Tuesday, December 20, 2016

My Favorite Albums of 2016

The back bit of 2016 is usually when I do most of my music consumption these days. I have my favorite records I carry through the first 9 months of the year, and spend the last three frantically trying to make sure I didn’t miss anything. But given that 2016 ended up being one of the worst years in recent memory, there was little time or drive to engage. Mind you, I was DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER in 2015 and underwent a surgery where I had my throat slit ear to ear and 2016 was still more emotionally exhausting and stressful.

I can’t tell if 2016’s gloom and doom shaded my usual enthusiasm or if it was just a down year records-wise. From January on it felt like every record I was looking forward to didn’t quite live up to my expectations. It’s not that they were particularly lofty, it’s just that in almost all cases the ones I wanted the most weren’t as good as their predecessors. That’s entirely subjective, but it still seemed weird, and most of those albums made the list.

Which is to say, this list feels diminished, and it feels diminished because I feel diminished and I just couldn’t get my head in the right place to listen to music. I feel like my heart’s not in it. Even when I was enjoying music, there were only a couple records this year that took over my life. The periods of takeover were shorter than usual, but it’s still a miracle to find ANY album that has that power. I think a lot of this detachment can be chalked up to my attention span, which was very bad this year, and especially after the election. You try to have hope, but then reality avalanches its way back into your headspace and you just play videogames or listen to Fantasy Football podcasts until the bad thoughts are abated.

The silver lining of the broken attention span led to a list of Favorite Songs of 2016 that is as long as my arm. I am and have always been an Album person, but this is one of those rare years where my Favorite Songs list feels like a more accurate picture of my listening habits in 2016. The other elephant in the room is that I spent the first five months of the year listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat and it jacked up the Album of the Year picture pretty immensely. Since Hamilton was released in 2015 it is disqualified from entry, so what to do? Here are the 15 albums I listened to the most this year. While I didn’t love all of them, I did like them enough to listen to them dozens of times.

Honorable Mention Division
15. Rooftop Vigilantes - Let it Be
(High Dive)
This was the only record I bought in 2016 because I love these guys and seeing them live at the Replay on what feels like a weekly basis when I was still living in Lawrence was a great privilege and pleasure. That this band never really got their due despite writing some of the best songs I have ever heard is one of those things that breaks my heart if I think about it for too long. This one's another winner, and only on the honorable mention list because there is a huge toy princess castle blocking the LP collection.

14. Modern Baseball - Holy Ghost
(Run For Cover)
Though I’m a geek for bands with two singers/songwriters splitting an album in half, Holy Ghost ended up feeling top heavy. I just much preferred Jake Ewald’s songs to Brendan Lukens’ and I think the even split (read: the first half of the album is Ewald, the second is Lukens) makes the album feel uneven whereas interspersing them would make for a more satisfying listen. It’s like Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, where the A Side is all the hits I love and the B Side is a bunch of weird stuff that I never listen to. And while I prefer Ewald’s more idiosyncratic songwriting, Lukens’ “Just Another Face” is probably the best song on the album. Despite not living up to You’re Gonna Miss it All, Holy Ghost is a better record. That doesn’t make any sense, I know, but I always evaluate but  Modern Baseball continued maturing their sound and their stock is still very high in the little personal bubble where I live and evaluate the hard work of people far more talented than I.

13. The Hotelier - Goodness
(Tiny Engines)
The Hotelier’s breakout 2014 record Home, Like Noplace is There was my second favorite album of that year, and the one I still listen to the most from that terrific 2014 class. Needless to say, hopes were very high for this one, and I listened to it a ton, and it never quite lived up to my (probably outlandish) expectations. Goodness has an entirely different energy than its predecessor, and I never quite locked into it despite listening to it a ton on nightly runs during the summer. I kept hoping things would click and they never quite did. That’s not to say I think it’s a bad record, I mean, obviously it’s not, considering it’s here on this list. It’s a contender for the Retroactive Best of 2016 list I mentally compile when I realize I find that I’m listening to records from the previous year with much more gusto than I did upon their release. One thing I did love about this record is Christian Holden’s songwriting, which is as strong as ever.

12. Kevin Devine - Instigator
(Procrastinate! Music Traitors)
My goodness does Kevin Devine know how to churn out blissful power pop. His name has floated around my orbit a little bit for the last ten years or so but I don’t think I’d ever listened to one of his albums until this one--thanks to its excellent album cover, which easily garners the Album (Art) of the Year award, if only because it so vividly resembles my own childhood--and goddamn. Just goddamn, Kevin. A fistful of earworms and emotions. Outstanding work.

11. Mitski - Puberty 2
(Dead Oceans)

There was a moment at the end of the summer where I listened to “Your Best American Girl” for the first time and the second that chorus crashed in, I said “album of the year” under my breath. While that didn’t exactly end up being the case, it’s still an excellent album anchored by Mitski Miyawaki’s outstanding songwriting and emotive and perpetually heartbroken vocals. Musically I couldn’t get around how much the lead off track “Happy” reminded me of the lead-off track from the last St. Vincent record and that shaded the rest of the album upon repeat listens. The most important takeaway was discovering that Miyawaki is as an absolute force to be reckoned and wrote some of the most incisive, fearless, and powerful lyrics of the year.

Top 10 Division

10. Tancred - Out of the Garden
This one came out of nowhere when I randomly saw the video for “Pens” and latched onto the track’s fierce late 90s Kill Rock Stars vibe. The rest of the album bears all of the hallmarks of that era’s golden age (with debts owed to Sleater-Kinney, Julie Ruin, and Kathleen Hanna) but never feels like a tribute act. Instead, Jess Abbott gleefully blends crunchy post-grunge guitars with a sturdy pop sensibility to craft these muscular little earworms. I only listened to this album a few times in one marathon session and that was enough to warrant a spot on the list, which is really a testament to this record’s solidness.

9. PUP- The Dream is Over
PUP’s approach to pop-punk is a weird roundabout one that has the energy of the angst and power chords stuff I grew up on but a tendency to slow it down, get weird, and absolutely bury songs in euphoric sing-a-long chants, choruses, and whoa-a-ohs. But then there’s “The Coast,” a creepy retelling of an Inuit story about a girl pulled into a frozen lake by monsters and the versatile closer “Pine Point” is a murky rumination on a Yukon ghost town. These two songs break up the hyperactive energy and make for a surprisingly well-rounded record (by traditional pop-punk standards) that I was able to return to again and again this year whenever I needed a solid kick in the pants.

8. Crying - Beyond the Fleeting Gales
(Run for Cover)
Crying’s sophomore effort might be the most remarkable album of the year, if only because of the stylisic chasm that divides it from its predecessor. Crying’s debut--2013’s Get Olde--was Nintendo-heavy chiptune with some vocals laid in to get drowned out. A novel concept--a chiptune band with a singer! These almost sound like pop songs!!--but short on execution. Beyond the Fleeting Gales sounds like a different band. The Nintendo synths have been mellowed into an idiosyncratic digital orchestra, and as fun as chiptune can be, it’s never a genre that would be mistaken for beautiful. And here’s Crying, building something ecstatic and weird and retro and totally fresh. And that’s before I even get into Elaiza Santos’ vocals, which burrow deep into the core of my bitter, blackened heart and unleash the fervent love for twee pop I buried there ten years ago.
7. AJJ - The Bible 2
The Bible 2’s predecessor--my Favorite Record of 2014, Christmas Island--set the bar pretty high, and while I didn’t think it quite surpassed that record’s insane, ramshackle majesty, it’s still pretty goddamn great. I didn’t immediately take to it as I did Christmas Island, which seems to be a trend with AJJ records (I was cool on Knife Man after being all in on Can’t Maintain). Uncovering the album’s overarching concept was key to my engagement. That, and how Sean Bonnette can break your heart by making reference to a Milky Way Lite and calling back to it five songs later. It’s another forward step for a band that keeps making them and I reserve the right to retroactively bump this one up a couple spots when I REALLY get into it. The Bible 2 is Rosie’s pick for Album of the Year. That’s cheating, because this was the one that was always on in the car. It has been the CD occupying my CD player since its release, as I usually keep one in there when I don’t want to go through the trouble of plugging in my phone. As a result, I was treated to my 2 year old daughter singing along to lines like, “I love you cuz I love you cuz I can” and “I saw white worms I saw white worms” and saying things like, “I LOVE THIS MUSIC!” That’s all a proud papa can hope for when he’s introducing his progeny to “the good shit.”
6. Big Thief - Masterpiece
(Saddle Creek)
Man oh man does this record have a big heart. It feels like you’re right there with the band, sitting on the floor of someone’s living room, watching them tell you these beautiful little stories. The record is unassuming and loose, at times haunted, at times broken hearted, but always pulsing with this sense of the deep truths being revealed in plain sight. It's a small marvel, and the title track is one of the songs of the decade.

5. Pinegrove - Cardinal
(Run for Cover)
After a few cursory listens I filed this one under “I bet I’ll be super into this next year.” Then I listened to the album while driving home from work in a snowstorm and it clicked so hard it vaulted into the Top 10. Those records always end up being my favorites. Well, not always, but sometimes you can just spot something special but can’t quite comprehend it and you know it’s good and you know it’s gonna click and when it does it’s gonna be a lifer. And Cardinal definitely feels like a lifer. It’s a tremendous testament to distance and displacement, with equal footing in alt-country and emo revivalism. And now that I have wrapped my brain around it, I can almost guarantee I’ll be kicking myself for not placing it higher on the list in a few months.

4. Joyce Manor - Cody
Joyce Manor’s placement has a lot to do with their 2014 album Never Hungover Again, which, if you stripped out the pesky “Best Album of 2016 Must Have Been Released in 2016” caveat to this list, would be my album of the year. I listened to that album obsessively, and when the new one came out, I listened to that one obsessively too. I just can’t tell you enough how much I love sub-two minute songs and how amazing Joyce Manor are at making 20 minute LPs you can listen to over and over and over and over and over and over again.

3. Conor Oberst - Ruminations
Conor Oberst takes a break from his band to make a quick record of stripped down tunes and goddamn is it good. It’s basically his version of Springsteen’s Nebraska with way more harmonica. I did not expect to love this record as much as I did, but there I was this fall, looking for something to listen to and using Ruminations as my default album to put on for every occasion. It’s raw and messy and real and really damn good stuff. Ten or so years ago, right after the release of Cassadaga, I bought an original pressing of Letting off the Happiness at the Lawrence Antique Mall for $30 with the intent of flipping it since it was currently going for around $300 on eBay. “This is probably peak Conor Oberst, right?” I thought. I hung onto it, and it survived the Cancer Cull because it’s a monument to how wrong I was.

2. Martha - Blisters in the Pit of My Heart
Martha have filled that void in my heart left by Daniel Blumberg when he left Yuck. That’s not to say Martha crib the heavy 90s alt rock influences from Yuck’s first record, but there’s something in that British vocal delivery and the ramshackle pop songs that scratches that same itch. Martha operate in vintage twee pop territory filtered through the lens of brash pop punk power chords. The singer can’t sing, but that’s how I like my singers, so of course this is one of my favorite records of the year. And of course this thing has hooks that a bunch of proper singers would kill for. This one is distilled joy from end to end.

1. John K Samson - Winter Wheat
My fierce love and loyalty to the songs of John K Samson barely needs an introduction. The Weakerthans were the key to transforming me from a young, angry punk rocker into a more sensitive, musically adventurous young man, and he’s my favorite songwriter of all time. Without question. John Darnielle, Craig Finn, and Dan Bejar are all up there, but Samson speaks directly to my soul. His songs have been there for all of the major moments in my life, because I always found a way to tie the major moments in my life to one of his songs. When Jenny and I started dating I had “The Reasons.” When we were driving to the hospital to deliver Rosie, we listened to Samson’s debut solo record Provincial as we radiated with excitement and fear and the prospect of our world being totally upended in a matter of hours. I also listened to that record a lot when I was in the hospital recovering from my thyroidectomy and modified neck dissection in 2015, notably “Letter in Icelandic from the Ninette San” when my guests had gone home. His songs have always given me hope, and I question as a hardline cynic whether or not I would have any had I never heard “Aside” for the first time when I was venturing out from Propagandhi and felt my sonic world seismically shift. Winter Wheat is another masterpiece in a catalog littered with them. Generous, deeply gratifying, a gift. 2016 was full of emotional exhaustion and political anguish, but the quiet activism of Samson’s songs makes for a perfect soundtrack for terrible times.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

No Baseball

Here's another backlogged comic. I can't remember if I posted it last year or not. Nothing has changed though. There is no baseball on tonight and I honestly don't know WHAT I'm gonna do with myself. Just kidding, it's dishes and laundry. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


This one is from last Summer. I still draw semi-regularly (more now since we moved and have a "Grown Up Space" in the basement that has effectively morphed into an art studio), but since I basically draw as a meditative practice and I'm disastrously sloppy, the prospect of cleaning these things up is such a nightmare that I just watch TV instead.

This was back when we just chilled at the house all day on Mondays. Now we run errands and do fun stuff on Mondays. It used to be so exhausting and now Mondays are the best part of my week. WE run errands, go to the park, go grocery shopping and eat free samples, etc. She is an excellent errand buddy. The phone is still a much coveted device (mostly she just looks at pictures, which are almost exclusively of her) but the only time she ever gets it is at 6:30 after yelling, "UP Daddy, up up up" and then realizing my phone is on the nightstand, going "Ooo phone" and occupying herself with the aforementioned picture-looking for the fifteen minutes it takes to have a good cry on the inside at the early hour and drag myself out of bed. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Best Films of 2015 (That I Saw)

As usual, there are a ton of movies I missed. It’s a combination of living in the midwest (films start at the edges and work their way in and by February I’m usually playing catchup) and straight-up not having the time to luxuriate and go to the movies. For the first time since Kill Bill I neglected to see a Tarantino movie in theaters and this makes me very sad. We also missed out on Anomalisa after some babysitter miscommunication. These things happen. I’ll see them in a couple months when they’re out on DVD and that’s all that matters, but in my head, I’ll still feel a pang of sadness that they couldn’t be considered for the little year end list I effectively make for myself to process the year. 2015 was not a banner year for film or music, but like any other year, it’s a big pain narrowing down my favorite pieces into at Top Ten. They can’t all be 2007 or 2013 (this is only drawing from recent memory, certainly someone has pegged the absolute best year for movies ever) but the beautiful thing about cinema is that you will always have at least ten must see movies. Maybe only one or two of them will end up IMDB Top 250 worthy but all of them are going to be thought provoking, entertaining, and if you’re lucky, they’ll leave you a little rattled and/or rattle around inside your head for days/weeks/months/years to come.

And because I couldn't limit it to just ten, I even have honorable mentions (amazingly, in no particular order): Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Undid the horrors of the prequels in one fell swoop. Made me feel like a boy again. I was 9 years old when the original trilogy was re-released on VHS. I didn't really know anything about Star Wars. From what I can remember, my dad checked them out at Blockbuster and I spent the next 7 hours in the basement having my child's mind fully obliterated with absolute joy. I got the tapes a few months later at Christmas. Along with action figures, Boba Fett's ship, a land speeder, and the much coveted Millenium Falcon. To crib from Inside Out, these are core memories. One of the reasons The Force Awakens works so well is it's basically just A New Hope with a fresh coat of paint. It's everything you loved about Star Wars as a child made new again. That sentimentality is practically a cliche in re Star Wars, and while I expected a torrent of nostalgia to come rushing in when the score hit and the words started crawling up the screen, the actual rush of glee I felt was something unparalleled. The sort of joy a new and great Star Wars movie brought my heart is truly unspeakable. I can try to translate it here, but words fail to capture that pure and simple YES YES YES YES YES. You probably know what I'm talking about.

Nick Hornby, once a touchstone author for "lads" and "blokes" has become an excellent writer of female characters in his most recent screenplays (An Education, Wild, and this one here) and novels (Juliet, Naked and Funny Girl). On top of his excellent script is beautiful and world-beating performance from Saoirse Ronan, a breakout directorial work from John Crowley, and a beautifully decorated immigrant story that is quite delightful but still packs some dramatic heft.

It Follows Seriously inventive (and seriously scary) horror filmmaking that feels both throwback and fresh and owns the year's best score. I'm not really a horror guy, but sign me up for whatever David Robert Mitchell does for the rest of his career.

Mistress America
It's weird how good this was considering how bad While We're Young was. Good on you, Noah Baumbach! It's a sweet little screwball comedy and further confirmation that Greta Gerwig should be in everything.

The Martian
An excellent and entertaining adaptation of an excellent and entertaining novel.

The Gift
A singularly creepy cautionary tale about why it is important to BE NICE TO PEOPLE IN HIGH SCHOOL. The levels of menace Joel Edgerton layers into this film as both the director and antagonist are off the damn charts.

Inside Out
Like Up, Inside Out is mostly made to make grown ups sad. I laughed, I cried, I cried some more, ok I cried a lot. It's a beautiful film full of pretty colors and heavy truths, but I did feel that Pixar got a little heavy handed with the feels button. You know what I mean? There are certainly plenty of brilliant gags to add some levity to the aforementioned HEAVY TRUTHS but holy shit, this movie is so deliberate in the way it runs you through the emotional wringer it's borderline sadistic. And yet, the fact that Pixar decided to make a film about the complexities of child psychology is daring as hell and I'm tipping my hat regardless.

Love & Mercy
I hate biopics. Well, mostly. There's one in a prominent spot on this list, but I get into my hate of by the book biopics in that entry. Mostly, I just can't stand the bullet point effect. Love & Mercy definitely has traces of your Walk the Lines and your Capotes (notably, the whole John Cusack Brian-Wilson-Under-the-Control-Of-an-Insane-Psychologist-Quack part, although both Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti turn in top-of-their-game performances) but it also has these brilliant sequences where an absolutely locked in Paul Dano conducts a flock of studio musicians into transcribing the insanity in his head and making Pet Sounds. Those sequences married my inner music lover/movie lover and were pure ecstatic joy.

10. Ex Machina
Directed by Alex Garland
Alex Garland’s dark (and darkly comic) take on artificial intelligence subverts the evil robot genre by twisting it into a taut psychological thriller. The plot and questions of humanity are all well and good, but the performances from Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, and Domhnall Gleeson are what elevate this into a truly compelling piece of science fiction. Mostly though, it’s Alex Garland’s tone and use of an everyman character thrown into a bizarre situation that makes this film so unsettling and relatable.

9. Dope
Directed by Rick Famuyiwa
Dope is a perfect little gem of a film that got absolutely buried in 2015. That’s madness, absolute madness. The plot is simple: Malcolm (a self-professed “geek” obsessed with 90s hip hop, and, well, 90s culture in general) gets a shitload of drugs put in his backpack and in order to make things right lest he lose his shot at going to college, has to sell the drugs on the dark web. The resulting action is wholly madcap and wildly entertaining. The absolute dearth of young talent at work here is tremendous. With his turn as Malcolm, Shameik Moore should have a golden ticket in Hollywood. The sweetness, vulnerability, and humor he brings to a character in a whirlwind of awful situations is masterful, and if you don’t have chills when he delivers the film’s capstone thesis statement in the form of a college essay, you clearly have no blood in your veins. His best friends Diggy and Jib--played by Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori--anchor Malcolm, are the bulk of the film’s comic relief, and get all of the movie’s best lines.

8. Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by George Miller
There were parts of this movie where I looked over at Jenny with a crazed, giddy look on my face to illustrate how much fun I was having watching this movie. I was also looking at her to make sure she wasn’t going to make me leave because the movie was so violent and strange but she enjoyed it too! Honestly, in terms of pure entertainment and spectacle, they just don’t make movies like this anymore, and seeing one, up on the big screen, full of so much insanity and badassery, it almost brought a tear to my eye.

7. American Ultra
Directed by Nima Nourizadeh
American Ultra is one of 2015’s best hidden gems. It did poorly both critically and at the box office, but if you can get past the thrown shade there’s a really sweet story buried in a mess of stoner comedy and ultraviolence. Sure, the story of a stoner who is actually a CIA trained killing machine, is wholly far fetched, but the wackiness coupled with some really insane action sequences is a treat. And sure there are lots of explosions and shootouts and some cartoonish power struggles but this is a cartoonish movie, and it’s a cartoonish movie with a surprising amount of heart. The relationship between Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart is genuinely sweet and you really care about them. You want them to make it through unscathed. And that emotional center is what makes all the goofiness and just truly insane violence work. I read it as a metaphor for the hurdles that come with sustaining a loving, long term relationship, which might not have been the film’s intent but it worked for me in regard to locking me into the story. I’m also a huge fan of Adventureland so seeing Eisenberg and Stewart together again was a treat, and Stewart is doing a tremendous job (this year especially, between fantastic turns here and in The Clouds of Sils Maria) shedding the negative effects of Twilight.

6. Clouds of Sils Maria
Directed by Oliver Assayas
Like one of my favorite albums of 2015 (Hop Along’s Painted Shut), I was hipped to Clouds of SIls Maria by a fantasy football podcast. This is what my life is like now. Regardless, this is a remarkable film that was quietly and unceremoniously thrust onto DVD after a lengthy trip on the festival circuit. It’s baffling that two of the year’s best performances--from Juliette Binoche as an actress and Kristen Stewart as her intrepid assistant--are remarkable. It’s pretty heady and arty, but totally captivating as well. And did I mention Juliette Binoche turns in the year’s best performance? Goddamn is she good or what?

5. What We Do in the Shadows
Directed by Taika Waititi
I don’t think I laughed harder this year then when I was laughing during this film’s hour and a half run time. It’s a rare thing to craft a comedy with sustained laughs. Usually--from a viewer’s perspective--you get a lot of big laughs out of the way up front and then you course correct and settle in for an hour and ten minutes of chuckling. When I was watching What We Do in the Shadows I thought I was going to die. There were a few spots where I couldn’t breathe I was laughing so hard. I ended up with bruises on my left knee because I was slapping it so hard and my wedding band is made out of very tough tungsten.

4. The Big Short
Directed by Adam McKay
Adam McKay makes funny movies but I’d never once considered him a great director. Hell, I never considered him a good director, especially after the aimless Anchorman 2. And yet here I am, believing that Adam McKay should walk away with the Oscar for Best Director. Not only does he balance the severe horrors of the financial collapse of 2008 with side-splitting humor, but he takes source material that should be much drier and somber and turns it into highly entertaining gold like a goddamn alchemist. It’s cinematic wizardry. Both my wife and mother said, “That sounds boring” when I told them what it was about and I had to be all, “no no no no, they actually make it really easy to follow, and man oh man it’s gonna make you PISSED by the end.” The most elegant thing McKay does with The Big Short is that he structures the film like the financial collapse itself. It’s a riotous blast, everyone is having a good time, and then the bottom drops out and you feel the hurt of an entire nation (less those wretched villains of Wall Street with their golden parachutes and bailout bonus checks) shorted out of homes and jobs and pensions as the people responsible go unpunished. This is basically a brilliantly constructed 2008 Financial Collapse for Dummies, from the guy who made Anchorman 2 . It certainly sounds dubious on paper, but it’s one of the year’s best and most important films. Note: On this list, I only referred to one filmmaker’s work as elegant, and it was the GUY WHO DIRECTED THE ATROCITY THAT WAS ANCHORMAN 2. WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN PEOPLE! Note: According to the IMDB trivia page for this film, The Big Short author Michael Lewis agreed to let Adam McKay make the film if McCay made Anchorman 2. I don't know how to feel about this. Sort of like an ouroboros I guess?

3. Phoenix
Directed by Christian Petzold
Simply outstanding, moody, absolutely captivating filmmaking. The plot is a bit outlandish, but I bit because it's not a history of holocaust survivors directly after World War II, but an examination of the loss of identity that comes with being treated as less than a human being, and the guilty nation to which this character returns. The guilty nation that would rather put the ugliness and shame out of mind and move on. Set against the backdrop of Berlin reduced to rubble, it’s a high-premise yarn about a woman whose face has been destroyed in a concentration camp and reconstructed as a strangers. She desperately tries piecing her life back together, but betrayal on the part of her husband makes that impossible. And yet, rather than seek revenge, she goes along with a plot to pretend to be his dead wife so he can cash in her inheritance. Like I said, it’s high premise, a bit lurid, and absolutely one of the most haunting films of the year. Phoenix is a taut bit of suspense that knots up until it unravels into a final scene that left me breathless and dumbstruck in my seat. It’s not going to blow you away, there’s no big twist, but the subtlety of the sequence is almost effortlessly brilliant and the sort of devastating that sticks with you for days/weeks/months/years.

2. The End of the Tour
Directed by James Ponsoldt
I don’t know how one could make it through Infinite Jest and not feel in some way connected to its author. You figure the haters aren’t going to make it past the first fifty pages. That book broke me open. It changed me. And that’s a high falootin statement to make about a book, but it’s true. That book’s foray into American sadness helped me better understand my own life. I can’t think of another book that has had a more profound effect on me. I can feel your eyes rolling but it’s true. It made me a believer in the change great books can trigger in a person, and now I’m a librarian. The End of the Tour chronicles a journalist's travels with David Foster Wallace over the last dates of the Infinite Jest book tour. I noted my disdain of traditional biopics earlier in this list, and The End of the Tour works for me because it’s not the greatest hits of a life. It’s a small, self-contained handful of days that shine a light on Wallace’s complicated genius. You can tell (through Jason Segal’s excellent performance) that he genuinely wants to be a “regular guy,” but you also get the impression that he knows it’s impossible. The film avoids putting him on a godlike pedestal by illustrating the flaws and shortcomings of being that brainy. It strips the poetry out of the trouble genius suicide and shows you a man trying his best to fit into the world.

1.Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Jesse Andrew’s novel is without question the best book I have read in the last five years. I deeply related to the protagonist, I cried, I laughed so hard I hurt myself. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s adaptation is the sort of adaptation you dream of as a booklover. “Man, I hope they do this great story justice” you think to yourself when you see that they’re making a movie of your favorite book. And to not only be satisfied, but to have your already high opinion of the story elevated, well, that’s almost too much to ask for. And when you get it, holy shit.

When the movie ended, I knew it was going to be my favorite film of the year. “By a country mile,” I said to myself in this conversation I was having in my head. The year is over and though I didn’t see as many films as I would have liked (partly because I live in Kansas and a lot of the great films from 2015 won’t get here until next Spring, and partly because I have a young child and cinema intake is limited to what is on Netflix or what I can bring home from the library because going to the damn movies requires an amount of planning and foresight comparable to the invasion of Normandy). But I don’t think it would have mattered because nothing can touch how deeply moved I was by this film. Once again, I got lost in the story and when the heartbreak hits, when the dying girl dies even though you know she is going to die, I cried and cried and cried and I like to think that if you don’t cry at the climactic sequence where Greg Gaines shows Rachel the movie he made for her, you are a cyborg incapable of true emotion.

Ok, that’s not true. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but holy shit. That scene, scored by Brian Eno’s “The Big Ship,” (also used in the final sequence of The End of the Tour, strangely) and running what feels like an eternity, was absolutely devastating and beautiful and one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. Greg Gaines is a tricky character because he seems lovable and quirky at first, and then you realize how selfish and self-absorbed he is, but you also see that he’s genuinely a nice guy. But he can’t get over his hangups about what people think of him, and he can’t even refer to Earl as his goddamn friend (he refers to him as his coworker). I’ve already written three paragraphs about this film and I haven’t even touched on the brilliant send ups to classic cinema that made my film school heart explode. Those are in the book, but the cinematic realization of Werner Herzog jokes is glorious. But honestly, as awesome and wonderful as that stuff is, it’s just for decoration. It’s really fun and unique decoration, but it’s only to create a background for this deceptively profound story to operate in.