2020 Year in Review: Favorite Movies


I hesitate to publish a list of favorite movies from 2020, because I have only watched 15 movies released in 2020, so far. And some of these movies are arguably not 2020 releases, with one arguably not even a movie. Nevertheless, for the record I’ve decided to just post every movie I’ve watched in descending order from most favorite to least favorite, with links to reviews. I’m sure I’ll be adding to my 2020 film viewing as time goes on.

Hamilton
First Cow
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Ham on Rye
Soul
Onward
Blow the Man Down
The Vast of Night
Vampires vs the Bronx
Enola Holmes
Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe
Fourteen
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special
Yes, God, Yes

What movies from 2020 did you love and what should I try to watch next?

2020 Year in Review: Favorite Books


Here’s my annual list of my ten favorite books read in the year.  As always, this is merely the best books I read this year for the first time and not necessarily books published in 20202. For previous years see 2019, 2018,  2017,   2016,   2015,   2014,   2013,   2012,   2011,   2010,   2009,   2008,  2007 and 2006. You may also want to check out My Favorite Books of All Time or see Every Book I’ve Ever Read cataloged in Library Thing.

Books published in 2020 are in bold.

Books Read in 2020

The books are rated on a scale from 1 to 5 stars with links to summary reviews. (A) is for audiobook.

Here’s a thumbnail of what the ratings mean:

  • 5 stars – all-time classic (I’m very stingy with these)
  • 4 stars – a particularly interesting, well-written, or important book
  • 3 stars – a good book from start to finish
  • 2 stars – not a good book on the whole but has some good parts
  • 1 star or less – basically a bad book with no redeeming values

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

2020 Year in Review: Favorite Songs


There aren’t a lot of good things to say about the year 2020, but it was nevertheless a year filled with great music. Here are 20 of my favorite songs for 2020. Please use the comments box to add your favorites. And check out the end of the post for links to my favorite songs lists of previous years.

“Antifa Dance” by Ana Tijoux

“Be” by Mourning [A] BLKstar

“Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa

“Ferris Wheel” by Sylvan Esso

“Hapi feat. Big Rube” by Spillage Village

“Is There Something in the Movies?” by Samia

“Lifetime” by Romy

“Los Angeles” by HAIM

“The Low” by Jonah Mutono

“Mansplain” by Thick

“Phenom” by Thao & the Get Down Stay Down

“Shameika” by Fiona Apple

“Sing Gently” by Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6

“Siyabuela” by Asher Gamedze

“Take a Piece” by The Big Moon

“Take What You Can Carry” (Scientist Dub One) by Mia Doi Todd

“Tenebrist” by The Ballroom Thieves

“walking in the snow” by Run the Jewels

Favorite Songs by Year, 1973-2019

1973197419751976
1977197819791980
1981198219831984
1985198619871988
1989199019911992
1993199419951996
1997199819992000
2001200220032004
2005200620072008
2009201020112012
2013201420152016
201720182019

2020 Year in Review: Favorite Albums


I’ve reviewed 23 albums on this blog in 2020, and probably listened to just as many that I didn’t feel compelled to write about. From this list I’ve selected five of my favorite albums that I recommend you give a listen.

Check out my lists of favorite albums from 20142016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 as well.

Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Everyone liked this album and with good reason.

The Ballroom Thieves – Unlovely

The Boston-based trio released one of many albums that speaks to our time, on both the levels of personal relationships and social movements.

Mourning [A] BLKstar – The Cycle

I am unable to rank my favorite albums, but this is most likely contender for my #1 album of the year, and also the most important.

Run the Jewels – RTJ4

“Speaking to our times” is the theme of this years list and no one does it better than Killer Mike and El-P.

Sault – Untitled (Rise)

We may not know who Sault is, but the British collective released not one but two of the great albums of 2020.

100 Favorite Books of All Time (2020 Edition)


Way back in 2009 I published a series of posts counting down my 100 Favorite Books of All Time. I figure the list is way overdue for an update.  This time I won’t be counting it down, just one big list in alphabetical order.  Some of the books are classic works of literature and others just have a personal connection or influenced me in some way.  But I love every one of them.

I’m going to start a tradition of revising this list every year on my birthday (yes, today I turn 47), so keep an eye out every November 18th to see how this list changes.

Note: Books that are new to the 2020 list are marked in bold. Series of books are counted as one.

What are your favorite books? Do you have a list? Please share in the comments!

Best of the Decade: Favorite Books of the 2010s


Every year I make a list of my favorite books I read each year, but in this instance, I am listing my favorite books actually published from 2010 to 2019.  This book was pretty easy to make as it is every book I gave a ****1/2 to ***** star rating that was published in this period.

Is there a book that should be on this list that you don’t see?  Let me know in the comments and I might read it!

 

2019 Year in Review: Favorite Books


Here’s my annual list of my ten favorite books read in the year.  As always, this is merely the best books I read this year and not necessarily books published in 2018  For previous years see 2018, 20172016201520142013201220112010200920082007 and 2006. You may also want to check out My Favorite Books of All Time or see Every Book I’ve Ever Read cataloged in Library Thing.

  • The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro
  • American Passage: The History of Ellis Island by Vincent Cannato
  • Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties by Elijah Wald
  • Fault Lines : A History of the United States Since 1974 by Kevin Kruse
  • The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • One Giant Leap: The Untold Story of How We Flew to the Moon by Charles Fishman
  • Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
  • Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg
  • We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang

Books Read in 2019

The books are rated on a scale from 1 to 5 stars with links to summary reviews. (A) is for audiobook.

Here’s a thumbnail of what the ratings mean:

  • 5 stars – all-time classic (I’m very stingy with these)
  • 4 stars – a particularly interesting, well-written, or important book
  • 3 stars – a good book from start to finish
  • 2 stars – not a good book on the whole but has some good parts
  • 1 star or less – basically a bad book with no redeeming values

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Vol. 11, Call Your Squirrelfriend
  • Ms. Marvel. Vol. 7, Damage Per Second
  • Ms. Marvel. Vol. 8, Mecca
  • Ms. Marvel. Vol. 9, Teenage Wasteland
  • Ms. Marvel Vol. 10: Time and Again
  • Star Wars: The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry (A) – ***1/2
  • The Second Amendment: A Biography by Michael Waldman (A) – ****
  • Star Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes –
  • Star Wars Vol. 2: Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon –
  • Star Wars Vol. 3: Rebel Jail –
  • Star Wars Vol. 4: Last Flight of the Harbinger –
  • Star Wars Vol. 5: Yoda’s Secret War –
  • Star Wars Vol. 6: Out Among the Stars –
  • Star Wars Vol. 7: The Ashes of Jedha

 

2019 Year in Review: Favorite Albums


Here are five albums from 2019 that I really loved. Check out my lists of favorite albums from 20142016, 2017 and 2018 as well.

The New Normal by STL GLD

The Boston hip hop act STL GLD is well-regarded as one of the best groups in the area by local media. Boston isn’t a notable location on the hip hop map compared with other cities, but The New Normal should draw attention to our city. Moe Pope, Christopher Talken, and Jonathan Ulman perform songs that speak to the present moment of the Trump era, and all the political and personal turmoil that entails, but also offering a positive alternative vision. And STL GLD is not shy about getting their message out, including holding a listening party for the album’s premier in the unlikely setting of the Museum of Fine Arts. I admit that I don’t know enough about hip hop to write a thorough review, but I know what I like, and The New Normal, lyrically and musically, is worth listening to.

It’s Real by Ex Hex

This is the second album (following 2014’s Rips) from the Washington, DC based trio of Mary Timony on guitar, bassist Betsy Wright and drummer Laura Harris.  It’s got a mix of 80s punk and hardrock with touches of power pop and 60s girl groups thrown in.  There’s nothing quite original here, but it is a well-crafted collection of raging guitar solos and sweet harmonies.

The Best of Luck Club by Alex Lahey

Do you like 1980s power pop, but want to hear it from a young, contemporary artist? Australia’s Alex Lahey fits the bill on this album that just totally rocks.  She even rips out a sax solo on “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself.” A year ago this week, I reviewed an album by Lahey’s fellow Australian Courtney Barnett, which I completely loved, and I feel just as strongly for The Best of Luck Club.  Lahey is maybe a bit less edgy musically than Barnett, but her lyrics are empowering and uplifting.  And even on the ballads the pair of ballads that close out the album – “Black RMs” and “I Want to Live With You” – Lahey express the contended domesticity of a loving relationship while still being a rock & roller.

Cut & Stitch by Petrol Girls

I have a soft spot for punk rock that features women’s voices shouting over shredding guitars.  The Petrol Girls website bears the tagline “Raging Feminist Post Hardcore from the UK and Austria” which about sums it up.  And while the shouted lyrics may not always be easy to understand, I appreciate that they’re saying important things, the emotion behind them is clear.

Cuz I Love You by Lizzo

Lizzo is one of those artists that excels in making music that fits into multiple genres – pop, hip hop, soul, funk, & R&B – so much so that her music is kind of it’s own Lizzo genre.  I was going to compare the music on Cuz I Love You to the work of Prince, and that was before I learned that Lizzo is from Minneapolis (in fact she appeared on the Prince and 3rdeyegirl album Plectrumelectrum).  The other obvious comparison is Janelle Monáe, and again there’s a direct connection as the pair performed together at Coachella last week and Lizzo interviewed Monáe for them. magazine.  What sets Lizzo apart is her joyful exuberance.  A large, black woman gets discriminated at from every angle, but Lizzo has embraced self-love, and much of the theme of this album is sharing the message of empowerment.  And she sounds she’s having so much fun while doing it.

2019 Year in Review: Favorite Podcasts


Happy Christmas! If you have some time off today or in the coming week, you might want to fill that time by listening to some podcasts!  To help you, here’s a list of my favorite podcasts episodes from 2019 ( you can also check the previous year’s list from 2018).

Before we get to the episodes, there are some podcast series I want to recognize as being the ones that I always want to listen to every episode, as inaugural inductees in my

Podcast Hall of Fame

  1. 99% Invisible
  2. Hit Parade
  3. The Memory Palace
  4. The Mortified Podcast
  5. Risk!
  6. The Thirty20Eight
  7. Throughline
  8. Twenty Thousand Hertz
  9. Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me

Short Series of Note

White Lies

A serialized documentary about the murder of Reverend James Reeb in Selma, Alabama in 1965 and how no one was ever brought to justice for the crime.

1619 Project  

This podcast debuted in August to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in what would become the United States.  The 1619 Project, created by the New York Times and hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones, explores how

Dolly Parton’s America

This is a new podcast about possibly America’s most beloved living person, Dolly Parton, explores many aspect of her music and public persona.

You Must Remember This :: Disney’s Most Controversial Film

A history of Disney’s banned movie, Song of the South, from its origins, influences on culture, popular re-releases, and persistent presence to this day.

The Report

This 15-part podcast breaks down the Mueller Report for those of us who don’t have time to read the report and/or need an assist with the legalese.

Favorite Podcast Episodes

On the Media :: Africatown

Survivors of The Clotilde, the last ship to carry Africans kidnapped into slavery in the United States, created a community outside Mobile, Alabama after the Civil War (covered in the recently published Zora Neale Hurston book Barracoon). The community has been devastated by environmental racism but survivors still hope to preserve its history.

The Truth :: Meet Cute

A romantic comedy where one the members of the couple dies before the first date.  There’s a lot of clever twists in this story.

Decoder Ring :: Baby Shark

Everything you need to know, and then some, about this year’s viral sensation, “Baby Shark” (doo, doo, doo, doo, doo).

Code Switch :: When Disaster Strikes

Inequality rears its ugly head in America in many ways.  Code Switch explores how disaster aid is biased in favor of white, prosperous homeowners and against poorer, people of color who rent

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: The Booj

In a world where every movie trailer sounds exactly like every other movie trailer, how does one make their trailer stand out?  The story of The Booj and other elements common to the blockbuster movie trailer formula.  Confession:  I love the sound of The Booj, but can live without the cheezy song covers.

Hit Parade :: The Everybody Say YEAH! Edition

Hit Parade traces Stevie Wonder’s career from his first #1 single – ““Fingertips, Part 2” in 1963 – and his emergence as a song writer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and recording artist into his imperial period of the 1970s.  Chris Molanphy’s description of “Little” Stevie Wonder improvising on the live performance recording of “Fingerpits” as a 12-year old doing everything he can to stay up later past bedtime, is absolutely perfect.

99% Invisible :: Play Mountain

Isamu Noguchi was a sculptor and designer with an interesting life story.  He designed an abstract playground structure for New York City but was rejected by Robert Moses, who became a lifelong enemy (and this makes me love Noguchi more).  During World War II, he volunteered for internment in order to design a humane camp for the Japanese-American internees, and then found himself both unable to influence the design and unable to leave.  Today, his legacy lives on in unique, abstract playgrounds.

Hit Parade :: The Invisible Miracle Sledgehammer Edition

If you turned on the radio in the mid-1980s, you were likely to hear music by members of Genesis (Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, and Mike and the Mechanics) while the band Genesis continued to make hits.  Chris Molanphy explains this unusual situation in pop music history.

Code Switch :: The Original ‘Welfare Queen’

The story of a con artist, child abductor, and possible murderer whose crimes were used to justify to slash welfare safety nets by the Reagan and Clinton administrations.

Decoder Ring :: Chuck E. Cheese Pizza War

My grandmother took my sister and I to a Chuck E. Cheese in the 80s when we were much too old for Chuck E. Cheese.  From this podcast I learned that the audioanimatronic shows were intended for adults and that they no longer exist at Chuck E. Cheese today.  And that’s just the beginning of a lot of strange stories.

Have You Heard? :: White Homebuyers, Black Neighborhoods and the Future of Urban Schools

Hit Parade :: The History of Show Tunes and the Pop Charts

A broad history of Broadway tunes and cast albums making it to the top of the charts, whether as original cast recordings, covers, or even samples.  I learned a lot, such as the fact that Natalie Wood did not sing her own songs in West Side Story, and that Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita were concept albums before they were staged as shows.

StoryCorps :: A Danger to My Country

Stories of the “Lavender Scare” in the 1950s federal government, and the gay man who had to enforce it.

Throughline :: Milliken v. Bradley

The effort to end school segregation by way of busing lead to this Supreme Court case decision that still affects our schools and communities to this day

Hub History :: Mayor Curley’s Plan to Ban the Klan 

Back in the 1920s, white supremacists hoped to expand their operations into Boston, but faced fierce opposition from Boston mayor James Michael Curley.  If only Boston’s mayor in 2019 was not a coward who appeases white supremacists.

The War on Cars :: Dying For Change

Bicycling activists stage more aggressive protests against politicians and the police as the deaths of cyclists increase in number.

This American Life :: We Come From Small Places

The immigrant experience explored through stories from the Labor Day Carnival and the West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn.

the legacy of slavery, segregation, and inequality have shaped American history.

The War on Cars :: The Problem with Public Meetings

Are public meetings the most democratic and effective way of finding common ground on the use of shared urban spaces?  Probably not.  This episode breaks down the problems of public meetings through the lens of a town hall forum in Brooklyn.

 

The War on Cars :: The Automotive Police State

Cars are often equated with freedom, but in this podcast we learn the mass production of cars lead to a massive increase in policing and the erosion of 4th Amendment rights. This is a must-listen.

Best of the Left :: Why We Cannot Have Nice Things (How Racism Hurts Everyone, Including White People)

This collection of stories from progressive news outlets takes “a look at some of the ways that conservative policies, willed into existence almost exclusively by white people, measurably hurt people and shorten life expectancies, including those who most fervently support the self-destructive policies.”

This American Life :: The Out Crowd

Important journalism for anyone who wants to know the extent of the crimes against humanity being carried out in our names at the border.

Hit Parade :: Rolling in God’s Royal Uptown Road Edition

Chris Molanphy expertly and entertainingly breaks down the trends in hit songs that charted in the 2010s.  The episode made me oddly nostalgic for the decade that hasn’t even ended yet.  Although, after having it broken down, I think I liked the hit music from the first half of the decade better than the second half.

Final tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances

2019 Year in Review: Favorite Songs


The year comes to an end and with it some great music.  Here are a dozen songs I’ll remember from 2019.

What are YOUR favorite songs of 2019 (or any other year for that matter)?  Let me know in the comments.

Jaimie Branch :: prayer for amerikka pt. 1 & 2

I only recently learned of this tune from the Said the Gramophone Best Songs of 2019 list. Jaimie Branch is a jazz saxophonist and composer based in Baltimore who as some things to say about the state of our country.

Billie Eilish :: bury a friend

This was the first song I heard by Billie Eilish, about a month or so before she was suddenly a BIG DEAL, and it’s still my favorite. Billie Eilish’s music is weird, a little bit creepy, yet you can still dance to it.  I never in a million years expected her to have chart success so good on her for redefining pop music.  And she’s just turned 18.

Ex Hex :: Cosmic Cave

Mary Timony’s latest band returns for a second album of pure, unadorned post-punk rock.

Gato Preto featuring the LusAfro Allstars :: Mendinga Carnival

Afrofuturist music arising from the collaboration of a German producer and a pan-African band of artists.

Alex Lahey :: Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

Like Ex-Hex, the 26-year-old Australian Lahey brings straightforward pop-punk excellence (and an 80s sax solo!) to this song about resisting the pressure to do it all.

Lil Nas X :: Old Town Road

40+ years ago, rap music emerged as an urban style of music before spreading to the suburbs and exurbs, and into cultures around the world. Lil Nas X has at last brought rap into a thoroughly rural area on this track that – no matter what the Billboard Country Chart says – is thoroughly country.

Lizzo :: Juice

Lizzo, her music, and the fact that she rose to widespread fame in 2019, all give me hope in these dark time.s

Priests :: The Seduction of Kansas

A theme of this year is artists who draw on punk influences to do new things. The Priests musical interpretation of Thomas Frank’s What’s The Matter With Kansas? fits the bill.

Rapsody feat. D’Angelo and GZA :: Ibtihaj

This is another track introduced to me by the Said the Gramophone list. Rapsody, aka Marlanna Evans, is a rapper from North Carolina. The title of this track pays tribute to Ibtihaj Muhammad, a fencer who became the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in 2016 Summer Olympics. It also has an amazing groove.

Sampa the Great :: Final Form

Sampa Tembo is a Zambian-born rapper now based in Australia finds another great groove to back this track of finding empowerment in Black identity.

Sir Babygirl :: Haunted House

Kelsie Hogue, who performs under the name Sir Babygirl and has ties to the Boston music scene, performs intense indie pop where they belt out lyrics with trilling vibrato. This song, as I interpret it, explores the inner emotions an introvert may feel about having to go to a party when they really don’t want to.

Sharon Van Etten :: Comeback Kid

Comeback Kid introduced Van Etten’s new harder rock sound with 80s synthpop styling.  Thematically it’s about trying to assert your own identity when the people you love still see you as a kid.

 

 

Favorite Songs by Year, 1973-2018

1973 1974 1975 1976
1977 1978 1979 1980
1981 1982 1983 1984
1985 1986 1987 1988
1989 1990 1991 1992
1993 1994 1995 1996
1997 1998 1999 2000
2001 2002 2003 2004
2005 2006 2007 2008
2009 2010 2011 2012
2013 2014 2015 2016
2017 2018