My time inside an actual cinema was limited enough this year but I nevertheless got to see a good amount of films (on streaming platforms and on the occasional plane journey). Out of all the movies I saw, there was a handful of truly great films, in between an awful lot of mediocrity. The choices below are the ones that really stood out to me in 2022, so if you’re looking for something that sparks delight and captures your attention, then every one of these could and should take top billing on your screens.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
The wonderfully weird film The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a terrific showcase for the always unique Nicolas Cage. A mad, meta tale of Cage’s waning popularity, as told through the ultimate fan played brilliantly by Pedro Pascal. In the wrong hands this could have all felt like an extended sketch gone wrong, but it gets the pitch and pace just right. For anyone who is a Nicolas Cage fan already this will be a delight, as it is full of clever nods and winks, but for the more casual fan, it works admirably as a quirky, funny action comedy with a suitably silly twist. Really enjoyable, inventive storytelling and well worth watching!
The Batman is a beautiful, atmospheric movie and I was bowled over by it.This is not your typical spandex superhero flick, this is intelligent filmmaking that owes more to 70s cinema than modern bubblegum movies. It is an arty, well-crafted piece of cinema masquerading as a comic book. In particular I liked the film noir-ish, Blade Runner vibe of the cinematography (which was particularly impressive on the big screen) and it is well complemented by a gorgeous, moody film score. Robert Pattinson, Colin Farrell (who is unrecognisable in his makeup) and Zoe Kravitz were the standouts in an absolutely stacked cast. I dont know what I was expecting but it surpassed all expectations. My only quibble is the slightly excessive length, but it nevertheless left me wanting more of this world and the writer/director’s take on it.
Top Gun: Maverick
As someone who grew up in the heyday of bombastic, high-concept Simpson/Bruckheimer movies, I was never going to miss Top Gun: Maverick when it finally arrived on the big screen. It traded heavily on nostalgia and in some ways it was effectively a remake of the original with a bigger budget, a slightly tighter script and more impressive cinematography. Speaking of which, the thing that really makes this film superior to the original is the aerial sequences captured inside the fighter planes. It is genuinely astonishing footage and is exactly what a trip to the movies and the big screen is all about. That said, some of the more low key scenes worked very well too and I was especially moved by the pivotal scene between Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer. Having seen the magnificent documentary Val only days beforehand, I thought they incorporated Val Kilmer’s current health issues seamlessly into the film, and it ended up being my favourite scene in the film. The plot is paper thin (much like the original), the characters are cartoonish at times (shout out Jon Hamm and Ed Harris) and Christopher McQuarrie’s fingerprints are all over the Mission Impossible-esque sequence when they steal the enemy plane. But these are quibbles that fade away when you take in the whole experience, which is an enjoyable, well paced, popcorn-munching blockbuster of old.
Tony Hawk: Until The Wheels Fall Off
Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off is a surprisingly moving and thoughtful documentary about skateboarding by Sam Jones (I’m also a huge fan of his film I am trying to break your heart about Wilco). While the focus in this film is primarily on Tony Hawk, arguably the most famous skateboarder of all time, it is the supporting cast of other pro skaters that really bring this documentary to life. In particular, Rodney Mullen stands out as a deep thinker and sagely presence throughout (I found myself wanting to make t-shirts with his quotes printed in a large font on a t-shirt). The film takes you on a really interesting journey, as it begins as a biographical piece about Hawk (and his peers), but ultimately becomes a meditation on life, and the toll this sport has taken on their bodies. This is best summed up in the parting words from Rodney Mullen when he talks about the risks and rewards of what they do as skaters, with a lyrical flow that feels decidedly poetic and totally universal – “There’s something inside of me… propelling (me)… that I’m not going to give up until the wheels fall off. That’s what I’m made of… and I wish I could relate the intangibles to you” – He could just as easily be talking about artists, dreamers and inventors. He is talking about every one of us.
George Carlin's American Dream
George Carlin is a stand-up comedian I have long admired for his intelligent, sharp comedy that tackles big topics and thoughtfully examines who we are as a society. This film took us deep into his personal & creative journey and gave rich insights into his ability to reinvent himself with the times, while always staying true to his values, beliefs and ideals. This is a fascinating portrait of a hugely influential comic mind, whose profound work set the stage for so many of the modern comedy performers today. He is deeply missed and we were lucky to have him. This film shows us why. A brilliant and funny portrait of an artist.