Can’t stop and won’t stop thinking about Beyoncé’s new Netflix documentary, Homecoming. In what was already a feat unlike any other live performance seen in years, decades even, in Beyoncé’s 2018 two-hour Coachella set, Homecoming proves yet again the unyielding energy and commitment Bey has to her art. Everything is intricate, everything has a purpose, and here we see a raw energy in behind-the-scenes footage that highlights and draws inspiration from the HBCU experience as well as highlights black empowerment. It’s moving to see the months-long rehearsals pay off for everyone involved, and extra props to the editors who exquisitely spliced in clever edits from both of Bey’s sets that weekend with charming cutaways to hardcore fans in the audience. It’s an infectious two hours, but every minute is so entertaining and leaves you wanting more.
In no particular order, here are my favorite movies, shows, and performances from the last year…
Black Panther: The soundtrack. The villain. The villain’s complicated but understandable worldview. The women. The vibrant world of Wakanda. This is what a solid, live-action superhero movie looks like.
The Favourite: You’ll never hear the words “Rub my legs” the same again. I love a good historical drama, but I especially love a historical drama through the eyes of director Yorgos Lanthimos who turns history into a dark comedy, chock-full of the crass reality of early eighteenth-century life. Darkly lit settings, gross diseases, duck races, and a moment of strange break dancing are just a few of the reasons that make The Favourite a unique film. Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult, and Joe Alwyn make this grim and witty tale about class and power politics even better, and then it leaves you pondering just how far you’d go for (what you think is) power.
Game Night: An unexpected, R-rated delight, full of fun performances from the whole cast. But perhaps Billy Magnussen and Jesse Plemons take the cake for the biggest laughs. Plus, love that Freaks and Geeks alum John Francis Daley co-directed.
Love, Simon: It’s hard to think that before 2018 we hadn’t had a gay lead in a studio teen film. Luckily, Love, Simon changed that with a charming story that gives us realistic young people to root for, even if they’re making mistakes along the way to adulthood. Props to Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel for being the couple and parenting role models that dreams are made of.
Paddington 2: The bear with the most returns in an even stronger sequel to a very strong debut in 2015. Though the plot surprisingly places Paddington in prison (he didn’t do it!), Paddington 2 is cute as hell. Ben Wishaw continues his voiceover work to make Paddington the most earnest and forthright character we’ve seen in recent years and Hugh Grant shines as a multi-talented villain.
Solo: A Star Wars Story: Although time has proved that Solo didn’t really make much of an impact in the cultural zeitgeist this year (as say, Black Panther has), I found this to be an entertaining romp. It’s also a really beautiful looking film. Alden Ehrenreich did the impossible—he stepped into the shoes of Harrison Ford and did a pretty darn good job at it too.
Sorry to Bother You: Sorry to Bother You is a weird, timely, and Black Mirror-esque allegory about race, labor, power, and the media. And for that, it’s unlike anything else this year. It also shows how great a villainous sociopath Armie Hammer can play, undoing the crush you may have developed while watching last year’s Call Me By Your Name.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Mind-blowing animation. Ace voice acting. Deeply funny and earnest. Spider-Verse gives us thought-out characters and beautiful set pieces, and I came out of the viewing loving teen lead Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore, and Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker. Worth seeing in theaters if you have the chance.
Three Identical Strangers: A different type of documentary, Three Identical Strangers is full of quasi-reenactments and confessionals that make for really interesting storytelling, not to mention the most energetic and fun beginning to a story I’ve seen in awhile. The title gives away part of the story, but there is so much more under the surface that will leave you shocked, heartbroken, and angry.
To All the Boys I Loved Before: Lara Jean is basically a new teen movie and Rom-Com icon thanks to this surprise Netflix film. Lana Condor is a standout as Lara Jean and gives her that relatable humanity that so many young girls (and grown women) crave to see in pop culture. Not to mention, Noah Centineo, also known as Mark Ruffalo’s Looper, is the teen crush that young girls (and grown women) also crave to see. The story is sweet, but perhaps the sweetest moment is Lara Jean talking to her dad, played wonderfully by John Corbett, talking about Lara Jean’s late mom set to Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Cue the crying.
Favorite TV Shows
American Vandal: Season one of American Vandal was so unexpectedly good that it seemed a second season was going to just be a re-hash of the same sort of thing. Wrong! Instead of focusing on “Who drew the dicks?” in the first season, we go to the main mystery of “Who is the Turd Burglar?” in season two. It might sound like frat-bro humor, but I assure you the whodunit of the Turd Burglar is so much more. The show also creatively incorporates a few past characters of season one and brings them into the excrement-chasing fray of a new school in the Seattle area. The only downside of season two was later learning that Netflix cancelled the series and we’ll never know what crime involving a body part or bodily function season three could have brought us.
The Americans: Farewell to the Jennings family. The final season of The Americans came back in full force after a somewhat lackluster fifth season (although still great by comparison to many TV dramas), and ended on a high note. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys proved again why they are so deserving of their recent Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, while other cast members like Noah Emmerich deserve more love. But all said and done, the series gave fans a satisfying ending that both punished and relieved our leading family. And, on point as ever with their music selections, the show used U2’s “With or Without You” perfectly—even though it’s being used quite literally in one of the season finale’s final scenes, its presence only elevated it to make it one of the best television sequences, perhaps ever.
Atlanta: Two words: Teddy Perkins. Perhaps the most talked about episode of television this year. Beyond that, the second season of Atlanta brought us many great moments, like the mythical “Florida Man” in the season opener, the mythical Drake in a great Van-focused episode, and the hilarious Bibby the barber in the “Barbershop” episode, in what was my personal favorite episode of the season.
Glow: I just think this show is so much fun. It’s like the adult version of watching camp movies as a kid, but with the addition of glorious 80s hair, cocaine, Marc Maron, and spandex. This season, Ruth and Debbie still shine, Bash deservedly gets more airtime (and playing to my heart, makes reference to The Muppets Take Manhattan), and we get a real “GLOW” episode within an episode, which includes a beautiful studio-film era dance set-piece featuring two of GLOW’s lesser-seen ladies.
The Haunting of Hill House: For a show with a lot of creepiness and scares, it sure did make me cry a lot. I especially loved seeing Carla Gugino and Henry Thomas on screen in emotionally developed characters. And a job well done on casting two generations of actors for the central kids that felt fluid and believable.
Homecoming: Not only does Homecoming break the norms of a “drama” by giving us half-hour episodes, making for a breezy 5-hour binge, it also breaks many formatting molds. Without giving too much away about this story involving America’s military complex, pharmaceuticals, government investigations, and ordinary people, there are some really interesting cinematic choices at play here from director Sam Esmail that reflect tone, time, and mood, plus grade-A performances from Stephan James, Julia Roberts, Bobby Cannavale, and Shea Wigham.
Killing Eve: Beyond the excitement of watching charismatic Sandra Oh in an unexpected show, not to mention as an MI5 agent in a British show, Killing Eve introduced us to Jodie Comer as the truly horrifying yet oh-so-stylish serial killer, Villanelle. With other stellar performances that gave this dark show lots of dark humor, we have the great Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the helm of this series as creator and writer to thank. It’s all a recipe for a devilishly delicious 8 hours of primo television as female lead hunts the other female lead, and vice-versa.
Queer Eye: After 2017, we desperately needed something goodhearted. Well, we got it in early February, and then again in June, with the rebooted version of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The later batch of episodes feels a bit more contrived and schmaltzy than the first, but you can’t deny the chemistry and earnestness of this fresh-faced Fab Five and the diverse group of men they work with.
Sharp Objects: For some, this was too much of a slow burn. For me, it was an intoxicating tale with powerful and sinister performances, complemented by my experience listening to Vanity Fair’s “Still Watching” podcast, which explored all the symbolic layers that one could find, say, in a creepy dollhouse. Extra points for rewarding viewers who watch the credits.
Succession: I discounted this series from the initial trailers—I was not interested in watching a rich, media-mogul and his family be rich assholes thanks to our very own rich, media-adjacent family in the White House. Of course, there’s something much more fun about watching a fictional family instead. The devious backstabbing, the ridiculous rich-people traditions, and the ultra dysfunctional family at the center of this dramedy are extremely entertaining, as are the opening credits and score, which craft the right tone. The icing on the cake? My two favorite performances of the year: the very strange character of soon-to-be-member of the family Tom, played by Matthew Macfadyen, and his relationship with cousin Greg, played by Nicholas Braun.
Survivor: David vs. Goliath: It’s hard to believe that we’ve had 37 seasons of Survivor, but here we are. That many seasons later, however, the show has managed to keep twists coming and find new castaways that viewers love and want to see win a million dollars. It’s the characters that developed this season, plus fun editing that we’ve never seen before, that made this a fun season with all first-time players.
Wild Wild Country: Two words that entered the 2018 zeitgeist? Tough titties. This Netflix documentary, which focuses on a subject I knew nothing about, truly is a wild ride. There is no clear side to root for, but it will provoke you to think about what it means to find meaning in something bigger than yourself, as well as what it means to have a way of life you’ve known for decades be turned upside down.
The cast of The Haunting of Hill House
Jennifer Garner in Love, Simon
The cast of Homecoming
The cast of Sharp Objects
Charlize Theron in Tully
Ben Wishaw in Paddington 2 and Mary Poppins Returns
Hugh Grant in Paddington 2
Hayley Atwell in Howards End
Matthew Macfadyen in Howards End and Succession
The cast of Succession
Travis Tope in American Vandal
Jodie Comer in Killing Eve
Sandra Oh in Killing Eve
Lily James in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Jesse Plemons in Game Night
Billy Magnussen in Game Night
Lana Condor in To All the Boys I Loved Before
Noah Centineo in To All the Boys I Loved Before
Alden Ehrenreich in Solo: A Star Wars Story
Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Solo: A Star Wars Story
Thomas Haden Church in Divorce
Molly Shannon in Divorce
The cast of Sorry to Bother You
The voice cast of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
This year, instead of ranking the Best Picture Oscar nominees based on my bachelor’s degree in film studies (such a useful degree Mom, I promise!), I’ve decided to do a fun little ranking game based on how much I cried during each screening of the following nine films nominated, and maybe even how much I cried immediately AFTER the movie (I can tell that the suspense is killing you already). The ranking does not necessarily reflect the order of best to worst, but I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying Hacksaw Ridge was most certainly the worst movie on this list (Sorry, Mel! JKJK NOT SORRY). Without further ado, I bring you the first edition of “Ranking the 2016 Best Picture Oscar Nominees Based on Lauren’s Tears.”
- Hacksaw Ridge
NO TEARS! I almost cried because of how old and terrifying Hugo Weaving (aka the ageless Elrond) looked in this film, but then, not even five minutes into this war movie you witness some of the most atrocious green screen that has ever been committed to the big screen. Like, it is seriously terrible. It’s also hits ALL of the most stereotypical moments that you would expect from a war movie, yet there are so many better war movies! And then there’s the religion. The religious aspect of this story, that Andrew Garfield’s character is a pacifist and therefore won’t kill on the battlefield—because he hit his brother with a brick when he was younger I guess?—is SO heavy-handed (Thanks, Mel!) that it becomes eye-roll worthy. On paper, this is an amazing story. But again, the green screen is so horrendous at times that it really takes you out of it. That alone almost made me cry. Almost. Don’t even get me started on the gratuitous, exploitative violence. Good luck next time, Mel, because apparently Hollywood has forgiven you. 0/10 Cries for Lauren.
- Hell or High Water
Admittedly, I spent most of the film wondering about the life of Ben Foster (Is he this crazy in real life? What’s it like dating Robin Wright??) and thinking Chris Pine’s eyebrows were just too perfectly shaped for this role. But there was one scene with Jeff Bridges and his cop partner that made me a bit teary-eyed, but no spoilers here! 1/10 Cries.
How dare you, Denzel. How dare you make Viola Davis cry. And when Viola Davis cries, we all cry. OK, I didn’t really cry. But I did well up during that pivotal scene in the backyard. She had snot coming out of her whatever for crying out loud! The rest of the movie almost made me cry, but only because I wanted to cry out of frustration of watching almost two and a half hours of unrealistic dialogue, Denzel being a major dick, and waiting for that goddamn fence to be built. If I could have jumped into the screen I would’ve built that fence myself. I did not particularly enjoy this play, er, movie. 2/10 Cries. I’m sure the play is great.
- Hidden Figures
This movie is a bit more “by the books,” but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I teared up at Janelle Monáe’s speech to the judge as she tries to attend an all-white school so that she can be an engineer, and of course during Taraji P. Henson’s dramatic speech about having to walk all the way to the other side of the NASA campus to use the colored bathroom. That said, no actual tears fell, just teary-eyed. I was honestly distracted by having to take Jim Parsons seriously. 3/10 Cries.
- La La Land
If you have a 10-minute finale of beautiful music, fun dancing, and colorful sets à la An American in Paris, and add in handsome Ryan Gosling and charming Emma Stone, and then end it in an unexpected way à la Sliding Doors (Yes I did just reference an underrated Gwyneth rom-com), then yeah, you’re gonna make Lauren cry. 5/10 Cries.
- Manchester by the Sea
My god this moving is depressing. You think you know what this movie is going to be about thanks to the trailer: A man returns to his hometown to care for his nephew after his older brother suddenly passes away, and apparently that man has some old beef with Michelle Williams. But no, it gets WAY more depressing than that, just you wait. I will say, in all seriousness, the moment that truly choked me up was a scene with the man (Casey Affleck) and the nephew (Lucas Hedges), when the nephew breaks down while looking through the freezer. That was tough, but felt so realistic for how someone might deal with grief. The tears fell. Then you get extremely emotional moments between Casey and Michelle, and there I go again with the tears. 6/10 Cries. (This could have earned more, but it loses some since Casey allegedly harasses women in real life. So there’s that.)
Moonlight provided a steady stream of tears from start to finish for me, but it was really Act II of the film, when our protagonist is a teenager, that got the heavier, full-bodied cries. The young actor playing teenage Chiron was able to emote so much in his face and body that I was moved to tears. So heartbreaking, yet so beautiful. Everyone in this film was superb. Please give more acting roles to all of these actors, including Janelle Monáe (That’s right, she’s in TWO of the Best Picture nominees. You go, girl!). 8/10 Cries.
The first true tears, two perfect drops on either side, came as tears also streamed down Dev Patel’s beautiful face during a pivotal moment in the middle of the film. But oh man, the mother load of tears to end all tears came at the end of the film. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know how a true story of a young man finding his biological mother (in an entirely different continent!) is going to end. Hint: If it’s a true story and they’ve decided to make a movie about it, it probably is going to have a joyously happy (and yes, melancholy) conclusion. SO MANY HAPPY TEARS. 9/10 Cries.
I’m pretty sure this movie wrecked me. This was a flood of tears. But the real flood hit in the moments (read: hours) after walking out of the theater. I didn’t see the “twist” coming, and when I started putting two and two together, forget it. I was a goner. Amy Adams got robbed for the Best Actress nominee. Never would I have suspected that a movie about faceless heptapod aliens and Jeremy “Hawkeye” Renner would make me cry so goddamn much. For sake if spoilers, I’ll just say that if anything tragic has happened in your life, this movie will make you confront all the hard philosophical questions and dilemmas head on that come with grief and loss. You can have my boyfriend verify that I basically ruined a Friday night because I just. Kept. Crying. 11/10 Cries.
The most recent episode of Baskets (Thursdays at 10pm on FX) did something monumental. In the midst of political theater and chaos, at a time when many Americans feel lost and at a loss of words day in and day out, Baskets — a show branded as a story about a struggling, modern-day clown — showed what it meant to put partisanship aside for the sake of human decency. I’m of course talking about our favorite TV matriarch (I’ve decided for us all), Christine Baskets, played with such heart (and heartache) by Louie Anderson, and her journey to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
Although Chip Baskets (Zach Galifianakis) is our protagonist, and we’ve rarely glimpsed any sort of political leanings one way or another from the Baskets family in its first season, last week’s episode confirmed my suspicion that Christine is a proud Republican. We know this now because of her undying love of Ronald Reagan, as she proactively escapes the confines of her hotel room in Camarillo, a hotel she has to stay in thanks to Chip’s wandering ways and potential jail sentence on the line. Anywho, while killing time before her son’s sentence hearing, she decides they need to get out and visit the not-too-distant presidential library. But here’s the semi-twist: she brings her new acquaintance, a fellow baby boomer parent whose daughter is also up for a hearing, but who also happens to be a much bigger fan of Carter. Christine, a white woman, and her new friend, a black man, put aside their political affiliations for the sake of sharing some company for an afternoon.
Of course, it’s easier to let bygones be bygones when both presidencies are behind them, and they both offer slights to the other’s preferred president (Really, the peanut guy?! Really, the actor-turned-politician?!). But their seriousness of allegiance is met with equal fondness, amusing in the fact that they can be worlds apart in their political leanings and life experiences yet here they both are decades later in the same predicament tending to their adult children. And it’s in these moments that these two characters find such human similarities and a connection beyond party affiliation that felt so reassuring in today’s strange political times. Did it make me wonder what Christine Baskets would think of our current president? Yes. Not sure how that would make me feel. But this Christine-centric episode, plus Chip’s journey to deliver his late friend’s pan flute to a rightful new owner, proved why this show has become so much more than Zach Galifianakis being a goof in a clown costume (and it’s actually never really been that show, but a tease at the first season would make one think that was the case). Baskets has proved to be a show with a lot of heart while it showcases the many idiosyncrasies we encounter in daily life, and often in really bizarre but amusing ways. And sometimes those encounters are with people who we think are very different from ourselves, yet when you spend a little bit of time to get to know them, you just may be surprised of their character. And if you’re lucky enough, that stranger just may buy you a bracelet of little Reagan faces strung together and make you giddy with glee (if you’re a Reaganite, that is).
They’re baaaaack. Yes, Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney are back for seconds for season two of Amazon’s Catastrophe and I couldn’t be happier and sadder at the same time. Once I started the second season, I realized how much I had missed these two main characters and their collection of strange, bewildering secondary players. Just six episodes in, and approximately three hours later, BOOM. Season two is over. Ensue sadness. I want more more more.
A clever plot twist that I wasn’t expecting, however, was the time jump. Instead of picking up where we left off at season one’s “My water just broke” cliffhanger, we start here with a pregnancy (how tricky of them!) and birth of their second child. So we’re now about three years ahead from where we last saw them. Somehow Sharon and Rob have managed to not berate each other too badly and are thus still, sometimes barely, holding it together. It’s a smart way to keep the basic premise of this show from feeling stale, and luckily for the audience we reap all the benefits with bundles of laughs and TMI-worthy dialogue (but in a good way, of course).
Lastly, I do have a confession. I’m in love with something in this show. The first season I was too shy to admit it, but the second season solidified my feelings. I am in love with Sharon’s wardrobe. Unequivocally, utterly-obsessed with it. She pulls off that last-minute, but totally put together look that I completely envy (yes, I know, she didn’t actually just roll out of bed like that). She mixes bold patterns and textures, and has the confidence to do so. Plus, the show wisely reuses items. It’s just ALL so realistic that I am so in love. If anyone can tell me where I can get her purple (flowery? leopard?) sweater, I will love you too. Even more so if you tell me it won’t cost me my future first-born child.
Movies, television, people, and moments that resonated with me this past year. And I’m warning you now, Star Wars pops up a lot.
Yes, I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but what really marked the story of 2015 was the buildup to the December 18th release. From the moment it was announced that J.J. Abrams would be directing Episode VII, I knew he wouldn’t disappoint us fans. But I felt even more confident and excited once the first teaser trailer was released in November 2014. Then we got the second teaser trailer in April 2015. It conveys everything that the Star Wars franchise is about, while of course recapturing the essence of the original trilogy, in limited words and scenes. In the second teaser, we finally hear the voice of Luke Skywalker. Then, boom: Han Solo and Chewbacca. Chills.
Catastrophe, a gem of a series, is the anti-RomCom RomCom we all wanted. I love nearly all things British, so I wasn’t at all surprised to fall in love with Rob and Sharon (played by Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan), as they play American guy and Irish woman who have a week-long tryst and end up pregnant. The show is brutally honest and funny, which means that it also has a big heart.
Admittedly, I started watching the Late Show with David Letterman at a very young age. I blame this on my mother, who has a habit of always having the TV on, and myself, who is a night owl. It’s fair to say I grew up watching Dave a lot, almost like a distant relative who was always there in the background. I remember every year watching his holiday episodes with Darlene Love belting Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) and Jay Thomas repeatedly coming on to tell the same story over and over again, followed by the annual football throw to dismantle a meatball pegged on top of the studio Christmas tree. And that’s only covering his holiday episodes! Dave created a tone for late night, mixing absurdity with honesty and heart. He’ll be missed on television, but never forgotten.
Carrie Fisher’s press tour for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been one helluva whirlwind. Like, the best kind of whirlwind you’d want to encounter. There are several moments to pull from, but it’s her appearance on Good Morning America that takes the cake, with her dog Gary Fisher making quite the cameo, and shows us why we love the unapologetic star. Plus, we got more of Carrie beyond Star Wars this year. Although a small part, she shone as the curt and scathing mother of Rob Delaney’s character in Catastrophe (and with Gary making yet another cameo!). The takeaway? Carrie Fisher is a national treasure.
There’s no denying that Oscar Isaac is a burgeoning acting powerhouse and star, mostly thanks to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But for those us who have been keenly watching Isaac’s career take off in the last few years (guilty!), in such films as Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year, and his superb performance in HBO’s miniseries Show Me a Hero, we’ve known that he’s been destined for a multi-faceted and nuanced career. Plus, he’s charismatic as hell, on the screen and off. Much like Carrie Fisher, he’s had great moments during the Star Wars press tour showing this charisma, but he also proved this to us in this year’s sci-fi drama Ex Machina. And we’ll never ever forget the genius of his groovy moves as he tears up the f***ing dance floor (his words, not mine).
Most catchy, meta theme song ever? Why that belongs to Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Technically I had just watched all of the documentary miniseries The Staircase by the end of 2014, but I couldn’t stop talking about it all year whenever I talked true crime (and the blossoming popularity of the genre in TV and film) with someone. Although it aired in 2004, I had only heard about it last year. It’s 10 episodes are gripping, as you get a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the defense team building their case for Michael Peterson, a novelist accused of killing his wife. You’ll have much uncertainty throughout the circumstantial twists and turns this case takes, and question the United States justice system in the process. You can find the first six episodes here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n061fS38_GA
Season three of Nathan For You continued to push the limits of his brand of comedy – which actually has a surprising amount of humanity contained in its episodes, including a loose series-long arch of Nathan just trying to make human connections with the participants of his antics. There were many laugh out loud, cringe-worthy moments, but something about his creation of a Holocaust-awareness apparel company called Summit Ice sticks with me most. It even is a real functioning brand, with items available to purchase and all proceeds go to a good cause. Remember folks, deny nothing. You can watch him talking about the segment on Conan, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3Im37oRMRE
One of the more unique and human podcasts to premiere, Starlee Kine of Mystery Show inquisitively brings unique mysteries to life…and answers them. The best part is that you can’t predict what type of mysteries will be presented (i.e. What is Jake Gyllenhaal’s actual height? How did a local NYC video store disappear overnight? ). The worst part, we haven’t had a new episode since August. My particular favorite episodes are Belt Buckle (episode 3) and Britney (episode 2), in which Starlee is determined to track down Britney Spears for a friend.
31 seasons and counting, and Survivor has never been better. Thanks to a cast full of returning players (voted in by viewers) and new twists (more tribe swaps! Hidden Immunity Idols in challenges! Chaos Kass isn’t so chaotic after all!), this season delivered big time and ended with one of the series’ strongest final four and three. Plus, we got a lot of classic Keith Nale moments. Although there was an insane tribal council in the finale, the tribal council with the blindside of Andrew Savage, due to Kelley Wentworth’s idol, was a game changer…and so much fun to watch. As fellow contestant Stephen Fishbach simply puts it – “Wow.”
Network TV’s best comedy, Parks and Recreation, came to an end this year, and the show kept itself fresh by setting its last season in the future, in the year 2017. Amidst the silliness, Parks and Recreation never lost its heart and soul. Plus, we got an entire episode dedicated to Chris Pratt’s Andy Dwyer’s alter-ego, Johnny Karate, and depressingly spot-on fake commercials.
I did it. Finally. I watched the entire series of The Wire, the series that Entertainment Weekly crowned as the best television show of all time. I fell hard for the pragmatic storytelling, and even more so for the carefully nuanced characters, both good and bad. But what The Wire does excellently is portray that there is no easy definition of good and bad, and that it’s all relative to the circumstances and the environments that create a city’s social, political and economic structures.
The end of Mad Men is an end of an era, quite literally as the series portrayed American life and advertising culture from 1960-1970. The final shot of Don Draper, in all his mysterious, soul-searching and charming demeanor, brings us peace…and possibly brings him peace too, even if that peace results in an iconic Coca-Cola ad. And then there was Peggy’s story. A woman who climbed the ranks according to her own agenda and transcended the show’s own time frame to be a role model for modern feminism. The finale gave us the below scene, which the YouTube user labeled as “Peggy Olson walks into McCann Erickson like a badass,” which is all you really need to know.
There was some buzz when Sicario was released back in October, but for some reason it has nearly disappeared from the current awards season chatter. That’s a shame because Emily Blunt is a force to be reckoned with, as are her costars Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the bleak subject matter of the drug war between the United States and Mexico may be what the story revolves around, but it’s the beautifully haunting cinematography and superb performances that make you stay glued to the screen.
The edge to Spotlight is that it isn’t edgy. This film, about the investigative journalists of the Boston Globe uncovering the abuse in the Catholic Church, manifests simple, effective story telling. There’s no glitz and no glamour, which cements its authenticity alongside stellar performances by the whole cast.
My favorite moment from The Martian is indebted to Ziggy Stardust himself. During a montage scene, in which we see myriad characters living their daily lives while also doing their due diligence to bring astronaut Mark Watney home from Mars, David Bowie’s Starman non-diegetically plays. It’s the perfect song to portray the uplifting optimism needed among the characters, but also mixes in a sense of nostalgia and melancholy, unsure of what the future brings. I’m unable to find a clip of this scene from the film, but this video gives you the idea of the song and how it works with the film.
Conan as Lobot. Harrison Ford crushing Jordan Schlansky’s dreams. Carrie Fisher running her mouth. This hour of CONAN dedicated to Star Wars was just as earnest as it was side-splitting. It should also be noted that this is how you do a Star Wars tribute/interview set…maybe other late night hosts should take a hint.
Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show. The poised and thoughtful host has had many great moments over the years, too many to get into now. From the last show, I particularly enjoyed the taped segment of going around the entire staff in The Daily Show offices, set as an homage to the famous tracking shot in Goodfellas. To me, the presence alone of this segment speaks volume about Stewart’s character. And it may have made me tear up a little. Just a little though, I swear.
And thankfully there’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver to fill the void that Jon Stewart left (don’t worry, Trevor, I think you’ll get there in time). His segment on the refugee crisis is important and necessary. And somehow he managed to pull off a Days of Our Lives taping into the whole mix, because that’s John Oliver for you.
Hell hath no fury like Furiosa. What a fun, hypnotic ride Mad Max: Fury Road was. Jam-packed with action, yet it never got old.
Fans of Wet Hot American Summer rejoiced with Netflix’s prequel series, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, while those who never have seen the original movie were probably just confused. Sure, it’s full of inside jokes, but the campy nature (pun intended, of course), high levels of absurdity, and commitment by these actors is exactly what makes Wet Hot so great.
The season three premiere of Inside Amy Schumer was transcendent. From discussing sexism and ageism is Hollywood to singing about bodily functions, Schumer continues to make social commentary a theme in her comedy. My favorite sketch was tackling rape culture…á la Friday Night Lights. And a great Tammy Taylor impression to boot.
I was in awe of Better Call Saul’s first season. Here is a show, much like Breaking Bad, that lets a scene build with time, and lets it breathe.
I could watch Will Forte mess around in the desert with a collection of balls as friends any day. I wasn’t as crazy about the rest of The Last Man on Earth’s first season, but the pilot is golden.
Billy Eichner may rampage through the streets of New York with zeitgeist-infused questions and criticisms on his show Billy on the Street, but he is also a provocative presence on TV, subversively tackling bigger issues and calling out hypocrisy in entertainment and pop culture, such as his made-up “game,” Escape from Scientology.
The Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer is equal parts captivating and infuriating. Following the trial of a man for a grisly crime, who had previously served 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit (as he was later exonerated due to DNA evidence), this series should and will make you angry at the discrepancies in the United States justice system and how it fails to protect citizens that are the most vulnerable.
Lastly, on a lighter note…It can be frustrating if a Saturday Night Live prime-time player breaks (i.e. laughs) over and over again, but not when it’s the host and that host is Ryan Gosling. Thanks to Kate McKinnon’s characterization, professionalism, and commitment, she delivers probably this season’s best moment in this bizarre alien abduction sketch. The fact that she keeps it together, and her costars do not, was so entertaining to witness.
Here’s the thing: news outlets need to be objective. The whole premise of journalism is to relay information (read: truth) to the public. Its objective is to be objective. As much as there may be earnest, objective journalists out there, however, news stories are filtered through news outlets – most of which are either government-funded or have commercial interests. And a political agenda, albeit sometimes subtle, usually accompany those interests. And how do you subtly inject a political agenda? You inject it through discourse.
Sunday night’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver dissected the news media’s (aka Fox News) attempts at infusing anti-immigrant, and ultimately anti-Muslim, slants in their segments. The clip in question shows a video playing with a chyron on the screen that read “Terrorists Inbound?” Needless to say, those language choices are extremely loaded with prejudiced slants. We’re talking about refugees here, and they label them as terrorists by questioning that they may be terrorists. But here’s the kicker—Oliver’s team points out that the video loop they have on screen was uploaded to YouTube in 2010. As in five years ago. How much more subjective (and offensive) can you get when you’re using an old video to propel the discourse you’re aiming to send out into the public sphere?
To be fair, it’s not just news media —governments are just as guilty at managing their agendas through discourse (as are corporations, advertising, etc.). Oliver used the example of British Prime Minister David Cameron referring to a large group of refugees as a “swarm.” The word clearly has negative connotations and invokes a sense of danger and vulnerability. How will refugees ever be treated with humanity and respect when world leaders—I repeat, world leaders—verbally insinuate that they are pests to be feared and dismissed? I hope the answer is that most good-hearted people watching the news and listening to politicians know when to ignore and see through the “bullshit mountain.”
I implore you to watch this entire segment from Last Week Tonight—it’s poignant, frustrating, heart-warming and really effin’ funny. I’m so glad we have people like John Oliver and Noujain Mustaffa in this world to make it just a little better.