No, I have not fallen off the planet (and other things)

Dear Reader (whomever you might be), I do apologize. The holidays tend to do this to me, especially over the past two years, where they no longer just mean time with my own family, but now time with my family, and parents/relatives on both sides. So while this is a bad excuse, this is the basic reason for my lack of communication in recent days (or weeks).

I really wanted to write about my favorite albums of 2017, but every time I looked at the list of things I listened to last year, I felt unmoved by the clutter. The prospect of paring down the rather long list (I’ve been keeping a log of every album I’ve listened to for a few years now, and it gets really, really long) never appealed to me, and eventually it started to feel too late to write much. This top ten will have to suffice (in no particular order):

  1. Sinai Vessel – Brokenlegged
  2. The Classic Crime – How To Be Human
  3. John Mark McMillan – Mercury & Lightning
  4. Acceptance – Colliding by Design
  5. Lo Tom – Lo Tom
  6. Colony House – Only the Lonely
  7. Paramore – After Laughter
  8. Have Mercy – Make the Best of It
  9. Racquet Club – Racquet Club
  10. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

Very difficult to mention honorable mention: Brand New’s Science Fiction, an album so loaded in light of recent allegations against lead singer Jesse Lacey that it makes it a complicated listen on multiple levels. Unfortunate. On its own, it’s a masterclass work.

All these albums spent a lot of time in my ears this past year; but 2017 was a year where I spent a lot of time in the car (I drive an hour to teach classes every other day each Spring), so podcasts tend to fill up the bulk of driving time. I’m still struggling with the balance there. That said, there’s a melancholic feeling to all of these records (save, maybe, for Colony House and Paramore, but I think the argue could be made that deeper listens to both supports my original statement), and this, I find, is what often draws me to  music in the first place. I don’t want music to inform my general mood; instead, I choose to create a tone to my life via the music I enjoy, and I think, given the proper balance, this helps keep my overall mood a little more where I prefer it to be.

For many, sad music makes them feel sadder; for me, it reminds me I’m not the only one who feels that way sometimes, and this is enlightening and empowering.

*****

I also wanted to write about all the films I saw this year and which ones I liked the best. However a quick perusal of the year in film for 2017 indicates that I’ve missed a great deal this year (I mentioned this in an earlier blog, and much of that remains unseen by me), partially because life happens and partially because a lot of the “important” films of 2017 haven’t appealed to me (thankfully I purchased MoviePass for my wife and I, so 2018 promises to be better on that front). My “haven’t seen” list hasn’t shrunk too terribly much, mostly because I didn’t list most of the year’s awards contenders, which have become the preferences when it comes time to actually go see a movie.

Again, I offer a top ten list, with few thoughts added:

  1. Dunkirk
  2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  3. Lady Bird
  4. The Disaster Artist
  5. Blade Runner 2049
  6. The Big Sick
  7. Spiderman: Homecoming
  8. Logan
  9. Thor: Ragnarok
  10. War for the Planet of the Apes

I did see The Shape of Water recently as well, but wasn’t as taken by its story as others have been (although it’s beautifully made, as expected). Still plan to see The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Coco, Darkest Hour, and Phantom Thread before the Oscars in March.

Also, I thought The Last Jedi was a brilliant addition to the Star Wars canon, and if you didn’t get it, then I question your ability to have an open mind. Rian Johnson massively expanded the universe that used to exist only as a Skywalker saga, but now is free to literally go anywhere it wants in a galaxy far, far away. How that isn’t good for the series is beyond me.

*****

My final thoughts pertain to my number 3 movie of the year, and its a piece of the film that I haven’t seen anyone else write about (if I missed it, I’d love to read what else has been written). The father in Lady Bird is played masterfully by Tracy Letts, an actor I don’t think I’ve ever seen before (although a quick IMdB search tells me I have in U.S. Marshals and The Big Short, and that he’s also in The Post). To me, he is the hero of the movie, or at the very least he is the glue that holds the whole thing together; and while I understand this might come across as a misogynistic viewing of the movie, for me, Letts’ nuanced, thoughtful and caring performance is what gives the ever-fluctuating relationship between Lady Bird and her mother (fantastic performances both from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf) a counterbalance; Lady Bird never hates her father, instead he’s responsible for holding them together. Hence the glue metaphor.

Yes, ultimately the film is about a young girl coming of age and leaving a home she actually loves more than she thought she did (the scene where the nun points this out to Ronan is charming and telling), but it’s also about how important each relationship in our lives can be, even the ones we tend to overlook. Ronan’s Lady Bird insists on being her own person, but it is the sacrifice of her mother combined with the steadfastness of her father that allows her to do so. She isn’t who she is in spite of her upbringing, something that is often hammered into audiences by movies year after year, but because of this. Writer/director Greta Gerwig (who, by the way, is at the very least the inspiration for Ronan’s performance, as the cadence and timbre of Ronan’s American accent seems to match Gerwig’s to a T) seems to know this instinctively, but I believe the publicity for the film undersells itself. This isn’t just a mother/daughter dramedy; it’s a film about how our families (and, really, almost all our relationships) shape us, even the ones who do so a little less quietly.

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