We asked some of our writers to contribute a paragraph about the most memorable films and TV shows they watched this year.
R. R. Reno
I'm usually in a difficult position when asked about my favorite hours of screen time. Yes, on occasion I go to the cinema. But most of my movie watching happens on airplanes, when I find my attention going to the screen of a passenger in the row ahead of me. Quite often, the movie draws me in, and I watch it nearly all the way through without sound. Friends find this practice odd. Don't you miss out on nuances of dialogue? Truth be told, there's not much dialogue in movies today. Apparently, Hollywood suppresses complex dialogue so that its movies will do well in China. Even without sound, I can tell that Marvel action films are not dialogue-driven. Moreover, movies employ a wide range of cinematic techniques to signal mood and atmosphere. It's never hard to make out who the bad guys are. When the plot has complex turns, it becomes a mental challenge for me to try to puzzle things out, heightening my engagement.
So what were my favorites? Since I rarely notice a movie in the next row until it's underway, I miss the titles. But some are so well advertised that even I can recognize that Tom Cruise is starring in the new Top Gun film, the action scenes of which held my attention. I saw House of Gucci twice, having come into it halfway the first time and followed it from the beginning the next time, when the person sitting next to me selected it. Sometimes I need to ask my daughter, “Hey, what's the film in which a gang breaks into a police station to steal a shipping container full of cash? It's the one with the muscle-bound bald guy who looks like he is seven feet tall and plays a federal agent.” (Answer: Fast Five.)
Silent films? It's an acquired taste, I'll admit. Think of it as the mirror image of radio theater, sound without images flipped over to images without sound.
Is film still capable of delivering something, some jolt of truth and beauty, that would make it worthy of that most supreme designation, art? Increasingly, everywhere you look, the answer is no: We’ve either dull and dreary films eager to educate us in right-thinking, or dumb and loud flicks eager to syphon off as much of our time and money as possible. Which is why, from about its tenth minute onwards, Everything Everywhere All At Once comes first as a shock, then as a delight, and finally as a profound meditation on human life.
What’s the movie about? Well, the title captures it neatly: It’s about everything, about the choices we make in life, and the choices we don’t, and the ways in which both end up shaping the future and rewriting the past. Need a bit more description? Here goes: It takes place largely inside an IRS building, and it’s outrageously funny.
It also may be the most profoundly religious movie released in a very long time. First, because it forces not only its characters but also its viewers to stop and question what it is that they actually believe is the purpose of life here on earth. Second, because its conclusion—and I’m spoiling very little of the fun here—is that of all the possible parallel lives we can live in the multiverse, none is happier and more satisfying than that dedicated to our family, our community, and our home.
2022 was a year when I watched only a few movies, what with a new baby, a new house, and a new teaching job. I appreciated The Batman, a thoughtful re-examination of Gotham City’s nocturnal protector, and I was unsettled by The Northman, a successful attempt to make a Hollywood film with a pagan Viking worldview. One of the most purely enjoyable films I experienced this year was Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Rian Johnson’s exuberant follow-up to his 2019 whodunnit hit Knives Out. Like its predecessor, the film is a Christie-esque confection of a murder mystery, but one set in the contemporary world. In fact, it’s set in early 2020, and the cast of suspects are all fleeing the coronavirus pandemic for a murder-mystery-themed Greek island getaway. Among them is the famous Southern gentleman sleuth, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). As the plot unfurls, it of course turns out that Blanc is there to do more than add to the ambiance of the host’s planned murder mystery. The pleasures of Glass Onion are both its intricate plot machinations and its razor-edged satire of rich and egotistical “disruptors.” The partygoers on the island are a rogues’ gallery of the tech world, from MRA vloggers to self-appointed innovation gurus. Johnson knows the audience will be hungry to see justice done, not only for the crimes Blanc is investigating, but for the whole edifice of lies and exploitation upon which these people have built their luxurious existence. Without spoiling the film, I will say it is a satisfying ride and I am glad I managed to see it on the big screen.
I’d never understood the star-power of Tom Cruise. But Top Gun: Maverick, and its enormous box-office success, made me think that maybe I had missed something crucial. Why was he able to grab the nation, and even the world, by the lapels over and over again? Charisma is the simple answer. But I believe it’s also Cruise’s ability to translate his imagination into real action. He performs his own stunts. In the Mission Impossible movies especially, he represents a very American type of hero—someone who can and will do what needs to be done, and succeed. This is a comforting sentiment in an age where many feel completely out of control, bombarded by defeatist and hyperbolic sermonizing from those who claim to have our best interests at heart. If only there was someone who could inspire us, get us on our feet, and tell us we are capable of more. Enter: Tom Cruise.
Next, how about an arthouse movie: The Worst Person in the World. One way to measure the health of a society is to ask: How are the women doing? Julie, the protagonist, answers: Not well at all. Julie is restless and uncertain, adrift in a century where meaningful relationships are few and far between. The film captures a condition of life that many will, unfortunately, recognize. The Worst Person will equally bruise you and make you laugh.
I’d like to highlight a few movies I’ve watched over the past year that focus on characters rather than feelings. This summer I rewatched M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. It’s exciting, funny, thought-provoking, and features a goofy Joaquin Phoenix and a non-gory Mel Gibson. What more could you want? It’s just hair-raising enough for those like myself who won’t be caught touching horror films with a ten-foot pole.
I also watched the recent release Devotion, based on the true stories of two pilots in the Korean War: Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) and Tom Hudner (Glen Powell). The movie is based on the book Devotion by Adam Makos. My opinion of the movie was a little tainted by expectation. It is not quite as good as the book. Regardless, it’s refreshing to watch a patriotic film whose worst offense, aside from battle violence and language, is tobacco.
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