Screening Room: Best Movies of 2022

Now that 2023 is almost upon us, it is time to start catching up on all the great movies of 2022. It’s always a good way to spend a cold January.

My year-end roundup is at Eyes Wide Open:

Assuming the future still contains books, when one is written about what moviegoing was like in 2022, it will have a hard time finding a theme. Think pieces on the state of Hollywood (including several penned by this critic) over the past few years often bemoaned the industry’s caution and overreliance on industrially producing sequels to safe IP. The concern grew that, post-pandemic, theaters and audiences would stick to the familiar. To a degree that did happen, with even supposed arthouse theaters showing Wakanda Forever. But as the year closes with the usual late-December crush of award contenders muscling into crowded release schedules, fears of a movie landscape dominated only by superhero flicks with quarter-billion-dollar budgets have not quite panned out…

I break down the ten best movies of the year (some of which are pictured above), and also list some honorable mentions and disappointments.

Screening Room: ‘Living’

What would you do if you discovered you had six months to live? That’s the premise of Oliver Hermanus’ Living, respectfully adapted by Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) from Akira Kurosawa’s great Ikiru (1953).

Living opens today in limited release and expands around the country in January. My review is at PopMatters:

Living keeps the early 1950s time period, transposing Kurosawa’s story quite neatly from Tokyo to London, another capital city smothered under war trauma, social stricture, and emotional repression. Bill Nighy plays Williams, the head of a small unit of Public Works bureaucrats. His emotional register leaves as narrow a footprint as the work his people never seem to accomplish. Having buried himself in routine since the death of his wife, Williams keeps the world itself at bay by very simply never engaging…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Babylon’

Damien Chazelle’s rollicking and ridiculous epic cautionary tale, Babylon, opens next week.

My review is at PopMatters:

Babylon has buckets of frenzy and excess at a wildly uneven three hours. That is not always a bad thing. Given the mid-to-late 1920s Hollywood setting, low-key would have been a betrayal. It’s the silent era pinnacle when entrepreneurial nobodies made quicksilver fortunes by producing gauzy cinematic fantasies with hubris, moxie, and artistry. Chazelle’s Hollywood is a playground where boozing heartthrobs like Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) and drugged-out bombshells like Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) put the pedal to the metal without consequence based solely on how good they look on that screen. It is also a place where a striver like Manny Torres (Diego Calva) can transform himself from gofer to director, and jazz musician Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) can vault from the bandstand to stardom. As Penny Lane would say in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous’ Penny Lane would say, “It’s all happening”…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘White Noise’

Many have said that Don DeLillo’s White Noise is an unfilmmable novel. Well, it’s a film with Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, and even a killer LCD Soundsystem-scored dance number.

White Noise is playing now in limited release. It will be on Netflix December 30. My review is at PopMatters:

Pity the person asking what White Noise, Noah Baumbach’s messy yet fun adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 1984 novel of comic catastrophe and looming portents, is about. The response may take time to compose, arrive in paragraph form, involve contemplative gazing, and include the phrase “it’s about … America.” Such an answer may drive the potential viewer towards something starring Ryan Reynolds. This is a shame…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Love in the Time of Fentanyl’

I reviewed the documentary Love in the Time of Fentanyl from DOC NYC for The Playlist:

Almost everything viewers need to know about the mortal consequences of the fentanyl epidemic portrayed in Colin Askey’s new Vancouver-set documentary “Love in the Time of Fentanyl” is contained in one exchange between two users. One man talks about how coming off heroin was hard but manageable, essentially Netflix and chilling in his apartment for a week—but detoxing from fentanyl? That led to the emergency room. Given that and the spread of fentanyl throughout the city’s illicit drug supply, it is easier to understand the argument for the safe-injection site which the film documents. At the same time, seeing that site as anything but a Band-Aid on a grievous wound is hard…

It should be playing later this year on PBS’s Independent Lens.

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘There There’

There There, the latest comedy from Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess) opens later this week. I reviewed for Slant:

Writer-director Andrew Bujalski’s There There, a funny and cleverly linked series of dramedic vignettes, doesn’t try to hide the stitchwork imposed by pandemic-period production restrictions. Instead, the film leans into them, creating a schizoid atmosphere that underlies and darkens some of the more seemingly straightforward relationship skirmishes and soul-searching soliloquies that fill much of its running time…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’

The new movie from Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin, reunites Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson from his first feature, In Bruges.

Banshees opens this week. I reviewed for Eyes Wide Open:

Given what Martin McDonagh puts his characters through in his latest bloody confabulation, The Banshees of Inisherin, and how poorly they explain and understand it, putting too much stock in what they say might be unwise. At one point, Pádraic (Colin Farrell) asks his until-recently best friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) the name of the song Colm has been composing on his fiddle. Told it’s “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Pádraic asks why. “I just like the sound of the double ‘sh’s,” Colm replies. He might even be telling the truth. Of course, this is a man who has threatened to slice off his fingers one at a time if Pádraic does not stop talking to him. So Colm’s judgment and clarity might be questionable…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘See How They Run’

Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan head up the superb cast of the new mystery caper See How They Run, which opens next week.

My review is at Slant:

Set in London in 1953, the film busily corkscrews a whodunnit and a narrative about mismatched cops into the behind-the-scenes machinations around a planned movie adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, then only a few months into its 70-or-so-year run. After the adaptation’s potential director, the blacklisted and highly opinionated drunk Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody), is found murdered and deposited on the theater stage, the police—pert and eager Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan), depressed and cynical Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell)—set about determining which of the cast or crew did the deed…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Story of Film: A New Generation’

A follow-up to his 15-part series on the history of cinema, Mark Cousins’s The Story of Film: A New Generation covers how the movies look in the 21st century (Mad Max: Fury Road to Pedro Costa essay documentaries).

It opens this Friday and is a glorious good time. My review is at Slant:

It’s hard to think of another art form, except maybe the theater, that spends as much time and effort celebrating itself as film. From the That’s Entertainment! anthology to the AFI’s “100” listicle TV specials to the creepy “We Make Movies Better” ad campaign for AMC Theaters featuring Nicole Kidman, the filmmaking industry has long seemed to suffer from an insecurity requiring constant demands from the audience to please, please like it. Fortunately, Mark Cousins’s confidently sprawling new documentary, The Story of Film: A New Generation, feels no need to bang viewers over the head with the insistence that cinema is special, damnit…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Breaking’

My review of the movie Breaking originally ran earlier in the year after its Sundance premiere when it was still titled 892. It’s getting a limited release now and is worth seeking out, particularly for featuring one of the final performances from the late great Michael K. Williams.

You can read the review at Slant:

Abi Damaris Corbin’s terse and powerful Breaking falls snugly into the genre of film centered around hostage negotiations, but it extends past familiarity with the aim of satisfying more than our thirst for thrills. Based closely on a real incident from 2017, the film tells the story of Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega), a Marine veteran suffering from PTSD who walked into a Wells Fargo bank in an Atlanta suburb and said he would detonate a bomb unless his demand was met. That demand would seem almost comically small in a fictional version of this story: $892 in disability payments that the Department of Veterans Affairs withheld from Easley, which he needed in order to pay off student debt. This is a man looking not to get rich or take revenge, but to get a little shred of his dignity back…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Nightclubbing: The Birth of Punk Rock in NYC’

The monthly Sound Unseen film series is showing a cool new documentary this week at Trylon Cinema. Danny Garcia’s Nightclubbing: The Birth of Punk Rock in NYC throws down the gauntlet by arguing that punk really got its start at Max’s Kansas City and not CBGB. For a certain kind of fan, these are fighting words.

My review is at PopMatters:

Garcia’s film is predicated on the belief that Max’s Kansas City was every bit as important to the evolution of art and music as Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon or the Algonquin Round Table. While the argument gets stretched a bit thin from time to time, Nightclubbing has a preponderance of evidence on its side. Among the bands nurtured with lengthy stays at Max’s were the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, the Heartbreakers, the Stooges, and Alice Cooper. It is hard to imagine a more fertile vortex of glam, garage, avant-garde and proto-punk happening in just the right city at just the right time and place…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Nope’

Jordan Peele’s Nope opens this week. It’s like Get Out and Us … only not.

My review is at Slant:

In writer-director Jordan Peele’s chilling Nope, a struggling, Black-operated ranch that supplies horses for Hollywood productions faces an additional threat in the form of an extraterrestrial being that likes to suck animals and people up into the clouds. The Haywood ranch is a family-run operation, with OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) doing most of the work with a glum diligence while his upbeat sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer), handles the people-interfacing duties. Though the siblings are hardly on the best of terms, when it comes time to face down the alien presence, they unsurprisingly rediscover a familial bond…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Gray Man’

Netflix’s next big bet to produce $200 million blockbusters to stream on the small screen is the Russo brothers’ The Gray Man, an assassin-versus-assassin thriller with Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling that shows a sharp drop-off in quality and imagination from the Russos’ MCU movies.

The Gray Man streams on Netflix tomorrow. My review is at Slant:

If all you knew about the C.I.A. was what you saw in Anthony and Joe Russo’s The Gray Man, you would think it was solely devoted to assassination. The entire plot of the film revolves around the psychopathic Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) trying to take out his former colleague, Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling), a.k.a Sierra Six, after the latter uncovers unsavory secrets about the agency, which wants to eliminate every trace of Sierra, a poorly considered program that turns convicted murderers into government-sanctioned killers. If this sounds like the plot of every Jason Bourne film, that’s because it basically is…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Forgiven’

The latest arch provocation from John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Calvary), an adaptation of Lawrence Osborne’s novel The Forgiven, opens in limited release tomorrow. My review is at PopMatters:

David (Ralph Fiennes) and Jo (Jessica Chastain), are a nightmarish pair who can barely see past their own privilege to stop complaining. “Very picturesque, I suppose, in a banal sort of way,” David notes while looking at a vast desert vista from atop a horse. He then lists the gay Westerners who famously came to Morocco since Edwardian times (Gide, Ginsberg, Burroughs), “primarily to bugger little Arab boys.” The flippancy of the remark, coming just the morning after his drunk driving killed an Arab boy, is hard to stomach but is placed there not just for discomfort. Swaddled in and bored by comfort, the Europeans seem to appreciate nothing. Until one of them has something to lose…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Hold Your Fire’

Prior to 1973, there was not a lot of nuance in how the police handled hostage situations. At some point they would lose patience and storm in. As Attica and other tragedies showed, hostages frequently did not survive. The new documentary Hold Your Fire describes a little-remembered siege in Brooklyn from 1973 where the art of hostage negotiation might have been invented.

Hold Your Fire opens in limited release this Friday. My review is at Slant:

With little preamble, Hold Your Fire drops us into the heat of the robbery, then flicks through the resulting drama. Talking-head interviews with Schlossberg, police officers, and some of the robbers and their hostages are interspersed with archival images and video footage captured by news outlets. The footage—of the rattling volleys of gunfire, the rumbling arrival of a police armored personnel carrier, and crowds pressing against barricades and cheering for the robbers—lends a wartime aesthetic of sorts to an urban crime narrative. Through it all, Jonathan Sanford’s squealing jazz-inflected score underlines the chaos of the situation…

Here is the trailer: