Best Songs of 2019

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CREDIT: Tove Lo/YouTube Screenshot

The following are the singles that had enough of an impact on me in 2019 to make me go, “I’ll have to mark that one down for posterity.” A few of them were originally released before 2019, but they didn’t reach their full cultural impact until 2019. And for the first time in the decade or so since I’ve been doing this, I’ve got a repeat winner, as I also coronated Tove Lo in 2017.

1. Tove Lo – “Glad He’s Gone”: Such friendship, such storytelling. We are all so blessed to have Tove Lo in our lives.
2. Lana Del Rey – “Mariners Apartment Complex”: Four minutes of musical madness that feels like hours of bliss.
3. The Chemical Brothers – “Eve of Destruction”: If you think the world’s gone to hell, have a dance party!
4. Vampire Weekend – “Sunflower”: There have been multiple (good) songs named “Sunflower” the past few years; this is the one that’s most likely to make you feel like a sunflower waking up in the morning.
5. Lizzo -“Truth Hurts”: 100% that mix of references that clearly hold deep emotional resonance for Lizzo.
6. Gary Clark Jr. – “This Land”: Can tasty guitar solos solve racism? Can’t hurt.
7. Hozier – “Dinner and Diatribes”: A galloping piece of soulfulness.
8. Dua Lipa – “Swan Song”: An original track from Alita: Battle Angel, and clearly the sound of future sci-fi feminism.
9. Sara Bareilles – “Armor”: Listen to Sara Bareilles getting down with her jazzy bad self and the rest of us getting down with her!
10. Kimbra – “Lightyear”: Space wonder Kimbra has a message to beam down to us earthbound folks.
11. Shaed – “Thunder”: One of those indie rock “This is who we are!” statements of declaration.
12. Billie Eilish – “Bad Guy”: Billie sings about the joys of being devious, but by all accounts, her personal life is quite wholesome. I think that’s a great way to live.
13. Meg Myers – “Running Up That Hill”: I’m just glad that Kate Bush covers are on the radio in 2019.
14. Lana Del Rey – “Doin’ Time”: Is Lana the current Queen of Remix? She just knows how to summon the past into her modern legacy.
15. Tones and I – “Dance Monkey”: We can always use some monosyllabic shouts amidst the more word-like lyrics to convince us to get up there and bust a move.
16. Camila Cabello – “Cry for Me”: Sometimes you need to make an insistent demand for emotional connection to get the message across.
17. Lil Nas X – “Old Town Road”: The epitome of Gen Z’s total lack of recognition of genre constraints.
18. Absofacto – “Dissolve”: A little skitter-skatter of chillax rock.
19. Benny Blanco, Tainy, Selena Gomez, and J Balvin – “I Can’t Get Enough”: A pleasure moan produced into nugget-size song form.
20. Starcrawler – “Pet Sematary”: It really is the perfect unassailable opening guitar riff to kick off some opening credits, no matter which version.

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 1/24/20

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CREDIT: Michele Crowe/CBS

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
The Turning (Theatrically Nationwide) – Horror completism, though I do have my reservations.

TV
Arrow Series Finale (January 28 on The CW)
Miracle Workers: Dark Ages Season Premiere (January 28 on TBS)
The Good Place Series Finale (January 30 on NBC)

Music on TV
-62nd Annual Grammy Awards (January 26 on CBS) – Although apparently the awards are rigged!

‘The Turning’ is a Workmanlike Piece of Gothic Horror Until It Is Overcome by an Astoundingly Abrupt Ending

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CREDIT: Patrick Redmond/Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

Starring: Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, Barbara Marten, Joely Richardson

Director: Floria Sigsimondi

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for General Spookiness, Fantastically Rude Children, and Artfully Composed Bathtub Shots

Release Date: January 24, 2020

Take a classic gothic horror tale, pair it with a director of classic music videos, and what do you get? Almost certainly a spooky atmosphere. But will the narrative be just as effective? The Turning is based on Henry James’ 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw and it’s directed by Floria Sigismondi, who is best known for colorful clips like Katy Perry’s “E.T.” and Rihanna’s “Sledgehammer.” Perhaps that rock ‘n’ roll background is why The Turning is set squarely in 1994, with the death of Kurt Cobain serving as one of the last moments that Kate (Mackenzie Davis) experiences in the outside world before descending into a pit of terror. She has been hired as a live-in tutor and nanny for a couple of orphans in a perpetually autumnal mansion that looks at least as old James’ story.

Kate is immediately haunted by ghostly visions, and while she generally trusts her own eyes, she has reason to believe that she is just dreaming or that the kids are playing tricks on her. While the younger of the two, Flora (Brooklynn Prince), is mostly sweet, the older one, Miles (Finn Wolfhard), is the epitome of disaffected, possibly sociopathic adolescence. The Turning is most effective as a portrait of how hate can linger and infect an entire household, whether or not the phantom sightings are real ghosts. Miles was apparently close with the former groundskeeper, who died in an accident and is described as a brute of a man. Meanwhile, the housekeeper (Barbara Marten), who looks like she’s been there since the house was built, is aware of all of these dynamics but is more concerned about keeping everything difficult under wraps.

For the most part, The Turning is a fairly straightforward, patient (perhaps to a fault) tale about how difficult it can be to escape a toxic environment, even when it is so clear that you must get out. It seems to be heading towards a conclusion that works perfectly fine for such a setup, but then it is interrupted by one of the most puzzling endings I’ve ever seen. This hardly qualifies as a spoiler because it is nowhere near clear what this finale actually is. It’s enough to make you suspect that the last reel of film is missing. (Or, since we’re now in a digital projection era, I suppose the error would’ve been that the last 10% of the file didn’t convert properly.) The closest comparison I can think of is the famously nonsensical ending of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, but in that case, it is clear that it was tacked on after the fact and thus easy to dismiss as not really part of the rest of the movie. I would be willing to do the same with The Turning‘s ending, but it very much feels like it is there for a reason. Alas, it’s a reason that never reveals itself. It’s just plain baffling, and thus hard to call this movie anything but incomplete.

The Turning is Recommended If You Like: Leaving five minutes before the ending

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Dead Fish

It’s Worth Spending a Couple of Stylish, Silly Hours with ‘The Gentlemen’ of Guy Richie

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CREDIT: Christopher Raphael

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant

Director: Guy Ritchie

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: R for Drug Dealing, Gunfire Blood Splatter, and a Bit of Poison

Release Date: January 24, 2020

The Gentlemen is basically the Guy Ritchie-fied version of a John le Carré story. Instead of a labyrinthine plot about nattily dressed spies and other government associates double-, triple-, and quadruple-crossing each other, we have here a labyrinthine plot about nattily dressed drug dealers and dirt diggers double-, triple-, and quadruple-crossing each other. Also as with the typical Le Carré, The Gentlemen requires a diagram to make sense of everything that happens and how everyone relates to each other. But on a scene-by-scene basis, it is clear (or at least clear enough to be entertaining) where everyone’s motivations lie and who’s trying to pull the upper hand on whom.

CREDIT: Christopher Raphael

While watching The Gentlemen, I had similar feelings that I do when watching my favorite sports teams pull off successful big play after big play, with nary an error or defensive blunder the whole time. It is not always clear who to root for in these ensemble-driven crime-business action flicks, nor it is always preferable. But in this case, knowing that Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) and his partner Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) are the (relative) moral paragons is a big help. The fact that Mickey peddles cannabis instead of, say, heroin and does so proudly because his product doesn’t kill his customers, allows us to orient ourselves toward some clarity in a movie that is otherwise often quite cacophonous.

And Hugh Grant’s presence as a private investigator who is just dying to get the big scoop on everybody (and also not die in the process) lets us know that it’s a good idea to laugh. There’s plenty of silliness otherwise to prompt the chuckles, but Grant is the crux that assures us of the light-footed, devilishly good time we ought to be having. It’s always a delight to see him so immersed in this sort of gleefulness. Even the meta twist that he pulls off at the end somehow feels so right when in lesser hands it could have undermined the whole tone. Instead, The Gentlemen is a stylish romp that will have you going, “The good-ish guys won.”

The Gentlemen is Recommended If: You’ve always wondered what it would be like if Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy merged with Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln commercials and added a dash of Hugh Grant in Paddington 2 Mode

Grade: 3 out of 5 Turtleneck Sweaters

‘VHYes,’ Yes, Yes, Ohhh Yes!

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CREDIT: Oscilloscope Laboratories/YouTube Screenshot

Shot entirely on VHS, VHYes is a montage of what happens when a twelve-year-old boy who gets a camera for Christmas 1987 tapes over his parents’ wedding tape with a selection of various late night shows. Thus, it is right up my alley, as I love it when an old, supposedly outdated technology manages to poke its way into a new era. The section that really gets me going more than any other is a parody of a cheesy porno, set in a blazing-hot, global warming-ravaged winter in which a bunch of horny scientists have to get it on with each other to solve the crisis. Since this isn’t an actual porno, the climactic moments are pointedly removed, but I still achieve satisfaction. There’s a certain artfulness to the whole affair (as indicated by the European-but-also-vulgar director’s name, “Dick Pierre”), and it’s always lovely when there’s plenty of personality present even when the conventional wisdom says it’s not needed. And that’s a big reason why I love the persistence of VHS. It’s not just about (or even primarily about) nostalgia. With the tracking lines and unique frame rate and visual noise, there’s just so much personality inherent to the format.

I give VHYes An Indication That I’m Totally Into Its Personality.

Best TV Episodes of 2019

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CREDIT: TBS

If you were cryogenically frozen in suspended animation for all of 2019 and want to get caught up on all the great TV you missed as efficiently as possible, well boy, do I have some suggestions for you…

1. American Dad!, “Rabbit Ears”
2. Watchmen, “A God Walks Into Abar”
3. South Park, “Band in China”
4. Barry, “ronny/lily”
5. Mr. Robot, “whoami”
6. Documentary Now!, “Batshit Valley”
7. The Other Two, “Chase Drops His First Album”
8. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “The Gang Chokes”
9. The Twilight Zone, “Blurryman”
10. Pose, “Never Knew Love Like This Before”
11. The Twilight Zone, “Replay”
12. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “Thunder Gun 4: Maximum Cool”
13. American Dad!, “Top of the Steve”
14. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “The Gang Texts”
15. Momma Named Me Sheriff, “TV”
16. John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch
17.
Riverdale, “Chapter Sixty-Five: In Treatment”
18. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Inescapable”
19. mixed-ish, “Let Your Hair Down”
20. Legion, “Chapter 25”

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 1/17/20

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CREDIT: Trae Patton/CBS

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
Bad Boys for Life (Theatrically Nationwide)
VHYes (Limited Theatrically) – I love outdated technology.

TV
Sex Education Season 2 (January 17 on Netflix)
-26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards (January 19 on TBS and TNT)
Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 10 Premiere (January 19 on HBO)
Awkwafina is Nora From Queens Series Premiere (January 22 on Comedy Central)
Star Trek: Picard Series Premiere (January 23 on CBS All Access) – They made it so.

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