Archive for movies

(the obligatory) Best Of ’08

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 7, 2009 by amson

It’s a little late but still apropos to the flipping of the calendar.  Here’s my “best of” list for 2008- I’ll cover my favorite music, TV, books, podcasts, movies, and games of the past year:

Best Music/ Album/ CD of 2008

For Emma, Forever Ago

For Emma, Forever Ago

This was an easy pick for me, which is unusual because I normally don’t settle on one album very easily.  The irony of this pick is that the album was released in 2007 by an independent label and then re-released in February 2008 “to the masses”.  After several listens I pretty much had decided that it would take an opus from a contender to knock this album from the spot of my favorite of 2008.

And that album is:

For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver

This unknown artist took me completely by surprise last winter.  I had heard several clips of these songs through the All Songs Considered Blog written by Bob Boilen at NPR, but until I downloaded the complete album I could have no idea how this collection of finely crafted songs could impact my musical palette.

To generalize, it’s folk music, but it’s a whole hell of a lot more than that.  There’s a haunting aspect of the songs and their feel.  There’s ephemeral moments that I wish would last forever, and at times the lyrics are sung in such a way and with such harmony with the music that I’m almost moved to tears.  No matter how many times I hear these individual moments or the disc as a whole, it never affects me any less.  Bon Iver runs the gamut of emotions here, from soaring moments of seeming exaltation to clear pain and suffering.

This is a lovely album, a powerful album, and a collection that should be heard by all!

Go see the Metacritic entry for this album.

Runners Up for Album of the Year: (in no special order)

Atmosphere- “When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold

Slug & Ant are back, with another solid hip-hop album- this one about being a father… complete with nursery chimes and electric steel slide guitars!  Yep!

John Mellencamp- “Life, Death, Love, Freedom

Mellencamp is quality.  He’s an honest, emotional, and gifted songwriter and storyteller- definitely one of the greatest rockers of all time, and this album helps that claim.

Conor Oberst- “Conor Oberst

His first album minus the “Bright Eyes” moniker.   This is a great romp- with fun singalongs, terrific melodies, and fun chorus’.

My Morning Jacket- “Evil Urges

The Peanut Butter Pudding Surprise does not work perfectly well, but it doesn’t fall on its face either.  The bearded and long haired boys are back and just as musical and energetic as ever.

Okkervil River- “The Stand Ins

A new artist to me, these literate songsmiths are adept musicians and lyricists.  Great melody, fierce satire, and rocking rock songs!

The Mountain Goats- “Heretic Pride

Another more-than-solid effort from John Darnielle (& Co.) that returns the subtle lyricism and gentle guitars that have made them (him) so good for so long!

Best TV Series of the Year (not necessarily aired in 2008, but I watched it in 2008)

The Wire

The Wire

The Wire (HBO)

This show has left a mark upon me.  It’s tainted how I perceive every other television show I watch- quite frankly, nothing else compares.  It’s sad that this show is over, because it was powerful, deep, well acted, intense, well written, inspiring, thought provoking, and so much more…

I don’t know if there’s ever been a villain TV character that has garnered as much love as Omar Little.  I don’t know how much more polarizing a guy like Jimmy McNulty could ever be- sometimes he was loved, and most of the time he was despised by all of those around him (including the audience).  Detective Lester Freamon was a likable guy, one who I think most viewers respected and rooted for.  Even supporting characters were front and center most of the time- with just as powerful and important roles as the “stars”.  I could go on and on… but with this show, “all the pieces matter”!

If you like good television, watch this show!!  I’m not a fan of crime dramas and I don’t watch much actual TV, but this show hooked me from the start.  So sad that it has to be over…

Runners Up for Best TV Series of the year (in no particular order)

Totally Rad Show– (free downoad from Revision 3 or on iTunes) It’s 3 totally rad dudes who review movies, videogames, tv, and comics.  Hilarious, intelligent, informative, and well produced!  If not for The Wire, this could very well have won the top spot- despite the fact that it’s not a “true TV show”!

Fareed Zakaria GPS– a new show on CNN (also available in podcast form) that involves host Fareed Zakaria interviewing politicians both foreign and domestic.  He includes roundtable discussions that reflect a worldly view of politics and global affairs.  I like Mr. Zakaria, he’s a tremendous scholar and more than adequate interviewer.

Firefly– can’t believe I missed this show a few years back.  It’s “sci-fi meets western”.  It’s almost perfect- with great dialogue, cool sci-fi effects and great atmosphere.  There are well done and well reasoned action scenes, great characters, and an interesting and easy to follow storyline.

Best Book of 2008

The Post American World

The Post American World

(I have a confession to make- as far as book reading went, it was a slow year for me in 2008.  I only read 3 full books.  I think I spent a lot of time paying attention and reading about the election, the economic crisis, preparing myself to say good riddance to GW, and also played more video games this fall than usual…)

The Post American World by Fareed Zakaria

By no means am I an expert on foreign relations, foreign economic policy, globalization, emerging national powers, or history.  But I will state this- Fareed Zakaria is brilliant!  In this amazing book, he lays out the foundation for what this planet will look and feel like once American domination in world affairs plateaus or recedes.  His anecdotes and explanations are surprisingly tangible, informative, interesting, and powerful.  He knows his stuff- that’s for damn sure.  And he knows how to convey this new way of thinking in a digestible manner.  I know one thing, America better get itself together or China, India, Brazil, and others are more than ready to take our place as preeminent world power. (Note: Zakaria makes this list twice, the only person/ thing that can claim such status this year!!)

Runners Up for Best Book of 2008

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

Weather you’re for or against Obama, this is a worthy and insightful look into him as a person as well as a politician.  (Read my review from late 2008)

Moyers On Democracy by Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers is one of my favorite and most respected political/ social commentators.  His book is a collection of speeches and addresses he’s given over the years- and while it is very good, it can tend to be a bit repetitive.  Very good!

Hot, Flat, & Crowded by Thomas Friedman (I haven’t read this yet, but Friedman is one of my favorite authors and columnists, so I’d be surprised if this book were to disappoint me.)

Best Podcast(s) of 2008 (No clear Winner for’08)

I listen to many  podcasts each week, and the simplest way to judge my favorites seems to be to select those which I “skip” the least.  In other words, some days I find myself not necessarily wanting to listen to a particular show.  I’ve listed those from my listening routine that I skip the least…

Slate’s Political Gabfest– Emily Bazelon, John Dickeson, and David Plotz do a terrific job of summarizing the previous weeks political news.  There’s always good insight, intelligent humor, great discussion and argument, and even lighthearted “cocktail chatter”!

NPR’s All Songs Considered– I love NPR.  Bob Boilen is a great music commentator.  They play great new music.  What more is there to like!?

Xbox Live’s Major Nelson Radio– Larry Hyrb (gamertag: Major Nelson) works for Microsoft on the Xbox Live team.  He shares weekly updates and information about Xbox games and news.  Perfect!

NPR’s It’s All Politics– Ken Rudin and Ron Elving talk about the week’s political news.  It’s humorous, short, and well informed.  Must not miss!

FORA.tv Audio Program of the Week– Fora.tv is a great sight to watch seminars, speeches, panel discussions and other educational events from such institutions as The Brookings Institution, Hoover Institution, and C-SPAN.  I’m always pleasantly surprised by what I can learn here…

On The Media– A program from radio station WNYC that offers great news and information from the world of media- such as reports on how media affects society, how it is consumed and delivered, as well as discussions of past, present, and future media relations and anecdotes.  Oh, “and edited by Brooke…”

Best Movie of 2008

(Another disclaimer: I don’t watch a lot of movies.  I didn’t watch many in 2008 that were actually released in 2008.  Because of this, I’m going to list two movies- neither was necessarily released in 2008.  Sorry.)

The Visitor

The Visitor

The Visitor– a good story about 3 strangers who live together and become friends despite the fact that 2 of them have a secret… (I’m not interested in spoiling)  It’s a story filled with emotion and uplifting feelings.

Outsourced

Outsourced

Outsourced- a story about a telephone product salesman who finds that his job has been outsourced.  He is sent to India to train his replacements and finds more than he expected in this foreign land.  I loved this movie- it seemed to be an accurate representation of the situation and India in general.  A very warm film with many appealing qualities.

Best Video Game of 2008

Fable II

Fable II

Fable II– a fun adventure/ RPG game that has you assume the role of a small boy in search of the evil that killed his sister.  Your actions matter- the way you communicate and interact with people and the world all have an affect on the way the game plays out.  In the end, to be good or to be evil isn’t the only question however…  it’s more about how to achieve your goals while balancing that good/ evil perception.  Fun, deep, and engrossing, there wasn’t another game in 2008 that engulfed me quite like Fable II.  It’s not perfect- I wish there was a more in depth communication method with fellow citizens and your family, and I wish the story didn’t feel so short.  In the end however, the positives outweigh the negatives by a long shot here.

Runners Up for Best Video Game of 2008

Call of Duty: World at War– this game could have won the award, but the story mode just wasn’t as engrossing as I would have liked.  The very strong multiplayer has kept this game in my tray for a long while now.

Little Big Planet– if I told you that in 2008 a platform game a la Mario or Zelda would make my list for best games of the year, you’d probably think I was in some sort of time warp.  Well, there’s no time warp, but yes a “platformer” made this list.  Little Big Planet is revolutionary, it’s going to change the gaming landscape in so many ways…  believe it!  And Sack Boy is so damn cute!

Grand Theft Auto IV– probably the most highly anticipated game in a long time, and it did a fairly good job of living up to the hype.  At the end of the day however, I just get sick of the stupid driving, chasing, and racing missions.  Isn’t there any other way to unfurl the story…?  You listening Rockstar?

Dead Space– a newcomer to the games lineup, this was a great surprise for many gamers in ’08.  Survival Horror isn’t quite my thing, so it loses points there, but it’s a very well executed game that tells a very compelling story.

MLB ’08: The Show– there isn’t a sports game that compares to the MLB: The Show series.  It’s got realistic simulation down almost flawlessly, and does so many things that stand out.  If it weren’t for the fact that my interest for sports games ebbs and flows with the relevant season, this game may have taken top honors.

So there ya have it- my favorites of ’08!

Let me know if you agree or disagree, or if you want to have a conversation about it all.

Thanks for reading…

Peace

AM Son

Once

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 25, 2008 by amson

Once

Move over “Michael Clayton“- you’ve been bumped from the top spot. And the film to credit for this feat is- “Once“! (IMDb entry)
You’ve probably not heard of this (musical) movie, and if not for the fact that it stars one of my favorite musician/ songwriters I probably would never have heard of it either.

Yes, you read that correctly- I called the film a “musical”. However, it’s not a musical in the “Fiddler on the Roof”, “Phantom of the Opera”, or “Rent” sort of way, it’s more of a modern “folk/ rock musical”. The main male character is Glen Hansard– lead singer and front man for the Irish rock/ roots band “The Frames“, while the lead female character is Marketa Irglová– a Czech singer/ songwriter. Being that these two are first and foremost musicians and not actors, the film takes on a real and authentic quality rarely seen in movies nowadays. There’s a sense of urgency to the characters- the songs they perform infuse a fresh dose of reality into an already grounded and pedestrian atmosphere. Basically, when watching this movie one feels as if the lead characters could be anybody- even me or you.

The basic premise of the film is simple- ordinary guy meets ordinary girl, they find out they share a love for music, and through their shared love of music come closer together and discover that each other has a secret passion…. (I won’t spoil the whole movie!).

Neither character has a specified name- whereas Glen Hansard is listed as “Guy” in the credits, and Marketa Irglová listed simply as “Girl”. They never address each other directly either, which leads to an ordinary kind of vibe all the way through the movie. Guy is a street musician (busker) and vacuum repair man (which leads to one of the funniest movie moments of the year) and Girl is a house cleaner. They have an awkward sort of relationship- one which borders on the romantic side while still staying grounded in the acquaintance mold. Neither seems comfortable in their current situation- weather it be professional or personal, but each seems to find strength from one another in order to make the changes they’ve been longing to see in themselves. What’s interesting throughout this movie is how the manner in which the characters interact becomes the driving force for how the viewer plots the outcome in their own head- whereas most dramas set a plot and lead you in a certain direction, this film lets your own perception of each characters actions lead you down your own self prescribed path. I enjoyed the feel this gave the movie… almost as if it could be my own life playing out in parts- I’d try and make decisions for the movie based on what seemed to be important or impending in my own mind.

All in all, I cannot say enough about this movie. The setting is beautiful- and how could it not be- it’s Dublin! The characters are beautifully intertwined with each others insecurities and misgivings. The music is mostly that of Hansards solo work or from his band The Frames- which alone is incredible- but made even more powerful through the collaboration of Hansard and Irglová. They compliment each other wonderfully- neither displays any pretense or celebrity- and thusly their styles mesh and empower perfectly. In addition to the music being so wonderful is the fact that it does, in many instances, drive the storyline while adding emotion, elegance, and credence to the overall plot.

I could go on and on about this movie- but I doubt anyone would wish for that. So, I’ll just wrap up my thoughts into this concise statement:
If you like good great music and a good great story with good great performances, go rent this movie soon now!!

So, what does all the aforementioned stuff mean? It all adds up to mean “Once” was my favorite movie of 2007- and in turn it has a nice spot in my top 10 movies of all time. YEAH!

Peace

AM
Son