Favorites from 2022
A non-exhaustive list of favorite films from the past year. Sorry in advance.
Hello and welcome! This is the first newsletter published from The Cross Cut (though you may know our podcast here,) and it is presented thanks to the idea that, sometimes, the movies we want to speak about don’t neatly fit into the format of our show. So here is where you can go to get our deep thoughts or insane ramblings, depending on the day.
In this inaugural edition, I wanted to go over ten of my favorite films from the past year. I say “favorite” instead of “best” for two reasons:
I have not seen every release from 2022 and therefore cannot be complete in any kind of comparative analysis.
There is no “best” in art. I am not you (if I were the writing of this newsletter would go much faster) and the point of art is the response of the individual. Huddling to find consensus on the top offering from a list of personally crafted, individually experienced pleasures is like the orgy in Eyes Wide Shut. Sounds fun but no one was leaving there happy.
I also want to focus on films that people could rightly have been expected to see by this point in the year. That excludes some notable movies that did not find wide release until the end of the year like Babylon, The Fabelmans, and of course Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.
Thank you for indulging in that quick preamble. Now, another one!
The Theme of 2022
While I will try to steer away from the topic as much as possible in the discussion of each individual film, I believe many of the films that left a mark on me were deeply influenced by COVID-19. Many were directly so, thanks to production delays and subject matter, but thematically they carry a sustained note of loss.
Whether loss of love, of self, of family, or of friendship, the human race has experienced loss on a magnitude so great that it cannot help but to have affected our art. Each of us has been scared or sick, confined or confused, waiting to make to the punctuation in our lives that may provide relief only to find it pushed to next week, next week, then next week.
As we have lost so much of our lives, the people we had planned ourselves to be no longer an option, so too have many lost their lives completely. And so here at the end of 2022 we all hear the echo of Bill Munny’s words in Unforgiven, “It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.”
The words from a murderer that speak to the loss his actions inflict. We are still grieving these losses in our own lives. Many of the films below helped me understand that grief in new light.
The following films are not in order of preference, but rather with my hope to present a meta-textual narrative about loss and grief.
Set in a beautifully designed near future, one that hints at a greater longing of its people but never digs deeply into the nature of their shared regrets, After Yang is the story of a young girl Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) and her beloved older brother Yang (Justin Min.) Yang is an android and, as machines do, he stops working.
What starts as Colin Farrell’s quest to save his daughter’s companion turns into an examination of his own life and relationships, both with Mika and his wife, Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith.) As part of his attempt to save Yang, he discovers that the android has been saving three second memory clips, allowing Jake a brief glimpse into the life he had handed over to a robotic caregiver. It whispers to us the same thing. How much of our lives have we handed over, have we absconded, without even noticing?
In an explosive finale, Jake discovers that Yang, being a refurbished unit, has previous memories stored away. He had entire lives before his time with Mika, he watched others grow old and die. He loved them and then their children, and then those children again as adults. Absolutely nothing hits me harder than the idea that those who love us must watch us grow, age, and finally leave them. I was completely wrecked by the end of this movie and will carry it with me for some time, even it gets compressed into a convenient ball in my robot brain.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Dir. Martin McDonagh
Across the water and over the hills there is death. The constant reminder comes in the form of gunshots, stopping passersby in their tracks. The war is close but for those on the island of Inisherin, their seclusion keeps them removed. Isolated.
It is in this place that Colm (Brendan Gleeson) decides, seemingly all at once, that he no longer cares to be friends with Pádraic (Colin Farrell,) the town’s nicest simpleton. This is loss expressed in a different way than nearly every other film on the list. Colm is not dead, though he would like to be considered so to Pádraic at least, which means Pádraic cannot grieve his loss. In fact, he does not even have to accept it. He spends nearly the entire film fighting to overcome it, which of course leads to more loss (the specifics of which are intense.)
As the world closed around us all, as we shut ourselves in our bubbles and pods and units, as we focused on our self improvement when the pandemic took away our connections to the broader world, many of us ended up like Colm. Depressed, obsessive, fatalistic. And we cut out of our lives the people who cared about us for reasons we may not fully understand. This seemed relevant to me watching the film, but as to why, I can’t put my finger on it…
“I do worry sometimes that i might just be entertaining myself while staving off the inevitable”
- Colm Doherty
Three Thousand Years of Longing
Dir. George Miller
The burden of immortality is watching everyone you love die. The burden of immortality is having to start over again. The burden of immortality is knowing both of these things are true even in the best of times.
The promise of immortality, though, is that you may get to spend some of it with a person like Alithea (Tilda Swinton.) A famous narrativeologist (not a real thing?) she accidentally releases a Djinn (Idris Elba) and is granted three wishes. Not an idiot, she begins with a simple no thank you. But as he goes on to describe his past and the interstitial periods of captivity, she understands that these wishes are not inherently traps.
As the film moves from tales of the past to Alithea’s choices for her future, it speaks to the human desire for connection and for what parts of our lives we must shed to make that possible. We cannot always be very smart people in very luxurious hotel rooms. If we are to find ourselves we must take a chance in letting others find us as well.
The burden and the promise of being human is that we need each other and are needed so much.
Everything Everywhere All At Once
Dirs. Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
What would it mean to lose everything? Many of us felt that we were, as our world closed in pulling us inevitably into a dark black center from which we could not find our way out. The universe we believed could exist at the beginning of 2020 was no longer possible three months later. It had been cleaved from existence and with it our entire conception of who we were.
Joy Wang (Stephanie Hsu) felt this type of despair so deeply it stretched across every conceivable universe until a version of her, Jobu Tupaki, decided to act on it. As is often the case for children in crisis, the cause and solution lied with her parents, Evelyn and Waymond Wang (Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, respectively.) The versions of them that spanned the multiverse collectively made two reasonably effective parents, and while yes some martial arts were required and occasionally you end up with hot dog fingers, listening and caring for others can save the universe(s).
As an aside, Michelle Yeoh is the reason this movie exists, the reason it works, and should win every award.
“You think because I’m kind that it means I’m naive, and maybe I am. It’s strategic and necessary. This is how I fight.”
- Waymond Wang
Dir. Jordan Peele
We are the ones who save us. We are the ones who keep us safe. In their remote ranch in the Hollywood hills, OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) have few options when it comes to help. They can sell a horse here or there to local sideshow owner and former child actor Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) and when they need to upgrade their skyward security, Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) is enthusiastic for the adventure.
As horse trainers for Hollywood, carrying on the legacy of their family and most recently their father, killed in the film’s opening, is an impossible task. The industry in moving to computer generated effects, the value in real spectacle no longer shining so bright. But there is always value in real spectacle.
When it comes down to the choice between losing everything or creating the biggest, deadliest spectacle you can find, getting that “Oprah shot” well, that is no choice at all. If not us, then whom?
Dir. Robert Eggers
Sometimes, losing what were were promised means we feel like grabbing a spear out of the air mid-flight and hurling it back at the bastard who threw it at you. This is our introduction to the would be king Amleth as an adult, and the following four-plus-minute take of he and his berserkers raiding a village erupts with the rage of a man wronged by fate.
The Norse story of Amleth, from which this film takes many elements is also the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is a tale totemic in its examination of loss and revenge. As such, I do not intend to make the claim that this story from time immemorial is somehow inspired by the pandemic and our collective sense of loss (and subsequent resentment seeking revenge.) But I will say that I feel more now than ever before in my life that I would like to hurl a spear at a few people.
Note: I have briefly worked with Robert Eggers before as the production designer on a short film called Katya and the Scarlet Sails. He’s cool.
“This is the last tear you will shed in weakness. It will be given back when most you need it.”
- Heimir the Fool
Top Gun: Maverick
Dir. Joseph Kosinski
Alright, so I am finally giving up the premise that these movies are all about loss and grief and finally getting on to the fun movies, right? Wrong! For as fun, exciting, and occasionally stupid as Top Gun: Maverick is, it is also one of the most dedicated movies on the list to what grief does to us.
Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is met on the first day in his new job as instructor of Top Gun flight school with his greatest regret. The son of his former flight partner Goose is not only in his class, but will be considered for flying an incredibly dangerous mission. If Maverick fails, he could likely see the death of both men on his watch.
The drama runs with the high stakes of Hollywood blockbuster tropes, but there is not a moment where the audience forgets the pain that Maverick has carried with him for decades, nor the lengths that will drive him to so he can spare himself, and perhaps make amends, this time.
Also, every scene of of flight and air combat is genuinely spectacular. I cannot overstate how good looking the movie is.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Dir. Rian Johnson
In an effort to avoid spoiling the film, I can only briefly connect this to the larger theme of loss, but suffice it to say that a character must go to great lengths in the attempt to find justice for someone they lost.
Since it would be useless to continue being so vague, a switch in approach to the tactical: This is one of the few films on the list where COVID-19 is in fact textual. The opening is set in March 2020 and the ensemble of characters are in their respective pods. They all adjourn to a billionaire friend’s island for a “bubble vacation,” which is a lovely pretense in the movie for being able to actually accomplish the production at all in the real world.
It is not the point at all, but I did come away from both the world of the film and the research into its production thinking, “It’s gotta be nice having an island.” I was also never bored for a moment watching this film and only wish I had been able to catch it in theaters.
“I’ve learned through bitter experience that an anonymous invitation is not to be trifled with.”
- Benoit Blanc
Dir. Zach Cregger
Sometimes loss is an experience like getting your head smashed into a wall until your brain bits come out. Right?
Ok, this is where I hope off the thematic train and talk about a couple movies that exist outside the trend. Cregger’s directorial debut is one of those unique films that does genuinely subvert your expectations at multiple spots. Each time you think you have your hands around it, it squirms away and leads you on another chase.
It is at times suspenseful, creepy, violent, funny, nostalgic, and novel. And while yes, I could stretch the thematic element of loss to cover the way one of the characters acts, it wouldn’t be the protagonist and I am not going to be the one who ruins the surprises for you.
Dir. Dan Trachtenberg
In John McTiernan’s Predator, a group of ex-military commandos enter into a Central America jungle on a supposed rescue mission that is in fact a clandestine operation to stop the spread of Soviet communism. This overt comparison and criticism of the American intervention in and war with Vietnam sets the film apart from simpler action and sci-fi films of its era. The invading Americans in this movie take their turns being brutally murdered by the titular creature, with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch only able to escape by literally returning to the earth, bathed in mud.
Prey flips that scenario on its head, as the inversion in the title would imply. Naru (Amber Midthunder) is a member of the Comanche tribe in the continental west, seeking her place within her tribe as a warrior and hunter. Rather than encountering the Predator through their actions, the Predator comes to them. Thus, the inversion of our story shifts the nature of the parable.
This alien is on the hunt. Seeking trophies of its greatest kills on this planet, the being is portrayed more as a poacher than a warrior. It parallels the interaction of native peoples with white colonizers for centuries, and the relationship between nature and certain Large Adult Sons. The Predator is not a cool alien to be bested in combat, it is a pest to be eliminated.
Similar to Trachtenberg’s earlier work 10 Cloverfield Lane, he takes what had been a sprawling and overstuffed history (in that case, J.J. Abrams hit mess Cloverfield, in this case, whatever they’ve been doing to the Predator franchise since 1988) and turns it into a personal story of survival. He returns to the roots of the original and creates peril with real stakes, finding a balance between the beauty of the landscape and the gnarly executions at the hands of the monster.
* I love the original Predator so I was probably just overly happy that this did not suck like all the others.
Others of Note
X and Pearl - Ti West landed two entries into the horror canon this year, both staring the incredible Mia Goth. His pacing and framing never misses and both are worth a watch for any fan of the genre.
Avatar: The Way of Water and The Black Panther: Wakanda Forever - The two wettest movies of the year! Cameron brings one of the most stellar viewing experiences ever to theaters, which will translate to a boring at best home experience. Coogler finds himself in Wakanda again, now absent his lead in Chadwick Boseman (RIP). Where the film suffers from the closed fist of Marvel’s need for a connected universe, it soars thanks to Coogler’s direction, Autumn Durald Arkapaw’s cinematography, and Tenoch Huerta’s Namor.
Tár - Cate Blanchett will win the Oscar for this performance, and the direction by Todd Field is exquisite. I don’t give a shit about the world in which the film is set, though Fraser and Niles Crane would be in heaven.
Wendell & Wild - Henry Selick returns for his first film since 2009’s Coraline and brings fully 13 years of ideas. Not every one of them hit, but I will always love a film with ambition and this is that. Don’t let your kids watch it!
RRR - Speaking of ambition, how about a three hour film about two friends looking to cast the British Empire out of India by *checks notes* hitting them in the head with a motorcycle? I am not a fan of the look of the film and every shot with a window in it is completely blown out, but damn if the vibes are not just immaculate.
Decision to Leave - A film I will need to see again, but what seems at first blush to be a simple detective story becomes a tale of love and trust. Who can we be for each other, and who must we be for ourselves?
And thus concludes the first edition of this newsletter and a hopeful conclusion of 2022. As we start our new year, we will continue to lose some of the things that matter to us. But let us try to lose more bad than good while we hold tightly to the things we love.