It’s Oscars weekend! Who’s jazzed up? (Also, are the hip kids still saying “jazzed up”? Or “hip kids”? Let me check my TikToks.) Anyway, I saw 50 movies in 2022, or 1 every 7.3 days. Exactly zero of those movies was in a theater; I think that’s a first. Lame. However, I’ve never been a big theater-goer; this reminds me of a story…(fadeout with flashback music)
When I was 17 years old, I had a hot night planned with a girl who for some strange reason was into me. (It might have been my devastating good looks.) After a week of what we used to call “dating,” I asked if she wanted to see a movie on a Friday. “Yes! What time are you picking me up?” she asked. “Um, I was wondering if you could swing by my house,” I said. Because I was the youngest of four kids and a few of my older siblings were living at home at the time, I rarely had access to either of the family sedans. “Ohhh-kayyy,” was her hesitant response. “How about dinner before?” she asked. “Sure!” I said; “I can’t afford to take you anywhere, so what is your mom making tonight?”
We started the night (after she picked me up and drove me back to her house) with a spaghetti dinner with her mom, dad, and little sister. And now I’m about to age myself: Off we went to see the new Tom Hanks movie, “The ‘Burbs” (1989). The trailer looked funny, and Hanks was in his wacky-comedic phase (closer to “Bosom Buddies” than to “Castaway”). If you don’t know “The ‘Burbs,” it’s a black comedy. Which is my least favorite kind of comedy. Usually it means there’s going to be death, gore, a mean-spirited tone, and a real lack of setting the romantic mood in a darkened theater, if you know what I mean.
I should mention that at that point in my life, I barely knew what I meant. I had hardly dated, and I spent most of the film in my own head, thinking about how our evening was going: Do I reach out for her hand? Put my arm around her? Get more popcorn? When does the kissing begin?!? Or do I just sit here like a mannequin? I went with that last option. Not to spoil the movie, but we left in a daze at what we had just seen. As we got into the car (“Shotgun!” I called out, to make her chauffeuring me seem a little cooler), she said, “Well, that was…something.” “Yeah,” I said. (Is this when the kissing begins?!?) She drove me home mostly in silence, except for the Milli Vanilli and Paula Abdul on the radio (this was 1989, remember). When she pulled into my driveway, it was only like 9:45 pm. “Well,” I said, “I guess this is it.” “I guess so,” she said, expectantly. (Oh crap, this is when the kissing begins!) So I went to lean over to her, got jerked back when I realized that my seatbelt was still on, undid my seatbelt, and finally got down to the smoochfest before saying goodbye. I’m sure you’re wondering, how great was the kiss? Do the words “like kissing your sister” mean anything to you? Let’s just say that I made such an impression on her that she dumped me by the time the next weekend rolled around.
Okay! Moving on! Now how about my list of the top films I saw in 2022? Keep in mind, these are the best movies I saw in the calendar year, not necessarily the best ones released last year.
1. “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” 2022 comedy/drama/sci-fi directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, starring Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, and James Hong. My teenage nephew told me he had seen this film twice and bawled both times, so I took that recommendation. It’s not for everyone; I know some people who though it too over-the-top or hard to follow or too clever for its own good. It hit me at the right time, and the portraits of parents and children struggling to connect with each other resonated with me.
2. “Don’t Look Up,” 2021 disaster comedy/drama directed by Adam McKay, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, and Timothee Chalamet. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I’ve seen my share of “this is how the world ends” films. This one, about two astronomers (Lawrence and DiCaprio) who become media celebs trying to alert the world to an impending meteor strike on Earth, deftly wove in our current climate of science vs. politics (the film’s title is from the politicians to who tell their followers to ignore the scientists). Thinking about the state of the world we’re leaving future generations, I can’t shake DiCaprio’s character’s line: “We really did have everything, didn’t we?”
3. “Life of Pi,” 2012 drama directed by Ang Lee, starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Gautam Belur, Tabu, and Vibish Sivakumar. How about some love to Lee, a director who went to the same university as me? Based on the heralded Yann Martel novel, this fantasy (or is it?) of Pi Patel’s travels after a shipwreck with a tiger make the viewer question what reality is, while also highlighting the resilience of people to overcome great tragedy with the stories we tell ourselves to keep ourselves moving forward in a cruel world.
4. “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” 2022 mystery directed by Rian Johnson, starring Daniel Craig, Janelle Monae, Edward Norton, Dave Bautista, Kate Hudson, Madelyn Cline, Leslie Odom Jr, Jessica Henwick, and Kathryn Hahn. Johnson is a master at weaving a tangled web and having one character (Craig’s Benoit Blanc) untangle it one step ahead of us. The elaborate plot all comes back around several times; worth a few viewings.
5. “The Last Blockbuster,” 2020 documentary directed by Taylor Morden. The title is self-explanatory: the last remaining Blockbuster video store (kids, ask your parents) stands in Bend, OR. This lighthearted film toggles between telling the story of that one store and how it has navigated a changing world and the backstory of what actually happened to put the Blockbuster corporation out of business (it wasn’t just Netflix and the rise of streaming).
6. “Look Both Ways,” 2022 romance/dramedy directed by Wanuri Kahiu, starring Lili Reinhart, Danny Ramirez, David Corenswet, and Aisha Dee. This “what if” story follows Natalie (Reinhart, of “Riverdale” fame), who, as she graduates from college, lives two parallel lives, one in which she gets pregnant and has to set aside her career dreams to raise her child, and one in which the pregnancy test reads negative. Very “Sliding Doors.”
7. “Long Story Short,” 2021 romantic comedy directed by Josh Lawson, starring Rafe Spall, Zahra Newman, Ronny Chieng, and Dena Kaplan. This film reminded me of another of my faves of the last few years, “About Time.” Teddy (Spall) has a spell cast on him as his wedding approaches that leads to him only living a few minutes each year for a decade, dropping in on his life and giving him a glimpse of what his future holds. My lovely wife Jen disliked it; I’d say it’s better on a second viewing, once you know where things are headed. (Hint: it’s a romantic comedy, not a black comedy.) One overarching theme in my life has been the shortness of life (Andrew Marvell wrote: “But at my back I always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” and that has haunted me since I read it as a teenager); this is a reminder of that.
8. “Jexi,” 2019 comedy directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, starring Adam Devine, the voice of Rose Byrne, Alexandra Shipp, Wanda Sykes, and Michael Pena. Devine has great comic timing (see my next pick as well) as Phil, a guy who is addicted to his phone. When he upgrades to a new phone with a talking virtual assistant (Byrne as Lexi), Lexi takes over his life. She stalks him through other devices, orders him healthier food, and generally follows the directive to improve his life how she sees fit. This is like a funny version of “Her,” the film where Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
9. “When We First Met,” 2018 romantic comedy directed by Ari Sandel, starring Adam Devine, Alexandria Daddario, Robbie Amell, King Bach, and Shelley Hennig. Bizarre that I liked yet another time-travel film because they are usually not up my alley. Noah (Devine) spends the night with the girl of his dreams (Daddario’s Avery), only to fall into the friend zone. When he accidentally travels back in time through a photo booth, he tries to change his future by altering the events of the night they spent together. Very much a “be careful what you wish for” story.
10. “Definition Please,” 2020 dramedy directed by Sujata Day, starring Sujata Day, Ritesh Rajan, Lalaine, Jake Choi, and Katrina Bowden. Day writes, directs, and stars in this story of Monica, a former national spelling bee champion whose life is a mess as she must reconnect with her estranged brother to care for her ailing mother. A touching look at mother/daughter and sister/brother bonds, and at the immigrant experience.
Movies that just missed the cut: “The Long Dumb Road,” “Spirited,” “The Lost City,” “Nobody,” “Boys State,” “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” “I Want You Back.”