The movie-going year started with lots more staying-at-home. Another Covid variant raged through the winter months, and many film festivals had to pivot again to virtual screening options. The Oscars suddenly became must-watch again as Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on live TV, while the Golden Globes weren’t even televised due to the media boycotting the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for the organization’s lack of diversity.
Then all of a sudden (if you can call over two and a half years “sudden”), things seemed to get back to some version of… normal? Trusty Tom Cruise provided a bonafide summer smash in theaters, the long-awaited Black Panther sequel was a blockbuster, and James Cameron finally released his dozen-years-in-the-making Avatar: The Way of Water, dazzling moviegoers.
Perhaps most memorable on the Moviepie front, is that this year I became a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. An exciting and frankly overwhelming benefit of this new credential is that as a voting member of a critics’ group, I now get a TON of movie screeners at the end of the year. This is why some of my favorites may not sound familiar. But keep your eyes open, these are all well worth waiting for…
MY TOP THREE FAVORITES
Any of these three movies could be interchangeable as my favorite of the year. They all made me extremely happy, and reminded me of why I love, love, love the movies!
Fire of Love – This jaw-dropping documentary uses all original footage from French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, the legendary lovers whose own explosive relationship matched the volcanos that they loved. Their ridiculously dangerous techniques of capturing footage of geysers of molten lava, lakes of acid, or avalanches of explosive ash made me scream at the screen more than once. Absolutely enthralling. (Streaming)
Top Gun: Maverick – When the film opened with the Paramount logo and Harold Faltermeyer’s oh-so-familiar score, I actually got chills. When the silhouetted fighter jets on an aircraft carrier first appeared, my eyes actually got shiny. Heck, from there I couldn’t stop grinning through this whole dang movie. Though I’d been waiting for this movie since 2019 when the trailer debuted, I agree that Tom Cruise and company were right to wait to release this film when it could be seen on the biggest screen possible. So fun, so fantastic! (Streaming)
Everything Everywhere All At Once – This zany multiverse action comedy was exactly the movie I needed to see with a packed audience on a big screen. A fantastic showcase for international superstar Michelle Yeoh, we meet an overworked everywoman who runs a laundromat, who shows the never-ending potential in all of us. With a flawless supporting cast including Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, and a hilarious Jamie Lee Curtis, it was the most fun I had at the movies this year. (Streaming)
Plus seven more movies I really liked (in alphabetical order)…
Aftersun – This gentle, melancholy film flashes back to a woman’s memories of a resort holiday she took with her father when she was 11. Young Sophie (a wonderful Frankie Corio) senses a sadness and loneliness from her dad (a sweet Paul Mezcal), a quietly struggling young man who puts on a smile for his kid. This sweet, sad film has the gauzy, lazy feel of memory tinged with a loss that is never named. (Select theaters)
The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic – Blind, wheelchair-bound actor Petri Poikolainen plays Jaakko, a man who wants to travel to finally meet his long-distance girlfriend Sirpa, whom he has only talked to on the phone. In this incredible and harrowing journey of trusting strangers we, the viewers, see only the actor’s face and the blur of his extremely limited perspective–a fascinating filming technique that literally makes you see the world differently. (Playing at festivals)
Cha Cha Real Smooth – Oh man, this movie is so charming, sweet, and emotionally messy, like a big ol’ sloppy hug. A post-college slacker (played by writer/director Cooper Raiff) discovers he has a talent as a “party starter” at bar and bat mitzvahs. His natural affinity with the kids leads him to an autistic girl (the wonderful Vanessa Burghardt) and her crush-worthy mom played by crush-worthy Dakota Johnson. Of course he falls hard for them. (Streaming)
Close – Two boys are best friends, as close as brothers, and their relationship has a carefree affection. That is until they start secondary school and their peers take notice. One of the boys, feeling a need to fit in, starts to back away from his friend… Quietly devastating, this story about friendship between boys is as lovely and heartbreaking as the trailer promises. (Select theaters)
Compartment No. 6 – First impressions are everything when a woman finds herself sharing a compartment on a long-distance train with a drunken lout. But as the train chugs along through frozen northern Russia (he’s going to a job as a miner, and she to see some ancient petroglyphs), they slowly start to find some common ground. In these times where we are all afraid of those who are different from us, this film breaks down that wall and shows us a shared humanity. (Streaming)
Return to Seoul – A brash, carefree young French woman of adopted Korean heritage finds herself in Seoul. She says that she is not there to search for her biological parents, but when the opportunity arises she finds herself on a quest to meet the people that gave her up for adoption. Scenes of her wild coping mechanisms clash with the quietness and grief of meeting her biological family in a very complicated emotional journey. (Select theaters)
Thirteen Lives – I actually had my sweatshirt pulled up over my nose for about 90% of this stressful film about the seemingly impossible real-life rescue of a boys’ soccer team from a flooded cave in Thailand. Though I remembered the news story, I didn’t know the details of how the rescue mission took place. Holy. Crap. Not for the claustrophobic! (Streaming)
Some other things I loved…
The whole cast of Women Talking showed ensemble acting at its best. From fierce Claire Foy, to defiant Jessie Buckley, to luminous Rooney Mara, to regretful Sheila McCarthy, to sweet Ben Wishaw… it is impossible to single out a single performance, as they all hummed as a magnificent whole.
Sometimes you want to see a big, dumb movie… You know, a sci-fi disaster movie that has the moon getting knocked out of orbit, then rolling across the state of Colorado like a celestial bowling ball. I find movies like Moonfall extremely pleasing, and no, I don’t feel guilty about it.
There were many outstanding performances by young actors this year. Vanessa Burghardt’s autistic teen anchored Cha Cha Real Smooth, Jalyn Hall’s dimples broke your heart as Emmett in Till, and Kíla Lord Cassidy absolutely sold her misguided beliefs in The Wonder. Two that particularly squeezed my heart were Eden Dambrine’s tragically guilt-ridden tween in Close, and Frankie Corio’s thoughtful daughter to a young father in Aftersun. All these actors and more are proof that the kids are all right.
Though I found the film uneven, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis had many fantastic scenes. One in particular, which I’ll just call the “pink suit” performance, quickly establishes how Elvis’ “dancing” combined with his wild rockabilly musical styles completely stunned especially the young ladies. Orgasmic screaming ensues.
If you need a master class on how to make an impression in a few short minutes, just look to Samantha Morton. As the main character’s ex-wife in The Whale, just her aura fills the claustrophobic room with years of stewing resentment. But in the #MeToo film She Said, Morton absolutely burns the screen down in a single scene, as a victim who has been silenced far too long.
Finally, the surprising critter MVPs of the year were donkeys. Jenny the donkey was easily the sweetest and most sympathetic character in The Banshees of Inisherin, while Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski introduced us to the incredible (and sometimes hard to watch) journey of a braying ass named EO. (Runner up would have to be the killer chimp in Nope.)