The Letterboxd Files is here once more, with 2022 movies and maybe some other ones because this is not legislated to not have those.
It’s time, boys and girls, for yet another Letterboxd Files. Have you watched Stranger Things? I haven’t. It’s too long. I like movies because they don’t demand me to sit there and watch the evil Grandfather Clock or what have you that is on this new one. I mean, the show’s great. I really enjoy it. I just haven’t had the time. Don’t get mad at me. I’m trying, okay. I’m trying. It’s hard out here for a Letterboxd Filer. Too much content. Gotta walk the dog.
So, we’re going to do my Thor 4 thoughts, some best of 2022, and other movies I’ve seen recently, and maybe others. I don’t make the rules.
Thor: Love and Thunder
In the grand tradition of Black Widow, Shang Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals, Thor: Love and Thunder becomes the next Phase 4 Marvel film to work as both a mediocre fume exhaling of a franchise that clearly is running out of ideas and a potent sleep aid. It should be a crime that a movie this colorful should be so boring. Taika Waititi is a talented fellow, but it’s clear that all of his good Thor ideas got used on Thor: Ragnarok. The fourth Thor film lacks the pizazz and surprise factor of its predecessor, instead opting to smash together a MCU rom-com and a really dark meditation on unrequited faith. The two don’t jam together. as much as they would’ve on their own. Waititi is trying too hard to by Terry Gilliam here, blending in the silly with the sincerely demented. He really should’ve picked a lane. Instead, you get a tonal mess with only some visual inspiration between the green screen overuse.
The film wastes Christian Bale as Uncle Fester, can’t find a way to make Natalie Portman wearing a Thor hat fun, underutilizes Tessa Thompson, overutilizes Korg the talking rocks and can’t find a way to beat the “Immigrant Song” needle drop in Ragnarok. Waititi will be fine if this film isn’t quite up to par with his recent efforts, and Chris Hemsworth clearly won’t tire of playing the hulkish Norse god anytime soon. It’s Hemsworth puppy dog spirit that kept this film in the fight for as long as it was, with his sincerity into the romantic subplot what keeps it believable. Though, there is a whole movie’s worth of Bale’s Gorr the God-Butcher, a tantalizingly complicated villain who might not be so wrong in all he’s doing, but Waititi gets too focused on the goofiness to really dig into this past a really neat black-and-white shadow planet set piece that kind of gets lost in the shuffle. There will be more Thor adventures, but they really could use a different voice behind the camera and on the page. I’ll be happy to watch more, but I really wish this one had more going for it. Thor: Love and Thunder just drags a bit too much ass and gets too distracted by itself to really stand up to snuff. It’s not really bad as much as it is just kind of perfunctory. It exists because it has to.
Now, onto the 2022 movies that I liked more than this one.
Some of my 2022 favorites, like On the Count of Three, Turning Red, Cha Cha Real Smooth, The Bob’s Burgers Movie, RRR, Top Gun: Maverick, Elvis, The Northman, Hustle and Kimi have either been reviewed elsewhere or have already been in this column. But there are some I haven’t done anything official on, so here they be.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
Everything Everywhere All At Once can be compared to many, many things, but one of the most complimentary things I can say about any movie is that this one felt like a live-action Don Hertzfeldt film.
Where to Watch: Theaters, VOD
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
If I had to show people five movies to explain today’s youth, I’d show them this, Eighth Grade, Minding the Gap, Spontaneous and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Still as haunting and powerful on the second go, maybe not quite as shocking since that first viewing was such a doozy, but I appreciated the performance of Michael J. Rodgers, the film’s very unexpected moral center. It’s just a hard watch in moments, a movie about how the isolation of adolescence and the yearning to below in the rampant internet age can lead young folks down all kinds of bizarre rabbit holes. Anna Cobb is tremendous, of course, but man, Rodgers struck me much more on this go-around, a lonely man who tries to do a little unorthodox good in the most fraught way possible. There are two shots involving anonymous screens and the way people feel hopeless to them that are seared in my memory — the synth/acoustic guitar matched with that soft singing. My gosh, how alone and helpless the world of connectivity can make us.
Where to Watch: VOD
Ron Swanson voice: “Just give me all the movies like Dog you have… Wait. Wait…”
“I’m worried what you just heard was, give me a lot of movies like Dog. What I said was, give me all the movies like Dog you have.”
“Do you understand?”
Movie star Channing Tatum and co-director Channing Tatum are a match made in Heaven. I would’ve spent 5 hours with this movie dog.
The decision to advertise broad and skip around that in the final product and go for something more meaningful … that’s how it’s done, son. That’s how you get butts in seats for original movies. Just enough cover to attract everyone, then hit ‘em with what they didn’t know they needed. More. More!
Where to Watch: VOD
Where to Watch: Paramount+, VOD
Still so amazing this works as well as it does. It’s nearly as good as Scream 2. What a world.
Where to Watch: Paramount+, VOD
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
Leave it to Richard Linklater to make a warm, inviting film about how all of our lives peaked when we were 10 and that there literally is no going back on that except through creating and engaging with art that transports us ever so briefly to a time when innocence blended with youth to create a shield around the cold, bleak world we live in. Also, I enjoyed the animation.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Damn. A succinct, difficult reminder at how treatment the Fourth Estate has evolved in this current climate, how it’s universal how the danger of the “Fake News” horseshit is bending people against their local journalism, how even more vital it’s going to be for all of us in the industry to keep pushing even when it gets tough. Pretty moved and bothered by this.
Where to Watch: HBO Max
The Black Phone
Derrickson’s attempt to make an Amblin/King horror was pretty enjoyable! It’s a fantastic premise, even if the totality of the universe never quite reaches its potential and there isn’t nearly enough of its villain (Ethan Hawke is a jolt as The Grabber, and there’s not enough Grabber, dang it). Still, it feels fresh, it’s got the eerie sheen you’d want and it hits its emotional beats. Good for summer horror, I’d say!
Where to Watch: Theaters
Death on the Nile
The kind of overwrought whodunnit that makes going to the movies in February worth it. I’d watch Kenneth Branagh make 10 more of these. It’s just not funny how this is a better movie than Belfast and that one is probably going to win the Oscar. (Update: it did not)
Where to Watch: Hulu, HBO Max, VOD
ok now for old movies
This should be required viewing for every high school history class teaching Vietnam, if only because there is no way on Earth you can leave this film without feeling the horror of war creep down your spine and screw with your equilibrium. Sometimes I think that visual images are the only way we press upon society the truths they refuse to grapple with…it’s bewildering we live in a society where someone can watch, like, January 6, and convince themselves it wasn’t a big deal. I wish they’d make people watch that video of the cop getting crushed in the door. Like the testimony is one thing, but that’s the image that’s always in my mind now. The horror…the horror…
Anywho, this is the great American nightmare, the ultimate repudiation against anything Vietnam was supposed to accomplish. A pointless war, no good came from it, everyone who sanctioned this has blood on their hands. Henry Kissinger is a monster, etc. To make a sports analogy, Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography is like if Michael Jordan scored 300 points while he had the flu. I’ve never seen war shot quite like this, or any movie really, with the screen pulling you in and making you feel the heat of Hell blowing in your face. There is no hope here, only survival. FFCoppola is one of the all-time American directors because, in that early stage, he was able to cram in everything about the 70s American experience, warts and all, and make you think about it for the rest of your life.
Apocalypse Now is an unshakable movie, a masterpiece in every right, one of the truly great American movies, a delirious warning against war and American violence. It’s engrained in your memory forever, as it’s supposed to me. You cannot have character without allowing yourself to peer into the depths of evil and understand why it’s so vital for humanity to stay on the straight and narrow path. The visual medium keeps us honest; is film still our best chance to keep the truth alive?
I hope the puppy is okay; I refuse to think otherwise.
Where to Watch: VOD
Killing Them Softly
A dirty, furious little gangster flick with as much to say about capitalism as it does how futile a life it is to live in this world. Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy and James Gandolfini are stellar; Andrew Dominick gives the film such an aggressive attitude toward the audience coming in expecting something more pulpy. It’s a very angry movie that came out 5 years too soon; it’s just superb at every level. Give that man his money!
Where to Watch: VOD
The Card Counter
A blistering thrill of moral dilemma and a hell of a study on how hard it is to forgive yourself. Schrader takes his “lonely man in need of repentance, but destined for doom?” template and applies it to the lingering stains of the War on Terror/the salaciousness of torture, and it works so, so well. Not only do we get engrossed into the world of poker, which Schrader shuffles about meticulously and shrewdly, but he gets the best performance of Oscar Isaac’s career to show how a longing to your wrongs with yourself and the world around in exact detail you can, in and of itself, be a , not an act of restoration. Sleek, efficient, engaging, damning. Was fully on board with this; it makes for a hell of a companion piece with First Reformed. An essential work.
Where to Watch: HBO Max, VOD
Probably one of the best distillations of the political engine I’ve seen. As raw as you can have it as it examines the 2002 Newark mayoral race that launched future US Senator Cory Booker to prominence.
Booker clearly is part of the “establishment” now, yet he still seems to fight for the same ideals that led him to take a very ethical path to public service. It’s easy to be jaded about anyone serving in power and how they got there, but sometimes it’s nice to know you usually start out where you need to and still carry that with you when you reach the top of the political circus.
Our systems have been broken for a long time, and Marshall Curry’s work shows it’s still so shocking to see democracy unfold in real time. Sharpe James is everything that’s wrong with politics, but by film’s end, you’re left, as much as you feel good about Booker, wondering what’s right in the system? Millions of dollars wasted on a losing campaign, millions wasted on a winning one. It’s a vicious cycle and Curry paints the immaculate portrait of it. It’s a heck of a piece of journalism and edification, and a journey that’s got so much truth in it as it looks into the confusion and messiness of a local election.
I can’t tell if this is ultimately cynical or not, but Booker did eventually win and did good things as Newark’s mayor. So maybe it’s positive? It’s probably somewhere in the middle, which is quite fitting. A major entry in the political documentary space.
Where to Watch: Kanopy, YouTube, VOD
Monster’s, Inc. (rewatch)
Unflappably great; a clinic in world-building, character development, voice acting and voice casting, storytelling and balancing animation for kids and adults; an emotional, unforgettable roller coaster; admirably dark; visually still rigorous and expansive; better than Shrek; a curious condemnation of cheap energy; one of the greatest animated films of all time; I’ll take you to court if you say anything bad about “If I Didn’t Have You,” one of the purest duets of all time; somehow maybe not a top-5 Pixar film, those geniuses; a film that rushes into me as much youthful nostalgia as anything I could watch; give everyone make-up Oscars and coronate Pete Docter as king.
Where to Watch: Disney+, VOD
Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam
A decidedly not-Ernest movie (he’s only in the last scene), and an *audacious* departure from everything I’d come to expect from the filmography of John R. Cherry.
If you had told me this was Tim Burton’s actual first film before Pee Wee’s Big Adventure with Paul Reubens instead of Jim Varney in the titular role, I’d believe you. This like if Burton did a song-less version of an 80s Rocky Horror and threw in the tone of UHF and sociopolitical satire on empty patriotism, capitalism/our over-dependence to our financial structures and the while make savior trope, and shot it in Tennessee.
It’s demented and shapeless in a very satisfying way, and I love its anarchistic attitude, Varney giving a jubilant six-character psychotic breakdown of a performance that is everything I could’ve possibly hoped for in a movie like this. He’s spectacular and unsettlingly weird. I don’t think this movie is amazing as much as it is really endearing and strange, but Varney is a showstopper and finally gets a stage for all his strengths in energetic, physical and imitation comedy. Cherry does a sequence at a science fair that really impressed me, and I think the ways he framed Varney’s acting and facial expressions are at their best here.
I’m shocked this doesn’t have a strong cult following. It’s good, if kind of insane going in a million different directions, and it’s infectiously different from anything else I’ve seen in the Ernest filmography. Those films are largely kitch; this actually aims for something and, at least to me, hits its target, however unwieldy the throw is or how confused I was at times.
Where to Watch: Roku, Vudu, Tubi, Pluto, Filmrise, Freevee
10 Cloverfield Lane (rewatch)
Forever and always one of my favorite movies. An unsung genre masterpiece, a thrillingly humane tale of who you are when the ish hits the fan and when the light shines in your corner.
All three performances here are some of the best I’ve seen in a movie. Winstead is Sigourney Weaver in Aliens great, Goodman is otherworldly, diabolical, disarming, and his always affable self, Gallagher Jr. the heart of it all, a goof with stark nobility guiding him.
Trachtenberg should’ve been frying the biggest fish after this movie came out, but it took Matt Reeves a few years before he got Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. He’s a world class filmmaker one film in, so I hope his next film isn’t too much longer.
Watching this while actually in quarantine highlights why confinement can be such a revealing process, and why “confinement cinema” is so riveting and really is the defining “show your true colors” way to develop a character. It’s a self-exploratory process to be stripped of all your outside world and be forced in a hole to only deal with those around you and the person inside.
The scene where Michelle and Emmet just start talking, unprompted, about regrets just kills me. It’s not only brilliantly staged and acted (and scored!), but it’s like the atmosphere does the contextualizing for you. The audience doesn’t need to know why these characters, who have known each other for a day, are talking like they’ve been close for years. It’s such an intimate film, one where the bunker show everyone’s true selves, slowly but surely, and watching that melding of peoples as the general atmosphere dissolves, is what going to the movies is all about. Something grand and unordinary, told in a fantastical way, reveals truths that are so easy to relate to, be scared of and empathize with. To be stunned and moved and chilled and wowed. That why we go!
Shawshank Redemption is my favorite film, after all. I love when movies stuff us in a small space and tell big stories with limited resources. So often, those are the best ones.
This is one of the best films of the last 10-20 years, just like Cloverfield was. One day I hope the grander film community will get there. These deserve to be up there with all the great sci-fi/horror films. They’re just about perfect.
I like to think Howard is a Saints fan; that way I can like him even less.
Knowing Short Term 12, one of my favorite movies ever, got Gallagher in this, another one of my favorite movies ever, makes my heart happy.
Where to Watch: VOD
Casa De Mi Padre
I wish this got more recognition in that “hysterical bizarre comedies that only work after midnight” category.
This is sincerely one of the most dedicated parodies I’ve ever seen, and most of it is dead-on. Will Ferrell’s recent output hasn’t been amazing, but goodness gracious, he’s stellar in this. He learned an entire language! The humor is a delightful mix of obvious and truly gonzo, and there are moments that feel so, so fractured with the rest of the movie I could barely contain myself. The animatronic white cat nearly made me lose my dinner; I was laughing that hard.
This is a supremely good, detailed parody. It’s flaw is that, sometimes, it’s a little too good at what it’s trying to do, and it forget it’s a comedy. But it’s sad to me this movie basically is forgotten, because I feel it was well ahead of its time. There’s an audience for this — that Adult Swim
short film/IFC hyperreal Documentary Now/Matt Piedmont stuff (who directs here, naturally) — that’s the ticket. This is kind of the early version of that stuff. It’s not perfect, but it’s absolutely one of the better off-brand comedies this decade.
Where to Watch: HBO Max, Roku, VOD
Toy Story 2 (rewatch)
I never, ever thought I’d fall in love for the first time with a movie I’ve seen plenty of as a kid and teen, but it’s funny how life works on you and helps you see new things. I’ve gone from “that’s a great movie but it’s not my favorite Pixar” to “holy cow that might be one of my favorite Pixar movies and movies in general?”
It’s such an awesome compliment to the first film and does such a wondrous job of flipping Woody’s identity crisis to mirror what Buzz went through in the first film. I also love the way the Round-Up gang finds themselves in the story and how that arc plays out. The Buzz-led rescue mission is also Pixar at their absolutely funniest and most creative. They even get in a dig at toy stores not stocking enough toys from the first one! Did not catch that for a while.
It’s a masterpiece, as all the TS movies are, one full of stark wisdom, deep heart and manic whimsy. So, so, so happy I finally got with this film the same way I am with the other two. Also, this wins for greatest outtake reel ever, and it’s not even close.
Where to Watch: Disney+, VOD
Toy Story 3 (rewatch)
This hit me like a ton of bricks when I was in high school and instantly became one of my favorite movies. Yeah, yeah, I was a year from graduation and Andy was going to college and nostalgia and growing up with the series and such. But as I’m older, I appreciate this one differently!
The Andy story is still very moving and melancholic as he moves on and leaves his toys behind, but I really stuck with Woody and the other toys’ journey this time around. The inevitable process of change and time taking its toll has always been haunting this series, as have a search and grasp of life’s meaning, an acceptance of its fragility and an an effort to make the most of the moments you have. The toys really do have to operate day-by-day, knowing a yard sale, attic trip, broken stitch or rest stop mishap could await them at every turn, but they forge on, with love for each other and a drive to serve their kid as a fire in their belly. Sometimes, those things clash, but at the end of the day, everyone always knows what’s most important. This is what I picked up from a movie with talking toys; Pixar’s peak remains undefeated.
The last 45 minutes of this are perfect (especially the moments at the dump), some of the best moments in animation history. Some of the Sunnyside stuff isn’t as good as that stretch, and the humor doesn’t quite translate as well in moments. But this is one of Pixar’s masterpieces, if only for *those two scenes* toward the end that will forever make us misty.
This would’ve been a wonderful ending to the series and wraps up the driving plotline…very, very curious how the fourth film will bring Woody his ultimate closure, as the trailers hint. I now believe Toy Story 2 is the best overall film in the series, but it’s hard to separate the bunch. The films work in conjunction with each other, and need the others at times to really drive in why a certain plot point or character decision is so impactful and perfect. Some of my favorite movies of all time.
Where to Watch: Disney+, VOD
The Cat in the Hat
What is this? I don’t know. It’s brilliant production design and cinematography combined with what wants to be an austere breakdown of suburbia, a Burger King 00s trash pop kidz flick, The Mike Meyers I Do What I Want Variety Hour, a self-aware slapstick of the endearing family film and an actual endearing family film. I don’t know if it quite accomplishes any of that, but I also don’t know if it’s wholly bad, even departed from the aesthetic work. This would have maybe been a great Tim Burton movie with maybe not Meyers behind the Cat? Also the CGI fish is awful but gets the best scene in the movie. That’s The Cat in the Hat in a nutshell. The kids are actually pretty great, for what it’s worth.
Where to Watch: Netflix, VOD