A critic revisits his list of the TV and movies he wished he covered in 2022
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Our critic at large, John Powers, spends the year roaming through movies, TV series and books looking for things to talk about on FRESH AIR. But every year, there are things he enjoyed that, for one reason or another, he wound up not covering. Here's John with five of them.
JOHN POWERS, BYLINE: Every December, I make a list of good things that I read or watched but never got around to talking about. Five made the list in 2022, a year that was perhaps most striking for all the shows and movies that reveled in showing us the luxurious world of the rich and powerful, then went after them for their habits, foibles and moral myopia. All this is on fine display in the tragicomic second season of "The White Lotus" set at the fancy White Lotus Resort in Sicily. Creator Mike White again brings together a group of self-centered, rich folks. But this time out, his focus is on sexual relationships, especially the warped versions of manhood with which women must find ways of dealing.
White knows how to tease his audience, spawning endless memes and media chatter about almost everything - about why the rich guests only eat at the hotel restaurant and why the assistant Portia dresses so horribly and why there's that scene lifted from Antonioni's "L'Avventura." Yet what ultimately makes the series seductive is White's knack for putting his characters in compromising situations that force them to make awkward decisions. Funny but serious, he's a master of discomfort and discombobulation.
There's also discomfort galore in "The Menu," Mark Mylod's darkly funny hit movie about the final meal at a famously innovative restaurant located on a private island. The guests are a smug collection of well-off foodies, critics, finance jerks and desperate B-listers who've come to bask in the celebrity of chef Julian Slowik, played with dry-ice wit by Ralph Fiennes. Here in a great monologue, the maestro talks to his guests about the dinner they're about to eat.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MENU")
RALPH FIENNES: (As Julian Slowik) Good evening.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Good evening.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Good evening.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Hello.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Hello.
FIENNES: (As Julian Slowik) Welcome to Hawthorne. I am Julian Slowik, and tonight it'll be our pleasure to feed you.
JANET MCTEER: (As Lillian Bloom) The curtain rises.
FIENNES: (As Julian Slowik) Over the next few hours, you will ingest fat, salt, sugar, protein, bacteria, fungi, various plants and animals and, at times, entire ecosystems. But I have to beg of you one thing. It's just one. Do not eat.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) What is he saying?
FIENNES: (As Julian Slowik) Taste. Savor. Relish. Consider every morsel that you place inside your mouth. Be mindful. But do not eat. Our menu is too precious for that.
POWERS: What his listeners don't know is that Slowik has been driven mad by both his loathing of his customers and his own perfectionism. Filled with sly send-ups of high-end food-artiness, like serving a single scallop perched atop a rock, "The Menu" pulls off the double-pronged trick of fileting the pretensions of high-end cuisine while sticking a fork into the elite that consumes it.
The gap between haves and have-nots takes on otherworldly form in "Nanny," Nikyatu Jusu's Sundance-winning debut. Anna Diop stars as Aisha, a Senegalese immigrant to New York who gets hired to look after the daughter of a well-off, seemingly progressive couple played by Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector. But even as her employers prove less benevolent than they seem, Aisha's daily reality gets invaded by bad dreams. What starts off seeming like a realistic social drama turns into something weirder - a supernatural horror movie about immigration.
The TV series "Dark Winds" borrows from a different genre - the cop show. Based on a novel by Tony Hillerman, it stars Zahn McClarnon and Kiowa Gordon as Navajo detectives who must solve both a murder and a spectacular robbery while the FBI breathes down their necks. Written by, acted by and largely directed by Native Americans, the show offers classic police story pleasures - a taut plot, creepy villains, a spectacular Southwestern setting - but adds something new. It shows us Navajo life from deeper inside than any show I've seen. McClarnon is a riveting actor. He also plays the benevolent cop in the TV series "Reservation Dogs," and in his fierce, haunted, gaunt face, you can feel the weight of life and history.
You can feel an actor shaking off the weight of his own history in one of the year's happiest little films, a two-minute Belvedere Vodka commercial starring Daniel Craig and directed by Taika Waititi. It begins with the besuited Craig on a Paris bridge, looking all earnestly James Bond-ish. But soon he's making his way into the opulent Cheval Bois Hotel, where, to a song by Rita Ora and the rapper Giggs, he dances goofily through the lobby and elevator, shedding clothes as he goes. When he reaches his room, he puts himself a drink and says, finally, as if he's finally escaped being 007 and is free to be silly. Now, I don't begrudge Craig his desire to redefine our sense of him, but talk about privilege. I hope in the New Year we ordinary folks can all get paid to reboot our own images by dancing through a hotel even more luxurious than "The White Lotus."
DAVIES: John Powers is FRESH AIR's critic at large. On tomorrow's show, we'll speak with New York Times reporter Matt Richtel about the mental health crisis among American teenagers. Three decades ago, the public health threats to teens came from binge drinking, drunk driving, pregnancy and smoking. They've all fallen, but rates of depression, self-harm and suicide are all up sharply. Richtel spent more than a year reporting on the issue. I hope you can join us.
(SOUNDBITE OF DON BYRON'S "BOUNCE OF THE SUGAR PLUM FAIRIES")
DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham with additional engineering help from Adam Staniszewski. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
(SOUNDBITE OF DON BYRON'S "BOUNCE OF THE SUGAR PLUM FAIRIES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.