Journey Through the Past: The 2010s

Eight years ago, friend of the website Dave invited me to name my favorite thing from each year of the 1990s. I did that and it was fun! With the 2010s coming to an end in a matter of days, I thought it might be just as fun to look back on some of the few things from the past 10 years that did not make me weep for the future of humanity.

No real rules aside from the fact that I’m picking only one piece of entertainment for each year of the decade. My selections are below, and I’d be genuinely curious to hear about some of your favorites in the comments. (Oh, and I guess rule #2 is that you should check out Dave’s selections as well.)

Eventually I’ll do the 2000s and the 1980s, but, honestly, you know me. Don’t hold your breath.

2010 – Submarine

SubmarineI’ve wanted to do a Fiction Into Film on this one for ages, and I’m sure I’ll get around to it at some point. Suffice it to say a poorly written novel that worked so hard (and so tediously) to be off-putting became, just a couple of years later, one of the most intelligent, charming, beautiful films of the decade. Director Richard Ayoade – who as an actor was involved in a few of my other favorite things ever – found something poignant and resonant in Oliver Tate, reframing him here as a teenager caught somewhere between two futures that are actively diverging before his eyes, despite — and sometimes because of — his attempts to keep everything on track. It’s silly and sad in equal measure, often at the same time, with Oliver’s every decision both feeling small (as they definitely are) while still echoing loudly into the future (as they definitely do). The film also captures what might be the most accurate depiction of depression in popular media — especially in comedy — with Noah Taylor’s performance as Oliver’s father. It’s heartbreaking and upsetting and angering to watch the man settle into comfortable disappointment, acquiescing to a life in which he no longer plays an active role. And then there’s the film’s grandest achievement, Jordana Bevan. She’s precisely the wrong girl for Oliver to chase and, of course, precisely the girl he must chase as a teenager who only just knows better. Yasmin Paige is revelatory, with her wrathful, selfish posturing hiding a core of pain that Ayoade never dwells on; he only gives us enough that we come to realize that Oliver may be the bad influence on her, rather than the other way around. Also, Alex Turner’s soundtrack could almost as easily stand as my highlight of 2010. I can’t say enough good about Submarine, so look forward to my continued raving when I finally get around to that Fiction Into Film.

2011 – I, Partridge

I, PartridgeI, Partridge is far better than any tie-in book has any right to be, to the point that it’s actually a fantastic read on its own. It’s funny, insightful, and as a writer it’s profoundly instructive. It’s a rich character study that has so much to say on writing, on celebrity, on narcissism, on success (however you’d like to define that). Alan spends several hundred pages painting one image of himself while unintentionally revealing who he really is. As a character, he’s always represented a bit of a balancing act, believing himself to be something other than what we know him to be. But here, in print, it unfolds beautifully, in the grand tradition of unreliable narration, rewarding those who remember Alan’s exploits on television but not leaving behind those who don’t. The structure of the story is recognizable enough, with a central character working so hard to remain oblivious that there’s always this background layer of tragedy. Alan has seen genuine success, but he chooses time and again to dwell on the failures for the sake of redefining them as triumphs. He bullies his own memories, twisting and distorting them until they fit the story he wishes were his. If he actually focused on the things he did right and the lessons he learned along the way, I, Partridge could have been a charming, understated tale of minor celebrity. Instead, it’s a masterpiece of mistruths, and my bookshelf is richer for it.

2012 – “Dead Freight”

"Dead Freight," Breaking BadThis is the one that opens with the young boy finding a spider. Both Breaking Bad and its characters struggled to keep the wheels turning after the departure of Gus Fring. That character was a powerful ally, looming adversary, and logistical necessity in one, and the show was even braver than Walter White was in bumping him off. What Heisenberg’s meth empire would look like — and how it would even continue to exist, in any capacity — after that climactic showdown was anyone’s guess. “Dead Freight” was the closest Walt’s post-Fring team got to proving they could succeed on their own. The episode combined two of the show’s defining characteristics — the science and the modern western — for an episode-long, expertly tense train robbery. It’s a classic setup that served as an excellent illustration of the specific knowledge and skills each member of Walt’s crew would bring to the enterprise moving forward. The heist is more than the next step for him and his team; it’s an audition to see who would and who would not be able to pull their weight in the new regime. And so Breaking Bad did what it always did best, teasing what could have been a small sequence into an urgently watchable spiral of action and consequences. It’s a filler episode; some self-contained but exciting way to burn off an hour in the middle of the season. A few minor setbacks that are overcome as soon as they arise, a big happy finale in which the characters get what they want. This is the one that closes with the young boy being shot and killed for witnessing the heist. And with that single gunshot the entire episode becomes one big, traumatic memory, a filler episode retroactively seared into our minds. The entire dynamic of the team changes, because one of them has killed a child. What seemed like evidence that things would be okay immediately becomes proof that we are now in far darker territory. It’s a harbinger of things to come, and looking back from any subsequent episode, the one in which a single child gets murdered actually qualifies as happier times.

2013 – The Last of Us

The Last of UsIt was a good decade for games, but only one of them rose to be my favorite thing of its release year. The Last of Us joined Fallout 3 and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker as one of very few games that I bought an entire console to play, and I don’t regret it one bit. The Last of Us is a zombie game that doesn’t actually have all that much to do with zombies. They’re an ongoing threat and they pop up when it’s time for a good scare, but the game is really about one central relationship. You play as Joel, a weary middle-aged man who has managed to carve out a space for himself after the collapse of the world around him. He is tasked with escorting Ellie — a young girl who is immune to the zombie plague — to a group of researchers who may be able to use her to synthesize a cure. The fact that a reluctant relationship develops between them, forged in mutual hardship, is not a surprise. The quality with which the development of that relationship is presented, though, is. The writing is excellent, and it’s surpassed by what have to be two of the strongest performances in the medium. Joel and Ellie are characters, but they are characters who feel like people. Their interactions grow and change as their relationship evolves, working through times of distrust, frustration, and anger to earn times of respect, friendship, and love. I’m not sure any other game manages to hit so hard so successfully so many times over. The Last of Us immediately became one of the medium’s most important titles and a cultural touchpoint in general. It’s a complex, horrifying, unforgettable experience. It’s the best thing we got in 2013, and would have been the best thing we got any other year as well.

2014 – The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest HotelWatching the trailers, it was clear that The Grand Budapest Hotel was going to be Wes Anderson’s funniest film to date. What was not clear — what was so wonderfully, expertly unclear — was the fact that it was also going to be his most accomplished. It’s about an experience that becomes a story that becomes a lesson that becomes history, a tale about a young man and his mentor that effortlessly grows into a meditation on humanity and how quickly things fall apart the moment we lose our sense of decency. And all of this happens — with brilliant absurdity, or absurd brilliance — by way of the theft of a single painting. I love Anderson. I love the little universes he creates — these little worlds so familiar and yet so far away — and invites us to explore. The Grand Budapest Hotel might be the one that occupies a reality closest to our own. So close, we’ll realize by the end, that we should be distressed by it. There are strong moments of warmth throughout, and perhaps Anderson’s most effective love story, but as the film unfolds and time marches on, those things are trampled beneath unfeeling boots, ground into nothing. The entire experience is a strange exercise in contrasting tones that is far, far more effective than it should be. It’s just Anderson, not only understanding both sides of the human experience but also understanding how exactly they fit together, what they amount to, and why we’ll never be completely free of either.

2015 – “Milk Money”

"Milk Money," Schitt's CreekSchitt’s Creek is my show of the decade, period. It started out feeling like a lesser (but still funny) retread of Arrested Development, but within a season found a different and surprisingly adorable voice of its own. Both shows are about formerly wealthy families who have to struggle through less-opulent times in the present. But whereas the Bluths were almost uniformly bad people (varying degrees of bad, admittedly), the Roses are decent human beings who have just been sheltered by wealth too long to have to exercise that decency. So, fine, two equally valid families to explore, but what really makes Schitt’s Creek stand out to me is the fact that it manages to find real comedy in human decency. Arrested Development, in that sense, had it easy; it’s funny when people are assholes. Schitt’s Creek has to work harder to get the same number of laughs out of good people, and for a season or so I wasn’t sure it would really be able to keep up the steady stream of laughs a sitcom should. (Pathos and emotion and warmth yes yes, fine, but laughs?) Season two’s “Milk Money” isn’t my favorite episode, but it’s the one that made me realize the show could absolutely do it, regularly, without needing to resort to meanness or negativity. “Milk Money” is a simple farce based on a simple misunderstanding that is resolved just as simply, and it’s a riot. Johnny Rose — the always amazing Eugene Levy — gets the flicker of an idea to traffic in raw milk, and that flicker expands by degrees until he’s caught attempting to offload 120 gallons of contraband with his daughter and Mayor Schitt — a hilariously panicky Chris Elliott — in reluctant cahoots. I’m a sucker for sap, so had Schitt’s Creek delivered emotional stories with only periodic laughs I probably still would have loved it, but “Milk Money” demonstrated that this wouldn’t be an either/or situation. The sweetest show on television is also the funniest.

2016 – “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”

"Parker Gail's Location is Everything," Documentary NowThe Bojack Horseman episode “Free Churro” almost took the 2018 slot. In tandem with I, Partridge and “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything,” that would have made for a trilogy of selections in which some delusional individual opens his mouth and forgets how to close it. Documentary Now is great, even at its weakest, and this is far and away my favorite episode. It’s a one-man showcase (…nearly) for Bill Hader, which would be recommendation enough on its own, but it’s also expertly written and structured. Taking as its inspiration “Spalding Gray’s Swimming to Cambodia,” this episode doesn’t skewer Gray as much as it skewers artistic posturing. Hader plays Parker Gail as a meticulous creation of self, building an identity that he then works relentlessly to maintain. Which — necessarily to some degree — every artist does. Hell, every person does, but artists put themselves on display. Even keeping one’s self out of the public eye is a kind of display. That’s ripe enough for comedy, but what this episode puts Gail through is also sad. His calculated wit and creative wallowing is punctured many times over by interjections from others, including his ex-girlfriend (who objects to being misrepresented in Gail’s monologue) and his parents (whose divorce Gail relies on for sympathy despite the fact that they remain happily married). Gail’s monologue — a story about having to move out of his loft — is told compellingly enough that it actually hurts a bit whenever somebody reveals the truth behind it, deflating the artistry. But that’s also the fun of it. Gail doesn’t exist in our reality, but “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything” is essential, humbling viewing for artists of any kind. It’s a good way for us to keep ourselves honest. We all have an image to maintain. But if that image were yanked out from beneath us…how far would we fall?

2017 – Get Out

Get OutI remember reading an interview with Jordan Peele in the runup to Get Out. He spoke about horror and comedy having very similar rhythms, which served him well when making this film. That is interesting! But it could also just have been a way of convincing people to pay for a scary movie made by a comedian. It turned out to be more than marketing, however; it was a neat bit of insight from someone who just made one of the best horror films of the decade. (I’m honestly not sure whether it was better than It Follows; that and Get Out are my top two.) It’s also one of the best comedies of the decade, and one of the best social satires of the decade. And it’s all of those things at the same time, each aspect elevating the others rather than holding them back. To say much about the plot would spoil some of its best surprises, but certainly everybody knows by now that it’s a racially charged story, providing inherent tension when protagonist Chris meets his white girlfriend’s family. Finding comedy in that premise is easy; finding horror is, sadly, not much more difficult. The film’s most insightful moments, however, come when Chris is surrounded by a sort of positive bigotry, with white people praising his appearance, gazing upon him in fascination, asserting that they would have voted for Obama for a third term if they could have…granted, all of that hides something very ugly in the world of the film, but it’s the sort of problematic overcompensation that hides something differently ugly in our world. Get Out is harrowing and hilarious by turns, but it’s also instructive. Viewers won’t see themselves in the villains’ worst moments, but they very likely will see themselves at their most seemingly benign. And any overlap is frightening in itself.

2018 – Superorganism

SuperorganismEvery so often I’ll hear a song on the radio that I immediately love, and I’ll look further into the artist before I realize — reluctantly — that I don’t actually like their material overall. In March of 2018 I heard Superorganism’s “Everybody Wants to be Famous” and figured there was no way the band would be as good as I hoped they were. The song was perfect. Sunny, poppy, spacy, weird, infectious…it wasn’t even worth looking further into Superorganism because I knew it couldn’t be sustained longer than a song or two. Then I listened to “Everybody Wants to be Famous” multiple times a day for a couple of weeks, and decided I owed them money. I bought their self-titled debut fully comfortable with the fact that I’d only listen to that one song with any regularity, and instead kept the entire thing on near-constant repeat for the rest of the year. It was good writing music, good driving music, good relaxing music. It was funny and clever and creative, with every song grabbing me in its own way, no track feeling quite the same as the ones on either side of it, but all of them clearly of a cohesive piece. I’ve largely checked out of current music, but that’s because so little of it does what Superorganism seems so effortlessly able to do. The band and this album carve out an identifiable and unique personality, and it’s one worth spending time with. It’s exciting music. It’s music that matters. It’s music you don’t just enjoy, but which transports you to another universe, briefly, where this is what life sounds like. It takes a lot to find a place on my list of favorite albums at this point, but this one managed it easily. I cannot wait for the followup.

2019 – Paperbacks from Hell

Paperbacks from HellPaperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix is a good book. It’s a fascinating look at vintage horror paperbacks and their trends — narratively, artistically, commercially — that is often funny and rarely dismissive. It does its best to treat each of its subjects with respect…though, admittedly, a number of those subjects don’t allow for that. But the Paperbacks from Hell I’m spotlighting here is not that book; it’s a series of horror reprints that followed on from Hendrix’s book, giving a great selection of forgotten horror releases a second life. It gives these always weird and sometimes excellent books the chance to find a new audience, and I love that I no longer have to rely on Hendrix’s summaries and interpretations. This isn’t meant as any kind of slight; Hendrix is a compelling and intelligent curator, but experiencing a work in its original context, on its own terms, will always be preferable to me than somebody’s selected interpretations. Paperbacks from Hell — the reprint series — is in the middle of its second and hopefully-not-final batch of releases, but 2019 saw the release of the first five, and they were great selections. Some of them were exactly the sort of pulp-horror monster-mashing idiotic fun I’d expected (cockroaches in The Nest, Bigfeet in The Spirit), but most of them surprised me with how much genuine merit they had. Jewish horror The Tribe provided a fascinating slice of what monsters look like (and what monsters are) to another culture, and two others were just brilliant works in their own right (The Reaping reached near-greatness, and When Darkness Loves Us ran circles around greatness). I can’t recommend this series enough, if only because it’s a chance to dip back into a part of history most of us were foolishly okay with having forgotten.

Journey Through the Past: The 1990s

Friend of the website Dave is hosting a 1990s blogfest today. He’s managed to rope quite a few great bloggers into this (complete list and his own choices here), and we’re also now selling cosmetics door to door on his behalf. The idea is to choose one thing — one anything — as your favorite thing from each year from 1990 – 1999, and write a short bit about it. He also did one for the 2000s, which was pre-Noiseless Chatter I think, but since everything released in that time period was garbage you missed nothing. (And, honestly, I’ll probably end up doing a 2000 – 2010 one just for the heck of it.) Anyway, enjoy…thanks to Dave for hosting this, and let me know what some of your own choices might have been in the comments below. Or tell me I’m wrong in a profane way…I always like that!

1990 – Vineland

I feel more than a little intellectually guilty for only including one novel in my year-by-year rundown, but I’d have to say that the 1990s weren’t particularly well served in a literary sense. Fortunately, though, the decade opens with perhaps the warmest, most welcoming book my favorite author ever wrote. Vineland takes place in 1984, but is very much a love letter to the 1960s. It introduces us to Zoyd Wheeler, a cultural isolate from that lost decade of love, sex and freedom, who’s been reduced to throwing himself through windows to keep up a stream of mental disability checks. It’s an innately comic setup, but the backward, twisting path through time, loss and inevitability is perfectly heartbreaking. Zoyd’s reliable antics, after all, began as an act of genuine desperation when his wife left him, and it’s only been the steady march of time that’s diluted them to meaningless repetitions of what once meant so much. That’s the angle Pynchon takes as he explores the effect aging has had on this world, and ours. It’s Zoyd’s daughter who pulls the narrative along — or backward — as she uncovers, thread by thread, who her mother was. And who her mother became. And, if she learns enough from what she finds, how to avoid a similar fate for herself. Pynchon’s narratives hurdle unfailingly toward doom, but Vineland is the one that reminds you that life is always worth living…regardless of where you might actually end up.

1991 – A Link to the Past

It’s a fact: the Super Nintendo is the single greatest video game console of all time. Consequently, the early to mid 1990s were a veritable goldmine for gamers. While the NES introduced us to massive numbers of endearing and enduring characters, the SNES took everything at least one step further, and managed to refine and build upon game mechanics without overcomplicating them, or losing sight of what made them work. Super Mario World, Super Metroid and Super Castlevania IV (among so many others) all represented a realization of promise, a step deeper into fantastic and complex universes that we always knew existed just below the surface. But it’s A Link to the Past that really stands out. Taking absolutely everything that worked about the first Zelda game and disposing of everything that didn’t, A Link to the Past laid the precise groundwork for every game in the series that followed, regardless of console. And while certain later entries, such as Majora’s Mask or Wind Waker, attempted to pull the series in other directions, it’s A Link to the Past that rightfully gets the credit for building the solid foundation and framework that gave those later installments the room to expand. The graphics are gorgeous, the music is great, and even if the challenge is somewhat lacking, every new secret you find on the map feels earned and satisfying. I love A Link to the Past. It’s one of perhaps two or three games in the history of the universe that does literally nothing wrong, and it’s a perfect example of what made the SNES so great.

1992 – Glengarry Glen Ross

For a movie with no action, Glengarry Glen Ross is riveting. For a movie with two locations, Glengarry Glen Ross feels enormous. And for a movie with so little at stake, Glengarry Glen Ross feels profound. It’s a story about selling real estate, and how difficult a racket that can be, but it’s also a story about despair, about self-preservation, about pride, about confidence, and about what it means to be a man. It’s all of these things, and it’s more, and the same answer is never given to the same question twice. When a nameless emissary drops by the sales office to address unsatisfactory work, he motivates the sales force by setting them at each other’s throats: the two most successful salesmen will be rewarded to varying degrees, and the other two will lose their jobs. What follows is a single, seemingly-unbroken narrative that spans the rest of that night and the next morning. To say any more than that would likely both give away too much and artificially enhance the importance of anything that happens. The magic — and the story — is all in the dialogue. Glengarry Glen Ross began as a stage play, and it shows. Its big screen adaptation does not seek to overwhelm, astonish, or impress; it seeks to focus. It seeks make you notice every shift of the eye, twitch of the finger, and speck of spittle that accompanies a profane explosion, making it feel like an even smaller and more intimate experience than the play could have ever been. It’s a film that’s terrifying, and it’s terrifying mainly because there’s nothing here to be afraid of. After all, these are just people. Highly and eternally recommended.

1993 – Mega Man X

I deliberately avoided mentioning Mega Man X when I basked in the glory of the SNES library above, simply so I could single it out here. Mega Man is unquestionably one of my favorite game series ever, and Mega Man X deviates from the classic formula just enough to justify it as a spinoff. With an increased focus on item collection, upgrades and lingering effects of defeated bosses, Mega Man X brought additional levels of non-linearity to an already legendarily non-linear experience. While the series may have gone off the rails after another four or five games (it’s debatable), the original is a stone-cold classic, with great bosses, impressive stages, and gameplay so versatile that fans, almost 20 years later, are still discovering new ways to play it. Mega Man was never about deep plot or engrossing storylines; these were action games through and through. Mega Man X wisely didn’t try to separate itself from the originals by way of an epic storyline…it simply enhanced the action, layered on new and impressive complications, and married it to a stellar soundtrack. Mega Man X is just fantastic.

1994 – Monster

So nobody likes Monster. I know that. I also know that that’s their loss. R.E.M.’s hardest rocking album might be so much of a departure from their usual sound that it’s hard to consider it a legitimate installment in their discography…but so what? It’s fantastic. When I listen to Monster — which I do for weeks at a time whenever I stumble across it again — I hear some of the best straight-up rock and roll to come out of the decade. And it’s not entirely devoid of R.E.M.’s signature songwriting, either…you just have to listen through some thrashing guitars to find it. Songs like “Strange Currencies,” “Tongue,” and “Crush With Eyeliner” are all pulled off with the band’s usual sideways insight into the human condition, with all of the disappointment and humane absurdity that implies. The band just happened to couch that insight in some brilliantly distracting, raw, unpolished instrumentation, and that brings with it a charm of its own…a little taste of R.E.M. as the up-and-coming garage band they never were. Some fans are all too eager to dismiss this brief experiment. For me it’s top shelf material, beaten only by Automatic For the People and Lifes Rich Pageant. If you’ve written it off before, it may be worth a reappraisal.

1995 – “Knowing Me Knowing Yule With Alan Partridge”

I love Alan Partridge. He ranks easily among my five favorite comic creations throughout all of human history, and that’s due in large part to the way that Steve Coogan slips — seemingly effortlessly — into Alan’s skin and becomes him. Though he started behind a sports desk and then moved into the chat-show format, there was always something more to him. He was never a “type,” and the humor was not situational; Alan was a human being, free to be himself wherever — and with whomever — he was. He was a person, a person with insecurities, interests, and a uniquely slanted perspective. “Knowing Me Knowing Yule” is a one-off special that bridges the gap between Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge and I’m Alan Partridge…two very different, but perfectly complementary, insights into this fascinating man. It’s presented as a needlessly expensive and woefully inessential yuletide installment of Alan’s chat show, and it’s what seals the casket on his broadcasting career forever. Considering that the last proper episode of Alan’s chat show saw him shooting a guest through the heart live on air, that gives you an idea of just how poorly this festive outing manages to go. It’s a great and always welcome entry into the Christmas special canon, and worth a watch at least once per year. Alan getting threatened by a transvestite, failing to properly lip-synch “The 12 Days of Christmas” and struggling desperately to halt an in-process bit of product placement never gets old. Watch it during a family gathering. Believe me, it will make you feel better about everyone you’re related to.

1996 – “22 Short Films About Springfield”

Coming at a time when The Simpsons could genuinely do no wrong, “22 Short Films About Springfield” reads like a time-capsule today. It’s a relic — and a loving, fascinating, and clever one — of a time when Springfield was more than just a sea of caricatures and types; it was a place, fully functional in and of itself. One operating under its own logic and impossible to mistake for the real world, but real in its own way all the same. It’s a half hour without plot, without intention, and without a moral…just a simple, and undoubtedly well-earned, chance to take a deep breath and survey the incredible playground the show had built up for itself by that point. The characters were so well established and the dynamics between them so fruitful that all you needed to do was let Apu take some time off, bring Reverend Lovejoy and his dog to Flanders’ front lawn, or give a stranger the chance to turn the tables on Nelson, and comedy would flow. Effortless, wonderful, eternal comedy. “22 Short Films About Springfield” floats by like a whisper, as it should. While any other show on television could work harder and harder every week to make even a fraction of the impact on the cultural landscape that The Simpsons made, The Simpsons itself didn’t seem to need to work at all. It could just step back and see what the characters were doing…and, here, that’s what it did. The Skinner / Chalmers segment will go down in history as an all-time best sequence no matter how long the show runs, but even if that clear highlight were to be somehow excised from the episode, “22 Short Films About Springfield” would still be a perfect gem. With so many forgettable seasons behind us now, the episode is almost like footage of a great civilization long gone: those of us that were there will always have this souvenir, and those who missed it will be eternally grateful for this brief — and brilliant — window into the past.

1997 – Time Out of Mind

I’ve talked a bit about Dylan’s lost years here, but I didn’t say much about what brought him back to life. Time Out of Mind is what brought him back to life. For me, it was released at the perfect time; just as I started to explore Dylan myself, this came out. Suddenly the warnings to avoid “the recent stuff” went quiet…and I do mean suddenly. Time Out of Mind is a bullet of an album…a shot through the brain that lingers and haunts and does not let go, and critics and fans alike flocked to it immediately. Time Out of Mind doesn’t feel like a comeback album…it feels like he never left. Though his youthful, nasal prophesying is replaced here by a gravelly howl, it’s Dylan to the core, providing one of his best love songs (“Make You Feel My Love”), some chillingly vague danger (“Cold Irons Bound”), and a classic meandering tale of introspection, playing Neil Young at high volumes, and ordering hard-boiled eggs at a restaurant (“Highlands”)…it’s a gloriously meandering shaggy-dog story that caps off an aimless-by-design rediscovery of who Dylan is. It would be quicker to list the things I don’t like about this album, because there really aren’t any. Songs like “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” and the bluntly desolate “Not Dark Yet” triggered suspicions that this was Dylan’s final statement…that the man had pulled it together one last time, to end his career on a high note. He’s released four more albums of new material since then. Dylan’s going out on a high note alright…he’s just making sure to sustain it this time. On his next album, Dylan would sing “You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.” That would have made more sense before Time Out of Mind, which disproves it conclusively.

1998 – Rushmore

There may not be much more I can say about Rushmore than what I’ve already said here, but that by no means dampens my excitement for talking about it yet again. Rushmore is, by many accounts, Wes Anderson’s best film. Anyone who says that to you, however, is lying. What it is, however, is Wes Anderson’s mission statement, and it’s a solid, fantastic, indelible one. Coming off of Bottle Rocket, Rushmore represents an almost unprecedented stylistic and qualitative step forward. It’s not a film in which Anderson finds his voice…it’s a film in which we find Anderson’s voice. The soundtrack, the costumes, the visual design, the character dynamics, the relentless attention to detail…everything here established what it meant to be “classic Anderson,” and it both defined a career and forever cemented a fanbase. It also introduced the world to Jason Schwartzman, and reintroduced the world to a penitent Bill Murray…a gift to humanity that Anderson should always be praised for. It’s one of those movies packed so densely that no two viewings have to feel the same, and there’s literally always something new to notice, tucked away in the corner of a quick shot, or hiding in plain sight while the camera dwells and your eyes wander. Rushmore is a great film, and while I enjoy it most for what it allowed Anderson to do down the line, I can never watch this one without coming away impressed all over again. And crying when Max introduces Mr. Blume to his father. Because that part’s fucking gold.

1999 – “Space Pilot 3000”

When Futurama debuted, it seemed like it was just going to be the less-deserving little brother of The Simpsons. But arriving, as it did, just at the time the elder show was losing steam, it established itself immediately as a more than worthy successor. While The Simpsons took a few seasons to establish a flow and sustainable gag-rate for itself, Futurama burgled some writers and hijacked that momentum, allowing it to fire on all cylinders right from the get-go. The result is an almost impossibly strong first season, kicked off by one of the most confident and well-handled pilots I’ve ever seen. Space Pilot 3000 has barely aged at all. While the voice actors may have still been getting a handle on things, the writing is sharp and solid, and the groundwork for countless fantastic episodes of smart science-fiction, piercing comedy and genuine emotion is laid here. There’s a long love letter to Futurama that I’d like to write, but as the years go by it keeps getting longer…eventually I’d just end up with too much to say. After all, what can I say to a show that gave me “Jurassic Bark,” “Time Keeps On Slipping,” “The Luck of the Fryrish,” “Godfellas,” “Lethal Inspection,” and so many others I love beyond words? Futurama is by no means a perfect show, but for some silly cartoon knockoff of another silly cartoon, it sure managed to exceed expectations quickly. It brought an end to the 90s, but ushered in a whole new expanse of grand adventures and brainy plotwork. Philip J Fry inadvertently froze himself, and woke up in a far stronger television landscape. Welcome to the world of tomorrow.

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