The year just concluded was a reasonably good one for movies. It’s unfortunate that it was so hard to find them.
Movie theaters have rallied since the height of the pandemic, and box office smash hits like “Top Gun: Maverick” (roughly $720 million in domestic box office) and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (about $430 million) demonstrated that people want to get out of the house and enjoy the communal experience of a movie theater offering a big screen and state-of-the-art sound. Covid is still with us, and many movie fans remain uncomfortable about going into theaters, but the main concern of theater owners, both chain and independent, is not sparse audiences but a sparse selection of movies to attract audiences.
The movie studios and streaming services may not have met in a darkened alley to conspire against movie theater owners but they may as well have. Comscore, a media analysis firm, reports that there were 37 percent fewer wide-release films in theaters than there were in the pre-Covid year of 2019. The familiar eight-to-10-week period between the release of a film to theaters and the film’s appearance on a streaming service has all but disappeared, with some movies released simultaneously on both platforms.
The release pattern of “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” the sequel to the popular “Knives Out” of 2019, is indicative of this new era. Netflix, which has the rights to the film, released it last month for a week in a limited number of theaters before pulling it in anticipation of its Dec. 23 emergence on the streaming service. It grossed between $13 and $15 million in that brief period, and industry analysts estimate it would have made upwards of $75 million if it had enjoyed a traditional run in theaters.
Netflix head Ted Sarandos told journalists that he left that money on the table because Netflix subscribers oppose theatrical releases, an assertion analysts claim is totally unfounded. Sarandos has also said that he believes streaming is the future of movies and he appears determined to bring this self-fulfilling philosophy to fruition.
Sarandos acknowledges that the main reason Netflix properties are released in theaters at all is because filmmakers demand it. Directors, producers, actors and actresses want the exposure and to qualify for Oscar nominations. Their cause could be advanced if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences required movies to get a theatrical release for a month rather than a week for Oscar consideration, and that they be released in more cities than just New York and Los Angeles.
The pandemic and the rapid advance of streaming have taken a toll on theaters. Locally, Regal Cinemas in the defunct Berkshire Mall closed, as its parent company, Cineworld, filed for bankruptcy. Downtown Berkshire theaters continue to hang in there, even as their counterparts around the country, many of them beloved community anchors, have gone out of business.
If another $400,000 in verbal commitments by investors doesn’t come in by year’s end, the project is a no-go.
The county’s downtown movie houses — Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield, Great Barrington’s The Triplex Cinema, which may soon have a new owner, Williamstown’s Images Cinema and North Adams’ Multiplex 8 — are important businesses that draw people to other businesses, specifically taverns and restaurants. Local movie fans might consider giving Netflix and other streaming services an occasional night off and buying a ticket to an area movie house. Movie theaters are an ally of communities. The streamers are not.
Here is one movie buff’s Top Ten movies of 2022.
1. “NOPE”: A disturbing horror movie, flying saucer flick, social satire, black comedy, Hollywood history lesson and argument for animal rights, the latest from the fertile imagination of Jordan Peele is the year’s most inventive film.
2. “EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE”: A rupture in the multiverse forces Chinese-American laundromat owners played by Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan to confront various perils as different versions of themselves. Smart, funny and original, the film benefits from sympathetic performances by veteran action movie lead Yeoh and 1980s TV star Quan.
3. “GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY”: Writer-director Rian Johnson offers another beautifully intricate, nastily funny puzzler. Edward Norton’s billionaire tech mogul invites a group of sycophants to his private island to solve his supposed murder, with Daniel Craig’s cornpone detective Benoit Blanc along to unravel deeper mysteries.
4. “TOP GUN: MAVERICK”: The flight sequences are extraordinary, making it forgivable that the climax is a “Star Wars” ripoff. But the real reason this sequel is so much better than the 1986 original is that it replaces macho posturing with dry humor and hard-earned wisdom, as personified by the meeting between Tom Cruise’s hotshot pilot turned mentor and his ailing former rival, played by an ailing Val Kilmer.
5. “THE BANSHEES OF INISHIRIN”: The latest dark Irish tale from playwright-filmmaker Martin McDonagh. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play former friends engaged in a pointless and heartbreaking feud on a forlorn island just off the coast. Meanwhile, the Irish Civil War rages on the mainland.
6. “RRR”: A primer in the joys of cinema from India, charismatic stars N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charon are frenemies fighting British colonialists in the 1920s. There is graphic violence, incredible stunts, an attack of CGI animals — and our heroes still find time for a dance scene that is Gene Kelly for the 2020s.
7. “BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER”: A sequel to the 2018 blockbuster, the film pays tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, who memorably played T’Challa/Black Panther, while continuing the saga of the futuristic African nation. T’Challa’s young sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) must step into the void to lead the fight against Wakanda’s enemies.
8. “TAR”: Cate Blanchette stars as the brilliant, mercurial, narcissistic conductor of a major German orchestra on the verge of a nervous breakdown as she prepares for a concert that could cement her stardom in the classical music realm. The movie descends into melodrama but Blanchette is consistently brilliant.
9. “BABYLON”: Director Damien Chazelle’s bittersweet tribute to Hollywood past and the ongoing power of movies boasts standout performances by Brad Pitt as a silent movie star struggling to transition to talkies and Margot Robbie as a breakout star undone by her excesses. It’s unfortunate that the movie’s excesses and three-hour running time undermine the core story.
10. “THE WOMAN KING”: Director Gina Prince-Bythewood and star Viola Davis make an impressive duo in this action film based on a true story from African history of an all-female tribe of warriors. The movie does gloss over the tribe’s role in its rivals being sold into slavery.
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The Eagle’s resident movie buff says these are the 10 best films of 2022
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