grace along the road less travelled

This entry was posted by on Saturday, 2 January, 2016 at

A friend complained today that I had only posted my end of year “best of” lists on Facebook, therefore excluding my wisest and sanest friends (who are not on Facebook) from the conversation. So here they are, without comment (except to say these were all “new to me” this year, not necessarily released or published in 2015).


1. “Didn’t He Ramble” (Glen Hansard)
2. “Carrie & Lowell” (Sufjan Stevens)
3. “Islands” (Bear’s Den)
4. “Something More Than Free” (Jason Isbell)
5. “Sleeping Operator” (The Barr Brothers)

I also enjoyed “Monterey” (The Milk Carton Kids), “Nashville Obsolete” (Dave Rawlings Machine) and “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World” (The Decemberists). Biggest disappointment after all the rave reviews – “Lost in The Dream” (The War on Drugs).


1. Inside Out
2. Birdman
3. Leviathan
4. My Neighbour Totoro
5. While We’re Young

Other movies I enjoyed this year: The Martian, Nightcrawler, Tomorrowland, Mockingjay 2, Foxcatcher, The Way Way Back, Back to the Future 2, and Cinderella (seriously). Worst movie I’ve seen this year: Serena. And no, I haven’t seen Star Wars yet.


1. Visions of Vocation (Steven Garber)
2. The Pursuit of God (A.W. Tozer)
3. The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember (Nicholas Carr)
4. Why Work? (Dorothy Sayers)
5. A People’s History of the USA (Howard Zinn)

I also enjoyed Slow Church (Smith & Pattison), Reading for Preaching (Plantinga), Praying the Psalms (Brueggeman) and Finding God in the Psalms (Wright).


1. The Big Rock Candy Mountain (Wallace Stegner)
2. Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner)
3. The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Richard Flanagan)
4. History of the Rain (Niall Williams)
5. The Chosen (Chaim Potok)

I also really enjoyed A Spool of Blue Thread (Anne Tyler), A History of Loneliness (John Boyne), Nora Webster (Colm Toibin), Chidhood’s End (Arthur C Clarke) and The Book of Lights (Chaim Potok). Most infuriating waste of time and paper: The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt).

I’d love to hear about your favourite discoveries and recommendations too…

Happy New Year!

2 Responses to “grace along the road less travelled”

  1. Ricky McAllister

    Hi JM, good to see you today. Some great and interesting highlights as always. Firstly…

    A year with an awful lot of films I liked, a lot of films that were awful but not a lot of films that I loved. Something of a mixed bag, 2015 promised more than it actually delivered but has maybe paved the way for a better 2016. Mainstream directors like Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg found their mojo again and up and coming directors like Denis Villeneuve and Bennett Milller continued their good run. Woody Allen made a enjoyably diverting, if forgettable film. Danny Boyle offered a novel take on Steve Jobs (although it was possibly an Aaron Sorkin film). George Miller showed the young turks how to made a big budget action movie well. Birdman offered something completely new but was easier to admire than love. And Paul Thomas Anderson had fun with Inherent Vice, somehow making sense of Pynchon’s labyrinthine source novel and hinted at a return to form (with possibly a new direction in his own particular brand of cinema).

    Anyway, here is my top 5 (in no particular order) with a few worthy mentions after the event…

    1. The Martian – The feel good film of the year. A funny, interesting, moving and thoroughly enjoyable romp through Matt Damon’s Mars marooning. A return to form by Ridley Scott and career best performance by Damon.
    2. Inside Out – Disney’s psychological animation was a joy. Stunningly beautiful, by turns funny and moving, marks yet another high point for those geniuses at Pixar.
    3. Marshland – True Detective without all the pseudo-intellectual psychobabble. A Spanish thriller set during the transition to Post-fascist Spain, it was a mesmerising murder investigation with a subtle political subtext.
    4. Whiplash – A compelling two-hander, with Miles Teller’s arrogant drummer crashing into J.K. Simmons psychotic music teacher. Director Chazelle directed it like his life depended on it, supported by Simmons astonishing performance.
    5. Mad Max: Fury Road. This is how you do an action movie Hollywood. It is also what happens when you put a truly unbridled imagination on screen, with that imagination out together by people who know what they are doing. This was a hypnotic and big raging beast of a film.

    I Wish, Force Majeure and Winter Sleep were hovering just outside the top 5. More serious films, they each say a lot and ask even more. Mistress America and The Skeleton Twins were charming and lovely independent comedy-dramas. Birdman was bonkers but in a pretty mesmerising way. Unlike anything else I have ever seen. Not sure it would stand up to a second viewing. Foxcatcher was another early highlight. A very unsettling journey into the lives of two characters: one full of self-loathing, the other deeply, deeply disturbed.

    My worst film of the year was Spectre. It started so well with a technically audacious tracking shot from building to building during the Day of the Dead. From that point, what unfolded was a great big steaming pile of poo. Diabolical scripting, leaden direction, bored actors wincing with every utterance of ludicrous nonsense. A plot that made no sense whatsoever. This was classic ‘Big’ Hollywood: made by executives with no quality control for an audience expected to buy into every minute of drivel chucked at the screen. I didn’t. It also reminded me why I think James Bond himself is a knob.

  2. Ricky McAllister

    Albums of the year

    1. Bear’s Den – islands. I discovered these guys earlier this year and immediately loved them. They are yet to write a song I don’t love. My album of the year.
    2. Laura Marling – Short Movie. Marling has always been an undeniably precocious songwriter but she can be a tough nut to crack. At once open and enigmatic, this has persuaded me to revisit her back catalogue.
    3. Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium. This band have long been my favourite. For me , personally, Will Sheff is the finest songwriter in the world. His narratives weave and tangle lives in poetry, jumping in and out and between musical genres. What I love most about their stuff is how the songs talk to each other. Songs and lines are revisited and revised in other songs, without ever appearing self-referential. This is their most accessible and most open record yet. While never quite reaching the peaks of The Stage Names or Black Sheep Boy, this is still beautiful and deep.
    4. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell. Sufjan where have you been? You have barely recorded a memorable song since Illinoise was unleashed on the world. You have dabbled in electronica and whatever else, but we have missed the banjo. Hopefully you are now back. For a long time.
    5. Jason Isbell – Something More than Free. Isbell’s last album Southeasten was arguably a masterpiece. Something…is not as strong as Southeastern and certainly not as surprising. But he is someone you could listen to singing the phone book, his voice is that good. And this album is full of little gracenotes among these stories of half-lives and disappointments.

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