Here is my list of favorite media for 2011. In the past, I have made a top movies list, but this year I just didn’t get out to see as many first-run films as I would have liked. So I decided to also include other media in my final list of the year. I hope you find something you enjoy. Please leave some of your favorite media picks in the comments!
1. Event: Swede Fest 8
The world’s only festival for sweded films is right here in little old Fresno. Who knew?! The DumbDrum.com boys have been making better and better movie parodies, and this year they seemed to blow up all over the Internet. I even gathered sound from the latest event for a story on NPR’s Morning Edition. It was my first time attending the festival, and I have to say that I was pleasantly charmed at the communal feeling of watching the homemade swedes together in a room with my fellow movie fans. This was my favorite event of the year, and I’m definitely going back.
2. Movie: “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”
My favorite movie of the year is a documentary by Werner Herzog about cave paintings in Southern France. Yes, you read that correctly – Herzog, cave paintings, France. I had enjoyed Herzog’s films before, but this one, made now in the twilight of his directing life, took on a new meaning. The movie has haunted me all year for the urgency in which Herzog attempts to understand the origins of man as a way to understand himself. Seeing the film sparked an entire Summer of Herzog for me, as I got to know an extraordinary director’s back catalog even better.
3. Online: NPR Music on Facebook
I have always been a casual listener of noncommercial radio, but my internship at KQED Public Radio this past summer really tuned me in to a whole new world. My favorite find has been NPR Music on Facebook, a “radio station” in my social media feed that has exposed me to top-notch programs such as All Songs Considered and World Cafe, and has also led me to explore other music-related NPR and public radio features. For someone like me, working to re-brand himself as a multimedia journalist specializing in arts and culture reporting, NPR Music is now essential.
4. Movie: “Midnight in Paris”
I’m always a sucker for Woody Allen movies – even when they’re bad. For me, even a bad Woody Allen movie is better than ninety percent of what’s playing in the theater on most days. Fortunately, this film is one of his great ones. It is difficult to review the movie without giving away its secrets. So I will just say that Owen Wilson is great as the writer, Corey Stoll is a revelation as Ernest Hemingway, and the city of Paris is terrific as its magical self. Grab your favorite English major friend and get him or her to see this film before midnight.
5. Online: @Dr_Cop on Twitter
My good friend Adam Marler lives multiple lives. He’s a mixed media artist based in Fresno who is perhaps best known for producing 15 long-form interviews on his I Don’t Get It podcast, featuring Fresno creatives talking about making art in the Central Valley. At his day job, Adam works as a pest trapper for the state citrus research board. He enjoyed 15 minutes of fame this past summer for his work tracking the Asian citrus psyllid, a job where he rides around in a pickup truck all week logging insect data while listening to NPR and making obscure social-media art. His Twitter feed offers a daily stream-of-consciousness joyride into his droll, eccentric alter ego “Dr. Cop,” a lovable Internet jester who carries himself at the comical intersection of the absurd and the profound.
6. Movie: “Tree of Life”
I love going to movies where people walk out in the middle of them. I try to imagine what those people are thinking as they flee their seats. Like, “Well gosh, it did have Brad Pitt and Sean Penn in it!” Or maybe, “But the poster looked so cute!” Their loss, really. I won’t pretend to understand everything that Terrence Malick was trying to say or do with this film. I probably never will. But like the best films, there are so many images and ideas from “Tree of Life” that linger still. (Also, check out this beautiful swede by Fresno filmmaker Vince Cosentino.)
7. Online: Harvesting Health blog
Rebecca Plevín gets it. She’s a journalist who understands that telling stories about people is the very best way to tell stories about public policy. She has written about Latinos in the Central Valley since 2008 for Vida en el Valle, the bilingual publication put out by McClatchy. But Plevín has made her biggest impact with Harvesting Health, a blog that celebrated its one-year anniversary this past June. She covers the major health issues in our region – big issues like hunger, obesity, teen pregnancy, air quality, access to clean water, and more. But what makes her different is that she spends time writing about everyday people, and she documents their difficult fights for good health, both private and public. She’s a compelling, straightforward advocate for better health. Plevín’s Twitter feed is also an excellent aggregate source of Central California health news.
8. Movie: “Bill Cunningham New York”
My wife and I watched this film with our artist friends Laura and Zach, who turned their living room into a makeshift movie space for the occasion. It was fitting: Their whimsy for their own space became, for me, an integral part of experiencing the whimsy of the movie. I didn’t care for the filmmaker’s insistence on pushing Cunningham about his understated private life, which to me was irrelevant. But I absolutely loved the portrayal of Cunningham’s natural curiosity and love for photographing people and their fashions for The New York Times. It was a joy and an inspiration to watch such an honest photojournalist at work on the streets.
9. Book: “How Do I Begin? A Hmong American Literary Anthology”
I don’t read a lot of books the year that they come out. I’ve just never been that kind of reader. But I’m grateful in many ways to have found this new collection of Hmong American literature as it debuted to the world. My first freelance story for The California Report featured the book, and I attended two readings where the authors read from their powerful work. I loved re-connecting with Burlee Vang, making a new friend in Soul Choj Vang, and most of all reading these diverse, heartbreaking, and important stories.
10. Movie: “The Future”
I’m a sucker for pretty much anything Miranda July makes, so I knew going in that I would like this movie. It was pretty difficult to like, though, for lots of reasons. I mean for goodness sakes, a stray cat narrates the film, so you know the movie is going to be a challenge. But there are so many little details and scenes that have stuck with me and kept me thinking. Viewed as a movie, “The Future” might not be considered very successful. But viewed as living performance art, I think July has made a brave, messy, vital document of this very moment.