by Logan Gion
Much like my 2021 posts, I haven’t seen EVERYTHING that was released this year. I could finally get around to watching a great show five years from now only to discover it was released in 2022. Separately, some readers may not agree with my picks. They may point me towards something I missed or engage in a worthwhile conversation.
Set 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon follows the Targarean dynasty when their fiery fliers were at their full power. Viserys is King of the seven realms while his wife is finally set to give birth to a male heir. After the birth goes wrong, Viserys’s brother, Daemon, feels the throne is all but his. Furious at his brother’s callousness, the king appoints Rhaenarys, his daughter, as heir apparent. Any transition of power in Westeros is turbulent, but this one proves to be explosive.
As someone left cold by Game of Thrones‘ plummet in quality, I was wary going into this show. I thought the first episode reached mid-tier Thrones quality, so I was happy to have a week in between episodes. Then it hit me: this show washed away all my ill will from the last show AND reached most of my towering expectations set by the previous show. Cautiously optimistic, I watched the second episode.
Only in the second hour did I appreciate the changes House of the Dragon made from its progenitor. Focused location, diversity of perspectives, shock-and-awe storytelling that didn’t fall into luridness–House of the Dragon had everything I loved about Game of Thrones and dropped many of the things I disliked. While the pacing of this season is on the slower side, House of the Dragon got from me one of the most powerful things a viewer can give a show: my trust in its vision.
Nadia is free of her bizarre time loop and is feeling… well, not amazing, but copestetic, which is saying something. She only freaks out when it’s her birthday, sheltering in the apartment of Alan, her fellow time-prison escapee. As her 40th birthday approaches, Nadia begins thinking about her mother’s selfish actions, specifically her loss of her family’s Krugerrands, gold coins smuggled out of Nazi Germany. Wouldn’t ya know it, Nadia’s gonna get the chance to set things right! As she takes a subway home, she’s sucked back in time to 1982. While this is a shock, it’s nothing compared to when Nadia looks in the mirror…
“If season one of Russian Doll was about how to stop dying, season two is about how to start living.” This quote from Natasha Lyonne hits deep upon watching the show. Hitting deeper, however, is Nadia’s obsession with fixing her family’s past in order to fix her present. With each attempt, Nadia thinks she’s getting closer to a happy ending, only for some cosmic interference to come into play. As the episode count ticks up, she figures out why her ancestors did things the way they did.
On a personal level, I found this season of television cathartic. Most everyone has bones to pick with their parents or extended family: “Why did my mom make this decision?” “Why does my dad act like this?” While I may not agree with the way my parents made decisions in the past, were I in their shoes, had their perspective and knowledge, and suffered from their same disorders or stresses, I can’t say I’d act differently. Seeing Nadia and Alan come to this conclusion helped me realize how universal this truth is. Because this show so deeply connected me to my fellow human beings, Russian Doll easily earns a spot here.
Oh, did I also mention that it’s deviously hilarious? Lyonne’s star wattage is off the charts and Annie Murphey’s addition to the cast ratchets this show up to delirious heights.
Deborah Vance, the longest running comic in Vegas, is out on the road, ready to try out her most personal material yet. With her is Ava Daniels, an entitled young writer. While the two women are in sync on the surface, Ava, in a fit of rage, sent out a nasty email about Deborah last season. Stuck together on a tour bus, tensions brew for our leading ladies as the stand-up material gets poor reception. Can they crack the material before they make each other crack?
I’m a sucker for acidic humor, so I’ve been lying in wait, desperate for the next Mean Girls. Separately, I’ve greatly enjoyed every scene-stealing turn from Jean Smart in the last five years (e.g., Watchmen & Mare of Easttown). Now, both desires have merged in Hacks, with humor more sour than a Warhead candy and a jaded lead performance from Smart (along with Hannah Einbinder’s collection of the most insufferable millennial stereotypes). The deluge of quotable lines that stream from each episode (“We held a quorum.” “You heard a noise in MY car?”) soak its viewers with caustic venom. As a result, we feel each laugh sink through to our bones.
This season especially, Smart and Einbinder bring their characters‘ longing to the front. Each of them need a best friend, but both have been so wounded by life, they’re sure they are going to get hurt. As a result, they sabotage their own desires, completing a self-fulfilling prophecy. Only through their most personal comedic material can they share their true selves. The result is winsome, with the perfect touch of bittersweet.
With season three set for later this year, I can’t wait to find out how these two women will mess up each other’s lives again… then fix them.
Cassian Andor is a listless thief on the scrapyard planet Ferrix. While looking for his sister, he accidentally kills a corporate officer–then not-so-accidentally kills the guy’s partner. His pragmatic murder eventually attracts the attention of an overzealous middle manager, the Galactic Empire, and a network of operatives looking to unite partisan movements into a Rebel Alliance. Andor, though, just wants enough money to take care of his sick mother and live a life free from The Empire’s grasp. That becomes more difficult to achieve as imperial reach stretches longer by the day.
“Watching this show, I know it’s good… but WHY is it good?” my dad asked me over the Christmas holiday. He, and I imagine many other Star Wars fans, thought only one or two things were necessary to raise a show from competent to amazing. The true genius of Tony Gilroy and his team, however, is evident from a forest of good decisions, not just one or two sturdy pines.
Here are just a few:
Belaboring the earlier forestry metaphor, Andor proves that, once again, execution trumps idea EVERY time. How many creatives have had Star Wars‘ fertile soil to use, and how many have turned it into a swampland? Andor is, by comparison, a moon’s worth of heartwood.
And I’d rather visit the moon of Endor than I would Dagobah (aesthetically speaking…).
Ever wish you could separate your work life completely from your home life? With Lumon Industries, you can! Mark, reeling from the death of his wife, decides to bifurcate his brain, escaping for eight hours a day into the “severed” floor. Lumon Industries isn’t a company that plays fair, though, and they work to influence the lives of Mark and his coworkers outside of the office. When a former employee leaves the company and undoes his procedure, both versions of Mark begin to notice the extent of Lumon’s pernicious behavior.
Each episode of this show yanked me in for a different reason: The beginning episodes had sharp satire; the middle episodes had intriguing mystery, delicious irony, and fascinating relationships; the ending episodes made me say “What the actual f—?!” out loud, not once, but twice. I am RARELY surprised by television given the amount that I watch, but the “waffle party” scene was peak surrealism.
Adam Scott’s alternatively heartbreaking and investigative performance as Mark makes this show the equivalent of a Fortune 500 company, but what makes Severance an industry pioneer is the unabashed idiosyncrasies of its world and characters. (HOW is the brother-in-law a successful self-help author when he’s such a buffoon? Why does Patricia Arquette’s character live next door, simultaneously obsessing over yet cruelly manipulating Mark? Why do the squiggly numbers make people nervous?)
Typing that previous paragraph out, I realize that I haven’t been this obsessed with a show’s intricacies since Lost or Fringe. As someone jilted by the former show and fiercely protective of the latter, my bar for this storytelling niche is stratospheric. And Severance sailed over it like Kier Eagan at the end of a quota fulfillment reward animation.
If you didn’t understand that joke, for the love of the founder, watch this show already!
Tess is visiting Detroit for a filmmaking position with a documentary crew. Due to a mixup from her app, she arrives at her rental home to find the key missing and another man, named Keith, staying there! After finding all the hotels booked, Tess and Keith slowly begin to question if the other guest is luring them into a trap. That night, a strange shriek wakes Tess, and the audience knows that SOMETHING is going on inside the house. Who, or what, is responsible?
Within many of my favorite horror movies lies a moment or two that make my knees rise to my chest and my fingers curl over my jaw. I’ve noticed over the years that, rather than being shaky or skittish, this position means I’m being consumed by every frame of the film before me. Texas Chainsaw Masacre, The Shining, The Exorcist–each of these films got me in this mode on first watch. Barbarian had me there by minute 30. Imagine what I did when the SECOND character went in the basement! (Answer: I immediately called my co-writer and raved about this unhinged story.)
Thankfully, I got to watch this movie again with my friends that showed me Midsommar. Halfway through their numerous “nope-nope-nope”s and “WHOA!”s, the movie’s deeper thematic messages hit.
I believe that the basement of the rental house symbolizes its inhabitants’ deepest selves. Tess, when talking to Keith, says that, deep down, she’s afraid that she wants to be a prisoner so that she can eventually become a mother. Her basement contains a monster that either looks for someone to baby and imprison, or kills them. When Kieth and Tess become closer, she begs him to just leave before he discovers what’s lurking in Tess’s inner self–her basement. Instead, he pushes his way in and gets literally killed and, symbolically, their relationship gets destroyed.
Meanwhile, when Justin Long’s character, AJ, gets imprisoned, Tess’s maternal instincts (the mother monster) only knows how to imprison and smother him. It doesn’t help that the only media the mother monster is shown is a mommy prep video about breastfeeding (a metaphor for the messages media constantly impart upon women). Finally, AJ realizes that HIS core self is a rapist and, more broadly, someone who only knows how to take. He kills his monster underground, dealing with the matter internally. He fails, however, to bring it into the light, and the dead body at his basement’s core rots him from the inside out, leading to his demise.
Tess, meanwhile, brings her monster into the open. Yes, it protects her, ultimately, but she needs to kill it to move on from both her house–her core self–and create the version of herself that she envisions.
Whether you agree with that analysis or want to continue hunting for a new one, a horror movie with this much thematic depth deserves a look and earns a spot on my list.
The Predator, a space-faring hunter that looks for only the greatest challenges, arrives on Earth in Native American territory during the height of the French fur trade. As it uses its advanced gear to study the Comanche people, it begins picking them off in creatively grotesque ways.
As usual, The Predator’s victims fail to understand its culture or the rules of its death game. Where The Predator falters, however, is failing to assess Nauru, an aspiring huntress, as a threat–his loss.
As Naru studies The Predator, the alien dispatches characters that arrogantly believe themselves to be above the laws of nature. After all, when it comes to The Predator, the higher something is on the food chain, the farther it falls.
A sound metric regarding the quality of someone’s idea is if your reaction is, “Damn, why didn’t I think of that?” The instant I heard about Prey, I uttered those exact words.
As for the film’s execution, Prey follows Predator’s B-Movie formula, keeping things as straightforward as possible, only adding complications as necessary. While I don’t believe all action movies have to be simple (my favorite movie would like to have a word), an uncomplicated plot leaves room for the action, characters, and themes to breathe.
As such, Prey highlights Amber Midthunder’s burgeoning talent, giving her both ferocious fight scenes as well as dramatic moments that land. Like the best of action movies, Prey shows its theme through its characters’ deeds. (One of the movie’s only missteps is when Midthunder delivers an anachronistic feminist platitude when asked why she wants to be a hunter.) The majority of the time, our protagonist is doing what makes sense for her–as is everyone else. Through those actions, the laser-focused theme shoots clear.
I’ve heard an opinion that the film showed too much of The Predator too soon, especially in the beginning of the movie, but this didn’t bother me. We’ve seen The Predator before; to see it through the protagonist’s eyes, I believe, would be a tired take. Instead, when The Predator gets jazzed about killing a coyote because its the biggest beast he’s found so far, I was amused at the fun reversal. This time, the alien has to learn OUR system and rules.
Regardless of how one falls on The Predator’s subplot, Prey marvels by finally managing what the original tried to do: be a movie with great action, a movie with great monsters, and a movie with great purpose.
Maverick, more than 30 years after the events of Top Gun, is still a daredevil pilot–he just tests aircraft now. After his program gets shut down, Maverick is ushered back to the Top Gun school and must train a new team of recruits–the most promising being his late co-pilot’s son. Given a near-impossible mission (not even sorry for that), Maverick’s team begins to buckle under the pressure. Even worse, Maverick’s becoming familiar with his team, and knows that he’s likely sending them to their deaths.
Every couple of years, a true crowd pleaser of a movie comes along–everyone adores such a film, no matter the age or background of the people watching. From The Shawshank Redemption to Hidden Figures, crowd pleasers guarantee an annual viewing on your parents’ watchlist. Usually, such a movie is a historical or character drama where the hero overcomes injustice.
Top Gun: Maverick is none of those things. It’s a requel (reboot/sequel), an action movie, politically nonsensical, and stars a man with far too much charisma to ever face injustice. It even copies the original film nearly beat for beat! AND YET it’s on both my list and everyone else’s.
In a strange way, while Maverick isn’t historical, it DOES have history and uses its characters’ pasts to ground emotional, organic decisions. That’s where the film soars: personal stakes. As the film progresses, the audience feels like this is everyone’s last shot. Maverick’s gotta get this mission right; Iceman’s gotta pull every last string; Rooster’s gotta do right by his late pops. The result is a sonic boom of entertainment.
Like Maverick the character, Maverick the movie knows that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for a movie to fly–you just need a hell of a pilot to stick the landing.
Benoit Blanc is back to solve another mystery. This time, the backdrop is the COVID pandemic. Invited, along with five “disruptors,” to the private island of billionaire Miles Bron, Blanc attends a fake murder mystery party in which Bron is to be “killed.” By the time the mystery is set to begin, Blanc discovers, alarmingly, that everyone present has a REAL motive to kill Bron! Can Blanc stop this scenario before Bron’s guests make this a real case? Or is someone moving these people as pieces in a larger game? If so, who are the REAL players?
A sequel that’s just as good as the original: That feat alone is a rare sight. To follow up a crackerjack mystery like Knives Out, however, is nigh unheard of–preposterous, really.
The simple truth that Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig have revealed is that a sequel (really any adaptation) must honor the bones of the material. The rest can get vaporized in a hydrogen-gas explosion. Like its predessecor, Glass Onion sets its sights upon a mega-rich jerk who’s using financial leverage on a vulnerable person. Thus, the audience gets to relish in the one-percenter’s comeuppance, regardless of that person’s involvement in the actual murder.
Thus, both films in the series have teeth: thematic traction that riles up an audience, getting them to think and care about the movie long after it’s over. Of course, the clues, delicious performances, and audience winks all add layers of flavor. But the film’s power lies with its core message, and those watching can see right through to it, just like a glas– well, it wasn’t a mystery where I was going with THAT metaphor.
Evelyn is under a lot of stress: her estranged father has flown in from China; her husband, Waymond, is serving her divorce papers; her daughter, Joy, wants to introduce Becky, Joy’s girlfriend, to Evelyn’s father; and, to top it all off, taxes for Evelyn and Waymond’s laundromat business are past due and contain suspicious expenses.
If only Evelyn’s life had been different. A different choice at a crucial moment could’ve made things better. Good news! A different version of Waymond suddenly possesses the Waymond we know and tells Evelyn that, of all the versions of Evelyn in all possible timelines and dimensions, the one to which WE’VE been introduced perfectly meets the conditions to save the multiverse.
The thing is, though, that Evelyn’s not particularly good at ANYTHING—not with her business, her hobbies, her family, and certainly not her taxes. There’s no way this can be true, right? Wait, her tax auditor didn’t act or walk like that before…
Eight months later, this movie’s still at the top of my list, and I’m still hoping it sweeps The Oscars in March. Here’s what I said about the movie last May:
We should collectively skip nine months forward as a society to the 2023 Oscars and award this movie Best Picture right now. Save the pageantry, the prognosticating, and the “For Your Consideration” campaigns; it’s done. This movie has everything, for every audience, all in one film. The fact that the narrative is rarely, if ever, confusing is a modern miracle. How a film can simultaneously be the inheritor of both The Matrix and The Joy Luck Club’s legacies smashes the brittle clay pot where I kept my expectations of what cinema can be.
This movie quite creatively explores what every possible iteration of the multiverse could be. Sometimes people bleed confetti while others have inconvenient appendages. The originality of the film’s logic and the unexpected connections Evelyn encounters throughout the numerous versions of the universe innovatively explore the multiverse concept.
The independent nature of the film also adds a freedom to the proceedings. While the production is professional and oftentimes eye-popping, the visuals have a slightly unpolished feel to them because the filmmakers weren’t beholden to a studio conglomerate’s hand-wringing.
This film also has its own signature concoction of humor that sets it apart from its genre. Part of the movie’s humor comes from the novelty of seeing Michelle Yeoh and Jaime Lee Curtis have fun! Yes, Yeoh has been sassy before, but she’s more known for her cool demeanor in movies like Tomorrow Never Dies; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; and Crazy Rich Asians. Curtis, meanwhile, has starred in comedies from A Fish Called Wanda to Knives Out, but I’ve never seen her play a character this goofy. The silliness that she and Yeoh present on screen reaches, at times, the delirious heights of early ‘00s Will Ferrell movies. If these aspects don’t at least intrigue people, they may as well be living in a world populated solely by rocks.
The 400 Blows: Leftover from both January and April’s themes
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg: Leftover from April and September’s themes
Blow Out: Leftover from August’s theme
Why are PG Rated Movies from the ’70s and ’80s So Graphic? A “Why Does Hollywood?” Post/Oblogatory Deep Dive
Why Aren’t There More Family Sitcoms Nowadays? A “Why Does Hollywood?” Post
Adventure Time: Partially Obligatory
Why do European movies look different than American ones? A “Why Does Hollywood?” Post
Obligatory Animated Viewing from 2023
Obligatory Live-Action Viewing from 2023
Rocky: Yo, Adrian!
Midnight Cowboy: Hey, I’m Walkin’ Here!
Road House: Pain Don’t Hurt…
The Big Sleep: “You’re Cute.” “Gettin’ Cuter Every Minute.”