The last two years did a number on everyone, and I’m definitely including myself in that: my sense of time and chronology, and especially my memory, the pandemic and the series of crises of all shapes and sizes, these have all left their traces. I have to admit: I’d find it difficult without consulting my notes to say much about what damn fine cups of culture I enjoyed most in 2022. Even with the notes I’ve made in the draft version of this post, I find it difficult to say with much confidence that I remember these things most about the year.
Nonetheless, enjoy them I did – a lot, in fact, and these are some of the things that helped me through some of the harder times in 2022.
To begin with, I remember liking Landscapers a lot at the beginning of the year. While I didn’t post about this miniseries, a sort of British Coenesque take on the true-crime genre, I did talk about it in the podcast we did in April on films and series that are explicitly based on a true story. The writing by Ed Sinclair, the direction by Will Sharpe, and the acting by its cast, these made Landscapers a brilliant, funny and poignant meditation on storytelling, murder and guilt. Olivia Colman and David Thewlis, the pitch-perfect leads, were wonderful at taking the often theatrical yet immensely cinematic staging by Sharpe and his crew and giving them a very human heart even when the series was at its most ambiguous and stylised. Landscapers has that very Coen-like thing of not telling you how to feel about a character and their actions, of making you laugh and then making you question that laugh, and that can be uncomfortable – but whatever discomfort Landscapers evokes, it’s very much worth it.
Talking of laughter that gets stuck in your throat: in 2022, I first saw Barry (which admittedly premiered in 2018, but this post is about the culture I caught first in 2022). So far we’ve only seen two of its seasons, but I like it a lot. The writing, the direction, and the acting: again, these are perfect for what Barry is doing. It’s much more overtly a comedy than Landscapers, its laughs are front and centre – but the series is deadly serious when it needs to be, and Bill Hader, who both writes and stars in the series, couldn’t be better at handling the tricky, precarious balance between tones. While comedies are tricky for me, Barry is one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen in years – and one of the darkest too. And the staging in some of the episodes (especially the season 2 gem “ronny/lily”) belongs in surreal slapstick heaven.
There’ve been some other TV greats this year – I’ll give a shout-out to Severance, another queasy comedy-drama and nails both aspects and at the same time manages to be a wonderfully inventive, relevant near-future sci-fi mindfuck that Philip K Dick would’ve been proud of, and to Andor, the series that convinced me (no easy feat after Rise of Skywalker, The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi) that Star Wars could still be interesting, cinematic, exciting – and even relevant. But more on that later this month.
There’ve also been some pretty neat games that I played in 2022. I’ve written about Outer Wilds, perhaps the one game I’ve played that is best at letting the player become both an explorer of a world that feels both fresh and ancient, and an archaeologist-detective, exploring what was left behind by others. Then they went and added an expansion to what felt like a perfectly complete game, and damn, if that expansion doesn’t succeed at exactly that: expanding the wonderful solar system and mysteries that Outer Wilds established. Mysteries are one of the most difficult thing to pull off well in computer games, because they almost always feel player-centric and utterly scripted. Outer Wilds succeeded at creating an elaborate, complex mystery that seems to exist whether there’s a player to solve it or not, and Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye topped this – while also telling a story about a doomed civilisation that managed to be both spooky and feel heartfelt.
Meanwhile, Tunic was one of those games that felt like it was made for gamers like me, who’ve been doing this since the 1980s. There’s certainly something indulgent and nostalgic about Tunic, but this action-adventure game managed to feel old-school without being pandering or meta. It used its 8-bit and 16-bit gaming roots to deliver puzzles within puzzles within puzzles, albeit ones that you could skip or postpone or miss entirely. I’ve rarely seen these tropes used to such good, intriguing effect. And the chip tune-inflected score by Lifeformed is gorgeous.
Which brings us to movies. Like many critics, I liked The Worst Person in the World a lot, though the superlative praise it got may have made it difficult to watch the film entirely on its own terms. Still, it’s one I will want to revisit, not least for Renate Reinsve’s lead performance as Julie, a character that is very different from who I was at that age, but she anchors the film in a disorientation that, in the hands of a lesser actor, could easily have been grating. (I’ve got the Criterion release on order, so once that is out, perhaps it’ll warrant a Criterion Corner?)
Les Olympiades (or Paris, 13th District, as it is known in the English-speaking world) was another film whose depiction of young, directionless people resonated with me even though I never lead these lives (and definitely never had as much sex as these characters have!). I find it quite amazing that its director, Jacques Audiard, has been in the film business since the 1970s and was nearly 70 when he made this one, seeing how much the film captures the force of these twentysomethings. It’s also fascinating to read the Adrian Tomine comic book short stories that Audiard adapted, all set very much in the US, and seeing them translated into a Parisian context. A gorgeously shot, beautifully acted film.
Talking of older directors whose films burst with an energy you wouldn’t expect from someone their age: EO – yes, ‘that donkey movie’ – was directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, a man in his 80s, and it is a startlingly told, visually stunning tale whose main character doesn’t utter a single word. I didn’t love it quite as much as many critics, mainly because its episodic nature ended up feeling somewhat arbitrary (its individual episodes could’ve been reshuffled without much being lost) and its ending came across less as the organic end point of that particular story but more as the need to have some sort of an ending, but even if it doesn’t quite reach the perfection for me that other critics saw, it is one of the year’s most visually striking films. Who would ever have expected a donkey road trip to look as visionary as Kubrick’s 2001?
Obviously I can’t not give a shout-out to the Best Cinema in the World: summer is often a time when there isn’t all that much in the way of good movies, but the Kino REX in Bern managed to make summer feel short with its series of films starring the incomparable Frances McDormand. Not every single one of the films was great (though Darkman is nonetheless cheesy fun), but it’s always worth watching McDormand – and films like Fargo never get old… added to which, seeing all that Minnesota snow made me feel cooler during a a long, hot summer.
And, last but not least, considering that I liked but never loved Knives Out, not even on a rewatch, I found Glass Onion tremendously enjoyable and a genuine blast right down to the last Philip Glass-composed “Dong!” (Okay, not actually composed by Glass, but hey, the joke is worth it.) One of the best films of the year? Dunno – but hey, I’m feeling generous, and the year’s given me little enough to laugh at as much as Glass Onion. And, yes, Barry.
So, enough talk from me: to end this post that feels almost as long as the year has, let me wish all of you the very best for 2023! We’ll be back in the new year with more on damn fine cups of culture.