Best of 2017
(*Skip to the end if you just want the best possible caustic laugh.)
I didn’t do much writing this year (I was lucky enough to have a new book come out), so I watched a LOT of movies, mostly at home or on planes, and more TV than I care to admit, and spent a lot of time digging in my own record collection. I didn’t go to any big art shows (even missed the big Rauschenberg exhibit) and skipped SXSW this year, but here’s what sticks in my memory of the year’s consumption.
Best Album — released in 2017:
Slowdive — Slowdive
The first album in 20 years from a band I never heard of 20 years ago. Mike Seidlinger put it on in the car as we were leaving New Orleans at 5 am, after which he promptly went to sleep. I played the record at least 3 times in a row while speeding across the causeways towards the Texas border, the sky crawling painstakingly into the light. It was one of those perfectly matched moments—the music fit the quiet, brooding mood and melted into the tires-on-interstate. I snapped it up on wax and it quickly became one of the most-played household records—a weekend morning must-have.
I See You — the xx
Yes, the hit single “On Hold” is crushing—the slowed-down/slashed-up sample from Hall & Oates is sheer genius—but it’s a great record beginning to end.
Atomic Blonde Soundtrack:
Really liked the movie, LOVED the soundtrack—killer ‘80s tunes and some killer ‘80s covers: the “99 Luftballoons” cover is haunting. Nice of the producers to include tracks from the composer, Tyler Bates, which is fun, spooky work.
Best Album — New Acquisition:
Body Talk — Robyn
I finally found a copy on vinyl and shelled out for it. It’s just so good. I already had a few tracks on a bootleg that I’ve spun out at gigs, but this full release got me the fist-pumping anthem “Indestructible” and the floor-busting “None of Dem.” Plus, it’s just fun to beat juggle two copies of “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do.”
“I’m Better” — Missy Elliott
It’s not quite as mop-the-floor as “WTF,” but it’s still hands-down bonecrushing and the video is once again “holy crap I think Missy is actually from the future.” And we’re STILL waiting on that new album. PLEASE, Missy.
Swish Swish — Katy Perry
It’s a winner, from the Fatboy Slim sample to the ’90s house beat to the dis-ready catchy lyrics.
“…Ready for It?” – Taylor Swift
I’m sorry. I want to hate her, but this song KILLED on SNL. It sounds like a Katy song. With maybe an Ellie Goulding hook.
Most Spun Record:
Reflektor — Arcade Fire
Maybe we didn’t love it when it first came out, but it became infectious this year. Couldn’t get it off the decks.
Katy Perry — Barclays Center, Brooklyn
Look, I’m not going to say her new album is as good as Teenage Dream (it’s not; it’s really spotty), but HOLY MOLY that goes down as one of the best live shows ever. (And I saw Metallica’s …And Justice for All show TWICE.) The set pieces were giant, the dancers were incredible, there was a massive lip-shaped screen and puppets and she flew around on a planet and she actually SANG, and danced, and had a zillion costume changes. It was also just weird from an anthropological standpoint—there were CHILDREN at that show. I mean 7 year-olds. And, I’m sure, adults who were high AF, like at any big show. She’s still on tour, so you should check it out.
Best Live Music (small venue):
Brian Newman — New York Burlesque Festival
Watching this guy for over ten years now, he just keeps getting better. This is from my write-up for Burlesque Beat:
The killer arrangements by pianist Alex Smith show an affinity—and a cool alacrity—for viewing classic rock juke box hits through a jazz lens. The band wailed through Thin Lizzy’s “Dancing in the Moonlight,” and did an instrumental version of “Spooky,” … the band went full-on experimental with Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” with Newman soaring, crushing the “middle of my skull.”
Annie Hart — Baby’s All Right, Brooklyn
I wrote about Annie’s solo debut at SXSW and then got to see her play this amazing set. She was so warm and genuine onstage I wondered if I’d fallen into the ‘90s, and her friend’s low-fi visual art to accompany it (basically an overhead projector and a bunch of colored water) was pure enticement.
Best Movie — of 2017, in a Movie Theatre:
Blade Runner 2049
It’s just gorgeous and beautiful and sounded amazing and TBH I didn’t see very many films in the theatre this year (and I was WAY disappointed with Baby Driver). Overall I found this haunting and transporting, and a welcome addition to the oeuvre of Denis Villeneuve — big fan of all his flix.
Best Movie — Revival:
The Empire Strikes Back, with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center
SERIOUSLY AMAZING. The best Star Wars film ever—the dark one, the upsetting one—with live music. We were able to watch the musicians create the music, and the sheer volume of it made one listen closer to all the incidental passages connecting scenes. I played plenty of John Williams in high school orchestra and was never the biggest fan—this experience made me a believer. The Imperial March, live, at top volume, is nothing shy of breathtaking.
Best movie — Watched at Home:
Two-way tie for both “best” and “most sorry I didn’t see on a big screen:”
Get Out really is that good and that upsetting. And while Arrival may not live as long in my memory as Villeneuve’s Sicario, it’s still a great ride.
Best Trivia Moments from a Saturday Movie Marathon:
Cyndi Lauper didn’t write “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” and “Call Me” didn’t start out as a Blondie song
I started off a Saturday morning watching American Gigolo (didn’t like it; never liked Richard Gere and found much of the sexual politics unbelievable) which opens with a moog-y intro that morphs into the Blondie classic, “Call Me.” Turns out the song was originally written by composer Giorgio Moroder, with Debbie Harry penning the lyrics and melody, and was then recorded by the band. The best parts of the movie are all the theme variations to “Call Me”—synth callbacks that feel like acid flashbacks to the ‘80s. Blew my mind that this classic Blondie song wasn’t originally written by Chris Stein.
Then I put on a classic I’d somehow never seen, the fun-cheezy Girls Just Want to Have Fun, with SJP, Helen Hunt, and full-on bratty lil sis Shannen Doherty. Cyndi Lauper’s song doesn’t actually appear in the movie, instead replaced by a terrible cover by unknowns. But the shocking takeaway is that Cindi Lauper’s SIGNATURE song wasn’t written by her—it’s by Robert Hazard.
Crazy, right? I mean, that song IS Cyndi Lauper. She even re-recorded it and gave us the “Hey Now” version, y’know, from To Wong Foo.
Best TV Show:
Rick and Morty
When it comes to TV, I prefer it short and animated. I’ve long been a fervent advocate of Archer, and BoJack Horseman has often been therapeutic to me as a very depressed person. I watch other shows—love Catastrophe, can’t wait for the return of Fleabag; OMG, Mindhunter was SO overrated, the first season of True Detective was, if anything, underrated. Matthew frickin’ McConaughy!—but this year, there was no contest.
Rick and Morty took a two-year history of mindbending existential-angst-comedy and turned it up to eleven. Everything about this season was just MORE. More upsetting reveals, deeper family traumas and conflicts, funnier bits, and darker gazes into the abyss. I’ve already seen every episode at least three times. And since we’ll have to wait two years for another season, I’ll watch them a bunch more times. If I had to choose just one, I’d be torn between the season opener— “Emotionally-speaking, Honey, Shoney’s is my home.” — and “The Ricklantis Mixup,” which uses the most chilling soundtrack-callback to an earlier episode I can think of. (Blonde Redhead — “For the Damaged Coda.”)
Best TV Show — Laughs Out Loud Category:
I feel like no one’s watching this underrated show from Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, with voice work by Jessi Klein and a bunch of other great comics. A cartoon all about puberty? Genius. And it’s just so funny, with the raunchiness of it perfectly excused by the existence of “hormone monsters.” Maybe Archer just wasn’t quite as strong this season, and Bob’s Burgers seemed a little forced, and BoJack Horseman was even more depressing than ever, making this my standout. Also it’s really fun to do the Hormone Monster’s voice.
TV — Best Plot Hole
It was pretty dang good, but SPOILER ALERT are we really supposed to believe that Zoomer would suddenly want to hang out with those dweebs just because her brother tried to run them over? Didn’t buy it. Double dumb was Dustin picking a weird frog out of the trash considering ahem ALL of Season 1. Elegant solution: Zoomer finds the frog, and TAKES IT to the nerds because she’s heard they’re into weird stuff. Is Hollywood hiring writers?
Tv — Best Experimental Filmmaking
Twin Peaks (The Return) — episode 8
Absolutely the best experimental WTF since the third act of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I didn’t always love The Return, and at times hated it, but I almost always felt it was worth it, anyway. It gives an artist hope that such a thing can even exist in the current environment—that something so weird and un-spoonfed can exist side-by-side with, say, Cars 3. This episode is pure let-it-wash-over-you. I don’t understand it, but I don’t really understand the oceans, either, but generally enjoy being at the beach.
Best of Broadway:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — The AFTERPARTY
I saw more Broadway shows in 2017 than possibly any single year before, and overall I was vastly underwhelmed. Marvin’s Room was disappointing despite strong turns by Janeane Garofalo and Lili Taylor, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was just dull despite the best efforts of the lead, and don’t even get me started on Julie Taymor’s unbelievably awful M Butterfly. Clive Owen is still recovering from how much it sucked. SO sadly I’m giving this to the Charlie afterparty — CANDY. SO fun, big thanks to our friends in the biz for taking us along.
Best Short Fiction:
I still try to read the New Yorker cover-to-cover, and while I’m usually underwhelmed by the fiction (almost universally timed as marketing placement to promote an upcoming book), it was really strong this year. I’m giving my fave nod to:
Rest In effin Peace. Bummer to lose him this year.
“FAQs” — Allegra Goodman
“Dogs Go Wolf” — Lauren Groff
“The Metal Bowl” — Miranda July
“Blueprints for St. Louis” — Ben Marcus
“As You Would Have Told It to Me (Sort Of) If We Had Known Each Other Before You Died” — Jonas Hassen Khemiri
Best 3-Minutes of Comedy:
Pete Davidson — dissing Staten Island on SNL’s Weekend Update
I’ve watched this like 6 times and still laugh out loud. If it wasn’t obnoxious enough that Pete got himself in trouble making fun of Staten Island (by talking about hurricane Sandy — I mean, it’s not ok), the reaction he got leads to this ultimate double-down. What sells it is the sympathetic/unbelieving face on Colin Jost, the more well-liked Staten Island native. I’m sure much of this requires local context (it’s true, Staten Island is being wiped out by the opiod epidemic, and yes, it’s the ONLY place in New York you can get to for free), I feel the full-on “Your Momma” level of Pete’s response is international.
Best Comedy Show:
Dave Chapelle at The Saenger Theater, New Orleans
Beautiful theater, mixed bag of entertainment. Chris Tucker opened, which was ok, and then we were utterly surprised by a middle set of other comics that included Hannibal Buress, who was HILARIOUS, more so than anything I’d seen by him on tape. And Dave… it’s hard to talk about what Dave did. It was sort of comedy, but it was also a lot like a live therapy session, and I wasn’t always sure who was the patient. He smoked a pack of cigarettes and talked about politics (this was January, 2017, so do the math). It was a very mixed crowd, and a lot of white people left. We stayed until the bitter, burnt end.
Gal Friday — New York Burlesque Festival
I might have been reading into it, but Gal might have been a little bit frustrated at the current state of burlesque, which has more to do with what’s been happening on Facebook in the last couple of years than anything going on in the Meatspace. But I wasn’t really thinking during this act, I was truly bawling my eyes out. She upset me. She really did. If you care about burlesque, or if you saw Gal perform at my launch party for The Painted Gun—check it out.
Best of FOOD:
Getting to hit most of your former cities in a single year becomes a gastrointestinal memory lane. This stuff is still THE BEST:
- Burritos at Tacqueria Cancun, Mission, San Francisco
- Crab Louis (with oysters & martinis), Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco
- Chicken Fried Steak and eggs (off menu), John’s Cafe, Lower Greenville, Dallas, Texas
- Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ, Austin, Texas — new to me but this won’t be the last visit
- Puffy tacos, Henry’s Puffy Tacos, San Antonio, Texas
- Red beans with fried chicken, Dooky Chase, New Orleans — don’t even start with me about fried chicken until you’ve eaten Miss Leah’s
- Steak frites, La Barricou, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — most-reoccurring meal out— get it.
Best Flagrant Idiocy:
(for Q4 2017. One can’t be expected to remember the whole year.)
A union grip (aka, a film professional), when the film “Annie Hall” is mentioned:
“Um, ‘Annie Hall’?”
“Never heard of it.”
A recruiter, describing a company:
“Their HQ is in the Midwest.”
(2 seconds later)
A worker in an advertising office:
“I’m 25 years old, I don’t have to deal with this.”