Quick prologue to declare that I am phoning it in today to give you dear reader a break from me and me an elegant respite from the WordPress CMS. Tomorrow this should be more substantive, fustian, sententious, haughty, ostentatious and gaudy. Till we meet again…
Auf wiedersehen 2016 (almost)…
#12 in Films…
The Big Short was the first film I saw at the pictures in 2016 — a count that now stretches to 73 (I’m very lonely and depressed, not dissimilar to the above shot of Baleman) — and its impact has survived through a year of infidelities, supervillains, magical misadventures and Hollywood chicaneries (and that’s just the Jesse Eisenberg films). Winner of the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, The Big Short deconstructs the Global Financial Crisis of the late 2000s and then pieces it back together via a collection of narratives, some intersecting more than others, showing how some of the brightest minds in the room screwed us all over while a small clutch of despised outsiders predicted the housing market collapse and profited very nicely thank you very much. It’s quite a blokey film — don’t expect it to pass the Bechdel Test — but by including one of funniest bon mots of the year (“…like someone hit a piñata full of white men who suck at golf” to describe the conference floor at a Las Vegas finance convention) with a knowing glance at the audience, The Big Short gets away with being overtly from the male gaze class of filmmaking. After all, it was us hopeless blokes that got us into this mess. And Margaret Thatcher. Credit where it’s due.
The film employs several outstanding and novel techniques to speed up exposition, and this playful approach to the form of film is greatly appreciated in a picture that aspires to commercial, critical and Oscars success. The relaxed attitude towards film conventions McKay utilised in Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers is retained, refined and repurposed so that the end result is still hilarious but also caustically intellectual. Don’t expect to see the earnest hand wringing of Michael Moore’s documentaries, Too Big To Fail, Margin Call or even underappreciated early 2000s pump-and-dump expose Boiler Room. Smart, incisive and didactic — yes — but The Big Short is also raucously funny. I laughed heartily throughout, and that is surely the only symptom of a good comedy that matters.
You can read a lot more of my thoughts on The Big Short right here, including a longish discursive on Christian Bale.
#12 in TV…
Unfashionable I know, especially in this age of Peak TV full to the brim with high-minded, intellectually-relevant and casually diverse comedies-in-theory, but Modern Family makes the cut because even after eight seasons of Dunphy madness the network TV stalwart is still actually funny. Modern Family has jokes that make you laugh. Take note hipster comedy geniuses: just because your show is 25-30 minutes long and sans laugh track doesn’t mean it must also be devoid of humour.
Extra credit goes to the production team for keeping Modern Family’s Dickensian episode plotting fun and fresh, and for navigating the four adolescent stars’ awkward years with such aplomb. I think I know more about Haley, Alex, Luke and Manny than I do my actual siblings.
I think it’s fair to say ‘unpresidented’ came along at just the right time to give me a day off coming up with reams of content for today’s special feature. Other words and phrases to pique my interest in 2016 include alt-right (what we used to call neo-Nazi / white supremacist / racist / stereotypical drunk uncle at Christmas), woke (eyes open to injustice), shoey (celebratory post-victory footwear libations), post-truth (when Abraham Lincoln sends mail), grab em by the pussy (things Presidents do), fake news (everything not on The Guardian), doctorbating (when you reach world-class levels of onism), dysphemism (use of a vulgar term (ie piss) in place of a more socially acceptable word (ie wee)).
I could well revisit this subject matter in a latter entry to increase its girth.
#12 in Albums…
(Australia #1, US #8, UK #25)
Back in the day I used to purchase 100% Hits and Hit Machine compilations, comprising the biggest hits from the season on one convenient CD. These collections still exist in some form or another, judging by the pissy CD rack at my local petrol station, but in the age of Spotify and similar streaming services (I am on Deezer, by the way, with the other cool kids), there’s no real market for them anymore. Further rendering compilation albums irrelevant is Manly Mac operator Harley Streten. Across 16 tracks on his difficult second album Skin, Flume captures the eclectic spirit of hope and anxiety in a time of electronic dance music. Merging the hip-hop sensibilities of Vic Mensa and Vince Staples, the alternate bona fides of Little Dragon and AlunaGeorge, the Scandinavian pop pedigree of Tove Lo and the Beckness of Beck, Skin is a album of singles that does not let your listening ears, singing tongue and dancing legs rest from startup to shutdown. And then there’s his remarkable Never Be Like You, a pop tune so finely crafted, effortlessly cool and beautifully rendered by heretofore unknown Canadian vocalist Kai. If this track were 3D printed it would be the ultimate shiny thing, but the opposite of fake, and that’s why we love it so much.
#12 in Books…
(Reading experiences! Although this book was released in 2016!)
After a Eurotrip completely enthralled by Infinite Jest, I decided to change tack completely and flirt with some pseudophilosophical quasibiographical nonfiction. The superior first half of Clementine Ford’s debut book combines exposition about her life growing up in South Australia, Oman and the United Kingdom, and how those experiences went on to inform her views about body image, women’s reproductive rights, identity politics and, broadly speaking, the place of women in the world. Because she shows instead of tells, and her biographical writing is laudable for not descending into the self-indulgent, if a little detail-poor, these sections are much more persuasive and empathy-earning than the second half, which relies too heavily on emotive language as it lapses into screed.
One imagines Ford’s publisher gave her a wordcount target and a deadline and she divided that tally by the days remaining to arrive at a daily goal. She then would stay up through the night, reaching for that figures, constantly hitting the wordcount shortcut (Control + Shift + C, incidentally, at least in Google Docs) till finally she hit it and could go to bed. We’ve all been there! She also throws in a glossary of feminist terms and large tranches of invective she has received from Men On The Internet. A lot of that abuse is sickening.
Ford’s tale is moving and funny; her fortitude in the face of abuse, not just from keyboard warriors but also shockjocks and rival columnists, is simply remarkable. I was going through a lot of body image issues and trying to figure out why I was at war with food while reading Fight Like A Girl and Ford’s reflections helped make a lot of things clearer for me. I’m definitely not the target market — long sections are written almost as letters addressed to womanhood, both collectively and individually — but men with an open mind and a willingness to empathise can get a lot out of Fight Like A Girl.