Friday, December 17, 2010

The Best of 2010 - The Films of the Year

What follows is a quick review on what I felt was the best film of 2010, preceded by eight others which were impressive in their own right. Beyond that, I've also taken a look back at some of the other movies I watched this year -- good and bad. If you're curious about any of the films I list here, each is linked to a trailer.
The Town 
The Town is perfect... just an absolutely perfect heist flick, that is. There's really nothing new going on here when it comes to this sort of story, but I can't think of another movie so successful in the execution of all these standard elements at once -- internally tortured lead character, engaging romantic interest, bucking against the pull of childhood friendship, FBI agents who aren't one-dimensional, great getaway/chase scenes and even better stick-ups. What a cast; everyone in this movie knocked it out of the park -- Renner, Hamm, Hall, Lively, Cooper, Welliver. And Affleck is solid as well.
People may scoff at me when they read this, but even with only two films under his directorial belt, Ben Affleck is starting to turn into this generation's Clint Eastwood -- a big-time actor morphing into a top-notch filmmaker. Pay attention to whatever it is he does next as a director. He's earned it.

At the surprise no one, Christopher Nolan continues to own our asses. I'm not sure what I can say about this film that hasn't already been posted somewhere on the internet. Maybe it didn't reach the heights of some people's lofty expectations, but I think even many of us who walked into the theater this summer hoping for a great film weren't disappointed. I recall being mesmerized for a few days afterward. The only legitimate critique I've heard regarding it was that it didn't go far enough within the dreams as it could have. Touche. Anything else seems to be obnoxious nit-picking.

Winter's Bone
This movie follows the trek of young Ree Dolly as she attempts to learn the whereabouts of her fugitive father in order to save her impoverished family from losing their home. Treading through both strained family history and violent locals, the teenage girl repeatedly sacrifices herself and her dreams in order to care for her young siblings and disturbed mother. The highly original setting in the Ozark Mountains gives this bleak drama a sense of foreboding I can't recall seeing in some time. Winter's Bone is haunting and harrowing during its most-intense moments, yet still has the ability to fill an audience with vigor by its conclusion.

The Killer Inside Me
Now THIS is some film noir, baby. Based on Jim Thompson's classic 1952 novel, The Killer Inside Me is the picture of a criminally warped mind encased in a community pillar of a small Texas town. Casey Affleck's portrayal of small-town sheriff and complete sociopath Lou Ford is brilliant. Now, this movie has been labeled as a work of misogyny, which I see the argument for, but egregiously overlooks and distracts from the film as a whole. You can't watch this movie and not have the violence burned into your memory. It contains scenes that, without a doubt, are some of the most brutal I have ever seen on film -- they are completely revolting, yet simultaneously mesmerizing. But, honestly, these assaults make up a only few minutes of the film, unlike some of the others I've referenced in this article (Kick-Ass and The Expendables in particular) and many entries from the filmographies of countless celebrated directors, such as Tarantino for example. Critics should give it another shot, because Michael Winterbottom pulled off this adaptation. At times, Killer is downright beautiful and should be recognized as such.

Everything you need to know about why Kick-Ass was phenomenal is in this clip.

The Ghost Writer
An excellent political thriller. Everything is top-notch here. Ewan McGregor delivers a necessarily strong performance as we weave along with him on a journey through a British politician's personal life and past. On the way to the truth, we're also given memorable scenes from Tom Wilkinson and Eli Wallach, as well as good work from Olivia Williams and Pierce Brosnan. The parts of this movie I'd normally delve into here are too spoilery for those who haven't seen it (which is probably most of you). This may not be a classic like Chinatown or as fun as The Ninth Gate, but The Ghost Writer shows Polanski is still at the top of his game.

Animal Kingdom
A simple, yet superb crime drama from top to bottom. After the death of his mother, confused teenager "J" Cody begins living with his grandmother and uncles, who are seeped in the Australian underworld. From there, his introduction into the criminal world takes his life and the lives of those he cares about into an uncontrollable tailspin. Guy Pearce is predictably fantastic as the cop trying to get the kid to turn on his family. Joel Edgerton oozes charisma as J's likable uncle (wouldn't be surprised to see him make an Eric Bana-esque splash in the next few years). And, man, what a performance from Jacki Weaver as the matriarch of the Cody clan. She makes Livia Soprano look like the mother of year. This crime drama is very curious in that there is barely any actual crime shown. Much of it is alluded to of course, but even then it's vague. But that doesn't take away from the story. If anything, it draws you in deeper. Highly recommended.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Soooooo much fun. I had a smile on my face the entire time. The editing and direction of this movie really deserve some sort of major recognition they'll undoubtedly fail to receive. I suspect Pilgrim will become regarded as an innovative movie for future filmmakers. Now I'm really looking forward to Edgar Wright's Ant-Man, which I believe is still in the works after The Avengers debuts in a few years from now.
After the jump, my selection for Film of the Year, in addition to mentions of 28 other movies from 2010.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Best of 2010 - The Albums of the Year

Unlike the past few years, I threw a ton of new music at my eardrums in 2010, and a high percentage of it came out this year, too. So, while last year's pick of Yonder Is The Clock for album of year was unmistakably worthy, it may have been joined by some other selections had I actually made any effort to keep up with new music. That isn't the case this year.

What follows are the top eight albums I listened to this year. And, since I'm such a swell mofo, I linked a track from each one below the artwork for your listening pleasure.

Track 1: "Blue Blood Blues"
Sea Of Cowards 
The Dead Weather
Another Jack White side project gone amazing. This album is angry, mysterious and subversive, all while rocking the f out.

Track 13: "When I'm With You"
Crazy For You 
Best Coast
I was intoxicated by this group and their lo-fi surf rock for most of the summer. They remind me a little of a female-led version of the Ramones with early Beach Boys mentality seeped in today's world. Simplicity at its finest. Good luck not getting addicted to it.

Track 3: "Power"
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy 
Kanye West
Even President Obama recognizes he's a jackass, but the ridiculous celebrity antics can't stifle my ability to praise the dude's brilliance as a musician. Kanye sampled King Crimson's "21st-Century Schizoid Man" to perfection on "Power"; growing up with a father obsessed with that great prog-rock band, that's the previously unimagined highlight for me. Sit down, embrace and revel Kanye's narcissism. It's the best way to absorb this one.

Track 2: "Drugs"
I find it tough to classify this instrumental duo. Electronic tracks with a smattering of synthesized guitars is the best portrait I can muster up. Despite the lack of ability on my part to describe their music, the fourth album from these two dudes is the bomb. You're taken on a mini journey on LP4 (much as you were on LP3) as they drastically alter mood and atmosphere within virtually each song. Check it.

Track 7: "Cousins"
Vampire Weekend
Those preppy fuckers somehow one-upped their debut album with their second effort.

Track 4: "Kill My Baby"
Reform School Girl 
Nick Curran & The Lowlifes
Nick Curran is a white dude covered in tattoos that has pipes Little Richard might be jealous of. Combine that with 1950s rock 'n roll song structure, a healthy dose of punk attitude and lyrics a more upstanding member of society might find tasteless, and this album is impossible to not enjoy. The title track is my personal favorite, but Curran and company didn't dump any filler on this album. There's plenty of good tunes to devour here.

Track 3: "Laredo"
Infinite Arms 
Band of Horses
Another triumph. Well done, boys.

Track 4: "Howlin' For You"
The Black Keys
This is a slight musical step up for the blues-rock duo, as they brought in additional instrumentation for some of the songs this time around to supplement the lone guitar and drum makeup of their previous five albums. But have no fear, there aren't any overly drastic changes going on here; you'll know this is a Keys' LP from the start with tales of wayward ladies breaking hearts and those gloriously fuzzy riffs they deliver so well.

More of the Best of 2010
The Films of the Year
The Year in Television

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Drawing the Human Body - A Genres & Judgments Mixture

Before hitting you up with the Fall TV report card and my end-of-year media rundown, here's a brief alternative to the plethora of Christmas music playing right now. This is more or less a burning-off of some cuts I've been digging of late, so ring in the new year with a crisp selection of tunes.

Track list and download link available after the jump.