Welcome, folks to the first of many wrap-up posts for the year! It's getting to the point where I've been doing this blog thing for a while, and while I am fantastically energized from our 52 in '22 series, this is really what the meat is all about. Year end lists!
It's always a nice way to highlight where we are after another year and as human beings we tend to enjoy labeling, categorizing, and assigning ranks to everyone. I always like messing with that, so take this as not a total ranking system, but just a collection of stuff I thought was cool. We've done the logging all movies seen in a calendar year for a somehow SEVENTH time in 2022, so it's fun to create a ranking of not just the Top Films of 2022, but the Top Films Seen for the First Time in 2022, regardless of year. Actually for this year I took out all 2022 films. They'll get their day!
Let's dive in:
Nightmare Alley (2021)
Dir: Del Toro
Guillermo del Toro keeps coming up with pictures way better than The Shape of Water (2017). Definitely long but does more to earn its run time than most. Bradley Cooper needs more roles like this. He's the kind of actor that can play absolute smarm so well because he exudes charisma. He's also in a place where he can play both a youngin learning the ropes and a wised beaten down dude. The film's about selling one's soul to become a geek. I dug how grimey del Toro dives in, Cooper's transformation, the highlights of Buffalo, NY of course, and the general gnarliness.
The Mighty Quinn (1989)
The first of two early Denzel movies that I couldn't decide which I liked better so I put them both in. Why not have two Denzel movies in the Top Ten? Also two Denzel cop movies. Talking about charisma, it's amazing what he does here as the Jamaican cop balancing his own life with rampant late stage colonialism, but it's told so wholly from the Jamaican perspective without battering us with its message. Remember when movies were subtle?! It's a fun film with an engaging mystery and assured star vehicle for our dude.
We don't give these random 90s action movies enough credit. Ricochet is a fantastic film that is as bonkers as a Nic Cage movie but has somehow been lost to pop culture. Denzel is a cop who gains his fame early in his career and transitions to the DA's office, but when the dude he busted gets out (John Lithgow!) he gaslights the hell out of him and drives him insane. That premise is legit, right? This doesn't hold anything back, a sure product of the post-Shane Black era of anything goes action filmmaking, but it earns its keep. Denzel is again the star here, but everything is firing at a high level. Especially the guns!
The Last Duel (2021)
This seemed to come and go without a lot of fanfare last year, but it's honestly one of Ridley Scott's best ever, certainly best contemporary work. It follows the breakdown of friendship between Matt Damon and Adam Driver for the favor of Ben Affleck, but works because every character is a huge piece of shit. We also get three stories from three perspectives, including GASP a female perspective! No way! It's excessively long but again earns its runtime with a thorough look into every character's nuance. The performances are top notch and the ending is brutal and unsatisfying but that's the way it's supposed to be. It's the kind of film that pulls you in, earns everything, and then leaves you exhausted. I'd watch it again!
The Hidden Fortress (1958)
One of the all-time greats for a reason, I've spent the last few years trying to catch up with my Kurosawa. It was amazing how funny watching two Japanese actors from the 1950s playing feudal characters could be in 2022. There's some legit skill there transcending culture, geography, and time. The story is also unique, although fun to realize halfway through that it's Star Wars (1977). It's such a foundational movie where the acting and story beats hit in all the right ways before you even begin to look at how extensive the cinematography, natural sets, scope, and framing all is. It's amazing to see what was being done so long ago that filmmakers still struggle to grasp today, but hey, that's Kurosawa.
The first of two Sean Baker films on this list, and the only films of his I've seen (clearly the ring with me), he's an up and coming director (at age 51) who still gets cred since none of his work is ever recognized with any awards. Tangerine is one of the funniest films of the year. Everyone said so in 2015 when it came out, but it just wasn't on my radar. It's also an unflinchingly brutal look at transgender sex workers powing around Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. It spirals into true chaos but always stays remarkably grounded in reality despite its extremely niche premise. It was famous shot on an iPhone but they nail it. Choosing mostly the magic hour was a good call, and it looks perfectly fine. Even more so since the shooting method complements the dirty and direct theme of the movie. It's fantastic.
I have Tangerine, Zola, and one more Baker film on this list, clearly dirty American black comedies spoke to me this year. There is some genuineness to this film that a typical indie doesn't have. As well as the charisma of Taylour Paige as Zola, which is unreal. It reminded me of American Honey (2016), although maybe because they both starred Riley Keough, but contemporary America is all about the hustle and swindle, with characters feeling both sides of that twisted coin right now. It's a classic strippers tricked into being prostitutes story, which hits brutality and comedy in the same stroke. Also Zola is a great character who doesn't take the insane pimp shit, which makes it fun to watch. Florida sucks.
Marty! This film won everything when it came out and I wouldn't say it's totally forgotten, but it's quasi-forgotten just how good it is. It's maybe the least pretentious movie ever made, and it runs the world on its simplicity, character, and how much depth it hides behind its simple premise. A remake of Marty today would be a 2.5 hour Apatow sex comedy. Marty as it stands in its form has heart, comedy, real drama, and effortless character work that's without parallel. Maybe the best written film of all time. Besides like, Network (1976). But this film is tremendous, quick, no fat, and hits on everything it needs to be.
Red Rocket (2021)
Okay, our second Sean Baker film! This expands on everything Tangerine did - a brisk look at sex work, a mostly non-actor cast, and a really authentic experience in subaltern America. I should probably retreat movies from the previous year on these lists and just write reflecting older films. Obviously I do a lot of catch-up each year and recency bias is real. Let that not take away from the greatness of Red Rocket! Never before has an actor matched up so well with a role as Simon Rex feels like the only dude who could play this part. He's an aging ex-porn star who simultaneously can't get work outside the industry because of the stigma, but doesn't really want to, and then turns that victimhood onto the next generation. It's horrifying, hilarious, and hellacious. Can you tell I have a type of movie I like? Give me a genuine American black comedy and I'm all over it.
All That Jazz (1979)
My wife was watching this one night on her own, as it's one of her favorite movies, I had never seen it so I tuned in. And now it's at the top of my list. I had no idea what the premise was or how it was a semi-autobiographical tale of director Bob Fosse's actual life (and eventual death). It's full of remarkable song and dance numbers, modernized versions of Fosse's odes to eroticism through choreography, and most importantly, a really honest self-appraisal of how much of an asshole he's been. It was a little like Straight Outta Compton (2015) where the subjects presented themselves as is, without any kind of whitewashing whatsoever (unlike say a Bohemian Rhapsody  which had no interest in being honest). It's hard to remember that's the true pathway to respect. All That Jazz blends fiction and reality, real people in Fosse's life playing fictionalized or alternative roles, and it all works at an insanely high level of set design, framing, color selection, and Roy Schneider's non-JAWS (1975) acting.
I'm not sure if I've ever had a year where my movie picks were so clearly similar to each other. Hey, when you know what you like! I agree about taking out the previous year next year. The last four our would have been:
The Elephant Man (1980)
Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Night of the Comet (1984)
Stay tuned for more posts this whole week, people!