Monday, February 28, 2011

Of the Oscars, Top 10 Lists, and Other Thoughts.......

So...... how about them Oscars? I was so enthralled, I was working on about 3 or 4 other things at the same time. As far as the awards portion of the show goes, that usually is a predictable snoozefest, with one or two surprises thrown in for good measure (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, my hat is off to you for winning the Best Score Oscar for The Social Network, the first electronic soundtrack to win since, oh, Chariots of Fire?), but the real bore of this year was the extremely safe choice for Oscar hosts. James Franco and Anne Hathaway? C'mon! We all know they're pretty and relatively intelligent, but the writers didn't know what to do with them, making for a very dull telecast. I would almost rather watch C-SPAN or CPAC (Canadian equivalent of C-SPAN).

The King's Speech predictably walked off with four Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor, Inception with a bunch of technical achievement Oscars, The Fighter with a pair of Supporting trophies, and Natalie Portman wins for playing an unhinged ballerina in Black Swan. Oh, and Pixar gets another trophy for its crowded shelf with Toy Story 3 winning for Best Animated Feature. No drama, no excitement apart from the aforementioned Score win and the best live action short winner (I really want to see his film now, and may download it from iTunes when I get the chance). Sadly, the Razzies weren't any more exciting, since we all knew that The Last Airbender and Sex and the City 2 (it pains me even to type those words) would win the lion's share, and any year where Ashton Kutcher is nominated as Worst Actor is an automatic lock.

It has been said for years that the Oscars are too "safe" and predictable. Why this is a surprise to anyone is beyond me. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is top heavy with baby boomers and octogenarians angling for a lifetime achievement award, precisely the kind of people who will always make the "safe" choice when it comes to both nominees and awards. It pains me to say that possibly the only reason Reznor and Ross picked up their Best Score Oscar was that for all its electronic gloss, The Social Network's music did precisely what it was supposed to do: enhance the mood of the film without drawing too much attention to itself. Daft Punk's score for Tron: Legacy did much the same thing, but had too much of a hit single with the track Derezzed; ergo, it disqualified itself for being too cutting-edge for the Boomers. There is no cure for the Oscars but time, and even that may come too late. The Oscars had edge when they gave the Best Picture award to Midnight Cowboy, an (at the time) X-rated film, which I loathe and detest, but that is a topic for another post. Now, because it is filled with so many hand-wringing former hippies and bleeding hearts, the Academy has no teeth (both literally and figuratively), and has become a bastion of political correctness and "safety." There will be no house-cleaning for some time to come.

What does this mean for the rest of us? We vote with our dollars, and reward those films which make us happy, not the ones the Academy tells us to see. To that end, I have compiled my own top ten list of films from 2010. My list of favourite albums from 2010 (because I'm a dinosaur that way, and still collect albums) follows it. You will notice that some of my picks did get Academy nods, but that's not why they're here.

Top 10 Films of 2010
This list only includes films released in 2010 that I actually saw.
10. Kick-Ass
  This was so ridiculously over-the-top in so many ways, I don't know where to begin. Yes, it's foul-mouthed, violent and bloodier than many slasher flicks. It was also incredibly funny in the subversive way that it simultaneously mocked and celebrated the superhero genre. For an in-depth examination of the superhero mystique that isn't a comic-book movie, see The Incredibles or Unbreakable. If you want to see what it would really be like for someone to pull a Batman, see this.

9. Iron Man 2
Not as good as the first in some ways, better in others. Like any good sequel, it took the world created in the first and allowed the characters to play in it. What's not to like?

8. Tron: Legacy
 I am old enough to have seen Tron in theatres, and was absolutely enthralled. It was one of the first DVDs I ever bought, and I willingly double-dipped for the 20th Anniversary edition when it came out. I didn't see Tron: Legacy until it was close to the end of its run (in 3D), but it was well worth it. Cheesy dialogue? Check. Contrived plot? Check. Wooden acting? Not so much this time around. Mind-blowing visuals? Check and double-check. If atmosphere was mandatory for a film to qualify for an Oscar run, this had it. Did I mention how much I loved the Daft Punk score?

7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I
I struggled with whether or not to put this on the list, as it's an incomplete film at this point. However, it is a showcase of the evolution Daniel Radcliffe et al have made as actors as they've grown up onscreen. I really can't wait for part II.

6. Despicable Me
A lovable movie. Steve Carell sold me as the vaguely Eastern European villain who turns out not to be as bad as he thought he was, and Agnes is just plain adorable. If they make a sequel, please just give the Minions their own movie, because I could watch their antics for hours.

5. The Losers
There were a bunch of similarly themed "mercenaries out to clear their names" films, including the TV-based "The A-Team", which I still have yet to see. This was the first out of the gate this year and was just plain fun. Although based on a graphic novel series, no one is taking him or herself too seriously, making this an enjoyable ride of a film.

4. RED

This has a lot in common with #5, except that the names are more recognizable. A fun piece of the action pie, again based on a graphic novel series (from the same publisher as The Losers, no less), and the rare kind of action movie that even my wife enjoys. Wouldn't mind a sequel in the least.

3. Toy Story 3
Pixar has yet to make a movie that I dislike. The ending came very close to making me cry. Why is it that a computer animation company is one of the very few making films with heart these days?

2. Inception
 Call me a sheep if you like, but I found this latest project from Christopher Nolan to be one of the best made films this year. Much like The Prestige, just thinking about it makes me appreciate it more.

1. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
I'll just admit right now that I am a huge fan of Edgar Wright's work, but this movie took Wright's hyper-caffeinated personality and visuals and put it to its best use yet. Those Michael Cera haters who actively resisted this films charms, get over yourselves and see this now, because this was the most visually inventive, genre-busting film of the year. Also one of my favourite soundtracks this year.

Top 10 Albums of the Year
I'll dispense with the images this time around, and warn that when it comes to music, I don't rank the albums, as each has it's own unique merits.
10. OK Go- Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
This little mind-bending opus, produced by Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, MGMT) cranked the fuzz and distortion to 11, offering a falsetto-drenched homage to the music of the 80s. Its closest cousin would be Beck's Midnite Vultures, but Damian Kulash and Co. do much better at the whole blue-eyed soul and funk thing.
9. Deadmau5- 4x4=12
I have only recently discovered Deadmau5, but like good dance music before him, there is a constantly transforming groove (think Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers, etc.). This is great driving music and since I spend most of my time in the car these days, I can heartily recommend it for that purpose.
8. Hot Hot Heat- Future Breeds
Some bands thrive in the major label world, while others get stifled after awhile. Hot Hot Heat definitely falls into the latter category, as their latest album really seems to benefit from their newfound freedom. Just listen to tracks like 21@12 and Goddess of the Prairie and feel the joy of liberty. It's infectious.
7. Mike Patton- Mondo Cane
It is indeed a crazy world as Faith No More's best known frontman and one of the most amazing voices in rock music takes on Italian pop and movie themes. It doesn't matter that you can't understand a word that he's saying, because the craftsmanship evident here is outstanding. Plus, you can always drive your family nuts by putting the primal screams of Urlo Negro on your alarm clock. They may never forgive you after it gets stuck in their heads.
6. Daft Punk- Tron: Legacy Soundtrack
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter don their shiny helmets and dance us into the world of the machine- "The Grid". Along the way, something interesting happens: they turn in an album that is equal measures electronic bliss and classic orchestral scoring that can stand with the best of the traditional film scorers. 
5. Various Artists- Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Soundtrack
I will admit that some of the music on this set isn't exactly new, but the material created specifically for the film by Beck, Broken Social Scene, Metric and others really rocks and really sets the tone for the film. If you can track it down, find the original score album with contributions by Nigel Godrich and Dan the Automator among others. I'll shut up now to save myself the embarassment of gushing too muc about this movie and its music.
4. Florence and the Machine- Lungs
This album really rocks. As modern rock albums go, this is tops.
3. Linkin Park- A Thousand Suns
Minutes to Midnight marked a change in direction for Linkin Park, and some said it went too far away from their nu-metal/rap-rock roots. Listen to this one and you'll hear the sound of a band maturing and honing its sound; not in the narcissistic way U2 did with The Joshua Tree, but in a logical and natural fashion.
2. The Black Keys- Brothers
The Black Keys are like the anti-White Stripes, in that even though there's only two of them, it doesn't sound like just two people. Their authentic-sounding swamp blues reminds me of another white band that nailed that Southern-fried feeling, yet created a sound all their own: Creedence Clearwater Revival. Love this album.
1. Crowded House- Intriguer
There's something to be said for aging gracefully. Neil Finn is still the greatest modern songwriter my generation has had the opportunity to experience. There is an aching beauty to his music not present anywhere else.

That's it for this time. Next topic TBD....................