The Year in Review: Variety Editors and Critics Weigh In on 2022 Films

From major titles making their way to theaters to prominent auteurs delivering highly anticipated projects to streamers continuing to flex their strength, 2022 was a dynamic year for cinema. Variety asked editors Peter Debruge, Clayton Davis, Tim Gray, and Jenelle Riley, to answer four questions about this past year in film and discuss its standout moments. The questions are:

1. How would you rate 2022’s films against previous years?

2. What was the most important issue this year for the industry? 

3. What film inspired you the most this year?

4. What scene stuck with you the most this year?

Peter Debruge
Chief Film Critic 

1. The theatrical experience is back — “Top Gun: Maverick” saw to that last summer, with James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of the Water” confirming audiences’ commitment to the big-screen experience at year’s end. That’s encouraging after the pandemic gave us all reason to be wary of crowded cinemas, and Netflix gave us reasons to stay home (more on the TV side, with “Squid Game” and “The Crown,” as they produced nearly all the films on my 2022 Worst list and none of the Best). Still, I can’t figure out why audiences have lost interest in Spielberg — first “West Side Story,” and now “The Fabelmans.” There was no shortage of masterpieces out there, but you had to look for them, as they weren’t coming from the studios, for the most part — like “Tár,” “Triangle of Sadness,” “Women Talking” and a tiny documentary called “Beba” by Rebecca Huntt, which convinced me that there are so many directions for this medium to go, and so many new voices ready to take us there.

2. We’re finally seeing a commitment across the entire industry to expanding the playing field when it comes to who’s getting the chance to tell stories. Netflix was an early, proactive adopter of that policy, giving career-making opportunities to underrepresented — and often unproven — filmmakers. A24 also identifies and supports first-time voices from unconventional corners, like “The Inspection” and “Aftersun.” It’s vital that the industry keeps bringing new perspectives into the mix, not only because it allows many audiences to see themselves in meaningful new ways, but also because it helps break through the repetitive sameness of what we’ve been fed for the last hundred years. Take “Nope,” which is both a genre movie and an allegory for the dangers that artists like Jordan Peele face trying to make art.

3. There’s no topping “Tár,” which is one for the ages, but I suppose it’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once” that gives me the most hope. Here’s a film that is dizzyingly inventive, grounded in the immigrant experience and irreverent as can be — and it caught on with the public in such an unexpected and encouraging way! It may not have been my cup of tea, but I get why the die-hards love the Daniels, and there’s no question in my mind that the reception for that film will give other directors license to take big swings.

4. That brings us back to “Top Gun: Maverick.” Every second those characters spend up in the air, I was flying! I can still remember the visceral thrill of seeing the original “Top Gun,” but here, Joseph Kosinski breaks creative sound barriers, so to speak, putting us right there in the cockpit. At a time when ugly CG has become like wallpaper, those sequences showed genuine ingenuity.

Clayton Davis
Senior Awards Editor

1. It’s easy to compare one year to previous years, and you only get the answer to this with the passage of time. I judge the year by asking if we get “all-timers” that audiences and cinephiles will talk about in 20-30 years. We did, therefore, 2022 was successful with international sensations like “RRR,” psychological mind-benders like “Tar” and action thrill-rides like “Top Gun: Maverick.”  

2. Movie theaters are my church, where I receive my praise and worship and escape into the art of cinema. As more movie houses shutter worldwide, and people sit by idly and watch it happen, we must ask ourselves… are we willing to live in a world where a big screen is no longer an option? Polls would show you the answer is a resounding, absolutely not. The pandemic accelerated the discussion on how streamers, theaters, and film and television can co-exist. We must find a solution before it’s too late.

3. As a parent, I’m constantly in a state of anxiety regarding the happiness and safety of my children. Lukas Dhont’s “Close,” the international feature nominee from Belgium, shattered my heart with every narrative beat and gorgeous imagery as it tackled a difficult subject with esteem and skill. Films can often be great and entertaining, but cinema has the power to change your soul. After emerging from the Telluride theater where I first saw it, I’m a different man today. 

4. There are countless moments that remain embedded in my cinematic psyche from the past year’s rousing roster. However, I’ll never be able to talk about 2022 without bringing up Tollywood action star NTR Jr, who after jumping out of an animal cage, catches a jaguar in mid-air and throws it at another man. I stand firm on saying “RRR” was not supposed to be a good movie, and now, I can’t imagine my movie collection without it.

Tim Gray
Senior Vice President 

1. I think it was a good year. Oscar’s best picture nominations show the wide range of films, from the mega-epic “Avatar: The Way of Water” to the small-scale “Banshees of Inisherin” and “Triangle of Sadness.” Something for everyone.

2. I think the big concern is figuring out what constitutes a theatrical release. The year’s B.O. kept sending mixed messages, and everyone is trying to make sense of it, from finance people to studio execs to filmmakers. Meanwhile, entertainment journalists and internet pundits are making lofty statements as if they know what they’re talking about, though they don’t.

3. Most inspiring: Reid Davenport’s “I Didn’t See You There,” shot entirely from his POV in a wheelchair. Clever, moving and eye-opening.

4. The scene that stuck with me is Bill Nighy singing in “Living.” It’s so simple, and the emotions are so full and un-forced. Great acting.

Jenelle Riley
Deputy Awards and Features Editor 

1. There were so many good movies in 2022 that I wouldn’t be disappointed if my top pick doesn’t win best picture because the options are all so solid. In the world of predictions, it usually feels like the race comes down to two movies. At this point (recognizing there is still a long way to go) it still feels open to quite a few different contenders. And then there are the movies that didn’t receive Oscar recognition but are spectacular nonetheless – “Thirteen Lives,” “I Love My Dad,” “The Menu” and “Emily the Criminal” among them. 

2. The world has a tendency to think that when it addresses an issue, the problem has been solved. But we cannot get complacent about abuse of power in the industry and stopping it before it starts. 

3. It’s tough to top “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” It’s rare to realize while you’re watching a movie that you’re seeing something you are going to watch again and again for the rest of your life. Still impressed at how a pair of rocks with googly eyes made me cry uncontrollably.

4. I laughed for a full 20 minutes after Ralph Fiennes explains to John Leguizamo why he was chosen to attend a doomed dinner party in “The Menu.”

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