Year in Review 2019 – Top Films & TV

2019 saw the launch of The Criterion Channel and Disney+, a watershed moment for the availability of streaming content. While Disney clamps down and restricts, Criterion is out here making sure the masses have unfettered access to their fill of sacrilegious art-house cinema. Thanks in no small part to the no-holds-barred approach of Criterion, I present my favorite films (and TV) of 2019.

First up, TV:

11 Ken Burns National Parks

12. The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, a film by Ken Burns

Originally released in 2009, ten years ago, The National Parks is a love letter to one of America’s most enduring legacies. The stories of how close we’ve come, over the decades, to irrevocably losing places such as Yosemite Valley, The Grand Canyon, and the Grand Tetons, are quite simply astounding. This documentary miniseries is a testament to the value of Democratic principles in the face of human avarice. We must steward and preserve the Earth for future generations, and pass onto them the desire to continue to uphold such stewardship.

10 True Detective

11. True Detective: Season 3

Each season of True Detective has been a distinct, standalone story. Season 3 opted to create some more buzz and expectation by teasing and then overlapping with Season 1, in a way that I found both surprising and gratifying. This season told a much more intensely personal story, spanning multiple decades in the lives of its two leads, played by Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff. At its core, the show is about what the pursuit of justice looks like in the face of systemic opposition to the truth. How does one remain committed to truth and justice when pressure is applied from all sides to divert from and dilute objective reality? Part of the truth and reality that each one of us lives is rooted in our shared experiences and fellowship, though. For a pair of detectives, that fellowship can sometimes become subordinated to a system that is impersonal and disinterested in truth. True Detective could be seen as a series of guideposts out of the gloom of ignorance and despair. No deed done in the dark will not eventually be exposed by the light. But to be the one who shines a light in all of the inky darkness… that can be a daunting responsibility.

9 Tigtone

10. Tigtone: Season 1

What if you joined a D&D campaign run entirely by unscrupulous improv comedians and musicians from metal bands? Well, then you might come up with something like Tigtone. The product of an innovative animation technique which renders facial expressions through a kind of motion capture software and transposes it onto the character models, the show feels at once both bespoke and banal. An entertaining diversion with loads of creative talent behind it.

8 Invader Zim

9. Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus

Invader Zim left the airwaves in 2004, and fifteen years later, returned with much fanfare to Netflix in the guise of a TV movie, Enter the Florpus. Comprised of an animated adaptation of a portion of the comic continuation of the series, which began in 2015 and continues to this day (and it’s HILARIOUS omg), Florpus easily re-enters the suburban malaise and drab, processed food dystopia of Zim. Not a whole lot has changed in the intervening years. Zim’s misguided lust for domination remains undiminished, as does Dib’s myopic obsession with the paranormal. What ensues is a classic battle replete with social commentary and slapstick hijinks that made me ROFL.

7 Silicon Valley

8. Silicon Valley: Season 6

The final season of one of the best comedies ever compiled. Without saying too much, I did feel that the poetic nature to the denouement of Pied Piper’s saga was pitch-perfect. The comedy equivalent of Chernobyl.

7 Good Omens

7. Good Omens

Based upon Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s much-beloved novel, originally published in 1990, Good Omens has languished in one form or another of development hell (heheh) for many years. At one point, Terry Gilliam was even attached to a film adaptation! In 2019, at long last, the novel was brought to life as an Amazon Original series. Christian Theology classes could and should be taught using it as a reference. I also did read the book this year, prior to viewing the miniseries, and found the adaptation to be very faithful to its source material.

6 The Venture Bros

6. The Venture Bros.: Seasons 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7

A show that owes a debt of exactly 2¢ to Johnny Quest and the bulk of the Hanna-Barbera canon of properties, The Venture Bros. is one of the best comedy series ever written, in my opinion. Years often go by between seasons, and so it was a pleasure to be able to binge it on Hulu. An erudite and also gut-bustingly juvenile show.

5 Chernobyl

5. Chernobyl

“What is the cost of lies?” muses Jared Harris’ character Valery Legasov in his audio-cassette memoirs, which he is in the process of recording as this series opens. “Where once I feared the cost of truth, now I only ask: what is the cost of lies?” is the text of the entire quote. A series that dramatizes a catastrophe of nearly unimaginable proportions, and one which occurred within my own lifetime, albeit on the other side of the world, Chernobyl is a cautionary tale about the dangers of waging a systemic war on expertise. The Soviet Union was a Communist bureaucracy in which only the most prejudicial and partisan actors routinely advanced. Actual experts, and those members of the population who were intelligent, thoughtful and benevolent, seldom rose to prominence within such a system. Eventually, the hubris and malpractice of the unqualified bad actors who were routinely promoted and elevated to “leadership” roles wound up producing a calamity on a scale the world had never seen, neither before nor since. I fear that the same effect can be measured in America in 2019. Just look at the turnover in the current Administration and at the exodus of career civil servants from Federal institutions. If we don’t reverse course, we run the same risk, or worse.

4 Ken Burns Vietnam War

4. The Vietnam War, a film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick

A haunting and damning and utterly exhaustive documentary presentation of the most ill-advised military conflict the United States has ever been involved in (so far, at least). The “Sunk Cost Fallacy” writ large and spanning decades. Over 16 hours in length, and originally released in 2017. The Vietnam War is both epic in scope and intimate in its humanity, and it is also illuminating as it pertains to the disillusionment we now face over the concept of “American Exceptionalism.”

3 What We Do in the Shadows Show

3. What We Do in the Shadows: Season 1

Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement mined a well-trodden concept for comedy gold with What We Do in the Shadows, a 2014 feature-film expansion of their short film from 2005.  With plenty of mileage to be had from this material – basically a mockumentary about a group of vampires hiding in plain sight in the modern world, the new TV series of the same name delivers so, so much more.

2 The Good Place

2. The Good Place: Season 4

The best show on primetime television.  The Good Place is a moral philosophy class taught by comedians, gallivanting around a Hollywood backlot to illustrate their lessons with levity and witty repartee. The final season will conclude in January 2020.

1 Watchmen

1. Watchmen: Season 1

I must admit, I had middling expectations for Watchmen. I knew, of course, that Damon Lindelof of LostThe Leftovers, and Prometheus repute was running the show. And I knew it was going to be on HBO, which usually bodes well for artistic freedom in storytelling. I did not expect to be so captivated by the series. Clocking in at only 9 episodes, “Season 1” (I have no idea whether there is any plan to produce subsequent seasons or what they would entail) is all at once a meticulously crafted homage to the original comic, and something altogether new. In addition, it writes the backstory for one of the only characters from the original comic whose fate remained unexplained. The religious iconography and imagery at play in the show, the juxtapositions of the pride and vanity of mankind with the seeming aloofness of any “higher power” and the bold exploration of deep racial animus, based in no small part upon real historical events, certainly gave me a lot to consider. I expect this show to age well.

0 The Expanse

0. The Expanse: Seasons 1, 2, 3, and 4

But wait! There’s one more show I have to crow about. I had long been meaning to check out The Expanse, and so, late last year, when I noticed that the first two seasons were available on Amazon Prime, I put it on. Needless to say, I haven’t before been so immediately hooked on a show quite as passionately as I have with this one. I actually re-watched the first two seasons with my wife, because I wanted to see what she thought of it. Then, Amazon not only announced that they had picked up the show after SyFy’s cancellation, but that they were producing the 4th season and the 3rd would soon be streaming. At the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, I went to an Expanse panel brimming with Screaming Firehawks and featuring appearances of most all of the main cast, all of whom were gracious and shared the fans’ enthusiasm for the show. The Expanse is based upon a series of Science Fiction books by pseudonymous author James S.A. Corey, actually a collaboration between two authors: Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. In 2020, I hope to dive into the book series and get a ahead of the show, in order to slake my lust for more.

And now, for the Films:

vague-visages-of-love-and-other-demons-the-devils-one

Every one of these films were first seen by myself in the year 2019. Many of them were released years ago. Several are 50 years old. Without further ado:

15 Mother

15. Mother! (2017)

Darren Aronofksy’s films have always been fascinating to me, and I’ve seen them all. He has the tendency to get very, very metaphysical with his subject matter. Mother! might be the epitome of this trait. I knew nothing going into the film, other than having an expectation that it would be suitably intense and disturbing. I was not wrong. At the end, though, I found myself deeply appreciative of his filmmaking prowess in attempting to tell a story that, let’s face it, would be extremely difficult to deliver in a straightforward manner to a wide audience. In this film, he wants to create a specific impression that we could chat about philosophically for weeks, but in a way that grips the audience and manages to shift their perspective. I’ll happily re-watch it with anyone.

14 Midnight Cowboy

14. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

A classic, now, 50 years on, with both of its leads still alive and kicking. There is some kind of perverse poetry in knowing that Dustin Hoffman is now a 2 time Academy Award winner and revered thespian who has worked nonstop all these decades, and Jon Voight is a full-blown, Kool-Aid-quaffing 45 (“3”) acolyte. Guess which one was awarded the National Medal of Arts by an impeached U.S. President?  John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy, an adaptation of a 1965 novel of the same name, by James Leo Herlihy, is a near-perfect slice-of-life of what America, and specifically New York City, was like in 1969. Taking place primarily in The Big Apple, the film plays like a collage of travel diary photos, despite telling a profoundly depressing story about two lonely drifters.

13 Paint Your Wagon

13. Paint Your Wagon (1969)

Hands-down one of the weirdest films I have ever seen in my entire life. Great music, a powerhouse cast, including Clint Eastwood in his one and only role in a musical, Paint Your Wagon has its sometimes scattershot storytelling elevated multiple echelons solely by Paddy Chayefsky’s fantastic dialogue writing and Lee Marvin’s inimitable prospector character, Ben Rumson. A story of the ugliness of manifest destiny glossed over as the dogged pursuit of the dream of human happiness. A film I found perplexing and double-take inducing, and yet, by the end, it had won my heart.

12 Hereditary

12. Hereditary (2018)

A cinematic master-class in psychological horror and clever storytelling, Hereditary also benefits from a singularly committed performance by one of its key leads, Toni Colette. Borrowing extensively from a pantheon of horror and suspense classics, this film unfolds with meticulous patience and is an exceedingly effective exercise in creeping dread. I watched it twice.

11 Deadpool 2

11 Once Upon a Deadpool

11. Deadpool 2 (2018) / Once Upon a Deadpool (2018)

I’ll be honest, I *really* did not expect to like Deadpool 2. I am pretty much 98.7% burnt-out on ALL superhero films at this point, and after watching the original film in all of its filthy glory, I figured the sequel would most likely be a parade of gross-out one-upmanship. Instead, the merc with a mouth, as played by Ryan Reynolds, gets a bona-fide sequel that surpasses its predecessor in every department. It’s funnier, it’s more savage with its comic tropes, it’s also more reverent with its comic tropes, it has really, really smart writing, Ryan Reynolds, etc. I watched it… four…  times (if you count twice viewing the PG-13 version with Fred Savage, Once Upon a Deadpool)

10 Stepfather

10. The Stepfather (1987)

Terry O’Quinn features in a performance that will turn your blood to ice water in this mid-80s suspense thriller that I had never heard of before. Well worth seeking out.

9 Oliver Twist

9. Oliver Twist (1948)

David Lean’s immaculately-composed adaptation of the classic Dickens story. Featuring an incredible cast, majestic lighting, and a timeless tale of rags to riches. How can you go wrong with Alec Guinness, appearing resplendently squalid in his potentially antisemitic makeup, as the conniving old fence, Fagin? One of many collaborations between Lean and Guinness. Last year, I viewed Lawrence of Arabia for the very first time, and in which Sir Alec plays… an arab, of course.

8 Gosford Park

8. Gosford Park (2001)

Robert Altman’s take on the quintessential country manor murder mystery. A powerhouse cast all around. Eat your heart out, Downton Abbey.

7 Bernie's

7. Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)

Fittingly released at the end of the 80s, a decade marked by selfishness, greed and excess, Weekend at Bernie’s has aged really well, in my opinion. The film is a black comedy that aptly skewers various myths about wealth and success, and remains a cult classic.

6 Goodfellas

6. Goodfellas (1990)

Scorcese’s 29-year-old understudy to his sweeping mob epic, The Irishman. Telling another “based on true events” story about a man who commits numerous criminal acts under the mafia guises of “family” and “loyalty” before ultimately being forced to a reckoning. Featuring truly terrifying performances from Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro.

5 The Irishman

5. The Irishman (2019)

I’m not sure I can say many more eloquent things about this film that Guillermo del Toro hasn’t already said in this epic Twitter thread. The gangster mythos transmuted into hollow, empty torment. The ultimate end that unchecked, virulent machismo leads to. Anna Paquin deserves an award for what she simply does with her eyes in this film, boring holes through Robert De Niro’s soul.  Man as the ultimate corrupting influence over all that he touches.

4 Daniel Webster

4. The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)

Based on an award-winning short story by Stephen Vincent Benét, starring Walter Huston and directed by William Dieterle, The Devil and Daniel Webster was released in U.S. theaters, originally titled as All That Money Can Buy, a mere two months prior to the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor and America’s subsequent entry into WWII. The real-life Daniel Webster was a famous American statesman and orator who represented New Hampshire and Massachusetts in Congress and served as Secretary of State under 3 U.S. Presidents. The film’s theme revolves around patriotism in America, even while it simultaneously delivers a rather naked rebuke of some of the darker events of American history. Mr. Scratch’s (Huston) final scene in the film will chill your bones.

3 Toy Story 4

3. Toy Story 4 (2019)

I did not know it would be possible for a fourth Toy Story film to move me, 24 years after the first one arrived on the scene and ushered us all into the hellscape of soulless CGI kids movies we dwell in today. At Pixar, they have a saying, “Story is King.” This entry in the franchise manages to keep that adage front and center, telling a delightful tale that goes an inch wide and a mile deep.

2 The Devils

2. The Devils (1971)

I have already written at length about this film. A novel adapted into a play adapted into a film, directed by the visionary Ken Russell, The Devils explores a simplistic religious premise staged within the Catholic tradition: devils exist in the world, they are bad, they cause evil and chaos, and therefore, we must drive them out. What the film does with this premise would have been fodder for G.K. Chesterton’s duo of ruminations, Heretics / Orthodoxy. However, as we might already glean from such works as The Crucible and The Mission, “the world is [not] thus… Thus, have we made the world.” Here is where The Devils paints a stark dichotomy between the fever dreams of spiritual possession and the incarnation of a truly Christian life, and the difference between outward piety and inward reverence. An opulent film with an intense subject matter.

1 Neighbor

1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

Without a doubt the most emotionally charged film I watched this year. A balm for the soul. Fred Rogers truly left the world better for his being here. I look forward to seeing Tom Hanks wear the cardigan in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which was released last month.

That does it for 2019!

Except… for… one… more… film:

0 Knives Out 10 Knives Out 2

0. Knives Out (2019)

Rian Johnson’s first outing post-Star Wars is a delightful whodunit, populated, as these affairs often are, with a powerhouse cast of Hollywood stars. The morning after his 85th birthday celebration, renowned murder mystery author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead, apparently by suicide from a self-inflicted knife wound. The rest of the movie unfolds from there. Wonderfully clever, populated with witty dialogue, and rife with intrigue and turmoil that feels as though it were ripped from your own contentious holiday family gatherings, Knives Out works superbly well both on the level of a classic Agatha Christie style mystery, and also as a kind of commentary on American culture in 2019. Bravo.

Honorable mention to: What We Left Behind, The Lobster, A Quiet Place, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Deliverance (1972), Brexit, The Addams Family, Cobra Verde (1987), Leaving Neverland, BlackKKlansmen, Night Moves (2013), The Perfection, The Killing Fields (1984), Isle of Dogs, Cape Fear, The Captain’s Paradise (1953), The Card (1952), The Man in the White Suit (1951), The Favourite, Blow Out (1981), Andre the Giant, Three Identical Strangers, and Active Measures.

Complete list of everything I was a couch potato for in 2019:

Regular = movie watched on a TV or other small screen device
BOLD = denotes theatrical viewing
Italic = denotes a “television series” or “mini series”
Underlined = denotes a short film (30 minutes or less)

  1. 11.22.63
  2. 1922
  3. Ace in the Hole (1951)
  4. Active Measures
  5. The Addams Family
  6. Addams Family Values
  7. Andre the Giant
  8. Annihilation
  9. Ant Man and The Wasp
  10. Aquaman
  11. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  12. Barry: Season 1
  13. BeerFest
  14. Better Call Saul: Seasons 1, 2, 3
  15. Black Narcissus (1947)
  16. BlackKKlansmen
  17. Bless the Harts: Season 1
  18. Blow Out (1981)
  19. Bob’s Burgers: Seasons 5 and 6
  20. Breaking Bad: Seasons 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5
  21. Brexit
  22. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Seasons 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5
  23. Burn After Reading
  24. Cape Fear
  25. The Captain’s Paradise (1953)
  26. The Card (1952)
  27. Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta (Castle in the Sky)
  28. Chernobyl
  29. Children of the Corn (1984)
  30. Clue (1985)
  31. Cobra Verde (1987)
  32. Cooties
  33. Crazy Rich Asians
  34. The Crimes of Grindelwald
  35. Deadpool 2 (x3)
  36. Deliverance (1972)
  37. The Devils (1971)
  38. The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)
  39. Discovering the De Kooning
  40. Disenchantment: Part 2
  41. Dream Corp, LLC: Season 1
  42. Dune (1984)
  43. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
  44. The Expanse: Seasons 1, 2, 3 and 4
  45. Fargo
  46. Farscape: Seasons 3 & 4
  47. Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars
  48. The Favourite
  49. Frantic (1988)
  50. Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened
  51. Fyre Fraud
  52. Game of Thrones: Seasons 5, 6, 7, and 8
  53. Glass
  54. Goodfellas (1990)
  55. The Good Place: Seasons 3 and 4
  56. Good Omens
  57. Gosford Park
  58. The Haunting of Hill House: Season 1
  59. The Heart, She Holler: Season 1
  60. Hell on Earth – The Desecration & Resurrection of “The Devils” (2004)
  61. Hellboy (2019)

  62. Hereditary (x2)
  63. His Dark Materials: Season 1
  64. Hot Streets: Season 1
  65. Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle)
  66. In the Tall Grass
  67. Insidious: The Last Key
  68. Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus
  69. The Irishman
  70. Isle of Dogs
  71. John Carter of Mars
  72. The Killing Fields (1984)
  73. Knives Out
  74. Leaving Neverland
  75. The LEGO Movie: Part 2
  76. The Letter (1940)
  77. The Little Foxes (1941)

  78. The Lobster
  79. Kurenai no buta (Porco Rosso)
  80. The Man in the White Suit (1951)
  81. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (Fathom Events)
  82. The Mandalorian: Season 1
  83. Marathon Man (1976)
  84. The Mask
  85. Me, Myself and Irene
  86. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
  87. Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke)
  88. Mommy Dead & Dearest
  89. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
  90. Mother!
  91. Mortal Engines
  92. The Muppet Christmas Carol
  93. Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

  94. The National Parks: America’s Best Idea
  95. Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind)
  96. Night Moves (2013)
  97. Night of the Hunter (1955)
  98. The Nun
  99. Old Joy
  100. Oliver Twist (1948)
  101. One Punch Man: Season 2
  102. Once Upon a Deadpool (x2)
  103. The Orville: Season 1
  104. Pacific Rim: Uprising
  105. Paint Your Wagon (1969)
  106. The Perfection
  107. The Pineapple Express
  108. The Predator (2018)
  109. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  110. Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind
  111. A Quiet Place
  112. Rampart
  113. Rick & Morty: Season 4
  114. The Righteous Gemstones: Season 1
  115. Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling
  116. Saving Mr. Banks
  117. A Series of Unfortunate Events: Season 3
  118. A Serious Man
  119. The Shivering Truth: Season 1
  120. Silicon Valley: Season 6
  121. The Simpsons: Seasons 30 & 31
  122. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  123. South Park: Season 23
  124. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse
  125. Spies Like Us
  126. Spongebob Squarepants: Seasons 2, 3, 4 and 5
  127. A Star is Born (2018)
  128. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Seasons 6 and 7
  129. Star Trek: Insurrection
  130. The Stepfather (1987)
  131. Steve Jobs
  132. Stranger Things: Season 3
  133. Tag
  134. There’s Something About Mary
  135. Three Identical Strangers
  136. Tigtone: Season 1
  137. Toy Story 4
  138. True Detective: Season 3
  139. Tuca & Bertie: Season 1
  140. Under the Silver Lake
  141. The Venture Bros. : Seasons 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7
  142. The Vietnam War
  143. Watchmen: Season 1
  144. Waking Ned Devine
  145. Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)
  146. What We Do in the Shadows: Season 1
  147. What We Left Behind
  148. Omoide no Mânî (When Marnie Was There)
  149. Mimi wo sumaseba (Whisper of the Heart)
  150. The Witcher: Season 1

  151. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
  152. The X-Files: Seasons 7, 8 and 9

2019 – The Year in Review – Top Albums & Songs

Yes, I managed to listen to over 120 albums in 2019. Streaming music subscription services can be a wonderful thing (for consumers, at least). Believe it or not, I still actually purchase music in physical formats, as well.  At any rate, distilling those 120+ albums down to a serviceable “list” of favorites was no mean feat. Behold, my Top Albums of 2019:

15 Peter Caws

15. Peter Caws & Parkington Sisters – The Book of Hylas

Sometimes, through weariness or discouragement, no new thing arises.
Sometimes, through pressure and anxiety, many old things overwhelm.
Learn to wait, for the stirring or for the subsiding.
Learn to wait, for the turmoil to be still, for the stillness to speak.
Let memory recall times of taking refuge, times of setting forth anew.
Bring to mind times of comfort or times of purpose.
You have passed this way before.
You have left markers along the way – look for them.

Peter Caws is University Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at The George Washington University. Fun fact: he is the father of Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws. The Book of Hylas is a set of meditations on life and how to live it, recited by the elder Caws, and set to music by Boston-based Parkington Sisters. Clocking in at 13 minutes, this is surely the shortest “album” I have ever short-listed for a Year In Review.

14 Vampire Weekend

14. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride

Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain
I just thought it didn’t rain in California

After a lengthy six year gap, Vampire Weekend returned with their long-awaited fourth LP, Father of the Bride. P4K says it showcases them embracing a full-on jam band vibe. I can’t disagree. Plenty of hooks and ear-worms are here to be pulled out of context, but the album works quite well as a whole. At once cheerful and lamentable.

13 The Get Up Kids

13. The Get Up Kids – Problems

It’s not about hopeless
Not a song of despair
Just about choices and making them fair

Their first album in 8 years, and second since “breaking up” in 2005 and then reforming in 2008, Problems finds The Get Up Kids right back at the height of their considerable powers. They haven’t lost the energy and creativity, although they may have lost one member. Another album that benefits from being experienced whole.

12 Sharon Van Etten

12. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow

Turning the wheel on my street
My heart still skips a beat

Sharon Van Etten has long been a hardworking supporting act and a talented and proficient solo artist. With Remind Me Tomorrow, she embraces a much broader palette than she employed in the past with her singer-songwriter chops. Production values are up, nostalgia and retro-electronic flourishes feature heavily, and her songwriting is ornamented and adorned in ways both unexpected and refreshing.

11 Bon Iver

11. Bon Iver – i,i

When we were children we were hell bent
Or oblivious at least
But now it comes to mind, we are terrified
So we run and hide for a verified little peace

Bon Iver has always been a superbly singular artist and his falsetto-whisper-croon lilt delivery a vehicle for inscrutable pathos and lonesome heartache. Justin Vernon has worked with some of the industry’s biggest names and yet has managed to carve a channel all his own. i,i in many ways feels like the natural continuation of his sonic odyssey, thus far. Lush and idiosyncratic, this is another album that benefits from whole immersion.

10 Angel Olsen

10. Angel Olsen – All Mirrors

You know best, don’t you, now?
Don’t you, now? Don’t you, now?

Angel Olsen’s sweeping epic All Mirrors has aplomb and grandeur aplenty. Widescreen cinema balladry. Olsen delivers the goods.

9 Efterklang

9. Efterklang – Altid Sammen

My soul in that case, at times
Min sjæl i det bIå, til tider

We are in love now, we are in love
Vi er forelsket nu,  vi er forelsket

Always us, together to share us
Altid os, sammen om at dele os

We are infinite
Vi er uendelig

The Danish outfit’s fifth proper album, the first in seven years, is an ornate and densely-layered work. Altid Sammen (meaning “always together”) is replete with orchestral arrangements and exiguous sonic experimentation. The album is sonorous and rewards total immersion. The vocals are entirely in Danish. I have no idea what they’re singing about.

8 Nick Cave

8. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

And if we rise my love
Before the daylight comes
A thousand galleon ships will sail
Ghostly around the morning sun

Without a doubt the most emotionally gut-wrenching release of the year. A 2xLP exegesis on grief and mortality. Nick Cave’s most personal work, ever. Simply devastating.

7 Bibio

7. Bibio – Ribbons

Pretty ribbons
And lovely flowers

Stephen Wilkinson is back with his signature blend of acoustic instrumentation and digital warble, creating arrangements in much the same fashion I imagine a skilled florist does. Exceedingly chill and carefree, Ribbons is an album that practically begs to be the soundtrack to your next nature hike.

6 Mountain Goats

6. The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons

I’m gonna burn it all down today
And sweep all the ashes away

The Mountain Goats play D&D. That’s it. That’s the review.

5 Townes Van Zandt

5. Townes Van Zandt – Sky Blue

Oh but when good times
Come fallin’ over me
Breath turns to melody
All I need’s gonna fall
Away like dreams

A collection of new material, old material, and a few covers originally recorded with Bill Hedgepeth in 1973, Sky Blue is a welcome addition to the prolific troubadour’s back catalogue. An artist I first came to hear and revere by way of T Bone Burnett and the Coen Brothers, Townes Van Zandt remains a legend of American Country Western music. His writing is poetry that exists on another plane of existence, and yet remains as weary and grizzled as the most down-to-earth Texas troubadour, busking his way across the American Southwest.

4 Big Thief UFOF

4. Big Thief – U.F.O.F.

And you don’t need to know why when you cry
You don’t need to know why
You don’t need to know why when you cry

The first of two albums they would release in 2019, U.F.O.F. finds Adrienne Lenker not letting off the gas, ever traveling forward. This album was recorded in a large, cabin-like room. This is a band to watch over… watch over and marvel.

3 Bombadil

3. Bombadil – Beautiful Country

Suzy don’t forget
Forget to move on

Bombadil have previously featured on my Year in Review lists on more than a few occasions. This year they dropped a brand spanking new album without too much fanfare. It’s exquisite. By degrees, the band is leaving the boondocks behind.

2 Big Thief Two Hands

2. Big Thief – Two Hands

It’s not the room
Not beginning
Not the crowd
Not winning
Not the planet
That’s spinning

Well, darn. Big Thief released two magnum opus records in 2019. I will not be sorry for including both of them on my list, here. Jesus Christ how do they do it?

1 Jeffrey Lewis

1. Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage – Bad Wiring

Were you going somewhere sooner or later
Or just pushing all the buttons on the elevator
You gotta’ have free will to live your pre-planned life
You gotta’ pay the bill or you get unsubscribed

Admittedly, I had no idea that this was going to be my favorite record of the year. But it is. And I have absolutely no reservations about saying so. Jeffrey Lewis has long been a musician I follow. He’s… what do you want to call it, “Anti-Folk” or some such? His songwriting is biting and incisive, the auditory equivalent of an erudite Reddit thread piercing your brain. He’s done entire albums covering obscure punk rock bands, also entire records covering Jewish counterculture poets, and don’t forget the songs about LSD and sexual legends of the Chelsea Hotel. He’s very much borne of a New York City mythology spanning decades including the years when I am not yet alive. The existential pathos of his work cannot be replicated. This album is like a Rick & Morty episode that flies above the heads of the show’s misogynistic fanbase and yet they still applaud. Brutal, crushing, existential self-awareness seems to be a hallmark of Lewis’ work.

Well I guess we’re not supposed to be wise
If everything that learns also dies

Honorable Mentions: Andrew Bird, Kevin Morby, Bruce Springsteen, Angelo de Augustine, Jessica Pratt, Weyes Blood, Jade Bird, HEALTH, FKA Twigs, Whitney, Holly Herndon, American Football, Lana Del Rey, Why?, Over the Rhine, Pedro the Lion, Helado Negro, Clairo, Josh Ritter, Purple Mountains, Vagabon, Ssion, Chromatics, and Beirut.

Apple Music Playlists:

Top of 2019 – Albums

Top of 2019 – Top Songs

Complete List of 2019 Albums:

  1. !!! – Wallop
  2. A.A. Bondy – Enderness
  3. American Football: American Football (LP3)
  4. Andrew Bird –  My Finest Work Yet
  5. Andy Stott – It Should Be Us
  6. Anemone – Beat My Distance
  7. Angel Olsen – All Mirrors
  8. Angelo de Augustine – Tomb
  9. Apparat – LP5
  10. Bat for Lashes – Lost Girls
  11. Battles – Juice B Crypts
  12. Beirut – Gallipoli
  13. Beth Gibbons, The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra & Krzysztof Penderecki – Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)
  14. Bibio – Ribbons
  15. Big Thief – Two Hands
  16. Big Thief – U.F.O.F.
  17. Bill Evans – Smile With Your Heart: The Best of Bill Evans on Resonance Records
  18. Bombadil – Beautiful Country
  19. Bon Iver – i,i
  20. Bonobo – fabric presents Bonobo
  21. Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
  22. Cate Le Bon – Reward

  23. CHAI – PUNK
  24. Cherry Glazerr – Stuffed & Ready
  25. Chromatics – Closer to Grey
  26. Ciara – Beauty Marks
  27. The Cinematic Orchestra – To Believe
  28. Clairo – Immunity
  29. Com Truise – Persuasion System
  30. Danger – Origins
  31. Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?
  32. Drugdealer – Raw Honey
  33. Ernest Hood – Neighborhoods (Reissue)
  34. Efterklang – Altid Sammen
  35. Ex:Re – Ex:Re
  36. Faye Webster – Atlanta Millionaire’s Club
  37. Fennesz – Agora
  38. Fever Ray – Live at Troxy
  39. FKA Twigs – MAGDALENE
  40. Floating Points – Crush
  41. Floating Points – Late Night Tales: Floating Points
  42. Flying Lotus – Flamagra
  43. George Winston – Restless Wind
  44. The Get Up Kids – Problems
  45. Glok – Dissident
  46. Guided by Voices – Zeppelin over China
  47. Guided by Voices – Warp and Woof
  48. Hand Habits – placeholder
  49. Hauschka – A Different Forest
  50. HEALTH – VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR
  51. Helado Negro – This is How You Smile
  52. Holly Herndon – PROTO
  53. Hoshina Anniversary – Nihon No Ongaku / 日本の音楽」
  54. Insanlar – Demedim Mi
  55. Jacques Greene – Dawn Chorus
  56. Jade Bird – Jade Bird
  57. Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage – Bad Wiring
  58. Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs
  59. John Vanderslice – The Cedars
  60. Josh Garrels – Chrysaline
  61. Josh Ritter – Fever Breaks
  62. Joy Orbison – Slipping – EP
  63. Kacy & Clayton – Carrying On
  64. Kanye West – Jesus is King
  65. Karen O & Danger Mouse – Lux Prima
  66. Kelly Moran – Origin EP
  67. Kevin Morby – Oh My God
  68. Kim Gordon – No Home Record
  69. Lali Puna – Being Water EP
  70. Lana del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell
  71. Lightbath – Selected Public Works, Vol. 3
  72. Lily & Madeleine – Canterbury Girls
  73. Mira Calix – Utopia EP
  74. Mount Eerie – Lost Wisdom, Pt. 2 (feat. Julie Doiron)
  75. The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons
  76. Mort Garson – Mother Earth’s Plantasia (Reissue)
  77. The National – I Am Easy to Find
  78. The New Pornographers – In the Morse Code of Brake Lights
  79. Nick Cave & the Bad Seesds – Ghosteen
  80. Nils Frahm – All Encores
  81. Nilüfer Yanya – Miss Universe
  82. Nivhek – After its own death /  Walking in a spiral towards the house
  83. North Mississippi Allstars – Up and Rolling
  84. Oso Oso – Basking in the Glow

  85. Over the Rhine – Love & Revelation
  86. Panda Bear – Buoys
  87. Pedro the Lion – Phoenix
  88. Peter Caws – The Book of Hylas (featuring Parkington Sisters)
  89. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains
  90. Robert Ellis – Texas Piano Man
  91. (Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
  92. SASAMI – SASAMI
  93. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
  94. ShitKid – [Detention]
  95. Sigur Rós – 22° Lunar Halo
  96. Sigur Rós – Variations on Darkness
  97. Solange – When I Get Home
  98. Ssion – o
  99. Stella Donnelly – Beware the Dogs
  100. Steve Hauschildt – Nonlin
  101. Switchfoot – Native Tongue
  102. Tamaryn – Dreaming in the Dark
  103. Tegan and Sara – Hey, I’m Just Like You
  104. Temples – Hot Motion
  105. Tim Heidecker – Another Year in Hell EP
  106. Tim Hecker – Anoyo
  107. Timo Andres & Sufjan Stevens – The Decalogue
  108. Titus Andronicus – An Obelisk
  109. Toro y Moi – Outer Peace
  110. Townes Van Zandt – Sky Blue
  111. Tycho – Weather
  112. Vagabon – Vagabon
  113. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
  114. Vangelis – Nocturne
  115. Various Artists – For the Throne (Music Inspired by Game of Thrones)
  116. Various Artists – Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990
  117. Weezer – Weezer (Black Album)
  118. Weezer – Weezer (Teal Album)
  119. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
  120. Whitney – Forever Turned Around
  121. Why? – AOKOHIO
  122. Yeasayer – Erotic Reruns
  123. Ziúr – Atø

2019 – The Year in Review – Top Albums (Ambient)

A 2019 Year in Review list of albums that primarily skew towards the ambient, electronic, experimental and instrumental. I created a separate list for 2019 because I found myself increasingly turning to such records throughout the year. Part of the allure would definitely have to be the meditative, relaxing quality of many such recordings. Another might have been simply a kick I got on, after years of only occasionally listening to the odd Brian Eno ambient masterwork. Behold, the list:

15 Ernest Hood

15. Ernest Hood – Neighborhoods

A re-issue of an album originally released in 1974, assembled from a mesmerizing array of found sounds, field recordings and proto-ambient electronic music, Neighborhoods truly evokes a memory of times past. The auditory equivalent of being teleported back to a time without the internet, cellular phones and a myriad of digital devices with screens. Unencumbered by such modern niceties, the album streams past at a laconic pace, and, not unlike Midnight Cowboy, one of my favorite films first viewed in 2019 (and celebrating its 50th anniversary), it possesses the distinct quality of being a coherent slice of life, perfectly captured in the moment.

14 Sigur Rós

14. Sigur Rós – Variations on Darkness

Consisting of two, 20+ minute long tracks, Variations on Darkness is assembled from unreleased Sigur Rós material, as well as various multitracks of songs culled from the band’s back catalogue. The music was premiered at the Nordur og nidur festival, and utilized as a soundtrack to choreographed performances from the Iceland Dance Company. Cavernous and shot through with a palpable sense of foreboding, Variations on Darkness made for a terrific soundtrack to any daily news dump from 2019.

13 Górecki

13. Beth Gibbons, The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra & Krzysztof Penderecki – Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)

Beth Gibbons is the lead vocalist for Portishead. Krzysztof Penderecki is a Polish composer whose work has been featured in films, most notably The Exorcist and The Shining. Here, they take on Polish composer Henryk Górecki’s famous Symphony No. 3. A sprawling, mournful piece of composition, the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs plays like the score to the denouement of a Sam Mendes picture.

12 Kankyō Ongaku

12. Various Artists – Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990

Perhaps it is indeed emblematic of what Pitchfork deemed, “the growth of functional listening,” that I happened to compile this particular album list for the first time this year. The ubiquity of supermassive streaming libraries now virtually at our fingertips and always available for our thirsty eardrums means we can find ways to soundtrack our lives at any and every moment we wish. Kankyō Ongaku is such a soundtrack*, culled from a number of Japanese ambient electronic artists from the 1980s. This compilation is curated by Spencer Doran, of Visible Cloaks, and released on Light in the Attic Records (the very same responsible for the Lewis reissues and subsequent solution to the decades-old mystery of their provenance). Highly recommended. *The vinyl release of this album is a 3 x LP and features 25 tracks, while the streaming version is limited to only 10.

11 Steve Hauschildt

11. Steve Hauschildt – Nonlin

Steve Hauschildt, formerly of Emeralds, released Nonlin, his latest LP on Ghostly International, in late 2019. I hitherto had only a dim awareness of his work. Much like another of my favorite albums from 2019 (Floating Points’ “Crush”), Nonlin offers up a hybrid cross-section of thoughtfully-composed electronic music, leaning rather heavily on the synthesizers. An art-house Stranger Things soundtrack, if you will.

10 Nils Frahm

10. Nils Frahm – All Encores

All Encores is a collection of the contents of 3 Encores EPs released over the course of 2019 on the heels of Frahm’s excellent 2018 LP, All Melody. Representing a selection of works that are far more spare and unassuming than the baroque, multifaceted splendor of All Melody, the collection of EPs would be a fitting accompaniment to any sort of weather, be it fair or frightful.

9 Lightbath

9. Lightbath – Selected Public Works, Vol. 3

A brand new discovery for me in 2019, Lightbath is the brainchild of composer/improviser Bryan Noll. Selected Public Works, Vol. 3 collects various of his modular synthesizer performances from the past 4 years. Volumes 1 and 2 have been released only on cassette tape thus far, while Vol. 3 is available to stream online. Another EP, Vol. 4, was also released in late 2019. His work is reminiscent of Brian Eno, SURVIVE, CFCF and Oneohtrix Point Never. The soundtrack to a celestial zen garden.

8 Glok

8. Glok – Dissident

Another brand new discovery for me in 2019. Glok is the electronic alias of Andy Bell, guitarist and vocalist of the English shoegaze band Ride. A sprawling record, Dissident fuses, “synth wave and Detroit techno via a love of John Carpenter soundtracks with dissonant atmospherics and an acid throb,” and rewards many repeat spins.

7 Floating Points

7. Floating Points – Crush

Floatings Points is Sam Shepard, a DJ, musician and producer from the UK. Crush is a record I have been looking forward to ever since his debut, Elaenia, was released back in 2015. A deep and exacting record, Crush is something of a Rube Goldberg machine in album form. A musical sub-genre called ‘Braindance’ supposedly applies here. The album offers up tasty morsels in a precisely-constructed presentation format, and you can pluck any one out to enjoy. A virtual buffet that has been thoughtfully arranged and pared back to showcase a number of unique tastes.

6 Hauschka

6. Hauschka – A Different Forest

Volker Bertelmann is the name of the experimental “prepared” pianist who goes by Hauschka. Once upon a time, he was a member of a German hip-hop group. Nowadays, he has undergone an extended metamorphosis to become, more or less, a bonafide neoclassical pianist. A Different Forest is very much a straightforward affair, and requires nothing more than a simple appreciation of the unprepared ivories to enjoy. His playing on this album is expressive and warm.

5 Kelly Moran

5. Kelly Moran – Origin EP

Kelly Moran’s follow-up to her excellent Ultraviolet, released in 2018. Like Hauschka, she is a specialist of the “prepared piano,” which is a piano that has had its sound altered by the placement of various objects on or between the strings. Origin is a no slouch for an EP, clocking in at over 36 minutes in length. Here we find some brand new material, along with improvisational, proto-versions of pieces from Ultraviolet. The tapestry of mesmerizing sounds she conjures from the piano is at once both ostentatious and austere.

4 Tim Hecker

4. Tim Hecker – Anoyo

Tim Hecker followed up 2018’s Konoyo (this world) with companion piece Anoyo (the world over there). The tracks on the latter come from the same sessions that produced the tracks on the former.  Drawing upon Japanese court music style gagaku, Hecker recorded Anoyo with the ensemble Tokyo Gakuso. A voyage into the vacuum of space. Boundless and immense.

3 Fennesz

3. Fennesz – Agora

The first LP from Austrian composer Christian Fennesz in 5 years, Agora is an album of layers. Despite being recorded largely indoors with guitars, the four tracks comprising its 48 minute runtime manage to evoke an eerie spaciousness. Unlike AnoyoAgora feels like a voyage among the stars that turns out to have actually been a descent into the Mariana Trench.

2 Mort Garson

2. Mort Garson – Plantasia

Another reissue, this one from Mort Garson, a pioneer of discrete music and electronic composition. Originally released in 1976, Plantasia is a wonderful cornucopia of Moog synthesizer music, surprisingly organic and warm, and absolutely on-point as far as its central conceit is concerned (music for plants and the people who love them). 40-plus years later, thanks to projects such as the MIDI Sprout, music for and by plants feels more timely than ever.

1 Nivhek

1. Nivhek – After its own death / Walking in a spiral towards the house

Nivhek is a new moniker for Liz Harris, otherwise known as Grouper. This record is comprised of two long-form performances, each broken into two pieces, and originally performed as a part of two different artistic residencies: one in Murmansk, Russia, the other in the Azores, in Portugal. Taken together as a full release, now, in 2019, and clocking in at just about one hour, the cumulative result packs a mighty wallop. From glossolalia to drone to faraway bells and chimes, found sounds and malfunctioning equipment, distant footsteps and funereal abysms of sound, the album plays like a long stroll deep into the desolation of winter’s grasp. As with many of the albums I’ve selected for this new Year in Review list, it rewards patience and many repeat spins.

Apple Music Playlists:

Top of 2019 – Albums (Ambient)

Top of 2019 – Top Songs (Ambient)

 

2018 – The Year in Review – Film & Television

[This was an unpublished draft I’m dusting off… and almost in time for the compilation of my 2019 Year in Review 🤦🏽‍♂️]

Increasingly, the lines between entertainment mediums are being blurred and new forms are emerging. From the entire-season-all-at-one-time binge-fests facilitated by the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, to the evolution of the “mini-series” or “limited” series on HBO, FX and Showtime, etc. The ubiquitous nature of visual entertainment these days means a glut of content, comprised of new material jostling for eyeballs amidst a pantheon of classics.

2018 found me visiting a number of classics for the very first time in my life, while also trying to keep up with the water cooler conversations about whichever comic book character had a CGI monster battle last week.

They have a saying at Pixar, “Story Is King.” Which means, in essence, that it’s far more important for an audience member to walk away from a film feeling something rather than to simply show a barrage of eye-popping visuals or reveal some kind of logic-bending twist surprise at the end. If the effect is powerful enough it is even possible for a good story to completely alter an audience member’s worldview.

Every film on this list told a story with characters that made me feel something real.

So, without further ado, here are Joel’s Best Films viewed (for the first time) in 2018:

10 Key Largo

10. Key Largo (1948)

Owing largely to my subscription to FilmStuck (R.I.P.), I was able to watch a whole slew of classic Hollywood films this year. Dominating my watchlist in 2018 were the films of John Huston and Humphrey Bogart, 3 of which are on this list.  First up is the Noir Thriller Key Largo, a taut, gripping screen adaption of the stage play by the same name originally written in blank verse by Maxwell Anderson. Bogart gives an understated performance as a WWII veteran who is undergoing a personal crisis of confidence. Supporting him in the cast are Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall (Bogart’s real-life wife), and Lionel Barrymore, et al. The heart of the story revolves around concepts of heroism and machismo, the nature of valor and honor and what real courage looks like. When tested, what man can truly claim to have given his all?

09 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

9. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Huston and Bogart teamed up again in 1948 to make The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, adapted from the novel of the same name, written by B. Traven, an author whose true identity remains unknown to this very day. This time around, Bogart shares the screen with the director’s real-life father, Walter Huston, who steals every scene in his role as Howard, the grizzled, old prospector who is hired by Bogart’s character, Dobbs, and his partner, Curtain, played by Tim Holt.  The film is a masterful case study in avarice, greed, and the soul-corrupting effects of selfish ambition.

08 The Maltese Falcon

8. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

A re-adaptation of an already-well-known story, The Maltese Falcon was also a collaboration between Humphrey Bogart and John Huston. Once again, the big themes are avarice and deceit. I definitely was on a noir kick in 2018.

07 Lawrence of Arabia

7. Lawrence of Arabia

An epic oft-cited as the greatest film of all time, Lawrence of Arabia exists on a plane of filmmaking all its own. There are no matte shots. No glass plates. Every performance is a revelation. Even though it can be a bit weird to see Anthony Quinn and Alec Guinness pretending to be Arabs. Peter O’Toole puts out a match. An inimitable film.

06 Thor Ragnarok

6. Thor: Ragnarok

I watched this movie FOUR TIMES. Not much else to say about it except that Taika Waititi is a joyously-talented film maker who manages to execute at a very high level in his craft while maintaining a wry sense of self-deprecating humor. A perfect director to rehabilitate the foundering Thor franchise.

05 The Trip to Spain

5. The Trip to Spain

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon returned in the latest installment in, “the only movie franchise that matters” back in 2017. The ending took me off guard. They could keep making these films forever, and I’ll show up for each and every one.

04 Loving

4. Loving

Based upon the true-life story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple whose arrest for interracial marriage, then illegal in the state of Virginia, led to a legal battle that culminated in the Supreme Court’s historic 1967 decision. A powerful and effective portrayal by Jeff Nichols and his excellent cast.

03 A Ghost Story

3. A Ghost Story

A metaphysical journey into the big questions of life, death and the hereafter from the same guy who directed the live-action remake of Pete’s Dragon? OK. David Lowery’s film is mostly dialogue-free, and exists in a realm of pure cinema. Featuring my second-favorite Bonnie “Prince” Billy acting performance (after Old Joy).

02 The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Coen Bros., like many modern, “auteurs” have a distinct palette with which they weave the tapestries of their art form. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, in many ways, is a kind of buffet line of their favorite tropes, archetypes, musical stylings and the ever-ready ensemble of talent they’ve accrued in their peerless careers. Each vignette in this anthology-as-film has a distinct story to tell, and most of them are tragic.

01 The Best Years of Our Lives

1. The Best Years of our Lives (1946)

William Wyler returned from service in WWII to make the best film of his entire career:  A weaving together of the stories of three war veterans returning home after the conclusion of the war to find that they no longer understand and fit in with the society they fought to preserve and protect.

I am not a veteran, and thus lack the basic concepts of what the experience of serving in the United States Armed Forces is like, much less what the psychological, physical and spiritual toll of going to war feels like. However, after I finished The Best Years of our Lives, I felt I had come as close as possible to having the ability to fully empathize with those who’ve served, and to begin to have an inkling of the sacrifices they are asked to make for their fellow countrymen.

The Best Years of our Lives is a supremely humbling film. It features incredible performances from each of its leads, two of whom were real-life veterans. Frederic March served in WWI. Harold Russell served in WWII. The kind of film I will never forget. Steven Spielberg has said that he makes a point of watching it at least once a year.

And that’s my list! From 2018…

Honorable mentions: Dunkirk, The Cincinnati Kid (1965), The Endless, Incredibles 2, Look Back in Anger (1959), War for the Planet of the Apes, The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, The Florida Project, Six Shooter, Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Kimi no na wa. (Your Name.), Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Whiskey Galore! (1949), Room, Revolutionary Road, Stay Hungry (1976), The Ladykillers (1955), Planet of the Apes (1968), and First Reformed. Someday I’ll write more about First Reformed.

Complete viewing list from 2018:

Regular = movie watched on a TV or other small screen device
BOLD = denotes theatrical viewing
Italic = denotes a “television series” or “mini series”
Underlined = denotes a short film (30 minutes or less)

  1. 20th Century Women
  2. Across the Pacific (1942)
  3. The Adjustment Bureau
  4. Adventure Time: Seasons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10
  5. Altered Carbon: Season 1
  6. Alien
  7. Alien3
  8. Alien Versus Predator
  9. Aliens
  10. Alien: Covenant
  11. Alien: Resurrection
  12. An American Tail
  13. The Animation Show of Shows
    • Can You Do It by Quentin Baillieux
    • Tiny Big by Lia Bertels
    • Next Door by Pete Doctor
    • The Alan Dimension by Jac Clinch
    • Beautiful Like Elsewhere by Elise Simard
    • Hangman by Paul Julian & Les Goldman
    • The Battle of San Romano by Georges Schwizgebel
    • Gokurosama by Aurore Gal, Clementine Frère, Yukiko Meignein, Anna Mertz, Robin Migliorelli, & Roman Salvini
    • Dear Basketball by Glen Keane
    • Island by Robert Löbel & Max Mörtl
    • Unsatisfying by Parallel Studio
    • The Burden by Niki Lindroth von Bahr
    • Les Abeilles Domestiques by Alexanne Desrosiers
    • Our Wonderful Nature – The Common Chameleon by Tomer Eshed
    • Casino by Steven Wolosehn
    • Everything by David O’Reilly
  14. Asparagus (1979)
  15. Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Seasons 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 & 11
  16. Avengers: Infinity War
  17. The Aviator
  18. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  19. Barry Lyndon (1975)
  20. Ben-Hur (1959)
  21. The Best Years of our Lives (1946)
  22. The Big Sleep (1946)
  23. The Big Sleep (1978)
  24. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
  25. Black Mirror: Seasons 1, 2, 3, & 4
    • Season 1
      • The Entire History of You
    • Season 2
      • Be Right Back
      • The Waldo Moment
      • White Bear
      • White Christmas
    • Season 3
      • Hated in the Nation
    • Season 4
      • Arkangel
      • Crocodile
      • Hang the DJ
      • USS Callister
  26. Black Panther
  27. The Burning Hell (1974)
  28. Cars 3
  29. Children of the Whales: Season 1
  30. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  31. The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
  32. Coma (1978)
  33. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: Seasons 1, 2, 3, and 4
  34. Crazy Heart
  35. Darkest Hour
  36. Dave Chapelle: The Bird Revelation
  37. Dave Chapelle: Equanimity
  38. Dead Ringers (1988)
  39. Dear Basketball
  40. The Disaster Artist
  41. Disenchantment: Season 1
  42. Dude, Where’s My Car?
  43. Dunkirk
  44. Early Man
  45. The Endless
  46. Evan Almighty
  47. Evil Genius
  48. The Exorcist
  49. The Expanse: Season 1
  50. Fantastic Mr. Fox
  51. Farewell, My Lovely (1975)
  52. Felix Comes Back (1922)
  53. First Reformed
  54. Five Easy Pieces (1970)
  55. The Florida Project
  56. Game of Thrones: Seasons 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
  57. A Ghost Story (x2)
  58. The Good Place: Seasons 1 and 2
  59. The Greatest Showman
  60. Grey Gardens (1976)
  61. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (x2)
  62. Gulliver’s Travels (1996)
  63. The Hand that Rocks the Cradle
  64. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  65. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
  66. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  67. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  68. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
  69. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  70. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  71. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  72. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  73. The Hobbit: Bilbo 3.1 Final Edit
  74. The Hudsucker Proxy
  75. I Am Not Your Negro
  76. Incredibles 2
  77. Incredibles 2
  78. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  79. Innerspace (1987)
  80. It: Chapter One
  81. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
  82. Key Largo (1948)
  83. Majo no takkyûbin (Kiki’s Delivery Service)
  84. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
  85. The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)
  86. Knights of Sidonia: Season 2
  87. Kong: Skull Island
  88. Lady Bird
  89. Ladyhawke (1985)
  90. The Ladykillers (1955)
  91. Lawrence of Arabia
  92. Lightning Sketches (1907)
  93. Little Dieter Needs to Fly
  94. Little Dorrit (2008)
  95. The Little Hours
  96. Look Back in Anger (1959)
  97. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro
  98. Funny or Die Presents: Lost Masterpieces of Pornography
  99. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition)
  100. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)
  101. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Edition)
  102. Loving
  103. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  104. Man on the Moon
  105. The Man Who Invented Christmas
  106. The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
  107. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
  108. Meari to majo no hana (Mary and the Witch’s Flower)
  109. Meet the Happiest Guy in the World
  110. The Mist
  111. The Mirror Crack’d (1980)
  112. Moon
  113. Moonlight
  114. MST3K: I Accuse My Parents
  115. MST3K: Time Chasers
  116. Murder Ahoy (1964)
  117. Murder at the Gallop (1963)
  118. Murder Most Foul (1964)
  119. Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
  120. Murder, She Said (1961)
  121. My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes
  122. Neko no ongaeshi (The Cat Returns)
  123. Network (1976)
  124. My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman: Barack Obama
  125. My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman: George Clooney
  126. The Ωmega Man (1971) 
  127. The Omen (1976)
  128. One Punch Man: Wanpanman (One-Punch Man): Season 1
  129. Oscar
  130. Pacific Rim
  131. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
  132. Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams: Season 1
    • “Autofac” based on “Autofac”
    • “The Commuter” based on “The Commuter”
    • “Crazy Diamond” based on “Sales Pitch”
    • “The Father Thing” based on “The Father Thing”
    • “The Hood Maker” based on “The Hood Maker”
    • “Human Is” based on “Human Is”
    • “Impossible Planet” based on “The Impossible Planet”
    • “KAO” based on “Hanging Stranger”
    • “Real Life” based on “Exhibit Piece”
    • “Safe and Sound” based on “Foster, You’re Dead”
  133. The Pink Panther Strikes Again
  134. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
  135. Planet of the Apes (1968)
  136. The Post
  137. Ready Player One
  138. Ready Player One
  139. ReBoot: Season 1
  140. Regular Show: Seasons 3 and 4
  141. Revolutionary Road
  142. Requiem for a Dream
  143. Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants
  144. The Road to El Dorado
  145. Robin Hood: Men in Tights
  146. Room
  147. The Running Man
  148. Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) (1957)
  149. The Shining (1980)
  150. Shocker (1989)
  151. Six Shooter
  152. Sonic the Hedgehog: Season 1
  153. Speed Racer
  154. SpongeBob SquarePants: Seasons 1 and  2
  155. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Seasons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6
  156. Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 7
  157. Star Vs. the Forces of Evil: Seasons 1, 2 & 3
  158. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  159. Stay Hungry (1976)
  160. Tales from the Script
  161. Thor: Ragnarok (4 times, yes… FOUR TIMES)
  162. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  163. Time of Day
  164. Tom Jones
  165. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
  166. The Trip to Spain
  167. Trollhunters: Part 2
  168. The Twilight Zone: Seasons 1, 2, 3 and 5
  169. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
  170. War for the Planet of the Apes
  171. WarCraft
  172. Watership Down (1978)
  173. We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story
  174. Westworld: Season 2
  175. What We Do in the Shadows (x2)
  176. Whiskey Galore! (1949)
  177. Wind in the Willows (1987) (x2)
  178. Wonder Showzen: Season 2
  179. Kimi no na wa. (Your Name.)

 

2018 – The Year in Review – Music – Top Songs

Love in the Time of Lexapro

I’ve put together an Apple Music playlist, distilling over 140 songs I culled from 2018 (and a couple that are technically from 2017, if you wanna split hairs) and assembled a *short* 3 hour long playlist. Slap on a pair of headphones or fire up the HomePod or off-brand Bluetooth speaker and have a listen!

Top of 2018 – Apple Music – Joel’s Top Songs

  1. Babylon – Oneohtrix Point Never
  2. Duration Meditation – Reto A Ichi
  3. Mongolia (The Ancient Era) [Pastor Song; Khoomii Improvisation] – Nature Ganganbaigal of Tengger Cavalry
  4. Time – Angelo De Augustine
  5. Eyes Wide Awake – Calexico
  6. Moon Bog – Oh Sees
  7. Camera (On Film) – Chromatics
  8. Angie – Shame
  9. Wildflowers – Soccer Mommy
  10. Shades of Blue – Yo La Tengo
  11. The Last Great Washington State – Damien Jurado
  12. Driving – Grouper
  13. Helix (Edit) – Kelly Moran
  14. I Shall Love 2 – Julia Holter
  15. Poor Sucker – Low
  16. In My View – Young Fathers
  17. Empty Vessels – DeVotchKa
  18. When You’re Small – MGMT
  19. Woo – Beach House
  20. Chasing Stars – Postiljonen
  21. When I’m with Him – Empress Of
  22. The Whole Universe Wants to Be Touched – Nils Frahm
  23. Come Wayward Souls – The Blasting Company
  24. Potatus Et Molassus – The Blasting Company
  25. Time Adventure (feat. Niki Yang, Sean Giambrone, Steve Little, Hynden Walch, Olivia Olson, John DiMaggio, Pendleton Ward, Justin Roiland, Maria Bamford, Jessica DiCiccu & Tom Kenny) – Adventure Time, Rebecca Sugar & Tim Kiefer
  26. When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings – Willie Watson & Tim Blake Nelson
  27. At Least the Sky Is Blue (feat. Ariel Pink) – Ssion
  28. Hang On Me (Piano Version) – St. Vincent
  29. Suspirium – Thom Yorke
  30. Dancing and Fire – Low
  31. Percy Faith – Damien Jurado
  32. Slow Burn – Kacey Musgraves
  33. Venice Bitch – Lana Del Rey
  34. Two Slow Dancers – Mitski
  35. Always Up – Low
  36. last piece – Lykke Li
  37. Heaven in Farsi – PAINT
  38. Tenderness – Parquet Courts
  39. The and Song – Jeffrey Lewis
  40. Fear The Future (Piano Version) – St. Vincent
  41. Last Wave – They Might Be Giants
  42. Disarray – Low
  43. Babylon – Oneohtrix Point Never & (Sandy) Alex G

 

2018 – The Year in Review – Music – Top Albums

Wait, is 2018 over already? I managed to squeeze in a whole bunch of music listening this year, soundtracking every waking minute of my life with some fresh tunes streaming off the world wide webbings, passing through some algorithms harvesting my every play, skip and replay, traversing the atmosphere, finally emitting from whatever untethered speaker setup is handy at the moment. What a world.

Without further ado, here are my top ten albums of 2018:

10 kacey musgraves

10. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

Darlin’, you take the high horse, and I’ll take the high road
If you’re too good for us, you’ll be good ridin’ solo

~ “High Horse”

Instantly wonderful. Front-loaded with catchy melodies and concepts ranging from the mundane to the holy, every touch is illuminated by Musgraves’ beautiful singing voice and distinct East-Texas twang. Hailing from Mineola, Texas, she represents a bright future both musically and with regard to the shifting, growing worldview of this generation, who must inherit the legacy of their damaged forebears.

9 anenon

9. Anenon – Tongue

Musician and composer Brian Allen Simon has delivered, “A jazz album, an electronic album, an ambient album, a classical album, an agnostic spiritual” in Tongue.

8 oneohtrix point never

8. Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of

And a tower casts a shadow
Fairest when you speak
I love it when I see you
In a state of disbelief

~ “Babylon”

Daniel Lopatin returns to his Oneohtrix Point Never alias to release one of the year’s most inscrutable albums. The auditory equivalent of stirring together every medium of analog and digital recording from the past 35 years, along with a light sauté of auto-tuned vocals. Age Of rewards many repeat listens.

7 tmbg

7. They Might Be Giants – I Like Fun

We die alone, we die afraid
We live in error, we’re naked and alone
We die (Afraid)

~ “Last Wave”

Taking the highlights of their Dial-A-Song club and compiling them into a proper studio album, TMBG released a tightly-wound, anthemic album that functions just as well as a distracting and cerebral pop medley as it does as a polemic about America’s current political landscape. Death, despair and various forms of outrage fueled the Johns and propel the resulting material into the rarified air of a foot-tapping, hilarious album that is staring into the abyss the entire time.

6 mountain man

6. Mountain Man – Magic Ship

Amelia Meath, Molly Sarle and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig comprise the vocal trio Mountain Man. If the sirens from O Brother, Where Art Thou? went into a remote studio to record an album with only their beguiling voices and a dusty songbook from an Appalachian cabin, I imagine that the result might resemble Magic Ship.

5 mitski

5. Mitski – Be the Cowboy

But as it is, and it is
We’re just two slow dancers
Last ones out

~ “Two Slow Dancers”

Mitski Miyawaki’s tour-de-force followup to 2016’s excellent Puberty 2 ups the ante in every possible way. Wall-to-wall hooks, incisive songwriting chops and a preternatural prowess for expressing complex and nuanced thoughts within a head-banger make this album a huge standout for me. Approachable, warm, and yet filled with hard edges.

4 damien jurado

4. Damien Jurado – The Horizon Just Laughed

What good is living if you can’t write your ending?
You’re always in doubt of the truths you’re defending
Seeing yourself in others’ ideas, I’ll write you from somewhere
And call you from later on

~ “The Last Great Washington State”

Damien Jurado is an artist who consistently shows up in my Year-End lists of best music. His songwriting sensibilities, soft, crooning voice, and laconic, gently bouncing tempo put me in a groove that I seldom want to get out of. His latest album, and the first produced without the aid of the late Richard Swift in a number of years, finds Jurado continuing to write short stories to cut his protagonists adrift in. But it’s a pleasure cruise as much as a spiritual journey.

3 soccer mommy

3. Soccer Mommy – Clean

You’re made from the stars
That we watch from your car
And I’m just a victim of changing planets
My Scorpio rising and my parents

~ “Scorpio Rising”

A brand-new artist, to me, in 2018, Soccer Mommy is the solo project of Sophie Allison, currently based in Nashville, TN. Clean is a wistful, sad record that is constantly searching for the twinkle of light emanating from the heavens to chart a course by. Like every other album I’ve chosen for this list, it’s one that is rewards full, repeat listens. Pulling just one song or composition out of the whole seems do diminish the overall effect.

2 beach house

2. Beach House – 7

And I know you like it
So you try to hide it
And I know you like it
So I dive to find it

~ “Dive”

A number of years ago I wrote of Spoon’s album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, in essence that, like JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations, they had created a body of work that so fully established their sonic fingerprint as at once recognizable and that seems so blatantly obvious when you hear it, that it almost makes you wonder if they have to try anymore. Repeat listens will reveal that, yes, they do try very hard indeed.

On Beach Houses’s 7th LP, aptly named 7, they’ve attained this same level of mastery. As though an entire planet was just finished being terraformed by only Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, and now you can go live on it. The production values have gone up, the palette has evolved from a rural hamlet to a glittering metropolis with a full-on nightlife club scene.

1 low

1. Low – Double Negative

Saw you dancing when the fire went out
Before your breathe and barely audible
It’s more of let it out than let it go
It’s not the end it’s just the end of hope

~ “Dancing and Fire”

Low are the last musical act I ever expected to unleash the jangling, sonic avalanche of existential dread that is Double Negative. If ever there was a group whose sound seems to have cut the wagon tracks too deep to leave their path, they’d be it, in my book. Now, it seems to me that there is no group better-suited to deliver the harrowing message this one does.

Alan Sparkhawk & Mimi Parker have here repeatedly torn apart an entire album and then reconstructed it from salvage, eventually delivering the result that falls like the wrath of the gods, a thunderclap, visited with the same sudden violence and irresistible force as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, blanketing your eardrums like Pompeii. Thoughts wink out, frozen inside your mind under a layer of ash that will preserve their shape for millennia

Double Negative is a harbinger of spiritual cataclysm; invective and paean disassembled to the atomic level and then bashed against each other to create an elemental reaction. Amidst the self-immolating bonfire of ‘christendom,’ Low is conducts the cacophonous orchestra unfolding its Requiem. A shattering achievement.

2018 Albums (a complete-ish list)

  1. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
  2. Adrienne Lenker – abysskiss
  3. Adventure Time – Adventure Time: Come Along With Me (Music from the Original TV Series)
  4. A.A.L. (Against All Logic) – 2012-2017
  5. Albert Hammond Jr. – Francis Trouble
  6. Alejandro Escovedo – The Crossing
  7. Alias – Forever is Orchestra
  8. Alias & Doseone – Less is Orchestra
  9. All Them Witches – ATW
  10. Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water
  11. Amen Dunes – Freedom
  12. Anenon – Tongue
  13. Arp – ZEBRA
  14. Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino
  15. Ashley McBryde – Girl Going Nowhere
  16. Beach House – 7
  17. Beacon – Gravity Pairs
  18. The Beths – Future Me Hates Me
  19. Betty LaVette – Things Have Changed
  20. Big Red Machine – Big Red Machine
  21. boygeniuis – boygenius EP
  22. Buffalo Tom – Quiet and Peace
  23. Calexico – The Thread that Keeps Us
  24. Camp Cope – How to Socialise & Make Friends
  25. Carter Burwell – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  26. Chaos Chaos – Chaos Chaos
  27. Christina Vantzou – No. 4
  28. Chromatics – Black Walls EP
  29. Chromatics – Blue Girl EP
  30. Chromatics – Camera
  31. Chromatics – Shadow (12 Inch Remixes)
  32. CHVRCHES – Love is Dead
  33. Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning
  34. Cobra Man – New Driveway Soundtrack
  35. Cocteau Twins – Head Over Heels (Reissue)
  36. Cocteau Twins – Treasure (Reissue)
  37. Connan Mockasin – Jassbusters
  38. Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain
  39. Damien Jurado – The Horizon Just Laughed
  40. David Byrne – American Utopia
  41. Dead Can Dance – Dionysus
  42. Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today
  43. The Decemberists – I’ll Be Your Girl
  44. Devotchka – This Night Falls Forever
  45. Dirty Projectors – Lamp Lit Prose
  46. David Byrne – American Utopia
  47. Dungen & Woods – Myths 003
  48. Empress Of – Us
  49. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer
  50. Field Report – Summertime Songs
  51. Flasher – Constant Image
  52. Frankel – The Future
  53. Geoff Knorr – Sid Meier’s Civilization VI: Rise & Fall (Original Game Soundtrack)
  54. Geotic – Traversa
  55. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  56. Goth Babe – Pacific II – Single
  57. Goth Babe – Point Mugu – EP
  58. Grouper – Grid of Points
  59. The Golden Filter – Still // Alone
  60. Haley Heynderickx – I Need to Start a Garden
  61. Hovvdy – Cranberrys
  62. How to Dress Well – The Anteroom
  63. I’m With Her – See You Around
  64. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
  65. Jeff Tweedy – WARM
  66. Jeffrey Lewis – Works by Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010)
  67. Jess Williamson – Cosmic Wink
  68. Jim James – Uniform Distortion
  69. Joey Dosik – Inside Voice
  70. Jóhann Jóhannsson – Mandy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  71. John Hiatt – The Eclipse Sessions
  72. Jon Hopkins – Singularity
  73. Johnny Jewel – Digital Rain
  74. Johnny Jewel – Themes for Television
  75. Johnny Jewel – Vapor
  76. Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  77. Josh Rouse – Love in the Modern Age
  78. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran
  79. Julia Holter – Aviary
  80. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
  81. Karl Blau – Out Her Space
  82. Kelly Moran – Ultraviolet
  83. Kilchhofer – The Book Room
  84. Kurt Vile – Bottle It In
  85. Lala Lala – The Lamb
  86. The Lemon Twigs – Go to School
  87. Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
  88. Lord Huron – Vide Noir
  89. Low – Double Negative
  90. Lucy Dacus – Historian
  91. Lykke Li – so sad so sexy
  92. Max Richter – Sleep
  93. Martyn – Voids
  94. MGMT – Little Dark Age
  95. Mitski – Be the Cowboy
  96. Mount Eerie – Now Only
  97. Mountain Man – Magic Ship
  98. The National – Boxer (Live in Brussels)
  99. Neko Case – Hell On
  100. Nils Frahm – All Melody
  101. Okkervil River – In the Rainbow Rain
  102. Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of
  103. Oneohtrix Point Never – The Station EP
  104. Oneohtrix Point Never – Love in the Time of Lexapro EP
  105. Ought – Room Inside the World
  106. PAINT – PAINT
  107. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
  108. Paul Kelly – Nature
  109. Paul Simon – In the Blue Light
  110. Peggy Gou – Once EP
  111. Phosphorescent – C’est la Vie
  112. Pick a Piper – Distance
  113. Porches – The House
  114. Ramin Djawadi – Westworld: Season 2 
  115. Ramp – Come Into Knowledge (1977)
  116. Rick and Morty – The Rick and Morty Soundtrack
  117. Richard Swift – The Hex
  118. Richard Thompson – 13 Rivers
  119. Robyn – Honey
  120. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs
  121. Roosevelt – Young Romance
  122. S U R V I V E – RR7400: LA041717
  123. S. Carey – Hundred Acres
  124. Say Lou Lou – Immortelle
  125. Sam Evian – Premium
  126. Shame – Songs of Praise
  127. Sigur Rós – Route One
  128. The Shins – Heartworms
  129. sir Was – Digging a Tunnel
  130. Snail Mail – Lush
  131. Soccer Mommy – Clean
  132. SOPHIE – OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES
  133. Spirit Award – Muted Crowd
  134. Spirit Fest – Anohito
  135. Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt
  136. St. Vincent – MassEductation
  137. Stryper – God Damn Evil
  138. Sufjan Stevens – Lonely Man of Winter – Single
  139. Sunflower Bean – Twentytwo in Blue
  140. Superorganism – Superorganisms
  141. System – Plus
  142. Taraval – Aardvark – Single
  143. Thee Oh Sees – Smote Reverser
  144. They Might Be Giants – I Like Fun
  145. Tim Hecker – Konoyo
  146. Thom Yorke – Suspiria (Music from the Luca Guadagnino Film)
  147. Thor Rixson – Songs from the Bath
  148. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
  149. Wild Nothing – Indigo
  150. Yo La Tengo – There’s a Riot Going On
  151. Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
  152. Yves Tumor – Safe in the Hands of Love
  153. Zola Jesus & Johnny Jewel – Wiseblood (Johnny Jewel Remixes)

2017 – The Year in Review – Music

2017 was a great year for music – as many musicians took up the mandate to go forth and create art that speaks to the mind, heart and soul in the face of a geo-political landscape being haphazardly ripped up by an infantile narcissist.

There were much-balleyhooed releases from Arcade Fire, Beck, Chad VanGaalen, Cold War Kids, David Bazan, Destroyer, The Drums, Fever Ray, Frankie Rose, girlpool, Guided by Voices, Jeremy Enigk, Johnny Jewel, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Kelly Lee Owens, King Krule, Lali Puna, LCD Soundsystem, Lorde, The National, Nick Hakim, Pallbearer, Phoebe Bridgers, Rostam, ShitKid, St. Vincent, Sweet Baboo, Thundercat, Vagabon, The War on Drugs, Why?, The xx, and Zola Jesus… but none of those are in my personal list of the top 15 albums of the year.

I listened to 119 albums in 2017 from almost as many different artists. Here, then, is my short list of the top 15 albums of the year:

15. Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)

15 Wildly Idle

I’ll sing it to you softly, it’s so terrifying
When I hold you like a flower
I hold you like an hour glass
I hold you like you’re the only thing I love

~ Flower Glass

Hand Habits is Meg Duffy. Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void) is her first studio album.

14. Ariel Pink – Dedicated to Bobby Jameson

14 Dedicated to Bobby Jameson

Pop up goes the weasel
Bobby’s mind has thinned
And I’m the best dressed and they’re not
That sorry ’cause I never came out

~ Do Yourself a Favor

This album is named after Bobby Jameson, whose stage name was Chris Lucey. He was briefly a fixture of the protest music scene in the 1960s. His origins remained mysterious for many years, as he faded from the scene and became an alcoholic homeless bum. Eventually, he overcame the alcoholism and lived for the better part of 20 years in obscurity with his mother in San Luis Obispo County, CA, before launching a series of autobiographical YouTube posts, which he kept up until his death in 2015.

Ariel Pink is Ariel Marcus Rosenberg. Dedicated to Bobby Jameson is his 11th studio album.

13. Sufjan Stevens – The Greatest Gift

13 The Greatest Gift

As the mystery of the cross
Asa Lovejoy lost the toss
And the fountain in the rain
Where my sorrow still remains
So I run to my friends and lovers
I lay down my life for my brothers
As I abide in peace
So will my delight increase

~ The Greatest Gift

Sufjan Stevens’ devastating Carrie & Lowell was my top album of 2015. Here, he presents a series of outtakes, demos and remixes of songs from that album, along with one or two b-sides.

The Greatest Gift could be considered to be his 13th studio album.

12. Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm

12 Out in the Storm

I hoped howling out all this truth
Would be liberating
But all the pity spills from the seams
And everyone questions the unseen

~ No Question

Waxahatchee is Katie Crutchfield. Out in the Storm is her fourth studio album.

11. Big Thief – Capacity

11 Capacity

What did you tell me Mary
When you were there so sweet and very
Full of field and stars you carried all of time
Oh and heavens when you looked at me
Your eyes were like machinery
Your hands were making artifacts in the corner of my mind

~ Mary

Big Thief are Adrianne Lenker (guitar, vocals), Buck Meek (guitar), Max Oleartchik (bass), and James Krivchenia (drums). Capacity is their second studio album.

10. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

10 Crack-Up

White oceans roar
A frightened fool stokes heatless fire
But if you need to, keep time on me
If you need to, keep time on me

~ If You Need to, Keep Time on Me

Fleet Foxes are Robin Pecknold, Skyler Skjelset, Casey Wescott, Christian Wargo, and Morgan Henderson. Crack-Up is their third studio album, and first full-length since 2011.

9. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

9 Pure Comedy

There’s no one old on Magic Mountain

~ Magic Mountain

Perhaps the most politically-charged album on my top-list. Father John Misty seems to have a lot to say about the worldviews which dominate our headlines today… only trouble is, it’s pretty nigh impossible to discern his own worldview from the content of his lyrics. Ah well, music can be largely subjective and I’m not too concerned with deriving meaning from it at every turn… but when the whole point of a record seems to be to make a kind of statement, perhaps it would help to be a little more concise. In any case, this is a record which captured and held my attention.

Father John Misty is Joshua Michael Tillman. Pure Comedy is his third studio album under the moniker.

8. Fletcher Tucker – Cold Spring

8 Cold Spring

The world I long for stays hidden
Clouds shroud the gates

~ Buried on the Wind

Fletcher Tucker’s haunting, psychedelic-drone-folk album Cold Spring was assembled over the course of four years in Big Sur, CA. It is a beautiful record. See him in the album art, above? You may have to squint. Don’t take my word for it; instead, go and read Aquarium Drunkard’s excellent write-up.

7. Kevin Morby – City Music

7 City Music

Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy
They were all my friends… and they died.

~ 1234

Kevin Morby was the bassist for Woods and the frontman for The Babies before embarking upon a solo singer/songwriter career. City Music is his fourth solo studio album.

6. Trevor Sensor – Andy Warhol’s Dream

6 Andy Warhol's Dream

I’m gonna be someone tonight

~ The Money Gets Bigger

When consistency is pitted against talent, consistency is usually going to win. Happily, in the case of Trevor Sensor, we have someone with a consistent penchant for belting out raucous, crowd-pleasing power ballads AND the talent to assemble something new from the potholes and well-worn ruts of this road-most-traveled: rock music. His gravely, muppet-esque singing voice makes every song so much more world-weary and enjoyable.

Trevor Sensor is… Trevor Sensor? Andy Warhol’s Dream is his debut album.

5. Temples – Volcano

5 Volcano

Standing up like a wild impala
Standing down like a weekend martyr

~ Oh the Savior

The U.K. has been the source for many of the world’s most storied and influential bands: The Zombies, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, The Kinks, The Who, The Sex Pistols, Joy Division, The Clash, The The, U2, Radiohead, Coldplay (gasp!), Elbow, Keane, Klaxons, Wild Beasts, Harry Styles- the list goes on! Temples should be added to that pantheon, ’nuff said.

Temples are James Bagshaw, Tom Walmsley, Sam Toms, and Adam Smith (not the Wealth of Nations guy). Volcano is their second studio album.

4. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly & James McAlister – Planetarium

4 Planetarium

Tell me I’m evil
Tell me I’m not the name of love
Tell me I’m evil
Tell me I’m not the face of God

~ Saturn

Step aside, Gustav Holst, there are some new kids on the “music of the spheres” block. And they pray for us.

3. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

3 Turn out the Lights

Cause if you swear that it’s true then I have to believe
What I hear Evangelicals say on TV
And if there’s enough left after everyone else
Then why, then why, then why not me?

~ Happy to be Here

Julien Baker’s spare arrangements, coupled with her Sunday-morning-service vocals and raw, deeply-personal lyrics, make Turn out the Lights a powerful record.

Turn out the Lights is Julien Baker’s second studio album. She is merely 22 years old.

2. Radiohead – OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017

2 OKNOTOK

I won’t run away no more, I promise

~ I Promise

20 years ago, Radiohead released OK Computer. 20 years later, the album still stands as a massively influential artistic achievement. The entire extra album’s-worth of b-sides solidifies its reputation as a legend.

Radiohead are Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, and Philip Selway (and also- shhhh- Nigel Godrich). OK Computer was their third studio album when it was originally released in 1997. Since then, they have released 6 more proper studio albums.

1. Bombadil – Fences

1 Fences

I raise up my binoculars and
I see everything everywhere
I see detail, of that, I’m sure
But I don’t see me, and that hurts the most

~ Binoculars

Bombadil previously topped my list of albums in 2013 with their 4th studio album, Metrics of Affection. I went to see them perform at the Casbah in San Diego on June 19, 2016, prior to the recording of Fences. There, they performed many of the songs that would end up on the album. They even performed with a brand-new microphone all of the band members were pretty stoked on. Each one of them took turns on various instruments and all of them lent vocals by clustering around their shiny new mic. After the show, I chatted for a bit with band-member Daniel Michalak, who is a super-pleasant dude.  Fences came out in March of 2017 and has been playing non-stop in my car, my house and my headphones ever since.

From tender love ballads about the mysterious mathematics of love, to excoriating an American Evangelical Christian base who bought into a campaign of hatred, bigotry, naked avarice and plainspoken evil, Bombadil’s sixth full-length has it all. Laden with pleasant arrangements and plenty of hooks, the subject matter of each song can range from adorable sentimentality to withering criticism. For me, Fences is an album that never gets old.

Bombadil are Daniel Michalak, James Phillips, and Stacy Harden. Fences is their sixth studio album. It was recorded at Tiny Telephone with John Vanderslice in San Francisco.

Listen to a playlist of some of Joel’s favorite songs from 2017 on Apple Music:

https://tools.applemusic.com/embed/v1/playlist/pl.u-Vk1dtj868j?country=us

Full list of music Joel listened to in 2017:

  1. Actress – AZD
  2. The Afghan Whigs – In Spades
  3. Aimee Mann – Mental Illness
  4. Aldous Harding – Party
  5. Algiers – The Underside of Power
  6. Alex Lahey – I Love You Like a Brother
  7. Angel Olsen – Phases
  8. Arcade Fire – Everything Now
  9. Ariel Pink – Dedicated to Bobby Jameson
  10. Baths – Romaplasm
  11. Beach House – B-Sides and Rarities
  12. Beck – Colors
  13. Big Black Delta – Whoru812
  14. Big Thief – Capacity
  15. Bill Benzel & Jim Earp – Mainland Style
  16. Bing & Ruth – No Home of the Mind
  17. Biosphere – The Petrified Forest EP
  18. Bob Dylan – Triplicate
  19. The Bob’s Burgers Music Album
  20. Bodies of Water – Spear in the City
  21. Bombadil – Fences
  22. Bonobo – Migration
  23. Briana Marela – Call It Love
  24. Chad VanGaalen – Light Information
  25. Chuck Johnson – Balsams
  26. Cold War Kids – LA DIVINE
  27. Cut Copy – Haku From Zero
  28. Cut Worms – Alien Sunset EP
  29. David Bazan – Care
  30. David Bowie – No Plan EP
  31. Derek Webb – Fingers Crossed
  32. Destroyer – ken
  33. Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors
  34. Don Bryant – Don’t Give Up On Love
  35. The Drums – Abysmal Thoughts
  36. Elbow – Little Fictions
  37. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
  38. Feist – Pleasure
  39. Fever Ray – Plunge
  40. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
  41. Fletcher Tucker – Cold Spring
  42. Floating Points – Reflections – Mojave Desert
  43. Four Tet – New Energy
  44. Frankie Rose – Cage Tropical
  45. Future Islands – The Far Field
  46. Gas – Narkopop
  47. Gaussian Curve – The Distance
  48. girlpool – Powerplant
  49. Gordi – Reservoir
  50. Grandaddy – Last Place
  51. Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
  52. Guided by Voices – August by Cake
  53. Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)
  54. Hello Shark – Break Arms
  55. Hoops – Routines
  56. Jean-Michel Blais & CFCF – Cascades
  57. Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now
  58. Jeremy Enigk – Ghosts
  59. Jlin – Black Origami
  60. Johnny Jewel – Windswept***
  61. Josh Ritter – Gathering
  62. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
  63. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid
  64. Kathryn Kluge & Kim Allen Kluge – Silence (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  65. Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens
  66. Kevin Morby – City Music
  67. King Krule – The OOZ
  68. Kraus – End Tomorrow (2016)
  69. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things 2 (Original Series Soundtrack)
  70. Lali Puna – Two Windows
  71. LCD Soundsystem – american dream
  72. Liars – TFCF
  73. Lo Tom – Lo Tom
  74. Lorde – Melodrama
  75. Miya Folick – Give It To Me EP
  76. The National – Sleep Well Beast
  77. Nick Hakim – Green Twins
  78. Nightlands – I Can Feel the Night Around Me
  79. Pallbearer – Heartless
  80. Perfume Genius – No Shape
  81. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps
  82. Psychic Temple – IV
  83. Radiohead – OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017
  84. Real Estate – In Mind
  85. Rostam – Half-Light
  86. Run The Jewels – RTJ3
  87. San Fermin – Belong
  88. ShitKid – Fish
  89. Silver Fleet – Demo
  90. Slothrust – Show Me How You Want It to Be
  91. Soley, Sin Fang & Örvar Smárason – Singles 2017
  92. Spoon – Hot Thoughts
  93. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
  94. Steady Holiday – Terror EP
  95. Sudan Archives – Sudan Archives EP
  96. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell Live
  97. Sufjan Stevens – The Greatest Gift
  98. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly & James McAlister – Planetarium
  99. Sweet Baboo – Wild Imagination
  100. Sylvan Esso – What Now
  101. Temples – Volcano
  102. Thundercat – “Drunk”
  103. Tim Heidecker – Too Dumb for Suicide: Tim Heidecker’s Trump Songs
  104. Timber Timbre – Sincerely, Future Pollution
  105. Tom Rogerson & Brian Eno – Finding Shore
  106. Toro y Moi – Boo Boo
  107. TORRES – Three Futures
  108. Trevor Sensor – Andy Warhol’s Dream
  109. Vagabon – Infinite Worlds
  110. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
  111. Washed Out – Mister Mellow
  112. Wavves – You’re Welcome
  113. Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm
  114. Why? – Moh Lhean
  115. William Eggleston – Musik
  116. Withered Hand & A Singer of Songs – Among Horses 1 – EP
  117. Woods – Love Is Love EP
  118. The xx – I See You
  119. Zola Jesus – Okovi

2017 – The Year in Review – Film & TV

In 2017, I watched something like 132 films, short films and television series and miniseries. Of those, only 9 were viewed in the theater. Movie-going, as a general recreational activity, seems to be waning in this age of all-streaming-everything-everywhere. Everyone wants to hook up a vacuum tube to the contents of your wallet with their own, proprietary streaming service. For my part, I subscribe to Netflix, HBONow, FilmStruck, Mubi, and Prime Video. Sheesh. Of those, FilmStruck has got to be my favorite, if only for its wide array of hard-to-find, classic art-house cinema. Oh, and they’ve got Criterion, so there’s that!

2017 was also the year in which I finally watched James Cameron’s box-office shattering epic Titanic for the very first time. I sat though it twice. Subsequently, I watched Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember, but that’s going to be fodder for a different piece of writing another day…

Without further ado, here are 15 of the best films I viewed for the very first time in 2017:

15. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

15 It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

When, in 1962, Stanley Kramer set out to shoot this insane, star-studded, comedy-chase-caper with nearly every famous comedian alive, few people would’ve predicted that he could pull it off. The original cut of the film clocked in at somewhere around 5 hours… I viewed the Criterion Collection edition which is only a paltry 197 minutes long. Shot all over the place in Southern California, the film contains a collection of comedy and action set pieces that I defy any modern film maker to replicate without leaning heavily on CGI.

Unwisely, the film was remade in 2001 by Jerry Zucker as Rat Race. While the original shines with the brilliance of a thousand dying suns… when pitted against Zucker’s re-imagining, the later film winks like the power light of a VCR in standby mode.

I hope they screen it again in 70mm someday. Jonathan Winters’ scene at the gas station is the stuff of legend.

14. The Trip

14 The Trip

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon “play” themselves on a cross-country trip to the north of England to review a number of local, high-end restaurants. With the framing of a documentary / film essay, the talents of Mr. Coogan and Mr. Brydon are put on full display as they get on each others nerves, chat about poetry and the dramatic arts, and compare career moves. Ultimately, the film seems to be a meditation on the idealistic fantasy of a poet, or so-called “romantic” person leading a lifestyle unfettered by trivial concerns, giving way to the realization that relationships are more important than professional accomplishment.

There are two sequels to this film, The Trip to Italy and The Trip to Spain. I also watched the former during this year and very much look forward to viewing the latter as soon as I can.

13. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

13 The Last Jedi

The eighth entry in the ongoing commercial saga that is Star Wars is one of the best films in the entire franchise. Drawing obvious comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back, Rian Johnson’s singular foray into a galaxy far, far away as both writer and director is many things, but I fear the audience will likely be split on how “satisfying” the story is for all of the fans who imbue every corner of every frame with deep, speculative significance.

In many ways, the whole point of The Last Jedi seems to be to demystify The Force and wrest it from the grasp of the dualistic orders of the “Jedi” and the “Sith,” choosing to restore it to its original place: in the hands of everyone. Please note the broom. The Force isn’t some magical essence that you can ‘get’ or that some people are just ‘born with’ – The Force is a great equalizing force that anyone can wield, if they practice at it. Sure, there are wise old ‘masters’ with esoteric knowledge of the many powers granted by The Force, but that doesn’t mean they get to hold some kind of metaphysical monopoly over it. TLJ seems to be most concerned with removing all of the scaffolding supporting maniacal fanbase expectations so that the audience well and truly will have no idea what to expect next.

Perhaps people rely too much upon popular culture to give them an identity.

12. Phantom Thread [in 70mm]

12 Phantom Thread

In what is reported to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ final film, he reunited with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson to tell the fictional tale of a renowned designer of ladies dresses in Postwar London.

Reynolds Woodcock is the character Day-Lewis brings to life, and he may perhaps bear a mysterious curse, a spiritual mark left on him by his late mother, for whom he designed a wedding gown.  Also starring Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps, this is a film of quiet power and a surprising quantity of amusing moments which never failed to elicit audible laughter from the audience I saw it (presented in 70mm) with in Los Angeles.

This may be Paul Thomas Anderson’s most straightforward narrative endeavor since Punch Drunk Love. There are many similarities between the two films, and cinematic homage is paid to Altman, Hitchcock and Kubrick.

11. La tortue rouge (The Red Turtle)

11 The Red Turtle

A remarkable animated film from the Dutch filmmaker Michael Dudok de Wit. Produced by Studio Ghibli in Japan, this fairy-tale unfolds with almost no dialogue of any kind. A hypnotic experience.

10. Stalker

10 Stalker

A major restoration of this film was released by Criterion in 2017. Andrei Tarkovsky’s final Soviet film is a mesmerizing, deeply philosophical journey into the unknown… but perhaps not the unknowable. Stalker is a technically impressive feat, containing numerous inventive techniques. The film has been a major influence on cinema since its release.

The through-line of Stalker, we might surmise, is emblematic of a schism between East and West, yet at the heart, lies The Zone – a place of truth and revelation. Can anyone be willingly led to it? Or does the journey offer too many opportunities for self-aggrandization and despair?

This film is best watched alone. And uninterrupted. Cinema at its finest shows the audience themselves.

9. The Big Short

9 The Big Short

Films can bring to light issues in ways that newspaper articles, judicial inquiries, and Police investigations simply cannot. In the case of The Big Short, this amounts to encapsulating the nucleus of the recent financial crisis in the US and presenting it in a way that is all at once sardonic, hilarious, and sobering.

More than anything, though, this film underscores what happens when people PAY ATTENTION. There are constant happenings in day-to-day life which deserve our undivided attention, however, we allow ourselves to dismiss or ignore them and rationalize that no one person has the mental capacity to grasp every current event as it unfolds. The Big Short provides the welcome reminder that, for every 999,999 people going about their business in abject oblivion, there is 1 who has taken a moment to stop and PAY ATTENTION.

8. Midnight Special

8 Midnight Special

Jeff Nichols’ 4th directorial effort is a heart-pounding sci-fi road-trip epic that culminates in a thought-provoking way… perhaps an allusion to the eternal nature of the human soul which is encased in the mortal flesh of the human body.

Nichols’ prowess as a filmmaker and storyteller is on full tilt as the story unfolds. This is what Hollywood needs more of: skilled filmmakers who are deft with their thematic elements and don’t beat the audience over the head with sentimentality and preachy, dogmatic suppositions. If you have a sensitive spirit, this film will touch you. And you won’t need it to validate your opinions or core values.

7. Coco

7 Coco

Having explored the nooks and crannies of childhood nostalgia with the Toy Story series of films, and shown us the post-human landscape of Wall-E and delved into the nature of memory and human emotions with Inside Out, Pixar has turned its attention to a new, kid-friendly subject matter: death.

Yes, death, that cold eventuality that will come to claim us all, Ebenezer Scrooge-style. Except, with Coco, we have the colorful, cultural veneer of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) ~ a distinctly Mexican holiday that may even trace it’s origins all the way back to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl (say that five times fast) ~ to stave off the macabre nature of the subject matter.

No, really, Coco, isn’t about death, per se. It’s about memory and the power of familial bonds (or lack of familial bonds). This film is impossible to view without shedding real tears. If you find that you can watch it without crying, then I think you may need to go see a psychiatrist or something, because you’re goofed up if this doesn’t get your water works flowing.

6. The Fugitive

6 The Fugitive

This is a list of films I’ve never seen before, jeez. Stop saying, “I can’t believe you’ve never seen it!” and go get a dribble cup.

Yes, up until Anno Domini 2017, I hadn’t ever seen The Fugitive. Blame my parents. They were super restrictive and judgmental about what I could or couldn’t see growing up. And then… blame me for not bothering to pop this one in the old trusty DVD player for a solid 10 years after moving out of the house. It has Harrison Ford in it, for crying out loud! How could it NOT be incredible!?

5. A Face in the Crowd

5 A Face in the Crowd

Elia Kazan’s film, based on the screenplay by Budd Schulberg, is a riveting tour de force. Andy Griffith, yes, Sheriff Andy of Mayberry, in his first film role, plays Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes, an Arkansas drifter who is propelled to the heights of national fame. As his fame and power expand exponentially, Rhodes is gradually revealed to be a narcissistic megalomaniac, drunk off his own celebrity.  Believing he can do or say no wrong, he ascends higher and higher.

This film has obvious and bone-chilling parallels to our present circumstances in America. Yet, I don’t think even Budd Schulberg could have predicted the measure of the ambivalence and self-assured ignorance of large segments of the American public. Lonesome Rhodes may be a despicable, selfish, evil human being… but who in the American public ever truly cared about moral character or personal integrity? Surely there are other criteria which matter more, when assessing the value of a public figure? He’s popular and speaks out on what people want to hear, right?

I think he’d be right at home, here today.

4. Time Piece (1965)

4 Time Piece

Jim Henson made a short film in 1965 and it was nominated for an Academy Award. I had never even heard of it, until this year.

Time Piece is a Kafka-esque short film about being trapped in the mundane prison of daily life. Told in a series of syncopated edits, set to the rhythm of a ticking clock and sometimes the beating of a human heart, this is one of the most highly-creative, unique and unsettling short films I have ever seen. Jim Henson has long been one of my childhood heroes, but here, 52 years later, he has shown me his ingenuity and bravery as an adult. Inspiring.

3. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore

3 I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore

Elijah Wood & Melanie Lynskey reunited on-screen for the first time since Over the Garden Wall for Macon Blair’s directorial debut, a Netflix exclusive (yay, Netflix).

The premise is simple enough: a woman’s house is burglarized. The woman vows revenge upon the burglars. She enlists the help of her neighbor in finding and exacting justice upon them. Things don’t quite play out the way she has fantasized that they will, though.

With this film, Macon Blair has established himself as one of the filmmakers who may claim themselves to be heirs apparent to The Coen Brothers. Here, he tackles concepts of trespass, malcontent, violation and fear, all within a cinematic construct which is by turns humorous, quirky, melancholy and horrifying. Is this world merely a shadow realm through which we all must pass? Does anything we do here truly matter?

2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

2 Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi’s third full-length feature, starring Sam Neill and Julian Dennison, is a charming, offbeat tale of two fugitives on the run from the short, stubby arm of kiwi law. This is the kind of picture that pushes every button in seemingly random fashion, until the entire elevator panel is lit up like a Christmas tree. The cumulative effect is a heartwarming story of love, sacrifice, and unassailable machismo. I haven’t seen Waititi’s 4th film, yet… a little indie feature called Thor: Ragnarok, but I’m keen to do so.

1. Twin Peaks: The Return

1 Twin Peaks 1

1 Twin Peaks 2

As the old adage goes, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” ~ often attributed to Edmund Burke, although it may be a paraphrase of various other famous persons from history…

Twin Peaks: The Return could be described with an inversion of that quote, something like this, “For evil to be defeated, all that is necessary is for good men to be unwavering in doing something about it.”

For anyone who was a fan of the 1990 television series that only ran for two seasons, spanning 30 episodes before it was canceled, the news that original series creators David Lynch and Mark Frost had been given a truckload of money by Showtime to bring the series back to life was a huge surprise. Expectations certainly ran high. Lynch took more than 4 years to write, cast, shoot and edit the “third season,” as it came to be known, of a show that originally began airing more than 25 years ago.

Finally, the release was set for 2017. Many of the show’s original cast returned to reprise their roles in the new season. As Laura Palmer told Agent Cooper in backwards-speak in the Red Room, “I’ll see you in 25 years.”

Not less than three cast members who appear in the third season died before the first episode aired, including:

  • Catherine E. Coulson (Margaret Lanterman, “The Log Lady”)
  • Miguel Ferrer (Agent Albert Rosenfield)
  • Warren Frost (Dr. Will Hayward)

Additionally, Harry Dean Stanton, who reprised his role as Carl Rodd, a character who appeared in the feature-film prequel, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, died on September 15, 2017, less than two weeks after the last episode aired on September 3, 2017, at the age of 91.

The themes on parade over the 18 hour arc of Twin Peaks: The Return are varied and multi-faceted, and the show never loses its mystique or charm, nor its palpable sense of dread.

For me to describe anything in the show is really going to be a fool’s errand – you have to watch the original series, then watch Fire Walk with Me and The Missing Pieces (if you can), in order to be able to fully appreciate what Lynch has done with The Return.

Dozens of scenes occur over the course of the show which could be plucked out and showcased as vignettes or short films all their own. Mulholland Drive feels more like an extended side-story episode from Twin Peaks now, after seeing this.

Alright folks, those are my top 15 “films” of 2017. Here’s looking forward to unearthing more great gems from the past in 2018!

Full List of Joel’s 2017 viewing:

Regular = movie watched on a TV or other small screen device
BOLD = denotes theatrical viewing
Italic = denotes a “television series” or “mini series”
Underlined = denotes a short film (30 minutes or less)

  1. 7 Days in Hell
  2. Adventure Time: Seasons 8 & 9
  3. Affliction
  4. Alexander the Grape (1965)
  5. Anne with an E: Season 1
  6. Archer: Seasons 6 & 7
  7. Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Seasons 1, 2, 3
  8. Bernie
  9. La belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast) (2014)
  10. The Big Short
  11. Black Mirror: Seasons 1, 3
  12. Blade Runner: 2036 Nexus Dawn
  13. Blade Runner: 2048 Nowhere to Run
  14. Blade Runner 2049
  15. Blade Runner: Blackout 2022
  16. Blood Simple.
  17. Carnal Knowledge
  18. Cat and Mouse (1960)
  19. Central Intelligence
  20. Coco
  21. Coda
  22. Cube
  23. The Dark Knight
  24. David Lynch: The Art of Life
  25. Death of a Salesman (1985)
  26. Death Note (2017)
  27. Denial
  28. The Discovery
  29. Doctor Strange
  30. Documentary Now: Season 51 (Season 2)
  31. Dog City (1989)
  32. A Face in the Crowd
  33. Fantastic Planet
  34. Five Came Back
  35. The Fugitive
  36. The Gang’s All Here
  37. Game of Thrones: Season 7
  38. Genius
  39. Get Out
  40. Gravity Falls: Seasons 1 & 2
  41. The Great Dictator
  42. The Great Muppet Caper
  43. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  44. Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction
  45. Heaven’s Gate
  46. Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle)
  47. The Hudsucker Proxy
  48. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  49. Hymyilevä mies (The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki)
  50. I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore
  51. I’m Not There
  52. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
  53. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton
  54. The Keepers
  55. The Kid Stays in the Picture
  56. Kubo and the Two Strings
  57. The Last Man on Earth: Season 1
  58. The LEGO Batman Movie
  59. The Leftovers: Seasons 1, 2, and 3
  60. Lighthouse Island (1989)
  61. Living with Dinosaurs (1989)
  62. Logan
  63. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition)
  64. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)
  65. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Edition)
  66. The Man in the High Castle: Season 2
  67. The Man Who Knew Too Much
  68. Masterminds
  69. Midnight Special
  70. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
  71. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
  72. Moana
  73. Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke)
  74. Monster Maker (1989)
  75. Mr. Pickles: Seasons 1 & 2
  76. The Muppet Christmas Carol
  77. Muppets from Space
  78. The Nice Guys
  79. A Night to Remember
  80. No Country for Old Men
  81. Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog [1956])
  82. Pete’s Dragon (2016)
  83. Phantom Thread [in 70mm]
  84. Platoon
  85. Porco Rosso
  86. The Prestige
  87. La tortue rouge (The Red Turtle)
  88. Rick and Morty: Season 3
  89. Ripples (1967)
  90. A Room with a View
  91. Run, Run (1965)
  92. Sausage Party
  93. The Secret of Kells
  94. A Series of Unfortunate Events: Season 1
  95. The Shape of Water
  96. Sicario
  97. Silicon Valley: Season 4
  98. Something Wild
  99. Song of the Sea
  100. Speilberg
  101. Spotlight
  102. Stalker
  103. Star Trek: Voyager: Seasons 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7
  104. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  105. The Station Agent
  106. Superjail: Seasons 1 & 2
  107. T-Men
  108. Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta (Castle in the Sky)
  109. Time Bandits
  110. Time Piece (1965)
  111. Titanic (twice)
  112. Tour de Pharmacy
  113. The Trip
  114. The Trip to Italy
  115. Trollhunters: Season 1
  116. Twin Peaks: Seasons 1 & 2
  117. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
  118. Twin Peaks: The Return
  119. U.S. Marshalls
  120. The Visitor
  121. Wedding Crashers
  122. Welcome to Collinwood
  123. Wheels That Go (1967)
  124. The Wind in the Willows (1987)
  125. Wonder Showzen: Season 1
  126. Wreck It Ralph
  127. Xavier: Renegade Angel: Seasons 1 & 2
  128. The X-Files: Season 6
  129. The Year Without Santa Claus
  130. Zero no Tsukaima: Season 1
  131. Zero no Tsukaima: Season 2
  132. Zoolander 2

2015 – The Year in Review – The Year in Film

2015 was a year of traveling everywhere and watching movies on a laptop or hotel TV, patched with an HDMI cable and bypassing the terrible in-room content delivery service.  I did see a *few* films in theaters. But by and large I wound up viewing most entertainment on a small screen, crammed into a seat on an airplane, or late at night in a hotel bed.

Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road
Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road
First up, let’s talk about the movies I saw in theaters… which were pitifully few. I did see Star Wars twice, though! What a great film. But, ultimately, it fell second to Mad Max: Fury Road, the most incredible cinematic feat, in my humble opinion, in the past decade or so.

What Fury Road and Force Awakens share in spirit is a return to practical special effects. They look spectacular. So much is being done in-camera. With Fury Road, almost every single insane stunt is happening for real.

They also both share a keen awareness for how to use action set pieces to drive narrative storytelling. And Mad Max‘s story is quite possibly the simplest one imaginable: a sustained chase sequence. Characters must travel from A to B. Here’s how we unfold that story: characters run, they get chased. Lather, rinse, and continue for roughly 2 hours.

Behold, my epic list of the top 5 films I saw in an actual theater!

Favorite Theatrical Viewings

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  3. Inside Out
  4. Bridge of Spies
  5. Inherent Vice

Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair in Marty
Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair in Marty
Next up: my favorite films seen for the first time in 2015.

I watched, in all, 102 films (although one qualifies as a miniseries) in 2015. Out of all of these, I have chosen 20 that I really, really liked. And at the top of that heap, is Marty.

Paddy Chayefsky’s excellent 1953 teleplay Marty, originally written for The Philco Goodyear Television Playhouse, and starring Rod Steiger in the titular role, was expanded into a feature length film in 1955. Ernest Borgnine played the lonely butcher with a heart of gold, Marty Pilletti. Burt Lancaster produced. Delbert Mann directed.

I’ve long known that Marty was a classic film, winner of 4 Oscars: Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture at the 1956 Academy Awards. But I never watched the film until 2015, 60 years after its original theatrical debut.

Marty is a love story with all of the classic tropes, and none of the lazy storytelling that plagues 99.9% of all similar films today. It’s the kind of film that will push every button you have, and leave you with a smile in the end. Nothing else I watched on the small screen last year punched more holes in my emotional defenses and left me more filled with joy.

Favorite Films Seen For the First Time in 2015

  1. Marty
  2. Steamboat Bill, Jr.
  3. It’s Such a Beautiful Day
  4. The French Connection
  5. Whiplash
  6. Panique au Village (A Town Called Panic)
  7. The Guest
  8. What We Do in the Shadows
  9. Ex Machina
  10. C’era una volta il West (Once Upon a Time in the West)
  11. The Running Man
  12. The Immigrant
  13. Philomena
  14. Ida
  15. The Wolf of Wall Street
  16. In Bruges
  17. The World’s End
  18. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  19. It Follows
  20. V/H/S

Behold: every movie I watched in 2015… alphabetized… 102 in all.

  1. A.I.
  2. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  3. The Avengers: Age of Ultron*
  4. Barbarella
  5. Behind the Candelabra
  6. Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  7. Blades of Glory
  8. Blue Velvet
  9. The Book of Life
  10. Brave
  11. Boogie Nights
  12. Bridge of Spies*
  13. Burke & Hare
  14. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
  15. Cosmopolis
  16. Crimson Peak*
  17. The Devil’s Advocate
  18. Dirty Pretty Things
  19. The Double
  20. Double Indemnity
  21. The Empire Strikes Back
  22. Encounters at the End of the World
  23. Ex Machina
  24. The Fifth Element
  25. Fantasia 2000
  26. Fletch
  27. The French Connection
  28. Gambit (2012)
  29. Godzilla (2014)
  30. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
  31. Grabbers
  32. Gravity
  33. The Guest
  34. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
  35. Hitch
  36. Home Alone
  37. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
  38. Housebound
  39. Howard the Duck
  40. Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle)
  41. Ida
  42. Idiocracy
  43. The Immigrant
  44. In Bruges
  45. Inherent Vice*
  46. Inside Out*
  47. Insidious: Chapter 3*
  48. It Follows
  49. It’s Such a Beautiful Day
  50. Johnny Dangerously
  51. The Last Unicorn
  52. La Legge (The Law)
  53. Lilo & Stitch
  54. Listen Up Philip
  55. Longford
  56. Mad Max: Fury Road*
  57. The Master
  58. Marty
  59. Men in Black
  60. Mystery Men
  61. Never Let Me Go
  62. A Night in Casablanca
  63. Night Train to Munich
  64. Noah
  65. Oleanna
  66. Olive Kittredge**
  67. C’era una volta il West (Once Upon a Time in the West)
  68. Pacific Rim (x 3)
  69. Philomena
  70. Pitch Perfect
  71. Gake no ue no Ponyo (Ponyo)
  72. Return of the Jedi
  73. Revenge of the Pink Panther
  74. The Ridiculous 6
  75. Robin Hood
  76. Rocky Horror Picture Show
  77. The Room
  78. The Running Man
  79. Rush Hour
  80. Scanners
  81. Shallow Hal
  82. Sleepless in Seattle
  83. Star Wars
  84. Star Wars: The Force Awakens* (x 2)
  85. Steamboat Bill, Jr.
  86. Stonehearst Asylum
  87. Tales from the Darkside: The Movie
  88. Kaguyahime no Monogatari (The Tale of the Princess Kaguya)
  89. Taxi Driver
  90. The Terminator
  91. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  92. Panique au Village (A Town Called Panic)
  93. Transformers: Age of Extinction
  94. V/H/S
  95. V/H/S 2
  96. Watership Down
  97. What We Do In The Shadows
  98. Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger
  99. Whiplash
  100. The Wind Rises
  101. The Wolf of Wall Street
  102. The World’s End

* = denotes theatrical viewing
** = denotes a “mini series” or “television movie”