Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Honor and Dishonor Roll of 2016

This has been one of my favorite pieces to write for many years. A couple of times it has bordered on a rant...a bit of stocked up negativity that I let out at the end of the year as a means to start the new year back on my positive notes. This year, although a wonderful year, found me struggling on what to list in the Honor Roll. I usually save discussing movies for my Top 10. But the true enjoyment of this year in pop culture revolved around a few things, and a few things only. Movies, podcasts and one album.  And without my choice for number 1...I wouldn't have seen some of those movies or had a nice long drive to listen to that album or those podcasts.

Honor Roll

1. Ridgeway Cinema Grill - Malco Theatres, Memphis TN

I discovered the Malco Ridgeway back in 2013.  I had left New York City and was spending a few months in Mississippi before my move to Los Angeles. It was summer, so I wasn't too worried that I was going to completely miss out on some great cinematic feat. But I did manage to see both "Bling Ring" and "Before Midnight" there, when the thought of waiting until they were on DVD was unbearable.

Flash forward to 2016 years, and I'm living in Mississippi (starting my 3rd year!), scrambling to see anything and everything that might end up with an Oscar nomination.

In 2015 I managed to see a lot of films in Oxford, MS (my current location), but other than "Swiss Army Man" and "Sing Street"it's been dry here in 2016.  When "Moonlight" came out, I assumed it would make it to Oxford eventually, the same with "La La Land." As of today, neither film has made it here. Not only did both show at the Malco Ridgeway, "La La Land" is currently playing on two of their screens. It's the "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" of this "daring" chain. "Manchester By the Sea" is playing on the other two screens. My kind of theater.

I managed to see four films that will probably make my top 10 list: "Loving," "La La Land," "Moonlight" and "Indignation" thanks to this wonderful cinema/grill.  And when I was in the midst of Christmas Catch Up and truly limited for time, it fed me as well. (Not just popcorn, but popcorn shrimp!)

2. Not your average movie

This year has shown us some really unique cinema. "Toni Erdmann" and "Elle" gave us two very different films from Germany and France respectively that would never be made in the US. "Toni Erdmann" with it's long running time, full frontal post orgasmic sexual situations, and truth based humor and "Elle" with its graphic rape scenes and taboo sexuality explorations.

We also saw "The Lobster," a film I didn't jump up and down about, but unlike anything I've really ever seen. And "Swiss Army Man," likewise completely original which I did jump up and down about. Single humans turning into animals in "The Lobster." A flatulating corpse being the other half of the best relationship I saw on screen in "Swiss Army Man." All good stuff!

Then we have "Moonlight" telling a story that shouldn't have to be daring about a black gay man coming of age from childhood to adulthood. And "La La Land," a musical with its long takes of unknowns dancing and singing on the freeway, of movie stars dancing like Fred and Ginger, singing to original songs.

And "Loving" which chooses subtlety over bombast to tell the incredible story of two regular people, in love, taking on racism laws. This subtlety might cost the film Oscar nominations, but will never take away its greatness.

3. Britney Spears's "Glory"
"Glory," Britney Spears's best album in ages works wonderfully from start to finish, a rarity in this day and age of the digital download. Before it was released we had already heard "Make Me," the duet with G Eazy that still makes my heart beat fast with its sexiness, "Clumsy," "Do You Wanna Come Over" (one of my faves...a bit of a redneck club number) and the album's one big miss, "Private Show." "Glory" opens with "Invitation" is the perfect prelude of what's to come, including "Liar" which reminds me of Iggy Azalea's "Black Widow" but a bit more fun and the fantastic "Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes)" which inspired one of my favorite pop culture moments of the year. (see below!) This album accompanied me all late summer/early fall on my trips to Memphis, runs at the park and almost single handedly got me back in shape. Thanks Brit Brit!!

4. Podcasts

Podcasts have often topped my honor roll and as per usual, they are a major part of my pop culture enjoyment. I'm still listening to KCRW's "The Business," and Lea Thau's "Strangers," NPR's "This American Life," from WBEZ and "Fresh Air" with Terri Gross" from WHYY, as well as "Dear Sugar" with Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed. And back in April I binge listened to season 2 of "Serial" (which I enjoyed...but not as much as my revisit of season 1).

But 2 new podcasts and 2 new to me podcasts really made my year.

Good Food (KCRW)
Good Food PodcastI love Evan Kleiman's (former proprietor and chef of Angeli Caffe) "taste of life, culture and the human species." It's a Los Angeles based podcast with trips to the Santa Monica Farmers market, investigative journalism (slavery in the shrimp industry!) and fun restaurant reviews with Jonathan Gold.

Awards Chatter
Awards Chatter Podcast
This is my friend Scott Feinberg's fantastic podcast for the Hollywood Reporter. This year he more than held his own with legends Warren Beatty, Tori Amos and Sally Field. My favorites also include remarkable interviews with HBO's Sheila Nevins, Greta Gerwig, Jessica Chastain and  Hailee Steinfeld. This is THE entertainment podcast.

Making Oprah
Making Oprah
Journalist Jenn White explores how Oprah became Oprah! with a fascinating three episode look that includes interviews with Oprah herself as well as Phil Donahue and some of her producers (although I was baffled that Sheri Salata was missing) While not quite as entertaining as "Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes" it proved that there is still a desire for more Oprah!

Hosted by Kelly McEvers, "Embedded takes a story from the news and goes deep." It's first episode "The House" is still its best (a look at an HIV outbreak in Indiana due to an ever increasing opioid epidemic. Other favorites: "The Bikers" (a rival gang biker shootout in Waco Texas!) and "The Police" (Kelly takes us into Skid Row in Los Angeles). Not a perfect season, but cannot wait for what season 2 brings.

Dishonor Roll


Back in August The Daily Beast posted an article by Nico Hines where he virtually outed Olympians by baiting them via Grindr (a gay hookup app) and writing about it.  People were rightfully upset about this. Nico should be fired! Banned from the Olympics! Burned at the stake! I was equally upset.

Beyond the outrage, I began to wonder how long anyone would actually care. I have noticed that in the age of social media, instant fury, expressed behind the shield of a smartphone or a computer screen seems to have replaced actual activism and change. I had a feeling this would be a blip. (Remember how we were supposed to ban Bertolli pasta after Guido Barilla did whatever it was he did? No?) I made a note to revisit this at the end of the year, and I'm so glad I did.

With a little help from google my theory of amnesia was virtually proven. An article in September states that people are still mad a Nico and another from October 27th notes that both the Daily Beast and Nico Hines remain silent on the incident. As far as I can tell, Nico hasn't published anything since August 9th and his Twitter account has been silent since August 10th. Outrage be damned.

Where the outrage over Nico has been forgotten, some outrage seems to be recycled. Look at what happened with Bertolucci and "Last Tango in Paris." When the 2013 interview in which Bertolucci states that he wanted Maria Schneider to feel humiliation not act it resurfaced it was as if it had never been public before. "How could this be!!"

The outrage being that Schneider did not consent to the screen violence that was inflicted on her.  Is this what actually happened? Was the violence kept from her? I watched the interview and it is certainly not clear.

Looking at the press from just a few weeks ago, articles seem to simply recycle other articles, certainly not investigating the facts. In Bertolucci's recent statement he says that only the butter novelty ("used" as lubricant) was kept from Maria, not the violence which was in the script.

Has anyone made an attempt to get a hold of the script?  Where is the real investigative journalism here? Looking online there are copies of the "script" which include the scene. But I think they are simply diologue transcripts.

Maria says in an interview before her death that the scene didn't exist. Bertolucci says it does. Maria cannot defend herself (and perhaps shouldn't have to!) today because she is no longer with us. But outraged tweets and copy and pasted/rehashed articles should not be considered facts.

But alas, that's where it seems to have been left. At least until people get mad again when it gets retweeted as new news in a few years.

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