Been busy? Blinked and you missed it? Here are some intriguing films that might have slipped under your radar in 2022.
It’s a big Steven Spielberg release, complete with backlit glossy scenes and swiveling camerawork, but this time it’s basically his own story, growing up in Arizona and California, where young cinema buff Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) starts making short home movies and inadvertently captures the disintegration of his own family on film. It didn’t get a proper release here yet (as far as I know), but expect its pre-Oscar buzz to land it in Manila after the Metro Manila Film Festival.
Sammy—ensconced in early ‘60s suburbia between a forward-thinking techie dad (Paul Dano) designing computer systems and a free spirit mom (Michelle Williams) who plays piano and finds herself attracted to Dano’s best friend Bennie (Seth Rogen)—is blown away by the movies, starting with a train crash in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, which he tries to recreate using his Lionel train set and 8-millimeter camera. It’s the start of a rigorous dedication to storytelling through film, and Spielberg’s invests this semi-autobiographical tale with a lifetime of tricks of the trade. Navigating anti-Semitism in ‘60s California (who knew it was such a hotbed of white supremacy?), young sexuality and nagging questions about his parents’ marriage (Dano and Williams are excellent here), it’s really about a kid’s desire to tell the story he wants to tell: the one that will please the most people. And that’s Spielberg’s story as well. (Don’t miss the David Lynch cameo coda as legendary director John Ford.)
Everything Everywhere All at Once
Despite its title, you may have missed its brief screening here in Manila (through TBA Studios). But Everything Everywhere All at Once is probably the most imaginative, ADHD movie of the year, exploring what happens when a Chinese-American immigrant (Michelle Yeoh) starts to question not only her marriage and her daughter’s life choices, but her own ripple in the fabric of the universe. Yes, it’s an alternate universe comedy, but Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s smart scenario packs it with more oomph and inventiveness than a kung fu hook punch. The master stroke was casting Yeoh in a role (originally written for Jackie Chan) where she gets to show both her acting and fighting chops. If you have a hard time following stories that hurtle through galaxies and alternate strands of reality, this may make your head spin; but it’s truly a gas, from start to finish.
Evelyn (Yeoh) fights off the IRS, her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) appears in a head-spinning number of costume changes, IRS inspector Dierdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) sports hotdog fingers, and husband Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan, aka Indiana’s Jones’ Short Round) arrives to guide her through the collapsing multiverse. It’s hard to explain, but impossible to take your eyes off.
Cate Blanchett breaks out of period dramas to deliver an absorbing turn as Lydia Tár, a fictional female composer and conductor in a world of males. For the first half, Todd Field’s film burrows deep into what makes Lydia tick: her competitiveness, her concerns about sexism, her own sexuality, and her raging against cancel culture (a classroom showdown early on with a student who finds her methods—and her love of Bach —too triggering is classic). Blanchett’s mastery of the gestures and lexicon of classical music convinced people this was actually a biopic; but Tár soon cleaves into a psychological thriller, and though its trajectory then becomes a bit more predictable (maybe like the final rousing movement of a Mozart piano concerto) and less believable, it’s still an intriguing deep dive into the world of modern concert conducting, fictional as it is. Expect Blanchett to get another Oscar nod for it.
In which Amber Midthunder singlehandedly resurrects the Schwarzenegger Predator franchise, playing a young Comanche warrior who protects her tribe in the 1700s Midwestern plains from an alien invader. It was Arnold’s sarcastic side comments that made the ‘80s original so much gooey, terrifying fun; here, it’s Midthunder, playing smart teen warrior Naru, who wants to join the boys on the big bear hunt. We follow her struggles to gain skills and fit in, and ultimately we’re watching it unfold through her eyes, as a bad-ass invisible alien, decked out in its victims’ skulls and bones, decimates fierce grizzlies like they’re spring chickens, destroys half the village’s hunters, and goes medieval on a camp of Canadian fur trappers. Smartly, just as Predator did, director Dan Trachtenberg makes it clear who’s the protagonist, and all eyes are on Naru as she wins us over with smart-aleck comments, bravery and cunning. Avatar: The Way of Water may have had all the expensive special effects, but this indigenous tribe drama quickens the pulse, and it’s all heart. (On Disney+)
While people focused on Colin Farrell’s “comeback” work in The Banshees of Inisherin, his much quieter turn in the sci-fi family drama After Yang is a marvel as well. He plays Jake, a limited man whose wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) makes more money and whose work—running a teashop in a future where people prefer tea “crystals” to tea leaves—leaves him unprepared to repair his adoptive daughter’s robotic companion, Yang. Farrell is all reserve as he tries to get the secondhand robot fixed, but it seems all kinds of people are interested in Yang’s circuitry and memories. Korean-American director Kogonada gives the surroundings an eerie, low-oscillating hum (though the opening dance sequence is a burst of futuristic light) as After Yang divines the mysteries of existence, loss and being human through the eyes (and recorded memories) of a long-serving mechanical being. Like Kazuo Ishiguro’s recent Klara and the Sun and the film A.I., it manages to invest a world of humanity and sympathy in our future synthetic counterparts, without trying too hard.
As a companion piece to Spotlight or All the President’s Men, Maria Schrader’s She Said is that rare movie drama that makes journalism seem cool and sexy again. (And not “sexy” in any problematic way.) Focusing on the early seeds of the #SheSaid and #MeToo movements, Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan play New York Times reporters getting people to talk about Harvey Weinstein’s mountain of sexual predations in Hollywood and around the world. You never thought two reporters and an editor sitting in front of a computer screen, stroking their chins before declaring “Publish,” could be this riveting. Weaving in what sound like actual voiceover testimonies from Weinstein victims Rose McGowan and Gwyneth Paltrow (and an actual video appearance from Ashley Judd), it gets to the heart of what causes so much fear and devastation beneath Hollywood’s power structure: silence. As long as the victims fear to speak, the wheel rolls horribly along. The no-sh*ts-given performances from Mulligan and Kazan (as tough reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor) rate nominations.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson square off in Martin McDonagh’s play-like drama set in 1923 at the end of the Irish Civil War. On the remote Irish isle of Inisherin, musician Colm (Gleeson) decides he no longer wants to be friends with Pádraic (Farrell), an amiable if “dull” and “limited” fellow who raises pigs. This sets off a civil war of sorts, as Pádraic probes deeper into the rejection, much to Colm’s consternation. The humor is dry, wonderfully paced, and the two leads are towering, with support work from Kerry Condon (Better Call Saul) and Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk) lifting this one up to epic revenge levels. McDonagh has often shown us worlds where people go nuts trying to get payback (Seven Psychopaths, In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), and The Banshees of Inisherin joins that cavalcade with a quieter, subtler battle of wills.
Florence Pugh may have been central to the controversy-wracked Olivia Wilde psychodrama Don’t Worry Darling, but in The Wonder, she burns even more quietly and brightly as an Irish nurse hired to observe a child who will not eat in 1850s England. Anna (Killa Lord Cassidy) is fasting for months, claiming she gains sustenance from God, and Nurse Lib (Pugh) is hired to observe her (her past experience during the Crimean War and the Irish Potato Famine may explain the odd hiring decision), along with a nun in round-the-clock shifts, to see what’s really going on with Anna, who appears to be living on faith. The town elders, hungry for an anointed saint, proclaim it a miracle; but Nurse Lib has her doubts and proceeds to her detective work in a quiet, smart drama directed by Sebastián Lelio Watt. (On Netflix)
While adapting literary works for Netflix is often a questionable idea (looking at you, Spiderhead), it can find the right mix in the hands of, say, Noah Baumbach, who takes the 1980s Don DeLillo novel White Noise and makes it seem as current and timely as it did when I reread its black satire during the lockdown. All the feelings of dread, paranoia, spreading misinformation during those years, combined with an actual “airborne toxic event” in the spiky shape of a coronavirus, made my rereading leap decades ahead into the now; and White Noise, starring Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig as a couple trying to negotiate a real-life crisis (which is a hard-sold metaphor for creeping death), do their best to translate DeLillo’s telegraphic, overlapping prose onto the screen. There are moments that make you cringe, but also bits that make you burst into laughter as the Gladney family climb into their station wagon and head to what they imagine “shelter from the storm” looks like. It’s all about how adrift we are in a sea of information, fearing the chemicals in our food, air and water supplies, a feeling that seems increasingly on-target, for a novel from 1985.
David Bowie was many things. In Brett Morgen’s lengthy documentary, he gets to explain himself as best he can, in his own words and images. Sifting through hundreds of hours of interviews and videos, Moonage Daydream tells us a bit more about the chameleon-like rocker who died in 2016—and it shows us even more. Rare images, glimpses of his paintings and sketchbooks, plus candid and personal video paint a picture that still feels like a shimmering glimpse of the Starman. Unlike most docs, there are no “talking heads” to contextualize or orient. Rather, Morgen’s 140-minute look back skips around in time, the way Bob Dylan’s Chronicles memoir did, never stuck on a fixed point for long. It does begin, and end, with the final “Ziggy Stardust” concerts, when Bowie (nee David Jones) shucked off the glam rocker character and band and started heading in a series of new directions. Even if you know a lot about Bowie, this documentary contains some revelations, and it’s an unexpectedly touching tribute to a man committed to his art, nearly above all else.