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Movie Watching Just Wasn’t the Same This Year

29 Dec

Usually, around this time, I remark with amazement about how many of the year’s movies I’ve seen over the previous 12 months. Last year, for example, I saw 83 of them. In 2018, I saw 84. In 2017, I saw 85. You get the idea. I typically see a lot of movies every year. In the theater.

In 2020, as of this writing, I haven’t even seen 30. (My current total is 29.) And, because of the stupid pandemic, a good number of them had to be seen on my TV or my iPad, alone, at home, at lower volume so as not to disturb my neighbors, and with plenty of distractions from my upstairs neighbors, my phone, and the world outside my windows.

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When the Dust Settled, These Are the Songs That Got Me Through 2020

21 Dec
Lone Bellow on Zoom

In times of stress, as 2020 most certainly was, music always seems to serve as a comfort. And over the last nine and a half months, while some other forms of entertainment and culture had to be put on hold for safety reasons, there was never a shortage of music to listen to and seek comfort from.

Sure, we couldn’t crowd together for concerts, or see other kinds of live performances in person — such as Broadway shows and other theatrical productions. And that definitely sucked. As Dave Grohl wrote all the way back in May, “I’m hungry for a big old plate of sweaty, ear-shredding, live rock and roll, ASAP. The kind that makes your heart race, your body move, and your soul stir with passion.” Yeah, me too.

But on the other hand, this year, the artists came to us, hosting intimate live streams on Instagram, Facebook Live, Zoom, or other platforms; performing from their homes on various TV or online specials; sharing archival performances on YouTube; and more. It wasn’t what we hoped for back in January, and there were some kinks to work out at first. But in the end, it was actually kind of cool.

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No Matter How You Saw Them, These Movies from 2019 Were Worth Remembering

30 Dec

2019 top moviesWhen we look back at the year in movies 2019, chances are good we’re going to see it as a transitional year. Or, if you prefer, an inflection point.

It certainly was a big year, financially: When all is said and done, movie ticket sales in the United States and Canada will total roughly $11.45 billion for the year, according to Comscore. And yet, as significant a number as that is, it’s actually down 4 percent from last year — the largest drop in five years.

Where did that 4 percent go? Streaming, probably.

With Disney taking eight of the top 10 spots in the list of highest-grossing films of 2019 domestically, and 58 features earning the distinction of being “franchise films,” those looking for something different or original often had to look for it on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime — or even CNN.

Indeed, when looking at the most memorable films of the year, they weren’t necessarily those with the highest box-office totals, the ones that monopolized theater screens for much of the year. They were films that, often, were just under the radar or could be easily enjoyed in the comfort of your own home, not a movie theater. Continue reading

I’m Putting These Songs in My 2019 Time Capsule to Preserve Good Memories

12 Dec

2019 music recapI love Spotify. As someone who listens to a lot of music, Spotify Premium is one of the things I’m most thankful for, because it allows me to have a seemingly bottomless collection of tracks and albums at a minimal price, and it exposes me to songs and artists I might not hear otherwise because I don’t listen to a lot of radio.

Every year, Spotify does its “Wrapped” marketing campaign, where it shares with users — in easily shareable form, natch — their most-listened-to artists and tracks. It’s hard to argue with the results, since, apparently, they’re based on Spotify’s own data. And yet, every year, I have a hard time reconciling Spotify’s results with the music I think actually represents my year.

And that’s why, for the past few years, I’ve compiled a running “time capsule” playlist, curating the songs and artists I was listening to at various points in the year, or ones that represent significant or memorable things I experienced. I like recapping my year in music this way instead of waiting and compiling a year-end top-music list, because rather than focusing on a few favorite albums or songs, with this playlist, I have a better representation of what was literally going through my head all year long. Continue reading

Wrapping Up a Decade at the Movies with 20 Favorite Films

10 Dec

Favorite movies of the decadeJust in case you haven’t heard, we’re now at the end of another decade. Which means it’s time to take stock not just of the year that’s closing, but the nine previous years, too, and what the major highlights and trends were.

Any decade recap in my world has to include a top-movies list. It’s a bit of a herculean task, to be sure, given that, by my math, I saw an average of 71 movies every year of this decade. (My single-year high was 85, a total I reached twice.) If all goes according to plan, I’ll close out the 2010s having seen 715 films.

That’s right: Seven hundred and fifteen films. It’s crazy, I know.

So yes, that creates a bit of a challenge when it comes to narrowing down the list to just a few “favorites.” Continue reading

My Soundtrack for 2018 Brings Back a Lot of Memories

18 Dec

Every year has its own soundtrack. It’s the collection of songs and sounds that, when you hear them, they remind you of times gone by.

My soundtrack for 2018 does exactly that, recalling the times I spent lazing by the pool aboard a cruise ship, watching the Olympics, celebrating my birthday in New York City, enjoying live music, driving around in the summer with the volume up and my car windows down, and much more.

I like compiling this kind of “time capsule” playlist instead of writing a top-10 (or whatever number) list of the year’s “best” songs and albums because music tends to play such a large role in my life, and I often can remember certain events by what I was listening to at the time. Besides, taste is so subjective, so when looking back on the year gone by, I’d much rather call attention to more music than less. Because tracks wouldn’t have been added to this playlist if I didn’t like them, anyway. Continue reading

The Best Movies of 2018 Scaled New Heights

13 Dec

We’re definitely living in a time of resistance (political and otherwise), so it feels like my favorite films of 2018 arrived at the perfect time. Indeed, this year, the best movies I saw pushed back in their own ways against the forces that have been trying to minimize, marginalize, silence, and reduce the impact of those who actually make us great. They are a collection that celebrates diversity, inclusion, truth, familial bonds, our obligations to the world around us, risk-taking, and great storytelling. They are films that will stay with us. And their influence will be felt long after the calendar turns the page to another year.

Which is not to say that every one of this year’s releases had the state-of-the-state on their minds. After all, 2018 was also the year of movies like Game Night, Uncle Drew, and, especially, Tag, three comedies that were better than they had any right to be. It was the year that Michael Myers (the silent killer), the Incredibles, and Mary Poppins all returned to the big screen after long absences, as if not a day (or subpar sequel) had gone by. Yes, of course, Mike Myers the actor was back, too, in Bohemian Rhapsody. There were plenty of superhero movies this year, and that includes not one but two movies about Ruth Bader Ginsberg. In fact, speaking of RBG, documentaries about a variety of subjects were legit box-office hits. And one movie, A Quiet Place, even got people in theaters to stop talking and eating popcorn for two hours. A miracle!

Suffice it to say, 2018 was a memorable year for the movies. Of the nearly 85 films I saw (see below for a full list), these are the ones that had the biggest impact on me and left the most lasting impression. Continue reading

In a Meh Year for Movies, These Releases Won the Battle

7 Jan

So, 2017 was a funny year for the movies.

Not funny ha ha, but more like, it was just a meh year overall. With few exceptions, many of the movies I saw were good, not great. And it wasn’t just me: There appears to be little consensus across critics groups and award nominations so far because of it.

To that end, movies like Get Out and Call Me By Your Name I liked but didn’t love. (In the latter case, I thought Armie Hammer was miscast.) Same with Wonder Woman, which I liked but didn’t think was even the best superhero movie of the year. And on the flip side, movies I did really like, you won’t necessarily see on other top 10 lists. And some would never make my list in another, better year. Continue reading

This Time Capsule Playlist Provides a Musical Reminder of All the Moments that Mattered in 2017

13 Dec

The Lone Bellow at the House of Blues in Boston, November 2017. (Photo credit: Martin Lieberman)

Every December, critics (both professional and amateur) like to share their lists of the year’s best music. And while that’s important, and much appreciated, it’s near impossible for music fans to agree on what’s “best.” Musical taste is too personal. Case in point: For every Taylor Swift fan out there (and I know there are a lot of them), there’s someone like me who can’t stand her. On the other hand, I have a soft spot for other artists who don’t often show up on top 10 lists of best music and don’t win many awards. John Mayer, for example.

Point is: We all listen to different things and like what we like. And that’s a great thing.

So, when the end of the year comes around, I choose a different angle on the music recap thing, and prefer to compile a sort of “time capsule” playlist that provides a soundtrack of my year. Continue reading

Everybody Wanted Some Good Movies in 2016!!

27 Dec

everybody-wants-someEvery year around this time, movie watchers put on end-of-the-year goggles and delight in the riches that come with awards season movie releases.

Funny thing is, it wasn’t so long ago that many of those same people (myself included) were bemoaning the lack of quality releases this year. For example, in September, in a column on the sorry state of movies, Boston Globe critic Ty Burr actually wrote, “Someday we may look back on 2016 as the year the movies died.” Ouch. (And this was less than a year after Spotlight, a fantastic movie about a group of dogged Boston Globe reporters, won all kinds of awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture.)

There was also a great video by a YouTuber who calls himself the Nerdwriter about the epidemic of “passable” movies.

To be sure, neither Ty or the Nerdwriter — or the multiple other critics who wrote similar columns — was wrong. Much of 2016 did feel seriously lacking in great cinematic pleasure.

And yet, here we are. Continue reading