Best Movies Watched in 2022

“Nightmare Alley” (2021) Directed by Guillermo del Toro

“Songs From the Second Floor” (2000) Directed by Roy Andersson

“You, the Living” (2007) Directed by Roy Andersson

“Everything Everywhere All At Once” (2022) Directed by Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

“Me and You and Everyone You Know” (2005) Directed by Miranda July

“Ivan’s Childhood” (1962) Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

“Yojimbo” (1961) Directed by Akira Kurosawa

“Drive My Car” (2021) Directed by Ryuichi Hamaguchi

“Coherence” (2013) Directed by James Ward Byrkit

“Titane” (2021) Directed by Julia Ducournau

Honorable Mentions:

“Belfast” (2021) Directed by Kenneth Branagh

“Licorice Pizza” (2021) Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

“Nightmare Alley” (1947) Directed by Edmund Goulding

“Big Bug” (2022) Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

“Predestination” (2014) Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig

“Calvary” (2014) Directed by John Michael McDonagh


“Dick Johnson is Dead” (2020) Directed by Kirsten Johnson

“Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s ‘Island of Dr. Moreau'” (2014) Directed by David Gregory

“Casting By” (2012) Directed by Tom Donahue

“Grey Gardens” (1975) Directed by Albert & David Maysles

“Phil Tippett: Mad Dreams & Monsters” (2019) Directed by Gilles Penso & Alexandre Poncet

“Tell Me Who I Am” (2019) Directed by Ed Perkins

“Do Not Go Gentle: A Film About the Idles” (2020) Directed by Mark Archer

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Rebecca Solnit, on Cinema

“Movies are made of darkness as well as light; it is the surpassingly brief intervals of darkness between each luminous still image that make it possible to assemble the many images into one moving picture. Without that darkness, there would only be a blur. Which is to say that a full-length movie consists of half an hour or an hour of pure darkness that goes unseen. If you could add up all the darkness, you would find the audience in the theater gazing together at a deep imaginative night. It is the terra incognita of film, the dark continent on every map.”

Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide To Getting Lost

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Best Films Watched in 2021


“Citizen Kane”* (Directed by Orson Welles)

“Mank” (Directed by David Fincher)

“An Elephant Sitting Still” (Directed by Hu Bo)

“Kajillionaire” (Directed by Miranda July)

“Nomadland” (Directed by Chloe Zhao)

“The Selfish Giant” (Directed by Clio Barnard)

“Shoplifters” (Directed by Hirokasu Kore-eda)

“Another Round” (Directed by Thomas Vinterberg)

“November” (Directed by Rainer Sarnet)

“Katalin Varga” (Directed by Peter Strickland)

“St. Maud” (Directed by Rose Glass)

“The Hollow Crown” (Directors: Rupert Goold, Richard Eyre, Thea Sharrock, Dominic Cooke)

“Code Unknown” (Directed by Michael Haneke)

“Transit” (Directed by Christian Petzold)

“True Grit” (Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen)

“Hud” (Directed by Martin Ritt)

*Seen for the first time on a big screen

Honorable Mention:

“The Green Knight” (Directed by David Lowery)

“The German Sisters” (Directed by Margaret von Trotta)

“In the Aisles” (Directed by Thomas Stuber)

“The Future” (Directed by Miranda July)

“La Haine” (Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz)

“99 Homes” (Directed by Ramin Bahrani)



“Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” (Directed by Morgan Neville)

“Happy People: A Year on the Taiga” (Directed by Werner Herzog & Dmitry Vasyukov)

“Bergman Island” (Directed by Mia Hansen-Love)

“A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology” (Directed by Sophie Fiennes)

“Val” (Directed by Leo Scott & Ting Poo)

Short films:

“The Escape” (Directed by Paul Franklin)

“Death of a Shadow” (Directed by Tom Van Avermaet)

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“Dune” (The Review)

Dune (2021)

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writers: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth

Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgard

I’ve read the novel Dune exactly one time, when I was around fifteen years old. Frank Herbert’s book was, allegedly, visionary, prophetic, a masterpiece of storytelling, a seminal work of science fiction. Truthfully, even at that age, I found it ponderous, a series of strong set pieces, separated by pages and pages of dull description, the book rife with exposition and pseudo-spirituality. I don’t recall reading more than a chapter or two of any of the follow-ups and once the Herbert estate signed up uber-hack Kevin J. Anderson to boil and render the leftover bones, I lost all interest in the “franchise”.

When I learned Canadian director Denis Villeneuve had been tapped to take another crack adapting “Dune” for the big screen (the 1984 David Lynch version was a fully dressed and steaming turkey), I didn’t exactly jump for joy. His “Blade Runner” sequel was godawful: dull-witted, humorless, literal, a poor man’s ass version of Ridley Scott’s near masterpiece. No poetry, no music, just the sound of cash register drawers opening and closing.

So, I ponied up my money to see “Dune” last night, not expecting much…and have to admit to being pleasantly surprised. One of my problems with Villeneuve’s cinematic output is that the director takes such a detached view of his characters and subject matter that his films lack an essential emotional core: we simply don’t care for the people onscreen. I was worried Timothée Chalamet’s “Paul Atreides” would be another cipher (a la Ryan Gosling), but the kid manages to coax some life into a young man who may or may not be a messiah and savior of the universe. There are other strong performances: Rebecca Ferguson is convincing as “Lady Jessica”, Paul’s mother, and Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa manage to imbue their roles with visceral energy. And it was, frankly, a delight to see Charlotte Rampling again, as doyenne of the Bene Gesserit order.

The movie is pure spectacle, needless to say, the special effects every bit as amazing as you’ve heard. The first appearance of the sand worm is thrilling and the attack of the Harkonnen invasion force, supplemented by the Emperor’s imperial Sardaukar, is something to see (especially on the big screen, Hans Zimmer’s score pounding away). The desert sequences are gorgeous (kudos to cinematographer Greig Fraser) and the film’s production design stellar.

Yet my quibbles won’t be completely silenced.

Yes, the movie looks impressive, but it is also freighted with the novel’s faux-literary hauteur and portentousness: Jesus Christ, doesn’t anyone in this universe crack a joke? And aren’t great movies supposed to be self-contained, boasting an actual climax and resolution of the basic points of conflict? But “Dune” just sort of peters out, the cast trudging resolutely through the swirling, shifting sand toward a sequel looming on the horizon (likely popping up sometime in late 2023), leaving film-goers with a sense of tangible dissatisfaction, a throbbing, annoying case of cinematic blue balls. 

Good, yes, but certainly not a work of genius (never mind what the shrill, undiscriminating fanboys are claiming). Better than a superhero flick, I grant you, but if I want to see a desert-based epic with a beating, human heart, I think I’ll pop in David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” instead. 

“Visual style is never an end in itself, and it cannot be ultimately defended except as it relates to a director’s taste and sensibility. Any visual style can be mechanically reproduced, but without the linkage to a directorial personality, the effect is indeed mechanical.” (Andrew Sarris)

ΩΩΩ1/2 (Out of 5)

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Best Films Watched in 2020

Ninety-four (94) movies watched in 2020 and it’s time to pick the ones that stood out most.

A diverse roster, I think you’ll agree, and, if nothing else, I hope this post draws your attention to fine, ground-breaking cinema from around the world.

“Tigers Are Not Afraid” (Directed by Issa Lopez)

“Sorry We Missed You”  (Dir. Ken Loach)

“Come and See”  (Dir. Elem Klimov)

“Uncut Gems”  (Dir. Josh Safdie)

“Parasite”  (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

“Loveless”  (Dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev)

“The Wolf House”*  (Dir. by Cristobal Leon/Joaquin Cocina)

“Daughter”* (Dir. Daria Kashcheeva)

“The Personal History of David Copperfield”  (Dir. Armando Ianucci)

“Motherless Brooklyn”  (Dir. Edward Norton)

“1917”  (Dir. Sam Mendes)

*Animated short film

Honorable Mention:

“Aniara” (Dir. Pella Kagerman/Hugo Lilja)

“The Duke of Burgundy”  (Dir. Peter Strickland)

“In Fabric”  (Dir. Peter Strickland)

“Are We Not Cats”  (Dir. Xander Robin)

“Son of Saul”  (Dir. Laszlo Nemes)

“Gosford Park”  (Dir. Robert Altman)

“The Laundromat”  (Dir. Stephen Soderbergh)

“The Gentlemen”  (Dir. Guy Ritchie)


“The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling” (Dir. Judd Apatow)

“David Attenborough: A Life on This Planet”  (Dir. Alastair Fothergill)

“Nomad”  (Dir. Werner Herzog)

Honorable Mention:

“Gates of Heaven”  (Dir. Errol Morris)

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Best Films Watched in 2019

Didn’t quite achieve my goal of watching a hundred films during the course of 2019, but at 92 I came pretty darn close.

Not as many documentaries this past year, which is somewhat surprising as it’s a genre that has long fascinated me.

I was blessed to view not one but two Stanley Kubrick films on the big screen, “2001” and “A Clockwork Orange”.  I’ve seen them both dozens of times but never in a theatrical venue. The former was a special thrill because I managed to get down to the Imax in Regina and watch it in 70mm, which made the experience even more awe-inspiring and powerful.

An interesting mix of movies made my final roster of favorites so let’s get right down to it:

Drama & Comedy

“2001: A Space Odyssey” (Directed by Stanley Kubrick)
“Capernaum” (Directed by Nadine Labaki)
“Ratcatcher”  (Directed by Lynne Ramsay)
“Ugetsu” (Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi)
“Roma” (Directed by Alfonso Cuaron)
“Happy As Lazzaro”  (Directed by Alice Rohrwacher)
“Leave No Trace”  (Directed by Debra Granik)
“Happy End”  (Directed by Michael Haneke)
“A Clockwork Orange”  (Directed by Stanley Kubrick)
“The Aerial”  (Directed by Estaban Sapir)
“Birds of Passage”  (Directed by Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego)
“Thunder Road”  (Directed by Jim Cummings)
“Zama”  (Directed by Lucrecia Martel)
“Her Smell”  (Directed by Alex Ross Perry)
“Smoking Aces”  (Directed by Joe Carnahan)
“White Boy Rick”  (Directed by Yann Demange)
“Galveston”  (Directed by Melanie Laurent)
“Under the Silver Lake”  (Directed by David Robert Mitchell)
“Listen Up, Philip”  (Directed by Alex Ross Perry)
“The Conformist” (Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci)
“The Favorite”  (Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)
“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”  (Directed by Terry Gilliam)

Honorable mentions:

“Too Late”  (Directed by Dennis Hauck)
“First Man’  (Directed by Damien Chazelle)
“Triple 9”  (Directed by John Hillcoat)
“High Life”  (Directed by Claire Denis)
“Knives Out”  (Directed by Rian Johnson)
“Valhalla Rising”  (Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn)
“Vice”  (Directed by Adam McKay)
“The Banishment”  (Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev)
“Elena”  (Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev)
“Legend”  (Directed by Brian Helgeland)
“The Apostle”  (Directed by Gareth Evans)

Most disappointing movie of 2019:   “Ad Astra” (Directed by James Gray)

Best Documentaries viewed in 2019:

“Apollo 11”  (Directed by Todd Douglas Miller)
“Three Identical Strangers” (Directed by Tim Wardle)
“Last Man on the Moon”  (Directed by Mark Craig)

Honorable Mention:

“Ice Guardians”  (Directed by Brett Harvey)


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Film Quote (David Thomson)

“Art is not a recreation, a consolation, a pastime, a business…it is the stone on which your knife is sharpened.”

“The human tragedy is not our diligent wars, our arbitrary floods and earthquakes, our ordinary outrages of cruelty…It is that desire is sometimes obscured, and impeded.”

David Thomson, The Big Screen

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“Whiteface” Directed by Everett Sokol; Director of Photography Sam Burns

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Film Quote (Tarkovsky)

“In cinema it is necessary not to explain, but to act upon the viewer’s feelings, and the emotion which is awoken is what provokes thought.”

Andrei Tarkovsky 



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I hate comic book movies (d’you think it shows?)

This movie sucks (and so do you)

Whatever happened to scholarship, whatever happened to standards? Why are there no good, reliable movie critics these days?

Where have you gone, Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris? We miss you Manny Farber and James Agee.

What in Christ’s name are they showing in college and university courses in 2019 to inspire emerging film makers, “Citizen Kane” or “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”?

How did we get to the point where “directors” like JJ Abrams, Zack Snyder, James Cameron and Joss Whedon are held aloft as role models and auteurs, artistes worthy of veneration (and, God help us, emulation)?

No one, it seems, is speaking up on behalf of film aesthetics. Most contemporary reviewers, professional or amateur, wouldn’t know mise-en-scene from a bag of marshmallows. A significant number haven’t seen a motion picture made prior to 1970.

I have to ask, where do you go for movie reviews, who do you trust with your hard-earned money?

Please don’t say Rotten Tomatoes.

Really? Really?

 As far as I can tell, most of the so-called professional reviewers on RT are a pretty undistinguished lot. What quality of criticism are you likely to receive from freelancers who squeeze in the odd article or review to supplement their meager income, individuals whose only source of expertise is that, well, they like movies? Somehow they manage to land a gig at a radio or television station, or are assigned a column in the local free newspaper, and they’re off to the races. Their own personal bully pulpit, allowing them to champion the latest franchise film, assembled via committee, tailor made for mass audiences, just stupid and derivative enough to be comprehensible to them.

And the amateurs posting on RT—ay yi yi. Now we’re talking about dim-witted millennials (“Generation Moron”, as I call them), fan boys and girls with lots of energy and enthusiasm but, alas, completely lacking any exposure to film history or theory, even the basic fundamentals involved with creating moving pictures. Their comments and opinions are, predictably, juvenile; they don’t read anything more wordy than billboards or graffiti, and consider any offering that doesn’t boast a superhero a foreign movie.

“A cinematic masterpiece!”

“A thrill ride you never want to stop!”

“Best movie you’ll see all year!”

You read the blurbs but can you believe them? Do you trust someone from WXYZ Radio or to deliver a fair, impartial, educated appraisal of the movie in question?

Truthfully, you won’t fare much better if you turn to more legitimate publications and platforms, reviewers who should have some cred to go along with their national profiles. I’ve been absolutely stupefied by the glowing reviews Rolling Stone and the New Yorker frequently lavish on spectacle pictures, idiotic blockbusters, films where the script was clearly an afterthought. Green-screened, computer-generated, audience-tested drivel framed around four or five extended action scenes over-loaded with CGI, accompanied by a thunderous, head-splitting soundtrack.

Here’s a review I wish they’d print:

Sphincterman vs. the Blue Meanies is so patently awful I wanted to scrub its memory from my eyeballs with fistfuls of steel wool. It is so brazenly unoriginal, imitative and predictable, the denouement is obvious right from the opening credits.

There are no less than five writers responsible for this abomination and each should have his/her fingers burnt off with a blow torch so they never touch a pen or keyboard again.

Director I.Q. Sixty, responsible for such doozies as Sexy Fox VI: Return of the Hotties and the upcoming cinematic reboot of Hogan’s Heroes, apparently apprenticed under Michael Bay or, perhaps, Ed Wood. He has no grasp of dramatic tension and the scenes featuring live actors are awkward, stilted, about as convincing as watching mannequins copulate.

Fred Baldwin as Sphincterman emotes like a turnip but fits the costume and has a terrific head of hair. His voice drops two octaves when he’s being serious and he once took an acting class, though had to give it up when he realized his teachers were cardboard cutouts. I’m not saying the kid comes across as wooden and untalented, I’m saying he’s even worse than that.

As with most of these silly comic book flicks, serious, legitimate actors have been grotesquely overpaid to take on supporting roles, greedy thespians who don’t mind damaging their artistic legacies as long as they’re well-compensated for it. Sir Patrick McKagan is allowed to chew the furniture and piss on the carpet to his heart’s content; as Oskar Angst, fanatical leader of the Blue Meanies, he makes us forget he was once considered the finest Shakespearean actor of his generation. This is a performance he could’ve faxed in.

And let us not spare the other A-Lister who was coerced into renting her considerable talents to this insult to the senses. Marlene Merrill, as Sheela, Queen of the Night People, seems to be channeling either the Statue of Liberty or perhaps a coat rack whenever she makes an infrequent appearance, reading her lines off conveniently placed cue cards, eyes shining with tears of shame. I shall pillory her no more.

There is absolutely nothing new here. As Yogi Berra would say, it’s déjà vu all over again: ordinary man granted extraordinary powers, tries to do good, gets beat up by bad guys, regains his faith in himself and wipes out the baddies in a tedious, violent finale lasting longer than a solar day on Pluto.

Buildings are toppled, elevated street cars plunge to the ground, half the city leveled but, goddamnit, our hero triumphs in the end, the stink of decaying bodies troubling no one as he strides forward to accept the thanks of the mayor and a smattering of traumatized, shell-shocked survivors.

It takes a whopping 143 minutes to get to that point and more climaxes than Hugh Hefner achieved during his long tenure at the Playboy mansion.

I felt genuinely abused by this picture, my brain treated like a public urinal in a New York City bus station. This is what you, as movie-goers, are looking for? Mental kitty litter?

In order to enjoy these puerile comic book adaptations it is essential that you possess the attention span of a trepanned lab rat and the reasoning skills of the Canadian Shield. It’s hard to believe the same species that produced a Michelangelo or Einstein could also be responsible for something as godawful as Sphincterman vs. the Blue Meanies.

In the name of ‘entertainment’ we disconnect our higher order thinking, lop off a quarter million years of evolution.

For the sake of ‘diversion’ we embrace dull banality and comforting familiarity.

We tell ourselves we retain the mindset of children, open to the enticements of wonder and magic…but even youngsters sense when someone’s trying to fool them and resent, above all else, the slightest hint of condescension.

They’d much rather be treated like grown-ups.

I wish the same could be said for the rest of us.

This essay is excerpted from Mouth: Routines & Rants (Black Dog Press), available as an e-book/Kindle; May, 2019

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