2022 is unlikely, it seems to me, to go down in history as a banner year for popular movies. But even in less auspicious years, there are always some good flicks, and some good or even great scenes or performances in movies that aren't so great overall.
Out of what I saw, here are ten movies that stood out as best for me this past year:
Nope--Jordan Peele's latest is probably the best UFO movie since Close Encounters, though it has a more sinister edge. It's wildly original, funny and creepy sci-fi/horror, yet it also carries the heroic charge of a good western.
Good Night Oppy--This documentary about the Mars rovers Opportunity and Spirit has interesting information about the Red Planet, but it's really about the way the NASA nerds anthropomorphized the robots and fretted over them and cheered them on and ultimately grieved over them. In an entirely unpretentious way, the movie hints at the question of where sentience comes from.
The Duke--This pandemic-delayed release was, I thought, perhaps the most overlooked and delightful movie of the year. Jim Broadbent is splendid as Kempton Bunton, a cab driver, factory worker and anti-television fee protestor who in 1965 confessed to stealing Goya's Portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London; Helen Mirren is his fed-up wife. The direction, by the late Roger Michell, is warm, graphically lively and period-rich.
Everything Everywhere All At Once--Family drama, immigrant saga, sly comedy, martial arts actioner, Matrix-style sci-fi adventure and more are mashed-up in this freaky yarn from writer-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert that tries to live up to its title. It's epic, intimate, silly and profound. All at once.
Thirteen Lives--Dramatizing a technically complicated rescue mission in detail, Ron Howard is in his element in this moving account of the rescue of twelve Thai kids and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in 2018. A little tough if you're claustrophobic, but a true feel-good movie.
The Whale--Brendan Fraser gives a luminous, possibly generational performance as Charlie, a morbidly obese English teacher trying to reconnect with his furious estranged daughter. Directed by Darren Aronofsky, the movie is a little heavy and one-note aside from the star, but Fraser's radiance shines through the prosthetics.
Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down--Infuriating because of what Giffords lost when she was shot in 2011; inspirational because of how much she got back, and how courageously she refused to give in to despair. Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West build the movie around how central music was to Giffords' recovery.
The Fabelmans--In Steven Spielberg's loosely autobiographical coming-of-age yarn, scripted by Tony Kushner, the focus is largely on the parents, beautifully played by Paul Dano and Michelle Williams. The movie isn't a grand slam, but it's fascinating, and it has the best final shot of the year.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On--This feature expansion of the 2010 viral short by Dean Fleischer-Camp, with Jenny Slate voicing the tiny title character, is sunny and hilarious, but with improbably dramatic and poignant undertones. Isabella Rossellini is exquisite as the voice of Marcel's "Nan."
The Banshees of Inisherin--Martin McDonagh's black comedy about the agonies of friendship goes so sour in its later acts that I almost didn't put it on the list. But the brilliance of the initial conception and, especially, the magnificent acting of Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon demand its inclusion.
One more list, while I'm at it; for anyone who might unfathomably be interested, here is the embarrassingly short list of books I read this year (as always, it doesn't include short stories, poems, comic books, essays, articles, reviews, automotive manuals, skywriting, menus, fortune cookie fortunes, etc etc)...
The Silent Gondoliers by William Nolan
Sucker's Portfolio by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
The Spread by Barry Malzberg
Ben by Gilbert A. Ralston
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
The Investigation by Stanislaw Lem
The Werewolf Principle by Clifford D. Simak
Destry Rides Again by Max Brand