5. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths
We’ll say this about Alejandro G. Iñárritu: in an increasingly homogenous and risk-averse cinematic landscape, it’s always refreshing to stumble upon a filmmaker with enough hubris, ambition, and panache to be allowed to fully operate on their own terms and really swing for the fences — even if the resulting film is as mesmerizing as it is exasperating.
Outside of Damien Chazelle’s wrongly disparaged “Babylon”, no 2022 studio release felt more conceptually daring, structurally audacious, (if also unbearably self-indulgent) as “Bardo”; a three-hour-long, semi-autobiographical extravaganza that sparked rarefied passions and gave viewers plenty of bang for their buck last fall. In following the surreal journey of self-discovery of a renowned Mexican journalist living in L.A., Iñárritu uncorks an operatic yet intimate portrait of conflicted heritage, the price of fame and success, and the troubled history of U.S.-Mexico relations. Though “Bardo” tests the viewers’ patience and often threatens to crumble under its own weight, watching Iñárritu pull out every stop and channel everyone from Fellini to Malick and Lynch is probably worth the price of admission alone.
4. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio
In a medium where originality offers scant financial recompense, it’s a refreshing change of pace to watch an animated movie that refuses to patronize its audience and gives a new, refreshing expression to a classic folktale we’re all familiar with.
Watching Guillermo Del Toro’s decades-in-the-making stop-motion rendition of Pinocchio, there’s always the sense that the acclaimed Mexican director is adding something new to Carlo Collodi’s 1883 story rather than merely strumming a familiar tune. Though the major beats about the lovable little wooden boy who dreams of becoming real remain the same, Del Toro’s interpretation in turn takes place in fascist 1930s Italy, adding an intriguing new layer to the story. Much like his early Spanish productions, namely “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”, this Oscar-nominated film transposes the grim realities of war with supernatural elements of fantasy, crafting an emotional roller coaster that is certified to resonate with both younger audiences and grown-ups.
Even though his acting skills and dramatic range were never in doubt — at least not since his “Punch-Drunk Love” days — it has been thoroughly entertaining to witness the latest chapter in the Adam Sandler renaissance from up close.
On the heels of “Uncut Gems” and a few forgettable Netflix stinkers, the Sandman gifted us with yet another bona fide powerhouse performance in “Hustle”, where he plays a basketball scout for the Philadelphia 76ers who must find the next LeBron James-level generational talent or risk losing his job. This occurs in an unlikely place — a street pick-up game in an inner-city slum in Spain, where he spots Bo Cruz (played rather convincingly by real NBA player Juancho Hernangomez), an unproven prospect with a rocky past and big dreams to fill.
Hewing closely to “Rocky”, “Coach Carter”, and other old-fashioned inspirational sports dramas, “Hustle” hits all the beats and clichés (not to mention extended training sequences) one would expect to, but still somehow manages to strike a chord with its intense earnestness. Every once in a while, all you need from a movie is watching a scrappy underdog achieve his dreams against all odds. “Hustle” provides just that.
2. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Ever since “Parasite” swept the Oscars in 2019, many filmmakers have tried to replicate its success and steal that same lightning for themselves with politically-tinged, class satires that lace their own satirical jabs on the filthy rich, with prestige fare like “Triangle of Sadness” and “The Menu” scoring big with audiences and critics alike this past year. Netflix followed that same formula down to a tee with “Glass Onion”; a sharp-witted, unpredictable murder mystery starring Daniel Craig’s sleuth-for-hire Benoit Blanc that follows up Rian Johnson’s 2019 zeitgeist smash hit.
Much like its star-studded predecessor, “Glass Onion” splits its focus on an unwieldy group of wealthy narcissists, all of whom become prime murder suspects at a luxurious private island located somewhere deep in the Mediterranean Sea. Bolstered by a stacked ensemble cast including Edward Norton as a riotously funny Elon Musk caricature, a shifting web of double-crosses, and Johnson’s sleight of hand behind the camera, “Glass Onion” is an old-fashioned crime caper that will satisfy any Agatha Christie enthusiast looking for lighthearted, popcorn thrills.
1. Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood
No Netflix original tugged at our emotional heartstrings in the past year quite like “Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood”, Richard Linklater’s latest venture into Rotoscope animation, told from the perspective of a 10-year-old student living in late-’60s Houston who’s recruited by NASA during the summer of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Hailing from the proud bloodline of semi-autobiographical memory pieces like “The Tree of Life” and “Licorice Pizza”, the film provides less of a unified narrative throughout its 95-minute runtime than a bundle of slice-of-life vignettes loosely strung together by their vivid detail and specificity.
For several decades now, the Texan-native filmmaker has been digging deeply into his foggy-yet-vivid childhood recollections and injecting them straight into his work, which makes his latest stroll down memory lane a welcomed addendum to “Slacker”, “Dazed and Confused” and “Everybody Wants Some!!”. Deeply heartfelt but never schmaltzy, “Apollo 10½” blurs the lines between memory and fantasy, suggesting that the former distorts reality just as much as the latter. Not to be missed.