I posted on my favorite films last week… here are my other favorites of the year:
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE
Hands down my favorite anything of the year. Anything. By far.
Mike Flanagan’s reworking of Shirley Jackson’s famous novel (he also riffs generously on Robert Wise’s wonderful 1963 adaptation, The Haunting) is, pardon my french, fucking incredible. Even the master, Stephen King, called it “close to genius.” I’ll one up my hero and say it plainly: The Haunting of Hill House is indeed genius. While Flanagan in his revision uses both the novel and film in clever ways, he’s up to something much deeper than just a horror series. At its core, the series is a penetrating and devastating family drama. It’s as if Flanagan took Ordinary People, magnified the emotional depth of that brilliant movie ten fold, then stuck it inside Jackson’s sick and twisted Hill House, “a house that was born bad.” Every episode scared the shit out of me, and each episode also hit me on a powerful emotional level. The intricacy of Flanagan’s time jumping plot is dazzling. When his technique purposefully dovetails into that intricacy, such as in the justifiably famous 6th episode, a series of single takes designed to look like one, the effect is truly mind-blowing. Don’t shy away from the series because it’s scary… the family stuff is so universal, anyone can relate to the marvelous, human Crain family. But be warned, it is indeed scary. Flanagan is the best ‘jump-scarer’ I’ve ever encountered. Those of us watching together starting counting how many shrieks each episode elicited from our group. And there’s this one particular scare… well, it’s the best scare of all time. If you watched the series, you know of what I speak. I had to stop this episode midstream and have a couple of shots of bourbon to calm down before I could finish the episode, though my heart was still racing hours later. As a creative, The Haunting of Hill House is the kind of narrative success that is both enervating and energizing. Enervating because I think, ‘Goodness, I could never achieve that, just stop trying” but also energizing because, for a storyteller, this series reaches the peak for which we all strive. I may never reach such a pinnacle but Flanagan and his remarkable team and superb cast of actors certainly make me want to try.
Finally, though I know people who disagree, Flanagans’ twist on Jackson’s famous last line is electrifying.
WHOA. One of the biggest hits ever in the history of UK broadcasting, Bodyguard is a short (six episodes) but far from sweet adrenaline rush I could not turn off. This is ‘call into work sick’ material, because you have to finish it. If you’ve seen it, you know of what I write. If you haven’t, the less you know the better. Richard Madden is stunning as ‘the bodyguard’, he goes deep, goodness and Keely Hawes matches him perfectly. As does the rest of the British cast. Great show, an intense blast to watch.
Julia Roberts is having one hell of a year. She gave the best performance of her life in superb Ben Is Back (see last post) and her performance in Homecoming is just as stellar. Yet she’s not getting much attention on the awards circuit… what gives?? Oh well, ultimately, who cares. After 30 years onscreen, she has become one of our best actresses and it was a joy to watch her this year. As for the show itself? Kick. Ass. A subtle mystery that really gets under your skin, I did not hear the podcast upon which the series was based so the story was new to me. Sam Esmail’s decision to approach Homecoming like a classic 70’s thriller in the vein of Alan J. Pakula et al. was a huge turn on to a film buff like me. As was his decision to score the entire series using music from those films. But you don’t have to be aware of that to enjoy. This is another one of those shows I watched and thought, ‘Wow, I wish I had worked on that.” Every performance is terrific, though I have to single out Stephan James and, in particular, Shea Whigham. His turn as a downtrodden DOJ investigator also deserves many more accolades than he is receiving. Finally, the genius move to make each episode 22 minutes instead of an hour made the show incredibly binge-able. Hear hear! Show creators, more of this in the future!
One of my favorite novels, by the great Dan Simmons, became one of my favorite shows of the year. A fictionalized account of Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition in 1845, this sumptuous adaptation is an atmospheric chiller, no pun intended, superbly directed with an outstanding cast. (Again, those Brits…) You may want to subtitle it, as the accents are pretty thick. Filled with shocks and surprises and deep humanity, The Terror is yet another reason 2018 was one of the best years of television in recent memory.
THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL SEASON 2
Paris! The Catskills! Lenny Bruce! Zachary Levi! Susie! Season 2 of one of the best shows on television was even better than season one. I cannot imagine what they spend on this show and/or how they get away with the production value and music budget. Sublime to watch, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is Amy Sherman-Palladino at her best, which is about as good as it gets. There are too many wonderful moments and performances here to even begin to start listing favorites, but may I say what a joy it was to watch Marin Hinkle’s Rose evolve this season. In the very strong likelihood you see me running around with a plunger over my shoulder, Mrs. Maisel is why.
WESTWORLD SEASON 2
My favorite show of 2017, and, admittedly, an intense obsession, thrilled me for 9 brilliant episodes that came crashing down in the season two finale. I’ve friends I trust who love the finale, however, and I need to watch it again after some distance to see if I can overcome my misgivings. Still, those other 9 episodes. Wow. I watched each one twice without plumbing their depths entirely and am still enough of a fan to re-watch all of Season 2 before Season 3 begins… fingers crossed.
I read a lot of novels this year. And some I very much enjoyed. But for the first time, I didn’t have a novel this year I wanted to put on the list. I still read an amazing book, however: Simple, a cookbook by the extremely talented Yotam Ottolenghi. I have all of his cookbooks and use Jerusalem often. (Click here for a post covering that wonderful book.) For me, if a cookbook is enjoyable to read and gives me just two or three killer recipes I will use for years, I’m happy. I’ve been cooking a lot from Simple the last few months, however, and after making ten or twelve recipes, I’ve yet to hit one I didn’t love. This is a bonanza of flavor and food joy. (Do NOT miss the “baked rice with confit tomatoes and garlic”… I’m Cajun, rice is one of my favorite foods in all the world, I’ve eaten white rice happily since the day I was born. This is the best rice I’ve ever had, bar none.) Simple is hands down the cookbook of the year.
I quietly scoffed at a couple of friends who told me Paddington 2 was the best movie of the year. Seriously? Well… I might not call it the best of the year but having just watched this delightful movie, I agree it is one of the best for sure. A visual feast that is creative, clever and ultimately heartwarming in the best way possible, Paddington 2 is one of the very few movies on Rotten Tomatoes to score 100%. Deservedly so. Additionally, Hugh Grant is %@$# incredible in it. Like Julia Roberts, he’s been on screen a long time and his gifts are now innumerable and invisible. Great performance, great movie.