Oregon-Made Books, Films, TV, and Music to Binge Right Now
So you’re gonna be at home for a little while.
After Gov. Kate Brown imposed a ban on all public gatherings exceeding 250 people, schools started closing across the state, and a climbing number of companies have imposed work-from-home mandates, plenty of Oregonians (the PoMo staff included) will be spending more time behind closed doors than they’re probably used to.
We can only absorb so much Twitter and make so many grilled cheeses (or, sure, chickpea stew) before we lose our grip, so these are prime streaming days. It’s time to flex that library card and download some audiobooks. Spring for a Criterion subscription and spend a weekend lost in French whodunnits. Go deep on a mid-aughts Decemberists album and learn an SAT word or five.
This is a supremely weird moment, and you will probably need breaks from thinking about it. When you do, consider adding some Oregon-made content to your queues—here’s what we recommend.
The Goonies (Rent on Amazon)
Hit! That! Nostalgia button! If you’re from Oregon and under 60, The Goonies has likely been a lifelong source of pride. One of comfort-food king Chris Columbus’s earliest works (he wrote the screenplay, and went on to direct Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, and the first two Harry Potters), it’s pure escapism: wide shots of the coast, treasure maps, young Josh Brolin. You’ve either got some strong memories attached to this thing, or you’re about to make some.
Leave No Trace (Kanopy)
Not exactly an easy watch, Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace is a tough-but-tender tale of resilience set in a gray, wet Portland that feels a lot closer to the city we actually live in than the one in, say, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (NO disrespect to Lara Jean). A masterful performance from Thomasin McKenzie, a perfect final act, and one of the most moving cinematic father-daughter bonds in recent memory.
Kindergarten Cop (Hulu)
The ’90s action-comediest of ’90s action comedies is another frothy showcase for the coast, this time with a little less treasure and a lot more Schwarzenegger. The former governor of California (something we should talk about more, I think?) goes undercover to catch a drug kingpin and winds up posing as a kindergarten teacher in idyllic Astoria.
Mr. Holland’s Opus (Hulu)
You want schmaltz? We got schmaltz. This family-focused crowd pleaser (and, thanks for asking, my grandpa’s favorite movie) snagged Richard Dreyfuss an Oscar nod for his performance in the title role back in 1996. He plays a frustrated composer who reluctantly starts teaching music at an Oregon high school (Grant) before discovering (surprise!) he loves it. It’s maudlin, sure, but it will make you cry, and it’s a great option if all you’re looking for is a little catharsis.
Shrill (2 seasons, Hulu)
In its first season, Shrill dealt with territory we thought we’d seen before—young writer tries to keep it together, young woman learns to love herself—but consistently swerved for the unexpected choice. On her journey to self-love, Aidy Bryant’s Annie became selfish, and all the more interesting for it. Season 2 expands the focus and, despite a wobble here and there, lands a few breathtaking grace notes. It’s good. You’ll like it. Give it a shot.
The OA (2 seasons, Netflix)
What if Twin Peaks but sci-fi and it made less sense, you ask? Ask no more. Netflix’s enigmatic two-season puzzle box, created by and starring Brit Marling, ended for good last year after a divisive second season. It’s a perfect binge—short, strange, and a surefire conversation point (plus, season 2 inexplicably stars Sharon Van Etten).
Trinkets (1 season, Netflix)
Based on a novel by Legally Blonde screenwriter Kirsten Smith, Trinkets is a soapy mashup of The Bling Ring and the CW—it’s also, blessedly, a quick binge (the longest episodes clock in at a sweet 29 minutes). It’s a fizzy but not too fizzy account of friends forged in a shoplifters anonymous group after Elodie, the young protagonist, moves from Albuquerque to Portland.
American Vandal (Season 2 of 2, Netflix)
Both seasons of this brilliant, gone-too-soon true crime satire are worth your time, but the second is underloved and Oregon-shot. Its great trick is to take a repulsively juvenile premise—who made an entire private school shit themselves at once?—and turn it into a sincerely moving treatise on race and digital alienation. Toss in the note-perfect replica of tropes from shows like Making a Murderer, and you’ve got a few hours of laughs plus a mystery that you’ll have to admit has hooked you.
BONUS: For the Kids (YouTube)
Kid bonus! OPB senior visual producer MacGregor Campbell has curated an OPB For the Kids YouTube playlist, populating it with hours of top kid content you don’t even have to feel guilty about plopping them in front of: From Mason bees to mystical sand art to hand-painted prosthetic eyes, there’s fun for all the family in here. For free! With no ads! It could even count as educational, really! Homeschooling just got so much easier.
Picaresque by the Decemberists
The Portland band’s best album (I said it!) is full of sweeping stories (“The Bagman’s Gambit,” “On the Bus Mall”) and gleeful jokes (“16 Military Wives,” “The Sporting Life”). It’s the band at their most literate, unburdened, and broad. If you’re already in love with it, it’s worth a revisit—you’re sure to unearth perfect little phrases you’ve never clocked. If it’s new to you, welcome. Hit play and get lost.
Maybe by Blossom
The Rose City R&B crooner’s second LP dropped last summer and never fails to calm the nerves. If you need to take some time and just vibe, this is the way to go. On mid-album cut “Anxiety” she delivers a solid directive over a smooth, pulsing beat: “Don’t you dare cry for me.”
The Right Time by Ural Thomas and the Pain
Ural Thomas has been through his share of bullshit, and he’s still dancing up a storm. You can too, to 2018’s The Right Time, a warm, hip swinging joy of a record. First track? “Slow Down.” He’s got a point.
Mujeres by Y La Bamba
Feeling untethered from reality? It might be time for Y La Bamba’s Luz Elena Mendoza to take you into another realm entirely with soaring, ethereal vocal artistry that’s at the same time deeply rooted in the folk traditions of both Mexico and America. 2019’s Mujeres is layered and sophisticated—but it’s also visceral, nowhere more so than on the thumping proclamation of its title track.
You may not be able to go to Powell’s glorious home base on Burnside, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find plenty in its online store. And you definitely can’t go to your local branch, but the Multnomah County library has your back with ebooks aplenty. Looking for reading inspiration? Back in 2016, we compiled this list of essential Oregon reads: from Clan of the Cave Bear to Mala Noche to Geek Love to Residue Years, behold.
Something more recent? There’s Karen Russell’s wondrous Orange World (Knopf , 2019), a glorious collection that begins in the mountains of Oregon, traces paths through western California, Florida, and an island off the coast of northern Europe, and ends in a very contemporary Portland, recognizable in all but the presence of a suckling demon.
Or how about Courtenay Hameister’s suddenly-very-relatable rip roaring read about dealing with anxiety, 2018’s Okay Fine Whatever: The Year I Went From Being Afraid of Everything to Only Being Afraid of Most Things (Little, Brown), an extract from which appeared in Portland Monthly in August of that year.
Mitchell Jackson’s Survival Math (Scribner, 2019) is a series of blistering, lyrical essays that mine this Portland native’s life story as a springboard to explore the social, political, and historical contexts of his own experience—as well as the odds of making it through adulthood as a black man in America.
The quiet charm of Alexis Smith’s Glaciers (Tin House, 2012) unfurls over the course of one day in Portland, where the protagonist Isabel fixes damaged books in a library and pieces together her memories to form a quiet meditation on place, loss, and love.
Kid bonus! Local writer Jory John followed his delightful The Bad Seed (seed convinced he’s bad finds a path to happiness) with the cracking (ahem) The Good Egg (egg stresses out trying to change the behavior of his bad friends, then discovers self care), and The Cool Bean (bean worries about not being as cool as his friends, then finds out how cool kindness can be).