2022 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

Hello!

Year 11 of The MN Movie Man was so much fun! Movies in the theater got back into a full(er) swing; before I knew it, 2022 was winding down, and it was time to think about this wrap-up once again!

I continue to be grateful for your feedback, comments, emails, tweets (RIP to my Twitter, though!), and Instagram messages. I’ve enjoyed getting to know more of you and connecting through social media over our love of (or disagreement on) film! More than anything, I appreciate those that support their peers and pay it forward when they can. It’s been wonderful to receive communication from PR agencies or promotion entities that said they heard about me from one of my followers or fellow critics. Let me know if I can ever be of help to YOU! 

This year, I took more time away to keep the burnout feeling down. I get to a point where I need to step out and leave the writing alone for a bit. I’m comforted to get emails/messages from you asking when I’m coming back – I don’t know how long I’ll keep doing this, but when I’m ready to retire, we’ll make it a fun send-off!

In closing, I’ll return to the challenge I give my fellow critics every year… “I challenge you to review on your blog/channel/page at least one movie a month that didn’t get a mainstream release.” Keep seeking out these smaller films and give indie filmmakers some exposure. At the same time, acknowledge your fellow critics who do good work, tip you off to certain movies, and support you throughout the year. I’m always looking to Brian Orndorf, Tim Lammers, and Jared Huizenga to see what they’ve been watching, and The Minnesota Film Critics Alliance is worth a peek as well for another roster of critics doing their thing. This year, I’m adding Deep Focus Review and The Cinema Dispatch to my list of can’t stop/won’t stop reviewers dedicated to writing reviews almost daily and regularly staying flexible to seeing a wide range of film genres. Like I said: Give credit where credit is due!

This is the 11th year of this blog (wow!), and I’ve appreciated your feedback, your patronage, and your general presence over time. Even if you read this every day but have never commented or made contact, I can still tell you’ve been here, and that means a lot. The number of readers and subscribers grows, the followers increase and the likes go up — it’s great to see!

If you haven’t already, make sure to follow this blog, follow me on Instagram, and like my Facebook page so you can help me continue spreading the news about The MN Movie Man.

Best Wishes to you and yours for the happiest New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)

5. You Won’t Be Alone / The Northman – Strong storytelling will always get you high marks on my list, and this dynamic duo tied for my affections this past year. The first is a dark fairy tale from Macedonia starring Alice Englert & Noomi Rapace, playing critical roles in the life cycle of a shapeshifting witch that roams a mountain village in the 19th century. It could be that others come to You Won’t Be Alone thinking it’s an all-out horror film, and they’ll likely be disappointed it’s not some witch in the woods scare-fest. I still found elements of the movie quite frightening, but not for reasons you might think. Throughout its run time, Stolevski’s film covers more ground than is typical or expected, asking striking questions about life, death, and our humanity even as we are gripped by not knowing what may happen next. In contrast, Robert Eggers’s Viking epic The Northman was exactly the viciously gruesome movie I was hoping for from the visionary filmmaker. Sparing the audience little in the way of close-up violence and tragedy, it’s the original Hamlet story Shakespeare would use as inspiration for his classic play. A beautiful, hypnotic film with fantastic performances all around.

4. Everything Everywhere All at Once – Having not formally reviewed Everything Everywhere All at Once yet, I couldn’t tell you that it took me two viewings to appreciate the film for what it achieves. The first time I saw it (in a theater), I didn’t get the praise. Perhaps I was in a bad mood or sleepy, or the bar had been set too high, but I walked out of the cinema wondering what the big deal was. Anytime I have such an adverse reaction to the consensus, I have to watch the film again to confirm my feelings. I’m so glad I watched it again because when I saw it at home, I understood the extraordinary accomplishment it represents and the creative energy it has encapsulated. Star Michelle Yeoh has been working for decades in Hong Kong cinema and Hollywood but has finally been given a role to match her star power, and supporting actors Stephanie Hsu and Ke Huy Quan also shine brightly. Repeat viewings only enhance the movie’s solid meta-verse set-up, a strong sign it will live on long after the year has ended.

3. TÁR – I love discourse over movies, and of all the films released in 2022, TÁR has been the one I’ve seen more people pick apart, quibble, and quarrel over. And I love it. At close to three hours, TÁR is a bundle-up and hunker-down experience that is rewarding for more than just the art house crowd or those with a subscription to the symphony. It’s for anyone that has followed the political landscape of the last five years and is invested in future change. Like the titular character, though, it can be a tough nut to crack. Luckily, Cate Blanchett is magnificent, and director Todd Field surrounds her with an excellent supporting cast that is often given their moments to shine. It’s Blanchett’s film, though, and as genius turns to obsession and control and becomes an unwieldy creature she can’t tame or keep time with, her character’s downward spiral is a graceful accident we are eager to buy a front-row ticket to see.

2. The Menu – I’m naturally attracted to movies with a black heart, but screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy have cooked up something unnaturally dark with The Menu. It might not be to everyone’s palette, but it’s hard to consider anyone walking out of it feeling they hadn’t been well-served by all involved. This is a rare meal that gets tastier the more you find out what’s going into the pot, and yet you still can’t quite figure out what the end game is until it arrives. Through it all, there’s bountiful amounts of acerbic humor directed at everything from bad movies to infidelity. Each table features a mini murders row of talent, and it’s hard to single out one actor over another. That said, The Menu is a delectable showcase for Ralph Fiennes as a curious chef curating a menu with purpose. And never forget how grand Hong Chau is; her turn as a snobby (maybe sinister?) front-of-house host is a delight. You can imagine the restaurant serving as the jumping-off place (or ending up?) for an anthology series in a Knives Out style…

1. Top Gun: Maverick – The biggest blockbuster of 2022 is also easily my favorite film of the year. I saw it multiple times in theaters and brought back friends/family each time. For a while, it felt like a sequel to the bombastic classic 1986 film Top Gun would never see a theatrical release at all. Intended for release in July 2019 (yes, 2019), it was bumped back for a myriad of reasons along the way. The important thing is that star Tom Cruise held out to keep Top Gun: Maverick from being a victim of the studio’s wave of pandemic straight-to-streaming offloads…and we should be forever grateful. What a thrill ride! Featuring pulse-pounding, nail-biting action to keep you alternately on the edge of your seat or pushed back, gripping your armrests. Making good use of the IMAX cameras, it was filmed with incredible cinematography seamlessly blending the actual flying from any green screen; it’s as realistic an action-adventure as you’ll see this side of a documentary or Navy-approved training video. The cherry on top of this sweet sundae? Like an authentic ’80s summer sweltering blockbuster, it has a power anthem from Lady Gaga with a needle drop at a perfect position. 

Honorable Mentions: Emily the Criminal, Cha Cha Real Smooth, The Batman, I Love My Dad, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, X, Pearl, Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Persuasion, Strange World, Aline

5. Pinocchio / Thor: Love and Thunder – I decided to combine these two Disney releases into one because both were equal offenders, making them interchangeable #5’s on my Worst of 2022. Their live-action version of Pinocchio went right into the woodpile thanks to ill-advised rewrites to the classic tale. There’s a creepy vibe to the Robert Zemeckis-directed work, and with each good idea (Broadway star Cynthia Erivo as the Blue Fairy) came ten bad ones (barely having Erivo sing, changing the ending, adding characters that didn’t further the plot, etc.). As predicted, it languished in the shadow of Guillermo del Toro’s far more respectable take on the fairy tale that arrived a few months later. The new Thor sequel may have had one of the more exciting villains (Oscar-winner Christian Bale), and a dynamite sequence drained of color. Still, the misuse of returning star Natalie Portman, not to mention unfathomably poor visuals and hammy acting by most of the supporting cast, made Taika Waititi directed outing sink like a weighted hammer.

4. Vengeance – If you look at my review of Vengeance, you’d see that I don’t give it that low of a score. However, since I reviewed it initially, the film has gnawed at me for its cavalier ending, which I mentioned at the time. Still, it remains a sour note in what was purported to be a well-orchestrated symphony. Written and directed by star B.J. Novak, my favorite part of the film was, surprisingly, the performance of a laid-back Ashton Kutcher. Though only in two brief scenes, he makes the most of his screen time and leaves a stand-out impression. That ending, oof. I can’t forgive it, and while I would encourage giving Vengeance a look for Kutcher’s performance and the overall strength of some of Novak’s ideas he introduces, I wouldn’t be able to recommend it in the long run. Intelligent filmmaking also must include being a responsible authority. Novak chooses an easy out based less on good ideas and more on what might be pleasing to the audience for a moment.

3. The 355 – The genesis of The 355 is the most positive thing about it. Star Jessica Chastain wanted to create a female-driven spy franchise to rival the likes of James Bond or a modern-day Mission: Impossible, filling a void in the market. Those films had something The 355 doesn’t: good material. It’s a cringe-y outing for several likable actresses attempting to act smart through a pretty dumb movie.   Double crosses are introduced as if we can’t see them coming from a mile away, and romantic or familial entanglements are awkwardly asked to take center stage at inopportune times. Truthfully, it plays like a bad pilot episode of a show for television. I think it’s admirable that Chastain (who would win a deserved Oscar for The Eyes of Tammy Faye a month after this was released) talks the talk and walks the walk in work she has faith in. Still, if the end result is lackluster, it tends to diminish the original intention.

2. Babylon – I haven’t released my full review of Babylon yet, but you can wager a guess how well I liked it by where it’s featured on this ranking. The youngest winner of Best Director, Damien Chazelle, is back with a 3+ hour headache some were eager to embrace it as art, but I was just as happy to write off as junk. Opening with a twenty-five-minute orgy of throbbing music and bodies depicting an elaborate Hollywood party where every kind of liquid is consumed and fluid is unleashed, the film wants to shock and showcase a world that never existed. That’s why it all feels so unnecessary to participate in. Only when Chazelle bothers to turn off the noise and let his characters speak to one another (like a devastating scene between Jean Smart and Brad Pitt), do we get an idea of how great this film could have been. Margot Robbie is again asked to play a wild character whose sexual energy is her asset and downfall – I can’t imagine this will continue to work for her much longer if she stars in bomb after bomb. Worst of all for me is that after 3 hours, Chazelle landed a perfect ending, restoring my hope that he knew what he was doing. To my shock…there were still ten minutes left. 

1. Shattered – I’m going to majorly cheat here and go back on what I said in my review of Shattered. While I technically saw Shattered in 2021 (watched over my Christmas holiday), I didn’t publish my review until January 2022. At the time, I said I couldn’t put it on my Worst of 2021 list because it hadn’t come out yet, but I couldn’t put it on my 2022 list because I didn’t see it in 2021. Well, I’m going back on my word because it truly was the worst film I reviewed in 2022. Scraping the barrel down to the rivets, Shattered is an embarrassingly lousy mystery-thriller starring two charmless duds and supported by two men (Frank Grillo and John Malkovich) that should know better. While David Loughery’s script could have some merit as a sex-thriller with better stars, it’s expertly slimy and not given much life by director Luis Prieto. Exquisitely terrible.

Dis(Honorable) Mentions: The Gray Man, Summering, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Dangerous Game: The Legacy Murders, The Noel Diary, Butter (2020), Offseason

Most Misunderstood: Blonde – Oof. Mind you; I’m not saying this is my favorite film of the year or even that good of a movie. Still, wow, did many miss the mark on this one. I understand the discomfort it drummed up and the questionable conversations it raised during the promotional tour. Yet I must take it back to the performance, and there’s no doubt that Ana de Armas turned in one of the year’s most unforgettable performances as Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe. It’s an unenviable task to take on. If the Cuban-born actress doesn’t entirely sound like Marilyn (ouch, I hope some of the critics who blasted her for the accent don’t go back and read how racist and misogynistic their reviews came across!), there’s something to be said about finding the essence of spirit and conveying that to an audience. It’s breathtaking work. It’s also shocking that this streaming film with a limited theatrical run received an NC-17 when the far more graphic and profane Babylon skated into wide distribution with an R.
Honorable Mention: Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Brace yourself; my honorable mention for “Most Misunderstood” film is popping up at the top of many “Worst” lists of the year, and I have got to say…I don’t see it. Far from perfect, there’s more style in this long-delayed sequel to a never-ending franchise than it was given credit for, and the abuse thrown at it seemed to be off-balance. I enjoyed the time I spent with it on Netflix, and I’ve definitely paid to see much worse movies in theaters.

Joe’s Humble Pie Award of 2022 (movies that turned out differently than I expected going in): Orphan: First Kill – Can you blame me for wondering how they would pull off a sequel to this movie 13 years after the original?  Those that are familiar with the first Orphan from 2009 knew that it hinged on a particular bit of visual trickery that gave it a delicious third-act twist.  Once you knew the twist, the movie’s mystery wasn’t so mysterious.  How would a sequel handle that?  Turns out the filmmakers had a new twist up their sleeve and proved many naysayers (including myself) wrong.  Though it starts off a tad rough, there’s a moment in Orphan: First Kill when it kicks into high gear and astonishingly changes the game. 
Honorable Mention: The Woman King – I could just as easily (and probably should have) put director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s based-on-fact tale the Agojie, the all-female band of warriors tasked to protect The Kingdom of Dahomey in Africa in the 19th century. I had to mention it here, though, because (stupidly), at the outset, I didn’t have extremely high hopes for this one. Previews made it look like another classic historical war drama, but I should have trusted in the combined reputation of star Viola Davis and Prince-Bythewood in delivering quality. Far more than a paint-by-numbers re-telling of history, this is an epic picture with dynamic performances and eye-popping visuals, and it opens a chapter of the past many have likely not been exposed to. You must immediately check it out on a streaming service if you missed it in theaters.

Movie You Probably Haven’t Seen but Should: Pretty Problems – Once again, in 2022, I was fortunate enough to attend a handful of festivals from the comfort of my own home and saw several interesting titles (some that still haven’t been released). Of all I saw, none have impressed me as much as Pretty Problems, a biting, often LOL comedy that in less interesting hands might have resorted to the cliché plot turns and eyeroll-repurposed jokes it never even gets close to. Instead, writers (and stars) Britt Rentschler, Michael Tennant & Charlotte Ubben focus less on punching down at others in exchange for intelligent commentary that winds up holding a mirror to our increasingly self-involved society

Others to Consider:  Some of these are titles released in 2022, some are films I saw for the first time in 2022, and some are titles I revisited in 2022 — all are worth a look but didn’t quite fit into any other category above!

Aftersun
American Gigolo
Attachment {Tribeca 2022 Film Festival}
Bad Axe {SXSW 2022 Film Festival}
Blow Out (1981)
Blue Bayou
Burial
Cyrano (2021)
Death on the Nile (1978)
Do Revenge
Don’t Make Me Go\
Father Stu
Giant
God’s Creatures
Gone in the Night
Heathers: The Musical
It Is in Us All {SXSW 2022 Film Festival}
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On 
Marry Me
Nocebo
Nuclear Family
Slash/Back {SXSW 2022 Film Festival}
Spirited
Sunset Boulevard
The Body (El Cuerpo)
Train to Busan
Troll (2022)
Ultrasound
Watcher
Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody 
Zola

Click HERE for a full listing of films seen in 2022
Total Movies Seen in the Theater: 59
Total Movies Seen at Home: 479
Grand Total for 2022 (not counting films seen multiple times): 530
Where I Saw the Most Movies – At home!

Movie Review ~ Lady Chatterley’s Lover (2022)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: An unhappily married aristocrat begins a torrid affair with the gamekeeper on her husband’s country estate.
Stars: Emma Corrin, Jack O’Connell, Matthew Duckett, Joely Richardson, Ella Hunt, Faye Marsay
Director: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Rated: R
Running Length: 126 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review:  For a novel as infamous as Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I’m surprised I knew so little about it going into this tenth film adaptation. After all, the book’s sordid history is legendary in literature for its lengthy discourse over the fine line between art and obscenity. Banned in many counties at various times since it was published in 1928 by D.H. Lawrence, it exists as a naughty novel with scandalous passages of adulterous trysts and a statement on the class division between the aristocrats and the working class. Of course, all anyone remembers are the copious amounts of sensuality, not the social commentary. A new version of Lawrence’s work gives the viewer an eyeful in that regard.

Releasing on Netflix after a brief theatrical run, the 2022 Lady Chatterley’s Lover has assembled a crackerjack production team led by director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. The sharp-eyed director was behind the understated (and underseen) The Mustang back in 2019, and she turns her talents to bringing the Lawrence novel to life through a 21st-century lens. Still very much a period drama; there’s a modern current running through the film that’s hard to ignore for any period. That will work for those new to the text (like myself) but may alienate purists who want to keep things neat.

Before heading back to the front line in the Great War, Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett) marries the lovely Connie Reid (Emma Corrin, My Policeman) and promises her a life of adventure. No one could predict what the devastation of battle would bring their people, and a half year later, Clifford is paralyzed from the waist down, and the barely newlyweds are settling into their future at his country estate. Finding her love and vows tested early due to Clifford’s impotence, his desire for an heir pushes him to encourage his bride to seek out another man that could give them both a child. Recoiling at the thought initially, the arrival of handsome groundskeeper Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell, Unbroken) makes her reconsider not just her husband’s offer but pre-destined plans she thought she had no control over.

The relationship between Connie and Oliver develops far less as a flash-in-the-pan, steam-up-the-windows fling. As much as it would be easy to lump Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a predecessor to the Fifty Shades of Grey series, there’s a maturity and sensitivity to their affair that strikes a chord from the beginning. The chemistry and connection shared between Corrin and O’Connell helps immeasurably; with both actors frequently appearing nude, their comfort assists the audience in letting our guard down faster. The lack of inhibition endears the characters to one another and, ultimately, to us.

Yet once the film establishes this bond, it becomes repetitive quickly. The eroticism on display is filmed with caring intimacy, but at some point, it feels more titillating than transporting. Much effort has been made to set Lady Chatterley’s Lover in a specific time and place, but when it goes to a place of groans and moans, you start to look around to see who might be watching over your shoulder. Unfortunately, that’s when the performances get lost among the heaving bosoms and exposed flesh (an excessive amount of a bottomless Corrin vs. O’Connell, I should say). 

The trivia buffs have already gnawed off all the fun around a previous Lady Chatterley, Joely Richardson (Color Out of Space) from the 1993 Ken Russell adaptation, returning in the motherly caretaker role of Mrs. Bolton. Richardson works fine with the part, as does Faye Marsay (Darkest Hour), appearing as Connie’s more forthright sister in brief bookends. It’s essentially Corrin’s film, though, and she does a complete 180 from what we saw in The Crown, shedding the shy vulnerability of Princess Diana for the more headstrong Connie.

I can’t speak to how well this adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover compares to the source novel or other versions before; I chose to go in totally blind on this one. In a way, I’m glad I did because this piece has picked up a lot of baggage (read: opinions) over the years, and a new view is likely warranted. Nestled in a lovely production are performances that don’t hold back physically, even if the world they inhabit occasionally takes advantage of them.

Movie Review ~ Christmas with the Campbells

1


The Facts
:

Synopsis: When Jesse gets dumped right before the holidays by her boyfriend Shawn, his parents convince her to still spend Christmas with them and Shawn’s handsome cousin while Shawn is away.
Stars: Justin Long, Brittany Snow, JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Julia Duffy, George Wendt, Alex Moffat
Director: Clare Niederpruem
Rated: NR
Running Length: 88 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review:  As the season’s change, weather-wise, so do they shift for films in our household as well. January through March are often “Happy Hibernate Days,” where the awards contenders get watched, and the epics from the classic cinema I’ve long neglected get caught up on. April and May are “Spring Cleaning” to tie up any loose ends of binged TV/limited series you may not have finished. Then coming out of “summer movie time” from June to August, a brief free period in September before October’s “scary movie season” fills my horror cup. On November 1 and through the end of the year, Christmas/holiday fare keeps us entertained.

During the pandemic, I went all-in on the Hallmark/Lifetime channel Christmas movies which followed the same formula and have been the target of many jokes over the years. Yes, they make these films on an endless assembly line, shifting the same actors and plot details around. You’re going to experience the most minimal of stakes, and rarely will any movie produced deviate from the ordained protocol (seriously, I’ve read articles that confirm there are network-mandated do’s and don’ts down to clothing), so there’s an element of comfort when you tune in…if that’s your bag. It wasn’t my bag for many years but cooped up with nothing to do and running out of options, I learned to appreciate these minor distractions for the major entertainment possibilities they could offer.

Fortunately, films are back in a relatively decent swing now, so I can afford to be a bit more discerning with what I watch, so I’m always on the lookout for a Christmas/holiday movie that takes a different approach. I’ll sit through a charming one like the Lindsay Lohan starring Falling for Christmas on Netflix, but Christmas with You, starring Freddie Prinze Jr. as week later on the same service, felt sugary by comparison. Now, we have Christmas with the Campbells, premiering on AMC+ and co-written by Vince Vaughn (The Cell), which aims to add a little salty spiked spice to the usual sugar concoction we’re used to. The result is an unusually entertaining comedy that lays on the ribald laughs just enough not to be exasperating, taking an adults-only approach to holiday cheer.

Photographer and Christmas enthusiast Jesse (Brittany Snow, X) is looking forward to another holiday spent with her boyfriend’s parents in Ketchum, Idaho. Apparently, without a family or any friends of her own (typical for these types of set-ups), Jessie is stunned when Shawn (Alex Moffat, The Opening Act) up and dumps her right before they are set to leave. He’s off to NYC for a job interview that will put him on the fast track, and he doesn’t feel Jesse is the right fit for his desired jet-set lifestyle. Further, Shawn doesn’t plan on going home for the holidays, and Jesse already has a non-refundable ticket…so his mom (Julia Duffy, Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker) tells her to keep her plans and come to Idaho for Christmas anyway.

Arriving at the home of her ex-almost-in-laws, Jesse quickly feels right at home, though it’s hard not to have someone to bounce off the thinly veiled raunchy behavior between Shawn’s mom and dad (George Wendt, Gung Ho). As Christmas gets closer, Jesse catches the eye of Shawn’s visiting cousin, David (Justin Long, Barbarian), and develops a little rivalry for his attention with a local vixen (JoAnna Garcia Swisher, The Internship). When Shawn shows up unexpectedly, plans for a simple holiday get thrown into chaos, giving Jesse second thoughts over her plans for the future and questioning her present choices.

Strangely, I started watching another holiday film directed by Clare Niedepruem the same day I watched her Christmas with the Campbells. A Royal Corgi Christmas was touted as a big film for Hallmark and, do keep this between us, I had to turn it off before the first commercial break because I knew it was going to be a dog. Given more of a runway to have fun (and inject R-rated humor throughout), Niedepruem can let her actors run free, which makes Christmas with the Campbells consistently surprising. It’s not astounding work, but if you’ve watched enough of these movies at any point, you’ll appreciate how the formula is given a sanguine pinch in all the right places.

You could see how this potentially started as a project intended for the big screen. That’s perhaps why there’s an overall sense the film wants to be bigger than it wound up being. The three principal members of the love triangle (Jesse/Shawn/David) could have been played by any combo of A-list stars, not that the cast here doesn’t play their parts with skill. Snow, in particular, is terrific. Resisting the urge to over/underplay the role, she finds the balance immediately, which makes the character one to root for and side with. Moffat draws on his “Guy Who Just Bought a Boat” character from SNL a bit too much but clearly should be working in film more. Long has had a big year already (catch House of Darkness for a chilly shiver), and while his role is a bit weird (the accent!), it’s appropriately charming. The MVP here is Duffy, a 7-time Emmy nominee for Newhart; she’s excelled in bit parts over the past three decades but is handed a swell role and runs with it. 

A Christmas movie you can watch after you finish decorating and while you’re enjoying your third or fourth glass of eggnog, Christmas with the Campbells does set out to break the mold of your traditional holiday fare. It pushes the boundaries of the format by being a little more vulgar than you’re used to but not skimping on the usual elements you’re expecting. The performances are on the mark, as is the message and heart. Check it out and be prepared to find a surprise or two while you’re at it.