Best Films of 2015

 

I still have a lot left to watch this year, like every year the prestige films get flooded upon us throughout December and mid-January leaving the unprofessional cinephile without extra cash or Friday evenings. There was a lot of stuff that was highly acclaimed that I was pretty meh on (It FollowsThe Duke of BurgundyLove & MercySpotlightTangerine) and quite a few movies that I recognize as flawed but excited me enough to ignore those flaws (DopeSicarioSlow WestStraight Outta Compton). I think I’ve become less willing to accept the merits of the “average” film, meaning that a movie better do something to excite me or I’m not having it. This probably happens after so many years and is probably why I haven’t made time to watch Oscar bait like The Danish Girl or Steve Jobs or super hero movies like Ant Man; they just don’t cut it for me anymore.

Another trend you may notice is that in nine out of the top ten, a woman is the most important character in the film. This wasn’t intentional by any means, but shows what could be an exciting new trend in cinema.

This is a list of films that did excite me this year, one that I will continue to update as I see more and more (so check back!).

Before we start, a list of things I haven’t seen (embarrassing, I know): Son of SaulThe TribeBridge of SpiesThe Big ShortThe MartianChi-Raq99 Homes45 YearsThe AssassinMustangHeaven Knows What

20. The Stanford Prison Experiment

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A thrilling movie that captures the debated prison guard/prisoner experiment that took place in the 70s on Stanford’s campus. There is a lot out there about the validity of the experiment and its results, but I think that’s inessential when talking about the quality of this film. Sure it get’s a lot out of its wow, this actually happened premise, but it’s a compelling piece of movie making, with great performances from its young cast, and reflects on the nature of power and violence really well.

19. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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This might be a low placement for some, a high placement for others, but I think it perfectly encapsulates Star Wars in 2016. It deserves credit for being as good as it is, but its flaws should also be recognized. Daisy Ridley deserves 95% of the credit here, even if the rest of the film was awfully cast and there were terrible plot choices throughout, but Ridley was still the film’s star, I would have enjoyed it. Plus I’m really into what they did with Kylo Ren, where even if every moment didn’t work, they’ve created something more unique than anyone’s talking about: a villains whose conscience is haunted by the good in him.

18. Creed

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Like Star WarsCreed shows just how important casting is to a reboot. Sure Stallone is pretty good in what will likely be an Oscar winning performance, but this film goes nowhere without Michael B. Jordan. Jordan’s charm drives this film, whether it be his desire to follow in the footsteps of his father, his interactions with Rocky, or (especially) his blooming love story with Tessa Thompson’s Bianca. Add to this Ryan Coogler’s great direction (that first fight scene!) and you’ve got something great. I can only see this growing in my estimation for years to come.

17. Timbuktu

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Timbuktu tells the tale of a fictionalized terrorist group has taking over a small town in West Africa. It’s timely in portraying how an all-encompassing and corrupt religion can destroy a culture. There are moments of deep distress at the injustice that occurs when certain powers take over. Perhaps more importantly there are scenes of heartbreaking beauty showing slight rebellion in the form of playing music or pretending to play soccer. No other film shows just how essential mercy is to the systems we create.

16. Sicario

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Sicario features the most thrilling experiences I had in a theater this year. Emily Blunt takes the lead and is our entry into the dark and politically muddled world of the drug war where she quickly learns the rules don’t matter. I actually don’t think the film really has any interesting insight on the drug war, but those big action scenes left me white-knuckled.

15. Dope

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The last third or so of this film completely undermines the tone by throwing in a strange plot twist, but for most of it Dope feels so fresh. It’s about a group of kids out of place in Inglewood, not only trying to tackle poverty’s obstacles, but also what it means to be an outsider in that situation. It’s got a great aesthetic, a great soundtrack, and tackles identity.

14. Room

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No other movie left me as wrecked as this one did and while usually this is a good sign, the happenings of Room were mostly presented in a way that I wouldn’t want to really watch them again. It’s a movie that brutally captures your imagination as it tells the tale of a mom (played by Brie Larson) and her young son being held captive in a room together. Luckily the movie isn’t all explicit heartbreak, the boy’s angelic voiceovers about  all he knows of the world offer a poetic beauty. I’m just not sure I’d want to experience it all again.

13. Slow West

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A movie I was mixed on while watching it that has grown on me ever since. It stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as a Scottish immigrant who is trying to find his love who has recently fled to the Wild West. He’s in way over his head and is soon joined by a bounty hunter (played by Michael Fassbender) who begins to guide him with mixed motives. It’s a Western that allows itself to be weird, showcasing little quirks and a dry sense of humor. McPhee’s naivety drives the film, especially when placed in the midst of the self-serving evil the chaos of the West inspired. It’s a gorgeously shot film and features one of the best endings of the year.

12. The Hateful Eight

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I think this is Tarantino’s most nihilistic film, each of its characters don’t really seem to have any bit of good within them as they express their violent, misogynist, and racist tendencies. But throw eight of these people in a room together with Tarantino at the helm and you’re bound to get something worthwhile. Unlike most, and perhaps in spite of what I just wrote, I do think Tarantino has a conscience of justice that he expresses throughout (there are literally speeches about justice in this movie!). I do think it’s a little long and not quite as fun as his last couple of films were (as strange as that is to say about movies about slavery and the Holocaust).

11. Straight Outta Compton

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While not the most cinematic film of the year, Straight Outta Compton was both a banging music biopic and a treatise on the racial tensions present all throughout 2015. To see the events that inspired “F*ck Tha Police” presented in dramatic fashion at the same time as those sentiments were being expressed in various forms throughout the country due to violent interactions with the police was disheartening, but thrilling. In the midst of capturing this tension, and the effect of the group on culture, is a really fun movie that hits every note you’d want from a biopic.

10. Carol

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Todd Haynes’ latest is a gorgeously shot drama set in the 1960’s about two women’s love affair. While most of the dramatic tension lies in the forbidden romance, I think the film’s true thematic tone has to do with those who push against the traditional power structures. Carol’s husband (played by Kyle Chandler) is wrecked by his wife’s true sexual orientation, but he seems more distraught that he cannot control her. Therese is meek and mild-mannered and is inspired by Carol’s dominance as she wrestles with her relationships and career path. It is the system that holds them back more than any explicitly presented social mores. It’s a love story about a girl coming into her own and the love that inspired her to do it.

9. The Diary of a Teenage Girl

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This is a difficult film to recommend or praise because it is about an illicit affair between Minnie, a 15 year old girl played by Bel Powley, and her mother’s boyfriend, played by Alexander Skarsgard, an affair that is never presented as an immoral act. However, I would probably credit the film for this, because instead of moralizing, it shows the whole thing from Minnie’s perspective. She’s mostly thrilled about her newfound relationship and we hear her innermost thoughts through a voice recorded diary and her comics which often come to life throughout. It’s obviously not all daisies and writer/director Marielle Heller portrays her growth in flashes of excitement, confusion, and regret. It’s really well done.

8. Brooklyn

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The best pure romance film I’ve seen in a long while, I can only hope this takes the place of The Notebook as a go-to for romantic dramas. Brooklyn follows Ellis, a discontent Irish girl who seizes on the opportunity to come to America. While in America she struggles with the immigration experience which leaves her timid and uninspired. At an Irish dance she runs into Tony, a plumber from an Italian family who quickly expresses interest in her. The chemistry explodes even with her timidity and the two become a couple. Brooklyn is amazing at how well it pulls off the sincerity of each moment. It could have devolved into dramatic tropes, but instead lets its characters bask in joy; it gives them drama but grounds it in reality. Ellis is forced into a series of decisions that throw everything into question (and bring 2015 all star Domhnall Gleason into the mix) and the film pulls it off, giving us a fitfully beautiful ending.

7. About Elly

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Technically released internationally in 2009, Asghar Farhadi’s drama didn’t get an American release until this year. Like A Separation and The PastAbout Elly centers around a mystery and the gray areas that encapsulate the decisions of each of its characters. A group of friends go away for a vacation, bringing along Elly–a quiet girl with some sort of mysterious past. A serious events occurs that leaves the group traumatized and the leaves the viewer in a clouded knot. Farhadi is the master at showing how each of our decisions is based in a slew of cultural and religious biases that are so complex is becomes near impossible to declare rights and wrongs.

6. Tu Dors Nicole

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Tu Dors Nicole follows Nicole as she navigates her unsatisfying life during the summer in a small Canadian town. It’s about the restlessness of being post-high school, the overwhelming purposelessness that occurs, and the disillusionment that comes as a result. Director Stephane Lafleur guides us by giving the film an airy feel, lead by its black and white cinematography and the dreamlike quirks presented throughout whether overtly or slyly. Ultimately though, the film gets by on the charm of its characters who make every moment engaging.

5. Anamolisa 

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Charlie Kaufman’s latest film presents itself as being fairly straightforward at first, but throughout the opening, which features Michael Stone riding on an airplane, landing, and taking a cab to the airport, everything feels a little bit off. As we learn more about Michael, his experience of the world soon becomes clear, and Kaufman’s latest vision about a man in a midlife crisis all fits together beautifully. Life can be difficult to navigate, especially when it becomes mundane and all the joy gets sucked out of it–Kaufman illustrates this like Kaufman would. He also represents what it’s like to find joy in the midst of this and beautifully brings it to life in shocking and unexpected ways. Ultimately though, Michael is not allowed to be entirely cynical, he’s not allowed to seek joy however he pleases to, because neither of these are fulfilling life choices; Kaufman doesn’t tell us what will satisfy the man lost in his own life, but he does paint a great portrait of what will not.

4. Mistress America

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Noah Bambauch’s latest collaboration with Greta Gerwig is the funniest film of the year. It’s a His Girl Friday style screwball comedy where its throwaway lines are up there with the best written comedy of the year. It’s quick witted and manically paced, following its two female protagonists, Tracy (Lola Kirke) and Brooke (Greta Gerwig), through their lives in New York City. They are very different people and in different places in their lives–Tracy is a timid college freshman trying to figure it all out, while Brooke is a New York socialite with a new plan every minute–they hit it off and their relationship is a catalyst for the film which explores loneliness and personal growth.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road

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This was everyone’s surprise film of the year and I must note it lives up to every bit of hype placed upon it. It’s a progressive post-apocolypitc car chase that nails every action sequence, storytelling device, and emotional beat it throws into the ether. I held my breath for large sections of the movie without noticing that I was doing it. I teared up as Max and Furiosa, two people unable to be vulnerable because of their experiences, slowly open up to one another. I laughed and cringed at the comic and ugly weirdness director George Miller places in the movie, showing at once how disturbing and lived in this world was. It hits on every level.

2. Ex Machina

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Alex Garland deserves so much credit for how he was able to set the mood of this film. It’s  set in a futuristic house where most of what’s happening is happening in conversation between it’s three central characters, but the tension is unbelievably high–evoking dread of whatever the outcome is to be. Domnhall Gleason plays Caleb, a young programmer, who gets sent to his CEO’s house (Nathan played by Oscar Isaac) for a mystery test. He soon learns he will be performing a Turing test on Nathan’s recently created robot Ava (Alicia Vikander). Even as the tension builds, Garland allows for his characters to be themselves, undermining the typical portraits of a mad scientist for one much more bro-ish and allows spontaneous dance scenes. It’s tense, surprising, well-written, and the kind of movie that actively engaged my mind more than anything else this year.

1. Inside Out

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I am an unabashed Pixar fanboy, it’s become my tradition to see each new film the studio makes on its opening day and update my rankings soon after. When I heard about the idea and casting of Inside Out, I could not have been more excited, this was a film that was made purely for me and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. I think this is a masterpiece for the way it portrays our mind so cleverly. I think it’s a masterpiece for being able to capture the complex emotions behind moving to a new place and growing up. I think it’s a masterpiece visually (the abstract thought bit nails it). I think it’s a masterpiece in how it created new classic characters and that all of our children will grow up playing with a toy called Sadness. I think it’s a masterpiece comedically, creating great bits about annoying tunes that come in our head and how we dream. And finally, I think it’s a masterpiece because of the way it embraces sadness, advocating for an emotional complexity, and being able to portray this all on screen.

Honorable mentions: Shaun the SheepWild TalesPhoenixPitch Perfect 2Spy

 

Top 10 Albums of 2015

Penultimate list of the year! Movies will be coming soon…

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10. Carly Rae Jepsen Emotion

A lot of people were really surprised by this record, but I never really was. I championed (and still do) “Call Me Maybe” as a perfect pop song and placed it as my number one song of 2012. Emotion is a strong pop album that never made much leeway on the radio despite its catchy 80s influenced style. Jepsen is our best pop star, you all just don’t know it.

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9. Titus Andronicus The Most Lamentable Tragedy

A 90-minute plus punk rock opera that filters the band’s punk influences through Bruce Springsteen’s everyman representation with an added experimental edge. It certainly doesn’t have the highs of The Monitor, but it is pretty consistent from beginning to end. Patrick Stickles brain will always come up with raging rock songs, intricate and complex enough to inspire a plethora of think pieces and this is everything I love rolled into one giant album.

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8. Julien Baker Sprained Ankle

Quite the opposite of The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Baker’s debut album is quiet and sparse. There are only nine songs here, most of which only feature Baker singing and playing guitar , but boy are these tracks affecting. She has claimed these songs represent her coming out of a place of depression and abuse and one can certainly see the inner-monologue taking place. It’s an internal struggle, with Baker battling over her own soul and just when you think the darkness will overcome, grace shines through.

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7. Future Beast Mode

A lot has been written about Future being the saddest rapper to brag about drugs, partying, and sexual affairs and this has certainly been the case across his two mixtapes (Beast Mode, 56 Nights), his full length (DS2), and collaboration with Drake (What a Time to Be Alive). There’s a weariness to the way he raps, an autotuned slur, that makes you wonder if he’s really enjoying any of it. DS2 was the most critically acclaimed of the bunch, What a Time had the most hype surrounding it, but my favorite was Beast Mode which I think shows Future at his most sincere.

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6. Grimes Art Angels

On Art Angels, Grimes takes pop music and puts it through the most eccentric filter it could probably go through while continuing to be pop. It’s pure bubblegum pop, but is also very weird. Grimes takes a page out of K-Pop–electronic pop songs that are given the spirit and enthusiasm of a high school cheer team. It works surprisingly wonderful and is so much fun to listen to.

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5. Vince Staples Summertime ’06

Staples’ studio full length debut is a biographical double album about one of the most important summers he ever had. It tells the tale of Staples growing up, learning who he was, and the outside factors imposing in on his life. There are stories of adolescent love, of depression, and of extreme violence. It’s one of the most complex coming-of-age stories I’ve ever experienced. Staples is one of the best young voices making music out there and he may have just come up with a masterpiece here.

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4. Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit

It’s hard to say what the best thing is that Barnett does, is it her ability to come up with rollicking rock songs? Her clever wordplay? The fact that she came up with the introvert anthem (sorry Alessia Cara)? All of these things point to why Sometimes I Sit is an amazing album. It’s funny, it’s thoughtful, it can be blasted on any road trip. Women are crushing it in indie rock and Barnett is there at the top.

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3. Tame Impala Currents

Currents shows Tame Impala at their most accessible, like Grimes their sound perfectly mixes their more experimental tendencies with mainstream pop’s aesthetic. Currents is a blend of EDM with a singer-songwriter’s vision. Kevin Parker has created dance music for indie rock kids, blending in disco and R&B influences to make an album that grew with every listen.

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2. Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly

This was probably the album of the year, with Kendrick building on all the goodwill of good kid, mad city to make one of the most ambitious, sprawling, and important albums maybe ever? It’s funky, jazzy, and altogether not what you’d expect from the most hyped person in rap music. But that makes it even better, showing Kendrick as a true artist, one that pushes the genre forward. To Pimp a Butterfly was a necessary album in a year filled with racial strife and police brutality at the forefront of our national conversations. It’s celebratory of black culture, comforts all the pain, and is also deeply critical of inner-city violence. Kendrick is never what anybody wants him to be and I think that’s what makes him all the more important.

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1.Sufjan Stevens Carrie  & Lowell

While Kendrick spent time analyzing the affairs of a nation, Sufjan spends his time processing his inner-self, responding to the loss of his mother. It’s painstakingly personal, littered with references to the loss and the deep depression he went through as a result. Most of Sufjan’s work features beautiful, stripped down folk songs but these are usually places between quirky chamber pop tracks. Here we essentially get sad, contemplative Sufjan for 43 straight minutes, and as much as I love the baroque Sufjan, slowed down it is so beautiful.

Honorable mentions: Young Fathers White Men Are Black Men Too; Hop Along Painted Shut; Sports All of Something; Panda Bear Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper; Drake & Future What a Time to Be Alive

Best of 2015: A Schedule

My first best of the year piece will be released tomorrow morning, but for now a placeholder for all of the content I hope to deliver over the next month. I usually try to wait until the year is mostly over before declaring the year’s best, but gee is it too much fun. Here’s what I’ve got coming your way this end of the year season*.

*All dates are tentative, dependent on my personal work ethic.

Dec. 1 – Top 10 Pop Hits

Dec. 8 – Top 100 Songs (Part I: 100-76)

Dec. 12 – Top 100 Songs (Part II: 75-51)

Dec. 16 – Top 100 Songs (Part III: 50-26)

Dec. 20 – Top 100 Songs (Part IV: 25-1)

Dec. 21 – Top 10 Podcast Episodes

Dec. 23 – Top 10 TV Episodes

Dec. 29 – Top 10 Essays

Dec. 30 – Top 10 Podcasts

Dec. 31 – 2015 Pop Culture Goal Recap

Jan. 1 – 2016 Pop Culture Goals

Jan. 3 – Top 10 Albums

Jan. 5 – Top 10 TV Shows

Jan. 7 – Top 25 Films

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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The Definitive Subjective Super Bowl Rankings

Yesterday’s Super Bowl was pretty good, which got me thinking about how the rest of the Super Bowl’s of my life have turned out. But this won’t be a game ranking, no this is definitively a subjective take on the overall Super Bowl experience. The Super Bowl isn’t just a game, it of course is a cultural phenomenon, a whole day cut out to eat, socialize, watch sports, and celebrate commercialism.

I’ve trimmed down the day into four categories, mostly focusing on the game itself, but also taking into account the Super Bowl party and my personal feelings. Here are the four categories:

Excitement: This is how good the game itself is from a pure football level. The Super Bowl has been known to be strangely close and competitive year after year, making the day all that more exciting.

Interest: This is how based in how interesting the teams were to me at the time. Everyone knows sports is much more thrilling when you have a dog in the fight–the Super Bowl is no exception. If I don’t care about the winner, naturally the game will mean less.

Party: How much fun was the party itself? Were the people under-ly enthusiastic or overtly enthusiastic (especially when cheering for a team you don’t really care about). Was the food good? These are important details.

Result: Who won the game and how was I able to emotionally cope with this?

These rankings will only be the Super Bowls that I remember being a part of, this is from 1997 to the present day; 19 Super Bowls in all.

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19. 1996: Green Bay over New England

The first Super Bowl I remember has the distinction of being the worst. I was at my friend’s house and remember the game being on in the background, but I think my friend and I ditched it in order to play with our toys. I guess my devotion to the NFL hadn’t quite begun yet.

Excitment: 2 Interest: .5 Party: .5 Result: 1 Overall: 4

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18. 2011: Green Bay over Pittsburgh

We put together a last minute Super Bowl party, which was pretty cool. There were only four of us there and at various points every guest that came over fell asleep; it was quite the party. I didn’t like the Steelers or the Packers either so I don’t think I ever cared about a Super Bowl less.

Excitment: 3 Interest: .5 Party: 1.5 Result: 1 Overall: 6

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17. 2014: Seattle over Denver

The Super Bowl party was pretty low key, which would have been fine if the Seahawks hadn’t stomped all over the Broncos. It was a blowout where the team I wanted to win, didn’t.

Excitment: .5 Interest: 3 Party: 3.5 Result: 1 Overall: 8

2006

16. 2006: Pittsburgh over Seattle

These next three are nearly indistinguishable for me, I was 13-15 and I think I had just discovered third wave emo counter culture, so the Super Bowl wasn’t the coolest thing around at this point.

Excitment: 2.5 Interest: 2 Party: 2 Result: 2 Overall: 8.5

2005

15. 2005: New England over Philadelphia

The Patriots weren’t nearly as exciting, but their games came so close every year, which is remarkable.

Excitment: 3 Interest: 2 Party: 2 Result: 2 Overall: 9

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14. 2004: New England over Carolina

Literally the only thing that separates this from the one that came after it is that one thing Janet Jackson did, yeah.

Excitment: 3 Interest: 2 Party: 2 Result: 2 Overall: 9

1999

13. 1999: Denver over Atlanta

This game was surprisingly disappointing–Atlanta had eliminated the 49ers early and I loved the Broncos–I guess watching Elway and company do it twice just wasn’t as exciting, especially when the game wasn’t close. The lackluster game probably made the party less fun as well.

Excitment: 1.5 Interest: 3.5 Party: 3 Result: 4 Overall: 12

2001

12. 2001: Baltimore over New York Giants

I really really liked Baltimore, they had Trent Dilfer–the ultimate game manager–and one of the best defenses ever. Then they absolutely crushed the Giants, which was fun, but didn’t make for a very good Super Bowl party, because we all went and played video games in the middle of the third quarter.

Excitment: 2 Interest: 4 Party: 2.5 Result: 4 Overall: 12.5

2007

11. 2007: Indianapolis over Chicago

The opening kickoff touchdown was cool and it was nice to see Manning win one, but other than that my memories of a party or any sort of feeling, I remember the party being pretty fun.

Excitment: 2.5 Interest: 3 Party: 3.5 Result: 3.5 Overall: 12.5

2011

10. 2010: New Orleans over Indianapolis

We went over to our friends house for this one and had great food as well as fun betting sort of games. The game itself wasn’t overly exciting and I probably would have liked to see Manning beat New Orleans, but it was fun overall.

Excitment: 3 Interest: 3.5 Party: 4 Result: 3 Overall: 13.5

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9. 2008: New York Giants over New England

Things were still hazy with this game, I think I was at my small group leader’s house, but I don’t really remember. I have vague memories of being the only person cheering for the Patriots undefeated season to be completed, but that could be wrong. Another intense game, but it was disappointing because I always wanted to see an undefeated season and that chance was taken from us.

Excitment: 4.5 Interest: 4 Party: 3.5 Result: 2 Overall: 14

2012

8. 2012: New York Giants over New England

This year featured the party I probably put the most effort into, it featured prop bets for prizes, homemade mini-pizzas, and a root beer keg (it was a mostly under-21 crowd). I was reeling off of a 49ers loss to the Giants, so it was a little depressing to see the Giants win again, but at least the game was exciting.

Excitment: 4.5 Interest: 3.5 Party: 5 Result: 2 Overall: 15

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7. 2015: New England over Seattle

This year was fun, we got to see Richard Sherman do this, we saw an amazingly lucky catch followed by a game saving interception at the one yard line, and Tom Brady won his fourth Super Bowl ring. Our party was great, lots of good food and drinks.

Excitment: 4 Interest: 3.5 Party: 4 Result: 4 Overall: 15.5

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6. 2013: Baltimore over San Francisco

One of the toughest to rank. On one end it is perhaps the most special of the Super Bowls, the only one–in my memory–in which the 49ers participated. On the other end, it was the most miserable day because, well, yeah. At least the 49ers made it close, coming within yards of winning their sixth championship. The blackout made it memorable, though it increased the stress I was feeling at the time. The party was a lot of fun, though nobody cared near as much as I did–this was probably a good thing, because it would have made the moment so much sadder. *Sigh*

Excitment: 5 Interest: 5 Party: 5 Result: .5 Overall: 15.5

BRADY ARCHULETA ZGONINA

5. 2002: New England over St. Louis

I talked previously about why I like New England so much and this is one of the reasons. Those Rams were so dominant and to watch a young Brady show them up was pretty miraculous at the time. I must have had people over to my house that year, but I don’t really remember the party.

Excitment: 4 Interest: 4.5 Party: 4 Result: 4.5 Overall: 17

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4. 2003: Tampa Bay over Oakland

This one feels special because I was really into Tampa Bay that year. I’ve always been a fan of strong defenses and the Warren Sapp lead Bucs were one of my favs. Not to mention they beat the Raiders, the local rival to the 49ers, stomping them pretty miserably. The party was at a family friend’s house and I remembered we played football at halftime.

Excitment: 4 Interest: 4.5 Party: 4 Result: 4.5 Overall: 17

2009

3. 2009: Pittsburgh over Arizona

This was a very unique Super Bowl, for starters I hadn’t really kept up with the NFL season–probably the only year of my life–I was in the middle of doing YWAM and didn’t have access to a television. One of my team members had been keeping up and he was a huge Cardinals fan. He had followed along with every game and had gotten quite a few others on the Cards bandwagon. As the playoffs started, we left to go to China and later Thailand. The day before we left China for Thailand we stayed up watching the Cardinals beat the Eagles in our Chinese hostel. For the Super Bowl, my friend and I got up in the wee hours of the morning and one by one we were joined, huddled together around his computer to cheer on Arizona against Pittsburgh. I ended up having to miss the end–an exciting finish–to go do ministry at a prison, but the memory lives on.

Excitment: 4.5 Interest: 4.5 Party: 5 Result: 3 Overall: 17

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2. 2000: St. Louis over Tennessee

I was only nine and again had a bunch of my friends over to watch the game. These early years’ Super Bowl parties are so special to my memory that even though I didn’t enjoy the results to this game–I hated the Warner-lead Rams who were the 49ers division rivals–I loved this experience. The Titans were a great team to cheer for–Steve McNair, Eddie George, and Kevin Dyson, their cool uniforms, and having been part of one of the greatest moments in playoff history–and their run was so close to clinching it all. The last second Dyson stretch to the end zone was a moment that is only found in the movies. My friends and I were cheering so hard for Dyson to make it in and though they didn’t make it, it was an incredible moment to experience.

Excitment: 5 Interest: 4.5 Party: 5 Result: 2.5 Overall: 17

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1. 1998: Denver over Green Bay

The first Super Bowl party that I ever hosted, likely spawning warm nostalgic feelings that will make me excited for any Super Bowl. My friends all came over and we ate food, watching and cheering on John Elway who I desperately wanted to avenge my beloved 49ers and the Brett Favre whom I despised. The Mile High Saluting Broncos were such a fun team to watch and Terrell Davis’ dominant performance was one for the ages. We also can’t forget Elway’s “Helicopter” run, which somehow sticks into my mind vividly to today. Being seven years old, throwing my first party, and having it be a team that I liked so much beat a team that I despised absolutely is my favorite Super Bowl.

Excitment: 5 Interest: 4.5 Party: 5 Result: 4.5 Overall: 19

 

Best Films of the Decade So Far

Last week, my friend Andrew Boring and I had a discussion about the best albums of the decade so far, afterwards I released a list in picture form here on the blog. Well, this week we had another discussion, this time about the best movies of the decade so far! I encourage everyone to go listen to it here, I realize it is very lengthy, but I think it has some fun discussion about what has come out and the process of making this top 10. This here list serves as an accompaniment (because you’re supposed to go listen, not just look at it and go hmmm).

Anyway, here are my top 30 films of the decade so far.

30. The World’s End

World's End

29. Declaration of War

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28. The Past

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27. Captain Phillips

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26. The Descendants

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25. Ida

Ida, other films

24. Calvary

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23. Selma

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22. Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive

21. Upstream Color

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20. Zero Dark Thirty

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19. Oslo August 31

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18. Drive

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17. Attack the Block

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16. A Prophet

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15. Django Unchained

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14. Mother

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13. Inception

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12. The Cabin in the Woods

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11. Exit Through the Gift Shop

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10. 12 Years a Slave

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9. Boyhood

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8. Before Midnight

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7. Of Gods and Men

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6. Under the Skin

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5. The Social Network

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4. Beginners

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3. Looper

Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Bruce Willis

2. Moonrise Kingdom

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1. The Tree of Life

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Top 15 Podcasts of 2014

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This is the year that podcasts took off, well in their own corner of the internet sort of way. This is my fourth year ranking my favorites and I have listened to more than any other year of my life which is why it gets a top 15 instead of a 10.

Again I don’t necessarily recommend all of these for each person, so proceed with discretion.

15. The Grantland NFL Podcast

You will only like it if you are into football, but hey that’s most of this country right? Great show with really in-depth takes on the NFL season.

Check out the latest ep here

14. Filmspotting

I’ve been listening to this show for probably six years and even on its third different cohost it is a must listen for film fans. I usually listen after I’ve seen the movie they are reviewing, so I’m not always consistent, but every time I do it’s such an enjoyable experience.

Check out episode 500: Top 5 Films of the Filmspotting Era

13. Improv4Humans

It’s better when Matt Besser isn’t ranting about his opinions, but in between when Besser and other improvisers come together to create scenarios they are able to make some of the funniest and creative material on the spot.

Check out Funky Kong

12. Hollywood Prospectus

Andy and Chris probably have my favorite podcast relationship out there, having known each other for years and years. Their pop culture show for Grantland continues to be at a high level every week.

Check out the end of the year episode

11. This American Life

This year they continued to make some of the best and most interesting stories out there. If you’ve never checked out this show it’s about time to do so.

Check out Is This Working?

10. Rob Has a Podcast

Rob Cesternino continues to get bigger and bigger every year in his coverage of teleivsion, especially reality TV. He has now turned it into a well oiled machine bringing in great guests, many of which he has a repertoire with, having now past 1,000 episodes of RHAP.

Check out Rob with Tyson Apostal

9. Hang Up and Listen

The best sports podcast out there featuring talk that goes beyond the your typical sports journalism, focusing on social issues and advanced statistics. This year they stepped up their game further featuring mini episodes about the NCAA Basketball tournament andthe World Cup.

Check out the latest episode

8. Who Charted?

Howard and Kulap countdown the top of the charts each week, but really this show has little to do with pop culture. It’s all about engaging the guest and using Kremer’s personality to its greatest potential. This deserves to be on here merely for the game “Jaws is Better” in which Howard asks a guest what their favorite movie is and then argues with them as to why Jaws is better–the only way to win, say the name of the game.

Check out the Matt Gourley episode

7. The Gist with Mike Pesca

The new daily podcast from Mike Pesca, a former NPR reporter and member of Slate’s Hang Up and Listen (see above), is great for its coverage of today’s topics, but also because Pesca is a master podcast personality. Taking a fairly central perspective on a lot of today’s issues he also is very funny and open to ideas from all his guests. Pesca is a breath of fresh air in podcast journalism.

Check out the latest episode

6. The Cracked Podcast

The surprisingly eye-opening podcast from the people of Cracked.com is focused on scientific, social, and pop cultural matters all from the perspective of funny dudes who read a lot on the internet. I would take some of what they say with a grain of salt (they had an episode about obesity some of which I looked up to confirm what they said and couldn’t find anything) but they would probably to tell you to do the same thing.

Check out Decisions Your Brain Makes Behind Your Back

5. Start Up

A new show that is only 10 episodes in hosted by former This American Life and Planet Money producer Alex Blumberg who created the show in order to chronicle him trying to start up his own podcast company. Not only is it a unique look at the inner world of business, but it is a strikingly transparent view of Blumberg’s mind as he deals with various pressures and his own neuroses.

Check out How to Name Your Company

4. Radiolab

Radiolab is a storytelling show that focuses on science-based subjects, not only making fascinating stories, but some of the most thought provoking material out there. Their editing techniques are always incredible and this year they continued their brilliance.

Check out Outside Westgate

3. Comedy Bang Bang

Scott Aukerman’s sort-of parody of an interview show reached its 300th episode this year. For those who don’t know it guests come on (some real, some characters played by comedians) and Scott does his best straight man asking ridiculous questions in order to get the most out of his guests. What results is probably the most consistently funny thing out there.

Check out 2014 Holiday Spectacular

2. U Talkin’ U2 to Me?

Was my favorite for a majority of the year, until the number one came around. U Talkin’ U2 to Me? is the Scott Aukerman (Comedy Bang Bang) and Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) hosted podcast in which they are supposed to talk about everything U2. While they do get around to a lot of U2 discussion the podcast is an exercise in the most laid back silly form of improv, with both hosts riffing on just about everything and teasing one another in this semi-hostile manner. Let’s not forget all the shows within shows, because these too are a highlight of the show.

Check out Staind Glass

1. Serial

The podcast that escalated podcasts and made a few more people realize that podcasts are wonderful (but ultimately ask any non-NPR type person if they have heard of Serial and the answer will be no). Aside from this, Serial was a great piece of true crime storytelling with host Sarah Koenig obsessing over a 15 year old case and allowing us to obsess alongside here for 12 weeks. Her way of investigating draws you in as a listener, the story and interviews were fascinating, and the theme music may have been the best part. Was the end satisfying? Well being that it is a non-fictional story I don’t think it ever could have been–at least the way that would have felt the most satisfying–but it didn’t feel out of touch with the rest of the show and really the story isn’t over.

Check out The Alibi

Honorable Mentions: The Sylvester Stallone Podcast, 99% Invisible, The Dissolve Podcast, The Liturgists, Pop Culture Happy Hour, The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show, Criminal, How Did This Get Made?, The Andy Daly Pilot Project, Planet Money

Three started late in the year that may have had a chance if they had been released earlier: Rembert Explains, OMFG!, With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus

Top 75 Songs of 2014 Part III (20-1)

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This is it, the top 20 songs of the year! Apologies to Hospitality and to d’angelo both of whom made albums I didn’t listen to until the last week or so which I find really excellent. You can see here that most of my tastes lean toward hip-hop and punk tinged indie rock, so prepare to see a lot of that. I don’t really have any wide reflections on the musical year, I’ll let the list speak for itself. Enjoy!

Check out parts One and Two

(Note: Not every song is for every person, there may be some songs that you consider innapropriate; I do not recommend everything that I like for everyone. Proceed with your own discretion.)

20. Chance the Rapper “Wonderful Everyday”

Chance only released a couple of songs this year, but this is the one that fully captured my attention–a fairly straightforward cover of the theme song from Arthur. Featuring no rapping at all, its greatness comes from the way that it builds upon itself slowly with its near a cappella musical stylings.

19. J Cole “Be Free”

J Cole released this song in the response to the Michael Brown tragedy and the aftermath of what happened in Ferguson. Another rapper that chooses to sing instead of rap and it creates a raw and emotional tone, filled with lament that cannot be expressed through lyrics alone.

18. Ex Hex “Don’t Wanna Lose”

A pretty straight forward rock song with a female fronted punk/garage vibe that keeps moving infectiously. It’s the perfect album opener.

17. FKA Twigs “Pendulum”

Dark and broody, Twigs’ slowed down artsy pop is catchy in its own unique way, this song takes a while building before it gets to the payoff but when it does every second of the previous tension was worth it.

16. Tune-Yards “Time of Dark”

Merrill Garbus shows off her lung capacity here proving that she not only excels at being eclectic, but that she also has big pipes.

15. FKA Twigs “Kicks”

The album closer proved to be my favorite, she truly excels at building up the atmosphere of a song while quietly inserting her voice into it breaking through in its own quiet way.

14. The Hotelier “An Introduction to the Album” (explicit)

An album opener whose title does not live up to its pop-punk epic-ness. A song that was truly built to be sung along to live every poetic word shouted out. Lyrically the song is unique by using the last word of each verse to start the next one. This song encapsulates all the emotion, passion, and angst that comes with pop-punk and emo and is truly great.

13. Wild Beasts “Wanderlust”

Indie rock and electronic at its finest, another song that rides on atmosphere with its dark and almost creepy feel.

12. Jungle “Busy Earnin'”

Pure joy; an EDM take on old funk jams, Jungle may not nail it every time, but here they certainly do.

11. Isaiah Rashad w/Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q “Shot You Down” (explicit)

The 7 minute version absolutely crushes it with all three rappers crushing their verses. The chorus isn’t as good as the rapping but after each rapper is done it doesn’t matter.

10. Taylor Swift “Blank Space”

I talked about this before, but it really is the best song to be released this year. The T-Swift album as a whole is overrated, but this song is pure sugar.

9. Joyce Manor “Falling in Love Again”

This song would have been my high school jam, number one on my mixtapes for the girl I had a crush on, there’s no doubt about it.

8. Vince Staples “Blue Suede” (explicit)

Staples’ combines one of the best beats of the year with a song about violence that is also a sort of ode to the classic rock ‘n roll tune–it works on every level.

7. Makthaverskan “Antabus” (explicit)

A fast, driving punk song in which the Swedish punks tell off whoever this song was intended for with a forceful use of F-bombs.

6. Rick Ross w/Kanye West and Big Sean “Sanctified” (explicit)

Using a Gospel song for not so holy means, these three confess what their true desires are, but ultimately Kanye is transcendent in his own Kanye way.

5. Iceage “The Lord’s Favorite”

A sort of hardcore song done in a slack-jawed alt-country manner. The song probably deserves to be blasted in a dusty bar, but works just as well coming through your laptop speakers.

4. Run the Jewels “Blockbuster Night Part 1” (explicit)

I don’t know if there was another song out there that got me more hyped when listening to it. Killer Mike and el-p absolutely devastate the listener here. The song is only 2:32 which is too short, but honestly I don’t think I could handle another verse–it would slay me.

3. Makthaverskan “Asleep”

The band has two main influences: 80’s pop and punk rock; here they show off that 80’s influence going heavy on the synths.

2. The War on Drugs “Red Eyes”

“Red Eyes” is that song you listen to after the party is over. It’s catchy enough, but laid back and calming to the point that it’s like the wind coming on a hot summer day.

1. Cloud Nothings “I’m Not Part of Me”

This was my favorite song at the halfway point and it has stuck at the top ever since. At its core it’s an ‘I’m over this’ track, from the opening verse “it’s over now”, Dylan Baldi expresses that he has moved on in the most wonderful way. It’s an empowering song, but to say this gets away from what makes it so great, which is that it is a wonderful rock song.

Top 75 Songs of 2014 Part II (50-21)

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Part II of the top 75 songs of 2014 countdown. Apologies that there are no links to listen to each song or descriptions of certain ones, I had finished making the whole thing and then WordPress crashed without saving any of my work.

Check out Part I

(Note: Not every song is for every person, there may be some songs that you consider innapropriate; I do not recommend everything that I like for everyone. Proceed with your own discretion.)

50. U2 “Iris (Hold Me Close)”

49. Rustie w/ Danny Brown “Attack” (explicit)

48. Run the Jewels w/ Gangsta Boo “Love Again” (explicit)

47. Jenny Lewis “Head Underwater”

46. FKA Twigs “Two Weeks” (explicit)

45. YG w/Kendrick Lamar “Really Be (Smokin’ N Drinkin’)” (explicit)

44. The Hotelier “Your Deep Rest”

43. Sun Kil Moon “Carissa”

42. Run the Jewels “Lie Cheat Steal” (explicit)

41. Jenny Lewis “She’s Not Me”

40. Parquet Courts “Black and White”

39. Young Thug and Bloody Jay “4 Eva Bloody” (explicit)

38. Ariana Grande w/Iggy Azaela “Problem”

37. U2 “Every Breaking Wave”

36. Hundred Waters “Murmurs”

35. The War on Drugs “Lost in the Dream”

34. Makthaverskan “No Mercy”

33. Nico & Vinz “Am I Wrong?”

32. The Hotelier “Dendron”

31. Twin Shadow “To the Top”

30. Parquet Courts “Instant Disassembly”

29. Banks “Brain”

28. Run the Jewels “Jeopardy” (explicit)

27. Jessie Ware “Say You Love Me”

26. clipping. “Work Work” (explicit)

25. Vince Staples “Hands Up” (explicit)

24. Jenny Lewis “The Voyager”

23. YG w/Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock “I Just Wanna Party” (explicit)

22. White Lung “Snake Jaw”

21. Speedy Ortiz “American Horror”

Top 10 Pop Hits of 2014

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Tis the season people! No, not Christmas, for end of the year lists! Yes, the most wonderful time of the year has finally arrived and I am kicking it off as I always do, with the top 10 best pop hits of the year! This year I am planning on releasing 13 best of type lists for you, so you can look forward to that.

A quick note about eligibility, in order to qualify on this list a song had to make it into the top 10 of the Billboard charts at any point during the year. This means that a song could have been released the year prior, but as long as it was in the top 10 this year, it counts. One other note: if a song meets all of the qualifications above, but was on one of my best of lists from last year, it will not make the list.

(Note: Not every song is for every person, there may be some songs that you consider innapropriate; I do not recommend everything that I like for everyone. Proceed with your own discretion.)

Here it is, enjoy!

10. Charli XCX “Boom Clap”

I think Charli XCX will always be someone who is fun to listen to, but I’m not sure she will ever transcend pop or turn into a pop star. She seems to be stuck in between and this songs paints that picture perfectly.

9. Clean Bandit “Rather Be”

Well this group seemed to come out of nowhere and sometimes nowhere can come up with a pretty good song. It’s pleasant, it’s not filled with too much star power or personality which can be a breath of fresh air on the radio.

8. Taylor Swift “Shake it Off”

I’ve been up and down on it all year. At first I wasn’t sure about it, then I got pretty into it, but after the release of another single my head wonders why I ever though this song was good at all? It’s still pretty good though, which is why it lands here.

7. Jessie J w/Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj “Bang Bang”

This is a great song that somehow manages to pull off this sort of 90s female power vibe while fitting in Nicki Minaj and showcasing the young talent of pop today. Jessie J and Grande are both great singers and when given a good song they can really make a gem of it. Same goes with Minaj who is also extremely talented in the right context.

6. SIA “Chandelier”

What starts off as a track that was clearly meant for Rihanna quickly turns into one of the year’s best choruses and perhaps makes SIA a viable threat in the female pop star category. SIA has all the talent and this song proved that she could make a hit on her own merit.

5. Problem – Ariana Grande

Oh Ariana you could have had the number one spot. You were so close! Your voice kills it. This song is an upbeat anthem that doesn’t rely on Calvin Harris to make it something. But you made two mistakes. One, Iggy Azalea. I realize that at first this might seem silly–she was probably THE pop star for most of the year (until Taylor showed up) and I actually liked the verse the first 15 times I heard it, but it already feels outdated. The second is that chorus, how much more anticlimactic can you be? A whispering Big Sean is not the direction you should have taken this song. I’m sure the kids at high school dances will find clever ways to incorporate your miscue into having a good time, but this was even worse than the end to the Lego Movie.

4. Nico and Vinz “Am I Wrong?”

I have the feeling that these types of one-hit wonder indie pop groups will continue to pop up with random singles that become huge only to rarely be heard from again (“Somebody I Used to Know”, “Pumped Up Kicks”). Their songs range from being just good enough you don’t change the radio when it comes on to being good enough that you seek it out and listen to it despite its constant presence on the radio. This one leans toward the latter.

3. Lorde “Team”

A song I actually liked before it became a hit and one that was released last year, but did not peak until this year. Lorde is probably the most independent minded of all the big pop stars today and I might like “Team” better than her biggest hit, “Royals”. How could you not with a line like “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air”. She has the star power of a cynic, a dirge that graced the tops of the charts despite its glorious apathy and it certainly touched my emotionless heart.

2. Taylor Swift “Blank Space”

The latest song to reach number one solidified itself the moment I watched the music video–a fun and self aware bit with Taylor torturing a lover and later welcoming a new one. Not sure if it has reached the heights of the best Taylor has ever done, but it is close.

1. Beyonce “Drunk In Love”

This song edges the line of being a cheat but does technically qualify under the (strict) guidelines I have set for myself. Released late last year in the middle of all the best of lists, “Drunk In Love” never had a chance to actually make any of these lists. While the song did eventually rise into the top 10, it wasn’t a mainstay and never reached the top spot. Regardless of how many times I actually heard the song on the radio, it was by far my favorite single to reach the top 10 this year. It’s a sort of sequel to Jay and Bey’s “Crazy in Love”, but one that takes on a far more sexual bent, featuring a far more aggressive and modern Beyonce. It’s like a 2014 rendition of Song of Songs, a perhaps too revealing look into the intimacy that a married couple can have. It’s so good.