The bulk of our film team imparts their highs and lows of 2022.
Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen some significant shifts with cinema in the greater Madison area, which we recapped last week in a look back at our coverage of 2022.
Beyond that condensed overview, though, we also wanted to share a customarily detailed year-end thread to convey how our film team’s viewing habits changed or remained the same, what we obsessed over, and what we ultimately found reaffirming. Are we still routinely heading out to the haven of movie theaters, or did we collectively become more enraptured by weekly streaming series in an increasingly messy landscape?
As you’ll read in the team’s sincerely thoughtful answers, we all celebrate cinema (especially animation) in our own ways, striving to preserve the experience and occasional thrill of serendipity—whether that’s through timing alone, the act of going out, finding a gem to rent on physical media, or plunging into something altogether new in the experimental realm. And, more than any other year, this thread reveals a defining and fortified friendship between all of us. It’s as much an exhaustive thread as it is a behind-the-scenes compendium of camaraderie.
Grant Phipps: I just want to quickly open discussion with a short answer, in that I watched a number of free or low-cost online festivals (including Slamdance, Media City, Prismatic Ground, and Antimatter). Especially since May, I really made an effort to watch more catalogue titles on physical media from my own collection, the library, and Four Star; and I meditated on all that back in October. Favorite theatrical experiences may have been the Stuart Gordon films collectively (all at the Chazen Museum), and least favorite was Tár at Marcus Palace.
Lewis Peterson: I think my viewing habits have more or less stayed the same. I recently went through and did a rough estimate of how many films I had watched this year, and I’ll be at over 600 films this year if I keep up my normal pace [as of December 3]. Roughly 60 of those were in theaters. My favorite theatrical screening was Squirrels To The Nuts at UW Cinematheque, which is the perfect example of what makes Cinematheque so valuable—an extremely rare film playing to a nearly-packed house that was laughing along with the film.
My least favorite theatrical experience was Triangle Of Sadness at AMC Madison 6, not really for the film (though the humor was a little too on the nose to be effective satire for me) but for the fact that the subtitles were cut off when the film started. Another audience member got up to complain, and they adjusted the projection so that the subtitles were visible, but the top of the image was going up onto the curtains. I’ve heard from others that it was a regular occurrence there in the last year (though, thankfully not for Memoria, as AMC was the sole theatrical venue for it back in May). So, I guess my attitude is if they can’t do the basics right, maybe it’s better that the theater was quietly and abruptly closed a month ahead of schedule.
And, all due respect to Nicole Kidman, but AMC just doesn’t seem to be able to offer a good experience, even compared to other chains like Marcus and Flix Brewhouse, since being brought back from the brink of death by Internet stock manipulators. During this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival and afterward, AMC seemed to have perpetual issues with things like keeping their bathrooms stocked with soap and paper towels. Even at their theater in Fitchburg, I went to a screening of Avatar in IMAX 3D, and most of the people in the theater were given the wrong glasses, and [staff] just waited for each individual person to get sick of seeing the fuzzy image and run out to the counter to get the right ones.
One thing I did, which was unusual for me but is actually very normal, is sign up for HBO Max for a month so I could watch The Rehearsal and Irma Vep, both of which dealt with the perennially interesting topics of the meaning of performance and the place art has in our lives from different angles. The other TV show I watched was Park Chan-Wook’s The Little Drummer Girl from 2018, in anticipation of seeing Decision To Leave, which I feel like I should plug purely because no one seems to know it exists. Park Chan-Wook did an English-language miniseries starring Florence Pugh, Alexander Skarsgard, and Michael Shannon based on a John Le Carre novel, and it got almost zero fanfare when it was first released!
Anyways, my top five 2022 movies would be Crimes Of The Future, RRR, Decision To Leave, Hatching, and Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn. To cheat a little bit, my favorite repertory discovery was Little Murders, and my honorable mentions/underdiscussed and underrated are Official Competition, Saturday Fiction, and The Novice. I also want to put some energy out there for films I’m hoping to see next year (ideally in theaters) that I think will be difficult to track down: One Man Dies A Million Times, The People’s Joker, All Jacked Up And Full Of Worms, Actors and Skinamarink. (I know there’s a pirate copy of the latter floating around, but something that gives money to a small production would ease my conscience.)
I also have a question for you, Grant: did you just not like Tár or was there something that happened in the theater that made it a bad experience?
Edwanike Harbour: I have to agree that, by and large, my viewing habits have not changed much from last year. The one thing that has shifted for me per COVID-19 is that I don’t regularly check to see what is playing in theaters the way I used to. This is the reason I missed Bodies, Bodies, Bodies in the theater, which I was very much looking forward to. I still have not caved to Jeff Bezos and subscribed to Prime, and I know I am missing out on a lot of superior films because of this. But I am happy with what I have access to on HBO Max and Hulu thus far. I still have not seen Tár and now I approach it with some reservation after reading Grant’s entry (ha!).
I am still super excited for Close (directed by Lukas Dhont), My Policeman, and Triangle Of Sadness. Viewing a film used to be more of a destination for me. I blocked out times and dates to view them typically. Now I have such easy access to things at home; I just see them as they come. Whatever whim comes to mind and whatever I might be in the mood for. Because of this, I have stumbled across some gems. For example, Petite Maman is on Hulu. This is normally a film I would have to track down at some art house theater (which doesn’t really exist anymore, especially since we lost theaters at Orpheum or Majestic).
UW Cinematheque will always be my saving grace, and one of my favorite viewings this year was Two-Minute Warning. I wasn’t prepared for my emotional reaction, but given the precarious times we are living in, it was hard not to empathize with the terrified attendees of the football game. It’s crazy how we are living in a situation where such a tragedy like a mass shooting is so much more likely to happen now than it was 45 years ago (the film was released in 1976). The film was shot before CGI would be used to fill a stadium, and you really feel the impact of the visceral terror the crowd of the film’s experiencing.
I blocked out a date to see Nope months in advance. I believe I saw the trailer during the Super Bowl and planned out a date in July right then and there. It did not disappoint. The amount of think pieces it produced baffled me, though. Is the American moviegoer really that dull and dim-witted to miss the obvious metaphors in the film? People either seemed to fawn all over it or completely despise it. I didn’t see a lot of middle ground reactions to the film, and the ones that hated it seemed to understand it the least. Clearly, I won’t take time to get into a breakdown or even a synopsis of the film at this rate. But I will say that Jordan Peele is quite talented, and his multilayered and multidimensional approach to filmmaking is a breath of fresh air.
As a person who tends to avoid horror movies unless they are released by A24 (hey, I scare easily) I did go into Barbarian cold as recommended. I couldn’t have been happier with this decision as the tension and anxiety had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. There’s nothing like seeing a horror movie with a packed house as everyone goes through the same roller coaster of fear, dread, and release together, usually in uproarious laughter. I would have to put Barbarian in my top five releases of 2022.Finally, Bones And All is the not only the best film I have seen this year, but it may even go on my best of in the last five years. I knew what I was walking into, but did not expect the beauty and rapture in a film about cannibalism. Luca Guadagnino really produced a modern- day giallo film cloaked in romance, and I love him for it. Taylor Russell really held everything together in this movie with her stunning performance [as Maren], and I hope she gets more roles of this nature in the future. My favorite director, David Gordon Green, even has a brief cameo in a scene that got under my skin so bad I had to look off screen for a bit to recenter myself.
Grant Phipps: I covered some of this in our NewsMatch summary for the year; but, moving forward, it seems like feature-film moviegoing anywhere near downtown will be isolated to one-time or maybe two-time screenings at Cinematheque, Union South Marquee, Memorial Union Terrace, and MMoCA. Nearly everything else is at the city limits or outside it altogether, as with Marcus Palace and AMC Fitchburg 18. You either have to be there in the evening, or you miss it. And that’s a bummer.
@Lewis + @Edwanike: To clarify, I actually like Tár a lot! It was the theatrical experience that bothered me. In retrospect, there were other screenings I attended this year with some unforgivable projection problems, but there was something about watching that one at low volume (especially a film that’s concerned with music and music performance to a degree) coupled with unrelentingly talkative people around me that tarnished the experience. It was so jarring. So, if there’s an outing I wish I could strike from memory, it would be that one. But yeah, please see Todd Field’s film when you can, Edwanike. And thanks for sharing such a memorable reaction to watching a thriller like Two-Minute Warning with an audience. I sadly missed out, but I know what you mean about creating a sense of real-world stakes with actual extras, without the shortcut of computer graphics.
To amend my earlier comment about inspiring theatrical experiences and even reflecting upon my prior Wisconsin Film Festival diary, seeing Pola X at the Cinematheque in late July with an audience was top-tier. Can’t think of a better isolated viewing than that. Not just because of the rarity of the opportunity, and seeing it on 35mm, but the sound was cranked to 11 in that room; it just made the film even more beautiful, restless, artful, and inscrutable. And it’ll likely stand as my favorite Leos Carax film because of that. Let that also serve as the significance of ensuring the technical parameters of projection are correct, or at least more ideal than walking into a random something at Marcus Palace or AMC Madison 6. For my last experience at the latter before it closed, back in early June, the DCP froze during the second half of Cronenberg’s rewrite/reinterpretation of Crimes Of The Future (his original is from 1970). It took them 10 minutes to fix it, a delay that almost caused me to miss the last bus home. So perhaps the declining attendance there was not a mystery.
In general, I’ve had more free time this year, and I tried to step up my role as a committee curator for Mills Folly Microcinema under the leadership of James Kreul, who’s really helped make that experimental series what it is. I pitched him some new shorts that he ended up booking in June through August, including Rajee Samarasinghe’s Show Me Other Places, Suneil Sanzgiri’s Golden Jubilee, and Brandon Wilson’s The Day Lives Briefly Unscented. And I’m pleased with what we have for January through March 2023, with January shaping up to be an exclusive lineup of my choosing. In addition to the naturally rewarding dimensions of doing that, as I’ve always wanted to program art house or avant-garde work, that necessary process of watching blocks of films over a short period of time helps me focus on the relationships between films more intently. As a result, I never get to the point of feeling bored with cinema.
@Lewis: I feel like we got to know each other better this year, and I appreciate the conversations, oftentimes during weekday afternoons at Four Star. Take it from me, a person who writes and organizes film coverage, there is a lot of value in asking for a non-algorithmic recommendation (in my case, for black comedies). It was also only possible for me to see Michael Tolkin’s two directorial efforts that have seemingly been obscured or forgotten—The Rapture and The New Age—because of the completeness of Four Star’s DVD library. There’s something about movies made during these late ’80s-mid ’90s years that I tried to qualify in a Letterboxd entry; part of the interest must be tangled up in early, implacable memories of childhood and nostalgia for an era of cinema that I mostly missed out on. There will be a time and place come later this decade for a wave of overwrought ’90s nostalgia; I’m just acting a bit preemptively (as Hatchie did this year with her record, lol).
While I tend to feel distant or removed from buzz about streaming series (and there are too many of them for me to possibly keep up), I was enamored with Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal over the summer, having become obsessed with Nathan For You in the first half of 2021. The opening episodes of Fielder’s new show promised some unusually engaging postmodernism, but little did I realize how psychologically tangled it would become over just six episodes. Credit not only Fielder but co-writers Carrie Kemper (Ellie‘s sister) and Eric Notarnicola.I’m glad Lewis enjoyed the long-form series adaptation of Irma Vep, but I couldn’t have been more disinterested in the setup (and casting of Alicia Vikander as a fictional character rather than a version of herself as the original did with Maggie Cheung). I lean towards calling Olivier Assayas overrated, and this did nothing to challenge my impression, lol. The other series to hold my attention was Atlanta, which aired two(!) seasons and concluded in November after an extended absence. Some of the absurdist writing in that show that deals with race and social awkwardness is second to none. I’m thinking of the talents of Taofik Kolade, Stefani Robinson, and Janine Nabers in particular. But maybe Stephen Glover’s episode “Crank Dat Killer” had me laughing the hardest. Reinforcing my prior comments about gravitating towards black comedy, we’re in need of Atlanta‘s brand of loopy, audacious satire in American cinema rather than something like the tepid, uncinematic, but at least promising-on-the-page screenwriting of B.J. Novak’s Vengeance. We can hope to see more of Donald Glover and Hiro Murai in the director’s chair.
It’s difficult to pick five features for a best-of 2022 list, but it’d look something like:
1. Retrograde (dir. Adrian Murray), 2. Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn (dir. Radu Jude), 3. The Civil Dead (dir. Clay Tatum), 4. The Girl And The Spider (dirs. Ramon and Silvan Zürcher), 5. Happening (dir. Audrey Diwan)
Favorite discoveries (that I didn’t already mention) were: Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress, the Dardennes’ Rosetta, Kaizo Hayashi’s To Sleep So As To Dream, Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou’s Take Out, and Melvin Van Peebles’ Story Of A Three-Day Pass.
C Nelson-Lifson: I am still sifting through all the movies I saw this year. I saw a lot more in theaters than I have in the past, and also watched a lot at home for the first time. New films that stood out to me were Nope, Tár, Everything Everywhere All At Once, Please Baby Please, and the Neil Young doc, Harvest Time.
I watched a lot more movies at home and in theaters than I have the last two years. I managed to see a handful of films at the film fest (my favorite experience being Re-Animator with a post-screening Q&A with [co-writer] Dennis Paoli and Stuart Gordon’s daughters). I made an effort to see more films at Cinematheque and the Chazen. I saw a lot of movies at Marcus theaters as well, Benediction or Three Thousand Years Of Longing (I call it “Three Thousand Years Of Yawning” as I almost fell asleep), because Lewis would text me, “Hey do you want to see this movie?” and I would go, “Yeah, ok.”
I believe that multiple things can be true at once: Hollywood is in its flop era (they don’t know how to light anything or record anything, so I’m shouting at my TV like an old crone: “HUH?? WHAT DID THEY SAY?? WHO IS THAT??”). And it is also true that so many great movies came out this year!!
Steven Spoerl: This was a bit of an odd film year for me, so this was interesting to think back on.
From 2021 to 2022, my viewing habits haven’t seen significant change. Ever since COVID-19’s arrival, my patterns have seemed to trend in the opposite direction of most of my friends who have an expressed interest in film. I’ve seen less new titles this year (three) than any year in recent memory, marking a potential endpoint to a dramatic shift in habit (for reference: my personal “Best Films of 2015” list ran 138 films deep). Most of my viewing time this year has been dedicated to streaming, with a few Dropout (formerly CollegeHumor) shows—namely, Game Changer and Dimension 20—accounting for well over 400 hours’ worth of viewing. Granted, a typical episode of Dimension 20 clocks in at a very modern feature-length runtime of two hours and twenty minutes, and my partner and myself have absorbed approximately 160 of them this year. Maybe my overall viewing habits haven’t changed that much.
As for the three films I did manage to see, all were genuinely enjoyable. Of those, the one that stuck with me the least was the international Tollywood (Telugu-language bromance) breakthrough RRR. My second favorite, and half of the two films I caught in theater, was runaway commercial and critical darling Everything Everywhere All At Once (which I enjoyed a great deal but didn’t find to be as exhilaratingly subversive as Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan’s’ past genre-convention-annihilation effort, Swiss Army Man). My favorite film of the year, though, was the other A24-distributed existential absurdist coming-of-age dramedy that featured Jenny Slate: Marcel The Shell With Shoes On.
Since Everything Everywhere All At Once has already (rightfully) been shown a great deal of reverence in this space, I did want to make some space for Marcel, which also doubled as my favorite theatrical experience. Anchored by an emotional undercurrent that quietly featured one of the best recent turns from international legend Isabella Rossellini, Marcel managed to take the entirety of the rapt AMC Fitchburg 18 crowd—myself and my partner included—at that afternoon screening from rapturous laughter to a weepy, bleary-eyed exit. My partner needed some credits time to put herself back together. I don’t blame her. I did, too. Familial affection and resilience in the face of adversity—another common denominator between Marcel and EEAAO—are always a potent gut-punch. Marcel hit those particular notes as effectively and unflinchingly as one of the best television arcs I’ve ever seen, which takes place over a late stretch of Joe Pera Talks With You‘s unimpeachable second season (a series I rewatched several times over the course of 2022 and plan to continue rewatching in the coming years).
My admiration for Marcel is likely indicative of both my partner’s and my own perpetually increasing love of animation, which very nearly accounted for the totality of our non-Dropout viewing. Adventure Time, Summer Camp Island, Over The Garden Wall, Bee And Puppycat, The Owl House, and Avatar: The Last Airbender all earned repeat viewings, often as a background soundtrack to work. As did Kipo And The Age Of Wonderbeasts, which turned our attention towards a fascinating endeavor that’s being co-spearheaded by Kipo creator Rad Sechrist: Project City. (I will be diving into the increasingly perilous landscape of animation, Project City, and Dropout, at length in an upcoming Microtones, so if any of that’s of interest… stay tuned.)
In one of the year’s more unexpectedly personal twists, I signed a contract to (potentially) become involved in some capacity with an animated feature that my bandmate and dear friend Holly Trasti is co-directing, co-producing, and starring in called Unplugged. I’m not currently at liberty to say where the film is in terms of production/distribution but I can say that Christina Ricci, the late, great Ed Asner, and several more have recorded their lines for the film. I’m looking forward to following it through its journey to, hopefully, a hard-won release date.
As for my favorite films from this year, I’ve already covered that up top. I literally don’t have enough to constitute a top five for 2022, so in its stead, I will offer a short list of films (including a trilogy of shorts) that have been released since 2010 that deserve revisits, a wider audience, or both. Here’s hoping that next year I’ll have more than enough for a 2023 top-five:
Blue Valentine (dir. Derek Cianfrance), Take Shelter (dir. Jeff Nichols), The Kid With A Bike (dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne), Blancanieves (dir. Pablo Berger), Like Father Like Son (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda), The Tribe (dir. Myroslav Mykhailovych), Tu Dors Nicole (dir. Stéphane Lafleur), Under The Shadow (dir. Babak Anvari), Columbus (dir. Kogonada), World Of Tomorrow: Chapters I-III (dir. Don Hertzfeldt), Sorry To Bother You (dir. Boots Riley), The Farewell (dir. Lulu Wang), Dick Johnson Is Dead (dir. Kristen Johnson), Flee (dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen), Marcel The Shell With Shoes On (dir. Dean Fleischer-Camp)
Alisyn Amant: I would have to agree with everyone here that my viewing habits haven’t changed much, but I actually did watch more movies/television shows this year than last. Whether that’s because I finally graduated and had more time/energy to do so or because I found stuff I simply liked better and excited me more, I’m not sure. Regardless, I had a wonderful year of discovering new things about the types of films I enjoy, the tropes that piss me off or don’t, and which directors/actors I want to engage with.
I started off 2022 by watching Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday on the morning of January 1. It became one of my favorite films of all time, and led me to spend the rest of the year checking off the Studio Ghibli productions I hadn’t yet seen. Only Yesterday still comes out on top for me, for both Studio Ghibli and personal rankings. The fact that I happened to watch it within the first few hours of 2022 remains a special memory for me, and I have rewatched it as many times as I can handle crying since.
Other than that, I’ve been making more of an effort to dive into South Korean films. I saw Aloners at the Wisconsin Film Festival this year, and it really stayed with me and inspired me to look deeper into what is coming out of the South Korean film scene besides Bong Joon-Ho’s work, which has been centered a lot in the United States but is far from the only work that the country has to offer. Memories Of Murder is one of my favorites, so it was striking to see the similarities between that and newer works like Decision To Leave and Burning (2018), both of which I watched for the first time this year. I also watched The Handmaiden and House Of Hummingbird as part of this goal.
My most interesting theatrical experiences this year were watching The Menu at Marcus Cinemas and Cow at the Wisconsin Film Festival, mostly just because you could feel how collectively uncomfortable everyone was, though for different reasons for each film. With The Menu, it was an uncomfortable giddiness at the ridiculousness of the whole thing and not knowing what was to come. On a completely different note, Cow was uncomfortable in the sense that it was extremely depressing and hard to watch. Many people had to walk out, but I think it’s a testament to the medium that a movie can make people so viscerally reevaluate the systems they engage in and hold up when they do even the simplest acts, like buying a container of milk from the store. I will never forget the final scene and the silence of the audience as we watched the credits roll.
Top-5 First-Watch Films of 2022:
1. Only Yesterday (dir. Isao Takahata), 2. After Yang (dir. Kogonada), 3. Perfect Blue (dir. Satoshi Kon), 4. The Lost Daughter (dir. Maggie Gyllenhaal), 5. Hit The Road (dir. Panah Panahi)
Honorable mentions go to: Islands, The Wind Rises, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, Cow, Cha Cha Real Smooth, Drive My Car, and The Tale Of Princess Kaguya. I also am finally getting a chance to sit down and watch The Banshees Of Inisherin, too, after a busy work week. It’s one of my most anticipated of the year, so maybe it will make its way onto the list. Who knows!
Ian Adcock: I don’t get out to the movies as often as I’d like. As a non-driver, it’s a long, arduous trek to get to Madison’s surviving movie theaters. I did make the relatively smooth hour-long bike ride from my house to the now-shuttered AMC at Hilldale a few times, most notably on a dangerously hot summer afternoon to see Crimes Of The Future. In tune with everyone else’s AMC experience, the air conditioning was either broken or turned off, leaving me feeling sweaty and extremely weird. Which turned out to be a perfect state of mind to view Cronenberg’s return to body horror.
The biggest in-theater rediscovery in 2022 for me was UW Cinematheque’s screening of The Heroic Trio, the cult Hong Kong superhero/martial arts film from 1993. I’ve seen it plenty of times over the years, as the dubbed Dimensions Films VHS was a popular staff pick at my hometown video store. But the recent 4K restoration was revelatory, stripping away the cheesy dubbing and restoring cut scenes that added a darker edge to the storyline. The textures of Maggie Cheung’s many costume changes really stood out, and the film’s expressionist backgrounds were crystal clear, a welcome change from the fuzziness of VHS. While not a success in Hong Kong, The Heroic Trio has a cult following in the US thanks to its over-the-top silliness, and it was a thrill to watch it in a theater full of people losing their minds during the flying motorcycle fight.
I haven’t gotten around to seeing many new releases of 2022, but I did enjoy the camp excess of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis and the back-to-franchise-basics approach to Prey (which sadly never even got a theatrical release).
As far as home viewing, I spent a lot of time combing through less prestigious streaming services like Tubi for hidden gems. While there’s a lot of junk to sift through, there’s also films from Werner Herzog and Pier Paolo Pasolini if you’re willing to dig. One of my favorite discoveries was Drive (1997), an inspired blend of straight-to-video sci-fi, martial arts, and buddy road movie. I also finally signed up for Kanopy through the Madison Public Library, which I’ve mostly used to watch 1970s Italian crime movies and the films of Johnnie To. And finally, I worked quite a bit setting up my home theater with a hand-me-down surround-sound system so I can watch movies on a TV instead of a tiny computer screen. It’s not state-of-the-art by any means, but it’s really fun to watch Blade with a booming subwoofer.
Maxwell Courtright: I’m an obsessive cataloger, and have kept a private and ongoing ranked list of everything from this year. It comes in handy almost solely for stuff like this, and is a useless time-suck otherwise. It’s also a little useless for the first third of the year. Shout out to Netflix’s The House, something that was my favorite thing of the year for about two months when I hadn’t seen anything else yet. But still, having the list as something I’m constantly updating has helped me understand more in real-time how my viewing is changing, and helps me brainstorm ways I might want to change it further.
I’ve noticed more and more over the years that there’s an ever-growing reservoir near the bottom of my list filled with contemporary horror. Following a sort of popular and critical renaissance of the last 10 years, it seems like horror is usually the only thing consistently at the megaplex that isn’t an action- or family-oriented film. So if there’s been one identifiable change in my viewing habits, it’s been this tendency for horror to become more of a go-to genre, something I’m comfortable with tracing the tropes of even if the proportion of new ones I actually like seems to get smaller every year. I still had my favorites among the lot (Nope, X, See No Evil, and Sissy in particular), as well as Crimes Of The Future, which I would argue is a far cry from horror, but it seems to keep getting called that, so whatever.
Much of the rest of the viewing was organized around projects—marathons begetting abandoned essays on Caveh Zahedi, Ang Lee, and Jodie Mack; serial/anthologized stuff like Steve McQueen’s Small Axe and Kieslowski’s Dekalog. Similar to Grant, I’ve had a lot more festival-focused viewing this year, too, with the Media City, Onion City, and Prismatic Ground festivals all having online components this year. It’s these kinds of festivals (as well as filmmakers generously putting their work online for free) that have allowed me to really keep a connection with more short-form and boundary-pushing work outside of physical screenings. I try to be a sort of evangelist for that type of work among people I know, since I think you can’t ever have too much experimental cinema (and most people watch almost none), so it’s been a pleasure to blow up my friends’ phones with links to films they hadn’t heard of even more than I used to.
Sadly the film I’d most like to share with others is one that I can’t link here, because it’s barely been released so far. I saw it at the traveling Eyeworks animation festival in Chicago, which seems to be its only screenings in the US, but Justin Jinsoo Kim’s The Exhausted was my favorite short I saw this year, and easily in my top five overall. I was a big fan of his Personality Test as well when I saw it at the aforementioned Onion City festival, and his experiments with both stop-motion and printed animation have made him one of my current favorite filmmakers. Hopefully his work gains some traction in the US outside of these specialized festivals, but as long as I’ll have access to those, I’ll be happy.
Lewis Peterson: I want to jump back into the fray to add Smile since I first responded, purely because it’s pretty rare that I’m genuinely scared by a film—one that really got to me enough that I had a physical response to it. The premise is maybe a little derivative of It Follows, but it’s effectively terrifying because it’s totally irrational. In that regard, it occupies the same territory as the films of Dario Argento or Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
With that adjustment and switching to the preferred format, my top five (in alphabetical order, but all equal):
1. Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn, 2. Crimes Of The Future, 3. Decision To Leave, 4. RRR, 5. Smile
@Edwanike: I saw Petite Maman at AMC Madison 6! It played for less than a week, which I only knew about because I was looking for that particular film obsessively. Local theaters seem to have almost no lead time between when they post showtimes and [when] they are actually occurring. And it seems any advertising is funneled toward big tentpoles out of necessity. Do newspapers even do local listings of movies anymore? Or does anyone read them?
@Grant: I would agree we got to know each other better this year. Also glad we got to go on a road trip to Chicago to see 2001: A Space Odyssey on 70mm this June. And thanks for recruiting me to write for Tone Madison and giving me a space to reflect on all the stuff I’m watching.
As for Assayas, I personally hold him in pretty high regard after seeing Clouds Of Sils Maria years ago, which was only strengthened by probably one of my most memorable theatrical experiences: Kristen Stewart’s face in close-up asking “Are you there, Lewis?” as the opening line of Personal Shopper at the 2017 Wisconsin Film Festival. I wouldn’t rank the Irma Vep series as my favorite among his works, and I would agree that Alicia Vikander is miscast as the lead. But the speech that Vincent Macaigne’s Assayas analogue character gives in episode seven about the spirits that haunt our collective consciousness being transmitted through cinema was enough to justify the series for me. His style is pretty loose at times, but I think of him as a French equivalent of Steven Soderbergh or Richard Linklater in that he’s willing to work in many different genres and modes. Although, he is admittedly a bit more literary than either of those two. But of course you’re perfectly within your rights to find him overrated, haha.
I’d also like to lament one more 2022 casualty: PrePlayed on the Westside closed this year, and the East Towne location reopened as Mega Media Xchange in late 2021. I went to PrePlayed a few days before they closed and got a fairly sizable stack of discs that I’ve slowly been working into the Four Star collection, but the loss of another venue for perusing shelves full of physical media is kind of a bummer.
@Steven: In reading about your bias and appreciation for animation, I guess it’s fitting that you’re now involved with a feature yourself. Best of luck to you and Holly with Unplugged! And congrats to all on that. You’ll have to keep us updated on the production details.
There should be more of a metaphorical and literal theatrical space for traditional animation, but it seems that CGI franchises have sort of subsumed everything in the last decade-plus. And Cinematheque tends not to screen animation at all, especially lately. But there are so many examples of strikingly mature, original, and challenging works out there over the decades and recently. Phil Tippett’s Mad God is an example (of stop-motion), a film that Ian championed in his review earlier this year.
Tu Dors Nicole is kind of a perfect lazy summer afternoon movie. I haven’t heard anyone talk about it for a while, but it was exciting to see that on your list. Embodies a gently surrealist slice of life charm I might associate with Aki Kaurismaki. The director, Stéphane Lafleur, actually just released a long-awaited follow-up to Nicole, called Viking; looking forward to seeing that in 2023.
@Alisyn: I’d be curious to know specifics about “the tropes that piss you off or don’t” sometime, haha.
Only Yesterday is amazing; it’s heartening to know you have such a distinctive memory associated with it. I had the privilege of watching that for the first time in a full theater at the Chazen almost 10 years ago now, and I’ll always remember the scene with the family’s ritual cutting of the pineapple. I’ve been meaning to revisit the film since Takahata’s passing in 2018.
Cow, like Gunda and presumably Eo, is one of those films I’m hoping to formally review from a vegan or anti-speciesist perspective. There’s a lot to unpack in Andrea Arnold’s presentation of Cow. But I agree; and I think it’s interesting how, just over the last few years, there have been several unconventional feature films about animal lives (with wildly different tones), where they are the main characters and not us.
@Ian: I’m sorry but not surprised to read about your experience at AMC Hilldale. What the hell went on over there this year? They didn’t even meet the bare minimum standards of operation, haha. While I’m bummed they aren’t open anymore, I’m also maybe a bit relieved at the same time.
Lovely to read about your experience of watching The Heroic Trio as if for the first time with an audience. UW Cinematheque generally nails their presentations (aided by that 4K restoration, surely), and I’m glad they’re making time for programming like that on occasion. Maybe you can persuade them to book Steve Wang’s Drive?
It seems like you’ve had one of the more well-rounded years out of any of us, and I’m glad you’ve assembled a home theater with a proper screen that’s perfectly suited for ’90s action films like Blade. Haven’t seen that since high school, I think, but it was a good time then.
@Max: I haven’t been subscribed to Netflix for 2-1/2 years, but if I sign up again in 2023, I’ll make it a point to check out The House. (Pleased to see so much animation represented in these replies, too.) I think you nailed something about the act of listmaking that’s more rewarding than simply reflecting a catalogue or standing as an archive, especially if you’re updating and rearranging one so actively. Really well-put.
Watching “horror” in a theater can be a gamble, especially if the audience is garrulous, but it doesn’t sound like that was even on your mind. It’s great that you’re finding so much value in those experiences. Crimes is more sci-fi than horror, I’d argue. Also, shockingly, named the best film of 2022 by Film Comment in the last few days. Would not have ever guessed that, haha.
Experimental shorts are just a hard sell, I think because the term “experimental” encompasses so much figurative ground that it’s almost a meaningless descriptor (ha). And often, people turn to cinema for an identifiable narrative or clear-cut story, but I’d actually be interested to know how many people regionally took advantage of those free streaming festivals this year. The numbers might be encouraging. The Mills Folly screenings here have seen their share of successes and failures, so I can speak to that. There were about 25 people at the screening last Wednesday (December 14), and 30 people at the June 29 screening (a high point); and neither of those featured local work. Others failed to draw a crowd of more than three people. I’m hoping the January 25 program attracts some attention. I’m biased because I put it together, of course, but I do think it’s quite good, haha.
@C: Apologies to George Miller, lol. But no, I agree that Three Thousand Years Of Longing is pretty sleepy. Roger Ford’s production design is enrapturing, though. The whole thing just seems like a passion project, and I’m glad Miller got to make it even if it was a commercial failure. The next Mad Max / Furiosa won’t be.
I’ve seen the lighting and color-grading issues brought up a few times on socials in the last year or so, and they have to be a result of multiple factors. Shooting everything digitally with green screens can’t be helping either. Subtitles, though, are your friend. I almost automatically turn them on when I have the option, and I don’t feel like they really interfere with anything, especially since I watch so much in languages other than English. So I can recommend that.
And I’ll definitely second your support for Please Baby Please. Another of my favorite theatrical experiences this year, partly because I didn’t fully know what to expect. Good to see you there (at UW Cinematheque)!
@Grant: Thanks! As far as Unplugged goes, it’s an adaptation of a novel from co-director/co-producer Paul McComas. I’ve been making my way through it in pieces. It’s heavy but it’s engaging (and, yes, about a younger musician’s life in the wake of their suicide attempt) and I’m hoping to get updates about where production is at throughout 2023. And agreed on the present difficulties facing animation, though I did find some respite on the television front by way of a recent interview from Cartoon Network’s newest president.
I had really hoped to see Mad God around the time of its release, but that’s another title that fell through the cracks, though I’m determined to get to it eventually (coincidentally, my pick for 2014 was very nearly Kornél Mundruczó’s similarly-titled White God, though that’s not animated). Tu Dors Nicole is a film that, for whatever reason, I have been thinking about a lot lately. Initially, I felt a fondness for the film, but it didn’t land for me quite as forcefully as some of the other titles I listed, but there is some indefinable quality that’s been flickering in my memory recently, drawing me back into its orbit. I’m absolutely one of the people who needs to pay it a revisit. Viking will be one of the films I try to stake out next year as well.
And, as was the case with Lewis, I did manage to find time to sneak in one last film—one that speaks to animation, streaming, and a few other things various folks have touched on in this thread: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. While there were some scattershot elements of Pinocchio that felt oddly slight or misjudged, it still found ways to be resonant. On the surface, it’s a legitimately extraordinary technical accomplishment in stop-motion animation, but its emotional undercurrents and willingness to confront the world’s cruelty in a way that feels honest counts for a good deal, especially given the state of the film’s more popular contemporaries. I don’t know how many people are going to go into this one expecting sobering (and sometimes unsparingly direct) meditations on fascism, war, death, and the burden of “terrible joy,” but I’m glad to see del Toro continuing to imbue his work with both weighty, empathetic humanism and his singular presentation of Gothic-driven magic realism. Del Toro’s understanding of the film’s characters as characters (something he briefly expands on in Pinocchio eye-widening making-of featurette) is particularly strong here, benefitting Pinocchio a good deal.
In terms of where it’d fall on my list, it’d be a touch above RRR and behind Everything Everywhere All At Once, leaving it a comfortable third. I wish I could rank it higher, given the indelible impact of some of its more striking and abrupt moments, but, as a late Pinocchio line goes: “What happens, happens.”
Jason Fuhrman: My viewing habits this year essentially remained the same as I renewed my commitment to seeing as many films on the big screen as possible. I also continued to completely avoid all streaming services and television series. In an era of endless content creation and VOD platforms, this idiosyncratic mode of media consumption may seem like a radical lifestyle choice, especially amidst the harsh realities of a global pandemic. However, I honestly live for the cinematic experience—physically going out to a specific space at an appointed time, sitting quietly in the darkness, insulated from the constant intrusions of contemporary urban society, surrendering one’s senses to a work of art, sharing a fleeting and ephemeral moment with other people, and being transported to a different world. Watching a movie in a theater can be like magic. Despite the increasingly dismal state of commercial cinema in Madison, I think I watched fewer movies at home and more movies in theaters with friends than ever before. Personally, the cinema felt very much alive in 2022, perhaps because of previously facing the grim prospect of its nonexistence.
Of course the UW Cinematheque remains an oasis of film art in the cinematic desert of Madison. The majority of my favorite theatrical screenings occurred at 4070 Vilas Hall. Out of the 116 feature films shown there throughout the year, I attended approximately 92. Although Marcus and AMC occasionally offer international, “independent,” and art-house films in addition to more mainstream fare, if you blink, then you’ll miss them. Besides, projection issues at these theaters seem to arise more and more frequently. Cinematheque is really the only local venue where cinephiles can consistently go for repertory programming and many new films that otherwise would not screen here. I never cease to be amazed by what they are able to present to Madison audiences. As programmer Ben Reiser recently said in one of his introductions, “The seats might not be the most comfortable, but for sound and image quality, there’s no better place to see a movie in Madison.”
I had so many incredible experiences at Cinematheque this year, but some of the highlights include Drive My Car; Breathless; Chameleon Street; Arrebato; Coming Home; A Man Of Integrity; Heathers; Johnny Guitar; Chungking Express; Valley Girl; Bacurau; Edmond; Squirrels To The Nuts; La Piscine; Saint Jack; Le Samouraï; Yojimbo; Pola X; La Grande Bouffe; Peter Von Kant; Blindspotting; Funny Pages; The Cotton Club Encore; The Day After (with director Nicholas Meyer in person); Stuck; Decision to Leave; Suspiria; Please Baby Please; Rimini; Two-Minute Warning; The Plains; All Is Forgiven; and Soylent Green (which was especially well-timed since it takes place in a distant dystopian future in the year 2022).
David Lynch played a particularly significant role in my film journey this year. A newly remastered DCP screening of Inland Empire closed the 2022 Wisconsin Film Festival and the Cinematheque rounded out its spring calendar with a 35mm print of Wild At Heart. Over the summer, the Cinematheque also presented a 35mm print of Lynch’s overlooked G-rated eighth feature The Straight Story with producer, editor, and co-writer Mary Sweeney appearing for a post-screening discussion. What an extraordinary event! Then a new 4K DCP restoration of Lost Highway screened in the fall, which was truly like watching the film for the first time. All of these screenings were packed and felt like once-in-a-lifetime transcendent cinematic experiences. Furthermore, Tandem Press later hosted an outdoor screening of the documentary David Lynch: The Art Life in conjunction with the opening reception for a new exhibition of prints created by the artist. For me, 2022 was the year of Lynch. (The icing on the cake was learning that he unexpectedly plays a small role in Steven Spielberg’s latest film, The Fabelmans. Frankly, that was the primary reason I went to see it, but it was worthwhile for that alone.)
I found it genuinely difficult to select my top-five releases of 2022 because I saw so many great new films this year. However, I’ve managed to narrow it down to a top 10:
1. Neptune Frost (dir. Saul Williams, Anisia Uzeyman), 2. Decision To Leave (dir. Park Chan-wook), 3. Please Baby Please (dir. Amanda Kramer), 4. Commitment Hasan (dir. Semih Kaplanoğlu), 5. Memoria (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul), 6. Vortex (dir. Gaspar Noé), 7. Stars At Noon (dir. Claire Denis), 8. Triangle Of Sadness (dir. Ruben Östlund), 9. Crimes Of The Future (dir. David Cronenberg), 10. White Noise (dir. Noah Baumbach)
Honorable mentions of other new releases I saw in theaters that made an impression on me include: The Menu, Bones And All, Emily The Criminal, Moonage Daydream, Happening, Breaking, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Tár, Till, The Northman, Everything Everywhere All At Once, and RRR.