The 95th annual Oscars — which aired this past Sunday — highlighted an array of great films, each of which varied immensely in tone and genre. While the lineup for the revered “Best Picture” category featured many honorable nominations like “Tár” and “The Fabelmans” — two of the absolute best films of last year — several films failed to be recognized by the Academy as being among the cream of 2022’s crop. This list features seven forgotten films that deserve a nod.
“Blonde,” the heavily fictionalized and controversial Marilyn Monroe biopic from director Andrew Dominik, is a film of endearingly messy ambition and an atmosphere of near-constant unease. Tracing the starlet’s tragic life from childhood to death, the film almost entirely eschews glimpses of the late actress’s vitality and intellect, a one-dimensional approach that has granted the movie some derision as a so-called historical object and feminist biopic.
Dominik instead frames the movie as a nearly-three hour procession of abuse and exploitation of the protagonist. While the graphic maltreatment is often difficult to stomach, the plot fully commits to communicating the intense emotions that come with being used and abused by the patriarchal meat grinder of 1950s Hollywood.
While this approach has understandably alienated many critics and audience members, there is enormous emotional power to be found in the movie if one meets it on its level. The movie also boasts one of the best musical scores of last year, courtesy of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
Cars pancake other cars. Deafening shoot-outs unfold in the streets of Los Angeles, turning business centers into battlefields of urban warfare. A surgical procedure is performed in a speeding vehicle. Drones capture the chaos in sweeping camera movements. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character yells about his herpes. Moments like these are littered all over “Ambulance,” the exhilarating new action film from director Michael Bay.
The majority of the movie chronicles a protracted car chase, as Los Angeles law enforcement pursue two bank robbers — played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Gyllenhaal — both of whom are fleeing a botched bank robbery in a stolen ambulance.
There is not much more to the narrative, which is mostly a thin pre-text in the pursuit of thrilling action set pieces. But when the action is as thrillingly audacious as it is here, there is no reason to complain. As if the film was not crazy enough, Gyllenhaal abets all of the chaos with a delightfully over-the-top supporting performance. It is a total blast.
5. “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair”
It can be difficult to explain the intangible appeal of “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair,” which is so heavily tied to the uncanny mood it evokes. The director, who mostly abstains from conventional narrative shape, uses an incredibly unsettling, dystopian atmosphere to capture the surreal isolation of a life spent almost entirely on the Internet.
The eerie horror film — delivered by up-and-coming director Jane Schoenbrun — follows Casey, a lonely teenager who becomes immersed in a viral “World’s Fair Challenge,” a menacing and off-kilter virtual horror game.
The metaphysical terror becomes particularly acute when that game begins to intersect with her own physical and mental state in disorienting ways. The movie is tactfully resistant to simple explication, and it casts a haunting spell that lingers long after the closing credits roll.
Even if director Jordan Peele has yet to recapture the critical reception of his justifiably acclaimed debut feature — the instantly iconic “Get Out” — he continues to improve as a filmmaker with each subsequent release.
Peele’s newest movie, the sci-fi horror flick “Nope,” is easily his best feature film yet. Tracking a sister and brother — played by Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya — who begin to notice malicious alien activity on their isolated California ranch, the movie follows the siblings’ attempts to be the first to document evidence of the alien creature.
The film juggles tones effortlessly, leaning into a sense of otherworldly menace in its prolonged build-up before transitioning into a jauntier adventure in its final third. But through it all, Peele’s complete command of atmosphere keeps the journey consistently thrilling and occasionally terrifying. It succeeds beautifully as exciting genre fare, while also indulging in audacious digressions that give the movie an entirely unique flavor.
While acclaimed auteur Jerzy Skolimowski’s newest film “EO” is a loose remake of “Au Hasard Balthazar” — a 1966 French tragedy from director Robert Bresson — it offers sensations that feel entirely new. Following the travels of the titular EO, a stray donkey roaming the European countryside, the film is a striking exercise in subjectivity.
Viewed through the eyes of our central animal, mundane sights and sounds feel entirely new again, with rural wildlife taking on the feeling of almost otherworldly organisms. The crackle of poaching gunfire is wholly destabilizing. Footage of a four-legged drone feels like a vision from a far-flung future. No movie from last year offered such wholly distinct visual and aural pleasures, all while building to an ending that remains devastating despite its inevitability.
2. “Armageddon Time”
James Gray — the brilliant director behind “The Immigrant” and “The Lost City of Z” — seems to have a knack for being habitually underrated. He kept the streak alive with “Armageddon Time,” an incredibly haunting meditation on race and class in 1980s New York that went shamefully unnoticed by mainstream audiences.
The film frames its pointed critique of American racism through the friendship between Paul — a middle-class Jewish boy — and his much poorer Black classmate, Johnny.
After the boys are caught smoking marijuana in their public school bathroom, their relationship struggles to survive as Paul is moved to a swanky private school and all-but-forced to assimilate into the upper echelons of white New York society. The contrast between their economic and social circumstances becomes even more crushingly pronounced as the narrative progresses.
The movie is understandably indignant about the circumstances foisted upon the protagonists, but never at the expense of the dramatic nuance that defines Gray’s work. It is a sensitive, heartbreaking movie and an utter triumph.
1. “Crimes of the Future”
Returning with his first directorial feature in roughly seven years, body horror maestro David Cronenberg — responsible for masterpieces like “The Fly” and “Dead Ringers” — revisited many of his signature themes in the indelible “Crimes of the Future.”
In many ways, the movie is classic Cronenberg, following a romantic and creative relationship that finds a former trauma surgeon, played by Léa Seydoux, removing rapidly metastasizing organs from the body of her partner, played by Viggo Mortensen, in live performances that find themselves situated somewhere between the repulsive and the reverent.
But if the movie represents another example of the strange science-fiction that Cronenberg has staked his name on, it also represents a slight change of pace for the aging auteur. The movie is more beguiling than its thematic predecessors, exchanging gnarly genre thrills for something even more off-kilter.
And, if the younger Cronenberg saw only horrific brutality in his central concepts, he approaches his material here with a mixture of curiosity and awe, culminating in one of the best final shots of his entire career. There was no better movie released in 2022 than this masterpiece.