The Bellboy (1960): Cinema Shame

The Bellboy (1960): Cinema Shame

the bellboy posterI’m playing a bit of double catch up with this viewing. Technically, I’m playing catch up on a movie I had on my Shame Statement from 2019 and I’m playing catch up because The Bellboy turns 60 this year. That’s a lot of catch up. What do you do with all that catch up? Make hot dogs, probably. But I don’t put ketchup on my hot dog, so the whole thing is moot. Sauerkraut, mustard, relish, onions. These are all acceptable hot dog toppings. Honestly, my feelings about ketchup mirror my feelings about Jerry Lewis. I’m glad they exist, but I can do without both.

My prior exposure to Jerry Lewis came with a side of Dean Martin to wash it down. That’s my preferred method of ingestion.

So Jerry Lewis is Always Jerry Lewis Even When He’s Not

The Bellboy makes me actively frustrated — not because I disliked it, but because I would have loved it had most every scene not concluded with a hammy shot of Lewis mugging facial contortions for the camera. His schtick seems to function akin to a sitcom laugh track. In case you missed the joke, here’s a face you can’t overlook. I loved the setting. Fountainbleu Miami Beach, just a few years before James Bond and Auric Goldfinger cross paths in the very same hotel. Photographed by someone named Haskell B. Boggs, the hotel becomes an omnipresent character in Lewis’ farce. The winding staircase (also seen in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), the corridors, the ins and outs, the cavernous gathering spaces where Jerry Lewis runs amuck as a bellhop named Stanley (and as a comedian named Jerry Lewis).

the bellboy 1960

I felt the influence of Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot through every perfectly calculated movement, every stumble down a step, every gesture, every glance. Jerry Lewis exclamation point face! He’s a meticulous performer, but that’s not an observation. There’s nothing about his performance in The Bellboy that doesn’t feel calculated and choreographed like a Fred Astaire tap number, which makes the moment that he breaks the spell all that much more aggravating. It happens as often as it doesn’t.

Lewis wrote and directed The Bellboy (his debut), and the film’s tone and precision reflects a tightly controlled production. It opens with a studio executive (played by Jack Kruschen in an uncredited role) describing the aimless exploits of a single bellboy. It feels more like a pre-apology to American audiences who wouldn’t have been expecting a plotless comedy featuring sequences of ridiculous situations stacked one on top of the other. I wouldn’t exactly classify them as “blackout gags” in the strictest sense — which I’ve always associated with Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In. Rapid-fire, vaudevillian, abruptly transitioned. Jerry Lewis spends more time developing a visual joke before abruptly moving on to another transitory vignette.

jerry lewis mugs with a sleepy lady in the bellboy

Aside from Tati (and Harpo Marx and a dash of Charlie Chaplin while we’re at it), Lewis creates an obvious through-line to Laurel and Hardy. He’d consulted his friend Stan Laurel about perfecting a kind of silent pantomime and even included a Stan Laurel lookalike character, played by Bill Richmond, who appears randomly throughout the film. Other than causing some amusing asides from the already amusing asides, the visual homage doesn’t contribute a great deal. That speaks to how I felt about most of the film.

Jerry Lewis conducts an absent orchestra

In one of the best “bits” in the Bellboy, Stanley (Jerry Lewis) conducts a persnickety and non-existent orchestra.

The Bellboy Final Verdict

Generally amiable, sometimes obvious, intermittently genius, and inevitably followed by an unwelcome round of mugging, The Bellboy succeeds and irritates in equal amounts. I did, however, cue up another viewing of Four Rooms (1995), a film obviously inspired by in part by The Bellboy. I’m happy I have more Four Rooms context and I’m happy I finally got around to giving Jerry Lewis some more of my time, but I’m just as happy that I finally get to scratch it off my list of Shame.

Watch The Bellboy on Amazon Prime. 

2020 Cinema Shame Statement: So This Time It’s Totally Serial

2020 Cinema Shame Statement: So This Time It’s Totally Serial

For the uninitiated, Cinema Shame is site that emboldens cinephiles to finally watch those nagging classics pinging the back of your brain every time you ask yourself “What am I going to watch tonight?” Our diet doesn’t need to be a steady stream of certified Grade-A classics, but we also shouldn’t be afraid of them. I also host the podcast that gives viewers the opportunity to share their thoughts about how these movies stand the test of time and hype. Every year Penitent Moviewatchers create a new Cinema Shame Statement to help direct their viewing schedule.

I’ve done a Cinema Shame Statement or two over the years and my 2019 has the rare distinguish of being the only one I ignored for the duration. Congrats, 2019, you’re totally shameful! It’s not that I was a lazy moviewatcher (Letterboxd tells me otherwise), I just got sidetracked by #Watch1989. And for the uninitiated, #Watch1989 was my year-long marathon of movies released in – that’s right – 1989. I watched more than 70 1989 movies, first-timers and rewatches included.

For this year’s Cinema Shame Statement, I’m going to try a slightly different method that helps direct my monthly moviewatching trends (but also makes that DVD/BD watchpile a little less embarrassing). I tend to get sucked into self-inflicted marathons and really enjoy sticking with a theme… it prevents me from staring at my library for hours on end wondering what to watch next.

Once again I consulted my favorite tomes: EW Guide / The Best Film You’ve Never Seen / Danny Peary’s Cult Movies. And away we go….

2020 Shame Statement consultants

Three of my go-to books for finding movies I should have watched by now.

Theme #1: Unwatched Criterions

I love buying movies almost as much as I love watching movies. (Okay, we’ll call it a draw.) The flaw inherent to the system is that it takes me much less time to buy movies than it does to watch them. Hence, I have a lot of Criterion Collection discs I had every intention of watching… at some point… in the near-to-immediate future. I plan to watch at least one of these beauties per month. After consulting EW’s surprisingly non-traditional lists in The Greatest Movies Ever Made, I selected 12 candidates I already have in my possession.

2020 cinema shame statement

Blow Out (Brian de Palma, 1981) – #85 Drama
Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945) – #91 Drama
Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983) – #28 Comedy
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Russ Meyer, 1970) – #96 Comedy
The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg, 1976) – #55 Sci-Fi
Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973) – #65 Horror
Kagemusha (Akira Kurosawa, 1980) – #80 Int’l
Fellini’s Satyricon (Federico Fellini, 1969) – #11 Int’l
Viridiana (Luis Bunuel, 1961) – #26 Int’l
Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952) – #23 Int’l
One Eyed-Jacks (Marlon Brando, 1961) – Sleepers
High & Low (Akira Kurosawa, 1963) – Sleepers

Theme #2: #Watch1990

I won’t tackle #Watch1990 with the same zeal as #Watch1989 because the movies aren’t nearly as good and honestly I’ve seen a much larger percentage. I turned 12 in 1990 and I could walk to the Woods 6 in Grosse Pointe just about whenever the mood stuck me. A moment ago I scanned the list of Top 50 moneymakers from 1990 and I’d seen 48 of them (only Internal Affairs and Child’s Play II missed the bus and I’m not in a hurry to see the latter. Talk to me again during October). I really had nothing else to do, apparently. Here are Internal Affairs and 11 others that I missed. There’s some rhyme and reason to the movies below — except Side Out. I have no explanation for choosing that. Some movies just cry out for attention.

Cry-Baby 1990

Internal Affairs (Mike Figgis, 1990)
Where the Heart Is (John Boorman, 1990)
Love at Large (Alan Rudolph, 1990)
The Ambulance (Larry Cohen, 1990)
Side Out (Peter Israelson, 1990)
Cry-Baby (John Waters, 1990)
Blue Steel (Kathryn Bigelow, 1990)
I Love You to Death (Lawrence Kasdan, 1990)
Chicago Joe and the Showgirl (Bernard Rose, 1990)
Henry & June (Philip Kaufman, 1990)
Avalon (Barry Levinson, 1990)
State of Grace (Phil Joanou, 1990)

Theme #3: Taking Care of (Old) Business

I’ve seen that James Belushi classic from 1990 a few times, but it seemed thematically relevant to this 2020 Cinema Shame Statement. If we are unable to keep our word, there’s nothing separating us from the beasts who think that the only stuff worth watching is on Netflix. That might be overly dramatic. I’m just saying that I’m going to atone for the sins of my Cinema Shames past. These are the movies I promised to watch over the previous years and just never did…

The Conversation 1974

Dangerous Liaisons (Stephen Frears, 1988)
The Verdict (Sidney Lumet, 1982)
Aquirre, The Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)
Can’t Stop the Music (Nancy Walker, 1980)
The Last Waltz (Martin Scorcese, 1978)
Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988)
Victor/Victoria (Blake Edwards, 1982)
Tarzan the Ape Man (W.S. Van Dyke, 1932) & Tarzan and His Mate (Cedric Gibbons, 1934)
Patton (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1970)
Shane (George Stevens, 1953)
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford, 1949)
The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1983)
The Bellboy (Jerry Lewis, 1960)
The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)

…and… it wouldn’t be a Cinema Shame list without the empty promise to watch…

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton, 1990)

 

That’s a lot of goddamn movies. Own up, friends. Let’s make a promise to watch some excellent movies in 2020. Not much is going right in the world, but we can definitely tend our own gardens, watch great movies and talk about them on the Internet.

5th Annual 30/007Hertz 2019 First-Watch Hertzie Award Nominations

5th Annual 30/007Hertz 2019 First-Watch Hertzie Award Nominations

The Academy released the Oscar nominations this morning. It’s not much of a surprise that we’re all a little agitated. I won’t go into the gory details, but it’s a bit of a JOKE(r) that not one woman was nominated for director considering the amazing films the females of our species produced this year.

And since the Oscar nods dropped, that also means it’s time for the 2019 First-Watch Hertzie Awards. In case you’re just catching the Hertzie bug for this first time this year, these are my own personal commendations for excellence. It doesn’t matter when the movie dropped, it only matters that I watched it between January 1st and December 31st of 2019.

I’ve consulted my @Letterboxd diary for all the relevant statistics to make this journey more enlightening. I watched 234 movies this year — which is a down year for me. What was I doing besides watching movies? I have no idea. I tried to read more. Tried. Maybe they were all just longer movies. (Don’t do the math.) After compiling my list of nominations, one thing is clear: I watched a lot of movies from 1989… because #Watch1989.

The Academy Awards aren’t bothering with a host again this year, but Myrna Loy has agreed to return for her 5th consecutive Hertzie hosting gig and I promise there won’t be any 5-time Ricky Gervais Golden Globe scorched earth histrionics. Nothing but class in this ceremony. Class and booze.

First, links to all prior nominations and ceremonies: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015

myrna loy

 

Now presenting the 5th Annual First-Watch Hertzie Award Nominations.

(Prior-year winners now appear on the nomination banners.)

 

Favorite Supporting Actress:

Pam Grier, Scream Blacula Scream (1973)
Anjelica Huston, Seraphim Falls (2006)
Ida Lupino, Road House (1948)
Michelle Pfeiffer, The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)
Madonna, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Dorothy Malone, The Nevadan (1950)

**WINNER** — Ida Lupino, Road House (1948)

Commentary: Is it possible to say that this category features five surprise nominations plus Michelle Pfeiffer? Thus, if all most are surprises who were the front-runners? Personally, I have no idea. Some of these women contest that they were more “leading lady” material, but those women should know that they’re here because they didn’t stand a chance in the Best Actress category, which features a f’ing powerhouse lineup. 

 

Favorite Supporting Actor:

Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
The Horse, People in the Summer Night (1948)
Michael Caine, Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
Wesley Snipes, Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
Billy Zane, Dead Calm (1989)

**WINNER** — Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

Commentary: The Hertzies have been known to dish out nominations for inanimate and animal actors. “The Horse” should just be happy to receive the nomination, but we can’t wait for the reaction shot when someone else wins in February. Since I doubt many of you have seen People in the Summer Night, you’ll just have to trust me when I say he steals the entire movie. Billy Zane? The guy from Critters? And that Michael Caine nomination is ironic right? Can you do irony in awards shows?

 

Favorite Actor:

John Barrymore, Counsellor At Law (1933)
Taron Edgerton, Rocketman (2019)
William Holden, Wild Rovers (1971)
George O’Brien, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Tyrone Power, Nightmare Alley (1947)
Denzel Washington, The Mighty Quinn (1989)

**WINNER** – John Barrymore, Counsellor At Law (1933)

Commentary: A silent, a musical, a western, a noir, a Caribbean murder mystery and a pre-code drama walk into a bar. There’s no punch line. 

 

Favorite Actress:

Roseanna Arquette, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Janet Gaynor, Sunrise: Song of Two Humans (1927)
Edwige Fenech, All the Colors of the Dark (1972)
Emily Lloyd, In Country (1989)
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Samara Weaving, Ready Or Not (2019)

**WINNER** — Samara Weaving, Ready Or Not (2019)

Commentary: I thought you called this “a powerhouse lineup” earlier? I’m seeing two scream queens, a comedian, an Arquette, another silent performance, and 19-year-old Emily Lloyd. 

 

Favorite Adapted Screenplay

Hampton Fancher, The Mighty Quinn (1989)
Jules Furthman, Nightmare Alley
Nicole Holfcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Roy Huggins, Pushover (1948)
Kurt Luedtke, Out of Africa (1985)
Elmer Rice, Counsellor At Law (1933)

**WINNER** — Nicole Holfcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

Commentary: There were screenplays for some of these? And wait? Out of Africa? 

 

Favorite Original Screenplay:


Leora Barish, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Scott Glosserman and David J. Stieve, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, etc. Booksmart (2019)
Rian Johnson, Knives Out (2019)
Joseph Minion, Vampire’s Kiss (1989)
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)

**WINNER** — Leora Barish, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

Commentary: Multiple female screenwriters? You must be insane.

 

Favorite Director:

Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born (2018)
Blake Edwards, Wild Rovers (1971)
F.W. Murnau, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Susan Seidelman, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
Oliva Wilde, Booksmart (2019)

**WINNER** — F.W. Murnau, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Commentary: That Bradly Cooper nomination comes out of absolutely nowhere and you’ve never seen a category with both Olivia Wilde and F.W. Murnau and that feels special. 

 

Favorite Picture:

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Counsellor At Law (1933)
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Pushover (1954)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

**WINNER** — Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

Commentary: A Favorite Picture category that spans 1927 through 2018? I don’t know what to make of these nominations, but I love it. The early front-runner has to be Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, but all those Desperately Seeking Susan nominations… 

 

Favorite B-Picture:

All the Colors of the Dark (1972)
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
A Bucket of Blood (1959)
Dead Calm (1989)
Earth Girls Are Easy (1989)
Vampire’s Kiss (1989)

**WINNER** — A Bucket of Blood (1959)

Commentary: You still don’t know what to do with this category and that’s fine. It just feels like a dumping ground for movies that you couldn’t justify as the best best — the ones you’re too ashamed to throw your entire support behind but deserve the love. But Earth Girls Are Easy? Really? You couldn’t do better than that? Nominations elsewhere suggest a frontrunner or two, but this is the B-Picture category so all bets are futile. 

Good luck to all of our 2019 First-Watch Hertzie Award Nominees! The winners will be announced the evening of the 2020 Academy Awards on February 9th.

Best Songs of 2019

Best Songs of 2019

Welcome to the Best Songs of 2019 countdown. I’ll be your host.

I’ve compiled this list every year for more than a decade — since 2007 in fact. I exchange lists with Mike of B-Sides Narrative and we hem and haw and grumble about the songs we left off the list and the artists that we somehow didn’t hear during our sonic travels. There’s too much music for anyone to hear. I suppose you have a shot if your full-time job requires it. Even though I’m actually paid a small sum to write about music for Music Meet Fans, I barely even scratch the surface. I’d love to spend more time enjoying contemporary jazz, blues, and more experimental electronic music. I’m just one guy with a pavlovian response to female-fronted electro-pop outfits. Honestly if I didn’t consciously explore other artists, this list would consist of 80% female-fronted electro-pop. That’s my default setting. That’s the frequency that makes me purr.

The Best Songs of 2019 challenged me more than other years. My “Hits list” — the list that I assemble all year long featuring songs I’ve heard that I like/love/might grow to love ballooned to 300 in December as I tried to play catch up on all the music I missed. Selecting 100 became self-flagellation. So there’s 129 songs on my list. Sue me. Mike said I could. (He has more than 130!)

2019 challenged me in other ways, too. The volume of good music, the music that resonated, for one. Personally and professionally I had to confront a few demons as well. So these weren’t always just songs. These were sonic crutches. They were gateways to clarity and momentary peace. They were distractions and encouragement and moments of zen when the words just weren’t there. The right piece of music at the right time can improve your whole day. And if you improve every day with music, that’s a life.

Keep listening. Keep digging and keep searching for the music that resonates at your frequency. Don’t just turn on the radio and listen to whatever oldies channel comes on. Consciously dig deeper. The music that becomes yours doesn’t live on the surface. It lives in the shadows waiting to become exquisitely, personally yours.

Spotify Playlist (Top 128):

30Hz Top 25 Songs of 2019:

“Too Much” – Carly Rae Jepsen

I wish to have a sliver of the fun that Carly Rae Jepsen seems to have performing and being Carly Rae Jepsen. The Canadian pop icon’s music has grown up from her “Call Me Maybe” days. “Too Much” is mature pop songwriting from an artist that never seems to exhaust her enthusiasm for life.

“Hey, Ma” – Bon Iver

A month ago Bon Iver wouldn’t have sniffed the Top 100. I wasn’t fond of this song and couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for Bon Iver’s new record. It wasn’t as good. It wasn’t anything we hadn’t heard before. But then XMU beat this song into my brain. A switch flipped, and I finally saw this track’s fragile, haunting beauty.

“So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” – Caroline Polachek

A name that sounds like a Flight of the Conchords track backed by an inescapable hook, Caroline Polachek’s porcelain voice, and a dash of Hall & Oates musicality.

“Demands” – Makthaverskan

In my intro, I should have added female-fronted Swedish post-punk alongside female-fronted electro-pop as the sounds that just get me. “Demands” comes from a two-song EP which means that there’s (hopefully) another full record on the horizon. Can you hear the giddy in my voice?

“Fare Thee Well” – Jessica Pratt

I called Jessica Pratt’s 2019 record Quiet Signs a masterpiece in multiple conversations this year. Upon my first listen I added “Fare Thee Well” to my 2019 Final list and I’ve never second-guessed either assessment. You may not love her high-pitched delivery, but there’s an otherworldly synesthesia between her voice at music.

“Forgot Your Name” – Mini Mansions

Shamelessly plucked from Edgar Wright’s list. An infectious throwback banger from idiosyncratic DEVO-inspired LA-based pop outfit.

“Andromeda” – Weyes Blood

Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising might be my record of the year. I did, after all, give it a perfect review earlier this year on Spill Magazine — the only perfect score I’ve ever given. “Andromeda” received an extra push into the Top 25 because of my affection for all things Natalie Mering.

“Self Care” – Lily & Madeleine

The simple backing piano and vocals give me hymn-brand chills. I’m not a religious man, but certain songs give me faith. Indianapolis Sisters Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz harmonies on this track might just qualify as angelic.

“bad guy” – Billie Eilish

I want to first confess that I don’t “get” Billie Eilish. Her whole thing confuses me and I assume that’s becomes I’m over 30. That said, “bad guy” is a fresh wound of a pop track. A rolling synthetic bassline, hushed vocals and a radical tonal shift. This artist’s got brass lady balls and even though I don’t totally understand her massive popularity, I get it.

“Sympathy” – Vampire Weekend

While everyone else was out repping that earworm “Harmony Hall” I was listening quietly to the rest of the record and “Sympathy” jumped out and grabbed me by the throat. It almost feels like Rostam’s back with the band.

“The Imperial” – The Delines

Lead singer Amy Boone underwent three years of treatment and rehab after her legs were broken when she was hit by a car in Austin, Texas. The band waited to release their second record The Imperial until her return. This track invokes a broken-down Dusty Springfield. Pitch-perfect neo-soul.

“Trampoline” – SHAED

My 7yo is obsessed with this song. She’s also obsessed with Ariana Grande and the soundtrack to some Nickelodeon show called Victorious. So take from that nugget what you will.

“Can’t Stop Your Lovin'” – Poolside (feat. Panama)

There’s a literal cottage industry of “Can’t Stop Your Lovin'” remixes. Don’t mess with the rest. Daytime Disco lives in this easy-listening mid-tempo groove. Life is better with Poolside on the turntable.

“Death Stranding” – CHVRCHES

It’s actually pretty funny that in a year without a CHVRVCHES album I still found the ways and means to add two CHVRCHES songs to my Best of List. This one comes from a video game that I never bothered to play. “Death Stranding” features the band’s regular flourishes. Slow build to a catharsis, perfect production. The way Lauren’s Scottish brogue comes through when she says “down.”

“Dylan Thomas” – Better Oblivion Community Center

Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst’s side project puts all other side projects to shame. “Dylan Thomas” channels the Traveling Wilbury’s and modern, existential malaise.

“hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me” – Lana Del Rey

I won’t admit how many songs from Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell made it onto my 2019 Hits list (okay, it was five). This is personal, scorched earth songwriting that will stand the test of time. If we’re talking about any single record from this year 25 yeas from now it’ll be this one.

“When Am I Gonna Lose You” – Local Natives

The placing of some of these songs relies heavily on mix-tape methodology. I couldn’t follow Lana Del Rey with another suicide track. Instead, I pumped the countdown back up with this pure pop anthem from Local Natives. Taylor Rice’s vocals on “When Am I Gonna Lose You” don’t seem humanly possible. Here’s an interesting look at the production of the song on Consequence of Sound. 

“Chewing Cotton Wool” – The Japanese House

The Japanese House, aka London’s Amber Bain, has another one of those transcendent voices, instantaneous transporation. Whenever I heard a song from The Japanese House, I paused whatever I was doing so I can drape myself in her velvet.

“All Night” – Pure Bathing Culture

Any song I call an “anthem” inspires me to sing the chorus wherever I am. Whatever I’m doing. It can be quite embarrassing when I’m listening on headphones because I lose myself in Pure Bathing Culture and especially this particular track. Suffice to say that I am not as talented a pop vocalist as Sarah Versprille.

“Not” – Big Thief

Adrianne Lenker uses negation to explain her world. “Not the meat of your thigh/Nor your spine tattoo/Nor your shimmery eye/Nor the wet of the dew,” she sings. Big Thief creates lush, beautiful soundscapes (see: “UFOF” and “Shark Smile”) but this is not lush and beautiful. This is forest after the fire. The riverbed after the drought.

“Oblivions” – The National

Essentially a B-side on The National’s wonderful new record “I Am Easy to Find” (which is itself a a kind of experimental companion to Mike Mills’ film of the same name). Matt Berninger sings backup vocals to Bryce Dessner’s wife Pauline de Lassus. It’s a meditation on the nature of the human condition within a marriage. Mills called it the masterpiece on the record. Obviously, I agree. You could pick something prosaic like “Light Years” but that’d be your wrong choice.

“All Mirrors” – Angel Olsen

Introspective deep-dives into the darkness. Listening to Angel Olson’s All Mirrors feels like being alone with your thoughts. It’s not a suicide record so much as a search for peace in the center of a tornado.

“Nothing Baby” – Magdalena Bay

Barely a song. A snippet. A hook. An homage to Gwen Stefani, perhaps. Found on Magdalena Bay’s tapestry of unfinished tracks, mini mix vol. 1, “Nothing Baby” has no peers. It hits its beat, embraces the wall-to-wall hook and then just ends. You could listen to this track a dozen times and not feel satiated and maybe that’s why it climbed all the way up to #3.

“Red Bull & Hennessey” – Jenny Lewis

I killed one song this year for everyone in my household. For Jenny this is a proper banger. It even features a pretty rocking guitar solo. There may have been “better” songs on “On the Line,” but this one made me love Jenny Lewis even more — as if that were even possible.

“Seventeen” – Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten’s having a moment and we’re along for the ride. “Remind Me Tomorrow” attained crossover notoriety despite Sharon’s further sonic experimentation. She performed “Seventeen” on Kimmel. Rolling Stone devoted an entire spread to the track as a “Song You Need to Know.” Van Etten looks back on being 17 with only a small amount of romanticism. It’s mostly a dirge for an uncertain future with the unique perspective of having lived the life in between. Unlike other years there was no controversy surrounding my choice for #1. The other songs stepped aside for Sharon Van Etten to assume the throne.  

Previous “Best Of” Song Lists:

2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989): The Five Movies of Christmas

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989): The Five Movies of Christmas

Like many households, the Patrick family has their own traditional holiday rituals. We have our stockings and tree ornaments, our exterior light decorations, Mexican aniseed cookies, opening one present on Christmas Eve, essential Christmas Records — but the one we cherish the most is our annual Christmas movie marathon. Each of these five must be watched before the clock strikes midnight on Christmas Day. I’ll count them down now until Christmas.

On the first day of Christmas my reel love gave to me… The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

On the second day of Christmas my reel love gave gave to me…

Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo - Christmas Vacation (1989)

Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

The Five Movies of Christmas: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation didn’t actually become the essential Christmas movie in my household until I had children. I enjoyed it, certainly. And watched the John Hughes-penned comedy once in awhile around the holidays. It just wasn’t until I had children myself that I completely and totally identified with Clark Griswold.

Not with the need to spot my house from orbit (though the intricacies of our outdoor decorations certainly increased alongside toddler napping). And not even with the size and eccentricities of my immediate family. Both sides of the family tree boast a share of unique characters, but unlike Cousin Eddie they don’t happen to drop by because everyone’s scattered across the country from Santa Fe to Wisconsin, Georgia to New York. Occasionally Christmas gets lively, but we’ve never roasted cats or chased squirrels or exploded chemical toilets.

Clark Griswold in the National Lampoon’s Vacation films is every man. His intentions are pure, even when the go astray. His aim always a “good old fashioned family Christmas.”

Christmas Vacation family dinner

The Griswolds all seated around the Christmas table.

We all want Christmas to run smoothly. It never does. We hold it together as best we can. Sometimes we succeed. Family’s always most important, even when you absolutely 100% cannot stand the sight of any of them.

The scene that now stands out for me — actually two scenes — but we’ll start with the one that provides the emotional backbone of the entire movie. Clark, trapped in his attic after the family has gone shopping, discovers a box full of old family film as he digs around for old clothes to keep him warm. He loads up the film reels and watches his childhood Christmases huddled underneath clothes once belonging to elder family members. Certainly sappy. I’m sure I glossed over that scene as a kid waiting for more terrible things to happen to Todd and Margot next door.

national lampoon's christmas vacation christmas eve

The Christmas Eve cacophony reaches a crescendo in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Today, however, that scene makes Christmas Vacation more than just “tolerating” family. It’s the scene that remind Clark and all of us that these are the moments we’ll remember and cherish as long as we live. Even if every single one of these goddamn people drives us insane.

So when Christmas Vacation reaches its second emotional crescendo — when Christmas Eve goes totally, irrevocably wrong — and Clark screams “Hallelujah. Holy shit. Where’s the Tylenol?” it’s not the ravings of a soulless patriarch. It’s the ravings of a patriarch who’s been reminded how much each moment horrible, wonderful moment matters. This is Chevy Chase’s greatest line reading in the history of his career, by the way, and I say that as a devoted, obsessive fan of Three Amigos!, Caddyshack and Fletch.

Merry Christmas, everybody. Happy holidays. Remember to cherish the lunatics in your own life.

christmas vacation poster art

Christmas Vacation poster art by Barrett Chapman.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is available everywhere. If for some reason you don’t have a copy of your own, you’ll find no shortage of ways to watch this classic during the holidays including Amazon Streaming, Netflix DVD service,

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add whatever this is to that list. He hosts the Cinema Shame and #Bond_age_Pod podcasts. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook

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