Tag Archives: 2011

2011 in Movies

Here we go, a little late, but let’s get on with it.

Here’s my Top Ten. This would probably be more a ten favorite, rather than outright best. I still have lots I’d like to see but for now this will be it.

10. Black Death
A beyond-bleak tale of plague-ravaged England in 1348, this movie left a big impression on me. In a bad move on my part, I watched this right before going to bed one night. I was genuinely spooked and disturbed. It is graphic, muddy, unflinching, and pretty violent. I don’t usually like that combination in movies, but this one worked. I thought it would be a standard sword-and-horses actioner but it’s more a medieval Apocalypse Now with allusions to The Wicker Man (the original, mercifully) with a deeply religious (appropriate for the era) backdrop. The always-cool Sean Bean anchors things in this intense experience. I can’t say it’s a fun romp but it’s rare that a movie works its way under my skin so effectively, so it deserves its place on this list.

9. Young Adult
Don’t let the less-than-impressive trailer put you off, this was a calm, quiet, confident movie from the same writer/director team of Juno. Gone is that movie’s insufferable cool and tweeness; instead it’s a clear-eyed portrait of a woman who is deeply depressed and deluded. But it has its laughs too. Patton Oswalt is excellent in a supporting role, though to be honest, it’s not that big a stretch from his normal on stage persona. And he surely must have loved his job the day he got to shoot his (SPOILERS!) sex scene with Charlize Theron.

8. The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick has made some of the best movies ever, period. Simple as that. This is only his fifth film, but he’s an unquestioned master of visuals and a genius with atmosphere. This was probably his most personal (who knows, he maintains a dignified silence when it comes to interviews and promotion) film and it is certainly beautiful and a head trip experience. However it lacked the narrative thread that kept previous films like The New World (2005) and Days of Heaven (1978) at a more accessible level. This one spirals out into the cosmos and back. Challenging and often outright baffling, it was still a cinematic experience unlike any other this year.

7. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
A reboot nobody was asking for after Tim Burton’s disastrous 2001 remake killed the franchise for a decade, this turned out to be a late summer surprise blockbuster. Organically mutating from science thriller to domestic drama to prison escape movie to on-the-rampage action, this was an excellent re-imagining of the still-brilliant concept of apes taking over the world, first dreamed up by French novelist Pierre Boule in the early 60s. There were some clever allusions to the original five films, and definitely leaves you clamoring for the next entry after it ends on something of a cliffhanger. Bring it on.

6. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Another pleasant surprise, this was a lively sequel to the 2009 film that re-imagined The Great Detective as a 19th century James Bond. I liked that film but it had largely slipped from the memory banks until this offered itself up on a Christmas Eve matinee. Going beyond the first film’s London-only environs, it is a charming Victorian romp across a Europe hurtling toward war. Though filled with genuinely excellent action sequences it all ends with a low key chess match, and it works. Any resemblance to the original canon ends with the character names, it’s really the film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen should have been.

5. My Week with Marilyn
Quickly forgotten after early Oscar buzz for Michelle Williams seemed to fizzle, it was more of a right time, right place kind of movie for me. I woke up late on a Sunday, in the mood for a movie. This was playing at the theater within walking distance of my apartment, so I decided it fit the bill. It was a pleasant but melancholy story of a quiet young man eager to please, willing to listen, and simply able to be there; traits not many people have. I could definitely identify with the main character’s infatuation with unbridled femininity, when a smile and a coy look reduces your critical thinking skills to mush. Guilty as charged. The impeccable British cast (except Williams of course) nails it as well.

4. Sucker Punch
A movie that you either love or hate. Most people seemed to hate it. My best friend put it at #2 on his WORST of the year list, despite it featuring some of his favorite ingenues scantily clad for most of the running time. But I dug it, I bought into the world it created, and the levels-within-levels storytelling. One thing I greatly appreciated was that this was actually an original creation. Yes it wears its influences on its sleeve, but this was not another adaptation of a graphic novel, TV show, old movie, or anime that was foisted upon a weary public. It also had probably my favorite quote out of any movie this year (SPOILERS)
Here are some more eloquent defenses of the film:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-mendelson/more-thoughts-in-defense_b_842183.html
http://www.slashfilm.com/defense-sucker-punch-uncovering-method-zack-snyders-madness/
http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/138808-glam-slamdunk-in-defense-of-sucker-punch
http://www.shewired.com/box-office/defense-sucker-punch

3. Midnight in Paris
A movie about nostalgia, pure and simple. It is very nostalgic itself. It is in love with nostalgia. But it is also weary of nostalgia. It teaches the lesson that every generation has it’s golden era that it fondly looks back on. Owen Wilson’s Woody stand-in looks back to the Lost Generation 1920s. Through whimsy and imagination, he ends up back there, only to discover the Jazz Age inhabitants pining for the belle epoque of the 1890s. And so on, and so on. A simple message, an arguably a trifle of a movie, but it leaves you with a warm, satisfied glow. The cinematic equivalent of a delicious croissant.

2. The Descendants
The always reliable Alexander Payne delivers another sharp, funny, melancholic gem. A master of setting and character, he eases us into a slow-paced but involving story of a family dealing with sudden loss in sunny Hawaii. The beyond-paradise scenery, the slovenly dressing, the languid atmosphere all work to create a wonderful film that carries more emotional heft than expected. I, too, had to deal with a sudden and very painful loss in 2011, and this film really spoke to me on that level, but in an understanding, non-patronizing or schmaltzy way.

1. 50/50
In all honesty this was really tied with The Descendants, but ultimately I’ll give the slightest of nods to this film. In the parlance of the title, it was 51/49. At times unbelievable (a therapist would NEVER, EVER date their patient) it was still a touching, straightforward story of an average nice guy handed a huge curveball by life, and how he copes with the complications that ensue. Some couldn’t seem to move past the fact that this was a second Seth Rogen cancer comedy (after 2009’s equally superb and underrated Funny People), but by the end I was a heap of cathartic tears.

Some random categories:

Best Documentary – Senna
Great, but if only I cared about more baseball… – Moneyball
Best Cast – Tailor Tinker Soldier Spy
Most Welcome Return – The Muppets
Best IMAX – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Most Ridiculously Entertaining – Fast Five
Most Overrated – Bridesmaids
Most Pretty but also Most Boring – Hugo
How to make one of the most fascinating events in American history and turn it into a dull, tedious experience – The Conspirator
The Macgruber Award for reviled-now-but-destined-for-cable-greatness – Your Highness
Also Underrated – The Rum Diary
Good, but should’ve been better – War Horse
Best Supporting Actor – Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris
Other movies I liked and would give a general thumbs up to – The Artist, Submarine, Brighton Rock, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Attack the Block

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2011: Record Machine

2011 sucked. There’s no other way to put it. The year started with a devastating personal loss that I still haven’t really recovered from, and was followed by months of depression and unemployment (which were already problems.) I started working again in July, but there has still been a definite feeling of uncertainty and sadness hanging over me.

Music, usually a source of much comfort, escape, and pleasure in the past, wasn’t really that big a factor in things this year. I’d say about 75% what I did listen to were podcasts; comedy (Adam Carolla, Pretty Good Podcast, Totally Laime, Doug Loves Movies), soccer (Guardian Football Weekly, BBC World Footbal Phone-In), or history (New Books in History, BBC Witness.) I guess this is the 21st century equivalent of switching your car stereo over to AM. Listening in on in-depth human conversations on topics I was interested in by people whose pseudo-company I enjoyed was much more of a comfort to me than listening to music.

All that being said, when I did to listen to music it was to already-established favorites (60s mod and psychedelic, 90s Britpop, and the contemporary purveyors of such) that I went to. Listening to my mix probably won’t unearth any hidden gems; most of my picks were singles and songs that received some kind of exposure (how else would I have heard them if I wasn’t putting in the effort on my end) though there are a few exceptions where I went with an album track over a single. Perhaps most telling is that as I’ve read over other various Top Tens of the Year and Best of Playlists, not only do I not recognize the vast majority of names on them, I don’t really care to.

Alright, that’s enough negativity, on to the tunes that did move me in some way this year. The format is the same as years past; I’ve kept it to CD length, and sequenced it to play as such. (Actually, according to iTunes, this clocks in at 1:20:01 but it’d be easy with some slight post-production trimming to bring it under the limit.)

You can download it here:

http://www.divshare.com/download/16403959-1fb

And here are the liner notes…(click on the song title to hear)

1. Aaron Tveit, Jr. – “Goodbye” from Catch Me If You Can: The Musical

In the summer, just before going back to work, I had the opportunity to visit New York City with my sister and her family. All of us Broadway aficionados, it meant a lot of shows, which was fine by me. Musicals remind me of my childhood and continue to be a good source of escapism when things are down. While on this trip I did have the surreal pleasure of seeing Rock of Ages with Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez seated directly in front of me, but the next night I went off by myself to see the musical adaptation of Frank Abagnale, Jr’s entertaining story of his years as a fleet-footed con man in the 60s. (My sister and company went to see Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) Already a successful book and 2002 film, the musical was an enjoyable, light-on-its-feet jaunt through the time period, with pleasing 60s design and era-aping tunes. This song, however, came at the end, when Frank decides to give up his transient life on the run, and do his time. He is saying goodbye to his wastrel youth; it is sad and wistful, reluctant but accepting. This is a feeling I’ve shared for much of the year. It is the penultimate song of the show, but I felt it’s a good track to start with, beginning at the end.

2. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – “(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine”

On August 29, 2009, backstage at a festival in Paris, France, Oasis, my favorite band of all time, dissolved. Noel and Liam Gallagher had had their last blow-up. Two bands emerged in 2011 from the wreckage; Beady Eye (Liam and the rest of the final line-up) and this (Noel and friends.) Beady Eye came out first but they will be addressed at the end of the mix. Noel’s album showed he still has the undeniable gift of writing the best choruses you’ll ever hear and will be humming for ages. While lacking the swagger and snarl of Oasis (perhaps for the better), it was a back-to-front masterpiece of 10 nearly perfect songs. This one was the track that immediately jumped out at me; it had its origins in the latter days of Oasis, and gets the full treatment here. As skyscraping a chorus as you can imagine this was a magnificent statement of intent. Admittedly it kind of has an anticlimactic coda (I want that hair-raising chorus just one more time!) but for those few seconds when the power chords are hit, the strings swoop in and Noel’s voice soars, all is right with the world.

3. Cast – “See That Girl”

The year’s other most welcome return for me musically was the reformation of Cast, an underrated Britpop band that broke up in 2001 after the bizarre, fan-alienating Beetroot record (which I actually liked.) Ten years on, founder John Power (bassist of The La’s), got the old crew back together and recorded a delightful new album of Mersey pop. It’s unlikely they’ll get to the States (I don’t think they got over here the first time around either) with this release but I love it and has been my most listened to record after the two Oasis offshoots.

4. The Rifles – “Tangled Up in Love” 

Another straight-ahead Britrock outfit, this song has provided the bed music of countless soccer highlights, and it does work its way into your head quite effectively. To be honest, I don’t really have much else to say on this, just a good tune.

5. Babybird – “Jesus Stag Night Club”

Stephen Jones was on last year’s mix and returned again with another fine record of clever, catchy arch pop, of which this was the leadoff track. I especially dig the “Sympathy for the Devil” echoing ‘woo-woos‘.

6. Deer Tick – “Let’s All Go To The Bar”

A loving nod to my surrounding environs, this is a Providence band that has achieved some national and even international recognition. A rollicking tribute to this town’s appetite for the hard stuff that is fun… and accurate. 🙂

7. The Vaccines – “Wetsuit”

Hotly tipped by the UK press at the start of the year, these Londoners mainly kept up the rock end of things with a short, sharp record that barely cracked 30 minutes. This, an elegiac tribute to carefree summers of youth, was my favorite track, though somewhat misrepresentative of their hard-driving sound. The Instagram video is lovely as well.

8. Coldplay – “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”

Coldplay get a lot of flack from the hipster music community, but it seemed like some were starting to come around. The reviews for their album were mostly positive. I read a comparison that finally put a finger on their appeal; they’re the new ABBA. Shamelessly melodic, lush, loads of mass-appeal, often a guilty behind-closed-doors pleasure for people., and they will probably get a lot more critical respect in the future. I agree, though I’ve never been particularly shameful of my genuine like of them. This song was a big one for me when it came out in June, and effectively soundtracks my memory of the Stanley Cup Finals of this year, which my beloved Vancouver Canucks made for only the third time in their 40+ year history. They’re still Cup-less after losing a dispiriting seven game series to the Boston Bruins, which put me at odds with my adopted region for much of the summer. Still, many a pleasant, early summer’s evening stroll (but back in time for face-off!) was spent with this on the earbuds.

9. Elbow – “Lippy Kids”

Elbow are a band whose mass-appeal (in the UK at least) I’ve never really quite shared. Occasionally they have a good anthem, and I was a legitimate fan of their 2003 record Cast of Thousands, but how they continue to be festival darlings and seeming British cultural touchstones eludes me. Still, I did like this atmospheric slow burner, whose chorus gave their album its title.

10. The Crookes – “The Crookes Laundry Murders, 1922”

A band that that so desperately wants to be the Smiths it hurts, just look at that title. They don’t quite have the tunes yet, but it’s still early days. I did like this forlorn story song about an infamous murder case in interwar Britain. Crookes is a neighborhood in Sheffield where they hail from, BTW.

11. Cornershop – “Once There Was A Wintertime”

Another long term favorite of mine, the ‘shop released an album this year with Bubbley Kaur, a Punjabi singer. Admittedly a little of this goes a long way but this track was a highlight for me; dig the Bacharachian horns, even if they are chopped up quite a bit.

12. The Kooks – “Junk of the Heart (Happy)”

An undeniable, brilliant single, admittedly the parent album didn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations it raised. It was OK, but kind of samey and nothing as memorable as this slice of pop perfection.

13. Viva Brother – “New Year’s Day”

Bloke rock to the extreme, this slinky rocker is very ear-wormy. One of only three concerts I attended all year (the two Oasis offshoots being the others.)

14. Brett Anderson – “This Must Be Where It Ends”

One of the delights of this year was the deluxe reissue treatment the Suede back catalog received. Singer Brett Anderson also quietly put out his best solo album to top it off. His previous solo efforts were wispy, melancholy affairs that were pretty much in one ear out the other. This one however was his most Suede-y and with the news that a proper new Suede album is in the works (which would be the first in a decade) this is a pleasing signpost of what could be one of the great comebacks of next year. Let’s hope the title of this song does not come true.

15. Snow Patrol – “Life-ning”

Another band that gets a lot of critical scorn, but pleases the masses and myself, this awkwardly titled mellow number was my favorite track from their album, describing the things he wants in life. I especially like the line “Ireland in the World Cup/Either north or south” It’s not the World Cup, but the Republic of Ireland (i.e. the south) will be at EURO 2012 next summer, their first major tournament appearance since the 2002 World Cup.

16. Death Cab for Cutie – “You Are A Tourist”

I was largely indifferent to the Death Cab album this year, but I did quite like this, the lead single. Moody but melodic. Cool one-take video too.

17. The View – “Best Lasts Forever”

A Scottish band that I’ve been aware of for a while but never really listened to much before, their record Bread and Circuses really caught my ear, and was one of my favorites. Opening track “Grace” was slated to kick off this mix for a long time, but eventually this big, sweeping happy sing-a-long took its place.

18. Adele – “Someone Like You”

Easily the musical phenomenon on either side of the Atlantic this year, I was certainly not immune to this album‘s, and specifically this song’s, heart-rending appeal. Its tear-inducing effect even got its own Saturday Night Live sketch. I debated including this as it would almost seem redundant, it being so ubiquitous this year, but it deserves its place nonetheless. Many was the day where I would hear this on the cafeteria radio at lunch and would be in a funk the rest of the afternoon no matter what I put on to try and counter it. Something so powerful can’t be denied.

19. Beady Eye – “Wigwam”

Returning to the other band to rise from the ashes of Oasis, this epic was the highlight of Liam’s record for me (though the perfect 2-minute “For Anyone” was a close second). The album itself was full of blustery, bluesy rock n roll chock full of attitude. Some of it brilliant, some it forgettable. Hearing this track live took it up another notch though, the big build up before the final sing-a-long kicks in (around 2:20-3:50 here) is etched in my concert-going history book. One note: be sure to lower the volume before this track starts, this is easily the loudest damned mastered album I’ve ever heard. I lost count of how many times I jumped when a track from it would come up on random and bludgeon my ears.

Enjoy everyone!

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