Off the Page – Rebecca

The Gothic Romance has long been a popular genre in Western literature.  We often pass by the bookstands at our local stores and see these often laughable looking book covers of two impossibly beautiful characters embracing against a stormy skyline.  As omnipresent as these kinds of titillating novels may be in book stores across the world, they nevertheless have been instrumental in shaping literature as we know it.  The gothic fiction has it’s origins in early 19th century literature, which helped to cement the very Victorian era elements in so much of the novels we see today.  It was in this literary movement where authors like the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley flourished.  In their works, they used Gothic imagery (such as dark castles, forests, or hidden passages) to inject a bit of forbidden anger into their stories, which in it’s own way turned into subversive escape for female readers.  For the writers themselves, it was a way to break away from the standard male centered marriage stories that often defined Victorian literature at the time.  These kinds of novels helped to elevate the voices of women in literature, as gothic romance often were the only outlets that allowed women to voice outrage over violence committed against them by framing it within these darker themed stories.  These were stories by women and for women, but even beyond that connection, these kinds of novels would have a profound effect on the presentation of gothic themes overall in storytelling over the next century.  As the genre evolved into the 20th century, more authors found ways to adapt the genre to more modern readers, and in turn, refresh the Gothic genre with even more taboo elements in their stories.

One such author who modernized the Gothic romance for 20th century readers was Daphne Du Maurier.  Du Maurier was an English author who worked primarily within the genre, often taking the gothic elements to near supernatural levels in her writing.  She was greatly influenced by the Bronte sisters, as many literary scholars see parallels with her stories and those of the legendary writers like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.  She wrote almost continuously over a 40 year period, including novels, short stories and plays.  But it’s her earlier work in the 30’s and 40’s that she is most remembered for.  Novels like The Loving Spirit (1931), Jamaica Inn (1936) and My Cousin Rachel (1951) often involved young heroines who have their lives upended by tragedy, mystery and even a little bit of spectral haunting.  She was a master of creating a sense of dread throughout her novels, with the oppressive melancholy of the often gloomy English weather being a pervasive element.  A critique of many of her works was that she often made her stories too depressing, with her novels often denying the reader a happy ending.  But, even as her writing was frequently dreary and foreboding, she also remained a very popular author.  Critics didn’t warm up to her novels initially, but the average reader loved her subversive style and the way that she challenged their sensibilities.  Of all of her books, the one that undeniably remains her seminal work is the novel Rebecca (1938).  The novel was an immediate success upon publication, and naturally gained the immediate interest of Hollywood.  A movie adaptation was begun even as the first edition of Rebecca remained on book shelves, and it would begin an interesting story all of its own, as it would launch a whole new chapter in the career of one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers, which also led to a tumultuous behind the scenes clash in it’s own right.  The film adaptation of Rebecca also shows an interesting experiment in Hollywood could work around it’s limitations in order to do justice to a challenging source material.

“Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

The film rights to Rebecca were bought up immediately after publication by one of the biggest personalities in all of Hollywood; David O. Selznick.  The “take no prisoners” producer was already in the middle of his magnum opus film adaptation of Gone With the Wind (1939) when development began on Rebecca.  The latter may not have been as epic in scale as the former, but Selznick was still determined to turn Rebecca into his next big hit after Wind.  Being another sweeping romance that was a hit with readers, there was no doubt that Rebecca would be an ideal production for Selznick to take on, but it would require a different kind of filmmaker in order to get the more Gothic elements of Du Maurier’s story right.  That filmmaker would turn out to be a rising star out of the British film scene.  Alfred Hitchcock had been making a name for himself across the pond with critically acclaimed thrillers and mysteries such as The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), and The Lady Vanishes (1938).  And for years, Hollywood had been calling for him to cross over and bring his talents to Tinseltown.  But, given that many of the offers that came Hitchcock’s way were just standard Hollywood dramas, the more Gothic minded filmmaker often refused to make the transition.  But, once Selznick secured the rights to Rebecca, the offer could not be passed up.  For Hitchcock, Rebecca was exactly what he was looking for, with it’s taboo subject matter, Gothic setting and themes, and tension filled mystery.  He not only agreed to make the film, but Selznick also managed to talk him into a multi-film contract at his studio; a decision that Hitchcock later would regret.  But, there’s no denying that the marriage of Hitchcock’s direction and Du Maurier’s writing was perfect match.  Indeed, the finished film does display the standard Hitchcockian brilliance, though you can also sense the intrusive meddling hand of Selznick at play as well, and it lead to some interesting changes to the story in contrast to what appears in the book.

“Why don’t you go?  Why don’t leave Manderley?  He doesn’t need you.  He’s got his memories.”

Certainly one of the most important things that Hitchcock and Selznick needed to accomplish to do justice to the novel was the casting of the characters.  In particular, they needed to pick the right actress for the never-named protagonist.  One of the most interesting choices in Daphne Du Maurier’s novel was that she tells the whole story as a  first person testimonial from her female protagonist, and never once shares that character’s name.  The heroine, whose credited in the movies as just “I,” is meant to be the audience’s surrogate for this tale, and leaving her unnamed is an interesting bit of experimentation on the part of the author.  The film carries that over, but apart from opening narration, the character must be able to stand out without having an identifiable moniker.  For casting, the movie found it’s ideal heroine with Joan Fontaine.  The English actress, and sister of fellow Hollywood legend Olivia de Haviland, is a perfect embodiment of Du Maurier’s protagonist.  She is strong willed but also effectively haunted in her performance, able to make the character resonate within the movie.  She is also a perfect match for the brooding presence of Laurence Olivier as the dashing millionaire widower Maxim de Winter.  Olivier had already become a household name a year prior with his star making turn in the Hollywood adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1939), but Maxim’s tortured persona would be a big difference for the actor after the strong willed Heathcliff.  Olivier very much welcomed the role, seeing the hapless Maxim as a great contrast to his other noteworthy role, which showed Hollywood that he had more range, which would help the Shakespearean trained thespian break free from typecasting that so many actors would fall into during those studio system days.  For both Olivier and Fontaine, this was a good risk taking opportunity that helped to strengthen their opportunities as performers, rather than just as actors, something common in British cinema but not so much in Hollywood.

But what made it necessary to have someone like Hitchcock on board was for presenting a presence on screen for someone who is never actually seen; the titular woman.  Maxim de Winter and the protagonist waste no time falling in love and they marry before the first act is even over.  Where Du Maurier’s story really kicks into high gear is when Maxim brings his new bride home for the first time, to the mighty manor house known as Manderley.  The Manderley manor is a character within the novel and the film in it’s own right, an ominous Gothic mansion full of history that in time comes to overwhelm the new bride.  And in particular, the mansion bears the omnipresent memory of Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca.  While there is no actual ghostly presence described by Du Maurier within the story, the way she describes the cold, oppressive feeling of Manderley often gives the reader a feeling of the place being haunted.  Hitchcock perfectly captures this as well in his direction.  Drawing upon his history of making tension filled thrillers back in England, Hitchcock gives Manderley this foreboding feeling, using the contrast of light and shadows to great effect.  Working with a Hollywood sized budget, he even gets to work on a scale he hadn’t been able to have before.  The actual Manderley house in the film doesn’t exist, and was created through highly detailed models, which was necessary given how the needed to have the mansion destroyed by the end of the movie.  But the sets themselves also go far in helping to accentuate the ghostly feel of the setting.  The great halls have this domineering castle like feel to them, but when you see the bedroom that once belonged to Rebecca, it’s ethereal like with it’s billowy see-thru silk drapes.  It all helps to reinforce the idea from Du Maurier’s novel that even though Rebecca is dead and gone, her presence still dominates the house that Maxim’s new bride must now live in.

“I watched you go down, just as I watched her a year ago.  Even in the same dress you couldn’t compare.”

One of the other things that Hitchcock also perfectly translated from the novel, and perhaps even improved upon, is the character of Manderley’s domineering housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers.  Mrs. Danvers is one of the most memorable villainesses in 20th century literature, and she seems to have been a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock’s too.  Played magnificently in the film by Australian actress Judith Anderson, Mrs. Danvers is the figure in the story that most actively allows the memory of Rebecca to endure.  Her intent from day one is to make the new “Mrs. de Winter” felt like an intruder into Manderley, but she does so with carefully applied gaslighting under the guise of being a good caretaker.  She reinforces in the mind of the protagonist that Rebecca is and will forever be the love of Maxim’s life, and that the best course of action for her is to leave Maxim and break his heart or take herself out entirely.  It’s through the character of Mrs. Danvers that both the book and the movie approach it’s most taboo and challenging subject matter.  Many scholars have theorized that Mrs. Danvers devotion to the memory of Rebecca has more to do than with just what’s on the surface.  Though it was has never been substantiated, it was thought that Daphne Du Maurier was bisexual, and had same-sex love affairs in her past.  If true, it might have been something that informed her writing with regard to Mrs. Danvers’ motivations in the story.  A same sex attraction, and even a hidden love affair, is hinted at very much between her and Rebecca in the story, and it carries over into the jealousy that she holds for the protagonist.  In some ways, the gaslighting done towards the protagonist carry a little bit of grooming as well, which for a story like this was very taboo for it’s time.  Naturally, Hitchcock had to tread lightly with this subject matter, as censors would not allow for any hint of same sex relationships mentioned in any movie at the time.  Of course, for a filmmaker like Hitchcock, and even Selznick to some extant, boundaries are there to be tested, and they certainly took it as far as it could go.

The movie does stick pretty close to the novel, until it does clash with the Production Code standards that all of Hollywood had to stand by.  The code forbade any explicitly sexual material, even in innuendos, and made especially strict guidelines in how acts of violence should be depicted in movies.  Apart from censoring the implications of queer subtext with some of the characters, the movie also had to gloss over the moral shades of gray when it comes to the characters.  In the novel (spoilers), we learn that Maxim’s haunted demeanor over the thought of Rebecca is not because he loved and misses her, as the protagonist suspects, but because he in reality hated her and was responsible for her death.  In the book, Maxim confesses to shooting Rebecca in a secluded fishing cabin by the beach and throwing her body out into the sea afterwards.  The Production Code wouldn’t allow for film to have it’s male lead responsible for killing his wife in cold blood, so in the movie, the death was changed into an accidental death, with Rebecca implied to have smashed her head open on the exposed end of an anchor during a physical fight with Maxim.  Both incidents do push Maxim towards his guilty conscience, but the movie version definitely makes the moment feel more sanitized and ludicrously convenient.  We of course learn in both cases that Rebecca was already dying from a terminal illness, and she coaxed Maxim into killing her as part of her death wish, but the moment feels much darker in the original book.  Du Maurier’s penchant for tragic endings also gets changed in the movie as well.  Manderley is set ablaze by Mrs. Danvers, but the novel treats it as shocking final act that ruins the lives of all.  In the movie, both Maxim and the protagonist live, but Mrs. Danvers receives her comeuppance in the inferno; a victim of her own obsession.  To Hitchcock’s credit, he makes this tacked on ending memorable in it’s staging, with a haunting final look on Judith Anderson’s Danvers face as the inflamed ceiling of Manderley comes crashing down on top of her.  But, the more bitter finale of Du Maurier’s novel does a lot more towards creating a haunting final note to leave the story on.

“It wouldn’t make for sanity, would it, living with the devil.”

The confluence of Du Maurier’s writing, Hitchcock’s direction, and Selznick’s showmanship led to a brilliant cinematic adaptation of this classic novel, even in a compromised state.  The gamble definitely paid off, but unfortunately it was David O. Selznick that took all the glory.  Rebecca would go on to win the coveted Best Picture award at the Oscars that year, the only film of Hitchcock’s to ever achieve that honor, though he himself never received the award for Best Director throughout his career, despite frequent nominations.  Sadly, because of the success of Rebecca, Hitchcock was further locked into his contract with Selznick, leading to a contentious decade ahead where both director and producer clashed frequently.  The upside, however, is that it firmly established Hitchcock as a force in Hollywood, where he would go on to create some of the greatest movies of all time like Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and of course Psycho (1960).  Hitchcock would even revisit the writings of Daphne Du Maurier again when he adapted one of her more supernatural short stories into a classic thriller known as The Birds (1963).  Unfortunately due to his contentious working experience with the domineering Selznick, he would later dismiss Rebecca as one of his lesser works towards the end of his career.  Du Maurier didn’t feel the same way, and over time she celebrated Hitchcock’s adaptation as one of her favorite adaptations of her novels, even with all the alterations.  To this day, Rebecca the novel and the movie still represents one of the best examples of Gothic romance from the 20th century.  The atmosphere, tone, and risk-taking elements all work together to make it a story that has stood the test of time and can still leave it’s audience captivated.  As a piece of woman’s literature, it’s also ahead of it’s time, and it’s interesting how this story is driven first and foremost by the women within it.  The protagonist doesn’t have a name, and the woman whose name makes up the title is only mentioned in the past tense, and yet, they drive the narrative more than the male characters, who this time are cast as the passive players in this story.  A full 80 years after it’s original publication, Daphne Du Maurier’s novel and the Hitchcock film it inspired are still feminist narratives that feel as relevant today as they ever have been.

“Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?”

Hollow Gold – The Decline of the Golden Globes and When Awards Lose Their Value

In case you didn’t know, the Golden Globes were handed out last week.  It wouldn’t be your fault if this event had passed you by without notice.  The Golden Globes, to put it bluntly, has been going through an existential crisis lately; one in which may eventually lead to it’s complete and total demise.  At one point, the Golden Globes was seen as second to only the Oscars in importance within Hollywood.  It bridged both the theatrical and television side of the industry, and for a time gained a reputation for being the looser, more hip awards show in comparison to the stately Oscars.  But, that shine has diminished in the last decade.  Combined with a general decline overall with televised awards ceremonies and internal politics that have spilled over into public view, the Golden Globes are now seen by many to be irrelevant as a part of the Awards season.  Other awards, such as the Guild honors as well as the Critics Choice have become more reliable bellwethers for the Oscars in recent years, and the Globes track record for picking winners has grown ever more shoddy, mainly due to the untrustworthy way that winners and even nominees are selected.  And with the society of publishers and journalists that make up the voting body called the Hollywood Foreign Press becoming ever more scrutinized for their poor judgement and lack of reform, does Hollywood even need to acknowledge the Globes anymore.  In many ways, the Golden Globes are both an incredible Hollywood success story (managing to stay around for 80 years) and also a cautionary tale of the industry at it’s worst.  And the decline that it has seen recently begs another question as to what value should we culturally put into Awards ceremonies that are increasingly insular and out of step with the industry as a whole.

It helps to understand what the Golden Globes are and how they evolved over time in the history of Hollywood.  Founded in 1943, the Hollywood Foreign Press was a collection of Los Angeles based foreign journalists that were looking to bridge the gap between Hollywood and non-U.S. markets.  As a sign of their desire to court favor within Hollywood circles, they created the Globes as a special honor recognizing the yearly achievements within the industry.  It was risky, adding another Awards ceremony in the shadow of the firmly established Academy Awards, but the Golden Globes managed to succeed, with the first ceremony taking place in 1944.  One of the traditions that helped to distinguish the Globes apart from the Oscars was that it retained the banquet style of the presentation; something that the Oscars had once had, but eventually abandoned as they moved into bigger LA venues like the Shrine Auditorium and the Pantages Theater.  The Globes, on the other hand, has continually maintained their commitment to smaller ballroom settings, moving around to venues like the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Hollywood Roosevelt, and then eventually to the Beverly Hilton where it has remained a fixture since 1961.  In the 1950’s, the Globes expanded to include honors for achievements in television, and the ceremony has remained more or less unchanged since then.  Because of the banquet aspect of the ceremony, guests have indulged themselves with the offerings of alcoholic refreshments available, which has led to the Globes feeling much more like a free-wheeling party than most other Awards.  It wasn’t uncommon for winners to come up on stage after having a few and saying stuff in their acceptance speeches that they normally wouldn’t at any other awards show.  The sometimes bawdy nature and unpredictability of the Globes for a time helped them to look like the cooler Awards in comparison to the Oscars, although it could never quite break free from the latter’s shadow.  And as the years rolled along, the Globes began to experience it’s own internal drama that unfortunately turned ugly as the years rolled along.

One of the main problems people have with the Hollywood Foreign Press itself is that it is an increasingly insular voting body that up until recently hadn’t faced any accountability for it’s sometimes questionable practices.  As of today, the Hollywood Foreign Press is made up of only 105 members, and they are the sole voting block that picks the nominees and winners for the Globes.  Compare this with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the voting block behind the Oscars, which has a membership that numbers in the thousands.  With a small group of people voting on these awards, you can see how there can be the danger of manipulation from studio influence.  For many years, The Hollywood Foreign Press has been accused of taking bribes as a favor for awards recognition, whether or not the movies themselves were any good.  And there are plenty of instances in the past that have given fuel to those accusations.  One was the award given to Pia Zadora as “New Star of the Year,” in 1982.  It was revealed that Zadora’s multimillionaire husband had flown members of the HFPA to Vegas on an all expenses paid trip, and had set up private screenings at his mansion with lavish dinners, which made it appear that the members were being purposely wooed towards giving the award as a favor.  Similar accusations arose in 2011 when a Johnny Depp film called The Tourist received numerous nominations despite being a box office flop and was panned by critics.  It turns out that a movie studio this time (Sony) had also been wooing HFPA members with trips, and it was speculated that the movie only got nominated so that the stars Depp and Angelina Jolie would attend the awards that year.  Studio influence, to be honest, is nothing unusual in Awards season, as the Oscars themselves have seen incidents of questionable campaigning practices that cloud the eventual awards given.  But, the instances at the Globes have been so brazenly obvious, that it has given the HFPA the unfortunate reputation of being suck-ups to the stars and one of the least trustworthy in deciding the best achievements in entertainment in the course of a year just based on merit.

But there have been even far greater problems with the Golden Globes that have recently come to a head with a reckoning within the last couple of years.  The number of members in the Hollywood Foreign Press used to be even smaller than the 105 that make up it today.  And as many pointed out a year or two ago, that small voting body was noticeably lacking in diversity.  The foreign body that makes up the HFPA is mostly journalist from Europe, along with a couple from Latin America and Asia.  Until recently, not one black journalist was within the ranks of the organization.  In the wake of Black Lives Matter and the racial discussion that arose out of the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and many other incidents like his, the attention to the racial make-up of the HFPA began to gain focus and scrutiny.  People were rightly concerned that the lack of a black voice within the organization creates an unfair blind spot when it comes to movie and shows from black creatives.  It’s something that all the awards ceremonies have had issues with, but it seemed especially egregious that up until now, no one in the HFPA had been a person of color.  The recent growth of membership has thankfully added more diversity to the HFPA ranks, but for some it’s a remedy that still falls short of addressing racial attitudes within the HFPA as a whole.  The slow change at the HFPA came to a head in 2022, as major studios bowed out of the ceremony altogether, and celebrities joined the boycott as well, saying they would not attend the ceremony unless significant change was demonstrated.  This resulted in the ceremony being untelevised for only the second time in it’s history; the first being in 2008 because of the months long Writers Strike.  Strangely, the ceremony had managed to survive the Covid-19 pandemic, with a virtual presentation keeping it alive as presenters and winners remained at home, but only a year later the Golden Globes were facing the reality of annihilation if they did not make serious change quickly.

It’s hard to say if the Golden Globes has righted the ship in the year since the boycott.  They managed to get back on the air this year, with NBC carrying the broadcast (which normally gets passed along to each of the networks except ABC, which hosts the Oscars exclusively).  But this year’s Globes seemed oddly desperate on the part of the HFPA.  It seems like they are fully aware of their issues and that they need to appear contrite.  But, with this year’s host Jarrod Carmichael calling the HFPA out on their hypocrisy on the Globes stage itself in front of the Hollywood elite, it seems that the HFPA is trying to present the image of contrition while at the same time desperately trying to get things back to the way that it used to be.  But, the issues with the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Globes themselves extend far beyond just the reforms made within the past year.  There is a general lack of trust that exists now between the industry (particularly with talent) and the HFPA.  One of the biggest problems that the Globes has right now is that fewer people within the industry see any value in winning one now than they did years ago.  Case in point, to protest the lack of reform with the HFPA, actor Tom Cruise gave back the 3 Golden Globes that he has won over the years.  It’s not a good sign when one of the biggest names in Hollywood no longer values the award you gave to him and seems so willing to depart with all of them.  Obviously it’s a statement on Crusie’s part towards his disgust with the HFPA, but it’s also a reflection of the Globes diminished value.  It’s also not surprising that even with the Globes back on TV this year, there were quite a few no shows who were still boycotting the awards, and with good reason.  Oscar hopeful Brendan Fraser has an especially justifiable good reason to never attend the Globes ever again, as he has accused past HFPA president Philip Berk had sexually assaulted him at an awards luncheon in 2018.  It was an incident that led to Fraser’s years long exile from Hollywood which he has only just now returned from with his Awards contender The Whale (2022).  Fraser, despite a nomination, didn’t attend this year’s Globes, stating in an interview, “my mother didn’t raise me to be a hypocrite.”

Despite making a return to live broadcast, the Golden Globes still has to contend with another existential factor, in that all awards ceremonies are on the decline; even the prestigious Oscars.  People just aren’t that interested in the glitz and glamour of the Awards season like they have been in the past.  Awards shows have always been a bit of indulgent self congratulation on the part of Hollywood.  It’s a bunch of rich celebrities all dressing up fancy and handing each other gold statues; something that seems very much detached from the actual issues that society deals with today.  Overall, Hollywood rewarding itself is taking on a more trivial place in the minds of audiences around the world.  But, it’s actually always been trivial.  The Golden Globes and even the Oscars for that matter have never exactly reflected what ends up being considered the greatest movies and shows of all time.  Some of the best films recognized today never even got anywhere close to recognition from awards like the Globes.  So, why should we as an audience put any value into Awards shows?  Well, for many decades, apart from the movies themselves, the Awards ceremonies have managed to distinguish themselves as entertainment in their own right.  There was a time when the Oscars, and even the Golden Globes were appointment television, even in the same company as events like the Super Bowl.  And this was due to the fact that these shows knew back then how to grab the attention of the audience.  They were spontaneous and grandiose spectacles.  What unfortunately has happened is that the Awards ceremonies have tried to play it safe and conventional, which has made awards shows feel more like manufactured chores to get through rather than major events to be astounded by.

What the Awards shows need to do is to make the ceremonies feel as rewarding for those watching at home as it does for those watching live in room itself.  The shows have increasingly felt like ceremonies for elites rather than shows worth tuning in for, and it needs to strike that right balance between glitz and spectacle.  In this case, the Golden Globes has historically had an advantage.  It’s more spontaneous moments have been the highlights of Awards season throughout the years, with slightly intoxicated celebrities breaking loose a bit more than they would elsewhere.  But, there are cases when then anything goes approach can back fire.  You want your awards ceremony to be remembered for the people who won, and not for one celebrity smacking a presenter across the face on live TV like what the Oscars experienced last year.  In the end, the thing that people want to see is their favorite celebrities be rewarded for their achievements and given the chance to speak from the heart on stage.  The moment the names inside the envelopes are read to the acceptance speeches that are given are always the highlights of any awards show, especially if it’s a surprise.  Unfortunately, the producers of these awards try to micro-manage these moments too, by playing the person off with music to cut their speech short.  And when audiences recognize they are watching something that is trying way to hard to be pleasing to everyone, they begin to grow less interested, because of the artificiality of it all.  For the Golden Globes, they are facing these kinds of headwinds within the industry as well as renewed competition.  When the Globes were off the air last year, the Critics Choice awards took it’s time slot and increased it’s own televised audience, helping to make it’s own case for being the number 2 awards show of the season.

A lot of the woes facing the Golden Globes are certainly self-inflicted.  Years of shady practices and unlawful activity on the Hollywood Foreign Press’ part has justifiably made Hollywood lose trust in it.  And the unusual way it chooses it’s nominees and winners still leads to questionable choices as well.  The ceremony has split awards between Drama and Musical/Comedy for years in several categories, but when a film like Ridley Scott’s The Martian (2015) is nominated in the Musical/Comedy category, it definitely becomes a head scratcher.  But the problems it faces are also problems systemic with the industry as a whole.  Awards only have value if there is an understanding across the industry and among the general audience that the certain award is worth winning, and the Globes are beginning to falter in justifying it’s value these days.  It’s always played second fiddle to the Oscars, but the gap between them seems even more pronounced now.  The Oscars has the benefit of being the original industry award, and the one that stands as the gold standard nearly a century later.  We aren’t at the point where even the most passionate industry insider will give back their Academy Award in protest.  Some have refused Oscars (George C. Scott and Marlon Brando) but no one has actually picked up their statue and then returned it after a dispute with the Academy.  And yet now, we are at the point where celebrities have no qualms about returning their Golden Globe.  The Globes may have meant something in the past, and the ceremonies at one point were must see events on television, but those days may be coming to an end faster than the HFPA would like.  Can they turn things around, or is the end inevitable?  Somehow they have survived for 80 years, despite all the scandals, two cancelled ceremonies due to a strike and a boycott, and a pandemic.  They have been under-estimated before, but with an industry becoming far less trusting in a historically corrupt organization like the HFPA, it might be time to let the Globes sunset and fall out of the orbit of Hollywood’s increasingly competitive Awards season.

Crossing the Penciled Line – Why Live Action Remakes of Animation Lead to Bad Results

There seems to be a clash in entertainment when it comes to classifying what an animated film is.  Many people consider animation a genre onto it’s own, which when you look at all the animated films that have been made, seems like a very reductive classification.  Like film director Guillermo Del Toro, who himself has made an animated feature this last year, has recently said, “animation is a medium; not a genre.”  And that’s true, because there are so many examples of other genres like science fiction, fantasy, and horror that have been represented in the form of animation.  Animation is no more different than any other tool of storylelling that has been used in cinema, and yet the animation medium has long had to shake off the unfair distinction that it is just “kids stuff.”  True, the biggest names in animation (namely Disney, Warner Brothers, Dreamworks) have made movies that can be watched by the youngest of audiences, but the same studios will tell you that they don’t make their movies solely for kids.  Walt Disney himself scoffed at the idea that he made cartoons solely for children, saying that his movies were both “for the young, and the young at heart.”  The snobbish attitude towards animation has changed over the years, and you will find that today some of the most ardent fans of animated films are not so much kids but rather adults.  Sure children will still get a lot out of animation, but there is an ever growing market out there for grown up animation fans, who are far more likely to indulge in the lucrative collectible merchandise market.  What has definitely emerged out of this growing fan base of animation aficionados is an awareness from Hollywood that animation is one of the most valuable mediums within the whole industry.  Unfortunately, the industry can also take the wrong lesson from this and fall into bad judgments about how to exploit success without addressing the pre-conceived biases.

One problem that Hollywood still has within it’s perception of animation’s value is that it still places a superiority onto live action filmmaking that unfortunately perpetuates the idea that animation is less than in the business.  This is certainly reflected in the way that Hollywood honors animation in their awards season.  To this day, only 3 animated films have been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  And to make the struggle for the honor even harder, there is a separate category just for Animated Features, which in a way sequesters animated films from ever getting traction in the race over the live action films; much in the same way that Foreign Language films had to struggle to break out of their own category before Parasite (2019) finally broke through the glass ceiling.  But, Hollywood cannot deny that Animated films are among the most lucrative in the industry.  Studios often are helped by their animation wings to bring them within the black thanks to the broad audience support from all ages that consistently show up.  Pixar, Dreamworks, and Illumination for the better part of the last decade have accounted for billions of dollars of profits for their respective studios alone, and that’s just based on the box office.  Merchandise is a whole other industry that can benefit the movie studios that makes these movies.  And yet, there is this belief in the industry that for the stories told in these films to truly be considered worthy in Hollywood, they must be as close to live action as possible in terms of how close they adhere to reality.  There’s this tendency in animation studios to try to reign in their styles in order to be taken more seriously by the industry, or to forego more entertaining characterization in favor of ones that could be more closely connected with a familiar name.  But, Hollywood even goes a step further by taking a hit animated film and reworking it completely so that it can become a live action film.

Now animation to live action remakes is not an impossible venture to undertake.  In some ways it can be done, but more as a demonstration in how different mediums can be used to tell the same story.  Disney for instance has made movies based on fairy tales, mainly because they are public domain so it’s easy to adapt, and secondly because they are already familiar stories that people know going in.  All they have to do is offer their own spin on the story and make it entertaining.  When a movie from the same studio, like Disney, adapts the same story for a different medium, they can have a bit more free reign to adapt the story differently.  This is certainly what Disney did with what can be considered their first live action remake; 101 Dalmatians (1996).  The live action version tells the same story, but does so in a different way that works within the limitations of live action filmmaking.  Unlike the animated film, the dogs and animals never speak, and the focus is shifted more to the human characters and their story; particularly when it comes to the villainess, Cruella De Vil, played memorably by an over-the-top Glen Close.  Sure for many the live action remake doesn’t replace the original animated film, but the “remake” did enough to have it feel like it’s own movie, divorced from it’s animated origins.  And that’s because the filmmakers never intended to replace the original, but to merely offer up a different take on the same story, one that uses it’s medium just as well as the animated medium uses it’s own.  But, one thing that did result from that experiment was big box office for Disney.  The results were so good that the studio began to examine other titles within their library that could potentially be given the live action treatment.  Initially, the plan was to update classic stories with more contemporary approaches, utilizing the kinds of cinematic advancements that could allow live action movies to do things that only animation could pull off before.  As animation itself began to wane in the post Renaissance years at Disney during the 2000’s, live action began to seem like a more worthwhile investment for the studio.  Less time consuming and often easier to alter mid-stream, live action was viewed as a safer bet.  And thus began a decade of ever more pervasive animated remakes.

What was troubling about the glut of animation to live action remakes that pervaded the 2010’s was that they became increasingly meaningless over time.  Unlike the 1996 101 Dalmatians, the more recent Disney remakes seem very reluctant to head off script.  They are sometimes nearly shot for shot reproductions, but the results don’t work as well.  How can that be?  I think what it comes down to is that Disney seems to be under the suspicion that if they stray away too much from their formula, it will turn away audiences, but they don’t understand that by just repeating the same actions also exposes their lack of creativity in the same case.  They work their best when they are aware they are adapting a story rather than repeating a scene.  Of the remake era movies, the best ones are movies like Pete’s Dragon (2016) and Cinderella (2015), and that’s because those movies do enough differently that you don’t even think about the original movies that they are based on, offering up a better comparison.  By contrast, you cannot help but think of the animated versions when watching Beauty and the Beast (2017) and The Lion King (2019), because they are pretty much exactly the same, with only minor changes.  And the comparisons favor the live action versions very poorly.  To call 2019’s The Lion King a live action remake is actually false, because it’s an animated film still, but one that’s trying way to hard to make you think it’s live action.  Sadly, these movies did spectacularly well at the box office despite terrible reviews, and that only led to Disney feeling more emboldened to raiding their own library.  In the process, they look less like a company striving for artistic merit and more like one cashing in for a quick buck.  It’s however increasingly hard for Disney to continue to build off of this.  They only have a finite amount of movies to remake before they scrape the bottom of the barrel, and they aren’t making them any better.  Even classic era Disney is un-spared, as a Tim Burton directed remake of Dumbo (2019) and Robert Zemekis directed remake of Pinocchio (2022) have proved.  The charmlessness of the Pinocchio remake particularly highlights the needless exploiting of these classic titles that has been going on.

But, Disney is not alone in their misguided attempts to adapt animation into a live action medium.  There is another market of animation that has unfortunately succumbed to some terrible adaptations from Hollywood.  That market would be Anime, the animation style originated and popularized in nations like Japan and South Korea.  Japanese anime in particular has found a strong cult following here stateside, with rabid fandoms as strong as those found on the opposite side of the Pacific.  And Hollywood has take notice too.  Unfortunately, like with the success of Disney animation, the industry takes the wrong lessons, and mistakenly believe that what these anime properties need is a live action adaptation.  Thus far, most of the anime remakes fall way short of their original predecessors.  Some change so much that they are unrecognizable in comparison, like the failed Dragonball: Evolution (2009), or are so shot for shot faithful that they look like a cheapened rip off, like Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop series.  Netflix in particular has struck out multiple times in trying to make anime properties work in live action, including their Death Note (2017) remake.  And try as they might, Hollywood can’t seem to let go of making a live action Akira (1988), despite over 20 years of development with names like Leonardo DiCaprio and Taika Waititi attached to it at various times.  Like the Disney remakes, all of these remakes make the same mistake in thinking that the name recognition alone will carry the production through.  It doesn’t matter how glossy you’re film effects are or if you get a big name like Scarlett Johansson to play the lead part.  Nothing can replicate the work that went into crafting the same world by hand.  This is especially true with anime, because of the style of the animation, which utilizes limited frames per action.  The same action just doesn’t look the same when it’s done in the 24 frames per second that live action produces.  There is just something about animation that cannot translate perfectly into another medium, without that other medium also having to bend itself more towards animation.

Strangely enough, the reverse often has the opposite effect.  Animated renditions of live action worlds have sometimes turned out to be really interesting experiments.  This is especially true with anime projects that use big studio IP.  This was the case with The Animatrix (2002), a compilation of anime shorts that were loosely connected to the storyline and world of the Wachowski’s Matrix trilogy.  The result was a beautiful animated collection that some would argue were better as a whole than the live action sequels that they were meant to promote.  Hollywood still hasn’t overlooked the value of using an animated medium to find added avenues to cross promote their live action properties.  After the success of Tim Burton Batman movies, Warner Brothers launched an animated series that took it’s visual style cues from the Burton films, and the result is one of the most beloved animated shows of all time.  That animated series in fact was so popular that a character created just for it, Harley Quinn, has been spun off into many different mediums including comic books and live action movies, where she is played by Margot Robbie.  Star Wars also has managed to build it’s lore equally across both animation and live action, with The Clone Wars series being just as popular with fans as the movies are, and characters created in the Star Wars animated properties are also now finding themselves being worked into hit live action shows like The Mandalorian and Andor.  Essentially, that’s where the happy medium is found between live action and animation; when both are treated as valid entryways into a larger story, and can be connected together without losing connective tissue.

What Hollywood seems to think wrongly is that these are competing modes of storytelling, rather than different tools that can both be effective in carrying a narrative.  In some cases, a first impression is often to difficult to overcome with an adaptation, and that’s something that is true for both mediums.  I think a lot of studios can’t succeed at taking chances on stories like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and The Little Mermaid because Disney’s adaptations are so iconic.  Any studio is within their rights to make their own because of public domain laws, but they hesitate because of the unfair comparison they would face against the beloved classics from Disney.  But, the same also applies with stories that were perfectly captured in live action.  I have yet to see an animated film that succeeds at being as magical as MGM’s original The Wizard of OZ (1939), an example of a classic fairy tale that was definitively captured through live action.  Basically, it comes down to what you are able to bring to a story that gives your movie value, and the best ability to stand on it’s own.  This last year, we saw a perfect example of a live action remake failing to justify it’s existence, while a different re-telling of the same classic story succeeded, all at the same time.  Disney’s Pinocchio (2022) is a textbook example of little effort put into a remake, leaving the movie to feel like a blatant cash grab that’s supposed to capitalize on the good will built around the original film that it’s trying to emulate.  Audiences could see the shallowness of the film with little effort, and the movie was justifiably rejected by both critics and audiences alike.  Meanwhile, Guillermo Del Toro released his own animated Pinocchio.  Made using stop motion, the film distinguishes itself through an art style based around Del Toro’s own designs and with a decidedly darker tone that is closer to the original literary source than either of the Disney version.  While the 1940 Disney version is still arguably the best cinematic version of the story, Del Toro’s Pinocchio is vastly superior to the remake, because it does the crucial job of creating it’s own identity and justifying it’s existence. It’s the story we all know, but done in a way that we haven’t seen.  Ultimately, that’s what audiences want in the end, to have the familiar feel like something new again, and that’s something that both animation and live action can accomplish in their own way, without having to undermine the other.

There are indeed some things that animation can do better than live action, and vice versa.  Animation for instance has been better used to make a person appear like they are flying, like the original Disney Peter Pan (1953).  When you see Christopher Reeve fly as Superman or Robin Williams fly as Peter Pan in Hook (1991), you can still get a sense of the wire work.  On the other hand, animation is a medium that can’t quite convey the subtlety of stillness in a movie.  It’s a medium that is built around continuous movement, so it can’t quite pick up the same subtlety of an actors performance the same way a live action film can with a locked down, in focus camera close-up can.  Imagine if animation tried to replicate the jail cell interrogation scenes from The Silence of the Lambs (1991).  It could try, but the little details of Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Fosters facial expressions would be lost, as animators would try to add more movement to those facial expressions.  It’s just the different natures of how the mediums work, and they both have their strengths and limitations.  There are great subtle acting moments found in animation, as well as great cartoonish found in live action.  Performance is also different across the spectrum, even with the same actors.  A live action movie could not replicate what Robin Williams brought to the Genie in Aladdin (1992), but animation would also have a hard time replicating the physical comedic timing of his work in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).  So, I find it strange why Hollywood seems so insistent on trying to replicate animation into live action.  The critical failure and rejection from fans to everything from the Disney remakes to the anime adaptations should prove that.  Sure, you can make a quick buck on name recognition alone, but it’s a short term gain that does not have a long life span, and may in fact be doing damage to the brand overall.  Hollywood should recognize that these are both equal mediums and should both be used when it’s best in service of the story.  The current state of Star Wars is a prime example of how best to blend the two, with different mediums being used to tell different sides of a singular story.  For right now, it would be best for Hollywood to see that animation is not inferior to live action, but is in fact a valuable medium perfect for exploring stories of all kinds.  In the end, it’s the story that matters most, and more importantly, it’s got to be something that feels new and fresh.  Don’t try to reinvent the wheel when you have the ability to fly.

Top Ten Movies of 2022

With having come and gone, naturally we have to look back at the year that was when it came to the movies we watched.  Movie theaters in general saw improved business, but it still lagged behind pre-pandemic levels.  What is definitely surprising is that Hollywood toward the end of the year just seemed to abandon the fall season.  There were very few tentpoles released in the Fall, and awards fare didn’t seem to fill that gap like they had in years past.  If not for Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) and Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022), this would’ve been the worst Fall season since the start of the pandemic.  But, thankfully, the year 2022 did start off strong, with better than expected box office for Winter releases like Uncharted (2022) and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022), as well as a strong reboot for DC’s The Batman (2022).  But what really stunned people this year, and provided a good sign for the future of theatrical releases, were the strong word of mouth performances of many different sleeper hits throughout the year.  In the Spring, the A24 surrealist action flick Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2022) became the biggest all time grosser for the beloved indie lable and a must see in a quiet box office field.  Then in the summer, we saw the complete domination of Top Gun: Maverick (2022), a movie that makes Paramount Pictures seem very wise now for keeping it on the shelf for 2 years until movie theaters were back to normal business.  A sleeper hit even found it’s way into the very depressed Fall season, with the horror film Smile (2022) managing to stay atop the box office in a way that few horror movies do.  Overall, despite the studio’s hesitancy to recommit, there is plenty of evidence that the theatrical market is alive and well, but is in desperate need of more product.  But, to get a good perspective on the year of 2022, it’s time to take a look at the highs and lows of the year in cinema by listing my top 10 best and 5 worst movies of the year.

This last year, I managed to break the 100 films in a theater mark, a new personal best for me.  It was a lot of movies to go out to the cinemas for, and it doesn’t even include the ones I saw on streaming as well, which are also eligible for this list.  It was hard dwindling down my lists to the 10 you’ll see below.  Keep in mind, my list is only the films that I saw within the calendar year of 2022; anything new that I saw in the last week doesn’t count, but they could be eligible for next year’s list.  Before I delve into my top 10 favorite movies of 2022, let me list off a few that almost made my list and that I would recommend seeing: Armageddon Time, The Batman, Benedicton, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Bullet Train, Emily the Criminal, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio, The Inspection, The Menu, The Northman, Thirteen Lives, Triangle of Sadness, Top Gun: Maverick, and Turning Red, Violent Night and Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Now that we’ve narrowed things down, let’s take a look at my choices for the Top Ten Movies of 2022.



Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

It certainly seemed like a year to explore concepts of a multiverse on the big screen.  Marvel was taking their stab at it with their sequel Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), but in that film the most they explored within the multiverse was maybe three or four dimensions.  Another film, made on a fraction of the budget of Doctor Strange, on the other hand took the multiverse adventure concept and ran with it.  Coming from the same duo of oddball directors behind the film Swiss Army Man (2016), Everything, Everywhere, All at Once was absolutely a movie that lived up to it’s title.  It’s remarkable watching this movie and seeing how much the Daniels were able to milk this multiverse concept with an A24 budget and still make it feel huge and epic in the process.  It’s a movie where every kind of movie comes into play as well, with cinematic inspirations as varied as the movies of Wong Kar-Wai and Ratatouille (2007). The only reason I don’t have it higher is because at times the movie feels a little too much and nearly buckles from the relentless motion of it’s universe jumping.  But, what manages to hold this movie together are the performances from it’s cast.  In particular, this is movie has a career best turn from Michelle Yeoh, one of the greatest actresses of her generation who is now finally getting her due recognition because of this film.  She is also perfectly complimented in her role by a breakout return to film for Ke Huy Quan (Short Round from Temple of Doom as he was most well known for before this movie).  Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, and Jamie Lee Curtis also deliver exceptional work, especially in witnessing them play so many different versions of the same people across the multiverse.  Honestly, Marvel should take note from how this movie managed to make the multiverse work on screen as they build towards their Secret Wars endgame.  There really was no other film like this all year, and it’s great to see a film fit so much interdimensional mayhem into what is ultimately an intimate family drama at the end of the day.  Everything, Everywhere, All at Once manages to find the cosmic within the struggles of one family in a single day and it’s a spectacular ride along the way.



Directed by Jordan Peele

Top Gun: Maverick may have dominated the summer at the box office, and certainly it deserved all the success that it got.  But for me, this was the highlight of the Summer 2022 season for me.  Jordan Peele, in his third directorial effort, changed things up a bit and instead of digging into his horror bag of tricks like he used for the movies Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), this time he decided to test his skills at science fiction.  And the results are his most skillfully directed film yet.  Here, Peele goes more monster movie, and it felt like a nice return to the paranoia monster flicks of the 70’s and 80’s, like Jaws (1975) or The Blob (1988).  Of course there is always a subtext when it comes to Peele’s movies, and in this case it’s about the pursuit of fame that often puts people at risk to themselves and others.  There is a wonderful metaphor woven into the story, with the film cutting back to the past where a chimpanzee rampaged on the set of sitcom in the early 90’s.  In it, we see the folly of trying to control the un-controllable, and it contrasts perfectly with an extreme case involving this UFO terrorizing the characters in this film.  The UFO itself is one of the most original and terrifying movie monsters in recent memory, especially when it’s lurking silently in the shadows.  It also is a perfect examination of the fringes of the Hollywood dream machine; focusing on people chasing that elusive glory.  A disillusioned movie horse trainer, his out spoken hustler of a sister, a failed sitcom star still looking for that big showstopper, a grizzled cameraman seeking that one perfect shot, and a Fry’s Electronics security expert who’s just a little too nosey.  Peele manages to make all these characters shine as they try to survive the unknown terror in the skies.  This is also a big leap forward for Peele as a director, as Nope  really shows him going for grand spectacle for the first time.  It helps that he’s working here with Christopher Nolan’s frequent collaborator, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, because this movie looked spectacular on an IMAX screen.  Whatever Jordan Peele’s got next for us, my hope is that he continues to challenge himself with more variety of stories like this one, because it turns out he’s got the skills to tackle all kinds of different genres with his own unique style.



Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Everything you have heard about Brendan Fraser’s Oscar-worthy comeback role is true.  Fraser’s performance really goes beyond just the physical transformation from all the prosthetic applications to have him appear as a 600 pound man.  He creates a character that genuinely feels authentic and personable; giving depth and empathy to the character that doesn’t feel like awards bait at all.  His character, named Charlie, is a fascinating mix of contradictions; intelligent but also clueless about what’s best for himself, opinionated but also a bit of a sap, and also willing to see the best in people even while he is slowly destroying himself.  Fraser captures all of this with a great amount of subtlety, and quite literally disappears into the role.  The film may be polarizing to many; with some seeing the film as exploitive and depressing, and I totally understand that feeling.  This is not an easy movie to watch, as the movie doesn’t shy away from the more grotesque realities of Charlie’s state of life.  But, this has always been part of director’s Darren Aronofsky’s style.  Almost every movie he has made has put his audience at unease at some point.  From his debut with Pi (1998) to Requiem for a Dream (2000), to more recent movies like mother! (2016), he has pushed the boundaries of what audiences will accept before they are repulsed.  Even more conventional movies of his, like Black Swan (2010) and Noah (2014) had elements that shocked and bewildered audiences.  The Whale continues that tradition, but Aronofsky balances it with a tender sense of humanity involved, something he also excelled with in The Wrestler (2008).  Everyone will no doubt praise Brendan Fraser’s performance, as they should, but opinions on the movie will likely fall between the love and hate variety, and I found myself in the former.  This is perfect marriage of a great performance finding the right director and it resulted in a fascinating character study of a subject that cinema is often too afraid to depict on screen.



Directed by S. S. Rajamouli

There’s a phrase where sometimes for something to garner the right amount of attention, it has to be so good that it can’t be ignored.  For a long time the second biggest film industry in world was the one coming from the country of India, which over time earned it the nickname Bollywood.  Indian films were certainly successful in their part of the world, but too often they’ve been looked down on as a niche market here in America.  That was until this year when Bollywood hitmaker S.S. Rajamouli released his most ambitious film yet: RRR, which is short for Rise, Roar, Revolt.  RRR without a doubt is the most insane, grandiose, and earnest action film to have come across American cinemas in some time, and Hollywood would ignore it to it’s own peril.  The movie really does have everything; elaborate action sequences with insanely staged stunts, moments of high tension, romance, bromance, lions, tigers, bears, and a couple of spectacular song and dance routines to round it out.  It’s so much movie, thrown into a blender and tossed back out seeing what’s sticks with the audience.  And yet, even at 3 hours in length, there is not one frame of this movie that is wasted.  The movie definitely benefits from the infectious chemistry between it’s two main characters, Raju and Bheem (played by Ram Charan and NTR Jr. respectively), who pull off some of the most insane action moments you will ever see, including one moment where Bheem uses a motorcycle as a club to knock out British soldiers.  The movie remarkably is based on the lives of two real life freedom fighters from the Indian liberation movement, but the movie is not at all concerned with historical accuracy.  It’s like a Bollywood Braveheart (1995), except this one is aware of how historically inaccurate it is and doesn’t care.  In the end, it’s all about making a movie that is just fun to watch from beginning to end, taking no chances with subtlety, and just going with whatever feels awesome, no matter how ridiculous it may be.  Perhaps it’s time for Hollywood to look harder towards what they are brewing in Indian cinemas right now.  RRR is that breakout movie that has to be seen to be believed, and thankfully it’s a movie that earns every laugh, tear, and cheer along the way.



Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu

One of the big themes this year it seemed was film directors becoming introspective about their careers, their upbringings, and about the art of cinema itself.  This was definitely felt in Damien Chazelle’s look at Hollywood of the Silent Era in Babylon, which looked at cinema’s beginnings.  There were also films like Armageddon Time (2022) which weren’t about the movies per say, but did include autobiographical details based on the childhood of director James Gray, as well as another movie that I’ll get to later.  But perhaps the most unique of these movies about the movies this year was the one by two time Oscar winner Alejandro G. Inarritu.  Bardo finds the director taking a more Fellini-esque journey through several ideas and thoughts that no doubt have been on his mind.  The film flows through different states of reality and hyper-reality, with the director’s avatar, a Mexican documentarian named Silverio, moving dream like through different vignettes that contemplates on issues like artistic integrity, immigration, war, colonialism, being a seen an outsider in the country you live in and a sell out in the country you were born, and many more.  To some, the movie may come across and meandering and self-indulgent, but I found myself enjoying the journey that Inarritu took me on.  It’s weird in all the best ways, and features many of the director’s trademark cinematic tricks.  It’s very much a companion piece with his Oscar-winning Birdman (2014) which was one of my favorite movies of the last decade, though with far less of a direct line for his audience to follow.  There are some hauntingly beautiful moments in this movie, including the opening scene with a shadow cast against a desert landscape, as well as a spectacularly staged party scene in a Mexican night club.  He also does take the movie into some very personal areas that also take you by surprise, like an imagined conversation with his father where we see Silverio’s body reduced to that of a boy but his head still remaining the same in a strange but thought provoking image.  It’s definitely not a movie for everyone, and I seem to be one of it’s few champions, but Bardo was a cinematic journey that I could accept for all it’s eccentricities.



Directed by Martin McDonough

McDonough has been an accomplished writer and director both on screen and on the stage.  For most of his career, he has been one of the best scribes when it comes to capturing a very Irish sensibility in his stories and characters, at least on the stage.  His movies on the other hand have gone to places like Bruges, the outskirts of Hollywood, and the American Midwest with the small town of Ebbing, Missouri.  Now, with his fourth cinematic outing, he finally comes home on the big screen and focuses his sharp witted writing on the Isle of Ireland.  In particular, he tells the story of a friendship gone sour on the remote island of Inisherin.  The movie reunites McDonough with his two In Bruges (2008) leads, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, both of whom are excellent in this movie.  McDonough, in all his movies, has been exceptional in crafting darkly humorous situations with characters so colorfully absurd that you can’t help but be transfixed towards seeing just how far they’ll succumb to their own shortcomings.  There’s a great examination of how simple misunderstandings can snowball into far dire consequences, and it’s very entertaining to watch Farrell’s simple minded farmer slowly come to the realization that his unhealthy attachment to companionship may be a destructive force in the lives of those around him.  McDonough’s script is very well constructed, knowing when to use humor at the right times without breaking the dark tone of the movie.  The movie is also quite beautiful to look at, with McDonough giving the magnificent Irish countryside the pastoral splendor that it deserves.  And Farrell and Gleeson are an unforgettable pair that balance each other perfectly, with plenty of character subtleties coming from every line reading that they give.  It’s not easy to make an audience laugh one second and then make them horrified in the next, but The Banshees of Inisherin walks that tightrope with finesse, and it shows that Martin McDonough is probably one of the most accomplished and unique writers working today.  And here, we see him finally bringing that darkly comic Irish sensibility back to it’s roots in a very memorable way.



Directed by Todd Field

Todd Field is a filmmaker that certainly takes his time between movies.  It’s been 16 years since he last stepped behind the camera, with the drama Little Children (2006), but he has now finally returned with a new film that takes a look at the downfall of an individual in the world of music.  The movie is much more than an examination of cancel culture though.  It’s a truly immersive character study of a person who’s experiencing the collapse of her own reputation primarily through her eyes, with the downfall being surprisingly swift and thorough.  The movie also wisely doesn’t take a stance on whether the character of Lydia Tar is deserving of this quick dismantling of her life.  There are times when we sympathize with her in the way she is blindsided by the severity of the attacks on her and in her often cogent arguments in her defense, but then there are other times when we witness just how nasty a monster she can sometimes be to people, and we understand that she may be due for a comeuppance by the end.  Todd Field expertly guides us through the whole journey that we take with the character, delightfully peeling back every layer over the course of the movie’s 2 1/2 hours.  And to the movie’s credit, it knows when to take it’s time to build towards that catharsis.  At the center of the storm, of course, is a masterful performance from Cate Blanchett, here at the height of her powers.  She is fascinating to watch in this movie, perfectly constructing this larger than life character that has conquered the world of orchestral music at the very beginning, only to end up begging for any job she can get by the end.  Lydia Tar may be 2022’s most memorable character overall, and it will almost certainly earn Blanchett many more awards to put on her mantle.  Todd Field, who has also only directed three films total in his entire career, really establishes himself as a master filmmaker with Tar, and it makes you wonder why he doesn’t do this more often.  Hopefully, he won’t take so long to deliver his next film, because with the visually beautiful and superbly written treat he delivered this year, he has shown that his talent as a filmmaker has only improved over time.



Directed by Dean Fleischer Camp

It’s surprising that the best animated feature of the year didn’t come from any of the usual suspects like Disney, Pixar or Dreamworks.  Nor did it come from a very valiant effort by Guillermo Del Toro with his Pinocchio, which just barely missed my Top 10 this year.  No, the best animated movie of the year came from A24, making it’s first ever family film.  Make no mistake, this is still an A24 film, complete with it’s atypical premise and style that defies genre conventions.  This mockumentary style film uses stop-motion animation to tell the story of a andromorphic snail shell with a single eye and the titular red shoes.  It’s a very simply animated movie, with characters created from household objects that have gained sentience and live in the small corners of human homes.  Marcel is our subject and he is a delightful creation.  Voiced by SNL alum Jenny Slate, Marcel is soft-spoken but outgoing, and immediately endearing.  The movie does a fantastic job of constructing the world of this character, looking at a commonplace location like a suburban home through the eyes of a tiny creature, and giving a simple house the feeling of being this expansive world, much like what the Toy Story movies did.  And like a documentary, the movie gives the sense we are observing this world and this life without pandering to sentimentality.  The low-key animation has it’s own surprises too, especially in the subtle ways it presents personality through just a look or a movement from Marcel and his grandmother (voiced by Isabella Rossellini).  There are plenty of silly moments that generate a well-deserved laugh, like when Marcel has to deal with human scale things like phones, or taming his full sized pet dog.  The movie also genuinely knows when to elicit emotion in the right moments.  But, overall, it’s Marcel as a character that is going to win people over with this movie.  Based on YouTube shorts from 10 years ago, the movie managed to expand it’s world and concept to full length without ever sacrificing it’s charm and it comes down to the character at it’s center who remains an endearing guide through it all.  It’s great to see even small scale animated features like this manage to satisfy on so many levels, even with competition from the big studios who honestly had strong contenders this year too like with Turning Red and Puss in Boots 2.  Definitely step into the world of Marcel and see just how mighty this little guy can be on the big screen.



Directed by Edward Berger

This of course isn’t the first adaptation of this story.  The original novel by German novelist Erich Maria Remarque was picked up by Hollywood immediately after it’s publication in 1929, and was turned into a groundbreaking movie.  All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) was only the third film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and is widely considered to be the first truly great movie to take home that top honor.  Now, nearly a century later, another film adaptation of this classic piece of anti-war literature has been undertaken, but this time, it’s by the country of it’s origin; the nation that lost the war in the first place.  That kind of perspective brings a whole new dimension to the story and the result is one of the most harrowing war movies in recent memory.  This movie goes to even more brutal depths in depicting the horror that was the Great War, even more so than the recent acclaimed 1917 (2019).  What the movie really does well is put you right there on the battle field and gives you the sense of the unrelenting terror that each of these soldiers must of felt each and every day on the front lines of this costly war.  It also does a great job of establishing the inhumanity of war, and how it takes passionate young men and breaks them down into nothing.  A powerful early moment illustrates this perfectly, as bloody uniforms are pulled off the dead, then washed and mended, and handed off to the new batch of recruits who are oblivious that they are putting on recycled combat uniforms.  Apart from a small supporting role from Daniel Bruhl (who plays Baron Zemo in the Marvel Universe), the cast is filled with fresh faced newcomers, which adds to the everyman aspect of their character.  They perfectly convey the despair and desperation that must have come from being relentlessly shot at in that War.  This is, in my opinion, the best war movie since Saving Private Ryan (1998) and one of the most powerful anti-war movies I have ever seen.  Being a Netflix film, it’s unfortunate that too many people aren’t likely to see this on a big screen, but if it is available, I strongly recommend it.  Absolutely powerful cinema, and one of the most unforgettable movie experiences of the year.

And finally….



Directed by Steven Spielberg

You know, in the 20-plus years that I’ve been keeping track of what my favorite movie of the year has been, not once has Steven Spielberg ever made it to the top spot, until now.  It seems fitting that the movie that finally did it was the one where Spielberg tells his own life’s story.  The Fablemans is a movie about falling in love with the movies, and focusing that passion into a creative drive that leads to a career in filmmaking.  As someone who has tried my best to follow in those same footsteps, there is so much to like in this film.  But it’s not an indulgent movie either.  Sure Steven Spielberg is drawing inspiration from his own life, but the movie isn’t entirely about him either.  Telling the story of the Fableman family, a fictionalized version of Spielberg’s own, the movie is just as much about the mother and father as it is about Steven’s own stand-in.  While we see the blossoming of a young man finding his passion in making movies, we also see the dissolution of his parent’s marriage taking place, and how that has an effect on everyone.  Michelle Williams and Paul Dano perfectly encapsulate the opposing personalities of the two parents, with the mother being a free spirit creative and the father being a mild mannered but also naïve man of science and innovation.  Spielberg treats these depictions of his parents with great love and care, but isn’t afraid to depict the faults in their character that led to the ultimate break-up of their family.  Overall, Spielberg’s style ends up perfectly suiting his own life’s story, and it’s interesting how the Spielbergian trademarks play out in this very personal story.  The movie also features probably my favorite final scene of any movie in recent memory, which shows the Spielberg surrogate Sammy Fableman reaching the point of meeting one of his heroes.  With Spielberg delivering the expected deft direction, and an intelligent and heartfelt screenplay by Steven and his co-writer Tony Kushner, as well as great work by Spielberg mainstays like cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and the legendary composer John Williams, this was the best cinematic experience I had all year.  Turns out Spielberg at his most personal delivers Spielberg at his very best.

And now, let me quickly run down the 5 worst movies of the year.  There were some movies not found on this list that were objectively worse made, but these were the 5 movies that left me personally the least satisfied at the movies.  So, let’s take one last look before I can officially put these movies behind me.

5. JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION –  I should have known better than to put my hopes up with the return of the original stars from Jurassic Park (Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum) to this franchise.  All three are wasted, as more time is still given to the blander new characters from Jurassic World (2015) and it’s sequel Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018).  It’s just slightly better than Fallen Kingdom, but not by much, and it clearly shows that any creative momentum this franchise has had in the past has certainly become extinct like the dinosaurs.

4. BABYLON – Damien Chazelle’s new flick is one of the clearest examples of trying too hard that I’ve seen from a studio film chasing after Oscar gold.  This three hour behemoth is trying to wrap it’s arms around something in it’s depiction of Silent Era Hollywood, but in the end it just feels hollow.  The characters are never truly interesting, or really likable, and it seems at times like Chazelle is getting desperate by adding shock value to some of the more debaucherous moments.  The ending especially ticked me off, because it’s just blatantly stealing from the ending of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997), except they swapped out Doc Ock with Spider-Man.  If you want to see a better movie romanticizing a bygone era in Hollywood that also stars Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) instead.

3.  PINOCCHIO (2022) – Rest assured, this is not the vastly superior stop-motion film made by Guillermo Del Toro.  This is sadly yet another spot taken up by a Disney live action remake of one of the animated classics; something that has become all too common on these worst of the year lists.  Like most of the other Disney remakes of late, this one fails to make the fundamental case as to why it needs to exist in the first place.  It doesn’t improve on the original film at all and in fact is very insulting to the Disney classic as it shoehorns in contemporary jokes, like that awful Chris Pine pun, that betray the spirit of the story.  The usually reliable Tom Hanks seems pretty lost in his attempt to portray Geppetto, and this marks another career low point for director Robert Zemeckis.  The dismal reception this received, even in direct to streaming on Disney+, hopefully sends a message to the new Disney regime that we are growing tired of these pointless remakes.

2. THE GRAY MAN – The closest you’ll get to seeing actual money burn cinematically.  Since the Russo Brothers signed their exclusives deal with Netflix, they’ve brought some of their Marvel contacts over to start-up new action franchises on their own.  They made the action film Extraction (2020) with Chris Hemsworth, and the drama Cherry  (2021) with Tom Holland over at Apple.  This year, they got Netflix to spend a whopping $200 million for this, quite frankly, boring James Bond wannabe that didn’t even register in the top 5 most watched movie premieres on the streamer this year.  Marvel alum Chris Evans delivers a campy villainous turn, but that isn’t enough to make this movie even remotely close to entertaining.  It’s a pure paint by numbers spy flick, but with a colossal waste of money and talent behind it.

And the worst movie of 2022 is…

1. MOONFALL – No big shock, a Roland Emmerich movie made my bottom spot for the year.  Even by the already low standards of Roland Emmerich movies, this was a whole new level of stupid.  Some may argue it falls into the so bad it’s good category, but it was just bad all around for me.  The premise is absurd, with the title pretty much telling you all you need to know, and when you learn why the moon is falling, it makes the dumb idea even dumber.  Anyone with even a middle school level of understanding of how physics work will be pulling their hair out watching this movie.  How can the gravitational pull of the Moon lift giant chunks of the Earth itself up into the air, but not a car that’s driving across it?  Good actors like Patrick Wilson and Halle Berry are clearly just here to collect paychecks, and they’re giving nothing at all to work with.  If you keep falling for the same mistake of continuing to invest money into yet another Roland Emmerich action flick, you certainly deserve to live with the consequences of those actions.  This was supposedly the most expensive independently financed movie off all time, and to no ones surprise except maybe the clueless financiers, one of the biggest money losers of the year.  A definite low point for 2022.

So, there you have my choices for the best and worst of 2022.  There were definitely some bright spots, and I actually had a difficult time figuring out who would take that final 10 spot, as there was a lot of near misses this year.  Clearly the moment I walked out of the theater watching The Fablemans, I knew it was the movie to beat, and two months later, it still beat all challengers to stay #1.  There were definitely some surprises that I discovered as I was preparing this list.  Particularly with how well movies like RRR and Nope stuck with me all through the Summer and to the end of the year.  Same with Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, which was a Spring release.  It shows that not all the best movies of the year come out in the final 3 months of Awards season.  The best ones are the  movies that stick with you all the way to years end, no matter how much distance that is.  That’s always been my metric.  Some of my favorites here are probably on the worst list for others, like what I’ve seen in some cases with Bardo and The Whale.  That’s the great thing about seeing everyone’s list, because there are sometimes examples where a critic may be the sole champion for one particular movie that meant a lot to them, but for no one else.  After seeing over a hundred movies over the last year in the cinemas, as well as through streaming, I feel confident that I did my homework this year and had an extensive list of choices to definitely make an informed list of movies this year.  Hopefully those of you who have read this far will find this end of the year list helpful.  With all that, let’s hope for a good year ahead at the movies, and that next year’s list will be strong one as well.