The Anniversary Albums Project: Best of 2020

New music has lost a lot of hold on me over the last few years. And two years ago I decided that instead of trying to keep up with it all, I’d look back at music history and listen to the albums celebrating milestones. Some of these I’d heard before, but many I had not. The project ended up being more than I could keep up with at times – there’s a list of at least 50 albums I didn’t get to – but it was much more enjoyable to discover and rediscover classics instead of just whatever was being dumped onto Spotify every Friday.

So below are my top 10s from each year I covered, along with some honorable mentions.

1970

  1. Van Morrison – Moondance
  2. The Kinks – Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One
  3. George Harrison – All Things Must Pass
  4. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory
  5. Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge over Troubled Water
  6. Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman
  7. The Velvet Underground – Loaded
  8. The Who – Live at Leeds / James Brown – Sex Machine / Joe Cocker – Mad Dogs and Englishmen
  9. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
  10. Black Sabbath – Paranoid

HONORABLE MENTIONS
• Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection
• Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III
• John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band
• Randy Newman – 12 Songs
• Santana – Abraxas
• The Stooges – Fun House

1980

  1. Talking Heads – Remain in Light
  2. Bruce Springsteen – The River
  3. Prince – Dirty Mind
  4. Pretenders – Pretenders
  5. Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Get Happy!!
  6. AC/DC – Back in Black
  7. Betty Carter – The Audience with Betty Carter
  8. The Clash – Sandinista!
  9. XTC – Black Sea
  10. Peter Gabriel – Melt

HONORABLE MENTIONS
• The B-52’s – Wild Planet
• David Bowie – Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
• Dire Straits – Making Movies
• The Feelies – Crazy Rhythms
• Genesis – Duke
• The Jam – Sound Affects
• Joy Division – Closer
• Killing Joke – Killing Joke
• The Police – Zenyatta Mondatta
• Rockpile – Seconds of Pleasure
• The Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight
• Squeeze – Argybargy
• U2 – Boy
• Tom Waits – Heartattack and Vine
• Various Artists – The Blues Brothers

1990

  1. George Michael – Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1
  2. A Tribe Called Quest – People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
  3. Prefab Sprout – Jordan: The Comeback
  4. Garth Brooks – No Fences
  5. Pixies – Bossanova
  6. Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas
  7. Angelo Badalamenti – Soundtrack from Twin Peaks
  8. The KLF – Chill Out
  9. Ride – Nowhere
  10. Pet Shop Boys – Behaviour

HONORABLE MENTIONS
• Brand Nubian – One for All
• Eric B. & Rakim – Let the Rhythm Hit ’Em
• Fugazi – Repeater
• Kronos Quartet – Black Angels
• The La’s – The La’s
• Madonna – The Immaculate Collection
• Sinéad O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
• Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet
• Selena – Ven Conmigo
• They Might Be Giants – Flood

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Oscar Picks: 15 Feb 2021

We finally got a load of precursors to help us see who were contenders and who were pretenders, but there’s still a lot we don’t know. I’ll have my final picks a day or two before the nominations are announced on Monday, March 15.

BEST PICTURE
Da 5 Bloods
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Mank
Minari
Nomadland
One Night in Miami…
Promising Young Woman
The Trial of the Chicago 7


Falling off: The Father
Rising star: News of the World
The skinny: Not much has changed, except Sony Pictures Classics has once again bungled their campaign of an acclaimed film. I don’t think anything can derail these eight, although a narrow path remains for News of the World to sneak in here and be the ninth film.

BEST DIRECTOR
Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods
David Fincher, Mank
Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Regina King, One Night in Miami…

Falling off: None
Rising star: Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
The skinny: Unless the DGA surprises with a left-field nominee, this field is set. Woe to us all if that dark horse is Aaron Sorkin. (And I say this as a fan of The Trial of the Chicago 7.)

BEST ACTOR
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Gary Oldman, Mank
Steven Yeun, Minari

Falling off: Delroy Lindo
Rising star: Ben Affleck, The Way Back
The skinny: Don’t know what else Delroy Lindo needs to do here. Been well-respected for decades and is giving arguably his best performance in a movie that is getting nominations across the board. It’s a real shame. No SAG nomination for Affleck means he’s done, I think, but it would be less shocking to hear his name on Oscar morning than for the Academy to actually nominate three non-white guys.

BEST ACTRESS
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Falling off: None
Rising star: Amy Adams, Hillbilly Elegy
The skinny: Adams survives because of SAG, and if she knocks off anyone it will be Andra Day in a movie that few people have seen and even fewer people like. This one will be a coin flip up until the day of.

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Streaming Picks: February 2021

FILMS
Top Picks
Coming to America – Prime 2/1
Judas and the Black Messiah – HBO MAX 2/12
Nomadland – Hulu 2/19

First up are two major selections for Black History Month. The former is John Landis’ uproarious fish-out-of-water comedy, which hits Prime to whet your appetite for the Eddie Murphy-led sequel coming next month. The latter is the new film about activist Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya), and the FBI counter-intelligence program that murdered him.

Then later in the month you’ll get to see my No. 1 movie of 2020. Chloe Zhao’s miraculous film stars Frances McDormand as Fern, who travels America in her camper van, searching for steady work and community.

Recent Selections
Abducted: The Mary Stauffer Story – Hulu 2/1
Hitsville: The Making of Motown – Prime 2/1
Love by Accident – Prime 2/1
Mommy Is a Murderer – Hulu 2/1
Possessor – Hulu 2/1
Rocks – Netflix 2/1
Tempted by Danger – Hulu 2/1
12 Hour Shift – Hulu 2/4
Antebellum – Hulu 2/5
Irresistible – HBO MAX 2/6
We Bare Bears: The Movie – HBO MAX 2/7
The World We Make – Netflix 2/10
Then Came You – Hulu 2/11
2067 – Hulu 2/12
Monsoon – Netflix 2/13
Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President – HBO MAX 2/15
Lost Girls and Love Hotels – Hulu 2/15
The Warrior Queen of Jhansi – Hulu and Prime 2/16
Sonic the Hedgehog – Hulu and Prime 2/18
The Informer – Prime 2/26

Originals
La Deuda – HBO MAX 2/1
Black Boy Joy – HBO MAX 2/2
The Cypher – HBO MAX 2/2
Dolapo Is Fine – HBO MAX 2/2
Fake Famous – HBO MAX 2/2
A Rodeo Film – HBO MAX 2/2
A Storybook Ending – HBO MAX 2/2
All My Friends Are Dead – Netflix 2/3
Black Beach – Netflix 2/3
Bliss – Prime 2/5
Earwig and the Witch – HBO MAX 2/5
In Other Words – HBO MAX 2/5
The Last Paradiso – Netflix 2/5
Little Big Women – Netflix 2/5
Malcolm & Marie – Netflix 2/5
Space Sweepers – Netflix 2/5
The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity – Netflix 2/5
Black Art: In the Absence of Light – HBO MAX 2/9
The Misadventures of Hedi and Cokeman – Netflix 2/10
One Careful Owner – HBO MAX 2/12
Layla Majnun – Netflix 2/11
Red Dot – Netflix 2/11
Squared Love – Netflix 2/11
Map of Tiny Perfect Things – Prime 2/12
To All the Boys: Always and Forever – Netflix 2/12
Flora & Ulysses – Disney+ 2/19
I Care a Lot – Netflix 2/19
Classmates Minus – Netflix 2/20
Geez & Ann – Netflix 2/25
Caught by a Wave – Netflix 2/26
Crazy About Her – Netflix 2/26
Lupe – HBO MAX 2/26
Tom & Jerry – HBO MAX 2/26
The United States vs. Billie Holiday – Hulu 2/26

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What I Watched This Week: 24 Jan 2021

BINGEING
Danger 5 – Season 2 (A- average)
The show turns everything to 11 for this outrageous follow-up that spoofs ’80s action and sci-fi. There’s so much gore and nudity, I’m surprised Vinegar Syndrome hasn’t tried to release this on Blu-ray yet.

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2020 in Review: The Best Performances – Film

Ensemble in a Comedy
Birds of Prey
Like its predecessor Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey has an enormous cast of characters who have graced the pages of DC Comics over the past decades. But that’s where its similarities end. For one, Birds of Prey is actually good. It’s a candy-colored blast that, unlike the majority of its brethren in the DCEU, gives its characters actual definition. Margot Robbie was the only good part of David Ayer’s misbegotten adaptation, and putting her in the lead of her own movie was a no-brainer. But she’s not the only one living it up here. Rosie Perez is terrific as usual as one of the few less dirty cops in Gotham, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead brings deadpan sexiness as the Huntress. But it’s Ewan McGregor who steals the show as the vain and violent Black Mask.

Actor in a Comedy
Jean Dujardin, Deerskin
When I first saw the trailer for the latest bit of absurdity from Quentin Dupieux, I thought one of our most dashing Oscar winners was too good for this nonsense. After seeing the film, it’s clear no one else could have pulled it off. Georges experiences a mid-life crisis and pays entirely too much for a deerskin jacket. Suddenly renewed, and with a camera the seller threw in at no charge, he recasts himself as a filmmaker with a penchant for extreme cinema. As his appetite for tacky luxury fashion grows, so does his urge to kill. It’s a wild 77-minute ride that only works because Dujardin makes it believable.

Actress in a Comedy
Cristin Milioti, Palm Springs
The summer’s most pleasant surprise threw everyone for a loop, pun intended. Andy Samberg is his usual charming self, but Milioti was a revelation, playing the sister of the bride, She’s tired of her humdrum life and guilt-ridden over her terrible secret. She’s the emotional anchor of the film, and the reason it was more than just a fun diversion.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy
Bill Burr, The King of Staten Island
There’s a case to be made that this is Judd Apatow’s finest film as a director. At a minimum, it’s his most mature work to date. While Pete Davidson does surprisingly earnest work as the lead of the film, the supporting cast steals it from him regularly: Bel Powley as his on-again/off-again girlfriend Kelsey; Marisa Tomei as his long-suffering mother Margie; and especially Bill Burr as Ray, a fireman with a short fuse and genuine love for Margie. Burr has recently become one of the most popular comedians in the world for his no-fucks-given observations about changing times, but between this and his guest spots on The Mandalorian, he’s become one of our best character actors too.

Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
This was the first time 99.99% of people had seen Bakalova on-screen before, and what a jaw-dropping international debut. As Tutar, the daughter of disgraced correspondent Borat, she is every bit as fearless and funny as Sacha Baron Cohen. Because he’s too famous to do a lot of the shtick he made his name on, it was an enormous risk to hand over the reins to her for much of the film, but it paid off big time.

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2020 in Review: The Best and Worst Movies

10. Da 5 Bloods (dir. Spike Lee) – Streaming on Netflix
Messy, provocative, powerful. That’s a Spike Lee movie, all right. To me, this is his best effort since Inside Man: a reunion of four broken men, haunted by their experiences in Vietnam, and in over their heads as they hunt for buried treasure in a country that’s given them nothing but pain. While it’s a true ensemble film, Delroy Lindo is the center. His MAGA hat-wearing Paul has the most tenuous grasp on reality, which only deteriorates when their mission goes horribly wrong.

9. The Assistant (dir. Kitty Green) – Streaming on Hulu
I have never worked for a monster like Harvey Weinstein, who’s clearly the inspiration for the unseen boss in the film. But I have felt lost in the cogs of corporate machinery, and I have worked for a tyrant. And The Assistant nails that feeling, then adds the hopeless and helpless feelings of trying to do the right thing and not having anyone care. The meeting Jane has with her slimy HR rep (Matthew Macfadyen) is one of the most uncomfortable – and accurate – things I’ve seen all year.

8. Minari (dir. Lee Isaac Chung) – In select theaters Feb. 12
By now, you should all know that the American Dream is a lie. But for the Yi family in the 1980s, they still bought in. They had emigrated from South Korea to California, but had saved up just enough to buy some farmland and a trailer in Arkansas. But nothing goes smoothly once they arrive: a lack of water, childcare and clientele for their harvest all take their toll on the family and the marriage. But the performances across the board are so tender and winning that it never seems completely unbearable.

7. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (dir. Eliza Hittman) – Streaming on HBO MAX
Easily the winner of this year’s Revolutionary Road Award for Most Depressing Movie, this is still a journey worth taking. In two of the best performances of the year, Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder play cousins who travel from rural Pennsylvania to New York City so the former can obtain an abortion. Crucially, the film is never judgmental of any of the decisions the characters make, including the ways they survive when their trip gets unexpectedly extended. The relentless struggle and heartbreak feels authentic.

6. Another Round (dir. Thomas Vinterberg) – Available on VOD
This dark comedy feels both like a time capsule and a perfect movie for 2020. Bored with the monotony of their work and the apathy of their students, four teachers start an experiment to see if they can improve their job performance and personal lives by maintaining a solid buzz, but only during working hours. Unsurprisingly, it works until it doesn’t. Mads Mikkelsen is magnificent as usual, but he really goes for broke in the final scene, which is one of the most exuberant things I’ve seen all year.

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2020 in Review: The Best Songs

While I felt like I had no time to keep up with new albums, the initial version of this list stretched to 80 songs. But I was still able to whittle it down to 50 tracks. You can hear them all in this handy Spotify playlist.

The 1975 – “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”
Fiona Apple – “For Her”
Bear and the Beasts – “Asian-American”
Phoebe Bridgers – “Garden Song”
Leon Bridges feat. Terrace Martin – “Sweeter”
BTS – “Dynamite”
BUMPER – “Red Brick”
Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion – “WAP”
Christine and the Queens – “People, I’ve Been Sad”
Brandy Clark – “Long Walk”
Diet Cig – “Thriving”
Dirty Projectors – “Lose Your Love”
Bob Dylan – “Murder Most Foul”
Father John Misty – “To S.” / “To R.”
Lupe Fiasco feat. Virgil Abloh – “Shoes”
Ben Folds – “2020”
HAIM – “I Know Alone”
Nick Hakim – “Qadir”
Ben Hopkins – “Laugh Track”
Carly Rae Jepsen – “This Is What They Say”
India Jordan – “For You”
The Killers – “Dying Breed”
Lianne La Havas – “Weird Fishes”
Lady Gaga – “Stupid Love”
Love Regenerator – “Hypnagogic (I Can’t Wait)”
The Magnetic Fields – “The Day the Politicians Died”
The Naked and Famous – “Bury Us”
Noname – “Song 33”
Nrthrn – “Nine Left Behind”
Kelly Lee Owens – “Melt!”
Margo Price – “Prisoner of the Highway”
John Prine – “I Remember Everything”
David Ramirez – “I Wanna Live in Your Bedroom”
RMR – “Rascal”
Run the Jewels – “Walking in the Snow”
SAULT – “Free”
Rina Sawayama – “Love Me 4 Me”
Chris Stapleton – “Maggie’s Song”
Sufjan Stevens – “Video Game”
Bartees Strange – “Mustang”
The Struts with Albert Hammond Jr. – “Another Hit of Showmanship”
Taylor Swift feat. Bon Iver – “Exile”
Thundercat – “Dragonball Durag”
Yves Tumor – “Gospel for a New Century”
Joshua Ray Walker – “Cupboard”
Jessie Ware – “Spotlight”
The Weather Station – “Robber”
Tierra Whack – “Dora”
Worriers – “End of the World”
X – “Cyrano deBerger’s Back”

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2020 in Review: The Best Albums

10. The Chicks – Gaslighter
It’s been 14 years since the band formerly known as the Dixie Chicks released an album, but they’re still filled with righteous fury. Instead of shitty presidents, their targets are abusive exes and the people who enabled them. While staying true to their country roots, this album expands their pop horizons on ballads like “Everybody Loves You” and anthems like “March March.”

9. Taylor Swift – folklore
After her impressively inauthentic documentary Miss Americana dropped in January, it seemed like we’d be getting more of the same from Taylor. But then, of course, the world changed. With a new creative push and a lot of free time (must be nice!), she recorded an entire new album in a few months with her producing partner Jack Antonoff, enlisting the poster boys (er, men) for Sad Bastard Music – Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of the National – for an appropriately downbeat collection of songs. The result? Her best album to date.

8. HAIM – Women in Music Pt. III
If 2017’s Something to Tell You was just a tad disappointing, Women in Music Pt. III more than lives up to the hype, showing more mature songwriting and more impressive playing. The only downside is that this was the perfect summer album that came out in a year when we had to be stuck inside. At least they made the most of it by holding Zoom classes to learn the choreography for their memorable music videos.

7. Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension
After the stripped down, raw emotion of Carrie & Lowell and two collaborative albums that didn’t do anything for me, Stevens returns with an album that’s just as expressive, but goes fully into the electronic world, even further than he did on The Age of Adz.

6. Fleet Foxes – Shore
Thankfully, we only had to wait half the time in between albums as we did between Helplessness Blues and Crack-Up. Somehow it didn’t feel like a downer in such a depressing year. This was their most evocative album to date, transporting the listener to places other than their living room.

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What I Watched This Week: 10 Jan 2021

BINGEING
Danger 5 – Season 1 (A- average)
An absolutely ridiculous, wildly entertaining diversion. I described it to a friend as “Inglourious Basterds meets Team America at the Matt Helm Lounge.”

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Oscar Picks: 15 Jan 2021

BEST PICTURE
Da 5 Bloods
The Father
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Mank
Minari
Nomadland
One Night in Miami…
The Trial of the Chicago 7


Falling off: News of the World
Rising star: Promising Young Woman
The skinny: It’s still a little weird that only three of these movies will have a traditional rollout, and all three won’t be out until February. Half of these will have hit Netflix, and one hits Amazon Prime today. This really will be the weirdest year for film ever, and there may not be any going back. News of the World barely made any noise with its Christmas Day release, so it (and its other possible nominees) are off the board, replaced by The Father, which seems to be picking up momentum beyond its guaranteed Best Actor nomination. The only problem? Sony Pictures Classics notorious fumbling of its Oscar contenders.

BEST DIRECTOR
Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods
David Fincher, Mank
Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Regina King, One Night in Miami…

Falling off: None
Rising star: Florian Zeller, The Father
The skinny: These five remain for now, with Zhao in the lead as she’s picked up nearly every critics’ prize so far. Still seems odd a movie as small and intimate as Nomadland is the frontrunner, but here we are. Zeller’s transfer from stage to screen might be enough to propel him into the slate, but the same can also be said of George C. Wolfe’s adaptation of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

BEST ACTOR
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods
Gary Oldman, Mank

Falling off: Tom Hanks, Steven Yeun
Rising star: Kingsley Ben-Adir, One Night in Miami…
The skinny: There’s still a chance Yeun could make it, but he and A24 have had a bad run of luck with the Oscars as of late. (The studio has only earned one nomination in each of the past two years after a huge showing in 2017, and Yeun was snubbed for his tremendous turn in Burning.) A posthumous win for Boseman seems like a done deal, and he’s certainly deserving. Kingsley Ben-Adir is earning raves for his turn as Malcolm X, but Amazon will have to make an even bigger push for the film.

BEST ACTRESS
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Falling off: Amy Adams
Rising star: Zendaya, Malcolm & Marie
The skinny: And Hillbilly Elegy is officially dead. Amy Adams is gone, replaced by Carey Mulligan. Along with Kirby, they’ll give McDormand a run for her money. And Netflix now has another ace up its sleeve. They paid a pretty penny for Malcolm & Marie, which shot during lockdown and is earning raves. Fresh off her Emmy win, she’s a major challenger.

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