I turned 23 last year, February 3rd, drunk off black cherry White Claws, vodka sodas, and whiskey shots at Mel’s Burger Bar, the restaurant I was a bartender at in New York City before the entire country shut down. It was the Super Bowl and I was with a good friend, having fun watching Pat Mahomes come back after being down 10 in the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers. Great times.
Since then, I moved back home due to the virus plaguing our world and have resided in my hometown of New Port Richey, Florida, surrounded by family and loved ones and basically consuming movies, music, and television like it’s the only thing I was put on this planet to do. It was an absurdly challenging year, not just for me personally, but for everybody, but I did experience or rediscover a few things this past year that made life seem worth living. Here are 23 of those things to celebrate and commemorate having gotten over being 23.
1. The “Passionfruit”-“Gyalchester” run on Drake’s MORE LIFE
As more and more time has passed, I’ve become fairly confident that MORE LIFE is one of the two best projects that Drake has ever released. It has a few songs that you could do without (I don’t need either of the Giggs songs, the Skepta interlude, and the PND track, but it’s a 22-track tape, so having some filler is to be expected), but overall, outside of NOTHING WAS THE SAME, Drake’s finest project, MORE LIFE is an underrated gem of an album (or, playlist) that is aging like wine. The run of “Passionfruit” to “Gyalchester” that comes early on in the album is maybe the strongest stretch of music in Drake’s career (the opening run on IYRTITL contends here, but is ultimately dragged down by the languid “Madonna”). “Passionfruit” on its own should seriously contend for the title of greatest Drake song of all time (for what it’s worth, “Jungle” would get my vote, but I wouldn’t look down on anybody who went with “Passionfruit”) when all is said and done. It is effortlessly cool and kinetic. This medley is perfect driving music, perfect dancing music, perfect drinking music: Simply put, it’s perfect music, and it made the last year a bit better whenever I revisited it.
2. FIRST REFORMED (2018) dir. Paul Schrader (found on Amazon Prime)
This is the best film from 2018 and one of the ten or so best films from the last decade. I watched it for the first time in March, right around the start of Quarantine. It somehow had eluded me these past few years, but it instantly blew me away and I haven’t been able to shake it from my mind since seeing it. It’s the single greatest performance of Ethan Hawke’s career and I’m not sure it’s close. Amanda Seyfried is deeply empathetic and warm. She’s always been an underrated actress, but it’s the performance of her lifetime. It has moments that are so borderline experimental that they’ll forever remain etched in my brain. And it’s a movie about humanity having to reckon with the environmental destruction it has subjected the planet to. “Will God forgive us?”, Pastor Toller asks. It’s a devastating question to wrestle with and an unforgettable film to experience.
3. MASTERCHEF JR. (found on Hulu)
I began watching MASTERCHEF JR. arbitrarily during the pandemic pretty seriously because it was light, easy, and legitimately silly. My lady put me on to it and even though, I thought it was going to be dumb, I fell in love with it. It was stupid and I could look at my phone while it was on and not miss anything TOO notable. Also, seeing a bunch of young kids cry over not making a good enough rack of lambs in sixty minutes is constantly hilarious. They do too have TOO many macaron related episodes though (stop it, Gordon Ramsey!) Anyways, Mikey was the best contestant the show has ever seen and it’s criminal that he didn’t win Season Six, let alone even make it to the finale. I’m excited to watch season seven in the near future, but here’s how I would rank the seasons:
4. 42 Dugg’s whistle (namely, at the start of Lil Baby’s “We Paid” and even more so, “Grace”)
No long explanation needed. Hearing the whistle that preemptively braces any listener for 42 Dugg to start rapping is a literal delight. “Grace” was my third-favorite song from 2020 and “We Paid” would’ve been my pick for song-of-the-year. The whistle at the start of “Grace”, in particular, sounds like it’s setting the scene for some epic Western shootout. It’s ominous, dark, and brilliant, and every time I heard that over the last year, I would brim with joy.
5. POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING (2016) dir. Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone (specifically, “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)”)
Only three movies in 2020 made me laugh harder than POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING. That list is:
MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975)
DUCK SOUP (1933)
I was laughing so hard watching this film that I was convinced my brain was melting and that I had already grown stupider having been locked inside for so long (I watched this in May, for what it’s worth). Specifically, the moment where Samberg performed “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)” had me howling with laughter. Lyrics like “You’re harboring a fugitive (that ass!)/And my justice will be punitive (Imma smash!)” being sung with absurd amounts of auto-tune may truly be cinema at its zenith.
6. The Chunin Exams-arc in the original NARUTO (found on Hulu)
My girl would probably have never admitted this publicly until recently, but she loves anime and always has. I, too, have loved anime from a young age. She, however, had never seen NARUTO and it had always been my favorite anime since I was quite young (it was always that or DRAGONBALL Z, growing up) and the entire series was on Hulu, so we began watching it. This arc is where the show takes off. It’s good before, what with the Land of Waves arc, but it becomes all-time stuff here. Sasuke, the show’s best character (he is!), grows into a legitimate badass here after Orochimaru’s curse mark is given to him and the show expands the world and introduces some of the coolest characters of the series (Rock Lee, Gaara, Neji, etc). It also has the best opening theme song of the show during this arc (“Far Away”, though “Rhapsody of Youth” is a close second)! Good stuff.
7. Chris Crack’s “Hoes at Trader Joes”
My favorite song from 2020 and honestly, at this point, one of my favorite songs ever. No artist has ever gotten more out of 90 seconds of music than Chris Crack gets here. The song feels like the perfect embodiment of summertime and sunshine. It’s cheery, breezy, and absolutely delightful. The hook is infectious, the bars are clever and funny, and it’s an incredible title, too. Rap music so good it makes me want to cry.
8. Brian De Palma movies
In January, I almost exclusively watched Brian De Palma movies, and besides absolutely loving most of them, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s basically the horniest director of all time! He’s versatile as hell, too. He can make horror, sci-fi, musical (??), action, mobster movies, whatever. Sometimes he gets heat for oversexualizing the women in his movies, but my galaxy brain take is that he actually admires and respects women to such a vehement degree that he finds them far better than men (the clearly inferior gender, in his eyes) and that, because they are so enchanting, it would be potentially sacrilegious and unforgivable to not try and capture and film their beauty as often as possible. De Palma just loves filming gorgeous women looking gorgeous. Just a theory, but it checks out. The man loves his split diopter shots and he loves his beautiful women. Absolute legend. DOMINO (2019) is really bad though, and my man might be washed at this point. Oh, well. At least we’ll always have his classics.
De Palma’s five best movies, in my estimation:
- CARRIE (1976) 5/5
- BLOW OUT (1981) (my personal favorite of his) 5/5
- CARLITO’S WAY (1993) 4.5/5
- BODY DOUBLE (1984) 4.5/5
- SNAKE EYES (1998) (Nic Cage is an amazing actor and I won’t hear otherwise) 4/5
9. THE AFFAIR (2014-2019) (found on Showtime)
Outside of maybe just BOJACK HORSEMAN, no show has quite affected me or taught me about love and humanity as much as THE AFFAIR did. Sure, the third season is… lacking… but the first two seasons are quite incredible and the fourth and fifth seasons are both emotionally satisfying and solid return to form. Dominic West (notably, Detective McNulty from THE WIRE) does perhaps the most impeccable work of his career as the show’s protagonist, Noah, and Maura Tierney and Ruth Wilson go toe-to-toe with him for five seasons straight. Maura, in particular, is completely wonderful. The show is structured so that the first half of every episode comes from one character’s perspective and then the second half of the episode essentially recounts almost all of the same experiences but how they played out in their perspective, usually noting how people see and perceive things based on gender, class, race, etc. It’s a show that really explores the idea of how fallible human memory and perception can be and it does it extraordinarily well. The fifth season gets a bit experimental (in a way that I actually enjoyed), but the final stretch of episodes left me unbelievably weepy. Not sure I’ve ever cried from a movie or TV show than I did at the finale of this series. I had to curl up in a ball on the couch and sob for ten minutes straight. Incredible show that I binged in the summer and would recommend to anybody. Push through the third season, I promise… It gets really good and shocking again.
10. Tay K’s “The Race”
I think I’ve probably known this for some time, but I don’t think I accepted it until this year, but “The Race” is one of the single greatest rap songs ever recorded and easily one of the best rap songs of the last decade. It’s an insurmountably great rap performance and the story and the legend of the making of the song only serve to make it better. It’s a once-in-a-generation type of spirited vocal performance and a completely infectious and glorious beat from S. Diesel. “I’m lil Tay K, I don’t think you want no action/You want action, you get turned into past tense” is one of the most incredible opening bars ever. I don’t even mind the remix version with Nudy and Savage (who is as exceptionally hilarious and quotable as he’s ever been on the remix), even though the additional guest verses cause the song to lose a bit of it’s uncanny authenticity. Anyway, I had a five day stretch in December where this was basically the only song I listened to and it’s a masterpiece. Free Tay K.
11. Paul Verhoeven movies
Another director who makes incredible “Dudes Rock” movies (I’m looking at you, TOTAL RECALL). Verhoeven is one of the greatest directors to ever live just off of making ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL, and STARSHIP TROOPERS alone. And while BASIC INSTINCT is flawed, it’s still an overall net positive movie off of the Sharon Stone performance alone. On twitter a few weeks back, there was a question like, “What’s the sexiest a performer has ever looked in a movie?” and, quite simply, the answer is Sharon Stone in BASIC INSTINCT. Anyways, Verhoeven makes biting satire whenever possible and he’s incredible for it. TOTAL RECALL is a movie where Verhoeven gets an unbelievably human and empathetic performance out of a man who can hardly speak (Legend Arnold Schwarzenegger), telling the tale of the working class doing its best to overthrow the capitalistic ruling class. STARSHIP TROOPERS, my personal favorite of his, is riotous, capturing the infuriating military propaganda machine and fervently clowning fascism (and by proxy, America, too). Casting Neil Patrick Harris as a nazi is too brilliant. Fans of JOJO RABBIT should watch STARSHIP TROOPERS so they could maybe come to understand the definition of satire. Like Johnny Rico, I too would’ve joined a fascist space regime if it meant I’d forever have a shot with Denise Richards. Verhoeven is an icon. He makes incredible films that are so goddamn weird that I can’t help but admire them. I miss when films were weird.
Verhoeven that I’ve watched, ranked:
- STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997) 5/5
- ROBOCOP (1987) 5/5
- TOTAL RECALL (1990) 5/5
- BASIC INSTINCT (1992) 3.5/5
12. OZARK Season Three (found on Netflix)
I finally watched BREAKING BAD-lite like everybody who I know has told me to. It’s not an incredible show, but the most recent season, season three, came very close to being the prestige television that it’s billed as. The show itself starts out on pretty uneven footing, to be honest, but by the end of the first season, it mostly figures itself out. Season two is an improvement from season one, but it still just wasn’t QUITE there. Season three was revelatory. Julia Garner, one of the most exceptionally talented young actresses alive, is superb throughout the entire series. Laura Linney is average, at best, until season three, where she comes alive and shines, giving one of the three best performances from the show. Jason Bateman is sturdy and reliable as ever. He’s a pro, even if he never does anything too flashy. Season three really takes off because of Tom Pelphrey and Janet McTeer’s performances, both as Ben Davis and Helen Pierce, respectively. They’re much appreciated additions to the show and help take it from a merely alright show into a pretty special series that I look forward to returning to for the final season.
13. Slide- Calvin Harris (featuring Frank Ocean, Quavo, and Offset)
Calvin Harris touched heaven when he made this song. Frank gives the most affably cool and distant vocal performance of his career here. It’s so effortlessly good that it’s almost annoying. This is one of the last times Quavo wasn’t annoying or overbearing or bland on a feature. He’s great here! Offset also again displays that he’s the most technically gifted rapper from Migos as he delivers one of the most memorable verses of his career. This is pop perfection and one of the most undeniably great songs of my lifetime and it brought me a good deal of joy over the last year.
14. DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) dir. George A. Romero (found on Amazon/HBO)
This is typically considered the worst of the original big three of Romero’s DEAD trilogy, but that’s actually silly because it’s actually his best. It perhaps lacks the social commentary that both NIGHT and DAWN have, but DAY more than makes up for it in other areas. It’s legendary make-up artist Tom Savini’s magnum opus. The makeup and gore here is particularly disturbing, frightening, and superb looking. Savini is just flexing and doing push-ups for the entire movie and it’s brilliant every second. Also, Joe Pilato is incredible here. He overacts as if somebody has told him that they are holding his entire family hostage and that they will execute them if he doesn’t chew the hell out of every line of dialogue he has. It’s amazing. The film is a dreadful and bleak nightmare that is gorgeous and grueling to look at. A film I truly loved experiencing last year.
15. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2000-present day) (found on HBO)
This is the funniest show I’ve ever watched and I’m not sure it’s particularly close. It’s this or SEINFELD (both come from the brain of Larry David, so it’s no wonder they’re both so damn funny). SEINFELD is probably the better show, but CURB is about as good as a modern comedy can be. Larry David is the greatest scumbag to ever exist and most of the time, he finds himself in the most uncomfortable and cringeworthy situations, usually due to his own actions. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and I’m not sure it’s ever been so easy to binge 100 episodes of something at a rapid pace. I couldn’t stop watching it, save for season nine, which is a bit of a drag when compared to the rest of the seasons. Season seven and season four are about as good as comedy has ever been.
The ten best episodes:
- Palestinian Chicken (S8E3)
- The Grand Opening (S3E10)
- Seinfeld (S7E10)
- The Doll (S2E7)
- The Ski Lift (S5E8)
- Beloved Aunt (S1E8)
- The Shrimp Incident (S2E4)
- The Car Pool Lane (S4E6)
- The Blind Date (S4E3)
- The Ida Funkhouser Roadside Memorial (S6E3)
16.The 5th, 6th , and 7th most popular songs from Fetty Wap’s self-titled debut album
That moment in history when Fetty Wap was the biggest rap act in the world was truly wonderful. Though “679” will probably forever be the greatest song he ever releases (it’s good enough that whenever I still occasionally play it half a decade later, it still receives quite a warm reception in group settings), “Jugg”, “RGF Island”, and “D.A.M.” are all excellent songs in their own right that I run back to and listen to fairly consistently. I remember when the video of Fetty listening to the snippet of “Jugg” before it dropped was everywhere on the internet and I was convinced it would end up being the biggest song in the world. It didn’t quite reach that, but it’s easily the fifth most popular song from that tape. And “RGF Island” is also absolutely perfect. Fetty has some of the greatest pop sensibilities I’ve ever heard and revisiting those songs this year was always worthwhile.
17. ED WOOD (1994) dir. Tim Burton (found on Amazon)
This was back when Tim Burton and Johnny Depp had the capability of making movies that had a semblance of some heart and that didn’t look completely ugly. This is a movie that is so absurdly silly and earnest that it becomes unbelievably charming. It’s a film that oozes with heart, and above all else, it’s a film about somebody with an indomitable spirit relentlessly chasing their artistic dreams, quality be damned. Everybody who’s ever made a low-budget movie can find something relatable in this one. It makes me cry every time I watch it, particularly the scene in which Ed Wood shares a moment with his idol, Orson Welles. It’s a great comfort movie for me and one that I found to be quite pleasurable to put on at the start of quarantine.
18. THE SOPRANOS (1999-2007) (found on HBO)
This is the single greatest television show of all time. I don’t want to hear about BREAKING BAD (a show I ADORE, for what it’s worth). I don’t want to hear about THE WIRE. I don’t want to hear whatever other show one can suggest; the best television show of all time is David Chase’s THE SOPRANOS. Jim Gandolfini gives the greatest performance in the history of television as Tony Soprano and Edie Falco is every bit his equal as his wife, Carmella. Their acting chemistry in the season four finale, “Whitecaps”, jumps off the screen. It’s the type of acting that should be shown in classes as a demonstration to young actors and actresses about what “acting” is. I binged it for the first time in June and began kicking myself that I had waited so long to watch it because it is that good. Shout-out to Steven Van Zandt as Silvio for being the second-best character in the series and for being endlessly quotable. Chrissy and Paulie are right there, too, but Silvio is tops, man. Greatest finale in TV history, too. And regarding the ending, no, no he doesn’t.
Ten Best Episodes:
- College (S1E5)
- Whitecaps (S4E13)
- Long Term Parking (S5E12)
- Made in America (S6E21)
- Pine Barrens (S3E11)
- Funhouse (S2E13)
- University (S3E6)
- Soprano Home Movies (S6E13)
- The Test Dream (S5E11)
- Blue Comet (S6E20)
19. Kanye West’s “Paranoid”
This is my second-favorite song off of my favorite album of all time (“Street Lights” is my favorite song ever, by the way) and one that brought me endless amounts of joy listening to while driving around New Port Richey this past year. Stunning and perfect hook and cogent Kanye bars. This comes from an era where he was both snappy and self-aware, easily able to string together quotables that were as memorable as they were iconic. A much better Kanye than the sad state that he has currently found himself in. But yeah, this song absolutely whips.
20. MONEYBALL (2011) dir. Bennett Miller (found on Amazon)
2011 isn’t the most incredible year for movies, but this film is absolutely the diamond-in-the-rough. I watched it for the first time in April and I’ve thought about it with fondness many times since. I could probably put it on whenever and just vibe. It’s one of the best sports movies ever, and honestly, it doesn’t really focus on sports all that much. It’s more just Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill sitting around and looking at excel spreadsheets. I look forward to this film eventually getting remade about the Daryl Morey/Mike D’Antoni/James Harden Houston Rockets. Great flick, though!
21. The two EUPHORIA specials that have been released so far (found on HBO)
EUPHORIA is a show that I found to be decent, at best, after the first season concluded. Sometimes it was very powerful and deep look at the struggles teenagers go through (depression, anxiety, addiction, identity) and full of beautiful imagery. Other times, it was clunky, forced, and full of embarrassing dialogue. I was tepidly excited about the specials they were going to be giving us, but upon watching them, I was blown away. Both episodes were great, but I found Rue’s to be particularly excellent. Jules as a character was one that I was always very high on in the first season. I think Hunter Schafer did a lot of really compelling work in the first season and I always delighted in her stories. Rue, however, was character I struggled with. Sometimes I enjoyed her, sometimes I HATED her. I think Zendaya is an excellent actress, too, but I sometimes found her to be doing just a bit too much in the first season. Her special was truly wonderful because it was one of the first times I found myself deeply sympathetic of her and really on her side. She really won me over and now I am genuinely excited to see where her story goes. Zendaya gave one of the strongest performances of her career in that diner, and Colman Domingo needs to win some awards for the work he did. He put on a legitimate acting clinic. When EUPHORIA tones it all down and relishes in empty space and quiet moments, it’s often at its best, and those specials were very encouraging signs of the potential the show has.
22. Flux Capacitor- Jay Electronica and Jay Z
Perhaps it’s just because of the sample of Rihanna’s “Higher” (one of my favorite songs off of ANTI, the best album of the 2010s), but I found myself constantly revisiting “Flux Capacitor” throughout the course of the year. It’s probably not even one of the three best songs on Jay Electronica’s A WRITTEN TESTIMONY (“Shiny Suit Theory”, “Fruits of the Spirit”, and “A.P.I.D.T.A” are all probably stronger), but it’s the one I found myself always coming back to. The hook is infectious and the sample is heavenly. The beat is so lovely that it makes listening to Jay Z rap black capitalism bars more than worthwhile.
23. The ROCKY films (and namely, how the two CREED films are the best of the series)
The first two ROCKY films are great. The first one is especially good. It’s very quiet and almost understated and sort of strange. It’s got the right amount of “off”-ness that so many movies from the late 70s had. The ending with Stallone screaming “Adrian!” over and over again is chilling and perfect. And it’s really one of the best scores ever, too. The sequel is also stellar, though in different ways. I’m a sucker for a lot of sports movies, even when I know the clichés are coming. The next three films are not very good, though it is funny in ROCKY IV when Balboa ends communism and the Cold War. ROCKY BALBOA was a nice return to form and felt like a proper sendoff for a beloved character. But the series was then continued with CREED and CREED II, both of which are actually the best films in the entire ROCKY franchise, particularly CREED. Michael B. Jordan is exceptional as the young Adonis and Tessa Thompson, one of the best young actresses alive, is stellar in the series. And Sly Stallone gives his finest performance as Rocky Balboa, the character that made him a superstar and household name. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stallone is a lovable actor who can barely speak competently. In the first CREED, Stallone acts his ass off. Though Mark Rylance gave a brilliant performance in BRIDGE OF SPIES, it’s a mostly forgettable and fine movie. Stallone elevated CREED into a truly great film, and one of the stronger movies of the last decade. He probably should’ve won the Oscar over Rylance, if I’m being honest. Binging these in May was quite a fun time.
Anyway, 23 was full of trials and tribulations, and yet, I prevailed and am still here. If you’ve read one of these blogs over the last year, I love and appreciate you, and if you’re checking this out today, right after my birthday, that’s one of the best presents I could’ve asked for, so thank you. Here’s to 24. More life, more blessings. Let’s keep it going.