Ray Wu’s Top 10 from 2022

2022 has been a great year for the world of cinema. In the post-pandemic world (yuck), cinema brought us both art house movies and big-screen-hitters. During the Holidays, I finally had the chance to catch up on some films that I didn’t get to catch in theatres thanks to the strenuous curriculum designed by a certain Swiss institution. 

Spoilers Ahead

10. “Bullet Train”

A genuinely fun film that was much needed in the summer: Bullet Train possesses many qualities that will make critics shrug it under the rug as another “action film”. However, in Bullet Train, these qualities blend together in the perfect serving proportion that leaves you hungry for more after it ends (hence my rewatch). Once you truly commit to the world – in this case, this train where most events take place and some occasional flashbacks – that David Leitch created, Bullet Train becomes a very fun and easy film to lose yourself into. 

Every month, there comes an action comedy film that seeks to just give you a good time. And when done right, the self-aware, not taking itself too seriously way to approach filmmaking, unlike Thor: Love and Thunder, can still work magic.

The friend group’s decision to bring milk and cereal into a late-night screening might have also contributed to my fondness of the film, but I believe it is the film itself that worked the magic. 

9. “All Quiet on the Western Front”

You can tell that All Quiet on the Western Front is meant to be seen on the big screen through the fact that even Netflix graciously granted the film a theatrical release window. As the third movie adaption of the book, All Quiet on the Western Front does everything right and adds more soul to the war genre. 

The film is a harsh reminder that the soldiers sent to the front line were no older than the rest of us. The continuous death of every friend of the main character Paul Bäumer (played by Felix Kammerer) is a harsh reminder of the scenario that these teenagers were put in. 

At the end of the film, an armistice is signed. But amid the countdown to the armistice, Paul has no choice but to step back into the rain of bullets, with no purpose other than to satisfy the commanders’ desire to end the war on a German offensive. His death right as the bell rings for 11 o’clock, November 11th is all too familiar: The distraught recruit, the collection of the dog tag, and his heroic sacrifice that we have all seen at the beginning of the film. The cycle of violence continues after the war. 

8. “Nope”

The new Neo-western film directed by Jordan Peele – from Key and Peele if that’s what you still remember his name for (but you really shouldn’t) – is the third film after Get Out and Us, and the quality here only goes up not down.

Since its release, the film has been overwhelmed by impressed critics and their reviews. There are many themes that the film touches on, but the most important of all – the search for spectacle – is ever so relevant in a day and age where so many people and accounts are dedicated to that. Thomas Flight and many others have analysed the filmmaker’s intentions and messages much better than I could, so I will spare you the hustle there. 

Besides all that, the film is just a great experience. If I am not mistaken, Nope is the first horror film shot on IMAX cameras, and the immersion felt in theatres created by Hoyte van Hoytema (the frequent collaborator with Christopher Nolan) in itself was a great spectacle for many. 

7. “Triangle of Sadness”

Another film that I watched with a group of friends late at night. 

Absolute hilarious set pieces portray the ridiculous lifestyle of influencers and the rich: The interviewer asks the models to change between the “Balenciaga” look and the “H&M” look; the capitalist Russian businessman having a late-night chat with the communist captain of the yacht that was broadcasted over the intercom. The film then flips its script on us with the sea wreck, letting a select group of people end up on the island where the survival skills of the crew members are much more important than the watch that the oligarch wears. There is one more twist in the plot and so much in the film that I haven’t touched on. Just go watch it please, for your own sake. 

6. “Top Gun Maverick”

Is putting a blockbuster on my top 10 list going to devastate the pretentiousness of this list? Is Top Gun Maverick a lesser film because it is about a group of hotshot pilots fighting evil and protecting the star-spangled motherland?

The answers to the two questions are “I hope not” and “No”.

Top Gun Maverick is a film that I was scared to walk into because of the far-too-many precedents of Hollywood turning nostalgia baits into feature-length movies. My heart sank when I saw the almost identical jet p**n opening sequence. Fortunately, that was basically all the “baity” part of the film. The remaining 2 hours were an exhilarating ride through the sky, the valleys, and in between did I mention bridges? 

Tom Cruise is the only movie star that we have today, and he is someone worth cherishing. After all, how many more of his insurance-nightmare stunts can Tom do before he retires from the big screen? 

The action-packed film has a surprising amount of heart that elevates the story out of the action genre alone. This type of cinema being alive and well is so missed and welcomed. 

5. “Avatar: The Way of the Water”

This movie got as much buzz as movies get, and for good reasons: 

A. It’s James Cameron. B. It’s AVATAR!

My parents told me about their recollection of waiting in a 2-hour line to purchase the IMAX tickets for the first Avatar. And having watched the first movie only weeks before the release of Avatar: The Way of Water, I can confidently say that I like The Way of the Water at least as much, if not more than the first film. 

I don’t want to condense the film just to its visuals, but dang if it doesn’t look gorgeous. As someone who was already surprised at how well the first film held up in 2022, the Way of the Water blew me out of the water (haha). 

At its core, The Way of the Water is a family film, and you should absolutely watch it on the biggest screen possible with your entire family. The amount of complexity, design, and heart and soul in the screenplay is apt, along with the visuals, to extract the audience to Pandora for hours. 

One of the biggest highlights of the film is the relationship between Colonel Quaritch (who’s now forever in an Avatar’s body) and his abandoned human son who is much closer to an Avatar than he will ever be. This father-son, human-avatar relationship brought complexity and dimensions to the colonel character who was just a pure star-spangled evil fighter. 

I cried at the end of the film. My mom went through a box of tissues at the end of the film. 

4. “The Banshees of Inisherin”

There are films that you go in for a good time, and there are films that you finish and make you sit in silence. The Banshees of Inisherin (had to double-check that name 3 times) is one of the latter. 

Set in Ireland, the film goes on and about the relationship between Pádraic (Farrell) a milk farmer who lives with his sister in a modest cottage, and his old friend Colm (Gleeson) a musician whose age is starting to hit him. At the beginning of the film, Colm decides that he needs to engage in more creative and meaningful endeavours instead of talking about donkeys with Pádraic. As a result, without any clarification, he cut off all communication with Pádraic. Pádraic, whose personality and “intelligence” are the biggest enemy of the silent treatment, continues to engage in activity to get the friendship back to where it was (though the reality of this pre-existing relationship was never shown on screen). Tired of this back and forth and determined to cut Pádraic out of his life, Colm gives the ultimatum: He will cut off a finger every time Pádraic talks to him. 

And that’s what Colm did.

One after another, fingers land at the doorstep of Pádraic’s cottage until one finger eventually kills Pádraic’s beloved donkey (his only emotional support after the departure of his sister to the mainland and the ending of his relationship with Colm). That changed the dynamic of the relationship. Pádraic is no longer the happy “nice” man. He burns Colm’s house down. The film ends with an inconclusive resolution where Pádraic walks away after an exchange with the surviving Colm. 

Writer and director Martin McDonagh created something unique in the film by using the heavenly Irish Island as the backdrop. And seeing is the only way to experience the meticulous storytelling of the relationship between two grown men. 

3. “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”

All right, we are in the top three. 

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery exists in the same universe as the very well-received first film of the franchise although the only link between the two films is Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) and his unmistakable accent. Like his first film, Rian Johnson is continuing his endeavour to single-handedly revive the detective/mystery genre. 

For one, it is the only film that references the virus without making me immediately want to fast forward. Made in a time when the hindrances of the novel coronavirus are felt by the strongest, the characters in the film are not bound by the same rules. In the melodramatic meltdowns and the life-threatening murders in the film, we examine the intricate relationship between this group of people who are not like us at all. 

Upon a rewatch, the film turns into a different film in that all the carefully placed clues and poetic design in the screenplay begin to get picked up by the audience. So don’t watch it just once, watch it twice. 

2. “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

So much was built into this 2 hours and 19 minutes film: Think the winks at “The Matrix”, “The Fall”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “In The Mood For Love”, and “Ratatouille.” Think also about the themes of family, growing up, monotony in life, taxes, and laundry. Think more of the  existential discussion on noise, media, and the purpose of life. Now think all that was communicated thoroughly through the scope of the multiverse that absolutely puts the strange doctor to shame. 

In this love letter to cinema, I felt something through rocks: Actual rocks on screen with their dialogue typed out in texts.

And that is just one example of the ingenuity of the film: How it uses the organized disorienting experience to tell the story of generational trauma, or how love can be passed down and up through the generations. 

If you love movies, you need to see EEAAO (the first film I bought off of iTunes); if you don’t like movies, you need to see EEAAO.

1. “TÁR”

Not a film that I was expecting to be number one at all. I have not seen this film till three days ago so the recency bias might be at play here. But I think not, for TÁR struck all the right chords to harmonize (pun intended) with the audience of the College. 

Despite the overflowing musical reference that one cannot be reasonably expected to understand – Mahler’s marriage, Glenn Gould’s posture at the piano, or Wilhelm Furtwängler’s relationship with the Nazi – TÁR is not a movie about music. Director Todd Fields took a 16-year hiatus and decided to return to the world of cinema with a film in which the genius conductor Lydia Tar conducted her own downfall. 

The film starts with a New Yorker interview that lists all the accomplishments of Lydia Tar, who is very obviously at the top of her career: the conductor at the Berlin Philharmonic, a member of the EGOT club (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award winner). The only remaining career milestone for her is to conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. The film doesn’t play out in such a way. Eventually, bits and pieces of text, emails, and news began to surface that shed light on Tar’s manipulation. Before the credits roll, she is conducting a soundtrack for a video game for a group of cosplayers in an unnamed south Asian country. 

It is easy to watch this film and think of it as a take on the cancel culture but it is not. The slow-paced movie takes its time to portray every dimension of TAR: her discussion with the “BIPOC, pangender” student on sexuality through the playing of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, and how she believes that when evaluating music, the person’s identity should not be considered; her manipulation of power in the world of old white men; her power play with the new Russian cello player Olga Metkina, her very scary intimidation (or threat) on her daughters’ bully. TAR doesn’t give a definitive answer as to whether her ending is warranted, but it takes its time modelling the life of a persona that feels all too real. 

At the end of the film, Tar walks into a massage place only to be confronted by her past in full force. 

She was asked to choose a masseuse, and No. 5 looked up. A brilliant call back to her time in the elite world: Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 was the last piece of her career, the piece that was taken away from her after her downfall, the piece that was given to the rich male conductor that she so obviously showed contempt for. And now, No. 5 is looking her in her eyes inside a room that is the physical metaphor of grooming and power structure. 

I cannot feel sympathetic for Lydia Tar, but I also can’t label her as evil. The world of Lydia Tar is a world where many of UCC’s students are bound to venture into as I am sure many of my fellow peers will become the very top in their respective careers. That is why it is ever more important to reflect on this grey area that the public won’t see. Field’s film questioned both the bubble that created a figure like Tar, as well as the current culture that seeks to discredit her. In the end, TÁR is an interrogation, one that hopefully will compel us to think about our place in the question.