Welp, you know what time it is... my annual wrap-up of my favorite films of the year! Or, to be more accurate, my favorite films that I actually saw. Which is still not as many as usual, thanks to COVID, but here we are.
THE EIGHTEEN BEST...
These are my favorite movies from this year that I actually saw.
#1 Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Marvel Studios)
Well this is kinda a no-brainer for me, isn't it? And that wasn't always a given when you consider that Black Panther himself... Chadwick Boseman... tragically passed before filming began. In lesser hands, this would have been a disaster. But Ryan Cooler channeled that loss into something that was far better than it had a right to be. Oddly enough, that's largely thanks to Marvel finally bringing Namor to the screen... brilliantly realized by Tenoch Huerta. The story is a bit meandering for a while, but once it finds its footing, everything just... works. It helps that the entire cast is fire, from Angela Basset on down. To say anything about the story is to spoil the story. Suffice to say that I hope Ryan Cooler isn't done with Wakanda yet... and they can give M'Baku his own Disney+ series any day now. Just back up a truck filled with money to Winston Duke's front door and get it done.
#2 Wedding Season (Netflix)
Yeah, it's a rom-com on Netflix... but it's an incredibly good rom-com. With a Bollywood ending that is absolutely everything. Funny, charming, sweet, and a good story to boot... this is all you could ask for in a movie. Mothers set up their kids on an on-line dating site, and they both get so tired of it that they decide to fake-date. And then...
#3 Everything Everywhere All At Once (A24)
Whereas Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has the multiverse hammered into it with a mallet, Everything Everywhere All At Once has the concept baked into the core of the movie and shows how a "multiverse" can be more than just a gimmick to introduce more characters and tease fans with "what-if" casting. On top of that you have Michelle Yeoh unleashing her full potential heading up a fantastic cast, and this movie was poised for greatness. And great it is. A woman whose life is in crisis from all angles gets sucked into an inter-dimensional plot to take over the multiverse... and has to battle her way out of it all to find herself. And the result couldn't have been more wacky, interesting, and wonderful.
4 The Unbearable weight of Massive Talent (Lionsgate)
"You're right, that is how you spook a bear. I apologize." I knew this would make my list half-way through watching the trailer, because the whole concept of Nicholas Cage playing Nicholas Cage and skewering his life is the kind of role that every Nicholas Cage fan dreams of. And, as a one-two follow-up to last year's brilliant Pig, I was ready for more Cage. But I didn't really have a handle on just how brilliant Cage's performance... and this entire film... was going to be. "Nick Cage" gets tangled up with a wealthy super-fan and the CIA, and the result is both hilarious and so very, very smart. Along the way we also get Pedro Pascal in a role so good that it makes me almost forget his part in the horrific Wonder Woman 2 debacle (seriously, I had to rewatch him smooth out the pillow over and over because he was so committed to it). I was tempted to put this movie in my #1 spot just because it was so much better than I thought it was going to be, but... Wakanda Forever.
#5 The Presence of Love (Hallmark)
I've decided to stop discounting Hallmark movies just because they're Hallmark movies when it comes to my yearly wrap-up (last year's The Baker's Son deserved more than an honorable mention). I had this movie playing as background noise many, many times... and ended up getting wrapped up in the story every time. This an achingly beautiful film featuring wonderful performances from everybody involved (including the little girl, who is fantastic), and features cinematography that could be set against major studio feature films. So much care was put into every scene to make sure moments are touching and honest without feeling artificial. Not an easy feat for Hallmark... or any studio, really.
#6 The People We Hate at the Wedding (Amazon Prime)
I think I laughed the harder at this movie than any other this year. A woman who's having an affair with a married man heads to England with family for a half-sister's wedding. The result is hilarious in all the right ways... but doesn't sacrifice a good story just for laughs. Where the movie really shines is the cast, which is perfectly realized for every role. Comedic chops for days, but with enough heart to go beyond superficial meandering, this movie was better than it had a right to be.
#7 Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (Marvel Studios)
Doctor Strange comics at their best are when they take the character into weird and bizarre directions. Places other super-heroes can't traverse. In that respect, the second movie (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) is more like the comics I love. He's just made so imaginative and cool... using his powers in really creative ways to keep things interesting. The problem is that the story itself is a bit weak. By forcing the whole "multiverse" plotline on the film, they kinda undermined the character. I really hope that they put an end to the multiverse thing soon so more movies don't have to suffer through it.
#8 Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount)
Given the fact that this is pro-military enrollment propaganda, it's surprisingly smart. Tom Cruise is back to train a team of Naval aviators for an impossible mission... but also has to deal with the ghosts of his past when Goose's son is one of the pilots in the mix. Sure, there's a lot of wacky-ass impossible stuff going on, but the film is incredibly entertaining, which trumps the problems that pop up.
#9 Thor: Love and Thunder (Marvel Studios)
My favorite Marvel Studios movie is Thor: Ragnarok, because it's just such an incredible triumph. Funny, but with real stakes. Entertaining, but whip-smart. I was expecting Taika Waititi to dish up more of the same... and to a certain extent he does... but the smart edge from Ragnarok is completely abandoned this time around, and it's very noticeable. It's almost a parody at points. But still... the characters are great, the story has a point to make, and finally getting a resolution to Jane Foster's story adds up to a good movie.
#10 Confess Fletch (Miramax/Paramount)
I have watched the two Chevy Chase Fletch films more times than I can count. Because despite the fact that they deviate from the books in numerous ways, they were still darn entertaining. Confess Fletch strays back towards the character of the book and ditches the corny disguises that defined Chevy's take. What John Hamm does with the material is, in so many ways, just as funny... but also feels much smarter. This time around Fletch is framed for murder and has to find the real murderer while staying one step ahead of the police (and his new girlfriend). Doesn't hurt that the mystery is pretty good (even though the solution isn't that surprising).
#11 Cha Cha Real Smooth (Apple Studios)
Two years ago Cooper Raiff unleashed Shithouse and I became an instant fan. Now he's back with a movie that is better in just about every way. And how he manages to not take the easy or expected route in his films... but still manages to create such satisfying movies... is beyond me. All this and he's actually a really good actor on top of of being an exceptional writer and director. The setup for Cha Cha Real Smooth is like films you've seen dozens of times before... and yet the payoff is so much better because it's not like films you've seen dozens of times before. You end up feeling completely different about some characters at the end than you did in the beginning, and that takes true talent to accomplish because most times when this is attempted it just feels so fake and unearned. I'm not going to say anything about the story, because the less prepared you are the more you'll like it.
#12 Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (A24)
Marcel is a shell and he has shoes on. He lives with his grandmother and he's trying to find his family. The result is heartwarming and brilliant. There's a part of me who wanted to put this movie at #1 just to get people to watch it... it's that good and that deserving... and if I were a little smarter, I would have. Even so, just give it a shot.
#13 Bullet Train (Columbia)
It's an assassin free-for all and the stakes couldn't be higher. What's surprising about this balls-out action flick is that it wasn't dumbed down, as it's fairly complex and has plots within plots. The entire cast was amazing... but Brad Pitt was just beyond. He has a way of making casual characters be capable of carrying an entire movie, which is a rare talent. Bloody fun!
#14 Prey (Hulu)
The sequels which followed the awesome original Predator range from bad to awful, so I wasn’t holding out much hope for a direct-to-Hulu fifth film. Much to my surprise, it’s easily my favorite since the original… and actually surpasses it in a number of ways. A prequel to Predator taking place in the early 1700’s, Prey follows a young Comanche healer who wants to prove herself as a hunter... and stumbles upon the ultimate prey... a Predator. What follows is a very clever reimagining of the original concept that feels completely fresh. Violent and brutal from the start, it’s not for the week at heart, but an entertaining ride despite it all.
#15 Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers (Disney)
This masterpiece of mockery is hilariously depraved. From ruthlessly skewering Hollywood (including everything Disney) to making fun of more franchises than I can count, everything about this film seems impossible (it’s got E.T. vs. Batman, for heaven’s sake!). How in the heck Disney ever allowed it to be made is a mystery. When their old colleague Monterey Jack is abducted, Chip n’ Dale have to put their contentious past behind them so they can team up and save him. John Mulaney and Andy Samburg were odd choices to voice Disney’s famous chipmunks, but in the context of this film it’s gold. Anything I say past that is a potential spoiler, and that reason alone guaranteed it would land in my Best Of list. If you’ve got Disney+ and can appreciate self-referential humor in high doses, this is essential viewing.
#16 RRR (DVV)
Look, either you will be able to buy into this movie 1000% and enjoy every minute that it is blowing your mind with unreal absurdity... or you won’t. If you can buy into it, you’re in for a Tollywood treat of epic proportions. If you can’t? Well, there’s no hope for you. I’ve watched many a Bollywood and Tollywood movie, so it was easy for me to buy into the men-as-gods theming and a bromance that is about as good as it gets.
#17 The Gray Man (Netflix)
Ryan Gosling has gone from an actor whose films I've avoided... to being an actor which will get me to watch a movie I might have otherwise not bothered with. As "The Gray Man" he's a CIA top operative who comes across information that will blow the lid off of the agency that he's devoted his life to. That's not going to please people in power, so they send assassins after him to make sure that the information never sees the light of day. While I didn't exactly love this movie, I did find its action to be endlessly entertaining with a terrific cast. I don't think that it did as well as expected for Netflix, which is a real shame. This has "franchise potential" written all over it, and I would love to see the character come back for another round.
#18 Glass Onion (Netflix)
Rian Johnson completely reinvigorated the Agatha-Christie-style-murder-mystery with Knives Out, and now he and Daniel Craig are back with a new murder mystery. I'm just going to come out and say it... the mystery itself is not that great. But the cast is frickin' fantastic, and their characters are so mind-bogglingly entertaining as to make the movie worth your valuable time. I will give them credit for literally saying that the murder is "stupid"... within the actual film, and that goes a long way towards me appreciating what was done. Because, yeah, people are stupid.
DIDN'T SEE, MIGHT HAVE MADE MY LIST...
OVERRATED BUT STILL GOOD...
TOTALLY SHIT THE BED...