Monday, December 12, 2022

2022 Awards Season Round-up Part 2

 by Rob DiCristino

Please send help. So many movies.

White Noise (dir. Noah Baumbach)
Looking to make polite conversation with her adolescent nephew, my aunt once asked me about the movie I was watching, Ron Howard’s Apollo 13. I was an hour in, though; she’d already missed too many important details. So I hit pause on the VCR and recounted the story from beginning to end, complete with dialogue, sound effects, and my best gestural approximations of rocket dynamics. Watching Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, I sympathized with my incredibly patient relative: Baumbach clearly adores Don DeLillo’s seminal 1985 chronicle of Reagan-era (era) consumerism. He knows it backward and forward. He’s thought for years about how he’d stage an adaptation, how he’d bring those highlighted, dog-eared pages to the big screen. But sometimes, we’re just too close to material to translate it coherently for others. We’re skimming pages we need to be fleshing out. We’re preaching to choirs who have never heard the music. Sometimes, we’re just waving our arms in the air, pretending they’re rocket ships.

Stars at Noon (dir. Claire Denis)
Films like Stars at Noon — sweaty, languid thrillers about fucking in foreign lands — certainly have a right to exist, and French auteurs like Claire Denis are among those most qualified to produce them. They’re fine. They’re good for cinema. It’s good to occasionally melt into a romance like this one, which finds an American journalist (Margaret Qualley, sporting the frizziest, MacDowell-iest curls of her career) stranded in pandemic-era (era) Central America and fawning over a handsome English businessman (London Boy Joe Alwyn) whose connections and intentions grow more nefarious as the story progresses. Based on the novel by Denis Johnson, Stars at Noon is sure to rile the loins of anyone who can avoid thinking about how bad these characters must smell long enough to get off (Or maybe that’s your thing? I’m not here to kink shame). For the rest of us, though, it’ll be a dry slog. Qualley’s compelling as always, at least, and there’s one very generous close-up of Alwyn’s bare ass that Taylor Swift must have really enjoyed.

The Woman King (dir. Gina Prince-Blythewood)
I was genuinely shocked to read that Sony was releasing The Woman King Exclusively in Movie Theaters in 2022, as it’s exactly the kind of mid-budget, non-IP fare that has been mostly relegated to streaming services in the last few years. Was Prince-Blythwood’s The Old Guard such a hit for Netflix that theatrical exhibition was again considered a worthwhile risk? Or was The Woman King — an action film starring almost exclusively black women — thought to be too niche for the algorithm-driven subscription space? Maybe Sony saw the obvious parallels with Black Panther (which features a similar all-female warrior force in the Dora Milaje) and hoped for similar box-office success? Regardless, The Woman King deftly balances action and character, with heavyweights like Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, and John Boyega supporting a fierce and precocious lead performance from newcomer Thuso Mbedu. Some narrative clunkiness keeps it from greatness, but it’s compelling enough for a rental, for sure.

Glass Onion
(dir. Rian Johnson)
Rian Johnson isn’t for everyone. There’s an archness to his films that can be off-putting, a self-satisfied irony that can read as pretentious. Regardless of the genre in which he’s working, his screenplays are always built like puzzles, mazes of setups and payoffs that can exhaust audiences long before they reach their crescendos. He has a tendency to get lost in the plot at the expense of the story, and his diverse casts of characters sometimes speak with one voice in a way that is positively Sorkinesque. Trouble is, I like all these things about Johnson, which is why I found the second entry in his Benoit Blanc murder-mystery franchise (which began with Knives Out and has at least one more adventure on the way) a delightful — if underwhelming — romp. Armed with his audience’s trust this time around, Johnson joyfully twists the usual tropes of Agatha Christie whodunnits with another all-star cast (Janelle Monáe and Kate Hudson being the standouts, this time around). Glass Onion isn’t as dense or rewarding as Blanc’s first adventure, but it codifies a stylish world you’ll want to live in again and again.

The Menu (dir. Mark Mylod)
The best of the bunch is director Mark Mylod’s (Succession) The Menu, a scathing and unforgiving eat-the-rich satire that pits Ralph Fiennes’ executive chef Julian Slowik against a gaggle of One-Percenters (including familiar faces like Nicholas Hoult and John Leguizamo) who lack both the intelligence and the creativity to appreciate the finer details of his life’s great endeavors. Written by Will Tracy and Seth Reiss (the former also of Succession and Last Week Tonight), The Menu presents an unwilling heroine in Margot Mills (a gleeful Anya Taylor-Joy, suffering not a single fool in sight), whom Slowik immediately identifies as the odd woman out. As the chef’s design comes to its grand conclusion, Margot is forced to choose between the Haves and the Have Nots, between privileged self-deception and righteous indignation. Sharp and darkly hilarious like nothing else this year, The Menu is a deceptively-earnest argument for integrity, craftsmanship, and the limitless virtues of a perfectly-cooked cheeseburger.

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