2017 is coming to a close and like every good blogger, column writer, entertainment magazine, and every other yahoo with an opinion we would also like to write about some of our favorite pop culture of 2017, in list form of course. We also include something we didn’t quite like. Also as our first year of blogging comes to a close we want to wish you a Happy 2018, we thank you for reading and please tell us some of your most or least favorites as well.
I wish I could say I liked a ton of stuff in 2017 or had more time to listen to every new album and stream every indie movie but I can’t. I did watch a ton of TV, probably too much spent on mostly mediocre shows, (Kevin Can’t Wait, Gotham, Hawaii Five-O, and Blindspot for just a few). My goal was to try to pick some of my favorite things that were completely new to 2017 although I do cheat once. Same rule goes for one of my least favorite items, something as you will see I really despised.
Charly Bliss- Guppy
I admit I need to listen to more new music. In the 80’s and the 90’s, there were radio stations and music television stations that would play a wide variety of music, rock, dance, rap, alternative, pop, etc… It seems to have narrowed and I at least have trouble hearing new rock and alternative music or maybe it’s just me, I know I can search for it. But I often read the A.V. Club and they recommended Charly Bliss, I had never heard of them but for the heck of it checked out their video for “Percolator” and it was amazing. Eva Hendricks has a very rare voice and their sound is raw and fun, the video for “Percolator” reminded me of videos of the 90’s with a nod to the Foo Fighter’s energy. So I listened to Guppy and it’s a great listen. The album is full of short fun energetic pop-rock songs. This is the first time since the 90’s that I have heard a band with this much influence from 90’s bands. It would fit right into that decade, I tell people they are a cross of Weezer and Letters to Cleo with a dose of Fountains of Wayne thrown in for good measure. I was so pleased to hear this sound again and a band that was not trying to copy those bands but that also does its own thing. It’s the best music I heard all year and I am guessing they will have a very bright future. They also do great covers, they covered Len’s “Steal My Sunshine” and one of my favorite Christmas songs, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You”.
Runner-Up: Split Enz and Crowded House are two of my favorite bands of all time and Neil Finn who was in both put out a beautiful album, Out of Silence that is a perfect piece of self-reflecting mellow pop.
MG: Sounds like a cool band, but I had not previously heard anything by them, or anything about them. I did check out “Percolator” on Amazon Music, and the music sounded good, but it was hard for me to get on board with the high pitch of the singer’s voice. I hear people lamenting “modern” music, and even I wonder sometimes where the good rock bands are, but there is still plenty of good music to be found out there. Glad you found a band you liked.
The Vietnam War
Earlier this year I mentioned being pumped for Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary, The Vietnam War. I am a huge fan of The Civil War, The War, and Baseball and figured this would be just as good as those – it was and maybe more so. My father was a Vietnam vet so this documentary was pretty personal, and although I knew a lot about it, there was so much I did not know. They capture the essence of the war – all of it. Like most Vietnam War documentaries, they tell the story from the side of the United States military, but they also tell it from the side of the Viet Cong, the South Vietnamese, the North Vietnamese, and even the protesters back home. The ten-part series is long but it’s also brutal, honest, gripping, and emotional. Burns and Novick conducted hundreds of interviews to help tell the story and the writing and editing are top-notch. The stories are so compelling. It is clear what a mess this war was and that the United States has never really recovered from it. Problems we have today could be looked at as a result of Vietnam. More people need to see this film and understand the consequences that occurred as a result, their thoughts on this tragic part of American History will never be the same.
Runner-Up: In a season with a serious glut of superhero films, Wonder Woman stood out, Gal Gadot carried that film and Patty Jenkins direction was near perfect.
MG: Yes! This was definitely a highlight of the year for me too. I’ve always been fascinated with the Vietnam War – from the nonsensical Reagan-era viewpoint of Rambo II, to the gut-punch of Platoon, and now the intensely engaging and dense portrait of the war and homefront that Burns and Novick paint in this masterpiece. Even if you aren’t into documentaries, military history, politics, etc. you need to watch this series. It is that important and that good.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Ok, so here is where I cheat. Curb Your Enthusiasm was not a new show in 2017, but it did take a six-year hiatus. Maybe its return is not as jarring as Roseanne, The X-files, or Will & Grace recharging and the fan base wasn’t as high but it was missed. The season was solid all the way through and it does not seem out of place with its past seasons. I am one of those people that still pine for Seinfeld, one of my favorite sitcoms of all-time and Curb is the closest thing we still have left to it outside of re-runs. Like Seinfeld, there is a lot of emphasis on daily social interactions and observations. Larry becomes annoyed at a lot of the little things in life that most of us just deal with, he says what the rest of us would never say. Larry David was back in form and the old cast retuned including Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, Richard Lewis, Ted Danson, and JB Smoove. Not sure I enjoyed the full season’s main plot of Larry trying to get his musical play “Fatwa!” produced but I don’t watch for that I watch for the interaction Larry has with the rest of the cast and all his strange idiosyncrasies. Hopefully, they don’t wait another six years.
Runner-Up: David Fincher’s Mindhunter on Netflix was dark, disturbing and weird but different from most of the junk out there.
MG: As a huge Seinfeld fan, I’m embarrassed to say I have not watched this series, mostly because I did not have HBO before Game of Thrones. I’m a fan of Larry David, though, and enjoyed his recurring stint on SNL this year as Bernie Sanders. Perhaps catching-up on this show will be a 2018 resolution.
Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence
I am a huge history buff with a strong predilection for American History. I sometimes lean on the side of some conspiracy theories, the JFK Assassination, for instance, is of particular interest to me. I have always been an avid watcher of The History Channel especially when their shows involve history’s mysteries, Brad Meltzer’s show Decoded was a particular favorite. A couple years ago I read a book that theorized that Hitler had escaped Germany, it was fascinating, well-researched and made me a believer. Soon after the History Channel started airing Hunting Hitler which mirrored the book, great show, totally engaging but never came up with 100% proof. Recently they have aired JFK: Declassified and The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer. Again they get me hooked, they are going to solve the cases, but again nothing, but at least they put out theories and its an interesting hour of TV. Which brings me to this year’s special Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence also on The History Channel. In the late 1930’s Amelia Earhart’s plane disappeared. Over the years so many theories have arisen, she was a spy, she survived and was in New Jersey, she landed and lived in a Japanese prison, and so forth. Books have been written, shows such as the 1970’s gem In Search Of had an episode about it but no one really ever solved the mystery. The History Channel purported to have a picture that showed figures that looked like Earhart and her flight companion Fred Noonan after the disappearance on a remote Pacific island. They did interviews of islanders that heard stories of a captured Earhart and it all sounded very convincing. Two days after the show aired the picture was debunked by a blogger as the picture was dated two years before her flight. They could have done the research but decided to scam their audience. I get that The History Channel has “scripted” reality shows, i.e. Pawn Stars or American Pickers to name a couple but they should have more integrity than this when it comes to historical events, it was just a despicable 90 minutes of TV and a waste of time.
Runner-Up: I have never seen this show but the commercial alone puts it on my bad list, Jeremy Piven’s Wisdom of the Crowd, looked horrific, with a stupid premise, not sure if it was canceled for its awfulness or because Piven is a perv.
MG: I had not heard about this documentary, but it sounds similar to a number of the low-rent stuff that has aired on cable channels in recent years. It’s somewhat concerning that the quality and vetting of these shows seems to be hit-or-miss, and people lacking a critical eye may just be accepting everything on the History Channel or Nat Geo as fact. Which reminds me that this is the year where “facts” died. Ugh.
I honestly hate to be a downer and sound cynical, but when DJ mentioned doing this post I cringed a bit, because it’s hard for me to find much that was “best” in 2017. (Which is probably why I have put off writing this until New Year’s Eve!). In truth, there are always good examples of TV, movies, music, books, etc. in any year, but 2017 truly did not feel like one of the strongest years, particularly for movies. HBO and Netflix continued to deliver great content, though, which I am thankful for. Here are my thoughts:
Game Of Thrones (HBO)
Yep, obvious choice here, but we have yet to talk much about Thrones on this blog, and I think what the series accomplished this year was remarkable. It is not easy to take a beloved series and continue to keep the quality, interest, and engaging storylines at a high-level, if not topping previous seasons (see Star Wars, The Walking Dead, Marvel Movies – virtually any movie or TV series). Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss continued to excel at crafting amazing large-scale adventures with equal time paid to the one-on-one interactions between beloved characters. Yes, there was some creative time-compression issues with 2017’s season of Thrones, but I found it to be even more satisfying than the ones that came before it. Often when actors in an ensemble cast are asked to step into lead roles, their acting skill can be exposed, but both Emelia Clarke and Kit Harington shined in their larger roles. In fact, with so many secondary characters wiped out in the great Baylor’s Sept explosion of last season, most of the surviving characters benefited from more screen time and all the actors were up for it. Prior to this season, I wondered if the inevitable confrontation with the White Walkers would make for compelling viewing, and I was pleasantly surprised. Who didn’t love the Suicide Squad expedition into the heart of White Walker country, as well as our first Dragon-involved battle? But beyond the dazzling battles and set-pieces, the character revelations and interactions were just as amazing. Arya & Sansa back together – ruling Winterfell with Bran, Olenna still doing damage as she dies at the hands of Jaime, Tyrion and Jaime secretly meeting, Tyrion and Cersei meeting, and of course, the amazing Lannister/Stark/Targaryen/Greyjoy conference in King’s Landing. And the image of the turned-dragon Viserion obliterating The Wall with ice fire was as thrilling and climactic as the revelation of Jon Snow’s true heritage. Can’t wait for Season 8! (but unfortunately will have to….)
DJ: Yeah I agree Thrones had a strong season much better than The Walking Dead. The short season and the length between seasons certainly helps and it was nice to see people back together.
In my younger years I would see 5-6 concerts a year, but in the past decade or so, I’d be lucky to go to 1 or 2. This year, I had the pleasure of seeing 4 concerts – U2, Imagine Dragons, Lady Gaga, and The Fixx – all of which were excellent. The fact that I thoroughly enjoyed all of them was an entertainment highlight of me for 2017, but which one was the best? U2 and Gaga were in outdoor stadiums, where the sound is always not optimal, but there is plenty of room for maximum spectacle. U2 playing the entire Joshua Tree was a nostalgia trip to my high school years, and Gaga, as the first female performer in Fenway Park’s concert series, put on a crowd-pleasing show that really connected with the audience. Imagine Dragons, in an indoor arena, also showcased great vocals and musicianship while making the effort to interact with the crowd. But as good as those were, I think I will remember The Fixx, who I saw in the new, but intimate Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, NH, as my favorite show from this year. I really enjoyed The Fixx from the 80’s and into the 90’s, but along with a lot of music from the 90’s, I hadn’t listened to them much in recent years. Their show covered most of their singles, and lead singer Cy Curnin’s voice was crisp and engaging, as was the music of the rest of the band. It made me appreciate two things – the band’s song catalog, which caused me to dig out all their CD’s and listen to them multiple times, and the magic of a small concert venue. It reminded me to seek out the lesser-advertised shows and support both the artists and the small concert halls/theaters that host them. If you go beyond the big cities, there are still plenty of good concerts to be had, for much less money and hassle than the major concert tours,. You just have to make the time and effort to seek them out.
DJ: Yeah I only saw The Fixx, which were excellent but I am not as much as a concert guy as you anymore, large crowds and the madness that goes on is too much for me.
It was not a good year for movies (see below), but there were a few standouts for me. Since Wonder Woman has received enough ink, deservedly so, I thought I would talk about Christopher Nolan’s avant-garde war film, Dunkirk. Ok, avant-garde is going too far, but Nolan did take a chance and did something very different for the genre. Instead of giving us a traditional “war-story” with heroic, flawed and distinct characters, he gave us an almost real-time snapshot of a lesser-known but critical element of WWII. The film is simply about the entire British army trapped on the beaches of Northern France and waiting for evacuation, some of which comes from private citizens who answer the call to use their personal boats to rescue the soldiers. The only “battling” that goes on is in the air, and Nolan crafts some of the most visceral and realistic dogfights ever put on screen. He focuses on two British pilots who try to take down German fighters and bombers that are strafing the beaches, while their fuel capacity falls perilously low. It’s refreshing to be able to focus on one fighter-to-fighter engagement and be able to follow the action vs. the typical CGI heavy sky-filled-with-aircraft approach we are used to seeing (even in the recent Star Wars films). Other than these two pilots, the soldiers are mostly nameless/faceless, which I’m sure was difficult for many viewers. I have one relative who adamantly claims this is not a “war film”, but I beg to differ. It strips down all the war-film artifice we have grown accustomed to, and we realize these men on the beach are largely victims of circumstance – exposed to the vagaries of time and weather, as much as they are the enemy. We gain comfort by films that tell us that courage, intelligence, leadership, teamwork, superior military strategy, etc. can make the “good” side victorious over the bad guys. The thought that luck, time, weather, and geography can also play as much of a role in determining our personal/national fate in wars, is much less comforting.
DJ: On my list to see, looking forward to it.
I’ve always been a movie guy, so it pains me to say that movies were one of the worst things in 2017. Let me explain why. First of all, the crop of major releases, while always a mixed bag, definitely seemed like a down year. None of the movies released this year were as engaging to me as many of the original shows I watched on Netflix or HBO (Mindhunter, Stranger Things, GLOW, Game of Thrones, The Punisher – for example). Even with comic book hero burnout, I was re-energized by Wonder Woman, only to be pummeled by the CGI brutishness of Justice League. Tom Holland as Spiderman was refreshing, but the second Guardians of the Galaxy was a disheartening mess. Admittedly, I haven’t seen many of the end-of-year Oscar-bait films like The Post, but based on the trailers, I’m not all that hopeful that something will blow me away. Besides the dip in content, though, the pre-scheduling of the movie year has bothered me the most. The annual release slate is increasingly becoming a pre-determined affair, with Disney setting most of the agenda. We now expect 3 Marvel films in a year, spread out for Spring, Summer, and Fall releases, and a Star Wars film every December. In addition, now there will be a big Pixel summer release (also Disney) as well as another major Disney animated film. Warner Brothers now will be giving us two DC films a year, so where are the surprises going to come from? Hollywood has always chased trends and relied on sequels and franchises to drive profits, but the formulaic approach has reached a new extreme. Now we hear that Disney is buying 20th Century Fox, and this can only serve to further Disney’s controlling approach to movie development. It won’t be good for movie fans.
DJ: I know wht you are saying but there are good films out there, you just need to seek them out, Marvel may never put out a great film again. Like I said up top about music, the mass produced popular stuff is no longer mixed in with the good stuff, it needs to be sought out.