Every year, on the day of the Academy Awards, my friend Alex sends out his personal top ten list of films he has watched. It is a great list, packed with information, observation and inspiration.
Alex: It’s back! Remember – to make the list, it’s got to be a film I saw in the theater when it was released in 2022…
Damien Chazelle’s ode to early Hollywood transitioning from the era of silent film to “talkies” didn’t receive critical acclaim – indeed, the film was overly ambitious and attempted to bite off more than it could chew – but there are some truly great moments to be found here, such as the over-the-top bacchanalian party in the beginning of the movie. Though parts of the narrative structure are flawed (the film continuously changes perspective from one of three characters), I tend to enjoy “movies about movies” and I appreciated the way it addressed stars who have faded from the spotlight in a cut-throat industry…I wonder if the film will find more of an audience years from now…
9. Decision to Leave
I enjoyed Park Chan-wook’s Hitchcockian neo-noir quite a bit with its clever twists and turns. The Korean writer/director, perhaps best known for Oldboy and The Handmaiden, has incredible visual instincts, but I found this intricately plotted film to be a bit lacking from an emotional standpoint – some of the character’s motivations seemed to make no sense to me.
8. Everything Everywhere All at Once
I’ll admit it – as a friend pointed out to me today at brunch, my perspective on the film might be different had I seen it when it was first released months ago before all the Oscar hype – I just saw it about a week ago. It appears this film is the front-runner to win Best Picture at the Oscars. This zany multi-verse/Kung Fu/action dramedy owes a lot to “The Matrix” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and yes, even “Ratatoiulle.” I found it enjoyable, and it’s certainly worth seeing – but I just found it to be a bit over-stuffed and sometimes too “cute” for its own good with certain story elements that didn’t make much sense. Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Jamie Lee Curtis are likely to nab Oscars for the respective acting categories in which they’re nominated, but I’ll still be somewhat surprised if the Academy awards the film the Best Picture Oscar.
The film did contain one of the funniest scenes of the year – one of the best pieces of classical music being played on piano with an unexpected part of the body…I’ll say no more…
7. Top Gun: Maverick
I’ll put this up front: If you saw Top Gun: Maverick and didn’t like it, then you’re obviously not a true American…just pack up your bags and move to another country…
Yes, Tom Cruise is crazy, but his instinct to hold off on the release of this sequel to the 1986 original to ensure that people saw it on the big screen, and not on their TV’s during the pandemic, was the right move. Some might argue that this popcorn action flick is superior to the jingoistic original – I’m not sure if I agree with that. But the fact that it’s a sequel that’s even up for such a discussion is admirable. I saw it in Imax in a packed theater, and I enjoyed the hell out of it.
One way in which it completely paled from the original was that it lacked Berlin’s Oscar-winning track “Take My Breath Away.” Lady Gaga’s Oscar nominated “Hold My Hand” was pretty much forgettable the first time I heard it in Top Gun: Maverick.
6. Triangle of Sadness
This year’s Palm d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival was a very satisfying satire of the rich in today’s society. Part of the film is set on a luxury cruise showcasing some astoundingly tone deaf wealthy as they interact with the crew, who do their best to accommodate some of the passengers’ ludicrous demands. You can tell Woody Harrelson is having a hoot as the boozing captain of the ship who enjoys quoting communist texts. The film has a standout dinner scene on the ship before the film’s third act takes an unexpected turn, completely rearranging the idea of “class” due to certain circumstances. I loved the film’s nebulous ending…
5. Fire of Love
It was a really great year for documentaries, and I was fortunate to attend a screening of “Fire of Love” at the Museum of the Moving Image with the director Sara Dosa on hand for a Q & A afterwards. Dosa’s doc traces the lives of volcanologists Katie and Maurice Krafft, their work in this field in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s, and how it impacted their relationship. Some of the images they captured were nothing short of astounding – images looked like they came from CGI, but I don’t think CGI was invented when they initially filmed. Seeing it on the big screen was the way to see it, but go ahead and check it out on Hulu right now…
4. All That Breathes
A beautifully shot environmental documentary about a small group’s efforts to rescue and save black kites, a bird of prey, after they fall ill due to polluted air in New Delhi, India. I liked the contrast between profiling these two brothers along with another employee of this small organization in a city I’m unfamiliar with – and tying the plight of these birds with larger, over-arching environmental issues.
3. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
This delicate documentary, my pic for the Best Documentary Oscar, functions on two levels: First, it profile’s a recovering opioid addict’s journey as an activist to highlight the Sackler’s family, a major player in causing the opioid epidemic, and getting their name removed off institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Second, it showcases a compelling profile of this activist, Nan Goldin, a successful photographer whose career would warrant a documentary in its own right. I found Goldin’s backstory to be fascinating, and the film deftly shows the parallels between Goldin’s experience with the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s and her experience with the opioid epidemic. The doc also features talking head interviews with Patrick Radden Keefe author of the excellent book “Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty” (which my book club thoroughly enjoyed).
I loved Tar writer/director Todd Field’s adaptation of Tom Perotta’s novel “Little Children” from 2004 and I can’t believe it’s taken him sixteen years to make another film. But Tar, about an uber-successful conductor portrayed by the dazzling Cate Blanchett whose life begins to unravel after claims are made against her for inappropriate practices related to sexual harassment and abuse, is a fantastic character study of the traits that make a great artist leading to near sociopathy combined with today’s cancel culture. Blanchett will likely lose the Best Actress Oscar to Michelle Yeoh, but it still stands as one of the best performances of her career. I hope it won’t take Field another sixteen years to make another film…
1. The Fablemans
I pretty much rolled my eyes when I first heard that Stephen Spielberg was coming out with a semi-autobiographical film…Could you get any more narcissistic? But the finished product, aided with a screenplay co-written with Tony Kushner, is extraordinary. All of the performances are exceptional, and though much credit has been given to Michelle Williams as the eccentric mother and Paul Dano as Spielberg’s steadfastly humble father, along with Judd Hirsch’s Best Supporting Actor nominated cameo, I don’t think enough has been said about Gabrielle LaBelle, the Spielberg proxy. Without a convincing performance from this relative unknown actor, the film just wouldn’t work.
Navigating one’s own personal history isn’t easy, but there’s one standout scene that brilliantly ties Spielberg’s emerging artistry as a filmmaker with a revelation about a relative that is remarkable.
The film is delicate, heartbreaking, and made me appreciate how incredibly talented Spielberg was, even at a young age, and made me appreciate all the more his canon of work. It’s unlikely we’ll ever get another Spielberg ever again – but I’m certainly glad he’s still making films on his own terms.
I wish more people saw this film while it was in theaters, but I think in the long run it will stand as one of Spielberg’s best.
Other Oscar-nominated movies that I did not see on the big screen:
Avatar 2: The Way of Water
All Quiet on the Western Front
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Movies I saw that I feel are overrated:
The Banshees of Inisherin
My friend Alex in New York City
When he’s not working as a lawyer, Alexander Keblish can be found exploring New York to find another reason why he’ll in all likelihood never leave the city…this can be anything from checking out museum/gallery openings, discovering the latest $1 oyster happy hour or new restaurant with his food and drink Meetup group, checking out live stand up comedy, people-watching in a park, having a NY-based author join his book club to discuss their book…the list is seemingly endless…He resides in Ridgewood, Queens with his cat, Rusty. Questions or comments? Send Alex an email: email@example.com