Favorite Films of 2022


A few nights after viewing this, I was still piecing it together—less in terms of logistics than taking in all the shifting perspectives, recurring images, ambiguous tones and sustained feeling of drifting in and out of consciousness. Then again, I like movies that are somewhat unknowable. I retain and reflect on the experience of watching this more than anything else I’ve seen in some time. Charlotte Wells’ debut feature is less a key for a lock than an open door into another way of seeing. Also, Paul Mescal proves that his breakthrough performance in NORMAL PEOPLE was just an inkling of things to come.

2. TÁR

A great film, and writer/director Todd Field and star Cate Blanchett seem to know it; such air would normally be off-putting, but the fluidity and grace with which the whole thing moves (acrobatic sound design and all) reminds me of something like Kenneth Lonergan’s MARGARET but minus that film’s pretensions towards greatness, or perhaps everything comes together so convincingly that it doesn’t matter. A pitch-black comedy in prestige drama clothing, TÁR is sui generis, nearly as entertaining as Paul Thomas Anderson and as enigmatic as Kubrick. 158 minutes have rarely passed by so swiftly.


I recently wrote something about falling in love with a film over its opening credits, and I think this one is a contender. A tad more accessible and also genre-defying than director Kogonada’s last film COLUMBUS without lessening the qualities that made it unique, it’s science fiction without walls, exploring artifice and memory and what it could look like if the two would ever intersect. Also, I want to feel as passionate about and satiated by something as Colin Farrell’s character (his best work since THE LOBSTER, though see also #11 below) is with regards to tea. 


Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s first film outside of Asia (and follow-up to my favorite film of the last decade) is no less experimental than his previous work, thank god. Tilda Swinton’s been an expertly intuitive reactor since her Derek Jarman days, and this might be her most fascinating performance in some time for how she simultaneously commands the screen and also fades into it. I found this fascinating (if equally confounding) after my first viewing; it made somewhat more sense after a second viewing but remained, like everything else the director has done, slow, perplexing, surprising and one-of-a-kind.


Her weathered face, Tennessee accent and general moxie has relegated Dale Dickey to smaller, supporting parts (most notably WINTER’S BONE); here, she’s as earthy and tenacious as you’d expect, but this tailor-made leading role allows her to exhibit much more vulnerability and warmth than usual. Furthermore, writer/director Max Walker-Silverman’s gem of a first feature gradually reveals itself as a film about time and loss, the need for connection and the benefit of perseverance and finding strength within. Although Dickey’s character doesn’t stray far from where she’s anchored her trailer, she goes on a considerable journey of the soul.


Despite all the awards it received last year, I’m counting this as a 2022 film since it didn’t screen or stream here until then. The allure of this bold if leisurely paced Murakami adaptation is that you don’t necessarily know where it’s going, but when it gets there, the impact is staggering without seeming showy or unearned. I first saw it last March and am still looking forward to carving out another three hours to watch it again.


Call it the year of Tilda Swinton, I guess, or call this Joanna Hogg’s THE PARENT TRAP, only Swinton plays mother and daughter instead of twins, the genre’s gothic/psychological horror (set at an equally creepy/charming old British estate/hotel) rather than Disney rom-com, and the dog (Swinton’s own pet!) gets fourth billing. Also the third of a trilogy (which includes THE SOUVENIR, PART II (see below)) and possibly the best of the three.


Mostly meeting my ridiculously high expectations for it, Sarah Polley’s return to filmmaking is both of the moment and seemingly timeless. Though the story occasionally oversteps and the final section drags a bit, those are minor complaints: here, Polley depicts a world contained to the point of being restrictive; with great catharsis and reasoning, the film shows with artful clarity why this is damaging and what future generations can do to avoid succumbing to such a closed-off, incomplete life.


Terence Davies’ portrait of World War I soldier/poet Siegfried Sassoon is as unique as you’d expect from the director; what I wasn’t expecting was something more akin to his early masterworks like THE LONG DAY CLOSES than anything he’s done since. Along with his other recent poet biopic about Emily Dickinson, Davies is clearly on a late-career high with this, his most deliciously bitchy film to date (and it doesn’t even have Laura Linney in it.) 


Celine Sciamma follows her most acclaimed work (PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE, already placing high in this decade’s Sight and Sound poll) with a deceptively simple fantasy about memory and motherhood that ends up one of her more conceptually ambitious films. As usual, she builds a fully realized world built out of a few essential components, only this time with a playfulness-bordering-on-whimsy that’s difficult to pull off (but rest assured, she does.)


Makes a lasting impact for the striking, evocative landscapes, the performances and the confirmation that an isolated place, no matter how striking or evocative can be heaven for a few days and deadening for an eternity.


An immensely likable Finnish indie dramedy which portrays female teen relationships with a genuineness that’s instantly winning—up there with the likes of OUR SONG and GHOST WORLD (though far sweeter and less acerbic.) 


“You’ll be fine, it will pass, you’ll get used it,” our protagonist is dutifully told in this purposely disorienting but intriguing, unclassifiable reverie from Argentinian director Ana Katz.


Set in a near-future where dreams are taxed by the government, I knew I adored this film about ten minutes in when the title card appeared (let’s just say it involves an ice cream cone.) 

15. ALI & AVA

From the director of THE ARBOR, it has a good beat and you can dance to it (to quote American Bandstand.) Also gratifying to see Adeel Akhtar and Claire Rushbrook cast as unconventional romantic leads.


A sort of autobiography relayed in carefully chosen fragments, it plays like BOYHOOD condensed to ninety minutes but with four different actors instead of one (because it wasn’t shot over a dozen years.)


Rian Johnson can make as many of these as he likes as long as he keeps assembling dynamite casts and giving Daniel Craig-as-Benoit Blanc phrases to drawl like “Jared Leto’s Hard Kombucha.”


Divided into a very Godard-ian twelve chapters with a prologue and epilogue, Joachim Trier’s latest plays with form and genre; it also verges on precious at times only to always snap back into sharp focus.


This is how you remake Fassbinder: cast a boisterous lead (Denis Menochet) who could play him in a biopic and include a glorious running sight gag like poor, dear, silent slave-twink Karl (Stefan Crepon).


Unlike SWISS ARMY MAN, this is silliness I can fully abide, thanks to Michelle Yeoh and the rest of its glorious weirdo ensemble. Nearly a BEING JOHN MALKOVICH for the internet age of info-overload.




















Favorite First Viewings of Older Films in 2022

My movie watching decreased by 30% in 2022—completely expected since between the pandemic and unemployment, 2021 was an anomaly of a year. If I learned anything from such circumstances, they helped me acclimate to watching more movies at home, as Letterboxd (now five years after I began using it) ended up a motivator to watch more movies, period. Here are the best older (pre-2021) films I saw for the first time this year.

1. KES

I’d seen a handful of Ken Loach pictures from this century but nothing earlier (unless you count the Poor Cow footage inserted into Soderbergh’s The Limey); I want to see more in 2023 as his second feature (from 1969) is simply masterful. An initially straightforward but increasingly resonant story about a boy and his bird, it captures something about the British working class arguably not even Loach contemporary Mike Leigh has ever replicated. Looking beyond archetypes, it subtly indicts an entire social structure while also locating a speck of transcendent beauty within it.


A teenager (River Phoenix) born into family forever on the run (due to a crime committed by his former hippie-activist parents) struggles to forge his own identity. While Phoenix’s death five years later makes it too easy to overrate his work, here (along with My Own Private Idaho) it’s sublime, as is Sidney Lumet’s direction—for that matter, so is the family sing-along to (of all things) a James Taylor song (too earnest to probably get away with in a movie today.)


In 2022, I kicked off an attempt to watch all the Best Picture Oscar winners I haven’t seen (about 40 or so) over the next few years; this is the best of the five I’ve made it through so far. Viewing this pre-code film was like trying on a vintage coat that fits beautifully: you’ve experienced such level of comfort before (via all the ensembles that followed from Robert Altman to Wes Anderson) but its age, finery and grace render it all the more satisfying.


I admired Slate film critic Dana Stevens’ new book about Buster Keaton—not enough to make my top ten this year, but at least it encouraged me to seek out the major works of his I’ve missed. This one in particular also landed dead-center on my radar after it cracked the latest Sight and Sound poll’s top 100. It’s 45 minutes long, just at that breaking point to distinguish a feature from a short, and it would be peak Keaton even if it didn’t have the best chase scene of all time.


David Cronenberg came back with the good-enough Crimes of The Future this year; if you liked it, chances are you’ll love this. Building on the body horror/tech-nerdery of Videodrome, it’s a feat of camera trickery but also a deep dive into all of the unsavory obsessions that makes his characters (and for all we know, the director himself) tick. Also, watching Jeremy Irons perform mouth-to-mouth on himself (or at least his body double) is a very Special Moment.


Alternate title: Women’s Lib Rules. Agnes Varda was a treasure for many reasons, not least of which was that she made narrative films (Cleo From 5 To 7) as genuine and engaging as her documentaries (The Gleaners And I). This hails from a somewhat undervalued period between those two peaks; however, its dissection and celebration of feminism and abortion rights is obviously as relevant as ever and that she fashions it with whimsy and humor doesn’t make it any less powerful than a more outwardly darker work like Never Rarely Sometimes Always.


This came as a recommendation from former Boston Globe critic Ty Burr when it aired on TCM (it’s not streaming anywhere); I want to rewatch it in a cinema when I next have a chance. Although King Vidor’s film about society, peer-pressure and collectivism looks and feels the near-century old that it is, it doesn’t matter: great art endures when it retains a strong resemblance to the present moment in premise and concept if not in its physical aesthetic.


The idea of a criminal posing as a member of the clergy isn’t new; to frame it as an identity crisis and a genuine attempt at redemption rather than just for laughs, however, sets up a tightrope walk for this Polish film’s protagonist, who lives out his selfish fantasies while also becoming a more active presence for good in the world. And yet, there are no easy resolutions and the film zags when you expect it to zig without losing focus or purpose.


I often think of the late 1980s as a particularly fallow period for cinema, but this is the third 1988 film in this top ten and it’s a glorious action-comedy, like Lethal Weapon but with brains and far more nuanced dialogue and character development. Also, it greatly helps that Robert De Niro (so good at comedy when given a good screenplay!) and Charles Grodin are as inspired and sublime a pairing as Lemmon and Matthau, Pryor and Wilder, Tracy and Hepburn.


Long available for whatever reasons I suspect are firmly kept locked up in the Paisley Park vault, this concert film to complement Prince’s landmark 1987 double album of the same name has, like so much since his untimely death, reemerged. As a “director”, the Purple One was obviously no Jonathan Demme, but this, made at his absolute fucking peak (at least artistically), should be as well-known as Stop Making Sense. The choreography is almost as amazing as the outfits, which are almost as wonderful as the music.


Birth, Blue Collar, Chocolat (1988), Darling, Fort Tilden, The Godfather Part II (!), The Heartbreak Kid (1972), Jaws(!!), Once Upon A Time In America, ‘Round Midnight, The Secret of Roan Inish, The Sisters Brothers, Splendor In The Grass, Time Piece*, Titicut Follies, A White, White Day

(*A short presently streaming on Mubi and a must-watch for any Jim Henson fan.)

Vive L’Amour

BEST RE-WATCHES (not including anything for 24 Frames):

Appropriate Behavior, The Boy Friend, Delicatessen, Dick, Ed Wood, Hairspray (1988), Knives Out, The Last Days of Disco, Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979), Out Of The Past, Phantom Thread, The Shop Around The Corner, Something Wild, The Sweet Smell Of Success, Vive L’Amour, Written On The Wind

Worldbuilding: The Best TV of 2022

Somebody Somewhere

I dutifully post top ten lists of favorite albums, books and movies every year; you’d think I’d do the same for TV, but I’ve only tried it once, back in 2013, roughly when the term “Peak TV” entered the parlance (although streaming was relatively new with Orange Is The New Black in its first season.) My tendency to not formally keep track of shows I watched is likely what prevented it from becoming a tradition; an endless number of platforms, limited series, and erratic scheduling (I haven’t been excited about “The New Fall Season” in well over a decade) didn’t help, either.

This year, I started a spreadsheet listing every new series and every new season of returning series that I watched, along with a second tab of new shows/seasons I hoped to watch (I made decent progress on the latter, even if I never got around to a dozen new-ish shows ranging from For All Mankind to Fleishman Is In Trouble.) Rather than roll out a top ten accompanied by capsules for each title, here’s a simple list (with the platform each show aired on), followed by a longer essay.


Top Ten TV Series of 2022:

  1. Severance (Apple TV)
  2. Reservation Dogs (FX)
  3. Better Call Saul (AMC)
  4. Somebody Somewhere (HBO Max)
  5. Barry (HBO Max)
  6. The Rehearsal (HBO Max)
  7. The White Lotus (HBO Max)
  8. The Sandman (Netflix)
  9. Minx (HBO Max)
  10. Heartstopper (Netflix)

This year, I bit the bullet and subscribed to HBO Max indefinitely (as opposed to my usual month or two at a time)—a wise investment, since its shows make up half the list (even if they foolishly got rid of Minx in Dec.) Neither The White Lotus’ highly anticipated second season nor Barry’s even longer-awaited third season disappointed—in the latter’s case, it was the show’s best yet, further blurring what genre it was (Sitcom? Harrowing Crime Drama? Absurdist Tone Poem?) while giving Sarah Goldberg a slow-burn of a trajectory the elevated her performance to the same level of excellence as Bill Hader, Anthony Carrigan and a never-better Henry Winkler. I’m still on the fence whether The White Lotus’ Sicilian jaunt was better than the original Maui season, but one can’t accuse creator Mike White of cashing in or resting on his laurels (or Aubrey Plaza or Jennifer Coolidge, for that matter.) Hacks’ second season retained everything great about the first (plus Laurie Metcalf and Susie Essman) and just narrowly missed the top ten.

Getting back to Minx—what a well-cast and conceived period piece about feminism, journalism and sex (props to Starz for saving the show, which had nearly finished production on a second season when HBO Max’s parent Warner Discovery pulled the plug.) The Rehearsal was also a triumph, both exactly what one would expect from a follow-up to Nathan For You and so much more, almost like Synecdoche, New York transformed into an ongoing quest that never fully lays down all its cards. My favorite new show on the streamer, however, was Somebody Somewhere, a somewhat unlikely vehicle for the usually bawdy comic performer Bridget Everett—it valued community and the importance of cultivating dreams like no other show since my beloved, gone-too-soon Lodge 49.

Although Netflix still often stresses quantity over quality, it premiered two new series (both adapted from graphic novels) that made my list. Heartstopper I instantly fell for with its well-cast leads, gentle demeanor and its comprehension (along with the streamer’s) that the world was more than ready for a nuanced gay teen romance. Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, on the other hand, took a few episodes to connect with—understandable, given that nearly each one could be the seedling for a different branch of a show. Headier and riskier than say, Stranger Things, it’s a compelling vortex if you happily give yourself over to getting lost in it.

Breaking Bad’s final season topped my 2013 list; this year, its spinoff/prequel’s final season comes close. Overall, Better Call Saul is the better show in that I’d much rather watch it again in its entirely than its predecessor (also, Kim Wexler is more fascinating a parallel protagonist than Jesse Pinkman.) While the final run of episodes might’ve been tighter (Carol Burnett or not), that it ends up a show about redemption puts the entire series in a class with The Americans and Mad Men.

Reservation Dogs has potential to end up a show of such distinction. I began watching the first season (which aired in 2021) in late summer and after a typically embryonic pilot, the show’s rhythms clicked into place but continued to evolve. By the first season’s end, it revealed itself as a show about grief as experienced by four Native American teenagers and their extended community, which gradually expanded in the second season, building worlds upon worlds for a people whose story the medium had previously at best, ignored (and at worst, misrepresented); that it does so by forgoing sanctimony for a more complex mix of emotions and tones makes it nearly the best series currently airing.

Severance, however, is something else. Nearly Netflix’s opposite, Apple TV seems to value quality over quantity: DickinsonMythic QuestLootBad Sisters, even Ted Lasso (we’ll just ignore The Morning Show) are all personal projects that reward the time put into them but Severance defies categorization. Tempted to compared it to Twin Peaks, I knew better, remembering when I likened the unclassifiable Lodge 49 to Northern Exposure—it hints at an overarching sensibility but is still entirely its own thing. The Office meets The Twilight Zone doesn’t do it justice, either. Talk about building one’s own universe—the production design is as distinct (and as radically different from) a Wes Anderson film, yet it doesn’t overshadow the emotional beats of its slippery narrative or fiercely dedicated performances from Adam Scott, Patricia Arquette, John Turturro, et al. Each episode both a gift and a puzzle, it is the one show from 2022 I want to re-watch right now because perception of it shifts continually, like if The Good Place was sci-fi/thriller instead of a sitcom. Hoping the second season, to air later this year sustains and further enhances what the first one assembled without faltering and/or withering.

Our Flag Means Death

Honorable Mentions:

Abbott Elementary*, Documentary Now!, Ghosts, Hacks, A League of Their Own, The Marvelous Ms. Maisel, Only Murders In The Building, The Orville: New Horizons, Our Flag Means Death, The Righteous Gemstones, Russian Doll, Search Party, Wednesday, What We Do In The Shadows

(*watched the first season (early 2022) but not the second yet)

Haven’t Finished the Current Season, But Am Invested:

Bad Sisters, Derry Girls, Loot, Physical, Welcome to Chippendales

2022 Booklist

I read exactly the same number of books as last year, though that doesn’t necessarily mean I read as much. Look through the list below and you’ll find nothing nearly as long as My Struggle (Book 6) or Don Quixote (though the compulsively readable The Goldfinch sprawls way past the 500-page mark.) Of the eight re-reads, Tom Spanbauer’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age-in-1960s-Idaho novel was the most enjoyable, but Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Good Squad proved the most illuminating, particularly in those moments where she anticipated (if not quite fully predicted) the current era.

My ten favorite new-ish books I read in 2022 (unranked; in alphabetical order by author’s last name):

Jennifer Egan, The Candy House

As sequels to Pulitzer Prize-winning novels go, this gets a nod over Andrew Sean Greer’s pretty great Less Is Lost for its sheer ambition. Matching and occasionally exceeding the first book, Egan shifts her focus from music to technology which allows her to cast an even wider net without obscuring the ethical and psychological implications of humans having access to, well, everything.

Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads

Franzen’s long-form fiction is so consistent he might be my favorite current American novelist. This typical-for-him doorstop, the first in a purported trilogy is simply what he does best. A rich but contained familial drama set mostly in 1971, it’s like The Corrections after two decades of lived experience informing an attitude that neither belittles nor deifies its well-drawn characters.

Hannah Gadsby, Ten Steps To Nanette

You’d wouldn’t expect a by-the-numbers memoir from Gadsby or even her one-woman show Nanette simply retold in book form. Although this serves as both memoir and Nanette companion, it’s also a fascinating deconstruction of Gadsby’s history, persona and, in meticulous detail, how she conceived and constructed the monologue that made her infamous.

Jessi Klein, I’ll Show Myself Out

I enjoyed this as much as You’ll Grow Out Of It, television writer/producer/voice actor Klein’s first essay collection from 2016. Following the birth of her son, this sequel consists of amusing, caustic and often riotously funny observations of raising a young child in your 40s. More Sedaris than Bombeck, Klein deserves an audience as bountiful as either of them.

Mary Jo Pehl, Dumb Dumb Dumb: My Mother’s Book Reviews

Best known as a writer/performer on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Pehl’s slim but satisfying memoir has a novel slant. Following her mother’s death, Pehl discovers a box full of notecards containing handwritten, haiku-like thoughts on the books she had read. From these pithy remnants, she assembles (with disarming Midwestern humor) a multifaceted portrait of her mom while also surveying her own grief.

Sarah Polley, Run Towards The Danger

A child actor-turned-director/screenwriter, Polley’s been mostly MIA for the past decade; this essay collection explains why. Due to a freak accident, she suffered brain damage that left her unable to work. She’s now recovered (her new film, Women Talking, is in theaters as I write this) and uses this experience as a catalyst for six essays about taking risks, working through trauma and confronting the unknown. Happily, her essaying retains all of the steel-eyed complexity and personable wit of her other creative pursuits.

David Sedaris, Happy-Go-Lucky

The newfound depth and maturity on display in 2018’s Calypso continues in this latest collection. Sedaris muses on life during COVID, naturally, but also centers on his 98-year-old father’s decline and death and his own mortality. Rest assured, even as he delves further into personal and often uncomfortable places (from American gun culture to revelations about his father), he has little difficulty locating the humor in such taboos without coming off as cynical or flippant. 

Gary Shteyngart, Our Country Friends

Having written a novel set during the 2016 election, Shteyngart’s follow-up concerns a family and their friends sequestering themselves at a crumbling, upstate New York estate in the early days of the pandemic. It reads like a Robert Altman-directed French farce as filtered through the author’s unique, endearing perspective of an immigrant writer/humorist forever navigating/questioning/discovering their own place in America.

Bob Stanley, Let’s Do It

A companion to 2013’s Yeah Yeah Yeah, a history of modern pop (i.e. the Rock and Roll era), this tracks everything that came before, from the dawn of popular music at the turn of the 20th Century to early 1950s crooners and their adherents in the following two decades. It doesn’t cohere as well as its predecessor but Stanley writes so eloquently about everyone from Duke Ellington to Rod McKuen that it winds up another essential tome for nearly all music fans.

Martha Wainwright, Stories I Might Regret Telling You

Often in the shadow of her parents and older brother, Wainwright’s own talent as a singer/songwriter is nothing to scoff at. Her memoir might be the best I’ve encountered by a musician since Liz Phair’s Horror Stories in that Martha exhibits a candor fully in tune with the book’s title without seeming sensationalist or self-indulgent. She’s set a high bar if Rufus ever decides to attempt a memoir of his own.


Here’s my complete 2022 Booklist, with titles in chronological order of when I finished reading them (starred entries are books I’ve re-read):

  1. Tom Gatti (ed.), Long Players
  2. Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads
  3. Tamara Shopsin, LaserWriter II
  4. Gary Shteyngart, Our Country Friends
  5. Kelefa Sanneh, Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres
  6. Dana Stevens, Camera Man
  7. Jennifer Egan, A Visit From The Goon Squad*
  8. Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store
  9. David Mitchell, Ghostwritten
  10. Chuck Klosterman, The Nineties
  11. Marilynne Robinson, Jack
  12. Peter Terzian (ed.), Heavy Rotation
  13. Mel Brooks, All About Me!
  14. Dale Peck, What We Lost*
  15. Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna
  16. Ann Patchett, The Dutch House
  17. Kurt Vonnegut, Deadeye Dick*
  18. John Dos Passos, 1919
  19. Stephen King, On Writing
  20. Augusten Burroughs, Running With Scissors*
  21. Alex Jeffrey, Donna Summer’s Once Upon A Time (33 1/3 series)
  22. Bob Odenkirk, Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama
  23. Julie Klausner, I Don’t Care About Your Band*
  24. David Sedaris, Happy-Go-Lucky
  25. Karen Fowler Joy, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
  26. Jessi Klein, I’ll Show Myself Out
  27. Sarah Polley, Run Towards The Danger
  28. Mary Karr, The Liars Club
  29. John Waters, Liarmouth
  30. Jennifer Egan, The Candy House
  31. Carson McCullers, Collected Stories*
  32. Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
  33. Sloane Crosley, Cult Classic
  34. Tom Perrotta, Tracy Flick Can’t Win
  35. Lesley Chow, You’re History: The Twelve Strangest Women In Music
  36. Charlie Berens, The Midwest Survival Guide
  37. Amos Vogel, Film As A Subversive Art
  38. Hannah Gadsby, Ten Steps To Nanette
  39. Molly Shannon, Hello, Molly!
  40. Geoff Dyer, The Last Days Of Roger Federer
  41. Kliph Nesteroff, We Had A Little Real Estate Problem
  42. Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg, Full Service
  43. Paul Rudnick, Playing The Palace
  44. Martha Wainwright, Stories I Might Regret Telling You
  45. Patricia Bosworth, Montgomery Clift: A Biography
  46. Bob Stanley, Let’s Do It
  47. Mary Jo Pehl, Dumb Dumb Dumb: My Mother’s Book Reviews
  48. Tom Spanbauer, Now Is The Hour*
  49. Andrew Sean Greer, Less is Lost
  50. Michael Schur, How To Be Perfect
  51. Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens
  52. Tom Breihan, The Number Ones
  53. Stanley Elkin, Mrs. Ted Bliss
  54. Alan Cumming, Not My Father’s Son
  55. Samantha Irby, We Are Never Meeting In Real Life*

2022: Extraordinary Colors

The year I came back, heck, we all came back from the dead even if the pandemic’s not over yet. Regardless, we needed this—life can’t possibly be the same as before, so all we can do is seek that which inspires us to go forward. In that regard, Jessie Ware’s “Free Yourself” is the track of the year: an invitation to the dancefloor (among other activities), a commandment more than a request, it pleads for renewal, self-expression and cathartic release. Currently a standalone single (it may or may not appear on Ware’s next album, rumored for 2023), it’s also a natural progression from last year’s best song, “Like I Used To”: “Keep on moving up that mountaintop,” indeed.

Even if their albums didn’t crack my top ten, a number of veteran acts put out exceptional singles this year: Beach House fine-tuning their dream-pop gauze with “Superstar”, Alison Goldfrapp returning as a guest on Röyksopp’s burbling epic “Impossible”, Hurray For The Riff Raff’s searing, anthemic “Pierced Arrows”, Regina Spektor still a delightful weirdo on the tip-top whimsy of “Up The Mountain”, even The Dream Syndicate, having now released as many albums in the past decade as in their original 1980s incarnation proving their continued worth with “Damian”—as brisk and cool as an evening wind.

Among artists new to me in 2022: Australian Hatchie, whose “Quicksand” pays homage to late Cocteau Twins and gets away with it for being as precise and pleasurable as late Siouxsie and the Banshees; Bartees Strange, in the running to become his generation’s Stew only as a postpunk explorer instead of a showtunes guy; Alex G, an indie weirdo crafting jingle-worthy jangle pop on “Runner” while managing to turn the lyric, “Load it up, know your trigger like the back of my hand” a sing-along hook; and The xx’s Oliver Sim in his solo debut, a sly, queer commentary too jaunty and droll to fit in his band’s discography (and presented to best effect in Yann Gonzalez’s short film Hideous.)

Also: Tears For Fears reunited and made an album that didn’t suck, Yeah Yeah Yeahs reunited and made an album that was at best inconsequential save for the dramatic, searing “Burning”, Junior Boys returned with Waiting Game which lacked actual tunes expect for the evocative closer of a title track and First Aid Kit showed they’re ready for world domination even if the Fleetwood Mac-worthy “Out of My Head” won’t actually accomplish it. What I’m craving in the year to come, however, is more stuff like Christine and The Queens’ “Combien de Temps”, an eight-and-a-half-minute vamp that gradually feels more knowing than it initially lets on while fully sustaining its stoned groove as if it were Traffic (or perhaps Morcheeba.) Supposedly, there’s more to come from that project in 2023 along with Emm Gryner, who previewed her forthcoming Business and Pleasure with “Valencia”, a yacht rock homage that acknowledges regret but firmly pushes towards brighter days ahead.

My favorite songs of 2022:

Best Albums of 2022

Instead of my usual multi-post countdown, here are my top ten albums of the year, starting at number one. Number two is not too far behind and was my frontrunner for most of the year. All ten are pretty good-to-great and those in the Also Recommended list are all worth a listen.

1. Beth Orton, Weather Alive

After Trailer Park and Central Reservation, two striking, genre-expanding albums she made in the late 1990s, Orton continued putting out new music every couple of years. Apart from a track here or there, she often felt like an artist simply past her prime even if she rarely repeated herself, often distilling her approach into pure folk (2012’s Sugaring Season) or something predominantly electronic (2016’s Kidsticks.) Her latest studio album (and her first self-produced one) is less a reset or return-to-form than a bold leap forward. It defies categorization as much as those first two albums although it feels part of a British neo-folk tradition reaching back to Fairport Convention, John Martyn, even Everything But The Girl’s Amplified Heart. Its eight songs unfold at an unhurried pace, with Orton’s piano accompanied by murmuring saxophone, gentle polyrhythms and a haziness providing contrast to the sturdy melodic foundations. Most remarkable, though, are Orton’s vocals—now in her fifties, she exude more warmth and also mystery than before, emitting sounds both mellifluous and occasionally harsh. Since its September release, Weather Alive has proven ideal Autumn-into-Winter listening; I suspect it’ll adapt nicely to Spring and Summer as well.

2. Big Thief, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

A double-length album in the age of maximum streaming seems like a potential folly, although with streaming comes flexibility from restrictive formats which proves a boon for this American folk-rock quartet. Their appeal has escaped me in the past (perhaps due to Adrianne Lenker’s plaintive vocals or lack of a novel angle) but here, track by track, they produce a lasting impact. Tusk of all things is the rough template, as this also kicks off with a ballad (“Change”) before branching out in 19 different directions (from the downhome stomp of “Spud Infinity” to the loping, lyrical pop of “Simulation Swarm”.) Then again, perhaps 69 Love Songs is a closer analogue (and not just because “Wake Me Up To Drive” actually resembles The Magnetic Fields)—throughout, Lenker and co. convey the intimacy of people simply playing together in a room while remaining open to seemingly limitless permutations.

3. Destroyer, Labyrinthitis

Dan Bejar stumbled upon a kind of genius with Kaputt, his 2011 yacht-rock-in-heaven opus. While he has hasn’t released a subpar album since, his latest is nearly its equal for building on the bizarro-world New Order-isms of ken and Have We Met? while burrowing further down the rabbit hole without getting lost (even with titles such as “Eat The Wine, Drink The Bread”.) Gradually building opener “It’s In Your Heart Now” only hints at the odd but appealing detours he takes, from the irresistible extended “rap”/funk breakdown of the second half of “June” to the trancelike “The States” and guitar-and-voice closer “The Last Song”. Labyrinthitis is Bejar’s 13th album as Destroyer and it still shows more potential than most acts with only three albums in their discography.

4. Stars, From Capelton Hill

This veteran Canadian indie-pop band’s first album in five years doesn’t necessarily do anything new; fortunately, it plays so well to all their strengths that it doesn’t much matter. The primary mood is pastoral and reflective—similar to 2010’s The Five Ghosts, only more consistent and confident. Still crafting music swoon-worthy enough for a John Hughes film (“I Need The Light”, “Back To The End”) or propulsive enough for a home dance party (“Build A Fire”, “Hoping”) their unforced exuberance, boy/girl vocals and chiming arrangements never grow old. Now, they further benefit from hindsight and accumulated wisdom.

5. Alvvays, Blue Rev

This Canadian indie-rock band’s first album in five years positively deepens the twee wall-of-sound approach of their evergreen 2014 single “Archie, Marry Me”. Dressing up their perfect pop instincts in reverb-heavy guitars, nimble key changes and melodies stuffed with hooks for days, their tunes’ less-than-three-minutes average duration thrills like early Ramones. Vocalist Molly Rankin’s careening tone, however, remains their most distinct feature and she sounds better than ever, whether she’s aiming for humor (rave-up “Pomeranian Spinster”, the hilarious, searing “Very Online Guy”) or heart (“Belinda Says”, a sparking tribute to the lead singer of The Go-Go’s.)

6. Wet Leg, Wet Leg

Last year’s “Chaise Longue” is one of those out-of-nowhere debut singles so sublime it could forever prove a tough act to follow; while this cheeky British female duo doesn’t exactly match it on their first full-length (which includes it), they’re far from a one-trick pony, even if their sharpest tunes (“Wet Dream”, “Angelica”, “Ur Mum”) exhibit a similarly bratty reserve. Some will balk at them singing about getting too high at the “Supermarket” and dropping Buffalo 66 references into their lyrics but name another band this buzzed-about as fully formed and disarmingly themselves.

7. Cate Le Bon, Pompeii

A Welsh weirdo who makes recordings that sound like Kate Bush 45 slooooowed down to 33 rpm, I got on her wavelength with her fifth album, 2019’s Reward; this follow-up is not so much a continuation as a refinement. Strip away the occasional goofy synth or honking sax and you’d be left with music not dissimilar to what you’d hear on Sirius XM’s Coffeehouse channel, except that Le Bon often sounds like she’s happily floating into the great beyond. Thankfully, the playfulness and humor in sweet, if slightly off tunes like “Remembering Me” and “Running Away” or even the near-anthemic “Moderation” comes through.

8. Arctic Monkeys, The Car

I didn’t care about them when they were post-Britpop breakouts in the mid-aughts or arena rawk stars about ten years ago; their transformation into spacey lounge music on 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino also passed me by. This seventh album, however, is enough for me to question if I’ve missed anything. Apparently extending the vibes of its irony-laden predecessor, it sounds completely out of time: wah-wah guitars, dramatic strings and Alex Turner’s Bowie-esque falsetto all suggest vintage American soul but it translates as something quiet, melancholy, almost unknowable and on standout “Body Paint”, soaring and majestic.

9. Jenny Hval, Classic Objects

Probably this Norwegian’s most accessible work (I haven’t heard all of her previous seven albums, though keep in mind her breakthrough was called Blood Bitch) but by no means lesser or boring due to that—not when it has a seven-minute tone poem named after an Apichatpong Weerasethakul film (“Cemetery of Splendour”) or the prog-pop epic “Jupiter”, a clear highlight which builds to a chewy, lovely mind-melting coda. Going for ethereal and bright instead of sinister and subterranean opens up worlds for her as does the world-music percussion and dreamlike chord changes that nearly seem like second nature to her.

10. beabadoobee, Beatopia

This 22-year-old Filipino-British wunderkind got my attention when, prior to her second album’s release, she remarked, “I’ve been really getting into a band called Stars.” Given her vocal similarity to that group’s Amy Millan, it’s not too much a stretch. On Beatopia, it’s merely a jumping off point. Sure, much of it sounds like it could’ve come from 2006 (or even 1996), but the guitar crunch (“Talk”) and wistful melodies (“Lovesong”, not a Cure cover) are everything one would want from such a formulation. Occasionally, she even transcends it (the lithe bossa nova of “The Perfect Pair”.)


Alex G, God Save The Animals

Andrew Bird, Inside Problems

Angel Olsen, Big Time

Christine and the Queens, Redcar les Adorables Étoiles

First Aid Kit, Palomino

Hatchie, Giving The World Away

Hot Chip, Freakout/Release

Sharon Van Etten, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong

Spoon, Lucifer On The Sofa

Sylvan Esso, (No Rules Sandy)

Tears For Fears, The Tipping Point

Weyes Blood, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow