The Best $20 You'll Spend This Year Edition

Featuring: AFs, NFTs, and Ja Ja Ding Dongs.

When the obscure Oscars’ Best Original Song shortlist was announced last month, It was clear that a great injustice had been done. Sure, the Academy at least included one song, “Husavik,” from the extremely silly but kinda irresistible Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga released way back in June. Sure, it comes at the climax of the film and features a stunning vocal performance (though not Rachel McAdams’). Even the town it’s based on is campaigning for it.

Love you Óskar, but after careful consideration, I have to support the one yelling guy on this one. Justice for “Ja Ja Ding Dong!” Sure, is “I wanna spill my love on you all day” a good lyric? Well, it’s not great. Should we really allow a song that so heavily features the accordion be performed during such a prestigious ceremony? I’m not opposed. Look, this category is already ridiculous, full of songs no one knows that likely just played during the credits. I say scrap it, or at least make it a little fun. It’s just too bad that the most ridiculous, earworm-y sing-a-long of the year won’t get that chance. THEIR LOSS. JA JA FRIGGIN’ DING DONG.

Anyway, here’s what’s new and noteworthy this week!

Movies: Minari 

I went back and forth on this one. Not because Minari isn’t good. Far from it! In fact, it will very likely be my favorite movie released this year. Here’s the problem. The VOD rental is $20 rn. I get it. That ain’t cheap, but hear me out. This movie about a Korean family starting a new life in rural Arkansas really is something special. Rarely has the “immigrant experience” been rendered so tenderly and poignantly, yet never resorting to cheap emotional manipulation. The performances from the whole cast are superb, especially from Steven Yuen (The Walking Dead) and the absolutely delightful 8-year-old Alan Kim—seriously, this kid knows how to interview. It snagged a Golden Globe last week for Best Foreign Language Film despite telling a story firmly rooted in the Asian-AMERICAN dream—one of the many reasons the Globes are so problematic—but expect the Oscars to not make the same mistake. Ponying up $20 and not even getting popcorn thrown in is a big movie investment, but hey, I haven’t led you astray so far right? Right??

Other Notable Releases: A group of shy teens spark a feminist revolution at their high school in the “coming-of-rage” comedy Moxie (Netflix) directed by Amy Poehler. In the sci-fi action movie Boss Level (Hulu), a retired soldier finds himself trapped in a deadly time loop that he can’t escape until he finds a way to survive.

TV: Beartown

Scandinavians are known for their excellent crime dramas, and Beartown is no exception, centering on a small, struggling Swedish town thrown into chaos after a violent act by a teen on the junior ice hockey team. The chilling five-part miniseries is based on the novel by beloved Swedish author Fredrick Backman (A Man Called Ove) and takes a piercing look at how a fixation on how an obsessive sports culture can intersect with rape culture and tear a close-knit community apart. Critics call it an “icy Scandinavian take on Friday Night Lights” (Time) that “transcends noir even as it elevates it” (Paste). Find it on HBO Max.

Other Notable Releases: From the Funny or Die team that created the true-crime mockumentary American Vandal comes For Heaven’s Sake (new kid on the streaming block Paramount+), another comedic crime docuseries about an 80-year-old cold case and the two amateur detectives who investigate it. For true true-crime, check out the three-part Murder Among the Mormons (Netflix) about Mark Hoffman, a notorious forger of Mormon documents turned bomb-maker. 

Books: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

My most anticipated book of the year is here! Ishiguro only writes bangers and the GLOWING reviews of his latest, Klara and the Sun, indicate that the Nobel Prize for Literature winner—and author of my favorite book Remains of the Day—hasn’t lost his touch. After a memorable detour to magical realism in his last novel The Buried Giant, Klara returns to the grounded sci-fi of Never Let Me Go with a “haunting fable” (Kirkus) about an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” named Klara who tries to learn about human behavior from her place on a store shelf, hoping that a customer will someday choose her. The story is set in a near-future America where kids no longer attend school and study at home using a special device, leaving them lonely and without many human friends. Sound familiar? Ishiguro’s dystopian view of the future may be uncomfortably familiar, but his “masterpiece about life, love, and mortality” (NPR) will surely, beautifully explore how humanity endures, even if it needs a little artificial help.

Other Notable Releases: Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning spy-novel The Sympathizer, returns with the suspenseful and existential The Committed, about two drug-dealing “blood-brothers” and Vietnam War vets in 1980s Paris. For an authentic migration novel without the whitewashing of American Dirt, try Colombian-American author Patrica Engel’s Infinite Country, about a mixed-race family divided by borders and immigration status.

Music: Kings of Leon - When You See Yourself

“Is it a man or a masked machine?” “If we’re ever going out / We could be here forever without a doubt.” Judging by the lyrics of their eighth album, it would seem the Nashville rockers set out to write a record of COVID anthems. Funny thing is, the album was supposed to come out a year ago and got postponed. Call it a prophetic accident. It’s been over a decade since the release of their ubiquitous smash hits “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody,” but the Grammy winners still have a few tricks up their sleeve, like making history as the first band to release their album as an NFT (ask your crypto-fanatic friends). Few rock bands can fill an arena quite like these guys anymore. Expect this collection to do the same when they can hit the road again.

Other Notable Releases: Singer-songwriter Eric D. Johnson celebrates 20 years of his Fruit Bats alias with The Pet Parade, full of winsome folk melodies and heartfelt lyrics. Across the pond, Scottish indie-rockers Arab Strap return from a 15-year hiatus with As Days Get Dark “about hopelessness and darkness,” says member Aidan Moffat. “But in a fun way.”

That's it for this week! Just a reminder, Noteworthy is on a bi-weekly schedule now, so lookout for the next edition on Friday the 19th. If you have a friend who might like this, please forward it along, and if you got this from a friend, you can subscribe below!

Have a safe and culture-filled weekend,