By Andrew Italia. Italia is a Quince Orchard High School graduate and MoCo resident. When he was in college at the University of Maryland, he was the movie critic for The Maryland Diamondback. During his time as the movie critic, he began making Oscar predictions for all 24 categories. His all-time record is 21 out of 24, but he usually falls in the 18-20 range. Below is his Top 12 movie list for 2022. For more movies on Twitter, see @Italia_budo
Mark Twain once mused that history might not repeat itself, but it sure did rhyme. In that spirit, we found ourselves sipping on gin and nostalgia last year, as what was once old was new again. The Terps brought back Juan and Gary for a celebration. Putin brought back the Cold War for an invasion. The Fresh Prince got in one little fight (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myjEoDypUD8), his mom got scared (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TG6r6H5iZM), and he had to move back to Bel Air (https://www.peacocktv.com/stream-tv/bel-air). McDonald’s Cheese Danish triumphantly returned after 40 years. Shackleton’s Endurance returned after 107. Johnny Depp performed again (on the witness stand), Mike Tyson fought again (on a JetBlue flight), and Bennifer got engaged again (in a bubble bath). Lizzo felt it was about damn time to play a 200-year-old flute once owned by James Madison (rap name “J Mads”).
Hollywood was also lost in an old school eudaimonia. Leatherface revved back up, Ghostface brandished another blade, and Nicolas Cage reholstered his twin gold Springfields. Modern entertainers as varied as Spielberg (The Fabelmans), Gray (Armageddon Time), Mendes (Empire of Light), and Wells (Aftersun) explored their pasts, while past entertainers starred in modern adaptations (Elvis, Blonde, I Wanna Dance with Somebody). Big budget fantasies went retro (Obi-Wan, House of the Dragon, Rings of Power), and retro murder mysteries went big budget (Death on the Nile, All the Old Knives, Glass Onion). Short Round returned. So did Ebenezer Scrooge. Ralphie told another Christmas Story. Another Father of the Bride walked his daughter down the aisle. A thirty-year old franchise about sixty five million year old creatures sang its swan song (Jurassic World: Dominion). So did Clerks. James Cameron sank yet another big ass boat.
So the more things change…well, you know the rest. Don’t believe me? Just ask Michael Keaton and Harrison Ford. They’ll be back as Batman and Indiana Jones this summer. Again.
12. The Northman: I’ve never taken hits of LSD upside down in a vat of Jell-O. I’ve never studied for a PhD in Norse literature. However, I imagine if I did both at once, it would feel a lot like this firecracker of a film. Just with shabbier cinematography. Watch it Now On: Amazon Prime Video If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: True Grit by Charles Portis (1952).
11. Barbarian: Things that unpleasantly surprised me last year: The disastrous unveiling of the Commanders franchise. The even more disastrous dry World Cup. CNN+’s entire lifespan (30 days). PM Truss’ entire tenure (just 19 more). Cowboy’s retirement from the UFC. Tom Brady’s return to the NFL. Kanye’s (…I’m sorry, “Ye’s”) remaining sanity fading with the dignity of a wet fart. Things that pleasantly surprised me last year: This nuclear hot take on horror in an AirBnB that zigged instead of zagged. Watch it Now On: HBO Max or Hulu If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: Creepers by David Morrell (2005).
10. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio: Last year we saw firsthand the foibles of flirting with falsehoods by a puppet out of his depth. No, not George Santos. Pinocchio. In an epoch where IP is king, our favorite not-a-real-boy was featured in not just one, but two movies. The first, by Disney, sees its titular hero literally examining a steaming pile of shit for a whole half minute (…long enough for Uncle Walt to barrel roll in his grave). This less scatological, but far superior, second engages in a visually intoxicating interrogation of faith, fascism, and finality. Watch it Now On: Netflix. If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1989).
9. Prey: Question: What do you send against a creature fearsome enough to have faced down two governors, Detective Murtaugh, and a mixed bag of mercenaries and aliens? Answer: A teen with a tomahawk. A warlike wrinkle on the coming-of-age trope, this white knuckled American Indian tale wins points both for its authenticity (it boasts a cast of native performers and a complete Comanche language track) and its return to genre roots (it emphasizes actual hunters over unabashed technology). When a no-shit Predator is gunning for your ass, you could do far worse. Watch it Now On: Hulu If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: There There by Tommy Orange (2019).
8. The Woman King: Back before Prince Will (no, the other one) was busy slapping the shit out of Chris Rock (yes, that one) in a tire fire of a show with lower ratings than Congress, the Oscars showcased epics with sweeping scopes and the gravity of 358 suns. Lawrence of Arabia. Braveheart. The Return of the King. So why in the Fig-Newton-eating-fuck did the Academy not honor last year’s most celebrated centerpiece of the canon, featuring the all-female Agojie fighting force who protected an 1820s West African kingdom? For the record, any one of them would’ve mopped the floor with Mel. Watch it Now On: Netflix If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae by Steven Pressfield (1998).
7. Everything Everywhere All at Once: Imagine a 2022 where Betty White didn’t miss a single centennial, Southwest Airlines didn’t lose a single bag, and House of the Dragon didn’t suffer a single time jump. Glimpsing glittering sliding door moments where a sumi gaeshi of life might have taken you down a different path used to be the exclusive provenance of your Doctor Stranges and George Baileys. However, this sizzling slice of epic bacon for the phenomenological soul throws an unlikely heroine into the suddenly prevalent multiverse. Namely a high-strung and hard-wired mom with BDE to spare whose tax returns are as squishy as her marriage. The madcap mayhem that ensues when she is forced to face the ‘what ifs’ of her suburban malaise make for virtuoso viewing. The kind with hot dogs for fingers. Watch it Now On: Paramount + If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013).
6. The Fabelmans: Abraham Lincoln, aka the GOAT (clad in goat slippers no less – https://www.gq.com/story/abraham-lincoln-incredible-slippers), began life with a bang in a comely Knob Creek cabin. Superman, aka the Man of Steel, stole his spurs by escaping Krypton before it went bang. Beyoncé, aka Queen B, cut her teeth by dropping bootylicious bangers with Destiny’s Child. Ever since Joseph Campbell sketched out his Heroes with a Thousand Faces, the seminal origin story has been a staple of our pop culture diet. So it’s only fitting that Steven Spielberg, more integral to ’80s pop culture than the Casio, finally told one of his own. Bringing his best buds John Williams and Tony Kushner with him into the room where it happens, he’s fashioned a robust and authentic auto-biopic about the chaotic childhood that fixed his aim on the horizon. That and John Ford. Watch it Now On: VOD If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016).
5. RRR: Decades into a drab diet of freeze dried, high fructose franchises framed in falsetto, an unorthodox hero opera amidst the revolutionary rumblings of 1920s India is an invigorating shot of straight Rye in an ice bath. And what heroes. Komaram and Rama, the champions of this epic song, fight with the ferocity of Bruce Lee’s storied one-inch punch (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXwOU5HzTZQ). They dance with the spryness of a Finnish Prime Minister running out of fucks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l21A3tS6_vs). They make a stand with the ironclad vigor of James Cromwell’s favorite glue (https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/james-cromwell-starbucks-glue-peta-vegan-milk-protest-1351346/). They are joined in this tangy Tollywood tour de force by man-eating tigers, soul crushing aristocrats, and showstopping sequences that could be the bastard love children of John Woo and Richard Attenborough. Just don’t look for them on any Happy Meal boxes. …yet. Watch it Now On: Netflix If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels by Jay Dobyns and Nils Johnson-Shelton (2010).
4. The Batman: Some people do it on their backs. Some do it on all fours. Some do it standing up. Theodore Roosevelt did it vigorously in the White House. Anthony Bourdain enjoyed a ciggie after doing it. I would do it every day of the week if I could. I’m talking about Jiu-Jitsu of course. The so-called gentle art, which US Navy SEAL turned guru Jocko Willink calls “the number one activity that I could recommend to someone to improve their lives,” is something everyone should do. But Robert Pattinson did it to be Batman (https://www.menshealth.com/entertainment/a29677156/robert-pattinson-brazilian-jiu-jitsu-training-batman/). The fruit of his labors, a pugilistic post-modern reimagining of the myth, proved a sturdy alloy of the 1930s noir, 1970s procedural, 1990s serial killer slasher, and a timely tale of political nihilism. So let’s hope he does it even more. Watch it Now On: HBO Max If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: Heavier than Heavenby Charles R. Cross (2001).
3. Avatar: The Way of Water: In the waning months of 2009, a forlorn Fox executive faced off against a director re: the 162 minute run time of his soon-to-be-released sci fi extravaganza about blue people. The director responded, “‘I think this movie is going to make all the fucking money’…and that’s exactly what I said, in caps, ALL THE MONEY, not some of the money, all the fucking money. I said, ‘You can’t come back to me and compliment the film or chum along and say, look what we did together.'” When the exec went HAM, the director closed: “I told him to get the fuck out of my office.” Who was the director, you ask? None other than JC himself. James Cameron, that is. A man who rises before dawn to kickbox and travels to the center of the Earth for kicks. A man whose films all start with a T or an A. A man who once sold Aliens by writing “Alien” on a chalkboard and then adding a $ to the end. A man whose movie about blue people did in fact make “all the fucking money.” A man who then released this sequel thirteen years later with effects right on the serrated edge. Spoiler alert: It made JC money again. And not just some of the money either… Watch it Now On: The Big Screen (the bigger the better…) If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (2011).
2. Tár: Mona Lisa had a rough year. Da Vinci’s dynamic darling took cake to the face (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/disguised-protester-smears-cake-on-the-mona-lisa-protective-glass-180980172/) and was incinerated in Rian Johnson’s barnburner Glass Onion. However, this saucy Janus could still stake a claim as the OG inkblot. Until now. Mona, meet Lydia. Lydia Tár is a world renowned Rorschach herself. An uber-maestro to rival Lenny Bernstein, EGOT winner, and boss lady, Tár is fashioned with the finesse of an old school Oyster Perpetual in stark and sanguine ambiguity. She selects her chic power suits with an eye for the granular. She snarls threats at a child in German with a tongue that is guttural. She slyly name drops the Shipibo-Conibo tribe with a panache that is guileless. By the end, she tumbles from Icarusian heights like my main MF Ernie Hemingway once described bankruptcy – “gradually, then suddenly.” Envisioned kinetically by Cate Blanchett in a Kafkaesque routine, Tár is perhaps the perfect nubile icon for our gilded age. Is she simply a misunderstood ‘nasty woman’ who has the temerity to wield power in a misogynist world? Or sociopathic red meat for cancel culture in a post-MeToo age? Maybe even a literal ghost (…just ask my other main MF PTA). Whatever she is, her story is as sumptuous, savory, and savage as cinematic fare gets these days. Just ask the Shipibo-Conibo. Watch it Now On: Peacock If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899).
1. Top Gun: Maverick: The most saccharine sequel of the year (if not the century) opens in an otherwise ho-hum office embalmed with GI flavored government bureaucratese and occupied by the flinty Admiral Cain (as in he who went full gangster on Abel…). Embodied by Ed Harris in textbook casting and saltier than a bag of Utz, Cain stares stormily at Captain Peter Mitchell – better known by his street moniker “Maverick.” Fresh from test piloting at Mach 10.2, our favorite IWC-favoring pilot survives a tongue lashing by Cain, the so-called “drone king.” Cain threatens Mav with the most existential of all threats to a middle ager – obsolescence. “The end is inevitable, Maverick. Your kind is headed for extinction.”
It would be hard to conceive of a scenario any more meta. Long awaited by rabid fans of the red, white, and blue blooded Reagan-era rice cooker, and originally set for release in a pre-Covid cinema, the box office prospects of this once surefire hit suddenly seemed suss. As streaming replaced cineplexes and Gen Z brahs gobbled tablet happy media, hope for a theater bound blockbuster making bank faced Rich Strike odds.
Who better to take them then Tom Cruise, the newly minted sexagenarian who prefers his stunts analog, his couches jumpable, and his standards golden (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/tom-cruise-threatens-to-fire-mission-impossible-crew-covid-safety-protocols/). Caught in a late age purgatory, our hero is ordered back to the US Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program – better known by its street moniker “Top Gun.” Mav must train a cadre of young aces for a top-secret mission (not involving spy balloons…they’re saving those for Part Three). In the process he must woo his old flame (remember Penny Benjamin, aka “the Admiral’s daughter”?), mentor his late friend’s son (remember Goose, aka “Dr. Greene with hair?”), and spit out stone cold koans made for Bruckheimer but strong enough for Musashi (“Don’t think. Just do.”) The resulting popcorn-heavy populist treat is an unadulterated exercise in cinematic excess, captured with real cameras in real jets flown by real Navy pilots. More iconoclastically, it frames Maverick as a ronin itching at his mortality and struggling through the darkest depths of regret to discover if he still has a place in an evolving world, akin to The Verdict‘s Newman or Unforgiven‘s Eastwood. By the time Lady Ga Ga’s sonorous chords crisp over the credits, our faith in a world badly shaken by pandemics, insurrections, inflation, and tribal discord seems illustriously restored.
So Maverick, astride his trusty Tomcat, makes the world safe for democracy again. His doppelganger Tom Cruise makes the world safe for big bollicksy Hollywood moviegoing again. Though how long can such an enterprise last? In a world of diverging narratives, divisive social media influencers, and devolving culture, isn’t such a breed of filmmaking marked for death? I quote Captain Mitchell’s response to Cain:
“Maybe so, sir. But not today.”
Well said, Mav.
Now go get those balloons.
Watch it Now On: Paramount +
If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer (1968).
The rest of the list…
13. Armageddon Time (Peacock)
14. The Banshees of Inisherin (HBO Max)
15. Babylon (Paramount +)
16. Nope (Peacock)
17. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Disney +)
18. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Netflix)
19. All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) (Netflix)
20. Kimi (HBO Max)
21. Hustle (Netflix)
22. The Menu (HBO Max)
23. Apollo 10½ (Netflix)
24. Ambulance (Amazon Prime Video)
25. Dog (Amazon Prime Video)
26. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (Hulu)
27. Emergency (Amazon Prime Video)
28. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (VOD)
29. She Said (Peacock)
30. Cha Cha Real Smooth (Apple TV+)
31. Werewolf by Night (Disney +)
32. Elvis (HBO Max)
33. The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (Disney +)
34. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Starz)
35. I Want You Back (Amazon Prime Video)
36. Confess, Fletch (Paramount +)
37. Spirited (Apple TV+)
38. Thirteen Lives (Amazon Prime Video)
39. Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers (Disney +)