Around this time, people start making “best of” lists for the first half of 2019. Unfortunately, I have not seen 10 movies that have come out this year that are worth being on such a list. But if we expand past movies, I do have a few “best of” things I would recommend you check out.
The best animated movie of the year so far (until maybe Toy Story 4), this gorgeous and mature final entry into the groundbreaking franchise finds Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) making difficult choices as the leader of his clan and transitioning from a boy to a man. The film is both laugh-out-loud funny and sensitive, truly a treat for all ages.
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi specializes in stories where a crisis quickly unravels to reveal long-kept secrets held by the characters, and nothing is solved until the truth is brought into the light. Everybody Knows beautifully executes this framework, telling the story of a woman whose daughter is kidnapped at a wedding, and the entire family becomes suspect. Despite the sensational stakes, the drama is highest in the intense, fiercely personal interactions between characters. Don’t let the subtitles scare you- it’s one of the best dramas of the year.
“Old Town Road” [Remix] by Little Nas X ft. Billie Ray Cyrus
Yeehaw. I can’t wait for the emerging hick-hop genre to bring this divided country together.
Wasteland, Baby! album by Hozier
Hozier, best known for his runaway single “Take Me To Church,” follows up his self-titled debut album five years later with a moody, sometimes sultry, and always tortured reflection about wrestling between his desire for the pleasures of earth and the cautious hope of a spiritual dimension. He goes back and forth on the album between “the world is ending, nothing matters, but I love you so let’s just go with that,” and “things do matter and we have a responsibility to fight for them.” This tug-a-war, no matter how much you may agree or disagree with Hozier at any point in the album, never fails to be interesting and honest. He takes up Mumford and Son’s mantle of obscure and somewhat confusing mixes of biblical and literary references that make me miss Mumford and Sons, but alas, they died in 2013, and Hozier is a suitable heir.
I also had the fortune of seeing Hozier live in concert, and he was just as good there. He’s not a one-hit wonder, but hopefully here to stay. My favorite songs from the album are Dinner and Diatribes, Nina Cried Power, and Sunlight.
Cape Up with Jonathan Capehart, Voices of the Movement
Jonathan Capehart is a journalist and contributor to The Washington Post. A series within the podcast, “Voices of the Movement”, began earlier this year and tells the story of the Civil Rights movement. As of this writing, there are nine episodes, each about 20 to 30 minutes long. Each one focuses on different aspects of the movement, such as women of the movement, children in the movement, how Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “The Letter From Birmingham Jail” was snuck out of jail, and so on. It’s not only well-done but gets below the surface facts and stories you’ve already heard to bring out unsung heroes. Finally, Capehart ties it into today, asking listeners how the strategies used during the Civil Rights era can be applied today in other areas of injustice.
My favorite episodes are Episode 6, “How segregationist George Wallace became a model for racial reconciliation” and Episode 7, “How music propelled the civil rights movement.” You can download it wherever you get your podcasts.
The Anthropocene Reviewed
John Green is best known as the author of The Fault in Our Stars and some other young adult novels, along with running a youtube channel and making educational content with his brother Hank Green. While I don’t love his books, I find him fascinating as a person and like a lot of his other content (thank you Crash Course for helping me in school!) His monthly podcast, The Anthropocene Reviewed, is a fairly straightforward concept, despite the title. In each episode, Green picks two things from the world and reviews them on a five-star scale. The items don’t have any clear correlation. He’s done things from Hawaiian pizza to Super Mario Kart, CNN to Viral Meningitis, and Diet Dr. Pepper to Canadian Geese.
What is not so straightforward is how he presents each topic. Green ties in deeply personal anecdotes from his life, with acute observations and quandaries about what the items in questions mean in relation to their spot in human history and to the current culture. The podcast, like Green himself, can be quite melancholy, but in a way that never ceases to express genuine wonder at the natural- and unnatural- world. If approached right, The Anthropocene Reviewed is not only a peaceful listen, but an exercise in gratefulness. I give it five out of five stars.
I recommend Episode 8, “Whispering and the Weather,” and Episode 10, “Tetris and the Seed Potatoes of Leningrad” (these are both episodes from 2018, which isn’t to say the ones from 2019 are lesser, these are just my favorites.) You can download it wherever you get your podcasts.
“Can You Judge Art Objectively?” from Just Write
Sage Hyden, a wonderful youtube essayist aimed at media criticism with an emphasis on application for writers, breaks down the theories of criticism by 18th-century thinkers David Hume and Immanuel Kant to argue why conversations about art and all art criticism is subjective, why we shouldn’t be afraid of looking at art through multiple lenses, and why “there are plotholes” is not a reason to give for disliking a movie. As someone who writes reviews, understanding the history of criticism and the role of critics and picking and choosing which schools of thought I subscribe to and how they inform my approach is important, but I also think it is important for everyone, whether you write your thoughts about art down or not. The way we, as people, discuss art not only can make a difference in what kind of art gets produced, but it affects (and reflects) our relationships with other people, ourselves, and how we perceive the world.
“Sexual Assault of Men Played for Laugh” from Pop Culture Detective
Pop Culture Detective has done many thoughtful analyses of the intersection of masculinity and pop culture, but this extensive look at the way media portrays male sexual assault, from “don’t drop the soap” jokes in children’s media to the racist and homophobic undertones in prison rape narratives may be Jonathan McIntosh’s best work. It’s a difficult watch, and I would skip it altogether if you have experience with sexual assault or harassment. But if not, I strongly recommend everyone, particularly men, watch it to have your eyes open to the prevalence and seriousness of this topic.
Season 3 of A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix
I’ve talked extensively about my love of this series, and the final season did not disappoint. “The Penultimate Peril: Part 2” and “The End” are the best episodes.
The Tor blog gives a lot of thoughtful writers a platform, and this essay by Leah Schnelback is one of her and the website’s best as she tackles a complicated topic and gives the reader a clearer insight into why both Endgame and Infinity War caught people’s attention so much, how the films speak to our cultural anxieties and questions and gives more evidence to why superhero movies can’t be dismissed as irrelevant or mindless.