Search This Blog

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Films of 2022

This is my annual post about the new films I saw over the prior year. Here's a link to last year's list if you want to work backwards through my choices over time. 

I made the following point last year and it remains true thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic:
I saw all of these films at home rather than at my local multiplex. I think the last movie I saw in the cinema was Little Women in December 2019. On Long Island. I vividly recall the experience and miss it dearly. 
This first group of films is excellent. There are Oscar nominations to be found here:

Tier I

The Worst Person in the World
The Banshees of Inisherin
The Outfit
Glass Onion
The Fallout

The Worst Person in the World was nominated for an Oscar (foreign film) last year, but it was not widely released in the US until February 2022, so I'm counting it as a current-year film. It was great. Obviously, it is subtitled, but you get some terrific scenes from Oslo, a lovely city that I have not visited in 25ish years. If the young female star Renate Reinsve can work in English, she'll start appearing in major Hollywood films soon. 

The Banshees of Inisherin is quirky, funny (at times), and ultimately kind of sad. It's a "tragicomedy" and perhaps typically Irish. The setting is beautiful, but the story of the end of a friendship quickly captures the audiences's focus. The film made me want to have a pint of Guinness with some old friends, most of whom are scattered all over the country. I see them too rarely. Top-notch film-making here. 

The Outfit seemed more like a play than a film, but it was a really well-done staged production about crime. Kimi featured a similarly claustrophobic production scale, but that was a key element of the plot. It embraced the isolation of the pandemic and made an entertaining movie from it.

Glass Onion is funny, fairly clever, and thoroughly engaging. As the clues are ticked off in the end, I felt dumb for missing so many of them. It's perhaps better than Knives Out, which I loved. 

Elvis is very flashy and entertaining, but it doesn't reveal quite enough about Col. Tom Parker, a major character in the film. Fortunately, the film devotes much more attention to the vibrant Elvis rather than the last few years of drug-induced decline. I've seen reports on the internet that a MUCH longer version could be forthcoming. It's already long. 

The Fallout is about student reactions to school gun violence. It was powerful, I thought. 

Tier II

Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Emily the Criminal 
What We Leave Behind (doc) 
Athena (French)
Don't Worry Darling

The Nic Cage film (Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent) will leave you thinking about watching Paddington 2. So far my wife and I have resisted the urge.

Emily the Criminal is a very good modern crime story, told from the perspective of the desperate criminal. Aubrey Plaza is good in the role and you worry about her safety at times. You almost always worry about her decisions. 

I wouldn't be surprised if What We Leave Behind is included in the nominations for best documentary. It's a very good film about people who live in both the US and Mexico, though the main character is clearly most rooted in the latter. 

Nope is not quite as good as the two prior Jordan Peele films, but it has its own virtues. We watched it Halloween weekend and the scares are fairly modest. 

The French film Athena is about the relationship between migrants and the police/military. It was very good, though the style is a bit over-the-top at times. It reminded me of Guy Richie's early work. 

Don't Worry Darling has a flawed storyline, but its virtues make up for it. The overall message is worth the effort and the visual style is simply remarkable. 

Tier III

The Batman
The Lost City
Top Gun: Maverick
Everything Everywhere All At Once

This next set includes films that have their virtues, but I found them to be fairly seriously flawed. 

The Batman was not outstanding, but it was fine. My students highly recommended it, so I guess it found its intended audience. 

These comic turns for Sandra Bulloch (The Lost City) and Adam Sander (Hustle), plus Channing Tatum (Lost City and Dog) and Queen Latifah (Hustle), respectively, were fairly predictable entertainment vehicles that relied upon the appeal of the main actors. Lost City seemed like a lesser version of the old Romancing the Stone films and Hustle employs the standard sports film plot about the underdog who achieves some success thanks to grit, determination, and hard work. Dog was a surprisingly good film about PTSD. 

Top Gun had its moments, but it was a popcorn flick with a forgettable plot. 

I'm not a big fan of martial arts and the sci-fi element in Everything Everywhere made for a strange combination. At least to me. 

Tier IV

Thor: Love and Thunder 
Dr. Strange: Multiverse Madness

I watched these in December while my spouse was visiting her father. Neither is particularly good -- I'm not sure why Disney and Marvel keep making these films. Actually, I know why they to it -- to make a lot of money. Why do people keep watching them? I viewed them because I'm teaching the film class in spring 2023 and my students seem to see all of them. 

Visit this blog's homepage.

For 280 character IR and foreign policy talk, follow me on twitter.

Or for basketball, baseball, movies or other stuff, follow this personal twitter account.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Books of 2022

This is my annual post listing books I read in the most recent year. It seems kind of remarkable now, but I have produced such a list since 
2005. This ia link to the 2021 list if blog readers want to work backwards.

Also, I posted short reviews of most of these books at Goodreads


Ben Yagoda, Will Rogers: A Biography

Christopher Coyne and Abigail Hall, Manufacturing Militarism

Christopher Bader et al, Fear Itself: The Causes & Consequences of Fear in America

I read a couple of Grawemeyer-nominated books that were better than any of these, but didn't list them because it's a confidential review process. The Will Rogers bio really captured my attention. I learned of this book some years ago when going through the Rogers Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma. He was a remarkable entertainer and social critic. 

The other two books I read because they are related to my research and teaching interests. Coyne and Hall are basically libertarian economists, but I generally agree with their argument about US manufacturing of militarism. Incidentally, Abigail Hall teaches at Bellarmine University here in Louisville, though I do not think we have ever met. The Bader et al book was written by the group who produce the Chapman University Survey on American Fears. The book discusses and contextualizes the findings over a period of years.

Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik, The MVP Machine: How Baseball's New Nonconformists Are Using Data to Build Better Players

Arnold Hano, A Day in the Bleachers

Lois Browne, Girls of Summer: In Their Own League

Bill James and Rob Neyer, The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers

The MVP Machine is the best baseball book I've read in some years and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand how baseball analytics have changed in the last decade or so. The "Moneyball" days of finding players with undervalued skills are mostly gone. Now, teams (and private coaches/clinics) are developing athletes into better pitchers and hitters using advanced data based on the physical properties of pitching motion and grips or batter swing characteristics. 

The Hano book is humorous at times, but felt quite dated. Browne's work focuses on an interesting story -- the All American Girls Professional Baseball League -- but I felt like it could have been both more informative about player performance and more entertaining. It's the kind of baseball book that focuses on game-by-game results and year-to-year transactions and standings rather than big picture analysis.

The James/Neyer encyclopedic book might have rated higher if I'd read it 15 or more years ago. As it stands, the information about pitcher arsenals they painstakingly acquired is now readily available for current players on Fangraphs or other baseball websites. And the entries are much more complete. That does not undermine their accomplishment altogether, but it created frustration at the lack of depth in many pitcher entries. 

Literature and Genre Fiction

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

Colson Whitehead, Harlem Shuffle

John Updike, Bech: A Book

Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing

Evelyn Waugh, Men At Arms

These works count as literature and all are worth worth reading. Remarque's book is rightfully a classic and I thought it was the best work of fiction I read all year. Yes, I should have read it long ago and my education likely suffered for not having done so. On the other hand, I managed to read it before viewing the newest film version.

I really liked Whitehead's recent venture into the crime genre and Updike's classic (?) semi-autobiographical (?) novel about an author. 

These works by McCarthy and Waugh were fine, but I've read better books by both men. 

Charles Cumming, Trinity Six

Eric Ambler, Judgment at Deltchev

Philip Kerr, A German Requiem

Jason Matthews, The Red Sparrow

Donald Westlake, The Sour Lemon Score (as Richard Stark)
Donald Westlake, Deadly Edge (as Richard Stark)

Lawrence Block, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes

John Le Carré, The Looking Glass War

Sue Grafton, L is for Lawless

Ross Macdonald, The Goodbye Look

Brendan Boyd, Blue Ruin: A Novel of the 1919 World Series

Donald Westlake, Somebody Owes Me Money

Joel Goldman, Motion to Kill

Each of the works of genre fiction above this note was good and I'm glad I read it. You probably notice that this was a particularly good year for reading spy fiction and Donald Westlake crime works. 

Many, actually most, of the authors are familiar from past iterations of this summary report. You'll find books here from the Bernie Gunther, Matt Scudder, Kinsey Milhone, and Lew Archer detective series, which I'm generally reading in order. 

Disclosure: Joel Goldman was a Kansas debater in the 1970s and I've met him a number of times at reunions or other events. 

Gregory Benford, Timescape

John MacDonald, The Empty Trap

Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None

Lawrence Block, Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes

PD James, Original Sin

Helen MacInnes, The Salzburg Connection

Stephen King, End of Watch

Ian Fleming, Thunderball

George V. Higgins, The Rat on Fire

Cornell Woolrich, The Black Curtain

Michael Crichton, Scratch One (as John Lange)

Dan Brown, Origin

Gregory McDonald, Fletch Reflected

Many of these books were OK, but most were so-so and had some serious flaws. I'm not going to be detailing all of those here, but you can probably find out on my Goodreads account. 

Visit this blog's homepage.

For 280 character IR and foreign policy talk, follow me on twitter.

Or for basketball, baseball, movies or other stuff, follow this personal twitter account.