Jennifer Coolidge and Udo Kier in director Todd Stephens's Swan Song
Jennifer Coolidge and Udo Kier in director Todd Stephens’s Swan Song (Photo: courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

One of the weird consequences of writing about entertainment for a living is that, while you spend a lot of time trying to exhaustively consume everything out there—every new release, every season premiere, every episode, every album—inevitably, things fall through the cracks. As 2021 draws to a close, I’ve been trying to cram in as much of the marquee content that I somehow missed over the past 12 months. Here’s a selection of hot-takes from my 2021 entertainment bucket list.

Reservation Dogs

I’ve heard such good things about this show from basically every critic I respect, so I have zero excuse for taking so long to actually watch it. The half-hour comedy from co-creators Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi follows four Indigenous teenagers as they run amok in their rural Oklahoma town, doing everything they can to earn enough cash to move to California. Three episodes in and I’m hooked on the show’s distinct POV, its fully-realized sense of place—not to mention its winning young cast.

Also…

I’ll be finishing Season 2 of The Great (Hulu) and the final season of Dickinson (AppleTV+), and checking out Showtime’s Yellowjackets.

Lana Del Rey, Blue Banisters

I have this tendency to only listen to the music I already know I love. Probably it’s age, I dunno. The point is that I’m seriously behind on all the 2021 albums I meant to give a chance this year. Top of that list is Lana Del Rey’s Blue Banisters. In my defense, this is the second album she’s released in 2021, and as much as I love a lot of her work, it does kind of all start to bleed together. At least it does to my ear. There’s a very specific Lana Del Rey sound, a very specific Lana Del Rey vibe, and that remains true on Blue Banisters: wistful, melancholy, sexy and sad. Still, the brass on tracks like “Arcadia” and “If You Lie Down with Me” was a nice surprise. I remain partial to the bombastic production on Born to Die, so the trap beat on the short instrumental interlude “The Trio” feels a bit like a tease. Like nearly all of her output since that breakthrough album, there’s essentially one sustained mood on Blue Banisters, and it’s one that I think of as perfect for summer twilight, for slow dancing poolside as the fireflies begin to appear. But if you know anything about Lana Del Rey, you don’t need me to tell you that.

Adele, 30

Ok, so I certainly am not the first to says so, but the voice memos in “My Little Love” are super weird. Which is a shame because that’s a lovely song with some very self-assured vocals, and the voice memos undercut that with their uncertainty and anxiety. But hey, maybe that’s the point. I know people come to Adele for all the feels, the torch songs, etc. And I’m not not all about that. But the highlights of 30 for me were a couple of bops called “Oh My God” and “Can I Get It.” Honestly, despite all the acclaim, I put off listening to this album, thinking it was going to be weighed down by heartbreak—it’s Adele’s “divorce album” after all. But there’s a lightness and sexiness I didn’t expect, which made for quite a fun listen.

Plus…

Music really has been my biggest blind spot this year, so as embarrassing as it is to admit, I still need to listen to: Lil Nas X’s Montero, Billie Eilish’s Happier Than Ever and Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour.

I Wished by Dennis Cooper
I Wished by Dennis Cooper (Image courtesy of Penguin Random House)
I Wished by Dennis Cooper

Dennis Cooper has been writing about George Miles for decades. From 1989 to 2000 he published a series of five novels known as the George Miles Cycle—Closer, Frisk, Try, Guide and Period—inspired by his late friend, who died by suicide at some point in the late ’80s. In his first novel in 10 years, Cooper is once again reconning with this relationship. I’ve read the first two books in the cycle, as well as a collection of Cooper’s short fiction. His work is often filled with disturbing imagery and unsettling theme. But I Wished is a much mellower, contemplative book—though still dangerous. Officially, it’s considered a novel, but I might classify it as something more like auto-fiction, a collection of impressionistic autobiographical essays or musings.

And Every Other Book I Should Have Read 2021

I’m not kidding myself that I’m going to read every 2021 book I meant to before January 1. But here’s what’s stacked on my nightstand at the moment: Torrey Peters’s Detransition, Baby; the late Anthony Veasna So’s short story collection Afterparties; Anthony Doerr’s sprawling Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Swan Song

I was a big fan of director Todd Stephens’s first two films, Edge of Seventeen (1998) and Gypsy 83 (2001), but his mid-aughts campy gay farces left me kind of underwhelmed. This year, however, the writer-director returned to his dramedy roots with the Swan Song. The film follows a former hairdresser (Udo Kier) who embarks on an eye-opening odyssey across his small town to style a deceased client’s hair for her funeral. Swan Song received praise for Kier’s performance, and I’m particularly interested in Stephens’s portrayal of an elder queer’s place in small-town America.

Lamb

Who doesn’t love a folk horror flick from A24? This one stars Noomi Rapace as an Icelandic farmer who discovers that one of her sheep has given birth to a half lamb-half human creature. She and her husband (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) try to raise it as their own, but…the sheep have other ideas!

thoughts?