Best Movies of 2008

Have been posting supremely scarcely for a variety of reasons (work, personal, you name it). These days you have a better chance of catching up with my film viewing either on Twitter or on my Letterboxd. But since I’ve been away for so long, I thought I’d share a conversation I had with my good friend Rachel Wagner about our favorite movies from ten years ago. Last year, we recorded a podcast with our top ten movies from 2007, and this year we’ve kept up the tradition by tackling 2008.

You can subscribe to Rachel’s podcast Rachel’s Reviews on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast. Or you can listen to our conversation below, either on Soundcloud or Youtube. Hope you enjoy!

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The Best Non-Movies of 2017

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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.

Days of Smackdown

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I hereby express my deepest gratitude to our friend Nathaniel, from The Film Experience, for inviting me to be part of the 1995 Supporting Actress Smackdown, in which a group of panelists view and review the nominated performances and decide exactly what the Academy got right and wrong when awarding these actresses.

So, I encourage you to go over to this link to read the Smackdown. And if you want even more discussion about the Supporting Actresses of 1995, you can listen to a two-part podcast in which the panelists (myself included), have a long conversation about these ladies, but also about the movies they’re in, 1995 as a whole, Pocahontas, and the nominees for Original Song.

Read the Smackdown HERE, and listen to the podcasts HERE (part one) and HERE (part two).

This Week in Movie Podcasts: November 5-21

Another week, another podcast. Here’s the rundown.

Podcast of the Week:

Battleship PretensionThis is a big week for the guys over at Battleship Pretension. Not only do they celebrate their 400th episode by indulging in a really fun conversation with comedian Matt Champagne, and not only do they continue with their “Film Journal” supplement, in which they talk about the movies they’ve seen recently, including thoughts on Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Paul Thomas Anderson’s  Inherent Vice, but they also recorded a live commentary of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which you can buy for $10 on their website.

So, yeah, the commentary is the primary reason why I singled them out as “Podcasts of the Week”, and I understand that you might not be ready to spend ten dollars on a commentary by people you might not be familiar with, so I’ll tell you what are the reasons to buy it, and if you find yourself agreeing with me, well, it’s your money. If you are already a fan of Battleship Pretension, and especially if you enjoy their guest episodes, in which the guys go on some pretty hilarious tangents, then you’ll enjoy the commentary. Also, if you, like me, love the Lord of the Rings movies, but are not a huge nerd that thinks they are the pinnacle of filmmaking, you will really enjoy the commentary.

To be honest, I had kind of forgotten how much I loved these movies, and what a huge part of my childhood they were. Hearing these guys talk about them made me feel nostalgic and all, but it also made me think, now that I’m engaging with these movies as an adult, about what makes them such a powerful story, and why they were no fluke. We weren’t enchanted by the novelty of these movies, Peter Jackson was truly onto something when he was making them, even if his latter career makes it seem like he’s not the talent that we once thought he was.

Other Highlights:

NOTE: I spent most of this week listening to BP commentary, so I didn’t get to listen to that many podcasts, hence only two further recommendations. 

The CanonDevin Faraci and Amy Nicholson talk about Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and they agree that it is a pretty great movie. I can’t disagree with that, but I can’t support Amy’s opinion that it is superior to Moulin Rouge!, which is not only Luhrmann’s masterpiece, but one of the best and most original movies of the new millennium.

NPR: Pop Culture Happy HourThey talk about Bennet Miller’s Foxcatcher, which they liked way more than I did, but the meat of the pie is their very funny conversation about movie trailers.

The Week in Movie Podcasts (Nov. 9-14)

This was a pretty good week for podcasts, lots of interesting and funny discussions, so here are some recommendations.

Podcast of the Week:

Voice Film ClubThe Voice Film Club podcast spans two coasts, as it is hosted by writers of both the Village Voice, and its sister newspaper the L.A. Weekly. In this installment, Alan Scherstuhl and Stephanie Zacharek from the Voice, and Amy Nicholson from L.A. Weekly share theirs thoughts on some of the week’s new releases (particularly Foxcatcher and Rosewater), but the real reason why I chose it as the podcast of the week, is because of what comes after the discussion of those movies.

That’s when Amy Nicholson starts talking about the experience of writing a piece for the L.A. Weekly about Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala. You shouldn’t be worried if those names don’t ring a bell, they are two guys who, starting when they were children back in the early eighties, and spanning 33 years, dedicated a large portion of their lives to film a shot-for-shot remake of Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. These guys’ story is pretty fascinating, and Nicholson’s anecdotes about meeting them equally entertaining. What’s more, if you are intrigued by the discussion on the podcast, you can head over to the L.A. Weekly website, and read the finished piece about them.

Other Recommendations This Week:

Battleship Pretension: On their regular episode, Tyler Smith and David Bax deal with the always interesting, but also impossible to answer, question of what constitutes “independent film”. Does that title even mean anything anymore? But the surprising development this week, is the introduction of a new supplemental episode, the BP Movie Journal, in which the hosts will share their comments on the movies they’ve been watching recently. As someone who’s listen to the show for years, and, while immensely enjoying their in-depth conversations about different genres and eras of filmmaking, has often gone to see the latest releases and wondered “what would Tyler and David have thought about this movie?”, this new supplement comes as great news.

Fighting in the War Room: As I mentioned on my post about the HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridgethese guys were one of the few outlets to talk about this fantastic piece of television. That alone is enough to recommend this episode, but the fact that there is also a round of 2014-movie-line-trivia is the cherry on top. (I didn’t listen to their review segment this week, because it focuses on Foxcatcher, and I haven’t seen it yet).

The CanonIt’s a very Indiana Jones-heavy week, as Devin Faraci of Badass Digest, and the aforementioned Amy Nicholson, argue about the quality of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Unlike what happened during their Goodfellas discussion, which was featured on last week’s post, there isn’t that much Devin can do to defend a movie as flawed as Temple of Doom against Amy’s astute criticisms.

Mousterpiece CinemaThis podast is dedicated to analyzing and reviewing movies produced and distributed by the Walt Disney Company. This week, hosts Josh Spiegel and Gabe Bucsko are joined by John Gholson to review Big Hero 6. Two of them seem to have been as underwhelmed by the film as I was, and they go very much into detail on many of the things I disliked about the movie, but couldn’t find room to write about in my review.

/FilmcastSimilarly, the guys of the /Filmcast, like me, have very mixed feelings about Interstellar. David Chen, Devindra Hardewar, and Jeff Canatta, are joined this week by Matt Singer, and have a very in-depth discussion about Interstellar, director Christopher Nolan, and the current trend of nitpicking on science-fiction movies’ scientific accuracy.

The Week in Movie Podcasts (Nov. 1-8)

If there is something I love as much as I love movies, it’s probably podcasts in which people talk about them. I think I spend more of my week listening to these fine programs, than I do actually watching movies, so I thought I’d start this new feature, in which I will highlight a particularly good episode each week, as well as a quick round-up of what was going on in some of my favorite podcasts.

Podcast of the Week: 

The CanonThe Canon just released its first episode this week, and I must say that it’s a very promising start. Hosted by Devin Faraci (from Badass Digest) and Amy Nicholson (from L.A. Weekly), the premise of the show has them picking a movie every week, and discussing whether or not it belongs in “the canon”, the list of movies considered to be the cream of the crop of filmmaking. They also put the decision of whether or not the discussed movie should be considered canon in the hands of the listeners, who can vote online. Pretty fun, huh? This first episode had them arguing about Martin Socrsese’s Goodfellas. Devin loves it, while Amy finds it incredibly overrated. This is not specified in their description of the show, but I think they will usually talk about movies they disagree about (there is lots of shouting and interrupting each other in this podcast, in case you get stressed out by that kind of thing).

I’m not incredibly familiar with Faraci’s work, but from what I’ve read, he and I have very different tastes in movies. I also have a fairly different taste from Amy Nicholson, but I can’t help but find her particular point of view to be fascinating, even when she’s dissing movies I love. As far as this episode is concerned, I think Amy raises some incredible points, but then again, I’m one of those people who never found Goodfellas that amazing to begin with, and who is going through a phase in which I’m starting to think Scorsese *gasp* might not be that great a filmmaker after all. Anyway, if you want to decide for yourself if Goodfellas does or doesn’t belong in “the canon”, head over and listen to their show. I definitely recommend it.

Movie Podcast Round-Up: 

Battleship Pretension. Probably my favorite film podcast, this wasn’t a particularly exciting week as far as my personal enjoyment is concerned. This is basically their Halloween episode, as David and Tyler have independent filmmaker Danny Valentine to discuss horror movies from the 80s. Horror is one of my least favorite genres, so I’m very lacking in knowledge about the topic they were talking about. That being said, this show is always insightful, and there is a lot of very interesting discussion about Danny’s life as an independent filmmaker.

Fighting in the War Room. Joanna Robinson takes the reigns this week, and what seems to be her last week with the show. The big topic is the current state of the Romantic Comedy. It’s an entertaining episode, as usual, but not a particularly great one (these guys can get into better, more heated, discussions). Meanwhile, the Review segment, which deals mostly with Interstellar, but also a little bit with Big Hero 6, raises some very interesting arguments.

The Film Experience Podcast. You can always count on Nathaniel and his co-hosts to bring fresh takes to movies you think have been talked to death. This time, they do a pretty awesome job of discussing Birdman, with Nathaniel loving it, while Joe Reid has major reservations. And they made me very interested in seeing Pride, a British independent I had heard about, but wasn’t particularly excited about.

Filmspotting. They review Nightcrawler, which I haven’t seen, so I don’t have much to say about this episode, except that it didn’t make me particularly excited to watch the movie, which you can interpret whichever way you want. Their poll question this week, however, asks what filmmaker you think could direct the next 2001: A Space Odyssey, so I’m definitely gonna vote, even if my answer (Jonathan Glazer) is not one of the options.

Pop Culture Happy Hour. Like the name of the show suggests, the conversation is not always about movies, but this week, Linda Holmes and friends talk about Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, as well as other “realistic” science fiction movies. A lot of good points are raised, especially by Glen Weldon, who is as funny as always, as he points out that the genre i called “science fiction, not science boring”.