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The Year In Review: Entertainment

Los Angeles Times arts and entertainment writers and critics look back at a 2017 where gender and race upended the industry.

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Essential records of 2017 from Los Angeles artists.
Essential records of 2017 from Los Angeles artists. (Courtesy of respective labels)

Like wealth disparity in America, the divide between L.A.-based musical megastars and the other 99% of musicians reveals the extent to which big business controls the narrative.

While the headliners get prominent pushes on streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, a whole subset of artists release music into a sonic black hole. Absent placement on key playlists or a major media push, the music lies in wait on faraway servers.

Which is to say, is there too much recorded music in the world? Yes. Is most of it forgettable? Certainly. Below are 30 albums, alphabetically arranged, by Los Angeles-area artists issued this year that deserve your investment. (Note: Kendrick Lamar’s “Damn.” is excluded from this list to make room for a lesser-known artist.)

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President Trump in the Grand Foyer of the White House on Dec. 13.
President Trump in the Grand Foyer of the White House on Dec. 13. (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

The world, you may have noticed, is in a jumble. Facts are in dispute, even when they have been demonstrated; lies are repeated as truths, even when they have been discredited. It's reality as reality TV, in this Year of Our Fake News 2017, where nothing is real but anything can be "real."

When nothing can be trusted, anything might be true; and when anything might be true, nothing can be trusted. 

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Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in "The Shape of Water."
Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in "The Shape of Water." (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

The year grinding to a close was a paradoxical one for cinema. There was no lack of excellent films in all genres and from all corners of the world, with one notable exception: Hollywood USA.

Yes, the major studios that make up the nominal film capital of the world spent a lot of money and turned out a lot of films, but, with the exceptions noted below, very few of them were fated to grace 10-best lists, mine or anyone else's.

I don't mean this because they had mass popularity on their mind. Hollywood's legacy as a creator of popular entertainment is one I take seriously, and some of my favorite moments in cinema have been spent watching hugely popular movies I loved as much as anyone.

Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, "Get Out" and Harvey Weinstein ignited news in 2017.
Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, "Get Out" and Harvey Weinstein ignited news in 2017. (Rosalind O'Connor/NBC | Universal Pictures | Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

It was a year we couldn’t have fathomed, a year of strife and weirdness, a time of wild tweets and endless scandal, when movies gave us reflection, Ken Burns jolted us back to Vietnam, and the entertainment industry was shaken by sexual abuse accusations that raised disturbing questions about what’s behind the art, film and music that shape American culture.

The calendar began with arguments in the media over the crowd size at President Trump’s inauguration. It will end, at least by Hollywood’s rubric, with “The Post,” Steven Spielberg’s rendering of the Washington Post’s decision in 1971 to publish the classified Pentagon Papers that exposed U.S. lies around the war in Southeast Asia. There’s symmetry to those bookends, especially these days with the media covering a combative and secretive White House.

The year spun like a prickly edged whisper through mind and soul. 

It feels like something has shifted. It’s too bad that it’s probably because so many of the women that were assaulted by Harvey Weinstein are famous and white and everybody knows them. This has been going on a long time to black women and other women of color, and it doesn’t get out quite the same.

Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee in "Twin Peaks: The Return."
Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee in "Twin Peaks: The Return." (Suzanne Tenner / Showtime)

From the twists and turns of 'Twin Peaks: The Return' to the laughs and tears in the family sitcoms 'One Day at a Time' and 'Young Sheldon' to Michel Gondry's Instagram, there was much to enjoy across platforms traditional and new in 2017.

Betty Gilpin, standing, and Alison Brie in a scene from the Netflix original series "Glow."
Betty Gilpin, standing, and Alison Brie in a scene from the Netflix original series "Glow." (Erica Parise / Netflix)
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Hila Plitmann sings during "War of the Worlds" at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Hila Plitmann sings during "War of the Worlds" at Walt Disney Concert Hall. (Craig T. Mathew / Los Angeles Philharmonic)

Now look what the Los Angeles Philharmonic has done.

It isn’t enough to be America’s most important orchestra, a progressive opera company, a leader in enlightened arts administration, a major festival maker, an unbelievably fertile factory for new music, an international trailblazer in community involvement and education. The incurably disruptive L.A. Phil has even gone and upended the year-end 10-best list.

Marines marching in Da Nang, Vietnam.
Marines marching in Da Nang, Vietnam. (PBS)

Here’s the bad news: We may look back at 2017 as a turning point in home entertainment …  and not necessarily a positive one. Next year, Disney is set to launch its own subscription service, with Pixar, Marvel, “Star Wars” and possibly 20th Century Fox among its assets.

More major media companies may follow suit, pulling their archives from cable and Netflix and keeping them locked behind their own separate paywalls. Next year at this time, we might all need dozens of accounts (with dozens of passwords and a pileup of fees) to get the same level of home video options we’re getting now.

The solution? Buy more Blu-rays and DVDs. Here are some of the year’s best:

John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson in Justin Chang's choice for best feature debut, "Columbus."
John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson in Justin Chang's choice for best feature debut, "Columbus." (Elisha Christian / Superlative Films / Depth of Field)

A lot of walls came crashing down in the American movie industry this year, mostly for the better, though often in ways that made us feel a whole lot worse. The film world, like the greater world that it reflects, has changed irrevocably in the three months since the first wave of sexual harassment accusations emerged against Harvey Weinstein, the beginning of a reckoning that continues to rage in every sphere of political and cultural influence.

The satisfaction of seeing justice being done was matched and ultimately eclipsed by the horror of realizing just how significant the damage was, and how long so many victims had been forced to suffer in silence. Those of us who write about the movies couldn’t help but consider the matter of our own silence — our tendency to brush over uncomfortable matters and look the other way, or to avoid the eternally challenging question of whether we can separate the quality of the art from the misdeeds of the artist.

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Homes between Solimar and Faria beaches north of Ventura as the Thomas fire burns near the 101 Freeway.
Homes between Solimar and Faria beaches north of Ventura as the Thomas fire burns near the 101 Freeway. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Thanks to the combination of climate change and several decades of American overconfidence about planning and land use, we’re on the doorstep of an era when dramatic disasters, floods and wildfires chief among them, threaten to become routine.

What do I mean by “overconfidence”? I mean that in nearly every corner of the country we have expanded our metropolitan regions into the path of, instead of away from, risk. Houston has for many decades seen nearly every flood plain as developable. Los Angeles has had the same attitude about many hillsides and canyons — even some that have burned again and again for centuries on end.

The Leonardo da Vinci painting that set a record with a sale price of $450 million.
The Leonardo da Vinci painting that set a record with a sale price of $450 million. (Tolga Akmen / AFP/Getty Images)

Art museums, which are not for profit, now coexist uneasily with a hyper-aggressive art market, where making bare-knuckle profit from luxury goods reigns supreme. For museums, the stress shows, and often it’s not pretty.

Good things, of course, continue to happen in museums — in L.A., most notably, the Getty-funded initiative to underwrite a slew of exhibitions of Latino and Latin American art, the emergence of the long-sleepy California African American Museum as a lively destination and the announcement that a museum will be built at UC Irvine specifically to trace the development of California art. Here, in chronological order of their openings, are the 10 best museum exhibitions I saw in Los Angeles this year:

Kerry James Marshall, "Untitled (Painter)," detail, 2009, oil on canvas Nathan Keay
Kerry James Marshall, "Untitled (Painter)," detail, 2009, oil on canvas Nathan Keay (Nathan Keay)