For the past couple months, my inboxes (both physical and virtual) have been overflowing with FYC Awards Screeners. Within the two-hour span of pressing play on a movie and checking my phone during its end credits, two or three more titles would appear, fighting their way into my eyeballs. It was an unrelenting flood of #prestigecontent presented in low-res, watermarked glory, and I crammed in as many titles I could before voting on the SEFCA’s Best of the Year list and publishing my own personal favs. Now that the ritual is over and my backlog of screeners is cleared, I’m feeling a lot less pressure to properly review everything I watched during my FYC marathon. For the past month, I’ve been regularly #prestigeposting about the movies I watched during that busy stretch, but I’m ready to move on to the much more exciting moviewatching ritual of January Dumping Season. I’ve got to get these 2022 FYC leftovers out of the way before I review the most important cinematic release of 2023: the killer-doll gimmick horror M3GAN.
So, here are a few quick mini-reviews of the 2022 awards contenders I watched for Best of the Year consideration, but never found the time to write about before those lists were carved in stone.
The playfully anachronistic costume drama Corsage was the biggest no-brainer selection from my screener pile, since I’m generally a huge fan of subversive works that shake up the genre with modern flippancy & vulgarity: Marie Antoinette, Emma., The Favourite, The Great, etc. Only, I’m not sure that director Marie Kreutzer shares my love for those defiantly lewd period pieces. Corsage modernizes Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s final years by framing her as a feminist icon, wagging her tongue & middle finger in mockery of The Patriarchy while orchestral arrangements of pop songs like “A Tears Go By” lilt on the soundtrack. However, Kreutzer pursues a much more restrained, melancholy approach to the pop-music costume drama than you’ll find in Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, aiming more for deep exhaustion with the world than transgressive, bratty sass. Corsage evokes the awkward, sad, oppressive atmosphere of films like Spencer or Jackie instead, with even the modern pop soundtrack from French chanteuse Camile striking a haunted, spooky tone instead of an out-of-time party atmosphere.
That muted, somber tone limits how surprising & transgressive Corsage feels from scene to scene, so it’s most commendable as a Vicky Krieps acting showcase, the scale of which hasn’t been seen since Phantom Thread. Elisabeth died in her forties, obsessed with maintaining her youthful beauty as a source of political power but frustrated to be living a royal life where “your only duty is having your hair braided.” The movie skips over the more dramatic Wikipedia bullet points of her biography—including her assassination—and instead makes a meal out of watching Krieps squeeze into increasingly tight corsets, smoke countless cigarettes, and seethe on windowsills. Its boldest risks are taken in her costuming, outfitting her with striking black veils, sea captain tattoos, costume shop mustaches, and other novelty adornments that would’ve been a shock to 19th Century onlookers. In a lot of ways, it feels stuck between flippancy & solemnity, never finding a satisfying balance between those two impulses, but it’s still worth a look for Krieps’s costumes & performance.
The Whale (2022)
I can at least get behind Best Acting nominations for Krieps in Corsage more than I can support them for Brendan Fraser in The Whale. His casting is just about the only thing that works in Darren Aronofsky’s latest allegorical feel-badder, in which Fraser plays a 600-pound gay man on a culinary suicide mission. Fraser has kind, sympathetic eyes, which beam blinding, unearned pathos from under his cumbersome prosthetic fat suit. The only problem is that every choice outside that casting is cruel, miserable, disposable nonsense. Everything about this stilted stage play adaptation rings hollow & artificial, directly in opposition to the real-world authenticity of the last time Aronofsky told its father-seeking-redemption-before-suicide story in The Wrestler. Worse, it gawks at Fraser’s synthetic fat body as an alien grotesquerie, cranking up the sounds of his eating, gasping, and wheezing on the soundtrack so you never forget to be disgusted by what he’s done to himself. You’re supposed to feel immense sympathy when bullies enter the dying man’s apartment to hurl insults at the poor, obese creature, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the movie itself shares their villainous disgust.
I love a volatile auteur who consistently swings for the fences, but sometimes that means they follow up one of their career-best films with their absolutely worst. mother! felt like an exciting direction for Aronofsky’s absurdly literal allegories, lashing out in broad, expressionist strokes instead of tethering himself to the grim restrictions of reality. In that context, The Whale is a regressive act, confining all of its allegorical value in conversational references to Moby Dick & The Book of Jonah while Fraser’s pathetic junk-food suicide plays out onscreen in grounded, morbidly realistic terms (until its idiotic concluding seconds, at least). For some reason, Sarah Polley’s emotionally devastating Women Talking is getting a lot of pushback this awards season for being stagebound & visually ugly, while this phony misery piece is shot in even duller greys, browns, and yellows in a cheap-o digi 4:3 Zoom window frame. It’s incredible that it was adapted from a stage play and not written in a rush to produce something COVID-filmable, since most of its faux-philosophical dialogue reads as [insert something profound here] placeholders.
We’re all happy to see Fraser back onscreen, and he really does have effectively pathetic puppy dog eyes, but his presence is totally wasted here, not to mention physically obscured.
The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
In contrast, I despised Martin McDonagh’s last film—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—but adored his latest darkly comic awards seeker. The Banshees of Inisherin is similar to The Whale in its stage-play approach to dialogue, its pronounced adherence to allegory, and its morbid fascination with destruction of the human body. It’s just more successful by every metric. I was even heartened that the SEFCA poll for the Best Movies of 2022—the reason I received these screeners in the first place—honored Colin Farrell’s performance in Banshees over Fraser’s in The Whale, demoting that Oscar front-runner to Farrell’s runner-up. Fraser may have sympathetic eyes, but Farrell has the world’s most flexible, expressive eyebrows, and they’re put to incredible use in his latest collaboration with McDonagh.
The Banshees of Inisherin isn’t an especially impressive looking movie; its relatively low-stakes story about an adult friendship on the rocks is rarely emotionally devastating; its metaphorical echoes of the Irish Civil War are spelled out as plainly & flatly as anything in The Whale. Truth be told, it’s my favorite movie on this list simply because it is very, very funny. Colin Farrell’s performance as a nice, milquetoast man who is devastated to discover that his lifelong bestie (Brendan Gleeson) finds him to be a bore and wants nothing more to do with him is consistently hilarious & endearing. As Gleason holds himself hostage, mutilating his fiddle-playing hand every time Farrell crosses the treaty line to bore him with more small talk, Farrell’s sweetheart himbo confusion with why they’re spatting in the first place reaches some sublimely funny character work. I’m going to assume it’s a distinctly Irish sense of humor, too, since McDonagh’s dialogue hits the exact same joke-telling cadence as the recently concluded sitcom Derry Girls, just now with more allegorey.
Banshees did not register among my favorite movies of the year, but it consistently made me laugh, while Corsage occasionally had me checking my watch and The Whale made me roll my eyes so hard they’re still stuck at the top of my skull.