- Hannah Soebbing
8 Podcasts for Movie People
It seems that people are often quick to locate themselves firmly on one or the other end of the following spectrum: “podcast person” or “definitely not a podcast person.” But, if you are a movie person (and I imagine you are, if you’re reading this), I promise the medium has much to offer. Podcasts about movies are a huge genre within podcasting, with its own ecosystem and sub-genres. For instance, if you want to find a show featuring a group of comedians talking about bad movies, you can have your pick. (My allegiances are with sub-genre stalwart The Flophouse, discussed below, but others will go to bat for We Hate Movies or How Did This Get Made?)
To help you sort through it all, here are 8 excellent podcasts for movie people.
Filmspotting has been around since the beginning of time—or at least since the beginning of podcast time (roughly 2005). The show is currently hosted by Chicago film critics Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larson. As with many podcasts, weekly episodes follow a segmented format: a movie review; readings of listener comments; “Massacre Theater,” in which the hosts “massacre” a scene from cinema history; and a “top 5” list based on a theme (e.g., “Top 5 Baffling Oscar Picks,” “Top 5 Philip Seymour Hoffman Scenes”). Besides having been relatively early to the podcasting game, one of many reasons for the show’s success is its incorporation of comments from “Filmspotting nation” and encouragement of listener participation. Lots of shows do this to some extent, but I think the thing that keeps me coming back to Filmspotting is the way it works to put professional critics and a range of fan voices into a kind of big group conversation. Listening to the show feels like checking in with (a version of) a broader film culture.
Where to start: Somewhat improbably, Filmspotting gets especially good around the NCAA college basketball championships, when the listenership votes online to determine the outcome of a “March Movie Madness” bracket. This year’s Madness starts at episode #624, which also includes a review of Get Out (2017).
7. Story and Star Wars
In the mood for some talk about narrative structure? Need a Star Wars fix while you wait for the release of The Last Jedi? Ready for a podcast that just might make you reevaluate Episodes I-III? If you answered “yes” to any of the above, I offer you Story and Star Wars, in which Alastair Stephens of the (now semi-defunct) website StoryWonk discusses each of the live action films in the franchise up to and including Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). Stephens does so in the mode of close textual analysis—meaning that while he acknowledges and, where appropriate, addresses the wealth of fan theories and culturally entrenched interpretations that have circulated around the franchise, his project is not to rehash these but to return us to the texts, to analyze how the films works internally on the level of narrative structure, and to invite us to appreciate that even the films’ not infrequent inconsistencies can occasion valuable insights about storytelling in Star Wars and in general.
Where to start: This is a limited-run podcast series, so you’ll want to start at the beginning with “Story and Star Wars: An introduction.”
6. Black Men Can’t Jump [In Hollywood]
Like many movie review + comedy podcasts, Black Men Can’t Jump [In Hollywood] works in a “living room conversation” mode. The riffs that hosts Jonathan Braylock, James III, and Jerah Milligan bounce off one another will make you want to spend time in that living room. Each episode features a review of a mainstream movie starring one or more leading actor of color, and a rating according to what the film does for “the Cause”—which refers, in this case, to the cause of getting Hollywood to cast more actors of color in more leading roles. Braylock, James III, and Milligan are all working actors of color, and so bring a level of experience and empathy for the creative process into their analyses. This show should be in your feed if you’re interested in issues of race and representation in Hollywood (and so should this show, and #2 on this list); it’s also at times contagiously funny, and maybe the only place in podcasting where you’ll find discussions of such films as Half Baked (1998), Fences (2016), and The Fate of the Furious (2017) under one roof.
Where to start: The episode on Soul Plane (2004) has Black Men Can’t Jump [In Hollywood] in true form. The hosts’ discussion of whether various jokes are even really jokes is at once good critique and better comedy than anything in the actual movie.
5. You Must Remember This
Deservedly, You Must Remember This has made an appearance on most “best movie podcasts” lists since its creator, Karina Longworth, started podcasting in 2014. In Longworth’s words, uttered like a mantra at the top of every episode, the show explores “the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.” This timeframe gives her latitude to cover stories and figures ranging from Theda Bara, the silent film sex symbol whose manufactured persona was seminal to what would become the Hollywood star system, to the multi-decade blacklist period beginning in the 1930s (one of the show’s extended series, “The Blacklist” spans episodes #71-86), and into relatively contemporary history, with episodes #12 and #13, for instance, centering on Madonna. You Must Remember This is ridiculously well-researched. It’s also one of the more “produced” podcasts on this list, with pre-written scripts, finely edited audio clips, and either Longworth or a professional actor impersonating given historical figures (often humorously) when the show calls for direct citation. This is top-shelf podcast material for film and history buffs alike.
Where to start: The extended topic series like “The Black List” and “Charles Manson’s Hollywood” are fantastic, but I’d also suggest poking around in the back catalogue, which is heavier with one-offs like “Episode 2: Frank Sinatra in Outer Space.” Does that title not just sell itself?
4. I Was There Too
Created by Matt Gourley, an actor and comedian with a technical background in film and theater production, the interview podcast I Was There Too highlights people you probably haven’t heard of who acted in or were otherwise involved with films you probably have heard of. Gourley is a generous and deft interviewer, and his conversations with guests are as likely to elicit obscure stories from otherwise storied sets as they are to generate insights about the film industry, the trajectory of a career, or what it’s like to be a working actor. I Was There Too is a show I might have especially appreciated if my younger self’s desire to work in the film industry had ever gotten remotely off the ground; as someone who now studies film but lacks any serious understanding of what goes on behind/in front of the camera, I’m perhaps even more glad that the show has made its way into my rotation.
Where to start: If the words “Star Wars Holiday Special” mean anything to you, start with Gourley and cameraman Larry Heider’s conversation in episode #52. Also, episode #51 features a great live-audience interview with Marc Maron, who talks about his bit role in Almost Famous (2000) and, of course, cats. Older episodes are now behind a paywall, so get these while they’re free!
3. The Faculty of Horror
Since 2012, self-described “horror journalists and occasional academics” Andrea Subissati and Alexandra West have been channeling their love of horror films into, among other projects, monthly installments of The Faculty of Horror. Episodes typically explore a set of related films and their connections to culture, history, and larger themes and trends within the horror genre. As Subissati and West have continued to develop the show, it has taken on an explicitly feminist framework, which is vital and refreshing given that the movie podcast ecosystem is, by and large, dominated by dudes. For the casual horror fan (like me), the show is like a cheat sheet to a significant cinematic genre; for “students of film,” especially those interested in horror and/or issues of gender and sexuality, Faculty of Horror ought to be, in the show’s own academically-intoned parlance, “required reading.”
Where to start: “Episode 42. French Kiss: Calvaire (2004) and Martyrs (2008)” visits the genre of New French Extremity, on which West recently published a book. It’s a great episode because, well, it has an authority on a subject speaking on that subject. It also has Subissati and West doing one of the things they do best: offering critical but personal accounts of how particular films affected them, and how they might affect you, too.
In Represent, Slate writer and ever-congenial interviewer Aisha Harris talks with people – actors, filmmakers, activists, fellow journalists – with interesting things to say about issues of identity and representation in media. The show is great for its timeliness and the flexibility of its format. Episodes often cover current events in the media-sphere, as when Harris interviewed Larry Wilmore about Comedy Central’s cancellation of his Nightly Show (2015-16) literally the day after it happened, but they just as often look back, exploring histories of inclusion and marginalization in creative industries and beyond. Represent has been increasingly hitting its stride since it debuted mid-2016, as with the newish “Pre-Woke Watching” segment (a kind of show-and-tell in which guests bring in a show/film they used to and/or still love in order to discuss its problematic cultural depictions) and the poignantly funny development whereby so many of Harris’ interviewees discussed Moonlight (2016) in response to her regular “tell me about the last time you felt represented” question that she’s had to impose a moratorium on guests using that film in their answers.
Where to start: In a particularly memorable interview, Harris talks with Crash (2005) with director Paul Haggis, who seems incapable of acknowledging any of the critiques that have circulated around the film since its now-controversial Best Picture win at the 2006 Oscars.
1. The Flophouse
How you feel about The Flophouse will hinge on whether you want to listen to hosts Dan McCoy, Elliott Kalan, and Stuart Wellington go off on cultural reference- and inside joke-packed tangents while ostensibly discussing a bad movie. (Think: epic missteps from the annals of genre filmmaking, miscellany like Bratz: The Movie , plus lots of loving affection for the oeuvre of Nicolas Cage.) McCoy, a writer for The Daily Show (1996- ), Kalan, former Daily Show head writer and one of the people behind the recent Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988- ) revival, and Wellington, comedian and Brooklyn-area bar owner, are all deeply knowledgeable about cinema. So if you’re a “student of film,” you can reasonably justify listening to their tangents as “homework.” But listen at your own peril; Flophouse inside jokes have a way of worming their way into the core of one’s being. I lament when, in months like October or December, non-listeners fail to understand that the world is alight with Shocktober/(Nicolas) Cagemas cheer.
Note: Ranking things is weird! The Flophouse gets the #1 slot on this list because it changed my sense of holidays and therefore time.
Where to start: “Episode 161: A Talking Cat!?!” Yes, there exists such a film as A Talking Cat!?! (2013). Yes, “the floppers” discussed it in honor of “Smallvember,” the month dedicated to small-budget films that for some reason occurs not in November, but September.
If you’re interested in reading more criticism about audio film criticism, Dom Sinacola apparently spent much of the year 2016 writing about movie podcasts for Paste Magazine in a column entitled “An Ear for Film.” Check it out; Sinacola’s recommendations tipped me off to several of the shows on this list (and many more good ones) and his observations on what it is like to be an avid podcast listener have further awakened me to my love of the medium almost as much as writing this post has.