The Tale of the Top 10 Scariest ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ Episodes

If you grew up in the ’90s and you watched Nickelodeon as religiously as I did, you probably remember trying to stay up late on Saturday nights enough to watch SNICK. For those who don’t remember, SNICK was the programming block geared towards teens (or, more realistically, younger kids who watched it without parental permission) and featured more of the live-action shows. Among those was the Canadian horror show Are You Afraid of the Dark? 

Canadian horror? Was that really a thing? Oh yes. And it was glorious. This show was honestly one of the highlights of my childhood (and probably yours, too). Yeah, the acting was kind of lame and the fashion was pretty horrifying by itself, but AYAOTD was a great series (much better than the cheese-tastic Goosebumps).

Even if you weren’t a huge fan of this show, plenty of you may remember a certain episode or two that scarred your fragile young mind (or maybe just creeped you out a little). When I watch the series as an adult (thanks, YouTube!), I find that quite a few episodes still have a certain scare-factor. So, submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I’ve compiled a list of what I believe to be the most frightening episodes of this Nick classic.

10. The Tale of the Midnight Madness

Are You Afraid of the Dark? regularly referenced several horror movie plots of plenty of Twilight Zone episodes, but in “The Tale of the Midnight Madness,” those quirky Canadians brought a real horror classic to life. A failing movie theater gets an impromptu revival when a mysterious stranger (the one and only Dr. Vink, with a va-va-VA) brings his copy of Nosferatu. After the first showing, people start flocking to the theater again, but after the greedy owner refuses to let Vink show his own films in addition to the vampire flick, Nosferatu himself escapes from the screen and begins to terrorize the employees.

Scariest Moment: When Nosferatu stares back at the theater after the end of the film and starts to creep towards the screen.

9. The Tale of the Night Shift

Another vampire-themed episode, but with a little more blood. A girl volunteers to work the nightshift at a hospital only to find someone (or something) is feeding on the patients and turning them into the blood-thirsty undead. In order to save the hospital, our heroine must find and kill the head vampire. Turns out it’s the far-too-cheerful new girl that nobody knows anything about (who would have guessed!).

Scariest Moment: When we finally see the head vampire in its true form, resulting in one of the best jump scares of the series.

8. The Tale of the Super Specs

AYAOTD had its share of classic monsters and ghost children, but not all the scares had a (slightly) reasonable explanation. In “The Tale of the Super Specs,” a prankster visits Sardo’s magic shop and acquires the mysterious super specs, which he gives to his girlfriend. After putting on the glasses, she beings to see strange shadow people from another dimension. So Sardo and the kids do what anyone would do in this situation: have a seance and provoke the shadow people.

Scariest Moment: Honestly any time we see the shadow people. I never knew black clothes could be so unsettling.

7. The Tale of Many Faces

This is one of the only good episodes from the revived series, mostly due to a few exceptionally creepy masks. In this tale, a struggling teenage model hooks up with a stage actress in the hopes of learning some pointers in the industry. Unbeknownst to our heroine, this actress possesses a magic book that allows her to steal the faces of the pretty young girls she mentors, keeping her beautiful forever.

Scariest Moment: The expressionless masks the girls wear are fairly disquieting, but it’s the faces beneath the masks that really horrify.

6. The Tale of the Dollmaker

This was one of my favorite episodes growing up, but now that I’m older, there’s something about it that really sets me on edge. A girl visits her aunt and uncle for the summer and looks forward to hanging out with her friend from the house next door. Once she arrives, she finds out that her friend has gone missing and her parents, in their grief, moved away. The girl goes exploring in the empty house and finds a mysterious dollhouse in the attic. Turns out the missing girl has been trapped inside the insidious dollhouse and is slowly turning into a doll herself.

Scariest Moment: Seeing the missing girl slowly transform into a porcelain doll is strangely upsetting, especially considering how aware she is of it all.

5. The Tale of the Guardian’s Curse

This is one of the first AYAOTD episodes I remember watching, and boy did it freak me out. When their dad cancels yet another family vacation because of work, siblings Josh and Cleo decide to investigate the exhibit their father is in charge of. The specimen is the mummified remains of an Egyptian queen buried with the means to awaken the dead. Shockingly, the mummy comes to life and terrorizes the kids.

Scariest Moment: Mummies tend not to be particularly terrifying monsters, but this one was so incredibly grotesque and ominous that I kind of forgot this was supposed to be a show aimed at pre-teens. The first time you see it standing upright will haunt you for weeks.

4. The Tale of Laughing in the Dark

Coulrophobics beware: this episode will fuel your clown-related nightmares. As one of the very first episodes of the series, “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark” sets the bar high for AYAOTD as a whole (it’s arguably the best episode period). When cocky kid Josh and his friends visit a carnival, they stumble upon a spooky funhouse called Laughing in the Dark. Legend has it that a corrupt clown named Zeebo stole money from the circus many years ago and burned alive in the same funhouse. Now his ghost is trapped inside. Wanting to prove that he isn’t afraid, Josh goes through Laughing in the Dark and steals the dummy Zeebo’s nose. But when he starts seeing some unexplainable phenomena, Josh begins to realize that Zeebo may just be real after all–and he wants his nose back.

Scariest Moment: Seeing Zeebo at the end of the funhouse for the first time always got me, but watching how he messes with Josh in his own home in probably more terrifying.

3. The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float

“Oh, this is just a kid’s show,” you say to yourself. “These monsters all look fake. They’re not even scary!” Okay, watch this episode and tell me you aren’t afraid of deformed ghosts in pools. In this tale, geeky kid Zeke wants to learn how to swim, so he makes a deal with a girl named Clarice–he’ll tutor her in chemistry if she’ll teach him how to swim. She agrees and they practice in the school pool, which is actually haunted by the ghost of a person actually buried underneath the pool. Turns out this spirit doesn’t like anyone encroaching on his territory.

Scariest Moment: THE POOL GHOST. Jesus Christ, that thing haunted me well into my teen years. And it’s probably one of the reason why I still haven’t learned how to swim.

2. The Tale of the Crimson Clown

While “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark” was a pretty unnerving clown story, this one is beyond terrifying. Mike wants to buy a birthday present for his mom, but younger brother Sam steals his money to buy a gift for himself instead. Pointing out a particularly awful-looking clown doll, Mike warns his bratty brother that if he does terrible things, the Crimson Clown will come to get him. And the clown does just that–or is little Sam just imagining it all?

Scariest Moment: The inanimate clown is creepy in itself, but when it turns into a man-sized clown with an unmoving face? You’re gonna want to leave the lights on tonight.

1. The Tale of the Dark Music

I feel like I’m the only person who remembers this episode, but perhaps most of you repressed this memory. In “The Tale of the Dark Music,” Andy and his family move into his uncle’s old house and, of course strange things start to happen. While doing laundry in the basement, Andy notices that the heavy locked door inside the room begins to shudder and shake whenever someone plays music. Curious, Andy leaves the music on long enough for the creature in the cellar to emerge and ask to be fed.

Scariest Moment: The creators of AYAOTD could have put a generic monster in that basement. They could have made the creature a swamp thing or a vampire or something. But no–they chose to make this bloodthirsty demon-spawn a SIX-FOOT TALL FUCKING CHINA DOLL. And that is so much more horrifying than you would think it would be. SO MUCH MORE HORRIFYING.

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Sam’s Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2014

I have finally crawled out of whatever black hole I fell into in order to give you a list of my favorite musical things from the past year! Apologies to loyal readers who waited patiently for another installment of ‘Strange Cinema’ (or any other sign of life, really). But I’m back and I promise to write more things in 2015!

It’s been a rough year for me, but I thought I’d end it by looking back on the music that got me through it (or at least distracted me from it). I haven’t written about much music on this blog, but I assure you, I’m an avid listener. Here are 10 albums that really impressed me this year (and will hopefully impress you):


10. Home, Like Noplace is There by The Hotelier 

I always tend to gravitate towards nostalgic things, which can be both comforting and kind of depressing. In the past, I’ve latched on to albums that hearken back to the sweet-sounding distortion of the ’90s alternative scene, but this year, I’ve been obsessed with looking back on my pop-punk/emo days. Emo revival outfit The Hotelier makes me feel right at home with an album dedicated to a favorite subject of most bands in the genre: leaving home and coming back to find that everything’s changed. Home, Like Noplace is There definitely paints a sad portrait, but it feels genuine. The standout track for me has to be “Your Deep Rest,” which includes some of the most emotionally-charged lyrics I’ve heard all year: “Called in sick from your funeral / The sight of your body made me feel uncomfortable.”

9. Seeds by TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio has a unique sound, mostly due to each band member’s diverse influences. When you listen to this band’s discography, you hear everything from Bad Brains to Brian Eno. With Seeds, TV on the Radio delves into garage-rock territory, but maintains that same kind of urgency that made the band’s previous albums so electric. Most fans see this record as a tribute to the band’s late bassist, Gerard Smith, who succumbed to lung cancer back in 2011. There’s definitely a sense of grief in each song, and I’m sure Smith would appreciate the sentiment, however small.

8. Glass Boys by Fucked Up

Taking a detour from depressing albums, let’s look at a band that successfully combines two drastically different elements to create the musical equivalent of a punch to the gut. Fucked Up is a hardcore punk band, which is evident by its tour-de-force of a singer. Damian Abraham is the epitome of a hardcore punk singer–big, burly, and bearded–and he definitely plays the part both on the band’s albums and on stage. His vocals are bombastic (and possibly off-putting to those who don’t enjoy constant antagonistic screaming), but they’re complemented perfectly by the melodic guitars and background vocals. This could be two different bands, but each element balances the other. Glass Boys is one part intense dive bar music and one part mind-blowing sunburst of guitar-driven rock.

7. You’re Gonna Miss It by Modern Baseball

Back to my pop-punk roots. So many friends talked about this band with such high regard, so with one month left in the year, I finally decided to give this album a shot. Now I feel terrible for waiting so long. Much like The Hotelier, Modern Baseball likes to reflect on a hometown and all the people in it, but You’re Gonna Miss It takes a slightly different, more sarcastic tone. The opening track, “Fine, Great,” really sets the mood: “I’m so tired / Or maybe just bored / I can’t really tell the difference whenever I’m talking to you.” You’re Gonna Miss It is kind of an ode to openly hating the people you went to high school with and slowly realizing you haven’t changed much, either (this is more my personal reading of the album rather than the intended meaning). Bitter and oh-so-relatable, Modern Baseball really captures what it’s like to feel stuck at an age where you should be moving forward. Oh, and this album also contains one of my favorite lines of any song: “Bullshit, you fucking miss me / There, I said it / I guess I’ll talk to you in a few months.”

6. Broke With Expensive Taste by Azealia Banks

Ever since I heard “212” back in 2012, I was convinced Azealia Banks was the next big thing. Not only is she a tremendously talented rapper, but she also has a gorgeous singing voice. Not many rappers can seamlessly shift between rapping a verse and singing the chorus, but Banks makes it sound far too easy. After disputes with everyone from her former label to Iggy Azalea, fans and critics alike began to wonder if Azealia’s debut LP would ever drop. But it was worth the wait. Broke With Expensive Taste flirts with some bizarre samples that only Miss Banks can pull off, and features some damn fine production. There’s definitely a ’90s flavor to the album, but it doesn’t sound dated. A lot of artists like to talk shit even if they tend to lack something in the talent department, but Azealia Banks has proved that she’s a lot more than the tabloid darling of Twitter feuds.

5. Say Yes to Love by Perfect Pussy

You may cringe at the band name, but…okay, you’ll probably cringe at the music, too. Perfect Pussy’s Say Yes to Love is abrasive, to put it lightly. A friend complained that it was just “ugly noise” after I made her listen to it. But to me, it’s powerful. This noise punk band puts its heart and soul (and even blood in some vinyl pressings) into making this music, and if you can get past the insane amount of distortion and effects, it’s a rewarding listening experience. “But I can’t understand what she’s saying!” you complain. Well, let me just give you the lyrics to “Interference Fits” to make it easier: “In the same way that shame changes love as we know it / Like your body moves into mine and outgrows it / And splits me from mouth down to thigh like a gun / What am I doing with somebody’s son?” That’s poetry that doesn’t need a discernible melody to be felt. Say Yes to Love is chaotic, but so is the subject matter.

4. Mess by Liars

My introduction to Liars was the song “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” from the 2010 album Sisterworld. The friend who made me listen to it liked to play it when he deejayed at our college radio station in a gleeful attempt to ward off listeners. Strange, I know, but I’m drawn to odd things. And this band is odd. Liars’ discography is impressively eclectic and varied enough to attract anyone. Despite what the title may lead you to believe, Mess is far from chaotic–it’s perfectly packaged. Though a bit dark and slightly off-kilter in terms of theme and lyrical content, this album is incredible (and actually quite danceable). What really drew me in was the opening track’s (“Mask Maker”) hypnotic refrain of, “Take my pants off / Use my socks / Smell my socks / Eat my face off.” Like I said, I enjoy the strange and unusual.

3. Manipulator by Ty Segall

I’m convinced that Ty Segall never sleeps–he just creates music endlessly, wired on adrenaline and critical praise. He drops at least three albums a year, either under his own name or with one of his many side projects. And what’s bizarre is that they’re all really fucking good. His Ty Segall Band project released one of my favorite albums ever (Slaughterhouse) back in 2012, and the man’s won my heart again with Manipulator. It’s a glam rock throwback with a garage feel that would sound great in 2014 or 1974. Ty Segall’s been pretty dependent on classic three-chord progressions in the span of his career, but he’s really stepped outside the box on this one. And as much as I loved his voice on previous albums, he sounds cleaner on Manipulator. It’s honestly reminiscent of David Bowie.

2. El Pintor by Interpol

The only album review I’ve done on this blog was for this album, and if you read it, you already know my feelings on it. El Pintor is classic Interpol–melancholy, atmospheric, and oh-so-dreamy. After some lacklaster follow-ups to 2004’s Antics, the NYC post-punkers got back to their roots and churned out a truly fantastic record. When I heard Interpol’s original bassist, Carlos Dengler, split, I was wary of hearing an album without him. But the bass work on El Pintor is just as good as Carlos D’s. I’ve always loved Interpol, but this album made me love them even more.

1. St. Vincent by St. Vincent

I liked St. Vincent years prior to this album. The first song I heard was “Actor Out of Work” off the album of the same name and I absolutely adored Annie Clark’s voice. I didn’t listen to this particular album until the month of my college graduation and it quickly became the soundtrack to my summer as a post-grad. Musically, St. Vincent is solid gold–it’s a bold contrast between jazzy, prog rock harmonics and jarring rock guitar. Clark’s voice floats effortlessly above any and all effects, and her talent as a musician is apparent in her onstage antics (please please please watch her performance of “Birth in Reverse” from Saturday Night Live). On a personal note, this album has been difficult for me to listen to in the past few months, mostly because it reminds me of better times. I listened to it religiously for two months after graduation, then immediately stopped. Listening to it again now does make me a bit sad, but I can’t deny how amazing it really is (despite the memories attached to it).

Sam’s Top 25 Favorite Musical Moments in Film (Part 2)

The countdown continues! Be sure to check out part one of the list here.


12. “The Ballad of Maxwell Demon” by Shudder to Think (featured in Velvet Goldmine)

Velvet Goldmine is kind of a musical, but kind of not. So there are plenty of musical sequences, but they’re stitched together in a series of interconnected vignettes. Loosely based on David Bowie, this film is chock full of some great glam rock moments (including some great covers by Placebo and Teenage Fanclub). My personal favorite moment is Shudder to Think’s “The Ballad of Maxwell Demon,” which plays over Brian Slade’s music video. It’s bizarre, highly sexual, and glam to the max. 

11. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” (featured in Across the Universe)

There was a time when I was completely obsessed with this film and I was ready to defend it from disgruntled Beatles fans who called it blasphemy. I’ll still defend it because a lot of the Beatles covers are fantastic (minus the ones with Bono because those just sound like U2). I was torn between this song and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” but I just love the way “I Want You” is used. Max (Joe Anderson) gets drafted into the army and prepares to get shipped off to Vietnam (because you can’t have a film take place in the ’60s without having someone go to Vietnam). Best moment: Max and his fellow recruits carry the Statue of Liberty into the jungles of Vietnam while singing, “She’s so heavy!”

10. “A Swan is Born” (featured in Black Swan)

This sequence kind of straddles the line between musical moment and score, so I guess it makes the list on a technicality. I count it as a musical moment because it doesn’t make use of an original score (this is just a reworked version of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”). But anyway, it’s such a powerful moment. Nina (Natalie Portman) dances as the Black Swan for the first time in front of the audience, completing her transformation into her alter ego. The most indelible image in the film is Nina spreading her arms into wings at the end of her solo.

9. “Needle in the Hay” by Elliott Smith (featured in The Royal Tenenbaums)

Only Wes Anderson can make a scene about suicide seem like a work of art. (Note: I do not actually find suicide “beautiful” or “romantic” in any way–I just appreciate the way this scene was shot.) Using an Elliott Smith song in the background was darkly appropriate choice considering the singer’s own history. The song works perfectly in the scene–it doesn’t take the attention away from the events unfolding. (NSFW for depiction of suicide)

8. “The Floor Show” (featured in The Rocky Horror Picture Show)

Moving on to something a bit lighter, let’s look at some good ol’ fashioned sexuality. There were far too many moments I could have included from this film, and I almost went with “Hot Patootie” instead of this one. But I have to admit, nothing beats the orgy in the pool. The Floor Show is actually three songs in one: “Rose Tint My World,” “Don’t Dream It,” and “Wild and Untamed Thing.” It’s sloppy, ridiculous, and oh so sexy–everything Rocky Horror is supposed to be. (Note: Unfortunately, I can’t find a video of The Floor Show on YouTube, so you’ll just have to listen to it below.)

7. “El Tango de Roxanne” (featured in Moulin Rouge!)

The concept behind Moulin Rouge! is a bizarre one: take a bunch of actors and make them sing reworked versions of pop songs instead of original songs. But I love it, and oddly enough, so do other people. And even people who don’t really like this film will admit that the “Roxanne” scene is the best (I have dated many guys who have willingly admitted this). The song is The Police’s “Roxanne” reworked into a tango, and Christian (Ewan McGregor) sings it to Satine (Nicole Kidman) as she prepares to sleep with the Duke. I still get chills when I hear the strings at the end.

6. “Cell Block Tango” (featured in Chicago)

Hey, look! Another tango! I’ll just tell you now that Chicago is probably my favorite movie musical, and this song perfectly captures the sentiment behind the whole show. The women on Murderess’ Row relay their reasons for killing their husbands and boyfriends, and they all maintain that they “had it comin’.” Badass ladies singing about killing no-good men? Now that’s a great musical number.

5. “Squeezit the Moocher” (featured in Forbidden Zone)

Forbidden Zone is one of those films that you either love or hate. It’s amateurish, vulgar, and just plain weird, but those are three things toward which I gravitate. Based on the band Oingo Boingo’s stage shows, this film is basically an extension of the Elfman brothers’ twisted cabaret. At this point in the film, Squeezit decides to travel to the Forbidden Zone to rescue Frenchy, but gets captured by the Devil’s henchmen (and eventually gets beheaded). The best part of this sequence is seeing Danny Elfman ham it up as the Devil. (NSFW for nudity)

4. “The Times They Are A-Changin'” by Bob Dylan (featured in Watchmen)

This is perhaps my favorite opening sequence in any film. As the credits roll, we see a brief history of the original Minutemen and what became of all the superheroes after the public’s backlash. And what better song to play during a slow-motion history than “The Times They Are A-Changin'”? I know a lot of fans of the graphic novel hate the film, but I love it. Did it perfectly capture the essence of the novel? No, but it’s impossible to make a perfect adaptation of Watchmen.

3. “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by Kenny Rodgers (featured in The Big Lebowski)

Out of all the nonsensical musical moments in otherwise comprehensible films, this one ranks among the best. It has absolutely nothing to do with the plot and is never mentioned again, but it’s honestly my favorite part of The Big Lebowski. After The Dude is drugged by Jackie Treehorn, he experiences psychedelic hallucinations involving bowling and Maude Lebowski in a Viking outfit. It’s perfectly ridiculous.

2. “Empty Spaces/What Shall We Do Now?” by Pink Floyd (featured in Pink Floyd’s The Wall)

I was quite tempted to just include The Wall in its entirety, but I didn’t think that was fair. So as painful as it was to choose just one moment from this film, I managed to pick “Empty Spaces.” This is an entirely animated sequence, and I know I’m breaking my own rule about no animation here, but since the rest of the film is mostly live-action, I’m going to include this. Gerald Scarfe’s animation is brilliant, and out of the three animated scenes in The Wall, “Empty Spaces” is the best. There are only two words I can say about this scene: flower sex. (NSFW for animated sex and nudity)

1. “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” by Harry Belafonte (featured in Beetlejuice)

For those of you who know how much I love The Wall, it may shock you to realize that my favorite musical moment doesn’t come from it. What do I love more than animated flower sex? The best scene in Beetlejuice, of course! It’s fun, out of place, and perfectly choreographed. Beetlejuice is one of the best Tim Burton films (if not the best), and this sequence cements it as such.

Sam’s Top 25 Favorite Musical Moments in Film (Part 1)

If you couldn’t already tell, I love making lists. And from my experience on the interwebz, people generally enjoy reading lists. Granted, this one isn’t at all objective and won’t result in much argument for that reason (though someone will probably find something to complain about), but I’ve been wanting to write this for quite a while.

So let’s talk about music choices in film. The right song can evoke a myriad of emotions when played against a particular scene. The combination of images and music is vital for a good film to become a great film, and since I love both film and music, I had to share a few of my absolute favorite musical moments.

(Note: I’ve decided to include both movie musicals and non-musicals in this list. I did not include animated films because that list would be far too long. Also note that some videos may contain spoilers and/or NSFW content.)

25. “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen (featured in Shaun of the Dead)

Let’s start this list off on a lighter note (because it’s going to get dark very soon). If you’ve never seen Shaun of the Dead, stop reading this and go find it. It’s hilarious, gruesome, and generally heartwarming (for a zombie film). In this particular scene, Shaun and the gang fight off a horde of the undead inside their local pub with a soundtrack courtesy of the jukebox. Not only is the Queen song hilariously out of place in the scene, but the characters actually acknowledge the ridiculousness of it all during the battle. 

24. “By the Sea” (featured in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)

Plenty of Broadway fans can find something wrong with this Tim Burton-helmed adaptation, but I genuinely loved it. Though “By the Sea” isn’t necessarily my favorite song from the musical, this sequence in the film was so well done. Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) imagines herself in a blissful relationship with Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp), singing sweet nothings into his ear. What makes this scene great is Sweeney’s complete indifference to Mrs. Lovett–he essentially ignores everything she says to him, but Mrs. Lovett continues to tell him about how wonderful their wedding will be.

23. “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed (featured in Trainspotting

I almost chose the opening sequence of this one over the “Perfect Day” scene, but after watching both of them, I realized this is definitely the better scene. Renton (Ewan McGregor) overdoses on heroin at his dealer’s flat and slips into unconsciousness while Lou Reed croons about his “perfect day” in the background. The deceptively sweet song perfectly exemplifies Renton’s intense high (and honestly, it’s a little frightening). [NSFW for graphic heroin use.]

22. “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy (featured in Do the Right Thing)

I honestly don’t think any other song would have been as perfect a fit for this film as “Fight the Power.” The entire film is incredible, but this scene is one of the defining moments. Proud Italian Sal refuses to put pictures of black celebrities on his Wall of Fame, which leads to three of the neighborhood guys bursting into his pizza shop and blasting some Public Enemy. Despite the boombox, the atmosphere is tense, and shit soon hits the fan. 

21. “Führe Mich” by Rammstein (featured in Nymphomaniac Vol. 1)

Have you ever seen an opening sequence so intense you sat back in your seat and thought, “Holy shit, this is gonna be great“? That’s how I felt when I sat down to watch Lars von Trier’s latest foray into cinematic controversy. There isn’t any sex in this scene–instead, the audience gets a cold open on an alley, snow drifting gracefully on to the asphalt. We catch glimpses of a body on the ground, and suddenly…fucking Rammstein. That song hits you like a brick wall. I had no idea what was going on in the first few minutes, but damn, that tune brings you right to attention. (Note: Skip to 1:44)

20. “Origin of Love” (featured in Hedwig and the Angry Inch)

I’m not a huge fan of love songs in musicals, but this one is an exception. Instead of singing about a certain person, Hedwig relays the Greek myth about soul mates to her audience, and the accompanying animation is simply beautiful. If you’re unfamiliar with the myth, here it is in a nutshell: Humans originally had four arms, four legs, and one head with two faces. They also had three genders (male, female, and “androgynous). When the gods feared that the humans would eventually overpower them, Zeus split them into two halves so they would be forced to roam the earth searching for their counterparts. 

19. “Hey Boy, Hey Boy” (featured in The American Astronaut)

Sometimes musical moments come out of nowhere and have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. This is definitely one of those moments. The American Astronaut is technically a musical, but who the hell knows what any of the songs have to do with space pirates and women on Venus. This song happens early on, and the circumstances are kind of hilarious. Interplanetary trader Samuel Curtis stops by a bar (in space!) and gets followed into the bathroom by two sinister-looking strangers. While Samuel is sitting in his stall, the strangers put on a record and start singing and dancing inside the bathroom. That’s it, that’s the whole scene. 

18. “Please, Mr. Jailer” (featured in Cry-Baby)

This film is cheesy gold and Johnny Depp is at his absolute dreamiest in it. There are plenty of great songs, but “Please, Mr. Jailer” has always been my favorite. Cry-Baby gets thrown in jail and goody-two-shoes-turned-bad-girl Allison gets on the hood of a car and begs the jailer to “let [her] man go free.” Allison is a babe herself, and with the rest of the girls shaking their stuff for the inmates, this is one sexy number. 

17. “Man of Constant Sorrow” (featured in O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

This is an amazing song by itself, but paired with George Clooney and the rest of the Soggy Bottom Boys crooning with that Southern drawl, it’s perfect. O Brother, Where Art Thou? has one of the best soundtracks, but “Man of Constant Sorrow” is definitely the highlight. And it’s even central to the plot! And this isn’t even a musical! Bonus points!

16. “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You” by Frankie Valli (featured in 10 Things I Hate About You)

First of all, 10 Things I Hate About You is probably my favorite romantic comedy of all time. There, I said it. What’s not to love? Heath Ledger as a bad boy gone soft? Check. Julia Stiles as a badass feminist outsider? Check. Based on a Shakespeare play? Check mate. The single most romantic moment in this film is when Patrick (Ledger) tries to win Kat (Stiles) over by serenading her with Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You” (complete with a marching band!). I may scoff at most movie romances, but this scene made me swoon.

15. Accordion Intermission (featured in Holy Motors)

This is one of the few instrumental moments on the list, but I just had to include it. If you want a more in-depth explanation of the film, you can check out my review, but for now, I’ll just talk about one scene. Mr. Oscar becomes several different characters over the course of the film, but appears to take a “break” to play the accordion with an army of street musicians. The tune is surprisingly catchy, and even though it doesn’t contribute anything to the plot, this little intermission makes the rest of the movie that much sweeter.

14. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen (featured in Wayne’s World)

This scene needs no introduction. This song will forever be associated with a car full of dudes head-banging to a sick guitar solo, and that’s perfect. I don’t even need to say anything else. Just bask in the awesomeness that is Wayne’s World. Party on.

13. “Still” by Geto Boys (featured in Office Space)

Yes, it’s the infamous fax machine destruction. The Office Space soundtrack is about 95% gangsta rap and I love it (the fact that a white guy named Michael Bolton listens to it just adds to the appeal). The office’s useless fax machine gets destroyed by three disgruntled employees with some baseball bats. It’s a gloriously satisfying scene, especially with the words, “Die, motherfucker, die” playing over the destruction. 

Sam’s Top 10 Guilty Pleasures in Film

While I may post a lot about critically acclaimed films on this blog, I can’t hide the fact that I enjoy shitty movies. Like most normal humans, I secretly laugh at fart jokes and get pumped for overly-choreographed fight scenes. Whether it’s bad acting or just a bad script, these films have always fascinated me, even though they hold the lowest of the low scores on Rotten Tomatoes (cult movies like Rocky Horror are not included). So here are my Top 10 Guilty Pleasures in Film. Feel free to add your own in the comments so I don’t feel too embarrassed.


10. Constantine (2005), dir. Francis Lawrence

I hesitated putting this film on the list because I genuinely think it’s great. The other films you’ll see on here are more obviously bad, but Constantine has a lot going for it. Keanu Reeves plays John Constantine, an exorcist born with the power to see angels and demons on Earth. In this world, angels and demon are forbidden to manifest themselves on Earth, but can possess and influence humans. Constantine finds out that Lucifer’s son, Mammon, is planning to break through to Earth and claim it as his own kingdom, so he must kill Mammon and restore the balance.

Constantine has a great premise and the visuals are fantastic. Keanu Reeves gets a lot of shit as an actor, but I thought he made a perfect Constantine. And Tilda Swinton as Gabriel? Now that was awesome. (Also, special shout-out to mega-babe Gavin Rossdale as sassy half-breed demon Balthazar.)

But not everything about this film is great. Casting Shia LaBeouf as the spunky sidekick was a poor choice because he’s just too annoying. And Rachel Weisz was a fairly dull female lead. At times, the special effects got a bit too distracting, and I think the film would have been slightly better if a little was left to the imagination. But despite the hate from the critics, I’ve got a soft spot for Constantine.

9. Airheads (1994), dir. Michael Lehrmann

This one almost got disqualified because I already have another Adam Sandler film on the list. But technically Adam isn’t the star of this movie, so I let it in. Airheads is the story of three loser musicians (Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler) who hold a radio station hostage in an attempt to their song played on the air. Terrible premise, terrible acting, and terrible original music make for one awesomely bad guilty pleasure.

Casting Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler as three best friends was a bizarre choice. Give them all long hair and some grunge-chic fashion sense and you’ve got the most out of place cast ever. This film came out at the height of the alternative rock takeover in the ’90s, so it’s really just a product of the times. And that’s probably why I love it.

The dialogue also sells it for me. Some of my favorite lines come from Steve Buscemi, who plays a totally immature douchebag (which is a drastic shift from the weird, misunderstood characters he normally plays). And when someone asks you who would win in a wrestling match between Lemmy and God, remember that it’s a trick question (Lemmy is God).

8. Bring it On (2000), dir. Peyton Reed

The fact that I enjoy a teen comedy about cheerleading shocks even my closest friends. Bring it On is your standard teen rom-com about a head cheerleader who needs to build the perfect squad and the best routine to win a national cheerleading competition. Everything plays out as expected, but there are some aspects that stray a bit from the norm, which is what I really enjoy.

First of all, the squad we’ve been following for the entire film doesn’t win nationals at the end. Most teen comedies have the main characters getting exactly what they want in the end, and although Kirsten Dunst gets her dream guy, her squad has to settle with second place. Second of all, Eliza Dushku as badass outsider Missy is a welcome addition to the cheerleader stereotype cast. And the routines throughout the film are admittedly cool to watch.

Bring it On isn’t a genre-bending film by any means, but it’s still a fun film. As someone who’s never been a cheerleader (or an athlete of any kind), I kind of wanted to join the squad by the halfway mark.

7. Rock Star (2001), dir. Stephen Herek 

I really love terrible music movies, especially when they star Marky Mark Wahlberg in tight leather pants. Rock Star is loosely based on the real-life story of Tim Owens, a singer in a Judas Priest tribute band who landed a gig as the singer of the real Judas Priest after Rob Halford split. Mark plays the Tim Owens counterpart, but the band he joins is called Steel Dragon.

The plot is pretty basic–Marky Mark gets a call from Steel Dragon, joins the band, does the typical “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” thing, realizes his bandmates aren’t the people he thought they were, and quits years later. There aren’t many surprises in this movie, but it’s just a fun ride, especially if you like ’80s hair metal. There’s also eye-candy in the form of Mark Wahlberg (in leather pants, as I mentioned before) and Jennifer Aniston.

The music is great, too. Unlike the purposely bad originals in Airheads, the songs in Rock Star are actually pretty awesome. The highlight is “We All Die Young,” which was originally by the band Steelheart. Holy power ballad, Batman!

6. Little Nicky (2000), dir. Steven Brill

Okay, there’s really no excuse for this film. I honestly can’t tell you why I like it because there really aren’t any redeeming qualities to it. The jokes are juvenile, the plot is ridiculous, and Adam Sandler’s character is beyond annoying. Michael J. Nelson (from Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame) called it the worst comedy ever made. It was nominated for five Razzies, including Worst Picture, but lost only because Battlefield Earth was also nominated the same year. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

I can’t defend Little Nicky, but for some odd reason, I actually enjoy it. I was torn between this and Billy Madison, but this one was way more embarrassing. Little Nicky was the beginning of the end of Adam Sandler’s comedy career. His more recent films are probably worse than this one, but I don’t actually like any of those.

Maybe it’s the dick jokes. Maybe it’s the endless amount of cameos, including Ozzy Osbourne and Henry Winkler (covered in bees!). Or maybe a small part of me still believes Adam Sandler is funny.

5. Thir13en Ghosts (2001), dir. Steve Beck

Back in the late ’90s/early 2000s, studios decided to remake all of William Castle’s classic horror films. The original 13 Ghosts was released in 1960 and it probably wasn’t nearly as bloody as this remake. The story is essentially the same as the original–ghost hunter Cyrus Kriticos captures twelve ghosts and seals them in his creepy glass house in the middle of nowhere, fakes his own death, leaves the house to his nephew, and by someone’s carelessness, all the ghosts are released and start wreaking havoc.

The reason why this film was a critical failure was probably because it wasn’t even scary. It was billed as a horror film, but minus a couple quick jumps, there really wasn’t anything frightening about it. It’s a bit predictable, and even when it tries to be original, the characters over-explain everything. You don’t need to tell me every single detail about Cyrus’ plan! Show me. The number one rule of storytelling is show, don’t tell. Give me visual clues! Let me figure it out for myself! The director didn’t need to dumb it down for the audience.

Despite all its faults, Thir13en Ghosts does have some interesting ghosts. According to the agonizingly long explanation in the film, each ghost represents a sign of the fictional “Black Zodiac.” Their origins aren’t revealed in the film, but you can find them in the DVD extras. Their backstories are fascinating, but I’m kind of glad they left those out. It would have made the film far too long.

4. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), dir. Ron Howard

I love Jim Carrey and I love Dr. Seuss, so of course I love this clumsy adaptation of one of Seuss’ best stories. It’s pretty crude for a film marketed towards children (the Grinch landing face first in Martha May’s cleavage was a bit too adult for the kiddies), but that’s what made it enjoyable for people of all ages. Yes, the classic cartoon is technically better (and much closer to the book), but this adaptation is bizarrely enjoyable.

I’ve come to realize that people either love or hate this one–there really isn’t any middle ground. If you hate it, it’s probably because of Jim Carrey’s over-the-top performance as the Grinch. If you love it, it’s probably because of, well, Jim Carrey. The man is the major element in this adaptation, and whether you enjoy it or not depends on how much you like watching Jim hamming it up for the camera. Personally, I think he did a great job. And I still laugh at most of the jokes (even the juvenile ones).

I still watch it around Christmastime and it honestly puts me in the holiday spirit (which is difficult). But if you want more reasons to hate this movie, check out Nostalgia Critic’s perfect review.

3. House on Haunted Hill (1999), dir. William Malone

This is another terrible remake of a William Castle film, but it’s slightly better than Thir13en GhostsHouse on Haunted Hill kept some of the campiness of the original while injecting some modern scares to amp up the plot. The story is simple–amusement park mogul Steven Price sets up a party in an abandoned insane asylum where each guest is challenged to stay the whole night, with a prize of $1 million at stake. Of course, staying the night isn’t as easy as it looks since the asylum is actually haunted by murderous ghosts. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?

As with most modern horror films, the acting is terrible and the characters are mostly unlikable. Though to this film’s credit, it does have some genuinely witty dialogue, especially between Steven Price (Geoffrey Rush) and his wife, Evelyn (Famke Janssen). But they really can’t make up for the other actors. Also, what is Chris Kattan doing in this movie?

But the reason why I keep coming back to this film is because it has some genuinely frightening moments. The scene in the sensory deprivation tank is beyond creepy, and there are plenty of smaller scares in there as well.

But the ending is probably the worst ending to any horror film. Taye Diggs screaming, “I was adopted!” and Chris Kattan’s ghost opening a window to fight off the evil spirits were just unneeded.

2. The Cell (2000), dir. Tarsem Singh

The Cell is so frustrating to watch because it could have been an incredible film. Part of why I keep watching it is because I’d like to believe that a better film will just appear to me after 1284924320 viewings. Sadly, that’s not the case. But I still enjoy it as it is, despite some glaring mistakes.

The cast is terrible. Just flat out horrendous. Why would you cast Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn in a psychological thriller together? They’re strictly romantic comedy fodder! J. Lo was decent in her role, but this is probably Vince’s worst role ever. He was too stiff and emotionless, even for a hardened detective character.

But the premise had so much potential that I have to give the film bonus points (and they almost eclipse the mark-down for J. Lo and Vince Vaughn). Jennifer’s character, Catherine, is a child psychologist who specializes in an experimental therapy technique, which allows her to enter the minds of her comatose patients. Once a prolific serial killer falls into a coma, the cops take him to Catherine and ask her to enter his mind and find out where to find his last potential victim before it’s too late. Of course, the serial killer’s mind is a dark and dangerous place, and it’s perfectly portrayed as a disturbing wonderland of unimaginable horrors. Director Tarsem Singh was inspired by the Nine Inch Nails video “Closer” and artwork by Damien Hirst.

I just wish this film had a better cast and a better ending. I don’t wish for remakes very often, but I could live with a remake of The Cell.

1. Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), dir. Jay Roach

Those who know me know how much I love this film. I know every word, every dance move, and every pop culture reference. And even though this is supposed to be a “guilty” pleasure list, I don’t really feel that guilty about loving Goldmember.

The first two films in the Austin Powers trilogy are arguably better in terms of comedy and execution, but I really latched on to Goldmember when it came out. It’s a bit more ridiculous than International Man of Mystery and The Spy Who Shagged Me, and to me, that’s definitely a plus. Dr. Evil and Mini Me singing a parody of Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”? Check. Britney Spears being outed as a fembot and eventually destroyed by Austin’s sexual prowess? Check. Goldmember being unable to pronounce the word “father,” thus resulting in one of my favorite jokes in the film? Check and mate.

It’s silly, raunchy humor and nothing more. This isn’t a comedic masterpiece by any means, but much like The GrinchGoldmember still makes me laugh every time I watch it.

 

Sam’s Top 50 Favorite Albums of the 2000s (Part 5)

Here’s the final part: the Top 10! See previous parts: 1, 2, 3, and 4.

10. Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand (2004)

Now this is a fun record. From the moment I saw the video for “Take Me Out,” I knew this band was something special. Franz Ferdinand’s self-titled debut is sexy, suave, and one hundred percent danceable. What’s astonishing to me is the fact that I liked it when it came out. In 2004, I was not at all interested in “fun” albums–I wanted moody albums. But Franz Ferdinand had that certain something that changed my mind. Perhaps it was the clean guitar on songs like “This Fire” and “40′.” Or perhaps it was the thumping bass on “Jacqueline” and “Darts of Pleasure.” Or it could have been the band’s smooth overall sophistication. They just sound like gentlemen to me (and their tendency to wear impeccably stylish clothes helps, too). This album is the perfect introduction because it’s so well put together, much like the men behind it. This is probably the suit and tie of debut indie albums. Even though some songs may descend into electric chaos, it’s still an organized chaos–the guitar usually winds back down and the song ends perfectly. Thank God this band is still around making music. I can’t wait to hear what else they have in store.

9. Rubber Factory – The Black Keys (2004)

Out of all the Black Keys albums released during this past decade, Rubber Factory is the still one that impresses me the most. I think this band has a pretty solid discography, though their sound has gone a bit more commercial in recent years. This album is classic Black Keys–it’s raw blues-rock bliss. Rubber Factory, along with the Gorillaz’s self-titled album and a few others, was always being played on my living room stereo. My dad was super into this band, mostly because they came so highly recommended from Keith Richards. I remember hearing the opening beats to “When the Lights Go Out” over and over again, and I never got sick of it. There are so many great tunes on this album: “10 a.m. Automatic,” “Girl is on My Mind,” “Grown So Ugly,” “Keep Me.” The list goes on. “Grown So Ugly” in particular is fantastic because it’s a cover of an old blues song by Robert Pete Williams. It was originally covered by Captain Beefheart before The Black Keys got a hold of it, but I think the Keys hit it out of the park (but I guess that’s not hard considering how many people dislike Captain Beefheart). Rubber Factory is just a dirty, bluesy spectacle that never gets old.

8. Hail to the Thief – Radiohead (2003)

Whenever I mention this album to a fellow Radiohead fan, the response I usually get is, “That’s just an album of leftovers.” Excuse me? Does “2+2=5″ sound like a leftover? Does “There, There” sound like a leftover? The answer is no. Yes, there are some tracks that maybe aren’t Kid A quality, but this is nowhere near Radiohead’s worst album (I think that honor still belongs to Pablo Honey). Hail to the Thief is my personal favorite Radiohead album because of its organic eeriness. Most of these tracks have sinister undertones that sound strangely familiar. Confused? I thought so. I have a hard time describing this album to other people because I have this weird, abstractly personal connection to it. For example, “There, There” is one of Radiohead’s creepier tunes, but to me, it sounds like home. I’m very comfortable listening this song, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. While not nearly as technically perfect as In RainbowsHail to the Thief still has some great instrumentation and stunning vocals from Thom Yorke. There are simpler songs that carry an immense weight (“I Will,” “A Wolf at the Door”), and there are more complicated songs hearken back to the experimentation on Kid A and Amnesiac (“The Gloaming,” “Myxomatosis”). I guess I can see why people don’t like it as much, but it was the album that got me into Radiohead, so it’s special to me.

7. Funeral – Arcade Fire (2004)

I’m not going to pull the “I Liked Them Before Everyone Else Did” card here, but I will pull the “Their First Album Was Their Best Album” card. The first Arcade Fire song I ever heard was “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” and it got me hooked. After I started listening to the rest of Funeral, I just kept thinking, “Does anyone else like this band? Because everyone needs to like this band.” I made everyone I knew listen to this album until they admitted to liking it. The twinkling piano of “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” drew me in, and by the time I got to the swelling chorus of “Wake Up,” I was completely and utterly obsessed. The band’s second album, Neon Bible, appeared earlier in this list, but like I said, it just isn’t as great as Funeral. This album just has an extravagance that is so beautiful and gigantic that it swallows a person whole. The instrumentals, the harmonies, just everything works so well I can’t stand it. The bottom line is no matter what genres you’re interested in, you have to appreciate the beauty of this music.

6. Turn on the Bright Lights – Interpol (2002)

The closer I get to my number one album of the 2000s, the more incoherent my thoughts will become. But I’ll do my best to express myself here. This album was not my introduction to Interpol (that was Antics). I already liked this band before I knew this album existed. While I was rifling through my dad’s immense CD collection, I found a copy of Turn on the Bright Lights. Oh, what a lucky day that was. This album, like Franz Ferdinand’s debut album, has a sleek sophistication, but it’s more somber than it is danceable. It hearkens back to the darker bands of the ’80s (especially Joy Division) and has some atmospheric shoegazey moments that are reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine. If I haven’t made it obvious enough yet, I really like dark, gloomy albums. Not all the time, of course, but most of the time. Everything just sounds more personal with that edge to it and that’s what keeps me interested. Turn on the Bright Lights has so many moments that give me the chills, like Paul Banks’ faraway voice singing, “Well, she was my catatonic sex toy / Love joy diver / She went down, down, down there / Down there for me / Right on” on “Stella Was A Diver and She Was Always Down.” Whenever my friend Kenny and I listened to this album in his car and that part of the song came on, everything had to be silent so I could fully enjoy it. And Kenny would always laugh at me for that, but he felt the same way about “Say Hello to the Angels.”

5. Morning View – Incubus (2001)

Most people don’t realize how much I love Incubus. I don’t talk about them as much as other bands I enjoy, but I think that’s because I was so turned off by their most recent album (it’s seriously disappointing). And most people who are familiar with Incubus know them for their song “Drive.” That is a great song and the album it came from is equally as great, but Morning View is better. This is and always will be my favorite Incubus album. It’s one of the most down to earth rock records I’ve ever heard. Even the faster paced songs have an earthly quality to them. This album reminds me of summer, and not the hot, uncomfortable kind of summer–this is the quiet, relaxing kind of summer you experience at sunset in July. Morning View starts out heavy enough with energetic tracks like “Nice to Know You” and “Circles,” but it slowly starts to wind down to slower, meditative tracks like “11 a.m.” and eventually “Aqueous Transmission.” That last song is the single most relaxing tune on any Incubus album. It features a Chinese stringed instrument called a pipa (kind of like a lute), which gives the song a very Eastern feel to it. Morning View will always be my summer album because it actually makes me hate summer a little less.

4. I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love – My Chemical Romance (2002)

And you thought I was done with My Chemical Romance, didn’t you? Casual MCR fans (or I guess people who just know a few popular MCR songs) probably aren’t aware of this album. I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love is the band’s first album and it’s most definitely the darkest (like I said, I like my music dark). This is supposedly a concept album that follows two lovers/partners in crime who are eventually killed in a hail of gunfire. While there are songs that deal exclusively with a twisted kind of romance (“Drowning Lessons,” “Demolition Lovers”), most of the album mentions everything from vampires and zombies to death and feelings of loss. One of the major highlights for me is “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville,” a song about zombies (with direct references to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead) that addresses a very serious question: If the person you loved was turning into a zombie (or, more realistically, dying of an incurable disease), would you have the heart to put them out of their misery? It’s a beautiful song, even with the zombie references. The first song I heard from this album was “Vampires Will Never Hurt You,” which is a bit creepier than “Early Sunsets.” My friend Amanda (who was completely enamored with this band) made me put on headphones to listen to it, and according to her, my reaction was priceless. I was creeped out at first, but absolutely enthralled by the end, especially with the final whisper of, “Fatality is like ghosts in snow.” I actually just got the shivers thinking about it.

3. Is This It – The Strokes (2001)

Here’s yet another album that was played on repeat in my house. I remember sitting in the living room just basking in every word and every chord. Is This It has a level of cool that makes James Dean look like a square. Whenever I’m listening to music on my way to class and one of these songs comes up on shuffle, I automatically feel 10x cooler. Like The White Stripes, The Strokes opted for a simpler sound that didn’t seem that simple at all. There are no tricks on this album. There are no bells and whistles, no breakdowns, no bloated guitar solos–this is pure garage rock that captures the essence of nostalgia. Songs like “Last Nite” and “Hard to Explain” just sound like how nostalgia feels. The album is comfortable and familiar, yet surprising and innovative–it’s a bit of a contradiction, really. None of the other Strokes albums have matched the quality of Is This It (for me, at least), but I’m so glad this album exists. Of course it’s catchy, but it also makes me happy in a way that few albums do.

2. Absolution – Muse (2003)

I had no idea who Muse was until I heard “Stockholm Syndrome.” That song blew my mind (and it still does). I got Absolution without hesitation and ended up lying in bed listening to it for hours. The thunderous piano chords of “Apocalypse Please” signal the start to an absolutely perfect album, and I don’t use that word lightly. Absolution is, in my opinion, perfect–there isn’t one song on this album that I dislike even the tiniest bit, not even the the 30-second interlude. There is a healthy mix of heavier rock tunes (“Stockholm Syndrome,” “Hysteria”) and gorgeous piano/strings ballads (“Sing for Absolution,” “Blackout”). There are two songs on this album that give me this this overwhelming ache that tickles the pit of my stomach until I want to cry (tears of joy, I promise): “Falling Away With You” and “Butterflies and Hurricanes.” “Falling Away With You” has always been my favorite Muse song of all time because it reminds me of childhood. It’s kind of hard to explain, but when I was very, very young, I remember watching this video (one of those baby videos with no plot, just pretty images) that featured kids on a playground. One of the kids had a red balloon and when she let it go, the camera followed it up into sky. There was a song playing in the background and I swear it sounded just like the opening to “Falling Away With You.” When I heard that song for the first time, I immediately recognized the tune and it was one of the strangest moments of my life. So every time I listen to it, all I think about are red balloons floating up into the sky. “Butterflies and Hurricanes” isn’t nearly as nostalgic, but it does feature the most gorgeous piano interlude I’ve ever heard. So considering how strongly I feel about Absolution, what could possibly top it?

1. American Idiot – Green Day (2004)

Well, this one can top it. If you know me at all, this should come as no surprise. Green Day is my favorite band (and I’ve also alluded to this album throughout the countdown). Next to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, this is my favorite album of all time. It came out when I was 13 years old, which was perfect timing. I had a hard time being myself in my pre-teen years because I didn’t know what kind of person I wanted to be (but who does?). I thought I had found something to identify with in Nirvana, but I soon realized I was ten years too late. Nevermind belonged to Generation X–American Idiot belonged to me. In that sense, this album was my Nevermind. I screamed the words to “Jesus of Suburbia” and it felt like screaming the words from the Bible. It meant something to me. It meant more to me than Kurt Cobain’s cryptic lyrics. Perhaps that initial reaction can be blamed on teenage angst, but every time I listen to any song on American Idiot, I still feel this overwhelming sense of belonging. And it’s gotten to the point where people can keep telling me how much they hate this album or hate this band, and it just doesn’t phase me. I listened to this album when I graduated high school. I listened to it the night before I left for college. I’ve listened to it after bad break-ups, bad endings to friendships, and bad family drama. This album isn’t technically perfect the way some of the other albums on this list are, but it’s the only one that sticks with me and makes me feel perfectly content with being myself.

Sam’s Top 50 Favorite Albums of the 2000s (Part 4)

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

20. Gorillaz – Gorillaz (2001)

This was an album that was always background music at my house. My dad would always play it on the stereo in the living room, so I heard it often enough to eventually enjoy it. Gorillaz were one of the more fascinating bands of the 2000s–they were animated primates singing behind electronic beats. I remember hearing “Clint Eastwood” and thinking, “This is a cool song, but how does this band perform live?” Yeah, so I was a bit younger and I didn’t realize that this band wasn’t just a singing cartoon. I later realized that Damon Albarn (from Blur) did most of the vocals and was finally able to appreciate the Gorillaz for what they really were. This album jumps from genre to genre, but every song works. There are semi-traditional trip-hop tracks like “Clint Eastwood,” hip-hop tracks like “Rock the House,” and even a Latin-inspired tune (“Latin Simone”). Considering how experimental a lot of these songs are, I’m still surprised this album was so popular. Everyone involved took a chance and it definitely paid off. Some personal highlights for me include “Clint Eastwood,” “Sound Check,” “Latin Simone,” and “Left Hand Suzuki Method.”

19. Person Pitch – Panda Bear (2007)

Not since my first time listening to Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea have I been so amazed by one album. I was just starting to get into Animal Collective when a friend of mine suggested Panda Bear’s solo work (Panda Bear is a member of Animal Collective if you didn’t already know). I was on an AC kick, so I said, “Sure, why not?” I listened to Person Pitch first and immediately became enthralled. The sound sample from the beginning of the first track, “Comfy in Nautica,” is what I assume to be a roller coaster climbing up a hill. Once the music starts, the ride takes off. All the songs on the album are actually made up of other songs–they all use samples of other work mixed with Panda Bear’s own music (with the exception of “Ponytail,” I believe). Any description I give you probably wouldn’t do this album justice, but I’ll try. Person Pitch has a surreal, yet comforting quality. It’s profound without trying too hard. Even though each song samples one or more other songs, it doesn’t sound like a sloppy collage of obscure references. The two longest (and best) songs on the album, “Bros” and “Good Girl/Carrots,” use at least three samples apiece, but they’re all seamless. Every song on Person Pitch is gorgeous and nearly flawless. Even if you aren’t a fan of Animal Collective, you have to at least give this album a try.

18. Audioslave – Audioslave (2002)

Remember when I said I had a thing for supergroups? Well, here’s another one that blew my mind. Made up of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and 3/4 of Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave had an intensity that only two hard rock bands of the ’90s could produce. The band’s self-titled debut was a lot stronger than most people gave it credit for. How can you not get pumped when you hear an opener like “Cochise?” That song is so heavy. Of course, there are softer songs that show off Chris Cornell’s range a bit more, most notably “Like a Stone” and “I Am the Highway.” There are times when Audioslave sounds a bit too much like RATM without Zack de la Rocha, but for the most part, everyone works very well together. Tom Morello’s guitar playing is on point like always. He waits to show off until Chris finishes a verse because, let’s be honest, one would overpower the other. I know a lot of people didn’t like this band (usually sticking with the “too much RATM” argument), but I loved it. The self-titled album is a solid rock album created by some incredibly talented musicians. And let me tell you, Audioslave is LOUD live. They are “thunder of Zeus” loud. But that just makes them all the more bad-ass in my book. Go big or go home.

17. In Rainbows – Radiohead (2007)

What can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said? It’s technically perfect? It’s the most accessible Radiohead album since OK Computer? If I could marry this album, I would? All those things are true. In Rainbows is probably the most gorgeous Radiohead album ever and I think that’s because the lyrical content is much more personal. I believe Thom Yorke described most of the tracks as “seduction songs.” And he’s right–these songs make me swoon. “House of Cards,” “All I Need,” and “Nude” have a beauty that can only be described as ethereal. “Nude” in particular is positively stunning–it’s probably my second favorite Radiohead song. Even the faster tracks have their shining moments, like “Bodysnatchers.” Objectively, this is probably the best Radiohead album of the 2000s. Most publications chose Kid A as the best, and while that is a great album, I just think In Rainbows is better. (And I may lose my Radiohead fangirl card here, but I don’t like Kid A as much as I think I should. You won’t be seeing it on this list. My apologies.)

16. Wincing the Night Away – The Shins (2007)

Speaking of losing a fangirl card, you can take my Shins card away with this decision. Wincing the Night Away is my favorite Shins album and Oh, Inverted World didn’t make it into the Top 50. Sorry, not sorry. I know too many people who don’t like this album and I just don’t get it. Just about every track is strong, and like I mentioned with Beck earlier in the list, I like albums with individually strong tracks better. Wincing the Night Away also features my two favorite Shins songs ever: “Turn on Me” and “A Comet Appears.” This is the band’s most experimental album and they should definitely get props for that. I will always appreciate bands who take risks, and if those risks pay off, I will fall in love with the result. Listen to “Black Wave,” for example. I remember reading a review that called this a “filler song,” but I’m just going to call bullshit on that one. James Mercer’s voice sounds divine and the instrumentals are hypnotic. It’s a darker song, which may have turned people off, but I love it. This album also has a strong opening track (“Sleeping Lessons”) and an equally strong closing track (“A Comet Appears”). “Sleeping Lessons” gives the album a nice bouncy opening, while “A Comet Appears” serves as a bittersweet goodbye. I hear no filler on Wincing the Night Away, just a solid Shins effort.

15. Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge – My Chemical Romance (2004)

Okay, I’m not sorry for this one. I may be past the age where liking this band is deemed “acceptable,” but I still know every word to this album and I’m not afraid to admit it. Back in middle school, I definitely went through a My Chemical Romance phase (which coincided with my Green Day phase, though I never grew out of that one). Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge was MCR’s break-through album and I can see why. The singles are radio-friendly (for the most part) and the music videos are beyond wonderful. This album was the soundtrack to my middle school years, so of course my own nostalgia pushed it up this far on the list. Most other bands I listened to during this period of my life make me cringe nowadays (see From First To Last and Hawthorne Heights), but MCR has staying power. Well, they had staying power until their recent break-up (but let’s be honest, they’ll probably get back together in the near future). Three Cheers also has the uncanny ability to cheer me up even though its content is a bit dark. When I hear Gerard Way scream, “I’m not okay,” part of me feels like I am okay.

14. A Rush of Blood to the Head – Coldplay (2002)

Let’s forget about Coldplay’s more recent albums and just admit that this one and Parachutes are amazing. While Parachutes had its spectacular moments, A Rush of Blood to the Head is still Coldplay’s best album. I know we all probably got sick of hearing “Clocks” every day, but we all still sang along whenever it came on the radio. The album starts out with a bang in the form of “Politik,” a piano-crunching number that caught me off guard when I first heard it. Like most people, I was only aware of “Clocks” before I bought the album, so I just assumed the rest of it would be low-key. Boy, was I wrong. A Rush of Blood to the Head may be piano-heavy, but it is so far from predictable. Even the slightly more low-key tracks (“The Scientist,” “Green Eyes”) have a quiet power behind them. “In My Place” still ranks among my favorite songs of all time, as does “The Scientist.” The albums released after this one (with maybe the exception of Viva La Vida) just don’t have the same amount of soul. I don’t hear the emotion in a song like “Paradise” (from Mylo Xyloto) like I do in a song like “The Scientist” or “In My Place.” This album has heart and I sincerely hope Coldplay can recreate that somehow.

13. Contraband – Velvet Revolver (2004)

In 2004, I was obsessed with three albums: Three Cheers for Sweet RevengeAmerican Idiot, and Contraband. If you talk to anyone who was friends with me that year, they will all tell you how much I worshipped Velvet Revolver. This was another supergroup of the 2000s (and the last one on this list, I promise) that really impressed me. Made up of Stone Temple Pilots’ Scott Weiland, three members of Guns N’ Roses, and guitarist Dave Kushner, Velvet Revolver was an ideal dirty club band with a ton of talent. Their debut album, Contraband, is pure hard rock mayhem, softened a bit by Scott Weiland’s own glam style. Most tracks go full throttle, showing off Slash’s guitar prowess (“Sucker Train Blues,” “Set Me Free”). Others focus more on Scott’s vocal delivery and personal lyrics (“Fall to Pieces,” “You Got No Right”). But like with all projects involving Scott Weiland, Velvet Revolver disintegrated after their second album. I won’t go into an entire rant here, but I will always stick by Scott. I think he’s incredibly talented if a bit troubled and ego-centric. But when he gives it his all, it’s magic.

12. Hot Fuss – The Killers (2004)

You started singing “Mr. Brightside” when you saw that album title, didn’t you? Well, if you didn’t, you are now. Everyone loves that song and everyone loves this album (well, maybe not everyone, but most people I know do). Hot Fuss spawned four fantastic singles that honestly never get old: “Somebody Told Me,” “Smile Like You Mean It,” “All These Things That I’ve Done,” and, of course, “Mr. Brightside.” Talk about a strong debut. This album is split between danceable new wave/indie rock (“Somebody Told Me”) and moody new wave/indie rock (“Andy, You’re A Star”). The Killers nail both sides of the genre without sounding too much like their influences (New Order, Duran Duran). Hot Fuss isn’t revolutionary or experimental, but it stays consistent with a sound that works. It’s one of those albums that has the power to bring people together. I remember getting drunk at a friend’s house one evening and as soon as someone put on “Mr. Brightside,” everyone got up and started dancing and shouting the lyrics. This album is like the soundtrack to a good time–it’s fun, it’s nostalgic, and it makes you want to dance in a drunken circle in someone’s living room.

11. From Under the Cork Tree – Fall Out Boy (2005)

Things I don’t regret: listing this album as one my favorites of all time. For the record, I used to hate Fall Out Boy. At the time this album came out, I was vehemently against all music that was the least bit popular. I refused to listen to any song from this album until my friend Amanda bought it for me and urged me to give it a try. I set it aside for a while, then I heard “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down.” It was all over. I grabbed the CD and played the first song: “Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued.” Despite Fall Out Boy’s habit of giving their songs obscenely long titles, I reluctantly fell in love with From Under the Cork Tree. Of course, I never admitted to it until years later. I recently saw this band live for the first time (I never got to see them when they were super popular) and it was one of the best experiences. This is modern pop-punk in all its glory and it’s fun as hell. Patrick Stump has a killer voice and Pete Wentz’s lyrics are pretty clever. And yes, the video for “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More ‘Touch Me’” is still a guilty pleasure (Pete Wentz makes a great vampire, okay?). Any time I hear any song from this album, I can just feel this huge smile spread across my face. It may destroy my indie cred (if I actually have any), but Fall Out Boy will always have a place in my heart.