Monday, December 30, 2013

a number of things that have my number: tops of 2013

Earlier this year, AK and I saw Frances Ha. I thought it was a charming, funny, wise movie, but AK really loved it—to the point that she was almost embarrassed. It had her number! It knew her soul!

I feel a little bit that way about Enlightened, which we’re now semi-binge watching the first season of. At first I thought that Amy’s (Laura Dern) story would be about discovering that New Age mumbo jumbo couldn’t bring her inner peace. We, the audience, would get to laugh at self-help books and yuppie meditation retreats as Amy slowly learned that enlightenment was a useless dangling carrot, and that her real work lay elsewhere.

Like Amy, I usually have ONE MORE THING to say.
Luckily creator Mike White and Laura Dern don’t take the easy route, turning the show into a big joke about Whole Foods. Amy’s brand of enlightenment is real and internally generated. But linking ideals and nirvana moments with the ugly challenges of life is the hard part, and the center of the show. I relate SO MUCH to the hopeless perfectionist/ignorant do-gooder voices in her head (though at least I don’t get all squeeeee when exclaiming fakely over friends’ pregnancies; I like to think I honorably wear my ambivalence about other people’s good fortune my sleeve, though I’m sure many would prefer I didn’t).

Even though the dominant American narrative is one of self-improvement, somehow we made it decades and decades without a major movie or TV show devoted to intentional personal growth. We prefer to see change thrust upon people, who have poetic epiphanies accordingly. To find the poetry in the equivalent of Jewel’s poetry collection is a radical act that seems uniquely Mike White.

Enlightenment would definitely make my Best Of 2013, if there were a category for Stuff I Binge-Watched And/Or Read Online In My Own Little Cultural Bubble. So would Orange is the New Black. There should be such a category, since 1) that’s how we consume both text and visual narratives and non-narratives these days, and 2) it’s my blog and I make the rules.

But to make such a category would mean I’d feel the need to expand to, like, exceptional Twitter feeds, and suddenly I need a nap. So I’m sticking to movies (released in 2013) and books (read in 2013). Here it is, internet, the Top Seven and Top Ten you didn’t know you were waiting for.

Only Ann Patchett could make me want to read a book about fertility.
Ten favorite books:
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin
The Next Scott Nadelson by Scott Nadelson
Madhouse Fog by Sean Carswell

Honorable Mi/yriams: Myriam Gurba’s weird, delicious little chapbooks and Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person by Miriam Engelberg.

This scene doesn't quite pass the Bechdel Test, but it's still fantastic.
Seven favorite movies:
Captain Phillips
American Hustle
Warm Bodies
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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