Last year was a tremendous one for cinema. But it was the worst in my 15 years as a critic, if not my entire lifetime, for popular films – or at least the reboots, sequels and franchise entries that now consume every US studio’s operating budget.
With a few honourable exceptions, the 2022 crop was truly abject, with the same two faults recurring across the board. One: rather than tell a complete story, each one performed the narrative equivalent of “duck duck goose”, where everyone runs around in a circle shrieking, then returns to their starting positions ready for the next instalment. And two: the visual effects were a constant distraction – either because they lacked polish (thanks to overworked VFX departments) or, in the case of Avatar, had been polished to such a retina-scorching sheen that they called attention to the whole project’s fakeness.
In 2023, I want to see Hollywood discover reality again – either through practical effects, or subtler digital ones – and focus on making one film at a time. Robbie Collin
Two words: Original. Drama. And I mean original drama. Let’s have a year off from true crime, adaptations of page-turners, the whimsical-biographical and the alternative-historical. In this country, we have a bedrock of brilliant screenwriters with soaring imaginations, and yet, with the exception of one or two, they’ve been reduced to peddling soupy thrillers or repackaged novels.
The worlds of publishing and (to a lesser extent) film don’t have these problems - imagination is king, originality is prized. Yet among the bean-bag infested meeting spaces of modern TV companies, imagination and originality are feared: they’re bogeymen that drive viewers to Netflix or, worse, to the off-switch.
When a relatively unknown writer is let loose, often it’s only to give us some Jed-lite or almost-Moffat. TV commissioners, gird your loins - ask not what your screenwriters can do for you, but what you can do for your screenwriters. Let them loose. Chris Bennion
When we’re surrounded by advertising and puffery, honest criticism becomes more valuable than ever. Informed, balanced verdicts on new movies, shows or exhibitions represent a real public service.
Trusted by its listeners, the BBC is in a position to provide that honesty – yet the axing of Radio 4’s Saturday Review five years ago created a gap that’s yet to be filled. Radio 3 and 6Music still review new albums, but after cancelling the Film Programme and losing Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review (poached by Sony), BBC Radio no longer has a film review show. Front Row more often runs interviews and previews, and discussion programmes such as A Good Read aren’t a replacement for value-judgements.
It’s hard to understand why this has happened: few formats are easier to produce than sticking critics in a room and having them argue it out. So this year, I’d love to hear new programmes – on commercial radio as well as the BBC – giving culture the thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Tristram Fane Saunders
Last year, David Hare made remarks worth heeding about the lack of revived classics or curiosities from the theatrical vaults. “It’s as if we see Shakespeare, then there’s a gap until [Terence] Rattigan,” he told me. Is this directorial vogue, or a fear of alienating progressive types? Either way, our major subsidised houses need to redress the balance. Full marks to Richard Bean and Oliver Chris for remaking Sheridan’s The Rivals as Jack Absolute Flies Again at the National Theatre.
Now let’s get hooked on the classics once again: a generation is growing up with far too little exposure to touchstone writers and works. To cite just three figures: let’s better acquaint ourselves with JB Priestley, Aphra Behn and Thomas Kyd, whose The Spanish Tragedy hasn’t been touched by the RSC in 25 years. Without ongoing dialogue with the past, theatre will become a diminished and one-sided conversation. Dominic Cavendish
This year, opera needs to get its act together. There’s lively, innovative work going on, from the smallest chamber-opera groups to the biggest national companies, redefining the relevance of opera and music-drama in our time. But as was evident from the shocked reaction to the Arts Council’s disgraceful attack on the art-form in its latest funding round, there has been all too little coordination between Britain’s companies, little common cause in arguing the need, and no convincing demonstration of the widening reach and appeal of opera across the country.
At least there was vociferous opposition to the threatened withdrawal of funding to English National Opera – which must force a rethink. We need to spread that thrilling, elemental expression of our deepest feelings, which opera provides so well, and to do that, the form needs a united voice to sing its case. Nicholas Kenyon
There’s a lot of groupthink in the art world, which, like every other sphere of human activity, is governed by fashion – and a dominant current trend is the drive to “decolonise” art history.
The reasons to do so are readily comprehensible. Even the doughtiest combatant in the “war on woke” would concede that aspects of our imperial history are atrocious. And who would decry the impulse to make fine art more inclusive? Yet, the lemming-like tendency to frame seemingly every exhibition in the context of “empire” is starting to feel like a fetish for our times.
Certain subjects require such treatment, but not all – and this year, we’ve witnessed much cliché-ridden interpretation tying itself in knots to implicate 19th- and early-20th-century artists and movements in the depredations of imperialism. The collective desire to assuage Western guilt about its past threatens to distort our understanding of art history. It deserves to be calmly and intelligently interrogated. Alastair Sooke
The music business is a mess. Revenue is swilling about from streaming platforms, but most creators are foundering at the bottom of the food chain. There are no simple solutions to getting money and impetus back into the places where talent can be nurtured and supported, but an area worth focusing on is the suffering live sector. Government support for grassroots venues should be prioritised, with generous rates schemes and more protection offered from egregious noise complaints. Meanwhile – quid pro quo – the practice of venues taking percentage cuts of artists’ merchandise should be made illegal.
From a fan point of view, secondary ticket profiteering needs to be properly regulated (which seems likely to happen in America, following Ticketmaster’s spectacularly botched Taylor Swift tour sale). Here’s an idea: simply make it illegal to resell tickets above face value. It isn’t complicated.
Finally, opportunities for UK musicians to tour in Europe (and Europeans to tour the UK) have been decimated by post-Brexit red tape. We need to urgently sort out a long-promised deal on paperwork-free touring. Come on, Rishi: this one’s an easy win. Neil McCormick
Please, commissioners: no more limp pieces bewailing climate change. No more crashingly obvious new works parading anger at social injustices in letters six feet high. Yes, composers must respond to the burning issues of the day – but they are not propagandists. The Arts Council may have forgotten that there is something called “musical value”, but we listeners have not. As for festival programmers and radio controllers, play those little-known composers not because they tick the right box, but because you passionately believe in their work, and keep playing the music of the great Western tradition not because it’s a comfort blanket in troubling times, but because you know it’s thrilling and alive. Finally, never forget that classical music is part of the entertainment business. We should all remember that it can be gloriously absurd and fun, as well as deep. Ivan Hewett
Tickets for Britain’s biggest dance shows have become prohibitively expensive. To take a family of four to the Royal Ballet’s forthcoming Sleeping Beauty, at full price, will cost you £680, the sort of prices that until recently were the preserve of opera – and that’s before you’ve got there, eaten anything or paid a babysitter to watch your tot. Even at the traditionally more down-to-earth Sadler’s Wells, certain shows will now set you back £95 a seat.
In this, I stress, I don’t blame these (or other) institutions: lockdowns impoverished the entire industry, and all the major dance venues do offer some seats at drastically reduced prices. Nor will the Arts Council’s recent, asinine cutting of nine per cent of Covent Garden’s funding have helped matters there. As people’s disposable income continues to nosedive, however, the larger dance companies will need to be more persistent and creative with fundraising than ever before, to prevent seats in the stalls from edging further beyond the reach of all but the genuinely wealthy. Mark Monahan
Wish most writers a happy 2023 and you’ll receive a hollow laugh in return. The average writer in the UK now earns £7,000 a year, a 38 per cent drop in median earnings since 2018, while publishers are being worked to death, with a 2022 survey by The Bookseller finding that 69 per cent of respondents were suffering from burnout. Yet all the while, book sales are at their highest for a decade. Publishing executives need to resolve to put more of their profits into authorial wages and staffing if this isn’t to be the year of the literary strike. Meanwhile, you can tell that publishers are overworked because books are getting longer and more unwieldy: editors haven’t time to edit. And might authors resolve to be more succinct in the first place? I prescribe a course of Graham Greene and Hesketh Pearson for every novelist and biographer at work in 2023, to remind them how much insight into human nature can be squeezed into 200-odd pages. Jake Kerridge