Start your 2016 with some inspiration. Turn to the Specialists.

This website is brought to you by generous contributors who help cover the costs of its design, production, and resources. I call them the Looking Closer Specialists. We have our own private Facebook group where they influence my vision for this site, where they discuss first impressions of films and music before I publish reviews, and where we dream up new ideas for posts. This site launched on my birthday in October, and in a few short months we’ve covered a lot of ground.

If you like what you read here, and would like to join them, read about how to become a Specialist.

I want to start the new year by giving them the microphone and the spotlight, so that they can recommend for us some things that might enrich our 2016. So please give your attention to these observant, imaginative minds as they share what has been inspiring them. Here’s what they have to say:

Chris Angus

Favorite books:

A More Christlike God – by Brad Jersak

Evolution 2.0 – by Perry Marshall

The Night Gardener – by Jonathan Auxier (It’s a great fantasy/ folk-tale.)

Favourite music:

Aa band called Avatar that has a unique, rocking sound and an interesting stage presence. Not a new band, but a new discovery for me.

Favourite film:

Hard to say, but I was quite taken by The Babadook.

Christopher Angus is an independent animator/filmmaker, and “an all-around swell guy.” You’ll find his work at

Darryl Armstrong

1. Stephen Colbert: Redefining late night talk shows.

2. Jack Ladder – Playmates: The second coming of Nick Cave.

3. Steven Universe: A cartoon that is consistently greater than the sum of its parts.

John Barber

Favorite Experience: The Sundance Film Festival. I was “required” to go to this for a class, believe it or not. The thrill of the cold Utah air filling my lungs as I high-tailed it to screenings will be an all-time great memory for me. It may never happen, but I’d love to go back.

Favorite website: Letterboxd. It’s like someone siphoned the love of movies directly from my brain and made a website out of it. In a year where I watched 365 movies, this site was integral.

Favorite movie: Mad Max: Fury Road. There was never any question, really. I haven’t had that much fun in a movie theater since I was a kid.

Evan Cogswell

Since I will be publishing my top ten and runners up in a week or two, and since I don’t wish to give away any spoilers yet, I decided to list my three favorite documentaries: The Armor of Light, The Look of Silence, and (Dis)Honesty – The Truth About Lies.

Of all documentaries released this year, The Armor of Light is possibly the most timely for the United States. It concerns conservative Evangelical minister Rob Schenck, whose career has consisted of pro-life work and ministering to Tea Party politicians in Washington DC. The film chronicles Schenck’s growing awareness that gun violence is a pro-life issue, and it shows his efforts to become more pro-life, which leads to his realization that it is not possible to be pro-gun and pro-life.

The Look of Silence is a harrowing companion piece to the acclaimed 2013 documentary The Act of Killing, which interviewed the perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide of the 1960’s. While less graphic than its predecessor, the horror of the genocide is felt even more strongly as the family members of the victims describe their memories of what happened to their loved ones and still have the courage to extend forgiveness to the executioners. Director Joshua Oppenheimer chooses not show the most disturbing acts, and that omission speaks volumes.

Several years back Dan Ariely, Duke University professor of psychology and behavioral economics, created a series of experiments to examine how often people lie, what external factors might influence them to lie, and how people rationalize lying. (Dis)Honesty – The Truth About Lies showcases the results of those studies, and it shows how all lies are related. More powerfully, it disabuses the notion that there are such a things as “harmless, white lies” by showing how those lies can have an even more pernicious effect on society and those who tell them.

Evan Cogswell is an organist and film enthusiast. In his spare time, he blogs about film at

Levi Douma

My 3 favourite movie experiences of 2015:
1. East of Eden (Kazan)
2. Fanny and Alexander (Bergman)
3. Mulholland Drive (Lynch)

Both 1 and 2 deal with a version religious faith that seems to prevent the characters from being more complete human beings. 2 and 3 have that feeling of being taken to another world, or like being in a dream.

Peggy Harris

Website: — a superb distillation of life, ideas, books, and more.

Facebook Page: Afghan Women’s Writing Project. To read one of those poems from women imprisoned in that culture is to know another heart at a level rarely encountered in our own.

Favorite Daily Devotional: You can sign up for his daily emails or Facebook drops. Most of them are taken from his books, a combination of fiction and Christian thought. His writing always helps; sometimes it takes my breath away.

Peggy Harris currently spends most of her time being the wife of a United Methodist pastor, babysitting grandkids, and caring for her recently widowed mother. She aspires, however, to writing a blog called “A Heart for Story,” in which she shares the power of story in various forms, including film, fiction, scripture, myth, and true-life. She is a former high school English teacher and has written/edited Bible curriculum and film studies for the United Methodist Publishing House.

Daniel Melvill Jones

A Trilogy of Grief

2015 was a tougher year for me. I wrote about these experiences and what God taught me through them in a series of shorter essays. Three albums released this Spring provided a soundtrack; Sufjan Steven’s Carrie & Lowell met me in my grief and then pushed me away from dwelling on myself, the songs “Leviathan” and “The Arrow” from Josh Garrel’s Homepointed me to God’s discipling hand through the suffering, and Sandra McCracken’s Psalms album gave me a prayer language, reorienting my hope in Him.

Learning to Care for Culture

Makoto Fujumura is walking a path faithful to both the community of Christ and the professional art world. In his bookCulture Care, published late last year, he outlines the theology and philosophy of this balance, a new paradigm, caring for what is good rather than just combatting what we don’t like. His monthly Culture Care newsletter has kept this conversation prominent in my mind.

Partaking in Colbert’s Joy

“The opposite of worry is joy,” said Stephen Colbert in an earlier interview, quoted here. How can a public persona of his prominence hold cutting, compromise-free discussions with those he disagrees with, while filled with such joy? This essay is worth examining, as are his discussions with Bill Maher and John Cleese.

An Epic Bible Project

Although technically The Bible Project got started in 2014, last year really showed the artistic calibre of their talents and the broad scope of their ambition. I also got to spend a day at their Portland studio, which turned into my first entry into short form journalism. Check out their holiness and Gospel of Mark videos as an example of their work.

Ambition’s Soundtrack

This year I wrestled with how to reckon with my ambitions, as a humble and content Christ-follower. The essays by the writers of the Chrysostom Society, in their book on the subject, gave me hope, reframing my perceptions, comforting me with their experiences, and challenging me in my comforts. JGiven’s debut album with hip-hop label Humble Beast traces his own journey of pride and humility, providing another context for my own journey.

Daniel Melvill Jones is spending his early 20s working for a technology company while he anxiously waits for the right time to return to school. (Trusting the Grand Weaver’s plan is hard but fruitful.) In the meantime he is serving his local church, reading an ever growing stack of volumes, and writing about life and creativity at

Ken Priebe

1) Music: Folly and the Hunter

Discovered this little indie-band from Quebec through a tweet by my brother-in-law and we both got hooked, got to see them in concert, hang with them afterwards and thank them for their music, which has ignited my imagination and meant a great deal to me personally this year. They have three albums: ‘Residents’ (feels like a concept record that unfolds like a fairy tale) ‘Tragic Care’ (a beautiful exploration of melancholy and mystery) and this year’s release ‘Awake’ (an uplifting collection of prayers for an anxiety and fear-fueled world). I keep peeling away new layers with each listen.

2) Film: Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet

I went into this film knowing virtually nothing about its content or source material, and I exited the theater with my reality altered and my head & heart stirred. It comes out on blu-ray in February. Watch it, soak it in and then talk about it.

3) Film: Inside Out

Another animated gem from Pixar that took risks, went into unexplored territory and had something amazing to say about childhood, family and so much more. It may be talked about for years to come through repeat viewings at different stages of life, and it’s a must-see for parents.

4) Book: Wildwood Chronicles, by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis

I finished Colin Meloy’s three-part fantasy book series this year, and each book got more interesting and more skillfully written. Despite a few technical quibbles with the writing itself at times, I’ve personally resonated with much in this series, which Laika has the rights to for a potential stop-motion feature (or trilogy perhaps?). But my favorite moment in the entire series was one small tangent in the third book Wildwood Imperium which has nothing to do with the overall arc of the story… it’s just a little mix of comedic tragedy about an owl and a squirrel which is the most delightful thing I’ve read all year.

5) Book: Home, by Carson Ellis

This year saw an animated film from Dreamworks called Home, an album by Josh Garrels called Home, and a children’s book by Carson Ellis called Home. I didn’t see the film, and I liked the album, but I’m endlessly fascinated by the book, a mini-masterpiece with beautiful illustrations that invites the reader to participate, open their imagination and dream up new worlds along with its creator.

Chris Williams

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

This is the movie the phrase “they don’t make them like this anymore” was made for. Whiplash-inducing action sequences and themes of compassion, redemption and gender roles woven in without taking a breath.But mostly, I love how George Miller (re)builds this world without holding our hands and dumping in tedious exposition; it’s the loudest silent movie ever made.

2. Fargo, Season 2

More than any movie, this is the story that captivated me this year. A winding, Shakespearean crime drama that wove tension, humor, violence and empathy together in one brilliant ode to the Coens’ filmography. I dare say that the TV show is just as good — and in its best moments, better — than the 1996 movie that inspired it.

3. Sons and Doubters 

This podcast by Aaron Hale and Luke Brawner discusses “times when faith is difficult and doubt is easy.” Every episode is filled with honest, sometimes heart-wrenching discussion about the nature of doubt and the things that often challenge our faith. Great interviews with Derek Webb, Latifah Phillips and Barnabas Piper. It’s refreshing.

Happy New Year!

Chris Williams is at

Joshua Wilson

Here are a few Favorites from 2015:

DVD Release: I recommend Code Unknown. I’ve only viewed it once so far, so there is much that remains opaque to me, but overall I can’t think of a more relevant film for developing an empathetic viewpoint for immigrants and refugees. Of course the film is much more than that, among other things a fascinating exploration of possibilities of narrative structures in cinema. Even though this film is from 2000, it could easily be set in today’s world.

Book Release: Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo Saga, which is an ongoing omnibus reprint of his epic Samurai comic book, had four releases this year. This series is drawn in the “funny animal” style, but is no joke. The carton style allows Sakai to freely move in and out of genres as diverse as ghost stories, mysteries, straightforward chambara, mythology, and historical nonfiction, not to mention occasional sci-fi/fantasy. Volume 2 contains the celebrated “Grasscutter” story, a true classic of graphic fiction.

CD Release: At the risk of being self serving, I recommend the Houston Chamber Choir’s Soft Blink of Amber Light. It’s a disc full of world premiere recordings of choral music, but I am including it here primarily to highlight my friend Dominick DiOrio’s incredible cycle for chorus and marimba setting poems by Amy Lowell, “A Dome of Many-Colored Glass.”

Joshua Wilson is a singer, teacher, husband, and father of five. He occasionally blogs on films at

Clint Wrede

Here are my favorite movies from 2015. As always, I’d love to hear if you’ve seen any, what you think of them, and what your own favorites are.

1. Force Majeure

This Swedish film about a young family on a ski vacation will probably end up on my all-time favorites list. I’ve already watched it four times and could sit down right now and enjoy it again. The close family starts to disintegrate after the father makes a crucial split-second decision. It’s a drama with many interesting visuals and sounds repeated throughout (tooth-brushing, booming snow-making, a Vivaldi melody, and yes, even peeing), but also numerous darkly laugh-out-loud moments for me. Watch for those repeated elements, and how the visuals supplement the narrative story. There’s an American remake supposedly in the works with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but see the original first. And is that God running the vacuum cleaner?

2. About Elly

Two of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s other movies, A Separation and The Past have shown up on my lists in previous years. This film actually predates those but was never released in the U.S. until this year, after the relative success of the others. A group of good friends on a weekend getaway add an uncomfortable young woman to the party, and she mysteriously disappears. Who’s to blame? ends up being the theme, and both romance and religion become part of the answer. The ensemble cast, including several from Farhadi’s other films, does a great job of portraying different viewpoints and sympathies.

3. Phoenix

Lots of great American films came out this year, but I see now my top three all come from outside the U.S. Yes, friends, that means subtitles. This is the fifth German collaboration of writer–director Christian Petzold and wonderful actress Nina Hoss, and I’m in the process of “collecting” them all. Here Hoss plays a Holocaust survivor who many thought was dead but who returns to Berlin, unrecognizable after facial reconstruction surgery, looking for her husband. If that sounds gimmicky, just play along, because it’s a quiet, dramatic story with a killer ending.

4. Ex Machina

I really enjoyed the new Star Wars movie (I was 13 when the first one came out and saw it seven times), full of nostalgia and interesting new characters. But these days my science fiction interests lie more in thoughtful what-if movies like this one. Almost the whole film consists of three actors in the confines of a single building, as a young technology mogul (Oscar Isaac) brings a promising techie from his company (Domhnall Gleeson, who like Isaac, is also in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS) to his secluded mountain home to test his latest model of robot (Alicia Vikander) on whether it could pass for human. The interaction among the three, especially each pair, makes for a good discussion of humanness and intelligence.

5. Something, Anything

Most of the films on my yearly lists could be considered under the radar, compared to big-budget movies that play at the multiplex. This movie is under a rug that’s under the table that the radar sits on, featuring a writer–director and a cast that I’d never previously heard of. Peggy is living the American dream, with a successful, lucrative career, a handsome husband, and a new house. But after a miscarriage, she starts seeking what’s underneath it all. The themes are clearly spiritual, but this is definitely not one of those evangelistic movies like GOD’S NOT DEAD. Though it’s not even on DVD, it is happily streaming on Netflix.

6. Selma

This is one of the most moving movies I’ve seen in some time. It made me proud to be an American and somewhat ashamed to be an American at the same time. Martin Luther King’s life showed that much progress was made in the 20th century in how Americans treat each other, but so much more remains to be made. And the timing of this film in a year of terrible but important events in this country’s racial history could hardly have been better. David Oyelowo (Nigerian–British!) is stunning as King, the rest of the cast is near perfect, and I can’t wait to see what director Ava DuVernay does next.

Clint Wrede is an introvert, academic librarian, organizer, and lover of truth and beauty. He manages, edits, and writes for a daily Bible-reading website and email at