Ahead on Differential

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  1. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say the pivot to poetry was the biggest event of the year for me. I got disillusioned with the grind of trying to be a film writer (I can't begin to imagine the grind of actually being a film writer) and wanted to write something for fun. So I gave poetry a shot. I started in the summer, wrote 31 poems in October, and I haven't looked back since.

  2. I also gave flash fiction a try.

  3. My podcast Middlebrow Madness, which I do with my pal Isabelle. We are two very different flavours of cinephile, and it's always a blast talking with her about the ins and outs of why a movie did or didn't work.

  4. The pod's conceit (the IMDb Top 250 fed through a single-elimination bracket) gave me the chance to rewatch several masterpieces this year: Seven Samurai, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Chinatown, Perfect Blue, North by Northwest, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  5. Jank City. Against all odds, my playgroup's dollar-store Magic: The Gathering draft (which I more or less run solo) has become something of an Event, drawing in more and more people into our ridiculous shenanigans. We have lore, a championship title lineage, feuds, and a Money in the Bank-style briefcase that has yet to be cashed in. It's great.

  6. The launch of the Criterion Channel, which continuously spoils us rotten with some of most brilliant and awesome movies of all time.

  7. The ongoing saga of Dim the House Lights, the little film-crit concern that could.

  8. The continuing excellence of SB Nation's Jon Bois. There was the search for the saddest punt in the world. There was The Bob Emergency, which was my favourite documentary of 2019 (the chapters on Bob Gibson and Bob Beamon alone are worth the price of admission). There's Fumble Dimension, his new collaboration with Kofie Yeobah (who also wrote the brilliant essay “Can a team of 25 Ichiros win the World Series?”. And there's the ongoing, slightly retooled, still excellent Dorktown, co-hosted by Alex Rubenstein.

  9. You know what? I'll just plug the rest of SB Nation here, especially their YouTube channel. Check out this episode of Rewinder, where they do a kayfabe deep dive into the closing moments of Space Jam.

  10. Fuck it, one more: SB Nation's Twitter thread of the best sports GIFs of the decade.

  11. Desert Bus 2019. Every November I take a week off work and live on west coast time to follow LoadingReadyRun's 160-hour-plus stream-a-thon, buzzer to buzzer.

  12. The aforementioned LoadingReadyRun had a banner year in 2019, thanks in no small part to Road Quest, an ambitious short-form series whose elevator pitch is more or less “Top Gear, but wholesome.”

  13. All Fantasy Everything. Still the podcast I look forward to the most every week. One of the few Patreons I donate to. Listening to Ian, David, and Sean go on a national tour this year was fantastic. Some of my favourite drafts from this year: road trips, things you yell after you dunk on someone, lies we tell ourselves, things to do on a rainy day, and bucket lists.

  14. The YouTube output of Bailey Fakelastname, aka Foolish Baseball. His Baseball Bits show is fun, charming stat-wonk stuff. As a long-suffering Expos fan, I appreciated his plea to elect Larry Walker to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

  15. The Fantasia International Film Festival, the best god damn film festival on Earth. I got to see Phantom of the Paradise at the Imperial with Paul Williams in attendance. I also caught the beautiful restoration of the 1981 psychedelic classic Son of the White Mare and anime godhead Masaaki Yuasa's lastest Ride Your Wave.

  16. I saw this at Fantasia last year, but it only went wide this year: Relaxer. Joel Potrykus is one of the brightest, boldest voices in American indie cinema right now, and this might very well be this sweaty, sticky, milk-puke masterpiece. A Herculean physical performance by Joshua Burge. Awesome score by Neon Indian.

  17. Olivia Colman's Oscar speech.

  18. Upgraded my phone to a fancy-schmancy iPhone XR.

  19. Krispy Kreme opening a downtown location in Montreal, directly across the street from the local game store my Magic playgroup calls home. The Original Glazed might be the perfect donut. I ate many of them this year.

  20. Kawhi Lenoard and the Toronto Raptors bringing the hardware home.

  21. This Twitter thread of crazy Vince McMahon stories.

  22. Tokyo's Friday Night Plans and their cover of ur-City Pop jam “Plastic Love”.

  23. City Pop's eternal summer. By all accounts, City Pop proper died in the 1990s, but that hasn't stopped this ongoing resurgence the genre is having. Between intrepid YouTubers uploading LP rips and being used as the raw materials for vaporwave and future funk, City Pop is still in the midst of its moment. I wrote up six albums I felt were key to the genre in its heyday.

  24. Light in the Attic Records. This awesome Seattle label has reissued tons of classic and obscure country, folk, blues, R&B, and soul albums, plus avant-garde curios, film scores, and two of the best proto-ambient/New Age compliations I've ever heard. Oh, and they also released an awesome City Pop compliation called Pacific Breeze.

  25. The Lighthouse. A+ psychosexual chiller, funnier than I had anticipated. Both Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe go hard. Robert Eggers is the real deal.

  26. A full decade with my girlfriend Steph.

  27. For The New York Times, Jessa Crispin on Instagram, aphorisms, and the legend Dril.

  28. Hbomberguy revisits Transformers: The Movie as a grown-up and talks about nostalgia as a prism.

  29. Bringing my turntable out from storage. It still sounds like shit, but I'm working on it.

  30. For The Believer, Molly Brodak on Tim Heidecker.

  31. Speaking of Tim Heidecker, his LP What the Brokenhearted Do... is a great 70s-flavoured singer-songwriter album, like Warren Zevon or Harry Nilsson, but more fucked-up.

  32. The movie-centric podcasts from The Ringer, especially The Rewatchables. I'm kind of enamoured with the idea of a “cable canon” (i.e. movies that play really well at 3pm on a Sunday), and there's a lot of overlap between movies I would include in that particular canon and the movies they cover here. Chris Ryan 4 prez.

  33. Discovering the work of Bay Area power pop genius Tony Molina. I must have listened to “Nothing I Can Say” 300 times this year, because it's everything I want in a song compressed into 71 seconds. His rarities comp Songs from San Mateo County was one of my favourite albums of the year.

  34. I fell off the Pokémon train a while ago, but I was not immune to Wooloo Fever.

  35. Pivoting to poetry means reading more poetry, and one of the first people whose work I got acquainted with Kenneth Koch. His Selected Poems (edited by the homie Ron Padgett) was one of the best things I read all year. “The Art of Poetry” is about as good as a mission statement gets.

  36. Knives Out. Basically Rian Johnson's Clue, or his crack at a contemporary Agatha Christie story. A rip-roaring good time made all the better by Daniel Craig's goofy Southern drawl. Proves that there are few pleasures out there like listening to someone unspool a whodunit in the home stretch.

  37. Getting a promotion at work.

  38. A little live French-language comedy podcast called 70%. Imagine a local cable access variety show spliced with the more subversive and absurd tendencies of the best of late-night talk shows, but set at a bar in Rosemont and released as a podcast.

  39. Doing an escape room for the first time at Ezkapaz.

  40. RIP David Berman. That Purple Mountains album is now one of the great bittersweet musical documents of all time.

  41. Spotify's Cosmic Country playlist.

  42. Uncut Gems. I had high hopes for this one after Good Time topped my list of favourite movies in 2017, and boy did they come through. This movie is a nerve-eroding two-hour-long shouting match between all parties involved, and I could have watched it for another five. Adam Sandler doing some career-best work. Awesome score by Daniel “Oneohtrix Point Never” Lopatin. FYC Julia Fox. FYC Lakeith Stanfield. FYC Eric Bogosian. FYC Mike Francesa. FYC fuckin' everybody in this.

  43. The QAnon Anonymous podcast, an absurd political podcast for our absurd political climate.

  44. Covering the U.S. Open for work and watching Bianca Andreescu ascend to the highest ranks of tennisdom.

  45. Sturgill Simspon's Sound and Fury. A hard zag from his last two records. This time he channels Mad Max, Eliminator-era ZZ Top, and just a little bit of Black Mountain's synth revisionism and feeds his superior songwriting skills through those filters. My favourite record of the year.

  46. Re-upping my membership to the cult of Road House.

  47. The work of Jia Tolentino, who is uniquely perceptive about our cultural moment because she writes about it from the eye of the hurricane. Trick Mirror is required reading, and her New Yorker essays have a very high hit rate.

  48. Jenny Odell's How to Do Nothing, a user's guide to navigating a splintering world devoid of decompression. Pair with Trick Mirror to have your very soul sand-blasted.

  49. Reading my poems in from of actual-ass human beings at the Argo and at the Accent Open Mic reading series.

  50. The Irishman. A master stares down the barrel. Grand and masterful. Death and legacy. “Who are you protecting?”

  51. Related: the Martin Scorsese-Marvel feud (Vox's Alex Abad-Santos has a pretty good breakdown of the whole ordeal here). His op-ed in the Times was great reading.

  52. Christopher McQuarrie's Twitter thread (archived here by No Film School) about getting started, applying ass to chair, and “playing the lottery.” Key quote: “The secret to knowledge is doing and failing – often and painfully – and letting everyone see.”

  53. The work of Austin Kleon. Keep Going was a key read this year. His blog is one of my favourite places to go when I'm feeling stuck. His newsletter is a joy. Hell, I nicked the idea for these lists from him! I owe that guy a beer, maybe several beers.

  54. Untitled Goose Game. Sometimes all you need in life is to honk at a motherfucker and steal his hat while Debussy plays.

  55. Parasite. Rhymes with Bong Joon-ho's previous film Snowpiercer, another bugfuck class-struggle whatsit. Only this time, it's operating as a dark-comic tightrope thriller. Galvanizing and infuriating. The odds-on favourite for title belt for this year.

  56. Dumping an aging, bloating iTunes for MediaMonkey.

  57. My friend Karen's newsletter Don't Threaten Me With a Good Lifetime, where she breaks down Lifetime movies in agonizing, hilarious detail.

  58. The Merlin Mann Podcast Universe, the load-bearing beam of my podcast feed: Back to Work, Do By Friday, Reconcilable Differences, and Roderick on the Line.

  59. People Dancing to Steely Dan.

  60. Speaking of, there was a mini Steely Dan retro at Pitchfork in November, which, as a dad rock lifer, I can appreciate. I quite liked Amanda Petrusich on Aja and Alex Pappademas on Gaucho.

  61. Live pro wrestling at a gay bar downtown.

  62. My beard and my temples have started to gray, so I'm taking baby steps towards becoming a silver fox, which sort of rules.

  63. The work of William Matthews, especially his poetry collection Time and Money. Some favourites: “The Bear at the Dump” and “Mingus at the Showplace” from Time and Money, and “In Memory of the Utah Stars” and “Foul Shots: A Clinic” from Rising and Falling.

  64. Seeing my friend Noah rip it up on clarinet live with Montreal-via-Ottawa rock band The Maximum Chill.

  65. Pivoting from Slack to Discord. Can't abide having the archives behind a paywall.

  66. The Bon Appétit YouTube channel. I jammed all the Gourmet Makes videos over the holidays.

  67. Werner Herzog x WrestleMania. “A poet must not avert his eyes.” Bonus Herzog content: the great man on his favourite cat videos.

  68. John Carpenter's weed-dad sci-fi opus Dark Star turned 45. I wrote it up here.

  69. Inspired by the case of a post office that shut down due to a snake infestation, my pal Justin made a zine called The Snake Post Office Post, which features a poem by yours truly.

  70. My friend Carl's poem about Vincent D'Onofrio.

  71. A Hidden Life. Beauty and despair, faith and cruelty. No one does it like Terrence Malick. James Newton howard brings the thunder.

  72. My coworker Emmanuel gamely rapping his way through Die Antwoord's “Enter the Ninja” at a karaoke dive bar in Villeray.

  73. Saying “fuck it” and buying a bright red Dickies suit and cuting off the shins. The “shoveralls” were thus born.

  74. The Suspense Is Killing Us. Three guys affiliated with the world's largest video store talk about trashy thrillers from the 80s and 90s. Probably the best podcast to debut this year.

  75. Playing Magic: The Gathering and crushing Palm Bays with the homies (because White Claw hasn't crossed the border yet).

  76. My Mastodon instance laserdisc.party trucks on!

  77. I joined a sports-themed Mastodon instance that my friend Thomas started, allpro.social.

  78. Related to the last: allpro watching the Washington Nationals beat the Houston Astros in the World Series together.

  79. Me and Steph's annual-ish summer jaunt to Toronto.

  80. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I am in the tank for Quentin, that much is known, but this shaggy-dog hangout movie/love letter to late-60s L.A. plays like his Inherent Vice. His best since Inglourious Basterds.

  81. Every year, there's one album I'm familiar with in passing that I get stuck on, listen to on repeat, and induct into my personal pantheon. And this year, that honour goes to the Clientele's Strange Geometry. Congratulations, fellas!

  82. Divided by Darkness, the latest from Phoenix metalheads Spirit Adrift. which filled a Preistess-shaped hole in my heart with it's NWOBHM worship, Thin Lizzy worship, soaring triumphant chorus worship. Riff city, baby.

  83. The video work of Adam Neely, an NYC-based bassist and YouTube. I'm kind of a music theory dunce, but his videos are approachable and the non-theory stuff, especially the vlogs detailing the life of a gigging musician, are fascinating. The video that hooked me was the one where he recounted his worst musical trainwreck, where he and his bandmates eviscerated “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”

  84. Make Do. A small podcast about the up and downs of making art.

  85. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. In a perfect world, the first entry in a trilogy sets up the world, the second entry expands the world, and the third entry subverts its rules. All three John Wick movies excel at each level. The superlative action franchise of the century continues.

  86. Jenny Lewis's On the Line. Rock album as liminal space. The chief vibe on this one is “I'm not drunk I'm sad (okay I'm a little drunk).”

  87. Ad Astra. What's the worse thing to be stuck in, unable to reach out from: the vacuum of space or inside your own head? Or: in space, no one can hear your abandonment issues. It's plays like an artier, sadder version of The Martian. Max Richter with the big assist on this one.

  88. Strand of Oaks's Eraserland. Giant, shimmering, weary heartland rock, pulling from a similar tetxtural well as fellow Philedelphians (and perennial Derek favourite) the War on Drugs.

  89. Reacquainting myself with the work of Richard Hugo. I bought his collection Making Certain It Goes On and his essay collection The Triggering Town and hoovered both of them. I read “Degrees of Grey in Philipsburg” at an open mic. I watched a documentary about his life. He was a working stiff for most of his 30s and only published his first book at age 38. I pull a lot of water from this particular well.

  90. Men I Trust's Oncle Jazz, the Montreal album of the year, a beefy, slinky, chill-as-shit post-vaporjazz dream-pop missive, 70 whole minutes of it. Drowning in a sea of reverb and hushed vocals. Sounds like having been awake for 30 hours in a city that's not your own. Amazing stuff.

  91. New kitchen appliances. My microwave was from the 1990s, so I was due.

  92. Sunn O)))'s Life Metal. Riffs like ziggurats meant to be played so loud your bones hum.

  93. The work of A. R. Ammons. By turns funny and cosmic, looking at nature with the eye of a biologist and the I devoured his Selected Poems (the Library of America coming in clutch again), and especially loved the excerpts from Tape for the Turn of the Year, which was typed on a roll of adding machine paper, and Garbage, an epic about the natural world and our place in it.

  94. Danny Brown's uknowhatimsayin¿, an inventive and kaleidascopic rap record. Brown might be the funniest MC currently working. The cameos by Run the Jewels and JPEGMAFIA don't hurt either.

  95. All Elite Wrestling, making good on the promise of All In last year. Chris Jericho's run as champion here bolsters his own claim that he's the GOAT.

  96. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds's Ghosteen. I made the mistake of listening to this beautiful, heartbreaking record at work. Word of advice: wait until you leave to office to jam a song like “Waiting for You”.

  97. Alita: Battle Angel. “Cyberpunk anime Rollerball” is the easiest sell of all time.

  98. Camino 84's Yacht Rock Breaks 2. Exactly what it says on the tin. Smooth as shit.

  99. Shout out to Ron Padgett. I read and loved Alone and Not Alone, and look forward to cracking open Big Cabin. Now that I think about it, the pivot to poetry might have been preipitated by his work on Jim Jarmusch's brilliant film Paterson.

  100. The teaming-up of director Jesse V. Johnson and actor Scott Adkins. Their work together this year, the DTV Action Movie All-Star Game that is Triple Threat and the gnarly, purple revenge jam Avengement, are both splendid additions to the disreputable action canon. There is currently no more fecund partnership in action cinema.

#top100

Illustration: Hiroshi Nagai

The awesome record label Light in the Attic has just released Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1976-1986, a compilation of (mostly) City Pop, the Japanese answer to the American “West Coast” sound of the late 70s and early 80s. It's a bright, fizzy brew of fusion, R&B, disco, AOR, funk, and exotica, tailor-made for cruising the city streets in your sweet Toyota Supra. And bedroom producers take note: this is where the raw materials of vaporwave and future funk come from.

A friend of mine asked me for a primer, so I obliged, and I thought I'd share it with all of you. One note: I didn't leave your favourite album off this list on purpose.

Tatsuro Yamashita, For You (1982) – There's no two ways about it: Tats is the king of City Pop. His first band Sugar Babe laid the groundwork for the genre with their album Songs. His collab with Tin Pan Alley alumni Shigeru Suzuki and Haruomi Hosono (who was also in Yellow Magic Orchestra) called Pacific brought in the sun-kissed exotica haze and the jazz-fusion chops. Dude also really loves old American R&B and the Beach Boys, so you know, hooks for days. For You is breezy and lithe and packed tight with bright melodies, but this slot could have just as well gone to the albums that bookend this one, 1980's Ride on Time and 1983's Melodies.

Makoto Matsushita, First Light (1981) – Matsushita is a hot shit guitar player and founding member of AB'S (who are on the more fusion-y side of the City Pop continuum). His first solo record is some smooth Miami Vice shit; more than any other record here, this sounds how a humid night in the big city feels. Matsushita's solo stuff gets more involved and proggier from here on out, so there's plenty of weird nuggets to discover, but First Light is his best and grooviest record, and maybe the most melancholic piece of work on this list.

Hiroshi Sato featuring Wendy Matthews, Awakening (1982) – Sato is a keyboard wizard, probably best known for his synth-funk-fusion album Orient. Matthews is a Montreal-born Australian singer who was kind of a big deal down under in the early 90s. This album is more in the smooth jazz/adult contemporary corner of the City Pop graph, but it's so weird in places. There's like... a weird vampy blues instrumental and a Beatles cover as well? In any case, this is my favourite Sato album, all Linn drums and slinky arrangements and keyboard flourishes. Imagine if Diamond Life was made in L.A. instead of London, and swap out everything but the electric guitar for synths and drum machines.

Seaside Lovers, Memories in Beach House (1983) – Another Sato project. This was a one-off record with Akira Inoue and Masataka Matsutoya released as part of the CBS/Sony Sound Image Series (as was the aforementioned Pacific and the pretty good fusion album New York). Lots of fluttering melodicas, aqueous piano, and awesome 80s gated drums on this one. Probably the moodiest of the records I have listed here on account of the unique synthetic timbre of the whole thing.

Toshiki Kadomatsu – Weekend Fly to the Sun (1982) – If I'm being honest with myself, any of Kadomatsu's 80s albums could have made the cut here, but this one gets the thumbs up from me because, in addition to being punchy and fun as hell, it's functionally a concept album about looking forward to the end of the work week so you can get away for the weekend. Also “Rush Hour” is one of the best “What a Fool Believes” ripoffs I've ever heard.

Taeko Ohnuki, Mignonne (1978) – Ohnuki was in Sugar Babe with Yamashita, and her output is more in the jazz-pop/sophisti-pop/Steely Dan-lite corner of City Pop. Of all the records here, this is the one I've spent the least amount of time with, so I don't have anything super clever or incisive to say about it. It's just great.

#music #citypop #picksix

(These are <500-character micro-stories that I wrote a while back for funsies. -DG)

I. LIMINAL

“It's not technically tomorrow unless we go to bed.”

You squeeze my hand as you say that. I feel like we're in suspended animation. The city air is nippy. Moonlight is barely eking through an oil-slick sky. Hucksters on the hotel TV are hawking jasper jewellery that “filters your blood.”

In this moment we are gods. Our domain is the liminal space between today and tomorrow, and it is infinite as long as our eyes stay open. And so I squeeze back.

II. HASHBROWNS

“Any last words?”

“A few, you rat bastard. I know a hypocrite when I see one, and you chip-chewing charlatans are a prime specimen. Are we not equals under God? Do we not prefer our starches crispy? You know not our joy because you know not the communion of the breakfast table!

And know this! Though you may subject us to the vilest tortures in the King's arsenal until we cease to be, we are mere mortals. Hashbrowns are eternal!”

“Take him away.”

III. OUTSIDER

Paul looked unkempt and unassuming, like an Old Navy ad on a bad day. The line to get in was empty save for the menhir of a doorman. Paul stood in front of him got out his phone. He checked his fly and queued up a song. He began to shimmy. He worked his way from a pedestrian shuffle into a vigorous full-body krump over the course of all 3:24 of “Super Freak.” The doorman then looked him over and extended his hand.

“Welcome to the Outsider.”

IV. ASTER

No one remembered all the rules. Sure, they remembered the broad strokes: swing at the ball, get it in the hole. But the finer points of it were lost to time. So eventually were the justifications for game's grip on the real estate. And so it went. Where once were little tire treads and manicured swaths of grass now stood a sea of sunflowers and asters. Kids were playing by the pond until sundown, trading theories as to what all those weird eggs were.

V. PHLEBOTOMY

He cracked his knuckles and pointed down the barrel of the camera.

“So lemme tell you one last thing, brother. It's not a matter of if I toss you from the top of the cage onto the debris-strewn canvas at Weaponmania XIII, it's a matter of when. And when you land, and every shard and splinter on the mat gives you a lil' backyard phlebotomy, I will cover you, the ref will tap 1-2-3, and then I'll smack your ugly goddamn mug for good measure.”

VI. GHOUL

The professor scanned the full, quiet room and scratched their horn with the claw of their index.

“I know some of you are intimidated. Or afraid. Or ill at ease. Whatever you want to call it. And if you think I can't tell, well, I can 100% tell. I've been doing this a long time. I've seen thousands of beings walk the halls of Ghoul School. And the best piece of advice I can give you about fear is…”

Their horns began to glow.

”...use it.”

VII. JUSTICE

“So here we have Justice reversed. So…”

“So what does that mean? Actually don't answer that. Please first answer why Justice is a ref in your deck.

“Seemed like an easy call. Enforcing the rules, force of order, objectivity, so on and so forth.”

“But aren't the rules written by a hired committee? Don't refs make bad calls and fuck up and what not? What I'm saying is that refs are the cops of sports.”

“You just answered your own questions.”

VIII. IRIDESCENT

“This should do it.”

She had spent years acquiring every piece of gear she thought would repeat the results. What was in the room when it happened? Oscillators, gyroscopes, magnets, other stuff she had since forgotten, because even a photographic memory fades. While she stared at the wall of knobs, a tiny, iridescent tear in the fabric of the Universe appeared. It hummed. She started to well up.

“Hey there. It's been a while.”

IX. BEREFT

Many express joy at the exploits of Fancy Hal Dancy, and because of this I weep. For he is a scalawag, a scoundrel! Bereft of honour! Bereft of decency! And as sure as the Sun will rise tomorrow, he will be bereft of this belt! The day he will be fit to hoist gold in victory will be a day of reckoning, because no just God would allow such a creature to be an exemplar of any sort! And if you disagree, well, I'll see you in the ring at Pugnamania!

X. ULTRACREPIDARIAN

“You misplayed your last turn.”

“What?”

“You misplayed. Here.”

“Who the fuck are you?”

“Just saying.”

“Just saying, huh? Well I'm just saying you should use that very smart big boy brain of yours to reconsider needling strangers, how about that?”

”...”

“I don't know you, and I certainly don't want to know you now, you ultracrepidarian fuck! Now leave me be.”

She set her tiles out on the board.

“JETtISON. That's 194 points.”

XI. HUBCAP

The Hall of Famer faced his onlookers.

“Well, it kind of started like all these things do, with play. My brother and I … let's just say we weren't a family of means, so we had to make our own fun. We lived by a scrap yard and we just sort of took to huckin' hubcaps at the old fence post in the back there, and we just … never stopped, really. We both went off to school, joined the Ultimate club and, as they say, the rest his history. Now we're here.”

XII. GOBLIN

All my life, I was told the fear cellar goblins, that if I ever poked around down there, that they'd leap out of the shadows and yank all the hair from my body to make decorative blankets. But as I got older and as my mind sharpened, the muffled din I heard from the cellar revealed itself for what it was: a plea for help, a call to action, the rumbling cant of those driven underground.

They are not monsters, but allies. And now, we fight.

#fiction

Between putting out great in-depth videos about interpersonal beefing and hosting the work of the brilliant Jon Bois, SB Nation currently runs one of my favourite YouTube channels. Their Rewinder series, which contextualizes seismic moments in sports history, is consistently entertaining and informative (episodes include the 2008 Wimbledon men's final, the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, and, uh, Mark Sanchez's butt fumble). It's great stuff even if you're sports-agnostic.

This time around, in the spirit of April Fools' Day, SB Nation writer Seth Rosenthal does a deep kayfabe dive on Michael Jordan's climactic game-winning dunk from the 1996 blockbuster Space Jam (a movie I 100% wore out the tape of as a nine-year-old). High points include a critique of the players the Nerdlucks stole skills from (no Shaq? no Hakeem?), a reconsidering of Marvin the Martian's alleged impartiality as referee, and the folding of real-life events into the machinations of Space Jam's deeply silly, deeply crass plot. Rosenthal is a good writer, so good in fact that at several points in the video I forgot that it was a goof.

Come on and slam

This video actually pairs up nicely with an episode of one of my favourite podcasts, Blank Check with Griffin and David, where they discuss Space Jam in depth as the dumbfounding cultural artifact that it is.

Also... Michael Jordan kind of looks like a wax sculpture of Michael Jordan on this poster.

(via SB Nation on YouTube)

#youtube #movies #sports

The man, the myth, the legend

We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We're kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.

Roger Ebert, one of my film-crit heroes, died six years ago today. I owe Roger more than I care to admit. He was the first person I encountered who looked at movies as art objects. He wrote with warmth, clarity, and respect for the medium. He was smart and persuasive even when I disagreed with his conclusions (and seriously, if you're not locking horns with your heroes on a semi-regular basis, what the hell are you even doing?). He taught me to trust my gut. His work will always be a resource and an inspiration to me.

I really, really miss having him around.

#movies #obit

Harry Brewis (YouTube codename Hbomberguy), better known as of late for his “Donkey Kong Says Trans Rights” charity stream, has a deep library of good video essays about pseudoscience (he's not down with it), woke brands (he's also not down with it), and VHS tapes (he's down with it). And his latest one is a 45-minute reflection on the 1986 feature-length toy commercial The Transformers: The Movie, aka The One Where Optimus Prime Dies.

Brewis juxtaposes the light, sugary Saturday morning antics of the TV show (which, I insist on repeating, was a glorified toy commercial) to the darker, more nihilistic tone of the movie. He calls it the point in his life where he realized that all things die. It's not exactly a close reading, but it gets to the heart of why this movie is so beloved people or a certain demographic without chalking it up to pure capitalistic cynicism or multimedia brand loyalty.

There's a prevailing sentiment that nostalgia should be looked at with deep suspicion or even outright hostility. I do get that. At the risk of making outlandish statements that I can't possibly back up, nostalgia has poisoned the pop culture landscape. It's why we're stuck in an ongoing cycle of regurgitated IPs spearheaded by warring monopolies, or why grown men who bequeath sacred cow status to a fart comedy where Dan Aykroyd gets a blowie from a ghost derail actual-ass human lives with cries of “cooties!” Nostalgia is a tempest that provides its own teapot, only now that teapot is the internet, and we all have to live inside of it.

But nostalgia is also a useful lens through which to view the artifacts of our past. This is how Brewis frames The Transformers: The Movie: a not-great film that shines brightest when it leans into a kind of optimist philosophy, where “the power of leadership and hope and unwarranted positivity in a dark universe has successfully vanquished the pessimistic nihilism that encroaches upon us all when bad things happen in our lives.” Galaxy brain shit maybe, but still a fun, thoughtful, emotionally-engaging trip through the cultural detritus of the 80s. Also any excuse to jam arena-cheese titan Stan Bush or force of good in the universe “Weird Al” Yankovic is right on by me.

Speaking of Yankovic, Brewis's journey with The Transformers: The Movie mirrors mine with UHF. It was one of the first DVDs I ever owned and I played the shit out of it. I thought of it as little more than a series of goofy pop culture riffs that 0% of my peers got. Which obviously it still is. Now, a lot of those jokes haven't aged well (is there an actor who got a rawer deal in the 1980s than Gedde Watanabe?), but I still love this movie because there's a community-minded anti-establishment streak to it. Goofiness for the common good. Daring to be stupid, if you will.

#movies #youtube

Truer words have never been spoken

This Sunday, I had a conversation with my longtime friend and fellow Dim the House Lights co-editor Juan Barquin about writing and pitching. Pitching is a grind. Pitching is a hustle. Pitching is functionally a second job that I would get pennies per hour to do. Just elbowing my way to the table where all the editors sit would make a giant dent in my work-life balance (which is already kind of precarious, if I'm being 100% honest with myself).

And so I had an idiot's epiphany: just write for fun, you dingus. And dig this, genius: it doesn't even have to be about movies! It can be about music or wrestling or fucking occult horticulture if that's what grabs your attention that day. You can just write what you feel like writing because there's nothing more liberating than realizing that no one really gives a shit. Says the homie Austin Kleon:

Nobody’s really paying attention. This is the big secret. Even if you think you have an audience, nobody’s paying attention. It’s depressing at first, but once you wrap your arms around it, it’s liberating. Enjoy it. Have fun with it.

When I first bought my dot-com, my modus operandi for Ahead on Differential was to make it “like Kottke, but shittier.” So far I have done a piss-poor job of jumping over even that low bar, but I endeavour to at the very least give it a shot from here on out. Obviously longer film stuff will still be at Dim the House Lights, but everything else will go here.

#meta

Poster for Dark Star

The first hint is right there in the poster copy: “The Spaced Out Odyssey.” The photo beneath the tagline, of a body on ice with electrodes affixed to its face, would normally evoke chills. But in context, we understand that a face frozen in a rictus of dulled pain visually rhymes with what being gacked out on primo bud looks like.

Dark Star, directed by John Carpenter and co-written by Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon, premiered on 30 March 1974 at the Los Angeles International Film Exposition. At the risk of being glib, it plays like a stoner Alien (not surprising since O'Bannon strip-mined Dark Star for parts for his Alien script), similarly concerned with the existential tedium of being a working stiff on the final frontier. But it is above all else Carpenter's weed-dad opus, a heady, rambling, pseudo-philosophical cosmic yarn about mental entropy that for no short amount of time prioritizes a slapstick set piece featuring an alien that looks suspiciously like a beach ball. This movie would slot in nicely on a shelf next to Star Trek: The Motion Picture on VHS or a dog-eared copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

There isn't really much competition for Dark Star's weed-dad title belt in Carpenter's oeuvre; after his debut, his movies almost immediately became leaner, sharper, and more sinister. The only real challenger for the crown is They Live, with its EC Comics-indebted anti-authoritarian, anti-consumerist sci-fi phantasmagoria. And if there's two things weed dads hate, it's the Man and how the Man tells 'em what to do, man. But there's too much ire and fury in They Live for it to be Carpenter's weed-daddest movie. The key moment of political discourse in They Live is Roddy Piper beating the dogshit out of Keith David so he can make him wear his false consciousness-obliterating sunglasses. The key moment of political discourse in Dark Star is when a Bill Ward-looking motherfucker raps with a bomb about phenomenology to keep it from exploding. Far out.

#movies

  1. Adopting a cute little tabby cat named Ruby.
  2. Doubling down on being away from Twitter and starting my very own Mastodon instance, laserdisc.party.
  3. Starting a brand new long-term movie podcast with my friend Michelle where we put the IMDb Top 250 in a bracket and work out which one is best, single-elimination style. It's called Middlebrow Madness and it's great fun to do.
  4. The podcast actually gave me an excuse to rewatch a handful of masterpieces: Paper Moon, Unforgiven, Sherlock, Jr., Modern Times, Spirited Away, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Paths of Glory, Howl's Moving Castle.
  5. David Fincher's Gone Girl. I made the key mistake of watching this on Valentine's Day.
  6. Listening to “Plastic Love” by Mariya Takeuchi pretty much first thing at work every day.
  7. Turning 30. Had a smoked meat dinner with friends and loved ones. It was sweet.
  8. Mandy. My most anticipated film of the year, my favourite film of the year, and one of my favourite films of all time. Also the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson's score for this movie is the stuff of drone-metal nightmares, it rules so hard.
  9. Attending the Fantasia International Film Festival as a badged member of the press for the first time. I swear I'm gonna frame that pass and lanyard and put it on my wall. Also everyone at Dim the House Lights put in incredible work: Michelle on The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, Chris on Cam, Ross on Cold Skin, and yours truly on Relaxer.
  10. The aforementioned Dim the House Lights, the brainchild of me and my pal Juan, still going strong and nearly old enough to go to kindergraten.
  11. Live music! Seeing They Might Be Giants, one of my favourite bands of all time, at a tiny-ass venue with about 200 people there. Seeing The War on Drugs close out the Jazz Festival with a sea of fans.
  12. It was a good year for phone gaming. Florence knocked me on my ass. I sunk many hours into Pocket-Run Pool. Donut County was incredibly fun.
  13. Becoming a patron of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Quebec.
  14. The Jon Bois/Felix Bierderman team-up Fighting in the Age of Loneliness, an Adam Curtis-esque five-part documentary about the history of mixed martial arts. While I'm here I should also mention Bois' Chart Party video about March Madness and his output on Dorktown.
  15. Now that I think about it, SB Nation has been consistently putting out some of the best stuff on YouTube. Shout out to their shows Beef History and Rewinder.
  16. Going to an orchard and eating apples fresh off the tree.
  17. Sorry to Bother You. I can't believe something this off-the-wall and incendiary made it to multiplexes.
  18. Using what little handiness I have to turn a ribbit cage into a rat mansion. Thank you, extra-large roll of chicken wire from Canadian Tire!
  19. Doc Destructo (a.k.a. one half of the awesome WCW podcast The Greatest Podcast in the History of Our Sport) going long on the failed 90s fighting game Tattoo Assassins. Also his follow-up video on ill-advised FMV erotic thriller nightmare Tender Loving Care was the first Great Thing I saw in 2019.
  20. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky on the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.
  21. Spencer Hall on Anthony Bourdain (RIP).
  22. Two podcasts from the Ringer network of products: one is The Watch (Chris and Andy are some of the most thoughtful people out there regarding pop culture) and The Rewatchables (fun civilian film-crit, curating what is basically a canon of “cable movies”).
  23. Finally buying derekgodin.com and making my own little Web 1.0 homepage.
  24. The Daily Beast's Jeff Maysh on the criminals that rigged the McDonald's Monopoly game for over a decade.
  25. The Strategist's list of the 100 greatest pens.
  26. Tarot apps: the Golden Thread Tarot, the Mystic Mondays tarot, and the Kawaii Tarot.
  27. Gizmodo's Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on the legend of the Doves type
  28. Watching so much Night Court while between jobs that I ended up using its theme song as my ringtone. Also it turns out I only really watch TV when I'm unemployed.
  29. Losing my job but getting a better job in the same field.
  30. Ty Segall's fantastic cover of Hot Chocolate's “Every 1's a Winner.” Here he is with his band playing it on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Actually, all of Freedom's Goblin was great.
  31. A nice spring jaunt to the city of Rimouski.
  32. Continuing the lineage of the American Band Championship Belt.
  33. Finding a pair of leather Chuck Taylors at a thrift store that fit my clown feet.
  34. The legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada.
  35. Flying Lotus and Claire Denis in the Criterion closet.
  36. A Star Is Born. Just about as perfect as a Hollywood drama can get. And “Shallow” fuckin' bangs too.
  37. The ongoing excellence of the All Fantasy Everything podcast. I wrote about it a little bit here.
  38. I got paid actual-ass American money to write about Basic Instinct. Shout out to Juan for getting me the gig.
  39. Eating at Denny's for the first time. They sure do know their way around a milkshake.
  40. The Ringer's Brian Phillips on Facebook.
  41. The Marvin Visions typeface.
  42. Windows96's excellent vaporsynth concoction One Hundred Mornings.
  43. JANK CITY. My friends and I get together and play Magic: The Gathering, except instead of playing good cards, we draft those 100-card repacks you get from the dollar store. It's the best thing.
  44. Semi-related: the New Yorker's Neima Jahromi on Magic: The Gathering's 25th birthday.
  45. Also semi-related: some of my pals opened up a game store! Shout out to the crew at the Silver Goblin.
  46. Still semi-related: MtG Arena going intop open beta.
  47. Joining a union.
  48. The ass-whipping delivery device known as The Night Comes for Us. These Indonesian stunt teams are something else. I gushed about this movie here.
  49. My conversion to the church of Bulk Barn.
  50. I got an owl kigurumi for Halloween and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't one of the more comfortable garments I currently own.
  51. The always wonderful Austin Kleon on third spaces.
  52. My friend Anastasia's borscht recipe.
  53. You Were Never Really Here. A startling piece of direction and performance.
  54. The I Don't Even Own a Television podcast. This is where bad books go to get dressed by by two smart, thoughtful dudes.
  55. The vegetarian poutine from Copper Branch.
  56. Onra's Nobody Has to Know, which is a continuation of my love of City Pop and... I guess “beat tape-core?” For my money, “Love Triangle” is the standout track.
  57. Desert Bus for Hope. Great community, great stream, great cause.
  58. I tried streaming video games a couple of times. It was fun!
  59. Jon Hopkins' Singularity. House music to wake up in the desert to.
  60. Leaning heavily into the side shave as my default haircut.
  61. Good show notes for podcasts.
  62. The infinite vaporwave radio station known as VaporFM.
  63. Plex has been a gamechanger in the way I watch stuff at home.
  64. Support the Girls. Between this, Results, and Computer Chess, Andrew Bujalski has made three of my favourite movies of the past five years.
  65. Taking longs walks.
  66. The great Dan Olson had a hell of a year, the crowning achievement of which was his three-part, 160-minute “lukewarm defence” of the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. (You can start with part one here.) His video on the use of metaphor in Annihilation is also quite good.
  67. Gritty, the freaky-looking mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers, becoming a weird leftist icon.
  68. Cooking with new cookware.
  69. The Cannes cut of Sergio Leone's swan song Once Upon a Time in America.
  70. The New Yorker's Hua Hsu on Environments
  71. Budget Bytes, the web site that has basically fed me and my family for the last few years.
  72. GQ's Zach Baron on Brendan Fraser.
  73. Jenny Odell's mind-melting article in the New York Times about sketchy Amazon storefronts.
  74. Captioning mistakes.
  75. The Secret Broadcast, a podcast that emulates numbers stations.
  76. Beefing up my copy editing shelf.
  77. Mission: Impossible – Fallout. I love silly spy shit and wackadoo stunts. That fight in the bathroom is a thing of beauty.
  78. Related: Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie lay the smackdown on motion smoothing.
  79. My ninth anniversary with Steph.
  80. Stephen Thomas Erlewine on “Weird Al” Yankovic.
  81. Going back and jamming a bunch of episodes of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.
  82. Evan Puschak, aka Nerdwriter, put out the video that made me go back and watch all those Late Late Show episodes, which was released in 2015. But he put out a lot of videos this year that I liked, including ones about Rowan Atkinson and physical comedy, the armchair puzzle book Masquerade, and the use of film grain in Mandy.
  83. BlacKkKlansman. Exactly as fiery and polemical and excellently directed as I had hoped. Also features one of the most surprising needle drops of 2018. See if you can find it!
  84. The One Song Only podcast. Kanye X bracketology.
  85. Discovering this fantastic mini-set by the Moog Cookbook from 1996.
  86. Getting reacquainted with the Merlin Mann Podcast Universe, specifically the superlative trifecta of Back to Work, Do By Friday, and Roderick on the Line.
  87. Joining a fantasy hockey pool for the first time.
  88. The Verge's What's in Your Bag? feature.
  89. Becky Lynch cementing her legacy by brawling her way through a busted nose.
  90. John Carpenter's Starman. I can't believe it took me this long to get to a movie by one of my favourite directors, starring two of my favourite actors, all of them in their prime.
  91. A great holiday meal with my coworkers at La Khaïma in Le Plateau-Mount Royal.
  92. First Reformed. It is one Paul Schrader-ass Paul Schrader movie, with a career-best performance by Ethan Hawke.
  93. John Mulaney's hilarious comedy special Kid Gorgeous at Radio City.
  94. Paste's Graham Techler on the Blank Check podcast and the intersection of comedy and criticism.
  95. Long, empty days at work where all I really had to do was listen to Tatsuro Yamashita's double live album Joy over and over again.
  96. Making this list of my 200 favourite albums.
  97. Upgarde. Strudy, violent B movie fun. More of these, please.
  98. Collider's Matt Goldberg on the importance of movies on physical media.
  99. Gizmodo's 100 Websites That Shaped the Internet as We Know It.
  100. The RetroWeatherChannel Twitch channel, which pairs vintage Weather Channel bumpers with everything from period-accurate cuts to vaporwave to smooth jazz to ambient to Chet Atkins.

#top100

Mandy, or Nostalgia as Cinematic Language

It's getting to be list season very soon, and while there are a bunch of movies that are in the running for my big gold belt that I have not seen yet (I'm looking at you, The Night Comes for Us), I sincerely doubt anything will knock Mandy from the throne. It's no secret that I am in the tank for this movie (wrote a glowing review of it and everything). After watching the equally mind-melting Beyond the Black Rainbow in 2011, I was excited to see what writer/director Panos Cosmatos had lined up next. My patience was rewarded with what is not only my favourite movie of the year thus far, but a surefire first-ballot entry into the Head Film Hall of Fame. There's rad bugfuck details stacked floor to ceiling, but it's also a film of cosmic sadness and great warmth (Nicolas Cage gets to be wild and tender in this).

And it looks fantastic. Cosmatos and director of photography Benjamin Loeb (Hello Destroyer, King Cobra) saturate the frame with bold colours, evocative lighting, and glorious phantasmagorical excess. The always-perceptive Evan Puschak over at The Nerdwriter released a video last week diving into the film's style by examining its use of grain as an aesthetic signifier. What has come to be an analogue fetish object in a digital age, Puschak explains, is delpoyed by Cosmatos as a tool rather than as a reference. Even though Cosmatos' pool of images is easy to parse (70s/80s Euro-trash, sci-fi paperbacks, prog rock album covers, back issues of Heavy Metal), the way he creates his visual tableux are unbound in time and inextricable from the story. “Style over substance” doesn't hold water as an argument when the two are so deeply intertwined.

I can't wait for number three.

(via The Nerdwriter)

#movies #youtube