Oscar Goff is the film editor and senior critic for Boston Hassle. He is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and a former member of the Columbia House Video Club. Follow him, if you like, on Twitter, Letterboxd, or Mastodon, or subscribe to his Substack, The Other Oscar.
What will we talk about when we talk about going to the movies in 2022?
It was, after all, the first full year of moviegoing in three years, following the abruptly terminated 2020 and the ever-cautious 2021. Though many, understandably, opted to continue to lay low, I took full advantage of this return to borderline-normalcy; as I write this, I have been to the movies an estimated 67 times this year, and am planning on going again in just a few hours. I have had one of the single best moviegoing experiences of my life (4k restoration of Jacque Tati’s Playtime in Paris, at one of François Truffaut’s favorite repertory theaters) and one of the all-time worst (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness surrounded by dozens of teenagers who all seemed to have “hilarious” catchphrases). I have attended dozens of press screenings, reconnecting with fellow critics who for so long had been simply names on my Twitter feed. I’ve seen Lynch and Apitchatpong on 35mm, Keaton with live piano, Waters in Odorama. Not least of all, I married my longtime partner on the main stage in the Coolidge’s MovieHouse I (following the reception, we treated our guests to a private screening of– what else?– Rene Clair’s I Married a Witch). On a personal level, it was a very good year.
On a macro level, on the other hand, moviegoing in 2022 was… well, it was all over the place. Tom Cruise, one of our last proper “movie stars,” made it his mission to save The Movies, and he damn well succeeded, at least for the time being. But, on the whole, studios still seem baffled as to what to do with themselves. Would-be tentpoles flopped hard, and films that almost certainly would have been massive hits were unceremoniously dumped to streaming. Anyone attempting to look into a crystal ball this year was likely hit with a wall of fog.
Still, as always, there were the movies themselves. Looking at this list, and at the rest of the movies I saw this year, I’m struck by how big the movies were– in terms of spectacle, but also in terms of ideas and emotions and full-on sensory assault, from the poppiest blockbusters to the scrappiest indies. It’s as if these past few years of quarantine and solitude have left us searching for experiences and ideas that simply can’t fit inside our cramped apartments. We’re going big, because for so long we haven’t been able to go anywhere but home.
One final note before we get into the list: as always, I have done my best to point readers to where to most easily see each film. Unfortunately, with the streaming landscape continuing to fracture and contract into a galaxy of increasingly isolated spheres, “easily” is becoming more and more relative. The good news is that almost all of these films are also available for digital rental or physical media, which is looking more and more like it may be the way of the future– although, as you will see, there are even some complications on that front.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, Babylon, Barbarian, Crimes of the Future, Glass Onion, The Northman, Triangle of Sadness, White Noise
- DINNER IN AMERICA (dir. Adam Rehmeier)
Going back over my notes, I was surprised to learn that Dinner in America qualifies as a 2022 release; I saw it all the way back in 2020, when it was a fixture of the virtual festival circuit. Seeing it in those dark days was a balm, a blast of snotty punk-rock attitude mixed with a streak of genuine sweetness, anchored on a pair of immensely winning performances from genre staple Kyle Gallner and stage actress Emily Skeggs. Its actual release has been quiet, but that may be ideal for this lovely, raunchy film, which seems to be designed for “undiscovered gem” status. And make no mistake, the right people are finding it: it secured a spot on the always-anticipated year-end list of none other than John Waters, who surely recognizes a kindred spirit when he sees one.
(Currently streaming on Hulu, and on limited edition blu-ray from Best & Final)
- MOONAGE DAYDREAM (dir. Brett Morgen)
Moonage Daydream, Brett Morgen’s kaleidoscopic portrait of David Bowie, isn’t so much a “rockumentary” as it is a laser show, a face-melting collage of performance footage, vintage interview clips, movie scenes, and other bits of ephemera, designed to be played very loud on a very large screen. Newcomers might not come away with a full understanding of Bowie’s life, but I would argue they will come away with a perfect sense of the idea of Bowie– which was always much more the point with him anyway. David Bowie was famous for hopping between genres, media, and even personalities; Morgen successfully weaves them into a big, lysergic mixtape every bit as replayable as any of his albums. In a perfect world, it would play in planetariums forever– a perfect tribute to rock’s preeminent space alien.
(Currently available for digital rental or purchase, and on blu-ray and DVD.)
- WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR (dir. Jane Schoenbrun)
Few films are less categorizable than Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair: is it a horror movie? A tragedy? A found-footage coming of age tale? It’s all this and more, but for my money it’s the most realistic film yet made about the internet: about what it feels like to be a sad, lonely kid in stripmall suburbia, reaching out through the worldwide web for any sort of excitement or validation. The viral “World’s Fair Challenge” may be a portal to supernatural malfeasance, or it may just be a silly MMORPG in the Slenderman vein– but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is Casey, played in an astonishing turn by first-timer Anna Cobb, gazing into the abyss through the pale light of her webcam, acting out “possessions” and delivering spooky, kid-profound monologues. It is a haunting film which raises more questions than answers, and which sticks in your mind like the most al dente creepypasta.
(Currently streaming on HBO Max, and available on blu-ray– and VHS!— from Utopia/Vinegar Syndrome)
- (tie) X / PEARL (dir. Ti West)
Taken separately, X and Pearl, the back-to-back comeback of “mumblegore” horror maestro Ti West, are perfectly delightful genre exercises: the former an ode to the raunchy grindhouse epics of Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven, the latter a southern gothic pastiche of MGM musicals and Douglas Sirk melodrama. But taken together (as they were almost certainly intended to be), they paint a surprisingly poignant picture of empowerment, repression, and the oft-unfulfilled promise of stardom. The films’ secret weapon lies in leading lady Mia Goth, who plays aspiring porn star Maxine in X and the title role, a homicidal farmer’s-daughter in Pearl (she also co-wrote the latter). Goth suffuses both performances with equal parts dark humor and an aching humanity unusual for the slasher genre. “I will not accept a life I do not deserve,” Maxine repeats as her mantra; we maybe don’t deserve Goth’s performances, but I’m glad we have them.
(X is currently streaming via Showtime. Pearl is available for digital rental. Both are available for purchase on digital, DVD, or Blu-Ray)
- RRR (dir. S.S. Rajamouli)
To say that RRR came out of nowhere is to take a decidedly anglo-centric point of view– the Indian film industry is one of the most robust and widely-watched in the world– but it remains true that there is little that can prepare the uninitiated for S.S. Rajamouli’s high-octane action epic: that bridge rescue! The truck full of tigers! The piggyback shootout! “Naatu Naatu!” RRR is, by turns, ridiculous, rousing, sappily sentimental, and the best bromantic comedy since Fight Club. Best seen with as many people as possible, either in a packed theater or, as I saw it, in a party with ample volumes of takeout and adult beverages. Everybody: “Naaaatu, naatu naatu naatu…”
(Okay, here’s where it gets complicated. RRR is currently streaming on Netflix, but only in a Hindi language dub which will make purists cover their ears. You can see it in its original Telugu on Indian streaming platform ZEE5, for which you can get a three-month subscription for $20.99. Beyond that, it seems your best option is to wait until it inevitably screens again in a local theater– though, at press time, you can find dubiously sourced all-region blu-rays fairly cheaply on eBay.)
- DECISION TO LEAVE (dir. Park Chan-wook)
If Park Chan-wook can be said to have “mellowed out” in his relative age, that’s only because the man made fucking Oldboy in his youth. Compared to that classic of hammer-based mayhem, Decision to Leave is positively restrained, but this riff on Hitchcockian obsession is still bursting with an energy and black humor most directors could only dream of (consider an early scene shot from corpse-eye view, complete with fly landing on the lens). At the heart of the film are a pair of monumental turns from Park Hae-il as a hard-boiled detective, and Tang Wei as the beguiling widow who drives him first to distraction, then to ruin. It’s a dazzling, assured work from one of our best working directors, and it will make you want to drive to the store for a pint of ice cream as soon as the credits roll.
(Currently streaming on Mubi. Releasing on blu-ray and DVD 1/10/23)
- MAD GOD (dir. Phil Tippett)
Animation is so expensive and time-consuming to produce that when a feature comes along that doesn’t fit into one of its most common modes– a Pixar, a Ghibli, a tastefully offbeat foreign import– one sits up and pays attention. Mad God is unlike anything you’re likely to see this year, animated or otherwise: a stop-motion blast of carnage, insanity, monsters, and bodily fluids, all scrabbling for survival in a Boschian cyberpunk hellscape without the burden of “dialogue” or “conventional plot.” Mad God is the long-gestating brainchild of SFX titan Phil Tippett, who contributed creatures and effects to such blockbusters as Star Wars and Robocop; Mad God removes Tippett’s creations from the limitations of the multiplex, allowing them to wallow in the demented perversity only glimpsed in those films. Mad God is a film that will inspire either pure joy or utter revulsion, depending on one’s temperament. I was grinning from ear to ear from beginning to end.
(Currently streaming on Shudder. Also available on blu-ray and DVD)
- TÁR (dir. Todd Field)
Upon first viewing, one’s biggest takeaways from Tár will likely be its magnificent performance from Cate Blanchett (easily the best of both the year and the actress’s career) and its timely story of power and hubris in the age of #MeToo. But the more I let it roll around in my mind, the more I was struck by its more subtle accents: what are we to make, for example, of the unexplained mazes found drawn on several of Lydia Tár’s documents, or that bizarre detour into a creepy, possibly abandoned warehouse? In the months since its release, eagle-eyed viewers have continued to pick up on new surprises, from the ghosts hidden in certain scenes to an explicit homage to The Blair Witch Project. Also potentially lost on initial viewing is the film’s savage, bone-dry sense of humor; the final shot alone is one of the most blisteringly funny visual punchlines since A Clockwork Orange. Not for nothing, after all, did director Todd Field apprentice under Stanley Kubrick; I suspect Tár will be discussed for just as long as some of the master’s works.
(Now playing at Kendall Square Cinema and West Newton Cinema. Also available for digital purchase and premium rental, and releasing on blu-ray and DVD 12/20/22)
- NOPE (dir. Jordan Peele)
About halfway through Nope, during a particularly memorable scene involving a chimpanzee, I started grinning uncontrollably– not at anything in the scene itself (which surely ranks among the most horrifying of the year), but because it dawned on me that I was seeing one of my favorite movies of the year for the first time. Nope is, on its face, a widescreen flying-saucer movie, filled with plenty of spectacle and derring-do action straight out of the Spielberg playbook. But it should go without saying to anyone familiar with Jordan Peele’s work that there is a lot more going on under the hood, particularly regarding the drive for fame and the way the entertainment industry chews up and spits out (so to speak) children, animals, people of color, below-the-line workers, and pretty much anyone else in its path. It also features four or five of the year’s best performances in any genre, particularly Steven Yuen as a shell-shocked former child star. I saw Nope three times in theaters and noticed new things each go round, and I’m looking forward to revisiting it for years to come.
(Currently streaming on Peacock Premium. Also available for digital rental and purchase, and on blu-ray and DVD)
- EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (dir. Daniels)
It is a rare film indeed which can be released early in the spring and still be on people’s lips come award time. But Everything Everywhere All at Once is, indeed, a rare film, a cultural phenomenon which has handily joined the leggy ranks of The Silence of the Lambs and Get Out. This is a film veritably bursting with ideas, taking countless concepts high enough to sustain a feature film of their own and throwing them onto the screen for literal seconds. Everything Everywhere is often maniacally funny, as if Douglas Adams was fused Racaccoonie-style into the brain of Stephen Chow. But, just as crucially, it uses all of those ideas and willfully juvenile visual gags to tell a fundamentally relatable story of diaspora, generational trauma, and the heartbreak of placing one’s dreams on the shelf in favor of boring necessities like loans and taxes. It’s a well-deserved showcase for star Michelle Yeoh, here called upon to use every trick in her considerable playbook, as well as an unexpected comeback for beloved child actor Ke Huy Quan. If you’d told me a few years ago that one of the most emotionally affecting films of the year would be recognizably directed by the creators of the video for “Turn Down for What,” I’d have thought you were crazy. In 2022, it seems about par for the course.
(Currently streaming on Showtime. Also available for digital rental or purchase and on blu-ray and DVD, and screening later this month headlining its own repertory series at the Brattle)
Keep watching the Hassle for more of the best of 2022!