Decision to Leave
Park Chan-wook has delivered some of the most indelible, provocative, and original cinematic scenes of the 21st century. Sitting down in front of a new Park film is an event freighted with the promise of images and sequences that only he could’ve concocted. However, with his latest, Park might be slowing things down after decades of hallway hammer fights, sliced Achilles tendons, and the implied horrors of an early 20-century perv’s basement. Decision to Leave is unequivocally in Park’s visual style, with its sensuality of the everyday and his tactile ‘universe of things’ approach to sets and production design. What it lacks is the lurid, incredulous quality he brings to the screen, or the elevated nature of so many of his plotlines. When Park is doing something reminiscent of a serialized plot that Law and Order might stretch out over the course of a season, he’s out of his wheelhouse.
Don't Worry Darling
Hollywood has long made movies about the odd lives of American suburbia, from Douglas Sirk to Sam Mendes. There’s lots to critique about the whole arrangement, wherein a country that supposedly prides itself on individuality plagued with homeowner’s associations. Plenty of directors have taken their crack at the claustrophic conformity of lawns and fences and 2.3 children, and Olivia Wilde is in good company with her second feature, Don’t Worry Darling. A Stepford Wives for the 2020’s, the story of Wilde’s film was taken over by behind-the-scenes gossip, but beneath all the Zapruder-style videos about whether or not Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine at Cannes is a respectable psychodrama and a creative swerve from a director coming off raunchy and riotous teen comedy Booksmart. Don’t Worry Darling isn’t topping the Far From Heavens of the world, but it does spark a desire to go back and watch Mad Men for a second helping of this time period.
The last time Rian Johnson made a sequel, the studio undid all the work he did on the story and reverted to the status quo in the next and final entry. The complete jumbling of plot in the Disney Star Wars trilogy, which had Johnson leading the pivotal and ultimately unfulfilled middle chapter, remains one of the biggest fumbles in recent big-budget filmmaking, and Johnson has learned his lesson with the creation of a new franchise, albeit one that only retains tone and a central character for this and presumably many other adventures to come. A sequel to 2019’s smash hit Knives Out, Glass Onion brings southern detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) back for another murder mystery, and though new producer Netflix bungled the release strategy, Johnson is free to do whatever he wants on the production side. The result is a sequel that improves on the original, utilizing all the quirks and tropes of the genre to tell a story about wealth and hubris that smells contemporary but will stay evergreen thanks to a neverending supply of overconfident billionaires.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Despite only being a little less than five years apart, the two Black Panther films were released in different cinematic landscapes. The original Black Panther came out as the superhero movie genre was at its peak, riding a cresting wave of critical acclaim for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It featured some of the franchise’s best world-building, its best villain, and introduced a new cast of characters who could conceivably lead their own entries. The sequel, Wakanda Forever, is without its lead after Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death mid-production, and it’s coming in the middle of a creative slump for the MCU, dogged by overproduction and the distillation of the brand thanks to a dozen Disney+ series. The money still gets made, but Wakanda Forever doesn’t linger like Black Panther did. A world that seemed endless after the original feels constrained by the sequel. It’s time for director Ryan Coogler to get out while he still can.
Every year, there’s at least one movie whose critical acclaim makes me feel like an idiot. Drive My Car was too uneventful, Zama too opaque, and for 2022, Aftersun was too cold. Charlotte Wells’ autobiographical debut bowled critics over, and audiences too judging by the prodigious sniffling in the theater, but all I could pull out of it was a strong coming of age story about a girl and her totally normal dad. I don’t buy every rug that looks nice, I’d prefer a crowd of people not sing Happy Birthday to me, and I would hate being ambushed by karaoke. Clearly, I’m brooding and mysterious and worthy of being the central enigma in a movie.
Comedian, actor, and writer Billy Eichner has been vocal about the momentous nature of his film Bros, one of the first gay romantic comedies backed by a major studio. He was equally vocal about audiences not showing up to support a film that didn’t make its modest budget back, blaming homophobic theatergoers as opposed to his film’s own deficiencies and a cinema business still struggling amidst Covid. Eichner, director Nicholas Stoller, and the cast and crew of Bros should instead take this commercial and creative failure as a sign of progress. One kind of success for the LGBT community is the ability to make mediocre art and immediately move on to the next thing. Acceptance isn’t resting on every work. Bros overestimates a lot of things about itself, like the appeal of its characters, its choice of genre, its humor, its transgressiveness, and its role in the broader culture.
After seventeen years, Todd Field finally returns to filmmaking with Tar, the objective masterpiece of 2022. Only Field’s third film, Tar comes in the footsteps of In the Bedroom and Little Children, both literary adaptations about the sins lurking beneath their ostensibly happy Americana settings. In Tar, Field’s first original screenplay, the same basic theme applies but there’s nothing normal or average about the film’s towering protagonist. Cate Blanchett gives what could be the best performance in her storied career as Lydia Tar, an elite conductor beloved by high society but haunted by all the personal and professional landmines she’s planted in her life. As those landmines begin to detonate, the rarefied air that she’s been living in becomes a toxic cloud, brought on by her own manipulations and arrogance. For 158 immaculate minutes, Field and Blanchett keep the viewer rapt and devoted to the political minutiae of classical music as one of its brightest stars comes crashing back to earth.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On
The nicecore subgenre gets a stop-motion entry with Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, though this one’s a little more melancholic, befitting its A24 production company. Adapted from the web shorts, Dean Fleischer Camp and Jenny Slate give a feature length vehicle to their adorable little guy. The film’s title gives a physical description of the character, but the film provides so much more about his life and how he interprets a world that’s bigger and more dangerous than it is for the occasional human he interacts with. Featuring fantastic voice performances from an unrecognizable Slate and an instantly recognizable Isabella Rosselini as Marcel’s grandmother Connie, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is 2022’s can’t-miss movie, such that a person doesn’t exist who wouldn’t be amused or moved by this smart and perceptive piece of filmmaking.
Best Films of 2022
By Jon Kissel
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.
A miracle is still one of the criteria for sainthood in the Catholic church. Per their miter-wielding referees, it’s a real thing with a real definition, but in the secular world, it’s just a term for something statistically rare. Meaning can be ascribed, but it’s not a requirement. A random event is just that, a reminder of an indifferent universe and the cold physical laws that govern it. Jordan Peele’s Nope wonders at miracles from all sides: where they originate from, how they’re observed, and how they’re interpreted. Informed by cinematic history and laden with religious imagery, the film creates distance from the ‘social thriller’ subgenre that Peele brought to prominence while proving himself as a filmmaker capable of thrilling daylight setpieces alongside his haunting nighttime bonechillers.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.