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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Best of the Rest

Yeah, this is primarily a music blog, but I am an avid devourer of pop culture of all sorts, so to cap off my year end countdowns, I want to share the other morsels of entertainment that rocked my 2010.

Top 10 Movies of 2010

Now, I'm no serious movie critic, but I did see 33 of this year's movies (which I think is a personal record), and I know what I like. My list'll be populated by a few more genre films than the typical "critic's list." I've developed quite a wide range of tastes when it comes to movies (just no lame romantic comedies, please).

Let Me In
A dark, scary coming-of-age film about the connection between outcasts. It just happens to have a vampire in it, too, but this is no Twilight. In my opinion, it managed to one-up the artier Swedish original. It can be a brutal watch at points, but absolutely worth it. (Coincidently, the film's star -- Kodi Smit-Mcphee -- also co-starred in my favorite movie of 2009, The Road. He's undoubtedly the best kid actor out there)

Lived up to the hype as an original, thinking man's action movie. Plus, it's got one of those endings that people will be talking about for years.

Black swan
The most beguiling of all this year's Oscar contenders, I wasn't sure exactly what I thought of it until that stunning, operatic ending.

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part One
The truest to the book, and by far the darkest, most character driven film in the series.

My favorite straight-up action thriller of the year. More twists and turns than any other movie in 2010 and one kick-ass heroine.

How To Train Your Dragon
The umpteenth "boy and his dog" story told in the movies, but this made it fresh with stunning visuals, endearing characters, and a sharp script with plenty of heart.

It’s Kind Of A Funny Story
The "smallest" film on my list, this slice-of-life coming of age in the psych ward indie was a pleasant surprise. Very endearing.

Tron: Legacy
Most impressive visuals of the year. This brought me back to when I was about ten years old. It's all about the suits and the cars and all that cool stuff, honestly.

127 Hours
Wasn't sure how they could form an entire film around this story, but the acting and direction proved to be enough to be at turns gripping and profound.

True Grit
From setting to dialogue (some of the best dialogue of the year, for sure) this deposited the viewer so clearly in a place that it was impossible not to be entranced. Plus, Hailee Steinfeld = birth of a star.

+ a few more worth a mention:
Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, Toy Story 3, Unstoppable, Kick-Ass,

Top TV

British Invasion

I loved it last year, and adored it this year. Robert Sheehan is without a doubt my breakout star of 2010. His Nathan is a force to be reckoned with and well worth watching even if you're not a fan of genre shows. The series grew in both quality and depth this year, introducing some sci-fi inspired mystery into its already potent blend of Heroes (anti)super-heroism and creepy/funny Twin Peaks-esque plot lines.

Yeah, I'm a couple of years late on this one. I've only made it through the first two seasons (with the unbeatable, original cast), but what I've seen thus far has been the best teenage drama I can remember being put to screen. Look past the sex and drugs and romantic triangles and you've got an incredibly natural, sharply written coming-of-age story with one of the strongest ensemble casts in recent memory. And
no series this year has upset/gripped/touched me more than Skins in its final two episodes.

Quite bluntly, it took over my life this Fall (as it does every Fall, to be honest). But this year was the biggest and best yet. More controversy, more interesting contestants (bar the eventual winner, who was the definition of "bland") and a larger than life, coliseum style live show that cemented the X-Factor as appointment TV. I only hope the American version is as addicting.

And on my own Shore:

America's best series reinvented itself yet again as a twisted road trip dramedy. It was in a lot of ways the series' most inconsistent, strange season and lost a lot of steam in the middle, but at the same time I felt like the writers really tried to push the characters to new levels this year. Both the beginning and the end of the season were amongst the strongest this show's been, and that final episode stands as one of the best (if not the best) half-hour Weeds has given us so far.

United States of Tara
Tara had one of my favorite debut seasons of any show last year. The four central actors are enough to keep me watching no matter what they do. Throw in the ongoing mystery element that season two got closer to solving and I was completely hooked. Basically, this show makes me want to travel to Kansas and live with this family for a day. It's just so endearing.

The Middle
Modern Family's gotten all the love (and mostly deserves it), but my preferred Wednesday night sitcom is its companion piece, The Middle. I was a huge fan of Malcolm In The Middle when it was on the air, and this is in a lot of ways very reminiscent (in title, even). I'm a sucker for a good, light family comedy and 2010 proved that this series is one to watch. The cast is gelling, the quality's improving, and it often gets more laughs from me than its more-critically praised ABC counterpart.

Top Books

Will Grayson/Will Grayson
Two very different books this year. Will Grayson was the first book in awhile to literally make my mouth drop at one point. Strong characterization and an interesting dual-narrative format made this a standout.

The Marbury Lens
Quite simply, one of the most gripping books I can remember reading. Often times it's as close to a nightmare as you can get on the page, but the book's real power is its ability to draw you back in and stay with you after you've finished. It's a real mystery of a story, but one I'll never forget.

Top Stage

I don't often get to go see shows (unfortunately), but I managed a couple this year, and even though I've mentioned it before on the blog, this one still warrants another mention:

Billy Elliot
It's, by a hundred miles, the best show I've seen. I can't remember ever leaving a show/concert/movie feeling better than I did after this one. You'd think a show about a young boy who wants to dance would be schmaltzy and sugary -- a strictly "for the kids" affair, but like the movie they managed to retain the wit, darkness and adult subtexts. No wonder it won all those awards. I can't wait to see it again this Spring.

That's it for 2010! What do you guys think? Agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear your own lists. I'll be back in the new year with a five part tribute/review/analysis of the best band in the world, who will be celebrating their last year together in 2011...

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top 20 Albums of 2010: 2-1

2. Robyn - Body Talk Pts I-III

This was a tough one. If I were to choose my favorite tracks from the vast amount released during this project, I could easily cull together an album of the year. But I’ve decided to judge the project as a whole. Yes, there were a (very) few clunkers, but my god this woman is amazing. If Lady Gaga was he savior of pop music in 2009, then the title certainly goes to Robyn this year. The sheer amount of creativity and quality across these twenty-one tracks is something to marvel at. She is the female pop star of the year, without a doubt.


1. Foxy Shazam - Foxy Shazam

My musical discovery of the year. Following the trends of this countdown, they were a band that, previous to this, released material that wasn't something I would listen to. But with this album, they chose to go big. And there was no bigger album this year than Foxy Shazam. Taking elements from epic artists like Queen and Meat Loaf and filtering them through Eric Nally’s otherworldly howl of a voice, the band managed to create an album that does it all. Music like this is timeless. It’s melodic, blistering, bombastic and dramatic. Funny, sad, blissful. In short, it absolutely blew me away. They sound ready to conquer the world, and with any luck they will. The world deserves them.


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Top 50 Singles of 2010: 5-1

5. Scissor Sisters - Invisible Light

The group’s longest, most experimental song to date. The final minute or so, with that drug-induced, otherworldly build, is the best moment in pop this year.

4. Tinashé - Zambezi

A somewhat unknown afro-beat pop anthem that utterly captured me this year. From the coming-of-age lyrics to the bright, soaring chorus, this is a staggering achievement.

3. Florence + The Machine - Dog Days Are Over

Quite simply, it conquered the world this year. I can’t think of a more galvanizing song. Rattling drums battle it out with divine, gutsy vocals to create what can only be described as a masterpiece.

2. Robyn - Dancing On My Own

I don’t know how she did it, but she managed to return with something even better than With Every Heartbeat. This is everything I love about Robyn distilled into one song. Soaring, heartbreaking, cool, unforgettable.

1. Foxy Shazam - Oh Lord

From the moment I heard this, it was hard to imagine any song besting it this year. This was the arrival of something breathtakingly, awesomely new. They threw everything I love about music into a blender and Oh Lord was born.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top 20 Albums of 2010: 4-3

Before I get into these final albums, I’ve got to note that the top four this year were the closest they’ve ever been. I switched the order around several times before settling on this. Each, in their own right, is pretty perfect.

4. Short Stack - This Is Bat Country

In a year where many of my favorites disappointed, this upstart Aussie band, previously known for less-than-spectacular punk-pop, released the best album of the Fall. It was that rare thing that appealed to me almost immediately, melding elements of rock, pop, punk and dance into a truly addictive cocktail. My top album of the year features the best vocals of 2010, but Short Stack may very well have the best performance. There’s charisma and sleaze oozing out of every second of these songs. The production’s top notch, go-for-broke stuff. And the songs… I can’t say enough about them.


3. Scissor Sisters - Night Work

Though the pop world didn’t seem as enthused as I was, Scissor Sisters returned this year with what could be their best album to date. They’re the one obsession of mine that didn’t disappoint in 2010. In fact, as I grew to understand the album, I realized that it was better than anything I could have hoped for. Remarkably consistent, produced to perfection (again, but Stuart Price) and the ballsiest record of the year. While it may not have the singles of their debut, it’s that rare thing in 2010: an honest-to-god, don’t-skip-a-track album. They don’t come along very often anymore, but when they do it’s quite stirring.


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Top 50 Singles of 2010: 10-6

10. Darin - Lovekiller

The top ten kicks off with the biggest, cheesiest pop moment of 2010. There is no resisting the overblown goodness of this track. Darin hit it out of the park with this one. The video’s wonderfully over-the-top, too.

9. Kylie Minogue - All The Lovers

The comeback single she’s been searching for for years. It was so magical that it overshadowed everything else on the album. Her biggest late-career highlight.

8. Scissor Sisters - Fire With Fire

A soaring festival anthem that deserved more success than it found. Jake sounds his best on tracks like this. No band does melodic, radio pop better than Scissor Sisters.

7. Mcfly & Taio Cruz - Shine A Light

I never expected that, this late in their career, Mcfly could pull off a pop track like this. It hits you from the first listen and cements itself in your memory. The I Gotta Feeling of 2010.

6. Short Stack - Planets

On first listen, I didn’t think this was anything special. Then I came back to it… and back… and back. And I’m still listening to it constantly months later. Everything came together here.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top 20 Albums of 2010: 6-5

6. Marina & The Diamonds - The Family Jewels

I came full circle with Marina this year (seems to be a trend with 2010 albums). Though I didn’t mention her all that much on the blog, this album sound tracked much of the first half of this year. What initially seemed cluttered and a bit crazy sharpened into a lush, intriguing pop album the likes of which we haven’t seen in quite awhile. It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea (hell, it nearly wasn’t mine), but once it connected it connected in a big way. It’s one of the few albums I don’t seem to get tired with.


5. The Hoosiers - The Illusion Of Safety

Wow, this year’s list seems to be populated with artists that I previously disliked or was ambivalent to. I was not a fan of the Hoosiers’ first album, but as soon as they reinvented themselves as a Buggles-esque 80’s synth-pop band, I knew I had to give them a chance. What resulted was one of the best albums of the year. It’s simply flawless pop throughout, veering off in surprising directions while never straying too far from the radio. Uniformly great choruses, too.


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Top 50 Singles of 2010: 15-11

15. The Wanted - All Time Low

Just when I thought boy bands were dead, along comes this song. From the strings to the beat to the cathartic chorus, this was a massive hit for the second half of the year.

14. The Hoosiers - Unlikely Hero

Never had the success it deserved, but it represented everything that I love about the Hoosiers‘ new sound in one song. I don’t know how anybody resists that chorus.

13. Katy Perry - Teenage Dream

California Gurls started to turn me around, but Teenage Dream was the song that cemented Katy Perry as an artist worth listening to. This will be a classic for some time, I think.

12. Mark Ronson - Bang Bang Bang

The craziest confection of this past Summer, I immediately fell for this pop/electro/rap hybrid and couldn‘t stop playing it. The MNDR bits are the best.

11. Foxy Shazam - Unstoppable

Not since the days of Queen have we seen a stadium anthem this huge. It was played during the Superbowl this year. With any luck, that’s a harbinger of the level of fame this underrated band will achieve.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Top 20 Albums of 2010: 8-7

8. Darin - Lovekiller

Of all of the Swedish pop albums released this year (and there were many), this was right at the top of the list. I wouldn’t have expected that at all. I’ve always been a fan of Darin’s, but never connected to any of his albums. This, a collection of mostly-ballads, shouldn’t have been any different. But it worked. He turned the schmaltz and drama up to eleven and crafted a world-conquering sound that was more than a little reminiscent of the late, great Michael Jackson. More than anything, it ushered him into a new stage of his career. Expect more massive hooks to follow.


7. Take That - Progress

Who would have thought? This is easily the most experimental “boy band“ album I’ve ever heard. Bringing Robbie back into the fold seemed to inspire a new verve in the band’s music. I’ve never been more than a casual fan before, but this majestic batch of songs yielded a late-Fall sucker punch. It’s one of the more eclectic mixes on the countdown, overseen by producer extraordinaire Stuart Price. What could have been a disaster plays instead like 2010’s best rock-opera.


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Top 50 Singles of 2010: 20-16

20. Robyn - Hang With Me

A gentle, late summer electro gem. I didn’t think much of the acoustic version, but this is about as perfect as pop gets. One of my favorite videos of the year, too.

19. Liam Lever - Welcome To Earth

This may just actually become a real hit single in the future, but a music video was filmed this year so it makes my 2010 list. One of the best choruses of the year.

18. The Bang Bang Club - Chemistry

Another track that never took off the way it deserved to, this was a fixture of my Spring. From the scratchy vocals to the incessant chorus, this was pop music as cotton candy.

17. Mini Viva - One Touch

At once their death knell and their best single release, this song will always be a little bittersweet. I almost wish Girls Aloud would have recorded it so that it would have had the chance to be a proper hit.

16. Bjørn Johan Muri - Yes Man

The slow-burning single of the Spring. As hummable as Donkeyboys’ Ambitions was last year, this may do it one better (it was written by the same people). A song that never gets old.

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