Thoughts on life after the PhD
I’m a bit late with this list, but here it is.
(I saw 78 movies last year, a number I’d like to push to at least 100 this year, though a heavy teaching load may keep from reaching that goal. Of those 78, nearly half were Japanese films. If I’ve written a review, there’s a link.)
Absolutely riveting from start to finish. Can’t believe it took me this long to get to it.
High and Low
This isn’t what most people think of when they picture Kurosawa–there are no samurai, and most of the action takes place in living rooms or police stations (along with a very tense scene on a train). Another one that’s absolutely riveting, focusing on a kidnapping and a manhunt, but it’s also a powerful character study.
There’s a thin line between sappy and moving, and for me, at least, Uzumasa Limelight stayed 99% on the right side of it. A fabulous immersion into the often unglamorous world of filmmaking, with great performances all around, especially from real-life kirare-yaku Seizo Fukumoto.
I often complain when Japanese movies are bleaker than bleak, but when they’re this beautifully crafted and full of such raw performances, it’s hard to complain.
Neet of the Dead / The Last Will
A pair of unexpected joys: two short films that use zombies to examine the mental health crisis in Japan. One is poignant (really), and one is just hilarious.
An unflinching look at the horrific absurdity of war at a time when Japan (and rest of the world) really need to be reminded. (Referring here to the more recent Shinya Tsukamoto version, though the Kon Ichikawa version is also great.)
Ogigami Naoko’s film certainly has its critics, and I’ll admit that it’s uneven—the performances are oddly mixed in tone, and the storyline is a little maudlin. But somehow it still enchanted me. The carefully crafted visuals helped.
I agree with everyone who said that we didn’t really need another coming-of-age story about a white guy from the U.S. But Jesus, how could I not love this movie? It moves by so smoothly, it lingers on slice-of-life details that so many of us can relate to, and it’s just so damn good that you forget about the novelty of its 12-year production time.
Asghar Farhadi has a formula: introduce characters and a story and then gradually reveal more details about everyone involved, forcing the audience’s sympathies to constantly shift. But it’s a formula that works spectacularly every time, at least so far.
I don’t scare easily anymore, but damn, this movie was emotionally exhausting. And just really, really good, with a creative take on the mother-protecting-the-child trope.
Mad Max: Fury Road
I have seen this movie three times. It’s even good on a plane. And I still jump out of my seat a little every time the Doof Warrior shows up.
Really not much more to say about this one. It’s just wonderful. The people you watch it with will either just sit and occasionally cover their eyes or engage in heated debates about how the “curse” can be defeated. Either group is fun for me.
There are SO many layers to this movie. Very excited about using it in a class next semester.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Yeah, yeah, it’s not perfect. I don’t give a fuck—it’s so, so much fun. And it could also be titled This Time the Girls Get to Do Stuff. I grinned the whole time.
Speaking of girls getting to do stuff—damn. What a weird & wonderful experience to watch a (great) TV show full of women where not a single one of them is there primarily as a love interest or a sex object. And that manages to present a really powerful, complex allegory for abuse and its aftermath.
Jane the Virgin
This show is light, silly, occasionally bonkers—and also SUPERBLY acted and written. Don’t let anyone call it a guilty pleasure. I am an ardent fan of Breaking Bad and Mad Men, but great TV doesn’t always have to be bleak stories of tortured dudes.
The folks at Pop Culture Happy Hour frequently talk about “joke density” as a marker for good TV comedies, and this one definitely has it. Also like the way that they pick apart so many random weirdnesses of the tech industry, like the way that women in a male-dominated workplace will feel pressure to be friends with each other.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Again with the joke density. And that theme song is still stuck in my head. Pinot noir!
Books & Graphic Novels
Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series
If you like your trashy romance novels explicit, full of vampires and demons, and featuring assertive heroines, look no further. I pick up one of these whenever I need a bit of the silly-sexy.
Post-apocalyptic novels are a dime a dozen these days, but what really struck me about this one was its focus on the role of art in all our lives, and how (hopefully) even in our bleakest futures there will be room for it.
The Queen of the Tearling / The Invasion of the Tearling
Familiar but strange, and surprisingly dark in places. Nice mix of medieval settings and dystopian landscapes, with a kickass heroine.
I tore through issues 1-5 in about an hour. This one really does live up to the hype.
Between the World and Me
Nothing more to say about this, just something everybody should read. Wrenching and gorgeously written.
Three Moments of an Explosion
As usual with Mieville’s short stories, some work better than others. But the ones that work REALLY WORK.
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