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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.


Holbrook FILM

purchase Lyrica canada 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.



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.



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.



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.

Caribou wins Polaris Prize

Okay, I’m a little late on this, but it’s pretty cool news. On September 29, Caribou’s album Andorra won the Polaris Music Prize. I’m not much of a fan of the first couple of Polaris winners, which I think were not bad, but maybe more conceptual than enjoyable. I mean, does anybody really, truly, in their heart of hearts think that Patrick Watson’s Close to Paradise is a better album than The Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible? And has anybody ever listened to Final Fantasy’s He Poos Clouds all the way through a second time?

But I love Andorra. If you don’t already own the album, you probably need to pick it up, and if you ever have a chance to see Caribou in concert, go.

And so, in honour of Dr Dan Snaith’s achievement, here’s the video for Andorra‘s exquisite Melody Day, a song that gives me goose bumps every single time I hear it. And it’s not even my favourite song on the album.

Sad Kermit

Sad Kermit covers Elliot Smith’s “Needle in the Hay”. (And here is the Royal Tenenbaums scene it’s based on.)

random nuggets of Eric

So, for the past few weeks, I’ve been devoting my hours to work at Worio, a Yaletown start-up I’ve been associated with essentially from its inception (though other people have done much more work than me). I enjoy the work, and it’s a nice break from grad school. Not only is the pay better, but pretty much every day I can go home feeling like I’ve accomplished something. The PhD program is not like that.

The only downside is the schedule. I work 10 to 12 hours a day, and that’s not counting the 45-minute commute each way. I go to the gym two or three nights a week, and out for dinner, movies or concerts a couple of other nights. I typically leave the house at 8 AM and get home at 10 or 11 at night. Saturday is usually spent running errands, and Sunday is my day of rest.

And so, other things have to fall by the wayside a bit. I don’t think I’ve looked at YouTube in a month! A month! And I’m lucky is I see more than one movie a week (though my commute means that I’m reading a ton of books, which is pretty cool, though I have an iPod Touch to watch videos on now). This blog is another victim. I just don’t feel like I have the time or energy for full, thought-out posts. Not that what I write is usually more than “Here’s a cool link. BLANK is cool! (Insert joke here.)” Even so, I do have opinions and I know how much you care about them. But maybe for now, I’ll just do a bit of a random thought dumpage. Let’s try it, shall we?

andorra.jpgThe new Caribou album, Andorra, is terrific — kind of a wistful sixties psychedelic pop version of Caribou that perfectly fits walking though downtown Vancouver in the fall. I’ve been listening to the entire album pretty much daily. My roommate even liked it so much she blogged about it, too. Actually, 2007 has been a great year for Canadian indie music. Besides Caribou, I’ve been really enjoying the 2007 releases of The New Pornographers, The Arcade Fire, Tegan and Sara, Pink Mountaintops, Champion and You Say Party! We Say Die!. And I’m sure there’s plenty of others I haven’t heard yet.

As I mentioned before, somebody used my credit card to commit several thousand dollars worth of fraud. It’s taken a few calls to the bank, but the damage seems to have been undone — at least the damage against me. I wonder how common this kind of thing is. Somebody is out a lot of money — there’s no way the bank has made anything like the money the lost off my past half-decade of credit-card use.

kyrgzhatsnip.jpgI’m still hugely looking forward to my post-PhD trip across Asia in a couple years, but I haven’t had anything particularly insightful to say lately. The part of the route from India to Turkey will be interesting. I will either have to go through Pakistan and Iran, or through the Central Asian republics and Russia. I’ve been reading a bit about both. On the one hand, Iran has better transportation and I culture I’m very interested in. On the other hand, Central Asia has thrilling headgear. But I think the final decision will depend on the state of the region when I get there, c. 2010.

Can you believe 2010 is now the near future? Like, I’m making plans for that year? The mind boggles. I feel all the time like I live in a William Gibson novel.

facebook-snip.jpgI’m still on Facebook, though all I ever do is update my status message every couple of days, which I see as kind of a creative exercise. I don’t even read the updates of people on my network very often. However, I still find it kind of fascinating — I think its genius is that it’s the first web page on the internet that is explicitly targeted toward the extroverted majority of human beings. The people who (unlike, say, me) honestly want to know what all their friends got up to last weekend, and who (also unlike me) typically do something with their free time that’s more sociable than watching DVDs or reading comics and books about statistics and economics.

Speaking of books about statistics and economics, I recently read and enjoyed Tyler Cowan’s Discover Your Inner Economist and Nassim Nicholas Taleb even more interesting Fooled by Randomness. Each of these looks at how the authors’ fields (economics and financial mathematics) informs their worldview in subtle and unintuitive ways, complete with amusing anecdotes. While I’d recommend these books in general, I think I personally got a lot out of them because while I’m neither an economist nor a statistician (a shocking revelation, I know), my own research owes a lot to these fields, and I increasingly find myself looking at the world through a haze of utilities and variances. Also, Taleb’s book provides some evidence that it is possible to work on interesting problems in finance, be well paid, and not turn into (or start off as) a boring, status-obsessed asshole.

Wednesday night I saw Tokyo Police Club at The Plaza. The band didn’t even come on until midnight (on a Wednesday night!), and then the sound was pretty awful. Tired and bored from standing around waiting for the show, and disappointed by the shitty mix and always too-hot Plaza venue, we left after about five songs. Enough people were bolting that there was already a fairly long queue for the coat check at that point. Nice try, boys. I don’t know whether it’s the Plaza or TPC to blame, so I blame both.

Canadian Indie-Rock Primer

arcade_snip.jpgDon’t you love it when two awesome things come together? My fave pop-culture web site, The A.V. Club delivers a cool primer — complete with tons of videos — on the Canadian indie music scene, which has just been going from great to Ubergreat for the past few years. It’s a pretty cool introduction to give to your non-Canadian and/or non-indie friends, even they do skip the post-rock stylings of Do Make Say Think and Godspeed You Black Emperor, and the offbeat hip-hop of Buck 65 and Kid Koala.

Once you read and watch all that, you’re gonna have to get your hipster-geek ass over to CBC Radio 3 for the podcasts (I recommend starting with the laid-back cheerleading of the endearingly dorky Grant Lawrence).