Look, it’s been a bleak couple of years. The world is crumbling and every day we wake up to a new horror that makes us wonder if the bar can be set any lower. Can you blame us for wanting to find a sliver of solace in pop culture? Reality is hard, let us enjoy the security of cheerful movies, TV shows and music for a bit. The planet can sink into the abyss when we’re done.
As someone with limited time on their hands and screaming obligations in every aspect of their life, I sometimes feel a bit lazy for constantly returning to the same basket of favourites when I need a pick me up. Surely that time would be better spent trying out new things? Then again, if I’m feeling down, I want to deal with that emotion as efficiently as possible, be it through languishing in the melancholy for a couple of hours or finding the right song or movie I know will cure what ails me in record time. Make sure to share your own pop culture pick-me-ups in the comments because fuck knows we could all use them right now.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec
Imagine if Indiana Jones was a French woman in the Edwardian age and she fought dinosaurs and mummies instead of Nazis. Luc Besson knows how to indulge in some unabashedly entertaining film-making, and his adaptation of the beloved French comics is another excuse for him to give the world a vibrant action-adventure romp with plenty of genre hijinks and just a hint of full frontal nudity (well, he is French). I’ve always been kind of surprised that this film didn’t catch on more with international audiences in a post-release Tumblr fandom kind of way because Adèle is exactly the kind of heroine I craved growing up: No nonsense, intelligent, generally sick of men, and determined to sort out all this chaos herself because it’s clear that nobody else will do it right. There’s a delightful old school element to The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, which captures the echoes of those dog-eared pulp novels and comics that inspired generations of action heroes, but in those examples, they seldom let women lead the way, and here, Adèle is the definitive authority. Give it a go so I won’t be the only person I know who’s seen it multiple times.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Look, you knew this was coming. If I have a brand, it’s being ceaselessly enthusiastic about Guy Ritchie’s wildly underrated remake of the classic 1960s TV series, and dammit I’m going to keep talking about it until I am physically removed from the premises. Besides, who wouldn’t instantly be cheered up by a movie this fun? How could you not be delighted by the retro pleasures of good looking people taking on good looking villains in the most aesthetically pleasing version of the 1960s that’s ever existed? In moments of true darkness, what else could remind you of the joys and hopefulness of our society than a film where Henry Cavill is really bloody good? Happiness is the secure knowledge that a happy ending is guaranteed, that good will defeat evil and look handsome as all hell doing it, and Guy Ritchie has managed to wield that to some damn fine hours of movie-making (I didn’t even think his King Arthur movie was all that bad, yeah I said it, come at me). I would also lump Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows into this bloc (more Jared Harris!), but truly, it’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that does the job best when I need it the most.
The first three songs on Let’s Dance
There are better David Bowie albums, ones that are more artistically challenging and show the musician at his best, and Let’s Dance probably wouldn’t even make my top 5 if I were to rank my favourite works by him. This year, I set myself a challenge to listen to every album he ever made - yes, including the Tin Machine stuff - and it opened me up to the sheer breadth of ideas and experimentation he had that defined him as truly one of the greats. And yet the work of his I listen to the most is Let’s Dance, specifically those opening three songs: “Modern Love,” “China Girl,” and the title track. Sure, it’s the beginning of Bowie’s unfortunate sell-out era of the ’80s, which got a whole lot worse after this album (except for the flawless Labyrinth soundtrack, it was a forgettable era for his work), and sure it’s really only half a great album and half filler, with easily the worst version of the theme from Cat People on it, but that trio of songs is like audio dopamine. Three blissfully perfect pop-rock songs that send the body swaying and the arms into spontaneous sessions of air-drumming that make any moment immediately happier. Bowie’s been better but he’s never been happier.
As a certified lover of romance novels, I find myself constantly disappointed that cinema of the past couple of decades has stopped making shamelessly melodramatic love stories that elicit the thrill of a good paperback. There are rom-coms that get the job done and the rare romantic drama that doesn’t end in wince-inducing tragedy, but whenever I need two hours of visual pleasure that gives me the rush of the genre at its peak, there’s nobody else I can turn to quite like Baz Luhrmann. Strictly Ballroom is a ridiculous film, but it’s one that takes itself just seriously enough. It makes you believe there’s nothing more important than ballroom dancing. Well, except for opening your eyes and realising your perfect partner is right there in front of you. Luhrmann went on to fine tune his everything-and-the-kitchen-sink style of visual chaos, a rainbow spectrum of lights and glitter, but it’s never been as perfectly applied as it is in Strictly Ballroom. Every time I watch that final dance, I find myself as swept away by the fervour as I was the first time I saw it, the sensations and thrills as fresh as ever. There is nothing in life that cannot be made instantly better by watching Strictly Ballroom, trust me.