19
Mar
2011
Random Pop Culture Top Ten List
Top 10 Pop Culture Commentators You Should Be Reading (not counting us)
Jordan and Sam
Random Pop Culture Top 10 List is a (fairly self-explanatory) weekly list in which the Review To Be Named gang take stock of the realm of pop culture, and come up with their Top Ten in a specific category.

We here at Review to Be Named are admitted purveyors of pop culture commentary. We write reviews and features examining an ever increasing segment of our cultural landscape. But before we are cultural commentators (amateur though we may be) we are fans of pop culture, and of great pop culture commentaary. This website wouldn't exist were we not fans of cultural commentary and criticism, and as a result, we all read a lot of it. Assuming that you, our loyal readers, are also big fans of great criticism and commentary, we present for your pop culture edification a list of those we consider the pinnacle of pop culture commentary. Enjoy them, as we do.


10. Steve Hyden, The AV Club

Recently named the music editor at The AV Club, Hyden has been writing music reviews for the site for quite some time, and recently completed a fantastic feature, Whatever Happened To Alternative Nation? a detailed journey through the 1990's alternative rock movement from its early '90s grunge fueled rise through Woodstock '99 when some argue the movmement literally went down in flames. Mixing wry observations with personal anecdotes about his own childhood living in a small town and his growing love for music as the movement he explores began to lose its soul, the feature is a fantastic musical journey and a great complement to Hyden's music criticism. With that feature out of the way and his new position secured, we hope to see great things from him in the months to come.

9. Chris Hardwick, The Nerdist Podcast

Chris Hardwick hosts The Nerdist Podcast along with his buddies comedians Jonah Ray and Matt Mira. These three fray from the rest of our list in that they're not critics but they do devote two hours a week to pop-culture worship. Since the podcast is hosted by a bunch of comics it's no surprise that most of the podcasts are with comedic guests. But The Nerdist makes the list for all the pop-culture goodness that they recognize that does not fall in the comic category. The likes of director Rob Zombie, former Star Trek child star (and childhood friend of Hardwick) Wil Wheaton, The Muppets and The Mythbusters (!) all have been guests to the show and marvel at the wonderfully nerdy pop-culture obsessed world we live in. The show now runs twice a week with a guest-less podcast one day (or as they refer to those shows, "host-full") and are joined by a squee-inducing guest the next. The Nerdist Podcast lets pop-culture fans feel like they're hanging out in their living room with hilarious comics and awesome guests.

8. Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker

Having written for Slant, egotrip, Hit It And Quit It, The New York Post, The Village Voice, and The New York Times, before settling into his current position at The New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones is an electric and passionate music critic who manages to pin down his opinions with shocking incitefulness and a brilliant knowledge of the musical form. In addition to his reviews of music (which are brilliant pieces of criticism whether you agree with him or not), Frere-Jones also comments on the state of music in general, having written excellent pieces on the future of hip hop, the state of the modern indie band and how it has diverged from "classic" conceptions of rock and roll (in his controversial and excellent piece "A Paler Shade of White"), and pretty much infinite amount of other subjects on music and the culture that creates and consumes it.

7. Noel Murray, The AV Club

Ok, we recognize this list is chock full of writers from The AV Club, but that's only because the site is so excellent and so diverse. Noel Murray is a film and television critic that ranks among the best in the field. Currently writing weekly reviews of Fringe and The Chicago Code, along with retrospective reviews of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel (which any Whedon fan should consider must reads), weekly film reviews, and A Very Special Episode, an examination of television episodes that represent something distinct or fascinating about the medium in general. Endlessly academic in his pursuit of pop culture and extremely prolific without losing an ounce of his analytic quality, Noel Murray is a man of ideas with the eloquence to present them well.

6. AO Scott, The New York Times

The chief film critic for The New York Times since 2004, AO Scott has also served as part of the most recent hosting duo on At the Movies (alongside the also excellent Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune prior to the show's unfortunate cancellation last summer). Scott's film criticism ranks among the best you can find today, and is an absolute go-to for anyone looking to read intelligent, well thought out opinions on any new release. But beyond writing excellent reviews, Scott aalso takes up important issues in cinema on a regular basis, whether he's debating co-chief critic Manohla Dargis on the crisis in modern film, examining the old classics and analyzing what they meant then and what they still mean today, or looking at whether Awards ceremonies matter, Scott is always at the top of his game and at the forefront of smart, passionate film criticism in our age.

5. Todd VanDerWerff, The AV Club

While Alan Sepinwall may be more important in the grand scheme of television criticism, Todd VanDerWerff oversees the most extensive television recap site on the web in AV Club's "TV Club". Of course VanDerWerff doesn't write a recap for every single show but he picks up the holes in the exhaustive list if someone is unavailable. Currently he is taking on the likes of Community, Archer, Glee, and Lights Out, as well as doing justice classic episodes of the X-Files and Spaced, in addition to his currently on hiatus reviews of The Sopranos, which stand among the best of all television criticism. Each recap he does is a combination of plot description, speculation, and detailed analysis that boggles the mind with its excellence. This is the type of determined and thorough work that we'd all love to achieve someday, yet with all he's pulling off on a weekly basis, we have to question if Vanderwerff is even human.

4. Alan Sepinwall, Hitfix.com

Hitfix.com critic Alan Sepinwall is widely credited with being the founding father of modern television criticism. He made a name for himself in the Newark Star Ledger writing weekly recaps which would later become the norm for television critics everywhere. In some ways, his critical approach to television has legitimized the medium to something close to or even on par with film. Now with cable television's quality escalation, the line between the cinematic and the glass teat is blurring. Sure, Sepinwall isn't responsible for shows like The Sopranos and Mad Men (though he has written excellent reviews of both and is often credited with the success of the campaign to keep Chuck from cancellation) getting on the air, but we're sure glad he's there to cover it all. If it weren't for him we may not have the likes of other members on the list, and we almost certainly wouldn't be able to do what we try to every week.


3. Nathan Rabin, The AV Club

The headwriter of our favorite one-stop-shop for pop culture commentary,The AV Club, Nathan Rabin is a film, music, and television critic, the whole package. While Rabin is an insightful and humorous critic in all mediums, his most lasting contributions come in the form of the features he writes for the site. An admitted masochist, Rabin turns in hilarious and intelligent looks at movies that failed either critically or commercially, examining why they did not succeed or recontextualizing them as "secret successes" in his ongoing feature My Year of Flops (a collection of which was just released in book form)and examines the detritus that clouds the pop music landscape through the lens of the NOW series of pop compilations in THEN That's What They Called Music, both of which are hilarious and constant sources of inspiration to us here at Review to Be Named. Rabin also wrote the excellent memoir The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought To You By Pop Culture which looked at the way his experiences with pop culture have shaped him as a person. Perceptive, hysterical, and prolific, Nathan Rabin is a writer and pop culture commentator every fan should keep their eyes on.


2. Chuck Klosterman

He's written for more magazines than it would be prudent to mention and on more topics than it would even be possible to list here. Whether he's discussing music, movies, television, sports, celebrities, or political trends, Chuck Klosterman has an uncanny knack for putting his subjects into a cultural context and explaining what they say about our tastes and about the way we experience entertainment. Whether he is interviewing Britney Spears about how conscious of her status as a sex object for middle aged men she is, discussing what Saved By The Bell tells us about how "important things are inevitably cliche," examining the porn industry and how it ties into our innate need for celebrities, or telling us that romantic comedies are training us to fail in our actual love lives, Klosterman has his finger on the pulse of pop culture and perhaps more than anyone else around has the gift of being able to diagnose society's ailments and explain its quirks through the lens of pop culture. His books include Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota (a memoir that doubles as a history of glam metal in the midwest), Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto (a collection of his essays), and Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas (a collection of essays including several interviews), all of which come highly recommended from us here at Review to Be Named. Klosterman is clever, witty, and understands pop culture and its ties to human nature better than just about anybody.

1. Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times

Known as one of the "Two Thumbs Up" seen on movie posters for decades, it's easy to forget that Roger Ebert is one of America's most important film critics. With age it seemed Ebert may have grown to be a bit out of touch but his influence is undeniable. Over the last few years, he has become the most relevant he's been since his glory days sitting opposite fellow critic Gene Siskel. Since falling ill, he's been thrust back into the spotlight and has started to reach a wide audience on his prolific twitter account. Thanks to his 140 characters, film fans not only get links to his latest reviews, but the ever more fascinating blog entries that cover all facets of culture. Today Ebert takes on a variety of pop-culture topics ranging from the artistic value of videogames to the cinematic hate crime that is 3-D, all while continuing to turn out movie reviews on a regular basis. There's a reason the man is a living legend of the critical community, and if you don't already know what it is, it is time you found out.

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