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Eric’s Best of 2010


Who doesn’t get a frisson of excitement from looking back at pop culture consumed over a year and ranking and listing it? People who aren’t opinionated geeks, that’s who.

Actually, this was not a great year for me doing things that weren’t related to finishing and defending my thesis, so there’s undoubtedly tons of stuff missing (I don’t think I read a single 2010 book, for example). Even at the best of times, too, my tastes are not so deep or idiosyncratic that my lists are dramatically different from what you might find from sites that do this kind of thing for a living. I always feel a little self-conscious about just putting together a list that looks like pretty much every other list on the internet, but in a slightly different order. So this year, I’ll try to tackle some of my more personal disappointments and discoveries of 2010.

And if you are an opinionated geek like me, please leave a comment and let me know what you liked and what I missed.

 

FILM

the usual suspects: True Grit, Winter’s Bone, The White Ribbon, Inception and Toy Story 3? All great, but Un Prophet is probably my favourite film of 2010. I haven’t seen The Social Network, Mother or Black Swan yet, but I’m guessing I’ll like them just fine when I do.

surprises: I’ve become moderately obsessed with Exit Through the Gift Shop, despite having zero interest in seeing it when I initially heard the premise and saw a couple of lukewarm reviews. But its wry take on both the gallery art and street art worlds and the bizarre twists in the story really stuck with me.

disappointments: I absolutely love both the Scott Pilgrim comics and Edgar Wright, so putting them together should have been awesome, right? Furthermore Wright’s Spaced is awesome in exactly the same way that Scott Pilgrim is awesome. Unfortunately, after a promising first act, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World becomes an exhausting series of CGI battles. Wright’s amazing pop-culture imagination keeps it (just barely) from becoming tedious, but the end result really lacks the heart that the books have. Not a bad movie, but I wanted so much more. Also, Shutter Island, which may or may not be a bad movie, but it’s mostly just forgettable when it’s not ludicrous.

new to me: Man, the 1970s New Hollywood just keeps delivering. This year I saw The Friends of Eddie Coyle from 1973, which is just fantastic and quite possibly my favourite Robert Mitchum role. “This life’s hard, man, but it’s harder if you’re stupid!”

Also, Nicolas Winding Refn: Bronson, Valhalla Rising, the Pusher trilogy — he has yet to make a real masterpiece, but he’s a fascinating filmmaker.

 

TELEVISION

best new series: Louie C. K.’s quasi-autobiographical Louie is stunning: hilarious, poignant, honest and vulgar. A little bit like the best of 1970s Woody Allen (back when he was groundbreaking and relevant), but using the funny to uncover nuggets of painful and beautiful truth in the everyday.

still awesome: Breaking Bad is the greatest show on TV and this past season was probably the best yet. Parks and Recreation, The Venture Bros., Peep Show and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia all push, in different ways, what can be done under the constraints of a half-hour comedy.

new to me: This year I plowed through entire run of The Shield. It sometimes falls into cop-show cliches in the early seasons, but as a thriller about the rise and fall of the anti-hero cop Vic Mackie and his always-five-steps-ahead scheming, it’s hard to beat.

disappointments: As a zombie movie fan, I had such high hopes for The Walking Dead. The pilot was okay. The Office continued its slide into rote sitcom mediocrity. I still haven’t been able to get into Mad Men, but maybe I’ll give it another shot in 2011.

 

MUSIC

new albums from old bands: I didn’t spend much time looking for new music in 2010, so the best new albums I heard were from bands I already know and like. Four Tet’s There Is Love in You and Caribou’s Swim satisfied my indie-electronica appetite. The Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs and The National’s High Violet are beautiful albums, but I’ve finally been forced to accept the fact that these bands might not have the sense of irony I’ve always superimposed onto them. Also good: Frightened Rabbit, Beach House, Wavves and LCD Soundsystem.

back catalog: The huge Ninja Tune XX is far and away the best compilation I’ve heard in ages. I have it shuffled into my playlist and now all kinds of random gems from 20 years worth of dub and IDM just keep popping up. In 2010 I also spent some time diving into the Aphex Twin/AFX/etc back catalog of old semi-obscure EPs thinking “how good could it really be?” Pretty goddam good, it turns out.

disappointments: Blonde Redhead is one of my very favourite bands and after four incredible albums in a row and a three-and-a-half year break, I was pretty stoked for Penny Sparkle. Which I listened to all the way through twice and then deleted from my iPhone.

 

PODCASTS

continuing favourites: I probably spent more time in 2010 listening to podcasts than watching TV and movies and listening to music combined. The ones I most look forward to vary, but Filmspotting and Stuff You Should Know are always at the top of the list. I’m also a regular listener of The Bugle, Planet Money, This American Life, The History of Rome, CBC Radio 3, The R3-30, Radiolab and Quirks and Quarks.

best new podcast: While there are still occasional hilarious episodes, Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier’s SModcast has mostly devolved from a witty (if crude) weekly chat, to Smith getting stoned and giggling at his own dirty jokes for an hour. But the spin-off Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave — which has no Smith but is instead a group of friends who all work or hang out at his comic store in New Jersey — has more than made up for it. It’s amateurish, rambling and obsessive, but that’s part of the charm. It’s like catching up every week with a group of goofy, oddball friends who don’t realize how weird they really are.

disappointments: While the brilliant ones are brilliant, the vast majority of podcasts are so crummy, I can never get too excited about one until I’ve heard a few episodes. I will say, though, that 2010 seems to be the year a lot of people who aren’t me got excited about podcasts by comedians interviewing other comedians and actors. I’d rather stick rusty knitting needles in my ears.

fave films of the 00s


“We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.” — Umberto Eco

nocountry

Twenty slots, twenty-five films. How did I do it? Simple, I cheated.

  1. No Country for Old Men (2007). About halfway through my first viewing, I knew this was one of the best movies I’d ever seen, technically and thematically. Three or four rewatchings later, I still find new things to admire and think about. Dammit, I want to watch it again right now!
  2. Cowards Bend the Knee (2003), Brand Upon the Brain (2006) and My Winnipeg (2008). I don’t think individually any of these three Guy Maddin films would place this high (though My Winnipeg would make the top ten — it’s a straight-up masterpiece), but as a group, they make up a kind of alternate-universe cinema that branched off from our timeline circa 1928 but kept developing for another 80 years, and became something strange and pretty damn entertaining.
  3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Funny, original and endlessly clever, this film reaches for emotions no other film has, and succeeds. I love the holy living fuck out of this movie.
  4. Grizzly Man (2005). Werner Herzog uses the vast amount of footage shot by Timothy Treadwell to tell not only the story of Treadwell’s life and death, but to give the most clear and profound presentation of his own ideas about nature, folly and filmmaking to date. The end result is a kind of conversation between two slightly-unhinged philosopher filmmakers, one living and one dead.
  5. Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). Easily my two favourite straight-up comedies of the decade. Also marks the strongest big-screen debuts of the decade, by writer/director Edgar Wright and writer/actor Simon Pegg, who wring humour and pathos out of the most unexpected places.
  6. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Eli: “I always wanted to be a Tenenbaum.” Royal: “Me, too. Me, too.” Yeah. Me, too.
  7. Oldboy (2003). I can’t argue that it’s a perfect film, but it packs so many brilliant scenes and ideas into its running time that really, who cares? This would make my list for the hammer fight alone. Or the squid-eating scene. Or the rooftop freedom-in-a-suitcase scene.
  8. Inglourious Basterds (2009). I truly do not understand why the critical response was only mildly positive instead of enthusiastic. I predict that in ten years, conventional wisdom will place this alongside Pulp Fiction, and nobody except a few contrarians and haters will bat an eyelid.
  9. 3-Iron (2004). South Korean movie about two lovers who never speak, not to each other and not to anyone else. Probably the gentlest, most joyful film imaginable about loneliness and nihilism.
  10. WALL·E (2008). Aside from Cars, every Pixar film has been either great or a masterpiece, but I give WALL·E mad props for it’s silent first half : the cinematic equivalent setting the bar even higher than usual and then vaulting over the mofo blindfolded just to show they could.
  11. The Dark Knight (2008). The first real “graphic novel” movie, as opposed to a “comic book” movie gets right everything I still enjoy about superhero funnybooks — an utter unwillingness to condescend, a deep love and respect for the mythology, and a good half-dozen Crowning Moments of Awesome, all built on a framework of black-and-grey morality.
  12. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
  13. Zodiac (2007)
  14. Children of Men (2006). The politics are so heavy-handed it could have been a Red Dawn for liberals, but it’s so goddamn passionate and articulate that it never devolves into eyerolling territory.
  15. American Psycho (2000)
  16. The Fountain (2006). Even liking this movie seems to set me apart from pretty much everyone else, and I’m not sure how well it will stand up to repeat viewings, but I walked out of the theatre absolutely loving it, and thinking it is possibly the most beautiful movie I’d ever seen. Since then, it has only grown in my mind.
  17. Battle Royale (2000). “So a classroom full of Japanese schoolkids are put on an island and forced to fight until only one is left alive. But it’s way better than it sounds!” Trying to convince people to watch this ends up being either a really, really hard sell, or a disturbingly easy one.
  18. Donnie Darko (2001). Richard Kelly’s embarrassing commentary tracks, “director’s cut” and subsequent work have convinced me this is a kind of accidental masterpiece, more subtle, mysterious and poignant than he ever intended. But hey, that’s art for ya.
  19. Spirited Away (2001)
  20. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003). The eleven purest hours of cinema I ever expect to see.
  21. thefountain

    And thirty more! You lucky, lucky people!

  22. Encounters at the End of the World (2007)
  23. Ghost World (2001)
  24. Lost in Translation (2003)
  25. The New World (2005)
  26. The Incredibles (2004)
  27. Capturing The Friedmans (2003)
  28. Songs from the Second Floor (2000)
  29. The Departed (2006)
  30. Primer (2004)
  31. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… And Spring (2003)
  32. Adaptation (2002)
  33. City of God (2002)
  34. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)
  35. Synecdoche, New York (2008)
  36. Fog of War (2003)
  37. Let the Right One In (2008)
  38. Man on Wire (2008)
  39. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
  40. The Proposition (2005)
  41. A History of Violence (2005)
  42. Clerks II (2006)
  43. The Hurt Locker (2009)
  44. Together (2000)
  45. Twilight Samurai (2002)
  46. Wendy and Lucy (2008)
  47. Collateral (2004)
  48. A Serious Man (2009)
  49. Serenity (2005)
  50. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
  51. Last Life in the Universe (2003)

lastlife

And a few more I considered, but ultimately cut from the top 50. I really spent an embarrassing amount of time on this whole thing.

4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days (2007)
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
American Splendor (2003)
Amélie (2001)
Apocalypto (2006)
Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner (2001)
Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (2009)
Before Sunset (2004)
Brick (2005)
Caché (2005)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005)
The Descent (2005)
The Fall (2006)
Ghost Dog (2000)
Ichi the Killer (2001)
In The Mood For Love (2000)
Into the Wild (2007)
Iron Man (2008)
Juno (2007)
The King of Kong (2007)
Knocked Up (2007)
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)
Memento (2000)
Miami Vice (2006)
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Once (2006)
The Orphanage (2007)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Rescue Dawn (2006)
School of Rock (2003)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005)
Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
The Wrestler (2008)
Yi Yi (2000)

time travel geekery


Stumbled on this awesome diagram of the history of time travel in the movies. I just wish they had used a logarithmic scale for travel so that everything before 1850 didn’t get lumped together. They also left out my very favourite time travel movie, Primer, but that’s okay, somebody else made a diagram of the convoluted timeline.

more about Up and WALL-E (spoilers!)


Well, my review of Up was pretty short (I was aiming for “pithy”), but the comments have already grown longer than the post, and in them Tyler raises an issue that I’ve been thinking and talking about the past couple of days.

Apparently, a whole lot of people find the long opening sequence, which follows Carl and Ellie from childhood to Ellie’s death, quite moving. I know I’ll probably forever be in a minority on this, but it really didn’t have much impact on me. Part of that is definitely my own temperament — I’m not a sniffling at the movies kind of guy, or even an “it’s getting dusty in here” kind of guy (to quote Adam and Matty). But some movies do get to me. Just not this one.

Now, just so we’re on the same page, I do admire the scene. In fact, I think as pure cinema, it’s brilliant — we know these characters and their lives, and there’s not an ounce of fat. But it’s maybe too simple for subtlety. The scrapbook and the tickets in the picnic basket are just a bit much. They didn’t sneak up on me, they told me what to feel, and that breaks the spell.

There also seems to be a feeling that the scene is more impressive for being in an animated Disney film, but I’m really not a fan of grading on a curve (plus, there’s always Bambi’s mom). The thing is, with a Pixar film, I don’t really think about the fact that I’m watching an animated film, or a quote-unquote kid’s film, and I don’t feel that’s what they aspire to be compared to (well, maybe Cars does). But the thing is, I’ve already seen Love Story and Terms of Endearment and find them cloying.

I think WALL-E is a much better and less conventional film than Up, but it has the calculated tear-jerker scene when WALL-E is damaged. That scene also doesn’t really work for me, because I’ve seen it so many times in other films: of course WALL-E is going to come back to life and remember EVE. Duh. The scenes that get me the most are the montage of WALL-E looking after EVE when she shuts down, and the zero-G space dance. I’m not even sure I could articulate why they choke me up, and I’m kind of afraid that if I could, they wouldn’t.

summer films


ingloriousI’m not usually a huge summer movie fan, but last year two of my favourite three movies were big-budget studio summer fare (Dark Knight and WALL-E for those keeping track at home, with My Winnipeg filling out the trifecta). So as the hype machine rolls into gear, I figured I’d better get psyched up for the inevitable letdowns. Here are the movies I’ll have my eye on between now and September.

Star Trek (may 8). The only Trek that ever really connected with me was the original series and Wrath of Khan. I’m kind of skeptical of this one, which looks more like big budget outer-space action than the retarded-brilliant overacting and social commentary I dig, but let’s face it — it’ll be fun just to see a crop of new actors doing their takes on familiar characters. Plus, it’s been getting huge buzz, and when has pre-release internet buzz of a highly anticipated film ever been wrong before? Never, that’s when.

Up (may 29). I’m not one of those people that thinks Pixar can do no wrong (and if you are, you need to watch Cars again in the cold light of day). And the trailer… did not blow me away. But I’m fully prepared to have my expectations wildly exceeded in every way imaginable. Nay, I expect it. Deliver.

The Hurt Locker (june 26). The first Iraq war movie I actually want to see.

Public Enemies (july 1). Despite having Johnny Depp and Christian Bale starring and Michael Mann directing, I was on the fence about this 1930s gangster movie, half-suspecting it would be the kind of gauzy, set-designed period piece that I find annoying. And then I saw the trailer, and now I think my previous opinion is that of an idiot douchebag.

Brüno (jul 10). Sasha Baron-Cohen’s followup to Borat, featuring the titular gay Austrian fashion reporter. And a freaked-out Ron Paul. I always liked the Bruno character on Ali G, probably because the fashionistas and homophobes he went after seemed like such deserving targets.

Funny People (july 31). My faith in Judd Apatow is so strong, I’m even excited to see him direct a film about a dying comedian played by Adam Sandler. I just hope Apatow doesn’t turn this into sentimental Oscar bait, ’cause as much as I love him, I can kind of see him doing that one day.

District 9 (august 14). I don’t actually know much about it, but the trailer is intriguing and it’s produced by Peter Jackson, who I suspect may just have his pick of projects these days.

Inglourious Basterds (august 21). There was never any doubt that I was going to see Tarantino’s campy, gory WWII film, but every detail I hear just makes me more intrigued. Brad Pitt leading a squad of badass Jews behind enemy lines to collect Nazi scalps? Yes, please! Maggie Cheung as a French movie theater owner? In a sequence shot like a Nouvelle Vague film? Oui! Eli Roth directing a Nazi propaganda film-within-a-film? Well, who else would you get to do it? Mike Myers as a British general? Okay, I’m going have to assume you know what you’re doing, Quentin. Plus, the trailer alone pissed off one of The Guardian’s crew of pompous, self-righteous film critics, so it’s got that going for it.

And after the summer, there’s quite a list of films I’m interested in, including: This Side of the Truth, Ashcliffe, A Serious Man, Where the Wild Things Are, The Fantastic Mr Fox, The Road, Sherlock Holmes, Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Satisfaction, Big Fan and Thirst. All in due time.