Well we offer cheers once again to the end of another year. I like to think of 2018 as a pretty good year for me in the long run, both personally and professionally.
I’m hesitant to focus too much on the personal aspects of my life in this blog, suffice it to say, I’ve had some ups and downs as most people do. Yet this year for me I think had more ups than usual so forgive me if I happen to look forward to 2019 with some optimism.
The world stage I know can be looked at with far more pessimism, as we are entering into an unknown future with some of the wrong people still running things. It’s a world full of “healots” which is a word coined by Walter Brennan’s Colonel character in “Meet John Doe”, a film I recently revisited over the holidays which even though was made in 1941 can say much about our current state of affairs and how messed up everything is. In fact the more I watch older movies, the more each of them feel like a dire warning of hard times ahead.
But as Bruce Springsteen reminded those of us who happened to watch his Broadway special on Netflix “The future is not yet written”. Maybe it’s hearing that comforting thought from the king of rock n roll troubadours that makes me believe not all hope is lost and for every bad person in the world, there is someone who is good.
Now with that rather simple sentiment behind me, without further adieu I wanted to celebrate the end of 2018 with highlighting a few of my favorite things I’ve discovered this year. All of them I would say land in the realm of popular art or pop culture whatever category you prefer. Since movies, music, and television are often seen as highlights in my every day life, I just thought it best to focus on them specifically and what the ones I picked were so meaningful to me. So here we go…
Favorite Film Discovery:
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
This category is reserved for the film I’ve seen that was not released in 2018 but is new to me nonetheless. I saw a lot of great films I would consider classics I had not seen before, but the one that just floored me is this from beginning to end with its intriguing premise and great performances is “Sorry, Wrong Number”, a rather compact film noir starring Barbara Stanwyck in another stand out performances (she received her fourth and final Best Actress Oscar nomination for this role), as well as Burt Lancaster. Stanwyck plays the invalid rich wife to Lancaster’s bitter office drone to her father’s pharmaceutical company. The film begins with Stanwyck accidentally overhearing a murder plot over the phone when he lines get crossed, after which we get the impression that she might actually be the person who is set up to be killed. The film has a great use of flashbacks as it leads up to a riveting finale that actually had my jaw drop with shock and surprise. There’s nothing like a great film noir to get your blood boiling, and Stanwyck and Lancaster both made a great career of being in some classics of the genre. It was nice treat playing off of each other. The film is a brief bare-bones affair that looks to have been shot with quick, cheap, efficiency. But the whole piece is stunning from beginning to end and just when you think it’s going to work out the way you think it is, it takes a fatal twist which leaves you gasping in disbelief.
Godzilla (1954): It actually took me this long to see the original classic monster movie, and it did not disappoint
Black Sunday (1960): Classic Italian horror film stylistically realized from Mario Bava and starring the stunning Barbara Steele.
The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)/ Love Me or Leave Me (1955): I have not really seen a lot of Doris Day films before this year and it’s a shame because I really think she was an underrated actress/singer when it came down to it. Today it may be easy to see her films as mostly light and bubbly romantic comedies, or musicals but there was some real artistry going on under the surface, and Day could be an actress with both some real comedic chops or dramatic depths. Two of her films I wanted to highlight are Glass Bottom Boat which is a highly spirited riff of the James Bond 60s spy drama, as well as a screwball comedy also featuring Rod Taylor. Love Me or Leave Me is a musical drama with Day giving a great dramatic performance opposite James Cagney who is also great.
Altered States (1980): Fascinating, trippy sci-fi film starring William Hurt and directed by Ken Russell
I Married a Witch (1942): Utterly charming romantic comedy starring Veronika Lake as a witch who puts a love spell on hapless Fredric March
Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932) French farce from Jean Renoir starring Michel Simon as a homeless man who is saved from suicide by book shop owner, then suddenly causes him nothing but grief.
Favorite Movie Going Experience:
2001: A Space Odyssey in IMAX: Truly the biggest thrill I had at the movies was going to see Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece which was brought back to the screen for a limited engagement on the IMAX screen. I saw a few other films in IMAX this year and some of them pretty impressive like “Mission Impossible: Fallout” and “First Man”, but “2001” was given new life. Still based on its original 35 mm print, it’s never looked more crisper and clearer. The images remain timeless as if the film was made yesterday, and there is a real epic scope to the whole proceedings. This new experience almost felt like I was watching the film for the first time.
First Man: Still quite impressive in IMAX with stunning visuals
Blackkklansman: The biggest gut punch in the theatre I had.
Cold War: Classically filmed in black and white, a tender love story, and old fashioned jazz music made this feel like the coolest looking film
Altered States: Seeing this for the first time in a theatre not knowing what to expect, made for an insane though entertaining film
Mandy: I saw this in a late showing with a rowdy crowd of cult movie enthusiasts and they just ate this crazy movie up.
3 Faces: A humble setting for a humble movie, this was not on my radar but it struck a chord. A reflective and relaxing film to watch, I see it again and again and again.
Some Favorite Movie Moments
Cold War: Every glance made by the two lovers at each other from across a room, gives us everything we need to know about them and how much in love they are.
Blackkklansman: The final five or so minutes of the film where we are whisked from 70s America into modern times.
The Other Side of the Wind: The sex scene in the car.
Let the Sunshine In: Anytime where Juliet Binoche smiles.
3 Faces: The final shot which remains cautiously optimistic.
Black Panther: The South Korean car chase
Mission Impossible: Fallout: Tom Cruise jumps out of a plane
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: Tom Waits’ face when he realizes someone is behind him with a gun, and also when he christens his gold claim “Mr. Pockets”.
Ready Player One: The final scene with Mark Rylance which feels like he’s standing in for Spielberg reflecting on his life’s work.
Unsane: The final freeze frame shot of Claire Foy evoking 70s paranoid thrillers.
Avengers: Infinity War: Thor enters Wakanda
Ant-Man and The Wasp: Michael Pena’s telling of a story as performed by Paul Rudd and Evangaline Lily.
Roma: The hospital scene all of it.
Won’t you Be My Neighbour?: The final moment when the film asks something for the audience to do.
The Commuter: The opening montage showing twenty years in the life of one man.
Game Night: “Oh no he died!”
First Reformed: Floating off of a floor, while images of hope and despair flow by underneath.
First Man: Landing on the moon.
Mandy: Nicolas Cage shouting “You ripped my shirt!” while fighting with an other worldly biker demon.
Leave No Trace: When the father and daughter say goodbye
Climax: The opening dance sequence
Three Identical Strangers: When the truth about the triplets’ separation is revealed
The Great Buster: A Celebration: Basically the final thirty or so minutes of the film giving us what we came for, clips of Buster Keaton in all his glory.
Hereditary: When a certain someone loses their head.
Favorite TV Show
The Good Place Season 2: Television was pretty scarce with me this year. But one bright spot for me was when I caught up with everyone’s favorite existential sitcom. While season one was thoroughly enjoyable with, season two really upped its ante, giving us more surprises and fodder for comedy, while completely re vamping the series yet again by the end of it. I’m not sure where “A Good Place” will be going next, but I’m on board to find out.
Bob’s Burgers: Last year found my introduction to “Bob’s Burgers” a show with a lot of heart, humor, and winning characters
Alias Grace: Mini-series based on the Margaret Atwood novel by the same name, is positively a great drama and mystery.
Ken Burns’ Civil War: I’ve been wanting to catch up on this documentary series forever, being a huge fan of both Ken Burns and the history of the Civil War, this did not disappoint.
Ken Burns’ The War: Burns later war film about World War 2, is a bit more drawn out than Civil War, but still worth a look
American Vandal Season 2: Being a fan of the first season, I had to check out the new one, and was left pleasantly surprised as it was another indictment on certain High School stigmas that can haunt students, while at the same time be funny and timely.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 1: While this show was not without its flaws, I was charmed by it to say the least. Blending horror, comedy, and teen drama isn’t always easy, but the cast here make this work.
Favorite Book/Reading Material
Henry IV Part 1: I suppose part of the joy of going back to school like I ended up doing is I get to read things I never thought I’d ever read, then end up loving some of the things I’ve read. Granted this is a Shakespeare play, so it’s hard for anything to compete, but it’s a play I found myself drawn to by its characters, charm, wit, and melancholy. It has actually become one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, though I did not have time to read part 2 yet, it is on my list by the end of the year.
Dr. Faustus: Another school assigned reading I found to be very enjoyable written by Christopher Marlowe
Alias Grace: Margaret Atwood’s novel of a young housemaid accused of being an accomplice in the murder of her employer and his lover is a wonderful read and quite compelling.
Ernst Lubitsch: Laughter in Paradise: A wonderful biography on one of my favorite directors.
Finally I want to highlight the album of the year for me. Although this was the year I discovered the wonderful beauty and humor of Randy Newman, as well as albums by Blondie and The Beach Boys I had not heard before, I have to say the album that was played constantly since I bought just a short two months ago is the new Elvis Costello album “Look Now”. Costello has been a favorite of mine since my teenage years, and I’ve been aching to listen to new music by him for years. Finally I was not disappointed, and “Look Now” sounds like the kind of music I listen to for comfort food. I can’t say I listen a lot to the newer music these days with few exceptions, so hearing someone like Costello perform at the top of his game is just a real treat. So I’ll close with a couple of samples from his album, two songs that I love and grow on me the more I listen to them. Farewell 2018.