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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.