Movie Buff: My 50 Favorite Films

Right before our ever-more living through interesting times trip to Tampa Bay, Marcia and I watched Bob Fosse’s 1979 film All The Jazz. She had watched the Fosse/Verdon miniseries without me, then watched Cabaret on Netflix while I was traveling. She expressed an interest in seeing Fosse’s autobiographical Jazz as well, since it covers aspects and elements of the story told in the miniseries, only lightly fictionalized (with a few crucial, shocking exceptions). I have long cited All That Jazz as one of my favorite films, so I was perfectly happy to order the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray edition of it for us to watch, since it was not available to stream. Bring on the popcorn!

This was, oh, I dunno, probably the fourth or fifth time I’ve watched that film since its release. My regard for it grows with each viewing, and that was affirmed again this time around. I believe it is Fosse’s greatest masterpiece, and one of the finest films ever made. It’s really rare that I ever want to watch movies more than once, even ones I like, so when one moves me enough to consider multiple repeat screenings, that cements its favorite status in my heart and mind. That’s especially true in Jazz‘s case, with its musical structure and Broadway-style set pieces, given that I usually hate those in movies, just on principal. It takes a lot to overcome my general revulsion toward that form.

Of course, me being me, and me also looking at a lot of unexpected hunkering down time to watch movies over the weeks ahead, after watching All That Jazz, I got to thinking about what other films I’d rank as my all-time favorites, and be willing to watch again. And again. I’ve done that sort of life-time list with albums on here for years, but when it comes to films, while I’ve occasionally plonked some off-the-cuff “Top Ten Movie” ideas down here, or done some time-specific lists as decades roll to a close, I’ve never really sat down to think about my All-Time Best of the Best Film List in any meaningful way.

So while we were in Florida, I went back through all of my various old small lists and made one big list out of them. And then I edited it to a nice round number — fifty — and I decided that for the purposes of this list, I’d not include  documentaries; I might need to give them their own list at some point. I tried to stick to the things that I really, really love, and that I personally believe to be true masterpieces, and not to start off the way that so many lists of this ilk do, with the “usual suspect” entries that critics are obliged to cite.

You know the ones: Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather, Battleship Potemkin, 8 1/2, Breathless, etc.  All fine, important films, of course, but none of them move me as deeply on a personal basis as the ones I put on my own list. On the flip-side of that rubric, I also tried to apply some reasonable objective quality filters to knock things off the list like, say, John Boorman’s Zardoz or George Roy Hill’s Slap Shot, both of which I’ve also seen numerous times and which always tickle me to pieces, but which I know are just not great films, as much as I want them to be so.

I was not particularly surprised when I came up with my final 50 to see that almost all of the films were made in my lifetime. Things with relevance and current release energy that I first experienced when they were relatively fresh are more likely to move me deeply than things from earlier eras. I mean, I’ve read and been told so many times how to process and respond to Citizen Kane that I don’t really quite know what my real personal feelings are about it any more. (I suspect this is true for most folks, though I also suspect that few critics would admit it). While Kane may truly have changed the way we view and make cinema, I’m of the era that was raised on its followers, such that many of its then-revolutionary aspects look, feel and sound tame (and dull) to me, and I can’t remove the lenses through which I view it and others of its venerable stature.

But sitting through Ari Aster’s Midsommar last year? Blammo! My Head A Splode! And I thought about that flick for a long time after it was over, the feelings it created were deep and powerful, its artistry and acting were sublime, and I didn’t need anybody to tell me what I should think about it, and why it mattered. It was objectively great and subjectively a favorite, for sure, in it’s own damn right. Onto the list with you! Huttah!

Okay, with all of that as (long) preamble, I present my Top 50 Film List below, in chronological order (oldest to newest) by United States’ premier dates. Title, release year, and director noted for each one. I wish the directors’ roster wasn’t as much of a white boys sausage party as it is, but that’s what’s been mostly put before me for most of my lifetime by the film-making powers that be, so it reflects that, alas. That said, I am very, very glad to see that dynamic (slowly) changing, bit by bit, year by year, no matter how white and paternalistic Oscar apparently continues to want to be, damn him and his enablers.

I don’t know how many of these are available for streaming, or even on Blu-Ray for some of the obscurities, but I’ll keep the list handy near the TV Command Station in the weeks ahead, and see what we see. Let me know if you’re moved to watch any of these on your own, and what you think/thought if you do. Always happy to discuss great flicks!

  1. The Great Dictator (1940, Charlie Chaplin)
  2. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, Stanley Kubrick)
  3. Seconds (1966, John Frankenheimer)
  4. Cool Hand Luke (1967, Stuart Rosenberg)
  5. The Graduate (1967, Mike Nichols)
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
  7. Petulia (1968, Richard Lester)
  8. A Clockwork Orange (1971, Stanley Kubrick)
  9. Walkabout (1971, Nicolas Roeg)
  10. Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972, Werner Herzog)
  11. Deliverance (1972, John Boorman)
  12. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972, Luis Buñuel)
  13. Don’t Look Now (1973, Nicolas Roeg)
  14. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, Miloš Forman)
  15. Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese)
  16. The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976, Nicolas Roeg)
  17. Network (1976, Sidney Lumet)
  18. Eraserhead (1977, David Lynch)
  19. The Last Wave (1977, Peter Weir)
  20. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, Philip Kaufman)
  21. All That Jazz (1979, Bob Fosse)
  22. Time Bandits (1981, Terry Gilliam)
  23. Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott)
  24. Liquid Sky (1982, Slava Tsukerman)
  25. Brazil (1985, Terry Gilliam)
  26. A Zed & Two Noughts (1985, Peter Greenaway)
  27. The Princess Bride (1987, Rob Reiner)
  28. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989, Peter Greenaway)
  29. Do the Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee)
  30. The Piano (1993, Jane Campion)
  31. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993, Lasse Hallström)
  32. Dead Man (1995, Jim Jarmusch)
  33. The Big Lebowski (1998, Joel Coen)
  34. Mulholland Dr. (2001, David Lynch)
  35. Lost in Translation (2003, Sofia Coppola)
  36. The Fountain (2006, Darren Aronofsky)
  37. WALL-E (2008, Andrew Stanton)
  38. Up (2009, Pete Docter)
  39. Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky)
  40. Melancholia (2011, Lars von Trier)
  41. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012, Benh Zeitlin)
  42. Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson)
  43. Under the Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer)
  44. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Wes Anderson)
  45. Inside Out (2015, Pete Docter)
  46. The Witch (2015, Robert Eggers)
  47. Moonlight (2016, Barry Jenkins)
  48. A Ghost Story (2017, David Lowery)
  49. Mother! (2017, Darren Aronofsky)
  50. Midsommar (2019, Ari Aster)

It’s showtime, folks!

Screening the Teens: The 25 Best Films of 2010-2019

UPDATE NOTE: Click here for a 2020 update of my 50 All-Time Favorite Films.

Marcia and I watched The Lighthouse this weekend. A harrowing flick with innovative visuals and cinematography, and good enough for me to update the “Best Movies” section at my 2019: Year In Review page to include it there. As I was doing that, I noticed my Best Albums of 2010-2019 article nearby (virtually speaking), and, well, if you know me and/or been here more than a couple of times, then you probably know where the combination platter of those two threads led me.

Being a chronic list-maker, I already had a large amount of information on what films I’d seen and liked over the past decade here at the website, so I started by combining and culling those annual lists, then went to look at several other critical websites for their own best of the year (each year) or decade-in-review pieces. There weren’t many films disclosed throughout that review process that I wanted to see that I hadn’t seen, so that was nice to affirm; living in Chicago within walking distance of several movie theaters certainly was conducive to keeping abreast of current cinematic offerings, alongside the emergence of streaming services over the decade.

With those resources, it didn’t take me very long to develop a first-draft list of my 25 Best Films of the decade, and as I mulled it over the past couple of days, making some drops and adds, it finally started to seem like a good list to share. I will note, though, that as I look at the list and the pool from which it was drawn, I think it’s a list of good films from a decade that history will judge to be a wan era in cinematic history, critically, if not commercially. The blockbusters of the decade are almost all comic book franchises, sequels, reboots, or movies inspired by toys, games, theme-park rides or other infantile sources. The roster of Academy Award Best Pictures includes plentiful “What were they thinking?!?” winners like Argo, The Artist, Birdman, Spotlight, The Shape of Water and Green Book, mostly nice enough for a bucket of popcorn, sure, but none to these eyes and ears worthy of being dubbed best in their years of release, by long margins in most cases.

That said, I will note one other trend: my list definitely skews toward the latter half of the decade, and I think that’s a positive sign, as more unique, original, diverse films are seeing the light of day, and then finding audiences and attention beyond the tiny art house scene, than was the case at the start of the decade. I scrubbed my list fairly hard to make sure that this late decade skew wasn’t just an artifact of me better remembering more recently-seen films than those I saw a decade ago and forgot about, but going through all the data at my disposal, I do think it is a real trend, at least in terms of the types of films that I appreciate most.

As the list below will likely and quickly make clear, the movies that I hold in the highest regard tend to be original, technically sophisticated (beyond just slathering on layers of CGI), unique, and haunting, in both their real-time content and their lingering effects on my consciousness. There are scenes and performances in these films that took my breath away, and which I continue to remember and consider years after I first saw them. Their stories are all fresh, and their action and direction are truly creative, with nary a straight regurgitation nor a franchise feature among them. More of these, Hollywood! Please!

As always, I welcome your own thoughts, corrections, and additions in the comments. Is there something out there that I need to see? An amendment screaming to be made? Hit me, if so! I’m always open to having my mind blown unexpectedly.

THE 25 BEST FILMS OF 2010-2019 (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)

1917 (2019)
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Black Swan (2010)
The Death of Stalin (2017)
Dunkirk (2017)
The Favourite (2018)
The Florida Project (2017)
Frank (2014)
Get Out (2017)
A Ghost Story (2017)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Inside Out (2015)
Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Lady Bird (2017)
The Lobster (2015)
Melancholia (2011)
Midsommar (2019)
Moonlight (2016)
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
mother! (2017)
Parasite (2019)
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Under the Skin (2013)
Us (2019)
The Witch (2015)

And if I had to pick the best of the best . . . which Oscar COMPLETELY ignored, ugh . . .

2019: Year in Review

Marcia and I are hitting the road tomorrow for New Mexico (where we’ll see out 2019, having welcomed it in Paris, France), so it seems a good time for my annual recap and summary of stuffs and things here as a final blog post from a big year, on a wide range of fronts for our family, most of them documented within these pages.

ON THE BLOG:

This is the 70th post on the blog this year, up from 41 in 2018, 35 in 2017, and 27 in 2016. A very positive trend (if not as many posts as I used to poop out annually a decade or so ago), and a good indicator that getting off of social media (a goal established in last December’s “Year in Review” post) was a good way to redirect time and energy to pursuits that I consider more rewarding. Traffic was up a solid 40% over the prior year as well, confirming once again that volume drives reads, as long as quality remains acceptable. As satisfying as that is, given my own goals for the year, I doubt that I will hit the same high post mark in 2020, as I plan to work on some projects for potential professional or commercial purposes, and don’t intend to share them until I know there’s not a market for them. But I do have a couple of new ideas for public writing for pleasure knocking around in my brain, so I may surprise myself.

I completed my planned Credidero writing project this week, an act of thinking out loud in public over the past year about a dozen concepts of interest, looking to see what beliefs might emerge from such active reflection and analysis. It was satisfying to click the final “publish” button, seeing that effort to fruition. Of course, I’m lousy at letting things go cleanly, so I will re-read and mull the entire project output soon, and write one last summarizing article in January, to assess themes or thoughts that emerge from between the lines for me.

As I report each year, here are the ten most-read articles among the 70 new posts here in 2019:

And then here are the ten posts written in prior years that received the most reads in 2019. It always fascinates me which of the 1,100+ articles on my website interest people (or search engines) the most, all these years on since the first 1995 post on an early version of this blog, long before any of us knew it was to be called a blog. (I exclude things like the “About Me” page or the generic front page from the list, even though they generate a lot of my traffic). Here’s hoping that people realize that the perpetually-popular “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” post is a joke . . .

ON THE WEB:

I begin my day, every day, reading two utterly brilliant sites: Thoughts On The Dead and Electoral Vote Dot Com. My deeper thoughts on the former are here, and on the latter, suffice to say they’re my main online source for hard political/electoral news and analysis at this point, and have been since the early ’90s. I will admit that it is hard, sometimes, to decide which one of the worlds they describe in glorious detail (the first a semi-fictional universe built around the exploits of a time-traveling Grateful Dead, the second an academically rigorous view of our Nation’s electoral processes) is the most absurd and unbelievable anymore. I definitely would prefer to live in Thoughts On The Dead’s universe some days when I read the reports on Electoral Vote Dot Com and cringe at the idiocy, if not outright evil, of our ruling class. Beyond that, I didn’t add any new crucial web sites to my roster of favorites this year (see the “Regular Reads” block in the right side-bar), which I suppose is another good indicator that I spent less time trawling and more time creating in 2019 than has been the case in recent years. Good on me.

TRAVEL:

As noted above, we greeted 2019 in Paris, France and will see it out in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We also celebrated our 30th anniversary in June with a great trip to Greece, and our first retirement trip was a jaunt to Spain. In the middle of all that, we consolidated our household in Des Moines, Iowa, after having split time between there and Chicago for three years. I traveled less for work in 2019 than I had in the four prior years (it’s harder to get anywhere from Des Moines than it is from Chicago), though I still got to enjoy my fifth Tour des Trees, this time in Kentucky and Tennessee. Next year the team will ride in Colorado, with Iowa as the target destination the year after that. I hope that health and schedule allow me to continue rolling with them, minus my management responsibilities. At bottom line, 2020 will be mainly about the travel that Marcia and I choose to do, not that we need to do. That will be refreshing. We have trips to Arizona, Ireland, Spain, Costa Rica and Iceland in the family’s conceptual hopper at this point, and we shall see what else the next year brings. Here’s my 2019 map, as a benchmark (with this week’s trip to New Mexico already penciled in):

RECORDINGS:

I’ve already posted my Most Played Songs of 2019 and Best Albums of 2019 reports, and consider 2019 to have been an outstanding music year.

LIVE PERFORMANCES AND ART EXHIBITIONS:

Alas, this is the one section of my annual report that’s ready for retirement, with us having left Chicago. We saw dozens of shows (of both types) each year when we were living just off of The Loop, and we’ve seen, well, close to none, since we moved back to Des Moines. The one concert that stands out was our final one as Chicago residents: King Crimson at Auditorium Theater, where we had front row seats to watch the Seven-Headed Beast work its magic. A wonderful and fitting chapter closer for four great years of concert-going and museum-strolling in a world-class cultural city.

BOOKS:

I set a goal to read more books in 2019. I did read more books in 2019, once again demonstrating the perfidy that Twitter and its ilk impose upon us as time sucks and soul wasters and dumb-down distractions. Here’s the list of my favorite nonfiction works, novels and short story collections of the year. I feel smarter having read them.

FILMS:

We’ve seen a lot of movies this year, many of them quite good. (We’re pretty astute at just not going to see things that we think are not going to appeal to us, so I don’t often get exposed to garbage). Here’s my Top 15 of the year, thus far, in alphabetical order:

  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  • The Art of Self Defense
  • Booksmart
  • Brittany Runs A Marathon
  • Dolemite Is My Name
  • The Farewell
  • Ford v Ferrari
  • Good Boys
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Knives Out
  • The Lighthouse
  • Midsommar
  • Parasite
  • Ready Or Not
  • Rocketman
  • Us

I still have some Oscar Bait late-in-the-year or below-the-radar films that I would like to check out: Pain & Glory,  The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Monos, and Hagazussa. I’m iffy on The Irishman, as I have a hard time wanting to sit through anything that long, especially a gangster movie, as much as I like the (most of) the film’s cast and director. I thought Little Women was unwatchably bad, so I’m flying in the face of critical consensus on that. In theory, I will amend this to create my final list after I catch the ones I’m going to catch, though once the Academy Awards show rolls around, I usually lose interest in catching up, and start looking ahead to next year.

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . onward to New Mexico and beyond. I assume that I will be back here at my desk (wherever my desk lives at that point) in December 2020 with a similar report (as has become my habit), marveling at that which was, and eagerly anticipating that which is yet to come. See you then?

2018: Year in Review

The shortest day of the year approacheth, by God, and that puts me in a reflective mood, meaning it’s time for my annual trawl through “The Year That Was” to capture the “Most This” and “Fave That” and “Best The Other” for those interested in such reckonings. (If that doesn’t include any of you, well, then at least I’ve given myself a nice summary of the year for future reference, and satisfied the list-making monster that gnaws on my brain stem like Níðhöggr as December 31 draws nigh).

ON THE BLOG:

I posted 41 articles on the blog this year, up from 35 last year, and 27 the year before. A positive trend, though still nothing approaching the 77 posts I wrote back in 2015, and more in years prior. I doubt I’ll ever see those levels of productivity here again, for a variety of reasons, but this seems like a good and satisfying “new normal” level for me at this point. I have a 2019 writing project in mind, so will announce that here via a separate post at some point soon.

The ten most-read articles among those 41 new posts here in 2018 were these:

And then here are the ten posts from prior years (this blog archive goes back to 1995, y’know) that received the most reads in 2018. It always fascinates me which of the 1,000+ articles on my website interest people (or search engines) the most, all these years on. I mean, why does the transcription of my 1999 chat with relatively obscure Son Volt guitarist Dave Boquist perennially appear on this list, while interviews with much more well-known artists never do? And people do realize that the “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” and “Coffee and Crystal Meth” articles are jokes, right? Hmmm . . .

ON THE WEB:

Outside of my own sandbox, I found 2018 to be a mostly dismaying year online as the constant barrage of shrill electoral and political messaging, all of it requiring my attention RIGHT NOW . . . and RIGHT NOW . . . and RIGHT NOW . . . and RIGHT NOW AGAIN . . . RIGHT NOW . . . eventually just overwhelmed me by the time we got to the elections. Once I crashed, literally, on that screaming digital beach-head in November, I just decided to put myself on a social media time-out program, and I intend to stick to it in the year ahead. Enough is enough is enough is enough. And enough is what I’ve had, and enough is all I need. Enough.

I need to keep Twitter for work purposes, but I’ve unfollowed everything on my personal account, including some good friends there. I am sorry about that, and hope that we’ll keep in touch elsewhere in other ways. You can still follow me at Twitter if you want to get tweets alerting you when I post something here on the blog, but I won’t be putting any new content there, and will need to find a new outlet for all of those little wordy bon mots, I guess. Similar situation with LinkedIn: I need it for work, my posts here will get cited there for information when they go live, and then that’s it. Read the blog if you want to keep up with what I’m doing, at bottom line, or email me, or call me. I’m always happy to talk. Seriously. Let’s do lunch. My treat!

Back to Twitter for a minute: I should note that I hit the 10,000-tweet mark (after about eight years) right around the time that I bailed on the platform. If we figure that my average tweet was about 200 characters long (I straddled the 140-character and 280-character epochs), and that the average English word is composed of about five letters, then that’s about 400,000 words, or several novels worth of bullshit spewed into the ether between 2010 and 2018.

Oof!!! That’s an awful lot of writing, just done gone, which probably explains why my blog volume dropped so precipitously in recent years. (To my own credit, I saw this coming). While I can’t get those words back, at this point, I definitely don’t want to add any more volume to that rambling stream of unedited piffle and tripe on one of the very same platforms that Russian trolls and their handlers used to wage cyberwar on us all, with terrible, terrible consequences. No mas. I’m out. See ya ’round. Done, done, and gone.

On a macro basis, I think the whole social media era may be drawing to a close for me. I also think that our descendants and their historians will look at how we collectively acted online over the past decade or so with disgusted bemusement as to how freaking stupid we all were in the nascent days of our lives as a digital species. I’m glad to have been an early adopter of lots of these technologies, and I’m equally glad to kick them to the curb when they have exhausted their utility in my life, or when they make me into a dumber, slower, sadder human being. This here internet thing was supposed to be fun, remember? I want to make it more of that, for me, starting right now, if not yesterday.

Also on that web and app front: while I am acutely aware that our Nation’s chief executive is a blithering, blundering, uncultured, unindicted co-conspiring buffoon, and that his enablers in the U.S. Congress, on FAUX News and its ilk, and in State Houses around the country will go down in history as some of the most criminally inept and amoral politicians and media figures ever to serve their citizenry, I do not need to be reminded of what those people are doing more than once or twice a day. Being alerted on a minute-by-minute or hour-by-hour basis about the crooked cabal’s misdeeds and idiocy doesn’t make me any more woke . . . it just makes me more morally exhausted and depressed than I would be otherwise.

So I am finished with doing that to myself, too. If a website or phone app has a “refresh” button (literal or virtual) on it, then I really don’t want to read it anymore, lest I get stuck, pressing “reload” over and over again, waiting for the next hit of inane and sulfurous nothing to flash up on the glowing screen before me, to nobody’s betterment, ever. For the past month or so, I have chosen to get my political news from three good sources, once or twice a day, at most: I read my long-time web favorite Electoral Vote Dot Com every morning on the train, along with a print copy of the Chicago Sun Times, and then I read The Economist when it arrives in my home mailbox each week. America’s educated working classes functioned for decades, if not centuries, with once-a-day newspapers or news shows on radio or televisions, and we did just fine all that time. Better than we’re doing today, actually, by most metrics.

I want to return to that model in my own news-consuming life, reading professionally edited articles by qualified journalists, researchers and reporters, just a couple of times a day. That’s enough. That’s all I need. Please, Jesus, stop shouting at me beyond that, all of you. Thank you. My new writing project will probably touch on some of these themes more in 2019, so that’s all I’m going to say about that, for now. Watch this space.

On a more positive front online, and outside of the agitating news and social media worlds, Thoughts on the Dead remains my clear favorite and most happily read website, with the ever-prolific Mr TotD continuing to build and manage the best semi-fictional universe EVAR!!! Dive in, the water’s warm, though that might be because somebody’s nephew peed in it, and the pool also might be dosed with acid, so keep your mouth closed while you splash about. Also, the Donate Button may be sentient there, so you should befriend it and curry its favor soon, lest your cell phone ring unexpectedly, and Kim Jong-Un be on the other end. Just saying. It happens more often than one might expect.

My favorite new (to me, not to others) website/blog of the year would be Messy Nessy Chic, an utterly fascinating and well-curated deep dive into amazing art, culture, stories, pictures, and stuff, in all of stuff’s glorious stuffishness. Gorgeous, fascinating, and fun — and Nessy’s ongoing “13 Things I Found On the Internet Today” series is the best recurring catalog of its sort that I’ve seen anywhere online in ages and ages. Every edition’s a gem, filled with literal wonders. My other favorite regular reads online in 2018 are listed in the sensibly named “Regular Reads” column in the right sidebar here, so I commend them to all of you, too, once you’ve had enough here.

TRAVEL:

We greeted 2018 in Key West, Florida, and we will see it out in Paris, France, unless the Yellow Vest protesters burn it down first. I did a lot of professional travel this year, atop some fun family trips, and a really strenuous Tour des Trees in Northeastern Ohio, so my travel itinerary for the year remained almost as busy as 2017 and 2016.

With our move to Des Moines in March, I’ll be making a lot more trips between Iowa and Chicago, but I am planning to limit my work travel to one professional trip per month beyond that, with my board’s blessing. It will be nice to see this spaghetti chart get a little bit less tangled in 2019, even as a good chunk of long-haul travel will remain. (We have Greece and St. Kitts already booked on the 2019 itinerary, along with next year’s Tour des Trees in Kentucky and Tennessee, so those are exciting benchmarks upon which to build other adventures).

RECORDINGS:

I’ve already posted my Most Played Songs of 2018 and Best Albums of 2018 Reports, and I updated my Top 200 Favorite Albums list to reflect 2018 listening. After I issued the latter list, The Weasels released their outstanding new album, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, which is certainly a best of the year, and will be getting its own review addendum here at some point soon. You can go buy it now, so you’re prepared.

LIVE PERFORMANCES:

We experienced a lot of performances in a lot of idioms and venues this year, so rather than list a Favorite Opera, or a Favorite Play, or a Favorite Classic Rock Show, here are the 15 live performance events of all stripes that moved me the most this year, in chronological order, and all in Chicago unless otherwise noted; the most amazing and compelling of the bunch was The Joffrey Ballet’s incredible Midsummer Night’s Dream (no, not that one, Shakespeare was not involved here). Wow!!

  • Turandot, January 13, Lyric Opera
  • Blind Date, January 27, Goodman Theater
  • The Antelope Party, February 23, Theater Wit
  • Uriah Heep, March 11, Arcada Theater (St. Charles, Illinois)
  • Faust, March 18, Lyric Opera
  • Women Laughing Alone With Salad, March 31, Theater Wit
  • The Residents, April 17, Old Town School of Folk Music
  • The Doppelganger: A Farce, April 29, Steppenwolf Theatre
  • Midsummer Nights Dream, May 5, Joffrey Ballet, featuring Anna von Hausswolff at Auditorium Theater
  • Jesus Christ Superstar, May 16, Lyric Opera
  • Todd Rundgren and Utopia, May 22, Chicago Theater
  • George Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars, July 15, Petrillo Stage, Taste of Chicago
  • First Aid Kit, October 2, Queen Elizabeth Theater (Vancouver, British Columbia)
  • Tom Hanks: “Uncommon Type,” November 2, Harris Theater, Chicago Humanities Festival
  • Familiar, December 16, Steppenwolf Theatre

ART EXHIBITIONS:

I saw every exhibition that opened at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Cultural Center and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago this year, probably amassing more gallery time in 2018 than in any other year when I didn’t actually work in a museum. I think the Art Institute had a curatorial banner year in 2018, though probably not for the big, splashy, media-friendly exhibitions that most folks would cite. (I was very underwhelmed by their John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded Age show, for example, having seen a much more compelling collection and interpretation of Sargent’s works at The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown many years ago; this one felt very forced and “second city” to both Marcia and I). MCA mostly underwhelmed me this year, I am sad to say, and while the Cultural Center had some great shows in their smaller spaces, programming in their larger galleries also did not live up to the some of the creative thrills they’ve offered me in recent years. With that as macro preamble, then, here are the ten exhibitions that rocked my world the most this year at those three venerable venues. The Art Institute’s Hairy Who? 1966-1969 was unquestionably the best art event I saw this year: I have visited it about a dozen times at this point, and it reveals new wonders each time I walk through its generous galleries. Bravo!

  • Hairy Who? 1966–1969, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Volta Photo: Starring Sanlé Sory and the People of Bobo-Dioulasso in the Small but Musically Mighty Country of Burkina Faso, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Charles White: A Retrospective, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush, Chicago Cultural Center
  • Bronzeville Echoes: Faces and Places of Chicago’s African American Music, Chicago Cultural Center
  • de-skinned: duk ju l kim recent work, Chicago Cultural Center
  • Tomma Abts, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
  • Flesh: Ivan Albright, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection, Art Institute of Chicago

BOOKS:

I am embarrassed by how few new books I read in 2018, which is another one of the reasons behind me saying enough when it comes to social media soul-sucking time: tons and tons of words passed through my eyes and into my brain this year, yes, but very few of them added wisdom or produced pleasure. Yucko, I am done with that, and I need to read more books in 2019! Let’s do this!

The best books I read this year were actually released between 2015 and 2017. N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy — The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky — marked the finest example of timely and timeless world-building that I think I’ve enjoyed since the original Dune books. These are the right books in the right time when it comes to the ways in which we write about and read the fantastic, and how the fantastic mirrors and reflects real issues in our real world, and the series absolutely deserves the trio of Hugo Awards bestowed upon it, among many other honors. Very enjoyable reading, and I was very happy to have gotten lost for a couple of months in Jemisin’s sublime The Stillness.

The best new fiction releases I read in 2018 were The Cloven (the final book in B.K. Catling’s sprawling Vorhh Trilogy), Suah Bae’s exquisitely surreal Recitation and Sarah Perry’s engaging Gothic Noir Melmoth. I have Richard Powers’ The Overstory queued up next, and I expect to start and enjoy that before the year is up. On the nonfiction front, I liked Jorma Kaukonen’s autobiography Been So Long: My Life and Music, and Joel Selvin’s expose on the post-Jerry days of the Dead, Fare Thee Well because I’m interested in the subjects — but I would not cite either of them as a particularly great example of contemporary rock literature.

And that’s pretty much it for me in terms of books released in 2018. Did I mention that I am embarrassed by this? Well, I am. Goddamn you, Twitter!! Curse you to hell, Russian Trolls!!

FILMS:

We have two good movie theaters within easy walking distance of our condo, not to mention Amazon Prime and Netflix, so we watch a lot of movies every year. At the time of this writing, here are my Top Fifteen Films of 2018, though I note that I have some Oscar Bait movies that I want to see between now and early January (e.g. If Beale Street Could Talk, Can You Ever Forgive Me, Creed II, Vice, Leave No Trace, etc.), plus some sub-Oscar contenders in genres I like (e.g. Suspiria, The Sisters Brothers, etc.) so I’ll be updating this list a bit in the weeks ahead before the dust finally settles on 2018:

  • Annihilation
  • The Death of Stalin
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Sorry to Bother You
  • First Man
  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  • Never Goin’ Back
  • BlacKkKlansman
  • Thoroughbreds
  • A Simple Favor
  • First Reformed
  • Hereditary
  • Green Book
  • The Favourite
  • Roma

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . that’s it, I think. I’ll disclose my planned 2019 writing project here at some point soon, and then Marcia, Katelin and I will spend Christmas together in Chicago, and then Marcia and I will jet off for London and Paris, and then the proverbial wheel will click through one more annual revolution, and instead of looking back at the rut it has left behind us, we will look forward at the path over which it’s going to carry us in the months ahead. Which will go quickly, as they always do once one reaches a certain age (ahem), so vultures willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be back here in December 2019, marveling at that which was, and that which is yet to come. See you then?

Mine beloved and I returned to Vancouver this year after a 28-year hiatus. We’ll be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary in June 2019 in Greece, so there’s one adventure I know you’ll read about here 12 months hence, if not sooner!

2017: Year In Review

We are closing in on the shortest day of the year, and that always puts me in a reflective mood, so how’s about a trawl through 2017 to summarize the year that was, for those interested in such matters. (And if that doesn’t include any of you, well, then at least I’ve given myself a nice summary for future reference. Excelsior!)

ON THE WEB:

I posted 35 thingies (some fiendish) on the blog this year. The number actually surprised me; I would have guessed less. Last year I posted 27 times, though I was working on the short story project, so at least I was producing more long-form stuff than I did this year. In 2015, I posted 77 times. I guess either this blog’s swirling along a slow spiral to oblivion (like most blogs), or this is just the new normal. We’ll see what 2018 brings us. The ten most read new posts here in 2017 were:

The ten old posts that got the most traffic in 2017 were as follows. It’s always fascinating to me which of the 1,000-ish posts that I keep on the blog interest people (or search engines, anyway) the most all these years on . . .

I gave up on Facebook years ago, but I remain active on Twitter. I have learned after a very long time online that accepting or seeking connections just for the sake of doing so is a tool for madness, so I generally ascribe to Dunbar’s Number and try to keep my follows and followers around the 150 level. I am a little high on both fronts right now, so there might be some purging to be done by year’s end. On a political front (while I try not to write about that much here), Tiny Blue Isle is my go-to aggregator for Chicago-oriented progressive stuff. Bonus points for them using my poem as inspiration for their handle. I should also note that a photograph I took during the Chicago Marathon went wildly viral, for all of the wrong/right reasons (depending on whose views you take).

Where I used to regularly read one or more newspapers each morning to get my day started, my train commuting routine now involves three websites, which are almost always refreshed on a daily basis, and which fill the time in a very satisfying fashion as I rumble down the rails from Chicago to Naperville. In the order that I read them each day:

  • The Fall Online Forum: I’ve been a reader here for about 15 years, and an active poster for over a decade. You don’t have to be a fan of legendary English band The Fall to have fun in this forum: it’s high volume, with threads on pretty much everything under the sun, and some things from elsewhere, if you’re willing and able to trawl around a bit. It’s an old school message board, so there’s a nice nostalgia factor in play there, too. (Edit: Literally days after I posted this, the hosting site unilaterally updated the FOF, so now it looks like a typical modern web forum. Phooey!) Recommended, if you need a place to romp and stomp and waste time on the man’s dime. Smart people, passionate and knowledgeable about all sorts of arcana and oddities, and a great place (for me) to get an outside-the-US perspective on what the hell’s going on in the world these days. Plus the time difference between the UK and Chicago means that in the early morning here, I’ve got hours of new posts there to peruse.
  • Thoughts On The Dead: My favorite purveyor of semi-fictionality (have you heard of the concept?) has produced two novels’ worth of utterly stupendous world-building in his ongoing Little Aleppo Chronicles, along with a surrealistic treasure trove of character-based stories, timely satire, and the best writing about everybody’s favorite semi-defunct choogly band to be found in this universe and time stream. And if you nab the time sheath, you might find that it’s the best such writing in any universe or time stream. Try not to commit any felonies if you do that, though, please and thanks. Oh, and Thoughts On The Dead is being considered for an Oscar this year too! Be sure to check out his Christmas List if you visit, and do the right thing, namsain? You don’t want Donate Button to come looking for you.
  • Electoral-Vote Dot Com: I’ve been depending upon (and writing about) this website for my election season news aggregation since 2004, long before some of their more-highly-visible imitators started pilfering their data-driven approach. Normally, after the final counts were tallied in late 2016/early 2017, they would have shut down for a couple of years — but things this year are just so freakin’ weird that they’ve decided to keep rolling with the daily posts, for which I am thankful. There’s lots of political news aggregators out there on the web, and I consider these guys to be the pinnacle of the form. Good data, good sources, no bullshit, solid interpretation. Highly recommended.

TRAVEL

Marcia and I began the year in Reykjavik, watching the citizens of Iceland lose their collective minds in an orgy of fireworks and bonfires. We are going to end 2017 in Key West, with Katelin in tow this time. We were there for New Year’s Eve 2009/2010 as well, and it was a hoot. Here’s hoping that the city is well recovered from its hurricane damage, and that we have a nice warm night for the drag queen drop to marshall us into 2018.

I had tried to travel less for work this year, but it didn’t really quite work out that way, as my annual travel map (including planned holiday travel) indicates:

There were loads of adventures and lots of good work done over the the course of the year, but the particular highlights (beyond Iceland) of 2017 travel included: a family trip to the Netherlands and Belgium (where Katelin got to meet her spirit animal); getting to experience the solar eclipse in the mountains of North Carolina with the extended Smith-Duft families (minus Katelin, alas); a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where I go to see (ZOMFG) The Mothership; and riding the Tour des Trees in and around my old stomping grounds of Washington, DC and Annapolis, where I got to dedicate a Liberty Tree on the grounds of the State Capitol.

Leaving a nicer legacy in Annapolis than I did 30+ years ago. (Me in yellow NAVY cap).

RECORDINGS:

I already published my Best Albums of 2017 (26 years and counting!) and my Most Played Songs of 2017 reports, so probably don’t need to say much more on that front.

FILMS:

We have two good movie theaters within easy walking distance of our apartment, not to mention Amazon Prime and Netflix, so we watched a lot of movies this year. At the time of this writing, here are my Top Ten Films of the Year . . . though I note that I have some Oscar Bait movies to see between now and early January, so this list could change a little bit before the dust settles on the year.

  • Get Out
  • Trainspotting 2
  • mother!
  • The Big Sick
  • A Ghost Story
  • Dunkirk
  • The Disaster Artist
  • The Florida Project
  • Lady Bird
  • The Darkest Hour

Special mention to two epic television experiences that held us bound in front of the screen this year: Amir Bar-Lev’s outstanding Grateful Dead documentary, Long Strange Trip, and David Lynch/Mark Frost’s thrilling and maddening Twin Peaks: The Return. I’m not sure which story was weirder . . .

BOOKS:

Years ago, I summarized my  general book reading habits thusly: 10% Fiction, 40% Natural Science and History, 40% Music Biography, and 10% Tales of Human Suffering. Nothing too far afield in the mix of this year’s Top Ten Books, even if the percentages change, so I remain adamantly predictable in my tastes. (Note that a few of these books came out toward the end of 2016, but I didn’t read them until this year, so I’m recognizing them now):

  • Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
  • Borne (and The Strange Bird) by Jeff VanderMeer
  • The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones
  • Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger
  • Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
  • The Erstwhile by Brian Catling
  • The Show That Never Ends: The Rise And Fall of Prog Rock by David Weigel
  • The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis (December 2016)
  • Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith (December 2016)
  • The Gradual by Christopher Priest (December 2016)

I should note that this list is based on traditional print media output, but if we expand the definition of “book” to include serialized fiction online, then we must also add A Book With No Title by Thoughts On The Dead (see above) to the list.

PERFORMANCES:

We also went to a ton of live performances this year, in a variety of genres and idioms. Rather than break them up into different bits, I list my 15 favorites below, chronologically:

  • Too Hot to Handel, Auditorium Theater, January 15
  • Carmen, Lyric Opera, March 3
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Oriental Theater, March 11
  • Adrian Belew Power Trio, Old Town School, April 1
  • Destiny of Desire, Goodman Theater, April 8
  • Jean-Michel Jarre, Auditorium Theater, May 22
  • U2 and The Lumineers, Soldier Field, June 4
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Auditorium Theater, June 16
  • Paradise Blue, TimeLine Theater, July 15
  • Wire and Noveller, Metro, September 16
  • Rigoletto, Lyric Opera, October 14
  • Giselle, Joffrey Ballet/Auditorium Theater, October 29
  • Pere Ubu and Minibeast, Beat Kitchen, November 18
  • King Crimson, Riverside Theater (Milwaukee), November 26
  • In The Next Room, TimeLine Theater/Stage 773, December 9

ART:

As with so many other things, we’re blessed with a plethora of riches right here in our neighborhood: The Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Cultural Center are both within 10 minute walks of our apartment, so I visit each of them every few weeks, just because they’re my fave indoor places to go, solo or with friends. Here are the ten art happenings in Chicago that most moved me in 2017 (in no particular order), and those two venues feature most heavily, just because I’ve seen everything they offered in both permanent and temporary exhibitions over the past twelve months.

  • Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsia! Soviet Art Put To The Test, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Along The Lines: Selected Drawings by Saul Steinberg, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Chicago Architecture Biennial, Chicago Cultural Center
  • Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Ben Shahn: If Not Now, When? Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership
  • Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–1975, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Jack Kerouac’s On the Road Scroll, American Writer’s Museum
  • Eugene Eda’s Doors for Malcolm X College, Chicago Cultural Center
  • India Modern: The Painting of M.F. Husain, Art Institute of Chicago

And . . . I guess that’s it! Unless something moves me profoundly to write here in the next couple of weeks, it’ll probably be 2018 when I next check in at the blog. ‘ta ’til then from all of us in The Adventure Family . . .

(My) Best Movies Of the 21st Century

UPDATE NOTE: Click here for a 2020 update of my 50 All-Time Favorite Films.

The New York Times recently issued a list of “The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century So Far,” which you can read here. Probably unsurprisingly, I don’t agree with much of it. So equally unsurprisingly, I felt I had to make my own list. Because me.

Note that I am being a calendar pedant in framing my choices: the 21st Century began on January 1, 2001, so there are no movies from 2000 here. Had I included the final year of the 20th Century, I likely would have added Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Requiem For a Dream to the list below at the expense of two of the 2001-2016 films.

I also don’t have any 2017 movies on the list. Get Out and Trainspotting 2 are the  best new films I’ve seen this year, but neither has sat with me long enough for me to consider it a serious contender for posterity’s sake.

My first cut at this list had 42 movies on it, so I was glad that I didn’t have to stretch to pad out a list of 25. I took me a while to figure out which 17 to drop, with some tough choices toward the very end, but I feel good about the final list I developed, and share it with you below.

For foreign language films, I’m using the titles that were most commonly used in domestic advertising campaigns, even if they were originally titled in their native languages. The list is is alphabetical order, so I’m not bothering to hierarchically rank them further.

This is all. List away . . .

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Black Swan (2010)

Donnie Darko (2001)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

The Fountain (2006)

Frank (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Inside Out (2015)

Let the Right One In (2008)

The Lobster (2015)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Lost in Translation (2003)

Melancholia (2011)

Moonlight (2016)

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Mulholland Drive (2001)

No Country for Old Men (2007)

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

The Piano Teacher (2002)

The Prestige (2006)

Under the Skin (2013)

Volver (2006)

WALL-E (2008)

The Witch (2015)

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)