I’m sharing this because, while the video essay played out, I just kept worrying, “Please don’t leave In the Mood for Love off this list.” And then, they go and make it #1, those smart, charming bastards. And there is sense and justice and meaning in my world again.
Long live Wong Kar-wai! Long live international cinema!
I really need to pull the trigger on my planned deep dive into cinema. Fair warning to my friends who read this blog, once I go down that rabbit hole I might not be around for a while.
Most 2016 music passed me by, which is amazing, because I still listened to so much great music this year. Artists are magic.
Writing music lists the years I get around to it, I realize I have much less in the way of language and bonafides when it comes to music than I do for films and books, but I still shared a thought or two about each album.
You should listen to all of this music. And you should share your favorite 2016 music with me so I can fill in all the gaps in my experience this year.
Here is the music I listened to the most this year, in alphabetical order by artist.
BADBADNOTGOOD – IV
White jazz quartet from Canada who essentially create Hip Hop beats and songs that feel like samples for Hip Hop beats — and not just obvious pop stuff, the first track on IV could be a Shabazz Palaces song. They came onto the scene as a trio doing covers of Hip Hop tracks before moving into original stuff. They’ve worked with some really great emcees and producers, even releasing an entire album with Ghostface Killah this year.
IV is really good. It’s one of my favorite albums this year to play while getting stuff done around the house.
Andrew Bird – Are You Serious?
This album snuck up on me, which is weird with an artist I’ve loved for so long. To be honest, I hadn’t gotten into some of his more recent efforts. Then, I didn’t even realize how much I liked this album for a bit, until I started noticing how regularly I was relistening to it.
I’m not sure why I didn’t catch on right away. In so many ways this is vintage Andrew Bird, it’s sweet, funny, sad, clever, and full of whistling and violin. Not that it’s all blends together, “Capsized” feels like it could be the cover of a Bill Withers song, which I’m totally into.
Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
This album continually surprised me more than anything else I listened to in 2016. There’s a throwback quality to it, but it’s also always looking ahead — and sideways, and inward. It’s moving and interesting and it makes me want to resist all the bullshit we keep getting asked to swallow, both artistically and politically.
Bon Iver – 22, A Million
I’m pretty sure this is my favorite album of the year.
I didn’t write these in the alphabetical order I’m organizing them now, so below I wrote about the Frank Ocean record and the creation of a sonic landscape for an album — Bon Iver does that as well as anyone. His albums are sustained moods you get to live in for however long you keep the track list on repeat. His concert at Sasquatch Music Festival years ago, where in addition to playing the new album he also rearranged the music from For Emma, Forever Ago to fit the tone of Bon Iver, Bon Iver was still one of my favorite live performances ever, experiencing old favorites anew with fresh colors and shapes.
Also, you can watch one of his live performances from Brooklyn earlier this year HERE. NPR recorded it and the quality doesn’t disappoint.
David Bowie – Blackstar
Obviously, the loss of a human being is tragic far beyond the creation of any sort of art. Yet, as a people who will never know Bowie the person and will only experience him through the music he made and the characters he created, we feel the blow more powerfully when we lose a public figure who is still creating amazing things to help us understand the world.
At 69, Bowie was at the top of game with this album. We didn’t know it at the time, but this album and his death set the tone for the rest of 2016.
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Who can make a wildly fun drug fueled mixtape called Acid Rap (still one of my favorite albums of the current century) and then follow it up with an earnest gospel album that finds enormous mainstream success? Chano from 79th can. Chance can do anything.
Childish Gambino – Awake, My Love
You can’t be good at everything. There are limits of time and attention when it comes to the media we can master.
Obviously, no one told Donald Glover. If we take the popular metaphor of 2016 as dumpster fire or clusterfuck house fire further, and I was forced to grab an armful of ten or fifteen things to run out with, I’m pretty sure Atlanta and Awake, My Love would make the cut.
Some Prince, some George Clinton, plus the influences of a bunch of deep cuts I’m unaware ignorant of, all on the way to a brilliant neo-soul/funk album.
Mick Jenkins – The Healing Compenent
I really like this album. It’s layered and complex and is doing uniquely interesting things in a genre where you will already find the most interesting and innovative experimentation in modern music.
There were a large number of albums this year by Black arists, including Kiwanuka and the new Tribe album, that lyrically sound like they are responding post-Drumpf election even though they were released earlier. It’s an indictment on surprised white folks like me who weren’t looking closely enough at how bad things were even before Drumpf won the election, creating the context where that was possible.
Also, this collaboration with BADBADNOTGOOD is one of my favorite songs and favorite music videos of the year.
Michael Kiwanuka – Love and Hate
We got a lot of albums in 2016 that we’re going to need for the next 4+ years. This is one of them. If you’ve never listened to Kiwanuka, you should remedy that as soon as possible. And don’t stop here, Home Again is even better!
“There’s a dark, roiling hue to the pop sensibilities of Holly Låpsley Fletcher that hooked us in when we first heard her debut album Long Way Home. While her vocal & melodic prowess have the right ingredients for the next big pop star, the minimalist electronic underpinnings push her left of center in just the right way, keeping the listener from ever being able to completely pin her down. At 19, Låpsley has produced an album far beyond her years & one we’ll be quick to spin again and again.”
Also, I highly recommend Vinyl Me, Please. If you are going to sign up let me know first because it can get me $10 off my subscription.
Mitski – Puberty 2
With Puberty 2, Mitski made a deeply personal album that resonated with me, even though for most of the year we didn’t share any common demographic info whatsoever (now at least we both live in Brooklyn). Her album about struggling to find identity and happiness in the midst of profound anxiety, angst and depression obviously means very different things for her than it does for me, and yet she created this perfect sonic expression of that struggle that feels true to me.
I knew before 2016 that to create something universal you need to be more particular, but I seemed to experience that reality with more frequency than ever this year.
Frank Ocean – Blonde
The death of the album was much heralded, as a result of mp3’s and whatnot — as always, this was wildly overstated because hyperbole is easier than nuance, and it gets more clicks, too. I’m glad it isn’t actually dead, and that we keep getting albums that aren’t just a series of singles, but that create a sonic landscape to live in for the duration of the playtime. Many of the albums that have done this recently are directly influenced by Kanye and his friends and collaborators, like Bon Iver earlier on this list, and Frank Ocean here.
I’m ok if we have to keep waiting extended periods between Frank Ocean’s albums so long as we are rewarded like we were with this one.
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
One week this year, when I was feeling really depressed (the clinical sort not the situational or general mood sort), “Daydreaming” on repeat was genuinely my only solace. I don’t know how it worked, feeling comforted by the melancholy song inspired by Yorke’s breakup from the woman he’d been with for 23 years (the strange vocals played at the end of the song are the words “half my life” played backwards over and over). I just know that, in spite of it being a very specific artifact about someone else’s heartache, it’s one of those songs that feels like it isn’t coming from the headphones, but from a deep place inside myself. Again, in being particular we find broader connections.
Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade
Even more than Tribe’s album, this album captures so much of what made me fall in love with Hip Hop as a kid. The production, the energy, the humor, the wit, the overall feeling — it’s looking backward and forward at once.
Watching the video for “4r Da Squaw” for the first time is the closest I’ve felt to watching the deeper cuts, like the Pharcyde, they’d play on BET when I was a kid. It’s fun and honest, which were qualities in short supply in 2016.
A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
When word came out immediately after Phife’s death that Tribe had a new album on the way, I was worried. It seemed too conveniently timed, and I was concerned we would get a subpar release of unused vocal cuts repackaged into a new album.
Instead, we got the real deal. It’s not Midnight Marauders or The Low End Theory, but it’s still pretty damn good.
Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
Those of us who love Kanye understand how crazy he is. The line between his performance art and his downright immaturity and mental illness is often blurry, but there are clear examples in both those categories.
What those of us who love him don’t understand is how people can’t hear what we hear musically. If we are going to argue about whether or not you can love the art but hate the artist, we can at least hear you enough to talk about it. But to argue that he isn’t a genius just doesn’t register for us, I have trouble even understanding how to start that conversation.
For me, The Life of Pablo doesn’t reach the sustained brilliance of his last few albums, but I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that the production on Ultralight Beam hasmoved me to tears more than once.
Anyway, here is a video Estelle Caswell put together earlier this year for Vox explaining a bit about the genius of ‘Ye.
Wye Oak – Tween
By all rights, this should be a throwaway album. They won’t even call it a fifth album. It’s songs from the unreleased material that came after Civilian but didn’t make it onto Shriek.* Thus: Tween. Yet, I still liked it enough to listen to it over and over all year long.
Long live Wye Oak!
Also, the honorable mentions that almost made the cut or that I really liked but haven’t listened to enough yet: Kendrick Lamar untitled unmastered, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree, Leonard Cohen You Want it Darker, James Blake The Colour in Anything, Kishi Bashi Sonderlust, Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial, Solange A Seat at the Table… if I gave myself more time to work on this list would get longer and some of this would make it the list. Alas, I waited to long to think about lists last year.
*I updated the Wye Oak blurb because originally I had incorrect info about the timeline for the recordings.
Here are all the shows I finished for the first time in 2016. If a show doesn’t have a list of seasons or specials next to it then I watched the whole thing this year.
Even though my show watching was way down for the year, I watched some stuff I really loved.
Atlanta was my favorite.
Mr. Robot – Season 1
X-Files – Season 10 (Bonus, I rewatched season 1-4 with my wife, her first time!)
Last Week Tonight – Season 2
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee – Season 7 and 8
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Season 11
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Season 3
Daredevil – Season 2
Bob’s Burgers – Season 6
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Season 2
Luther – Season 4
Archer – Season 7
Game of Thrones – Season 6
Silicon Valley – Season 3
Stranger Things – Season 1 (three times)
BoJack Horseman – Season 3
Preacher – Season 1
Atlanta – Season 1
Westworld – Season 1 (twice)
Bonus: Here are shows I rewatch regularly, every year:
30 Rock, Archer, Sunny, Parks and Rec, Arrested Development, Bob’s Burgers, Seinfeld
My year in film. For a year in which nearly two full months were swallowed by a farewell tour/road trip/cross-country move, I’m pretty happy with getting up to 125.
The key is mostly the same as always:
(#) Movie I saw in the theater.
[#] Movie I saw for the first time.
E# Movies I watched with Emily. Favorites (These underlined films cannot be movies I saw this year for the first time, or movies I have only seen once, they have to be movies that have been able to stand up after more than one viewing, and still keep me coming back for more.)
*Best movies I’d never seen before. (It doesn’t matter when these movies came out, I saw them for the first time this year, and they were awesome. I was probably too liberal with my asterisks, I just couldn’t help myself.) Halloween Movie Fest.
1. Four Rooms
*2. The Hateful Eight  (1)
3. Mad Max: Fury Road – E1
4. Cinderella (2015)  E2
5. Queen of Earth 
*6. Meet the Patels  E3
7. While We’re Young  E4
8. Super 
*9. Memories of Murder  E5
10. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
11. The Final Girls 
12. Lethal Weapon – E6
*13. Boy 
14. The Station Agent – E7
*15. Turbo Kid 
16. Angel Heart 
17. Velvet Goldmine 
18. Ip Man
19. Amy  E8
20. Sicario  E9
21. Sleeping With Other People  E10
22. The Bourne Identity – E11
*23. Stray Dog 
24. The Bourne Supremacy – E12
*25. The Conformist 
*26. Deadpool  (2)
27. The Maltese Falcon (3) E13
28. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
30. In Bruges
31. The Good Dinosaur  E14
32. American Ultra 
*33. Steve Jobs  E15
*34. The Big Short  E16
35. In The Mood For Love – E17
36. Black Mass 
*38. Midnight Special  (4)
39. Lucy 
40. Listen Up, Philip 
*41. Creed  E18
42. Zootopia  (5) E19
43. The Jungle Book (2016)  (6) E20
*44. Keanu  (7) E21
45. The Overnight 
46. The Dark Knight Returns: Part One
47. Captain America: Civil War  (8) E22
*48. Straight Outta Compton  E23
49. The Grandmaster  E24
*50. The Nice Guys  (9) E25
*51. Upstream Color 
52. Less Than Zero 
53. Macbeth (2015)  E26
54. X-Men: Apocalypse  (10)
*55. Meek’s Cutoff 
*56. Deadpool – E27
*57. Nikita 
58. The Big Sleep – E28
59. The Sweet Smell of Success
60. Mikey and Nicky 
61. His Girl Friday
62. Mud – E29
*63. Hail, Caesar  E30
*64. 10 Cloverfield Lane 
65. Eddie the Eagle  E31
66. Finding Dory  (11) E32
67. Man Up  E33
*68. Anomalisa  E34
*69. Don’t Look Now 
70. Reservoir Dogs
71. Moon – E35
72. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – E36
*73. Blow Out 
*74. The Lobster  E37
75. Ghostbusters (2016)  (12) E38
76. Mr. Right  E39
*78. Tell No One 
79. Suicide Squad  (13) E40
*80. Kubo and the Two Strings  (14) E41
*81. Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall  E42
82. Elvis & Nixon 
83. Kung Fury 
84. Moonrise Kingdom
85. The Family Fang  E43 86. Near Dark  87. Cronos 88. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – E44 89. What We Do In the Shadows – E45 90. Martin  91. The Lost Boys  92. Kill List 
93. Pontypool – E46 94. Slither 95. Attack the Block – E47 96. Dracula [aka, the Horror of Dracula] (1958)  *97. Trouble Every Day  *98. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht  99. Stake Land  *100. They Look Like People  101. We Are Still Here  *102. The Invitation  103. The Hallow  *104. The Witch 
106. Doctor Strange  (15) E48
*107. Hunt for the Wilderpeople  E49
108. Star Trek Beyond  E50
109. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice 
110. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them  (16) E51
*111. Arrival  (17) E52
112. Hot Fuzz
113. Hannibal Takes Edinburgh 
114. Rumble Fish 
115. Ocean’s 11
116. The Boy and the Beast 
*117. De Palma 
*118. La La Land  (18) E53
119. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg Commentary)
120. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – E54
122. Fantastic Mr. Fox
*123. Swiss Army Man 
124. Rogue One  (19) E55
125. Sing Street  E56
This year, I’m so far behind on my movie watching that I probably still haven’t seen most of my favorite 2016 films.
For example: I still haven’t seen Moonlight (fortunately I have a ticket to finally see it on Wednesday), Weiner, High-Rise, Things to Come, Elle, Always Shine, Manchester by the Sea, Silence, American Honey, Toni Erdmann, The Handmaiden, The Love Witch, O.J.: Made in America, Jackie, 13th, Green Room, Hell or High Water, Paterson, Certain Women,The Fits and a massive, seemingly unending list of other movies. Fortunately, January is always a shitty month for new releases, so I have some time to get to work.
Still, with all those films I missed, that’s not to say I haven’t seen quite a few gems released this year. Here are my favorites so far.
La La Land
If you ever need an example of a film that can be both grandiose and small, or both nostalgic and inventive, or both uplifting and heartbreaking, then look no further than La La Land.
Any one of the elements that worked in this movie would have been enough to make it better than most. Since everything in it worked, it snuck its way in as my favorite 2016 film [note: I haven’t seen Moonlight yet].
Sometimes, I see a movie and feel a little sad that I can never see it again for the first time. This was one of those movies.
Watching La La Land, an ode to love and movies and Los Angeles and music and musicals and life, I just kept thinking, “This is why people make movies.” I’m not sure exactly what my brain is getting at with that thought — I think there are all sorts of reasons why people make movies, many of them beautiful — but it still feels partly true. At the very least, La La Land captures the essence of why I personally fell in love with movies: the wonder of it, being surprised by a filmmaker, and when that plays out on a big screen while I’m surrounded by other people being taken on the same journey — that is what continues to make the cinema so special to me. I laughed often, I cried, I smiled both from joy and awe — in short, I fell in love. What else can you hope for from a love story?
I also really enjoyed the effect of having leads in a song and dance musical who aren’t great singers or dancers, who are imperfect. It illustrated a vulnerability that fit the story so well, a beautiful ordinariness that really worked.
**Side note: As I was writing this, I just found a quote about La La Land from Siddhant Adlakha’s list of his favorite 2016 films that I really loved, related to both my love of this film and film in general: “We may be the sum of all our experiences, but we can build our future on the very best parts of them, and the movies will always be there to guide us along. They still make them like they used to.”
The last bit is quite spoilery.
That scene, where she accidentally walks into his jazz bar all those years later, the one he named after her idea, and he sees her in the audience; the wistful smile as he says, “Welcome to Seb’s,” and then sits down and plays a song for her that is everything he wishes had been different, a dream of how it might have been instead. If that’s not a classic movie moment then there’s no such thing.
All love stories end in loss, the real question is whether or not our love made us better while it lasted.
As I wrote during Halloween Movie Fest this year: Don’t learn anything about this movie, just watch it.
This is a tense, slow burn that is interesting and unique. It’s evidence that the right people can make a wildly good film for very little money.
I can’t wait to see what Karyn Kusama does next; also, thus far in his career Logan Marhsall-Green has been seriously underutilized.
I won’t say more so I don’t spoil anything.
This was my favorite new movie from HMF16. Watch it! I’ll watch it with you if you need a creepy movie buddy.
The closest challenger La La Land has for my favorite of the 2016 films I’ve seen so far is Arrival.
Denis Villeneuve’s first foray into sci-fi is pretty fucking beautiful. I’m glad it won’t be his last sci-fi story, as his next film is Blade Runner 2049 and there have been talks for him to adapt Dune in some form, which is apparently a dream project of his. That could be amazing!
Please don’t sleep on this movie because you think of yourself as a person who doesn’t like sci-fi. Two primary reasons: One, because it’s not true that you just flat out “don’t like sci-fi” (I can prove that to you if you let me, but it would take actual conversations with you because it would be a unique set of proofs for each person). And two, because this movie is too great to let slip because of your blanket dismissal of a genre.
Arrival is a great film, and it shows the range of what a good sci-fi story can do. It’s a story about humanity in the big sense, but more than that, it is the small story of a particular woman told in a really big frame of reference. It’s the perfect example of how accessible sci-fi can be because it isn’t sci-fi-lite; meaning it’s not sci-fi that everyone might like because it tastes like water, this is complex sci-fi flavor executed so well that everyone might appreciate it. I mean, this is the story of a fucking linguist decoding an alien language: nerd stuff. Yet, I can’t imagine any open-minded viewer being turned off by the sci-fi aspects, because the heart that beats at the center of the film is so vital, the texture is so rich.
Also, can we just give Amy Adams the earliest lifetime achievement award ever bestowed? She’s already in the hall of fame, let’s just make it official. And for all his blockbuster appearances, Jeremy Renner is still a really underrated actor; he can do an awful lot with very little.
Now, it gets spoilery from here
I’m enamored with one of the central questions I come away with at the end of this movie, which is: if you knew a choice to love was going to end in tragedy, would you still go through with it? If you knew in advance that your marriage would be happy at times but end in divorce, would you still choose to love? And if you knew your child would die of a rare disease as a teenager, would the joyful moments be worth that immeasurable heartache? I know most parents would say “Yes,” but that’s still a huge question that pulls at the nature of what it means to love. I know, part of the question in Arrival is whether or not she had a choice at all, but if you did have a choice, what would you choose?
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Here I am, the president of the Taiki Waititi fan club, at it again.
I don’t really know what else to say to get my friends to watch Waititi’s movies. I don’t know how anyone could not love his work. Don’t you like being happy?!
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is stuffed with joy, charm, and Waititi’s trademark lovable weirdos who become a family. There’s so much sweetness, but it never gets cloying.
Recently, when I recommended Hunt for the Wilderpeople on this blog, I joked that I’ll probably be disappointed if I ever go to New Zealand because people won’t talk like Taiki Waititi characters. The more I think about it, I realize it’s actually just disappointing that the people of the world in general don’t act more like Taiki Waititi characters.
The Nice Guys
Shane Black at the height of his powers. That’s really all anyone would need to say to me and I would buy a ticket sight unseen. I fell in love with Black without knowing it when I was 14 and saw The Long Kiss Goodnight at least five times,and years later Kiss Kiss Bang Bang foreversolidified my devotion.
I really hope that every decade or so — at least — Black keeps making noirish comedies about violent men and dangerous women, or the other way around, doesn’t matter who, it works either way. No one does buddy film banter and reluctant chemistry better than Shane Black.
Ahem, exhibit A, from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: “Look up the word idiot in the dictionary, you know what you’ll find?”
“A picture of me?”
“No, the definition of the word idiot, which you fucking are!”
Anyway, there’s no reason for me to write anything else about it, because Nerdwriter1 already did this great piece on how Shane Black does movie violence the right way, which prominently features The Nice Guys.
Kubo and the Two Strings
First, I can’t praise this movie without pointing out the disappointing degree of whitewashing at work. This is a story told with asian characters in an asian setting, and yet almost all of the lead voice actors are white. That sucks.
This makes my love for the film complicated, and I would understand anyone who dismissed the film outright as a result.
I really do wish there was nothing complicating my love for Kubo, because there is so much here to love. It’s a genuinely great film in every other respect. The mere fact that I can have such qualms about it and still include it amongst my few favorite films of the year has to say something.
Visually the film is a remarkable achievement. What Laika is able to do with stop motion animation is astounding. It’s amazing that they continue to make films that are so good that you have to call them great movies, period, not great movies “for stop motion.”
The folks at Laika are always great storytellers, but even by those standards, Kubo and the Two Strings is significantly more moving and inspiring than I’d anticipated.
This is a dark, beautiful telling of the sort of story the world needs right now. I just wish they’d told it without making such disappointing and insensitive casting decisions.
Swiss Army Man
Most weird movie characters aren’t actually weird. Much like the way “ugly” or “uncool” people in movies are actually hot people wearing ill-fitting frames for their glasses and an unfortunate hairstyle, the supposed weirdness is cast off with an ease that reveals it was never really there to begin with. Surprise, these outcasts are actually fairly well-adjusted socially and come to a satisfying denouement that finds them healthy members of a family or friend group!
Swiss Army Man is not that sort of movie. It’s as weird as the story of a suicidal castaway who befriends a corpse ought to be, and that weirdness is embraced throughout — and by embraced I actually mean ratcheted up consistently.
The fact that the weirdness isn’t merely a trapping used while convenient and then dropped later on to serve the cloying “message” of the story means Swiss Army Man is a film that can actually mean something to real weirdos. It also means the film has to work harder to earn its charm and emotional depth, which makes it so much more satisfying when it works. And it really, really works.
Early on, it took me a bit to warm up to Swiss Army Man, but in the end I loved the time spent with these disturbed and beautiful characters, and that early uncertainty on my part made the payoff so much sweeter.
Speaking of weird, The Lobster.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ film is odd and idiosyncratic in the best possible ways.
As I look back over my list of favorite films of the year, I see the common thread of filmmakers skillfully using interesting metaphors to get at something deeply true. In this case, it’s a look at modern love in all of its many horrors and glories… although mostly horrors.
Everyone is great in this movie, and it’s further proof that Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz would be massive movie stars if the economy of film were a meritocracy (which reminds me, the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them franchise trading Colin Farrell for mid 2010’s Johnny Depp is mind-blowingly stupid).
The Lobster reminds me of Charlie Kauffman, one of my favorites, but more understated and direct.
This is certainly not a feel-good option — for example, it includes a scene of non-chalant and heartbreaking human on dog (who used to be a human) violence — but with its dark humor and sharp insight, it stayed with me well after finishing it. It’s the sort of film you’ll be talking about with your friends immediately.
Honorable mention/movies that I enjoyed and might realize should have been on the list tomorrow: 10 Cloverfield Lane, De Palma, Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to ‘Off the Wall,’ The Witch,Hail, Caesar, and Midnight Special.
One of the earliest memories I have comes from when I was six years old. I was in the downstairs family room of the first home I can remember; a house in Newburgh, New York that acted as the background for all my earliest memories. In this particular recollection, I was watching MTV.
Yes, I was watching MTV alone when I was six, because the 80’s.
On the screen, the black and white shot of a jukebox appears. The automated arm presses a record up to the needle. Organ music starts playing as the shot changes and the camera scans up, revolving around torn, faded, bleach-stained jeans, followed by a leather jacket — I couldn’t read the word ‘Revenge’ printed at the bottom at the time. My young eyes barely registered the sexy female legs seen from the waist down, leaning against the jukebox, black and white but for the bright blue pumps. All my attention was on those bluejeans on the other side of the jukebox, one leg propped up in a pose that was mind-blowingly cool to my six-year-old self.
The music video that unfolded after that deeply imprinted itself on my brain. Perhaps because I had a gay father, I interpreted the whole video as hyper-masculine. The huge cross earring, the popped leather collar, the overlarge aviator sunglasses, the ass-shaking, the poofy bleached hair: all appeared to me as the epitome of what manly cool looked like. I had no idea how gay the video for “Faith” was, or how prominently it was showcasing the fact that George Michael had a great ass.
I would later realize that, while I totally missed the gay part — as did most of the viewing public, as it turned out — I was spot on with my estimation that it was wildly manly, just not in the mode most readily affirmed by small-minded idiots.
Anyway, before I was 8 years old I had gotten my hands on the cassette tape and played it over and over. Undoubtedly, I was too young for this album, full of sex and very adult relational themes. Even K104, the Hudson Valley’s go-to Top 40 station, made people request the song “I Want Your Sex,” as “I Want Your Hands” — they didn’t edit the lyrics, just the spoken song identification.
While the song titles were too spicy for radio, and the majority of the subject matter was way over my head [see: Father Figure], I’m so glad the 80’s were a decade of parental complacency when it comes to that sort of thing. My childhood would have been poorer without this album, the legacy of which is underrated by the larger public (although often celebrated critically, example: it is featured on Rolling Stones’ “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” both originally in 2003 and then again when they remade the list in 2012).
Faith is one of those albums that plays like a greatest hits track list. Even if you only get the four songs that make up the first side of the tape, it’s worth the price of purchase. It’s one great pop song after another.
As I got older, it became wildly uncool to like George Michael. With his arrests for sex acts in public and the general cultural desire to reject the reality of gay masculinity, George Michael became the butt of countless jokes. All those images in the “Faith” video that had endeared me to all things George Michael were now the object of derision. During high school, I wouldn’t have admitted my appreciation of his music to anyone, with the notable exception of the “Freedom ’90!” music video featuring a naked Cindy Crawford in a bathtub.
Fortunately, I grew up eventually and realized, “Fuck you, I like George Michael.” I still framed it as a guilty pleasure, still felt a mild embarrassment at the knock to my indie cred, but I no longer hid my affection, especially for that album in particular.
Up until his tragic death, 2016 was a good year in popular culture for people who appreciated George Michael. First, Wham! featured prominently in Deadpool. Then, more notably, Key and Peele went so far in Keanu as to include a drug trip sequence where a character finds himself inside the video for “Faith,” his “favorite fucking song.” There is no way I can describe the joy I felt when Keegan-Michael Key hallucinated his way into a moment so deeply connected to my childhood. It was like an inside joke that the rest of the theater got in part, while missing the deeper layers. When Key’s character found himself in that giant white space, with a lone jukebox in the distance, I immediately knew exactly where he was, and my delight knew no bounds. It is one of my favorite moments of the year in film.
George Michael led a life troubled by the problems that plague so many celebrity lives. It was a story that ended, as too many musician stories do, well before it should have. I can’t speak to what sort of person he was at all. What I can say, with certainty, is that I’m glad his music is the subject of one of the two or three first things I consciously remember.
I love movie supercuts at the end of the year. Full of all the beauty and grandeur of the year in film. Usually my favorite supercut each year is David Ehrlich’s, because his are always beautifully crafted and unapologetically particular. This year’s is amazing, as expected.
Beginning with a general supercut of the year in film, then rolling into his top 25 films of the year, this is 13 minutes you need in your life this week.
How could I not be excited about this? First, Denis Villeneuve’s absolutely brilliant Arrival, then Gosling’s pitch-perfect performance in La La Land, followed by this trailer. Yeah, I’ll be there in October. Get my seat ready Alamo Brooklyn.
The fact that 2016 has been terrible is no secret. If the only bad things that happened this year were losing Bowie, Prince, Leonard Coen, and Phife Dawg in the same year it still would have sucked, but somehow that is just the tip of the giant shitberg this year has been.
Fortunately, there is still awesomeness to make me feel better, and I wanted to share a few of those things with you — ‘Five Things’ style.
1. Baby Fucking Groot
The second trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy — released a week ago at this point, this post took me way too long to get around to finishing — showcased more of the comedic energy fans expect from the series. I’m assuming anyone who cares about this at all will have already seen it at least once. Still, it’s too great to not have it up on RtM, just for posterity. I loved the first Guardians so much, and this one continues to look like it will easily win my heart next year.
A growing baby Groot is even more amazing that I could have hoped.
2. Awaken, My Love!
Is Donald Glover the messiah? He might be. I just don’t see how an ordinary human can give the world Atlanta and Awaken, My Love! in the same fucking year. HOW?! There are plenty of talented people who might release two things that good in their career… but in the same year?! Say what you will about 2016 — it was fucking awful — but Donald Glover certainly did more than we could have hoped in an attempt to salvage it.
Have you listened to this album yet? Did anyone see this coming? Were we aware Childish Gambino was capable of creating a neo-soul masterpiece?
When Questlove — a bonafide pop music historian with an encyclopedic grasp of all things soul — freaks out and wakes D’Angelo at 4 a.m. to listen to an album, you should take note.
Here is a fun interactive video of Gambino performing “Me and Your Mama” at his Pharos concert event.
3. The Girl Who Drank the Moon
The people who live in the Protectorate believe a witch lives in the woods. They believe they must sacrifice a baby to her every year to avoid her wrath.
A witch does live in the woods, but is nothing like the blood thirsty monster she is imagined to be. Confused why babies are annually abandoned in the wilderness, she rescues them and takes them to loving families far away, feeding them starlight to nourish them on the journey. During one of these trips, the witch accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, enmagicking her.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a book about identity, about the power story has to nurture or destroy, and it is about truth and lies and the way the powerful distort the narrative to maintain the status quo. It’s also about love and family and the way courage and compassion can change the world.
It’s lovely and well-written, full of wisdom and lines I wanted to go back and reread multiple times.
You should read it.
Good news: The guy who wrote the screenplay for Kubo and the Two Strings is supposedly the one adapting this book into a screenplay. More on Kubo if I get around to making my own 2016 lists.
4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
I know, I know — I barely write on RtM anymore and when I do, half the time it’s about how much I love Taiki Waititi. Well, what of it? I do love Taiki Waititi.
A friend recently asked people on Facebook to give a list of their favorite films since 2012, and I listed What We Do in the Shadows; not just because of my affection for that film, but because I needed a representative of Waititi’s work.
His films are so full of charm and joy and sweetness, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople is no exception. Plus, I’m a sucker for stories about people who come together and make weird nontraditional families. It deserves all the inclusion it has gotten on various lists of underrated or underappreciated films of 2016.
Speaking of underappreciated, when people talk about Hunt for the Wilderpeople they always mention What We Do in the Shadows but not Boy. Watch Boy!!!
Taiki for life!
I bet some people are unreasonably disappointed when they visit New Zealand and it’s not actually Middle Earth. I’m probably going to be unreasonably disappointed if I ever go because everyone doesn’t talk like a character in a Taiki Waititi film.
5. End of Year Lists
Hopefully, I’ll find time to make some of my own this year, but either way I am so excited that it is time for people around the internet to curate lists of their favorite things of 2016.
I love curation, both doing it myself and when others do it well. There is so much to learn by experiencing what other people get excited about with an open mind. It expands my life and my perception and offers me new things to enjoy.
Some of the stuff won’t be for me, but I might find a new favorite thing. There might be an amazing album or movie or book I would have otherwise missed, or I might be inspired to finally check out some show I’m sleeping on, or I might be encouraged to look at something I didn’t enjoy in a new light. Either way, my world will get bigger and brighter.