You guessed it! Time for lil’ ol’ me to give a tally on the year so far, in the form of a Top 5 and Worst 3, anticipating our annual QNA Year End Review. How much will things change before we hit December? And of course, these are not all 2022 releases, just things I’ve seen this year. We’ll have more later, but a listen-back to “Twenty-Five Twenty-One” by Jaurim calls me here. That song obliterates me.
3) Altered (2006)
This has been a great year for me media-wise. I really had to reach for three, with only one movie I outright hated. Altered isn’t terrible, it’s just sort of listless in spite of its premise as a “reverse alien abduction” movie. That’s great! Basically a group of friends capture a greyhead alien and chaos ensues, but the plot is needlessly more complicated than that and overall the movie is sort of grimy and unpleasant. It does feature a relatively early performance from Brad William Henke, who I saw back-to-back in TV roles in 2020, as the brutish Big John in Manhunt: Deadly Games and Tom Cullen in The Stand. Quite the range demonstrated right there.
2) The Million Eyes of Sumuru
What did I expect, right? Again, not much to complain about here. This is a movie about Sumuru, an East Asian-coded femme fatale who’s established an all-woman society and plots to take over the world. Her plans are foiled by two wisecracking G-men in a battle of the sexes by way of James Bond, though I guess that’s redundant. Maybe it just surfaces all the weird gender stuff going on in James Bond, I don’t know. In fact, one of the most famous Bond Girls, Shirley Eaton, plays Sumuru, and she has this to say, as noted by Wikipedia: “I did enjoy being the wicked lady Sumuru in two rather bad films, which I had not had the chance to be before.” It’s a ’60s exploitation movie, but the thrills are pretty minimal.
1) Don’t Look Up
Don’t Look Up has got to be one of the worst Best Picture nominees of the 21st century. I’m no Oscar historian, but it’s a really desolate film. What was compelling about it was the fractured response, where I saw negative critics themselves criticized for probable Republican leanings. The argument seems to be that if the movie was dumb, it was on dumb purpose to speak to anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers. What the hell kind of movie-watching experience is that?
5) The Death of Stalin
From bad satire to maybe the last great example, a movie lauded at the time for being a rare “comedy for adults” before its cultural freezing by way of Jeffrey Tambor’s scandal. Do you remember when we thought that Transparent was, like, the TV show? Anyway, The Death of Stalin is an assemblage of great talents like Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Olga Kurylenko to name a few, under the veteran direction of Armando Iannucci. It contains my new favorite movie insult, where Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev calls Lavrentiy Beria (who’s dead and on fire) a “burning asshole.”
4) The Day of the Jackal
As part of my research for an eternally upcoming podcast episode about Korean assassination movies, I had to go back to the source, the quintessential example of the “genre.” Of course, this is not a Korean movie but a British one, with British actors playing French politicians attempting to thwart an existentially terrifying foe: an assassin who’s very, very good at his job. I see now there’s a reason why this movie’s entered pop cultural lexicon as it has. It’s so unlike anything else, even the next entry on this list. No frills, just business. Like the recent We Own This City, it’s so serious you could almost call it a docudrama.
This is the last one about political murder, I swear. I mentioned Assassination briefly on a podcast, but I’ll reiterate that Choi Dong-hoon’s 2015 film is phenomenal. Starring Jun Ji-hyun, Lee Jung-jae (Squid Game), and Ha Jung-woo (The Handmaiden), it’s a period thriller that hits all the right notes. It’s more of an action movie than its assassin forebears (Day of the Jackal), but that’s hardly a flaw. It’s so exciting and yet tragic, magically finding space for swashbuckling heroics inside a bleak historical period. This was one of the great surprises of my year, and I gave The Man Standing Next a shot shortly after and hit a wall. This assassination business, it ain’t easy.
2) Twenty-Five Twenty-One
I have felt pretty guilty typing up this post, because I’m spoiling a future QNA episode. I don’t expect the top two to change, and I’ve said as much before. 2022 saw the release of Twenty-Five Twenty-One, the follow-up to Search: WWW, which was number one on my list last year. Together, they form a compliment: Search is a personal favorite and Twenty-Five Twenty-One is a perfect show. The execution is mostly flawless, so it’s only a matter of personal taste and subject matter. I love to immerse myself in the world of Search: WWW, where Twenty-Five Twenty-One is all high school and economic recession. Still, it’s a powerful love story that I’m sure will be unbearably devastating with a second watch. If you’re not hooked by the end of episode two, I don’t what to tell you.
Thank God for this YouTube channel The Swoon, which posted a number of great scenes somehow ad-free. I just watch and rewatch them endlessly, despite that the one entitled “Kim Tae-ri and Nam Joo-hyuk reconnect on live television” makes me actually cry each time. This was a big part of my year in media (or just my year), and I don’t think anyone who watched it has fully recovered now so many months later. Except for my mom. Before it leaves its deep bruise, it’s funny and sad and visually stunning, with a killer soundtrack and world-class performances. I’m a proud Bona stan now, and of course, Kim Tae-ri is marvelous.
1) “Feel My Rhythm“
“Mostly flawless” is Twenty-Five Twenty-One, because it does get rocky toward the end. By contrast, the experience of Red Velvet’s “Feel My Rhythm” is so singular and so powerful that it asserts its place here. I may be a broken record by now, but the shock of their 2022 lead single was simply profound. I love “Psycho,” but I’d always figured it was the ceiling for late-stage Velvet, and here comes “Feel My Rhythm” to blow me away.
The rest of the album is fantastic, too, with “Good Bad Ugly” the only middling track — and that’s a relative value. Red Velvet shows no sign of slowing down, releasing another album immediately after, but if this was their epic swansong, I would’ve accepted it without protest. It’s all the more exciting then that they’re blazing ahead at the peak of their creative powers. But from this point, they could blow raspberries into the mic for the rest of their careers. It’s that good.