Scotty Arnold's Picks for favorite films of 2022
“If you never go over the top, how will you know what’s on the other side?”
- Jim Steinman
At a time when we feel more divided than ever, each down our own rabbit hole that we’ve spent the last ten years building in collaboration with the tech gods, it’s rather surreal that we all went through the same truly bizarre past three years, and that we’re all the same amount of time out from what was so strange, and became so normal so quickly. I didn’t see the trend coming—didn't even notice it until I could stare at this year’s list: 2022 went big. Call it maximalist, call it “yes, and,” call it over the top if you have no sense of adventure, but these nine films are each bigger than they would have been last year. Maybe our imaginations were nourished in lockdown in ways that are just now showing up. Maybe we’re all really tired of the repetitive mundanity that life can serve. In many ways, 2022 was a frustrating continuation where we wanted a release, and maybe that release found its way to us through film. I’m grateful for these movies that shook me out of myself, dislodged me from some ruts, and inspired me to imagine to eleven. In alphabetical order, nine films that went big into my heart in 2022:
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle
There aren’t many moments in history as magical in the imagination of the average American as the golden age of Hollywood, and Damien Chazelle’s insistence on showing us the seedy underbelly that’s been cropped out of the photos in our minds manages to show the scene from a different angle without sullying the larger picture. Babylon is not a happy movie; its outlook is bleak. But even if happy endings are just in the movies, this is still a place and time where dreams came true fast and loose, and watching this buzzingly alive cast of characters climb their way to what they think they want is thrilling. The frenetic action gives way to some beautifully still set pieces as the film reaches and grabs toward its inevitable conclusion. Sure, you should be careful what you wish for, but gosh those dreams shine.
Written and directed by Zach Cregger
It’s very possible that you’ll start Barbarian and think it’s not for you. Friend, push through. Rich rewards await you on the other side of this twisty-turny film. The restless imagination of Zach Cregger has borne a dark and twisted tale as funny as it is scary, and it’s a joyride. Forgive my brevity on this entry, but Barbarian is hard to talk about with no spoilers – just something you have to see for yourself.
Screenplay by Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner; directed by Baz Luhrmann
Baz is back! Taking a figure that has long since turned into a lifeless caricature in the eyes of pop culture and breathing life back into him, not through subtlety but bombast, is quite a trick. Austin Butler's viscerally innocent performance looks all the better next to whatever the hell Tom Hanks is doing, but even an actor reaching for a role he was never meant to play can’t hold down this going-on-three-hours jolt of a film. With Butler’s heart to ground the film, Luhrman provides the grand scale with every aural and visual trick he knows. Each shot of this film is a work of pop art, bursting with color and movement and always in service of the larger-than-life story unfolding. Maybe the biggest compliment I can give is that the movie made me like Elvis, which I never saw coming.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
There are no Marvel or DC movies on my list this year. What once thrilled me has grown stale with overuse and over importance, moments and feelings trumping storytelling and ideas until I’m numb under the surface. But God bless superhero movies for lacing hay-filled ideas and vocabulary into the culture that the Daniels can spin into beautiful, absurdist, aching gold in Everything Everywhere All at Once. This wild ride rescues multiverses and action heroes from having to carry movies on their own and uses them in service of a much more human endeavor. The absurdity of this movie disarms, leaving the viewer to meet its big heart with defenses down.
GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY
Written and directed by Rian Johnson
Sometimes a genre pic comes along that makes you wonder why you haven’t devoted your life to that genre. Glass Onion makes the whodunit look so easy and fun that it seemed everyone I know went searching for more, more, more, but the futile attempt only makes this movie shine brighter. Debate prattles about which, between the initial and subsequent appearance of Benoit Blanc, is the superior film — I think it’s less about quality and more about which coast you identify with. Being a born-and-bred Californian, I like this one. The movie’s engine seems to be joy: each character, each plot twist, each clever line stretched my smile bigger and bigger until its very satisfying end. This group will be hard to top, but I look forward to seeing what kind of trouble Blanc finds next.
MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON
Screenplay by Jenny Slate, Elisabeth Holm, Dean Fleischer Camp, and Nick Paley; directed by Dean Fleischer Camp
It may seem strange to be labeling Marcel the Shell with Shoes On maximalist. Still, there’s something truly wild about the conviction that a shell with a googly eye and a pair of shoes can support a YouTube short, much less a series of shorts, much much less a feature film with pathos and comedy in equal measure. The absurdity of the concept continues to delight even as the harsh realities of Marcel’s current life come into focus. The larger world and its pain hover around Marcel in a way that brought me back to childhood, where bad things were felt, if not quite understood yet. It’s a small, fragile, hugely goofy movie that sneaks into your heart.
ROALD DAHL’S MATILDA THE MUSICAL
Screenplay by Dennis Kelly; directed by Matthew Warchus
True musicals are hard to do. I’m not talking about a musical biopic like Elvis or a Bollywood entry like RRR – those are great, but they play by their own rules. I’m talking about a musical theater piece, with songs that come from characters and further story – I’m talking about Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical. Tim Minchin’s catchy score captures the pure heart and bombastic wickedness of the source material with a mischievous grin. While I loved every minute of the more than two-and-a-half-hour musical on stage, the cuts and trims are perfect to tell the story on film. The original creative team behind the musical adapts the material themselves, and it’s a testament to their continued creativity that they manage to improve upon the storytelling and reinvent the story visually without losing any of what made the stage show so wonderful.
Screenplay by Sjón and Robert Eggers; directed by Robert Eggers
It’s largely a relief to be removed from the necessity of the brute force, tribalism, and primal impulses of yore, but it’s also dazzling to see them come to life in Robert Eggers’ visceral film. For those familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Northman will have you cocking your head – the film tells the story of the Norse myth that inspired Shakespeare, but it’s a little like the difference between a Disney movie and a Brothers Grimm original. This film fully commits to a world where conflicts are resolved through battles of strength so fully that it awakens those sleeping voices within us, like watching a house cat suddenly hunt prey. This stoic past is in all of our bones, and it’s thrilling to be reminded of how far we’ve come, and what’s still lurking deep within ourselves.
Screenplay by S. S. Rajamouli and Vijayendra Prasad, directed by S. S. Rajamouli
I’ve never seen a film like RRR. It's an earnest epic with its heart on its sleeve, fully committed to some of the most amazing action sequences on film, while also invested in a tender friendship. And musical numbers! Somehow none of it feels disjointed because it all flows from the open heart of this film. There’s a lot to love about this movie, but one thing stuck out to me on a very personal note. The US has put out its fair share of buddy action-comedies, and one of the guarantees in movies like that is some inevitable no-homo jokes when things get intimate. This three-hour movie did not have one moment of judgment for the affection between these two men. Arriving at the celebratory end of RRR without having had a hint of mockery of male intimacy felt like noticing the water we swim in for the first time, and learning that there’s a better way to tell a story.
HOTTIE OF THE YEAR: Ram Charan, RRR
Musical theater writer, champion-level chocolate milk drinker, dog dad to Parmesan, eligible gay bachelor.