Reviews for Normal People

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The 25 Best Movies of 2017 — March 23, 2018

The 25 Best Movies of 2017

Well, this took a lot longer than it should have. I know I’ve been moving away from movie reviews on this blog for a long while, but it’s only because music comes out at a much faster pace and takes up much less time to consume/digest. I still care deeply about movies, and to prove it, here are some of my favorites from 2017. I was holding off on this list until I saw Phantom Thread. I didn’t care for it, but that’s a story for another time. For now, here are my favorites, starting off with some movies I wasn’t able to include.

Honorable mentions:

Lots to talk about here; this was a pretty solid year for movies. I had to give it up for the stylized spy thriller Atomic Blonde. Some felt the film’s convoluted plot set it back, but I thought the killer soundtrack and visual style, as well as the much-discussed “stairwell scene,” were enough to make it up for me. Another female-led action flick, Wonder Woman, impressed me this year, standing on its own better than just about any other superhero movie this decade. Its biopic cousin Professor Marston and the Wonder Women also deserves a mention, bolstered by dynamic direction from Herbie: Fully Loaded director Angela Robinson. Another biopic that I appreciated more than I was expecting was Darkest Hour, which went above and beyond typical Oscar bait through the odd, at-times abstract direction of Joe Wright. Following allegations against James Franco, The Disaster Artist was largely removed from the conversation, but it should be noted that it was a well-done, surprisingly tender picture and one of the year’s best movies about filmmaking. Ingrid Goes West is a terrifying Single White Female for the Instagram era, and star Aubrey Plaza delivered one of the year’s finest performances. Another criminally-underrated, utterly creepy lead performance came from Disney Channel star Ross Lynch, who brilliantly channeled serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the little-recognized My Friend DahmerBeatriz at Dinner was another captivatingly-weird little movie with lots to love, but let’s not limit ourselves to indie movies here. Two of the most fun-filled, visually-stunning blockbusters in recent memory came out this year: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Kong: Skull Island, the latter of which was perhaps the year’s most pleasant surprise. While it hasn’t left as much of an impression as some of Scorsese’s great films, I still remember being blown away by Silence, and I had to give it a shout-out. Finally, there’s a film that may not deserve top honors, but definitely didn’t get a fair shake: the most underrated film of 2017, Power Rangers. With all that out of the way, here’s the top 25.

25) TRAGEDY GIRLS (dir. Tyler MacIntyre)

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X-women Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp star in Tragedy Girls, the indie comedy horror film best described as a cross between Heathers and Scream with an added helping of gayness and blogging. Immediately, it sounds right up my alley, and the film largely delivered, thanks in no small part to its tremendously-talented young leads. These girls are two of my favorite actresses on the come-up, and they are electric in this movie, creepy in a way that makes them engrossingly likable while still making believable killers. That’s sort of the magic of this movie: as twisted as their plans are, their personalities suck you in, and you can start to understand how they have the whole town wrapped around their finger, even as they blatantly murder people. One of the film’s highlights is a gut-busting cameo by Josh Hutcherson.

24) BATTLE OF THE SEXES (dir. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris)

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Battle of the Sexes didn’t make the awards season splash it was aiming for, but don’t count it out just for that, because it’s still one of the best sports movies in recent memory. It’s from the same directing duo responsible for Little Miss Sunshine, and its idyllic harshness is engrossing in much the same way. Admittedly, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re watching Emma Stone and Steve Carrell, but who’s complaining? It’s a fun, engaging story with excellent dialogue (it was written by Simon Beaufoy, the man behind classics like Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours) and some of the best homoerotic haircut scenes in film history.

23) THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (dir. Martin McDonagh)

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One of the most debated films of the latest awards season, it seems like everyone’s got an opinion on Three Billboards. I do, too: it’s pretty good. Is it Best Picture? Nah. Its message is muddled and it feels like Martin McDonagh started writing with no idea where the story would go. On the other hand, it is an engrossing, twisted tale with complex characters, tons of unexpected turns, and a stacked cast. It’s a film that could’ve easily been a by-the-numbers, Tarantino-esque revenge fantasy, but instead chose to present a story with no clear heroes, no easy plot signposts, and a message that, while hard to swallow, definitely gives you plenty to chew over.

22) LOGAN LUCKY (dir. Steven Soderbergh)

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Steven Soderbergh is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. Going from the fun, stylish, free-wheeling Ocean’s Eleven trilogy to Che, one of the most ambitious films of the 21st century, from pulse-pounding thrillers like Contagion and Haywire to the placid male stripper masterpiece Magic Mike, there’s no telling what Soderbergh’s gonna have for us next, but it’s always a fun time. This year, he gave us Logan Lucky, an endearing Southern-fried heist comedy starring the surprisingly-great duo of Adam Driver and Channing Tatum. The two play bumbling brothers who steal millions from NASCAR with the help of an all-star ensemble cast. Effectively, the film is a sort of reverse-Ocean’s Eleven, replacing fancy suits and high society with DIY ingenuity and stark poverty. It’s a silly movie, but like many of Soderbergh’s sillier movies, there’s more to it than you might think.

21) MOTHER! (dir. Darren Aronofsky)

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Mother! was easily the most polarizing film of 2017, and with good reason. It’s not the most welcoming movie: it meanders in placid pointlessness for over an hour before anything exciting happens, but if you give it a chance, the end result is more than rewarding. It wasn’t until I made the very final edits to this list that I even decided to include mother!; I came out of it decently impressed, but not exactly blown away. It’s only really stuck with me the more I’ve thought about it; earlier today, I saw Phantom Thread, a film that attempts a similar structure and, in my opinion, fails utterly. It’s upsetting, hard to sit through, and so blatant in its various larger meanings that it forgoes narrative sense altogether, but mother! will stick with you in a way few movies do.

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Top 20 Songs of the Month (February 2018) — March 14, 2018

Top 20 Songs of the Month (February 2018)

When I first upped the amount of songs on these lists to 20, I said that it would vary depending on how many songs I wanted to talk about. I’d say this is still true to a certain extent, but 20 happens to be a solid number of songs when it comes to picking the best of the best. Every once in a while, I think of making this a weekly thing, but I think it would eat up a ton of my time and not be up to the same standard as these lists have been so far. Anyway, that’s just me talking. Here’s my favorite new singles to come out in February.

20) NO GOING BACK – Yuno

Here’s a fun little song to kick things off. Jacksonville artist Yuno is the latest signee to the legendary Sub Pop label, and while I’ve never heard any of his other music, this is certainly an impressive start. The song’s most obvious influence is Tame Impala, whose imprint is all over its high-pitched vocals, springy synth beat, and knack for pop songwriting. Whether or not this is emblematic of Yuno’s style, we’ll have to wait and see, but it’s a solid song.

19) AMERICAN GODS – ONR

If “No Going Back” is influenced by Tame Impala, “American Gods” owes something to Depeche Mode. It’s that same sort of theatric, melancholy ’80s techno-rock, and I kinda love it. ONR is another mysterious new artist, and another one that I’m definitely gonna have to watch for in the future. “American Gods” goes off, and makes you feel powerful in the way only a Depeche Mode disciple could. I think it’s about the president being bad or something.

18) REFLECTIONS ON THE SCREEN – Superorganism

As you’ve no doubt noticed, I’ve been on a bit of a Superorganism kick lately. They just put out their new album, it’s excellent, you’ll probably get to hear me talk about it whenever my next album-related list comes out, but for now, let’s talk “Reflections on the Screen.” It’s pretty much par for the course for Superorganism: nature sounds, psychedelic guitar, glitchy pop flourishes, all brought together by the hypnotic voice of 17-year-old lead singer Orono Noguchi. I don’t want to go out on a limb and say they’re the next big thing, but they definitely deserve your attention if you haven’t been paying it already.

17) SATURDAYS – Twin Shadow feat. HAIM

Instrumentally, this song has a definite ’80s vibe to it. Something about the dreamy guitars and those distinctly dated drums. It’s also got HAIM, which is never a bad thing in my book. “Dreamy” is definitely the right word to describe this song. It recalls the ’80s, but not in a way that necessarily has a definitive logic to it. It’s equal parts Belinda Carlisle, Phil Collins, Bruce Springsteen, you name it. It recalls memories of a cool teenage existence that may have never existed. Maybe I’m overselling this. It’s a catchy song.

16) YOU ONLY SAY YOU LOVE ME IN THE DARK – Janice

This song was my first exposure to Swedish R&B singer Janice, and I’m really impressed. Aesthetically, it recalls Lorde’s “Green Light,” full of the same raw emotion and exuberant desperation, but in some senses I like “You Only Say You Love Me in the Dark” more. It’s a little slower, a little more soulful. Or maybe it’s just a “Green Light” clone. Either way, I wouldn’t be complaining, and you know I’m a sucker for long titles.

15) BRXNKS TRUCK – Slim Jxmmi feat. Rae Sremmurd

Pop rap party animals Rae Sremmurd are gearing up for their third album, SR3MM, and mark my words, it’ll change the game. The insanely ambitious project, which from what we’ve seen so far can only be described as Speakerboxxx/The Love Below on crack, will be a triple album, consisting of a Swae Lee solo record, a Slim Jxmmi solo record, and a complete Rae Sremmurd album. And this first crop of singles shows a ton of promise. “Brxnks Truck” is our first introduction to the solo Slim Jxmmi, and it’s a compelling one at that. Swae Lee is much of the emotional core of the group, which is why everyone was quick to pin him as the pop solo star, but Jxmmi brings an energy that can’t be understated. It’s a short, frenetic trap track that proves Jxmmi is more than capable of turning up all by himself.

14) TOY – Young Fathers

This is a weird-ass song, and one I’m not sure I could do justice in describing, but it’s so mesmerizingly unique that I had to include it. Young Fathers are a Mercury Prize-winning alternative hip hop group who bring a rocking European energy to their music that sets it apart from this planet. The result is some beautiful medium between Gorillaz and Death Grips, a fun, manic, wildly inventive song off an album that can’t be missed.

13) ROSE-COLORED BOY – Paramore

Yup, I’m back at it again with the new-wave inspired pop rock bops off Paramore’s incredible 2017 album After Laughter, the likes of which I’ve included on these lists three or four times at this point. I’m sorry, but they’re all really good. “Rose-Colored Boy” sets itself apart with that cheery Go-Go’s-esque hook. “No heat! No pressure!” I’ve been thinking about all those mid-’00s pop punk bands, and while I’m a fan of most of them, I’m developing the idea that After Laughter is the best album any of them ever released. It’s extremely good, and given that every Paramore album has been substantially better than the last, I can’t wait to see what comes next.

12) LOOK BACK – Diplo feat. DRAM

In case you haven’t heard, the latest thing in EDM is doing something that’s explicitly not EDM. Calvin Harris started the train with his masterful funk-pop album last year, and now Diplo’s joining with a psychedelic soul track featuring the ever-beautiful pipes of Big Baby DRAM. For an artist with one of the most unique, versatile voices in the game today, “Look Back” finds DRAM in rare form, crooning about his fast and dangerous lifestyle in an aggressively confident falsetto that recalls CeeLo Green in his prime. And of course, you’ve gotta give it up to Diplo here, who steps out of his sonic comfort zones to magical results.

11) MY ENEMY – CHVRCHES feat. Matt Berninger

We’ve got CHVRCHES on the list for the second month in a row, and this time they’re joined by lead singer of The National, Matt Berninger. I’m a fan of both of these bands, and like the collaboration between BØRNS and Lana Del Rey earlier this year, the combination here works even better than you’d expect. The sleek poppiness of CHVRCHES adds onto The National’s stark melancholy to create a Genesis-like blend of contemplative lyrics and hard-hitting synths. It’s got that devastation National fans are looking for, and it’s pretty damn catchy to boot.

10) DOIHAVETHESAUSE? – Ski Mask the Slump God

If you find SoundCloud rap dull or lyrically lacking, you probably haven’t been looking hard enough. Sure, the ease of production and distribution means there’ll be a lot of junk, but some of the most exciting music out right now can be found in that neck of the woods. Take, for instance, Ski Mask the Slump God, an artist I’ve already sung the praises of before. He’s got funny, inventive lyrics, a unique voice, and insane flows. The lowkey production on this track may deter you, but if you listen with an open ear, you’ll find plenty to love.

9) PRAY FOR ME – The Weeknd feat. Kendrick Lamar

Just to get it out of the way: yes, this is essentially a retread of “Starboy.” But hey, “Starboy” was a good song, and this one’s got Kendrick Lamar. The pulsating electronic instrumental is no Daft Punk production, but it goes hard nonetheless, and melds perfectly with the Weeknd’s soft tones. It also boasts one of Kendrick’s better pop guest verses, though to be fair, the song is off his album. Black Panther: The Album is a game-changer for the art of the soundtrack album, and “Pray for Me” is its most powerful pop single.

8) WE ARE… – Noah Cyrus feat. MØ

In the mad dash to earn a spot on one of these “Songs of the Month” lists, Noah Cyrus has been somewhat of a perennial runner-up. She does the modern pop sound justice, and she’s carved out a unique enough style, but nothing’s ever stuck out to me enough for me to put it on one of these lists. Until now, that is. I think what sold me on this one was the gleeful “WE! ARE! FUCKED!” that begins the chorus. Lyrically, the song could definitely be considered “fake deep,” railing on the woes of her and her “lost” generation. It’s also catchy as all hell, and utilizes tone, production, and Noah and MØ’s unique voices to get the idea of the song across in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously to be enjoyed.

7) VINCENT – Ellie Goulding

You know Ellie Goulding as the idiosyncratic pop star who shows up out of nowhere every year or two with a song where you can’t quite tell if it’s annoying or great. Her latest single, “Vincent,” is a subtle, somber ballad covering the song of the same name by Don McLean. I’d obviously never thought to put McLean and Goulding together, but the results certainly speak for themselves. Goulding’s high, heavily-accented voice makes for fun pop jams, but it suits a quieter track really well too. If this is leading into some sort of album, it’ll be interesting to see what direction she takes it from here.

6) KRISTI YAMAGUCCI – A$AP Ferg, Denzel Curry, and IDK

A$AP Ferg, IDK, and Denzel Curry are three of the greatest new rappers of the latter half of this decade, but they’re typically relegated to the lower part of these lists (Curry and IDK found themselves at #19 just last month). Something about the way the three of them come together just really did it for me, I suppose. It’s an excellent song, boasting hilarious, hard verses from all three artists and an absolutely killer trap beat courtesy of Frankie P, who’s produced many of Ferg’s beats. Each rapper brings something different to the table, but it all comes together to create an early contender for the best posse cut of the year.

5) THE SHADOW – Millie Turner

I’m kinda not sure if I really like “The Shadow” or I just like all the things it reminds me of. Pop up-and-comer Millie Turner channels everyone from Lorde to Bridgit Mendler to La Roux on this track, and the result is a techno-infused banger with idiosyncratic vocals, strong writing, and a tone that’s triumphant and self-effacing in equal parts. Maybe it reminds me of great pop artists because it’s a great pop song. Maybe Millie Turner is the next great pop artist. We’ll just have to wait and see.

4) HURT TO LOOK – Swae Lee feat. Rae Sremmurd

Speaking of “the next great pop artist,” here’s “Hurt to Look,” the official debut solo single for Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee, who cut his teeth last summer giving French Montana the biggest hit of his career and has since had his solo debut become one of the most buzzed-about releases of today. On “Hurt to Look,” Swae puts his money where his mouth is, crafting a perfect piece of pop/R&B that encapsulates a mellow melancholy only someone with the unmistakable voice of Swae Lee could bring to the table. Don’t be surprised if you’re hearing this all over the place within the next few months, or possibly something else. After all, SR3MM is dropping one of these days.

3) MAY I – T-Pain feat. Mr. Talkbox

T-Pain’s swingy big band throwback track “May I” dropped to little fanfare as a cut off his album Oblivion late last year, but now that it’s been released as a single, can we please talk about it? This eight-minute R&B magnum opus plays like the culmination of over a decade of T-Pain. It transitions flawlessly from Sinatra to Usher to Pain himself, then explodes into stirring jazz and flips it back into the modern R&B sound it was subtly building all along. This is essentially the T-Pain version of a 20/20 Experience-era Timberlake track, but that’s not a bad thing (no pun intended). It’s maximal, but not to a fault, and it represents T-Pain for what he is: one of the greatest R&B singers alive.

2) MOON RIVER – Frank Ocean

Another cover song? Man, weird month. Anyway, you know I had to secure a top spot for Frank Ocean, possibly the greatest R&B singer alive, who came through this month with the best Valentine’s Day gift any of us could ask for: an achingly beautiful rendition of “Moon River.” This shit will tear your heart out, and that’s all I have to say about it. Just listen to the song, and don’t mind the channel. Frank’s original upload got taken down so I had to attach a reupload.

1) MAKE ME FEEL – Janelle Monáe

As is sometimes the case with these lists, I devoted a minor amount of mental space to asking myself “Are any of these songs good enough? What’s gonna be the absolute best?” And then, as soon as I heard “Make Me Feel,” it was out of the question. This cool, quirky, innovative bisexual anthem with an amazing hook and production by fucking Prince was the song of the month as soon as it came out. See, Janelle just announced her new album Dirty Computer, the fourth installment in her continuing Metropolis Saga, and this (alongside the militant rap track “Django Jane”) was the lead single. I’ve been in love with Janelle for quite some time, but “Make Me Feel” is one of the best songs she’s released to date, and something tells me the album proper will have even more in store. We won’t know until it comes out in April, but this song still stands out as easily the best song of 2018 so far.