The Bardigan Awards


Written by Richard Bardon IV, no matter what the byline says.

Disclaimer: While many of these books didn’t come out in 2018, I tried to pay special attention and award books that are current either in release or prescience to 2018 in whatever means I see fit. Deal with it.

Literary Fiction (High-Brow): The Waterworks - E.L. Doctorow
Runner Up: None

I didn’t read a ton of novels this year, and the ones I did were mostly disappointing; however, Mr. Doctorow never ceases to amaze me with his eye for really smart and captivating historical fiction. This book has a great mystery along with a super creepy build up to the reveal. Doctorow remains among the most underrated of modern American novelists.

Airport Fiction (Low-Brow): The Hellfire Club - Jake Tapper
Runner Up: None

This is not the sort of book I normally read, as I’m not a big pulpy Mystery/Thriller reader, but the subject matter and characters here (McCarthy-Era DC) were too tempting not to pick up and I enjoyed this read immensely. I need to read more of this style of political thriller – this was too much fun.

Essay/Short Form: The Rub of Time - Martin Amis
Runner Up: The End of the End of the Earth - Jonathan Franzen

Amis remains the author I’ve read the most of and his essays/reviews are my favorite incarnation of his style. He is the best book reviewer I’ve ever read and this modern collection of his magazine/journal works are, like Amis, equal-parts hilarious, ruthless, and intelligent.

I haven’t read much of Franzen, but I really enjoyed this collection (I tend to start with a novelist’s non-fiction/essay work to decide if I like their style before diving into the long fiction). Surprisingly, I found some of the essays on birdwatching to be quite moving and I have a new respect for the hobby. I look forward to reading a lot more Franzen in the future.

Humor: Hits & Misses - Simon Rich
Runner Up: Conference Room, Five Minutes - Shea Serrano

As long as there is a Simon Rich book out in a given year, particularly comedic short stories, it will win this category. There is simply no one funnier on the page in the world. Every sentence of this perfect little book is laugh out loud genius.

I mean, I love Shea and I love The Office. This had to get mentioned here.

History: Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power - Steve Coll
Runner Up: Kissinger Volume 1: 1923-1968 - Niall Ferguson

Private Empire approaches this history with the thesis that Exxon is essentially a private state operating within the United States, meaning that the foreign policy, defense, and economic expertise of Exxon are not unlike an actual nation-state. Coll does an excellent job articulating this as well as detailing all the various eras and projects of ExxonMobil in the 20th and 21st centuries. I came out of this book with the realization that Rex Tillerson, the ex-CEO of ExxonMobil and – at the time of reading – current Secretary of State, was more than qualified for his government position. I may have had my disagreements with Tillerson politically; however, anyone (including me before reading this book) that thinks the ex-CEO of a company like Exxon isn’t qualified, shows a lack of understanding of how multinational organizations like ExxonMobil truly work.

There may not be any human in the 20th century involved in more prominent issues than Mr. Kissinger. For better or worse, the world will remember him and while Ferguson’s book is often more sympathetic than other work on Kissinger, it’s an incredibly accessed and researched biography that truly gives the reader a sense of the man, his intentions, and his impact on the world-at-large.

Classical/Philosophy: Meditations - Marcus Aurelius
Runner Up: None

I try to read something like this every year and the stoics like Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca are always the most calming and influential on my own particular outlook on life.

Journalistic Non-Fiction: Billion Dollar Whale - Bradley Hope & Tom Wright
Runner Up: None

One of the more outrageous, baffling, and fun reads of 2018. The Jho Low saga is incredible and the ensuing investigation will certainly be interesting.

Biography: Robert Kennedy: A Life - Evan Thomas
Runner Up: The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels - Jon Meacham

I read a few RFK bios this year for whatever reason, but Evan Thomas’ (who also wrote the masterful Being Nixon) book is incredibly well researched and written, especially regarding RFK’s early years.

Meacham’s biography (and ensuing eulogy) of George HW Bush has really placed him among some of the great historians of our time, and this book – which is a collection of smaller histories of America overcoming tough times – continues his hot streak.

Business: Bad Blood - John Carreyrou
Runner Up: Getting Naked - Patrick Lencioni

Bad Blood is a hot book this year for a reason: it’s a meticulously sourced and researched book about a business failing with a lot of big names involved (Kissinger! Shultz! Holmes!) happening in what seems like real-time. The book reminds me a lot of Smartest Guys in the Room in the sense of its immediacy and sense of context. A fantastic read.

Getting Naked is something I’d never read, it’s a business fable about consulting. My next door neighbor, a consultant, recommended it and I thought I’d branch out a bit (a theme this year). I really enjoyed this book and found a lot of the lessons in it useful in both my professional and personal life.

Finance: Black Edge - Sheelah Kolhatkar
Runner Up: The Billionaire’s Apprentice - Anita Raghavan

Black Edge was my favorite book this year. I’m not much of a finance nerd, but this book opened up a new world of histories on these hedge funds and the personalities therein. The investigation of SAC is captivating but as is the portrait of the lead protagonist/antagonist, Steve Cohen. If you’re remotely interested in finance/business in 2018, I highly recommend this fantastic detective story.

The Billionaire’s Apprentice is another hedge fund investigation, this time into Galleon/McKinsey with a great sub-narrative of the Indian-American elite in the US. Both of these books are A+ and I can’t wait to read more long-form from both of these incredible writers.

Political (Domestic): What it Takes - Richard Ben Cramer
Runner Up: The Red and the Blue - Steve Kornacki

I finally did it! It took about 2 months of my reading time, but I read What it Takes, the MASTERPIECE of electoral narratives. *Stefon voice* This book has EVERYTHING: Bush! Dole! Biden! Hart! and is written in the most sarcastic and knowing voice that was surely enormously influential. This would be a great audiobook – due to all the snarky asides – but it hasn’t been produced. If you have a taste for this stuff, this is the granddaddy of them all (enjoy all 1100 pages!).

Kornacki affords himself well with this compelling narrative about 1990s politics and his thesis seems to be spot on with its influence on modern politics. Come for the stories about Newt Gingrich, stay for the high-minded analysis.

Political (Foreign Policy): War on Peace - Ronan Farrow
Runner Up: Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China - Evan Osnos

Farrow is one of those people I’d really like to hate, but books like this make it hard. This is a VERY smart book about modern diplomacy from someone who has not only studied it, but also lived it. It’s a bit politically motivated (Farrow, admittedly, worked in the Obama Admin and certainly has his favorites therein), but Farrow also provides years of context to support the arguments he makes. The tribute to Richard Holbrooke is touching and informative.

Osnos on Asia is always a must read in the New Yorker, and this long-form version taught me a lot about modern China (though this was published in 2014). China was one of the subjects I vowed to learn more about this year and this was a fabulous macro and micro narrative that really aided that quest.

Economics: Capitalism Without Capital - Stian Westlake & Jonathan Haskel
Runner Up: The Third Revolution - Elizabeth Economy

Capitalism without Capital was recommended to me by my close, personal friend Bill Gates. This book does a great job of explaining and prescribing the modern economy. It’s a dry book, but its thesis is clean and well-supported. I really enjoyed this and it is, again, not something I’d normally pick up.

The Third Revolution (and yes, this is really the author’s name) is another – this time, more current – attempt to learn more about China. Economy is a fellow at the council of foreign relations and this book does an excellent job of explaining Xi Jinping thought, its influence on China and the world writ-large.

Science/Technology: World Without Mind - Franklin Foer
Runner Up: Enlightenment Now - Steven Pinker

World Without Mind was a hot book last year, and has only become more important with the investigations into large tech firms. While this book doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, writers that think like Foer does here continuously will lead – one hopes – to society living more at peace with the import tech has on all of our lives.

Steven Pinker is an excellent writer and psychology professor and this book certainly will cheer you up in tough times, while is optimism is well-supported statistically, it’s still hard for your brain to process.

Sports: Tiger Woods - Armen Keteyian & Jeff Benedict
Runner Up: Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times - Mark Leibovich

Tiger Woods isn’t the best book I read this year, but it’s certainly among the most fun. The book delivers a complete look at Tiger’s life (one we’ve never had until this point), a catalog of his glory (always fun), and – of course – all the gossip-y details you’d want from a book about Tiger Woods. I was in Valencia, Spain on the beach in May and ran into another American reading the book. We bonded for about 30 minutes discussing all the juicy tidbits there in and this will always have the most fun (and exotic) conversation about books I’ve had in my life.

Leibovich is one of my favorite political writers (This Town is a masterpiece of the genre) and watching him turn his eye to something like the NFL (as a proposed respite from politics; however, we all know how that turned out) is a true joy to read.

Food on Film

EDITOR’S NOTE: I love Thanksgiving. Food, family and friends, football… I love the holiday season in general but there’s less pressure and stress surrounding Thanksgiving than Christmas and to me, it’s a great jumping off point for the next few weeks. But, as we all know, the best part of Thanksgiving is the food. With that in mind, I asked our good friend and frequent contributor Megan Spell to put together a list of food-related movies to help get your holiday off to a perfect start. -Brian

As we approach the hungriest of holidays, I have put together a guide of movies to gorge yourself to.



Ratatouille has got to be one of the most underrated Pixar movies. It has everything you could want: gratuitous food scenes, Parisian backdrops, and of course, Pixar-level emotional pulls. Sometimes I think to myself “who on earth greenlit this plot, no one wants to see rodents in a kitchen.” But then I watch the scene where the rats go through the dishwasher and come out all fluffy, and I’m in again.


I am convinced a sandwich has never looked better than the ones heavily featured in Chef. Chef, for me, is comfort food. Not only are there countless mouthwatering meals being made, the movie is just a slow build of joy. I want to eat everything and go everywhere with this family as Jon Favreau’s adopted and completely grown-up daughter. I challenge you to be in a bad mood after Chef. Impossible.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

David Gelb is my favorite food documentarian, and this is his best work. It is thoughtful, intense, informative, and of course, the food is beautifully shot. Equally a study of humanity as well as the art of sushi, it is a delight to watch a master at work. If this is up your alley, there are a few seasons of “A Chefs Table” on Netflix you can continue with. 


The 100 Foot Journey

There is a scene early in “The 100 Foot Journey”, where the main character’s family van breaks down, and they are stranded in the French countryside. They are taken in by a young woman who offers them an appetizer board that I think about nearly weekly. This movie contrasts two different cuisines while showcasing some very clearly indulgent ingredients with a side of wanderlust as well.

The Trip

English comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s 3-part film series is extraordinary in their simplicity. In a near mockumentary style, the actors play fictionalized versions of themselves as they traipse across countries, staying and eating at five-star resorts. Come for the Michelin star meals and stay for the comedy.

Any Nancy Meyers Movie

Less of a food recommendation, more of a kitchen one. Nancy is the Queen of Culinary Interior Design, to the point where the main plot in It’s Complicated is a kitchen renovation. Personal favorites are The Parent Trap and Something’s Gotta Give. All I want in life is to be standing at an oversized granite island and offer someone “leftover coq au vin or pancakes”.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

From the opening credits, Willy Wonka delivers shot after shot of luxurious chocolate production, and only doubles down from there on Wonka’s fantastical creations. I watch this anytime it is on TV, but it also makes for excellent Thanksgiving evening viewing. You will most likely be full by the time you make it to this one, but there is always room for dessert.


Megan Spell is a friend of the show and frequent contributor. You can hear her film reviews on several Mad About Movies episodes, including The Post, Crazy Rich Asians, and Bad Times at the El Royale. Find more of Megan’s written work at and check out her podcast, On the Download.

Spider-Man Villains Ranked

Venom opens in theaters worldwide today and I, for one, am incredibly excited to see it. Just kidding, this movie features the worst trailer I have ever seen with my own two eyes and I’m questioning my existence as a movie podcaster, knowing that I’ll soon have to watch this movie. Even still, 2018 is a big year for the Spider-Man Cinematic Universe, what with Infinity War, Venom, and the December release of Into the Spider-Verse. Spidey is a big player in my house as my son fluctuates from day to day between wanting to be Spider-Man and wanting to be Black Panther. (I’d rather him be something like Engineer Man or Accountant Man or just “Isn’t Crippled by Student Debt Man” but so it goes.) He watches the various Spider-Man movies quite frequently and as such, I have become an expert on this disjointed series both willingly (Homecoming) and unwillingly (Spider-Man 3 which will very likely be the death of me). With Venom now upon us, let’s have a look at the nine villains that have propagated the Spidey Verse thus far.


10. The Rhino, The Amazing Spider-Man 2
9. Green Goblin, The Amazing Spider-Man 2
You may be saying, “How could the AM2 villains POSSIBLY be any worse than the various villains Spider-Man 3 brought to the table, you cretin?” And you might be right, honestly, except that I have seen Amazing 2 a half-dozen times (thanks, Cooper) and when I IMDB’d this movie to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything, I discovered that I had, in fact, completely and totally forgotten that BOTH OF THESE VILLAINS WERE EVEN IN THE MOVIE!!! In my book, it is worse to be completely and totally forgettable as a villain than it is to be outright bad. (My book is called, “Very Weird Takes About Movie Villains.” A NYT bestseller, to be sure.) I’m also docking points for Dane DeHaan playing Green Goblin instead of Hobgoblin as he should have been. You can’t just change which Osborn is which Goblin without me taking notice, Marc Webb.


8. Venom/The Alien Simbiote, Spider-Man 3
7. Sandman, Spider-Man 3
6. Hobgoblin, Spider-Man 3
Woof. One of the greatest disappointments in blockbuster movie history, there are a ton of reasons why SM3 failed miserably beyond just the villains (the jazz club scene alone probably could’ve sunk Citizen Kane). But the villains certainly didn’t help. For one thing, three villains is way too many villains (a lesson that Amazing Spider-Man 2 did NOT learn despite how hard my brain apparently tried to erase this fact); maybe you can do the Villain Ensemble thing but it’s always iffy and in this case, all three villains were supposed to be established as their own characters, not a cohesive, villainous whole. Beyond this overstuffing, however, the real issue is all three of these characters suck. Harry Osbourne/Hobgoblin perpetually streaks across the screen like the worst PS2 video game creation of all-time, Sandman is hamstrung by a pathetically pandering backstory (not to mention Thomas Hayden Church’s big bag of nothing), and the simbiote’s big move is to make Tobey Maguire play jazz piano poorly.  


5. Electro, The Amazing Spider-Man 2
To be frank, Electro lands here more by default than anything else. He’s an odd character, his backstory is odd, and Jamie Foxx’s portrayal is odder still. If I were given five minutes with Mr. Foxx, I’d like to tell you I’d appropriately ask him what he was going for here and dig into the genesis of character interpretation and stuff but really I’d just spend the entire five minutes ranting about how he showed up at the Mavs’ championship parade in 2011 then also at the Miami championship parade in 2012. “Did you really think you could get away with this, Jamie?! NOTHING GETS BY ME, JAMIE!!!” Dallas Mavericks digression aside, this is a very mediocre, forgettable villain in a very mediocre, forgettable move but at least the character looked cool in its mediocrity.


4. The Lizard, The Amazing Spider-Man
In hindsight, The Lizard is a relatively obscure villain with which to relaunch a franchise that the average moviegoer didn’t even realize needed to be relaunched. Sony’s blundering efforts to transition from the Maguire Spider-Man films to the Garfield Spider-Man films was a mess and yet, the villain stands out as a high point. Rhys Ifans’ performance in the Dr. Jekyll side of this character is interesting and more nuanced than you might expect. Meanwhile, the scale of the CGI of the Mr. Hyde side of the equation makes for a competent rival for Spidey that verges on effectively creepy in certain spots. There’s a lot I don’t care for within Sam Raimi’s film sensibilities, but I think his horror background would’ve served this character well had he been in the director’s chair. Still, this is a good villain who for large stretches outshines the protagonist.


3. Green Goblin, Spider-Man
There are two parts to the Green Goblin equation: The action sequences which were neutered by Raimi’s dedication to camp and look horrendous in 2018 and Willem Dafoe’s equally campy but somehow extremely effective performance. I am genuinely weirded out by Willem Dafoe but he can be a very good actor in the right situations and this is one of those situations. The movie itself might hold up better with a different, subtler, less creepy actor in this role (like, say, virtually anyone) but as it pertains specifically to this character in a vacuum, Dafoe is excellent jumping across the Schizophrenic divide between the respective buttoned-up business man and stark raving mad lunatic sides of Norman Osborn.   

Doc Ock.jpg

2. Doctor Octopus, Spider-Man 2
Doc Ock popped up at the very beginning of the comic book movie surge and remains one of the real peaks amongst the superhero movie villain mountain range. Whereas Dafoe’s over-the-top campiness (and its fit to Raimi’s themes) are what made Green Goblin work, it is the exact opposite here: Alfred Molina delivered a grounded performance with only a hint of madness and that, combined with the fantastic effects that gave life to the mechanical limbs, makes Doc Ock pop off the screen. Molina leans slightly against the currents of Raimi’s worst tendencies and the result is a compelling villain, not to mention a movie that holds up significantly better than most of the action movies of the era. He’s a great foe for Spider-Man and gives Spider-Man 2 the weight that both of its surrounding movies in the franchise lacked.

1. Vulture, Spider-Man: Homecoming
This was one of my favorite performances of 2017 and I think it will stand the test of time in regard to its place in the Superhero Movie Villain Pantheon. We’ve seen the “Everyman” trope applied to heroes many times but it’s rare for a villain to get that treatment (at least in superhero movies) and Keaton was the PERFECT casting choice. Vulture is intelligent, determined, and principled and that makes him a terrifying opponent for a grounded superhero like Homecoming’s Spider-Man. Keaton’s gritty approach adds real, tangible substance to the character. He’s not crazy, he’s not out to rule the world, he’s not even evil; he’s just a family man working to provide for his family, which is exactly why he’s dangerous. This is great character design taken to new heights by the performer, a brilliant pairing that should serve as the example for all superhero movies to come.