Music Bummys: Best Songs of 2016

Music Bummys: Best Songs of 2016

Top Twenty: 20-11

20. Lizzo, “Good as Hell”: If you looked only to the radio in 2016 for empowering anthems, you missed out on one of the best. This banger (which featured on the soundtrack of the most recent Barbershop soundtrack) from the talented Minneapolis artist had one of the most ingeniously infectious choruses I can remember: “Do your hair toss / check my nails / baby how you feelin / feeling good as hell!”

19. The Weeknd, “I Feel It Coming (feat. Daft Punk)”: Decadent Weeknd has his charms (see: all of his last album, Beauty Behind the Madness), but I think I prefer in-love Weeknd. Daft Punk knows how to bring the best out of great singers, and Abel Tesfaye is at his lightest and happiest here.

18. Chance the Rapper, “Blessings”: There are great songs on Coloring Book before “Blessings”- all of them, really. But everything on this 5th track- from Jamila Woods’ irresistible hook to Chance yelping “Good God!”, from Nico’s proud trumpet solo to that final question asking if you’re ready for the blessing- fits perfectly into its title’s promise.

17. Angel Olsen, “Shut Up Kiss Me”: Alternative music took a backseat in the music media to pop and R&B last year, but there were still plenty of gems worth celebrating. Olsen’s insistent chorus burns itself into your mind, as powerful a statement of sexual desire as indie punk has to offer.

16. Young Thug, “Kanye West (feat. Wyclef Jean)”: I first heard this one when it was called “Elton John”, which seemed appropriate given the plaintive piano that features so prominently. Not sure why he renamed it to “Kanye West” other than that the chorus of “wet wet” sounds kind like “West West”, but it does feature Kanye-level inventiveness in every bar.

15. Beyoncé, “Daddy Lessons”: Over the last four years, Beyoncé has embraced her music being seen as culturally significant, rather than just pop music. “Formation” was the clear statement, but Beyoncé performing the defiant “Daddy Lessons” on the CMAs with noted rebels Dixie Chicks was her most successful act of protest on the year.

14. Chance the Rapper, “Same Drugs”: I was initially more taken with the upbeat songs on Coloring Book, but the melancholy “Same Drugs” grew on me over time. Chance has said it isn’t even about drugs, which feels right; it’s really about the loss that comes with time as you move out of youth.

13. Migos, “Bad and Boujee (feat. Lil Uzi Vert)”: I didn’t take “Bad and Boujee” seriously until Donald Glover dubbed it the “best song ever” at the Golden Globes. I still don’t take it seriously, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been able to stop listening to it.

12. Bon Iver, “22 (OVER S∞∞N) – Bob Moose Extended Cab Version”: I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a song combine anxiety with hope so beautifully. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon has been public about his struggles with anxiety, and I like to think creating this song was a balm for him.

11. Chance the Rapper, “All We Got (feat. Kanye West & Chicago Children’s Choir)”: This celebration song isn’t just a joyous ode to the gift of music. It also has 2016’s best lyric: “I was baptized like real early / I might give Satan a swirlie.”

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10. Japandroids, “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”: I wonder if I’m supposed to grow out of songs like this. I’ve been worried lately that I’m becoming a cynical person. But the way my heart soars during this song’s chorus gives me hope that my soul has not been calcified by the world just yet.

9. Lecrae, “Can’t Stop Me Now (Destination)”: It is easy to be skeptical of famous people claiming to be victims of their fame, but “Can’t Stop Me Now (Destination)” is something different. Lecrae, who is the most successful “Christian rapper” in the genre’s short history, raps about his depression following not only the police killings of black Americans but also the widespread evangelical dismissal of those killings. A lot of introspective rap feels forced and full of self-help platitudes, but Lecrae’s best song since “Church Clothes” in 2012 finds him at his most natural and humble.

8. Car Seat Headrest, “Fill in the Blank”: If “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” gives me life-affirming hope, “Fill in the Blank” affirms the hope in my cynicism. Frontman Will Toledo yelps about a world telling him he has to be okay, that because of his privilege, he has to be happy. But this is a song that exists in the real world, and it’s okay not to be okay.

7. Solange, “Cranes in the Sky”: The track’s co-producer, Raphael Saadiq, turns everything he touches into golden funk. But let’s give credit where credit is due here; this is a vocal performance that few could pull off. Even as Solange plunders her own psyche to try to understand why she feels left behind and pushed aside, her voice is unbearably light until it isn’t, until she hits the word “cranes” with just enough strength to make you wonder where it all comes from.

6. Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker”: Critics can be forgiven for overrating art after its creator has passed away. That is not what happened with Cohen’s “You Want It Darker”. Cohen’s voice is hardly singing on this song, but it is hypnotizing, and the accusations he lays before God here are chillingly real.

5. Chance the Rapper, “No Problem (feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz)”: “No Problem” ultimately may be about the threat of record executives telling Chance what he can and can’t do. But it came to stand for something far more interesting than that. When Chance burst into a stuffy boardroom with 2 Chainz and Weezy on Ellen, their energy was so infectious that the video became a sensation, even by Chance’s standards. On his tour, fans dance and sing along to every song, but “No Problem” becomes a verifiable dance party. In a year where the country desperately needed joy, Chance’s music promised a club where joy was possible. “No Problem” was the bouncer.

4. Drive-By Truckers, “What It Means”: There’s some question surrounding works of art involving white people wrestling with problems involving race. I’m not here to tell any person of color what they should or should not feel about white people entering black spaces. All I can report is how I feel, and I feel that “What It Means” is one of the most affecting songs I heard last year. Patterson Hood has always been an incisive songwriter. “What It Means” finds him grappling with the terrible truth that he doesn’t have answers for why his (and my) race keeps treating other races like shit.

3. Rihanna, “Work (feat. Drake)”: Rihanna has always played along the edges of dancehall, and on “Work” she dives right in. There are lighter songs, bouncier ones with catchier hooks in her discography. But “Work” drills into your mind, finding its purpose in its repetition. Of all Rihanna’s singles, it’s maybe the most effortless, the truest to who Rihanna has been all along. There’s no forced techno beats, no pop hooks manufactured in a studio lab, no pretense of any sort- just the beat and Rihanna’s insistence that all that matters is her voice.

2. Rae Sremmurd, “Black Beatles (feat. Gucci Mane)”: Probably most famous for its backing of the ubiquitous mannequin challenge meme that thankfully is no more, “Black Beatles” is bigger than a stupid video sports teams did to look hip. On Rae Sremmurd’s 2015 debut, SremmLife, they tapped into the trap aesthetic for a potent slice of party music. SremmLife 2, and “Black Beatles” in particular, had different aims. There were still party songs, but overall, Rae Sremmurd were out to deconstruct the scene, rather than celebrate it. “Black Beatles” drips with malaise, even as it wallows in rock star hyperbole; the tension between the two is what separates the song from anything else with the “Mike WiLL Made-It” signature.

1. Kanye West, “Ultralight Beam”: This song still sounds incomplete to me. I don’t mean that as a negative. I mean that Kanye and his multiple collaborators appear to have tapped into a musical reservoir, and this song’s 5 minutes do not feel like they’ve plumbed its depths in the slightest. Kanye is always ahead of the curve. Whatever style he invokes on his albums, that seems to be the direction hip-hop writ large takes for the foreseeable future. “Ultralight Beam” ushered in rap’s newfound appreciation for gospel music. That’s not to say that gospel had no place in hip-hop’s history before this; that would be asinine. But “Ultralight Beam” is pure gospel with a little bit of rap. Kanye is barely even on this record; “Ultralight Beam” only technically qualifies as a rap song because Chance the Rapper drops a fire verse midway through. No, “Ultralight Beam” isn’t a rap song; it’s a prayer.

Another Thirty

The 1975, “If I Believe You”
Aaron Lewis, “That Ain’t Country”
Alicia Keys, “Blended Family (What You Do for Love) (feat. A$AP Rocky)”
ANOHNI, “Drone Bomb Me”
BJ Barham, “Unfortunate Kind”
Bon Iver, “00000 Million”
Brandy Clark, “Big Day in a Small Town”
Bruno Mars, “24K Magic”
Chairlift, “Crying in Public”
Chance the Rapper, “How Great Thou Art (feat. Jay Electronica & my cousin Nicole)”
Charles Bradley, “Changes”
Childish Gambino, “Redbone”
Christon Gray, “Follow You”
Courtney Marie Andrews, “Irene”
David Bowie, “I Can’t Give Everything Away”
Drake, “Fake Love”
DRAM, “Broccoli (feat. Lil Yachty)”
John Legend, “Penthouse Floor (feat. Chance the Rapper)”
Justin Timberlake, “CAN’T STOP THE FEELING!”
Maren Morris, “My Church”
Margo Price, “Hands of Time”
Michael Kiwanuka, “Black Man in a White World”
Miranda Lambert, “Vice”
Mitski, “Your Best American Girl”
NEEDTOBREATHE, “HARD LOVE”
Parquet Courts, “Berlin Got Blurry”
Rihanna, “Love on the Brain”
Sho Baraka, “30 & Up, 1986 (feat. Courtney Orlando)”
Tegan and Sara, “Boyfriend”
Whitney, “Golden Days”

Past Top Tens

2015

Leon Bridges, “River”
Sufjan Stevens, “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”
Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, “Sunday Candy”
Blood Orange, “Sandra’s Smile”
Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”
Alessia Cara, “Here”
Justin Bieber, “Love Yourself”
Rihanna and Kanye West and Paul McCartney, “FourFiveSeconds”
Jack Ü, “Where Are Ü Now (with Justin Bieber)”
Miguel, “Coffee (F***ing) (feat. Wale)”

2014

FKA twigs, “Two Weeks”
Strand of Oaks, “Goshen ’97”
The War on Drugs, “Red Eyes”
John Mark McMillan, “Future / Past”
First Aid Kit, “Waitress Song”
Sia, “Chandelier”
Jackie Hill Perry, “I Just Wanna Get There”
Taylor Swift, “Out of the Woods”
Parquet Courts, “Instant Disassembly”
Sharon Van Etten, “Your Love Is Killing Me”

2013

Patty Griffin, “Go Wherever You Wanna Go”
Disclosure, “Latch (feat. Sam Smith)”
Jason Isbell, “Elephant”
Sky Ferreira, “I Blame Myself”
Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford, “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)”
David Ramirez, “The Bad Days”
Drake, “Hold On, We’re Going Home (feat. Majid Jordan)”
Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”
Beyoncé, “Rocket”
Amy Speace, “The Sea & the Shore (feat. John Fullbright)”

2012

Jimmy Needham, “Clear the Stage”
Trip Lee, “One Sixteen (feat. KB & Andy Mineo)”
David Ramirez, “Fire of Time”
Lecrae, “Church Clothes”
Usher, “Climax”
Andrew Peterson, “Day by Day”
Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra, “When We Were Young”
Frank Ocean, “Bad Religion”
Christopher Paul Stelling, “Mourning Train to Memphis”
Alabama Shakes, “Hold On”

2011

Adele, “Someone Like You”
Cut Copy, “Need You Now”
Gungor, “You Are the Beauty”
Fleet Foxes, “Helplessness Blues”
Miranda Lambert, “Oklahoma Sky”
Jay-Z & Kanye West, “Otis”
Matt Papa, “This Changes Everything”
Over the Rhine, “Days Like This”
Gary Clark Jr., “Bright Lights”
Bon Iver, “Beth/Rest”

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Top Albums You Won’t Find On 2016’s Top Ten Lists

Top Albums You Won’t Find On 2016’s Top Ten Lists

Every year I try to collect the five best albums that didn’t end up on any critics’ top ten lists. If you find one of these albums on a critic’s top ten list, please don’t sue me.

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Alicia Keys, Here: This seemed somewhat lost in the critical shuffle of 2016’s double Knowles whammy of Lemonade and A Seat at the Table, even though the only thing Here has in common with those two records is that the woman who made it is black. Here definitely takes a more conventional approach, but is just as vital and immediate. This is the best, most personal work Keys has ever released.

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LUH, Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing: WU LYF burned bright while it lasted, but that band’s frontman, Ellery James Roberts, started a new chapter last year with his girlfriend, Ebony Hoorn, in their new band LUH (Lost Under Heaven). Roberts still has his irresistible rasp, but this time the synths filling out his songs have heart. Someone get a teen movie for this band to soundtrack.

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Mutual Benefit, Skip a Sinking Stone: Where LUH does bombast with aplomb, Mutual Benefit owns subtlety. Carefully filled exactly to the rim with soul, Jordan Lee’s second full album as Mutual Benefit is more assured than his first. Beauty doesn’t have to be delicate, but Skip’s appeal is rooted in Lee’s precise quietude.

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Tedashii, This Time Around EP: T-Dot has been around long enough for us to know what to expect from him. But This Time Around finds a new home for Tedashii with some of the most fun music he’s released yet. “Jumped Out the Whip” and “I’m Good” are not only bangers, but they’re also Tedashii at his most relaxed, which is a mode I hope he uses more of on his next full-length.

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Terrace Martin, Velvet Portraits: I don’t know a lot about jazz, but I know I really like this neo-jazz trend that Kendrick Lamar launched into the mainstream with To Pimp a Butterfly. One of Lamar’s collaborators on that record, Terrace Martin, released a beautiful collection of jazz funk this year that was mostly passed over. Pop music critics probably didn’t really know what to do with this mix of instrumentals and soul-inflected grooves, but I do: play it over and over again.

Top Movies You Won’t Find on 2016’s Top Ten Lists

Top Movies You Won’t Find on 2016’s Top Ten Lists

Every year I try to collect the three best movies that didn’t end up on any critics’ top ten lists. If you find one of these movies on a critic’s top ten list, please sue me.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: A lot of critics aren’t drawn to or moved by blockbusters, because big-budget studio movies don’t tend to exhibit a lot of nuance or originality, so that may explain Fantastic Beasts‘ absence on critics’ top ten lists. But even though Fantastic Beasts is a spinoff of the 8-movie, blockbuster Harry Potter series, Beasts managed to find both nuance and originality in a 1920s setting and a story that deals with being an outsider. The characters are made rich by winsome performances against a backdrop of truly magical visuals, which is hopefully a formula the filmmakers follow in the sequels.

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Microbe & Gasoline: This little-seen gem is the most normal movie Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind) has ever made. It’s a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about two young friends who road trip across France in a house-car, which is a car that looks like a house- you know, to fool the cops. Semi-autobiographical coming-of-age stories can sometimes be unbearable, but Microbe & Gasoline has real insight into why we pick our friends when we’re kids and into the counterintuitive desire not to fit in.

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Under the Sun: Much more should be made of this documentary about North Korea, made up of footage from the propaganda film the filmmakers were hired to make and from what happened between takes when they left the cameras rolling. We see how the scenes meant to praise the country and its ruler are meticulously staged to the point that in one scene the children involved end up crying under the pressure. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the authoritarian nation, one we have to assume won’t happen again, though if the North Korean government was inept enough for this to happen once…

Tentative Top Tens of 2016

It’s Top Ten List season again, and because I’m beholden to the whims of my culture, I must add my voice to the conversation. These lists come with the annual caveat that they will inevitably change when the Bummys rock your world next September. Only 5 movies from my 2015 list made it to the Bummys, and 7 albums made the Bummys cut. I listen to more albums than the number of movies I watch, which is less a product of my priorities and more a product of time and convenience. I’ve likely listened to most of the acclaimed albums, but I haven’t caught up with a lot of the acclaimed movies.

Anyway, here are my Top Ten Movies and Albums of 2016. For funsies, I threw in a book, comic, and TV show I enjoyed.

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Movies

1. The Witch: A perfectly paced horror movie about faith and doubt.
2. Kubo and the Two Strings: The animated movie of the year and another homerun for stop-motion studio Laika.
3. Green Room: A punk band stumbles upon a venue run by neo-Nazis and must fight for their lives, though it’s not as B-movie as a it sounds. Patrick Stewart is the white supremacists’ leader.
4. Zootopia: The animated movie of the year, if you ignore Kubo, which you probably did.
5. 13th: A documentary from Ava DuVernay (Selma) that draws the line from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration, a line we want to pretend doesn’t exist.
6. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: A wonderfully original addition to the Harry Potter universe. It helps that it’s not beholden to an 800-page plot.
7. Captain America: Civil War: The Marvel movies just keep on keeping on. You’d think the quality would dip at some point, but Civil War belongs with Avengers and Winter Soldier at the top, just below Guardians.
8. Sully: A smart examination from different perspectives about what happened the day Captain Sully had to land a plane in the Hudson River. Clint Eastwood directs.
9. Doctor Strange: Speaking of quality Marvel movies. This one is as singular as Guardians, and if it weren’t for the boring origin story stuff, it might be Guardian‘s equal.
10. The Jungle Book: The animated movie of the year, if you forget all those live-action parts. It’s a beautiful movie, visually and thematically.

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Albums

1. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book: Its title is a good indication of the joy at the heart of this mixtape. Rap has reached peak gospel music integration.
2. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth: The country savant pens a letter to his son in album form, upending many of the genre’s conventions without abandoning his wheelhouse.
3. Beyoncé, Lemonade: A landmark visual album, Lemonade is also a vivid work of rhythm and the cheatin’ blues.
4. Sho Baraka, The Narrative: The newly Humble Beasted rapper’s album draws many of the same lines DuVernay’s 13th does, but Baraka considers our state of affairs with Christ in mind.
5. Solange, A Seat at the Table: How on earth the Knowles family got all the world’s talent into two women, I’ll never know, but I’m assuming a Devil-goes-down-to-Houston kind of pact was involved.
6. Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial: A few years ago, this would have been the best punk rock record, but in 2016, Teens of Denial is our best rock record, no extraneous labels necessary.
7. Alicia Keys, Here: Criminally underrated by critics, this is Keys’s unabashed expression of black power.
8. Terrace Martin, Velvet Portraits: I’ve only recently discovered our modern jazz funk virtuosos, and Terrace Martin makes his case here for being among their best.
9. Bon Iver, 22, a Million: Somehow, Bon Iver has completely changed his sound from his breakout For Emma, and yet he continues to release powerful and immediate music.
10. Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings: A rock solid double album with some of Lambert’s most brokenhearted songs.

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Best Book I Read

Onward by Russell Moore: There are those in the Southern Baptist Church that would see Moore resign as the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), but this book reveals a man who is one of the few public evangelical leaders who seems to have a handle on 1) where the church fits in today’s American culture in terms of influence, and 2) how the church should engage today’s American culture.

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Best Comic I Read

March by John Lewis: My next post is about this seminal graphic novel trilogy. Stay tuned.

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Best TV Series I Watched

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson: There was a lot of great art that touched on racism, but few handled it with the aplomb of Ryan Murphy’s supremely entertaining one-off.

Movie Bummys: Best Movies of 2015

Movie Bummys: Best Movies of 2015

Top Ten

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10. Spotlight: A movie like Spotlight, about the Boston Globe‘s uncovering of a sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in 2002, almost necessitates deeper conversation. It’s an understated docudrama with very little pretense about its own nobility. So director Tom McCarthy wisely lets the facts of the case speak for themselves, populating his movie with actors (like Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo) willing to cede the limelight to the victims’ stories, and no institution comes out unscathed; everyone participated in covering up the vast number of abusive priests, from the community to the Church to the police to the newspaper itself.

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9. Sicario: This is not an action movie, but a movie about fear and distrust. There’s plenty of suspense to go around, but this isn’t the War on Drugs war movie the trailers promise you. Blunt does a little ass-kicking, but this is more like a War on Drugs X-Files episode, begging the question of whether or not right and wrong matter at the macro level.

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8. The Big Short: On February 28th, 2016, Adam McKay won an Academy Award, and the world was never the same. In all seriousness, that McKay, the comedy bro behind Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers, won a Screenplay Oscar is mind-boggling, but one viewing of The Big Short, and it’s clear why. The Big Short is a civics lesson disguised as the most entertaining Hollywood farce in a long time, and then it pivots and dissolves into tragedy, mirroring the world we live in.

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7. Phoenix: It was a great year for foreign-language films released here in the states: Oscar winner Son of Saul, Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation, Taiwan’s beautiful The Assassin. But none were as poetic or memorable as Germany’s Phoenix, about a disfigured Holocaust survivor whose emergency plastic surgery makes her unrecognizable to her husband, who may or may not have had a hand in her capture. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like the final scene of this movie, in which the truth reveals the husband’s true character.

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6. Ex Machina: As young programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) tries to determine whether Nathan (Oscar Isaac) has truly created artificial intelligence in the robot Ava (a breakout performance from Alicia Vikander), Alex Garland’s directing maintains an uneasy claustrophobia until the walls crash in on us at the very end. Ex Machina ends up being about what most science fiction is about: we’re foolish to think we have control over the technology we create. But that idea has rarely been explored more astutely.

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5. Creed: I’ve been very open about the fact that I think Creed should have been nominated for all the Oscars, and I would have been very pleased if it had won all of them too. What Creed lacks in subtlety (in one montage, Michael B. Jordan is followed through the streets of Philly by dirt bikes while Meek Mill bumps on the soundtrack, which is not not the best scene of the year), it compensates with sheer intensity of commitment to the underdog story. Yes, we’re seeing a story very similarly structured to every underdog sports movie ever, but the performances by Jordan, Tessa Thompson, and Sylvester Stallone, along with Ryan Coogler’s expert boxing direction, make the formula new again.

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4. It Follows: It Follows (a hilariously apt title that could apply to any horror movie but is also uniquely perfect for this one) is horror stripped down. An undefined monster walks toward you, undeterred by anything in its path, maintaining the same pace, taking whatever guise it fancies, and when it gets to you, it kills you. Add to that formula the idea that the monster starts following you if you have sex with its previous target and that your only method of getting rid of it is to have sex with somebody else to pass it to them- well, this is the perfect horror movie then, isn’t it?

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3. The Look of Silence: By and large, I prefer fiction to non-fiction, drama to documentary, because I believe that while non-fiction clearly conveys details about the real world, fiction better illustrates truth. The Look of Silence, which is the sequel to the 2013 documentary The Act of Killing, upends my preferences completely. The first movie followed the filmmaker’s attempts to get Indonesia’s upper class to reenact the acts of genocide they committed years ago, while this movie chronicles a victim’s family member as he confronts them one by one, and the results are nothing if not powerful.

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2. Inside Out: It’s not the first Pixar movie I’ve cried during, but it’s the first one that I bawled during. Co-directors Pete Docter (Up, one of the other Pixar movies I cried during) and Ronaldo del Carmen and the whole screenwriting crew that crafted this story understood something fundamental about how our emotions work and how they tie us to other people. There’s something about how simple they made everything involving our emotions, and how they uncovered truths that don’t get discussed often in movies at all, much less children’s movies in particular, that reminded me of my own childhood and forced me to look ahead to parenthood. They uncovered a truth that our society tends to ignore and a truth that even our churches could stand to learn from as we minister to people who are hurting. We all want joy, but we need sadness. And they’re not mutually exclusive.

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1. Mad Max: Fury Road: Everyone with whom I saw this movie came out of it thinking that it was a singular experience, that we hadn’t ever seen anything like it before. I’ve loved the recent spate of special-effects-laden movies from Marvel and the Fast/Furious franchise, but Fury Road was refreshing in a different way. Fury Road made those other movies look like cartoons. I like cartoons, but if that’s all you watch, you might forget what you’re missing. Fury Road was intense from beginning to end in its nonstop action and in the details of the immersive world that Miller and his crew created. A movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat with suspense and excitement doesn’t often end by giving its audience the feeling they just watched something important and groundbreaking. Fury Road does just that.

Another Fifteen

About Elly
The Assassin
Beasts of No Nation
Bone Tomahawk
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Cartel Land
Furious 7
Heaven Knows What
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
The Revenant
Son of Saul
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Timbuktu
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Past Top Tens

2014

Selma
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Whiplash
Inherent Vice
Two Days, One Night
Boyhood
Guardians of the Galaxy
Ida
Snowpiercer
Blue Ruin

2013

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

2012

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

2011

Rango
Take Shelter
Kinyarwanda
The Tree of Life
The Artist
A Separation
Warrior
Battle Royale
Drive
Super 8

2010

The Social Network
Toy Story 3
Inception
127 Hours
Tangled
Winter’s Bone
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The Secret in Their Eyes
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech

Music Bummys: Best Albums of 2015

Music Bummys: Best Albums of 2015

Top Ten Albums

albums0110. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit: It’s fitting that the two best rock albums of the year were fronted by a women. In a year that found our culture confronting its darker, oft-hid demons, and in a genre with a long, misogynistic history, Courtney Barnett was the rock and roll ambassador we needed. Her stream-of-consciousness lyrics and her punk aesthetic fit right in next to the lexicon of iconoclasts like Dylan and Springsteen, and it’s about time a woman in rock got the kind of respect she deserves.

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9. The Tallest Man on Earth, Dark Bird Is Home: Dark Bird is Matsson’s most personal album, recorded in the wake of his divorce. I suppose that makes Dark Bird a breakup album, and the lyrics do suggest a previously unexplored depth of mournfulness characteristic of the classic breakup albums, while the music explores sound textures beyond his trademark acoustic guitar. It’s almost as if allowing himself room to work outside his guitar gave him the space to open himself up to us.

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8. Ben Rector, Brand New: Listening to this modern piano man’s most recent album, which depends more heavily on storytelling than past albums, I thought of James Taylor. Sure, Taylor was more of a guitar guy, but Brand New is chock full of the kinds of diary details that have been Taylor’s bread and butter on his best songs. It’s this brand new commitment to personal authenticity that makes Brand New Rector’s best album since 2008’s Songs That Duke Wrote.

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7. John Moreland, High on Tulsa Heat: Oklahoma has enjoyed an embarrassment of riches in the singer-songwriter department of late, what with the last year seeing banner albums from Parker Millsap, Ben Rector, and Samantha Crain, the last of which could have easily replaced High on Tulsa Heat at this level without any complaint from me. But Moreland gets the top spot for me because of his uncanny ability to tie his heartbreak and longing to specific places in my home state. I’m surely biased, but people from all states can appreciate the catch in his voice and his way with a phrase.

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6. David Ramirez, Fables: On past albums and EPs, Ramirez has never been afraid of making his unique voice heard, calling out industry fakery and political correctness. Ramirez’s most recent album is his most personal yet and has the most to say about love and commitment from front to back. But, true to the troubadour sensibility, even while Ramirez is pouring his heart out, he never fails to save some space for convicting protests.

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5. Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color: Courtney Barnett’s dominance of the indie rock world last year was total and complete, and Brittany Howard’s dominance of mainstream rock was just as potent. Though Howard downplays the significance of her race in the making of her art, it’s hard to overstate how good it feels to see an African-American woman reclaim blues rock in such a big way. After the comfortable surf rock of Boys & Girls, Sound & Color’s epic, psychedelic sweep from song to song is quite the statement.

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4. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell: Written as he struggled to cope with his mother’s death and with his ensuing drug use and alcohol abuse, Carrie & Lowell bears none of Stevens’s past affectations and is better for it. You get the impression you’re finally getting the real Sufjan. There are several points on the album that have me near tears every time- a small price to pay to experience such an intimate album.

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3. Phil Cook, Southland Mission: In the tradition of some of the best roots rock music, Phil Cook’s second album went largely unnoticed. That’s a shame for the Megafaun member, because this is the kind of effortless folk music that deserves a platform. Some of the songs get at middle-class angst, but ultimately Cook is a master of celebrating life for what it is.

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2. Leon Bridges, Coming Home: Sam Cooke is not a name that it is easy to evoke. He was a classic soul singer whose aesthetic was as much about devotion to Jesus as it was about his voice’s smoothness. I can’t think of a single artist that has even come close to matching the velvet in his voice, the devoutness of his delivery. But Bridges, with only one album to his name, does deserve the comparison. His songs are new hymns, written with the clear idea that Jesus is master, intoned with the clear idea that beauty is the best form of worship.

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1. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly: Some albums are undeniable classics before they’ve even aged a year. This one was a classic before it had even aged a month. A conglomeration of black history, black culture, and black power, To Pimp a Butterfly was bigger than 2015. In one record, Kendrick Lamar painstakingly mapped out the heart of the everyman in America- only unlike virtually every other use of that term ever, this “everyman” was black. And TPAB was also perfect for 2015, the year that cultural awareness of black oppression finally became something everyone (including white people) in America had to face. Some chose to continue to pretend it does not exist while getting angry at black people for deciding to talk about it. Others, like me, were overwhelmed with their own implicit role in making the lives of my black brothers difficult. But like any facet of the Black Lives Matter movement, TPAB didn’t need your approval or your permission to have an impact. Some works of art, and some movements, contain too much truth to be denied. Kendrick spoke, we couldn’t help but listen, and the world couldn’t help but change.

Another Fifteen

Chris Stapleton, Traveller
Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, Surf
Gungor, One Wild Life: Soul
Janet Jackson, Unbreakable
Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free
Jimmy Needham, Vice & Virtue
Justin Bieber, Purpose
Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material
KaiL Baxley, A Light That Never Dies
Kamasi Washington, The Epic
One Direction, Made in the A.M.
Sam Outlaw, Angeleno
Samantha Crain, Under Branch and Thorn and Tree
Sara Groves, Floodplain
The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness

Past Top Tens

2014

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

2013

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

2012

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

2011

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

2010

Titus Andronicus, The Monitor
Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The Black Keys, Brothers
Andrew Peterson, Counting Stars
Gungor, Beautiful Things
Surfer Blood, Astro Coast
Jamey Johnson, The Guitar Song
The National, High Violet
The Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt

Movie Bummys: Best Performances of 2015

Movie Bummys: Best Performances of 2015

Michael B. Jordan, Creed

Movie star acting is harder than it looks. Charming the audience isn’t always a natural act, and it can take more preparation than acting out an emotional scene. Director Ryan Coogler found himself a man who can do both in Michael B. Jordan. Adonis is a hard role to get right; Creed, in general, should not have worked. Coogler and Jordan found the right note between deference to the underdog story of the original movie and the swagger that Adonis has as a black man who had to prove himself time and time again. This new modern Rocky is an entirely different animal than the Italian Stallion. But the attraction to Jordan’s performance isn’t its modernity. No, this is a classic performance, through and through, and it will be remembered as such.

Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina

This one the Oscars got right. Well, kind of. They actually gave one to her for The Danish Girl. But history will remember her for her role as Ex Machina‘s android, Ava. There was not a more nuanced piece of acting this year, and few others in any other year. It’s hard to make robots interesting, and harder to pull off a robot who wants to be human. The last shot of Ex Machina, Vikander’s crowning achievement, contains volumes.

Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation

Another performance passed over by the Academy. Elba, who radiates charm in most of his roles, takes on a con man’s sleaziness here. He’s convincing both as the strutting commandant and then as a passed-over, drunken mess. It’s a role that could have been one-dimensional, nothing more than an accent. In Elba’s hands, it’s the pillar that holds up the movie.

Juliette Binoche, Clouds of Sils Maria

Binoche has her Oscar, so she’s received her due as an artist, but how the awards groups turned a blind eye to this poignant part is beyond me. This part was tailor-made for other actors to give it attention- she plays an older (a relative term- Binoche is only 52) actress hired to act again in the play that began her career, but this time in the older role. Binoche grows increasingly desperate throughout the movie, finding the prospect of her career drawing to a close disheartening. The movie itself is rather dissatisfying, but the exactitude with which Binoche approaches her part stays with you.

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

For all the attention The Revenant was given for Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance (and make no mistake, it was a good performance), I would have preferred more of it be sent Tom Hardy’s way. He was nominated for the Supporting Actor Oscar, but he should have won. More than one person has described Hardy’s character, Fitzgerald, as animalistic, but that’s because they mistakenly perceive his deep need to survive as inhuman. The key to Hardy’s performance is that he understands the most basic of humanity’s traits and makes it palpable: selfish greed.

Fifteen More

Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Nina Hoss, Phoenix
Brie Larson, Room
Maika Monroe, It Follows
Teyonah Parris, Chi-Raq
Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria
Mya Taylor, Tangerine
Tessa Thompson, Creed
Jacob Tremblay, Room
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Past Top Fives

2014

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

2013

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

2012

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

2011

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

2010

Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
Lesley Manville, Another Year
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Christian Bale, The Fighter