By: Andrew Warren, Staff Writer
This was an interesting year for movies. Some of the films that critics and journalists predicted would be Oscar frontrunners, such as Empire of Light, Bardo, Amsterdam, and Blonde, landed with a thud. Prestige dramas like Armageddon Time, She Said, The Whale, and White Noise came and went without leaving a mark. Ironically, the crowd-pleasing hits that no one thought could ever contend in the award circuits, are leading the race. Top Gun was supposed to be just another summer blockbuster, something to satisfy our Mission Impossible appetites. Everything Everywhere All at Once was merely Daniels’s follow-up to Swiss Army Man, a movie about a farting corpse. Elvis (which I still haven’t seen) is a garish, over-the-top biopic narrated by Tom Hanks in a fat suit. All three will probably be nominated for best picture. How does this happen?
I don’t know if I can explain it, but I am certainly happy about it. I’ve noticed that the Oscar winners of the past decade haven’t had the staying power that previous winners held. Nobody talks about Nomadland, Coda, Shape of Water, or The Artist anymore. Take a look at the best-picture nominees of the 90s. Most of those movies are still watched and loved today. If we can get back to that point, where auteurs don’t see “being entertaining” as an ancillary benefit but rather as a primary goal, then maybe non-superhero movies will get some more attention.
With that diatribe out of the way, let’s talk about my top 10. I saw 35 movies this year, most of them in theaters. My top 10 are the movies I found myself engaged by, emotionally invested in, and left thoroughly entertained. I liked some of them for their filmmaking, others for their humor and story, and a few because they made me scream and cry.
Also, I don’t want people to think I didn’t see Tar. I did see Tar. I didn’t like it.
10. The Menu: A group of wealthy individuals heads out to a private island to enjoy an expensive meal at a very exclusive restaurant, but the head chef has other plans. The Menu is a thriller/comedy that had me wincing and laughing in the same scene. It’s a very tight, original screenplay that satirizes the “eat the rich” mentality while really being about artists and their creations. It’s also fun to see Anya Taylor Joy filling an Emma Stone kind of part.
9. The Whale: Growing up, I never watched The Mummy, but I did watch Furry Vengeance… a lot. I am so happy to see that Brendan Fraiser is back. The movie is about a 600-pound man named Charlie, who only has a week to live and tries to spend it getting to know his daughter Ellie, played by Sadie Sink. This movie brought me to tears and I love how complicated these characters are. The movie doesn’t tell the audience how to feel about any of the characters and I respect that.
8. Speak No Evil: This one is my obligatory foreign film inclusion to let readers know that I am more cultured than they are. In all seriousness, Speak No Evil is the scariest movie I’ve seen all year. It’s about a very polite Danish family that spends a weekend at a rude Dutch family’s house. If you’re one of those people who is constantly making sacrifices to avoid conflict, you need to see this movie. This is a very effective cautionary tale that will leave a lasting impression.
7. The Banshees of Inisherin: I didn’t walk out of Banshees thinking it was top 10, but I did walk out thinking about it, and I haven’t stopped since. The story is about a man whose best friend decides to end their friendship out of nowhere. It’s written by the acclaimed playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh who’s known for his very dark comedic sensibilities. Anytime one goes from high school to Israel to college to post-grad, they lose some friends, and this movie nails that experience. The movie also has a lot to say about how we should spend our time. Should we all be striving to become great at something or is the most important thing in life to just be a kind person? I highly recommend this movie.
6. X: Sometimes you see a movie and it’s everything you wanted it to be. That happened to me twice this year, and the first one of those to make it on this list is X. The premise was intriguing as was the cast, headlined by Brittany Snow. I saw this in a theater and the whole audience had a great time. We were screaming and laughing and enjoying the ride. Ti West, the director, elevates pretty shlocky material with some skillful camerawork. Everything Mia Goth does in this movie is amazing.
5. Glass Onion: I already reviewed this movie for The Observer here. I’m not going to say a lot about the movie in this piece, but I do want to state my appreciation for the effort Rian Johnson, the writer-director, puts into innovating the whodunnit formula.
4. The Batman: Another movie I previously reviewed here, The Batman is a three-hour crime epic that dares to take itself seriously. When it feels like every movie today needs to be meta or jokey, The Batman isn’t. I love this take on the Batman character and am excited to see what Matt Reeves does next.
3. Bullet Train: One of my favorite directors is Guy Ritchie, who became famous by writing and directing overly complicated British crime comedies, filled with witty dialogue and a lot of twists and turns, with a dozen interesting characters all connected in some way. A Guy Ritchie movie was supposed to be released this year, but it got delayed due to world events. However, Bullet Train filled that absence. It is my favorite comedy of the year. Brad Pitt has excellent comedic timing and I’m happy he’s getting to show it off at this point in his career. Bryan Tyree Henry and Aaron Tyler Johnson have really good chemistry as the bickering assassin duo. It’s not the smartest movie in the world and it certainly doesn’t have anything substantial to say, but it put a smile on my face the entire time.
2. Everything Everywhere all at Once: The best multiverse movie of the year, EEAAO is about a woman named Evelyn, who must tap into alternate versions of herself to harness their abilities to defeat an interdimensional power. This movie is very impressive. The budget is tiny compared to Marvel films but it looks better than all the ones they released this year. It has a very complicated premise but still managed to reach various demographics. Any person, regardless of age or gender, can find something to relate to in this movie. If you want a fun action movie, this movie has the most creative fight scenes I’ve seen in a while. If you want a familial drama, the mother-daughter relationship will break your heart and then put it back together. There is nothing wasted in this movie. Every actor uses their fullest acting abilities. I’ve seen it twice and the rock with googly eyes character made me cry both times. That earns this movie a spot on this list.
1. Top Gun Maverick: Yeah. This one is everyone’s favorite. A perfect movie that will be remembered in the same way Jaws or Terminator 2 is remembered. It features a charming and magnetic Tom Cruise, Miles Teller as the frustrated but sympathetic pilot who wants to live his life free of Cruise’s character’s influence, Glenn Powell, as the perfect love-to-hate-him jerk, Jon Hamm as the guy who says no but eventually says yes, and Jennifer Connely who does the best job, maybe ever, as Cruise’s love interest. There are breathtaking fighter jet set pieces, which are much easier to follow than in the original. The core emotional story between Maverick and Rooster, the child of Maverick’s former wingman, brought me to tears. I haven’t seen a third act this perfect since The Matrix. Everyone who worked on this movie was so passionate about it and it shows in every frame. It is perfect.
Honorable Mention- Babylon: I wish this movie was better. Damien Chazzelle, the director, previously made Whiplash, which I think is perfect, and La La Land, which was also incredible. This movie is the epitome of a mixed bag. Some sequences are hysterical and deftly edited and then others just feel like rip-offs of better movies, especially Boogie Nights. The movie also had contempt for its characters, which undercuts the sentimentality of the ending. But at the same time, the first 90 minutes are perfect. I’m writing this article on a deadline and maybe in a week I’ll have a clearer feeling, but as of now, a “just missed” spot on the list seems fair.