3 Things I Liked in 2022 (That Most People Didn’t)

2022 was the year that movies kinda sorta came back. Okay, it was mostly the year Top Gun: Maverick carried the box office on its shoulders and then Avatar: The Way of Water swooped in for the kill. Though 2022’s $7.4 billion in domestic box office receipts was well off pre-pandemic rates, it sure beat the combined $6.6 billion from 2020 and 2021.

And, even though weeks would go by without a new release, there were many more films put out into theaters and onto streaming. But viewing patterns shifted over the course of the pandemic: People got accustomed to watching fewer movies, and when they did catch a flick, it was typically at home. That set 2022 up to be a guessing game for studios. Limited release? Day and date? Shortened theatrical windows? They didn’t always get it right. Even when they did, 2022 featured some notable big-budget bombs along with prestige films that just never took off with audiences.

Here are three films I loved that are still trying to find their audience:

Armageddon Time

Anne Joyce/Focus Features

Armageddon Time, the latest from James Gray, continued the director’s inauspicious knack for making well-reviewed, original movies that few people watch. While We Own the Night (2007) and Ad Astra counted as modest hits, clearing $55 million and $127 million worldwide, respectively, The Lost City of Z (2016), The Immigrant (2013) and The Yards (2000) all failed to make back their budget during their theatrical releases.

AT‘s mere $1.8 million domestic gross could all boil down to confusion over the title. So it’s set in 1980 and it’s about the end of the world? Weren’t those the good old days?

But in Gray’s very personal recollection of his childhood, there were no good old days——only days when your dad whipped you with a belt, your mom pushed you up against the banister, your entire family casually bandied about the N-word, and the specter of nuclear winter hung in the air.

The core themes of the movie grapple with privilege and the choices we make in pursuing the American Dream. Heady stuff that suggests the auteur’s and audiences co-complicity in creating a world in which Donald Trump can become president and segregation persists. AT‘s 48% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes suggests viewers were less inclined toward introspection than Gray was.


Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

In 2042, a new generation of cinephiles is going to watch Babylon for the first time and say, “They didn’t know how good they had it.”

This film includes, in no particular order, Margot Robbie fighting a rattlesnake; multiple orgies amid piles of cocaine; a pale-faced, yellow-toothed Tobey Maguire escorting guests into the (almost literal) depths of Hell; an elephant shitting on people; Spike Jonze, in a cameo as a German silent director, yelling “schnell” repeatedly; a high-tempo jazz score that kicks ass; piles of cocaine; Brad Pitt; an extra getting speared through the heart due to a “drinking problem”; Li Jun Li singing “My Girl’s Pussy” then kissing Cindy Crawford’s daughter; piles of cocaine; and Margot Robbie vomiting seafood on William Randolph Hearst. (Okay, I could have done without that last one.)

Many critics and audiences found it to be too much. The film notched just a 56% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and rated even lower with audiences, if they saw it at all. I’ve never done cocaine or participated in an orgy. Nor for that matter have I been shit on by an elephant —— I’m a prime candidate to be overwhelmed by this film. Instead, I found it exhilarating. Who needs sex and drugs when you’ve got the movies?

Babylon is stuffed, but it is not over-stuffed. And its twists and turns beat out the pre-planned, predictable set pieces being pumped out by Marvel and DC. This is good, old-fashioned movie making…atop piles of cocaine.

And while some fault Babylon for a cynical take on Hollywood that’s hard to square with Chazelle’s doe-eyed ode to the movies, La La Land (2016), this is a film about a nasty part of Hollywood made by someone who obviously still loves the movies that came out of it.

Cha Cha Real Smooth

Apple TV

Okay. Cha Cha Real Smooth, Cooper Raiff’s followup to Shithouse (2020), scored pretty well with critics (86% on Rotten Tomatoes) and decent enough with audiences (61%). But admit it: You didn’t know this was a movie. And you’re trusting me that a) Cooper Raiff is a real director, and b) he likes to have fun with his film titles.

The basic premise revolves around a recent college graduate (Raiff) who moves back into his family home as he figures out what to do next. Low on motivation but high on charm, he accidentally becomes a professional party starter for bar and bat mitzvahs, where he befriends a single mother (Dakota Johnson) and her teenage daughter. (During at least one point of the movie, he must get people to dance to…the electric slide. No, sillies, to the “Cha Cha Slide.”)

Cha Cha is unrealistic on a few levels —— for starters, Dakota Johnson’s character’s name is Domino —— but it does an excellent job capturing the reality of accomplishing a major milestone without any clear idea of what would come next. That time of life in your twenties when you don’t know who you are or how to be in the world. That time when you think that maybe you don’t need to be anything at all —— you just need to be with another person.

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