I watch a lot of movies, but I also do other stuff. Here’s just a sample of my favorite things that weren’t movies.
Best Book: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat
I don’t read a lot of book (I’m especially bad at reading novels), but if there’s no piece of literature I love like a good cookbook. Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a unique cookbook in that there are very few recipes in it. Instead, Nosrat focuses on what she considers to be the four most important elements of good cooking, devoting one chapter to each of them, explaining why they’re so important, and how to master them. It’s like taking an introductory course at culinary school, and Nosrat’s writing is so exciting you will want to jump to the kitchen after reading only a few pages.
Best Television Drama: Big Little Lies (HBO)
Initially dismissed as nothing but a fancy-looking soap about “privileged women stuff”, Big Little Lies quickly proved the old adage that it’s not about what story you’re telling, but how you tell it. It’s not as if the show doesn’t have its weaknesses, but armed with the excellent trio of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Dern (all doing some of the best work of their careers) and some of the most delightful plotting of this year’s television, Big Little Lies wasn’t just the art-house version of the Real Housewives, it was a surprisingly insightful and moving tale about female lives, and female friendships.
Best Popstar: Kesha
By the time opening track “Bastards” was over, I had to pick my jaw off the floor. That was my experience listening to Kesha’s new album, Rainbow, for the first time. I had always considered Kesha to be a savvy hit maker, this year she revealed herself as a pop music genius. Collaborating with The Dap-King Horns, The Eagles of Death Metal and freaking Dolly Parton, Kesha looked at the past to re-envision her future. This album, of course, comes off the controversial case in which a judge denied to breach the singer’s recording contract after she accused her producer of inappropriate sexual conduct. It was a rough moment of gross injustice, but if Rainbow -the most raw and emotional album of the year- is any indication, Kesha has emerged from this whole thing stronger, and willing to keep fighting.
Best Play: The Antipodes by Annie Baker
A group of writers comes together in a conference room to try and create the next great television show. They have no idea what it’s gonna be about, so they just go around the room telling stories in order to find inspiration. Watching The Antipodes is like experiencing a Kafkaesque nightmare through the lens of Frederick Wiseman. Annie Baker serves up a mix of sober naturalism and surreal excess that presents a seemingly superfluous play that is actually the most transcendent experience you’ll have in the theater.
Best Movie Podcast: Blank Check with Griffin and David
I am not exaggerating when I say that I look forward to every Monday morning because it means it’s time for a new episode of Blank Check. The fact that these guys can make you look forward to the start of a work-week is the biggest praise I could give them. The premise of the podcast is that they focus on big name directors and explore their filmographies one movie at a time. This year, they covered Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan and Kathryn Bigelow. What makes the podcast so great? The chemistry between Griffin and David, of course, and the fact that they can be incredibly insightful and incredibly funny at the same time.
Best New TV Show: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
After the premature cancellation of Bunheads (now on Hulu!) and all-too-short Gilmore Girls revival last year, we finally have the return of Amy Sherman-Palladino. Last year’s Gilmore Girls specials took the characters in an interesting way, but didn’t quite hit in the humor department the way the show used to. Being a period piece, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel –about a female comedian breaking through in the fifties- frees the Palladinos (creator Amy and her husband Daniel) from the crutches of pop culture references. They hit both comedy and drama out of the park
Best Album: Melodrama by Lorde
How do you mix the bouncy style of Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen and the avant-garde sounds of Björk and PJ Harvey? How do you make an album that reaches into atmospheric experimentation without sacrificing the mass-appeal of pop music? Melodrama answers these questions by planting one foot on the past and another on the future. The album is so and adventurous, it took me many listens until I fully grasped it’s genius. Lorde has given birth to a baby made of pop music. This album is so immersed in references it even quotes itself, but it’s also its own being. It’s not a copy or a pastiche. It’s something bright, poppy, and new.
Best Television Comedies: Big Mouth (Netflix) and Bojack Horseman (Netflix)
This duo of animated comedic from Netflix were undoubtedly the most hilarious one-two punch of 2017. Big Mouth, in its first season, is a show about a group of pubescent kids, and it is as filthy as that sounds. The brilliance, of course, is that its completely ridiculous and gross humor will ring through to anyone who has gone through puberty. Bojack Horseman, meanwhile, is a show that’s gained a bit of a reputation for providing one of the most unflinching and honest portrayals of depression on tv. This statement is absolutely true, but makes Bojack sound like a drag when it’s one of the silliest and most original showbiz satires I have ever seen. It’s a show that can be painful, hilarious, and its fourth season (which may very well be its best), even heartwarming.
Best Film Critic: K. Austin Collins (The Ringer)
A great film critic not only has good opinions, but knows exactly how to best articulate them. Case in point, The Ringer’s K. Austin Collins and I share a lot of opinions. The big difference is… well, that he’s a better writer than I am! Even the reviews I’m most proud of become peanuts when compared to what he writes. He just knows how to make his thoughts -which are always interesting- come across. But why write about him, when I can let his work speak for itself. Highlights of his work include writing on The Beguiled, Good Time, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and his brilliant essay about “The Movie That We Need Right Now.”
Best Musical: Spongebob Squarepants
When it was first announced, the idea of a Broadway musical based on Spongebob Squarepants seemed like the horrible brainchild of a capitalist maniac. And sure, this might not be the most sophisticatedly written musical to have ever graced the stage but boy if it isn’t the most energetic and invigorating musicals I have ever seen. What’s more, what could’ve been a commercial cash-grab is actually a rather beautiful story about kindness in the face of doom, which only seems appropriate for our times.
Best Song: “Cut to the Feeling” by Carly Rae Jepsen
It’s a pity we didn’t get a full-on new album from Carly Rae this year, but this one song might make up for it. Play it ten times in a row and you got yourself one of the best albums of the year. At this point, there is no question Carly Rae is the best pop star currently working. She is unafraid to dive deep into the pool of bubblegum pop, and even more impressively, capable of emerging triumphant. This song is an epic adventure. Big, pompous, and fun in a way that reminds us that there is self-affirming value in the pure joy of escapism.