More so than any other year, it feels way too early to begin our year-end wrap-up. Yet here we are, looking down the barrel of December, and ready to start rewarding the best of pop culture in 2022. And like always, The Sacred Wall kicks off its coverage with the Entertainers of The Year!
You all remember how this works. I’ve compiled a list of ten names of famous figures who must dominated the year, whether through music, film, television, or all of the above. This could mean seven or eight major projects. In some cases, it’s just one project that was the year 2022. And after listing those ten, I will announce the all-around Entertainer of the Year! Who will be joining the ranks of Adam Driver, Jordan Peele, and Billie Eilish?
Before reaching the official list, however, we should take a moment to look at the Honorable Mentions. Amongst actors, some performers had one or two great lead roles – like Zendaya, Dakota Johnson, and Michelle Williams. Others just consistently showed up in supporting performances and stole the scene, like Angela Bassett, Viggo Mortensen, and Seth Rogen. Brad Pitt had real potential to make the list…until certain news stories came out that made him feel like the wrong choice. Oh, and Nathan Fielder went from a niche comedy nobody to dominating the conversation for a few months this summer – that’s certainly worthy of a nod.
Of course, actors aren’t the only ones contributing to the conversation. There’s also filmmakers giving us spectacle and art, like James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Todd Field, and Sarah Polley. Artists like Lizzo, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are still putting out incredible albums (and Taylor’s still trying – and struggling – to be an actress, God bless her). Julia Fox almost became the first person to qualify just for being f*cking weird. And it was a painful decision not to include Jeanette McCurdy, the former actress whose memoir became the first book to sell out on every platform since…I want to say a Harry Potter book? It’s been a while. Anyway, these are just some of the big figures who dominated 2022’s pop culture scene. Wanna know who made the actual list? Let’s dive right into the Entertainers of the Year!
The success story of the season has Quinta Brunson, who went from a hardworking comedy writer to the woman who single-handedly saved network television. While Brunson has found success over the years with online sketches and the critically acclaimed A Black Lady Sketch Show, she was nowhere near a household name. And yet, through determination and talent, Brunson managed to bring about Abbott Elementary, which managed to blend millennial humor with classic sitcom sensibilities. And it worked: Abbott is the most watched network sitcom, quadrupling its numbers on Hulu, and a multi-Emmy nominee – with Brunson winning for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series. And in between all of this Abbott success, Brunson made time to appear in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, in a critically acclaimed turn as (*checks notes) Oprah Winfrey. Few performers have had a year like Brunson, and she is undeniably one of the Entertainers of the Year.
I’m making a huge exception here, for obvious reasons. Normally, the artists that contend for Entertainer of the Year have one or more projects under their belt, or at least are dominating the talk show circuit in the hopes of an awards campaign. Tom Cruise only had one movie come out this year, and he didn’t do an excessive amount of press. But that’s hard to care about when it was the movie. When was the last time a film captured the zeitgeist quite like Top Gun: Maverick? Spider-Man: No Way Home came out last year, and people already stopped talking about it. Everywhere you go, whether it’s highbrow snobs or lowbrow cousins, everyone loves Maverick, a film that could not exist without Tom Cruise. It is a testament to his entire career: his stardom, his craftsmanship, his legacy. He was given an Honorary Palme d’Or for his efforts, and the film, now one of the highest grossing of all time (and the biggest of his career) is in the Oscar hunt, with Cruise looking to score nominations as both an actor and producer. So yeah, he may not have conquered every aspect of pop culture like some of these other names. But he utterly dominated one of them, and sometimes that’s all that matters.
What a year the independent wunderkind has had. After almost two decades of putting in stellar work overshone by fancier costars, Dano has finally had the kind of year character actors dream of. Within the first three months of the year, Dano had portrayed The Riddler in the major blockbuster The Batman. And not only did the character and role take the world by storm, but he put in the most interesting villain work since Heath Ledger’s Joker – a brutal, feral serial killer out to expose the corruption of an entire city. Yet Dano didn’t stop there; he turned around and played the exact opposite role, as Steven Spielberg’s analytical father in The Fabelmans. It’s a quiet, subtle turn, and one that’s put him smack dab in awards consideration for the first time in his underrated career. Dano is finally getting his due as an actor, and a year like this is worthy of a spot as one of the Entertainers of the Year.
Normally when discussing a comedic actress finally breaking onto the scene, she’s had to toil for quite some time. Ayo Edebiri has dominated the industry at the age of 27. While she’s been ruling writers’ rooms for years, and finally got her big break taking over as Missy on Big Mouth (where she wrapped yet another terrific season last October), it wasn’t until this past year that Edebiri became a household name. She wrote one of the best episodes of this season of What We Do In The Shadows (“Private School”). And perhaps most significantly, she appeared on The Bear as sous chef Sidney Adamu. Her performance as Sidney was impressive – filled with humor and frustration and angst, as well as perfect chemistry with costars Jeremy Allen White and Lionel Boyce. And it showed in The Bear’s explosive ratings – it went from Hulu’s casual placeholder in between Atlanta seasons to one of its most-watched shows of the year. Edebiri is a star on the rise, and her 2022 slate will certainly be a watershed moment in her future career.
2022 has been a big year for early-aughts stars finally breaking out in the mainstream. And this has never been more true than for Regina Hall, the former star of the Scary Movie franchise. No longer a second banana, Hall is finally the major name she was always destined to be. While this certainly includes a supporting turn opposite Kevin Hart and Mark Wahlberg in Me Time, it was her leading turns – in competing genres – that made 2022 her best year yet. In the terrific horror film Master, Hall plays the first Black president of a liberal arts college haunted by the ghosts of the past. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, she appeared in the satiric comedy Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul as the long-suffering wife of a controversial televangelist. In the role, Hall perfectly walks the line between suffering at her husband’s obtuse hand and willfully ignoring his flaws to continue reaping the benefits. And in between all of this, she still found time to host the Oscars. Seriously: she hosted the 94th Academy Awards! This was a terrific year for the terrific actress, and she deservedly emerges as an Entertainer of the Year.
Man, imagine exploding onto the scene at the age of 20. That’s what’s happening for Jenna Ortega, the former child actress who appeared in roles on the Disney Channel and Jane the Virgin before four straight hit roles throughout 2022 that propelled her straight to the A-list. In The Fallout, Ortega played an ordinary girl thrust into tragic circumstances when she survives a school shooting. It’s a bravura performance, and one that made people stop and take notice. Then, right on the heels of The Fallout’s success, she became a standout in both Scream and X, two horror films that became huge hits on the back of her stature as a scream queen. These roles alone were enough to gain a spot on this list, but let’s face it: Ortega’s here for Wednesday, her turn as the eldest Addams child. Ortega makes the role wholly her own, giving a star-making turn that has inspired endless gifs, memes, and awards (primarily for that incredible dance she herself choreographed). Ortega was a force to be reckoned with in 2022, and was easily one of its most exciting performers.
In terms of sheer quantity, it’s hard to think of someone as ubiquitous in 2022 as Keke Palmer. She may not have had as many great – or even good – films as others on this list. But in terms of total dominance of screens large and small, it would be wrong to make a list without her. After all, Palmer appeared in no less than three major films this year: the indie film Alice (which I hated, but that’s not her fault), the animated sci-fi adventure/spinoff Lightyear, in which she played Buzz Lightyear’s second-in-command, and her most successful role, Nope. As Jordan Peele’s lead, Nope gave Palmer her first taste of movie stardom, and she flourished with the opportunity. But Palmer didn’t stop with cinema. No, she also turned her sights on television. Specifically, of the animation and variety sort. She had a delightful turn on the revival of Password. She relished a lead role on the comedy Human Resources and a guest role on The Proud Family revival. And in December, she turned in a terrific Saturday Night Live turn, during which she revealed her pregnancy. Everywhere she turned, Palmer was a force to be reckoned with, and she entertained audiences everywhere, no matter the medium.
Perhaps if the box office were more impressive, Margot Robbie would have been the 2022 Entertainer of the Year. As it stands, I care less about box office and more about the work turned out. And Robbie more than delivered over the course of 2022. In the critically and commercially reviled Amsterdam, Robbie was one of the film’s few saving graces, funny and droll as the third member of the film’s core love triangle. Meanwhile, Robbie became the figurehead of Babylon, one of the year’s most talked-about films, a controversial, exciting, challenging work that left audiences baffled in its intellectual extravagance. Robbie is a force of nature in the film, one she felt personally responsible for championing, and may earn herself another Oscar nomination, regardless of the film’s box office struggles. And even if her two releases didn’t live up to their box office potential, at least the Barbie trailer became one of the most-watched, most-talked-about trailers on the Internet. Robbie gave it her all in 2022, and we can’t help but respect the work she’s been willing to do, and will continue to do.
When was the last time there was a true SNL breakout? I mean someone who was given free rein to do whatever weird things popped into their head? Most likely it was Andy Samberg, who made himself indispensable with his weirdo music videos. This is the power of Sarah Sherman, aka Sarah Squirm, the alt-comedian whose body horror humor seemed destined to get her fired from the show within a year. But then something funny happened: at the end of 2021, Sherman delivered a monologue so perfect, it launched her to the front lines of a traditionally conservative comedy program. In the last year, her sketches have topped the YouTube algorithm, most famously with her bizarre Chucky crossover. And in between outings, she’s had cameos on late night programming like Three Busy Debras and her popular stand-up comedy tour. How powerful as Sherman become in the last year? She appeared in the illegal underground comedy film The People’s Joker as a villain named “Lorne Michaels” and she has only received more screentime on SNL. Nothing can stop Sherman’s meteoric rise, especially after the 2022 she’s had.
I came very close to picking Harry Styles as the entertainer of the year. If you had asked me in July of 2022, it was a done deal. His album, Harry’s House, was an undeniable hit, and the tour was off to a fantastic start. He had two movies looking to dominate the box office and, in the case of one of them, potentially earn him an Oscar nomination. I’m talking, of course, about Don’t Worry Darling and My Policeman. As it turns out, the films were huge hits, but they didn’t quite progress his acting career the way he hoped. Yet never fear – he did manage to provide entertainment in spite of middling reviews. And that’s because Darling became such a cultural talking point in terms of the drama surrounding it, that Harry still managed to remain in the conversation. How many others on this list could start a conversation by spitting (ok, MAYBE Sarah Squirm)? Love him, hate him, or really love him, Harry was one of the year’s biggest entertainers. And yet, he still couldn’t overtake our true Entertainer of the Year…
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: Colin Farrell
Yes, no performer has had quite the year that Colin Farrell has had. He turned in not one, not two, not three, but four career-best performances, one right after the other. As a supporting actor, Farrell served a key role in the success of Amazon’s Thirteen Lives, as one of the divers who saved the lives of thirteen Thai soccer players trapped in a flooding cave. Meanwhile, in The Batman, Farrell turned in one of his best performances as a Tony Soprano-esque Penguin, hilarious and vicious and dominating. But it was as a lead that Farrell truly stood out. His soulful turn in After Yang is one of the year’s best, finding the truth in a man finding the meaning of life inside the mind of his robot. And in The Banshees of Inisherin, Farrell gives one of the year’s funniest and saddest performances as a man struggling to discover why his best friend has abandoned him. It’s a beautiful, striking turn that has earned several critics’ awards and may find the ever-dependable actor winning his first Oscar this March. I’m not sure an actor has ever had as impressive a year as Farrell has in the year 2022, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of the Entertainer of the Year title than Colin Farrell.
That concludes this year’s coverage of Entertainer of the Year! I’ll be back later this week with a continuation of the Sacred Wall’s Best-Of coverage, starting with the best trailers of the year and the Most Anticipated Films of 2023. I will see you all then, and in the meantime, I wish you all a Happy New Year, and a happy new year of movies, television, and beyond!