This week’s question comes from reader Andy Guise:
A certain sports-radio show I listen to sometimes has what they term a “mock draft.” I’m sure there are plenty of these out there, but the one I found intriguing went something like this: Which quarterback would you choose to have on your team fully knowing that he will play the position, for better and/or worse, for the next six seasons? Which suggested an AVC variant to me: Which filmmaker (or band/musician/writer/etc.) would you most commit to repeatedly watching the next four films (or albums, etc.) no matter what? You have to consume these films/albums/etc. first, in optimum conditions, and numerous times; the trade-off is that you risk an artist retirement, a band breakup, a glacial output period, or—worst of all—disappointment. So who do you wanna put your money on?
The name that jumps immediately to mind for this little fantasy draft is someone whose art has literally never let me down: The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle. I don’t love every single Mountain Goats release—sorry, Goths, I’m sure we’ll get together at some point—but they always feel like a whole-hearted expression of some clear, sincerely beloved musical idea. (It doesn’t hurt that Darnielle pushes out music like a madman, meaning I won’t be spoiled for choice.) The more important issue, though, is one of temperament. In interviews, on social media, and especially in concert, Darnielle give every impression of being one of those lucky souls who knows that he’s doing exactly what he wants to with his life. That constant contentment seems like the perfect antidote for any kind of burn-out, creative slump, or breakdown that might get in the way of the consistency my hypothetical commitment demands.
On the exact opposite end of the temperament spectrum, I will take what may be outside odds right now and bet on a good, long, continued career from Kanye West. I’ll admit: the past year has not gone well for him, particularly a tour-canceling flameout that included a brief dalliance with Trump support. But he’s one of our generation’s transformative talents, responsible for shepherding mainstream rap (alongside Jay-Z) out of its fallow early 2000s period with The Blueprint and College Dropout; for spearheading (alongside Lil’ Wayne) a new brand of pop-rap eccentricity on Late Registration and Graduation; for reinventing (alongside Drake) modern R&B with 808s & Heartbreak; for fusing hip-hop with ’70s classic rock excess on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; and for popularizing its experimental fringe on Yeezus. True, last year’s Life Of Pablo heralded no greater sea change in pop culture, but it was weird and scrappy and a hell of a lot of fun. It could well be a long time before West regroups from whatever he’s going through for another statement of purpose, but he’s too doggedly focused on his craft—and too wild of a talent—to be anything less than fascinating. If we’re placing bets here, I think he’s got another classic or two in him still.
I’ll see whatever Sofia Coppola puts out ad infinitum. She’s one of the most underrated directors working today, and even her less celebrated works like The Bling Ring are interested in telling the female-centered stories that get mostly ignored in male-dominated Hollywood. I love that she seems to only make movies whose stories she’s genuinely invested in telling, and her latest The Beguiled shows she can make hay out of crafting a remake with her own specific vision. She takes her time with her projects, meaning I might be waiting 10 years to see her next film. But she can take as long as she wants if that means she continues her winning streak of sumptuously shot, meditatively directed films.
In a field as margin-thin and competitive as independent game development, I hope I can look forward to at least four more titles from Supergiant Games, the makers of Bastion, Transistor, and most recently Pyre. While none of those titles are my all-time favorites, Supergiant reliably makes clever, accessible adventures spilling over with charm and personality. But mostly I’ll continue to follow Supergiant’s work because of Jen Zee, the company’s creative director. Zee is a phenomenal illustrator and Supergiant’s developers’ dedication to using hand-drawn assets for all of their games allows them to cultivate a distinct house style—an uncommon quality in a game developer. Whether it’s Bastion’s storybook oil-painting quality, Transistor’s computer chip Art Deco, or Pyre’s Ralph Bakshi cartoon presentation, Zee’s playfulness and deft use of color thread through every game Supergiant makes. Each title only ratchets my curiosity for what direction Supergiant will explore next.
It occurred to me after 2016’s I Had A Dream That You Were Mine that the best years of Hamilton Leithauser’s career may still be ahead of him. Leithauser has always felt prematurely aged; the songs he sang in The Walkmen felt wistfully nostalgic for another, much older man’s memories, and his voice had a naturally lived-in, melancholy rasp that matched all those moviehouse organ tones and gently tinkling barroom pianos. Meanwhile, Leithauser’s personal musical heroes tend toward stalwart, 20th-century songbook types like Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Cole Porter, and Leonard Cohen; it’s no wonder his debut solo album, Black Hours, came off like a ’50s lounge act who was forever resigned to playing in Sinatra’s shadow. So as this pretend codger (who’s only three months older than me) continues closing the gap between his age and his sensibilities, I expect Leithauser to only get better and better, finally settling comfortably into the role he’s been playing almost since the beginning. And I look forward to buying his September Of My Years when we’re both old enough to feel it.
I’m convinced that Tina Fey and I share, if not the same brain, then for sure the same funny bone. I find almost everything she does hilarious, from her days at the SNL Weekend Update desk, to her book Bossypants, to of course spending many seasons with her Liz Lemon on 30 Rock. But even I was surprised to find that I may love Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt most of all; whatever network suits were holding Fey and co. back at 30 Rock, Kimmy finds the creators delightfully unleashed, so the absurd one-liners come so fast and furious that I can hardly keep up (leading to multiple rewatches). You can even see Fey’s comic influence on people who used to work with her, like Tracey Wigfield’s departure to The Mindy Project and now Great News, shows that share Fey’s jokes-at-a-million-miles-an-hour sensibility. Yes, I know her recent “sheetcaking” bit was kind of a misfire, but nobody’s going to bat a thousand. Now, how about a Mean Girls sequel?
This is a very obvious and A.V. Clubby answer, but putting money on Wes Anderson feels like a safe bet. I’ve been on board since Rushmore, and he has yet to make a film I truly dislike. I mean, some of them I haven’t revisited (The Darjeeling Limited, for instance), but they’ve never sunk below “enjoyable” status for me. I had my doubts when he ventured into stop-motion animation for Fantastic Mr. Fox, yet it ended up being one of my favorite films of 2009 and one of my favorites of his altogether. I’m psyched that he’s returning to the format for the upcoming Isle Of Dogs, and I’m down for wherever he plans to go with his next four films, and beyond.
There are a lot of game developers that I’d stake my reputation on, but the more I pondered this one, the more I kept coming back to a rather underrated company whose members have been doing fantastic, distinct work in the overcrowded first-person-shooter space for more than a decade now: Machine Games. This is the development house that managed to infuse nuance and pathos into a braindead (in a fun way) WW2 shlockfest with Wolfenstein: The New Order. Before that, many of its senior members worked at Starbreeze, crafting two of the ’00s’ best, most unique shooters, The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay and The Darkness. The creators that left Starbreeze and founded Machine brought with them all the physicality, cinematic flair, and attention to character that made those games great, and I’d wager their next one, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, will be yet another success.
When I started looking at some filmmakers I would want to bet on, I took a close look at the overall oeuvre, and realized my answer was simple: David Cronenberg. Of the 17 films of his that I’ve seen, there’s only one I didn’t care for (2014’s Maps To The Stars). That’s a hell of a track record, and unlike the other great director David (Lynch), he hasn’t uttered a peep about slowing down in his senior years. In fact, his past decade has produced some of his greatest work (Eastern Promises), and shows no indication the auteur is in anything less than full mastery of his skills. Now if only it was a little easier for him to get some damn funding... are you listening, Annapurna Pictures?