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Sunday, 15 January 2023

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2022

 
 
I must admit, my cinema-going experiences have been getting fewer and fewer. I have seen only a handful on the silver screen this year, and all of them have been the kind of crowd-pleasing pictures I can convince my friends to see. Despite this, I believe it was an excellent year for the medium, with a few off-kilter experiments branching off into the mainstream and some streaming services supporting all kinds of genres to success too. My go to tactic is to randomly buy a month when they have enough I'm interested in and binge, baby, binge. These are my brief thoughts on a large number (though not all) of the movies I saw that were released in the UK during 2022, highlighting my highly subjective Top 10. Read on after the jump for more...

It's been an eventful year in the UK. Our monarch celebrated her Platinum Jubilee marking 70 years as our head of state. The celebrations included some fun shorts including a luncheon with the polite Peruvian bear Paddington, which briefly bumped up the movie and its sequel to the top of the streaming charts. I'm no royalist, but anything that elevates some of the most perfect children's movies of all time is a good thing in my book. When the Queen passed away a few months later in September, so many children left marmalade sandwiches outside Buckingham Palace that an order had to be sent out requesting them to stop. The free food began to attract rats and other urban wildlife which did amuse me more than it perhaps should.

The death of the Queen was not the only shock to the UK. We had the distinct displeasure of seeing no less than three Prime Ministers governing our country closer to oblivion. Emily Matiss, the respected journalist who conducted the "no sweat" interview with Prince Andrew loudly quit the BBC claiming it to be a shill for the Tory Party; a claim I am inclined to believe considering how softball they've been when covering the Conservative fails these past few years. As painful as it has been to live through, I expect some banging movies to come out of it in the future. Apparently, one is already in the works.

Going back to the realm of cinema, I've noticed a few recurring themes this past year. We've seen directors directing their own loose biopics (Belfast, The Fabelmans), villainous guinea pigs (DC League of Super Pets, The Bad Guys) and little wooden boys wishing they were real (Morbius) all within the last 12 months. Animation has been strong, with the traditional cell and stop-motion succeeding over CGI and Jenna Ortega has killed it (Scream, X, Wednesday) deservedly becoming this generation's Queen of Horror.

Out of all the streaming services, Netflix knocked it out of the park. While some of their output suffered from their detrimental hands-off approach with the worst offenders amongst the worst of the year, the majority have been quirky commissions, interesting acquisitions and future all-time classics. Crowd pleasers such as The Adam Project and The Gray Man mixed with off-kilter fare like Apollo 10 1/2 and Spiderhead while potential Oscar contenders like Glass Onion and Blonde sat alongside top-tier animation in the form of My Father's Dragon and Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio. That's not even mentioning their high quality episodic content. There's so much I haven't had the chance to catch all of them in time for this run down, but it is the only service I haven't dipped out of in a while.

Others have their moments. Apple TV+ hosted the Academy Award Winning Best Picture, Coda, but beyond the odd feature or show I have little interest in their content. Amazon spent their entire budget on Rings of Power with nothing else of note appearing on their Prime service and Shudder consistently offered up some fun low budget horror movies that are worth subscribing for a month or two. Disney+ is still going strong by sheer attrition alone. They've capitalised on shorter wait times for a theatrical release to reach the service - if it gets a theatrical release at all and while there have been some surprises with the likes of Chip n Dale's return to rescue ranging and Andor reinvigorating Star Wars for some, it's mostly been distinctly average fare. WARNING: mini Star Wars rant incoming... I really liked The Book of Boba Fett and Obi Wan shows more than the vocal internet. Boba Fett was aiming for the mythic Spaghetti Western style of Sergio Leone with Fett being a decent stand in for Clint Eastwood's man with no name. I believe the pandemic gave it some production issues along with the next season of The Mandalorian which is why there is a shift in focus half way through. Obi Wan on the other hand would've worked much better as a standard feature just how it was originally pitched. Both have their issues, but neither are worthy of the hate I've seen making me question whether I should bother searching forum posts and fan reactions anymore (see the Rings of Power backlash too). Life's too short for such negativity.

When it comes to award contenders, I have to return to the same caveat I make every year; many Oscar baiters don't reach our shores until well into the New Year. The Fablemans, Tar and Till are January 2023 pictures for us and I'm really looking forward to seeing them. Conversely, many of the awards hopefuls from 2021 came out this past year, including - rather bizarrely - a few UK-made and Irish films. That being said, I did miss the Academy's Best Film of 2021 the year it came out mainly due to it being an Apple TV+ exclusive. Before I saw it, I was rooting for Belfast to win, but Coda's small-scale family drama won me over when I finally saw it. I do love talking and hypothesising about the Academy Awards. Many have complained about the recent spate of Oscar-winning movies being smaller, independent movies than what has come before. The last blockbuster to win was Return of the King, but in truth I believe no such movie since has particularly deserved it. Not even The Dark Knight. In many ways, this era feels like the 70s and 80s where Kramer vs Kramer beat out Apocalypse Now or the likes of Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment or Rain Man could take the top prize. The types of films winning and those being snubbed is nothing new. That being said, I feel like Everything Everywhere All At Once is going to do surprising well come March.

While the greatest piece of entertainment I saw in the last 12 months was undoubtedly The Life of Pi on the West End stage, TV shows have also had a spectacular run. Like last year, I'll briefly run down my Top 10 even though it should probably get its own page at this point. Honorary mentions go to: 1899 (a trippy sci-fi from the folks behind Dark), Wednesday (a tad too Riverdale to rank higher. Netflix, remove any romantic sub plots in season 2), Umbrella Academy: Season 3 (still a fun and wacky storyline that accommodates an actor's real-life transition with tenderness), The Crown: Season 5 (uncharacteristically haphazard, I suspect some rushed re-editing after the Queen died), Locke & Key: Season 3 (an adventurous end to a great fantasy series), Moon Knight, MsMarvel & She Hulk (all likeable and far better than the internet forums would have you believe, but Marvel's obviously over-stretching themselves), The Star Wars trifecta (see my mini-rant earlier), Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (a great Christie-like murder mystery), Willow (still watching, but a fun family fantasy so far) and Witcher: Blood Origins (great fantasy story, rushed awkward plotting and underfunded visuals. Should have been more than a mini-series). Here's my chosen 10:

    10)   Russian Doll: Season 2
            Natasha Lyonne knocks it out of the park in the second season of Netflix's time-travelling comedy. She plays
            a sharp tongued New Yorker who, after living through her very own Groundhog Day in the first season, travels back
            in time to the 80s into the body of her mentally unstable mother. While certainly played with a tongue firmly in
            its cheek, there are a lot of deep and serious points that elevate it into what I feel is a top-tier sci-fi yarn.
    9)     The Bear
            After his alcoholic brother commits suicide during the most desperate moments of the pandemic, a celebrated chef
            is left a Chicago sandwich shop in his will. Leaving the world of high-class dining, he chooses to run this joint
            instead. Filled with tense drama and a great performance by Jeremy Allen White, The Bear is simple great.
    8)     Don't Hug Me I'm Scared
            The best scripted content on YouTube finally got a fully-fledged show on Channel 4 - a perfect fit. Red Guy, Yellow
            Guy and Duck learn some truly effed-up life lessons in a perfect send up of a young kid's TV show like Sesame
            Street. As a bonus, there's a deep puzzle of an on-going plot in there too.
            Guillermo del Toro has had quite the year. With this and two feature films releasing in the UK, he has certainly
            made up the last few years of creative lull. This Netflix horror anthology is a season of Lovecraft-inspired
            stories with some great talent behind them. Like all anthologies, they do vary in quality but this one has a
            higher hit rate than most. The two standouts are the nightmare-inducing Graveyard Rats and The Autopsy.
            Two fantasy shows that went head-to-head with each other. Both are good in varying ways with my preference
            being the seemingly controversial opinion of Rings of Power. While not perfect, it got some unnecessary bile
            online making me truly tired of the toxic fandoms around the internet forums. I'm truly tired of that kind of
            crap now; criticism is one thing, unnecessary hatred is quite another. Forget the Silmarillion (which the
            Tolkien estate refuses any adaptation anyhow), the production team has told a great prequel that by only using
            the Trilogy appendices. I do feel like they messed up the Big Reveal in the last episode slightly, but it's one
            of the few shows where I was actively excited for each episode to drop.
            House of the Dragon was pretty good too. At first, it followed a lot of the same beats as season 1 of GoT, but
            as it continued, it managed to carve its own identity. The unnecessary change in actors half-way through put
           me off as it seemed unnecessary, but as there are fewer B-plots than the original show, it was probably more
           of a logistical decision. Can't wait to see where either of these high-fantasy shows go from here.
    5)     The Boys - Season 3
            Some of the most insane storylines ever to be filmed has made its way onto The Boys and they top themselves
            each season. The showrunners are going to have quite the task on their hands creating something more
            outrageous than that opening scene with The Termite. Superheroes have never been so scandalous!
    4)     Stranger Things: Season 4
            Not many shows can resurrect a 40-year-old song to relevance and have it reach Number One, but that's what
            happened to Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill when it featured in a poignant scene in the fourth season
            of Stranger Things. A classic moment in modern pop culture. You all know about it. 'Nuff said..
    3)     Peacemaker
            Much like The Boys, James Gunn's Peacemaker is another over-the-top send-up on superheroes. It's a spin-off
            from his Suicide Squad sequel that became one of DC's best after the abysmal original. Here, John Cena
            grapples with some hard truths that's handled with a light touch by Gunn and the writing staff, yet we begin
            to fully understand the inner workings of the villain of the movie and how he messes up trying to do right in an
             entertaining and gory fashion.
    2)     The Midnight Club
             Like a more mature Are You Afraid of the Dark, horror maestro Mike Flannigan turns this tale of terminally
             ill teenagers into an emotional gut-punch of a spooky series. It is based on a Young Adult book from the 90s
             that I'm sure I was aware of. I had a lot of the Point Horror books growing up, thinking them to be more adult
            than Goosebumps which arrived a few years later. Our teenagers at death's door gather at midnight in their
            hospice to tell ghost stories while battling the weird grief of knowing you'll likely be a ghost yourself soon.
            The show's complex issues are dealt with the same humane subtlety found in Flannigan's previous shows
            though I feel it skimps out a little on the scares. Out of his four Netflix shows, this is my least favourite, but
            considering I've raked it at number 2 shows how high esteem I have for each of them.
    1)     The Sandman
            Neil Gaiman's graphic novel has long been gestating in development hell, but when Netflix funded a full
            series, I was a little cautious. Stalled projects rarely come back with their dignity intact. Then, as I began to
            learn of its production and the increased role Gaiman would have over its creative decisions, I began to get
           very excited for it. The adaptation is at once true to its source while keeping in mind the needs of a new medium.
          This new medium isn't just TV, but streaming TV. The titular character is mute for much of the first episode
           which may perhaps put off some viewers were the next one not just a click away. We even get a surprise stand
           alone episode a few weeks later. The story of the God of Dreams being captured by mortals which threatens
           the entire heavens couldn't have been realised better.

Let's get past TV shows. This is a post about movies after all. Here are my Top 10 movies of 2021. Click on the posters or hotlinks to see where you can watch or stream each of them in your country.



10

Rian Johnson has been known to "subvert expectations" but he hasn't subverted them as much as in his Knives Out series. The first told you the killer halfway through the movie, and by this point in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, you're finally told the victim.

Eccentric detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig again relishing the role) is invited to the private island of a Silicon Valley billionaire for a murder mystery weekend, except this childish take on the Elon Musks of the world wasn't the one to invite him. Perfectly played by Edward Norton, his surface level ego is on full display in the design of the building made to look like a literal glass onion. He's hired Hollywood screenwriters to write his fake murder, air-lifted his one-of-a-kind sports car to his private island with no roads to drive it on and took advantage of Covid to rent out the Mona Lisa from the Louvre.

By the time the reasons for Blanc's presence is revealed, you'll already be invested in the mystery, which is no mean feat. Johnson shows just enough to clue you in to the greater plot so that repeat viewings are just as fun as the first, while every single character - no matter how despicable - is played with nuanced gusto making for another exceptional whodunit. Bring on Knives Out 3!



9

Director Scott Derrickson has had a lucky career. Ostensibly a pulpy director since his debut in the Hellraiser franchise during its long-lasting slump, he would earn a name for himself in horror circles. From here, he would alternate between horror and Hollywood. His second directorial output, The Exorcism of Emily Rose (entertaining but derivative), earned him enough clout to direct a big-budget sci-fi in The Day the Earth Stood Still (a dumber, more explosive take on the original). Then Sinister (excellent popcorn scare-fest) gave him a Marvel property Dr. Strange (visually great yet middling Marvel).

Now we have The Black Phone, a tense supernatural thriller which went on wide release this past June in the UK. Set in the 70s and mostly told from the perspective of teenager Finney Blake, the story guides us through his abduction by a child kidnapper named The Grabber and how, in the basement, his previous victims speak to him through the titular phone. It reminds quite a bit of Stephen King's coming-of-age fright-fests like It, Carrie or The Body, which is apt considering it is based on a short story written by his son Joe Hill.

There's something terrifying about a child abductor, and one doesn't have to have children to understand the fear and panic a parent must go through in such an ordeal. By coming at it from the child's perspective, The Black Phone becomes something different but no less scary. Here's hoping his next movie, the "high-action, genre-bending love story" The Gorge (an Apple TV exclusive) isn't as disappointing as his previous high-action movies. Even if it is, we can be assured that his next one will likely be a return to satisfying horror.

8

There's been a lot of unusual movie trends this year; films set during the pandemic without it being about the pandemic (Glass Onion, The Bubble, Kimi), directors directing their own semi-biopics (Belfast, Empire of Light, Armageddon Time, The Fabelmans), but by far the most discussed is the slew of wooden boy movies. I refused to see Pauly Shore's take on Pinocchio (good god, does it look awful), and you'll have to read further down - way further down - for my take on Disney's live-action remake. That leaves Guilermo del Toro's stop-motion animation.

Weaving in themes of a childhood lost to war that permeates his previous fantastical work (see The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth), Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio is just as tragic. Set during Fascist Italy between the two World Wars, the oppressive time period marks a juxtaposition with Pinocchio's own naively joyous and open personality. Unlike all of the other versions told this year, it also gives it a reason to exist. It is vastly different from any other telling and that includes the source novel. There are no talking foxes, thieving cats or donkey transformations but at the same time it is way closer in tone than Disney's saccharine offering.

Everything about this productions is beautifully made. The animation is stunning with an impressive voice cast including Ewan McGregor, Ron Pearlman, Christophe Waltz and Cate Blanchett as the non-verbal monkey. Topping all of them is newcomer Gregory Mann in the dual role of Pinocchio and Gepetto's lost son Carlos. He brings a sweetness to these roles that is effecting and light-hearted in a movie that could've been overcome with its dark themes. Truly a masterpiece.



7

If Rian Johnson has been shaking up the murder mystery, Jordan Peele has been doing the same with Hollywood horror. Sat somewhere between the slick yet slight Blumhouse style of moviemaking and the intelligent independence of elevated horror, his movies tend to please both crowds equally. Touching on animal and human exploitation rife in the entertainment industry, Nope is a clever sci-fi horror where the most terrifying scene doesn't involve the alien spacecraft lurking around Daniel Kaluuya's Californian ranch, but a non-supernatural flashback to the set of a sitcom. I won't give too much away if you haven't seen it, but this flashback solidifies the movie's themes and one character's consequential motivations at the same time. Great fun.

On a similar note comes Zach Cregger's Barbarian. Cregger, who was best known for the frat boy kind of comedy I am no big fan of, got some sound advice from Jordan Peele before shooting his debut horror film and it paid off. The two share a similar structure too, with a seemingly disjointed flashback midway through the movie that marks a change in direction. It may irk some viewers but in actuality it ties everything together.

But let's start at the beginning; Barbarian opens with a premise previously seen in Netflix's romcom Love in the Villa (seen the trailer, looks awful). A girl rents out an Airbnb only to find out a good-looking fella is already staying there. The good-looking fella in Barbarian acts a little creepy (as opposed to sexy in the romcom), but we later find out that he isn't the only one staying there... I'll leave it at that for fear of entering spoiler territory. I'm not sure if double-booking an Airbnb is a thing but either way, it's not the best advertisement for the company. As for the movies, well, only one of them is any good and you won't find it on Netflix.

6

He may be an elder septuagenarian, but George Miller is showing no signs of losing his touch in the director's chair. Three Thousand Years of Longing is a contemplative fairy tale of a movie, with some stunning fantasy visuals and a intriguing take on a familiar plot. Tilda Swinton's Alithea frees Idris Elba's Djinn from a bottle and struggles to find a single wish to ask for, let alone the three given to her. Throughout the course of the film, we see the Djinn's tragic history told in sumptuous flashbacks. As a scholar of mythology, Alithea is well aware that wishes can turn sour but by the time she's heard all of the Djinn's backstory, she asks for just one surprising thing.

The precise and delicate direction perfectly encapsulates the melancholic emotions conjured up by that title, and while the script is just as wordy, being something that could easily translate to a West End stage, it doesn't feel like theatre at all. Well-acted, strikingly directed and beautifully shot by Mad Max: Fury Road cinematographer John Seale (who came out of retirement just for this project), Three Thousand Years of Longing is one of the lesser-seen movies of the year and in my opinion one of the best. If you haven't seen it, go do so!

5

Releasing in UK theatres at the very beginning on 2022, Kenneth Branagh's Belfast is a nostalgic look at his life growing up during the troubles in the late 1960s. While it doesn't quite delve too deeply into the politics behind the conflict, it depicts a very human tale of a young boy's family life and his loss of innocence as his home gradually becomes an increasingly unsafe place to live.

An excellent Jude Hill plays Branagh surrogate Buddy from whom we experience most of the film. He is a naive an innocent nine-year-old boy who is somewhat oblivious to what is going on around him. So much so that when soldiers turn his street into a warzone, cordoning off areas to separate the Protestant Unionists and Catholic Republicans, it comes as more of a shock for us the viewer than Buddy the character. I guess nine-year-olds can take change in their stride.

Ultimately, Belfast is not a depressing film. It is not a harrowing war film like '71 or a rage-inducing drama like In the Name of the Father but it is effective in detailing what life was like for normal citizens when the Troubles began. Even so, by the time the credits roll after Judi Dench's impactful monologue, there'll still be tears running down your face. It was my pick to win best film at the Oscars.

4

Dan Trachtenberg's entry in the Predator franchise is undoubtedly the best the series has been since the 1987 original. It's so good, it should've had a wide theatrical release. Instead, Prey fell prey to the Disney-Fox buyout hitting Disney+ with little fanfare. Before seeing it, I had little hope too. The franchise had been mismanaged for so long and the best I could hope for was some nice action here and there. Instead, we got one of the year's - nay decade's - best action films.

Prey takes place in the early 1700s where a tribe of Native Americans begin to suspect the encroaching European settlers are not the biggest danger around. The only one who believes it is more than a rampaging mountain lion is Naru, played with aplomb by Amber Midthunder, who wishes to join the hunt and not stay behind preparing food.

By simply taking place at this time period from the point of view of these people turns Prey into something I genuinely haven't seen before. This is not a movie about Cowboys and Indians or the violence inflicted from one group to the other, but a true sci-fi action film from the point of view of a historically undervalued perspective. We can add Naru alongside Ripley, Sarah Connor and Furiosa as one of cinema's greatest action heroines.

3

I've been following the McDonagh brothers' career ever since Martin blew me away in 2008 with In Bruges. Then John Michael followed suit in 2011 with The Guard. Both have a similar style to the point where I often consider them the same entity but so far Martin has been the only one to earn any kind of major awards recognition when Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri narrowly lost Best Picture to The Shape of Water at the 90th Academy Awards. The Banshees of Inisherin is just as off-beat as his other films if not more so being an allegory for the Irish civil war of 1923. Occurring not long after their successful war for independence from the British, it is often seen as a pointless and petty war that saw brother attack brother over the newly formed Angle-Irish treaty. More Irish men died during this war than when battling the English. Without this knowledge, the events in the movie become almost incomprehensible and a little confusing. With even just this basic understanding, it becomes one of the best films of the year - one I believe may have a chance to win best picture.

On a fictional, isolated island off the coast of Ireland called Inisherin (literally meaning Ireland island), the bangs and explosions coming from the war on the mainland rarely affects the small community. One day, Colin Farrel's Pádraic's goes to invite his best friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) for a beer, only for him to say he doesn't want to be friends anymore. No explanation given. When Pádraic pesters him for one, Colm threatens to cut of his fingers. He's not bluffing as either, as a stubby finger soon finds its way to Pádraic's doorstep. Eventually, their confounding actions escalate to an unnecessary conflict. If you see Pádraic as a metaphor for the Provisional Government of Ireland and Colm as the Irish Republic Army or IRA, it makes more sense. The history has long been taught in Irish schools so everyone in that country would quickly pick up on it but even if you have no clue, it is still a grippingly odd tale. It's currently showing on Dinsey+ in the UK, so if you have that service you owe it to yourself to give it a watch.

2

I saw Robert Eggars brutal Viking fantasy twice at the cinema. This is something I haven't done for a long, long time but if any film was worth it, it was this one. The Northman is a retelling of the legend of Amleth, an ancient Nordic myth that eventually inspired Shakespeare's Hamlet. Played with ferocity by Alexander Skarsgard, Prince Amleth vows revenge after witnessing his father's murder by his uncle before being banished into slavery.

The visuals are strikingly beautiful, with a muddy untouched landscape and costume design that's been heavily praised for its accuracy. The supporting cast that includes Nicole Kidman and Anya Taylor-Joy is also exceptional, with Willem Dafoe being the standout as the King's jester and mystic Heimir the Fool. We even get a memorable Bjork cameo as a prophecy spouting goddess.

Every aspect of the production is as close to perfection as you can get which makes it disappointing to find out it was a disappointment at the box office. Here's hoping home viewings and a slew of awards nominations will give it the legs it deserves.

1

No other movie in this or any other year can claim to be more inventively insane and bizarrely crowd-pleasing than the Daniels' Everything Everywhere All At Once. Michelle Yeoh plays a middle-aged immigrant mother running a financially failing laundry business with her husband in sunny California. She is content with this humdrum life, oblivious to the disintegrating familial relationships around her. Then, her husband (played by The Goonies' Ke Huy Quan in a welcome turn in front of the camera for a change), possessed by an alternative self from an alternate dimension, ushers her down a path to an insane metaphysical adventure.

In many ways, this is similar how the first Matrix begins; mundane life is shattered by an introduction to open one's mind to something bigger. In this case, though, that bigger thing is an everything bagel and an alternative timeline where humans evolved sausages for fingers.

It sounds like a fever dream, and in many ways it is, but underneath all of the martial arts and dildos, there is an intimate story being told here. One of a mother and daughter learning to understand each other. The Daniels are quickly becoming some of the most inventive creators of the last decade, with their feature length debut Swiss Army Man featuring in my Top 10 of 2016. I await with baited breath with what they come up with next.


HONOURABLE MENTIONS


Netflix has had a good year, with a ton of movies and shows to appeal to a variety of viewers. These three were middling, but still entertaining fare. The Adam Project is a time-travelling family film starring Ryan Reynolds that may have struggled to find an audience had it released in cinemas. It's a new IP for starters, but it also has a plot that's been done before; boy bumps into his older, time-travelling self, adventure ensues. It is also a little too childish to appeal solely for adults and a little too grown up to be a kids flick. On steaming services, it doesn't have to market to a single group so it did quite well, earning a sizeable audience and fan base. I don't know if it will stand the test of time, but for a while it had its time in the sun.

The first Enola Holmes was a pleasant surprise when it debuted on Netflix in September of 2020, and Enola Holmes 2 continues that sentiment. As Sherlock Holmes' younger sister, Millie Bobby Brown makes for an entertaining detective. In this sequel, she has set up her own detective agency with little success. Clients don't want a woman investigating their cases, especially as women suffragettes are causing trouble around them. When a young factory worker comes to her asking for help finding her sister, Enola jumps at the chance to be embroiled in another mystery. The game is afoot. Another fun film for young adults and beyond.

Starring Jason Mamoa, Slumberland could've been more than it was. It is a reimagining of the turn-of-the-century comic strip by Winsor McKay called Little Nemo in Slumberland that has quite the history. It was he, through his character of Gertie the Dinosaur, that birthed the entire concept of film animation. Little Nemo also saw an under-loved animated movie in the 80s as well as other spin offs, but this latest iteration is so different, you'd be forgiven in thinking there was no relation. I didn't, even with that title and it starring a little girl called Nemo. It wasn't until the ride on a living bed - an image iconic to the character - that it all clicked. While it remains a decent family film, there is something missing. Slumberland itself isn't memorable at all and Jason Mamoa seems to be channelling Michael Keeton's Beetlejuice with little success. A closer take on the source may have made a less generic movie. Not terrible - worth a single watch at least - but forgettable.


Rodents seemed to be the go-to animated villain this year, with guinea pigs seemingly the preferred rodent of choice. Before we get to those films, let's talk about the scariest of the bunch; rats. Currently a Sky exclusive, Terry Pratchett's The Amazing Maurice (and His Educated Rats if you want the book's full title) is based on one of his novels aimed at a younger reader. That doesn't mean the Discworld set adventure lacks any of the trademark Pratchett wit. I read it in my early 20s when it was first published in 2001 and thoroughly enjoyed it. Unfortunately, that wit doesn't quite translate in this otherwise handsomely animated feature. Maurice is a talking cat and a band of intelligent rats con townsfolk into thinking their human friend is the pied piper come to rid them of plague-spreading vermin. One town, however, has already been touched with the blight of a rat king that's sure to induce nightmares from little folk. Still waiting on that perfect Pratchett picture.

The Bad Guys is Ocean's 11 for kiddos. It's also a return to Disney-busting form for DreamWorks ranking among one of their best. Wolf and his band of animal bandits each of whom have a phobia named after them (a snake named Snake, a tarantula named Tarantula, a shark named Shark - you get the idea) are finally caught in their latest heist. Still in cuffs, a billionaire guinea pig named Professor Marmalade convinces the police force to induct them into his program that will turn them into good guys. It doesn't last long as they are soon framed for another theft which sets them off on an action-filled adventure to prove their innocence. The animation here is top-notch, with some Into the Spiderverse style animation flourishes highlighting the kinetic chase and fight sequences. The band of merry animals are all played well by their starry voice cast and the movie as a whole reminds me of a Lupin III escapade in a good way. Highly entertaining.

In DC League of Super-Pets, Superman's dog Krypton gets jealous of Lois Lane but when Lex Luther's literal guinea pig and test subject named Lulu gains super powers his life is turned upside down. Lulu has captured the Justice League and created an army of powerful guinea pigs in a bid to win Lex Luther's affection. Little does she know that at the time of her transformation at an animal rescue centre, other potential pets got powers too. Krypton has to learn to work with these new heroes to save the Justice League and defeat Lulu. When I first heard of it, I thought DC League of Super-Pets was unnecessary. The movie does just enough to stop it from being so, but it is still just an average kids flick that doesn't do anything particularly ground-breaking. Keanu Reeve's unhinged Batman is worth the price of admission alone.


A couple of bombastic directors that made some of the biggest movies in the 90s went back to their roots. Michael Bay stepped aside from making robot cars dull to create Ambulance, a high-concept action-thriller that could've been released from that era. After a bank heist goes wrong, the thieves hijack an ambulance as their getaway, kidnapping the paramedics and their critically wounded patient in the process. A fun concept almost ruined by Bay's over-the-top approach to moviemaking. Still, best quote in a movie theatre; "What did you do to my legs?" read in a calm stoner voice while looking at his own mangled lower limbs. We also got these gems; "Just leave the flamingos alone!" and "Who puts a big-ass dog in a cop car". Priceless.

I could say Moonfall is Roland Emmerich's return to the disaster movie, but in all honesty he hasn't really left. After Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, he gave up topping himself with the world-destroying 2012. Then comes Moonfall, where the celestial body orbiting our earth starts on a new collision course to our planet. Whatever you think the reason for this phenomena is, I can guarantee you it isn't as bonkers and the actual explanation. This is where the film left me, though I can imagine this alone will earn it an ironic cult following.


Netflix wowed with a variety of interesting animation in 2022, but they weren't the only ones to go a little avant garde. In Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood, Richard Linklater returns to his striking rotoscoped art style of his previous efforts Waking Life and The Scanner Darkly. This one is a slightly biographic coming of age story telling the whimsical life and fantasies of a boy called Stan narrated by his older self. Played by Jack Black, there's a warm and nostalgic feeling emanating from the film as pop-culture Americana gets documented among the back drop of the late 60s space race. He reminisces about all of the moments of his childhood before his fantasies come true when he is enlisted into the space program to pilot a rocket that was build that little bit too small for a fully-grown adult. The best of Linklater's animated movies.

Another Netflix-produced animation is a creepy little stop-motion named The House - one of three made in the medium they made this year. This one is by far the weirdest. It is a slightly creepy anthology horror with some spectacular animation and strange imagery. The first story has a poor family move into a mansion nearby while it is still being built. All but their 8-year-old daughter are overjoyed by this but the shifting architecture soon reveal some terrifying consequences. The second sees a neurotic mouse attempt to sell his house only for a family of vermin move in for free and refuse to leave. The third takes place in a stranded apartment building after an apocalyptic event leaves it standing alone in an endless sea. The feline residents have no money to pay their flustered landlady until a guru enters their lives with the possibility of escape. All of the stories are suitable for older kids, with the first one being the one most likely to scar. That being said, the slow-burn nature will likely appeal to adults more as well as those more appreciative of the exceptional animation on offer.

Mad God is special effects guru Phil Tippet's long-gestating passion project and it show. The industrial stop motion on display is reminiscent of RoboCop's ED-209 or Star Wars holochess figures. Deliberately structured to be a fever dream of freaky imagery, it is a visually lead film rather than a narrative one. It harks back to those experimental films European animation studios were putting out in the 70s and 80s such as the work of René Laloux (Fantastic Planet, Gandahar), Jan Švankmajer (Alice, Little Otik) or perhaps live-action movies like Hardware, Tetsuo or Eraserhead. Even with all of these flooding my mind, there really isn't anything quite like the hard-to-describe Mad God. 30 years in the making, it is time well spent.


Whether or not you enjoy Avatar 2: The Way of Water is entirely dependent on your feelings for the first film. James Cameron's belated sequel to the highest grossing movie of all time enjoys all the same positives from the original - beautiful to look at, insane action - yet also suffers the same flaws. It is overly long, predictable and has one of the most one-dimensional villains of the modern era. I don't believe it is Cameron's best film, nor does it deserve those insane box office numbers, but it is a good time at the cinema and I tepidly look forward to the next one.


I have mixed feeling about Matt Reeves' The Batman. I enjoyed it quite a bit when I saw it in theatres, even though I felt the fatigue of its run time. Thirty minutes could easily have been cut, and most of that could've come from the many shots of Batman and Catwoman leaving the cemetery at the end. The main plot involving the Riddler is an exciting one, and it's always interesting to see the World's Greatest Detective do some detective work for a change. It doesn't quite surpass Nolan's trilogy so even with all of the praise in the world, The Batman doesn't seem anything more than unnecessary.

While we did get The Batman, Black Adam was the only film released in the DCEU thanks to Warner Bros cancelling the high-profile Batgirl. While Dwayne Johnson's passion project does have some interesting aspects, particularly the idea of superheroes in the war-toen Middle East, it is ultimately a generic origin story that does nothing new. The people of the fictional city of Khandaq are living under an oppressive regime, but when a resistance fighter revives the ancient hero Teth-Adam who, channelling the same power as Shazam, begins to enact his own form of brutal justice. This attracts the attention of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis returning as her Suicide Squad role for a single line) who instructs the Justice Society of America to intervene. Parallels to unwanted American intervention in foreign affairs could've elevated an otherwise generic superhero movie, but such themes are barely touched upon. All that's left is genericism. Poor.


After Beavis and Butt-Head burn down their school's science fair, a judge forces them to go to space camp where they see phallic symbols and innuendo everywhere. They become obsessed with a NASA docking simulator for this very reason, impressing Captain Serena Ryan in the process. She vouches for the two slackers and enrols them on a real space mission. As always, they think this is an invitation for sex and agree. This leads to some trippy time-travelling hijinks and a chaotic sci-fi conspiracy thriller that is hilarious as heck. I'm not really a fan of Mike Judge's show, but I did massively enjoy the previous movie from 1997 as well as the adventure games (not to mention the Daria spin off show which is more up my alley). Beavis & Butt-Head Do the Universe is, unexpectedly, one of the funniest movies of the year. Worth getting a month of Paramount+ for this alone.

Another unexpected treat of a TV animation turned feature film is The Bob's Burger Movie. It is just as funny as the show but doesn't quite take full advantage of the higher budget a movie can offer. A sinkhole appears outside of Bob's burger joint threatening the Belcher's financial stability. They already owe a lot of money and if the restaurant is losing business then they are in serious trouble. Things get worse when Bob's daughter Louise finds a skeleton in the hole linking their wealthy yet self-absorbed landlord - the one man who can save their business - as the prime suspect. The Belcher children then go on a quest to find the real killer and save their family in the process. Basically playing like an extended episode, whether or not you'll like it is entirely reliant on how much you like the show. I think it's one of Fox's best adult-skewed animations so I loved it.


None of Marvel's theatrical releases this year were anything special, but I still feel like each has enough about them to be worthwhile. First out the gate was Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness directed by a restrained Sam Raimi. There was room for this to be the 'horror one' of the MCU, but the movie lacks bite. Undead Strange was pretty fun, Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch is exceptional as always and it does inch closer to Phase 4's end game, but it doesn't work too well as a stand-alone film. Despite promises to the contrary, you do need to see Wandavision to fully understand what's going on.

Thor: Love & Thunder was my favourite of the three, but it still has its flaws. The Norse God was once the 'fantasy one' of the MCU, but it is now firmly positioned itself as the 'comedy one'. Not a lot of people seemed to like this change, but I found it to be incredibly entertaining. Taika Waititi perhaps got a bit too cocky after the success of Thor: Ragnarok (arguably the best of the whole franchise) and let his comedic mind run away from him. As such, Christian Bale's intensely interesting and complex villain is underused and side-lined which does lower the stakes somewhat. Enjoyable, but flawed.

The last of the three MCU movies of the year was the 'retro-futurist one'. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever had a difficult job following the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, but they wrote around it rather beautifully, being a fitting tribute to the man as well as a decent action film. The cinematic eulogy does break the flow of the movie, making it overly long and a little depressing in the process, but it does hold up as a worthwhile sequel.


Three very different biopics of celebrities from very different eras. Blonde, sumptuously directed by Andrew Dominik, follows the life of Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe. Her complexity was perfectly captured by Ana de Armas, even though her native Cuban accent slips in every now and then. The film as a whole is a little scattershot. Events, both real and speculated, are told without much thought of a through-line which does lower its rating for me. Otherwise, it is an ethereal masterpiece.

Released in the UK on the first day of 2022, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is a more straight forward biopic. Benedict Cumberbatch plays an eccentric artist who became famous in the early 1900s for his humorous cat paintings. They were so influential, many believe it was the catalyst for the animal's popularity as a pet. An entertaining by-the-books biopic.

The opposite of a by-the-books biopic is Weird: The Al Yonkovich Story on the Roku channel. Instead of being a straightforward re-telling on the comedy musician's life, it is (almost) entirely fabricated. A giant exercise in wish fulfilment and deliberately false self-importance. The result is one of the funniest movies of the year, but it does come with one caveat. It is exclusive to Roku. At home, I tend to watch most of my entertainment on a desktop PC, so I had to go through some hoops to watch it. The streaming website isn't yet active in the UK and I didn't have a specific Roku device so I had to add the app to my phone and watch it from there. That's how much I wanted to see this movie. For a free channel that appears to be entirely supported by ads, you'd have thought the more ways to access it the better. Instead, many others in my shoes might have just found it easier to download it. However you get to watch it, it is very much worth it.


If you wanted some off-the-wall science-fiction, you were well catered for this year. Brian and Charles is a quaint tale of a sweet yet socially inept inventor who built his own robot named Charles. By doing so, he manages to connect to the locals and confront the town bully. Playing a little like Lars and the Real Girl crossed with Robot & Frank, it is one of the most heart-warming surprises of the year.

79-year-old David Cronenberg is back in the director's chair after an 8-year hiatus to direct Crimes of the Future. A sci-fi neo-noir that is as dreamlike as his earlier work of Eraserhead or Naked Lunch, it stars Viggo Mortensen as famed body artist Saul Tenser whose body is failing him. In this future, humans have evolved to feel no pain so blood-letting and body modification becomes an artistic expression. And yet, evolution has not stopped as some people have been growing entirely new organs. Tenser is one of them, and through performance art regularly has them removed in front of a crowd. The fame has also made him a target from a group who wishes the world would accept these mutations for the sake of mankind's future. There's a lot to unpack with the dense, lyrically told story that may take a second viewing to fully understand, but the insane body horror that harks back to his previous work like Crash or eXistenze make it a movie one could never forget.

Joseph Kosinski's Spiderhead is a little more light-hearted than Cronenberg's feature. After Top Gun: Maverick got delayed due to the pandemic, he began work on this small feature set on a remote island in the middle of nowhere. A research facility on this island enlists convicts as test subjects with the promise of lessening their sentence should they comply. They are given drugs that elicit instant and intense emotions such as love, lust and anger. Starring Chris Hemsworth and Miles Teller, Spiderhead is a fun little sci-fi that, along with the success of Top Gun: Maverick, should finally put Kosinski towards the top of working Hollywood directors of his generation. The man has not made a bad movie.


While Netflix have done spectacularly well with genre fare and animation, their comedic output leaves a lot to be desired. As a former Blockbuster employee, their sitcom of the same name was a huge missed opportunity being another boring will-they-won't-they love story instead of a biting satire of consumerism and capitalism. It could've been something closer to Clerks meets The Office. What we got was entirely forgettable.

Back to movies. Just as forgettable and weirdly uncomfortable is the Rebel Wilson vehicle Senior Year. After getting in an accident while cheerleading, 17-year-old Stephanie (Angourie Rice) falls into a coma. She wakes up 20 years later as Rebel Wilson with the same childish ambitions and personality as her awkward teenage phase. What follows is a god-awful fish-out-of-water comedy as she goes back to school where the priorities of the new generation are out of whack to her own.

Judd Apatow makes the most out of the covid quarantine by filming The Bubble, a mockumentary about the making of a movie trying its best not to shut down due to the pandemic. There are some funny moments but with zero sympathetic characters and an over-reliance on improvisation makes this more of a 2-hour snore fest than an entertaining comedy picture. I reckon the cast had a blast behind the scenes, though.

Teen comedy Metal Lords is a much better movie, though it's more of a coming-of-age drama than an out-and-out comedy. Best friends and metal fans Hunter and Kevin wish to found their own band, but they need a guitarist. Being social outcasts, the only one willing to join them is nerdy cellist Emily who also threatens to tear their friendship apart. A film in the John Hughes mould, it is surprisingly sweet with a fist pumping ending.


Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock swapped cameos for each other's movies, and the results were a couple of old-school star-lead Hollywood films that are at a minimum, mildly crowd-pleasing. The Lost City is an action rom-com in the same vein as Romancing the Stone. It stars Bullock as a romance author and widow who uses her dead husband's archaeology research in her newest novel. A billionaire searching for lost treasure kidnaps her thinking she can find it. The book's Fabio-inspired cover model played by Channing Tatum sets off to rescue her. Complete claptrap, but well-made and worth a few chuckles at the very least.

Bullet Train is a completely different beast. It's a crime movie that plays a lot like Guy Ritchie's output in the late 90s and early 2000s. Professional thief Brad Pitt takes on a job to steal a suitcase from Japan's famous bullet train but many other assassins are also present for a variety of convoluted reasons to put many spanners in the works. What follows is an action-packed comedy of errors with extra fisticuffs and Mexican standoffs, A light-hearted romp that makes for a darn good time.


Disney's roster of original movies on their streaming service tended to gear towards remakes, reboots and belated sequels. Out of all of them, Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers was the biggest surprise. And a pleasant one at that. Instead of being a feature-length episode of their classic TV show, it is instead a meta sequel of sorts to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. There is still a mystery to be had - and a good one at that - but the jokes almost always land. Fun for all the family.

I had high hopes for both Disenchanted and Hocus Pocus 2. Each of them are sequels to beloved children's favourites that could've been so much better. Disenchanted has a nice enough premise as a badly worded wish turns Giselle into an unwilling wicked step-mother, but the script and songs needed another pass for quality to really sell it. Amy Adams still enlivens up the screen, as ever.

As for Hocus Pocus 2, it simply re-treads the original without much new to say. I have fond memories of the first one when it came out in time for Halloween in 1993 so I was mildly looking forward to it. Alas, it is simply a simple TV movie. The flashback to the Sanderson Sister's origin story is the best thing about it, but as a whole it is neither as fun nor as scary as the original.


Cyrano is a decent and affecting musical based on the classic novel by Edmond Rostand. Re-casting the big-nosed romantic as a little person is a genius move. It gives the character more pathos to play with and Peter Dinklage expresses that with aplomb. He's not the greatest singer, however, and songs by The National's Aaron and Bryce Dessner don't often soar they heights they should. Still, the movie and the stage musical have garnered a much deserved fan base.


Murder mysteries are making a come back, and I'm all for it. Kenneth Branagh's Death on the Nile may not live up to Peter Ustinov's Poirot in the 70s, and I don't think his moustache needed a back story, but it is still a satisfying old-school star-studded picture. A little less CGI in the next outing please.

The detective in See How they Run isn't in the same league as Poirot. Sam Rockwell's Inspector Goddard is a self-destructive drunk whose best days are behind him, so when he's assigned to investigate a murder at a London theatre, he's joined by Saorice Ronan's Constable Stalker. Despite being a little green and overly enthused, Stalker is the real brains behind uncovering the killer. A light-hearted Agatha Christie style murder mystery with a comedic edge.

Guillermo del Toro's Nightmare Alley is a complex film noir that re-adapts the William Lindsay Gesham novel with all of the bite not allowed in the original 1947 attempt. Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) is running away from his past misdeeds and joins a travelling circus. While there, his ambitious machinations earn him a the skills of a mentalist, a wife and the gumption to take his act to the big-leagues of high society in New York City. Here he meets the conniving Dr. Lillith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), a blonde femme fatale who has ambitions of her own. The movie is immaculately shot and while the real-world setting is rather mundane for a Guillermo del Toro picture, it oozes the claustrophobic atmosphere found in many other of his creature features. Highly recommended.


A lot more words have been written about the behind the scenes shenanigans of Don't Worry Darling than the movie itself - and for good reason; it's not very good. Olivia Wilde's bad behaviour don't make up for her scattershot direction. Harry Stiles' spitting at co-stars at awards events won't hide the fact that he really cannot act (at least he can't in this, I've not seen him in much of anything else). Who cares about their affair if it completely undermines the point of the movie. The movie itself, a Stepford Wives-style tale of paranoia in suburbia doesn't quite hit either. The strange things that happen to Florence Pugh's Alice are comedically random and metaphorically empty. As an actress, she looks just as beleaguered as her character which goes someway in explaining why she refused to promote it. It all culminates to an unsatisfying end that a Shyamalan movie did way, way better almost 20 years ago.


The Harry Potter franchise has stood the test of time, but the spin offs haven't had quite the same appeal. Like the previous two films, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore doesn't know what it wants to be. The logic of the magic constantly contradicts itself and characters constantly contradict their own previously established motivations and personalities. It's a mess. Here, Grindelwald is using his powers, influence and a little bit of nefarious trickery to rise up the ranks of the Ministry of Magic. He's now played by Mads Mikkelsen instead of Johnny Depp which is a better fit IMO, but they didn't even attempt to make them look alike. That blonde albino look is out of fashion I suppose. Forgettable tosh.


While big budget horror was pretty decent this year, sometimes the most interesting scares come from the low budget crowd. There were no stand outs unfortunately but the likes of Shudder and other streaming services have given them a larger audience than they might have had otherwise. In The Deep House, a couple of urban explorers with a thriving YouTube channel decide to probe an abandoned house perfectly preserved at the bottom of a French lake. As this is a Shudder exclusive, you know that this underwater abode is haunted by a terrifying presence. Original and effective. Kudos for not being yet another found-footage film too.

Gatlopp: Hell of a Game is basically Jumanji as a comedy horror. A group of estranged friends, including Emma Raven-Lampman of Umbrella Academy fame, reunite at an Airbnb to play board games. When one of them finds an old copy of Gatlopp in a dusty cupboard, they crack it open only for it to force uncomfortable secrets out in the open. Looking like something Milton Bradley would've put out in the 70s or 80s, it doesn't quite spark the imagination of the Robin Williams vehicle, but this comedy horror is a good time nonetheless.

Shudder have continued the surprisingly decent horror anthology franchise with V/H/S '99. They already produced V/H/S '94 the year before but as ever, the stories found here are very hit and miss. Rather disappointingly, the wraparound story is non-existent this time round. Instead, we get a childlike Claymation that has nothing to do with watching video tapes, but it does lead directly into one of them involving pervy teenage boys who are terrible people and awful friends. That's what all of these have in common - so-called friends or family betraying the 'innocent' character. The five stories aren't as good as previous entries, shifting towards the surreal more than the scary, but if you stick to the final short, To Hell and Back, you'll be treated with an imaginative escape from hell.


From the director of The Green Book comes another sentimental biopic whose real meaning differs from its intended one on the surface. The Greatest Beer Run Ever stars Zac Efron as the affable John "Chickie" Donohue from New Jersey. He's stuck in a rut, his friends are off to fight in the Vietnam war while he sleeps late in his childhood bedroom. Missing his drinking buddies, he gets an idea to smuggle a load of beer cans into the warzone and distribute them to his mates, learning life lessons in the process. It portrays a nostalgic view the war and the protests surrounding it which is side-lined by a story of a schlub finding himself. It's a little more focussed in its themes than the confused racial harmony of The Green Book, but like that inexplicable Best Picture winner, it is a comfortable take on a deeply uncomfortable time.


Many long-running horror franchises returned this year, some of them with success. Hellraiser brought back the sado-masochistic cenobites in a rather straightforward and streamlined story, but in doing so reinvigorated Clive Barker's IP that has long been creatively neglected. On the other end of the spectrum, Texas Chainsaw Massacre tried to do the same but ended up sterilizing the scares.

Scream returned not as a reboot, but as a direct sequel making fun of the same-name requels such as Halloween, The Evil Dead and Candyman (and the other titles in this very section). It does it very well too, re-establishing the winning formula of the 1996 original before sequelitis set in.

Talking about requels and sequelitis, Halloween Ends ends on an interesting if sour note. David Gordon Green's trilogy have each had something interesting and new to bring to the Halloween franchise, but they also dropped the ball in several key areas. Halloween introduced PTSD and lasting trauma for final girl Laurie Strode, while simultaneously making her a Sarah Connor style action heroine. Kills expands into the wider town of Haddonfield scarred by its murderous history, but not only does it treat its residents as reactionary idiots, it side-lines Laurie for most of its run time. Ends mainly focusses on a new character's decent into madness after a terrifyingly effective opening scene but in doing so robs us of any character development of already established characters. It's an interesting take that would work well for a stand-alone movie, but as a trilogy closer it is very anticlimactic.


I've gone on and on about the great animated features released this past year, but for the sake of balance, here are a trio of really bad ones. Being the fourth in the series, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is a dull end to the series. Dracula is to retire from the hotel business and will leave it to his vampiric daughter Mavis and human son-in-law Johnny. Johnny, being the over-excited buffoon that he is, goes crazy with enthusiasm by the news giving Drac second thoughts. This is just an impetus to have the mad scientist Van Helsing introduce Johnny to a magic crystal that can turn any mundane creature into a monstrous beast and vice versa. Through hijinks, Johnny is now a dragon, Dracula is now human and the crystal is shattered so they're stuck that way. As with any poorly written kids film, the mismatched pair go off on a world-travelling adventure to find a new one. While very by-the-numbers, this plot does have potential for a good family flick. Unfortunately it completely misses the mark.

The Ice Age movies hasn't had the best reputation, but this first entry after the closing of Blue Sky still manages to sully any it may have had. Ice Age: The Adventures of Buck Wild feels cheap, with terrible first-pass visuals and the only returning voice actor being Simon Pegg as the one-eyed weasel. Without the mammoth, sloth and sabretooth tiger in any significant role (and the nut-obsessed Scrat not appearing at all), the entire movie rests on Buck's shaky shoulders. It is up to him and the two possum brothers to thwart a villainous dino who wants to destroy all mammals. Adventures of Buck Wild is the 6th (yes, 6th) movie in the franchise and based on this quality, it deserves to be the last.

The first feature film from the newly formed Skydance Animation headed by John Lasseter, Luck has a lot to live up to. It is trying desperately to be Pixar, but doesn't quite reach the lowest the DreamWorks or even Illumination has to offer. It tells the tale of an unlucky orphan entering the real world on her own at 18 after flitting between many foster homes. Nothing goes right for her until she finds a lucky coin dropped by a black cat who just so happens to work for the Luck Bureau located in a different dimension. It fails in copying the emotion of Pixar, the satire of DreamWorks or even the comedy of Illumination. Poor.


A couple of sweet British-made tales about the entertainment industry. I Used to be Famous has a washed up member of a famous 90s boy band desperately try to regain relevance after a personal tragedy changed the course of his life. While busking in London, he meets an autistic boy who has a knack for drumming and the two form an unlikely friendship. What follows is a sweet, human tale that is sure bring a smile to your face.

Save the Cinema is sure to elicit the same reaction. It is the true story of Liz Evans (Samantha Morten playing the real-life mother of that Go Compare guy) who in the 90s hosted the UK premiere of Jurassic Park in her tiny theatre in a small Welsh village. It's a remarkable story about community and respect for the arts that is un-ironically one of the best British movies of the year. Pity you can only watch it on Sky.


Jurassic World: Dominion doesn't follow through on the cliff-hanger given to us in Fallen Kingdom. It promised chaos in the streets as dinosaurs are introduced to the ecosystems on the mainland of the United States. It promised an almost post-apocalyptic scenario as humans would need to adapt or fight back against these long-extinct beasts. It introduced human cloning that could alter the dirction of the franchise. Instead, we went back to the jungle for the 6th time, telling pretty much the same story as it always had. You know its a bad time when the philosophy of the heroes is categorically the wrong one. Kill the dinos!

Top Gun: Maverick deals with 80s nostalgia in a much better way. Joseph Kosinski's other film of 2022 deservedly become one of the highest grossing movies of the year. And that's coming from someone who has no love for the jingoistic recruitment tool that was the original. Tom Cruise's Maverick has been asked to train new recruits to the US Navy, teaching them how to fly fighter jets. Among them is the son of Goose, who died in the first film. When a top-secret mission comes to their desk, Maverick has to choose between protecting the son of his dead friend, or letting him soar into danger. High marks.


Despite animation fans being spoiled for choice this year, Disney and their younger sibling Pixar were not exactly at the top of their game. Billed as the movie Andy's favourite new toy was based on, Lightyear isn't nearly as fist-pumpingly exciting as you might expect for a 9-year-old to get so invested in. Buzz crash lands a space ship on a newly discovered planet filled with dangerous flora and fauna. That ship contains an entire colony leaving them all marooned on this strange world. Seeing it as his fault, Buzz takes it upon himself to test hyperspeed fuel crystals so they can all leave, but in doing so time travels faster. Each test takes only a few minutes for him, while those around him age years. Seeing everyone around him age and die off, he comes back to a plot where Emperor Zurg has let the colony be taken over by robots. Buzz is a terrible hero, and a worse space ranger while everything else we know about other characters like Zurg has been turned on its head. There are some scenes that are worth it, but overall Lightyear is a huge let-down. Probably Pixar's worst movie.

Less of a disappointment, though still underwhelming is Disney's own Strange World. On an expedition, a famous explorer's timid son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) discovers a plant that grows condensed energy. When his father, Jager (gruffly played by Dennis Quaid) goes missing on that same trip, Searcher gives up this life and takes up farming this new energy source in his absence. Over the next two decades, this plant completely changes his village town into a technological metropolis. Cut to the present day and Searcher has his own teenage son named Ethan (Disney's first explicitly queer lead character deftly played by Jaboukie Young-White) helping him out. All is not well when this miracle crop starts failing. So, off they go to discover a cure uncovering a Strange World and strengthening family ties in the process. Looking like an adventure serial from the early 19th century, Strange World sure looks fantastic, but you'd be forgiven in thinking this even existed. Disney's 60th animated 'classic' barely got any advertising before unexpectedly hitting Disney+ a month after it debuted in theatres (there are conspiracy theories surrounding this but I won't go into them). While not the best Disney flick, it is cut from the same cloth as the likes of Treasure Planet or Atlantis.  Even if it is underwhelming, it deserves more than it got.

I have a few female friends that I'm pretty sure Turning Red was specifically made for, despite being in their mid-30s. I've heard them sing their hearts out to boybands and boast about searching for mermaid porn (yes, it's a thing - don't google it). Their infectious ADHD energy is present in every polygon on May's cheery Chinese-Canadian character model in Turning Red. A coming of age comedy at heart, May is going through 'the change'... Into a giant red panda! Happening whenever she is overwhelmed by emotion, the transformation happens at the most inopportune times eventually leading to a confrontation between mother and daughter. By far, the best animation - if not film - that Disney has put out in a year in which they otherwise disappointed.


Men is a weird movie. It is a strange horror about a young woman on vacation in the English countryside, only to find that everyone in the little village has the same face. Written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation), it is a far smarter film than that single sentence. It's a film that oozes with a sense of unease, presenting a strange supernatural mystery that doesn't quite culminate in a satisfying end. That's by design. An entirely original premise that deserves a watch if you haven't seen it. A great film that almost entered my Top 10.

The Menu is a weird movie. It is strange horror about a young woman who is invited to a remote island to taste the expensive menu of super-chef Julian Slowick (Ralph Feinnes on top form). As each course is brought to the tables of the rich and famous, the exclusive event becomes increasingly unhinged culminating in an intense and satisfying end. An entirely original premise that deserves a watch if you haven't seen it. A great film that almost entered my Top 10.


Perhaps best known for attracting teenage boys to go to the theatre in a full-on suit and tie ensemble, Minion: The Rise of Gru is a better, more structured offering than the scattershot spinoff of a first movie. A few years delay thanks to the pandemic did this movie a lot of good. The break from the banana-obsessed jesters was enough for me to not be tired of them when this movie came out. After being rejected from the Vicious Six for being too young, a 10-year-old Gru steals their MacGuffin medallion which one of the Minions then trades for a pet rock. That's the kind of chaotic premise you'd expect from the Despicable Me franchise but everything that follows is more by the book. Gru is kidnapped by the former member of the Vicious Six (hence the opening in their line-up), the minions go through training montages to save him and the rest of the Six are on the hunt. The 70s inspired visual design is a hoot, but there's nothing new here. Mildly entertaining for adults, comedic crack for the under-10s.

Illumination's previous animation, Sing 2, also got a belated release in the UK in January. It is more of the same, where the selling point is silly animals singing songs. Bono joins the cast as an aging celebrity singer who shut himself out from the rest of the world. Through some convolution, he needs to be recruited to save the theatre. Formulaic fare that's barely entertaining for adults, amusingly fun for the under-10s.


Here are three more excellent Netflix-exclusive animated movies. Cartoon Saloon's beautifully animated adaptation of Ruth Stiles Gannett's 1948 children's book doesn't quite share the fable quality of their previous masterpieces. That's not to say that My Father's Dragon shouldn't be held in as high a regard, but I do feel it is a little lesser for it. After moving from the countryside to a big city thanks to some economic woes, young Elma struggles to acclimatise. His single mother promised a better life yet both of them struggle with the change. When he befriends a talking cat played by Whoopie Goldberg, he goes on an adventure to find a mythical dragon on a far-away island that can help him make money to buy a new shop. My Father's Dragon is more childlike than the company's previous movies, but it not childish. It still encapsulates some complex themes (how kindness can be forgotten in times of desperation) and grey characters (both the 'villains' and Elmer want the dragon for their own selfish needs). It came so close to entering my Top 10, but it goes against the masterpieces that are every other entry in Cartoon Saloon's back catalogue.

Looking like it could be a cheap and bland CGI Euro animation, The Sea Beast is anything but. Helmed by Chris Williams who has co-directed some of the best movies in Disney's Revival Era (Moana being the stand out), the visuals are well defined with memorable character and monster designs living in a beautifully realised nautical world. An orphan girl named Masie stows away on a monster hunting ship, the cocky lass bites off more than she can chew when the fearsome Red Bluster attacks. Masie and 1st mate Jacob (plated by Karl Urban) fall overboard marking a new relationship between them and through her optimistic lens, the sea beast itself. A surprisingly fun family adventure from Netflix.

Directed by Henry Selick of Nightmare Before Christmas fame, Wendell & Wild will surely share that film's reputation for being a spooky animated classic. After her parents die in a car accident, Kat grows up to become an angry teenager. Her delinquent behaviour leads her to the Break the Cycle Program that aims to rehabilitate wayward children at a harsh Catholic boarding school. It is here where two demons named Wendell & Wild recognise her as a hell maiden and promise to bring her parents back to life in exchange for assistance in creating their very own theme park. Their devilish father has other ideas. The two demons are entertainingly voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (who co-wrote the screenplay) in one of their increasingly rare by ever-welcome pair ups. They bring a bickering energy and humour to an otherwise darkly gothic tale of murder, revenge and evil corporate interests making it not entirely suitable for the youngest of children (it got a 12A rating in the UK). Another excellent stop-motion classic from Netflix who've really earned my subscription this year.

The Pale Blue Eye is the last film I saw for this list. I had missed its very limited theatrical run in December but since it came to Netflix on 6th January, it wasn't much of a wait. A world-weary detective investigates a slew of murders at an American army barracks during the Winter of 1830. He finds them uncooperative so enlists a member of their ranks to help. This is none other than a young Edgar Allen Poe, famed author and poet who would eventually write gothic stories including the first ever detective story with Murders in the Rue Morgue. While sumptuous to look at, The Pale Blue Eye is somewhat run-of-the-mill but it does support a good cast including Christian Bale, Toby Jones, Gillian Anderson and a great turn by former Harry Potter star Harry Melling as Poe (he was Dudley Dursley!).

Earlier in the year, another great-looking period mystery came to Netflix. Starring Florence Pugh, The Wonder casts her as Lib Wright, an English nurse hired to study a young Irish 'fasting girl' who apparently hasn't eaten in four months. Set not long after the Irish Famine ravished the country, the elders of this small town believe the girl to be a miracle, almost wishing for it to be so but the science-based Lib thinks otherwise. A small scale yet no less gripping mystery based on the novel by Emma Donoghue who wrote the post-kidnap drama (and my favourite film of 2015), Room. There are a few meta moments which play to the story's themes of artifice and attention which add a touch of theatricality that may put off some, but for me it doesn't sully the affecting story. Excellent.

Pearl / X

Ti West has long been a name I trust when it comes to independent horror. In the early 2010s he gave some great films including The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, but of late he has been relegated to the odd episode of TV. Released at the beginning of the year, X marked his return to the silver screen in 6 years and it is one doozy of a slasher. Set in the 70s, a group of young and attractive porn stars lodge at a remote Texan farm to shoot their new skin flick. When their elderly host witnesses them filming a scene, she become jealous of their youth, beauty and sexuality and kills them off one-by-one in increasingly inventive ways. It's another one of those films that cements Jenna Ortega as this generations Scream Queen but the real standout is Mia Goth as the final girl.

While on set, Goth and West got to talking about the twisted killer and what made her tick. They got so deep into it that they overstayed their production to hastily shoot a prequel called Pearl. Set in the 1910s and filmed like a classic Hollywood picture during its golden age, you wouldn't think of it as an afterthought to X as the two perfectly complement each other. If you are at all interested in horror, you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you don't watch both.


Scrooge: A Christmas Carol is a retelling of the 70s movie musical in animated form. Beyond a couple of songs (including the memorable Thank You Very Much), there is very little that connects the two productions other than the Dickens stuff of course. Considering how many versions of this story there are out there, this one seems very unnecessary and despite some nice visuals here and there, this production feels awfully bland and under-written. Watch the original live action musical or, better yet, hunt down the Muppets version. That one has much better songs and is far more entertaining.

Told from the point of view of the Ghost of Christmas Present, Spirited sure is a unique take on the story. Will Ferrel plays that ghost as he helps prepare for this year's Christmas haunt. On his radar is so-called 'unredeemable' Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds) who will tear anyone down to get ahead. What follows is a heart-warming comedy musical that's as spirited as the title suggests. It's not perfect, but it sure as heck put me in the Christmas spirit this year.


Long gone are the days when movies based on video games suck. Sure, they're still not great but they're putting enough talent behind them that it's not a surprise if someone out there thinks of them as such. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a fun time, perhaps representing the games far more than the first one, but it nevertheless a throwaway kids' flick. The Uncharted movie could have fared better, but despite some decent visuals and inventive set pieces, it's evident that the movie makers have little idea what made the game so special. Less like Indiana Jones, more 2000s Tomb Raider.


Before I saw it, I wrongly assumed Roar Ulthaug's Troll was a sequel of sorts to the found footage horror Troll Hunter from 2010. These Norwegian movies are nothing like each other. Being from the same director as the The Wave (excellent) and the Tomb Raider reboot (poor), Troll sits somewhere in between the two in terms of quality. One of the mythical creatures has awoken from his slumber and is intent on running rampage in the city of Oslo. An archaeologist and her crazy cryptozoologist father are recruited to help take that thing down. It's like a small-scale Godzilla with some neat surprises in there. A nice addition to the Netflix roster.


Nicholas Cage is in the middle of an interesting phase in his career. He's been taking on some very crazy B-movies that have only elevated him as the King of Schlock. In many respects, his out-there characters have overcome his own public persona and that's what The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent gamely plays with. Cage plays himself who is stuck in a rut so when a wealthy foreign tycoon offers him a lot of money to attend his birthday party, he begrudgingly accepts. What follows is a very funny buddy movie that involves violent drug lords, mushroom trips and a tearful viewing of Paddington 2. And this is one of his tamer movies of late! Brilliant.


Will all of that out of the way, let's end on a sour not - the worst pictures of the year. Here are the five I wish I'd never bothered with...


WORST 5 OF 2021


5

Paul Feig struggles once again with big-budget genre fare. After categorically misunderstanding Ghostbusters in 2016, I would've thought he would've returned to what he does best; full-on comedy with varying degrees of touching pathos (see his last movie, the criminally underrated Last Christmas for an example). A Netflix production, School of Good and Evil is firmly in the Young Adult genre. Part Harry Potter, part Twilight, all cliché normally found on the CW Network, the movie is filled with tired and overused tropes that even the movie makers appear to tire of. Charlize Theron and Kerry Washington do the best with what they've been given but even by the end their motives and characters shift to serve the plot. For teenagers and tweens who've already seen everything else only.

4

I'm getting really tired of the Disney Remake. Being something of a fan of Disney's creative output I am drawn to them but more often than not I'm left highly disappointed. The ones I like the most do something different with the source material; Maleficent's reframing of familial love by way of high fantasy, Cruella's take on professional jealousy by way of a heist movie, even the much maligned Dumbo attempts to say something beyond the simple story of the original. They tread a fine line of needing to be all new and entirely familiar all at once. Pinocchio is not quite a shot-for-shot remake, but what it adds and what it changes actively takes away from the core meaning of the infamous story. The wooden boy is not a naughtly little brat learning life lessons, but an innocent victim of circumstance without an ounce of agency. Out of all of the Disney classics, Pinocchio had the most room to do something new when you consider how much of the original stories were left out of the 1940 film. Instead we get a contemplation of horse poo, a flailing Lovecraftian monstro and a main character with zero personality.

3

I saw the Foo Fighter's student film in cinemas before tragedy struck the band later on in the year. In many ways, it's a shame that this is drummer Taylor Hawkins' final creative act but at least he seems to be having fun in some places. At other times he and the rest of the band feel like they've been held hostage by band leader Dave Grohl as he runs arounds like a child finally being allowed to play Horror Movie for a few weeks. The production looks cheap, the story amateur and the whole thing screams 'vanity project'. At least Grohl looks like he's having the time of his life.

2

Along with The Addams Family, the original run of The Munsters was constantly re-run on British TV and I loved it. So much so that I will forever mispronounce the word 'monster' for the rest of my life. I always though a live-action movie based on the show was a no-brainer especially after the success of their macabre rival in the early 90s. Rob Zombie took that idea to Netflix just in time for Halloween but by Dracula's coffin is it bad. As a $40 million production, it looks like a student film. The sets are staged and wobbly, the costumes picked right off the shelves of the local party shop but by far the worst is the story. It entirely revolves around the love story between Jeff Daniel Phillips' Herman and Sheri Moon Zombie's Lilly. Each do their best to provide a quirk to their characters but forget about chemistry. Then, at the end they move to California, quickly close a criminal subplot before introducing another conflict then ending on the worst cliff-hanger possible. It's the first act of a story, with the rest rushed in during the last 5 minutes. Other than The Count, no one else in the family appears making it feel less like an adaptation than a feature-length pilot for a TV show. I doubt it'll ever get picked up.

1

My least favourite film of the year failed at the box office not once, but twice thanks to a misunderstanding of social media and irony on the studio's part. As a member of Spider-Man's rogues gallery, I can imagine Morbius was green lit based upon the success of the Venom movies and the fact that Sony owns the character outright - no sharing with Marvel here! Michael Morbius, a terminally ill clever man played by Jared Leto cures himself by mixing his DNA with that of a bat turning him into a vampire of sorts. It cures him, simultaneously giving him super powers and a thirst for blood. Then, his friend Milo (an overacting Matt Smith) who suffers from the same illness unknowingly steels the "cure" and goes on a killing rampage framing his friend in the process. It's an unearned shift in a character's personality after a series of unearned plot points that result in an unearned murder mystery that's easily figured out leading to an unexciting fight scene at the climax. Insulting cinema.


Like this? Try These...

https://collectionchamber.blogspot.com/2023/01/top-10-games-of-2022.html  https://collectionchamber.blogspot.com/2022/01/top-10-movies-of-2021.html  https://collectionchamber.blogspot.com/2021/01/top-10-movies-of-2020.html


13 comments:

  1. Hey Biff, have you seen the Death of Dick Long? It's a solo Daniel Scheinert project and my opinion one of the best Coen-like movies of the past decade.

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    1. I haven't. I've seen the poster while randomly scrolling through movie sites, but didn't realise it was *that* Daniel that directed it. I'll definitely give it a go now that I know. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  2. An impressive review and a fun read! I think I saw a grand total of one of the entries on the main list and I didn't much care for it (I won't say which one!). I also saw the Batman and felt largely the same - it didn't quite hold my interest all the way through, although it was at least visually gorgeous.

    Seeing Glass Onion on the list, I wonder if you've seen The Last of Sheila? I figure there's a decent chance you have, but if not, I think it'd be well worth your time to track down.

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    1. I have. I hunted it down when Rian Johnson mentioned it in interviews. It is a great movie with a very similar premise to Glass Onion but very different vibes. Apparently inspired by Stephen Sondheim's star-studded game nights.

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  3. Avatar 2 not in the top 3?? Scandalous!

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  4. Michelle Yeoh - I love her :)
    I watch this movie "Everything Everywhere All At Once", in middle of the night in a small cinema in Warsaw, where was a two people in the room. The movie captivated me.

    Cheers Greg.

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    1. She's awesome. Really deserves all the accolades she's getting

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  5. I actually would've preferred Rob's usual brand of trashy serial killer shtick, but I'm obviously (and understandably) in the minority. "Lily, where's Grandpa?" "He's down in the dungeon... torturing census workers again." "Oh Grandpa!" Queue canned laughter. But that was never going to happen, just as Brian Warner was never going to be allowed to play Willy Wonka in Tim Burton's nauseating remake. Only in an alternate timeline.

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    1. Personally, I wouldn't go as far as that, but I believe the franchise can easy handle a lot more bite than what Zombie gave it. Can't see Brian Warner in much of anything tbh. As much as Burton's Wonka had issues, I don't think he would've improved anything.

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    2. I've yet to check out this new Munsters money laundering (?) venture. But having seen the trailer, it indeed looks unnecessarily milquetoast and surprisingly technically inept. No doubt his overlords wanted to keep him on a short leash, but did he also burn a few too many bridges over the years?

      Similarly, I've only ever seen clips of the Wonka reboot. Back when it was first announced, in tandem with the circulating rumor that Manson was being considered for the part, I was kind of hoping for something a little more akin to Batman Returns or Sleepy Hollow in presentation and tone. Oh, the naivety of my early 20s.

      (I realized shortly after posting that I should've typed the word "cue" instead. How embarrassing.)

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  6. I'm shocked that Biffman has seen nearly every film released in the UK in 2022, but apparently didn't see Bones & All ... MGM really fumbled the ball on their almost non-existent promotion for that film, which really should have been seen by more people given that it won two awards at Venice (Best Director and Best Young Actor).

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    1. Sometimes it's a matter of timing. It came out in November which was a busy time for me (plus I don't hink my local multiplex got it). I'll jump on it when it reaches streaming.

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