1. RIP James Gandolfini

James-Gandolfini-Tony-Soprano

Growing up in Northern New Jersey, I’ll admit that one is raised with the inaccurate sense that not much exists beyond the densely populated world of the tri-sate area. Hell, even Philadelphia or Boston can sometimes feel like Siberian outposts to a North Jersey Youth. Thus,when The Sopranos first aired, and I was nothing more than a mere 16-year-old high school student, I was neither shocked nor even fazed that the most popular show on TV was filmed on and around the streets of my childhood. It was only as I ventured out into the world, and saw my own universe expand rapidly beyond that of Bergen and its neighboring counties, that I began to understand what a brilliant love-letter to my home-state this show truly was. I also realized that without the singularly talented Mr. Gandolfini as Anthony Soprano, that love letter would not have felt nearly as authentic. Gandolfini, a proud New Jersey native, always represented for our beloved state, and in addition to delivering some of the best TV ever made, this man will forever be a reminder of a past that I truly cherish. Rest in Peace, James, you will be sorely missed!

2. Somm

film-somm-570

Administered only once a year, the three-part Master Sommelier exam might actually be the hardest test to pass in the entire world. First there’s the blind vino tasting in which participants must rattle off every minute detail and description of the subtle variations, and nuanced flavors in each of their 6 unnamed glasses. Next there’s a wicked service section in which even the most irascible and demanding of customers must be attended to with a smile. And finally, there’s the infamous theory portion that includes enough esoteric facts to challenge any world class academic. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to pass all three parts, you become a rock star in the wine world, welcomed into an extremely small and distinguished club with the power to make waves not only among the revered grapes, but also on the culinary and hospitality circuits. It’s a spectacular feat, but witnessing it might be as tedious as well… watching someone take an exam. That is, if filmmaker Jason Wise, hadn’t chosen to introduce his audience to this little –known world through the eyes of four wacky, hilarious, and loyal bros, all attempting to pass the grueling exam together, yet somehow remain friends in the meantime.

3. Love, Marilyn

lovemarilyn

It might be a slow summer for the networks, but you can always count on cable to keep things sizzling all season long. In addition to all of their addictive original programming, HBO is back with a slew of brand new documentaries premiering each week as part of their Docs Summer Series. Last week’s Pussy Riot pic was fascinating and scary, while Monday’s subtle and moving Monroe film, directed by Liz Garbus, was a real treat. Sure we’ve heard her story millions of times, but never like this… In her own words as well as those of the artists, critics, writers, friends and star struck fans who she inspired, Marilyn’s iconic and wholly American rags to riches tale is dramatically recounted, as some of the best actors in the biz get their thespian on. Hell, even Linsday Lohan couldn’t cheapen this classy affair.

 4. Katie Chang and Israel Broussard in The Bling Ring

_DSC7370.NEF

Sure Sophia Coppola brings the gorgeous shots, high-end fashions, and subtle, non-judgmental social commentary. And yes, her more prominent leading ladies, Emma Watson and Leslie Mann, bring the tragi-comic laughs. However, it’s newcomers Chang and Broussard who really capture the over-the top expectations and desperate materialism of the Internet generation. Neglected and lost, these kids ache to define themselves, and in the capable hands of Chang and Broussard, we feel very moment of it.

5. True Blood

true-blood-season-6

Am I as excited about the return of HBO’s southern gothic drama as I’ve been in years past? Nah. However, Allan Ball’s supernatural soap has given me some of my most favorite TV moments ever (like say all of season 2). It also holds a special place in my heart for introducing me to the flame-haired beauty and carnal talent of Deborah Ann Woll as teen vamp, Jessica. Now, 6 seasons later, Ball’s out and the Vampire Authority/overwhelming array of new characters tends to distract from the original Bon Temps crew, but hey, I gotta see who or what Sookie ends up with!