Monday, May 16, 2011

Sharing is...sharing...

A message a received this morning:
Hey Jordan,

I took TMA102 with you as my TA, and I have a favor to ask of you. I am reapplying for the media arts program in the Fall, and after talking with my advisor, it sounds like their biggest concern with my application was my lack of variety in my top ten most significant [films/books/shows/etc]. I have only ever watched mainstream things for the majority of my life and am not sure where to go to find good media outside of mainstream. Jeff Parkin recommended I ask you for some good suggests of movies and books I may enjoy that are less mainstream.
I was immediately flattered. How could I not be?

Anyway, I ended up spending a good bit of time on the my response, so I figured I'd...well, I'd...


Dear student-who-for-the-purposes-of-this-post-shall-remain-unnamed, 
I have to admit this is a tough question to adequately answer. Please understand up front that any list I can reasonably provide is going to be very limited. I would suggest that you try to talk to a few other people, and dig into other online resources to help you discover lesser-known media.
First, some important filmmakers outside of the "American mainstream": Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries), Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers, Hero, To Live, Curse of the Golden Flower), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie).

Other specific films I'd suggest (in the "foreign" category) are: Persepolis (French/Iranian), The Band's Visit (Israeli), and The Host (Korean). 
More generally, these are currently my favorite directors (not including the ones you're sure to have heard of already): Danny Boyle (Millions, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours), Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It's a Wonderful Life), Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy 2), Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim, mainly), Rian Johnson (The Brothers Bloom, Brick); Roman Polanski (The Pianist, Oliver Twist
Here's a list of all the Coen brothers' films you need to see: Raising Arizona, The Hudsucker Proxy, Intolerable Cruelty, O Brother Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men
Also, read that book - "No Country for Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy, and then read "The Road," by the same author.

Here's a list of books I love and think most people should read (author - title):
  • Charles Dickens - "A Tale of Two Cities"; "Hard Times"; "David Copperfield"
  • C.S. Lewis - "Screwtape Letters"; "That Hideous Strength"; "The Problem of Pain"
  • Pearl S. Buck - "Dragon Seed"
  • Yann Martel - "Life of Pi"
  • Bram Stoker - "Dracula"
  • Diane Setterfield - "The Thirteenth Tale"
  • Orson Scott Card - "Ender's Game"
  • Betty Smith - "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" 
  • William Goldman - "The Princess Bride"
  • Primo Levi - "The Periodic Table"
  • Ray Bradbury - "The Martian Chronicles"; "Fahrenheit 451"
  • Arthur C. Clarke - "2001: A Space Odyssey" 
  • David Gemmell - "Legend"
Here are a handful of TV show recommendations:
  • Breaking Bad
  • The Twilight Zone (the original series)
  • The West Wing
  • Studio 60
  • Samurai Jack
  • Modern Family
  • Lie to Me
  • Firefly
  • Home Movies
  • This American Life
Lastly, you should subscribe to and begin listening to these podcasts immediately:
  • This American Life
  • Radiolab
  • NPR's Intelligence Squared
  • The Moth
Some important notes: this list is not comprehensive; it is necessarily limited because I myself am limited. There's also no human way you'll be able to consume all of that media over a summer, but you CAN work your way through a lot of it. I would suggest watching one film from each director (commit to watching several films per week, and you can probably get through them all), one book by each author, and one episode of each TV series and podcast. If you really love any particular filmmaker, author, series, or podcast, you can of course delve deeper.
Finally, please be careful about content. A lot of what I've listed contains stuff that would most certainly and justifiably offend some people. It's all valuable, but whether you'll be comfortable with one item or another is entirely dependent upon you. It's a very personal decision, so please don't just dive into anything. Check it out first--the rating, the content, some reviews, perhaps.

This message is quite long. Congratulations on reaching the end of it. Happy consuming!

Your turn! Take a moment to post a comment with a movie, book, TV show, or podcast about which the unwashed masses are unlikely to have heard.

Also, take one more moment to follow:

Or just put my RSS in your feed reader. (I personally love Google Reader, and would undoubtedly perish without it.)


  1. I am ever so slightly impressed by your book recommendations. These are all books I too would recommend. Good job Jordan! Ten {billion} points.

  2. Ya know Jordan, until this post, I hadn't realized just how broad you've helped my movie horizons get. Though I am surprised that 'The Fall' wasn't mentioned anywhere. That's my go-to "movie... the unwashed masses are unlikely to have heard of." Of course, you already listed a number of ones I may have gone to as well.

    I wouldn't add anything to books, seeing as I'm an avid sci-fi fan and thus would only mention those. Perhaps just the classics, such as Verne and Wells.

    Nice sharing, btw.

  3. Love the list and want to add a few from the Black and White genre: movies--ANYTHING with Betty Davis, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, Audry Hepburn...I'm serious. These actors, as far as I can tell, never starred in a bad movie. And to see where a lot of our modern comedians got their ideas, watch Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. To add a few TV shows, I loved: the first 3-4 seasons of Gilmore Girls and Mad About You; Andy Griffith (before they went color--something got lost in the transition) and Dick Van Dyke

  4. Not being at home and with an ever-diminishing memory, I can't think of all the books, but East of Eden; The Last Hurrah; and Freckles come to mind. OH, and being enrolled in Shakespeare right now, I have to recommend diving back into that brilliant man's brain, both by reading the intricacy of his dialogue and viewing great productions of his work. His equal will never be born, I'm certain.


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