14 February 2011


I realize that this post will make some of you think of me as foolish, yet I post anyway.

I am currently out of town, in New York, for work.  I love, love, love this city.  The reason for my post, however, has only coincidental ties to New York.  Continuing my inexplicable run of reading books with the word Girl/Boy/Man/Woman/Guy/Gal in the title, I brought two books with me: Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon and The Last Boy by Jane Leavy.  Chabon is an author I greatly admire, even if some of his books drive me nuts.  I've read most of his work, but I skipped Wonder Boys because I had already seen the movie numerous times.  The Last Boy is a recent biography of Mickey Mantle, which received across-the-board rave reviews.  I rarely read biographies, and I like the Yankees only slightly more than small pox, but I always wanted to understand why he was such a hero to so many.  After about 100 pages, it's easy to see why.

The odd parallel of these books, other than the word Boy in the titles, is the word poliomyelitis.  I had never seen this word in my life until my flight on Sunday, and I consider myself well-read.  I tend to read a few books at once (or more) and started both on the flight.  In the first twenty five pages of each book, poliomyelitis (or poliomyelitic) was used to describe children (Mickey, in The Last Boy) with serious leg problems.  For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how I had never heard that word before now.  It stuck with me for a couple of days before my dumb ass realized both authors were talking about POLIO.  Yes, polio.  I could use a shot of penicillin for my stupidity.  For some reason, I have a hard time recognizing when people shorten or abbreviate words.  And don't get me started on acronyms.  I almost always think they're real words.

Doctor Zhivago is on again in my hotel room.  No more writing.

09 February 2011

Ice Cold Mashed Potatoes

All I want to do is put a couple layers of sweats on, get under some blankets, and hibernate until the warm temperatures come back.  I'm so happy it's supposed to get back to the 50s next week.

-I really enjoyed this collection of what the movie posters would say if the Best Picture nominees told the truth.  Toy Story 3, True Grit, and Inception were my favorites, even though Inception was crap.

-I mentioned a while back that the AV Club's Random Roles series is one of my favorite features on the internet.  They published a new edition with Delroy Lindo yesterday, which is interesting as always.  Lindo stars in The Chicago Code, a new show on Fox that debuted last night.  I enjoyed it.  The reason I point out this particular interview is the attention paid to one of my favorite overlooked movies: Crooklyn.  Crooklyn seemed to fall through the cracks a bit because it wasn't like the Spike Lee movies people were used to.  It's a very personal story of a family in Brooklyn in the 70s.  The soundtrack has long been a favorite (El Pito!) and was the reason I saw the movie in the first place.  Alfre Woodard carries the movie, but that is not to demean the other performances, writing or direction, all of which are excellent.  It's just that Ms. Woodard has a tendency to bring everything she appears in up a level or two.  Such a great actress.

-I loved this talk Stephen Fry gave on Catholicism.  I don't want to offend anyone, but the Catholic Church has done plenty to offend others through the years.

-I haven't written about music much lately, as I haven't been listening to a whole lot of new stuff.  The new Iron & Wine album has been on heavy rotation, however.  While it's a complete departure from the normal Iron & Wine sound, I love it.  It's the type of album that sounds great cranked up in the car.  The other recent album with a lot of play lately is the latest from Justin Townes Earle, Harlem River Blues.  The title track, in particular, 

-Season 2 of Justified starts on FX Wednesday night.  WATCH IT!!!!!

-I watched a few more older movies this weekend.  Quick takes as follows:
   *Ryan's Daughter - Another David Lean movie that pales in comparison to his more famous epics.  It's the story of a love triangle in a small Irish town during the first World War and leading up to the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland.  Why Lean decided this story needed nearly three and a half hours to be told is a mystery.  He needed about ninety minutes.  The greater concern is the world he creates.  Two thirds of the love triangle, played by Sarah Miles and Robert Mitchum, feel like actual human beings.  As does the local priest, wonderfully played by Trevor Howard.  The other third of said triangle is one of the stiffest performances I've ever seen put to film.  Even worse is the rest of the townspeople, apparently put in place to serve as the most annoying Greek chorus of all time.  They operate as a massive caricature that goes around doing nothing independent of each other.  The fit is bizarre.  Even more bizarre is the Best Supporting Actor Oscar John Mills received for playing the village idiot.  Mills apparently went to clown school to train for his part, which is completely void of nuance.  I cringed every time he came on the screen.  If you watch this movie after reading this review, please note that your are your own village's idiot.
  *Becket - I sometimes complain about overacting in older movies (and newer - see Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood).  Sometimes I'm probably being a little harsh, but sometimes I feel like movies have simply changed for the better over the years, justifying my criticism.  But sometimes actors chew the scenery, and all I want is more.  That was the case with Becket, featuring Peter O'Toole clearly having a blast playing Henry II.  Richard Burton is great as the titular Thomas Becket, but O'Toole steals the movie in a showier part.  The movie follows the relationship between the two men as both friends and adversaries.  It's rich material for two great actors.  Worth a look.
  *The Great Dictator - This was Chaplin's first, and I think only, "talkie".  While aspects of it are hilarious, it didn't work nearly as well as a whole compared to his classic silent films Modern Times or City Lights (I haven't seen others).  I still enjoyed it.  The backstory of the movie intrigued memore than the movie itself, though.  It was released in 1940 and features Chaplin playing a version of his Little Tramp character, as well as a dictator of a fictional European country who bears a strong resemblance to Hitler.  Chaplin was early in recognizing the danger Hitler represented to the rest of the world, and he put his money and reputation on the line to make this movie as a warning to the world about Hitler.  The most powerful part of the movie, even though it doesn't fit the rest of the film, is the speech he gives at the end.  It's a wonderful speech that would be a wonderful message to any society at any point in history.  The problem is that it distracts from the rest of the movie.  Regardless, I enjoyed the speech, as well as the two hours or so that preceded it.  I highly recommend listening to the final speech, even if you don't plan on seeing the movie: 

04 February 2011

Snowy Mashed Potatoes

-I feel obligated to say it snowed the other day.  A lot.  The only time I left my place from Monday night to Thursday morning was to run up to the QuikTrip (6 blocks away) in the middle of the blizzard, as I was dying for something other than turkey sandwiches and cereal.  I was walking faster than the cars were driving, the roads were so bad.  Then again, I only saw one car before I got to Main Street.

-Since I know this blog readership extends to many television executives, I would like to give them a tip: Never allow your show to cast Will Forte in a guest role.  He is a vortex of anti-funny.  He guest starred tonight on Parks & Recreation, which went from crappy in season one to one of the funniest shows on TV in season two.  Season three has been fantastic so far, but tonight's Forte scenes slowed the show to a crawl.  He's not my least favorite SNL cast member of all-time (Armisen, then Sanz), but he's up near the top of the list.  Fortunately, Parks & Rec was still a very funny episode.  Anything Rob Lowe says cracks me up, but Andy is my favorite character.  
-If you've never seen The Thin Man, please go to your Netflix queue and move it up to the top.  It was on during one of the blizzard days, ensuring I would have a good day.  William Powell's half-drunk former detective Nick Charles is pitch perfect, especially alongside Myrna Loy as the also tipsy Nora Charles.  The shit-eating grin on their faces as they deliver their bitter sarcasm gives me the giggles every time I watch, which is fairly often.  I think it was the third time I watched it in six months.  One of my favorites.

-Two other movies I watched while stuck at home didn't work for me at all.  Army of Darkness, the third movie in the Evil Dead series, had always been the movie in that series I heard I would like the most.  I understand what they're doing with the over-the-top action and campy humor, but it's not my thing.  I can't believe the guy who directed it also did the Spider-Man movies.  And Darkman, which is awesome.

On a completely different level, I watched 3 Women, the 1977 Robert Altman film with Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek.  Having seen nothing but great reviews for it (95% at Rotten Tomatoes), I recorded it on my DVR.  Kinda wish I hadn't done that.  After reading some of the reviews, I'm convinced everyone who liked the movie was on some major hallucinogens.  All the symbolism they saw in it was just a bunch of uninteresting, delusional people being annoying for a little more than two hours.  I love most Altman movies, but this one was pretentious crap.

-In my downtime, I was also able to finish The Girl Who Played with Fire, which didn't live up to the first book in the series but stayed suspenseful.  The plot was not nearly as tight as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  The characters kept it moving, however, especially when Lisbeth Salander is involved.  The Salander-less sections were a bit too many in this installment, so I'm hoping she's in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest from start to finish.

-TGWPWF was the third book in a row that I read with the word Girl in it, in addition to The Pint Man before it.  As a result, I decided to keep with the trend and only read books with the word Girl, Woman, Man, Boy, Guy, or Gal in the title.  Quite nerdy, I know, but it gives me an excuse to read some books I've been meaning to read for years, and I think I have 6 or 7 already lined up to read.  Should be fun.  

-That picture at the top is Parker Posey in Waiting for Guffman, one of my 5 favorite comedies.  She works at Dairy Queen.  DQ makes Blizzards.  We had a blizzard the other night.  Which is really just a means for me to tell you to watch Waiting for Guffman again.  It gets funnier every time.  That could be because when my parents took my grandma, Pope, to see it in the theater, she laughed so hard we missed half the movie.  It was a lot funnier the second time I saw it, and every time since.  Christopher Guest's line at about the 40 second mark here may be the movie quote I've used more than any other:

-If you hadn't figured it out, I'm going to call the hodgepodge posts Mashed Potatoes if I don't have a real theme for them.

01 February 2011

Mashed Potatoes

-After rewatching Doctor Zhivago and Ninotchka yesterday, both about Russians, everyone in my dreams last night had a Russian accent.  Why, then, do many of the actors speak with British accents, while others give the Russian accent a go.  I always find it humorous that "serious" acting often calls for a British accent, whether the movie take place in Russia, Rome, or elsewhere.  This phenomenon is mostly a thing of the past, but it still happens.  The HBO show Rome is just one example.

-You would be correct in guessing that the last bullet point was a gratuitous excuse to put another Julie Christie picture on here.  

-I forgot to mention the aspect of Biutiful that stuck out the most: Javier Bardem's head.  I'm convinced his head is twice the size of a regular human being.  Maybe it was the lion's mane of a haircut he wore, but it looked massive to me.  It helped distract a little bit from all the terrible stuff happening in the movie.  The haircut is a huge improvement from his do in No Country for Old Men.

-Forgot to mention last week that I read Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, as historical novel based on the famed Johannes Vermeer painting.  The concept is interesting, as she researched the background of the painting and developed an "origin story" for it, to use a comic book term (possibly the first and last comic book reference to appear on this blog).  Unfortunately, the concept doesn't translate to a great book.  It loses steam fairly quickly, but at just over 200 pages, I still enjoyed it a bit.  

31 January 2011

Biutiful and Another Year

If a director's personality correlated to his or her films, Alejandro González Iñárritu would be one of the most miserable human beings on the planet.  For his family and friends' sake, I hope this to be untrue.  Through four feature films, a sense of humor has yet to be found.  I could not make it through 15 minutes of his debut, Amores Perros, as the brutality was too much for me.  Sophomore effort, 21 Grams, was depressing as could be, though still excellent.  His third film, Babel, was well-received by many, but the story felt strained to me, and its bleak outlook left me cold.  His new film, the Oscar-nominated Biutiful, may be the most unpleasant movie ever created.  While the acting is first-rate, and the photography beautiful, I would rather eat a week's worth of meals at The Olive Garden than sit through this movie again.  

Javier Bardem stars as Uxbal, for which he received a Best Actor nomination.  Uxbal endures on the fringes of Barcelona's criminal underworld, mostly working with a small-time purse/movie pirating operation involving immigrants from China and Senegal.  His family situation is complicated by his bipolar wife, so he has custody of both of his children.  After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer early in the film, he spends the rest of the time getting his affairs in order and trying to make things right for those he leaves behind.  

Miserable movies often feature nothing but unsympathetic characters, but that is not the case in Biutiful.  Uxbal somehow remains a good man, even as he participates in illegal activity.  I understand that all cannot be cheerful in the movies, and realism certainly has its place.  When a film can't let anything positive happen in a two and a half hour span, however, why would anyone care to watch?  Walking out of the nearly full theater this afternoon, very little talking could be heard.   It was like the audience had just gotten out of a funeral.  As I got to the hallway, a guy walking next to me sarcastically said, "What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon?"  As we made our way to the exit, we cataloged all of the bright spots in the movie: a birthday cake, a humorous anecdote, and the family eating ice cream.  That's it.  If you feel the need to punish yourself, by all means, go see Biutiful.

After 150 minutes of desolation, I needed something a little more lighthearted, so I went to see Mike Leigh's wonderful new film, Another Year.  With a cast of Leigh regulars, including Oscar winner, Jim Broadbent, the movie chronicles a year in the life a group of Londoners from one season to the next.  Broadbent and his wife, played by the lovely Ruth Sheen, feel like real human beings, rather than vessels to get from one plot point to the next.  Plot is secondary, as Leigh concerns himself more with creating an interesting world of characters around the couple.  

The real revelation is Lesley Manville, playing a coworker and longtime friend of Sheen's.  As a single woman in her 50s, she exudes desperation, drinking too much wine and always overstaying her welcome.  Her performance is filled with a sense of melancholy but also a glint of optimism that shines through any time she sees any sort of opening out of her dead end world.  That optimism is fleeting, as it repeatedly comes crashing down moments later.  Speculation had Manville earning an Oscar nomination, but Hailee Steinfeld's bizarre categorization as a supporting actress probably kept her from it.  It's a shame, as she deserves more recognition for this great performance.

Another Year, while lighthearted in some respects, plays across the full range of emotions, though the laughs are never cheap or unearned.  The conflict all feels real in the every day lives of this interesting group of people.  This ranks near the top of the Mike Leigh movies I've seen, all of which I enjoyed a great deal.  Leigh isn't for everyone, but if you liked Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky, Secrets & Lies, or others, you'll love Another Year.

27 January 2011

Set Your DVRs

After FX, Turner Classic Movies is probably my favorite cable channel.  Their 31 Days of Oscar schedule every February is always a favorite of mine.  It's not quite February, but they have a bunch of my all-time favorite movies playing this weekend, so the DVR will be working overtime.  It's too late to tip anyone off, but Being There and Dr. Strangelove are playing tonight, both in my top 30 movies of all time.  Here are some others I highly recommend:

-The Shop Around the Corner - 9:30AM CST Friday, 1/28 - The 1940 Ernst Lubitsch classic comedy/romance stars Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, and the great and powerful Frank Morgan.  You've Got Mail was a very loose adaptation, but please don't hold that against it.  The action takes place in a Budapest shop, with an interesting group of workers.  I could watch this one repeatedly.

-Ninotchka - 1:30PM CST Friday, 1/28 - Before checking the link at IMDB, I never knew this was also directed by Ernst Lubitsch.  Ninotchka was Greta Garbo's second-to-last movie.  While I've only seen a couple of them, apparently this was one of her few comedies.  It's hard to tell, as she and Melvyn Douglas are wonderful.  I love Melvyn Douglas.  I think I may have to break out my Being There DVD now.

-The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch - 8:30PM CST Saturday, 1/29 and 2:00AM CST Sunday, 1/30 - While TCM is airing some other good movies on Saturday (Little Big Man, Bad Day at Black Rock), these two will leave you feeling manly after the two romances I previously suggested.  The Dirty Dozen is one of those movies that makes me stop what I'm doing every time I see it on TV.  I own it on DVD, but I've seen at least chunks of it on TV so many times I can't count.  Action movie directors have been trying to emulate what Cassavetes, Bronson, Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland and all the rest did in 1967, but nothing really comes close.  Where TDD goes playful, The Wild Bunch is balls to the wall stylish action from Sam Peckinpah.  I would record it again, but this is one of the few Blu-Rays I own, so that may have to come out this weekend too.

-Doctor Zhivago - 1:00PM CST Sunday, 1/30 - David Lean is known for his epics, and Doctor Zhivago is certainly one of his most famous.  I prefer Bridge on the River Kwai and the much smaller Brief Encounter, but those movies lack something Zhivago has in spades: Julie Christie.  After Grace Kelly, I'm not sure a more beautiful woman has ever graced the screen than Ms. Christie.  

Thomas Robinson

If you're not familiar with the sad tale of Thomas Robinson, power forward for KU, take a look at Brady McCullough's story from the KC Star or Gary Bedore's from the Lawrence Journal-World, but it may get a little dusty in the room.  To summarize, Thomas Robinson's grandma passed away at the end of December.  His grandfather died unexpectedly last Sunday, leaving him with just his mother and 9-year old sister.  On Friday night, the eve of KU's biggest game of the year, he got a call from his little sister telling him their 37-year old mother died of a heart attack.  I don't know how a 19-year old kid deals with such tragedy, let alone play in a basketball game the next day.  Thankfully he has a great support system from his teammates, coaches, and their families.

Seeing this team rally around Thomas in his time of need makes you feel good about the power sports can have on people's lives.  You want to do anything in your power to help, and fortunately the NCAA is allowing a scholarship fund to be set up for his sister.  I criticize the NCAA a lot, but they really came through in this situation.

25 January 2011

The Best Show You Probably Don't Watch

ed. note: Our first guest post at TKOP, from the always tasteful Mark Czarniecki. Please take his advice and watch this great show.
DVR space is precious. My wife and I watch a lot of (HD) TV. Rarely do our DVR holdings ever dip below 90% capacity. Yet, when it comes time to make room for new shows, the one folder I can never bring myself to touch holds NBC's Community. As I write, there is a "24" next to "Community" under "My Recordings." That's 24 episodes of one show. 30 Rock has a "2." All of this is a long-winded and not very interesting way of saying that Community is the most re-watchable show on television.

The show follows a study group of unlikely misfits who have enrolled at Greendale Community College. The group's founder and leader is Jeff Winger, a cynical, fast-talking, metrosexual, 30-something egomaniac who finds himself needing another ride on the collegiate carousel in order to legally return to his law practice. Reminiscent of Vince Vaughn before he blew up (fame requires sustenance), Joel McHale brings a sharp wit and even sharper edge to the role of Jeff. We quickly learn that Jeff's moral rehabilitation is the show's central premise. There to assist in this mission are his fellow study-groupies Britta, Pierce, Shirley, Annie, Troy and Abed and his professors Senor Chang and Ian Duncan. A United Colors of Benetton troupe of brilliant characters played by brilliant comedians from yesterday (Chevy!), today (Jon Oliver and Yvette Nicole Brown) and tomorrow (Dany Pudi and Donald Glover), this group of writer-actors makes the best case for diversity since Thurgood Marshall. Community is the opposite of Friends. And thank goodness for that.

The central aim of the show's writers is to take small screen and big screen cliches and turn them on their heads. Using pop culture references, self-aware gags, physical comedy, laugh-out-loud one-liners and whimsical off-the-wall goofs, the show moves from week to week with only the thinnest of threads providing continuity. If smart sitcom subversion is all there was, I'd be a loyal follower. What moves me from fan to blogger is the accuracy of the show's imitations and the emotional connections these characters make. To the former, look no further than Season 1's "Modern Warfare" and "Contemporary American Poultry" episodes. Each episode's 24 short minutes are perfectly efficient send-ups of a dystopian action shoot-em up (with paint!) and a Scorsese-style mafia masterpiece, respectively. For characters that connect, there's Troy And Abed In the Morning. The kind of bromance Jud Apatow wishes he wrote, Troy and Abed provide some of the show's best moments both comedically and dramatically. Dany Pudi and Donald Glover are kindred spirits, operating on a wavelength only the two of them can hear. Pudi, in particular, deserves far more recognition. Jim Parsons isn't the only game in town. The 30-second T&A skits at the end of every episode are as good or better than any SNL Digital Short. It's the kind of relationship every guy pines for.

The show's weakest episodes are those that involve Jeff's romantic pursuits with regular cast members. It's not that they don't contribute to his redemption, it's that they're not required for it. Unlike Jim and Pam on The Office, there are no two characters on this show whose chemistry builds anticipation from one show to the next (save for Troy and Abed). If anything, Jeff's non-superficial love life only distracts from furthering the group dynamic. The more time this show spends sitting at the table in the library showing off each actor's talents, the better.

The most-repeated criticism of the show is that its early episodes were too mean-spirited. I don't buy it and think there are two reasons for it, both having to do with lazy television critics. First, Joel McHale's hosting of The Soup, in which he lambasts Hollywood with an acerbic, sometimes overly-petty, commentary lends itself to an easy comparison to his character on the show. Jeff's many spitfire monologues in the first half of Season 1 provide grist for this mill. While McHale clearly draws upon his schtick on The Soup, Jeff's asshole persona in the beginning of the series is kind of the point. He's a charismatic dick, who isn't cured over the length of one or even four episodes. By the end of the first season, however, Jeff's emotional and social development is plain for all to see.

The second reason I think Community is unfairly singled-out for its cynicism has everything to do with timing. The show premiered at the same time as Modern Family and the comparison was too much for armchair TV Guiders to resist. Modern Family was a surprise hit that's easy to like. However, every MF episode ends with a "Full House Moment" that tries, sometimes successfully, to extend the lesson above and beyond the realm of TV comedy. You won't find that in Community, though it's not from a lack of heart or an intention to be overly negative.

As unfounded as I find this line of criticism, I think even the critics who offered it have to admit that the show has shown nothing but sustained growth throughout its run. This is a space ship that I'm proud to say I've been aboard since day one and that I revisit often. Climb on board.

24 January 2011

A Slew of Movies

It has been so cold and snowy here in Kansas City that all I want to do is sit around watching movies or reading.  Mostly watching movies.  Here's what I saw the last few nights:

-Despicable Me - With Pixar on a streak of greatness rivaling Joe Dimaggio, other animated movies can't help but suffer in comparison. As a result, I rarely see them in theaters, either waiting for video/cable or skipping them altogether. After seeing the trailers for Despicable Me, I figured I wouldn't see it unless I was bored and HBO was showing it.  Lucky for me, Redbox had it yesterday, and I spent 90 minutes laughing hysterically.  The alternate reality where the movie takes place shares the hilarious cartoon violence I always loved in Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry.  While the two central characters and the little girls who come between them are great in their own right, the endless army of minions (pictured above) completely stole the show.  

-Buried - This thriller never got the attention it deserved when it came out in the fall with little fanfare.  I suppose the general public would not flock to see a movie that takes place almost entirely inside of a small wood coffin.  Ryan Reynolds stars as a man who finds himself buried alive inside the aforementioned coffin, and he spends the rest of the movie working to escape.  I heard a few comparisons to 127 Hours, since the central character in both is stuck in one place. Where 127 Hours resorts to twitchy camera work and lots of quick edits, Buried allows the camera to sit still at times.  The result is a feeling of claustrophobia that never goes away.  The filmmaking and the acting are both impressive.

-Date Night - This was clearly the third best of the Redbox movies I rented to console myself after the KU loss yesterday.  Tina Fey and Steve Carell work nicely together in what could have been renamed Adventures in Babysitting with Adults.  I do not mean that as a slight.  There are a lot of laughs with fun adventure and a wonderful supporting cast.  The scenes with Marky Mark had me howling, and the James Franco/Mila Kunis scene is brilliantly acted.  While it doesn't deserve any awards, you won't regret spending 90 minutes with Date Night.

-Green Zone - I hesitate to bring politics into the site, but it's difficult to discuss Green Zone without doing so.  The bad guys in this movie are so cartoonish that I wanted to dismiss them for being too perfectly constructed by the filmmakers.  They just didn't seem real.  Of course, I then realized the Bush administration did a lot of similar crap to get us into the war in Iraq.  Getting angry again, so I'm gonna stop.  Decent movie, but not one I will remember much from Matt Damon's career.

-The Life of Emile Zola and The Great Ziegfeld - It's amazing how much biopics have changed in the last 75 years.  These two movies won Best Picture for 1937 and 1936, though neither one gives much of a nuanced portrait of its subjects.  The Great Ziegfeld is a love letter to Florenz Ziegfeld, producer of the famed Ziegfeld Follies, among other things.  While they do not make him out to be a saint, the filmmaker's opinion of Ziegfeld is plain from the beginning.  There are some grand set pieces that are beautiful and clearly cost a ton of money to make, but they feel thrown in as part of another movie.  Fortunately, the cast, including three of my favorites, William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Frank Morgan, make the bulk of the movie fun to watch.  Mr. Deeds Goes to Town should have taken home Best Picture that year.  Then again, five Frank Capra movies would have won Best Picture in the 30s if it were up to me.  Maybe six.

The acting in The Life of Emile Zola feels like something out of an SNL sketch making fun of how over-the-top actors used to be.  Emile Zola DID lead an interesting life, but I found myself laughing at the actors more often than not.  If you want to see a great movie from the same year, get The Awful Truth, which is intentionally funny.

-Suspicion - I didn't think it could happen, but I finally found an Alfred Hitchcock movie I didn't like, as well as a crappy performance from Cary Grant.  The less said about this one, the better. If Cary Grant isn't my all-time favorite actor, he's probably second behind Jimmy Stewart.  His cartoonish performance in Suspicion distracted me so much, I hardly noticed how great Joan Fontaine is.  Guess I should watch North by Northwest or Holiday or His Girl Friday again, just to get Cary back in my good graces.

20 January 2011

The King's Speech

With approximately 8 inches of snow falling on Kansas City this afternoon, the entire city apparently let employees go home at the same time, creating a brutal drive home.  My commute is normally thirty minutes, which has been stretched to nearly two hours in similar weather.  A movie theater happens to be down the street from the office, so I decided to catch The King's Speech and let the traffic clear.  Excellent decision.

The plot of The King's Speech is the stuff Hollywood executives dream about: a speech therapist helps a member of the British royal family in the 1930s and 40s overcome his stutter.  Exciting stuff, right?  I'd love to see someone piece together clips from the movie into a fake action movie trailer.  All kidding aside, the movie works on all levels, with a surprising sense of humor complementing the history.  Colin Firth deservedly received most of the plaudits for his outstanding performance as the Duke of York.  His stutter never seems forced, and he brings a unique humanity to a seemingly stuffy person.  The Duke and his unorthodox speech therapist, Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush, do not have the type of Royal/commoner relationship normally seen in movies.  Logue becomes a friend, as well as his instructor, even chastising his charge at times.  Rush offers a perfect counterpart to the serious Duke, adding a sense of levity that elevates the movie above most period dramas.  Both actors deserve the Oscar nominations they are almost certain to receive next week.  Helena Bonham Carter is also a favorite for nomination.  While she used to be the queen of the period drama, her parts anymore all seem to be oddballs that fit her marriage to Tim Burton nicely.  Good to see her in something normal again.

18 January 2011

The Pint Man & The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

One of the requests received for new topics is a list of my favorite books from 2010.  While I generally try to keep a pace of a book a week, last year I barely read a book a month.  Every other book I read in 2009 was brilliant, but 2010 found me in a reading rut, where nothing really wowed me.  Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard are my fallback writers, as I try to balance any heavier reading with one of their thrillers.  They ended up being the highlights of my reading year.

Fortunately, the new year changed my fate on the reading front.  Long-time Sports Illustrated readers know Steve Rushin primarily for his witty columns, always seeing things from a different angle than expected.  Rushin leaving SI left a hole in my reading life.  Lucky for me, his hiatus (he's back at SI with a weekly column) resulted in the very clever The Pint Man.  

The Pint Man follows Rodney Poole, an unemployed guy in his mid-30s who spents most of his time at his favorite local pub.  As a spoilerphobe, I hate to give away too much of the plot, but plot is secondary to wordplay.  The story moves along nicely, but Rushin's love of language comes out in Rodney, who can't help but break down every sentence he hears or sees.  My only concern in recommending this book is that it could possibly be so perfectly suited to me that others will not share my enthusiasm.  My brother gave me the book for Christmas and told me the protagonist and I share a lot of similarities.  Thankfully, I am employed and do not go to the bar every night.  Beyond that, Rodney and I do have a lot in common, most notably with a shared sense of humor.  At times I wanted to punch the guy for being so stubborn, something none of my friends and family would ever do to me, though they may be tempted at times.  I hope Rushin's return to Sports Illustrated does not preclude him from writing more novels.  And soon.

Book #2 of 2011 scarcely could have been more different from book #1.  I like variety in the books I read.  I generally shy away from reading books that achieve a lot of mainstream popularity, thanks mostly to my attempt at reading one of those awful Dan Brown novels. My mind should be more open, but Angels & Demons is next to unreadable.  After much trepidation, I finally started The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  My only problem with the book is the fact that I kept having to put it down and do other things.  The hype, for once, is warranted.  Again, I do not care to give away too much of the plot, affectionately referred to in my family as "pulling a Mr. Limpet". The unraveling of the main mystery, as well as a family's history, kept me enthralled from start to finish and has me seriously contemplating waiving my usual policy of not reading the same author back-to-back.  I suppose I will finish a couple of the books I'm reading now before I pick up The Girl Who Played with Fire.  Not likely, though.  I want to go further into the lives of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander right away.  A trip to the bookstore tomorrow is probably in the offing.

Here's hoping book #3 can hold a candle to the first two.

06 January 2011

127 Hours

Is there a rule that the Oscar winner for Best Actor/Actress does not come from the best movie of the year?  From everything I read, Colin Firth is the favorite to win Best Actor for his performance in The King's Speech, which is apparently an excellent movie.  Assuming the hype about the movie is correct, it would be an exception.  Each of the last five winners of Best Actress and Best Actor has come from a movie I consider to be not much better than average.  In fact, it goes way past five years.  If James Franco wins for 127 Hours, that trend would continue.

I caught a post-work showing of 127 Hours today, because it was apparently the last time it will play in the Kansas City area before the Oscars.  While his performance as Daniel Desario throughout the 18 episodes of Freaks and Geeks (my all-time favorite show) always came across as natural, but James Franco makes Desario look like an amateur compared to Aron Ralston in 127 Hours.  The intensity of his performance gets the most attention, and for good reason given the fact that he cuts his friggin' arm off.  It would be a mistake, however, to look past the humor in his performance.  Even in Ralston's darkest moments, Franco keeps a touch of levity when necessary.  I'm sure this has to do with the real Aron Ralston's personality, but I can't help but think a lesser actor would have played it with the straightest of faces.

With about 98% of screen time, Franco clearly owns the movie.  Unfortunately, Danny Boyle decided that wasn't enough.  Rather than building tension with anything basic and real, he relied heavily on gimmicks, most egregiously by splitting the screen into threes time after time after time.  It distracts from the built-in tension.  I found myself shifting in my seat in discomfort, not from Ralston's ordeal, but from Boyle's direction.  Regardless of my problems with Mr. Boyle, 127 Hours is still worth a watch.

Sharing Is Caring

With less time to write tonight, thanks to getting home late from an easy, yet fun KU victory over UMKC, sharing some favorite links of the last couple of weeks is on tonight's agenda.  My goal is to post here once a day Sunday through Thursday, with the occasional Friday and Saturday posts.  Late in the evening seems to be my peak time.  Enjoy:

-My favorite links of the week are easily the James Van Der Beek clips at Funny or Die.  The lampooning of his character on Dawson's Creek is hilarious, even though I never saw a second of the show.  While the Van Der Memes were clever, Asshole for Hire had me rolling.  Hopefully Dilf Khakis lives up to the first two videos later this week.

-One of my favorite recurring features on the internet is The AV Club's Random Roles.  The interviewer goes through an actor's resume and asks about a sampling of movies/TV shows in which they appeared.  Last week they interviewed Jon Lovitz, and it was another winner.  I highly recommend checking out some of the past Random Roles subjects if you are not familiar with the series.

-These Toy Story 3 "For Your Consideration" posters are absolutely brilliant.  I haven't seen close to everything this year, but Toy Story 3 is my favorite 2010 release.  The best movie I saw this year was last year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner, The Secret in Their Eyes.  Add it to your Netflix queue.  I'll be writing more about it in the future.

-One of my favorite movies is The Apartment, Best Picture winner from 1960, directed by the immortal Billy Wilder and starring Jack Lemmon, Fred MacMurray, and Shirley MacLaine.  A writer at Cinematical recently wrote a nice piece in their Shelf Life series, checking on how The Apartment holds up after 50 years.  While I find the writing insightful, my opinion couldn't be much different in regard to the What Doesn't Work section.  Pretty much everything he talks about in that section is correct, but it also outlines so much of what I love about the movie.  It's about a bunch of very flawed characters, most of whom seem like real, fleshed out human beings.  Time for me to watch it again.  It will be featured prominently whenever I get my list of things that get better every time I watch/listen to/read them.

-Linda Holmes writes NPR's Monkey See blog, and I could just recommend that you add her to your RSS feed, as she is essential reading for the pop culture lover.  Go ahead and do that, but be sure and check out her 50 Wonderful Things of 2010 as well.

-My brother mentioned that the free Girl Talk album All Day is one of his favorites of 2010.  I finally got it, and he's got a point.  It's a lot of fun.  Download here.

04 January 2011

Favorite Songs of 2010

While I'm one of the only people I know who still buys CDs and tries to listen to albums in their entirety, I realize most people listen song-to-song now thanks to the wonders of MP3s and playlists.  Hopefully you find a gem or two here that you were not aware of before now.  My absolute favorite songs are at the top of this list, but the ranking changes hour-to-hour past the first five or so.  I'll number the top 20, just for fun, and comment as I see fit beyond that:

1) Beach House - "Take Care" - As I wrote last night, "Take Care" would be at or near the top of this list.  It's a certainty to find its way onto hundreds of playlists for many years to come.
2) Cee-Lo Green - "Bright Lights, Bigger City" - Maybe "F**k You" suffers here for being played too much in a short period of time, but when Cee-Lo's The Lady Killer came out in early December, this was the song I couldn't get past.  I blame it completely for not really listening to that album.  It feels like I should be readying myself for a night on the town every time those opening synths kick in.  I can almost guarantee this song will be popping up in a popular movie and/or tv show by summer.

3) B.o.B. - "Ghost in the Machine" - I said enough about B.o.B. yesterday.
4) Flo Rida - "Club Can't Handle Me" - If someone told me last January that a Flo Rida song would be my #4 song of the year, I might have stopped laughing by February.  I dare you to not have a good time listening to this song.  Puts a smile on my face every time.  
5) Lissie - "Little Lovin'" - I only know this song because it's the theme song of one of my favorite TV shows, Justified (FX is replaying season one starting Saturday night), based on one of my favorite literary characters, Raylan Givens.  The song is a slow-burner and really fits the show nicely.  Please watch Justified, so I can watch more than two seasons.
6) Aloe Blacc - "I Need a Dollar" - Apparently this is also a TV theme song (HBO's How to Make It in America), though my brother had to tell me that after I sent him a clip of Aloe Blacc playing this song with The Roots on Jimmy Fallon a few weeks ago.  It's been in constant rotation ever since.  It's all about the "Hey Hey" throughout the song.  Since I can't figure out how to post a non-Youtube video, the clip is linked above.
7) Cypress Hill featuring Marc Anthony & Pitbull - "Armada Latina" - Thank you, Eli.  When Eli was in town from DC earlier this year, he played this song for a car full of people who all kinda went nuts.  I was a big Cypress fan in high school and into college, but I had no idea they were still making music.  I'm not normally a fan of sampling legendary songs, "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" here, but they do it beautifully on this track.  
8) Jonsi - "Go Do" - Covered yesterday.
9) Corinne Bailey Rae - "Closer" - Just a sexy, sexy song.  
10) Kanye West - "Power" - No matter how many times I hear it, I can't get sick of this song.
11) Janelle Monae featuring Big Boi - "Tightrope" - My body involuntarily starts moving as soon as the hand claps and guitar begin the song.  
12) Michael Franti & Spearhead - "Hey Hey Hey" - Franti's mix of reggae, hip hop, and positivity never gets old for me.  If I listened to a Franti song every morning on the way to work, it would probably improve my daily mood.  New experiment starting tomorrow.  Can't wait to see them again in concert, especially since I missed them this summer.
13) Phosphorescent - "It's Hard to Be Humble (When You're from Alabama)" - Such a jaunty tune with those horns.  It gives me a nasty case of the head bobs.  I'm not much for lyrics, but I love the middle verse here.
14) Darker My Love - "Backseat (Heaven Loves a Driver)" - Also covered yesterday.
15) Laura Bell Bundy - "Giddy on Up" - Country haters can skip this one, though you may want to check out the video on mute.  I promise her looks are not the reason I love this song.  The fact that it sounds like a great Dolly Parton song explains it.  I thought it was a Dolly cover I was unaware of the first time I heard it, and I love me some Dolly.
16) Leon Russell & Elton John - "If It Wasn't for Bad" - Elton takes a backseat vocally, but his piano is all over it.  Great chorus and an all around fun song.
17) Zac Brown Band - "Let It Go" - My only disappointment with the excellent ZBB concert at Sprint Center in November was them not playing "Let It Go".  I didn't mind too much.
18) Morning Benders - "Cold War" - Also covered yesterday.  What I didn't mention was hearing the Morning Benders song "Excuses" elegantly used in a new 15 second commercial for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  I know a lot of people object to "selling out", but if you're going to do so, do it for something as delicious as Reese's.  Give it a watch:

19) Big Boi featuring Cutty - "Shutterbugg" - After years of teasing, we finally got a solo album from one of our Outkast heroes, with this being the highlight.  The album got a bit lost in the shuffle for me, but this song stayed in the rotation all year.
20) Midlake - "Acts of Man" - With so many upbeat songs, I had to end the top 20 with a downer.  Midlake's last album, The Trials of Van Occupanther, was a favorite of mine in 2006, and I had been eagerly anticipating their next effort.  The album did not live up to expectations, but Acts of Man did.  Nice and depressing.

Here are a bunch more, without the burden of a numerical ranking:

-Robyn - "Time Machine"
-David Byrne & Fatboy Slim with Florence Welch - "Here Lies Love" - This is a very strange album covering the life of Imelda Marcos.  The opening track, however, sounds a bit like a Celine Dion song run wild, which I truly mean as a compliment.  Florence nails it.
-Sleigh Bells - "Rill Rill" - My favorite track from an oddly fun album.
-Vampire Weekend - "Giving Up the Gun" - While they didn't live up to a near-perfect debut album, Contra holds up very well on its own.
-Cee-Lo Green - "F**k You" - So, so fun.
-DJ Khaled featuring T-Pain, Ludacris, Snoop, & Rick Ross - "All I Do Is Win" - The KU band plays this at every home basketball game (wouldn't exactly fit at the football games this year), and everyone who knows it throws their hands up at the right part.  My favorite new part of the games this year. 
-Eminem & Lil Wayne - "No Love" - I wanted to hate this song because of the sample, but I simply couldn't.  Both guys are on fire.
-Zac Brown Band featuring Jimmy Buffett - "Knee Deep"
-Little Big Town - "The Reason Why" - I'm a sucker for big harmonies in country music, and Little Big Town gives me a lot of what I love.  The album was a bit disappointing, though.
-Easton Corbin - "The Way Love Looks" - Apparently this is the country section of the list.  I'm still convinced this is George Strait singing under a different name like in the classic movie Pure Country.  Seriously, I love that movie.
-Gorillaz featuring Gruff Rhys and De La Soul - "Superfast Jellyfish" - Makes me laugh and catchy as hell.
-B.o.B. featuring Janelle Monae - "The Kids"
-Nelly - "Just a Dream" - If only because it got me listening to old Nelly again and reminiscing about college.  
-She & Him - "Thieves" & "In the Sun" - This album seemed to get ripped by a lot of people who liked the first one, but the first two tracks were better than anything on Volume One.  
-Robert Randolph & the Family Band featuring Ben Harper - "If I Had My Way" - I'm more than a little excited to see RRFB for the first time in 5 years on January 21st.  They're right up there among my favorite live acts.
-Grace Potter & the Nocturnals - "Paris (Ooh La La)" - I seem to have a conflict every time they come to town, which really pisses me off.

Time for some special categories:
-Johnny Cash - "Aloha Oe" - The well of Johnny Cash archives will apparently never dry up, as they somehow keep finding gems like this one.  It's a beautiful arrangement of a traditional song.   It'll choke up even the toughest JC fan.  Maybe that's just me trying to make myself feel better, but I'm sticking to it.  Gorgeous song.
-Preservation Jazz Hall Band with Paolo Nutini - "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" - This comes from the benefit album for the Preservation Jazz Hall Band in New Orleans, so go buy it now!  Jim James, Ani Difranco, Merle Haggard, and others contribute, but this is the big winner for me.  Sounds like something straight out of the 1920s.
-Kris Kristofferson - "The Winner" - Another compilation song, this one from the Shel Silverstein tribute album Twistable Turnable Man.  Kristofferson's reading should win him a Grammy if they have any idea what they're doing.  Since we all know they don't, I'm pretty sure he didn't get a nomination.  His voice fits the well-known Silverstein poem like a glove.
-K'Naan - "Wavin' Flag - World Cup Remix" - Since this song came out in 2009, I had to use the remix to cheat and get it on the list.  I'm sure this is the song I listened to most in 2010, and it will be something I listen to daily for years to come.  I played it on repeat the entirety of my 30 minute drive to work the morning the World Cup opened in June, and I struggled to control the smile on my face the rest of the day.  I don't even have to listen to it now for it to stretch another smile across my face.

I apologize for any issues with the formatting of this blog.  I'll get working on that soon.  Now give me some songs to listen to in the comments, please.

03 January 2011

My Favorite Albums of 2010

Let me preface this by saying that these are my favorite albums of 2010, not the best.  I don't know what the best albums are, nor do I believe anyone does.  There is simply too much out there that I don't have time to hear.  And, of course, my favorites might be utter crap through your ears, while yours may sound like a planeful of screaming kids to me.  Especially if you like Nickelback.  

The other caveat is I expect this list would look different if I were to redo it in February and again in April.  I picked up a bunch of new albums this week thanks to the sweet MP3 sale at Amazon right now.  Those might find there way on this list after a few more listens.  Without further ado:

1) B.o.B. - B.o.B. Presents the Adventures of Bobby Ray - I bought this CD this summer because I had heard some good things about it, but mostly because it was on sale at Best Buy. My expectations were minimal. The one song I already knew, hit single "Airplanes", made me think B.o.B. was just going to be another pop/rap artist I would listen to a few times and ignore. After two songs, all preconceptions were gone. B.o.B. is a rapper, but more in the vein of Andre 3000 and Cee-Lo, as he has more of a sing-songy quality to his vocals. This style fits album opener "Don't Let Me Fall" perfectly, as he effortlessly alternates between rapping and singing. "Nothin' on You" follows, with guest Bruno Mars taking the singing parts, in one of my favorite love songs in a long time. Every song on the album is high quality, but I want to get through this before the night is over, so time to start skipping tracks, even though I never do that when I listen to this one.

The first time I heard "Bet I", it sounded like something they'd play at The Hawk in Lawrence (tip your servers and bartenders well, especially my cousins Sam, Grace, & Kelsey), with the college kids all going nuts. Those songs usually get on my nerves (hello, Souljah Boy), but every time I hear "Bet I" a giant smile crosses my face. Great beat, fun lyrics, and a catchy chorus gets me every time.

"Ghost in the Machine" goes back to the style of "Don't Let Me Fall", with a simple piano intro leading into a synthesizer loop (I think) that plays throughout, before the song really begins. The melancholy feel makes it my favorite track on the album. Then we come to "The Kids", my other favorite track. KCK native Janelle Monae guests on this Vampire Weekend "cover". It's more a reimagining than a cover, but both B.o.B. and Janelle bring an element of weirdness to an already fun song, turning it into something great. Maybe my love of Ms. Monae clouds my judgment, but I can't imagine anyone not liking this song. Okay, maybe you, Dad.
Enough about B.o.B. for now, but give this album a shot.

2) Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - I'm pretty tired of hearing about Kanye at this point, but I will never tire of hearing his music. The official release happened in December, but he released songs as early as June, making for a massive buildup. The buildup did nothing to dampen anyone's enthusiasm, as it seems to be on 98% of the year-end lists I've seen. The enthusiasm is warranted. Between "Power", "Runaway", "Lost in the World", and "All of the Lights", some of Kanye's best songs in a remarkable career are here. Then we have the Nicki Minaj verse from "Monster" that overpowers everything on the album. On a drive to the Lake of the Ozarks last month, I played "Monster" for Fletch and Quance, who immediately made me go back to the beginning of her verse again. It's absolutely jaw-dropping. The fact that she does so on a song with Kanye, Rick Ross, and Jay-Z is amazing for someone who didn't have an album out a month ago.

3) Jonsi - Go - Anyone who has seen the Icelandic band Sigur Ros in concert understands my love of that band and their brilliant/crazy/crazy-brilliant frontman Jonsi (pronounced like Yon-see). They have a sound that is difficult to compare to anyone, since they don't sound like anyone else. They sing in a mixture of English, Icelandic, and something they made up called Hopelandic. Regardless of how weird it is, it's beautiful music. Jonsi's first solo effort brings a little more fun and energy to the more subdued yet intense Sigur Ros sound. That is apparent from the first moments of opener "Go Do". That weird energy permeates from start to finish. I only wish I could have caught his show in Lawrence this past spring.

4) Zac Brown Band - You Get What You Give - If you think I'm going to try to find any similarities between Zac Brown Band and the rest of my top ten, you're nuts. ZBB couldn't be much different from the rest if they tried. Their debut album, "The Foundation", features some of my favorite country singles of the last few years, especially "Where the Boat Leaves From" and "Toes". Strong debuts are often followed by flops, so I tried to keep my expectations low for this one. My worries were obviously misguided. Zac Brown Band doesn't really fit the country prototype, as they veer from a Jimmy Buffett-esque sound to a jam band sound to a backwoods feel from one song to the next. There's no need to pigeonhole them, since the band can play, and they're rolling in catchy tunes. Jimmy Buffett guests on one of the many highlights here, "Knee Deep". The big single is the other collaboration, "As She's Walking Away" with Alan Jackson. While both songs might be seen as record company-mandated sales boosters, it doesn't matter since the songs are so damn good. For the sake of brevity, "Let It Go" and "Colder Weather" are two of my other favorite tracks.

5) Beach House - Teen Dream - This album haunts me. The whole album is tremendous, but closing track "Take Care" singlehandedly puts it in my top five. I haven't put a list together of my favorite songs of the year, but it's a good bet to take the top spot. They brilliantly meld feelings of longing, heartbreak, and hope into six minutes that somehow take me to another place every time I hear it.

6) Morning Benders - Big Echo - I'm a sucker for what I like to call California music. Even if it doesn't come from California, some music sounds like you should be listening to it on a beach, and that applies here. They mix elements of 60s pop with indie rock with sublime results. It was a favorite from the moment "Excuses" opened the album. The below video of Morning Benders performing "Excuses" with a bunch of their friends is really cool. My favorite track, however, is "Cold War", which clocks in at one minute, forty-four seconds. Oh, how I love a catchy sub-two minute song. I'm a little pissed at myself for not putting this one in the top 5, but I don't know which one I would bump.

7) Robyn - Body Talk - Swedish dancepop is not typically my thing, but years of strong reviews finally convinced me to buy this one in November, and I played it more than anything but Kanye for the last month of the year. My experience with it was as a full album, rather than in the three EPs she released throughout the year before putting them together into one package. My favorite part of the album is, without question, her use of DeLorean in the chorus of "Time Machine". Awesome. There's a lot of fun wordplay here to go with all the catchiness. I love the Snoop collaboration "U Should Know Better", as well as album opener "Dancing on My Own", which sounds like it could be a remix of a late 80s Debbie Gibson/Tiffany song.

8) Wild Nothing - Gemini - Like the Beach House album, this one is all about feel. One of my favorite bloggers, Whitney Matheson of Pop Candy, described this as "shimmering summer make-out music", and I had to get it. It's definitely music for a lazy day. I look forward to seeing them in Lawrence next month.

9) Darker My Love - Alive as You Are - The only crappy thing about seeing Darker My Love open for Delta Spirit in November is the fact that KU had a basketball game that night, causing Huntley and me to miss the beginning of their set. Having not heard a note of their music before the show, I felt no need to hurry. I've been kicking myself ever since. I keep hearing The Byrds, with a little more focus on the rhythm section, every time I play this album. Listen to "Backseat (Heaven Loves the Driver)" and let me know what you think.

10) Janelle Monae - ArchAndroid - Concept albums aren't normally my thing, but Janelle may have convinced me otherwise. Back-to-back tracks "Cold War" and "Tightrope" floored me the first time I heard the album and kept me coming back for more. Ms. Monae can do little wrong in my eyes.

Laziness and sinus congestion will keep me from commenting on the rest of the top 20, but I will be back soon with a post on my favorite songs of the year. Here are my next 10 albums, which are sort of in order:

Chief - Modern Rituals
Vampire Weekend - Contra
Michael Franti & Spearhead - The Sound of Sunshine
LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
Phosphorescent - Here’s to Taking It Easy
Jamey Johnson - The Guitar Song
Local Natives - Gorilla Manor
Besnard Lakes - Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night
Delta Spirit - History From Below
Easton Corbin - Easton Corbin

I'd love to hear about everyone else's favorites for the year.