In 2022, the last remaining shreds of pandemic-delayed movies trickled into theaters, otherwise known as places that might be destined for the bulldozer. Major chain Regal/Cinemark is in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings and AMC's stock price has returned to its pre-wallstreetbets lows. In my neck of the woods, Atlanta's beloved Regal Tara theater has closed, though the continued thriving of the independent Plaza theater is a bright spot thanks to a combination of expanded screens, repertory shows, and local partnerships. Compounding the concern for film is the looming collapse of streaming services thanks to increased borrowing costs and oversaturation. The days of a streamer throwing nine figures at an esteemed director seem to be ending as surely as they did for traditional studios.
All those bad omens haven't reached the movies themselves. The key takeaway from the biggest films of 2022 was the value of earnestness, as demonstrated onscreen and by box office returns. Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water both eschewed the tongue-in-cheek irony of the year's subpar-to-terrible MCU offerings, perhaps signaling the end of meaningless that-just-happened script punch-up that increasingly robs superhero pap of any emotional weight. Everything Everywhere All at Once spends its last act begging audiences for kindness, receiving ecstatic praise and breeding the kind of strident fandom that's allergic to kindness. While my favorites of a given year are always going to trend towards the dark and the cynical and the anti-earnest, it's notable how the year's biggest successes aimed less for messages and more for happiness, and not the kind that evaporates like a sugar high as soon as the lights go up. This year wasn't a great one in my estimation, but it does give me hope that stagnant creative trends might be reversing even as financial ones look more and more dire. As long as the French keep funding their genius auteur's pet projects, we should be ok.