My Top Movies of 2016

December 30, 2016

As I mentioned in my “Top TV” post, this was the first year I had far more worthy TV picks to pore through than movies. I may have went to the movies just a tad less than usual this year but if so, not by much and with Netflix, Redbox, HBO, Amazon, etc. there’s no shortage of movies out there to see. Of course, studios often hold their best work back until the end of the year to stay fresh in voters minds come Oscar season and some of those (mentioned at #10 below) I’ve yet to have a chance to see. Conversely, there were a lot of great little popcorn films (Deadpool, Civil War, Jungle Book, etc.) that were fun to watch but lacked the depth of a truly great film IMO. Regardless, here’s what I liked the best and the top 3 or 4 were in particular great and timeless works while the others also had plenty to offer.

10) I’m going to cop out with this one but as I’ve yet to see so many great contenders this year I am certain that once I do one of the following will likely place somewhere on this list, likely shifting the back (5-9) portion of this list:  Everybody Wants Some, La La Land, Nocturnal Animals, Moonlight, Jackie, and Manchester by the Sea.

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9) Green Room

It was such a shame to lose such a young talent as Anton Yelchin this year. While best known for his work in the new Abrams Star Trek franchise, he delivers a more forceful and personal performance in Green Room. Veteran of an older Trek series, Patrick Stewart, delivers a menacing performance. Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat is also great here. This is a great little punk rock high-energy old-school grindhouse thriller.

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8) Tony Robbins: I’m Not Your Guru

I’m not a Robbins disciple and while I can see why many critics think this documentary failed to go deep enough in dissecting Tony and his own possible motives and motivations I found this a thoroughly entertaining documentary and portrait of a person, his audience and his work. I may not have gotten as full a picture of the person as I did with the subject of the equally entertaining Anthony Weiner documentary this year, this one just entertained me a bit more and made me think throughout.

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7) Dr. Strange

After a couple of decades or longer of consuming superhero stories in one format or other I more and more prefer in comics or films those that use the trappings of the icons and genre to tell bigger (or in some cases, smaller and more nuanced) stories. Marvel is in danger of over-saturating the market and now with C and D level characters (sorry Strange, you’re not known to the larger market in the way Spiderman is) moving into the starring role of their own films that risk looms even larger. Yet perhaps because of their relative obscurity to the mainstream it’s with these characters Marvel (in film and via Netflix originals) is telling its best cinematic tales (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage). It doesn’t hurt that Cumberbatch is a great actor. Nor does it hurt that this may be one of the only films in history to actually warrant a viewing with 3-D glasses as the mystical scenes are a roller-coaster via that method. Dr. Strange was the best superhero film of the year by remembering the value of the character, the motivation, the context and the uniqueness therein. While Suicide Squad and Batman vs. Superman bloated themselves to boring, Strange went small by focusing on character and then large with cosmic, intricate visuals and action.

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6) Star Wars: Rogue One

I’m torn a bit with the sheer omnipresence of Star Wars (like superheroes). I can’t help but think market fatigue and backlash is coming–can we really sustain a big-budget blockbuster Star Wars movie (and 10 superhero ones) every single year forward? The original trilogy was fantastic and nostalgia for those films went mainstream as fans grabbed the helm (Abrams). Regardless, Rogue One may only tell the tale of protagonists we know are doomed from the start and fill in a gap that wasn’t glaring (everything we need to know Princess Leia summed up in a throwaway line in the OT) but cash grab or not Rogue One may technically be the best overall SW film in terms of acting, production and overall delivery (though the magic of the OT isn’t quite matched). The new characters, short-lived they may be, are great and the final 10 minutes with Darth Vader are alone worth the price of admission.

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5) Bad Santa 2

So I realize this was generally panned even by critics who begrudgingly praised the first one. I also realize it’s a stream of nihilistic profanity from first shot to last which doesn’t scream “happy holidays” to most viewers. Yet I found it laugh out loud funny throughout and I’m always a fan of Billy Bob Thornton. Kathy Bates was also a welcome addition as was Christina Hendricks. It’s not high art but it gets the job done and it’s far preferable to most cheesy holiday dreck.

 

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4) The Witch

The Witch is an arty Gothic historical piece that was also the best horror film of the year.  I know some excluded it from 2016 consideration since it is technically a 2015 film but as it never hit a US theater, streaming site or DVD release before 2016 that hardly seems fair. There’s no gore to be found and most of the dialogue is pulled (and rearranged) directly from 17th century diary entries. It tells the tale of a Puritan family estranged from their community in 1630s New England and the religious paranoia, social isolation and supernatural (?) factors that slowly tear them apart. Black Phillip is a truly scary nemesis.

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3) Eye in the Sky

Another film excluded from many lists because apparently it is also a 2015 film–this one didn’t hit US theaters until April 2016 so I’m safely counting it as one of my favorite 2016 movies. This was a great movie. First of all there’s the cast–the always excellent Helen Mirren is phenomenal, the sadly departed Alan Rickman delivers a great performance as one of his last and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul showcases a softer side than Jesse Pinkman. Then there’s the story itself–Hibbert’s script and Hood’s direction produces edge of your seat suspense in a nontraditional (for movies, especially “war” movies) way as computer screens, phone calls and second guessing stretches out a drone mission in real time. Moral complexity and a realer look at modern war than most cinema goers get in any format these days.

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2) The Arrival

The Arrival is not your typical sci-fi film and certainly not your typical “alien invasion” flick. It’s a smart, intricate rumination on language, culture, change, time, choices, peacemaking and relationships. It’s probably the best “contact” film of all time too. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are great and hey–Forest Whitaker gets two great sci-fi roles in 2016!

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1)  Hell or High Water

There wasn’t anything else close to being my top movie this year. Hell or High Water was by far the best movie I saw all year. Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine square off in an an epic noir standoff with the broken down landscape of America in the background. Some critics have claimed this as a modern western and that seems plausible though crime noir seems more applicable to me. Great bit parts people the landscape, great shots throughout, great dialogue, excellent score, everything works perfectly.

Best of 2015

December 21, 2015

*Note–I will likely be revising and editing this over the next two weeks but these are my top picks for albums, tv shows, movies and comics as of Dec 21, 2015.

Music  (in alphabetical order but bold are my top 10)

Beach House: Depression Cherry/ Count Your Lucky Stars                               Both records Beach House released this year, like 6 months apart, were great. I give a slight edge to Depression Cherry but likely just because I had a few other months to absorb it. The chillest yet captivating music you were apt to hear this year.

Ryan Adams: 1989

Gary Clark Jr. – The Story of Sonny Boy Slim

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Craig Finn: Faith in the Future
I enjoyed but didn’t love Finn’s first solo record. This one I love. Short and sweet with some of the best lyrics he’s ever written–including Hold Steady–but a different style than his band, much more singer-songwriter.

Deerhunter: Fading Frontier

Drive By Truckers: It’s Great to be Alive (live box set)

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Ghost: Melioria ; Lucifer – Lucifer I ; Christian Mistress – To Your Death

These three acts all in their own way brought back the best of ’70s era pre-metal/early metal traditions particularly the occult rock stains of it and made it sound fresh and new. Ghost has been at this bit awhile now and though they’re certainly not for everyone they have made their catchiest most accessible record yet with Meliroria particularly with lead single “Circe”–and who would have ever thought the band would perform on network cable as they did on Colbert’s late show for Halloween? Ghost are kind of the band fundamentalist pastors and parents thought Kiss were but actually weren’t. Ghost, with their anti-pope frontman and “clergy” band are all spectacle and tongue in cheek satanism but with undeniably catchy riffs, vocals and hooks. Lucifer on the other hand, Johanna Sadonis’ new band mines the feel of forgotten Sabbath records (particularly the excellent and underrated Technical Ecstasy), Blue Oyster Cult and a slew of female heavy “witch” rock to make a gem of an album. Christian Mistress, featuring Christine Davis’ excellent vocals and great riff after great riff edge closer to the NWOBHM scene that followed ’70s acts but bridge the gap between the two. All three records sound like classic heavy metal that fans from any metal era can appreciate.

Grave Pleasures: Dream Crash

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Horrendous: Anareta

Horrendous are the best metal act on record right now. Three albums in each excellent and each better than the last. It’s solid OSDM that hits all the highlights of classic DM bands without retreading their ground–instead it mixes in experimental highs, hooks, riffs, atmosphere and an odd sense of joy. Lyrically they find peace in absurdity and I freaking love this album.

Iron Maiden: The Book of Souls

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Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free
This one is tied neck and neck with Sufjan as my album of the year but while I may think Carrie and Lowell is the overall better record, I listened to this one quite a bit more. Isbell may be America’s best working songwriter today. “Children of Children” “24 Frames” and the title track were some of 2015’s best songs. Isbell seems to have found his own space and style in his post DBT career. I hate that those who are now flocking to Isbell aren’t by and large giving the Truckers catalog (other than maybe Jason’s songs therein) much of a go but I always felt Isbell was much more of an accessible artist than Hood though I prefer all things considered Hood and Cooley–I’d actually call them America’s best current songwriters but they don’t seem to have the reach and pop sensibility that Jason does.

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Carly Rae Jespen: Em.ot.ion

Fine, it’s some seriously sugary bubblegum level pop music. Sorry. Carly Rae was my guilty pleasure jam this year and I’m feeling less guilty with each spin because it’s just so much fun. This is some synth style 80s mall pop  filtered by way of indie rock to today’s pop radio hits but better. Carly’s voice fits the earworm hooks so well and I hear M83 in those back-beats.

Talib Kweli: F*** the Money

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Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly

They say for every hip hop fan there’s a shark waiting to be jumped–that eventually mainstream hip hop will leave every fan. I kind of thought this was my time and it may still be but though I enjoyed the heck out of Drake’s “If You’re Reading This…” it wasn’t great art (though it was above average pop). Kendrick’s latest work however is, divisive as it may be and as hipster embraced as it was. By far the best hip hop record of 2015 from one of today’s strongest rappers.

Lucero: Lucero (2015 S/T)

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The Night Flight Orchestra: Skyline Whispers                                         Second only to perhaps Carlie Jae for just sheer fun, Night Flight Orchestra have been described as montage music–every song on the album could easily soundtrack an 80s movie montage. It’s fun, cheesy soaring “dad rock” without trying too hard or over reaching. This isn’t down and dirty Steel Panther style parody, this is much more subtle and unoffensive. Catchy tunes that rock in a throwback manner.

Myrkur: M

Nile: That Which Should Not Be Unearthed

Purity Ring: Another Eternity                                                                          Indie synth pop with a great hip hop undercurrent that actually works. Almost (almost) as catchy as Carly Rae.

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Sufjan Stevens: Carrie and Lowell
This one was probably my favorite record of the year even if not my most listened to. It’s simply a bit heavy and sad to listen to on a daily or even weekly basis but it’s so beautiful. Sufjan’s love letter to his deceased mother in a warts-and-all biographical lyrical narrative is set to some of the most gorgeous arrangements of his impressive career.

Tribulation: Children of Night

Chelsea Wolfe: Abyss

Movies –
alphabetical again but with a disclaimer–I’m sure I’m forgetting some great films I’ve seen and I know that about 5-10 of those I have planned to watch over the next month or two (Star Wars, The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Hail Caesar, Joy) will also deserve a space on this list.

Far From the Madding Crowd
Relatively simple period piece but so good.

It Follows   The best horror film I’ve seen in five years easily.

Spotlight  – So far my favorite film of the year Great cast, captivating and important story, good on every cinematic level.

Steve Jobs –
I really enjoyed this though I know some didn’t. It’s certainly warts and all and who knows how much liberty Sorkin took to weave his trademark snappy dialogue but it’s a great character piece.

Trainwreck  – Shumer is my favorite (perhaps second to Louis C.K.) working comedian and her team up with Apatow was awesome.

Trumbo –
Sadly this is still a timely tale if we just switched the terms out a bit. Cranston is terrific.

 

TV

The Goldbergs

Homeland

Bosch

The Man in the High Castle

Jessica Jones

Master of None

Blackish

Larry Wilmore Show

Daily Show

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Comics

Killing and Dying – Arienne Tomine

Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses

Southern Bastards

Harrow County

Ms. Marvel

Nailbiter

The Fade Out

 

 

 

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Last weekend I went to see “The Imitation Game” and it’s a terrific film. Benedict Cumberbatch does a terrific job portraying Alan Turing, the often forgotten  hero of WWII who cracked the Nazi transmission code thus saving millions of lives and shortening the war by an estimated two years while practically inventing the computer in the process. Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke is just as good, in her portrayal of a woman capable of matching and in some ways exceeding Turin’s wit at a time women weren’t believed capable of  the science-heavy  work she was most certainly doing and doing well. “The Imitation Game” was one of the films I didn’t have a chance to see before the end of the year and thus was unable to weigh as consideration in my list of best films of the year. “The Theory of Everything” “Boyhood” and “Selma” waited far too late to show up in my neck of the woods as well but I plan on seeing each and expect each to be phenomenal. These films, along with “Birdman” (which I loved) “Whiplash,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “American Sniper” are all nominated for best picture at this year’s Academy Awards. I expect that “Sniper” is solid  in that Cooper is an incredible actor and Eastwood has rarely disappointed as a director. “American Sniper”  has generated quite a bit of political controversy which I’ll weigh in on later in this piece. “Budapest” is probably fine, I’m just not a Wes Anderson fan and find all of his films to be basically the same pretentious thing.

I love films and I maintain that good movies are good movies whatever their topic, target, or  intent. Some movies are popcorn-friendly summer smashes that are sheer entertainment; sometimes such films work in deeper content and purpose and when they do that’s great though it’s not always important. Sometimes big summer movies are just asinine garbage, but if someone enjoys them enough to stop worrying about their mortgage or ISIS for 2 hours then no harm done. Fall and Winter are the months reserved for the “serious” films to unroll, those award show contenders. It’s my overall favorite period of the movie-going year and most of my ticket money is reserved for the end of the year and the first part of the new year when the specialty market films finally trickle to the exurbs. Many people complain about this way of fielding films, that some are “serious” and “contenders” and that critics point the way to which those are and award them to their own preferences in a subjective way while unfairly (or elitely) dismissing others. It’s like this with any type of art criticism–literary, music or film–and certainly what one likes eventually boils down to a matter of subjectivity. I’ve defended the role of critics in the past, and I still think film criticism is a worthy task. If you’re paid to watch movies all the time seeing hundreds a year, have studied the history and techniques of film and have devoted much of your life and time to films and appreciating “good” films, then I have a good idea that one you run across in a typical year that you find warrants praise, your opinion is probably worth at least a little consideration. If there’s a growing consensus on certain pictures being worth our time as a viewer, if enough people who devote their time to film agree on certain pictures, I believe those pictures are likely good movies whether they’re suited to everyone’s tastes or not. On the other hand, I have no doubts at all that some truly worthwhile and entertaining films are critically rejected out of hand from pure snobbery, particularly “genre” films far too many critics feel “above.”  So the way I’ve always seen it, those universally raved works are probably good and at least worth a watch while simultaneously not everything panned is necessarily that bad or unworthy of my own consideration.

This year, and certainly not for the first time but perhaps more than usual, race has become a major topic in relation to awards-season and these critical “gate-keepers.” Race has been a large topic in everything this year and with good reason so it is certainly worth bringing to the discussion table regarding film, awards, and Hollywood today. The minute after the Academy nominations were released it became quickly evident and commentated on that there is very little diversity among the nominations. Not a single actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress or director nominated is African-American.  The director of “Birdman” is a Mexican-born film-maker but that’s pretty much it in terms of non-white diversity. “Selma” is of course about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil-rights movement but its African American lead actor is absent from consideration as its female African-American director. This comes shortly after some of the leaked documents from the Sony hack showcased Hollywood agents and shot-callers displaying a deep (if unconcerned) knowledge of racial disparity in Hollywood as they joked about the President’s likely favorite films (Kevin Hart movies) or discussed why Denzel Washington shouldn’t be cast in a particular film due to the potential loss of overseas returns due to a foreign audience’s perceived racism.
Chris Rock recently discussed racism in Hollywood in a deft piece for the “Hollywood Reporter”. Film buff and critic that he is, he makes the valid point that studio heads have to go out of their way not to hire Hispanics in Hollywood while hardly any Hispanics work on any set or movie company above the janitorial level. Rock himself, whose “Top 5” was one of the best pictures of 2014, is not immune to allegations of racism.*  He describes “Top 5” as one of the “blackest” films ever nationally released yet one that is so naturally and is not a “race” picture. Which of course is the area which needs growth; when Hollywood awards a black film it’s usually a “race” film dealing with slavery, civil rights, or race as a central topic rather than by simply featuring a diverse cast and profiling their lives and adventures naturally.
So is Hollywood racist? Rock details a scene he ultimately cut from “Top 5” in which a black agent (played by Kevin Hart) complains about studio racism (he’s not invited to a meeting) by exclaiming “and these people are liberals, this isn’t the KKK!” Racism certainly exists in Hollywood like it exists everywhere else. White-privilege works itself out by layering a power system at the top of every business, corporation, or political party in the same way it has in the media through concentrating generations of wealthy white male power at the top. Perhaps some of this is unintentional and a product of its formative time. It’s certainly time to shake up the membership of the Academy and bring down the overwhelmingly white, old, and male membership percentage and to boost diversity. Of course, Academy members have to invite diverse people into the academy on a member-to-member basis as that system works and to do that they have to socialize with a diverse crowd in the first place (a fault more than one industry and community shares). More films need to be made showcasing diversity, but ultimately in a natural way that isn’t overt and political. Hollywood isn’t a nonprofit so ultimately an audience has to vote with its dollars. Did those complaining about lack of diversity  pay to go see “Selma” “Top Five” or “Fruitvale Station”? Should it even be their (or our) responsibility? Going to the movies is expensive and even the most politically active diversity-seeking person around might not want to spend their time and money on something just to increase diversity when they may instead just want to see something fun and easy. What Hollywood can do is cast more African- Americans and Hispanics in roles where race is irrelevant (as was done in the great casting choice of Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch in an upcoming “Fantastic Four” movie). If foreign audiences have a race problem and won’t bother to see a character-driven piece about black life in America or even a romantic comedy starring a black couple, perhaps they will be unable to avoid that multimillion dollar summer action blockbuster even if it is peopled with a diverse cast. Hollywood will still make their money and foreign audiences will be subtly acclimated to diversity and recognition that people are in some ways all the same.

The problem seems to be a mixture. It’s that not enough quality films are made with diverse casts on one end. Should this year’s nominations have not been recognized as top-quality simply because they’re not diverse enough? A lot of wonderful films this year lacked diversity but that’s no reason to boycott good films or to refuse to recognize their excellence or quality. I’m neither gay nor British and did not serve in WWII but can thoroughly enjoy “Imitation Game” much the same way I’m not black nor a comedian but can enjoy “Top Five.” Audiences nor studios can be asked to subsidize films for activism’s sake. Yet those who love film and independently make films can certainly take more risks as they so often do. What films that were made were slighted this year? The glaring omissions by concensus seem to be “Selma’s” director and lead actor. Which others?

And what about that “American Sniper” controversy? Politics most certainly do play a role in who goes to see and praise a move after all, do they not? Some left-leaning critics decried the perceived glorification of war and that a character based on real life with depictions of real war was played for heroic effect. The real life American sniper this film was based on labels the natives of the country he does battle in less than admirably in his book. Many who turned out to see “Sniper” did so in an odd sort of patriotic support of our military. This became an “issues” movie. Oddly, stats show evangelical Christians turned out in significantly higher numbers to see “Sniper” than they did that notable movie about a Baptist preacher living out his faith to lead an equality movement. Yet should such a movie as “Sniper” not be made? Of course not. War is indeed an ugly thing and there is danger in glorifying it and unconditionally praising soldiers regardless of what they may have done in combat and for what reason De-facto. There have been great war movies; ones on the one hand that portray it starkly, realistically, and troublingly. On the other hand, there have been those that white-wash it and portray it as good vs. evil, which is difficult to do with any war effort post-WWII. I haven’t seen “Sniper” yet and can’t personally offer my opinion but I do find the discussion interesting, particularly the fact that for those who don’t see a difference between fantasy violence and violence based on real life narratives and real life violence don’t see why there’s even a discussion over this film.

Politics and Race affect what movies are made, what movies are praised, who sees what movies, and often what someone thinks of a particular movie. This is a reflection of society at large. So ultimately, the issue must be resolved in larger society as a whole and then these reflections will follow suit. Of course, often a bottom-up approach of fixing the symptomatic expressions of racism and class-ism is easier and more effective than seismic large-scale change. So it’s good that we as a society are having this discussion now. Hopefully by addressing it, the coming years will see more diversity in film simply because it’s been so noticed now. In the meantime, as art is always an expression of the place its overall society finds itself, I maintain that good movies are good movies even in the midst of troubling power-structures. They represent their era in explicit and implicit, intentional and subconscious ways. Nothing precludes “Selma” and “American Sniper” from both being good films but maybe watching either should lead to a discussion for the viewers.

Your thoughts?

* A quick note on the allegations of racism towards Rock. The ones I’ve heard in most recent months oddly attack him for stand-up material he made popular more than 20 years ago as much of that re-surfaced in a misappropriated manner by white “fans” in the form of social media posts following Ferguson. Simply put, like Chappelle and Pryor, Rock is one of the funniest comedians to ever do comedy and all three have made race a loud, often uncomfortable, but prophetic topic. Sadly a certain white frat-boy culture always misappropriates and wrongly quote such material but I find that hard to be the comedian’s fault. Rock has always been accused of class-ism too, as he has done well for himself and does come from a middle class background. Check Rock now–his most recent stand-ups, his comedy round-table contributions, “Top Five”, and his “Hollywood Reporter” piece to see where he is now. Acknowledging race and tackling racism as always, trying to give a hand-up to other new black comics, etc.

The Best of 2014

December 24, 2014

So it seems I’ve abdicated “Raging Against the Dying Light” much of this year as I haven’t posted anything since summer. Yet it’s the end of the year and I’ve posted my end-of-year picks every year since I began this blog in 2008 and I don’t feel like letting this year get by without at least some such post. I’ve always enjoyed this part of the blogging year more than any other as I thoroughly enjoy reading every magazine, blog, and random person’s pick of the year for almost everything. It’s a great way to learn about things that have gotten by my radar when reading other people’s picks and it’s a great way to time-capsule my own favorites as I organize these each year. That being said, I’m foregoing the usual slew of posts (10 Best Albums, 25 best songs, 10 Best metal, 10 Best Hip Hop, 10 Best Movies, 10 Best comics, etc.). I’m taking a cue from one of my favoire living musicians, Patterson Hood, who simply posted some alphabetically ordered favorite picks and highlighted top choices. So here goes.

My Top Albums of 2014 (all genres, in alphabetical order– those in bold are my top 10)

1) Agalloch – The Serpent and the Sphere
2) At the Gates – At War With Reality
3) Behemoth – The Satanist
4) Bloodbath – Grand Morbid Funeral
5) Common – Nobody’s Smiling
6) Cynic – Kindly Bent to Free Us
7) Drive By Truckers – English Oceans
8) Drive By Truckers – Black Ice Verite
9) Dum Dum Girls – Too True
10) Electric Wizard – Time to Die
11) Eric Clapton and Friends – The Breeze (a tribute to JJ Cale)
12) Gary Clark Jr. – Gary Clark Jr. Live
13) Horrendous – Ecdysis
14) Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
15) Jessica Lea Mayfield – Make My Head Sing
16) Junius – Days of the Fallen Sun (EP)
17) Lana Del Ray – Ultraviolence
18) Lecrae – Anomaly
19) Lord Mantis – Death Mask
20) Machine Head – Bloodstones and Diamonds
21) Matisyahu – Akeda
22) New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
23) The Oath – The Oath
24) Opeth – Pale Communion
25) Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
26) Rich Gang (Young Thug, Birdman, and Rich Homie Quan): Tha Tour Pt. 1
27) The Roots – …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin
28) Rosanne Cash – The River and the Thread
29) Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
30) Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
31) Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron
32) The Secret Sisters – Put Your Needle Down
33) Slipknot – .5 The Grey Chapter
34) Spoon – They Want My Soul
35) Steel Panther – All You Can Eat
36) Tom Petty – Hypnotic Eye
37) Tryptykon – Melana Chasmata
38) Tweedy – Sukie Rae
39) U2 – Songs of Innocence
40) The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
songs (mostly from albums not chosen above, with a few notable exceptions when the song was just that good as a song itself divorced from the overall album)

1) Against Me! – “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”
2) Cannibal Corpse – “Kill or Become”
3) Gaslight Anthem – “Get Hurt”
4) High Spirits – “I Will Run”
5) Hold Steady – “Oaks”
6) Insomnium – “While We Sleep”
7) Jessie J feat. Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj – “Bang Bang”
8) Johnny Cash – “Out Among the Stars”
9) Mastodon – “The Motherload”
10) Morrissey – “World Peace is None of Your Business”
11) New Pornographers – “Dancehall Domine”
12) Spoon – “New York Kiss”
13) Tori Amos – “Unrepentant Geraldines”
14) Tweedy – “Low Key”
15) U2 – “Iris (Hold Me Close)”

Movies
1) Bird Man
2) Chef
3) Godzilla
4) Gone Girl
5) Guardians of the Galaxy
6) Interstellar
7) St. Vincent
8) Top 5
9) X-Men: Days of Future Past

Books (difficult because the bulk of books I read this year were published in 2013 or earlier)
1) Revival – Stephen King
2) The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap – Matt Taibbi
3) How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee – Bart Ehrman

TV (difficult because I tend to watch shows after they hit Netflix)
1) True Detective
2) Homeland
3) Gotham
4) The Goldbergs
5) Cosmos

Comics

1) Saga
2) Batman (Scott Snyder)
3) Lazarus
4) Nailbiter
5) A Voice in the Dark
6) Minimum Wage
7) Southern Bastards
8) Stray Bullets
9) Wytches
10) Ms. Marvel
11) Hawkeye
12) Afterlife with Archie

The 10 Best Films of 2013

December 28, 2013

This list is always complicated by timing; I mention every year that by the time I compile my list of favorite films of the year, even when waiting until the last week of the year, there are still quite a few films that I know are worthy of consideration in anyone’s list that I simply have been unable to catch due to timing. December-January is prime movie release time in that every studio holds back its Award season hopefuls for a very last minute release so as to stay fresh in voter’s minds. My wife and I are movie buffs and the end of November through the first of January is our prime movie-going time. Though we catch a few major blockbusters during the summer rush, most of our movie dollars are saved to catch the big releases at the end of the year. Yet it is always impossible to catch all important flicks; sometimes because two or three major ones are released at the same time every week at the end of the year and timing/money simply doesn’t allow us to see every possible choice. Then there’s the frustrating way many big movies simply aren’t released widely for too long; such is the case with this year’s Long Walk to Freedom, a film I’ve been waiting to see since catching early teasers of Idris Elba portraying Nelson Mandela in a film that should surely be in the spotlight a bit now since it coincidentally comes out immediately after Mandela’s passing. In addition to that film, there are a few others I am sure would have had a large chance of making my own personal cut if I had had the opportunity to catch them before compiling this list: certainly 12 Years a Slave. Also:  Saving Mr. Banks, The Invisible Woman, Nebraska, August: Osage County, HER, Inside Llewyn DavisGravity, and Blue Jasmine to name a few big ones I’ve been wanting to see all  year long. There were also some interesting genre flicks I would have liked to have considered as well (The Spectacular Now; You’re Next).
Anyway, judging simply from what I have seen I feel comfortable with this list in that I loved every picture here. Looking back at last year’s list I know I would have certainly added Silver Linings Playbook and The Master in place of a few of my back-end choices had I seen them in time, but even counting the big picks I’ve mentioned here as not having seen yet, these following pictures would be hard to top. Here goes.

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10) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

While overall I enjoyed the first film more, largely due to its quick and effortless act of world-building, this second Hunger Games adaptation is a great and intelligent action sci-fi flick;  it does in some ways feel like the typical middle chapter of a major story by being a “bridge” piece, but as far as such sequels go this is one of the better blockbuster sequels in the past few years. It doesn’t retread the same ground as its predecessor; it opens up that world in which the characters are living and give it even more reality. The action is at times bigger but not unnecessarily so; and it’s all helped along by its lead actress in that Jennifer Lawrence continues to prove herself as perhaps the best young actress of her generation, equally competent in popcorn blockbusters and performance heavy depth-pieces. This is but one of her great performances this year (and on this list).

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9) Behind the Candelabra

I read speculation that Behind the Candelabra, a Liberace biopic, was deemed “too gay,” for a major theatrical studio release. If so, it’s is a shame because this HBO film lacks nothing in terms of pure cinematic quality more than capable of standing up with the year’s best dramas. Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his romantic live-in partner of five years deliver two of the best performances of the year and this is the only great Soderbergh movie I’ve seen in years. It may very well rank with the best biopics in recent memory in that it’s portrayal of its protagonist and his relationships is just so utterly human and real that even the most far removed from the man’s orientation, fame, lifestyle, wealth, and proclivities can’t help but find the story in it’s parts and pieces as some way relatable.

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8) The Bling Ring

One of three great movies this year (and on this list) that portrays and subtly condemns the dark side of the American dream. Taken as a linear progression through modern US history, you can see the scrappy birth of (my #3 pick), the extravagant expansion of (my #4 pick) and (in this film) the “trickle-down” affect to youth in the modern day of some of America’s worst greedy tendencies. The Bling Ring showcases celebrity worship and soulless selfish ego, the hollowness of an unchecked wanting. Sophia Coppola continues her string of excellent directorial work, which here coupled with a great script and some of the best performances by young (and some first-time?) actors in recent memory allows the journey of these millennial famous-for-being-famous chasers to progress as their own with not overt surface judgement or pretentious commentary. Coppola’s admitted distaste with what these (historically–or should I say E! News–adapted) events represent and are born out of is shown by simply allowing her young performers to evoke that feeling in the audience subtly but progressively by their (often lack of ) character. A wonderfully shot art teen crime comedy.

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7)  The Way Way Back

There were more unchecked (and non-guilty) laughs to be found here than in maybe in any other comedy I saw this year. Plus I’m a sucker for coming of age stories and this one is a great example of how to do that without being overly cliched or derivative. There’s enough heart and character on film here to balance those laughs out as well. Not to mention that this has one of the best ensemble casts of any other movie this year; Steve Carrell (at least to me) never really shows a wide diversity of range, and though he’s not the stand-out here it is nice to see him playing someone different than his usual character. But Liam James is great in the lead and Sam Rockwell is utterly hilarious as his unexpected mentor and boss at the water park. Maya Rudolph, Toni Collete, Amanda Peet, Rob Cordrry and the rest round out the cast terrifically.

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6) The Book Thief

The Book Thief was released during the season of and to the people interested in viewing Oscar-bait but quickly got swallowed up and forgotten by the giants of the month; lukewarm reviews didn’t help in that regard either. That’s a shame, because it’s a wonderful little movie with great performances, a captivating period-piece setting, great warmth, and a non-pretentious all-ages appropriate message. Though this setting has been used repetitively in some way throughout the history of film (WWII, Nazi-era Germany, the Holocaust), it was an interesting twist to see this time from within Germany by non-Jewish yet non-Nazi Germans.

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5) Much Ado About Nothing

Whedon, the current brain-trust scribe of the Marvel Avengers films (and related titles), took a break from big budgets to film a pet project of his own this summer–a black and white production of the Shakespeare classic done in his own backyard with his friends. Apparently he and his Whedonverse friends have been doing down-time weekend Shakespeare readings for fun for years–and it shows. These folks pull it off wonderfully. This movie does a fine job of preserving the beauty of the language by keeping it as is and not paraphrasing or interpreting it, but each actor does it straight-forward and not over-the-top; that fact combined with the casual, modern  house-party setting and artsy yet under-stated cinematography helps the classic language be heard in a casual, common way so that there is little head-scratching as to what is going on or being talked about even for non-experts of Shakespeare.

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4) The Wolf of Wall Street

Watch the first five minutes of Scorsese and DiCaprio’s latest epic opus and it will quickly reveal to any viewer why this is a controversial, polarizing film. I have  never heard so many audience gasps and audible moments of discomfort and shock to any film I have seen in a theater and those reactions begin from the moment the film begins to roll. This is one that has been almost universally lavished with critical praise while receiving quite disparate , mixed audience reception. It’s vulgar; it’s a high momentum train throttling directly at viewers showcasing ugly people doing ugly things. Yet it’s also more complex than first glance would have you think. I’ve thought more about this one since seeing it than perhaps any other big film of the year thus far; on its surface, with its snappy captivating (if discomfiting) script by the Sopranos scribe and its glossy, hyper-fantasy editing and camerawork by arguably the best living American director, it’s an unavoidably entertaining, often hilarious, over-the-top story that you in many ways hate to enjoy so much. Yet scratch that surface and it’s a full indictment of modern era Wall Street and the obscenity of the American dream (in that the dream as (de)volved from “making it” to “becoming obscenely wealthy at the expense of all others”). It’s a condemnation of the shallowness of hyperbolic greed and over-consumption, of the exploitation of the many by the few and the dissatisfaction found in the merely wrist-slapping punishments usually given to the worst of white-collar crime perpetrators. Scorsese shoots this one in the same manner he has shot his gangster and crooked cop tales and it fits; the script allows you to continuously laugh at protagonist Jordan Belfort and his cohorts, so much so that you are innocuously drawn to liking them by default just long enough before being reminded how terrible these folks are as human beings. DiCaprio gives an amazing performance, perhaps his best ever; Jonah Hill as his primary partner and wing-man also provides his own best work to date. It’s not for everyone, and it may be the only mainstream “R” film I’ve ever seen that I felt should require ID to determine a viewer is at least 21 to see, but it’s film-making at its finest. McConaughey, seen further on in this list for delivering his own performance of a lifetime, drops in for 15 minutes in an amazing cameo early in the film, one pivotal that is is seen incorporated into everything DiCaprio does as the lead from that point forward. Watch this one and for three hours you will be glued to your seat, shocked, laughing, and uncomfortable–but entertained.

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3) American Hustle

David O. Russell makes terrific films–from I Heart Huckabees to The Fighter to his (at least for me thus far) crowning achievement Silver Linings Playbook–he writes, produces, and directs films with terrific scripts and draws out career-high performances from his regular rotation of stars (Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence). This film is an often under-stated comedy that plays for laughs not just in lines but simply in absurd situations, visual gags, and the details lavished on a funny time and place setting of ’70s Urban America–bad hair, disco and all. This embellished recount of the Abscam scandal and its assortment of hustlers, con-artists, federal agents is a hoot. Jeremy Renner as the NJ mayor caught up in the fall almost tops all of the assorted talent surrounding him but everyone else does so well it’s hard to make that call. Louis C.K. as a ham-strung FBI boss is an added bonus.

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2) Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey has always been a promising actor but until rather recently he never had the kind of roles that allow him to display his full talent. His acting chops are at full force here in Dallas Buyers Club as a rough and tumble hard-living Texan rodeo rider who becomes HIV positive. His rampant homophobia makes it hard for him to accept this as even a possibility when it occurs to him in the early 1980s; acceptance soon gives way to a trans-national mission to procure and distribute (at a profit) alternative treatments for the virus at that time barred by the FDA. McConaughey is brilliant and convincing, and the viewers witness the journey of a real, complex person who finds his prejudices challenged and gradually evolves in subtle ways through his unexpected friendship with a transgender person. The best performance by anyone in any film I saw this year.

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1) Philomena

In a year of excellent films this one might slip beneath the radar for many, which is unfortunate because it is a truly excellent film. Wonderfully acted, wittily scripted; at quick turning intervals warmly funny and emotionally sad. Judi Dench is always terrific, but she outdoes herself here. It’s like Dame Judi unplugged as we just watch her play every possible emotion out in convincing, captivating ways throughout the course of the film. Steve Coogan, not as well known to American audiences, does a great job here as well as he always does. This is a deep character work that shows the humanity of a diverse group of people, the possibility of unexpected friendships, and the full force impact and struggle of genuine forgiveness.

Honorable Mentions: The Place Between the Pines; The Conjuring; Iron Man 3; Thor 2

The 10 Best Films of 2012

January 11, 2013

Okay, a quick disclaimer before I launch into my picks for the 10 best films of 2012. This category is always the hardest for me of all my end-of-the-year picks because many of the best films are held back for release at the very end of the year so that they will be fresh in the minds of voters when awards are being given–some Oscar-baiting films are on limited release until well into January of the following year each year. As such, though we always catch a big summer movie or three, my wife and I have developed the habit of cashing our rolled coin in at the end of the year and seeing a lot of movies in December. Even so, there are always ones I (or we) miss, and then it’s wait for Netflix time. This year that seemed to happen with a few big movies I had really wanted to see. I tried to see “The Master,” on three or so occasions a few months ago because everyone from director, writer, to most of the cast members are all draws for me and the story is one right in my realm of interest, yet by the time I finally got around to seeing it, it was abruptly gone from all local theaters. I also as of yet have not seen “This is 40,” and I’m a huge Judd Apatow fan; other current films which may have likely made the cut include Hitchcock and Zero Dark Thirty. Anyway, judging from what I have seen, the following are my top film picks of 2012. [One further disclaimer for any readers: I am exhausted, and have had very little time for these lists over the past week or two but wanted to get this one out b/f the first big award show this Sunday. As such, this has been reread and revised little-to-none, certainly less than anything else I typically post. So, please forgive me any bad grammar, editing, or repetitiveness. Thanks!]

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10) Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I kept meaning to get to the theater and see this one back in the spring, but it disappeared before I was able; I then forgot all about it until the flurry of nominations it began picking up and quickly edged it to the top of my Netflix queue to see before the Globes. I’m glad I was reminded, because it is a great movie. Though it takes some welcome explorations through faith, culture, and the search for meaning in one’s own life it is not a high-brow arthouse-style film, just a well put-together romantic comedy that though somewhat formulaic at times manages to avoid being a cliche. It’s also an east-meets-west drama which avoids being Orientalist. There’s nothing done wrong here, and that’s saying something; so while I don’t think it should necessarily take home the big prize at the Globes this year, I can see why it got the nomination. Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt are terrific

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9) Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher is not cinematic brilliance or high-art. It’s popcorn action. It’s the sort of thing Clint Eastwood or even Arnold might have starred in twenty or thirty years ago, but of the best type of said popcorn action-star vehicle. Tom Cruise carries the role of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher well and it’s highly likely a franchise could emerge from this if interest from audiences emerges to that extent. Yet there is something eerie about this movie–on the page, Jack Reacher traverses through more than a dozen novels through episodic almost Macgyver-like adventures  Translated to the big-screen, this one feels much darker than the books ever have. Maybe that just came across as timing, or as a result of the way scenes were edited, or even the particular theater I caught this one in, I’m not sure–but from the opening sniper-scene through the many intense hand-to-hand combat encounters and gun battles which follow, the movie seems somewhat “dangerous” and expressive of an America where personal combat might emerge at the drop of a hat (for intensity alone this one probably should have earned an “R” but that’s another story). Anyway, Cruise gives a great performance (as does Robert Duvall, who is great in every scene we catch him in) in breakneck action flick complete with car-chases and flashes of intelligence.

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8) Prometheus

Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel is not without fault and though it doesn’t live up to the original Alien (which Scott directed more than 3 decades ago), it comes closer than any of the myriad of sequels and spin-off since (not to sleight Cameron’s original military sequel). The plot of this film expands the universe of that original film and as such, any fan of “Alien” will be captivated by the way this builds such a unique mythology as prequel. Yet this works as a movie itself to any sci-fi fan who has somehow missed out on all things Alien in the past as well. There are some truly amazing shots in the movie (few films looked better on the big screen than this one in its most expansive, cosmic moments), great suspense, and excellent performances (especially by Michael Fasbender, Idris Elba, and Charlize Theron).

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7) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I have to admit, I didn’t expect to enjoy The Hobbit as much as I did, if only because the prospect of the shortest Tolkien book being stretched into three 3+ hour films seemed like a ridiculous cash-cow effort to recapture some of the Jackson Lord of the Rings magic. Yet judging only from this first installment, Jackson seems to be capable of sustaining the story that long in creative ways. This is an expansion and carefully paced retelling of the book, and Peter Jackson manages to keep the ball rolling without ever making the project bloated or wasteful. This is fantasy gold, beautiful cinematography and scenery, and amidst the full-scale action and marvel there is room for plenty of character development and heart. Not to mention that the mere glimpse of the dragon’s eye as the film ends is enough to sign me up for round two.

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6) Skyfall

Considering everything from Adele’s delivery of the best Bond theme to date to Daniel Craig’s understated and amazing performance, and not to mention the creepy villain factor, top-notch action stunts, and solid story, and it’s safe to say that “Skyfall” may be the best Bond film in a generation. Of course, “Casino Royale” was pretty great too. What these two recent Bond films have accomplished shouldn’t be any less appreciated than what Nolan has done with the film version of “Batman”–that is, provided modern audiences with a highly plausible and deeply entertaining incarnation of a great fictional character who has not always had the best creative team at the helm of their mainstream presentations in the past. Skyfall is a brooding, serious, rough around the edges vehicle for Bond, one which comes closest to nailing the type of character Ian Fleming described in the original books as has yet been seen while also updating that character for a new age.

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5) The Cabin in the Woods

Kudos to Joss Whedon for delivering a fun yet smart summer popcorn movie with Marvel’s “Avengers” movie this year. But the most fun Whedon project this year, the one which let him run with everything he does well, was “Cabin in the Woods,” which was completed quite a while back but which only hit theaters this spring. Whedon and fellow Buffy writer alumni Drew Goddard wrote a fantastic script, Whedon produced, and Goddard gave his film directorial debut here with a very intelligent, fun, meta-horror film. Cabin in the Woods works as a horror film in and of itself, complete with plenty of jump-worthy moments, squeamish scenes, and dark action highlights, while simultaneously working as a horror movie critique and dissection of the genre as a whole, a social commentary, and a dystopian analysis. In short, it does everything Whedon did in the best Angel or Buffy moments, yet in a bigger, splashier way. Humor, intelligence, shock, and scares are all finely and carefully balanced in a short, effective, memorable and re-watchable film.

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4) Argo

Argo tells the stranger-than-fiction true story of the CIA-Canadian escape plot to liberate American hostages from Iran during Kohmeini’s revolution. The escape plan, revolving around a fake sci-fi movie and its “film crew” gives the story plenty of laughs, thrills, and tension. Ben Affleck continues to prove himself as a director, and does a solid job here as an actor as well–which is no little thing when facing off with such a stellar supporting cast, as Bryan Cranston, Victor Garber, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman all deliver wonderful performances.

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3) Life of Pi

The stunning visuals may be what pull you in as a viewer, but its the heart and soul of the story that makes this film worth remembering. Ang Lee pulls out all the high-tech 3C wizardry the modern filmmaker can utilize and employs them to tell a sentimental yet deep story. Suraj Sharma (as young Pi) and Irrfan Khan (as adult Pi) play the same character from different stages of life and in the process give us a fully-rounded persona. Life of Pi is a movie about the importance of belief, about when myth and fable are more important than fact and history. It’s about syncretic yet fully realized spirituality and awe in the face of creation. Even with a heartbreaking twist the fully life-affirming qualities of this story and film never waver.

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2) The Dark Knight Rises

Spiderman and The Avengersamong other comic adaptations, were solid superhero outings this year. But nothing came close to the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy. This last one is not the best superhero film of all time–that title belongs to its predecessor The Dark Knight. But this one comes close; and although he doesn’t quite measure up to Heath Ledger’s scary terrific Joker performance, Tom Hardy does give the scariest and best performance of a super-villain since then as Bane. And who would have guessed that Anne Hathaway would have given the best on-screen portrayal of Catwoman, the best and closest to the finest comic book moments of the character as yet seen? The entire recurrent cast here capped off tremendous performances–Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Cane, etc. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the possible heir to the mantle also worked surprisingly well. Nolan ended his trilogy by bringing all of his key themes and elements back into play and this film, though working by itself, establishes these three films as epic chapters in a fully realized vision of Batman in a real world.

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1) Lincoln

There’s an aspect of Spielberg films, much like the films of his director predecessessor Frank Capra–it’s something found in classic “Superman” comic and early Beatles music as well–it’s a streak of nostalgic optimism that those who are cynical can find overbearing. That dreamlike quality emerges maybe twice in this film, brushing right up against the edges of corniness but staying safely sentimental instead. Even for the haters and cynics, there’s plenty to love in “Lincoln,” however. Most of all, there’s the powerhouse of a performance by Daniel Day Lewis. Then there’s the utter relevance and paralles that this historical drama has to our own current politcal machines. “Lincoln” is a movie of humor, wit, and character. There were certainly edgier, artier, and boundary-pushing films at the cinema this year, but Spielberg’s Lincoln was the best overall, at least that I saw. This does what any historical drama should do–completely sums up a succinct time in the fullest way possible, fully characterizes and humanizes all key players involved, captures everything of its setting from small daily details to big-picture themes, and then subtly yet completely provokes considerations of those things which matter and pertain the the world of the modern viewer. Lincoln does all that and more.

All Hail the Cloud

June 1, 2012

So, every month or so Yahoo! “News” posts a story like this:   Daddy, What Were Compact Discs?

I happened to read this one while listening to the Uncle Tupelo “7 inch singles” collection i snagged at the independent- record-store promotional holiday National Record Store Day this past month. I mention it only because I found it somewhat ironic to read about the “future” of media consumption jettisoning all things physical while enjoying a product released in support of  what is left of the  “dying” brick and mortar stores. The article read like all similar such Yahoo! promoted stories of the sort, like more or less an advertisement for Apple products while once again the comment thread consisted of bickering back and forth between physical media devotees and digital stream-embracers. This particular piece was pulled from the New York Times finance section. In it, Sam Grobart predicts the very soon demise of physical media and speculates about the “what were CDs, DVDs, VCR’s, etc.” child to parent conversations of the allegedly very near future. He detailed briefly the history of the format wars, the vinyl to 8 track to cassette to CD to ipod, the film strip to BETA to VHS to DVD to Blu Ray, etc, and its history of “mostly” progression (though sometimes regression as well).

Now, I admit I can be a bit of a curmodgeon on this issue and acknowledge that I’ve spilled too much digital “ink” on something so relatively asinine. The fact of the matter is that I do love my physical media–my vinyl records, including 180-gram pressings of new albums, my CDs, my Blu-Rays, etc, but I also love the convenience of digital. I stream Netflix and use an i-pod practically every day, but I have also scraped through my phsyical collection to condense and skim every time I’ve gotten ready for a move (because boxes of records and books are indeed heavy, a selling point for which digital certainly comes out on top by a mile). When it comes down to it, I listen to 75 % of  new music via digital, whether streaming a new discovery online or syncing something to my ipod to listen to for a review. As I’ve mentioned before though, if I love an album chances are that by the end of the year I’m going to spring for the vinyl pressing or at least the CD of it. But for most albums, the cheaper more convenient digital format works just fine. Audiophiles can argue about sound quality, but at least sites like Band Camp now offer full quality digital music. Though I prefer certain music on vinyl and certain on CD (and I make the case for the delivery medium as part of the art itself in this previous post), I recognize that some of that is nostalgia, some of that is my identity as a “collector” of various things, some of that is tied up with subtle forms of “materialism.” Though I don’t think digital can replicate the feel of going to a record store on new release day, running into friends there, getting unexpected recommendations from knowledgeable and like-minded clerks, or of remembering a forgotten album while poring through and organizing your collection and throwing it on the stereo in rediscovery, or of soaking in the artwork and liner notes from a big record sleeve while that album spins, or of scouring thrift stores and yard sells for missing pieces of your collection, or of buying an album from the merch booth at a concert and seeking out a signature from the artist, or the good and bad aspect of being limited to what you have on hand and not being overwhelmed by the vast ocean of choice, or a whole host of other experiential issues, I do see the positive ways the online age has opened up the music frontier, from connecting fans and artists who are separated by continents, from exploding the options one has in discovering new music, from instant gratification of a new acquisition, and certainly even legitimate and legal digital music purchases are now for the most part far cheaper than the physical items often were (and are), especially CDs at the height of corporate price-fixing. So if the future holds only digital and the LPs and CDs are all for the collectors alone, I’ll hold on to my favorites, eventually piece together the optimal physical stereo to support them that magazines like Rolling Stone always highlight during this vinyl boom of new collectors, and find the best way to play digital music in a way that presents its sound authentically.

But what still concerns me regarding the author of the finance article’s “completely digital in the near future” prediction is this:  we’ve all seen what a financial recession can do to numbers and money that isn’t “really” there, what about art and media in a synonomous situation? I mean, I realize the “cloud” is “physical” somewhere. I trust back up and such; I use Carbonite and a detached hard drive to back up information, so a personal computer crash isn’t the threat in such a complete way as it once was, though I am always finding CDs I lost between backups as I scour my  shelves to re-rip them. But this article supposes a set of speakers streaming an online collection of music and a TV streaming all movies is the only way to go very soon. I keep thinking of all those times my Netflix decides to stop working at 10:30 every night due to whatever reason it has (I sometimes suspect Netflix of limiting output quality to make sure you don’t get too much bang for your buck). I keep thinking of that movie I want to see that Netflix doesn’t offer on the stream and then kicking myself that I got rid of it. I think about the music I try to listen to that has to “buffer” or is interrupted by ads. I think about the 2 or 3 bucks Amazon, Vudu, or On Demand want to charge for an episode of “Breaking Bad.” The point is, if digital is the near future how do we prevent limited information and media availibiltiy or price fixing? How to stop a “digital monopoly?” Netflix became the primary game on the block and then dropped half of their movies from their digital stream to focus on the cheaper acquisition of television shows. In towns that have lost video rental stores because of Netflix, someone wanting a movie from the 80’s or 90’s on a whim some Friday night is out of luck until the mail runs next week. Sure there is competition to Netflix, but it often seems like they’ve cornered the market and now I’m thankful that I hung onto my favorite movies every time I’ve consolidated my shelves. It’s why, as someone who loves and reads books for learning, pleasure, and practicality that I find it unlikely that I’ll every make the full-on Kindle jump. I don’t even have an e-reader of any kind yet. I decided before my last big move to jettison the bulk of my fictional books aside from favorites and collectibles, that paperbacks for the most part in that department were “disposable,” to save room only for those works I love, reference, and return to. So in theory I’d have no problem e-reading all my “pop” fiction but until I can get those novels and one-time-only reads of whatever genre as cheap as a thrift store or as free as a library, until the device I read them on is so disposable I could care less that it’s sun, water, or element damaged, I’m not ready for that jump yet. But the worst case scenario, for me, about an all digital future is that if all of my music, video, pictures, books, and art were floating on some cloud, or if I didn’t even “own” my entertainment merely streamed it from a provider, what happens when the internet price hikes or the music/movie/book provider doubles their monthly charge? Or I need to cut my service a month or two to save money? Or a “pulse” knocks out all wireless signals for a month, a year? There are any number of scenarios, however unlikely, that could effectively keep me from listening to a song or watching a movie or reading a book I would like to.  Far more likely though is that the equipment I use or the internet service provider my apartment owner makes me use will act up in the way my computer, no matter how new or protected, does from time to time. Whether bad weather, bad signals, or a computer virus there are times when most of us curse technology as we rewire and test out our devices so that we can make an ordinary, daily transaction or action of some sort that was done with far less technology in the not-too-distant past. That’s the reason why, other than being a bit of a curmudgeon, that many of us like at least some of our media in a physical, tactile format. I find it good that both online options are expanding and that younger collectors are discovering the warmth and enjoyment of vinyl music and turntables. I don’t want the “cloud” to be the only option; I want to go to a library, go to a movie theater, go to a record shop and interact with people and products.

*By the way, that Uncle Tupelo 7 inch singles box? Fantastic. Hearing those early songs by such an influential yet often unacknowledged band in 45 form really amps up the borderline between punk and country where they staked their ground, especially their cover of “I Wanna Destroy You.” And also? I did follow the link and enter the code from the enclosed coupon to get that free download of the box in digital form. Like I said, I like both options.

10 Best Films of 2011

January 8, 2012

This is my last “Best of 2011” post and I feel I’m running a bit late by just getting the film one finished, but at least it’s up before next week’s “Globes” really gets Award Season underway. 2011 movie-season was a bit odd for me in that it usually seems like December and early January is a flurry of movie-going as my wife and I try to catch all the potential Oscar-contenders that studios hold back for that last minute release so as to keep their product fresh in voters minds.  The last few Decembers have produced a lot of great movies that ranked high on my lists (Black Swan, True Grit, etc). This year it seemed like the last minute movie slate was rather sparse– I did hold off until December’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” finally started showing up close to home this weekend. I managed to see almost everything I assumed would be a potential best-of film, with a few notable exceptions as my cop-out of a 10th pick details.

10) Reserved Spot

Okay, so it certainly is somewhat of a cop-out to leave a space open but I simply haven’t been able to see a few key potentially great films that would likely make this list. I was a bit more selective on which movies I went to the theater for this year, there is no discount theater within driving distance of where I now live, and we all know how horrendously slow Netflix can be on adding new release films to their instant streaming. The one I most assume would make the cut and likely rank higher than 10th is “Moneyball,” which finally comes to DVD/Blu Ray/etc. later this month. Seeing that it has a great cast and creative team, and because I love (a) baseball and (b) baseball movies, and how even those who tend to hate both (a) and (b) are raving that this film which supposedly makes a numbers-based behind-the-scenes sports movie play like an intelligent fast-paced action flick with great character moments is a front-runner for Best Picture, I cannot imagine it wouldn’t make my list if I had seen it already. Other than that, I haven’t seen the new American version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” and David Fincher as director and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on the score are enough to ensure my enjoyment of that one. I also didn’t catch “The Artist” or “Melancholia” yet. Another one piquing my interest is Meryl Streeps turn as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” which is just being released state-side next week (personally I think if it isn’t released anywhere in the US before December 31st it shouldn’t be considered a 2011 contender which is why I included “Crazy Heart” a year later than everyone else a few years ago–it was almost February  before I found anyplace showing it!). One much praised film that completely didn’t do it for me this year was “The Tree of Life.”

9) J. Edgar

Apparently most critics and audience-members alike weren’t overly jazzed about this film seeing as how it has made no “best of” lists or award-predictions that I have seen so far. It did get mixed reviews upon its release and most of the press I have read about it only complains about the make-up. I didn’t notice any glaring make-up mistakes or weird “Benjamin Button” aging mishaps over the course of the film, but I wasn’t particularly looking for them either. I do think what could have been an epic, classic film was instead a thoroughly entertaining and interesting one–closer to “really good” than “excellent.” But I love Clint Eastwood as a director and I’ve yet to really see a bad performance from DiCaprio, and I’ve been waiting for a biopic about Hoover for sometime–it’s amazing that a complex and fascinating figure as prominent to 20th century history as J. Edgar Hoover is just now getting a notable movie about him made. Eastwood follows the course of his life and touches on all of his quirks and psychological hang-ups. We see him as the golden  boy G-Man, the uber-doting son, the closeted friend but never lover of his long time partner, and especially the can’t-let-go-of-power possessed FBI director. Leo delivers a really solid performance portraying a man who had a large hand in shaping US history and politics for a longer period of time than any President.

8) Insidious

As usual, there were a lot of bad horror films this year and just a few good ones. “Insidious” was by far the best one I saw all year long. There’s a strong story here, that stretches some but never gets too convuluted. There are suitable performances that don’t get in the way of the story, and there are more than a few truly frightening scenes. Aside from the “Paranormal Activity” movies and last year’s “The Last Exorcism” there haven’t been many smart, scary, well-made mainstream horror films in awhile and this one certainly fits the bill and was much appreciated.

7) The Help

“The Help” was a rare thing to occur in the middle of popcorn movie season in the summer heat. It was a movie with an emphasis on story and performance, one with real issues driving it, and one that pretty much came off as a full on crowd-pleaser. I love Emma Stone and have wanted to see her in a serious role so it was nice to see her succeed so nicely here. It wasn’t a very “deep” film and one could possibly criticize a film with racism as its focus and the south in the 1960s as it’s setting for coming off so relatively light-hearted–but there are plenty of sources one can look at which deal with the situations in intense, unsettling ways and not every piece must use shock and sadness to convey its message.  “The Help” is a fully human picture that deals with the humanity of its characters and their close similarities which absurdly went so over-looked (as continues to happen today). “The Help” displayed the hypocrisy and banality of classism and racism in a way that hopefully caused some movie-goers to recognize that the same sort of things still occur in the present. In the process it never lost track of its story–one that was humorous, fun, and subtly thought-provoking. It’s a movie as much about trying to put oneself in another’s shoes even when that is often truly impossible and recognizing that even with the faults such a process can cause the effort it is still valid and necessary. Sure things wrap up rather Hallmarkish and nicely and although sexism is addressed a bit with the female protagonist’s own story, issues of white privilege that could have been more fully explored (and which are so currently valid) with such a protagonist were largely overlooked. Even so, “The Help” did the best it could do with such weighty issues in the vehicle of a summer mainstream movie and it did so very enjoyably.

6) The Lincoln Lawyer

This was just a really fun action drama based on a fun series of books that pulled off the rare feat by being a movie as good as its source material. Not to mention that it featured the best Matthew McCaugney performance yet–he completely captures the character of Mickey Haller so much so that I can’t help but envision Haller as McCaugney when I read the books now. Everyone else in the cast did a terrific job as well, especially Marisa Tomei. Read my full review of it here, not much has changed in my opinion of it since I saw it back in March.

5) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Finally, I got to see this. I have waited to see it since I saw the trailer for it when I went to see “Drive” back in September. It’s a dense film–if you fail to concentrate at any moment you’re apt to miss something. It’s relatively slow-paced yet something is always going on. It’s a quietly unfolding espionage thriller that operates like a complex piece of orchestral music in that it’s constant flashbacks occur not in showy stop-flash music video style but in a subtle ebb-and-flow where images recur and themes repeat. Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and company all dip into their roles and deliver good as always performances. Characters get defined fully yet deftly much more like  a novel than a film. The mystery gets to unravel bit by bit without seeming to be  doing so at all until the last 15 minutes. The action is almost all in the form of a tense under-tow. A very British spy thriller suited to its source material but also taking advantage of the film medium.

4) Midnight in Paris

“Midnight in Paris” is a really up-beat and lightly romantic picture for Woody Allen. I almost always like what Allen directs but you never really know for sure which Allen picture you’re going to get until you get on with it. What you can always expect is someone standing in as a Woody-esque protagonist now that he rarely appears in his own films anymore. This time around it’s Owen Wilson, who does a great job with the part. Wilson is Gil, a successful screenwriter wanting to make the jump to writing “serious” literature. Working on his first novel, a novel about a man who runs a “Nostalgia Shop” selling old pop culture souvenirs, Gil is on vacation in Paris with his fiancee. Gil is a nostalgic himself, obsessed with the Paris of visiting Americans Hemingway, Fitzgerald as well as Salvador Dali and TS Elliot. “Midnight in Paris” becomes just a fun comedy, with a slight sci-fi twist (Gil gets in a cab at Midnight each night and winds up in the past). Hemingway is portrayed hilariously, Kathy Bates is great as Gertrude Stein. The main focus of the film really becomes nostalgia and the warped misperceptions it creates and how it can deter from living life in the now. A worthy, if repeated, theme that is also the subject of a blog I’ve been working on off-and-on for awhile so I’ll really say no more here other than “Midnight in Paris” is a really superb and fun film, shot beautifully in a way that takes full advantage of it’s location and setting.

3) The Ides of March

“The Ides of March” is a dark political piece in that when all is said and done, the ambiguities and pitfalls of the political game are all full-circle as we witness the journey of a political newcomer from idealist to cynical “realist.” Clooney is a great actor with a keen mind for making great films, films that aren’t suited for everyone about which he seems to care-less; and that’s good, because it allows the rest of us to enjoy a very intelligent cinematic adventure. This is an actor’s playground–Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei and Clooney himself all get framed in the camera showcasing the craft of acting, all doing it the best that can be done. The script is tight and smart, with excellent dialogue and pacing–its really just a great movie.

2) The Descendants

George Clooney again; he consistently proves himself to be the best Hollywood actor of his generation with an equally smart choice of films to involve himself with. For the past ten years he has made and promoted movies that needed to be made that many others would have avoided–smart, literate films that don’t pander to their audiences. “The Descendants” is a great family drama, a movie with warmth and humor that deals with life and death, infidelity and the often strained relationships of parents and children. It’s also about commerce and heritage and making touch choices, about trying to do the right thing at a hard time in an everyday sense. In a way though, this is the anti-“American Beauty” in that it finds real reconnection, change, making peace with the past, forgiveness, and family itself not only desirable but fully attainable. From acting to score, writing to directing, “The Descendants” is the deserved front-runner for Awards season.

1) Drive

“Drive” was my favorite film of the year when I walked out of the theater in September and it still is today. Flipping through “Rolling Stone” magazines 2011 in Review issue I noticed they chose it as number 1 as well. It’s unlikely any “serious” panels will and I don’t see an Oscar nomination in its future, and that’s a shame because this was the best made film of the year. Other films portray great stories that could also work well in other mediums but no other film this year took advantage of the film-medium itself in the way “Drive” did–it does so in as exciting of  a way as “Pulp Fiction” did at its release. “Drive” is simply too ambiguous, too dark, too bloody, too “messy” and unresolved to be an Oscar picture. But it’s a classic picture nonetheless. Read my full review here.

Honorable Mentions: Super 8; Thor; Captain America; X-Men: First Class; Contagion

The vehicle which transmits a particular media can itself be part of the artistic expression–secondary, certainly, it isn’t on equal footing with the creator or artist but rather subtly intertwined with the expression itself as an added layer of entertainment. This is not always the case either, because the vehicle of transmission is often totally irrelevant. But when it is part of the entertainment package, the vehicle of transmission enhances the experience of a particular media item wonderfully albeit sometimes imperceptibly.

Two particular things got me thinking about this concept specifically at this time. First, I recently took a beach vacation and before going I stopped by a few local used bookstores to stock up on cheap paperbacks. Now the ideal beach read, at least for me, has to be something that is fast-paced, exciting, and page-turning and not to dense or hyper-literate yet without being dumb, poorly written or overly cliched. Thus a good beach read is by someone like Michael Connelly who detours “literary fiction” without becoming a James Patterson and does so by writing creatively and, well, “good.” Anyway, it had been a long time since I had bought fiction paperbacks; typically the sort of thing I’d want in a fiction paperback is something I’d try to find at the library; I’d resort to buying it if I couldn’t find it there, but any fiction item I purchase typically is something by a favorite author I know I’ll want to re-read and keep or something I’ve read before and know is a classic that I want to hold onto, in which case I want a nice, presentable softcover TPB or Hardcover; if a classic work of literature, I want it in an even nicer format if I can find a deal on it.  Anyway, since I was in the process of moving and thus in between libraries, because I wanted specific authors and books, and because I knew there was a high-probability that what I read on a beach would get sandy and water-logged, my best bet was purchasing these books myself.  So armed with a stack of Lee Child, Michael Connelly, and Graham Joyce paperbacks I made way to the beach. Down by the water each day, I realized that there’s no better companion to a shady beach chair, a cooler of drinks, and a fifteen minute dip in the ocean every hour or two than a great paperback thriller or mystery. Certainly the story itself has to be good–the author has to suck you in, get you flipping the pages, and never drag on to bore you out of the forward momentum. You have to be dying to know what will happen next, otherwise you’ll just throw it down and zone out in the sun. But the paperback format itself adds to this enjoyment tremendously; looking around to see what other beach-goers were reading I spotted the occasional Kindle and I just kept thinking that I would be continually nervous that the water dripping off of me, the waves rolling in, the sun beating down, and the sand everywhere would have me constantly nervous that my electronic device would go kaputz and not only would I be out a hundred or more bucks, I’d be without a read for the day. Armed with a 2 or 3 dollar used paperback, I could fold the pages, toss it in the beach bag, read it while covered in sand and not be overly concerned with its overall condition–it just had to hold up for me to finish reading it. If I fell in love with the book and wanted it for my library, I could hunt it down later in hardback. Even off the beach, the perfect format for a thriller you only need to read once is the used paperback; it’s fun and perfectly sized for reading wherever you want and easily portable. I suppose the Kindle could replicate this experience better than many other reading experiences if and when the price per item is comparable but until that is a reality I’ll hold out.

The other thing that made me think of this format as part of the art argument came from a few Yahoo news story. One story was the rehashed filler they pull out every month or so, the “businesses that are as good as dead”article which names video rental stores, costume stores, etc. Record Stores made the list, with the same old reasoning that people download, and when they do buy CDs they do so cheaply in big box stores. The article said that despite what hipsters, DJs, and collectors want to believe, the indie record shops are largely on the way out except for the ones who’ve managed to adapt and adopt business methods that work in the digital economy. Conversely, there was a story a day or two later that talked about how many record shops that struggled when the bottom fell out of the CD business were gaining enough ground to level off by switching to vinyl for the bulk of their sells. Indie stores in big cities and college towns around the country now devote more of their sales floors to LPs and 45s than to CDs  and the annual “Record Store Day” event in which artists release limited edition vinyl releases directly through independent music retailers was another huge hit this year. Vinyl sales were up more in 2010 than in any year since Soundscan began taking numbers in 1990. New albums by established artists and up and coming indie acts release their albums not only on CD and download, but on at least 500-1000 vinyl pressings; vinyl reissues of albums by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Who sell very well each and every year. Such stores in areas like Charlottesville VA, Cincinnati, OH and Louisville Ky have begun stocking high quality turntables because they were tired of turning away the teenagers and college kids stumbling into their stores to buy vinyl but needing the system to play it on. Now, vinyl collectors and audiophiles have kept vinyl in business and popular for years (this even made it to film in the classic 1990s comedy “High Fidelity” based on the Nick Hornby book), but the popularity among indie rock fan teenagers and twenty-somethings has helped it boom out more than ever to such a point that artists as mainstream as Taylor Swift make sure to press vinyl editions of their new work. Of course it’s still a niche market and the price of new vinyl coupled with the limitations and requirements it poses to mass consumption will never make its sells a drop in the bucket compared to legal and illegal digital downloads. But it is interesting. The part of this prompting the argument I am making here comes largely from the comment-thread in that last story. Every time there is a “vinyl is booming” new-story, there are dozens of people commenting things like “Huh? Why?” and dozens of audiophiles posting about the superior sound quality of vinyl vis-a-vis digital. These comment threads explode into over-the-top arguments as people seem to find each others arguments completely incomprehensible. Both have their points but both miss a key aspect of this hobby too. Vinyl does offer a warmer, fuller sound when the record is clean and well cared for, the turntable is of good quality, and the amp and speakers are the correct components. The clicks and pops won’t be there on new cared-for LPs (contrary to the arguments of those never having heard a new vinyl) and on older items a few introductory pops are indeed pleasantly nostalgic. The sound on a vinyl copy of, say,  “Abbey Road” compared with every CD pressing before last year’s remastering overhaul was miles ahead–I had no idea there were as many instruments and notes in the background as there were because of digital’s habit of maxing every sound to its top volume and then leveling it flat in a digital sample onto CD. Vinyl has a particular sound, one that jazz, blues, and classic rock built itself to suit for many years so of course a Charlie Parker, Bob Dylan, or BB King record from the 1960s will sound miles ahead of its CD pressing. Yet the digital folks have their point to; properly mastered CDs sound great on the right system, are more portable and sound great cars. MP3s are enervated a bit every time they are opened to a certain extent but aren’t susceptible to human sound warping through scuffs and scratches and are the height of portability thus far. They do limit the sound by compressing it more than any format before (LPs give off sound waves, CDs sample soundwaves, mp3s compress those samples even more), but now high-quality 320 and up kpbs digital tracks are available that in most cases catch the quality of a sound recording the way it was supposed to be; the fact that sometimes that results in a high-gloss sheen that sounds “artificial” to some in comparison to the “warmth” offered by vinyl is due more to aesthetic and nostalgic sensibilities than fact. What both sides of this (admittedly to the outsider rather pointless and arbitrary) argument don’t give priority to nearly enough is the format-as-part-of-the-art fact: it certainly isn’t just sound that draws collectors and hipsters to vinyl. If I just want to hear a new album, a download is the most efficient way to get to do so, often cheap or free; I can carry it around with me and hear it in my car or with headphones. If I want a better sounding copy to carry with me most anyplace that also offers me the intended packaging, there’s CD. For me, I preview and listen and can love albums that I download but once I truly find a great one (or know beforehand it will be a great one), I don’t feel I have it in the proper format until I get it for my turntable. Not just for sound–for presentation, collection, and process. It sounds good on an old fashioned home stereo; it requires my involvement in that I place it on the turntable and put the needle to it. I hear the first and last track of the first side, which especially in vinyl-era releases was the result of a deliberate sequencing decision and then I flip it to side two and repeat the process. It requires my care in that I keep it clean and safe. It gives me a giant cover with full-size artwork and an inner sleeve, often liner notes and extras tucked within. It gives me a collectible to place on the shelf and pull down when I want to. The vinyl hobby itself sends me to new and used and out of the way places in the towns I live in or bargain hunting on line. There’s nothing better than getting a record never pressed on CD or sampled digitally or one you’d never have thought to get and getting it for a few dollars only to find out you love hearing it spin on your turntable.

Great art is great art regardless of how it is presented. Yet the vehicle of transmission can add to the joy of the experience one has when consuming such art. Certain movies look great on the big screen and are a joy to see collectively in a theater and seeing them alone at home on the TV often cannot match that. A visually stunning movie looks excellent on a a Blu-Ray player with a proper screen and sound-system and can be much more fun that trying to squint your eyes at your smartphone to watch it. A classic jazz record sounds best on the turntable; a nineties hip-hop album sounds best on CD in a car with great bass speakers. A great comic-arc reads best in a nice and carefully presented Omnibus but a one-off fun short story comic works best as a single issue. A thriller works best as a cheap paperback, a dense erudite work is best in a hardcover sewn volume. I would argue that a newspaper still reads best via newsprint but those days are almost gone. So sure, this involves primarily matters of opinion and personal taste and I’m sure there’s an entire generation of kids growing up right now who will find no problem digesting every bit of their media with a handheld device. Perhaps by then every bit of media will be created and be tailored for display on such a device and thus be unfit for presentation in any other way. But for now, in the supposed last days of physical media there are still things that work best in the format they were created in and for; and hey, if the digital pulse ever comes knocking out all RF, satellite and wi-fi signals those of us with any digital media at all might be able to use our collectibles as widespread currency ala “The Book of Eli.”

The first few months of every year are most often a dead period at the cinema. All of the Oscar-baiting artistic ventures and critically-anticipated works have months since hit yet  still linger at the box-office  to give folks who wait to see the award winners after their wins a chance to catch them,  and all of the block-buster popcorn seat-fillers are a couple of months away. Usually new offerings in February and March are artistic-wannabes that weren’t quite up to snuff for award season or things that aimed to be summer crowd-pleasers but aren’t felt by their studios to  match up to their competition. So any good picture that sneaks in to the theaters at this time is  worth praising and suggesting to others seeking a re-entry into the multiplex to start off the film-going experience of the new year.

So, that being said, The Lincoln Lawyer is the first must-see movie of 2011. I’ve been eying this one since I heard about it a few months ago–it seemed to show promise of delivering the noir-crime goodness, and it does that pretty well. Based on the  novel by Michael Connelly, the screenplay manages to keep the feel of a page-turning pot-boiler. Matthew McConaughey portrays Connelly’s character Mickey Haller, a defense attorney whose office is the backseat of his Lincoln town car as he’s chauffeured around the city of LA to its different courtrooms defending his (often repeat-offender) list of clients including prostitutes, biker gangs, and drug dealers. McConaughey does a terrific job, and though he’s always been a likable figure on-screen, he’s rarely had roles that give him much to work with, which makes this performance easily his best to date. He plays Mickey with humor, wit, flaws, and depth. Mickey is no easy character to pin down, he’s a perfect noir character; McCaugney portrays him early on allowing you to admire him in his grime, seemingly cool even in his sleaze and moral grey abode, yet evolves him midway through to show touches of deep humanity, capable of seeking actual justice. The rest of the cast is great as well–Marrisa Tomei continues to be great in this second-wave of her career (reignited a couple of years ago with her turn in The Wrestler) as Mickey’s ex-wife, friend, mother of his child, and fellow lawyer from the other side as a prosecutor; Ryan Philipe as the smarmy, spoiled client Mickey has to defend; as well as everyone else, actors from Bones and Breaking Bad play bit roles to perfection amongst many others.

The cinematography compliments the overall atmosphere of the picture, capturing an LA filled with morally complex and questionable characters and elusive justice. The soundtrack is spot-on, the twists and turns continual yet plausible and realistic. A great thriller, a great mystery, and a picture that looks, sounds, and feels as it should–some scares, some jumps, plenty of surprises, a bit of heart and quite a few laughs. Since the source material for this film is the first in a series of books featuring the same protagonist, here’s hoping a few repeat visits with the same central cast. Hollywood usually doesn’t capture these types of adaptations too well, so in a case where they have, maybe we’ll see them go for it again.

Rating: 8/10