I haven’t been to an in-person film festival since Tribeca 2019. While I am generally an introvert who prefers the comfort of home, theater-going and attending festivals full of film enthusiasts like myself has always been my one exception. I hitched a ride with some other Critics Association of Central Florida members and went to Tower Theater for the Miami Film Festival GEMS 2022. I saw seven movies playing at the festival and this article will rank the movies from my least liked to best.
She Said (2022)
She Said (2022) is about the New York Times reporters Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), following them as they attempt to break the story and the silence around the subject of sexual assaults in Hollywood. As a journalist and journalism teacher, most movies that center around the power of journalism click for me. I especially loved a few interview sequences with Mulligan, and how director Maria Schrader showed the power struggle between the reporter and the reluctant lawyer afraid to give away too much information. A sly smile crosses Mulligan’s face when her character knows she’s the one winning the verbal wrestling match.
While I didn’t dislike the film, it’s impossible not to compare it to movies like All the Presidents Men, Spotlight, and The Post which do a much better job with this kind of story. It could be the proximity of the events or the challenge of depicting such well-known figures in the process of telling the story, but there is definitely something lacking. For me, She Said is a slightly disappointing Decent Watch.
I was initially grabbed by the opening sequence of Alcarràs (2022), which depicted children pretending an old car is a spaceship. It immediately reminded me of Florida Project, and how Sean Baker used the perspective of the children to show us the dangers that lurked around so many corners. However, Carla Simón’s film isn’t quite doing that, exactly. Instead, it follows several members of the Solé as they harvest the peaches on the land they’ve always known but are now losing. There are some powerful scenes, and the dynamics of the family make for easy intrigue. Unfortunately, the disjointed pieces of the narrative structure created by focusing on multiple members of the family – rather than filtering it through the lens of a single character and their experiences – left me feeling as though the story were incomplete. Despite that nagging feeling, Alcarràs earns the Decent Watch rating.
No Bears (2022)
While No Bears (2022) is not my favorite film of the festival, it is probably the most important one. Director Jafar Panahi was arrested back in July 2022 for protesting the Iranian government. He was ordered to serve out a sentence that he was issued in 2010. That sentence was a six-year jail sentence and a 20-year ban on directing any movies, writing screenplays, or giving any form of an interview with Iranian or foreign media. It was a privilege to be in the audience while the Miami Film Festival GEMS presented him with a Precious Gem Award virtually, and we were able to hear an audio recording from the director (which you can listen to HERE).
Panahi stars in this slightly meta film that follows two parallel love stories in which the partners are thwarted by hidden, inevitable obstacles, the force of superstition, and the mechanics of power. He plays a director who is in hiding from the Iranian government and is contemplating crossing the border illegally. There are some clear similarities to Panahi’s situation, which makes the story all the more interesting. I am not as knowledgeable on Iranian politics as I would like to be, but I think No Bears falls into the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy domain, leaning into the Must see territory.
The Whale (2022)
If you’re on any part of film social media, you’ve likely heard all the talk of the return of Brendan Fraser, as he gives a career-revitalizing performance in Darren Aronofsky’s film The Whale (2022). Fraser plays Charlie, a reclusive online college professor who suffers from extreme obesity and is desperately trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Sadie Sink).
This film will definitely be hit or miss, depending on the audience members’ interpretation of the film. The performances are from Fraser and Sink, plus Hong Chau (who in my opinion, absolutely deserves a supporting actress nomination), Ty Simpkins, and Samantha Morton. I found the film to be a compelling study of the human condition. There is an endless optimism from Charlie that I found to be misguided, especially in relation to his daughter. Aronofsky’s films are usually polarizing, so I’m not surprised by this one. I’m often intrigued by his films, and the performances he pulls out from his actors – and The Whale was no different, earning the Must see rating.
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022)
Before watching Laura Poitras’s documentary, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022), I knew nothing about artist Nan Goldin. While it tells much of Goldin’s life story and showcases tons of her photography and films, it really focuses on her current role as an activist. Specifically, it focuses on Goldin’s role in bringing about the downfall of the Sackler family, the pharmaceutical dynasty which was greatly responsible for the opioid epidemic’s unfathomable death toll. The documentary is structured in a really cool way that keeps hooking the audience back in again and again, while somehow connecting all of these disparate strings successfully. It’s an impressive feat of filmmaking – and an even more impressive story, earning the Must See rating.
Women Talking (2022)
It is rare for me to have read a book prior to seeing the film adaptation of it. However, director Sarah Polley’s film, Women Talking (2022), is one of those exceptions. Technically, I listened to the audiobook a few months ago, and that was to the film’s detriment. There were elements that I really liked in the book that were completely cut out in the film. The catch with that is that I think it was the right choice for the sake of the film, as the movie we got is powerful and focused, which truly allows the women in the title to tell their story.
I loved Rooney Mara and Jesse Buckley – but I think Claire Foy gave the performance that stuck with me the most. She gives an angry monologue that deeply resonated with me, and may have ultimately burned into my brain. This is an emotional film, but one that resonates in so many ways that it becomes essential viewing. Women Talking is definitely a Must See film.
White Noise (2022)
It’s not like me to be on the fringe of opinions, but I absolutely loved Noah Baumbach’s new film White Noise (2022), starring Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig. I say that knowing that it will likely not work for everyone. It is the film’s weirdness and its uniqueness compared to the rest of Baumbach’s filmography, as he does things I’ve not seen in any of his other films before. He created an alternate 1985 that, at times, resembles Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, while at other times resembling Repo Man, and a variety of other influences as the movie weaves multiple genres in an odd adventure centering around the relationship between the two leads.
While I love Gerwig’s performance, my favorite scene occurs early on and features Drive and Don Cheadle giving a dueling lecture to a group of students. That’s all I’m going to say, as I knew nothing about this film and the constant surprises as to the direction it went – which was a big part of why I loved it. There are a lot of ideas that Baumbach is exploring through his characters, and the unraveling of his puzzle box has been a great joy for me since the credits rolled over an incredible supermarket backdrop. White Noise is certainly a Must See experience for me, and I look forward to seeing others’ reactions once it drops on Netflix.