An obituary-by-committee––a sad, nostalgic must-read; it really is getting harder and harder to be optimistic about much of anything beyond one's immediate orbit.


I know it's late / But wait

Another favorite, also utterly inexhaustible; sixteen years on, it just gets better with age.


You're just a thought that someone somewhere somehow feels you should be here

When I can't think of what else to play, I tend to put on Forever Changes, while working, reading, exercising, cleaning the apartment, etc. It's inexhaustible, and there are few better records.


If the year ended now...

(but VIFF is just around the corner!)

01. BlacKkKlansman (Lee)
02. Zama (Martel)
03. First Reformed (Schrader)
04. Hereditary (Aster)
05. The Third Murder (Koreeda)
06. The Death of Stalin (Ianucci)
07. On Happiness Road (Sung)
08. You Were Never Really Here (Ramsay)
09. Oh Lucy! (Hirayanagi)
10. Paddington 2 (King)


This article on mind-boggling hypocrisy (by Stephen Miller's uncle) is really important.

Similarly mind-boggling: I just explained to my son (who is 10 years old, thinks mainly in terms of good guys vs. bad guys, and has recently gotten into the Indiana Jones movies) that America's two primary foes in the twentieth century were the Nazis and the Soviet Union. Whatever one thinks of the more dubious aspects of America's own political/military/imperialistic history, there are very good and obvious reasons why these two groups make for ideal movie villains. And yet now--it really only dawned on me as I gave him this ad hoc history lesson--the US president and his administration are unambiguously friendly both to people who explicitly self-identify as Nazis and to a Russian autocrat who used to work for the KGB and who aims to restore Russia (and other sovereign territories that he thinks should be Russia) to its former, Stalin-era "greatness."

We cannot for a moment lose sight of just how wholly surreal and profoundly fucked up all of this is.
Real Resistance Cinema

To call Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman the movie of the moment, or of the year, feels like a serious understatement, although it's certainly the former and probably the latter. In short (for now), it's utterly sensational, and one of the most incredible movie-theatre experiences I've ever had: a sold-out Sunday-night(!) screening, with palpable, opening-night-of-a-festival-type anticipation in the air and the crowd proceeding to loudly cheer, laugh, gasp, groan, cringe, and ultimately clap at length before sitting momentarily in stunned silence as Lee's '70s protagonists dolly-float into the future, toward the grimmest of codas. (Contrast this with Kanye's pointlessly contrarian remarks on Kimmel, concerning the past's relationship to the present.) Among Lee's non-documentary work (his docs have been consistently excellent), this one's right up there with Do the Right Thing and 25th Hour--a singular master at the height of his powers, combining all the things he does best to push his art forward in a really exciting, and thoroughly vital, way.
Twenty-first-century TV

I really like The Ringer, but its list of the best TV episodes since 2000 is largely dumb, baffling, and pointlessly provocative--even if it inevitably gets some of the obvious milestones right. My top 25 below (one episode per show, or there'd be way more Buffy and Sopranos).

01. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer: “Once More, with Feeling”
02. The Sopranos: “Whitecaps”
03. Mad Men: “The Suitcase”
04. Black Mirror: “San Junipero”
05. The Young Pope: "Episode Eight"
06. Twin Peaks: The Return: "Part 8"
07. The Shield: “Family Meeting”
08. Angel: “Not Fade Away”
09. Gilmore Girls: “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?”
10. Friday Night Lights: “Always”
11. The Wire: "Final Grades"
12. Orange Is the New Black: “Toast Can’t Never Be Bread Again”
13. True Detective: “Who Goes There”
14. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: "Party Monster: Scratching the Surface"
15. Wolf Hall: "Master of Phantoms"
16. Breaking Bad: “Fly”
17. Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere”
18. Freaks and Geeks: “Discos and Dragons”
19. Community: “Intro to Political Science”
20. Parks and Recreation: “Li’l Sebastian”
21. Dollhouse: “Epitaph One”
22. Supernatural: “The French Mistake”
23. Fringe: “Transilience through Unifier Model-11”
24. The West Wing: "Two Cathedrals"
25. Riverdale: "A Night to Remember"


In the News

I feel happy for Phil Elverum (though it will be slightly surreal to see him in a tux on the red carpet the next time Michelle Williams is up for an Oscar or Golden Globe...) and sad for DeMar DeRozan (who really deserved better, at the very least one more shot at making it out of the East, post-LeBron). I appreciate what both have done/made and personally been through, and--whatever exactly it means to "care" about celebrities (or quasi-celebrities)--I think I care about them more than I do most of the famous people I like. I wish them the best of luck and success in Brooklyn and San Antonio, respectively.


This changes everything

Well, that happened fast; no long, drawn-out "decision" this time around!

I had long expected that he'd go to the Lakers, even when the popular predictions had shifted to Philadelphia or Houston. But I thought he'd wait to see first if L.A. could nab PG (nope) or Kawhi. Does this perhaps mean that the Spurs will soon be dealing Kawhi to the Lakers, but the exact terms of the deal just haven't been worked out yet...?

The East is now finally, genuinely up for grabs: Boston (will Kyrie and Hayward be 100% of their pre-injury selves? how well will the two of them together gel with the young core that overperformed in the playoffs?), Philadelphia (if they manage to work a trade for Kawhi without sacrificing Simmons or Embiid, they'll be the obvious conference frontrunner), and Toronto (will they make major moves this offseason as has been widely predicted/anticipated? Or will they give it one more go with DeRozan, Lowry & Co. now that LbJ has taken his talents West?) all have legitimate shots at it. To a lesser extent, maybe Indiana (if Oladipo is as good as, or better than, he was last season) and Washington (if they can add a strong no. 3) too. Who knows, at this point, what a post-LeBron Eastern Conference will actually look and feel like?!

The West, meanwhile, will be arguably the most stacked, hyper-competitive conference in modern NBA history, especially if Kawhi stays in San Antonio or is dealt to one of the L.A. teams. WOW...I can't wait for next season to start!
Top 100

For the first time in several years, I've revised and updated my top 100 movies list. I prefer the vague "top" because this list, as it stands, is some imprecise mixture of favorite films, films I admire the most, films that move me the most, films that really stick with me, films that I never tire of revisiting, films that remind me why I love this singular/composite art-form as much as I do. Inevitably, some of my favorite filmmakers are represented with numerous films, while other great filmmakers and even entire genres are barely (or not) represented at all--not because I don't appreciate their films but only because one hundred is a very limited number and this is just a personal list with no pretense to completeness or evenness, and it would no doubt look at least a little different if I posted it tomorrow rather than today.


Le Diable probablement...

The three best films I've seen so far this year all centre on middle-aged men experiencing physical-cum-psychological breakdowns while on personal missions of one sort or another. I'm not sure whether this says more about the state of arthouse cinema in 2018 –– deliberately anti-superhero movies? –– or just about the state of my idiosyncratic tastes and preferences. Lucretia Martel's Zama is the most beautiful, the most open and immersive, and probably the best of the three. Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here is the most sealed-off and cryptic; despite my admiration of the film and especially of Joaquin Phoenix's performance, I can't claim to be able to make heads or tails of it.

Paul Schrader's First Reformed is the darkest and most upsetting, not least because Schrader casts a superb Ethan Hawke (one of my favorite actors, though I can scarcely separate him from Jesse in the Before... trilogy and the dad in Boyhood) as his suffering leading man. First Reformed really feels like the culmination and apotheosis of all things Schrader–-not just his own filmography as a screenwriter and/or director (this is obviously of a piece with Taxi Driver, Hardcore, Last Temptation of Christ, Affliction, etc.) but also his influential work as a theorist of film style, with unmistakable echoes of Bresson, Dreyer, Bergman, and Laughton's Night of the Hunter, among other key touchstones. Occasionally, these cinephilic references are a slight distraction (more often, they're effective), and in certain places, Schrader's film feels a touch too allegorically schematic or politically on-the-nose. But its flaws in no way lessen its total, seismic impact. Rather, a subtler, more elegant, more "perfect" version of this film would not be as flooring, and despairing, an experience. It's some kind of peculiar masterpiece.



This is utterly fucking revolting. It's unfortunate that we exhausted all the relevant (historical and contemporary) analogies two years ago –– or, hell, maybe back during the second Bush administration –– because now this irredeemable scumbag is writing about immigrants "infest[ing]" the U.S. while creepily hugging a flag and sending children off to detention camps. Each time you think things can't get worse, they do.
Morrissey's politics-etc. is my single least-favorite topic under the sun. And now we have Morrissey Central, ugh ugh ugh. I find the theories that the interview, as such, is bogus (i.e., that "John Riggers," the ostensible interviewer, is actually just Morrissey himself) very convincing, not least because this is one of the "questions" asked by "John":

JOHN: I Wish You Lonely and Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On The Stage are your best ever songs. David Bowie was not writing great songs at this period of his career.

Literally no one – save possibly Moz himself – thinks this. And the Bowie dig is just bizarre, mean, and untrue. None of this is surprising per se (Morrissey's politics-etc. has long been a minefield), but that doesn't make it any less cringeworthy and depressing.


What's Good

01. the NBA playoffs
02. Wild Wild Country
03. Soccer Mommy, Clean
04. Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy
05. You Were Never Really Here


In Memoriam

Mount Eerie's was the most low-key show I've ever attended, including those of far less accomplished and well-known artists (see, e.g., this excellent piece in The Atlantic). First off, Elverum was manning his own merch table in the lobby. I wasn't necessarily planning on buying anything, but when I saw that it was him, I kind of felt bad and bought a lovely book of his photos (taken all over the world, but somehow all looking like the Pacific Northwest) and he graciously signed it. Then, although there were unnamed "special guests" slated to perform, he took the stage just an hour after doors, with no opener at all. He played all of Now Only, most of A Crow Looked at Me (though unfortunately not "Soria Moria"), nothing pre-Crow, thanked the audience for "all this attention," and left. We tried to cheer for an encore – which felt slightly odd in that context – but he didn't come back out. I noticed that he was scheduled to play some music festival in Everett, Washington the next afternoon, so perhaps he just wanted to get back down across the border that night? Or maybe he doesn't think his current material lends itself to the ordinary, expected format of the rock concert? (As he humorously, surreally puts it on Now Only's title track: "I made these songs, and then the next thing I knew / I was standing in the dirt, under the desert sky at night / outside Phoenix at a musical festival / that had paid to fly me in to play these death songs to a bunch of young people on drugs / standing in the dust, next to an idling bus / with Skrillex inside and the sound of subwoofers in the distance.") In any case, his deeply understated presence/performance made a more poignant, lingering impression than more of a proper concert-event would have made.


How Soon Is Now?

Now Only is just as devastating, and nearly as pristinely austere, as A Crow Looked at Me. Adjectives like "honest" and "earnest" are thrown around an awful lot in discussing art, but Phil Elverum's new records are so rigorously frank they cut right down to the bone. Yet, where last year's felt raw and still very much in medias res, this year's follow-up feels more – for lack of a better word – circumspect. Its title may pointedly refer to the album's ad hoc, impermanent status (more "working through," reflection from a different angle, etc.) but, Elverum seems to suggest, it's not only this music that's ephemeral--everything is, "always so close to not existing at all," as he aptly put it on the last one. Both of these albums have that kind of rare power that makes most other things feel frivolous or inconsequential. Tomorrow night, we're going to see him perform some of these songs, and while I've heard them all numerous times, I still don't know quite what to expect.


When you walk through the garden...

Collateral (why use a title already associated with a well-known movie?) is unexpectedly excellent. Its premise sounds like a cross between The Killing and The Fall, but in execution, it's closer to a miniature, British version of The Wire. At one point in this four-episode BBC2 miniseries, one character says to another: "People don't trust institutions anymore." It's inevitably a bit on the nose, yet, by that point in the show, it also feels earned, as a direct summation of Collateral's David Simonesque central themes. Collateral doesn't just tell us that institutions--governments, political parties, the police, the Church--fail people, but shows in persuasive, vividly realized detail how and why they do so, and what the real-world implications of these failures of service and representation are for the lives of individual people. As in The Wire, what prevents these ideas from ever feeling didactic is pretty good writing and really good acting. Carey Mulligan, always terrific, has probably never been better, but the rest of the show's large ensemble cast is equally strong. The expanding-web-of-interconnections structure that writer-creator David Hare favors is here only minimally schematic and forced, largely because all the characters pulled into his web are so interesting and fully fleshed-out and dynamically played, from the Shadow Cabinet MP at odds with party orthodoxy to the lesbian priest and her young Vietnamese lover to the arrogant, semi-racist MI5 agent swooping in on the local cops' investigation. Right, it's that kind of show, but--trust me, really--it's so much better than it sounds on the page, and at four hours, it doesn't overextend its myriad plot threads or overstay its welcome. My only complaint is that they could've come up with a more distinctive title for a show this good.


You can go with this or you can go with that