“How’s the despair?” It’s a simple question asked by a village priest to Brendan Gleeson’s morose character in “Banshees of Inisherin.” Might as well be the slogan for 2022.
In the nearly three years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, much has changed. People have cast aside life-long friends due to their opinions on cloth masks, Donald Trump, or student loan forgiveness. The Ukraine has repeatedly repelled its crazy uncle to the east at the cost of countless lives. The cost of gas, eggs, and Hot Pockets remain as volatile as…well…the insides of a Hot Pocket. And Kanye West decided that life is more interesting when you profess your love for Hitler whilst wearing a gimp mask.
Yes, it’s been a long haul these past few years. But despite all of the gloom, doom, and pure lunacy of our recent history, at least Hollywood decided it was time to start bringing life back to your friendly neighborhood theater (even if in much smaller doses than most of us film dorks would prefer). That’s right, there was a glimmer of big-screen (and small-screen) hope in 2022. Blockbusters returned, stock prices for fake butter popcorn flavoring rose, and a few brave directors even decided that the craft of filmmaking doesn’t always have to take a back seat to comic-book franchise nonsense.
Perhaps best of all, after a long hibernation, Stink Whispers has returned with our list of the best and worst films of the year, as well as the reintroduction of the awards nobody ever asked for, the Whispy Awards.
With that, I leave you with a quote from the always brilliant Taylor Swift that has nothing to do with movies: “The lesson I’ve learned the most often in life is that you’re always going to know more in the future than you know now.”
That shit is deep.
Best of the Lot
1) Everything Everywhere All at Once (trailer) – When Marvel decided to start introducing the multi-verse into its bloated, boring big-screen travesties, I realized that the executives in charge were officially out of ideas and the world would be worse off because of it. The laziest plot device in history, the concept of multiple universes in which outcomes can change, redemption can be found, and mistakes can be effortlessly unmade simply feels like a tool for the creatively challenged. Then, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (from the always brilliant studios of A24) came along and I ate a small portion of crow. The story of a Chinese immigrant tasked with saving the world (and her family) by exploring other universes showcasing lives she could have led, this film mixes bonkers humor, frenetic action sequences, dazzling color and effects, and rich emotion to lead viewers through the mayhem before their eyes. Michelle Yeoh is outstanding in the lead, Ke Huy Quan makes a triumphant post-“Goonies” comeback, and even Jamie Lee Curtis sneaks into the picture for a hilarious side role that involves serious combat skills and hot dog hands. The film is a genre jumper, and one would be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable big-screen experience over the past few years. Take note, Marvel.
2) The Menu (trailer) – Eat the rich. That’s what they say. “The Menu” doesn’t exactly make a play for socio-economic warfare outright, rather it delves into the concept of art, creation, appreciation, and self-indulgence of professional appreciators. If you watched the trailer for this one, you may have assumed it’s a straight-up horror thriller flick about hunting down the rich, but it’s much more. A group of elitist diners attend an exclusive restaurant only to discover the celebrity chef owner intends to kill them all before the night is out (for reasons slightly more complex than you first assume). The cast is exquisite, with Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Hong Chau all carrying more than their fair share of the weight, and a quirky group of side players filling in missing notes. The pacing is steady and quick, the dialogue and delivery smart and on point, and the humor and violence play well off one another in ways that keep you engaged, not overwhelmed or annoyed. This one is fun, folks. Filmmaking that feels heavy and light at the same time, then makes you want to immediately watch it all over again. Bonus: If you love the art of fine gastronomy (which I could care less about), there is a food porn element to each meaningful course delivered as unofficial chapters of the story. Give me White Castle any day, but keep movies like “The Menu” coming.
3) The Whale (trailer) – Oofda. There is nothing simple or by-the-book about this heart-breaking two hours. “The Whale” is the story of Charlie, a morbidly obese online English teacher, who isolates himself from the world after tragedy struck, and now finds himself attempting to restore his relationship with his estranged teenage daughter. Director Darren Aronofsky takes a story set solely in Charlie’s apartment and gives it an even more constrictive, sparse horizon that can only be expanded by the performances of the brilliant cast. Brendan Fraser is stupendous in the lead, playing every note with a deft touch and genuine care. Hong Chau and Sadie Sink knock out beautifully complex roles, but Fraser is where the eye is drawn, and not just for the obvious physical portraits painted across the screen. Yes, there are moments that are difficult to take in — and, yes, most are related to Charlie’s destructive eating — and moments of joy or hope can feel very few and far between. But there are also important notes of hope and redemption to be struck by the time the closing credits roll. Not sure I could sit through it again, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sit through it for the first time. You should.
4) Banshees of Inisherin (trailer) – To say I’m a fan of Martin McDonagh’s work would be the understatement of all understatements. Two of his previous three films — “In Bruges,” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” — hold permanent residence in my top-100 films of all time. “Banshees of Inisherin” keeps his winning streak alive in rather stoic fashion. It is the story of life-long friends Colm and Pádraic (played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson), the former of whom inexplicably and abruptly chooses to sever their friendship simply because life is short and Pádraic is dull. Each and every performance is brilliant, from the two leads to Kerry Condon as Pádraic’s sister and Barry Keoghan as Pádraic’s hapless, sorrowful replacement friend. There’s plenty of darkness mixed in with McDonogh’s patented dry humor, and you’ll find yourself constantly guessing what will become of Colm and Pádraic (you may even leave the theater still wondering). This is a film that may benefit from multiple viewings, as I expect there is more to discern from the story and performances than first hits the senses.
5) Hustle (trailer) – Some may see Adam Sandler’s “Hustle” in my top-10 list and stop reading immediately. I don’t blame you. The misses have far outweighed the hits in recent years for the SNL alum, but this release combines the best of Sandler’s dramatic chops with great pacing, some wonderful performances, and a simple, yet broadly appealing plot. Sandler plays an NBA scout who discovers a raw, but talented, basketball player in Spain and tries to prepare him for the NBA draft, despite a bunch of jerks and meanies getting in their way. It’s an against-all-odds story that has life breathed into it through the use of real NBA players (many who can actually act!) who make the on-court action ten times more enjoyable than your average NBA game. Juancho Hernangómez, in his first acting role, is surprisingly effective in the second lead, able to bring real emotion to his character’s storyline, while also blocking far more shots than he ever did during his short stint with the Timberwolves. There’s nothing overly complex or thought-provoking about “Hustle,” but if compared to “Eight Crazy Nights” or “Jack and Jill,” you may just be willing to call Sandler a genius.
6) All Quiet on the Western Front (trailer) – If ever there was a film that epitomized the “war is hell” mantra, Edward Berger’s new vision of “All Quiet on the Western Front” would be it. Dark, relentlessly brutal, and emotionally sapping, this 2.5 hour slog-fest follows Paul, an idealistic young German soldier, as he enlists in the German Army with his friends and soon finds himself knee deep in the gut-wrenching realities of the Great War. The film mixes relatively staid periods of character development with stunningly frenetic combat scenes (one sequence with tanks and flamethrowers that was as awful as it was oddly hypnotic), guiding you through the muddy, gritty life of soldiers both in the trenches and behind the lines. Like the source material from which it is based, this third big-screen iteration of successfully splays its anti-war message through blunt imagery and raw performances from actors who, by the end of the film, feel less like performers and more like the battle-scarred characters they portrayed.
7) Bones and All (trailer) – I take no joy in saying that “Bones and All” is the one film that stuck with me more than any other in 2022. It’s the story of a young woman who realizes she is cannibal (think of her affliction as the same as a vampire who must feed in order to survive, minus the devilish intent and black cape) and sets out on the road to learn why she is the way she is, meeting a fellow tortured cannibal and developing feelings for him. I know, it all sounds ridiculous, but that should not be an indictment on the film itself, but rather on the inability of anyone to describe the plot without sounding insane. Taylor Russell plays the lead delicately and Timothée Chalamet holds his own as her love interest and cannibal partner in crime, but the real scene stealer here is Mark Rylance, who gobbles up every scene as the quasi-villain unexplainably drawn to Russell’s character. The mood throughout is grimy and washed out, and there are multiple scenes where the squeamish need not apply, but mixed in is an oddly effective love story that feels as tragic as any. I don’t blame those unwilling to test this one out, but if you’ve got an open mind, it just may surprise you.
8) Nope (trailer) – In his short directorial career, Jordan Peele has proven himself to be a brilliant storyteller, mixing humor, horror, and social commentary (to varying degrees of success) in ways never before witnessed on the big screen. “Nope” is yet another example of that uniqueness coming to life. Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer play siblings attempting to capture evidence of an unidentified flying object wreaking subtle havoc on their California desert horse ranch (and surroundings). The films starts a bit slow, but does so in a way that builds up suspense, fleshes out the characters, and lets the audience craft their own guesses about what the hell is even happening. As the story moves towards its conclusion — one that had me debating whether it felt satisfying or disappointing — it loses some of that natural momentum, but replaces it with some well-paced thrills. Peele does a wonderful job of visually constructing scenes that are equally as impactful in the pitch darks as they are in the brightest of desert days. The cast plays nearly every note perfectly, with Michael Wincott and Brandon Perea absolutely killing it in supporting roles. Not quite as darkly fun as “Us” and not quite as clever as “Get Out,” it can still be argued that “Nope” is Peele’s best film to date. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
9) The Outfit (trailer) – About as under-the-radar a film as humanly possible, “The Outfit” is the directorial debut of Graham Moore (writer of the excellent “The Imitation Game”). The brilliant Mark Rylance plays an English cutter (tailor) who works at a shop in Chicago whose primary customers are a family of vicious gangsters. FBI rats, backstabbing baddies, and a suspicious dame all play out their various machinations around Rylance’s subtle, mysterious character, only to be perpetually one-step behind. The cast is a bit hit-or-miss (Dylan O’Brien and his horrible gangster accent play out like an unintentionally hilarious caricature), but Rylance is so entertaining to watch slink about the screen with his hushed tone and clever dialogue that you forgive the missteps. While a box office failure, “The Outfit” felt like one of the smoothest, smartest two hours to hit the big screen in 2022. Perhaps not a top-10 in any other pre-pandemic year, but a fun journey all the same.
10) The Northman (trailer) – Beautiful. Dark. Cinematic. Three words to describe “The Northman,” an eye-popper of a film that leaves you wishing there was a tiny bit more to it. The story is relatively simple (Viking prince sets on a journey to avenge the murder of his father), but the delivery is so much grander. There aren’t necessarily performances to awe here, but viewers will gobble up the scale and scope of how scenes are constructed throughout. A battle sequence towards the beginning of the film — while equal parts violent and savage — sets the tone for even the most benign of scenes to follow, including the visually astounding finale. Alexander Skarsgård plays the lead well enough, but the scenery of Northern Ireland (filming location) and the artful direction of Robert Eggers win the day here. Pacing suffers at times, and there are some gaps in the story (or perhaps just weaknesses in writing) that steal momentum, but overall the chaos on screen moves the story when needed. “The Northman” is not the kind of mainstream film that is able to gather much momentum these days, and box office returns would support that theory. Still, it’s the type of grandiose attempt that we need more of on the big screen. Fingers crossed someone listens.
Close, but no cigar (i.e. – just missed the list): “The Tender Bar”, “The Stranger,” “Pinocchio,” and “Athena.”
The Dirty (Downright Stanky) Half-Dozen
Let’s be honest, nobody expected this year-end recap to be all butterflies and roses. The unfortunate truth is, for every film deserving praise, there are four more that deserve — nay, require — scorn and derision. And that’s a conservative estimate.
With that said, a number of films most likely are receiving unjustified pardons due to my unwillingness to indulge their creators with my time and money. You’re welcome “Jurassic World: Dominion,” “Ticket to Paradise,” “Halloween Ends,” and all other stinkers I’ve spared here.
Enough avoidance already. Here are my selections for the six films from 2022 that rival the worst of pandemics in terms of their negative impact on both physical and mental health of humans everywhere:
Thor: Love and Thunder – The worst-kept secret on this beautiful planet is related to just how much I hate Marvel movies. That said, Thor was one of the few characters and franchises that brought me back to theaters, with the original “Thor” (2011) to this day remaining as one of the few Marvel flicks that received resounding praise from this cranky soul. The problem with “Love and Thunder”? Where do I start? Director Taika Waititi, whose “Jojo Rabbit” was nearly perfect, seems to think that comic book action flicks are best when they have repetitive, lazy jokes filling every available minute. Why build out an intriguing plot when you can just have giant screaming goats appear every thirteen seconds? Why insert insanely fun action sequences when you can have Thor talking to his hammer and axe as if they are jilted girlfriends? Why flesh out Christian Bale’s interesting villain when you can instead use up 20% of your running time dinking around with a bloated Zeus (Russell Crowe) in his fancy golden city. Put simply, if ever offered a free screening of this turd, run the other way. Don’t trust my take here? Watch the Honest Trailers recap of this abomination.
Spiderhead – If you are a fan of Chris Hemsworth or Miles Teller, avoid this atrocity at all costs. It will tarnish their careers in your mind for all time. The story of a state-of-the-art penitentiary experimenting with the effects of research chemicals on its irredeemable inmates, “Spiderhead” has all of the thrills, charm, intrigue, or brains of an episode of “Blue’s Clues,” but with less satisfaction and worse effects. My only consolation is that this was a straight-to-Netflix release, so nobody had to pony up $35 for their ticket, popcorn, and soda to view it.
The 355 – How could an action flick with so many wonderful actresses (Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger, and Lupita Nyong’o) miss the mark so badly? Blame it on generic storytelling, awful dialogue, and an overly convenient girl-power theme that seemed to miss the mark in nearly every feasible way. Described as the story of “a group of international spies who must work together to stop a terrorist organization from starting World War III,” this film rarely ever approaches any such sense of impending doom, but rather feels like a back-and-forth game of tag between multiple groups of idiots. Chastain, one of the past decade’s strongest acting talents, plays her role as if she was forced to ingest Dramamine prior to every scene, and Cruz spends 94% of her screen time whining and crying. In the end, 355 is the number of times during my viewing that I wished time machines existed and I could go back to the film’s pitch meeting and slap every face in the room.
Amsterdam – When news about “Amsterdam” starting filtering out to the public, there was no chance it would fail. Directed by David O. Russell and boasting a star-studded cast of Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldaña, Rami Malek, Robert De Niro, Michael Shannon, and more? How could it fail? Here’s how. Inconsistent tone, a plot that tries to be light and humor-injected but is exhausting instead, and an over-stuffed cast that ensures its diverse talent have nothing truly important to do or say. I won’t even bore you with a synopsis of the plot, because I respect your time. But when Taylor Swift getting run over by a car is the highlight of a film, maybe call it a day and watch reruns of “Moonshiners” on Discovery Channel instead.
Moonfall – The moon is controlled by some sort of artificial intelligence and is moving closer to the Earth, threatening to destroy all life in its path. Halle Barry, the boring dude who can speak with ghosts in the “Conjuring” flicks, and Samwell Tarly are tasked with stopping the devious moon from doing its worst. There are some solid special effects, but this just turns into yet another Roland Emmerich disaster flick that leans heavily on failed sentimentality and poor writing. Bad news: the ending left open the possibility of a sequel. Good news: the film made about 43 cents, so I’m pretty sure we’ll all be spared.
Uncharted – Mark Wahlberg mumbles incoherently for two hours, Tom Holland pretends he can act (but fails), and there’s a chase scene involving helicopters hauling centuries-old Magellan ships on ropes while the good and bad guys fire cannons at one another. Yep, that was my attempt at a positive spin on this exercise in buffoonery.
The 2022 Whispy Awards
Whispy for Best Actor – While there were some absolutely killer candidates to choose from in 2022, there really wasn’t an equal, in my mind, to the performance turned in by Brendan Fraser in “The Whale.” His performance was brutal, raw, gut-wrenching, and emotionally exhausting. His character emotes a genuine kindness, at times masking a truly tortured soul. After being gone from the Hollywood limelight for a number of years, one can only hope this awe-inspiring performance brings new opportunities to Fraser’s doorstep. Honorable mention: Mark Rylance in “The Outfit” and “Bones and All,” Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in “Banshees of Inisherin,” and Sean Harris in “The Stranger.”
Whispy for Best Actress – The only — and I mean ONLY — redeeming quality of 2017’s “Downsizing” was Hong Chau’s brilliant Vietnamese political activist Ngoc Lan Tran. For those who thought that was the beginning and end of her tinsel town experience, I’m delighted to say you were wrong. Chau graced the big screen in two incredible supporting roles, first in “The Whale,” then in “The Menu.” There are not enough glowing phrases in the English language to describe how she takes over every scene she inhabits. Honorable mention: Michelle Yeoh in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Kerry Condon in “Banshees of Inisherin,” and Anya Taylor-Joy in “The Menu.“
And the rest…
- Stinkiest Performance by an Actor: Tom Hanks in “Elvis”
- Stinkiest Performance by an Actress: Margot Robbie in “Amsterdam”
- Guilty Pleasure Film that Was Admittedly Not So Amazing: “The Gray Man”
- Not Awful, but Definitely Overrated Film: “Top Gun: Maverick”
- Best Visuals: “Pinocchio” (animated version)
- Film that Forced the Most Salty Discharge from the Eyes (tie): “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “The Whale”
- Best Film You Never Seen…or Even Heard Of: “Athena”
- Best Film You Never Seen…or Even Heard Of (and Rightly So): “Barbarian“