- Cha Cha Real Smooth
Writer-director Kogonada’s sophomore feature unquestionably represents a step up from Columbus in virtually every production aspect – cast, production design, visual effects – but still retains his quietly profound sensibilities. Colin Farrell gives one of the best performances of his career as someone still trying to hold on to his family as he’s come to know it. Kogonada adapts Alexander Weinstein’s short story to make a pseudo sci-fi film exploring the memories of those we love after they’re gone. Whether it’s a real person or a robot, whether they were in our lives briefly or for a prolonged period of time, we’re shaped by the impact that others leave. After Yang was quietly released in March after an enthusiastic premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, where it’s since been relegated to the background when compared with the year’s bigger, louder films. Maybe the film will continue to live on in the shadows for the rest of the year, when studios continue to trot out awards fare, but After Yang deserves just as much recognition for the way it explores its beautifully universal themes.
Did the world really need a new Batman movie, when it feels like a new iteration pops up every other year? That’s up for debate, but director Matt Reeves and star Robert Pattinson make a compelling argument with The Batman. Reeves’ take on Gotham as a rain-soaked noir city, and Batman as the “world’s greatest detective”, makes the film more than an imitation of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. With Pattinson under the cape and cowl, Batman is a gruff shell of a man, barely functioning as Bruce Wayne. And Paul Dano is a worthy adversary as the terrifying Riddler, here a kind of deranged Robin Hood, who takes out those who have wronged the city for their own personal gains. Sure, it’s easy to bemoan the film’s three-hour runtime, but Reeves uses this to his advantage, slowly and methodically unraveling the film’s mystery. Superhero films in 2022 are a dime a dozen, with many barely showing any inventiveness or originality. Here is a superhero film that, at the very least, is willing to take risks.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
What I didn’t know before watching Everything Everywhere All at Once is that it was written as a response to the 2016 election, when the world was spiraling into despair at the prospect of terrible people worming their way up to seats of power. Knowing this, it makes the film’s overall message of utilizing positivity to literally fight nihilism all the more powerful. My expectations were sky-high before the film even began, as most critics were hailing it as the best film of the year, and some going far enough to say it’s one of their new favorite films ever. Normally when the bar is set so high, it’s a recipe for disappointment, but I still had no idea of the lengths that Daniels would go to to make this a world where literally anything is possible. Nearly every throwaway moment gets a call-back, some even going so far as to give them room to grow emotionally. Beyond that, you have a grounded family dynamic between Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu – all giving incredible performances – that forms the emotional backbone of the film. And when that film also features googly-eyed rocks, suggestive trophies, and talking raccoons, you have a revelation on your hot dog-fingered hands.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On
I don’t know if my viewing circumstances aligned perfectly when I first saw Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (I’ll absolutely be seeing it again) but something about the film’s message worked like gangbusters on me. A film about a lonely, optimistic shell and the ways he survives his daily life shouldn’t be as profound as it is but the end result is like a warm hug that you won’t want to let go of. Jenny Slate and Isabella Rossellini both give beautifully nuanced vocal performances as Marcel and his Nana Connie, respectively, with Slate bringing a sense of child-like warmth to a role she originated on YouTube many years ago. Marcel’s world is just like ours, which means there are surely bad, ill-intentioned people lurking around the corners, but director Dean Fleischer-Camp never shoe-horns in a true antagonist. I saw Marcel the Shell with my seven-year old and, though it likely won’t stick with him because A24 isn’t lining the shelves with Marcel toys, it’s a film – and an experience – that will stay with me for a long time.
Word quickly spread in the early months of the year of a certain Tollywood film that somehow managed to breakthrough with mainstream American audiences. I tried to avoid knowing as much as possible before pressing play on RRR, and I couldn’t believe what I had seen. It’s ironic that we decry Marvel and its reliance on CGI when RRR utilizes it, usually to lesser success. Turns out we just want to see something new and inventive, something we’ve never seen before, like two men swinging under a bridge and rescuing a boy from a flaming train, or a truck full of wild animals bursting forth to vanquish the bad guys. Thankfully the film balances its insane action with plenty of heart, telling a kind of Inglorious Basterds-esque revisionist history and a fictionalized bromance between two of India’s national heroes. American studios should take note: action films can and should be as great as RRR.
Just a few weeks before sitting down to watch Top Gun: Maverick, I had seen Marvel’s latest, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The two films could not be more diametrically opposed, and not just because of their subject matter. Whereas Doctor Strange looked as if none of the actors ever took a step outside a soundstage, the line between practical and digital effects is blurred beyond recognition in Maverick. Paramount made the right decision to delay the film since 2020, as Maverick is one of the most viscerally exciting films to experience on the big screen in years. Tom Cruise uses every bit of his Movie Star charisma to convince us that, much like the Mission: Impossible films, he is the only person capable of saving the world. And all of that culminates in one of the most thrilling third act set pieces in recent memory, a death-defying mission that utilizes every trick in the book. The movies are back, and Tom Cruise has made it happen.