Year of JOHN CENA!

Year of JOHN CENA!

Set your sight back about six years ago…

Alright, let’s get into it…

Best Song

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An opus of psychedelic res

Runner Up

The Rest

The ghost in the machine, “Busy Earnin'” is proof that computers have soul, that a digital horn section and wash of layered falsetto means a thing so long as it can swing.

Already a highlight on Yoncé’s self-titled LP, “Flawless” gets the Minaj treatment and goes from a pump-up beauty anthem to a declaration of fucking war.

Power by a backbeat from an 8-bit basement and tractorbeaming drones, “Fool” is really just an excercise in manipulation, both of the listener and Lucero’s wounded wail.

On something of a gap year for Drake, this twinkling, bubbly and very corny B-side presented a conscientious young man who, as it was written, is only gettin’ older.

The most purely melodic of The Hotelier’s many emotional pleas on their debut LP, “Housebroken” turns the story of an abused dog into a chest-thumping mini-epic.

On Sea When Absent, an otherwise ok album, this dream pop collective lays down an impressive suite of tracks, radiating with radical sounds and impossible mysteries.

A deep cut for the ages, Parquet Courts’ typically frenetic pace is wound around a drowsy guitar line and punch-drunk melody for this seven-minute opus.

Like a US Midwestern take on Amour, Mark Kozelek’s sunniest-sounding track on Benji is also its most devastating, a story of death and love wrapping their tendrils into one another.

Creepy in a way that makes for frowning laughter and dizzy spells, Avey Tare’s side-project retains the Animal Collective dadaist spirit while giving it a funhouse spruce.

Swans make progressive music, tracks so long and all-consuming that even short bursts of chaos like “Oxygen” feel like the ramblings of a ravaged mind slowly eating itself.

Possibly the most underrated track in Kendrick’s discography, “Momma” vibes sunset boulevards

Scripture and sinners, the holy and the hole-y, this starburst of sexual rumpery is anchored by Chance the Rapper’s wholesome lyrics and spry delivery.

“Higher than a motherfucker, dreaming of you as my lover,” goes the refrain for twigs’ “Two Weeks”, a whispery and unsettling take on intoxicating desire.

A two-part meditation on family, addiction and redemption, the centrepiece of Rashad’s debut tape hits the ground running, then pauses to assess the damage.

Produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, “West Coast” was the first real sign in three years that Del Rey had more angles to this ’50s dame in ’10s fame persona than we thought.

Best Movie

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Movies are all a trick, really. It’s the artifice of life, used to generate emotions when the real thing so often doesn’t cut it. Like all art, a film is a chemical alteration for the soul, a catalyst for the feels, MDMA for your empathy. But every now and then, they reflect the world so perfectly and poignantly that the barrier slips away. I think Boyhood is the best example of that from the 2010s, a movie that doubles as an excavation of time and being, a passion project that wonders as much about its own form as the lives of its characters.

Filming over the course of twelve years, Richard Linklater (who also made School of Rock at some point during this process) set Boyhood’s parameters so precisely within the frame of my own childhood that it feels almost invasive. The stolen lingerie magazines shared with curious friends, the unavoidable frustrations of siblingdom, the Harry Potter midnight book sales. This is the stuff of life for so many of us, and it’s so gratifying to have an example from this decade that has put the effort in to aiming for a specificity within the universal.

In that way, it’s a sort of swan song for the overbearing white maleness of western cinema from the last century. Not everyone shared these moments or memories, but in the same way a film like Moonlight so beautifully captures the struggle of the queer black experience, I feel Boyhood earns its suburban typicality. Mason () grows before our very eyes, a timelapse where the purpose is reflected by our experience: just as we get used to the latest iteration, it changes before we’re ready. The world always has us on the backfoot, reminding us that we’ve been too busy looking back to even notice where we’ve been, and where we’re going.

Runner Up

People who are addicted don’t lack other reasons for living; it’s just that they’ve found a grander one. Or, at least, that’s how it always begins, an allure of immediate gratification that reality pales and wilts in the shadow of. Shame, risking bawdy pretension or accidental pornography, entangles us in the life of Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a sex addict so roughed and impassive to the world that he needs to fuck just to feel something. He and his sister (a wounded Carey Mulligan) have a shared, unspoken history that weighs on them, and we watch in agony as they try to get out from under it unscathed.

The Rest

A jesting, light throwback to the silent era, weightless in its execution and staying power, but still nimble and joyous to behold.

Kristen Wiig’s ingenious response to the crude bounty of The Hangover is funnier, filthier, and thus far unmarred by any diminished sequels.

The good sort of whitewashing, where at least everyone is aware of how weird it is that George Clooney has indigenous claims to Hawaiian land.

Just the most… the most (holy shit) grievously fucking violent film, this is. Goddamn. Kubrickian, strangulatory, and so ready to do bloody murder.

A sobering look at gang violence in Chicago’s South Side, with a tight focus on the CeaseFire interventionists who step in to mediate the mayhem.

One of the most brutal filmmakers of all time sets his devilish eye on depression, inflating it to planetary proportions, watching as it devastates.

An exegetical rendition of humanity, Fricke’s narrativeless, free-association splatter of sound and fury signifies more than you could ever imagine.

I’ve legitimately never experience a more emotional public screening of a film than A Simple Life, a tale of duty, asceticism and quiet dignity.

The world is not enough for Terrence Malick: he commands the cosmos and primordial filaments themselves to lay bare the secret of what we are.

After an impressive trio of films in the 2000s, Reitman’s acidic fourth feature gives Theron her best monstrous role since that other movie.

Best New TV Show

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Charlie Brooker doesn’t see the small picture. There’s not a single episode of Black Mirror – his anthology, Twilight Zone 2.0 series originally made for the BBC – that you could call unambitious. In Brooker’s world, the media is compelled to broadcast partisan bestiality, Peloton’s are even more sinister than they appear, and our brains are on a nonstop feedback loop that twists romance into a raspy whisper of its former self.

As with any sci-fi commentary, Brooker’s high concepts and reliance on irony risks making him appear foolish; indeed, the later, more bloated seasons of his show commissioned by Netflix demonstrate the limits of this format. But in its heyday, Black Mirror earned the accolades as much as the memes, articulating an uncertainty that we all have about the rapid pace of modernity. Posing thought problems and then cloaking them in serpentine narratives, the show weaves an insidious web of discomfort through the combined success of its creative spirit, its razor sharp production values and a consistent mythology paired with a unique aesthetic. Not to mention there’s that healthy human streak of melancholia that ruddies up the robotic complexion.

In episode one, “The National Anthem”, Brooker presages the 2010s trend of scandalous quid pro quos by constructing a devious blackmail parable. A beloved princess is kidnapped and held for ransom by a deranged post-modernist, with his demands being that the Prime Minister must fuck a pig on live television to secure the princess’ release. As the story picks up storm within countless media outlets, the push for click-bait becomes the driving force behind public consensus, which swings to and fro with the tug of each breaking news headline.

Meanwhile “Fifteen Million Merits”, the show’s second and perhaps greatest instalment, lives and dies on its astounding central performance by Daniel Kaluuya. First spotted as the excitable Kenneth on Skins, Kaluuya has become one of the most recognisable and vibrant actors of his generation, and he demonstrates every ounce of the depth and ferocity in this episode that he would later bring to Get Out, Black Panther and Widows.

Image result for black mirror daniel kaluuya

Kaluuya’s Bing is one of innumerable stationary bike riders, boxed within a society that is powered by his the riders’ pedaling. Day in and day out, Bing is subjected to despicable programming, either with overweight people being basically tortured or competitors on an X Factor-style program getting ridiculed and straight-up forced into porn ( I know, right?!). The events that lead up to Kaluuya’s final, tormented speech are a twisted Greek tragedy, a series of machinations as infuriating as they are resonant and deeply pessimistic about our chances versus the shiny pull of machines.

Runner Up

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W.B. Yeats, dude who liked tits n’ dragons

No matter the energy and hours we’ve wasted watching, re-watching, hyping and eviscerating it, Game of Thrones began as and remained (in its best days) a supreme feat of entertainment. Even with foreknowledge of the prolapsed later years to come, the scope, performances, intricacies and subversions of peak GOT in its very first season are still as divine as ever. And, eight years on, the ending of “Baelor” holds strong as one of the 2010s’ most impactful episodes.

The Rest

The 2010s’ most consistent show – now at 10 seasons and still going strong – began as an endearing series about the world’s most offbeat underdogs.

Crisply shot and meditatively executed, Enlightened is coated with impotent rage, a bungled attempt at corporate espionage in the face of society.

Though its original broadcasting chopped the chronology to shit, Happy Endings (viewed in correct order) is charming without being clingy.

Though the thought of pitching a show about a WASP-Islamic terrorist in 2019 makes me laugh, Homeland ran a pretty tight ship in the early going.

A manic pixie, perhaps, but Zooey Deschanel still has undeniable charisma, as does the whole cast of this twee, wholesome bit of sundae television.

Best Album

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Before he couldn’t feel his face… before he and Ariana were singing sweetly about really needing to get a room… even before Drake had heard of him, Abel Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd) just wanted us to be comfortable for whatever he was about to do next.

Trust me… you wanna be high for this

Image result for house of balloons the weeknd

Every single corner of his music on House of Balloons could be seen from space under a blacklight. Dropped as an anonymous tape in the early months of 2011, the R&B wunderkind’s debut mixtape is both a celebration and an excavation of sexual obsession. At the time, Tesfaye’s anonymity afforded him liberation in pursuit of his every lascivious fancy. Addiction never sounded so alluring, and allure itself has never been more addictive.

He’s what you want… I’m what you need

Tesfaye is an expert at declarative statements that justify themselves in real time. His melismatic vocals – smack bang between MJ’s coos and the warbles of an emo frontman circa 2005 – are so fucking smooth that you start to suspect foul play. There’s a chemical element to the dank, chimeric beats and an insistence on substances that laces the whole project, an insistent rejoinder to Kendrick’s straight edge “A.D.H.D.” the same year.

This is a happy house… we’re happy here in our happy house

Image result for house of balloons the weeknd

It’s the sound of a generation raised on gossamer R&B videos and drowning in the insistence that everything’s fine as long as you can’t remember why it’s not. Tracks like “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls” present a faded night for millennials: initial bouts of shout-along hooks that slowly descends into self-flagellating hedonism. It easily could’ve soundtracked the frat party from the first ten minutes of The Social Network, with its shuffle-splatter party mix followed by ominous drones and numbing opulence.

Girl put in work… 

Almost inevitably, the women on House of Balloons get a pretty raw deal. The phrase “I might get violent” is doubly disconcerting when sung in Tesfaye’s skin-tight lilt, a persistent reminder that at his rate of ingestion, the toxicity tends to spill out onto the surrounding parties. Misogyny and amorality are used both to reprimand and revel in the postures of a genre grown bitter, soaked in the dispensability of drugs and whimsy of objectification.

So tell me you love me… only for tonight

Image result for house of balloons

The vibe, ultimately, is the feeling of misbeaviour brewing in utero. It’s music for when the world waxes double in front of your eyes, as you detect a tinny whine just above the bass from the dancefloor, a piercing rhythm dinning from a fair distance, a nodding shriek that – just as you begin to sway – you realise is the high song of an approaching siren.

Runner Up

I have a lot of piano music ready, but none of it’s released.” So said Blake in 2010, a young, enigmatic British producer whose work was modernity made manifest: stuttering rhythms, snazzy samples, cool-as-steel mixing. Now, here was his self-titled debut, following up on the promise to become the decade’s most unlikely yet (retrospectively) inevitable singer-songwriter. Opener “Unluck” threw the spanner in briskly and with relish, setting Blake’s plaintive cries over a hopscotch pattern so erratic it could trigger fits. And, for the analogians, Blake’s pleading cover of Feist’sLimit to Your Love” proves his abilities without need of any digital doohickery.

The Rest

Embarrassingly juvenile, hilariously amateurish and actively repellent, the remarkable Goblin is the 2010s’ answer to Eminem and the fucking internet.

Muddy flows and Houston-screwed samples burble on Rocky’s first tape, which somehow both sounds and makes feels sort of… purple.

Before his twin opuses on love and isolation, Ocean nurtured a blue optimism full of teary-eyed admissions: “I’ve loved all the good times here.”

Like soon-to-come releases from Daft Punk and Disclosure, SBTRKT’s self-titled album is a curated gem of featured vocalists over stupendous tunes.

A concept album, as long as you allow for sincere love songs to mesh with retellings of debaucherous evenings spent with groupies to cohere as such, with the concept being, “Fuck it, right?”

The first and last time he was basically flawless, Drake’s “retail mixtape” was an onslaught of curation and variety, that sound of a du

Soft as warm butter and just as enticing, Drake’s debut album is very easy to make fun of… it’s also just kinda fun to listen to as you do so.

The first hip hop power couple of the decade (and also one of the shortest lived), flexing on God, praying on water, flipping switches and shitting hits.

Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett

With a fair dinkum accent that she wears like a how’s-ya-father badge of honour, Barnett’s wry eye and swooning melodies suit the straight up and down treatment.

Though the title evokes easier times in sunny vistas,

Best Returning TV Show

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Gus Fring is not a human fucking being. His actions, behaviour and general standing within the setting of Breaking Bad – which, to be fair, is some funhouse mirror version of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the crystal meth industry is so prevalent that it grows in matted tendrils right alongside the lily of the valley – suggests that Fring is some sort of Predator-esque creature. He anticipates everything, sees everything, and survives everything. Everything. Right up until he doesn’t (spoilers, I guess).

The duel of wits and strategy that takes place between crystal meth cook Walter White (Bryan Cranston’s defining role) and his formerly friendly employer Gustavo Fring (a chilling Giancarlo Esposito) throughout season four of Breaking Bad demands that each man be nominally invincible. Walter, continuing to survive mostly by accident, is still clever enough for most of the season to know his standing in Fring’s eyes, having saved his and Jessie’s (Aaron Paul) lives the previous season by realising how valuable he would be in the absence of Gale (David Costabile).

Meanwhile, Gus simply maintains his stranglehold on Walt, delicately placing a wedge between him and his protege Jessie, biding his time and sniffing out improvised explosive devices like a fucking bloodhound. Each episode involves a further development in Walt’s attempt to assassinate Gus, while also adding to Gus’ backstory as a the world’s single most patient serial killer. The blood pumps just remembering some of the setpieces involved: a standoff with a box cutter, a slaughter at a hacienda, a deranged cackle from a conspicuously empty crawlspace.

Even though Breaking Bad is a clockwork series, where every piece is designed to fit perfectly, showrunner Vince Gilligan allowed for a surprising degree of expansion over the course of its run. DEA agent Hank’s (Dean Norris) injuries from the previous season ground the show’s violence here, demonstrating the extent of recover required following a bad-arse survival story. And Skylar – the most unnecessarily maligned character of the decade – embarks on a financial fraud subplot in which she both saves and dooms the family.

Of course, Walt manages thin scrapes and engages in perilous risks on a daily basis, just usually in a more dramatic fashion. But even after all this time, with all those close calls and resourceful moments, he still can’t help but stoke his own ego. He purchases unregistered firearms which he has to be taught how to use properly, is beat to shit by Mike for daring to question his loyalties, and then insists to Skylar that he is the one who knocks. As the last of the great white antiheroes of television, this was always Walter White’s defining trait: loud, unearned confidence in a world passing him by.

Runner Up

The Rest

Season 5

Gravity Falls
Season 2

Season 2

Mad Men
Season 7

Rick and Morty
Season 1

Even with only 13 new episodes in 2011, 30 Rock remained a wellspring of inspired insanity, frequently unhinged but always incredibly funny.

More niche yet just as infections as its first season, Archer returned with some of the most impressive and satisfying sitcom episodes of the decade.

Continuing its streak of all-time great episodes week-after-week, Community kept the laughs up even as the tone shifted, basking in the darkest timeline.

The slowest, most hypnotic of combustions, Mad Men‘s fifth season avoids repetition by reaching some logical, utterly devastating conclusions.

The Only Book I Read, And So I’m Gonna Tell You About It

Note – I don’t read a lot of books. Three or four a year would be pretty standard, and it’s usually older stuff I’m catching up on because I’ve been pretending to have already read it and my students are getting wise to it. If there’s one book I always try to read every year, though, it’s the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, because books are long and if I’m really putting the effort all the way in then it better be backed up by a trio of pretentious af literary critics.

So, there you go…

(Click title for excerpt)

“Time’s a goon, right?”

So says one of the many aged has-beens that populate Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, the best (for my money) of the Pulitzer Prize winners of the decade. It doesn’t earn that distinction by being the most complicated or high-concept recipient, nor by having the deepest themes or by perfectly capturing the way we lived our lives in the early 2010s – although it does do that last part pretty well. No, honestly, Goon Squad’s greatest boon is its energy, its variety and the fact that it’s just ridiculously fun to read.

Our key players, for the most part, are a collection of wayward ‘80s musicians, the groupies that obsess over them and the money-hungry suits that slowly begin to circle. It all takes the form of a compilation of short stories that orbit a cast of familiar characters, a la Olive Kitteridge, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner. The difference between the two is that, while the latter kept things on a tidy linear timeline, the chapters of Goon Squad jump back and forth at will through the decades, reflecting the rubber fickleness of time that occupies the characters’ minds. Further enriching the content is Egan’s use of a different literary style for each chapter, jumping from first to third person narration, from fastidious journalism to stoner bromides.

The only true throughline is Sasha, and even she doesn’t appear in every chapter. Initially a young girl too smart for her own good, Sasha runs away to Naples, becomes a sex worker, is rescued by her estranged uncle, returns to the US (having developed kleptomania), begins studying at NYU and becomes an assistant to the head of a record label, all before she’s 25. In the penultimate chapter, Great Rock and Roll Pauses by Alison Blake, we find that Sasha has finally settled down with two kids, and we learn from her daughter, Alison, about the minutiae of domestic life in a household with an autistic child. By the way, this is told to us via a printed PowerPoint presentation; you have to turn the book on its side to read it.

See what I fucking mean?! I love that kinda shit: novelty with a distinct purpose. In Out of Body, the book’s most affecting chapter, Egan makes the strange but inspired choice to tell the story in second person. Everything that happens to the main character, Rob, is referred to as happening to “you”, a device that almost always feels performative and distancing. But Egan is smart about her deployment, hooking a phantom thread around our belt loops and keeping us inextricably tied to Rob and his actions. It’s a wonderful, painful way to experience the inner turmoil of an isolated human being, with a final sentence so tragic that it might literally shake you.

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