Cover photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

2021 Annual Report: Outbreak

This is how I ended my annual report post from last year:

Things won’t suddenly snap back to normal tomorrow morning, but I feel like there’s hope on 2021’s asymmetrical horizon.

That hope wasn’t entirely misplaced, I suppose. But I can tell you that I was being cautiously optimistic, and really didn’t think I’d be summarizing this year under similar, perhaps even more chaotic, circumstances.

Not only did the pandemic continue, with the global death count now topping five million, we got a first-hand taste. In early April I tested positive for COVID-19 after our neighbours told us they’d gotten it. We’d seen them briefly, outdoors, on the first nice day of spring — and within days both households on either side of them had it. Technically Lindsay never tested positive, but it was pretty clear she had it. We spent the better part of a week flat on our asses, but we survived it…though, true to what we’ve heard elsewhere, weird little symptoms lingered long after. To wit: in May I had something called Covid Toe.

Nonetheless, we made it. As Toronto re-opened (a little too soon and too abruptly, in my, and others’, opinion) we were able to keep to ourselves (and help Kramer come out of his shell more and more) thanks to the house and a nice little back yard. Speaking of the house: we continued to slowly fill it with furniture, but haven’t done major renos yet, aside from the garage. More on that later.

After sifting through government forms, drug store IVRs, and myriad tweets, we got vaccination shot #1 in mid-May. We stayed mostly hunkered down (apart from a march) until the end of June, when we got shot #2 at Scotiabank Arena. We celebrated by going straight to our first Chez Nous patio visit of the year. After that, it felt like life opened up a bit. Friends visited from Montreal. We had dinner on a patio, then inside a week later. My brother and sister-in-law came to visit; both our moms would follow later in the fall. We met friends for dinner on a patio. We went to a socially-distant play (of sorts). We went to a friends’ place for dinner. We met friends for drinks in bars, dutifully showing our vaxx certificates. Things felt altered, but almost normal. Except for one big difference.

Just before we got shot #2, I left my job. I was approached in the spring to become the CIO of the largest wine company in the country. The idea of combining what I knew and what I love was too good to pass up, so after more than two decades in banking, I changed industries. Breaking away from something I’d built, from what was familiar, seemed strange in an already-strange year…but good strange.

That new job gave us an excuse to leave the city for the first time in a year, heading to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a combo work/fun weekend. Later in the fall we visited Hidden Bench for a wine club member tasting event, and spent a weekend in Prince Edward Country for Lindsay’s birthday, our first time there in four years. Trips like this should get easier now, too; earlier this month I finally broke down and bought my first-ever car. I’ll need it to commute to the office a couple of times a week, whenever that becomes a thing again.

I eventually got comfortable enough to visit Nova Scotia in late September / early October, just in case things got dicey again around the holidays. And did they ever: the Omicron variant reared its head, and we debated cancelling our Christmas travel plans, but in the end we came. It was dodgy and our plans changed by the hour, but we got to see some family and have some downtime.

And so, I end this year with hope for 2022, but it’s different than what I hoped for 2021. At this time last year we didn’t know when vaccines were coming, or how long they’d take. We were in full lockdown. Now, we’re vaccinated, and boosters are coming. We’re back in a peak now, but Omicron’s severity may well be different. After our own personal outbreak we broke free of our own house and tasted real life again. So I suppose it’s less optimism that 2022 will be different, and more hope. To be honest, I don’t care to contemplate another year of this.

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Annual reports from past years:

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Cover photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

[Cover photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash]

The best of everything from 2021

And I thought these lists were hard to put together last year. At least in 2020 most of the world had ten good weeks before things melted down, something 2021 couldn’t even manage. However, this year I tried something new, after a helpful suggestion from Lindsay: “What’re you, a professional critic? Just list the best things you watched or listened to this year regardless of when they came out.” So, I did. And I guess it makes more sense, since I was already treating books and podcasts that way.

A note: everything is listed in alphabetical order, unless stated otherwise.

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My favourite albums this year

Every year I talk about how much less music I’m listening to, but now I’ve reached the point where I can’t even scrape together a top ten list. My pre-pandemic listening times were during my commute (which I no longer have) and at work (which meetings no longer allow) so my backlog is lengthy: Julien Baker, The Antlers, The Armed, Sharon Van Etten, Sleater-Kinney, Backxwash, black midi, McKinley Dixon, Fiddlehead, Pom Pom Squad, Snail Mail, Explosions In The Sky, Grouper, Wiki, Heartless Bastards, and Ka.

Anyway, here’s what I have. All are from 2021 unless otherwise noted.

The Besnard Lakes Are The Last Of The Great Thunderstorm Warnings by The Besnard Lakes

The bombast doesn’t end at the title. As big and lush as their previous, faraway albums.

Vital by Big Brave

Still with the bombast: more thudding and rhythmic than the Besnard Lakes, and less swirling. Feels so visceral while still being melodic. We had a chance to see them in Madrid last year had our trip not been cancelled — that would have been cool.

Delta Kream by The Black Keys

A return to blues-y form, one I couldn’t be happier about. I missed this Black Keys. I missed the blues standards.

Bonny Light Horseman (2020) by Bonny Light Horseman

One that crept up from last year, a beautiful folk album with incredibly rich, poetic lyrics, painting real pictures with Anaïs Mitchell’s lyrics.

G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END by Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Doesn’t soar to the heights of Luciferian Towers, but few things can. The formula works (for me) and they stick with it.

HEY WHAT by Low

Continuing where the last album left off, but layering some of the old Low soaring melody back into the mix. I’ve only listened to it once but I’m already itching to listen again.

As The Love Continues by Mogwai

Far and away my current choice for album of the year, and the best release from one of my all-time favourite bands in years.

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My favourite songs this year

………………………Yyyyyyyeah, I’m gonna have to get back to you on this one.

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My favourite movies this year

Studios starting releasing things to home more than last year, so I was able to watch a few new things, especially in the past few months. Still very out of the loop on many of the critical year-end favourites, but I’m happy to even string together ten worthy films this year.

Black Widow (2021)

Definitely more in the fun camp than the high art camp, it was nice to give Natasha Romanoff this send-off from the MCU…and to introduce her sister. Their banter was the best part of the movie.

Dune (2021)

My dad was super-into the Dune books. I didn’t read them, but the words and names they contained were in the aether of the house. I have only the vaguest memories of the Lynch film, so watching this felt distantly like memories, but not mine. Still, it managed to be comprehensible, compelling, and visually stunning. Pretty excited for the second half.

Greyhound (2020)

This flew (floated?) under the radar last year, but had always been on my list — Tom Hanks as captain of a WWII ship trying to shepherd a convoy across the Atlantic, fighting off subs. After about ten minutes of exposition the tension goes straight to ten and doesn’t let up until the final moments; not perfectly crafted, but so skillfully that it felt like a bottle episode happening in a pressure cooker.

I Care A Lot (2021)

Humour of the very darkest variety…would probably have barely registered with me if not for the amazing Rosamund Pike, and the demonstration of how a magic seeds of crime become a Fortune 500 beanstalk with just a little water.

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

I was grateful to learn more about Black Panther Fred Hampton and FBI informant Bill O’Neal, and in awe of some serious powerhouse performances from Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield respectively.

The Mauritanian (2021)

I saw the ad for this popping up in my ‘suggestions for you’ box, but didn’t watch it until I listened to a This American Life episode about it. Plug in the cast and I hoped it was a worthwhile use of a couple of hours. It was.

No Time To Die (2021)

I am a self-professed Bond junkie — and critic, when the films are bad. But I’ve generally been a fan of the Daniel Craig era, so I was more than happy to pony up for his swan song in the role. Some deep Bond fan service early in the film, a fun and against-type mid-movie “Bond girl” appearance by Ana de Armas, and a (hopefully) emergent successor, plus all the usual gizmos and action sequences did it for me.

Parasite (2019)

No surprise that the Oscar winner from a few years back would make my list when I finally watched it. Wonderfully dark and funny, but so very cutting as well.

The Power Of The Dog (2021)

If it involves both Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons, I’ll be there. Add Benedict Cumberbatch as a tightly-wound viper and Jane Campion’s direction, and I’m running straight for it.

Tenet (2020)

Probably my least favourite Christopher Nolan film, but it still rates. I’ll still watch it a few more times, and maybe understand it by pass #4.

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My favourite TV shows this year

TV is probably the medium we’re still consuming the most. It was maybe the only list where I had to curate the top ten, vs. barely scraping one together. These were all made in 2021 as well, except Happy Valley season 1.

The Chair

Living with someone in academia probably gave me a little more connection to this than I might have otherwise had, but it was good — and made excellent by the cast. Power struggles are power struggles, no matter how hoity or how toity.

The Flight Attendant

I rather expected this to be fluff…and it kind of was, but also kind of wasn’t. It toed the line of dumb and fantastical without going ever, which kept it squarely in the enjoyable camp. Well done Kaley Cuoco for making this happen, and finding that balance.

Happy Valley (S1)

A catch-up from years past, hot on the heels of our Line of Duty obsession. We needed subtitles to understand the dialogue (and even then…nowt?) but were utterly drawn in to Sarah Lancashire’s performance. Still haven’t watched Season 2 somehow; it’s in the queue for when we fancy something a bit dark.

Line of Duty

Speaking of: the final season of Line of Duty was something of an obsession for us this year, having binged all previous seasons since the start of the pandemic. We even listened to the BBC podcast Obsessed With after each episode…which is a nice lead-in to an entry a little further down.

Mare of Easttown

Powerhouse performances from Kate Winslet, Jean Smart, and Julianne Nicholson (among few others) overshadowed a fairly typical small town cop drama, though with the emerging hot-spot setting of small town oxy-infested Pennsylvania (or Virginia, or whatever).

Only Murders In The Building

We started watching this when my mom was visiting, and would have binged it all before her flight had it not been coming out weekly. A show about a podcast that’s kind of making fun of shows that have podcasts (but which also had an official podcast) sounds dumb, but the charisma of the stars carried it.

Succession

Greek tragedy in the guise of maladjusted billionaire brats and their family dysfunction, echoing real-life family/board shenanigans (the Murdochs, the Rogers), fueled by utterly delicious dialogue. One of the few shows whose post-episode discourse prompts me to watch in real time, lest any betrayal be ruined. I like to watch it in real time. (See: Wambsgans, Tom.)

Ted Lasso

Finally got caught up to this series, which finds a neat little seam between drama, comedy, and outright feel-good-ness. Plus, when I realized that Hannah Waddingham was also the ‘Shame, shame, shame! [clang]’ septa from GoT, my brain exploded.

WandaVision

Had the potential to be very bad. Ended up very good indeed. A treatise on using nostalgic memories to deal with deep-seated trauma, and on the selfishness of institutional power, all orbiting the noble-hero core of the MCU.

The White Lotus

Excellent character-driven drama/comedy from Mike White, a heated barb sticking into the side of privilege in the form of various dysfunctional guests. I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted to punch someone as much as I wanted to punch Shane (played by Jake Lacy, whom I shall forever refer to as “Plop”).

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My favourite books this year

HHhH (2009) by Laurent Binet

This was the only book I actually finished this year — reading more than half of it while on Christmas vacation — but it was a good one. Mostly non-fiction with some fictional flourish (and occasional self-flagellation by the author as he criticizes his own style) but an entertaining telling of a WWII story I didn’t really know.

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My favourite podcasts this year

This category might have suffered the same fate as music, in that I used to consume most of my podcasts during my commute, but we’ve begun doing “podcast hour” to help us fall asleep at night, or even wake up gently. That plus a couple of flights kept me relatively current on some, though old favourites like This American Life have fallen by the wayside entirely.

9/12

Nearing the 20th anniversary mark of 9/11, Dan Taberski released this series not about the events of 9/11 itself, but about people having to adjust to a very different world the next day. The story of the people on the reality TV show alone is worth the price of admission.

99% Invisible

Evergreen entry on this list. The ground of design and architecture is too fertile with stories for me to get bored here, and the team behind it continues to tell good stories well, week after week.

Against The Rules

In a similar vein, I’ve always had a thing for Michael Lewis’ storytelling abilities. Where season 1 of the show focused on the role of the referee in American society, season 2 focused on the coach. Quickly exiting the arena (sorry) of sports, the locus from which so many of Lewis’ stories originate and quickly pivoting to, say, an autopsy in a park, it sucks me in with every episode.

Band Of Brothers

Built around another 20-year anniversary (in fact, episode one aired two days before 9/11) this podcast looked back episode by episode of one of my all-time favourite TV series. Taking deep dives with the actors who played Roe, Lipton, Liebgott, Winters, Malarkey, Guarnere, and others, as well as writers, directors, Tom Hanks, and even Dale Dye, this was an emotional look back at the series, but also the men on whom it was based. For fans of the show, it’s a treasure.

Dead Eyes

Speaking Band of Brothers, Connor Ratliff somehow continues, after two full seasons, to produce an expansive canvas of a story, all built around one failed audition. At this point, I feel like writing Tom Hanks myself, urging him to be on the podcast, even though I know it will have no effect. Do it, Tom. Do it.

Edith

Here, Rosamund Pike delivers again in a wholly different format, this time audio fiction about the first lady stepping up & in when Woodrow Wilson cannot. Great voice acting, with great audio effects too. It felt like an old-time radio serial.

Office Ladies

Even though I’d say it’s, like, 10% annoying, this is at the top of the podcast pile when new episodes drop. It’s also become our go-to sleepy-time podcast; we put on an old episode and fall right asleep. It’s as comfy as the TV show has become, like old friends when we need to chase away scary pandy thoughts.

White Saviours

A monumental piece of work from the CanadaLand team, shining light on a Canadian charity that always seemed to me a bit cult-like. Turns out I wasn’t the only one. It continues to win accolades and draw lawsuits, which I guess is some kind of success meter for podcasts?

You Are Good

The first of two podcasts on this list co-starring Sarah Marshall, this was once called Why Are Dads? but has pivoted away somewhat from the dads-in-movies-theme and mostly just become movie reviews with guest speakers. I often don’t know the movie, but the discussion is always so spot on. The Thor: Ragnarok episode with Fangirl Jeanne is just…{chef’s kiss}.

You’re Wrong About

This series, also co-starring Sarah Marshall and which Lindsay also tracked down, was #1 on our hit parade for months. Whether single-episode explorations into topics about which we’re, uh, probably wrong, or deep multi-episode threads (Princess Diana, OJ Simpson, etc.) taking you deeper than the headlines you remember as kids (if at all), it’s often funny and always informative.

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My favourite meals this year

Certainly, because of the pandemic, few of these would stand up to the kind of meals I’d list in non-pandemic years. Still, here we are. All are, not surprisingly, from places either in or near Toronto. In chronological order.

Jules Bistro, Toronto

One of the few places in Toronto we could count on to deliver a top-notch meal during the pandemic, we would occasionally remind ourselves what eating out tasted like by ordering steak or duck for two from this local French bistro.

Gare de L’Est, Toronto

Our first meal out in a year, more or less — recently vaccinated, we sat on a patio and listened to live jazz and ate and drank like the world was normal again. It obviously wasn’t, but for that one evening, we let ourselves forget.

Jacobs & Co., Toronto

Our first indoor meal of the year, and it was a big one. Jacobs has long been where we go to splash out a bit, and this was no exception. Superb Wagyu. A Super Tuscan worth the bill that followed. The infamous Caesar. It felt very weird to eat indoors, but the staff put us at ease, and we rolled on out of there.

Treadwell, Niagara on the Lake

On my first work trip to NotL we made dinner reservations at Treadwell, and remembered why it’s the best restaurant in that town, in my opinion. Our meal was so wonderful we begged for (and got) a lunch reservation the next day before leaving town.

Vela, Toronto

A work-related dinner on the patio. This was my first time eating there, and while there were a few ho-hum bites, there was a pork dish that absolutely melted my brain. That, plus seeing the sights on Portland on a weekend evening, made it quite memorable.

Barrington Steakhouse, Halifax

What I wrote at the time: “I had a quiet dinner by myself, thinking and making notes. My steak, the veg, and the ratatouille were all quite good, my wine was just okay, and the piano player singing mostly-Canadian classic rock was exceptional.”

La Paella, Toronto

An indoor/outdoor affair (on a covered patio) with friends, this meal stood out not just for the food, but for the hours of conversation and one-more-glass-of-Don-PX shenanigans that were the hallmark of meals in the before times. It felt good. (Until the next day.)

Ascari Enoteca, Toronto

For Lindsay’s birthday, with her mom in town, we dispatched ourselves to his reliable local spot for a full-ride Italian meal, on a rare October evening warm enough to comfortably sit outdoors. As is so often the case now, the restaurant was short-staffed, but we were in no hurry.

Bocado, Prince Edward County

The new hot spot in Picton, apparently, headed by a chef and team with no less provenance than two of our Toronto favourites: Patria and Byblos. I had to hold back on the drink as I was driving back to our hotel, but the Spanish-influenced food made up for it. Those dates.

Carisma, Toronto

Notable not just for the quality of the food at one of my all-time favourite Italian joints, but also for the fact that I got to take my employees out for dinner for the first time, just before Omicron reared its head.

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My favourite (new) wines this year

Only my second year doing this category. Like last year, I’m relying on Instagram and an occasional blog post to remember these, so I’ve almost certainly missed some. I’m hoping to have a better capture method soon. Two other key points: 1) all but one were consumed at home; 2) I’ve left out anything produced or imported by the company I work for. In chronological order.

Le Vieux Pin 2017 Equinox Syrah

I open the Equinox bottles judiciously, but always knowing they’ll be standouts. This one was no different.

El Enemigo 2013 Gran Enemigo Gualtallary Cabernet Franc

While Cab Franc might be my favourite grape, I don’t have many from Argentina. This bottle, paired with a perfect steak, is why I’ve started seeking them out.

TH Wines 2016 Pinot Noir

My last bottle from a long-cancelled wine club membership, from a now-shuttered winery. Drinking this felt like saying goodbye to an old, treasured friend.

Meerlust 2010 Rubicon

Probably just a touch past its prime, but on the list for sentimental reasons: this was the last of five bottles of the 2010 vintage my brother tracked down when I saw they were (almost inexplicably) at his local liquor store in rural Nova Scotia.

Penfolds 1996 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon

Nothing past it’s prime here: this ’96, won at auction, could have lasted a few more years in bottle, but it certainly tasted like it was at its peak. Stunning, and a great way to celebrate a big career change.

Antinori 2010 Solaia

Since we hadn’t been to Jacobs in some time, and had eaten out only twice in the past year, we opted for a star turn bottle. I’ve always been a bit skeptical of Super Tuscan prices, but I might be a convert now.

The Farm 2017 Neudorf Vineyard Pinot Noir

The first of two wines on this list made by Kelly Mason, one of my very favourites working in Niagara today. An exquisite Pinot, a standout in a region where excellent Pinots abound.

Mason Vineyard 2018 The Landed Cabernet Franc

Mason’s second entry on this list couldn’t be more different: one of the most powerful and complex Francs I’ve tried, typical of neither Niagara nor the Loire…something different and exceptional.

Volpe 2018 Pasini Zuc Di Volpe Pinot Grigio

But for some present acid and missing honey, I might have thought this was Condrieu. Eye-opening, for what Pinot Grigio can be (vs. how I tend to think of it).

Bonneau du Martray 2008 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru

Another bottle won at auction, and certainly too nice to drink on a random Monday evening all by myself, but that’s what happened. And it was glorious.

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My favourite (new) beers this year

I’d mentioned last year that my beer drinking was slowing down. In 2021 it very nearly came to a dead stop. Last year the culprit was the pandemic; this year was down to joining the wine industry halfway through the year, which only accelerated my already-deep obsession with wine. So, what’s noted here (a) largely comes from two beer orders we had sent to the house — some specialty bottles of Tilquin from Bar Volo, and a whole bunch from Rorschach Brewing down the street from us — and (b) doesn’t even hit the ten mark. That’s how few new beers I tried & liked enough to make the cut. In chronological order.

Gueuze Tilquin Oude Myrtille Sauvage (2018-2019)

A wild blueberry version of one of my all-time favourite beers. Pretty on point for the son of a blueberry farmer, really.

Gueuze Tilquin Oude Cassis (2018-2019)

A cassis version of the same. Not quite as good as the quetsche (plum) version, but still one of the best beers I’ve ever tried.

Rorschach Decadence (Pecan Sticky Bun)

From their sweet stout series, this was one where the sweetness balanced out the umami of the pecans. Not all of them worked so well.

Rorschach Hedonism (Blueberry Strawberry Guava)

The best (IMO) of their fruited sour pale series. These proved to be dangerously drinkable for 6.9% beer.

Rorschach Malevolent Benevolence (German Chocolate Cake)

My favourite of their heaviest hitters. Many in this series are totally overwhelming, but this one nailed it.

Rorschach Decadence (Salted Caramel Latte)

Again, they found the right balance with one: not too salty, not too sweet, not too creamy. The goldilocks of sweet stouts. (Okay, that’s enough from Rorschach.)

Garrison Rise ‘n’ Stein

Enjoyed on a warm fall day, in a beer garden on Halifax’s waterfront, whilst eating a currywurst. I’ve had much worse afternoons.

Godspeed Tmavý Ležák 12º

In what I assumed would be my last patio beer of the year (and I was right) I stopped at Wvrst and drank this dark lager as streetcar after streetcar went rumbling by my shoulder.

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My favourite moments this year

In chronological order. Also, it says something about the year we had when there was nothing notable until early April, and even that was our recovery from COVID, FFS.

  1. COVID sucked, but the first day we felt recovered from it felt pretty good. We could taste again!
  2. The first spring day warm enough to sit outside on our new outdoor furniture.
  3. When there was a vaccination popup in our neighbourhood where we got shot #1.
  4. A Canadiens playoff run to the finals (which feels pretty distant right now).
  5. Making a career change, moving to the wine industry after 22 years in banking.
  6. Getting shot #2 at Vaccineapalooza.
  7. Drinking a 1996 Penfolds Bin 707 to celebrate starting my new job.
  8. A renewing visit from a Montreal friend.
  9. A quick work-but-also-fun trip to Niagara on the Lake.
  10. The first night Kramer slept on the bed with us.
  11. A brief visit & dinner out from brother #2.
  12. Tasting the new wine club wines at Hidden Bench, including a Decanter best in show winner.
  13. Seeing the farm again for the first time in ~2 years.
  14. Learning lots of funny and interesting stories about my parents.
  15. Making my way through the by the glass list at Obladee.
  16. Dinner with my mom and her sister, and her family in Guelph.
  17. Blindness, our first theatrical experience in years.
  18. Waking up to the view of the lake at Mirazule.
  19. My first (and so far only, as it turned out) commute to work in my new car.
  20. Breaking bread with my new team.

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[Cover photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash]

Cover photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

2020 Annual Report: Containment

After the pummeling that was 2019, I was really looking forward to a return to normalcy in 2020. Lindsay, it should be noted, was always skeptical: at a New Year’s Eve party at Chez Nous she said the symmetry of the new year made her nervous. Most of us thought that was silly. A few weeks later we weren’t laughing.

2020 was, of course, shaped almost entirely by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Whatever other micro forces weighed in from mid-March on, the macro-est of forces crammed our lives into a box. Work changed (less in nature than in location though, really); social gatherings were fewer, and altered; dinners out were essentially unsafe; travel disappeared altogether, and in my head remains more of a romantic ideal than a practical future. I’m glad I opted for a January work trip to Madrid, and doubly glad I decided to attach a quick jaunt to Egypt as well. Brother #2 was living there at the time, so we got to hang out, and I got to see a brief sample of what Cairo had to offer. We were also lucky that brother #1 was in town twice in a week, just before the hammer fell.

Normally at this point in the annual summary I’d quantify the total media I consumed, but (a) things were obviously skewed this year — for example, for the first time since 2001 I didn’t attend any TIFF screenings; and (b) Lindsay pointed out that it doesn’t really make sense to limit myself to things that came out only in 2020 anyway. Unless reviewing music or movies or TV shows or books is someone’s job or sole extracurricular focus, there’s no way to keep up with the amount of content coming out. I always flouted this rule when it came to books anyway. So next year maybe I’ll try just listing the most interest things I watched, or read, or listened to, regardless of when they came out. In the meantime, if anyone wants to read about what I liked in 2020, it’s over here.

So look, I won’t bother writing about what we all know: the death toll, the strain on front line workers, various dropped balls by governments (some more than others — NS seemed to handle this very well indeed by locking down hard and fast, though I guess it helps when you’re only connected by an isthmus), the parallel anti-racism efforts in the US/everywhere, the US election, and so on. It’s all well covered, not to mention well outside the remit of the annual wrap-up post on someone’s silly blog.

Sure, COVID caused some personal stress, some family stress (especially when some maniac started shooting up their home province where some of my extended family lives), and lots of work stress. But we’ve stayed healthy the whole time — not even a cold. We didn’t have kids in the house, or elderly dependents in long term care facilities, which definitely seemed to make things tougher on many friends and colleagues. Neither of our livelihoods were affected. The worst situation we had to deal with was Kramer getting a UTI. For us, it wasn’t a dangerous or traumatic time. It was a series of adjustments. Some were even beneficial. To wit:

  • Kramer absolutely thrived having us both home during lockdown. In February we couldn’t even pet him. Now we both give him lots of pets and scratches and rubs every morning when we wake up, and more recently he’s let us pick him up and give him kisses on the back of his head. He’s even starting napping on the bed (granted, we often lure him there with treats) but it’s hard to believe this is even the same cat.
  • I finally gave up on the notion that I was ever going to set foot in a gym, and bought a Peloton. I worried that I’d use it for a few weeks and then abandon it, but 7 months on I’m still really enjoying it. Between the exercise, and some light meds to help my blood pressure, I’m feeling better physically than I have in years, even though I’m ~10 kilos heavier than I was at my lightest, four years ago.
  • We’re both notoriously bad for exploring Ontario outside of downtown Toronto, but the off-lockdown summer months gave us a chance to explore a little, decamping for the gorgeous and relaxing Elora Mill Hotel for a couple of days of pure scenic nothingness.
  • COVID forced me to finally get my dad’s maple business online. I tried 20+ years ago when you had to cobble ecommerce together yourself, but now Shopify exists, so it took me…I dunno, like, a weekend? Anyway, he sold out the year’s supply even with little to no foot traffic, so we’ll call that a success.
  • Spurred by needing walls and doors and separate work spaces, we did what I never thought I’d do: buy a house. It’s a semi-detached place just a few minutes’ walk east of the loft, so it’s not like we’ve moved to the country or anything. I’ve kept the loft and am renting it out, but we moved at the end of October and it immediately felt like home. We’re slowly filling all the rooms, but on day one we could already feel the difference when I could work two floors away from Lindsay and not bug her.
    • We were worried about bringing Kramer here, but the move itself went better than we expected and he loves the house too, keeping a watchful eye on the street’s squirrels and passersby.
    • Having the house also let us play host to my niece, who we helped move in to university back in September, for the past two weeks since she couldn’t fly home for Christmas.

2019 was bifurcated by Lindsay’s ankle break. 2020 was more lopsided: two obliviously normal months followed by ten months of a sourdough-y, hand sanitizer-y haze. But if our biggest complaint thus far is a few cancelled trips (Madrid, again; New York; London; Montreal) and the inconvenience of having to wear a mask outside, then we feel very grateful indeed.

Things won’t suddenly snap back to normal tomorrow morning, but I feel like there’s hope on 2021’s asymmetrical horizon.

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Annual reports from past years:

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Cover photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Cover photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The best of everything from 2020

To the great surprise of no one on planet earth, this is a weird year in which to do a list like this. Or, anything else. When I started prepping for this I assumed I wouldn’t have enough content to fill it, but it turns out I do, with some tweaks. So here goes. Everything is listed in alphabetical order, unless otherwise stated.

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My favourite albums of 2020

I’ve been pretty lax on music catch-up this year, and as such have not yet fully tackled this year’s releases by The Avalanches, Phoebe Bridgers, Basia Bulat, Bonny Light Horseman, Drakeo the Ruler, Fleet Foxes, Fontaines D.C., Damien Jurado, Lomelda, Bob Mould, Angel Olsen, Owen Pallett, Ratboys, Sigur Ros, Bartees Strange, Tricky, or U.S. Girls. So, as always, take the list below as a work in progress.

Fetch The Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple

Me and everyone else, I guess. This seems to be the de facto pick for album of the year, and with good reason: it was a brilliant little surprise, near-impeccably made, and paired real maturity and restraint with all the usual bubbling edge.

Flower Of Devotion by Dehd

Admittedly a little all over the place toward the end of the album, but they could have cut just the first six songs and it still would have ended up on my top ten list. It grabbed me right from “Desire” and barely let go.

Rough & Rowdy Ways by Bob Dylan

It is absolutely bonkers to me that someone could be this good for this long. I really appreciate most of the album, but — goofy though it may be — “Murder Most Foul” just entered my bloodstream and stuck for the whole year.

Miss Anthropocene by Grimes

The last time I heard good things about a Grimes album I was skeptical. I was wrong then. I was wrong this time too. Catchy up and down the playlist. These albums always sit outside the usual genre I feel I like, but there’s something about her music that draws me in over and over.

Women In Music Part III by Haim

I was never that much of a Haim fan, but this sounds like so many things familiar to my brain — tributes to artists that felt familiar, Rostam’s co-production, etc. — that it gave the melodies a chance to catch up to my soul.

Snapshot Of A Beginner by Nap Eyes

I keep waiting for these guys to take a misstep. Not that I want them to, but rather because it seems like a hard high wire act to pull off time and again. But they’ve cemented themselves so well in this groove that it no longer feels like a derivative of other styles, so much as it feels like their style.

Set My Heart On Fire Immediately by Perfume Genius

As with all PG albums this one felt spiky, but the high notes were so high it carried the rest of the album. There’s more texture here than I know what to do with sometimes.

Every Bad by Porridge Radio

From out of nowhere, this one became my spring soundtrack with all its gentle intensity. The looping cri de coeur at the end of “Lilac” probably helped get me through the early days of COVID.

RTJ4 by Run The Jewels

Nothing gentle about this one. All the usual RTJ type hits, and “Ooh La La” might be my visceral favourite, but “JU$T” probably hit a new level for them.

Saint Cloud by Waxahatchee

Maybe the most consistent album on the list, as is her wont, there were no wrong steps here and several absolute killers. This might have been the tour I most wished could have happened in 2020.

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My favourite songs of 2020

  1. Fiona Apple . “Under The Table”
  2. Ball Park Music . “Cherub”
  3. The Constantines . “Call Me Out”
  4. Dehd . “Desire”
  5. Bob Dylan . “Murder Most Foul”
  6. Jay Electronica . “The Blinding”
  7. Fontaines D.C. . “Televised Mind”
  8. Future Islands . “Thrill”
  9. Grimes . “4ÆM”
  10. Haim . “Up From A Dream”
  11. Jon McKiel . “Deeper Shade”
  12. Nap Eyes . “Mark Zuckerberg”
  13. Perfume Genius . “Describe”
  14. Porridge Radio . “Lilac”
  15. Jeff Rosenstock . “N O D R E A M”
  16. Run The Jewels . “Ooh La La”
  17. Tricky . “Hate This Pain”
  18. U.S. Girls . “Born To Lose”
  19. Kurt Vile & John Prine . “How Lucky”
  20. Waxahatchee . “St. Cloud”

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My favourite movies of 2020

Obviously this wasn’t a big year for new releases, and anyway my movie consumption has been declining for a while because of how much TV we watch at home. My 2020 backlog includes Da 5 Bloods, The Forty-Year-Old Version, The Invisible Man, Kajillionaire, Mank, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Nomadland, One Night in Miami, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and Shirley, so as of right now I’ve only seen five that would make this list.

1917

Made to look like one continuous shot, more or less, of two British soldiers carrying a message between two WWI units on the Western Front, this was such a rollercoaster between the horrific scenes of no man’s land, the bucolic French countryside, burning villages, serene woods, and so on, and so on, that I felt battered. I realized at a few points that I’d been holding my breath. Not without faults, but still a fairly fresh take on a very well-trod genre.

The Assistant

Quiet and subtle and chilling and clever and frustrating and not nearly far-fetched enough. That’s not a failing of the movie; things would be better if it were far-fetched.

Athlete A

This is what a documentary is supposed to be. It took a deeper look at the systemic issues within USA Gymnastics, not just at the rapist Larry Nassar, and gave plenty of airtime & consideration to the victims. As gripping as the story was we kept remarking throughout the documentary how well it was made. There’s a reason why it’s carrying a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Disclosure

Another excellent documentary, this one about trans representation in popular culture. A lot of familiar faces, some looks at good and bad examples — as well as the lasting implications of The Crying Game, and the subsequent Ace Ventura gag.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Admittedly I knew nothing about this episode in American politics. It was a typical Aaron Sorkin script (read: clever, quick, and leftish) so it was an entertaining watch about an infuriating event. Pretty hard to buy Sasha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman though.

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My favourite TV shows of 2020

Like I said, the movie list is short in large part because the TV list is long. In addition to the ten 2020 shows below that I watched & liked this year, there were five that didn’t make the cut: Dirty Money, The Devil Next Door, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, The Stranger, and Seduced: the NXIVM Story. I/we also watched older stuff: all six seasons of Bojack Horseman, season 1 of The Boys, three seasons of Broadchurch, six seasons of Community, season 3 of The Deuce, season 1 of Euphoria, both seasons of Fleabag, four seasons (and counting) of Grace and Frankie, two seasons of Line of Duty, all four seasons of The Man In The High Castle, two seasons of Mr. Robot, season 1 of Mrs. Fletcher, season 7 of New Girl (which I’d somehow never finished), season 2 of Pose, all five seasons of Schitt’s Creek, and a few miniseries like Safe, Unbelievable, and Waco. Plus parts of Succession and a constant rotation of old Office and New Girl episodes. Phew.

Caveats: I’m only partway through Lovecraft Country, Westworld season 3, and whatever stunted season of Billions this is, and haven’t even started Killing Eve season 3, though I doubt any of those would make this list anyway.

Big Mouth

Consistently crude, consistently hilarious. Lots of winks to the camera this season, including some important ones about where the line should be in comedy, even a comedy where a constipated turd gets birthed like a baby.

Fargo

I’ve come to love the quirkiness of this show, and how a loose thread attaches seasons together. This season we got a backstory to a backstory, and Chris Rock playing so against type I forgot it was Chris Rock. Also: Timothy Olyphant playing a role he now pretty much owns.

The Good Place

The final few episodes aired in January 2020 (remember January?!) so this one counts. One of the funniest and most optimistic shows on TV ended on a really lovely note, without a hint of the dumpster fire of a year that was to follow.

The Last Dance

I was just a bit too young to have truly witnessed the rise of Michael Jordan in real time (we also didn’t have cable, so I had no way to watch it even if I’d been paying attention) so this look back was a treat, a bigger pile of considerations in the GOAT discussion to sit alongside LeBron’s accomplishments. Plus it somehow led to us watching Spacejam.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Still the smartest thing on TV. Still killed it, even working in a blank cube. The running Adam Driver joke was one of my favourite things all year.

The Mandalorian

I actually watched both seasons this year, watching season 1 on my flight to Madrid back in January (and then watching it again with my brother in Cairo later on that same trip) before bingeing season 2 in one Christmas vacation afternoon/evening. So entertaining on its own, yet with so much fan service.

The Plot Against America

Adapted from a Philip Roth novel I read years ago, this came to the screen — courtesy of David Simon, whose stuff I will always watch — at just the right time, as even more overt racist sentiments than usual came out of the American woodwork, egged on by the piece of shit in the White House.

Queen’s Gambit

A lesson in perseverance (it took decades to get this made) and in stylistic production, we binged this in <24 hours. Some absolutely indelible characters and scenes. It sparked a surge in online chess playing for Lindsay, for one thing.

Run

Struggled under its own weight a bit, but makes it here on (a) the strength of the leads, especially the incomparable Merritt Wever; and (b) the clever Phoebe Waller-Bridge script. I’ll watch anything those two team up on, from now ’til the end of time.

Schitt’s Creek

I only started watching this in 2020, bingeing every season and catching up to the end not long after it aired for real. So consistently hilarious and deserving of all the late-breaking accolades. As I type this my niece is downstairs watching it, having gotten hooked on it when we played her the pilot. (We gave her an “Ew, David!” t-shirt for Christmas, pre-emptively guessing that she’d like the show.)

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My favourite books of 2020

Sigh.

There was only one again this year. I just…I can’t seem to get myself back to books. We even tried forming a book club, but then we bought a house, and that was it. I started a few, but the only thing I finished was Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker. Imagine that, a book about wine.

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My favourite podcasts of 2020

COVID definitely messed with my podcast listening. I used to listen to them both ways on my commute, but don’t find them easy to listen to while at home, so I didn’t listen to any of some previous favourites (Intelligence Squared, Reveal, Revisionist History, The Anthropocene Revealed) this year and am massively behind on others.

99% Invisible

This is one of the ones I’ve fallen behind on, though in the early days of the pandemic when I was still trying to force myself to go for long walks, I was burning through lots of them. As long as Roman Mars creates this, it will likely be in my top ten.

Against The Rules

Maybe it’s Michael Lewis’ voice (the Roman Mars love would lend some credence to that theory) or maybe it’s his skilled storytelling, but I love this series.

Dead Eyes

Such a beauty of a podcast: a small, inside-baseball story of an actor trying to descend into the particulars of his near-miss casting rejection of a bit part in Band of Brothers, and the apparent reason: that Tom Hanks thought he had “dead eyes” during the audition. Truly great for a fan of the series, or anyone who can sympathize with a struggling actor.

Floodlines

This launched in early March so I missed it, but once I found my way back I was hooked. This look back at Hurricane Katrina, with a clear-eyed look at the racism on display in both the response and the media coverage, was thoughtful and thorough.

Newcomers

Earlier this year Lindsay and I made a deal: I’d watch the Harry Potter movies if she’d watch the Star Wars movies. We started listening to this podcast because the two hosts, Nicole Byer and Lauren Lapkus, were also watching the Star Wars movies for the first time. It’s pretty great, and when Byer called Han Solo “Hans” I almost laughed myself unconscious.

Not Great

My only complaint about this Scaachi Koul podcast is that there were too few episodes. The world needs so much more of her snarkwit.

Oppo

Still my favourite Canadian politics podcast. Granted, it’s the only one I listen to, but still. While the two hosts (Jen Gerson and, now, Sandy Garossino) are ostensibly on opposite sides of most issues, the best episodes might counterintuitively be the ones where they agree. Their co-savaging of the lack of subsidized childcare along with a University of Calgary economics professor, or their up-and-downing of a Huawei exec, for example.

Slow Burn

Just as I’ve loved their previous seasons (Nixon; Clinton; Biggie & Tupac) this one about the rise of David Duke was an illuminating look back at a period I wasn’t really old enough to grasp, but which still seemed/seems infuriatingly relevant today.

This American Life

Another series I’m well behind one, but the episodes I listened to in the early days of the pandemic — or even some reported from China in January, when it was there and not yet here — were of the usual calibre that lands TAL here year after year.

Uncover season 6

This CBC podcast has been a past favourite (season 3, The Village) but season 6, about Satanic Panic in small-town Saskatchewan in the early ’90s, touched off memories from my own youth (as someone whose brothers and brothers’ friends played D&D) and of the West Memphis Three.

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My favourite meals of 2020

These are listed in chronological order and, because of the pandemic, there were obviously very few memorable meals out.

Jacobs & Co., Toronto

A perpetual contender for this list, Jacobs didn’t disappoint when we visited in January. Killer vintage sparkling, local Wagyu, a bottle of Etude I brought from my cellar, 1929 Don PX for dessert, and I was shown (but couldn’t/wouldn’t spring for) a bottle of 1863 Madeira. Mercy.

Kalma, Madrid

On my last night in Madrid for a January conference, I ate alone in the hotel’s top restaurant with only a smattering of occupied tables in the whole room. I had oxtail fritters and duck and a lovely bottle of Tempranillo, and a surprise dessert courtesy of the staff. Lovely. (Close second on this trip: the churros con chocolate I ate outside at San Ginés.)

Wynona, Toronto

Still in January, Lindsay and I met up with some fellow East-enders for dinner at Wynona. We’d been once or twice before; they had not. We ran through a pretty good chunk of the menu, and a few interesting bottles of wine, before being chased from our table having gone well past our time limit.

Barberian’s, Toronto

In February, back when groups of people could gather in small rooms, I attended a work celebration dinner in the private room at Barberian’s. The food and wine flew thick and fast, so it’s all a bit of a blur — especially now — but I remember it being pretty damn special. I hope to get back to that room some day.

Elora Mill Hotel, Elora

For our first getaway from the city during the pandemic I could have picked dinner the first night — our first meal in a restaurant since March, a good one at that, and also my birthday — but the one that sticks out is dinner the following night, when we ordered to our room and ate outside, on the terrace, overlooking the river. It was a pretty perfect evening.

ēst, Toronto

In the summer, when the lockdown was temporarily lifted just enough to allow restaurants to open (before being slammed shut again, as we all expected), we managed to sneak in one meal on a makeshift patio outside of ēst. The city allowed restaurants to set up outdoor dining in the rightmost lane of Queen Street, so we ate our meal with a streetcar rumbling by inches from my head, but it still felt pretty glorious. Now, several weeks into the latest lockdown, it’s a distant dream.

Honourable mention to a few other new-to-us Toronto joints I/we managed to try before the lockdown: Bodega Henriette, Cluny, Chotto Matte, Xola, and Osteria Rialto.

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My favourite (new) beers of 2020

Granted, my beer drinking was already slowing down, and the lack of travel (visiting beer bars is how I find cool neighbourhoods in new cities) cut into it even more, but I did managed to scrounge a list of some pretty good beers. In chronological order.

Cascade Brewing Framblanc (2016)

A bottle of vintage sour from the cellar, shared over lunch at Bar Hop Session on the Danforth.

La Pirata / La Quince Frapufino + Perennial Intentionally Indulgent

Two beers — a coffee/milk stout and Tiramisu-inspired imperial stout respectively — sampled at the Brew Wild Pizza Bar in Madrid, just down the street from my hotel.

Fábrica Maravillas Black Star

Another milk stout in Madrid, this one house-made at a tiny brewpub. Whilst sat at the bar I met a guy from New Jersey just taking a detour on his way home from an internship at Brasserie Cantillon.

Bellwoods Barn Owl (No. 18) + Willibald Farm Pay It Forward

Hard to say whether I drank these during a work sesh or friend hangout at Boxcar Social. I’d had other Barn Owl variants before but this passionfruit version stood out. As did this oatmeal stout from Willibald Farm, which was new to me.

Halo Shapeshifter

I was kind of shocked to see that this was my first shapeshifter. I was going to dig into it to see if my data was skewed, but then I thought: fuck it. I remember how good this sour IPA was when I had it at White Lily Diner, probably with a patty melt or pastrami sandwich.

Half Hours on Earth Burnout Generation

I brought this chamomile ginger cinnamon lemon honey sour ale home from Boxcar in the opening weeks of the pandemic. In addition to being absolutely delicious, it almost made me wish I had a cold.

Rorschach Reverie + Rorschach Blasphemy

In July, tired of being stuck inside, we walked to Woodbine Park on a scorching hot July day to meet our friend Sarah and drink beers on the grass. Along the way we stopped at Rorschach and grabbed some of their excellent beer, including these two: a Pineapple/Mango/Orange/Tangerine Double Milkshake IPA and a Passionfruit/Pineapple Sour. It felt like that scene in Shawshank Redemption where they sit on the roof and drink beers and, just for a while, feel like free men again.

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My favourite (new) wines of 2020

New category! I don’t log wine as carefully as I do beer (it’s too hard to look each one up, especially in a restaurant, and my Ontario-heavy collection isn’t friendly to a lot of barcode scanning apps anyway), but flipping back through my Instagram history, where I capture the more memorable ones, turned up a decent list. Again, in chronological order.

Etude 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

As mentioned above, I brought this with me to Jacobs & Co. to go with piles of steak. And go it did.

O’Shaughnessy 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

In the afore-mentioned Barberian’s private cellar dinner, our dinner companions were ordering quite a bit of Caymus. I eventually suggested switching to something a little…less refined, shall we say. Our server said, “OK, no more chocolate cake. How about this?” And damn, was he right.

Tawse 2010 Meritage

The last remnants of a long-ago cancelled Tawse wine club membership, I held on to this one just long enough. It seemed to me in peak drinking condition, having been born in one of Ontario’s great vintages.

Leaning Post 2017 Wismer Foxcroft Chardonnay

I could have just as easily put 2027’s Wismer Foxcroft chard on this list. It’s hard to go wrong with that grape in that vineyard, I guess. But there’s something about how Ilya makes and cares for his wines that just grabs me.

Vins de Vienne 2017 Condrieu ‘La Chambée’

Out of a cursed LCBO Vintages order which mostly went missing, I did manage to salvage this utterly delicious Condrieu, all fruit & spice & vanilla.

Ravine 2010 Piccone Cabernet Franc

I took Rick Van Sickle’s advice (this was his top Niagara red of 2012) and saved this bottle for a special occasion. That occasion was a socially-distanced summer evening on the front porch of my friend (and big Ravine fan) Andrea’s house.

Pegos Claros 2013 Castelão

This bottle followed Lindsay and I home from Lisbon on our first-ever trip away together. It needed a little patience in the cellar (though not as much as the Quinta de Roriz Touriga Nacional still chilling in there) but we were rewarded when we opened this one up.

Pearl Morissette 2012 Baranoff Vineyard Pinot Noir

My final bottle from Pearl Morissette’s California experiment, and probably the best…no doubt due to some age. Truly a blend of California heat and Ontario leanness.

M. Chapoutier 2012 Monier de la Sizeranne Syrah

A parting gift from my team at my last job, I let this one sit for 7+ years before popping it for a special dinner at home. It was just starting to slide past its peak, but was nonetheless remarkable.

Le Vieux Pin 2012 Equinoxe Cabernet Franc

I admit, I was a bit dubious. I love all of Le Vieux Pin’s wines — it’s why I’m a member of their wine club — but their specialty is generally Rhone varietals, not Loire. Plus, I’d not been blown away by Okanagan Cab Franc when I visited a few years back. I had no reason to fear, it turns out: this was fantastic, and had years’ worth of structure still left in it. This one comes with a big price tag, but my first foray into the bottle made me pretty glad I have a few more vintages put away.

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My favourite moments of 2020

In a year that had some serious downside and a lot of long unremarkable stretches, it was a nice exercise to dig back through the haze for some little moments. The world, the good world, is still out there. It’s just obscured for now, but for faint pinpoints like these. I, for one, plan to cling to them for all I’m worth.

Again, in alphabetical order:

  1. Watching live Flamenco in Madrid.
  2. Drinking sherry in La Venencia, a charismatic bar living stubbornly in the 1930s.
  3. Seeing the great Pyramid of Giza up close.
  4. Standing in a chamber of the Al-Rifa’i Mosque in Cairo, pitch black but for a bit of stained glass thirty feet up, listening to the call to prayer echoing around the walls.
  5. Drinking a quiet cup of coffee just above the tumult of the Khan el-Khalili market.
  6. Watching a recording of Fleabag (the play, not the TV show) recorded in London, which would be the closest thing to travel March 2020 would allow, at the Paradise Theatre.
  7. Winning a Lauren Pelc-McArthur painting in a charity auction.
  8. Drinking beer in Woodbine Park with our friend Sarah, which at the time felt like absolute peak freedom.
  9. Watching the Grand River roil below our room’s terrace at the Elora Mill Inn.
  10. Seeing the Canadiens surprise the Penguins in the weird-ass playoffs.
  11. Enjoying Kramer’s remarkable progress during lockdown, in which he’s learned to let us pet him, and even pick up him to kiss his head sometimes.
  12. Buying a house!
  13. Seeing the Raptors win a playoff series, and nearly win a second, in a year where no one gave them a chance to do either.
  14. Eating dinner outside (one of only two dinners out in nine months), even with streetcars and motorbikes whipping by my head.
  15. Finally walking the Lower Don trail.
  16. Sitting on the floor of our new house after moving day, drinking a bottle of Benjamin Bridge.
  17. Sheer relief at the realization that Donald Trump can just fuck off now.
  18. An online, blind beer tasting contest for a friend’s birthday.
  19. Waking up Dec 25th to see snow, the first White Christmas I can remember in years.
  20. Chatting with our families on Christmas Day, seeing everyone healthy and happy and safe. Which, really, is all that matters.

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[Cover photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash]

2019 Annual Report: Body Blows

After the stabilizing year that was 2018, 2019 continued in much the same vein…for the first half, at least. Things got bumpy in July. First Lindsay fell down our stairs and broke her ankle in three places. She spent the next several weeks in bed, while I played caretaker. Around the same time, I was reading texts and emails through sleep-deprived eyes about one of my oldest friends who died suddenly back home, and then about the sudden death of my cousin’s wife. It was a swirling haze for a month or so, followed by Lindsay starting her PhD program and me enduring an insanely busy work period through Thanksgiving and right into December. It’s only recently gotten back to some semblance of normalcy.

We did have to forego two trips — one back home to see family in August, the other a planned weekend trip to Niagara — due to the injury, but managed to fit in some good getaways in the first half of the year, like London for a work conference, a trip to Ottawa to testify before the senate, a drive to Ithaca to check out the Cornell campus, a long weekend in Washington DC built around a speaking gig for Lindsay, a long multi-city trip to Copenhagen, The Hague, and Amsterdam, and a serene & beautiful visit to Tofino and Vancouver. Once Lindsay was recovered enough for me to leave for a few days at a time I did squeeze in quick trips to Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal for work, and Banff/Calgary for work, before Lindsay’s ankle got good enough to do a long weekend in Chicago and to go home to Nova Scotia at Christmas.

We did plenty back in Toronto too, like a gallery opening, an Anderson .Paak concert, two regular-season Raptors games, an epic Raptors playoff game six against Milwaukee, two TIFF films, a Sasha Velour show at the Danforth, and a Stars concert/play. There were great meals at new places in town too, like Wynona, Kojin, the revamped Carisma, Aloette, and ēst. And we got to hang out with friends a bunch, including Maeg & Britt, two wine tastings with Laura, a long weekend hangout with Lindsay’s brother, a weekend at Mike & Heather’s cottage, drinks with CBJ, dinner at Wynona with CBGB visiting from Ottawa, a meal with our friend Sarah at Ruby Watchco, and a bunch of others I didn’t think to write about. We even got some friend meetup time in Copenhagen with Tess, and with Maeg & Immony in Vancouver.

In between all that fun I observed a few consumption-related switches:

  1. I leaned away from movies (26 this year, way down from 36 last year) in favour of TV (finishing 26 seasons this year, way up from 12 last year);
  2. I’ve cut way back on beer in favour of wine, leading me to sign up for my first (and probably not last) wine course at George Brown;
  3. My reading continues to shift to online & bite-size (still in RSS form, but increasingly podcasts too) as I finished only one book this year versus seven last year;
  4. I am re-discovering my pursuit of music, buying 13 new albums this year vs. 11 last year, with quite a few more to follow based on the backlog in my “to-listen” playlist.

One other big shift: Kramer. Last year he tolerated us but was pretty standoffish and mostly hissed at us. Now he constantly wants to play, and has taken to rubbing affectionately on our legs — especially Lindsay’s. Still no petting per se, but he’s getting some contact, and we can feel his fuzzy little body from time to time, so we’re happy.

So 2019 was a tale of two half-years, more or less, different for reasons almost too numerous to catalog. In the end, though, I remain as lucky and privileged to be writing this I was twelve months ago.

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Annual reports from past years:

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[Cover photo by Dylan Nolte via Unsplash]

Cover photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The best of everything from 2019

Another year, another list of the stuff I liked the best. All listed alphabetically, unless otherwise noted.

My favourite albums of 2019

While I’m behind and haven’t yet fully processed the latest releases from Amanda Palmer, Better Oblivion Community Center, Big Brave, Big Thief, Brittany Howard, FKA Twigs, Mark Lanegan, The National, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Pedro The Lion, Tallest Man On Earth, or Wilco, I could still put together a pretty solid list of new albums this year:

Schlagenheim by black midi

This band sounds unlike anything I’ve ever heard, any they look twelve years old. I don’t love all of the songs on this album, but what I love I love, and the rest I can just appreciate.

Destroyer by Black Mountain

Not quite as epic as IV, but as with all of their albums it gets better and better with each listen.

Norman Fucking Rockwell by Lana Del Ray

I was pretty sure I hated Lana Del Ray until I heard this. It’s so catchy and clever.

Are SING SINCK, SING by Kevin Doria & Efrim Menuck

This sounds a lot like Efrim Menuck’s last solo album and all his other work, so it wasn’t a long run for me to like this too.

No Home Record by Kim Gordon

I did not see this coming in Kim Gordon’s solo debut. It’s like someone laid her breathy Sonic Youth vocals laid over heavy trap beats. Actually, that’s exactly what it’s like. It misses almost as often as it hits, but when it hits, it hits big.

All Mirrors by Angel Olsen

An evolutionary step from Olsen’s torch-ish past to sweeping orchestral arrangements and soaring gut-punch vocals. Maybe the best album opener of the year too.

Act Surprised by Sebadoh

A throwback from an old favourite, Sebadoh came in hot with more of the same…and it was as good as always.

The Center Won’t Hold by Sleater-Kinney

Annie’s Clark’s production made this into something entirely unexpected, revealing that all band members are equal but some are more equal than others. It was the band’s biggest departure, and ultimately its undoing. But what a beautiful swan song it was.

Father Of The Bride by Vampire Weekend

Probably the most on-repeat album of 2019 for me, a low-key-romantic concept album with enough catchy hooks for two full releases.

Remind Me Tomorrow by Sharon Van Etten

An evolution like Angel Olsen’s in distance traveled, but unalike in method — this is stripped-down, electronic-tinged rawness.

Honourable mentions: Skylight by Pinegrove; In The Morse Code Of Brakelights by New Pornographers; Patience by Mannequin Pussy.

My favourite songs of 2019

  1. Angel Olsen . “Lark”
  2. Better Oblivion Community Center . “Dylan Thomas”
  3. Big Brave . “Holding Pattern”
  4. Big Thief . “Contact”
  5. black midi . “Western”
  6. Black Mountain . “High Rise”
  7. Bob Mould . “Send Me A Postcard”
  8. Bonnie Prince Billy . “Building A Fire”
  9. Corridor . “Domino”
  10. Jonathan Personne . “Comme Personne”
  11. Kevin Doria & Efrim Menuck . “Do The Police Embrace?”
  12. Kim Gordon . “Hungry Baby”
  13. Lana Del Ray . “Mariners Apartment Complex”
  14. Mannequin Pussy . “Drunk (Part 2)”
  15. New Pornographers . “Colossus Of Rhodes”
  16. Sebadoh . “Fool”
  17. Sharon Van Etten . “Seventeen”
  18. Sleater-Kinney . “The Dog / The Body”
  19. Vampire Weekend . “We Belong Together”
  20. Young Thug . “Sup Mate (feat. future)”

My favourite movies of 2019

Granted, I have not yet seen Us, Knives Out, Parasite, Booksmart, Marriage Story, Dolemite Is My Name, 1917, or Uncut Gems.

Ad Astra

I did myself a disservice watching this on a plane TV, but I still found myself lost in it. I plan to watch it on a bigger screen, but it still warrants inclusion here.

Avengers: Endgame

The big conclusion to the big Marvel franchise was every bit the spectacle promised. Also: Fat Thor.

Deadwood

A welcome return to an old TV favourite. It took me some time to get back into the rhythm of the dialogue, but god it was good to see those characters again.

The Friend

A lot of critics felt it lost the spirit of the original Esquire article from which it sprung, but speaking as someone who was in the debut audience at TIFF, it hit the emotional mark. No dry eyes.

The Irishman

The master. The masters. Avengers assemble, indeed.

John Wick 3: Parabellum

Nothing new or exceptional about this installment in the John Wick series, except maybe the ways in which people die. Still a ridiculously stylish, ridiculously entertaining two hours. I eagerly await #4.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Tarantino flexes his muscle of texture and revisionist-history storytelling (amidst bursts of violence) once again.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

I liked Homecoming plenty, but this might have been even better. I was a fan of the Tobey Maguire version, but this is shaping up to be my favourite Spider-Man incarnation.

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker

Not a critical favourite, and maybe one of the weakest of the back-six Star Wars films, but on sheer emotion alone, this lifelong fan rates it highly.

They Shall Not Grow Old

A stunning re-visualization of old WWI footage, first shown on the 100th anniversary of the end of the war but released widely this year, brought new life to an old story that must be understand anew.

My favourite TV shows of 2019

I still haven’t seen the latest seasons of Mr. Robot, The Man In The High Castle, Black Mirror, Barry, The Deuce, or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but with that said, here’s the best of what I did watch:

Big Mouth

On a matrix with sweetness on one axis and profanity in the other, Big Mouth is in the top right corner. And one of the funniest — probably produces more LOLs per minute than any other.

Chernobyl

Terrifying, gripping, enthralling, crazily true to reality. Maybe my favourite thing on TV this year.

The Good Place

As it heads toward its finale in 2020, this remains a cute, smart delight.

Killing Eve

Season two wasn’t quite as wonderful as season one, but it was still a treat. The two leads are just magical.

Last Week Tonight

Still, and always, the smartest and funniest show of its kind on TV right now.

Mindhunter

The yellowcake face makeup was entirely unnerving, but it didn’t change the texture, tension, or intrigue.

Russian Doll

From out of nowhere came this dark looping fiesta of weirdness, Natasha Lyonne’s charm, and perfect supporting characters.

Silicon Valley

Maybe a nostalgic entrant in the top ten as the final season wasn’t the strongest, but still — what a series.

Watchmen

I didn’t read the graphic novel. I did see the bad movie. This new show — set in an alternative current-day timeline and tackling white supremacy head-on — had me hooked.

When They See Us

I vaguely remember this story being in the news when I was a kid, but Ava DuVernay’s masterful telling of the Central Park Five’s story was intense and infuriating and heartbreaking.

Honourable mentions: True Detective; Stranger Things.

My favourite books of 2019

Embarrassingly, I read only one new book all year. I mean, I probably over-counted last year’s total in that I hadn’t finished the Michael Lewis book at the end of the year, so I could claim that one. But whatever. Life was busy and most of my reading is on screen, not paper.

Banker Builder Blockade Runner by Pat Lotz

This story of early Halifax and the Bank of Nova Scotia’s very first cashier, from a little independent NS press, was peak home province for me this year.

My favourite podcasts of 2019

99% Invisible

Come for the engaging, enlightening stories about design and architecture. Stay for Roman Mars’ voice.

Against The Rules

Michael Lewis’ podcast about the role of the referee in today’s society. Not just sports (though the series does start with a discussion about NBA referees) but language, law, and so on.

The Anthropocene Reviewed

In which author John Green reviews two things specifically related to our human-shaped epoch per episode and rates them, Amazon-like, on a scale of 1 to 5. Example episodes: “Teddy Bears + Penalty Shootouts”; “Tetris + Seed Potatoes Of Leningrad”; “Hawaiian Pizza + Viral Meningitis”.

The Office Ladies

Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey bring their goofily adorable friendship to a podcast with behind-the-scenes looks at each individual episode of the American Office series.

Oppo

My favourite Canadian politics podcast featured a foul-mouthed gay liberal journalist from Nova Scotia and a foul-mouthed pregnant conservative journalist from Alberta. Sadly Justin Ling is leaving the podcast so I’m not sure where it’ll go in 2020, but it sure was fun up ’til now.

Passenger List

A narrative podcast featuring Kelly Marie Tran which does an amazing amount of storytelling with script and soundtrack alone.

Reveal

Consistently my favourite investigative journalism podcast.

Revisionist History

As much as I poke at Malcolm Gladwell’s writing, this podcast remains one of the more entertaining things on my phone.

Slow Burn

The first two seasons (about the downfall of Richard Nixon and impeachment of Bill Clinton) were fantastic and instructive, but the third season took a left turn and told the story of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Very different, but extremely interesting.

This American Life

Always, probably.

My favourite meals of 2019

In chronological order.

Hawksmoor, London

I’ve been to most of this London restaurant’s outposts now (two on this trip alone!) but this might have been my favourite, a solo climb up the face of a 14oz ribeye.

A Rake’s Progress, Washington, DC

Lindsay and I went to this restaurant in our DC hotel with her friend Shannon, and it killed. Food aside, our server was some sort of angelic being sent to help us eat.

Kojin, Toronto

There’s a reason Toronto Life rated this their favourite new restaurant in the city last year. It lived up to the hype: the steak was phenomenal, but the griddled corn flatbread floored us.

The Pointe, Tofino

I could point (get it?) to any one of many meals we ate at this restaurant in The Wick during our stay, but the one that stands out is the tasting menu on our final night.

Black + Blue Steakhouse, Vancouver

We were aiming for a simple meal but it turned out to be a pretty involved dinner with a mind-blowing Wagyu and a lobster pasta intermezzo just for shits and giggles.

Le Club Chasse et Peche, Montreal

I suggested this place for a group dinner in Montreal, and everyone now thinks I’m some kind of foodie savant.

Smyth, Chicago

This 2 Michelin star destination was impressive in every way. Almost overwhelmingly so, frankly, but definitely the kind of creative meal we won’t soon forget.

Cherry Circle Room, Chicago

Back in our Chicago hotel we had our second big meal in two nights, in a very cool room, with very cool cocktails, and very delicious food.

Est, Toronto

This place had been open down the street from us for a few months before we finally popped in. The tasting menu didn’t have a single weak point, and once again, a flatbread (bannock, this time) might have stolen the show.

The Ostrich Club, Halifax

An impromptu dinner out with the brother, at a place I’d never heard of in the Hydrostone. It ended up being fantastic. I even got to try a wine varietal I’d never heard of — Petite Arvine.

My favourite (new) beer of 2019

Listed in chronological order. I admit, my beer intake is falling off sharply as I prioritize wine more and more. I should probably have a favourite wine of the year list, but haven’t yet found a reasonable way to track + rate everything I consume. (I’m not sure such a beast even exists.)

Fairweather Brewing Beki

Eastbound always brings in guest taps, often sours, and this was the best of the lot.

Dark Revolution Black Magic + The Wild Beer Co Millionaire

Two absolutely standout stouts at a newish beer joint in London

Aslin Beer Company Sorbet

On a drop-in trip to The Partisan in Washington DC I had this milkshake IPA for lunch. Not normally the style that would show up on my best of the year list, but this one nailed it.

De Struise Black Damnation XXVI / Froggie

The next day I was back at The Partisan and had this insanely dark, heavy Russian Imperial stout. It took me about an hour to drink.

Mikkeller Recipe 1000 (Chardonnay)

A bottle of strong ale aged in Chardonnay barrels, shared with Lindsay and Tess at Mikkeller’s Øl & Brød restaurant in Copenhagen.

Bokke Vlierbloesem (2017)

A rare, special bottle of (unofficial) Lambic, again shared with Lindsay and Tess in Copenhagen.

BrewDog Abstrakt AB:20

An insanely strong, flavourful, barleywine we shared at BEER loves FOOD in Amsterdam

Rainhard Brewing Dark Fire

Part of the reason I love working at Boxcar Social is the random beers on their list, like this stellar stout.

Blood Brothers Captain Howdy

This was another crazily intense imperial stout that got better with a bit of age.

My favourite moments of 2019

  1. Finding a quiet little London wine bar for lunch in between conference sessions
  2. Appearing before the Canadian Senate
  3. Hanging out in the gorgeous Uris library at Cornell
  4. Shit-talking Malcolm Gladwell while he walked right behind us in Washington DC
  5. Sharing a bottle of Bokkeryeder with Lindsay & Tess in Copenhagen
  6. Watching the Raptors come back to win game six against Milwaukee, to reach the NBA finals for the first time
  7. Sitting in Riverdale Park on a perfect sunny day, eating a picnic and drinking beer with Lindsay’s brother
  8. Watching Anderson .Paak at Echo Beach just as a crazy fog bank roll in
  9. Watching the Raptors win their first NBA title
  10. Walking on the beach at the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino
  11. Seeing grey whales, sea lions, otters, harbour porpoises, and a bald eagle in one afternoon in Tofino
  12. Enjoying the peace and reuniting with an old friend at Mike & Heather’s cottage
  13. The first time Kramer rubbed against my bare legs
  14. Tasting verticals of Hidden Bench reds with Laura
  15. An ever-so-brief lunch amidst the mountains afforded by a quick work trip to Banff
  16. Drinking vintage champagne and eating French fries in the middle of an afternoon in Chicago
  17. The first time I nailed the tasting portion of my intro wine course exams
  18. When Sasha Velour hand-jived to a Le Tigre song at the Danforth
  19. Semi-awkward musical confession time with Stars at the Crows theatre
  20. Singing a bunch of 80s songs (for some godforsaken reason) along with my brothers and their partners at the farm at Christmas time

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[Cover photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash]

2018 Annual Report: Stabilization

If 2016 was about chaos, and 2017 about the resulting fallout, then 2018 was more or less about the return to normalcy — whatever that means — and stability. No divorce proceedings. No moving house. No family members undergoing chemo. No new work challenges. OK, kidding, there were definitely those, but the expansion of my role was less dramatic than in the year before.

Now, 18 months into living in my loft, it feels like home. We’ve sunk more roots too: Lindsay more or less moved in last year; after a 4-month stint back in Montreal earlier this year, she moved to Toronto for good in June. We renovated the kitchen and bathroom. And we adopted a cat: Kramer. He’s a rescued feral cat, so he’s not exactly snuggly (read: we can’t touch him and he mostly just hisses at us) but we love him and we think he’s starting to like us too.

In between all the work we did find time to actually enjoy the loft, watching movies (36, up slightly from 34 last year) and TV shows (finishing 12 seasons this year), listening to music (11 new albums purchased this year, down from 13 last year), and reading books (7 this year, way up from 3 last year). I consumed more than media though; the weight gain continued unabated.

Outside of the loft but around Toronto, we did lots this year, like a couple of Raptors games, Torquil Campbell’s one-man play True Crime, a talk Lindsay gave at 401 Richmond, a Frightened Rabbit concert, Waxahatchee & Hurray For The Riff Raff at The Opera House, a Fran Lebovitz talk, a St. Vincent concert, a Godspeed You! Black Emperor concert, a cheese & beer tasting at Rorschach (where I met Nils from the Rural Alberta Advantage), a Beach House concert, a couple of TIFF films, Gertude & Alice at Buddies In Bad Times theatre, and a poetry reading (where I met a member of The Constantines).

We hung out with friends a bunch too, like Bina, Andrea, Sue, Tess & Kealin, Shannon, Mike & Heather, Joe & Sheila, Andrea again, Brock + Margaret, Amy, Shannon again, a bunch of people at Lob, Mike & Heather again, a 90s-themed party, and a bunch of others I probably didn’t blog about. We also had quick family visits from Tim (twice) and Mom.

I/we hit a few new restaurants around town too, like The Civic, The Hot Stove Club, Gare de L’Est, Yeah Yeahs, Birreira Volo (finally!), Bar Hop Danforth, Cider House, Le Select, Frankie’s Italian, Rorschach, Maple Leaf Tavern, East 36, Lena, Harbour 60, Katana on Bay, M’Eat, and Brassaii.

I/we only got out of Toronto to see the rest of Ontario a few times this year: dinner at Brian & Mandy’s place in NotL with Brock & Margaret, a quick down-and-back Niagara winery swing in August, and Ottawa for work (but with a quick side visit to CBGB’s place) in December.

I/we hit two other parts of Canada with regularity this year: Montreal (visiting four times for fun and two times for work) and Nova Scotia (once for a birthday/going away party and memorial for my aunt Anne, who passed away; once for a wedding; once for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary; and once over the Christmas holidays).

As is often the case, many of our highlights came while abroad. After a couple of quick work trips to Miami and Orlando (frankly, I’d spent my life trying to avoid Florida, and here I was visiting twice in two weeks) we book-ended several days of fun around a spring work trip to Dublin, and spent a slightly-truncated week in Amsterdam and Sweden in the fall. In between those two I had another work trip in San Francisco, where I managed to squeeze in a bit of fun. (Read: beer & steak.)

So that’s 2018 in a nutshell: the velocity hasn’t slowed, but there are fewer speed wobbles. For that, and for a hundred other things — a healthy family, a brilliant partner who loves me, a job I might have custom-designed for myself, a beautiful home in a safe and growing city, friends forgiving of my schedule and inattention — I remain incredibly grateful.

Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

The best of everything from 2018

As is my annual wont, I’ve collected and curated lists of my favourite consumed media from the year. All listed alphabetically, unless otherwise specified.

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My favourite albums of 2018

Freedom by Amen Dunes

I guess I’ve been out of the loop by not listening to (or being aware of) Amen Dunes before, but this album grabbed me and kept twisting all year. Sounds desperate and struggle-y but joyful and determined at the same time.

7 by Beach House

Nothing new from Beach House here, but a standard-issue Beach House album is still miles better than almost everything else.

God’s Favorite Customer by Father John Misty

I’ve always been hit and miss(ty) with FJM, with the last album a few years ago only offering up a couple of songs I liked, but this one went a little beyond that and kept luring me back.

Nearer My God by Foxing

I went from feeling like I should like Foxing’s last album and not, to assuming I wouldn’t like this one but then totally getting into it.

With Animals by Duke Garwood & Mark Lanegan

I remain a sucker for Mark Lanegan’s voice no matter what he does (he also guested on Neko Case’s album below) but this dark, brooding, electronic-tinged collection des dirges became my go-to focus/chill music this year.

Pissing Stars by Efrim Manuel Menuck

Speaking of electronic-tinged, this dronier, lighter (in musician count, if not in subject matter) offering from the Godspeed You! Black Emperor member swings from soft to intense to nuts in the space of a song.

Kin by Mogwai

Because I’m Dan and this was Mogwai.

I’m Bad Now by Nap Eyes

Probably less catchy than their sophomore album, but also more mature. They continue to blend elements of bands I don’t really like into something I love.

Hell-On by Neko Case

Neko Case, goddamn hero. Putting out an album after all the personal trauma she went through is remarkable; that it’s this good is amazing. Or maybe that’s what made it possible? Either way, the chorus of “Winnie” might be the most thrilling few seconds of any album this year.

Messeducation by St. Vincent

When you’re an Annie Clark-level genius you can take one of the best rock albums of last year and turn it into an album of stripped-down piano renditions that often sound like they’re sung by an unstable cabaret singer, giving it this whole other layer of broken-down, surging fragility that maybe only her voice could manage.

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My favourite songs of 2018

  1. Amen Dunes . “Miki Dora”
  2. Beach House . “Pay No Mind”
  3. Boy Genius . “Souvenir”
  4. Car Seat Headrest . “Famous Prophets (Stars)”
  5. Neko Case . “Winnie”
  6. Father John Misty . “Mr. Tillman”
  7. Foxing . “Lich Prince”
  8. Duke Garwood & Mark Lanegan . “L.A. Blue”
  9. Albert Hammond Jr . “Dvsl”
  10. Laura Jean . “Girls On The TV”
  11. Efrim Menuck . “A Lamb In The Land Of Payday Loans”
  12. Mitski . “Washing Machine Heart”
  13. Mogwai . “Donuts”
  14. Nap Eyes . “White Disciple”
  15. Parquet Courts . “Total Football”
  16. Pusha T . “If You Know You Know”
  17. Saba . “BUSY / SIRENS”
  18. St. Vincent . “Pills (Piano version)”
  19. US Girls . “Incidental Boogie”
  20. Young Fathers . “Turn”

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My favourite movies of 2018

I have all but abandoned my film obsession of past years, and as such can only offer the following nine films (versus my usual ten) which I would even consider for barely scraped together a best-of list. Note that I haven’t yet seen The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, BlacKkKlansman, The Death of Stalin, A Fantastic Woman, Free Solo, The Hate U Give, Hereditary, If Beale Street Could Talk, Isle of Dogs, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, A Quiet Place, Roma, Shirkers, Sorry to Bother You, A Star Is Born, Three Identical Strangers, or a host of others.

22 July

I’m a sucker for Paul Greengrass’ style and have always admired how he handles volatile topics, but I still wasn’t sure how this one — about the slaughter of dozens of kids in Norway by a right-wing nutter a few years ago — would come off. I needn’t have worried though.

Avengers: Infinity War

It’s difficult to thread together story lines and characters from a dozen different superhero movies into a coherent, entertaining flick, but the Russo Brothers did it again. Even if it did take 2.5 hours.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

Almost as much gimmick as movie — choose-your-own-adventure is something Netflix can entertain where others can’t — but it works within the frame of Black Mirror’s underlying thread of technological dread. Great soundtrack too.

Black Panther

The hype was real. A vehicle for propelling ahead the MCU, but also a visually striking and clever extravaganza.

Call Me By Your Name

Such a lush, emotional, honest love story. It left Lindsay and I both very tingly afterward. It also made me want to move to Italy immediately.

First Man

A straight procedural with an ending we all know — Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon — that was somehow riveting, thrusting us right into these claustrophobic and disorienting compartments. Damien Chazelle is quickly becoming one of my favourite directors.

Girl

Our favourite film by far at this year’s TIFF, Girl was an intense examination of puberty, transition, and obsession. It was also a masterclass in performance by a first-time actor.

I, Tonya

Last year we watched an HBO miniseries that made us feel sorry for the Unabomber. This year we watched a movie that made us feel sad for Tonya Harding. Really good use of the present-day interview method, and some absolutely staggering performances from Margot Robbie and especially Allison Janney.

The Kindergarten Teacher

Still on the topic of obsession, Maggie Gyllenhaal nailed it in this small, quiet film about a teacher fascinated by the innate talent of a student, with threads of regret, maternalism, and ennui running throughout.

The Post

Again, no surprises with the story here, but gets bonus points for being extra-relevant in a time when the press is under direct attack by the sort of politicians who recognize it as a potent defense against totalitarianism.

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My favourite TV shows of 2018

Granted, we haven’t watched The Deuce season 2, Handmaids Tale season 2, or Mr. Robot season 3, nor any of Atlanta, Sharp Objects, Better Call Saul, or The Americans, and we barely started Barry.

Big Mouth

Maybe the best analysis of puberty, combined with the most LOL-worthy moments of any show I watched this year. Very extreme at times, but always kind of sweet and silly in the end.

Billions

Pulpy and over the top, but the pivot into an attack on Trump-style capitalism and cronyism is an interesting one. And anything with that cast, pulpy or otherwise, is worth watching.

The Good Place

Cleverly hilarious, but also a thoughtful examination of philosophy, humanity, good vs. evil, merit, attraction, the idea of soulmates, Ted Danson dancing, and Janets.

Homecoming

We watched the first four episodes of this at TIFF and got hooked on the story and Sam Esmail’s style. (So many staircases!) We signed up for Amazon Prime largely so we could finish watching the season when it came out.

Killing Eve

We just started watching this while on Christmas vacation. The characters, the dialog, the fashion, the style, the locales…we were captivated right from the get-go. Sandra Oh’s a national treasure.

Last Week Tonight

Consistently the funniest and most insightful show on TV.

Making A Murderer

Somehow I was just as sucked into season two as season one, even though nothing really happened. I figure it was force-of-nature Kathleen Zellner.

Silicon Valley

Still and always, a bundle of huge, uncomfortable laughs mixed in with tech/business stuff that hits a little too close to home sometimes. Jared is straight-up one of my favourite characters on television.

Wild Wild Country

An absolutely bonkers tale of a cult taking over a mass of land in Oregon, the townspeople who fight back (but who don’t come off nearly as well as they think they do) and a power-hungry second-in-command who sends the whole thing spinning off the rails. High, weird drama.

Wormwood

An blend of documentary and recreation of events stemming from CIA experiments with LSD in the 1950s. I don’t usually love it when shows blend the two styles but it worked here. Technically this aired in December last year but I didn’t see it until 2018, so.

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My favourite books of 2018

I definitely did better this year, reading seven books, vs. three last year (and none at all the year before). Listed in the order in which I read them.

Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded by Simon Winchester

I’ve had a lifelong curiosity about massive disasters, so I picked this up at a used bookstore in Halifax last Christmas and read it in January. Can’t say it was a masterpiece but I learned a lot.

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

An impulse buy from Book City, I read this on one trip to Ottawa and back and felt better-armed for having done. It’s helpful and instructive to recognize the warning signs of encroaching tyranny — it’s not some well-marked monolith that appears suddenly — in these times. I’ve read too much about the rise of fascism in the 1930s to feel at ease right now.

October by China Miéville

It took me over a year to read this — I kept pausing to read other books — as it’s so dense, despite Miéville’s narrative skill. I can say this: it’s as gripping as the tale of ten months of hundred-year-old Russian political intrigue can be made to be.

Disrupted by Dan Lyons

The story of a late-career writer who got wrapped up in the latest tech boom (and called bullshit on the whole thing) this book reminded me of my own experience — albeit as a much younger employee — in the dot-com boom 18 years ago.

Child Of God by Cormac McCarthy

God, Cormac MCarthy books are bleak. But God, do I ever love them.

Around The World In 80 Wines by Mike Veseth

This was a gift from Lindsay that made me want to quit my job and become a wine + travel writer. I learned a bunch too, like why a lot of famous Port producers have British names.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

Any Americans who are actually concerned about the safety, soundness, and good functioning of their country and government shouldn’t read this book. Or, you know, maybe they should.

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My favourite meals of 2018

Man, we ate well this year, but surprisingly more so abroad than in Toronto.

Toqué, Montreal

One of the best tasting menus I’ve ever experienced, and maybe the best wine pairings too — there’s a reason why Toqué is one of the best restaurants in Canada.

Taste at Rustic, Dublin

One of a pile of amazing meals we had in Dublin, this Japanese-influenced place followed a visit to a lovely wine bar, and came out of nowhere with sticky pork and chicken karage and Wagyu beef and the like. There was also a cocktail called the Three Sisters so good I ordered it twice.

Chapter One, Dublin

We ducked into this Michelin-starred restaurant for lunch, and had one of the meals of our lives. The food was stellar, the wine pairings immaculate, and the service impeccable to the point of being absurd.

Maison Publique, Montreal

In what was effectively our goodbye to Montreal and Lindsay’s old neighbourhood, we made our final trip to this favourite restaurant. They sent us off with a bang, top bottles of Canadian wine, and ice cream with sparklers.

Alexander, San Francisco

After a conference in San Francisco I had a solo meal at the chef’s bar at Alexander’s in San Francisco. The kitchen kept sending over fun little treats like Hamachi and scallop crudo, the steak was phenomenal, and the Sommelier led me down more than a few intriguing paths.

Treadwell, Niagara on the Lake

On a quick jaunt down to Niagara I introduced Lindsay to this place, my favourite in the town. It was a spectacular meal; we had such trouble deciding between dishes we ordered extras, and my pork dish was mind-blowing.

M’eat, Toronto

A new addition to our neighbourhood this year, this place uses an entire animal at a time. They also, we learned on our first visit, prepare it perfectly: our steak was outrageous. So were the duck tataki, beef carpaccio, venison tartare…and on it went.

Taiko, Amsterdam

We spent a good chunk of our brief time in Amsterdam this year at this long, luxurious, Asian-inspired meal. There was a dish called a cappuccino of cepes (aka porcini mushrooms) that was absolutely otherworldly.

Ekstedt, Stockholm

The first Michelin-starred stop on our Scandinavian trip started with diced reindeer heart boiled in just-melted butter and poured into a taco, and it only got better from there. The hay-flamed beef was one of the best bites of anything I’ve ever had. All the wines were impeccable. Astonishing.

SK Mat, Gothenburg

After traveling west to Gothenburg we had a full eight-course tasting menu for Lindsay’s birthday, along with her dear friend Tess, at another Michelin-starred joint. We had the premium wine pairings too, obviously, so by the end of the meal things were a bit hazy, but I remember a particularly good Grenache Blanc.

Honourable mentions: a visit to Jacobs & Co. where I tried a 1929 Don PX; 400 Coups in Montreal where our adventurous wine orders led to the sommelier pouring us several bizarre digestifs; our second-to-last visit to Maison Publique in Montreal with Sara & Mark; an unreal breakfast at Meet Me In The Morning in Dublin; and Lindsay’s first visit to Patria.

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My favourite (new) beer of 2018

Listed in chronological order. To the great surprise of no one who knows me, my list was dominated by sours, porters, and stouts.

Le Trou du Diable Le Coq

Boxcar Social’s bottle list is always good for a few finds, and I’d somehow never tried this TDD sour before. Among all the other great beers we tried that night, this one stood out.

Burdock Auko

Lake Inez’s bottle list is similarly impressive, and this sour aged in cab franc barrels blew us away during an equally impressive LI meal, offsetting the spicy dishes perfectly.

Dieu du Ciel Péché Termopilas

As with last year, one of the best beers I drank all year came from a little grocery store in Montreal, in the annual Péché Mortel variety pack. This was like a lighter, more subtle version of the standard Péché, and almost as perfect.

Thornbridge Brewery Cocoa Wonderland

I tried this near-perfect porter whilst sitting in a little booth at Against The Grain in Dublin, noshing and playing board games with Lindsay after a museum adventure.

Oast House Toasted Walnut Bourbon Porter

I’ve always had a fondness for Oast House’s browns and porters, but this one was killer. The toastiness tamped down the bitterness of the walnuts which usually turns me off, and the bourbon barrels did the rest.

Blood Brothers Black Hand

I was kind of surprised I’d ever had this one before given how much I love Blood Brothers, but I guess maybe I’d tried all their other stouts while somehow missing this one? Regardless, this one’s an amazing example of a simple yet well-executed stout.

Rodenbach Caractère Rouge

Back on the topic of amazing bottle lists, we have The Wren and their deep, wide list. Lindsay and I often share bottles so we can sample more, and one of the best of the year was this special variant of her favourite, Rodenbach.

Gueuzerie Tilquin Stout Rullquin

And now, the ultimate beer list: at Akkurat in Stockholm they have a bottle list the size of a phone book. We delved deeply, and found an aged vintage of the original Gueuze Tilquin, but because it’s been one of my favourite beers for many years, I didn’t include it here. But almost as good was this sour stout collaboration between Tilquin and La Rulle.

AleSmith Hawaiian Speedway

Having travelled across Sweden to Gothenburg, we found ourselves at a cool little spot eating delicious doughy pizzas and picking beers off what might have been the best pound-for-pound draft list I’ve ever seen. This tropical stout was just the best of an amazing lineup I sampled over two days.

Four Winds Pomona

The list ends where the list began: the Boxcar Social Summerhill bottle list. Lindsay and I grabbed this big bottle of sour while we waited for some Yeah Yeahs pizza to come sliding through the wall. It was gorgeous.

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My favourite moments of 2018

  1. Seeing Frightened Rabbit with Mike & Heather on their 10th anniversary tour of The Midnight Organ Fight. Just months, it turns out, before singer Scott Hutchinson took his own life.
  2. Yelling “Pa’lante!” along with Hurray For The Riff Raff at the Opera House.
  3. Short rib and well-aged Ontario reds at Brian & Mandy’s place in Niagara.
  4. Celebrating my brother’s upcoming career move with Dom Perignon.
  5. Watching a play written, directed, and performed by women in Dublin the night before Ireland voted yes.
  6. Lying in the grass in St. Stephen’s Green with Lindsay on a perfect day.
  7. Walking the beach in Pugwash after T&K’s wedding, not knowing how badly my face was getting sunburned.
  8. Dinner with my mom and a bunch of extended family during a quick visit to Toronto.
  9. Celebrating my mom & dad’s 50th wedding anniversary at the farm, surrounded by friends & family.
  10. The day my contractor told me he was done renovating the kitchen and bathroom.
  11. Tasting whisky and artisanal chocolate outside on a patio at SF MOMA.
  12. Having my ass kicked by St. Vincent at the Sony Centre.
  13. Seeing GY!BE play the “Sad Mafioso” portion of “East Hastings” live at The Phoenix.
  14. Meeting Nils Edenloff from the Rural Alberta Advantage at a cheese & beer tasting.
  15. Slipping into a Beach House trance at the Sony Centre.
  16. Lunch on the patio at Two Sisters in Niagara on the Lake, the perfect remedy after a stressful drive.
  17. The day Kramer first came up the stairs to hang out with us.
  18. Every moment we spent in our suite at the Conservatorium hotel in Amsterdam.
  19. Lindsay, Tess, and I devouring Bubbies (mochi ice cream treats) in a loft in Gothenburg.
  20. Meeting a Constantine at a friend’s poetry reading.

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Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by Thomas Hawk, used under Creative Commons license

2017 Annual Report: Fallout

This write-up last year was about two big, seismic events: a hugely successful work launch in January, and my separation later in the year. There was a third event that came up so late in the year — on the day I was writing the blog post, in fact — that I couldn’t even process it. On December 28th last year my mother was diagnosed with cancer.

2017 was the year of dealing with the fallout — both good and bad — from those three events.

First, the success at work in 2016 translated into a bigger role early in 2017. It came with a pretty taxing workload, but I asked for it. Work continues to be one of the most interesting and exciting parts of my life, so too much of it is a good problem to have.

Second, the process of my separation continued, and added stress through most of the first half of the year. It involved many more lawyers and calculations than anyone could want, often right in the middle of work- and mom-related stress. It necessitated selling the condo and buying a new one, and all the pain in the ass that comes with moving, but I sold the condo at the perfect (read: craziest) time and I ended up in a real loft in a very cool new neighbourhood, where Lindsay and I live happily (when she’s not in Montreal). I’m glad the separation headache is over though.

Third, and dwarfing all that, was my mom’s fight with cancer. Luckily her health care was superb — she started treatment the same day she was diagnosed, and underwent chemotherapy and stem cell transplant procedures — and after pushing through all of that like a fucking warrior, she got news in early December that her cancer was in full remission. She’s not cured — her form of cancer can’t be cured — but it’s as good a result as can be imagined, and when I saw her this past week she was better than I’d seen her in eighteen months. Whatever else I did this year, whatever minor headaches I endured, all of the bad paled in comparison to what she went through, and none of the good could compare to when we got the news she was in remission.

So yeah, it was a challenging year. Especially the spring. I can look back at it now and say it was probably the busiest, and most stressed, I’ve ever been.

Still, I did all the usual stuff. I watched movies (34, down big from 47 the year before, probably because there was so much good TV to watch), bought new music (only 13 albums, way down from 20 the year before), and read a couple of books (2, versus three the year before). My weight went back up quite a bit, largely because I went back to working crazy hours which made it hard to eat right, but still not back to where it was a few years ago.

I did manage to escape work long enough to do a bunch of cool stuff around Toronto, like a round-the-world whisky tasting at Boxcar Social, a Le Vieux Pin wine club dinner at Canoe with T-Bone, a Japandroids concert, lots of exploration around my new neighbourhood, Bread & Circus at Inter/Access, visiting the Aquarium, seeing my friend perform at Comedy Kapow, a Raptors playoff game, the Session craft beer festival, the Vector festivalChardonnay League at Skin+Bones, TIFF, a Stars concert, two exhibitions at 8eleven gallery, a Mogwai concert, and a Rural Alberta Advantage concert.

One of my favourite parts about the new neighbourhood was getting to visit all the brand new breweries in the east end, like Eastbound, Radical Road, Godspeed, and Saulter Street. I still haven’t tried Rorschach, and with Left Field already there I’m psyched about the east end becoming like the Junction was a few years back. There were also a ton of new restaurants to explore in the new neighbourhood, like Kaboom, Peasant Table, White Lily, Bonjour Brioche, Skin + Bones, Ascari Enoteca, Mean BaoTabule, Double D’sCaribbean Sunset, the Broadview Hotel, and Lake Inez.

Obviously I tried new places elsewhere in Toronto as well, like La Carnita (the one on John Street, which we tried before the Riverside location became a mainstay), County GeneralDaishoActinoliteGusto 101Cherry Street BBQ, OMAWKing TapsGrey GardensArdoKhao San Road, and Union.

We also got out of Toronto a few times this year, to Niagara, Prince Edward County, Hockley Valley, Niagara again for Pearl-Morissette‘s 10th anniversary, and Burlington.

We also got to hang out with friends & family a fair amount, like beers with CBJ+M at Monk’s Table, with Lindsay’s friends at Sin & Redemption and Museum Tavern, a brief visit from brother #1, a longer visit from brother #2 and his lovely wife, a quarter-centennial party with Lindsay’s friends, a beautiful dinner with MLK, a boozy hangout with Mike & Heather, a visit from Lindsay’s mom, and of course lots of family time at Christmas.

Throughout the year I managed to go further afield for work (London/Stockholm/Munich, Montreal, Philadelphia, and Ottawa), and both of us got away for fun (Nova Scotia, France, Nova Scotia again at Christmas), as well as for work and fun (Lisbon). I also got to Montreal to visit Lindsay four times, in January, February, March, and April.

So yeah, the year started in a rough way, and got more and more brutal as it went on, but ultimately the fallout was that which I asked for, or which only affected me indirectly, so compared to the years that others have had to face, I really can’t complain. And now, at the end of the year I can look at my life and say that I have a great new job, I have a cool loft in a cool neighbourhood, I’m in love, and my mom beat cancer. I guess fallout makes you stronger if you can hang in there.

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Cover photo by Thomas Hawk, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

The best of everything from 2017

An annual tradition, in which I dump out my categorized & ranked consumption for all to see. Everything’s listed alphabetically unless otherwise noted.

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My favourite albums of 2017

Turn Out The Lights by Julien Baker

Even if it wasn’t quite as powerful as her first album – so much of that power came from how stark it was, whereas this has undergone more/slicker production – it’s still more intense and beautiful than most artists can manage.

Hug Of Thunder by Broken Social Scene

Ever the mixed bag of songs from the various members, it’s a typical BSS album (as much as there can be such a thing), which means it’s likely good enough to make my list.

Luciferian Towers by Godspeed You! Black Emperor

I’ve loved this band for a long time, and have adored all their albums, but this might be their best. It’s at least their best since the world-shaking Shake Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven. The multi-part “Bosses Hang” is a masterpiece.

Near To The Wild Heart Of Life by Japandroids

There’s something to be said for bands who can put out album after album after album of straight-ahead, high-energy, drum and guitar rock, and for it not to sound tired. Side note: it’s even better live.

DAMN by Kendrick Lamar

Me and everyone else, right? There’s a reason why so many people have this on, even atop, their year-end lists. Twenty years from now people will still be talking about this, and using the label classic. It was a classic the day it dropped.

Every Country’s Sun by Mogwai

Any year Mogwai releases an album will be a year they make my top ten. The best journeys are the ones you can’t predict, and I’m guessing no one in the band could have predicted what their music would sound like in 2017 (given how different it is than their earliest stuff), but it’s still rough and vital and intimidating.

S/T by Rainer Maria

Their last album – Disaster Keeps Us Together, which I really liked — came out in 2006, and the band broke up shortly after. I didn’t know they’d reformed until I heard this album had been released, and I honestly didn’t expect much…but it was tremendous. It is tremendous. I’ve listened to it, start to finish, a dozen times since it came out.

Hot Thoughts by Spoon

As relentlessly catchy as Spoon albums tend to be. Just writing that title track’s name has it stuck in my head completely.

Masseduction by St. Vincent

Somewhere there’s a bubble chart with “innovation” on one axis and “talent” on the other and the size of the bubble is “catchiness” and Annie Clark is a big fat circle in the top right corner.

Out In The Storm by Waxahatchee

In the same vein as the Rainer Maria album, I haven’t been able to stop listening to this one. There’s not a single bad song on the album. It’s a little crunchier than her last album, and I especially like the demo version of each song that comes with the deluxe version. A little less polish actually makes them each better, but whichever version you choose this was one of my favourite offerings of the year.

Honourable mentions: Feist, LCD Soundsystem, The National, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Wolf Alice.

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My favourite songs of 2017

  1. Julien Baker . “Turn Out The Lights”
  2. Big Thief . “Mary”
  3. The Black Angels . “Comanche Moon”
  4. Broken Social Scene . “Protest Song”
  5. Feist . “Any Party”
  6. Girlpool . “Soup”
  7. Godspeed You! Black Emperor . “Bosses Hang (parts I, II, and III)”
  8. Japandroids . “Arc Of Bar”
  9. Kendrick Lamar . “HUMBLE”
  10. Mogwai . “Don”t Believe The Fife”
  11. The National . “Carin At The Liquor Store”
  12. Rainer Maria . “Lower Worlds”
  13. Rural Alberta Advantage . “Wild Grin”
  14. Spoon . “Hot Thoughts”
  15. St. Vincent . “New York”
  16. Stars . “The Wanderers”
  17. Vagabon . “Alive And A Well”
  18. Waxahatchee . “Silver”
  19. Siobhan Wilson . “Whatever Works”
  20. Wolf Alice . “Don’t Delete The Kisses”

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My favourite movies of 2017

I’ve been SUPER slack on movies this year, which means I haven’t seen any of Blade Runner 2049, Call Me by Your Name, Florida Project, Jane, John Wick Chapter 2, The Meyerowitz Stories, Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water, or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri yet. I would expect any number of those to penetrate this top ten, so consider this a temporary list.

Baby Driver

I really thought I’d hate this movie, given the trailer, but I ended up really liking it. Slick, entertaining, kind of sweet. Good soundtrack too.

The Big Sick

This was a surprise. I watched in on the flight home from Paris at Lindsay’s urging, expecting only light, cute comedy. I like Kumail Nanjiani from his role on Silicon Valley, but I didn’t know much about him, so this autobiographical story was interesting and poignant and funny and caught me off guard. Great chemistry with Zoe Kazan too.

Dunkirk

I hold Christopher Nolan in such high regard that I’ll watch anything he makes, and this one, while a big departure from his more sci-fi and effects-laden offerings of late, didn’t disappoint. Big, sweeping war epic, without very much combat at all – I don’t think we ever actually see the enemy fire a gun – with the now-well-known implications looming just out of sight.

Get Out

Mystery, family comedy, horror, biting social commentary… I expected a comedy from Jordan Peele, but not necessarily this. I hope Get Out ends up being a landmark movie that kicks off more of these, whatever they are.

I Am Not Your Negro

A documentary of sorts, assembled out of old footage of 60s/70s activist and intellectual James Baldwin interspersed with current-day footage, making it painfully and embarrassingly clear how the lessons he tried to impart 50 years ago still haven’t found enough ears.

Lady Bird

The coming-of-age genre is so tired, but this one – free of cliché, full of real drama and humour and friendship and difficult family relationships – felt so true and lovely I could hardly stand it. Remarkable that it came from a first-time director.

Logan

Taking a HARD turn from the other X-Men movies was a good choice. Marvel’s characters, and the X-Men especially, are compelling because they’re so flawed and vulnerable, and this movie played to that strength. A sick, run-down Wolverine. A senile Professor X. Dark, bloody violence, which was always missing from the X-Men movies. Rough, but worthwhile.

Logan Lucky

Big, dumb, fun movie from Steven Soderbergh, so it was infused with his famous style. As much style as there can be in a redneck heist flick, anyway. Adam Driver couldn’t quite manage a Virginia accent, but he was just great.

The Square

A Swedish import we saw at TIFF this year, The Square was a hard skewering of a bunch of things: postmodern art, marketing, empathy, and fundraising, for example. Ruben Ostling is making a real name out of making people feel uncomfortable.

Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi

I don’t get why so many people are furious about it. It was as funny and impressive-looking as The Force Awakens, but had the darkness and overall plot thread of Empire. The Finn storyline was a little weak – I don’t think they quite knew what to do with him – but it was still one of the most entertaining things I saw this year.

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My favourite TV shows of 2017

I know I’m likely missing out by not watching Twin Peaks, Big Little Lies, Alias Grace, Dear White People, The Leftovers, The Good Place, Better Call Saul, Rick And Morty, The Americans, or Better Things, but I only have so many hours in the day.

Black Mirror

It’s hard to know whether the new episodes will live up to the other seasons — it dropped yesterday and I haven’t had a chance to watch them — but given the remarkable strength of the former episodes, I have no reason to think it won’t be among the best things I watched all year.

The Deuce

I had high hopes for this one given it’s directed by David Simon, and it didn’t disappoint. Long, slow builds. Deep looks. Texture, style. Rawness and grime, just like 42nd Street of that era really had.

Game Of Thrones

This shortest season so far felt rushed and clumsy compared to the others, but it’s still the one show I get psyched for watching in real time. And now I have Lindsay hooked.

Godless

A brutal western series (full of, oddly enough, a largely British cast) with a twist: a town populated mostly by women. Merritt Wever, long one of my favourites from her stint on Nurse Jackie, is exceptional here. The entire 7-episode season leads rather obviously to the climactic battle, but what a lead-up it is.

The Handmaid’s Tale

The series had a lot to live up to, given the source material, but I think they nailed it. In a horribly disturbing, this-seems-a-little-too-possible way. That horror was tough to square with the fact that it was shot in Toronto, including a short scene in Bonjour Brioche where we eat breakfast most weekends.

Last Week Tonight

Week after week John Oliver turns out irreverent, insightful commentary on a topic that needs investigating, even (especially?) if he does it with satire and extreme absurdity. He makes me not even miss Jon Stewart.

Manhunt: Unabomber

The second of two period pieces related to hunting serial killers we watched in the last few months. We’re not quite done this one yet, but any series that can make me feel empathy for the Unabomber must be doing something right.

Mindhunter

David Fincher + serial killers = sign me up, post haste. A genesis story for the behavioural sciences unit around which is centered my beloved Silence Of The Lambs, but also a style-heavy and engrossing string of procedurals.

Mr. Robot

I’ll be honest: I haven’t even watched the new season yet. I’m just assuming. Even if it’s bad it’s better than virtually everything else on TV.

Stranger Things

I didn’t think I’d like the first season but I did. I wasn’t sure I’d like the second season but I do. I still hate the 80s, but these kids somehow make it tolerable.

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My favourite books of 2017

Okay, fine, I only finished two, but October by China Miéville is a bit of a slow read. I can only remember so many Russian names at one time.

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

Probably my least favourite Michael Lewis book, but still interesting. It’s about two friends – Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky – who essentially invented the field of behavioural economics, and the dissolution of that friendship. Inspirational for its study of genius, but a touch sad for its reminder of how genius rarely gets along with other genius for long.

No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein

This was rushed out in the wake of one Donald J Trump becoming president of the United States, as if to give voice to the collective Canadian wtf. I blazed through it in a few days, but even a month after its release it seemed woefully dated, as Trump and his clown car of a cabinet trundled, ablaze, down the road of absurdity.

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My favourite meals of 2017

Listed in chronological order. Note: I hit Maison Publique so many times in the winter that I can’t even distinguish my visits, so I’ve left them off, but not for lack of deliciousness.

Barrafina, London

I visited this killer tapas place with my CEO and a colleague during a short visit to London. I don’t even remember looking at a menu so much as just asking them to bring us what was good. They did, and we loved it all.

Le Filet, Montreal

On my last visit of the spring to Montreal we hit up Le Filet, in the shadow of Mont Royal, and ate a meal that had us freaking out the whole night: Hamachi, Wagyu, maple-glazed smoked duck, cavatelli w/ foie gras + veal cheek, and a transcendent bottle of Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Pinot Noir.

Enoteca De Belem, Lisbon

Our first dinner in Lisbon was a truly superb find: a cozy little spot (only 5-6 tables in the place) with a well-curated wine list, and a relaxed feel. The whole menu – tiger prawns, lamb, desserts, the various wines – was terrific, but the grouper was sublime.

A Cevicheria, Lisbon

While we sat in Lisbon’s best beer bar, we did a quick search on our phones to figure out where we should eat, and this place popped up. We’re glad it did too – after a short wait, which we spent outside drinking giant G&T’s and talking with another couple from Toronto – we had an utterly delicious tasting menu. I can’t even remember a single thing we ate. I just know it was incredible.

Tagide, Lisbon

Speaking of incredible, we splurged on this place for our last meal in Lisbon. By far our fanciest of the week, it was also probably our only real departure from seafood – we ordered foie gras, quail, veal & duck instead. The view of the river at night didn’t let us forget where we were though.

Actionolite, Toronto

We had only the briefest of visits here, on an odd weeknight, as we were on our way to see an exhibition nearby, but we had an exceptional meal. Actinolite isn’t about large portions or overdoing it – it’s small, simple, natural flavours, and they nailed it. We resolved to visit again.

OMAW, Toronto

This place had a slightly weird (read: Ossington) vibe and inattentive bar staff, but the food made up for it. Especially the jambalaya formed into little black balls, the scallops in coconut cream, and the Nashville hot chicken.

Lake Inez, Toronto

Lake Inez, on the other hand, has already seen a return visit, given its proximity to us, but mostly because of our standout first visit. We met CBGB here for dinner one evening, and left raving about the place. Starters, mains, the vibe, the beer list…honestly, I’ve never even looked at the wine list because we’ve found so many rare beer bottles that pair perfectly.

Buvette, Paris

Our first dinner in France ended up being pound for pound (Euro for Euro?) our best of the trip. We sat at the unassuming bar of a cramped, dark (read: Parisian) restaurant and shared a simple but beautiful meal, and settled into a week in France.

Les Crayeres, Reims

Our chateau in Champagne featured a (two) Michelin starred restaurant, but we didn’t eat there, opting instead for the more relaxed (but still spectacular) bistro down the hill. We did eat breakfast in the main building, however, and it might have been one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. That’s right: breakfast. There weren’t even meat or eggs or vegetables of any kind, just fruit and pastries and preserves and so on. The food, the setting, the service: immaculate, all.

Honourable mentions: both visits to Jacobs & Co, dinners at Byblos and Opus, a work dinner at Daisho, and brunch at The Sparrow in Montreal

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My favourite (new) beer of 2017

My source for this list is Untappd, and I’m sure I forgot to log some, but that’s to be expected when you consume enough beer to make a top twenty list possible. Listed chronologically.

Dieu du Ciel! Péché Mortel Bourbon

Hard to believe, but one of the best beers I tasted all year was purchased at a tiny local grocery store in Montreal. All the deliciousness of Péché Mortel but with sweet, sweet bourbon.

Brasserie Dunham Oro Zuur (Batch 01 – Mosaic)

Lindsay and I shared a bottle of this sour at Vices & Versa in Montreal right before I had to fly back to Toronto. It’s nice to have easier access to Dunham’s stellar lineup when visiting Quebec.

Bellwoods Weft & Warp (2017)

We had this sour aged in Chardonnay barrels for the first time at The Wren, one of many outstanding bottles (mainly sours) we’ve shared there over burgers.

Cascade Brewing Noyaux

For my birthday Lindsay booked a table at King Taps, which turned out to be not at all the kind of place we were expecting, but the beer lineup made up for it. For a birthday treat she bought us this amazing bottle from Oregon’s Cascade.

À La Fût Co-Hop V – Rouge de Mékinac

A cold bottle on a sweltering day, put back in the tiny basement of Pub BreWskey in Montreal, this tasted like a local variant of Rodenbach. The bartender recommended this one, and she wasn’t wrong.

Russian River Brewing Consecration

Another bartender recommendation, this time in Philadelphia, in the back bar of Monk’s Café. I asked for a sour, and got a serious one in this Californian wild ale.

Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout

My first sip of this suggested that it was much too sweet. My second sip was better. My third, and every thereafter, slowly brought me around to realize that this was a stunning barrel aged stout.

Brouwerij Rodenbach Alexander

Also in Philadelphia, but an entirely different bar experience than Monk’s. Brü was loud, crowded, and mostly slinging crap beer, but if you dug down their list they had some tremendous stuff, like this one from Rodenbach. I drank it while drunk conference attendees bumped into me and spilled drinks on my menu and I didn’t even care that much.

Tatamagouche Brewing Jitney

A surprise late in the year, my brother had procured a few cans of this from a local NS brewery and kept them for me, and wow…a near-perfect dry-hopped sour.

Omnipollo Nua Pecan Mud

I usually publish this on Dec 30th assuming I won’t have any better beer in the final 36 hours of the year. This year I was wrong. Lindsay and I split a small bottle of this at Stillwell, and a small bottle was all we needed. It smelled and tasted like this incredibly rich chocolate/pecan cake. Absolutely stellar.

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My favourite moments of 2017

Tough to narrow it down this year, but here’s my best guess. In chronological order.

  1. Seeing Japandroids at Danforth Music Hall with Lindsay, one of the highest-energy shows I’ve ever witnessed
  2. After being shut out of Péché Day at the Dieu du Ciel brewpub, finding a special Péché Day 4-pack at – of all places – the Metro next to Lindsay’s Montreal apartment
  3. After eating lunch at Aqua Shard in London I used the facilities, and enjoyed the best view of London I’ve ever seen whilst standing at a urinal
  4. Being a proper German tourist, lifting a giant dunkel and eating apfelstrudel at Schneider Brauhaus in Munich
  5. Getting a fresh, warm pasteis from Pasteis de Belem, the original Portuguese custard tart, and finally understanding the hype
  6. Drinking 40-year-old port with the owner of Winebar do Castelo in Lisbon after an epic tasting session
  7. Hosting a friend’s quarter-centennial celebration in our building’s party room and, later, our loft
  8. Playing frisbee at Bramble Lane
  9. Tasting wine on a perfect summer day at Benjamin Bridge, looking out over the Gaspereau Valley
  10. Exploring the demoscene at Execute! From Scene To Screen, part of the Vector Festival
  11. Sitting on our balcony at the Hockley Valley Resort, celebrating our friends’ wedding and my 42nd birthday
  12. Eating and drinking on Pearl Morissette’s farm as they celebrated their tenth anniversary
  13. Ninja-ing our way out of a garden after being trapped outside of L’Orangerie museum in Liège, Belgium
  14. Standing in an ancient Roman cave, where Taittinger now ages their champagne
  15. Standing in front of Hanne Darboven’s work with Lindsay at the Centre Pompidou in Paris
  16. Singing along with Stars at The Great Hall
  17. Sitting in 8eleven Gallery after-hours, drinking Blood Brothers beer, talking about…everything
  18. Being beautifully destroyed, once again, by Mogwai
  19. Singing along to “Frank, AB” with the Rural Alberta Advantage and everyone else in the Danforth Music Hall
  20. Far and away the best moment of my whole year: getting the message from my brother letting me know my mom’s cancer was in remission

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Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license