Tuesday, December 31, 2013

AN ODYSSEY:  Before we say goodbye to 2013, there's quite a lot we haven't discussed yet. Consider this a grab-bag post for you to hail the movies, tv, film, live performances, and books of this past year which none of us have gotten around to extolling.

I wish (and I know Randy feels the same) that I had flagged Mark Cousins' remarkable documentary series The Story of Film: An Odyssey, which aired its fifteen hour-long segments across this fall on Turner Classic Movies along with a fantastic accompanying schedule of films highlighted therein. Even for those of us who are occasional or former film geeks, there is so much to learn from Cousins' series, even from the parts of film history you think you already know well. As the Telegraph wrote for its UK release, the series was "visually ensnaring and intellectually lithe, [] at once a love letter to cinema, an unmissable masterclass, and a radical rewriting of movie history."

And it's all available for streaming on Netflix.


  1. I'll offer up an odd choice--The Carrie Diaries. While the concept of a "Sex and the City prequel" sounds like it could be nightmarish, the show's actually an unexpected delight, with some strong performances, kind of shocking frankness (less about sex than about drugs--Freema Agyeman's character regularly references the mounds of cocaine she apparently does), and a damn fine 80s soundtrack. Yes, there are big continuity problems--both internal (Season 1 Carrie is deeply scared of having sex, viewing it as a romantic thing, and Season 2 Carrie not so much) and external (Carrie's beloved father, sister, and friends were never mentioned on SATC)--but it's still a low-key, lightweight, charmer of a show, far more in the vein of something like Gilmore Girls than most of the CW's current stuff.

  2. "Detroit: An American Autopsy" by Charlie LeDuff humanized a place that has become a national joke. The people that remain are gruff, hard and insolent. A tough read at times and the author is admittedly a hard drinking a-hole, but it's a hard look at what allowed this to happen.

  3. Maret Orliss10:44 AM

    People Who Eat Darkness, by Richard Lloyd Parry, was a fantastic read for me this year, even though it published in 2012. Intense and fascinating true crime of the best sort...with detailed journalism and research. It's also the book I've recommended most to people this year and everyone who has read it has also enjoyed it.

    TV: the critics all loved it too, but I feel like a lot of people didn't watch The Americans, which I loved. Season 2 starts soon, so there's just enough time to catch up

  4. Maret Orliss10:48 AM

    Ooh, and I forgot to mention the documentary Casting By which is a must for film junkies, as it focuses primarily on Marion Dougherty who cast Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy, Dustin Hofffan in The Graduate, and many many other iconic films. It's also about the role of casting director as a whole and is absolutely worth watching.

  5. Marsha11:01 AM

    LOVED Casting By. So interesting.

  6. Marsha11:10 AM

    I can't remember if we've talked about it here (and heaven knows we all read Linda Holmes, who has championed it) but if you haven't read Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park, you really must. Yes, yes, the main character is an overweight girl with frizzy red hair, so perhaps I over-identified, but it is a raw, beautiful piece of literature that I would recommend to anyone.

  7. I haven't read Eleanor and Park, but Fangirl (also by Rowell) is a very nice piece of work as well.

  8. Joseph Finn1:13 PM

    Oh yeah, I'll jump on that recommendation as well. It'll also make you really, really angry that there is still no Oscar category for casting director.

  9. Christy in Philly1:35 PM

    Marsha, I think it was my favorite book of the year. It was beautifully written.

  10. Adam C.2:04 PM

    Three diverse 2013 movies we caught up with at home and enjoyed:
    1. WARM BODIES. This zom-rom-com offered way more than I expected. Nothing life-changing, but just well done by all involved, including a nice role for Rob Corddry.
    2. MUD. McConnaughey just brings it. By the director of the great and underseen Take Shelter; it's not nearly as gripping as TS and ends a little predictably, but it's still quite good.
    3. SOUND CITY. Dave Grohl's loving documentary/chronicle of the Sound City studio and its legendary sound board, which then takes an equally loving turn to Grohl reclaiming the sound board from the now-shuttered studio and getting some of the key figures from Sound City's past (including Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, half of RATM, Lee Ving, Josh Homme, Trent Reznor, and the surviving members of Nirvana, with special guest SirPaul) to record on it once again. Wonderful, joyful stuff.

  11. Genevieve2:57 PM

    Thanks! I have this in my streaming list but hadn't felt a need to watch it (not a SATC fan at all, but the 80s aspect appealed). Also glad to hear Freema Agyeman is in it.

  12. A few from me, some of which will be familiar to my FaceBook friends:

    1. "Where'd You go, Bernadette?" Not sure what got me to choose this one, but I am extremely grateful I did. One of those books that makes you think "How the heck did she do that?" Outlining the plot would be useless, because, while that's a great deal of fun, it's not what makes the book so awesome and hilarious.

    2. "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk." A devastating book about the Iraq War, which takes place almost entirely in the USA. Captures the voice of the GIs perfectly, and manages to entertain all the way along while leaving behind a searing message.

    3. "Tenth of December." Where to begin? I mean, really. Read it and weep, and laugh, and wonder what George Saunders did to become so brilliant.

    4. "Essex County." I discovered Jeff Lemire late this year, with this series of three interlocking graphic novels (published in one volume). Afterward, I immediately read his "The Underwater Welder," and I'm now reading his ongoing series "Sweet Tooth." Essex Country concerns themes of parent/child relationships, life in small-town Canada, and the ways in which small fateful moments can affect our lives. Terrific stuff.

    5. I've gone on and on about this one, but the two-part Texas Monthly piece "The Innocent Man." Its protagonist has been in the news lately, but even if you know the sketches of his story, this piece is more than worth reading (and available free online). Relatedly, the This American Life episode "Dr. Gillmer and Mr. Hyde" (#492) (also available online).

    6. Josh Ritter, "The Beast in Its Track." A wonderful singer-songwriter-style CD about the pain of divorce and the performer's recovery. It was just what I needed this year, and I can't get it out of my head.

    It has been a good year.

  13. I know this must have been championed here, many times, but Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is brilliant. That rare long novel which is exactly the right length. Next up: Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings. Cannot wait.

    I also discovered and devoured George Saunders' short stories this year. Yes, Tenth of December got well-deserved notice, but all the collections are worth reading. In the short story world, I also enjoyed Junot Diaz and Karen Russell this year, and was overjoyed at the Nobel for Alice Munro.

    In the film world, I enjoyed the rarities TCM showed to accompany The Story of Film, and need to catch up on the series itself. A goal for 2014.

    Also in the film realm: really, Matthew McConaughey is the most interesting actor working today. Who'da thunk it?

  14. "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" is such a great book. I picked it up as a deal on Kindle and it's the best bargain I've seen all year. As you say, equally devastating and accessible.

  15. InertiaGirl2:56 PM

    Holy cow, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk was phenomenal. It absolutely wrecked me for about a week after finishing. I would find myself thinking about the characters at odd moments and they were all incredibly real to me. I recommend it wholeheartedly, but people do need to know what they are getting before they start it.

  16. Jenn.4:35 PM

    This was a phenomenal year for country music, and in particular, for albums by female country artists. Brandy Clark, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, the Pistol Annies, Patty Griffin, and Caitlin Rose all put out excellent CDs, even if they largely don't get the airplay. (I just got the latest Kellie Pickler, and odds are that album should also be on that list. Who would have thought that she would start putting out some of the best music of all of the Idol finalists?)

  17. Enjoyed this, but thought it didn't say NEARLY enough about the role gender has played in how lightly people take (mostly female) casting agents. It wasn't anything I'd thought about before watching, but given people's comments throughout the movie, it was such an obvious point that needed to be addressed more squarely.

  18. Absolutely loved it. Still thinking about it.

  19. Tosy and Cosh9:30 AM

    While not feeling really tonally like a sequel to The Shining, Stephen King's Doctor Sleep was some good late-vintage King, although maybe not as good as the much smaller Joyland,which was a very nicely pitched small story. A pretty sweet one-two punch.

  20. I just discovered "Orphan Black," and I'm on that bandwagon completely. What a fun, interesting show.

    Absolutely loved "Tenth of December." I can't get "The Semplica Girl Diaries" from that collection out of my head.

    I think I'm the only one who's truly enjoying the new "Michael J. Fox Show," but I love it.

    I also want to give a shout-out to how great "Grey's Anatomy" has been this season. I know "The Good Wife" has gotten all the praise this year for an older show that's maintaining quality, but "Grey's" is really impressing me with its mature-but-compelling storylines this year: Meredith's struggle to be both a good mom and a good surgeon; her friendship with Cristina suffering because they've made different choices and no longer have the same lifestyle or goals; whether someone who has had sex before marriage can truly be compatible or on equal ground with someone who waited; the impact of new technology (3-D printing) on medicine, etc. I'm especially impressed by the Meredith-Cristina arc, which I really relate to and have enjoyed watching it play out, even as it's painful to watch. Bravo to the Grey's team.

  21. Yes, "The Semplica Girl Diaries" was also the standout for me. Second-place probably goes to the title story, which ends the collection

  22. Jim Bell11:19 AM

    I've given a lot of thought to these two books. Joyland felt to me like one of the short stories in Different Seasons, which, considering what those stories are (my top 3 favorite short stories are in that book), is saying something, but I also felt Joyland was probably longer than it should have been. Doctor Sleep was just awesome. Love both books, but Doctor Sleep felt more to me like vintage King (or at least pre-accident) King. I love him so very very much. Would compare quality with the Tommyknockers. I think he is on, and I hope he lives a long long time and keeps constant reader entertained.

  23. Tosy and Cosh3:59 PM

    If he had left out the ghost story/mystery aspect of Joyland I would have liked it even more - it felt extraneous to me. Doctor Sleep, which I liked a lot, felt not at all like vintage King to me - that's funny. It felt very much like the King of the past half-decade or so. I'm not sure it even needed to be a Shining sequel - they really didn't feel like the same worlds to me. But what do I know? ;) I was very pleasantly surprised to see there is a new one coming this spring already. Who knew?