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Amid Many ‘Safe’ Films, a Few Are Acts of Daring

Oscar contenders include plenty of movies that refused to take the easy route

BONES AND ALL, from left: Taylor Russell, Mark Rylance, 2022.  ph: Yannis Drakoulidis /© MGM /Courtesy Everett Collection
©MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

At the 2022 global box office so far, every movie in the top 10 is a sequel. Every single one of them.

Film fans often gripe that Holly­wood has no imagination. Ah, the innocence of non-pros! They don’t understand that Hollywood is simply giving the audience what they want. It’s a business, and sequels/franchises keep the lights on at the studios.

But there are some who persuaded the money people to take big risks. So let’s salute the filmmakers and studios that didn’t play it safe this year.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Writer-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert take their characters through multiple realities. It’s great fun but may be confusing at first — “The bagel will show you the true nature of things” — but it all comes together and includes a timely message: “We have to be kind. Please be kind. Especially when we don’t know what’s going on.” Aside from the Daniels, the film features stellar work from the actors and behind-the-camera talent.

©MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

Bones and All

Filmmaker Luca Guadagnino risked alienating the arthouse crowd, the Timothee Chalamet fan base and horror aficionados by making a sensitive tale of young love and society’s collapse — and using cannibalism as a metaphor for these ideas. It works. As a bonus, he gives great roles to veterans of his earlier films, including Chalamet, Jessica Harper and Michael Stuhlbarg, and a scene-stealing turn by Mark Rylance.

Courtesy of Focus Features

Tár

After the (lengthy) opening credits, which usually come at the end of a movie, writer-director Todd Field offers a (lengthy) scene of Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) being interviewed before an audience. It’s just two people talking, filled with exposition and musical name-dropping (Mahler, Leonard Bernstein, et al). 

That’s followed by a (lengthy) scene of Tar lecturing her class. Field seems to be issuing a challenge to the audience: “This is what the film is. Are you with us or not?” 

©MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

Three Thousand Years of Longing

“Everything Everywhere” has received attention as the year’s trippiest movie. But director George Miller’s film also qualifies, as he once again defies expectations with a thoughtful work that’s gorgeous to look at. It didn’t set the B.O. on fire, but it will clearly gain followers over the years. It’s rich and complex and people will go in without “Mad Max”-style expectations.

©Orion Pictures Corp/Courtesy Everett Collection

Women Talking 

The title tells all: It’s about a group of women sitting in a barn talking.On paper, it doesn’t sound like much, but onscreen, it’s a knockout at every level. Thanks to writer-director Sarah Polley (adapting the novel by Miriam Toews), it’s one of the year’s best films.  

In addition to these, some movies offered a reminder that, in the right hands, a sequel CAN be imaginative, daring and original.

Warner Bros.

The Batman 

After 30 years of Batman movies, from Tim Burton’s 1989 game-changer and including Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, some audiences may have believed they didn’t need another one. However, Matt Reeves, cowriter Peter Craig and their colleagues showed that there is plenty more to say. It’s very different from previous incarnations, going back to Batman’s origins in Detective Comics as a crime-solver. It’s gripping and stunning to see and hear.

©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

Top Gun: Maverick 

It’s so successful ($1.4 billion at the B.O. alone) that it’s hard to remember that it was indeed risky business: a sequel to a 36-year-old film, with a 60-year-old leading man. Tom Cruise, Paramount and the team insisted on a theatrical-only release, at a time when other studios were in COVID panic and sending their movies straight to streaming. The film’s launch was delayed numerous times. In other words, it had everything going against it, but the gambles paid off. And the film offered a reminder that moviegoing in theaters was not extinct.