Every year I write a blog like this. I enjoy it, even if I understand implicitly that my opinion is hardly one with an critical weight behind it. I like what I like, and I don't always see everything I want to...The Hurt Locker, would be the glaring omission this year, I think. However, this list has always pretty much been the best of what I saw/read/played/whatever.
So, here we go:
Movies - The Best
1: Anvil!: the Story of Anvil
Once again, a documentary tops my list. I was just blown away by this film, and the obvious love that went into it's making. What it has to say about perseverance and creative desire is something a lot of "artistic" types might do well to think about.
Pixar, it seems can do no wrong. I thought last year's Wal-E would be high point, but then they go and blow me away again. The first 10 minutes of this movie might be the most beautiful dramatic interpretation of a long-term relationship ever put on screen. Beautiful.
3: An Education
A beautiful little movie about a teenage girl that never seems stupid, or cloying. The performances are exquisite (ahh, Alfred Molina), the script by Nick Hornby is smart enough, but not too smart, to always seem real. Not to mention Carey Mulligan's star-making turn.
4: Star Trek
Making a film for pure entertainment that is this good ought to be celebrated. JJ Abrams really pulled it all together from casting to the energy of the whole affair. Yes, (arguably) it didn't quite get the "big ideas" of the original series, but it pretty much nailed everything else.
5: The Informant!
Criminally forgotten, it seems. A film with something to say about corporate culture, that had me laughing more than almost every comedy I saw this year. A performance from Matt Damon that really is astounding in it's execution and conviction.
I liked it a lot when I saw it, but the more it lived in my mind, I remembered how accurately it captured the feel of being a teen in the late 80's. (I can quibble on the details, but what's the point?) The comparisons to American Graffitti are earned.
7: Up in the Air
Another peek into the America we live in right now. At turns amusing and hilarious, and anchored by yet another utterly perfect George Clooney "movie-star" performance.
8: District 9
The low-budget wonder. Allegory with kick-ass action, the same formula that gave us Avatar, but, frankly, Neill Blomkamp did it better with a tenth the budget. (Not that Avatar was bad...more later.)
9: Where The wild Things Are
How do you adapt a 10-page children's picture book into a 2 hour movie? By remembering how it FELT to read that book, aimed more at adults, and I really don't care if your kids were bored.
10: I Love You, Man
My favorite pure comedy this year. Why? Because it took the time to really understand the reasons behind a "bromance," and why it's important in a guy's life. I'll take that over a simple collection of fart and dick jokes, any day.
Movies - The Worst
A note here...I rarely see a movie if I have any feeling at all that it will be awful, so I only pick one film. This year was a doozy.
Not only the worst film of this year, probably the worst movie I've seen since 2000. Why would I see it? Harrison Ford. I'm a fan from way back, and I can honestly say I usually can find entertainment in any movie he makes...but this is just an endurance test. A didactic, booring, illogical, pretentious endurance test. I could watch Crash after this and think it "wasn't bad."
...And I DETEST Crash.
Movies - Best Actor
Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
Matt Damon in The Informant!
Two beautiful performances, for very different reasons. It's the "inside out" versus "outside in" clash again.
Crazy Heart is nothing overly special as a film, you've seen it a dozen times, but Bridges brings his magic to bear. What magic? That special quality that Jeff Bridges has, wherein you never catch him "acting." He just IS whoever he plays, and I hope to God the Academy finally recognizes how utterly brilliant this man is.
Damon has no chance of a nomination at this point, but the performance is sort of the brilliant polar opposite of Bridges, he's acting all over the place. He's changed his look, his voice, his walk, and it's utterly entertaining and utterly committed, and therefore believeable.
Movies - Best Actress
Carey Mulligan in An Education
It's a very tricky thing to play a character that seems worldly and innocent at the same time, and Mulligan pulls it off with charm to spare. She manages to convince not only as a regular teenager, but also as she fits comfortably into a more adult world. The bottom line? I fell in love with her.
Movies - It really did change cinema award
It's not hype. This is a movie you MUST see in a theatre, and MUST see in 3-D. The story is simple allegory, emphasizing emotion and spectacle over narrative completixty. Some people want to tear it down for that, but frankly, Star Wars or Dances With Wolves are just as simple, and we regard them as compelling filmmaking. Top that off with visuals that, while not "f*cking my eyeballs," played as the amazing event they were meant to be.
Movies - Flash in the pan award
I enjoyed it, I can't say I didn't, but the whole time I knew that was mainly because I knew the story and the characters backwards and forward. Without that, it's really just an empty experience, and I've had a LOT of people who don't know the book, but know I do, contact me after seeing the film and the gist is "what's the big deal?"
It just kind of slightly pisses me off how much this illuminates the lack of critical thinking on the part of so many comic book/sci fi fans (a group I most definately am in)...Far too many people just have this idea that fidelity to imagery, design and plot minutia=quality, and it's just not the case.
Music - Best Albums
1- Them Crooked Vultures by Them Crooked Vultures
A "supergroup" that lived up to the name. Feels like a modern Cream, to me.
2- Crack the Skye by Mastodon
Prog Metal reached a mass audience? Color my mind blown, and it's actually good!
3- Black Gives Way to Blue by Alice in Chains
Layne, RIP. However AIC and Jerry Cantrell show us they are very much alive.
4- The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again by John Fogerty
A good-fun, well-made, fun covers album. Songs that are made for Fogerty's voice.
5- 11:11 by Rodrigo y Gabriela
I have grown a bit bored with instrumental music, until I discovered R&G. Beautiful, powerful guitar work.
Video Games - Best
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Literally, the best superhero game ever made. Take all the elements that make Batman work as a character, and Rocksteady and Eidos have figured a way to put them all in this game. Not only that, but the elements feel unified, and work well together. The graphics also find just the right tone for the story beiong told, invoking the grime and dark shadows of Batman's world, and the voice work, by veterans of Batman: The Animated Series (Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin) is sheer perfection. That term also applies to the package as a whole. The game that Batman fans, and comic book fans, in general, have been waiting for.
Books - Best
1: Manhood for Amateurs:
The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son
by Michael Chabon
I love Chabon with every fiber of my being , and this collection of essays did not disappoint.
2: Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales
by Clarence Clemmons and Do Reo
A wonderfully fun book about what it's like to be "the Big Man," in truth, and in lies.
3: Parker: The Hunter
by Richard Stark, adapted by Darwyn Cooke
Cooke is a genius, and in Stark's "Parker" novel, he found a property ripe for his highly stylized, neo-noir artwork.
4: A View From the Bridge:
Memories of Star Trek and an Life in Hollywood
by Nicholas Meyer
Nick Myer is a wonderful writer, and this book is like spending a pleasant few days with him.
5: Eating the Dinosaur
by Chuck Klosterman
Klosterman is one of our finest pop culture critics, and this collection of essays tackles subjects from ABBA to the Unabomber in ways you never quite expect.