Saturday, December 31, 2022

Jonathan Lack's Top 10 Films of 2022


Let’s try something different this year. 

This is, as it says on the tin, a Top 10 list. It includes 10 numbered items counting down from 10 to 1, and it is indeed about my favorite films of 2022. It’s not quite a Top 10 films list, since it includes 21 movies, some listed on their own, others grouped together thematically. As I surveyed everything I saw this year, I realized that while this was in many ways a great year for movies, it was also a deeply (and enjoyably!) weird one, and my experiences with cinema these past 12 months didn’t feel like they would fit neatly into the traditional Top 10 format. 

 

So I’ve blown things up a little this time out, as you shall see, arranging 21 films into 10.5 slots that combine to tell a story about which movies – and, perhaps even more importantly, which kinds of movies – meant most to me this year. I wrote my first year-end Top 10 list in 2006, a full 16 years ago now, and I’ve never really messed with the format much. After letting myself play with it here, I don’t know if I can go back the old, rigid format – this is some of the most fun I’ve ever had putting a list like this together. 

 

One way this year was odd is that many of the best movies to hit American shores in 2022 were international or festival holdovers from 2021, the date you’ll see attached to many of the films here if you look them up on IMDB or Letterboxd. My rules for Top 10 lists have always been simple: if it was commercially released for the first time in the United States in 2022, it’s eligible. Thus, if a film premiered in its home country in 2021, but didn't become commercially available in the US until 2022, then for my purposes, it's a 2022 film. Same for films that had festival debuts in 2021 (or earlier!) but didn't become commercially available in the US until 2022. So even if, in the history books, quite a few of these films will be listed as 2021, these are films that opened in theaters or debuted on streaming in the US this year. 

 

Without further ado, let’s get right down to it – we have a lot to get through, and I’m very excited about all of it. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

Review: Holy cow, "Avatar: The Way of Water" is actually really good


It’s hard to describe what, exactly, I was feeling walking into Avatar: The Way of Water. When we revisited the original film on The Weekly Stuff Podcast in September, I described my main takeaway as ‘a bad script brilliantly directed,’ putting a bit more emphasis on the ‘brilliantly directed’ part given how aesthetically bankrupt Hollywood blockbusters have for the most part become in the years since its release. The ‘bad script’ part absolutely shouldn’t be overlooked, of course; it’s a film with ludicrously thin characterizations, often laughably terrible dialogue, and a ‘white savior’ narrative so extreme and overbearing it makes past Hollywood ventures into this territory, like Dances With Wolves, look positively sober and progressive. But it’s a film that imagines and executes on a greater creative scale than virtually anything else the industry is capable of these days, and even though I’m sometimes on the less enthusiastic side when it comes to James Cameron – I think the original Terminator and Titanic are genuine masterpieces, but I’m less high on Aliens and Terminator 2 than most – I’m never going to deny that he’s one of the most formidably capable cinematic craftsman in the media’s history. There’s plenty of good raw material in that first Avatar to mine for a sequel, and especially with this second film heading to Pandora’s oceans – underwater-aficionado Cameron’s home turf – I was cautiously optimistic The Way of Water might be something special. 

In short: It absolutely is.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Review: "The Fabelmans" finds Spielberg the master and Spielberg the sentimentalist in a war for autobiographical supremacy

If they live long enough, many if not most great filmmakers wind up making a reflexive piece about their life and/or art: Fellini’s 8 ½ , Tarkovsky’s Mirror, Kurosawa’s Dreams, Malick’s The Tree of Life, Cuarón’s Roma, or (in a slightly more oblique way), Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises. That Steven Spielberg would eventually join these ranks was probably inevitable, but some directors are better equipped to do this than others. How the ‘creative autobio’ piece would work for this particular filmmaker was a genuinely open question for me going into The Fabelmans. 

Spielberg is unquestionably one of the greatest to ever sit in the director’s chair, and clearly one of the most preternaturally talented. The man speaks in film more fluently than most of us speak our native tongue. His skill for visual storytelling, across a wide array of genres, is second to none, and has not waned one iota with time. To see him reflect on a life in the pictures and where those talents and impulses come from, how he learned his craft and what role it played in his foundational memories of adolescence, would of course be welcome.  

 

But Spielberg is also a director who, over time, has developed a parallel streak as a cloying sentimentalist. I say this with love, as many who have made the same observation do. While his talents behind the camera have never wavered, they have sometimes been unfortunately tempered by an inability to land the punch, to go for the gut and push towards the deepest possible truth, instead of pulling at the heartstrings for a more surface-level catharsis. Where he could once end a movie with savage honesty – most obviously in Close Encounters of the First Kind – he gradually turned into the guy who’d ease up before making the follow-through, like in War of the Worlds when the son inexplicably survives, or let an otherwise note-perfect film like Lincoln continue five minutes past a hauntingly perfect, suggestive conclusion to rub our nose in the tragedy. For all the films he’s made that can comfortably be considered masterpieces, up to and including last year’s West Side Story, there’s also dreck like Hook or War Horse that are drowning in unearned sentimentality, cloying at the heart without a center of substance, Thomas Kincade paintings springing into motion and leaving a unpleasant aftertaste of false sweetener in the mouth. Would a lightly-veiled memoir film about his childhood bring out the best in Spielberg, or invite his worst impulses to run rampant? 

Saturday, November 12, 2022

If I Had a Sight and Sound Ballot – My Picks for the 10 (And 100) Greatest Films of All Time

 


Every ten years, the British film magazine Sight and Sound conducts a poll of prominent critics and academics to determine what are the ‘Greatest Films of All Time.’ It is the most notable and prestigious version of this list, the place where Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane cemented its reputation over the decades as the most commonly cited ‘greatest film,’ and where its dethroning by Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo in the 2012 edition became big news (that was a ridiculous result – Citizen Kane is emphatically the better movie). With ten years having passed since the last edition, we’re on the cusp of getting the 2022 version of the list, with results expected in late November. 

 

I haven’t been asked to participate this time – maybe in 2032, with this whole doctorate thing wrapped up, I’ll be in the running! – but I’ve always wanted to take a stab at the intellectual exercise of naming what I think are the ‘greatest films of all time.’ It’s a tough task – very different, I think, from saying what one’s ‘favorite’ films are. That’s relatively easy; everybody has favorite movies, and you only need to justify them by saying how they’ve spoken to you, personally. Identifying the greatest movies ever, in a critical and historical sense, is a different exercise altogether. I don’t think I would have felt remotely qualified to even attempt an answer until relatively recently; but having crossed into my 30s and nearing completion on my PhD in film studies, I think I can provide an answer with a reasonable degree of experience and authority, using the knowledge gathered from a decade as a film academic and two decades as a film critic to try putting my finger on what I would call the ‘best’ movies ever made.

Monday, October 31, 2022

The Weekly Stuff Podcast #450 – The HALLOWEEN Episode: Revisiting the Original John Carpenter Classic

It’s time for another episode of The Weekly Stuff Podcast with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman, a weekly audio show that explores the worlds of film, television, and video games. You can subscribe for free in Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

It’s a very special Halloween episode of The Weekly Stuff Podcast, as we’re here on this very spooky day for a deep-dive retrospective review of one of the greatest films ever made: HALLOWEEN, the original John Carpenter classic from 1978 that introduced the world to The Shape, to Jamie Lee Curtis, to one of the most iconic film music themes of all time, and to a hilariously unwieldy franchise that has only gotten stranger over time. But this original film stands very tall on its own as one of the greatest triumphs of American independent filmmaking, a note-perfect exercise in pacing, cinematography, editing, and every other fundamental that makes film great. It’s an absolute joy to talk about, but that’s not all we have on this episode! We also review the campaign for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II – Here We Go Again! in depth and talk a little about the multiplayer, before discussing some Doctor Who news and puzzling over what’s going on with Henry Cavill and The Witcher. 

 

Enjoy!

 

Time Chart:

Intro: 0:00:00 – 0:02:37

Modern Warfare II: 0:02:37 – 0:32:42

News: 0:32:42 – 1:03:43

Halloween: 1:03:43 – 3:09:39

 

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Follow Sean Chapman on Twitter!

 

The Weekly Stuff with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman is a weekly audio podcast, and if you subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts, episodes will be delivered automatically and for free as soon as they are released. Visit www.weeklystuffpodcast.com for a complete archive of streaming and downloadable episodes.  

Monday, October 24, 2022

Japanimation Station #10 – Fullmetal Alchemist Movie Round-up! The Sacred Star of Milos & Live-Action Trilogy

Welcome to Japanimation Station, an anime podcast brought to you by the folks at The Weekly Stuff Podcast. We are here to dive into the wide and wacky world of anime, and you can subscribe on all platforms at JapanimationStation.Com.

In our 1st-season finale, we conclude our series of Fullmetal Alchemist reviews by rounding up the remaining theatrical feature films. First, there’s 2011’s The Sacred Star of Milos, an animated spin-off of Brotherhood made by the same crew, but with entirely different creative leadership, leading to a radically different aesthetic and the best animation Fullmetal Alchemist has ever seen. It’s a bit narratively messy in integrating Hiromu Arakawa’s characters into an otherwise original and unrelated story, but it’s also an entertaining and memorably weird experience that’s an essential watch. The live-action Fullmetal Alchemist trilogy is entertaining in its own way, but far less essential. With three films – 2017’s Fullmetal Alchemist and this year’s The Revenge of Scar and The Final Alchemy, all streaming worldwide on Netflix – this series, directed by Fumihiko Sori and starring Ryosuke Yamada as Ed, is a surprisingly faithful recreation of the manga (maybe too much so at times). Bouncing between hilarious B-movie oddity, boring recitation of the original story, and a few genuinely affecting performances and scenes, these movies are uneven but extremely interesting, and more than worth taking the time to discuss here. 

 

Enjoy, and come back next year for Season 2 of Japanimation Station, where we will be reviewing Ufotable’s Type-Moon adaptations, including their Garden of Sinners and Fate/stay Night series! 

 

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The Weekly Stuff Podcast #449 – Fullmetal Alchemist Movie Round-up! Plus Modern Warfare II Campaign & Doctor Who Reaction

It’s time for another episode of The Weekly Stuff Podcast with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman, a weekly audio show that explores the worlds of film, television, and video games. You can subscribe for free in Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

After giving initial impressions of the campaign for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II – Here We Go Again! and Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, we give a live reaction to the latest regeneration on Doctor Who and discuss the series’ exciting future now that Chris Chibnall has returned to the chasm from whence he came. Then it’s time to finish our series of Fullmetal Alchemist reviews by rounding up the remaining theatrical feature films. First, there’s 2011’s The Sacred Star of Milos, an animated spin-off of Brotherhood made by the same crew, but with entirely different creative leadership, leading to a radically different aesthetic and the best animation Fullmetal Alchemist has ever seen. The live-action Fullmetal Alchemist trilogy consists of three films – 2017’s Fullmetal Alchemist and this year’s The Revenge of Scar and The Final Alchemy, all streaming worldwide on Netflix – that are a surprisingly faithful recreation of the manga (maybe too much so at times). Bouncing between hilarious B-movie oddity, boring recitation of the original story, and a few genuinely affecting performances and scenes, these movies are uneven but extremely interesting, and more than worth taking the time to discuss here. 

 

Enjoy!

 

Time Chart: 

Intro: 0:00:00 – 0:01:32

Modern Warfare II & Other Games: 0:01:32 – 0:24:18 

Doctor Who: 0:24:18 – 0:34:46 

Fullmetal Alchemist: 0:34:46 – 3:04:04 

 

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel!

 

Subscribe to Japanimation Station, our Anime Podcast!

 

Subscribe for free to 'The Weekly Stuff' in Apple Podcasts!

 

Follow Jonathan Lack on Twitter!

 

Follow Sean Chapman on Twitter!

 

The Weekly Stuff with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman is a weekly audio podcast, and if you subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts, episodes will be delivered automatically and for free as soon as they are released. Visit www.weeklystuffpodcast.com for a complete archive of streaming and downloadable episodes.