Once again it’s time for my annual post on the pop culture that was most memorable to me over the past year. It doesn’t have to be something created in 2018. It just has to be something I consumed over the past year. And as always I emphasize that these are the things that meant the most to me, not necessarily the things that I think are the best thing made in any given category.
Movie I Saw in a Theatre
I actually went to the movies quite a bit this past year and saw some really good movies. I appreciated that there were a couple of romantic comedies in the actual theater and not just Netflix. I really enjoyed Love, Simon and that scene at the end of Crazy Rich Asians when he gets on the plane with the ring still makes me smile when I think about it. I’m always hoping for more romantic comedies to grace the screen. There was also A Star is Born, which was not really a rom-com, but did have elements of romance. Hopefully these movies will be the harbinger for more.
As for superhero films, the one I enjoyed the most this year actually goes to the late entry of Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. I only went to this one because my husband wanted to go, but I wound up really loving it. It’s funny and smart and beautifully animated in the fashion of actual comic books. It was fantastic.
I think two of the best movies I saw this year though were documentaries. I was very much looking forward to the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor because I liked Mr. Rogers as a kid and I loved the creators’ previous documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. It did not disappoint. It felt so lovely during a time when the world seems so terrible. I also really enjoyed Charm City, which is a documentary about Baltimore. It touched all my feelings. I laughed. I cried. My heart broke for this city that has such great potential, but can’t get out from under hundreds of years of racial discrimination that have left it in the terrible state it’s in today.
Movie I Watched at Home
I think almost every other year I’ve written one of these posts I’ve said something about not watching many movies at home or not remembering them. This year I actually kept a list so that I had something to refer to. It does make me wonder if I’ve watched more movies in the past than I thought, but just didn’t remember them because I actually watched quite a few over the course of this year.
Again a documentary was one of my favorites. RBG, which is about Ruth Bader Ginsberg was fantastic. I don’t care what your politics are and whether you agree with her judicial decisions or not. This film shows what an incredible woman she is and how much she has accomplished.
Also in continuing my late entries with animated superhero movies, we recently watched Teen Titans Go to the Movies and it was a delight. I’ve never watched the cartoon, so I don’t have any reference point to compare it to but this movie was really funny and had a lot of references aimed at 80s kids of which I am one that hit me right in the sweet spot.
Probably the best movie I saw though was Paddington 2. I kept hearing people talk about this movie last year and how great it was. I remained super skeptical about why everyone was so gaga over a kids’ movie. They really were not wrong though. It was such a sweet and wonderful movie.
Usually I have no problem narrowing my book categories down to one choice, but I apparently read a lot of really great books this. I was just looking through my ratings on Goodreads and there were a number of things I gave 5 stars to and I don’t know how to choose between them, so I’m going to list everything I gave the top rating to, and link to my full reviews on book review blog.
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
Ohio by Stephen Markley
In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Fraternity: An Inside Look at a Year of College Boys Becoming Men by Alexandra Robbins
Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry that Shaped Rock ‘n’ Roll by Ian S. Port
An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz
My Own Devices: Essays from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love by Dessa
Educated by Tara Westover
Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans
Coming of Age in the Other America by Stephanie DeLuca, Susan Clampet-Lambert, and Kathryn Edin
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
There is 100% only one tv show that deserves to go in this category for me in 2018 even though it started long before this year and that’s Grey’s Anatomy. I started binge watching this show for the first time back in mid-August and four short months later I was caught up on all 14 and half seasons. I haven’t been that obsessed with watching a show in a long time. I feel like good character driven shows are few and far between these days. Grey’s certainly isn’t what it was in the beginning, but I’m still enjoying it enough now that I’m caught up to real time that I will probably see it through to its end.
There were a number of other shows that I enjoyed watching this year though. Staying on the Sandra Oh train, Killing Eve is a fantastic show starring Oh as a detective caught in a cat and mouse game with a female assassin played by Jamie Comer. It’s smart, funny, dramatic, and very intense. The second season is getting ready to start in January, so if you haven’t watched the first season yet I highly recommend doing so and then getting on board when the second season starts.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Cobra Kai, which is the YouTube sequel to the movie The Karate Kid. This show was way better than it had any right to be. I love the movie and this show was a great follow-up to it.
There were a couple of other shows that I really liked this year. Netflix’s Atypical is a great family drama about a teenage kid with autism and the impact that has had on his family. I don’t feel like I ever hear anyone talk about this show, but everyone should really watch it because it’s very good. I’m happy there is going to be a third season because I was worried Netflix was going to cancel it since I don’t think it’s very highly rated.
Life Sentence was a great goofy little show on the CW that got canceled after one season about a girl who marries a guy she just met when she thinks she’s about to die from cancer but then finds out she is going to live. Now she and her family have to learn how to live with her being healthy rather than on the brink of death as she was for most of her life. It’s the kind of show that I wish there was more of on tv, but alas apparently I’m the only once since no one watched this one.
Pose, Ryan Murphy’s show about drag queens in the 1980s was also a really great show that I thoroughly enjoyed and am looking forward to more of. So far it hasn’t fallen prey to all the foibles that seem to eventually plague Ryan Murphy shows. Hopefully that will stay true in future seasons.
The final season of The Americans was not perfect by a long shot. I mean what was the deal with the whole Mischa storyline? Why bother bringing in Phillip’s long lost son if he was never even going to know that Mischa was around? The final episode of the show was great though. That scene with train pulling away and Phillip and Elizabeth seeing Paige standing on the platform set to U2’s “With or Without You” was just perfect. I always like it when a show manages to stick the landing and The Americans certainly did.
2018 was a banner year for new music. There are any number of albums that could be slotted in here that I think would earn this spot. Dawes, Amanda Shires, and Florence + the Machine put out great new albums. Natalie Prass’s debut album was wonderful. I adored Leon Bridges’ latest album and will always have fond memories of bopping around a used book store in Richmond listening to it. But there is no way that this category could go to anything other than Brandi Carlile’s by the way I forgive you.
It is by far the album I’ve spent the most time with this year. That of course is in part because it came out in January, which meant I had the whole year to live with it but that’s not really what I mean. I have definitely listened to it more than any other album not to mention seeing Brandi in concert 5 times over the course of the year. She played the entire album at 4 out of 5 of the shows.
I’m so happy for the well-deserved success that this album has garnered for Brandi and her fellow bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth. It showed up on pretty much every music best of list for 2018 that I saw. The album and songs from it have also been nominated for 6 Grammy’s including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year. I’m guessing it won’t actually win any of them, but it totally should because in my opinion it really is the best album of the year.
For a long time I thought Hozier’s song “Nina Cried Power” featuring Mavis Staples would be my song of the year. It’s a beautiful, powerful song that certainly speaks to me right now.
But then it got bumped out the top spot by Maggie Rogers’ “Light On” I adore this song so much. She wrote it in response to the quick rise to fame she had after a video of Pharrell reacting to her song “Alaska” went viral. She talks about how of course everyone thinks she should be so happy with all her success, but of course there are a lot of not so great things that come along with that. She has such a great voice and I love the beat and music of this song. It’s by far the song that has brought me the most joy this year.
If you gave me a list of the concerts I was going to go to in 2018 on paper I would have said hands down my favorite show of the year was going to be Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell co-headlining a show in Canandaigua, New York. If it was just based on the Brandi half of the concert it probably would have been. I saw her five times this year and this is the one show where the set list departed greatly from the others. It was just her and the twins up there acoustic and it was wonderful. Unfortunately I don’t know what was up with the sound mix during Jason Isbell’s set, but it was too loud and the rhythm was drowning out everything else. That put this concert out of the running as my favorite.
It’s hard to pick a favorite show of there because there were a lot of concerts I really enjoyed. The Lone Bellow at The Barns at Wolf Trap was definitely a highlight. It was the best I’ve seen them play in a long time. I also adored seeing Sugarland at Merriweather Post Pavilion. I missed them a lot during their hiatus and it was great to have them back. I do ultimately have to go with one of the Brandi Carlile shows for this category though. I saw her two nights at the Beacon Theatre in New York at the beginning of her tour. I had always heard that the Beacon was a wonderful place to see a show, but this was the first time I had ever gone to anything there. It really is a fantastic venue. I also had first row center seats for that show. Brandi is always such a dynamic performer and it was great to be so close and surrounded by other super fans.
Broadway Theatre Production
Boys in the Band was probably not my favorite show that I saw on Broadway this year, although I really liked it, but it was absolutely my favorite Broadway experience of the year. The revival of this show starred a ton of really great actors including Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, and most importantly Matt Bomer. Matt Bomer has long been a tv crush of mine and my friends Jenny and Sarah so as soon as we heard he was going to be in this play we made plans to go up to NYC together to see it. Matt Bomer spends a lot of time practically naked during the first half of this show. It was worth seeing just for that. We also got to get autographs and pictures with him at the stage door after the show. Definitely my Broadway highlight of the year.
Baltimore Theatre Production
I’m torn about which show to put in this category. I loved Skeleton Crew from Center Stage’s 2017-2018, which focused the closing of an auto plant in Detroit. The most recent show from this season, A Wonder in My Soul was also wonderful. It was rewritten to focus on Baltimore instead of Chicago and is about racism, the dying of a neighborhood, gentrification, and family. It was poignant, funny, sad, and very moving. I also have to give a shout out to Sweat at the Everyman Theatre. I had wanted to see this play when it was on Broadway, but I could never arrange to get up to New York when it was playing. I think Everyman did a fine job with their production and I don’t feel like I missed out on anything seeing them perform it rather than the Broadway cast.
I still listen to more podcasts than I actually have time to listen to even after dropping a few. This year like last year though my favorite podcast is still Make Me Smart with Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood of Marketplace. It is still the one podcast I prioritize above all others in my feed. I love their dynamic, and I always do feel smart after listening to it. I learn so much about economics and technology and how they relate to my life and have so much fun while doing it.
I also really enjoyed The Impact put out by Vox. It’s hosted by Sarah Kliff and focuses on the impact laws and policies have on our every day lives. They’ve had two seasons so far. The most recent one from this year focused on specific interesting local policies being tried in various states and cities that their listeners alerted them to. One of the episodes was about a Baltimore program whereby people from certain low-income neighborhoods who are eligible for public housing can request it outside the city. It was something I’m already familiar with, but it was interesting to listen to the episode and think about how while it may be a good policy in helping individual people what about the city and the people left behind if all the people with the most resources and motivation leave?
Of course one of my favorite podcast episodes from the year would be from Make Me Smart and involved an interview with Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress. That episode was pretty much right up my alley.
I also really enjoyed the episode of Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs in which they ranked the songs on the Footloose soundtrack. Every 10 episodes they do an album ranking, and I had suggested to them that they should rank this soundtrack. I don’t know if my recommendation was the reason they did it, but I was happy they did regardless. I adore the movie Footloose. I may possibly have seen it more times than any other movie in my life. It’s at least in the running. I equally love the soundtrack. It brought me great joy to listen to them talk about it and rank the songs even if they didn’t necessarily rank them in the order I would have put them.