End of Year Favourites

Top 7 – My Favourite Films of 2022

At long last, we are here. My favourite films of 2022. There were a lot of films I watched last year (at time of writing, 110 films) and a lot of them were really great! I feel like there was maybe a slightly higher level of excellence last year, but that doesn’t stop there being a lot of brilliance to see at the cinema or at home this year. Notably, I think there’s also a lot of films that are at the top of other peoples lists that I only thought were great and not masterpieces. We’ll see some of them soon. In the meantime, here is the rest of the stuff I have to say before we see a poster. My full list of films I saw from 2022 is here, feel free to browse my best and worst at your leisure. These are all 2022 releases as by UK dates. That means they have to have come out proper in the UK in 2022, previews or film festivals don’t count. Finally, there are also still lots of films I missed, even at 110. Forgive me, I am only mortal. All these lil things out the way, let’s move into honourable mentions!


All the problems I have with Nope and all the things that stop it from being a masterpiece are exactly the things that I think could make it seen as a masterpiece someday. It was exhilarating big screen entertainment that still makes me think, all these months later.


Aside from having the most gorgeous poster of the year, Aftersun also has a very gentle power that has kept working. It’s a film about time and its effects, so I think it’s only fitting that time is the very thing that is so kind to the strength of this film. A killer ending scene doesn’t hurt though.

Nightmare Alley

I love film noir. Can’t help it, won’t help it. So, when a film is as deliberately and deliciously indebted to that genre as Nightmare Alley is, I can only lay back and submit. I also think it’s one of those perfect examples of a film where seeing the ending coming is an example of great construction, making the story reach its perfect, dark and natural end.


I really liked a lot of Resurrection while I was watching it. Then we hit this long monologue suddenly. Rebecca Hall lays out one of the most bonkers confessions you’ve ever heard in a film. Yet you believe it. Or at least, you believe her. Those aren’t the same thing, and balancing between the two of those is what keeps the fire in the twisted belly of Resurrection.

The Souvenir Part 2

Life rolls into fiction rolls back into life again. Watching The Souvenir Part 2 feels like the sensation of remembering The Souvenir. I know that’s a confusing way to explain it, but there’s a lot going on in this brave sequel. It pushes everything that was subtext in the first film into the full realm of text. And yet again, one of the great endings of the year.

Red Rocket

Red Rocket is about a terrible human being who does terrible things that ultimately hurt decent people. It’s also hysterical. That’s not easy, but Sean Baker makes it look like it is. His dirtbag world is charming and sticky, but you cannot look away, no matter how bad things get.

Glass Onion

I’ve become a little bit hooked on murder mysteries since the first Knives Out and Glass Onion continues that brilliance. If it didn’t have the humour or the social critique or the sheer momentum, it would still be a knotty little thriller. Except it does have all those things, and more. I only mourn that more people didn’t get to see this in a cinema.

We’re done with the honourable mentions, into the big hitters now!

7. Compartment No. 6

I know what you’re thinking. Such a waste to have a film with 6 in the title place at number 7. What can you do though? The list is the list, we carry on regardless. We also need to stop though and really talk about and appreciate the wonder that is Compartment No. 6. Since I saw it at London Film Festival back in 2021, I’ve been a little obsessed. It’s the story of two travellers on a very long train journey across the east of Europe, where their journey is from one frozen town to another frozen town. Stuck with nothing to do and nothing to see, the two get to know each other. Think that first meet cute from Before Sunrise but at feature length and with a true ambiguity as to whether the two leads are actually going to have a romantic connection. Even while that is ambiguous though, the film absolutely sparks off the screen. The dialogue is a treat for the ears, brought into fruition by two stellar leads. The journey may feel ambiguous, but you trust the crew enough to stay to the final station.

6. Hatching

Eraserhead. Annette. Titane. What do all these films have in common? They’re all excellent films about weird little babies. Finally, getting to join those ranks, is Hatching. It’s a Finnish horror movie about a young girl who finds an egg in the woods, looks after it, and then it hatches. Hatches into what, you may ask? So few people have seen Hatching that I’m still really hesitant to actually talk much about what happens after the egg hatches. What I’m not hesitant to talk about is how much I love this weird freak of a movie. From the pitch I’m giving you, you’re probably expecting a very creepy movie that’s very serious. In parts, sure. But there’s also this wicked strain of comedy in the film that injects levity into the creepiness. The mother of the family runs a vlogging channel about her perfect family and their perfect life, while her daughter is still struggling with whether she actually wants to be the gymnast her mother insists on her being. The dad in the family is also brilliant, playing the father of all cucks, an absolutely pathetic loser who would have no idea what to do if his daughter was only going through puberty and not dealing with whatever is in that egg. Quite simply, I had a gleeful ride with Hatching. It was proper fun, playing in horror and comedy with the ease that would suggest a seasoned director, not a first time director. Watch it, because it’s the one on the list you probably didn’t!

5. The Worst Person in the World

Describing a film by saying “it’s everything” is a phrase that is completely useless at describing the film and also makes you think that the critic in question has absolutely no useful phrases in their dictionary to break down cinematic power. The problem is, sometimes films don’t give you many other options. The Worst Person in the World has been described as many things, but is, for me, mainly a romance movie. It’s about Julie, a Norwegian woman in her twenties, trying to fall in love with herself and the people around her. It also uses those stories to explore a sort of existential crisis that Julie is having. As the narrator says in the prologue, “this used to be easy”. It no longer is. It’s complicated and it’s messy and it’s falling in love with the wrong people at the right time. It’s also pretty heart-breaking at the right moments. Director Joachim Trier manages to wrong foot the audience by playing the first half of the film with such a light comedic touch that when more serious moments appear, they devastate. I saw the film with three people from work and we were all absolute wrecks afterwards, but all watched the film again after that screening. If a film can tear you apart that much and still pull you back in, something incredible has happened. To describe the film in two words; it’s everything.

4. Decision to Leave

Park Chan-Wook has made a career out of violent movies about dark people doing horrible things. Even films like The Handmaiden, notably lighter than films like Oldboy by the sole virtue of their lack of [REDACTED], are still full of very graphic sex and violence. Immediately, that makes Decision to Leave stand out. Though there is death and there is romance, it lacks the full on frenzy of director Park’s most notorious films. I mention all of this only because it seems to be the sticking point for so many people in not falling in love with this film. It was very much not my sticking point. For two and a half hours, we watch a master craftsman get to riff on Vertigo, make two people fall in love and tell every single shot in the most exciting way possible. It’s hard to explain it fully, but every single shot has been done in the most breathtaking way possible. A scene where a character is spying on another character? Time to abandon the literal and place the snooper in the room. Time for a chase? Make the shot extremely wide and launch our characters across it. Oh, there’s a mirror in this shot? Time to surprise the audience with which silhouettes are in focus. Nothing is taken for granted and everything is pushed to the limit, while carrying an air of classiness that evokes classic thrillers. It was a cinematic experience whose sheer cinematic qualities made me want to stand up and holler at the screen. That, is what the magic of the movies are for me.

3. Bones and All

I love Luca Guadagnino’s recent films. Call Me By Your Name is a sensuous love story about young people finding their hearts and Suspiria (2018) is a horror film that takes its time approaching its destination and treats you to all the pleasures of the new flesh. So, consider me delighted when I feasted upon Bones and All and discovered it existed as the middle of this Venn diagram of films I already treasure. We follow Maren, a wanderer who discovers a dark side to her at a sleepover (a scene which is such a dark treat) and goes on the run after her father abandons her. While running, she discovers others like her. One is Sully, a brilliant Mark Rylance, who slithers on and off screen with ease. He teaches Maren about herself, but also while demanding she learn about him. Another wanderer she meets is Lee, played by the already legendary Timothée Chalamet. Chalamet is an actor who changes on film. He’s compelling in photos or on the red carpet, but in films I cannot look away from him. There’s an attraction he carries that feeds into his dangerousness here, such a brilliant utilisation of star persona. We know his need for Maren is physical, but in what way? Throw in a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, properly sensuous cinematography by Arseni Khachaturan and an absolute knock-out, one scene performance from Michael Stuhlbarg, you have a film that leaves a mark. It has not been for everyone (and for God’s sake, please make sure people you recommend this film to know what it is), but it is so far up my street that I should be concerned about my confidential information being linked. I was, in short, very well-fed.

2. Everything Everywhere All At Once

Well, here we are . It’s the one everyone has on their 2022 list. In my defence… No, actually I have no defence. I think Everything Everywhere All At Once is just as good as all its fans say. It is everything. Everywhere. Quite a lot of the time. It is also, in weirdly reductive terms, a success story. I’ve been a fan of Daniels since their bonkers debut Swiss Army Man. A story of a suicidal man and a farting corpse (played by Daniel Radcliffe) going on adventures together was not for everyone but it worked wonders for me. That made me both very excited and very nervous about their follow up film. The logline didn’t make me excited. A woman, doing her taxes? Yeah, no thanks. Except, obviously, it’s more than that. It’s an examination of the multiverse, but crucially through the lens of a single verse. We see universes of martial arts, pixar charm, sausage madness, in a matter of seconds, extended over hours that stay with you for years. That multiversal attitude to genre extends to tone. The film begins very funny, becomes very strange and eventually becomes very emotional. I’ve seen the film twice and I’ve also failed to see the ending twice, because of something in my eye, could be anything, dunno what. No film this year (or in years) has pushed and pulled me in the way that EEAAO has, over and over again.

1. The Northman

When I left The Northman, I felt ready to flip a table. It turns out, I mean this as a compliment. With just three feature films, Robert Eggers has marked himself out as a creative force unlike any other. And though you can trace similarities through his films in their exquisitely detailed period settings, the feeling you get from them is completely different. The Witch was a creepy horror film, The Lighthouse was a full tilt breakdown, so the fact that The Northman is an action epic fits in with that pattern of these films not fitting in with each other at all. It’s the story of Amleth, a prince who loses his future kingdom after watching his uncle murder his father and kidnap his mother. This sends the boy (soon a man) onto a relentless quest for vengeance, first as a mercenary and later as a slave. You’re probably already doing the math and going “hmm, Amleth, that feels like an anagram of a famous play about a Danish prince” and I will stop you right there to say that this is based on the legend that Hamlet was based on. No ripping off and pretending it didn’t happen, the influences are worn on the sleeves here. Not that there’s a lot of sleeves to go around, but the point stands.

As you’d hope from a film about vengeance, the action absolutely rips. An early scene where a village is stormed by warriors perfectly sets the tone when it begins with a spear being thrown at Amleth, him catching it and then throwing it straight back at the attacker. There is a confidence to the presentation of this film, a swinging bravado that Eggers has earned. From this early scene and right up until the climactic battle (which, friends and lovers, is a hot treat), you feel safe in the hands of a man who knows how to ruin his characters days. If that were all that The Northman offered, it could probably still be my favourite of the year, but it’s the layers beneath this seemingly simple vengeance quest that keep the tale under my skin. All is not quite what it seems, and while some of that delves into spoilers (and oh, the scene where the true nature of the quest snaps open is delicious), some of it I can still talk about. Like with his previous films, Eggers engages with myths in ways that remain enigmatic, even as you watch your hero wrestle a dead warrior. You can take it as literal or as a refraction of Amleth’s brain, weighed down by the curse of prophecy. Either way fits satisfyingly into the narrative, a flexible little number that appears deceptively simple. Eggers has come out and said that he wasn’t happy with the final product of The Northman. That baffles me. I adore The Northman and think it is yet another singular work from a genius filmmaker who seems set to reshape cinema for decades to come.

End of Year Favourites

My Favourite TV of 2022 – The Rehearsal

Once again, I haven’t really watched a lot of TV this year. In fact, once you see the honourable mentions list down at the bottom, feel free to have a good chuckle that basically the only stuff I watched this year was reality TV. Sue me, I like the way TV moulds reality into compelling little nuggets of drama. Weirdly, that’s also exactly how we find our way to my favourite TV show of the year, which is not reality TV… Probably. Maybe. It’s hard to tell and I’m honestly not sure if I do want to make the distinction. If you haven’t heard of The Rehearsal, none of this makes any sense to you, so let me explain a little bit what the show is.

Nathan Fielder, former host/main character of the legendary Nathan for You, comes up with the idea of creating a space where you can rehearse for important life events. Maybe it’s a pivotal confession, perhaps it’s a family confrontation, or it could even be the raising of a child. That last one is what most of the show orbits around, as Nathan helps a woman practice the experience of raising a child. With this example, you can start to see where the strange, uncanny and often hilarious side of the show emerges. The fake children are played by child actors, but due to child labour laws the actors have to be regularly swapped out and for the evening the child must be played by a robot. The child is slowly aged up over the course of weeks as they are replaced by child actors of slightly older ages, all with the aim of “rehearsing” the process of raising a child. But who is the rehearsal for? Is it Angela, the woman playing the role of the mother? Or is this rehearsal all for Nathan’s sake, as he masterminds the plan from a room full of security monitors? Even though the answer feels obvious, it is never as clear as you’re expecting in the execution.

If you know Nathan Fielder from Nathan For You, he’ll feel familiar here. It’s a similar character to that show, in that he plays a fictionalised version of himself who is incredibly awkward and deadpan to all the real people he meets. Fielder also operates on largely the same principle, of just letting people talk at him. I genuinely think it’s a unique skill he has as a comedic personality, in that he never pulls out the truly ridiculous things his guests say. By Fielder remaining quiet, the others on screen fill the silence with some of the strangest confessions or statements you’ve ever heard. On Nathan for You, that included things like a shop owner talking about drinking his grandson’s pee when he gets scared. Here, it starts at a guy who sees conspiracies in all numbers, which help explain why he crashed his car while drunk driving, but slowly and suddenly escalates into quietly troubling places. As you might have worked out from that, it means that the comedy is often a little dryer and a little more underplayed, but it means the shocks are even greater.

In The Rehearsal, the character of Nathan becomes more part of the picture than ever. That’s not his intention from the start, but it’s a spiral, as things go absolutely bonkers. The only place you can really compare it to is suddenly not other sitcoms or comedy shows, but the Charlie Kaufman film Synecdoche, New York. In that film, a man creates a play that is a reflection of his own life, inside of a large warehouse, where actors play him and the people in his life. The barriers slowly start to dissolve between the play and the outside life and things go real crazy real fast. If you’ve been paying attention to the images here, you might have worked out that this is exactly what Fielder is doing. He builds these real locations and populates them with actors to get the most accurate recreation of an event. The spiral comes when he panics about not being accurate enough and starts to integrate himself into the rehearsal, while also keeping old sets and actors around for his own personal gratification. It is weird from the word go and it doesn’t get any less weird.

As a show, I find The Rehearsal less consistently hilarious than Nathan For You. Admittedly, it’s not an easy bar to clear, comparing a show to one of the funniest shows ever made. What The Rehearsal does have though is its consistent WTF factor. The barriers of reality and fiction have always been blurry in Fielder’s work, but he takes it to whole new levels now, as well as actually addressing some of the ethical complications that his experiments can create. The actual answer to “where is reality and where is fiction?” is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is the ambiguity of the line and the fact that you’re always thinking about it. Where Fielder plans to take a commissioned second season I have no clue. This first season feels like a complete thesis statement on artifice and reality, ending with an absolute bombshell moment. But, I will also be there the second it drops. For people like me, who don’t watch much TV anymore, The Rehearsal is powerfully compelling enough to lure me back to that world, for a taste of pure imagination.

Honourable Mentions

The Traitors – Though it was a reality TV show, The Traitors was the kind of reality TV show so special that it rivalled anything scripted. As a huge fan of social deduction games, this was the concept taken to the top, in all its scheming brilliance. No show had my mouth on the floor as much as this one did this year and if you still haven’t got around to it, I genuinely think you’ll still be rewarded.

Ru Paul’s Drag Race – So, I got really into Drag Race this year. I’ve watched huge amounts of the show (and it’s probably a large reason why I’ve seen so few other shows this year), but the 2022 entries I’ve seen are US14, UK4, Canada vs The World and the legendary All Stars 7, the all winners season. If I’m forced to pick one season, it would be All Stars, a victory lap for the franchise if ever there was one.

Taskmaster (UK and NZ)Taskmaster remains one of the single funniest shows on TV and the reason I’ve included the New Zealand version on this too is that the format is so rock solid that even when you don’t know any of the comedians, you can still laugh so hard that it hurts. Greg and Alex are probably TV’s strongest double act right now and we should treasure them.

The Boys S3The Boys has never been the best show on TV and it probably never will be. However, it is the most fun, the purest example of what I think TV could be and once was. Week after week, it was the show I wanted to talk to people about, the show that I got excited watching and the show that I am still excited to watch whenever its next season arrives.

The Suspect – I’m still not entirely sure if The Suspect is any good or not, but it was compelling! It was one of those ITV dramas where it’s moody and has twists and is a little trashy, but totally watchable from the first scene to the last. Like The Boys, it reminded me why I love TV as a medium.

End of Year Favourites

My Favourite Album of 2022 – The Loneliest Time by Carly Rae Jepsen

Well what do you know? A pop princess once again steals my heart. Honestly, I don’t know why any of you are surprised by me at this point. The only real question is whether the pop princess I love is going to have fun enough vibes to overpower the album I listened to by a female indie artist that absolutely ripped my heart in two. This year, love wins!

Every single time Carly Rae Jepsen comes up, I feel like I have to do a little defence of her as an artist. She is forever the artist who brought us “Call Me Maybe” and yes, she certainly is. Even her fans will not dispute that legacy. That was a song that was much maligned in its time and I think actually, the past decade has been very kind to it. The past decade however has been even kinder to Jepsen’s career. After her albums Emotion and Dedicated, she set herself out as the most reliable pop princess in town. I love Dua Lipa, I love Taylor Swift, but Carly is the one who I know can always knock it out of the park. So with another album on the way, my hopes were, naturally, high. I had some doubts, but those were of course completely foolish doubts.

Once again, this is another change in vibe for Carly. She’s still in pop, naturally, but this is now a dreamy 70s, Fleetwood Mac-ish vibe. “Western Wind”, the lead single, exemplifies that best. Many of my favourite songs from CRJ are ones that pack a huge punch with big sound, but “Western Wind” is immediately quieter. Even the chorus, Carly plays it low key on. It’s an almost casual introduction to the record, one that speaks to an immense confidence on the part of the artist. And of course, once you get into the album itself, the big sound pops out for you.

That first track “Surrender My Heart”, is such a sucker punch. It first highlights the top tier vocals that we’ve always known Carly can do, but also highlights that we’re still going on emotional journeys on this album. She starts by singing “I’ve been trying hard to open up” and that offers a chance for the audience to take these songs as a sort of confessional for Jepsen. She’s been trying hard, she wants to be open, this is her trying. Even with old school instruments backing her though, she keeps a modern beat and bass, which I love her sound for. It is this pure energy that flows through the music and from this first song into the last, it carries you.

I’ll be honest, I think the next handful of songs aren’t amazing. They’re by no mean bad, because even the worst Carly Rae Jepsen song is a breezy and delightful pop song, but I think they’re below her usual bar. We return to that bar pretty quickly though with “Beach House”, the funniest song on the album. It’s about all the terrible men that Carly has dated across the years, but done with the kind of wry smile that this genre needs now. Think of it as her take on “Blank Space”, a smart takedown of the criticisms female pop stars are labelled with. The ways these men are pathetic is hilarious too, whether it’s that they cry during sex, have their mother cook the food for their date or say “I love you” on the first date. On top of that, it’s an absolute bop.

The next song is “Bends.” I’m going to really struggle to talk about this song because it is one I associate very deeply with Annie, my girlfriend. It’s a slower song but still fully in the genre of pop, about having a bad day and it all being healed by the embrace of the one that you love. There’s this refrain of “I can feel the darkness sometimes too” that I think is gently sensational. I hear it and I take it as being about being someone who is incredibly emotional and finding solace in someone of the same ilk. You both have your moments of vulnerability but in each other you find peace. For me, “Bends” is about the healing power of someone who loves you and how that can heal you with the strength to be there for them when they need you. For me, this song is forever Annie, so it owns my heart for that reason.

That’s what I love about this album, it covers such a brilliant emotional spectrum, just as Jepsen’s previous two albums did. You might be jumping off the walls with glee or holding your head in your hands as you cry in the shower at any given point, but the transition between the two is never abrupt. Let’s take two songs on the album as examples. “Shooting Star” is an absolute, blast off to the moon banger. The tempo is immediately quicker than most and that gets the fun across, before we even get to the cheeky opener “I might sleep with you tonight, if you wanna know why, just because.” This isn’t a song about relationships with other people or even with yourself, it’s about a fun and quick hook-up that you have just because the moon is right and the feeling is nice. Of all the songs on the album, it’s the one I dance to the most. The flipside of it and the song that immediately follows it is “Go Find Yourself or Whatever”, a song that immediately slows things down. Just from the title, you know this is a song about the end of a relationship, maybe a relationship that spun off from that one night the last song depicted. I love that it depicts the attempt at indifference Jepsen feels at the breakup, using “or whatever” to mask the fact that “I wake up hollow”. By most metrics it’s not a stripped back song, but compared to this album it is and that makes the lyrics pack a punch, as Jepsen attempts (and fails) not to care about her ex. It feels almost casual, but is totally devastating.

That takes us to the final track, the titular one. We’ve made it through the good and the bad, so now it’s time to say goodbye. That’s exactly the vibe we get from the start. It’s a goodbye tinged with sorrow, but a farewell that we’ll still try and celebrate regardless. I don’t know enough about music history to say where or what it pulls from, but this sudden strain of disco emerges onto the album for the first time, signalling a definitive moving on. Maybe the most shocking facet of this song though is that it’s a duet with Rufus Wainwright, perhaps most famed for his cover of “Hallelujah”. Here, he fits in with ease. I have no idea how that works, but he and Jepsen perfectly compliment each other and I commend them trying something that could have so easily backfired. Plus, that middle eight! So much fun! It is a perfectly judged conclusion to an album that, while not itself perfect, is another sterling example of the perfect pop that Jepsen is beloved for.

In fact, in Carly Rae Jepsen tradition, even the bonus tracks are amazing! “Anxious” is one that’s been on repeat for me recently, for reasons that are obvious for anyone who has spoken to me in the past few weeks. If you haven’t properly dived into Jepsen’s wider work yet, this album is a great start, because it introduces you to the talent and variety she offers, while still saving her very finest work for exploration later. It is the burst of energy at the end of the year that got me back into music and it gives me energy every time I even see the cover. I adore it, because I am obvious like that.

Honourable Mentions:

Laurel Hell by Mitski – Had I not had such a happy end to 2022, maybe Mitski would have had my favourite album of the year. As it was, she was my most played artist of 2022 and the performer at one of my favourite concerts of the year and Laurel Hell is a worthy addition to her stellar discography

Dawn FM by The Weeknd After Hours came out just as the pandemic took us all into lockdown and therefore feels like this last signifier of a time gone by. And suddenly, after what feels like both two decades and five minutes, The Weeknd has released a follow up. It’s weirdly conceptual, it has bops, what more can a boy ask for?

CAPRISONGS by FKA twigs – I spent much of the various lockdowns listening to FKA twigs and so news of a new album from her delighted me. The album blew past my expectations though and is one that has failed to fade in my memory or in my heart since the start of 2022.

Ants From Up There by Black Country, New Road – It’s worth saying that I went to sixth form with some of the band members of BCNR and many of those band members are friends of close friends of mine. That shouldn’t be taken as a sign that this album is here because it’s from people I know, rather that I am in awe that people whose lives are so close to mine can create something as swaggeringly confident as this while I sit behind a keyboard and write four line reviews of albums.

Crash by Charli XCX – Charli is the pop princess for the alternative crowd, but she still knows how to craft an absolute banger. She has some of the cheekiest samples of the year on her album, but they’re all delivered with a knowing wink that sells them 100%.

WE by Arcade Fire – My relationship with Arcade Fire has soured recently for obvious reasons, but I can’t deny how much I loved WE on release. It is bold and ambitious and a little bit cringe worthy. It is Arcade Fire to a tee and I wish it was the impression of them that I ended the year with.

Big Time by Angel Olsen – There is still so much about Angel Olsen’s discography that I’m unfamiliar with, but even with the little I know, Big Time feels like a very refreshing change in tone for her. It wasn’t a necessary change of pace, but it’s a welcome one regardless.

Rising by mxmtoon – Singers who start because of online followings can go one of two ways for me, as I can often find them slightly grating, However, mxmtoon charms me. She has genuine talent as a singer and a songwriter and I’m excited for her future.

Everything Was Forever by Sea Power – After they provided the music for Disco Elysium, I fell in love with Sea Power and their soundscapes. Though it sounds like faint praise, they make music I can put on in the background and fade away into, and that’s one of the things I treasure most about music as a medium.

Muna by Muna – I have been rooting for Muna since “Number One Fan” in 2019 and now they’ve finally broken through into the mainstream, without losing a shred of their personality. I feel very proud of this band that I have very little to do with.

Wet Leg by Wet Leg – Rumblings were coming out of festivals in 2021 about this strange band from the Isle of Man, making pop music that was brazenly full of innuendos and strange turns of phrase. When that band, Wet Leg, finally released their debut album, I understood all the fuss and became part of the fuss myself.

Midnights by Taylor Swift – Released the same day as The Loneliest Time, I know that for many Midnights is the superior album. I however, found it as full of lows as I did highs. Those highs, however, were quite special indeed, and as a Swiftie I am dutybound to defend the stuff I don’t like with the vigour I praise the stuff I do love.

And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow by Weyes Blood – Weyes Blood is one of those recent discoveries for me, where people cooler than I told me who she was. Now that I’ve discovered her though, I love the way her operatic vocals play into and against her music, to create complex soundscapes I keep returning to.

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You by Big Thief – If you were to define the sound of indie music with an album, it could well be this one. Its length is sometimes a weakness, but I adored the spikes of brilliance. “No Reason”, in particular, is one of my favourite songs of the whole year.

NO THANK YOU by Little Simz – Once again, I am won over by Little Simz. I don’t listen to a lot of rap music but when I do, it’s usally Little Simz and I always enjoy her flow and lyricism working in perfect harmony.

RENAISSANCE by Beyoncé – For years, I have resisted the pull of Beyonce. I thought I was better than everyone else for that. I was wrong, of course, which I can say now that I’ve succumbed. If I need an hour of solid vibes, I put on RENAISSANCE and jam hard to it. In particular, “Virgo’s Groove” is irresistible.

End of Year Favourites

My Favourite Video Game of 2022 – Immortality

I’ve been sitting on this one for a while. As soon as I played it, I was desperate to talk to everyone about Immortality. The issue was, I didn’t want to be the person to spoil Immortality for people who haven’t played it. I did what anyone rational would do and made my girlfriend play it, who in turn made her friend play it and then we had a little video game reading club. Anyway, the point being, I was considering writing a post about the game around the time it first came out, but felt it needed time. Time we have given it and time it has endured. I’ll talk about the game in non-spoiler terms first and then do a bit of spoiling later. If you want to, feel free to skip it and go down to the honourable mentions. With all that said, let us finally discover Immortality.

The first main question; what is Immortality? Let me answer that question with another question; who is Marissa Marcel? That’s the question that opens Immortality and it’s what powers the first part of your investigation. We do have some knowledge to get us started. She was an actress who starred in three films, all of which were never released. We have clips (presented as full motion video, meaning these feel like true film clips) from these films, including behind the scenes clips such as rehearsal or audition clips, and we have to click through them for clues. Again though, not as simple as it seems. You will click on objects or faces in the clip and the in-game system will take you to another clip with that same object or face, usually a new clip. Viewing all of these clips will hopefully give you answers into who Marissa Marcel is (or was) and what happened (or didn’t happen) to her. It’s a delicious setup and one that never failed to compel me.

What also compelled me was the unconventional gameplay loop. If you played Her Story, a previous knockout from creator Sam Barlow, you’ll know the kind of thing to expect. You are hunting for and then sorting through clips, trying to piece together a story out of what you have already seen and attempting to work out what is still hiding. You don’t really know how many clips there are left, or what you’re looking for. You just know you’ll know when you see it. Adding to this loop is the ability to rewind and fast forward through footage. At first it feels a little pointless, but rewinding can help bring more out of the clips and allow you to pull deeper meaning than what initially appears on the surface. These things combined allow for truly original storytelling. You discover the path through the narrative and the order you discover things may change the final conclusions you come to. That is so thrilling and nothing apart from Her Story has ever done that for me (once I play it, I’m sure I’ll say the same about Telling Lies.) Playing a game and filling two sides of A4 while making notes is the kind of nerdy delight that not enough games offer me.

You only buy into the narrative through because absolutely everything stands up to inspection. The film clips we’re seeing are from three very different genres, three quite different periods and encompass plenty of forms, and not once do you question their validity. The team at Half Mermaid worked their asses off to create hours of footage that you are able to fast forward through or completely disregard. It’s also important to note that because of the object-matching mechanic that is inherent to the gameplay, the smallest thing in frame has to matter. Writing objects and themes across a novel or a screenplay is one thing, but having these exist across scenes that you could click through at random and still work takes talent. What I’m trying to get at is that it’s difficult to praise a game like Immortality for its graphics in the same way you would God of War, but the game is nonetheless designed perfectly. The score is amazing too, adding an air of mystery to the simple act of clicking through scenes. Somehow, tension appears! And then there’s the decision to make the controller rumble and add an ominous sound effect when rewinding certain scenes, which… Well, it’s time to get into spoilers, isn’t it?

Please, if you haven’t played Immortality, skip ahead now. What I’m about to reveal is one of the greatest discoveries I’ve ever had in a video game. While I was rewinding through a scene, a second scene started to appear through the first. This was not a scene I had seen before, and it didn’t seem to have any of the actors I’d seen before. There was also the matter of the dialogue being strangely cryptic, about becoming another or about survival through generations. I was hooked. What other clips had this sort of thing hiding in them? The moment where I found a clip that, upon rewinding, snapped into the scene with what I referred to as “the shadow people”, my jaw hit the floor and my heart started racing. There was a whole other story happening under my nose in Immortality, featuring characters called The One and The Other. I didn’t yet know who they were but discovering their story felt like the key to uncovering Marissa’s fate. Discovering each of these clips filled me with dread, as they stared through the screen into my eyes, but I was always hungry for even more.

Once you discover The One, the thematic breadth of the game becomes startling. When you begin Immortality, you take the title to be some kind of gesture towards the nature of film as immortalising and capturing the images of people to be preserved forever. To say the game isn’t about that would be wrong, but it soon reveals itself to be this in tandem with the stories of immortal beings. “Becoming another” no longer refers to just acting, but to the act of literally possessing a humans body. Thinking about the levels that the themes exist and thrive on it impressive, but you become even more impressed when you remember that these scenes have appeared to you in a different order than to other players. Certain scenes have to be watched before other scenes can be triggered in the timeline, but you’re largely left in the wild. All of these things lead to an outstandingly chilling ending. It becomes established that if an immortal immolates themselves, anyone who watches this act will become their next host. This knowledge however, occurs after you have witnessed exactly this act. Without realising it, you moved from the role of observer into the role of participant and now you are trapped. As the final film cells melt away, the face of The One fills the screen and chills ran up my spine. It is a superb way of using the form of the game itself to enhance the final sting in the narratives tail.

If I am to recommend anything about Immortality to you, I recommend that you play it at the same time as a friend. You can exchange notes, work out where the story is heading and cryptically dance around revealing a scene that the other has not yet discovered. It was what I did with my girlfriend and we had a giddy nerdy time with it. In a time where video games trend towards homogeny, Immortality is a gift. It feels special and unique. Please, play it and spend money on it if you can. Otherwise, it is (at time of writing) on Xbox Game Pass and, unbelievably, on Netflix. If its existence on that platform doesn’t convince you of the strange hybridity and unique categorisation at play, nothing will.

Honourable Mentions

Vampire Survivors – I adore a little game I can pick up and play, which is exactly what Vampire Survivors offers. No game lasts more than half an hour and it has a deceptively deep well of content. I only regret playing it when I look up and realise that two hours have passed in my “one quick run” session.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – I was sceptical of a new Lego Star Wars, especially after the fatigue that I’ve felt for the film franchise these past few years. But, here is Lego Star Wars updated for the modern age, meaning it has all the filler you dread but also crave. One day I will try and 100% this game and it will kill me.

Pentiment – Despite consisting of almost entirely text and being about 16th century politics and religion (or perhaps exactly because of those things), Pentiment stole my heart. It’s the rare RPG where I felt like my decisions really mattered, especially the ones I didn’t want to make.

Escape Academy – Do you like escape rooms? Yes? Then Escape Academy is for you. The overarching story is nice but not needed, because I could have just played hour after hour of wacky and wild virtual escape rooms.

Lapin – We’ve had super hard platformers about blocks of meat, we’ve had super hard platformers about transgender women with depression, we now finally have Lapin, the super hard platformer about rabbits. The bits I played charmed and my girlfriend was absolutely head over heels for it.

Disc Room – I still feel nostalgic for the simplicity of games like Super Hexagon and Disc Room feels like a return to those kind of games. All you have to do is dodge spinning blades, but it’s the way the enemies develop and the game rewards your effort that makes Disc Room so much fun.

Trombone Champ – Toot toot! I love a rhythm game and it turns out that ones I’m terrible at are really really funny to play. Proper giggle inducing stuff, toot!


Oscars 2023 Nomination Predictions

Like that rash you have, awards season is back! It is time to boil down works of art to their likelihoods at getting little golden trophies because that’s what we like doing once a year. And I do like doing it! Genuinely! It’s fun and I like feeling validated when I get stuff right, but then also I get stuff wrong a lot and that’s fun too. And if nothing else, good to get the numbers up, right? So lets get right into it. Just five categories for these predictions, then the final predictions will be way more in depth because I’ll have done more prep. So it goes and all that. Then after this post I’ll finally get to my best of 2022 posts. They are coming, I promise. Before that though, wild prediction time, with three bets that will prove I can guess things and one bet that shows I think I have taste.

Best Supporting Actor

Likely Bets:

Ke Huy Quan for Everything Everywhere All At Once

Brendan Gleeson for The Banshees of Inisherin

Paul Dano for The Fabelmans

Unlikely But Worthy:

Mark Rylance for Bones and All

We’re starting by celebrating the men whose performances aren’t always designed to be showy, but elevate their films when delivered as well as these three are. I’ll start by predicting the actor who, amazingly, seems to be the frontrunner. That is of course the man above us, Ke Huy Quan. When Everything Everywhere All At Once released way back in the spring of last year, many (myself included) went wild for Huy Quan’s performance. He is at the heart of a scene which is one of the very greatest in this very great film full of very great scenes, in which he professes his love for Evelyn, across every universe. Plus, he has charmed on every stage he has appeared on this year, of course you want him at your ceremony. Also likely to be seen is Brendan Gleeson for The Banshees of Inisherin. That’s one of those films we’ll hear from a lot, but it’s because its sparse cast and crew are all at the top of their game. This includes Gleeson, who turns his typical gruffness into something complexly layered. It’s a great part that he never takes for granted. And finally, we’ll probably see a nomination for Paul Dano in The Fabelmans, another highly nominated film. Dano has had a great year, having earlier played The Riddler in The Batman, but I’m told he’s great here too. The UK release is later this month, but Dano has never let me down before, I don’t expect it now. As a little choice for me though, I am picking Mark Rylance for Bones and All. I can’t believe I just wrote that. Rylance has never been a screen presence I’ve been a fan of, always playing weird little guys with weird little accents. Sure, that’s what he does here too, but here it’s with an unpredictable energy that powers the film even when he isn’t on screen. It is an actor taking something that should feel stale but creating a freshness in it and that’s what I love about acting. However, Bones and All will be completely shut out because it is far too weird for anything close to the mainstream. Their loss.

Best Supporting Actress

Likely Bets:

Angela Bassett for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Kerry Condon for The Banshees of Inisherin

Hong Chau for The Whale

Unlikely But Worthy:

Jessie Buckley for Women Talking

I find myself interested by this category which, for so much of the year, appeared to have no strong frontrunner and not even really more than a few fringe possibilities. That’s why I think the current frontrunner feels like such a rogue choice. Don’t get me wrong, Angela Bassett is sensational in pretty much everything she’s in, and is by no means below that bar in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I just feel that by being the strongest part of a mediocre film, it makes her performance seem mightier than it is. Perhaps it’s the narrative of this being “her time”. Bassett has only been nominated once before for an Oscar and seems the kind of actress who should have one. In lieu of a more obvious answer, here she is. As far as less obvious choices though, I think Kerry Condon is a fantastic choice for her work in The Banshees of Inisherin. It’s such a masculine film, heavy with the weight of male conflict, but she adds something different to the film. It’s not merely that she is a female presence, it’s the versatility of her presence. She is gentle and furious and ultimately willing to do what she hopes is for the best. Condon has the least showy role of the three leads, but it’s still a strong one. I am also reliably told that Hong Chau’s work in The Whale falls into this too. I’m yet to see the film but it is a film that is so strongly focussed on performances that rewarding them feels a clear choice. Plus, I know she was great in The Menu, I trust her strength as an actress. Speaking of trusting an actresses’ strength, Jessie Buckley! Last year she secured her first (of many, I assume) Oscar nomination and while the hype on Women Talking has muted, she is my favourite part of it. Her nomination isn’t likely, but it would be recognition for an actress who is yet to put a foot wrong and who is consistently underpraised. I just think she’s neat.

Best Actor

Likely Bets:

Colin Farrell for The Banshees of Inisherin

Brendan Fraser for The Whale

Austin Butler for Elvis

Unlikely But Worthy:

Paul Mescal for Aftersun

Predicting this category was the easiest of the bunch, because three frontrunners have emerged and that’s all my format requires me to predict. Colin Farrell is slowly carving a very impressive winning streak this season and I have a sneaking suspicion that he may end up taking the trophy at the end of this all (but we can check back on that in March). For the time being, his work in The Banshees of Inisherin is brilliant and subtle work, well deserving of all its praise. He goes on a subtle emotional journey and it is credit to Farrell’s acting that we’re not entirely sure where we find ourselves by the end of the film. Also in an apparently equal ball park in Brendan Fraser for The Whale. He has been a fan favourite for this award since well before anyone had actually seen the film, because it’s a success story. Fraser was unofficially blacklisted from Hollywood and this marks a grand return for him. Hollywood rewarding themselves for welcoming him back after kicking him out? Sure, it’s hypocritical, but it’s the Oscars, we expect nothing less. What we also expect is Austin Butler to be nominated for his work in Elvis. I did not care for Elvis, but it certainly ticks the box for Best Actor contention. For two and a half hours, Butler is in almost every scene and transforms himself into a well known persona. That is pure awards catnip. We saw how Bohemian Rhapsody went, some of us even remember Judy. Butler is all but guaranteed a nomination, and we’ll track the rest from there. As I said at the start of this paragraph, there is ambiguity mainly around the two other places in this category. One who stands an outside chance is Paul Mescal for Aftersun. Aftersun is a very delicate film that says a lot without really talking about the things it says. As a film, it can get away with that because of the performances, chiefly the work of Mescal. His quiet collapse powers the film and gives a sense of dread whose origin we can barely place. Though Aftersun is a smaller film than others in competition, it is one whose power could (and should) see recognition.

Best Actress

Likely Bets:

Cate Blanchett for Tár

Danielle Deadwyler for Till

Michelle Yeoh for Everything Everywhere All At Once

Unlikely But Worthy:

Rebecca Hall for Resurrection

Cate Blanchett for Tár. That’s it. Everyone else go home. That diagnosis maybe doesn’t feel fair in a category with plenty of other worthy winners, but awards season has never been about fair. However, awards season also usually doesn’t recognise performances as good as Blanchett’s. She doesn’t play an existing character, she is largely subdued and the film itself is one that many have bounced right off. But holy hell, she is incredible. Nuance isn’t a nuanced enough word for what she is capable of in Tár. Admittedly, she isn’t the only powerhouse vying for attention. I hadn’t heard of Danielle Deadwyler before I watched Till, but she made me remember her name after watching it. It is a more obviously powerful performance, in which she has to portray the rawest kind of grief any human can ever experience. But also, Mamie is not a character who makes the obvious move and because of Deadwyler’s attention to emotional detail, we get to understand her decisions. A weaker actress would have made this a role that, while moving, could feel surface level, but that is not what Deadwyler is here for. My final choice of this bunch is Michelle Yeoh, the beating heart of Everything Everywhere All At Once. I don’t actually know how to describe what she does in this film, other than commit herself to its silliness. If any frame of EEAAO lacked sincerity, the audience would reject it. We didn’t though, did we? Yeoh is physically dominating the screen, pulling off the action moves that made her famous almost two decades ago and doing so with what seems to be a complete ease. She’s awesome. But if I may, let me push a complete wild card, who has no chance of a nomination. I talk of Rebecca Hall for Resurrection. To start, Resurrection is not a well known film and even many of the people who know about it haven’t seen it. What a shame. Horror is always on the back foot at the Oscars, which means a performance like the one Hall gives goes totally ignored. There is a monologue at the heart of this film, which exposes all the craziness to come and reliably lets audiences know where we’re going. The monologue is one unbroken shot of Hall talking. A single slip up would ruin the moment and she doesn’t dare. Were she terrible in the rest of the film and amazing here, she would deserve the nomination. The fact that she is this good for the whole film is criminal, which maybe explains why no awards jury have paid her the slightest bit of attention.

Best Picture

Likely Bets:

The Fabelmans

The Banshees of Inisherin

Everything Everywhere All At Once


Top Gun: Maverick

Women Talking

Unlikely But Worthy:

Bones and All

The Northman

We have made it to the biggie! Did you skim read the other categories to get here? Probably, but that’s none of my business. It’s nice to have you around even just a little. This is also the biggest predictions list, because there will be twice as many nominations, so I need to predict twice as many champions. I’ll get straight into it, The Fabelmans feels a dead cert for a nomination. It is Spielberg talking about his childhood and the magic of the movies. Even having not seen it, that feels like a slam dunk for a nomination. Everyone is also expecting The Banshees of Inisherin to do well. It hit big out of the autumn film festivals and Martin McDonagh’s last film was very handsomely rewarded back in 2018. Good for it, weirder films deserve recognition. Speaking of, the prince of 2022 weirdness, let’s give it up for Everything Everywhere All At Once. Back when it came out, it was the box office story that could, a little miracle whose mere existence was cause for celebration. Now, all these months later, something bigger seems to be in its future. It was the film that everyone kept talking about and buzz is currency for the Oscars, which I hope A24 cash in on big time. Then, expect to see a showing from Tár. From the outside, it seems exactly the kind of awards-baity nonsense that is destined to get an Oscar, but it is far better than that. Sure, it is an almost three hour film about a composer who becomes embroiled in cancel culture, though it isn’t until you watch the film that you realise how much grander it is than that. And even then, it isn’t until the second viewing that it opens up even further.

These next two predictions are slightly less certain, but I think their odds are still good. Despite my disbelief in it as a possibility on its release, there seems to be a genuine chance that Top Gun: Maverick could get nominated for Best Picture. I thought that it was an outside chance because broadly speaking, the way you reward blockbusters is with huge box office returns. As the famous Mad Men quote goes “That’s what the money is for!” However, it has been such a crossover hit for every demographic and one that has endured in the public consciousness. If the Academy want to get public interest, nominating this will draw people in. What may not draw people in is Women Talking. Despite a positive response from every festival it played at, it has bombed at the US box office and has been fairly quiet at other awards shows. So where does it stand with the Oscars? I think it’s too impressive a piece to not garner interest, even if it won’t win anything. And, in a year when women aren’t going to be very present in the creative categories, it would look especially bad if Women Talking gets shut out of a category that had ten spots up for the taking.

My turn now though, to be wild and crazy. Crazy enough to suggest something like, maybe the Academy should nominate a horror film for Best Picture? I know, wild. Bones and All is bonkers and another knockout from Luca Guadagnino, who was once upon a time a contender for Best Picture. Maybe the difference is that with Call Me By Your Name, he cast a cannibal and didn’t make a film about them. Don’t blame me, I needed to get that joke out one more time before this film disappears from public consciousness. Anyway, the point is, this is a lush and sensual horror film that is about love and otherness and learning how to truly find yourself. I fully loved it, from my marrow to my nails. What I also loved was The Northman. We’ll chat more about it on the best of 2022 list but damn, what a feat of moviemaking. It is a muscular epic and the Oscars have never been shy of those before. But I think there is this weird edge to The Northman that will stop people quite digging into it. Not me though. It was technically the most impressive film I saw all year but also has the thematic and emotional depth to back it up. Words cannot describe how special this film is and apparently awards won’t describe it either.


Concerts as Catharsis

(All pictures used are taken by me, poorly. If you’re interested in a companion playlist, follow this little link here.)

We’re still living in weird times. I think we always were, or at least always feel like we are, but this moment post-lockdown still feels precarious. As such, I find it hard to label this period as “post-COVID”, but it is absolutely a new moment. For me, as for so many others, that is signalled by the full fledged return of concerts. There is something so completely special about the shared experience of watching the creator of songs you adore sing the songs to you and a room full of other absolutely ecstatic fans. And obviously, we couldn’t do that during lockdown. It was one of the signifiers that normality would be back, when sweat and close spaces could be shared by us all once again. So, in a rare piece on music, I wanted to talk about what the last year and change has meant for me musically.

I have been incredibly lucky that since last September I’ve been able to tick off almost all my bucket list artists. Some of them were ones I discovered during lockdown, others have been a part of my life for years, but the past year has been a series of very special gigs where I got to celebrate them. I think there is something to be said for this year as an attempt at seeking catharsis for the time we have all had stolen from us. Not to be the cliché I can often be, but I certainly did plenty of that, including a trip back to Florida to try and seek closure on the year abroad that got cut short by the pandemic. With all this said, let’s start our mini odyssey through a year in music that ran the gauntlet from quiet sobs in the dark to primal screams at the world.

We begin the journey with the weirdest stop of the whole tour: Kero Kero Bonito. If you want to know who the hell this band is, start here. “Flamingo” is a weird song, so deep in bubble-gum pop that it is too sickly sweet for many, but it gives you a solid little insight into the thesis of this band. They fit in the genre of “hyperpop”, bouncing up and down to the sound of gleeful nonsense. Honestly, I know a lot of people who really struggle to take it seriously. One of those people is Andy, one of my best friends. We have a shared obsession with KKB, particularly the album Bonito Generation. He thinks it’s very silly, I have a weird adoration for it in the way that I cherish the weirdoes on the fringes of pop culture. Naturally, that meant we should go see them live. In Heaven, of all places, the gay club in London which even ol’ Hetero Henry really enjoys.

To be honest, being my first gig back, I would have loved the KKB gig even if it was terrible. As far as Andy is concerned, it was terrible. But I adored it. The band jumped between songs from their new, vaguely politically charged album Civilisation and then into their bubble-gum back catalogue, with remarkable ease considering the difference in tones. Both sides of their catalogue though define the thing that I wanted fully from this gig; fun. Never before have I been to a gig where I spent so much of it grinning ear to ear, whether from the on stage antics, the electric buzz of the crowd, or the confused look on Andy’s face. It was more than fun though, it was a gig that started to tie together themes in my life (if we dare treat my life like the third rate novel I continue to try and cast myself in.)

I have never really listened to the artist SOPHIE, but I know enough people that do that when they died suddenly at the start of last year, it was something that caught my attention. Here was this pioneering trans figure in music, who without me knowing anything about them, had paved the way for artists I do know and love. Their loss was sudden and is still felt, which was what made the KKB tribute so profound. The band ended a song with a picture of Sophie’s face on screen and everyone raised a fist in solidarity. Again, for poor Andy, I think this was a moment of confusion, but I knew enough about the web I was walking into to feel incredibly moved. These weirdo fringe genres in music are where people like SOPHIE, artists who proudly identify as every shade of LGBTQ+, are allowed to flourish. That’s why it was so important for KKB to have their gig at Heaven, this is music for people who aren’t in the mainstream. I don’t really fit that definition, but it doesn’t mean the effect was lost on me. And you know, then they played the theme from Bugsnax. It was that kind of gig. Stirring tribute to a pioneering trans legend, followed by a spectacular shitpost. It’s the kind of output and tonal balance that I perpetually aspire to. To top it off as the lights came up, I spotted Barnaby and Holly, two friends of mine from Uni. It was this moment that suggested the world opening up again, as seeing friends would once again be a possibility. That was a special cherry on a silly and delicious cake.

We leave a bit of time between this gig and the next, but that time is important. Because the next artist is Mitski. If you’ve talked to me in the past two years, you’ll know that Mitski became pretty much the most important artist of the pandemic to me. While on my silly little depression walks, I would obsessively listen to Be The Cowboy, an infuriatingly brilliant album. It contained all the emotional peaks I needed while in lockdown. There’s this pulsating anger on “Geyser”, a self-deprecating laughter on “Lonesome Love” and the freely flowing desire of “Pink in the Night”. Like I say, I was obsessed with this album. Borderline consumed by it. I couldn’t even listen to Mitski’s earlier albums for a while, because I was terrified they could never live up to Cowboy. When I eventually got around to them, I was obviously delighted, because they were also full of lyrically rich verses and pulsating, awesome rock noise. If I wanted to thrash, Mitski was there. If I wanted to cry, Mitski was there. During the later lockdowns, those were pretty much the only things I wanted and I could always turn to Mitski.

As a fan born out of lockdown then, my first chance to see Mitski would be touring her new album, which would turn out to be Laurel Hell, an album still strong as one of my favourites of the year. However, I wasn’t the only new convert from lockdown. Tiktok had done a lot of work spreading the good word (indeed, it was where I found Mitski), so tickets were a hot commodity. A commodity I found myself in ownership of. I was worried at first, because these songs are very personal to me, very intense to a degree where I didn’t know if I wanted to share them with other people. But I was proven wrong, of course. Mitski is a performer whose wavelength I am on, belting out the lyrics when she needs to and filling the instrumental gaps with what can best be described as an odd hybrid of performance art and dance. Her strange movements kept an ethereal level to her songs, meaning that even though we were now in the presence of the woman responsible for writing and performing these songs, there was this powerful distance still in place. And there was this door on stage. Mitski never approached the door, never opened the door, certainly never walked through it. It was just there. A metaphor for something. If you stopped feeling like your heart was being ripped out, you would be able to have a clear answer. I never got close.

It was at this concert though that I first noticed a worrying trend appear. I had seen similar videos of things like this on Tiktok or on Twitter, but it happened at my concert too. During the final song, an attendee in the front row passed out. I don’t know any of the details surrounding this, other than that the music was paused, first aid attendants were called and we were all left in this strange, spell-breaking lull. I have two theories about why people were passing out at concerts all this year. The first is very logical, in that people are willing to dehydrate and starve themselves for hours in order to maintain a place in the queue and therefore make it to the front of the stage for the performance, as a chance to see your idol at only an arms length. That drains the body and not everyone looks after themselves well enough to stay on their feet. The second theory is that fans can tie artists to seriously deep places in their own being, and so the emotional experience can just be overwhelming. I felt that. I kept myself well hydrated and well fed all day, and still felt myself shaken by songs because I had tied them to who I am. This year, concerts were a catharsis, a place for all those pent-up emotions from lockdown to be finally released. The problem is, two years of emotions don’t escape easily and even if you don’t pass out, you’ll get caught up. I saw Mitski with my friend Maddie and I was so caught up in the inside of my head that I didn’t realise the moment Maddie was having. Catharsis doesn’t always allow you to escape your own head and to Maddie, I’m sorry I didn’t better understand what you were going through that day.

There’s another break now, as we jump from April to June and to Lorde, the queen of my heart. I got into Lorde around the time of her second album Melodrama, but not quite in time enough to see her on tour. That meant I could only dream of the day of her third album arriving and signalling a new tour, as I once again screamed at the top of my lungs to “Green Light” and “Perfect Places”. My love for Lorde endured. It got to the point where I went from being nineteen and singing “I’m nineteen and I’m on fire”, to eventually getting older (I hear this happens to most people) and needing the voice of my generation to return. We had to wait through a lockdown and what felt like an eternal winter before suddenly, Solar Power arrived to warm us. You may remember, I quite enjoyed it. It connects Lorde to these different parts of my life, as it was released while I was working at a pub, an era I jokingly refer to as the dark days. Through this album, I found light, just as Melodrama offered comfort to teenage me. Suddenly, I get hit with lines like “I thought I was a genius, but now I’m 22” and my world swings into focus a bit. In that job, my brain had been completely off, and suddenly it rebooted. Lorde is an artist who connects me to that period before lockdown, but she also got me back into gear once the world started to open up again.

These factors all meant that it was imperative I get tickets to see Lorde on tour. I almost didn’t. Her first batch of tickets sold out before I could touch them and knowing that she was only playing “smaller venues” (read: not arenas), I didn’t think I stood much of a chance at a second round. But I did! I got tickets to the Alexandra Palace show and after doing some tricky co-ordination to ensure I could attend both this gig and my long delayed graduation, I was there. Lorde was finally in front of me. And she was glorious. She may only have three albums, but they’re three albums I completely adore and every song she pulled onto the setlist was a knockout. This particular day was during one of those crazily hot days during the Summer, where we could barely breathe inside, but the mood would have felt feverish anyway. Lorde is the kind of performer I adore. She will nail an emotional ballad and then settle down for some quick chatter with the crowd. Sometimes, the two co-exist. She gave a very impassioned speech about the recent overturning of Roe v Wade, during which she had to take a break because she was crying too hard to talk, but in which she otherwise remained startlingly level headed. And again, I can’t overstate how much she nailed all of her songs. I’m not ashamed to say that when the first beats of “Perfect Places” began, I let out a schoolgirl scream. Songs like this are what people like me are built on.

People like me also struggled in this concert. Remember earlier when I was talking about how it was a ridiculously hot day on this concert? That didn’t help with all the factors from the Mitski concert, with this concert also having to be stopped part way through because someone passed out. And I get it. Lorde is an artist very closely tied to who I am, being in the same room as her sort of changed my life. Your knees might not cope well with that. Plus, this was a gig where even Lorde let herself get overwhelmed at points. It’s not just fans who are attending concerts as bubbling balls of potential catharsis, the artists have build up too. Two years of being unable to tour, unable to get that instant feedback that singing offers. Especially for Mitski and Lorde, two social media shy artists, you don’t know how people respond until they’re in the same room. For everyone, a lot is riding on this. It was for me. The next day, I attended my graduation on about five hours of sleep and successfully managed not to fall over or embarrass myself. In the course of 24 hours, I had suddenly entered a new era of my life. One where I had graduated from university and where I had seen Lorde live. Some closure was achieved, dare I say.

Lighter fare now! Do you remember Carly Rae Jepsen? If you’ve talked to me in the last five years, you will, because I don’t shut up about her. And if you haven’t heard me monologue, then you’re probably just thinking “oh, the “Call Me Maybe” singer?” To that, I say NO! NO! SHE IS SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT!! Step away from this article and listen to Emotion or Dedicated or The Loneliest Time or even any of the B Side albums that contain songs that weren’t good enough to make the final cut but are still better than 90% of the other pop songs out there. I’m serious. Do it. Because while I think that time has been surprisingly kind to “Call Me Maybe”, time has been even kinder to each of her albums since. She is as close to pop perfection as I dare comprehend. Any closer and my eyes would melt. She is also someone who I’ve fallen more in love with since starting my current job, where the blasting saxophone of “Run Away With Me” would signal the time to start closing the bar. While an angsty teenage Henry connected with Carly back in sixth form through her sadder tunes, modern day Henry loves the buoyancy.

All of this is to say that in the summer, I went to Somerset House to see her live. This was in the middle of that other incredibly hot period of the summer, but in a move clearly decided by some higher power, the gig was outside. No abnormal sweating from hidden places tonight, just vibes. And that was exactly what Carly delivered. She sprinkled in bits of banter in-between songs but otherwise adopted a “shut up and play the hits” mentality. Play the hits she did. I fell more in love with “Want You in My Room”, discovered the new direction that “Western Wind” was guiding us towards later in the year and joined every single person in the crowd blasting out “Call Me Maybe” at the top of our lungs. That moment though, when the aforementioned “Run Away With Me” started? Transcendent. I promise you it isn’t hyperbole when I say that the most comparable moment I’ve had to it was hearing “God Only Knows” performed live. My soul left my body and I felt blissfully emancipated from corporeality for just a moment. That’s all there is to say about Carly really. She promises escape, and she knows exactly how to deliver. Any chance I get, I will run away with her all over again.

Which leads us back to the heavy section of my music taste, with Phoebe Bridgers. I discovered her music just before the first COVID lockdown while I was still in Florida. My middle-class is going to show here, but I was listening to Chris Riddell’s Desert Island Discs when I first heard her music. A pandemic, swift return home and complete 180 of all I knew later, I was ready for the release of Phoebe’s second album Punisher. For the first few months of lockdown, I turned to the breezy pop of artists like Dua Lipa to escape but by June, I didn’t need escape, I needed a release. Punisher gave that to me. On these long lockdown walks that I would take during the summer of 2020, catching the sunset as I emerged from yet another overgrown footpath, that album was the comfort I wanted. That comfort took the form of Phoebe saying, actually, everything is very shit right now. Her struggles were not the same as mine (my Dad remembers my birthday, I don’t hate your mum and at that point no one had ever held me like water in their hands), but it just helped to hear someone else struggling. Back then I called it my album of the year and even if other albums from that year have since grown on me more, it was the album and artist that epitomised my year.

Following this is a struggle that will be familiar to many, in the panic to get tickets. Initially, there were three nights in London to get tickets for. I managed to get absolutely none. Fortunately for me though, a fourth night got added and I snuck my way into that with my greasy ticket-grabbing rat hands. From an artist like Phoebe, the gig was all I could have wanted. She played the sad songs with the weight they deserved, could leap across the stage with the very best of them and was an incredibly compelling presence between songs. Full credit to the crowd for fully going with all of these tonal changes too. The quietness of a song like “Saviour Complex” gets respected in the same degree that the loudness of a song like “Kyoto” gets respected. And speaking of respect, at this gig Phoebe played part of an unreleased song, which everyone avoided filming or recording. I’m sure one or two copies made it around somewhere, but for once, the phones went away. That’s how compelling Phoebe is. Most important of all though, she concluded the gig with “I Know The End”. For those out of the loop, the song climaxes on an extended and agonising scream that is where all the catharsis of the album escapes to. Played live, that experience is unparalleled. To be in a room and encouraged to scream as loud and as long as you physically can is what concerts are all about. This is a place to escape and from the sound of the room, you know that escape is exactly what everyone did. From the bottom of my shaky legs and all the way up to my damaged vocal chords, I can confirm I did the same.

With all this release though came more incidents of people passing out. At this concert I think I counted four. Full credit to the staff, they knew exactly how to handle these incidents and it didn’t interrupt the concert, save for an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Staff members were also equipped with water sprayers to keep audience members hydrated, on yet another “packed concert on one of the hottest days of the year” for me. Phoebe is one of those artists who myself and many others discovered during a time that has universally been classified as “bad”. I’m not surprised that it was another location for fan frenzy to take over and overwhelm so many, because this is a safe space to let emotions run. Unfortunately, those emotions aren’t themselves always safe. As a positive note to this story though, something amazing was happening in the background of this concert. I had just started talking to a girl on Hinge. Her name is Annie. We hit it off like I’ve never known before and I was almost annoyed that the concert would be a break from me chatting to her. It was here that she suggested I come back to hers after the concert. I didn’t, because I had work the next day and am a notorious square, but two days later I did visit her. It makes me elated to say that Annie and I are still together and are exceptionally happy. The start of this wonderful period in my life is forever tied to this gig, which makes a wonderful night that much more special.

I have often been described by friends as someone who looks like they’d be a fan of Arcade Fire. For a while that wasn’t true, but in 2019 that changed and I did indeed become a fan of Arcade Fire. I loved the openness of their songs, this almost cringe-inducing sincerity that makes even the clunkiest lines feel alive and essential. It is big stadium indie rock that dreams big and, at least in my mind, achieves big. All six of their albums are ones I can go back to with love, so they were my last bucket list artists to see. When the opportunity arose though, I hesitated. They were playing the O2 arena. All the other bands I’ve talked about played small to midsize venues. I’ve only seen one other band in a venue this size and since then, I’ve always gravitated to these smaller spaces. But, for a band that plays big, you know they need to go big. I sucked up my pride (and the dramatically higher ticket price) and bought tickets. My final bucket list band of the moment, ticked off.

Except, as you might have guessed from the lack of picture, I didn’t go. There is one big reason for that: the sexual misconduct allegations against frontman Win Butler. For a few days I was on the fence. This is a huge band made up of many people, I didn’t want to punish them for one person’s actions. But my feelings shifted. I couldn’t get into their songs in the same way anymore and while it’s easy to rationalise art as being this collaborative medium, the fact remained that it was the frontman of the band with these accusations. To look up to the stage and celebrate someone like that didn’t sit right with me. Even now, writing this months later, my heart is heavy at the decision. This would have been a cathartic concert. Arcade Fire’s songs are a pretty core part of who I am. Catharsis, however, isn’t as clear cut as we believe. It’s a myth. Sometimes it’s there and it helps, sometimes it isn’t and doesn’t. I denied myself the myth. Instead, I took the day off that this would have been and spent it with Annie. Life is too short to spend with shitty people like Win Butler. Spend it with those you love instead.

Speaking of people I love, I can trace my introduction to Japanese Breakfast directly to one man and one man alone, that being my friend George from uni. We bonded while editing the university newspaper together virtually, he watched me spill a can of Guinness down myself during one of those awkward Zoom call social events we used to have to do and he was one of the few people outside my house who I socialised with that year. He was a lifeline and with that lifeline came Japanese Breakfast. When Jubilee came out, it was all he would play, all he would talk about, all he could think about. I knew his taste was good (in all but friends, obviously), so I checked it out. And then checked it out again. And again. I couldn’t stop listening. Over the space of a year, it became a comfort album, as well as a marker of my taste in music continuing to grow. So with all that considered, a trip to a JBrekkie gig was a no brainer.

This particular gig was in a church. A literal church. Why, I do not know, but it made the event feel special. Gigs are already a somewhat spiritual experience, why not make it more literal? I was there with George and our friend Harry (also a survivor of our uni), as well as in the vicinity of three work colleagues and the very university lecturer whose awkward Zoom call social event I had spilled that can of Guinness down myself during. These are friends I’ve made and people I’ve met as a grown up. That made this a grown up gig for me. That was a cool feeling. Feelings of newfound maturity aside, JBrekkie did not disappoint. She sounds just as heavenly onstage as she does on her songs and brought new life to them all. After the gig, I found myself unable to stop listening to “Everybody Wants to Love You” and second to “I Know the End”, “Posing for Cars” is one of the strongest closes to a gig that I’ve ever heard. Also, Michelle Zauner (the real name of Japanese Breakfast) had a gong on stage, which she would often head towards and give a whack. That’s some stagecraft that I, as a clown, can get behind. Most of all though, this felt like the first gig where everything was back to normal. No one passed out, no one was weird, everyone was just there to have a good time while a musician they loved played songs they loved. It is a simple pleasure, but those are not simple to come by.

Finally, we are at the end. My last gig of the year are also the first band I ever saw live and the artist that I’ve seen the most in my life. They are Scouting for Girls. I can hear some of you cringing a little bit already. Yes, the ones who did “She’s So Lovely”. When I saw them at age 12, I thought they were the coolest thing in the world. To be honest, 11 years later, that opinion hasn’t swayed much. They’re showmen, pure and simple. The songs are the songs, but they know how to perform them to an audience who are stoked to hear them. They embody that classic thing with bands, where they’ll play one or two songs of their newer stuff, then just get straight back to playing the songs everyone came here to hear them play. They are the reason I love live concerts.

This particular gig was with Ben, one of my other best mates. We had seen Scouting for Girls before, so why not see them again as a great excuse to hang out together? Us two, his girlfriend and his housemate all went along to UEA, where I suddenly felt very old. Uni is somewhere I feel like I’ve grown out of, but I needn’t have worried. Once we entered the venue, we found hordes of older men and women there, which made me feel much less gross. The whole event was in fact very dad-core. Multiple men in front of us were in football shirts, watching a live feed of England in the world cup (in that game we lost, don’t worry about it). It lent a lack of pretention to the event. This wasn’t big or serious, it’s four guys on stage, hanging out with a bunch more people down in the audience. Play whatever hit you want and we will holler. “Elvis Ain’t Dead?” We’re stomping. “Heartbeat?” We’re jumping. “She’s So Lovely?” Don’t even get me started, people were launching off the walls. It was, in two words, immense fun. So many of my gigs this year have had weight. They’ve been artists I’ve never seen before, venues I’ve never been to before, songs that I needed to hear done right for my fragile little self-worth. What I needed was a gig to relax into. Scouting for Girls were that need, totally fulfilled.

I don’t know where live music takes me next. Like I said throughout, many of these artists were bucket list ticks for me, plus they were touring on huge albums that will presumably have quite a gap before the follow-up is finished. I only have one gig lined up currently for next year and that’s Sam Fender in Newcastle. It promises to be, if I do say so, off its tits. Otherwise, I’m going with the flow. Maybe old favourites will return. Maybe the stagnant pool of water that is my music taste will get some freshness. Or maybe I’ll just stay in and finally watch one of those films I’ve been meaning to get to. Whichever option I choose, I’m glad for this last year of gigging. It is something that has finally helped me get back on my feet in our post-lockdown world. If I can once again attend a gig and everything is normal in there, then maybe everything outside is normal too. It of course isn’t, but what a privilege to hold that illusion for a few hours. A shared delusion of exceptional quality.


Review – Don’t Worry Darling

I want to take you back to a simpler time; 2019. It was an amazing year for films and sent two stars into the stratosphere of success. One of them was actor turned first time director Olivia Wilde, who directed Booksmart, one of my favourite coming of age comedies. The other was Florence Pugh. Having previously impressed in Outlaw King, The Little Drummer Girl and Lady Macbeth, she spent 2019 releasing three films in which she delivered yet more incredible performances. After the streak of Fighting With My Family, Midsommar and Little Women (for which she became Academy Award nominee Florence Pugh), how could you not be ecstatic about what she was going to do next?

As it turns out, what came next was a collaboration between the two, a collaboration I was obviously immediately excited for. The form it was going to take was a thriller called Don’t Worry Darling, based on an existing screenplay that Wilde’s Booksmart co-writer Katie Silberman was to tinker with to better fit their sensibilities. So sure, we’re leaving the zone of comedy that Wilde proved so profficient in, but I was cautiously optimistic. I just had to sit put and wait for my trust in these two creative forces to be rewarded. So I did. I waited. And waited. And tried to ignore the stuff that started to come out. Rumours of rifts on set. Of affairs with pop star co-leads. The rumours grew faster and more furious, from (alleged) shouting matches to (alleged) spitting contests, putting more and more cracks in my faith. It was as if I was being taunted by Hollywood, the title itself staring back at me and daring me to still believe. Don’t worry, darling. Everything will turn out all right.

And so now Don’t Worry Darling is here. It actually exists, you can actually go see it in the cinema. But I haven’t told you what it is yet, or if it’s any good. So let’s do that. Our story is one that feels very familiar. Alice is a housewife living in a picture perfect fifties suburbia, being a docile housewife to Jack. In the morning, Jack goes off to work at “the Victory Project”, while Alice stays at home cooking, cleaning and chatting with the other housewives. Everyone is pretty happy with their lot, but told not to question what the men do at work. We, as the audience, have alarm bells ringing at this immediately. Alice takes a little longer to twig that actually, maybe, everything in Victory isn’t virtually perfect.

But that brings me to my first big issue with Darling, which is the structure. The first five minutes paint a very content picture of domesticity, until Alice realises that something here isn’t right. We spend THE REST OF THE MOVIE in this state of not-rightness, which gets exhausting at the length the film insists on. As the audience, we’re expecting this world to not be as it seems. Once Alice is also onboard, we’re ready to discover what is going down, but we are given almost no hints towards the true purpose of Victory until the very moment where the rug is rudely pulled out from under us. I have plenty to say about what is hidden under that rug, but we’ll save that for a little bit later. The point is, there needs to be a sense of escalation and its absence makes the majority of the film feel aimless. We’re just sitting here, waiting, hoping that soon Alice will find the thing that reboots the momentum of this film into something tastily watchable.

Speaking of tasty and watchable, it’s a very hot cast that Wilde has gathered here! But can they act? Hmm. Well. Tricky question that. I’m going to start by saying that for the most part, the cast are all doing solid work here. Throughout the film there are moments or casting choices that feel a little like missteps, but those are generally justified retroactively by things that are being hidden from us. For example, Nick Kroll feels like a bit of a rogue choice to play a charming fifties househusband, and his performance confirms that feeling. There are some moments where he shouts that are the wrong side of funny (God, we’re really skating around spoilers here) and then there are some moments where the charm he’s meant to ooze is just… Not quite there? It’s not a bad performance per se, just one that needs the justification that the end is going to deliver. Similarly hard done by the twist are basically all the female performers. Whether it’s Gemma Chan or Kate Berlant, the wives of Victory feel slightly too hollow. And again, from the outset, it’s clear that something isn’t right. We can tell that they are not as they should be, but it doesn’t justify these women occupying the role of hollow Fabergé eggs. Unlike the men of this world though, the twist doesn’t quite redeem their performances. You can feel these talented actors pushing at the seams to let their talent flow freely, but not quite reaching it. Ironically, the men are all justified by the awful end, the women are left in the lurch.

Still, there are three main performances I want to focus on. First, and probably most notable, is Harry Styles. You are probably familiar with Harry Styles, probably not as an actor though. There is a reason for this, which is that he isn’t a great actor. Is he as bad as I expected? No. That viral clip of him shouting really is as bad as his performance gets, the rest of the time IT IS FINE! And yet, he is the draw for the film. To be honest, I have very little to add to the discourse on him. Plenty of better actors could have done great with this role, but he is fine and is bringing people in. I think Styles especially struggles though when compared to the good performers around him, because they are so particularly talented. Chris Pine (a very underrated Chris) is great in the role of the leader of Victory. The role itself is not that interesting, but he does what he can with it, being charismatic and just a little dangerous. He has a tasty little dinner scene, you’ll know it when you see it, it’s a treat of OTT slimebag acting. You all know who I think the best actor in this film is though, it’s obviously Florence Pugh. She is my wife, I love her and those close to me are willing to forgive me if I someday drop everything to follow her around the globe. She is a damn great actor and while she’s so much better when the material is good (see Little Women), she can still elevate pretty crappy material. That’s what this situation is. As Alice, Pugh is always completely believable and empathetic, even when the narrative is not, and she is the thing about Darling that I can most enthusiastically praise. Pugh never does no wrong, we love her! All of us! No exceptions, total adoration!

I’m gonna dip into spoilers soon but before we do, some loose technical praise! My big problems with this film are structural and narrative based, so there’s actually a lot else that I do like. The look of the film has to be convincing to sell the later subversion and it is! Matthew Libatique does the cinematography and you get that sense of beautiful chaos that he lends to Darren Aronofsky’s films, but more composed than usual (apart from the moments where it isn’t composed, obviously). I’m also a big fan of the score from John Powell. There are a lot of tortured voices polluting and permeating the soundscape and that works for me. Music that sounds weird is my thing, sue me. Honestly, whenever I praise specific technical elements, I find myself a bit at a loss for who to praise. Do I praise production design, costume design or cinematography for this specific look? As someone who has never made a film, it’s tough to know, but I think I can just say across the board, good job! If you worked on this film, a film made during the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic, you did a great job just to successfully make the film. The fact that it looks or sounds good is a miracle. Well done, sincerely.

This is the spoiler paragraph. If you don’t want spoilers, just skip it! But this film has been out almost a month, and I just have to talk about the insane and frustrating ending. Essentially, it turns out that the thing that’s going on is that we’re not in the real world, but a virtual world in which all the women are subservient captives and the men get to keep living their outside lives. It’s an incel thing, they’re upset that they don’t get enough attention from the women in their lives, so they kidnap them and put them into a world where they have no choice but to love them. Again, I knew that there would be something up, but the moment where this got revealed caused me to audibly mutter “oh no”. It makes no sense, compared to a version of this story where it’s all in Alice’s head, or one where we are in a real cult-like setting out in the desert. All the unexplained bits in this scenario are I guess glitches in the computer? That answer isn’t satisfying, but something has to try and fill the logic hole. It’s never explained, because the twist comes too late in the film to get any accompanying explanation aside from a handful of throwaway lines, which include my favourite line from the whole film, “when a man dies in here, he also dies in the real world”. Mainly, I think I hate this as a twist because it feels unnecessary. Why add that digital aspect unless you want to cheaply update this kind of narrative for the 21st century? Oh! It’s exactly because it’s a cheap and easy way to make your story feel relevant, because the villain is a podcast host. I hate it, but I’m almost tired of hating it now. Almost.

So it isn’t very good! I find the Don’t Worry Darling experience frustrating because it’s not without merit, but it is so essentially hobbled. The core of what this film is is broken. That means that no matter how pretty it looks, no matter how delightfully dense the soundscape is, even no matter how great Florence Pugh is, the film sinks. Once that twist hits, I defy you to start defending this mess. And yet it’s not even the worst film I’ve seen this year! Not even close! Not even the worst film of the month! I just think that it’s broken in interesting ways, which I’ve enjoyed discussing with friends and coworkers. So if you’re still tempted, sure! Go see it! You will have loads of things to talk about, which you might not get from a better movie like Mrs Harris Goes to Paris. But also, you should watch Mrs Harris Goes to Paris while you’re at the cinema. A tasty double bill, as a treat. Something sweet to wash away the taste of disappointment that Don’t Worry Darling still leaves me with.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Thank you all for bearing with me, as I crawl out of my accidental hiatus. I’ve just been very busy and not able to control my time quite as well as before, plus I’m doing more hours than ever at my work. I still enjoy writing but I struggle to both make the time and to get myself excited enough to write about anything. As such, some projects have fallen to the side. There was the second Twin Peaks: The Return post, a post about Kurt Vonnegut in film and something about Robert Eggers’ films, all of which may one day manifest themselves fully. But really, I will just continue to write the stuff that I’m passionate about. I’d like to do more pitching and paid writing, though again that’s about seizing the moment and writing the right thing at the right time. Thank you again for all still reading these. When someone sends me a message or says to me in person that they like my writing, it makes my day. It’s the motivation that keeps me writing and I’m genuinely fine about very few people reading my words, because what matters is when one of those people (one of you guys) enjoys my silly little ramblings.


“For the Last Time” – Five Years of Twin Peaks: The Return

By now, you probably know me. I love Twin Peaks. It is a show that does things for me that even shows I love more cannot do. It’s also a show that I will take any excuse to talk about for annoying lengths of time and this time, that excuse is the five year anniversary of the release of the first two episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return. Let me set up what the angle is here then. This isn’t me reviewing all of The Return, this definitely isn’t me trying to explain what the show is about or what certain scenes mean, it’s just me talking about how I feel about these first two episodes after five years with them. I’ve seen the whole show twice before and am rewatching it again for this piece (and for a follow up one in September about the finale), so it’ll be a mix of me talking about things I’ve picked up this time and also reflecting on what it felt like back in that first summer of Twin Peaks. There will obviously be some spoilers for these episodes in the post, but by now you either have seen the show, will never watch the show or don’t click on articles where I chat Twin Peaks, I think we’re all clear.

We knew this would be the return of Twin Peaks. Anything more than that, you have to tune in.

In the run up to Twin Peaks making its grand return, we knew basically nothing about what the show was going to be. Eventually, we started to be drip fed information. One of the earliest and most curious pieces of information was a full cast list, which contained a bunch of surprising names. Monica Bellucci? Sky Ferreira? Michael Cera? It was odd and especially among the expected returning cast, a lot of these newer names stood out. What role they would play in the show we didn’t know but we knew to expect them around in some form or another. More cryptic teasers appeared in the run-up to release and offered just the barest of information about what was to come. First, it really was absolutely nothing, just footage of Angelo Badalamenti playing iconic music from the series, to the point where footage of David Lynch eating a donut felt like a big step up. Eventually, some of the final teasers gave us fleeting glimpses of iconic locations or characters from the original series and then, that was that. We knew this would be the return of Twin Peaks. Anything more than that, you have to tune in on 21st of May (or be at Cannes, but we can’t all be that lucky).

The first two episodes were released as one “feature length presentation”, which is why I’m clumping them together and though I really am going to try to not just talk this through scene by scene, I need to spend a moment on how well the opening sets us up. We open in the Black Lodge, the most iconic Twin Peaks visual there is. In fact, we open with footage from the original show, as Laura Palmer says to Agent Cooper “I’ll see you again in 25 years. Meanwhile…” Cut to, 25 years after we had last been in Twin Peaks, we are reunited with Coop and a character we will come to know as The Fireman. The Fireman gives both Cooper and the audience a series of clues that will help decipher the mystery, in a way that feels reminiscent of Lynch himself giving audience members clues to decipher Mulholland Drive. These clues all come back into play by the end of the series, but also don’t expect them to reveal the true hidden meaning or anything like that. They’re for exploration, not guiding. Coop says “I understand” but as an audience member, feel no shame if you don’t, whether on viewing one or five.

If this were a revival show in the same way that other classic shows have had revivals, we would immediately move from this into a scene of another beloved character getting up to classic hijinks. We kind of do, these early episodes have a surprising balance of that, but it isn’t quite that simple. The scene following the Fireman’s clues is one of Doctor Jacoby getting a delivery of spades. It’s odd in a way that Jacoby is odd, but not… Well, not immediately punchy. The payoff is worth the wait, but I remember initial confusion about why we were shown something that felt unsatisfying. The only immediately satisfying reunion is that of Ben and Jerry Horne, owners of the Great Northern Hotel. Little seems to have changed for them since the season two finale, with Ben still being a sleazeball who tries his best and Jerry being a guy who is free to goof around whenever he pleases. Other than with them, you’re going to have to wait for some really satisfying character moments. Once again, I cannot stress enough how much some of these moments justify their wait (a moment with Big Ed remains one of the most fantastically moving moments I’ve ever seen on TV), but don’t start The Return hungering for immediate comfort.

Things can never be as they were. We can never truly return home.

It’s one of the things that makes this revival such an impressive piece of work, because all our expectations are upended immediately and place us in total suspension. Things can never be as they were. We can never truly return home. Time’s arrow marches on with or without us. Nothing is as brutal a reminder of this as the appearance of The Log Lady. In real life, Log Lady actress and long time Lynch collaborator Catherine Coulson was battling cancer during the production of The Return and revived her character out of adoration for Lynch and Twin Peaks co-writer Mark Frost. There was no way of sugar coating this and so in the show too, The Log Lady is also battling cancer, requiring dialysis tubes and losing her hair due to chemotherapy. Her scenes are patient, as she says the last few messages her log needs to give the world and on the other end of the phone, Deputy Hawk listens with nothing but respect and love.

These scenes are still set in the otherworldly land of Twin Peaks but, as the best of Lynch’s work does, they ground fantastic worlds in understandable emotions; in this case, grief. Not every actor can return to Twin Peaks looking as glam and wonderful as ever, buoyed up by a little medical enhancement and a lot of good genetics. Not every actor can even return, like the much missed David Bowie and Jack Nance. And heartbreakingly, since the premiere of the show, we have lost yet more actors who brought their characters back for one last ride. There’s an argument to be made that because of this, The Return is a show forced half into mourning, which is never felt more strongly than in the absence or the imminent absence of those we have always loved.

Which leaves the question, what do we fill those spaces with? Lynch and Frost’s answer is, a huge world full of loads of other weirdness. In these two episodes alone, we dash between New York, Las Vegas and South Dakota in between our time in the town of Twin Peaks. That felt very weird for me on a first watch. The original run of Twin Peaks worked so well because while it gestured towards a larger world, it was almost always grounded in small town America, aggressively refusing to compromise on that vision. So in going out into the big city, had Lynch and Frost lost their spark? The answer, of course, is no. This isn’t a losing of a spark, just the two channelling their spark into a new circuit. We have good reason to be here, it just might take time before we work out what that reason is.

It might take time for some of those locations, but not New York. An enigmatic setup of a man, watching a box, itself watched by a series of cameras, is disrupted first by a sexual encounter and then by a violent one, as *something* (even now, I don’t have a great answer for what the something is) explodes through the box and murders the two lovers. Whether you know what this story means or not, you can grasp what the emotion means. We aren’t in the cutesy world of the original Twin Peaks series anymore, we’re in the world of David Lynch’s feature films, where sex and violence are hyperreal explosions perforating a surreal status quo. The freedom of modern TV means we don’t have to shy from gore or nudity anymore and Lynch is promising that he won’t. This is far closer to the griminess of Fire Walk With Me than even the darkest moments of classic Twin Peaks.

Sex and violence are hyperreal explosions perforating a surreal status quo.

While Lynch only directed a handful of episodes of the original Twin Peaks, he directed every single of the 18 episodes of The Return, which helps explain why it fits into this broader pattern of his filmography. For a caught up surrealism nerd like me, that was great news then and remains great news now. For those who wanted cutesy fun and a splash of murder, it’s also worth noting that Riverdale came out the same year, and may offer a watered down version of what you want. Because make no doubt, The Return is the show David Lynch wants to make. He doesn’t care if you understand it, he doesn’t care if you like it, he definitely doesn’t care if you think a scene is too long. You either have to take his world exactly as it is or accept that this isn’t for you. There is no shame in that, despite my Riverdale quip, this really is an acquired taste from episode one.

Once you have acquired that taste though? Oh my God, delicious! Re-watching the show, everything fits together so much more comfortably. I’m no longer worried about how (or if) everything will fit together, because I can see the bigger picture of the narrative. That feeling allows moments to really breathe. Comedy can be funnier, scares can be scarier and Matthew Lillard can be more Matthew Lillard. I wanted to talk about him (in my notes this section was just about him) but I had to tie him in to a wider thing somehow. I love his performance in The Return, fitting into the classic trope of a man accused of a murder he’s sure he didn’t commit, a role that offers such delicious room for him to flex the acting muscles.

When I first saw this episode, Lillard was just Shaggy from Scooby Doo for me (an admittedly great time, no slander here), but now that I’ve seen him in films like Scream, I have a better appreciation for him as a performer. The guy is crazy versatile and if you too only know him from those crazy roles in the nineties and early noughties, just watch his scenes from this on YouTube and prepare to have your socks knocked off. He is frightened, forceful and furious in incredibly subtle ways, balancing on the edge of about six different knives. Lillard gives one of the best performances in The Return and the more you see of the show, the more you’ll realise what an immense compliment that is. If you had any fears about what new characters might do to pollute a world you loved, he assuages them immediately.

“Shadow” evokes a comfort in me that everything will be alright, yet it still allows an excitement about the uncertainty to come.

And finally, after a very bonkers two hours, we reach the end of the episode. We’ve watched the Black Lodge tear itself apart (a metaphor so perfect I’m furious I never wrote an academic essay on it), seen old friends show their age and also been introduced to the new threads that we’ll spend the next 16 hours following, probably. So we have earnt one last return to Twin Peaks and where better to cool down than The Road House or, as it has now been trendily updated to, The Bang Bang Bar. Playing at the bar are the band Chromatics with their song “Shadow”, a song that now never fails to give me goosebumps. It is quietly and ethereally beautiful, excellent in ways that I am far too stupid to actually explain other than “it fits the vibe very well”. The song evokes a comfort in me that everything will be alright, yet it still allows an excitement about the uncertainty to come. There are plenty of other amazing songs played in The Road House, but “Shadow” is the perfect one for this moment.

In this scene, we also get one last reunion, as we are reunited with Shelly and James, two of the characters from the original series with the most screen time. Here we find Lynch and Frost at their sappiest, allowing two characters to reminisce. Though it was pretty much immediately made fun of by many fans, Shelly’s line “[James] has always been cool” always landed for me. It’s a lie, but a lovely one to indulge in, a rare moment where The Return does feel like the show fans expected it to be. Even this is undercut though by the appearance of actor Walter Olkewicz, last seen 26 years ago as Jaques Renault, a character who died. Why is he here? Is this the same character? Perhaps The Road House exists in a different world than the rest of the show? These three questions will never get conclusive answers, yet their appearance is the needed salt to undercut the sweetness of Shelly’s comment about James. No matter what it looks like, this will not be the return you expect from Twin Peaks.

There was so much just in these two episodes that I never got to mention. The first appearance of a woodsman, the brilliant use of uncanny CGI and the excellence of Kyle MacLachlan in two of what will eventually be four roles. The Return is so dense that after five years, it doesn’t feel like we’ve come close to finding everything and yet it is also so well balanced that this density is never cumbersome. Regardless, at this point you have to go along for the ride that Lynch, Frost and all their collaborators are taking you on, because the places they are going are wonderful and strange. I’ll be back in September to talk about the last two episodes so if you’re looking for my thoughts on the stuff in the middle, just message me, talk to me, demand my ever-so-interesting thoughts on the way “Episode 8” fits in with a globally surreal vision of the impact of the atomic bomb. But until then, I’ll write on something more accessible, I promise. Maybe another review, remember those?


Oscars 2022 Predictions

Oscar week is here and if you’re anything like me, it snuck up on you! This year I was really hoping to do a big old write up of all sorts of categories, but I am running up against quite a few deadlines and still trying to do the obligations that no one expects from me but me. So here we are! Six big categories to run through, my amateur opinion to run through them with. As ever, I am not responsible for you using my advice in any sweepstakes you may be involved in, especially because my own predictions have changed since I submitted my predictions at my work sweepstakes. But this is all a bit of fun, awards are pointless and nothing matters, especially because Belfast will win and ruin any good will I had for the ceremony. So hell to it, let’s predict wildly! And while we’re at it, let’s lament those potential better winners! Oscars!

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Kirsten Dunst for The Power of the Dog

Should Win: Jessie Buckley for The Lost Daughter

Setting the trend early, the Best Supporting Actress category is filled with some incredibly worthy nominees and some that, while not necessarily bad, feel puzzling. Chief of these examples is Judi Dench for Belfast. Dench is a filler vote, someone for voters to choose because they know who she is and not because she actually gave one of the five best supporting performances of the year. There was room for so many other incredible nominees to break through, but instead Dench’s wobbly accent and Cats-PTSD inducing monologue made it. She’s a great actor, but that doesn’t mean all of her performances deserve recognition. I also don’t feel strongly about Aunjanue Ellis in King Richard, though that may be because the film itself leaves me so cold. She has one great monologue in a kitchen, it will be the clip they show at the ceremony, I don’t want to besmirch a performance from a film I barely remember.

Now we get to three amazing performances from three actors who I think may stand a chance at taking the trophy. Ariana DeBose seems to be the bookies favourite at the moment, for her joyous performance as Anita in West Side Story. She was a totally new actor to me when I saw the film, but her and (the cruelly snubbed) Mike Faist have been my strongest impressions since seeing West. DeBose completely lit up the screen and has frankly earnt her place here for the “America” number alone. Something in my gut though says that Kirsten Dunst will pip her to the post, for The Power of the Dog. I feel like I am way overestimating the winning power of the Dog (classic me, betting on losing dogs), but this feels like the right time for Dunst. After decades in the industry, she has finally secured her first Oscar nomination and it’s for a great role. What should be the cliched “housewife turns to substance abuse” type role is lent a delicate fading of hope by Dunst, in what is my favourite turn from her since Fargo. Speaking of Fargo, the season four star Jessie Buckley is my favourite performer of the bunch for her work in The Lost Daughter. I think Buckley is one of the greatest working actors today and she finally gets Oscar recognition for a character who has to be understandable to the audience despite also making irrational and unlikable decisions. Despite being unlikable though, there is something in Buckley that draws us deep into the character and her work lends the film an anchor from which Colman can work in the present day sections. Her win here seems unlikely, but I can live with that because Buckley will almost certainly be back again to pick up that trophy some other year.

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Troy Kotsur for CODA

Should Win: Kodi Smit-McPhee for The Power of the Dog

This is a weird category, in that I think that every actor in the category is a really great actor, but not all are giving particularly great performances in their nominated films. Case in point, Ciarán Hinds for Belfast. Hinds is an actor who has had a wide and brilliant career, even giving good performances in delightful trash like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. However, he is in Belfast. We’ll talk more about the film itself later, but his role is kind of thankless, just off to the side. I guess he’s one of the best things in the film, but that is low praise. Similarly, Being the Ricardos is a bad movie, yet the brilliant J.K. Simmons is in it. He got nominated because his character appears one note and yet opens up to show another side. But also, he’s incredibly watchable, because he’s an actor who can string bronze out of hay. Again, he is one of the best parts of a film that is not good.

The other three actors however are all very worthy nominees for the roles they’ve played. Two of those three are from The Power of the Dog. Jesse Plemons has never given a performance I didn’t like and this is no exception. He’s a great counter balance to Cumberbatch’s lead, offering a genuine loveliness. One line delivery from him properly warmed my heart, in ways you wouldn’t expect from a film like this. Also not being what is expected is Kodi Smit-McPhee, an actor who has never wowed me but has a knack for choosing films I like (one day Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will get the acclaim it deserves). In Power, his character is a coiled spring, slowly unravelling until he pops. It’s a treat to watch and his performance is my favourite one of this category. For a while, Smit-McPhee was the frontrunner but at the last minute, it seems like Troy Kotsur will take it for CODA. This is no crime. CODA is not a film I am crazy on, but Kotsur is absolutely brilliant. His brutish presence hides a softness and while it’s hardly a big secret, it’s one that made me smile to see appear. He is funny and gross and has the biggest emotional moments of the whole film. If CODA deserves recognition for anything, it’s for Troy Kotsur.

Best Actress

Will Win: Nicole Kidman for Being the Ricardos

Should Win: Olivia Colman for The Lost Daughter

I am not exactly enamoured with this field of nominees. Again, it’s a selection of very talented actors but absent of any career best roles. I will get it out of the way now, I haven’t seen The Eyes of Tammy Faye, so have no idea if Jessica Chastain is any good in it. She wears a lot of prosthetics, plays a real person and has been playing the awards season game well. I have a manager who thinks she’ll take the prize but I’m doubtful personally. I’m also going to be controversial, I don’t think Kristen Stewart is that great in Spencer. It hurts me to say that because the film has not seen the love it deserves, but I found Stewart’s performance (the sole Oscar nomination for the film) alienating in all the wrong ways. She has also not been getting much recognition this season, so I don’t think a win is on the cards, but her performance of Diana is one that will attract many voters regardless. Penelope Cruz is deserving of her place here though, for great work in Parallel Mothers. The film is a rollercoaster of melodramatic emotions and without someone to latch onto, many audiences would feel lost. Cruz is exactly that figure though, someone who the audience can latch onto with ease. There is something about her in Spanish speaking roles where she suddenly is an amazing actress (especially her collaborations with Almodovar), which is a trend Parallel Mothers thankfully falls into.

It is a toss up about who my favourite actress of the race is, between Cruz and Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter, but I think I settle on Colman. She plays the same character as Jessie Buckley (talked about a little earlier up the page), yet does so in a way that feels totally unique. I think it’s a credit to the two actors to say that they make the same character feel totally separate and of course, Colman brings her best with her interpretation. She bubbles under the surface, being hard to read and yet paradoxically never too hard to understand. She’s not as great as in The Favourite, but she’s still the best of this bunch. Unfortunately though, I have a gut feeling that Nicole Kidman will win for Being the Ricardos. I can’t put into words why I think she’ll win, but I just feel it. That’s a special shame because her performance is terrible and exactly the kind of performance I hate. She plays an existing (and beloved) figure, looks unrecognisable and has multiple showy monologues. It hits you over the head with capital a Acting and I never believed it for a second. Yet I still feel like it’s where the Academy will lean. Let that show you how low my estimations of that strange little group are.

Best Actor

Will Win: Will Smith for King Richard

Should Win: Benedict Cumberbatch for The Power of the Dog

In most years, the Best Actress category is the one with the performances I like the best whereas Best Actor is just men being gruff and playing historical figures. In a move of progressiveness though, this year the Best Actress category is uninteresting and Best Actor is full of some genuine gold. Not among that genuine gold is Javier Bardem for Being the Ricardos. Again, I don’t like this film and its reliance on big Acting, that abandons subtlety or grace for long monologues about old actors. I’m happy Bardem is getting a chance to play roles other than weird bad guys, but this is not the direction I want him to move in. We’ll brush over this briefly, I have not seen The Tragedy of Macbeth yet. I’ll try and see it before the actual ceremony but it has me intrigued. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have captured the attention of the Academy, as Denzel Washington is one of very few nominations for the film. I wish him luck, but he’s another actor who is here so often that a loss won’t be a big blow.

Big three time. Isn’t Andrew Garfield great? Just, in everything. He’s done stuff I liked more than Tick Tick Boom but this remains an impressive display of his talent. It is literally all singing, all dancing and so while it’s showy, what it shows is that Garfield is very talented indeed. He’d be a great outsider winner. That almost certainly won’t happen though, as one of these two gentlemen will take it. Current favourite is Will Smith for King Richard. I don’t like this film and I’m also not crazy on Smith as an actor (apologies to anyone offended). This is certainly some of his best work, but from me that’s low praise. But, he’s overdue an Oscar, maybe this is his year, before I Am Legend 2 or Bright 2 obliterates the actors existing good will. I’d personally go with the early frontrunner Benedict Cumberbatch for The Power of the Dog. He’s an actor who I’ve liked before but never been that crazy on, yet in this role I was totally absorbed by him. His character has this rough exterior and it fades through the film, allowing you to glimpse through at the layers crafted underneath. I have no doubts that another watch would reveal even more to this great performance, but I’ll just appreciate it this much for now.

Best Director

Will Win: Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog

Should Win: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi for Drive My Car

I wouldn’t always talk about Best Director in my Oscar predictions, but this year I feel like there’s actually decent reason to discuss this category as well as Best Picture. As ever, I should clarify that as an observer it’s always hard to break down what makes a great director, but I’ll do my best to justify why these directors do or don’t stand a chance in the running. We’ll start with everyone’s favourite menace to society Kenneth Branagh, nominated for Belfast. He is nominated alongside four complete titans in the field and for a film that feels almost accidentally made. The only reason he could win is because it does feel very much like a personal film from him, but I wouldn’t write that acceptance speech if I were Ken. Similarly, a win for Steven Spielberg seems unlikely, despite him being Steven Spielberg. Don’t get me wrong, West Side Story is a cracking little film, but it has been very underseen and is Spielberg being the usual brilliant Spielberg. He’s great, but that’s no surprise. Similarly low in the odds for running is Paul Thomas Anderson for Licorice Pizza. It’s a film that has been really well loved by many and one that demonstrates the trademark attention to detail that PTA brings to all of his films. However, it feels like a lot of the hype has died down, we’ll see how well it does at the actual ceremony.

All but guaranteed to walk away with Best Director is Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog. There’s a lot of cynical reasons for this. Her name has been front and centre for the marketing of the film, it’s a way of celebrating a Netflix film without letting it win Best Picture and it looks progressive having a woman win Best Director two years in a row. There is also an uncynical reason for Campion winning and that is that she has crafted a brilliant film. She has wrangled in top tier editing, cinematography and performances, all in a film that feels incredibly controlled. It’s hard as an outsider to know what else to credit directors for other than that. However, Campion is not my choice. Instead, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi is my choice for the miraculous Drive My Car. Like Campion’s film, control is the word. This film is three hours long, yet somehow feels perfectly balanced. The longer a film is, the more it has to justify every minute and yet justify Hamaguchi does. I would not cut a single scene. I love Drive My Car and am backing it in every race this year, but this is one category where its loss would not feel a tragedy. Four titans (and one Branagh) enter the thunderdome, only one can leave.

Best Picture

Will Win: Belfast

Should Win: Drive My Car

It is the one everyone scrolls down to read every year, because it’s the only one that matters! Unfortunately, it’s not exactly a selection to set my soul on fire. There’s some good stuff, sure, but we have to shovel our way through the shit before we get to it, and even then we may discover yet more shit. Speaking of, Don’t Look Up! I don’t like this film and I don’t really know anyone who does. Yet, it seems to have some swell of support behind it. If it won, it would be pretty much the funniest possible outcome, causing an immense shitstorm through all sections of the internet. I am almost rooting for it. Not as bad but more unlikely a winner, King Richard is nominated for Best Picture. How? Moving on. CODA is being touted by many as the current favourite, but I am prepared to once again underestimate this film and its odds. It does nothing for me aside from a few nice scenes and some great performances, yet many like it. There’s a chance of victory, I’d rather something else win though, a win would seriously damage the films legacy when much greater films are in contention.

We now start to move more towards worthy nominees, but ones that also don’t stand a chance. Case in point, West Side Story. It’s gorgeous, an entertaining watch and a take on material that has previously won Oscars. However, it stands no chance. Dune also stands no chance. It’s a brilliant blockbuster made with genuine craft, yet it is big space nonsense. Maybe when Dune: Part Two comes out it will pull a Return of the King and get enough awards for the whole franchise, but this first entry will have to be happy with some technical awards through the night. Licorice Pizza is also a really well made and really likable movie, but it is rocking around with too many controversies in its boat to be a slam dunk of a choice. I liked it quite a lot when I first saw it, but I haven’t thought about the film much since, probably a bad omen. Elsewhere, we find Nightmare Alley, an excellent film made by an Oscar winner that no one saw and that most people who did see thought was too dark or too long. I, however, loved it. It’s big and indulgent, sure, but it’s a true craftsman getting to indulge so I was happy to be there. It also has no chance. So it goes.

Big three time! For most of this season, The Power of the Dog has been the Best Picture frontrunner, and why shouldn’t it be? It has big themes, it looks amazing and it just gives more and more to you as you continue to think about it. There are two reasons I don’t think it’ll get Best Picture though. First, its heat has faded. Awards season is all about riding the rollercoaster for as long as you can, but it seems like Power hasn’t quite got there. Second, it’s a Netflix film. That still feels like a big bridge for the Academy to cross, I don’t think we’re quite there yet. No, I think we’re at Belfast. I hate Belfast. The last three months have allowed a bad impression to only further sour, letting this poorly made film fester under the spotlight of my brain. But it’s in black and white, it plays songs people know and it has “crowd pleaser” written all over it in big gold font. With the way Best Picture is voted on, it is exactly the middle of the road kind of rubbish that could Green Book its way to a win. Exactly the kind of win that would shut out a worthy competitor like Drive My Car. It is the film in this race I am most in love with by a large margin, a patient ode to the transformative power of love, grief and art. The fact it could even be nominated here is honestly enough of a win for me, because it stands no chance of winning. But man, if it won, I would almost certainly throw my back out again celebrating, like I did with Parasite. It seems like my spine may be safe though, sadly.


Review – Heart Failure

I should get some disclosure out of the way upfront. Heart Failure is a short film made by Will Wightman, a dear friend of mine. We went to sixth form together, I visited him a few times at Uni and he has asked me to write this piece about his short film to try and spread the word about it. I also helped fund Heart Failure during its Kickstarter campaign, for which I am thanked in the credits. These things are important for me to get out of the way at the start because I believe in some form of integrity. If I don’t have a large readership and I barely have talent, I might as well have integrity. If I thought Heart Failure was not worth your time, I would not be writing this review about it. Fortunately, it is my absolute pleasure to indulge Will’s request because having seen his previous short films, I am delighted to say that this one is his best yet, a true delight from start to finish.

Also it’s a musical. Filmed during COVID-19. Made by students.

The story of Heart Failure may sound familiar to you. A guy (Frank) and a girl (Lizzie) meet in a club, have a one night stand and then fail to do that bit at the end where they don’t see each other again. They begin dating but Frank has to face up to having caught feelings after getting a “we need to talk” text from Lizzie. This is a short film, so we’re not exactly going for 2001: A Space Odyssey here, we can’t chart the evolution of mankind in ten minutes. What we can chart is the evolution of one man, having to go through a situation that a lot of young men go through, depicted in all its drunken highs and downbeat lows. Oh, and also it’s a musical. That was filmed during the COVID-19 lockdown that the UK had in 2021. Made by students. This is the time to realise how impressive everything about this film is.

The thing I love most about Heart Failure is it has this incredible propulsive energy, with each scene flowing together all buttery smooth like. Will has been a huge fan of Edgar Wright for as long as I’ve known him and you feel that through his editing style. It bounces and moves and it’s hard to know how else to describe it other than it is put together in a way that makes the ten minutes absolutely fly by. Helping the film go down easy is the music that fuels this musical, written by Will W and his partner in crime Will Marchant. The two have a history in assorted teenage bands but somehow this information feels like I’m underpreparing you for what to expect from their EDM musical. It’s not a genre of music I know much about, I’ll admit, but their take on it is very catchy. The songs have been going through my head ever since I saw the film and I’m very ready for them to start streaming online soon.

I should take a moment now and make sure I give massive credit to all of the cast and crew who helped make Heart Failure the triumph it is. I keep referring to Will because it’s easy, he’s the director and my mate, but he has surrounded himself with people who are just as (if not even more) talented than he is. I’ve already mentioned Will Marchant, also doing duty as the director of photography and giving Will W someone to go insane with. While the two of them do their thing behind the scenes, their cast work magic in front of the camera. Leon Newman leads as Frank and is fab, Izzie Fryman leaves a real impression with her fleeting performance as Lizzie, but my favourite of the cast is Harry Hancock as Ali. They have the smallest role of the three but get to play deliciously into and against genre convention, making the very most of every second they’re onscreen. These five had help from countless others, but to name a few there’s Cleo Yeomans as producer, Georgia Cunningham as 1st assistant director and Adam Pemberton as 1st assistant camera. It’s hard as a viewer to place who behind the scenes is responsible for what part of the final product, so I just wanted to throw out a couple of names as a way of saying “everyone here clearly did a great job because the film just works”.

I found myself struck by the immense passion Heart Failure is filled with.

As one final note, I found myself struck by the immense passion Heart Failure is filled with. I mentioned it at the start, but I visited Will a few times while he was studying in Falmouth and watching his film, you feel this overpowering adoration for the town. The production didn’t have the budget to create sets or even borrow someone else’s set, so it’s all filmed in and around Falmouth. A couple of shots of the horizon particularly capture the magic of this magical town and it certainly separates this film from Will’s previous Cambridge set ones. The humour of those films remain but with the change in location, there comes too a slight change in tone. I know this isn’t deliberate because despite my recommendation he still hasn’t seen it, but there’s a hint of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to the plot, in which we’re encouraged to celebrate poor and cyclical decision making in the face of love. It’s not heavy or even unfamiliar feeling, just a new wrinkle of emotional complexity being added and feeling right at home.

Like I’ve said, take my opinion with a pinch of salt but I love this film. The fact it exists is a minor miracle and therefore the fact that it’s this good does force me to consider the fact that Will Wightman may have sold his soul to whatever the filmmaking equivalent of the devil is. I cannot recommend enough checking it out. It’s only ten minutes, it’s a hell of a lot of fun and Will would seriously appreciate the support. If you are interested, the film is embedded below, give it a look!