Staff Picks: ‘Negroland,’ ‘Anomalisa’ and ‘Star Wars’ (Obviously)


Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Scroll through for our picks, and tell us what you’ve been loving in the comments.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. J.J. Abrams)

I cannot tell a lie. Star Wars was my cultural highlight of the week. My mind is too crammed with Lord of the Rings trivia to be able to tell you much about the relative merits of various planets, Death Stars and generals in the Star Wars universe, but I love the characters. It was nice to have them back, feeling authentic, on opening weekend, in a theater full of applause. And it was divine to see the new generation of diverse stars inherit the charm and pluck of their predecessors. John Boyega’s absolutely adorable Finn is my new crush and Daisy Ridley’s Rey is my new icon of kick-ass heroism. Even more shockingly, I’m actually spending time online reading fan theories and speculation about the next film. Help me, Disney, you’re my only hope. — Sarah Seltzer, Editor-at-Large

Before my Sunday matinee of TFA, I re-watched The Empire Strikes Back, objectively the best Star Wars installment to date, as a pregame. Depending on how much I liked JJ Abrams’ sequel/homage, this could have been a terrible idea, reminding me of the glorious, campy, freewheeling, expectation-free heights Abrams failed to reach. The Force Awakens, of course, is not The Empire Strikes Back; with a billion dollars of Disney capital riding on its back, it couldn’t be. But unlike George Lucas’ prequels, Abrams’ revival is incredibly smart about what makes the first three Star Wars so beloved: humor, underdogs, and metaphysical, galactic conflicts played out on the most intimate of scales — the divided nuclear family. (Plus, you know, lots of explicit references.) The Force Awakens then adds a contemporary sensibility to that solid foundation, particularly in its casting. The result is a final scene that’s made me tear up every time I’ve thought of it since, which is to say more times than I’m comfortable admitting in public. — Alison Herman, Associate Editor

Raffi — Raffi’s Christmas Album

Thanks to New York Magazine‘s excellent profile of superstar Raffi, I’ve been spending my week listening to Christmas songs designed to appeal to folks who are twenty years younger than me. No worries, though, because I couldn’t give a damn what anyone thinks when songs like “Must Be Santa” are helping me feel like I felt when I woke up to find a Nintendo 64 under the tree back in ’96. For all of you parents out there: play this for your kids this year. You won’t regret it. Maybe, I don’t know, I don’t have any kids. — Shane Barnes, Associate Editor

Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson

One of this year’s many great books to address race in America, Jefferson’s is unique in its exploration of how race intersects with class in the lives of wealthy black Americans. More than just a memoir (though it’s a great one), Negroland is also an education in the history of the African-American elite, a work of cultural criticism, and a closeup look at how the terms and language of various civil rights struggles have changed over the author’s lifetime. Jefferson brings the full force of her powerful intellect to bear on everything from the conflicted politics of skin shade and hair texture to the sisters of Little Women to what it means to be a black woman with depression, without ever losing momentum. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

Tom Noonan in Anomalisa

Without saying too much about what exactly Tom Noonan (well, really, just his voice) does in Anomalisa (out December 30), I will say that it’s one of the most interesting voiceover performances I can think of, in that it’s meant more as a sonic exemplification of the film’s philosophy than anything else. And yet while working within an existential rather than character-based framework, Noonan is able to give surprising dynamism to monotony, to bring hilarity to the film’s bleaker statements. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

Nasty Baby (dir. Sebastian Silva)

Out this week on DVD, the latest from Sebastian Silva (who writes, directs, and this time co-stars) is a bit of a puzzle, spending the bulk of its running time in loose, semi-rambling observation of a trio of racially and sexually diverse Brooklyn pals trying to make a baby. That’s the through-line, at least; it’s mostly a series of free-wheeling vignettes, slice-of-life impressions of friendship and neighborhood dynamics, until the whammo dark turn of the third act. Our own Moze Halperin had plenty to say about it back in October, and he’s right; the sudden shift of an act of violence repositions the entire picture, but it’s not entirely out of nowhere. In fact, on reflection, Silva’s film expertly and slyly captures the way a background simmer can suddenly boil over. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This Podcast

A few of us here have sung the praises of Karina Longworth’s excellent cinema podcast You Must Remember This. I just finished the fifth season, MGM Stories — about the studio’s transition from silents to sounds, into the Golden Era, and its eventual decline. The production and writing is always top notch. Along with Serial, it really sparked my interest in podcasts this year, which previously never felt as involving to me. The Elizabeth Taylor episode is a high point. As Karina says, speaking of Liz’s role in Butterfield 8, she was one of the Hollywood greats who really didn’t give a damn, and her time with MGM was so atypical of the studio that carefully crafted images for all its stars. — Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor

The Expanse

Syfy’s new space epic The Expanse is Game of Thrones in space. That isn’t a simplification of its premise or structure. The show revolves around a massive political conspiracy in an intricately planned otherworldly universe. It isn’t hyperbole, either. The show exhibits a similar knack for guiding you through a complex narrative, literally bouncing across the universe, to spin its grand conspiratorial web.

Oh yeah, and if you liked reading along with your genre dramas, The Expanse is based on a series of well-regarded novels: The first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes, won the Hugo award in 2012.

While it hasn’t managed to develop the same great character-driven pathos as its fantasy forebears, The Expanse is a masterful bit of self-contained TV world-building. If you watch Game of Thrones, you should at least watch the first four episodes of The Expanse, which are available online right now. — Michael Epstein, Editorial Apprentice