The year-in-review of 2022 in cinema doesn’t end with a top 15 article, as this year was so strong and full of so many great movies, that this critic felt the need to give credit where it was due on films that displayed the best aspects of certain filmmaking elements and vent about the year’s biggest disappointments, while also addressing some of the most glaring omissions from the best-of list. So without further ado, and just in time for tomorrow’s Academy Award nomination announcements, here is a list of superlatives to continue the celebration of the past calendar year in all things film!
Best Animated Short: The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse (Peter Baynton and Charlie Mackesy)
Charlie Mackesy’s best-selling book, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse, exists as a profound assembly of lessons about kindness, courage and hope preached by its titular characters rather than something conventional, so it’s a pretty fair bet that the announcement of a film version would conjure instant skepticism. Thankfully, Mackesy and co-director Peter Baynton have made the novel work as a beautiful foray in the medium of short animation, as its loose narrative sees a boy lost in the snow until one-by-one he meets a mole obsessed with cake, then an intimidating but silent fox and a shy horse, who all accompany him on his quest for home. The rudimentary but rustic style of Mackesy’s drawings are intact through a gorgeous animation style reminiscent of watercolor textures, the voice cast performs with heartfelt conviction, and time is made for children to understand the film’s musings about the importance of vulnerability, how friendship is a family in and of itself, and the strength it takes to accept oneself, while adults can take Mackesy’s words to heart and remember their own significance in times of uncertainty.
Best Documentary: All The Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras)
Laura Poitras’ new documentary All The Beauty And The Bloodshed chronicles the life of esteemed photographer Nan Goldin as well as her contemporary work as a political activist against the wealthy Sackler family’s credibility and place in high art for their role in the opioid drug crisis. Poitras ingeniously blends a myriad of documentary styles to tell a well-rounded story about the prolific photographer, from talking head interviews from her colleagues in the grassroots organization PAIN and direct cinema that observes her crusade for accountability as it happens through beautifully composed demonstrations, to slideshows of her work that paint a revealing picture of her tumultuous childhood, and vivacious life in New York City’s underground art scene through the AIDS crisis. The results amount to a profound illumination to the artistry that goes into activism, a fascinating recollection of Goldin’s life as intimate super 8 footage and photographs play out before her and our very eyes, and the genesis of the activist she is today. With this, Poitras’ latest does everything any great documentary should do: persuade others into taking part in activism through art, and inform audiences about its phenomenal subject’s life, her craft, and all the beauty and the bloodshed from which they were spawned.
Film With The Best Female Performance Of The Year: Blonde (Andrew Dominik)
There’s no question that Andrew Dominik’s adaptation of Joyce Carrol Oates’ tantalizing novel which fictionalized the life and times of Marilyn Monroe deserves all the controversy surrounding it, from the excessively gratuitous rape scenes to the film’s overlong run time. However, with time, Blonde has the potential to be seen as a fascinating, if unsettling expressionist horror film about fame’s psychological price, one that traps the iconic blonde bombshell in a vicious cycle of monstrous sexism-extravagant film premiere-tumultuous relationship-repeat that sends her on a tragic downward spiral, during which Ana de Armas portrays Monroe’s helplessness and inability to wake from her living nightmare of the Hollywood system with the best performance of the year. Read the full review HERE.
Film With The Best Male Performance Of The Year: The Whale (Darren Aronofsky)
The film adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s play of the same name is far from perfect especially in the makeup department, and the score is intrusive to the point where the power of the movie’s themes is rendered hollow. But where The Whale excels the most is in the comeback lead performance from Brendan Fraser, who portrays Charlie as a man who follows joy everywhere he feels it in his life regardless of the consequences it means for those he leaves behind. Fraser evokes endearment when he tries to mend fences with his teenage daughter Ellie and cracks jokes with his nurse, while every apology and pained groan caused by his obesity elicits heartbreaking sympathy. It’s also evident that he had to reach deep into the well of his own soul to convey the internal pain he had felt for decades after a personal trauma in order to pull off the most emotional moments of Charlie’s journey toward self-forgiveness. It’s an amazing turn for an actor mostly known for family comedies and action films, and those who grew up with Fraser’s early work and wished for his return have their prayers, and his, thankfully answered.
Best Music Film: Moonage Daydream (Brett Morgen)
Leave it to Brett Morgen’s latest film to turn the music documentary genre on its head, as its subject did in everything he pursued. It can be difficult to separate the context of scenes from the movies in which David Bowie had starred from their intent within this film, and those expecting something more traditional are going to be let down. However, those up for the challenge will be illuminated by this revealing, raucous, stream-of-consciousness look inside the fractured mind of David Bowie, who is presented as an intergalactic being who fell to Earth longing to comprehend the secrets of the universe and subsequently become a God, only to understand that the beauty of life comes in human existence. To reinforce this, the icon’s music is remixed wonderfully, and the archival footage Morgen unearthed of Bowie traveling the world, straining to finish a painting and practicing an artistic dance routine strikes a constant awe in appearing to have been captured yesterday despite his death six years ago. But that only adds to the greatness of Moonage Daydream, as it successfully serves as a testament to David Bowie as a celebrity whose legacy transcends art forms, visual mediums, and humanity.
Most WTF Film: Terrifier 2 (Damien Leone)
After following up the anthology film All Hallows Eve with Art The Clown’s solo film debut in the surprise horror success Terrifier, writer-director Damien Leone crowdfunded its sequel for $350,000 and used it to improve on the original splatterhouse tribute in every single filmmaking facet. Terrifer 2 joins The Guest as one of the few movies to perfectly replicate 80s era horror, from the lighting style and filmic grading to the soundtrack, opening montage and bonkers plot developments. This sequel is very excessive in its violence and blood but never takes itself seriously thanks to the absurdity of its kills and an iconic visual performance from David Howard Thornton, who times Art The Clown’s nuances like a twisted comedic expert, while also evoking terror when his face is frozen in a sadistic smile. The climax does run long and those looking for answers to lore surrounding its killer and final girl will be disappointed, but most horror sequels often write their killers into material nonsensical enough to tarnish their mystiques past the point of no return, so credit to Leone for treading lightly on conveying Art’s backstory. Overall, those with strong stomachs and a demented sense of humor will have fun with Terrifer 2, and be excited for whatever ridiculousness Art The Clown pulls from his dark bag of tricks next.
The Year’s Most Aggressively Average Film: Uncharted (Ruben Flesicher)
In 2008, Sony put a feature film adaptation of their best-selling video game series Uncharted into development hell, where it would attach David O. Russell as its director, only to end up in the hands of Neil Burger, then Seth Gordon, followed by Shawn Levy, Dan Trachtenberg, and even Travis Knight, while Mark Wahlberg was originally attached to play its hero, Nathan Drake. Sony executives settled with studio regular Ruben Fleischer at the helm, and casted Hollywood’s newest top star Tom Holland as a younger version of the iconic explorer. Unfortunately, it’s more than evident that after 13 years of repeated trying and failing to get the film off the ground, Sony’s aim with Drake’s origin story was to get it done rather than make a good movie, and it shows in every filmmaking aspect; the story is generic and riddled with cliches, the action sequences feel video gamey in execution and staging, and there’s exceptional about neither the direction nor Nathan Drake’s character, who exists here as a poor man’s Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. Here’s hoping Sony has their ducks in a proverbial row when they inevitably get to adapting Sly Cooper.
Best Movie That Was Better Than Expected: Top Gun: Maverick (Joseph Kosinski)
Top Gun: Maverick improves upon the 1987 cult classic original in literally every single facet. While the first film was a standard cheesy high school movie set in a naval academy, the follow-up directed by Joseph Kosinski does a complete 180 and grounds itself in realism, portraying the military with thoughtful restraint and humanity, whether it’s in an affecting scene that sees Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell reunite with Iceman, intimate moments between him and Penny, or instances where he teaches his band of young Navy pilots his tricks of the trade and how to trust their instinct. And yet, the script itself sets Maverick on a compelling character arc that pertains to him letting go of his old partner’s death, and owning up to past mistakes, thereby proposing a revised definition of true heroism and masculinity based on balancing inner pride with humility. And Tom Cruise sells his character’s growth through the film’s 130-minute runtime with a phenomenal performance that’s powerful with the nuances he gives Maverick over the course of his inner journey. The new characters have good chemistry while the dogfights are both more suspenseful and strike more awe this time around, even in closeups that see the world fly past the pilots through the windows on both sides of their aircrafts, and Lady Gaga’s theme song is a commanding callback to 80s ballads that reinforces the film’s themes about admitting vulnerability but pressing forward with valor. Cruise and Kosinski rode into the danger zone when this sequel was greenlit, but much like Maverick himself, they took audiences’ breath away with the end result, which is one of the best American blockbusters in recent memory.
The Martin Scorsese ‘Let Me Explain’ Award: Everything Everywhere All At Once (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)
It’s no secret that the most acclaimed film of 2022 from both critics and audiences was Everything Everywhere All At Once, which saw Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) explore what her life could have been as she mentally transports herself across the multiverse while she’s trying to save her family business from getting compromised during a tax audit. Without question, A24’s smash hit deserves all the acclaim and awards buzz it’s currently receiving for the career-best performances from Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan in their roles as husband, wife and their infinite selves, as well as the attention to detail, creativity and love for all aspects and subgenres of Asian cinema that writer-director duo of Daniel Scheinert and Kwan employ into executing the science fiction elements and the grounded moments of this simple narrative with incredible sentimentality, infectious energy, a gorgeous implementation of stylized visuals and absurdist humor. And yet, while Everything Everywhere All At Once is hilarious, more often than not, the jokes bleed into the more dramatic points of the story, leaving barely any time for audiences to process the emotions of a given moment, and the three-chapter structure is ultimately pointless. Those issues keep it from being top-10 worthy in this critic’s opinion, although it’s easy to see how so many people, younger generations especially, have a passionate connection for this indie classic. People can see themselves and their daily lives in the jadedness and preoccupations of the Wang family, and take the script’s messages about finding joy in the monotony of life, overcoming generational trauma, and fighting nihilism with benevolence and understanding to heart, so while Everything Everywhere All At Once is far from perfect, it’s still worthy of all its accolades as well as its place in the pop culture zeitgeist.
Best Sequel: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Ryan Coogler)
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever bestows a level of emotional immersion that hasn’t been executed in a superhero movie for quite some time; too often, the film feels less like a narrative playing out and more like the actors processing their sorrow in real time, and Ryan Coogler has the wisdom to allow audience members to mourn with them by directing character moments with a stark realism that puts the actors’ emotions in a given scene front and center. The lore of the Submariner is grounded thoughtfully in Mesoamerican culture through gorgeous production design and whole scenes that see characters speak in an authentic Yucatec Mayan language, while the sound design makes the Talokan race sound monstrous in fights with the Wakandans, and the extent of their abilities outright haunting. All the usual suspects of a normal MCU movie are worked very naturally into this grand story about a nation, its people, and its royal family struggling to accept life without their king, and Wakanda Forever is an epic fit for him.