Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Media Review 2010: Top Motion Pictures.

[The media review rolls on into its final installment as I break down my favorite films of the year.]

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Green Zone
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
How to Train Your Dragon
The King's Speech
The Social Network
The Town

5) Inception [Yes to the ideas. Yes to the characters. Yes to the imaginative visuals. Overwhelming yes to the masterful way Christopher Nolan worked in exposition without killing the momentum. Super-duper yes to the ambiguous ending. No, no, no to the bland directorial style and the James-Bond-villain-via-Hoth climactic battle setting. You fold up Paris for practice but when it comes time for the real thing, you just shoot a bunch of guns? Yawn.]
4) Exit Through the Gift Shop [While Inception is very good at provoking thought about the plot of Inception, this documentary is good at provoking thought about larger questions, like where should one draw the line between art and commerce, and how do free market principles play into that, and how awesome, exactly, is street artist Banksy? The first must-see documentary in a long time.]
3) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World [Not only is it outrageously funny, inventive, and smart--it is also far more perceptive about love in the real world than your average romantic comedy. Odd that a movie this off-the-wall has so much to say about the realities of relationships.]
2) True Grit [Pretty much perfect, and would've been my number one were it not for...]
1) Toy Story 3 [Based on the trailer, I was certain this was going to be Pixar's first grand misstep, a cynical cash-grab that just regurgitated the first two. So imagine my surprise when it turned out not only to be a wholly original story, but the story that the first two installments led up to. It's like they had this in mind all along. Storytelling at its best.]

127 Hours
Four Lions
Inside Job
Rabbit Hole

Black Swan
The Kids Are All Right
The Fighter
Blue Valentine

The Ghost Writer
Shutter Island
Winter's Bone

The General (1926) [I introduced my kids to the big three silent comedians on New Year's Eve, and we had a wonderful year experiencing some of these still-hilarious classic films. My favorite of all of them has to be this one, featuring Buster Keaton, a runaway train, and some of the most clever, seat-of-your-pants comic gags I've ever seen. The man really was a genius, and I can tell because his films still get belly laughs today, even from my children.]

Clash of the Titans [Not nearly Transformers-level awful, but still loveably terrible, especially in its dartboard approach to mythology, Jamba-Juice-blender approach to editing, and who-cares approach to accents. Add in the casting of current interchangeable, mix-and-match lunkhead Sam Worthington as the lead, and it's just bland enough to be boring where it should be exciting.]

Monday, February 7, 2011

Media Review 2010: Top Music.

[So much good music this year! I couldn't narrow it down to only five, so I cheated and made two top five lists: one for American bands, one for bands from places other than the United States.]

Broken Bells, Broken Bells
A Chorus of Storytellers, The Album Leaf
I Learned the Hard Way, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Love and Its Opposite, Tracey Thorn
Magic Chairs, Efterklang

5) Leave Your Sleep, Natalie Merchant [Miss Merchant wanted to teach her daughter a few poems, so, she did what any loving parent would do--she set them to music, then recorded them so the rest of us can enjoy. It's like brand-new Americana.]
4) Beautiful Things, Gungor [At first, I was unimpressed. It felt like a checklist of tracks from all of Michael Gungor's favorite bands (here's the Muse song! and now here's the Regina Spektor song! and now here's the Switchfoot song! Sufjan, anyone? etc.), but the more I listened to it, the more it grew on me. Really good worship songwriting, and hardly a Jesus-is-my-girlfriend number on it.]
3) My Room in the Trees, The Innocence Mission [They coasted a bit with their last album (2007's We Walked in Song), so I set the bar a little lower than usual when I heard this one--and then had to raise it right back up, and they still cleared it. They have their thing, but they do what they do so unbelievably well that it never gets old. Fun fact: "God Is Love," the third song on this album, is the unofficial theme song of my newly born baby daughter.]
2) Provenance, Maya Beiser [There are very, very many musicians who are technically proficient on their instruments but who always sound like they're playing a bunch of notes by the rulebook. Maya Beiser is a cellist who uses her instrument for Art, who speaks through it, who lives through it, who breathes through it. Oh, and she covers Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." What's not to like?]
1) Interpol, Interpol and High Violet, The National [I wound up getting these albums days apart from each other, and as a result, began listening to them back-to-back, so much so that they became a sort of double album. Now they are inseparable in my mind. And as far as I'm concerned, their drummers contribute most of the awesomeness.]

5) Miike Snow, Miike Snow [The Official Adam Palmer Album of the Summer of 2010. Creative electronic music that goes far beyond the standard and mixes in some artistic flair. Perfect for barbecues, cleaning the house, or for bumping in your car, with the windows down, as you drive to go view the mushroom cloud that wipes us all out. Yes, it's that epic.]
4) Black Swan, Athlete [Not to be confused with the Darren Aronofsky film of the same name, this is Britpop at its finest. Break out the cigarette lighter and rest your arms well, because you're going to want to raise it up for every single song. An entire album's worth of anthems.]
3) Go, Jonsi [Exactly the sound you would expect from a pop album by the lead singer of Sigur Ros and produced by Nico Muhly.]
2) ...And They Escaped the Weight of Darkness, Olafur Arnalds [Breathtakingly beautiful minimalistic orchestration, again from Iceland. Holds a special place in my heart because, while I already had it at my #2 spot, it was playing while my daughter was born a few weeks ago. Great music to have your kid be born to.]
1) Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons [The nexus of great music, insightful lyrics, and at a time in my life when I needed both. Unless something crazy happens, this will be on my decade-best list in 2019.]

The Fountain Soundtrack (2006), Clint Mansell [I'm already a huge fan of the movie, but I never realized the degree to which Clint Mansell's score adds to the overall experience. This is some fantastic writing music.]
Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (1997), Spiritualized [This is the same year that Radiohead released OK Computer and The Verve released Urban Hymns, and this album just may be better than both of them. Layer upon layer upon layer of musical genius that speaks to the futility of trying to numb pain through drug use, though it does have some unfortunate swearing.]

Plastic Beach, Gorillaz [What a letdown, especially after the pleasant time I had with their previous album. Sounds like, instead of writing actual songs with something to say, they invited a bunch of celebrity rappers into the studio to smoke weed and spout the first things that come to mind. Total harvest? One decent song ("Stylo," if you must know).]

Media Review 2010: Top Books.

[Time once more for me to reveal my picks for the best in media for the previous year. Today's entry: the best books of 2010.]

Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer
From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, Sean Carroll
How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, Mike Brown
The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of 'Proper' English from Shakespeare to South Park, Jack Lynch
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, David Sedaris

5) Sonic Boom: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the New Economy, Gregg Easterbrook [Very interesting thoughts on the immediate future of our world as we experience a "sonic boom." The publisher positioned it as a "business book," but it isn't, really. It's just interesting, if you're into that sort of thing.]
4) The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Michael Lewis [Still feel like you don't completely understand what happened with the credit crisis in the fall of '08? Still befuddled about what exactly is a "credit default swap"? Want to learn about the handful of people who made a bundle while the rest of us were losing our collective house? This is the book for you.]
3) Agent Q, or the Smell of Danger!, M.T. Anderson [There's a series of books called "Pals in Peril!" This is the fourth one. They are very, very funny, especially if you spent your childhood reading series books.]
2) Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality, Michael Spencer [Michael Spencer used to write gospel-centric rants about wrongheaded ways we do church and theology in 21st century America. He wrote them on the internet. Then he got a book deal and wrote this. Then he died. His was a clear-headed way of thinking about Jesus that sidesteps the pointless blather and speaks directly to the heart of the matter. Oh, and full disclosure--I am an infrequent contributor to his website,]
1) After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, N.T. Wright [This is the natural progression from my #6 book of the decade last year, Surprised by Hope. Sometimes it gets a little egghead-y, but it's still entirely worth the read.]

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (2006), Francis S. Collins [Dr. Collins led the Human Genome Project, the conglomeration of scientists that unraveled the mystery of our DNA and figured out what every bit of it does. This book is a history of the project itself as well as Collins's firsthand account of the way he found Jesus in the midst of it. Awfully darn good.]

The Soul of Spider-Man, Adam Palmer & Jeff Dunn [This one wasn't supposed to be released until next year, but then Regal brought it out anyway! My streak remains alive!]

Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins [I was introduced to the very good book The Hunger Games this year, which I devoured with relish. Then I found out it was a trilogy and did a little dance of joy. I got the second book, Catching Fire, and thought it was so-so, but it picked up toward the end. So then it was time for Mockingjay, the final book in the trilogy, and I was cautiously optimistic--surely she would end on a good note? Nope. Collins makes bad decision after bad decision, forgetting what made the first book so great. Such a disappointment.]

Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race, Jon Stewart et al [It's no secret: I really like The Daily Show a lot, and I think Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert both serve a wonderful purpose by poking holes in the public discourse. Colbert's book, I Am America (And So Can You!) is smart, incisive, and seriously funny. This book, by Jon Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show, is stupid, crass, and juvenile, with jokes that land as gracefully as the whale in The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy. Stick to television, fellas. Full disclosure: It was so bad I didn't even make it ten pages in. Maybe it gets awesome on page eleven. I don't care.]