Best of Summer 2023
I didn’t tell anyone this because I didn’t want it to be a whole thing, but Colin Farrell actually contacted me in June and asked if he could have the summer off, so by continuing to write about things other than his filmography, I am only adhering to his wishes. That said, today is the Day After Labor Day, the official First Day of Fall here in the United States (also known as “I Hope You All Enjoyed Your Downtime,” “Summer’s Over, Folks,” “Now It’s Time To Get to Work,” or whatever other vaguely hostile phrase your boss has probably said to you today), so look sharp, Farrell, because I’m turning the spotlight back on you after this.
(Teaser!! Some Farrell vehicles I’m looking forward to getting into this season: In Bruges, Winter’s Tale, Saving Mr. Banks, Veronica Guerin, Ask the Dust, Cassandra’s Dream, Horrible Bosses, Fright Night.)
But for now, I offer you all this comprehensive list of the Bests of my summer; this will span TV, movies, music, literature, and anything else that pops into my head. Sharpen your pencils and join me, won’t you?
I did enjoy Barbie, I think it deserves all the accolades it’s gotten, Ryan Gosling was a damn revelation, and I enjoy that it made some stupid people angry (always a good sign); but I also kind of liked the whole country getting whipped into a frenzy about a movie. Clearly the publicity and marketing departments for this film dedicated a lot of time and energy to getting this movie and everything related to it in our eyes and ears every single time we turned around, but you know what, I even found that a little bit charming. It was nice to be a part of a giant phenomenon with an innocent tinge to it.
(I did not see Oppenheimer; as I will discuss later in this list, nice weather is at a premium where I live, so I’m simply not gonna sit in a movie theater for more than two hours during one of the nice weather seasons.)
In the Distance & Trust
These are two novels by Hernan Diaz; you may have heard of Trust because it won the Pulitzer last year. In the Distance, his first, is a stark, beautiful, gory, heartbreaking pioneer-times story about a guy basically walking across America looking for his brother. I read it this summer for the second time and loved it even more than I did the first time, and then treated myself to Trust (I’m usually a used-books-only gal, but it means you have to wait around for a while for something new to make its way to used bookstores, and I got impatient). I’m still reading Trust, which is great, but hard not to spoil, so I’ll just say it’s deceptively complex story about getting at the truth, mostly focused on New York around the time of the Great Depression. I think we’re going to hear a lot more from this Diaz fella, which is very exciting. Read these books!
It’s hard to write about art; I love this artist, and you should check out this website to see what he’s all about.
How to With John Wilson
Everyone who’s tried to make a compelling show out of found footage can just pack up and go home now that we’ve got How to With John Wilson (streaming on Max). A guy who’s been filming everything, constantly, for many years, lets us in on his unpredictable, shocking, hilarious adventures in New York City and beyond. Aiming to get to the bottom of a simple task, like throwing out batteries, he finds himself at a vacuum cleaner convention, a dinner party for professional referees, in the inner circle of believers in the Mandela Effect, behind the scenes of the anti-circumcision/grow back your foreskin movement, at Burning Man, in Tennessee with an expert on the Titanic conspiracy (turns out it didn’t actually sink), and on and on. This show is brilliant, sometimes heartbreaking and poignant, and always makes me laugh really big raucous ugly laughs. A new season came out this summer, but definitely watch it from the beginning.
Blind Boys of Alabama @ Marymoor Park
Folks, I’m going to blow your minds right now: did you know that seeing live music is a really fun thing to do?? I learned that this summer!
I’m sort of kidding. I’m not really a live music person, which doesn’t mean I’ve never had a wonderful time seeing live music, because I have plenty of times; but the things that are less great about the experience, like how much it usually costs and my feelings about big crowds and the likelihood you’ll be standing or sitting next to someone who’s talking the whole time or what if they don’t play any songs I know, are enough to usually keep me away.
But one of my highlights this summer was seeing the Blind Boys of Alabama for free at a big park outside of Seattle (which also hosts a full summer concert series that is very much not free). I knew of the Blind Boys primarily from their version of the opening theme from The Wire (season one); I did not know that they’ve existed in some form since 1939 (!). The highlight of the show was a Stevie Wonder cover, which (you could just tell) made everyone in the audience feel really happy.
Don’t sleep on this live music thing! I think there might really be something there! (Especially if it’s free.)
The Seattle Art Fair
So this recommendation is mostly for people who live in the Seattle area, but I’ve added a little note for all the rest of you as well.
SEATTLE-AREA RESIDENTS: You must go to the Seattle Art Fair. It happens every summer over a weekend in late July or early August; it’s at the event center between the two stadiums, and is populated by art galleries from ALL OVER THE WORLD. This thing is, first and foremost, legit. All the art is for sale, most for three- or four- or five-digit amounts of money (I gave myself a little prize for every piece I found that cost less than $1,000; there were just a few, and they were all tiny). There was a booth this year with Egon Schieles and Gustav Klimts, and super rare original portfolios of both of their prints. I’ve seen Warhols and Basquiats and Hirsts and Banksys there too. With all due deference to the Seattle art scene, this is an event I’ll spend money on (it’s $35ish for a one-day ticket, and they also have weekend passes) because I see it as my one time of year to feel like I live in New York or L.A. or Chicago and see world-class art. There are some annual Seattle events that draw huge crowds every year and I think it’s weird that the Art Fair isn’t more of a household name for people in this city. This year I went twice, once solo and once with a friend, and could have happily gone back again.
NON-SEATTLE-AREA-RESIDENTS: If you come to visit, again, with all due respect, the art scene is not what I would put at the top of my list of things to check out in Seattle (may I interest you in some lovely nature, perhaps an impeccably made espresso drink?); but this art fair honestly just about makes up for that. I can no longer in good conscience dismiss my city as a not-great art destination; this art fair is right up there with any excellent art museum you’d make a detour for.
I just want to say that if you live in a place where the weather is swimmable all year, please take advantage of that and go swimming all the time. In Seattle, every sunny day is precious, and a day that’s legitimately hot enough to make jumping in the water seem appealing is rare. Having been raised in a swimming-is-only-in-the-summer climate, and now living in one as an adult, there is a part of me that can barely believe it when I’m actually in the water, even though these days I go swimming several times a week during these measly three months (less, if you take out unseasonably chilly or rainy days). I’m sitting here on September 5th, with forecasts of sunny days but highs topping out in the 70s, struggling to believe that once again, as quickly as it came, swimming season really is over.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
I bought this coffee table book about movies to give myself something to do when I feel like I’ve been watching TV for too long but my brain’s still tired to read a “real” book (a strategy I recommend).
The book is annoying because its many contributing authors think absolutely nothing of the fact that in a retrospective of “important” cinema starting with the Lumière brothers and going up to 2014, one (1) of those films has a female director. One. And the reason I even bother mentioning this is that it always blows my mind how this is so often just a given in film writing, without any acknowledgement that yes, we know, you may notice some types of people missing from this list, but traditionally this industry was a male-dominated etc. etc. It’s always just, “Here are the best filmmakers of all time,” and what do you know, it’s all men (and almost entirely white men, at that). The folks who put these lists together could really win me over with just the slightest note of awareness that the list is obviously flawed, having been shaped by the biases and -isms that shape everything else in this flawed world of ours; without that, the implication is, these are simply the best that there are, and the absence of women must mean there just are not any talented female directors. This, from people purporting to be experts on the arts and culture, is pretty embarrassing.
Given this take on the canon, some other parts of the book were predictably eye-rolly, like the discussion of Quentin Tarantino (essentially “Forget EVERYTHING ELSE from this ENTIRE BOOK because this guy Tarantino COMPLETELY CHANGED THE GAME FOREVER”), and a disturbingly brief mention, at the conclusion of a section extolling Roman Polanski, of his arrest for “unauthorized relations with a minor” (it was, pretty famously, a brutal rape).
Anyway! With those disclaimers out of the way, I did appreciate that the book gave a few pages to Luis Buñuel’s 1972 film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, one of my faves. It’s an absurdist shaggy dog story about a group of rich people trying to sit down for a meal and being interrupted by more and more outlandish obstacles — someone wants to tell the whole room about a dream they had, or it turns out that the entire setting is actually a stage play.
There’s no time like the present to watch Discreet Charm, because last year we saw the blossoming of the “fuck rich people” subgenre (Succession, for example), with that sentiment often being taken to absurdist extremes (White Lotus, The Menu, and my pick for the best movie of 2023, Triangle of Sadness), and the absurdist selections especially owe a debt to this film. Watch it before you watch Triangle of Sadness, and I promise it will make the 15-minute vomiting scene go down (a little) easier.
I’m going to come out about something now. Not many people know this. You ready?
I am a gamer.
That’s right; I play video games. My tastes in these are extremely, extremely specific, as in there is one video game studio whose games are my exact taste, and I occasionally flail around trying to find others that are similar and inevitably just return to Rusty Lake. These games are point-and-click (I attempted to play a couple games that involve more than a mouse and they proved too difficult for me); they’re puzzle-based (which, I think, makes them very replayable); and their aesthetic is creepy, cartoony, and borrows heavily from Twin Peaks, if you’re into that sort of thing, which I am.
The new Rusty Lake game, Underground Blossom, comes out on September 27, so if you download the entire catalog and play all of them about 7,000 times before then, you will catch up to me!
And Just Like That…
Twist!!! That’s right, this terrible show gets the last word on my best of summer list. Starting just about right after I wrote my entry about the first two episodes of the new season, I found myself longing for Thursdays, and for the newest episode. Did the show get better? Not really. It remained absolutely ridiculous (and let’s just get this out of the way now, that final episode Samantha cameo we’ve all been waiting for since this thing was announced was terrible), although it did eventually do right by Steve (the best character), and Charlotte made a couple pretty cool moves that even softened me on her (most notably walking around in a blizzard looking for a condom for her teenage daughter; even the good stuff on this show comes in a preposterous package).
But really, it was about comfort, not quality, and this silly show pressed the right buttons for me to make it comfort viewing this summer. I’ve talked about this before — the art you find comforting need not conform to standards of coolness, timeliness, or, yes, even quality. With AJLT… it was probably the candy-colored fake New York and jolly little “highjinks are happening” soundtrack that got me. I couldn’t wait to see what would make me yell at the screen each week.
So as we move from summer into fall, as the powers that be tell you to shape up and stop slacking and get to goddamn work, remember to keep consuming whatever art you want — whatever art you need — even if it’s bad, especially if it’s bad — and don’t apologize. The supposed arbiters of taste are out here writing epic poems about Quentin Tarantino and not giving a shit if a woman ever made a movie, so why is your taste any less valid than theirs?