Happy New Year, Viscerals!
Was 2022 as odd for you as it was for us? We had a handful of highs (mostly at the start and end of the year) and a whole lot of non-stop sludge (the middle). In December of 2021 we did something we never quite dreamed we'd be able to do: we bought our first home (a flat) together! So the first two months of 2022 were spent packing up and clearing out our old rental of the last 12 years, waiting for the contract to settle and then moving into and setting up our new home, which, as anyone who's bought a home knows, was equally thrilling, scary and exhausting. But after what seemed mere moments after we'd just set up the basics, we were plunged into Mad March, brought to you by our second movie, Apparitions!
We'd made a deal with the fine folks at Cinema Nova in Carlton to run two special event screenings of Apparitions at the end of March, and the promotional trail started at a rather unexpected place: the Melbourne leg of Australia's biggest pop cultural convention, Supanova. We were given our own Q&A session on the main stage, led to a VIP Green Room alongside the likes of Christopher Eccleston (who we never saw - he was arriving later in the day), Lincoln Lewis and, weirdly, an old pal from way back, Ben Prendergast, who is now a star voice actor in video games! It was both amazing and confronting for me, Pez and our co-star Stefan Dennis (Paul Robinson himself) to be sitting on this big stage, with clips of our film playing, fielding questions from comic Ben Sorensen... to a largely empty hall. Still, it was a fun Q&A, it was lovely of the few who did show up to do so (look, we were on at 9:30am, which may as well be 5am for this kind of thing) and we thank the beautiful team at Supanova for their kind support.
The next month of promoting the screenings -- while still setting up our new home -- continued to set the tone for what this year's theme would be: Exhaustion. However, the screenings went brilliantly, selling strongly (our second screening, on the Tuesday night, was the highest-selling of the evening!), the response was overwhelmingly positive and it was just a thrill to show the film to another 80 or so people who hadn't seen it. Huge thanks to Kristian Connelly and his amazing team at Cinema Nova for their hospitality and continual support of local cinema!
At the start of April, Apparitions also screened at the inaugural Horrific Hope Film Festival at the Alamo Drafthouse in Winchester, Virginia, USA, where we won the award for Best Feature!!!
Mad March also contained a curious invitation... we received an email from the Septimius Awards (no, we hadn't heard of them, either) in the Netherlands, wanting to nominate Apparitions' leading lady, Cate O'Connor, for Best Oceanian Actress for her role, and if she would be able to travel to Amsterdam for the ceremony! We decided this was an intriguing opportunity we couldn't pass up, so we quickly accepted -- but Pez, me and Cate's bestie, Meg Adams would accompany Cate over (for all we knew, the "Septimius Awards" could've been a shipping container outside Amsterdam Airport). As we planned our trip, a second email arrived from Team Septimius: in addition to Cate's nomination, they now wanted to nominate Apparitions for Best Oceanian Film! (We learned that Septimius gave awards for Best Film, Actor and Actress by continent, or continental zone: Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania.) Pez and I were chuffed, now up for an award ourselves (and not just filling out Cate's entourage, haha). The Septimius Awards were held the first week of June, so we packed our bags and gowns (and my first tuxedo!) and flew over for nine whirlwind days in Amsterdam, of delicious food, amazing sights, museums, red light districts, and an awards ceremony that was beyond our wildest dreams: especially when Cate WON the Best Oceanian Actress award!!!
July-November were, with few exceptions (Pez's eldest daughter, Immogen, got married!), a slog. After outrunning it for two-and-a-half years, COVID finally caught up with us and played havoc with our schedules, our hoped-for Australian/New Zealand release of Apparitions never materialised (never fear, we'll have some news on that early in the new year), the film's international sales dried up, projects large and small stalled or completely conked out, the miserable Melbourne winter seemed to stretch well into November... and all of this drudgery moved at a breakneck pace. We never seemed to stop working, to stop moving, to stop for more than an evening's breath. It was five months of non-stop effort for little-to-no gain -- unless one measures gain in units of frustration -- under miserable, cold skies.
Then December arrived. I landed a new job (in what one hopes will launch a new secondary career) in distribution, specialising in acquisition and theatrical booking, with Bounty Films, and Pez and I connected with an amazing mentor, a producer based out of Western Australia, who has already given us some terrific advice and filled our bellies with much-needed fire to take into 2023, as we plan to spend the year developing two major movie projects, one big, one small. We're going to pitch to funding bodies and producer-distributors, to reach out to the wider industry, for the first time, and we're as excited as we are terrified. Also, Pez has booked not one, but two plays as an actor for 2023, which we're thrilled about -- the first, Coming Out, will be playing at Chapel Off Chapel from Feb 9-12, tickets available here. This seems as good a place as any to close the book on Cinema Viscera's 2022... shall we talk about some movies?
Paul Anthony Nelson's Top 20 Retro Revelations of 2022
These are my 20 favourite feature films made prior to 2019 that I saw for the first time this year. First, some Honourable Mentions, all of which could've sneaked into the Top 20: Ken Russell's Tommy (1975), Peter Bogdanovich's Saint Jack (1979), Ronald Neame's Gambit (1966), Martin Ritt's The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965) and Norma Rae (1979), Blake Edwards' Victor/Victoria (1982), Terry Jones' Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1982), Guy Hamilton's Funeral in Berlin (1966), Spike Lee's Girl 6 (1996) and Crooklyn (1994), Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale (2008) and, technically ineligible as it was a made-for-TV movie, but possibly the creepiest movie I saw all year, James MacTaggart's Robin Redbreast (1970). Now, counting down my favourites from 20th to 1st...
A fair warning for this and the next countdown: I didn't get much time to write my Letterboxd reviews this year, so my write-ups will be a lot less in-depth (small mercies for you all)...
#20: THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976, Nicholas Gessner)
Creepy Canadian chiller with Jodie Foster (same year as Taxi Driver) as an intelligent young girl mysteriously living alone in a huge house, as a Big Bad Wolf -- namely, a well-heeled pedo played with relish by a very against-type Martin Sheen -- lurks outside. Switches gears halfway through, as a young aspiring magician befriends Foster and the two make a sort of home together, but it's always informed by this sense of two kids trying to grasp tightly (paradoxically so, by imitating adult behaviour) to the innocence they know they're soon to lose. The scenes with the kids are sweet, every scene with Sheen is a tightly wound theatre of terror, and Gessner never loses his grip. Shocked he didn't have a bigger career.
#19: THE LADY VANISHES (1979, Anthony Page)
An unexpected delight, playing like a neo-screwball comedy playing off the very different rhythms of Elliott Gould and Cybill Shepherd, who gel together wonderfully, while, like Hitchcock’s version, having a ball with its cast of English eccentrics and suspicious Germans. Page’s direction is unflashy, but keeps the plot, intrigue and banter fast and fun; that and the script (by George Axelrod, of Breakfast At Tiffany’s and The Manchurian Candidate fame) hue closely to previous adaptations but change enough to keep things surprising — the biggest being the WWII setting, lending a more relatable context for a modern (1979) audience. So much fun!
#18: NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979, Werner Herzog)
Herzog's droll, atmospheric and remixed adaptation might be my favourite version of Bram Stoker's Dracula ever made, even as it's a remake of a famously unauthorised adaptation. Kinski's Count is so horrfyingly ratlike and weird, I've never been more in fear for Jon Harker than watching Kinski bailing up Bruno Ganz into a corner, eyes wide, sniffing about, with no-one around for miles. Isabelle Adjani as "Lucy Harker" (told you it was remixed!) is terrific, channeling the silent film energy of the original with her wild-eyed terror, while Kinski feels like a method Count, and Ganz a neo-realist Harker -- yet these styles all cohere beautifully amongst the rustic, ruined trappings. Love what Herzog does with the ending, too.
#17: THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN (1979, Sydney Pollack)
Gently stirring tale of freedom and individuality with Robert Redford as an ex-champion rodeo cowboy who quietly steals the once-champion racehorse he finds doped up on a Vegas stage they're meant to share. He's pursued by acerbic journo Jane Fonda, whom he eventually allows to follow him, to tell the horse's story. Feels like the platonic ideal of a pre-Sundance Institute Redford movie, with its themes of anti-exploitation, animal rights and finding truth in nature, railing against big-city corporates, the marketing machine. It's also witty, charming and hugely entertaining, with two of the decade's movie stars giving believably lived-in performances while still operating at full charismatic wattage.
#16: CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940, Preston Sturges)
"If you can't sleep, it's not the coffee, it's the bunk!" This frankly absurd catchphrase kicks off a truly mad but truly lovely screwball comedy that may seem to be a Christmas movie in title only - it certainly isn't one in time or place - but is, at crucial moments, very much one in spirit. His second film as writer-director, it's Preston Sturges distilled; a rapid-fire wit generator with satirical jabs to burn and tons of heart (personified by Dick Powell and, especially, Ellen Drew), wrapped up into 67 breathless minutes (and it feels shorter!). I love Hollywood comedies from 1940-41, just before the US entered World War II; somewhat paradoxically, they display both an innocence and a clear-eyed readiness to poke fun at big institutions or, as in this case, the "American Dream" itself. You can find this on YouTube, and it's an hour-and-change well spent.
#15: A QUESTION OF SILENCE (1982, Marleen Gorris)
Kind of devastating Dutch drama, just as pertinent now as 40 years ago, about a quartet of women who murder a male women’s clothing salesman in cold blood, and the female attorney who struggles to uncover the reason why they did it — to the increasing resistance of her husband and male colleagues — before realising she might have more insight into the Why than she thinks. A blisteringly angry feminist work that never feels like a tract, unfolding instead as a fascinating character study that never stops being informed by gender dynamics. Seek this one out.
#14: MY BRILLIANT CAREER (1979, Gillian Armstrong)
It's taken me far too long to get around to Armstrong's sensational debut, that's as witty and wildly entertaining as it is a landmark. "Jane Aust-rali-en" was the portmanteau description that leapt to mind the second this ended ("Australia May Alcott" would work just as well), as it firmly channels the sharp social satire of the 17th-19th century women writers that surely influenced Miles Franklin but filtered through the uniquely Aussie lens of Franklin and, as writer-director, Armstrong. Judy Davis' breakout role is a comic, charismatic, forthright firestorm that set the tone for her own brilliant career to follow, but she's surrounded by a terrific cast (including a young Sam Neill as a romantic lead) in this timeless feminist ode to making your own life for yourself, finding (and following) your own voice and being your own hero.
#13: GHOSTS OF THE CIVIL DEAD (1988, John Hillcoat)
John Hillcoat's debut feature is as shattering, angry and desolate as advertised, a sad, sinewy and searing indictment of a prison system more interested in generating profit and fear than rehabilitating offenders. While I wish a little less of the story was type on a computer screen, this is primarily a masterclass in mood, as Hillcoat and his army of co-screenwriters (including Nick Cave, who has a striking acting role as well) create a gathering storm of a film, its soundtrack always rumbling its way into your psyche as its lost, disturbed characters slowly become unglued, with a final shot that could scarcely be more chilling.
#12: 8 WOMEN (2002, Francois Ozon)
Imagine Agatha Christie meeting Almodovar in the pages of French Vogue, and you've got this ravishingly costumed, beautifully designed, surprisingly queer Christmas-set comedy-mystery melodrama. An absolute joy from its opening to ironic ending, it's as much of an adoring tribute to its four generations of French superstars as it is anything else: where else can you see Isabelle Huppert going full screwball, Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant rolling around the floor passionately snogging, Emmanuelle Beart as a smouldering bisexual maid, or sudden internal song-and-dance numbers by these generally non-singing icons? A Christmas chocolate box of a film.
#11: THEY ALL LAUGHED (1981, Peter Bogdanovich)
What a gorgeous discovery! A breezy, funny, loose and lovely modern (for 1981) screwball rom-com from Bogdanovich which seems to glow from the love he has for this cast, and they for each other -- so many of them were in love, or used to be, or were great friends -- as the plot follows these half-baked private eyes chasing their marks around NYC. A pure delight from start to end, an underrated gem possessed with a charm and sense of place so missing from these kind of films nowadays. Just loved spending time with these people, in this city. Swoon.
#10: THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957, Jack Arnold)
The title alone is a phrase familiar the world over, forever associated with the sensationalistic sci-fi boom of the 1950s, but I was completely blindsided by its existential terror and, even more so, contemplation of the infinite... which shouldn't be a surprise, given the words, "Screenplay by Richard Matheson" -- the mind behind I Am Legend and countless classic Twilight Zones -- always promise something special. The (often deceptively simple) special effects and giant sets are hugely innovative, and genre specialist Arnold keeps it humming for a sleek 83 minutes, but it's the underrated lead performance by Grant Williams, and Matheson's elegant, tragic screenplay that give this film its power to resonate, endure - and grow.
#9: CAMERA BUFF (1979, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
Did this dude ever make even a halfway-bad movie? A guy in a provincial Polish town takes an interest in Super 8mm filmmaking, and embarks on a journey that leads him through documenting the mundane lives of others, finding an artistic voice, journeying to film festivals, an unexpected backlash and a forced reckoning with state censorship, expectations, the responsibility of art and the fact no cinematic eye can ever be truly impartial, or detached. This early Kieslowski effort already shows his eye for finding humour and character in the unlikeliest of places, like a great satirical novelist who happens to be working in a screen medium.
#8: ...AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (1979, Norman Jewison)
My favourite actor of all time is '70s Al Pacino, and it's taken me far too long to see this, one of his best roles. A darkly funny, emotionally charged and surprisingly empathetic critique of the American legal system -- with a justifiably Oscar-nominated script by Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson -- that not only seamlessly blends genres, takes an anarchic swipe at a broken system from myriad angles (not all of them expected) and the toll it takes on the sanity of all involved, but also at the casual damage patriarchal structures do to women and queer people. Pacino's closing argument is iconic for a reason; as well as being beautifully written, it's an acting masterclass.
#7: THEATRE OF BLOOD (1973, Douglas Hickox)
After making the two Dr. Phibes films (which we also saw for the first time this year), Vincent Price finds the perfect balance of absurd comedy, chilling horror and batshit craziness in this glorious genre-hopping blast about a vainglorious Shakespearean actor (Price) snubbed by a circle of snooty critics (a perfectly cast who's who of late '60s/early '70s UK character actors) whom he picks off one-by-one in deliciously inventive murders based upon The Bard's plays. Diana Rigg slays in a key role and a couple of the murders (especially the one that opens the film) are shockingly creepy for this kind of film. I also love that Price has it both ways; he gets to sample the Shakespearean roles he longed to play, in a way that shows off his skill whilst keeping his character's level of aptitude ambiguous. Does everything it says on the box, and how!
#6: WISE BLOOD (1979, John Huston)
Something tells me Paul Thomas Anderson is a big fan of this film. it's crazy John Huston, whose directorial debut was The Maltese Falcon in 1941, was still making pictures that were this wild a swing in his early 70s. Undoubtedly an acquired taste, this is a sort of Pilgrim's Progress story about a very odd and damaged man (Brad Dourif, in an astonishing performance, even for him) who returns from a war, moves to the city to preach his own Anti-Religious Religion, gets into a strange relationship and even stranger rivalries, curdling and self-destructing all the while. A bizarre slice of on-the-turn Americana and a true original from a writer-director whose piercing insight into the darkness and foibles of humanity never left him.
#5: THE DEMON (1963, Brunello Rondi)
Speaking of astonishing performances, Dahlia Lavi is incredible as an unruly village beauty whose all-consuming obsession, with a soon-to-be-married man who seduced her, sees her branded as a witch by her narrow-minded village -- a misdiagnosis soon upgraded to Demonic Possession. An incredibly poignant story of a young woman going mad in a place that has no ability (or desire) to take care of her, as ancient regional superstitions and a dominant self-serving patriarchy combine to abuse and crush her at all costs. Plays like a neo-realist precursor to Lars von Trier -- with a performance to match at its centre, including a jaw-dropping exorcism William Friedkin had to be aware of -- this is a bracing film, as physically beautiful as it is brutal, that proves that a mob of small-minded people is more terrifying than any demon.
#4: NOISE (2007, Matthew Saville)
A small landmark of 2000s Australian cinema, a slick, spare, low-key genre film that doubles as a crackerjack character piece about a well-meaning man in the absolute wrong job (at the wrong place at the wrong time), spearheaded by an excellent performance from Brendan Cowell. Loved every choice here, information is imparted in smart and subtle ways, character relationships evolve in surprising ways that are completely organic, it's as funny as it is suspenseful, it walks and talks with a strong sense of place (Melbourne's western suburbs), makes offbeat character choices that feel baked into this world and, with all that, is rendered with an inescapable melancholy. A superb, still-underrated crime drama.
#3: THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950, John Huston)
The O.G. heist film as we know them to be nowadays, and yet another in the litany of John Huston classics. (Also, how many all-time-great films has Sterling Hayden been in?!) A brilliant, multi-layered and lived-in portrait of a bunch of distaff characters trying to take one last crack at getting what they think is theirs, the thing that struck me is how sad everybody is here; the joints are dingy, the apartments are too cramped, even the rich guy's house is weirdly lifeless. You wouldn't be wrapped up in a gig like this, with people like this, if you had more viable options. The big score is, like capitalism, the ultimate carrot-stick game; the score won't fulfill your dreams or undo mistakes, leading to one of crime cinema's saddest final shots.
#2: SCUM (1979, Alan Clarke)
One of the most shattering films I saw all year, this matter-of-fact drama about England's brutal borstals (juvie prisons for boys) is a chilling indictment of a system too long overlooked by a ruling class who'd rather these kids were locked away out of sight (hence the title), which by the 1970s had become overrun with rampant tyrannical behaviour, and physical and sexual abuse. Ray Winstone gives a breakout performance as a tough kid determined not to be broken, while Mick Ford's performance as the thoughtful, provocative Archer should have similarly elevated his career. A rare theatrical feature (a necessity as his TV version, made two years earlier, was deemed unfit for broadcast) for Clarke, who spent decades as an unflinching voice for social change on British TV, this is in no way easy viewing, but is one of the great social prison dramas, which helped to spread awareness and change the system for good.
...and my #1 new discovery of 2022 is...
The way this movie plays with time — the world of the contest is somehow both oppressively fast and punishingly endless — and the complete emptiness of the world outside is so skilfully crafted; if you’d told me this took place after the fall of America, or an apocalypse, or after a zombie contagion, I’d believe you. The performances are also pitch-perfect; this might be my favourite Jane Fonda role — her movie-star beauty and abrasive activist’s steel make her perfect for this character — with Sarrazin, York, Young, Bedelia, Buttons and Robert Fields all registering strongly. But as frenzied as this gets at times, so much of the performances in this film are conveyed by silences, looks, thoughts unsaid, connections considered but swiftly abandoned.
Not always an easy film to watch, but an immersive and endlessly compelling one, this represents a high point in a lot of already great careers, and a broadside to a culture always so rapaciously willing to exploit those most vulnerable to perpetuate its overarching myths, while making those who run it a ton of bank. If these poor souls danced long enough, they could’ve ended up at the birth of reality TV.
...and now, for the main event...
Paul Anthony Nelson's Top 15 Films of 2022
The regular annual readers of this blog among you may notice something a little different right away: I'm going with a pared-down Top 15 list this year, with 5 Honourable Mentions. This is partly due to the fact I only saw 68 new release films this year (my lowest tally since the 2000s) and don't feel right listing a third of them, but also due to the fact I only loved 15 of those 68 films; of the ones I really, really liked, I only feel like talking about a handful of them.
Among the heap I didn't see, there were a heap that appear elsewhere that I wasn't as crazy about; as always, I've laid out what new films I saw this year below, at the bottom of the page. You can make up your own mind as to where I landed on those, or look at my Letterboxd account. I just wasn't super into new films this year, but, as you'll see, some were truly special to me. Let's get into it, hey?
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (Daniels, aka Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)
I didn't love this as much as most -- it really is too damn much of everything (especially at 140 minutes), the middle stretch either drags or is just exhausting (or both), and those gross sausage fingers can get in the fucking bin -- but Michelle Yeoh is a global treasure, in a career-summarising role that's a gift. However, my MVP of the film is Ke Huy Quan's Waymond; yes, the Wong Kar Wai homage is dope, but the way he lays out his personal philosophy was one of the most incredibly moving cinematic moments of my year.
GLORIOUS (Rebekah McKendry)
What happens when a man at the end of his rope (Ryan Kwanten, an expert in playing broken man-children) stumbles into a public toilet to find the voice on the other side of the gloryhole is an ancient Lovecraftian entity (wonderfully voiced by J.K. Simmons)? Searching conversation, gross-out gore, potential planetary destruction... There's not a lot here -- even at a tight 79 minutes, it's slightly long -- but McKendry's directorial hand has never been more assured, the horror moments are ace, and the script springs its share of fun twists, mining that daft concept for all it's worth.
GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT STORY (Rian Johnson)
While it lacks the Swiss clock construction and sociopolitical heft of Knives Out, this is just a super fun, bright, glossy, clever and very funny murder-mystery comedy -- Johnson's Death on the Nile, if you will -- that takes a well-timed swipe at "disruptor" culture and self-branding billionaires. Daniel Craig is much looser and funnier as the Poirot-esque Benoit Blanc this time around, surrounded by a crack cast (Edward Norton, Janelle Monae and Kate Hudson, especially). One of these every 2-4 years would be fine with me.
KIMI (Steven Soderbergh)
A fun, tight, post-pandemic work-from-home Rear Window written by Panic Room's David Koepp. It may lack those films' grand design and chilling complications, and has the most ineffectual thugs ever, but it does have the excellent Zoe Kravitz, wry commentary on the increasingly digital lives we're leading (for good and ill) and cheeky touches like Kravitz telling her Alexa-like 'Kimi' to play the Beastie Boys' 'Sabotage' as she's about to flee from the bad guys.
AMSTERDAM (David O. Russell)
Are Pez and I are the only people who liked this?? A demented comedy-mystery-drama from David O. Russell about an attempted fascist uprising in America before World War II (based only vaguely on true machinations), it's stacked with one of the most awe-inspiring modern casts to watch share scenes, anchored by hugely likeable work from Christian Bale, John David Washington and Margot Robbie in the leads. Their friendship is immediately believable and palpable, their early post-WWI bubble so invigorating, that it sets a beautiful tone that the rest of the film repeatedly, disquietingly shoves us out of. Sure, the plotting's a little janky at times and it drags in one or two sections, but I found this to be a delight -- it's stunningly shot and designed, it's very funny, everyone's in fun form (including my favourite Mike Myers role in about 20 years) and it's a screwball whirlwind of sociopolitical chaos weirdly relevant to now.
THE TOP 15
#15: THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING (George Miller)
Dr. George makes a disarming left turn into this gently whimsical tale about storytelling and storytellers, as Tilda Swinton’s solitary but seemingly content “narratologist” frees Idris Elba’s Djinn from his bottle and is offered three wishes... but she’s heard a thing or two about these tricksters. It’s talky by design but always engaging, lovely and sincere, and the duo’s negotiations are consistently absorbing (Elba and Swinton are excellent), always underpinned by a deep loneliness. The final act is thoughtful even if it doesn’t quite stick the landing, but I'm hugely fond of this.
#14: MONA LISA AND THE BLOOD MOON (Ana Lily Amirpour)
If you’ve ever wondered, “What if Sean Baker directed an ‘80s sci-fi-kidventure?” then boy does Ana Lily Amipour have the answer. An adorable boy takes a psychokinetic Korean-American asylum escapee home to his stripper mom (a gloriously trashy Kate Hudson), who uses her to relieve dudes of cash, as cop Craig Robinson doggedly tracks the escapee down (leading to the slowest foot chase in movie history). Cheerfully cribs from everywhere but odd and subversive enough to be all her, it's infused with ALA’s attitude while being sweet, humane, feminist and optimistic.
#13: THE STRANGER (Thomas M. Wright)
A darkly unsettling, slow-burning procedural of the highest order, one which features no onscreen violence but is no less suspenseful or disturbing, especially as it's based on a real-life murder investigation. Wright takes an approach to the material that almost recalls a less-flashy Lynne Ramsay; so much of it is observed snatches of thoughts, motions, sounds, feelings, like you're experiencing the film from the inside out. The film develops in such a quietly seething, gradually surprising way that you can't help but lean in further as each block of the story is slid into place. Edgerton and Harris are brilliant, and you can't help but feel overwhelmed by the experience; I saw this on Netflix, seeing it in a cinema would've been amazing.
#12: THE MENU (Mark Mylod)
My kind of blunt-force metaphor social comedy-horror, but surprisingly clever and sophisticated in the bargain. Many of the team behind one of the best shows on TV, Succession, are behind this wickedly funny takedown of the way we idolise and build mystique around great artists (and chefs), but also of the shitty cultures around art (fans, critics, wealthy patrons), the bad-faith way many appropriate it, and, just because, asshole tech bros. It's also a twisty horror-thriller that keeps springing surprising twists with wry humour, is shot and designed with a cool, artful precision that befits its high-dining milieu and features terrific performances from its ensemble cast, particularly Fiennes and Taylor-Joy. Love the wicked little touches throughout, like listing the dishes' on-screen ingredients, which grow increasingly absurd.
#11: VORTEX (Gaspar Noe)
Gaspar Noé's crushingly empathetic, matter-of-fact window into a situation that we spend our lives refusing to contemplate: losing a partner to dementia. Françoise Lebrun, Dario Argento(!) and Alex Lutz give lived-in performances that never feel acted, playing complex characters with painfully, sometimes cruelly, human motives, all crammed into a stressfully cluttered labyrinth of a Paris flat overflowing with books and artefacts of times long past, buckling beneath their weight, in an enclave far too easy to get lost in. But it's no tearjerker, as Noé avoids any kind of easy emotion. Could it be 20 minutes shorter and still devastate? Sure, but as a uniquely cinematic work that confronts The Big Sleep head on, it's bracingly great.
#10: ENNIO (Giuseppe Tornatore)
A 160-minute documentary on the maestro Ennio Morricone that never feels bloated or hagiographic, this isn't just an open-hearted tribute to a great composer, as huge as his absurdly prolific career, but an inspiring, joyous portrait of sheer creativity, and the ways that creativity can reach out, touch lives, inspire generations and endure. It scarcely leaves a time in Morricone's jam-packed artistic life unturned, but everything is examined so tenderly, and Morricone himself is such an unassuming presence that you can't help but be drawn into his story -- and there are few things I saw this year as exhilarating as watching a young crowd at a Metallica concert rocking out to his six-decade-old 'Ecstacy of Gold' theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Beautiful stuff.
#9: GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE (Sophie Hyde)
Sophie Hyde is carving out a great space in telling stories about complex human beings negotiating difficult emotional evolution, and this, helped by Katy Brand's sharp and thoughtful script, is no exception. Emma Thompson perfectly embodies a shy (not meek) schoolteacher seeking the sexual experience she always longed for, and how the sex worker she hires (a great Daryl McCormack) not only challenges her ideas about sexual pleasure and sex work, but who she really is, who she wanted to be, and the distance between those things. It’s also Hyde’s most accessible film thus far, consistently funny and empathetic. A delight, with a nimble, playful approach to pertinent themes.
#8: ELVIS (Baz Luhrmann)
Luhrmann and Martin's best film since Moulin Rouge! is a breathlessly constructed maximalist tone poem of a biopic, presenting Presley as a gifted magpie of a performer, sampling music from the cultures and friends he loved and respected, building it into his own, whose provocative hip-shaking was his superpower. In an inspired touch, Luhrmann lets the man who introduced Elvis to the world, "Colonel" Tom Parker (in a bizarre but delightfully mischievous performance from Tom Hanks), tell his story, in an attempt to clear his name of wrongdoing but digging his hole ever deeper, as all megalomaniacs do. But the real juice that powers this is Austin Butler's stunning, immersive performance as Elvis, inhabiting the performer's skin in a way that would almost be scary, if he didn't channel Presley's aw-shucks charisma and raw sexuality as well as he does. It's also a masterclass in montage -- I can't imagine how the editors assembled this -- and Catherine Martin's production and costume design are customarily peerless. A joy.
#7: TOP GUN MAVERICK (Joseph Kosinski)
Never bet against Tom Cruise. A three-decades-too-late legacy sequel to a well-orchestrated but politically suspect '80s blockbuster had no right to work as well as it does, but, as seamlessly directed as it is by Kosinski, the secret sauce here is surely co-screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, Cruise's collaborator on 7 of the star's last 13 films, who turns this Top Gun 2 into a stealth Mission: Impossible 6.5. A rollicking adventure with a great way of building tension, an intelligent approach to the antagonist that removes the elements that make the first so tricky, perfect aerial sequences and surprising emotional heft -- I've only cried in a handful of films this year, and this was the only one that got me twice (especially the lovely, perfectly handled Val Kilmer appearance) -- all anchored by beautiful work from Cruise, who is both the capital-M Movie Star this film demands and gives a layered performance. This is how you blockbuster.
#6: MOONAGE DAYDREAM (Brett Morgen)
Morgen tells the story of David Bowie, his seismic impact on modern culture and his shifting identities, both public and private, in a documentary biopic like none I've ever seen before, more akin to something like Koyaanisqatsi than any kind of conventional music doc; an overwhelming tsunami of sound and vision which honours its subject's considerable legacy (and still deeply-felt loss) as well as his chameleonic nature, a IMAX-sized valentine to sheer unbounded creativity. It made me inspired as a creative person, also leading me to ask myself questions about why I create, and how I can do so more freely. It's a stunning work on every sensory level, which made my heart beat at a different register as I left the cinema.
#5: PARALLEL MOTHERS (Pedro Almodovar)
Only Almodovar could dovetail a classic melodrama premise with the lingering scars of unreconciled Franco-era genocide, while mining from its familiar twist the one sharp-edged angle I'd never seen before, with a pitch-perfect Penelope Cruz performance at its centre (which Milena Smit, as the other mother, almost matches). Like all of his films, it invites us into the everyday of its characters, taking a while to connect the dots... and, like almost all his films, the way it all connects is so elegant and intelligent, ending on a note that's as haunting as anything he has ever made. It's astonishing how the 72-year old auteur's form maintains, as empathetic, playful, elegant and humane as ever.
#4: RED ROCKET (Sean Baker)
Ex-porn star Mikey Saber (a revelatory Simon Rex), the latest masterful creation from Baker, is a vampiric, opportunistic dirtbag with energy, bullshit and shitkicker charm to burn. Ejected from L.A., he rolls up on his ex-wife Lexi (Bree Elrod, also terrific), a hollowed-out wreck of her former self trying to rebuild her life, to crash when he finds young donut shop girl Strawberry (Suzanna Son, a stealth missile). We're terrified for her, because we've seen where Lexi's at now... but when Strawberry gets an idea of what's Mikey’s up to, things get even more interesting. As incredibly funny as it is unnerving and sad, saying so much about the way capitalist structures have us eating each other alive, it has a refreshing sexual freedom, looks gorgeous on 16mm film and solidifies Baker's rep as one of the most gifted indie filmmakers out there.
#3: THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (Martin McDonagh)
It's been five days since I've seen this, and I'm not sure I even have the right words to articulate the effect this film had on me. It's a fascinating film, with so many elements I'm still sorting through; it works as powerfully on a macro level, as allegory and metaphor -- for the Troubles, the futility of war, the self-centred stubbornness of men -- as it does on a micro level, as a small story about a sweet man who has everything he wants out of his simple life, and another who couches his existential terror in arrogance. This film is not at all at the tenor I expected from McDonagh; while the dialogue and humor is perfectly placed, I didn't always find it funny (okay, sometimes it is, but often darkly so), instead, I found it to be increasingly, inescapably bleak. Performances are stunning across the board, especially Farrell, but I really keyed in to Kerry Condon's Siobahn. Among all the other things it does brilliantly, it's a stunning portrait of the void of depression, of facing, well, the void, and how it can suck in all around it, twist it, even destroy it; it can even make a sweet man cruel. Stunning work in every respect (Carter Burwell's score!), and still growing on me. For me, McDonagh's best film to date.
#2: YOU WON'T BE ALONE (Goran Stolevski)
Stolevski makes one of the most assured directorial debuts of recent years, a dreamily paced, elegantly constructed folk horror tale that's as much of a shape shifter as its lead character(s): at various times, I thought I had the thematic drive of this one pinned, but it morphed in the most exciting ways, ending up in a place that's heartbreakingly poignant. All the actors are great, especially Anamaria Marinca, but Noomi Rapace's (shockingly brief) work is fabulously odd, amusing and achingly great. Stunning makeup FX, too.
...and now... my #1 film of 2022 is...
While there's territory here the filmmaker has covered before, so much of it feels so pertinent to the here and now, the perfect Cronenbergian response to our still-new 21st Century (apparently he wrote the script 20 years ago and barely altered a word, proving again how ahead of the curve he is on these matters).
The world building is evocative and layered, poor old broken Athens exudes a chilling post-apocalyptic vibe, Howard Shore's score is a looming storm of a soundscape and performances all round are perfect for this world and material, especially Mortensen and a never more amusing Kristen Stewart (with a special shoutout to the wickedly delightful Router and Berst). The final shot is damn near transcendent.
...and that's all, folks! Thank you for joining me for a journey through this weirdo of a year.
From us at Cinema Viscera, we wish you all a much happier, healthy, safe and prosperous New Year.
Love and cinema,
Paul Anthony Nelson
What fresh hell is this?
A semi-regular blog exploring films, popular culture, current or future projects and (more often) year-end wrap-up and opinions from CINEMA VISCERA's co-chief, Paul Anthony Nelson.