Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: in 2022 I made 18 trips to the theater to see films made that same year. Though I’ve tried to get back out there with my vaccines and my restlessness and whatnot, more often than not the motivation level still wasn’t quite where it used to be. As a sort of compromise, in the year’s back half I tried to overcompensate and catch up with 2022 through our various streaming subscriptions and a smattering of Redbox rentals. We don’t have HBO Max or Amazon Prime, but I nevertheless watched plenty by estimation, enough to present the third annual installment of the MCC tradition borne of the pandemic: a ranking of all the brand new films I saw on comfy, convenient home video in their year of release.
Whittling away any and every film with a pre-2022 release date, our living room hosted 28 films in 2022 that fit the specific parameters for this list. We’re not far away from the Oscars’ nominations announcement on January 24th, which for weeks I’ve been keeping in the back of my mind as the deadline for this listicle, so…on with the countdown!
28. Moonfall. Roland Emmerich has once and for all scooped far too many bowls of gruel from the dried-up Irwin Allen disaster movie crockpot. We’ve already seen the end of the world more than once, we’ve seen the EXPLOSIONS!, we’ve seen the state-sized wreckage swaths and the ludicrous car jumps, and we’ve heard the TV-movie dialogue. And at least Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012 delivered the apocalypses their titles promised. Sure, the moon begins to fall, and we watch scientists and actual science die screaming, but we never get the visceral satisfaction of celestial impact. Worst of all, if you’ve ever watched space-race documentaries or For All Mankind, the scene where five or six “heroes” launch an entire decommissioned Space Shuttle by themselves is six light years beyond ludicrous and a shallow insult to real astronauts and all of aeronautics.
27. The Gray Man. The post-MCU Russo brothers’ pasteurized processed action spy product lets Ryan Gosling continue the silent-movie mopeyness that worked for Drive and confounded in First Man, but feels here like he just wasn’t in the mood to memorize lines. Chris Evans tries to remind us he was funny before there was a Ryan Reynolds, but mostly he feels like Ryan Reynolds with weaker one-liner ghostwriters. The biggest sin, besides the color-by-numbers design and the CG artists who escort Gosling to and from his jumps, is wasting Jessica Henwick as middle-management Hillary Clinton. This is not how you start a cinematic universe, if that’s what the Russos are imagining or any Netflix accountants are listening.
26. Men. Every man around Jessie Buckley just looks to her like the guy from the Black Mirror pig episode. That’s a potent horror film idea, which I winced just typing it. Sure enough, the idyllic British greenery births some disgustingly horrific imagery by the end (literally births, as it happens). Usually I’m game for the Alex Garland ambiguities that were intellectually tantalizing in Sunshine, Annihilation, and Devs, but this time around I didn’t know I was supposed to do homework before watching. Being unfamiliar with the Green Man and sheela-na-gigs, which no schoolteacher ever bothered mentioning to us for some reason, past the halfway mark I had absolutely no clue how to interpret anything beyond “males be suuuper creepy”. Which is true, but felt far too simplistic to be the right answer.
25. Spirited. A lopsided reminder that Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds have done fun things in the past, but their batting averages aren’t that high. They cancel each other out in A Meta Christmas Carol, which starts strong with a satire of modern spin-doctoring, a mildly clever second-act twist, a few okay zingers from Reynolds’ heartless cad, and a lone memorable song (“Good Afternoon”). But it falters with a weak comedy duel to which no one brought enough ammunition and a padded structure that supposes Dickens’ timeless tale should be twice as long and meander way more. Exhibit A: the many, many minutes dwelling on the serious romance between Ferrell and Octavia Spencer’s contrite assistant, who’s less than half his character’s age. Octavia, honey, you deserve better than that geezer.
(Standard MCC alert: yes, there’s a scene after the Spirited end credits, in which the hotelier that Ferrell’s ghost-crew originally targeted for haunting finally draws the attentions of the new management.)
24. Spiderhead. Miles Teller and especially Jurnee Smollett are heartbreaking as two convicts who’ve signed up for a morally dubious experimental drug program in hopes of putting their worst mistakes behind them, but Joseph Kosinski’s weakest film to date subjugates them as accessories to its primary objective — letting prideful A-lister Chris Hemsworth, much like Chris Evans did in The Gray Man, switch from playing a Marvel superhero to an excessively smug villain. Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters did better by him, back when he was younger and humbler.
23. Uncharted. Where’s Sully’s mustache? Or the real Sully, for that matter? Where’s Nathan Fillion? Why do they open with one of the most amazing levels from the games, cut it short, then shove the rest in the back fully spoiled? Why and how are giant helicopters carrying decrepit old pirate ships aloft on heavy-duty cables chasing each other around impossibly pillar-shaped islands? Why does one entire sequence require Our Heroes to navigate underground tunnels full of death traps and Goonies puzzles only to lead them into a bar where the bad guys catch up in seconds by walking through the front door? And, I cannot harp on this enough, why Mark Wahlberg?
(Standard MCC alert: yes, there are scenes during the Uncharted end credits, but both bring in surprise characters from Uncharted 4, which I haven’t played because I don’t have a PS4. Someday, but I’m not buying one just so I can appreciate these scenes.)
22. The Wonder. “Florence Pugh, Nurse Detective” is a fine idea for a period-piece franchise: follow an ancestor of Yelena Belova around the UK countrysides as she upends medical cons grand and genteel. Here she’s hired to monitor a girl who allegedly hasn’t eaten for four months yet isn’t dying or even skeletal. Is it a superpower? A holy miracle? A cool physics stunt that lets her subsist on dust absorbed through the skin? Or just plain cheating? And is her ultra-pious family abetting her? The answer arrives early in the film (taking ten minutes longer to solve than Benoit Blanc would’ve), but then the film just keeps going as Pugh has to decide what to do with what she’s learned. What comes next is low-key to a fault and ignores the fact that certain parties who claim purity of faith are ultimately trying to sucker God Himself, which is indeed a thing too many Christians attempt, like He’s just that foolish a mark, but Pugh’s character isn’t the authority qualified to hold them accountable. The one who is is kept too far in the background to make a difference.
21. Bullet Train. He may be the last of the old-fashioned 1990s leading men who can still rock a manly smile, but Brad Pitt is no John Wick. The action is what it is, not quite as fun as some of the guest spots (Zazie Beetz! Hiro from Heroes! Hiroyuki Sanada! the unexpected Final Boss!) and the Tangerine/Lemon quirkiness feels forced at times, and yet Aaron Taylor-Johnson once again has the best moments in a big-budget film where he’s trying to hide from us behind unfamiliar hair (see also: Age of Ultron, Tenet). I’ve put no stock in the rumors of his odds for becoming our next James Bond, but if he wants to reinvent 007 as an eccentric fop prone to dorky code names, I’m there opening weekend.
20. Beast. It feels mean to slap the “B-movie” label on a film with so many beautiful African horizons and arty sustained tracking shots, all gussied up as if this were a BBC production and not a popcorn-selling excuse to watch Idris Elba punch a lion in the face. Then again, when you’re talking about a lion with a supernaturally vendetta-driven brain as narrowly focused as the shark from Jaws: The Revenge, you’re not talking Merchant-Ivory art-house lion-punching drama. But it’s to the credit of all involved that by the time our poor evil CG super-genius lion catches up to its predestined Stringer Bell beatdown, we get it’s had a long and exhausting day. Just wait’ll Beast 2 when Elba has to face the evil CG super-genius lion’s bigger and smarter long-lost brother (like, maybe it wears a smartwatch!), gets the slashing of his life, and finds himself a Rocky IV training montage so he can handle a rematch.
19. Turning Red. Pixar isn’t the juggernaut it once was, but now they can lay claim to pioneering the first American animated film to admit to kids nationwide that feminine hygiene products are real and necessary and it’s okay to discuss them in the open without shrieking and jumping out the nearest window. As a longtime relative of women, I came to terms with that fact of life decades ago, and I commend the filmmakers for setting a story during one of the most intensely awkward phases in a girl’s life. Beyond that, much of this Team Girl-Power pep rally is a remake of the original Teen Wolf but with red pandas (one kaiju-sized), crossed with the family-trauma negotiations of other Pixar films. But, like, peppily so.
(Standard MCC alert: yes, there’s a scene after the Turning Red end credits: down in the basement, Dad reveals he secretly loves 4Town too.)
18. Wendell & Wild. Henry Selick is back, and Jordan Peele’s got him! I tried to mute my expectations rather than assume this would be the second coming of The Nightmare Before Christmas. It, uh, kinda isn’t. The stop-motion animation is as flawless as always, but the screenplay’s oddly novelistic structure tangles too many characters in its plot threads and de-emphasizes the Key and Peele reunion that you’d think would be front and center as the title implies. But the demons Wendell and Wild aren’t nearly as funny as their Toy Story 4 bit parts, and they aren’t even the main characters. It’s like Disney calling their Hercules film Pain and Panic. Meanwhile Our Actual Heroine (voiced by This Is Us‘ Lyric Ross) has to multitask in overdrive — overcoming a childhood tragedy, a hard-knock orphan life, a pair of villains who plan to get rich building an evil for-profit prison (which, uhhhhh, certainly isn’t a cliched villain motive), and a learning curve with a barely sketched-in new mentor voiced by Angela Bassett whose unexplained paranormal trappings imply they’re hoping to do two or three sequels explaining her backstory. You know a movie’s too crowded if it can’t afford even Ms. Bassett more than five minutes of screen time.
(Standard MCC alert: yes, there’s a scene after the Wendell & Wild end credits — the Kat puppet comes to live-action life, but doesn’t feel like entertaining company.)
17. The Adam Project. Zathura meets The Last Starfighter in the year’s best Ryan Reynolds film. Our Hero racks up a reasonable joke-to-dud ratio; tutors a mini-Ryan who can match his comic timing and delivery; aces the emotional moments between himself, his past-dad (Mark Ruffalo, reliably warm-‘n’-fuzzy) and his kick-butt ex (SF-movie addict Zoe Saldana); and stifles my complaints about how time travel is so played out. The latter aspect offers few new twists and the future-tech shenanigans get increasingly ludicrous by the end, but this pricey mega-frolic never loses its zippy lightheartedness.
16. Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe. Wait, I can explain: when the show premiered, I was a 21-year-old aimless loser male still living at home and the proud owner of hundreds of cassettes — basically MTV’s target demo at the time. I only watched a handful of episodes, but that was enough to get its two or three jokes and do some minor long-term brain damage. Regardless of limited exposure, on occasion I may have amused myself and 1990s coworkers with the occasional imitations of their voices, which aren’t hard to do. I wouldn’t say I hold deep nostalgia for the dumb duo, but…I get the revival? And I may have laughed more than I’m supposed to admit, 39 years after their debut and expiration date? Especially at the scenes in which Our Dorks attend a college gender studies class and learn all the wrong lessons? As penance, I have yet to watch an episode of the new season…and yet, the other day I ran into someone at my current job who grew up on the show and for some reason I felt the need to prove I could still do the voices. Times like this make me so glad I only have like six regular readers.
15. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Hollywood never makes biopics of musicians (real or fake) I actually love, so I was elated in advance as a proud owner of nearly all of Weird Al’s albums. The fake biopic’s first half is The Year’s Best Comedy and Radcliffe’s brilliant emulation is to be treasured…but then the movie keeps going and going and going. Evan Rachel Wood’s Madonna is briefly amusing and the Pablo Escobar bit doubly so, but those two jokes are stretched thin for some forty minutes. I felt the same impatience that seeps in whenever a Weird Al track passes the 4-minute mark. Brevity, soul of wit, etc. UHF was way better.
14. Athena. The opening 30-minute-plus tracking-shot pandemonium is an astonishing encapsulation of 21st-century political strife writ large with choreographed armies and explosions, wherein the French director Romain Gavras proves America doesn’t have a monopoly on police brutality or street-level class warfare. Once we return to normal editing, the Shakespearean brother-against-brother tragedy steadily loses so much momentum that subsequent attempts at longer takes subtract from its audacious novelty. All the chaos and deaths lead the audience like Wile E. Coyote to a painting of a tunnel on a brick wall, by which I mean that head-scratcher of an ending that…I mean, do you know what it’s like to watch an engrossing whodunit only to learn the murderer was the boom operator?
13. See How They Run. While all eyes were turned to Glass Onion and averted from Death on the Nile, whodunit fans might’ve missed this whimsical trifle that slipped under the radar onto HBO Max and will probably head straight to oblivion when they delete it tomorrow. Saoirse Ronan takes a much-needed break from top-shelf Oscar bait, Sam Rockwell feigns a British accent that fools none of us, Adrien Brody is convincingly sardonic as our cynical narrator/victim, and mystery fans are treated to final-act guest stars David Oyelowo and Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle herself) as Mr. and Mrs. Agatha Christie. If you prefer your murder mysteries old-fashioned and harmless, here one is.
12. Top Gun: Maverick. My Gen-X membership card was nearly revoked for refusing to watch the artificially suave quintessential ’80s military-recruitment classic until 2000. Even then, I did so only as part of an IRC chat event with fellow MST3K fans united in mocking it from end to end. Twenty years later, nobody in my circles would shut up about the sequel, so I held out for the inevitable Paramount+ release, which arrived in the nick of time before New Year’s so I could add it to this list. The Year’s Best Joseph Kosinski Film delivers precisely the grade-A dogfight slickness I assumed it would, recognizes that I’m far more receptive to Tom Cruise performances than I was as a kid (thank Mission: Impossible for that), and signs up a stellar crew of hotshot pilots to learn from Our Hero (naturally my favorite is Lewis Pullman as call sign “Bob”). But the film covers only (1) mission planned against the rogue nation of Anonymoustan that a worldwide audience can jeer at together, and the bottom line amounts to “crack pilots zoom through a dangerous path to a ludicrous villain lair with a deluxe thermal exhaust port that takes two shots to blow it all up.” Congrats to Kosinski for tricking Cruise into doing a Star Wars film.
(Okay, okay, I may have gotten a tad emotional at Val Kilmer’s big scene. I may suck at conforming to my mainstream peers’ tastes, but I’m not a monster.)
11. Scream 5. I generally don’t truck with slasher flicks lately — especially after the failure that was Scream 3 — but I checked out Scream 4 on a whim one day and was utterly shocked…not at the violence, but at the prescience of its killers’ motives, which translated into a note-perfect, slapstick-filled All About Eve homage for Generation YouTube. That film really held up. Then I tagged back in for the first Wes Craven-less installment, which brings back all the beloved old faces and introduces a new, genially watchable circle of friends (only some of whom are doomed) that includes Wednesday‘s Jenna Ortega, Veronica Mars‘ Kyle Gallner, and Star Trek: Lower Decks‘ Jack Quaid as a Boimler-esque Concerned Boyfriend. The meta-META-prologue neatly and hilariously resets the stage and tone, the stabby-stabby is not always kind toward those we assumed were untouchable, and once again the killers’ motives are perceptively Too Real. My chief nitpick is one character’s sad attempt to make the term “requel” happen. STOP TRYING TO MAKE IT HAPPEN. A “requel” is a just a sequel that had to wait a decade or more for another generation to pick up the baton and sprint with it. Now that Craven is no longer with us, successor directors Matt Bellinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are more than poised to hold that baton high and poke some eyes out with it.
10. Enola Holmes 2. Millie Bobby Brown returns as Sherlock Holmes’ kid sister and gets embroiled in a case ripped straight out of 19th-century British labor-abuse history, which definitely got my attention after reading about similar corporate factory malfeasance on our side of the pond in Kate Moore’s Radium Girls. This sequel tops that excellent book’s subpar film adaptation, though I was irritated by the editor’s constant splicing in flashbacks from half an hour prior, apparently assuming the audience has the attention span of a gerbil. Then I reminded myself I may not be the core target audience, as I’m over 12 and a bit of an intruder. Nonetheless, this romp is at least as engaging as the first one and makes far better use of Henry Cavill’s time than Black Adam did.
9. Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood. Richard Linklater’s latest rotoscope-animation project is one part space-race celebration and one part childhood-memories scrapbook, something quite a few filmmakers did during the pandemic. Linklater has an impeccable, less hoary sense of which nostalgic Easter eggs are worth throwing at us. When one of his sisters relives a scarring kitchen incident that my wife experienced herself as a kid, fortunately she was out of the room and I didn’t have to shout “TRIGGER WARNING!” at her, which she would’ve ignored anyway to her regret.
8. The Black Phone. Scott Derrickson opted out of the Doctor Strange sequel and instead adapted Joe Hill’s short story into a realistically grimdark period-piece childhood tale a la Stand by Me that unmasks itself as a serial-killer thriller, with Ethan Hawke playing an even nastier brute than his Moon Knight mastermind. But then it double-unmasks itself as yet another kind of story: one about kids with superpowers. Hill’s dad was great at writing those, and this is easily up there with the best of ’em as Derrickson & co. carefully and expertly assemble a dozen moving parts into a kid-vs.-killer showdown worth standing up and cheering, which is my favorite way to end a horror film, though it rarely happens this satisfyingly.
7. Vengeance. If the only kind of red-state/blue-state conflict you’ll accept is one that ends with your side standing proudly over the debated-to-death bleeding corpse of the other, the first full-length feature from writer/director/star B.J. Novak might not be your thing. On a basic level it’s another whodunit for the mystery genre’s big 2022 comeback (and definitely not among the most intricate), but of greater value is Novak’s self-stereotyped antihero role as a Deep North Swingers drone somehow shallower than Ryan Howard who decides the death of a forgotten one-time hook-up might make a cool topic to exploit on his true-crime podcast. Once he arrives in far-west Texas to attend her funeral and nose around her surroundings, some of the fish-out-of-water jokes write themselves, but his decision to embed with her Extremely Online yokel family (a crack ensemble that includes The Sandman‘s Boyd Holbrook and Succession‘s J. Smith-Cameron) leads to unforeseen places, not least of which is the recording studio of ace-in-the-hole Ashton Kutcher as an eloquently self-aware music-industry exec. I’m a big fan of seeing party lines smeared and ignored, felt my jaw drop at the climax, and utterly loved the scene in which the family discusses why everyone loves Whataburger. Because not everything we love needs to be justified with a scholarly or even pretend-scholarly defense. Sometimes it’s cool just to love a thing.
6. After Yang. Colin Farrell breaks hearts with yet another round of subtle underplaying in this bittersweet sci-fi elegy to a dying android that wishes it were people. Data notwithstanding, how many stories about dying androids convincingly convey said robo-simulacrum’s desire and success at expressing, capturing, and sharing the beauty they’ve witnessed? Frankly, not nearly enough of them in the years since the death of Roy Batty. Columbus director Kogonada found an inspiring new angle on an old trope and crafted the Year’s Best Colin Farrell Film, which was one of The Year’s Most Hotly Coveted Superlatives.
5. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. I’ve waited forever for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to spawn an entire glut of imitators, but all I get is this side-splitting homage, which uncannily casts John Mulaney and Andy Samberg as the voices of Chip and Dale, who are now basically Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, but with (wait for it) a mystery to solve. I never watched the original cartoon, which debuted a few months after I turned 16, got my first job, and never again had time for after-school cartoons for the rest of my entire life, which sucked, but I knew just barely enough about its cast to get by here. The whole thing is just a meta-retro blast, the mystery plays fair, and if you can’t laugh at Tim Robinson’s turn as Ugly Sonic (yes, that Ugly Sonic), you’re officially too old for hyper-referential comedy.
4. Prey. Amber Midthunder’s twin-souled mutant warrior was among the best parts of FX’s Legion (her benching in its final season was one of its dozens of major flaws), and The Best Predator Flick Since the Original was a smart choice for her first starring role. 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg and co-writer Patrick Aison took a big risk setting it in our 18th century, where humanity is more primitive and doesn’t have super awesome Gatling guns at their disposal yet, but one of the cleverer aspects is the alien hunters’ classic arsenal is likewise reverse-extrapolated into earlier, cruder, less effective versions, so the duels are less one-sided than you’d expect. The horror-SF roller-coaster ride barely lets you catch your breath and absolutely would’ve been worth a theater screening. For those yearning to catch more Midthunder, her Reservation Dogs episode that aired the following month, in which she plays an indigenous social media influencer no less superficial than her white rivals, is a hoot.
3. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker does love him some fancy genre-wrapped period pieces. This time fascist Italy is the setting as our latest Geppetto (this one voiced by pop culture’s ubiquitous Jack Bradley) is devastated by a WWI family tragedy that drives him to drink and then to carve out his own offspring, and in that order, which makes for some aptly messy woodwork. The resulting boy puppet walks through a few of the same OG Disney footsteps before pivoting in more fantastical and catastrophic directions. Heartbreak and wonder hold hands in The Year’s Best Stop-Motion Film (sorry, Henry Selick), The Year’s Best Animated Film Among the Very Few I’ve Watched So Far, and, for lack of non-awful competition, obviously The Year’s Best Pinocchio Film, which for some confusing reason was also one of The Year’s Most Hotly Coveted Superlatives, though this one smacked down its nemeses pretty handily. As I understand it, anyway. You can go watch the Zemeckis do-over and judge for yourself, but I have better and less eye-rolling things to do.
2. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. The Year’s Best Whodunit in a rather whodunit-happy year, and the only film on this list that I’ve cheerfully sat through twice. As Rian Johnson taught us: if it’s a fugue, that’s what you do. Whether or not it’s better than the first one is beside the point, but as it happens, it totally is, even for viewers who aren’t hopped up on Jared Leto’s hard kombucha.
1. RRR. First things first: any passersby who’ve shown up here just to see if I mistakenly type “Bollywood” instead of “Tollywood”, just so they can jump in and “well actually” me, is cordially invited to go face-plant on a hopscotch grid. That said: WOW. Wait, let me rephrase that: WOW. My Indian film experience is shamefully narrow as an undercultured white Westerner with viewing time stretched in too many directions (Slumdog Millionaire, The White Tiger, A Passage to India, NBC’s Outsourced, the pilot episode of India’s The Office remake…uh, yep, that’s my tiny and easily disqualifiable scorecard), so perhaps I was easily dazzled. Or perhaps this grandiosely madcap three-hour violent period-piece martial-arts action blockbuster musical crime-drama bromance extravaganza with all the historicity of Inglourious Basterds really is a one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime Best Anything Ever. If not, I’m sure some erudite Tollywood superfan will be along shortly to “well actually” me about that, too. Which is fine! I could go for a lot more of this, if more-than-this is humanly possible, which is hard to imagine.
…thus endeth the list. For anyone curious, I also kept track of all the other films I watched — not just new ones — regardless of release date, platform, or worth. This year’s pre-2022 roster:
All About My Mother
Better Luck Tomorrow
The Bishop’s Wife
Breathless (the 1960 original)
The Card Counter
Coda (a 2020 Patrick Stewart vehicle, not to be confused with 2021’s CODA)
Death on the Nile (1978 – still haven’t watched the new one)
Enemy at the Gates
Fahrenheit 451 (2018)
The Florida Project
Fright Night (2011 – bonus Colin Farrell!)
The Harder They Fall
Hope and Glory
Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte
The Invisible Man (1933)
The Last Picture Show
Let the Right One In
Me and Orson Welles
Meet Me in St. Louis
Menace II Society
The Nice Guys
One Night in Miami…
Rent (the Broadway version)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Cut
Sweet Smell of Success
The Third Man
Touch of Evil
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Feel free to ask about any of these. Otherwise, see you around for next year’s movie lists!
Wow! Yet another great entry of MCC!. My thanks, as always, for writing it up and sharing it w/the world!
As one of the aforementioned six regular readers I feel duty bound to bring to your attention a possible minor elision in your review of Enola Holmes 2:
– “Then I reminded myself I may not the core target audience”? Should there be a “be” in there?
Indeed! Let “be” be!