Call it a comeback. In 2022 the movie industry roared back with high-quality ﬁlms, stellar performances and great artistry. For the record, movie theaters aren’t dead yet and streaming is a part of the equation and not the whole picture. (In alpha order) these noteworthy ﬁlms and artists will vie for awards in weeks to come.
BEST FEATURE FILMS
Avatar: The Way of Water (****)
A human turned avatar and his family flee from an elite team of soldiers. They ﬁnd refuge in an ocean-bound territory among amazing sea creatures. Writer/director James Cameron and his tech crew have taken the art of fantasy ﬁlm to a new level. Nothing you’ve screened previously – not even the ﬁrst Avatar – can prepare you for the images you will see, journey you’ll take and feelings that will envelope you. The most visually astounding ﬁlm of the year.
The Banshees of Inisherin (****)
Best friends in an isolated village on a small Irish isle go through a rough patch. Colm (Brendan Gleeson) decides Pádraic (Colin Farrell) is dumb and beneath him. Colm: “I just don’t like you anymore!” Things go awry, escalating into an abusive, emotional psychological war. Writer/director Martin McDonagh magically crafts a toxic bromance for the ages. Layered, perceptive, simple and oaﬁsh. It’s a bitter tale that heads down an increasingly macabre path. Farrell’s vulnerability breaks hearts. Gleeson’s relentless vitriol shocks. Kerry Condon as Pádraic’s concerned sister and Barry Keoghan as the court jester and son of an abusive father add to the excellent ensemble acting. Evocative cinematography and a gorgeous score make this is a spellbinding men-gone-wrong fable.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (****)
Leave it to ﬁlmmaker extraordinaire Ryan Coogler to ﬁnd the most compelling way to respect the demise of the ﬁrst “Black Panther” and eulogize Chadwick Boseman. Both their souls live on in this ingenious and beautiful (cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw) sequel that invites Mesoamerican warriors into the mix. Angel Bassett owns the screen. Tenoch Huerta Mejía introduces a dynamic element. And Letitia Wright holds it down as the legend of the African king becomes an immortal spirt.
A Jazzman’s Blues (***½)
Tyler Perry tucked away his light comedy sensibility to create a serious work of art. Two young, star-crossed lovers (Joshua Boone, Solea Pfeiffer) in the deep south try to weather all the complications of racism. But can’t. Perry takes this fated notion to the highest level with a complex and melancholic script that is complimented by exquisite music, art direction, production design, costumes and cinematography. Adult romantic melodramas don’t get much better than this. No wrinkles. No mistakes. Perry the consummate auteur? Who knew?
She Said (***½)
The #MeToo movement and its ramiﬁcations are on view in this powerful feminist ode. Screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewiz and the very astute director Maria Shrader retrace the steps New York Times journalists Jodie Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) took to investigate Harvey Weinstein allegations. It’s a journey of discovery that’s consistently awe-inspiring. The reporters help witnesses and victims of Weinstein’s sexual abuse coalesce and make damaging public accusations. Taut editing, powerful acting. A thriller, a cautionary tale and a day of reckoning for one of the movie industry’s biggest bullies.
The very savvy director Chinonye Chukwu and brilliant co-writers Michael Reilly and Keith Beauchamp have respectfully turned the tragic death of Emmett Till into a galvanizing story of courage. The era and places are meticulously recreated. The most gruesome aspects of the incident are wisely recollected off camera. It’s a choice only ﬁlmmakers with the greatest sensitively for the subject, family and viewers would make. Till’s murder sparked a new era in the civil rights movement and stirring performances by Danielle Deadwyler as Mami and Jalyn Hall, as her sweet son, keep that history alive.
Top Gun: Maverick (***½)
Tom Cruise singlehandedly carries the weight of this gigantic action/drama. As a top naval aviator pushing 60 years old, his character Maverick trains the next generation of ﬁghter pilots, and it isn’t easy. Director Joseph Kosinski’s (“TRON: Legacy”) and cinematographer Claudio Miranda’s (“Life of Pi”) make the footage’s daring aerial displays stunning. A multi-ethnic young cast breathes new life into a 30 -year-old premise. Fun to look at, always entertaining and often exhilarating.
The Whale (****)
Sometimes a small set, a few actors and a tiny character study are all you need to make a big statement. That’s the case with this intense look at a man battling depression and weight issues. Playwright Samuel D. Hunter wrote the stage play and screenplay. Director Darren Aronofsky transforms the script into a gripping personal drama. Actor Brendan Fraser wears the lead character’s misery and vulnerability on his sleeve. Supporting cast of Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins and Samantha Morton surround Fraser and the lead character with love, anger, fear and hope in a ﬁne collaborative effort. Dark and haunting. Quite excellent.
The Woman King (***½)
They once were warriors. From the 1600s to1800s, in West Africa, the mighty women of the Agojie militia protected their empire. A highly creative team of female producers, a masterful storyteller (screenwriter Dana Stevens) and a gifted director Gina Prince-Blythewood bring that tale of bravery to a 21st century audience. Viola Davis heads a cast that battles. Well shot and choreographed action sequences impress. The raw emotion and determination on view is enough to make you stand up and cheer. Bold and joyful.
Women Talking (****)
Women talking about what needs to be ﬁxed, becomes an astounding stream of thought for 1h 44m in this consciousness-raising allegory. Wives and mothers in a remote Mennonite community discover they’ve been abused and act on those ﬁndings. Canadian writer/director Sarah Polley guides a co-op of brilliant actors who spill their characters’ hearts out as they contemplate a remedy. Superb acting and dialogue so rich in context you hang on every word. Gorgeous B&W cinematography (Luc Montpellier) with hints of color. A parable for our times.