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Monday, April 22, 2024

The best of 2022 in entertainment is the gift that keeps on giving


While Santa Claus has a knack for delivering presents to children, he’s way too busy with reindeer training and magic sleigh maintenance to keep track of the gifts that entertainment and pop culture have bestowed over the course of 2022.

So I’m assuming temporary elf duties to sort through the year in TV, streaming, movies, celebrity news, memes and more. It’s a list that runs the gamut from “Elvis” to “Everything Everywhere All At Once” and “Abbott Elementary” to “Andor”  –  and covers a geographical range stretching from Detroit’s Giant Slide to a certain White Lotus luxury resort in Sicily.

These are moments that gave many of us all the feels for the past 12 months and, ultimately, made the case that things would be “OK, all right, it’s about damn time,” as Lizzo sang in her empowering dance hit.

Related:Belle Isle Giant Slide’s wild rides featured on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live,’ in new song

As for the worst, I’ll pass for now on reliving the infamous Oscar slap, the “Don’t Worry, Darling” Spitgate, Ticketmaster’s Taylor Swift tour meltdown or, on a much more serious level, the hate-filled rants of the artist who goes by Ye. That, stressed-out readers, is my special gift to you.

May your 2023 be as confident and liberating as that Wednesday Addams dance from Netflix’s “Wednesday.”

Best nostalgia. “Top Gun: Maverick” arrived 36 years after the original “Top Gun,” in the midst of a post-pandemic box-office slump , and still blew the roof off of multiplexes everywhere. Earning about $1.5 billion internationally (and a whopping 96% positive rating with critics and 99% with audiences on Rotten Tomatoes), this sequel’s mission was doing the impossible. Apparently, that’s still a snap for Tom Cruise.

Best self-parody. Nicolas Cage, the actor, as Nicolas Cage, the self-absorbed, movie-obsessed, thinking-of-quitting actor in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” a fun, meta experiment in Cage’s over-the-top dramatics that sneakily morphed by the end into yet another rollicking Nicolas Cage action movie.

Best prison break. In the most unexpected “Star Wars” streaming spinoff so far, Disney+’s “Andor” was a devastatingly honest look at the human toll of living under — and fighting against — fascism. In other words, this was not your Aunt Barb’s Baby Yoda adventure. What it lacked in cuddliness, it more than made up for in strong acting from Diego Luna, particularly when his character, Cassian Andor, was incarcerated in a mega-factory with no exits. Until, that is, Cassian attempted to escape or die trying.

Best hook. Kudos to Taylor Swift for bringing psychological heft to “Anti-Hero,” the catchy single from her latest album, “Midnights.”  It contains some thought-provoking lyrics about how anxiety and self-doubt can make even a music superstar feel like her own worst enemy. The earworm from the hit is the simple, perfect line, “It’s me. Hi. I’m the problem. It’s me.” Is it self-delusion or self-revelation? Or both simultaneously? Only Swift’s psyche knows for sure.

Best diva. It’s Lizzo’s world and rest of us applaud her in it. Like her Emmy-winning Amazon Prime reality competition, “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,’ her chart-topping hit “About Damn Time,” her new Yitty shapewear line, her onstage playing of James Madison’s historic crystal flute, her “Saturday Night Live” hosting gig, her People’s Champion win at the People’s Choice Awards, her “Love, Lizzo” documentary and her five Grammy nominations. She’s busy creating new triumphs, while I’m exhausted just compiling this list.

Best fashion plate. Jumpsuits with bold, diagonal stripes. Feather boas paired with leather suits. Pearls and pullover sweaters. Fluorescent pink everything. Harry Styles garnered maximum attention for his personally revealing songs (“As It Was”) and forays into acting (“My Policeman,” “Don’t Worry, Darling”), both of which fed the tabloid frenzy over his romance with ex Olivia Wilde. Another idol might be weighed down by an avalanche of gossip, but Harry’s wardrobe signaled that he keeps his life in perspective. Here’s how to have fun in the eye of a media storm.

Best song of longing. Leave it to Weezer to end the year with an ironic, yet self-aware tune, “I Want A Dog,” that addresses existential loneliness and the joys of scrolling Instagram for puppy videos: “I want a dog to curl up beside me/I want a dog ‘cause he would keep me company/I want a dog ‘cause he would look out for me/ Cheer me up when I don’t think I’ll make it.” Pretty sure they mean a rescue dog.

Best staycation. The second season of HBO’s “The White Lotus” managed to top the first’s lush Hawaiian setting by moving a new cast of characters (along with Jennifer Coolidge’s returning love-seeking heiress Tanya McQuoid) to the fictional resort chain’s seaside site in Sicily. The combination of centuries-old architecture, impeccable designer loungewear, sparkling Mediterrenean beaches and endless Aperol spritzes was, well, intoxicating.

Best belated recognition of a whistle-blower. The under-appreciated Starz miniseries “Gaslit” gave millennials a proper introduction to Martha Mitchell, the so-called “Mouth of the South” who was treated like a punchline during the Watergate era. As Julia Roberts showed with her empathetic portrayal, Mitchell actually was telling the truth at a time when the public figures around her, including her husband, John, were hiding crimes that eventually would force President Richard Nixon from office. She paid a horrible price in terms of the efforts to keep her quiet. But as an arrangement of flowers from an admirer spelled out at her funeral, Martha was right.

Best argument for public education. “Abbott Elementary,” the new ABC hit from creator-star Quinta Brunson, proved there is still gas in the tank of network sitcoms. It melds comedy with crucial, but never heavy-handed insights on the importance of teachers and the need for adequate funding for public schools. And move over, Pam and Jim from “The Office.” The only slow-simmering romance that matters these days is between Brunson’s optimistic Janine and Tyler James Williams’ reserved Gregory. Sigh!

Best farewell. From making viewers fear for the safety of a character played by the universally beloved Carol Burnett to letting them glimpse the hidden selflessness of the sleazy attorney of the title, the final run of AMC’s “Better Call Saul” played upon the emotions of its audience like a concert pianist racing up and down the keys of a Steinway grand. While some expected a more violent ending, Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman got the punishment he deserved: plenty of alone time to ponder a lifetime of bad decisions.

Best cooking show. Hulu’s “The Bear” made a catch-phrase out of “Yes, chef!” and turned the chaos and tensions of the daily shifts at a struggling Italian sandwich shop in Chicago into an adrenalin-packed thrill ride. If all dramedies about food were this good, streaming fans would dine on nothing else.

Best workplace allegory: “Severance,” the AppleTV+ drama about employees at a mysterious firm who can’t remember their home lives while at work and vice-versa, started out as a statement on the 24/7 nature of modern jobs, then segued into a scary meditation on corporate overreach and unscrupulousness. Pro tip: Always remember to take your vacation days and refuse management’s offer to have a chip implanted in your brain.

Best breaking of the fourth wall.  Tatiana Maslany was divine in Disney+’s “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” as Jennifer Walters, who has a freak accident that leads to her occasionally transforming into a towering, bulked-up, green superhero. Her character set the light tone by speaking directly to the camera and even stepped outside the show’s narrative during the season finale to confront K.E.V.I.N., an artificial intelligence version of Marvel boss Kevin Feige, about the episode’s ending. Love, love, love the subtext on gender bias and stereotypes.

Best docudrama: “Five Days at Memorial,” the AppleTV+ miniseries about the consequences of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath on a New Orleans hospital, stands with HBO’s “Chernobyl” as one of the most difficult to watch re-creations of a real-life disaster – and one of the most necessary.

Best multiverse. Picture Michelle Yeoh seeing “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and asking both of those Marvel dudes to hold her beer. Such was the awesome inventiveness of “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” a whirlwind of a story about an emotionally estranged mother and daughter who inhabit different personas in alternate worlds (one of which turns them into rocks).  Oh, and there’s one world where everyone’s fingers look like hot dogs. These details barely scratch the surface of a cinematic gem that refused to be pigeonholed by a single genre.

Best ‘80s teen actor comeback. Ke Huy Quan, who played Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and Data in “The Goonies,” re-emerged decades later in “Everything Everywhere All At Once” as the husband of Yeoh’s character who, depending on which multiverse he’s occupying, is either put-upon, courageous or suavely enigmatic. Indy’s pal found a much-deserved second act from a very unique indie.

Best ‘80s song comeback. Kate Bush’s 1985 single “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” rocketed up the Billboard Hot 100, thanks to its revival in the fourth season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” If Gen Z thinks it’s good, wait until they hears Bush’s “Wuthering Heights.”

Best Marilyn. The legacy of the Hollywood icon was majorly disrespected in 2022, first by Kim Kardashian’s ill-conceived choice to wear Monroe’s famous “Happy Birthday” dress (in which she serenaded President John F. Kennedy) to the Met Gala, a cheap stunt for a museum-worthy garment, and then by “Blonde,” a film adaptation of the Joyce Carol Oates novel that reduced Monroe’s troubled life to extreme suffering and humiliation. The antidote to such exploitation? CNN’s docuseries “Reframed: Mariyn Monroe,” which sensitively explored the actress’s efforts to increase the depth of her roles and fight the studio system. Crafted by an all-women team and drawing on interviews with women critics and actresses, it lauded Monroe’s dedication to not settling for being merely a sex symbol..

Best Elvis. Having seen past interpretations by Kurt Russell, Don Johnson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Bruce Campbell and Jack White, among others, I can vouch for Austin Butler’s definitive performance as the King in director Baz Luhrmann’s epic “Elvis.” Let’s petition for a cut that removes the Tom Hanks scenes as Colonel Parker and gives Butler the entire center stage.

Best title. Yep, it’s strange, inventive Jordan Peele monster movie “Nope.”

Best effort to make a 96-year-old monarch celebrating her Platinum Jubilee seem like a mild-mannered granny. A few months before her death in September, Queen Elizabeth II flexed her impeccable public relations instincts once more with a taped bit for her Platinum Jubilee that showed her and Paddington the Bear discussing their shared fondness for marmalade sandwiches.

Best invasion of privacy.  “The Last Movie Stars,” Ethan Hawke’s six-hour documentary for HBO Max, scrutinized the lives of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward through their own words and those of people who knew or admired them. The relatability of their ambition, passion, mistakes, devotion to their craft and each other and, particularly in Newman’s case, lingering insecurities revealed that these two extraordinary actors were even more appealing as human beings.

Best award show moment. When Sheryl Lee Ralph won her first Emmy at age 65 for her supporting role in “Abbott Elementary” – it also was the first win for a Black actress in that category in 35 years — she began her remarks by singing “Endangered Species,” which begins, “I am an endangered species, but I sing no victim song. I am a woman. I am an artist. And I know where my voice belongs.” If only they gave out statuettes for acceptance speeches.

Best museum exhibition. “Van Gogh In America,” still running through January 22 at the Detroit Institute of Arts, puts the trend of digitally immersive art experiences to shame. Being in the same rooms with 74 works by the Dutch painter feels almost sacred. And learning about the history of the DIA as the first U.S. museum to buy a work by the Dutch painter put the Motor City’s cultural foresight in the spotlight.

More:Art lovers flock to Detroit from around world for historic DIA Van Gogh exhibition

Best furniture reference.  The hypnotic “Chaise Longue,” the debut single by British indie rockers Wet Leg, settled once and for all how to pronounce the name of the pre-La-Z-Boy recliner.

Best viral song. When Jimmy Kimmel dubbed the footage of people bouncing down (and nearly careening off) Belle Isle’s newly reopened Giant Slide the 2022 clip of the year, Detroit rapper Gmac Cash appeared on the ABC late-night show to perform “Giant Slide,” his ode to the bumpy ride. Sample lyric: “It’s like jumping off a roof/On the Giant Slide. Man, you can lose a tooth/On the Giant Slide.” 

More:Jimmy Kimmel dons ‘Buffs’ after Detroit rapper Gmac Cash performs ‘Giant Slide’


Best tribute to artists who should share his honors. Motor City rapper Eminem acknowledged the debt he owes to hip-hop innovators during his speech at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony by naming more than 100 of them and, in a nod to the Hall’s need to acknowledge more of rap’s Black pioneers, added, “They’re legendary rock stars, man, and I just want to say, those are just a few of the names that I hope will be considered in the future. “

More:Eminem hails music that ‘saved my life’ during Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction

Best Broadway takeover by Detroit talent.  Cass Tech alum Michael R. Jackson’s “A Strange Loop” earned the Tony Award for best musical, capping a year that saw many Detroiters soar in the theater world (among them, playwright Dominique Morisseau, whose drama, “Skeleton Crew,” was a Tony nominee).  All the world’s a stage, and Detroit, as usual, is a prime incubator for emerging talent.

More:Detroiters take over a Broadway theater, celebrating the Motor City in New York

Best commercial shouting. Former Detroit Lions quarterback (and current QB for the Super Bowl-winning L.A. Rams) Matt Stafford deserves a Clio for his appearance in the Little Caesars ad where he learns the level of enthusiasm necessary to say, “Pizza! Pizza!.”

Best appearance as an evil CEO: Sorry, Elon Musk, you lose again. Amanda Seyfried’s turn in Hulu’s “The Dropout” as Elizabeth Holmes was amazing for how convincingly she delved beyond the turtleneck-wearing, husky-voiced façade of the woman behind the Theranos scandal. Bonus local tie-in fact: The minseries was created by Elizabeth Meriwether,  daughter of former Detroit Free Press Publisher Heath Meriwether.

Best news report disguised as a music video: Bad Bunny’s willingness to inject social and political concerns into his songs reached a pinnacle with his video for “El Apagon,” which includes a nearly 20-minute documentary on displacement, gentrification and recurring power grid failures in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Fiona.

Best reunion. Bennifer 2.0, in which Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez found true love again roughly 20 years after breaking up. Which doesn’t sound at all like a future rom-com starring Batman and J-Lo. Really.

Best viral win for a vegetable. A weird newspaper competition in Britain pitted a head of iceberg lettuce with a blonde wig against Liz Truss’s tenure as Britain prime minister to see which would last longer. The lettuce was the victor.

Best horror film set in Detroit that some of us are still afraid to see. Is “Barbarian” really that scary? Asking for a friend.

Contact Detroit Free Press pop culture critic Julie Hinds at jhinds@freepress.com.


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