I don’t always get to watch a lot of films. At some time around March 2022, I realised that I’d watched at least 5 films each month, and I thought to myself, “I wonder if I can keep that up”. I tried, and I did. In doing so I ended up with the most diverse year of film I’ve ever had, and I’ve learned a lot about art along the way. Here are some themes and highlights.
As ever, my watch history and reviews are on my Letterboxd profile.
Looking back I think Dune really started the project for me. I connected with this film in a way that I haven’t with much other media. When I was little I played a lot of Dune 2 and in it I saw what everyone else sees in the Dune fiction: a whole universe of endless stories to get lost in. Somehow this film captured how I imagined that planet entirely - I’m not sure you could get closer if you pulled it right out of my memories. A triumph of cinema, Dune cemented Villeneuve as one of my favourite film makers.
Time spent watching this film feels valuable. It feels worth taking the time to drink it all in, each frame filling me with wonder. The world feels so real, so vast. I just love it. I can’t wait for part 2.
The Feminist Frequency podcast did a “Summer of Cyberpunk” series, and I have intended to work through the cyberpunk reddit movie list, so I got on board. I didn’t enjoy the podcasts much, to be honest, but I did enjoy some of the movies I watched as a result. I gave up before the end of the series but I saw some fun things along the way.
Johnny Mnemonic is a poor execution of some incredible ideas. The world it builds is still amazing, but the film itself is terrible. You can’t hate it, though, it dreams so big.
Existenz is one of the few Cronenberg films I’ve seen before but I wanted to revisit it. It’s really wild to come back to it now, when Meta is trying so hard to tell us that virtual reality is the future, when we’re still reeling from GamerGate, and when machine learning is generating things we could never predict. It paints a world where video games are religion and people will try to kill games designers, where games are responding to feedback and generating new content. It’s really, really odd, and I love it.
Blade Runner 2049 is vicious and beautiful. In this world where your very existence is a product, especially if you’re synthetic, your whole world is sold to you. Even agent K’s most treasured relationships are fake. I adored this movie and went deep on it, watching all of the prequel shorts and a documentary on the making of Blade Runner. The baseline scene is one of my all time favourite bits of cinema. Villeneuve will forever be special to me after this. I was also so, so impressed with Dave Bautista’s range.
Escape From New York is an artefact. John Carpenter is a unique soul, and while I don’t actually think this is a good movie, it’s really something to experience. It seems to have influenced just about everything I’ve liked since, so that’s got to count for something.
Alien / Aliens
These were also on the Reddit cyberpunk list but they’re worth a section of their own. I’m sad to say that I don’t think the scary bits of Alien hold up today: the special effects are incredible but the models just can’t pull off the jump scares. The atmosphere is amazing though and the film is still great.
Where Alien failed, Aliens picked up the baton, loaded into an underslung grenade launcher, and fired it straight into the heart of a xenomorph. It is packed full of great action, it is coherent, the special effects all work, and the twists and turns are still surprising. It’s a triumph. I really like how they took the horror film that is Alien and turned it into a war film for Aliens.
Now, here’s some art, right here. I genuinely think this might be the best film I’ve ever seen. For a start, it’s terrifying - a full pelt home invasion movie that doesn’t let up for a second - and then it’s funny, because it understands that horror and comedy are really close together. On top of that, though, it’s internally consistent and as soon as your mind starts churning it keeps up with your expectations. And after all that, it’s a fascinating idea that keeps on giving: there’s an unbelievable amount of depth in this story. I watched an interview with Jordan Peele in which he just said “think about Easter” and it set my mind off in a whole new direction. Wonderful stuff, I just loved it. Every single moment is carefully crafted.
Kermode often says that great art is infinitely deep, and I think that Dune, Blade Runner 2049 and Us all combined to teach me what that really means: I keep finding more to love in all of these films, even when I’m not watching them.
I expected a jump from Us to Clueless to be rather jarring, and, yes, it was, but they have a remarkable amount in common. I expected Clueless to be a dumb film, but it’s not: it is a very clever film about dumb people. I love the 90s aesthetic. Send me more 90s films.
After a few watches this year I’m prepared to go to bat for Dirty Dancing as one of the all time best films. It is a fantastic dance film, it’s funny, it is a fantastic romance, and it is deeply left wing. In it, we see rich people going to their holiday estate to enjoy themselves, but the activities they do are ridiculous. Their fun is engineered and fake. None of them actually seem to be enjoying themselves. They pay for sex and they steal from each other. Meanwhile, the people managing their fun, the “lower class” of the film, are really enjoying themselves, having real problems, real emotions. The rich people’s money can’t, actually, make their problems go away. They live high up on the hill looking down on everyone in, frankly, much nicer accommodation. And at the end of the day, they say what happens, not the owners, not the wait staff.
What the hell was this absolute mess. I’m so angry about this film.
Top Gun / Top Gun Maverick
I’m sure I’ve seen Top Gun before but I didn’t remember anything about it. It sucks, basically - I’m sure it was cool at the time but it’s not up to much. Maverick is a different beast, though: it is an extremely well made movie that achieves everything it sets out to do. There isn’t much more to say about it, though: it just does exactly what it says on the tin.
I watched a bunch of good horror this year.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair was a stand out piece. It’s about a teenager who gets into a game on YouTube, but really it’s about performance and transformation and how we view ourselves and others. It is made by a non binary director and the trans community has called it out as being an extremely good metaphor for transition. It has really stayed with me, not least because it is actually open ended and doesn’t explain everything.
Midsommar features what I’d rank as perhaps the most depressing first 15 minutes I’ve ever seen. I think that it fell down a little when it conformed to some horror tropes that I felt didn’t serve it, but Florence Pugh put in a stunning performance.
Titane is an absolute tornado of a film. I finished it feeling like it was a bit of a mess, but it’s stayed in my head and grown on me since. I had to watch a few interviews with the director to even find a way in to understanding it, but my patience and effort was rewarded: Ducournau is eloquent and fascinating.
Thirteen Lives / The Rescue
Thirteen Lives is a dramatisation of the Thai cave rescue, while The Rescue is a documentary about it. They won’t be the last of either, but for now I believe they’re the 2 that are out.
Thirteen Lives is, frankly, unbelievable, an amazing tale of humans being brave and selfless. I found it completely gripping and heartbreaking. We had to watch The Rescue to figure out how much of the dramatisation was real, and the truth is that the reality is even more amazing! If you have to watch just one, is go for Thirteen Lives, but The Rescue is a fantastic documentary. You don’t need to watch both.