The Most—and Least—Fun I've Had At the Movies All Year
The Most—and Least—Fun I've Had At the Movies All Year

The Most—and Least—Fun I’ve Had At the Movies All Year

This is NOT my Top Ten List of the best movies of the year. Film Critics and Contributors to Rogerebert.com are furiously watching the last of the screenings to be able to bring you a fulsome listing of those very soon. And we have recently spotlighted oodles of overlooked films that you should watch. This is my joyous listing of six films I am glad I saw, including one that was the most fun I had at a movie theater this year, and a seventh film that was the least fun!

1. THE MOST FUN I HAD AT THE MOVIES THIS YEAR: “RRR

The most fun I have had at the movies in 2022 is during the screening of Indian director S. S. Rajamouli’s epic “RRR.” I did not know about the active cult following Rajamouli had acquired in the United States, so I was unprepared for the high excitement that rippled through the Music Box Theatre in Chicago a few weeks ago as he made his way to the stage. Not only were there rambunctious hoops and hollers, but some people were dressed in festive cultural attire. 

The experience was euphoric, to say the least, and in some ways reminded me of the beloved campy showings of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “Beyond The Valley of the Dolls.” By the end of the evening I was up on my feet with the rest of the crowd giving the director a standing ovation. My applause was as much for the shared audience experience as it was for the self-aware film itself.

No plot synopsis can adequately hint at this film’s abundance of thrills, but suffice it to say that the picture’s two fictional leads are revolutionaries—Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) and Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan Teja)—who served their country during a 1920s era that roars, quite literally, with lions and tigers and fires. Set amidst the period of the British Raj, the story begins with the forceful taking of a young Gond girl away from her family by British soldiers. This sets off a fierce rivalry—that blossoms into an unexpected bond—between Komaram, the formidable tribal guardian seeking to rescue the girl, and Alluri, an officer in the Indian Imperial Police who is eyeing a promotion, and perhaps something much deeper. When they first meet they don’t know the identity of the other, and that they are working at cross purposes.

With each major introduction of a hero or villain on the screen, the crowd applauded or jeered, and sometimes stomped their feet. Laughter was a major part of the experience, and the Music Box is perhaps one of the best venues in Chicago for this sort of exuberant audience participation. “You’re conditioning the audience to shout, to have an involuntary reaction of awe,” Rajamouli told our contributor Isaac Feldberg in a recent interview. “I love creating those kinds of moments. And when I see the reactions of the audience in the theater? Oh my god! All the effort that’s been put in is worth it.” In his enthusiastic review of the film, our critic Simon Abrams wrote that like James Cameron, “Rajamouli has earned a reputation for pushing the limits of industrialized pop cinema. In that sense, ‘RRR’ feels simultaneously personal and gargantuan in scope.”

In light of the overlooked films recently spotlighted by ten of our frequent contributors, I would like to recommend five more pictures that are well-worth seeking out.

2. THE DOCUMENTARY THAT MADE ME WANT TO TAKE A SWIM: “TEAM DREAM”

The fun continues with this delightful short film by Luchina Fisher about two women of a certain age (late 70’s and early 80’s) who decide they can become athletes. There is a tired old trope that Black people can’t swim, and that Black women don’t like to get their hair wet, but we are captivated by Madeline Murphy Rabb and Ann Smith as they try out for the National Senior Games–as swimmers! And it’s delightful watching older women prove to themselves that they can stay active and vital and compete at any age. This film inspires us not only to keep moving, but to keep challenging ourselves. And it does it in such a charming way.

Madeline, who is well known in Chicago, and who is a friend of mine, inspired older women in another area as well with a love story many thought could never happen again. After many years of being a widow, she married, proving you are never too old for sport or romance. 

The film has qualified for Best Documentary Short at the 95th Academy Awards. It has thus far received the Audience Choice Award for Best Short Film and received a Best of Fest recognition by the jury at the Chicago International Film Festival, as well as the Best Documentary Film prize at the TIDE Film Festival in Brooklyn.

<span id=”selection-marker-1″ class=”redactor-selection-marker”></span>

TEAM DREAM INTRO CLIP from Luchina Fisher on Vimeo.


3. THE MOVIE I AM HAPPIEST WAS FINALLY MADE: “TILL” 

One of the most tragic but important events in our nation’s racial history, the story of Emmett Till, has finally achieved a rightful showing on the big screen by director Chinonye Chukwu. After directing Alfre Woodward to an Oscar-worthy performance in her 2019 effort, “Clemency,” Chukwu does the same here in “Till” with Danielle Deadwyler, who plays Mamie Till Mobley, the Chicago mother who fought to get justice for her 14-year-old son, Emmett Till, when he was brutally lynched in Mississippi in 1955.

The film captures the beautifully jaunty spirit of Emmett (played by Jalyn Hall), and shows us a real boy who loved his life, had hopes and dreams for the future, and who was not just a symbol. Emmett was raised in a caring family where he was cherished. It shows the unconditional love shared between a mother and a son. In his review of the film, Odie Henderson wrote, “Deadwyler is astonishingly good here, masterfully navigating every emotion we’d think a mother would have, and then a few we may not have originally considered.”

Mrs. Till’s decision to display Emmett’s disfigured body in an open casket so that “the world could see what they did to my boy” was a galvanizing force in the Civil Rights movement. Rosa Parks has said that when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, one of her thoughts was of Emmett and his mother.  “When you see this body for the first time, at a time where you’re not seeing things, then your eyes are opened,” Deadwyler told our contributor Robert Daniels in an interview. “She called it a global awakening. It was an awakening for her, personally. And as she’s having this experience, she knows that others need to have it too.” Added Chukwu, “There’s so much to this story that a lot of us don’t know about. I hope that this can provide a great education, and it can also inspire people to want to learn more about the community of Mount Bayou, Dr. T.R.M. Howard, Ruby Hurley, et cetera, and to also inspire people to really interrogate within themselves how they want to be agents of change in the world.”

This film was written by Keith Beauchamp (based on his book) and Michael Reilly, and is produced by Whoopi Goldberg, Frederick Zollo and Barbara Broccoli. (Another important book on the topic, Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America, was co-written by Professor Christopher Benson and Emmett’s mother.) 

Almost seventy years after the murder of Emmett Till an old unserved warrant for the arrest of Carolyn Bryant for aiding in his kidnapping was discovered this year


4. THE MOVIE ABOUT FORGIVENESS: “THE GREAT SILENCE” 

Katrine Brocks’ Danish drama, “The Great Silence,” stars Kristine Kujath Thorp as a novitiate about to take her vows when a sudden appearance from her alcoholic brother unveils a long-buried secret that sends her on a journey of forgiveness. I was on the jury at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival where we unanimously voted to give this picture the coveted Roger Ebert Award in the New Directors Competition (tying with Michael Koch’s Swiss-German coproduction, “A Piece of Sky”). 

One of the most intense threads in the film Is the painstaking way the filmmaker shows the dichotomy between the novitiate’s turbulent inner life and the seeming calm on her surface as she interacts routinely with the other nuns. Her brother’s appearance is as ominous as the stormy weather leaking in everywhere, causing havoc at the convent. (There is one point where you think this could become a horror story, but it doesn’t–unless you count horror of the soul.) It is only when she accepts her own guilt and is truly remorseful that she can find the thread to God that has been missing in her life. The film is well made for a first time director and you can see that she carefully researched her subject matter.


5. THE DOCUMENTARY THAT MADE WE WANT TO SING HALLELUJAH: “HALLELUJAH: LEONARD COHEN, A JOURNEY, A SONG” 

Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s moving documentary, “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song,” delves into the legacy of its singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, whose internationally renowned hymn, “Hallelujah,” serves as the prism through which his life is explored. Documentaries can be every bit as exhilarating a big screen experience as narrative features, and this film is no exception. Brian Tallerico, our Managing Editor at Rogerebert.com, wrote in his Telluride dispatch, “Admittedly, I am a huge Cohen fan, so my take on this project could be a little biased, but I found it illuminating in how it pulls Cohen out of the songwriting shadows of his own making and details not only his process but his connections to the music world.” 

“Hallelujah” is one of the most recognized songs across the globe and this film lays out why its lyrics are both religious and profane. And also why it touches something deep within us when sung communally. 


6. THE DOCUMENTARY THAT SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT ABOUT A MUSICAL LEGEND: “LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S BLACK & BLUES”

Sacha Jenkins gives us this illuminating documentary on the legendary musician dubbed “the founding father of jazz,” Louis Armstrong, who immortalized such classics as “What a Wonderful World” and “Hello, Dolly!” Jenkins provides an empathetic look behind the portrait of the man who was known for both his trumpet and his smile, but was sometimes disparaged as someone who was not always a “credit to his race.” This documentary finally addresses that seeming duality, and surprisingly disposes of it. 

In his review of the film, Matt Zoller Seitz observes that “much of the film feels bracingly new and personal. It often seems to be assembling itself spontaneously before your eyes, by having cut-out words from magazines appear over photographs in sync with audio taken from Armstrong’s private interview tapes and other sources.” And it is this very personal look that made me reformulate my thoughts about Armstrong and his place in the history of jazz and of the Civil Rights movement. What a revelation.


7. THE LEAST FUN I’VE HAD AT THE MOVIES ALL YEAR: “VIOLENT NIGHT”

I have no problem with dark comedies or even violent satires, as evidenced by my lifelong defense of Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” Yet the new would-be holiday comedy, “Violent Night,” about Santa Claus (David Harbour of “Stranger Things”) rescuing a rich family from a group of mercenaries led by John Leguizamo left me feeling so disgusted that I am writing my own ‘Dear Santa’ letter asking him to just stop it! I don’t want a Santa who drinks so much he vomits on people, or who needs a skull-crusher (from his previous life as a Viking Warrior) to kill people. Or one who is so dispirited and depressed that he hates even being Santa Claus at all! Our critic Peter Sobczynski dubbed the film “a largely tedious cinematic lump of coal that unsuccessfully tries to stretch its one-joke premise out to 101 minutes in a tonally uneven attempt to position itself as a new alternative holiday classic.”

Yes, David Harbour’s performance is much better than this film deserves. And yes, there is a cute little kid (Leah Brady) who still believes in Santa and who shares some heartwarming moments with him. But did we really need to see her urge Santa to use his skull-crusher and cheer on his kills? Beverly D’Angelo (of “National Lampoon” fame) is funny and almost unrecognizable as the gravelly-voiced greedy matriarch whose family is being robbed, but overall this film comes across as a gratuitous assemblage of gory set pieces that do not leave me wanting to sing “Santa Is Coming To Town.”  

IMAGE OF THE DAY

Gone but not forgotten: Chadwick Boseman teaching me the “Wakanda Forever” pose in 2018. I loved the original “Black Panther,” and found its sequel, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” to be a beautiful tribute to Boseman. 

This is NOT my Top Ten List of the best movies of the year. Film Critics and Contributors to Rogerebert.com are furiously watching the last of the screenings to be able to bring you a fulsome listing of those very soon. And we have recently spotlighted oodles of overlooked films that you should watch. This is my joyous listing of six films I am glad I saw, including one that was the most fun I had at a movie theater this year, and a seventh film that was the least fun! 1. THE MOST FUN I HAD AT THE MOVIES THIS YEAR: “RRR” The most fun I have had at the movies in 2022 is during the screening of Indian director S. S. Rajamouli’s epic “RRR.” I did not know about the active cult following Rajamouli had acquired in the United States, so I was unprepared for the high excitement that rippled through the Music Box Theatre in Chicago a few weeks ago as he made his way to the stage. Not only were there rambunctious hoops and hollers, but some people were dressed in festive cultural attire.  The experience was euphoric, to say the least, and in some ways reminded me of the beloved campy showings of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “Beyond The Valley of the Dolls.” By the end of the evening I was up on my feet with the rest of the crowd giving the director a standing ovation. My applause was as much for the shared audience experience as it was for the self-aware film itself. No plot synopsis can adequately hint at this film’s abundance of thrills, but suffice it to say that the picture’s two fictional leads are revolutionaries—Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) and Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan Teja)—who served their country during a 1920s era that roars, quite literally, with lions and tigers and fires. Set amidst the period of the British Raj, the story begins with the forceful taking of a young Gond girl away from her family by British soldiers. This sets off a fierce rivalry—that blossoms into an unexpected bond—between Komaram, the formidable tribal guardian seeking to rescue the girl, and Alluri, an officer in the Indian Imperial Police who is eyeing a promotion, and perhaps something much deeper. When they first meet they don’t know the identity of the other, and that they are working at cross purposes. With each major introduction of a hero or villain on the screen, the crowd applauded or jeered, and sometimes stomped their feet. Laughter was a major part of the experience, and the Music Box is perhaps one of the best venues in Chicago for this sort of exuberant audience participation. “You’re conditioning the audience to shout, to have an involuntary reaction of awe,” Rajamouli told our contributor Isaac Feldberg in a recent interview. “I love creating those kinds of moments. And when I see the reactions of the audience in the theater? Oh my god! All the effort that’s been put in is worth it.” In his enthusiastic review of the film, our critic Simon Abrams wrote that like James Cameron, “Rajamouli has earned a reputation for pushing the limits of industrialized pop cinema. In that sense, ‘RRR’ feels simultaneously personal and gargantuan in scope.” In light of the overlooked films recently spotlighted by ten of our frequent contributors, I would like to recommend five more pictures that are well-worth seeking out. 2. THE DOCUMENTARY THAT MADE ME WANT TO TAKE A SWIM: “TEAM DREAM” The fun continues with this delightful short film by Luchina Fisher about two women of a certain age (late 70’s and early 80’s) who decide they can become athletes. There is a tired old trope that Black people can’t swim, and that Black women don’t like to get their hair wet, but we are captivated by Madeline Murphy Rabb and Ann Smith as they try out for the National Senior Games–as swimmers! And it’s delightful watching older women prove to themselves that they can stay active and vital and compete at any age. This film inspires us not only to keep moving, but to keep challenging ourselves. And it does it in such a charming way. Madeline, who is well known in Chicago, and who is a friend of mine, inspired older women in another area as well with a love story many thought could never happen again. After many years of being a widow, she married, proving you are never too old for sport or romance.  The film has qualified for Best Documentary Short at the 95th Academy Awards. It has thus far received the Audience Choice Award for Best Short Film and received a Best of Fest recognition by the jury at the Chicago International Film Festival, as well as the Best Documentary Film prize at the TIDE Film Festival in Brooklyn. <span id=”selection-marker-1″ class=”redactor-selection-marker”></span> TEAM DREAM INTRO CLIP from Luchina Fisher on Vimeo. 3. THE MOVIE I AM HAPPIEST WAS FINALLY MADE: “TILL”  One of the most tragic but important events in our nation’s racial history, the story of Emmett Till, has finally achieved a rightful showing on the big screen by director Chinonye Chukwu. After directing Alfre Woodward to an Oscar-worthy performance in her 2019 effort, “Clemency,” Chukwu does the same here in “Till” with Danielle Deadwyler, who plays Mamie Till Mobley, the Chicago mother who fought to get justice for her 14-year-old son, Emmett Till, when he was brutally lynched in Mississippi in 1955. The film captures the beautifully jaunty spirit of Emmett (played by Jalyn Hall), and shows us a real boy who loved his life, had hopes and dreams for the future, and who was not just a symbol. Emmett was raised in a caring family where he was cherished. It shows the unconditional love shared between a mother and a son. In his review of the film, Odie Henderson wrote, “Deadwyler is astonishingly good here, masterfully navigating every emotion we’d think a mother would have, and then a few we may not have originally considered.” Mrs. Till’s decision to display Emmett’s disfigured body in an open casket so that “the world could see what they did to my boy” was a galvanizing force in the Civil Rights movement. Rosa Parks has said that when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, one of her thoughts was of Emmett and his mother.  “When you see this body for the first time, at a time where you’re not seeing things, then your eyes are opened,” Deadwyler told our contributor Robert Daniels in an interview. “She called it a global awakening. It was an awakening for her, personally. And as she’s having this experience, she knows that others need to have it too.” Added Chukwu, “There’s so much to this story that a lot of us don’t know about. I hope that this can provide a great education, and it can also inspire people to want to learn more about the community of Mount Bayou, Dr. T.R.M. Howard, Ruby Hurley, et cetera, and to also inspire people to really interrogate within themselves how they want to be agents of change in the world.” This film was written by Keith Beauchamp (based on his book) and Michael Reilly, and is produced by Whoopi Goldberg, Frederick Zollo and Barbara Broccoli. (Another important book on the topic, Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America, was co-written by Professor Christopher Benson and Emmett’s mother.)  Almost seventy years after the murder of Emmett Till an old unserved warrant for the arrest of Carolyn Bryant for aiding in his kidnapping was discovered this year.  4. THE MOVIE ABOUT FORGIVENESS: “THE GREAT SILENCE”  Katrine Brocks’ Danish drama, “The Great Silence,” stars Kristine Kujath Thorp as a novitiate about to take her vows when a sudden appearance from her alcoholic brother unveils a long-buried secret that sends her on a journey of forgiveness. I was on the jury at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival where we unanimously voted to give this picture the coveted Roger Ebert Award in the New Directors Competition (tying with Michael Koch’s Swiss-German coproduction, “A Piece of Sky”).  One of the most intense threads in the film Is the painstaking way the filmmaker shows the dichotomy between the novitiate’s turbulent inner life and the seeming calm on her surface as she interacts routinely with the other nuns. Her brother’s appearance is as ominous as the stormy weather leaking in everywhere, causing havoc at the convent. (There is one point where you think this could become a horror story, but it doesn’t–unless you count horror of the soul.) It is only when she accepts her own guilt and is truly remorseful that she can find the thread to God that has been missing in her life. The film is well made for a first time director and you can see that she carefully researched her subject matter. 5. THE DOCUMENTARY THAT MADE WE WANT TO SING HALLELUJAH: “HALLELUJAH: LEONARD COHEN, A JOURNEY, A SONG”  Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s moving documentary, “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song,” delves into the legacy of its singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, whose internationally renowned hymn, “Hallelujah,” serves as the prism through which his life is explored. Documentaries can be every bit as exhilarating a big screen experience as narrative features, and this film is no exception. Brian Tallerico, our Managing Editor at Rogerebert.com, wrote in his Telluride dispatch, “Admittedly, I am a huge Cohen fan, so my take on this project could be a little biased, but I found it illuminating in how it pulls Cohen out of the songwriting shadows of his own making and details not only his process but his connections to the music world.”  “Hallelujah” is one of the most recognized songs across the globe and this film lays out why its lyrics are both religious and profane. And also why it touches something deep within us when sung communally.  6. THE DOCUMENTARY THAT SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT ABOUT A MUSICAL LEGEND: “LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S BLACK & BLUES” Sacha Jenkins gives us this illuminating documentary on the legendary musician dubbed “the founding father of jazz,” Louis Armstrong, who immortalized such classics as “What a Wonderful World” and “Hello, Dolly!” Jenkins provides an empathetic look behind the portrait of the man who was known for both his trumpet and his smile, but was sometimes disparaged as someone who was not always a “credit to his race.” This documentary finally addresses that seeming duality, and surprisingly disposes of it.  In his review of the film, Matt Zoller Seitz observes that “much of the film feels bracingly new and personal. It often seems to be assembling itself spontaneously before your eyes, by having cut-out words from magazines appear over photographs in sync with audio taken from Armstrong’s private interview tapes and other sources.” And it is this very personal look that made me reformulate my thoughts about Armstrong and his place in the history of jazz and of the Civil Rights movement. What a revelation. 7. THE LEAST FUN I’VE HAD AT THE MOVIES ALL YEAR: “VIOLENT NIGHT” I have no problem with dark comedies or even violent satires, as evidenced by my lifelong defense of Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” Yet the new would-be holiday comedy, “Violent Night,” about Santa Claus (David Harbour of “Stranger Things”) rescuing a rich family from a group of mercenaries led by John Leguizamo left me feeling so disgusted that I am writing my own ‘Dear Santa’ letter asking him to just stop it! I don’t want a Santa who drinks so much he vomits on people, or who needs a skull-crusher (from his previous life as a Viking Warrior) to kill people. Or one who is so dispirited and depressed that he hates even being Santa Claus at all! Our critic Peter Sobczynski dubbed the film “a largely tedious cinematic lump of coal that unsuccessfully tries to stretch its one-joke premise out to 101 minutes in a tonally uneven attempt to position itself as a new alternative holiday classic.” Yes, David Harbour’s performance is much better than this film deserves. And yes, there is a cute little kid (Leah Brady) who still believes in Santa and who shares some heartwarming moments with him. But did we really need to see her urge Santa to use his skull-crusher and cheer on his kills? Beverly D’Angelo (of “National Lampoon” fame) is funny and almost unrecognizable as the gravelly-voiced greedy matriarch whose family is being robbed, but overall this film comes across as a gratuitous assemblage of gory set pieces that do not leave me wanting to sing “Santa Is Coming To Town.”   IMAGE OF THE DAY Gone but not forgotten: Chadwick Boseman teaching me the “Wakanda Forever” pose in 2018. I loved the original “Black Panther,” and found its sequel, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” to be a beautiful tribute to Boseman.  Read More