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Film critics give their takes on the best movies of 2022
Judy Woodruff: It has been a very intriguing year for movies, with some big films receiving a lot of attention, smaller ones searching for audiences, and lingering questions about the future of the theater experience.
Jeffrey Brown looks at the year in film for our arts and culture series, Canvas.
Jeffrey Brown: So, are audiences returning to theaters? And, if so, what are they seeing, and what should they, we, see?
I'm joined by two film critics, Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post and Justin Chang of The Los Angeles Times.
It's nice to see both of you.
Justin, I will start with you.
Why don't you give us two or three of your favorites of the last year?
Justin Chang, The Los Angeles Times: One of my favorite movies this year is "Tar," which is Todd Field's brilliant study of a fictional world-renowned classical conductor played by Cate Blanchett in one of the great performances of her career.
Cate Blanchett, Actress: Time is the thing. Time is the essential piece of interpretation.
Justin Chang: Even though some have mistaken this for a biopic, and it's not. She's a completely fictional creation, the character of Lydia Tar.
Her world is just so fully realized that it feels -- it feels more real than some actual biopics. It's just a brilliant, mesmerizing film.
And another of my favorites is a very different movie called "Aftersun," a first feature by a director named Charlotte Wells.
Actress: Do you think you will ever move back to Scotland?
Actor: There's this feeling once you leave where you're from, that you don't totally belong there again.
Justin Chang: It's a semiautobiographical drama, loosely based on an incident that happened with her and her father when they went on vacation when she was just a preadolescent.
And it falls in line with quite a few semiautobiographical films this year, like Steven Spielberg's "Fabelmans," James Gray's "Armageddon Time." I mean, we're seeing something where filmmakers are tapping into their personal memories.
And this one, though, from a previously unknown filmmaker is just so piercing and haunting. It's one of the most moving studies of a father/daughter relationship that I think I have seen in recent memory.
Jeffrey Brown: Ann Hornaday?
Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post: Listen, I will tell you something. My number one movie of the year was "Top Gun: Maverick."
Jeffrey Brown: "Top Gun: Maverick."
Ann Hornaday: You bet.
Jeffrey Brown: OK. Why?
Ann Hornaday: That was the movie that I had the most fun.
I went in with lots of skepticism. I thought it was too late. I thought it had taken too long. I wasn't really necessarily a huge fan of the first one.
Jeffrey Brown: Many, many years after the first one, right? Yes.
Ann Hornaday: Many years after the fact. Can Tom Cruise age gracefully in this role?
Jeffrey Brown: Yes.
Ann Hornaday: And I was utterly disarmed almost immediately. Those elbows that had been sharply out collapsed. And it was just so much fun to see it. And the audience was having such a good time. And...
Jeffrey Brown: There's something to be said for that these days, rights?
Ann Hornaday: There's a lot to be said for that.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes.
Ann Hornaday: So I cannot tell a lie. That is number one.
One that I was a huge fan of and I wish had been in theaters that I -- so I could have sent people to it was "Good Luck to You, Leo Grande."
Daryl McCormack, Actor: I'm Leo. You must be Nancy. May I come inside?
Emma Thompson, Actress: Yes.
Ann Hornaday: A little chamber piece starring Emma Thompson and a newcomer named Daryl McCormack.
And it's about a middle-aged widow who wants to sort of reignite her sex life. And she hires a sex worker played by Mr. McCormack to help her do that. And it's a series of two-hander scenes in a hotel room, which you would think would be deadly dull and completely uncinematic, but it is an absolutely charming film.
Emma Thompson is at her best. And Daryl McCormack absolutely holds his own with her. And I was quite taken with it.
Jeffrey Brown: Justin, a lot of people are coming to the movies for some of these big ones.
I want to ask you about one of the year-ender big ones that a lot of people have been anticipating. That's "Avatar," right, the new "Avatar."
Justin Chang: I really enjoyed the first "Avatar," and I was completely transported by this one too.
It is very immersive. The world-building is extraordinary. You feel like you are swimming. There are times when I wanted it to just be a great underwater hangout movie, no action. But the action is great when it kicks in, and you go home happy with a lot of -- with the action.
But it's sort of this great, bliss-out, trippy, Jacques Cousteau documentary on mushrooms experience that I totally do recommend.
Justin Chang: Is it a perfect movie? No. But -- and I -- but, to your question, Jeff, I think that it's encouraging, at a time when movies have been so challenged by the COVID pandemic, yes, people have gone back to movies, but it's been a really tough year at the box office, especially for movies like "Tar."
And "Tar" has made more money than some. I mean, the movies that Ann and I write about week in, week out, smaller movies, they last a few weeks in theaters, and then it feels like they're gone or they're on a streaming platform. I have never worried more than ever for the health of the mid-budget adult dramas, the American independent films, international films.
Jeffrey Brown: What do you think about this, Ann Hornaday?
Ann Hornaday: I share Justin's concern.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes.
Ann Hornaday: And I think most of us have been concerned about that, especially that mid-budget adult drama. That has always been an endangered species.
And now I feel like these short theatrical releases are almost ads for the streaming. They're building awareness for audiences that have now become conditioned to stay at home. There has been an exception to this recently, which is "The Whale."
Brendan Fraser, Actor: Do you ever forget the feeling people are incapable of not caring?
Ann Hornaday: It's a theatrical adaptation starring Brendan Fraser that just broke box office records.
It tells us that it's the movie. Audiences will come out to see something, whether that's a huge big screen blockbuster spectacle, or a smaller scale, smaller canvas thing. But it's going to be that content.
Jeffrey Brown: Let me just ask you both one more question quickly, just to take us out on a kind of up note here, about a performance that you love.
Ann, you want to start that?
Ann Hornaday: Well, I will mention a movie that I think deserved a bigger theatrical audience. And that is "She Said," which is about The New York Times reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein story.
It is a really terrific journalistic procedural, in that great tradition of "All the President's Men" and "Spotlight." But there's a performance at the center of this movie by Samantha Morton.
Samantha Morton, Actress: He played people. He was a master manipulator.
Ann Hornaday: It's a supporting performance, not one of the leads.
She's one of the women who was affected and traumatized by her interactions with Harvey Weinstein. And her scene changes the film. It's a it's a fulcrum moment.
Samantha Morton: This is bigger than Weinstein. This is about the system protecting abusers.
Ann Hornaday: And she dominates and commands it in a way that is just -- it's just devastating.
Jeffrey Brown: And, Justin Chang, one performance?
Justin Chang: I'm going to call some attention, not that she necessarily needs it, to Michelle Yeoh in "Everything Everywhere All at Once."
Jamie Lee Curtis, Actress: It does not look good.
Justin Chang: Michelle Yeoh gives a wonderful performance, and it -- the movie is very much a love letter to her, to her career, her standing as one of our great martial arts performers, one of Asia's great action stars, but also just as a fabulous actor, something that has not been recognized as much as it should be.
And I can't think of another movie this year, save maybe "Tar" and Cate Blanchett, that just calls on an actor to do so many things and to make you believe her doing all of them. And so those two performances, I think, are maybe on a different level this year from most everything else.
Jeffrey Brown: All right, Justin Chang of The Los Angeles Times, Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post, thank you very much.
Ann Hornaday: Thank you.
Justin Chang: Thank you so much.
Judy Woodruff: And I hope you were taking notes. There's a lot to watch there.