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A Forgettable Year for Hollywood Still Had Its High Points

26 Dec

A lot of movies were released in 2022. But how many of them do you remember?

It’s a valid question, because few 2022 releases seemed to be all that memorable — not to mention, have true staying power or any lasting pop culture impact. Not the multiple Marvel movies. (Not even the Black Panther sequel.) There was no underdog crowd pleaser like CODA. Sure, there was Top Gun: Maverick. And a case could be made for Everything Everywhere All at Once, too. But good luck finding anything worth getting excited about this awards season.

Heck, it’s hard to believe a new Jurassic World movie came out just six months ago. It feels like much longer than that.

Yes, in 2022, it felt like movies were more disposable than ever. They came and went, disappearing into the ether or into the vast collection of some streaming network, never to be heard from — or spoken of — again.

Many of them were fine. Just fine. Not awful, but not as good as hoped, either. A bunch were disappointing. And so, now, at the end of the year, even those of us who see a lot of new releases are struggling to remember what we’ve seen.

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My 2022 Playlist Features Songs and Artists with Real Staying Power

15 Dec

Like so many other publications, the New York Times recently published a roundup of the “best songs” of the year. Reading through it, I was instantly struck by how many of the songs and artists I had never heard of before. Sure, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and the 1975 all made appearances — I knew all of them, of course, even if I’d only ever heard the 1975’s song — but most of the others I was learning about for the very first time.

Similarly, I only knew three of the songs on Paste’s list of the 50 best songs of 2022.

It’s not that I don’t listen to a lot of music. According to Spotify Wrapped, I listened to 8,314 minutes of it this year — more than 54% of other listeners in the United States, apparently. And that’s not including all the music I listened to on the radio, or that I’d purchased or downloaded, or that I heard live, or that I streamed via YouTube or other services. When I wasn’t listening to podcasts like Smartless, that is.

And it’s not that I don’t listen to popular artists. Heck, my top artist this year (again, according to Spotify) was Harry Styles.

The thing is, music, more than most any other entertainment, is personal. So, how we classify the “best” or “top” songs, albums, or artists varies. My favorites are likely not your favorites. And I’m more than okay with that.

Which is why, every year at this time, I don’t even bother to compile a year-end best-of list. Nor do I put much stock into Spotify’s roundup of what my most listened-to tracks were — though, admittedly, the algorithm doesn’t lie; I did listen to a lot of Harry Styles this year.

Rather, I prefer to review my annual “time capsule” playlist and let that define my year in music. Conveniently, the playlist also provides a soundtrack of memories for how the year played out (pun intended).

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2021 Was a Great Year to Go Back to the Movies

27 Dec
Belfast movie scene

After a year and change of pandemic-related limitations, and fewer theatrical releases to choose from, moviegoing was back in 2021. No more did we have to settle for watching films at home, on our TVs or tablets, all by ourselves. With vaccines in our bodies, we could (mask up and) see them on a much bigger screen, with much better sound … with other people!

In short, it was pretty great. Joni Mitchell once said, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” and, while I never took movie theaters for granted, I sure came to appreciate them more when I couldn’t go to them.

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My 2021 Soundtrack Reflects the Times (and Music) I Want to Remember

13 Dec

When directors make movies, they work with a music supervisor and a composer to create a soundscape for the film that will deliberately help drive the narrative, boost the desired emotional impact, and leave a distinct impression in the minds of viewers. When done well, hearing a particular song or musical motif included in the movie may trigger memories of that work.

In real life, the process happens somewhat in reverse: The “narrative” of our lives moves forward organically, and the music that triggers memories of certain times and events is not necessarily planned. And, rather than the music itself telling a story, it’s up to us to look at the collection of songs and pick out the themes from the soundtrack in hindsight. In this way, music serves to remind us of the times we’ve lived through, and the music that was playing while we lived — with this caveat: The soundtrack often reflects the times we want to remember. More importantly, it’s made up of the music we want to remember.

I listened to a lot of music in 2021, and my “Now” playlist was everchanging. But as noted, the soundtrack of my year — a.k.a. my 2021 Time Capsule Playlist — largely reflects what was good about these last 12 months.

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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’ve only seen 33. 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

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