My Favorite Films of the Decade

I probably spend more time watching movies than most people, but even I can’t get to every film I want to see. While the streaming revolution has helped, there are still only so many hours in the day to sofa surf with a film. But that doesn’t stop me from trying!

The past 10 years of film have left some indelible marks on me. I try to rate every film I see on my IMDB account, so pulling together an end of decade list should be easy, right? Over the past few weeks though as I started going through my ratings I noticed a few things. First, there were no films this decade that I rated as a 10/10. That’s not a total surprise, as I reserve 10s for the films that rate among my all-time favorites. There were however a lot of 9s and 8s, which means there were a ton of films I loved in the 2010s. In fact, there were more than 25 that warranted and 8 or 9 by my system. So for this end of decade countdown I have listed a bunch of honorable mentions to go along with my Top 10, but not all of my 8s made the cut.

The following are films I really loved in the 2010s, not films I deem to be “best of” by some objective or even subjective measure. Also, I didn’t see every film I wanted to over the past 10 years, so there may be a few that get some measure of universal kudos that I just haven’t seen yet. Get Out is one example, as is Whiplash and Parasite. I have those and others on my “to-see” list so they may very well rank among my favorites of the decade but they are obviously not listed below.

Honorable mentions, in no particular order:

  • La La Land (2016). It may not have won Best Picture, but I la la loved it. Gotta give Damien Chazelle credit for reinventing a lost genre.
  • Dean (2016). Demetri Martin is understated and underrated as an actor and storyteller.
  • The Hateful Eight (2015). The second best Tarantino film of the decade. The tension is so thick you can cut it with a machete.
  • The Florida Project (2017). This film made a ton of “best of” lists in 2017. I really like films that show how life really is for some of the country’s forgotten and less fortunate — it reminds me of how lucky I am. And a great performance by Willem Dafoe.
  • Frances Ha (2012). If Noah Baumbach is the new Woody Allen (and I think he is) than Greta Gerwig is his Diane Keaton. The 2010s may well be remembered most for being the decade that Gerwig went from adorable indie actress to certifiable Hollywood royalty.
  • Gravity (2013). I went in thinking Gravity was overrated and I came out thinking Alfonso Cuarón is a fucking genius. That said, Roma is not on my favorites list!
  • Your Name. (2016). I never really gave anime a second thought, but my son dragged me to see this and it was awe inspiring and made me go back and add a bunch of anime films to my watch list. This one is stunningly beautiful. It is fine art.
  • Ex Machina (2014). Really enjoyable thriller about the slippery slope of artificial intelligence.
  • Kill Your Darlings (2013). Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs along with murder, sex, and intrigue. Here’s more proof Daniel Radcliffe is making very smart choices in his post Harry Potter roles. Mark my word he will win an Oscar someday soon.
  • Lady Bird (2017). Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut proves she’s much more than Noah Baumbach’s muse. Saoirse Ronan is the best actor of her generation and her films are not to be missed.
  • Moonlight (2016). I can’t remember the last time I walked out of a movie theater so moved.
  • Motherless Brooklyn (2019). It may have taken Edward Norton 20 years to make this film about a detective with Tourette’s Syndrome, but it was worth the wait. And yet again Willem Dafoe steals a film (it was a great decade for him).
  • BlacKkKlansman (2018). Wouldn’t be a list of favorites without a film by my favorite director Spike Lee. John David Washington and Adam Driver (who has slowly made his way up my list of favorite actors) are superb in this story of infiltrating the KKK.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011). I thought it was a mistake to remake the Swedish versions of this series, but then I saw Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara kill it in this David Fincher masterpiece.
  • 12 Years a Slave (2013). Right up there with Roots and Amistad in terms of best and most important films about American slavery. Maybe the best ensemble cast of the decade led by an incredible performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor.
  • Argo (2012). Say what you want about Ben Affleck, but the dude directed the hell out of this film which kept me on the edge of my seat until the final frame. Ar-go-fuck-yourself!
  • Spotlight (2015). I’m a sucker for a good journalism film and this one may be the best since All the President’s Men. I still think the Catholic church has gotten off too easily on all this abuse stuff.

In order, my favorite 10 films of the decade:

10. A Star Is Born (2018). I still get chills when I think back on that scene where Ally first walks out onto the stage to sing her duet with Jack. And the way they shot it, it felt like I was at a concert while sitting in the theater. The performances were great and the music was awesome. This film made me a Lady Gaga fan and I had definitely not been prior to seeing it. I don’t care about comparisons to previous versions of the film either. This version is larger than life.

9. Call Me By Your Name (2017). I didn’t see this coming of age film until a few weeks ago but it left a huge mark. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an actor better portray that awkward time between being a teen and a young adult. Timothée Chalamet is already at the top of his game and he’s not yet 25 years old. And the scene near the end of the film where Michael Stuhlbarg tells his son he knows about his sexuality and he loves him — my heart literally exploded.

8. In A World…(2013). The world needs more smart, funny women so we should continue to encourage Lake Bell to keep making movies and TV shows. This little film was Bell’s directorial debut and she also wrote and starred in it. She is a triple threat and a treasure (I even like her silly little sitcom Bless This Mess on ABC). In A World… is exactly the kind of film I love — it sneaks up on you with its smart and clever comedy. And the performances by Bell, Demetri Martin, Tig Notaro, Rob Corddry, Eva Longoria, Nick Offerman, and Fred Melamed are wonderful. Kudos to whomever cast this funny little gem of a film.

7. The Shape of Water (2017). I loved this Oscar winner and really don’t understand the backlash it got from some who saw it only as a weird love story between a woman and a fish. Yeah, he was a monster, but the story was about Elisa and her sad little internally focused world and the creature was meant to be a symbol for everyone who feels a little different. Sally Hawkins was a revelation in this role, saying so much without words. The film is also a wonderful tribute to the monster films of the 50s and 60s, and throw in great supporting roles by Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, and the brilliant and underappreciated Michael Shannon and this film blows it out of the water.

6. Green Book (2018). I never stopped raving about Green Book after seeing it for the first time and I was thrilled when it brought home the Best Picture Oscar. Viggo Mortensen is probably my second favorite actor after Leonardo and he killed the role of Tony Lip. Mahershala Ali deserved his second Oscar for playing Dr. Don Shirley, but Viggo was robbed. This was the rare buddy movie in which both characters came away as better men as they each learned something important about themselves.

5. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Martin Scorsese is getting a lot of kudos for The Irishman, and it’s good, but for my money it’s not even his best film of the decade let alone his career. The Wolf of Wall Street is an hilarious film filled with tremendous and award-winning performances, none better than Leonardo DiCaprio’s. His Jordan Belfort is a tour-de-force and one of the best acting performances of Leo’s majestic career (certainly better than the one for which he finally won an Oscar, The Revenant). This film featured great supporting performances from Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie as well, and it even provides a nice little lesson on what’s truly important in life.

4. Django Unchained (2012). You can argue all you want about Quentin Tarantino’s place among the Hollywood elite, but for my money he’s Top 10 all time among directors. He should get an Oscar just for introducing American film goers to Christoph Waltz! I rate Django Unchained second among the nine films Tarantino has brought us as a director so far (Pulp Fiction is my number one). The unusual story of Waltz’s German bounty hunter and Jamie Foxx’s freed slave as they cross the country working together to bring the worst of the nation to justice is classic Tarantino. And every small role is memorable, from Kerry Washington’s Broomhilda to Samuel L. Jackson’s aging house slave to Leo DiCaprio’s dark turn as slave owner Calvin Candie. Only Tarantino can bring us such difficult subject matter in such a prized package.

3. Baby Driver (2017). From the opening moments of this film, brilliant director Edgar Wright lets us know he’s going for something completely different with Baby Driver. Is he really going to choreograph the whole film to the music? Why yes, yes he is. Hollywood has never seen anything like it, which speaks to Wright’s unique place among today’s filmmakers. It’s part music video, and part action film, and it works beautifully. Like La La Land before it, this film literally revolutionizes the medium. Frankly, it makes the already great performances by Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and (sorry) Kevin Spacey even more remarkable given they had to take Wright’s direction and time every movement to the music. The result is a high speed, musical, and wildly entertaining film.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Look, either you love Wes Anderson films or you don’t. I happen to think he’s ridiculously talented and has given viewers some of the most memorable and interesting films of the past few decades. I think The Grand Budapest Hotel is his best film. It’s quirky and interesting and visually stunning. And it features an all-star cast of Oscar-winning Anderson regulars and a few first timers, including Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe (there he is again), Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, and of course Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman. The Grand Budapest Hotel was nominated for Best Picture, ultimately losing out Birdman, but it was a particularly tough group of nominees that also included the next film on my list.

1. Boyhood (2014). As with many films on my favorites list, Boyhood is not a typical Hollywood film. It tells the story of Mason from his early childhood until his arrival at college and it was shot with the same actors over a 12 year period to add to the realism of the characters. It’s really a feat of film making arrogance. But there is no director better to deliver such realism than the master of dialogue and character driven features himself, Richard Linklater. I’ll be honest, my love of Boyhood perhaps has something to do with the fact that Mason’s and his parent’s lives track pretty darn close to my own life. In fact, I watched this nearly three hour masterpiece around the same time my son, Connor, was heading off to college himself. To say that this film jabbed me in my soft white underbelly is an understatement. By the end, as Mason is left on his own at college for the first time, I was left laying on the floor in a heap of Kleenex. I was so emotional afterward I couldn’t think of anything but Boyhood for days. Were the performances by young Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, and Linklater regular Ethan Hawke great? Yes, they were magnificent. But Boyhood struck me on a guttural level that I can’t say I’ve ever felt with a film in my life. It was less a film than an experience. We go to films for a variety of reasons. To escape. To dream. To learn. To be entertained. But every once in a while it’s great to go to a movie to simply feel.

My Favorite Albums of the Decade

As the decade comes to a close and I reflect on the music that served as the soundtrack to the last 10 years of my life, I’m struck by the fact that so much of the music I enjoyed over the past decade are from bands that made their mark mostly in the 21st century. Of course, I still listen to artists from the 20th century and once in a while one of these artists made their way into my rotation with a newer offering, but for the most part the list of favorites from below are from “newer” artists.

I blogged about the common refrain I hear from people my age that “there’s no good music anymore” last summer and offered up a tribute to many of the modern acts that I love — most of which are not surprisingly reflected in the list below. What I can say in all honesty is that the artists that made my favorite list for the past decade are now among my favorite artists, artists that in every way bring me musical joy as much or in some cases even more than the artists I grew up with. I still love listening to the music of my younger years — and do so all the time — but more often than not I queue up the artists below these days.

First, a few honorable mentions from the decade that spanned 2010 to 2019:

  • More Than Just a Dream — Fitz and the Tantrums (2013). Lots of folks like the debut record earlier, but their sophomore album really got me moving.
  • The King is Dead by The Decemberists (2011). Colin Meloy’s vocals plus REM’s Peter Buck on guitar — who could ask for anything more.
  • AM — Arctic Monkeys (2013). Do I Wanna Know? was my ringtone for half the decade.
  • Codes & Keys — Death Cab For Cutie (2011). A solid record from one of my favorite bands.
  • My Head is an Animal — Of Monsters and Men (2012). Breakout debut from Icelandic alt rockers.
  • Hozier — Hozier (2014). The best debut of the decade.
  • Momentum — Jamie Cullum (2013). He really should be much more popular in the U.S., but this Brit can really sing and play piano.

And in order, my favorite albums of the decade:

10. Masseduction – St. Vincent (2017). I’ve always liked Annie Clark, but this album set me on fire for a few months in 2017. It was alternative, soul, and electronic all rolled into one and I couldn’t get enough of it. She made the rounds on the late night shows and combined these incredible songs with a little performance art and I fell in love. Here she is performing my favorite song from the album, Los Ageless, on the Ellen Show.

9. High Violet — The National (2010). Boxer was one of my favorite albums of the first decade of the century, so it was a happy surprise that their follow up was so good. High Violet was a huge international hit right off the bat, and Bloodbuzz Ohio really helped the band blow up. It’s still one of my favorite songs by The National, a band I rate as among the best of the entire century. Still not sure what the hell Bloodbuzz Ohio is about but Matt could sing nursery rhymes and I’d listen and weep.

8. Bankrupt! — Phoenix (2013). French pop band Phoenix seems like an odd fit for me, but their sound really makes me happy and there’s a certain 80s feel to their music that reminds me of my youth. Bankrupt! was the follow up to 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix which launched a bunch of alternative hits. But Bankrupt! shows some maturity in their sound as they weren’t afraid to slow things down a bit on a few tracks. Still, I love the upbeat ones like Trying to Be Cool.

7. Reflektor — Arcade Fire (2013). I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this album when it was first released, followed by a very strange 30 minute TV special directed by Spike Jonze and featuring Bono, Michael Cera, Ben Stiller and others. But the more I listened the more it impressed me and by the time I saw them live later in the year I was entranced by this artsy album with Haitian influences and lyrics tied to the 1959 film Black Orpheus (which I actually saw in film class in high school in 1984) and Søren Kierkegaard. Take a look at yourself and you’ll see two sides. Meanwhile, enjoy this video montage directed by Roman Coppola featuring three songs from the album.

6. Babel — Mumford and Sons (2012). I loved the Mumfords debut album but this second record hit it out of the park for me. It took the best of their folksy sound from the first record and added some pop and polish and it truly jumps off the charts. Perhaps they wore out their welcome in the mainstream too quickly with their Appalachian sound and hipster waistcoats, but I love them and Babel for me is their best record. Lover of the Light is a prime example of their unique sound.

5. Lonely Avenue — Ben Folds/Nick Hornby (2010). What do you get when you ask award-winning author Nick Hornby to write song lyrics for the first time in his life and then you put those lyrics to the piano-driven goodness that defines Ben Folds? You get Lonely Avenue, complete with songs about Bristol Palin’s white trash boyfriend, handicapped songwriter Doc Pomus, a guy hacking into his girlfriend’s computer, and an obscure American Poet with a catchy name. I love Ben Folds and Nick Hornby is one of my favorite authors. This was always going to be great. As for that obscure poet, here’s a crazy good fan-made video tribute to the song Saskia Hamilton.

4. El Camino by The Black Keys (2011). 2010’s Brothers may have broke the band big, but for my money El Camino is the true gem of the bands work this decade. And what a decade it was by the way, with not just the above two albums but also Turn Blue and Let’s Rock which each scored high on my year-end blog posts. The Keys were at the top of their game when they released El Camino in 2011 with huge hit songs like Lonely Boy and Gold on the Ceiling, but my favorite track — and my favorite Keys song period — is Little Black Submarines which is often compared to a Led Zeppelin song and certainly echoes 70s hard rock and shows off Dan and Patrick’s full range.

3. Broken Bells — Broken Bells (2010). Early in 2010 the unlikely partnership of lead singer James Mercer of The Shins and super-producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) gave us the innovative alternative band Broken Bells. The album garnered a Grammy nomination for best alternative album and several songs including The Ghost Inside and The High Road were ubiquitous on alt radio that year. I saw them in concert in 2010 and Mercer was tremendous live and the backing band (including Burton on keyboards) was studio perfect. I never stopped listening to Broken Bells over the decade and count The Mall & Misery as one of my favorite songs of the decade (this video was shot by a fan at a secret live set in a parking garage at SXSW).

2. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World — The Decemberists (2015). I don’t think there’s a better songwriter in modern music than Colin Meloy and this record is all the proof you need. Here Colin laments about how life in America in this decade is a dichotomy of love and hate, beauty and horror. Sandy Hook was on his mind when he wrote the songs, and the album is powerful and lovely. The Decemberists have grown over the past 20 years from folk-forward art music to polished rock music and both the aforementioned The King is Dead from 2011 and this record were perhaps the two best back-to-back offerings of the decade. I loved them both, but What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is simply genius. For a small taste of the highs and lows of this record take a listen to my two favorite tracks, the beautifully melancholy Lake Song to the upbeat, reflective love song that is Make You Better. Damn this is beautiful music.

And my favorite album of the 2010s (and it wasn’t even close):

The Suburbs — Arcade Fire (2010). The music moment of the decade for me took place on Feb. 13, 2011 when Arcade Fire shocked the pop music world by beating out a handful of the world’s biggest artists including Lady Gaga, Eminem, Katy Perry, and Lady Antebellum to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, and then closed the show with a rousing rendition of Ready to Start. I literally jumped out of my seat when the award was announced, and I don’t think I’ve come down since. Award presenter Barbara Streisand was so dumbfounded she barely got the words out. The Suburbs was unquestionably the soundtrack of the decade for me and I am confident no other album in my collection received more airtime over the past 10 years. It never lets me down. It is my go-to record when I can’t decide what to listen to. It is alternative rock majesty from start to finish. It was only the band’s third studio album but it made a statement that they were a force to be reckoned with in alternative rock. The Butler brothers used their Woodlands, Texas suburban upbringing to write songs that fit the mood of suburban life and the music that influenced them (from Depeche Mode to Neil Young according to Win Butler). It has strings and horns and keyboards and guitars and it speaks softly at times and it rocks out at times. It feels like a rock opera, but it’s really just that each song feeds off the next. In a world where songs are king, it is a complete album. The Suburbs was named the top album of the year by a wide range of review sites from BBC6 to Clash magazine to Q magazine, but I’m not suggesting it was the best album of that year or the 2010s. It was simply my favorite album of the decade.

My Favorite Albums of 2019

2019 has been a banner year for music for me. For whatever reason a ton of bands I like released new music this year and while it has been a mixed bag for me I can’t remember a recent year when I had so many solid albums to choose from to get to my Top 10.

More than 30 albums caught my attention in 2019 across a wide array of genres. Alternative rock is always going to be my favorite, but this year it’s pretty obvious that modern soul and R&B have leaped to the forefront. I think we’re smack in the middle of a soul revival, one that probably owes its growth to the likes of Amy Winehouse, John Legend, Adele and others who reinvigorated the genre in the early part of the century. So many soul artists have emerged in their wake, from the more classic soul sounds of Leon Bridges, Michael Kiwanuka, and the late Sharon Jones to blue-eyed soul greats like Hozier, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Nathaniel Rateliff. This year I added two amazing new soul artists to my rotation that you’ll see in the list below.

This year also brought some disappointments from some artists I love. Sometimes it’s hard to live up to my admiration year after year and record after record, and for a few artists this year began with high expectations and left me feeling…meh. Guster, New Pornographers, Fitz and the Tantrums, Jamie Cullum, Two Door Cinema Club, Coldplay, and Of Monsters and Men released so-so records in 2019, and perhaps most disappointing was the new record from Keane, which broke up a few years back and returned this year with the dull Cause and Effect. I liked these records, but none cracked my Top 10 or even garnered honorable mentions.

Speaking of honorable mentions, here are the albums that I liked in 2019 but didn’t quite make the cut for my Top 10. Alice Merton broke through this year with her debut album Mint, which got a lot of attention for her song No Roots but which is a great listen all the way through. Santa Fe band Beirut is an artist I discovered this year and their release Gallipoli is a sweet mix of pop and horns and indie rock. American Love Call from Durand Jones and the Indications was a suggestion from a friend that proved my point about the neo soul resurgence — this is pure soul goodness that would make Sam Cooke proud. And then there was Lux Prima from the unique combination of Karen O (lead vocalist of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Danger Mouse (super producer Brian Burton who turns everything he touches into gold). Lux Prima defied genre logic — Clash Music described it this way: “whirring, mysterious sounds – reminiscent of sci-fi film scores – are eventually invaded by a chirpy, poignant piano…the worlds of the two creators collide instantly.” This Land from guitar god Gary Clark, Jr. was a sweet mix of Hendrix inspired rock and soul, You’re Stronger Than You Know from James Morrison added to my soul train this year, and then there was Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves from The Ocean Blue which proved the 80s still has legs.

Here now, my 10 favorite albums of the year:

10. Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost—Part 1 — Foals. I have to admit I didn’t know much about Oxford, U.K.-based Foals until this year. Then I heard a track on satellite radio and I was interested enough to listen to the whole album. It’s really solid alternative rock, and apparently they have a reputation in the U.K. for great live shows. Check out Exits for a taste.

9. Sound & Fury — Sturgill Simpson. There was no bigger surprise for me this year than this album from country/Americana artist Simpson. I mean, he was the first country artist to make one of my Top 10 lists when A Sailor’s Guide to Earth came out in 2016, but imagine my surprise when he released his next album this year and it was straight up rock and roll. And damn good rock and roll. Dude can shred the guitar. Check out this cut, Sing Along.

8. Kiwanuka — Michael Kiwanuka. Album number three by Michael Kiwanuka did not disappoint. His voice is truly an instrument and his sound is unmistakable. This is a brilliant record that just envelopes you in its soulful softness. It was great to see him blow up a bit by providing Cold Little Heart to the opening segment of HBO’s Big Little Lies. Kick back, relax with a cup of joe or a glass of wine, and let Michael Kiwanuka take you to your happy place. Check out Solid Ground for a sample.

7. I Am Easy To Find — The National. It could be argued that The National is my favorite band of the 21st century, and this year’s release proved once again that this band from Ohio by way of Brooklyn is doing things that other bands simply are not. I Am Easy to Find feels almost like a rock opera and brings new voices to the front to go along with the baritone genius that is Matt Berninger. My favorite track from the record is Rylan, which is arguably my favorite single track of the year. Light Years is also memorable and includes a video starring actress Alicia Vikander. To describe this album as haunting would be fair.

6. Wasteland, Baby! — Hozier. Andrew John Hozier-Byrne broke through the clutter in 2014 with his brilliant debut album that proved soul can come from a white guy from County Wicklow in Ireland. Wasteland, Baby is a memorable sophomore effort that debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. I think he sets himself apart from the slew of neo soul artists breaking out lately because his voice is so powerful and his songwriting is quite memorable. I mean, did you know Take Me to Church is about a same-sex relationship? Anyway, best track off the new record is the first track featuring rock and roll hall of famer Mavis Staples called Nina Cried Power that’s a message about protest songs.

5. Father of the Bride — Vampire Weekend. Sometimes I’m not looking for hard hitting rock or smooth soul, but rather pure pop that makes me nod my head along. Ezra and his college boy friends write solid pop music and this album also benefits from the addition of Danielle Haim on several songs. I’ve always been a fan of their songs, but this album is good from top to bottom. And somehow, out of all the great music I listened to this year, this one got a Grammy nomination for best album. I think it’s very good, especially Harmony Hall and This Life.

4. Black Pumas — Black Pumas. I was sitting on the sofa one day a few months ago reading and listening to Music Choice Adult Alternative on the cable TV. I love this station because I often hear new music and on this particular afternoon I was struck by a song I’d never heard before called Black Moon Rising by a band called Black Pumas. I looked them up and found out this was their debut song and the story of their formation was really unique. Two years ago Austin-based guitarist Adrian Quesada was walking along the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica when he heard singer/guitarist Eric Burton busking and was blown away. He told him he was looking for a singer just like him for his new band and not long after Burton moved to Austin and Black Pumas was born. Fast forward to today and Black Pumas have released their self-titled debut album and this month they were nominated for a Grammy for best new artist. It’s a Hollywood story for sure, but truthfully their debut album is so damn good the Grammy nomination is just icing on the cake of what I’m sure is just the start for these guys. Black Pumas is soul and funk with a modern twist and I defy you to listen to their album and not feel compelled to get up and dance. Which is exactly what I did when I saw them a few weeks ago at a tiny club in Phoenix where they set the place on fire. If you listen to only one album on my Top 10 list make it this one.

3. On the Line — Jenny Lewis. The incomparable Jenny Lewis has been a staple on my year-end lists going back to her days with alt-country band Rilo Kiley. Truth be told, I’ve been a fan even longer than that as I remember her fondly from her role in the short-lived but wonderful CBS situation comedy Brooklyn Bridge on which she played teen love interest Katie Monahan. Jenny is a Renaissance woman who infuses country, rock and pop into a sound and look all her own. Her music is smart and funny, and hard to define. She usually gets put in the Americana category or sometimes the alt-country genre but no matter what you call her sound I adore it (and her). I was lucky enough to see her live a few weeks ago at the Van Buren where I was right up front and it was easily one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. On The Line is a fabulous album that any fan of her music will love. If you’re not familiar with her sound and style, check out Rabbit Hole or Wasted Youth from her set on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

2. Let’s Rock — Black Keys. Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach have been together as the Black Keys for close to 20 years now and they have never disappointed me. Several of their records have topped my year-end list over the year and you should not be surprised to find at least one of their records from this decade high up on my soon-to-be-posted best of the decade list. Let’s Rock is classic Keys and it very nearly topped my list this year. It is aptly named as it consists of a dozen hard-rocking tracks. I literally love every song on the album, but here’s a couple I think stand out: Go and Tell Me Lies.

And my favorite album of 2019:

Social Cues — Cage the Elephant. I didn’t think much of Cage until 2015 when they released Tell Me I’m Pretty, an album produced by Dan Auerbach that infused their sound with a little taste of the Black Keys. This year they continued that sound with Social Cues and this is the one album I find myself listening to most this year. I think their updated sound is more mature and somehow both raw and polished at the same time. The band finally seems to be getting the attention it deserves, and while the Grammy selection committee still has no clue where to put them (this album was nominated for Best Rock Album this year when it should have been in the alternative category) it’s nice to see them get a nomination. Take a listen to Ready to Let Go or Night Running (with Beck on vocals) for a taste of this great record.


My Favorite Novels of the Decade

As we wind our way down to the end of the decade I will consume a whole lot of “best of” lists from magazines, newspapers, blogs and websites. I love me some lists. And I love to create my own as any regular reader of this blog can attest. In the next few weeks you can expect to see a post about my favorite films of the 2010s, my favorite albums of the decade, and my favorite albums of 2019. But I thought I’d start with a list of my favorite novels of the decade.

Please note that my lists reflect my favorites rather than what I consider to be the best. I’m not a professional critic of music, films or writing, and while I have opinions on these sorts of things I prefer instead to simply share the art that brought me joy. It’s harder to disagree when I’m not declaring that a book, album or film is objectively the best — I’m happy to do that over a coffee or an adult beverage if you are so inclined, but I write these posts to identify art you may wish to discover on your own to see if they also bring you joy.

So with that, here are my 10 favorite novels of the 2010s, starting with a few honorable mentions:

  • Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford (2017). This was a selection from my men’s book club this year that really jumped out. Ford weaves together a heart-wrenching story of immigration and survival that is beautifully told and very unique.
  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty (2015). It’s a book about a black man living in LA who wants to reintroduce segregation. Yes, it’s a satire. And yes, it’s biting and hilarious. Beatty won the Man Booker Prize for this novel, becoming the first American to win the prestigious U.K. award.
  • Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (2016). I was not prepared for the emotional ride that this story about a man and his canine companion took me on. It was funny and sad, but ultimately a story of growth and survival.
  • The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (2015). Bacigalupi’s dystopian take on life in the American Southwest after the water dries up is one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read. It’s fiction, but it hits home so hard I almost wanted to move to Oregon directly after reading it. Check out my full review.
  • Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe (2012). No countdown of great novels is complete without Tom Wolfe. Back to Blood isn’t his best novel, but it’s pure Wolfe and that’s good enough for me. RIP Tom.
  • The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall (2010). What if a man with four wives and 28 children had a midlife crisis? It’d make for a darn funny novel. Udall also happens to be a member of the famous Mormon political family that includes a host of current and former U.S. Congressmen that spans generations.
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (2012). You’ll definitely enjoy the hidden secrets of this fictional bookstore in San Francisco. It’s a crazy, fun ride full of mystery and conspiracies.
  • There There by Tommy Orange (2018). One of the most talked about and best reviewed novels of the decade, Orange weaves together a selection of stories about Native Americans growing up on the hard scrabble streets of Oakland. Powerful, eye-opening, and important.

10. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (2011). Patchett is one of my favorite novelists and State of Wonder is a great example of why. It’s an adventure story that takes place in the Amazon where a group of scientists are searching for plants that could lead to pharmaceutical breakthroughs and the huge financial rewards that come with it. Needless to say there is intrigue and ethical dilemmas. Patchett writes unique and developed female characters that give this old man better insight into the finer gender.

9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011). Rarely has a novel captured my teenage years as well as Cline’s futuristic tale of throwback video games and 80s pop culture. It’s dystopian and familiar at the same time, and god help us if we continue down the path toward all of us living in a virtual world. Such a blast of a novel, and just an “ok” film version if I’m being honest. If you are geek that came of age in the 80s (or just someone who loves the 80s) this novel will undoubtedly resonate with you.

8. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (2014). From the author of Cloud Atlas comes this hair-raising tale of supernatural beings with a not so pleasant plan for mankind and the group of mystics working to foil their plans. It doesn’t sound like a novel I’d be interested in from the sleeve notes, but damn Mitchell is otherworldly in his tale-telling abilities — perhaps the best storyteller and writer of his generation.

7. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016). This is perhaps the most inventive novel of the decade and it’s deserving of all the accolades it received when it was released including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Book Award for Fiction, and the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Historical Fiction. I’ve read three of Whitehead’s novels now and he is clearly one of the country’s best authors. I’m also looking forward to the upcoming Amazon series based on the book.

6. Moonglow by Michael Chabon (2016). Chabon has been churning out brilliant novels for decades now and he’s definitely among my favorite novelists. Moonglow is his best work in a long time and it’s so interesting in that it blurs the lines between fact and fiction. The story is a tribute to his grandfather, as told by a character named Michael Chabon. My full review is online.

5. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013). This Man Booker nominee is the story of a writer named Ruth who lives in the Pacific Northwest and one day while walking along the beach she finds a diary written by a teenage Japanese girl. The novel takes the reader back and forth to the life of the girl as well as the writer who makes it her mission (or obsession) to find out what happened to the young girl in the wake of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. This story has everything I love — it spans multiple time frames, it has multiple narrators, it teaches the reader about history and about a different culture, it is contemporary, it provides life lessons, it is heartbreaking and uplifting, it is philosophical, it has rich and interesting characters, and it even includes a little physics and just the right touch of magical realism. 

4. Barkskins by Annie Proulx (2016). Proulx is an American treasure and now that she is in her 80s we should cherish every word she writes before her time runs out. She is the author of my all-time favorite novel, 1993’s The Shipping News, and she also penned Brokeback Mountain. Reading Barkskins seemed like a daunting task at first because it’s so dense, but I should have realized I’d end up enjoying every sentence of its 736 pages. Here’s my full review.

3. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013). This coming of age story about a 13-year-old boy who loses his mom in a terrorist attack has it all — fascinating story lines, interesting characters, intrigue, mystery, and so much more. The 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction kept me on the edge of my seat the whole way through and the story has stuck with me since. I haven’t seen the film yet, and I know it didn’t get great reviews, but I loved this novel so much I’ll definitely be streaming the movie once it’s available. It seems I really do love coming of age stories whether in books or movies (hint hint there will be a major coming of age story in my upcoming post about my favorite films of the decade). Don’t let the film’s bad reviews keep you from reading this novel as it’s clearly one of the best novels of the decade.

2. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (2012). I’m a sucker for stories that jump around from generation to generation and take place in multiple locations (see A Tale For the Time Being above). Walter’s satirical look at Hollywood culture takes the reader from Italy to L.A. and from the 1960s to today. The lives of the main characters are weaved in and around the story of the filming of 1963’s Cleopatra and the love affair between Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. I find it cool when writers mingle fiction with reality to give their fictional characters an anchor based in reality. Tarantino recently did this with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and it worked great. Walter is an inventive writer and it’s impossible not to love Beautiful Ruins. There’s been a film version in the works for years but it hasn’t gotten out of development yet. I sure hope it does.

And my favorite novel of the 2010s:

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (2012). Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, The Orphan Master’s Son is a brilliant tale set in North Korea that pulls you in from the first moment and takes you along on a journey that seems impossibly hard to imagine. The protagonist is a young North Korean named Pak Jun Do who journeys from orphanage to soldier to prisoner. Apparently Johnson based this novel on interviews he did with North Korean refugees and it is based on stories they relayed to him about life inside the mysterious country. It is from this novel that I learned about just some of the travesties going on under the regime of the Kim family. I love a novel that can both entertain and educate and Johnson’s amazing novel does both using brilliant storytelling and beautiful prose. Johnson is a gifted writer and his future work will always be on my reading list. Plus, he’s an ASU grad so there’s a great Arizona connection. Fork ’em!

Brown is Back and So is the Padres Identity

Being a fan of a sports team is more about identity than it is about winning. How else do you explain the long-suffering Cubs fans who stayed true to their team despite a 108-year World Series championship drought? Or the fans of the Detroit Lions who have gone 58 years and counting since their last championship? Or the Atlanta Hawks who have gone 48 years without a championship? Winning, it seems, is not in fact the only thing despite what former UCLA football coach Red Sanders is famous for claiming.

Being a true fan of a team means that team is in your blood. It’s a part of you and a part of how your friends perceive you. Ask 100 people what they know about me and I suspect one of the first things most of them would think of is that I’m a Padres fan.

The identity of a team includes the vibe of its community, its traditions, its great players, its uniforms, its logo, and yes, its colors. When you think of the Dallas Cowboys you think of the blue star. The Yankees? Black and white pinstripes. The University of North Carolina? Carolina blue. When you think of the San Diego Padres? Okay, nobody really thinks of the San Diego Padres. But if you did, you’d swear they were always brown and you’d recall that iconic swinging friar!

But the Padres have been some various shade of blue for the past three decades. It has never felt right. And yes, I grew up in San Diego in the 70s and early 80s when the Padres last wore brown as their primary color. So of course there is some nostalgia involved. But it’s more about identity than a longing for the glory days of the past because there were no glory days of the past. The team has been around for 50 years and despite two trips to the World Series they’ve never won a championship.

I’ve always hated the Padres in blue. I understand why they switched to blue, orange and white in 1991. Marketing. Brown is not exactly a popular color. But blue has always been a mistake and yet decade after decade they’ve doubled down on it, finally moving to plain old blue and white for the past few years. But blue is the color of their biggest rivals, the Dodgers. You don’t try to look like your rivals. Could you imagine Ohio State changing its color scheme to blue and maize? No. They wouldn’t. Because it’d be stupid. Which is why the Padres changing to blue in 1991 was stupid.

I know what you’re thinking. Brown is an awful color for a sports team. It’s why there are so very few brown sports teams. You have the Cleveland Browns of course. And the Baltimore Orioles are brown and orange. The University of Wyoming is brown. But it’s not a popular color. Hell, Brown University uses silver and red as its primary uniform colors.

But when I think of the Padres I think of brown and yellow. I think of Ozzie Smith, and Nate Colbert, and Dave Winfield. I’m not saying the Padres should bring back those god awful brown and mustard uniforms. When the Astros decided to move on from the rainbow uniforms of the 70s and 80s they didn’t switch to green. They modernized their look using their primary colors of blue and orange.

The Padres should be brown. They should have always been brown. And I’m thrilled they are bringing back the brown permanently starting with the 2020 season. Is it going to make them a better team? No, of course not. But it will bring back their identity and frankly give them something to hang their hat on that not a lot of other teams have — a unique look. When you see the Padres moving forward you’ll think of brown. And that’s as it should be.

I don’t love brown. But I love the Padres and they are brown. Maybe you don’t think you look good in brown? I don’t care. You know who does? Manny Fucking Machado.

And you know who else looks great in brown. The franchise — Fernando Tatis Jr.

I can’t wait to see the Padres new uniforms when they are released. I can tell you as well that my Christmas list will be full of nothing but brown Padres merchandise. I love that the Padres are going to be distinct again.

Brown is back, baby!

50 Things I Love About My Wife

This is a photo of Leslie and I just a few months ago in Paris. I look all of my 52 years. Leslie looks like she’s still 30. Damn I’m a lucky son of a bitch.

Leslie Gutman turns 50 years old today and she’s not happy about it. Time is a bitch that never slows, and while 50 is a monumental age I don’t think it’s something to fear, rather it’s something to embrace. Hell, a lot of humans don’t make it to half a century, and many who do don’t look half as good as Leslie. I mean, she still gets carded buying alcohol sometimes.

But what Leslie is failing to realize is that she may be 50, but inside she still lives her life like she’s 25. She is physically active, she has a robust work life, she has lots of friends, she travels, she’s relatively healthy, her mind is sharp. She’s a freak of nature. She epitomizes youthful exuberance — and frankly I wish I had just a fraction of her joie de vivre.

So to honor my wonderful wife on this special occasion, I submit to you 50 reasons why I love her. Truthfully, it only took me a few minutes to come up with these and I could have kept going all day. I love everything about her (even the things that drive me crazy). Isn’t that what love is really all about?

In no particular order, here you go:

  1. I love how she literally saved my life…twice.
  2. I love how she puts the needs of others above her own.
  3. I love how she plans recurring medical appointments on her birthday so she doesn’t forget them
  4. I love how whenever I’m feeling down about something she reminds me how great I have it
  5. I love how she still giggles like a little girl when she hears something silly (this is the Piccadilly line to Cockfosters!)
  6. I love how messy she keeps her car and fights me if I try to clean it up as if she knows where everything is and there’s a reason for it
  7. I love how she’s always prepared for anything
  8. I love that she volunteers to do taxes for the under-served
  9. I love how she celebrates the hell out of Christmas even though she’s an atheist
  10. I love how wherever we go on vacation she buys a new Christmas ornament for the tree to remind us of the trip
  11. I love how she never goes outside without a hat, sunscreen, and water
  12. I love how much she helps Connor with the big decisions in life (and the small ones too)
  13. I love how much she enjoys bad reality TV
  14. I love the fact that she cooks dinner almost every night even after a hard day’s work
  15. I love how tipsy she gets after just one Mojito
  16. I love how she looks so damn young that she still gets carded all the time
  17. I love how she can talk to anyone, anywhere, about anything
  18. I love how unconditionally she loves her family (except for her brother. Did you even know she has a brother?)
  19. I love how she tries on 10 different outfits before heading out for the day and then just when you think she’s got it set she emerges from the bedroom with something else on
  20. I love how every day she comes home from work and asks me the same question – anything exciting happen today? (as if)
  21. I love how she embraces Connor’s friends as if they are her own kids
  22. I love how she likes Flo Rida and Pitbull despite how crappy their music is
  23. I love how diligently she plans vacations, leaving nothing to chance
  24. I love how she unabashedly loves any television show with vampires, werewolves, or demons
  25. I love how she watches the evening news every day even though the news is a shit show and never seems to change
  26. I love how she drives with the driver’s seat back in what looks to me like the most uncomfortable way possible
  27. I love how uncomfortable she is with change (wait, we’re switching from Google Play Music to Spotify?)
  28. I love how she calls to check in on my parents more than I do
  29. I love how she keeps a drawer full of greeting cards for every occasion just in case
  30. I love how even after 25 years of marriage she still knows how to turn me on (sorry, TMI)
  31. I love how dedicated she is to watching Kentucky basketball simply because she has a long-term crush on Coach Calipari
  32. I love how competitive she is no matter what’s at stake
  33. I love how whenever she sees something she doesn’t like at work she writes a sternly worded memo to the highest ranking executive she can find
  34. I love how she’s remained dedicated to her company for more than 25 years even while I’ve changed jobs 13 times in the same time period
  35. I love her smile
  36. I love how everyone I know calls her for advice about life
  37. I love how she manages our finances so spectacularly that I haven’t bothered to log into our bank account website in…like…forever
  38. I love how she pronounces eggs like aygs
  39. I love how much she likes the Saturday Night Safety Dance on SiriusXM 1st Wave
  40. I love how she can find anything on the Internet. Seriously, she’s a web ninja.
  41. I love how she gets teary eyed during sappy television commercials
  42. I love how when she puts her mind to something you might as well call it done
  43. I love how she’s already got a dog picked out to replace me when I croak (and she’s even named the damn thing after me)
  44. I love how much she knows about finance
  45. I love that she’s stuck with me through thick and thin
  46. I love how loyal she is to brands she loves
  47. I love how she plays off a Malaprop as if she meant to say it
  48. I love how much she loves and cares for Connor
  49. I love how she goes to the doctor prepared to tell him or her what her diagnosis is already
  50. I love how much she shows her love for me even after so many years together

Happy 50th Birthday Leslie Gutman. I love you with all of my heart.

‘Flow My Tears’ Leaves Me Wanting More P.K. Dick

Let’s get the obvious out of the way right off the bat — I don’t typically read science fiction. In fact, I can probably count the number of science fiction books I’ve read on one hand. Truth be told, it has less to do with not liking science fiction and more to do with the fact that I’m admittedly a bit of a literature snob and I don’t usually read any “genre” fiction including romance, mystery, fantasy, etc. I’m sure I’m missing out on some great reads.

I’m trying to be more open-minded though. I started a book club last year and we take turns picking a book each month and I have enjoyed trying new things. I scoffed at We Are Legion (We are Bob) and I ended up really enjoying it. I think maybe I’ve had a blind spot for science fiction because of what I think it is, when in reality science fiction can be a lot of things. I’ve always equated science fiction with stories about alien visits and robot wars. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s just not my thing.

But recently I’ve been watching some really great television that fits into the science fiction category and I’ve realized that I most definitely like stories of dystopia and alternate universes. Black Mirror may be the best show on television. I have thoroughly enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, 12 Monkeys, and the new Star Trek Discovery series. And most of all, I love The Man in the High Castle, which brings us back to Philip K. Dick.

My son loves science fiction, and given I could hardly get him to pick up a book when he was growing up I have been encouraged by his newfound love of reading. He adores Philip K. Dick and he’s been bugging me to drop my pretentiousness and give him a try. He suggested Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said as a good place to start and I picked it up a few days ago and flew right through it.

I agreed that Philip K. Dick was a good entrance point to science fiction for me because he specializes in dystopia and he has been occasionally compared to one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut. Having finally read a P.K. Dick novel I agree the comparisons are fair. They are both nuts!

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said is the story of Jason Taverner, a world famous television star and singer who wakes up one morning in a strange place and he quickly discovers that he is no longer famous and in fact he lacks any identification at all. This is a huge issue in the not-too-distant future (1988) of this novel in that the world has become a police state where not having identification can lead to a permanent trip to a forced labor camp. As Taverner makes his way in his new reality as a regular person he quickly realizes just how privileged he was in his previous life.

First, a few cons from my perspective. P.K. Dick didn’t win any awards for literature, primarily because his writing style is sophomoric. He’s no literary lion, but I’m sure that didn’t bother him much nor does it concern his fans. This particular book, and I have no other P.K. Dick novels to compare it to yet, does not leave much to the reader to figure out. I think great literature shows but doesn’t tell — Dick’s style (at least in this book) is to explain what’s going on through the narrator’s inner voice. I was disappointed by how he explains everything as it leaves very little to the reader’s imagination. Finally, I was quite disappointed in the ending of the novel. I won’t give it away, but I’ll just say Dick wraps everything up in a bow.

But my complaints about the novel are quite minor. In fact, I really loved the story despite not liking the way it ended. Dick gives away the mechanism by which Taverner found himself in a parallel universe and I would have preferred he leave that to the imagination and the readers conjecture. Yet, I liked what being in that parallel universe meant for Taverner and the reader. The novel revolves around the themes of fame, identity, surveillance, genetic enhancement, and altered states to name a few. These are topics worth exploring, whether through a science fiction novel or a philosophy class.

The novel was published in 1974 and the issues it is about are even more relevant today given where we are as a species and a society. One of the things that makes P.K. Dick so special is how prescient he was in writing about these issues in the early 70s. One gets the feeling maybe he discovered some portal to the future just as the Nazi’s did in The Man in the High Castle. I know what you’re thinking — his “portal” was LSD! Perhaps, but regardless of how he got to his theories of the future it’s remarkable.

I liked Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, but I didn’t love it. The good news is, P.K. Dick was a prolific writer so there’s so much more to discover. Now that my mind has expanded, I suspect I’ll be adding a few of those novels to my to-read list. I’ve been told Ubik is pretty mind-blowing, and Valis gets great reviews. I’ll probably give Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? a try even though I know the story having seen Blade Runner a bunch of times. If you are a Philip K. Dick fan, I’d welcome your suggestions.

Film Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Dud

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) Directed by Tomas Alfredson

Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of the John le Carré novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has been on my IMDB Watch List for close to seven years, but for whatever reason I never clicked “buy” on Google Play Movies or recorded it off HBO. One reason this Watch List challenge is so interesting to me is because it will force me to finally watch some films that have been languishing in my “get around to it” file. And while I’m not a reader of John le Carré novels, this film appealed to me because I love a good international spy film and the cast of this adaptation is remarkable.

The film stars Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and even a young Tom Hardy. That’s a lot of star power. Alas, it wasn’t enough to restart my heart after I nearly fell asleep from boredom after about 20 minutes. I mean, usually I’ll give a film a half hour or so before giving up, but life is too short to waste 30 minutes let alone two hours plus. My wife didn’t protest at all when I hit the stop button on the remote. 20 minutes might be a record for me in terms of giving up on a film.

I know this film has an 85/100 metacritic score, a 7.1 out of 10 on IMDB, and was nominated for three Oscars including a Best Actor nod for Gary Oldman (who finally did win an Oscar recently for Darkest Hour which I still haven’t seen). But boring is boring. Hell, I’ve enjoyed the first two episodes of Killing Eve way more and it’s basically the same plot.

Next Up on the Watch List: Margin Call

Film Review: No Redeeming Value in McQueen’s ‘Shame’

You know that feeling you get when you watch a film and as it comes to a close you think to yourself what the hell did I just watch? That’s how I felt about Steve McQueen’s 2011 film Shame. Honestly, it’s rare for me to dislike a film as much as I disliked Shame.

Michael Fassbender in Shame (2011)

Shame tells the story of Brandon, played by McQueen regular Michael Fassbender, who on the surface appears to be a normal guy but who harbors a secret life of sexual addiction. He spends his nights hooking up with strange women, or hiring prostitutes to fulfill his desires. When he’s not having random sex, he watches porn and jerks off. Even at work. The guy has no life outside of his perverted hobby.

Enter his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan) who turns up unexpectedly needing a place to stay throwing a wrench into Brandon’s habit. Sissy has her own issues, not the least of which is that she is psychotic…and…well…the tension builds until something’s got to give.

I’m the furthest thing from a prude, so it wasn’t the NC-17 rating that caused me to dislike this film. Nor was it the underlying sexual tension between brother and sister, or the porn, or the gratuitous full frontal nudity on display from both Fassbender and Mulligan. It was the complete and utter lack of story beyond the sex. The film was simply about a guy who has a problem with sex and his nutty sister moving in to take him off his game. Not much happens and nothing is resolved. I have no idea what McQueen was trying to say.

I added this film to my Watch List for several reasons, including the fact that I adore Carey Mulligan as an actress and Fassbender is always intense. But mostly I added it because McQueen is now considered an elite filmmaker having given the world multi-Oscar winner 12 Years A Slave. I even enjoyed last year’s McQueen drama Widows. But Shame is just bad. I can think of many much better films about sexual dysfunction and taboos. David O. Russell’s Spanking The Monkey comes to mind. Or Secretary with Maggie Gyllenhaal. Sex, Lies, and Videotape. These films are art. Shame doesn’t compare.

Next up on the Watch List project: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Film Review: War Horse Should Have Been Taken Out to the Barn and Shot

War Horse (2011) Directed by Steven Spielberg

War Horse was on my IMDB Watchlist for one reason — it was directed by Steven Spielberg. The director has given us some of the greatest films ever made, and more than a handful of my all-time favorite films. Schindler’s List. Empire of the Sun. Lincoln. ET. Amistad. Saving Private Ryan. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Raiders of the Lost Ark. And on and on. So of course I was going to want to see War Horse. What a waste of two hours and 26 minutes.

This film was more like a 1970s Disney film or an After School Special. It was so corny and predictable from start to finish. Boy meets horse. Boy loses horse. Boy finds horse again. I felt like I’d seen this story a million times before, but with a dog, or a pig, or a pigeon in the anthropomorphized lead role. No, the horse didn’t talk (he’s no Mr. Ed) but he did have a personality that made him feel more human than he is.

There were a few things I liked about War Horse. The battle scenes were cool and really well shot. Not a surprise for a director with the skills of Spielberg. And it didn’t do too bad critically, with a 76% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. But the review also included this line: “Technically superb, proudly sentimental, and unabashedly old-fashioned, War Horse is an emotional drama that tugs the heartstrings with Spielberg’s customary flair.”

That about sums it up. Yes, beautifully shot but over-the-top sentimental. Oh, and there was one little surprise for me. Scottish actor Peter Mullan played the dad in the film, and once again my mind was blown. I had no idea he was Scottish while he was playing Jacob Snell in the amazing Netflix series Ozark or James Delos in Westworld. This guy is a tremendous actor who I love and now I like him even more. How many times am I going to be blown away be a foreign actor playing an American? I mean, he plays a Brit in War Horse and I thought he was putting on the accent! Are there any good American actors left?

Next up on my Watchlist challenge: Shame (2011)