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.

Best Albums of the 2010s

Any ranked list is an exercise in absurdity. To rank pieces of art is futile. To rank them across a decade is impossible. But it’s oh so fun and that’s why we’re here. When I came up with this list I ranked according to three pieces of logic.

1. It has to be something that represents my taste across the decade.

2. It has to represent music in the decade.

3. When I listen to it now I have to enjoy it just as much.

These 50 albums do that for me. Some have grown in estimation since they were first released like Manchester Orchestra’s “A Black Mile to the Surface”. Others have dropped a little but still find their way into the top 50 (Lady Lamb the Beekeeper). Most of the critical favorites are represented in some way, though the order in which I ranked them is certainly more personal than the general consensus (and is missing one huge artist, sorry Frank Ocean).

When I look at this just seconds before posting the list, I doubt the order that I’ve put them in, but at some point you just have to put things in stone.

As a writing exercise, I put reasons why you should listen to the top 10 which will certainly include something you haven’t heard or should give another chance.

50. Manchester Orchestra “A Black Mile to the Surface”

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49. David Bowie “Blackstar”

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48. D’Angelo “Black Messiah”

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47. The War on Drugs “A Deeper Understanding”

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46. Earl Sweatshirt “Doris”

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45. Janelle Monae “Dirty Computer”

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44. Julien Baker “Turn Out the Lights”

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43. Anohni “Hopelessness”

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42. Carly Rae Jepsen “Emotion: Side B”

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41. Frightened Rabbit “The Winter of Mixed Drinks”

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40. Right Away, Great Captain “The Church and the Good Thief”

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39. Grimes “Art Angels”

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38. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper “Ripely Pine”

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37. Sufjan Stevens “Age of Adz”

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36. American Football “III”

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35. Priests “Nothing Feels Natural”

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34. Kendrick Lamar “Good Kid, MAAD City”

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33. Titus Andronicus “The Monitor”

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32. The Tallest Man on Earth “There’s No Leaving Now”

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31. Arcade Fire “The Suburbs”

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30. No Name “Room 25”

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29. Beyonce “s/t”

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28. Snail Mail “Lush”

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27. Run the Jewels “2”

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26. Chance the Rapper “Coloring Book”

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25. Kendrick Lamar “Damn.”

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24. Soccer Mommy “Clean”

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23. Idles “Joy As an Act of Resistance”

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22. Vampire Weekend “Contra”

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21. Japandroids “Celebration Rock”

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20. Kanye West “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”

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19. Car Seat Headrest “Teens of Denial”

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18. Carly Rae Jepsen “Emotion”

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17. Vince Staples “Summertime ’06”

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16. Bon Iver “22, A Million”

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15. Chance the Rapper “Acid Rap”

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14. Cloud Nothings “Here and Nowhere Else”

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13. Parquet Courts “Light Up Gold”

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12. Makthaverskan “II”

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11. Lana del Rey “Norman Fucking Rockwell”

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10. Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit”

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Courtney Barnett is perhaps the funniest person in indie rock. Her sound is driven by wry witticisms and keen observations. Her songs are full of life and energy as she brings you along on her train of thoughts, consistently redirecting to observe some new detail you would have never expected.
9. The Beths “Future Me Hates Me”

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The Beths’ created a perfect summer album that grows with every single listen. It’s so well produced and the band adds layers of melody to match their tight sound. It’ll be a mainstay in by May to July rotation for years to come.

8. The War on Drugs “Lost in the Dream”

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The War on Drugs’ psychedelic Americana is absolutely beautiful. It slowly unveils piece by piece of subtle melody, occasionally meandering for several minutes on a musical idea Adam Granduciel has. It’s quietly upbeat, like the sunset on a long summer’s day.
7. Tame Impala “Currents”

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Perhaps the spiritual, psych-pop sequel to Post-Merriweather Pavilion, Kevin Parker’s work on Currents showcases pop-genius underneath warbles and extended bits of noise.
6. Florence + the Machine “Ceremonials”

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I may be the biggest fan of this album in the entire world. It’s a bold and bombastic pop effort featuring all the drama of an eleventh hour Broadway ballad for 12 tracks straight. For some it’s a little too much, for me it’s perfect.
5. Bon Iver “s/t”

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Bon Iver went from the hipster folk favorite to bona fide production genius with his (their?) sophomore album. The woodsy folk vibes are still there, but here he amps up production with layered falsetto and 80s effects.
4. The National “High Violet”

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My favorite of The National’s sad-sack indie rock albums which are always a variation of that theme. Matt Berlinger’s wrestling with demons never spoke more to me than here, whether it be his confession that he’s “Afraid of Everyone” or the time “England” shuffled onto my iPod after one of the worst flights of my life and I was about to land in London. If you find beauty in the melancholic this is for you.
3. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly”

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Kendrick proved himself to be the most talented rapper of the decade, his technical brilliance and lyrical poignance are unmatched. With To Pimp a Butterfly, he proved he could push the genre forward, melding together hip hop, jazz, and R&B connecting with experimental producers to make the decade’s best rap album.
2. Vampire Weekend “Modern Vampires of the City”

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Ezra Koenig’s existential crisis pulls together the weight of death and God to create Vampire Weekend’s masterpiece. It’s fun (“Diane Young”), but features what may be the best religious song writing of the decade in songs like “Obvious Bicycle”, “Ya Hey”, and “Everlasting Arms” (a play on the old hymn), as the band wrestles through faith and doubt and growing old.
1. Sufjan Stevens “Carrie and Lowell”

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Carrie & Lowell saw Sufjan settle back into singer-songwriter mode after years of big and bold experimentation. I am a huge fan of the experimentation, but Carrie & Lowell showcased what caused his rise to fame and is the best album of his career. Here he too deals with death and doubt and faith, brought to reflection by the death of his mother. It’s a tragic record to be sure, but one in which Sufjan reaches into the depths of his soul to find and create something beautiful.

Top 100 Songs of the Decade

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Throughout the next few weeks I will be releasing my favorite things of the decade. I’m launching it with my favorite songs of the decade, a big mix that is representative of what I was into most in the last ten years. I wanted to write a little bit about some of these songs but ended up not having the time or energy, having a two-year old who is currently draped over me as I am writing this certainly makes it difficult. I attached a video of each song–its own time consuming process–so if you’re interested you can listen to each song. If you’re really interested, and you have Apple Music, I can send you the playlist. I haven’t posted it because nobody has Apple Music. Go ahead and comment if you do and I’ll post it.

100. “Bad and Boujee” by Migos

99. “Cut to the Feeling” by Carly Rae Jepsen

98. “no tears left to cry” by Ariana Grande

97. “Mean” by Taylor Swift

96. “Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane” by Gang of Youths

95. “O.N.E.” by Yeasayer

94. “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” by Caroline Polachek

93. “Rill Rill” by Sleigh Bells

92. “Someone Like You” by Adele

91. “Blackstar” by David Bowie

90. “Nonstop” by Drake

89. “Swimming Pools (Drank)” by Kendrick Lamar

88. “Justice Delivers Its Death” by Sufjan Stevens

87. “Really Love” by D’Angelo & the Vanguard

86. “Blissth” by Sorority Noise

85. “All Night” by Beyonce

84. “Uncomfortably Numb” by American Football (feat. Hayley Williams)

83. “Birth of Creation” by The Comet is Coming

82. “Turn Out the Lights” by Julien Baker

81. “Family Don’t Matter” by Young Thug

80. “Ya Hey” by Vampire Weekend

79. “Continuous Thunder” by Japandroids

78. “The Coming” by Jesca Hoop

77. “Nikes” by Frank Ocean

76. “It’s Okay to Cry” by SOPHIE

75. “Ghost Town” by Kanye West

74. “The Mother We Share” by Chvrches

73. “Perth” by Bon Iver

72. “Four Bulbs” by Admiral Fallow

71. “Pusha Man” by Chance the Rapper

70. “Venice Bitch” by Lana del Rey

69. “Harmony Hall” by Vampire Weekend

68. “Sprinter” by Torres

67. “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” by Car Seat Headrest

66. “Virgin” by Manchester Orchestra

65. “Up in Hudson” by Dirty Projectors

64. “Sunday Candy” by Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment

63. “Manchester” by Kishi Bashi

62. “An Introduction to the Album” by The Hotelier

61. “Futile Devices” by Sufjan Stevens

60. “Eventually” by Tame Impala

59. “Night Shift” by Lucy Dacus

58. “King Kunta” by Kendrick Lamar

57. “Back for More” by Justine Skye (feat. Jeremih)

56. “Persephone” by Sidney Gish

55. “Deer” by Manchester Orchestra

54. “Part From Me” by The Avett Brothers

53. “Don’t Save Me” by HAIM

52. “Humble.” by Kendrick Lamar

51. “Drunk In Love” by Beyonce (feat. Jay-Z)

50. “Dance Yrself Clean” by LCD Soundsystem

49. “In the Evening” by Half Waif

48. “Groovy Tony/ Eddie Kane” by ScHoolboy Q

47. “Never Let Me Go” by Florence + the Machine

46. “Impossible Soul” by Sufjan Stevens

45. “Asleep” by Makthaverskan

44. “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae (feat. Erykah Badu)

43. “Lord Knows”  / “Dreams and Nightmares” by Meek Mill

42. “Fineshrine” by Purity Ring

41. “Play By Play” by Autre Ne Veut

40. “Call Your Girlfriend” by Robyn

39. “Love on Top” by Beyonce

38. “Pristine” by Snail Mail

37. “Motion Sickness” by Phoebe Bridgers

36. “Chum” by Earl Sweatshirt

35. “A Candle’s Fire” by Beirut

34. “I Bet” by Ciara

33. “Hold Up” by Beyonce

32. “Say You Love Me” by Jessie Ware

31. “DNA.” by Kendrick Lamar

30. “Everlasting Arms” by Vampire Weekend

29. “So Afraid” by Janelle Monae

28. “Nosetalgia” by Pusha T (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

27. “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” by Arcade Fire

26. “Latch” by Disclosure (feat. Sam Smith)

25. “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake

24. “Under the Pressure” by The War on Drugs

23. “Push Pull” by Purity Ring

22. “Crying in Public” by Chairlift

21. “Hannah Hunt” by Vampire Weekend

20. “Run Away With Me” by Carly Rae Jepsen

19. “Bright Whites” by Kishi Bashi

18. “Dancing On My Own” by Robyn

17. “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae (feat. Big Boi)

16. “Flawless” by Beyonce

15. “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen

14. “Architect” by Frightened Rabbit & Manchester Orchestra

13. “Flesh Without Blood” by Grimes

12. “Blockbuster Night Pt. I” by Run the Jewels

11. “Life” by The Avett Brothers

10. “Your Best American Girl” by Mitski

9. “Climax” by Usher

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8. “Cold War” by Janelle Monae

7. “Afraid of Everyone” by The National

6. “Monster” by Kanye West (feat. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Bon Iver)

5. “I’m Not Part of Me” by Cloud Nothings

4. “All of the Lights” by Kanye West (feat. Rihanna)

3. “Thinkin Bout You” by Frank Ocean

2. “The Only Thing” by Sufjan Stevens

1. “Ultralight Beam” by Kanye West (feat. Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin)

 

 

Best TV Shows of 2019

10. I Think You Should Leave, s1

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One of the surprise hits of the year, Tim Robinson’s I Think You Should Leave is a wacky sketch show about trying to fit in and tripping over your own shoelaces in the process.

9. Mindhunter, s2

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Season two improved upon the first by backing off from Holden and diving into Bill and Wendy’s lives. It’s particularly Bill who must deal with his own messes at home which hauntingly begin to overlap and interfere with his work. The overlapping scenes in Atlanta trying to find the child killer are thrilling and frustrating in their injustice.

8. Catastrophe, s4

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The final season of this bittersweet show ends with the same tone it carried throughout. Rob and Sharon end with an ambiguous note, seemingly stronger and more fraught in their relationship than ever before. There was no other way for this hilarious show about fragile people choosing to love each other despite their tenuous circumstances to end.

7. Russian Doll, s1

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A brilliant and twisting play on the Groundhog’s Day repeating day trope. Natasha Lyonne stars as a deeply damaged New Yorker who finds she must repeat her birthday over and over, dying at the end of each night. It’s rapidly paced, tremendously acted, and emotionally satisfying.

6. The Other Two, s1

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Drew Tarver and Helene Yorke star as the older brother and sister of a viral teen sensation. The Other Two parodies the modern entertainment world through the perspective of two jealous and stunted millennials trying to leech off their (truly sweet) younger brother’s dreams. Though Tarver and Yorke may be jealous of their brother’s success, the show never gets nasty, instead it mocks the era we live in, one in which we all believe we can be stars.

5. Ramy, s1

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Ramy Hassan’s portrayal of life in America as a Muslim is full of struggle and grace. Rarely is a show so able to capture two different parts of living, the struggles with being treated different for who you are, while also struggling with trying to be different as Ramy reconciles his faith with the desires of being a 20-something. It’s an immigration tale, but also one of the best portraits of trying (and often failing) to be religious I’ve seen on TV.

4. The Watchmen, s1

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Damon Lindelof’s sequel-of-sorts to the popular graphic novel of the 80s is a wildly entertaining, creative, and provoking piece of entertainment. Set in Tulsa, a town run by progressives but where racial tensions are bottled up and ready to explode. Watchmen examines our histories, both personal and national, and how the inflicted traumas have lead us to where we are. It’s a daring show, consistently forcing us to rethink our notions of who each character is and the injustices that have brought them to do what they do.

3. Succession, s2

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Succession proved any doubters wrong by delivering a second season that was just as good, if not better than the first. The Roy family continues to struggle to hold on to the family company as each member within makes their own play for power. It’s the funniest show on television, as sickening as it is to say.

2. Pen15, s1

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Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play versions of their teen selves in this 00s period comedy.  The show may seem like it would be nostalgia-heavy, and there are references-a-plenty but at its core it tackles growing up–the insecurity, heartbreak, and various awakenings–with great heart and cringey, but not unbearable, comedy.

  1. Fleabag, s2

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Fleabag season one was a clever, funny, and poignant reckoning of mourning and aging into your 30s. It’s probably a masterpiece. Season two definitely is a masterpiece as Fleabag’s internal tensions and emotional traumas continue to heighten, this time around her father and his partner and the priest who will marry them. There are questions of faith, interpersonal conflict, sex, and the entire framework of the show (Fleabag’s cutting remarks to us, the audience) is brought into question in an emotionally devastating manner. Lead actress/writer/creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge has said this is the final season of the show, and good for her for trying to stick to something that is so utterly a complete work, but there’s maybe nothing else I long for in television than watching Waller-Bridge play Fleabag once again.

Honorable mentions: A Black Lady Sketch ShowBarry; Big Mouth; Stranger Things 3; Fosse/Verdon

Best Albums of 2019

10. DaBaby “Baby on Baby”

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One of 2019’s breakouts, DaBaby blasts out of this album like a stick of dynamite and doesn’t stop until the album reaches its end 30 minutes later. Streaming services incentivize artists to create double albums to increase their streaming numbers so DaBaby’s nonstop (and non pop) flow is a refreshing and infectious ride.

9. Sacred Paws “Run Around the Sun”

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Sacred Paws is a two-piece guitar rock band that utilizes every ounce of talent from both of its members. Their bouncy guitar licks are met by overlapping vocals with the occasional 90s ska brass section that give this album a perfect summer vibe. Lay back in your flowery shirt, sip your icy drink of choice, and give “Run Around the Sun” a whirl. You won’t regret it.

8. Caroline Polachek “Pang”

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The former Chairlift front woman’s first proper solo album picks up where her Apple commercial approved indie pop band left off, while continuing to take her sound to places of new depth. The layers of production give her bubblegum pop a melancholic undertone. You’ll want to sing along, empathizing with every word, while dancing away the pains of loves lost.

7. Jay Som “Anak Ko”

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Jay Som’s second album is dreamy, lulling you back into the 90s with high soaring melodies over distorted guitars. After its airiness has melted your brain into clouds, guitar riffs jolt you awake, reminding you of other genres of the same era. Each bit overlaps with precision, a feat considering its bedroom rock production stylings.

6. Future “Save Me”

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This is probably and technically an EP, which would disqualify it, but 7 tracks seems long enough to constitute an album in 2019, so I’ll accept it here. “Save Me” feels like the apex of sad Future. It’s like Future went out to a cabin in the woods, became Bon Iver for a few weeks and released this album, regret leaking from every distorted note. Future’s tales of debauchery always feel regretful, but here he feels most out of sync with that life. He’s come down from his high and is wallowing in the midst of whatever his life is now. Most of this is mumbled through a Bon Iver-like voice distorter, making it even harder to understand what he’s saying and amplifying the melancholy in every song.

5. Tree & Vic Spencer “Nothing is Something”

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Self-proclaimed “soul-trap” artist Tree is joined by fellow Chicago-native Vic Spencer to create one of the best rap albums of the year. The “soul-trap” title is apt and the album is full of Kanye-like soul samples, with an experimental edge. Tree’s voice is pure gravel with a world weariness that is a joy to listen to. Spencer is more technical, using rhymes and wordplay to play against Tree, combining to create a unique listen.

4. American Football “LP3”

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American Football’s eponymous third album might be their best work yet. The legendary emo band continues their emotionally driven post-rock sound to create beautiful and technically crafted songs of sorrow. The band has never been in a hurry to go anywhere fast, they waited years to release a follow up to their highly influential debut and each song lulls in the moment before expressing itself fully. But perhaps more than ever American Football has let pop influence their sound, LP3 features several guests who add another layer to what is now American Football’s classic sound. Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell, Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, and Paramore’s Hayley Williams all accompany Mike Kinsella and bring new life to an already great band.

3. Bon Iver “i, i”

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Bon Iver could have had an okay career as that hip indie folk artist who sang “Skinny Love”. He could have joined the likes of others like him who came out of that era: Of Monsters and Men, the Lumineers, Mumford and Sons. That twee group of Urban Outfitters produced folk. Yet amazingly and consistently Bon Iver has evolved in ways that leave me surprised and nourished. “i,i” fits somewhere in between the soaring melody of “Bon Iver” and the beautiful chaos of “22, A Million”, showcasing all of what Vernon and collaborators are able to accomplish. Vernon is too good for any of this to feel stale and he’s once again created an album that pushes his folktronica (???) sound forward.

2. Theon Cross “Fyah”

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The London jazz scene is one of my favorite places to look for new music. It’s filled with blends of jazz, hip hop, electronic, and world sounds that are coming together to make fun and progressive jazz sounds. Theon Cross was my first real foray into that scene this year. Cross, a member of other modern jazz stalwarts like Sons of Kemet and a player for Makaya McCraven, is a tuba player, something I had never heard as the lead instrument in jazz before. Cross uses the tuba like a bass guitar, developing rhythms for his guest players to riff around. The result is an absolute blast and “Fyah” is filled with jams you’ll have in your head all day long.

  1. Lana Del Rey “Norman Fucking Rockwell”

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I don’t know how Lana did it, but she managed to create an album of sad songs without a single vocal inflection. I suppose that’s her thing, but here she perfects it, riffing on the American ideal in a way that is so post-everything she doesn’t even need to change her voice. This is the record for the post-irony age and in all sincerity, Del Rey has created a masterpiece full of despair. This is pop in 2019, a sorrowful, post-everything, classic-yet-hollow Hollywood of an album that is so beautifully made you can’t bear it. Each song creeps into your being, full of lament at the ways our longings have exposed themselves as farce. It’s beautiful.

Honorable mentions (ranked!): 11. IDK “Is He Real?”; 12. Pom Pom Squad “Ow”; 13. Sleater-Kinney “The Center Won’t Hold”; 14. Denzel Curry “ZUU”; 15. Carly Rae Jepsen “Dedicated”; 16. Nilufer Yanya “Miss Universe”; 17. Rico Nasty & Kenny Beat$ “Anger Management”; 18. FKA Twigs “MAGDALENE”; 19. Vampire Weekend “Father of the Bride”; 20. The Comet is Coming “Trust in the Lifeforce”; 21. The National “I Am Easy to Find”; 22. Maxo Kream “Brandon Banks”; 23. Drinking Boys and Girls Choir “Keep Drinking”; 24. Big Thief “UFOF”; 25. Thom Yorke “Anima”

Best Songs of 2019

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These are the songs that represent this year for me and which is why there are 51 ranked here. Within you will find a few jazz selections from the London jazz scene that is destroying right now (Kokoroko, Theon Cross) and a nu-jazz epic from The Comet is Coming. There are sad leaning hip hop songs (Future, Young Thug, Dave) next to the next wave of rappers (Rico Nasty, Dreezy, DaBaby, Denzel Curry, NLE Choppa). There is a whole wave of experimental dirges sung by women that created some of the best music of the year, from FKA Twigs’ industrial pop to Caroline Polachek’s distorted yet bouncy electropop. Lana Del Rey features heavily with her stone-faced sadness; as does Big Thief’s folk songs that cut you with surprise aggression. There’s also plenty of white boy indie rock, to be sure, I mean Vampire Weekend and The National and Bon Iver and American Football released albums this year, all of which were good. There are no blurbs for each song this year. I’ve gotten a bit behind and I’ve got to write up my best of the decade lists as well. I’ll attach videos to those songs I think you don’t know so you can explore them for yourselves. Thanks for reading and be sure to check some of these out and let me know your favs.

51. Dave “Psycho”

50. Kokoroko “Uman”

49. Tree & Vic Spencer “Cognac and Beer”
48. Future “Krazy But True”
47. Rico Nasty & Kenny Beat$ “Cold”
46. Fetty Wap “History”
45. Big Thief “Cattails”
44. Dawn Richard “jealousy”

43. Sharon Van Etten “Seventeen”
42. James Blake (feat. Andre 3000) “Where’s the Catch?”
41. Carly Rae Jepsen “Julien”
40. Dreezy “Chicken Noodle Soup”
39. Future “Shotgun”
38. Lana Del Rey “Next Best American Record”
37. Charli XCX (feat. Haim) “Warm”
36. Polo G (feat. Lil TJay) “Pop Out”
35. Mark Ronson (feat. YEBBA) “Don’t Leave Me Lonely”
34. Vampire Weekend (feat. Danielle Haim) “Hold You Now”
33. Theon Cross (feat. Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia) “Activate”
32. DaBaby “Suge”
31. Denzel Curry “SPEEDBOAT”
30. Taylor Swift “Death By a Thousand Cuts”
29. Bon Iver “Hey, Ma”
28. Cherry Glazerr “Wasted Nun”
27. Yola “Faraway Look”

26. FKA Twigs “Cellophane”
25. Sleater-Kinney “The Dog/The Body”
24. Sacred Paws “Shame on Me”

23. The National “I Am Easy to Find”
22. Sir Babygirl “Haunted House”

21. NLE Choppa “Camelot”
20. Theon Cross “Radiation”
19. Pom Pom Squad “Cherry Blossom”
18. Thom Yorke “Traffic”
17. Maxo Kream “8 Figures”

16. Carly Rae Jepsen “Want You in My Room”
15. Soccer Mommy “yellow is the color of her eyes”
14. Lana Del Rey “Cinnamon Girl”
13. Kirk Franklin “Love Theory”
12. Sharon Van Etten “Comeback Kid”
11. Rico Nasty & Kenny Beat$ (feat. Splurge) “Mood”
10. Emily Reo “Strawberry”

9. Young Thug “Just How it Is”

8. Big Thief “Not”

7. Rina Mushonga “Narisc0”

6. FKA Twigs “mirrored heart”

5. The Comet is Coming “Birth of Creation”

4. American Football (feat. Hayley Williams) “Uncomfortably Numb”

3. Caroline Polachek “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings”

2. Lana Del Rey “Venice Bitch”

1. Vampire Weekend “Harmony Hall”

 

Top 25 Albums of 2018

25. Sidney Gish, No Dogs Allowed

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The humorous and quirky folk album I wish Courtney Barnett would have put out this year.
24. Pusha T, Daytona

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He should have made it a couple tracks longer and took out the Kanye verse, but the back to back to back of “Hard Piano”/”Come Back Baby”/”Santeria” is undeniable.

23. Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth

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It’s hard for any non-jazz aficionado to comment on jazz and from what I understand Kamasi Washington is not a favorite amongst those in the know. What I know, however, is that Heaven and Earth is a beautiful and epic and complex album that I find equally stunning and frustrating–if that’s not a perfect description of jazz, then I don’t know what is.
22. Joey Purp, Quarterthing

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Joey Purp is still underrated, even after Quarterthing. He’s playing on the same sort of experimental fields as Vince Staples and Kendrick. He’s got the bars to match just about anyone. He should be bigger. There are a couple of songs that don’t really work for me on Quarterthing, but the strength of the rest of the album makes it worth returning to over and over again.

21. Pale Waves, My Mind Makes Noises

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Hailing from England, Pale Waves’ indie pop is filled with an 80s tinge with tales of forlorn love to low key electronic vibes.
20. Saba, Care For Me

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I’m a sucker for the kind of hip-hop Saba makes: the beats are quieter and more eclectic, the lyrics are thoughtful, and the bars are filled with technical precision. In Care For Me, Saba opens up chronicling his cousin’s death, a theme that repeats throughout the album as Saba reflects on the violence of his community. It’s not an overly serious album though, Saba’s too talented for any of this to feel like a bummer, instead it walks that line that hip-hop often does–audacious songs about tragic circumstances.
19. Half Waif, Lavender

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I like to think of Half Waif’s music as electronic dirges—they’re somber, often sad songs, made electronically as singer Nandi Rose Plunkett belts out poetic lyrics over soft beats and adds vocal effects. It’s as if Imogen Heap spent time in a rock band (which Plunkett did), giving those production effects a more grounded feel. 
18. Mitski, Be the Cowboy

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Mitski’s latest is assured and almost operatic in the way she’s able to bring a sense of drama to her music. These are composed rock songs, featuring piano bits, distorted guitar riffs, pounding bass lines, and the occasional orchestral movement.
17. Earl Sweatshirt, Some Rap Songs

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One of a slew of shorter, more experimental rap albums that appeared as a gift from God amongst several rap marathons (looking at you Migos, Drake, Meek Mill). Sweatshirt is one of the best in the game and his experimental side has him exploring new depths. 
16. Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy

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From the “Dreams and Nightmares”-esque “Get Up 10” to the clever “Bartier Cardi” to the SONG OF THE SUMMER “I Like It”, Cardi delivered a complete album that manages to be greater than the sum of its singles. She’s a technical talent with a real pop sensibility, combining the two for a layered and fairly consistent album.
15. Camp Cope, How to Socialise and Make Friends

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At times aggressive and at times naked with emotions, Camp Cope run the gamut, addressing anger at the sexist society and working through personal tumult. Singer Georgia Maq’s voice makes the album, gnarling when necessary and tinging with desperation at other moments.
14. Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs, and Alchemist, Fetti

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A short and low key album that tonally hits all the right notes. Gibbs and Curren$y show off their technical skills over Alchemist’s distorted and drowsy beats. 
13. Krimewatch, Krimewatch

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An album that finishes within 15 minutes, Krimewatch is filled with enough fury and diversity that you don’t even take a second to reconsider it. Every piece of hardcore and punk is here, from gang vocals to breakdowns to furious undecipherable lyrics. With songs that are half in Japanese, the band is inherently political in the way it breaks all the norms. It’s a bolt of immaculately crafted anger.
12. Future, Beast Mode 2

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Something about working with Zaytoven brings out all the heart in Future, someone whose never particularly candid about his personal feelings, instead masking himself in gluttonous and mind-numbing activity. Zaytoven brings out all the pathos over nine tracks. 
11. Iceage, Beyondless

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Iceage’s continues to evolve from their original post-punk sound to 2014’s alt-country punk, to this album which adds all sorts of musical ideas, including horns and goth vibes. Each step is a step forward and Beyondless is moody and unconventional, the sort of experimentation you could see being referenced for years to come. 
10. Soccer Mommy, Clean

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Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Alison spends most of Clean singing through gritted teeth, restraining the emotions and self doubts kept within. Her guitar quietly strums, most of the focus on her voice, serving as lead instrument as she conveys exasperating moments such as the realization “I guess I’m only what you wanted for a little while” or the defiant “I’m not a prop for you to use when you’re lonely or confused”. Of course, Alison also has points where songs build into rock grooves and beyond restrained into full-fledged emotion. There are impeccably crafted songs and melodies here, delivered with all the angst you would want in an album like this.
9. Car Seat Headrest, Twin Fantasy

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A rerecorded version of this past album, I’m including it because I had never listened to it before. Will Toledo might be the greatest pure songwriter in indie rock right now. They’re complex and intricate, catchy and melodic and filled with interesting ideas both musically and lyrically. 
8. The Carters, Everything is Love

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Many found Jay-Z and Beyonce’s album underwhelming, lesser than the sum of its parts, but I found it utterly listenable. Beyonce reigns here at times reducing perhaps the greatest emcee ever to a bit part as she goes off. Of course, HOVA is playing on his heels here, he’s the one who’s made the mistakes, but he gets in some good verses too. This is one that perhaps feels minor in the sagas of each of these artists, but it’s one I’ll continually return to. 
7. Vince Staples, FM!

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This album is short and anything but sweet, playing like a radio station in the middle of summer. Like a lot of Staples’ past work it takes the idea of summer and haunts it with the reality of his life in Long Beach. It’s fun, it’s aggressive, it’s clever, and it’s real. 
6. Snail Mail, Lush

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On its face there’s no way to really describe what makes Snail Mail so special, it’s pretty straightforward lo-fi indie rock. Part garage, part singer-songwriter crafted in someone’s bedroom, it elevates all of its descriptors with little moments that soar into magical songwriting heights. 
5. No Name, Room 25

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No Name has always shown a talent technical precision, rising as a spoken word artist before veering into hip-hop. Room 25 maintains her talents as a rapper, but elevates her sound by showing off a newfound knack for great melodies. She’s definitely matured and comes off more aggressive, exploring new ideas with poignant poeticism. 
4. Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer

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Monae dropped the metaphors on Dirty Computer, speaking for herself in a poignantly political and personal album. In the past her ideas have overcrowded one another, making for exhausting albums with huge highs; here she’s able to hold them all in tension, showing off her aptitude at bars, pop melodies, and funky grooves. 
3. The Beths, Future Me Hates Me

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Hook-laden guitar pop from New Zealand. The Beths are talented songwriters in a thriving genre but truly stand out because of their delightful almost choral arrangements they put in their songs. This is summer music at its finest. 
2. Black Panther: The Album

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This is basically a new Kendrick album which means its vibrant, creative, and aggressive, using a diverse spread of artists to not only capture the feel of the movie, but to create bonafide jams. It’s cinematic, taking cues from the film itself and features Kendrick as a through-line in an album that includes features from: ScHoolboy Q, Vince Staples, SZA, Swae Lee, Jorja Smith, Mozzy, Future, James Blake, Jay Rock, SOB X RBE, etc… You can’t beat that. 

1. Idles, Joy As an Act of Resistance

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I’ve heard this album discussed as “snowflake oi”, combining the insult thrown at sensitive progressives with an aggressive subgenre of punk music. That fits, as Idles advocate aggressively against racism, homophobia, and sexism in the midst of an album that’s aesthetically not too different from the Sex Pistols. Punk is a genre that’s attracted neo-Nazis and has long been a boy’s club, Idles fight against those notions, using the idea of joy to cut through the hate. 

Best Movies of 2018

The year in movies had several themes running across them that we are actually able to neatly fit into our current time and place. First, the failure of men in their positions of power and influence, something reflected in the rise of the #MeToo movement, which has seen the fall of multiple powerful figures who have taken advantage of those they were in charge of leading. In Widows, Shirkers, and Roma women must survive the mistakes and the intentional abandonment of the men in their lives, scraping by in a world whose powerful have screwed them over. Minding the Gap follows the lives of children whose fathers abused and left them behind, asking what it takes to break the cycle they find themselves in. Those movies find empowerment in showcasing the scrappiness arriving from these difficulties.

 

Elsewhere, the powerful are mocked in The Death of Stalin, Zama, and The Favourite, exposed as power-hungry individuals whose desires for personal gain outweigh that of patriotism. With a president on the verge of being charged for corruption, who refused to release personal tax records, is persistently lying about his own achievements, and followed by a rotating circus of subservients trying to get in his good graces, this satirization of the powerful feels particularly prescient.

 

Have yet to see (in order of how likely they are to make my list): If Beale Street Could Talk; Cold War; Let the Sunshine In; Madeline’s Madeline; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; A Star is Born; Mary Poppins Returns; Bodied; Mandy; The Old Man and the Gun; Wildlife; The Hate U Give; Ralph Breaks the Internet; Bad Times at the El Royale
15. Lean on Pete

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This movie has been described as the anti-Black Stallion; a film that upends the horse hero worship that’s present in the midst of so many horse movies. Any time this movie starts feeling sappy it twists itself into fits of existential dread (some literally made my jaw drop), beating you again and again like you’re Job and the devil and God are currently engaged in making bets over your soul. Like that story, there’s grace here too and when it comes it’s the breath of fresh air you desperately needed. 

14. The Tale 

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A movie for our era that was missed by many because it was bought by HBO and is only playing there for now, The Tale offers a surprising amount of inventiveness in telling a story of horrific abuse. This story is in fact director Jennifer Fox’s own story to tell, blatantly digging into the details of her own life and things she misremembered from her childhood. It’s a tough watch, but one in which Fox uses the film medium and her own experience as a documentarian to examine personal histories and how we distort reality to fit into easier narratives. 

13. Shoplifters

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 Hirokazu Kor-Eeda is one of my favorite filmmakers. He creates small portraits of families, depicting their struggles, joys, and the events that bond them and tear them apart. In Shoplifters he uses this idea to kind of question the idea of family, bringing together a ragtag group of poor and desperate individuals and showing the ways in which humanity can come together. In the film’s final third he questions a lot of what we’ve bought into in the previous portion, blurring the line between what we think about this family and other larger ideals we may hold. 

12. Shirkers

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A deeply personal documentary that slowly unveils itself across its hour and a half runtime, Shirkers follows Sandi Tan and her history in Malaysia as a stalwart counter cultural young filmmaker. Her movie Shirkers, is hyped as the film representative of  a small but growing youth movement in the country. When the film is lost due to influences (mostly) out of her control, she does an inventory on what it meant to her at the time, what was lost, and where her life headed from there. There is spoiler-ish content in this doc, so I won’t get into everything that happens, but it’s an excellently scored, reflective, and haunting at times documentary. 

11. Happy as Lazzaro

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A quiet little film that’s also one of the most twist-laden movies of the year. Alice Rohrwacher uses Lazzaro, a young man whose innocent perspective glides him through the world to comment on a world where the haves only seem to be increasing what they have over the have nots. 

10. Game Night

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The biggest surprise of the year is the Jason Bateman/Rachel McAdams venture that for some reason decided to base an entire movie around the concept of game night and absolutely crushed it. The film is kind of a satire of The Game (again, why did they decide to make fun of a movie released 19 years ago!?), with Bateman and McAdams thinking they are a part of an intense game, when in actuality they find themselves interacting with a real-life drug gang, using their skills to try to save Bateman’s brother (played by Kyle Chandler). This confusion makes for comedy gold with McAdams legit giving one of the best performances of the year and somehow proving herself to be the greatest working comedic actor. This thing should not be this good, but throw in a wonderful performance from Jesse Plemons as a bitter neighbor whose been excluded from game night and the charm of Billy Magnussen (Ingrid Goes West), Sharon Hogan (Catastrophe), Kylie Bunbury (Pitch), and Lamorne Morris (New Girl) and you’ve achieved greatness.

9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Another total surprise is this movie, the seventh Spider-Man film in 16 years, that managed to not only be the best of that bunch, but one of the best superhero movies ever. Into the Spider-Verse uses groundbreaking animation techniques that blur the lines between old-school cartoons and 3-D effects to make something that looks like a comic book. It features Miles Morales, the second most famous version of Spider-Man, grounding him in a New York that is vibrant and lifelike, before throwing him into a Spider-Man story that features multiple mentions of the multiverse while never feeling convoluted or confusing the stakes. It’s both funny and touching, stuffed with jokes and reverence for the comics that have come before it, it’s the kind of movie that Disney/Marvel might be able to make if the $$$ weren’t clouding their vision.

8. The Death of Stalin

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Who could have predicted that a comedy about 50’s Russian politics could be the most politically poignant movie of the year? But that’s the world we currently live in; a world where wealthy men bumble about making decisions based on their strange whims. Armando Iannucci has long satirized our political systems with The Thick of It; Veep; and In the Loop, and here he continues his streak, offering a screwball take on the filling of the power vacuum upon Stalin’s death in 1953. Simon Russell Beale and Steve Buscemi lead a star studded cast in a film bursting at its seams with jokes.

7. Roma

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Alfonso Cuaron’s deeply personal tale of growing up–a tribute to those who raised him in middle class Mexico amidst personal and political turmoil. Roma is told from the perspective of Cleo, a Mixtec housekeeper played brilliantly by Yalitza Aparacio who helps hold her employed family together, just on the fringe of being a part of the family as they experience a quiet turmoil. Roma is beautifully photographed by Cuaron himself, capturing life in Mexico–the small Oaxacan villages, the family home, New Year’s parties, the class warfare, and Cuaron’s main passion: the movies. Roma features a transcendent specificity, focusing on specific moments that must have existed in Cuaron’s mind for years, while capturing humanity in all its complexity.

6. Minding the Gap

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Bing Liu’s debut documentary is the culmination of years of casually videoing his friends as they skate around his rundown town of Rockford, Illinois. The film captures skateboard culture with mastery, as Liu skates around himself, camera in hand. But it’s the desperation that Liu is able to capture in his friends and in his own story that makes Minding the Gap such an astonishing work. As each character gets a chance to tell their story, rhyming patterns of brokenness–both humanity’s and America’s–appear. Liu directly confronts his own past and the futures laid out for his friends while drawing a tattered picture of working-class American life.

5. The Favourite

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Yorgos Lanthimos’ fourth feature is a rip-roaring period comedy about two women (Emma Stone, in her best role yet and Rachel Weisz), vying for the influence of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman, playing the most powerful woman in the country with a toddler’s temperament). What results is a hilarious, yet cruel and twisted power struggle between these three women and the lower level parliaments trying to keep the country afloat. Does anyone have the country’s best interest at heart or is politics all a fickle struggle for personal gain? This is a prescient question for our modern era, one that Lanthimos has deliciously and gorgeously executed.

4. Zama

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The most deadpan piece of comedic work this year, in which Lucrecia Martel satirizes colonial Argentina (at least I think that’s what’s going on here) with long expressionless takes and sly jokes as lead character Don Diego de Zama attempts to get himself transferred out of the country. The film devolves into an almost Apocalypse Now sort of madness with Zama entering into a journey to find a dethroned leader’s brother, before ultimately succumbing to an apathy that’s been haunting him all along. I still don’t fully understand everything that Martel is trying to say here, but it’s the sort of movie that’s so picturesque, visually complex, and stuffed full of droll jokes that I could watch it back to back to back and never get bored.

3. Eighth Grade

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Bo Burnham’s debut captures the awkwardness of junior high almost too perfectly; using in a set of cringe-inducing scenes and moments that flared my personal social anxieties. Underneath the terrifying representation of being a teenager figuring out their place in the world is a kindness, grace, and unrelenting love for the film’s lead Kelsie (played to perfection by Elsie Fisher). Without this tenderness the film falls completely flat, luckily Burnham treads that line and executes an ending that leaves me weepy just thinking about it. Gucci.

2. Burning

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The title is an apt description of the pace of this film which slowly burns to its grand conclusion. It’s a foggy movie both on screen and in the way it plays with truth and what we read into things. I’ll admit, I bought into the movie’s hints at what’s going on a bit too much, it was only after leaving the theater and conversing that I realized I may have been duped, like Jong-soo, into wanting a grander story–an economic and romantic justice that was never there.

1. First Reformed

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These lists are arbitrary and in the end the number one should be something symbolic–ceremonially representing the year. That’s what First Reformed is for me; there are days when the hazy beauty of Burning or the sweet overflow of emotions that is the ending of Eighth Grade hang around in my memory, arguing their case for being #1–but they don’t capture 2018 in all its desperation the way that First Reformed does. Tackling faith and doubt and what it means for personal despair to collide with a world increasingly on the brink of destruction. Ethan Hawke plays Reverend Toller, a character that will be referred to for years to come, a Presbyterian minister of a historic church with minimal attendees, nearly swallowed by a neighboring megachurch. A conversation and the subsequent actions of a concerned partitioner send Toller further into the brink of despair. In a year that featured children being separated from parents, more people turning their back on refugees, and more environmental warnings than ever before, it’s easy to wonder if God will punish us for what we’ve done. What is our response to an overwhelming evil? Is violence a justified means toward justice? In the end does God wrap us in grace as we lament the world? These questions lay heavy in my heart throughout the year and First Reformed cut right to my core, doing what art does at its best.

Honorable mentions: You Were Never Really Here; Black Panther; Mission: Impossible – Fallout; Support the Girls; Skate Kitchen; Widows; Blindspotting

Top 18 Podcasts of 2018

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Of all the arbitrary lists that I do in this season, this feels like the most arbitrary of them all. Podcasts used to be more straightforward, but in the current podcast boon, coming up with a best of list feels stupid. There are plenty of shows here that released 50+ episodes that were each an hour and a half, while there are others that released a one-off season of 6 episodes that were only a half-hour. That’s a difference of over a hundred hours; but they both appear on lists of the best podcasts. Some shows are improvised, others meticulously scripted. Some I’ve listened to for 7+ years, while others produced something that will only exist for this year. At certain points they’re barely the same medium.

This being said, I’ve decided in the future to change up the way I do this. Maybe I’ll only include new shows (either to me or brand new). Maybe it’ll be only doing the best episodes (though this takes a meticulousness that’s difficult to maintain). Either way, this exercise has become too futile to continue beyond this year, so enjoy this list in its finale.

Here are the best podcasts of the year:

18. Culture Kings – One of my favorite shows of the year that dually hurt itself by moving to three episodes a week, while also losing co-host Carl Tart along the way. Co-hosts Jacquis Neal and Edgar Momnsplair are a great duo, but I am personally oversaturated with podcast content and can barely keep up with one episode a week let alone two.

17. Caliphate – An intense and informative journalistic look into Isis, featuring interviews with current and former members. It’s worth listening to in order to expand an understanding of the ever-ubiquitous Middle East. There’s also a kind of surprise twist at the end of this that I was not expecting.

16. Spontaneanation – Paul F. Tompkins continues to release improv gold, his ability to introduce audiences to a diverse group of young comedians is one reason alone you should listen to it.

15. The Watch – The Watch is as much about keeping up with pop culture as it is about Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald’s friendship which goes back a decade before they started podcasting at Grantland. The conversations they have and their ability to catch each other’s references is any pop culture nerd’s dream.

14. Threedom – The Scott Aukerman, Lauren Lapkus, Paul F. Tompkins Stitcher Premium collaboration was the most inevitable thing to happen in comedy podcasting and it actually lives up to the hype quite well. It’s a general chat show, where the hosts goof around for an hour, but is earned by their past repoire. Will it work for those unfamiliar with the three of them? I’m not sure, but I found myself smiling in public quite often while listening.

13. Rob Has a Podcast – Rob Cesternino seemingly increases podcast output every year, making close to an episode a day about reality television and pop culture happenings. He’s consistently great (I’ve been a listener since he started the podcast in 2010) and it feels absurd to try to rank what he does in comparison to other shows on this list. If you like reality TV shows like Survivor and Big Brother he’s offers an essential blend of humor and strategy that you have to check out.

12. Future Perfect – Dylan Matthews introduced me to the concept of effective altruism–using Moneyball style logic to solve the world’s problems–through this podcast, a newsletter, and a segment of programming on Vox, opening up a whole new world of insight for me. Future Perfect the podcast presents out-of-the-box ideas that have proved highly effective for solving world problems (cooling the planet, the border crisis, animal cruelty, etc…) but have not been implemented. These are fascinating thought experiments, ones that with enough organizing could be the way of the future.

11. Good Food – I jumped on board with Good Food after having attended an event they put on. Host Evan Kleiman brings on what is really a spectacular slew of guests and segments surrounding food news and interests. Kleiman is a warming host whose experience running restaurants and industry involvement add to her natural public radio cadence.

10. Yo Is This Racist? – I always thought this show, which features Andrew Ti answering listener voicemails as to if something is racist or not, sounded interesting, but they released episodes five days-a-week and if you’re learning anything about me from this list, it’s that I just don’t have time for that. When the show consolidated to once a week and added Earwolf rising star and Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ alum Tawny Newsome, I knew it was time to dive in. Ti and Newsome have quickly gained chemistry, using comedic chops and their life experiences to offer advice at navigating our increasingly multicultural world.

9. The Weeds – The Weeds was another show that made the jump from two episodes a week to three during the busy political season of this year’s midterms, forcing me to filter through episodes by topic every couple of weeks. Nonetheless, their rotating crew of policy obsessives continue to offer intelligent policy and political analysis that’s way more academic than your average pundit.

8. Done – I’m almost always searching through various podcast databases, looking for the next big thing I can sink my teeth into. Rarely do new shows capture my attention as quickly as Done did when I started listening to it earlier this year. On its face, it’s a slew of comedy podcast cliches: two hosts invite a guest comedian on to discuss some previously decided thing–in this case things the guest is done with. Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney have such great chemistry (another radio cliche) that despite easily falling into all of these podcast traps the show has become one of my favorites. Katz and Kenney easily shift back and forth between sincere opinions about their very New York comedian lives to playing elevated characters of themselves that mock their very New York comedian lives. When you listen to podcasts, you begin to fall in love with the ways certain people say things or phrases they often go to, listening to Betsy Kenney wryly say “now listen here, honey” has become one of those things for me.

7. Embedded – Embedded only existed for a few short seasons this year, but the seasons they released, about Donald Trump and coal country, were must listens to understand the context of our modern world.

6. Slow Burn – Season two of Slow Burn jumps forward a few decades from the Nixon controversy to examine the Clinton impeachment. I may be biased because I was young enough to experience the entire saga, without fulling understanding what was happening, but to hear the layers peeled back by the people involved all these years later was, in a way, thrilling. Slow Burn tells the story through a modern lens, a much different cultural landscape than the mid-90s, questioning Clinton’s actions through 2018 liberal wokeness which is much less forgiving than the 90s. I wish host Leon Neyfakh had spent even more time examining his own personal feelings, but Slow Burn managed to create an entertaining, questioning, and essential piece of podcasting this year.

5. Halloween Unmasked – The Ringer may have created a new genre of podcast in its unpacking of John Carpenter’s Halloween. Across eight episodes host Amy Nicholson discusses the influential horror film, its making, its themes, and the obsessive following it’s inspired over the years. It’s the best new use of the serialized podcast format, digging into a movie like an Empire Magazine retrospective. It’s cultural introspection at its very best.

4. Comedy Bang Bang – Scott Aukerman seemed to rely on bringing in new voices to his character-driven comedy show this year, an almost necessary step to keep the show fresh. This allowed up and comers like Shaun Diston (Rudi North!), Edi Patterson (Bean Dip!), and Ego Nwodim to create new favorites that we will hopefully be able to enjoy for years to come.

3. Doughboys – Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell survived another year! The duo often jokes about quitting the podcast or eating themselves to death, but has managed to continue making their hit podcast. I choose to listen to this podcast Friday mornings and consider it an absolute treat every time I listen, smiling while driving into work. Their banter, puns, and review of chain restaurants bring me so much joy.

2. Serial – After season 2 flopped (I think it’s good, but just didn’t keep up with people’s expectations of it, lucky for those people there’s more than a slew of true crime available for them now), it was interesting to think about where Serial would go next. It launched podcasts and the true crime genre into major popularity. After a couple years off, we now have season 3, a work that’s at least more important (if not better) than its first season. Exploring the justice system, Serial tackles a rotating cast of stories, each highlighting the amount of injustice that exists with American courts. It’s a capital F FEAT in journalism and maintains the highest levels of storytelling capabilities even if I had to motivate myself to listen to it at times (it’s a pretty crushing show).  

1. Good Christian Fun – I don’t think there was any other podcast I had as much fun listening to in 2018 than Good Christian Fun. Hosted by Kevin Porter (Gilmore Guys) and Caroline Ely, two Christian-ish hosts dissecting all the worst (and occasional best) bits of Christian culture from the past to the present. They are typically joined by a guest comedian to discuss the topic, getting their “Guestimony”, where the guests discuss their experiences with religion. The whole show often whips back and forth between frank discussions of religious experience to hilarious discussions about the topic at hand with interspersed segments lead by Porter’s knack for cheesy puns and apt control over the soundboard. The guest intro to Amy Grant’s “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” is the most ingenious use of the podcast format in the last two years, apologies to Serial’s invesgative look at the US judicial system, this song is comin’ HOT.