First, the annual recap:
- Canadian musicians and comedians (2006-07 and 2007-08)
- my beverage of choice (2008-09)
- famous people who died during the past year (2009-10)
- where I'd like to be (2010-11)
- vegetables (2011-12) (I was out of ideas!)
- Big Life Events in a year full of Big Life Changes (2012-13)
- cheese (I'm getting desperate!) (2013-14)
- types of travels (2014-15)
and last year I reprised famous people who died, plus there is famous people who died, part 2.
This year's theme was a no-brainer for me. In late 2015 and through 2016, I piloted my union through contract negotiations and a strike. It was the first strike for the Mississauga Library Workers, and the first strike against the City of Mississauga!
We were out for three weeks -- and we won. Along with what the strike did for our members, it was a year of enormous personal growth for me. Leading bargaining and the strike used all my experience, all my skills, all my strengths, and all my weaknesses, seemingly putting them all to the test, every single day.
And so, this year's "we movie to canada" theme: the picket line.
The General Strike
Workers from all fields and industries, union and nonunion, waged and unwaged, students and teachers, factory workers and miners, writers and artists, joining together to demonstrate our strength by withholding our collective labour. In February 1919, workers shut down the city of Seattle; a few months later, workers in Winnipeg did the same in their city. Did you know that workers in India staged the largest general strikes in history, first in 2013, then in 2016? (Why was this the most under-reported story of the decade?)
The General Strike is what I most want to see, and these films were the best I saw over the past year.
Diary of a Teenage Girl
-- Brave, honest, and risk-taking, this film reveals an authentic teenage life that may shock some, but rings unerringly true. Drugs, sex, negligent parents, opportunistic adults -- it's all there, as Minnie begins to author her own life. Moving and brilliant.
-- In Turkey, five sisters are being raised by their repressive, over-protective uncle. Each girl in turn finds accommodation or escape, in ways that are increasingly sad and tragic. But one girl will not be tamed. Gripping, tragic, triumphant.
Bojack Horseman S3
-- Loneliness, self-doubt, and existential dread, plus endless animal puns and laugh-out-loud comedy. I'm starting to think it's the animal version of The Larry Sanders Show, which means it's one of the best things ever on television.
-- A gripping story of survival, and an authentic-seeming portrayal of the harsh, violent world of the frontier. Sometimes hard to watch, but I was riveted.
Where to Invade Next
-- Michael Moore's latest starts out as comedy, then slowly descends into darkness, perhaps the darkest Moore has ever attempted. I quibble with Moore on a couple of political points, but no matter. This film is great.
-- On my nonfiction reading list is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Alexander is featured in this documentary version, as powerful and disturbing a film as you are likely to see. Don't miss it.
The "Mill Girls"
The "Mill Girl" strikes -- first in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1834 and 1836, then the more famous "Bread and Roses" strike in nearby Lawrence in 1912 -- are some of my most beloved moments in labour history and women's history. The fighting spirit of the mill girls lives on in every woman who organizes and fights back.
These were considerably smaller in scope than the general strikes, but they were important, and they have always captured my imagination. These films weren't quite the pinnacle, but they were excellent.
Janis: Little Girl Blue
-- Finally, a movie about Janis Joplin that digs deep and doesn't exploit. Her life was both triumphant and very sad. The image of the rich and famous woman still seeking the approval of her hometown bullies will stay with me a long time. Saddest of all, Janis was expanding her range and her repertoire when she died. An excellent biopic.
I Smile Back
-- Sarah Silverman's performance as a self-destructive, borderline personality is absolutely gripping. The film offers no "overcoming obstacles" balm and no easy answers -- indeed, no answers at all. Disturbing in all the right ways.
The Wire, S5
-- This was a bit of a come-down after the pinnacle of S4. Compared to other seasons, S5 was a tad didactic and obvious. But in the end, it was The Wire -- unmatched.
-- Just another understated, brilliant film from the Ken Loach / Paul Laverty team. The joy of solidarity, the bitterness of the institutional crushing of dissent, plus the beauty and music of Ireland.
-- Todd Haynes has made a wonderful adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's semi-autobiographical novel The Price of Salt. Nonconformity, discovery, love, stifling choices, and a gorgeous period piece. Simply beautiful.
-- 1950s small-town Ireland and immigrant Brooklyn. A lyrical love story, a beautiful period piece, an understated melodrama -- entirely wonderful.
-- This show just keeps getting better. Now it's detective mystery meets western meets women's liberation.
-- Great writing, great acting, and characters that grow in credible and interesting ways. Takes a bit of time to kick in, but rewards you many times over. (I have only one quibble: women in law firms -- whether partners, associates, or assistants -- do not dress like models. A little less cleavage would have increased realism.)
Enquiring Minds: The Untold Story of the Man Behind the National Enquirer
-- A fascinating biopic of two men you've probably never heard of: Genoroso Pope and Gene Pope, Jr., plus Ric Burns and New York City. Did I say fascinating?
How I Met Your Mother, S9
-- I ended up absolutely loving this show. Barney is the comedy version of Suits character Harvey Specter. I might just watch the whole thing again.
The Fall, S3
-- When Season 2 ended with our hero holding the bloody body of her nemesis, I had no idea how the producers would squeeze out another season. That just shows my total lack of imagination. Season 3 was twisty, shocking -- and great.
-- My current comedy-before-bed is this classic from my childhood. A send-up of James Bond meets Inspector Clouseau. Corny but hilarious. Great for future-famous and uncredited guest stars, too.
CUPE 1989 Mississauga Library Workers Strike
Just your everyday, ordinary library workers, kicking ass for the working class. The strike was worthwhile, and these films are worth seeing.
Look Who's Back
-- What would happen if Hitler never died, and was reanimated in our current world? This film teases out all the implications. Very clever and very thought-provoking.
The Way, Way Back
-- A solid, sweet, unsentimental coming of age story.
Tab Hunter Confidential
-- What was it like to be marketed as a leading man but gay and deeply closeted, in 1950s Hollywood? A solid social history embedded in a biopic.
-- The Hollywood blacklist and a writer determined to defy it. Excellent performances and a good period piece.
The Big Short
-- At first this movie seems to be glorifying the villains of the subprime banking crisis, but that's just a ploy to reel you in.
-- This dark Woody Allen film has some problems, but it's thought-provoking and a great conversation piece.
-- Charlie Kaufman, existential crisis, and stop-motion animation. While it often seems (to me) that Kaufman is strange for strange's sake, this ends up being very interesting, even more thought-provoking than the Woody Allen movie above.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream
-- I have no idea why Peter Bogdanovich thought a movie about Tom Petty needed four hours. We watched in one-hour installments, and I made it through two. I really like old Heartbreakers music, and Tom Petty was a maverick in many ways. A decent film, and two hours is plenty.
A Grand Night In: The Story of Aardman
-- A fun romp through the history of Wallace and Grommet and various sheep.
-- In our continuing search for good sketch comedy, we found this crazy Scottish show. Uneven but often really funny. We need subtitles!
-- A raunchy, male, Scottish old-person show. Funny and poignant, and good for a few seasons.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
-- Scientology revealed. It is weirder and more horrifying than I ever imagined.
-- A man finds an old grill at an auction. Inside the grill: a human leg. This starts out as weird but comedic, but becomes an examination of class, drugs, lawsuits, and the illusion of celebrity. Really interesting.
Manson Family Vacation
-- A familiar movie trope -- the uptight, responsible adult and the immature, fuck-up sibling -- plus a road trip, with a Manson Family theme. A decent little film, and less predictable than one might expect.
Brooklyn 9-9, S3
-- Still really funny!
-- While recuperating after the strike, I watched the entire Morse series. It's slow-moving, but brilliant.
The Murdoch Mysteries, S10
-- Still watching! Still enjoying it.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
-- Completely crass, tasteless, and ridiculous, and usually very funny. The comparisons to Seinfeld are obvious, but this would be Jerry's crack-addicted, sex-offender distant cousin. I watched a few seasons before my US Netflix disappeared (again).
-- After The Good Wife and Suits, this is my latest binge-watch. Good detective work, great characters, and has really deepened emotionally. Featuring great recurring roles for both Stephen Fry and Ryan O'Neal.
-- A dark, twisty, sometimes confusing murder mystery, which owes a lot to Prime Suspect. Worth seeing if you're into that. Good for fans of The Fall, although nowhere near as good.
The Killing, S1
-- Parts of this were excellent, comparable to S1 of Broadchurch. But the plot holes, fercrissakes! Enjoyed one season but definitely not continuing.
Dear Valued Employee
So began a letter -- mid-strike -- from the library director to our members. Tone-deaf and clueless, it was a low point in labour relations!
The letter did contain a redeeming quality: it strengthened our solidarity. These movies are pretty awful, but they each contain some scrap of value.
-- This has all the markers of a film I should love, and I really wanted to love it. Instead, I found it stiff, bloated, and way too long, plus suffering from an intrusive soundtrack. It's better than a 2, but not quite a 3.
Everybody Wants Some!!
-- The long-awaited sequel to 1993's "Dazed and Confused" is really just a showcase of 1980 college "types". There are some nice moments, but after all the hype, what a disappointment.
-- Everyone says this is a great series. I liked it at first, but quickly found it too non-believable, almost silly.
Ricki and the Flash
-- This was a perfectly serviceable redemption movie with some rock and roll thrown in. It has a great cast and avoids the worst of the many cliches inherent in the material. And then -- it falls off a cliff. The ending is so bad, so completely, cringingly awful, that it pulls the whole movie down the stupid hole with it. Absolutely, amazingly bad.
Born to be Blue
-- String together a bunch of jazz cliches, add Ethan Hawke. Hawke's presence saves this from the scrap heap.
-- Not unlike Meryl Streep and Ethan Hawke in the two movies above, Al Pacino turns in a performance worth seeing. But yawn. Yet another movie where the main character is a self-centered boor, has been that way all his life and through 90% of the movie, then makes a miraculous transformation and is redeemed -- for no discernible reason.
-- Set in a home for deaf children, filmed with no dialogue or subtitles, this movie is dark, gripping, and very interesting -- for a while. Then it becomes impossible to figure out characters' motivations or what is going on. Cool idea, but it didn't work.
-- We loved "Blue Ruin", this director's earlier film, so had high hopes for a taut, suspenseful thriller. Alas, this turned out to be a contrived locked-in-a-room-together horror flick.
-- Shipwrecked sailor, forced to survive on ingenuity, guts, and humour -- a familiar tale translated into space. There were some nice moments, like when the whole world cheers together. But honestly, I was bored.
Twenty Feet from Stardom
-- This documentary about backup singers could have been great. There were a few fascinating glimpses into a world that is usually invisible. But so much of it is unfocused, meaningless, filler. There were some interesting tidbits, plus you get to hear an isolated track of Merry Clayton on "Gimme Shelter".
Star Trek: Voyager
-- This is the second time I've tried this series. The first time, I watched three episodes. This time I made it through eight. It's heavy on the nuts-and-bolts sci-fi, which I don't really like, and light on the emotional content, which I do. Well, I tried.
There's nothing good about precarious work. These movies are a must to avoid.
-- Blackmail, corruption, bad writing, and bad acting.
This Must Be the Place
-- I really like Sean Penn, so I was completely surprised by his terrible performance in this movie. And yay, a character finds redemption and completely changes! For no reason! Yet again!
-- Only after seeing this movie did I learn that actor/comedian (?) Gregg Turkington has a stage persona called Neil Hamburger, and that this film was a vehicle for that unlikeable character. Maybe if you already know and understand the backstory, this film works? Assuming you are not interested in Turkington/Hamburger, it is just absolutely dreadful.
The Mindy Project, S3
-- I really liked S1 and S2, despite some clunkers. This was just unwatchable. Wow.