Saturday, January 7, 2017

My favorite things of 2016


I’m about to write SO MUCH about the stuff I liked this past year.  Read if you dare!

2016 Favorite Movie #1 – La La Land – This one sucker punched me.  I wasn’t expecting the hit.  I thought this was going to be a film about a boy and a girl falling in love.  What I got was a film about falling in love with your dreams and the sacrifices you might have to make to follow that love.  This film worked for me on a higher level than any other I saw this year.  The actors were both wonderful.  I hope Stone gets another Oscar.  Gosling is next DiCaprio in terms of only being offered the top tier projects from here on out.  Each frame the cinematographer captured would look good in a frame.  The singing was charming.  The score was haunting.  The script broke me for all the best reasons.  Gosling plays a keytar.  This film had it all.

2016 Favorite Movie #2 - Hell Or High Water – Coolest film of 2016.  Felt old and contemporary at the same time.  Makes me long to go to Texas with my camera.  All the acting is top notch, the cinematography is wonderful, and the script is lean, sharp, and ends with a bite.  It felt important, depressing, and real. 

2016 Favorite Movie #3 - Jungle Book – The best action film of 2016.  A great example of how to do CGI right.  Each shot more beautiful than the next.  One of the few films that visually impressed me.  This film balanced play, adventure, horror, and heart in a way that few movies can.  It reminded me of why I miss the earlier Spielberg.  Disney flexing its muscles and creating a better Avatar.  Sadly seen as “just a kids movie”, this is the one film that deserved more than it got.

2016 Favorite Movie #4 - Manchester By The Sea – I never want to see this film again.  Soul crushingly depressing.  A lot of reviews mention the humor… well I remember 0 jokes.  Only the black clouds of sadness that enveloped every character in this movie.  That being said, for what it was trying to be, it was pitch perfect.  The actors deserve all the awards.  The inability of the men to communicate to each other or process grief felt so real and so sad.  Too real, too sad.  Great shots of the frozen Massachusetts coastline intersperse this film, hammering home just how cold is their world.

2016 Favorite Movie #5 - The Nice Guys – For those who miss the lack of new Lethal Weapon films, this one is for us.  Ryan Gosling at his funniest, and a script willing to playfully follow random thoughts toward their conclusion.  And how can I not love a movie with a scene where one character dives for his friend’s angle gun holster, just to realize that he only dreamed that his friend wears and angle gun.

2016 Favorite Movie #6 - Star Wars: Rogue One – Fan fiction come to life!  One of the perks of Disney purchasing this property is that quantity of Star Wars films which are about to be thrown at us.  As a life long fan, quantity is fine with me.  And as a life long fan, I could have made this script a lot better.  I know how arrogant that sounds, but I swear the version of Rogue One what has always played in my head was better than this one.  That being said, I loved this film, mainly just for existing.  I can nitpick it all day, but out of love.

2016 Favorite Movie #7 - Sing Street – Irish kids in the 80’s form a rock band, from the guy who made Once.  Sign me up!  I was smiling through the whole film.  The songs written for this film were perfect.  The music videos they made were priceless.  I want a sequel 20 years from now.

2016 Favorite Movie #8 - Zootopia – The smartest and funniest kids movie of the year.  I wish the art design was a little more stylized, but the script more than made up for it.  This film was fun and had things to say, but never in a way that felt preachy.  That’s a tricky line to walk, but this film pulled it off.

2016 Favorite Movie #9 - Captain America: Civil War – This is the year I got tired of superhero films.  I mainly blame the mishandling of my DC heroes, but even the mighty Marvel is starting to feel worn.  However, this one still worked for me.  It helps that I’m invested in these characters and I don’t want to see them punching each other.  It also helped that the script pulled off a pretty successful trick in explaining with believability why these heroes might want to fight each other.  It also helped that these directors know how to film great, creative fight scenes, something it is surprisingly often lacking in contemporary superhero films.

2016 Favorite Movie #10 - The Witch – The creepiest horror I’ve seen in a while.  You probably won’t like it.  It doesn’t play by normal horror movie rules, thus it can feel really boring for those accustomed to the contemporary horror genre.  No jump scares, just high-brow art house Puritan horror that could stand alongside Nathaniel Hawthorne and Arthur Miller.  English majors, rejoice!

2016 Favorite Movie #Honorable Mention - Hunt For Wilderpeople – So cute!  Maybe too cute.  Almost too cute.  It helps that the characters feel genuine enough to pull the cuteness off.  An old man and a boy hiding in the New Zealand bush so the boy doesn’t have to go to child services… and adorable silliness ensues. At it’s best, it reminded me of Wes Anderson but with more heart.

Extra Credit - Coolest fight scene of 2016:  Moana and Maui vs. the Kakamora coconut pirates.  More than the penguins of Madagascar, THESE are the minor characters in a cartoon film that deserve a spin-off tv series.  What are they?!  Maybe crabs wearing coconuts?  I have no idea, and I want to know more!  Their one scene was like a Mad Max Fury Road action set-piece for kids, and I want to see this film again mainly for these 5 minutes.  I loved the whole film, but this scene was Disney at the top of their game.

Movies from 2016 I’ve Yet To See But I Think I’m Gonna Love: Silence, Don’t Think Twice.

Least favorite film I saw in 2016:  Trolls.  Really, really disliked it.  It actually tried to pull the heart strings with a sequence that starts with the line: “Music killed my grandma.”  The soundtrack, which is now a big hit with my kids, represents everything I question regarding those who market art by committee.  Part of the fun of the LEGO movie is that it somehow worked, when in reality, it should have played like Trolls.

Movies I’m excited about in 2017:  The LEGO Batman Movie, Get Out, Logan, T2: Trainspotting, Kong: Skull Island, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, War for the Planet of the Apes, Dunkirk, The Dark Tower, Baby Driver, The Snowman, Thor: Ragnarok, Star Wars: Episode VIII, Downsizing, Annihilation, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Okja, Coco, Three Billboards Outside Ebbin Missouri, Kathryn Bigelow‘s Untitled Detroit Riots Drama, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Charles James ’50s period drama, Roma, Blade Runner 2049, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Montara, Mother, Weightless, Soldado.

2016 Favorite TV Show #1 - Stranger Things – I really disliked the last episode. I could see how they could have tied it all together with a bow, giving Officer Hooper’s character an emotionally satisfying ending… but they didn’t.  They want to drag us through at least another 10 episodes, and I really think that was a huge mistake.  It is very hard for me to imagine a second season working half as well as this one did, which means I don’t think I’ll get an ending that will work hit me.  That’s too bad because literally everything else about this show was spot on for me.  The cast, the dialogue, the villains, the score… all perfect.  I loved the high school bully being maybe okay after all.  Eleven stole every scene she was in, which was surprisingly hard to pull off with the rest of those boys.  I’ll be excited to watch more, but I really think the show runners have set them up for an impossible task to make season two work.

2016 Favorite TV Show #2 - The People VS OJ Simpson – How did this work?  Lead actors Cuba Gooding Jr, Travolta, and Schwimmer were all pretty miserable in this.  Yet, I could not look away.  And not in a “So bad it’s good” sort of way.  It just told the story in an engaging way that felt fresh and current.  For as uncomfortable it was to watch those above actors on screen, Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Bance, and Sterling K. Brown all just killed it.  The scripts were great.  I have no interest in seeing this again, but after each episode I found myself very impressed.

2016 Favorite TV Show #3 - Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Mainly, I miss 30 Rock, but Kimmy and Titus consistently make me Laugh Out Loud.  I’m a fan of jokes, and this show throws them at me one after another.  I’d pay big money to sit in the writers room and watch those jokes travel from there to the scripts.  I don’t know who any of the writers are, but I would like to spend time with them.

2016 Favorite TV Show #4 - Saturday Night Live – Favorite Sketches of 2016: First Place = Dirty Dancing Live.  Second Place = Close Encounter with Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong and Ryan Gosling.  Third Place = High School Theater Show.  Tied for Fourth Place = Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base, Black Jeopardy with Tom Hanks, Haunted Elevator with David S. Pumpkins, Adele's Thanksgiving Miracle, Dave Chappelle's monologue, and Melissa McCarthy at a horror film test screening.

2016 Favorite TV Show #5 - Star Wars: Rebels (Especially season 3 episode “The Last Battle” and the season 2 finale “Twilight of the Apprentice”) – After all the movie nerds saw Rogue One, so much of the excitement was about finally seeing Darth Vader being the evil Sith lord we’ve never actually seen before on screen.  For my money, the most evil (and emotional) Darth Vader moment of 2016 was watching him duel with his former padawan Ahsoka Tano.  Her saber sliced off a chunk of his mask to show just a glimpse of face of Anikan buried under that armor, and the image still chills me thinking about it now.   

TV I’m excited about in 2017:  Twin Peaks! Top Of The Lake.

TV Show From 2016 I’ve Yet To Watch But Sounds Intriguing: Atlanta

2016 Favorite Album #1 – Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial.  Contemporary Indie Rock is a sad, dying genre that I fear trickled away due to pirated music taking away any chance of a sustainable income.  Maybe it can come back to life through bandcamp.com or something.  I miss it.  This album reminds me of what I’ve been missing.  It’s loud, it’s messy, it’s risky, it’s catchy, it’s snobby, it’s fun, it’s long, it’s sad, it’s funny, and it rocks.  Easily my favorite album of the year, and it gives me hope that there might be a future for Indie Rock yet.

2016 Favorite Album #2 – Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker.  I was pretty obsessed with this album the two weeks that led up to Cohen dying, which was wild.  This album was released right before he died, and it was seeping with sad, blatant lyrics foreshadowing of his demise.  I know Bowie did it too, but this album hurt me more.  At first listen, I thought Cohen was singing lyrics about a rough break-up with a loved one, but I slowly came to realize he was singing about God.  He was a man who hunted for spiritual truth his entire writing career, and as he saw his end approaching, he gave up.  Somehow, he captured this surrender in song.

2016 Favorite Album #3 - Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool – I love that this band can still surprise me and continue to sound just a few years ahead of the pack.  Critics tend to point out the new vulnerability and heartbreak that’s on display, which I too interesting and pretty.  However, this thing really grabs me when it gets loud and creepy.  In “Identikit”, when Yorke starts singing “Broken hearts make it rain” with a choir, is my favorite musical moment of the year.

2016 Favorite Album #4 - Weezer – White Album.  Pinkerton was so good that I will always buy anything this band puts out.  Usually, it’s not quite half as good as Pinkerton, but I’m content with not quite half as good as Pinkerton because Pinkerton was that good.  I’m mainly embarrassed about how much this band has meant to me over the years, and that embarrassment is mainly justified with their stream of terrible radio singles that annoyingly ear worm their way into our skulls, but on every Weezer album, I can find a few songs that make me smile and say, “That kinda sounds like what I liked about Pinkerton.”  At first, I mostly liked this album, but then I didn’t.  Somehow, it has climbed its way back up to become my third favorite Weezer album.  Not all the songs work, but those that do, really do.  It sounds to me like Beach Boys mixed with the Ramones, but the songs I really like are also mixed with Pinkerton.  Southern California beach music is a good fit for this band, and I’m happy they went there.

2016 Favorite Album #5 – Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam - I Had a Dream That You Were Mine – This sounds like a dream that walks the fine line of almost becoming a nightmare, but stays more dreamy than not. Like a misplaced and long forgotten Sun Records album that had warped in the hot sun, this would be a good soundtrack if anyone ever made a post apocalyptic film that somehow still took place in the 1950’s.  “I had a dream that you were mine” is a lyric that has stuck in my head for the past six months, and I like it up there.

2016 Favorite Album #6 – Damien Jurado – Visions Of Us On Land – Another freak folk dream of an album, but I don’t care.  Jurado is probably the most consistent and underrated artist of his generation.  Extra credit goes to Swift’s production, who continues to find ways to make Jurado’s voice echo, haunt, and boom.

2016 Favorite Album #7 – Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels – This is easy to write off because it’s his second album of standard covers in a row, but I think I’ll cherish these two albums more and more as I get older.  They are so easy and fun, breathing new life into songs from long ago.  Each track sounds like a different ghost from when my great grandparents used to dance together, and I enjoy the imagery that floats into my head as this album plays.  Dylan’s voice is aging well, and I find his old baritone soothing, which I know is an acquired taste.  For me, this sounds like an old family friend stopping by for a welcome visit.  I wouldn’t mind one more of these, but maybe his Christmas album from a few years ago could count.

2016 Favorite Album #8 - Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book -  To be honest with you, most of these pop rap superstars are way too raunchy for my tastes.  I have a love hate relationship with Kanye, for example.  His music is engaging, but just so raunchy.  I would love creative, catchy pop rap to not feel pressured to drag itself to deep into the mud.  Chance pulls this off for maybe only 1/3 of the album, but that’s enough for me.  There is a so much optimism on this album that feels game changing to me.  It’s what I want from Kendrick.  It’s what I want from Kanye.  I understand that it would be hard to write optimistic rap lyrics in todays uncomfortable racial climate, but hope is so needed right now, and Chance is leading the way.  I just with I could play more than three songs off this album when my kids are in the car.

2016 Favorite Album #9 - Josh Garrels - The Light Came Down – Yeah, this is a Christmas album, but it’s a great one.  I’m excited for Thanksgiving 2017 to be over so I feel welcome to play this album in my house again.  I’m a Christmas music collector, and this album pushes all the right buttons for me.  It’s dark, moody, and weird, yet still totally Christmas.  This album makes me think more about life in Israel 2,000 years ago more than gift wrapping and Christmas lights, which is a welcome change in my Christmas music catalogue.  Those of you who are fans of the moody Over The Rhine Christmas albums, this is your next keeper.

2016 Favorite Album #10 - Grant Lee Phillips – The Narrows – I’ve always loved this man’s voice, and it is nice to hear it so calm, comfortable, and clear.  I read he moved from California to Tennessee before writing this album, and I like to think I can hear more Americana in this record thanks to the move.  There is nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking here, just a collection of solid, beautiful, safe songs that sound warm while I’m doing the dishes in my house.  I wouldn’t have thought this album would have originally made the list until I realized how many times I’ve played it this year. 

Favorite Albums of 2016 #Honorable Mention - Violent Femmes – We Can Do Anything – This band meant the world to be in high school, so I love that they put out something new.  This album is short, but it probably needed to be shorter.  Some of the less polished songs are rough.  However, the few that work here work well enough to stand comfortably alongside their Greatest Hits classics, especially “Memory”.  Gano and the boys don’t sound like they’ve aged a day, which is especially fun.  If you told me these tracks were recently found unreleased tracks from the 80’s, I would have believed you.

Music I’m excited about in 2017:  U2, Pearl Jam, Belle & Sebastian, Spiritualized, The Shins, Grandaddy, Ryan Adams, Spoon, Beck, Jesus and Mary Chain, Taylor Swift, Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend, Neutral Milk Hotel, Sky Ferreira, LCD Soundsystem, Sigur Ros, Cloud Nothings, Zach De La Rocha, Bruce Springsteen.

Favorite 2016 Twitter Account: The fake account for Epcot Center always makes me happy.  https://twitter.com/EpcotCentre

Favorite Young Life Staff of 2016:  (tie) Savannah Saul and Ray Donatuchi

Favorite 2016 thing in the news:  Bob Dylan wins a Nobel Prize for Literature

Least favorite 2016 thing in the news: politics

Favorite book from 2016: Superman: American Alien, by Max Landis

Favorite Mason YL Summer Camp Moment:  (tie) Chris Allgor asks over a camp radio if he is allowed to lead water aerobics at 7am in the Timberwolf Lake.  Kate Leathers misses the bus home.

Favorite Things About Moving To Mason in 2016:  Mason high school kids stop by my house now.  The flocks of 1,000’s of starlings.  Owning a house that has a garage and a weeping willow.  Rabbits.  The Senior James Gang.

Things We Missed In 2016 By Moving From Madeira:  The Sotelos as our neighbors.  Madeira Elementary.  Friends who still live there who we don’t see as much now. Coffee Please.  Kenwood Skyline.

Favorite Restaurant of 2016:  Quatmans

Favorite Photo I took in 2016:  I was with my family in northern Michigan working at a Young Life camp.  When the month of work was over, we decided to stay up there a few days just to look around (or “explore” for you Instagrammers).  We check out Sleeping Bear Dunes, which is surprisingly a national park.  We have yet to see the dunes, but we park in a lot and start up a short trail that ends on the top of a dune that apparently has a great view of whatever one of the great lakes its on.  As we crest the peak of this dune, the view on the other side opens up.  Not only is the white sand leading sharply down into the emerald water beautiful, but also enjoying this view about 20 yards down the hill sat about 40 Amish men, women, and children all dressed in their traditional clothes.  Wherever you were on the day in early July 2016, you probably heard my gasp.  The sand, the water, and these unique models were such a dream for me.  Knowing the Amish are stereotypically not too fond of getting there pictures taken, I played it cool and snuck as many nonchalant awkwardly aimed shots as I could without them noticing.  If you know anyone who is Amish, please don’t tell on me.  There are maybe 5 shots that I took that I absolutely love, but this one is my favorite: https://www.instagram.com/p/BHUQNc-AnQe/

Favorite Stupid Thing I Said in 2016 to Bruce Springsteen that made him laugh and reply “Alright” during the 20 seconds I spent with him: “I’m a fan!”

Favorite Place I Went with my Family in 2016 that I used to Make Fun Of Even Though I Had Never Been but Now I Like It: Hocking Hills, Ohio

Favorite Instagram Picture of 2016:  This one by Katherine Dalton which reminds me of something out of the Terrance Malick film “The New World” (look at that light!)… https://www.instagram.com/p/BLhIzqfAr6U/

Favorite Bible Verse of 2016: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

Favorite Club Talk of 2016:  Pete Hardesty and his fish.

Favorite Movie I Watched with My Kids in 2016: (tie) The Princess Bride, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (and parts of Pee Wee’s Holiday… mainly the balloon scene which is one of my favorite scenes ever captured on film.)

Favorite Memory in 2016 with my Young Life Program Team at Timber Wolf Lake: From a stage in front of a rodeo ring, Grady, Rachael and I each have a microphone and we lead 500 teenagers through different rodeo events.  One joke we sometimes play on each other is to ask on the spot if one of us would be willing to share a little about the origin of the event, which is information none of us actually know.  While Rachael was explaining to the campers how to do a wheelbarrow relay race, I asked her if she could share with everyone the origin of the wheelbarrow relay.  Rachael then gave a surprisingly long impromptu speech that involved Harriet Tubman, the underground railroad, and sneaking people through the woods at night via wheelbarrows. 

Favorite Random Thing That Happened in 2016:  I really love the Gillian Welch song called “Look At Miss Ohio.”  Last summer, while in a Kroger, I turned out of an isle to see the current Miss Ohio sitting alone at a table and willing to sign autographs for anyone interested.  At that moment, nobody seemed too interested.  For fear of seeming creepy, I didn’t say hi or take a picture, but it would have made a great picture.  Seeing her sitting uncomfortably alone in her crown, smiling awkwardly as people walked past… this random scene was so haunting, yet pretty, just like the song.

My favorite Poem of 2016:  Diet Mountain Dew, by Timothy Donnelly

Favorite Thing I Saw On YouTube in 2016:  The guy who punched a kangaroo.  https://youtu.be/FIRT7lf8byw

Favorite Stand Up I Saw in 2016 Even Though It Happened In 2015, I Just Didn’t See It Until 2016:  Norm Macdonald’s last performance on Letterman.  https://youtu.be/mFjEvl43zYY

Favorite Commercial of 2016:  Kenzo World Perfume, directed by Spike Jonze.  I’ve watched this more times than I care to admit.  https://youtu.be/ABz2m0olmPg

Favorite Late Night Band Performance of 2016:  Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam performing “A 1000 Times” on the Late Show.  https://youtu.be/V50OMXcYBcY

All Around Favorite Things in 2016:  Family vacation to the beach, reading Harry Potter books with my kids, YL Leadership, Mason YL Club, standing on the YL camp property in Haiti, dancing with my wife at a really fun wedding, heckling kids as a summer camp program villain via a cat puppet and a megaphone while standing above a crowd of spunky teenagers in a bulldozer bucket.  https://www.instagram.com/p/BHNMDFfgCtr/

Favorite Person of 2016:  You for reading this far.  Thanks for giving me your time.  Here’s to 2017!

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