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heroes. [movies, the many lists of 2010.]

1. Dom Cobb – Inception

Alright haters, let’s get this straight one last time. Stop saying Inception failed to do what Dark City, or Eternal Sunshine, or Debbie Does Dallas did. Inception wasn’t trying to be all those other movies it is continually compared to. It was not a philosophical rumination on the nature of dreams, it was not meant to be the Citizen Kane of post-modern philosophy, it was not meant to get at any deep concept of what love is.

It’s attempt was to use the world of dreams as the backdrop for a kick-ass heist film, albeit with plenty of relational drama for our antagonist. Maybe you think it succeeded, maybe you think it didn’t, but you aren’t allowed to create your own imaginary comparisons to decide if a movie was successful. For example, you can decide to hate Jack-Ass 3D because you didn’t enjoy watching it, or as is true in my case, never plan to watch it, but it’s asinine to say it sucked because Knocked Up did a better job engaging what it means to finally become a real adult. You know, come to think of it, The Jerk sucked because Citizen Kane did a better job showing how a man might lose his soul as he gains success. And, Die Hard sucked because The Godfather II does a better job showing the impact men of violence have on a family. See that, I can use parallels in film to create bizarre criteria for film criticism too. Hooray!

If you want to compare Inception to a movie, or say it copied a genre, you need look no further than The Sting or Ocean’s 11. It’s not a big secret, just pay fucking attention and it’s pretty obvious. That’s the sort of movie they were trying to make, just in a way we’ve never seen before. Mission accomplished, bitches.

Yes, folks, this was a heist film.

Now, for a heist film to be entertaining, one of the primary needs is an engaging ringleader who is remarkably good at what they do, facing their toughest heist yet. Inception had that in spades, with Leo keeping shit real throughout the duration of our flight.

This fearless leader also needs a trusty side-kick to keep them honest (see Joseph Gordon-Levitt, or Brad Pitt in Ocean’s 11), a rich person to back the mission for one reason or another (see Ken Watanabe, or Elliott Gould in Ocean’s 11), some talented accomplices they’ve used on previous missions, who they recruit because they need the best (see Tom Hardy, or most of the team in Ocean’s 11), and a young protegé full of potential, so that our ringleader can explain how things work to the audience… I mean to the protegé (see Ellen Page, or Matt Damon in Ocean’s 11).

Still, it all revolves around the central ringleader. Leo kicked ass in this role. He was the perfect mix of swagger, skill, fear, and edge of sanity desperation. He brought a beautiful amount of depth and emotion to the role, enabling most audiences to care about whether or not that damned top stopped spinning.

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2. Scott Pilgrim – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


Ah, Scott Pilgrim. Our lovable everynerd.

The clueless slacker who can’t get shit sorted out. Yet, in the end, he finally grows up enough to make peace with his greatest enemy of all. Himself.

Loved the novels. Loved this movie. Love Scott Pilgrim.

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3. Hit Girl – Kick-Ass


The messages about the failure to protect children, the harm of violence, etc. is totally lost because the movie is just so fun to watch.

I love this badass little preteen.

She had me at, “Okay, you cunts. Let’s see what you can do now.”

Profanity, FTW!

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4. Kevin Flynn – Tron: Legacy

Tron: Legacy was a movie which, for some reason, I was expecting to disappoint me. I kept that to myself, not wanting to speak some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy into existence. Perhaps it was the fact critics were split down the middle on the film. I know, I’m not normally the guy who listens to critics, but Rotten Tomatoes does offer a cumulative value that one single critic doesn’t, so, universal praise or disdain will at least get me to think twice. Whatever the reason, it was in the back of my mind that the film was going to fall flat with me. I’m glad I was wrong.

I loved Tron: Legacy, as did my decidedly non-nerd wife. Many of the unfair critiques of Inception could be more fairly made of T:L. You aren’t going to see me giving it any awards for dialogue, or emotional depth, etc. In a lot of ways, it was similar to last year’s Avatar, in that it was a hugely visual spectacle, offering something we haven’t seen before, but it didn’t go crazy in the story department. It was pretty straightforward, sometimes a little silly. Although, I should point out that in my opinion, while you can draw comparisons to Avatar, Tron was infinitely more enjoyable as a movie-going experience. This was the most pure fun I had at the movies this year.

Seeing Flynn back, after lifetimes in The Grid, was pretty damned cool for a child of the 80’s like me. In a way, Flynn was what Neo should have been in the 2nd and 3rd Matrix movies. I know Flynn didn’t do much in the way of fighting, but even just the single scene in the club, when Flynn shows up and everything changes, was more excitement than Neo offered through four-ish hours of movie in Reloaded and Revolutions.

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5. Rooster Cogburn – True Grit


Yup, Jeff Bridges made it on the list TWICE. Any chance Rooster Cogburn secures him the honor of back to back Academy Awards for Best Actor? Which would also mean that two different actors win the award for playing the same character. Improbable, but definitely possible.

As I’ve already made clear during the Western manifestation of  ‘Another Day. Another Movie,’ my unique inability to enjoy John Wayne’s flat, seemingly drunken delivery of lines resulted in me hating this character in the original film. Yet, I wasn’t worried going into this one, because the role was in the capable hands of the Coen Bros. and The Dude.

Even so, I wasn’t ready for just how great all the characters and performances in this movie would be. While it’s not the Coen Brothers’ best film by any means, I do think it’s their most accessible.

True Grit is really funny, like, laugh-out-loud funny, and that’s in large part due to Bridges and his prickly, drunken, violent man of the American West.

If I had unlimited money, I think I would see if Jeff Bridges would be willing to spend two weeks with me, if I in turn donated a ton of cash to charity; the first week he’d be The Dude the whole time, the second week he’d be Rooster Cogburn.

Yeah, I like that idea. Does anyone have a whole mess of money and the number for Mr. Bridges’ agent?

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6. Bonnie – Toy Story 3


Folks, don’t believe the lies. It seems common to buy into the myth that cynicism, fear, skepticism, and criticism are the best postures to maintain as an intelligent adult.

Bullshit.

Sure, healthy skepticism and critical thinking skills are necessary, but think back on the greatest minds in history. Inventors, authors, innovators, world changers. How many of those folks could be characterized first and foremost as cynics and skeptics and folks driven by fear? Not many. Innovation and creativity come from the realm of wonder and imagination, often to a childlike degree.

I’m not arguing for everything to be puppy dogs and rainbows. My favorite storytellers most often have imaginations characterized as ‘dark.’ Yet, even some of the more darkly, even cynically creative folks of the past, like Hemingway or Vonnegut or Heller, etc., couldn’t escape the pull toward imaginative creation. Pure cynicism doesn’t allow for creation, because, you know… what’s the point?

Dark wonder is still wonder. For example, from today, the macabre imaginations of Gaiman and del Toro are still wildly beautiful and redemptive. Darkness and death are realities we cannot escape, why not engage them through the lens of creativity and mystery.

Anyway. Enter, Bonnie. Girl had imagination to spare. Her life was overflowing with beauty and mystery and magic.

I want to be more like her.

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7. Hiccup & Toothless – How to Train Your Dragon

I’ve already written about these two lovable rascals at length.

One of my favorite on-screen relationships of 2010, they are certainly characters I will enjoy coming back to for years to come.

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8. Rapunzel & Flynn Ryder – Tangled

Wha..? Three of the movies in my heroes list are animated films? What am I, like 12? No, wait, lots of 12-year-olds pretend to hate animated movies. What am I, like 9?

Well, in my defense, I’ll at least point out that two of the animated films on this list were on Quentin Tarantino’s list of ten favorite films of 2010, Tangled being one of the two (granted, the second half of his ‘top 20’ list gets a bit insane, what with Knight and Day and Robin Hood being on there, but, whatever).

Tangled was supposedly Disney’s last fairy tale for the foreseeable future. Well, they left the princess game in style.

**spoilers**

They continued to distance themselves from the tired concept of ‘Princess needs a handsome prince to save her,’ which is wonderful. She doesn’t need Flynn Ryder, she just loves him anyway. She’s the leader. She’s the truly charismatic one. He dies for her, but she saves him with her love, the way princes have been doing for princesses in Disney films since Snow White started it all. Plus, even when he dies for her he does so because she inspires him to be better than he was before. Her goodness is contagious.

As for Flynn Ryder, it was refreshing they didn’t go through the ‘lapses back into his old ways’ routine, where he leaves her to sell her out and then comes back later. He is on her side all along, and she just thinks he leaves her when he is kidnapped.

Plus, he’s voiced by Zachary Levi, and I love that guy. Even though he is making those dumb Xfinity commercials for Comcast.

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9. Aaron Sorkin – The Social Network

There are no two ways about it: the man is a screenwriting god.

As soon as the movie was over… hell, before the movie was over, I was thinking to myself, ‘Sweet Lord, this screenplay is perfect.’

He really is staggeringly good. I was right there with everyone else, thinking, ‘Okay, I’m down with Sorkin, but a movie about Facebook? I’m not so sure I’ll ever want to watch that.’ Yet, great writing, direction, and acting made this movie easily one of my favorite films of the year, and as the critical awards and kudos continue to roll out, it appears I’m far from the only one who can say that.

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10. Darren Aronofsky – Black Swan


Holy shit. Black Swan was amazing. Truly, unbelievably amazing!

Talking to Emily after we watched it, I told her I wished I could watch it again for the first time, just to experience it again, fresh. And I truly mean ‘experience.’ That’s the only way to accurately describe how I felt watching this movie. I experienced it.

The storytelling was absolutely stunning. Even the disturbing moments were never too disturbing, they were just disturbing enough to serve the story.

A beautiful film about beauty and perfection and brokenness and sexuality and abuse and fear and art and death and performance and power and relationship and madness and the uncomfortable reality that these things can never be totally separated, at least not in the world we currently inhabit. Oh yeah, and it’s about a ton of other shit as well. Layers people, layers!

And all the while, it was Aronofsky at the helm. He’s done so much brilliant work before, I don’t really get how he can leave all those other films behind so completely with the achievement of Black Swan, but Caucasian managed to pull it off.

P.S. – Clearly, those last two entries make it clear who gets my vote for Best Director and Best Screenplay this year.

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as seen on tv. [the many lists of 2010.]

I didn’t actually keep track of tv shows I watched in 2010. I should have, like Kj did, but I failed to do so.

I’ll have to remember to do that this year. In the future, I would like to actually do this as a season specific thing, but I need to keep track before I can do that.

To be on the list, they didn’t have to air this year, I just had to watch at least one full season for the first time this year.

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1. Archer

Let’s see… today is the 6th, which means we have two weeks and five days until the new season starts. Rejoice!

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2. Dexter

Em and I are dreadfully behind in our Dexter episodes. We really need to use this week to catch all the way up. So many shows, so little time.

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3. Community

The second season started a bit slow, but then kicked into ‘awesome’ gear again.

I love how layered all of the show’s references are. There are the really obvious overarching pop culture references, like the Goodfellas/Godfather episode, or the Space Camp/The Right Stuff/Apollo 13 episode, etc. Yet, they also have tiny little references I don’t catch until I’ve seen an episode two or three times; tiny moments of dialogue, the way someone drops their pepper water gun, or even the fact that early in season one, Troy and Jeff are jokingly referencing Gillian Jacobs’ caracter in Choke as they leave a classroom.

Also, they gave me my favorite holiday special ever.

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4. Sherlock

This show is fantastic. Only three 90 minute episodes in Series One, so it left Emily and me wanting so much more. Episode two was a little meh, but one and three were so very entertaining.

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5. Doctor Who

Along with Sherlock, Doctor Who ensures that 2 of these 10 shows are somehow related to Steven Moffat.

The man is a television god. “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances,” the first two episodes he wrote for Doctor Who, back in ’05, were my favorite from the revamp’s first year. Then, he churned out great episodes in every season after that, including the Carey Mulligan episode.

Perhaps the most impressive thing he’s done is make a fifth season I am enjoying so much. I’m not going to lie, I cried like a big fat baby watching David Tennant’s last episode, so it was a tall order to win me over to some fancy new Doctor. Somehow, it took Moffat’s ‘revamped revamp’ about 5 minutes and I was totally in.

This show also gets more accessible every season, to the point that Doctor Who spinoff ‘Torchwood‘ (which, you’ll notice, is an anagram of Doctor Who) is moving to the states via Stars.

Anyway, if the Doctor ever starts taking male companions around with him on a more regular basis, I’m taking my talents to the TARDIS.

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6. Castle

As I was making this list, I realized that Nathan Fillion is probably known to many in the country as ‘that guy from Castle.’

This makes me sad. He has so much more to offer.

Yet, that’s not entirely bad. I think everybody can use a light detective drama in their life, to unwind without having to invest heavily on a mental level. This just happens to be the best one of those out there. The writings is usually pretty good for the genre, the characters are all likeable, and the show is clever and witty.

When you get that while also getting to bask in the sexiness of Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion, it’s a win, win, win.

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7. The Walking Dead

This adaptation of the graphic novels doesn’t disappoint. Although, I am soooo curious where they are going in season two, since they diverged so much from the end of the first volume of the books.

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8. Lost

The end of Lost certainly fits into that ‘Love it or Hate it’ category. While there were certainly disappointments, and plenty could have been more satisfying, I am still most definitely one of those seated in the ‘Love’ section.

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9. 30 Rock

I have one pet peeve, something maybe everyone else can help me out with. During the first episode of 30 Rock, The Girlie Show was already a thing. Then, Jack came to town, made Lemon hire Tracy Jordan, and rebranded the show as TGS with Tracy Jordan. Still, it’s the same show, just a rebranding, like when Saturday Night Live changed their branding to SNL, or American Movie Classics changed their branding to AMC. So, my question is, why does the show always pretend that TGS is only as old as 30 Rock? They celebrate 30 Rock milestones ‘in show,’ by pretending they are at the same milestones in TGS. What’s the deal there? Am I just missing something? Help a brother out.

Aside from that, this show is amazing. The best guest appearances, awesome inside jokes, hilarious writing, and the remarkable ability to have a show that still has me laughing out loud in season five. What is this, Seinfeld?

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10. Deadwood

Slow, dark, gritty, angry, violent, and brilliant.

This show follows along so closely with the historical account of how things went down in the actual Deadwood, it’s got much more reality than so called ‘reality tv.’

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Thank God for HBO

Something to look forward to in 2011 now that we have HBO …

[funnyordie id=eff3f22410 width=512 height=328]

And the return of this:

[funnyordie id=ef668caf14 width=512 height=328]

And then, of course, there’s everything else that makes HBO awesome, too.

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the neglected. [movies, the many lists of 2010.]

I shouldn’t have missed these movies this year, but I did. I need to remedy that post-haste.

I made this list last year as well. Of those ten films, I still haven’t seen Thirst or Precious; the scariest thing about Paranormal Activity was how much of a douche-bag the boyfriend was; the rest were some of my favorite films I’ve seen this year, especially Moon and The Hurt Locker.

As for this year’s list, not seeing Monsters isn’t my fault. To my knowledge, it never played in Seattle, which is really weird.

So, here are the films I feel the most disappointed for not getting around to seeing in 2010. As always, there is no meaning to the order.

1. 127 Hours

 


Continue Reading →

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villains. [movies, the many lists of 2010.]

So, we’re well into the music lists because we could start those before the year was out. However, movie lists need to wait out Christmas for the final releases. This year, those releases were the notable Tron: Legacy and True Grit. I also got in a few more films from 2010 over the holiday break, like The Other Guys, Salt, Easy A, and the absolutely phenomenal Black Swan.

Alas, now 2010 has come and gone, which means it’s high time to get rolling on 2010’s movie lists too! I had so much fun making last year’s lists, so at the very least, all of those will be back. Maybe more, who knows.

Just like last year, I’m kicking things off with my favorite villains of 2010. The normal disclaimer should be given, in that there were so many great movies I never saw this year. Thus, there are probably all sorts of wonderful villains I’ve yet to encounter from this year’s cinematic offerings. If I left out one of your favorites, sound off in the comments section so I can use some Netflix queue magic to get in on the fun.

The only qualification is that these had to be movies released in 2010.

Anyway, here are the villains of 2010 dearest to my heart.

1. The Bad (a.k.a. Park Chang-yi) – The Good, The Bad, The Weird

This movie was awesome for so many reasons, but #1 may just have been Byung-hun Lee as the the titular “Bad” in the film. As ‘bad guys’ go, they just don’t get better (or badder) than this. A smooth, sexy, well-dressed package wrapped around cold, efficient, murderous rage.

It was cinematic dynamite!

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2. Lotso (Lots-o-Huggin) – Toy Story 3

Certainly the year’s most adorable villain.

His tragic story was the dark version of Jesse’s from Toy Story 2. Whereas our rootin’, tootin’ cowgirl was left with a broken heart, leaving her untrusting and afraid. Lotso took a different angle when he was jilted by his kid, he turned into an evil bastard; using his rage as fuel to create his own empire of fear in his daycare version of North Korea.

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3. James Coughlin – The Town

As is almost always the case, the best performances make for the best villains. Jeremy Renner was truly fantastic as the primary dark catalyst in the film. Sure, there were bigger harmful forces at work in Doug MacRay’s story, but it was Coughlin who he truly loved enough that it often dragged him down.

Renner’s task was a tall order. Was it possible that he could play such a dark, violent and poisonous character without turning him into a flat “bad guy?” Renner pulls it off, giving a performance that displays the pain, brokenness, and even love that exists at the core of all his violence and rage. The result is a villain who feels like a real human being.


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4. Gideon Graves –  Scott Pilgrim vs. The World


Okay, so the payoff in the movie wasn’t as satisfying to me as the version in the graphic novel. Still, that’s a small concern. The movie was awesome, the books just offered a better conclusion. In both forms, Gideon Graves is one hilariously pretentious dick, and as Rushmore forever made clear, no one plays hilariously pretentious dick better than Jason Schwartzman. It’s funny, because he actually seems to be a sweet, funny guy. Plus, he also plays the hapless loser as well as anyone else, too.

Anyway, if you asked me before the movie was cast “Who should play Gideon Graves?” I wouldn’t have known who to say. In hindsight, no one should have played him but our grown up Max Fischer.

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5. Anyone Responsible for the Attempted Film Adaptation of a Video Game – Prince of Persia, Resident Evil: Afterlife, etc.

You would think that, by now, someone would have released a decent film adaptation of a video game. I’m not looking for Citizen Kane here, just an action movie that isn’t painful would be pretty satisfying.

The stories in video games themselves continue to grow more entertaining and complex, offering more than just gameplay. Surely, the law of averages would result in one mediocre movie by now right? Eh, apparently not.

To be honest, I didn’t even see Resident Evil or Prince of Persia, and for the latter, I know a handful of people who turned it off during the movie because it was turning out to be such a waste of time. Not a handful of friends watching the movie together, just random people I know who all separately couldn’t make it through the whole film. Granted, casting a guy whose father descends from SWEDISH nobility as a PERSIAN is pretty fucking stupid.

How long will we have to keep waiting for a video game adaptation that doesn’t suck? Maybe it’s just never meant to be. Mass Effect is supposed to have a movie coming out eventually, and if they fail to make a decent film out of a story/mythology as entertaining as ME, I’ll lose hope altogether.

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6. Mother Gothel – Tangled

Wow, I just realized that’s two years in a row that the Disney villain made it into the “Villains” list. They really have made a comeback since the folks from Pixar took over creatively. What wonderful news!

This character was so brilliant as a manifestation of how a domineering, manipulative, narcissistic parent forces a child into enmeshment, and arrests development. In our consumer culture, children are too often an accessory to the complete life, just another thing I add to myself to be complete and see myself as I need to. Thus, the kids can’t be themselves, they have to be molded, guilted and shamed until they reflect back to us our own fabricated self-image. It’s heavy shit, and somehow, Disney nails it without being a downer.

The fact that the Mother Gothel character gets at really deep human psychological themes while never detracting from an entertaining story is what fairy tales were all about to begin with. It’s nice to see Disney kicking ass by getting back to fairy tale style roots.

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7. The MPAA – Blue Valentine & The King’s Speech (among others)

I put this on my list a few weeks ago, but then Cinematical put it on their “Lamest of 2010” list. They explained why the MPAA was a villain this year pretty well, so I’ll leave it to them:

We saw the powerful Yael Hersonski documentary ‘A Film Unfinished’ get an R, though similar Holocaust footage from ‘The Last Days’ earned a PG-13 rating. Their appeal failed. ‘Blue Valentine’ was smacked with an NC-17 for some nudity and a clothed scene of Michelle Williams receiving oral sex – luckily their sexist-17 rating was overturned. But ‘The King’s Speech’ lost its appeal and still has an R-rating for use of the F-word, which was used as a “release mechanism” to help the King overcome a stutter; cutting one F-bomb gave ‘How Do You Know’ a PG-13 instead of an R; and ‘The Tillman Story’ lost its appeal for the language used by the soldiers in the film. To top that off, torture porn easily slipped into R ratings, and the ‘Breavement’ poster was banned for a kid holding a weapon, though Hit Girl had no problem with hers on the ‘Kick-Ass’ posters. We love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning!

[via Cinematical]

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8. Christians in Movies – Easy A


Hollywood really needs to grow up in its depiction of Christians. Especially Christian teens. Now, far be it from me to apologize for the religious right, or fundamentalism. Those fucking lunatics drive me as crazy as they drive the next guy. The thing is, why are ALL Christian teens in movies in that category?

Sure, the social dynamic of Easy A surrounding the Christian nutjobs was a familiar one in our current cultural milieu, but where were the religious people who were human beings? The lunatic religious extremists, while they represent the loudest section of the religious, are actually a tiny fraction. I knew tons of Christian teens in high school who were friendly, and accepting, and forgiving, and decent, just like… hmm, Jesus. Sure, there were the assholes who just wanted to judge others from their high horse, but my assumption was that they did that because they were insecure, weak-minded douche-bags, and if it weren’t religion they would have found something else to be dicks about.

My biggest pet peeve with this continual portrayal is that it’s just lazy storytelling. It’s like a George W. Bush joke: it’s most probably true, but it’s been done to death and amounts to a cheap, easy laugh with zero effort. It’s like when a band gets a cheap cheer by saying “This city is always our favorite one to play, you guys are amazing.” Stop buttering up the crowd and show us why we should cheer for you with an actual performance!

I say this because I enjoyed parts of Easy A. It was a fairly enjoyable ode to 80’s teen comedy. Emma Stone was pretty great as the heroine. And the messages the film sends out to young viewers is a far better than most. Granted, as one blogger put it (I’m paraphrasing), all of the characters in the film were more caricatures than actual people, so it’s not like the Christians were the only cartoonish characters. For me, it’s just that this is a gag that is really getting old.

We get it, judgmental fundamentalists are crazy and annoying. What else is new?

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9. Moriarty – Sherlock

I know, this is a movie list. Technically, Moriarty shouldn’t qualify, being that he is a character in a BBC television series (Series 2 doesn’t come out until next fall!!! Grrr). Yet, with episodes clocking in at 90 minutes a piece, with wonderful production quality, I’m counting him. Fortunately, I have run this decision past the approval board (namely, myself) and it got the green light.

While he was ever in the background, this guy was only onscreen for like seven total minutes of the third and final episode of Series One. That was enough to get him listed. Andrew Scott played the perfect onscreen foil for Benedict Cumberbatch’s modern Sherlock Holmes. Their brief time on screen together was electric, Moriarty stole the scene, as well he should have. Also, cliffhanger!

Now, comes the waiting.

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**The last entry has spoilerish content for Shutter Island and Inception.**

10. Dead Women (who now exist as dark figments in Leonardo DiCaprio’s subconscious) – Shutter Island and Inception

Mr. DiCaprio had a banner year in an already sparkling acting career.

I was 15 when Titanic came out, and at the time I lived in a house with four women. Thus, I was forced to deal with all sorts of annoying gushing and swooning over what is quite possibly the most overrated love story in cinematic history. I had a pretty low opinion of Leo for some time afterward. In my mind, he had some making up to do. Well, somehow, he’s not only managed to cover all that ground, he’s actually firmly positioned himself as one of my favorite actors, perhaps my favorite.

This year, DiCaprio’s roles were both similar in that each character was haunted by the ghost of his dead wife. The reasons and consequences were quite different, but the concept of a dead lady whispering Leo towards madness was rife with parallels between the two films. I’m not complaining, Inception and Shutter Island were hands down two of my favorite films this year. I just know that Michelle Williams and Marion Cotillard made it quite clear to me that I never want any dead people lurking around in my brain, representing my internal demons and closeted skeletons.

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side projects. [music, the many lists of 2010.]

In 2010, many artists worked on side projects. Some were most certainly something to write home about, or in this case, write a post about. Now that the internet makes it so easy for one to get her/his music heard, more and more artists are working on projects that give them another outlet for all that creative energy that makes them so awesome. As listeners and music lovers, we all get to reap the benefits!

Here are our favorite side projects this year. Some were brand new, some were work in ongoing projects, all are work we hope will continue well into the future.

1. Jonsí – Go (Jonsí of Sigur Rós)

Scott: It seems that Jonsí is simply incapable of creating music that isn’t beautiful, moving and in turns haunting and inspiring. Whether it is with Sigur Rós, with his boyfriend Alex in Jonsí and Alex (formerly known as Riceboy Sleeps), or in his solo work, everything this man touches turns into awesome.

Brian: What more can be said of Jonsí’s talent and ability to create breathtakingly beautiful music that not only can be heard and felt, but seen. Each song conjures images in my mind’s eye that try to match the beauty in the music. As Scott mentioned, now that Jonsí has three outlets for his talent, it looks like we can only try to prepare ourselves for an onslaught of aural genius.

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2. Broken Bells – Broken Bells (Danger Mouse, James Mercer of The Shins)
(Currently only $5 on Amazon MP3)

S: If there is anyone who knows how to produce a song, it’s Danger Mouse. The man has been behind so many great projects, from hip hop to indie rock. His work with artists like MF Doom, Beck and The Black Keys has been fantastic. Plus, now he is working with U2, an album that is supposedly coming along swimmingly. There have even been rumors he may eventually collaborate with Black Thought (which would be filed under: ‘news that would make my head explode’).

His work here with James Mercer, while not his best work, is certainly enjoyable. Danger Mouse appears to be a born collaborator, and the combination of Mercer’s lyrics and vocals with DM’s sensibilities is more than worth the price of admission.

B: I love The Shins. I love all of what I’ve heard of Danger Mouse’s production credits. So it should come as no surprise that when the creative force behind The Shins collaborates with one of the most talented producers in the industry, a brilliant record is the end result. James Mercer can write a melody in his sleep. Danger Mouse doesn’t seem to sleep … he only produces great albums. Scott mentioned the U2 project DM is working on. It is something to look forward to, indeed. Though, DM has shown he can cross genres without breaking a sweat and without a drop on the awesomeness scale, so I am excited to see who else (even an artist from this list, maybe?) DM will collaborate with next. I will also patiently wait for the next full length Shins record as well.

Lots of Broken Bells music videos at Vevo.

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3. Grinderman – Grinderman 2 (Nick Cave)
(Currently only $5 on Amazon MP3)

Remarkably bizarre, hilarious/disturbing music video for “Heathen Child.” (NSFW)

B: First of all, is there a better album cover from this year?

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis make music that feels like a night in a dirty, divey, bar. You’re sitting at the bar surrounded by a cast of odd characters. There’s the ironic hipster, skinny jeans, too cool for the trendier places, and then there’s everyone else. They’ve been coming here for years. As far as they are concerned, there are no other bars. So they come. Not because it’s cool, but probably because they get more love and attention from the bartender on a nightly basis than they did from their parents during an entire childhood. They’re all forgetting the past with cheap whiskey and chasing it with Pall Malls. This bar only serves two drinks: Cheap beer and cheap whiskey. Don’t think about ordering a microbrew or cocktail. Just make sure you keep the whiskey comin’. You don’t want to be sober in this place. It’d be too scary. It’s dark and loud and claustrophobic. All at once aloof and all up in your grill.

S: I agree with Brian, in that I love this album cover.

I also experience the tones he’s describing in his little bar scene describing this music. Yet, there is one overarching feeling, or perhaps it’s more undergirding, that I think he missed.

In addition to all Brian mentioned, I experience a tremendous deal of dark humor in the music. I think, like Tom Waits, most of the scariness of this bar’s motley lot is meant to amuse more than truly frighten. Like an uncle or a grandfather who shouts and cusses, but does so affectionately, Grinderman is dark and brooding, but always with a smirk.

I think a pretty good example of that is the music video we linked to above. The imagery and artwork in the video is often pretty arresting and captivating, and I think the band took that seriously. Yet, the band refused to take themselves seriously, thus they are ridiculous whenever on screen. Perhaps it’s that love and acceptance Brian mentioned about the allegorical bar, the place is loud and frightening at first glance, but in reality there is no true danger. It is actually a safe place to play and yell and cuss and jump up and down, which is exactly what this Grinderman album is.

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4. Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs – God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise

S: Ray LaMontagne is so wonderful. His music is folk and soul and country and rock all wrapped up in a lovely bearded package.

It’s more of the same with the Pariah Dogs, continuing Ray’s track record of immensely listenable albums.

B: Has Mr. LaMontagne ever made a bad record? Has he ever not had a beard? I am starting to wonder if these things are mutually exclusive. Let’s hope that Ray never shaves his beard. I’m beginning to think it holds great power.

On this record, we find Ray, brilliant and dusty voiced as usual, but with the Pariah Dogs (Dawgs?) he seems to have found his musical soulmates. I don’t know, but I feel as though this is Ray’s most cohesive album yet. Everything comes together perfectly. His brand of folkbluesoulcountry is brilliantly showcased on God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise. Do yourself a favor and listen to “This Love is Over”.

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5. Junip – Fields (José Gonzalez)
(Currently $5)

B: Here we have José’s distinctive voice and classical guitar dressed up with the addition of keyboards, bass, and drums. No surprises. It’s good. Really good.

S: Whenever I am listening to this album, I always wonder whether or not this is a one time “side project,” or José Gonzalez’s new gig. I really hope it is the latter. There will always be time for him to sit in the studio on an off day and record a song alone. We’ll never truly lose that familiar José. So, my hope is that we get more of this fuller sound from him, because the other instrumentation adds to the beauty of his music, rather than diminishing it at all.

I hope there is plenty more Junip in our future!

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6. Maximum Balloon – Maximum Balloon (David Sitek of TV on the Radio)
(Currently $4.99)

B: I was going to start by saying that “Maximum Balloon is a really great TV on the Radio record”, but thought that it would only come off as sounding like somewhat of a negative thing. It is hard to imagine the record sounding much different from a TotR record when the man behind the production of their catalog, and the man contributing to songwriting, is the brains/talent/performer behind Maximum Balloon. David Sitek, otherwise known as “that white guy in TV on the Radio”, brings the same genius of TotR to his solo record. Sure, most of the time it sounds identical stylistically to TotR, but what else should be expected? Just because it sounds like his band doesn’t make it bad, right? Of course not! Kyp Malone, the other guitar player from TotR, released his solo record last year (Rain Machine) and it sounded like a mellower version of TotR, and it was a good record.

On Maximum Balloon, each track introduces us to a different vocalist, including bandmates Tunde Apebimpe and the aforementioned Kyp Malone, as well as Karen O (of Yeah Yeah Yeahs fame) and even David Byrne! The music, of course, is awesome, and I really love how Sitek deviates by using guest vocalists. The album is funky, danceable, and full of bassy synths, programmed beats, and Sitek’s unique guitar playing. In other words, it’s a great TV on the Radio record … and that’s not a bad thing at all.

S: Nothing to add. My favorite thing about this album is the vocal guest stars Brian already mentioned. Hooray for collaboration!