This is the final entry of notes on films I saw in 2022. A major theme is an effort to catch up on an online challenge involving Criterion films, although the major Oscar contenders are also coming out this time of year, so I also saw a bunch of those.
Movie #151/ New Movie #101: Smile (Movie Theater)
It can be a bit derivative. Some of the performances seem off in a way that isn’t clearly intentional. Some effects work better than others. The trauma metaphor is quite obvious. But it’s creepy. Sosie Bacon is really effective at depicting someone who was tightly wound becoming unhinged. Writer/ Director Parker Finn plays with expectations in interesting ways.
Short Movie #23: Laura Hasn’t Slept (Youtube)
A creepy proof of concept for the superior Smile. It doesn’t have the clever ideas, although it does have the atmosphere and chilling performances.
Movie #152: In the Mood For Love (Movie Theater)
This is a film about middle-class people in 1960s Hong Kong forming a relationship because their spouses are having an affair. How is it so beautiful? It provides its mood astoundingly well.
Short Movie #24: Werewolf By Night (Disney Plus)
It’s an oddball project: a one-off special in the style of a Universal horror film. But it works really well, playing a bit with expectations while going into a monster hunt story. Gael García Bernal and Laura Donnelly are effective at introducing their leads.
Movie #153/ New Movie #102: Police Story (Criterion Blu-Ray)
An action comedy with fantastic practical effects that sometimes goes in unexpected directions. It’s tonally quite varied, but it’s fun and an excellent showcase for a young Jackie Chan.
Movie #154/ New Movie #103: The Great Buster (Mubi)
It’s a decent documentary on a film genius, getting into his troubled beginnings. Structurally there’s a clever decision to focus on his renewed reputation at the end, so it can conclude with the films that made his reputation, even if those would chronologically be in the center.
Movie #155/ New Movie #104: Triangle of Sadness (Movie Theater)
This is an oddball project, with three sections that have different tones dealing with many of the same characters. Some of the discussions about ideas are kind of obvious, and it seems some people really hate the film (my brother thought it was overlong and might have a white supremacist message in a plot point in the final section when one character becomes powerful.) I can believe the ridiculousness depicted here, which helps the satire. Dolly De Leon is a revelation in the final act.
Movie #156/ New Movie #105: Police Story 2 (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It’s a bit more padded than the original, and not as innovative, but it’s definitely worth checking out. The sequel is a lot of fun, making the case that Jackie Chan may be the best ever in the arena of action comedy. There are some fantastic set pieces, and the great use of long shots likely makes it worth it seeing on the big screen if you ever have the chance (I saw it on the quite decent Criterion Blu-ray.)
Movie #157/ New Movie #106: Terrifier 2 (Movie Theater)
I saw it in a fairly crowded screening in a local theater which only plays it at 9PM. That’s a good atmosphere for a film that strikes me as a homage to a types of films it generally surpasses. Art the Clown is an over the top monster, but the film’s good at establishing the heroine who can stand up to him. Not for everyone, due to graphic violence.
Movie #158/ New Movie #107: TÁR (Movie Theater)
It’s worth going into this knowing as little as possible, and worth seeing on the big screen for the visuals and the sound (a film about a conductor is best appreciated with a better speaker setup than the one I have at home.) The following’s in the first act so it’s not spoilers, but this is a film that combines the modern (a female conductor, smartphones and the internet, the aftermath of the pandemic) with classic themes of the meaning of music, and difficult artists. Cate Blanchett is amazing. I’m primed to like movies about big ideas where some key things are ambiguous, and this hits the sweet spot.
Movie #159/ New Movie #108: Halloween Ends (Movie Theater)
The reviews were bad, but this is one of this situations where I blame the critics for failing their duty to distinguish from generic audience expectations and recognize craft. A good chunk of it is a Curse of the Cat People type of sequel in that it’s not the film you expect it to be, especially due to a new male lead. But the Scarecrow is an interesting character, and the entire saga (the 1978 original and the requel trilogy) is now a part of the horror canon. I think this elevates .
Movie #160/ New Movie #109: Armageddon Time (Movie Theater)
It’s a decent film about the director’s experiences with his family growing up, when he wanted to be an artist and dealt with a growing awareness of antisemitism, with the bad luck to come out in the same year as Spielberg’s film on a similar topic. It has a good cast, and can lead to interesting conversations about privilege and responsibility. I do kinda want to smack some sense into the spoiled lead, but he’s a brat in a realistic way.
Movie #161/ New Movie #110: Rouge (Criterion Channel)
It’s an interesting ghostly romance as the spirit of a courtesan wishes to be reunited with her partner 53 years after their joint suicide, and figures into the lives of a modern (circa 1987) Hong Kong couple. The story works to show a clash between Hong Kong in the early and late 20th Century, and the reality behind old myths.
Movie #162/ New Movie #111: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Movie Theater)
Obviously, this was not the story Coogler and company intended to tell. They wanted to continue T’Challa’s arc as he faces new challenges and becomes more comfortable as the king of Wakanda. Real-life circumstances led to a new story on loss and mourning.
There is a lot that’s good. Namor as an indigenous figure is compelling, and he is an effective antagonist. It’s a star turn for Tenoch Huerta. Angela Basset is compelling as a queen struggling with the loss of her son as the rest of the world waits to pounce. However, it is the most like a TV show than any Marvel movie. Part of it is the way a supporting character from the first film is essentially the lead here. A sad aspect of it is “the show must go on” attitude after the death of a beloved cast member. Letitia Wright is probably the weakest lead of any MCU film (this is more of a compliment to the other films) and the earlier parts drag a bit when we don’t always have performers on the level of Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya or Lupita Nyong’o, who is absent for the first half. There is a bit of Spider-Man No Way Home in that the challenge isn’t just to stop the bad guy, but for the heroes to avoid losing their souls in the process. It’s a grey and morally messy world, and the film reflects that well.
Movie #163/ New Movie #112: The Menu (Movie Theater)
There seems to be an eat the rich mood with films like this and Triangle of Sadness, with wealthy and amoral morons getting their comeuppance. It’s a bit undercut by the knowledge that the director, producers and cast aren’t exactly middle class, and it seems to be venting about the conflict of making something special that can mainly be afforded by the rich. It’s okay.
Movie #164/ New Movie #113: Till (Movie Theater)
It’s a well-made procedural from the perspective of the victim’s mother, showing her view of the murder case and the pathway to becoming an activist. It conveys the tragedy of a nightmare coming true. There are some good details, especially how it’s often up to the grieving mother to comfort others who are also devastated by the loss. And it’s a reminder of how nasty things were in living memory. I’d love for Danielle Deadwyler to get an Oscar nod.
Movie #165/ New Movie #114: Glass Onion (Movie Theater)
It’s not a retread of Knives Out. Frankly, it plays with expectations from the original in clever ways. It’s a solid ensemble in a story that tackles a different group of rich twerps than Knives Out: this one is about disruptors/ influencers whereas that one was about generational wealth. Janelle Monae is as good here as everyone says. It’s the best supporting actress performance I’ve seen this year (with the caveat that I have not yet seen She Said, The Whale or Women Talking.)
Movie #166/ New Movie #115: Black Adam (Movie Theater)
There are serious flaws in concept and execution. The movie keeps secrets about its lead for the sake of a third act twist spoiled by the trailer. The bad guy kinda sucks, and is less interesting than the Middle-Eastern family who takes up with Black Adam, who are themselves less interesting than the Justice Society. Dwayne Johnson is decent as a more dangerous than usual superhero. Pierce Brosnan is great as Doctor Fate, in a stealth Justice Society film (which doesn’t quite work when two characters are new members who don’t have any history with the other two so there isn’t much of a sense of why we should care about them.)
Short Movie #25: Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (Disney Plus)
It was fun. The 45 minute Holiday specials are an interesting diversion for Marvel/ Disney Plus. This one was a decent spotlight on Pom Klementieff’s Mantis, while riffing on the meaning of the Holidays and the characters in between the big adventures.
Movie #167/ New Movie #116: Lonesome (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It may be better to go into this knowing as little as possible. This is an odd film that seems to try to be many things, some very well. Two young people meet and have a good time at Coney Island, with the director using some innovations which remain impressive and some which seem a bit dated. It sometimes tries to go for the universal, although the leads are quite likable.
Movie #168/ New Movie #117: I Know Where I’m Going (Criterion DVD)
It’s not my favorite of the Powell/ Pressburger films, though it is quite pleasant. It’s predictable, but there’s a good sense of the Scottish location.
Movie #169/ New Movie #118: The Banshees of Inisherin (Movie Theater)
This is a weird film in which a small local conflict in a tiny Irish island leads to extreme reactions. The cast is exceptional. Colin Farell gives humanity to someone who isn’t very bright, which is a tough trick in film. Brendan Gleeson may get an Oscar with slight fraud since he’s definitely a colead, though he is quite good at conveying one of the most intense midlife crises in film. Barry Keoghan brings pathos to the village idiot. Kerry Condon has the most traditional role of a woman intellectually limited by small-town life but she portrays it well. The whole thing shows how good Martin McDonagh is at interpersonal drama taken to 11.
Short Movie #25: Ls Chambre (Criterion DVD)
It’s an oddball experimental short that likely influenced a pivotal scene in the recent Green Knight movie, and other work. It’s a showcase for a potentially interesting trick.
Movie #170/ New Movie #119: The Incredible Shrinking Man (Criterion DVD)
This B sci-fi film almost seems like a procedural, just showing how an ordinary man realizes that he’s shrinking and what happens next. It gets to life and death situations quickly, and gets theologically heavy with weighty questions on the will to live and an individual’s meaning, along with charmingly dated special effects.
Movie #171/ New Movie #120: News From Home (Criterion DVD)
It is weird to me that this is one of Sight & Sound‘s Top 100 films. I’m curious about the critics who rate this as one of their ten favorites. There’s no false advertising. It’s footage of New York interspersed with letters from Akerman’s mother, worried about how she’s doing and updating her on all sorts of developments. I can appreciate that it’s innovative, unlike other films and there is some complexity to it. I watched it with my dad who enjoyed the footage of 70s New York, and made some observations on the locations.
Movie #172: It’s a Wonderful Life (Movie Theater)
I saw it with friends on my birthday, and it was a fantastic experience. One thing that works really well is how it’s a showcase for how Jimmy Stewart got a bit more of an edge after going to World War 2. The earlier pre-depression scenes show the nice guy audiences loved, but by the time we get to the crisis of the film, he’s pissed off about how things went. Honestly, it might be the best midlife crisis in film. Potter is a great bad guy, amoral in a way that people encounter in the real world.
Movie #173/ New Movie #121: Avatar- The Way of Water (Movie Theater 3D)
It’s a big sequel that’s part of an epic series, but it tells a new and different story focusing on what it’s like to be the kids of the heroes (and villain in one case) of the original. The focus on water culture obviously fits Cameron’s strengths, but leads to a different sensibility and stunning visuals.
Movie #174: The Most Dangerous Game (HBO Max)
I wonder how many people watch this film because it’s 62 minutes long, so it’s the bare minimum to meet various challenges. It’s a decent concept, and the sets are solid, but it does highlight the problems of early talkies when the sound quality isn’t great, and they compromise a bit on the visuals. The pacing is a bit odd, as it takes about halfway through the film to realize just what’s going on..
Movie #175: Love Actually (Peacock)
I really like how the film is structured, with multiple narratives meaning there’s no filler, and allowing the stories to get to more complex understanding of the meaning of Christmas and types of love. And it’s a fantastic cast.
Short Movie #26: Red Nose Day Actually (Vimeo)
A few minutes of catching up on what characters we like are up to is a decent trend in films (later copied by the Father of the Bride Zoom sequel.) It’s pleasant and preferable to a padded sequel.
Movie #176: Die Hard (Blu-Ray)
This was only my second time seeing the film. I’m getting a sense of its influence on a lot of stuff I like (Tarantino films, the show 24, at least one South Park gag) as well as references that are a bit dated now (not sure how many modern viewers know who Roy Rogers was, or what a party line could do for that matter.) Bruce Willis’ McClane is an effective protagonist; competent but imperfect, while Alan Rickman has an equally impressive breakout role as the suave Gruber, a bad guy who consistently seems like he could get away with it all. And it is definitely a Christmas movie.
Movie #177: The Muppets Christmas Carol (Disney +)
This is probably the most successful of the Muppets, or Muppet style adaptations I’ve seen. Some of the songs/ sequences are great, especially the introduction of Scrooge. Michael Caine is an excellent Scrooge, and makes the muppetness of it all work, although the designs are also genius.
Movie #178/ New Movie #122: Babylon (Movie Theater)
I liked it, but I can understand why it flopped. A three hour reimagining of Singin’ in the Rain by way of Goodfellas/ Wolf of Wall Street is not what everyone’s looking for. But it’s decent (in the quality sense of the word) and about something, and also about how the people in the film understand the value of the medium.
Movie #179/ New Movie #123: Close-Up (Criterion DVD)
This was a strange film, but worth checking out for the generous exploration of a screw-up, a film buff who pretended to be a famous filmmaker and tricked a family, all of whom are playing themselves. The context of it is fascinating and worth greater discussion, but the generosity of spirit is exceptional.
Movie #180/ New Movie #124: Beau Travail (HBO Max)
I don’t think I can grade it, which puts the film in rare category. It captures mood really well, showing the day to day life of French legionnaires, while a conflict beings to simmer. It conveys certain things better than any film I’ve seen, and showcases the potential of the medium. I get why it made the Sight & Sound Top 10.
Movie #181/ New Movie #125: Three Colors- Blue (Criterion Blu Ray)
It’s a well-made story of a grieving woman trying to withdraw from society, that avoids many of the typical cliches, and has some interesting techniques I haven’t seen before.
Movie #182: Modern Times (HBO Max)
It’s too obvious to say the Chaplin classic holds up, but it does. I wish there were more movies like it, with filmmakers using universal characters to explore modern concerns, or even playing around with the combination of silent characters and carefully tailored sound. There are several astounding sequences. Paulette Goddard should not be playing a teenage orphan when she’s in her mid-twenties, the common law wife of the law and several years from a divorce with a coal tycoon. It is a bit episodic, which makes the ending a bit abrupt, although I appreciate Chaplin shows the problems without suggesting there’s one cause or solution.
Movie #183/ New Movie #126: Je, Tu, Il, Elle (HBO Max)
I watch a lot of films, but I’ve got a bit of a blindspot with some arthouse fare. Recently I’ve starting check out the work of Chantal Akerman, whose narrative debut is very weird. It’s quiet, slow, primitive and mysterious. It can seem pretentious and self-indulgent, but it captures a particular sensibility rather well, with storytelling that is still novel nearly fifty years later.
Movie #184/ New Movie #127: Three Colors- White (Criterion Blu Ray)
This is more fun than what I’d usually expect from Kieślowski, as he explores the story of a hapless guy who is a big deal in Poland but not in France. It’s ridiculous, while also dealing with serious issues.
Movie #185/ New Movie #128: Days of Being Wild (Criterion Blu Ray)
This is a pretty decent movie about a screwed up young man and the people he hurts. The green filter on the Criterion release is a decent touch. It’s not Wong Kar Wai’s best film, but it’s a great example of how his major films are part of a specific shared vision. It’s weird and daring, but also satisfying.
As a minor note, the Criterion blu ray I had was a bit scratched, but I watched the last half hour on the alternate edition extra which was a bit more primitive. The ending is better on the original.
Movie #186/ New Movie #129: 2046 (Criterion Blu Ray)
This is a strange crossover, building on In The Mood To Love and Days of Being Wild, with characters and themes intersecting. It’s more interesting in the context of Wong Kar Wai’s work than as a film. It does peter out a bit at the end, although it is a underappreciated melancholy Christmas drama.
Movie #187/ New Movie #130: Breaker Morant (HBO Max)
This is an interesting and satisfying military drama, where you don’t have the typical good guys and bad guys, and it’s more of a legitimate effort to understand the messiness of war. It’s a good showcase for Edward Woodward, who I quite liked as the lead of The Wicker Man.
Movie #188/ New Movie #131: The Steel Helmet (Criterion DVD)
This is a war film that shows how the genre got a bit more cynical in the 50s (along with the likes of Paths of Glory and Bridge on the River Kwai) though it’s not quite as dark as New Hollywood or Oliver Stone. It shows a group of infantry pushed to the limits and does address political issues of the time (racism, internment camps) in an efficient 84 minutes.
Movie #189/ New Movie #132: Bay of Angels (HBO Max)
This French new wave film about a young man getting into gambling is fine. It’s a bit dull and obvious, which goes against what the whole movement is supposed to be. Demy and Moreau have made better films, although the soundtrack is nice and the characters’ flaws are believable.
Movie #190/ New Movie #133: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Hulu)
It’s a bit messy that this movie became a particular cultural touchstone, but it does work as a particular story in a very specific setting, and it also about several things. It is exceptional as an analysis of what it means to look at something else, which is always worth considering in a visual medium.