Top “Everything but 2022 Movies” of 2022

I really enjoyed having an outlet for other media last year, so I’m going to continue the tradition. The idea of this post is to pay tribute to my favorites of other art of the year, be it TV, video games, books, live performances, or even non-2022 movies. The rules of this post are basically anything can qualify, whether it came out in 2022 or before, so long as I experienced it in 2022.


Slay the Spire (Video Game, 2019, Switch/PC/etc)

Slay the Spire is a deck-building roguelike video game. Every game, you start with a standard deck of cards, and fight enemy after enemy, gaining new cards and artifacts that you use to craft a powerful deck to face tougher enemies. Hopefully you get the cards you’re looking for and the deck turns into a well-oiled machine; if not, you’ll die and go back to the very beginning.

When I first started playing Slay the Spire, I wasn’t that into it. The artwork was kind of… well, ugly to look at, it didn’t seem to have any story, and the music was pretty generic. Plus it takes time to get a feel for what strategies are going to get you far, and you die pretty quickly at first as a result.

And then I played it again. And again. And just kept playing it and getting more and more addicted. The more cards I unlocked and artifacts I found, the more fun the game became. One element I really enjoy about Slay the Spire is that each turn, you know exactly what your opponent plans to do, so you can plan out your turn to best combat and survive the coming onslaught. The game is at its most satisfying when you finally get an overpowered build and deck, and realize that you’re unstoppable. Also, since the music and sound effects are superfluous, it’s a great game to play on a Switch while listening to a podcast.


5. God of War: Ragnarök (Video Game, 2022, PS5)

This was a great year for more of things that I already thought were great. Horizon: Forbidden West was a worthy follow-up to one of my all-time favorites, Horizon: Zero Dawn. The Portal Companion Collection gave me the opportunity to share one of the greatest video games ever (Portal 2) with my partner. The Inside Outtakes provided a hilarious addendum to Bo Burnham’s Inside (seriously, you know the special is, well, special, if the outtakes would be an equally impactful work if released in a vacuum). Even my favorite media of last year (the surreal rougelike Returnal) got DLC that provided a ton of new exciting content and even a second satisfying ending.

If I had to pick just one though, it would certainly be God of War: Ragnarök. Of the things I’ve listed, God of War is the only one that truly does something new and different from the original. It makes new changes to the gameplay, keeping the formula fresh while also giving the combo-driven action to be expected of the series. More importantly though, rather than retracing the story formula of the first, it provides the natural progression that feels like a necessary “part two.” The first game is Kratos’s journey, and his character has fully completed his primary story arc of becoming a father, not just a protector. So where can the sequel go? Well, it can give arcs to basically every side character, and some new ones as well.

I really appreciate that this game isn’t just a retread of the original, and truly feels like it takes the story in a new direction. This game is perhaps less focused than the original, but in branching, it covers more ground and becomes a sweeping tale of the various relationships between parents and their children. And of course, it helps that the gameplay continues to be extremely engaging, particularly the combat and boss battles.

4. House of the DragonSeason 1 (TV, 2022, HBO Max)

Game of Thrones is back, baby! And not, like, that watered-down poorly-written GoT that we were stuck with for the final four-ish seasons. No no, this is vintage Season 1 political intrigue Game of Thrones!

In all seriousness, when I first heard they were making a prequel series, I was pretty skeptical. I was worried that without the existential stakes of the original series, the show just wouldn’t feel that important. It turns out, I couldn’t be more wrong. What makes the world of Ice and Fire great is its rich morally-gray characters and intricate politics. House of the Dragon brings George R.R. Martin back into the writing fold, and you really feel it. The decision to use time-jumps to progress the story is crucial in my opinion, as it provides motivations and sympathies for characters that might otherwise feel very one-dimensional or strictly heroic/villainous. The show is also smart to trust that its audience can follow along, rarely spelling out details in exposition but instead sprinkling details about what happened between episodes either visually or through subtle dialogue.

The story does feel smaller than Game of Thrones, but in my opinion that is very much for the better. Rather than needing to know an entire world, we’re tracking roughly a dozen characters. We don’t need to care about White Walkers and horse-lord conquering and all the Westerosi houses and who’s going to be king; we just need to care about who’s going to be king. It’s a story about how easy it is to escalate conflict, but how difficult it is to deescalate. And at the center is really a tragedy about two friends who through external circumstances are destined to hate each other.

3. The 2019 Oklahoma! Revival (i.e. Sexy Oklahoma)

Oklahoma! (the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic) may have had a bit of bite when it was first released. Some of its choices were revolutionary at the time (the “Dream Ballet” comes to mind, and there is some darkness buried somewhere beneath its milquetoast white picket fence. However, these days the musical is thought of as a sweet and innocent good time, and it is basically synonymous with a “simpler time” of musical theater. Oklahoma! (2019 Revival) is a different animal altogether; it takes the text of the original, but sharpens the edges and brings all of its darkness right to the forefront.

I wrote at length about why I enjoy this revival so much: it makes very bold choices and brings the audience outside of its comfort zone. It’s a true work of art in that it’s a commentary on itself and its origins, as well as examining the changing social norms and how, in many ways, the present isn’t all that different from the past.

Truly my favorite element of Oklahoma! (2019), though, is the fact that there is no effort to differentiate it from the traditional musical as far as its external presentation is concerned. Theater-goers come to see the Oklahoma! they’re familiar with, and are treated to a dark commentary on that text instead. From what I witnessed, the theater-goers were by-and-large frustrated with the bait-and-switch. It’s not every day that you see media that is able to trick an audience into watching a show that they may find actively hostile, forcing them to reconsider a text that they know and love.

2. Cabaret (Movie, 1972, HBO Max)

I watched and rewatched a lot of movies along with the Blank Check podcast this year; it’s become something of a “book club but for movies” for me. Going through Kubrick’s whole filmography was a treat, both forming new opinions on classics like A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket, as well as encountering new (to me) experiences like Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut. The “Roger Moore” Bond films were also a blast, oscillating between pure camp and serious stories (that are still pretty damn campy). My favorite “new” discovery by far was Bob Fosse’s masterpieces Cabaret and All That Jazz.

It’s not a particularly hot take to say Cabaret is a masterpiece. It’s a movie that literally beat The Godfather for Best Directing at the Oscars, and it’s been beloved for a long time. But I was frankly blown away by how modern the musical felt, especially given how novel it was at the time. Watching it now, you see a direct lineage between Cabaret and modern musicals like 2002’s Chicago and last year’s Tick Tick… Boom!. Both of the latter borrow liberally from Cabaret’s approach of confining its musical numbers to a theater stage, intercutting to the diegetic story periodically. It’s a technique that cannot be accomplished on stage, and it makes a strong case for the adaptation to the film medium.

The story itself shocked me as well, particularly living in a world where hatred and fascism are on the rise. Sally (Liza Minnelli) and Brian (Michael York) are living their lives in 1930 Germany, mostly dealing with personal concerns. Nazism is growing, but only in the background, and not directly impacting the protagonists. And then, suddenly, with a chilling rendition of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” it’s revealed just how much society has shifted in just two short years. Common folk stand and join the song, with very few willing to be openly disgusted with what they’re witnessing. At this point, it’s too late to turn the political tide, and it’s all that Brian can do to get out of the country. Liza isn’t willing to leave her life behind though, and her fate is left unknown as a final shot reveals that the cabaret’s clientele is entirely made of Nazis. It’s a heartbreaking end that is sadly extremely relevant to the 2020s.

1. Severance – Season 1 (TV, 2022, Apple TV+)

It takes a lot to get me to really invest in an open-ended “peak TV” show. While I appreciate the emotional depth that can come with multiple seasons of television, I ultimately get frustrated that the story gets thread so thin over so many hours. I would rather watch 10 separate movies than invest in a single season of a television show, and many shows could be more efficiently told in movie format (in my humble opinion). However, it seems like every year there’s one truly original show that grabs my interest and doesn’t let go. This year, that show is Severance.

Severance has an extremely thought-provoking hook: what if you could totally separate your work life from your office life? The characters have literally severed their brains to keep the memories only accessible in the appropriate location to keep personal distractions from impacting your productivity. But within the first episode, we see the dark implications of the premise: by segregating your memories, you effectively create a new, second “work self” that shares your body. And not only that, but your second self only remembers their work life, meaning, from their perspective, they literally never leave. What kind of psychological torment does that inflict? And how might an employer abuse that power dynamic?

Severance is basically everything I want in a science fiction show. It has a surreal setting and scenarios, with extremely engaging visual motifs. Much like Westworld, it asks deep psychological questions about what defines “self” and “existing.” Unlike Westworld, however, Severance doesn’t take itself too seriously and has a strong sense of humor. Director and showrunner Ben Stiller brings a sense of wit and heart to each character, and Dan Erickson’s core mystery is extremely compelling. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s terrifying, sometimes it’s thrilling or thought-provoking, but it is always entertaining. And its season finale is possibly the best episode of the bunch, giving a satisfying conclusion while also leaving so much unresolved.

Rarely do we binge television shows, but this one took us all of two days to get through. It is a reason to get Apple TV+ all on its own, and we cannot wait to see what surprises wait in Season 2.

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