Cale’s cinema critiques: best movies of 2022

Cale Strickland, Managing Editor

After two of the worst years in the history of the box office, movies are back, and I went to the theater more than ever before in 2022. Including streaming titles, I saw a total of 69 new releases over the course of the year. Yet, what was true of the box office during the darkest depths of the pandemic is still true now. Success stories are few and far between for smaller films. Although “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” opened to record-setting numbers, many of the year’s most anticipated projects fell far short of breaking even.

Even Hollywood’s biggest directors can not keep their movies in theaters. Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical passion project, “The Fabelmans,” was carted out of theaters and onto paid video on demand less than a month after its release. Franchises have dominated the box office for decades, but the foundation of theatergoing is crumbling. Small and mid-scale filmmaking are no longer sustainable, as studios’ go-big-or-go-home mindset continues to dominate modern moviemaking. The theatrical business is due for a massive rehaul.

In terms of quality, it was a solid year. I am not sure if it can compare to 2021’s slate, though. Julia Ducournau’s “Titane,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza,” Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” and Mike Mills’s “C’mon C’mon” are a handful of my favorite films from the past few years. Still, from the adrenaline rushes of the year’s biggest tentpole titles to the long conversations spurred by small-scale dramas, 2022 had a lot to offer. Here are five favorites, as well as a few honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions:

“Aftersun” (dir. Charlotte Wells)

There comes a time in our lives when we begin to understand that our parents are more than just our parents. We start to see their struggles and lost passions, and little details that we would not have picked up on before that critical moment form a trail of breadcrumbs leading us to who our mothers and fathers are and were. In her directorial debut, Charlotte Wells nails that feeling.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once (dir. Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan)

Multiverses are all the rage right now. Released just weeks before Sam Raimi’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan’s genre-bending, maximalist romp “Everything Everywhere All at Once” uses the complicated concept of the multiverse to cut through the noise of modern life and highlight a simple, honest feeling of optimism. Scheinert and Kwan build on the zaniness of their last project together, “Swiss Army Man,” as “Everything Everywhere All at Once” features a black-hole bagel, googly eyes, hotdog fingers and a talking raccoon. Yet, as outlandish as it sounds, it packs a universal emotional punch we all can relate to. It is a heart-pounding thriller, a moving tearjerker and one of the best in-theater experiences I have ever had.

“Triangle of Sadness” (dir. Ruben Östlund)

Ruben Östlund is known for his sharp social satires, and “Triangle of Sadness” is no exception. I am not sure if I can even recommend Östlund’s latest work. It is long, gross, over-the-top and a bit contrived. Yet, as someone who spent a lot of the pandemic watching Hasan Piker’s live streams, I was on board with almost all of what Östlund put on the screen. A movie has not made me laugh this hard in a long, long time. Oh, and the Fred Again.. needle drop in the last five minutes of this film is pitch-perfect.

  1. “Babylon” (dir. Damien Chazelle)

I was one of the few people who did not connect to Damien Chazelle’s 2016 film, “La La Land.” If that was his love letter to Los Angeles, “Babylon” is his poison-penned pressing of the industries that run the town. It is a lot, and Chazelle does not hold back. For instance, the first hour of the film centers on a massive party, and Chazelle fits everything he can into every single frame. There are hundreds of people dancing in tandem and a jazz band performing. An elephant appears. It is true chaos, and Chazelle matches the room’s freneticism with constant camera movement. 

Not all of it works, but I love what he is after here. It is bravura filmmaking fueled on ambition. A lot of people have compared it to Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but I think it is closer to Anderson’s “Magnolia.” That film was Anderson’s attempt to weave his feelings towards his hometown, Los Angeles, into a three-hour epic bouncing from character to character. With “Babylon,” Chazelle recreates that manic feeling Anderson was after in “Magnolia,” but rather than looking back on his childhood home, he is reckoning with the uncomfortable truths of Hollywood, the place he once idolized. It is a movie about a director’s complicated feelings towards a complicated place he cares a lot about. It is far from perfect, but I loved all three hours of it.

  1. “Bones and All” (dir. Luca Guadagnino)

Cannibalism is a tough sell as is. It is even harder to put out an emotional and earnest film about “eaters” in the same year “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” is released on Netflix. Yet, Luca Guadagnino’s reunion with “Call Me by Your Name” star Timothée Chalamet is just that: a sincere, heartfelt romance. Chalamet and his co-lead, Taylor Russell, play a pair of star-crossed lovers whose uncontrollable urges have pushed them into society’s margins. In Guadagnino’s adaptation of Camille DeAngelis’s novel, cannibalism is a stand-in for any alienating aspect of one’s identity. Chalamet and Russell are both exceptional, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score is one of my favorites of the year. If you can stomach a bit of gore, there is a heart-wrenching story of acceptance lying underneath this film’s bloody exterior.

  1. “Crimes of the Future” (dir. David Cronenberg)

David Cronenberg is almost 80 years old, but he seems to be more in touch with the moment than just about any other working director. The world he imagines in this film may seem radically different from today’s. Pain has been eradicated. The worlds of art and medicine have fused, as people, in search of artistic self-expression, have become obsessed with body modification. Bureaucratic agencies have been created to exercise a sense of control over humanity’s evolution, which has been accelerated by society’s destruction of the planet. A new generation is born with the ability to digest plastic. It is an odd and outlandish premise. However, in a year in which people’s rights to bodily autonomy, in all forms, were jeopardized, Cronenberg’s utopian world felt a little bit too close to home.

  1. “Nope” (dir. Jordan Peele)

Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, “Get Out,” is an all-timer for me. The ideas in his follow-up film, “Us,” intrigue me, even if the execution is not up to the almost-impossible-to-match standard “Get Out” set. With each project, Peele’s ideas have expanded in scope, and the filmmaking has followed suit. In his first two films, Peele crafted discomfort out of the realities of race and class. With “Nope,” he is questioning the moral standing of the medium of filmmaking itself. He is attempting to locate the primal forces and urges driving modern-era content creation. At the same time, he creates a spectacle-filled thrillride of an alien-invasion movie on-par with the work of Steven Spielberg, the man his third feature is a clear homage to. No other director is doing it like Peele is right now.

  1. “TÁR” (dir. Todd Field)

Prior to TÁR, writer-director Todd Field had not made a movie since 2006. If he said he spent every single day of those 16 long years laboring away at the screenplay for this film, I would believe him. His return to the big screen is a 160-minute thought experiment which places Cate Blanchett in an all-too-real spin on the world of high art. I have read Twitter thread after Twitter thread about people walking out of the theater and Googling, “Is Lydia Tár a real person?” which is a testament to Blanchett’s powerhouse performance as the film’s titular conductor and Field’s attention to detail in crafting his version of a world inaccessible to the general public. I have read review upon review calling this one of the great movies about cancel culture, but it is much more than that trite phrase. It is a true Swiss watch of a script. I have seen the film three times, and it morphs with each subsequent viewing. It makes you wonder if greatness, true dominance in one’s field, requires viciousness, or if greatness is nothing more than a title achieved through deception and manipulation. Field’s film manages to pose questions without lecturing his audience or providing simple answers. It is a Rorschach test. I know it is just the beginning of 2023, but I have a feeling we will look back at this as one of the great achievements of the decade.