Best Films of 2021

The Oscars are tonight so here are my favorite films of 2021. No blurbs here because I am tired. Lots of good movies though.

I still haven’t seen: Red Rocket; The Souvenir pt. II; Flee; About Endlessness; Nightmare Alley; Memoria; House of Gucci

25. CODA

24. Encanto

23. The Mitchells vs. the Machines

22. tick…tick…Boom!

21. Shiva Baby

20. Dune

19. The French Dispatch

18. The Lost Daughter

17. The Last Duel

16. The Card Counter

15. The Tragedy of Macbeth

14. The Green Knight

13. Spencer

12. The Matrix: Resurrections

11. Titane

10. Annette (dir. Leos Carax)

9. In the Heights (dir. Jon Chu)

8. C’mon C’mon (dir. Mike Mills)

7. Licorice Pizza (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

6. No Sudden Move (dir. Steven Soderberg)

5. Drive My Car (dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi)

4. The Worst Person in the World (dir. Joachim Trier)

3. The Power of the Dog (dir. Jane Campion)

2. West Side Story (dir. Steven Spielberg)

  1. Pig (Michael Sarnoski)

Best Albums of 2021

10. Manchester Orchestra “The Million Masks of God”

Check out: “Obstacle” for how sweet and melodic they can be, one of the most beautiful songs they’ve created.

9. Jeff Rosenstock “SKA Dream”

Song to check out: “SKA DREAM”, for a song that criticizes the violent world we live in while featuring rock music with horns — truly a ska dream.

8. Turnstile “GLOW ON”

Song to check out: “Mystery”, this song perhaps best represents what you’re getting on “GLOW ON”, which is melodic hardcore that’s allowed to take twists and turns down different interesting paths.

7. Low “Hey What”

Song to check out: “Days Like These” was one of my favorite songs of the year, but also check out “Don’t Walk Away”, a beautiful and haunting track featuring that same uneasy static fuzz in the background

6. Tyler, the Creator “Call Me If You Get Lost”

Song to check out: “Lumberjack” for Tyler going hard or “Sweet / I Thought You Wanted to Dance” for a 9 minute catchy and sweet slow jam.

5. serpentwithfeet “Deacon”

Song to check out: “Fellowship” is my second favorite song of the year, but also listen to “Malik” for R&B love.

4. Laura Mvula “Pink Noise”

Song to check out: “Church Girl” which like so much of the album is an epic callback to early 90s pop.

3. Olivia Rodrigo “SOUR”

Song to check out: “drivers license” was the best song of the year, but “good 4 u” also rules with its more aggressive we broke up and now I’m sad tribute to Paramore.

2. Snail Mail “Valentine”

Song to check out: There are so many songs I could recommend here but I’ll go with an underrated favorite “c. Et Al.” It’s a sorrowful acoustic dirge where Lindsey Jordan is barely able to get out the words from the resentfulness that hangs in her voice.

  1. Porter Robinson “Nurture”

Song to check out: I chose “Look at the Sky” as one of my favorites from this year, so I’ll also recommend “Mother” which is blossoming with so much sweetness that it overcomes all corniness. Here Robinson’s mother comes to him and reassures him that though it will be difficult she will be there for him. Year 2 of our pandemic-ed world has compounded exhaustion. Porter Robinson has been some dark places and “Nurture” is here to do just that for the listener. It spends time in those places, acknowledging all the difficulties, but offers words of synth-pop comfort that continually hit me right in my soul.

Honorable mentions: Boldy James & Real Bad Man “Real Bad Boldy”; Irreversible Entanglements “Open the Gates”; Indigo de Souza “Any Shape You Take”; Big Jade “Pressure”; boylife “gelato”; Big Ghost LTD & Conway the Machine “If it Bleeds it Can Be Killed”; Katy Kirby “Cool Dry Place”

Best TV Shows of 2021

Some TV shows I wasn’t able to complete that could have made this list: Station Eleven; Pen15; The Other Two; Black Lady Sketch Show; AP Bio

10. The Next Thing You Eat (S1, Hulu)

A food show that seemed to quietly come and go especially compared to David Chang’s other work. I think it may be his best show yet, asking important questions about our future, sustainability, and current processes of bringing food to the table.

9. Sex Education (S3, Netflix)

Sex Education continues to find moments of sweetness within its edgy and grossly comedic storylines.

8. Never Have I Ever (s2, Netflix)

Season two expanded on a charming first season of navigating love, loss, and parents in life as a teenager.

7. Rutherford Falls (s1, Peacock)

Sierra Teller Ornelas and Michael Schur’s comedy about a town coming to reckon with its past atrocities against a fictional Indigenous people may not hit every beat, but it created a world full of likable characters who need to learn from their past. It forced reckoning where needed, while also walking gracefully and showcasing characters (and writers) who have essentially never been on television before.

6. Reservation Dogs (s1, Hulu)

Anything can happen in Reservation Dogs. It’s at times a quirky hangout comedy and at other times a dark drama. There are fantasy elements alongside satire. It’s reminiscent of Atlanta in the way it follows its leads in their hometown (in this case rural Oklahoma). This was a groundbreaking year for Natives in television and Reservation Dogs is as thrilling as they come.

5. I Think You Should Leave (s2, Netflix)

Tim Robinson’s second season of his sketch comedy hit continued to deliver the funniest premises on television. His characters are always oblivious to something and unwilling to yield when confronted making for hilarity and the best Twitter memes out there.

4. Mare of Easttown (s1, HBO)

I haven’t been as excited to discuss a show on a weekly basis as I was with Mare in a long time. The water cooler talk (now mostly done on social media) is a fun part of television that’s dwindled in our age of too much content. But trying to figure out the murderer and other side mysteries (as well as reacting to surprising deaths) had me theorizing with others like I haven’t in a long time.

3. Starstruck (s1, HBO)

This show is essentially the best bits of Notting Hill put into 6 half hour episodes of tv. And that’s great! Jessie has a one night stand with Tom, but doesn’t realize that it’s the famous Tom Kapoor. From there they form an on again off again relationship that spans an entire year. Rose Matafeo might be the funniest person alive and her chemistry with Nikesh Patel is off the charts. This is the best romantic comedy of some time and I highly recommend you watch it.

2. Succession (s3, HBO)

Succession continues to deliver biting insults and depictions of American excess and greed. The family still hasn’t found a successor to their media conglomerate and it’s almost killed them in what is an often infuriating tale of what wanting more does to your soul. It’s also so very entertaining.

  1. The White Lotus (s1, HBO)

Mike White’s dark comedy about tourists coming to Hawaii hammered home what it’s like to exist past all of our reckonings in 2020 and beyond. The privileged come in, sometimes with care and sometimes with callous. Sometimes they have good intentions. Sometimes they’ve voted correctly. Sometimes they’re kind. But when it comes down to it, they choose their privileged state of living and walk away feeling enlightened having learned a valuable lesson from the locals while everyone else continues to suffer. Have a great 2022 everyone!

Best Songs of 2021

10. ”You Forever” by Self Esteem

Pure bliss pop out of the UK, come on chant along with me.

Best moment of the song: 2:54, when the music quiets a bit and you feel like you’re in the midst of an audience, shouting the words out in unison.

9. “Look at the Sky” by Porter Robinson

Throughout the darkest moments of the year Robinson’s music was a bastion of hope. This song best portrays the feeling of latching onto the glimpse that there’s something better to come.

Best moment of the song: 2:37, a guest vocalist comes in to quietly deliver the lines from the chorus: “look at the sky, I’m still here / I’ll be alive next year / I can make something good”.

8. ”Quirk” by Really From

Really From picked up the mantle of 90s second wave emo bands, offering sweeping guitars and the occasional horn section over angsty but quietly expressed feelings. Here, they examine what parents pass on to their children: “quirks”, pains, and all.

Best moment of the song: 2:18, the song quiets with a simple electric strum then builds with a trumpet before both vocalists (who are siblings) overlap and the vocalist’s voice cracks and rapid horn playing takes over.

7. ”For Sale: Ford Pinto” by Rosie Tucker

Rosie Tucker uses the uglier realities and experiences of our world (Ford Pintos, licking your fingers of Dorito dust) to explain a relationship that is falling apart.

Best moment of the song: 1:48, Tucker ends the song by repeating “you tell me to…” before finishing her sentence with “to breathe likes it’s easy, like it’s something I’ve been doing for years” — a perfectly wry descriptor for the struggle of daily living.

6. ”Rubberband” by Show Me the Body

Pulsing and noisy; “Rubberband” shocks your body into gearing up for the fight that Show Me the Body is prepping you for. Their thesis is that it’s “no longer enough to survive”, this song will make you want to rise up.

Best moment of the song: 2:20, the music slows and over an ominous bass line Julian Cashwan Pratt half-growls “who’s supposed to live who’s supposed to die” before the guitars begin chugging once again.

5. ”Be Sweet” by Japanese Breakfast

Michelle Zauner opted to keep this song to herself rather than passing it along to other pop artists. The result is the catchiest pop song of the year.

Best moment of the song: 2:24, when she repeats saying “believe” and extends the second one out to “belieeeeeve”.

4. ”Kill Me” by Indigo de Souza

The closer to an excellent album, “Kill Me” offers what is perhaps the best look at Indigo de Souza’s range. She can craft earworms and somber ditties, as well as ratching up heavy and screeching emotions to express her point of view. “Kill Me” provides all of this.

Best moment of the song: 3:16, another example of a song slowing down and then building up to layered versions of de Souza screaming out “tell them I wasn’t having much fun”.

3. ”Days Like These” by Low

We’re certainly living in “Days Like These” and Low take a sort of meta view on this, singing about how we talk about these times we live in. The song works because its beautifully sung melodies are obliterated by blown out instrumentation that nears on a discomfortable listening experience. Doesn’t that represent the year though?

Best moment of the song: 1:18, the melody is bombarded by blow out your speakers static.

2. “Fellowship” by serpentwithfeet

The past two years have really put into focus the things that are truly important. Losing normalcy for so long is so wearying and strips away the facades that are false foundations. So what then are we left with? serpentwithfeet ends an album mostly made up of love songs with an ode to friendships that cut to my core. Keep your friends close, you never know when a reality altering pandemic may upend your world. Those who care for you are so important.

Best moment of the song: 0:53, “Maybe it’s the blessing of my thirties / I’m spending less time worrying and more time recounting the love.”

  1. “Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigo

This was my favorite song of the year from the first time I heard it on an impulse listen from a list of newly released songs on Apple Music. It’s an instant entry into the canon of teenage heartbreak, wallowing in such specificity that it brings you back to the moments in your own life where you felt desperately broken. I think it’s bad (maybe even dangerous) to live your life obsessed with what you liked when you were young, but this song is so good that it transcends all of that.

Best moment of the song: 2:18, “because you said forever now I drive alone past your street.” This is one of the best dealing with heartache lines in music history.

Best Movies of 2020

Movies suffered this year, with the continual push back of tentpole releases leading to the effective shrug-releases onto VOD where Hollywood’s biggest and best blockbusters could now first be experienced on your iPhone. Because of this, I decided to leave this as a running list, finalizing it the week of our delayed Oscars in April. Here are the films I feel comfortable citing as the best of 2020 as of this moment (as well as a list of what I still need to watch).

Still need to watch: Promising Young Woman; Martin Eden; Another Round; The Nest; A Sun; The Forty-Year Old Version; One Night in Miami; News of the World; Shirley; Kajillionaire

10. Emma.

Another in the trend of painting the Victorian-era and its most famous novels as wryly funny farces that showcase the selfish, awkward, and petty actions of its elegantly-clad characters. Autumn de Wild’s take on Jane Austen’s Emma. is sharp-witted, charming, and gorgeous to look at (even on my not so large television at home). Each color is vibrant and each insult pierces as Emma et al deal with the complicated romances of the era.

9. Bacurau

A weird film set “a few years from now” in a small Brazilian town, so inconsequential you may not notice if it disappeared off the map. This movie has the low-budget strangeness that exists in the first Mad Max movie, with characters acting in ways you don’t understand but merely accept as the way their world is. The second half brings the metaphor a little too into view, but what results is a walloping strike at colonialism, the divide between the haves and have nots, and the agency of the people who exist in forgotten worlds.

8. Wolfwalkers

This might be the best-looking animated film I’ve ever seen, designed with a feel similar to a pop-up book, with shades of green abounding. The story is similar to those we’ve heard before, colonialists overtake an area, but one of them befriends their enemy, leading to increased understanding of the other and the position of their loved ones. The story works, each beat hits all the right emotions, but where it truly thrives is in it dazzling visuals.

7. Nomadland

Ebert has an oft-quoted phrase that movies are an empathy creating machine and I think Nomadland really gets at the heart of this, telling the stories of those who choose to exist outside societal norms. Nomadland is about the drifters of the world. Groups of people who live by themselves in vans, working seasonal jobs before traveling on. Chloe Zao films this lifestyle in its difficulties and its poeticism. Sometimes it feels like the world has no place for these nomads, but at other times they have no place for the world.

6. Minari

Director Lee Isaac Chung’s personal story of a family who moves across the country to start a farm is both thoughtful and funny in its depiction of what it means to be a family, all the sacrifices, the selfish desires, and the quirks we deal with it. It’s also uniquely American, capturing the Korean immigrant experience with all its promised dreams and absurdities.

5. The Sound of Metal

I almost dreaded watching this movie, thinking it would be the person goes through a hard time Oscar-bait we get every year that lead to impressive performances, but altogether mediocre movies. This has an impressive performance at its heart, Riz Ahmed will hopefully become the first person of Muslim faith to get an acting nomination, but the rest of the film is just as good, offering such a deeply sympathetic portrait of each of its characters.

4. Lover’s Rock (A Small Axe film)

One of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series of films about London’s West Indian community across the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Lover’s Rock is pure joy. A cathartic experience that takes place at a house party, filled with reggae music, dancing, and food. The air is thick with romance, with sensuality. In a year in which intimacy and collective joy have been naught, when Black Americans faced continued injustice at the hands of the state, Lovers Rock was an antidote, a completely joyous occasion.

3. Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee’s latest feature film was released at the height of an intense summer, focused on four Black Vietnam veterans returning to the country to search for something they left behind. It’s a messy film, Lee throws a lot at the viewer, but Da 5 Bloods hits heavy on both action and emotion. Centered around a tour de force performance from Delroy Lindo, the film showcases America’s long history of colonialist and discriminatory behavior, offering a transcendent experience.

2. Dick Johnson is Dead

Documentary filmmaker Katherine Johnson wanted to spend time processing her father’s increasing dementia, acknowledging the fact that he will likely die soon. To do so she works with him on a project where they simulate how his death could ultimately happen, having him play himself in these scenarios. Dick Johnson is Dead is about the impossible task of accepting a loved one’s death, but it succeeds most as a celebration of life.

1 First Cow

Kelly Reichardt’s latest is about two men trying to make their way through the wild western frontier, a land filled with hard men trying to find their way in a new world. When the richest man in town decides to bring in a cow, a luxury no one else can afford, Cookie and King-Lu hatch a scheme to steal milk to make oily cakes which they can then sell to others. It’s a beautiful, poetic, and tender vision of what humanity can be even in the midst of our most brutal tendencies.

Honorable mentions: Time; I’m Thinking of Ending Things; Boys State; Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Top 10 Albums of 2020

Check out other best of the year content here.

10. Phoebe Bridgers “Punisher”

A gorgeous, passionate, and solemn record that has really launched Bridgers to wide renown. I imagine it will be that way for a long time.

  1. Tame Impala “The Slow Rush”

Released to far fewer critical accolades than Tame Impala is used to, “The Slow Rush” took a while to grow on me, but Kevin Parker’s psychedelic pop creeped its way into being one of my favorites this year. 

  1. Fiona Apple “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” 

It took a late in the year revisit of this album to truly catch me. This has been heralded as the album of the year by many, Apple has created another astonishing work. From the chirping piano of the opening where she lays bare her desires for love to calling out abusive power mongers in “Newspaper”, Apple creates unique and powerful arrangements. 

7. Lil Uzi Vert “Eternal Atake” 

Lil Uzi Vert’s second full length is a jolt of energy, at times feeling messy, but he charms his way into your consciousness by maintaining a chaotic and almost puppy dog-like pace for over an hour. It’s a lot of fun. 

6. Porridge Radio “Every Bad”

A raw and passionate rock record that is filled with singer Dana Margolin’s repeated witticisms. It’s the kind of album that lends itself to shouting along with a crowd, a particularly unfortunate attribute this year, as the album was released the week of lockdowns. “Every Bad” contains Margolin’s deepest convictions and longings, the most harrowing of which comes in “Lilac” where she struggles through her failings before concluding “I don’t want to get bitter / I want us to get better / I want us to be kinder / To ourselves and to each other”, unleashing it at a near scream for the track’s final two minutes. 

  1. Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats “Unlocked”

Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats’ collaboration only ranks this low because it may not actually be a full length album. Clocking in at 18 minutes across 8 tracks, some may consider this an EP, but I see it more along the lines of a punk album, both because of this length and the pure tenacity both artists produce here. It’s a perfect high octane rap record. 

4. Charlie XCX “How I’m Feeling Now”

The first notable quarantine recording, Charli XCX’s “how i’m feeling now” is filled with the sort of bottled energy you would expect from being forced to stay inside. It’s restless, with beats amped up to blow-out-your-speaker levels. 

3. The Chicks “Gaslighter”

I hadn’t really ever listened to the band formerly known as the Dixie Chicks prior to this year, and the album’s first single “Gaslighter”, didn’t really win me over. But after listening to the album all the way through, I was hooked and don’t think I listened to any other album more this year. It’s an album filled with heartbreak, of moving on, and confronting those who have weighed you down in the past. It was a true comfort to me all year. 

2. Soccer Mommy “color theory”

Sophie Allison expands on her bedroom rock songs to provide luscious and quietly soaring explorations of self doubt. Soccer Mommy is my favorite artist working in indie rock right now. “color theory” shows Allison, who is only 23, has further progressed from her stunning debut and is set to create great music for a long time.

  1. Run the Jewels “RTJ4”

Released early to provide soundtrack to nationwide protest, the fourth LP from Killer Mike and El-
P continues the rip roaring, face smashing, and degutting hip hop the group is known for. El-P’s beats
almost invoking the feelings of the most punishing rock songs, driving forward rather than finding
grooves in which to settle. Killer Mike relentlessly offers his trademark rhymes and alliteration, in a riotous album that’s as relevant as ever.

Top 10 TV Shows of 2020

I wrote about the top 10 songs of the year here.

10. Earth to Ned (Disney+)

This is ostensibly a children’s show, though it’s format (a talk show parody), writing staff (veterans of the
alt-comedy scene), and guests (again, lots of alt-comedy people), make it hard to call it that. It’s a weird
show, about two aliens (who appear as puppets) trying to figure out what makes Earth tick, so they host
a late night talk show, bringing in various guests to interview about a certain topic. I love that something
like this exists in 2020, a time where media seems to be created according to whatever algorithm tells
them they will find the most success. The show breaks so many of those barriers and while not perfect is
a strange delight.

9. Never Have I Ever (Netflix)

A high school comedy about Devi (played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) trying to figure out her place in the
world. It’s a charming show that grows as you watch, detailing difficulties both small (like Devi trying to
get a boyfriend) and large (Devi’s father has recently died before the show starts).

8. Pen15 (Hulu)


I didn’t know where to place this as technically it’s only the first part of season 2, filming was interrupted
because of, well, you know. I turned to this expecting to find the ridiculous laughs that creators/stars
Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle brought playing versions of their teenage selves (they are in their 30s
now). While season 1 tackled some deep issues, season 2 almost turns dark in its depictions of slut
shaming and the tenuousness of friendships. I did not expect to need a pick me up after watching this
show, but I suppose it was just that kind of year.

7. Normal People (Hulu)


Based on Sally Rooney’s novel (which I have not read), Normal People is about the romance/friendship
of two Irish teenagers, following their lives years into the future as they go through the ups and downs
of the modern world. It’s sweet, loving, and frustrating, featuring two standout performances from Paul
Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones. If you’re looking for a winter watch, the gray landscapes of Ireland just
might fit your mood.

6. The Mandalorian (Disney+)


I fell way behind season 1 and ended up catching up with it out of obligation—I did not really like that
season. With season 2, I again turned it on out of obligation, but from the moment the sand people are
introduced as characters with agency and a big battle occurs with a sand monster I was hooked. For me
the show works better as an excuse to highlight the weird and (frankly) cool parts of Star Wars.
Creatures and costumes and set design are probably what make Star Wars great, not necessarily the
mythology. That’s what this season does, highlighting the Baby Yoda puppet work and offering glimpses
of coolness that you once experienced as a kid.

5. Mrs. America (Hulu)


I had never heard of Phyllis Shlafly before watching this show, so for me a lot of the fun of this was
learning about recent history (however dramatically skewed it may be). There’s been a lot made about
whether this show is sympathetic toward Shlafly (and whether it should be if it is). I found it to be fairly
neutral, showing her to be a character who is fine with accepting her role as secondary to her husband’s
even if she never really was that. More importantly, I found it to be a fascinating look into movements
and the tensions and compromises that occur to find success in what you believe to be right. At what
points do our disagreements necessitate a split? Should you compromise if it results in small success?

4. Ted Lasso (AppleTV)


If Friday Night Lights were a half-hour comedy, this is probably what we’d get. Ted Lasso is a sincere
show about an American college football coach who gets hired by an English soccer club as part of a
nefarious plan. Ted Lasso’s approach is all inspirational quotes and sweet viral videos. The kind of
sincerity that reality cuts into pieces. Yet, this show pulls it off. It wonders if in pure kindness we can find
the success and the fulfillment we long for and it proceeds to win you over despite your doubts.

3. How to With John Wilson (HBO Max)


Produced by Nathan Fielder, How to with John Wilson is ostensibly a documentary series where John
Wilson tries to teach the answer to some mundane question. What follows is a series of rabbit holes and
interviews with quirky characters across the country. Wilson personally captures it all with his camera (he’s rarelyseen in the show) and helps tell the story using years of footage he’s captured that represent his
awkward, stuttering voice over. The key to the show’s success is Wilson never leans too hard into
mocking his subjects (who include hardcore proponents of the Mandela Effect and anti-circumcision
activists, among others), instead he follows them, hoping to find insight about life’s peculiarities. It’s a
weird show, one that is best compared to Nathan For You, especially when that show took detours to
explore its subjects’ interiorities. All in all, I think it’s a love letter to New York City and the vastness of
humanity that is represented within.

2. I May Destroy You (HBO)


I May Destroy You follows Arabella, played by series creator Michaela Cole, who experiences a sexual
assault while out at a night club. Created from Cole’s own experiences, I May Destroy You is a dark, but
ultimately illuminating story of what comes after. It’s an uncomfortable watch almost all of the time,
because of the nature of its subject, portraying consent and the traumas of lines being crossed. It
achieves this through a comedic setting, Cole is a comedian after all, but there’s nary a light moment
that isn’t followed by immense dread. Sexual assault is overwhelming for those who experience it and
Cole makes us as an audience grasp with all these questions, not letting us stand by in silence.

  1. The Good Lord Bird (Showtime)

Based on a novel by James McBride, The Good Lord Bird follows Reverend John Brown on his mission to
end slavery in the 1800s. Brown (played by Ethan Hawke in a tour-de-force performance) is beyond
passionate in his desire to end slavery, killing in the name of the Lord and justifying it as righteous
violence. The show takes this violence seriously while also undermining it with a comedic edge,
displaying Brown as the zealous abolitionist he was, but noting that he’s a little out of his mind. This is all
seen from the perspective of Onion, a teenage boy who is mistaken for a girl and remains dressed as
such because you shouldn’t disagree with a white man. It’s about the ways in which even the most well-
intentioned white people can barrel through the world causing unintended damage, doing good for
others while neglecting that truly helping others means giving them a choice. Yet, the show doesn’t
deny that John Brown did in fact help to end slavery through his violent crusade, lighting the spark
necessary to start the Civil War. History is complicated as are each of our desires and motivations.
People can be bad and do good things and can also do bad in trying to do good. Good Lord Bird revels in
these complications in a violent, entertaining, and often comical way.

Top 10 Songs of 2020

What a year. Obviously this has been memed to death as the year faded and we arbitrarily look to “2021” for brighter times. I had meant to do a top 25 list of my favorite songs, but I’ll chalk it up to 2020 and the difficulties of making anything happen. The songs below are my favorites from the year. This year more than ever I tried to pick songs that truly encapsulated what it felt like to live in 2020. I hope to release lists for best TV shows, albums, and movies soon, so keep checking this space. Here’s to 2021!

10. “exile” by Taylor Swift (feat. Bon Iver)


Perhaps the most indie-head poser choice from the excellent surprise album that Swift dropped mid-
quarantine, but this duet with Bon Iver is gorgeous with its layered vocals, which overlap to express the
feelings of a tumultuous relationship. There’s just nothing better for us sad sacks, thank you Taylor.

9. “Is There Something in the Movies?” by Samia


A pretty straightforward end of the album ballad that finds its place here because of 35 seconds where
Samia shifts from hushed longings into an emotional and impassioned cry. Sometimes all it takes is
moments like this that stick with you and you wish to hear over and over. This is one of those for me.

8.“Garden Song” by Phoebe Bridgers

The official album opener and first single from Bridgers’ sophomore album is another somber and
quietly beautiful track, if you’re listening to these one by one I’m sure you’re sensing a theme.

7. “circle the drain” by Soccer Mommy

Sophie Allison’s ode to self doubt and depression is representative of a lot of how I felt and I’m sure
most of us felt at one time or another this year. She sings “hey I’ve been falling apart these days /
Watching my heart go ‘round and around / Circle the drain I’m going down / Tryna seem strong for my
love / For my family and friends / But I’m so tired of faking”. I don’t think there’s a much better way of
putting it.

6. “Martin & Gina” by Polo G

There’s a couple of outliers on this list and this is one of them, a joyous song about trying to get the girl
that ironically comes from an artist known for writing sad songs. Polo G’s vocal inflections are infectious
resulting in a song I couldn’t get out of my head for most of the year.

5. “Dressing America” by TORRES

TORRES sings this ode to her love with a restraint that falls somewhere in between joy and frustration.
Her amour keeps coming up with excuses to doubt their relationship, but TORRES assures her “Come on,
woman / I tend to sleep with my boots on / Should I need to gallop over dark water / To you on short
notice”. It’s a beautiful song of devotion, with bits of lingering doubt that prevent it from becoming a full
on love song.

4. “My Best Friend’s Wedding” by The Chicks

I went back and forth on many songs from this album to include in this top 10, but I ended up choosing
this. The chorus goes: “I see a wildfire comin’ / Burnin’ the world that I’ve known”. While this is not explicitly about an actual wildfire, when they sing those words the emotion is palpable, taking the sorrows felt from the end of Natalie Maines’ relationship and transporting each feeling into 2020 where California wildfires destroyed so much and prevented one of the only comforts we had at the time in the ability to hang out outdoors.

3. “Take_it_Back_v2” by Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats

This is a straight up riot; a punch to the face both in the verses and beats. Curry uses multiple voices to
the point that I had to look up whether there were guests on the song. Kenny Beats samples a song from
“Shake Hands with Danger”, a video from the construction company Caterpillar raising awareness about
safety on construction sites. It feels like something from an old cowboy movie. You may need to wear a
hard hat just to listen to it.

2. “walking in the snow” by Run the Jewels (feat. Gangsta Boo)

RTJ released their fourth album early, saying that the album felt timely in the aftermath of the killing of
George Floyd at the hands of the police and the protests that followed. Their music has always felt like
protest music and “walking in the snow” features a song where Killer Mike imagines the cops choking
him repeating Floyd’s words, “I can’t breathe”. It’s haunting and infuriating. Our world has
tragedy on repeat and our country consistently treats Black Americans as subhuman. “walking in the
snow” wraps all of the sorrow and the fury into one.

1. “The Ascension” by Sufjan Stevens

“The Ascension” brings everything I’ve felt for the last four years together in one 6-minute magnum
opus. Everything I once thought about the world seemed to sink before my eyes, opening up a hell on
earth that I suppose I knew existed, but not in the ways that were revealed. When it comes time to
stand up for goodness where were those who taught me to be good and to stand for what’s right? Sufjan sings:
And now it frightens me, the thought against my chest
To think I was asking for a reason explaining why everything’s a total mess
And now it frightens me, the dreams that I possess
To think I was acting like a believer when I was just angry and depressed
And to everything there is no meaning, a season of pain and hopelessness
I shouldn’t have looked for revelation, I should have resigned myself to this
I thought I could change the world around me
I thought I could change the world for best
I thought I was called in convocation
I thought I was sanctified and blessed
But now it strengthens me to know the truth at last
That everything comes from consummation, and everything comes with consequence
And I did it all with exultation while you did it all with hopelessness
Yes, I did it all with adoration while you killed it off with all of your holy mess
What now?

The song ends with Sufjan singing “what now?” Some have seen the end music as a hopeful ascension of
good, while others see this unanswered question as him embracing the unknown. Maybe it’s both
hopeful and dark. But what better question is there as we head into this new year, leaving behind one
that was universally awful: What now?

Best Films of the 2010s (pt. I)

I’ve finally got around to it, counting down my favorite films of the decade. I figure Filmspotting is doing their March Madness bracket to determine what movies were the best, so I can release mine now without feeling too dumb.

These are the best movies of the decade according to me. It’s some combination of what I enjoyed the most during the decade, feel best represents the height of movies during this time period, and what I think are just pure achievements that will hold up for all time. It’s a ridiculous list, filled with a fairly wide-ranging amount of directors and styles and acclaim. Hope you hate it!

101. Chef

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Early conflict leads to what ends up being a pleasant ride focused on the pleasures of food, friends, and family. What a joy.
100. Embrace of the Serpent

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A dark and strange depiction of the effects of colonialism in South America.
99. Declaration of War

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Declaration of War is a heartbreaking movie about choosing to fight for what you love, it’s a battlecry for hope and goodness even when the darkness surrounds.
98. Toy Story 3

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A brilliant conclusion that gives characters we grew up with the perfect send off as the reality of growing old and useless rears its head.
97. It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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Marielle Heller puts its lead character into an episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood to teach lessons of forgiveness and learning the discipline of kindness.
96. Winter’s Bone

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A tense backwoods thriller was a star making turn for Jennifer Lawrence who scavenges to ensure her family’s survival in a world that would just as soon leave her for dead.

95. Phantom Thread

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Phantom Thread may grow on a second watch (I’ve only seen it once), but Paul Thomas Anderson’s tale of a controlling creative genius and their being forced to humility is a true and necessary critique as well as the most unique love story of the decade.
94. Midnight Special

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Another one that could go up or down on a rewatch, but Jeff Nichols’ tale of a family trying to protect their son who seems to have special powers is one of the most underrated of the decade.
93. If Beale Street Could Talk

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A beautifully crafted movie tackling racial injustice while celebrating love, family, and Brian Tyree Henry’s ability to act.
92. 10 Cloverfield Lane

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One of the best surprises of the decade, a satisfying thriller that mixes sci-fi and horror with a perfect sense of dread.
91. A Prophet

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This modern day crime flick has one of the most tense inductions into the crime world ever.
90. Her Smell

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Alex Ross Perry delivers an unsettling character study on the self-destructive creative, hammering it home with redemption and grace.
89. The Kid on a Bike

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The Dardennes’ are known for their neo-realistic portraits of working class Europe, throwing their characters into impossible struggles and showing their responses. Here, the beauty of compassion wins out in the midst of life’s difficulty.
88. The Babadook

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Jennifer Kent uses horror to tackle trauma, twisting her story around, and throwing in a Home Alone-esque homage to deliver scares and a fight to survive in more ways than one.
87. I Am Love

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The first movie to put Luca Guadagnino on the international map is just pure aesthetic pleasure.
86. Everybody Wants Some!!

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Richard Linklater’s fairly subdued baseball movie has only grown on me, I think it’s up there with the greatest baseball films of all time as far as capturing the joys of playing the sport.
85. Drive

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I haven’t seen the whole thing a second time, but that opening car chase sequence is one of my favorite theater experiences of the last decade.
84. Edge of Tomorrow

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Another movie whose legend has only grown, Edge of Tomorrow is a near perfect genre movie, the kind that when it shows up on TV years from now you won’t be able to resist it.
83. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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After watching a third time earlier this year I can truly call this one of the best Star Wars movies. There are just so many moments that I love, proving that having a real talent behind the camera and letting them go to work can make all the difference.
82. Roma

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Alfonso Cuaron’s tale of a young housekeeper in Mexico City is at once heartbreaking and beautiful, highlighting the joys and struggles of the era in which he grew up.
81. Something in the Air

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One of my favorite depictions of the restlessness of youth, the passion of activism, and the arbitrary walls that get built within movements, something that perhaps can speak to our current political moment.
80. Logan Lucky

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Soderbergh’s latest heist film hasn’t gotten the most love, but I find it hilarious and fun, a movie that I will be going back to for years.
79. Everyone Else

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Everyone Else perfectly captures the insecurities that lay at the heart of fragile relationships, the fraught comparisons that can occur, the small lies, the role playing, and pettiness.
78. Drinking Buddies

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A modern day, mumblecore When Harry Met Sally, can men and women have a friendship where they don’t fall for each other? Olivia Wilde gives her best performance in a movie I love way more than anyone else in the world.
77. Diary of a Teenage Girl

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A disturbing movie about an inappropriate relationship, turns itself upside down by telling the story through the perspective of through Bel Powley’s charming, lustful, and confused Minnie.
76. 12 Years a Slave

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Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is absolutely devastating while featuring enough heart and characterization to never feel exploitative or of a genre.
75. Dunkirk

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With Dunkirk Christopher Nolan may have made the only war movie that prizes the act of surrender. In doing so he’s made a movie that’s anti-war without making a deliberative statement–we’re all trying to survive in this absurd world where we’ve resorted to killing each other.
74. Good Time

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I avoided this movie for a while because I thought it would be too stressful. It’s certainly tense, but is actually more fun than anything. The Safdie’s cemented themselves as much watch directors here.
73. The Fighter

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This may rise or lower with another watch, but I loved the fast paced dialogue of the script, the Eklund’s sisters coming in and out of the story, and found the boxing scenes thrilling.
72. The Descendants

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I loved this movie so much I went and bought the book afterwards. George Clooney discovers his wife who’s in a coma was cheating on him, while simultaneously figuring out what to do with the land his family has inherited that is technically but not rightfully there’s. Shailene Woodley cemented herself as a serious actor here in a performance she has (unfortunately) not lived up to again.
71. Captain Phillips

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This movie became a meme, but is actually a deft tale of the injustice at the heart of globalism with a fantastic Tom Hanks performance.
70. Oslo August 31

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Anders leaves his rehab center looking to start his new life, but is met by the barrage of life for a recovering addict. One of the best scenes of the decade is Anders sitting at a cafe as Joachim Trier zooms out focusing on the conversations surrounding him, a life of normalcy that Anders doesn’t know if he can ever achieve again.
69. Anomalisa

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Charlie Kaufman’s R-rated stop motion movie wrestles with mid-life crisis and the arrogance at the heart of our white male protagonists that so often are portrayed going through them.
68. Jackie

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I found every inch of Jackie to be gorgeous and heart wrenching in its portrayal of grief in the aftermath of one of our nation’s most famous and tragic deaths.
67. The Nice Guys

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The Nice Guys is a throwback to two classic genres, melding noir and screwball comedy in what is a pitch-black delight.
66. The World’s End

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As you can probably tell, I love a movie that uses genre conventions to deliver emotionally resonant statements about humanity. Edgar Wright’s love of genre enables him to do this brilliantly and The World’s End showcases this.
65. Interstellar

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A flawed movie to be sure, but one that features so many unique ideas and beautiful moments that elevate it to greatness.
64. Knives Out

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Rian Johnson crafted one of the best whodunnits of all time while speaking into modern politics and advocating for kindness! A master.
63. Our Little Sister

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Koreeda’s Our Little Sister is quiet and tender, telling of three sisters welcoming in their father’s daughter from an affair into their lives. It’s Koreeda’s ability to focus in on the small moments that make him the king of the family drama.
62. Only Lovers Left Alive

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Vampires have always been cool, but never quite like this as Jim Jarmusch turns them into aging bohemians lamenting modern culture.
61. Mother

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The first Bong Joon-Ho movie I ever saw was 2010’s brilliant multi-genre story about a mother’s hellbent desire to protect her son, a story that really highlights the hell in hellbent.
60. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

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A group of police and judges and a criminal search for a body in the sparse wilderness of Anatolia. A slow rumination on the question of inherent evil, humanity’s motivations, and whether the light can overcome the dark.
59. Sing Street

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A coming of age story through the lens of pop music and creativity, Sing Street is a modern John Hughes film.
58. Exit Through the Gift Shop

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Riding the Banksy obsession of the early 10s, Gift Shop was made to seemingly highlight the burgeoning street art movement, but comically twisted and turned until it was questioning the very definition of art itself.
57. Hail, Caesar

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This Coen’s movie is in love with early Hollywood exemplifying the great romance that people have with it through a dazzling Scarlet Johansson swimming sequence and a tap dancing Channing Tatum. Yet the film does more than recreate nostalgia, at its heart it asks if the movies can lead us into goodness, even in the midst of capitalistic corruption and political nefariousness.
56. Call Me By Your Name

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Guadagnino once again demonstrates his ability to capture hedonistic pleasures, but this time does it by telling the story of forbidden summer love. Desire blooms into romance, cut short as the summer fades, the sun sets, and an eras cultural inhibitions tragically kick in.

55. The Favourite

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A wickedly funny period drama where power, seduction, and greed form a love triangle that showcases how darkness can overcome the human spirit.
54. La La Land

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Damien Chazelle’s modern musical throwback will likely seem cornier and cornier as time goes on, but watching people break out of the cars to dance in the midst of LA traffic and the this-could-never-be dream ending are just too much fun for me not to love.
53. A Ghost Story

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An aesthetically sparse reflection on grief in which Rooney Mara sits down to eat a whole pie and Casey Affleck sports a white sheet as a ghost, what else can you ask for?
52. Inception

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I’m still enraptured by the world of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, a cultural phenomenon that’s become somewhat eye-roll inducing ever since, it’s still thrilling to watch DiCaprio, et al lay out the stakes of this world and imagine its 2010 all over again.
51. Moonlight

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I didn’t completely fall for this the first time around, but on a rewatch for this list, I fully succumbed to Barry Jenkins ability to shoot movies. Moonlight is just incredible to look at and the combination of heart, hope, and sorrow that lie within its story bring all the feelings that the greatest films do.

Best Films of 2019

They say having a kid forces you to stop watching the movies you want. This is true. But not in the way that I thought it once was. The assumption is that babies will take all of your time and then dominate your media consumption. This is also true. But you can still get around it if you prioritize it (and have a generous, flexible partner). Where you run into trouble is that by the time you sit down at 8:00 after putting your child to bed, the 2.75 hour Tarantino flick is a time barrier that even the most ardent cinephile will struggle to overcome. This exhaustion was a difficult barrier this year and I pushed back films I might have otherwise enjoyed by this point. Nevertheless, I managed to see almost everything I wanted to, a decent enough number of what are widely regarded as the best films of the year. This is my ranking of those movies.

Before I give you my favorites, here are those I haven’t seen yet: Portrait of a Lady on Fire; Pain & Glory; The Nightingale; Monos; Transit; Clemency; Tigers Are Not Afraid; 1917; Jojo Rabbit

My favorite movies of the decade list will be coming soon. I again blame being a parent for my tardiness.

10. Ash is Purest White (Zhangke)

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The personal and political overlap as the story of Qiao (played by Zhao Tao) unfolds over decades. Jia Zhangke’ s gangster drama is a slow burn, walking the line between how much our personal choices affect who we become and how much the system forces us into it. Tao is marvelous here as a forlorned lover seeking answers about what happened to her life after she is imprisoned for her involvement in a crime. The club scene involving crowds of people doing the YMCA and the motorbike fight are two of the best shot sequences of the year in what is a gorgeous, subtle, and complex film.

9. Uncut Gems (Safdies)

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The Safdie brothers latest is like if you combined the zany nonstop movement of a screwball comedy with a tense thriller. Every scene features constant motion as Sandler’s Howard Ratner concocts and re-concocts plans to “win”. It’s a jaw clenching movie, stuffed to the brim with great performances from the strangest cast of the year (Sandler playing off-brand! Kevin Garnett giving a good performance as himself! Lakeith Stanfield! Broadway star Idina Menzel! The Weeknd as himself! Julia Fox’s debut!). This movie is airtight, there’s no false note to be found, no wonder the Academy blanked them!

8. Birds of Passage (Gallego / Guerra)

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This is ostensibly a gangster film, it’s about the rise of the drug trade in Colombia, particularly amongst tribal peoples, and how this forces them into modernity. Directors Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra focus on the specificity of this setting, allowing the traditions and practices to speak first, while gorgeously showcasing them in ways that make for revelatory cinema. It’s a gangster film, but one that spends time in this specific setting, allowing the tensions that rise and all that breaks after it to truly mean something.

7. Marriage Story (Bambauch)

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Twitter memes may have ruined the reputation of this movie, highlighting images out of context in ways that seem silly, yet Bambauch’s divorce story is fantastically written and more subtly executed than the internet would have you believe. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are both great as a couple experiencing the messy fallout of a split. Bambauch adds his devastating wit and a musical moment from another famous story about relationships in what is a wholly satisfying drama.

6. Parasite (Joon-Ho)

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The breakout film of the year lives up to all the hype surrounding it. Like many Joon-Ho projects it’s darkly funny, nails genre conventions, and critiques capitalism with a strong conviction. This story about a poor family who con their way into working for wealthy socialites twists and turns until the very nature of humanity is laid bare. We’re all selfish at  heart, it’s just that some of us can pay our way out of ever having to feel that way.

5. The Lighthouse (Eggers)

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This is a wild film. Eggers again dives into a period with such passion, writing a script that so replicates its characters way of speaking, that it becomes difficult to understand the dialogue at times. It’s 1.19:1 aspect ratio forces you to feel the claustrophobia present in the small island that Dafoe and Pattinson occupy, while the black and white images evoke old mythologies. Their hysteria soon becomes your own and your mind becomes hallucinatory. Did you actually see that on screen or is it just a trick played by Dafoe? This movie delivers, fully encapsulating you in its era, in its characters crazed brains, and its seagull infested location.

4. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Heller)

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While watching this I wondered if it might be the best biopic ever made. I’m not sure if it’s there, only time will tell, but Marielle Heller has come up with the best biopic convention ever. Heller places you within an imagined episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, to introduce you to Lloyd and how he will come to have his life changed by the ethereal man. A Beautiful Day tells the story of Lloyd Vogel and Fred Rogers, but it also serves as a guide to doing the hard work of being kind. It’s beautiful and honest and will make you a better person.

3. Her Smell (Ross Perry)

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Some slight spoilers will follow so for those of you who don’t want to know the direction this movie takes please avoid, but I feel it’s necessary to talk about what Her Smell is able to accomplish. Her Smell stars Elizabeth Moss as aging rock star Becky Something. We meet Becky at her most destructive, she’s drug fueled, self sabotaging, and a new mother as unfit to accomplish this job as any that’s ever graced the screen. Alex Ross Perry films her as if he’s shooting a horror movie, it’s claustrophobic, often following her from room to room as she makes horrid decisions and ruins her relationships with anyone who cares for her. The first half to two thirds of this movie are almost nauseating in their intensity. BUT! But, Ross Perry allows room for growth. He allows Becky to change. It’s not easy, but we see Becky slowly break her addictions, break her self-destructive habits, open up to being a mother. What Ross Perry (and Moss) are able to accomplish here, moving from the horrific to a truly grace filled ending is truly astonishing.

2. Knives Out (Johnson)

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Rian Johnson is the best working genre filmmaker. He’s done noir, time travel, Star Wars, the con movie, and now the whodunnit. Knives Out is so much fun. It’s funny, clever, well shot, well acted, filled with twists and turns, tackles the political and class tensions of our modern era, and actually has a satisfying conclusion! It’s the kind of movie I will throw on for years to come, just to watch it all unfold again. Ana de Armas is a revelation, Chris Evans’ sweaters are perfect, and Daniel Craig proves his comedic chops once again. I can’t think of a single person I wouldn’t recommend this movie to.

  1. Little Women (Gerwig)

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Greta Gerwig’s sophomore picture only further elevates her genius as a director and screenwriter. I’ve never seen or read Little Women (my mistake), so going into it cold I didn’t know what to expect, but what Gerwig (and Louisa May Alcott) delivered blew me away with its charm and its grace. I know they have been treasures for hundreds of years, but the March sisters are utterly delightful. Their rebelliousness, creativity, and compassion are a trio of characteristics that I hope and pray are instilled into my own family. I get the feeling that this movie will be a comfort to me for years to come, it’s warm without being easy, a celebration of life in all its complexities.