Here is my list of cultural/entertainment things I had a lot of time for in 2012, and towards the end, it gets far too personal. Film, comics, and a very large amount of comedy stuff. Seriously, though. It gets a little blue. Fuck it, here it is.
– – -
Looper – which was the movie that really reminded me how much I love time travel movies, and all the things about those movies that I loved, and used those elements to make a movie that wasn’t about movies, but used that as a tool to tell a great story. Rian Johnson has made the kind of movie I wish came out more often, smart and tightly wound and not afraid to cover their lead character in blood, or skip ahead 30 years and skip back, or heavily establish a locale only to throw it away for another. It’s not fearless, because that would imply that The Terminator wasn’t an enormous success/classic/perfect movie, but it’s been a while since mainstream scifi was this smart or this heartfelt.
The Eric Andre Show - both seeing it live and the show itself, kind of felt like all the things I loved about fake talk shows and all the things I remember from working at a shitty tv station and then taking those things off the rails even further. Live – there’s more dick, more spoiled milk, and a lot more crowd interaction – but it’s the same effect of living in the space where we gleefully watch shit go wrong on tv, and how much you’d love to go on tv and lose it. Beautiful and nasty and cathartic and funny as fuck. My favorite tv show in the world. Also: Hannibal Burress’ Animal Furnace, “sippable bomb water” is the unquestionable hit comedy single of 2012.
The Raid: Redemption – Taking everything I love about John Woo and John Carpenter and Die Hard and distilling it down into a genre – Indonesian action cinema – that’s more brutal, more physical, and more intense than even those things that I love. It’s a movie that won’t get outmoded when the martial arts and the camera technique become commonplace, or how cool it remains, it’s all about character and story, and how those elements are enhanced and effectively told through movement and violence.
Prophet and Multiple Warheads – I didn’t write about Brandon Graham’s comics anywhere this year because I don’t want to be the guy who writes only about the comics people he knows from the internet make or whatever. But it really has to be said, he’s the best cartoonist in comics right now, and the best writer. He writes for his Prophet collaborators Simon Roy, Farel Dalyrmple, Giannis Milonogiannis, Joseph Bergin III and Ed Brisson to show us how great their action and worldbuilding chops could be without sacrificing storytelling; and his work on Multiple Warheads is a loose expansion from what his work in King City was to something more expressive and more Brandon.
The Dana Gould Hour, and again Dana Gould live – seeing my favorite comedian just in peak form own a room with effortless Cosby-level abilities. Gould started his set with a rape joke, an AIDS joke, and a 9/11 joke, and ended with a 20 minute story about Bob Hope. The superhuman crowd control, though – not a lot of comedians doing ice cold setups detailing the facts of the Black Dahlia murder to a room full of couples, and living in that awkward silence for what seemed like forever until the joke detonated. Gould, as I wrote about on tumblr (poorly, shakily) at the time, has quite a lot to do with everything I love about comedy – from being one of the few people who can claim to have invented alternative comedy even though he has club chops to writing on the Ben Stiller Show to writing on the Simpsons – and now the Dana Gould Hour is the podcast that really expanded what I thought a podcasts were. Not just an interview or a roundtable, the way I had thought of podcasts, but a free form place for discussion, sketches, weird shit, and fact-filled history lessons. But it is lived in, and entirely of Gould, even when he showcases other people (frequently), it’s all clearly established from his pov. Essential to the year for me.
Django Unchained – “You wanna hold my hand?”
Pod F Tompkast, Laboring Under Delusions, as well as everything Paul F. Tompkins was involved in this year – Tompkins is mvp of the comedy podcasts I listen to, but the Pod F Tompkast was Tompkins and musical director Eban Schletter really being the only podcast to come near The Dana Gould Hour, not because of format but because it is entirely of Tompkins digressive, discursive charming ramble approach – even in the tightly scripted one-man radio plays in which he plays nearly a dozen of the world’s most famous celebrity madmen. Tompkins’ Herzog, Ice T, Garry Marshall, and John C. Reilly sidestep parody/caricature and create new characters that bounce off one another in completely unexpected ways.
Maria Bamford’s Special Special Special – wherein the idea of the comedy special and personal exorcism are combined and undercut. Maria Bamford in her house with her parents, her best friend, her dog, and a camera crew. She does her set, but she’s not just doing that. Personal tragedy, moral compromise, mental illness – she’s talking about her trip through a personal hell and making fun of it, because that’s what she does. Richard Pryor level genius is on display here, and it’s maybe even more raw because She’s not doing it in front of strangers.
Moonrise Kingdom – littered with Wes Anderson’s rawest emotional moments since the helicopter crash in Life Aquatic, and his best story since Rushmore. Hit me harder than I ever expected it to.
The Grey – Joe Carnahan and Liam Neeson’s story about the extreme edge of human survival, and failure, and god. Like The Thing, only without any encroaching alien threat to humanity, or like Herzog or Jack London – but really the “wolfpuncher” pitch is bullshit used to sell a movie where Liam Neeson and Frank Grillo and Dermot Mulroney and everyone else confront certain death and try not to panic as symbols of an uncaring world pick them off one by one, until it’s just one man screaming at the sky in utter desperation. No easy sell for that shit.
John Mulaney’s New In Town - probably my favorite top to bottom comedy special this year. Mulaney’s ease of transition between personal anecdotes about underage drinking, Law and Order bits, and the funniest goddamn Def Jam Comic impression I’ve ever heard. I spent most of the year wandering around with that voice replacing my internal narrative. Three up and one over, ya simple bitch.
John Hodgman’s THAT IS ALL – which seemed to capture the madcap, death obsessed apocalyptic nature of the year. Frenzied and giddy at the idea that Hodgman feels in his life – that he’s expecting his fame to end, or at least to peter out as he was writing it, so why not say the world is ending. There’s enough truth in that feeling, and how it matched with the rest of the year. The page-a-day metanarrative describing the calendar of constant societal, planetary, and galactic collapse meets and diverges from the facts about cruise ships, being a real life book agent to fake writers, etc. Hodgman’s position as equal parts bullshit artist, raconteur, and expert masks that he is a truly insightful voice speaking to human nature. I started reading this book at the start of the year and consciously stopped to read it closer to the Mayan apocalypse that ended the book. It was a brutal year, and the book felt like a really satisfying capper for it all.
Universal Soldier Day of Reckoning – the action movie we never knew we wanted David Lynch to make, the ultimate Larry Hama tribute, and the action franchise no one knew we loved this much. I was late to Universal Soldier Regeneration and it’s brilliant direction. John Hyams really rewires what he did in that film into something completely different, stylistically. It’s still bodies in space, it’s still action guys with zero rep showing the depth of pathos this material never offered them a chance to show before, but now the entire idea of a franchise built on reboots, clones, mechanistic reproduction becomes a part of the story. Scott Adkins willfully changing his story to reflect what he believes in order to survive, in a film that does just the same thing to the previous chunks of the franchise betrays an awareness that Hyams knows he’s too good for this shit but also knows this is where he’s going to have the most leeway he will for his entire career.
Young Adult, which is not a good movie – bad, self-satisfied direction, uneven writing, weird performances. But Young Adult has my favorite performance of films this year, Charlize Theron’s Mavis Garry being someone who I’ve described as “falling apart but has it enough together to take it out on other people”, which is pretty much the most identifiable person I’ve ever seen in a movie. And it’s not even a good movie.
League of Extraordinary Gentleman Century 2009 - For the scorched earth approach to the idea of english language comics as they are today in total. Godlike Time Warner and Disney properties killing one another while every other character toils around in small tv-scale naturalist lives, and the old men that started it all (an evil wizard and a damaged, guilty, bearded hero figure) regret their involvement in the whole, now-unrecognizable thing. It’s not Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s best comic together, but it’s the angriest response to an industry that wants to fuck half of it’s creative team’s corpse to pieces before he’s even gone, and it’s necessary and vital proof that no one’s dead yet.
Discovering SuperEgo, which felt like a thing I knew existed but forgot. Trying to describe it would be shitty, I think, beyond descriptions of the format. It feels like discovering Mr. Show or Achewood for the first time, and I still feel like that sounds like hyperbole instead of how I actually feel. It’s the funniest shit in the world. Perfect perfect perfect.
Key and Peele – because the Sportscenter sketch is the funniest fucking thing. Louie Season 3. BPRD: The Long Death, Haywire, 21 Jump Street, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel. Stokoe’s Godzilla: The Half Century War fucking BEAST MODE. The jaw-dropping opening scene of End of Watch. Joaquin Phoenix drinking Lysol in The Master. Not all of them, but a huge chunk of the comics that went up on Studygroup. TI’s verse on “Big Beast”. The Evil Abed sequences on Dan Harmon’s season 3 Community swan song; as well as the greatest Die Hard joke of all time. Breaking Bad. TJ Miller and the Kleptones’ “Partying With TJ“. Writing about film and comics – it’s just going to be the same people whom I always mention loving their work. I still do.
Necessary of singling out is EVERYTHING Charlie Brooker was involved in this year. For showing me what the job is supposed to be. My heroes in criticism remain – Charlie Brooker, Pauline Kael, and Hollywood Minute-era David Spade. Because: Fuck. You.
Not a part of this year but I think significant – reading Scorsese On Scorsese, by Martin Scorsese (the one with the Michael Powell introduction - I did not realize there were two books of that title), was inspirational. And not, as I’ve said before, in the “fast-track to epiphany” or “parroting my perceptions back at me from a successful person” or even “wow I love this guy I love everything he does” manner. Instead, Scorsese’s inspiration was just a guy who says more about what it means to be a director by simply loving what he does, loving the medium he works in, and having a command of the art form’s history that is unparalleled. That book – which could have easily coasted on real life anecdotes or personal theory, or even an easier question and answer format – is about how Scorsese works, and movies in general. It is infectious, impossible to read and not feel like the most personal thing someone can do is make a movie.
Also important to me was reading the Alien Vault, which says a lot about me I think. I read a ton of books this year, first year in forever since forever since I was able to read only books I wanted to instead of 14 fucking plays/novels in 3 months ad nauseum for my entire college career. But who wants an english major’s opinion on a list of books? NOBODY, that’s who.
Losing Moebius, losing Tony Scott, and losing Chris Marker. I did find out how disgusting some people can be when more than one person told me they wrote an obituary about Moebius just for the hits, so I’ll keep the public mourning of public figures brief. I feel like nearly everything that I love in comics, science fiction, and film is intrinsically linked to the work of Moebius. His own work is still the comics I feel that use the medium to it’s greatest ability as humanity has gotten, and was still doing his greatest work into the last days of his life. The stories he told and the worlds he created had a massive impact on me and continue to. Tony Scott is someone I still believe can only be eulogized by his own work, which was so kinetic and lush, and the kinds of stories he told which kept him from being taken seriously until his death. The post-death writing about him, like Moebius, felt ghoulish a lot of the time; but I don’t know how much of that is “where were all of you when Man on Fire came out” impulse. Tony was great, and his films are beautiful and human, but they’re also movies and do things that the movies do best – they glamorize things by their very nature. His use, and manipulation of that is what makes him and his work great – from the austere The Hunger all the way to his nerve-destroying episode of The Hire. Chris Maker’s work sought to use film to capture memory, in a way few have even attempted. I don’t have the knowledge or ability to truly assess all these men beyond how their work affected me.
The whole year felt like it was nothing but a series of deaths for me. I don’t like to write about personal things on the internet anymore, because a lot of the time it feels like exorcism in the moment and feels like you cheapened your own life the moment after (shoutout to David Brothers, I know he knows how this feels). But I feel like I should put into context how the entire year for me was defined by two separate deaths in my immediate family, one of whom was my Grandfather. He was sick for the last third of 2011 and I spent a lot of time with him. The last two months of 2011, I spent most of the time driving between my final semester of my bachelors and seeing him in the hospital, but his death was sudden, two days before Christmas back in his house. I literally ran over there after the worst kind of call in the middle of the night and couldn’t do anything to help him or anyone. For the most part, the first quarter of the year is kind of a blur because of the aftermath of that, and the 2nd death in July – which I prefer not to discuss – kind of tore my family apart for a little while. A lot of crying, a lot of yelling, not a god damn thing that can be done for anyone no matter how much you do. When in 2011 I could say I was depressed because of how I felt, it became really fucking shallow in comparison to how despairing it was for everyone I loved in 2012. There’s not much to be expanded upon that I feel like won’t be disrespectful to family members who’ll never read this – but the year was about the very real facts of death, from emptying a house to talking how we felt about these men in our lives, and how much everything else felt like time wasting bullshit. But how much that was needed – not just as a distraction or escape but as something to process bad shit. I am the kind of person who will spend all night watching movies or reading because of a bad day, it’s not healthy but it is certainly how I process my day to day life. So to a certain extent there was a lot of nastiness and a lot of comedy in the entertainment I sought out this year, and I’m sure that if I had kept track of the non-new movies I had watched before we began recording every week, it would be an even more illuminating list. Certainly the slashers marathon didn’t come out of nowhere, emotionally, even if I had an intellectual reason outside of that.
Making lists of entertainment products that felt important to me this year is a thing I have trained myself to do, even in a year where something like that seems even more shallow and pointless than it ever did before. So I don’t know why I’m writing this other than I feel the need to have something down, if nothing else than as a demarcation point. Just to kill the year in my head and move on, without tying down a bow that puts forth this artificial idea that I’ve grown from my experience or that I’m better for it or anything. I’ve been guilty of that before, and it’s garbage. This is me trying to describe the place I am now without the pat contrivances and failing. This is the shit I enjoyed in between all of the real life, I would rather write about it than real life at any opportunity. I miss my grandfather, I hated this year, and I am glad it is over more than anything.
Special thanks to Tucker Stone for doing the movie podcast with me each week. Travis Bickle on the Riviera is the best thing I was involved in for the entire year, and I love working on the podcast more than anything else I’m involved in these days. It’s a blast, it makes me love movies more every week, and that is fucking hard for me because I love movies in a really basic, bone-stupid way. Tucker’s been a great friend, and a writer I’ve always looked up to, and getting to talk to him every week has been the most rewarding part of 2012, I can’t say that enough.
I wrote for a lot of places this year that I’d have never even attempted to pitch to without the help of a few exceptionally kind people. Huge thanks to them for the opportunity. I have some things already written that you’ll be able to read in the coming year, with more to be written, I hope you like them. And I plan on doing the podcast for as long as we humanly can. Thank you to all my friends for their help this year, if they knew they were helping or not. If you are reading this, thank you as well.
– – -
– Sean Witzke – 01/ 04 / 2013 -