For our last edition of 2021, The Good Oil has gathered recommendations from some of our readers and writers on what to read, watch, and listen to in the New Year.
There is something for everyone in this list of recommendations, which are sure to nourish your mind and spirit.
Recommended by Penny Edman
Watch: The Rose Maker
As a lover and grower of roses, I was drawn to the film by its name. Probably not what I expected and yet it is a film that I keep thinking about with pleasure. I love its sensitivities, the interplay and development of characters and the twist in the tale. The ending is almost obvious in a film about passion, looming financial ruin (drama) and unlikely help (delightful humour); the twist is more satisfying, more subtle, like the delicate perfume of an exquisite rose.
The Rose Maker, set in Provence, is a French film with subtitles. A cast of thousands of roses is offset by a handful of humans. Catherine Frot is the beleaguered traditional rose grower; Olivia Côte, her hapless secretary; Melan Omerta, Fatsah Bouyahmed, Marie Petiot, the non-gardening back-to-work help-with-other-talents; and Vincent Dedienne, the modern, commercial rose-growing ‘villain’. Each character is engaging, understated, and nuanced. Each actor is quality.
Don’t be put off by any sense of ‘been there, seen that’ familiarity with the storyline. After a slowish start, the film unfolds, somewhat like a rose bud unfurling, and its beauty – the film’s sincerity and insight – is revealed. Enjoy!
Read: anything by Michael McGirr. His latest book is Ideas to Save Your Life: Philosophy for wisdom, solace and pleasure (2021, Text Publishing)
Listen: Deep and Lasting Peace, album by Michael Joncas and Bill Chin, and in particular the title track, Deep and Lasting Peace, and Psallite Gloria (2018, GIA Publications Inc)
Recommended by Brian Doughan
Read: Home Stretch by Graham Norton
This novel is uplifting, a tale of emigration and belonging and acceptance. It is 1987 and a small Irish community is preparing for a wedding. The day before the ceremony, a group of young friends, including the bride and groom, are involved in an accident. Three survive. Three are killed.
Connor survives but he discovers that living among the angry and the mourning is as hard as carrying the shame and guilt of having been the driver. He leaves the only place he has known, taking his secrets with him. He travels to Liverpool, then to London, then to New York, where he finds shelter and the possibility of forging a new life.
But the secrets and the unspoken regrets that have come to haunt all of those left behind will not be silenced. Before long, Connor will have to confront his past. He does so. The truth will set you free (John 8:32)
Watch: La Vita è Bella: Life is Beautiful
I have seen this movie at least 10 times. I never tire of it as, no matter what happens around us, life is, indeed, beautiful.
Listen: Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds (1965)
How could you not love this song, with its message of peace to the backdrop of Roger McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker guitar? I always listen to this after funerals, it calms me, it soothes me.
Recommended by Luciana Romanski
Watch: Becoming by Michelle Obama (Netflix)
The documentary Becoming made me believe that revolutionary change is possible for anyone to accomplish. This film focuses on Michelle Obama, the former First Lady of the United States, and the inspiring journey that has guided her to becoming the role model she is today. It is a source of empowerment that will nourish one’s sense of purpose and motivate them to change the world.
Michelle walks viewers through her journey of growing up as a little girl on the south side of Chicago, the difficulties and rewarding aspects of being First Lady and the many advocations that she continues to hold for black equality, women’s rights, and public health. The documentary illustrates how Michelle has used her platform to fight for what she believes in, despite the many hardships that she additionally faces.
Her heartfelt words have left an inspiring legacy for future generations. “I hope my story urges you to see the power of your story and to own that” – Michelle Obama. Becoming is a must-watch for those who want to broaden their understanding of the true meaning of empowerment.
To watch the trailer, click here.
Read: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Listen: How to Be a Better Human podcast hosted by TED and PRX (Spotify)
Recommended by John Haren
Read: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
If Anna Karenina is not part of your reading history, this summer is the opportunity to treat yourself. I re-read this epic novel after decades, and discovered wonderful new insights. It is the stories within the overarching story of an illicit love affair that intrigue.
Written in the 1870s, its relevance to our current times is haunting. The engaging narrative ponders all the big questions of what it is to be human. Politics, religion, love, relationships, humour, mental health, deception, corruption, and entitlement, frame this powerful drama. The frailty and resilience of the human psyche are at the forefront of Tolstoy’s musings. Anna is a flawed human being, unsure of herself and people around her, but prepared to shock. Contrastingly, Levin is a character of immense proportions who institutes agrarian reform as well as forging new relationships with the peasant class. He struggles to make sense of God and what it is to have faith.
Anna Karenina endures the passage of time, challenging the reader intellectually and spiritually, while offering a fascinating insight into Russian culture. Take your time with it. Let it wash over you. The reward will be many fulfilling moments of thought-provoking reading.
Watch: A Separation | SBS On Demand
Listen: Podcast Bryan Stevenson: The Power of Mercy and Forgiveness (oprah.com)
Recommended by Catherine Slattery SGS
Read: Common People by Tony Birch (2017, University of Queensland Press)
During the many weeks of lockdown this past year, I have come to appreciate short stories as a deeply satisfying reading experience. I particularly enjoy the intimacy of being drawn into the world of another, almost from the opening sentence, accompanying them for just a little while and then left there … satisfied but wondering.
As its title suggests, Common People is a collection of stories about ordinary folk – a grieving brother, a young girl, a migrant worker, a homeless deaf man, a lonely outsider – all caught up in the everyday business of living and the struggle to survive. Peopled by skilfully drawn characters and set in impoverished regional communities and gritty urban havens, these are, nevertheless, stories of hope. They provide insights into human nature and demonstrate how the ordinary kindness of strangers can have extraordinary impact. Dr Tony Birch is a prize-winning Australian author of Aboriginal, Irish and West Indian descent. Growing up in inner-city Melbourne, his childhood was challenging and difficult. This has informed and shaped his writing and brought an authenticity that resonates through his work.
Watch: Something to Hide is a gripping four-part French family drama available on SBS on Demand
Listen: Byrne and Kelly, an Irish Celtic folk-rock duo. Find them on Spotify, Google Play and iTunes
Recommended by John Coyne
Watch: Nashville (Stan)
This series was created by Callie Khouri, of Thelma and Louise fame, and ran for six seasons, with 124 episodes, from 2012-2018.
Set in Nashville, US, it depicts the trials, tribulations, and successes of various country-music performers. Described by Wikipedia as a ‘musical soap opera’, it’s basically Days of our lives with music — the melodrama, sometimes laughably, stretches the ability to suspend one’s disbelief.
However, I liked it. I’m a country music fan – the rhyme and rhythm of the lyrics appeals to my inner ‘bush poet’. The litany of problems encountered by the characters allowed me to, surreptitiously, reflect on my own life and problem-solving techniques. The show is great and has a wonderful finale.
Listen: Soul Search with Dr Meredith Lake, ABC Radio National, noon Thursday or podcast:
Read: Love is strong as death. Paul Kelly, 2019. Poetry anthology
Recommended by Pat O’Gorman
Watch: Maid (Netflix) based on Stephanie Land’s memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive
This tough tale of domestic and emotional abuse, generational trauma, and being caught in the infuriating catch-22s of government systems built to fail, is not an easy watch. Its rawness and the harrowing events it depicts are challenging, but its viewing is important because it is unflinching in bringing a story shared by many, often invisible, women to the screen.
Alex is alone, fending for herself and her daughter Maddy. Having fled her emotionally abusive partner Sean she navigates a precarious journey of survival trying to keep a roof over her head, access childcare and manage custody problems without proper income or family support. Dealing with her mother Paula’s undiagnosed bipolar disorder and a contentious relationship with her absent father Hank add another layer to the complexity. Trapped in the lower echelons of the economy, Alex seeks help from social services but is caught in a system of bureaucracy that compounds efforts to be liberated from the vicious cycles of despair and poverty.
We are emotionally captivated by Alex’s deep resourcefulness, her persistence and resilient spirit as she struggles to piece life back together. Amid the lows there are moments of great levity, tenderness and bravado.
The powerful, spirited, and insightful story of Maid asks us to consider who’s worthy of our presumed charity? Who are the haves and have-nots within our sphere of influence? Ultimately, Alex triumphs and along the way we learn that compassion can be found even in the prickliest of hearts, that humanity can be found even in the bleakest of days, that the endurance of the human spirit prevails.
Listen: Christmas Train by Paul Kelly (2021). This album is a deep dive into all parts of Christmas, from traditional hymns to modern favourites.
Read: Doing Theology in an Evolutionary Way by Diarmuid O’Murchu MSC (2021)
Recommended by Mathew De Sousa
Watch: The Chosen series by Angel Studios.
One of this year’s much-watch shows is this multi-season TV series about Jesus Christ.
The brainchild of evangelical filmmaker Dallas Jenkins, this crowd-funded historical drama takes inspiration from the Gospels as it looks at the life of Christ.
Here are three reasons why you and your family should watch and take The Chosen as one of your sources of entertainment and spiritual growth.
Production is priority: Moving between dramatic close-ups and breathtaking panoramas, The Chosen establishes an emotional connection, through its raw and realistic visuals, that keeps the audience invested unlike any previous Bible shows and movies.
Power in performances: Each performance is delivered with heart and authenticity as the show’s focus shifts from what the character is saying to what they are experiencing and how if affects their relationship with Jesus.
Story not sermon: Leaning on strong story-telling and personal profiles, The Chosen focuses on powerful themes drawn from Scripture and prevalent in society, while using the emotional experiences of the characters to unpack them in a way that’s deep, honest and spiritually fulfilling.
The Chosen is now streaming on The Chosen app.
Listen: Bible in a Year podcast with Father Mike Schmitz
Read: Waiting for Christ by St John Henry Newman
Recommended by Mandy Hayward
Listen: Podcast by Australian Women Preach
My commute to work is a 40-minute drive, and provides a great opportunity to listen to an audiobook or podcast. This year, Women and the Australian Church (WATAC) launched a weekly podcast providing an open door for women to preach and share the good news. Drawing on the wealth of experienced and educated women in Australia the initiative showcases Christian women from all walks of life. It is refreshing to hear professional women break open a different reading each week, drawing on their own interpretations.
Professionally produced and available on all main channels it is becoming the go-to for those eager to hear from a female perspective an inspiring and opening of the heart to the Gospel. I certainly stepped out of my car resonating with the message.
Watch: In Human Flow artist, activist and director Ai Weiwei captures the global refugee crisis, the greatest human displacement since World War II.
Recommended by Robert Alvarez
Watch: Alonely by Anika Alvarez
Technology developed a well-spring of creativity in young minds. Imageries uniquely of their age were of concern in the past. My generation (born during WWII) could never have imagined having in our hands, products that would enable doing creative things with ease. In our youth, having a camera was a blessing. Today, cameras and videos are already in smartphones, which almost everyone possesses. What a difference it makes!
Anika Alvarez, then 17, a Year 12 student at Magdalene Catholic School, Camden, produced a short film for a school project entitled Alonely. It’s a poignant film that deals with depression and anxiety brought about by loneliness and feeling alone which affect mental health, a scourge of generations.
Her vivid portrayal of the feeling touches the senses. The realisation that such things happen is a wake-up call for all. Its simplicity makes it a must-see film, especially by busy parents and everyone concerned. It has a positive ending with the message that one is never alone. Memories, photographs, loved ones and friends to link with are artistically depicted.
If this issue has raised any concerns for you, help is available by calling Lifeline tel 13 11 14.
Listen: Christmas Carols by St Peter’s Choir on CD. To truly feel the festive season, one of the most important occasions celebrated by Christians, listen to 23 beautiful melodies about Christ and Christmas.
Read: Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. To those who don’t believe that the devil exists, this is a must-read play. And to those who do, think 10 times before asking Mephistopheles to hand you fortune and fame in exchange for your soul.