Top Five for 2022
Everything Everywhere All At Once
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Mrs Harris Goes To Paris
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
Wow, what a fantastic movie. So original, imaginative, funny, exciting, thought-provoking, visually stimulating. So much impact - - it was a lot to take in but never felt like too much. The movie had a consistent tone, and the writers/directors somehow found a way to make it all make sense, or at least have it make sense within the context of the movie.
A dazzling movie, thrilling from start to finish. My jaw was dropped much of the time. Between this and *Everything Everywhere All At Once,* this was a good year for ambitious, maximal movies. Compare either of those to the delicate and mild-mannered *Nomadland* and you'll see what I mean.
*The Northman* isn't just an epic, it's a SAGA! Richard was overwhelmed by the violence but for me it never felt gratuitous, it was always there in the service of the story. Stellar performances by everyone, especially from Nicole Kidman in a scene-stealing supporting role as the main character's mother. My one gripe was that it was too dark - - literally, it needed more light. Often the scene took place in more or less complete darkness so the director filmed it in a shadowy pseudo-infrared style. That annoyed me, but then it annoys me even more when people are filmed in the dead of night and yet they are well lit, through the magic of the movies. So clearly there's no pleasing me.
My favorite element of the movie was the use of design in the fantasy sequences. It had a deliberately arty quality, like prog rock album covers from the 70s.
BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER
It delivers on so many levels: it’s a comic book/action movie, it’s a heartfelt sequel dealing with the death of the lead actor from the previous movie, and most remarkable of all, it’s a female-driven and Black-driven movie, yet neither feels forced, even for a moment. Both of those elements are so strongly woven into the story, it’s just a story, it’s not a political statement. Even though it is.
Richard, Susan, and I saw *Corsage* at the New York Film Festival. Susan and I had seen *Benedetta* there the year before and had so much fun we decided to go every year. We saw a preview for this movie and while it is about Empress Elisabeth of Austria, it looked like a different animal than your standard issue 18th century costume drama biopic. It looked odd and nasty. It was, and we loved it! It had a stellar performance by Vicky Krieps. That might not be a name you recognize but you know her work if you saw *Phantom Thread* - - she was Daniel Day Lewis’s girlfriend in that movie. She’s someone to watch, she has a very particular, intelligent presence.
I was fascinated by the subject matter when I first heard about it. I saw Claire Foy promoting the movie on *The Graham Norton Show* (more about him later) and the clip she showed was so overpowering I was determined to see it. What a cast: Foy, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Ben Whishaw, and the great Judith Ivey in a supporting role. Also Frances McDormand in a tiny part.
It was so well written, such a powerful story, it had great impact. I was a little concerned that it would be too intense, too heavy, but it wasn’t like that at all. The story was told in a straightforward way, that made it easier to take. A truly extraordinary film.
*Mrs Harris Goes To Paris* was so delightful. It was charming and sweet and (for me) packed a surprising emotional punch. I teared up a few times - - not such a rare occurrence but not was I was expecting from this frothy little frock of a movie. Stellar performances by Lesley Manville as Mrs Harris and Isabelle Huppert as the icy lady at the Dior atelier.
BEST CAMEO, FEMALE
I was so thrilled to see Donna Mills’s name in the opening credits to *Nope.* Call me a weirdo (and you’d be right) but it was the highlight of the movie. Even more exciting than her actual appearance onscreen (which was brief).
BEST CAMEO, MALE
It took me a minute to recognize him but what a treat to see Ed Begley Jr in a tiny but juicy role in *Amsterdam.* And I don’t want to give it away, but *The Fabelmans* ended with the young Spielberg character having a brief and meaningful interaction with a director of the Old Guard. The older director was played by someone whose voice I recognized but I couldn’t quite place - - I was gobsmacked to see who it was. GENIUS.
REMEMBRANCE OF MOVIES PAST
Can you believe Richard had never seen *Ninotchka*? I’d seen it three or four times, I was amazed he had never seen it. It’s a darling romantic comedy from 1939 starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas, directed by the master of the genre, Ernst Lubitsch. He practically invented romantic comedies.
Garbo was one of the biggest stars of silent movies. Her first talking picture was *Anna Christie* in 1930 and the ads screamed, “GARBO TALKS!” She was an even bigger hit in talking pictures, specializing in romantic dramas, often playing an aloof lady, deeply wounded by love, dying at the end. It was major departure for her to do a comedy, *Ninotchka* in 1939 - - the ads screamed, “GARBO LAUGHS!”
It’s one of those old movies that gets better every time you see it. This time I noticed that for a frothy romantic comedy, there are some serious, dark undertones. A gold star to Richard for recognizing a young George Tobias as the Russian visa official. He came onscreen and Richard said, “He was the next door neighbor to Samantha Stevens!” Sure enough, he had played Abner Kravitz on *Bewitched.*
MOVIE THAT NEEDS TO BE MADE
Are you as big a fan of *The Proposal* as I am? Such a cute, hilarious movie. Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds had wonderful chemistry and the story was trite but engaging. I would love a sequel!
*Barbie.* About the doll! Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, starring Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken. I haven’t been so excited for a cheesy movie since the Charlie’s Angels movies all those years ago. And what the hell is Rhea Perlman doing in this movie. I’m all a-slobber.
Two franchise movies coming out this summer: the new Indiana Jones and the new Mission Impossible.
*Oppenheimer,* a biopic about Robert Oppenheimer starring Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt as the Oppenheimers, also Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr, Florence Pugh, Gary Oldman, various others. It’s written and directed by Christopher Nolan which makes me anxious. He often makes things more complicated than they need to be (see *Dunkirk,* or don’t).
*Nosferatu.* Yet another remake of the classic vampire movie, this one directed by Robert Eggers (who did *The Northman*).
Yet another *Brideshead Revisited* remake. Have we officially run out of ideas, people? It’s directed by Luca Guadagnino (*Call Me By Your Name*) and with Cate Blanchett and Andrew Garfield, so I think I’m interested.
Wes Anderson has two movies in post-production. I’ll give you the titles and the casts. Do we really care about anything else? First, *Asteroid City.* New to the gang: Margot Robbie, Scarlett Johansson, Maya Hawke, Tom Hanks, Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Rupert Friend. Repeat offenders: Adrien Brody, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe, Fisher Stevens, Jeff Goldblum, Liev Schreiber, Matt Dillon, and Jeffrey Wright. And *The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar* with newbies Benedict Cumberbatch, Dev Patel, and Ben Kingsley and repeat offenders Ralph Fiennes and Rupert Friend.
*Francis and the Godfather* is about the making of *The Godfather.* It’s listed in imdb as being in pre-production, which could mean it’s in Development Hell, but with all these famous people listed, doesn’t that seem to send a message? Directed by Barry Levinson (*Rain Man,* *Bugsy*), starring Oscar Isaac as Francis Ford Coppola, Jake Gyllenhaal as producer Robert Evans, Elle Fanning as Ali MacGraw, and Elisabeth Moss as Eleanor Coppola.
MOST DESERVING OF A COMEBACK
Why did Iranian actor Shohreh Aghdashloo not have the career I felt she deserved? Is it just straight up racism? Is it her name - - too foreign, too abstract? Her flag-planting performance in *The House of Sand and Fog* was off the charts brilliant. It looks like she does a fair amount of TV work, and I’m happy she’s paying the rent, but clearly someone needs to write her a role that’s worthy of her talents. Or maybe (to use a phrase I use too much) she needs to come to New York in a play.
VIVA LA DIVA
Angela Bassett in *Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.* Thank you, Miss Bassett! All bow to the QUEEN. What a strong, glorious, regal performance. I hope this role gets her the juicy leading roles (or even more juicy supporting roles) that she deserves.
*Nope* was such a disappointment. My hopes were high because Peele’s *Get Out* and *Us* were both so brilliant. *Nope* had the makings of a great movie but it didn’t deliver, it didn’t hold together. The most interesting parts of the story were side topics. It seemed like a deliberate choice. But I do have to say that it was worth seeing just for Daniel Kaluuya’s performance. He was amazing, so wonderfully understated.
*The Menu* was so much fun. Implausible, of course, but so delightful. I hear there’s a current rash of movies and TV shows about rich people getting their come-uppance. Is *White Lotus* part of that trend? I haven’t seen it.
*The Menu* made me think of *Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?* In WAoVW I always had the feeling that George and Martha have played variations on the game before, they’ve brought home a young couple and toyed with them - - but then on this night they go deeper and share something they’ve never shared with anyone (no spoilers). *The Menu* has a similar structure. Most of the movie is (we assume) things that have happened before but it ends in a new way.
HOW COULD I HAVE MISSED IT?
My friend Bob is a major nut for film noir. I’ve always enjoyed the genre but he turned me onto Noir Alley on Turner Classic Movies, Saturday nights at midnight, where they show a little-known noir every week. I’ve been enjoying those but also thought I should check out some other noirs, well-known ones I hadn’t seen yet.
TCM had *Murder, My Sweet* on this past fall and wow, it knocked me out. I had whiplash with the wisecracks, they were fast and furious. There’s a section in the middle of the movie where Marlowe is being drugged, that was out there, very visually daring. I had only seen Dick Powell as the cutie boy singer in one or more of the Gold Diggers movies, it was a shock to the senses to see him all grown up and hard boiled. But still charming and cute! And Claire Trevor, she was so amazing. I loved her posh accent. She was a femme fatale for the ages.
BREAK-OUT PERFORMANCE, FEMALE
I feel funny giving her this award to an actress who's 72 years old and has credits on imdb dating back to 1974, but as much as I love Judith Ivey’s work I only think of her on the stage. The only role on her list of movie credits that stood out for me was playing Morris Townsend’s sister in the 1997 version of *The Heiress,* *Washington Square.* Ironically my favorite of her stage performances was in the juicy supporting role of Aunt Lavinia in a dreadful 2012 revival of *The Heiress.* Jessica Chastain was the lead in that show and boy did she not deliver.
Anyway, Ivey played more or less the leader of the talking circle in *Women Talking* and she gave such a strong, quiet, delicately nuanced performance. It
occurred to me, watching the credits, that Frances McDormand was one of the producers of the movie - - she gave herself a tiny, teeny tiny part and could so easily have given herself Ivey’s part. And she would have been very good in it. But what an act of generosity to give the part to Ivey. I hope it leads to more work for her in the movies.
BREAK-OUT PERFORMANCE, MALE
Ke Huy Quan in *Everything Everywhere All at Once.* Yes, I know we know him from *Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,* but he was just a kid then. This is his first grown-up leading role and wow, he really delivered. Such a lovely, strong, nuanced performance. I hope he has some more great movies in his future but in the meantime maybe I need to see *The Goonies*?
The opening credits to *Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,* with their tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman - - so touching, such a beautiful way to open the movie.
Five best dance sequences:
1. “Begin the Beguine “ from *Broadway Melody of 1940.* Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell.
2. “Gotta Dance” and “Broadway Melody” from *Singin’ in the Rain.* Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse.
3. Finale of *The Red Shoes.* Moira Shearer and lots of other people.
4. “Too Darn Hot” from *Kiss Me Kate.* Ann Miller and others.
5. Nicholas Brothers, stairway number in *Stormy Weather.*
I had high hopes for *Amsterdam* and I guess I enjoyed it. I was the only person in my group who sort of liked it. We were all fans of David O. Russell (*Silver Linings Playbook,* *American Hustle,* and the continually surprising *I Heart Huckabees*) and the cast was out of this world: Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington as the central trio, also Chris Rock, Anja Taylor Joy, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift (for real?), Mattias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, and in what I hear is highly prized “last billing,” Rami Malek and Robert De Niro.
I saw your eyebrow go up with my remark about highly prized last billing. I heard about this in connection with Janet Leigh in *Psycho.* Her part is too small to be one of the top credits, but her part was too important and she was too big a star to be billed third or fourth. So she had last billing: “and Janet Leigh as Marion Crane.” The other last billing that comes to mind is “…and Jerry Mathers as The Beaver.”
*Amsterdam* reminded me of *The French Dispatch.* Both were a little too long, the storytelling was a little too loose, the tone was a little too wacky or fey, and there were too many great actors with too little to do. But this movie wasn’t nearly as satisfying as *The French Dispatch* - - *The French Dispatch* is a great example of a favorite genre of mine, the Glorious Mess. *Amsterdam* was just a mess.
I’m not sure how I feel about *The Banshees of Inisherin.* It made me feel uneasy, which I think was the point.
*The Fabelmans* was very sweet with some sour mixed in to make it more full-bodied. Lovely performances by everyone, especially Paul Dano and Michelle Williams as the parents. I don't know why people are so nuts over Judd Hirsch in this - - he was good but it was a small role and he had very little to do. The most thrilling moment of the movie was a GENIUS bit of casting (I mentioned this already in Best Cameo Male, above).
I finally got around to watching *Beyond the Valley of the Dolls* last summer. It was streaming on The Criterion Channel, can you believe it? They took a break from Kurosawa, Passolini, and Ingmar Bergman for that Russ Meyer jiggle fest.
I was curious about the movie for many, many years. I’d seen the movie of *Valley of the Dolls* numerous times, I even own it on DVD. Such trash, so hilarious. And while *B the V of the D* has only a tenuous relation to the first movie, I thought I should see it. Plus it had a screenplay by Meyer and would you believe Roger Freaking Ebert? The deal was sealed when I heard that John Waters said that it was not only the best movie ever made but the best movie that would ever BE made. Which is hilarious in itself.
It did not disappoint! It was better than I expected, more inventive and fascinating than I expected. One moment in particular will stick with me forever: the grisly murder of one of the lead characters is accompanied, on the soundtrack, by the 20th Century Fox fanfare. It felt like the movie was laughing at itself.
ON SECOND THOUGHT
It’s a little perverted for me to have *Nope* as my Nice Try and also as my On Second Thought, but I never claimed I wasn’t a little perverted. I felt as I left the theater that I’ll probably feel differently about it on a second viewing - - I often bring up *Jackie Brown,* which I found underwhelming when I first saw it in the theater but then loved big time when I saw it a year later on TV. And now it’s practically my favorite Tarantino movie.
BEST USE OF A POP SONG
*Corsage* had a few deliberate anachronisms, some of them a little difficult to spot - - like in the opening scene, Empress Elisabeth arrived with her ladies in waiting at a grand 18th century palace and yet when she got inside we saw that the door was a classic 1950s metal door frame. Odd. My favorite moment like this was when a courtier sang and accompanied himself on a plucked violin. The song was “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”
*Fire of Love* is a documentary about French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft. We learn in the first minutes of the movie that they died while at a live volcano doing research. It’s a lovely portrait of them and their unusual partnership. The movie is almost entirely made of photos and film the two of them had made, startling, amazing footage.
Richard and I watched the four *Airport* movies. They were so bad and so hilarious. Marvelously self-important, there didn’t seem to be a teaspoon of irony in any of them. The most fun is seeing all of the stars of yesteryear, some of whom could accurately but uncharitably be referred to as has-beens. Here’s an overview of the four movies:
Directed by George Seaton, who also directed *Miracle on 34th Street* and *The Country Girl.*
Starring Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg (unrecognizable with her big blonde ‘do), Jacqueline Bisset, George Kennedy (the only actor to appear in all four movies), Helen Hayes (who won an Oscar for her performance!), Van Heflin, Maureen Stapleton, Lloyd Nolan, Barbara Hale.
Bonuses: a very young Gary Collins as the third guy in the cockpit. He was married to Mary Ann Mobley and was host of a dopey daytime talk show called *Hour Magazine* from 1980 to 1988. The score for *Airport* was written by the great Alfred Newman, who wrote the score for one of the greatest movies of all time, *All About Eve.* Jeez, was he slumming on this movie. It was his last.
*Airport 1975* (1975, duh)
Directed by Jack Smight, who did a lot of second-class TV. The only movie credit that stood out to me was *The Illustrated Man* and the only reason I’ve heard of that is because a commercial for the movie played on the radio in one scene in *Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood.*
Starring Charlton Heston, Karen Black, George Kennedy again, Efrem Zimbalist Jr (who was smoking a cigar in the cockpit, can you imagine), Helen Reddy as a singing nun, Linda Blair, Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, Larry Storch, and a trio of drunks played by Jerry Stiller, Norman Fell, and Conrad Janis.
Bonuses: Gloria Freaking Swanson playing herself! And Nancy Olson as Linda Blair’s mother. Miss Olson is best known for playing the second female lead in *Sunset Boulevard.* I wonder who got who into the movie, it seems like too much of a coincidence. One other bonus: a very young Erik Estrada as the third guy in the cockpit. Those three pilots were so smarmy to the stews, I felt like I was watching a sexual harassment training video.
Directed by Jerry Jameson, who did mostly TV work, including lots of TV movies. *High Noon II: The Return of Will Kane* starring Lee Majors caught my eye, and would you believe it’s on YouTube?
Starring Jack Lemmon, Lee Majors, Brenda Vaccaro, Joseph Cotten, Olivia de Havilland, Christopher Lee, Robert Foxworth, Kathleen Quinlan, and Maidie Norman.
This was the best one of the four. The plot is highly implausible but the drama in the disaster is strong enough and handled in such a straightforward way that they didn’t have to create much inflated personal drama with the passengers, like in the other installments.
Bonuses: the inevitable George Kennedy and James Stewart. Jeez.
*The Concorde…Airport ‘79*
Directed by David Lowell Rich, who appears to have made his career almost exclusively doing TV movies. The one that caught my eye was *The Hearst and Davies Affair* starring Robert Mitchum as William Randolph Hearst and Virginia Madsen as Marion Davies. It’s on YouTube, of course. I watched about a half hour of that and it was awful.
Starring Alain Delon, Susan Blakely, Robert Wagner, Eddie Albert, John Davidson, Andrea Marcovicci (as a Russian Olympic gymnast, natch), the one and only Martha Raye, Cicely Tyson, Jimmie Walker, and Mercedes McCambridge. George Kennedy, of course.
Bonuses: Bibi Andersson in a throwaway role as a smart Paris hooker and Charo in a tiny appearance as someone who doesn’t even stay on the plane because she’s caught smuggling her chihuahua on the flight. And big smiles for the Doritos man, Avery Schreiber, as a Russian Olympic coach.
This was by far the dumbest of the four. I’ve seen a lot of dumb movies but this is right up there with the dumbest. This makes *Rome Adventure* look like *Long Day’s Journey Into Night.*
A NEW INVENTION CALLED TELEVISION
Are you a fan of *The Graham Norton Show*? It’s a chat show on the BBC, it airs on BBC America. Richard introduced me to it and wow, I love it so much. Norton is a scream and I can’t think of another chat show that comes close to achieving what he achieves. The guests appear to be having so much fun. There’s nothing like it.
*Nope.* I found the preview much more satisfying than the movie.
BEST FILMWORD BIOGRAPHY
I read this a few years ago, but it’s such a charming book, I want to plug it here: *Every Frenchman Has One* by Olivia de Havilland. She wrote it in 1962 about her experience moving to France ten years before with her young son, leaving the US after an ugly divorce. She’s puzzled/tickled/annoyed by the ways of the French. The title refers to her observation that every Frenchman has a sour stomach. It’s an adorable book, a breezy read, I highly recommend it.
NEW CATEGORY: FAVORITE PERFORMANCE
My beloved friend Tom is one of the few people I know who is as jazzed up by movies as I am. I asked him if he had a suggestion for the new category for this year’s Top Five and he suggested Favorite Performance. I like it!
My favorite performance was a small one but more significant than a cameo: Zoe Saldaña in *Amsterdam.* In a movie full of kooks, cranks, and quacks, she was deliciously calm and sincere. I lit up whenever she was onscreen.