Best of 2015: Film & Music

We wrap up our Best of 2015 list today with the world of film and music. So many choices, so little viewing/listening time.

Film:

FM1

While We’re Young

Cornelia and Josh get their lives turned upside down when a young couple enters their lives.

On the surface, it’s a comedy about the difference between youth and age. Looked at properly, it’s a deep examination of the road not travelled and what it takes to be an artist. A great film works on many levels; While We’re Young is a great film. -Alan’s pick

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

The innovative HBO documentary miniseries unearthed damning information about three murders long connected to Robert Durst, the American real estate heir.

Interviewed by the show for over 20 hours, Durst  was arrested one day before the finale. This gripping show, now on DVD, gave me the goose bumps. Binge watched it in a day.-Joyce’s pick

The Wolfpack

This true story follows six brothers who grow up locked in a Manhattan housing project.

With little access to the real world but lots of access to film, they pass time acting out revered movies (Reservoir Dogs) using elaborate props they create. It was fascinating, puzzling, and kind of strange–I loved it! -Joyce’s pick

FM2

Life Itself

This review is for the DVD — I would *not* recommend the audiobook.

The fascinating life of film critic Roger Ebert is affectionately presented in this compelling film, an adaptation of Ebert’s autobiography. An excellent journalistic writer, Ebert, endured a painful year-long journey with cancer. -Kate’s pick

What We Do In the Shadows

A mock documentary about vampires and all the horrors involved in being one.

This film is packed with sight gags and comedic situations that will keep you laughing for almost all 85 minutes. Have you ever considered what would happen to your teeth if you lived 700 years? How you would get dressed without a mirror? -Kate’s pick

Antarctica: A year on ice

This fascinating documentary captures a snapshot of life in one of the most remote places on the planet, home to an international community of scientists and workers.

I was intrigued and spellbound as residents shared their frustrations and the attraction that led them to the rugged beauty that characterizes Antarctica. Highly recommended. -Margo’s pick

FM3

Nightcrawler

A low-level con artist in L.A. falls into the “big time” in the freelance video news business.

Simply put, this movie gives me the creeps (for me, this is a desirable feature in a film). In retrospect, the plot is a bit over the top, but Gyllenhaal’s performance kept my belief thoroughly suspended for the full 1 hour and 58 minutes. -Zac’s pick

The Flash: Season One

A CSI lab worker gets struck by lightning and obtains super powers. This incarnation of the Flash is molded after Geoff Johns’ New 52 DC Comic series.

This series falls somewhere between awesome and awesomely bad. Wentworth Miller, of Prison Break fame, also brings a lot to the series playing the hilariously evil villain Captain Cold. There’re even Arrow Season 3 crossover episodes to boot! -Zac’s pick

Mad Max: Fury Road

This film delivers a long-awaited update to the Mad Max franchise.

I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic anything, but this film will appeal to anyone that enjoys a good action movie (and a lot of people that don’t go for either genre). The movie’s evil Immortan Joe and the War Boys are glorious. -Zac’s pick

Music:

FM4

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett

Raw, acerbic, personal, yet intellectual garage/folk rock from a young Australian.

Barnett’s smarts and energy come through on her fun, wry, and accessible debut LP, a sample lyric: “Give me all your money and I’ll make some origami, honey / I think you’re a joke, but I don’t find you very funny.” -Alan’s pick

Choose your Weapon by Hiatus Kaiyote

From start to finish this album is a joyride of blended styles: RnB, Soul, Drum and Bass, Hip-Hop, Funk, Jazz, and much more. It’s really impossible to sum up.

A great album to throw on while you’re working in the kitchen or entertaining guests, it’s just a feel-good listen that provides a little of everything. -Lisa’s pick

Ratchet by Shamir

A dancy, fun, sassy, intelligent electronic album with a sense of humor.

For pop listeners interested in expanding their horizons into electronic music, this might be a nice crossover album. -Lisa’s pick

FM5

Cheers to the Fall by Andra Day

Day may incorporate some vintage vibes, but she possesses the vision and creativity to avoid being pigeon-holed as a throwback artist.

Day possesses a beautiful, powerful voice that fills up the room with neo-soul melodies. Her style has hints of doo-wop, soul, and Motown, with a timeless sound similar to Nikki Jean, Amy Winehouse, and Adele. -Lisa’s pick

This is The Sonics by The Sonics

The godfathers of garage rock show that 50 years later they are still the kings of garage rock.

Strong singing and playing, fast tempos, rocking songs. As good as it gets. -Ron’s pick

Before the World was Big by Girlpool

Simple, quiet, sometimes out-of-tune, charming.

This post-punk-in-spirit band surprised me with their childlike simplicity and sparse music. Excellent listen. -Ron’s pick

FM6

So Delicious by Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band

Blues, swamp rock, music that mountain men wish they were tough enough to listen to.

Hard-edged yet filled with fun, leaves me expecting a jug solo at any moment. -Ron’s pick

All Hands by Doomtree

Doomtree is a Minneapolis indie hip-hop super group.

Nerdy lyrical references and the high-tempo sound drew me in to this album. Those aspects made it worth listening to, but it was Doomtree’s effective use of multiple MCs that pushed me to give it repeat listening.

OMG Read This! Or, 5 Reasons to Read the Book First

the martian

OMG guys, read the book. Then see the movie. Then see the movie again. Then read the book again. Then just basically stalk Matt Damon.

Sometimes when I really, truly love something, I have a difficult time adequately describing exactly what specifically it is that I loved, and why you should give a care. Take The Martian and my verbal diarrhea above. That fangirl gibberish is literally what I sent my editor when asked what I was going to write about this month and, strangely, it fits perfectly.

There are oodles of posts out there reviewing in detail both the book by Andy Weir (debut novel that was originally self-published–keep that in mind, fellow NaNoWriMo peeps!) and the Matt Damon box-office smash hit movie. That’s not what this is. This is me trying to tell you why it’s so very important to read the book before you watch the movie.

  1. The obvious snobbery. “Oh, you didn’t read the book? I see…” said with disdain and a mouth full of fake-buttery popcorn. I’ve never actually been a book snob; I read for entertainment at every given opportunity and tend to stay far away from award-winners and Oprah’s book club picks. So when I can actually flash the book snob card, I don’t hesitate, as it’s a rare thrill and I can be that shallow.
  2. The book will have the details that make your heart sing. I don’t care how good the movie is; there’s really no way to get all the detail out on screen, unless you want your film to be 18 hours long. In the case of The Martian, much of the story is told through Mark Watney’s journal entries. You can believe the film is not narrated start-to-finish by Matt Damon. That would test even my patience. Instead, the director made selective use of narration, sometimes leaving patches of silence, which actually works for this stranded-in-space story.
  3. You may discover a new favorite author. I know I’m not the only one who tends to read books that are definitely not candidates for film. The books being made into movies are outside my wheelhouse, and by reading one of them I’m exposing myself to different voices and perspectives.
  4. You’ll know when it’s safe to get refills or hit the restroom. I love experiencing film in the theater, as both the picture and sound quality are usually above and beyond anything I could replicate at home. However, there’s no pause button, so you really have to take a gamble when choosing the best time for a refill on popcorn or a trip to the loo. Not so when you already know the order of events. You have a mental crystal ball that will tell you when it’s safe to rush out and see to your needs.
  5. You might get a more complete ending. Let’s face it: The Martian book ends rather abruptly. You get a general sense of completion in terms of “did Watney get rescued or not?,” but there’s no epilogue to tie it up with a pretty red bow. The movie, however, gave me that sense of closure and a feeling that I really knew what became of all of the main characters.

Full disclosure: the whole reading-the-book-and-then-seeing-the-screen-adaptation-thing is something I rarely ever do. But after my experience with The Martian, I am making it my new standard MO. I’ve seen The Martian twice now, but you can bet it’s likely I’ll be back in the theater before its run is over. There’s just something about this story of hope and humanity that has me glued to my seat, even though I already know what’s going to happen.

On a side note, I have to commend the people creating the PR materials for The Martian movie. Sure, they released your typical movie previews in advance of the release date, but they also have these incredibly fun and fascinating faux documentaries about the Ares 3 crew and its mission. I’ll leave you with my favorite, done in the style of Cosmos and starring everyone’s favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

And for those of you jonesing for a dose of reality, the insanely cool folks at NASA have compiled an interactive repository for all things about the real Martians. I’ll see you all next month, once I find my way out of this new and exciting rabbit hole of information!

Best of 2012: Feature Films and Documentaries

Our final list lets you take a break from all that reading. Find out what our DVD selector Kate thinks are the best and brightest from 2012.

Feature Film and Mini-Series

The Raid: Redemption
An astonishing action film – and when I say action, I mean non-stop “how-did-they-think-of –so many ways -to-fight” action – and it was made impressively on a shoestring budget. The story is creative, but it’s the fighting that will keep you watching. Be sure to watch the special features included in the DVD, as well.

Kinyarwanda
A presentation of the 1994 Rwandan genocide told from a personal level in a way that demonstrates the devastatingly simple and direct consequences of our actions. Though I am familiar with this time in Rwandan history, this film made me understand the conflict as if I were “on the ground.”

Titanic
This year marked the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking. This is an engaging, award-winning mini-series about that ill-fated voyage.

Mysteries of Lisbon
An adaptation from the book and an epic in the true meaning of the word, this a wonderfully detailed treatment of the unfamiliar world of 19th century Portuguese royalty, a story that stretches across three generations. The acting is superb, with many in the cast speaking three different languages. The cinematography is rich with an incredible number of filming locations. A true work of art!

Documentaries

Woman with the Five Elephants
This amazing Kiev-born woman, Svetlana Geier, has accomplished a 20-year, mind-boggling project of re-translating five Dostoevsky novels that she calls “The Five Elephants.” This film tells the story of her life as a literary translator, giving us insight into her painstaking process and also into her life as Russian exile in Germany.

Corman’s World
A tribute to Roger Corman, a filmmaker you may never heard of but who nevertheless is one of the most influential Hollywood personalities. He’s not only launched many an acting and directorial career (Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Dennis Hopper, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Sylvester Stallone, Ron Howard…), but he has also changed the shape of filmmaking in many, many ways.

Into the Abyss: a Tale of Death, a Tale of Life
In 2001 a young man, his friend, and his mother were murdered, apparently because the killers wanted the red Camaro in the garage. One of the killers is on death row; the other is serving a life sentence. Werner Herzog’s characteristic documentary does an admirable job demonstrating the “anguish and absurdity” of killing, “wanton or sanctioned” without being preachy – it’s “rigorously humane…” (quotes from the 11/10/11 New York Times review).

The War Room
President Clinton’s 1992 election campaign concept, dubbed the “war room,” was innovative and set the standard for campaigns to come. In 1992, the Internet was new and had a profound impact on the way the war room functioned. For some, nothing could be more boring than the thought of a documentary about a political campaign, but this is not only a trip back in time, it conveys the intensity of the campaign process and the thrill of the win.

For a full list of all the 2012 staff picks, click here.