2023 Articles

Gianni’s Top Ten List of 2022

Gianni Damaia - I love movies because they’re magic. You can look at them and instinctually connect or relate to something within it that you never knew about yourself before. They combine every art form imaginable to best tell a story.
Gianni Damaia

Hello and welcome to my annual Top Ten Films List of 2022! Each year, it is my esteemed pleasure to honor brilliant filmic work with this write-up. Even if this is for an audience of exactly one person (hi Mom!), I feel thrilled to have the opportunity to write it.

Please Read This Disclaimer

This list includes my top ten favorite films of the year. Inevitably, each year there are movies I aim to see that I simply don’t have the time to. I often joke–but the joke is quite real–that by January 15th, I will have seen a movie I frustratingly would have included on this list had I only properly prioritized it. It’s an unfortunate cycle that can only be avoided by limitless time, something I unfortunately do not have the luxury of. Therefore, if there are films that you, dear reader, believe I may have overlooked here, please let me know! There is quite a good chance I’ve not yet seen them. Some movies that are still on my radar right now include: The Whale, Triangle of Sadness, Aftersun, Decision to Leave, and several others. I intend to watch all of these! However, they are not on this list due to my unfortunate limitations. 

Another important disclaimer I like to add before we begin is a clarification of the structure of this list. I subscribe to the belief that there is a distinct difference between ‘favorite’ and ‘best’. For example, I objectively think that Toy Story is a superior film in virtually every way to Christmas with the Kranks, but Toy Story is not the Tim Allen movie that I choose to watch every single year. What you’ll find in this list is a ranking of films with an overlong blurb detailing the reasons I find them so admirable. I also occasionally include in this blurb a passing comment of criticism and button it all with a score. I use a 100 point scale which sounds obnoxious because it is, but I am who I am! All of this is to say that you may see films ranked lower on the list than their scores would indicate. This is by design. I like to give a full glimpse of my opinion to create a better, more intimate and personal engagement with the rankings. 

The last disclaimer I will add is that while this list is intended to be spoiler free, most of these blurbs do not frame context for the commentary, and therefore they may seem a bit foreign if you have not seen the movie in question. Therefore, if you haven’t seen a film that makes the list, then I leave it up to your own personal discretion for whether or not you should read the blurb before seeing the movie. 

Now, without further ado, let’s begin with a few honorable mentions. These are films that are just outside of the top ten. They’re miraculous experiences in their own right, but the list I crafted is composed of movies that I enjoyed slightly more. Here they are in no particular order. 

  • Avatar: The Way of Water for crafting the most awe-inspiring spectacle of the year
  • The Fabelmans for giving voice to the artist within all of us
  • White Noise for boldly creating a story that bends the literal to fantastical extremes 
  • Emily the Criminal for establishing a taut narrative with a thrilling ferocity 
  • Prey for finding the bridge between action spectacle and horror 

With that, I would like to invite you to explore…

The List

10. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Whereas Knives Out seemed to be a teaser for the cultural satire at the forefront of Rian Johnson’s mind, Glass Onion is the full meal. With each line of dialogue, Johnson crafts an acute understanding of characterization all while seeding the fruits of a mystery on par with Agatha Christie’s finest work. The scripting of these stories is extraordinary, not just because they craft surprising intrigue, but also because they create a structure in which every line, scene, and narrative beat is deliberate and intentional to create entertaining characters that either have something to say for the plot or have something to say for the allegorical context that lays behind it. With both of these stories, the audience is richly rewarded for noticing detail. It encourages participation by always framing exactly what is necessary for the given moment and disguising what is not with just enough calculation to ensure that attention is paid. Consider for a moment the frame of Kate Hudson’s hat as she leans back to reveal another character sitting just out of view. The frame is deliberate to ensure that the audience catches the moment and catalogs it so that when the story deepens to reveal a broadening of this picture, we remember it. This type of genius is essential to the mastery of Glass Onion. Like Knives Out, the traditional structure of this whodunit is discarded in favor of a deepening lore that constantly introduces new questions and compounds those questions with shifting answers that reel the audience in deeper and demand that they work to uncover the mysteries at the center of the story. Each of these mysteries is given new information and context to broaden the scope of our understanding. It is because of this that the script is able to carefully craft and calculate the rollercoaster of audience understanding (even if you know where it ends up, you are guaranteed to be surprised by the path to get there). The performances here are uniformly excellent, with Daniel Craig appearing as the true standout with his Foghorn Leghorn adjacent cadence of speech that makes him somehow bridge the perfect gap in the film’s delicate tone. While I am critical of Glass Onion for its disappointing comeuppance (coming on the back of a satisfying reveal to then suddenly breach the confines of the film’s perceived reality with a swelling conclusion that feels unrealistic and unfortunately alleviates vital guilt from characters who are still culpable), it becomes impossible to diminish the emotional satisfaction at watching this satire acknowledge the pending rage and frustration that the audience has for a large margin of the characters at its center. Perhaps the system simply needs to be broken to work towards any genuine progress, and Glass Onion seems to understand that pent-up rage beautifully. 9/10

9. Pearl

Genre can be a fickle thing. It forces creativity into a box of marketability and oftentimes allows for art to be easily dismissed on the grounds that it does not achieve the promise of marketing. Occasionally, genre can be used to bolster creative enterprises. Take for example the Scream series which wisely attributes genre to itself in an effort to twist slasher films into a broader range of emotional experiences. Pearl is unique not in how it adheres to genre, but rather in how it dismisses it entirely. Even its predecessor, X, which is also technically a sequel, manages to take genre and use it to enliven its material, but Pearl instead tries to create a wholly unique experience. On one hand, Pearl crafts a troubling story of tragic drama as a young girl struggles to push out of the boundaries of her exploitatively simple life. But as the film stretches on, it pushes her past a breaking point and into a realm of caustic chaos propelled by the mayhem of her own making. On paper, it’s a deeply troubling and horrifying story as we see the antagonist of X pushed to become the villain we recognize, but through Ti West’s inspired direction, we instead see the story through Pearl’s eyes, often glamorizing her violence as an act of passionate desperation. The look of the film delicately crafts through beautiful art direction, costume design, and camerawork, a pristine recreation of the optimistic shine of classic Hollywood filmmaking—the obsession of the titular character. The visuals feel reflective of Pearl’s mindset as she yearns for a life worthy of her. The fear in turn becomes the horror of a life unfulfilled. The antagonist is not the person committing the crimes or doing the killings, but instead, it is the pervasive world that takes Pearl for granted and inadvertently creates a monster. Pearl is a remarkably weird film as a result. It sits the audience comfortably in the shoes of a clear psychopath and embraces her bizarre framing as the correct translation of reality. If Pearl has any faults, it is that this broadening of the audience’s perception is too ambitious. It makes Pearl a notably difficult central character to root for, and it does not exactly leave us with the impression that this is the type of person to sit idle for 60 some-odd years before she strikes again in X. Yet Mia Goth crafts a heart-wrenching performance within the confines of this polarizing protagonist. Through Goth, Pearl shines as an unfortunate soul battered by a cruel world and a predisposition for erratic behaviors. She makes the unrelatable suddenly relatable. In a stunning and transformative long-take, Goth’s monologue scene perfectly frames her psychosis and bends the horror even further as the audience is forced to reckon with the bizarre tragedy of life inside Pearl’s head. Pearl is a surprising film not just in how it subverts expectations of genre, but also in its capacity for empathy. We all, like Pearl, have the desire to be appreciated. We know our worth. Ti West and company seem to understand that the true horror is never being able to show it. 9/10 

8. Nope

I don’t know if there is a creator today that is making blockbuster-meets-high-brow-cinema quite as effectively as Jordan Peele. I often write about films that have two facets—the story told at face value, and the story told underneath it. Peele is a master of both, and his strongest attribute is how he creates them so independently from each other. It is very easy to watch Nope and think of no deeper thought beyond the palpable feelings presented within this story of an alien invasion. It is also incredibly easy to watch Nope and access the stirring thoughts that seem to lurk in Peele’s insightful mind. The concept of the commodification of trauma and how it links our human desire to push against our own discomfort in order to retain profit. The concept of our inability to separate our sense of fear from our desire to examine the things causing us distress. The concept of the taming of animals for capital gain when we have no understanding of their inner nature. These very heady ideas permeate the film and make it groundbreaking and special, but understanding their value within the script is not a prerequisite to enjoyment. Peele’s work as a scriptwriter is nearly outmatched here by his prowess as a director. With the stunning Hoyte Van Hoytema behind the camera, Nope manages to capture some of the single most impressive visuals of the year capturing scale and always precisely identifying with the perspective of the character central to the given moment. All at once, the film is tense, funny, and awe-inspiring as the camera captures the brilliant nuance of the inspiring visual and practical effects work. The performances are nothing shy of brilliant, particularly Keke Palmer who manages to imbue Peele’s film with a vibrancy that excels beyond even his most alluring characters in works past. The resolution of the film does work to its detriment as it refuses to capitalize on interpersonal dilemmas that set the stage for thematic arcs. This finale also diminishes the grounded realism of the world with nonsensical character decisions that act merely as contrivances to the plot (I must also acknowledge a TMZ reporter character who is shamelessly a vessel for disingenuous satire that breaches the film’s tone). There is perhaps plenty of symbolism to be derived from these elements but they lack the baked-in attention to detail that makes the other symbolic pieces work so succinctly. Regardless, Nope’s finale still manages to pull taut the strings of technical mastery. It manages to feel emotional even when its final message is distant. And the ride is consistently worth the thrill. 8.8/10

7. Tar

Tar is unfathomably provocative in nearly inexplicable ways. In a passing glance, it’s a film about consequences. It’s a film about the tarnishing of legacy and the moral quandary between separating art from an artist. As the film presses on, it also manages to press deeper. It frames guilt as a spectral figure that dances unspoken between scenes. It begs the character at its center to confront it, to acknowledge that it exists, and in turn be frightened of it. It’s an anxiety-inducing film in many ways primarily because it methodically distances the audience from its central message for a large portion of the runtime. It wants to plant the audience in the shoes of its protagonist, unconcerned with the haunting presence of a guilty conscience until the narrative slowly works it to the forefront. The structure of the film becomes its greatest triumph as it maneuvers itself in ways that skate around its thesis so as to say, ‘Lydia Tar cannot confront that right now so neither can you.’ This unveiling pronounces the audience’s own guilty conscience. Audiences, and I say this with love as I am one of them, are easily impressed. If we’re told a character is good at something, we’re far more willing to forgive them for transgressions than we care to admit. Think of how easily one can root for Don Draper despite his stubborn misogyny. Or Walter White. Or even Tony Soprano. Deeply flawed men who are incredibly effective at what they do whether it be telling stories to sell products, crafting chemistry, or fighting for the wholeness of one’s family (you may argue that Tony isn’t very good at that, but on the contrary, he keeps people in his life far more effectively than say Paulie would). My point here is that our introduction to Lydia is deliberate. It is precise and it is conceived meticulously through her lens. She wants her story told this way. And it is only through the slow reveal of an adept script that she must be forced to confront flaws within herself just as we, the audience, are forced to confront flaws in the person we once respected. It’s marked by a truly impressive performance from Cate Blanchett—one of the greatest actors of all time—as she commands the screen with a dominant presence that pulls away to reveal the facade. Critiquing Tar is difficult because the film is very intentional even about the things that may rub an audience the wrong way. It is overlong, but it is deliberately designed in such a way to acclimate the audience to its spectral presence just beyond the frame. It’s overwritten in some instances, but this is also intentional to derive some justification for the perceived brilliance of the character at its center. I push and pull watching Tar between whether or not I am enjoying it or merely respecting it. But to craft a film as meticulously dense as this renders my personal experience irrelevant. Tar is a triumph in the objectivity of my analysis, and therefore I must succumb to its genius. 9.5/10

6. Bones and All

The most horrific movie of the year is also one of the most romantic. Bones and All is a travel-tale about star-crossed lovers careening through their unfortunate displacement in life to find each other. It’s also a movie about cannibals. There’s a certain pulpy edge to this concept that harkens back to B-Movie horror of the 80’s, but Bones and All wisely chooses to deafen that lens and instead focus on the intimate relationship at its center. It takes its love story as seriously as the protagonists, and it uses its conceptual horror as a backdrop to emphasize the stakes, both allegorical and literal, in a poetic picture of gore and mess. Love is a carnal act in Bones and All. It’s just as impassioned and caustic as the violence that frames the film. The film feels like the perfect blend of Guadagnino’s Suspiria and Call Me By Your Name as it careens effortlessly through a mastery of genre fiction to build a parallel with heartfelt romance in a tragically earnest coming-of-age story. There’s an emotional vulnerability required here that can be a daunting task for performers unable to embrace the extremes of themselves. In Bones and All, the secret is inherently laid bare. To love means to feed with your lover. To know someone means to know all of them. To this end, Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet create a passionate plea for an entire generation. They embrace the bearing of one another’s souls and entwine themselves in the hearts of the audience. Without performances like this at the center of this story, the building blocks would fall shamefully apart. While I find myself having strong aversions to the scripted character, Mark Rylance performs Sully to a poignant effect and crafts a dark counterpoint to the duo at the film’s center. It’s easy for Bones and All to get distracted by its need for eventfulness. The film crafts an epilogue that feels wildly unnecessary and hammers its allegorical messaging too bluntly so as to be distractingly obvious. But the pronounced technical work from both the performers and Guadagino’s stellar framing makes even the lesser moments feel palpable. The violence, while not nearly as graphic as something one could see in any modern action movie or horror film, manages to pierce a visceral feeling. The delicate nature of the content presents a moral quandary within the audience. As a result, the horror and gore take on a far more lively presence. For that reason, I cannot in good conscience say that Bones and All is for the faint of heart. However, if you’re willing to embrace the antiheroic nature as the allegorical baring of souls that it is, you will be handily rewarded with one of the finest love stories of the year. 9/10 

5. Top Gun: Maverick

In the modern age of cinema, spectacle is undervalued. It’s the result of a cannibalistic hunger in Hollywood. Technological advancements pushed boundaries and resulted in bigger box office scores, and the insatiable greed of executives pushed for quantity over quality at such a rapid rate so as to dismiss the necessity for such set pieces. Not to mention the criminal exploitation of the VFX industry which is another issue altogether. The reason I mention this is to say that I think it may be easier than people realize to write off a movie like Top Gun: Maverick, a film that is precise and calculated about its spectacle only ever using it to enhance the stakes of its story and craft a more emotionally charged narrative than most other blockbuster endeavors. Top Gun: Maverick’s success is in large part due to intelligent producorial decisions. Make the spectacle real to give the stakes credibility. Give the characters emotional relationships that are quick and relatable to instigate progress in the narrative with minimal time investment. Use the highs and lows of sports films and attribute it to a visceral stakes with an unnamed foe that allows for political abstinence in tandem with heart-pounding investment. Hollywood rarely seems as smart as this, and I believe the reason Maverick finds such success in these decisions is because they’re made by people who truly and earnestly wanted to value the magic of cinema in a classical sense. Maverick feels like a throwback to the stirring emotions of Rocky or the heightened sense of awe in the Titanic (yes, me calling a 90’s movie a throwback is ‘so millennial’, sue me). But it’s not just the stellar visual effects work that frames Maverick so effectively. It isn’t just the flawless directorial flourishes that capture scale and spectacle to match the stakes. It’s also the characters who are succinctly simple in their design, only ever fighting for things that are immediately present in the narrative. But this simplistic scope is not a flaw. On the contrary, I think it’s the movie’s most accessible quality. It communicates to the audience so effortlessly, and in a movie that is designed around spectacle, that feels like a refreshingly brilliant concept. The performances all breathe life into the script with natural charisma that can only be imbued by true movie stars. Is it a perfect film? Of course not. No film is. Maverick suffers from a distracted attention to an emotional love story that feels like a crutch for narrative investment that ultimately proves unnecessary. It’s the type of love story that makes an audience member say, ‘did I miss this in a previous movie?’, as it establishes the relationship with context that feels entirely foreign to the viewer and unproblematic/uncomplicated to a fault. Yet nothing else matters by the final thirty minutes that catapult the film from good to great in a series of high-stakes set pieces that delicately weave character arcs to their natural peak in tandem with the film’s epic scale. Maverick is one of the best legacy sequels ever made. It surpasses the heights of its predecessor by miles. And I hope it captures the imagination of an entirely new brand of filmmakers who aim to believe in the magic of movies. 8.9/10

4. The Banshees of Inisherin

McDonagh sits atop the throne for modern kings of dark comedy. Whereas others mistake callousness for humor, McDonagh has always understood that it is in the genuine emotion of character that makes hilarity shine. His style emboldens the people at the center of his stories making them feel uniquely earnest and heartfelt even if their words or actions are sour. It allows his stories to effortlessly dance through emotional menageries. To watch his films a second time can give you a completely different reaction than the first as the cadence of his writing suddenly grows into a palpable emotional reaction. This can also be in large part a compliment to the stellar performances that often frame his stories. Colin Farrell designs the hapless Padraic as a charismatic centerpiece for the story’s central thesis while Gleeson deftly navigates the moral quandaries of an existential crisis that must carry the burden of a life left unfulfilled. Banshees is a film that gives back to its audience the more they invest into it. At a passing glance, the 1920’s setting allows for the ambiguous civil war across the water to be an analogous reflection of the inner turmoil of our two primary characters, and while that is indeed intentional, it’s certainly not the only idea McDonagh has brewing in his delicate script. In fact, were the film to have a flaw, it may be that this obvious comparison feels half-baked. Upon further reflection, it seems that Banshees is a film about true loneliness bred from isolation of character. In an early scene, Padraic’s sister asks if he’s ever been lonely before to which he responds, ‘what the hell is a-matter with people?’ To Padraic at this early stage in the story, loneliness is too abstract a concept. Yet his best friend Colm who has divorced himself from Padraic in the inciting action has seemingly endured loneliness to try to reclaim a sense of his identity. How much of us is stripped away when we neglect our heart’s desires and instead succumb to a simple life, and how much are we willing to risk to be remembered—to be admired or controversial instead of lonely—in life beyond? The answer depends on who you ask. There are Colm’s of the world who will watch this film with immense sadness. There are Padraic’s of the world who may not get it. And there are Siobhan’s of the world who may understand it but find it a painful meditation that need not be explored. There’s one other character pervading the story who seems the most apt for our analysis here, and that is Dominic, the island fool. Whereas other characters are often guessing as to the sincerity of the people they interact with, Dominic is a bizarre twist on the voice of reason. His analysis is often correct despite his chaotic turns of phrase that make people write him off as a creep. What begins as a fodder simpleton for Banshees to use lightly ends in a tragic turn that unveils the gnawing truths of the island. Banshees is a complex film weaving its characters in delightful threads and tapestries that turn and twist over one another in ways that feel painful and comical all at once. It’s a film about people who say what they mean and commit harshly to what they say. It’s a film that looks kindly on animals and cruelly on men as they bemoan the inevitable passing of time as existence passes onward in a sea of untamed misery. Most of all, it’s one of the finest scripts of the year as it clings to its subtext in beautiful ways leaving behind trails of complex sadness that connects the audience to its characters in unexpected ways. 9.5/10

3. Everything, Everywhere, All At Once

Were there to be a central movie for 2022, a film that proved the thesis of post-covid pressures personified in a screen experience, I’d reckon that Everything, Everywhere, All At Once would be the film. Here we have a movie designed to break genre into a million tiny pieces and craft a narrative that feels uniquely bonkers, almost satirical in its concepts of multiverse theories, as it aims to tell a very intimate story about capitalistic pressures compounding on deeply personal relationships. Michelle Yeoh has long been an immaculate presence in cinema, but here she gets perhaps her most human role—which is a hilarious statement to anyone who has seen the film considering she spends 5% of it with hot dog fingers and another 5% attempting to hit bad guys with sex objects. To call EEAO an ambitious film is an undersell. Never has a film been more audacious, more aspiring to crash into the heights of Hollywood blockbuster cinema and merge them fluidly with the intimate character relationships of the most poignant indie films. In a way, it shows the futility of Hollywood’s marketing culture trying to carefully select the audience that would appreciate such films. EEAO dismisses the notion that anyone would be put off by its central premise because the heart of its story is so personal and relatable. To say it is successful in this endeavor is also an undersell. There are lines within the film that virtually shouted the thesis of life to me, and scenes that shattered my heart with their profound understanding of human empathy. The more I consider Yeoh’s performance the more I am in awe of it. Through her lens, we are instantaneously seated in a perspective we understand. In many ways, she begins the film as an overwhelmed and therefore understandably jaded mother. To throw that person into the flames of a kung-fu film about multiversal plights against humanity caused by universal neglect of her daughter speaks to the masses of people who no doubt watch EEAO ready to write it off. Yet because we trust the perspective of the character, we’re willing to hear her out. Yeoh must work as the film’s translator in many respects. She must balance the bizarre world building with only enough judgment passed to understand her perspective but never too much to write it off. What builds is the most satisfying and hilarious superhero story ever told about a woman who owns a laundroMat. Everything, Everywhere, All At Once deftly defies the laws of pacing. Its edit is so precise and complex that it is able to feel comfortable as both a marathon and a sprint. Much like the Daniel’s previous film, Swiss Army Man, the work here demands that the audience watch with an open mind. In some ways, this feels like a heavy task, but in an cinema age where, for example, Ant-Man is traveling to a quantum realm to face off against the clone of a man who has sat for a thousand years at the end of time—a film destined for multi millions of dollars—it feels a small price to pay to allow the Daniels the space to tell their unique and sprawling tale. There aren’t enough words to type my appreciation for the other performances in the film, namely Ke Huy Quan who works alongside Yeoh with an astonishing breadth of heart. The plot can be heady, and it can get in its own way at times with frustrating little nitpicks that gnaw at its more emotional truths. But never has there been a film that shouts quite as loud as this one: ‘We are here!’ Everything, Everywhere, All At Once feels like a cry from a tired nation, a final plea to assert that life can still mean something even if it means nothing. 9.3/10 

2. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Through ruminating on events of the past few years, I do think it is important to acknowledge a core tenant of fascist ideals. This may seem like an odd way to introduce a review for an animated film intended for children, but Guillermo del Toro has always had a penchant for capturing the minds and hearts of youth and merging them with the horrors and anxieties of adulthood; in no film is that more present than his adaptation of Pinocchio. Fascism tends to yearn for an invisible day gone by. It emphatically praises the past, emphasizing its superiority to the present. It fights for the revitalization of a time that once was, yet it is a time that has never been. Fascism yearns for nostalgia in a time long past because generally it was a time when the successes of some could mount far higher and more aggressively over the belittlement of others, and it uses the feeling of youthful ignorance as a means to fuel its superiority. This rhetoric is as prevalent today as it was in the 1930’s when this version of Pinocchio takes place (see? I told you I’d get to the point eventually). Mussolini rules over this fantasy reframing of this classic fairytale (and he’s even played by voice-acting titan Tom Kenny). On the surface, this establishing world may seem like an afterthought—or at the very least a loosely related set piece to focus on the story about wishes and about what makes something real and whatever else you typically associate with this story. But on the contrary, I think there is no setting more relevant to the conceptual identity of Pinocchio—this version of Pinocchio, anyway—than the one crafted for this film. Geppetto yearns to create something to satiate his grief. After a thrilling opening sequence that establishes heartfelt emotional tethers that lace beautifully with the thematic relevance of the setting, we’re presented with a mirror dynamic of sorts. On an intimate scale, Geppetto wishes to reset the clock. He yearns for nostalgia in a time that never was. His grief dooms him to force Pinocchio into someone he is not and makes him susceptible to calamitous misfortune. He creates instead the idea of a thing that can never be the thing itself, and because of his shame, he pushes away the very thing he yearns for. On a macro scale, Geppetto is another of the fallen comrades, blinded by declarations of an unachievable future disillusioned by an invisible past. Were he several years younger, the film would likely take a darker turn as he himself enlists in the fight for his country, but the story is still centered around a young boy with an earnest desire to understand the world at large, and it is through that boy that we learn to subvert our expectations of this tragic theme. Through Pinocchio, the audience is meant to translate love in the face of the unspeakable horrors projected by those in power. The value of life is not that it is unending. Instead, the value is determined by the shared stories that rest in the heart of us all. It is in the learned understanding of our collective experiences. The path of progress is not yearning for a time gone by, but learning from a time worked towards. Pinocchio is a film that continues to amaze me with the rich depth of its emotional resonance. There are many antagonists who plague the film, but time is the most prevalent of all as it takes more and more from the characters at the center of the story. Yet, in life, we learn to work in tandem with time lest we be doomed to fight it in futility and miss on the present moments before us. Through the themes of this story, the biggest antagonist, time, has a true chance to be redeemed, just as Death—another prevalent character in a more literal sense—is not seen as a foe but rather an obstacle that will one day give value to the life lived. All of this is not even complimenting the stellar stop-motion animation which revitalizes the genre with a vibrant poignancy managing to capture a grounded look that feels heavy and consequential without ever branching too far out of the realm of its magical realism. The voice work is stellar across the board as it emboldens the physicality of these characters with astonishing fluidity. I would be remiss to not at least mention Desplat’s marvelous score that delicately influences the moments with all wooden instruments clearly reflective of the titular character. Were the film to fall short in any aspect, it would be in the shortchanging of one particular character who is used more as a slap-stick punching bag than a voice of reason, but the film’s climax makes even this misstep into a worthwhile endeavor proving that even the smallest of us have boundless compassion. Pinocchio is a film that teaches love rather than preaching it, and it makes it feel achievable even in a time when the world can feel cruel and anything but loving. 9.4/10

1. Three Thousand Years of Longing

2022 was, to me, the year of pushing the boundaries of storytelling—particularly in film. Everything, Everywhere, All At Once created one of the most audacious experiences in recent memory. Barbarian jolted the horror genre with a complete subversion of expectations (and though it is uneven, I could not in good conscience make a Top Ten list without at least giving it a shout-out). Even a film like Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio fundamentally crashed through the barriers of what was once a traditional fairy tale and crafted a tale about existential crises under the mounting pressure of fascism. In my finest days as a creative—the days of few and far between in which I feel I have accomplished something—I consider myself a storyteller. And so it would seem only fitting to me to list my personal favorite film of 2022 as Three Thousand Years of Longing, a film so vital to the interconnected threads between storytelling and love, a movie so brutally honest about the necessity for each of these ideals to be intrinsically tied. What makes Three Thousand Years of Longing so palpable is its ability to craft a story centered on the fundamental principle of the interconnectivity between storytellers and empaths. It presents a thesis that language is bred from our inherent desire to communicate, and that this desire is exactly as inexplicable as love. We do not know why we love. We theorize. But it is inherent. We do not know why we tell stories. We theorize. But it is inherent. Three Thousand Years of Longing bridges two lives—that of a narratologist, one who studies the legacy of stories, and a Djinn, an entity whose stories are as vital as breathing. The narratologist reflects on her afflictions with asthma, a disease that quite literally prevents breathing. Her saving grace, of course, was her relationship with her imaginary friend. The stories her mind told herself quite literally gave her breath just as the Djinn defines love through the stories he tells. Through this foundation, we embark on a love story watching in real time as stories and love become interlinked just as breath is linked with life in our bizarre existence. In many ways, it’s an ambitious story—even more so than Miller’s previous masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road, which pushed the boundaries of technical precision to groundbreaking heights. In this quieter, much more intimate epic, we see mainly two people, both a bit neglected by the world and looking for solace in the stories they tell, both perplexed by the world finding less and less use for storytellers in the digital age. The antagonist of our story here becomes less the forces that neglect these two as individuals, but rather the forces that keep people from one another. At times, it can seem that the world wants us distanced. Through distance, it commodifies our desire for codependent thought. Place two people in a room and they learn from their experiences—their stories. But separate them with a screen, divide them by ideals heard from others whom ego-driven monarchs decide are more important, and suddenly they lose their capacity for love. The world is still full of stories, but they become less important than the propaganda noise that drowns them out. Individual experiences are suddenly measured against a wall of collective consensus, and through this lens of judgment, they are found wanting. It’s a lie, of course, told to us over and over again because we do not yet know how to break from the cycle. Yet we feel the break each time we sit with a loved one, a wizened family member, an empathic child with wondrous eyes, and we hear them tell a story. We relate with an emotional understanding, and removed from the pressures of the world, we unconsciously find ourselves lost in them. We tell our own stories in return. We talk about our days or we tell them what they have made us think about. And stories suddenly become love. The most impressive thing about Three Thousand Years of Longing is that this incoherent review is not even an accurate representation of the film itself. It is certainly the ideas behind the film, but it is not the story told to us through Miller’s beautiful lens. The film itself is an intimate tale that sprawls over time. It tells fantasies with the grounded realism of a serialized story. It gives Idris Elba pointy ears and hairy legs and refuses to even bat an eye at this being a novel idea. It, quite simply, pushes the boundaries of storytelling in a film about storytelling. It demands that its audience take it as seriously as it takes itself. As with the Daniels’ film, that’s not always an easy ask. Sometimes, we are not ready for stories that are too far beyond our realm of comprehension. Understanding that limitation within us is not a bad thing. But we must always strive to be open because we never know when the next great story will redefine our existence and make us want for something more. Three Thousand Years of Longing is immaculate even if it is not perfect. The pacing of the film is downright bizarre. This in tandem with the ambitious severity that it uses to present its fantastical world leads me to the natural conclusion that this is a film that cannot be made by anyone other than Miller who has nothing more to prove to the world about his own genius. As the third act careens in far too speedily for a story that methodically gives space for characters to dictate their passions and thoughts, the instinctual reaction is discomfort. But on the other side of this feeling is a film that poetically crafts a synonymous tie between stories and love. It’s a film steeped in the richest lore of all—the lore of our world. It takes our own fantastical ideas and commits to them with a bravery unmatched by most other filmmakers. It crafts its landscapes with lavish production design and vital visual effects that feel integral and special in a movie that ultimately is about two people in a small room. Its visuals are outdone only by the poetic work of the actors in frame who take such delicate care to make each word a work of art. Three Thousand Years of Longing is the type of movie that reaffirms to me why I have such a strong desire to tell stories. The fact that it is uneven only makes me love it more. Sometimes, the best stories are flawed masterworks, effortlessly revitalizing passion within us because their ambition is too great to be tamed by adherence to structural rules. 9/10