Goodbye, 2017

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I couldn’t let 2017 slip away without indulging one more look back at the year in pop culture. Here are a few things that brought me joy. (And here are a few more.)

Favorite Taylor Swift Album

Sorry, reputation. The undisputed Best Taylor Swift Songs of 2017 are Kelsea Ballerini’s “High School” and “I Hate Love Songs,” and the undisputed Best Taylor Swift Album of 2017 is Ballerini’s sophomore effort Unapologetically. Ballerini resembles Swift in skill set (sharp lyrics, genre-straddling), subject matter (youth, relationships, youthful relationships) and even appearance (tall, blond and wide-eyed). She’s not disrupting country to the degree that Taylor did, but she’s locked in a winning formula. Look what Taylor made me do.

Favorite Utility Player

Domnhall Gleeson (pronounced Doe-null) works a lot. His appearances tend to arrive onscreen in bursts. I relish every one. In 2017, he:

  • Berated Rob (Rob Delaney) for bungling his job interviews on Catastrophe.
  • Berated, mentored and eventually abandoned cocky pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) as a CIA agent known only as “Shafer” in Doug Liman’s shallow but zippy American Made.
  • Crashed the “party” in the “house” owned by the “couple” in Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!
  • Sniveled at and berated everyone in sight in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, until a new boss (no spoilers here) took matters into his hands.
  • Came up with Winnie the Pooh in Goodbye Christopher Robin, a movie that apparently exists, though almost no one on this planet has seen it. I sure haven’t.

I will never blanch when Gleeson turns up onscreen — he’s fun in every context. Put him in a romantic comedy. Put him in the Fast and Furious movies. Put him in the sequel to It. Put him in season two of Big Little Lies. Put him in a Jay-Z music video.

Favorite Tearjerker

This isn’t really an award; it’s an opportunity to list things that made me feel emotions in 2017:

  • “Remember Me” in the last 15 minutes of Coco.
  • The look on Kristen Stewart’s face in the final shot of Personal Shopper.
  • Everything that happened before, during and after the death of a major character on Jane the Virgin this spring — and everything that’s called back to that event in subsequent episodes.
  • Jimmy Fallon saying goodbye to his mother and Jimmy Kimmel saying hello to his baby son.
  • Max (Mikey Madison) and Frankie (Hannah Alligood) saying everything to their mother Sam (Pamela Adlon) that they’ve been bottling up for their whole lives in the Better Things episode “Eulogy.”
  • Tiffany Haddish lunging at Mike Colter in Girls Trip. (Tears of joy.)
  • Jill (Margaret Qualley) and Tommy (Chris Zylka) calling their “mommy” (Amy Brenneman) moments before she took a risky dive in the episode of The Leftovers entitled “Certified.”

Favorite “Why Wasn’t the Whole Movie Like This?”

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Oscar Isaac’s two scenes (two?!?!) in Suburbicon, a terrible movie that turns into a great one when the motormouthed insurance agent arrives on the scene. This man is one of the most remarkable actors of his generation. Let him live.

Runner-up: The first 45 minutes of Downsizing vs. everything else that happens in Downsizing. The former is a razor-sharp, visually precise, endlessly intriguing science-fiction satire. The latter is an unqualified mess that’s #problematic, cluttered and boring. Imagine casting Kristen Wiig, Laura Dern, Neil Patrick Harris, Margo Martindale and Jason Sudeikis and giving them almost nothing to do. Imagine turning a fascinating thought experiment of a premise into a cloying, unearned sentimentality dump. Imagine being Alexander Payne and making a bad movie! I’m frustrated.

(Matt Damon stars in both of these movies, as well as the regrettable box-office bomb The Great Wall. He also had plenty of bad takes to purvey. He was no good this year.)

Favorite Musical Performance on a Talk Show

Future and Ellen does not sound like a match made in heaven, but it was “Incredible.”

Favorite Musical Performance on SNL

This aspect of America’s longest-running sketch show never gets much attention, which is a shame: Lorde, Harry Styles, HAIM, P!nk and SZA made strong showings this year. But two performers stood out: Sturgill Simpson, who blazed through the show’s first 2017 episode with one of the most energetic backing bands I can remember seeing on TV.

Eight months later, Jay-Z visibly struggled to convey the emotional intimacy of “4:44” in a live setting. He seemed not to know where to direct his eyes during the vocal-free portions, and he scarcely loosened his hands’ vice grip on the microphone. Entirely alone on a bare stage, the world’s richest rapper looked chastened. It was fascinating. (And weirdly, it’s been scrubbed from the Internet, save this two-minute snippet.)

Favorite “Why Wasn’t This Whole Thing a Musical?”

The first 15 minutes of Baby Driver are visually exhilarating, musically exuberant cinema. What follows is a mixed bag. If only the movie had had the courage of its convictions — or perhaps aimed a little higher.

Favorite Inexplicable Match Made in Heaven

HAIM and…Paul Thomas Anderson? One of the most acclaimed living filmmakers entered into a full-on creative partnership with one of the most appealing pop-rock bands of its generation. The result was inspired and dazzling, as well as a little mystifying. PTA is a poptimist, it seems. I’m into it.

Favorite Performances That Might Get Forgotten

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  • Betty Gabriel, Get Out. She’s not even qualified to accept a trophy if the movie wins the Screen Actors Guild Award, but her scenes are among the movie’s most deliciously unsettling.
  • Carmen Ejogo, Roman J. Israel, Esq. I still don’t know what to make of writer-director Dan Gilroy’s mystifying mess, and Ejogo’s character never quite meshes with the script’s disparate ambition. But the performance brings grace notes of an activist spirit and a poignant yearning for self-improvement.
  • Dawn-Lyen Gardner and Bianca Lawson, Queen Sugar. The entire ensemble is outstsanding, but these two prompted quite a few tears on this season of one of TV’s most undervalued great dramas.
  • Grace Gummer, Mr. Robot. Her character took a few turns that strained credulity, but Meryl Streep’s daughter brought depth and grace to the lonely FBI agent pulled closer to the center of the show’s morass.
  • Anne Hathway in Colossal. Is a Hathassaince brewing?
  • Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Others from this film (which left me with mixed feelings) are in the awards conversation, but Harrelson shines even his material is weak.
  • Tracy Letts, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Lois Smith in Lady Bird. The biggest problem with that movie is that it has far too many great actors and interesting characters to spread critical recognition wide enough.
  • Silvio Orlando, The Young Pope. For the mole alone.
  • Gayle Rankin, GLOW. Her spotlight episode (as Sheila the She-Wolf) was my favorite of the show’s strong first season.
  • Ray Romano, The Big Sick. Everyone has rightly focused on the legend Holly Hunter, but her onscreen better half is an understated knockout, building on his heart-rending years on NBC’s Parenthood.
  • Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The chances of this casting working as well as it has were slim to none.
  • Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is ineligible this upcoming year for the Emmy category she’s owned for six consecutive years. Ross should replace her.
  • Andrea Riseborough, Battle of the Sexes. Between this and Birdman, she deserves to be a bigger name. Sparks fly when she locks eyes with Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) in the barber shop.

Favorite Music Video Intro That Made Me Think Way Too Much

I have so many questions about the first 25 seconds of the music video for DJ Khaled’s “I”m the One” feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper and Lil Wayne. Here’s what we see:

A brief shot of a director’s chair that reads “Asahd Khaled, Executive Producer.” (Quibble: Executive producers don’t sit in director’s chairs. The video’s actual director is Eif Rivera, a veteran hip-hop director who frequently collaborates with 50 Cent.)

An even briefer shot of a smiling Asahd Khaled, who has been alive for a grand total of 433 days, cuddling with a stuffed animal and grinning.

A profile shot of DJ Khaled plugging in an earpiece. Birds chirp in the background. He greets a caller on the other end: “Chance, what’s good? Bless up!” He’s talking to Chance the Rapper, the third-billed of four featured guests on “I’m the One.” It’s not clear whether he has called Chance or vice versa. It’s also not clear why the music video opens with Khaled calling one of the song’s ancillary players. This question will become murkier momentarily.

While DJ Khaled continues his scintillating conversation, shots of a white horse and a heel-clad foot appear. “Please do me a favor. Do me the biggest favor. Matter of fact, do yourself the biggest favor. Let Justin Bieber know, and let WAYNE know…”

PAUSE.

Listen to him say “Wayne.” It sounds different, right? That’s because the audio track with birds chirping momentarily drops out, which suggests that Khaled recorded the word “Wayne” separately from recording the rest of the dialogue for this Oscar-worthy monologue.

Why? This question has haunted me all year. Did he trip over the word “Wayne” in the original edit? If so, was Khaled or his crew too lazy to record a do-over of more than one word? Or did Khaled originally say someone else’s name — someone who was supposed to be on the track and then bowed out? Or did his voice crack?

Anyway, my manic fixations aside, back to the action at hand. By this point, the shots of the horse have pulled back to reveal that the person on horseback is a woman in a revealing…Wonder Woman costume? Let’s listen in again: “Let Justin Bieber know, let WAYNE know, and let Quavo know: My house. We gon’ celebrate life, success…[pause for effect] and our blessings.” I’ve stayed up at night wondering why he can’t just hit those four on a group chat — and why Chance is the conduit to the other three. DOES DJ KHALED KNOW WHAT WHATSAPP IS?

I pity and envy the team of wildly overqualified screenwriters who sat in a conference room for eight hours pondering the precise order for this magnificent collection of words.

Just to wrap this thing up, here’s the shot that immediately follows Khaled’s promise of celebrating blessings:

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Blessings. Right.

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