Omakase 2016 Top 10: Ryan's Picks
These don't fall in any particular category.
These aren't in any particular order.
These are just great.
Prolific Terrence Malick
The famously private film director Terrence Malick is perhaps equally famous for the chronology of his career. After his first two films, Badlands in 1973 and Days of Heaven five years later, Malick disappeared from the public view (well, more so than usual) until releasing The Thin Red Line in 1998.
Let’s just say that the Malick of the 2010s has seen a dramatic overhaul in his output. Beginning with his fifth feature, The Tree of Life in 2011, we’ve been lucky enough to see four Malick pictures in almost as many years, with two more slated for release in 2017 and 2018. His furthest out picture, Radegund, reportedly completed much of it’s principle shoots this past summer.
Yet this increased quantity has not seemed to diminish the quality of the final product. Malick’s 2016 offering, Knight of Cups, is one of the most cerebral films from a director known for cerebral films. Functioning less as a narrative and moreso as a theme park ride inside a damaged head, Malick explores more than space and time, but the very function and capabilities of filmmaking itself.
“Famous” by Kanye West
You may have not actually heard “Famous” by Kanye West, but you’ve heard of “Famous” by Kanye West. Probably, the initial blowback against his lyrics about Taylor Swift (continuing a saga) hit your timeline last spring. Or maybe it popped up in your social feeds in June, when his naked-celebrity-music-video hit the internet. Regardless, “Famous” was the much-discussed leading single from a much-derided album, The Life of Pablo, that seemed like it would never be available for your iPod.
Yet “Famous” is perhaps the best singular approximation of Kanye West as an artist that we’ve ever seen. Opening with a Rihanna chorus that ferries us from one section of the song to the next, Kanye gives us everything we expect for the first two verses. Bragging about all his pre-Kim women, a Mercedes-Benz, and men who simply can’t measure up to Yeezy himself, the first two minutes of “Famous” sit a lot like the rest of The Life of Pablo as a whole; undercooked and overhyped.
But then something happens: Kanye gets out of his own way. Sampling from “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy and taking elements from the Nina Simone track “Do What You Gotta Do”, the rapper disappears behind a reggae breakdown which might force you to break the backwards time-slider each time it ends.
These two halves are perhaps discordant, pitting one of our most creative modern artists today against his own self-important tendencies. “Famous” might be a marginally different song had he softened his Swift-aimed verse, yet Kanye has never seen the value in shying away from controversy; in fact, he courts it with enthusiasm. By the time Rihanna hands off the last few minutes to the Sister Nancy melody, we’re reminded that the most annoying aspects of Kanye simply sharpen us to his best work.
“Lost Highway” by Brian Phillips (MTV.com)
“I flew to Roswell in early spring, the day before Easter. That whole winter I'd been thinking about the desert. Partly this was because of everything that had gone wrong in my own mind. For months, I'd found myself driving too fast and sleeping too little and lying too much, lying almost all the time, really, and mostly to people I loved. I've never been great at communication. Now the gradual disaster of my own choices had left me without even the illusion that I understood myself; I seemed to look out at the world from the other side of a large, bright blank, a space I could navigate only by means of symbols and codes and gestures that made no sense to anyone else. I hurt people I cared about. I cut myself off from the person who best understood me. I was a secret league of one, only with no sense of how to read the directions on whatever inner map was supposed to be my guide to the conspiracy.”
The first indie magazine I really went out of my way to find was Little White Lies, a mag about film hailing from the UK. Petite, beautiful, and often times overwhelming in content (despite only being delivered every other month), this is just one small portal into the world of high-grade indie publications, and Stack Magazines (particularly the Stack Sampler program) is one of the best ways to explore it.
Each week Thursday, Stack founder Steven Watson sends an email with a new one-off magazine offer (with a discount and free shipping to boot). These are wide ranging in topic, from architecture to drinks, design to fiction, travel to fashion. Yet they all have the most important common features: delightful copy within beautifully designed handy magazines from all parts of the globe.
“Last Taboo” by Wesley Morris (The New York Times Magazine)
Wesley Morris has been a spring for piercing, relevant prose for some time now. In “Last Taboo”, he begins by summarizing the year in male genitalia, specifically those we see on screen (television and film). It appears we might have another essay highlighting the double standard of filmic nudity, the uneven expectations we have of shows when it comes to naked men and women.
Morris then thrusts us back to 1915, the year of the release of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. He talks about toxic biases in this famously racist motion picture, and then reaches out to pull Maine Governor Paul LePage into the mix. The seething, sometimes unbelievable, rhetoric for which LePage is not as infamous as perhaps he should be, is not disconnected. Morris has hit Ted 2, and Klan-era epic, and the executive of America’s 42nd largest state, and we’re just getting started.
“Last Taboo” is expansive in all the ways it should be, yet laser-focused on the belief that there are still on-screen hurdles that we haven’t yet cleared. Over a year after the demise of Grantland, one of their most talented alumni is still consistently finding ways to make us all question what’s allowed and prohibited in the world around us.
“Citizen Khan” by Kathryn Schulz (The New Yorker)
To ascribe any single global phenomenon as representative of the year 2016 would be to simplify what a complicated and tumultuous journey the last twelve months have truly been. Yet if there’s one theme that has been an underlying factor in nearly every global decision and election, it is the movement of people across the globe. Legal immigration, covert border hopping, and the fleeing of refugees from warring states have impacted elections, referendums, and lawmakers in both heartwarming (Canada) and heartbreaking (Denmark; Indiana) fashion.
Perhaps Kathryn Schulz connected all these dots when she began investigating her truly remarkable story of a Pakistani immigrant to the old American west in the early part of the 20th century. Possibly, the story of a kind Muslim tamale restaurant owner in rural Wyoming has all the allegorical power needed to poke holes in the fear-mongering rhetoric spun by politicians and advocates looking to bar the most needy individuals on the planet from receiving a home in America’s melting pot. Or maybe Schulz just found a really interesting story.
Regardless, “Citizen Khan” weaves together the personal history of one man, Zarif Khan, and his own journey through the American dream, while also looping in the story’s significance to modern day Islamophobia, laws of citizenship and immigration, as well as wealth on the American frontier. Schulz, who just this year won the Pulitzer Prize for her 2015 piece “The Really Big One”, is truly on a roll.
FilmicPro iPhone App
What the iPhone 6s (this humble writer’s current device) lacks in control, it gives in capability. With the flip of one switch, any layperson can now record 4k video, a huge boon to anyone looking to project their pre-viral videos on a movie theater screen.
I kid, I kid. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would need that kind of resolution for videos on a phone camera. While it’s not impossible to think that the crisp definition could be potentially helpful, it’s also hard to ignore all the facets of a regular video camera we’re still missing. I suppose this isn’t much different than being able to send a “heartbeat” when texting in an iPhone, yet I can emphasize sarcasm with any italics. Maybe next year.
In the meantime, the FilmicPro app for iPhone can give you everything you need. From adjusting resolution and aspect ratio to the frame rate and exposure, FilmicPro is one of the best options out there for shooting high quality video for a mere $9.99. After making an entire short film and still uncovering more capabilities of the app, this is easily the best option for anyone not looking to shell out 3 months rent for a DSLR.
“Fish Out of Water” (Bojack Horseman)
Another millennial raving about Netflix’s fresh animated show “Bojack Horseman.” Yawn. Dude says the existential humor and creative mix of self-pity and dread are the best on TV since "Mad Men." Double yawn. Then he says “Fish Out of Water”, the nearly-silent fourth episode of season 3, is the best one of the season? I know, I know.
But it is.
Maybe it was a stunt, or maybe it was performance art, or maybe it was an extended party, or maybe it was a publicity ploy, or maybe it was a way to get free transportation, or maybe it was a summer vacation, or maybe it was three people who better wanted to know America. I’m not really sure. But it was pretty beautiful, whatever it was.
Kaleb Horton on the election
Many people would agree that we’re living in a much different world entering 2017 than we were a year ago. 2016 has seen a reckoning between the many cultural fronts within our own borders, and no voice has better captured the disparate state of our many factions than MTV News writer Kaleb Horton.
Horton has done perhaps some of the best political and cultural reporting outside of “the bubble” (if you believe such simplifications, “the bubble” would be around media types on the coasts in the northeast and southwest US), beginning with a trip to Utah in May (God and Country) before spending time at both the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions for a piece released in September (How I Spent My Summer Vacation). Finally, Horton produced a truly focused and specific post-mortem of sorts in late November following a road trip across the country from west to east (Winter In America).
It’s hard to quantify exactly what this trio of pieces brings to the table. Horton doesn’t look to find the mystical unheard voices who cast the protest vote. He isn’t looking to put anyone down or raise anyone up. Rather, Horton has an innate ability to take collective emotions (messy, discordant, underdeveloped ones) from others and express them with clarity and heart. After reading each piece, I could swear that “I get it” now, even if I couldn’t explain what “it” is.