Rotten Tomatoes and A Few Good Books: The Man About Town Looks Back at 2015

By Daniel van Voorhis

I tend to not read “best of the year” articles. I glance, but do not put much stock into them. So it makes no sense that I ask you to read this, an article I probably wouldn’t read myself. Except I am going to make my suggestions, mere suggestions with some context AND I am going to say something about Top Gun. So keep reading!

What are the best albums of the year? I don’t know? What do you like? If you are looking for something on the indie-tip, but not afraid to throw in some mainstream stuff and hip hop, checkout pitchfork.com. Looking for something more broad? Allmusic.com is as broad a review site for albums as there is.

For most forms of entertainment, stay away from Metacritic. It is interesting enough to have an aggregator of reviews and a place to read a number of them in one place, but whatever algorithm they use makes for wonky overall ratings. Napalm Death’s “Apex Predator” is number two on their list of the best of the year? Ok. Sure. Let’s revisit that in a few years. Of course, I don’t like Napalm Death, but I love Tom Waits, and four years ago they claimed his “Bad as Me” was the best album of the year, and maybe his best album ever. It was not the album of the year and it is not his best (by a long shot).

You are probably familiar with Rottentomatoes.com. Those guys have worked it pretty hard, and working through Flixster and Imdb they seem to have the cache of being the “dudes that know”.

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Except…

Everything is based on a binary “fresh” or “rotten” rating that the site has to infer from reading the whole article themselves. So someone might write a long thoughtful peace about how it is a thoughtful movie or good for a particular audience, or is inventive and engaging but ultimately doesn’t hit the mark. Does that make it “fresh” or “rotten”? And so we get a boner for a movie with a 98-100% rating? You know what got a 98% rating? “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” did. In my most pretentious days of pretending to be smart and cultured and the like, I went to see this at a film festival. We all walked out and decided that maybe our film connoisseur pose was worth giving up. The next movie I saw? Tommy Boy. Where is Tommy Boy on Rotten Tomatoes?

 44%

Screw those guys.

If you needed any more evidence of how screwy they are over at that binary aggregator, please note that they gave Top Gun the same “rotten” rating of 44%. Really? You hate America? You hate dudes playing beach volleyball in jeans with their shirts off? Scientology? I say adieu, rottentomatoes.

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So, where do I, your Man About Town (and man of many opinions) come in to help you work through the quagmire of end of year reviews?

I am going to suggest a few things, in no order and with some context, that I came across this year. But a calendar year as barometer of success seems a little peculiar (frankly, I’d love to do a “best of 2010” list in 2015 and get some critical distance).

Some of these things might have flown under the radar or are very obvious, but here we go.

Sad, thoughtful, mellow, disturbing and redemptive album of the year: “Carrie and Lowell” by Sufjan Stevens. I dig this kind of music. The bloom was of the rose for me when it came to Stevens. I thought it would be too precious or include some bad synth/auto tuned interlude. It didn’t. It made me think and listen and race back to hear the lyrics again. Damn. But seriously, it is sad (read about it here)

Movie I was stoked to see: “Star Wars Episode VII”. I suppose there were other movies. But we got a NEW and GOOD Star Wars. That is enough.

Best TV Show about Communists in the 1980’s with the actress from Felicity (the show directed by J.J. Abrams before he did anything good): “The Americans” (really, if you want a cool 80’s retro spy/suspense show, check it out).

TV show that was uncomfortably funny and made me laugh out loud and puzzled the critics who liked it but made them mention that it was a little bit stereotypical and made jokes usually disapproved of at elitist critic dinner parties: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (It is on Netflix and it is offbeat and irreverent and you might hate it).

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Books of the Year:

I finally read Shusaku Endo’s Silence which is decades old. But it was gut wrenchingly beautiful and tragic and everything that good drama (and especially about religious issues) should take into account. But, as for this year, I have made a list of books that first, got my attention. Second, had publishers that would give me review copies. And third, I either finished immediately, quickly, or will get back to as soon as possible.

Go Set a Watchman: A Novel by Harper Lee

We did a whole podcast on this book, and I wrote an article on this site about the book. I stand by everything I wrote and could even expound after months of mulling it over

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: Carrie Brownstein

A really, really good memoir that might make you uncomfortable if you are the kind I tend to see commenting on this site. This is the Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia. If you do not like either of these, you may still like the book. If you’ve never heard of these: you might still like the book. But read a basic synopsis, just in case.

Men of War: The American Soldier in Combat at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima by Alexander Rose

It turned out that I did not like military history in my early training and career as a historian because the books tended to suck. If I was going to go full on “Journal of American History” style review on this book, the review would be a little different. And longer.

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Their Last Full Measure: The Final Days of the Civil War- Joseph Wheelan

See above. I was never really into the Civil War for a few reasons. Most of those reasons being: “people that were really into the Civil War”. But this is the kind of book that anyone with a passing interest in the American history can pick up, it was a well written and slightly different take on writing the narrative of the end of the Confederacy.

Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship that Shaped the Sixties by Kevin M. Schultz

I like the characters in the book better than the author. But Schultz is no Buckley or Mailer. It must be hard capturing both sides of this without being a little snarky at times (these men still foster high levels of snark amongst critics). But the story, figures, and juncture in American history are too fascinating to mess up.

Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear) by John Fine

You probably haven’t heard of it. Whatever. It’s really good.

Boswell’s Enlightenment: Robert Zaretsky

Any book that gets into Johnson and Boswell, as well as attempts to round out a picture of the “Enlightenment” that doesn’t fit the model of the hippie professor from the 70’s or your pastor, trained in Seminary at the same time, is always welcome.

One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America- Kevin Kruse

Hey, Graham, what do you think?

Any personal favorites from the year? Recommendations? Comment below or over on our Facebook page.

All the Best,

The Man About Town

Composed while listening to “Camels, Spilled Coronas, and the Sound of Mariachi Bands” by J Church.

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2 thoughts on “Rotten Tomatoes and A Few Good Books: The Man About Town Looks Back at 2015

  1. Thanks for the mere suggestions. Look forward to reading the Buckley and Mailer book. Have you read Losing Mum and Pup by Christopher Buckley? It might have something to do with my mom and dad having died shortly before I read it, but I thought it was a wonderful book. On another note, have you seen Making a Murderer on Netflix? Not positive how I feel about it. It was riveting, but I couldn’t help feeling a little manipulated by the makers of the documentary.

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    1. Thanks Liz,
      I am just starting Making a Murderer now- i know I’m in for some kind of manipulation- but it seems to be gaining enough steam that I should check it out. On Netflix there is a documentary called “Best of Enemies” on Buckley and Gore Vidal- it’s pretty good (although, I dig watching old Firing Line shows)

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