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2018 'Ghost List' Revisits The TV, Books And Movies A Critic Wishes He Covered

Ben Whishaw voices the perpetually well-meaning bear in <em>Paddington 2.</em>
Warner Bros.
Ben Whishaw voices the perpetually well-meaning bear in Paddington 2.

It's often said that we regret the things we don't do more than the ones we do. Each December, I'm haunted by all the books, movies and shows that I've loved but haven't managed to get on the air. Wailing in my ear and rattling my shelves, these neglected spirits come together to demand their rightful places on what I call my annual Ghost List.

Paddington 2 (available on DVD, HBO, and streaming on multiple platforms)

In his new London-based adventure, the polite, infinitely trusting Peruvian bear runs afoul of a scheming ham actor — played with hilarious Oscar-worthy glee by Hugh Grant — who frames him for a crime. Directed and co-written by Paul King, the movie is a gift basket of inventive scenes, glorious production design and immaculately timed jokes. It's all in the service of something touchingly rare in today's movies: a celebration of unfailing decency, kindness, and faith.

Heads of the Colored People, by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (Atria Publishing)

This witty and perceptive collection of stories offers a keen look at upper-middle-class African-Americans who live and work in predominantly white spaces. Thompson-Spires' writing can be laugh-out-loud funny but, as in the brilliant title story, her work carries a kick of sadness that comes from her awareness that writing truthfully about African-American life means that you can't escape writing about lives cut down in their prime.

Succession (HBO)

In this pop version of King Lear, a Rupert Murdoch-style media baron named Logan Roy battles with his four grown children for control of the family's media empire. It has everything you'd want in a high-class potboiler: scheming, back-biting, Oedipal rage, illicit sex, poisonous put-downs, startling betrayals, superb acting and a plot that keeps building to a brilliant, slyly sinister season one finale.

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, by Craig Brown (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

The most enjoyable biography I've ever read, Brown's book eschews the dull stuff to examine Margaret's literally entitled life from 99 different angles, from her marriage to a husband who gaslighted her, to her hobnobbing with the likes of Peter Sellers and Mick Jagger, to her legendarily breathtaking awfulness — she once flicked her cigarette ash into a passing man's open hand. Every single page of this book contains something interesting — like, who knew that our familiar horoscope, with its 12 signs, had its origin in Margaret's birth?

Happy as Lazzaro (Netflix)

A heady blend of folk tale and politicized realism, this beautiful new film from Italian director Alice Rohrwacher takes its title from its hero, a saintly young fellow who is lured into helping a young marquis fake his own kidnapping. From there, Lazzaro's story takes off in a wholly unexpected direction, one that makes you ask whether today's urban poor are any better off than feudal peasants — and also taps into a mythic wellspring of stories more ancient than Italy itself.

Ingmar Bergman's Cinema (The Criterion Collection)

Over the last 40 years, it's become cliche to declare Bergman wildly overrated, but the pendulum should swing in the other direction with the arrival of this fabulous new boxed set, a collector's must-have that brings together nearly 40 of his films on Blu-ray. Watching them, you see a driven artist who made great, magnificently acted films in vastly different styles — from the bleak realism of Summer with Monika to the Shakespearean comedy of Smiles of a Summer Night to the avant-garde splintering of Persona to the searing psycho-drama of Scenes from a Marriage. Intimacy was his theme — no modern filmmaker spent more time exploring the endlessly complicated relationship between men and women.

Copyright 2023 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

John Powers
John Powers is the pop culture and critic-at-large on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. He previously served for six years as the film critic.