Sunday Pretty

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Today on Twitter, Bright Wall/Dark Room (@BWDR) decided to “class it up” for their regular Sunday twitter focus and asked followers to send their favorite #MovieDresses.

I had such fun looking at images to tweet ten of my favorites that I thought I would share my selections here. So, if the news is getting you down, here is some pretty to brighten up your week.

Of course, I probably could have chosen ten images from just Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn films, but I tried to have a mix of old and new and fantastical.

For my first selection, I went with a dress that struck me back in my Hitchcock project days, when I voted Madeleine Carroll in Secret Agent as “Best Dressed” in my post on Hitchcock’s British Talkies.

To represent Grace Kelly, although I could have chosen any number of dresses from Hitchcock films (she got “Best Dressed” in my Master of Suspense post), I instead went with her wedding dress in High Society—I do so love sleeves.

To represent Audrey Hepburn, I went with my favorite color—pink! (Otherwise, I might have chosen the lovely party dress from the black & white Sabrina above.) Shockingly, this pink outfit is not from Funny Face, but rather Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Sticking with a 1950s look, we fast forward to my pick for Best Costumes only one year ago: The Dressmaker. (I should probably run out and see Phantom Thread, shouldn’t I?)

Another 2016 film that had great dresses was Jackie. Here is Natalie Portman wearing Dior in that film.

Although I found the costuming in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina a bit slapdash overall, I coveted many of the dresses. This is just one of them.

While Anna Karenina did in fact get the Oscar for Best Costume, there was another nominee that year whose costumes I thought worked better to tell the story at hand and that was Snow White and the Huntsman. Ravenna’s look in that film would be great for Game of Thrones cosplay.

On the other hand, if you want to keep it simple—on your yacht—there is this number that Bérénice Marlohe wears in Skyfall.

I don’t know if this dress has pockets, but, if we are to believe Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman, it does hide a sword quite nicely.

Another dress I wrote about back in the day, when I talked about Cinderella and Jupiter Ascending, both of which had gorgeous costumes. This is Mila Kunis’s wedding dress from Jupiter Ascending.

So, those were the ten I originally tweeted. Here are a few I was reminded of while perusing the hashtag.

I nearly kicked myself when I realized I had forgotten this Eva Marie Saint number from North By Northwest. And, looking at it now, I see why I chose the dress I did for the opening night of the San Francisco Opera.

I don’t think I ever would have remembered it offhand, but I love this Monet-like dress that Carey Mulligan wears in An Education.

While I have never seen the film, I should have remembered this killer Hedy Lamarr dress from Samson and Delilah that I saw at the Hollywood Costume exhibit in Los Angeles.

And lastly, but certainly not least, the dress from one of my favorite cinema moments ever: when Bette Davis wears a red dress to the Olympus Ball, where all unmarried women are expected to wear white. Of course, since Jezebel is in black & white, you lose the full impact of the dress, shown here in all its glory.

Check out the hashtag #MovieDresses to see what looks others love and add your own!

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I Get Overwhelmed: The Year in Film

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Wow, what an incredible year in film it has been. Although I didn’t reach the 200+ high of last year, I still managed to see an overwhelming number of films in 2017—42 in theaters and 121 at home. What’s more, most of those were very, very good. Only 15 or so titles fell below a 2.0 on my rating scale, and 42 came in above 3.5. So, while I have managed to limit myself to ten films in my ranked list below, know that there are a number of extraordinary works that didn’t make the cut. And, of course, there are still a few critical darlings I haven’t yet seen, including 120 battements par minute (BPM), Phantom Thread, and The Post.

Top Ten of 2017*
Lady Bird
A Ghost Story
The Florida Project
Ingrid Goes West
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Get Out
Bacalaureat (Graduation)
Wind River
Blade Runner 2049
Logan Lucky

The films above are ones that particularly resonated with me when I saw them and/or have held up in my esteem over time. Many deal with loneliness or loss, and some simply with the struggle for survival. Ultimately, I think most are confident that we can all move on somehow. I guess that is the most I can hope for right now.

Speaking of moving on… the awards!

Best Achievement in Filmmaking: Lady Bird by Greta Gerwig. Impeccably written, directed, and edited, with a superb cast, this film was near perfect. With such a personal film for her first solo directorial effort, it is hard to know where Gerwig will go next, but I look forward to seeing whatever she does.

Best Achievement in Filmmaking (runner-up): A Ghost Story by David Lowery. I’m still kicking myself for not having first seen this in the theater, but I imagine this is the 2017 film I will revisit the most.

Best Theater Experience: Wonder Woman. Not a perfect film by any means (and I certainly don’t think it should be nominated in any major Oscar categories), but this was a joy to watch unfold in a theater. Kudos to Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot for making this work so well.

Performances

Best Ensemble (Drama): Mudbound

Best Ensemble (Comedy): Logan Lucky

Best Ensemble (Dramedy)(tie): Ingrid Goes West and Lady Bird

Five Standout Performances (Female):
Melanie Lynskey in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Florence Pugh in Lady Macbeth
Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird
Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper

Five Standout Performances (Male):
Timothée Chalamet for Call Me By Your Name
Robert Pattinson in Good Time
Will Poulter in Detroit
Jeremy Renner in Wind River
Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes

Best Supporting Performances (Female):
Beanie Feldstein in Lady Bird
Allison Janney in I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Best Supporting Performances (Male):
Gil Birmingham in Wind River
O’Shea Jackson Jr. in Ingrid Goes West
Lakeith Stanfield in Get Out

Standout Performance (Teen): Kiernan Shipka in The Blackcoat’s Daughter

Standout Performance (Tween): Dafne Keen in Logan

Standout Performance (Child): Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project

Best Scene Stealer: Daniel Craig in Logan Lucky

Best Hero/Heroine: Jessica Chastain in The Zookeeper’s Wife

Best Villain (tie): Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum in Thor: Ragnarok

2017 VIP: Caleb Landry Jones for The Florida Project, Get Out, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Production

Best Direction: Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird

Best Direction (runner-up): Sean Baker for The Florida Project

Best Directorial Debut: Matt Spicer for Ingrid Goes West

Best Directorial Debut (runner-up): Kogonada for Columbus

Best Adapted Screenplay: Alice Birch for Lady MacBeth

Best Original Screenplay: Jordan Peele for Get Out

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049

Best Cinematography (runner-up): Rachel Morrison for Mudbound

Best Production Design: Paul D. Austerberry for The Shape of Water

Best Editing: Tatiana S. Riegel for I, Tonya

Best Score: Michael Giacchino for War for the Planet of the Apes

Best Score (runner-up): Nick Cave and Warren Ellis for Wind River

Best Original Song: “I Get Overwhelmed” from A Ghost Story

Potluck

Favorite Scene: “No Man’s Land” from Wonder Woman

Best Opening: Baby Driver

Best Third Act (tie): Logan and Wind River

Best Ending: A Ghost Story

Most Feminist:
Lady Bird
Their Finest
Wonder Woman

Bechdel-Wallace “Themyscira” award: Novitiate

Best Soundtrack: Baby Driver

Best Use of a Song: “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin in Thor: Ragnarok

Best Teaser Trailer: Thor: Ragnarok

Biggest Disappointment: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Most Overrated: Call Me By Your Name

Most Underrated: The Zookeeper’s Wife

Most Miscast: Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name

Most Miscast (But It Somehow Works): Margot Robbie in I, Tonya

Five Worst Films I Saw In Theaters:
The Fate of the Furious
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Home Again
Kidnap
Table 19

Top Ten Unseen 2017 Films I’m Most Looking Forward To:
Ava
120 battements par minute (BPM)
Un beau soleil intérieur (Let the Sun Shine In)
Dawson City: Frozen Time
God’s Own Country
I Am Not a Witch
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Phantom Thread
The Post
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Past Perfect and Imperfect

Best of the (Oscar) Blitz: 20th Century Women

Favorite (Non-Blitz) Films of 2016:
American Honey
Busanhaeng (Train to Busan)
Miss Sloane
Paterson
Tower

Favorite Rewatches:
Laura (1944)
Trois couleurs: Rouge (Three Colors: Red) (1994)
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
While You Were Sleeping (1995)

Favorite “New to Me” Films:
The Narrow Margin (1952)
Kansas City Confidential (1952)
Battle Royale (2000)
Rio Bravo (1959)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Worst “New to Me” Film: Diavolo in Corpo (Devil in the Flesh) (1986)

Finally, as always, a big thanks to @FyodorFish for the many +1s that allowed me to see so many of these gems and to some of my favorite film podcasts (such as Top 5 Film and Fighting in the War Room) that turned me on to others I might not otherwise have seen.

What were your favorite movies of the year? What have I missed that I absolutely must see? Let me know in the comment box below.

For more thoughts about what I watched this year, see my “Film Quarterly” posts: Vol. 2017, Issue 1, Vol. 2017, Issue 2, Vol. 2017, Issue 3, and Vol. 2017, Issue 4.

*The 2017 movies I saw this year are:
Atomic Blonde; Baby Driver; Bacalaureat (Graduation); Beatriz at Dinner; The Big Sick; The Blackcoat’s Daughter (February); Blade Runner 2049; Call Me By Your Name; Colossal; Columbus; Detroit; Dunkirk; The Fate of the Furious; The Florida Project; Get Out; A Ghost Story; Good Time; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; Home Again; I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.; I, Tonya; The Incredible Jessica James; Ingrid Goes West; John Wick: Chapter 2; Kidnap; Lady Bird; Lady Macbeth; Logan; Logan Lucky; The Meyerowitz Stories; Moka; Mudbound; Novitiate; Personal Shopper; The Shape of Water; Table 19; Their Finest; Thor: Ragnarok; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Visages, Villages (Faces Places); War for the Planet of the Apes; Wind River; Wonder Woman; The Zookeeper’s Wife

Note to email subscribers, there is embedded video in this post that may not appear in your email. Please click through to the actual post to see the complete list of selections.

Film Quarterly, Vol. 2017, Issue 4

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Since I posted my third-quarter round-up so late, this issue of film quarterly only covers the months of November and December. During the last two months, I watched fifty-three total films—eight in the theater and forty-five at home. This included fifteen 2017 releases, many of which are now available on DVD or streaming. Besides catching up on critical darlings I missed earlier in the year, my home viewing was dominated by the thirty film noirs I watched for Noirvember, which included twenty-four selections that were new to me.

In both old films and new, the main theme of the quarter seemed to be ghosts of the past, whether metaphorical or literal. I guess that seems about right for the year we’ve had.

Let’s start with the new, shall we?

Note: Since I will be publishing a “Year in Film” post soon, I will not be putting up a 2017 top ten (or more) here, but I can assure you that many of the films below will be on it.

Best Film Seen in a Theater: Lady Bird. I leave very few movies thinking “that was just perfect” but Lady Bird was such a movie. Smart, charming, and understated, not to mention extremely well written and directed by Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird goes beyond your standard coming of age film, revealing as much about class and the economy as it does about family, relationships, and sexuality. I had to check my watch at the end because I was sure the movie was longer than ninety minutes. It wasn’t, but the various characters were such well-rounded portrayals the movie seemed very “full” if that makes sense. There are great performances by Saoirse Ronan, the titular character, as well as Laurie Metcalf as her mom, Beanie Feldstein as her best friend, Timothée Chalamet as her douchey boyfriend, and Tracy Letts as her dad. It just all seemed refreshingly normal.

Best Film Watched at Home: A Ghost Story. I will admit that I thought A Ghost Story looked incredibly stupid and not at all my thing. Plus, Casey Affleck was a decided mark in the “con” column in terms of selecting something to watch in a theater. But I heard so many great things about it, I felt it was a must watch when it came out on DVD. While still sort of annoyed by Affleck’s presence, I can’t deny that this tale of love and loss is incredibly poetic and beautiful. I could watch it again and again. And did. Its meditation on the spaces we inhabit and the examination of a lifetime lived through simple moments in time really resonated with me.

Best Theater Experience: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I didn’t agree with all the choices that Martin McDonagh made in constructing this tale of a grieving and angry mother, but I can’t deny that I enjoyed this black comedy immensely when I saw it in the theater. I have a feeling it is definitely better with a crowd. The dialogue was brilliant and I have been so angry this past year that seeing someone venting their rage on screen was extremely cathartic. Almost none of these characters is sympathetic, but I don’t think they are meant to be. They are speaking to a certain truth of life in the United States today and centralizing important questions we are still struggling with. It is not the easy view of sorrow and loss presented by A Ghost Story; Three Billboards makes us uncomfortable because it is willing to go out on a limb where there are no easy answers.

Prettiest: The Florida Project. If you are a longtime reader, you know how much I enjoyed Sean Baker’s Tangerine (2015). I’m not sure The Florida Project reaches those heights, but it comes pretty darn close. Emphasis on the pretty: This is perhaps the most colorful movie about homelessness that you will ever see. It’s also funny, energetic, and believable. Baker apparently did a ton of research for this film and it shows. This is not poverty porn. Much like Bobby, the character played by Willem Dafoe, it is quiet and unassuming, with a lot of heart. Also, kudos to Baker for finding such a great actress in young Brooklynn Prince, without whom the film would just not work.

Best Adaptation: Mudbound. I read Hillary Jordan’s Mudbound earlier this year and I have to say that I think Virgil Williams and Dee Rees did an excellent job adapting it. I’m sorry to have lost so much of Laura’s voice in the re-telling, but I accept the trade-offs they made to amplify the voices of the Jackson family. Since I knew the story so well going in, it probably didn’t hit me with the emotional weight it should have, but the cast and cinematography are exceptional. In many ways, Mudbound feels like The Grapes of Wrath for the twenty-first century.

Most Hitchcockian: Personal Shopper. This film was not at all what I expected. This is another film about actual ghosts, and I did not anticipate how scary it would be. Shout-out to The Boys who I convinced to watch this with tales of Paris and fancy clothes. Sorry, guys! While I liked it better than The Boys, I didn’t love it; however, it does provide some insight on how the Master of Suspense might have used modern technology. I should also note that Kristen Stewart delivers an excellent performance and I may have to rethink my stance on her. (I also watched Certain Women this quarter.)

Most Mixed Emotions: The Shape of Water. I wanted to love this one, but The Shape of Water just didn’t work for me somehow. I certainly bought into the world, which looks incredibly like a Jeunet-Caro film, but the plot was extremely predictable and the moments of gratuitous body horror were so jarring they threw me out of the movie every time. That said, the fairytale aspects are lovely and the film itself is often visually stunning. Sally Hawkins gives a great performance.

Most Underrated: The Blackcoat’s Daughter (aka February). I caught this one on DVD after it popped up @Schofizzy’s best of the year (so far) list back in October. Horror is hit or miss for me, but I really liked the mood and structure of it. Kiernan Shipka and Emma Roberts are both excellent in this debut film (it was filmed in 2015) by Oz Perkins.

Most Overrated: Call Me by Your Name. While I’m generally happy to watch the “privileged class enjoying its privileges,” I’ve grown tired of Luca Guadagnino’s tendency to present precocious and/or pretentious people in pretty settings as something that is somehow intrinsically deep or meaningful. Honestly, I didn’t love Moonlight like others did, but I am almost upset on its behalf that people compare these two films. Moonlight’s structure and cinematography didn’t personally work for me, but at least they represented a choice and a vision. And I felt I knew those characters and believed they loved each other. Who do we really get to know here? Timothée Chalamet is great in the role of Elio, but what else is interesting or challenging about this?

Most Fun: Thor: Ragnarok. I probably would have had more fun at this movie if I hadn’t dragged my sister who, unbeknownst to me, had not seen any of the Avengers movies. Needless to say, she was a little confused. For myself, I found it extremely funny, blessedly “short” at 130 minutes, and remarkably free of most of the mythology gobbledygook I hate in the MCU. [Side note to the MCU: Enough with the credit sequences already.]

Best Documentary: Visages, Villages (Faces Places). I can’t imagine not liking this lovely confection of a documentary by cinema legend Agnès Varda and visual artist JR. Not that it is all light and sunshine, but this unassuming documentary, which consists of this odd pair of artists travelling the French countryside and interacting with working-class people, is a lovely antidote to the endless parade of Trump voter interviews we seem to get here.

Most Unique: Colossal. Speaking of odd, one of the most unusual new films I watched this quarter was Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal. It is hard to describe this one, but let’s say it’s part rom-com, part Godzilla movie, and part social commentary on toxic masculinity. It doesn’t quite work, but is extremely creative with a strong performance by Anne Hathaway as a rather unsympathetic alcoholic heroine.

Finally, just to round out the list of what I watched in terms of 2017 movies, I also saw Beatriz at Dinner, The Incredible Jessica James, and The Meyerowitz Stories—all perfectly fine rentals but nothing to write home about.

And with that, let’s look at some of my other favorite (and not-so-favorite) selections and moments from this quarter.

Much of my home viewing this quarter was related to Noirvember, and I discovered many excellent films as part of that project. In 2018, I hope to take a more methodical approach to the genre, but if you’d like more details on what I watched this first time around, check out Noirvember 1: Out of the Past, Noirvember 2: Raw Deal, and Noirvember 3: Hot Spot.

Top Fifteen Noirvember Selections:
Laura
The Narrow Margin
Kansas City Confidential
Out of the Past
The Hitch-Hiker
The Maltese Falcon
The Big Heat
His Kind of Woman
Murder, My Sweet
Double Indemnity
Ace in the Hole
Nightmare Alley
The Asphalt Jungle
Kiss Me Deadly
I Wake Up Screaming (Hot Spot)

Best Classic Rewatch: Laura (1944). I don’t think I could ever get tired of this one. A great mystery with a great look and fantastic dialogue.

Best New-to-Me Classic: In the Heat of the Night (1967). The “Great Unseen” strikes again. I didn’t get to many more of them this quarter, but this one was excellent.

Best Math Greek Selection: The Tales of Hoffman (1951). The Math Greek has been telling me for some time I should watch this. He’s not wrong. I mean, I love Powell and Pressburger, I love opera. I can’t believe it took me this long.

Best Christmas Movie: While You Were Sleeping (1995). It’s like Die Hard, but a Christmas movie.

Best Sports Movie: Girlfight (2000). A brilliant debut by both director Karyn Kusama and lead actress Michelle Rodriguez. I’m sorry I didn’t get to this during my #52FilmsByWomen project.

Best Cinematography: Mudbound (2017)

Best Score: A Ghost Story (2017)

Best Use of 70s Music: “Immigrant Song” in Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Best Use of 80s Music: “Love My Way” in Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Best Line: Out of the Past (1947)

You’re like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another.

—Robert Mitchum to Jane Greer

Best Opening: The Shape of Water (2017)

Best Ending: A Ghost Story (2017)

Best Worst Dancing: Anne Hathaway in Colossal (2017)

The Rupert Giles Award (aka Mathiest): Contact (1997)

Most Existential Ennui (aka Frenchiest): Personal Shopper (2017)

Bechdel-Wallace “Themyscira” award: Certain Women (2016)

Marvel “Can’t Live Up to the Hype” award: Mad Max (1979)

And, finally…

Spinal Tap “Mime Is Money” award: Blow-Up (1967). I never could have predicted that ending in a million years.

For Vol. 2017, Issue 1, click here.
For Vol. 2017, Issue 2, click here.
For Vol. 2017, Issue 3, click here.

*The movies I saw or rewatched this quarter include:

2017: Beatriz at Dinner; The Blackcoat’s Daughter (February); Call Me By Your Name; Colossal; The Florida Project; A Ghost Story; The Incredible Jessica James; Lady Bird; The Meyerowitz Stories; Mudbound; Personal Shopper; The Shape of Water; Thor: Ragnarok; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Visages, Villages (Faces Places)

2016: Certain Women

Released prior to 2016: Ace in the Hole; Angel Face; The Asphalt Jungle; The Big Heat; Blow-Up; The Blue Dahlia; The Blue Gardenia; Contact; Double Indemnity; Fallen Angel; Force of Evil; Girlfight; The Grifters; His Kind of Woman; The Hitch-Hiker; I Wake Up Screaming; In the Heat of the Night; Kansas City Confidential; Kiss Me Deadly; The Lady from Shanghai; Laura; Mad Max; The Maltese Falcon; Murder, My Sweet; The Narrow Margin; Nightmare Alley; Out of the Past; Pitfall; The Postman Always Rings Twice; Raw Deal; The Strange Love of Martha Ivers; The Tales of Hoffmann; This Gun For Hire; Union Station; Where the Sidewalk Ends; While You Were Sleeping; Whirlpool

Note: These posts are in no way affiliated with the Film Quarterly journal published by the University of California Press.

Note to email subscribers, there is embedded video in this post that may not appear in your email. Please click through to the actual post to see the complete list of selections.

Journey into Fear: The Year in Books

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I went up and down in my reading in 2017. Since I was working fairly regularly and traveling often, I just never got into a routine of settling down at the end of the day with a book. Plus, given that I was watching so many films, that is where most of my leisure time was spent.

Still, I managed to read twenty-eight books overall, including nine more Agatha Christies. I think setting my annual Goodreads goal to be only twenty-four books helped enormously in terms of not feeling guilty about this lower-than-usual number and actually may have inspired me to read more than I otherwise would have. Not to mention enjoying my selections more, instead of feeling pressure to get through something in order to “add to my count” and move on.

And I enjoyed quite a few of my reads very much. Here are my top ten:

And now the awards!

Most Recurring Theme: Slavery. In much of what I read this past year, there was a steady dose of murder, mystery, and mayhem, but by far the grimmest aspect of my reading was that many books revolved around slavery (Homegoing, The Underground Railroad) or the enduring legacy of its practice in the United States (Across That Bridge, Days Without End, Mudbound). Luckily, most of these books were excellent reads, or I might never have made it through them.

Most Inclined to Recommend: A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr (1980). I don’t think I ever would have read this slim volume were it not the focus of the first episode of Backlisted, a podcast that seeks to promote older books that everyone should read. So I try to recommend it myself whenever I can. Published in 1980, A Month in the Country tells the story of a soldier freshly back from the horrors of World War I who spends a summer restoring a medieval fresco on a country church ceiling in northern England. Although the settings are very different, it reminded me of Willa Cather’s novels, which manage to create incredibly fleshed out characters and convey the spirit of the place and time in very few words. It’s subtle and quiet in all the best ways.

Most Beautifully Written: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan (2008). While this novel sometimes come across as a bit cliché, I found myself pausing a number of times to appreciate a sentence I had just read—not something I do often while reading. The novel suffers somewhat from its use of six different narrators and trying to cram a bit too much “story” into the story, but when Jordan is writing about Laura’s adjustment to farm life in the Mississippi Delta, the novel really shines. I liked the movie adaptation, and I think they made good adaptation choices, but these choices came at the expense of Laura’s voice, which is sort of a shame.

Favorite Quotation:

Beginnings are elusive things. Just when you think you have hold of one, you look back and see another, earlier beginning, and an earlier one before that. Even if you start with ‘Chapter One: I Am Born,’ you still have the problem of antecedents, of cause and effect.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Best in Booker: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016). Although there is lot that is difficult to read in this novel, it started very strong and was actually quite the page-turner; however, it fell flat for me towards the end. I’m not quite sure why, maybe because the railroad is less emphasized after North Carolina? Or too many new characters are introduced too late in the story? Regardless of being somewhat let down by the end, I definitely recommend this book, if only because the imagining of the different states of slavery provides interesting perspectives and insight into contemporary American issues.

Most Shocking: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (2016). Another excellent entry from the Booker longlist that I probably would have liked a lot more if the author didn’t dwell so much on descriptions of gory battles, especially Indian raids. Still, I loved the narrative perspective and appreciated the amount of emotion and detail that is conveyed by the extremely spare writing of this unusual Civil War story.

Favorite Quotation (runner-up):

A man’s memory might have only a hundred clear days in it and he has lived thousands. Can’t do much about that. We have our store of days and we spend them like forgetful drunkards.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Most Thought-Provoking: Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change by John Lewis (2012). If there was ever a book I needed at a certain time, it was this one. The subtitle says it all: Across That Bridge is a slim volume of six short essays, each on a particular theme (faith, patience, study, truth, peace, love) and presenting lessons from the civil rights movement that can be used to guide civic engagement today. Probably the most important lesson for me was the one on patience, and the idea that one should not despair in the short term but keep one’s “eyes on the prize” and the ultimate goal of a freer, more peaceful society.

Best Debut (tie): Mudbound by Hillary Jordan (2008) and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016). I’ve already talked about the excellent writing in Hillary Jordan’s debut, so I’ll just say that the fact I still wanted to put another book here is a testament to how great the debut fiction I read this year was. At times, Homegoing tackles similar material to Mudbound, but starts in eighteenth-century Ghana and follows through the generations via the descendants of two women, one who remains in Ghana and the other who is captured and brought to the United States as a slave. Despite being essentially a collection of connected short stories, the strong character development of each makes it all work and gives the reader lots to think about. This book made me feel and grieve for people in a way that few do. Unfortunately, the conceit falters somewhat at the end as I think the author tries to have it both ways in her resolution. But I look forward to more from both these authors.

Best Classic Discovery: Journey into Fear by Eric Ambler (1940). I have long wanted to read Eric Ambler, as I knew he was a major influence on John Le Carré (who I love). So, when I found myself in a favorite used book store in Burbank, with an upcoming book salon devoted to the theme of “spies,” I snatched up a couple of Ambler’s best-known works. Journey into Fear reads very much like some of Graham Greene’s “entertainments” and the story, which mostly takes place on a boat from Istanbul to Genoa, has a bit of an Agatha Christie vibe as well. The characters are well drawn and Ambler is fantastic at depicting the paranoia that our “everyman” hero experiences in trying to figure out which of them might be after him.

Top Five Agatha Christies:
Murder on the Orient Express (1934)
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (1934)
Murder at Hazelmoor (1931)
Peril at End House (1932)
The Tuesday Club Murders (1932)

Most Feminist: The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (2015). I’ve seen lots of comparisons of this book to The Handmaid’s Tale and Lord of the Flies, and, while I get that, it doesn’t quite capture what this novel achieves. At its heart, this is not a bleak vision of a dystopian society, but rather an all-too-believable look at the potential effects of misogyny, patriarchy, and rape culture. This spare but vivid novel is both a savage critique of contemporary society and a beautifully written survival tale.

Most Memorable Character: Mary Anne Clarke in Mary Anne by Daphne du Maurier (1954). While this fictionalized account of one of du Maurier’s ancestors loses steam as it moves along, the opening page which first describes Mary Anne is probably the best I’ve ever read—so much so that I felt compelled to quote it almost in full in my “first lines” challenge this year. I wish the poor, scrappy heroine we meet at the beginning of this tale had remained with us throughout the novel.

Longest: The Lost Boy by Camilla Läckberg (2009) (493 pages). I made a concerted effort to avoid longer books this year so I guess it’s no surprise that the longest one still came in under five hundred pages.

Shortest: A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr (1980) (135 pages). As stated above, it is amazing to me what a rich portrait Carr is able to depict in so few words. More books like this please.

Hardest to Finish: Conquest of the Useless by Werner Herzog (2004). This journal/dream diary from when Herzog was filming Fitzcarraldo with Klaus Kinski and Claudia Cardinale (and originally Mick Jagger!) in the Amazonian jungle was just not my thing. Some of the stories are incredible and the language is quite poetic, but the lack of context and fragmented nature of the journal entries made it an incredible slog for me. I could only finish it by alternating with more exciting crime fiction. It did give me a new appreciation for film production as a collaborative effort, but that’s about it.

2017 Stats
Total books read:  28

Books on my shelves as of January 1, 2017:  12 (43%)
Books acquired in 2017:  2 (7%)
Books borrowed from the library:  14 (50%)

Audiobooks:  2 (7%)
Classics (Prior to 1945):  10 (36%)
Recent Books (2013-2017):  6 (21%)

Fiction vs. Nonfiction:  24 (86%) vs. 4 (14%)
Female authors vs. Male authors:  20 (71%) vs. 8 (29%)
New to Me Authors: 16 (57%)
Books by Authors of Color: 2 (7%)
US vs. UK Authors: 7 (25%) vs. 17 (61%)
Non-US/UK Authors: 4 (14%)
Number of Author Nationalities: 6

Obviously, these numbers are somewhat skewed due to the fact I read so many Agatha Christies. But clearly I need more diversity in my reading. I should make a concerted effort to read more books from Africa and Asia next year.

Did you meet the reading goals you set for 2017? What was your favorite book of the year?

Shadow, Take Me Down: The Year in Music

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Shadow, take me down
Shadow, take me down with you
For the last time…
For the last time…

If there’s one phrase that captured my mood this year, it was the above. Whether I was confronting my chronological age, or the fact that crooks and liars had invaded our government, I just didn’t care anymore. Not that I plan to go down without a fight, but constantly questioning whether “up” is really “up” and “down” is really “down” is exhausting.

Speaking of questioning long-held beliefs and scientific truths, while this post will focus on individual songs as per usual, I must admit I found myself liking a number of full albums this year. Yes, you read that right, albums. It truly is a brave new world.

In any case, here are some of my favorite songs for your 2017 playlist.

Best in Blondes: Chromatics, “Shadow” (Twin Peaks: Music from the Limited Event Series). This song made the perfect bridge between the original Twin Peaks of Julee Cruise and Twin Peaks: The Return, a show which so encapsulated this sh*tstorm of a year. Also, if you haven’t yet caught up with The Return, or are planning to revisit episodes at some point, you might want to pay special attention to the lyrics of songs featured at The Roadhouse—they are enlightening.

Best in Bogeymen: Dark Rooms, “I Get Overwhelmed” (A Ghost Story: Original Soundtrack Album). Speaking of soundtracks, I generally do not care about the Original Song category at the Oscars—mostly because there are very few songs that are truly integral to the movie—but this year “I Get Overwhelmed” proves to be the exception to the rule. I really hope this at least gets nominated because, in addition to being a beautifully haunting song, it works so well in the film.

Best in Blues: ZZ Ward featuring Fantastic Negrito, “Cannonball” (The Storm). This was probably my favorite album of the year and you can’t go wrong with almost any song on it, from “The Ghost” to “Let It Burn” to “Bag of Bones.” I chose “Cannonball” because I can never get enough of Fantastic Negrito.

Best in Break-Ups: Lorde, “Liability” (Melodrama). Did I say The Storm was my favorite album? Damn. I feel like I’m on the playground having to pick my “best” best friend. Or, you know, Sophie. Lorde may have the edge here, but luckily we still live in a democracy and NO ONE CAN MAKE ME CHOOSE.

Best in Billys: William Patrick Corgan, “Aeronaut” (Ogilala). I was never a fan of The Smashing Pumpkins but I’ve always liked Billy Corgan’s voice. So, hearing it in a stripped-down “unplugged” style was a nice surprise. Not sure about the look he’s working in this video though.

Best in Beths: Beth Ditto, “Fire” (Fake Sugar). Once again, contrary to my natural tendency towards singles, this was another album where it was hard to pick a favorite song. Ditto was previously lead vocalist for the indie rock band Gossip, but I had never heard of her before this album, her first as a solo artist. I look forward to hearing more from her.

Best in Björk: Björk, “The Gate” (Utopia). Is this what aging does to you? Have I become someone who likes Björk? Honestly, the realization is just so disturbing I don’t know what to say except that this song is a tremendous follow-up to the raw bundle of emotions that was 2015’s Vulnicura.

Best in Bloghaus: Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Deadly Valentine” (Rest). Speaking of Europeans I usually can’t relate to, this is a song that I liked on first hearing it, but it was the video that really sold me. I love everything about this concept. I do wish she was singing in French though.

Best in Boyfriends: Poolside, “Everything Goes” (Heat). As per usual, the Math Greek sent me a number of musical selections over the course of the year, including albums by both ELO and Philip Glass (of course). However, this song from L.A.-based duo Poolside was the only one from 2017.

Best in the Basin: HAIM, “Want You Back” (Something to Tell You). Staying in the Los Angeles Basin, this pop confection from my favorite valley girls is straight up infectious. HAIM always seem able to make me smile.

Best in Bulb Burnout: Overcoats, “Leave the Light On” (Young). How could I not like a duo that puts a song called “The Fog” on their debut album? “Leave the Light On” reminds me very much of “Year in Music” regulars Sylvan Esso. I recommend the slightly more eerie “Nighttime Hunger” as well.

Best in Bounce: Sylvan Esso, “Radio” (What Now). I put this single on my list last year and was excited when I learned it would be part of a whole new album to come out in 2017. Unfortunately, the new album did not live up to the promise of “Radio” and turned out to be rather disappointing as a whole (though not quite as disappointing as the new Arcade Fire). However, this catchy tune and video, with its meta-commentary on consumption culture cannot be denied a spot here.

Best in Business: MGMT, “Little Dark Age” (Little Dark Age). Not much from MGMT has made it onto my radar since their first album in 2007; however, this single from their upcoming 2018 album is a delightful throwback to the sound of my youth.

Best in Black: Mavis Staples, “If All I Was Was Black” (If All I Was Was Black). Speaking of throwbacks, check out Mavis Staples’s new album, written and produced by Jeff Tweedy. The smoothest delivery of the roughest message you could imagine. The whole album is fantastic.

I’ve always thought of art as a political statement in and of itself—that it was enough to be on the side of creation and not destruction. But there is something that feels complicit at this moment in time about not facing what is happening in this country head on.

—Jeff Tweedy on the “message” of If All I Was Was Black

Best in (Not) Black: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “White Man’s World” (The Nashville Sound). Speaking of feeling complicit, another white man confronting the realities of structural racism and sexism is Jason Isbell. Not that he hasn’t spoken about similar socio-cultural issues before, but it’s nice to see an acknowledgement of one’s ignorance and privilege laid out like this.

Would that in the coming year more white people could bring themselves to acknowledge their privilege in a similar fashion.

A girl can dream…

For previous Year in Music round-ups, see
Unapologetic B*tch: The Year in Music (2014)
Surf’s Up: The Year in Music (2015)
The Year in Music 2015: Missing Links
Getting in Formation: The Year in Music (2016)

* Note to email subscribers, there is embedded video in this post that may not appear in your email. Please click through to the actual post to see the complete list of selections.