Retro Bummys: Best Performances of 2008

Retro Bummys: Best Performances of 2008

It’s not hard to look back ten years and realize the legacy that 2008’s performances left. It begins and ends with Heath Ledger, of course. Beyond him, though, I found myself preferring a lot of supporting performances to lead performances. The supporting roles provided far more opportunities for interesting work, and those performances have resonated more ten years later.

The Oscars and I generally agreed this year. Twelve performances that were nominated and/or won are represented here. However, one performance you will not see is Kate Winslet’s Best Actress-winning role from The Reader. The Oscar love that movie received is a direct result of Harvey Weinstein, and it was the last time he exerted an outsized influence on the Academy’s proceedings.

2008 was the first year of my life that I became serious about watching a lot of the movies released that year, so it was the first year that I could really have an informed opinion about at the time. As a result, a lot of these movies have existed in my mind as long as they’ve existed, and their legacy is a little more ingrained in my head than movies from previous years. Looking back at these movies was like remembering why I fell in love with movies in the first place.

The links are to clips from the performance. There’s probably some profanity in there.

Top Ten

10. Anne HathawayRachel Getting MarriedIt’s a trope in the film industry for a performer we met as a teenager to take on a more adult role so that we will take them more seriously. Hathaway had a supporting role in Brokeback Mountain, but the most serious part she had played as the star was The Devil Wears Prada, which isn’t exactly a “serious adult role.” Rachel Getting Married gave Hathaway this, but it’s not just a play at respectability. This was the first time we saw Hathaway portraying a real human being. I’m glad she won her Oscar for Les Miserables, but this is her best performance yet.

9. Mickey RourkeThe WrestlerPoor Rourke; after years in the woods, he comes out with the best performance of his lifetime only to lose the Oscar to fellow Brat Pack-adjacent ’80s star Sean Penn, whom Rourke apparently hates. Anyway, Rourke’s work in The Wrestler takes place in rarefied air. It’s the kind of performance that only Rourke could give and that he could never give again. It’s a role perfectly suited to him, a weathered, down-on-his-luck outcast who figures out what his purpose is, even if it doesn’t really set him free. Roles like that are once in a lifetime, and he makes it count.

8. Kate WinsletRevolutionary Road: It’s truly a shame that Winslet won her Oscar for The Reader, which is boring and features her fine performance of a boring role. Revolutionary Road is overwrought from the beginning, but it’s one of Winslet’s best performances. Her April is far stronger than DiCaprio’s Frank, but bound to the same societal norms that drive them both insane. As a portrait of a marriage, Revolutionary Road is limited. As a portrait of a woman, Winslet’s performance is everything.

7. Robert Downey Jr.Tropic ThunderThere’s understandably a lot of controversy surrounding this role, given it’s basically blackface. The whole concept of this blackface is that it’s sending up the lengths Hollywood actors go to win awards recognition, but I understand if it smells too much of white privilege for some people. Regardless, Downey Jr. is completely committed to this performance, and he’s wonderful. This was the same year he returned to prominence in Iron Man, which should have been enough. But in Tropic Thunder, he reaches the bombastic heights that only he is charismatic enough for.

6. Michelle WilliamsWendy and Lucy: The Oscars are known for rewarding heartfelt performances more along the lines of Kate Winslet’s in Revolutionary Road, in which the words are doing a lot of the heavy lifting and the actor’s emoting is just this side of necessary. They’re less likely to recognize a performance like Williams’s in Wendy and Lucy in which the emotions involved are less obvious and require a quieter approach. Williams has had her share of Oscar love (four nominations and counting, the most recent for 2016’s Manchester by the Sea), but the Academy completely overlooked this performance. It’s cruelly poetic, really: Wendy exists on the fringe of society, the kind of life it’s only too easy to overlook. If the Academy had looked a little closer, they would have seen a whole movie in Michelle Williams’s eyes alone.

5. Benicio Del ToroChe: Part One and Che: Part Two: Both parts of Che are fascinating movies, if a little too obtuse to be great. Regardless, it’s clear from the beginning that Che Guevara is the part that Del Toro was born to play (it’s either that or The Collector, I’m not sure). Del Toro doesn’t actually look much like Guevara, but he captures his ability to code switch between the elites of the world and the people of Cuba. Playing a chameleon is nearly impossible. Del Toro makes it look revolutionary.

4. Brad PittBurn After ReadingIt was so hard to choose a scene from Pitt’s performance in this movie for the link. There are so many little things he does from start to finish that his character, Chad, as ridiculous as he is, feels nothing like the Brad Pitt we know. I like Serious Brad Pitt just fine, but Serious Brad Pitt is rarely given the screenplay to show off the full range of his nuance. If I was Brad Pitt’s agent, I’d kidnap the Coen brothers and have them write movies just for him. In fact, that sounds like a good premise for a Coen Brothers film- starring Brad Pitt.

3. Viola DavisDoubtHolding your own against Meryl Streep is no small thing. Doing it for eight straight minutes and stealing the scene is another thing altogether. Before this movie, Davis was a supporting character in movies and TV shows. After this movie, even though she’s only onscreen for the one 8-minute scene, Davis became a star, an Emmy-winner, an Oscar-winner, a history-maker. That should tell you all you need to know about how good that scene is, and Davis deserves her place near the top of this list.

2. Sean PennMilkWhen you look at the two Oscars that Penn won in the 2000s, the disparity between the two roles’ dispositions is stark. In Mystic River, Penn is the embodiment of stereotypical hypermasculinity, grieving for his daughter, burning for revenge. In Milk, Penn is a proud queen, a gay man who inspires, a generally jovial gentleman. Anytime I see Penn give an interview, I’m floored that he is the same man whose smile changes hearts in Milk. Harvey Milk’s story resonates because of its specificity to its time and place, and Penn nails the specifics of both.

1. Heath LedgerThe Dark KnightYou can’t separate this performance from Heath Ledger’s death. This isn’t because the performance caused the death, contrary to the rampant, irresponsible speculation that occurred in the media and the business in the months between Ledger’s passing and the movie’s release. By all accounts, Ledger was a joy to be around on the sets of The Dark Knight and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the movie he was making when he died. He reported struggling with anxiety and insomnia, but never cited the Joker’s “darkness” or anything like that as their origin.

No, you can’t separate his performance from his death, because we knew he had died when we saw the movie. We haven’t ever seen this movie in a world in which Ledger had not passed. I had forgotten how much mourning his death was a part of the movie’s promotion- not in an icky way, as if his death were a marketing tool, but because, like all deaths, it was an inescapable fact. The cast and filmmakers had to talk about it in interviews, and that’s the light in which we have always seen the movie.

What all the talk about the darkness of the Joker seems to neglect is that Ledger’s performance is so fun. There are so many little things that he does, even beyond the storied lip-licking: the range of his voice from a deep bellow to high-pitched giddiness, little glances mid-sentence that show he’s thinking about other things while reciting his anarchic speeches, the genuine confusion on his face when his social experiment doesn’t go as planned.

There was talk around the movie’s release around the idea that The Dark Knight‘s Joker had to go a complete different direction than Jack Nicholson’s Joker from Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. But Jack Nicholson’s Joker is just Jack Nicholson being Jack Nicholson. It’s iconic because it fits him so perfectly, like a glove, filled with acid. Ledger becomes an entirely different person. He would be unrecognizable even if he weren’t wearing the makeup. We had never seen Ledger do anything like this before.

I don’t buy the idea that a superhero movie is defined by its villain. We don’t call them supervillain movies, after all. The Dark Knight has plenty of worthy non-Joker aspects: the breathtaking action scenes, the love triangle, some great Gary Oldman work. But truth be told, Ledger elevates this movie past a well-made superhero movie and into greatness. So not all superhero movies are defined by their villains, but this one is.

Another Fifteen (alphabetically)

François Bégaudeau, The Class: The naturalism of the amateur performances from the teenagers in this French Oscar-winner is built on the foundation of Bégadeau’s inner conflict.


Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Brad Pitt is the star of this underrated David Fincher Best Picture nominee, but Blanchett’s radiance holds the central romance together.


Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Cruz won an Oscar for this performance, which she probably deserved for better movies, but her fiery Cristina throws everyone’s balance off whack.


Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married: Playing the straight-laced sister could have been a thankless role, but DeWitt shines with a bride’s love and a hint of darkness.


Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road: DiCaprio is always great, but he’s the perfect partner for a spiral into despair with Winslet.


Colin Farrell, In Bruges: We didn’t know Farrell could be funny before this offbeat comedy, and he’s never been this funny since.


Brendan Gleeson, In Bruges: Ditto for Gleeson, who should always be allowed to be this interesting on screen.




Isamar Gonzales, Chop Shop: There were a lot of great indie performances in 2008, but Gonzales’s is among the best amateur performances I’ve ever seen, and by a child actor no less.


Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky: Nine years before The Shape of Water, Hawkins broke out as a shining beacon of grace who is much more than just a cock-eyed optimist.


Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt: The movie doesn’t work without Hoffman’s tightrope-walk between sinner and saint.



Richard Jenkins, The Visitor: Like Hawkins, 2008 was Jenkins’s breakout year, garnering him a much-deserved Oscar nomination for this underseen indie gem.


Lina Leandersson, Let the Right One In: Children’s performances are difficult to judge, but Leandersson finds the right mix of child and monster that makes me wish the Swedish film industry had made better use of her since.


Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky: The polar opposite of Hawkins’s character, Marsan is great when his fuse reaches its limit, but even better in the underlying tension before.


Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road: Another breakout performance from a Shape of Water cast member, Shannon introduced his one-of-a-kind brilliance to audiences as a troubled man who sees things for what they are.


Meryl Streep, Doubt: One of her more severe performances, Streep is a nun who is terribly committed to a justice based on her own intuition rather than any sort of truth.


Future Top Fives


Lesley Manville, Another Year
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone


Viola Davis, The Help
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life
Tom Hardy, Warrior
Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life


Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Javier Bardem, Skyfall
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower


Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Great Gatsby


Michael Keaton, Birdman
Edward Norton, Birdman
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin
Agata Trzebuchowska, Ida


Top Movies You Won’t Find on 2017’s Top Ten Lists

Every year I highlight 3 movies that didn’t end up on any critic’s top ten list. That’s slightly misleading; I survey this Metacritic collection of lists, and if the movie doesn’t appear on 3 or more lists, it gets considered for this post. If I missed a list, it’s all over, the world, everything. For everyone. I’m sorry.

After the Storm: Hirokazu Kore-eda is a celebrated Japanese director who makes small, quiet movies. Ten years ago, his masterpiece, Still Walking, was released here in the states, and its portrayal of a family still struggling to move on after tragedy got at more truths in single scenes than most movies do in their entire running time. After the Storm does the same, even though its primary focus is not grief or regret but addiction and responsibility.

Alien: Covenant:  I’ll forgive you if you didn’t like Ridley Scott’s first Alien prequel from 2012, Prometheus, because it was purposefully ambivalent about providing answers. Covenant is not, and its themes are more contained within the story portrayed onscreen, rather than flailing about at philosophical questions the story cannot quite support. It also gives us another stellar Michael Fassbender performance and some truly chilling horror sequences that belong among the franchise’s best.

The Salesman: Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi burst onto the international scene with 2011’s A Separation, which went onto win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. That movie provided a window into a family navigating the perilous waters of Iran’s social norms as they underwent a divorce. Farhadi’s subsequent movies (2013’s The Past, 2015’s About Elly) were similarly incisive in their dissection of societal expectations in unusual circumstances, but The Salesman is probably Farhadi’s best since A Separation, taking its situation to its extreme without crossing over into self-parody.

Top Albums You Won’t Find on 2017’s Top Ten Lists

Every year I highlight 5 albums that didn’t end up on any critic’s top ten lists. That’s slightly misleading; I survey this Metacritic collection of lists, and if the album doesn’t appear on 3 or more lists, it gets considered for this post. If it’s a Christian album, I just search the usual way (read: Google) through some of the main Christian music publications. If I missed a list, it’s okay; no one’s life is over.

The Brilliance, All Is Not Lost: There have been several artists in Christian music history that have bucked (or set) the industry’s trends, but there are few today outside of hip-hop. The Brilliance have some of the kitchen-sink creativity that most recently blessed Gungor before that band veered into emergent-church territory. This makes sense, since one of The Brilliance’s primary members is David Gungor, the brother of Gungor’s Michael. But where Michael’s band has taken a decidedly meditative tack, David’s has set his rudder directly toward celebration. Beautifully synthesizing several genres, The Brilliance overcome worship music tropes, celebrating a God for everybody with music for everybody.

Caroline Spence, Spades & Roses: I understand Margo Price receiving all of 2017’s allotted attention for female off-the-beaten-path Nashvillians, because Price is brilliant. But now that 2017 is over, please turn your attention to its forgotten folk artist, Caroline Spence. Her 2015 album Somehow won me over with its plain-spoken heartbreak spiked with hard liquor. Spades & Roses is like Somehow, but with more liquor. This is best exemplified on standout track, “All the Beds I’ve Made,” in which beds and all their accoutrement become a metaphor not for love, but for the hope that this one will make you forget the rest.

David Ramirez, We’re Not Going Anywhere: I wrote about this album not 6 weeks ago, and I’m still on a high for the response it got. Ramirez himself retweeted the post and said it was “one of [his] favorite reviews for the new album,” and I could have cried. You write about an album you love and you hope someone reads it. You never expect the artist to read it and, much less, appreciate it. Ultimately, I just want this album to get attention, because it’s a devastatingly good folk album from one of Austin’s best resident musicians.

Hiss Golden Messenger, Hallelujah Anyhow: You’ll be forgiven if you’re not into Americana and haven’t heard of Hiss Golden Messenger, the Carolina-based outfit from the prolific M.C. Taylor. You’ll also be forgiven if you are into Americana and can’t remember which album of his is which. But holding this against him is like complaining that Cary Grant plays the same character in every movie- he does what he’s good at, and he’s the best at it. Taylor has a tried and true sound, a mélange of soul and backwoods blues befitting his scruffy look and family life. What makes Hallelujah Anyhow special in light of the rest of his discography is an unabashed celebration of life in the face of life’s mundanity.

Joan Shelley, Joan Shelley: Another Americana artist on this list, yes, but Shelley is quite unlike any other Americana artist we are familiar with. That’s partly because she doesn’t even consider herself an Americana musician, but mostly because she’s a singular artist. Her first few albums trafficked in Appalachian folk music, but Joan Shelley is a slight change in direction for the Kentucky artist. Her transfixing voice is still the focal point here, but she’s less reliant on her usual guitarists to give her voice its home. Instead, she travels outside her comfort zone to songs with barely any production at all, and more of a reliance on plinking keys rather than plucking strings, and her music has broadened with her world.

Tentative Top Tens of 2017

Man, looking back at last year’s tentative top ten lists, I still hadn’t seen Moonlight or La La Land. Needless to say, in between now and next September when the official Bummys are posted, these lists are going to look very different.

Nevertheless, because I must capitulate to our culture’s norms, I must release lists this December. It will ever be so.


1. Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan’s movies have always been editing marvels, but this one takes the language of movies to a whole new level, redefining bravery and honor in a language singular to cinema.
2. Get Out: Not only the breakout movie of the year, but Peele’s genre masterpiece brought social depth back to horror movies.
3. Logan:
A superhero movie only by default, a great movie by sheer, gory effort.
4. After the Storm:
Understandably, no one stateside has seen this Korean drama, but I dare anyone who considers themselves a movie fan to check it out- American movies rarely reach these heights.
5. War for the Planet of the Apes:
The unlikeliest of success stories, this franchise reaches its peak in an old-fashioned western of a finale.
6. The Big Sick:
Romantic comedies used to be a dime a dozen, but this one manages to be a rarity in the genre: wholly original.
7. It:
This movie needed only to be scary; it did not need to be an insightful look at teenage longing, but that it was.
8. Thor: Ragnarok:
Recency bias may be in effect, but this Thor is the best Marvel movie since- well, since Iron Man.
9. A Ghost Story:
One of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen, but it moved me deeply, and I won’t forget it.
10. John Wick: Chapter 2:
The original was a high octane ride, and the second somehow enriched its world without sacrificing any of the intensity.


1. Father John Misty, Pure Comedy: A surreal journey from doubting the heavens to faith in humanity, this is what I’d like to think I’d sound like if I made an album and were smarter and funnier.
2. Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator: The best piece of protest art released this year is also a masterpiece of roots music that isn’t shy about its roots being Latin.
3. Joan Shelley, Joan Shelley: Shelley sings and plays in an unassuming style, but there is a world of feeling in her delivery and lyrics.
4. The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding: More languid than its predecessor, if you can believe that possible, but just as rich in its sweep.
5. Propaganda, Crooked: At this point, Jason Petty has established himself as Christian rap’s poet laureate; Crooked is his magnum opus.
6. Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life: Terribly underrated by a criticism community conflicted on how to cover rock music, Near to the Wild Heart of Life is a continuation of the band’s pure vision of idealist rock.
7. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound: Isbell is a wonderful storyteller, but Nashville Sound‘s strength is its ideas about morality.
8. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.: If the more introspective DAMN. doesn’t end up as beloved as TPAB, it will be because its themes are more personal than communal, and not because K-Dot has lost a step, which is decidedly not the case.
9. David Ramirez, We’re Not Going Anywhere: Folk troubadours across the country should look to Ramirez as a shining example of writing personal lyrics without navel-gazing.
10. Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom Highway: Like #2 on this list, this is a piece of Americana whose roots are “non-traditional” (read: non-white) and that enriches our American story immensely.

Best Book I Read

The Passage by Justin Cronin: I read more relevant non-fiction books (Abram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning and Michael R. Wear’s Reclaiming Hope) and more emotionally affecting fiction books (Brit Bennett’s The Mothers). But I’m a sucker for a well-written epic, and The Passage is both of those. It’s also expertly plotted around the theme of hope as the only response to hopelessness.

Best Comic I Read

The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker: I’m a big fan of several of Brubaker’s earlier series, including his run on Captain America and the Lovecraftian Fatale, so a Brubaker-written noir set in blacklist-era Hollywood could only be my new favorite title. Brubaker’s longtime illustrator, Sean Phillips, brings this macabre tale of the underbelly of the film industry to life in sobering detail.

Best TV Series I Watched

Master of None (season 2): The first season was a deft romantic comedy that dealt honestly with dating and friendship as an adult in your 30s. The second was the same but more, including a reimagining of the Italian neorealist classic The Bicycle Thief, the best Thanksgiving episode of television I’ve seen, and a reckoning with sexual assault by powerful men before the recent spate of allegations began. Also, the romance is easier to get swept up in than the one from the first season.

Movie Bummys: Best Movies of 2016

Movie Bummys: Best Movies of 2016

Top Ten

10. Hell or High Water: I saw someone write last year that Hell or High Water was a movie about “Trump country”, which is one of the more annoying phrases you could include in a thinkpiece. Their point was that the movie is about the sufferings of flyover country, which is fair, but Trump doesn’t come to mind when I watch this. Obviously there are people with big names that have screwed over a lot of people, but watching the taut filmmaking and intimate story of Hell or High Water is a reminder that corruption runs from the top of the totem pole all the way down.

9. Everybody Wants Some!!: Everybody Wants Some!!, Richard Linklater’s spiritual sequel to his 1993 classic Dazed and Confused, is more of a college movie than a baseball movie, but both aspects are crucial to appreciating it. As a college movie, Everybody is rambling and aimless, in a good way; as a baseball movie, Everybody captures the looming uncertainty of a prospect’s future. The combination of the two manages to concoct a rare formula of haphazard poignancy.

8. La La Land: At this point, I’ve mostly forgotten what the backlash was even about. I mostly just remember how wrecked I was after the final scene, one of the most effective endings to a mainstream movie in recent memory. And I mostly just want to watch La La Land again as soon as possible and lets its musical and visual beauty just wash over me.

7. Kubo and the Two Strings: There are franchises and sequels in the honorable mention section of this post, but it’s telling that the Top Ten is made of up of original movies. Kubo and the Two Strings, a fable from the stop-motion masters at Laika, may be the most original of them all. Kubo, a young boy with a musical gift, must team up with a snow monkey and a giant beetle to confront his grandfather (the moon) and his aunts to retrieve his left eye and avenge his- listen, it’s good, I promise.

6. Green Room: Sadly, Green Room ended up being more relevant than I’m sure director Jeremy Saulnier wanted. Featuring an eerie Patrick Stewart performance and the best work of the late Anton Yelchin’s career, Green Room is scary as hell, and not just because it’s a horror movie where white supremacists are the monsters. It also includes some of the most suspenseful scenes of the year with a soundtrack that ratchets up the intensity.

5. Jackie: Jackie is not a traditional biopic. Directed by Chilean director Pablo Larraín, Jackie gives us a truly intimate portrait of the former First Lady by showing us days following the death of her husband. One could be frustrated with not seeing more of her life, but biopics that attempt to show the subject’s whole life often try to do too much. By showing us only a small glimpse of Jackie Kennedy at her most vulnerable time, Larraín and star Natalie Portman paint a complex picture of a woman who also happened to be an icon. Jackie contains multitudes.

4. Arrival: Science fiction does not have to dabble in the realm of ideas. Cool lasers and aliens are often enough to satisfy me. Yet the genre lends itself so well to the exploration of the themes of discovery and progress, it is hard to find a science fiction movie that does not touch on them. Arrival may surpass them all. With a simple conceit, but a remarkably intricate inner structure, Arrival hits on all levels intellectual and emotional.

3. American Honey: When I first saw director Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, I tweeted that it was the best American indie movie I’d seen since 2008’s Chop Shop, which was clearly not true, even at the time, since I had already seen the two movies above American Honey on this list. What American Honey and Chop Shop do have in common is that they both personify the fight to survive in the midst of the American dream. Sasha Lane’s character in Honey, Star, joins up with a traveling magazine sales team partly because she needs to make some money. Jake (Shia LeBeouf), the man who recruits her, is a part of the team because he thinks he will hustle his way to prosperity. Everyone on the team is either forgotten by society or used by others as a foothold to a future they will never see, but Arnold finds triumph in the life they build anyway.

2. The Witch: There are three horror movies that have created a ripple in the structure of my Christian faith. I don’t mean to say that they shook my faith, only caused me to think differently about my God and His will. The first was The Exorcist, which is so effective in its terrifying portrayal of the random corruption of innocence that I was forced to consider what the existence of demons truly means. The second was The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which is not a particularly good movie, but which so directly faces the idea that God allows awful things to happen to the people who love Him. The third is The Witch, which deals with the seductive power of the devil in the face of a cold, godless world. The Witch was marketed as a horror movie, and it is certainly creepy and suspenseful, but it is not a traditional horror movie in the slightest. It is horrifying, but more for its ideas than for its jump scares. The ending alone would place The Witch among the horror movie greats, but it’s the slowly unraveling journey there that gives the ending its power and ultimately makes The Witch among the best movies of the year.

1. Moonlight: In the Oscars’ entire 89-year history, there had never been a mistake like the one at the 2017 Academy Awards. Moonlight will always be associated with everything surrounding that error: Warren Beatty’s confusion, the grace and pain of the La La Land producers, the wild applause that greeted Moonlight’s announcement, and the revelation later that one of the accountants messed up because he was trying to get a freaking selfie with Emma Stone. It truly was a historic moment, so if Moonlight forever brings up that memory, that’s okay.

But its win was historic for other reasons too: the least expensive Best Picture winner (by far), the first with all African-American actors in its starring roles, the first with an explicitly LGBTQ character as its main character (you could count 1969’s Midnight Cowboy, but because that film basically treats Jon Voight’s character’s sexuality as a pathology, I don’t think you should).

Even if Moonlight was not a historic Best Picture winner, it would have deserved to be remembered. I find myself wanting to tell people they should see it, that they have to see it, even if they don’t care about movies or awards or the red carpet. My Bible Belt, Oklahoma world often rejects people like Moonlight’s main character, Chiron, both for his blackness and his homosexuality. And if we don’t reject him, we pigeonhole him, we have low expectations for him, we forget about him, or maybe we feel sorry for him. What Moonlight does so well, is that it asks its actors not to be black or gay, but to be human. And when a movie presents actual people to us rather than characters, it’s a must-see.

 Another Fifteen

Captain America: Civil War
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The Fits
Hail, Caesar!
I Am Not Your Negro
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
Pete’s Dragon
Sunset Song

Past Top Tens


Mad Max: Fury Road
Inside Out
The Look of Silence
It Follows
Ex Machina
The Big Short


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Inherent Vice
Two Days, One Night
Guardians of the Galaxy
Blue Ruin


12 Years a Slave
Before Midnight
Inside Llewyn Davis
Captain Phillips
The World’s End
Short Term 12
American Hustle
The Past


Zero Dark Thirty
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Dark Knight Rises
Silver Linings Playbook
Django Unchained
Moonrise Kingdom
Holy Motors
Life of Pi


Take Shelter
The Tree of Life
The Artist
A Separation
Battle Royale
Super 8

Music Bummys: Best Albums of 2016

Music Bummys: Best Albums of 2016

Top Ten Albums

10. Jeff Rosenstock, WORRY.: Someday, we are going to look back on 2016 and remember Jeff Rosenstock’s WORRY. as a great album for all its virtues and not for how it spoke to current events. We will listen to its frenetic rhythms and sweeping melodies, and we will relate to its expression of anxiety, free of any context as a great rock record, a paragon of pop punk. Its biting sarcasm, its contagious choruses, its backdoor hipsterdom- these will be its talking points, and not about how it speaks to “Trump’s America”.

9. Courtney Marie Andrews, Honest Life: Writing about music has become increasingly uniform, to where a handful of artists dominate the media conversation in any given week. I enjoy a lot of these artists that are “relevant”, but an artist like Courtney Marie Andrews gives me a singular kind of pleasure reserved only for artists that feel like discoveries. Andrews, who combines Laurel Canyon vibes with her beautiful, Appalachian-folksy voice, deserves recognition as the best folk artist of the year, though I’m likely the only one that will give it to her.

8. Bon Iver, 22, a Million: Every Bon Iver album is different, yet they are all the same. Each release further deconstructs the reserved folk sound with which frontman Justin Vernon achieved fame, yet each release feels as comfortable as the best examples of the folk genre. 22, a Million is his most fractious work so far, yet Vernon is still crafting melodies that soothe the anxiety buried within his production.

7. Sho Baraka, The Narrative: Christian rap was ahead of mainstream rap with its forays into social consciousness by about a year, with some of its main stars releasing songs about police brutality in response to Ferguson well before any of their mainstream counterparts. The Narrative may be Christian rap’s social justice manifesto, putting into lyrics and beats a working theology of African-American history and emotion. Baraka has always been one of the most creative individuals in the genre (secular or no), and The Narrative finds him firing on all cylinders.

6. Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings: Miranda Lambert never ceases to amaze me. After divorcing Blake Shelton following rumors of his infidelity, you might expect a fiery artist like Lambert to unleash the breakup album to utterly end all breakup albums, full of vitriol that would make “Before He Cheats” poop its pants. Instead, she releases her most subdued album yet, stretching it out over 17 songs, and finding as-yet-unreached depths that are far more cathartic than any stereotypical, crazy-ex-girlfriend songs could have been.

5. Solange, A Seat at the Table: This record was not made for me; this is a record made by a black woman for black women. In her thoroughly considered lyrics and her alternately light and forceful voice, Solange tells a story of the duality of a black woman in 2016. Empowerment is the goal, yes, but also affirmation, that it is okay to be angry or frustrated. There are historical touchstones Solange is drawing on here that are beyond my scope of understanding, but the album feels like a historical document, reaching across time to combine styles and ideologies. This was not a record made for me, but there is so much here for me to learn.

4. Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial: I don’t know what music historians are going to do with the rock music of today. Rock is far from dead, though people like to claim so again and again. The truth is though that people just are not talking about the genre as much as they used to. Whatever the story they will tell, it is clear that a chapter must be reserved for Car Seat Headrest. Whether or not it fit into the national conversation, Teens of Denial embodied indie sensibilities and it embodied a rock ethos, and if indie rock is anything anymore, this is it.

3. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth: Simpson got a lot of mileage last year as an alternative to the country establishment, so much so that his album was somehow nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy, a welcome but unexpected honor. The artist himself plays down his alternative status, probably because he knows that good is good, bad is bad, and alternative is neither. But Sailor’s is truly something different than your usual alt-country. He channels funk, grunge, and R&B at different points, creating a melting pot of styles and vibes. It’s all in the earnest service of celebrating his newborn son and creating art that his son can later experience to learn something about beauty and love.

2. Beyoncé, Lemonade: It’s impossible to think about Lemonade the album apart from Lemonade the movie, which was such a titanic statement of black womanhood that it threatens to bury Lemonade the album in history’s back pages. I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen (because history will undoubtedly look to Coulda Been a Contender for all legacy issues); listening to Lemonade was one of the great, joyful experiences of 2016. We spend so much time talking about who Beyoncé is apart from her music; she became a cultural icon before she even made her best art, which has continually gotten better since. Beyoncé’s sixth studio album is nothing like the five that came before, but it is also the perfect culmination of her life’s work- including her music, her brand, her motherhood, and, yes, her role as the scorned woman. Hell hath no fury like Lemonade.

1. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book: Not only was Coloring Book one of the biggest releases of 2016, it was also one of the most joy-filled albums of the year. And by joy I don’t mean happiness. I’m referring to the kind of joy from Philippians 3:1, where Paul tells the church in Philippi to “rejoice in the Lord”; from Isaiah 58:14, where God tells his people that resting in Him on the Sabbath results in “delight”; from John 10:10, where Jesus tells the crowd that the life he gives is meant to be lived “abundantly”. And it’s not just the music that’s joy-filling- it’s a conscious, lyrical effort on Chance’s part to communicate that his God is about joy.

There’s a moment about three-quarters of the way through Coloring Book, after several songs where Chance not only refers to ignoring the devil and listening to sermons but devotes an entire song to how his devotion to God goes beyond the things of this world, when a gospel choir singing Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God” kicks in. I thought the song would transition to Chance’s rapping after the chorus, but the song goes on for two glorious minutes. And then there’s a short excerpt from a sermon, saying “God is better than the world’s best thing.” And only then does Chance rap, expounding on the idea that true freedom comes from loving God more than the world, and correlating his freedom from a label to his freedom in God. It’s a breathtaking example of the marriage of Chance’s lyrical virtuosity and his exuberance about Jesus.

Chance is a phenomenon at this point. He may go on to rap about many other subjects that have little to do with his faith. But Coloring Book, in all its gospel-tinged glory, will stand as a new template for how a mainstream rapper fits his music into his faith, rather than the other way around.

Another Fifteen

Alicia Keys, Here
Anderson .Paak, Malibu
Blood Orange, Freetown Sound
Brandy Clark, Big Day in a Small Town
Drive-By Truckers, American Band
Margo Price, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
NAO, For All We Know
Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
Parker Millsap, The Very Last Day
Paul Cauthen, My Gospel
Rihanna, ANTI
Terrace Martin, Velvet Portraits
Various Artists, Southern Family
Whitney, Light upon the Lake

Past Top Tens


Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Leon Bridges, Coming Home
Phil Cook, Southland Mission
Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
David Ramirez, Fables
John Moreland, High on Tulsa Heat
Ben Rector, Brand New
The Tallest Man on Earth, Dark Bird Is Home
Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit


John Mark McMillan, Borderland
Sharon Van Etten, Are We There
The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream
Strand of Oaks, HEAL
Taylor Swift, 1989
Liz Vice, There’s a Light
Jackie Hill Perry, The Art of Joy
First Aid Kit, Stay Gold
Miranda Lambert, Platinum
Propaganda, Crimson Cord


Jason Isbell, Southeastern
Beyoncé, Beyoncé
Laura Marling, Once I Was an Eagle
Patty Griffin, American Kid
Sandra McCracken, Desire Like Dynamite
Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience
Beautiful Eulogy, Instruments of Mercy
Kanye West, Yeezus
KaiL Baxley, Heatstroke / The Wind and the War


Andrew Peterson, Light for the Lost Boy
Lecrae, Gravity
Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE
Japandroids, Celebration Rock
David Crowder*Band, Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys])
Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball
Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do
The Olive Tree, Our Desert Ways
Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra, Fable
Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city


Gungor, Ghosts upon the Earth
Adele, 21
Over the Rhine, The Long Surrender
Bon Iver, Bon Iver
The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient
Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues
Drake, Take Care
Raphael Saadiq, Stone Rollin’
Beyoncé, 4
Matt Papa, This Changes Everything

Movie Bummys: Best Performances of 2016

Movie Bummys: Best Performances of 2016

Top Five

5. Sasha Lane, American Honey: Lane has an easy story to root for; director Andrea Arnold found her spring breaking on a beach in Florida and cast her in the lead role in her next movie on the spot. She grew up on the poverty line in Frisco, Texas, a mixed girl in a white world, not too far from my own hometown of Plano. There are a lot of factors that made American Honey one of the year’s best movies: the soundtrack, Shia LeBeouf’s charisma, Arnold capturing the beauty in the struggle to even dream the American dream. But none of it matters without Lane, whose naturalism is more than a reflection of her amateur status. Sasha Lane is a star, able to convey charisma and vulnerability within a heart’s beat of each other.

4. Colin Farrell, The Lobster: Colin Farrell has had a very strange career for someone that has played along the edges of the A list, but The Lobster is the strangest and best thing he has ever done. The role received a lot of attention for how much weight he had to gain for it, but forget that for a second. Also, forget every other role he has played, because David in The Lobster is nothing like them. He is a schlub living in a world devoid of romanticism that requires an absurdist level of social norms. Farrell takes the absurd and makes it normal, ultimately making us believe that true love is worth whatever sacrifice it takes.

3. Amy Adams, Arrival: Amy Adams’s performance, like the movie it appears in, came out of nowhere. We have seen a lot of sides of Amy Adams: the bright innocence of Junebug and Enchanted; the hardened experience of The Fighter and The Master; the downtrodden oppression of American Hustle and Big Eyes. With Arrival, we see unconditional love, peace, joy. For all its obvious science fiction characteristics, the strength of Arrival is in the pure religion of Amy Adams.

2. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight: One of the shames of the Best Picture snafu on Oscar night this year is that now, when we look back at the movie and its performances, the first thing we will bring up is La La Land or Warren Beatty. My sincere hope is that people see the movie without comparing it to La La Land, largely because I want them to experience Mahershala Ali. Ali plays Juan, a drug dealer, in Moonlight, but he does not fit your stereotypes of what you think he should be. One of the most moving scenes of the movie is when the main character, Chiron, tries to understand his own sexuality by asking Juan hard questions. In the process, Juan has to face some hard truths about himself, and it’s one of the best examples of unspoken vulnerability I’ve seen onscreen.

1. Natalie Portman, Jackie: And this may be the best example I’ve seen. Before Portman in Jackie, I may have said the paragon of portrayals of real-life icons was Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, or maybe George C. Scott as General Patton. You could even make a case for Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote, even if the movie doesn’t quit live up to his transformation. But none of those actors exposes his soul the way Natalie Portman does here. We are familiar with Jackie Kennedy’s story following the assassination of her husband: the moment where she reaches out over the back of the car to retrieve the bits of her husband’s skull; that she remained in her pink suit, stained with her husband’s blood, during President Johnson’s swearing-in. But Portman takes us deep into the grief Kennedy must have been feeling. Not grief for a loving husband, though that too. But grief for her public identity as his wife, grief for a lost way of life, grief for the grand ideas that would die with him, and, yes, grief for her own loss of power and importance. Portman portrays Kennedy as far shrewder than popular history ever has. John F. Kennedy’s death would have been a tragedy had he never had a wife. But after seeing the event unfold through Portman’s eyes, Jackie Kennedy’s perspective feels like the only necessary one.

Another Fifteen (alphabetical)

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Viola Davis, Fences
Agyness Deyn, Sunset Song
Andrew Garfield, Silence
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Andre Holland, Moonlight
Ralph Ineson, The Witch
Shia LaBeouf, American Honey
Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight
Ashton Sanders, Moonlight
Emma Stone, La La Land
Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch
Denzel Washington, Fences
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
Anton Yelchin, Green Room

Past Top Fives


Michael B. Jordan, Creed
Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Juliette Binoche, Clouds of Sils Maria
Tom Hardy, The Revenant


Michael Keaton, Birdman
Edward Norton, Birdman
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin
Agata Trzebuchowska, Ida


Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Great Gatsby


Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Javier Bardem, Skyfall
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower


Viola Davis, The Help
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life
Tom Hardy, Warrior
Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life