With the heroes dispensed with HERE and HERE, it’s onto the villains. Enjoy.
1. Voldermort – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two
All these years of movie lists, Voldemort had to make it onto the list eventually. He’s not just a villain, he’s the villain of the last decade+. He is the evil wizard. Everyone knows his name, Harry Potter fan or not. An entire generation’s Darth Vader. And Ralph Fiennes played him to perfection in each of the Harry Potter films.
2. The Alien – Super 8
It’s not new, but I think that this alien reveal was as satisfying as the reveal in Signs was disappointing. A creature of a delightfully strange, yet familiar, biology, from across the stars. I loved this movie, and the alien played no small part in that. It wasn’t just good enough to keep me from enjoying the rest of the movie, it was a huge part of what made the movie work.
3. Men Who Hate Women – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The villains in this movie weren’t just bad guys. They were disgusting, stomach-turning monsters. What made it all the worse was that they are so commonplace in the world. Men across time have truly been capable of this sort of disgusting evil. They are powerful characters that stay in the consciousness, which is exactly what Larsson had in mind in their creation, making it impossible to ignore the violence perpetrated in systems that favor sexism and abuse.
4. Sakharine / Red Rackham – The Adventures of Tintin
One of the villains in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo started taking Daniel Craig’s pants off. The actor portraying the villain in this movie gets to take Daniel Craig’s pants off every day… Daniel Craig.
He was perfect as the villain, especially in the storytelling pirate sequence when Craig is Red Rackham. I LOVED the pirate scenes. Lots of anger on the internet about this movie, but I love it. Up with Tintin!!
5. Nigel – Rio
Two words: Jemaine. Clement. Comedic brilliance. I fricking love Jemaine, and I loved this character. Although, it could be argued that the true villain in this movie was Will.I.Am for sucking up the joint and making for a decidedly painful musical number. However, the rest of the cast (especially Jesse Eisenberg and Tracy Morgan) makes up for where Will and Jaime Foxx led things off course at times.
I love every character in this movie so much, but The Dog is the real hero. No?
And it goes without saying that Snowy is a major hero in The Adventures of Tintin. Totally badass doggery.
8. Hugo Cabret – Hugo
As a young boy struggling to find the truth, to understand his place in the world, and to discover a family, he is a hero for many of us struggling to do the same thing.
9. Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre
I guess when you are adapting one of the most famous pieces of literature in history, it’s hard to make it one of 2011’s great characters. So, I suppose this is largely in praise of Mia Wasikowska’s performance as the young woman who had just about everything possible go against her, and yet remained strong, self-possessed, and loved well in spite of her life’s difficulties.
10. Lisbeth Salander – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Maybe I shouldn’t include another violent character as a heroine. I will anyway, because there is a part of me, deep inside, that is just so tired of the realities of this world. I want there to be an avenging angel who violently preys on the monsters and villains who prey on the weak and unheard. Maybe it isn’t one better part of me, but it is a part of me I’m not ashamed of either.
11. Everyone – Beginners
I absolutely loved this film and the characters that inhabited it. So much of it resonated with me, and the faults, courage and beauty of these characters stay with me still. You should see this movie.
2011 saw some stupendous debut albums, with rookies that have us drooling for what comes next.
1. Fitz and the Tantrums – Pickin’ Up the Pieces
Scott: There is some confusion as to when this album actually came out. I’m pretty sure the actual release date is August of 2010, instead of January of 2011, but we missed it last year, so we are throwing it up on this year’s lists. It’s kind of cheating, but I’m ok with that.
Fitz and the Tantrums, aside from having an awesome name, are also a rookie band that is certain to be in the Hall if they can keep up the good work. Retro is so in right now. As this list makes clear, bands are looking backward with quite a lot of energy; whether bands are hearkening back to 1960/70’s folk, 1950’s pop, or in The Tantrums’ case: sexy, sexy soul music. Fitz and the Tantrums make music that is fun and infectious. They probably win the award this year for music that gets stuck in my head the most. It’s a normal event in the Small household for Emily or me to be dancing around, absentmindedly singing / don’t come back, any time / i’ve already had your kind / this is your payback / moneygrabber / I hope this is a group of people who will be making music, dressing to the nines, and inspiring me to shake my ass for a long, long time.
Brian: This album is fun and soulful. It will put you in a good mood. The songs take notes from and have elements that hearken back to classic R & B and soul music from the 1960s. The album was purposely made without guitars. In an interview, leader singer Michael Fitzpatrick stated that he wanted “to try and make a big sounding record without guitars … For me, I just feel like in any music that has a band, the guitar is always there, it’s always featured, it’s always prevalent. I’m just sick of hearing it.” Leaving the guitars out, the album is keyboard and synth heavy, and much like the soul of the 60s, relies heavily on a tight and talented rhythm section. I have only heard good things about their live shows, and after being called one of the hardest working bands in the industry, the future is big and bright for Fitz and the Tantrums.
2. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart
Scott: The children of a proud Seattle, The Head and the Hearthave had quite the year. They’ve launched out of local fame into moderate national fame with no end to their ascent in sight. Among other honors, they’re #21 on Amazon’s best 100 albums of the year, and #5 on Paste’s best new artists list. With music and vocals that are sweet and honest, it’s easy to see why The Head and the Heart continue to endear themselves to those who hear them, and Seattle will continue to look on with love as TH&TH’s audience continues to grow.
I love them with my head and my heart.
Brian: Another Seattle band. Another BRILLIANT Seattle band. Sunny, folky goodness. They have drawn obvious comparisons to Mumford & Sons because of the way both bands feature tight, vocal harmonies. Being compared to Mumford is not at all a bad thing. When it really comes down to it, the bands are not as similar as Pitchfork would have you believe. Those bastards. The album is musical sunshine. The band has put together an album of songs that begs to be sung along with.
3. Gardens & Villa – Gardens & Villa
Brian: Funky and sometimes shoegazey, Gardens and Villas hail from Santa Barbara (Brahbrah?), CA. Their music is fun and eclectic, drawing from a wide array of influences. This is album is … I mean, did I mention it was eclectic? I listen and I hear shades of Beach House (“Chemtrails”), the Beatles (“Sunday Morning”), and even Ennio Morricone (“Carrizo Plain”)! Yet, for all it’s variety (I haven’t even mentioned the flute, yet), Gardens and Villa’s sound is surprisingly consistent, held together by the amazing vocals of Chris Lynch (he plays live shows with a quiver of flutes slung over his shoulder!) and the presence of spacey and funky synths. Having read what I’ve just written about this album, it sounds like it wouldn’t work, but, let me tell you … it does. Very much so. I liked this album way more with every listen.
Scott: It’s funny that Brian would make a Flight of the Conchords reference above (can you find it?). The reason it’s funny is because I discovered this band because of my Kiwi friend Gabrielle, whose interview with the band can be read here.
In line with what Brian was saying above, so much comes together in this album that it would be easy for it to become muddled and fall apart. Instead, it all comes together and makes for an album that I, like Brian, fall more in love with every time I hear it. I guess I’m a sucker for synthesizers and falsetto harmonies.
I love them with my gardens and my villa.
4. Cults – Cults
Scott: This band converged on my summer and sunk its claws deep into my heart. It was everywhere. Playing on KEXP, performing at The Capitol Hill Block Party, and finally taking over my iTunes. Old school pop music that somehow really works, They also seem like sweet kids from my brief experience watching them live this year.
I’m really excited to hear what comes next, because, like Phantogram last year, this was an album meant more to be a demo which took off faster than anticipated. Will all of their albums be cult themed? If it is, with Jim Jones out of the way, my hope is that next up is Waco. Or, better yet, those people who thought the spaceship was going to come take them to heaven.
If this is what Cults are like, consider me initiated.
Brian: This album feels familiar. Not the “This sounds like everything else out there” or “Nothing new” familiar, but the melodies feel like a warm bed. The trend these days, as far as bands go, seems to be the boy/girl duo, so as these types of bands increase, it is going to take more talent for separation from the rest. Cults have made a statement with this debut album. Every song is like a warm bed you don’t want to leave. The melodies are like that old baseball glove that is so perfectly broken in. Infectious and catchy from the first to the last song, Cults should have no problem standing above water in a sea of boy/girl duos.
5. The Civil Wars
Scott: If either Joy Williams or John Paul White had released this album as a solo release, it still would have been one of the best albums of the year. Instead, it’s the result of the duo joining forces, creating an album of vocal harmonies that are breathtaking. I’m sure glad these two eventually found each other, because this collaboration makes it sound like they were born to sing together. The songwriting is also deeply moving. The perfect creative storm.
Brian: There are very few voices out there that mix more perfectly than the voices of Joy WIlliams and John Paul White. This album deserved all the acclaim and attention it received. This duo has made an album that is so rich melodically and in harmony. There are songs that burst forth joyfully from mouths and guitars, and there are songs that seep melancholy out of every pore. It is this balance that makes this album so real and true to life. To make music that perfectly captures the rapture and the rupture that is joy and sorrow. You’d be hard pressed to find an album to equal the cover to cover beauty of The Civil Wars’ Barton Hollow.
Every year, I post the movies I should have watched, but didn’t. For one reason or another, I just missed these ones. It’s really just my way of making a list of movies I missed so that I remember to check them out soon. This year, I helped myself out by checking out a bunch of ‘Best of 2011’ lists to find some gems I missed altogether.
Here are 20 movies I should have watched this year. As always, in no particular order. Please add to the list, or tell me what you thought of movies I put on the list that you’ve already seen. Please. Pretty please. Someone comment!!
That’s right, losers. Richard Marx lyrics. Now that song can be stuck in the heads of anyone old enough to remember it.
Anyway, last year’s ‘most excited’ list was remarkably hit or miss. This year’s probably will be as well. To keep that at least a bit more under control, I’m only going to do the first half of the year, with another list to come heading into July.
Also, as always, there will be great movies I just don’t know about yet, so if you see a glaring omission, holla at’cha boy.
First off, the movies I am undoubtedly excited about, to varying extremes.
1. Chronicle – February 3rd
Seattle. Super powers. Salisbury Steaks. Okay, so that last bit was just for alliteration. However, Seattle and supes is enough to get me excited, even if the found footage thing is a little (or a lot) old by now. Movies like the original [REC] show the medium does have life in the right hands. Let’s hope that’s the case here.
2. The Secret World of Arrietty –February 17th
Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki. That’s all that needs to be written. Case closed.
In case you’ve forgotten, or perhaps never knew, I don’t like doing a straightforward list of my ten or twenty favorite movies. Instead, I prefer to do a bunch of lists of my favorite things from films and movies this year, superlatives.
The lists always change from year to year, but two that never fade away are the ones I view as the anchors of the whole shebang: the heroes and the villains. Whether they are straightforward and formulaic, or postmodern and extraordinary, a movie usually has a tussle between the good and the not so good.
All entries contain varying levels of spoilers. Read at your own risk.
As always, the list has no particular order. And my favorite heroes are…..
1. The Driver – Drive
The Driver is a far more violent character than most would expect for me to choose as one of my heroes. Usually, when a guy goes about trying to kill the “bad guys” in order to save the day, they rank outside the hero category in my book because I am tired to death of the myth of redemptive violence.
The reason Driver makes it is because the myth of redemptive violence is turned on its head. This film doesn’t pretend that The Driver isn’t taking darkness onto his own soul to bring an end to the film’s villains. He willingly takes darkness onto himself in order to protect the innocent people he cares about, but loses them in the process. There is a scene in the film I alluded to when I wrote about this film in the past, where The Driver stomps a man to death, and in that scene, without a word, we realize that he will never be with the woman he loves. One kiss, and then he took violence into himself because it was the only way he knew to let the family he cared so much about live in the sunshine. You can agree or disagree with his decisions, but his motives were clear, and in my opinion, heroic.
2. The Boys – Attack the Block
I LOVE this movie. I’ve seen it twice now (along with Hanna, Source Code, and Super 8), and both times I fell in love with a funny, smart, engaging film that deals with serious subtext, while never taking the primary text too seriously. I want to celebrate all of the boys in the film, because when shit gets real, they step up to defend their neighborhood and the people they care about.
However, it’s the narrative focus on Moses, the gang’s leader, which makes the film go. Through him we are able to understand his decisions without ever allowing him to shirk responsibility for them, and he never tries to shirk them. He stands up and does what needs to be done, even when that means it may cost him his life. His dramatic hero sequence from the climax of the film is one of my very favorite scenes of the year.
I would give my left testicle for a sequel, in which it’s a few years later, the monsters have invaded on a larger scale, and Moses is humanity’s best hope of deliverance. It’s too perfect. Come on, folks… make this happen!
3. The Boys – Super 8
I also LOVE this movie. The boys in this are heroes for the same reason as the hilarious gang from Attack the Block. When shit gets real, they stand up and risk life and limb to defend the people they care about.
Sure, it turns out the alien is just misunderstood and mistreated, but they didn’t know that going into it. They just saw said alien taking out soldiers with no remorse. Yet, when someone is in danger, they may not all make it into the lair of the beast, but they are all willing to go there to save their friend’s life.
4. Kermit the Frog
There isn’t much to say. You either get it or you don’t. Kermit has been one of my heroes for my entire remembered life. The message that you can be understated, a little crazy some of the time, a lot melancholy most of the time, and still bring hope and laughter to others, is a message I sure want to believe is true. If not, I’m sort of screwed.
5. Hanna – Hanna
The real hero is Saoirse Ronan for her performance as a brutally well-trained killing machine trying to learn how to be a teenage girl. Watching her face, it’s impossible to believe she isn’t really a sheltered super-soldier seeing the world for the first time.
This girl is the real deal, and her performance is such a giant part of what makes this superb film so beautiful.
6. Cpt. Colter Stevens – Source Code
Even with the Quantum Leap awesomeness set aside, I really did enjoy this movie. In large part this was because I really pulled for Colter Stevens to succeed. I wanted good things to happen to him. A character and performance that reminded me that I actually really like Jake Gyllenhaal is nothing to sneeze at. By the way, what the hell does that phrase mean? Does it mean, I’m not allergic to liking Jake Gyllenhaal? Well, I’m not, I will not sneeze at a hero that saves the day both in the film and in my appreciation of the acting endeavors of Mr. Darko.
This is a music list, not a baseball list. Still, it is what we at RtM are calling the Prince Fielder list, formerly the Ryan Braun list.
For those who don’t know, Prince is a hefty man, and an amazing baseball player.
The young, soon to be former Milwaukee Brewer, hits homers like it’s easy. If he keeps up playing the way he’s started out, his place in Cooperstown is assured. However, if he suddenly started hitting .200 next season, we’d all wonder what the hell happened, and he’d never be in the Hall of Fame. Derek Jeter could retire tomorrow and be a first ballot HoFer. Prince Fielder is too early in his career for that.
The mere fact that this list was originally named for Ryan Braun, who is now suspect after having a positive PED test, only shows how precarious a young person’s potential can be.
These bands are like Prince Fielder. They’re amazing, and if they keep it up they’ll be in the Hall within another few albums. However, if they start teaming up with Nickelback and lil’ Wayne, and making shit music tomorrow, we’d all talk about how great these bands were in the past. They just don’t have the number of albums necessary for the Hall to be a lock.
The lists are here, folks. There are so many great albums this year that we need to split each one up into sections. Wee-ow, was there some good music in 2011.
This is our second year doing music lists, and the second with our very own RtM Hall of Fame. Since there was literally no thought put into the formation of our little musical cooperstown, there are a few weaknesses I’ve noticed. Such as, what about adding old bands, those of whom don’t release albums anymore? We aren’t fixing said problems this year, just thought I’d point them out.
Anyway, last year saw the induction of: The New Pornographers, The National, Spoon, Josh Ritter, and Menomena. We changed the criteria for picking HoF acts, so Menomena wouldn’t have made it in, but the Hall is sacred. Once you’re in, you’re in.
This year, there will be at least fourteen new additions into the Hall. That’s quite a few, but I assure you they are all deserving. Here are the first five!!
1. Kanye West
Scott: How is one man responsible for the best Hip Hop album of the year, two years in a row?!? That’s uncanny. And not like, the resemblance between that old man and my Aunt Petunia is uncanny… like, X-Men uncanny. Yup, Kanye West is a mutant, and his power is making remarkable albums. Jay-Z returns to form for the first time in forever, and Kanye continues building on the victory of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This album doesn’t have the epic, genre changing, staggering beauty of that album. What it does have is enough swagger and commentary on the black experience in America to be, hands down, the best Hip Hop album of the year. **Although, since writing this, I’ve heard The Roots new album, which immediately made this race a tie. Sorry to be indecisive like that, but that’s how I roll.**
Brian: Did you say “wee-ow”? Well, Imma ’bout to say it, too. Wee-ow!! “Watch the Throne” is good. GOOD. It does at least two things: reminds us that Jay-Z’s talent hasn’t completely left the building (a lot of us had written him off completely), and it places Kanye as the best producer/MC on the planet. Unless I am forgetting someone, who else combines this kind of producing talent with this kind of MC talent? Sure, there are better MCs out there, but, can any of them claim to also be the best producer in the genre? … sit down, Lil’ Wayne … just because Nicki Minaj said you’re the best rapper alive (http://youtu.be/M3Rno4fxCjw — you can skip ahead to 1:35 to hear the quote, but if you watch the whole thing: 1) sorry for the stupid bullshit skit at the beginning, and 2) connoissours will notice Tyler, the Creator as the award giver) doesn’t make it true. Put it this way: ‘Ye’s samples include everything from the late, great Otis Redding (on “Otis”, obviously) to some of the most recent and popular (in Europe) dubstep beats (as heard on “Who Gon Stop Me”). I love the variety. Also loved? The way ‘Ye and Jay hand the mic back and forth on most of these tracks. They play off of each other nicely. And you can tell they had fun making this album together. All I’m waiting for now is for someone to make a “Watch the Throne”/”Game of Thrones” mash-up video.
S: Any argument you make for Radiohead being in a Hall of Fame will wind up being redundant. There’s simply nobody else like them. As I’ve said before, this album isn’t as brilliant as In Rainbows before it, but it’s still Radiohead, and their lesser work is better than 97% of everything else. Let’s hope there are still decades to come of the band who continues to reinvent their sound and yet still winds up being amazing all over again.
B: Radiohead. What more can be said? At the mere mention of the name, people achieve orgasm. While I agree with Scott that “In Rainbows” outshines “King of Limbs”, it is a HoF album, because they are a HoF band. They are in the territory where they could release an album of animal sounds with some synths and drums thrown in, and people would call it brilliant. And it wouldn’t be in that way that some naive chucker would hear or see art he doesn’t understand and say it’s brilliant. The album WOULD BE brilliant. Rarefied air.
3. Tom Waits
S: It’s hard to even begin writing about Tom Waits. He’s just too damned close to my heart to know how to articulate it to all of you. He’s a genius: a master storyteller, a trickster, a prophet, a joker, a preacher, and a liar. There’s no way to ever know where his act ends and he begins. His songs are filled with, and usually narrated by, a cast of characters that get under the skin and live there. Bad as Me is more of the same. It’s certainly not accessible, pop, radio music. That’s ok, because it’s brilliant, instead.
He’s one of my favorite storytellers. I’m not qualifying that within songwriting storytellers, just storytellers, period.
B: Thomas Alan Waits. I love Scott’s words about him so much. He is master story and character crafter. He’s HoF because of this, and many other facets of his music. As with most things, people want to copy and emulate the best. Despite what ScarJo has done to ruin Tom Waits for some, Mr. Waits continues to be praised and covered by his peers; to be honored for his genius. If I can compare him to Ron Burgundy: He is a God among mere mortals.
4. David Bazan
S: The voice of a generation of discontented evangelical young folks, Bazan was once the paragon of struggling faith. Now, having lost that faith, he continues to write deeply poignant songs. Strange Negotiations lacks the power of his last album, Curse Your Branches, which is the memoir of a man losing his ability to believe in God. That being said, Bazan is still doing what he does best: writing stories, some true, some not, that capture one’s heart and imagination alike. It almost feels at times like Strange Negotiations is an appendix to Curse Your Branches, instead of a stand-alone album. Yet, don’t get me wrong, I love Strange Negotiations more with every listen.
As for his HoF credentials, Bazan’s voice articulates the pain and vulnerability of his lyrics in a way that I find both haunting and oddly inspiring. Wearing his proverbial heart on his sleeve; his anger, frustration, humiliation, and angst are exposed for the world to see, yet his songwriting is so literate and intelligent that it keeps his work from ever moving into the realm of whiny, emo bullshit.
He is a no doubt Hall of Famer in my book.
B: What strikes me most about Bazan is his honesty. In the Pedro the Lion days, when he was more apt to write concept type records full of worldly characters, it was his honesty about people and the world that was so in your face and raw. He wasn’t afraid to tell the truth about the human condition, and this rock we inhabit, even when the truth was filled with murder, and affairs. Then, on “Curse Your Branches”, Bazan brought an honesty about himself and his struggles that was so disarming, you felt as though you were sitting at a bar with him throwing back shots of whiskey, while he poured himself out on the counter. It was powerful, and real, and raw … and as Scott said, not emo at all! His music is improving in every way, as well. His voice has improved from the Pedro days, and the man just knows how to craft a song.
5. Okkervil River
S: While formed in 1998, Okkervil River is perhaps earlier in their career than most acts being inducted into the hall. I still stand by their worth with all my heart. In large part, the band’s 2005 release Black Sheep Boy is, in my opinion, one of the finest albums released in the last decade. Thus, everything else the band does is just adding on to that achievement.
This year’s I Am Very Far is immensely listenable. One music writer, Jim Scott, says “I Am Very Far makes a strong case for Sheff to be considered one of the very best writers in music today.” I’d have to agree. That songwriting, combined with dynamic musicianship and strong production, not to mention Will Sheff’s unique vocals, make for yet another Okkervil River release that finds itself in my five favorite albums of the year.
“I Am Very Far” is a tight, paradoxical album. It feels focused and taut, yet chaotic and experimental. Sheff and Co. have put together a collection of songs that, in many ways, is a departure from previous albums. For one, this was Will Sheff’s first time producing an Okkervil River album. Sheff’s willingness to follow his creative energy as producer and lead singer and songwriter of the band led to new methods in the studio:
the band experimented with various recording methods in each session, including fastforwarding and rewinding a cassette tape and then doubling the noises on electric guitar, tearing off strips of duct tape for percussion, singing while strolling around the room, and hurling file-cabinets across the studio. Some songs had input from a vast number of session musicians playing in the same room (‘Rider’, ‘We Need a Myth’), the latter of which opens with the strumming of 45 classical guitars.
Yet, for all these apparent differences, this is still very much an Okkervil River album. Sheff’s vocals constantly remind us of that. Furthermore, as Scott mentioned, the album is really easy to listen to, and terribly catchy, cementing Okkervil River as a RtM HoF band.