The best movies, TV, music, podcasts and books of the year (so far)

By Debi Enker, Garry Maddox, Melanie Kembrey, Barry Divola and Robert Moran

The best of the year (so far).

To quote Auden or, let’s be honest, Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise, “the years shall run like rabbits”. And by years, we mean months, so maybe there was another introductory quote that would’ve been more fitting? In any case, what we’re trying to say is here we are in 2022 and it’s already June. That’s a fast bunny. That means there’s already been six months’ worth of unending pop-cultural detritus – TV shows, films, music, books and podcasts – vying for our attention this year. Which have entertained us, challenged us, intrigued us or warmed our cold hearts the most? As a sort of mid-year stocktake, our critics have picked their favourites so far.

Television

by Debi Enker

Slow Horses (Apple TV+)
There are many reasons to relish this accomplished espionage thriller. Based on Mick Herron’s first Jackson Lamb novel and focusing on the machinations of Britain’s security service MI5, it features fine performances from an array of accomplished actors, including Kristin Scott Thomas at her icy best. As well as being action-packed and suspenseful, it’s also funny. And there’s the attraction of gifted chameleon Gary Oldman in another meaty role. Here he’s a seedy and flatulent but still cagey former agency star grumpily serving out his time in a neglected backwater of the service populated by a colourful bunch of misfits, discards and exiles.

Actors Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway star as Adam and Rebekah Neumann in WeCrashed. Credit:Peter Kramer

WeCrashed (Apple TV+)
Illuminating, dramatised accounts of the rise and fall of self-styled entrepreneurs based on true stories have had a good run lately (The Dropout, Inventing Anna, Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber). This glossy chronicle of the office-share venture WeWork has the bonus of Jared Leto, disappearing into the role of fast-talking Israeli founder Adam Neumann, and an equally impressive Anne Hathaway as his self-absorbed and entitled wife Rebekah. The 10-part series astutely takes the temperature of its times as it presents a pair of charismatic hustlers who woo the media and the public with their carefully curated images. No surprise that their anthem is Katy Perry’s spirit-lifting Roar.

Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) in Borgen: Power & Glory.Credit:Mike Kollöffel/Netflix

Borgen: Power & Glory (Netflix)
Everyone is seen to be compromised in the revival of the acclaimed Danish political drama that originally ran from 2010-13. But the darkest twist is reserved for the once-admirable Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who previously swept to power as Denmark’s first female Prime Minister and tried to maintain her ideals and her family life amid the challenges of political leadership. Now she’s a battle-hardened foreign minister as the discovery of oil in Greenland triggers a range of complex questions about colonial power, environmental policy and government priorities. Series creator Adam Price manages to give revivals a good name with this audacious, thoughtful sequel which propels a beloved protagonist in a new direction.

Selena Gomez, Steve Martin and Martin Short in Only Murders in the Building.

Best yet to come in 2022:
Only Murders in the Building (Disney+ from June 28)
Last year’s premiere season of this comic crime caper was a witty, warm-hearted confection as a trio of unlikely detectives-turned-podcasters united to solve a suspected killing in their Manhattan apartment block. Reclusive ’80s TV star Charles Haden-Savage (Steve Martin), flamboyant failed Broadway producer Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) and mysterious artist Mabel Mora (Selina Gomez) made a delightfully off-beat team, as the sparkling series created by Martin and John Hoffman playfully deployed crime-fiction tropes and satirised popular culture. The first season featured a starry roster of supporting players including Tina Fey, Sting, Nathan Lane, Jane Lynch and Amy Ryan. The second is set to include Amy Schumer, Cara Delevigne and Shirley MacLaine.

Podcasts

by Barry Divola

Things Fell Apart
Jon Ronson is already podcast hall of fame material with The Butterfly Effect and The Last Days Of August. In Things Fell Apart, he attempts to trace the flash points that ignited our increasingly combative culture wars. Ronson uncovers unexpected origin stories in everything from the pro-life movement to public shaming to the 1980s ″⁣satanic panic″⁣. The episode on tele-evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker’s 1985 interview with a gay Christian pastor with AIDS will leave you in tears.

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in 1987.Credit:Getty Images

Sorry About the Kid
When Alex McKinnon was 10, his brother Paul was killed when he was crossing the road from school, by a speeding police car that ran a red light. The grief and trauma caused McKinnon to lose all memories of his brother’s life. Now in his 40s, he wants to get them back, along with answers as to why the police were never held accountable (the show’s title comes from an off-hand comment an officer made to McKinnon’s parents). This four-part podcast is a personal meditation on loss, memory, and family that packs several punches to the heart.

Wild Boys
In 2003, two unkempt, emaciated brothers emerged from the Canadian wilderness and turned up in the small town of Vernon. The people of Vernon took them in, fed and housed them, shocked by the tales they told of surviving alone in the wild. Of course, the story eventually unravels – everything is not as it seems and the boys are not who they say they are. What emerges is an intriguing story about false identity, the complicated allegiances between brothers and what happens when good-natured people have their trust betrayed.

Flanked by her lawyers in 1992, Laurie Bembenek addresses a news conference.Credit:AP

Best yet to come in 2022: Run, Bambi, Run
The tagline is enough to get you in – a female cop-turned-Playboy bunny is the subject of a countrywide search when she escapes from prison while serving time for killing her husband’s ex-wife. But journalist Vanessa Grigoriadis promises to dig beneath the tabloid nature of the life of Laurie “Bambi” Bembenek, investigating the rampant sexism that drove her from the police force and how that may have contributed to her murder conviction.

Books

by Melanie Kembrey

Author Jennifer Egan.Credit:Pieter M. Van Hattem

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
More than a decade after A Visit From the Goon Squad enthralled readers, Jennifer Egan’s sequel The Candy House came highly anticipated. As with its Pulitzer Prize-winning predecessor, this novel moves between a series of linked stories and characters, developing a particular thematic interest in internet technology, online connections and alternative worlds. Many of those who we followed over time in the original novel return, this time to a world where the social media platform Own Your Own Unconscious allows you to access your memories and share them with others. Some chapters are stronger than others, and you’ll get more from The Candy House by having read the first, but at its best Egan still manages to break your heart in a zillion ways.

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
This sharp, strong and spellbinding debut follows Frida Liu, a struggling single mother who the state determines is not fit to care her for 18-month-old daughter after she leaves her alone for two hours. Child Protective Services monitors her home and her phone, and Frida is forced to undergo an experimental retraining program where she must care for a robotic child. The New York Times bestseller has garnered comparisons to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and more than one critic has said it kept them up at night thinking, the mark of any successful work of speculative fiction.

The Uncaged Sky by Kylie Moore-Gilbert
The British-Australian academic takes readers inside the 804 days she spent in a brutal Iranian prison after she was accused of being a spy. Moore-Gilbert’s gripping and detailed account examines the effects the isolation had on her, the Revolutionary Guard who fell in love with her, the breakdown of her marriage and the friendships she made. As her case became one of global politics, the story also looks at her own small-scale resistance including hunker strikes, secret letters to the media and an attempt to escape.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert at home in the Dandenong Ranges. Credit:Josh Robenstone

Best yet to come in 2022: Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami (November 15)
When you’re deep in a Murakami novel you find yourself looking at the world in a new way – cats, earlobes and tunnels all start to take on a strange aura. Fans of the legendary Japanese novelist who find themselves wondering where does he come up with this? will be pleased to know that Murakami’s next book is about novel writing, novels and the role of the novelists. Perhaps now is the right time to finally knock off IQ84, so you can be fully in the Murakami mindset ahead of the November release.

Films

by Garry Maddox

Drive My Car
This gently-paced three-hour Japanese drama about loss and grief was an unlikely nominee for best picture at the Oscars this year. But Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film, based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, is a masterful work of cinema. It centres on an actor (Hidetoshi Nishijima) who is struggling with pain, regret and other dark emotions while directing a production of Uncle Vanya. He forms an unlikely but supremely touching bond with his young driver (Toko Miura).

Flee
Refugee stories have been making especially potent films. One of the best is Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s beautifully animated documentary about a Danish academic relating a sometimes shattering account of escaping from Afghanistan as a teenager. It is a poetic memoir of past trauma that is also a gay love story. An unusual melding of storytelling styles, Flee has heart and humanity.

Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s inventive animated documentary Flee. Credit:Sydney Film Festival

Top Gun: Maverick
For a movie that tested our need for speed, the sequel to Top Gun took a long time reaching cinemas. Eventually, it arrived 36 years after the original, with Joseph Kosinski replacing the late Tony Scott as director. Tom Cruise, impossibly youthful as Maverick, was joined by a band of new era pilots headed by Goose’s son, Rooster, played by Miles Teller. If part of the appeal was nostalgia, the rest was the outstanding experience of aeronautical action.

Best yet to come in 2022: Three Thousand Years of Longing (September 1)
George Miller waited a while after Mad Max: Fury Road to make his next movie. And now he is busy again shooting the prequel Furiosa. But between action movies, the great Australian director shot this romantic fantasy about a storytelling scholar (Tilda Swinton) who uncorks a giant genie (Idris Elba) from a bottle in Turkey. Visiting the set while the adult fairytale shot in Sydney suggests it will be a visual feast. It opens in cinemas on September 1.

Tilda Swinton in Three Thousand Years of Longing.

Music

by Robert Moran

Bad Bunny, Un Verano Sin Ti
After a string of forward-thinking solo albums that found creative new ways to explore the Latin-trap and reggaeton sounds he’s helped bring to global streaming dominance, El Conejo Malo somehow delivered again with his latest (its title translates to A Summer Without You). An all-inclusive love letter to the Caribbean subcultures that birthed the current Latin pop explosion, it’s a well of confident, anything goes creativity full of playful highlights, from Benito’s inventive slang to his inspired cross-genre segues (try not to smile when Despues de la Playa morphs from a moody synth downer to an impromptu mambo rave-up, it’s impossible).

Bad Bunny, left, and Jhay Cortez perform “Dakiti” at the Grammy Awards.

Vince Staples, Ramona Park Broke My Heart
Even at 28, Vince Staples raps with the world-weary cadence of someone who has seen some things. And, like a stoic elder, he kinda resents having to tell you about it. On Ramona Park (a reference to the Long Beach, California, neighbourhood he grew up in), the ever-eccentric rapper interrogates his lost youth with aloof precision: the way Vince tells it, it’s not happy and it’s not sad, so it’s surprising the album’s so emotional. Complex beats and G-funk nostalgia lend an evocative setting, but it all rides on Staples’ incredibly singular perspective. To any high school English teachers chasing cool points: When Sparks Fly, a ludicrous love song told from the point of view of his revolver, should form part of your next class assignment.

Camp Cope, Running with the Hurricane
For an already beloved punk band, the prospect of ″⁣maturing″⁣ from frenzied songs of raucous DIY expression to something more musically considered, is fraught: yes, there’s the risk of alienating your audience, but also the risk of losing the energy that made your work so valuable in the first place. Hurricane, the third album from Melbourne trio Camp Cope – who earned a reputation for delivering protest anthems of righteous fury following the viral The Opener – finds the band selling gentleness as salvation and taking on a dense alt-country sound in the vein of Waxahatchee. That it retains the band’s honest spirit is a minor miracle, and testament to frontwoman Georgia Maq’s yearning, perceptive and vulnerable songwriting. Another impressive step from Australia’s best band.

Camp Cope performing in Melbourne in May.Credit:Rick Clifford

Best yet to come in 2022: Rina Sawayama, Hold The Girl (September 2)

The Japanese-British should-be pop icon’s self-titled debut studio album, released in April 2020, was wildly entertaining, shifting from brooding Evanescence-esque nu-metal to ’90s new jack swing to Y2K-era bubblegum-pop across its attitude-laden tracklist. For her new album Hold The Girl, due out in September, she cites inspiration from Kelly Clarkson, The Corrs and Sugababes, which sounds nuts in the best way. If the album’s first single This Hell, a fiery kiss-off that evokes Shania Twain’s That Don’t Impress Me Much and references sympathy for “Britney, Lady Di and Whitney”, is a sign of what’s to come, this should be fun.

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