One of the essential functions of popular culture is to provide relief from the stresses of everyday life. Another is to offer thrills, joy and insights from unfamiliar perspectives. Here’s a sampling of moments from this year that accomplished those goals for me. Happy Thanksgiving.
That proposal on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Andy Samberg’s smile in this scene is luminous. Melissa Fumero is consistently superb. This show is one of TV’s most consistently and purely enjoyable, and this moment is one of its high points.
A steady drip of new Frank Ocean tracks. The culture has collectively moved on from blond, which is a shame, because that album is some kind of heady masterpiece. Even as the mercurial artist has eschewed live TV performances or any other conventional promotion, “Biking,” “Chanel,” “Provider” and “Slide” have tided me over until his next big effort. If there is one, which maybe there shouldn’t be.
Tiffany Haddish shouting out her social worker on Saturday Night Live, putting Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith on blast on Jimmy Kimmel Live and owning every second of screentime in Girls Trip. What a year she had. She was also quite funny and charming in a supporting role on the late, lamented The Carmichael Show on NBC. Next year, the movies…and some trophies?
Spending half of The Lost City of Z going “Who is that fine bearded actor next to Charlie Hunnam?” and then realizing it’s Robert Pattinson, a true chameleon. It’s fitting that such an immersive film hides its most recognizable performer behind an incomprehensible accent and an impenetrable mane of facial hair.
Emma Stone and Andrea Riseborough burning up the screen in Battle of the Sexes. That movie didn’t do much for me, despite some inspired direction from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. But the scenes between Billie Jean King (Stone) and her lover Marilyn Barnett (Riseborough) carried an electric charge that could have sustained a standalone story.
Seeing Get Out in a full house. That movie is great no matter the audience, but you haven’t truly seen it until you’re surrounded by dozens of rapt viewers screaming, laughing and hollering at all the right moments.
Loving, hating, respecting, admiring and side-eyeing Mother! I still haven’t decided what I think of this ambitious and confounding movie, which is an exhilarating feeling in the age of polarization. (RIP J-Laronosfsky, btw.)
Hasan Minhaj conquers an unconquerable assignment and makes a striking debut. The Daily Show correspondent boldly dared to go where so many other more famous comedians wouldn’t — to the first White House Correspondents’ Dinner under the Trump era. Against the odds, he delivered piercing satire and earned sentiment in equal measure. His standup special Homecoming King offers a similarly enticing blend, winding its way through the comedian’s life story with the help of some gracefully integrated graphics.
Watching Sterling K. Brown, the man, become The Man. Interviewing him last year about his breakout role in the OJ miniseries was a treat. It’s been even more exciting to see him gain mainstream attention and an Emmy award for the most popular show on network television (This Is Us). He was also a delight in a few appearances on the fantastic second season of Insecure (for which I’m also thankful), and he’s going to figure in next year’s hotly anticipated superhero thriller Black Panther. Years of dedicated toiling in the theater community can pay off.
Still knowing almost nothing about Phantom Thread. Is this movie about the ghost of a fashion designer wreacking havoc on the 1950s London fashion scene? Is it a documentary about Daniel Day-Lewis descending into madness upon immersing himself in the art of fabric weaving? Is it about subtweets? I’ve watched the extended trailer and devoured every tidbit about the latest film from Haim fanboy Paul Thomas Anderson, and I still don’t get it. Maybe this movie will be lame, or just okay. But maybe it will be extraordinary. There’s no shame in hope.