A Year in Films and TV, Agatha Christie, Annie Ernaux, Audrey Diwan, Benicio del Toro, Better Call Saul, Emily, Emily Bronte, Emma Mackey, Frances O'Connor, Happening, Hit the Road, Julia Garner, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, Oscar Isaac, Ozark, Panah Panahi, Paul Schrader, Paul Thomas Anderson, Peter Bowles, Rhea Seehorn, Rooney Mara, Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, See How They Run, The Card Counter, Tom George
My favourite film of 2022 was one of the first I saw. Licorice Pizza is so light and joyful, with newcomers Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman perfectly cast as the goofy young lovers in the San Fernando Valley of 1973. The soundtrack is also masterful, especially David Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars’ during a hair-raising truck ride. I’m not a diehard fan of director Paul Thomas Anderson, but I do love his ‘Seventies trilogy’ (Boogie Nights, Inherent Vice, and now this.) For me, the only way Licorice Pizza – named after a record-store chain – could be improved is if it took the English form, ‘liquorice.’ But then it wouldn’t be California, would it?
Frances O’Connor’s debut feature, Emily, is a tricky proposition. Her vision of Emily Brontë’s life is highly counterfactual – more Cathy Earnshaw than To Walk Invisible – and I suspect Emily would hate it. The bogus William Weightman romance and overly harsh portrayals of Patrick and Charlotte Brontë were misguided, while sister Anne is predictably overlooked. And yet I was instantly won over by Emma Mackey’s commanding performance, and cinematographer Nanu Segal’s sweeping views of the Yorkshire moors. Fionn Whitehead’s turn as wayward brother Branwell was also a game-changer, alongside the gorgeous costumes by Michael O’Connor, and Abel Korzeniowski’s sumptuous score.
After the success of First Reformed (2018), Paul Schrader confirms he’s ‘still got it’ with The Card Counter, starring one of my favourite leading men, Oscar Isaac, as ‘William Tell,’ a disgraced soldier turned professional gambler, with able support from Tiffany Haddish. This tense, cerebral thriller is also a timely reckoning with the legacy of war.
Hit the Road is a crackling debut from Iranian filmmaker Panah Panahi, following a family’s road trip from Tehran to the country’s outer limits. The purpose of their journey is never made clear, but likely connected to wider struggles. A scene-stealing Rayan Sarlak gives one of the most captivating performances I’ve ever seen from a child. Hassan Madjooni is also remarkable as his grouchy dad, and Pantea Panahiha brings a soulful maternal presence, with their little tribe completed by Amin Simiar as the withdrawn elder son whose future is at stake.
Set in early 1960s France, when the Catholic church still held sway, Audrey Diwan’s Happening traces the battle of a young student (Anamaria Vartolemei) to make her own choice when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. Just as Hit the Road mirrors the recent uprising in Iran, the release of Happening coalesced with new threats to women’s rights in America – and is based on an autobiographical novel by this year’s Nobel prizewinner, Annie Ernaux.
Adapted from a play which gently lampooned the 70-year West End run of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, Tom George’s big-screen debut, See How They Run, exploits the current trend for whodunnits (sparked by Knives Out in 2019), with a light-footed murder mystery going behind the scenes of the original production. Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan head a top-notch cast as the world-weary detective and his wide-eyed protegée, in this affectionate parody of luvviedom in austerity-hit 1950s London.
Benicio del Toro’s remake of film noir classic Nightmare Alley – itself based on William Lindsay Gresham’s feverish novel – does not subsume, but enhances the original. A Faustian tale which veers from carny culture to high-society mesmerism, a luminous performance by Rooney Mara as ‘Electric Girl’ Molly stands out among the all-star cast.
On the small screen, I enjoyed the final season of Better Call Saul, starring Bob Odenkirk as the amoral yet likeable lawyer-for-hire. In its own ambling way, I’d say it’s superior to its progenitor, Breaking Bad – partly due to Rhea Seehorn’s fine performance as Saul’s better half, Kim Wexler. Another Netflix series that signed off this year, Ozark didn’t maintain its early promise, but as teenage badass Ruth Langmore – one of the most compelling characters in recent TV history – Julia Garner carried the show to its bitter end.
And finally, among the many entertainers we lost this year, I have a particular soft spot for Peter Bowles, the suave English actor who graced numerous television shows in the 1970s and ’80s. He’s best-known for To the Manor Born and Only When I Laugh, but I fondly remember Lytton’s Diary, and his guest spot on Rising Damp. (Peter was also a favourite of Quentin Tarantino, whom he unwittingly snubbed in a Nottingham pub.)