By Steve Guntli
Directed by Tom McCarthy
“Spotlight,” may be the best movie about journalism since “All The President’s Men” in 1976. It is the story of the Boston Globe team that exposed a widespread child abuse scandal and cover-up in the Catholic church. The film focuses on the everyday work of the four-person Spotlight team, which spends every free moment for the better part of a year digging deep into the case. Over the course of the film, the reporters begin to question their faith while bumping up against the insular Boston natives who run the clergy, the city and even the paper, all of whom are only too willing to turn a blind eye to the actions of the priests.
“Spotlight” isn’t flashy, and it doesn’t attempt to build up its reporters as paragons of truth and decency. This is a very workmanlike, straightforward film, and it’s all the better for it. Despite the heavy focus on dialogue and long scenes of characters grinding through evidence, the film is utterly gripping.
The cast is stacked with so much talent doing Oscar-worthy work that it’s hard to single out one standout performance. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian D’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber and John Slattery are all exceptional in their roles, but my favorite performance may be Stanley Tucci as the prickly, put-upon Armenian attorney who champions the victims of abuse.
Runners up: “Inside Out,” “The Martian,” “Ex Machina,” “Love and Mercy.”
By Aziz Ansari
Comedian Aziz Ansari is entering an interesting phase in his career. After nearly a decade starring on TV’s “Parks and Recreation” and selling out stadiums with his stand-up, he’s setting out on a more subversive, though no less funny, path.
With his new Netflix series “Master of None,” he subverts expectations of the sitcom by confronting hard questions about love, family and race. In “Modern Romance,” he subverts the expectations of humor writing, turning what could have been another disposable comic memoir into a fascinating and hilarious probe into modern dating.
Teaming up with sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Ansari sets out to determine how millennials meet and date in the smartphone era. But if you, like me, are in a happy long-term relationship and think you don’t have time for that young people nonsense (dagnabbit), then don’t worry, Ansari’s still got you covered.
Some of the more fascinating passages in the book come from the comparisons between how dating is done today and how it was done 10, 20 or 30 years ago. For instance: Ansari compares the arranged marriage of his Indian parents with his own struggles to find a mate, and finds that the overwhelming amount of choice young people have today is leading to fewer and later marriages. It’s hard to settle down when, as Ansari says, you have “a singles bar in your pocket 24/7.”
Ansari also examines dating culture in other countries, confronts difficult questions about marriage and infidelity and asks how a generation which lives its life behind a screen can find ways to meaningfully connect. Plenty of jokes and charming asides are peppered throughout the data, but it’s the thoroughness of the research and the surprising insight into modern life that really resonate.
Runners up: “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Saga” by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
“Hamilton – An American Musical”
Original Broadway Cast Recording
You’d be forgiven if all you know about Alexander Hamilton is that he’s on the $10 bill and was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of the phenomenal Broadway musical about Hamilton’s life, only knew as much when he first picked up a biography to read on vacation. But Hamilton’s incredible life struck a chord, and inspired Miranda to write this sweeping, energetic show that will change the way you think about Broadway musicals.
The play traces Hamilton’s life from his humble beginnings as the orphaned son of a whore living in the Caribbean to his death at the age of 49. Brilliant and passionate but also short-tempered and restless, Hamilton becomes a prominent figure during the Revolutionary War as George Washington’s trusted confidant, becomes a fiery defender of the newborn Constitution, clashes bitterly with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, is appointed the nation’s first secretary of the treasury and establishes a financial system that helped the United States become a global superpower.
“Hamilton” the album tries to be everything for everybody, and amazingly, it succeeds on all accounts. It’s a great hip-hop album, a great pop album and a great Broadway soundtrack. It follows a clear, strong narrative, but it’s not necessary to have seen the show to appreciate it. It’s progressive in its reframing of the events of our nation’s birth while remaining reverent and respectful to history. People of color make up almost all of the leading roles, and the music fuses crackling hip-hop lyricism with powerful old-fashioned Broadway show tunes, letting Miranda connect Hamilton’s time to today.
I’ve listened to this at least half a dozen times this year and I find a rewarding new layer each time. I look forward to the next half-dozen listens.
Runners up: “To Pimp A Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar, “Every Open Eye” by CHVRCHES.
“Hamilton” and “Modern Romance” are available through the Blaine Public Library. Visit the local branch or reserve copies online at wcls.org. “Spotlight” is currently playing at the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham. Visit pickfordfilmcenter.org for show times.