Top 6 Movies of 2022

Yeah, I can do end-of-year lists over a week into the new year

I don’t watch that many movies any more, and hardly ever see anything first-run unless it’s Marvel or Star Wars. I’m hoping to address that in 2023, both by virtue of living in Los Angeles, and paying for AMC’s “A-List” subscription. So far, though, being on the A-List has just meant seeing a lot of C-List movies I wouldn’t have otherwise. (At least I’ve nearly memorized Nicole Kidman’s monologue at this point).

In any case, I saw my friend Rain post a list of her top five movies of the year, and it occurred to me that I actually saw enough movies in 2022 to be able to make my own list! I couldn’t even limit it to just five! Here they are, in reverse order:

6. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Not quite the slam-dunk I’d been hoping for, but still pretty spectacular and full of some great character interactions. What impressed me the most was how it maintained all of its franchise obligations but still had plenty of imaginative, creepy flashes that marked it clearly as a Sam Raimi movie.

5. Nope

I still don’t think the movie holds together all that well, but it has moments of brilliance, plus the pure joy of seeing Keke Palmer bringing the full force of her charisma to the screen. Highlights were the unforgettable, disorienting, and disturbing sequence showing what happens to Jean Jacket’s victims; and Gordy’s attack, a near-perfect sequence of surreal suspense.

4. Barbarian

This wasn’t the goofy fun that I expected it to be, but it was a much better movie as a result. It thoughtfully tears apart decades of horror movie conventions and reminds jaded audiences that the main reason horror movies are horrifying is because most people aren’t self-obsessed sociopaths.

3. Encanto

(Released in 2021, it turns out, but I didn’t see it until 2022 on Disney+)

I’d expected this to be a mid-tier Disney animated feature, but the “Dos Oruguitas” sequence alone [spoilers for the entire movie!] might be the most potent five minutes of any movie, animated or otherwise. If you’re not ugly-crying by the end of it, you might very well be a robot. And I understand how people could be suffering from Lin-Manuel Miranda fatigue, but after Moana and now Encanto, I think he’s preternaturally suited to animated musicals, and kind of a super-hero. “The Family Madrigal” is the catchiest song of the movie, and it introduces the entire premise and cast of characters in just a few minutes.

2. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Maybe the highest praise I could give it is that it exceeded my impossibly high expectations after Knives Out. I love that the two movies are unmistakably related, but the sequel isn’t just an attempt to copy the formula of the first. And Janelle Monáe is brilliant, embodying the impossibly beautiful “rich bitch” while also being endearing and funny and fun. I hope the Benoit Blanc mysteries never, ever end.

1. Everything Everywhere All At Once

Not just my favorite movie of 2022, but instantly one of my favorite movies ever. It pays no regard to genre, and is action-packed and introspective, vulgar and sentimental, hilarious and heart-breaking, ridiculous and sublime. It has all the feel of a loose, scrappy indie movie that can do whatever it wants, but also has some gorgeous sequences that feel timeless. My favorite contradiction is that it explores the idea of infinite universes with infinite potential, all to stress the beauty of living in the moment and appreciating the one life you have. It’s a masterpiece.

Honorable mentions: Confess, Fletch, Orphan: First Kill, Prey, and the Ugly Sonic scenes from Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers.

1 Thing I Like About M3GAN

M3GAN is a PG-13 horror movie filmed entirely on location in the Uncanny Valley

There’s a scene mid-way through M3GAN where our protagonist has driven her troubled niece Cady to the first day of an alternative school. It seems necessary, since Cady has gotten overly attached to her robotic friend M3GAN, and she needs to socialize with other human children. The school’s teacher comes up to the car and cheerfully and kindly introduces herself to Cady, then asks if she’s come with her sister, at which point M3GAN turns to look at her, causing the teacher to involuntarily shout “JESUS CHRIST!”

That’s one of my favorite moments in this surprisingly good movie, because it perfectly captures the confidently silly and relentlessly sinister tone that makes the movie so much stronger than its premise would suggest.

Blumhouse and Universal have gone all-in on marketing the movie as a campy, creepy, successor to the “evil doll” subgenre of horror movie like Child’s Play and Annabelle. That’s a good call, since the promise of something silly and fun is what got me into the theater in the first place.1There’s not nearly as much creepy dancing in the movie as the trailers suggest, though, which felt like a bit of a bait and switch. But what makes M3GAN so unexpectedly clever is that it doesn’t settle for being a self-aware rehash of its too-familiar influences; nor a winking deconstruction; or even an undeservedly high-minded re-examination of them. Instead, it takes all of its familiar elements and uses them at face value, but combines and re-contextualizes them to make them just as uncanny and eerily not-quite-real as its villain.

Continue reading “1 Thing I Like About M3GAN”
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    There’s not nearly as much creepy dancing in the movie as the trailers suggest, though, which felt like a bit of a bait and switch.

Turns Out the Walrus Was Paul (Making Sense of Glass Onion)

Answering (most of) my own questions about Glass Onion

After I saw and loved Glass Onion, I had a lot of questions. Now that it’s more widely available on Netflix, and I’ve gotten the chance to watch it a second time — with subtitles, and without audience laughter obscuring much of the dialogue — I think I’ve got a better idea of the answers to most of them.

To manage expectations: I haven’t hit on any particularly deep insights or re-interpretations; I’m just better able to make sense of the basic plot.

I was glad to see that it still holds up on a second watch, although (and I hate to say it) it was indeed more entertaining watching it in a theater crowded full of an enthusiastic audience. I’m hoping that for future installments, Netflix will consider extending the theatrical run for another couple of weeks, if not indefinitely.

And this is all still major spoilers, so please watch it on Netflix and then come back!

Spoilers for Glass Onion

Literacy 2022: Recap

A failed reading challenge that’s encouraged me to pick up the habit again in 2023

Thanks largely to a day job that’s consumed most of my free time over the year, I didn’t meet my reading goal for 2022. However, I didn’t read any real duds over the course of the year, which is a first. And trying to cram in a few over the Christmas-to-New Years break has reminded me of how much fun it is to get completely lost in an entertaining book. That’s a nicer takeaway than my usual, which is just, “I don’t read enough and am a bad person because of it.”

20 books in 2022

15* read. (My Kindle ran out of power, forcing my to finish up the last book on New Year’s Day instead of Eve)

Favorite Book of Literacy 2022
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It’s got such an interesting main character, and is so stylistically clever at re-interpreting and re-contextualizing time-worn elements from gothic horror, that I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

MVP of Literacy 2022
Anthony Horowitz. I’ve only read two of his novels this year, but in addition to being unfailingly entertaining and engaging, they’ve also spun off into recommendations for other mystery authors, as well as renewing my interest in reading Agatha Christie books I haven’t read before, or re-reading some of the classics from a new perspective.

Goal for Literacy 2023
Sticking with my modest goal of 20 books for the new year, and cautiously optimistic that I’ll have more time to exceed it. Two books a month might be a little too ambitious for my pacing.

Sub-Goal for Literacy 2023
To finally finish The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. I started this one back in 2021, I think, and probably had unreasonably high expectations since The Night Circus is one of my favorite books of the past decade. But it’s been a slog that never holds my interest. I’ve just read a glowing review from a friend, so I’m hoping I can power through it.

Call to Action
I’ve already got a huge list of books in my Want-to-Read section, more than I’ll be able to read in my lifetime, but I’m always looking for more suggestions!

Literacy 2022: Book 15: By the Pricking of My Thumbs

A short, pleasant Agatha Christie mystery to finish off the year

By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie

Book 4 in the Tommy & Tuppence mysteries

While visiting an irascible aunt in a retirement home, Tuppence Beresford has an odd conversation with one of the residents, suggesting that something sinister is going on, and the other residents’ deaths might not be of natural causes after all.


  • Charming and extremely British, exactly what you’d expect from Christie’s stories of upper-middle-class English people solving murders with curious detachment
  • The now-middle-aged married duo of Tommy & Tuppence, who I thought were extremely dull when I first read Christie’s books, now seem genuinely endearing, a kind of lower-energy Nick & Nora Charles without all the alcohol
  • The idea of solving a cold case with literally no information apart from a painting, a vague memory, and a railway map, is an intriguing one
  • Resolutely middle-aged, hinting at scandal and adventure without straining plausibility
  • Short but not too slight, has the feel of the hour-long televised mystery stories that somehow Christie might’ve predicted would be made from her works


  • Meandering and roundabout, and unlikely to be palatable to anyone who isn’t charmed by Tommy & Tuppence’s married-couple banter
  • Not really much of a detective story, since there are a few interesting bits of actual deduction, but most of the case is solved by the protagonists just asking various people to provide exposition

Charming and comfortable, if you’re in the mood for a more languid and lackadaisical detective story. I believe that this is one of the few Agatha Christie books I didn’t read in middle and high school, and I only picked it up because it was mentioned in one of Anthony Horowitz’s mysteries, as an example of a detective story that accomplished a lot in a brief space (227 pages). Very well-suited to cramming in last-minute entries for a reading challenge.

Literacy 2022: Book 14: A Line to Kill

Anthony Horowitz’s third book casting himself as Dr. Watson to a brilliant but abrasive fictional detective

A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

Book 3 in the “Hawthorne and Horowitz Investigate” series

To promote the first book in the series, The Word is Murder, the author and former detective Hawthorne are invited to a literary festival on a small English island. As tends to happen, they’re pulled into a murder investigation, in which the other writers and the island’s close-knit community are all prime suspects.


  • Horowitz has proven himself to be a master craftsman when it comes to old-fashioned murder mysteries, and this one might be the most accessible and satisfying of his that I’ve read so far.
  • The meta-gimmick of this series — in which Horowitz casts himself as Watson to a fictional detective Holmes — isn’t as overpowering and distracting as in the previous books, being used instead to establish the premise and then mostly fade to the background.
  • None of the clues are artificially obscured or dropped onto the reader at the last minute, there’s a satisfying sense that observant readers had everything they needed to solve the mystery.
  • Breaks free of the template of the first book, which had already started to wear thin in the second: there’s no need to artificially introduce an action-packed climax into every detective story.
  • I was able to guess the identity of the murderer, but it was neither too obscured nor too obvious, and I felt like if I’d been reading more slowly and carefully, I would’ve been able to piece together the relevance of all the clues.
  • Very cleverly uses the format, and the idea that Horowitz is thinking in terms of writing a murder mystery as the mystery is playing out, as a way to sum up information and throw in red herrings.


  • Hawthorne is still an abrasive and unlikable character by design, but I still haven’t reached the point where he’s more fascinating than just plain annoying.
  • Horowitz’s self-deprecating comments are still in full effect here, as he casts himself as the eternally disrespected and under-appreciated second fiddle to a brilliant detective. The charm is wearing a little thin. It invariably comes across either as a humblebrag, or as someone who’s not hapless so much as spineless.
  • I welcomed the fact that the metatextual gimmickry was played down in this book, but it did have the side effect of making it seem more like a traditional murder mystery without the novelty in The Word is Murder.

Another satisfying, old-fashioned murder mystery that’s a lot of fun to read. It does feel less experimental and innovative than the first two books in the series, but avoids feeling like a repetitive formula while still using its clever premise to its advantage.

Literacy 2022: Book 13: Spook

Mary Roach applies her accessible and funny style of non-fiction writing to the topic of ghosts, reincarnation, and the afterlife.

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach

Roach looks into the history (and present) of varying attempts to prove the existence of the afterlife around the world, including researches attempting to document and verify cases of reincarnation in India, the history of Spiritualism and mediums in the UK and US, and recent research into electromagnetic fields and ultrasound to explain ghost sightings.


  • Roach’s introduction establishes herself as a skeptic who needs verifiable proof, but still intends to approach the subject with a fair an open mind instead of dismissing people outright.
  • Very funny throughout, Roach is on-point with her asides and tangential observations about the details she finds delightful.
  • Extensively researched but never dry, Roach includes a complete bibliography, acknowledges when the more scientific material made no sense to her, and interviews people directly involved wherever possible.
  • Roach’s template for these books — magazine article-length essays on various topics with segues leading into the next topic — works perfectly here, giving full accounts of her time “in the field” drilling down on a single subject, while still feeling more like a unified work than a collection of loosely-related essays.
  • Extremely accessible and fun to read


  • The mission statement of the book is in the introduction: find some verifiable, repeatable evidence. As a result, it feels entertaining if not particularly deep. This is not likely to be a book that will change anyone’s perception of life or the afterlife, because it’s not necessarily intended to.

Excellent, and it’s solidified me as a fan of Mary Roach. (Even though I might be a bit too sensitive/squeamish for her other topics, like Stiff and Bonk). In my opinion, this is exactly the right way to combine humor with science/nonfiction writing.

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Sasquatch

Fun with old reference photos

I was looking through photos from 2019 and found a bunch of goofy reference photos I’d taken while trying to draw characters for Sasquatchers.

One of the advantages to looking like I do is that I’ve got a live reference at the ready whenever I need to draw Sasquatches or big dumb guys. Bonus photo of me trying to capture the perfect expression of a Florida Skunk Ape.

Lessons from the BearPig

Learning to think of myself as an ever-improving artist instead of a bad artist

Something I realized tonight is that a lot of my perception of my own art abilities is probably due to having my first job in video games be at LucasArts.

I was pretty over-confident when I started there, and I thought of myself as at least a pretty good artist if not an exceptional one. I didn’t have any aspirations of taking a full-time job as an artist or animator, but I figured I wasn’t bad for a programmer, and being around so many talented professionals would be a great opportunity to get better.

The attitude at the company — or at least, the parts of the company that I came in contact with — was a lot more binary than that: you either were an artist, or you weren’t. “Programmer art” was at best disposable, and more often something that was to be sought out and destroyed as early and as thoroughly as possible, lest it somehow infect the game and bring shame down upon the entire company.

To be clear, I don’t think it was at all unreasonable. There’s no sense in having art made by amateurs in a place that was hiring some of the best professional artists in the business. And I get it on a personal level, too. I wouldn’t want somebody coming in and trying to do my job, even if they were good at it. But it did have a permanent side effect: it made me start to think of my own art skills not just as “not professional,” but as “not fit to be seen by humans.”

It’s only recently that I’ve started to break free from the Talent Binary. It doesn’t have to be either professional-quality or worthless. I’ve slowly started to appreciate that the stuff I draw doesn’t necessarily have to be great, that it’s okay if it’s just good enough. Does it convey what it needs to convey, and does it seem “genuine” instead of just an uninspired copy of someone else’s work? That’s probably good enough.

I also started to appreciate that it doesn’t even necessarily need to be good, if I enjoy doing it. It’s only by being in environments that literally treated art as a commodity that I got locked in the mindset of art as being a product. It’s okay to just have fun trying. And I also started to accept that while I might be able to reach a level of skill that I’m completely satisfied with, if I put in the work every day to practice and get better, I don’t actually enjoy it enough to do that. It feels pretty good to let myself off the hook, without thinking that I have to give it up entirely.

There was a piece of programmer art in The Curse of Monkey Island that was a perfect example of the lessons I should have taken from LucasArts instead of the ones that I did.

For quite a long time during development, the title screen of the game was a DeluxePaint creation by my boss, the lead programmer. It was a simple scene with a calming, light blue background. In the center was the text “The Curse of Monkey Island,” in the usual SCUMM dialog font which some nerd out there probably knows the exact name of but I don’t. Below was a curved line depicting a beautiful sandy beach, and on either side were delightfully abstracted palm trees made from an assortment of brown and green polygons. And in the center of the screen was a face: a perfect brown circle, with two light brown semi-circles representing the ears, two black circles for the eyes, and a light brown circle that was the snout. As the title text suggested, it was the Bear Pig of Monkey Island. At the time, and being the arrogant little shits that we were, we made fun of it. Even the artist himself called it “bad programmer art.”

But was it? It did exactly what it needed to do, which is provide a backdrop for game initialization and indicate where the final title sequence would begin. And during development, it set the mood. This wasn’t just some numbered sequel, but a story with a title and everything. The island evoked the crystal clear waters and sandy beaches of the Caribbean, to envelop us in our tropical setting every day while we sat inside a dark windowless office in Northern California.

And the Bear Pig was a reminder of the folly of arrogant men trying to tamper in God’s domain, daring to create blasphemous, hybrid monstrosities that could serve no possible purpose other than to be a lesson in human fallibility. A valuable lesson to all of us not to get too cocky while working in one of our favorite franchises!

So was it “good” art? No. Oh God, no. No no no no no. But was it good enough? Also no. But… did it serve its purpose? Considering that 25 years later, it’s still a fun memory of one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on a team I’m still amazed I was lucky enough to work with, I’d give it a qualified “maybe.”

Unleash the Basilisk

Thoughts about old computers, emulators, and the difference between idealized memory and practical reality

Every couple of years, with relentless regularity since the late 1990s, I become overwhelmed with the need to bring my beloved college computers back to life.

Throughout my freshman year, I had a Mac Plus that was given to me as a graduation present. I loved this computer about as much as it’s possible to love an inanimate object. I still vividly remember the story of when my parents gave it to me, and it’s easily one of my top 10 memories. It was everything I wanted after years of reading Mac User magazine, getting excited at screenshots of simple utilities that looked like pure magic, running GEOS on my Commodore 128 and dreaming of the day I’d finally get “the real thing.” It was the focal point of my friendship with my best friend that year, as we’d spend a lot of time on the Mac running Dark Castle, Beyond Dark Castle, and Uninvited, and it was likely the thing that really made me want to work in video games.

After that year, I “upgraded” to an Amiga 500, which was clearly better in every possible way. So many colors! Such better sound! So many more options for expansion! So much room for activities! I ended up using it for all my school work, and spent a lot of time running Deluxe Paint, but somehow it never captured the same magic as that compact Mac.1It was, however, my introduction to The Secret of Monkey Island, so I’m grateful for that. Every time I get overcome with the desire to bring these computers back to life2Or more likely, find functional ones on Ebay, I’m reminded of that feeling of barely-definable, irrational disappointment.

Continue reading “Unleash the Basilisk”
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    It was, however, my introduction to The Secret of Monkey Island, so I’m grateful for that.
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    Or more likely, find functional ones on Ebay