Year In Review: The best movies, new and old, I saw in 2022

January 15 or so is officially the cut-off point for posting “year in review” stuff, isn’t it? After that, it gets a little embarrassing, I reckon.

So, in just under the wire is a look at my ten favourite movies I’ve seen in 2022 (keeping in mind I haven’t gotten around to some of the big Oscar contenders like Tár, The Woman King and The Fablemans yet), plus, in the spirit of my occasional Movies I Have Never Seen feature, the ten best movies from any time that I finally got around to seeing in 2022. And… action! 

Best 10 Movies of 2022 (alphabetical order)

The Banshees of Inisherin – A friendship breaks down on a small Irish island and Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Kerry Condon deliver astounding performances in a bitterly funny, gorgeously filmed Irish fable of love and grotesque revenge.  

The BatmanAnother superhero movie, but the first one that actually makes Batman a detective, with Robert Pattinson’s none-more-goth Bruce Wayne balancing on the knife’s edge between being too much and not enough. I’d love to see one superhero flick that doesn’t end with an explosive CGI orgy, but this one hits the mark far more than it misses. 

Everything Everywhere All At Once – Michelle Yeoh is the Queen in any universe, and we should all bow down before her. 

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – It’s bigger, broader and less restrained than its predecessor, but Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc remains a joy and Edward Norton as Elon Musk is bloody hilarious.

The Menu – A pitch-black satire about a night in the restaurant from hell, blunt and gaudy and yet right on trend at mocking this weird non-stop viral world we live in. 

Mister Organ – The overwhelming theme of this year’s best films seems to be the abuse of power, but this spiralling rabbit-hole of a documentary by NZ’s David Farrier makes it all feel far more personal, creepy and violating by focusing on one very unpleasant man’s doings.   

Nope – Jordan Peele’s movies are consistently surprising and exquisitely staged, and the simmering unease created by this sort-of alien invasion story sticks with me. Like Get Out and Us, the more you think about it the more you see going on behind the immediate story beats. 

Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio A better fairy tale you won’t see all year, unafraid of exploring loss and death but also hilariously funny, and with stunning old-school stop motion animation. Far better than any of Disney’s rather dire “live action remakes” of their classic cartoons. 

RRR – The best action movie of the year is this frenetic Indian epic, with a sense of joyful fun and dazzling scope and anything-can-happen energy that seems missing from most carefully machined Hollywood product.

Weird: The Weird Al Yankovic Story – I saw UHF in the theatre in 1989 and finally, decades on, we get the next best thing to a sequel, with an uncanny Daniel Radcliffe taking us on a wild ride through Weird Al’s life, perhaps with a few exaggerations. A joyfully silly gift of a film for Weird Al fans and anyone tired of bloated self-serious biopics.

Tied up around #11: Black Panther Wakanda Forever; Clerks III; Decision To Leave; Elvis; The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent; Triangle of Sadness; The Northman; Fire Of Love; Top Gun: Maverick; Prey.

The 10 best movies I finally saw for the first time in 2022 (in chronological order)

Wages of Fear (1953) – An all-time tense thriller about angry, restless men willing to take on an impossible job just to survive. 

Johnny Cool (1963) – I watched this pitch-black slice of noir in memory of the late Henry Silva, and he stars with an all-star oddball cast (Sammy Davis Jr! Jim Backus! Bewitched’s Elizabeth Montgomery!) in a gangster tale that’s far darker and sleazier than its Rat Pack-era trappings would have you believe. 

Playtime (1967) – I’ve been getting into Jacques Tati a lot this year, and his comedy is like an intricate whimsy machine – immaculately staged, formal and gentle, yet always with something unforgettably spot-on to say about us crazy human beings. 

El Topo (1970) – A surrealist western that is a relic of the hippie era but also a passageway into a dreamlike, horrible world of quasi-heroic quests that never truly end. 

Blue Collar (1978) – Harvey Keitel and Richard Pryor as down-and-out autoworkers who embark on the most inept robbery ever, and a portrait of a bruised and struggling American dream. 

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) – Music as madness, music as escape, music as addiction, and one of the best music documentaries I’ve ever seen

Smash Palace (1981) – A gripping and raw New Zealand drama starring the late, great Bruno Lawrence as a desperate man making all of the wrong decisions to fix his messed-up life.  

Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) – Objectively, not a good movie, I know, I know. But yet, I finally got around to watching most of the schlocky, silly series last year, and this one – slasher horror polished to a machine-like gleam – is the giddily exploitive and slightly self-mocking peak of the lot. 

Hereditary (2018) – Finally got around to Ari Aster’s terrifying horror movie about family trauma and it’s just as disturbing as I dreaded it might be. I want to watch it again, but I also kind of never want to watch it again. 

The Worst Person in the World (2021) – This Norwegian film starts as a self-aware ironic romantic comedy in the mode of Fleabag and becomes something more powerful and ultimately rather unforgettable.  

Movies I Have Never Seen #21: Revenge Of The Ninja (1983)

What is it: The greatest movie of all time* that I somehow never managed to see until now? Possibly! I don’t know how I’ve missed it because I’m a sucker for gloriously cheesy ninja action, but 1983’s Revenge of the Ninja is quite possibly the platonic ideal of what a ninja movie should be – an over-the-top mash-up of very loose takes on Japanese culture with Hollywood gloss, sloppy violence and masked men running amok. Ninjas had popped up in movies for years, including some classic Shaw Brothers kung-fu flicks, but it was in the eighties where they truly were everywhere. The 1980s, in my mind, were all about ninjas – in Chuck Norris movies, in gloriously bad rock musicals, in movies that combined Flashdance-style aerobics with ninja action, and of course in teenage turtles who were also ninjas. How inescapable was the ninja? My brother had a pair of nunchucks at one point and both of us managed to severely injure ourselves with them. 

Revenge of the Ninja is the middle part of what’s been dubbed the Ninja Trilogy by omnipresent ‘80s cheese film factory Cannon Films. I had seen its quasi-prequel and sequels, 1981’s Enter The Ninja (in which a white Italian spaghetti western star is cast as a master ninja) and 1985’s utterly amazingly kitschy Ninja III: The Domination years ago, but somehow I had never managed to see Revenge. (None of these movies actually have anything in common other than the same insane aesthetic and the casting of Japanese actor Sho Kosugi, who only really stars in Revenge of the Ninja.)

In Revenge, Sho is “Cho,” whose entire family except his infant son are killed about 30 seconds into the movie by ninjas. Foreswearing violence, Cho moves to America to start a new life by selling dolls (!). Unfortunately, he ends up unwittingly becoming partners with a heroin dealer (!!) who is also a master ninja (!!!). Things go downhill from there, but it ends with a kick-ass 10-minute ninja battle on top of a skyscraper, which, really, is all I’ve ever wanted out of cinema. 

Why I never saw it: Sheer, blind ignorance to one of the shining lights of the cinema art form, I guess. To be fair, my peak ninja phase was in 1984 or so, and pre-internet, if you missed a movie and it wasn’t showing on cable TV, you might just never see it. 

Does it measure up to its rep? Honestly, if I were 13 years old and seeing this for the first time, I’d tell you it was the greatest movie ever made. But in somewhat settled middle age, I’ll still tell you it features everything I ever wanted in a ninja movie. 

Worth seeing? Man has created the pyramids, the Mona Lisa, the symphonies of Mozart. But there’s few cultural achievements that can equal a good ninja movie. Revenge of the Ninja features a small child getting a throwing star to the face in its first five minutes, to give you an idea what kind of movie we’re talking about. Revenge features constant bombastic martial arts battles – man versus ninjas, small child vs. ninjas, small child vs. woman, ninja vs. what appears to be a group of Village People cosplayers, ninja’s mother vs. ninja, ninja vs. ninja. It’s all given propulsive energy by director Sam Firstenberg, with just the right amount of overacting, preposterousness and violence. Ninjas throw smoke bombs, display inexplicable hypnotic powers, and unleash flamethrowers in mid-fight. What more does a man need out of life?

For 90 minutes, Revenge of the Ninja features copious revenge and ninjas. It does what it says on the can, and never pretends to be anything more. Frankly, this should replace Die Hard as everyone’s go-to Christmas movie. There aren’t any Christmas scenes, to be fair, but we all know Santa Claus probably uses ninjas instead of elves to get the job done, don’t we? 

* Note: This review may contain a few mild exaggerations.

Movies I Have Never Seen #20: El Topo (1970)

What is it: The first “midnight movie,” the surrealist “acid western”, “the weirdest western ever made.” Director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s  extreme cult hit El Topo was a groundbreaking, aggressive statement that helped to change cinema, taking western movie tropes and turning them into a bizarre, questing meditation on morality and enlightenment. Populated with grotesque images and moments of startling beauty, it’s soaked in blood, disorienting with its casting of real-life disabled or maimed performers, and the kind of movie all the film cognoscenti say that you really must see at least once. So, finally, I saw it once. 

Why I never saw it: For a movie that’s legendarily strange, El Topo has had a difficult path to actually being easy to see. It got tangled up in legal wrangling and was only released on DVD in 2007. The first of Jodorowsky’s films I’ve dipped into, El Topo is often called Jodorowsky’s ‘most accessible’ movie. I’m a fan of weird, but weird is very much in the eye of the beholder, ain’t it? (I still recall a date who I took to the Michael Bay movie The Rock talking about how strange and weird it was afterwards. Reader, we did not date again.) I love my Lynch and Cronenberg but am fully aware I’m a mere babe in the wild, vast woods of weird cinema, and have to admit I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with El Topo.

Does it measure up to its rep? The big question for every viewer of El Topo is whether or not it’s just a procession of cruelty with no deeper meaning. When the subject is nothing but “people are terrible,” it gets old, fast. El Topo starts off feeling a bit like a particularly dark spin on the whole “lone gunman wreaks vengeance” plot, following the man in black and his inexplicably naked young son (Jodorowsky himself plays the gunman) as they discovered a gutted village filled with dead people, track down the corrupt bandits responsible and execute them. The gunman then abandons his son for a rescued hostage and ends up on a surreal quest through the desert to kill four gunmen legends and become “the best there is,” a quest that gets increasingly stranger. In the end, the gunman disappears and is reborn years later in a cave, bleached white and now a mystical holy man who can’t quite escape his violent past.

While it’s hefty with the DNA of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Django and other western icons, to me it also shares an awful lot with books like the dark, biblically violent Cormac McCarthy novel Blood Meridian, which also sees the west as a seething quagmire of man’s worst instincts, or of Robert Bolaño’s epic 2666, which turns an unflinching catalogue of murders into something stranger and deeper. If anything, I have to admit that El Topo wasn’t quite as weird as I imagined it might be, especially in its more grounded first half. Where it sticks, however, is the insinuating ugly beauty of its vision, where Jodorowsky stages violence with an icy calm eye as men, women and even children are gunned down, and in the end, we’re not certain if he’s saying life is worth nothing – or worth everything. There’s precious little hope in its final moments, suggesting an endless circle of violence and thwarted redemption.

Worth seeing? On one level, El Topo probably doesn’t seem quite as groundbreaking as it might have 52 years ago. We’ve had plenty of deconstructionist westerns: Clint himself in Unforgiven, Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man and much more, and plenty of weird, brutal cinema. Yet despite its more grotesque flourishes, El Topo is still a singular, fierce vision. His use of real-life amputees and dwarves is confronting, as is the brief animal deaths and sexual violence. Jodorowsky claimed back in the ‘70s that he really raped his actress co-star in one vivid, violent sequence, although he’s since walked that back as a big-mouthed publicity stunt. Either way, El Topo is still a triggering film, but it has value as some kind of warped mirror on society. Seen 50 years on, yes, El Topo does seem madly self-indulgent, frequently sadistic and exploitative. Yet it’s also hard to stop thinking about some of its imagery. I’m a sucker for the vision of a man in black, riding across the desert, on his way to who knows where, but knowing there’ll always be blood in the end.

Movies I Have Never Seen #19: Megaforce (1982)

What is it: Forty years ago, children around the world lined up to celebrate the greatest cinematic experience of their time. They played with the toys, they read the storybooks, they dove into the rich fictional world. Unfortunately for the creators of the 1982 flop Megaforce, it wasn’t their world, but that of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The strange, toy-etic action flick Megaforce was part of a weird wave of would-be early ‘80s sci-fi franchises that were blatantly ripping off elements of Star Wars and Mad Max. Somewhere, a world exists where movies like this and its kinfolk Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn and Krull received multiple sequels. It isn’t this one. 

The plot of Megaforce, such as it is, is about a futuristic UN-esque peacekeeping agency who ride around on motorbikes and dune buggies and fight a vaguely stereotypical foreign gang. Our star is none other than a wild-eyed Barry Bostwick of Rocky Horror and Spin City fame, perhaps the last actor on earth you’d cast as your leading man in a post-apocalyptic action flick. With a headband harnessing grand flowing locks of ‘80s hair and beard and a skintight shiny uniform that leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination, Bostwick’s awesomely named Ace Hunter is indeed a sight to behold. And that doesn’t even get into the flying motorbike scene featured at Megaforce’s climax, perhaps the film’s finest moment of sheer kitsch.

Why I never saw it: Wait, was it ever even in theatres? Or home video? Megaforce kind of sank from the world, the only evidence it existed comic-book ads, an Atari videogame and a line of tie-in vehicle toys that were mostly forgotten the moment they were released. It made less than $6 million worldwide and vanished. I might not have even clocked Megaforce’s existence if it weren’t for an onslaught of comic book ads for it in 1982. I’ve already written about how 1982 was my year of comics awakening, and you couldn’t pick up an issue of Star Wars or Marvel Team-Up without seeing Megaforce’s cheery manly ad on the back cover with a pumped-up Bostwick and the slogan “Deeds, Not Words” staring at you. Why, you could even get a Megaforce Membership Kit for a mere $1.00! Years later, I finally set out to find out what the fuss was all about.

Does it measure up to its rep? It had talent, in theory – director Hal Needham was behind Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run, so he knew how to make movies about loud cars and broad characters. But Megaforce is on the more dismal end of non-starter sci-fi cheapies of the early ‘80s (I’ve got a soft spot for Krull, I admit). Most of the movie is about explaining what Megaforce is, leading up to and training for the underwhelming battles, and enjoying Barry Bostwick’s luxurious hair. Bostwick brings a jovial energy to the movie that the story never rises to meet. Co-star Persis Khambatta (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) makes Bostwick look like Laurence Olivier and the rest of the cast are generic action stereotypes. The motorcycle battles – endless – get boring very quickly and nothing much really happens in Megaforce. There’s no stakes, no emotion, no sense of the wider world, just a few glimmers of the cheesy masterpiece it could’ve been if Ace Hunter had been allowed to really cut loose.

Worth seeing? To be honest… no, unless you’re in a very particular sort of mood and crave a particular sort of guilty pleasure. Maybe it’s just finally catching up 40 years later to seeing what that omnipresent comic book ad was all about. Even for a bomb, Megaforce doesn’t maintain the kitsch heights of The Room or Battlefield Earth. But … despite the slapdash storytelling, the long stretches where nothing much happens, the unforgettable sight of Barry’s Bostwick in too-tight tan spandex … there’s something I find kind of adorable about Megaforce and its willingness to fail big. Deeds, not words, indeed. 

Movies I Have Never Seen #18: Foxy Brown (1974)

What is it: Foxy Brown is one of a series of blaxsploitation films starring Pam Grier in the early 1970s, which directly inspired her being cast as the star in Quentin Tarantino’s excellent noir, 1997’s Jackie Brown. Grier is Foxy, who’s got a cop boyfriend and a drug dealer brother. When the brother snitches out her boyfriend to the gangs, Foxy sets out for revenge in top blaxsploitation style. Foxy goes undercover with a prostitution ring (!) to avenge her losses, but things go south and she’s captured and brutalised. But when Foxy makes her move to escape, things get very bloody very quickly as the bodies pile up. 

Why I never saw it: Blaxsploitation is a tricky genre to watch in 2022. You either roll with it, enjoy some of the camp/kitsch value and accept it as a portrait of the times, or you’re kind of horrified by the casual racism, sexism and violence. I do love a gritty, sleazy ‘70s crime movie, though, and where blaxsploitation stood out from more mainstream fare like The French Connection is in casting Black actors in the leading roles, making stars out of previously marginalised figures like Shaft’s Richard Roundtree, Fred Williamson or Jim Brown. Grier was the star of several of several major movies of the era, and Tarantino himself called her cinema’s first female action star. On the other hand, I’m a middle-aged American-born white guy, so it’s not quite my place to wade too deeply into the ambiguities of what blaxsploitation meant. It provided some strong Black heroic figures on screen, but also saddled them in crime- and drug-drenched movies that wallowed in a lot of stereotypes. 

Does it measure up to its rep? Grier’s Foxy is a typical Death Wish-styled exploitation movie archetype – the gentle person who turns into a murderous killer. Unfortunately, that means in Foxy Brown the lead suffers some horrendous abuse, including being injected with heroin and raped by thugs. The queasy hardcore intensity of those scenes viewed in modern times linger and make it a bit harder to enjoy when Foxy tears loose and has her revenge. And trust me – she gets her revenge, notably in a remarkably gory bit of retribution upon the leading white male villain at the climax. You don’t see this kind of revenge in Tom Cruise movies! 

There’s a groovy aesthetic to Foxy Brown I can’t help but dig, from the James Bond-style opening credits to the way Grier shifts from demure girlfriend to striking leather-clad figure of vengeance, dazzling along the way with some very hip ‘70s fashion. Remember, in 1974, a Black woman fighting back on screen and taking vengeance against white men (at one point, mocking the genital size of a slimy white authority figure she entraps!) was a novelty. Grier dominates, but she’s helped by a cast including Antonio Fargas as her jittery backstabbing brother and a weirdly so-bad-its-good over-the-top turn by Kathryn Loder as the preening, sadistic leader of the drug syndicate. Foxy Brown is the better-remembered of Grier’s movies today, but it’s actually a quasi-sequel to a slightly less exploitive and rapey film, 1973’s Coffy

Worth seeing? Remembering this almost-50-year-old movie is utterly an artefact of its time, sure. It’ll offend some viewers coming to it cold but it’s hard to imagine anyone not finishing this being a little bit impressed by Grier’s kick-ass warrior, even if you’re put off by the sleazier side of the storytelling. Coffy is the better movie, but perhaps Foxy Brown better sums up the messy, yet empowering allure of blaxsploitation even now – with Grier’s powerhouse performance, despite all the violence, rape and sexism, it’s still at its heart a movie about standing up for yourself in a crappy world and sticking it to the man – whoever and whatever that may be. 

Movies I Have Never Seen #17: Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

What is it: Today, of all days, you know who this guy is. He’s the hockey mask-wearing serial killer who starred in about a jillion gory movies between 1980 and 2003 or so (to be precise, 10 Friday the 13th movies, one reboot, and one “team-up” with Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger). The sixth instalment, Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, is the charmingly low-key story of a boy with a dream … a dream which involves killing lots of teenagers. 

Why I never saw it: To be blunt, Jason scared me. I was an ‘80s horror movie buff – I loved Nightmare On Elm Street, even the awful ones, and it’s not unfair to say that David Cronenberg’s The Fly changed my life. I grooved on The Lost Boys and The Thing. Yet, for years, I was repelled and a little freaked out by the Jason movies, which were culturally everywhere in the ‘80s – parodied in Mad magazine, homaged by other movies, et cetera. Jason was of course a bit of a rip-off of John Carpenter’s Halloween and its own stalking silent killer Michael Myers, but there was something even more bleak and disturbing about his hockey-masked visage – a blank white canvas with staring eye-holes where a soul might be. He lacked the elegance of a Dracula or the pathos of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. All he did was kill. I even remember seeing the paperback adaptation of Jason Lives sitting on the racks in our local Kmart as a kid, where I’d flip through the pages each time I saw it – figuring it was less horrifying than seeing the movies themselves. These movies seemed more terror than horror to me – I like my horror movies with a dollop of wit in there, and sight unseen, the reputation of the Jason movies is that they were brutal, nihilistic gore-fests without the cheesy parody that made Freddy Krueger or Evil Dead II a bit more, well, loveable.

Does it measure up to its rep? Do the Friday the 13th movies have a rep, outside of horror aficionados? It turns out, years later, some of them aren’t really all that bad, although I’ve still only seen a handful of them – and I’m fond of the weirder later entries like the insanely over-the-top Freddy Vs Jason monster mash, or the absurdist “let’s just send the serial killer into space in the future, then” comedy of Jason X. But to see Jason in his pure, summer camp ghoul element, you’ve got to go back a bit. The Friday The 13th series has a weird chronology – Jason himself barely appears in the first one and doesn’t don that iconic hockey mask until Part III. For the next several sequels, the pattern was set – Jason returns, kills a lot, is defeated by some spunky teenager. By the time Part VI rolled around in ’86, the series was evolving from a creepy, somewhat human knife killer and the rather unstoppable demonic figure that Jason became by Jason X. If you’re imagining what a Friday the 13th movie might be like, then starting with Part VI isn’t actually a bad place to go. 

Worth seeing? “Some folks sure got a strange idea of entertainment,” the town drunk mutters at one point, just before he gets murdered. Jason Lives is the platonic ideal of the ‘80s slasher horror movie in its mainstream moment – lifting from everything from Frankenstein to James Bond to Rambo, with beloved period cliches like the perpetually angry cops, ripped-jean and pastel fashions, synth-driven pop music, the teenagers who run around rutting every chance they get. The movie starts with a thoroughly dead Jason being accidentally resurrected by one of his teenager enemies and given new superhuman endurance, and escalates from there. You can’t expect part six of a series to bring much new to the table, but with Jason Lives the execution is glossily polished to a Tupperware shine. It’s schlock, but in the right mood it’s massively entertaining schlock, really, and less sadistic than one might expect (sure, teens die, but nobody is really tortured here – Jason is quite efficient). There’s a fair bit of humour and in-jokes here, but not enough to push it into Scream meta territory. It’s simply an effective scare-fest which isn’t trying to be clever. Sometimes, on a Friday the 13th, that’s all you really want. “It’s over. It’s finally over,” we’re told at the end. Spoiler warning: It wasn’t over. 

Movies I Have Never Seen #16: The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

What is it: Long before she directed Wayne’s World, Penelope Spheeris was known as a pioneering documentary filmmaker for her chronicling of the gritty reality of LA’s music scenes. Over three films from 1981 to 1998, she covered punk and metal stars and never-weres, fans and bands with an unsparing eye. The first of her movies, 1981’s Decline of Western Civilization, looked at bands like Black Flag, Germs, X, the Circle Jerks and Fear in squalid, sweaty detail, and it’s widely regarded as one of the best music documentaries ever made. 

Why I never saw it: Despite its cult status, Decline and its two sequels were barely released and almost impossible to watch for decades. Long ago, when I worked at video stores and paged through ink-stained fanzines, I’d hear about these movies a lot, but pre-YouTube or eBay, good luck ever actually watching them. Finally, a few years back, the entire series was released on DVD with a bunch of cool bonuses, and I finally sat down recently to watch them. Can punk still shock more than four decades on?

Does it measure up to its rep? Music documentaries are one of my favourite genres, whether they’re behind the scenes concert footage, making-of histories, birth-to-death storytelling or day-in-the-life voyeurism. Decline  is a little bit of all of the above. These aren’t superstars – X and Black Flag are probably the best known of the bands here, and this is a pre-Henry Rollins Black Flag at that. Even by 1979 and 1980, punk was a bit past its first wave, and so you’ve got a variety of fiery young bands trying to figure out who they are – whether it’s the bludgeoning rage of Circle Jerks and Fear, the angst of Germs and Black Flag or the more arty, performative work of almost-forgotten bands like Catholic Discipline, this is a snapshot of a moment in time but an anger that’s still understandable today. We see heaps of roiling, brutal men in mosh pits, slamming against each other in an intimate way that seems even more invasive in a pandemic world. Spheeris has a knack for capturing the propulsive motion of punk, with a visceral touch that makes you feel like you’re back in these crowded, grotty rooms decades ago. We see the bands off stage – Black Flag in an insanely over-graffitied squalid crash pad, The Germs’ doomed, mumbly lead singer Darby Crash cooking eggs and playing with his pet tarantula. (Crash would be dead at 22 of a drug overdose suicide before this movie even came out.) There’s a tinge of hopelessness to Decline, especially when Spheeris talks to the fans like nihilistic skinhead Eugene, but that’s balanced out by some incredibly passionate performances, like young Black Flag singer Ron Reyes screaming out “Depression’s gonna kill me.” It’s strange to think that now, 40+ years on, most of these angry young men and women are either nearly senior citizens – or gone. Unlike slick, polished reality TV versions of life, the squalor and power of Decline never feels fake. 

Worth seeing? Decline of Western Civilization isn’t for those with gentler musical tastes – while some of the bands like X are excellent musicians whose snappy tunes still hold up well today, all of them are loud and confrontational. The Germs are barely holding a tune, with the chaotic power of their only album turned into a muddy, jagged roar. Spheeris closes Decline with a terrifying, mesmerising set by Fear, whose lead singer is shown as a bare-chested, swaggering Johnny Rotten on steroids spitting out homophobic and sexist taunts as the kids in the mosh pit smash into each other. It’s like a vision of Dante’s inferno, and it’s awful, yet at the same time, it’s amazing – the power of punk at its most primal, with a chorus screaming “I don’t care about you / F— you!” Fear’s thundering, cruel set seems to sum up everything that’s come before it. Punk could be awesome and it could be ugly and it could often be both at the same time, and Spheeris’ magnificent documentary captures it in all its complicated sprawl. I’m definitely moving on next to check out 1988’s equally cult but slightly more absurd hair-metal saga Decline of Western Civilization II and the reportedly even darker street kids-focused Part III, but the first Decline movie still packs the punch of a brawl in a mosh pit. It isn’t meant to make you feel good, but like punk itself, it’s meant to make you feel something. 

Movies I Have Never Seen #14/15: What’s Up, Doc? (1972) and Paper Moon (1973)

What they are: We’ve lost quite a few silver screen legends lately, but behind the camera, one of the biggest curators and creators of cinema history also left us last month – director Peter Bogdanovich. His death may have been overlooked a bit in the never-ending 24-hour news cycle, but for a certain breed of movie hound, at a certain period of time, Bogdanovich was the great hope for the Future of Cinema. His breakthrough movie, 1971’s ode to a vanished idea of small town Texas life, The Last Picture Show, was nominated for eight Oscars and won several. Bogdanovich followed that drama up with two big genre swerves – the goofy comedy What’s Up, Doc? with Barbra Streisand and con-man comedy/drama Paper Moon, which saw Tatum O’Neal become the still-youngest competitive Oscar winner by nabbing Best Supporting Actress at just 10 years old. When Bogdanovich died last month, I realised I needed to finally get around to watching Doc and Moon and fill in some big gaps in my film knowledge. 

Why I never saw them. The theme of many of his obituaries was that Bogdanovich came into movies like a comet, burning brightly and then flaming out. He loved classic Hollywood, and his best movies are all homages to the 1930s and 1940s. His debut, 1968’s Targets, is a fond love letter to horror icon Boris Karloff combined with a still-shocking look at a mass shooting. The Last Picture Show is one of my favourites, a monochrome gem of nostalgia and bittersweet romance that manages to both romanticise and demonise the American dream, with an utterly luminous young Cybill Shepherd and Jeff Bridges. Next, What’s Up, Doc? and Paper Moon were both popular and critical hits.

But then Bogdanovich steered Shepherd into two notorious flops, Daisy Miller and At Long Last Love, and his career for the rest of his life alternated between moderate successes and mild failure, as well as grim personal tragedy. A keeper of the flame for cinema history, he wrote some excellent books on the many classic Hollywood stars and directors he befriended over the years (he was notably close to the great Orson Welles, and his final film was a documentary on Buster Keaton), but when he died, many of the Bogdanovich obituaries cast him as a kind of example of lost potential. I don’t quite think that’s a fair way to measure a life. 

Do they measure up to their rep: Let’s take each film separately. What’s Up, Doc? is essentially a colourful homage to screwball comedies of the 1930s, with Streisand and Ryan O’Neal filling the Katherine Hepburn and Cary Gran-type roles. Streisand is someone I’ve never always warmed to, but she’s a fiery, wisecracking delight here, a predecessor of the oft-maligned “manic pixie dream girl” archetype. She splashes into O’Neal’s stiff academic’s life almost at random and upsets the dull order of his world. In one light, her character’s stalking of O’Neal and his intense fiancee (a great Madeline Kahn) may be annoying, but if you ride with Doc’s giddy vibe, you’ll get caught up in Barbra’s freewheeling spirit. While I don’t think it quite beats the heights of Grant and Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, Bogdanovich’s homage is a light and hilarious ride. 

Paper Moon isn’t quite so loose and frivolous, although it’s also very funny. Bogdanovich went back to a gorgeous black-and-white for this caper starring real-life father and daughter Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. Ryan is a con man who shows up at the funeral of 9-year-old Addie’s mother. He might be Addie’s father, or he might not. O’Neal agrees to take Addie on a road trip to the rest of her family, but along the way also drags her into his complicated cons, scheming his way across Depression America. Bogdanovich expertly balances Paper Moon between comic and tugging the heartstrings, but is just cynical enough not to make this feel like a Disney movie. He’s helped by Tatum O’Neal, who’s utterly amazing as Addie – her character develops and expands throughout the movie and manages the almost impossible task of feeling like a real, chaotic and somewhat unpredictable child instead of just an actor.  

Ryan O’Neal anchors both these movies, although he’s upstaged by his female co-stars. He’s an interesting case of an actor who was a big star but also tends to blend into the scenery, I find. As a slippery con man in Paper Moon and a stuttering geek in Doc, he never entirely convinces, but he’s also oddly enjoyable to watch playing off the stunning Streisand and the remarkable Tatum. But both of these movies are far more about the women than they are the ostensible main character. Bogdanovich was a spectacular director for women – Cloris Leachman’s Oscar-winning turn in The Last Picture Show is a perfect example – and whatever the ups and downs of his career, he created some of the most indelible roles for women of the 1970s. 

Worth seeing? Viewed 50 years on, Bogdanovich’s great trilogy of films is about his love for the history and form of cinema itself, and that great American theme of the desire to better oneself, whether in money, love or location. The Last Picture Show is stark and sharp as a knife, while What’s Up, Doc? is a silly blast nearly as manic as the Bugs Bunny cartoons it got its name from, and Paper Moon combines elements of both of them to create a satirical yet heartfelt tale of a con man’s mild redemption.

Bogdanovich might have been a comet in that he never really bettered these three films in his career, but he certainly left a lot of great work behind and was one of the last men who knew and worked with the golden stars of Hollywood’s peak years, and worked to keep their names alive. That’s not a bad legacy to have at all. 

Movies I Have Never Seen #13: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

What is it: The mother of all Satanic panic possession stories, and widely considered one of the best psychological horror tales of all time. Mia Farrow is Rosemary, who seems to live a perfect life with her actor husband Guy (John Cassavetes). But when they move into a new apartment, they become close to their mysterious neighbours, and when Rosemary becomes pregnant, she discovers she’s caught in an evil web she can’t escape. The “Satanic horror boom” that ran through the 1970s from The Exorcist to The Omen starts here. 

Why I never saw it: I’ve been rather tardy to a lot of the truly iconic horror films of the 1970s, as this occasional series has shown on several occasions. I think the horror movies you hear rumours about as a kid can haunt you even more if you haven’t gotten around to seeing them as an adult. I mean, I checked out Cronenberg’s The Fly when I was like 16 and became a fan of its goopy glory for life, but I didn’t see The Exorcist until I was in deep into my 40s because it sounded a wee bit too scary. I’m funny that way.

Does it measure up to its rep? Some movies are so famous you know the broad strokes of their plot without even seeing them. It’s a sign of a classic when you finally watch it and still be sucked right into the story. Roman Polanski may be a deeply problematic human, but his skill as a director is hard to cancel entirely. In movies like Chinatown, Repulsion and The Pianist, he’s always in control no matter how chaotic the situation he puts his characters in. He sets a foreboding tone for Rosemary from the start, where everything appears normal, but has an oddly menacing vibe. Nothing much truly scary happens in this movie, but it leaves you feeling unmoored and shaken, just like Rosemary herself is. Brief surreal glimpses of Rosemary’s dreams or a horrifying seduction sequence stand out sharply from the carefully ordered world. It’s that juxtaposition of the mundane and the horrifying that makes Rosemary’s Baby work more than 50 years on.

Farrow, who I mostly know from her days making Woody Allen movies, is terrific, going from wide-eyed ingenue to a truly haunted figure over the course of the movie. And it’s a real trip to see Ruth Gordon, whom I will forever associate with the classic Harold and Maude, hamming it up as the gossipy sinister neighbour (she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as a result). There’s also a firm subtext about Rosemary’s marginalisation as a pregnant woman – her agency is usurped constantly by her husband, friends and authority figures, and it’s hard not to see the picture itself as a bigger metaphor for the claustrophobic traps too many women were – and are – put in by society. Rosemary’s Baby implies far more than it shows, which in my mind at least almost always makes for a better horror movie. Polanski’s general restraint makes the shocking final 10 minutes of the movie hit that much harder. You’ll never think of “Hail Satan!” in the same way again. 

Worth seeing? The idea of Satan sneaking his way into your life has been done to death in movies and horror, but the devil is in the details here. Polanski’s keen eye for how the ordinary moments in life can be hiding something else make Rosemary’s Baby a vision of hell far scarier than some guy in red with horns.  

Movies I Have Never Seen #12: Faces (1968)

What is it: Independent film pioneer John Cassavetes’ breakthrough film, an intense, almost unbearably voyeuristic look at the disintegration of a middle-aged couple’s marriage told over the course of one free-wheeling night of affairs, drunkenness and messy, messy lives. A sharp break from more formal storytelling in film, Faces often feels like it’s being made up on the spot, threatening at any second to collapse on itself. It was and still is divisive – Pauline Kael hated it, but Roger Ebert called it “astonishing.” “He has made a film that tenderly, honestly and uncompromisingly examines the way we really live,” Ebert wrote. The way we live is, of course, messy, unorganised and often makes no sense to us. Cassavetes tried to show us ordinary life in a way sometimes called “cinematic jazz.” A cult taste at the best of times, Cassavetes died too young but his fingerprints can be seen all over film today – The New Yorker has said that he “may be the most influential American director of the last half century.”

Why I never saw it: I grew up on a steady diet of Lucas and Spielberg and it took me years to broaden my cinematic tastes a bit. “Cassavetes” was one of those arty names that always seemed to float just beyond the horizon, daunting by its sheer reputation. Would I like this stuff? Would he be someone like Robert Altman or Kurosawa, who blew me away and showed me whole ways of thinking, or would he be someone like Fellini, who I still haven’t quite managed to crack? 

Does it measure up to its rep? Faces is more than 50 years old now, and yet it’s still confrontational and raw. There’s a reason Cassavetes’ work is still pored over and analysed today. He attempted to show us real life in a way that feels totally improvised (but wasn’t). He made movies his way, outside the studio system. Faces was a tiny production, made in glittering 16mm black-and-white with an endlessly probing camera that anticipates today’s reality TV. It ended up getting nominated for Oscars and riding the wave of groundbreaking movies circa 1967-68 like Bonnie And Clyde and The Graduate that were slowly breaking down Hollywood’s ossified ways. But Faces is far more punk rock than The Graduate’s sly and polished Simon and Garfunkeled cynicism. 

Faces is a story that’s as old as time – a couple get tired of each other, experiment with other people, then end up back where they started – but it’s the way Cassavetes tells this story that makes it feel like the audience is eavesdropping on something they weren’t meant to see. With game actors like the astounding Gena Rowlands, Seymour Cassel and (in other films) Peter Falk and Ben Gazarra, Cassavetes built up a company of like-minded souls who wanted to use cinema to probe into the heart and mind. 

Cassavetes pushes you, with his scenes of drunken, plotless hijinks or gritty, intense arguments, to the point where you sometimes ask yourself why you’re sticking with this movie, only to find as the credits roll that you can’t stop thinking about it. Faces demands you engage with it, question it, not half-watch it while scrolling on your phone. These days, that feels like a challenge. 

His characters often do inexplicable, nasty and self-sabotaging things. And we often do that in real life, too – good god, the number of times I finish up a day thinking, “Why did I do this thing? Why did I act that way?” Cassavetes used film to try to explain the human spirit, an impossible and yet endlessly fascinating task.

Faces tests your patience – every Cassavetes film I’ve seen seems overlong at the time, but you aren’t ready for them to end. The controlled chaos of their production is the antithesis of tightly-controlled blockbusters, and movies like Husbands or A Woman Under The Influence leave you feeling vaguely battered, half-drunk yourself, and yet… somehow happy to be alive, to be here on this endlessly complicated world, flawed and broken like everybody else in Cassavetes’ cinematic universe. 

Worth seeing? Absolutely, but if you’re one of those people who want movies to entertain and only entertain, you may give up the ghost. Stick with it, and you’ll be left with a movie that both frustrates and haunts you, and may just end up sucked down the Cassavetes wormhole.