When I research a movie, I usually look at what other people think about it. I do that not because I want to align my thinking with the “majority” or “correct” opinion, but because I like to understand where people are coming from when they evaluate a film, and see if they offer any additional insight. I look at three different groups of people, the viewing public (as measured by an average rating score on a world-wide web site), a content analysis of critical reviews and commentary (the Metacritic rating), and an assessment of what the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) thinks about it using a scale I constructed weighing the number and types of nominations and wins. I also, of course, supply my own rating of the movie after I have researched and viewed it.
So, in theory, I have at least four scales to use to quantify a movie’s intrinsic qualities. When all four scales are roughly in agreement, that is a refreshing sign that the movie really does belong to that place in the hierarchy. But I’ve also found that some of the most interesting discussions arise among movies where there is significant disagreement. So I’m going to present both the agreements, and the disagreements, in this analysis, so you can determine what you want to do with them. (When movies are essentially tied in overall ratings, I used my rating to order them.)
In order to make sure we are not comparing apples and oranges, though, I’m going to separate out what I call “the specialized” movies which are those films that are nominated only in the “special” Oscar categories of Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, and International Feature. (There are ten of this year’s films that satisfy that definition, all five documentaries, four of the animated films, and three of the International Features. The numbers don’t add to ten because FLEE was nominated in all three categories.) We’ll deal with these ten at the end of this essay.
(Click on the movie title to go to my full review.)
Eight of the 28 general interest movies were rated above average or better on all four of the scales I use. If you haven’t already seen them, consider putting them on your “must see” list:
Dune – Didn’t receive superior critical reviews – it is science fiction, though, and critics generally, and unfortunately, don’t like that genre.
CODA – Critics weren’t quite as enthusiastic as everyone else and I’m not real sure why! A great family movie, about a family. (And the Best Picture Oscar winner!)
The Power of the Dog – The viewing public had a bit more trouble with this one, probably because it isn’t exactly your typical western.
The Tragedy of Macbeth – Classic Shakespeare with great acting from Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. Done in black and white with sparse production values, this film did not do as well with the viewing public.
The Worst Person in the World – A Norwegian film about a millennial woman having a “quarter-life” crisis. The Academy nominated the screenplay – in addition to International Feature – but it may have deserved more.
Drive My Car – From Korea, this is an interesting film, but requires a lot of work and time – especially if you’re going to try to understand the relationship to the Chekhov play, Uncle Vanya.
Licorice Pizza – A fun movie in parts, and the best thing is the 70s music, but it also focuses a bit too much on Los Angeles and Hollywood. I did enjoy Alana Haim’s terrific performance.
West Side Story – Spielberg’s remake is visually stunning with great music, but Ansel Elgort fails to deliver on the dramatic side as Tony and that makes the love story unsatisfying. (I’m not the only one who thought that.). Critics and the Academy loved this film, but I agree with the general public that it is somewhat disappointing.
It is in the middle tier of ten films that most of the disagreements arise with some of us liking a movie better than others and, sometimes, much better. Add these films to your list after you’ve seen all of the above and need some more options. Of these ten, four of them were basically judged the same by everyone, with little disagreement:
Nightmare Alley – I liked this a little better than everyone else, mostly because of the twisting storyline and the all star cast. But thrillers, like sci-fi, don’t do so well with the Academy and critics.
Tick, tick…BOOM! – I also liked this one because of the multiple layers of story and the music. But I suspect the story was a bit too complex and Garfield, as Larson, really needed some better supporting actors.
Belfast – The Academy overrated this a bit, probably to pay homage to actor Kenneth Branagh, who wrote and directed this portion of his autobiography. The problem, for me, is that the script leaves too many holes.
Encanto – Disney’s primary animated feature of the year with lots of good music, interesting characters, and a family-based story-line. Nothing to disagree with here.
The remaining six movies in this middle group show dramatic differences in ratings, so you are taking your chances with these movies:
Cruella – A delightful movie with terrific chemistry between the two Emma’s, but critics panned it, for reasons I can’t decipher. I wasn’t expecting much and was very surprised by the performances, the story, and the costumes and makeup.
Don’t Look Up – Probably depends on your opinion on “climate change”. But this is another one where I disagreed with the critics, who gave this the lowest rating of any of this years movies. I thought it was funny, when it wasn’t being painfully realistic.
Spider-Man: No Way Home – This film had the highest audience rating of all 28 movies and I also enjoyed it immensely. In fact, this film made me refine my general opinion about super-hero films. But the critics weren’t happy and the Academy only nominated it for Visual Effects. Again, sci-fi and action films don’t fair well among the high-brow!
The Lost Daughter – Despite great performances by Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley, the script, by Maggie Gyllenhaal wimps out at the end. Critics loved this film, but audiences didn’t. So it ends up in the middle.
King Richard – I found the father to be overbearing and unrealistic. The Academy disagreed profoundly and nominated and crowned Will Smith as Best Leading Actor – something they probably regret after his ceremony performance. At any rate, audiences and critics placed this in the middle, so that’s where it lies.
Parallel Mothers – With another great performance by Penelope Cruz, we should have had a great movie. But then Almodovar decides to tack on a twenty-minute ending that, while politically important, has nothing to do with the movie. So I rated this film low, while the critics loved it.
The next four movies, generally lower in average ratings, are also controversial.
Being the Ricardos – The viewing public and critics alike disliked this movie, I suspect because, really, who can play Lucille Ball. But still, the film had lots of good points to it and Kidman did as good a job as anyone could.
Spencer – Neither the public nor the Academy gave this film its due. The film deserved more than just Stewart’s nomination – and I think she should have won the Oscar. It may not portray Diana in a flattering way, and that is probably why the viewing public didn’t like this film as well..
No Time to Die – Critics didn’t like this film, but it is James Bond, so what do you expect? It filled all the requirements for an entertaining movie and raised some interesting questions about where the franchise goes next.
Shang-Chi and Legend of the Ten Rings – Nominated only for visual effects, it could also have been rewarded for production design and costumes. A good, but not great, movie.
The last six movies fall at the bottom, based on a consensus of all four scales, although I have to take great exception to one of them being in this group:
Cyrano – I appear to be the only one who really liked this film, While I gave it 4 stars, everyone else panned it. Yes, the music is so-so, but the choreography, staging, and cinematography are very good. And even though Dinklage can’t sing, Haley Bennett can. But in the end, it is all about Peter Dinklage’s outstanding performance.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye – A so-so movie that got Jessica Chastain and her makeup artists Oscars, but it has holes in the script you could drive a truck through.
Free Guy – Although audiences placed this in the middle of the pack, no-one else liked it. Let it go!
Four Good Days – No-one cared for this melodramatic movie that, unfortunately, does not fully explore the pain of this situation.
House of Gucci – So many mistakes in this movie – surprising given the all-star cast. Don’t bother.
Coming 2 America – Unless you are a die hard Eddie Murphy fan, skip it! (The hairstyling is unique, but that’s about all I can say that’s good!)
Now, what about those ten films in the “specialized” categories? We need to first talk about FLEE because it was nominated in all three of the special categories – Documentary, Animation, and International. It is remarkable film that, while not for children, should be of interest to any adults interested in the political and psychological issues involving immigrants. Submitted by Denmark, it tells the true story of a man who, even at his young age, has a very difficult past, in a documentary style but also told in animated fashion to protect the identities of the people involved. A very interesting combination.
As for the other nine, consider first the International Feature nominees. (Two of the other International Feature nominees (Drive My Car and The Worst Person in the World) are discussed above because they received other nominations which placed them in direct competition with all the other films.) Of the remaining two, one of them is a good film and the other you can just plain skip. Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom was submitted by Bhutan, the only country in the world which actually measures Gross National Happiness!. The film is a simple tale of life in a village that houses the most remote school in the world – (it takes 7 days of hiking to get there!). The scenery is stunning and the culture is as intriguing as it is simple – enjoy it! The other one, from Italy, The Hand of God, is neither understandable nor enjoyable. Only if you are an extreme fan of Italian films or European soccer should you watch this movie.
All four documentary features received above average ratings in my book, and everyone else’s. Summer of Soul, about a summer Black Music festival in Harlem in 1969 features archival footage from the original concerts and talking head interviews with some of those same performers and political actors prominent at the time. The music is terrific and the story is amazing. For a comparison of the documentary features go to my 2022 Documentary Movies story.
The Animated Feature films were generally disappointing this year. I suppose my favorite was Encanto which I talked about above. And, for what it is worth, The Mitchells vs the Machines was rated as the best animated feature, while I thought it was a “hot mess”! For a comparative review of all of them please see my 2022 Animated Movies post.
So you have recommendations, from me and from others, of movies to see, movies you might see, and movies to avoid. This concludes my reviews of the 2022 Oscar season. The 2023 list of nominees comes out next week and we will start the process all over again. Stay tuned!