I'm not big on "year end" countdown lists; I think it's the confluence of slow news days, convenient scheduling and boredom that forces us into year end reckonings, best of lists, and video montages of mostly not all that interesting stuff. Ask me my favorite film at any given moment, and it's probably what I just watched. My favorite song, the one I just heard. I don't keep obsessive lists, and I don't like the Oscars because they verify what was good in the previous year (a common misperception, I think, that explains why so many people get mad when the Oscars don't reward what they think deserves rewarding); The Oscars are interesting - to me - because they are so uniquely American (in rewarding both high and low art), because they use what it problably the best system for choosing, and because in spite of us and themselves, they do often get it more right than wrong.
Since I don't want to do what they do - or what everyone else does - I've decided to make up my own. In no particular order, and as best I can recall, here's some stuff I watched that I liked. And why. In case you want to seek them out for yourself. Not that I can tell you what to do. But I thought you might find it interesting. I did.
- Supernatural, Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD. For years, I've meant to get into watching what I first called "Buff, the Ghost Slayers" when it premiered 5 years ago on the WB. Combining soap stud Jensen Ackles and then teen-dream (Gilmore Girls) star Jared Padelecki as ghost hunting brothers seemed at least amusing... but since I don't care for a lot of scary movies, I generally avoided actually doing it. All that changed as I got more into using Netflix (i have now maxed out my DVD queue there with some 500 items), and their "send it back and get a new one" system. As it turns out, Supernatural is more than the sum of its parts: like Buffy, it uses the horror and fantasy elements as a jumping off point for deeper reflection the nature of family, what we know and what we can't know, and what it means to live on the edge of darkness. Jared and Jensen, too, have turned out to be actors of surprising depth, and both have turned their characters into layered, complex performances of considerable substance. Add in some truly inventive writing, and a strong production style, and it's more involving than I ever expected. Next up... season 3.
- The Man Who Came To Dinner. Netflix has been a good way to catch up on "classic" films of the thirties and forties that are my real grounding as a film watcher and critic. This comedy classic is highly regarded and for years I meant to watch it (I DVR'ed it twice both in New York and Boston from airings on Turner Classic Movies)... but never quite followed through. I finally did and... wow. Easily one of the funniest, and slyest comedies I've seen (from the forties, or ever), The Man Who Came To Dinner has the simplest, smartest premise: a New York based writer is invited to a lecture in a small Midwestern town, slips on the steps of the house of his local host and hostess... and stays for weeks to recuperate from his injuries, upending their lives... and his. Based on the play by Moss Hart and George Kaufman, the film doesn't condescend to small town values or dismiss big city sophistication... but makes a smart, sophisticated case for basic decency over all else. Full of great performances - this is a great film to see the work of Monty Wooley and Jimmy Dyrante just for starters - The Man Who Came To Dinner is a great reminder of why Bette Davis was both a great star and a great actress; she fits comfortably into the ensemble, and turns in some effective, natural work which is rare for the period.
- Precious. Enough said.
- Tetro. A world where Precious and Tetro were battling it out for Best Picture... would be true justice.
- Heroes, Season 1 on DVD. A friend from work lent me his copy and I loved it; but that was last year and it wasn't until this summer when I broke down and got it for myself. What's best is that Season 1 stands, by itself, as one of the best executed story arcs perhaps ever created. It's been down hill since... but Heroes will stand the test of time for just these 22 episodes.
- Julie and Julia.
- Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon. Jack Wrangler was one of the first gay pornstars, partly because of timing and partly because he connected with audiences so strongly. But his story is very unique: a child of Hollywood (he grew up in Beverly Hills), he tripped over his stardom, and was, like many outlaw success stories, not to be penned in by society's rules or expectations. After a long career in porn, Wrangler met and married singer Margaret Whiting, became a playwright, and moved into a more mainstream life. This documentary, which features fairly extensive footage from his career (without actual sex), interviews with a wide array of friends, family and fans, and a lot of Wrangler explaining himself, is one of the most fascinating documentaries I've seen. Wrangler is definitely an advocate for the road not taken, and for following your path wherever it may lead... which isn't the worst lesson from the seventies. Being gay will add a dimension to watching it... but it's not essential.
- Star Trek. The best summer blockbuster I saw, and which always makes me think of my cousin.
- The Women. My mom gave me what is probably my favorite film of all time on DVD for Christmas. Turns out... it's still a kick.
- The Wizard of Oz. Even if I disagree with the overall message of it.