A Summer at the Movies: Ranked

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Jake Panek, Staff Writer

Summer has always been the premier season for film, and this last one didn’t disappoint. (Well, mostly, at least) I ventured to the theater multiple times between this May and August, and although there are some films I did miss out on seeing—“Jurassic World: Dominion,” “Hustle,” “Fire Island,” etc.—there are plenty of movies that I was lucky to see in a theater. Here’s my ranking of the movies of summer 2022:

#12: Thor: Love and Thunder

35/100

“Thor: Love and Thunder” is a bad, bad movie, even considering the downward spiral of Marvel content in the last couple of years. It’s honestly impressive how quickly Taika Waititi deflates all of the potential he built up in “Thor: Ragnarok,” sucking every ounce of life, intrigue and charm out of these characters, their stories and the worlds they traverse through. It’s such a thoroughly joyless, relentlessly unfunny film—the reason “Ragnarok”’s comedy worked so well is because its strong story and pacing supported it, allowing it to jump from bit to bit while retaining momentum, and Waititi’s attempt to more or less directly copy and paste the same sense of humor into this nothing of a narrative renders it dead on arrival. For all of the advertising that seemed to lean into a flashy neon color scheme—which I would assume was a haphazard attempt to distract from the fact that this has absolutely nothing to offer on a narrative level—I cannot emphasize just how truly abominable this film is on a visual level. The effects of Marvel overworking and underpaying their VFX artists have never been on such prominent display—it teeters between being flat-out laughable and a boring eyesore, and by the time it deploys its only mildly interesting idea of a black and white shadow planet, it’s just unsalvageable. The true saving grace comes in Christian Bale, whose character and performance are both far too good for this movie, and all I can say is that I hope he was paid well. Every other performance couldn’t feel more phoned in, with Chris Hemsworth coasting on his natural charm and Natalie Portman doing… something—just go watch “Black Swan” to get a sense of what she’s truly capable of and how middling this is in comparison. This movie isn’t worth any more of my words, and it’s even less worthy of your time.

#11: The Black Phone

64/100

Between “Sinister” and this, I suppose I have to give some props to Scott Derrickson for his ability to consistently create horror films that feature dark, grimy styles, exactly one effective scare and supernatural elements that bog down the story entirely. To be fair, when “The Black Phone” focuses solely on its A-plot, it’s pretty solid—the back and forth between The Grabber and his latest victim Finney Shaw (played by a chilling Ethan Hawke and a surprisingly great child actor Mason Thames respectively) is effortlessly compelling, and the supernatural elements of the titular black phone are intriguing enough to keep up with it—but Joe Hill’s original short story can only provide so much material to go off of. Even with a lean 103 minute runtime, this is a film that bites off way more than it can chew and feels almost incomplete at its (thankfully infrequent) worst. “The Black Phone” stalls under the weight of the vague ideas it introduces outside of The Grabber’s basement regarding religion and trauma, and by the time it reaches its ending, narratively fitting and satisfyingly violent as it may be, it feels plain anticlimactic and dull. Overall, it’s a watchable film, one that’s enjoyable when it plays into its unsophisticated, overt genre fare and muddled mess outside of it.

#10: Minions: The Rise of Gru

68/100

Maybe I’ve finally lost it, but at this point, I guess I have to admit that I’ve sorta come around on the Minions. They’re just fun little guys, and “Minions: The Rise of Gru” is, more often than not, a fun little movie. Even with the nonexistent bar set by its predecessor, this is a vast improvement, mainly in how it’s structured—the Minions spend most of this movie making their way across the country to save a kidnapped Gru, which lets their narrative take the shape of a loosely strung together series of delightful gags, with the yellow buddies almost annihilating an entire airliner and going through a kung-fu training montage. Unfortunately, the ratio between “Minions” and “The Rise of Gru” is just too unbalanced; all of the actual story following 11-year-old Gru (voiced by a 60-year-old Steve Carell, which makes for an incredibly weird performance) and the supervillain team the Vicious 6 is, in all honesty, perfectly serviceable, but it feels painfully generic in comparison to what everyone actually came to see in a Minions movie: the Minions. Still, with a voice cast including Michelle Yeoh, RZA and Danny Trejo, an absolute fever dream of a soundtrack featuring Tame Impala, Phoebe Bridgers and Thundercat and a pleasantly bright, cartoonish animation style, this movie really has no right to be as good as it is. It’s probably no better than the Happy Meal they made to promote it at McDonald’s, but hey, who doesn’t like Happy Meals?

#9: Bullet Train

71/100

Whatever your thoughts were on the trailer for “Bullet Train” will likely be what your thoughts on the movie will be. Usually, I’m less inclined towards movies that are so obvious and surface level, but against all odds, this is a consistently fun and (mostly) harmless time at the movies. There’s quite literally nothing that it offers that you could actually think about, but if I’m going to watch a big, mindless action movie, I’m glad it’s one with at least a decent sense of humor and an ensemble cast that’s having such a good time that you might as well take the ride with them. Brad Pitt is obviously a great actor, and he does a good job as a hapless assassin here, but it’s Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Lemon and Tangerine and their dynamic that adds an unexpected ground to the story. For as overlong as it feels, there’s enough colors, great action and satisfying usages of Chekhov’s Gun to keep this moving through its 127 minute runtime, even after it (literally) goes off the rails. See this one with your friends on a late night.

#8: Beast

73/100

It speaks to how generally dire the current state of blockbuster filmmaking is that a film like “Beast” feels genuinely refreshing in more ways than one. It’s definitely one of the more sillier concepts of recent years, especially in an age where every big movie has the entire world or universe or multiverse or whatever at stake, but this is a movie where Idris Elba punches a lion, and that was more than enough to sell me on this. Its script is fairly bland and predictable, the initial 20 minutes of setup and backstory—complete with a trite message about trauma—are borderline disastrous and Leah Jeffries and Iyana Halley are middling child actors, but the moment Sharlto Copley leads the family out into the game reserve, “Beast” transforms into a nonstop, hermetic and ruthless thriller. Baltasar Kormákur conducts many of the scenes here with a surprising formal patience and elegance, letting every tense moment play out in terrific long takes. There may not be anything too memorable about it, but that it exceeded my middling expectations is more than enough.

#7: Bodies Bodies Bodies

80/100

Lit by the cool glow of phone screens and flashes of lightning amidst a hurricane, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is a terrific film about duality in the all-consuming digital landscape, a satire/whodunit hybrid that only sharpens its wit as it descends further into chaos. Don’t let the trailers dissuade you; this is as good as a movie about Gen Z could get, complete with a killer soundtrack (sorry) and a pitch perfect ensemble—I know that there’s already been enough praise for her performance, but Rachel Sennott is a total comedic powerhouse; every single word that comes out of her mouth and how it’s delivered is golden. To call “Bodies Bodies Bodies” surface level wouldn’t be incorrect per se, but its final reveal, on top of being an uproarious twist, is such a savagely clever subversion that it immediately turns your laugh sour the moment the credits hit. If anything, this is easily the best film so far to feature TikTok on such a prominent level.

#6: Inu-Oh

82/100

A feudal rock opera from one of anime’s greatest and most consistent living directors, “Inu-Oh” is a simply awesome tale about the transcendent powers of friendship, music and storytelling. Masaaki Yuasa’s latest spout of creative genius might be his most visually dazzling film yet—the shots from the perspective of Tomona, the blind protagonist, are extraordinary, the increasing usage of CGI in the film’s second half is cleanly executed and where to even begin with how ingenious the design of Inu-Oh himself is?—but, at least on a first watch, its sprawling, dense tapestry of a narrative is more than a little difficult to keep up with at times, and after a while, it lags behind the blazing pace of its pictorial inventiveness. Still a great film, and yet another notch on Yuasa’s belt.

#5: Elvis

82/100

As if adapting one of the most iconic pieces of 20th century literature wasn’t enough, Baz Luhrmann’s newest glitter bomb/sensory overload tackles the life and legacy of none other than the King of Rock and Roll, and exuberantly so. The first forty minutes of “Elvis” might be my one of my favorite stretches of film of the year—the disorienting whirlwind of an opening with an uncanny Tom Hanks in a CG purgatory realm casino and a Doja Cat needle drop on Beale Street are admirably wild, but it’s Elvis’ first performance on the Louisiana Hayride that kicks the film into overdrive. It’s a purely electric sequence of sight and sound, and while the rest of the film can never fully replicate that overflow of energy, it still carries a relentless momentum for the rest of its 159 minute runtime that’s as (eventually) exhausting as it is exhilarating, and there’s no way any of it would work if it weren’t for Austin Butler—the best way I could encapsulate how truly phenomenal and sensational he is is that if Rami Malek could win Best Actor for pulling off a decent Freddie Mercury impression, Butler might as well be given a Lifetime Achievement Award as soon as possible. His role clearly demands an unparalleled level of physical and emotional commitment, but he fits so effortlessly into the shoes of Elvis that watching his performance only reinforces just how good of a showman Presley himself was. Meanwhile, Tom Hanks is so devilish and hammed up as the enigmatic agent Col. Tom Parker that I firmly believe that he has either transcended this mortal realm or lost his mind entirely; either way, it’s one of the most insane performances I’ve seen all year. Whatever you think of it, “Elvis” is the film that the King deserves, one that’s just as mesmerizing and messy as he was.

#4: Top Gun: Maverick

90/100

If there’s anyone that would have their highest grossing film of their entire career premiere in the same year they turn 60, of course it would be Tom Cruise. Arguably the coolest and certainly the most certified insane American action star, the death-defying practical stunts that Cruise has displayed an unceasing capacity and willingness for always seem to be one step ahead of what should be possible to capture with a camera, and “Top Gun: Maverick” is no exception—the fact that the cast didn’t just fly fighter jets but also act, operate IMAX cameras, touch up their own makeup and adjust the lighting and sound all from their cockpit is astounding. This isn’t a sequel to “Top Gun” that feels modernized so much as it feels matured; the oversaturated, quintessential 80s vibe oozing out of every frame in that film has become a softer, sun-faded glow, and it still works tremendously. At its core, though, “Maverick” is a thinly veiled and earnestly moving story about the fastest man alive, how he can still prove his worth to the generations he grew up with and how he can teach a new generation of daredevils just like him. This is as pure as blockbusters get, and more or less what movies are made for.

#3: Fire of Love

96/100

“You fall hard for what you know, harder for what you don’t.” So goes the story of Katia and Maurice Krafft, two people with so many reported, speculative accounts of their meeting that you could say their fierce bond was sparked by fate. Through hundreds of hours of archival footage, Sara Dosa’s “Fire of Love” constructs the story of these two people and the only thing they could’ve possibly loved more than each other: volcanoes. It’s an unbelievably gorgeous showcase of the grainy 16mm photography and film that they captured, a seamlessly woven tale of the grandiose and the detailed. It’s almost overwhelming in its beauty, but it’s how it translates that scale to the film’s emotional core that solidifies this as one of my favorites of the year. Within its opening moments, Miranda July’s splendid narration mentions how, when and where Katia and Maurice died, and yet its ending still manages to build itself to the same majestic, visceral scale of the volcanoes they studied. “Fire of Love” is a miracle of a film, and one that I feel grateful to have seen on the big screen.

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#2: Crimes of the Future

MASTERPIECE

Body is reality, surgery is the new sex, the old sex is anarchy. These mantras are what define “Crimes of the Future,” but it’s how they give way to the broader, synecdochical push-pull relationship between politics and art that deepens body horror auteur David Cronenberg’s latest—although to treat this as his return to the subgenre he helped pioneer couldn’t be a more incorrect interpretation of what it’s actually about. This is a film charged with tender eroticism and almost a sense of wonder towards what the human bodies populating its dilapidated Greek cityscapes have become, and its more disturbing moments come not so much from the changes brought upon by “Accelerated Evolution Syndrome” but the ways that people react to them and how the government tries to manage and control them. Almost as shocking as the film itself is that its screenplay has been around for nearly 20 years, but couldn’t feel more essential than in this moment—this is one of the most potent and poignant trans allegories I’ve ever seen in a film, as well as an honest story about the (in this case literal) pains of being an artist. Every actor here is uniquely attuned to their own character, especially Viggo Mortensen as an all but explicit stand-in for Cronenberg himself and Kristen Stewart as a whispery investigator at the National Organ Registry. I’m ashamed to admit that this is my first David Cronenberg film, but I’m also not sure if I can imagine anything topping this.

#1: Nope

MASTERPIECE

An immense work of didacticism about the nature of spectacle, “Nope” is a jaw-dropping work of image-making from Jordan Peele, who, only three films into his directorial career, I already feel comfortable calling one of the best directors of the past decade. An absolutely perfect blend of “Get Out”’s airtight storytelling and “Us”’s deeply layered symbolism, “Nope” is a rare film that feels like an immediate monument, a blockbuster with a real brain and heart behind it that also remembers to be intensely terrifying when it needs to be. It’s hard to emphasize just how perfectly synchronized every element of filmmaking is here—every detail of the screenplay is meticulously embedded into the ensemble and production design, all of which is captured gorgeously by Hoyte van Hoytema. If you haven’t seen “Nope,” all I can say is go in knowing as little as possible; this is the greatest movie of the year.

Overall, 2022 has been a great year for movies, and as we enter the film festival season, I cannot wait to see what other terrific movies that’ll be brought to theaters.