One of the great perks of a virtual Sundance is that movie fans who ordinarily would not see more niche movies were able to see some really special stuff. One of the highlights was Emergency, a successful blend of comedy, tension, and male friendship. Emergency is the type of product that really could only be made in the past ten years. Its social commentary on race and the danger of college life is without doubt part of a new movement that Get Out helped pioneer. It follows in that film’s footsteps in being socially cognizant while mostly avoiding a didactic voice and being a really great genre movie. It is frequently funny, but one is likely to define
Emergency most as a thriller, as it is chalked full of tense scenes that are expertly delivered. Emergency feels classical in the way it sets up its moments of suspense. It makes sure to plant seeds early on to unload them on you later. It is the rare modern film that earns pretty much all of its extended sequences where the characters are frequently in danger. Even a bad Sabrina Carpenter performance could not bring down a great movie.
4. Jackass Forever
It was a sight to behold when critics like David Ehrlich expressed their appreciation of the latest Jackass film. These were supposed to be the most serious of critics, immune to such crowd pleasures that require you to power down your brain for hours at a time. But with so few studio comedies out there, Jackass Forever filled a much-needed void.
Yes, Jackass Forever, got a boost from being uncharacteristically warm and reminiscent for the crew, as it was at least the last one with Knoxville at the helm. However, the power of the film came from the undying commitment of its cast members to put themselves through pain. Forget any trace of dramedy or seriousness. Jackass Forever, like Barb and Star the year prior, was a comedy that had no shame in being one.
It provided one hilarious form of body punishment after the other, with few skits feeling like weak links after a rather timid opening fifteen minutes. But once the film gets the ball rolling, Jackass Forever reminds you not just how funny it is to watch Ehren to get punched right in the nuts, but also how much of a tense experience it can be to watching these guys malign their bodies. Forever really does feel like a thriller sometimes with how incredibly unnerving some of the stunts are. The film may lack a depth that keeps it from the top of its list, but its longevity is undeniable. People will be laughing at these skits for years to come.
3. The Batman
The Batman doubles down on Nolan’s realism while still crafting both a Gotham city and storyline that feels new and worth exploring. Pattinson’s struggling Batman is a faithful but different take on the character, who feels more exposed and challenged than ever before. Batman is a brooding and lonely figure who does not have the inner power to put on the mask of Bruce Wayne like past iterations. We have seen characters like Catwoman and The Penguin before but every performer, despite so much history behind each of the characters, reinvent their roles and provide something new for audiences to chew on.
The Batman’s acclaim is a major success that speaks to the inventiveness not just of Reeves but of everyone who worked on the film. Everyone who worked on the gadgets, and costumes, and production design. Gotham is a place we have seen over and over again and yet it remains as enticing to dive into as ever. And it is likely that all of this would have failed had not the movie been built on a well-written script that does its best to temper Reeves’ over-the-top presentation of themes while giving the actors rich dialogue to work with. It still utilizes Nolan’s themes in a tired way, but The Batman crafts an interesting world that Reeves can improve upon and make something even more memorable.
The people who went into Ambulance with optimism are most akin to some De Palma stalwarts. Bay fans mostly know that his career is never going to reach the heights pre-Transformers, but he still is a man with a vision who can at least provide some quality standout scenes if he wants to. What even Bay’s diehards likely did not predict is that Bay’s Ambulance is his best in decades.
Providing likely the longest uninterrupted action scene since Fury Road, Ambulance is a reminder of just how good Bay can be behind the camera when it comes to action. The visual clarity he provides is nearly on par with the John Wick and Mission Impossible films, which is all the more impressive considering the Bay’s action is stretched across a crowded and complex Los Angeles. Do not think that this means Bay has conformed to the style of action of today’s directors. Bay still hilariously employs mayhem in nearly every scene. Cars are crashed with impunity. Fruit stands are lit up by the titular vehicle, and one trip through a parking garage could almost have you convinced Bay is aware of and making fun of the conception of “Bayhem,” almost.
Plot wise, Gyllenhaal goes too overboard, and you can become sick from how Bay moves the camera in early dialogue scenes. Yet, this is still very much in Bay’s wheelhouse. It is an effective tale of a man coming back from the War on Terror with no special thanks to show for it and having to pay the price of converting to a life of crime. The main struggle between Gyllenhaal and Gonzalez, as well as the undertones relating to America Bay cannot get enough of, are meaningfully present but in no capacity stay in the way of the action itself Ambulance is a feat of action filmmaking on behalf of Bay and navigates around the weakness of Bay’s bad ear for good dialogue. If the box office numbers were more positive, this would be the success story of the year,
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once
The easy and oh so correct pick for number one. Everything Everywhere All at Once captured lightning in a bottle. Like Parasite, people heard that it was so impossibly good that even casual moviegoers ventured out to see something obscure and out of their comfort zone. They were rewarded for venturing out.
Everything Everywhere is as entertaining and furiously paced as any piece of mainstream entertainment, only with exquisitely choreographed fight scenes both heavily influenced by works that came before it and inspired on their own. The butt plug scene, come on. The Daniels are as weird and quirky as ever here, but that never diminishes the optimistic heart the film has, the loving message it looks to get across to viewers.
It is a piece of filmmaking that is a loving homage to various works that came before it with references to Ratatouille, The Matrix, Kill Bill, and In the Mood for Love. But in the process of showing so much love to films that came before it, Everything Everywhere also carves out its own legacy as one of the most inventive, bonkers, and touching films in recent memory. The leading candidate for film of the year thus far.