A couple years ago, I moved my movie takes (which made up most of this site’s content) over to Letterboxd. That’s where you can find my (definitive) list of the decade’s 50 best movies.
Never did I work (or “work”) as hard to really cover the gamut. I spent half the decade in a new life as a frequent-traveling campaign reporter, which meant in-flight movies galore. I made my first solo international flights, which, same. And the birth of streaming services meant I could catch things that I never would have waited around for on DVD.
Worst movie: “Dreams From My Real Father,” a racist red-baiting “documentary” about how Barack Obama owed half of his genetic material to a communist poet named Frank Marshall Davis. It was distributed around swing states via a mailer, and is now available on Amazon Prime for some reason.
Best movie that won the Oscar: “Moonlight.” Best announcement of the win, too!
Every list of “Best Podcasts” being published right now is wrong, as they prioritize professional standards and storytelling over the strength of the format — how DIY it is. Also, I am a reporter for a living and want to spend roughly 0.0 percent of my downtime listening to people analyze The News.
Here are the podcasts I listen to the most, in no order except how readily they came to mind as I counted.
The Bruenigs. Wonk husband and journalist wife (she happens to work with me) discuss news, life, and bad opinions.
Your Kickstarter Sucks. The concept alone would make a good podcast — two funny people go through a “six pack” of wretched Kickstarter concepts. The bonus is that the funny people are actually funny.
The Best Show with Tom Scharpling. Needs no explanation.
I Don’t Even Own a Television. Like those infinite number of “friends make fun of bad movies” podcasts, but for terrible books.
The Treatment. Elvis Mitchell talks to movie people.
Bullseye. Jesse Thorn talks to movie people and other kinds of people.
Chapo Trap House. There is really nothing as good as this when a few of the hosts get rolling. I still laugh at the moment when Will warned that the excerpt of a column he was about to read was “pure brain cancer” and Matt responded: “Feed it to me.”
Discord & Rhyme. Music nerds go through albums track by track. Disclosure: I have been on this one.
The Dig. Daniel Denvir interviews people doing interesting things on the left.
Slate Money. I’m allowed a couple of “normie” shows, right? This is relentlessly interesting about impenetrable topics.
Beyond Yacht Rock. The creators of “Yacht Rock,” a decade-plus later, sit around and make up genres then go through a top ten list that epitomizes said genres. Examples: “Stat Tracks” (songs about lusting after way-too-young women). “Nu-wop” (80s doo wop revivalism), “Divorcecore” (songs by middle-aged men about how it all went wrong).
The Next Picture Show. Movie critics watch an old movie then a new one and they talk about them.
Sh!tpost. A guide to the worst of the online far right.
The Weeds. Wonks!
WTF with Marc Maron. Go ahead and hate, but he has good guests and he tends to pull them somewhere interesting. Just skip the first 2 minutes of promotions and uninteresting updates on his life.
The Age of Napoleon. Like Hardcore History but with imposter’s syndrome.
The War Nerd. The intros are always too long, but Gary Brecher talking through all sorts of conflicts was great in column form and it’s great here.
Unpopular Opinion. I’ve been on this one, too! LA comedians discuss a world gone wrong.
View from the Cheap Seats. Listening to the Sklar brothers is the only way I can understand sports.
Every year and every break-up — but I repeat myself — brings a new burst of pointless creativity. This year’s burst has been spent on Letterboxd, the handy film website that turns your experience into charts, lists, and data, all things I love.
Follow me there for a stupid amount of movie reviews.
It was a busy year, for reasons no one on the Internet needs remembering. The version of me that could watch 75+ new movies in a year is gone, long gone. The version that actually was around for first weekends of blockbusters and date movies, and had time to watch movies on planes — he’s still kicking.
Stuff I still need (or “need”) to see: I, Tonya; Call Me By Your Name; Phantom Thread; The Florida Project; Coco; The Post. (No, there was no special premiere for all Post employees. There were several DC screenings and I wasn’t invited to any, NOT THAT I’M BITTER.)
- Get Out
Everything about this worked for me — the enraging villains, the social commentary, the goofy friend and his cop-out ending.
- Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig can do no wrong.
- I, Daniel Blake
Prime Ken Loach, the sort of white-knuckle class war drama that nobody else can make without getting accused of ripping off Ken Loach.
- Blade Runner 2049
Too long, and a few too many sops to the genre (why does the evil replicant hench-lady crush the memory stick instead of using it to see what K’s been up to? Oh, because she’s evil), but so gorgeous to look at. I am a sucker for world-building, and the work done here to take the decaying world of “Blade Runner” and make it decay further for 30 years was fantastic. Six months later I still can see those grey acres of wriggling “protein farms.”
- The Big Sick
If Judd Apatow wants to keep handing the keys to younger comedians with good stories, fine by me. Half winning, relatable rom-com, half painful culture clash, and all of it works.
It’s a good war movie, what else do you people want?
The kind of superhero movie that justifies the genre — though I’d say that about “Deadpool,” too, revealing how bad my taste is. I wasn’t sold on the X-Men comics being part of the movie’s reality, and it was a little on-the-nose to watch an ailing Hugh Jackman fight a brainless clone of Hugh Jackman at pivotal moments. But I haven’t felt this tense during a movie in years, and haven’t said “fuck!” as much in public as I did during moments when Logan and Lore brutally murdered the hapless henchmen who kept coming after them.
- Baby Driver
Too long, especially since Edgar Wright has effectively made fun of the “you think he’s dead, no wait he’s back, no he’s dead, but what’s this” climax. The absence of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost means a lot less to sit with and quote back to your friends when it’s over. But extremely fun while you’re watching.
- The Disaster Artist
- The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
I for one embrace our Gerwig-Baumbach overlords.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Thor: Ragnarok
- The Shape of Water
- Oasis: Supersonic
- The Founder
- The Lovers
- Logan Lucky
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
- I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
- Beatriz at Dinner
Extremely effective, if a little stage-bound, drama about clueless rich white people interacting with the underclass. One thing that stuck with me was how Salma Hayek was shot — not as the bombshell letting her hair fall over her decolletage, but as a short, savvy woman loomed over by arrogant no-nothings. Also contains one of my favorite performances of the year — David Warshofsky as a tightly-strung suck-up to John Lithgow’s clearly amoral real estate tycoon.
- A Ghost Story
- T2: Trainspotting
- I Am Not Your Negro
- Wonder Woman
Far too long, but the World War I battle scenes make up for it.
- The Lost City of Z
- Darkest Hour
- The LEGO Batman Movie
- The Beguiled
- Kong: Skull Island
- Alien: Covenant
- Table 19
Harmless and effective Duplass brother dramedy about a bunch of misfits who find happiness at a wedding no one wanted them to attend. Extremely ropey at times, but I shed an actual tear at the end of it, so respect must be paid.
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
It’s fine. The best parts add something new to the canon — Carrie Poppins! The worst parts make me dread how Star Wars movies will be part of our rote holiday tradition until Disney stops making money on them.
- Justice League
- A United Kingdom
The kind of story that you can’t believe nobody’s adapted yet — as South Africa implemented apartheid, a black king of Botswana took a white, English wife, and was banned from returning to his country for years as diplomats alternately schemed and crapped themselves. It’s all very well told, but in a movie-of-the-week way. Also, how many more times do we have to watch Clement Attlee get owned in British historical drama? The man created the modern welfare state, and we have to watch him make incompetent grabs for power (“The Crown”) and cynically do the bidding of racists to acquire uranium (this movie).
- War for the Planet of the Apes
These movies just leave me cold, and I guess I’m the only one.
- It Comes At Night
Answering the question, at last: What would a post-apocalyptic drama look like if Terrence Malick directed it? The answer: Half tense, half pretty dull and un-engaging. Director Trey Edward Shults has now made two very Malick-y movies that offer a semi-interesting spin on an established genre. Good for him, I guess!
- King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
- The Fate of the Furious
- Cars 3
- Free Fire
“What if we spent an entire movie on just one shoot-out” is an idea that made sense to way too many producers and actors.
“Ghost World” is feeling more and more like a fluke — the rest of Daniel Clowes’s wince-inducing slice-of-life comedies do not work when transferred from page to screen. Lots goes wrong here — Judy Greer as the cute neighbor who will obviously set things right drains the misery out of the script — but probably the best example of what’s lost in translation is a scene in which Woody Harrelson’s titular misanthope sits and watches a tree lose its leaves. In the comic, it was a one-page gag; in the movie, it’s shot like one of those Qatsi movies, all shutter-speed and emotional string sections.
- The House
There are moments when the comic actors are really grooving, and you wonder why critics said this was a formless mess. Then you get to the third act and it’s a formless mess.
- Ghost in the Shell
Boy, this one wasn’t helped by the existence of “Blade Runner 2049.”
Like many busy people, I spend roughly 40 percent of my waking life wasting time on the internet. The problem: The many commentators and reviewers who pollute the internet only ever talk about good TV shows and movies. Nobody wants to talk about the mediocre ones!
It’s a challenge, and I accept it.
“Apollo Gauntlet” (Adult Swim, 2017)
This defiantly stupid Canadian import began as a YouTube series and was picked up for a six-episode test run, a bit like “MDE Presents: World Peace,” but with less alt-right transgressions and more dumb pop culture references. Myles Langlois’s vision was a parody of the detritus of 1980s D&D culture, sort of resembling the infamous CD-based “Zelda” game cutscenes but with choppier animation. Upgraded for a mass audience, it even more closely evokes those “Zelda” comes, some of the most immediately hate-watchable entertainment of my generation.
The show itself is… fine? Langlois himself plays Paul Cassidy/Apollo Gauntlet, whose fortuitous discovery of magic talking gauntlets transforms him into the superhero for a generic fantasy world. His delivery is one of the best things about the show, lazy and distracted. It’s a bit like “One Punch Man,” a much, much superior show, in that the humor comes not from setbacks but from a hero laconically conquering every challenge he comes across.
I enjoyed the randomness of everything else, and the voice acting owns; Betsy Sodaro, a UCB veteran with a voice like a clogged paper shredder, is particularly good as the most competent member of the adventuring crew Gauntlet stumbles into leading. But too often, the jokes consist of out-of-place references and little follow-through. One example: When Gauntlet teams up with Dr. Benign, the James Urbaniak-voiced villain who sent him to this word, Benign suggests a plan that will be “just like ‘Shadow of the Collossus.'” It’s a video game, get it?
The punchline, delivered by Gauntlet: “Nobody understands your pop culture references.”
That’s it. Fine stoner entertainment, but not much more. Binge-watching will get you maybe through half an edible.
“I’m Dying Up Here” (Showtime, 2017)
My favorite hate-watch of 2017, a deeply flawed show packed with enough funny performances that I keep turning it on and suppressing my groans. Based loosely on what’s supposed to be a very good book about the alt-comedy scene in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s, the show’s set largely in the fictional Goldie’s, owned by — get this — a woman named Goldie, played by Melissa Leo with dramatic chops and a lot of corny dialogue. Goldie’s is basically The Comedy Store, which, fortunately for set designers, has not changed since the 1970s.
Goldie presides over a sophisticated comedy slave trade, where comics work for no pay for the right to hone their acts and maybe catch the eyes of producers. The plotlines that don’t resolve around personal drama usually focus on the workability of this scheme, which, in the pilot episode, is complicated by a comedian (Sebastian Stan) getting a big break on “The Tonight Show” and then killing himself, because there was nowhere to go but down.
God help me, I was compelled to keep watching, mostly because of the performances that anchor the b-plots. The a-plots are often excruciating, usually involving Bill (Andrew Santino), Nick (Jack Lacy), and Cassie (Ari Gaynor) battle their egos — and in Nick’s case, every drug available in 1975 Los Angeles — to Make It. But the b-team of actors are funny in a way that overcomes the occasional drab script — Clark Duke, Erik Griffin, Jon Daly, and Al Madrigal as a comedian who is, correctly, mocked for making every single joke about Mexicans. There’s a throwaway scene in which Duke and Daly argue over whether the drowning death of Daly’s father makes any sense as an analogy that’s one of my favorite things all year. (Another favorite: A hanger-on comedian played by Dom Irrera walking absent-mindedly into a fight, kicking a sleazy radio producer on the ground, and only then asking “hey, who we kickin’?”)
Also, to be fair, it’s damn hard to make fake “comedy” work, as the people who suffered through “Studio 60” can attest. “30 Rock” usually got past this problem by making its show-within-a-show completely surreal; “I’m Dying Up Here” does a good job manufacturing stand-up that sounds like it was delivered by people who haven’t quite made it.
I spent the last four years writing “The Show That Never Ends,” a history of/argument for progressive rock music, and it comes out on June 13. You should buy it no matter where you live. But if you are lucky enough to live in one of several east coast/central time zone cities, you can buy it AND meet me AND hear me talk. What have you done to deserve this?
Here are the events and the relevant details.
TUESDAY, JUNE 13
Dave Weigel and Tom Scharpling (“The Best Show”) discuss “The Show That Never Ends”
828 Broadway (& 12th Street)
New York, NY 10003
THURSDAY, JUNE 15
Dave Weigel signs copies of “The Show That Never Ends”
603 North Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78703
SATURDAY, JUNE 17
Meet Dave Weigel, author of “The Show That Never Ends”
Houston, TX 77098
MONDAY, JUNE 19
2511 W 4th St.
Wilmington, DE 19805
TUESDAY, JUNE 20
Book talk with Scott Tobias
1474 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
THURSDAY, JUNE 22
Book talk with Jack Shafer
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
I was speeding; sure, I won’t deny that. It was 8:20 or so on Super Bowl Sunday, and I was returning my rental car at Detroit’s airport before jumping on a 10:00 flight to Minneapolis for a story. Detroit, like most big cities, has spawned an airport inside a morass of frontage roads — to return a rental, you follow the signs, turn to what seems like an abandoned stretch of lots, and you’re there.
So, I turned onto Lucas, passing by the Hertz drop-off, intending to get gas at the end of the street before circling back and dropping it off. I notice, surreally, a cop car blazing into my rear view mirror.
“Can you… actually get pulled over on the street where you’re dropping the car off?” I wonder.
Indeed, you can. A surly officer asks why I think I was pulled over.
“I was in a hurry, so maybe I missed a turn signal on the way in,” I speculate.
According to him, no: I did not give the right of way when turning onto the final frontage road. I cut someone off — him, I assume — and was going 41 in a 35 mph zone.
(Here I will pause for an instructional video on how uniquely strange it is to drive in Michigan.)
“Do you have $100 in cash to post bond?” asks the cop.
My mind… I was going to say “races,” but it actually turns pretty slowly. “No,” I say, knowing I have around $85 in cash, “but I can pay a ticket.”
Friendly enough, right? Wrong. The cop returns to his car with my license, and with knowledge of my story — trying to return the car for my 10 a.m. flight so I can get to Minneapolis for work. In literally 90 minutes I will be out of his state, a problem for the motorists of the Twin Cities, not him.
He returns 10 minutes later, as I check my watch, and hands me a ticket — but no license.
“I’m holding onto your license as bond,” he says.
“Oh,” I say. “I didn’t realize that was what you meant by bond. Can I go to the ATM over there” — I point to the gas station, maybe 20 yards away — “and get the cash.”
The cop summons up that attitude that only an armed and un-criticizable agent of the state can summon. He already gave me a chance. He only charged me for speeding. I should cut my losses.
“But I can’t get on my plane without my license,” I say.
“You can use the ticket and say what happened,” he says.
This part of the story engenders less sympathy — suffice to say that instead of using the TSA pre-check status I pay for, I must show the ticket at a regular TSA line, empty my wallet to find that there’s no other card with my birth date, note the disbelief of the agent at the idea that the ticket would be enough ID, and get every single item patted down and searched before getting a chance to sprint to my plane. I make it by 5 minutes. Could be worse.
I can’t rent a car anymore, but I can borrow one from a friend. I can’t get back to the airport right before my flight on Monday — I will have to subject myself to another long pat-down. Okay. In future, I’ll travel with my passport.
But here is the long tail of the problem — getting my license back means trusting the Wayne County traffic court to send it back. I’m not saying its employees are dishonest. On Monday, they seem perfectly polite, if confused. I’m saying an infamously cash-poor urban county is not exactly staffed up to process a ticket quickly or mail a license back. Also, I’ve moved since I got the license, and that’s the sort of thing you’d like to explain to a bureaucrat before they mail your ID to an address.
When I call, three times, I talk to three confused people who refer me to a website that doesn’t recognize my ticket number. My follow-up questions are directed the voicemail of “Maya,” or maybe “Maia,” with no indication of what she does.
Here is the larger context: I am shredded. I’ve worked every day of January and had half a day off in February. I’m lucky, insofar that once I’m not going through airports, I don’t need my ID to drive to work; I take public transportation. But I tend to pack my days with assignments, and now I’ve got to navigate around the motherfucking Wayne County traffic courts.
I guess I’m saying that I don’t understand the policy. You want to get dangerous drivers off the road? Okay. I am… probably more aware of the text messages being sent to me than I should while driving.
But Jesus Christ — why bludgeon someone who’s trying to drop off a rental car? Why, for speeding not on a road choked with motorists, but a road that exists so people can get out of your state and to a plane? Why throw someone into, as far as you know, days or weeks of difficulty that will impede his ability to get a job done?
From time to time, until November 8, people last year would ask me how much I was loving the political circus. “It must be the story of your career,” they’d say.
“Well, yes,” I would say. “Much like Joan Didion got the story of her career when her husband and daughter dead.”
Hyperbole — it’s our new lingua franca. I’d reported on politics for most of my life by the time the 2016 election began, and knew that elections typically devolved into gaffe-policing and guides to which ads were false. (Usually not most of them.) But 2016 was, as the documentarian Adam Curtis put it, a defeat for journalism, in which people like me were reminded how little people want to hear information that rumbles their worldview. My worst memory of the year is not anything from a rally; it is becoming part of the problem, and telling friends on election night that early returns suggested their favored candidate would win.
Lots of hairshirting already; I don’t need to add more. Once I got some distance from the election, I felt bursts of pleasure about what good had come out of the year.
Crank up the listicle-maker.
I wrote a book. After 12 years of daydreaming and 3 years of writing, I finished my history of progressive rock; it’s being edited now for a June 2017 release. The panic I have about articles (did I leave in any clunk? Will a grammar scold hunt me down?) is multiplied 1000fold but this is a lifetime goal that cost me a personal life and feels worth it.
I made new friends. This happens every fours, and while I’m not sure how much longer it can happen — do I want to be passing out on the Gillibrand campaign plane at age 39? — it’s always a joy. You develop a little patois on the campaign bus, and (assuming you’re not singularly annoying) you share it with people who are chasing the same deadlines as you. You trade transcripts; you let her have a question because he has a follow-up because you asked a question already.
I survived a car crash. Wasn’t planning on it, but a small nightmare finally came to me. I was making good time on the road from Madison to Green Bay (to De Pere, first), when a traffic stoppage came out of nowhere and I spun off, taking a car with me. The permanent damage has been a right thumb that no longer bends. And that is it. I could have died, I didn’t, and have never felt the same since.
I do a version of this every year. The campaign and my book deadline made this year’s explorations a little more limited — which is fine. I have maybe 10 more to see in order to not be befuddled by award season.
- Sing Street
- Everybody Wants Some!!
- Don’t Think Twice
- Hell or High Water
- Love & Friendship
- Manchester by the Sea
- The Witch
- The Childhood of a Leader
- 20th Century Women
- Captain America: Civil War
- Doctor Strange
- Hidden Figures
- 10 Cloverfield Lane
- Midnight Special
- Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
- The Lobster
- Hail, Caesar!
- Finding Dory
- Eye in the Sky
- Sausage Party
- All the Way
- The Nice Guys
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
- Captain Fantastic
- Don’t Breathe
- Knight of Cups
- Kubo and the Two Strings
- The 13th
- Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
- Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
- How to Let Go of the World (and Love All the Things That Climate Can’t Change)
- Florence Foster Jenkins
- Kung Fu Panda 3
- Star Trek Beyond
- The BFG
- The Neon Demon
- Cafe Society
- X-Men: Apocalypse
- Pete’s Dragon
- Suicide Squad
- The Greasy Strangler
- Zoolander 2
- Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
- Independence Day: Resurgence
- Ride Along 2
- Central Intelligence