Overstreet's Favorite Films of 2022 — Part Three: The Top Ten

This weekend, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will pretend to know what the "best" movies of 2022 are. (They'll probably give the Big Award to Everything Everywhere All at Once... or, maybe The Fabelmans.)

And I will suffer through it as usual — the flaunting of wealth, the idolatry, the absurd popularity contest — just to savor those few moments when we see real human beings expressing their gratitude to other human beings for their support and inspiration.

"Best." Okay. Come on. No human beings have seen all of the feature films of 2022. Very few have seen several 2022 releases more than once., Far fewer would be able to demonstrate that they are moviegoers with enough education, experience, and insight to engage in substantial critical conversation. And far fewer have engaged in ongoing and substantial conversations about many of those films. So... no. It's my opinion that nobody anywhere is qualified to declare the "Best Films" of 2022. And those that do should admit that this is all a dubious and speculative endeavor.

Switch the word Best for Favorite ... and we have a whole new conversation.

What are your favorite films of the year? And why? If you tell me that, you're probably telling me as much about yourself as you are about the films. And that's a good thing! I want to get to know you. If I tell you about my favorites, you'll learn a lot about me: my history, my beliefs, my loves, my fears, my questions, my idiosyncrasies.

What if the Academy switched the word "Best" with "Favorite" for each award? That would be more honest. The awards would much more clearly represent which films they want to honor at this moment, given the limitations of their own viewing and understanding?

But I've ranted about these things before. Let's change the subject...

Paid subscribers to my journal Give Me Some Light got to read this list
more than two weeks ago, and they also get to see exclusive video reviews
of each film in my top ten. Subscriptions to exclusive posts are only
five bucks a month.

2022 was the year we found out if the big-screen experience was a thing of the past or not. And the answer was (much to our relief) "No!"

Not yet, anyway.

Crowds packed the house for Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water and Everything Everywhere All at Once. And I got the cinemas to see movies the way they were meant to be seen many, many times this year. Big blockbusters, arthouse films from overseas, obscure documentaries — all projected onto a big screen in front of a community. I went with groups of friends; I took Anne out on movie dates; and I saw quite a few "alone" but in the company of my neighbors. And I had the joy of seeing my favorite film of the year at the Seattle International Film Festival's Uptown alongside some of my students in the midst of a huge and celebratory audience that laughed and cried together. 2022 was one of the richest moviegoing years of my life, and it seems like new waves of creativity are transforming cinema, with the most imaginative and wildly unconventional Oscar Best Picture nominee of all time looking likely to win the award. That's so encouraging.

I've invested more time and energy in reading about, discussing, and writing about the movies of 2022 than I ever have for a film year before. You can track my writing, my conversations, my second-thoughts, and more in a variety of places: here at Looking Closer, on Letterboxd, on my new Substack journal Give Me Some Light, on the movie-year-in-review episodes of Veterans of Culture Wars (Part One and Part Two), and beyond.



  • Writers and directors: “Daniels” (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)
  • Synopsis via Letterboxd: “An aging Chinese immigrant is swept up in an insane adventure, where she alone can save what’s important to her by connecting with the lives she could have led in other universes.”
  • My synopsis (from Looking Closer): “Evelyn (played by the great Michelle Yeoh) lives an exasperating life of multi-tasking as a wife trying to save her marriage to Waymond (Ke Huy Quan); a mother trying to save her relationship with her despairing daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu); a laundromat manager trying to save the family business from an aggressive auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis); a daughter trying to take care of her declining father Gong Gong (James Hong); and a dreamer (a novelist, a singer, and more) trying to sustain her romantic hopes — but when she discovers that she is just one of countless Evelyns living different lives across an incomprehensibly complicated ‘multi-verse,’ she must learn to advance her multi-tasking skills exponentially in order to fight a demonic power called Jobu Tupaki, a black hole that threatens to suck all meaning from the universe, and that is rapidly corrupting her daughter.”

Here at Looking Closer, you can read my mulitiple conversations about multiple viewings of this multi-verse movie.

Listen to me rave about this film in Part One of the Veterans of Culture Wars annual special on "The Best Movies of 2022."

Paid subscribers to Give Me Some Light have access to my video review of this film.


  • Director: Maria Speth
  • Synopsis via Letterboxd: “Mr. Bachmann And His Class explores the close bond between an elementary school teacher and his students. His unconventional methods clash with the complex social and cultural realities of the provincial German industrial town they live in.”

Here are my Letterboxd notes.

Listen to me rave about this film in Part Two of the Veterans of Culture Wars annual special on "The Best Movies of 2022."

Paid subscribers to Give Me Some Light have access to my video review of this film.


  • Writer and director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • Synopsis via Letterboxd: “A Scottish orchid farmer visiting her ill sister in Bogotá, Colombia, befriends a young musician and a French archaeologist in charge of monitoring a century-long construction project to tunnel through the Andes mountain range. Each night, she is bothered by increasingly loud bangs which prevent her from getting any sleep.”

Here’s my review.

Listen to me rave about this film in Part Two of the Veterans of Culture Wars annual special on "The Best Movies of 2022."

Paid subscribers to Give Me Some Light have access to my video review of this film.


  • Writer and director: Martin McDonagh
  • Synopsis via Letterboxd: “Two lifelong friends find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship, with alarming consequences for both of them.”

Here are my Letterboxd notes for the first viewing and the second viewing.

Paid subscribers to Give Me Some Light have access to my video review of this film.


  • Director: Brett Morgen
  • Synopsis via Letterboxd: “A cinematic odyssey featuring never-before-seen footage exploring David Bowie’s creative and musical journey.”

Here are my Letterboxd notes.

Listen to me rave about this film in Part Two of the Veterans of Culture Wars annual special on "The Best Movies of 2022."

Paid subscribers to Give Me Some Light have access to my video review of this film.


  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Writers: Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner
  • Synopsis via Letterboxd: “A coming-of-age story about a young man’s discovery of a shattering family secret and an exploration of the power of movies to help us see the truth about each other and ourselves.”

Here are my Letterboxd notes.

Listen to me rave about this film in Part Two of the Veterans of Culture Wars annual special on "The Best Movies of 2022."

Paid subscribers to Give Me Some Light have access to my video review of this film.


  • Writer and director: Sarah Polley
  • Based on the novel Women Talking by Miriam Toews.
  • Synopsis via Letterboxd: “A group of women in an isolated religious colony struggle to reconcile their faith with a string of sexual assaults committed by the colony’s men.”

Here are my Letterboxd notes.

Listen to me rave about this film in Part Two of the Veterans of Culture Wars annual special on "The Best Movies of 2022."

Paid subscribers to Give Me Some Light have access to my video review of this film.


  • Writer and director: Alexandre Koberidze
  • Synopsis via Letterboxd: “In the Georgian riverside town of Kutaisi, summertime romance and World Cup fever are in the air. After a pair of chance encounters, pharmacist Lisa and soccer player Giorgi find their plans for a date undone when they both awaken magically transformed with no way to recognize each other.”

Here are my Letterboxd notes.

Listen to me rave about this film in Part Two of the Veterans of Culture Wars annual special on "The Best Movies of 2022."

Paid subscribers to Give Me Some Light have access to my video review of this film.


  • Writer and director: Kogonada
  • Synopsis via Letterboxd: “When his young daughter’s beloved companion, an android named Yang[,] malfunctions, Jake searches for a way to repair him. In the process, Jake discovers the life that has been passing in front of him, reconnecting with his wife and daughter across a distance he didn’t know was there.”

Here are my Letterboxd notes.

Listen to me rave about this film in Part Two of the Veterans of Culture Wars annual special on "The Best Movies of 2022."

Paid subscribers to Give Me Some Light have access to my video review of this film.


  • Director: Dean Fleischer Camp
  • Writers: Dean Fleischer Camp, Jenny Slate, Nick Paley

Synopsis via Letterboxd: “Marcel is an adorable one-inch-tall shell who ekes out a colorful existence with his grandmother Connie and their pet lint, Alan. Once part of a sprawling community of shells, they now live alone as the sole survivors of a mysterious tragedy. But when a documentary filmmaker discovers them amongst the clutter of his Airbnb, the short film he posts online brings Marcel millions of passionate fans, as well as unprecedented dangers and a new hope at finding his long-lost family.”

Listen to me rave about this film in Part Two of the Veterans of Culture Wars annual special on "The Best Movies of 2022."

Paid subscribers to Give Me Some Light have access to my video review of this film.

Overstreet’s Favorite Films of 2022 — Part Two: Top-Ten-Worthy Runners-Up

If you read through Part One, which was a list of epic proportions, you already have a long list of 2022 feature films I'd recommend — for the challenges, for the surprises, for the imagination, for the wisdom.

But wait — there’s more!

Those were the “Honorable Mentions.” These?

The fifteen films on this — the "Top-Ten-Worthy Runners-Up List" — all belong in my Top Ten List for the year,
and I cannot believe I'm not including them on that list.

If I’m being honest, I’ll admit that any one of these might suddenly be bumped up into the Top Ten next time I see it, because all of these gave me so much to discover, enjoy, and ponder — and a sense that there’s so much more to discover, enjoy, and ponder next time that I never realized the first time. And yes, I will be watching all of these again.

If you have thoughts about any of them, or if you want to link to your own reviews, post them in the Comments! I want to learn more. I want to be persuaded.

As I wrote this post, I was ranking them in order of how eager I am to see them again. But eventually I gave up. If my Top Ten had never been released, I’d have looked at these and said “What an extraordinary year!” anyway.

For what it's worth: Subscribers to my new online Substack newsletter Give Me Some Light received this list in its entirety a few weeks ago. If you want to get posts like this one early, subscribe!


Some of these films (The Worst Person in the World and Petit Maman, for example) played in festivals and in NY/LA awards-qualifying runs in 2021. But I’m counting them as 2022 releases because that’s when they came off of the festival circuit and gained a wide release — either in theaters or streaming — so that I, in the cinema-savvy city of Seattle, could access them without getting them on a plane. I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of American moviegoers couldn’t have seen them before 2022, and thus they became a part of the common cinephile conversation in 2022. There. That’s how I rationalize my standards on a subject that is always maddeningly subjective.


Writer and director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Synopsis via Letterboxd: “Sang-hyeon is the owner of a launderette and a volunteer at the nearby church, where his friend Dong-soo works. The two run an illegal business together: Sang-hyeon occasionally steals babies from the church’s baby box with the help of Dong-soo, who deletes the church’s CCTV footage that shows a baby was left there, and they sell them on the adoption black market. But when a young mother, So-young, comes back after having abandoned her baby, she discovers them and decides to go with them on a road-trip to interview the baby’s potential infertile parents. Meanwhile, two detectives, Soo-jin and Detective Lee, are on their trail.”

From my Letterboxd notes:

I went to see Broker reluctantly tonight.

I was feeling beaten down by hardships, and betrayed by those who speak of grace and love when they're at a microphone but then, behind closed doors, contrive to deny such things to those who need them.

And so, the prospect of dedicating an evening to a movie that puts words like "COMPASSION" and "TENDER" in the trailer in all caps... well, it felt like it might just add insult to injury. Fantasies with happy endings can really sour my spirit if the world is making such things seem impossible.

Shouldn't I know better by now? Hirozaku Kore-eda's Shoplifters showed up at the very end of 2018, and I approached that one warily as well. It overcame my cynicism and delighted and moved me so much it catapulted into my top 10 for that year. But no, I still haven't learned my lesson. I'm still braced to suffer a movie that feels manipulative or superficial in its comforts. I'm not in the mood for art that contrives hopefulness out of wishful thinking.

But in Broker, as in Shoplifters, the world is the problem — not Kore-eda's hopefulness. I think his strength comes from the fact that he knows that the world is in dire straits, and he portrays that with honesty born of experience. (This is the guy who made the harrowing Nobody Knows, after all.) But in his recent storytelling, he's begun to remind me a little of Miyazaki: Where others tend to invest their talents in spectacular visions of trouble and violence, he gives his all to discover poignantly human moments of goodness, gentleness, generosity, insight, and decency. And his gift is that he not only finds them, but he draws performances from actors that make those moments ring true.

And, as a result, Broker, like Shoplifters, is good medicine for weary hearts, and, yes, one of my favorite films of 2022, which has been an outstanding year in cinema.- - -Song Kang Ho is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. He's pure joy here. And IU (Lee Ji-eun) is positively radiant.


Writer and director: Jordan Peele

Universal Pictures Synopsis (via IMDB): “After random objects falling from the sky result in the death of their father, ranch-owning siblings OJ and Emerald Haywood attempt to capture video evidence of an unidentified flying object with the help of tech salesman Angel Torres and documentarian Antlers Holst.”

From my Letterboxd notes:

I loved the big-screen spectacle of this. And, as with his first two films, Peele is wryly commenting on (and, at times lamenting) cultural sins that have gone unacknowledged and unresolved.

It's hard to cook up, at this point, a fresh take on UFOs for a summer blockbuster, and I applaud Peele for serving something clever and surprising. I also applaud his cast: As the central horse trainer whose ranch is terrorized by a mystery, Daniel Kaluuya dials everything down where most actors would have cranked things up. He's so, so good at this. Keke Palmer is funny, spirited, and frantic as his sister. Steven Yeun is strange as a trauma survivor and showman in an adjacent storyline (which provides the true horror of the film) that helps us interpret what's going on in the main narrative. And, well, what a joy to see Michael Wincott in a significant big screen role again as something other than a sneering villain!

But if I were at the writing table, I'd have recommended they leave the title... in the title. It's spoken several times in the film with diminishing comic returns.


Writer and director: James Gray

Synopsis by Letterboxd: “A deeply personal coming-of-age story about the strength of family and the generational pursuit of the American Dream.”

From my Letterboxd notes:

Jeremy Strong in the last act of Armageddon Time looks and moves so much like my father that I may never recover. Same jacket, cap, glasses, hair, expressions. Uncanny. If his voice had been anywhere close to my dad’s, I’d have had to leave.

My father never beat me. Never discouraged my desire to make art. Never told me to get a real job. Never shouted at me. Gave everything so I could go to a good school and practice creativity. I am so grateful.

But then my family and community rejoiced when Reagan won. “A good Christian man” who would do something about crime and drugs. The best thing about the rich getting richer was that the success would trickle down to the poor! Well… we know how that turned out. (I wouldn’t wake up to the ugly truth about those old reliable GOP bullshit tactics about wealth, whiteness, “law and order,” and posturing as “pro-life” for many years.) So… we had our problems. What’s more — I never had more than one black classmate at my evangelical Christian private school, and remained ignorant of and uncomfortably disinterested in all questions about race—or poverty, for that matter—until college.

So, this film—although it feels frustratingly guarded and muted, like every aspect from the camera to the performances are being held back, and although its white-guilt penance is heavy-handed—is nevertheless going to stick with me as a film in which I saw a life very like my own, meaningfully similar, meaningfully different. I see so many ways in which my community’s privilege and fear kept me sheltered from necessary truths of the world, so many ways in which I was spared hardship and blessed with priceless gifts.


Directors: Guillermo Del Toro and Mark Gustafson

Writers: Guillermo Del Toro and Patrick McHale

Synopsis via Letterboxd: “During the rise of fascism in Mussolini’s Italy, a wooden boy brought magically to life struggles to live up to his father’s expectations.”

From my Letterboxd notes:

Well... it's truth in advertising:

Gorgeous puppetry and extravagant sets.

Darker, stranger, and braver storytelling than Disney animation has ever dared (and thus truer in spirit to "the old tales" like Collodi's 1883 original).

And, above all, it's Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio — a re-imagining of Collodi's strange story in a way that allows the enfant terrible of big-screen fantasy to preach another conflicted and ultimately confusing Del Toro Gospel — Christianity-reviling and yet Christ-haunted at the same time — even as he indulges increasingly familiar and derivative-of-themselves Del Toro fantasies.

For me, the most interesting thing about Del Toro's films is that, despite their childish attachment to moments of cathartic violence against villains, and their increasingly predictable attacks on Christianity as merely a system for exploiting people's hopes and keeping them in line... the philosophy these films illustrate feels at war with itself, incongruous with the "deeper magic" of mythology to suggest something timeless and eternal.

There is a lot of energy expended here on emphasizing the connection between the church and fascism. What complicates that in a fascinating way is how the figure of Jesus — so surprisingly prominent here — manifests as a "puppet," a character carved from wood, fitted together with puppetry joints, and lifted up for people to marvel at in ways that allow evil men to exploit the enchanted. In a way, Jesus himself escapes the complaint. The real enemies here are manipulative and abusive institutions, not the Gospel itself. The accusations are fashioned to criticize a corrupt religious establishment rather than the Loving and Living Word of God.

But Del Toro never seems to figure out how to reconcile this. He throws the Baby Jesus out with the dirty bathwater he's been immersed in. He has to dismiss the possibility of "eternal life" and a Loving God, reducing everything to the popular and practical gospel of just "being good" — one that doesn't seem to work out too well in the real world.

- - -

Fortunately for audiences, there are other forces at work in Del Toro's storytelling than his reductive philosophies. Maybe that's why he keeps telling stories. Maybe they aren't finished with him yet.

I can't help but notice that Geppetto still sleeps under a sign of the cross, and it's still there at the end of the film, like something Del Toro can't bring himself to give up.


Director: Park Chan-wook

Writers: Jeong Seo-kyeong and Park Chan-wook

Synopsis via Letterboxd: “Hae-Joon, a seasoned detective, investigates the suspicious death of a man on a mountaintop. Soon, he begins to suspect Seo-rae, the deceased’s wife, while being unsettled by his attraction to her.”

From my Letterboxd notes:

On how much Hitch could Park Chan-Wook riff
if Park Chan-Wook could riff on Hitch?
Park Chan-Wook would riff on all the Hitch he could
if Park Chan-Wook could riff on Hitch!

And, in fact, he has! Decision to Leave finds Park Chan-Wook riffing on so much Hitchcock that it seems like the old master deserves to have his name in the credits!

I mean... my head was spinning so violently with how many reversals of the famous Stewart/Novak dynamics Park wove into this long (over-long?), complicated (over-complicated?) tapestry that I got dizzier than Jimmy Stewart standing on a stepladder.

    • Cops and detectives chasing crooks across rooftops.
    • A rocky precipice above violent, smashing waves.
    • The shots of Detective Hae-jun driving slowly behind his suspect and even commenting on how he enjoys trailing a mark.
    • A vivid bouquet.
    • A shot with the tormented cop/femme fatale against a mirror image emphasizing the ways in which they are "doubled."
    • The "vertigo" shot (the dolly zoom).
    • The low-angle shots of Park Hae-il as the discombobulated detective, often looking down from high places.
    • And even a literal whirlpool that would've made Hitchcock wish he'd thought of that as another variation of the spirals that are the engines of Vertigo.

I'm both delighted by the giddy extravagance of these relentless callbacks/tributes/spoofs of Vertigo and frustrated with how they constantly disrupt my suspension of disbelief. I've never really been on Park Chan-Wook's wavelength — I'm sure it's not him, it's me — and until now Stoker was the only film of his I've really enjoyed (I have some admiration for aspects of Thirst, but I've always disliked Oldboy). But I enjoyed this as much as Bong's Parasite, and I'm glad it's in the running for the Oscars' International Feature award. I just can't tell how much of my enjoyment is about my love for Vertigo and how much I care about this film apart from that clever re-imagining.


Director: Joachim Trier

Writers: Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt

Synopsis via Letterboxd: “Chronicles four years in the life of Julie, a young woman who navigates the troubled waters of her love life and struggles to find her career path, leading her to take a realistic look at who she really is.”

From my Letterboxd notes:

More than any other movie I can think of right off the top of my head, this is a movie that will quickly divide audiences into moviegoers who judge a complicated character and moviegoers who are curious about and capable of empathizing with a complicated character.

Julie is a character whose decisions hurt people all around her, behavior I was taught to condemn. But Trier's film draws us into such intimacy with Julie that eventually it becomes possible to see just how much the world she's in has been harming her, starving her, depriving her of being seen and known (especially by herself). The fact that she ends up harming most another complicated, imperfect human — who, I believe, loves her and knows her better than most — is a shame. But people who are neglected and disrespected and made to feel unvalued from childhood run on deeply fractured software, and loving them as they find their way through the wreckage of their hearts and minds is costly. I've seen it happen in so many relationships. I've been in those relationships. I've been impatient with and dismissive of people like Julie. And, frankly, I know that anyone who dares to love me is in for some rather disappointing revelations — so there are moments when I recognize my own most-alarming behaviors in Julie.

The trailer made me think that this was the kind of movie that makes me furious and I end up wishing I hadn't seen. There is nothing more aggravating for me than a story that takes infidelity lightly and that champions the libido as faultless, as the guiding moral compass, as an appetite that must always be prioritized. But that is not at all what this movie is. It's one of the most thoughtful movies about human nature — and one of the most thoughtful about a woman — that I've seen since the peak of Kieslowski.

Renate Reinsve is extraordinary and should be alongside Olivia Colman as the [2022] Oscar front-runner. But everybody who sees this is talking about her. We should also be talking about Anders Danielsen Lie, whose performance is every bit as three-dimensional; he really moved me. With this and Bergman Island, he had quite a 2021.

And, in a year of enigmatic closing moments, this rivals 2022's The Green Knight for the most provocative and surprising.

[Note: Most critics counted this as a 2021 release. Seattle didn't have it onscreen until long into the next year, so for me it's a 2022 release.]


Director: Edward Berger

Writers: Edward Berger, Ian Stokell, and Lesley Paterson

Based on All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Synopsis via Letterboxd: “Paul Baumer and his friends Albert and Muller, egged on by romantic dreams of heroism, voluntarily enlist in the German army. Full of excitement and patriotic fervour, the boys enthusiastically march into a war they believe in. But once on the Western Front, they discover the soul-destroying horror of World War I.”

Here’s my full review at Looking Closer.


Writer and director: Todd Field

Synopsis via Letterboxd: “The film, set in the international world of classical music, centers on Lydia Tár, widely considered one of the greatest living composer/conductors and first-ever female chief conductor of a major German orchestra.”

Here’s my first-impressions review at Looking Closer. And here are my second-viewing follow-up thoughts at Letterboxd.


Writer and director: Terence Davies

Synopsis via Letterboxd: “Poet Siegfried Sassoon survived the horrors of fighting in the First World War and was decorated for his bravery, but became a vocal critic of the government’s continuation of the war when he returned from service. Adored by members of the aristocracy as well as stars of London’s literary and stage world, he embarked on affairs with several men as he attempted to come to terms with his homosexuality.”

From my Letterboxd notes:

Thoughts on watching Benediction:

    1. Having just finished Season One of Slow Horses and loved every minute of it, I was already sold on Jack Lowden as an action-hero spy guy. Now that I've seen him give one of the strongest performances of 2022 as a quiet, tender-hearted war veteran, poet, and Catholic, count me a fan. He's fantastic here.
    2. This is the second very good film I've seen in which an actor plays Ivor Novello, sits at the piano, and performs "And Her Mother Came Too." I can't say I ever expected that.
    3. … [See Letterboxd.]
    4. This is simultaneously one of the gayest and one of the most serious-mindedly Catholic films I've ever seen. That's not a complaint; I think it’s quite a meaningful achievement. And, given that the director is Terence Davies, I guess it shouldn't be surprising.


Directors: Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman

Writer: Saul Williams

Synopsis via Letterboxd: “In the hilltops of Burundi, a group of escaped coltan miners form an anti-colonialist computer hacker collective. From their camp in an otherworldly e-waste dump, they attempt a takeover of the authoritarian regime exploiting the region’s natural resources – and its people. When an intersex runaway and an escaped coltan miner find each other through cosmic forces, their connection sparks glitches within the greater divine circuitry.”

An excerpt from my long, long Letterboxd post:

Living in the bubble of white privilege, I am woefully naive of the ways in which my hour-to-hour routines are running on engines built and fueled by unseen, anonymous, exploited workers in poverty around the world.

Watching this movie is like listening to a prophet who, overcome by a Holy Spirit, is testifying in allegory, and promising the world that the souls we have exploited, neglected, and buried are not finished with us.

- - -

Most reviewers I'm reading are describing the narrative as too cryptic to follow. Well, it's abstract and heavily symbolic, yes. And it requires close attention. But I wasn't terribly confused:

I followed the futuristic arc of a miner named Matalusa (Bertrand Ninteretse) who works in a camp of slaves that dig up the essential materials used to power the world's internet-dependent culture. Matalusa's brother Tekno pauses for a moment in his work to marvel at the treasure he is mining, and he is murdered. Matalusa flees the mine and runs through the looking glass into a wonderland wilderness.

There, he meets Neptune an intersex person defiant of binaries who has been persecuted for their nonbinary biology. (When we first meet Neptune, they suffer a sexual advance from a Christian pastor... because, well, of course.) Neptune is first played by Elvis “Bobo” Ngabo, and then later played by Cheryl Isheja, after they claim their identity and reject being named and controlled by others. Together, Matalusa and Neptune become an unconventional couple, a sort of Jospeh and Mary ushering a a new definition of life into the world.

They gather a community of tech experts from a Black community of poverty and technological genius. They engage in a variety of debates about whether to form an army and fight back with violence, or to take the path of artists and awaken the world to their existence, their essentiality, and their vision for a world of nuance, beauty, poetry, and music. Their collective password is Unanimous Goldmine, which seems to represent their vision of treasure in transcendent unity.

When their vision goes global, disrupting the worldwide system of oppressive hierarchies, they are identified by the hacker name "Martyr Loser King," and the oppressive sovereign called the Authority strives to wipe them from the earth with a military strike.

This makes the punk-rock edge of George Miller's Mad Max films look like pop music by demanding that the audience go on a fast from their diet of easy narrative formulas and violence served up as entertainment. Instead, it delves into dance, poetry, and music, telling a story of symbols that we read the way we might translate hieroglyphics, with characters bearing names as heavily symbolic as Memory, Psychology, and Innocent.

At times, conversations become rather cumbersome, having been obviously crafted to deliver sermons and lectures. Still, those lectures are compelling, ablaze with righteous anger, and yet calling for a refusal to answer violence with violence. These revolutionaries are daring to insist on a moral integrity that the rest of the world does not understand and will probably go on punishing.


Director: Alice Diop

Writers: Alice Diop, Amrita David, and Marie NDiaye

Synopsis via Letterboxd: “A novelist attends the trial of a woman accused of killing her 15-month-old daughter by abandoning her to the rising tide on a beach in northern France. But as the trial continues, her own family history, doubts, and fears about motherhood are steadily dislodged as the life story of the accused is gradually revealed.”

An excerpt from my Letterboxd notes:

[This is one] of two films I saw this year in which the Mona Lisa makes a surprising experience early in the film, quietly preparing us for living manifestation in close-up later in the film. I won't say this one is "better," as they're in very different genres with very different priorities, and both films deliver in so many satisfying ways. But where the other film's Giaconda is a moment of smug satisfaction, the one we see here is profoundly disorienting, a moment that will haunt me.

- - -

The power of Diop’s camera is not in how it moves, or the light it captures (although the actresses here are captured in radiance), but in what she leaves out of the frame until we're ready to learn a little more about the complexity of this courtroom drama. That effortless control of subtle surprises actually made me almost overlook that the cast — particularly Guslagie Malanga as the defendant accused of matricide — are navigating very difficult emotional terrain over very long takes.

Diop’s direction is like that of one of her mentors, Claire Denis, in how she makes close-ups of thoughtful stillness as gripping as any action movie's vertiginous plunge. And some of her deep understanding of parent–child intimacy here reminds me of 35 Shots of Rum.

But then, I went into Saint Omer half-expecting to see Denis' influence. What I didn't expect that this courtroom drama would remind me even more of the constantly shapeshifting nature of Farhadi's ethical dramas like A Separation or A Hero, the heart of the matter looking altogether different every time a new lens is introduced to us.

But the movie I thought about most, and with which this would make a brilliant double feature, is what I consider to be Michael Haneke's greatest work: Code Unknown. Here is another portrait of Paris as a city dreaming of law and order and human flourishing in the overlaying of many different peoples and cultures. Here is another one that asks, "Are progress and harmony possible?" At times, Saint Omer plays almost like a gentle sequel, reminding us that if you draw a diverse community into a room and ask them to explore a question, you will only find more and more questions until you can hardly know what to believe anymore.

But where Code Unknown concludes in a way that leaves me shaken and fighting back cynicism, Saint Omer makes a bold move away from what almost any other filmmaker (and viewer) would wish for it's conclusion, and attends instead to one character's deepening wisdom. I was moved by hope.


Writer and director: Laura Wandel

Synopsis via Letterboxd: “When Nora witnesses Abel being bullied by other kids, she rushes to protect him by warning their father. But Abel forces her to remain silent. Caught in a conflict of loyalty, Nora will ultimately try to find her place, torn between children’s and adult’s worlds.”

From my Letterboxd post:

Once upon a time, this movie would have torn me to pieces and then moved me to tears and gratitude with its conclusion.

It says something about how the world has changed, and how bullying has become the out-in-the-open strategy for so many people in power, that the movie, as I watch it today, tears me to pieces and then leaves me struggling to decide whether or not I can actually suspend my disbelief enough to accept its final grace note. Have I become too cynical? Have my hopes been smashed to such ruins that the final scene here feels too much like wishful thinking?

I'll give it some time and watch it again, if I can muster the courage. This film has a short running time, but it is punishing in its unflinching portrayal of playground bullying and the cruelty of children. Having witnessed and experienced a lot of bullying in childhood, I have difficulty recovering from movies about it, just as I have difficulty with the daily news accounts of politicians belittling and persecuting the vulnerable, the poor, and the outsider.

Having said that, the cast — both the young actors and the adults — create a world that's almost too convincing. The siblings in the spotlight and the adults towering over them — misunderstanding them, failing them, and only occasionally offering them meaningful help — will remain alive in my imagination for a long time to come. The stark cinema realism (which I suspect was influenced by the Dardenne brothers' handheld cameras, natural light, high tension, and long and charged silences), and the fiercely unsentimental depiction of how children will behave when adults aren't looking, should serve to activate our empathy.

And maybe, just maybe, this path of such deep suffering brings us to a moment of clarifying wisdom. I'm not sure.

I want to believe all of it.


Writer and director: Céline Sciamma

Synopsis via Letterboxd: “Eight-year-old Nelly has just lost her beloved grandmother and is helping her parents clean out her mother’s childhood home. She explores the house and the surrounding woods where her mother used to play and where she built the treehouse Nelly has heard so much about. One day her mother suddenly leaves. That is when Nelly meets a girl of her own age in the woods, building a treehouse.”

Here’s my review at Looking Closer.


Writer and director: Charlotte Wells

Synopsis via Letterboxd: “Sophie reflects on the shared joy and private melancholy of a holiday she took with her father twenty years earlier. Memories real and imagined fill the gaps between miniDV footage as she tries to reconcile the father she knew with the man she didn’t.”

I haven’t found the right time yet to compose my thoughts about this one. I need to see it again. Suffice it to say that I found every scene absorbing, the camera constantly surprising, all that is unsaid as affecting as anything that is, and the karaoke scene as memorable as any such performance since Lost in Translation. And then the last few minutes of it may be my favorite finale to a film all year. For a proper review, here’s Josh Larsen at Larsen on Film.


Writer and director: David Cronenberg

Synopsis via Letterboxd: “As the human species adapts to a synthetic environment, the body undergoes new transformations and mutations. With his partner Caprice, celebrity performance artist Saul Tenser publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances. Timlin, an investigator from the National Organ Registry, obsessively tracks their movements, which is when a mysterious group is revealed. Their mission — to use Saul’s notoriety to shed light on the next phase of human evolution.”

Here’s my review at Looking Closer.

Overstreet's Favorite Recordings of 2022: The Top Ten

On the cover of U2’s Rattle and Hum, we see an image captured from a memorable moment of the band’s legendary Joshua Tree tour. Bono picks up a spotlight and aims at the Edge, who is setting fire to the very air with a searing “Bullet the Blue Sky” guitar solo. The light is so fierce, I’m sure both performers felt the heat of it. It was almost like Bono was striving to make sure every eye in that huge, sold-out arena was focused on the fingers, strings, and imagination that were the source of such ferocious beauty. The sound was personal. It was political. And it brought everyone together in a prayer of passion expressing (to borrow a phrase from Romans 8) “groanings too deep for words.”

In my annual posts about my favorite music of the year, I’m striving to do the same: I want to pick up a spotlight (“this little light of mine”) and draw your attention to the illuminating influence of others — the music in which I have sensed something deeper, something higher, something fuller than mere words can say (although the poetry of a great lyricist can certainly make a difference).

Regarding the music of 2022, I have already posted a bunch of Honorable Mentions, and then Parts One and Two of a three-part list. It’s a travel diary. It’s a prayer journal. It’s a photo album full of highlights, full of snapshots of sound that spoke to me.

And now, here are the Top Ten (which I first published more than two weeks ago at Give Me Some Light). I hope you find some music here that speaks to you.


Beth Orton — Weather Alive

It's been six-years since the surprisingly electronic Kidsticks, and Beth Orton comes back with what may be my favorite of all of her records: an eight-song, self-produced reconciliation of all of her styles. And there is a new depth in her performance that suggests a sort of surrender to the hope that can be found in forces greater than human endeavor, a grateful and world-weary collapse into the hands of higher powers. In this season of her career, she makes me think more and more of great vocalists like Marianne Faithful and Lucinda Williams, her instrument bearing the scars and ragged edges of someone who has truly lived, truly wrestled, and still (somehow) truly dreams and hopes. Thus, the songs play like psalms:

In the morning, all is dawning
In the stillness of the day
Mist is rising, jewels aligning
And the shadows fall away
And the world calling out to me
But the world out beyond my reach
Almost makes me wanna cry
The weather's so beautiful outside
Almost makes me wanna cry
The weather's so beautiful outside
How many times did I start my day with this song as I sought to find the courage to get in the car and drive to work?
And then there are songs like "Haunted Satellite," about straining for hope when it's hard to navigate through a wilderness of lies and storms. But don't sleep on those last lines, which sound like both a dire warning and a promise worth believing in:
Summer runs through winter's blood
Spring's beneath the snow in bud
Times, it's hard for me to see
But that's the way it's gotta be
We who live as satellites
We're like a plant that don't need air, it just needs light
I ain't forgotten all that I thought would be
All of the world outside of you and me
All of the world outside of you and me[Outro]
Nature's got a bigger gun than anyone
Nature's got a bigger gun ...
Here's Pitchfork critic Sam Sodomski comparing it to records most artists could only dream of being associated with:
The spiritual predecessors are other transformative records defined by their atmosphere—Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden. On first listen, more than any one song, you will most likely be struck by individual sounds and textures. As a pianist, Orton gravitates toward dark, silvery cobwebs of melody, repeated motifs that drift in and out of the light. “Friday Night,” an early highlight, feels a bit like a folk song—maybe “After the Gold Rush” set to the tempo of a plane picking up speed along a runway at night—but Orton sounds too moved by its rush of memories to stick to the melody. Letting the words echo through its descending chorus, her voice breaks at just the moment you expect it to take flight, drawing attention to how she sounds at her most ragged and lost.








Sault — Earth

Sault — Today and Tomorrow

Sault — UNTITLED (God)

I'm giving these three spots in the ranking to the mysterious British music collective Sault, because Earth, Today and Tomorrow, and UNTITLED (God) are my three favorites of the five-album surprise they released on a single day this year. And they gave it all away for free to those who knew the password. And the password? Well, it's the secret key for the meaning of life: godislove. 

The styles on the five records range all over the map: orchestral compositions with choral arrangements (Air and AIIR); children's choirs singing as if the world depends on them, while hard rock backs them up (Today and Tomorrow); and gospel chants sung as prayers with bass and percussion accompaniment (Earth).

And then there's my favorite: UNTITLED (God). On this record, Sault takes us to church for some groove-heavy R&B and Gospel, with mellow praise songs, prayers, and revival-inspired choral anthems. Get ready to sing along, dance in your church pew, and step into the aisle to stand and clap your hands. Love is the name of the game.

Somehow, all of these records belong in one big boxed-set of vinyl. I can dream, can't I?

For detailed reviews of these album marathons by one of the most interesting phenomena taking place in all of music, visit The Guardian for Damien Morris's review, NPR for Anupa Mistry's review, and KEXP for a stunning personal take from Rachel Stevens in which she describes a sort of religious experience.






Tomberlin — i don't know who needs to hear this...

"Love your neighbor" is only half of the assignment. "Love your neighbor as yourself" — that's the trick.

Growing up in the bubble of American evangelical culture, I learned that putting others' needs over my own wasn't just the challenge — it was the assumption. And that assumption was blown all out of proportion. I watched generous believers exploited, and they went along with it because their hard work and creativity were "in the service of God." Self-care was often treated as selfishness. I watched private Christian school educators paid far less than their public-school-teacher equivalents, and for their troubles they were denied any kind of retirement fund or grad school support that they had been teased with all along the way, resources that they would eventually need. I was taught to believe that God would always provide the resources we needed in order to keep on keepin' on serving others. And if I thought to withdraw and tend to my own needs, for my own mental health and for the responsible stewardship of my talents, I was treated as if I was, at best, probably doubting God's capacity to sustain me, or, at worst, I was being self-centered and hard-hearted.

I've seen such conditioning result in physical and spiritual exhaustion in professing Christians. I've seen it lead to regrets, bitterness, and self-destruction.

Meanwhile, Jesus himself sets the example: When the crowd gets too much, he withdraws in a boat for solitude, prayer, and rejuvenation.

What does this have to do with Tomberlin?

Tomberlin's new album begins with "Easy," a hushed, aching testimony of someone whose inclinations toward patience, humility, and generosity are in fact a weakness. It's a breathtakingly beautiful opener, the delicate and bittersweet piano notes meandering over drum and bass as the camera zooms in on a weary soul that needs to be re-inspired.

The second song, "Born Again Runner," similarly soft with electronic flourishes shimmering around the edges, reveals what may be meaningful context for "Easy": The singer is a survivor of a born-again childhood as a preacher's kid, one who is trying to cope with the contradictions between her father's pulpit-pounding messages and his behavior behind the scenes.

She sings,

You preach peace and patience,
But you don’t seem to have your own
And I’m tired of calling your bluff
I know I’ve said it more than just once
I know I’m not Jesus, but Jesus,
I’m trying to be enough.

Intrigued yet? Such descriptions were what won my attention, but I was unprepared for how moved I would be by the performances which — no surprise here — come from a songwriter's lived experience. Sarah Beth Tomberlin is indeed the daughter of a Baptist minister and, like me, she had to hide the curiosity for "secular" music that eventually became a passion. Now, she sings her way through her disillusionment and frustrations, her childhood in faith communities creating a lifelong tension between the glory of the Gospel vision and the reality of an irresponsible religion.

If you don't connect with these experiences, you may still find yourself enthralled by these elemental and spacious compositions: the whispering, atmospheric electronics; the way the piano provides light touches of honey and vinegar, and then sometimes blooms into full and forceful chords. Sometimes, this album was for me a retreat into prayers for so many people I know — some my own age, some trying to make sense of their lives after leaving home for college. And sometimes, the music was just too poignant, and I had to turn it off until my heart could bear it.





Ezra Furman — All of Us Flames

2022 was another year of dramatic conflict as privileged populations continued to act in flagrant hatred, motivated by fear against those whose color, religion, or sexuality they do not understand. Thus it was, for me, a year of more heartache than joy: I've never learned how to cope with the reality of bullying, especially when I see it carried out against the most vulnerable. And my spirit knows that many who feel abandoned and rejected by the church are actually the people who live closer to Jesus than those who misguidedly judge them. Thus, my head and heart were wide open to songs of lament, and they leaned eagerly into songs of hope.

This year, the most personal and passionate of those appeals in music came, as far as I can tell, from Ezra Furman, whose experience as a trans woman is at the heart of every song on this, what is easily my favorite of her records so far.

Listening to All of Us Flames the first time through, I knew I would be playing this frequently for years to come, as the albums that Furman's passion and prophecy bring to mind include Bob Dylan's Slow Train Coming and other punk-rock anthems of rage and righteousness from U2, Bruce Springsteen, and Arcade Fire. My car stereo doesn't play these songs loud enough. While the details in the narratives of these songs are vivid and visceral, there's a sort of Holy-Spirit infusion in Furman's delivery that gives the whole thing a resonance far beyond its own running time.





Little Simz — NO THANK YOU

Simbiatu "Simbi" Ajikawo's new record was produced by Info, and that'll be no surprise for those who have been paying attention to the amazing marathon of releases by Sault. Sault's wide-ranging sound wouldn't exist without Inflo, and Little Simz has blessed some of those records with her own inspired bars and bravado.

But this one is all her own, and that's an advantage: It has the force of personal testimony, and every track feels lived in and time-tested.
It's also heavily influenced by her rare and inspired response to her sudden success with Sometimes I Might Be Introvert in 2022: She cancelled her U.S. tour. The album works as a declaration of her dedication to self-care in an industry that can burn up even its greatest artists. And here, she raps about refusing the devil's temptations, and insists on doing what's best rather than what would be "best for business."

The greatness of Sometimes I Might Be Introvert was in its epic scope, the way Little Simz announced "I am hip-hop royalty" in a way that made it impossible to argue, while at the same time demonstrating thoughtfulness and heart and integrity that left us not only impressed but inspired. And somehow, in only a year's time, she delivers an album every bit as compelling as its epic, star-making predecessor. The greatness of NO THANK YOU is in its tightness, the impeccable selections and sequencing which make it a coherent album. Sure, the sound is sparer, but it still commands our attention.

Consider the dreamy, looping layers of backing vocals "Angel," a profession of her commitment to preserving her health — mentally, spiritually, artistically — in an industry that will chew you up and spit you out. Consider the one-two punch of "X" and "Hearts on Fire," both of which will likely convince first-time listeners to interrupt the album's flow and repeat those tracks immediately. Consider the exhilaration of "Gorilla," in which the fanfare of horns highlight her as an action hero who has completed her to-do list, and is now bouncing around with her gold medal on the trophy stage.

And through it all, you'll find a lot of overlap with the Sault albums that she appears on: You'll enjoy surprises in genre fusion, and in sudden shifts from dizzying delivery of high-speed bars to silky smooth harmonies of the pop choruses or choral anthems.

This was an 2022 album I didn't hear until the first few days of 2023, and I knew right away that I would find it as fresh as any new 2023 release for many months to come. Ladies and gentlemen, I have a new favorite hip-hop artist, one I will listen to with enthusiasm. Perhaps its strange for a guy my age, from my background, to get excited about music like this — but I refuse to outgrow my appetite for new sounds and new voices. And I'm genuinely inspired and moved by Little Sims's vision.






Terry Scott Taylor — This Beautiful Mystery

With direct callouts to G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O'Connor, Edgar Allen Poe, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Stephen King, the great Terry Scott Taylor — one of the most literate and inspired songwriters in the whole history of Christian rock — has delivered an astounding double album of lament over the corruption of evangelical Christianity, searing indictments of the antichrists committing atrocities under the banner of Jesus' name, and anthems of hope in the lasting promises that justice will roll down and the meek (remember the meek?!) will truly inherit the earth.

In song after song full of heavy heartbreak, hilarious lampooning, and raise-your-lighter Gospel singalong choruses, Taylor surpasses the already impressive peaks of his past work with what may be the most complete and fulfilling expression of what it means to go on walking with Christ even if that means we have to kick the dust off of our feet and follow him into the wilderness, away from almost everything we ever called "the church."





The Smile — A Light for Attracting Attention

For Radiohead fans, the release of The Smile's first full album is likely to inspire mixed feelings — not because it's disappointing, or that it just makes it that much harder to wait for the next Radiohead album, but because it's just so brain-bogglingly great that now we don't know who to root for. Do we want the next Radiohead album? Or another one from The Smile?

If you're wondering what the difference between the two bands is — beyond the obvious fact that Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood are working here with Sons of Kehmet drummer Tom Skinner instead of the rest of Radiohead (bassist Colin Greenwood, guitarist Ed O'Brien, and percussionist Phil Selway) — well, it's hard to say. Yorke is still finding provocative and eloquent ways to lament the evils of con-man authoritarianism: "You Will Never Work in Television Again" paints a sort of monolithic monster of misogyny and bullying, with lines that sound like references to Harvey Weinstein and Silvio Berlusconi, for starters. And "A Hairdryer" is an obvious mockery of Trump and his cronies, with what looks to me like a sharp stab at Ted Cruz. Greenwood's guitar work is fierce as a fire-breathing dragon; he seems to have fallen back in love with frenetic guitar riffs, tinker-toying loops and solos into dizzying architecture. And both veterans seem exhilarated by their chemistry with Skinner.

And while the rattling anxieties of so many tracks could easily make us think that the band's name is just sarcasm, there are other songs of that stir up a surprising, substantial sense of hope — particularly the soaring "Free in the Knowledge," which strikes me as one of the most consoling and inspiring things that Yorke has ever sung. After telling so much truth with the zeal of a prophet, it's a relief to hear some assurance that he feels

Free in the knowledge
That one day this will end
Free in the knowledge
Everything is change

And this was just a bad moment
We were fumbling around
But we won’t get caught like that
Soldiers on our backs

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is how, near the end of the song, Yorke suddenly, sincerely, and meaningfully riffs on Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" — both in the melody and in the lyrics:

I talk to the face in the mirror
But he can't get through
I said, "It's time that you deliver
We see through you"
Turns out we're in this together
Both me and you





Big Thief — Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You

I only had to wait a month for my favorite album of the year — a double-album! — to arrive, and I was fairly confident that this was the case from the very first listen. Big Thief has impressed me since 2017 when I first NPR's All Songs Considered play "Mary," Adrienne Lenker's exquisite remembrance of an intimate, erotic relationship, from the album Capacity. It seems like such a quiet, intimate reflection, almost too personal to be shared, and yet by its conclusion it feels more like a soaring anthem of longing and enchantment — so much so that it reminded me (yes, I'll go ahead and say it) of Leonard Cohen's broken "Hallelujah."

Then came the hard-rocking relentless of the song "Not" from the 2019 album Two Hands. I couldn't stop playing it. It had the guts-and-fire combination that had burned the best of late-80s R.E.M. into my DNA. Critics were already hailing them as the greatest rock band happening, and I was a little slow to catch on. But that was the moment that got my full attention and made me realize that I needed to devote significant time and attention to them. In situations like this, I often feel some reluctance. Am I giving in to peer pressure? Am I so susceptible to popular criticism? How do I know the difference between being persuaded to love a band and actually falling in love?

Well, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You seals the deal. If I'd heard this without any frame of reference, without any previous experience of Big Thief, I would be thunderstruck by the range of sounds, the poetry of the lyrics, the compelling braid of childlike-enthusiasm and old-soul wisdom in Lenker's lyrics and vocals, the simultaneity of punk and folk and country in Buck Meek's guitars, and the boot-stomp weight and rough-edges of bassist Max Oleartchik and drummer James Kriychenia.

The cover art strikes me as both an audacious claim and an amusingly self-effacing smirk: It looks like the Beatles' White Album cover fell into the hands of an imaginative 7-year-old with a charcoal pencil in hand. And that somehow fits: It's like the band knows that releasing yet another double-album at this stage of their career could be perceived as self-important, but they are caught up in such a fit of playful and productive creativity that they just can't help themselves. It makes sense when you learn that they recorded this album in four different locations — Topanga Canyon in the Santa Monica mountains; Tuscon, Arizona; Telluride, Colorado; and the Catskills — with the deliberate aim of bringing four different sounds and styles together into a kaleidoscopic vision, and they reportedly could have released a version several volumes long with all that they unleashed in those sessions.

Is it uneven? Sure, but in a way that reminds me — yes, indeed — of the Beatles' White Album. The first three tracks stand, I'll argue, alongside the great three-song opening sequences of any Great Band Masterpiece: "Change," "Time Escaping," and "Spud Infinity" flow as an eloquent revelation of thematic focus — a longing to live meaningfully and touch the transcendent in the midst of what may really be the End Times, embracing the apocalypse with hope and the belief that, as Jedi Master Yoda would insist, "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter!" That sense that there is something divine at work within the mess of all things, and that we can touch that divinity in the context of love and intimacy, weaves through the entire record, always invigorating and inspiring me. At the conclusion, I'm recalling some lines from U2 — I'm finding the courage to

Walk out into the street
With my arms out and a love that can't be beat
Neither down nor out
There's nothing you have that I need
I can breathe...

By the way, seeing Big Thief perform this material live... along with so many highlights from previous releases... was one of several concert-going highs in 2022. I cannot wait to see them again.






Favorite Recordings of 2022: #20 – #11

Did you miss Part One, which was loaded with links to amazing music … and my hastily scribbled reflections on each of those albums?

Never fear. It’s waiting for you here.

And now, if you’re up for another treasure hunt, here we go with Part Two of this three-part marathon.


Wilco — Cruel Country

Wilco has always been a country band at heart. What other genre could a title like "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" belong to? And here, they remind us of their Uncle Tupelo roots more generously and enthusiastically than they have anywhere along the way of their three-decades-plus adventure. And, frankly, I'm relieved — the casual sonic experimentation of their last several records has always been interesting, and there have been some highlights like Star Wars, but very few of their songs have stuck with me since 2004's A Ghost is Born. Here, they sound like a band you could actually go and listen to in a room instead of a bunch of mad scientists pushing their sounds into new frontiers.

Jeff Tweedy reminds me a little of David Bazan in how his prolific songwriting energy brings us new material every year, either under his own name, as a side project, as a personal contribution to a record he's producing for someone else, or under a band's moniker. But there's always been something particular and special about Wilco — a band that remains recognizable even though their evolution is constant and dramatic.

The beauty of these melodies comes so effortlessly to Tweedy, while the ensemble contributions make this clearly a collaboration and not just a Jeff Tweedy double album.

And the lyrics give me new ways to sing prayers for my appallingly unrighteous nation, to confess its contradictions, to lament my complicity, to hope for the realization of the dreams it so falsely professes.





Anna Tivel — Outsiders

I had the joy of discovering Anna Tivel when she performed at the Nowhere Else festival, spotlighted by Over the Rhine, in 2021. Her set, and then her performance in the songwriters' circle there, made me an immediate fan. Her voice is distinct, her stage presence charismatic, and, most impressively, her lyrics are poetic and profound.

I would say more, but since NPR's Ann Powers, a critic for whom I have the utmost respect, chose this record as her #1 pick for 2022, I'm going to direct you to her testimony:

Unmatched as an empath among her folk-leaning peers, the Oregon-based Tivel has the voice of a wobbly angel and a gift for making the poetic palpable. She's built her latest album around the idea that we are all on some kind of edge, partially unseen by others. Some of her antiheroes — a homeless man, a youth shot in a police incident — fit standard descriptions of outsiders, but most are folk who'd pass as getting by. Quietly exceeding the usual folk frameworks, Tivel and producer Shane Leonard's arrangements work like fine cinematography, perfectly framing her devastating scenes.





Hurray for the Riff Raff — Life on Earth

One of the most urgent, eloquent takes on the troubles of the 2020s comes — unsurprisingly – from Alynda Segarra. Life on Earth never flinches from acknowledging these present darknesses: the hardships of worsening natural disasters, the persecution and dehumanization of immigrants and refugees, and the corrosive effects of hate-driven aggression. But she sings with such love, such attention to beauty, and such transcendent hope that I come away from every listen feeling as if I have both wept and rejoiced, lamented the world's injustices and pledged to go on loving anyway.

There is a solace in surrender, and its deeply affecting in songs like "Life on Earth" and "Nightqueen." There are recurring images of living on the run, on banding together with others for survival. Perhaps the record's most affecting track is "Precious Cargo," a low-kep rap that invites us to join a chant against the human rights violations of I.C.E. It's a bold, unapologetic, thrilling call for unity against oppression. It could make you cry. It could make you march. It could make you change your life.

When the summons for us to love our neighbors turns to action, the world around us gets uncomfortable, gets angry, gets violent. Hurray for the Riff Raff doesn't sound scared. They're giving us songs of resistance, and the beauty in their deep conviction can remind us that, in the Grand Scheme of things, the battle is already won. The light of love and compassion is shining in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. Cannot overcome it.





Bonny Light Horseman — Rolling Golden Holy

Anaïs Mitchell — Anaïs Mitchell

The collaboration of Anaïs Mitchell (the genius behind Hadestown and several exquisite folk-rock albums), Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats, and multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman as producer hauls in taking on a life of its own, moving from what looked like an inspired one-off in their self-titled 2020 release to reveal that they've put down roots and begun to grow together into a rich and rewarding orchard of songcraft. Their songs continue to sound timeless — I would have believed you if you told me they were unearthing gems from a century ago and giving them new life. But then again, the lyrics – laced with Gospel and history, as so many of Mitchell's own songs have been — can be sung with a sense of immediacy.

And given that this fully satisfying release arrives so soon after Mitchell's own self-titled 2022 release — an album that plays like an intimate memoir with vivid glimpses of childhood, adolescence, young love, and lessons from other creative collaborations — it seems like we're watching a great American original at the peak of her powers. That's an album that has been growing on me all year long, and songs that I found merely pleasant at first — "The Words," "Little Big Girl," "Real World" — now move me powerfully.

I am particularly enchanted with these lines from "The Words":

Found what I'm not looking for
A melody as sweet and pure
As any one sung by the birds
I'm tryna find the words...

See them perched all in a row
I prefer the window closed
I don't like to be disturbed
Tryna find the words...

Meanwhile the birds sing
Meanwhile the church bells ring
Meanwhile the children laughing...

You can read more about this album at Americana Highways.








Angel Olsen — Big Time

I don't know if what I'm about to say will make any sense. In my experience, it has seemed that the great singers reach a moment when their voices become such a prominent thread in the weave of your world that you can't remember a time when you didn't know their voices. They go from being a stream you've encountered on a hike in the woods to a river that shows up on all your maps, a household name, a music that acts as a sort of validating element of anything it accompanies. They become like a fundamental instrument in an orchestra — as essential as a french horn or a bassoon.

When Angel Olsen's voice showed up in the trailer for Empire of Light this year, it woke me up out of my movie-trailer doldrums and electrified me. I suddenly wanted to see that movie. But no, I didn't, not really. I just wanted to dive into the ocean of the sound that was resonating in the theater. I realized that I had reached a point where Olsen's voice had gone from being an intriguing new sound to being a force that had power over me.

The song that accompanies that trailer is "Go Home" from Big Time, and that's just one of ten tracks here that feel like a kind of perfection in that rich and fruitful musical territory that overlaps country and rock. It feels like a defining moment for an artist who has been on the rise for several years now.

But I can't deny that it also resonates with me because, just as Olsen's coming out and the deaths of both of her parents made the recording of this album a transformational season, I hear these songs of disorientation, songs of severance from the fundamentals of the first half of one's life, as a sort of personal soundtrack. As I am experiencing a combination of life-altering losses and betrayals, and as I am searching for vocabulary that will be meaningful to me going forward, I find strength and consolation in Angel Olsen's company. When she sings, in "Ghost On," "I was looking at old you / Looking at who you've become," she might be seeking reconciliation with her former self. And if she isn't, I certainly am.





Spoon — Lucifer on the Sofa

Once upon a time, there were honest-to-goodness meat-and-potatoes rock bands all over the place. And not just solid rock bands, but rock bands defined by authenticity and committed to the potential and possibilities of guitar, bass, and drums without letting experimentation or trends take over. In my opinion, great American rock bands always give you the feeling that they can perform, together, onstage, what you are hearing on the recording. And their lyrics seem ripped out of their guts, the words barely able to contain the conviction, rather than what we get from the wannabes — the songs "written" with the help of a rhyming dictionary and a repository of cliches, forgettable sentiments poured into formulaic molds. When I think of the professionals, I think of The Velvet Underground, The Replacements, Dinosaur Jr., Cracker, and early U2 and R.E.M. (before their albums became more about production than performance).

These days, bands like that are hard to find. Spoon seems to me like 2023's best band of rockers who have been faithful to not only their own particular vision but to the principle of good hard American rock music. They sound cocky. They sound sure of themselves. They sound angry but hopeful. And they sound live. Each one of these songs feels like a piece of solid handmade furniture, a rocking chair that somehow rocks rigorously forward and back to the point of tipping over but never does. Great rock songs give you that sense of speeding  down a winding mountain-pass road on a dark night and taking the corners so fast you might fly off into space at any moment, but somehow you always land right and the song keeps on barreling forward. That's what Lucifer on the Sofa sounds like.

And every time I play it in the car, I get the urge to be one of those fools who cranks to volume to maximum, rolls down the windows, beats the steering wheel like it's a drum kit, and wants everyone in the world to get in on the energy. I don't, mind you – but I get the urge.





Kathryn Joseph — For You Who Are the Wronged

It's difficult for me to listen to Kathryn Joseph without wondering why I haven't heard her voice in any David Lynch movie soundtracks before. Her vocals remind me at times of Bjork when she's in her half-whisper mode, like a spirit wheezing through a window screen, or like a spell sent by a good witch to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Somehow, in these suggestive and strange lyrics, I end up feeling the comfort of a kindred spirit even as I feel the chill that means I'm in the presence of something supernatural and dangerous.

Consider these lines from "The Burning of Us All":

The way they stole your daughters and your sons
The way they tried to make them hate the ones they love
There is no one coming, every wolf cry call
There's a sound of burning, burning of us all

Or these from "Until the Truth of You":

Give me your sorrow, give me your blood
Beg, steal, and borrow all I have loved
I like it, I hide in it all
I like it, I try to find it all worth fighting for

Hear the way these lines claim that abusers have failed. Hear how she reassures the survivors, those who have been beaten down but not defeated, in "How Well You Are":

They who saved themselves
From who made the locks
From who turn the ship towards the rocks
They who held the light from the out of sight
And mind of all they didn’t break your fall
And look how well you are
Look how well you are

These are songs of reassurance, liberating in their truthful acknowledgment of abuse and their promise that, one way or another, the Higher Powers of the world will not let darkness overcome us. I've only begun to work my way through the unsettling riddles of the lyrics, but I sense a sort of Gospel at work here.



12Jessie Buckley & Bernard Butler — For All the Days That Tear the Heart

I mean... I knew Jessie Buckley was a force to be reckoned with on the big screen. She's quickly become the most interesting new actress in the movies for me. And her performance a couple of years ago in Wild Rose revealed that she can also command our attention with her singing.

But this... this suggests she might be a great a singer as she is an actress – maybe even greater. And her commitment to the poetry of these songs, and their orchestral, operatic ambition, suggests that she also has standards of artistry higher than those who commit to the business of hit-making.

I don't feel equipped to write a full appreciation of this record yet. I discovered it late, thanks to Ann Powers at NPR, and I am kind of awestruck.




David Bowie — Moonage Daydream: A Film By Brett Morgen

I have to include this one-of-a-kind soundtrack album, because it is entirely worthwhile as a surround-sound aural experience, separate from what was the most riveting and thrilling cinematic experience of the year for me.

Moonage Daydream works best as an IMAX movie, with colors and images, animation and live-performance footage, abstract special effects and Hubble Telescope-style voyages into the cosmos. It seems like the ideal cinematic celebration of David Bowie's career, weaving a tapestry of song selections that comes pretty close to the playlist I would have curated for a project like this. This double-album, though, stands strong on its own, and not as a "best-of" collection, but as an inventive new work of art in which familiar songs are made from various studio recordings and live performances, and sometimes even cover versions by other artists. Each track becomes both a cleverly stitched collage of variations and a movement in a larger symphony. Brett Morgen's imagination and daring have given Bowie fans a celebration that I suspect Bowie himself is smiling down on with delight.





Overstreet's Favorite Films of 2022 — Part One: Honorable Mentions

The Super Bowl is over.

Valentine's Day has passed.

The Oscars are coming!

And I've already seen some of 2023's new releases.

I guess it's time for me to make up my mind and share my list of favorite films from 2022.

This post was previously published at Give Me Some Light.
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As my longtime readers know, I don't like to rush things. I'm unwilling to join the circus of film reviewers who rush to post their favorites list in November, when there are still several weeks of movies that haven't yet been revealed. And even if I could see them all by November, I wouldn't have the time necessary for reflection, for reading others' perspectives, for (in some cases) second viewings. I like to give art time. Because there's so much going on in a good movie that isn't immediately evident. Thoughtful interpretations and assessments take a while to compose.

So, even though my opinions will continue to evolve, I'm ready to share the first of three posts highlighting the films released in 2022 that I found to be worth seeing and recommending.

2022 was full of unexpected highlights, many singular and strange. But where last year I couldn't decide between my three favorites, this year I have a clear #1 pick, great confidence about my Top Five, and after that it starts to get blurry.

Part One of this series — the "Honorable Mentions" — will be listed alphabetically instead of ranked. It's a long list of films I recommend highly, even if I didn't admire them enough to rank them at the very top. If you follow the links for each, you'll my first impressions, interpretations, and reflections in more detail.

And hey — why not post some information about your own favorites of 2022 in the Comments? What am I leaving out? What have I missed that I need to see?

A Hero


  • Director and writer: Asghar Farhadi

From my Letterboxd post:

Farhadi's cinema is a moral X-ray machine so fine-tuned that his narratives leave me at a loss for words unless those words come from the Scriptures. And this film — is it worth saying :one of his finest" when so many are so great? — is no exception. It shows us the folly in exalting anyone's righteousness. When we make a hero of human beings, they will likely then suffer the kind of scrutiny that will expose their humbling faults — and that, in this world of reactionaries and bullies, might end up doing them more harm than good. Worse, the simplest act of goodness can be so easily exploited by others.

Love your neighbor quietly. And pray your love doesn't attract attention. It's blood in the water for the devil’s sharks, including those within within your own heart.

Saleh Karimaei, the boy who plays Siavash, would have made Abbas Kiarostami weep. Farhadi knows the best way to break our hearts over the failures of adults is to place a child among them and let him watch, with dawning horror, how corrupt his elders really are.



  • Writer and director: Mamoru Hosoda

From my Letterboxd post:

With animation so dazzling that it's easy to suffer through the movie's patience-testing duration, Belle gives us a clever re-contextualization of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. In fact, the homage is so blatant — especially in the design of the Beast's castle and the choreography of his turning-point encounters with Belle — that I'm surprised I haven't read about any tension between Disney and Studio Chizu. There is so much, light, color, and extravagance, I was often awestruck. And I recommend you see it on the biggest, brightest screen you can. But, as with so much anime, everything is so big, so overblown, so obvious, it's hard not to come away feeling that stronger writers could have made this a masterpiece.

The Black Phone


  • Director: Scott Derrickson
  • Writers: Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill

From my Letterboxd post:

It's so much more engaging, and it's about so much more, than most movies about serial killers, I was pleasantly surprised. … Contrary to what I might have expected from reading the early reviews, I like the young actors and how their performances gave this a surprisingly comic undertone throughout. Contrary to the approach of so many horror films, including Derrickson's own Sinister, the enemy is not made to seem invincible or awe-inspiring, but is actually something of a buffoon; The Grabber reminds me more of the Coen Brothers' approach to killers than other Blumhouse icons, and that's a good thing.

James Ransone FTW.

As a "period piece," this looks and feels just right.

Both Sides of the Blade


  • Director: Claire Denis
  • Writers: Christine Angot and Claire Denis, based on Agnot’s novel Un tournant de la vie

From my Letterboxd post:

We want freedom from control, but we can’t stand the idea of losing our influence over others. Is the ache of heartbreak from the loss of the Other, or from the loss of the desire the Other has for us? This isn’t a movie about love, really. It’s a movie about phones and credit cards, and the charade of virtue we put on to seem noble until somebody takes our power away. We don’t want to be told we can’t. That’s the hurt that shows us who we really are: utterly dependent. And, if we’re not careful, spoiled rotten.

[For more substantial reflections: Darren Hughes' notes from Berlinale.]

Bullet Train


  • Director: David Leitch
  • Writer: Zak Olkewicz

From my Letterboxd post:

I've been missing well-made action comedies. Since Edgar Wright moved on from the Cornetto trilogy, I've been wondering who would step up and seize the opportunity. Bullet Train isn't as strong as any of those three films. Wright's films earn 'A' grades on every count, while Leitch's film here is 'B'-grade on most counts. Wright knows how to sustain a very tricky balance: He can weave meaningful character development and thoughtful thematic exploration into his action, while also celebrating and innovating on genre cliches, and somehow avoiding irresponsibly gratuitous violence. Leitch isn't nearly as ambitious and doesn't seem to be as gifted — Bullet Train has some playful comments about luck and fate along the way, but there's not much to discuss afterward. What it does have is a feast of dazzling, tongue-in-cheek action sequences, and some very clever braiding of plots and subplots. As an exhibition of slick craftsmanship, it's consistently impressive and engaging.



  • Writer and director: Marie Kreutzer

From my Letterboxd post:

There are fleeting images of bodies of water here that I will remember more than anything in The Way of Water. And there is a quiet image of the Empress alone at a table holding a teacup that I find more striking than any image in the box office top 10 this year. And forget the dance in Wednesday — give us the closing-credits Krieps.



  • Director: Joe Wright
  • Writer: Erica Schmidt; based on her 2018 stage musical of the same name, which is based on Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac
  • Music: Aaron and Bryce Dessner


I’m always impressed by Peter Dinklage. I’m always moved by this story. And the decision to switch Cyrano’s affliction from a prominent nose to achondroplastic dwarfism works better than I might have guessed. But overall, the most interesting aspects of this were the Dessners’ forays into making a familiar story into a big-screen musical surprising enough to move us all over again.

Here’s Steven Greydanus’s detailed review, which is so good it makes me want to see it again, even as it makes me content to recommend it rather than attempt anything so substantial myself.



  • Director: Baz Luhrmann
  • Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner

From my Letterboxd post:

If you don't like Baz Luhrmann films, this won't change that. If you like The Great Gatsby and loved Moulin Rouge! as I do, you'll have a good time with this. . . .  This is the story of two men: one, addicted to gambling; another, addicted to attention. It’s a tragedy for both, given the gifts evident in both of them. And, as dealmaking and showmanship are two of America’s most notorious strengths, this shows you where it’s all headed. . . . How long until Butler plays John Travolta in a biopic that gives a lot of attention to Saturday Night Fever?



  • Director: Carey Williams
  • Writer: KD Dávila

Here’s my full review at Looking Closer.

Emily the Criminal


  • Writer and director: John Patton Ford

From my Letterboxd post:

Tense and efficient and surprisingly uncomplicated, Emily the Criminal makes for a suspenseful 90 minutes that feel more like 60 or 70. Shot with a lot of effective, tight, handheld close-ups, it feels immediate and convincing.

Aubrey Plaza and Theo Rossi are both very good here, and perhaps the best compliment I can give them is that they develop some impressive, engaging chemistry in very little time. I've been a big fan of Plaza since Parks & Rec, but I've been disappointed in the variety of movies she's been in so far. This feels like a giant step in the right direction.

The Eternal Daughter


  • Writer and director: Joanna Hogg

From my Letterboxd post:

Some surprisingly Lynch-ian vibes here in what often feels like a low-key take on The Shining. A haunting whisper of a film, as ethereal as a wisp of fog blurring the moon. As one compelled — uselessly, really — with an insatiable desire to impart happiness to my parents, and often feeling that my efforts have backfired, I really feel this movie.Tilda Swinton: 2022 MVP. This is my second-favorite Swinton-Lost-in-a-Soundscape film of the year. Can this surprisingly enchanting new genre become a biannual event?

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery


  • Writer and director: Rian Johnson

From my Letterboxd post:

That's entertainment. And it's also therapy for those exasperated Americans who, over the last several years of insurrection, authoritarian narcissists, and billionaires-gone-bananas, have felt like they've been taking crazy pills.

I need to put my past misgivings about The Bloom Brothers and Looper away and admit that, at this point in his career, Rian Johnson is an undeniable force for good in the world.

And not just because he's given Kate Hudson her best role in 22 years. Not just because Edward Norton is fun again. Not just because we can put Antebellum behind us and be excited about the camera's love affair with Janelle Monáe again. Not just because this has several of the cleverest surprise cameos any director has ever pulled off (I mean, the flex this guy is showing off right now).

But because, as much of a three-ring circus of hijinks and fun as this is, it serves up so many meaningfully cathartic laughs about things that deserve to be laughed at. Others have already marveled at the seeming prescience of this film's script given what we're seeing in the headlines this week. But just... wow. I needed this movie so much.

God’s Creatures


  • Director: Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer
  • Writer: Shane Crowley

From my Letterboxd post:

Holmer and Davis … elevate this material, drawing out yet another extraordinary performance from the great Emily Watson (who doesn't get nearly enough leading-role work these days), and finding in Paul Mescal's performance some of the same chemistry of boyish charm and deep shame that makes him so magnetic in Aftersun.

[A]s an intense immersion in a persuasively constructed Irish coastal community, and as one of this year's several brilliant portraits of "women talking" (or, in this case, not talking) about men's violence, this is a film that will stick with me. And I'm delighted to find that these filmmakers eschew the prevalent cynicism about the role of faith in a community, showing it to have a powerful influence on those who refuse to cast their conscience aside for the sake of self-preservation.

Hit the Road


  • Writer and director: Panah Panahi

Here’s my review at Looking Closer.

The House


  • Directors: Emma de Swaef, Marc James Roels, Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Paloma Baeza
  • Writer: Enda Walsh

From my Letterboxd post:

For a movie about the soul-threatening perils of investing your love in a temporal thing, this film is a testimony to the near-miracles that become possible when we invest our love in temporal things. What awe-inspiring animation this is!

And yet, it's a film that most will find difficult to love, as we try to make sense of why the cast of characters are first manifested as human, then as rats (and other vermin), and then as cats. The deliberate unpleasantness of the tone is as abrasive as some of its characters' fabric.But I'm not one to write off a movie for making me uncomfortable. The unease of great horror is deliberately and purposefully cultivated, and can be a path to wisdom. I'm convinced that the storytellers are doing meaningful work here, but this is a tough trilogy to interpret with confidence.



  • Director: Steven Soderbergh
  • Writer: David Koepp


A high-energy COVID-19-lockdown take on Rear Window with a strong lead performance by Zoe Kravitz and a surprisingly non-cynical take on in-home technology and artificial intelligence. And I had a lot of fun seeing my city look so sleek and shiny as our hero dashes through it and dodges her sinister stalkers.



  • Writer and director: Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović

From my Letterboxd post:

I've finally found a movie adaptation of The Little Mermaid that I love.

Nothing Compares


  • Director: Kathryn Ferguson
  • Writers: Eleanor Emptage, Kathryn Ferguson, Michael Mallie

Here’s my full review at Looking Closer.

The Northman


  • Director: Robert Eggers
  • Writer: Sjón and Robert Eggers

Here’s my review at Looking Closer.

Official Competition


    • Directors: Mariano Cohn, Gastón Duprat
    • Writers: Mariano Cohn, Andrés Duprat, Gastón Duprat

From my Letterboxd post:

Imagine a more sophisticated version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, set this time in the world of arthouse filmmaking, with the two competitive rival Scoundrels being egomaniacal leading men with very different methods of acting. But this time, the woman they're both drawn to is in charge from the get-go — she's the director who wants them to act opposite one another as feuding brothers in a major motion picture, and she proves to be just as aggressively contentious as the two of them.
I miss comedies that remember to use the whole screen. I miss comedies that expect their audiences to be intelligent. I miss comedies that use silences and body language cleverly, instead of just delivering written jokes. I miss comedies in which jokes have two, three, even four stages of detonation.And I miss sophisticated comedy performances like these. All three leads are fantastic, and José Luis Gómez is particularly funny in a dry, subtle supporting role as Humberto Suárez, a multi-millionaire monster who, knowing he's hated for being heartless, wants to reinvent himself as a gift to humanity by producing a meaningful film based on a Nobel-prize-winning novel.But this is Penélope Cruz's show, above all, and she is sensational. I want to see her doing more of these ambitious comedies. Few actresses would be able to give a complicated performance in a wig as spectacular as this one, but she is glorious.



  • Director: Dan Trachtenberg
  • Writer: Patrick Aison

From my Letterboxd post:

In this Predator prequel, which might as well be called Episode One: The Phantom Menace, the New Mexican Aubrey Plaza — Fort Peck Sioux tribe member Amber Midthunder — catapults to the front lines of action stars with a supremely confident and engaging performance and achieves what might be the most difficult thing to do in a Predator movie: She steals the movie from the alien and makes me want to see more movies about Naru instead of any soulless, roaring, extra-terrestrial bigfoot.

I approve. Since franchise installments apparently must be made endlessly as long as there is money to be made from the fans who are addicted to the familiar, why not spice them up with something thought-provoking? Why not ambush audiences with some aesthetic beauty and some provocative undermining of genre tropes? Why not do what you can to wake a few viewers up to how much better movies can be, and make a few a little more willing to loosen their ignorant assumptions about gender? Why not try new things?


I mean, I knew Malick's The New World would be influential. I never dreamed it would inspire this.

She Said


  • Director: Maria Schrader
  • Writer: Rebecca Lenkiewicz

From my Letterboxd post:

This is a much stronger film than the trailer or the early buzz led me to believe. Sure, it's somewhat formulaic. And yes, it's hard to make a film about journalists working hard to reveal the truth without having them say obvious things about truth-telling. We've seen so many of them. Spotlight may deserve to be celebrated for greater artistry (as does Dark Water), but I think it won its Oscars in part because of good timing and a long highlight reel full of flashy Oscar Moments (particularly one featuring Mark Ruffalo that had me cringing in the theater). She Said impresses me just as much, if not more — it's just as urgent and relevant, just as suspenseful (even if you know the story), and it never feels like it's straining to win awards. And while it's about one man who is now in prison, it's also about many, many other men who aren't — not yet, anyway. I wish I could convince everyone I know to see it and share it.

. . .

Now, I admit that I may not be the most objective critic on this film.I know quite a few women who are journalists. And I was caught up in a recent drama in which a powerful man pulled all the strings he could to silence many "she saids" that represented women who were very close to me, women I count as trusted friends and model of integrity. How could I watch this and not be aggravated, upset, inspired, and (if you will) evangelical about it when it's over? I'm thinking about how this film might (if anybody sees it) inspire others to fight for similar surges of truth-telling to overthrow other abusers in power.

. . .

What's best — She Said isn't a courtroom drama. It doesn't revel in the truth-tellers' victories. It's a journalism drama — a movie about work. It may not represent what life is really like at The New York Times... I don't know. But it doesn't romanticize what journalists do. While it abbreviates a great deal to fit the story into a two hour span (I'm sure this is a case of "The book is so much better," because of course it is), it represents the long hours, the hard work, and the cost to every aspect of journalists' lives. And, specifically, the sacrifices that many women in journalism make remain front and center.

Stars at Noon


  • Director: Claire Denis
  • Writers: Claire Denis, Léa Mysius, Andrew Litvack; based on the novel The Stars at Noon by Denis Johnson

From my Letterboxd post:

As unconvincing as the political drama and intrigue of mid-'80s Nicaragua might be here, the film's focal characters touch something true: It’s remarkable how much we will rationalize in our desire to be known, to be needed, to feel purposeful. When the world rejects what we have to offer, we might be surprised how many compromises we can live with if it means we get a taste of being loved… and of loving. Or of something close to that.

. . .

Denis is so patient, so focused on craft, so uninterested in anything conventionally "entertaining," so preoccupied with quiet rhythms, so attentive to capture moments of persuasive human expression. She knows what so many great filmmakers know: that there is no subject more enthralling than the face of a human being deep in thought. She has been prolific in recent years: High Life, Let the Sunshine In, Both Sides of the Blade. All of those films are compelling explorations and playful variations in her style and themes. I admire them. But this... this feels like a return to her strengths. It took me mere moments to relax into that rare feeling of being on an adventure with a master director, one driven by questions and intent on discovery.

The Territory


  • Director: Alex Pritz

From my Letterboxd post:

Trigger warning for survivors of religious trauma: You will watch as men pray in the name of Jesus for blessings upon their work, and then they will turn and chainsaw their way into what's left of the heart of the world; they will unleash hell on a vulnerable community; they will (allegedly) commit murder; they will render "law and order" meaningless so the natives have no one to call for help; and they will speak without any shame at all about God has given this land to them.To watch these cruel and compassionless capitalists slash and burn their way through so much Amazon rainforest beauty is harrowing to behold. (And it's made all the more sickening in that I'm watching my own country on the brink of surrendering control to the same kind of merciless, arrogant fools.)

This Much I Know to Be True


  • Director: Andrew Dominik

From my Letterboxd post:

A perfect match of filmmaker and musicians.I saw Cave and Ellis live at the Paramount in Seattle a couple of months ago — a dream come true — and I'm still shook.

But where that was a rare case of a thunderous, rigorous, riveting communion between artists and audience — an experience that felt like a monsoon — this is an intimate journey into an private arena where artists are confronting cosmic questions, grieving unfathomable losses, and wrestling angels at risk of their souls. It's like watching spiritual warfare manifested as mixed martial arts matches.

In one sense, the film is about a unique and fruitful collaboration between two singular talents, but in another sense it's almost like Ellis is providing Cave with exactly the right sphere in which he can sculpt his anguish and his faith, giving shape to his unspeakable wounds and offering companionship and consolation to the lonely and desperate souls who write to him asking for guidance.

Three Minutes: A Lengthening


  • Director: Bianca Stigter
  • Based on Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film, by Glenn Kurtz

From my Letterboxd post:

I love Bonham-Carter, but her presence here was, for me, an odd distraction in an otherwise profound exhibit of curiosity, detective work, academic inquiry, visual experimentation, and moral vision. Short enough to show during a typical class period, it will become a favorite for professors and teachers intent on making sure new generations of students know that the Holocaust was real and that bearing witness matters. It’s also an impressive display of finding a whole world in a grain of sand — or, in this case, three minutes of grainy footage.

Three Thousand Years of Longing


  • Director: George Miller
  • Writer: George Miller, Augusta Gore

From my Letterboxd post:

George Miller's The BFG (for adults) with heavy doses of Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Tarsem's The Fall, and a tone that reminds me of Jean-Pierre Jeunet.I've now seen two new films in 2022 in which Tilda Swinton plays an eccentric who bonds with a strange man and, through an intimate touch, shares with him communal perception of other dimensions.
There's so much to enjoy all the way through. Swinton is Swinton-ing all over the place. ... Elba, by contrast, is surprisingly otherworldly and yet affectingly human at the same time — an unlikely but inspiring choice for this character. The fantastical stuff gives us some glorious images I'm so glad I saw on a big screen, but the scenes that are just about Swinton and Elba in white terry-cloth bathrobes sharing stories in a hotel room are every bit as savory and delightful. I could have listened to them talk all night.

Turning Red


  • Director: Domee Shi
  • Writers: Julia Cho and Domee Shi

From my Letterboxd notes:

I appreciate how this one shows Pixar embracing animation less as an opportunity to dazzle us with how "lifelike" anything is and more as an opportunity to play. It's not as brave among Pixar movies as The Emperor's New Groove was among Disney animation features, but it has something of that film's recklessness. It also bears (AUGH!) witness to the influence of both Miyazaki and Aardman on the creatives — which is a good thing. And — perhaps best of all — it knows when to quit (something I unfortunately can't say about The Mitchells vs. the Machines, even though that's an unpopular opinion). It felt shorter than its hour-and-40-minute running time.This is a promising move in a new direction for a studio that has, for me, lost something of its magic over the last three features.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair


  • Writer and director: Jane Schoenbrun

From my Letterboxd post:

A re-imagining of one of horror's most fundamental texts — the confrontation between Clarice and the behind-bars Hannibal Lecter. But in this case, "Casey" – the film's Clarice – is trying to find the clues she needs in order to track herself down, in order to find out who she really is and how to cope in a world that has forced her into isolation. And "JLB," who we're conditioned to assume is a Hannibal Lecter just waiting to feast, is actually just a lonely guy — one whose strategies are dangerous and, for some, ultimately destructive.

But as "Casey" comes to JLB needing guidance and attention and affirmation, the other recognizes something in her, and the intimacy that forms between them transcends the templates of horror and becomes a rare and inspiring example of how Love Your Neighbor breaks down binaries. The game can go wrong depending on how it is used, but it can also become a language through which we cultivate real and redemptive relationship. And the game master is not a monster after all. I can feel the good in him.

Here's to a "horror" film that isn't about perpetuating horror by endorsing coercive violence against an Other, but rather seems to have a genuine interest in the cure for all horrors.

White Noise


  • Writer and director: Noah Baumbach
  • Based on the novel by Don DeLillo

From my Letterboxd post:

Is White Noise Noah Baumbach's most hopeful film?

I'm not sure. But it's certainly his most imaginative and ambitious. He's pushing himself beyond his comfort zone into a very discomforting world of clashing modes and tones: chaotic Altman-esque family activity; Coen-Brothers-esque quirky supporting characters (the doctor, the mad TV-wielding prophet); Coen-Brothers-esque dark prophecies (a la A Serious Man); truly bonkers higher-education satire (Were college professors really this insufferably theatrical in the early '80s?); prophetic grim comedy (the traffic crashes and Millers-vs.-the-Machines family-car-in-slo-mo-flight); Marriage Story drama; and... sudden bursts of song and dance?!

The Woman King


  • Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
  • Writer: Dana Stevens

From my Letterboxd post:

Very surprising.

The lead performances are stronger than I anticipated: Davis as the general Nanisca, the strong hand of King of John Boyega's King Ghezo, is a more inspiring leader than Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn, Chris Evans's Captain America, or Mel Gibson's William Wallace. But I'm stunned to find myself wondering if her performance is the strongest one here: Both Thuso Mbedu (as the young trainee who is arguably the lead) and Lashana Lynch as Nanisca's fearsome and charismatic "power forward" Izogie are compelling whenever they're onscreen.

The violence is more visceral and chaotic than I anticipated, riveting in its energy and in the ways that dance in incorporated without disrupting the style/substance balance of the battle scenes.

And the weave of character arcs is more complex and affecting than the trailers hinted at.

The Wonder


  • Director: Sebastián Lelio
  • Writer: Emma Donoghue, Sebastián Lelio, Alice Birch; based on the novel by Emma Donoghue

Here’s my full review at Looking Closer.

To be continued!
Check back for the "Runners-Up" post and the Top Ten over the next few days.
Or, subscribe to Give Me Some Light and access those posts right now!

Is this the "best first film" for very young children?

In the very first moment that the Horse appeared in the snowy woods, Anne pointed at the screen as if momentarily possessed by the spirit of Leonardo DiCaprio and shouted: "There it is, Disney! Finally! That is how you animate a horse! How hard can it be?"

Four travelers face the storm. [From the AppleTV+ trailer.]
Having heard good things from my film-loving friends Daniel, Ken, and Josh about a 34-minute animated film called The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, Anne and I pressed play last night.

You can watch it too if you have access to Apple TV+.

Based on the lavishly illustrated children’s book by Charles Mackesy, this Oscar-nominated animated short comes to us from co-directors Peter Baynton and the author Mackesy himself. And I'm not sure, but I'm inclined to say this is a strong candidate for Best First Film For Parents to Watch With Their Toddlers.

"Look for the helpers." Fred Rogers would have loved this movie. [From the AppleTV+ trailer.]
Hardly enough happens in this story to deserve a synopsis: Basically, a boy is lost in the snow, and he encounters the three strangers listed in the title, talking creatures who quickly becomes friends and guidance counselors as they meander their way through an enchanted forest toward abrupt revelations and some life lessons about life’s hardships, the value of kindness, and the importance of even the smallest person.

The characters are sparingly drawn, but endearing in ways that will probably remind everyone of Christopher Robin, Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore. They’re even slighter than that, really — so simple that they’re in danger of dissolving into something like a mood or a sigh or a gust of wind. Think of The Little Prince or The Giving Tree, and you’re in the neighborhood. The thing that may spoil it right away for some viewers is that each character seems to come equipped with a kit full of platitudes that they cannot wait to offer. I’m not proud of it, but I cringed at more than a couple of lines as the Mole (voiced by Tom Hollander), the Fox (Idris Elba), and the Horse (Gabriel Byrne) kept on delivering tidy bits of wisdom at the slightest provocation, their distinctiveness seeming to blur into a common Voice of Counsel.

Much of this film's magic is in its breathtaking attention to natural beauty. [From the AppleTV+ trailer.]
But whenever the script starts to feel too sentimental, preachy, and sweet, another breathtaking image fills the screen, or Isobel Waller-Bridge’s score swells or soothes us gracefully. And as long as we remember what passes for entertainment for small children these days, we might find ourselves grateful for small wonders like this. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse reminds of of so many picture books I loved as a small child, and many of them had scripts as delicate as this one. It's like Life of Pi for Five-Year-Olds.

And as the world seems increasingly cruel every day, the grace of this movie’s pace and style, and lessons half-whispered all along the way might be the kinds of things that sink into a small child’s psyche and give them an appreciation for a more meditative kind of art. They might even serve, as they did for me and for Anne last night, as a sort of Sabbath devotional, reminding our weary adult minds and hearts of things we would tell small children if we found them as troubled as we are.

Living: a reverent but strangely abbreviated remake of a Kurosawa masterpiece

All hail the great Bill Nighy, who has been nominated for Best Actor in the 2023 Academy Awards for his performance in Living.

And rightly so! Living is a lovely showcase for Nighy's singular screen presence. It's also a reverent — too reverent, actually — homage to Ikiru that, running almost 40 minutes shorter than Akira Kurosawa's 1956 masterpiece, moves through the phases of its protagonist’s epiphanic redemption too quickly. It's almost as if a British film professor, underestimating his young film students, decided to produce an abbreviated remake of his favorite classic of post-war Japanese cinema and convert it to his students’ own language (to spare them the subtitles), cut its duration by a third (to avoid testing their patience), and make the point of each episode extra-clear (so they could easily explain what it means in their essays).

As a result, the characters here all seem one-note, the sort of cartoonish British stereotypes we encounter in a lot of BBC dramas that seem custom-made to reinforce American assumptions, in spite of the fact that they seem to be living in a particularly beautiful period recreation of post-war England.

Bill Nighy is Mr. Watanabe… I mean, Mr. Williams in this adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru. [Image from the Sony Pictures Classics trailer.]

If you know Ikiru, you don’t need a synopsis: It’s the same story — just strangely simplified. Basically, Mr. Williams (Nighy) is our stand-in for Mr. Watanabe in Kurosawa’s story — a tight-lipped, cadaverous bureaucrat overseeing an office of younger men cut from the same dull and dusty cloth. As the film opens, we’re prepared by the grim-faced staff of the Office of Public Works to meet their apparently intimidating and difficult boss. Williams makes a grand entrance, sure enough, but then right away any sense of his severity seems to dissolve. He’s diagnosed with a terminal illness and, in no time at all, throws himself (as much as a slow, soft-spoken, elderly gentleman like himself can) into a series of awkward lunges toward enjoying his last days, almost as if he heard David Bowie’s “Cygnet Committee” and was invigorated by the song’s climactic refrain of “I want to live! I want to live!

Before long, as always tends to happen in movies like this (including Groundhog Day, for example), Mr. Williams will realize that indulgence has its pleasures, but human kindness is the true path to joy. And all the while, the Public Works gang — stuffier than the circle of spies called The Circus in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and all of them obvious variations on the Williams template — get lots of opportunities to take their turn at blinking in bewilderment as their famously morose superior officer starts acting up.

I mean… who could be offended by such a redemption arc? It’s a formula that will always work on at least some people in the audience. And I don't mean to say I didn't enjoy it — I did. Very much. Cast Bill Nighy as the lead in just about anything, and Anne and I will both be there for it. He’s one of our favorites. We savored our rare date night at the movies and we talked all the way home about the composition of our favorite shots in cinematographer Jamie D. Ramsay’s marvelous work. (There's one close-up of Nighy under an umbrella where he turns suddenly, and the suddenly flourish of light and shadow made me audibly gasp.) The screenplay — adapted by the great novelist Kazuo Ishiguro! — is full of warm, poignant human moments. The classical score, predominantly piano, sounds great in a theater, reminding me of how I swooned for Jonny Greenwood's score for Phantom Thread sitting in the same theater a few years ago. (But did they really need to reach for the familiar and reliably dramatic strains of "Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis," played in its entirety for the finale?! I mean, that's almost like cueing up Pachelbel's Canon. It seems... lazy.)

My apologies to director Oliver Hermanus, who obviously crafted this out of deep love for what many think to be Kurosawa’s crowning achievement. But I just did not feel particularly invested in Mr. Williams’ attempts to break out of his zombie-state the way I always feel invested in Mr. Watanabe's last days. Williams' transformation seems so abrupt here: One moment he's sitting sullenly in a dark room (as only Nighy can), as if posing for a variety of moody profile shots, and blinking in bewilderment (Nighy has always been very, very good at blinking); the next he's partying with the worldly Sutherland (Tom Burke being very Tom Burke and then disappearing too quickly); the next he's basking in the generous attention of a young woman (a softly glowing Aimee Lou Wood); and then he's suddenly waxing eloquently about his mistakes, and charging into this narrative's famous crescendo of human kindness. I sat there thinking, “I'm going to get back to the car before my two-hour parking limit is up after all!”

I feel like a horrible person suggesting that Living is anything less than a minor miracle. But the trailer made me excited to see an inventive variation on one of my favorite films, and hopeful that I would see Bill Nighy in his defining performance, one that might even win him an Oscar, which would seem right and good at this stage of his career.

Instead, the movie just felt like a longer version of the trailer, making no surprising deviations from its source material. And I found myself wanting to revisit Ikiru as soon as possible to get a better sense of why Kurosawa’s film is so much more profoundly satisfying, and why this one feels so slight.

Leveling up! Subscribe for free to Overstreet's new online journal.

So, you may have noticed that Looking Closer has been suffering some technical difficulties. (See details below.)

As others who know more about Wordpress than I do are striving to repair this site, I am spending my time constructively: Leveling up!

The ship of LookingCloser.org has become a little unwieldy over the years and thus vulnerable to attacks. It's time for me to launch some adjoining endeavors that will help carry my work forward on rough seas.

Step #1: I've launched a new Substack, where I can write more frequently and more spontaneously!

You can subscribe for free and get most of the goodness that I plan to post there for the foreseeable future.

You can also opt for a paid subscription where you will get even more of that goodness.

I've already posted an introduction, a bunch of songs from new 2023 albums I'm excited about, and a post about the Academy Awards. What's more, I'm posting my Favorite Recordings of 2022 and my Favorite Films of 2022 lists there before I post them here! What's more: I will make an announcement there soon that I'm pretty excited about.

So, subscribe for free to get my writing delivered to your email, or just follow the site regularly!

I'm eager for feedback: questions, comments, recommendations — and even constructive criticism from mature, respectful grown-ups!

The art for this Substack was drawn by animator and author Ken Priebe.

Regarding the technical difficulties at Looking Closer: These disruptions have begun — coincidentally, I'm sure! — after threats from some highly insecure bros who took offense when I raised some questions about Top Gun: Maverick. Apparently, somebody launched an attack on this site  — ill-advisedly, as the attack has done far more damage to my host server than to me.

And here's the irony: In doing this, they've only strengthened my case that any ideal of masculinity that glorifies lawbreaking recklessness and obnoxious arrogance leads men into behaving like dangerous juvenile delinquents. "How dare you raise a critical question about Maverick? How dare you suggest that Top Gun glorifies immaturity and violence? In response, we're going to behave immaturely, and with violence!"

(Sigh.) Boys, boys, boys.... Such behavior by bullies bothered me when I was in second grade, and now it just makes me shake my head and feel sorry for them.

But hey — their vandalism has inspired some new creativity in me, and I'm delighted that Give Me Some Light already has so many subscribers! I call this a "win."

Favorite Recordings of 2022: #36 – #21

Why 36?

Because I had worked hard on preparing a list of 30 for you to explore — and then, after the clock on 2022 ticked down to zero, I  finally caught up with a few more records that I'd overlooked, and now I can't wait to share them with you.

Despite all of the claims from critics across music journalism about the "best" music of 2022, the fact remains that our experiences with music are highly influenced by the contexts in which we attend to it, by our individual histories, by our relationships and communities, by our susceptibility to marketing and fleeting trends, and by our curiosities and questions and concerns. So you won't find me joining the clamor of those presuming they know what is "best." This is just a personal expression of admiration and gratitude for those favorites that moved, impressed, and inspired me, the music that made me feel grateful to be alive.

For me, 2022 was a year of challenges and growth. I received extraordinary affirmations for my teaching from colleagues and students, and I am deeply grateful to the committee who reviewed my record of teaching over the last few years and gave me an encouraging report. I traveled and spoke at other schools about faith and art, and I met new friends and colleagues there. While I struggled to find the time and resources to write new fiction, I wrote a lot of essays on cinema and music, and my work was published for the first time at my favorite film-criticism website: Bright Wall Dark Room. Then, 2022 wrapped up with a huge surprise: a promising opportunity for my writing that I did not anticipate. (I'll share details about that soon!)

But 2022 was also a year of grieving. I am grieving the ongoing betrayal of my country by compulsive liars, fear-mongers, and manipulative anti-Christs. I am grieving with those who have suffered lasting damage from COVID (and lasting damage from the COVID-deniers, anti-vaxxers, and anti-maskers who accelerate the ongoing pandemic). I am grieving with those harmed by wolves in disguise among communities of faith. Most of all, I am grieving the way my own academic community of faith has been repeatedly betrayed, undermined, and harmed by the fear and prejudice of the anti-intellectuals at the controls of the school. While I have never felt more purposeful in my teaching and my writing, I also feel as if I'm doing so on a ship sabotaged by its own captains... and sinking. I am watching a vision that has inspired me for more than 30 years dismantled by the very people who have the power to help it flourish.

Music is one of the languages of God that sustains me. I am so grateful for the rivers of song that continue to flow into my heart, strengthening me to endure another season. Music brings me the beauty, the poetry, the wisdom I need to remember the Grand Scheme, in which God's kingdom of Unconditional Love and Embrace overcomes all prejudice, all fear, all corruption. My dreams will be realized. Grace will overcome legalism. Courage will overcome fear. The hateful and the fearful will make a small noise for a while, but their empty victories will be overwhelmed by the Big Music of love.

Music gives me the melody and the vocabulary for rejoicing in that hope.

And I found that in these records. I enjoyed more than a hundred albums this year and these are the ones I am going back to again and again.



Sault — Air

Sault — Aiir

Sault released six albums and an EP this year. How can that be legal?

Even more impressive, every release from this mysterious British collective — we know Inflo and Little Simz are heavily involved, and we know several more names as well, but there's a lot that's still secretive about them —  was worth listening to repeatedly. And each record was distinct in style and substance.

These two were epic works of symphonic orchestral music with powerful choral performances, and even so they were strikingly different from one another:

Air is epic in scope and overwhelming in its intensity. Coming on like a hurricane, it resonates with conviction and purpose, weaving a rich and classical tapestry of voices and instrumentation celebrating Blackness against forces of cultural and historical erasure.

For some perspective from an admiring critic who knows what they're talking about, check Shy Thompson atPitchfork.Thompson writes,

... [A]s the group makes a sharp pivot to lush contemporary classical, they take the opportunity to remind us that even a style of music seen as traditionally European has been deeply influenced by Black innovators. “Luos Higher” makes plucked stringed instruments and chants its centerpiece, drawing influence from the music of the Luo people of Kenya for whom the track is named. The delicate string work of “Heart” conjures the specter of an Alice Coltrane spiritual journey, while the nearly 13-minute symphonic suite “Solar” calls back to the exuberance of Julius Eastman’s kinetic masterpiece Femenine with its twinkling pitched percussion. Every piece on AIR wears its heart on its sleeve, conveying an emotional urgency that makes the album feel like SAULT’s most personal body of work, despite being mostly wordless.

Me, I find Air too much to absorb in its entirety, but I come back again and again to bask its glory the way I might cautiously inch my way out onto a promontory over the Grand Canyon.

The follow-up, Aiir, is half as long and easier to absorb and enjoy in one sitting, playing rather like a score for a silent film or a program of compositions celebrating natural wonders. With the track titles "4am," "Hiding Moon," "Still Waters," "Gods Will," and "5am," they suggest that this might be a meditation on what it takes to hold on through the longest, darkest part of the night until the first touch of dawn kindles a fulfillment of hope.

With either of these achievements, I feel like the 7-year-old I once was, choosing a mystery record from my grandfather's collection of classical LPs, putting on my grandfather's headphones that were too large for me, and losing myself in a very, very Big Music that both intimidates and enchants me.






Sault — 11

The latest in Sault's albums with numerical titles is another eclectic playlist of neo-soul spirituals, pop, and hip-hop running on minimal bass beats and low-key grooves. It's like a multi-genre worship service driven by calls to "fear no one." As various authoritative sources of music criticism have been debating which record of the surprise five-album Sault surprise release is the best, Uncut is one of the publications that favors 11 as the finest:

12 is, marginally, the pick of the bunch, a mix of 11 pop miniatures, including the psychedelic A fro-pop of “Together”, the Brit-soul of “Higher”, the dreamy, quiet-storm R&B of “Fight For Love”, the slow-burning funk of “In The Air” and the funk-meets-ragga of “Glory”. Every track is a banger.

I may not agree that it's "the pick of the bunch" — you'll see which ones I prefer much nearer the top of this list — but I love it anyway. Here are the three tracks from 11 that are currently my favorites:




33 – 32

Maggie Rogers — Surrender

Madison Cunningham — Revealer

Here are two young women at the peak of their powers — or maybe that's not fair. Who know where they'll go from here? Whatever the case, both Madison Cunningham and Maggie Rogers got heavy rotation in my headphones this year, and I'll be tracking what they do closely from here on.

Rogers must be the biggest rock star to ever have earned a Master of Religion and Public Life degree from Harvard Divinity School. Is that evident in her hook heavy, arena-pop sound or lyrics? No. A review by at Yahoo describes the songs as “stories of anger and peace and self-salvation,” in which the singer finds “transcendence through sex" and "freedom through letting go.” But when Rogers' put her own words (for Apple Music) to the album's driving idea, it sounds like the heart of the Idles album Joy As an Act of Resistance that topped my list a couple of years ago: "... joy as a form of rebellion, as something that can be radical and contagious and connective and angry.It has the intimacy of an album recorded in her family's New York City garage (which it was) and also at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios in England. I think that will make sense when you hear it.

It's Cunningham's album where I can hear the struggle of faith. And that's what faith is, right? A struggle? If it isn't, it isn't faith. Faith is a risk. It's the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. And I hear that in the opening track, as the singer speaks to an unnamed other who has been "all I've ever known," but whom she's not sure exists:

Will you take me as I am?
In perfect obedience to all these demands
I'm a child to the wonder but a victim of the change
When I see you again, will I know what to say?

I hear nothing, no rescue coming
Just church bells drawing out the dogs
I'm afraid that you were made by invention and odds are
I may never know

I can't help but wonder if Cunningham might not have been inspired by Sam Phillips, the once-Christian-music-pop-star turned poet of doubt and longing. After all, she's dancing in a blurred spin on the cover, just as Phillips did in her pivotal album The Turning.

In "Who Are You Now," she sings lyrics that match my own exasperation when I think of the double-speak of the evangelical culture in which I grew up:

Who are you now?
Who are you this time?
Whеn did war become sensiblе and love unfair?

But if I'm being honest, I play Revealer first and foremost for the inventive interplay of fuzzy guitars, complicated rhythms, and acoustic experimentation that keeps it feeling fresh, particularly in "Collider Particles."






Jack White — Entering Heaven Alive

If I'm honest about why I still listen to Jack White, I'll give the same answer I've always given: hooks and riffs. The guy just seems as divinely inspired as anyone in modern rock when it comes to cooking up a searing guitar line that you'll never get tired of hearing. His lyrics rarely intrigue me, and even more rarely move me, and his vocals have a certain Robert Plant-ish edge to them. But if it weren't for the guitars, I wouldn't show up. So I'm surprised that this release, arriving just a few months after the stranger and more experimental Fear of the Dawn, made a stronger impression on me than any previous Jack White work. I think it's the strong bones of the songwriting, the constantly surprising and richly layered sonic effects that set off fireworks within those songs, and the cinematic qualities of the storytelling (and which are explored in ambitious videos like the one attached here).




Metric — Formentera

Metric was, for me, one of 2022's biggest and most exciting rock discoveries. As I listened to Formentera, I realized how much I've been missing those '90s-era huge rock sounds driven by gutsy, expressive female vocalists — like Belly's Tanya Donnelly or PJ Harvey. In 2021, Wolf Alice grabbed my attention and never let go, and their live show was exhilarating. This year, Just Mustard is on the scene and kicking me in the face. But now I've discovered that I don't need to look for brand new talents; maybe I just need to look for those I've been missing. Apparently, Metric's been pumping out bold rock albums since... 1998?! How have I missed them? Critics seem to agree that Formentera is bigger, bolder, more ambitious than anything they've ever done, but I'm loving it so much I'm compelled to work backward to find out what I've been missing. Here are three tracks worth sampling: I love the epic lament for our self-inflicted downward spirals of online despair called "Doomscroller"; I love the relentless momentum of "What Feels Like Eternity"; I love the hushed anticipation of "All Comes Crashing" that delivers payoff after payoff when those heavy Cure-like drums kick in for the chorus. Metric has a new fan, and I'd really love to see them live.






Patti Griffin — Tape: Home Recordings and Rarities

The deterioration of Patti Griffin's voice after her recent cancer treatments has been a tragic loss to American music. I saw her give an heroic performance at the Nowhere Else festival in October of 2021, boldly delivering a whole show of great songs, riding on the support of her enthusiastic and faithful fans. But it's hard to accept that the voice we loved so much for so long isn't coming back.

Thus, when I discovered this release at the very end of the year, it felt like a Christmas miracle: a modest collection of archival recordings that hold together remarkably well as an album. "Don't Mind" is another playful, high-energy highlight of her dynamic-duo collaborations with Robert Plant. "Sundown"

But my favorite track is "Night," which speaks of a deep intimacy with depression — or, worse, despair — in some astonishing lyrics:

Night, you come and sing the songs
Of birds that have no eyes
Of birds that never fly
Of birds that tell me lies


Night is watching from the tower
Turns on the electric fence
The night can make you disappear
Without a trace of evidence
Night is like judgement
Where nobody speaks on your behalf
You hear yourself calling out loud
And you hear the night laughing back...




Beyoncé — Renaissance

Rosalía — Motomami

M.I.A. — Mata

I rarely feel so ill-equipped to write about music than when I write about artists like these — hyper-confident, hyper-talented divas of the dance floor, rising from experiences, cultures, and traditions quite foreign to me, and leading a vast host of devoted and adoring young female fans. And sometimes I'm tempted to keep my enthusiasm to myself for fear I'm trying to look like someone much younger than myself. But I genuinely enjoyed all three of these records repeatedly this year, not only because they challenge me to really listen and expand my horizons, but because their energy and creativity give me hope.

And if you have to go to work day after day in a "Christian nation" where misogynists, racists, and anti-christs still have fierce grip on the controls, I recommend driving in a car that pulses with the extravagant beats of these three records, from these three divas, who suffer the effects of cultural oppression far more directly than I ever do, and who invest their work with inspiration for those they hope will rise up and change the world. Their motivational zeal, audacious imaginations, hyper-colored sounds, and irrepressible joy are proof enough that God is alive and well within them. And their music was a life-giving adrenaline shot morning after morning for this 52-year-old white guy's weary heart.










Kae Tempest — The Line Is a Curve

Mercury Prize-nominated Kae Tempest has become a regular on my annual lists, and much of that has to do with their impressively literary work — not just in rap, but in the poetry, the plays, and the novels they've written. So much hip-hop focuses on the performer's ego and sense of being disrespected, but Tempest's focus is on the work in a way that earns respect without being preoccupied with it. If you've been following their journey, you've noticed the name change, noticed the transition, and tracked the trouble through song after song about the quest for authenticity and wholeness. With blunt-force honesty in one hand and the power of love in the other, she's poised to knock the literal hell out of us. I'm reminded, as she performs, of the power of Jericho Brown's poetry recitations. And there's a moment in "Grace" at the end of this record that feels like an epiphany, a breaking out of the storm into open, blue skies.

For a full review by critics who know the genre better, read Emma Madden at Pitchfork or Timothy Monger at AllMusic.





Kendrick Lamar — Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers

Kendrick Lamar is the most interesting rapper recording today, in my opinion — not only for his wisdom, his writing, and his vigorous engagement with questions of faith (which are inseparable from questions about social justice), but also for his sonic adventurousness. Both To Pimp a Butterfly and DAMN. have been records that challenged me, frustrated me, inspired me, and ultimately expanded my understanding of and love for my neighbors and my world. So I've been eagerly anticipating this one.

And, to Lamar's credit, it is not what I might have hoped for. I mean, I wouldn't know what to hope for from him, but I probably would not have jumped to vote for an album of such abrasive and discomforting material. That is, ironically, why I have to put it on this list: When you listen, you'll know that this is the album Lamar needed to make: He had to release the storms roiling in his head and heart, and they are messy storms, full of struggle, shame, insecurity, and vision. It's going to be an album I listen to rarely, but when I do it is going to demand my close attention, my patience, and a willingness to step outside of my comfort zone to ponder complicated personal matters: confusion, confessions, rants, rage.

Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers lacks the kind of highlight tracks I would usually share with others in hopes of inspiring their curiosity. "Crown" is currently my favorite because I do connect to that one, as someone who tends to sabotage his own peace of my mind by overcommitting to too many parties, expecting too much of myself in pleasing everyone. The mantra/chorus "I can't please everybody" is one I've been singing a lot lately.

I'll post a few tracks here that I have found most rewarding in the few times I have struggled through. Am I including this album because I feel that a more sophisticated critic would? No. I'm including it because I grow when I am challenged, and this is a strong challenge. I may not much enjoy it much, but I admire it, and I am learning from it. For that, I am grateful.

Here are some words from critics better equipped to write about the reigning king of hip-hop:

Jon Caramanica in The New York Times :

"Lamar, 34, is an astonishing technician, a keen observer of Black life, a proletarian superhero, an artist who reckons with moral weight in his work. But judging by “Mr. Morale,” which was released on Friday, he is also anguished, ravaged by his past and grappling with how to make tomorrow better, besieged by a collision of self-doubt and obstinacy. And fallible, too. ... The Lamar of Mr. Morale sounds lonely and tense, increasingly aware of the burdens placed upon him by his upbringing and potentially unsure about his capacities for overcoming them.


If To Pimp a Butterfly from 2015 was Lamar’s social polemical peak, and DAMN. from 2017 was his anxiety album — the product of realizing how his very private thoughts were becoming very public and scrutinized — then “Mr. Morale” is about retreating within and pondering your accountability to the person in the mirror, and to the handful of people you keep closest.

Stephen Kearse at Pitchfork:

Despite all its aggrieved poses and statements, the often astonishing rapping, the fastidious attention to detail, and its theme of self-affirmation, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers ironically never settles on a portrait of Kendrick. Perhaps that slipperiness is the thrust of the album, which might be read as his answer to a question he asked a decade ago, before he was anointed as hip-hop’s conscience: “If I mentioned all my skeletons, would you jump in the seat?” That fear of being defined by trauma and shame resonates throughout, but Kendrick and his blemishes are so defined by negation—of white gazes, of Black Twitter, of weighty listener expectations—that by the time the record ends, Kendrick’s “me” is just as nebulous as the effigy he’s spent the album burning.

Tom Breihan at Stereogum:

On opening track “United In Grief,” Kendrick says he went and got himself a therapist, and it’s like: Yeah, no shit, buddy. If it’s anything, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is a therapy album. Kendrick spends the bulk of the record interrogating his own perceived failures. He talks about his “lust addiction,” about his “daddy issues,” about dealing with “writer’s block for two years.” Eckhart Tolle, a German spiritual-leader type who I’d never heard of before this morning, pops up multiple times. On “Savior,” Kendrick directly addresses the idea of his own importance, and he repeats over and over that he can’t be the leader that some people want him to be. He’s not even sure that he can be the man the he wants himself to be. It’s a necessary corrective.


Kendrick Lamar already won. He’s almost universally acknowledged as an all-time great rapper, an artist of the highest order. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is a fascinating, engrossing answer to the question of what a Kendrick Lamar album might be in 2022. It’s not even just one album; it’s two, even if I don’t totally understand how the two halves of the album are supposed to be different from one another. With this album, Kendrick makes it clear that he can’t and won’t be all things to all people. He’s not the voice of a generation. He doesn’t even have his own shit figured out, and he’s worried that he’s doing more harm than good in the world. He’s definitely not down to be a corporate avatar for social progress and racial reconciliation: “Capitalists posing as compassionates be offending me/ Yeah, suck my dick with authenticity.” An album like this could’ve been a long-delayed victory lap. Instead, it’s self-consciously knotty and clumsy and sometimes ugly. I don’t agree with all the ideas that the album presents, but I love how wild and ungainly it’s willing to be.





Chagall Guevara — Halcyon Days

Midnight Oil — Resist

Dear Chagall Guevara, thank you. Thank you for making it happen. Steve Taylor had a tremendous formative influence on my understanding of faith and art in the late '80s, so when you jumped the barbed wire of the Christian music industry and released your first full album to those thrilling rave reviews, it was exhilarating. As one of your first fans in 1990, I bought the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack as soon as it was available just to have your song "Tale of the Twister." Your full album remains my favorite hard rock record of the '90s, and that explains why the band's breakup in '93 was so disappointing. No rock band I know have ever had lyrics quite like yours — fierce, literary, searing, funny. I hoped for your reunion until such a possibility seemed too far out of reach. So this return thirty years later made me more than a little nervous. Could you recover the energy? The voice? The vision? The answer, much to my relief, is yes. You sound like you're picking up right where you left off, and your wisdom about the troubles of 2022 shows that your vision is more necessary than ever. Thank you.

Dear Midnight Oil, please help me to tap into whatever serves as your power source. You have maintained a sense of focus, of energy, of excellence across four decades. And you are still raging with righteous rock-and-roll anger without allowing it to corrode your spirits. Thank you for all you have given us. I wish U2 was still capable of cooking up a song like "Nobody's Child" and then delivering it with the furious abandon of 18-year-olds.







Florist — Florist

Reminding me of how Luluc's Passerby stole my heart a few year's back, Florist's quiet, complex, deliriously poetic reflection on birth, childhood, family, love, sex, loss, and death is truly epic. I love the lyrics, the exquisitely layered dreamscapes of sound, and the experimental instrumental interludes that give us time to meditate on what's just been sung. I wish more bands would give themselves the freedom to explore instrumental music. Not everything has to be a radio-ready hit. The reason I find Radiohead so much more interesting than U2 over the last 20 years has been Radiohead's consistent interest in music over pop formulas. I could listen to them play ten minute versions of any of their songs just to enjoy their experimentation and exploration. Florist has that curiosity, that patience, that interest in color and texture; the music is the thing — it isn't just there as a setting for the words.

The song "Red Bird Pt. 2 (Morning)" has made me toy with the idea of making a playlist full of songs that are built from the template of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." R.E.M.'s "Hope" would be there, and quite a few others as well.



Favorite Recordings of 2022: Part One — Honorable Mentions

On December 24, as our home was aglow with Christmas music — Over the Rhine, Bruce Cockburn, Don Peris, Loreena McKennit, Louis Armstrong, Vince Guaraldi — and we only had one week left until 2023 began, I began writing my year-end posts.

Eleven days later, I'm still amending them, as I am still exploring and discovering 2022's wide, wild world of imagination — new releases for sound and for screen that impress and inspire me. And over the next few weeks, just as I have done for decades, I'll post my annual list of my top 30 (or so) favorite recordings of the year and my top 30 (or so) films of the year.

This is one way I celebrate and express my gratitude, even if I doubt that many of the artists will ever see what I write. This is also my favorite way of offering recommendations for others to discover treasure they might have missed. Your feedback is welcome. I wouldn't be publishing this if I wasn't persuaded to continue by the meaningful responses I receive from readers who value the discoveries they make here.

And, as usual, I'm having a terrible time narrowing down the list. There's just too much good music in so many genres. If an album captures my attention, if it makes me want to read all about the artist and the recording, if it makes me want to spend time with and interpret the lyrics, if it makes me want to play the album over and over again to be enchanted or challenged by the sound, well... it's going to be on these lists.

Since I'm still organizing my list of the top 30 favorites, I'll begin by publishing a list of albums that I want to include on that list — records I've enjoyed over and over again. Ask me tomorrow, or ask me in six months, and maybe I'll have changed my mind and found a place for them in my Top 30.

I listened to each of these "honorable mentions" several times this year — usually in the car on my commute, or on a road trip, or while I was grading papers or cleaning the kitchen. Some of them got me dancing while I organized my office. Some of them imparted wisdom, vision, and hope. Some of them gave me ways to name things I had not found words to describe. Again — I am grateful. If an artist or an album show up here, it's because I'm saying "Thank you."

"Bonus Materials" — Unexpected Archival Recordings from Rock Legends

David Bowie — Toy

This posthumously released "lost album" doesn't do much for me in its final form. But the two discs of alternate versions are jam-packed with surprises and treasures, like this gorgeous mix of my favorite song from the project: "Conversation Piece." Check out thorough and thoughtful reviews at The Guardian and ArtFuse.


Bruce Cockburn — Rarities

A lively zigzag through rough takes touching on so many of Cockburn's modes and styles, featuring some early versions of songs that evolved considerably before they appeared in their final album versions. Here's some perspective at Blues Rock Review.


Timeless Live Shows

Prince and the Revolution — Live

It's been a long time coming, but this ultimate concert from Prince and the Revolution finally got a proper audio release this year.


Levon Helm / Mavis Staples — Carry Me Home

This may be my favorite Mavis Staples album, and the fact that these are all live takes in collaboration with the legendary Levon Helm... that makes this record so much richer and more rewarding.


Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised): Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [Live]

The film came out in 2021, but the soundtrack album came out this year, and it stands alone as an essential double-live album.


The Rolling Stones — Live at the El Mocambo 1977

Peak performance double-live album from the Stones may be my favorite single package of their greatest hits. It's performed with such wild abandon.


Loreena McKennitt — Under A Winter's Moon (Live At Knox Church, Stratford, Ontario 2021)

Such great storytelling — by such great storytelling voices! — stitches McKennitt's performances together. I put it on as background music at Overstreet Headquarters as we were preparing for Christmas, and it very quickly became a Major Event for all of us. Yes, even our new fuzzy family member Special Agent Alonzo Mosely came close to the stereo, curled up in a ball, flipped over on his back, and fell into happy dreams. Great Christmas albums are always events worth celebrating because we know they'll become part of the fabric of our Christmases for years to come.



Promising New Band

Just Mustard — Heart Under

If I had a "Most Promising New Band" award, I might give it to Just Mustard. There's a real Twin Peaks darkness to their sound, and some of the Wolf Alice energy that I'm a sucker for.


Exceptional Collections of Covers

Bruce Springsteen — Only the Strong Survive

First on my list of impressive collections of covers this year is Springsteen's soulful and surprising program of favorites. "Night Shift" is one of those songs I grew up with that I always enjoyed and didn't realize how deeply it was sinking into my DNA until it figured prominently in Claire Denis' masterpiece 35 Shots of Rum. The Boss sings it well. Sweet sounds coming down, indeed!


Valerie June — Under Cover

My favorite covers record has the best title for a covers album. How has it never been claimed before? I've admired Valerie June for years, but this record got a *lot* of play on my car stereo this year. Every track is a brilliant choice, and every performance is surprising. Here's my personal favorite — although I really like her covers of John Lennon's "Imagine," Nick Cave's "Into My Arms," and Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You" as well.



Lucinda Williams — Funny How Time Slips Away: A Night of 60's Country Classics

Even though I don't like the placement of the apostrophe here, I'm so glad this album didn't slip past me. (It almost did.) I love this project, and I gotta say that almost all of these songs are new to me. Nothing like the blessing of the master to bring them to my attention.


Living Legends Doing What They Do Best

Brian Blade / Christian McBride / Brad Mehldau / Joshua Redman — LongGone

They're back, they're live, and they sound like they're having the time of their lives. The best kind of victory lap for a band is the kind that suggests they're joyfully invigorated by the knowledge that they still have unfulfilled potential. Blade, McBride, Mehldau, and Redman still have chemistry as great as any other four-man band going. When people say "I love jazz," they can mean all kinds of things. When I say "I love jazz," this is what I mean: the thrill of inspired improvisation within community, where it sounds like it might fly to pieces at any moment and then something happens that tells you they're so in tune with one another that they can make a beautiful hairpin turn.


Elvis Costello & the Impostors — The Boy Named If

With strong echoes of his Spike era, lyrics as literary and ambitious as any he's written (and sometimes a bit too cryptic because of that), Costello sounds as motivated as ever, singing with gusto that few his age could muster at a microphone.


Bill Frisell — Four

And here's another quartet of combustible imagination: Bill Frisell with Greg Tardy, Gerald Clayton, and Jonathan Blake. Melodic, playful, and harmonic in a way that makes it difficult to understand if one of them is taking the lead or if each one of them is acting as the front man. A joyful ride in which you feel every player serving the music instead of stepping into a spotlight.


Pixies — Doggerel

Rivaling Midnight Oil for the Veteran Rockers of the Year award, the Pixies' latest often sounds like Grade-A material from the glory.


Tears for Fears — The Tipping Point

I did not have Tears for Fears delivering an album to rival their best work on my 2022 Bingo card, but this one is so much better than just a visit from old friends. It feels like the kind of comeback album I wish Peter Gabriel would make — sincere, heartfelt grief and longing and hope, drawn from lived experience but applicable to the whole world.


Familiar Names, Unexpected Off-Road Adventures

The Mountain Goats — Bleed Out

Is this the first time they've shown up on one of my year-end lists? Perhaps. I'm warming to them, but very slowly — I started listening more than a decade ago. But the good humor of this record, the audacious concept (an album of songs built on action movie cliches and tropes), the playful lyrics, and the pedal-to-the-metal guitar rock of this one have won me over.


Shearwater — The Great Awakening

They could have followed up Jet Plane and Oxbow, their greatest achievement yet, with another big '80s-flavored, U2-esque rock adventure. Instead, they chose to move inward to stranger, more haunting places. I haven't yet connected with this album in the same kind of personal way, and there are few moments I find as exhilarating as the sense of inspiration pulsing through the previous effort. But this is still an outstanding, enthralling record with so much on its mind and its heart.


Professionals Maintaining High Standards

Pedro the Lion — Havasu

At Pitchfork, Ian Cohen calls it "the most minimal and insular Pedro the Lion album yet," and I agree with that. This isn't the album I'll recommend if I'm hoping to make somebody a fan of Bazan — it's so introspective and focused on its storytelling integrity that it is (rightly) less interested in rocking out, catchy choruses, or exhibitions of the band's particular chemistry and strengths. But Bazan and company achieve what they set out to do: they deliver another complex chapter in Bazan's serialized memoir of the cities in which he lived and how his experiences there shaped him. Cohen writes, "Whereas their 1998 debut It's Hard to Find a Friend took an accusatory tone towards those who would sacrifice their principles for social acceptance, on Phoenix highlight 'Quietest Friend' and the new album’s 'Own Valentine,' Bazan empathizes with his younger self as someone who used manipulation to fill a void of self-esteem."


Calexico — El Mirador

Differently than Pedro the Lion's album, El Mirador might be a perfect album for introducing others to Calexico, a band that fuses "the dusty sounds of the American Southwest with spaghetti western soundtracks, cool jazz, and a broad spectrum of Latin influences" (Mark Deming, AllMusic). As Heather Phares at AllMusic writes, El Mirador blazes with "praise for the people as well as the place that made them who they are, and they express that gratitude in songs ranging from the communal vocals of 'Liberada' to 'Constellation,' which traces the connections between people over winding guitars and flares of brass. The pandemic moved Calexico to celebrate all the good things in life, and this celebration includes the Latin influences on their music." When things were grey in Seattle this year, I found myself longing to drive open roads in the Southwest, and if I put on El Mirador I felt like I was halfway there.


Death Cab for Cutie — Asphalt Meadows

I didn't expect Death Cab had another substantial album in them at this point, and I really didn't expect it would be my favorite thing they've done since Transatlanticism. Just listen to the spiritual longing at the heart of this track:


Jack White — Fear of the Dawn

Jack White released two substantial albums this year. This one hits several memorable high points, particularly the opening track (linked). The other one will show up on my top 30 list, so watch for that soon.


Arcade Fire — WE

I had very mixed feelings about this album from the day it arrived — glad to see them scaling back from bloated double-albums, still wishing the air of self-importance would burn away, glad to hear them recapturing some of the near-chaos that made them a singular act both on record and on stage, still wishing that they'd pull back from a sermonizing "We Are the Prophets of Our Age" presumption. But then came the scandal — the exposure of yet another white male of extravagant privilege as a sexual opportunist, and the disclaimers and excuses that then diminished what had been for many a sort of ideal marriage-in-the-rock-spotlight. But I can't let behind-the-scenes shenanigans interfere with my assessment of the art itself. And, as far as that goes, here's a record that delivers solid examples of what has made Arcade Fire distinctive and meaningful, even if it doesn't reveal any notable innovations. And they get extra credit for bringing the voice of Peter Gabriel back to my headphones.


The New Royalty

Florence + the Machine — Dance Fever

I've admired this band for a while, but I can't say I've played any of their albums repeatedly over the course of a year with confidence that I will continue to revisit them. This one feels like it has lasting power, and there's a joy in it that I haven't associated with the band before.


Mitski — Laurel Hell

There should be some kind of award for a singer-songwriter who contributes the best end-credits song in a movie. And this year, Mistki would be the front-runner, as her collaboration with David Byrne was a highlight in Everything Everywhere All at Once and her cover at the close of After Yang was also perfect for the occasion. Neither of those songs appear here, but the album won't disappoint anybody who hear either of those songs, got curious, and sought this out. Also, in a time when few musical acts have a broad drawing power across varied populations of young people, Mitski clearly has their ear. There were posters on SPU's campus advertising a listening party for the occasion of this album's arrival.


Sharon Van Etten — We've Been Going About This All Wrong

A bit of a letdown after 2019's spectacular Remind Me Tomorrow, but very strong nevertheless. I knew the first time I heard this track that it would be among my year-end favorites.


Lush Symphonic Pop

Basia Bulat — The Garden

If I had been following Basia Bulat before 2022, I would have encountered these songs on first five albums in more conventional pop/rock arrangements. But my introduction to this Polaris-Prize-nominated artist came here, on this special release, featuring arrangements for string quartet. It's a beautiful collection, and now I want to work backwards to find out what I've been missing. Perhaps this song will be familiar to you, or perhaps not. Either way, I suspect you'll want to play it more than once and then hear the whole album.


Weyes Blood — And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow

While this ambitious, lush, and glorious new album feels heavier and darker than Titanic Rising — and how could it not, given the apocalyptic years in which it took shape? — the beauty of it is heartening. Perhaps there's something reassuring about big symphonic sounds during (and, increasingly, after) years of isolation. I know a few folks who revere every note that Natalie Mering records, and they're people who eat, sleep, and breathe music more passionately than I do, so I suspect that I will go on warming to this record as I did to the last one. There aren't any songs that move me like "Movies" did, but at this writing the track that is sticking with me most is this one: "Twin Flame."


Exceptional Singer/Songwriters

Aoife O'Donovan — Age of Apathy

This Joe Henry production certainly sounds impressive all the way through, and O'Donovan's songwriting and performances are strong. I can't say the songs connected with me in a personal way, although I know this was a big favorite of some close friends for much of the year. But this is the first O'Donovan release that has kept me coming back intrigued again and again.



Erin Rae — Lighten Up

One of the year's big discoveries for me was Erin Rae, a recommendation from my friend and colleague Dr. Traynor Hansen. Rae's voice is distinctive, her songs a dreamy blend of classic Nashville pop and country sounds blended into a style that goes down easy and sometimes reminds me of She & Him.


Laura Veirs — Found Light

In a sad scenario that recalls the breakup of the dynamic duo T Bone Burnett and Sam Phillips, Laura Veirs was divorced from her husband and producer Tucker Martine, leading to this album of breakup-and-start-again songs, mapping the hard emotional territory of trying to dream up a future while still feeling tangled up in blue. The result is some of Veirs' strongest work, and the production by new collaborator Shahzad Ismaily is inspired without being flashy. It's a hopeful and gracious record considering the circumstances.


Veterans Still Trying New Things

Bjork – Fossora

I admire it. But I also endure it. I marvel at it. But I am also perplexed by it. In other words — it's a late-career Bjork album.

For a deep dive, read this New York Times study by Jon Pareles, or this review by Jill Mapes at Pitchfork.


Nick Cave — Seven Psalms

It's Nick Cave. It's poetry. It's prayer. That describes a great deal of his music, but here it's a rare and intimate occasion — spoken word, Psalm-like concentration.

For more, visit The Guardian and Pitchfork.



And speaking of prayers, here's Brian Eno sounding resigned to the fact that a post-human era is coming on this planet. And yet he also sounds hopeful, content, even encouraging. Here is an hour of much-needed zen for hard times as those with their hands on the controls seem blind to the rising tide of trouble.

Here's Jon Pareles at The New York Times, and Tal Rosenberg at Pitchfork.


Daniel Lanois — Player, Piano

I'd be lying if I said that any album on this list is going to get more play than this one. Daniel Lanois at the piano? I can't think of anything I'm more likely to reach for, looking for solace during the hundreds of hours I will spend reading and grading papers in the coming year, or seeking a soundtrack as I compose chapters for a new book. This is a playfully creative, predictably meditative, electronically enhanced program of contemplative performances. I already know it well from beginning to end.


New Volumes in Notable Series

Robert Glasper — Black Radio III

Every time I listen, I find myself adjusting the ratings I've given the songs on Apple Music. That's because Glasper weaves the threads of R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop so skillfully that the songs strike me very differently every time I hear them.  Right now, I'm inclined to share this unlikely re-working of Tears for Fears' gigantic '80s classic "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," but perhaps I should instead by sharing "Black Superhero" featuring Killer Mike and BJ The Chicago Kid. I haven't returned often to the first two volumes of this ongoing series, but each one has been a good way for me to hear contemporary sounds sewn seamlessly into a context of classic sounds, and a way to have my assumptions about genres challenges as their definitions dissolve.


T-Bone Burnett / Jay Bellerose / Keefus Ciancia — The Invisible Light: Spells

The Master Producer is still playing the half-mad prophet on this second volume of a series focused on rhythm, electronics, and a technological Apocalypse. As with the first volume, Burnett's spoken-word delivery is haunting, heavy, and surreal, as if he's narrating the end of the world in a mix of horror, heartbreak, and wild hope. There are rants, there are chants, and there are strange collage-works of voices, all sailing through swells of Jay Bellerose's stormy percussion and illuminated by Keefus Ciancia's keyboard innovations. When Burnett declares "It takes more courage to love than to hate," he sounds like someone who knows from experience and who is struggling to find the strength to try faith, love, and hope again.


Coming up next: my 30 Favorite Recordings of 2022 ...