Best of 2017

2017 was bad. Let’s not pretend otherwise. At least globally. And nationally. And possibly even locally.

But, personally, it could have been worse. I remain, somehow, in full employment. My family moved from an apartment with what seemed like a family of tap-dancing rhinos above us to a house with a yard that the dogs now protect mercilessly.

And, in popular culture, there have been definite highlights.

To have two great movies in one year seems unfair, but that’s what the cinematic gods gave me. Big, loud, cinematic movies that needed a big screen to tell their big stories. If Dunkirk hadn’t been a Christopher Nolan film, I probably would not have bought a ticket for it. If it hadn’t been a Nolan film, it would probably not have been worth it. But I did, and it was, because it was.

I am one of those middle-aged men who loves Blade Runner. You know the type. We’re mostly harmless.

So when they announced there was going to be a sequel, I was…concerned. And yet, what we got with Blade Runner 2049 was a movie every bit as good as the original – and visually probably even better. Again, it ruminates on the nature of life, of reality, of what it means to be human. It was Blade Runner. There is no higher praise. I am adding Denis Villeneuve to my list of favorite directors (after this, Arrival, and Sicario) and I’m going to try to see everything he’s made in the past. Let him know; it’ll give him a real lift as the year comes to an end and people continue to complain about his box-office takings rather than the fact that he made an incredible movie.

Online, I found something rare: a commercial Instagram account truly worth the effort. TOTEM Made makes…well, who knows? Their Instagram, though, is packed with beautiful travel photos. Follow them and their images will brighten your timeline. Or whatever the pics in your Instagram stream are called.

In books, two strong memoirs come to mind: Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run and Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy. Both benefit from coming from a unique and well-crafted authorial voice, and from having interesting stories to tell – whether about how a kid with little except talent and a burning ambition becomes one of the biggest stars on the planet, or how a poet’s eye can illuminate and humanize what can otherwise be dark and uncomfortable truths.

In music, who the hell knows? I don’t listen to new stuff anymore because I am 200 years old. I discovered Chris Stapleton, Jamey Johnson, and Kacey Musgraves this year – all three enjoyable because they sound old (not like old people; like their music belongs to some glorious era of American country music that no longer exists. Like the kind of thing my dad would listen to while he was cooking the Sunday Dinner). Other than that, I think music and me are done. Most of what I listen to on Spotify, most of what I buy on iTunes, are old tunes. This has forever been the case for people my age, I suppose – the gentle slipping on of the comfortable nostalgia coat – and it probably won’t be any different next year. Especially as I did that most stereotypically male-in-his-40s things this year and bought a turntable. I am now slowly stocking up on Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, and greatest hits albums.

Oh, except…

Except (thanks, Spotify!) I was curious about Hamilton, the Lin-Manuel Miranda smash-hit-musical. It couldn’t be that good, right? It was all hype and smoke and mirrors. Right? Well, maybe. If it is, I’ve been taken in completely. I think he’s a genius. I think he should be put in charge of anything he wants to run. He should be President of the World once Salma Hayek’s term is complete. He’s my Human Being of the Year entirely because he’s provided me with more pleasure than any other man has this year. And that’s more than enough reason to love him.

Next year, who knows? There’ll be superhero blockbusters and some of them will be good. There’ll be books I don’t yet know exist. I will continue my search to find The World’s Best BBQ. And Liverpool FC will continue to entertain and disappoint in equal measure, teaching my son the power of hope and the strength gained through disappointment. But, mostly, I look forward to not knowing what’s going to happen. Hopefully, the good outweighs the bad and we make it to the other end of the year. One step at a time, here we go…

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