Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Summer’s Here: Year of Bests – 2015


Way back when, I did not publish a year-end piece on those articles I most enjoyed reading for the period. Routinely, my online browsing turns up a number authors and write-ups that exceed whatever threshold I have in my head. I promised not to get caught flat-footed again. So, I rectified the issue by gathering them up and presenting each quarterly. This the second of such for the year.

We’re all warmed up by now so let’s get cracking, shall we?

Jericho Mile

Once again, my friend and colleague J.D., via his Radiator Heaven blog, starts us out with another Michael Mann movie. One that is a clear favorite of ours both that few get to screen, which it a true shame:

The Jericho Mile

“Mann’s success in television gave him the confidence to ask ABC for a shot at directing a film. He set up a made-for-T.V. movie called Swan Song about a skier but the project was delayed when its star, David Soul, needed a year to recover from a spinal injury. The head of ABC television’s Movie of the Week sent Mann a prison-themed teleplay written by Patrick J. Nolan. Mann extensively rewrote it, incorporating his research from Folsom and the result was a made-for-TV movie called The Jericho Mile (1979).”

fail safe

Always a pleasure to link to my dear friend Aurora over at Once Upon a Screen… Knowledgeable and approachable, always love to read her blogs posts. Especially when she looks at another favorite of ours:

Sidney Lumet, purveyor of truth

“For his 1964 film, Fail Safe, Lumet recreates the cinematic style we saw in 12 Angry Men in many instances and again, creates high drama on a personal scale.  Another great accomplishment given the story is both personal and grand – up close and broad.  Fail Safe is a great thriller that’s still affecting today and features one of the most memorable endings in filmdom.  It ends with the possibility of the scariest of truths.  Then it lingers.”


My friend Terri Wilson doesn’t write much on her In The Comfy Chair blog, but when she does it’s definitely worth reading. And when it deals with our Breaking Bad obsession, now channeled to its prequel series by Vince Gilligan, it’s doubly so:

Post-Mortem Breakdown Blues

Better Call Saul came to the table this year with a helluva lot of good will. A HELL OF A LOT! Enough to make its pilot episode the best series premiere in cable history. And though I think the audience was rewarded more often than not, in the end I think our patience was rewarded with being asked to come up with more patience. Don’t misunderstand how impressed I am every week by the talent attached to this show. The writing and acting are impeccable. The direction and cinematography continue to raise the bar for series television.”


Must include Jonathan Robbins once more. An avid reader who is passionate about writing provided a simply wonderful look at a “…captivating documentary” on his Robbins Realm Blog. Like the film, something to not miss:

Life Itself — A Revealing Portrait of Roger Ebert

“Advancing the narrative through commentary, which is interspersed throughout the film, are: Ebert’s wife Chaz, long time friends, Gene Siskel’s widow Marlene, fellow film critics, as well as a few very well known individuals. For example, multiple award winning director, Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas). The director expresses that he felt pride when Ebert was praiseworthy of his work, being one of the first film critics to champion his film “Who’s That Knocking at My Door,” when he was still an unknown. Scorsese, however, also took guidance, when a review from Ebert of one of his films was less than stellar, such as, “The Color of Money.”

steely dan

I know, not everyone is a Steely Dan fan, but they should be. [Any views or opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the internet.] But Gabriel Stebbing, writing for The Noisey Guide, explains why there’s “…a world of musical discovery” awaiting you when you start:

The Noisey Guide to Steely Dan

“One of two songs on their 1980 album Gaucho about gnarly old perverts trying to pick up girls below the legal drinking age (there must have been something in the water eh?), this one is set to an impossibly laconic bar-room funk soundtrack. Sharp-eared listeners will notice the bang-on-time kick and snare, the calling card of The Dan’s bespoke drum machine ‘Wendel’ (of which more later). Meanwhile the outro line—”The Cuervo Gold / The fine Columbian”—leaves you in two minds as to whether our protagonist is ending the evening drinking and sniffing with company, or alone.”


As Executive Producer Graham Yost was putting the final (and superb) season of JUSTIFIED to bed, he came up with a list of his fave episodes, as related to Oriana Schwindt for TVInsider. Enough here to whet the curiosity of those who’ve not yet glommed on to this series, which came by way of an Elmore Leonard short story. When your binge-watching ends, you can thank me:

Executive Producer Graham Yost Chooses Justified’s Best Episodes

“The Justified pilot is one of those rare first episodes that knows exactly what the show wants to be, and sets up the series to deliver on the premiere’s promises. It’s in Episode 5, however, that we meet Raylan’s Aunt Helen (also his stepmom) and father Arlo, and really start to explore Harlan County through Raylan’s reluctant eyes. Seeing his twisted roots added depth and began the process of world-building that led to a dynamite second season.”


George D. Allen took on one of those challenging William Friedkin films that some people either wanted forgotten, or because of its notorious nature, had just skipped right over it. The Movies Unlimited piece makes the case for “…what they call one hell of a good movie”:

William Friedkin’s Cruising Out of the Closet

“Friedkin has said the film is purposefully ambiguous, and it is exactly that opaque quality that winds up making the film play so easily to what were then common, and destructive, attitudes about homosexuality. Even though Pacino’s boss in the film (a gloriously understated performance by Paul Sorvino in a movie full of gloriously understated performances) tries to spell it out for us at the very outset when he gives rookie cop Steve Burns the assignment—he will be “vanishing” into a world that is apart from the mainstream gay community—I have little doubt this line washed over 1980 audiences like water over a pebble.”


TapeOp reproduced one of the best sections of Phill Brown’s book Are We Still Rolling?, which I read a short while back. This is what pushed me to read it, in fact:

Phill Brown – Recording Beggar’s Banquet

The Stones appeared to be split into two camps. In one camp were Bill Wyman, quiet and laid back, and Charlie Watts, the perfect gentleman, always polite and friendly with a warm, dry humour. In the other camp were Mick Jagger, who although he was sharp and amusing I found distant and arrogant, and Keith Richards who came over as being very intense and aggressive. Brian Jones struggled between these two partnerships, having what appeared to be a difficult time. He often looked wasted on drugs or alcohol, but was usually friendly and easy going. He had been trying over the previous few months to give up various drugs including marijuana and LSD.”


Having read Ken Hartman’s book last year, seen Denny Tedesco’s film of The Wrecking Crew in this one, along with experiencing just about all of the music this intrepid band of studio musicians forged back in the day, it was a special to read the L.A. Weekly‘s piece, by David Futch, on the musician who doesn’t get the admiration and respect she truly deserves:

Carol Kaye is the Greatest Bass Player You Probably Never Heard Of

“She was there in the golden, heady days of rock & roll when Phil Spector created the Wall of Sound. She was there when Brian Wilson was recording the seminal Pet Sounds. She was there backing up the likes of Joe Cocker, Ritchie Valens, Sam Cooke, The Righteous Brothers, The Monkees — you name it.

Although most people don’t know who she is, Kaye’s bass riffs have seared musical moments into billions of memories.”


Easily, one of the best, thoughtful, and haunting films of 2015 was the “outstanding directorial debut from Alex Garland”, and Ruth of Flixchatter captured why that was:

Flixchatter Review: Ex Machina

“Despite the relatively low budget (under $15 mil), the production values are fantastic. From Nathan’s state-of-the-art estate and his lab where he builds these machines, as well as the mountain scenery, it’s a good looking film. I also love how atmospheric the film is, thanks to the cool, ethereal-sounding soundtrack and resplendent cinematography. But the most striking of all is the robotic look of Eva, which is both mechanical as well as organic, you simply can’t take your eyes off her. We’re as drawn to her as Caleb was in the film.”


Religion and the cinema, like or not, have a definite connection — whether you are a believer or not. Mark of three rows back offered a marvelous related piece a short while back that’s worth contemplating:

Thousand Words – The Portrait of the Religious Movie By An Atheist Director

Exodus: Gods And Kings proved a hard sell to the same Christian groups who didn’t take kindly to Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (2014), whose eponymous central figure the atheist director has described as “the first environmentalist”. Aronofsky’s singular vision (he called it the “least-biblical biblical film ever made”) of a zealot driven to the brink of madness by his mission from “the creator” and the presence of giant angels made out of rock proved too subversive for some.”


Certainly, an impetus for Netflix’s success of late has been the quality of their own series coming online. James Whitbrook, writing for uncovers the triumph of Marvel’s DAREDEVIL through their:

Evolution Of Daredevil’s Bloody, Beautiful Fight Scenes

“Matt is a character who openly wears the strain of combat and taking a beating. When he gets back up, gone is the sleek, athletic dodges and twirls, replaced with sheer, sloppy brutality. Matt’s swings are not precise; he gets hurled around, knocked down multiple times. He staggers, exhausted. The fight has transitioned from a skirmish into a full on brawl.”

churches in movies

Jared Cowan is a photographer, camera operator and avid filmgoer living in Los Angeles. Writing for L.A. Weekly, his pictorial for some of the places of worship used in the movies we’ve all grown up with was a visual, giddy treat to page through:

L.A. Churches Made Famous On The Big Screen

“Notre-Dame, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey: While we can’t claim hometown ownership over these historic edifices, Angelenos can take pride of the fact that our local churches represent a unique and diverse culture that is distinctly Los Angeles. As a result, L.A.’s churches have become the locations to some of cinema’s most memorable moments. Here, productions can find lonely desert sanctuaries just a short drive away from expansive metropolitan parishes. From Kill Bill’s “Massacre at Two Pines” to Spaceballs’ First Intergalactic Temple of the Druids, here are some of L.A.’s most filmed houses of worship.”


To say I agree with Rachael Acks, for her Sound and Nerdery site, would be an understatement:

Why Age of Ultron Made Black Widow My Favorite Avenger

“Looking at it from the perspective of how she talks about the Red Room, I wonder if she gravitated toward Bruce because in a way, she’s got the most in common with him. No one would ever call Steve Rogers a monster, but Bruce has many of the same self-doubts and insecurities that she does. And when she gets past flirting and into more aggressive territory, it’s in the wake of having had Wanda fishing all of those fears and insecurities up; no shit she might want to try to make a connection with someone to remind herself she’s still human.”


Back in the day, I was more than happy with computer generated graphics to enhance special effects in movies. Finally, someone (in this case David Christopher Bell for, explained all the technical reasons I’ve grown so tired of it, especially those things that look so unrealistic:

6 Reasons Modern Movie CGI Look Surprisingly Crappy

“It took me forever to figure out why this shot looked so wrong, until realizing that the one-ton robot flying down the highway somehow manages to lightly flip and bounce like a two-pound puppy. The obvious explanation is that the director needed Arnold to end with his face through the windshield for the hilarious little gag that happens next, and accomplished this by throwing out everything we know about gravity and inertia in the process. It’s yet another case of an object or person going where the director needed it to go, instead of where it naturally would. And while many movies these days actually hire physicists to tell them if they’re punching Isaac Newton in the taint, that advice is meaningless if you’re using CGI to pull off an entire stunt instead of trying to perform it in the real world.”

The Thing (1982)  Directed by John Carpenter

The Thing (1982)
Directed by John Carpenter

No secret John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my all-time favorites. So when I received a recommendation to read a Jim Hemphill interview of Dean Cundey, th early collaborator who lensed a number of Carpenter’s classics, I headed right over to the The American Society of Cinematography piece. You should, too:

A Q&A with Dean Cundey about his work John Carpenter’s The Thing

Cundey: The anamorphic aspect ratio was very consciously discussed as an effective way to capture so many characters and make them feel confined in the frame. John was a very big proponent of trying to get one shot to fulfill the needs of the scene. I would say our approach was somewhere in between having storyboards and just making it up as you go. We had some excellent storyboards by Mike Ploog, a well-known comic-book artist; he created great jumping-off points that served as inspiration for us.”


Again, TV series, the Superhero variety and their writing, are putting to shame what we get in movies sometimes:

4 Lesson We Learned From This Year’s Superhero TV Series

4) Seriously, You Don’t Have to Have Terrible Female Characters

This might seems obvious, but somehow it still isn’t, despite the fact this past season of TV gave us textbooks examples of female characters written well and female characters written poorly. So many — too many — female characters on the year’s comic shows were terrible, and they were all terrible in the same way.”


While we’re pointing out aspects and trends that are not only formulaic, but indicate the problem of blockbusters today, then Brad Brevet’s piece in Rope of Silicon is another must-read:

‘Point Break’ Remake Highlights a Problem With Today’s Blockbuster Films & It’s Not The Story

“Look at that screen capture at the top of this post from the film’s trailer. Does that look like any wave you’ve seen? They have saturated the image, cranked up the blacks and applied a teal and orange color treatment to the point it looks nothing like real life. Even worse, it looks like every other low-rent action film of the last ten years, pumping up the contrast, chroming the film out to appear “cooler”, attempting to hide the flaws in the filmmaking. Thing is, what’s hidden here is the reality they are going for with their stunts.

mad max - center framed

Well, since the previous article happens to mention Mad Max: Fury Road, might as well discuss something else that made the George Miller actioner one of the best films of 2015 (and it was something you can see in the film we did this week as part of our duo post series, as well):

Secrets of Mad Max: Fury Road’s Brilliance: It’s All in the Editing

“Miller shot over 480 hours of footage over the course of the production, which the film’s editor, Margaret Sixel, distilled down into a mere 120 minutes. Her work was aided by Miller’s direction and a particular approach to how the film was composed.”

apollo 13

Most of the time, I simply cover the popular arts of film, music, and books here. But, if you’re technically curious like me, some facets standout and deserve a greater look. If the film Apollo 13 is a favorite of yours, then this Ars Technica article by Lee Hutchison should scratch your high-tech (for that day and age) itch:

45 years after Apollo 13: Ars looks what went wrong and why

“So contrary to a now 20-year-old film, what happened exactly? Why did the oxygen tank explode, and how could a defective oxygen tank make it aboard a functioning, healthy spacecraft in the first place? But most important of all, in an age of slide rules and shockingly primitive computers 45 years ago, how did Apollo 13 make it back home after sustaining such crippling damage?”

christopher lee

With the recent passing of the legendary Christopher Lee, Rob Bricken writing for made clear the man was even more remarkable than many of his fans knew:

22 Incredible Facts About the Life and Career of Sir Christopher Lee

“9) While filming a swordfight with a drunken Errol Flynn during the filming of The Dark Avengers in 1955, Flynn accidentally cut Lee’s hand so badly his finger nearly came off, and permanently injured. Later, Lee cut off Flynn’s wig while Flynn was still wearing it. Flynn stormed off set and refused to come out of his trailer until Lee claimed it was an accident.”


While Universal is making money hand-over-fist with the latest in their dinosaur franchise, Leslie Coffin over at The Mary Sue site deftly pointed out something in the blockbuster tale that made it a contentious step-back:

Jurassic World’s Mother of a Problem

“Not being close to your nephews isn’t some kind of proof that you lack maternal instincts, the way this film suggests. Beyond that, Claire not having children, and declaring she doesn’t want children, also isn’t some sort of fatal personality flaw. But Jurassic World clearly sees it this way, believing the natural progression of women has them evolving into mothers, and those who don’t have that desire are somehow deficient of humanity. Despite claims to the contrary, motherhood does not equal inherent goodness, and not wanting to be a mother does not equal an inherent lack thereof for women.

pride passion

We can’t have a Year of Bests highlight without a another opening titles sequence from the good folk over at Art of the Title, now can we? And it’s another oldie but a goodie by the great Saul Bass, too:

Pride and The Passion (1957)

“Details from the etchings fill the screen and are overlaid in blood red. Saul then added jarring superimpositions of muskets, spears, a spray of bullets and exploding gunpowder. The first scene of the film, a panoramic view of the retreating Spanish army, fades in under a red screen and, for a few moments, the images are suffused with the color of blood.

70s music ads

As usual, I’m dating myself with a piece of history…okay, ancient history. Hey, it was a formative time for me. Spencer Kornhaber’s piece for The Atlantic made me recall the ads that flooded music fans’ eyes back then for what they should have been listening to…according to them:

When Words Sold Music

“The early, much-romanticized years of rock magazines—the ‘60s and ‘70s, when Cameron Crowe was living out Almost Famous and Lester Bangs was starting to inspire a generation of imitators—were a time when print advertising relied on a lot more words than it usually does today, and when it was one of the few means available to promote music to new audiences. (MTV wasn’t around; YouTube-style song sampling would have seemed like science fiction.)”


The last Rob Bricken, and…and Jurassic World, piece for this quarter’s coverage lands here, but it’s totally worth it. Spoilers ahead…so you’ve been warned:

Jurassic World: The Spoiler FAQ

Why does Pratt know so much about dinosaur behavior?

It’s all those dinosaur classes the Navy makes its recruits take. Anyways, then the Indominus gets out.


Okay, might as well list the article that made me acquire, and soon-to-be-reading, Caseen Gaines’ book, We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of Back to the Future Trilogy, by the author for Vanity Fair:

How Back to the Future II Got 2015 Surprisingly Right

“In designing the future, the team was able to flex their creative muscles. It’s true that “not Blade Runner” can only be carried so far as an edict, but Bob Gale’s screenplay provided valuable clues as to how the Bobs, [Gale and director Robert Zemeckis], wanted the twenty-first century to appear on-screen. Technology would be more ubiquitous, but in a helpfully efficient way, not an oppressive one. Instead of trying to predict where technology was headed in the real world and forecast those guesses on-screen, Gale went for humor, expanding upon some of the gags from the first film, like Marty inventing the first skateboard, and including some in-jokes to mock 1980s popular culture, like the seemingly endless Jaws sequels and even the momentous appeal of Zemeckis’s own Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”


Noticing that I needed one more book article, I’ll close this ‘Bests’ chapter before heading out for the 4th of July with the following. Richard Chizmar’s fond recollection of reading Stephen King’s Firestarter over at Stephen King Revisited. Maybe this should be part of next year’s titles for our Duo Post Series — Rachel, are you listening?:

Revisiting Firestarter

“The book still felt suffocatingly dark and grim to me, but I appreciated the story in a way that I couldn’t before as an eighteen year old with a full life ahead of him relaxing on the beach.

I was older and wiser now. I understood that what our Government had done in this book (in the name of National Security) had probably occurred — in different ways — thousands of times over in real life. We no longer merely feared that Big Brother was watching us — we knew it. We were living it.”

The entire series can be found here.

8 Responses to “Summer’s Here: Year of Bests – 2015”

  1. ruth

    Thanks so much for including me, Michael. Such an honor that you like my review of Ex Machina, easily one of the best from this year.

    I so agree with that ‘Jurassic World’s Mother of a Problem’ article. As a married woman who doesn’t have children yet, it’s quite offensive to see a characterization like Claire, that she’ being seen as a flawed character because she chooses to be a career woman. Heh, another reason that movie is such a disappointment, but of course it ends up being the biggest box office winner ever [shrug]

    Liked by 1 person


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