Combustible Celluloid

What Happened to Me in the Dark

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Normally, I would offer some kind of round-up of the year as it passes on its way out, but I'll just say that, for various reasons, 2022 has not been one of my favorite years. Perhaps many of you agree. Nevertheless, while the future of moviegoing and movies in general is a mystery, I will argue that there were movies worth seeing this year.

Discussions this year centered around how people came back to the theaters in droves to see a certain few, very expensive, franchise-type movies, while original films suffered. And they centered around the new diverse Sight & Sound best films of all time poll. And they centered around the death of Jean-Luc Godard, which led many to ruminate on the death of cinema itself. But what I found is that auteur filmmaking was still alive.

Many familiar voices returned to the screen this year, and their voices were intact, and vibrant. In one case, I was watching a film whose style reminded me of another film I had seen two years earlier, and lo and behold, it was the same filmmaker! I had detected a style and a voice without even realizing it. That was one of my most exciting moments this year, because, honestly, films are simply not films without some kind of human, emotional, connective element.

Touching on all the schools of thought this year, I wanted my list to showcase some diversity, but also to celebrate auteur voices and to represent challenging filmmaking of the type that Godard championed. I may not have totally succeeded. Sometimes building a year-end list — especially right at the end of the year, without much time to reflect — relies more on gut feelings than on critical perspective. So, in the final days of December, this is how I landed on this strange, deeply imperfect year.

- The Top Ten -

1. Everything Everywhere All at Once

Sometimes your winner is crowned early in the year, and you wait in vain for some other movie to topple it from the throne. But I was thinking lately about whether there are still movies that could possibly ignite a spark and inspire a newcomer to fall in love with film, you know, to the point that they obsessively try to track down and see all the masterpieces and learn everything there is to know. I think that the Daniels' magical, deeply imaginative multiverse movie Everything Everywhere All at Once could be that kind of film. Without spending $200+ million, it was able to suggest a sense of infinity, while retaining a spry, funny, warm tone. It was a dizzying, energizing film, full of fine performances, and one that does just about everything right.

2. The Fabelmans

Like Scorsese did with The Irishman, Steven Spielberg took a look back on his career and found inspiration — as is natural for a gifted visual artist — to make a beautiful film about it. The Fabelmans is more or less Spielberg's fictionalized version of his own story, brave enough to admit that the filmmaker looks at life in two ways, experiencing it firsthand, while also envisioning what the shot should look like. A masterful ending, showing a passing of the torch, can only raise a new question; who will accept Spielberg's torch?

3. Mad God

Visual FX master Phil Tippett created this bizarre, disturbing animated feature over the course, apparently, of thirty years, and it's a fully-realized universe, so alien and frightening that it's the complete opposite of something like Avatar: The Way of Water. Despite the fact that I wouldn't be able to tell you exactly what happens in it, it's a work of persistence and fearlessness that can only be compared to thinks like Stroheim's follies and Lynch's Eraserhead.

4. Aftersun

A striking debut feature, Charlotte Wells's Aftersun seems like a simple movie about a father and daughter taking a vacation, and it even seems to have very little logical plot progression. But every piece is in place for a fascinating and moving rumination not only on relationships and connections, but on the nature of memory — which is vast but flawed — versus recorded images, which are more accurate, but limited. This is a poem of a movie that deserves many viewings.

5. No Bears

Jafar Panahi has gone from being a visual poet, a disciple of the great Abbas Kiarostami, to an outlaw and perhaps the world's most dangerous filmmaker. It's impressive how much he has evolved, stylistically and thematically, since his first outlaw effort, This Is Not a Film, made after Iranian authorities charged him with creating propaganda, arrested him, and enacted a 20 year-ban on his making films. No Bears is his fifth film since then, a complex dual tale of a filmmaker (Panahi himself) and his lead actors, and the man-made persecution they face.

6. Crimes of the Future

Master filmmaker David Cronenberg returned for the first time since Maps to the Stars (2014) with a throwback to his earlier, body-centric horror films, but also with the maturity that marks his more recent works. With its story of a bleak future in which humans have evolved in strange ways, Crimes of the Future includes typically Cronenbergian horrors — such as a huge bug-shaped bed or an "eating chair" — that still have the power to haunt the psyche, but the film is also a sharp critique of humanity and our attempts to control forces in nature which cannot be controlled.

7. Decision to Leave

Korean director Park Chan-wook continues to do such fascinating things with genre, burrowing inside and creating new tunnels, forming things into new angles. Decision to Leave is a film noir about a detective called in to investigate a strange murder, and who then becomes obsessed with watching the victim's widow. But the film is so expertly constructed, dense as a novel, that it's easy to lose track (in a good way). It's visual, too; a snowy nighttime scene illuminated by flashlights is one of my favorite things this year.

8. Women Talking

Another four-star film from director Sarah Polley, Women Talking is far from a talk-fest, and justly deserves any comparisons to 12 Angry Men. In this story of the women of a religious community who finally decide to stand up to being repeatedly raped by the men, the talk is urgent, and crucial. But Polley constructs a world around it, with her widescreen frame, stripped almost entirely of color, and her subtle way of moving, and with finding a rhythm that diverts the anger and makes it human.

9. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is my orphan pick for the year, as I am a confessed and unapologetic Sam Raimi fan. Few filmmakers in history have brought me as much joy as Raimi's films have, maybe because he clearly takes such joy in making them. His films are kinetic in ways that suggest the camera itself is alive, and a prankster as well, like Strange's sentient cape. Let's not forget the quality of performance, as Elizabeth Olsen brilliantly reprises her WandaVision role as a dangerously grieving mom. Not to mention the absolute miracle of a single artist somehow bringing his own voice and vision to a mega-expensive franchise which must surely be micro-managed and controlled down to the last hatpin.

10. Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood

One of our most consistent and reliable filmmakers, Richard Linklater made perhaps the year's lightest movie (other than Marcel the Shell with Shoes On), with his animated tale Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood. It's broken up into two parts, one a pastiche of memories of what it was like growing up in the 1960s in Huston, Texas, and the other a tall tale about how a young boy was actually the first to walk on the moon, due to the fact that NASA built the first capsule too small for a grown man. The animation allows Linklater to intermingle memory with his made-up history, suggesting that both are equally diffuse.

Ten Runners-Up

Ten Honorable Mentions

Guilty Pleasures & Little Treasures

Great Performances

  • Angela Bassett, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
  • Cate Blanchett, Tár
  • Hong Chau, The Whale
  • Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin
  • Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything Everywhere All at Once
  • Ana de Armas, Blonde
  • Colin Farrell, After Yang & The Banshees of Inisherin
  • Brendan Fraser, The Whale
  • Mia Goth, Pearl
  • Anthony Hopkins, Armageddon Time
  • Daniel Kaluuya, Nope
  • Janelle Monae, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
  • Elizabeth Olsen, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
  • Keke Palmer, Nope
  • Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once
  • Adam Sandler, Hustle
  • Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans
  • Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once

16 Great DVD and Blu-ray Releases

The Year's Worst Films

Thanks for reading. I appreciate you all. May the future bring peace and joy to each and every one of you. -- JMA

Movies Unlimtied