It’s sort of hard to deny “the film of the year” is Everything Everywhere All At Once, regardless of your personal attachment to it. The widespread love for its incredible cast, its Rick & Morty-esque plotting and humor (it’s The Matrix with hot dog fingers), and its willingness to go where Marvel’s own Multiverse of Madness failed to explore has landed it in constant conversation since release. I adored Yeoh, Quan, and Hong in the film, and there were several sequences I’ll think about for a long time.
I also struggled with some of its depiction of homophobia, and the centering of Evelyn’s growth and redemption in that relationship rather than Joy’s trauma. Maybe a good review would help me think through that aspect of the film. I’m hopeful someday that, with some distance, some of the more heated responses to criticism I’ve seen wind down, and the total dismissal of the film that anger’s earned can heal. I think films grow when people talk about them, and right now it’s hard to have a conversation. It’s probably winning multiple awards on Oscar Sunday including Best Picture, and it’ll be a worthy winner.
This year, when many of the “best films” started to feel more terminally online than ever and discussion of so many films devolved into various inane (and sometimes insane) culture wars, I asked myself repeatedly whether or not I would bother writing my Top 22 of 2022. I imagined myself a dragon hoarding my gems, beckoning people into my lair to look but not touch. The main reason I decided to go forward with it is pretty simple: I enjoy doing it and it’s one of the few types of writing that comes pretty easily for me these days. If anyone else enjoys reading it, I’m happy to hear about it.
Honorable Mention: action button reviews boku no natsuyasumi
Dir. Tim Rogers
Hyperthymesia is a rare neurological condition that results in excruciating, highly detailed recall of a lifetime of memories. The writer, director, and narrator of this documentary, Tim Rogers, experiences this condition, and he takes us on a tour of different parts of his life. Where Jon Bois and his team at Secret Base are innovating the presentation of narrative with their documentaries in Dorktown, Rogers fleshes out their emotional content.
What is on its surface a six hour review of a slice of life video game about a childhood summer (think Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley with a little more story and less to do) is instead mostly a deeply researched personal essay about how we relate to co-workers, memories of where we grew up, and an afflicting neurological condition. He travels back to childhood hometown – he films at all the places he made summer memories, finding that sometimes, they rebuke his investment. It’s my belief that Rogers has ability beyond his hyperthymesia – he is a phenomenal writer, one of my favorites in personal essay, before he translated that talent to criticism or filmmaking.
It’s a big ask to put a six hour video game review of a game never released in English on a “best films” list. The game review stuff is a blast! But it’s a lot of discussion of beetle battling for the average filmgoer. Letterboxd only briefly had the video available to log as a film before removing it a couple weeks later.But it would be disingenuous not to include it as an honorable mention, as it made me laugh hard, feel deeply, and has ingrained several phrases in my brain as gifts I won’t forget any time soon.
A hearty “see you later” to 3000 Years of Longing, Athena, Bones & All, Both Sides of the Blade, Catherine Called Birdy, Death on the Nile, Deep Water, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, Eo, Il Buco, Men, Nanny, Neptune Frost, The Novelist’s Film, The People You’re Paying to Be In Shorts, Section 1, The Stars at Noon, There There, Un Couple, The United States of America, Vikram, and The Woman King, as well as a few that I’ve bumped to 2023 due to availability like One Fine Morning, Broker, Master Gardener, Pacifiction, Saturn Bowling, and Showing Up.
22. Turning Red
One thing that’s so impressive about Shi’s work, both of Turning Red and her short Bao, is that she manages to combine impeccable good vibes with genuine inner turmoil and interpersonal conflict. She brings her Chinese immigrant experience to her work, filling it with personal details where Pixar has historically used fantasy, and the fun goes totally off the wall when you’re just celebrating how teenagers get crushes and dance around. On a technical level, Shi understands her animation touchpoints better than any prior Pixar director, and she’s able to make more elastic,expressive, well-paced visual comedy than anyone at the studio ever has managed. There are direct references, too – the Sailor Moon and Rumiko Takahashi jokes are loving and knowing – but it’s in small animation choices that Shi’s expanding the vocabulary of CG animation with that familiarity of anime.
21. Sharp Stick
I’m not a Girls watcher. I’ve seen the opening scene of the pilot in a class a decade ago (I liked that!) and the first twenty minutes of Tiny Furniture (I hated that!) Sharp Stick’s at least as divisive as anything she’s made, but I can’t totally tell why. Centered on a pretty lovely breakthrough film performance by Kristen Froseth, it’s a sex comedy about a neurodivergent young adult who decides to begin exploring her sexuality by hooking up with a married man (a never-better Jon Bernthal,) The film is at its best when it’s about their relationship (and Dunham as the cucked pregnant wife) but the whole thing is very funny and well performed. Unlike some similar films (Wetlands, Raw, Nymphomaniac) this never gets too gross or too punishing to stay light and, without spoiling anything, optimistic about sexuality.
20. Armageddon Time
Dir. James Gray
Armageddon Time is a messy film, the autobiography of James Gray that takes on assimilation, class difference and racism in late 70s New York. Its vulnerability exposing some clumsy understanding of privilege and identity that doesn’t surprise me coming from a fifty-something filmmaker thirty years distant from the community he grew up in. I find valuable conversation in this film’s honesty in letting its characters make mistakes and honesty about the sometimes uncomfortable assumptions Gray continues to make looking back. The film looks back with beautiful autumnal images and music, and I’ll forgive the indulgence of getting great, funny performances from Anne Hathaway and Anthony Hopkins as your progenitors on the behalf of having Jeremy Strong play your father as Ray Romano. This film is less ambitious than Gray’s last two films, The Lost City of Z and Ad Astra, but unlike those films, I think the mess works in the film’s favor.
Dir. Steven Soderbergh
The rogue of HBO Max returns with another quick and dirty genre thriller, following up last year’s No Sudden Move with a slapper of a paranoia conspiracy. Lots of people will argue on the behalf of its themes about technology surveillance, its COVID setting, its fear of Big Tech, but I don’t really think Kimi tells most viewers anything they don’t already know. The fun is in just how cleverly this film uses these elements to tell an unpredictable story in exciting and bold ways – one chase sequence midway through the film uses the camera in a way I can only describe as ecstatic. Kravitz is great, too, even better here than her turn as Selina Kyle, playing a fun fuck-up of a character that’s easy to root for even as she’s being openly rude.
Dir. Michael Bay
I am not one of those people who will constantly fight for Michael Bay’s place at the table in action filmmaking. I couldn’t even finish Bad Boys. I don’t really care about The Rock or Armageddon all that much beyond Affleck’s commentary snippet. And I don’t remember the two Transformers movies I bothered to watch beyond walking out of Revenge of the Fallen thinking “golly, that was really racist” and getting a text from the girl I had a crush on that Michael Jackson had died while I was in the theater.
Ambulance is delightful action filmmaking. I had such a hard time picking a clip, there are so many good ones that are so fun and inventive. There’s a weird beauty to the way it handles its characters, too, a nonjudgmental stance of belief that the difference between a good guy or a bad guy with a gun is something that changes minute to minute. That stance allows you to constantly be shifting in allegiances as the characters make decisions, which is good, because if you never got to relish being on Jake Gyllenhaal’s psychopathic allegiance, the movie would be denied one of its better pleasures. As action, it’s just rip-roaring speed, splashing through ideas with unmatched quickness. And the bullets hit hard and the crashes hit harder. In a lot of ways, Bay’s recaptured the vibe the Fast & Furious movies had when they were still actually funny and still actually about car chases.
17. Captain Ahab: The Story of Dave Stieb
Dir. Jon Bois
More and more, film fans around the world are starting to notice – Jon Bois, the funnyman who made a reputation for himself as an artist of the absurd, is swiftly becoming a truly innovative expert filmmaker. His experimentation in presenting hours upon hours of sports stats in a way that’s digestible, easy to understand as a story, and remains visually interesting is the sort of thing that’s going to be taught in classrooms sooner rather than later.
I had never heard of Dave Stieb before watching this doc – I now have a strong understanding of his career, the peak in the early 80s that should have gotten him a Cy Young award, the latter day fall after injury and public embarrassment. Bois actually takes a new tactic with Captain Ahab – unlike The Bob Emergency, Captain Ahab “sticks to sports,” not relying on contextual history of city politics, institutional racism, fan culture. Even the book Stieb wrote about his own life only gets mentioned in passing here and there. This is a sports story first and foremost, about a guy who almost made the top rung over and over again, a thrilling series of victories and occasionally crushing defeats. It’s a story of small moments with large surprises. As a wise man once wrote, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?”
I admit, I fell behind on the Dorktown docs – The History of the Atlanta Falcons, The People You’re Paying To Be In Shorts, and Section 1 are all sitting in my queue, waiting to get chomped down. Maybe I’ll feel silly highlighting this one as my favorite when I look back. In the meantime, it was among the most fun I had with a movie all year.
16. The Eternal Daughter
Dir. Joanna Hogg
A stolen film, made guerilla at a Welsh hotel estate, Joanna Hogg managed to sneak out this little ghost story with one of our great “Having A Great Year” actors, Tilda Swinton. Tilda plays both a filmmaker and her mother, vacationing at a former family home while they process Dad’s passing. While there’s some eerie moments, ghostly images, and some striking thriller lighting, The Eternal Daughter is very much a drama about grief and the memories we sometimes pass down when it’s too late. Some people have complained the central reveal is “too obvious,” but I take that as a gift anyway – it’s obvious only because it’s so openly the thematic point the film is building toward, and it’s a beautifully expressed reveal all the same, one of the best scenes of the year. It’s a very cozy film, one I can imagine only growing as a rainy day classic when you need a good cry.
15. We’re All Going To The World’s Fair
The internet is a cruel place to be a child. I don’t so much mean for reasons of stranger danger or exposure to adult material. Rather, it’s difficult to learn how to navigate safely when your ideas are formed by a lack of life experience, and to learn to perform confidence while surrounded by the grown folk who made the rules. We see this a lot with current discourse around Gen-Z, whether it’s a tiktok arguing that “all sex scenes are bad” or a half-formed political tweet that we later find out was made by a 14 year old. As someone who used to post a lot of Beatles lyrics and desperate pleas for my friends to message me so I wouldn’t feel so lonely, I’m glad that I never embarrassed myself in a way that felt really dangerous.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair escalates that into genuine fear. An online horror roleplay that starts to blur between “a game” and horrific reality. Everyone’s just playing along, right? Schoenbrun really captures that feeling of alienation, of trying to fit in. They’ve openly discussed how the film relates to their coming out as trans, and the feeling of trying to figure out the rules is universal. Anna Cobb gives a bravura debut, reminiscent of parts of Elsie Fisher’s nervous, nerve-wracking turn in Eighth Grade. It also nails the online horror creepypasta vibe, as someone who’s spent way too much time watching Slenderman YouTube series. I almost made one of those in college, too.
14. Avatar: The Way of Water
Never count out Big Jim. The man’s just got storytelling in his bones. Avatar: The Way of Water, which somehow manages to have a nonstop hour long battle sequence as its ending, is so full of joyful scenes of children playing, learning, dancing. He understands that to make the audience invest in the fight for Pandora, he needs to show its beauty and the way it takes care of its people. Eywa delivers – especially in the high frame rate 3D theatrical presentation, the pleasures of this alien world beat mighty. What shocked me most is how much I connected to the characters and performances on this round – Weaver as Kiri is an outrageous, special performance, taking advantage of the dissonance between Weaver’s speaking voice and Kiri’s insecure maturity, but I loved Jake and Neytiri, Lo’ak, Spider, Quaritch, and of course Payakan. That third act, nonstop action, features Cameron borrowing from every single one of his best films and firing it back for an encore, and it only gets more and more exciting as it goes.
13. Top Gun: Maverick
Dir. Joseph Kosinski
Okay, so don’t count out Touchdown Tom, either. He’s winning back almost everybody who can look past his personal history at this point, and it’s for two reasons: he’s still a great actor, and he genuinely cares about this shit. There’s a humanism inherent to Cruise’s work these days, one that believes in human ingenuity over drones and programs. That plays uncomfortably with Top Gun: Maverick‘s allegiance to institutions, even if Mav himself doesn’t play by the rules. But it also allows for a scene like Kilmer’s, which I think is an outrageously moving piece of acting. And it allows for the outrageous practical stunt emphasis, putting cameras on fighter jets. Every takeoff is just this unbelievable adrenaline boost. I wish it were less brown and grey (the main way it’s worse than the original is the lack of natural sunlight and color) and I wish the songs were better. I’d watch it again tomorrow if you asked.
Catty poets haven’t been depicted this well since Campion’s Bright Star, but even that film’s depiction of male devotion isn’t the openly gay frisson of Benediction. Lefty artists fucking their way across 20s England, breaking hearts and trading barbs along the way, this film is glib, funny, and apocalyptic. There’s no happy ending imagined for these gay men other than settling down, marrying a beard and hopefully finding stability or God by the end. This film shows the cultural institution of being afraid to love someone else openly and the sweeping silence of that choice. Jack Lowden plays the impossible-yet-real Siegfried Sassoon, mostly known in real life for his poems rallying against World War I – the film only begins when he’s already been medically discharged to a psychiatric facility, and very quickly his best work is behind him. It’s sort of like The Last Days of Disco if the yuppies were all in the closet and much more genuinely intelligent. Its ending is a heartbreaker.
11. The Northman
Dir. Robert Eggers
Eggers is a man after my classic English literary heart. The Northman takes Hamlet back to its roots as a revenge play, a bordello of blood ending in a pile of bodies. It’s a thrilling action epic, one with at least ten incredible spectacles I won’t ever forget. There’s a cursed sword in an undead tomb – Bjork plays a witch soothsayer in a one-scene classic – there’s barbarian raids and barbarian football – Willem Dafoe gives our heroes ayahuasca and sends them to see Yggdrasil. It’s an absurd feast for the eyes and ears anchored by one of our culture’s great dramas, albeit without Shakespeare’s language or the court drama that most people consider the heart of that great drama’s greatness. I understand why that’s a hard sell, and like all of the Eggers films so far, it’s quite graphic, blood and guts and boobs and sweat. You do get one great scene of Shakespearean acting – Nicole Kidman turns it on for a climactic monologue to Skarsgard, her best performance in years.
10. Decision to Leave
Dir. Park Chan-Wook
Park’s last film, The Handmaiden, may not have been topped since. That was a masterpiece of legendary status, with an incredible story, two of my favorite lead performances of all time, and the confidence of a master filmmaker making the most beautiful images of his career. It was funny, sexy, thrilling, thought-provoking, and a league above anything he’d ever done before.
With Decision to Leave, he’s thrown out the rulebook for where to put the camera. Rather than try to live up to that high watermark, he’s playing a different sport. There’s stuff in here that’s just astonishing, whether it’s presenting alternate takes at the same time in mirrors, a world class murder scene investigation, or the really crazy chase sequence of Park Hae-il chasing a violent criminal, that blew my mind. It’s a delightful romantic mystery, too, sort of a combo of Vertigo and Basic Instinct that expands into unexpected and funny places. At the heart of it all is Tang Wei’s performance as the not-quite femme fatale – she’s one of the greatest actresses alive, and she’s back to her career height with this no-holds-barred charm offensive. I don’t want to spoil anything in case you haven’t seen it – go in not knowing anymore and have a blast.
9. After Yang
I’d be happy for Colin Farrell to win an Oscar this year, but it would be on the behalf of this performance rather than his larger than life persona in The Banshees of Inisherin. After Yang is a sci-fi parable about adoption and synthetic life, one that considers the way transnational adoption separates adoptees from their culture and how that would apply to AI. Colin Farrell’s son, played by a brilliant Justin H. Min, is an android breaking down – he gains access to explore his son’s recorded memories, and considers whether or not to “fix” him or donate the body to science.
The film predicts some of the conversations we’ve had this year about AI and consciousness, both by highlighting the indifference some people show and the perhaps overindulgence in belief others maintain. Its images are neutral, obviously inspired by Kogonada’s namesake Yasujiro Ozu films (Kogo Nada was Ozu’s screenwriter on his more beloved films) and perfectly framed for beauty and pouring light. The above scene, Farrell as a teamaster inspired by Werner Herzog’s quote from the documentary All In This Tea is one of the more insightful looks at appropriation and identity I’ve seen in a film. The film creates a complex emotion, not just a melancholy but a subdued anger, one that took me days to sort through.
Dir. Baz Lurhmann
The cilantro filmmaker to end cilantro filmmakers – in my book, Baz is a master stylist who cannot be anything but interesting. Elvis is his best film, one that I think shrewdly makes a case for Elvis’s maximalism rather than his musical intuition. Butler plays him as a provocateur and zealot, a man who is sworn to his stage presence and swaying for his audience, his religion his own iconography. He’s a master entertainer, and Butler nails the song and dance to become one of the greatest rock stars of all time, on and off stage. The film is actively engaged with Elvis’s appropriation, both acknowledging that, yeah, there were black artists who supported it at the time, and also showing just how outlandishly you have to stretch that story to make it feel true. Whether it’s Doja Cat showing up in the film soundtrack proper or Eminem showing up in the credits, that conversation hasn’t changed a whole lot, whether it’s Lil Wayne’s shock at Gucci Mane ranking above Em or Doja in racial chatrooms showing feet. I can’t even begin to talk about how this film looks and sounds in the scope of this piece – if you’ve seen it, you know. Perfectly paced, I felt like I was gonna have a heart attack in the theater.
Dir. Todd Field
It’s funny that Blanchett and Yeoh have wound up in the battle for Best Actress, as both films are crushingly online. Tár is the Twitter to EEAAO’s Facebook – it’s acidic, pompous, tragic, and inconquerably funny. Specifically, Lydia Tár is like a dril tweet, a main character of the day who cannot stop herself from making the worst decisions possible, a savant whose world we watch crumble like the tragedy of Richard III. I think I’ve told my wife ten different iconic scenes from Tár after she found out the film’s iconic ending, but this week my favorite “Lydia Tár Can’t Help Herself” scene is the scene where she tries desperately to bully her new prey into ordering a salad at her favorite restaurant and is forced to watch this woman (Sophie Kauer, who I would love to have seen nominated alongside Naomie Merlant and Nina Hoss!) devour more meat than she knew was still available in Germany.
The comparisons between Field’s farce and Kubrick are manifold, not surprising because Field was Kubrick’s protégé (as well as Nick Nightingale in Eyes Wide Shut!) but none of Kubrick’s films share more DNA with Tár than Barry Lyndon, the tragicomedy of a fraud you hate from the start. Blanchett is the only actor Field ever considered, planning to throw away the film if she’d refused, and she gives an all-time great character actor performance. But I hope we get to see Lydia again someday – I think she could become one of the great screen characters, reinterpreted by new generations, the most pompous imaginable representative of the old guard and ex-master manipulator.
6. Jackass Forever
When I first saw the trailer for Jackass Forever, I knew I had to be there opening weekend. It’s the spirit of Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan taken to extreme heights, and they somehow managed to hold back all the film’s best bits from the trailer (except that bear. That bear is just incredible.) I have not laughed that hard at a movie in my lifetime. Johnny Knoxville, who we all agreed is so outrageously hot now that he’s gone gray, is the perfect MC for this gathering of friends to pummel one another’s balls into oblivion. The love they have for one another is infectious, and the trust as they delicately prepare one another to be physically destroyed Yet Again is the heart of the dudes rock movement. The best scene of the year, in any movie, is The Silence of the Lambs, which makes me laugh out loud just to even think about for more than ten seconds. Fucking astonishing.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been flipping Jackass Forever and Tár for months, but ultimately I had to settle on the funnier film landing a little higher.
5. Crimes of the Future
Dir. David Cronenberg
The final 2022 film I watched before I began working on this list, I’m still so disappointed that it so briefly played in theaters while I was traveling! I guess I probably should have considered it from the title, but after hearing about The Man Covered In Ears, I assumed Crimes of the Future’s crimes were more biological and less petty in nature. This is, by and large, a satirical neo-noir film, with our central “detective,” performance artist Saul Tenser (a never funnier Viggo Mortensen, I’d watch twenty more movies starring this guy) and his artistic-surgeon-and-maybe-more partner Caprice (Lea Seydoux, the only actress who could have played the role with this careful a balance of resentment, adoration and enthusiasm) walking into shadowy offices and dark alleyways to meet with bio-criminals and inefficient government officiants and unravel a criminal conspiracy.
It’s just joyfully good stuff, combining Cronenberg’s penchant for morphing bodies and machines made of bonebugs and using them to make “a pedal chair that’s supposed to make it easier to digest your breakfast.” Kristen Stewart’s been rightfully highlighted too, as the neurotic, creepy National Organ Registry clerk Timlin, who is so funny with every word she says. The film is the perfect capstone of Cronenberg’s work so far, combining his sense of humor, his talent for production design, his incredible filmmaking, and his more psychological dramas. For a director known famously for One Thing, he’s always had a balanced and varied career (A History of Violence, M. Butterfly, and Cosmopolis may share some of his themes, but they’re in no way horror films) and this film manages to interpolate all that variety into one ur-statement.
Supposedly his last feature film, Yuasa’s final statement before retirement cements him as the greatest animator of music in film history. A rock opera about a shamisen player and his yokai frontman, Inu-Oh combines the sonics of Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson into a 99 minute musical odyssey. As with Lu Over The Wall, Yuasa is also telling a story about generational tolerance, the rebellion of the kids who want to push things forward.
Inu-Oh accomplishes that musically, but it also anchors that in gender identity and transgender presentation, finally nailing something Yuasa’s been fascinated by since his debut Mind Game. Avu-chan, the nonbinary actor and singer playing the titular Inu-Oh yokai, is fucking electric to listen to, a vocal performance that immediately makes clear why this band is so popular and why they’re so dangerous. This film nails the political aspect of Elvis’s career better than Baz Lurhmann’s Elvis, taking advantage of this film’s fantastical version of historical setting to tell a story that is surprising, thoughtful, and deftly written. But the great success of the film is the part of the film where five songs play in sequence, advancing the plot and changing scenes without ever having to take a breath for exposition, and the beautiful animation that accompanies them. Yuasa is a master. I selfishly hope it isn’t his last film, but if so, he went out only making legends.
Dir. Jordan Peele
It’s hard to know where to start with these final three films, interchangeable instant favorites that soared above impossible expectations. Peele’s prior two films, Get Out and Us, were my immediate favorites the year of their release, too – one of our funniest guys turned his observational talent toward symbolic, cerebral horror films. NOPE is every bit as thematically laden with purpose and depth, raising conversations about its depiction of media spectacle, race in America, posthumanism, family, and laying claim to influence from Spielberg to anime to the John Ford western.
It’s fucking thrilling to watch, the most tense, “no no no don’t go in there” horror movie I’ve seen in years. It’s aesthetically perfect, with some of the most gorgeous images of silhouettes in nighttime I’ve ever seen, and Abels’ score combining so many layers of influence into a thrill ride. This track, “The Run (Urban Legends)”, is the most pitch perfect fusion of classic Hollywood western scores, his more modern horror movie dissonance, and funk-influenced strings. Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya give the best performances in any movie this year as the Haywood siblings, their bond unbreakable, their chemistry unmatched, OJ’s intense well of emotions unspoken. Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Steven Yeun, these performances are so funny and so well considered. That it’s just as thoughtful and purposeful as Peele’s prior work is why it will stand the test of time.
Dir. Apitchatpong Weerasethakhul
MUBI International/The High Seas
Tilda Swinton, our protagonist Jessica and the year’s greatest star, can’t stop hearing The Sound. It’s a loud, thudding sound, one she has to work very hard to describe accurately, and no one else can hear it. While living in Colombia to support her sister in the hospital, she explores the university campus, tries to identify the mystery of The Sound, and has some life-changing encounters. Mostly, this is a film of conversations, music, and wandering, a quasi-romance of a world where people care about things.
Without a doubt, Memoria is the most arthouse film on this list. It has long sequences of near-silence, of slowly walking through streets and alleyways. One of its two most climactic scenes is Jessica working with a sound engineer named Hernan to try to replicate The Sound, a thrilling, perfect scene containing the sort of intimate communication we sometimes have with strangers. The other is Jessica meeting another man named Hernan while on a nature walk, recognizing some intimate psychic connection, and watching him take a nap for several minutes. This one is not for the impatient, but it is funny, surprising, meditative, beautiful, and I could feel my mind rewriting its grooves as I experienced something truly profound.
Supposedly, Memoria will never be released for home viewing in the United States. It will “only ever screen in theaters,” concluding a nearly year and a half long roadshow with a one-week encore this January at New York’s IFC Center. I don’t think you need to wait for a revival screening, and the fact that the film is also available for streaming on Mubi internationally indicates to me that the filmmakers don’t really insist either. A VPN would allow you access to Mubi’s international catalog, and I’m hardly going to be shy about recommending piracy of a film that is otherwise impossible for you to see.
1. The Fabelmans
Dir. Steven Spielberg
I don’t know how this happened. I’m almost mad. I’ve been a longtime defender of late Spielberg, his film Bridge of Spies an immediate classic, but it’s been twenty years since his last true masterpiece, Catch Me If You Can. I knew I’d love The Fabelmans, his story of his own life and the end of his parents’ marriage. I didn’t know I’d think it was his best film ever, that Gabriel Labelle would be the best performance he’s captured in twenty years, that it would have the aesthetic invention of West Side Story combined with the most intimate story he’s ever told us. Spielberg’s told many of the stories it depicts before in interviews, whether it’s the story of him uncovering a brewing emotional affair, his mother’s Peter Pan-esque disinterest in parenting, a chance encounter with an iconic filmmaker that leads to a delightful brief anecdote.
But what becomes clear is that him telling us in words didn’t do it justice – he can only show us. Spielberg here is so outrageously vulnerable because he’s telling this story in the language he speaks better than anyone alive, cinema. He depicts himself as Sammy Fabelman, a savant, an unruly child with a thoughtless gift, an artist who doesn’t know his own strength. That savant tendency exists both on screen as we’re watching a beautiful, incredibly creative film, and also in the films young Sammy directs, Super 8 westerns and war movies where he gets amateurs to Really Act. Through that language, he finally can tell us thoughts he’s been guarding for sixty years, details he noticed in day-to-day interactions, thoughts that mortify him with their indifference and cruelty, thoughts that thrill him with joy and observations of beauty.
It’s by way of that vulnerability that Spielberg is able to treat his characters with his trademark empathy. He doesn’t pull punches, letting everyone have their faults, but he doesn’t abandon them, either, not even the antisemitic high school bullies other movies would use as a cheap trick. He’s told small parts of this story before, and there’s still elements he’s cleaning up to make the film more cinematic. An exchange in the film has his sister ask his father “[Uncle Boris] is lying, right?” and his father responds “He’s telling a story.”
Spielberg opens this film by showing us that young Sammy Fabelman experiences being overwhelmed by a trainwreck scene in The Greatest Show on Earth, and his response as a child is to try to recreate the crash in order to control it, make it “safe.” I don’t know for sure that he’s made Sammy’s life safe, but he put a vision of it on screen, and I’m thankful.