died after living with this disease (inclusion body myositis, or IBM) for years, really tells you how many incorrect turns it takes. Finally you have the worst of the three, Me Time (#168), in which he plays the annoyingly named Huck, opposite Kevin Hart (see my dishonorable mentions below). Huck throws wild birthday celebrations each year that are no longer compatible with Hart's new family man lifestyle. Cue the obnoxious buddy squabbling, and cue me rolling my eyes at Wahlberg for having so many misses in 2022. 

Pat Casey & Josh Miller - Two of this year's worst screenplays were written by the same two people. Pat Casey and Josh Miller actually appear in this photo in front of the poster for the original Sonic the Hedgehog movie from 2020, which I quite liked, but their follow-up left me in a state of squirming, groaning misery. I could not stand Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (#170), and if you want a good example of its utter failure as a movie, look no further than the bizarre Hawaiian wedding sub plot that they wrote when they had no idea what to do with James Marsden and Tika Sumpter. For some reason they thought it was a good idea to have Sumpter's character's sister (Natasha Rothwell) involved in a sham relationship with an undercover agent (Shemar Moore), one she believes to be real. This has nothing to do with the main story and is also typically cruel. The stuff involving actual hedgehogs was a drippy snooze, and even Jim Carrey couldn't save it. Then we can also lay the blame for Violent Night (#166) at their feet. Even if we hadn't maxed out on movies about bad Santa Clauses ten or even 20 years ago, this movie would be a poorly cast misfire that, like Sonic, can't be saved by the one person cast correctly (David Harbour as the big man himself). A shameless Die Hard ripoff that is never funny and rarely clever from an action standpoint, which is a real mystery given the involvement of David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde), Violent Night left me bored and annoyed even though I'd had a fun evening involving many beers to that point. It has cruelty in common with Sonic 2, too. So much for being ushered into the holiday season with a modicum of good cheer. If we want to go back to that nearly three-year-old photo and draw incorrectly timed conclusions from it, Miller may still be in fighting spirit. But Casey seems to know that something stinks, and maybe it's them.

Anya Taylor-Joy
- It started off at the end of last year with the misfire Last Night in Soho (albeit a misfire with a good pedigree), and Anya Taylor-Joy's unsatisfying choices carried over into 2022. Both she and the other actress who was a candidate for this dishonor (see the dishonorable mentions) had three films that didn't really work for me in 2022, but the other escaped this fate by giving a certifiably good performance in one of them. For most people, The Menu (#111) qualified as a hit, but I found its conclusions obvious and easy to telegraph from a distance, taking what should have been smart commentary and rendering it pretty dull to this viewer. To her credit, Taylor-Joy was probably the best part of it. You can't say the same for Amsterdam (#152), an ensemble in the most indulgent sense of that word (the number of name actors who were cast to do nothing in this film is staggering). David O. Russell bit off way more than he could chew with this one, and one of the more obnoxious personalities put forth was by Taylor-Joy, as an aristocratic woman who looks down her nose at everyone. I wonder if this is the sort of role she's going to start playing on a regular basis, though hopefully it was just a one-off. Then I barely remember what she did or didn't do in The Northman (#157), so disappointed was I by Robert Eggers' follow-up to the extremely intriguing duo of The Witch and The Lighthouse. I doubt anyone could have made this exercise in revenge miserablism more watchable, and being watchable should have been its salvaging attribute -- even if the story were tedious and repetitive -- given Eggers' gifts as a visual stylist. Taylor-Joy is one of the brightest young talents we have, so 2022 shouldn't smudge her resume for too long.

Dishonorable mentions: Ana de Armas (Blonde, The Gray Man, Deep Water), Kevin Hart (The Man From Toronto, Me Time), John Bradley (Marry Me, Moonfall), Margot Robbie (Babylon, Amsterdam)

The year of the female protagonist

Hollywood is always talking the talk of greater representation for women in the movies, but in 2022, it also walked the walk.

The number of female directors and other key creative talent behind the camera may not have increased significantly -- that's not what I'm measuring today -- but more stories were about women than I can ever remember. And I've got the stats to prove it.

If I go through all my films and label them as having either a male protagonist (or a movie led by a handful of men), a female protagonist (or a movie led by a handful of women), or an ensemble where however many characters are split equally by gender, I get the following results:

Male protagonist = 77
Female protagonist = 60
Ensemble = 38

I must admit that when I first got the idea to write about this, I actually thought that the number of stories with a female protagonist would be more than the number with a male protagonist. I guess that just goes to show the depth of my male privilege; I think I'm seeing stories with female protagonists everywhere, but that's just because I notice them, while stories about men strike me as status quo and I don't notice them. Still, the fact that the combination of the ensemble movies with genders equally represented and stories fronted by a female protagonist far eclipse the stories about men strikes me as noteworthy progress.

I've known for a number of years that Hollywood had sort of this mentality: "If all else is equal, and the gender of the protagonist doesn't really play into the story, make it about a woman/girl rather than a man/boy. You'll get the women in the audience plus you'll steer clear of accusations that you don't pass the Bechdel test."

Now, movies with female protagonists may not pass the test created by writer Alison Bechdel anyway, and we don't use that as a metric the way we once did, even as we are getting better at passing it. And if something is done primarily out of cynicism/pragmatism -- as I am suggesting this might be -- then you'd be right to question how much progress it's actually symbolizing.

However, the end result is that more women are being presented as aspirational figures for young audience goers than ever before, and this is certain to have positive ripple effects -- maybe causing more young girls to see themselves in the movies, and to pursue careers involving cinematic storytelling of one sort or another. 

The year's best opening credits

A second viewing may not have been able to move After Yang up to where I am convinced it should probably be -- somewhere in my top 20 -- but at least I can give it some love here for how it greets us.

In a choice that is utterly out of sync with the somber tone of the rest of the movie, Kogonada decides to start things off with a hypnotic dance competition that involves all the movie's characters, even though we haven't met most of them yet. The movie is set, I don't know, maybe 60 years in the future, when families gather on a nightly basis to see how they fare in what appears to be a nationwide -- worldwide? -- game of Dance Dance Revolution, where how long you last depends on how much in sync you are with the rest of your teammates, and how many of the moves you hit. 

In addition to there being something so entrancing about watching these characters complete these dance moves, especially since most of these characters don't strike you as this sort of person, the background also changes color with each group of three through five characters who appear on screen. You kind of wish it would last the whole running time.

My only complaint is that the actual names appearing on screen prevented me from getting quite the unfettered view of them I wanted. 

All hail King Darren

I've been waiting for as long as I can remember to see if someone would ever repeat as director of a film I named #1 for the year. It was starting to seem like it would never happen, as my 26 previous #1s had been directed by 26 different people -- or actually 27, considering that there was one pair in there.

Charlie Kaufman has gotten close. As you may know from previous discussions on the matter, he's written three of my #1s. He just only happens to have been the director on one of them, and the other two were directed by two different people. 

And it's no easy task. A decent number of my #1 films have been made by relatively obscure people -- your Michael Almereyda's, your Craig Brewer's, your Gabriela Cowperthwaite's -- who have only really made one or two other movies that have even finished in the top half of my rankings, assuming I even got to them in time to rank them. And then there are the directors who have no chance to pull it off due to being -- well, deceased. (There's only one in this last category, assuming I haven't missed any news, and that's Robert Altman.)

But in 2022, Darren Aronofsky has finally done it. 

He's not the only person I'm adding to my multi-time #1s this year. His cinematographer on The Whale, Matthew Libatique -- praised earlier in this very post -- has now also joined the list, having shot Ruby Sparks in 2012. 

But we all know, by long-time cinematic convention, that the director is considered the "author" of a film, to the extent that any one person can receive such a designation in such a collaborative medium. And King Darren is the first "author" to make two films that I considered my best of the year.

(And as a bonus, he and I share the same initials.)

I'll have more to say about Mr. Aronofsky on this blog in the coming weeks. Today, I'll just bestow this unprecedented honor, and move along to the next section of this wrap-up post. 

Note: After initially publishing this post I noticed three other repeat-time #1 performers: composer Rob Simonsen, who also composed the music to last year's #1, Our Friend; Andrew Weisblum, who was also Aronofsky's editor on The Wrestler; and Mary Vernieu, who also cast The Wrestler. Well done Rob, Andrew and Mary! 

Best non-2022

The titles below are the ten best movies I saw in 2022, listed alphabetically, that were not released in 2022. 

Brothers' Nest (2018, Clayton Jacobson) - This Australian black comedy about two brothers' plan to kill their stepfather really surprised me with the directions it took, and the meaty conversations it featured in getting us there. 

Burden of Dreams (1982, Les Blank) - The documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo was everything everyone has always said it was, capturing Werner Herzog in peak madman form, pontificating about the sounds of murder among animals in the jungle. 

CODA (2021, Sian Heder) - The 2021 best picture winner had to make it on this list when I missed seeing it in time to rank it last year due to not realizing it was streaming on AppleTV+.

The Death of Dick Long (2019, Daniel Scheinert) - In a year when Daniel Scheinert was winning huge praise for Everything Everywhere All at Once, I found his previous solo film, involving a death by misadventure that the film takes quite seriously, so intriguing that I watched the first third of it again immediately after finishing. 

Fandango (1985, Kevin Reynolds) - I came across this quite unsuspectingly as a random assignment in Flickchart Friends Favorites Fiesta, and ended up finding it a moving contemplation of the transition to adulthood among rascally college friends in the Vietnam era. 

Knife in the Water (1962, Roman Polanski) - Early Polanski doesn't always do it for me, but this one totally did when I watched it in conjunction with 2022's Windfall, another film that deals with the uncomfortable dynamics between two men and a woman in a claustrophobic environment.

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001, Ashutosh Gowariker) - The best movie in my Audient Bollywood series is also the best movie about cricket I have ever seen. Okay, it's the only movie about cricket I have ever seen. 

Ponyo (2008, Hayao Miyazaki) - Whenever I think I've already seen Miyazaki's best film, another film seems to come along to challenge that assumption. (My Neighbor Totoro still claims that honor, but this was great.) 

Pyaasa (1957, Guru Dutt) - The oldest film I watched for Audient Bollywood steadily increased in resonance throughout until I finally ended up floored by it. 

3 Idiots (2009, Rajkumar Hirani) - The Audient Bollywood film I assumed would be the most frivolous, based solely on its title and the tone I perceived that title to indicate, surprised me with its thematic depths and serious considerations of the pressures of academia. 

2022 by the numbers

Movies by star rating on Letterboxd: 5 stars (2), 4.5 stars (10), 4 stars (42), 3.5 stars (46), 3 stars (20), 2.5 stars (21), 2 stars (21), 1.5 stars (8), 1 star (3), 0.5 stars (2)

A big change I noted this year was my hesitancy to give out 4.5 stars. I dropped from 15 to 10 this year, as I checked my swing on a number of movies I would have given 4.5 stars in the past, perhaps in a largely futile effort to use more of the available range of star ratings. And the usual parabolic shape got a little messy this year as there were actually more 2.5-star and 2-star ratings this year than 3-star ratings. Overall the middle was larger as there were only a total of 17 movies in the highest two and lowest two ratings. 

Movies by source - Theater (47) (3 by advanced screening), Netflix (46), iTunes rental (31), Amazon Prime (10), Disney+ (10), Airplane (10), AppleTV+ (8), MIFF (5), Amazon Rental (3), Screener (3), Stan (2). Will this be the last year that movies in the theater exceed movies on Netflix? (I guess they did each of the past two years but those were pandemic years)

Total new movies watched in the calendar year: 285
Total rewatches: 83
2022 movies watched more than once: 3 (Don't Worry Darling, Prey, After Yang)

Another name for ...

The Man from Toronto is ... The Northman
The Sea Beast is ... The Whale
Elvis is ... The Lost King
After Yang is ... Aftersun
Sundown is ... Aftersun
Raymond & Ray
is ... Our Father
"Sr." is ... I Love My Dad
Women Talking is ... She Said
Nope is ... The Sky is Everywhere
Bodies Bodies Bodies is ... Violent Night
Hit the Road is ... Decision to Leave
The Banshees of Inisherin is ... I Want You Back


Danielle Deadwyler, Till
Amber Midthunder, Prey
Madeleine McGraw, The Black Phone
Austin Butler, Elvis
Ram Charan, RRR

Happy returns

Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Brendan Fraser, The Whale
Ashley Judd, She Said
Michael Wincott, Nope
Julia Roberts, Ticket to Paradise

Lightning round

Highest ranked best picture nominee: Everything Everywhere All at Once (#4)
Lowest ranked best picture nominee: The Fabelmans (#147)
Best picture nominee I didn't see: Women Talking
Most surprised I loved: Prey (#6)
Most surprised I did not love: Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (#43)
Director who may have won me over: Joanna Hogg, The Eternal Daughter (#31)
Director who may have driven me away: David O. Russell, Amsterdam (#152)
Worst performance by a great actor: Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans
Best performance by a not so great actor: Dave Grohl, Studio 666
Best coming-of-age as a filmmaker: Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood (#13)
Worst coming-of-age as a filmmaker: The Fabelmans (#147)
Best movie I didn't really want to see: Thirteen Lives (#42)
Worst movie I really wanted to see: The Northman (#157)
Best Christmas movie: Spirited (#18)
Worst Christmas movie: Violent Night (#166)
Most uses of the word Christmas in the title of a Christmas movie: A Christmas Story Christmas
Best Pixar: Turning Red (#3)
Most depressing Pixar: Lightyear (#146)
Best Pinocchio movie: Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio (#24)
Worst Pinocchio movie: Pinocchio (#173)
Best use of three hours of film: RRR (#15)
Worst use of three hours of film: Babylon (#129)
Best sequel: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (#25)
Worst sequel: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (#170) 
Best conclusion of a trilogy (one would assume): The Eternal Daughter (#31)
Worst conclusion of a trilogy: Jurassic World: Dominion (#153)
Worst idea to push beyond a trilogy: Thor: Love and Thunder (#142)
Best ending: Dual (#10)
Worst ending: Babylon (#129)
Most confusing ending (the very last shot, anyway): Triangle of Sadness (#27) 
Most discussed ending: Tar (#88)
Most satisfying/righteous ending: She Said (#11)
Just glad it was over: Moonfall (#175)

Thank you for reading. I have one more official 2022 reflection post (followed possibly by an unofficial reflection post) tomorrow in the form of my annual portmanteaus post. Do tune in. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

2022: A whale of a year

I'm back in sync with the Oscars.

After two straight years where the pandemic screwed up the unveiling of the Oscar nominations, they're back to January this year -- in fact, dropped just a few minutes ago -- and that means my friend and I who do this together are back to finalizing our lists when the Oscar nominations are announced, as we had been doing for nearly 25 years prior to the last two.

Of course, the January 24th unveiling of the nominations (January 25th in Australia) is still a week later than the arbitrary date we chose last year, meaning that we have again both set personal records. He's up over 370 -- and this from a guy I had write a guess post ten years ago when he had reached the then-astonishing record total of 212.

My record is modest compared to his, but still impressive by my standards, considering that it is indeed the most I've ever ranked: 175 films, which is five higher than last year's record of 170. 

I still want to contract in the future, not expand, but as I've written about previously, the streamers are making it harder and harder for me to do that. The more legitimate talent they attract to making or appearing in their movies, the more I need to make time to see them, while still including eccentric personal choices I've ferreted out or seen at MIFF -- and of course all the big tentpoles that drive the public conversation. 

With so many titles ranked this year, it's good to remind you that just because I've ranked a movie lower than 100, it doesn't mean I didn't like it. In fact, there are films I gave 3.5 stars on Letterboxd that couldn't crack my top 100 -- in part because some three-star films finished ahead of them, due to the quirky nature of this process. So if a film you really liked is in triple digits, just remember that I'm grading on a curve here, and I may have liked it just fine as well.

And as always seems to be the case, there are enough weird personal choices in my top ten to make me wonder if I'm doing this whole thing correctly. Sure I've got my critical favorites like I do every year, but the films in my top two spots in particular seem to have controversy attached to them, controversy that caused some critics and audiences to out and out dislike them. I do have my supporters for these choices, but a large quantity of cinephiles might be looking at me askance as they read them.

But before you read them, here are some you won't be reading about, what I've determined are the five most prominent titles I either didn't or couldn't see in time for my deadline ... though the "couldn't" group is smaller than it's ever been, given the quantity of high-profile releases that were available to me in some capacity prior to January 24th, whether that's a theatrical release here in Australia, an advanced screening, or a U.S. rental.

5. I Wanna Dance With Somebody - I like Whitney Houston. I had access to see this film. But yet another standard-seeming biopic ... I just couldn't muster the enthusiasm for it.

4. Bones and All - I intend to see every Luca Guadagnino film, but this one, released a few months ago, just got lost in the shuffle, and I wasn't willing to buy it for $19.99. 

3. Women Talking - With two previous Sarah Polley films making my top ten, I hated not to find this one, but it just isn't available to me anywhere yet. 

2. Broker - This only got released a few weeks ago in the U.S., so even with my love of Hirokazu Kore-eda, there was just no way for me to catch this. I wasn't even going to consider it part of 2022, but then I heard it mentioned on a year-end podcast, so I guess I need to include it as a regret here rather than kicking it forward to 2023.

1. Weird - A spiritual successor to Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story that was free to any American who wanted it was just not available in Australia, because Roku Channel is not available in Australia. Boo. 

Okay here we go with my top ten:

10. Dual
- As I mentioned in this post, movies involving clones have been really working for me lately, with one making my top ten last year as well. But just being about clones would not be enough to elevate Riley Stearns' third feature this high, after I really liked Faults (#20 of 2015) but didn't care for The Art of Self-Defense (#110 of 2019). It's the deadpan humor that really does it for me here, which is funny because almost the exact same tone didn't work for me in Self-Defense -- maybe the deliveries of Karen Gillan and Aaron Paul are just superior. In an age largely devoid of comedies, this was some of the hardest I laughed in 2022, though under it all there's a real sort of existential dread and sorrow that combines with the humor to make this a movie that really sticks with you. The premise is that a terminally ill Gillan goes into full remission, but she's already commissioned a clone to replace her and live out the rest of her life. When both can't exist simultaneously, society has determined they must duel to the death. It's a big idea executed with humor that I've already lauded several times now, and Dual has one of my favorite final shots of the year. (Plus the scene in this photo, which I won't spoil.) That's certainly all the ingredients you need to squeak into my top ten.

9. Athena
- If I judged movies on technical merits alone, Athena would be my #1 movie of the year. Simply put, this story of a citizen uprising against the police in a French housing project has some of the craziest cinematography I've ever seen in a movie, and I've seen Children of Men. It's not nearly the only example, but let's take the opening 11-minute unbroken take. It starts at a press conference in a police station that gets quickly put to an end by a Molatov cocktail, then descends into the basement of the police station, continues out in a stolen police truck that travels several kilometers away (with the camera viewing from inside as well as from another vehicle) before ending up at the titular housing project, where it is set aloft on a drone to look back on the housing project and splash the title. Romain Gavras is the director here, but the team of dedicated camera operators -- whose thrilling mission was captured in a 37-minute making of documentary, also on Netflix -- deserve special mention, particularly DP Matias Boucard. The story of three brothers torn apart in the wake of the death of a fourth at the hands of police is stirring stuff as well, but maybe not stirring enough for me personally to vault it any higher in my top ten. But for a tense 90 minutes in a cauldron of righteous indignation, you can't do much better than this. 

8. Beast
- Baltasar Kormakur first got my attention as more than just a Euro action hack with Everest in 2015, but then took a step backward with Adrift in 2018. For some reason, this rather unassuming man vs. lion movie that was released at the pivot point between the summer movie season and the fall movie season was the thing that pushed him over the top, into the director of a top ten film. One of my favorite genres is the movie where average people try to get themselves out of messed up situations, and Beast delivers big time in this regard. Idris Elba plays a father showing his daughters their mother's homeland, and has to keep them safe from a marauding lion while stuck in a crashed SUV, with only his injured friend (Sharlto Copley) knowing anything about the landscape or the lion. The combination of terror and courage these characters produce feels real at every turn, and Kormakur stages an exciting series of close scrapes and desperate gambits to try to resolve the situation with everyone intact. Sometimes the most satisfying movies are just a tight collection of thrilling set pieces underpinned by relatable themes of trying to keep your children safe. Beast didn't need more than that to crack my top ten. 

7. Elvis
- Yes I'm a Baz apologist. I'm not a native Australian so there's no bias there, though I sometimes think the bias against this native son is stronger than the love for him. I just like what the man does. Give me his cinematic jazz hands any day of the week. I liked Elvis enough, despite not naturally being a huge Elvis fan, that I didn't even mind Tom Hanks' performance. I also didn't let the legitimate concerns about Presley's problematic and indebted relationship with the Black community, particularly as depicted here, sidetrack me. I just really like the kaleidoscopic explosion of exuberance that is this movie, grounded by a central performance that is possibly the best combination of Elvis impersonation and essence distillation that has ever been seen. Austin Butler deserves all the accolades he's been getting, and Hanks doesn't deserve the Golden Raspberry nomination he probably just got (I don't know for sure, since I wrote this a few weeks ago upon deciding the movie was a safe enough lock for my top ten). I enjoy this sort of grand narrative design, one that reminds me of my favorite Luhrmann film, Moulin Rouge!, one of two previous Luhrmann films (along with The Great Gatsby) to end its year ranked at #15. Probably my new second favorite Luhrmann, Elvis is his first top ten. 

6. Prey - It's so boring to praise an unexpected hit by saying "Who would have thought that ...," but I guess I'm boring sometimes: "Who would have thought that the fifth movie in the Predator franchise -- seventh if you include the Alien vs. Predator films -- could make my top ten of the year?" I've actually only seen the original and its sequel, but you don't need to see any of the previous movies when this one is set approximately 250 years before they were. I thought the idea of a predator facing off against a tribe of Comanches sounded pretty cool, but I've been burned by similar mashups before (Cowboys vs. Aliens). I had no idea how seriously director Dan Trachtenberg and screenwriter Patrick Aison would take the assignment, so much so that they actually produced a Comanche language version of the film. (I've seen Prey twice, but the second was to show it to my wife, so I'll save the Comanche version for the inevitable third.) The film gets the 1719 American Plains just right, every respectful detail about this tribe feeling spot on, at times even recalling something like The Revenant. Top it all off with a terrific heroine who also qualifies as one of this year's best introductions of new talent -- Amber Midthunder, who shares a spitfire attitude and a determined stare with Aubrey Plaza -- and you've got one of 2022's tightest and most fun movies, with no guilty aftertaste. 

5. The Banshees of Inisherin
- No 2022 movie had I heard discussed more extensively before seeing it than The Banshees of Inisherin. With all the talking I'd heard on several podcasts, it seemed impossible I could still be taken off guard by it -- a necessary component to the cinema we love. Well, I suppose a great film still registers as such even after you know a fair bit about it, and that was my experience with Martin McDonagh's second film to make my top ten after In Bruges. The clipped witticisms of the Irish -- or funny ways of saying things they might not have intended to be funny -- got me off to a good start with the movie, even knowing it would turn a lot darker as it went. And darker it turns, with the very landscape starting to feel post-apocalyptic, occupied only by the ghosts of a promise long gone. As my #1 of 2013, Beyond the Hills, proved, I really like a movie that functions as an extended metaphor for a bad breakup. Like Colin Farrell's Padraic, you ball your fists in impotent frustration as the person who loved you yesterday has decided to shun you entirely today. And when that happens, you just never know what the consequences might be. Banshees explores those consequences, extracting from them a blistering emotional truth even when they seem like things that operate primarily as metaphor and might never actually happen. 

Everything Everywhere All at Once - The second Daniels film to make my top ten after Swiss Army Man, EEAAO never spent any time atop my 2022 rankings, even though I saw it back in March. I saw it about five days after my #3 on this list, and their relative positions never switched. But there has always been an argument that this was the film of the year, bursting as it is with so much oddness, so much creative vitality, so many memorable performances, so many laughs, and just so much pure cinematic gusto. I'll admit that all that gusto did leave me exhausted at certain points, so I never entertained any realistic notion that Everything would climb all the way to #1. But it does prove that Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert have an absolutely unique cinematic vision, and also a gift for using actors as we would never expect. In Swiss Army Man it was the erstwhile Harry Potter as a farting corpse, and here it's Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis in all their various incarnations -- not to mention unearthing Ke Huy Quan for the comeback we never knew we wanted. If I spent this short amount of space talking about specific things I loved about the movie, I'd be wasting both of our time because you've seen it and you know. (I'll limit myself to one: hot dog fingers.) So instead I'll just say that this may have been the biggest blast I had in a movie theater in 2022. 

3. Turning Red - When I watched Turning Red earlier in the year, I didn't imagine it would finish so high in my top ten. It's probably only just narrowly in my top half of Pixar films. But that just goes to show how excellent a well-made Pixar film really is -- and in a year in which we also had Lightyear, it's a reminder not to take excellent Pixar films for granted. Turning Red benefits from a specificity of time (early 2000s), place (Toronto), character (a teenager from a family of Chinese immigrants) and theme (the metaphor of blossoming into womanhood by becoming a large red panda). While some trolls found that specificity an alienating turnoff, it invigorated me. (And I wasn't one bit grossed out by an extended menstruation metaphor, which also bothered some people.) I love how Domee Shi's film has no relationship to established IP, and how eccentric it got to be. (The focus on boy bands and the influence of anime were both spot on.) And like all of Pixar's classics, the film's final stages put that lump in my throat that brought home the totality of what I had been experiencing. An accumulation of sweet details and nice moments pays off in a truly satisfying climax that's both epic in scale and gentle in its emotional imprint. I think I might have just described what makes a good movie. 

2. Don't Worry Darling
- I'm glad that one of the year's most talked about films -- for the wrong reasons -- didn't end up as my #1. Lots of podcast chatter and a second viewing revealed to me the film's imperfections from a story perspective. But I can't and won't forget that when I first saw Olivia Wilde's film, it left me feeling I'd be satisfied if it finished the year as my best. If visuals were the primary artistic merit you were judging, there's no doubt Don't Worry Darling delivers like few other films this year, from its immaculate 1950s production design to the camerawork of Matthew Libatique. But the much-derided story is what actually does it for me -- in addition to the always spectacular work of Florence Pugh, of course. I won't go into detail for those who still haven't seen it, but if you reduce the movie to a critique of [current right-wing movement] or a ripoff of [classic science fiction film] then you miss the ultimately moving analysis of the roles each person plays in a partnership, and what they can and will do to provide for the other -- even when it's woefully misguided as a result of unclear thinking inspired by emotional spiraling. As a husband who has often gotten it wrong about how best to be a partner to my own wife, I got huge resonance from these themes -- and the fact that it also takes a big swing on the concept side is a bonus, even if that swing does not always make perfect contact. 

1. The Whale - It's regrettable when you have to start a blurb about your favorite movie of the year with a defense. But not long after I saw, and was shattered by, The Whale, I learned that some people -- and maybe not a small number of people -- consider Darren Aronofsky's film to be fatphobic. I can't dispute that perception if it's real to them, but to me, this is a case of radical humanism by Aronofsky, one that is knowingly in conversation with our latent instinct to be fatphobic, with the intention of utterly exploding it. As I wrote in my not-yet-published review -- the movie doesn't release here until next week, but I was fortunate enough to attend a screening in December -- this is not a movie about a morbidly obese man, but rather a gay man, a lover of literature, a father who unwittingly abandoned his daughter and his ex-wife after falling in love. This is one of the most intense character portraits I've seen in ages, centered on a truly astonishing comeback performance from Brendan Fraser, but one that wouldn't work so well without the brilliance of the supporting cast, who deserve to be named here: Hong Chau, Sadie Sink, Samantha Morton and Ty Simpkins. If this film "manipulated" me, it did it in the ways I want any movie to do it, in the pursuit of the best possible use of Roger Ebert's famed empathy machine. All I can tell you is that I blubbered like a baby multiple times in this film; yes, I was crying ugly. I left the theater quivering, so whatever Aronofsky was doing, it worked on me like gangbusters. And in an accomplishment I will certainly talk about further in the coming days, after The Wrestler in 2008, Aronfosky becomes the very first director to have directed two films I've named my best of the year. 

And before we get to the full list, here are my five worst:

171. Last Seen Alive - If you're hoping for Gerard Butler to make a Colin Farrell-like comeback into critical acclaim, Last Seen Alive is the sort of film that convinces you to stop dreaming. It's a shittily made revenge fantasy film where a man has to save his kidnapped wife from various hick miscreants. Yes, I also thought they stopped making this sort of film.

172. Texas Chainsaw Massacre - Did there really have to be another limp retread of this material with some half-hearted social media age messaging thrown in? This movie was bleak and glum and boring and completely uninspired, not to mention totally ridiculous. 

173. Pinocchio - I usually eat up whatever Robert Zemeckis does. Not this time. This was downright painful to watch, seeming even worse if you waited a couple months and saw Guillermo del Toro's invigorating take on the material. This has disturbing visual effects and the true worst Tom Hanks performance of the year, making his Elvis turn seem Oscar worthy.

174. The Sky is Everywhere - Josephine Decker, how could you miscalculate so totally? This movie farts colors and flowers and twee whimsey at you for the better part of two hours, all in the name of a coming of age grieving story that hits its points about grief repeatedly and with a sledgehammer. I've never seen so many unlikeable characters in a movie that's supposed to be sprightly and magical. 

175. Moonfall - The joke is that Roland Emmerich makes the worst movie of the year every time he makes a movie, but I've supported some of those more typical movies (2012) as well as his big artistic swings (Anonymous). He's well and truly lived down to his reputation with this one, one of the more absurd disaster movie concepts ever committed to film, with a cast of likable actors looking completely lethargic, and everyone charged with saving the world separated from one another by only a single degree. Every moment is terrible, and there isn't even good destruction to distract us.

Okay here's all 175. Do some eye warmups before you start if you think that will help.

1. The Whale
2. Don't Worry Darling
3. Turning Red
4. Everything Everywhere All at Once
5. The Banshees of Inisherin
6. Prey
7. Elvis
8. Beast
9. Athena
10. Dual
11. She Said
12. The Lost King
13. Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
14. Nope
15. RRR
16. The Sea Beast
17. Aftersun
18. Spirited
19. Till
20. Emergency
21. Look Both Ways
22. Wendell & Wild
23. Causeway
24. Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio
25. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
26. Bodies Bodies Bodies
27. Triangle of Sadness
28. Fire Island
29. After Yang
30. Kimi
31. The Eternal Daughter
32. Avatar: The Way of Water
33. The Wonder
34. Fire of Love
35. Hatching
36. Bros
37. White Noise
38. I Love My Dad
39. The Bubble
40. I Want You Back
41. The Black Phone
42. Thirteen Lives
43. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On
44. Hit the Road
45. Vengeance
46. Moonage Daydream
47. Muru
48. Luck
49. Flux Gourmet
50. Bigbug
51. Windfall
52. Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers
53. Happening
54. Descendant
55. Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom
56. Our Father
57. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
58. "Sr."
59. Persuasion
60. Emily the Criminal
61. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
62. Ticket to Paradise
63. My Sunny Maad
64. Fresh
65. Fall
66. Lady Chatterley's Lover
67. All Quiet on the Western Front
68. Emancipation
69. Incredible But True
70. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
71. Three Thousand Years of Longing
72. God's Creatures
73. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile
74. X
75. We're All Going to the World's Fair
76. Death on the Nile
77. Is That Black Enough for You?!?
78. Barbarian
79. Studio 666
80. Top Gun: Maverick
81. Raymond & Ray
82. The Batman
83. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
84. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths
85. Senior Year
86. Samaritan
87. The Integrity of Joseph Chambers
88. Tar
89. The People We Hate at the Wedding
90. The Greatest Beer Run Ever
91. Smile
92. Plan 75
93. Scream
94. The Curse of Bridge Hollow
95. Master
96. The Stranger
97. Spiderhead
98. Sharp Stick
99. The Silent Twins
100. Inu-oh
101. Morbius
102. Men
103. Hustle
104. The Tinder Swindler
105. Day Shift
106. Choose or Die
107. Hotel Transylvania: Transformania
108. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
109. Crimes of the Future
110. A Christmas Story Christmas
111. The Menu
112. My Best Friend's Exorcism
113. Sundown
114. Vortex
115. Enola Holmes 2
116. Nanny
117. Cha Cha Real Smooth
118. The Adam Project
119. The Lost City
120. Decision to Leave
121. Neptune Frost
122. Armageddon Time
123. Poker Face
124. Stutz
125. Troll
126. The Gray Man
127. Strange World
128. The Woman King
129. Babylon
130. Hocus Pocus 2
131. Watcher
132. Gold
133. Everything in Between
134. The Weekend Away
135. Lou
136. The Good Nurse
137. Do Revenge
138. Blonde
139. Ambulance
140. All the Old Knives
141. Where the Crawdads Sing
142. Thor: Love and Thunder
143. The Man From Toronto
144. Father Stu
145. The Bad Guys
146. Lightyear
147. The Fabelmans
148. You Won't Be Alone
149. Marry Me
150. Umma
151. Firestarter
152. Amsterdam
153. Jurassic World: Dominion
154. Uncharted
155. The Perfumier
156. See How They Run
157. The Northman
158. Sissy
159. On the Count of Three
160. Deep Water
161. Stars at Noon
162. Asking For It
163. Luckiest Girl Alive
164. A Madea Homecoming
165. Home Team
166. Violent Night
167. Not Okay
168. Me Time
169. Metal Lords
170. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
171. Last Seen Alive
172. Texas Chainsaw Massacre
173. Pinocchio
174. The Sky is Everywhere
175. Moonfall

And finishing with ten movies I thought required clarification at the spot where I ranked them, so you don't say "What???" and "Huh???" and "Are you crazy???" (You can just think it instead.) "Wait Vance, I thought it was only five movies last year?" It was, but everything was bigger in 2022. 

39. The Bubble - I know this is generally disliked and just scored Judd Apatow a Razzie nomination for worst director, but I laughed a lot. 

43. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On - I know, right? I felt myself urging myself to love it more, but you can't urge love.

78. Barbarian - Everyone told me to love this but there were just too many holes in it for me to give it my full embrace.

80. Top Gun: Maverick - Planes go vroom. A little of that goes a long way for me.

88. Tar - I actually tried to get in a second viewing before my listed closed, but I just couldn't justify another $6.99 rental, on top of my original $19.99 rental, just to not get what all the fuss was about a second time.

101. Morbius - I am very slow to the realization that everyone thinks this movie is awful. I enjoyed it well enough.

111. The Menu - A lot to like at the start, but in the end, this did not tell me anything I didn't already know, or that Pig didn't tell me last year.

120. Decision to Leave - Movies should never appear to be ending 45 minutes before they actually end.

129. Babylon - I could like this more on a second viewing, but will I ever make the time?

147. The Fabelmans - I'm sorry, it just really didn't work for me, and Michelle Williams was awful.

That's enough to digest for now. Leave comments please. Tell me how The Fabelmans was your favorite movie of the year and Don't Worry Darling was your least favorite. Let's fight, in that productive way cinephiles fight to draw the best out of each other.