Noteworthy Films from 2022, Thus Far

By Jason Osiason and Tyler Gibson

Welcome back! FantasticFilmFans.com took a brief hiatus after Sundance, but we’re back with more coverage for the Summer’s most exciting and specialty releases before we get into the thick of things with the Fall Film Festival Season. Not to discount the first half of the year, but our Editors would like to highlight some of the year’s most noteworthy thus far:

The Northman – The third film from Robert Eggers was highly anticipated and equally notorious for its wacky rollout. Focus Features opted to release it in March without a festival launch and multiple interviews from Eggers regarding post-production arguments went viral. The film itself maintains many of the young director’s sensibilities such as keen technical dedication with its multiple long-take sequences and unwavering period detail. The film goes heavy on brutal Viking lore but low on characterization and theme, resulting in a rather simple tale of the contradictions and futility of revenge. Nevertheless, the performers surrender themselves to the vision (especially Nicole Kidman who livens an otherwise sloppy, undeveloped role). B

Lightyear – With one tweet from Chris Evans regarding Buzz Lightyear’s origins in 2020, “Lightyear” had already dug its grave. It wasn’t so much the tweet; it was the sweaty desperation to justify such shameless IP exploitation from a studio otherwise known for effortless excellence and creativity in the near two years since Pixar came under fire for punting their three subsequent releases to streaming while withholding the needless action figure origin story for theaters. While the pandemic dictated the Disney+ release of “Soul,” the consensus was that by sacrificing and reducing original projects such as “Luca” and “Turning Red” to content, the studio is conditioning audiences to remain at home and shun theaters. “Lightyear” doesn’t so much as blast off into theaters as a welcome experience; it limps onto the screen. Worst of all, it doesn’t even attempt to combat the early scrutiny and stigma surrounding the enterprise. The script avoids any challenge, immune to narrative or furthering emotional risks, and instead remains slavish to a trite narrative without any tight economic storytelling. The overall world-building lacks imagination, the background characters are disappointingly devoid of wit and depth (especially Taika Waititi, who serves only as lowbrow comic relief), and Evans hardly makes an impression in the lead role, mostly. C

Top Gun Maverick – A testament to Tom Cruise and his legacy; a manifesto. An aging daredevil who constantly defied the odds reckons with his place in a constantly evolving world striving to move on from him. His character is constantly defined by much younger inferiors, perceiving him to be a fossil with nothing left to prove. Sounds familiar? The most compulsively digestible film Cruise has ever made complete with broad plotting, sentimental characterizations, and earnest humor all in service of eye-popping aerial footage. No wonder it’s been a hit. B+

Hustle – This is Adam Sandler’s Top Gun: Maverick. The signature Happy Madison logo remains, but after Uncut Gems, that studio is taking more ambitious genre risks like Hustle. Basketball as a subject matter means something deeply personal to Sandler. The results show that it seems to be his second love to comedy. It also advocates how a great and rising filmmaker can enrich seemingly familiar story material. It is incredibly understated yet fully packed with heart, visual delights, and refreshing lyrical energy. Sandler, most of all, is terrific as Philidelphia 76ers Basketball and Assistant Coach Stanley Sugarman that makes the impossible juggle between family and career. The characters and environment feel intimately raw that even the occasional narrative cliche doesn’t ring true. I appreciate the most neorealist approach to its ensemble casting using real basketball players as pivotal characters. You’d never guess some of these people have never acted before, including Bo, played by Juancho Hernangomez. Still, the stars we know on screen rise to the occasion, including Ben Foster, who makes a great asshole antagonist, Robert Duvall breaks hearts with a cameo, and a welcome return to movies from Queen Latifah as Sandler’s character’s wife, and the chemistry between her and Sandler as a couple surprisingly works and then some. You’ve never seen basketball games filmed on-screen so intimately, almost like we’re watching a Terrence Malick movie. It’s a beautiful and passionate film that endlessly soars, and one Adam Sandler should stand proud of. B+

Everything Everywhere All at Once – Starring Michelle Yeoh in a highly physical and awards-worthy performance, “Evelyn Wang,” a Chinese immigrant who owns a Laundrymate with her husband “Waymond Wang” played by Ke Huy Quan. The film itself is a sensationalist hodgepodge of defiance and rediscovering family. I found that Swiss Army Man ultimately fumbled in its pursuit of deeper meaning, but this is not the case here. It handles its wacky style gracefully despite being a generously moving agent of chaos. Deep underneath its singular stylistic approach and the Daniels’ brother’s signature absurdist-type humor are big, emotionally-packed themes on depression and the problematic relationships within families. The movie is remarkable, challenging, wise, entertaining, and true to life in its infinite forms. B+

Men – Alex Garland is a filmmaker I am typically not very fond of because he tackles interesting concepts and symbolism but has never landed the ending and still precisely hasn’t. Still, the atmosphere this time is caught by the strong cinematography of Rob Hardy. Unsettling, yet gorgeously intimate and pertains to a creeping movement. The atmosphere and performances are so intense it’s easy to pass on how over the top Garland goes on symbolism this time to the point it will frustrate most audiences. His stance on toxic masculinity is undoubtedly told ambitiously with transcendental and religious allusions. The ending is perhaps too disconcerting and relies on shock value to justify the means, but Jessie Buckley is on her A-game throughout. She is a victim of not only spousal abuse but a victim of all men that surround her, which Garland showcases with an interesting visual motif using Rory Kinnear as multiple characters. I’ll watch your next one, Alex Garland, as you won me back over for the most part, but I think he’s in desperate need of a co-writer, but Men presents itself with a vision that makes it still a must-see. B

Crimes of the Future– David Cronenberg marked his return to bodyhorror with this ponderous Cannes premiere. Many suspicions and questions surrounded the film in terms of content while audiences braced for a grueling and twisted experience. What the Canadian maestro instead delivered was a cerebral and talky chamber-piece reminiscent of his early work as well as futuristic films such as “Existenz” with its metaphors for analogue and stilted, janky performances. Viggo Mortensen is at ease as a surrogate figure for Cronenberg, a soulful artist who fends off a specific, superficial view of his work, while Kristen Stewart unleashes her most unhinged and mannered performance as that very intense fanbase. The film is ripe in thematic content in regards to politicization of bodies while plot strands yank and jerk the narrative. The stark lighting and minimalist production design contribute to the brooding atmosphere. As expected, there’s moments of extreme, surgical violence yet what stands out remains the singular vision on display. B

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