2018 Best and Worst in the Arts

2018 Best and Worst of the Arts

Time for the end of the year reckoning of things I loved and didn't. I admit that lists of this sort are often subjective, but here goes. A reminder: I'm not impressed by things that were first released only in New York and/or LA, so a few of these books, films, and recordings, are technically 2017 releases. We should honor things in the calendar year in which most Americans have access to them.

Anything underlined links to longer reviews. The lists below are in preferential order. 


The Best:

1. Michael Ondaatje, Warlight:  Wars don't end when the fighting stops.
2. Richard Powers, The Overstory: Yes, it's about trees and you should care.
3. Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: You'll laugh; you'll cringe.
4. Kristin Hannah, The Great Alone: Alaska. Mother Nature doesn't care.
5. Walter Mosley, John Woman: Reinvention, of a sort.
6. Stephen Markley, Ohio: Blue-collar grit, hopes, and despair in the Heartlands.
7.  Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing: Memory, history, and slavery's legacy.
8. Jennifer Egan, Manhattan Beach: Girl power, redemption, and danger.
9. George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo: Spoon River and its ghosts updated.
10. Tim DeRoche, The Ballad of Huck and Miguel: Huck Finn in the 21st century.

Books that Wasted Trees:

1. Billy Coffey, Steal Away Home: Preaching posing as a baseball novel.
2. Lauren Groff, Florida: Snakes, gators, losers, and who cares?
3. Anna Quindlen, Alternate Side: Well-written book but unworthy characters.


Best on Screen:

1. Leave No Trace: Debra Granik scores again with her tale of damaged people who just want to be left alone.
2. BlacKkKlansman: Spike Lee's improbable but true tale of a black KKK member.
3. A Fantastic Woman: My vote for the best film about a transgendered person.
4. The Insult: Palestinians and Christians failing to exorcise the past.
5. On Chesil Beach: Overlooked gem of young love derailed.
6. Love, Gilda: Documentary that does justice to Radner's genius.
7. RBG: Call this documentary the making of a Supreme Court justice.
8. Roma: Beautifully filmed, though flawed remembrance of a family maid. Best             cinematography of the year.
9. Eighth Grade:  So well done you'll relive the pain!
10. Won't You Be My Neighbor? Great year for documentaries. Good time to remember Mr. Rogers.

Please Turn on the Lights!

1. Three Identical Strangers: If a scandal isn't a scandal, why film it?
2. Victoria and Abdul: Enough with the warm fuzzy Queen Victoria genre already.
3. I Tonya: Billed as a comedy about Tonya Harding. I didn't laugh.
4. Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman: Does it take talent to make a boring  film about fascinating subjects? Not really.
5. Planetarium: What I just said above, with séances.
6. The Circle: This Google-not-Google movie is an episodic mess.
7. The Death of Stalin: Comedy as broad as Siberia left me chilled and surly.
8. From the Land of the Moon: Marion Cotillard imagines things, such as that there might be a point to this movie.
9. Nuts:  What I said in 4 and 5 above, but with goat glands.


This is always the hardest category for me to judge. So much good music. So many talented folks–young and old.

New Releases:

1. Moira Smiley, Unzip the Horizon: Innovative, inventive, bold & miles from her Solas days.
2. Thea Gilmore, Run: A veteran British chanteuse with a powerful voice.
3. Eleanor Dubinsky, Soft Spot of My Heart: Multilingual cross-genre music that's just flat-out gorgeous.
4. Kittel and Company, Whorls; Jeremy Kittel takes bluegrass fiddle deep into jazz  terrain and paints contemplative moods.
5. Gretchen Peters, Sad Songs Make Me Happy: Hear the woman whose pen launched dozens of country hits.
6. Eliza Gilkyson, Secularia: Can an anti-religion album be spiritual? Yep.
7. Vivian Leva, Time is Everything: Spare and pure mountain music vocals.
8. Mink's Miracle Medicine, House of Candles: The miracle is Melissa Wright! Country and folk without gimmicks.
9. Greg Hawks, i think it's time: Time for country-influenced artists to address issues from the left side of the political spectrum.
10. Too many good people to leave off the list, so a collective shout out to Anita Aysola, Big Little Lion, Don Gallardo, Guy Menilow Ensemble, John Gorka,  Newpoli,  and Graham Stone.

Change the Earbuds:

1. Catherine Bent, Ideal: Not! Cello meandering to nowhere.
2. Elena Andukar, Flamenco in Time: Maybe hip flamenco isn't really a thing.
3. UNIFONY, Unifony: Three Euro jazz giants make a dull record.
4. Katie Herzig, Moment of Bliss: Pop grooves that failed to induce bliss.

Best Live Shows of 2018:

1. Richard Shindell: He was 100% on at the Parlor Room with new and old material and an alphabetical set list!
2. Cowboy Junkies: After 6 weeks on my back, the Junkies at the Academy of Music helped me heal.
3. James Keelaghan: James never gives a bad concert and pulled out the stops all weekend at the New Bedford Folk Festival.
4. Musique à Boucher: The surprise hit at New Bedford. A Capella mouth music of the most spirited kind. Surprising as their CDs are restrained.
5. Eliza Gilkyson: An intimate evening at the Parlor Room with a Texas treasure.
6. Jim Henry: Our own Western Mass hero. His Parlor room show was a love fest.
7. Richard Thompson: His electric show at the Academy needed a better mix, but he  rocked the joint.
8. Rory Block and Cindy Cashdollar: The warm-up act trumped the headliners.
9. The Weepies: Amazing harmonies and a refreshing December show with no holiday music!
10. The Kittel Trio: Not your mother's bluegrass at the West Whatley Chapel.

Not Feeling It:

St Paul and the Broken Bones opened well at the Academy of Music, but then everything sounded exactly the same. Better shtick than repertoire.

I simply don't get the hype surrounding Lake Street Dive. I love vocalist Rachel Price, when she sings in a register quieter than Celine Dion at an airport. Lots of glitz and light show bling that makes them more of an experience than a musical act. Boring. I wish Rory Block and Cindy Cashdollar had headlined.  

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