2022’s Best Pictures (Citation Needed)

5. #SheToo

Set in a fantasy world where conductors are front page news

What’s it about? Famed conductor and sometimes composer Lydia Tár is completing a dream concert series with the Berlin philharmonic orchestra, raising an adopted child with her wife (the orchestra’s lead violinist), publishing a book on her life, and forming an attachment to a gifted young cello player. Everything’s coming up Lydia… save for the fact that an indiscretion with a would-be conductor from the fellowship Lydia started is becoming unearthed and may disrupt everything.

This one’s a bit of a tour-de-force. Cate Blanchett is incredible throughout, both as calm, collected, in command Lydia and frantic “everything is unravelling” Lydia. The filmmaking is brilliant, including a lengthy single-shot scene in which Lydia teaches a masterclass while confronting a student about throwing out the works of Bach for being a dead white man who sired a whole buncha kids. Do we cancel someone’s music because we don’t identify with or like who they were? And why might Lydia lean so hard to the “no” side on that?

I also like how Lydia’s need to control her world is constantly challenged by noise. There are a lot of things she can’t control: her orchestra’s members, her wife’s emotions, her daughter’s anxieties, or the growing narrative around her former student/mistress, but the way the film demonstrates the challenges to her control is through sounds and rhythms. The masterclass student’s constantly bouncing leg. An alarm chime in a nearby apartment throwing off her composing. A scream from the woods that she never fully traces (the movie never suggests it could be a skinwalker but it could have been a skinwalker, that’s very much their MO). Little intrusive things building to a full collapse as past sins become present controversy.

It’s over two and half hours and feels closer to three, and the ending is a little abrupt, but more functionally abrupt than Triangle of Sadness. Perhaps its greatest accomplishment is tricking people into thinking it’s a biopic.

Where would I rank it? On first impression, since I currently lack time for a rewatch, I’d put it at 33, between Ordinary People and Moonlight.

4. World War 1 was, indeed, messed up

War! Huh! Good god, y’all, what is it good for? Oscar noms for Netflix!

What’s it about? Paul Bäumer enlists to fight for his country in the Great War, which has already become a machine designed to chew up and spit out young soldiers for no gain. As the government desperately tries to reach an armistice agreement to end the killing, Paul and the more experienced Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky just try to stay alive in a war doing everything it can to prevent that.

Well I knew this wouldn’t be cheery. If it were, I’d have some serious questions. It’s appropriately dark, brutal, and tragic, right from the first sequence where we’re walked through the trench warfare meat grinder of young soldiers being deployed, charged into No Man’s Land, killed, then stripped of their uniform and boots so those can go right back to the recruiter office and be handed to Paul. It upgrades the original through not being a film from 1930, and thus being able to better depict tanks and flamethrowers and desolate landscapes, and knowing what acting should be like in the sound era.

Where it doesn’t work for me is as an adaptation of the original novel, or what I assume to be the novel based on the original film. It introduces the desperate attempts to secure an armistice, where the original is laser-focused on the traumas inflicted on Paul and his classmates. It takes us all the way to the final day of the war, where I’m sure multiple generals unwilling to just run out the clock until armistice became official were making pointless final pushes just for bragging rights; OG Paul’s death is just another loss on just another day, and the lack of drama is the point.

In short, where the novel and first movie were about “War destroys men, in a dozen ways subtle and dramatic, we shouldn’t do that again,” this version makes the statement “World War 1, in specific, was messed up, just messed up.” And for a movie of that message, it’s blisteringly effective and incredibly well made. For All Quiet on the Western Front, it… falls a little short for me.

Anyway that’s the gist, I talked about this in a lot more detail on Recovered, subscribe to that podcast to hear more.

Where would I rank it? Not as high as the original, but not low… #29, under more nuanced war pic Lawrence of Arabia and over the feel-good reigning champ CODA.

3. Mission: Impossible Does a Death Star

I was not prepared to live in a world with two good Miles Teller movies

What’s it about? Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is called back to Top Gun to train a new crop of top pilots to fly an impossible mission to stop an unnamed bad country from becoming a nuclear power, one of those pilots being his late best pal’s son. Can the mission be flown? Does Maverick still have what it takes? Is time the fire in which even Tom Cruise burns? Yes, yes, and yes but not today.

Well this is the one I’ve seen three times, on purpose, so it’s doing something right.

It’s the thrilling, feel-good action-romance-surrogate father tale that’s credited with “saving the theatrical experience” right as Marvel Studios began to slip as a sure-fire billion-dollar hit machine. It works as a sequel and a stand-alone, building on the relationships and character arcs of the first movie while still telling its own story and not just redoing everything (except the opening sequence which is basically identical, but you know what, I dig that). Where Top Gun was about “Maverick is indeed the best,” Top Gun: Maverick is about the need to be a team. The closest a character gets to 80s Maverick is Glenn Powell’s Hangman, and the film is very clear that that’s his greatest flaw.

I’ve seen it twice on big screens and once on an airplane and it’s been a delight each time, absolute triumph of a motion picture, and Tom Cruise not only admits he’s getting older, he allows himself to be shown at his real height. Man gets loomed over by Miles Teller. Miles Teller does not give off “tall guy” vibes.

Where would I rank it? Look some of the upper rankings of my Oscar list (the 20s in particular) boil down to “I hear you but I, myself, love it,” so this one’s at 20, under No Country For Old Men and over The Sting.

2. Sure but Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Boyo

The real Troubles were the friends we made along the way

What’s it about? In a tiny island village in 1920s Ireland, Pádraic’s life is thrown into turmoil when his best friend, Colm, suddenly decides to end their friendship, and is willing to go to surprising lengths to make that happen, sending ripples through the whole town.

This In Bruges reunion is one of those stories to which I say “Well, it’s an Irish comedy, so there aren’t no deaths.” It plays both sides of the central conflict well: Colm wants to spend what time he has left creating music, something that could last, while Pádraic has just lost one of the central relationships of his life out of the blue and struggles to understand why. The cast is uniformly stellar, with Farrell nailing the comedy and the tragedy of Pádraic’s life. And his The Batman co-star Barry Keoghan is great as the seemingly upbeat actual saddest man on the island.

Yes, apparently you can read this movie as an allegory for the Irish civil war that’s happening in the background, including the abusive cop who’s way too happy to aggressively pick a side in the conflict, but even as just a simple human story it absolutely lands.

It’s the great, utterly quotable dialogue (“If punching a policeman is a sin, we may as well all pack up and go home” for instance) and real human tragedy we’ve come to expect from Martin McDonagh and it works on a lot of levels.

Where would I rank it? One notch over where I’d rank Maverick at 19, over No Country but under Return of the King.

1. Michelle Yeoh in the Multiverse of Madness

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

What’s it about? Evelyn Wang and her husband Waymond (who she considers too nice) are trying to resolve a tax issue to save their floundering laundromat, while Evelyn tries to navigate her strained relationship with her daughter Joy… neither of which are aided by an alternate reality action hero version of Waymond telling her that she’s the key to saving the multiverse from Jobu Topaki, a being who believes that if somewhere, somewhen, everything happens, then nothing actually matters. But maybe if nothing we do matters, than all that matters is what we do, and it’s all the more important to be kind.

Sweet calamari of Alpha Centauri is this an incredible viewing experience.

It’s exciting, it’s moving, it’s bold and innovative in ways beyond what I’d expected, and it’s central message of the need to be kind in the face of chaos is so simple and beautiful, and delivered perfectly by Ke Huy Quan, who deserves everything he’s getting. It’s a joy. It’s a delight. It’s something everyone should watch immediately instead of reading my thoughts on it. And that it has a legit shot at the title shows that the Academy might be pulling its head out of its collective ass.

Where would I rank it? Look maybe if/when I watch it a third time my opinion will change, but right now? Put it in the “This movie is basically perfect” district at #4, under It Happened One Night and over The Godfather Part II, you heard, I said what I said.

Overall I like this crop. It’s a solid crop. Nowhere near as joyless as two years ago, nothing I dislike to same level as King Richard, and with the top two hits at the box office both being nominees for the first time in 40 years, an acknowledgment that there is artistry in making a dynamite crowd pleaser.

Now… will the right one win? Only TIME… will tell.

Author: danny_g

Danny G, your humble host and blogger, has been working in community theatre since 1996, travelling the globe on and off since 1980, and caring more about nerd stuff than he should since before he can remember. And now he shares all of that with you.

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