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My favorite movies of 2022, the origins of Auld Lang Syne, and George R.R. Seuss
Plus: What Harry Potter and I have in common, predicting the future, and a must-see beaver dam.
Hello, happy new year, and welcome to the Follow Friday newsletter! What did you do on New Year’s Eve? I celebrated with a couple friends at a small house party, where we ate cheese, drank French 75s sweetened with rose syrup, made a mess with glitter, and agreed amongst ourselves that celebrating in Times Square sounds absolutely miserable. Earlier in the day, I re-rewatched When Harry Met Sally and discovered that, oops, it is now my favorite movie of all time???
More about that in a moment but first, are you subscribed to the newsletter?
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The single best thing I saw online this week: When Harry Met Sally, like my now second-favorite movie The Apartment, features a climactic scene set on New Year’s Eve where a character has a revelation at a party, right as the clock turns over to midnight. And while this is going on, what do the revelers in the background sing? “Auld Lang Syne,” of course.
If you’ve ever wondered why Americans sing that song at that time — or if you’re like me and you’ve never questioned it but it feels like the sort of thing you should know — check out this article in Atlas Obscura. The (likely) answer is weirder and more interesting than you might expect!
The best podcasts I’ve heard this week
There’s a lot of Glass Onion in this newsletter (see my top 10 list below and, uh, some of the links at the bottom), but what’s one more? I’ve been hoovering up interviews with director Rian Johnson since the movie came out, and the best by far has been his appearance on WTF. I don’t always keep up with Marc Maron’s long-running podcast, but I really should. He is an incredible interviewer and knows how to get guests like Johnson talking about everything.
I was already suspicious of “workplace wellness” challenges before I listened to this episode of Maintenance Phase, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. Michael Hobbess and Aubrey Gordon more than pick up the slack, tracing these wellness programs’ murky origins to some of the most disturbing ways they’ve been foisted on unwilling workers.
Screen Drafts is notorious for its very long episodes, and I think this month they’re going to outdo themselves: Over the course of three episodes, starting with this one, they’re ranking all 34 Steven Spielberg films. And because of the competitive-collaborative nature of the Screen Drafts game, that entails a lot of debate and strategic vetoes; episode one alone, comprising the bottom 11 films, runs for more than four and a half hours. But hey, at least it’s faster than electing the Speaker of the House!
help i’m addicted to these old songs
This is not a new addiction. It began when I was in middle school, and my father spotted a 3-CD box set at Best Buy, “The Remains of Tom Lehrer.” In successive car trips, we howled with laughter at songs like “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” and “We Will All Go Together When We Go”; I also learned a surprising amount about 1960s politics and culture from Lehrer’s later work, like “Pollution” and “Wernher von Braun.”
These songs are in equal measure witty, morbid, brilliant, tasteless, and catchy, and I wish they were better-known. That said, it is cool to know that Daniel Radcliffe and I were both obsessed with the same cult comedy icon as children.
Anyway, now’s your chance to join the cool kids: In November, Lehrer released all of his recordings into the public domain and put them up on his website for free, alongside previously-released lyrics and sheet music. On the homepage, he warns that, “This website will be shut down at some date in the not too distant future, so if you want to download anything, don’t wait too long.” So act now!
My top 10 new movies of 2022, and how to watch them online
If you follow me on Letterboxd, you’ll notice this differs slightly from the list I keep there, which included some 2021 films that I only got to this year. So a few bonus recommendations not reviewed below, but which are nevertheless top 10-worthy: Summer of Soul (on Hulu and Disney+) Pig (on Hulu and Kanopy), and The Worst Person in the World (on Hulu and Kanopy).
#10: Three Thousand Years of Longing
A flawed but beautiful delight from the director of Mad Max that I liked enough to see twice in theaters. Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba are perfectly cast, and the controversial ending did not bother me as much on the second viewing. It’s more sedate than Miller’s opus Fury Road (isn’t everything?), but still engrossing and deeply heartfelt. Available to rent/buy starting at $2.99.
#9: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
I sat through this animated movie thinking it was CGI, but nope … it’s very, very good stop-motion. A brilliant reinterpretation/reclamation of the Pinocchio story that — while maybe suitable for some older kids — is not-so-subtly for adults. My only real complaint: They knew the songs would never live up to the Disney classic, so why bother at all? Available on Netflix.
#8: The Fabelmans
This late-Spielberg entry didn’t rock my world the way his superior remake of West Side Story did, but that didn’t stop it from being one of my favorite movies of the year. As previously discussed in this space: DO NOT pay attention to the trailer, or the poster. This is a much smarter, much better, much deeper movie than the marketing team seems to understand. Available to rent/buy starting at $19.99.
Epic, ridiculous, and gorgeous to look at, this three-plus-hour Tollywood film should only be enjoyed with a crowd. RRR provided us with some of the most memorable action shots in any movie this year — nay, decade — and possibly the best dance-off ever committed to film. Available on Netflix (dubbed in Hindi).
#6: Glass Onion
It doesn’t quite reach the heights of 2019’s sublime Knives Out, but I was still delighted by this second outing (so to speak) for Benoit Blanc. It’s plain to see that writer/director Rian Johnson deeply loves whodunits — and howdunits — and that he knows how to wrangle an ensemble cast like few others working today. I hope he makes as many of these as he wants. Available on Netflix.
#5: Decision to Leave
“What if Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo had a baby?” should be teaser enough to convince some of you to watch this gorgeous, thrilling Korean murder mystery. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to director Park Chan-wook, who previously made the celebrated (and, I’m told, more disturbing) films Oldboy and The Handmaiden. Available on MUBI, or to rent/buy starting at $9.99.
#4: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
I thought this movie would be extremely cute, and I was right. But I didn’t expect it to also be a gently brilliant rebuke of internet culture and to achieve Pixar-worthy levels of emotional storytelling. We see no disease in Marcel’s world, yet when someone makes the definitive list of “COVID movies,” this should top the list. Available to rent/buy starting at $4.99.
#3: The Banshees of Inisherin
I’m willing to give it another chance, but I was more mixed on In Bruges than (seemingly) most of the internet … so it was certainly a surprise that this reunion of the same director and actors was one of my three favorite films of the year. Possibly a career-best for both Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, and a riotously funny dark comedy featuring some of my favorite individual scenes of the year. Available on HBO Max, or to rent/buy starting at $3.99.
A high-water mark for Cate Blanchett, and I don’t say that lightly. Masterfully directed by Todd Field, with a story that lures you in very slowly, and then all at once. I have listened to more podcasts and read more articles about other films on this list, but Tár is the film I’ve thought the most about since I saw it. Available to rent/buy starting at $5.99.
#1: Everything Everywhere All At Once
A magnificent, hilarious, weird movie that deftly blends multiversal hijinks, existential humor, and generational trauma. A very unlikely film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, but it’s the one that deserves it most this year. I look forward to revisiting EEAAO for a third time … and then a fourth, and so on. Available on Showtime, or to buy starting at $12.99.
Happy anniversary to these pretty good ads
It’s now 2023, which means it’s been 30 years since AT&T’s prescient “You Will” TV ad campaign, which was directed by David Fincher (!!). Back in 1993, he was “the music video guy who made that terrible sequel to Aliens” and AT&T was pacing menacingly in circles until the federal government stopped caring about antitrust. What a time! Anyway, these ads are still good, and charming in a New York World’s Fair kinda way.
The best thing I’ve read this week
In a Reddit thread titled, “Who would be the worst author to finish Game of Thrones?,” one of the top commenters suggested Dr. Seuss. Another user, mikevago, took that ball and ran:
I sat there with Ramsay
We sat by the bay,
And he said, "how I wish
I had someone to flay!"
And then something went BUMP!
How that bump made us jump!
We looked and we saw him stomp on the ground!
We looked and we saw him, the badly-burned Hound!
A lot of Seuss parodies just go for rhymes and silly words, but miss the meter. Not this one. Read the whole poem here.
(Bonus: The source of the image above, “Oh, the Places It’ll Snow” by Alex Cohen)