Twelve Angry “Women Talking”

The "Women Talking" movie poster hanging outside a theater at night next to two other posters for female-led films.

Not a lot of helpless damsels in distress out there at the theaters lately.

Sarah Polley’s Women Talking was the last of this year’s ten Best Picture nominees to see a theatrical release outside NYC, L.A., or film festivals, which don’t count as a release into the real world. Now that I’ve seen all ten, I realize it isn’t the flashiest, and it was probably the least expensive to make, but the titular discussion group is now in my Top 3 of that list, in good company with Evelyn Quan and Lydia Tár. Not that they need males vouching for them. On a related note, I imagine a film called Men Vouching would be the worst — just two hours of dudes indiscriminately giving everything two thumbs up, even movies that don’t contain Marvel or DC products. It’d still be better than 90% of all YouTube movie review channels, but not by much.

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Local Doughy Guy Confesses to Loving “The Whale”

Brendan Fraser smiling at us as Charlie from "The Whale".

Why is this man smiling?

“Brendan Fraser is back, and this time…he’s fat!

That was my first impression upon seeing the poster for Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale. Despite the reports of fanatical applause at film festivals that went on for weeks and caused repetitive stress injuries in some critics’ clapping muscles, I wasn’t immediately sold. Our clues to its content were an unhappy gaze into a short distance, a packed bookshelf behind his head, and the name of the director whose last three films were Black Swan, Noah, and Mother. I’d disliked one and skipped the other two. Also, yes, to a lesser extent there was the fat concern.

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Death and the High Cost of “Living”

movie poster for "Living" showing Bill Nighy standing before a very British building in dapper suit and bowler, holding a cane and checking his watch.

John Steed like you’ve never seen him before!

Remember that time Bill Nighy was in the Pirates of the Caribbean series as the Dread Pirate Cthulhu? If you were a celebrated actor given six months to live, it wasn’t the sort of role that’d rise to the top of your bucket list unless you were desperate to provide for your loved ones, was it? Living, on the other hand, would make a more sensible parting gift to those left behind. Not that Nighy’s dying anytime soon! God forbid. I’m just saying I prefer his natural talents not be hidden behind CG seafood.

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“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”: The War on Sacklers

Nan Goldin lying down in front of a museum as a protest against the Sacklers. Fake dollar bills are stuck to her which read "OXY" instead of "ONE".

Worthless OxyContin-Bucks festoon a possum-playing Nan Goldin at an anti-Sackler protest.

One of my favorite parts of every Academy Awards season is the AMPAS-approved list of documentary recommendations (i.e., the Best Documentary Feature nominations), which for casual dabblers like me helps triage the 12,000 nonfiction productions released through streamers over the past year, at least 11,900 of which were slapped together with all the ethics and dignity of Tiger King. Sometimes I’m familiar with the subject at hand but appreciate a fresh take. Sometimes they’re an educational experience for me as relative ignoramus. And sometimes, as with the case of Laura Poitras’ All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, I walk unprepared into a world wildly distant from my own, and yet I come out cheering.

(Well, “walk” might be an understatement in this case: my son and I sprinted to catch the penultimate showing of this film at one of our local indie cinemas before it vanished from Indianapolis altogether. Expect it on home video in the near future, but in many locales it may be challenging to fill in its blank on your Oscar scorecard before the ceremony.)

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My Oscars Quest 2023 Quick-Start Scorecard

Michelle Yeoh looking peaceful, eyes closed, with an explosion behind her.

Michelle Yeoh descends from the heavens to accept her honors.

It’s that time again! Longtime MCC readers know this time of year is my annual Oscar Quest, during which I venture out to see all Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, regardless of whether I think I’ll like them or not, whether their politics and beliefs agree with mine or not, whether they’re good or bad for me, and whether or not my friends and family have ever heard of them. I’ve seen every Best Picture winner from Wings to CODA, and every Best Picture nominee from 1987 to the present, many of which were worth the hunt. You take the good, you take the bad, and so on.

In addition, this will be my third annual Oscars Quest Expanded Challenge, which was inspired by that darn pandemic — to see not just all the Best Picture nominees, but as many nominees as possible in all the other categories as well. When new releases were going quickly or directly to home video while theaters were shuttered, the Expanded Challenge was easier for me. I saw all but two of last year’s nominees, and am still missing eight nominees from the year before that. Someday maybe I’ll complete those sets. In the meantime, I have concerns about this year’s logistics now that theaters are back in business. I’m probably looking at far more trips away from home to reach my pointless personal goal, mood and local cinema schedules permitting.

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2022 at the Movies at My House

Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson as astronauts just standing there looking pained.

Live footage of Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson exiled off-planet as punishment for costarring in Moonfall.

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!

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My 2022 at the Movies, Part 2 of 2: The Year’s Best

The Batmobile jumping through an explosion in "The Batman".

Brought to you by EXPLOSIONS! They’re good for what bores ya!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: in 2022 I made 18 trips to the theater to see films made that same year. In Part 1 we ranked the Bottom 8 backwards from “Blockbuster Video clearance bin” to “groundbreaking yet ordinary”, which I realize makes little sense to anyone who lives outside my own head, but is the sort of convoluted flaw you need to expect from a hobbyist who super-likes movies, occasionally enjoys writing about them, but refuses to rate them on an ordinate scale comprising numbers, letters, stars, adjectives, or cutesy emoji.

And now, the countdown concludes with the ten most relatively awesome films I saw at a theater in 2022 that were released for general audiences in same. Onward!

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My 2022 at the Movies, Part 1 of 2: The Year’s Worst

Jared Leto as Michael Morbius holds a hand up to the camera.

Talk to the Morb.

It’s listing time again! In today’s entertainment consumption sphere, all experiences must be pitted against each other and assigned numeric values that are ultimately arbitrary to anyone except the writer themselves. It’s just this fun thing some of us love doing even though the rules are made up and the points don’t matter.

I saw 18 films in theaters in 2022 that were actually released in 2022, an 18.2% decrease over 2021 despite having taken more vaccines than ever, well short of my all-time high of 32 films in 2019. That number doesn’t include the seven Academy Award nominees that were officially 2021 releases, but which I saw later as part of my annual Oscar Quest. It definitely doesn’t include all the 2022 films I watched on streaming services, which will receive their own much longer two-part listicle.

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“The Menu”: Tonight’s Special is a 10-Course Massacre

Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes face off as diner and chef in "The Menu".

“No, miss, I will not recite today’s specials in Voldemort’s voice.”

Speaking as someone who’s been in customer service for 34years and counting: when everything goes well, the symbiosis between a service team and their customer — whether a singular exchange or a recurring relationship — makes for a heartening occasion that both sides can appreciate. They pull off the quid pro quo between creator/provider and receiver/consumer, and everybody wins.

When things go wrong between the two parties, the results can be anywhere from mild disappointment to small-scale war. The customer gets full of themselves, or the employees show up in a foul mood, or there’s a miscommunication between the sides that could be resolved with some calm negotiation, yet isn’t. No one wins, everyone’s miserable, and it’s another round of cringing when they look back on That One Time years later.

The Menu falls in the latter column as an extreme worst-case scenario. An evening gone wrong becomes no mere comedy of errors, but an all-out class-war ambush where no one is innocent.

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“Avatar: The Way of Water”, the Weight of a Waterworld and the Wonder of Warrior Whales

Na'vi characters greeting each other in "Avatar The Way of Water".

Jake Sully, a fish out of water, becomes a little fish in a bigger pond, fishes for compliments from his hosts, believes he has bigger fish to fry, and realizes there’re other fish in the sea.

It’s been 13 years since the original Avatar hit theaters in December 2009, made a zillion dollars, and was nominated for a couple of awards. It was two years before this site existed, four years before I signed up for our first streaming service, 4½ years before I bought my first smartphone, and seven months before I joined Twitter. My son was in middle school. Barack Obama had been President for less than a year. Breaking Bad was two seasons in and a handful of AMC viewers thought it was keen.

It’s in those primitive times that James Cameron unleashed Avatar‘s technological might. I saw it twice in theaters, both times in 3-D. The first time, I was enthralled and perhaps a little giddy. The second time, I nodded off during one of the space-pterodactyl taming sequences. Over a decade in the making, the first sequel Avatar: The Way of Water vows that any theater-goer who pays extra to see it in a deluxe format cannot possibly sleep through a single second of it unless the speakers give them a concussion.

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