I’m midway through my eighth year teaching at my school. I got a new boss this fall, and it’s almost disconcerting how good he is at his job, and how good he is to work for. This has not changed the many downsides of my profession, but it does help them feel more bearable. I’m teaching a few new classes this year, including a film class that I’ve created. I’m having fun creating the new classes, but I have also been busier than normal, because I’ve also been doing a lot of accompanying in my area. I accompanied for 4–5 school choir concerts this year, two musicals (Beauty and the Beast and Matilda — as both rehearsal and performance accompanist!), and a summer revue show (the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice).
I’m the accompanist for my town’s community choir, which had a concert in the spring and another in the fall. I still play with my trio (we performed this fall at a classical music recital in which I also accompanied for four other performances), and my sister and I also got to sing one of my favorite choral works of all time — John Rutter’s Gloria — with a local symphony orchestra. I definitely said yes to too many things, but it feels great to be part of a musical community again, to have music sustain and enrich my life, and to meet other people who love it just as much as I do.
(Oh, also, solo and ensemble. I accompanied for that too.)
(It’s really been a lot.)
I saw far fewer movies this year than is normal for me (fewer than 100 entered on Letterboxd), but I saw 41 in theaters, my highest year of theater-going after 2018, otherwise known as my Movie Pass (RIP) year.
I had no difficulty identifying my favorite films of the year. I have to begin with one that technically doesn’t qualify: Drive My Car was a 2021 release, but not released widely enough for me to see it until well into 2022–and it’s one of my favorite Oscar Best Picture nominees from last year. Here, almost a year later, I am still undone by its beautiful final scene (before the epilogue), by the film’s compassion and generosity, and by those table read scenes, where the cast rigorously read the text into their bodies, until their bodies can naturally perform the words. Yes, it’s a work of art that steals its ending from another work of art, but only a churl would begrudge the world Park Yoo-Rim signing the final words of Uncle Vanya to Hidetoshi Nishijima: “We’ll live through the long, long days, and through the long night. We’ll patiently endure the trials that fate sends our way. Even if we can’t rest, we’ll continue to work for others both now and when we have grown old. And when our last hour comes, we’ll go quietly.”
From this year, officially, I have three favorites, and probably in the following order.
1. Banshees of Inisherin — I’m so grateful Joanna dragged me across town for a late-night showing of what appeared to be the last showing of this movie in the entire state of Wisconsin, if only because it means I’ve been able to think about it for the last month, which means I’ve been able to think about how Best Actor Colin Farrell uses every centimeter of his face in this movie, and that ALL he uses are facial expressions to look like a different person from the beginning to the end of the movie. I’ve been able to think about the way sometimes you have to burn something down to make it work again, and the way that God probably does care about miniature donkeys. About how it can be right to care about the meaninglessness of our small lives, and how it may be right to be oblivious to such a concern. And then there were the things that I just loved: the soundtrack is my favorite of the year, Kerry Condon and Colin Farrell portray one of movie’s two great sibling relationships this year, Kerry Condon depicts common sense (a quality often portrayed passively) with brightness and brilliance. And Barry Keoghan is somehow still finding a way to make his whole weird thing work.
2. Tár — I knew I liked this movie tremendously, and I knew I kept thinking about it for (at this point) months after I’d seen it. But the thing that clicked it into place for me was a recent Jamelle Bouie tweet about how the story functions as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and boom, there it was, my favorite movie of the year. The tone of the movie is elegant, creepy and funny, and it’s the humor, more than anything else, that makes it so perfect to me. The movie is never strident, and always insightful, and it has a lot of classical music, and it has what I’m mostly certain will be my favorite Cate Blanchett performance of all time, so, uh, I like it! (But I must reiterate my Letterboxd review complaint that anyone studying violin at Julliard has played Bach A and E minor, AT A MINIMUM!)
3. The Fabelmans — Steven Spielberg (back-to-back with my last year’s fave WSS), with a film about the way family and art are sources of love that also haunt you. And this film has haunted me, not only as I think about the juxtaposition of my own familial support and ghosts, but also as I think about Spielberg, a elderly man himself, revealing with such piercing pain the formative moments that have informed and have complicated his craft. And not just the pain, but the confusion, too, at having a gift without the knowledge to understand the implications of that gift, from the point of view of someone who is now experienced and old enough to have figured out those implications. Also: Paul Dano’s sweet and serious face has broken my heart every time I’ve thought about it, which means he is probably my Best Supporting Actor of the year.
Honorable Mentions were also pretty easy for me to identify — movies that brought me a ton of enjoyment even though there may have been pesky things here or there that kept them from being favorites, so here they are, with a note that Elvis and Nope are ranked above the rest of the list:
Elvis — Baz has all my love, and this film is proof, because nothing about it should have been enjoyable to me, yet it took less than three minutes for me to be locked in (Baz has imprinted on me); Nope — the other great depiction of siblings on screen this year, plus three spectacles that will never leave my head; Catherine Called Birdy — great enough for me to withhold my typical judgment about the self-absorption of anachronism; Fire Island — probably doesn’t displace BJD as the best modern-day P&P adaptation, but gives it a run for its money; Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent — a fun movie with good vibes that I should have forgotten instantly, but didn’t, maybe because of Pedro Pascal?; and The Batman, surprising me that however bored I am of superhero movies, there’s still the occasional one that works for me, in this case, because of its perfect cast and the delightfully ridiculous Michael Giacchino score.
Here’s a handful of films I admired or even loved pieces of, but all ones where I ended up with, at best, mixed feelings about the final project:
Aftersun (loved Paul Mescal), Woman King (loved Lashana Lynch — maybe my Best Supporting Actress?), Bros (loved how funny it was, and loved Billy Eichner), Three Thousand Years of Longing (loved the George Miller of it), Everything Everywhere All at Once (Ke Huy Quan is so memorable, and although Paul Dano has my heart for BSA this year, I would be fine if Quan won also, and Michelle Yeoh should win Best Actress), Cyrano (loved Peter Dinklage giving a GREAT performance in, regrettably, a weak film).
I always like to mention a few movies that are new to me for the year, but this year, I don’t have that many to callout: The Grandmaster (2013) — we all know how I feel about Tony Leung; Mendelssohn’s Wedding March (1939) — a nine-minute short of no interest to anyone besides myself and Philip; Maurice (1987) — E.M. Forster and Hugh Grant are both geniuses; and Memories of Murder (2003) — that not-a-rack shot, baby!!!
A shout-out to the Alamo Drafthouse’s repertory series(es) that allowed me to (re)watch The Mummy (1999), Pulp Fiction (1994), and Pride and Prejudice (2005) for my first time in theaters, as well as Little Women (2019), for my, uh, fourth time in theaters.
I’m still watching a decent amount of TV, but the only thing I remember fully enjoying this year, despite the cans ex machina, was The Bear. It was fun! It was exciting! It was sweet! Jeremy Allen White was, yes, hot! Marcus has all my heart! Ayo Edebiri was stunning! It shouldn’t have another season, but I’ll watch it anyway!
The best book I read this year was The Street, an American novel by Ann Petry, and one that is so great that we should be naming it among Huckleberry Finn and Gatsby when naming classic American novels. What she does with point of view in that book is stunning: I gasped out loud at the beginning of one chapter, in both horror and sincere admiration for Petry’s craft.
I went to some other countries this summer, an experience I always highly recommend!
Here were my favorite experiences of my excursion:
- Seeing Pompeii
I loved Pompeii because it’s fun to walk around when there’s something to look at, this is just a basic fact. It’s also fun to feel like an explorer, which we did when we managed to get to the major sites in the park in our limited time, with a map we couldn’t translate, and with a general lack of knowledge about whatever people should normally be seeing. The archaeological park is still an active dig — we saw a research group from Oxford University working. We saw the famous brothel. We stood on the top of the city and looked down, and then up at Vesuvius. I’ll never forget it.
- Chateau d’If
I love a boat, and sailing on a little ferry to the Chateau d’If was a highlight itself. Then I stood on the roof of the Chateau d’If and got to look all around — at the Mediterranean and at the coastline of Marseilles — while the wind whipped around everything not bolted down. It was the best afternoon of my year. (Well, until the whole getting stranded at another tiny little island by virtue of not enough ferries and a school beach day with hundreds of little children thing, but you have to take your downs with your ups in travel.)
- The Sistine Chapel
You can’t take pictures in the chapel, but that’s okay, because I can’t imagine wanting to do anything there other than look up.
- Keats/Shelley house and Keats grave
Joanna, Naomi, and I took a little pilgrimage to the home Keats lived in when his friends sent him to die in Italy, and we stood in the bedroom where he died, looking out on the Spanish steps from other rooms in the apartment. We went to his graveside, which is in a beautiful corner of the Protestant cemetery, and which is flanked by trees his sister planted for him. We did not recite any poetry, but I may have been thinking about someone who prophesied that he would not live to trace the shadows of a high romance with the magic hand of chance.
Have a wonderful New Year, and I’ll steal my benediction from Uncle Vanya and Drive My Car:
“Then you and I, we’ll see that bright, wonderful, dreamlike life before our eyes. We shall rejoice, and with tender smiles on our faces, we’ll look back on our current sorrow. And then at last, we shall rest.”