These are not new films released in 2022, but older pictures that I finally watched this year and have stayed with me. There are a lot of familiar names here that I thought I understood, only to realize I did not. Now, I do and it has enriched my life as a result. I was so elated to partake in the work of such wonderful old masters and look forward to filling in more gaps in my film knowledge in 2023.
Black Christmas (1974)
Written by A. Roy Moore
Directed by Bob Clark
There is what I thought Black Christmas was & there’s what I realized when the end credits rolled. This is a fantastic horror flick, a slasher movie I didn’t despise. What sets this apart is that the slasher was not an overproduced genre as it would become in the 1980s. I also think this being made in Canada brought a different set of sensibilities than American movies, mainly how feminist this picture is. Sorority girls are picked off one by one, but no one notices because Winter Break is happening, and most people are heading home. Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey) is preoccupied after discovering she’s pregnant by Peter (Keir Dullea), her older boyfriend. She’s getting an abortion which he doesn’t take well, and the fit he pitches frightens her. Meanwhile, the sorority house keeps getting calls from an obscene caller nicknamed The Moaner. What you need to know is that this movie is funny & creepy all at once, something that puts a lot of the modern dull churn of ‘horror’ movies to shame. If you have avoided this because of what you think it is, trust me, Black Christmas is one of the best pictures in the genre I have ever seen.
Check out my full review.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Written by Robert E. Thompson & James Poe
Directed by Sydney Pollack
They do not make movies like this anymore. Sydney Pollack isn’t known for particularly harsh films, but this one is about as brutal as they come. Set during a Depression-era dance marathon, we follow some contestants as they are pushed to their physical and psychological brink. While Robert is the main character, Gloria (Jane Fonda) steals the show. Gloria is so worn down from watching her dreams & her life get crushed by the world. If she can’t win the prize in this contest, there is little left for her. Robert is constantly pulled back to a formative moment from his youth, where the title comes from. As the contest drags on, people drop out or break down. There’s even a death when an old-timer pushes himself harder than he should have. The dance marathon’s emcee isn’t phased because he’s seen this repeatedly. It’s the tortuous dance of life in the United States: partner up and don’t stop moving until you are dead. What a wonderful existence it is, right? They could have set this movie in 2022, and they would have to update it are change the clothes & hairstyles. The more time passes, the more brutal America treats its poor and working class.
Check out my full review.
Written by Sadayuki Murai
Directed by Satoshi Kon
Anime is usually not my thing, but I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t insanely impressed with Perfect Blue. Satoshi Kon has jumped up on my list as a director. I am very interested in exploring his work further. This picture is about Mima, a woman who was once part of a J-pop group. She wants to become an actress but finds herself being stalked by a crazed fan. The fan is apparently upset that Mima is taking on roles with more adult themes, challenging her squeaky-clean pop idol image. But not everything is what it appears, and very quickly, we find reality being bent & twisted in unexpected ways. Perfect Blue is clearly inspired by Hitchcock’s work, but even more so, I saw traces of Brian De Palma here, especially in movies like Dressed to Kill and, even more overtly, Body Double. This is a pretty gory movie, not as rough as some anime can get, but the kills are not shying away from showing what happens. At the core of the spectacle is an incredible story about identity & fame that is, for lack of a better word, perfect.
Check out my full review.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Written by Edward Albee and Ernest Lehman
Directed by Mike Nicholas
I knew this would be good when I finally got around to watching it, and it did not fail me. Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton bring everything to this picture, all their personal problems from their own multiple marriages. Informed by Edward Albee’s text, adapted by Ernest Lehmann (North by Northwest), the acting duo delivers one of the most harrowing portraits of a dysfunctional marriage committed to film. Even by today’s standards, this is a tough watch. But good, oh so good. We don’t get performances at this high a level very often, so fearless and willing to go to dark places. It’s a twisted game they play, and what makes it worse is they have involved a younger couple in their daily nightmare. By the film’s end, we understand what is happening far better than we did at the start, but we will not feel good about it. It’s nausea-inducing, but in a good way, if you can believe it. The sickening dance of people who transitioned from love to hate somewhere along the way and are pulling each other into the quicksand instead of trying to live anymore.
Check out my full review.
Sergio Leone (For a Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Once Upon a Time in America)
2022 was about filling in a lot of gaps with acclaimed directors. I’d seen A Fistful of Dollars and Once Upon a Time in the West before, but it was time to consume the whole damn filmography of Sergio Leone. What I came to understand was that Leone was not interested in propping up myths but in examining them and recreating them through his own lens. The result is de-romanticizing the West while still feeling like one of them. There’s nothing pleasant about the people in these movies, but Leone finds beauty in the landscapes and the weathered, broken faces. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is as good as you have heard. From the acting to the story to the cinematography to (of course) the music. What I walked away from loving the most surprised me, Once Upon a Time in America. The one non-western I watched, Leone’s final film, is an unflinching deconstruction of the gangster film & America itself. I have never been the biggest Robert DeNiro fan, he’s only suitable in a handful of pictures, and this is one of them. It plays to his strengths, and he delivers a character just as fucked up as Jake LaMotta. Definitely a fan of what Leone did and his point of view on the nation that shaped so much of popular cinema.
Check out my reviews of Sergio Leone’s movies.
Jacques Demy (Bay of Angels, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort)
Like Leone, Demy was interested in taking a primarily American film genre and making it his own. That would be the musical, and he nailed it, playing with the lyrics, the settings, the characters, and even making movies that felt like musicals without a single word being sung. Bay of Angels was where I first perked up and got interested with his incredible opening sequence that plunges the viewer into this heightened world. Then, of course, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is stunning, an opera about two young lovers that learn they weren’t meant to be together. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful, and Catherine Deneuve is ethereal. I was most surprised with The Young Girls of Rochefort, the most traditional musical in terms of form, but with a story that has some pretty dark subplots and constantly refuses to satisfy our expectations. One pair of lovers is left, never having their moment on screen. It might happen just as the credits roll, but we’ll never know. My mission for 2023 is to watch through the work of Demy’s wife, Agnes Varda, a very different filmmaker than her husband.
Check out my review of Jacques Demy’s movies.
Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher, Benny’s Video)
I already loved Michael Haneke’s work, but I introduced him to Ariana this year and watched more films I hadn’t seen before. Ariana ended up really loving the filmmaker, pointing out Funny Games and The White Ribbon as two of her favorites (she’s already loved Amour from a viewing years ago). For me, it was discovering Benny’s Video & The Piano Teacher. Benny’s Video was a chilling exploration of how media has allowed some people to disassociate from violence, even if they are committing it (a recurring theme in Haneke’s work). The way Benny’s Video is shot is as much a part of anything else. Haneke is precise in what he shows and implies, both adding to a disturbing film. The Piano Teacher is headlined by a mind-blowing performance from Isabelle Huppert as the title character. She’s a woman who goes to sexual extremes to shake up her life. Things get complicated when she becomes entangled with a man who shows interest in pursuing these fetishes with her. He doesn’t understand how extreme she will go and how she has lost all respect for herself at a certain point or does she want to destroy herself because she sees the world as beneath her? It becomes all about the pain, hurting so she can feel something, but there’s nothing else happening for her. When you watch a Haneke film, you need to be prepared to face extremes. He wants to examine the role of the media in how we interrelate with each other. Haneke is one of the premier philosophers of the contemporary media-saturated world.
Check out my reviews of Michael Haneke’s movies.
Federico Fellini (La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, 8 ½, Juliet of the Spirits)
I already loved Fellini, and this year was, once again, about introducing him to Ariana and watching movies I’ve always heard about. La Strada introduced me to Giulietta Masina. It’s a deceptively simple movie, feeling like a fable but carrying a moral that hits like a brick when the credits roll. Anthony Quinn is perfectly matched as Masina’s opposite. Where she is a light, elfin figure, he’s a lumbering, callous brute. Then Masina returns in her best role in Nights in Cabiria. This movie will break your heart as you fall in love with her tough-talking but tender sex worker. I’d seen 8 ½ before, but I really came to understand it this year. What a monumental achievement in cinema, a picture that created an entire genre and exploded what a movie could be about. There are camera shots in 8 ½ that rival anything you might see in a modern picture. The dream sequence takes us back to Guido’s childhood in a quaint Italian village, emanating warmth & love. It’s a triumph for Fellini, and he could have retired there, but he kept going. Finally, Masina returned in Juliet of the Spirits, which is in many ways 8 ½ for her. Fellini really delves deep into the inner life of Juliet, the wife of a successful man, who has forgotten to live her own life. As with all the director’s work, this is full of mystery & wonder about life while still being honest about the many ways we can have our hearts broken along the way.
Check out my reviews of Federico Fellini’s movies.
Michelangelo Antonioni (L’avventura, La notte, L’eclisse, Red Desert, The Passenger)
None of the new filmmakers I discovered in 2022 hit me at precisely the right time as Michelangelo Antonioni. I enjoyed his work with Monica Vitti far more than when he started making movies for MGM in the late 1960s. Those earlier Italian films evoke alienation in the modern world so palpably they stir up many emotions. He lived through the fascist rise & fall in Italy and came away a changed person. Those emotions & thoughts fueled his output which examines how things like architecture & social expectations create inhospitable landscapes, environments where humans are expected to exist but certainly cannot live in them. L’avventura is an excellent introduction, a foundation for where we will go. That’s followed by the anti-love story of La Notte and the revelation of L’eclisse. I can’t say enough good things about that picture and how the camera is used to say so many things. Red Desert was a beautiful exit by Vitti as she went on to films outside Antonioni’s. After a short rough patch, I was wowed by The Passenger, the most personal of these movies and one centrally concerned with the idea of being passive & being active in the context of fighting for humanity. It’s hard to compare Antonioni to other directors. He’s Italian, so there are similarities with his filmmaking contemporaries, but he’s a different breed. He shares a lot of sensibilities with Stanley Kubrick, with both directors being concerned with capturing exact images that communicate so much without the need for a line of dialogue.