Bad trends only got worse as the theatrical experience continued its plague-stricken march to the grave.
Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | Jan. 13, 2022
2021 was supposed to mark the return to normalcy: No Trump, no COVID, let the good times roll again.
I don’t think I need to tell you what happened next.
Not only did things not return to anything resembling normal (see Trump’s “big lie” about losing the election; antivaxxers still denying a pandemic that’s still raging), but the film industry continued getting beaten to a pulp both by the virus and less-than-adequate public policy support. Movies failed left and right, and the few that succeeded all but guaranteed the end of big-budget films for adults, at least in cinemas.
I didn’t think it was possible, but even superhero fever is starting to fade. Sure, Spider-Man: No Way Home felt like a return to old times but Black Widow was pedestrian and Eternals downright ill-conceived. Ultimately, do we even want to live in a world in which every major feature film is for 12-year-olds? Seems like more movie-goers are saying, “nope.”
The situation is dire at many levels, to the point that it’s up to the viewer — like never before — to find the diamonds in the dirt. I do this for a living and I was only able to watch 227 films last year, most of which failed to leave a mark. At some point, I subscribed to the Criterion Channel and decided to live in the past.
But I still have to write this column, so let’s get on with it.
MOVIE OF THE YEAR: TICK, TICK… BOOM!
Runners-up: Riders of Justice, The Lost Daughter
It figures the most notable title of the year comes from a streaming service. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s adaptation of the Jonathan Larsen’s little-seen autobiographical play is fun, propulsive and features killer tunes. It has all the joie de vivre missing from so-called “movies of the year” like The Power of the Dog, Dune and The Lost Daughter. All dour.
WORST MOVIE OF THE YEAR: THE UNFORGIVABLE
Runners-up: Spiral: From the Book of Saw, Demonic
It’s not just that Sandra Bullock is unbelievable as a hardened criminal (utterly unbelievable!). The problem is that after going through every cliché in the book (estranged family! Angry victim’s relatives! Unemployable!), it chooses to make the protagonist even less interesting (spoiler alert: she didn’t do it!)
GENRE IN TROUBLE: HORROR
It was a terrible year for scary movies. The quality in general was low and franchises that normally deliver or are at least reliable at what they do (Saw, The Conjuring) flopped. Meta-horror and “scary Airbnb” dominated with inept and uninteresting flicks. The Fear Street saga had some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen, and the bar in horror acting is low. And a word of advice to The Night House: home design is not scary. Nobody has ever said “the corners are not square. RUN!”
[SHUFFLES PAPERS] Dunno, the return of the musical? Foreign films blowing American movies out of the water in the quality department?
WORST TREND: TAKE YOUR PICK
Audiences’ reluctance to return to theatres for anything that’s not a known IP (and sometimes not even then); Disney’s treatment of 20th Century Fox titles; the intermittent but necessary closing of venues by local authorities; MCU films faltering; toxic fandom (who knew people were so passionate about Ghostbusters); movies so bland they don’t even have villains (they upset millennials!); Ryan Reynolds everywhere, always; people decrying artistic decisions for not being woke enough (“the lesbian sex scenes in Benedetta are too sexy”); and incorporating the pandemic into the plot.
BEST SEQUEL: THE SOUVENIR, PART II
This is the rare case in which a sequel deepens an understanding of a character and makes for a richer experience (can you say the same of Ant Man and the Wasp?) In the first film, Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) comes undone following a toxic relationship with a heroin addict. In the follow-up, we see her putting herself back together and using her experiences as artistic inspiration.
MOST OVERRATED: DUNE
Runner-up: The French Dispatch
I have a lot of time for Denis Villeneuve (the Prisoners–Sicario–Arrival run is one for the ages), but since he started working with pre-existing IPs he’s become less interesting. Sure, the scale of Dune is beyond compare, but I would be hard-pressed to remember a more joyless, pompous blockbuster. Also, the control of oil, sorry, “spice” reserves could lead to genocide? Stop. The. Presses. As for The French Dispatch, this is what happens when an obviously talented filmmaker like Wes Anderson is left unsupervised: quirkiness overload with no sense of story or purpose.
MOST OVERHATED: DON’T LOOK UP
Runners-up: Dear Evan Hansen, The Last Duel
My brethren (other film critics) were way off dealing with Don’t Look Up. Due to an inexplicable bout of hubris, they panned the film for being “obvious”, “patronizing” and “preaching to the choir”. Ignore them. As recent events prove, common sense is in short supply and science denying is alive and thriving. Don’t Look Up gets the points across (billionaires don’t have our best interest at heart, partisanship is getting in the way of tackling climate change). As for Dear Evan Hansen, sure, Ben Platt looks like the school counsellor more than the student, but the musical about depression remains sturdy, and hey, the “kids” from Grease were all over 30 and nobody complains about them.
BEST CANADIAN MOVIE: NIGHT RAIDERS
Runner-up: Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy
The emergence of Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers as a creative force should be a bigger story. She carries the film as the lead of Danis Goulet’s Night Raiders and her documentary Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy goes beyond denouncing the problem of opioids in the Kanai First Nations to study the remedies (abstinence vs harm reduction) without neglecting the subjects’ humanity.
WORST OUTRAGE: THE CHARACTERS’ AGE DIFFERENCE IN LICORICE PIZZA
By all accounts one of our best filmmakers working today, Paul Thomas Anderson gave himself a break from his usual heady output and directed a breezy, fun comedy set in the late ’70s. Surely a crowd pleaser, right? LOL, no. Anderson was thrashed for featuring an enterprising teen (Cooper Hoffman) in love with rudderless 25-year-old (Alana Haim). Never mind that the film’s inspired by real events — the age difference is bad, bad BAD, people! Here’s the thing: The age difference is Licorice Pizza’s reason for existing. The entire movie is about the young woman trying to ignore her romantic feelings for the 15-year-old while nurturing a friendship (he does all the pursuing). Furthermore, Licorice Pizza makes a point of denouncing adults taking advantage of bright-eyed teenagers. It’s worth mentioning that a lot of the criticism came from people who didn’t watch the movie — a classic Karen move.