All Quiet on the Western Front
I feel like I was one of the only people who did not have to read this book in school so this most recent remake was my first exposure to this story. It was a hell of a way to get introduced to it, with this certainly being the most brutal watch of this year’s nominees. Technically this movie is immaculate, not shying away from the large scale of war and the gruesome details that go along with it. Every muddy trench and loud gunshot feels authentic, making me wish I was able to see this in a theater instead of on Netflix. Still, this is a unique take on a familiar genre and will undoubtedly stick with you long after this awards season ends.
Avatar: The Way of Water
This is hard to judge this because I saw it the way James Cameron demanded it be seen. On the largest IMAX screen I could possibly find. Despite all of its flaws, and trust me there are plenty, for almost 3 and a half hours I sat in disbelief of the visual masterpiece I was taking in. It sounds cliche, for sure, but Cameron is able to make Pandora feel like a real place that you can fully immerse yourself in. Along with the visual effects is an entertaining enough story to keep you engaged with some truly phenomenal action. It felt just like seeing the first Avatar in theaters again. And just like the first Avatar there is some very questionable dialogue and story elements. The script isn’t awful but it is certainly a major step down from everything else. I am a bit curious how this will play on my home TV when I am not being sucked into the 3D landscapes but for what it was, I enjoyed it.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Martin McDonaugh follows up his hugely successful Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with his quaintest film yet. The story revolves around two lifelong friends, played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who hit conflict when one abruptly decides to end the friendship. The movie does not drift too far off from this central concept and McDonaugh does more than I was expecting with it. I was left with an interesting study on how we reflect on our lives and legacy, something that was a bit sweeter than you might expect from McDonaugh’s previous work. The smaller scale really helps add extra weight to each of the characters and scenes and it comes out as one of the most thoughtful films of the year.
Music biopics are coming back again and I would say the results have been mixed at best. While this will certainly be too much for some people, there is no denying that Baz Luhrmann treated Elvis like the God-like figure he has become in pop culture. Luhrmann’s manic style helps move this film along from decade to decade with wildly entertaining and disjointed results. Austin Butler nails the role, going above and beyond what could easily come across as a novelty Vegas act. He adds a lot of heart and personality to the icon that never gets lost in the shuffle of the movie. It might not be perfect, but Luhrmann does his best to keep this from feeling redundant.
Everything Everywhere All At Once
Since I never put out an official Best of 2022 List for films I’ll use this as my chance to say Everything Everywhere All At Once was the best movie of the last couple years. This is a wholly original film from how it is written, filmed, edited and performed, taking a challenging concept, making it weird and still crafting a human story around it. Each time I have revisited this since theaters I have been immediately sucked in by the charismatic performances and fast-paced editing. When most science-fiction and action feels made to start a franchise or expand a pre-existing universe it was refreshing to see artists come together to create something to stand independently. I know there are several other critics who have been praising this film for a year so I will just leave this by saying I am so glad this got made and I am even happier that so many others found it as special as I did.
This seemed like the biggest slam dunk of Oscar season. Steven Spielberg recounting his adolescence and his journey to becoming the greatest American filmmaker. I expected a beautiful love letter to the films and people who inspired him. There are glimmers of that in The Fabelmans but what Spielberg actually delivers is something far more interesting. It is a shockingly dark and honest look at a broken family and how his love for filmmaking helped him navigate these tough times. Like all great Spielberg films it has heart, humor, lovable characters but it certainly is more nuanced than it has been given credit for. Even if it does not go on to sweep the Oscars like it was originally predicted to, there is no denying this is another gem among dozens in Spielberg’s filmography.
This movie took months to fully grow on me. I was initially let down by a story I felt was meandering and messy. As the year went on I kept recalling scenes from this film, thinking about how accurately they seemed to apply to conversations about cancel culture and separation of art from artist. None of these ideas are new but the way Tár explores them certainly are. After a recent rewatch it was only confirmed how great this story really was. Cate Blanchett commands every moment of this, slowly letting her poise disintegrate as the world around her seems to betray her. It is a fascinating character study that is unlike anything I have seen all year and will certainly start conversations. The slow pace and stuffy presentation is not for everyone but it definitely rewards audiences who give it the time.
Top Gun: Maverick
Sometimes you just need to turn your brain off a little and accept a movie for exactly what it is trying to be. If you’ve seen Top Gun: Maverick you know you aren’t getting Shakespeare but instead you’re getting a perfect Hollywood action flick with fun characters, big action, and quotable dialogue. Tom Cruise once again proves he is still a movie star, even as he approaches 60. His take on Maverick is a bit more humble and down-to-earth but still radiates charisma and confidence when needed. Every at its most corny, this film knows exactly what it is and delivers on everything you would want from the sequel to a beloved (and maybe overrated) classic.
Triangle of Sadness
If you want to know if you will like Triangle of Sadness just ask yourself 1) Do you like White Lotus and 2) Are you okay watching people vomit? If your answer is yes to both then go on Hulu now because this movie is excellent. While many shows and movies have explored class warfare this year, Triangle of Sadness does it in a uniquely funny and crass way that has stuck with me since it came out. Even when the points being made are on the nose, the movie is still entertaining enough to help cover up for it. It does go on a little longer than it needs but considering how much this movie is able to pull off, it at least does not ever feel dull like other two and a half hour long awards fare. Also, save this one for before you eat. This is just as gross as you’ve heard.
This is definitely the hardest movie to watch of the group. Not necessarily because of anything we see on-screen but because of the bleak nature of the subject matter. The film is inspired by a real isolated Mennonite community and the sexual assaults against the women of the colony. Sarah Polley’s script feels more like a stage play as characters sit around, discussing whether or not they should leave. The simple story is expanded upon with fascinating debates, going deep into the many grey areas and complications of the situation. While not always the easiest to listen to, it gives you plenty of material to chew over and makes you empathize with each character. The entire ensemble is phenomenal with Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, and Ben Whishaw giving some of the best performances of their careers. I have been a bit disappointed this hadn’t been doing much during the awards season but I am glad it was able to get a well-deserved nomination here.
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