A year-end best-of list is a lazy, cheater’s way to fill a column, so please enjoy these hastily tossed-out notes from a lazy cheater. Here are a few of the things I enjoyed most in 2018, in an easy-to-read and easy-to-argue-about list-y format. And I’ve decided to throw in a couple of television shows and books, too, because everyone needs to watch “Lodge 49” and I’m not throwing away my shot to natter on about my love for it.
The best film of this year snuck right under the gun for 2018, released to Netflix and very few movie theaters, in “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” I reviewed this film a couple of weeks ago, so I won’t belabor its magnificence further, but it is a masterwork from what I assume are two of the smartest guys around. Make sure you watch it — a couple of times.
And on the subject of rewatchability, I nominate “Game Night” as a new rewatchable comedy classic. Silly, smart and speedy, Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman sing (not literally) as a super-competitive married couple whose lifetime commitment to one-upmanship with Bateman’s older brother (Kyle Chandler) comes to a head one epic game night. When Chandler’s real kidnapping gets confused with a planned murder mystery game, many hilarious reversals occur. This is one to catch any time it comes on TV; it’s part of the rewatchable canon now.
“Juliet, Naked” wins the elusive “most romantic/best cardigans on Ethan Hawke” combo. It’s romantic and hilarious, not surprising since it is based on a novel by Nick Hornby and features a wonderful ex-boyfriend assist from Chris O’Dowd. Funny enough for comedy watchers, romantic enough for romantics, “Juliet, Naked” does not quite achieve “High Fidelity” status for Nick Hornby classics, but it’s up there. It has unusually balanced male and female perspectives which really adds to it, and Ethan Hawke sings a very affecting cover of “Waterloo Sunset.”
“The Big Lebowski” meets “Twin Peaks” in the AMC TV show “Lodge 49,” a good-natured, mysterious and unapologetically meandering quest narrative. It also gives us the gift of Wyatt Russell as Dud, a bearded, post-recession knight in shining board shorts. After finding one of their lodge rings on the beach, Dud shambles over to Lodge 49 and, in discovering this almost forgotten fraternal order, his life is changed forever.
He becomes an eager squire to a reluctant knight, longtime member and plumbing salesperson Bernie Fontaine (Brent Jennings), who is on his own journey to find lost love and an elusive dream client known as Captain. Meanwhile, every scene is stolen by David Pasquesi as Blaise St. John, an erudite marijuana salesman, lodge librarian and amateur alchemist.
Dud and his twin sister, Liz (Sonya Cassidy), a brilliant, sardonic self-saboteur, both deal with the recent, untimely and somewhat unexplained death of their father in vastly different ways. Liz resents her father for saddling her with his crushing debt, for which she cosigned, leaving her to eke out an existence at a Hooters-style restaurant, while Dud haunts the house and pool business they lost when they lost their father.
The show is a combination of realistic problems with glimmers of otherworldly and surreal happenings, and the characters are really winning. Some people found it too slow, but I found it deeply soothing and enjoyable, and the slowest episodes were my favorites. Still, there were mummies, secrets, sharks and crow attacks for those of you that need a little onscreen action.
No one could refer to 2018 as “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” and the novel of that title is deeply ironic. Author Ottessa Moshfegh created one of the most unlikable protagonists to appear in print in this original, disturbing, highly recommended, terribly weird book. The unnamed narrator is also dealing with recent parental demise, and comes up with a plan to manage her growing emotional problems. She seeks increasingly strong sleeping pills from a memorably horrific psychiatrist, with the eventual goal of staying asleep all the time.
It is the voice of this beautiful and miserable young lady that makes this book so incredibly compelling. Moshfegh, who from interviews also seems peculiar as the day is long, has created a character I cannot compare to any other I’ve read. It was a standout reading experience for 2018.