Television (watched though not necessarily released in 2018)
*blurbs from IMDB
- The Handmaid’s Tale (Seasons 1 & 2; Hulu): “Set in a dystopian future, a woman is forced to live as a concubine under a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship.”
- Killing Eve (Season 1; BBC America): “A security operative hunts for an assassin. Based on the Villanelle novellas by Luke Jennings.”
- Sick of It (Season 1; SKY): “Sick of It is a scripted comedy series that sees Karl Pilkington take on two roles – himself, and the voice inside his head, as he muddles through the mundane life he may have led if he hadn’t met Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.”
- Broken (Season 1; BBC): “Father Michael, a Catholic priest presiding over a Northern urban parish who is modern, maverick, and reassuringly flawed; must be confidant, counsellor and confessor to a congregation struggling to reconcile its beliefs with the challenges of daily life.”
- The Let Down (Season 1; Netflix): “Audrey is determined not to be defined by motherhood. In theory, this seems fairly easy. In practice, her career-focused husband, self-obsessed mother, and fancy-free best friend make it near impossible. “
British television, on the whole, is so much better than American television. There isn’t an obsession with 15 plus episodes per season when six or so will do, not to mention continuing seasons ad nauseum until literally every horse long dead has been flogged again and again. Repeatedly.
So, first the Brits. Killing Eve was, as detective stories go, deliciously playful and while it’s not the best detective series around (I’d vote for True Detective or the first season of The Bridge), it was certainly an entertaining one. And I genuinely enjoyed Karl Pilkington’s hilariously dry yet uncannily astute observations about life in Sick of It. The show was hilarious and moving as the best kinds of comedies are. I always appreciate film and television that portray Christianity well (aka with authenticity and complexity) and Broken was this year’s offering in that department.
Last, an Australian comedy. Being new parents, Jennifer and I thoroughly enjoyed and laughed out loud during The Let Down; we recognized so many of the circumstances and feelings surrounding a new baby and appreciated, again, the authenticity and complexity of the subject matter.
These were the great non-American offerings. But what I really want to write about is The Handmaid’s Tale because it is one of the most devastating, prescient, and profound experiences of television I have ever had. Its unique power – especially given our current landscape – is that it takes fairly direct aim at America yet interrogates any theocratic, patriarchal, misogynistic, and environmentally degrading tendency. The show portrays power and privilege and the cultural narratives that prop these things up with shocking precision, and the inevitable oppression and violence involved are not for the faint of heart. Gilead (the setting) ruthlessly wrings dignity and freedom from certain people like water from a rag. And yet every horrible squeeze elicited more compassion and yearning for freedom and justice. It was a thoroughly wrenching journey and a worthwhile one, even if the second season finale was an obvious attempt at dragging this thing on for another season (USA!).
Film (watched though not necessarily released in 2018)
*blurbs from IMDB
- First Man (directed by Damian Chazelle; USA): “A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.”
- Phantom Thread (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; USA): “Set in 1950s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.”
- Loveless (directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev; Russia): “A couple going through a divorce must team up to find their son who has disappeared during one of their bitter arguments.”
- The Shape of Water (directed by Guillermo del Toro; USA) “At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.”
- Isle of Dogs (directed by Wes Anderson; USA): “Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.”
- Annihilation (directed by Alex Garland; USA): “A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don’t apply.”
Being a new dad this past year, I’ve not wanted to go to the cinema as per usual and have had to be more discerning when I do. I saw six films this year (all except First Man by myself, incidentally) and I only really regret making the effort for Annihilation. I also regret seeing only one foreign film, but am happy that it was the magnificent Loveless.
First Man is top of the list because I was distinctly moved (crying, like literally) during it. It may have had something to do with its “based on true events” nature, the father-daughter subplot, or with the theme of Neil Armstrong having to actually leave Earth in order to come to terms with it. Seeing it in IMAX didn’t hurt either.
I’m quite partial to all things Paul Thomas Anderson (except for Inherent Vice). There Will Be Blood is likely one of my favourites and so the prospect of Phantom Thread reuniting Anderson with Daniel Day Lewis (the best actor of our generation) was very enticing. Phantom is a great film, beautifully filmed and I absorbed the colour, texture, and temperament of Reynolds Woodcock’s little world (the crunch of a butter knife on toast at breakfast!). Anderson handles character so well and this film, like so many of his others, is so very happily propelled as a result.
Books (read though not necessarily released in 2018)
- Let Your Life Speak (Parker Palmer)
- The Rest of God (Mark Buchanan)
- Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (Tish Harrison Warren)
- Mother Theresa: An Authorised Biography (Kathryn Spink)
- Leaving Church: A Memoir of Church (Barbara Brown Taylor)
- The Way of Humility (Andre Louf)
- Crafting a Rule of Life: Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way (Stephen A. Macchia)
- Freedom of Simplicity (Richard J. Foster)