Best Stuff I watched in 2020

Well it has been an odd year to say the least. Since movie theaters weren’t open I watched way less new movies than I normally do but I still felt compelled to make a list of mostly movies I had to rent or watch on streaming. I oddly watched less TV than other years as well but I definitely felt their were at least 10 great shows. I mostly watched old movies since quarantine began and if anyone is feeling like a real nerd they can get my takes on all of those on my Letterboxd account. So without further ado here are my lists.  

TV Shows:

10. The Queen’s Gambit

As a chess lover I was destined to at least like this show but it is really well made. Ana Taylor-Joy is a star, they do a great job with the world building really visualize the games in an interesting way. My one complaint is that I wish they delved deeper into the strategy of her games but I can see why someone uninterested in chess probably wouldn’t care about that.

9. Curb Your Enthusiasm

Great season of Curb, Larry David is one of the funniest human beings alive and he delivered with the newest season. I particularly loved the Jon Hamm episode who really fit perfectly into the show.

8. The Mandalorian

I wish I could watch 25 episodes a year of Mando and Baby Yoda doing the classic western story of the week stories where Mando helps a new planet and Baby Yoda tries to eat stuff and sometimes uses “The Force”. As a Star Wars fan it really delivers everything I could want in a tv show.

7.  The Boys

I’ve described the show as both “Superheroes but late capitalism” and the favorite show of 15 year old me. I could probably keep it at that but I do really enjoy the brutality and cynicism of the show, even if it probably isn’t quiet as clever as it imagines itself to be.

6. The Last Dance

I think the proper way to think of a documentary like this is as an autobiography and if you look at The Last Dance in those terms there is really very little more you can ask for. The combination of incredible behind the scenes footage of MJ from the 90s with the interviews today where he is able to layout his perspective and mostly his vendettas against every “rival” is one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever watched.

5. Devs

I am a sucker for the existential sci-fi vibe that Garland pulls off. Ex Machina and Annihilation are two of the best movies of the last decade and this only adds to my appreciation for him. I do think this still probably would have worked better as a film but I was completely engrossed in the strange and sad story that unfolded here.

4. Survivor

This year we only got one season of Survivor instead of the standard 2 but the season we got more than lived up to the hype. Survivor Season 40, an all winners edition of the show, truly fulfilled my expectations in almost every way. The cast of all winners was both supremely entertaining and playing the game at a supremely high level from the very beginning. I could quibble about at times confusing editing, the overabundance of twists or a middle stretch of the game that saw multiple of my personal favorites leave. However, this season had real emotion moments throughout, had the single best episode any player has had in the history of the show, was insanely funny at times and left us with a winner that I think in many ways fully encompasses what I and so many love about Survivor.  

3. What We Do in the Shadows

I’m not sure if I ever would have expected a show about vampires in Staten Island to be one of my favorite shows but this is the world we are living in. The show is just so funny and delivered the best Mark Hamill cameo of any show in 2020, thank you Mr. Jackie Daytona, regular human bartender.

2. The New Pope

I think The Young Pope might be my favorite single television season ever. I’m not sure any show has every moved me or made me laugh in the way The Young Pope did. I do not believe The New Pope is quite that good, it is still outstanding do not get me wrong, I love Malkovich, I loved the weird world of the Vatican all of it. However, for one episode, episode 7, it becomes transcendent. The entire season feels quite inspired by the brilliant Twin Peaks: The Return and that episode more than any other feels the most of a piece with that. I could go on but all I have to say is:

Jude Law Coke GIF by HBO - Find & Share on GIPHY

1. Better Call Saul

What an incredible show. A Breaking Bad spinoff based on a Walter’s sleazy attorney had no business being this good. So many people have said that before but it is worth reiterating. The greatness of the show is mostly due to the fact that Kim Wexler has become the most compelling character in the world of these two incredible shows. I could go on forever about how great Rhea Seehorn is in brining that character to light and making someone who I care about so deeply. On top of that, the rest of the cast is incredible (including obviously Odenkirk as Jimmy/Saul), the direction is probably the best on tv and the writing is brilliant. This show is amazing, everyone should watch it, whether you are a Breaking Bad fanatic or have never seen an episode, the show is just truly incredible.

Layers of Kim Wexler's Finger Guns and What's Next? - Slackie Brown Sports  & Culture

Movies:

10. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

VERY NICE! I really don’t have a ton to say about this except Borat is very funny and I’m glad Cohen found a way to make the sequel funny.

              9. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

I can’t say that this was a pleasant movie to watch or that I would recommend it to everyone but it is without question an interesting movie. At times I was extremely moved by this very strange Charlie Kaufman movie and at others I’m not sure I really got the point. Buckley and Plemons are really great in it though.

              8. Palm Springs

I love Andy Samberg so I was always going to check out his Groundhog’s Day homage but this one really works. Him and Miloti are great together in this, Conner O’Malley is a comedic force of nature that can not be contained and overall it is just a really entertaining movie.

Andy Samberg Conner Omalley GIF by The Lonely Island - Find & Share on GIPHY

              7. The Way Back

This is a classic sports movie and both delves deeply into clichés but also subverts them in a few interesting way. Affleck is great in this and is really the reason I think the movie is worth checking out.

              6. The Vast of Night

I am a sucker for a director doing a low budget Spielberg homage but really this is one of the best ones I have seen. This is incredibly well directed, with some of the most uniquely shot sequences I have seen all year and would recommend to anyone who is looking for a great thriller.

5. Mank

MANK! Ok besides the fact that Mank is funny to say, say it out loud it really is, Mank is really great. Fincher basically turns a movie about the writing of Citizen Kane into some vendetta about the 1934 California Governor election and somehow that totally works. Also Amanda Seyfried is amazing in it and I wasn’t sure she had a performance this great in her.

4. Let Them All Talk

Soderbergh is probably my favorite working director and he makes everything so easy. This movie seems like the type that I generally wouldn’t be that interested in based on the topic, it is mostly about 3 older women on a cruise, but Soderbergh’s direction makes it extremely compelling. There are sequences in this movie that I enjoyed more than just about any of his movies this side of the Ocean’s trilogy.

3. Tenet

I really miss going to movie theaters. I just watched this within the last 2 weeks and I really had the feeling that this would have been awesome to watch in a theater. Even watching it on tv I thought it was an amazing spectacle the likes of which it so rarely get made today. I can’t claim to fully understand what went on in this movie but I mostly do and I don’t think the rest really matters.

2. Da 5 Bloods

This movie is just pure Spike Lee and one of the most interesting movies I’ve seen in the last few years. Delroy Lindo gives one of the most magnetic performances I’ve ever seen with the most fascinating character in any movie this year. Both an adventure film and a war film, Spike brings his style and vision in  a way that no one else can.

1. David Byrne’s American Utopia

Talking Heads are my favorite band ever and so this was something I was always going to be interested in. Seeing the live performance of American Utopia is the coolest show I have ever seen and I didn’t fully no how it was going to be as a concert film. Spike Lee captured almost everything that made the show powerful and what makes David Byrne magical. There is no one I prefer listening to sing or watching perform than David Byrne a miracle of awkwardness and confidence. American Utopia has to live in the shadow of the greatest concert film in history, Stop Making Sense, and it really fulfills its legacy as a worthy successor to that. Also congrats to Spike Lee for making my two favorite movies of the year.

2020 or How I learned to stop being right and love Josh Allen

I missed most of “The” Nathan Peterman game. Any Buffalo Bills fan and most even casual NFL observers know exactly which game I’m referring to here. While Peterman’s distinct strain of incompetence shone bright nearly every time he stepped on the field, there was one game that stood above the rest and became perhaps the most memorable three hours of the team’s 17-year playoff drought.
Angry about the circumstances that led to Peterman becoming the starter in Buffalo and confident that he would not be the answer at quarterback, I planned to see “Murder on the Orient Express” at the North Park Theatre on Hertel Avenue in Buffalo around the same time the Bills and Chargers were scheduled to take the field in a week 11 matchup. I was able to catch Peterman’s deflected pick-six and desperate heave of a second interception in the first five minutes of the game before heading out.
While I was distracted by a perfectly-OK but mostly forgettable Agatha Christie adaptation, Peterman once again made an ill-advised pass attempt while being hit and was intercepted again. Then he had an out route jumped for another pick. Desperate near the end of the half, he threw yet another interception.
Five interceptions in one half. Nearly as many picks as completions (six). More than regular starter Tyrod Taylor had in the first nine games of the season.
By the time I walked out of the theater into a fairly cool November night, Peterman was the talk of Twitter. People from all corners of the sports world were dunking not only on the rookie fifth-round pick, but on the Bills for starting him when the team had a chance to break a nearly two decade playoff drought and an adequate starter in Taylor.
I felt so vindicated, as did many of my friends. We were right about Peterman the entire time, more right than we knew. I remember tweeting that being right all the time was not fun, but a tremendous burden.

This March, I made the remarkably stupid decision to go to New York City just as COVID was really heating up. Within hours of touching down at JFK, the NBA shut down, Tom Hanks announced that he had contracted the virus and COVID finally got America’s full attention, something it has not yet relinquished.
By the time I got home four days later, it was clear that this was going to be a horrific ordeal. Even for someone as scientifically illiterate as me, it was easy to understand that this disease was more contagious than your average virus and also significantly deadlier. Italy was already dealing with hundreds of deaths per day.
Apparently, many people couldn’t do that simple mental arithmetic or just didn’t want to. If you aren’t just waking up from a year-long coma, you know how that unfolded over the past 9 months. As I type this, roughly 340,000 Americans have been killed by the virus and that number is growing faster than it ever has.
I didn’t know in March that we’d still be dealing with packed hospitals and overflowing morgues through (at least) the New Year. But as I read a New York Times article at the kitchen table that had suddenly become my work space, I knew thousands of deaths were coming. I knew it was mostly preventable. And I knew it would be mishandled.
Being proven right is not much of a comfort these days.

In late April 2018, I was lucky enough to witness the beginning of the Josh Allen era from the Buffalo Bills Fieldhouse. Four months removed from the Bills’ first playoff appearance since the Clinton Administration, I was pretty confident the franchise was heading in the right direction. All the Bills had to do was draft one of Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold or Lamar Jackson and I’d be sold. I felt better about the team than I had in years. I finally cheered for a good football team.
The Bills destroyed all that emotional goodwill they built up with me when they took Josh Allen – an unimpressive, inaccurate, big arm from Wyoming. His college stats were nowhere near good enough to justify a top-10 pick. He came off as infuriatingly earnest. Old tweets dug up on draft night made him look dumb. He had the face of a 12-year-old. I dramatically told people that I no longer cared about the Bills.
Like any sports fan, I’m wrong plenty. I thought the Warriors would destroy the Cavs in the 2016 NBA Finals. I was sure Tavaris Jackson was going to be a Pro Bowl quarterback. But when it comes to negative, big-picture takes about one of my teams, I don’t really miss. I guess this comes from having a more pessimistic disposition, but also an inability to lie to myself. This probably seems like bragging, but I promise it’s not. I’d gladly trade brains with someone who earnestly thinks the Sabres could win their division next year.
It took just over two years for Allen to prove me wrong. Fully completely wrong in every way. Nearly everything I said and thought about him in 2018 seems insane now. He even has a little facial stubble, so he doesn’t really look 12 anymore. More like 15, I guess.
The Bills have been one of the very few good things about 2020. For the first time in my memory, they’re as good as anyone in the league. We can talk about the Super Bowl without it being a joke or a story from three decades ago. I can barely believe this even as I type it.
Elsewhere, the worst pandemic in more than a century seemingly only gets knocked out of the top billing in the news cycle when something worse or more troublesome happens. The murder of George Floyd led to one of the most widespread protests in American history and sparked conversations about reforming, defunding or even abolishing police. Of course, the primary and then general election naturally led to conversations about Medicare for All, eliminating student debt, free public college and other ambitious policy goals.
But these aren’t just interesting ideas that would be nice to have in place someday. The popularity for each policy has risen due to need. We have student debt crisis in America. We have millions uninsured, underinsured or in danger of being uninsured if they lose their job. Workers make less every year and CEO’s make more. Minimum wage has been stagnant in many places for a decade. In cities across the country, police too often do not face consequences for wrongdoing. We have thousands of gun deaths every year. We’re in the midst of an opioid crisis. Transgender people are killed and kill themselves at disproportionate rates. There are dozens of other issues I could add here.
Of course, there’s also a ticking clock on global warming. None of what I mentioned above really matters if human life is no longer supported by conditions on Earth.
All of these problems seem even more intractable in light of our response to COVID. It’s easy to look at an election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump and feel like change is impossible. Like launching major government programs that make people’s lives better is something that we used to do as a country, not anymore. It makes mentally checking out seem appealing. Just accept that we’re in a nation in decline and enjoy whatever’s new on Netflix.
As silly of a comparison as it is, this all feels to me like the late-aught Bills. Any success is solidly in the rearview mirror and it’s getting harder to convince yourself there’s anything positive to look forward to. We’re a 7-9 country now. It’s not hard to see Biden’s transition into office as Trent Edwards running out of bounds for a two-yard gain on fourth-and-10.
But, my powers of prediction aren’t what they used to be. Josh Allen is an MVP candidate, the Bills are hosting a playoff game and the Patriots are dead.
Here’s to being proven wrong more in 2021 and beyond.

Doom

As the decade zips to an end, I’ve thought a lot about the late 2009 and early 2010 version of myself. I’m usually amazed at how different I was in good and bad ways. I didn’t have a big beard, I didn’t even have facial hair (nerd). I was about 60 pounds lighter, and could run a 5K significantly faster. I regularly put away thousands of calories of McDonalds away at a time, but more than a couple beers were hard to hold down.
I also have completely different tastes and opinions with an unrecognizably different outlook, as you would expect from someone who has aged from almost 17 to almost 27. I like the NBA more, I can write a little bit. I can drive now. And I’m a tad more responsible.
One of the only ways I can relate to beginning-of-the-decade Taylor is our shared impending feeling of doom and lack of long-term hope. Of course, the causes are completely different so maybe we wouldn’t be able to talk about that if we ever met. Maybe I’d just have to lecture him about being more responsible on Facebook and handling the next few years of dating better.
When I remember the way I thought earlier in the decade, I have a hard time wrapping my head around it. I was generally happy. I had a long-term girlfriend for the first time. I was making a lot of new friends. I had my old friend group, which I still have now. I did pretty good in school. I mostly had fun on the weekends, and rarely got in trouble. I played sports and went on Facebook and hung out at McDonald’s with the fellas.
Any reasonable person would look at that and see someone who has an at least decently-bright future ahead of them. College should be a given, more friendships, maybe a hobby, probably a good love life or at least consistent dates. And, for the most part, that’s what happened. No surprises, really. I didn’t end up at Harvard, but I didn’t drop out of college either. I have a lot of friends, a good enough job in a field I enjoy and a girlfriend of nearly six years.
None of that should surprise 2010 Taylor, but it would have. I very rarely thought of my future, which is insane, because it was right there coming for me. When I did, I didn’t assume I would get married or hold a job or go to college or even live that long. I wasn’t suicidal, but I couldn’t see any kind of future. It didn’t exist as far as I could tell. Sometimes I would get nervous that it meant something bad.
That only got worse in the fall of 2010, early in my senior year of high school when I went through a breakup that kick-started a period of me more or less acting like a completely different person for months. I was depressed, but also acting out. I had a terminal case of senioritis and applying for college felt like too much.
I got lucky that my high school had a yearly trip to St. Bonaventure that allowed my lazy ass to finally visit a school, with it just so being one that I immediate fell in love with. I visited two more times and eventually committed. Meanwhile, the spring came and I kicked out of my funk. I started to see the bright side again.
I committed myself to doing well in school, making friends and having as many experiences as I could. My freshman year couldn’t have gone better. I joined the school newspaper, fell in love with writing and changed my major to journalism. I made more friends than I thought possible. Through a rocky sophomore year, another breakup and a revealing first few months as a junior, I like to think I became a better and more empathetic person. I paid more attention to issues that didn’t directly affect me. I learned that most people had it harder than me, and that I should recognize when and why those hardships come.
I also, for the first time since fall of 2010, started to feel like I understood myself again. I got a good internship, started a relationship that is still ongoing and generally felt like I had things figured out.
After an incredibly-fun senior year, I went out in the world and, uh, it sucked. Post-college life is significantly less fun than the four years that come before it. Finding a job was hard. The journalism industry isn’t paying super well, if you haven’t heard.
But I eventually found a gig and then a better one. As I settled in and started to think about getting an apartment, the culmination of an 18-month political fever dream occurred: Donald Trump was elected president. I was devastated and my understanding of the time and place I inhabited changed drastically and immediately. If you read the pieces that I wrote at the end of 2016 and 2017, you know how that made me feel. You also know how graduating college made me feel in 2015, I suppose.
Last year, I wrote about a recently-released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It stated, among other horrifying things, that we realistically had about 12 years to reverse our carbon output to the point that we could save human life as we know it on this planet in the long term. One year down and not much has changed.
Throughout every trouble I faced after late 2011 or so, I had hope. It stayed with me through personal troubles, that hellish election, the first two years of Trump, my struggle to find a job. Through all of that, I had hope for the long term. Arcs of Justice, things of that nature.
As the decade closes, I’m not so sure anymore. This isn’t a looming threat the way a financial crash or market bubble or particularly-deadly-looking hurricane is. There’s no third way here. There’s no negotiating. There’s no compromising with the climate. There’s public option for the planet. And there’s coming in to clean up the mess after the disaster. There’s only one way to go about this, and it goes against the last 40 years of political action, belief and prevailing theory in this country.
This decade is going to start with a presidential election, which will of course, set the tone for what America and the World will be like over the next four years. But our action or lack thereof toward fighting climate change beginning right now with the start of this new decade will determine how we’re feeling writing look-backs in Dec. 2029. It will determine whether the next generation feels comfortable having children. It will determine whether certain cities are habitable in 40 years.
I can’t lay out exactly what needs to be done for us to get through this, but luckily there are many smarter people than me who do this sort of thing for a living that can answer these questions. I do know this: successfully fighting against this sort of existential threat will require a drastic reshaping of American life for nearly everyone. It will require immense political courage and personal sacrifice. It will mean that nearly everyone in the country, from all sides of the aisle and walks of life will need to be on board and understand that this is the only way. And it will likely required America successfully using its considerable global influence to force other countries to make sacrifices and comply.
I’m skeptical.
This decade made it clear to me that my early feeling of dread toward the future was baseless, at least at the time. But the last year or so has made me question whether the same is true of my mid-decade optimism. Maybe impending doom was the right call all along.

All 30 movies I saw in 2019…ranked?

Well, hello friends. I suppose it’s the end of another year. I’m not sure how this happened, but it seems it did. Last year, when I wrote for this procrastination-themed blog, I promised to get a hobby or at least consider the idea, but I didn’t and here we are. I watched 28 shows and 30 movies. It’s late December and I have some takes on said TV and movies

As always, this is a ranking of every movie I watched this year.  So, those ranked near the bottom aren’t necessarily the worst, but something had to be down there. Rankings are based on a combination of how much I enjoyed the work, how good I thought it was objectively and how much is resonated with me. Anyway, hope you enjoy.

  1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
    I should state up front that I’m neither a jaded former Star Wars stan upset with the direction of the series or someone who has always hated the series and resents the place in culture that it occupies. I enjoyed Last Jedi quite a bit and Force Awakens enough. I did start to get concerned a few months back that the two movies barely seemed like they were in the same series and didn’t really build to a coherent end to a trilogy. I didn’t know the half of it.
    The choice to bring the Emperor back and introduce him in the opening crawl was prequel-level stupidity, with a new layer of lazy cynicism. Not only is it tiresome and creatively bankrupt, the decision essentially nullifies Anakin’s entire storyline and Luke’s heroics in Return of the Jedi. There are a host of other issues, including but not limited to the weird use of Leia post-Carrie Fischer death, the inexplicable appearance of new powers that negate much of what occurred earlier in the series, piss poor dialogue, inexplicable erasing of key plot points from the far superior previous movie and a movie that was so jam-packed with plot it was nearly impossible to follow.
    One of the major stories of cinema in 2019 was Martin Scorsese’s criticism of Marvel, which set off debates that travelled in a number of different directions. Yes, Scorsese was right about Marvel for the most part, those movies don’t belong in the Best Picture discussion. But the vitriol toward those movies would be better served being aimed at Disney’s handling of Star Wars. Marvel movies aren’t high art, but they’re entertaining, rarely miss and are consistently getting better. They told a coherent story over the course of 11 years, and did so while satisfying nearly every fan of the series. Star Wars, on the other hand, is far more nakedly cynical and less interested in creating something, choosing instead to coast off movies that are roughly four decades old. They ruined one of two good Star Wars movies of the past 36 years in an effort to make things easier for JJ Abrams and placate the series’ loudest and dumbest fans. I could go on for a few hundred more words, but I think this will suffice: this series should have ended in 1983.
    29. Ma
    As a fan of horror movies with modern, original and uncomfortably weird plots, I was pretty excited to see Ma. A lot of the movie was even enjoyable, but it did not come close to sticking the landing. Aside from the third act blunder, there were a few plot points that bothered me. None more so than one of the murders that takes place and is just not addressed. Nothing is worse in a horror movie than there just not being any consequences to a villain’s actions. Also, Juliette Lewis as a normie mom? What? Why?
    28. Fighting With My Family
    This movie was not bad in any way, but I guess something had to be 28th. This mostly true story of the rise of WWE Superstar Paige, who was chosen from an English tryout at the age of 18. She had a meteoric rise to becoming the youngest WWE Divas Champion in history at age 21. It’s a fun and sweet watch.
    27. Detective Pikachu
    This movie was not meant for childless 26-year-old men, but I actually enjoyed it a lot. About 20 years ago, Pokemon was just about my favorite thing in the world, so it was surprising to me just how man of the Pokemon I remembered. Ryan Reynolds was a perfect choice to voice Pikachu.
    26. It 2
    The first part of this series, released in 2017, was both very good and culturally relevant as one of the highest-grossing horror movies of all time. The kids that made up the Losers Club were perfectly cast, and it was the dynamic between them that made the movie. That’s the beginning of where this one fell short. It’s just not as interesting to watch a bunch of adults work together to defeat an ancient evil. The retcon of Stanley’s shower cap being important to him was a bizarre choice. The run time was pretty daunting considering how little action we get.
    Although, I didn’t hate it. There was one death that was unexpected and vicious, I actually gasped in the theatre. Stephen King showing up was cool. Bill Hader gave a phenomenal performance as Richie and somehow became the emotional center of the movie by the end. It was a fine movie, but it could and should have been better.
    25. Captain Marvel
    Hey, pretty good! Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson being digitally de-aged! Ben Mendelsohn and Jude Law were both very good. There was a nice kitty and cool music. I enjoyed myself watching it.
    24. Bash Brothers
    This is not really a movie, but it’s also not a TV show so I wasn’t sure where to put it. This 30-minute extended Lemonade-style music video about the 1988 Oakland A’s duo of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco was released by the Lonely Island with almost no notice one day back in May. It’s absolutely incredible, weird and delightful for the entire half hour.
    23. Spiderman: Far From Home
    A fun and easy watch, especially in comparison to Endgame, which came just before it. It’s a nice change of pace in the Marvel series to be dealing with teenagers as opposed to the fake CIA or fake Air Force or whatever else. Zendaya is as unbelievably likable as she is in everything, as is Tom Holland. Jake Gyllenhaal is overqualified as the villain here. Plus, an old friend shows up near the end.
    22. Let It Snow
    If you didn’t catch it this December, consider throwing it on for a breezy and enjoyable Christmas season watch. It’s like if Love, Actually mostly involved kids and was also way better. It’s a sweet and comforting movie that for some reason features Joan Cusack just acting like herself, except as a plow driver.
    21. Child’s Play
    I enjoyed this movie quite a bit when I first saw it. Unlike the horror reboots of late last decade and early in the 2010’s, Child’s Play had a reason to exist. It told a story that different in key ways. First of all, it was not supernatural. Chuckie is a digital creation, which feels much more realistic in 2019. The story as a whole felt well-adapted to 2019.
    What really hurt the movie in hindsight for me was finding that Dom Mancini – the person most responsible for keeping the Child’s Play franchise alive for the past decade-plus – did not want this movie made. He was hoping to continue the original story in some form since Cult of Chucky was well-liked by fans and ended on a cliff-hanger.
    But, here’s the thing: this movie didn’t have to be a Child’s Play movie! The story is different enough that a few simple tweaks would have just made it different enough to just be considered an homage, instead of a reboot. In fact, the technology angle could have made for some interesting explorations of how devices like Alexa and Google Home are used to build data profiles of us for advertising purposes. There were a lot of directions to go in.
    But, the studio knew a reboot of a beloved and well-known series would open well and they were right. The alternative could have done even better, but we’ll never know.
    20. Dr. Sleep
    Speaking of horror movies that felt unnecessary, we have the never-awaited sequel to The Shining. Well, kind of. Although The Shining has a case as the greatest horror movie of all time, the author of the book that it is based on did not enjoy Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation very much. Since that author was Stephen King, he settled that issue by writing a sequel novel. So, this movie isn’t so much of a traditional sequel as an adaptation of a sequel.
    The story follows Danny Torrance into his adulthood, where he has fully tapped into his psychic powers and has done so in a way that comforts the elderly while they’re dying. The movie features Ewan McGregor in the starring role, but also introduces Rebecca Ferguson as a charming villain with a strong Stevie Nicks vibe to her.
    The movie was never going to be a masterpiece, but it could have had a nice couple week run had it debuted in September or October and not the week after Halloween.
    19. Always Be My Maybe
    As someone who doesn’t not enjoy rom-coms very much, this one surprised me. It was funny and featured two breaths of fresh air in Randall Park and Ali Wong. The Keanu Reeves cameo was hilarious. While the story did follow the rom-com script, it felt different enough to make it an enjoyable watch.
    18. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
    Like every other kid born between the years 1980 and 1995, I had the Scary Stories books, and remember quite a few of the tales. I wasn’t sure how a movie would work, but was happy to see it turned out to be a better and less cartoonish version of 2015’s Goosebumps.
    The stories were woven into the plot expertly and often in terrifying ways. The ending did not wrap everything up in a bow, or undo the damage done in the movie. Although it’s tame enough for kids to watch, it’s scary and serious enough for an adult horror fan to be creeped out by.
    17. Rocketman
    Although I stand by the opinion that “Rock Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” should have been the final music biopic ever made, this one was better than recent additions to the genre, especially the Bohemian Rhapsody abomination from 2018. Each of the songs is woven into the movie well at points that make sense and often were accompanied by beautifully-shot surreal sequences. It was self-serving, as all of these movies are, but it was worth watching.
    16. Happy Death Day 2U
    I was a huge fan of the first movie in this series, which essentially uses a Groundhog Day style format while following a college girl who is murdered by someone in a baby mask every day and wakes up every morning in the same spot on the same day.
    The second movie explores the space a bit more and plays with the idea of time travel and alternate universes. It’s fun and original (outside of the general concept, I suppose) like the first one is. It features a suicide montage that is not as sad or dark as that description makes it sound.
    15. El Camino
    There was a time when I was North America’s number one Breaking Bad stan. Last year, I ranked Better Call Saul as my best show of 2018. So, it’s cool that universe is also ending up on my movie list. I was ecstatic to check this movie out and I wasn’t disappointed. It featured everything you would want out of a Vince Gilligan show and even featured a satisfying ending as the cherry on top. The fact that it came out the day Robert Forster died made his send-off mean all that much more. It was great to have Aaron Paul back in what it seems will certainly be the defining role of his career.
    The only negatives I have are the Walt and Jane cameos that felt somewhat forced and unnecessary. The movie did not need to exist, but I’m glad it does.
    14. Good Boys
    This movie was so God damn funny all the way through. While high school movies have really taken a step back overall this decade, I look forward to the middle school movie revolution. It’s part of what has made Big Mouth so successful: middle school is a far dumber and weirder time that features far more inexplicable behavior. Plus, Sam Richardson, Retta and Lil Rel Howery are hilarious in their roles as adults. This was somehow the highest-grossing comedy of the year, although I’m not sure I’ve actually talked to anyone else who even saw it. There’s probably a lot to say about the decline of comedies like this as a successful commercial vehicle, but oh well no time now. Maybe next year.
    13. Annabelle Comes Home
    The sixth installment of the Conjuring series had the feel of a bottle episode on a TV show. Ed and Lorraine Warren – well-known psychics from the 1970’s – have to leave their daughter at home with a babysitter during a weekend trip away. The movie taps into the ominous artifact room that is shown in the first Conjuring movie, including the terrifying Annabelle doll.
    The evil that’s unleashed when the Annabelle doll is taken out of its cage causes each of the other artifacts to escape and torment main characters Judy, Mary Ellen and Daniela. The movie brought it scene after scene in uniquely terrifying ways. By tapping into the other cursed objects and demonic forces, the movie avoided getting stale in the third Annabelle installment. As a horror fan, it was fun as hell pretty much from start to finish. It was also fairly sweet in the way these movies can be.
    12. Avengers: Endgame
    We’re living through the death of the monoculture. In some ways, that’s perfectly fine. It gives more writers, filmmakers, creative types etc. a chance to create something. It also means more niche stuff, and, ideally, quality untold stories are produced. But it does feel like we’re losing an aspect of pop culture that tied us together socially. We already work more than we used to, spend an inordinate amount of time on social media, shop online, go out less.
    It’s something I worry about, even if sometimes that concern takes the form of “what movies and TV shows over the course of a year can you even reasonably assume someone has seen?”
    Endgame wasn’t the best movie of the year or all that close. It wasn’t the best comic book movie I’ve ever seen. But it was an event that felt genuinely cool to be a part of. Seeing the movie on its opening night at the Historic North Park Theatre on Hertel Ave. in Buffalo was an extremely cool feeling.
    And while I’m against the trend that Marvel has almost singlehandedly started where movie series are intended to go on forever like TV shows with no end in sight, this version pays off if you’re the right age. I was 15 when I saw Iron Man in theatres in 2008. I was 19 in 2012 when I saw the Avengers. And so on and so on. I’m 26 this year, so this felt like a perfect time for an ending. I’m not especially concerned with what comes next in Phase Four of the story. Three phases brought me from 15 to 26, entertained me most of the time and that’s enough. Love Fat Thor, tho.
    11. Into The Spiderverse
    This movie did not come out in 2019, but it was released after I put together my list last year, so it has to be included here. It’s in contention for the best animated movie of the decade and best comic book movie ever. The animation was stunning. The story was original, heartfelt and sweet. John Mulaney and Nicholas Cage were excellent choices for the background Spidermen. Great stuff.
    10. Marriage Story
    *Thinks about how many more people have seen Adam Driver portraying Kylo Ren in a creatively bankrupt Star Wars trilogy as opposed to his dozen or so far better performances in smaller movies*
    *Punches a hole in the wall and collapses into tears*
    9. Booksmart
    I liked Booksmart so much when it first came out that I saw it twice in the same weekend. Of course, I’m a big exception there. I’m not sure whose idea it was to release a borderline-Indie, low-budget teen comedy on Memorial Day weekend against multiple blockbusters, but that person shouldn’t be allowed to make any more decisions.
    One of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, the female Superbad to some extent. The year of Billie Lourd began with her absolutely insane performance she gave in this movie.
    8. Joker
    Ah, it seems that I am cancelled.
    When I heard this was coming out not long after being subjected to Jaret Leto’s piss poor attempt at the character, I could not have been less interested. When I saw the preview, I turned it off halfway through. When the discourse began, I couldn’t have been further from interested.
    At first, the complaints seemed to be either “knowing the Joker’s backstory actively detracts from enjoying him as a villain” and “we’ve had too much Joker of late, stop with all the Joker, man.” I happened to agree with both of those points. But the discourse took a turn toward portraying the film as too dangerous to be seen, which is hilarious as a concept. It caught the tag of being a sacred text for Incels, for some reason. I was sure that it was not worth the trouble, that the 80’s housewife style hysteria was only serving to promote was sure to be a forgettable and dull movie.
    Many people did think that after seeing the movie, but I was not one of them. Far from being perfect or even great, the movie explored resentment between classes better than almost any movie that I’ve seen. Joaquin Phoenix was superb, giving the best performance I witnessed this year. It did borrow too heavily from other filmmakers, especially Scorsese. But the ending was stunning and felt right for both this movie and any kind of work starring the Joker.
    Now, let’s put this character in storage for a couple decades.
    7. Hustlers
    This movie RULED. J-Lo was unbelievable and didn’t look even half her age (50!?). Constance Wu did a great job of drawing in the viewer in to her side and making us understand why she does what she does. Cardi B, Lizzo and Lili Reinhart were fun as secondary characters. We don’t get many good female buddy-crime movies. Here’s to hoping the 2020 brings us more of this.
    6. Us
    In my opinion, Jordan Peele made the best movie of the decade with Get Out. Us isn’t quite that good, but still one of the better horror movies of the decade. While Get Out dealt with racial tensions, especially the way Black Americans can sometimes feel when surrounded by White people, Us explored class issues, also indirectly through a horror-tinted lens.
    Some things I liked: Lupita Nyong’o’s dual performance (which should earn her an Oscar nomination), Winston Duke’s charming dad lameness, Tim Heidecker and Elizabeth Moss being involved at all, “I Got Five On It” being used the way it does, stunning visuals of literally hundreds of corpses, the terrifying underground layer where the tethered people come from and the scene where the family originally meets its counterparts.
    The movie didn’t totally connect the class critique to the story the way Get Out did with race, and the third act didn’t quite have the impact it should have.
    Still: a disturbing movie that will make you think about it for days after finishing it.
    5. Irishman
    I dropped the “Fleabag Priest wasn’t hot” take on my TV list around this spot, so I better unveil another scorcher here: the Irishman was the exact correct length. It needed all that time to tell the story of Frank Sheeran, from union driver to dying old man whose family hates him. Yes, it requires an investment and you do have to pay attention pretty close the entire time to get the full effect. But, shit, make time for it. It’s Scorsese directing DeNire, Pacino and Pesci. Do you think you’re ever going to get this again.
    There’s been literally tons of internet ink spilled on this movie, so I’ll keep it brief. The moment I knew I was watching a masterpiece was near the end of the movie when Sheeran, sporting a walker and hobbled by years of hard living, waits in line at the bank hoping to speak to his daughter, a teller. She glares at him and goes on break. He begs her to come back and gives such an unbelievably sad look, you’re immediately suckered into feeling bad for the boring idiot who killed his best friend not too many scenes back. It’s an incredible achievement of both acting and directing.
    4. Knives Out
    Is anyone in America having a better December than Rian Johnson? While J.J. Abrams is busy making desperate excuses for why he tried to ruin Johnson’s pretty solid “Last Jedi”, Johnson is lavishing in both critical praise and commercial success.
    The film was incredibly cast, especially using Chris Evans, perhaps the most beloved actor in America, as an unrepentant dick. Daniel Craig doing an incredible Southern accent was also fun. Ana d Armas was a revelation as Marta. When you’re not with them, you’re spending time with Jamie Lee Curtis, Katherine Langford, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Michael Shannon, Edi Patterson Jaeden Liberher and Christopher Plummer. Beyond the cast, the writing, plot, directing…it was all nearly perfect. It was made all the more special by the fact that it is an original story. It’s the kind of movie that makes me feel somewhat positive about the future of cinema.
    3. Midsommar
    Part of the reason I love horror as much as I do is it expands upon the variety of feelings movies can draw from a person. Most movies just compel you, entertain you or make you laugh. Some can inspire. But horror can scare you, disturb you, unnerve you, even disrupt your sleep pattern. But Midsommar hit a similar note as Ari Aster’s last film, Hereditary: it fills you with tremendous dread. The movie, nearly three hours long, brings you along on a trip to a rural, borderline cult in Sweden. You get sick of the people you’re spending time with, you start to feel miserable. You want to go home, you want this vacation to end. Eventually, you resign yourself to the terrible fate that awaits you. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. Plenty of horror movies featuring unlikable characters drag on far too long. But Midsommar keeps you compelled, nervous and on-edge while almost nothing happens for long stretches.
    I realize that I’m struggling to explain the feeling that this movie drew from me. I’ve never quite felt that kind of dread while watching a film, not even Hereditary. This was a stunning movie at times, especially near the beginning and end. I will be seeing literally whatever Ari Aster puts out next.
    2. Uncut Gems
    Speaking of movies drawing unique feelings, holy shit. I was on-edge for the more than two-hour run time when seeing my final film of 2019. There was so much I loved about this. The Safdie Brothers did an unbelievable job directing with what seems like difficult circumstances. Adam Sandler was believable as a slimy jewelry dealer/gambling addict in the midst of a divorce. Some of the characters were not really actors, but instead portraying different versions of themselves. Kevin Garnett is here and is exactly how I imagine he’d be in this situation.
    There’s no fat on this movie. Every scene builds on the almost unbearable tension, adds a layer or helps you understand the characters involved. The things doesn’t stop moving at all. The final half-four or so blew me away as much as any stretch in a movie this year. Plus, it takes place in conjunction with an almost completely forgotten 2012 NBA playoff series? Incredible.

1. Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood
Whenever I got down on the state of cinema in 2019 and beyond, the Disneyification of culture or anything like that, I remembered Quentin Tarantino made a decently-high-budget movie starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio and featuring somewhere around 100 notable cameos, secondary characters and extras. Margot Robbie is also a top-billed star, although she isn’t given nearly as much to do. I think she did an excellent job of portraying a rising star who’s in the beginning of everything.
The movie mostly followed the later-in-life journeys of movie star Rick Dalton and his stunt double, Cliff Booth. Unlike Robbie’s Sharon Tate, these two are at the end of their runs, in different ways and for different reasons. That theme is part of the reason this feels unlike any other Tarantino movie. It’s not a violent romp or a triumph or anything of the sort, really. It’s both a send-off to a certain time of Hollywood star and a do-over for a steady riser who was brutally and unfairly kept from what could have been a beautiful career if not for the Mason family.
That’s where the other aspect of the movie comes in. We barely see Charles Manson, but his soon-to-be-famous followers get quite a bit of play, including Dakota Fanning’s Squeaky Fromme, who tried to kill Gerald Ford a few years later. Ultimately they didn’t matter as much as I thought they were going to, hut that was part of the point: taking power away from them and giving it back to Tate, without her even knowing how close she came to being destroyed.
However, the Spahn Ranch scene was probably the aspect of the movie that most stayed with me, all the way from Cliff picking up the hitchhiker to him driving away. Brad Pitt was incredible all the way through. Bruce Dern was hilarious in his brief and surprising appearance. The rest of the Manson family members did an excellent job of setting as suspicious a scene as possible.
There are 100 more reasons I could come up with to explain why I love this movie so much, but I recommend you see it yourself. I guarantee it will make at least two-three hours of your 2020 better.

Best Stuff I Watched in 2019

Television

  1. The Mandalorian

This is a funny show to rank against others on this list.  At times it’s basically just an old-school procedural with some fun mission of the week stuff. It isn’t groundbreaking television in any way however it really does nail a few essential elements of Star Wars.  A really cool, lived-in world that explored the hidden corners of Star Wars.  But also Baby Yoda is as incredible as everyone says he is and for that I couldn’t conceive of leaving The Mandalorian off the list.

  1. Veronica Mars

I was genuinely surprised how much I loved this revived 4th season of Veronica Mars.  This is a show that had to reinvent himself from a shockingly dark teenage noir/soap opera and really look at what it would be like for that beloved character to exist today.  Especially following up on a movie that was exclusively fan service that didn’t add any new layers to the character.  The titular detective was her same funny and adventurous self but with an additional layer of sadness over how little the character had grown since we had seen her in high school.  I genuinely hope we get more seasons with Veronica increasingly becoming the troubled PI she was always destined to be.

  1. Watchmen

There is probably no movie or television show that took more swings at transforming a beloved piece of IP than this “remix” of the beloved Watchmen comic.  As the comic which had centered around the Cold War paranoia of 80s in which it was based gave way to a television adaption focused on race in America.  This sequel to the original masterpiece gave us truly inventive new characters while showing us old ones in ways I never had really thought through.  It without question peaked with its 6th episode and while I don’t think it completely nailed the ending, it nailed enough of the things along the way to make it a worthwhile heir to the Watchmen name.

  1. True Detective

Well, this is a show that has been a bunch of things in honestly a fairly short run.  From the almost universally beloved 1st season, to the uh much less critically acclaimed 2nd to a 3rd season that while never quite as exciting as the 1st may have surpassed it in quality. As an aside, I will defend Collin Farrell’s performance as Ray Velcoro in the 2nd season as one of the decade’s best. The 3rd season dealt with multiple timelines, and hinted at an extended conspiracy that reached back to the 1st season however, in truth what it ended up being about was the way grief and pain extends through generations and how time impacts those wounds.  All of this centered around the incredible performances by Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff as they played these detectives whose lives were forever scarred by their work on one case.  The way they played these men through different decades was truly incredible.

  1. Barry

When Barry’s first season ended, I honestly assumed that would be the end of the series.  It felt like an exceptional short story that had run to its natural conclusion.  Clearly though Bill Hader had other things in mind though as the 2nd season became delved even deeper into the character of Barry and most especially Henry Winkler’s Gene, Sarah Goldberg’s Sally and my favorite Anthony Carrigan’s NoHo Hank.  I can not wait to see where the 3rd season takes the story.  Additionally, the episode “ronny/lily” was probably the single best episode of television this year.

  1. I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson

I really don’t have a ton to say about this show except that it is exceptionally funny.  Tim Robinson came up with a bunch of extremely hilarious sketches and everyone should watch all of them.  If you don’t agree well then, YOU HAVE NO GOOD CAR IDEAS!

  1. Lodge 49

What a unique and incredible television show.  It was recently canceled after two seasons after ending on a cliff hanger and that’s really too bad, but I wouldn’t let that deter anyone from watching it.  It is in a sense the story of a surfer, Dud, who joins a Knights of Columbus type organization in search of meaning in life.  However, it is really much more than that, it’s about what family means and what it means to find a family of your own and the ways modern society prevents us from doing that. It features the character I liked on tv most this year, since Kim Wexler took the year off, in Liz who is Dud’s slightly more responsible sister.  Honestly though I really need a space to talk about what Paul Giamatti did playing the character L. Marvin Metz a truly deranged character where I think I laughed at every single thing he said or did. Please watch Lodge 49, you will not regret it.

  1. Fleabag

A truly great tv show.  I enjoyed the first season of Fleabag, but the 2nd season was really moving and exciting in a way that is truly unique for television.  I’ve never seen another show quite like it and the toxic and beautiful love story between Fleabag and the “Hot Priest” was really special.  The whole cast is really stellar but Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing is what truly elevates the show and I can not wait to see what she will be writing next.

  1. The Righteous Gemstones

There are very few things in this world I consistently enjoy as much as Danny McBride’s television shows and “The Righteous Gemstones” is no exception.  The story of this televangelist family proved to be the perfect place for McBride’s, along with his frequent collaborators David Gordon Green and Jody Hill, unique sense of humor and humanity.  The show featured their greatest creation yet, Uncle Baby Billy Freeman, portrayed by Walton Goggins. His scenes with John Goodman’s Eli Gemstones add real gravity to what at times could feel like a silly comedy.  The show peaks in its 5th episode, an episode-long flashback, and with the performance of the single best pop culture creation this year, “Misbehavin’” by Baby Billy Freeman and Aimee-Leigh Gemstone.  Just watch and be inspired.

  1. Succession

Last year I thought Succession was the best show on television and in its 2nd season it got better.  The show remained just as funny in it’s 2nd go around, but came back this season even darker than ever before.  The cast was equally as brilliant playing the highs and the many many lows of the Roy family as the family attempted to hold off a hostile takeover of their company.  The show has one-liners worthy of Veep while maintaining a human touch that is equally as important.  The show’s most sympathetic figure at points is Tom, a man who is in charge of what is basically Fox News and this is a character I constantly feel deeply for.  There is nothing else quite like it and I’m thrilled we will be able to watch this show again next year and ideally for years to come.

Honorable Mention:

Russian Doll, The Boys, The Good Place, You’re the Worst, GLOW, Veep, Brooklyn 99

 

Movies

  1. The Report

This is a movie that is designed to make you angry and at least for me it succeeds.  It dramatizes the creation of the “Torture Report” in a way that is extremely engaging considering most of the movie is Adam Driver looking at documents.  It’s well worth watching and will make you angry at multiple presidential administrations! Also, I saw 4 Adam Driver movies this year and this was my favorite one.

  1. Under the Silver Lake

I wasn’t really sure if I liked this movie when I first watched it.  It is extremely chaotic and goes in a bunch of extremely strange directions.  However, I was thinking about it for days after and had a visceral reaction to it unlike the other movies I saw this year.  I can’t necessarily recommend it to everyone but if you do watch it you are in for a wild ride.

  1. High Flying Bird

This movie feels like it was manufactured to make me happy, and guess what it succeeds.  A movie directed by Steven Soderbergh, one of my favorite directors, starring Andre Holland (from The Knick), Zazie Beetz (from Atlanta), Melvin Gregg (from American Vandal), Kyle MacLachlan (from Twin Peaks) among others and is about an NBA lockout.  Look there is basically no way I wasn’t going to enjoy this movie but it’s a really smart, interesting movie with a fascinating point of view.  Additionally, the visual style of this movie is really interesting to see as it was shot entirely on an iPhone.

  1. Ford v Ferrari

Just a truly fun time at the movies. This movie is loud and one of the best sports movies to come out in years.  I feel like I’ve already watched it like 15 times on TNT.  Bale and Damon are really great and I have to say as someone who is a giant sport fan who has never understood the appeal of auto racing this movie really explained the skill behind it generally along with the specific talents needed to successfully race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

  1. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

This is probably my favorite ongoing movie series right now.  Just an incredible series of movies that is basically just an ongoing series of truly iconic action sequences.  Really though this movie has everything you would want: Boban, assassin dogs, knives, guns, assassins using swords on motorcycles, John Wick riding a horse and using that horse as a weapon and much more.  Watch the John Wick movies and be entertained.

  1. Ad Astra

As someone who both loves Brad Pitt and is a sucker for space movies, this was clearly in my wheelhouse. It’s meditative at points and might be slow for certain people however the father/son relationship makes it quite soulful.  Also, though the movie might seem slow at points it has a few of the most exhilarating set pieces you will ever see, notably the one that opens the movie.

  1. Uncut Gems

Well, this movie is stressful as can be.  Following Adam Sandler’s Howard Ratner as he attempts to make cash to pay off his debts and make some bets, with a large emphasis on the latter can cause some anxiety.  It is well worth it though, as the reason you are anxious is how fully you are living in Howard’s chaotic world.  Sandler gives the best performance of his career and hey Mike Francesa and KG are good! Also, Julia Fox is going to be a movie star.

  1. Parasite

I knew very little about Parasite going in and it made the experience that much better.  Considering most people probably haven’t seen it I will say it does something that some of the very best movies do, think Get Out or Phantom Thread, where you think you are watching one movie for a period of time and then all of a sudden you are watching another more exciting one.

  1. Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

I honestly believe this movie is Tarantino’s masterpiece.  He’s one of the greatest directors we have but what he does with this movie is add a tenderness that can often be lacking from his other works.  Leo, Pitt, and Robbie are all exceptional as is all the very deep supporting cast.  Just thinking about this movie makes me smile with happiness.  It is a movie that could only have been made by Tarantino and I can’t wait to rewatch it soon.  In multiple incarnations of this list, this movie was first but in the end I think the joy it brings me isn’t quite as meaningful as the emotional journey the next movie brings you through.  Either way please enjoy 4 or 5 whiskey sours tonight in this movie’s honor.

  1. The Irishman

For a while I used to joke that “The Irishman” wasn’t a movie but Martin Scorsese’s secret attempt to bankrupt Netflix through this movie’s ever-escalating budget and runtime.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Instead, we got arguably the greatest director of all time working with many of his long-time collaborators, including Joe Pesci who had to be convinced to come out of retirement, along with some new faces, notably Al Pacino, delivering a film that encapsulates so much of what he does brilliantly.  The movie opens with a shot that is deeply reminiscent of the famous Copacabana shot in “Goodfellas” but in a much sadder frame.  While at times the de-aging technology used can be distracting in the movie’s opening hour you quickly become so deeply engrossed in the story you forget it’s happening.   The film is simultaneously one of the funniest movies to come out this year while also being the saddest one I’ve seen.  As it’s the story of a man who is failing to come to terms with the end of his life and the choices he made that left him there.  It is about a man who destroyed everything he should have cared about and barely even thought through those choices as he made them.

Honorable Mention:

Triple Frontier, Rolling Thunder Revue, Ready or Not, Motherless Brooklyn, Knives Out, Dolemite Is My Name

Special Awards:

Best Visual Poem: The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience

I didn’t know how to classify the Bash Brothers so I decided to rank them according to the category the Lonely Island deemed them to be, a visual poem.  The Lonely Island delivers again with a hilarious pairing of character and theme.  The poem delivers outrageously funny songs and visually and is especially entertaining for those who may have possibly read Jose Canseco’s “Juiced”. But hey who would possibly do that.

Best Movie follow up to a TV Show: Deadwood

It is impossible to talk about the end of Deadwood without talking about the man behind it, David Milch.  Milch is one of the greatest writers in the history of tv and Deadwood is probably his greatest creation.  Deadwood’s final chapter is impossible to look at without seeing it as an autobiographical work by Milch. As the Deadwood movie details the way the show’s co-lead Al Swearengen, battles his body but more so his find failing him in his final days.  Milch’s battle with Alzheimer’s is told in a heartbreaking fashion in this New Yorker piece I have to recommend. Milch is able to deliver Deadwood the finale it deserved as it used the passage of time from its 3rd season finale to give all the characters added gravity.  The finale is beautiful, sad and outrageously funny in the way Deadwood was at its best.  Very few pieces of art will meet mean as much to me as the Deadwood movie will.

Favorite Performance: Martin Lawrence – The Beach Bum

The Beach Bum is basically a hangout movie that is quite fun for most of it’s run time.  However, there is what is probably a 10-minute sequence where Martin Lawrence shows up as a dolphin boat tour guide Captain Wack that is the single funniest part of any movie this year.  Literally everything he says is so outrageously funny that the entire movie is worth watching just so you can fully appreciate those scenes when you get to them.

All the shows I watched in 2019 RANKED

Well, hello friends. I suppose it’s the end of another year. I’m not sure how this happened, but it seems it did. Last year, when I wrote for this procrastination-themed blog, I promised to get a hobby or at least consider the idea, but I didn’t and here we are. I watched 28 shows and 30 movies. It’s late December and I have some takes on said TV and movies
As always, this is a ranking of every show I watched this year.  So, the shows ranked near the bottom aren’t necessarily the worst shows, but something had to be near the bottom. Rankings are based on a combination of how much I enjoyed the work, how good I thought it was objectively and how much is resonated with me. Anyway, hope you enjoy.

  1. Game of Thrones
    I first binged Game of Thrones back in 2014. Back then, there were four seasons to catch up on, and all of them were incredibly good. I never read the books and, at that point, I never paid that close of attention to how far away they were from the source material. I didn’t realize at that point that I had already seen the best of Thrones – a show that, at its best, held its characters to account on their actions, didn’t bullshit and didn’t especially care about how upset the casual fan was about any episode. The show was incredible for years.
    Without getting too much into the intervening years, the show fell off. Still, nothing can compare to this year. From start to finish, it was clear that two years of preparation meant nothing. Benioff and Weiss, for all their success in the earlier seasons, seemingly had no idea what made the show tick. Worse, it seemed they didn’t care. I don’t need to tell you what was wrong with this ridiculous, embarrassingly stupid season of Thrones. But I will tell you this: two incredibly-well-paid men who had spent the past decade on the show didn’t care enough to even attempt to give the show a good send off. The peak of privilege in the TV industry wasn’t enough to get these clowns to care enough to put together six hours over two years that even made sense.
    There are enough rich idiots in everyday life that make life worse for everyday Americans. We don’t need more in charge of our most popular show. Of course, there were some that enjoyed it enough or pointed to how hard it was to finish a show of this magnitude. To either of those type of people I say: hold your leisure time to a higher standard. And to those who played an integral role in ensuring this season was a lazy, cynical mess: go to hell.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8U6kjqLkJQ
    27. 13 Reasons Why
    Two years ago, I ranked the first season of this show last for a variety of reasons. Last year, I also ranked it last and even questioned why I even watched it again. Well, your boy is real bad at learning his lesson. This year, I was surprised at least, in a different way.
    The first season caught hell from the woke arm of social media, and rightfully so. This season seemed to fly under the radar despite even more uhhhhhhhhh problematic themes. The show not only rehabilitated a rapist, but made him a posthumous victim. I’m not necessarily opposed to those ideas, but wow, the balls. This show can barely write coherent dialogue and it thought it was gonna tackle issues in that fashion? You have to respect the audacity.
    26. Scream
    The original movie is one of my favorites. I’m obsessed with the Scream universe to the point where I correctly guessed the killers of the first two seasons of this series. I expected that to be the end of that. I knew when the last season aired in 2016 that they weren’t going to continue with the series and the Brandon James mask.
    After they opted to forgo the third season and switch gears, series producer Harvey Weinstein had that thing happen where it turned out he was a monster in such a profound way that his accusers speaking out started a worldwide trend of abusive men getting some form of comeuppance. The show was on hiatus for years until they decided to air it over three nights this past July. In-keeping with the theme of the movies, the third iteration sucked.
    25. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
    It feels like when I bring up this show to people who don’t like it, they’re disappointed that it doesn’t live up to the standards of Tina Fey’s previous masterpiece, 30 Rock. However, this season didn’t even match up to the standards of the first few seasons of this show, which were very good. On another note, you can’t send off a comedy in a dramatic and a fulfilling way after a total of fewer than 50 episodes. Especially when they’re dumped over a weekend with a year or so between seasons. It’s not earned.
    24. Big Little Lies
    Big Little Lies was an incredible adaptation of a book that was cast perfectly, directed well and put together as well as anything put on TV…in 2017. This season? It had no reason to exist. It was so useless, not even peak Meryl Streep could make me see the point.
    23. Crazy ex-Girlfriend
    As a show I binged over a period of a few months stretching between 2018 and 2019, I can’t say I have a clear idea of when this it fell off, but it certainly did. That’s to be expected, of course, with a show that is made up of a small cast and an even smaller group of writers. But there were certain disappointing elements about the final season, not the least of which was serious diminishing returns when it came to musical sequences. Still, I’m glad I watched the show and I enjoyed the hell out of the first few seasons. Very few shows end perfectly, and this is not the exception.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4owK09kW58
    22. Crashing
    The third season of Pete Holmes’ somewhat-biographically-driven look into the life of an upcoming New York comic will be the last, which is a shame. The show had one more season in it, and needed at least that to complete a coherent arc. This season, at the very least, was funny, weird and worth watching.
    21. Black Mirror
    Anthology shows are always tough to place on this type of list, but Black Mirror’s quality always puts it near the top, regardless. However, they cut back on the total number of episodes for the fifth season, presumably because of the recently-released Bandersnatch movie. The first episode was solid, if operating off a tired premise. The second episode was stunning and compelling and beautiful – among the best the series has produced. The third was…we get it, man. People are on their phones too much. Maybe try being 10 percent more subtle.
    20. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
    I’ve enjoyed the first two seasons of this show, even if they haven’t been all that great. They’ve been fun, built the surrounding universe well and have featured fun side episodes. It occasionally leans too much into actions not have consequences and characters changing motivations, but still works overall. The second season was delightful, but in some ways felt either like an ending or a show unloading the clip entirely too early. I suppose that isn’t a problem for now, at least. It was an enjoyable season regardless.
    19. The Good Place
    I’ve loved the show since it came out about four years ago. But the past year or so, especially since the middle of the third season, I’ve felt the show is coasting on how much the audience loves the characters. It was almost undoubtedly a better show through the first two few seasons, especially the unbelievably good first season. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the show, it’s still very funny. But I can’t say it’s all that groundbreaking or mindblowing anymore, and it certainly hasn’t been as funny as its peak. As for the serious aspects, a bit of subtext helps. It’s tough to build on that mission when the literal goal of “just being good if possible” is stated over and over from the beginning. Still a fun show, though.
    18. A Series of Unfortunate Events
    I read all 13 books and hated the movie that came out in 2004. This show was a much more faithful telling of “Lemony Snicket’s” tale. I don’t have much else to say about it. If you’re a fan of the books, watch it. It’s delightful.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I413MkRV328
    17. Riverdale
    Two years ago, I put Riverdale first on this list and that was deserved, in some way. I can’t say I feel the same way about the first third or so of the fourth season, which occasionally feels like I’m sleepily imagining whatever is happening. The sendoff to Luke Perry was legitimately beautiful, and it stands alone among recent Riverdale episodes. The rest of this season has leaned into the laziness of season three in terms of plot points featuring major efforts coming and going like a swift breeze. But, ya know, it’s still a wild and fun and always surprising time spent with the sexy teens. That’s all it’s meant to be.
    16. Glow
    This show just seems to get broader and more fun every year. Allison Brie and Betty Gilpin are incredible as always as best friends/actors turned female wrestling pioneers. Marc Maron is impressive as Sam, a wrestling manager/struggling writer/imperfect dad/Marc Maron stand-in. The secondary casts is full of color and life, each bringing something either touching or funny or both to the table. The wrestling sequences are always fun, and the emotional moments always hit.
    15. Dead to Me
    I didn’t know anything about this show before it dropped on Netflix, which is an insane reality of TV in 2019. A show with Christina Applegate and James Marsden can come and go with little or no fanfare. The show was devastating at times and funny at others, but always compelling. I enjoyed the hell out of the story and view it as complete. There will be a second season, and much like Big Little Lies, that is completely unnecessary. But at least we can be happy with what we were given the first time around.
    14. Veep
    Veep has a legitimate argument as the best comedy of the decade, so it was tough to say goodbye. This final season did not come easily. First, the show had to switch gears in some ways after the election of Donald Trump in 2016. The standard of ridiculousness in any parody involving the White House has risen considerably. Of course, there was also Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’ battle with cancer that delayed the filming of this final season.
    But in some ways, they nailed it. Seemingly every character was given the sendoff they deserved, and was heard from this season. It didn’t try to change or find a heart. It’s just as cynical as the rest of the series, if not more so. Plus, there was a joke about Peggy Noonan that gave me a coughing fit near the end of one episode. If you haven’t binged this show, do it.
    13. Derry Girls
    Much like many shows made in the United Kingdom, Derry Girls does not have any fat on it. The second season is six episodes, each one filled to the brim with plot and featuring jokes that come at a breakneck speed. You don’t need any more time than that to really feel like you understand each character. Not going to get too deep here, it’s just one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen.


    12. Mindhunter
    I should clarify that Mindhunter is better than some of the shows that will appear ahead of it on this list. I’m almost certain that after rewatching everything, I’d move it up a few spots. But it’s my list and I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy the other 11 shows more.
    That’s not a reflection on the genius of David Fincher, of course. The show is incredibly well-written, and is believable as a period piece. The conceit – two FBI agents with disparate personalities going around the country helping local police departments better understand serial killers – is compelling as hell. This past season focused on the hunt for the Atlanta Child Killer, a case that is fraught with both uncertainty and racial tensions heavy in the air. The direction is nearly perfect and the secondary storylines are the emotional heart of the show.
    11. Euphoria
    Holy shit, this show. I only ever started watching because it was on after Big Little Lies, but it blew that away along with nearly everything I’ve ever watched. The show centers around a group of teenagers at your “average” American high school, focusing primarily on Zendaya’s Rue, a recovering drug addict. Nearly every episode was completely insane. The show actually features all of these things in just eight episodes: a married father meeting transgender teenagers for motel room sex, an angry high school jock disgusted by his father’s infidelity both blackmailing a transgender teenager and an adult who publicly had sex with said jock’s girlfriend while they were on a break, a high schooler beginning a secret career as a cam girl, a girl nearly dying because she’s too depressed to go to the bathroom for more than 24 hours and a sweeping shot across a male locker room featuring an upsetting amount of male nudity, among other things I’m too scared to even mention here.
    10. Stranger Things
    This season was so fun and well done, it made me nostalgic for a time and place that I wasn’t even alive for. The new mall in Hawkins, serving as a backdrop for the events of the season, as well as the location of the season’s inciting incident.
    The cast was great as it has been for the entirety of the show’s run, with Maya Hawke coming on as a welcome addition in Robin, Steve’s ice cream parlor friend. I appreciated that the show didn’t feel pressured to have Robin and Steve end up with each other. Yes, it’s great to get lesbian representation on such a popular and well-regarded show. But it’s also a reminder that high school guys and girls can just have a fun summer together without any romantic interest. Even if that summer fun involves saving their small town from otherworldly monsters and Russian spies.
    9. American Horror Story: 1984
    It’s become an annual tradition for me to put American Horror Story higher than it should be and then promise it’s only because THIS season is the best one since the original. This time, I promise it’s true and I promise I will not say the same next year.
    This year’s season didn’t have Evan Peters for the first time in the AHS run, which added a weird wrinkle, but most of the show’s regulars returned, including the incomparable Emma Roberts. But it was Billie Lourd that impressed as Montana, the aerobics-obsessed sociopath who more or less sets the season’s events into action.
    I can’t say this was actually the ninth-best show of the year, but it was occasionally felt it was tailored specifically for me. Again, I was not alive in 1984, though I understand the general concept. This show also made me nostalgic for a time I never experienced. The characters are so in love with the decade and what it stood for that it made me appreciate a time I always thought seemed awful.
    Unlike most seasons of the show, this one did not get bogged down by going in too many different directions with too few consequences. There were time jumps, but they were coherent and seemed well-planned. Much of the action was heavily influenced by 80’s horror flicks, which was fun. The ending wasn’t dark or pessimistic, it was sort of beautiful in a campy way.
    Also, the following exact line of dialogue was uttered while “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner played in the background.
    “There’s nothing out there for me anymore. The 80’s are over. No one wants to do coke anymore. Fashion is boring now, it’s mostly just flannel. Good luck finding an aerobics class. I don’t want to be out there, Montana. I want to be here, with you.”
    8. Russian Doll
    I was blown away by the emotional response I had to this show. The concept was straightforward: Groundhog Day for a woman that keeps dying on her birthday. Eventually she finds a man who also keeps dying and waking up in the same spot. The show almost immediately has an obnoxious New York quality to it, but one that grows to be charming.
    The way it unfolds after the first episode was stunning and, at times, heartbreaking. By the series finale, I was emotionally wrecked, despite the show being a relatively quick watch with fun characters. Part of this is because Natasha Lyonne was impressive in the starring role. It was nearly perfect all the way through.
    7. Fleabag
    So many people have written so well about Fleabag that I don’t have much to add. The show is incredible and I recommend it to pretty much everyone. Funny, heartbreaking, insightful, beautiful. But I can’t help but feel duped. I was told there was a hot priest and no such character ever appeared. I, a straight man, was confused and shocked by the decidedly-mediocre-looking priest, but I suppose we all have own tastes.
    6. I Think You Should Leave
    This is definitely the show on this list that I spent the most time both watching and quoting in 2019. Not all of the sketches work…but holy shit, like 90 percent of them do. I’m not sure even Chappelle Show fired at that high of a clip.
    The was created by Tim Robinson and the former SNL writer and cast member stars in nearly every sketch as a variety of quirky, weird, aggressive or insane characters, a few times portraying the straight man. ITYSL featured an impressive array of guest stars that ensure that every sketch is as good as it can possibly be. I know more people that watched this show than any other this year, save for Game of Thrones and it strikes me how people choose so many different sketches as their favorite. Baby of the Year, is mine personally, but Honk if You’re Horny, The Car Focus Group, Laser Spine Center or, hell even the whoopee cushion prank. This show was an unbelievable achievement of comedy that I know I’m gonna enjoy for many years.
    5. True Detective
    The first season of this show was one of the best stretches in American television history. The second season tried entirely too hard and ended up confusing and awful and stupid. The third was probably somewhere in-between, though it’s my favorite of the three. Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff were both perfect as this season’s detectives, investigating a case that was both compellingly complex while also being simple in the way human flaws can be.
    The use of dementia to both cloud reality and add a sense of urgency to the show’s 2015 timeline was a masterstroke. The final shot of the season was beautiful and stunning and heartbreaking. This season was sweeter and more grounded than the past few. It felt possible to actually fall in love with the characters on a human level. And while the first season expertly used time jumps to show the evolution of human relationships at the family level, this season did an incredible job of making the viewer wistful for a time they’ve only just been introduced to. At least that’s what the final season did to me.


    4. Big Mouth
    Whenever anyone laments how comedy has been ruined by cancel culture, I’m too busy laughing at the image of a character voiced by John Mulaney donning his dead grandmother’s wig while impersonating her anti-Palestine views just before making out with his cousin, a Florida resident and competitive vaper to react.
    Everything I’ve said about the previous seasons of Big Mouth still applies with the addition of an absolutely stunningly hilarious Florida episode. Plus, the season ended on a genuine bummer and down note that made me feel a way I wasn’t expecting animated puberty comedy to make me feel. Please, for your own sake, binge this show right now.
    3. Barry
    The only way Bill Hader being the leading man and co-showrunner of a hit HBO drama about a hitman could get weirder is if…what? There was a second season that was even better than the first on every level and now you have to question if the Stefon guy from Saturday Night Live is making one of the great dramas in American history? Ah, well here we are.
    This season featured a semi-bottle episode that was among the best on TV this year. It also just continued a story that is unbelievably compelling all the way through. I really can’t believe this is happening either.

    2. Righteous Gemstones
    MAMA TOLD ME NOT TO, I DID IT ANYWAY.
    God damn, this show was a weird and beautiful journey. The show follows a wealthy and popular megachurch family that is at best cynical and, at worst, corrupt as hell. Without giving too much of the plot away, John Goodman and Danny McBride are as good as you’d expect. Adam Devine is very good in his own way. But Edi Patterson and Walton Goggins steal the show as Judy Gemstone and Baby Billy Freeman, respectively.
    For the first four-fifths of the show, the story is a better version of what McBride has done in his previous shows – a flawed or downright rotten, but charming main character gets into and out of shenanigans without many consequences (other things happen as well, this is far from a McBride-centric plot). But a turn takes place late in the season that’s not at all expected. It adds a heart and sincerity to the story, taking this show to another level. I was ecstatic when I learned that this show was going to be made, but I was floored at how much I loved each episode and how beautiful I found the final episode to be. The only thing that could surpass it was the show that aired directly before it on the same network.

     

1. Succession
This show features the best writing on TV by 10 miles. It’s also maybe the funniest show and rivals Mad Men for the most humorous prestige drama of the decade. It features some of the best performances on television, all of which come from relative unknowns or longtime underappreciated actors. It seemed impossible to top the first season, which was among the best of 2018. It featured maybe the funniest and best dramatic episodes on TV.
But in most ways, season two was even better. Since there was no time spent with Logan Roy out of the game, there was no slow start. It kicked ass from start to finish with the stakes visible right away. The season wasn’t just one story or arc, instead featuring a sort of family or company crisis in every episode.
The finale was as remarkable as season one, and perhaps just as unexpected. This is as close as TV gets to being perfect.
There’s a school of thought out there, even echoed by the most insufferable Democratic presidential candidate, that Succession is tough to watch because there is no obvious good guy. Logan Roy is an irredeemable villain and each of his children and colleagues have revealed themselves to be outright monsters or amoral to some degree. There could, of course, be an argument made in favor Cousin Greg or, if you’re very forgiving, Tom as a potential hero.
But that type of thinking not only fundamentally misses the point of the show, it’s objectively an insane and backward way of engaging with art. If the characters in Succession are so evil and disgusting in their lack of regard for those around them that it makes it impossible for you to want to watch in a time when there is more good television than ever, fine.
But who was the good guy in the Sopranos? Are you telling me you were, what, rooting for Skylar White in Breaking Bad? Were you disappointed that Selina Meyer continued to have a successful political career in Veep?
My best advice for anyone who has such a concern is to stop thinking about the show in terms of good and bad guys and to enjoy this masterpiece before the actual Roys of the world ban any art that depicts the rich in an unflattering light.
And if that doesn’t work, well, what’s the succinct phrase that Logan Roy is so fond of saying?

In the Future

When I was younger, I had (and still have) an odd group of friends. That was fine because I was weird too. While a lot of kids our age were drinking outdoors and talking to girls, we would usually hang out in my friend Charlie’s basement.

A lot of those nights went in a bunch of fun directions, especially if the right group was down there. I remember one night we started making up a bunch of things that were going to happen in the future. It basically followed the format of the “In Soviet Russia” jokes, which were before our time. In the future, clothes will wear you, etc. One particularly terrifying image came from the line “in the future, hair will get human cuts.”

Anyway, we had a good laugh at something no one else would have found funny and eventually I had to go home. Since I had moved out of South Buffalo, I had to stay at my grandma’s house on nights like this. When I got back there, I walked in the kitchen to get a drink from her very early model of refrigerator-freezer water dispenser. I grabbed one of the plastic cups out of the cupboard, all of which seemed to come from a lawn fete or fundraiser between 1992 and 2001.

When I was filling up the cup, I got a call from my cousin, Quinn. After I’d left, they came up with one so good they couldn’t wait to tell me.

“In the future, the world won’t be ending, it will be just beginning.”

So, that’s complete non-sense and isn’t remotely deep. I knew that then and I’m even more sure of it now. But as I started to ponder it and drink my water, I felt an unbelievable rush of calmness move through me. For some reason, thinking about that line makes me feel briefly better.

In the first week of October, the IPCC (UN panel on climate change) released a report warning citizens of the world that we only had about 10-12 years to reduce carbon emissions before it was too late. They also said we’d be facing major climate catastrophes by 2040 if we continued on our current pace. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

While the entirety of this century has provided pretty good evidence that global warming is real, the past few years have really nailed that point home. Hurricanes Harvey and Maria were among the worst in American history and happened as the forest fire situation in California was becoming untenable. That continued into this year as 2018 surpassed 2017 as the worst year for wild fires in the history of the Golden Coast.

The same week that the IPCC released their report, Hurricane Michael made landfall in Florida. It was brutal, quick and devastating. It was, by any measure, one of the most intense and destructive hurricanes in American history. It destroyed entire towns, it killed 60 people, it ripped the roofs off of schools. Do you even remember it? Did more people hear about this, or Kanye West meeting with the president? (which happened the same day). Major hurricanes are mass shootings now; events that would have resonated with us for the rest of our lives had they occurred in the 1990’s now come and go with startlingly little concern. We, as a nation, do not care.

Global warming has always been more terrifying than any other issue facing America. Despite the wailing of hysterical conservatives in the Obama era, only climate change and nuclear war are existential threats to America.

But things have gotten scarier and more hopeless and certainly more dire in the past few years. Last year, there was an article on the long-term effects of Global Warming in The New Yorker or New York Magazine, I don’t remember. It described all the ways climate change would be so much worse than we think: massive wars over water sources, people near the equator melting from the inside out, massive refugee crises and inevitably reactionary responses to that in developed nations.

This year’s report blows all of that away. I always assumed I’d live in a country that would steadily, if unevenly improve over the course of my life. Arcs of history, bending toward justice, things of that nature. 2018 was the year I doubted that for the first time. It’s been almost three months since that report was released and nothing has changed, aside from the rhetoric.

If you’re 50-and-older and mostly selfish, you don’t have much of a reason to worry. You will not personally be affected by this. But even so, the lack of concern by so many in power feels like gas lighting more than anything. A Green New Deal being too much, too soon? HOW? We’re talking about the potential end of human life on Earth!

I’m becoming more and more sure that we won’t begin to try to handle this until it’s too late, until after Americans have been personally hurt in large numbers by a catastrophe that cannot be blamed on anything but Global Warming. Even then, who knows?

Considering the trajectory of the political situation in this country in the past years and decades, frankly, I don’t have much faith in anything right now. But you can kick the can down the road on pretty much any issue. Economic inequality, healthcare, gun control, regulation. All of those can continue to be problems until we decide they’re not. Global Warming is not going to play by our rules and it’s not going to wait for us to get our shit together. It’s coming, much faster than we thought and in much more terrifying ways, whether we’re ready or not.

I have a hard time convincing myself that this will all turn out OK. Maybe it will. I mean, I’ve certainly seen things happen that I never thought I would in my short 26 years here. I know miraculous turnarounds are possible. But I can’t ignore probabilities, and I know what is more likely to happen than not.

The worst part here is individual choice doesn’t really matter, the decisions are happening above our pay grade. The damage is done by a very small group of people that happen to run pretty much run the entire world. All I can do is vote for the right people, put pressure on those in power, maybe show up to some protests. And we have to try to believe we can do this, that there is a possibility we can turn this around. We can’t give in to pessimism, even if there’s as much evidence for that as there is global warming. We have to imagine a future for ourselves that doesn’t involve death and hatred and ecological disasters.

In the future, the world won’t be ending, it will be just beginning.

Best Stuff I watched in 2018

Unlike Taylor who produced separate lists of all the movies and tv shows he watched this year, I am sticking to top 10 lists in each category.

Television: 

Unrelated to any of these shows but I watched Justified for the first time this year and want to give it a special shoutout as both a great show and as a show that I think basically every television show could learn some really valuable lessons from, now moving on to my top 10 list.

10. Survivor

I have no doubt in my mind that I have watched more episodes of Survivor than any other television show.  I just love this show that somehow keeps producing really solid seasons year after year.  This year produced two really solid seasons with two really solid brand new casts and I watched every second of it.  Survivor is funny since it’s without question it has the highest ratings of any show I put on this list while also being the show that generated the least amount of conversation about it.

9. The Good Place

For most of the year, I thought I was going to put The Good Place higher since I thought the back half of season 2 was excellent.  However, I think the show has slightly slowed down in season 3 hence the fact that it is 9.  The show still continues to be incredibly funny, and inventive with its awesome cast.  Also, I am fairly certain Blake Bortles is mentioned more frequently on this show than on Sportscenter which is an accomplishment of its own.

8. American Vandal

This show continued to be the greatest high school drama ever created. The concept around it is still insanely silly but the show perfectly nails the crime doc spoof format while being much greater than the sum of its parts.  This season wasn’t as funny as the first one but the finale turns the show into a perfect dissection of growing up in today’s culture from a viewpoint of total empathy.

7. Barry

Bill Hader is an insanely good comedic and dramatic actor who in Barry puts forth a performance that is built on his character’s inability to act. Henry Winkler is delightful as his acting coach and really the entire cast is really great.  The way the show slowly picks away at the real empathy you feel towards Barry as the season progresses is a sight to behold.

6. Better Call Saul

No one is consistently better at making television than the Breaking Bad team.  They are amazing at just making the most mundane tasks feel interesting, the peak of this is when this season there was a long montage that basically consisted of two characters brushing their teeth over an extended period of time.  I would have put it slightly higher but I do think the show missed the presence of Michael McKean’s Chuck.

5. Killing Eve

This tale of an assassin and a spy hunting each other obsessively was mostly just a lot of fun.  Jodie Comer as Villanelle is one of the most exciting performances on television all year as a character that at times can come across as someone having the time of their life, a petulant child, the most terrifying human on this planet and sometimes multiple of those feelings simultaneously.

4. Homecoming

This show was visually inventive and extremely unique. The show was built around Julia Roberts but I could watch Bobby Cannavale chew the screen all day long.  Additionally, I am extremely into a drama with half-hour episodes.

3. Atlanta

This is just a really great show that on any given week can be anything it wants to be.  On back to back weeks, the show had the episodes, “Barbershop” and “Teddy Perkins”.  Barbershop is just pure comedy throughout and the character Bibby was just pure joy.  Teddy Perkins still has me completely freaked out and I’m still extremely scared of Donald Glover’s whiteface.

2. Little Drummer Girl

I was shocked at how much I loved this show.  While I love spy stories and thrillers, this mini-series based on a John le Carré novel has stuck with me more than I was anticipating.  On the surface, this seems to be a pretty familiar spy story with a focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a conflict I still remain woefully uneducated on. When you delve in though this becomes a story about political identity and what it means to believe in something and actually act on those beliefs, on what it means when what you do contradicts what you profess to believe.  It’s a show that’s held together by a fantastic performance from Florence Pugh as Charlie, a character than when examing her actions should come across as unlikeable but is rendered totally sympathetic by Pugh.

1. Succession

About halfway through Succession’s first season, I realized I was watching a special show.  While I loved the first few episodes, the show ascends to a different level when Brian Cox’s Logan Roy, who had been somewhat sidelined for a bit early, fully integrates himself into the fold of the show.  At this point Succession’s first season became something that can compare to any other first season of television in history.  This is a show that was funnier than any comedy this year while having higher dramatic stakes than any other show on television.  I understand if people don’t want to watch another show about a bunch of rich assholes, but there are no rich assholes like the Roy Family.  If you attempt to disagree with me on this ranking be prepared for me to say this afterward.

giphy

Movies:

I saw more movies that were released this year than I have in any in other and by quite a margin (40 this year to be exact), thank you MoviePass, and as a result, it was quite difficult putting together a top 10 list.  While I felt there was a pretty clear gap between my top 6 movies filling out the rest of my top 10 was quite a debate as I thought there were many movies of similar qualities in that tier.  Thus some honorable mentions in no particular order:

Den of Thieves, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Game Night, The Favourite, The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter, Black Panther, The Old Man and the Gun, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, Vice, First Man

10. Beirut

Look I’m probably overrating this movie because I love the genre, 90’s style spy thriller, and I love Jon Hamm. On the other hand, the genre parts of this movie are really well executed and god damn man as The Ringer’s Chris Ryan said about this movie it is basically Don Draper: Hostage Negotiator and the reality is I ask for little else from movies I watch. Also, you get to see Hank from Breaking Bad where this ridiculous wig for most of the movie, which is uh… something.

x198

9. BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee is one of the best directors on the planet and while Black Klansman isn’t his best movie, it is a great showcase of his talents.  While there are some moments that feel a bit on the nose the combination of his directorial flashes with a stellar cast makes this one of the best movies of the year

8. The Death of Stalin

Veep (Soviet Edition).  A dark comedy about Stalin’s death sounds like a pretty terrible idea, but coming from the minds that gave us Veep it turns out to be an excellent one.  Somehow this movie perfectly encapsulates both the horror and absurdity of living under Stalin.

7. Sorry to Bother You

This movie has the single best twist of any movie I’ve seen this year and when it is revealed becomes um, quite a different movie than you were expecting to see.  I love Lakeith Stanfield and would watch many more movies with him as the lead.  I really don’t want to say too much about it but people should definitely watch it is highly entertaining and goes in a quite unexpected direction.

6. Roma

I was prepared to not like this movie.  A black and white movie about a maid/nanny set in 1970s Mexico isn’t exactly a concept that grabs my attention.  However, this movie just has a way of pulling you in and there is a sequence in the middle that is so heartbreaking and so well executed that I can’t speak highly enough of the film.

5. Widows

In a year full of heist movies this one was the best.  This movie works on some level as a deconstruction of the heist genre, with much of the attention going towards planning around the heist as to the heist itself but it also puts together a really great heist with some really great twists.  Viola Davis is as commanding a presence as exists in film and the rest of the cast lives up to her star talent.  There is also a subplot about Chicago politics in this movie that I would have watched a whole movie about additionally.

Also since I’m talking heist movies I want to take a second to shout out Den of Thieves, a movie that while not quite worthy of the top 10 is probably the movie that surpassed my expectations the most this year.  It is a fairly boilerplate heist movie in some scenes but it was just very well executed on all fronts, except the need to entirely cut Gerard Butler’s family from the movie which really dragged the movie down.  Its trailer also produced an all-time great gif in a line that was cut from the movie.

Addicted to Heists

4. A Star is Born

I can’t believe how much I actually love this movie. On the surface, this movie costars Bradley Cooper as a first-time director, who also has to learn how to play the guitar, and also makes his voice sound like Sam Elliot and Lady Gaga, a singer who is now for her theatricality asked to give an extremely grounded dramatic performance.  This sounds like a disaster waiting to happen and instead it is a truly great movie.  Every performance in this movie is great and the sequence leading up to and through the performance of Shallow might be the single best moment in any movie this year.

3. Mission Impossible: Fallout

I can’t say this movie has a great story, great acting or impeccable dialogue, but what I can say about it is it’s just really fun.  On some level, the stakes seem lower than many of the other movies on this list because the plot isn’t entirely coherent, but on a separate level, the stakes are actually much higher since Tom Cruise is going to die making one of these movies one day.  The movies take full advantage of this fact since there are multiple set pieces in the movie that are better than literally every other set piece in any movie this year.  Also, Henry Cavill is a perfect fit in this universe as signified by the scene where he reloads his arms like guns in the middle of a fight.

giphy-2

2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

These guys are just really good at this. The Coen Brothers are the best directors on this planet and as a result, almost everything they make has a tendency to be spectacular.  This movie divided into 6 short stories that are only held together through the theme of death in the old west allows the Coen’s to show off all of their gifts.  My personal favorite is the Tom Waits segment but I’ve talked to multiple people each of who think their own favorite is the obvious favorite so this movie is special.

1. Gotti

Ok… Not really but I do need to mention that Travolta’s Gotti deserves some consideration as the first openly pro-gangster movie I have ever seen.  Other movies have glorified the life of a gangster, this movie just comes right out and says John Gotti was a good dude who was screwed over by rats and the government.  I was glad I got to experience it because beyond the moral themes it is one of the most incoherent movies I’ve ever seen.

1.  Annihilation

This movie contains two of the strangest and most disturbing scenes/images I’ve seen in any movie.  The first is the single most terrifying creation I have ever seen in any movie, the bear for those who have seen the movie.  The 2nd is basically the entire lighthouse sequence which is simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.  I wish I got to see a movie like this every year, but Alex Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina is a unique creation.  Annihilation uses the forces of its cast to create this amazing sci-fi landscape to explore the depths of humanity.  It is the only movie I saw in theatres twice this year and I would recommend that everyone check it out.

giphy-1

Stay Hungry My Friends

 

My Favorite movies of 2018

I watched 26 TV series and 28 movies that came out in 2018 and honestly that feels like too much. It doesn’t even count shows and movies that didn’t come out this year or things I rewatched. I could really stand to read more or like go to the gym or volunteer.

But since that’s not what I did in 2018, I’ll try to make myself useful another way. I’ll let all my good friends know what to watch and not to watch when they’re catching up on the year that passed. I’m going to rank all of the movies and TV shows because I’m an employed sports writer and rules are rules.

I ranked the TV shows yesterday, so let’s get to the movies. There are spoilers, of course.

  1. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I’m a huge fan of the Jurassic Park universe. I think the original is one of the great movies in American history and I’ve probably seen it 200 times. I even like Jurassic World, despite its lack of originality. But I was nervous about this one before it even came out. The previews looked terrible and the early reviews confirmed that. I waited about a month, but after seeing it, I wish I waited longer. It was bad in a way that infuriated me. There’s an almost hour-long stretch of the movie where the dinosaurs are barely shown. There are HUMAN CLONES now too. It was offensively stupid and mostly dull. Stop making these movies.

  1. Tomb Raider

I saw this at the beginning of the year and pretty much remember nothing about it, which is something I have in common with most Americans. I just remember that Jimmy McNulty (from The Wire) was like an explorer/archeologist and I gotta say, I don’t but it.

  1. The Nun

The Conjuring series has generally produced some pretty good and fun and interesting movies. Annabelle: Creation was terrifying and interesting. These spinoff movies mostly explore angles from the first two movies. This one followed the journey of a nun and priest to an old church in Romania. It wasn’t bad, but the scares were mostly generic and clichéd and the ending action scenes were not impressive. The Nun was such a terrifying character and it feels like they underutilized her.

  1. Bohemian Rhapsody

It’s been well-documented that most of the movie was inaccurate and that kind of ruined it for me. I don’t really understand what the point of making a biopic if it’s mostly going to be stuff that didn’t happen. It definitely wasn’t aimed at making it more interesting. But if you’re looking for two hours of Queen’s greatest hits, this is at least good for that.

  1. The Meg

This should have been the dumb-fun summer movie of 2018 but it wasn’t nearly dumb or ridiculous or fun enough. The movie was definitely missing something casting-wise. There just weren’t enough personalities to lighten things up. The writing wasn’t strong either, which hurt the fun aspect too. But the plot could have dialed up the crazy more than it did. It’s a story about an ancient giant shark from the bottom of the lowest part of the ocean. Go nuts, have fun with it.

  1. Crazy Rich Asians

This movie was unique for a few reasons. There are basically never almost entirely-Asian casts in any movies, so that was important. Also, there aren’t many movies that explore this particular part of the world and the tension between the rich and poor. It’s good and important and worthwhile to learn about other cultures, especially in the form of a movie like this. I’m glad I saw this movie. With that being said, the story didn’t do much for me. I’m not much of a romantic comedy guy, and I didn’t find the movie that funny anyway.

  1. Deadpool 2

I didn’t really like Deadpool 2 as much as everyone else. But I thought this one was really funny, the brief sequence where he puts together and Avengers-type squad especially. But it was also…like genuinely touching? I’m still confused about that part. It was darker than I expected, just in that you don’t generally get a “I just want to die” storyline in a superhero movie. This is a strange time we live in.

  1. Ant Man and The Wasp

Paul Rudd! Michael Pena! These movies are fun, even if you’re pretty sure where things are going most of the time. It’s worth seeing for sure.

  1. A Futile and Stupid Gesture

If you haven’t seen this, it’s a Netflix-exclusive Biopic on Doug Kenney, who is the founder of National Lampoon. I had never heard of Kenney and had no idea how important he was to the evolution of comedy in the 1960’s and 70’s. It’s heartbreaking in the way these stories usually are, but it left me with a good feeling overall.

  1. Incredibles 2

The first Incredibles movie came out when I was in sixth grade, but I didn’t feel any less in the target audience this time around. A lot of kids movies pride themselves on being “fun for all ages” but they so rarely are. It was funny and charming and endearing and the action sequences are legitimately great. They really should make three or four more of these.

  1. Super Troopers 2

Speaking of sequels that we waited entirely too long to get, this one was fun. Rob Lowe was a welcome addition as the mayor a small town in Canada that the crew was now in charge of policing. It was funny in the way the first one was, which is all you can ask.

  1. The First Purge

I’ve generally enjoyed the Purge movies, but this one was better than the first three. It helps that it was shot in my beloved hometown, but it was really good besides that. It tells the story of the first purge, which is obvious from the title. As you might expect, the purge started as a way to control the population. It was initially a failure and had to be moved along by a corrupt and secretive government movement. The climax of this movie is basically a group of poor, black Americans defending themselves from a racist mercenary group fighting in the name of a reactionary controlling party. So, it had some political overtones you could say.

  1. Avengers: Infinity War

I’m not a Marvel stan, but I have seen almost all of the movies. This is the first one that I’ve ever felt even a little emotionally attached to. It occurred to me that I saw Iron Man in theatres in 2008, which is a whole god damn decade ago. Now that we’re near the end of this run of movies, I’m starting to appreciate the movies more than I have. This movie was emotional throughout, especially the relationship between Thanos and Gamora. The final scene of the movie was remarkably shot and felt like something I’d never seen before.

  1. Creed 2

Yes, the trajectory of this movie was completely predictable and yes, it wasn’t so different from the first iteration of Creed. It was not nearly as good of a movie. But it was still really, really good. Michael B. Jordan is incredible and Sylvester Stallone might be better now than he was in the originals. Tessa Thompson is a better girlfriend/fiancé character than you generally get in boxing movies. The Drago story line was significantly more heartfelt than I expected.

  1. Veronica

This movie had a moment for about a week in the summer, but for those who don’t remember it’s a Spanish-language horror movie that appeared on Netflix. In some ways it was your typical demonic possession movies, but it had its own twists. It was disturbing and scary and weirdly heartbreaking.

  1. Blackkklansman

There are very few unknown true stories quite like this: a black police officer going undercover to join the KKK with the help of his white, Jewish coworker. The casting here was incredible. John David Washington, Adam Driver and Topher Grace were incredible in their respective roles. Grace in particular was a fantastic choice to play KKK leader David Duke. He somehow made him less likeable while also insulting the real-life Duke. The movie shuffles off its happy ending with scenes from Charlottesville before the end credits, which made me leave the theater in rage tears. It’s an incredible affecting final scene.

  1. Vice

I liked this movie more than most people did, it seems. But I really wanted to like it more. I love Adam McKay’s work, I think highly of Christian Bale as an actor and I really loved the idea of America getting a clear picture of just how evil Dick Cheney and those around him were. Pretty much everyone in this movie was fantastic in a really grotesque way. Steve Carrell, Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell. Allison Pill was very good as Mary Cheney. Lily Rabe played Liz Cheney, Dick’s other daughter. I mostly recognized her from her role as a nun in the second season of American Horror Story. The nun is possessed by Satan and commits rape and murder before being killed. But even that character wasn’t as evil as most of the characters in this movie.

  1. Christopher Robin

This one was basically the opposite of Vice. It was sweet and funny and enjoyable. The perfect movie if you need to feel good about the world for two hours.

  1. Love, Simon

Despite the strides we’ve made as a country in the past decade, we really still haven’t gotten enough stories about the process of coming out. This shows why even a healthy and well-liked kid from a loving family with great friends and a seemingly welcome environment might have a hard time coming out. In that way, it told a story that we hadn’t heard enough. Also, it was really funny. Tony Hale was great in a supporting role and all of the young actors were solid too. This was a really nice show to watch.

  1. Searching

I don’t remember this getting much buzz, which is odd because I thought it was really good. The entire movie was shot through computer screens and web cams. It follows the story of a father looking for his missing daughter and the twists and turns he goes through in the process. It was a really remarkable movie.

  1. A Star is Born

I did not think I was going to like this movie when I saw the preview. I knew nothing about the three previous iterations of this movie and for the most part, couldn’t care less about romance in movies. But this story seemed so real to me, partially because of the honesty of Jackson Maine’s addiction. I believed the main characters were in love and I was blown away by how incredible Lady Gaga’s performance of Shallow was. The ending is aimed to destroy the viewer and it does exactly that.

  1. Black Panther

You really don’t need me to tell you about Black Panther. But I’ll say that I don’t remember the last time a movie was this ubiquitous in culture. The soundtrack, the characters, the jokes, the gestures. It was a delight.

  1. Halloween

The original, 1978 Halloween is easily my favorite horror movie of all time and maybe my favorite movie in general. None of the follow-ups are nearly worthy of being associated with the original. This was not as good as the original, but it was still a hell of a movie. Myers is no longer slow and patient. He knows he doesn’t have much time before he’s caught or killed or tracked down so he doesn’t waste. Time. He kills as many people as he can in completely gruesome ways. It was creative and disgusting and compelling. There was definitely something to be said about three generations of women fighting and defeating Michael Myers, at least for now. Judy Greer, who plays the daughter of Laurie Strode, provided my favorite movie moment of the year when she pretends she can’t shoot Myers as a way to bait him to coming to the basement then quickly changes expression and whispers ‘got ya’ as she shoots him twice in the chest. I really loved this movie.

  1. Eighth Grade

I’ve been a fan of Bo Burnham since he was just playing the piano and singing dirty songs. The fact that he was able to direct a movie in his 20’s and it was THIS good blows me away. Eighth grade sucks for everyone, but I really only know how it sucked for me personally. This gave me a different perspective. Elsie Fisher plays an eighth-grade girl, who doesn’t have many friends but basically only expresses herself through her YouTube Channel. It was about being in middle school in this pretty unique time in history. It’s about being lonely in an age where it feels like no one else is lonely but everyone is.

  1. Unfriended: Dark Web

If you saw Unfriended and skipped the sequel, I can’t blame you. You’re also probably confused about why this is so high. While the first Unfriended explored the idea of shooting a movie over Skype through paranormal means, this one was more grounded in reality. It follows a group of 20-somethings doing a game night over Skype. The main character, Mattias, takes a laptop out of the lost and found of his local coffee shop and soon discovers it’s loaded with hidden files. That leads him to discovering a bevy of disturbing videos that appear to be kidnapped girls. The original owner of the laptop is able to contact Mattias and wants it back, bad enough that he’s willing to kill to get it. The story unfold from there and you start to understand the scope of the network of people who are involved with these kidnappings.

It affected me more than any movie I saw this year. Horror is my favorite genre and, as you can probably guess from what I wrote about Halloween, the really messed up stuff doesn’t really bother me. But my stomach was in knots the entire second half of the movie, I almost wanted to get up and leave. I felt numb leaving the theater. It would probably ruin the movie to get into too much detail, but suffice it to say it showed off a very real and very 2018 horror.

  1. A Simple Favor

I had no expectations going into this movie, and like Searching, I heard almost nothing about it after. But it was incredibly fun and compelling all the way through. It goes in some bizarre directions that come out of nowhere. Anna Kendrick is adorable at first, and then surprising and then just really compelling. Blake Lively was stunning and terrifying. This movie deserved so much more than the recognition it got.

  1. A Quiet Place

Hey that funny prank guy from The Office directed one of the best movies of the year. A Quiet Place starts with an incredible pitch: monsters have taken over the world, but they are blind and can only find and kill you if you make noise. So you have to be quiet constantly all the time forever. Any noise can and will get you killed. Almost everyone in the world is dead, but Jon Krasinski’s family is one of the rare exceptions. Oh, and the mother of the family the movie is following is pregnant. On one hand, it’s a story of a father trying to raise a teenage daughter, a young son and a baby in an unbelievably difficult environment. But it’s also a fascinating apocalypse movie. It creates so much tension for nearly the entire time before an incredibly riveting finale. It’s an incredible watch that should get Best Picture consideration.

1.Hereditary

I don’t know that this was actually the best movie of the year, but like I said, I love horror. This was one of the most interesting, weird, disturbing and well-made horror movies in years. As has been stated, the movie deals with grief and not just at a service level. The entire movie is draped in sorrow from the lighting to the dialogue to the set design to the characters. Not to spoil it, but there’s an event early in the movie, a tragedy that sets the stage for everything that comes next. It’s stunning and disturbing and upsetting and you never really move on from it. It changes the characters instantly and their respective demises unfold because of it. There are dream sequences that serve both to reveal some truths and also create confusion.

It wasn’t a perfect movie. The ending left something to be desired. But you definitely felt something watching it. It was beautiful. You probably won’t hear a lot of people describe it that way, but it’s true. It’s beautiful because it’s so honest and so real, even in a very unreal story line. The characters scream and cry and hurt and resent each other in a way you don’t usually see portrayed in movies. Being alive hurts sometimes. There are so many ways the lives we want can be taken from us and the lives we have built can be destroyed. Hereditary showed us the pain that only comes when the worst happens, even if that wasn’t totally the point of the movie.

Photo courtesy of AMC

The Best TV Shows of 2018

I watched 26 TV series and 28 movies that came out in 2018 and honestly that feels like too much. It doesn’t even count shows and movies that didn’t come out this year or things I rewatched. I could really stand to read more or like go to the gym or volunteer.

But since that’s not what I did in 2018, I’ll try to make myself useful another way. I’ll let all my good friends know what to watch and not to watch when they’re catching up on the year that passed. I’m going to rank all of the movies and TV shows because I’m an employed sports writer and rules are rules.

This first one will just be the TV shows. We’ll get to the movies later. There are spoilers, of course.

  1. 13 Reasons Why

When I did this last year, I ranked season one of 13 Reasons Why last for a variety of reasons, but two above all else: it felt gross and it wasn’t fun to watch a show about a teenage girl who killed herself. But, like the real smart guy that I am, I watched the entirety of season two over a weekend in May and regretted it the entire time. It was really more of the same, trying to make a fun and compelling mystery out of a fictional girls’ intense pain. Not a fun watch. Anyway, I’ll see you here next year to discuss season three.

  1. Jessica Jones

I enjoyed season one of Jessica Jones more than any other iteration of the Marvel Netflix shows. But this season makes me think I really just enjoyed David Tennant’s take on Kilgrave. This season felt like it went on forever. Every character is either dull or completely insufferable. I’m also not a huge fan of the overall feel of the Marvel TV universe. It’s unnecessarily dark in a way it doesn’t really earn.

  1. Saturday Night Live

I’ve been more of an SNL defender over the years than most people. I think, even when the cast is not great or the political stuff misses, the show has generally had several funny sketches every week. That changed this year while the cold open transformed from cringe-worthy to one of the worst attempts at comedy I’ve ever seen.

  1. Arrested Development

I watched this whole fifth season and remember almost nothing about it. For a show that was so memorable in its first three seasons and is still quoted constantly almost 15 years later, that’s surprising. It probably should have stayed dead.

  1. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I have no idea what the point of breaking up the fourth season into two parts was. Whatever the reasoning, it made what has generally been a great show feel cheap and unmemorable. Hopefully the second half makes up for it.

  1. South Park

Like Saturday Night Live, I’ve watched and defended South Park long after most of the reasonable fans of the 2000’s checked out. Even when the show stopped having a meaningful points to make, it remained funny, at least in my opinion. But this year was devoid of the really ambitious stuff that made the show so fun to watch in the past. The writing has slipped and the half-serialized storyline makes it less interesting to follow. It’s been 22 seasons, maybe this shouldn’t go on forever.

  1. Westworld

I really liked the first season, despite the fact that it had some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever seen in a prestige TV show. This season felt like the creators didn’t have much of a plan. The non-linear storylines went from creating interesting tension and fun twists to making it impossible to follow the storyline without a movie homicide detective level obsession with the details. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), who was the most interesting and well-acted character in the first season, became repetitious and dull, mostly just giving monologues to no one in particular.

19 Crashing

Not liking the second season of a show as much as the first is becoming kind of a trend here. I wouldn’t say this was bad, I enjoyed it for the most part. My biggest issue was with the Pete Holmes character, who become infinitely less likable this season. It was harder to relate to him and, thus, harder to root for him. But I have faith it’s gonna come around in the third season.

  1. Evil Genius

This was the only docu-series I put on here, but I felt like I had to include it. It covers the story behind a man who robbed a bank in Erie, Pennsylvania with a bomb around his neck. The bomb exploded and killed him and the police were at first unable to get the full story behind the incident. This covers the story of the man and woman who organized the robbery and what became of them. This happened in 2003. I live an hour and a half away from Erie and I had no idea.

  1. Trailer Park Boys

This was the final season with Johns Dunsworth, who died just before it was released. There was a touching tribute to him at the end of the season. So many characters have left the show over the past 5-10 years and it has continued to truck on. This one, however, feels impossible to move on from. If you like the show, watch this season. It’s a fitting send-off to Mr. Lahey.

  1. F is For Family

I really enjoyed the first two seasons of this show and this one was just as good. They brought in some new characters and added some wrinkles to the existing ones. I don’t have much to say about it, it’s just a fun watch.

  1. Narcos: Mexico

While the first season of the original Narcos was like a moving Wikipedia article, this version was just better TV. The set pieces are incredible, the acting is better than any other season. Michael Pena and Diego Luna outshine everyone else. It’s a fascinating story that details how and why we have the relationship to drugs and Latin America that we do.

  1. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I tore through the first three seasons of this show and have, so far, really enjoyed season four. What started as a pretty light musical comedy has tackled mental illness, suicide, prison and privilege. But more than anything, West Covina is just a really fun place to spend some time.

  1. Glow

The show seemed to have a much better understanding of what it was in the second season. It leaned more on Marc Maron and the actual wrestling story line aspects of the show while also showing us more of the background on the supporting players. Allison Brie is one of the most-talented actresses on any show right now.

  1. Black Mirror

It wasn’t as good as some of the previous seasons, which I would blame partially on doing more episodes and partly on a focus on being more positive. Some of that stuff worked, but not in the same haunting way that the first three seasons did. There’s a lot of joking on Twitter about the “what if technology, but bad?” feel of the show, but that stuff really worked and is genuinely terrifying.

  1. Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Like nearly everyone else has said, it wasn’t as good as the first season. But it was still a really fun watch. The show takes Midge to Paris and all over the East Coast. It sets the stakes for what her choosing this type of career will mean to her and her family. And even when the show slows down, Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein and Tony Shalhoub are entertaining enough to make it worth watching.

  1. American Horror Story

This was the best season of the anthology/non-anthology show since the first (Murder House). The show had been hit and miss for several years and it seems Ryan Murphy paid attention to that. It brought back aspects of the two most-popular seasons – one and three – and finished in a way that could (and should) have ended the series all together. It was compelling and gross and disturbing and fun. If you like horror and trashy TV, I would recommend it.

  1. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

For those that haven’t seen it, this show is not similar in any way to the Melissa Joan Hart show of the 90’s. It stars Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper for Mad Men fans) as Sabrina, who has recently come of witching age or whatever. It’s darker than its sister universe in Riverdale, but not overwhelmingly so. I’m a sucker for any horror-adjacent art, so I was all in right away. But I was even surprised with how well-crafted the first season was.

  1. Sharp Objects

More than anything, this show was fun to look at. There was at least one sequence in every episode that was either gorgeously shot or really well-designed, one of which may have involved sisters rollerskating after midnight while high on hallucinogens. But it was dark too, dealing with trauma, self-mutilation, rape, murder and the kind of damage that parents pass on to their kids without knowing it. It definitely meanders too much in the middle, but the payoff is incredibly worth it. I’m still terrified by the closing minute of the show.

  1. Series of Unfortunate Events

This might be the most under-discussed great show on TV. I’m not sure if reading and loving the books as a kid colors my perception of it too much, but I have to imagine I’d enjoy it either way. The show does a great job of convincing you that you are in the SOUE universe, which is an accomplishment since it is unlike any real or fake place that exists. It’s well-written thanks to its source material and Neil Patrick Harris is a far-better Count Olaf than Jim Carey could have ever dreamed of being.

  1. The Good Place

It’s the most ambitious comedy on network TV, probably at any point in history. It’s consistently hilarious and surprising and fun and even a little warm. It’s a great show and anyone who likes TV should be watching it.

  1. Big Mouth

I can’t say the same for Big Mouth, which probably turns some people off with how dirty and occasionally ridiculous it is. Last year I said it felt like a show that was specially designed for me and season two made me feel that even more. There more than a dozen characters who are consistently hilarious. It’s the most quotable show in years, provided you’re around the right company. I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun watching a show. Plus, there’s a sex education episode this season that is genuinely touching and informative.

  1. Barry

Bill Hader is one of the great dramatic actors in one of the best shows on TV, just like we all expected. This show is fun, not because of him, but more because of Henry Winkler and some supporting characters. Meanwhile, Hader is the emotional anchor who provides some of the more heart-wrenching scenes that I’ve ever seen on TV. The story is incredibly compelling and such a good idea for a show or movie, that I can’t believe no one has tried it before. A reluctant hitman who doubles as an actor sounds like an insane pitch, and it is.

  1. Riverdale

I had Riverdale number one last year, and I mostly feel the same about it this year. I can barely call it a “good show” but it’s so compelling and fun and self-aware. This season has featured quotes like “I had enviable hair” and “I would recognize those abs anywhere.” There’s a breakfast club episode. A main character goes to prison and soon gets caught up in an underground fighting ring that guards and locals watch and bet on. There’s a Shawshank-level prison escape. There’s a killer board game. A high school girl runs a speakeasy. It’s always either the 1950’s or 2018. That’s not half of what happened and we’re only at the mid-season break.

  1. Succession

How do you sell someone on this show? How do you explain it? Like, it’s a family drama at its base. But a unique one, since the family is a Murdoch-style media dynasty. There is maybe one or two really likable characters. The rest are pretty awful people, but not in a way that turns you away from the show. Plus, it’s hilarious. It’s one of the funniest shows on TV and feels more like a comedy. It pulls off the incredible one-two of having one of the best comedic episodes (the bachelor party) of the year and one of the best dramatic ones (the finale). I’ll always remember 2018 as the year we all learned about the close-looped system.

1.Better Call Saul

When it was announced that there would be a Breaking Bad spin-off, I was exciting in the way I think most people were. I thought it would be a fun show, but not necessarily a great one. Over the past four years, it’s moved from being a slightly-better version than expected to an inarguable masterpiece. It’s perfect in the same way Breaking Bad is: incredibly well-shot, the set design is great, the montages could make anything seem interesting. The characters engage in complicated schemes that reveal themselves to the audience as time goes on.

While we saw Walter White descend into being a sociopath relatively quickly, were continually surprised by how far he went. So, we shouldn’t be surprised by Jimmy McGill’s path. We knew he was going to end up as the slime ball that he was in Breaking Bad. We know Kim and Chuck were not in his life in that show. We knew it would all go wrong.

But showrunner Vince Gilligan did a masterful job of making us fall in love with Jimmy, not Saul Goodman. Sure, he was his most charming when he’s bullshitting. But he has a heart and that’s clear over and over through the first three seasons.

It’s clear that Chuck’s death and the role he played in that broke him as a person. He cared about Chuck, clearly, long after he knew that Chuck thought little of him and did not want a successful life for him. But, in the process of getting his Bar certification back, he fools us one last time with an emotion speech about what his brother meant to him and the world.

If you’ve watched the show, you know what comes next. The turn. The moment we and Kim simultaneously realize that there’s nothing left. There is no Jimmy, he’s Saul now. It was heartbreaking in a way that’s hard to describe. Why would we feel this bad about a fictional character?

This show should not have worked in the way that it has. We know where Saul’s journey ends. We know exactly what he’s going to be when this narrative ends. He’s an attorney, not a meth dealer. It’s not an inherently interesting profession, it’s not necessarily a touching story.

But it worked. It’s the best show on TV. It’s beautiful and heart breaking and we haven’t even talked about Mike or Gus or Nacho yet. Everyone one of them has a painful journey, marked by death, that has led them to precarious positions that they are in. There are layers to the show that set it apart from anything else.

In a time where we’re often left wondering how so many things have gotten so bad, Saul shows us perfectly how greed and pain and fear ruin people.