Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Rob's Favorite Movies of 2022

 by Rob DiCristino

If you disagree with this objective, scientific ranking, you are wrong. That’s how art works.

10. Emily the Criminal (Dir. John Patton Ford)
John Patton Ford’s debut feature is a powerful indictment of economic injustice that, as I wrote earlier in the year, balances its characters’ earnest ambition with an indignant rage that gradually boils over as they learn the brutal realities of the capitalist hellscape around them. Emily (Aubrey Plaza) bought into the system in good faith. She went to college, stayed (mostly) out of (serious) trouble, and now she just wants to work. But with honest wages out of reach — How does a full-time internship pay the bills? — and the student loans piling up, Emily goes outside the law, joining up with Youcef’s (Theo Rossi) credit fraud scheme so that this hopelessly corrupt system can start working to her advantage, for a change. Emily the Criminal is angry, sure, but it’s also fiercely human. It’s a plea for equity, a song of dignity and self-respect for all those sick of waiting for their bootstraps to lift them into a world that actually honors their diligence and sacrifice.

9. The Fabelmans (Dir. Steven Spielberg)
Creators have no choice but to create. Those truly gifted with artistic ambition — or cursed, as Judd Hirsch’s Uncle Boris would put it in The Fabelmans — have no choice but to exercise it. They cannot treat with the world around them through conventional means and often destroy themselves (and their relationships with those closest to them) in the attempt. Steven Spielberg is one of those people, and his latest film is his confession. It’s a full-throated admission of guilt, a deeply vulnerable proclamation that modern cinema’s most esteemed populist auteur is, in fact, still a terrified little boy crashing model trains in the garage. He makes movies because nothing else fits, nothing else helps. Words lack the dexterity to communicate his emotions. Moving pictures are better. They have shape and rhythm, light and sound. A shot of magic. Spielberg needs to tell stories. Stories are his therapy. His solace. If you’re reading this, you can relate.

8. Dual (Dir. Riley Stearns)
There’s a real cock-eyed earnestness to Riley Stearns’ (The Art of Self-Defense) characters, a hopefulness hidden beneath all that deadpan dialogue. They’re existential wanderers braving the absurd, negotiating their way through some truly bizarre scenarios with a staggering level of patience and enthusiasm. Take Sarah (Karen Gillan), whose terminal diagnosis prompted her to engage an identical double (also Gillan) to take over her life when she dies. Now she’s in remission, though, training to duel her double to the death for the right to her own identity. This locks both Sarahs in a more profound battle, one for self-definition that asks them to measure the true value of the life they’re fighting over. Which of them does it better? Which of them is more deserving? Do either of them actually want to live? Dual is an elegantly understated parable full of jet-black humor that seeps deep enough to eventually become terrifying.

7. Avatar: The Way of Water (Dir. James Cameron)
James Cameron doesn’t care about the pop culture echochamber. He doesn’t care about industry gossip or social media. He doesn’t care about box office forecasts or the hot Marvel take you dropped on your last podcast. He doesn’t care if you think 2009’s Avatar is a derivative melodrama, a convoluted video game, or an overrated curiosity with no cultural footprint. James Cameron is too busy leading an army of submersible robots to the bottom of the goddamn ocean to worry about whether or not you think thirteen years is too long between franchise entries. He’s too busy inventing new methods of filmmaking, sharpening his knives on the bleeding edge so that he can carry mythic traditions across generational boundaries and remind complacent moviegoers in every corner of this fading civilization that, as the good Dr. Hunter S. Thompson once put it, they come from a long line of truth-seekers, lovers, and warriors.

6. Top Gun: Maverick (Dir. Joseph Kosinski)
Big Jim may be at the helm of our cultural heritage, building the cinematic caravan that will carry us all over that last great horizon, but it’s Tom Cruise — our last movie star — who understands that those tremendous, hulking ships still need pilots. They need someone with guts. Instincts. Someone with a need for speed that can’t be syndicated, replicated, or delegated to four-quadrant beefcakes from central casting. Make no mistake: Top Gun: Maverick doesn’t need to exist. It probably shouldn’t. Cruise has long since redefined the blockbuster with Mission: Impossible, arguably the greatest action franchise of the modern era (era). Yet that somehow makes Maverick an even more important interlude between Ethan Hunt adventures, a reaffirmation of the intrinsic spirit that drives those unwieldy extravaganzas. It celebrates the process. The discipline. Cruise and his methods may, indeed, be headed for extinction. But not today.

5. Pearl (Dir. Ti West)
Writer/director Ti West had already capped off an excellent year for horror with his ‘70-set porno slasher, X, but things got really exciting when the end credits revealed a trailer for Pearl, a prequel co-written by and starring X’s standout lead, Mia Goth (who was also the secret MVP of Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria). While its predecessor gives gore hounds plenty to chew on, Pearl is the deeper and more textured work, a blood-splattered riff on The Wizard of Oz that unleashes Goth’s full potential as a new genre icon. As in X — and, we can presume, its upcoming sequel, MaXXXine — Pearl uses the pursuit of unlikely stardom to critique America’s puritanical strictures on lust and sex (personified by Tandi Wright as Pearl’s uncompromising mother and David Corenswet as an unscrupulous projectionist) and to prove — through one unforgettable smile — that repressing those inner fires only makes them burn that much brighter.

4. The Batman (Dir. Matt Reeves)
In a year that we may ultimately remember as the beginning of the end for superhero movies, Matt Reeves brings us one of the last good ones, a genuine mystery worthy of The World’s Greatest Detective. Drawing from seminal Dark Knight stories like The Long Halloween, Hush, and Year One, The Batman gives us a fledgling Caped Crusader still toeing the hazy line between personal vengeance and righteous justice. He’s still unmoored, blindly addicted to the Bat persona and swinging it like a sledgehammer into whatever stands between the broken child inside him and the inner peace he so desperately needs. Robert Pattinson’s smeary-eyed goth prince may not be a focus-group favorite interpretation of the character, but taking a chance on it was the right move for this era (era) in Bat history. Throw in an electric supporting cast and one of the year’s best scores, and you’ve got my favorite entry in the entire live-action canon.

3. TÁR (dir. Todd Field)
I realized something during my second viewing of Todd Field’s remarkable portrait of malignant narcissism: TÁR is a ghost story. I’d clocked the faceless redhead before, of course — look there, behind the piano — and I’d noted the disembodied screams that seem to follow Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) on her morning jogs. I’d even read that Slate piece that ran a few weeks back, the one arguing that the film’s last act is a waking hallucination that changes the entire context of its now-famous final shot. I’m not quite there yet, honestly — at least not yet — but I’ll be damned if there wasn’t something distinctly Kubrickian in the second watch that I’d missed the first time around. That tracks, of course, as Todd Field starred as hapless pianist Nick Nightingale in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Field must have watched his maestro closely: TÁR features that same mix of airless drama, dry comedy, and unnerving terror lurking right below the surface.

2. The Menu (Dir. Mark Mylod)
There’s a moment late in Mark Mylod’s caustic black comedy The Menu in which Executive Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) is asked to make a cheeseburger. It’s a simple request for a culinary artist of Slowik’s stature, of course, maybe even a little beneath him. Slowik has spent his career elevating cuisine — if you can call serving deconstructed sea algae or intentionally withholding bread “elevation,” that is — but this request nearly brings him to tears. It’s been so long since anyone asked him to do something real. Something pure. Salt, fat, acid, and heat. It’s elegant. Primordial. But a craftsman like Slowik also needs palates discerning enough to appreciate his work, palates that he’s found to be in short supply since he started catering only to the rich and famous. But despite crafting the most outlandishly spiteful climax of the year — s’mores, anyone? — it’s clear that Mylod believes great art can still find a great audience.

1. The Banshees of Inisherin (Dir. Martin McDonagh)
There’s this great Tegan & Sara song called “Where Does the Good Go?” It’s about the helplessness we feel when a relationship ends and we’re stuck with all the emotional detritus left in its wake. “Where do you go with your broken heart in tow?” it asks. “What do you do with the leftover you?” You built an attachment to someone, and now these frayed threads are left hanging. Where do they go? Do they fall off? Attach to someone new? It’s a profoundly empty feeling, one that challenges our whole conception of trust and love. But here’s a lesson: No one owes us anything. We cannot ask others to feel as we feel. We cannot expect them to see as we see. We’re not due any compassion, apology, or justification that isn’t given willingly. Our friends Pádriac (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) grapple with that throughout Martin McDonagh’s latest masterwork. I hope they find peace. I hope they sort it out. That little island needs them.


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  2. I don't understand the love for Fabelmans. I didn't care for it at all, especially since i saw 5-25-77, which essentially tell the same story, from a different filmmaker. It has it's own sets of problems, but they are less annoying than the problems i have in Fabelmans. I wish more people would see it

  3. *High-five* I had a feeling from your earlier praise of it that The Batman would be on your list. I'm glad I'm not completely alone on this site in my affection for that movie!

    1. I really liked it as well. I watched over the course of 2 nights, so I didn't feel the long runtime that many people took issue with.

  4. I've watched a lot more "current" movies this year than usual, and it's nice to be able to relate to these lists. Banshees, Dual and Menu are all 3 high on my "much watch soon list". A few of your picks are going to be in my top 10.

    Emily the Criminal was ok, but I didn't find it as powerful as many others seem to do. I had a hard time not seeing the character from Parks and Rec for some reason (although that's a me problem). I didn't have this same issue with other films such as Ingrid goes West, so maybe it was just my mood that evening.

    1. You just named three of my top 4 in that first paragraph... I was very glad to see them on Rob's list.

  5. I really need to get on "The Menu." I mean, watch it. Well done Rob!

    1. You don't want to be "on the menu". Or do you? Great movie!

      I'm still still trying to process the ending of Dual. Who was it? The film gives clues pointing to both of them . I guess the main point works whichever one it was.

    2. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but I read the film as definitively pointing to one of them, which, for me, made the last scene more effective.