It’s been a bit of an odd year for movies. Mainstream films have been a bit of a letdown, indie films were at cinemas for all of five minutes and streaming has impacted cinema in ways that worry me – most notably, how quickly they are available to watch in your own home. It concerns me that films aren’t being seen the way they should, or enjoyed in distraction-free environments, and I have strived to do my best to watch as many as I can on the big screen.
I stand by my conviction that all films benefit from the cinema experience, not just big budget actions, and I’ll continue to do my best to support the cinemas with my time and money.
Now, on with the show!
I dig Baz Luhrmann, his films are always bold and swing for the fences, he always has a vision and always has heart – all things that grow harder to find as movies grow more into ‘entertainment commodity responding to algorithms’ rather than art. Luhrman understands the power of imagery and it’s clear that in all of his films, he never plays it safe.
Elvis is a spectacular film buoyed by an even more spectacular performance from Austin Butler, who is a revelation here. The first film about Elvis to really capture the sex appeal of Elvis the performer, and make you understand the effect it had on audiences of the day; and the first Elvis film to talk about the influence of the black community on his music and how the industry didn’t support artists who weren’t ‘good white people’. This is big, ballsy, sad, beautiful, heart-on-the-sleeve filmmaking that is a delight to the senses. It runs the gamut of emotions, has that anachronistic but intuitive music that is the hallmark of a Luhrman film, and truly sparked in me an interest in someone I didn’t know I had any interest in. This film is a juggernaut of wow.
2. West Side Story
I was not a fan of the original 60’s version of this film and so approached Spielberg’s output with some trepidation. I love musicals and enjoy much of the music from the original, so I was prepared to watch it on that level; but this version has so much more to give than that. This is old-fashioned filmmaking at its finest, a big screen musical that uses every inch of the frame to its advantage and fills each moment with emotion and dancing and love. Wonderfully and earnestly performed by the entire cast but especially Ansel Elgort as Tony who has never been better, Rachel Zegler in her film debut as Maria who is perfectly cast and has the voice of an angel, but especially Ariana DeBose who rightfully won an Oscar for her bristling-with-determination-and-passion performance in this movie. They really don’t make films like this anymore.
3. Top Gun Maverick
I’ll admit it, when I heard they were making this movie I actually laughed. There were jokes about Tom Cruise trying to win back former glory, and who asked for this sequel 36 years too late. Hardy har har.
I was wrong. Because this movie is everything you never knew you wanted. The story, concerning the late Goose’s son Bradley (Miles Teller – perfectly cast) and an unwinnable mission, is faultlessly executed with incredible aviation scenes that have never before been put on film; but that’s not the only wonderful element in this film. This is not a rehash of the first film and makes a point of taking strides away from it in many positive ways. Tom Cruises age is not shied away from and is in fact used as part of his character and his interactions with the new hotshot recruits. He has an age-appropriate love interest in Jennifer Conolly who has agency and a life of her own that she’s not just gunna throw away because he flashes his pearly whites. There are women in the top gun recruits now and they are there to work not be decoration. There is a genuine sense of danger that was absent from the first film as they were in training in that one and not running actual missions, unlike this movie. The impact of Goose’s death is given its correct due. The mission is edge-of-your-seat, sweaty-palm fuel, and I love that they never name a specific country as the ‘enemy’. There are nods and references to the first film, but they service the plot and feel organic. And it’s insanely rewatchable.
Now this is how you do a ‘legacy sequel’.
As Sarah, a new and inexperienced care worker in an aged home, Jodie Comer is, again, amazing. Her friendship with resident Stephen Graham’s Tony, admitted for early-onset Alzheimer’s, is wonderfully explored as they give each other purpose and joy; before Covid 19 hits and everything changes. Watching this 2 years past the shock and fear of the initial outbreak, brought home to me how clueless we were back then, how naive. I’d forgotten how it was like stumbling about in the dark trying to make sense of how our world had irrevocably changed, the daily losses unimaginable only a few short weeks before.
It also reminded me of how scary it can be to have a job caring for others who are struggling, or maybe even losing their battle. The unbroken 26 minute shot of Sarah alone trying to hold it together for her patients/charges was painfully familiar; her sobs in the hallway something I have done myself in my years as a veterinary nurse.
This fascinated, horrified, and incensed me. I wish more people had seen this movie. I wish it had had a wider release.
5. Everything Everywhere All At Once
This movie came out of nowhere for me. I’d heard a good buzz just before it came out and decided to go see it based on word-of-mouth. Starring Michelle Yeoh in a performance that uses every one of her skills from martial arts warrior to seductress to mother, this story is almost impossible to describe but it concerns interdimensional travel and strange worlds as well as minutiae like paying your taxes and working on your relationships with family members; from the difficulties of immigrating to a new country to the difficulties of travelling within a multi-verse, from saving a loved one drowning in ennui to saving the world. Jamie Leigh Curtis, barely recognisable, is such a good sport in this and I loved the combination of the mundane with the fantastical. This reminded me in many ways of Cloud Atlas (which I adore), Scott Pilgrim Saves the World and The Matrix all combined into a tantalising, ferociously original film that gave me all the feels.
Also, Ke Huy Quan is in it. I love Ke Huy Quan.
I didn’t see this at the movies, I didn’t get onto it quick enough and it disappeared from the cinema before I could get there. I wasn’t too bothered at the time, mostly because I hated Jordan Peele’s last film ‘Us’ and was worried I’d invest in another bad movie of his. I regret that decision. This horror about alien invasion takes a different approach to the subject matter than we are used to seeing, and the ideas and concepts behind it make that somewhat conventional sub-genre so much more horrifying. Its long and takes its time to tell its story but that time is spent in the company of two fine actors in Daniel Kaluuya (amazing as always – the screen loves him!) and Keke Palmer who almost steals the spotlight in a wildly different performance to his, she is raw unpredictability, and he is studied control – to see them bounce off each other is one of the films pleasures. A very different role for Steven Yuen (also reliably good in everything) makes this a hat-trick of superb acting, but it also features breathtaking cinematography that would have seriously popped on the big screen. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at the time, it fascinated me, and I admired the ambition, but later I couldn’t stop thinking about it and looked up some of the deeper themes to get even more from the film. The best horror of the year.
7. Bullet Train
There is a Brad Pitt renaissance happening these last few years and I gotta admit, I’m here for it. I think he’s never been better than he is right now, and I’m digging older Brad.
Bullet Train is one of those bonkers, high-speed movies featuring a cast of recognisable faces, snappy dialogue and a twisty plot – my kind of movie. Think ‘Nobody’ or good Guy Ritchie movies and you’ll have a good idea what Bullet Train is like.
Essentially, a few likeable hitmen who are all after the same case of money, are on a superfast train. With some red herrings, flashbacks, and Japanese culture thrown in, that’s really it for plot. The surprise is that you’ll grow to care for at least one or two of these people, and that it all comes together in a satisfyingly unexpected finale. A genuine thrill ride, with great action, humor, and a good time from start to finish. Get onboard!
8. Licorice pizza
You never forget your first crush, reciprocated or not, it’s always a little bit painful and wrought and aches deliciously. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson knows this, and Licorice Pizza conjures those awkward feelings perfectly. The 70s setting is impressively accurate, and the cast are people you could have grown up with they are so relatable and real. This film is long and takes its time telling a story that integrates several real-life incidences such as America’s fuel crisis in 1973 and the crazy antics of Barbara Streisands coked-out whack job of a boyfriend at the time Jon Peters (a never-better Bradley Cooper who steals every scene he’s in); but it’s fine that it takes its time, it’s nice just to hang out in these youngsters lives for a while and reminisce.
If you’re a single straight or bi woman, chances are you’re probably aware of how terrifying and risky dating can be. It can also be boring, weird, time-wastey etc. But its the frightening part that director Mimi Cave focuses in on here with results that I did not see coming in a movie that did nothing I expected and went places I didn’t think it would dare. Be warned – this is not for the faint of heart and it’s certainly not a rom-com, but for those with a taste for something a little more ‘surprising/horrifying’ this could be the film for you. I would advise you to eat all your snacks before the credits kick in at the 30-minute mark and things become a spot darker, you may lose your appetite.
10. Rons Gone Wrong
You know when people lament that we are all losing the ability to communicate, that online status is more important than being a good and decent person leading a good and decent life? Those people could have written this movie, and after you’d watched it, you’d find yourself agreeing with them. Essentially the story of a boy and his malfunctioning robot friend, this manages to have a lot to say about corporations monitoring and tailoring products to target children, about the power of real connections, exploring your own identity and backing yourself, and it’s also funny and sad in almost equal measure. I’ve seen it three times and cried at the ending each time. For someone who claims to not really be into animation, that’s saying something.
11. Bones and All
Maren and Lee are fine young cannibals on the run in this unique road movie romance punctuated by bouts of grisly gore designed to actually turn your stomach and successfully does so. Timothee Chalamet is always so damn good and his co-star Taylor Russell holds her own against him, but its Mark Rylance you’ll remember. Rylance, usually so personable, gives a performance here so utterly repellant you’ll find yourself recoiling from the screen whenever he appears; every part of your body wants to crawl away from him. This film stayed with me for a long time afterwards, and that is becoming less and less frequent in this era of movies designed for quick gratification. Director Luca Guadagnino continues to impress with his current hot streak of great films and television.
12. tick, tick… Boom!
Andrew Garfield is extremely likable, even when he’s playing a grown theatre-kid who bursts into song to express his struggle of wanting to make it big in musical theatre before he hits 30. This true story about wunderkind Jonathan Larson – the mastermind behind runaway success Broadway smash ‘Rent’ is not quite the light feel-good musical many may expect. Though a biopic, the script doesn’t shy away from showing how self-centric his drive and single-minded pursuit of this specific goal could make him; and it doesn’t hide the mistakes and failures along the way.
This is the first film featuring the talents of Lin-Manuel Miranda to be in this post, though the other film you’ll find in my worst list. I can overlook the tweeness of the title with its ellipses and exclamation mark because the performances here are so good (Garfield’s Oscar unfortunately went home with slap-happy Will Smith though I suspect that there are now far more opportunities in Garfield’s future than the formerly adored Smiths) and the songs so damn catchy. The fact that Andrew Garfield didn’t sing or play piano before this role is remarkable to me. Made me sing, laugh and cry!
This was one of those small movies you stumble upon, are blown away by, and then recommend to everyone.
Ostensibly the tale of a ne’er-do-well podcaster whose mistaken identity as the boyfriend of a recently-deceased woman allows him to attend her funeral in Texas and cozy up with her family thus creating content for his podcast, but it has a lot more to it than that. The culture clash is amusing, his assumptions about ‘small town people’ and how he is sometimes right and sometimes wrong is cleverly rendered, his finding his own moral compass within a fraught landscape believable on all levels.
It’s also really funny and features an unexpectedly great performance from the little-seen-these-days Ashton Kutcher. Find it!
I don’t like films based on plays, or films set in one place; as a general rule they feel stagnant and stuck to me. Mass is essentially set in one room and yes it could easily be a play; but it is never boring and never feels stagnant. You do feel trapped by the raw emotions these four people express – the pain they show is almost suffocating even for the audience. Feeling only a small amount of what the actors are conveying is draining and like an emotional gut punch. It’s worth it though.
I was blown away by the acting here – it’s a whole new level of amazing, blown away by how the story and the connection between these two couples is gradually revealed like an explosion that quietly creeps into your house. This is not an easy watch and pack all the tissues you own because you will need them, but watch it all the same.
15. Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
Live action animation isn’t that common, but with Flee and Apollo 10 and a half, I loved both films that were created in this style released this year. From Richard Linklater, who’d previously used this affectation with ‘A Scanner Darkly’ (also awesome), this film tells the story of young Stan as narrated by older Stan (Jack Black) as he recalls his childhood in Houston and how he ended up on the moon. The recreation of an era and place is so real it almost fees like your own memories, the fantastical element done so cleverly that you find yourself almost believing it all could have happened that way. This was funny, sweet, nostalgic and joyous; I love coming-of-age movies and this one is no exception.
16. You are not my mother
What would you do if the person you loved, suddenly stopped being the person you loved? Stopped being, in fact, someone you recognised at all?
When Chars mum inexplicably goes missing and then returns somehow fundamentally ‘changed’, she finds herself battling the non-believers as well as tasked with uncovering the dark family secrets that may hold the key to what happened to her mum, and maybe help to save her.
This was probably the only horror to give me a real fright this year – it was chilling, creepy, unexpected, haunting; all the more impressive given that it is a low-budget effort from Ireland with a feature-length debuting director (Kate Dolan) and a cast of unknowns. Truly scary, good practical effects, a fully committed cast and a director who knows how to scare you. This is well worth the nightmares.
The internet seems to be viewed by some as some kind of invisibilty shield, a thing you can hide behind and be safe. But thats not the case. Thats not the case at all.
When undercover British journalist Amy decides to go deep into terrorist recruitment and discover how young women are being groomed and manipulated into leaving their lives behind to join extremists, she learns the hard way that there is no anonymity these days, and no one is safe. Based on a true story, this one had me squirming in my seat, I had no idea where the film was going and as things escalated, so did my anxiety. One of the scariest non-horror movies I’ve seen.
Honorable mentions –
Men (a horror that understands what life is like for women living in a patriarchy, that’s also experimental and creepy and fascinating)
Bodies Bodies Bodies (sharp, spiky, knowing and very funny – a horror that takes affectionate aim at Gen Z)
Flee (Danish animated documentary that vividly recreates a harrowing autobiographical refugee story – strong stuff)
Dear Evan Hanson (Just the soundtrack alone would have put this movie on the list, but this musical about suicide and its ripples is also wildly affecting and strangely ‘feel good” too)
Unbearable weight of massive talent (silly, good-natured movie that is essentially just Nicholas Cage having a great time skewing his own larger than life persona)
Triangle of Sadness (funny, gross, weird, biting, confronting satire of class struggles onboard a luxury cruise)
The Batman, – BBBBBBOOOOOOORRRRRRRIIIIINNNNNGGGGG! Stop taking this stuff so damn seriously, Its not ‘War and Peace’ for chrissakes
Encanto – Lin-Manuel Miranda, why did you foist this apologist rubbish on us? Pointless, dangerous and annoying AF, with a nonsensical plot that undoes itself by the end. I hated this one.
Scream 5 – Like watching a movie kiss its own ass for two hours. So smug whilst offering absolutely nothing but a stain on a good series.
Deep Water – Painfully turgid thriller that tries so damn hard to be sexy. Your creepy Uncle Greg after too many whiskeys in film form.
Terrifier 2 – Ugly, hateful, overlong, mean-spirited and moronic. This had no business even being made.
Ambulance – Quite literally the dumbest big screen film I have ever had the displeasure of watching. I would seriously doubt the intelligence of anyone who tried to defend this steaming turd of stupidity. I will never again trust a film simply because it has a Gyllenhaal in it!