FILM: The triumph of Brendan Fraser, the fall of Harvey Weinstein and my votes for the best films of 2022
Top movie lists are fun to make up because you go back and reconnect with everything you’ve seen. They are also exhausting because you can’t include everything you want and have to ruthlessly eliminate. You can read my results below, but first some catching up to prepare for it.
THE WHALE: You might imagine that visiting a mortally obese man in his tiny apartment and listening to him talk and talk wouldn’t be much fun. Maybe not, but Brendan Fraser makes it compelling and poignant. He sits there with his big belly, his big arms and his swollen face, barely able to move and well aware that the pizza he delivers every day and the chocolate bars he has in a drawer are not advised. But he continues anyway.
This story is originally a play, and the movie barely makes up for it. It’s one room, four people come to visit, and you’ll be totally engaged. The writing and all the performances are so good. One is from Hong Chau who plays a nurse who takes care of him and warns him that his blood pressure is rising through the roof and will kill him. Another is of Ty Simpkins as a missionary type who wants him to accept Jesus Christ as a savior. Third, there’s Sadie Sink as a teenager who’s just as irritable and angry with him. His wife (Samantha Morton) also makes a brief appearance. Gradually, interconnections between these people are revealed, some unnecessary and quite artistic. He’s a creative writing teacher (via Zoom) and what does he commission essays on? Moby-Dick of course. There’s heartbreak and a gay angle to his own story. What holds it all together is Fraser’s wonderful acting. It effortlessly shifts from plaintive, to fearful, to assertive, to smiling and happy and back again. He should be rewarded. The same goes for Darren Aronofsky, the director. (In theaters) 4 out of 5
SHE SAID: It arrived without fanfare and is already well advanced in most of Canada. It’s been suggested that the studio that made it didn’t think there was a huge following for it. But for anyone interested in how journalism is done, it’s a must. Also for anyone following the growth of the me-too movement against sexual abuse. This shows how the New York Times exposed Harvey Weinstein. (He has just been convicted a second time and has years in prison ahead of him).
Carey Mulligan plays Megan Twohey and Zoe Kazan is Jodi Kantor, the two young journalists who followed the Weinstein rumors that many in the movie industry knew about but didn’t talk about publicly. Patricia Clarkson and Andre Braugher play NYT editors. The film is detailed about their investigation, the frequent meetings they have to figure out what they have and what they need more of. Reporters pay whirlwind visits to witnesses or victims, hear graphic accounts of what Weinstein did, and then work on the even harder part: getting one of them to speak publicly. Actor Ashley Judd is one of them and appears as herself. The storyline clearly shows how the victims felt and how the justice system worked against them. It’s an important movie. Watch out, maybe still in a few theaters now, and possibly streaming. 4 ½ out of 5
BEST OF 2022: I knew it was a very good year for cinema, but looking back on what I reviewed, I was surprised. It may be true: chaos inspires art. There were so many candidates for a top 10 list that I had to savagely eliminate. Before that, I grouped some titles into categories, like this:
There were some great movies about protecting the natural world, including The territory (Brazil), Kablona Guardians (Canada), Costa Brava, Lebanon (yes, this country) and of course Avatar 2 (on a sci-fi moon).
Race relations in the United States was a big theme. My two favorites were Emergency (disguised as a teen comedy) and Descending (a forgotten story of the last days of slavery but with contemporary impact).
Immigration, legal or not, was detailed in two very powerful films. riceboy sleepsby Vancouver actor Anthony Shim, talks about trying to fit in here and revisiting your culture on a trip back to Korea. Fleeuses animation to tell a harrowing and hitherto hidden story about one man’s experience with smugglers.
Two films about China are particularly noteworthy. Ascent is a documentary that gives a clear and very close vision of the cultural changes in progress. Hint: it’s about money and status claims, not COVID which it predates. eternal spring is a bit of history about the night Falun Gong fanatics hijacked a state television service to spread the message that their movement is good, not bad. The film is Canada’s Oscar submission.
Consolidation was still not enough. My top 10 are always 12. They are in alphabetical order.
IN THE WEST, NOTHING IS NEW:
The classic anti-war novel became an Oscar-winning film in 1932 and now, in its first German-language version, it boosts everything: the dark, scary times in the trenches and the lies young recruits were told that the war is glorious.
AVATAR THE WAY OF WATER:
I found the story and characterizations disappointing, but the theme of environmental stewardship encouraging and the visual creativity incredible. Also a bit of Canadian pride: James Cameron’s film has already grossed a billion dollars, even though he says he’ll have to make double that just to break even. Stunning numbers.
THE BANSHES OF INISHERIN:
Superb acting from Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson and sharp economic writing and directing from Martin McDonagh make for a thoroughly entertaining and initially fun film about the unraveling of a friendship.
As a fan myself, I was suspicious of what Baz Luhrman might do with yet another biography of the king. Well, it’s splendid, frantic at times, perfectly capturing his stage presence (in Austin Butler’s performance) and the control Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) had over him. That’s not the whole story but powerful either way.
HEY: A donkey travels the countryside and encounters the worst and the best of humanity. Watching him is absolutely seductive, for the cunning he exhibits and for what he encounters. Footballers should beware, however. They don’t do well at all.
EVERYWHERE AT THE SAME TIME:
We all want intelligence and imagination in movies. Get ready for loads of both in this one. Michelle Yeoh stars as a laundromat owner who gets tangled up with an IRS official (Jamie Lee Curtis) and walks away imagining how different her life could have been: chef, movie star, singer. opera, kung fu fighter, talking rock, eminence who saved the world in the multiverse. No chance of getting bored. holy spider
HOLY SPIDER: One of the two very good representations this year of the work of journalists (She said is the second). This one is a true story from Iran where about 20 years ago a man was killing prostitutes thinking he was doing Allah’s work to clean up the streets. A reporter does what the police couldn’t do, find him. We see his work and the details are chilling.
MARCEL THE SHELL: More tricks and a very touching story. He’s a mollusk who was separated from his family when their home was turned into an airbnb. His grandmother (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) and TV’s Leslie Stahl 60 minutes both help. The film is playful, whimsical and heartfelt.
NO BEAR: Iranian Jafar Panahi is currently in prison because he continued to make films while he was banned from doing so. It’s one of his best. It’s partly about making movies in secret and mostly about small-town attitudes, even superstitions, that he finds in a village he visits to do his job. He becomes increasingly entangled in a local dispute, border and smuggler suspicions and more. Funny but edgy stuff too.
SHE SAID: The New York Times denounces Harvey Weinstein. (see review above)
Cate Blanchett gives a powerful performance as a symphony conductor whose rise in the usually male profession is threatened. It’s thanks to his personal way of working and a scandal from his past. These two current concerns, the advancement of women and the cancellation of culture, are vividly manifested in this gripping film.
THE WHALE: Brendan Fraser also gives a powerful performance. He plays a deadly obese man and you come to believe his predicament. (See review above)