The Home Alone Booby Traps Ranked

I have a strange and probably incorrect memory of the first time I saw Home Alone. I remember it being Thanksgiving and my parents being excited to show me something, they asked me if I had ever seen it before, describing it as a movie where a boy’s parents leave him by himself (makes sense). For some reason my little child brain could only think of Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura, so yeah I imagined Home Alone would be Ace Ventura for some strange reason.

Since then I’ve watched it just about every year and it’s become a tradition to watch it on Thanksgiving night as everything winds down as a way to welcome in the Christmas season.

This week the movie turns 25 years old and in celebration of this, I decided to rank my favorite Kevin McCallister booby traps. Kevin has always been an inspiration to me, what kid does not dream of having the agency to survive on one’s own and also fend off two fairly successful burglars (no wonder we have such hero complexes…)? Kevin showcases a brilliant mind and his booby traps are clever and incredible in the way he forces Marv and Harry to bend to his will.

Feel free to comment with your favorites below.

11. Door handle – Kevin places some sort of heating device on the door handle, so that when they grab it it will burn their hands. This booby trap is way too straight forward, just a simple pain causing device.

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10. Zipline – While Kevin choosing to end his plan with a long zip-line ride from the house to the tree house is inspiring, the plan to wait for them to climb out onto the line and then cut it feels ill-advised. It does spark some humor, but the act seems to only help Marv and Harry get closer to Kevin than further away.

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9. Christmas Ornaments – Altogether kind of boring, Kevin’s ability to predict Harry and Marv’s behavior is always incredible, but placing Christmas ornaments next to the window seal lacks that typical McCallister charm.

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8. Trip Wire – Kevin places a line of rope low to the ground and gets Harry to trip on it while running after him. The only ingenious part about this is that it actually was successful.

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7. Sticky + Feathers – Again Kevin’s foresight pays off brilliantly, getting Harry to run into some sort of sticky paper, which in itself is somewhat funny, but he pays it off by shooting feathers into his face. It’s a classic cartoon bit, one that Kevin employs simply to mess with the robbers as it has no real practical robbery prevention capabilities whatsoever.

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6. Torch in the door – This trap that causes fire to blow onto the face of the person who enters it is a little too dangerous to be all that funny, but the fact that Kevin was able to rig up a machine that causes fire to blow onto the face of the person who enters it downright brilliant.

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5. Tar + Nail – The stickiness of the stairway and the nail should not work. Most times it probably wouldn’t if we’re being honest, but here the tarred up stairs cause Marv to strip off his shoes and socks and in probably the most cringe-inducing moment of the entire movie, Marv steps unknowingly onto a nail.

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4. Toy Cars – I do have quite the bias here, as a kid I would frequently put cars around the house hoping that people would slip on them just like Marv and Harry did. It was a pretty jerk move, but anytime you can be more like Kevin McCallister you’re gonna do it right?

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3. Paint Cans – This is the most iconic booby trap in the whole film, probably because this idea came completely out of nowhere. Who had ever thought of attaching paint cans to a string and then throwing them down onto people trying to walk up them? It lands where it does because though it is really cool, it is just so impractical. Anyone could dodge those right?

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2. The Iron – Kevin puts a false light pull chain in place that, instead of having lights connected to it, has an iron that falls down onto the unsuspecting light desiree below. Marv pulls on the chain, waits a few seconds in confusion before looking up to see an iron  falling toward him. The brilliance of this is of course amplified by Marv’s face having the perfect imprint of an iron for the following scenes.

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1. Icy Stairs – I may love this booby trap because I’ve never lived in an area with a true winter, but the moment I saw that by simply throwing water onto an outside area, you could cause chaos for hours to come I was blown away. Not to mention such a simple act works brilliantly–it takes Harry like an hour to get up a 5-stair stairway. I also tried this one a few times during the winter, but unfortunately it never worked. Nevertheless, Kevin’s plan to make the stairs too icy for the criminals to get up is my favorite booby trap of the holiday classic.

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Rewatch: (500) Days of Summer

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This is the third entry in what has so far been a monthly series of rewatching old movies and judging them comparitively against my first reactions and how they have grown into pieces of wider culture. So far the series has included High School Musical and The Matrix click here to find them.

This movie came out in 2009–the height of my personal Zooey Deschanel fandom. Deschanel had adored our hearts (but mostly mine) in the Will Ferrell Christmas classic Elf and I had tracked her career ever since. I had watched her in David Gordon Green’s neo-realism relationship drama All the Real Girls and paid particular attention to the McConaughey/Jessica Parker relationship drama Failure to Launch where she plays the rom-com best friend role. After 2009 her career soared as my affections waned–her unique voice grew tiresome with each subsequent She & Him album and then The New Girl appeared. The New Girl took Deschanel’s charms and pushed them to 11 in an absolute quirk-fest that SNL found they could mine for comedy. Likewise, (500) Days of Summer, while largely critically acclaimed, was criticized for being an overly quirky take on the romantic comedy. It throws in a lot of extra touches, for some elevating it to a clever film about romance–for others perhaps a grating annoyance. On a rewatch would Deschanel’s performance be akin to The New Girl or would I find the charm that adored my 13 year old heart?

More on Deschanel to come, but we must also talk about the way I adored this movie upon first watch. I saw it in theaters after anticipating it for quite a while and that year I believe I had it at number two on my best films of the year list, just ahead of Inglorious Basterds and just behind Up. I have watched it several times since then and it has always held up for me, but I feel as if critically it increasingly gets derided for breaking Deschanel into the mainstream in a way most people did not want. This time I intended to be extra critical of the film, trying to find faults in it that I may have glanced over in the past.

The film uses unique editing to showcase this relationship–one that it very intentionally states is trying to subvert the standard portrayal of romance in film. Its use of whimsy can either be taken as clever or as off-putting. People often grow tired of stories of hip, white, city-dwelling kids and their “troubles”. I certainly understand why this would be the case for some–even its pop cultural awareness can grow tiring if one doesn’t believe that the film stands apart from its references. But I do believe that it comes together to make something grander than cute editing tricks and references to The Graduate and The Smiths. Sure it’s a very specific tale of modern romance, but the film leaves itself open to interpretation–like a great work of art would–allowing room for debate and inviting viewers to feel different things about it depending on their own experience.

It opens with two introductions, interplaying the stories of our two protagonists, Summer and Tom, and sharing their two viewpoints on love bound to intertwine in this messy relationship that will soon total 500 days. Though the story is told very specifically through Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Tom, the opening shots include photos of both characters’ childhoods. Both of their back stories matter as both will come together to form this complicated relationship that is about to unveil. And the film lets you know just how diametrically opposed these two are–essentially concluding that there is a duality of perspectives: true love is a fated thing or it doesn’t exist at all.

This is where I think the film speaks profoundly; in life this debate truly exists and I have wholeheartedly come down on both sides of it. I once believed that love was a destined thing, chasing after the “one”, and knowing that two people were especially bound to one another. I’ve also believed that there is no fate like love, people are only tied together by their own choice. The film plays off of this tension and depending on your beliefs you tend to root for one character over the other.

When I first watched it I was on Summer’s side and thought Tom to be near-laughable. I was shocked to hear the reactions of others as they saw her as a manipulative heart breaker. Since then I’ve bridled my pro-Summer stance, noticing how broken of a character she is while still somewhat siding with her beginning views on life.

What I find so brilliant about all of this is that the film never takes either character’s side. In fact, it smartly switches each character’s position on the love debate and when Summer and Tom meet for that final conversation, each tells the other that they were the ones who were right. And both characters were right to an extent, each needed to gain the perspective of the other to come out as a whole person ready to take on the commitment of love. Summer needed to understand that long-term relationships were possible, while Tom needed to learn that “just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn’t mean she’s your soul mate.” The film works as a mirror, one that reflects back to you your beliefs on love, constantly shifting as you yourself mature, but is always able to provide something insightful.


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Beyond this I do believe the film is really capable of showing the ups and downs of a relationship (though probably from a particularly male perspective). Director Marc Webb and screenwriting duo Scott Eric Neustadter and Michael H. Weber really do work together here to create something unique. It expresses those relationship beats wonderfully. The back to back IKEA scenes showing the desperate attempt to spark romance by recreating something that worked early on. The song and dance that comes after Tom and Summer sleep together for the first time. How Tom analyzes each and every moment leading up to their first kiss. The parallel descriptions of Summer’s attributes. And finally, the expectations vs. reality dual scene where Tom thinks he can get Summer back. These are all wonderfully rendered scenes that truly express what it is like to be in a relationship on par with just about any other movie I’ve seen.

There are parts of this movie that don’t work, but even at my most critical I cannot truly be bothered by them. The jump around nature of the film isn’t necessary, but does serve the story fairly well. The documentary interviews that randomly show up should probably be cut from the film. The scenes with the sister (played by a young Chloe Grace Moretz) are the most irksome of anything in the film, but they really are minimally used and don’t drag it down by any means.

That brings us back to Deschanel. She is definitely at her most Deschanel here, but it’s in a way that serves her character–the manic pixie dream girl that breaks a heart instead of mending it. She is the girl that the type like Tom will infatuate over, but proves that she is something more than someone to serve his story. Her wants and desires are expressed and when they don’t line up with his she is given the agency to go her own way (even if this does, unfortunately, take place off screen). Before New Girl took her quirks and amplified them, 500 used them to subvert the modern indie romance and ultimately made a pretty perfect film.

Rating: 5/5

Ranking the Sounds of Summer

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The Beach Boys are the greatest summer band of all time and their greatest hits album “The Sounds of Summer” is probably their greatest collection of songs. It’s a 30 track album spanning what seems to be a wide variety of their career and musical choices. It’s actually the primary place I’ve heard them and my go-to choice for their music which is pretty typically only in the summer time. Combining early rock and R&B with surf rock, doo wop, and a cappella (with some more experimental vibes coming later in their careers) The Beach Boys have a fun and vast catalog of songs to listen to, but I don’t need to tell you that, let’s get to ranking!

30. “Be True To Your School” – I don’t know what’s worse the singer’s aggressiveness to some guy bragging about his school, the cheerleader type person that appears, or that commercial that Kidz Bob-bed this song to advertise for school supplies. I never have had much school spirit though…

29. “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” – There are some good melodies in this song, but everything else is sooo bad, most of which is the guy in the background singing numbers meant to indicate growing older. Oh please.

28. “In My Room” – A love ballad, an ode to… a room. I get why some may see this as a good idea, a person’s room can be a place of great comfort and solitude, but here it’s just absolutely terrible.

27. “Dance, Dance, Dance” – It feels like a cover of an old rock song (as we will soon see the Boys are wont to do) but it is indeed a Beach Boys original and a sub par one at that.

26. “Rock and Roll Music” – I am all for The Beach Boys covering every song, in fact there should probably be an app like that old T-Pain one that Beach Boys-izes anything you record on it, but here they don’t do much to change Chuck Berry’s original, which is pretty disappointing.

25. “Heroes and Villains” – I understand why its here, but it’s never stuck with me. It’s pretty good and fairly avant-garde but doesn’t reach any level that I want a Beach Boys song to.

24. “Do It Again” – It opens with a distorted beat, again a part of that experimental phase that doesn’t quite do it for me as I stated above.

23. “Darlin'” – Really an odd piece of the Beach Boys history, it sorta has that classic sound while mostly presenting itself as a more straightforward rock ‘n roll or R&B song. Not bad by any means.

22. “Do You Wanna Dance?” – I think The Ramones’ version is better, which probably biases me against this a little bit, but it’s a perfectly fine song, with a great surf rock solo toward the end.

21. “I Can Hear Music” – This is one that feels like it comes a lot later in the catalog than ’69, maybe it’s Carl Wilson’s vocals or the focus on the acoustic guitar? Love the little a capella breakdown it goes into with 40 seconds left.

20. “Shut Down” – This is pretty standard Beach Boys here–another song about cars and of course, it’s really good, but doesn’t match up with other greats listed here because the chorus is a little lackluster comparatively.

19. “Wild Honey” – Another song from the Beach Boys more experimental phase of the late 60s–the focus here is more on psychedelia over the classic harmonies–it’s a good song with interesting instrumentation.

18. “Good Timin'” – A few songs below I will talk about how great a love ballad “Surfer Girl” is within the beach context. This song almost lives up to that one, but it does get bonus points for being able to be slow-danced to outside of the beach.

17. “Kokomo” – One of the more unique songs in the Beach Boys catolog, part of their 80s sort of rebranding, it still works even though it has so many levels of cheesiness to it.

16. “California Girls” – This is the track that opens Sounds and it’s no question why–it’s the musical equivalent of a sunrise, slowly rising making way for the day before unleashing the rest of the day that comes out with it. Lyrically it opens with an almost Dr. Seuss-like categorization of all the girls that exist (one girl two girl, red girl green girl) before getting into the reasons why California is the best, thus making California girls the best. People from other states must envy or hate the Boys for making such beautiful music about such a wonderful place, right?

15. “Surfer Girl” – This is the ballad that absolutely corrects everything that “In My Room” was. It combines an old doo-wop ballad with the Boys knack for surfing to make a really sweet song that serves as the perfect beach slow-dance throwback.

14. “Getcha Back” – Here are the Beach Boys in full 80s mode. The song was released in 1985 which makes it a part of all the other great stuff celebrating its 30 year anniversary this year (Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club). Although essentially a legacy act at the time, the song perfectly blends the Boys harmonies with an 80s beat that can only make you wonder why we haven’t seen them do anything with dub step backing music.

13. “Surfin’ Safari” – This is a really good song, but it’s one that doesn’t quite have the pedigree of that other surf song (apparently not even in my own rankings either). The highlight of the song has got to be the singing though–Mike Love really does deserve more songs where he is on lead vocals, his unique voice really nails it here. The 1:29 mark where he throws extra emphasis into his vocals (I tell ya surfins mighty wild…) just blows everything else out of the park.

12. “Come Go With Me” – The Beach Boys are a perfect match for the doo-wop songs that came just before them and here, their cover of The Dell Vikings track is just as great as the original. They certainly add their own vibe to it, taking it from the very 50s doo-wop style and giving it that Beach Boys’ feel.

11. “Surfin’ USA” – This is the obvious pick for a number one, right? It’s the most quintessential Beach Boys song–about their love of surfing, featuring multiple vocalist harmonies, and has an early-rock ‘n roll/surf rock driving guitar, plus it’s still really good. But I have a theory about certain songs–songs that have become so popular that they become a meme rather than a piece of art. It’s not the songs fault and it probably isn’t the artists fault, it’s due to being played a ridiculous amount of times, becoming commercialized in some fashion, and/or being involved prominently in another artistic medium (usually movies or TV). Ever since its release “Surfin’ USA” (and “Wipeout”) have been used to background every sort of surfing thing possible, draining it of the joy the song brings upon the first few listens. It’s not your fault “Surfin’ USA”, really it’s not.

10. “Sloop John B” – Apparently it’s a traditional folk song, but most of the world knows it from The Beach Boys’ classic album Pet Sounds. The song tells of the happenings upon a boat (where things do not seem to be going so well) and slowly builds into a very Beach Boys track. The pessimist in me loves that the most memorable part of it is the singer repeating “let me go home, I wanna go home” leading to “this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on”, it’s the perfect soundtrack to any vacation.

9. “I Get Around” – This is one of the most solid summer songs ever written and is one that hasn’t lost its shine like some of the other Beach Boys surfing focused songs have. It showcases the layers of harmony that they’re known for, some surf rock guitar, and is a pure two minute jolt of joy.

8. “Help Me, Rhonda”- There have been plenty of songs with conflicted singers singing about a love of two simultaneous people. There have been songs about not being able to get over someone. But has there ever been a song encouraging someone to help them get over someone? I’m not sure. There are so many fun parts to this song–the opening bass, accompanying guitar, the barbershop melodies of the chorus–one cannot help cheer for Rhonda to do her duty and “get her out of [his] heart”.

7. “Barbara Ann” – Forget Pentatonix, forget Pitch Perfect, forget those fancy Germans in Pitch Perfect 2, this is the best a capella would ever get. Yes, that’s right a capella peaked in 1965, with The Beach Boys. That point where they kind of mess up and almost start laughing is probably the best part of the song, everyone else wishes they could get away with a guffaw like this.

6. “Little Deuce Coupe” – I don’t really care for cars, there’s nothing about their twisted metal that inspires me, but this Beach Boys ode to a deuce coupe (one moment, googling “deuce coupe” now… ahhh yes one of those old looking Fords) almost makes me fall in love with it. I imagine listening to this song in any sort of convertible or hot rod, grows its bubbly harmonic vibe exponentially. Sure there’s a moment in the song where the music completely stops and the vocalist says “I got the big slip daddy”, but that doesn’t even matter because of how fun this song is.

5. “Don’t Worry Baby” – The harmonies of the Beach Boys can be used for the most surf rock of experiences, car cruisin’, and pickin’ up dates; but at times their vocal arrangements come together for something that cuts straight to the soul. The situation here seems to be that the singer has been talking big about how great his car is and now is forced to race against some sort of rival racing crew, which he’s pretty nervous about (is this a plotline to 2 Fast 2 Furious?). His girl instills his confidence by repeating “don’t worry baby, everything will turn out all right”. Though I’ve never been put into that sort of situation, I like to replace it with other situations, like when I feel discouraged after trying to cut open an avocado that’s not quite ready or I lose to the AI in Madden even though the setting is only on Pro; “don’t worry baby…”

4. “Fun, Fun, Fun” – This is one that has stuck with me ever since I was a kid. For some reason the tale of a girl who disobeys her parents in order to go out with some friends, with a central focus on a T-Bird struck something in my little memory, perhaps getting grounded was such an imminent threat that it really did something to my core. The Chuck Berry-like opening riff is great, the repeating chorus, and content make it a quintessential song about the early 60s.

3. “God Only Knows” – I’ve made several background music playlists for weddings in my day and I every time I try to throw this song in there even though it technically starts with the words “I may not always love you…” The song is so good that most people forget its opening and so it’s worth throwing in there. It’s a deep song covering devotion, consequences of heartbreak, and of course theology (it does talk about God after all). It’s the best slow song the Boys have and definitely the most romantic, though I’m not sure you can say it’s the best love song, because that belongs to these next two…

2. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – The protagonist dreams of being married to a girl in the future, but he’s too young to act, his dreams are only a prospect shut down by his youth. This dream of what could be is one of the happiest songs ever written. From its opening guitar to Wilson’s vocals to the “we could be married” line, the Boys lead us into a dreamlike state of romantic bliss. Perhaps the song has lulled me into its vision of the future, but it’s one of the all time greats.

1. “Good Vibrations” – Wait a second. If you’re doing this right you’ve pulled out your copy of “Sounds of Summer” (because if you’re doing life right, you have a copy) and as I bring out a song you listen to it; it doesn’t have to be the whole thing–maybe just to the chorus or so. This means that by this point you’ve probably reached the 23 second mark of “Good Vibrations”, which is just about when the song picks up–do me a favor, hit the back button and start it over. Have you done it? When it hits that point do it again. And again. What an intro right? It’s beautiful. The light percussion. The bassline. Wilson’s voice. It’s all perfect. And then it picks up taking it to another level, one that is entirely different, yet complementary. And right when you think it’s gonna explode, it goes right back to the beginning again! This song ends the album, which only makes sense because it is the best work by The Beach Boys (though it’s close)–it’s a track entirely dedicated to feeling good (but one that actually makes you feel good), plus it was used in one of the heartbreaking moments in television history! (Lost spoilers there). It’s essential Beach Boys, it’s essential summertime listening, it’s essential to life.

What are your favorites from this album? Can you do a full 30 song ranking?

What’s Hot Right Now: Uptown Funk

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The #1 song right now is by the ever afamed Mark Ronson.

To be more fair (but not accurate, I should add), Bruno Mars is really the one who is leading the way on this one with the funkalicious hit “Uptown Funk” (In ways, Ronson is like the pitcher who pitches 5 innings, gives up 8 runs, but still gets the win because his team scores 9–no doubt the reason why we shouldn’t care about wins anymore as a statistic; is there a musical equivalent to this? Does Ronson place #1 on these charts without Mars? If so should we be looking at Ronson’s FIP rather than his wins at this point? Or is it Mars that is benefiting from Ronson? We really need to get some advanced stats with which to quantify pop music).

Yes Ronson is atop the charts with the heralded #1 spot on the Billboard Charts. This is something that he will be remembered by forever, Ronson: provider of the #1(!) single “Uptown Funk”. This will be etched out on any album, concert performance, or poster he will ever appear on. The power of Billboard!

Musically, the song is an ode to 70s jams, recalling funk from days past, yet cleansed in a way that Tate Taylor and Chadwick Boseman should be proud of. Taking James Brown, Sly Stone, and George Clinton and putting them through a pop filter so clean, it’s lost all freshness.

Which is of course why America loves it.

Like disco was once turned into a John Travolta and the BeeGee’s hit factory, Ronson has capitalized on making funk even cleaner than Timberlake makes R&B. Who knew this is what America wanted (or that Michelle Pfeiffer still strikes such a note!)?

I suppose lyrically the song does aim for a certain edge. It starts out tame, telling the audience about Mars’ cool, the examples used range from cliched (fire department), to unique (making dragons want to retire) to weird (wanting to kiss oneself).

Ronson & Mars then introduce us to uptown funk, something they declare is going to give it to us (though this us, when thinking about it is probably not referring to me. I’m sure somebody else is the person whom Mars would like to give “it” to).

But lest we doubted, Mars reassures listeners to watch, especially if we don’t quite think that we are gonna get it. In a moment where Mars really goes for it vocally–one that has been catapulted into memory by places such as commercials for NBC’s The Voice, Mars repeats over and over “Don’t believe me just watch” until finally telling himself to “stop, wait a minute”–a moment that can only be said to either be stolen or a tribute to this classic one.

Verse 2 adds some other cliched reasons why Ronson and Mars are cool, least of which is Mars talking about liquor, the best being his comparison to Skippy peanut butter (Ronson & Mars self-proclaimed cool factor rankings:

5. I’m too hot: call the police and the fireman — C’mon guys, you’re not even on fire there’s no need for the fireman, and definitely no need for the police to get involved.

4. Got Chucks on with Saint Laurent — Seems pretty cool, but not that cool.

3. Gotta kiss myself I’m so pretty — Hey if that’s what suits you!

2. Smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy — Now Skippy is pretty cool and is definitely smooth, but I think they went too far with the fresh. There are so many preservatives in that jar, there’s definitely no reason for it to be fresh; it could be like a 5 year old jar of Skippy and it wouldn’t really make any difference.

1. I’m too hot: make a dragon wanna retire — Dragons are pretty cool with Game of Thrones and all, the idea of making a dragon want to retire because you’re so hot seems pretty legit and creative. I mean, I kinda wish I was that hot.)

The song ends with a sort of play on words, with Mars telling us that he (or uptown funk, rather) will funk us up. It’s cute, cute enough to capture the American public, especially when combined with mild horns in the background. This mantra repeats ad naseum, providing the sort of background perfect for mothers and children alike. The most populist of culture is that which is accessible by many, Ronson & Mars go for broke here, taking familiar beats, smoothing them out, offering a section of lyrics to be easily remembered by children (as “Happy” did last year), and in this pop musical landscape, children reign supreme.

Top 10 Podcast Episodes of 2014

I released my best podcasts of the year not long ago, but wanted to do more with them, so I tried to keep track of my favorite episodes I listened to throughout the year. This proved to be very difficult, but I think I came up with a wide range of some of the year’s best. As always some shows are explicit in content so proceed with caution.

Two more best of lists left for 2014; best albums and best films. Look for best albums this weekend and best films later next week.

10. Hang Up and Listen: “Superfest East”

Featuring all members of Slate Gabfest podcasts (Hang Up and Listen-their sports talk, Political Gabfest, and Culture Gabfest) this live episode is like a podcast celebration. Each show does one segment, with others interceding at various moments, and then each competing in a mostly funny debate. Slate has jumped fully into the podcast world and this show highlights all they are doing in the world.

9. Rob Has a Podcast: “Cochran Breaks Down the Final Four”/Dom and Colin Podcast: “A Closer Look at Cagayan with Tony Vlachos”

Both of these episodes are deserving of being in the top 10 by themselves, but I didn’t want Survivor commanding two of the top 10 so I put them together. The first is Rob Cesternino’s recap episode in which he interviews John Cochran–superfan turned player turned winner turned CBS screenwriter–Cochran delivers as he usually does, but this time both get into their personal history with the show and how their fandom evolved after being so successful on it.

The second is Dom and Colin whose podcast centers on hardcore strategy talk doing a “Retrospective” with winner Tony Vlachos. The Retrospectives are typically fascinating looks at the entire thought process behind a person’s experience on the show, with the hosts breaking down each and every decision made by a contestant, but here the format is elevated by the incomparable Vlachos. Vlachos explains every detail of every single thing he did with the manic energy that made him one of the best winners the show has ever seen. He is so enthusiastic about explaining himself that even three hours in he is begging the hosts to continue the interview.

8. Comedy Bang Bang: “Oh, Golly! You Devil”

This is the second part of an episode that saw Scott Aukerman and guests Jason Manzoukas and Andy Daly end their show on a cliffhanger with the Apocalypse hanging in the balance. This episode features a tour-de-force performance by Andy Daly who acts out a battle of good vs. evil while being ten different characters each of which joins a different side. The entire show is improvised and to hear Daly go through such a wide range of characters without ever missing a beat is incredible.

7. Improv4Humans: “Shoehorn A Shoehorn Story”

Improv4Humans is a podcast that takes suggestions from Twitter and other topics to create improvised scenarios–doing their best to bring Improv comedy to the podcast format. It’s typically hilarious, but hard to pick one over another. This one however stuck in my mind for so long that I had to include it on the list. Every segment kills it, but particularly the segment about the 2014 Emmys–one of the funniest moments on a podcast all year.

6. Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything “1984 (the year not the book)”

Benjamin Walker does an interesting form of podcasting that includes a sort of typical public radio style of interviewing alongside a piece of fiction that he himself usually writes and performs to create an interesting thematic hybrid. Here Walker uses real events in the past with a made up journal from his younger self to talk about youth, growing up, and the year 1984.

5. This American Life: “Tarred and Feathered”

My heart starts beating faster just thinking about this episode, the central theme being people who are “tarred and feathered” in some way. They choose to focus a segment on a group of people who claim to be non-practicing pedophiles who have formed an online group to deal with their problem and to hold each other accountable. For those who can handle the subject it is a captivating look into people who will never (and should never) be accepted in society. It brings questions of how we should deal with such a thing and tells the story of a young person who seems to be doing a lot of good. I don’t know if I could ever listen to it again, but that one time it was an incredible piece of radio.

4. U Talkin’ U2 to Me: “Slowing It Down”

In my opinion the funniest of the U2 podcast, Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott don’t actually discuss any U2 albums and instead go over listener feedback and just chat with one another. The episode also features perennial podcast guest Paul F. Tompkins who, as always, adds to any podcast he is on.

3. Start Up “How to Divide an Imaginary Pie”

Start Up is so good because of the transparency that Alex Blumberg brings to the process. The podcast is documenting Blumberg attempting to start his own business, a podcasting company, and this episode tells of him trying to get a business partner. Blumberg finds a person and then must deal with choosing how to split the company with his partner. It’s a document that shows how difficult and cringeworthy business decisions can be, especially when one doesn’t have a knack for that sort of thing.

2. Serial: “The Alibi”

I wouldn’t say that any episode of Serial really stands above the rest, so the pilot gets the nod for introducing us to the story that would captivate listeners for 12 weeks.

1. Radiolab: “For the Birds”

This is my favorite episode of the year because of the deep impossible questions that it poses. Radiolab presents a situation that cuts deep into our humanness asking whether it’s okay to choose something that helps our loved ones at the cost of larger world issues. At what point should we choose logical conclusions over the ones we love? These questions have stuck with me and definitely deserve to be asked, even if they can never be answered.

Honorable Mentions:

The Goosedown: “Outkast vs. Tribe”,Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show: “Serial Game Show Contestant”, U Talkin’ U2 to Me: “Staind Glass”, This American Life: “No Place Like Home”, 99% Invisible “Walk This Way”, The Andy Daly Pilot Project Podcast “The Travel Bug with August Lindt”

2014 Pop Culture Goals in Review

Last year I wrote some goals for myself in pop culture–it’s my tradition to give myself resolutions to take seriously that aren’t really serious so I don’t have to feel guilty about myself when I inevitably fail them. You can read the full thing from last year here.

Here at the end of the year are the goals and how well I did with each. Tomorrow I will release a new set of goals for me to attempt only to drag myself here once again and admit with shame that I failed next year.

Last year’s goals:

-Start and engage in more conversations about movies on Letterboxd with friends or internet pals.

While I didn’t engage in a ton of conversations I definitely increased my Letterboxd usage and think it’s the greatest way of keeping track of what you’ve seen and what your friends and critics have seen.

-Watch 10 films from my Letterboxd watchlist

I don’t think I met this goal, let’s look at how many old movies I watched that I wanted to: American Graffiti, Airplane!, Bull Durham, Paths of Glory, The Hidden Fortress, Taxi Driver, The Maltese Falcon, The Usual Suspects, The Ice Storm. By my count that’s nine, which by my count is not equal to ten. It was close, but a pop culture failure.

-Put out at least a podcast a month

Well The Rankings Podcast went on an unofficial hiatus, but expect something soon…

-Start a new podcast (this is one for which I already have an idea brewing)

I actually did start a new podcast (Play Your Part) which wasn’t what I had in mind previously and is really just a way for me to make shows about whatever I want to (pop culture discussions, world culture, and random facts). It’s just a fun little project for me, but you can check it out if anything interests you.

-Read more mystery novels, because I always loved those as a kid.

I wasn’t as on top of this as I wanted to be, but I did read a couple of good novels. I read le Carre’s thriller The Spy Who Came in From the Cold which was excellent, as well as the ever popular Gone Girl. I’m also reading Anthony Bourdain’s Bone in the Throat showcasing his love for food and mob stories.

-Don’t watch sequels/prequels/franchise films at the theater.

Let’s look at the list of films I’ve seen this year in theaters I saw: Guardians of the Galaxy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 22 Jump Street, The Lego Movie, and The Muppets Most Wanted. That is three sequels all of which were very good and the two others are movies that are all but guaranteed to become sequels. I also saw four movies that were sequels from the comfort of my own home. Franchise films are overboard, but some are pretty good.

-Be intentional about creating things (writing, cooking, podcasting, etc…).

I started doing pretty consistent Weekly Thoughts about things, cooked stuff, and did plenty of podcasting. I think I was pretty set this year.

-Read a graphic novel (suggestions are welcome for what to read)

I read Persepolis which was a fascinating look into Iran and religion and revolution and counter culture. It was a great read, albeit not entirely convincing enough for me to get addicted to the medium.

Top 10 Songs of 2013

At last, the top 10 songs of the year!

Check out past lists here:

75-51

50-31

30-21

20-11

And listen to all 75 songs on Spotify:

10. “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae feat. Erykah Badu – Contains what may be the line of the year in “they say ‘let them eat cake’ but we eat wings and throw them bones on the ground”. It defines the songs funky rebelliousness.

9. “Song For Zula” by Phosphorescent – Opening up with a riff on one of the great songs of all time in Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”, Phosphorescent’s “Song For Zula” is poetic, questioning, and beautiful.

8. “Nosetalgia” by Pusha T feat. Kendrick Lamar – The beat is epic, matching the song’s content which views drugs with two differing perspectives. Pusha T’s reminiscing about his time as a drug dealer is matched by Kendrick’s retrospective on his family’s drug use. It’s powerful.

7. “Play by Play” by Autre Ne Veut – It’s funky, it’s upbeat, it’s catchy, it’s electronic, somehow it fits in with the year in music, but sounds unlike everything else.

6. “Architect” by Manchester Orchestra feat. Frightened Rabbit – Released as a Record Store Day special, it makes it way into my top 10 both because of my Andy Hull fanboy-ism and because of its whispy sadness. This is everything I could have hoped this song to be. It features guest vocals from Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchinson, the perfect companion for Andy Hull’s acoustic ballad, more collaboration please!

5. “Latch” by Disclosure feat. Sam Smith – Disclosure is really good depending on who they get to do vocals for them and Sam Smith does it best. It’s both sweet and catchy, which are both necessary for me to really get into electronic music, this and the aforementioned “Play by Play” are getting me really excited about electronic music to come.

4. “Dance Apocalyptic” by Janelle Monae – Monae successfully combines so many genres together and this year’s dance dissent track is the kind of dance music I would wish to grow in every club and on every dance floor.

3. “The Mother We Share” by CHVRCHES – What a sweet song. What other song containing the F-bomb could you say that about? CHVRCHES is just that band. They’re so catchy and sweet sounding, but create electronic dance anthems. This infectious song stands above the rest because it is about a sibling relationship, isn’t that sweet!?!

2. “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake – JT’s love ode to Jessica Biel has the catchiest chorus of the year, even months of radio airplay couldn’t sour me to it.

1. “Everlasting Arms” by Vampire Weekend – Half of the album was a contender for this spot, but ultimately I found “Everlasting Arms” to be the most unique of the bunch to me personally. With its ode to the Christian hymn “Leanin’ On the Everlasting Arms”, Koenig has his most confessional struggle with belief in God, being torn between unbelief and a desire to grasp the Holy One. It touched me more than any other song, which is probably a personal thing, as I haven’t seen much love for it outside of my own opinions. I love it because it is simultaneously worshipful of God while doubting His very existence.

Top 75 Songs of the Year (20-11)

Continued…

Check out past lists here:

75-51

50-31

30-21

20. “Borrowed Time” by Parquet Courts – Upbeat and careless, perfect garage rock anthem.

19. “Damage” by Potty Mouth – The same could be said for this track as the one above it. Don’t really know why it stands out so much for me, but I love it.

18. “Crane Your Neck” by Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Aly Spaltro shows off all her talents in this epic 6 minute track that redefines whimsy indie folk.

17. “Byegone” by Volcano Choir – See below.

16. “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day” by Kurt Vile – The title describes the song perfectly as it rolls along for 9 minutes easing you into your day.

15. “Ya Hey” by Vampire Weekend” – What a track, referencing the Jewish name for G-d, quoting scripture, and perhaps twisting the beloved “Hey Ya”.

14. “Comrade” by Volcano Choir – This really is the third Bon Iver album.

13. “Pusha Man/Paranoia” by Chance the Rapper – At first an anthem about dealing on the streets of Chicago, its back half hidden track transitions into a lament about life on the streets that asks the listener for empathy and compassion that is often lacking when “ghetto” life is observed.

12. “Diane Young” by Vampire Weekend – This is Vampire Weekend’s ode to Buddy Holly.

11. “Au Revoir – Adios” by The Front Bottoms – Just missing out on the top 10, at less than two minutes long, this folk/pop-punk group has the perfect quick and clever break up song.

Top 10 Pop Hits of 2013

katy_perry_roar_tiger

I have a like/hate relationship with pop hits. I usually feel about top 40 radio the same way that I feel about that picture at the top of Katy Perry roaring at a tiger, I think it sucks and is stupid.

That being said this is always a fun list to do and a good way to kick off the ranking season. The top 10 pop hits comes with the regulation that each song chosen must have landed in the top 10 of the Billboard charts sometime within the last year.

Let the games begin!

 

10. Anna Kendrick “Cups” – Well the movie was great and this song provided a good little 30 seconds in it, so why not popify it so that the masses will buy it on the iTunes?

 

9. Justin Bieber “Beauty and a Beat” – Hey this Bieber kid is kinda nice to listen to when he’s trying to be sweet and not a toolbag.

 

8. Zedd ft. Foxes “Clarity” – EDM producers joining with indie singers to create pop hits has been the latest trend and this continues this year. Usually make for good songs.

 

7. Calvin Harris ft. Florence Welch “Sweet Nothing” – Same as above + Florence Welch = One spot higher.

 

6. Rihanna ft. Mikky Ekko “Stay” – I’m totally down with Rihanna-feeling-sad-ballads. Make it a duet and I’m doubly in.

 

5. Swedish House Mafia “Don’t You Worry Child” – Just sensitive and sweet enough to hit the right emotional tones. Sweden!

 

4. Capital Cities “Safe and Sound” – A fun indie pop hit, there’s always some obscure indie band that comes out of the year as a one hit wonder.

 

3. Drake “Hold on We’re Going Home” – So much sweetness to it, this is a future wedding playlist staple for sure and I happen to like that feeling you get at weddings.

 

2. Lorde “Royals” – The year’s biggest breakout star for sure. The song delivers with its sound and its lyrics, but it will never be royal and is stuck at number two.

 

1. Justin Timberlake “Mirrors” – One of the best songs of the year period. One of the best love songs written in a long while. Endlessly catchy, hopelessly romantic.

The top pop hits of the year is traditionally the one I kick off the best of the year lists with and so we have arrived! I hope to later release lists revealing my favorite songs, albums, films, and other creative recaps of the year, so look forward to those.

Top 10 Podcasts of 2012

I absolutely love podcasts. I probably listened to more podcasts this year than I did to music. I even started my own podcast (The Rankings Podcast). They are a hard thing to judge or rank objectively. The podcasts that you enjoy will probably be about something that you like as most are based around some sort of subject. Thus you will see very few commonalities between my list and other well known sites that cover podcasts (AV Club, Paste). My list is a lot more niche driven, while others tend to be focused on comedy by professional comedians without real subject matter. Most of mine are passion projects done by people just for fun, although some podcasts are just radio shows that are put on the internet. I have counted those anyway because the podcast format is the only way in which it is available to me.

The Top 10 

10. Homebrewed Christianity

Tripp and Bo do Homebrewed in order to guide folks into a deeper theological life. They promote discussion of all the issues (most of which go beyond a lay persons understanding). They have a deep knowledge of all things theology and seem to care about people, the world, and God. From their guest interviews to their “Theology Nerd Throwdown”s, they always keep it lively, while discussing complex theories that at times I certainly can’t understand, worth a listen if you are into that sort of thing.

Ep. Recommendations: My favorites are usually the Nerd Throwdowns and I really enjoyed “Nerd Out! Leaving Church, Packing Heat, and Metaphysical Violence“. Also, the interview with Peter Rollins is great (though it mostly is just him speaking).

9. 9 Thumbs

A new podcast this year, 9 Thumbs has a basic premise, 3 guys talking each week about 3 things that they like (3×3=9, the thumb is a reference to the Facebook “like”). Since I love talking about all the facets of pop culture (that’s why I am even making this list), this podcast is a great listen. Jason, Matthew, and Rob are all writers who all love pop culture and cover a wide variety of subjects in their likes. This includes everything from music and movies to iPhone apps and Tumblr blogs, they keep it fun and fresh every week.

Ep. Recommendations: “From Gaga to Garfield to Liquid Pumpkin Pie” stands out as a fun one, most episodes are fairly equal in my eyes, but this episode’s discussion of politics, raising kids, television, Lady Gaga, and Starbucks drinks seems to offer a wide range of subjects that makes the show fun to listen to.

8. This American Life

This American Life is technically more of a radio show than a podcast, but since I only listen to it in podcast form, I will include it on here for now. It is run by the famous Ira Glass and weaves together real life stories from various people to form a theme during each episode. The staff at This American Life does the interviews and the stories are always interesting, sometimes hilarious, enticing, and even beautiful. Storytelling has become a big theme in the podcasting world with This American Life at the forefront and they really do it well, highlighting the American population in a fair, balanced, and fascinating way.

Ep. Recommendations: “This Week” was a really interesting if not beautiful episode that simply touched on things that had happened to people in the last week, showing the simple insight that can happen when we stop and listen to people’s stories. “Red State Blue State” came out the week of the election and told stories of people who had faced problems because of the politics that they have or believe are right. The episode tells both sides of the story and even goes further to bring in two people and try to offer reconciliation to them.

7. The BS Report

The BS Report features sports writer/personality Bill Simmons doing interviews about various topics relating to either sports or pop culture. The majority of the time he interviews those within his inner circle (Cousin Sal, Joe House, Mike Lombardi), but being one of the top sports guys out there he has the ability to get special guests as well (such as President Barack Obama!, Louis CK, Adam Carolla). He is always very funny and has a deep knowledge about sports that gives him a unique and entertaining take on most topics.

Ep. Recommendations: Each week with Cousin Sal (a writer for Jimmy Kimmel) Simmons and him guess the lines for the upcoming week in the NFL all the while discussing the previous week’s games, this is my favorite episode of the BS Report, though it should be listened to timely here is a recent one. And of course the Barack Obama one, in which the president talks about basketball, football, coaching his daughter’s team, and The Wire.

6. Relevant Podcast

The crew from Relevant Magazine continues their long running podcast featuring weekly segments, interviews, games, and musical performances. Honestly I like it better when they don’t have an interview to fill the time and choose to do a game instead, as the people they interview have become increasingly less interesting to me. There are some interviews and performances that remain solid though. The weekly segments include New Releases and Slices (weekly news stories) which often take on tangents and evolve into hilarious bits. The crew has a lot of chemistry and is a lot of fun to listen to week after week.

Ep. Recommendations: The “John Tesh” and “Paper Route” episodes show the group’s knack for inspiring the fans to Twitter stalk people into special guesting on the show. Both build off of past episodes bringing in a hilarious payoff.

5. Hang Up & Listen

Slate’s Hang Up & Listen is probably the most intelligent talk about sports that you can find out there. Josh, Mike, and Stefan tackle issues as serious as how to talk about suicide in sports and concussions in the NFL to basic coverage on playoffs and anything news worthy. They look at the ethical side of things, a side that is often overlooked in the sports coverage world, and come up with honest, well thought out responses.

Ep. Recommendations: All episodes are really worth checking out, but the recent “The How to Talk About a Murder-Suicide Edition” definitely stands out as an episode of specific depth as they criticize how tragedy is covered in sports (as they oft do). Also the, Greg Popovich controversy is a particularly interesting segment.

4. The Dom & Colin Podcast

This podcast is specifically focused on strategy in reality game shows such as Survivor and Big Brother. While it is hardly organized or edited at all, the depth to which Dom and Colin go into analyzing the strategic perspectives of each player is fascinating (especially for a strategy nerd like me). This is certainly a very niche podcast, which should only be listened to if you are ready for 3 hour discussions about reality TV (which I am). They also bring in former contestants for “Retrospectives” of their seasons, in which they discuss their experience from beginning to end, talking at length about each move they made. There is nothing else like this out there.

Ep. Recommendations: “Survivor Storytime with Sophie Clarke” might be my favorite walk-through of theirs, because it allowed Sophie to tell her story in ways that weren’t edited into the show. She definitely responded with a lot of insight and was honest about each thing that happened.

3. Radiolab

I’m a new listener to WYNC’s Radiolab, but with each and every new listen I am absolutely blown away. It is similar to This American Life, only even better edited to include mixed interviews, music, and sound effects that make each story more exciting. Taking on usually scientific subjects, they explore different theories about things making them fascinating and laying them out in often pensive, suspenseful ways. It’s not only entertaining, but makes you question morals, ethics, and what you know.

Ep. Recommendations: “What’s Up Doc?” talks about voice actor Mel Blanc (of Looney Tunes fame) and asks how much the things we create become a part of us and help us to work through things in our life. It is an extremely touching episode.

2. The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show

The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show is hosted by Jeff Rubin a comedy writer for College Humor who also is an extreme nerd. With his podcast he basically explores things that he likes whether it be through interviews, games, or visiting certain places. His interests span everywhere from video games to toys to old TV shows to roller coasters and pizza, his nerdom is expansive. What makes the show truly great is Jeff’s genuine interest in the subject he is talking about, his sincerity and his wit go on to make every show interesting (even the ones that you may not be personally interested in).

Ep. Recommendations: There are a lot of really interesting ones and “Episode 37: Pizza Expo, Angry Birds, TMNT, and Hunger Games” will probably give you the best overview of his interests. The Alamo Drafthouse episode is pretty great too.

1. Rob Has a Podcast

Rob Cesternino is a former Survivor contestant who has been running this podcast for about 3 years now. This year the show grew bigger and better than ever before. He brought in unique perspectives to discuss reality TV (ESPN’s AJ Mass), had amazing interviews with Survivor host Jeff Probst and legend Boston Rob, and continued what is probably the best coverage on reality television (if you like Survivor or Big Brother). His shows are humorous (check out his interviews with Tyson), but also cover strategical analysis (like his weekly “Know-it-alls” recaps with Stephen Fishbach show). While it may not interest you if you do not like reality TV, it certainly is very well done and the community of fans he has helped bring together is great.

Ep. Recommendations: “Boston Rob Has a Podcast”, “Rob Has a Probst Cast” both of these interviews with 2 of Survivor‘s most famous faces show why this show has elevated within the past year.

Honorable mentions:

Slate’s Spoiler Specials

The Film Talk

Sound Opinions

Pop Culture Happy Hour

The Truth

How to do Everything

Good Job Brain

Unbelievable

Filmspotting

Hollywood Prospectus