A Response to the Tragedy of a Trump Presidency

I have sat ~relatively~ quietly (while working on the election beat for Junkee yesterday, while working on everything else today) and watched people respond to the tragedy that is a Donald Trump presidency. I read this excellent piece in the New Yorker, and I also read Lindy West’s blistering, tragic, hopeless op-ed in the New York Times. I wanted to write a response to it all, so here it is. I don’t know how much my opinion matters on this subject, but it’s here for you nevertheless:

A lot of people are articulating with a great deal of condescension the unfortunate position that Hillary Clinton must be in. To have to concede to that man, of all people — someone so ludicrously unfit to take the job she has worked so hard for right out of her hands. To realise that perhaps (or rather most likely) she has now lost forever the opportunity to become president (an appointment that would’ve meant a whole hell of a lot to a lot of women besides her). There’s a lot of “no matter what you thought of Hillary, she is gracious in defeat” talk  — an astonishingly gendered way of saying she is behaving with the kind of decorum we demand of women: to never fight, to never rage, to never become upset or “hysterical”, to never question the lot that is handed to them. To call her gracious in defeat is to imply she is behaving as she should, as we women are socialised to behave when we lose out.
But the thing is, it’s exactly that kind of attitude that prevented Hillary from winning an election she would’ve handily won had she been a man. Had she been a man, the fact that she supported her husband in his indiscretions and some bad policy-making would’ve been irrelevant. She would’ve been a candidate in her own right, because men are never measured against anyone but themselves, while women are measured against everyone and always fond wanting. Had she been a man, the fact that she seemed cold, or “untrustworthy” or inauthentic, the fact that she used a private email server, would’ve meant nothing, a blip on the radar. Men are not cold; they’re strong and reticent. Their authenticity is never called into question, or, rather, is never a problem to be solved.
Nobody worries about the things men do that might be questionable or even illegal. An entire country just elected a man who is a narcissist and a liar, an accused rapist and fraudster, a smug elitist who twisted the grievances of the so-called “dispossessed working class”, as well as the niggling fear of wealthy white people who felt themselves becoming irrelevant and who worried they were losing their iron-clad supremacist grip on the social hierarchy. These people trusted a man who told them he would protect them, regardless of how untrustworthy that man was, because he was a man. And no matter how elitist and white and establishment Hillary is, she is still woman in charge, a figure that represents the same kind of gentle progressiveness that was embodied by a brilliant, kind, fierce black man who managed to stay president against what we now know to be nearly insurmountable odds in a society so clearly racist, misogynistic and resistant to forward momentum.
This is a severe but ultimately unsurprising loss, when you consider who is outgoing from that office and what he represents, when you consider the climatic push against so-called “SJWs” and “PC policing” (which is really just consideration, tolerance and empathy). It’s a loss that gives me the same kind of unpleasant and desperately hopeless feeling I get when I consider that we consciously — deliberately — emulate some of the darkest periods of history right in our backyard, in concentration camps we have set up to bully, oppress and torture vulnerable and innocent people to the point of self-harm and suicide. It’s that feeling I get when I realise I missed a rally for asylum-seeker rights, or a meeting at YAP because, no matter how I feel about the issue of our cruel and draconian refugee policy (passionate and sick), it’s still sometimes not enough of a priority for me to inconvenience myself over.
This is the attitude that has us voting in governments who pledge ever harsher immigration policies to keep us feeling happy and “safe”, in our own little bubbles of zenophobia and blind comfort. We do that, as a collective group, and we cannot hide from that.
This is the attitude that elected Donald Trump. And not just because rural people (the “poor white”) turned out in waves to vote for him because they finally felt that a politician was mobilising them and speaking to them on the same level, not on high like our politicians do when they take a pander trip out to Western Sydney, or when they prattle on unconvincingly about “working families” and “Aussie battlers”. It’s also the rich white men who knew that a woman elected to the highest office in the US would put a shadow on their patriarchal vice grip (the grip that accepts that a man who is an accused rapist, who openly brags about assaulting women, can become president, because men can do whatever they want, can destroy women’s bodies and minds and put their hands on them because they are men, and men are above reproach). These men, educated and supposedly socially sophisticated, voted to keep their patriarchal power for a little longer. (This, by the way, is why I am a feminist who stands for liberation, not equality. There is no possibility for equality when smart men would rather watch the world burn than give up their chance to touch a woman’s body without permission and have it be put off as “locker room talk” or “boys being boys”. The patriarchy will always exist, and will always harm all of us, unless it is toppled completely and raised to the ground.)
Then there are the white women (especially wealthy white women), who exit polls have shown turned out in droves to vote for Trump because they believed, wrongly, that protecting their privilege of whiteness was more important than protecting their rights as women — than protecting the vulnerable women who are their sisters. These women are the argument for intersectionality, because intersectional feminists could not vote for a man who will do so much damage to ALL women, just to protect their own white supremacy. As Lindy West says in her glorious NYT op-ed, “white women who voted for Trump […] your shelter is illusory”. You will suffer — certainly less than other women who are not protected by the swathe of wealth and whiteness — but you will suffer the injury of a Trump presidency that will attack women without mercy. These women are socialised not just to believe that their whiteness is paramount in their voting for self-protection, but who are also socialised to distrust, fear and tear down a woman who dares to step off her own designated path and demand that she be given a job that is considered to be for men only. These women have been conditioned to think “How dare she” and to punish her, and ultimately themselves, for her insolence. This, perhaps more than anything else, makes me so deeply sad; I am disappointed, grief-stricken, that society has failed women enough that they have done this to each other and to themselves.
We can be disgusted by these people who voted for Trump — because they were afraid of losing their power, of losing their privilege, of losing their “manhood” to a woman president — but in a way we’re all these people because at some point we all choose to protect our own absurd, blind “luck” (to be born white, to have the privilege of wealth, to be an Australian, to be straight, cis, male, able-bodied, whatever) rather than protecting those for whom we should mobilise, exploit and, yes, sometimes sacrifice our “luck” and privilege. We are not better because we are disgusted by a Trump presidency. We’re just not.
I’m sad for a lot of things that Trump’s win appears to prove. That, as my housemate bitterly noted, hatred will always be more powerful than anything else. That the system of white male power is unable to be broken, toppled, even nudged in the most gentle way by a rich white woman taking power. That, to paraphrase West again, people (even other women) do not respect women, do not care for women, do not even like women. How could they if they voted in winning numbers for a man who so clearly hates women and wishes to cause them harm? That women are so maligned in our world that we will vote a rapist as president before we vote for a woman who has never quite represented what society considers a “good woman”/”the right woman” to be.
I’m sad that men continue to avoid accountability, consequences and punishment for disrespecting, hurting, raping and oppressing women. People don’t like talking about how Hollywood protects rapists and abusers. If these men are simply “accused” rather than convicted, they’re “innocent until proven guilty” and they’re men who are being unfairly judged; however, the women who accuse them, the potential victims, are untrustworthy, “guilty before proven innocent” of lying about these men. (God forbid they be innocent before proven guilty; they are, after all, just women.) We don’t trust women; we don’t believe women. Half a century of women have come forward to accuse Bill Cosby of sexual assault, and yet people are still on the fence about his guilt. There is video footage, photographs of bruises, witness accounts and an out-of-court settlement to back up Amber Heard’s claims that she was abused by Johnny Depp, but when I wrote an article about how he has escaped reproach, how Hollywood continues to protect him and to sign-off on his abuse by their protection, the comment section was bombarded with “How dare you! Innocent until proven guilty!” Charles Saatchi grabbed Nigella Lawson by the throat in a crowded restaurant; he assaulted her in public, in broad daylight. Onlookers took photographs, staff did not intervene, and the media speculated about the “reasons” why Saatchi might have grabbed her (as if there is ever any justifiable reason to assault a women — what a truly despicable thought). Gable Tostee was recorded stopping Warriena Wright from leaving his Gold Coast apartment, telling her she couldn’t leave because she had been a “bad girl”. He locked her out on a high balcony while she screamed and attempted to escape him. And yet he has walked free from ANY responsibility for her death (even just the minimum possible sentence for the role he so clearly had, even if it cannot be proven that he murdered her) because men cannot believe that a woman would rather jump to her death then endure what he might have had in store for her — what might perhaps be a fate worse than death. Wayne Carey kicked a woman in the face, and he gets to sit on an AFL commentators’ panel on “White Ribbon Day” (what a fucking joke), earning thousands of dollars talking smack with other entitled men without reproach.
Trump is a president who has been accused of raping a child, who has openly bragged about assaulting women, who has made lewd comments about his own fucking daughter on the television. He is living proof that powerful men who assault women don’t ever really get punished; they get made president. How is that something we can explain to the children we know, who will grow up understanding that even a highly privileged and unbelievably qualified woman cannot get a job she deserves; who will grow up believing that men can do what they like to women and still get everything they want because they are men. This is how we raised oppressed girls and entitled boys; it’s not how we raise progress. 
We don’t like women; we don’t believe women; we don’t protect women. How much more evidence do we need? How is this possible? How is this real life?
I’m scared for the women I know, and the women I don’t know — for how their lives might be broken or extinguished by the kind of sentiment that puts a man like Trump in power. That sentiment is what drives men like those “Yeah The Boys” dickheads, men who feel their right to hurt women, to dominate women, slipping away from them, and who act out in violence and sadistic anger to claw it all back. 
I think I’m most sad that Trump’s win seems to indicate that words are meaningless. He is a man who has nothing to say for himself. His words have no meaning (sometimes literally); his speeches have no profundity, no gumption, no purpose other than to mobilise mass hysteria and false elation. I watched Trump’s acceptance speech. It was nothing. Other politicians have made speeches that have changed lives, changed the world. We study these speeches, quote them, teach them as examples of how to stand up for what is right. What can we learn from a man who, underneath it all, has nothing to say for himself? If that man says nothing and still wins, then words must be meaningless. For a writer, this might be the toughest pill to swallow. 

It’s easy to be upset when you’re a privileged white women living in Australia, where this news is devastating but not immediately so fucking terrifying and dangerous. And so the other part of accepting our part, as privileged people who put ourselves first at great detriment to others, is to just stand aside and listen to the people who are going to be most in danger from a Trump presidency: people of colour, immigrants, LGBTQI+ people, disabled people. These people are in actual danger; Muslim women are worried to walk out of the house in their hijab, are being begged by members of their families to stay hidden; trans people are terrified of being erased and trapped further by cruel legislation that denies their very right to exist. These people need a voice and we have to move out of their way: listen to them, ask them what we can do to help, allow them to take their rightful place leaders in the movement against this white supremacy, “conservative nativism”, patriarchal extremism that is slowly strangling all our governments. Be angry, but don’t be selfish. We must move over, sit the fuck down and listen.

 

I don’t think there’s any point in moving from this anger and pain to hope for the future — not yet. We need to feel this pain, anger, horror, whatever, to remind ourselves that we are all culpable, and all capable of doing the equivalent of voting a man like Donald Trump to the presidency. It’s a pretty unpleasant lesson to learn, but clearly it’s one we need.

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2015: some of my favourite films

There was a lot to love in 2015. Here, in no particular order, are ten of my favourite films from *last* year.

(Disclaimer: there are still around half a dozen big Hollywood movies with 2015 release dates in the US that are just premiering in Australia, just in case this list feels like it’s missing a few significant films from last year’s (US-released) crop.)

Mad Max: Fury Road

furiosa

Between Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it was a good year for unearthing decades-old blockbuster franchises, and while The Force Awakens certainly wins the award for Most Slavish (Point-for-Point) Reanimation of a Franchise, Fury Road gets all the props for sheer guts and originality. George Miller’s sublime Fury Road was fifteen years in the making, and it arrived in 2015 with a new Mad Max (Tom Hardy, engaged to replace IRL mad Mel Gibson) – a Max who is, curiously, silent and strapped to the front of a car for a large portion of the film, in deference to its true hero, Charlize Theron’s inimitable badass Imperator Furiosa.

Depending on how you look at it, Fury Road is anything from a dystopian action flick, to a Feminazi propagandist film, to a larrikin road trip movie. In it, Theron’s Furiosa liberates the five ‘Wives’ (glorified sex slaves) of Big Bad Immortan Joe and tries to drive them in a decked-out war rig across a barren desert wasteland to a ‘green place of many mothers’ that she remembers from her childhood. When Joe realises what Furiosa has done, he sends a battlement of busted-up anaemic War Boys (including the tumour-ridden Nux, played by Nicholas Hoult, and his ‘blood bag’, Mad Max) after them. That’s really all the information you need to get the most out of Fury Road, and therein lies its beauty. If you’re wondering why water is scarce but fuel is plentiful, don’t worry – it doesn’t matter! Imagining what in the world could have happened to give everyone disfiguring tumours all over their bodies? It’s apparently irrelevant! Did you notice the ibis bird men on stalks wandering the marshes one night on the Fury Road? Who cares! They don’t matter either. The best way to enjoy Fury Road is to just sit back and let it happen – a welcome change from the exposition- and ‘world building’-heavy action sci-fi of late.

Miller’s palette, rusty reds, oranges and browns against a rich blue sky, renders the film almost revolutionarily good-looking when compared with the cool grey aesthetic of the recent YA and superhero blockbusters. Along with the practical special effects, which Miller favoured over soulless CGI, Fury Road is a true visual spectacle. Charlize Theron, in perhaps her best form in years, leads a ripper cast of wild, wicked actors doing (seemingly) whatever the hell they want – including a remarkable Tom Hardy, who barely speaks and whose gamut of emotions are displayed mostly via his extraordinarily expressive eyes. But Fury Road’s greatest achievement is its swift, slick editing, bold choices by editor Margaret Sixel and Miller that make it unequivocally the best filmgoing experience of 2015. Read more of my thoughts on Mad Max: Fury Road here.

The Dressmaker

the dressmaker

In 2015, for the first time in a long time, a respectable portion of the population actually turned out to watch Aussie films in the cinema. One of those films was Joceyln Moorhouse’s sumptuous, batshit crazy The Dressmaker. Based on the tragicomic revenge novel by Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker stars Kate Winslet (with an Aussie accent so good it’s virtually invisible) as Tilly Dunnage, a haute couture designer who returns to her small country town to care for her ailing mother (Judy Davis) and to seek revenge on those who wronged her in the past. Moorhouse, who, along with her husband PJ Hogan, set the tone for queer, quixotic Australian cinema with the classic film Muriel’s Wedding, is back in top form for The Dressmaker, a truly weird and wonderful film that screens like a modern Aussie fable or fairytale (but one most definitely in the oddball bloodthirsty style of the Brothers Grimm).

It’s another film that uses the desert to great visual effect, and Winslet swans across the dusty frame in her vintage Dior-inspired gowns (designed by talented Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries designer Marion Boyce), scowling and blowing cigarette smoke at the lens. She is marvellous, and I could watch hours and hours of her sparring with the great Judy Davis, who is here as Tilly’s mother, Mad Molly, to remind us all how brilliant she has always been. There’s also a fine mousey/catty transformation from rising star Sarah Snook, who is a true celluloid beauty with an old-fashioned sensibility that suits both her look in this film and her dastardly scene-chewing skills. Then there’s Liam Hemsworth as Teddy, Tilly’s love interest, who singlehandedly makes the case for the actor to always use his Australian accent and to never again appear in a Hunger Games film. (Lucky those movies are finally over because they made a greywashed cardboard hunk-bot out of him.) Here he is warm, charming, utterly affecting and sexy to boot, and sparks genuinely fly between him and Winslet. Winslet, who is fifteen years older than Hemsworth, delightfully steals back some of the power from the ageing male movie stars who are inexplicably allowed to star as romantic leads opposite talented, gorgeous young ingénues, quite possibly sucking the youth from their very lips with every whiskery kiss they must consent to. In The Dressmaker, Winslet is the star, and she gets her talented, gorgeous young ingénue, just like any man.

The brilliant performances are too numerous to mention them all, and the laughs you will have are as consistent as the somewhat shocked tears you will shed. The whole thing ties up with an outrageous, purely fantastic ending; it’s a true-blue story (a rarity in Australian cinema, which tends to aim more for tonal, moody mystery and for feeling rather than storytelling). Let’s hope this signals a return to the frivolous and the fabulous for some of our Aussie output, because if this year has proved anything, it’s that people will front up to the flicks for a film that’s actually fun.

Sleeping with Other People

Sleeping with Other People

Leslye Headland’s filthy When Harry Met Sally redux, Sleeping with Other People, is not one of 2015’s best movies (not by a long shot) but it is one of the best (and only) rom-coms to be produced in recent years. The genre that once anointed Hollywood’s biggest stars (George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Hanks, Reese Witherspoon and Heath Ledger were all rom-com vets) is now the fundamental misstep for Hollywood’s most poorly guided pseudo-successes. This is a great shame because, as my Netflix history and certainly yours reveals, the great neo-rom-coms of the late 1980s, 1990s and the early 2000s are the films we return to most for fuzzy fun and familiarity. Of the big ‘of the moment’ Hollywood names, only Emma Stone has dived into the rom-com headfirst, to her detriment – recently she has bombed out in stale Woody Allen screw-ups and positively expired Cameron Crowe disasters (while Jennifer Lawrence, the gold standard for appropriate Hollywood star behaviour, merely dipped her toe in when she starred alongside Bradley Cooper in the glorified rom-com that no one would admit was a rom-com, Silver Linings Playbook). Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, while an admirable attempt to revive the form with a buzzy star, was only a passable comedy and a tepid romantic-comedy, but Headland’s fast and funny Sleeping with Other People is a knockout for the genre.

Sleeping with Other People is Headland’s second film after her acid-tongued Bachelorette, which is probably best described as a kind of Bridesmaids on methamphetamines. This new film is not as funny or furious as its predecessor, and it’s certainly not as razor-sharp with radical feminist sensibilities, but it’s a bright and witty neo-neo-rom-com – a category the critical world has anointed ‘sex comedy’ – which understands that the best rom-coms need just one thing: a pair of romantic leads with buckets of chemistry who can talk sexy charming junk to each other for unnumbered hours. Trainwreck made the fatal error of pairing Schumer with Bill Hader: both great comics but with inherently different styles and a chemistry reading in the negative digits. Headland, on the other hand, has cast floater comedians Jason Sudekis (the sidekick lifeblood of the bro-comedy industry) and Alison Brie (specialist of indie mumblecore dramas where she plays an uptight sister or girlfriend to a lackadaisical lead) as her stars, and together they scrap and sparkle in a most watchable fashion. Sudekis, whose jocular pigheadedness is usually grating, plays a credibly screwed-up man-child better than anyone Judd Apatow has conjured up in his more recent, staler years; and Brie, who has a sort of ‘sexy baby’ brand that I generally find a touch gross, is looser and more grown up here. Headland certainly has a talent for wringing credible and inventive performances out of seemingly one-note actors (as she did with Kirsten Dunst’s toxic Regan and Isla Fisher’s unexpectedly deep Katie in Bachelorette).

And, as with the best 1990s rom-coms, Headland doesn’t so much reinvent the genre as skilfully retool it for success. There’s nothing revolutionary or even surprising about her love story, but the way it unfolds, with its two spiky leads, is nevertheless incredibly engaging and reminiscent of the great Nora Ephron’s surgeon’s skill for cutting out sharp, romantic dialogue for her motormouth stars. In an interview with Vulture, Headland revealed some of her favourite things about her favourite rom-com: My Best Friend’s Wedding. Her cogent analysis of that clever film goes some way toward explaining why Headland is emerging as a promising rom-com revisionist.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Force Awakens

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is not just the biggest film of the year, it’s also the biggest film of the decade, of any decade, possibly ever. Disney, together with its new appendage, a George Lucas-less LucasFilms, will no doubt be happy just to have a billion-dollar box office hit, but, as an extra bonus for the conglomerate, The Force Awakens also happens to be a dexterous and raucously entertaining critical darling. I’m sure True Fans have a lot to say about how JJ Abrams pilfered from Lucas’s original trilogy in the construction of his new space opera (and how successful or unsuccessful said pilfering was). But, as a mere appreciator of the Star Wars films, The Force Awakens feels like a fine re-entry piece for a franchise that will probably have a longer life than either you or me (rumour has it that none of us will see the final Star Wars film in our lifetime). With The Force Awakens Abrams has proved, once again, that his true skills lie in two areas vital for the rebirth of a blockbuster juggernaut: the art of mimesis and the business of casting.

For all of the first hour of the rollicking new film, and for parts of the rest, Abrams works hard at recreating that feeling we all had watching an original Star Wars film, but blending it with something new, original and exciting. Abrams treats Episode VII as an adaptation and, true to the best adaptation theory, he appreciates that capturing the spirit of the original is most important for any reinterpretation (although he also manipulates finnicky ‘fidelity’ theory in his lazy, albeit crafty, revision of the best plot points and character traits from Star Wars and Return of the Jedi). The impressive, largely practical effects finesse the overall competent feel of the film – and help to erase any reservations that people have about a Star Wars reboot since Lucas’s CGI-daubed pre-sequels, Episodes I-III. All of those things are great, and so is the revival and revision of John Williams’ spectacular score. The Force Awakens score is a bombastic old-fashioned honest-to-goodness opera that puts to shame the dull, droning horn-infused scores of the post-Nolan blockbusters. All the most memorable themes are hinted at, and then the rest of it is new, smartly twisted ones – like Rey’s lightfooted flute theme, which often feels extracted from Luke Skywalker’s wistful Tatooine and bolder Force themes, and a mournful, hesitantly dark theme for emo-villain Kylo Ren that is of course reminiscent of the infamous Imperial March.

But the real magic is in the casting: a crop of bright, refreshing and variously talented actors who inject The Force Awakens with a new energy and enthusiasm. As Rey, Daisy Ridley is a kind of evolved Keira Knightley, with just the right charm and spunk to be a 21st-century heroine, plus the seriousness required to pull off a central straight-woman role. She bounces delightfully off John Boyega, whose Finn is off-beat, charming and frankly irresistible (with perfect comic timing and the unnerving ability to wear his emotions all over his very attractive face, which only sometimes means he over-emotes). Oscar Isaac proves once again, as he did in Ex-Machina and HBO’s Show Me A Hero, that he is a supremely versatile actor; as mouthy Poe Dameron the handsome Isaac seems to be just having fun. Domhnall Gleeson is a terribly camp B-villain, which is appropriate in the context of the theatrical, fey Star Wars but less appropriate when surrounded by the more measured, intuitive performances of this Star Wars. (When his pale face contorts and sprays spit at the lens during a Nazi-esque First Order rally that’s so over-the-top it’s positively goofy, you appreciate his commitment but curse his bad direction.) Lupita Nyong’o is wasted as a dried-up apricot, Mas Kanata, who can see people’s souls through their eyes (one of a string of roles she was offered after her Oscar-winning turn in 12 Years a Slave where her voice but not her face is required, which feels, on the whole, pretty racist). As Big Bad Kylo Ren, Adam Driver marks a two-dimensional villain with some distinctive, intelligent three-dimensional acting choices. Driver is often the most interesting actor in whatever thing he’s in, and though his is not the most interesting performance here, it’s the most impressive considering what he had to work with (a lunkhead emo teen reminiscent of Hayden Christensen in Life as a House, or, indeed, in the Star Wars pre-sequels as a creepy cardboard Anakin Skywalker).

It’s all very well executed – it’d have to be, considering how much present and future investment is riding on its success – and it’s an actually enjoyable blockbuster (like the aforementioned Fury Road) that will hopefully contribute to an industry-wide realisation that action movies should be fun, not plodding and greyscale and mind-numbingly same, same, same. It may not be the most sophisticated story, but then, if we’re being honest, Star Wars was never really known for its sophistication. But it was, and still is, great fun.

One final note: it is significant that the heroes of this new major blockbuster film are a woman and a black man. I’d guess, considering The Force Awakens was already likely to make a packet, that the risk of fronting a franchise with unconventional heroes was significantly less here for Disney than it would be for other less financially assured studios; still, the fact that it seems Disney decided to harness that power for good is an extremely encouraging sign for the future of mainstream cinema. (The fact that the merchandising has failed to catch up to the prescience of the studio, on the other hand, is sorely disappointing and alarmingly shortsighted.) If Abrams’s film is all about role-playing Star Wars, then a large portion of the population can now play along more convincingly, with faces that look, and stories that feel, more like theirs.

Holding The Man

Holding the man

Holding the Man, based on the memoir by playwright Timothy Conigrave, chronicles Conigrave’s life with his partner John Caleo, from their time together at high school to the AIDS crisis that eventually took both their lives. It’s a heartwrenching tale (as is all sick-lit, where one lover nurses another stoically to the grave), and it stamps that spirit into the celluloid right at the outset: Tim (Ryan Corr) is holidaying in Italy when he suddenly, desperately needs to call his best friend (Sarah Snook) to ask a seemingly trivial question. Tim can’t remember – perhaps because of his illness, perhaps because of the ravages of time – some small detail of his life with John (Craig Stott). The panicked moment is sickening (and, when it is revisited at the end, graspingly sad); we sense this film is not going to be an easy road. Then we smash back into the 1970s, to high school footy games, playground banter, class plays and frisky trips to the beach. There are bad wigs and winking retro references, larrikin schoolboy jokes and lots and lots of teenage sex talk. And that’s the true blueprint for Holding the Man’s success; the careful balance of campy, retro fun and earnest melodrama makes for an irresistible, highly emotional filmgoing experience.

The melodrama is a derided film genre, and desperately unpopular at the contemporary box office save Nicholas Sparks weepies (a seemingly unending barrage of young, hot, white celebs mashing their bodies together and crying) that are still trading off the supernova success of The Notebook to get bums on seats. In Holding the Man director Neil Armfield applies two distinctive filters to the sick-love melodrama: the Australian period drama and the gay romance. Not since Brokeback Mountain has gay romance been given such a mainstream spotlight in film, nor has it been brought to life for mainstream audiences with such specificity, tenderness and intelligence. Make no mistake: this is not a ‘universal’ love story, and I don’t think it’s at all trying to be; it is absolutely a queer love story. There is no ‘universality’ to the gut-punching reality of the AIDS crisis for gay men in the 1980s and 1990s – this is a very important and sadly unique part of contemporary queer history. And it’s that specificity that makes Holding the Man so good. For example, it has a refreshingly candid approach to gay sex – a boon in a world where straight sex on film is a free-for-all but gay sex is still vexingly sanitised. Armfield indexes a broad gay sex experience: liberal and promiscuous, tender and monogamous; old sex and young sex and fun sex and sick sex and sad sex are all on show. Exactly because of this specificity it is a charming, sometimes silly, often terribly good film that should, in fact, be watched by everyone.

Corr is very good as the large and loud Tim, a protagonist who is sometimes hard to swallow but whom Corr approaches with a great deal of generosity. Stott is a divine John, building new layers into a character that is a somewhat two-dimensional (albeit lovingly rendered) angelic figure in Conigrave’s memoir. He is a rich compliment to Corr’s bombastic performance. Also of note: Anthony LaPaglia, whose performance as John’s homophobic father is a perfectly restrained punch that hits its target bang on. Aside from the wigs, which are truly terrible, the period aesthetic is richly satisfying. It’s also a beautifully paced film, with delicious ebbs and flows of silly/serious. Like The Dressmaker, Holding the Man is Aussie cinema at its most appealing: a clever story that’s entirely particular to our way of life. More Australian films like this in 2016, please.

Inside Out

inside out

I don’t remember a whole lot about Pixar’s Up, where an old man and a fat little boy scout travel to the jungle in a floating balloon house, but I (and probably you, too) certainly remember those first ten minutes. In them Pixar does what it does best: ostensibly a short film, telling the story of a full and happy married life. The first time I watched those ten minutes, I was working in a bar and they were on the television, on mute. I stood transfixed (when I should’ve been serving), trying, inexplicably, embarrassingly, to hold back tears. I didn’t even need to listen, I just watched, and I felt precisely what I was supposed to feel.

Those first ten minutes of Up are a pretty good blueprint for what exactly Pixar specialises in – what one might callously describe as emotional manipulation for adult ticket-buyers, who are the real targets for most Pixar films, which probably goes over heads of most of its younger audience members.

In the run-up to its release, Pixar’s Inside Out was astronomically hyped up as a kind of weepy successor to Up’s opening montage, or the surprisingly emotional Toy Story 3. Billed as a return to form for Pixar, Inside Out appeared to be a smart, intuitive, feelings-oriented cartoon voiced by actors adults love and children don’t recognise or care about. Yes, Inside Out is a movie for grown-ups, no matter how much kids can enjoy the bright colours, the litany of broccoli-related jokes, and the recurring Triple Dent gum gag.

There are certainly zanier, funnier, better kids movies out there – the brilliantly mad-cap Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and its sequel come to mind as two movies bursting at the seams with pun fun and silliness – which is why it’s important to realise just how little Pixar is actually catering to children in its output. (Cars and its ilk, for example, are Pixar kids movies that are a real bummer for adults who were hoping for that trademark Pixar savvy.) In a way, Inside Out shares a great deal of DNA with earnest adult cartoon TV shows like Bob’s Burgers and Bojack Horseman. Still, it’s a real wonder, and dammit if that Bing-Bong scene won’t make you bawl your eyes out.

The film features some stunning voice work from Amy Poehler as Joy, who captures the actual sound of joy in her unrelenting, ebullient performance, and from The Office‘s Phyllis Smith as the Eeyore-like Sad, as well as from Bill Hader, who, as Fear, puts his best tight, nasal-foreheady foot forward. (Hader has turned out to be a real chameleon, up there with the great Kristen Wiig in terms of his ability to play both silly and straight. He is always a welcome presence – often in roles that don’t do enough to showcase his talent.)

While it’s best not to think too much about what’s behind the stories that the Pixar Machine is spinning, Inside Out is nevertheless a gorgeous, bright and introspective film.

Magic Mike XXL

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I don’t think we need to go so far as to call Magic Mike XXL ‘the most feminist film of the year‘, but the XXL sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s pensive, sun-drenched masc-study is definitely a welcome departure from that first film’s rather more predictable focus and attitude. In the OG Magic Mike, Soderbergh was telling a story reminiscent of his Ocean’s triptych, about a group of men bound together in seemingly harmless and endearing machismo. Those movies exposed how damaging the fetishising of manliness could be, and how to win by moulding machismo the ‘right’ way, through positivity and brotherhood.

Magic Mike was about the brotherhood of man; refreshingly, Magic Mike XXL is all about the sisters. Rather than a feminist film, where women are the subjects and female stories drive the action, XXL is a kind of reverse-feminist film: the men are the subjects, but they are driven by female desire both within the world of the film and outside it – in the audience. The varied hunks of Mike Lane’s (Channing Tatum) stripper crew are back, to do ‘one final dance’ at a male stripper convention across the country. At the end of the last film, Mike left the stripper game to run a furniture business, but mere minutes into XXL he is drawn back to the male dancing world. Mike is welding in his workshop when Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’ comes on. Unable to resist the pull of that indelibly sexy tune, Mike spins, grinds and thrusts around his workshop as female moviegoers worldwide lose their collective shit.

That’s the real treat of XXL, and what makes it ultimately better than the first film. The sexiness feels rough and real; when the men dance you can taste their sweat, and you can tell it’s for you. When Mike dances in his workshop, really it’s the sex symbol Channing Tatum dancing just for us, conscious of his audience, grinding into our eyeballs.

When Mike’s crew arrives at Domina, the strip-country-club run by his ex Rome (a feline, fierce Jada Pinkett-Smith), they get a crash course in dancing for the enjoyment of women, not the enjoyment of men who think they are pleasuring women. The women at Domina are primarily black and are all shapes and sizes, and it feels justly like the film is affirming that all women are entitled to their desire and their libidos. Later, the crew entertains a group of WASP-y cougars, led by Andie MacDowell, but the pleasure comes not from sex and dancing, but mostly from a meeting of minds: the women demanding the attention and conversation they want, and the men abiding, with gusto. In what is unequivocally the film’s best moment, the gorgeous Richie (Joe Manganiello) dances around a service station just to make a disgruntled shift worker smile.

There is little to no plot (as in all the best road movies) and sometimes the dialogue is facile – but, really, the men are just mumbling metro vectors for female desire. It doesn’t necessarily matter what they’re saying, except for when they’re talking about how their life’s mission is to allow women to feel good about themselves. The cinematography, by Soderbergh under the pseudonym Peter Anderson, is dreamy. He sets long wide-angle shots with minimal intrusive editorial intervention; he wants us to see the talent in the movement of these men, the camaraderie in their mindless group banter, and boy, can we see it. The dancing is sublime, much better than in the first film, because the crew throws out their campy male-revue moves (and costumes) in favour of rougher, sexier dancing that is often influenced by the street. It’s not aggressive, it’s sensual.

I’m not sure there’s anything that beats the experience of a Magic Mike film in a cinema full of women. We scream, applaud, gasp, laugh, and in XXL a mass shiver ran through the heaving crowd when the final (exquisite) dance piece was revealed. In the first film, the audience I sat in was a little filthy, cawing as if at a hens party (undoubtedly the desired, enjoyable effect). During the second film, we sat in awe, dumbfounded by what we were seeing, unsure whether it was even real. That’s cinema.

Ex-Machina

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Last year Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine) turned his hand to directing in Ex-Machina, a spec-fic sleeper hit. The film, wherein a tech drudge, Caleb (the truly wonderful Domnhall Gleeson), wins a chance to help his boss, tech-bro genius Nathan (the inimitable Oscar Isaac), perform a Turing test on Nathan’s new AI, Ava (Alicia Vikander, the world’s ingénue for 2015), would be minimally affective if not for its stellar cast. The rather formulaic sci-fi/horror flick is turned thrilling by stunning performances from all three leads. (And they are all leads; no matter how some awards body wants to describe either Isaac or Vikander as ‘supporting’, this film is essentially a three-hander with a cameo by Sonoya Mizuno.)

While inherently predictable, both in story and style (the bulk of the action takes place in Nathan’s tech wonderland/boutique eco-hotel/bunker, a concrete-glass mecca in the middle of lush green snowcapped mountains), somehow Ex-Machina still proves to be a chewy and memorable atmospheric piece. Gleeson’s performance is perfect; he’s essentially the reverse of his brilliant role in Black Mirror, seemingly sympathetic but with an undercurrent of unctuous entitlement. I still haven’t quite figured out what Garland wants us to think about him. Vikander is creepily lithe and lusty as Ava – a performance that you feel is playing a trick on you. She is truly mesmerising. But it was Isaac, as always, who caught me. He’s made a physical transformation to a bulky beefcake with a shaved head and a heavy black beard, and he talks to Caleb in bro-isms. While he seems buoyant he’s really grounded, snake-like. He’s obviously got an agenda, and Garland has fun toying with us, making us guess just how much Nathan knows about what’s going on in his compound – and just how much he’s engineered for his own enjoyment.

There is an undercurrent of ‘feminism’ in the AI story (which is about men possessing all the power in the world and using it to create what they think is a glorified sex toy), but that’s not the most interesting thing about it. What’s stunning about the film is the way it mimics the theatre – small, contained set pieces for actors to mince around in, bouncing off each other like rubber balls in a concrete car park. Scenes between Gleeson and Isaac, in particular, are electric, and Vikander illuminates every frame she’s in. I’m not sure I care about Garland’s ascendance to the role of director, but he’s still a damn fine screenwriter and that is evidenced here in all the tense, tricky talking these actors do. The film also contains one of the most absurdly enjoyable and off-beat dance sequences in recent memory. Ex-Machina seems simple, but I’m willing to bet it will stick with you.

Tangerine

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Sean Baker’s Tangerine, a film shot entirely on a modified iPhone 5s, is possibly unlike anything you’ve ever seen. In it, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a transgender prostitute who has just been released from 28 days in jail, burns through the streets of LA to find the cis woman who has stolen her pimp boyfriend, Chester (James Ransone). Trotting reluctantly along behind Sin-Dee is her bestie, Alexandra (Mya Taylor). Sin-Dee is determined to kick this usurper’s ass, and Rodriguez, in a bolshie, brilliant performance, drags us all around a gorgeous technicolour LA trying to find her. Baker also follows one of Alexandra’s johns, taxi driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian), who struggles to keep his LA street life a secret from his respectable family and his meddling mother-in-law.

The film is truly beautiful, and the gimmick of the iPhone shoot is impressive when you take in all of Baker’s stunning saturated wide shots. He pumps along with the snappy Rodriguez, while still finding time to take a breath in more melancholy moments with Alexandra and Razmik. Rodriguez’s performance as Sin-Dee is very fine – energetic and witty, the ba-thump bass of the film. But it’s Taylor’s Alexandra who is the emotional centre, and her performance is tender, considered and the perfect counterbalance to Rodriguez’s intensity. Tangerine is simple, sharp and elegant.

Far from the Madding Crowd

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Far from the Madding Crowd can’t be an easy film to adapt for now – not least because a large portion of Hardy’s prose concerns the ins and outs of 19th-century farming rigour. Still, in a sunset-pastel dream, Thomas Vinterberg has made a very commendable romantic film that stays true both to Hardy’s determination to write real, momentous women, and also to his attachment to the milieu of daily country life.

The ethereal Cary Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdene, a headstrong young woman who inherits her uncle’s farm and decides to run it herself. She is pursued by three suitors: first, by the watchful, stoic farmer Gabriel Oak (the loin-clenchingly handsome Matthias Schoenaerts); and then by the odd, older bachelor, fellow farm-owner Boldwood (creepy Michael Sheen); and also by the dashing red coat soldier, Troy (Tom Sturridge and his excellent moustache). This is another melodrama, and Vinterberg, along with screenwriter David Nicholls, who takes a butcher’s cleaver to the material in a way I’m certain you’d only notice if you read the book, marks movements in feeling by the moods of the Dorset weather gods. Trouble (and sexual tension) brews during hair-raising storms, romance is sun-drenched and happens in dry gold wheat fields, and a devestating farming accident (where Farmer Oak’s sheep are driven off a cliff by a mad sheep dog) takes place in coldest, darkest, stillest night.

Mulligan is perhaps less hardcore than I remembered Bathsheba in the book. In Mulligan’s hands she’s more pausing and pensive, which in turn makes the men seem rightfully sillier. Schoenaerts may as well have been ripped from the minds of lusty female readers; his Gabriel is the ideal rough, reticent yet secretly loving 19th-century love object. As Boldwood, Sheen is an ideal desperate, foolish bachelor – slimy and a touch scary. And Sturridge is your classic Classics scoundrel (in the manner of John Willoughby or George Wickham); he woos Bathsheba with a literal thrusting sword display.

When I first read it, right after I finished high school, Far from the Madding Crowd had a profound effect on me. The characters were wild but distinctly drawn; the romance was dewy; and the histrionics were high. It felt wonderful to discover that even classic literature could be utterly silly. Then there’s Bathsheba’s excellent line: ‘It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.’ So I’m really rather partial to any adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd, and until now there’s never been a great one. Wooly, warm and wonderful, Vinterberg’s Far from the Madding Crowd is the perfect handsome period film.

 

You can also read my best of 2015 in books and TV. And look out for my upcoming weekly series: ‘ICYMI’.

2016 Golden Globes: there’s nothing funny about Ricky Gervais, kids

Good news, friends, the Golden Globes happened! It’s always worth remembering that the Globes is secretly the best awards ceremony because it is crazy and crazy is good. The clothes are generally more fun, the wins are often more surprising and the celebrities are drunk. Seriously, what could be better?

This year the Globes backslid into the depths of hell to bring us that shrivelled old cucumber stuck to the back of your refrigerator:

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That’s right, Ricky Gervais is back to repulse you (and to recycle jokes made by Amy and Tina last year, as above). If you like dated references, jokes about molestation and sexism, and transphobia, strap in.

SO. AWKWARDLY. TERRIBLE.

Thankfully, Fusion has lovingly catalogued all the uncomfortable facial expressions from the celebrities in the audience who felt forced to pretend they are good-humoured about casual bigotry:

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I think we all wish these two (or, like, literally anyone else besides Ricky Fucking Gervais) were hosting instead:

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In case you were worried that Gervais would set the tone for the rest of the night, Jonah Hill dragged Awkward Channing Tatum and his Gambit hair (the real winner of the 2016 Golden Globes) onstage to do a dud bit about the bear from The Revenant, reminding everyone that Jump Street only works because of Channing Tatum. So, you know, off to a ripper start.

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Here, Jane Fonda is all of us: unimpressed.

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Then, just to ensure we remember that white men ruin everything, Quentin Tarantino was a racist.

 

Anyway, winners! Lots of people and things won! Some of those things and people were great, like the win for charming, talented Rachel Bloom as Lead Actress in a TV Series, Comedy or Musical, for her delightful show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

The win, and her crackpot acceptance speech, will hopefully encourage more people to watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which is an amazingly good show.

(YOU’RE WELCOME.)

One of the big surprises of the night was Mozart in the Jungle, Amazon’s tiny baby classical music comedy (apparently!) starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Bernadette Peters, which won the Best TV Series, Comedy or Musical category, and also secured a win for Bernal in the Best Actor category.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed Mozart in the Jungle‘s first season. I imagined as I watched that the show had a fun niche audience of orchestral instrumentalists or former orchestral instrumentalists (like me) and the parents of orchestral instrumentalists or former orchestral instrumentalists (like my mother). Which is great for that niche audience, desperate as we are to see actors pretend to play instruments. But that is not an award-winning show, and Gael Garcia Bernal’s performance is not an award-winning performance (it’s even less of an award-winning performance than Aziz Ansari’s Dev, the performance I had assumed would take out the statue over last year’s winner, Jeffrey Tambor, because the Globes loves to reward newcomers and to appear ‘hip’ and ‘with it’). But, sure, give all the gongs to Mozart in the Jungle, a sketchily produced, albeit thoroughly entertaining, peek into the apparently scandalous world of orchestral music. This is why we love the Globes, because the Globes are batshit crazy.

But, you know, Bernal is such a sweetheart so I guess whatever:

Plus, this slightly wasted yet hilarious cutaway gag from fellow nominee Aziz Ansari:

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Sly won a Best Supporting Actor award for his return to the Rocky franchise in Creed and marble-mouthed awkward sweetness at us, but then rudely did not thank the director Ryan Coogler or the film’s star, the divine Michael B. Jordan. Scandal!

COOKIE WON. Taraji P. Henson served it up in her amazing, salty acceptance speech. Well deserved.

And Lady Gaga cried and oversold it when she won her Golden Globe. (It’s a Golden Globe, Gaga, chill out.) She also called Ryan Murphy ‘a wonderful human being’, which . . . doubtful.

Then Oscar Isaac came onstage to be basically the hottest, most charming, most talented and most suave man alive right now.

Also, Brie Larson, Hollywood’s most underappreciated (and probably most talented) young actor, won a thing! YESSSS LARSON. YES.

Look, other people won things. Who cares! There’s a full list at the bottom of this post.

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SO, FASHION. Yum. Clothes were generally pretty good this year. Plus, all my red carpet dreams have come true because I can finally say this: categorically the least amount of white and beige I’ve ever seen on a red carpet. For the most part, no one was competing to be the saddest bride left at the altar, or the most disappointed bridesmaid in a dress that is supposed to be ‘peach’ but is really ‘nightmare’. It was all jewel tones and sleek lines and grown-up realness. What a time to be alive.

First, let’s deal with the Most Bestest (with help, as always, from inimitable fashion commentator Will Kay):

Jennifer Lawrence in Christian Dior on the 2016 Golden Globes red carpet

Jennifer Lawrence in Christian Dior.

Oh, how I have loved Lawrence’s long relationship with Dior – girl knows how to pull off a romantic dress. But I like this the best, unequivocally, of anything she’s ever worn on the red carpet. This is polished and so grown up, with the saucy cut-outs in the side and the impeccably styled accessories and hair/make up. My favourite Globes look this year.

Will: This is the best Jennifer Lawrence has ever looked, even better than the photoshopped Dior ads. Red is her colour; she should only wear red. This reminds me of her Oscars look when she was nominated for The Winter’s Bone. This is subtly sexy modern, ugh she just looks so good.

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Jennifer Lopez in Giambattista Valli.

This. Is. The. Business. This might possibly be my favourite most J.Lo thing J.Lo has ever done – including the time she played J.Lo on Will and Grace. Let it never be said that no one can pull off canary yellow with like a balero-cape and a diamond bolo tie: J.Lo can.

Will: She is positively J.Loing in canary. Yes, definitely canary with that caplet. (PS Yes, feature that a clutch.)

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Julianne Moore in Tom Ford.

Julianne Moore is one of my favourite people alive in this world, and here she is making more great choices in a Tom Ford Skyy Vodka bottle with a Velvet neck-shoulder collar. The dress is perfectly done, and the styling is perfectly underdone. Moore is the Most Bestest Dressed in our hearts, always and forever.

Will: Is she ever wrong?

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Cate Blanchett in Givenchy.

Our Cate knows tasteful ballsy batshit better than anyone. This is the saloon gown/unicorn hide of my dreams. The woman is luminous, and her fashion choices are inspired.

Will: Only Cate Blanchett should be allowed to wear Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy Haute Couture. She owns it. It suits her modern refined sensibility so perfectly.

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Lady Gaga in Versace.

I assume Lady Gaga is hoping that they will reboot My Week With Marilyn? Seriously, I can’t care about Gaga play-acting breathy Marilyn Monroe in her awards speech (and her entitled, celestial glide from her chair to the stage to receive her gong), but I can get around this truly stunning Versace number, with power Bumpits built in at the sides. I wish the styling was less on-the-nose, but we can’t have everything we want in life.

Will: It has been said once, it has been said a thousand times, “Madonna is a style icon.” But jokes aside, really this is beautiful: Versace does Thierry Mugler equals power sexy woman.

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Gina Rodriguez in Zac Posen.

I’m in and out about the colour, which is sometimes great and sometimes like an old couch in someone’s great uncle’s den, but I’m all in on this flirty fun look for delightful, bubbly Gina Rodriguez, which seems to embody everything that is her Jane the Virgin. There’s that alien edge around the bust that is so very Zac Posen, and the rest of it is midnight cupcake delight delicious funtimes. And it’s totally the kind of thing I would wear to a red carpet ‘do – real-life Princess of Genovia stuff right here.

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Zendaya in Marchesa (SURPRISE!)

My god this woman is beautiful. This is a sublime romantic stunner, and SURPRISE, Marchesa has made something not dreadful and not diva vomity for Zendaya, who is giving us luscious eyes.

Will: Zendaya is perfect every time. Bitch, romance me. I usually don’t like Marchesa, but in this case their schmaltzy romantic vision works.

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Amber Heard in Your Grandma’s Glory Box.

Amber Heard is here as the literal embodiment of the film Sense and Sensibility. I approve.

Will: She looks like a curtain from a Kate Bush music video and I am here for it.

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Brie Larson in Calvin Klein.

It’s Princess Leia meets Helen of Troy meets a disco ball key ring and it might be strangling her a bit, which I think is perfect for completing the whole look. This is violent and classy all at once (as is all of Calvin Klein’s best work) and it’s ideal for showing the Awards Show Circuit you’re serious as fuck about the red carpet. Good show, Larson.

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Jill Soloway and Gaby Hoffman in WHATEVER WHO CARES JUST LOOK AT THEM YOU WILL NEVER BE THIS GRAND.

What a fucking pair.

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Kirsten Dunst in Valentino.

KAPOW. This is scrumptious and crackpot and divine and LOOK AT HER. A real Regan outfit.

Will: Kirsten Dunst has assumed her final form, and she is fucking dangerous.

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And now, onto Bestest Whitest, because someone’s always gotta fkn wear white:

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Alicia Vikander in Louis Vuitton.

Alicia Vikander, the ingenue we have been given, even if we don’t deserve her, is delicate and delicious in this Louis Vuitton. Yes, this picture doesn’t show off the whole dress, but the pose says it all: impish, fanciful, fabulous.

(PLUS: the woman has Fassbender and he has her. It’s over, folks.)

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Will: Alicia Vikander clearly fulfilling her role as Nicholas Ghiesquiere’s newest muse perfectly. She is doing the low-key avant-garde intelligent beauty that features so prominently among Ghiesquiere’s other muses (Doona Bae, Jennifer Connelly, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kirsten Stewart).

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Taraji P. Henson in Stella McCartney.

No words, only admiration.

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Laverne Cox in Elizabeth Kennedy.

Laverne Cox knows glamour like no other woman on this planet; she is queen of glamour. Here she wears white (white does not wear her) with super stylish hair and wine-bruise lips that she pouts coyly at us. Stop, Laverne; you have us. You have us all.

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Judith Light in Maggie Norris Couture.

Judith White is wearing that white tuxedo. Oh yes, she is wearing it.

 

And here are some Other Things. Maybe I hated them, maybe I can’t decide. Maybe you should decide.

Katy Perry

Katy Perry in JUST STOP OKAY JUST STOP DOING THAT.

I . . . what? Look, all jokes about Bumpits aside, Katy Perry here told everyone that she wore a Bumpit to the Golden Globes, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why she would do that.

Whatever this is, I just can’t with it, you know? Here’s hoping this is still a timely reference:

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Will: This is a joke, right. I’m confused. What is going on? There must be some mistake.

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Sarah Hay in NOPE.

Stop it. You’re here by accident.

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Melissa Benoist in a Midwestern Rehearsal Dinner With The In-Laws.

Newsboy Cap here is channelling Calista Flockart in the face region, which is funny because of Supergirl, the show that both Newsboy Cap and Calista Flockhart are on. What’s not funny? Supergirl, or this outfit, both of which are so mind-numbingly nothing they’re almost not worth mentioning. Almost.

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America Ferrera in Try Again, Please.

The colour: wrong. The drape: wrong. The accessories: wrong. Put your hand down; you’re America Ferrera and you should know better than this. (I guess she just wanted people to know it was her, not Gina Rodriguez, up there in Wrong-Coloured Yellow Disaster 2016.)

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Kate Hudson in ENOUGH.

Look, I love Kate Hudson, and I love the way she channels her mother’s Trash Treasure aesthetic while still looking so sleek and fresh. But this. This makes me tired. If this is the result of Kate Hudson and Nick Jonas boning each other, I think it’s down to all of us to make that shit stop right now.

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Will: I guess Kate Hudson is friends with Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner.

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Amy Schumer in Whatever.

I hate this. It’s not spaghetti straps or your Year Nine Disco outfit (Schumer’s usual weapons of choice), but I hate it all the same. The styling is, I’ll admit, far more sophisticated than usual.

Will: Hello Ms Penguin, you look beautiful.

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Natalie Dormer in BOO!

Fine, you got me. I’m terrified. Natalie Dormer raided the costume department at Witches in Britches for this outfit.

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Melissa McCarthy in Stop Making Me Do This To You.

Blah blah blah, love her, blah blah blah, hideous, blah blah blah, at least she looks happy. Rinse and repeat in 2017.

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Rooney Mara in Girl, No.

The styling is impeccable, but the dress reminds me that she was in Joe Wright’s Pan, and I don’t ever want to be reminded that she was in Joe Wright’s Pan.

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus in ZZZZ.

I adore her, and the woman always looks a million bucks but this is just SO Who Cares.

Will: I love Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

 

And now here are Some Hot Men, because the Hot Men are my favourite part, and yours, too. They are all wearing suits, but that is not what’s important here. Still, let’s look at them, in their suits, which they are definitely wearing.

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My Boyfriend Eddie Redmayne in Gucci.

My Boyfriend Eddie Redmayne is really good at dressing in suits and giving interviews.

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Jon Hamm in Dolce and Gabbana.

Jon Hamm’s wearing his post-divorce skinny bod like Poor Orange Will Arnett post-Poehler split. He’s also wearing this suit, and it is a good suit, and he is looking dapper as shit, proving once and for all that all the attractive men in the world should get divorced!

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Fit John Krasinski.

Yes, he’s wearing a suit, but what’s really important is that buffness really suits Fit John Krasinski.

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Michael B. Jordan in His Own Incredible Body (And A Suit).

OH LORD MBJ IS VERY ATTRACTIVE (and also in a suit).

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Rami Malek in Dior.

Rami Malek’s suit is a little bit different to some of the other suits but, like Rami Malek, it is pretty and interesting and I love it, I love Rami Malek and his suit.

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Gerard Butler in Who Invited . . .

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. . . Orlando Bloom in You?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gerard Butler and Orlando Bloom are here to ruin your night with their uncomfortable irrelevance. But they are, at least, wearing suits.

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Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis in Sigh.

Jason Sudeikis is wearing runners with his suit like an idiot.

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David Oyelowo in Dolce and Gabbana.

Danny Hunter is wearing a suit that is Pyjama Goodness and suave suave suave. The man is emerging as a seriously bold dresser and we thank him for him and for his suit.

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Sam Heughan in GHBGF ST AFA GNH SAR FDFBNNNNNNNNNGGGGG.

Rugged man and his mullet meets sleek suit and god the man positively drips raw sex appeal.

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Alan Cumming.

Here is Alan Cumming looking very Alan Cumming in very Alan Cumming suit. I adore him, and so do you.

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Aziz Ansari.

Mmmm, this is a sneaky crackpot suit. I like it.

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Michael Fassbender.

KABOOM.

IF

Denis O’Hare.

This is everything to me.

 

So the Globes are done. Over. See ya next year, drunks!

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(RIP me, dead now.)

 

The Winners, 2016 Golden Globe Awards

BEST MOTION PICTURE, DRAMA
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE, DRAMA
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Rooney Mara, Carol
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE, DRAMA
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Will Smith, Concussion

BEST MOTION PICTURE, MUSICAL, OR COMEDY
The Big Short
Joy
The Martian
Spy
Trainwreck

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE, MUSICAL, OR COMEDY
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Melissa McCarthy, Spy
Amy Schumer, Trainwreck
Maggie Smith, The Lady in the Van
Lily Tomlin, Grandma

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE, MUSICAL, OR COMEDY
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Steve Carell, The Big Short
Matt Damon, The Martian
Al Pacino, Danny Collins
Mark Ruffalo, Infinitely Polar Bear

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN ANY MOTION PICTURE
Jane Fonda, Youth
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Helen Mirren, Trumbo
Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN ANY MOTION PICTURE
Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Michael Shannon, 99 Homes
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

BEST DIRECTOR, MOTION PICTURE
Todd Haynes, Carol
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Ridley Scott, The Martian

BEST ANIMATED FILM
Anomalisa
The Good Dinosaur
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Brand New Testament
The Club
The Fencer
Mustang
Son of Saul

BEST SCREENPLAY, MOTION PICTURE
Emma Donoghue, Room
Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight
Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, The Big Short
Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs
Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE, MOTION PICTURE
Carter Burwell, Carol
Alexandre Desplat, The Danish Girl
Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Daniel Pemberton, Steve Jobs
Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto, The Revenant

BEST ORIGINAL SONG, MOTION PICTURE
“Love Me Like You Do,” Fifty Shades of Grey
“One Kind of Love,” Love & Mercy
“See You Again,” Furious 7
“Simple Song #3,” Youth
“Writing’s on the Wall,” Spectre

BEST TELEVISION SERIES, DRAMA
Empire
Game of Thrones
Mr. Robot
Narcos
Outlander

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES, DRAMA
Caitriona Balfe, Outlander
Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder
Eva Green, Penny Dreadful
Taraji P. Henson, Empire
Robin Wright, House of Cards

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES, DRAMA
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
Wagner Moura, Narcos
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan

BEST TV SERIES, MUSICAL OR COMEDY
Casual
Mozart in the Jungle
Orange Is the New Black
Silicon Valley
Transparent
Veep

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES, MUSICAL, OR COMEDY
Rachel Bloom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Jamie Lee Curtis, Scream Queens
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES, MUSICAL, OR COMEDY
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
Gael García Bernal, Mozart in the Jungle
Rob Lowe, The Grinder
Patrick Stewart, Blunt Talk
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

BEST TELEVISION LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
American Crime
American Horror Story: Hotel
Fargo
Flesh and Bone
Wolf Hall

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Kirsten Dunst, Fargo
Lady Gaga, American Horror Story: Hotel
Sarah Hay, Flesh and Bone
Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Queen Latifah, Bessie

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Idris Elba, Luther
Oscar Isaac, Show Me a Hero
David Oyelowo, Nightingale
Mark Rylance, Wolf Hall
Patrick Wilson, Fargo

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A SERIES, LIMITED SERIES, OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Uzo Aduba, Orange Is the New Black
Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey
Regina King, American Crime
Maura Tierney, The Affair
Judith Light, Transparent

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A SERIES, LIMITED SERIES, OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Alan Cumming, The Good Wife
Damian Lewis, Wolf Hall
Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline
Tobias Menzies, Outlander
Christian Slater, Mr. Robot

 

2015: some of my favourite TV shows

There’s been a lot to love in 2015. Here, in no particular order, are ten of my favourite TV shows from this year.

 

Catastrophe

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Catastrophe is comedy genius, a bite-sized delight that’s frank, foolish and frankly fabulous. Like all of its jokes, its small moments and its (few) bigger dramas, Catastrophe’s premise is something familiar done different – to brilliant effect. Irish Sharon and American Rob (played by Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, the show’s creators) have six days of casual bonking when Rob is on a work trip in London. They promptly forget about each other when Rob returns to the US, until Sharon discovers she is pregnant and gives Rob a call. Next thing, Rob’s on a plane back to London. The show goes all in on its backwards rom-com premise, where the promise of babies and weddings comes first and the getting to know each other comes second. The beauty of Catastrophe is that there’s no ‘will they or won’t they’ – they have and they are – but the romance works anyway.

One of a few shows manipulating the flexibility of the television format to reinvent the rom-com, Catastrophe is proof that a fictional romance doesn’t need love triangles, epic miscommunications or the ‘Ross and Rachel’ model to subsist. It’s simply watching two very funny people co-exist. (Its tiniest jokes are often the most effective, like the fact that Rob never changes Sharon’s name in his phone from ‘Sharon (London Sex)’.) Horgan, who is a veteran TV writer and the creator of the brilliant Pulling, is luminous – sharp, surprising and intractably watchable. Delaney, a ‘Twitter comedian’, is a consistent and charming presence. His reactions to the madness around him are the gift that keeps on giving, and he seems as captivated by Horgan (or, rather, Rob seems as captivated by Sharon) as the rest of us. The pair has stupidly good chemistry, and they are orbited by a pack of wacky peripheral players, including Sharon’s bizarre brother, Rob’s revolting Amercian friend and Sharon’s friends Chris and Fran – hapless married yuppies. Every line is piss-your-pants funny and just so authentic, the kind of humour that works because there are no rules. Catastrophe is undoubtedly the best comedy to surface in years.

Please Like Me

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Please Like Me found its groove this season in a bold, sophisticated set of episodes that had me cackling away and clutching my chest, which ached for Josh and his ridiculous family, almost non-stop through every instalment. Another series that takes familiarity and turns it on its head, this latest season was thoughtful, complex and incredibly accomplished. The show always finds a way to make space for each of its characters to burrow into your heart, and this season was a great vehicle for three terrific comedic performances, from Hannah Gadsby, Renee Lim and Caitlin Stasey. All of these women took my breath away, and the sixth episode singlehandedly makes the case for Stasey as one of our best and most underused young actors. Josh Thomas and co. write great reams of cracking quotable lines and some of TV’s sweetest moments, as well as spotlights on the highly absurd: celestial musical moments and the occasional destruction of extravagant towering desserts. The Christmas finale is a work of genius, so unbearably awkward I can’t remember a more tense episode of television that happens just at the dining table (where all the significant moments of Please Like Me take place). The show is a winner, and we are all winners for watching it. You can read more of my thoughts on Please Like Me here.

Being Mary Jane

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It’s quite possible that you’ve never heard of Being Mary Jane, the sleek Gabrielle Union vehicle on US BET network, which is a shame because it’s one of the most satisfyingly sudsy shows on TV. Created by Mara Brock Akil (who made the diverting Girlfriends) and directed by her husband, Salim Akil, Being Mary Jane chews through a huge amount of story every season, which is at once a rom-com, a workplace drama, a family story and a sociological study of wealthy black America. Centred on Mary Jane Paul, a successful cable news anchor with a chaotic personal life, Being Mary Jane is one of the only truly authentic representations of contemporary single life on TV. Mary Jane, who is in her late thirties, has a pretty fabulous life – she’s wealthy, famous and incredibly gorgeous (I swear Union has not aged since her days playing a teenager in 10 Things I Hate About You and Bring It On); she lives in a swanky house and wears stunning designer outfits. Closer to home, Mary Jane fusses over her chaotic family (including her brother, a hardworking recovering addict, her niece, a terse young mother, and her invalid diva mother, played by the excellent Margaret Avery) and agonises over her relationships with the various men in her life (chiefly married hunk Andre and the Man That Got Away, the divine David). Mary Jane is on the hunt for ‘black love’, and her search is the perfect combination of high drama, sexy romantic moments and sly, silly humour (the series opens with MJ stealing and freezing an ex-boyfriend’s sperm).

The show shares a some DNA with Debra Oswald’s Offspring – Mary Jane, like Nina Proudman, is a high-strung woman who is brilliant at her job but hopeless at everything else. Brock Akil has superb command of the genuine romantic moment – as well as those moments that are decidedly less romantic. And, thanks to her work on Girlfriends, she writes a range of ripper scenes for MJ and her girl gang, particularly for MJ’s producer bestie, Lisa Vidal’s gregarious Kara. Season two is a great improvement on the jumbled, salty first season; the show is at its best when it blends broader issues of politics, race and gender into Mary Jane’s social world. With a knockout central performance by Union, who deserves several awards nominations for the role but, incredibly, has received none, Being Mary Jane is the perfect series to binge on this summer.

Hannibal

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Of all the shows on this list, each one a clever meditation on what makes TV good and how to do those things better, Bryan Fuller’s ill-fated, under-watched Hannibal is perhaps least like ‘TV’ – at least as we understand the form. This is especially true for its surreal, severe, sumptuous third season, which is really two seasons in one: the first, Hannibal’s sojourn in Europe, and the second, a revamp of the Red Dragon story starring a formidable Richard Armitage in that eponymous role. Hannibal is a cop show, a serial killer show (a category that certainly exists, and for which you can thank Showtime’s Dexter, for all its latter seasons’ missteps), an arthouse film, a black comedy, a horror and a romance all rolled into one. Starring a feline Mads Mikkelsen and his honey-dipped tongue in the titular role, and the gorgeous Hugh Dancy as Hannibal’s nemisis/best bud/obsession object, FBI profiler Will Graham, Fuller’s Hannibal, despite the many genres it straddles, virtually defies categorisation.

It is a tense, oddly therapeutic drama that meditates on the mythologising of serial killers as artists, and on the ardour between a killer and his captor. It features several excellent performances, a crunchy, creepy score and truly striking visuals – some of the most beautifully rendered gore ever put to screen: trees growing out of dismembered bodies, throats slit and ‘strung’ to be played like a cello, torsos sliced thinly and placed on perspex slides as specimens to be examined. There’s a deep well of humour in the mythology of Hannibal the Cannibal, and Fuller exploits it all to great effect; the charming Mikkelsen sashays around the kitchen preparing disturbingly extravagant meals and leaving just enough to the imagination for us to always be wondering: ‘What, exactly, are they eating?’ Dancy and co, including a stoic Laurence Fishburne, the ever-welcome Raúl Esparza and the cool crystalline charisma of a post-X-Files Gillian Anderson, play along, taking great pregnant pauses before they bite into Lecter’s exquisite food. The show is funny and tragic and electrifying, an elegant and formally innovative drama that was sadly cancelled at the end of its masterful third season. Its cancellation is a great shame, but Hannibal was always lightyears beyond TV’s slow crime output, and thankfully the three seasons can now be taken as one complete delectable meal – that is, if you have the stomach for it!

Bojack Horseman

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Bojack Horseman, the Netflix cartoon about a man-horse who is the washed-up former star of a ’90s family sitcom, is one of the saddest funny shows on TV. Season one was pretty good but season two is better – caustically funny, vibrant with some brilliant, heartrending cartoon voicework, and lightened up with puns and silly slapstick to get anyone (even the most cold-hearted cynic) laughing. Featuring the considerable talents of the thoroughly underrated Lisa Kudrow as Wanda, a TV-executive owl who was in a thirty-year coma, and Will Arnett in undoubtedly his best post-Gob Bleuth form, season two is breathless and strangely beautiful. The crude Technicolor world of Bojack Horseman‘s Hollywood (or ‘Hollywoo’), made up of humans and anthropomorphic animals, is dark and jaded, but the show has a pulsing undercurrent of humanity that draws you through the excellent second season and really makes you care an awful lot about a clinically depressed man-horse. Along with UnREAL, Please Like Me and You’re The Worst‘s much-improved second season, Bojack Horseman is one of a few very clever series tackling mental illness in deft and surprising ways. If you were unconvinced by the uneven first season, go back and try the second.

Key and Peele

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This year Key and Peele rounded off five brilliant seasons with one of its funniest, most consistent and considered outputs to date. Centred on two incredibly dextrous comedic performances from Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key (whose other TV work this year, as the romantic lead on USA’s sweet Playing House, has proved his next step should be as an emotive, sexy leading man in a chewy romantic role), Key and Peele‘s output is sometimes less shareable than that of its Comedy Central sibling, Inside Amy Schumer (a show that had ‘a moment’ this year), but it’s certainly sturdier and often sharper. Much of Key and Peele is drawn from contemporary issues of race and politics but each one of their sketches is able to be about two or three different things at once, while still a simple, rounded story that’s just plain funny. Some favourites from this year include ‘Prepared for Terries’, ‘MC Mom’ and the bright, brilliant ‘Negrotown’, which was originally released online in May, giving us time to watch, laugh and think about it, before airing it again in the show’s season finale. Then there’s the joyfully aimless True Detective-style driving sequences, included from season four through to the finale, which ended with a call-back to a cunning season-one joke, ‘I Said Biiitch’. Key and Peele, as brilliant as Monty Python but still thoroughly distinctive in tone and style, will be sorely missed, and I’m very much looking forward to what these clever comedians do next.

Master of None

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In a lot of ways Master of None is a thoroughly un-Netflix show. It’s a quiet rom-com and a striking character portrait of creator and star Aziz Ansari’s preternaturally uncertain Dev. It’s not flashy or out-there; it’s not super violent or hyper-sexualised (although the series begins the same way all stories about young hipsters begin: with an awkward sexual encounter). But looking more closely reveals the incredible skill and boldness behind the series, which is much more than just a standard sitcom. Ansari and his co-creator, Bob’s Burgers writer Alan Yang, have worked on (and presumably watched) enough TV to know what the norm is – and exactly how to invert it.

The way the series approaches race is a thoughtful revision of the predominately white Bright Young Things sitcom: there’s a central friendship group made up of non-white actors with one ‘token’ white friend, a deep-dive into the history of two Asian-American families that provides moving revelations and experiences not generally explored on TV, and Colin Salmon’s amusing cameo as an eccentric action star on the ‘black virus movie’ The Sickening. (Salmon also gets one of the late Harris Wittels’ last great jokes: an intricate, ridiculous domino display that is tipped over with the appropriate fanfare.) Then there’s the entire (brilliant) fourth episode of the series, ‘Indians on TV’, in which Ansari and Yang present a problem: television executives will not hire more than one Indian actor for the fictional show Three Buddies, lest it become an ‘Indian sitcom’, and an ingenious solution: an indictment of this backwards (and certainly real-life) ideology that essentially engineers the all-Indian version of Three Buddies that the executives are too racist to make. Ansari and Yang fill the screen with non-white faces, choosing to aim for a more realistically diversified New York with real, rounded Asian characters, and in doing so they present to us the kind of expansive and interesting television landscape we could have if whiteness did not rule the TV roost. Though it’s light, digestible and provocative in the way that all Netflix shows are, Master of None succeeds where many of the streaming giant’s other original series fail: by being memorable beyond the binge. Master of None is worth watching and watching again in order to truly absorb the cleverness of Ansari and Yang’s creation.

Glitch

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Glitch, Australia’s neo-horror/sci-fi series about a group of small-town residents who have risen from the dead, is a foray into virtually unknown territory for Aussie TV. Matchbox Pictures’ respectable genre piece is a well-executed and good-looking interrogation of the significance of identity and its links to the places and people we cherish. What happens to us when we are gone? What happens to the places we inhabited, the people we loved? What does it feel like to be forgotten, or replaced? All these questions and more swirl above the risen Yoorana residents: an Italian-Australian school teacher, a war veteran, a sullen teenager, a WWII internee, Yoorana’s first mayor, a local cop’s recently deceased wife, and a mysterious and violent John Doe. Each episode of the six-episode first season, which aired week-to-week on the ABC and dropped all at once on iView (in a savvy move that was nevertheless hesitantly executed), focuses on the story behind one of these risen residents, and so some episodes are much better than others. Overall, though, the series is a smart, moody drama with a touch of the larrikin sensibility that underpins all our best TV shows. Read more of my thoughts on Glitch here.

Transparent

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If you’ve watched any of Transparent, now in its second season on Australian streaming service Stan, I won’t need to tell you that the show is very, very special. In fact, it’s breathtaking, and every bit of hype and praise you’ve heard since the show began in 2014 is absolutely on the money. Centred on LA-based Jewish clan the Pfeffermens, Transparent follows the transition of Maura (the inimitable Jeffrey Tambor), a trans woman, and her self-obsessed family: daughters Sarah (Amy Landecker) and Ali (the hardworking Gabby Hoffman), son Josh (Jay Duplass) and ex-wife Shelly (fabulous Judith Light). The show is created by Jill Soloway, who has cleverly avoided making Transparent a kind of blueprint for queerness; Maura’s transition is not a self-help ‘It Gets Better’ guide for the rest of the world, it’s just the story of one woman gripping onto her true identity.

At once deeply personal and tenderly detached, Transparent fits the mould of the new indie dramedy (shows like Louie, Girls and Looking), and its characters could be the typical id-ruled urbanites to slot in that genre – though Soloway’s work is cleverer and more distinct than its contemporaries. She never makes fun of her characters, who some people might call ‘unlikeable’; instead she handles their flaws and rough edges with a great deal of kindness and generosity. The series is visually stunning, each shot arranged particularly as if inside a doll’s house. (The opening scene of season two is a white wedding tableau against the fluro greens, blues and yellows of the LA coastline, which is breath-snatching and hilarious to boot). The performances are stunning, too – particularly those from Tambor, whose Maura is a melancholy, earthy presence, Light’s poignant Shelly, and Hoffman, who produces here another wild and shrewdly funny performance to match her recent turns on Girls and in the excellent abortion rom-com Obvious Child. Undeniably watchable and all-consuming, Transparent arrived fully formed with a distinct personality and an intoxicating, original point-of-view. It’s indie TV at its absolute best.

Jane The Virgin

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Like Transparent, Jane the Virgin arrived 2014 with a flavour all its own: highly distinctive as well as hilarious and utterly gorgeous. Don’t be put off by the awkward title; this telanovela pastiche is incredibly smart and well-put-together television that is a joy to laugh along with (and cry over, depending on your ability to be affected by truly glorious fictional families). Jane (the charming Gina Rodriguez) is an aspiring writer engaged to wet police detective Michael, a couple willing to wait until marriage. When Jane is accidentally impregnated with another man’s sperm, her whole world blows apart. The man in question: Rafael, the buff owner of the hotel at which Jane works, whose wife, Petra, is being investigated by Jane’s Michael. To add to the drama, Jane has just discovered that her father, whose identity was kept secret by her mother, Xo (who had Jane as a teenager), is actually Rogelio (the hysterically funny Jaime Camil), the star of her abuela’s favourite telanovela.

Jane the Virgin is what happens when the absurd drama of the telanovela collides with the logic and empathy of the everyday: Jane might be a pregnant virgin but she’s also a believable human woman who handles the craziness of her life with reason and compassion, and always makes smart, understandable choices. (Jane the Virgin is, without a doubt, one of the most empathy-driven shows on TV.) The show shines most when it’s a loving parody of the genre from which it originated (it’s based on a Venezuelan telenovela, Juana la Virgen); any scene with Rogelio is brilliant, as is the superb voice-over narration by Anthony Mendez – wry, metafictional and scrumptious. It also features probably the best grandmother-mother-daughter trio since Gilmore Girls. With brilliant comedic performances across the board (except Michael, down with Michael, #TeamRafael all the way), Jane the Virgin is just such a pleasure to watch. Along with underrated sci-fi series The 100 and Rachel Bloom’s exciting new musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin is yet more proof that the maligned CW network is doing thoroughly interesting things with female-led TV that successfully bends genre and form. Jane the Virgin is the best of the bunch, and well worth a summer binge to catch up before the tail-end of season two airs in 2016.


 

Honourable Mentions:

The Good Wife will always be one of my favourite shows – and one of the best series ever made. Able to produce elegant and consistent network-length seasons to match any shorter cable or streaming drama, The Good Wife is still sharp, shrewd and hilarious in season seven. It relies on true character moments to produce richly satisfying twisty-turning plots; we know the characters so well these days and yet we’re still surprised by what they will and won’t do. An impeccably well-acted and well-written drama, with that innate sense of just how small a move one must make away from the traditions of the procedural to produce great serialised television, The Good Wife is one of the true grand, gripping TV experiences.

 

***

As mentioned above, the CW, that derided trash-heavy teen network in the US, is actually producing some of the boldest female-driven television around, and two of those excellent shows are sci-fi saga The 100 and zany musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. (iZombie could also be included in this list, except that it’s becoming a female-led show that’s driven by a man, the surprising, diverting and stupidly sexy Major, played by Robert Buckley, so I’ve excluded it.)

The 100 follows a group of hoodlum teenagers (formerly 100 and now . . . significantly fewer) dropped from their home on a space station to nuclear-war-ravaged earth to test whether or not the planet is liveable. A kind of Battlestar Galactica meets Lord of the Flies meets Lost, but with more kissing, the central thesis of The 100 appears to be that women should be running the world because whenever the men do it, they fuck it up. It’s a surprisingly thoughtful and inventive take on post-Hunger Games teen dystopia, and it’s helpful that the series is populated by filthy hunks – both male and female – who like to smash their bodies into one another. It’s sexy, grimy fun with a refreshing sharpness.

Crazy Ex Girlfriend is Rachel Bloom’s musical comedy series about a successful lawyer, Rebecca Bunch (played by the wonderfully weird, effervescent Bloom), who is thoroughly dissatisfied with her adult life when she runs into her high school boyfriend, Josh Chan, and decides to follow him back to his hometown of West Covina, California. Trouble is, he didn’t invite her, so Rebecca has to hastily set up a life for herself in West Covina (suburban Southern California at its most soul destroying) to convince Josh, and everyone else, that she hasn’t moved just for him. Yes, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a TV musical, but it’s the best TV musical since the first season of Glee (which, no matter what you thought of its latter seasons, had a brilliant first run). It combines the zaniness and the smarts of Ryan Murphy’s musical giant, and the originality and brilliant musicality of NBC’s aptly named trainwreck, Smash, with the metacomedy and self-reflexiveness of the spotty but underappreciated Galavant – all with a superb central performance from Bloom. It’s also worth noting that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has cast an Asian-American man to be a romantic lead without making a joke of him, which shouldn’t be something that needs singling out but, sadly, still is.

***

This year the ABC has screened three brilliant Indigenous shows: Black Comedy, a diverting sketch series, Ready For This, a well-crafted and poignant teen drama, and the searing feature-length conclusion to the wonderful, heartbreaking Redfern Now. Each series is a distinct exploration of the (predominately urban) contemporary Indigenous experience – a perspective that Australian pop culture is sorely lacking.

Black Comedy runs the regular highs and lows of a sketch comedy series but with gusto and a patent sharpness, featuring brilliant sketches like ‘Blakforce’, ‘Black White Woman’, ‘Indigenous GPS’ and all the ‘Tiddas’ sketches. Bits and pieces are up on YouTube and they are incredibly shareable – so I suggest you do.

Ready For This is an emotion-driven teen drama in the style of Canadian stalwart Degrassi or 2000s Aussie series Blue Water High: five Indigenous students move to a boarding house in Sydney to follow their creative and sporting dreams. Featuring particularly strong, considered performances from Aaron McGrath and Madeleine Madden, Ready For This is an engaging reflection on belonging and the sometimes serious but often frivolous concerns of teenagers. It works for kids and adults, and is worth looking up on iView.

Redfern Now‘s finale, called ‘Promise Me’, is a sharply rendered tragedy underpinned by hope, as are all of Redfern Now‘s tough, treasured instalments. Featuring the beloved Deborah Mailman at her best, and the rare respectful storyline about female trauma that allows the victim to direct her own future and manage her own pain, ‘Promise Me’ is a painful but stunning conclusion to one of the best Australian series ever made.

***

I’ve written about Jessica Jones elsewhere, but I’ll reiterate here that it is a smart, inventive and progressive series that is worth watching – along with Outlander – to see how the female gaze truly operates on film. There are several excellent performances: Krysten Ritter in the title role, Mike Colter as brooding Luke Cage, Rachael Taylor as Jessica’s tender bestie, Trish, and David Tennant as the first truly terrifying Marvel villian, the abhorrent Kilgrave. The writing is, as with most superhero fare, spotty, and the series could be tighter and more effective at just ten episodes (it runs to a flabby thirteen), but the ideas and the execution are strong and robust and worth the hype they’re generating.

***

A shout out to two half-hour sitcoms from the US worth sitting down with: the brilliant Bob’s Burgers and the underappreciated Brookyln Nine-Nine.

Bob’s Burgers is a pastiche cartoon, blending family-style comedy with adult humour and pop-culture homage drawn primarily from the 1980s. The voicework is fine and the jokes come thick and fast – like the best comedies they are character-based rather than situation-based and, as such, each character is your favourite at turns or all at once. (My favourite: Gene, whose best joke remains the time when he jumped on a classmate’s back, wrapped his arms around her neck and shouted ‘Gene Jacket!’. It’s that kind of humour.) Bob’s Burgers is not to everyone’s taste, but those who love it can appreciate the subtle brilliance behind the simple family fun.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is just true zaniness, and it’s ‘kind comedy’ in the style of the much-loved Parks and Recreation. The characters care about each other and they all strive for success, so each episode is kept buoyant with unwavering positivity. I don’t like or care about any of the characters as I did the Pawnee Parks Department, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine races you through an episode on pure entertainment value. You’ll care most for the relationship between Andy Samberg’s Jake and the great Andre Braugher’s Captain Holt; it is the smartest thing about the show, a kind of tetchy, loving, reverse Leslie-Ron dynamic.

***

There’s a renaissance of the much-maligned but secretly beloved romantic-comedy genre – but it’s not happening on the big screen. TV’s longer format and formal flexibility has proved a tempting template for lovers of the rom-com to revive the genre (which is in its death throes in cinema) for the small screen. Shows like Catastrophe, Please Like Me, The Mindy Project and You’re The Worst all draw deeply from the rom-com well, and so does Netflix’s appallingly named Scrotal Recall. This British series, which is sweet and earnestly funny in a way that defies its own title, follows twentysomething Dylan (Johnny Flynn), who discovers he has contracted an STI and so revisits his past relationships to spread the bad news with the help of his two best friends (Daniel Ings and Misfits‘ Antonia Thomas). An extraordinarily charming series that is also mercifully short, and therefore perfect for a binge-watch, Scrotal Recall is in danger of being missed by those who would appreciate it most because of its truly terrible name. So, take my word for it: it’s good and you’ll love it.

 

You can read my list of favourite books here. And look out for my favourite movies, and other odds and ends, coming soon.

2015: some of my favourite books

There’s been a lot to love in 2015. Here, in no particular order, are ten of my favourite books from this year.

 

The Other Side of the World – Stephanie Bishop

Other Side

Stephanie Bishop’s second novel, The Other Side of the World, is a masterful study in landscape, and in the essential connection between place and identity. It’s also a convincing portrait of new family life: the shaky steps between partnership and parenthood, the reshuffle of romance and responsibility. Set in the 1960s in England, Australia and India, Bishop has superior command of the indescribable: the way our surroundings influence our emotions, the way we move through the world. Reading The Other Side of the World is a profound experience because Bishop’s writing simply distils the pain of the day-by-day. I was gripped by the deftly drawn Henry, and by Charlotte, who feels at once indistinct – as though she might dissolve on the page at any moment – and indelible. My heart ached for them both. Tramping the soggy fields in Cambridge with Charlotte, the cold and the nostalgia and the desperation pierce your insides; you can feel the sticky heat and the history and understanding weighting Henry’s visit to India (in one of the novel’s most astounding segments).

This year Bishop was caught up in the Battle of the Middlebrow – the saga of Australian literary pomposity. Along with Antonia Hayes and Susan Johnson (two writers with new works as complex and delectable as Bishop’s Other Side), Bishop was dumped into Beth Driscoll’s possibly well-meaning evisceration of Australian women’s writing – dubbed ‘the middlebrow’ – in the Sydney Review of Books. These works, apparently middling because they are written by, about, and for women, were roundly dismissed (perhaps unwittingly, though I doubt it) by Driscoll with some slippery rationalisations, prompting the three accused writers to respond with searing analyses of the Australian literary scene and women’s place in it. To quote Bishop: ‘In terms of how it is used in this piece, middlebrow becomes a biased and unhelpful catchall category that withholds from middle class female readers the possibility of reading as intellectuals, and prevents any middle class woman whose writing might engage with middlebrow practices from entering the sphere of the literary.’ As the men of this country (and indeed the wider literary world) scrabble to retain their chokehold on the classifiers ‘highbrow’ and ‘literary’, it’s immensely enjoyable to watch writers like Bishop, Hayes and Johnson (as well as others, the divine Maxine Beneba Clarke, Joan London, Hannah Kent and Emily Bitto, to name a few) swoop in to claim their place at the top of the ladder.  I recommend the SBR letter as a companion piece to the visceral, satisfying experience of reading The Other Side of the World.

The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood

Natural Way

Charlotte Wood was angry when she conceived and wrote The Natural Way of Things, a scorching dystopian vision of a future for women that could really be the now – and you will be angry, too, when you read it. For all the right reasons. A group of women are ripped from their lives and interned in a prison camp of sorts, run by two insidious guards and serviced by a ‘nurse’. The women are forced to wear Puritan-style clothes and to work as slaves on seemingly thankless tasks, like moving gargantuan cinder blocks from one pile to another down a dusty road. They are routinely tortured, both physically and emotionally, by the camp’s leaders and, sometimes, by each other. They don’t know how or why they are there, and their only clue is the one connection between them all – their involvement in a series of ‘sex scandals’ recently covered by the papers. Wood is a sharp, poetic writer, and her distilled exploration of the mundane injustices these women endure – eating from bowls crusted with days’ worth of filth, sweating into one foul, uncomfortable uniform they are forced to wear every day without relief – is what caught me the most as I read. Momentum builds quickly and the satisfying fire-and-brimstones conclusion explodes on the page. Wood rightly wants shock, anger, as a response; it is a true call to arms.

Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen – Mary Norris

Comma Queen

You don’t have to be a grammar stickler to enjoy Mary Norris’s wry, adroit memoir-cum-grammar guide, Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Blending instruction on (American, New Yorker-style) grammar with the story of how Norris came to be the Copy Editor for the New Yorker, Norris’s memoir is slyly informative and full of self-reflexive humour about her place in the literary world. You won’t convince me that learning grammar in the 21st century is meaningless (knowledge of grammar and consistency, and how it changes, remains an essential modern skill); Norris’s memoir has that, plus the added benefit of a story about a clever and influential woman’s rise to prominence. Frank, funny and full of life, Between You and Me is the most fun you’ll have with grammar – promise!

The Illuminae Files – Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae

Amie Kaufman is queen of the space opera, and she has paired up with Jay Kristoff to bring us The Illuminae Files, a gripping, highly inventive sci-fi thriller. Told via a dossier of transcripts, emails, IMs and video surveillance reports, Illuminae follows Kady, a teen techno-genius who must save a fleet of warships from impending destruction after her home, an illegal mining settlement on a far-off planet, is attacked by an evil corporation. Those familiar with Kaufman’s Starbound trilogy, which she writes with US author Megan Spooner, will note various similarities: shadowy, nefarious authority figures; a wariness of advancing technology – the next great unknown potential threat; a specific and credible view of a future in space; and a gooey romance. In spite of the similarities between the two, it’s the form of Illuminae that sets it apart from its traditional sibling. The dossier style of writing is a strong, engaging mode of storytelling that will no doubt draw in tons of reluctant teen (and adult!) readers. A thoroughly original and unexpected read, Illuminae was just optioned by Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company, so expect a film instalment in the coming years.

Cloudwish – Fiona Wood

cloudwish

After the resounding success of her second book, Wildlife, Fiona Wood, one of our most valuable writers, is back with another story for her interrelated teen chronicles. Cloudwish, which centres on Vân Uoc Phan, a scholarship student at a prestigious fictional Melbourne private school, is without a doubt Wood’s most accomplished book to date. Vân Uoc, a quiet, determined Vietnamese-Australian girl who is used to going unnoticed, is surprised and amusingly suspicious when school heartthrob Billy Gardiner appears to become instantly enamoured of Vân Uoc right after she makes a half-serious wish that Billy would prefer her to all the other girls in her class.

Vân Uoc’s compelling experience is expertly rendered; as with all of Wood’s books, the pages of Cloudwish are populated with real teenagers having real conversations and feeling and doing real things. As such, the nostalgia factor for a post-teen reader is pretty epic. The work is authentic and refreshingly diverse, and the romance between Vân Uoc and Billy is the heart-fluttering kind that means you, like me, will be grinning and giggling at the pages of your book like a gooey idiot while fellow train passengers give you looks of disdain. And Vân Uoc is a thoroughly authentic hero – one who doesn’t fit into any mould (like the Strong Female Character TM that we’ve all been brainwashed to look for as some stamp of feminist approval) and doesn’t need to. There’s echoes of Jane Eyre – the book was a major influence on Wood and Jane Eyre is Vân Uoc’s hero – but it’s an interrogative and deftly used analogy that doesn’t feel too derivative.

The world of Australian young adult fiction – indeed all young adult fiction, and all fiction, for that matter – can be oppressively narrow, populated by white upper-middle class protagonists (and authors). How refreshing it is to see a non-white hero in a YA novel; Vân Uoc joins the ranks of diverse YA heroes like Alice Pung’s Laurinda, Claire Atkins’ Nona and Jane Harrison’s Kirrali Lewis.

Six Bedrooms – Tegan Bennett Daylight

six bedrooms

Tegan Bennett Daylight is a startlingly good writer, and her recent collection of short stories, focused on young adulthood but written for adults, is a masterwork. Her painterly descriptions, striking heroes and achingly familiar stories are, at once, painful and exquisite to read. Piquant short stories by women had a ‘moment’ this year, and in my opinion, Six Bedrooms is the best collection of the lot (certainly one of the better short-story collections I have ever been lost in). This is an essential read for anyone, but especially for Australian women of all ages who crave a bit of razor-edged reflection on their youth, and on what, ultimately, has made them them. Read more of my thoughts on Six Bedrooms here.

Carry On – Rainbow Rowell

Carry on

Carry On might feel like a hard-sell for readers new to Rainbow Rowell’s books (and for those who haven’t read the brilliant Fangirl, Rowell’s previous book, which spawned Carry On); it’s essentially expert Harry Potter fan fiction written by an American. But the intractably fun Carry On doesn’t just feel like a ghostly copy of Rowling’s opus. It has a brassy sensibility all its own – and the advantage of being written by Rowell, whose work always feels in tune with the lives and loves of its teenage readers.

In Carry On, Simon Snow is a teenage wizard and the likely subject of a Chosen One prophecy; his roommate, nemesis and obsession object, Baz, is a probable vampire toff who may or may not be trying to kill Simon. Simon, Baz and their classmates are in the final year of school at Watford School of Magicks, run by the mysterious Magi, and hanging over them is the spectre of the Insidious Humdrum, an evil magic something that appears to be after Simon and the whole wizarding world. Despite all this, Simon’s primary focus is on Baz – where he is, what he is planning, why he hasn’t tried to murder Simon in his sleep yet – and this is where Carry On departs from Harry Potter in a most satisfying and refreshing manner. The burgeoning romance (built on the greatest foundation for all fictional romances: the love/hate dichotomy) between Simon and Baz is rendered by Rowell with immense sensitivity, respect and humour. It’s positively swoon-worthy.

With tongue firmly in cheek, Rowell inverts some of the stiffness that bogs down Rowling’s work – Simon is a terrible Chosen One, and he and his friends carry mobiles, use Google, swear and talk about sex in a way that feels very authentic to the teenage experience. If nothing else, Rowell’s entry of a central same-sex relationship into the pantheon of teen fantasy and sci-fi romances makes Carry On a significant addition to the deluge of derivative Chosen One narratives. Carry On is also my favourite reading experience of this year, and so well worth a squiz.

A Guide to Berlin – Gail Jones

Guide to berlin

A Guide to Berlin is Gail Jones’s sixth novel, and another blistering landscape portrait by an exquisite Australian author to match Stephanie Bishop’s Other Side. Named for a Vladimir Nabakov story, A Guide to Berlin centres on Cass, a twentysomething art school drop-out from Australia, and the hodgepodge group of international Nabakov obsessives of which she is a member. The group meets in empty apartments and coffee shops around frigid Berlin to discuss the famous writer’s work and engage in ‘sense memory’ storytelling, revealing secrets, memories and histories from their own lives. These exercises gradually coax allegiances within the group, which includes a garrulous American named Victor, Japanese lovers Yukio and Mitsuko, and two Italian men. Cass, a young woman with a predilection for isolation who, when we first meet her, is wandering with blissful aimlessness around Berlin, warms particularly to the group’s two Italian members: the sweet, sexy Marco and the more enigmatic Gino. As their connection solidifies, unbalancing the familial sense of the group, the book creeps towards its inevitably violent conclusion (those who have read one or two of Nabakov’s works will be unsurprised by the novel’s turns, though it makes them no less engaging to stumble over).

Nabakov has his phantom fingerprints all over Jones’s novel, but the brilliance of it – the clean, accessible, bracing prose; the intimate deep-dive into character as we track Cass around Berlin; the image of Berlin itself: icy, grey and swathed in the ghostly monsters of history – is all Jones and her considerable talent. I sat reading it over one divine spring weekend, but I shivered and my feet ached as though I had tramped through the snow-sodden Berlin streets right alongside Cass. A Guide to Berlin is proof of Jones’s superlative ability to transport.

Single, Carefree, Mellow – Katherine Heiny

single carefree mellow

The immensely enjoyable Single, Carefree, Mellow is a short-story collection that defies its own categorisations. A series of stories about love and fidelity, centred on complex women (none of whom, as it happens, are really single, carefree or mellow), US writer Katherine Heiny writes with a sharpness of wit that would make the great Nora Ephron proud. My favourites include ‘Blue Heron Bridge’, in which a woman hosts a doddering priest as a houseguest while intermittently escaping the house to cheat on her husband; the diverting ‘How To Give The Wrong Impression’, which rang true enough for me to illicit a few uncomfortable squirms amid my laughter; and the suite of stories, including the titular ‘Single, Carefree, Mellow’, centred on flighty Maya and her Good Dull Boyfriend Rhodes. Heiny writes about women with depth and grit and, refreshingly, without judgement. How the women of Single, Carefree Mellow live and love is not up for debate; it just is. A delightful read from start to end, Heiny’s stories are rom-coms with a literary flavour. You can read more of my thoughts on Single, Carefree, Mellow here.

Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me is an essential read of 2015. Like Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist (the essential read of 2014), there is absolutely no one who won’t benefit from reading Coates’s stunning essay collection, presented, in the style of James Baldwin before him, as a series of letters to his teenage son. Coates, who is a journalist for The Atlantic, is an exquisite writer, and with words so lyrically, painfully beautiful he pulls apart the condition of race, ‘the child of racism, not the father’, and how it impacts the black body. ‘Racism is a visceral experience,’ writes Coates, it ‘dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth.’ And the work itself is visceral, marked by Afro-pessimism borne of an experience of a ‘moral arc bent toward chaos then concluded in a box’ – a dark subversion of the famous Dr King quote favoured by Afro-futurist Barack Obama: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice’.

Coates’s book has been controversial; in it he appears to offer precious few answers to the many questions he poses, or rather contradicting answers in a kind of internal debate, or, from many critics’ perspectives, the wrong answers. There is a level of pretension in the manner that Coates lingers over his own powerful voice, but the beauty of Between the World and Me is that it speaks to Coates’s specific experience – it is not, and it probably doesn’t have to be, the definitive polemic on contemporary racism (no matter how Coates might have aimed for this, in his desire to write like Baldwin). Simply put, Between the World and Me is a powerful book worth reading and considering; Coates’s provocative assertions were made to chew on.


 

Honourable Mentions:

Starbound #3: Their Fractured Light – Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

The final instalment of Kaufman and Spooner’s fantastic space opera trilogy, Their Fractured Light is a satisfying conclusion to what has been a gem of a series to rip through. The best Starbound instalment is still the first – Lilac and Tarver’s breathtaking survival saga – but this final chapter is still thrilling, romantic and extraordinarily thoughtful.

Killing Monica – Candace Bushnell

A neo-Bergdorf Blondes with a twist, Bushnell’s fiercely funny feminist firebomb is chick-lit with an edge. There’s a kick of metacommentary in the story of PJ, a writer whose famous creation, Monica, causes her so much grief that she decides to kill her off (those of us who remember well how terrible Sex and the City 2 was will draw some amusing comparisons here). A refreshingly inventive novel, Killing Monica is a reminder that Bushnell is a take-no-prisoners badass blessed with acerbic wit and an impeccable sense of literary style.

Prick with a Fork – Larissa Dubecki

Wickedly funny, Larissa Dubecki’s account of her life as the ‘world’s worst waitress’ is a must-read for anyone who has ever had the dubious honour of working in the hospitality industry. Funny, foul and fatuous in turns, Dubecki’s book is guilty fun – rather like bitching with co-workers about a boss who is especially heinous.

 

You can read my list of favourite TV shows here. And look out for my favourite films, and other odds and ends, coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

Me, elsewhere: short stories, ‘The Intern’, Aussie TV and ‘Jessica Jones’

Since I’m writing everywhere but my blog, here are some other places you can find me on the interwebz:

Tegan Bennett Daylight, Katherine Heiny and women-authored short-story collections, for Kill Your Darlings

“Daylight is a respected writer, but there is a risk that, like Heiny, her stories could be underappreciated – in large part because they are about teenagers, and even more so because they are about teenage girls. Women’s stories are slowly, stubbornly swelling to occupy the spaces they deserve, though perhaps not soon enough.”

Read the full piece here.

Grief, Glitch and magical thinking, for Going Down Swinging

‘Though slow to start, Glitch moves with increasing restlessness through its moody, captivating episodes. There’s a craving to reveal, to slot pieces together. Then there’s the friction of otherness: these risen residents no longer fit in Yoorana. The grief of losing that sense of belonging is what Glitch chews on.’

Read the full piece here.

Nancy Meyers’ The Intern and the feminist film failures, for Junkee 

‘Of course, the real mark of a feminist film is not just who is on the screen and who put them there, but also what it all means. We need to look deeper to understand why those female characters are there, who they are meant to be representing, and what, overall, the film has to say about women and gender equality.’

Read the full piece here.

An interview with Sarah Snook, Australian film’s rising star, for Junkee 

The Beautiful Lie is determined, it seems, to examine all the chaos of contemporary romance and domestic life. There’s a grandness and tragedy that still resonates with Tolstoy’s text. “We always want to come out the victor, but there’s going to be fallout.”’

Read the full interview here.

Please Like Me‘s third season, and mythologising the Aussie TV family, for Kill Your Darlings

‘Even the play-acting of “family” reveals the true bond in this hodgepodge group – all of them clustered around Josh, their unlikely patriarch.’

Read the full interview here.

Jessica Jones and television’s predilection for female trauma, for Junkee

‘As the only person who can stop Kilgrave, Jessica’s heroic ability and her will to overcome his abuse grow in tandem. Perhaps surviving rape has strengthened her, but we don’t need to see the abuse to know its impact.’

Read the full piece here.

 

 

 

Guest blogger Hilary Binks on MUSC’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

Former You’re Dripping Egg contributor Hilary Binks has joined me on Fantasise or Perish to share her thoughts on the Melbourne University Shakespeare Company‘s new production of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.*

It was about three hours before showtime at the Melbourne University Shakespeare Company’s The Taming of the Shrew that it occurred to me that the original play might be quite different from the popular ’90s rom-com adaptation. My preparation — creating a Spotify Looking for Cleo-based playlist and scrolling through pages of Google Images of ‘julia stiles 90s’ — suddenly seemed a bit misguided. Still under the illusion that the Shakespeare original and 10 Things I Hate About You could not be too distantly related (because Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet was a loose modern interpretation too, right???), it was time to Wiki/SparkNotes. And thus began the rude awakening.

Shrew is infamous for being the most misogynist of all of Shakespeare’s plays. It is not even a stretch to label it that when the male lead literally subjects the female lead to starvation, sleep deprivation, and physical, verbal and psychological abuse, and is met with the admiration and/or ambivalence of her friends and family.

So I walked in (two friends in tow) wondering why MUSC would even be putting on this play. I definitely came out feeling that I better understood what director Fiona Spitzkowsky was trying to do with this adaptation. However, I remain unconvinced that the means justified the end of very literally giving abusive and misogynist characters a stage and an audience.

Bridie Pamment as Bianca and Oscar Shaw as Lucentio in MUSC's 'The Taming of the Shrew'.

Bridie Pamment as Bianca and Oscar Shaw as Lucentio in MUSC’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.

Shrew opens similarly with the conundrum that perfect-wife-material Bianca Minola (Bridie Pamment) is not allowed to get married before her spitting, arranged marriage-hating sister Katherina (Amelia Burke) does. Cue the bevy of Bianca’s male suitors plotting together and bankrolling Petruchio (the Heath Ledger character, a comparison that MUSC has aided through Lewis McDonald’s curly man bun and leather bracelet aesthetic) to marry Kate. This was all familiar-ish Shakespeare rom-com, so far so good. Petruchio seemed to be planning some pretty basic pick-up artist shit to try to win Katerina over, but nothing yet that screamed textbook abusive man at the audience. Then WOW BAM suddenly Petruchio has convinced Mama Minola that it’s wedding time and the audience is left with Katerina loudly sobbing in a wedding dress and this is about thirty minutes in? What else is going to happen in this play? Where is the cute wooing? Why isn’t Heath Ledger realising he was wrong for getting caught up in horrible sexist power play games? When will the mutual young hetero romance blossom!?

Nope, nopity-nope. None of that was happening.

The intimate theatre-in-the-round set-up gave us sickening close-ups to scene after scene of Petruchio’s violence and humiliation of Katherina. The comedic subplot of the pursuit of Bianca failed to provide much relief from the tension of abusive scenes ahead, despite incredibly engaging performances from Oscar Shaw (Lucentio), Jordan Peters (Tranio) and Aram Geleris (Gremio). The gender-bent matriarch Baptista (Genevieve Cassin) was an absolute pleasure to watch — her steely poise was magnetic and made her a powerful presence on the stage.

Lewis McDonald as Petruchio and Amelia Shaw as Katherina in MUSC'S 'The Taming of the Shrew'.

Tension and bad business between Lewis McDonald as Petruchio and Amelia Shaw as Katherina.

The final scene, originally intended to demonstrate that Katherina has been broken and tamed into obedience, attempts to reconceptualise the scene as the moment of horror and realisation about the extent of the abuse the other characters have allowed. However, it seemed as if the original text does not allow enough flexibility to condemn the domestic violence as the audience deserves. The subdued and awarded tone in which men mumbled their lines, and the panicked final tableau of Bianca frantically dialling a crisis line, did not disguise the fact that this scene was intended to be a moment of triumph for abusive men.

Overall, Shrew is definitely worth seeing for the absolute quality of the acting and production, particularly the set (Gabrielle Lewis) and lighting (Jaiden Leeworthy) design. However, I would warn any viewers that the content warning for ‘family violence’ is euphemistic — Shrew features a literal mashup of abuser profiles and violent tactics that could almost be lifted verbatim from domestic violence psychologist Bancroft’s Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. It is a difficult watch and the director’s attempt to comment on domestic violence unfortunately does not go far enough as the audience deserves.

A hot moment between Genevieve Cassin as Baptista and Jordan Peters as Tranio.

Genevieve Cassin as Baptista and Jordan Peters as Tranio.

Melbourne University Shakespeare Company’s The Taming of the Shrew has three final performances this week: Thursday 22, Friday 23 and Saturday 24 October at 7.30 p.m. in the Guild Theatre at the University of Melbourne. For more information, visit the Facebook link here. To book your tickets, click here.

*FULL DISCLOSURE: Matilda Dixon-Smith, operator of this blog and editor of this post, served as Consulting Director on this production of The Taming of the Shrew. Her association, and her viewpoints, had no influence on Hilary’s critique of the show.