My year in books, movies, music, nostalgia, and remorse.
Ordered by year of publication, then author’s last name.
- Swann’s Way (1913) by Marcel Proust
- The Engineer of Human Souls (1977) by Josef Škvorecký
- The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (2015) by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing
- The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (2017) by Daniel Ellsberg
- Fortress America: How We Embraced Fear and Abandoned Democracy (2017) by Elaine Tyler May
- Autonomous (2017) by Annalee Newitz
- Fascism: A Warning (2018) by Madeleine Albright
- Gaslighting America: Why We Love It When Trump Lies to Us (2018) by Amanda Carpenter
- Keep Newburyport Weird (2018) by Jack Garvey
- A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History (2018) by Jeanne Theoharis
- Red Clocks (2018) by Leni Zumas
- Thoroughbreds (2018) by Cory Finley. Multiple viewings are needed to appreciate the depth of this family drama. You need to know what they know as they weave their plot and perform their manipulations. Bring your own empathy because there is not much of that here. With a few technological changes, this story could be told in a 17th-century setting, where we might expect such cold-hearted characters. Yet here they are in the 21st, just as murderous as any broken spirit imagined by the poets of the Elizabethan court. Cut down young like Marlowe, this film was the last work by Anton Yelchin. It is shiveringly Faustian.
- Prospect by Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl. Filmed mostly in the rain forest near Forks WA, this film has a great script, cast, staging, sound-design, and alien-world ambience. All the low-budget artifacts pack a rich back-story.
- Annihilation by Alex Garfield. A better psychedelic film than Mandy, though one should not deny that there is a certain thread of revenge here too,
- Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson. The city could have been called Magasaki to ripen the underlying metaphor of blame and betrayal.
- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by the Coen Brothers. Perhaps the darkest film I will ever call “heart-warming.” Violence at a near-Tarantino level, yet both hilarious and touching. Also noteworthy for performances by musicians as actors. Tom Waits is not a huge surprise, but Willie Watson? Best known as a member of Old Crow Medicine Show, I saw him when he toured with the Dave Rawlings Machine. Here he has a supporting role as The Kid in the title skit, singing When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings (by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch) as a duet with Tim Blake Nelson.
- Have a Nice Day (2017) by Lui Jian
- BlackkKlansman by Spike Lee
- Eighth Grade by Bo Burnham. My nominee for Best Use Ever of Enya’s Orinoco Flow.
- Hereditary by Ari Aster. My nominee for Best Use of Tongue Clucking.
The four best concerts I attended in 2018 are conveniently associated with four favorite albums, though the concerts were superior in all four cases:
- Tell Me How You Really Feel by Courtney Barnett
- Hell On by Neko Case
- The Prodigal Son by Ry Cooder
- Kinder Versions by Mammút
Ten Favorite Things That Turned 50 in 2018
- The Soft Machine by the Soft Machine
- White Light/White Heat by the Velvet Underground
- Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. At the time, people got what Hendrix did to Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, but people who listen are still discovering how ground-breaking this album remains.
- Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel. Made more sense as an LP. Side One is the “concept” side, a masterpiece of American poetry and musicianship. Side Two is the “extended” bonus collection of singles and B-sides.
- We’re Only In It for the Money by the Mothers of Invention
- Beggars Banquet by the Rolling Stones. This final album by a popular American-musc tribute band founded by Brian Jones is their finest.
- Anthem of the Sun by the Grateful Dead
- The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society by the Kinks
- Shine On Brightly by Procol Harum
- The Beatles by the Beatles. Not their best work. In fact it includes some of their worst work (e.g., Glass Onion, Honey Pie, Savoy Truffle, Martha My Dear, Everybody’s Got Something to Hide, Birthday, Bungalow Bill, Piggies, Good Night, etc.) but is still iconic.
Lastly, a nursery rhyme to acknowledge other things that happened throughout this edge-hugging year:
Humpty Trumpty emits beautiful tweets
with colorful umbrage wrapped in deceits.
Foxy pundits, whistles, and gas through the night
distract poor Trumpty from all human rights.
Humpty Trumpty demanded a wall.
Humpty Trumpty denied he might fall.
All of his horses and all his angry white men
couldn’t pull Trumpty together again.