Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"No one wins. One side just loses more slowly..."

The Wire (Season Four): It starts with an industrial strength nail gun and ends with a harmless carjacking ("harmless" being an altogether relative thing in the Wireverse). In between, there's just a shade under twelve hours of absolutely riveting television; flat-out outstanding stuff that I'm kicking myself for not watching from the get-go.

With an eye towards spoiling as little as possible (not to be confused with, you'll note, no spoilers at all) and a realization that the show has been given a more thorough treatment elsewhere (Alan Sepinwall's Season Four recaps--and the comments that emanate from them--are a vital resource for any viewer, neophyte or otherwise), I intend to steer clear of any semblance of a plot summary. Instead, I've opted for--surprise, surprise--a list, humbly labelled:

Four Reasons You Should Be Watching The Wire (Because You're Probably Not):

1. No weak links. Here's a glimpse of what's going on this season: the four eighth graders (Dukie, Michael, Randy, and Namond); a former cop (Prez) turned teacher's first year on the job; Bunny and the University of Maryland Psych prof's study on corner kids; Herc getting (then pissing away) his sergeant's stripes; Carcetti running for Mayor; Royce scrambling like mad to win re-election for the same position; Omar robbing people blind; Marlo solidifying his power base; Chris and Snoop assisting same with help from the aforementioned nail gun; Michael becoming a soldier; Major Crimes being shut down; McNulty working the beat; Bunk and Lester looking for missing bodies; the travails of Bubbs and Sherrod; Cutty's gym; Kima moved to Homicide; Burrell, Rawls, and Daniels jockeying for position within the upper echelon of the police ranks; and Carver trying to keep the really young kids from being led astray. By my count, that's eighteen plots (and I've even left a few things out), and, in what has to be a TV first, there isn't a weak one in the bunch.* That's no small feat, as, if you think about, virtually every great ensemble cast has someone who, for whatever reason, gets demonstrably less interesting material (more succinctly: a character where plots go to die), cf.: a lot of Claire's stuff on Six Feet Under, a lot of Ted's non-Robyn related stories on How I Met Your Mother (yes, Ryan, I re-watched the "the tricycle" abomination tonight and I've finally come around on this one), Kate on Lost, much of what AJ did on The Sopranos always struck me as extraneous (this excludes the stuff from "The Second Coming," of course), anything to do with Andrea (and her tedious husband, Jesse) on 90210, etc. Off the top of my head, Angel and The West Wing are the only exceptions I can think of. Until now.

* - Plus McNulty (as played by Dominic West, who was burnt out after an emotionally demanding third season), arguably the show's main character, is barely present in season four, which is akin to Tony Soprano (and comparisons are inevitable between the two programs--this won't be the last one is this review) getting less screen time in a season than, say, Furio.

(Incidentally, I seem to recall someone on Tony Kornheiser's radio show--possibly TK himself--hoping that, in the final season of The Sopranos, Tony would get whacked with roughly five episodes to go, with the remaining eps focusing on the--rather substantial--ensuing power vacuum. In retrospect, that would have been fantastic--certainly, I think it goes without saying, superior to the actual ending to the series. Along the same lines, there was a persistent rumor as Seinfeld was winding down that they were going to do an entire episode without the four leads. This, too, never came to fruition, much to my disappointment...)

2. It will always keep you guessing. Partly this is so because any character is liable to be gunned down in any given episode (only Bubs, McNulty, Bunk, Freamon, Carcetti, and possibly Omar are all but assured of surviving the fifth and final season), but it's also because the situation in creator David Simon's Baltimore is so fluid. There's an old saying that momentum in baseball is tomorrow's starting pitcher, which seems particularly apt in the context of the Wireverse, where job security is always threatened by what is lurking around the corner, be it personal or political.

This tension is heightened by Simon often providing the viewer with more knowledge than the characters on the show (and, if you have to ape someone, technique-wise, surely you can do a lot worse that Shakespeare...). While Lester may be suspicious about the lack of bodies in West Baltimore, we know that Chris and Snoop are hiding them in boarded up homes (leading me to blurt out on more than one occasion: "would you ever just fucking check inside the vacant homes, Lester???"). So, too, may Randy sense that snitching to the VP was probably ill-advised, but we know that Herc has thoughtlessly set the boy up for a fall.

I'll add that, since I'm watching the show out of order (S4 and S5 concurrently; both before S1-3) as season four wound down, I was filled with dread, as I knew that three characters--Randy, Prez, and Namond--weren't participants (or, indeed, even mentioned) in the early stages of season five. So, of course, I feared the worse (except for Prez), which...didn't quite come to pass. But the more I think about, it kind of did. SPOILERS AHEAD--DON'T HIGHLIGHT UNLESS YOU'VE SEEN THE END OF SEASON FOUR.
Randy, of course, survives, but--despite Carver's best efforts--is now forced to eke out an existence in a group foster home where he's known as an informant. I won't go so far as to say it's a fate worse than death, but my heart definitely sank when he was beaten down in the closing montage (though the fact that he threw the first punch was strangely encouraging).
Prez, too, goes on, though the scene where his suspicions about Duquan--my personal favorite--turning to corner life were confirmed (mere minutes after he was strangely cold to Dukie after being given the pen set--perhaps heeding the VPs advice to move on?) knocked the wind right out of me. Just a gutting sequence. Though not at all his fault--and the fact that the season didn't end with Prez's soul being crushed was one of the season's better surprises--he'll have to live with the knowledge that, in the Maryland public school system, seemingly no good deed goes unpunished. (I'm holding out hope that he and Randy will make appearances in S5.)
Only Namond (Namond? Fucking Namond??) emerges unscathed (or, at least, emerges as unscathed as a 13-year old boy can when living with a borderline sociopathic mother), thanks only to Bunny's intervention and Wee-Bey realizing that his son wasn't cut for life on the corner. Frankly, I'm still trying process how Namond feels about being out of the game. On the one hand, he has to be relieved, since even he must of realized that he was all talk. On the other, that final shot--of his buddy joyriding in what has to be a jacked car--seems to suggest that Namond might have already sentimentalized his time on the street, and will always wonder if, by being on the stoop, he's missing out on the action. I'm not sure.

3. It resists providing pat answers. It's probably best, on a general level, to think of The Wire as The Sopranos if the The Sopranos spent an equal amount of time on the feds working to bring the Family down...and the feds were as fucked up as Tony and Company. More specifically, S4 is probably best understood as a tug of war for the souls of the new generation in Baltimore, with the temptations of (seemingly) easy money on the corner on one side and the police, school administrators and teachers, junkie parents (serving as a cautionary tale), and (sometimes) politicians pushing the kids towards a purer path. Of course, in a surprising turn, the sins of the latter can, at times, outweigh the transgressions of the former.

Witness Royce shutting down the Major Crimes Division in the run-up to the election, or Commissioner Burrell juking the crime stats, or instructors at Tilghman Middle School being forced to teach to the test, sacrificing many of the gains made to that point, or Bunny's pleas to maintain the successful-but-hard-to-quantify troubled teens pilot program falling on deaf ears on statistic-driven City Hall officials. Or...ok, ok.

Hell, the season's biggest villain isn't--arguably--Marlo (yes, he's a ruthless killer, but his actions have an internal--admittedly cold and calculating--logic to them), but rather Royce (who, one gets the sense, would be perfectly happy to watch his city burn to the ground, so long as he gets to watch it from the Mayor's desk) or Sgt. Herc, the proverbial bull in the china shop, who needlessly and carelessly jeopardizes the lives of innocents in his relentless efforts to cover up his own mistakes. To provide but one example of the show's complexity, take a look at Sepinwall's description of Randy's season-long trajectory (AGAIN, HIGHLIGHT ONLY IF YOU'VE SEEN THE WHOLE SEASON): To repeat a point I made in my review of "Unto Others," it's just staggering the number of inadvertent things that had to happen to put Randy in his current predicament: He had to be out in the hallway when the two boys needed a lookout for their blow job party. The boys had to be so cold to the girl the next day that she called the cops. Prez had to take Randy's problem to Daniels instead of Lester. Carver had to feel guilty for having outgrown Herc, instead of just calling Bunk directly. Omar had to call in his chit with Bunk and Bunk had to piss Crutchfield off enough that Crutch threw out Carver's eventual phone message. Prop Joe had to tell Marlo to steal Herc's camera. Herc had to frustrate Sydnor so much that Sydnor walked out of the Little Kevin interrogation before Herc gave away Randy's identity. Bodie had to convince Little Kevin to come clean to Marlo. And Snoop had to speak up to convince Marlo to reverse his decision about letting Randy off clean. And, on the bitter irony scale, Randy had to be so terrified of losing Miss Anna that he turned snitch, which set off this whole Woody Woodpecker chain of events that led to him losing Miss Anna.

Simon's Baltimore is dying...and absolutely everyone knows it. It's also a zero-sum city, where any improvement in one area (say, crime) inexorably leads to sacrifices in other departments (namely: education), and vice versa. Lest you think the show may stray into SimCity territory (the Transit Authority says: "YOU CAN'T CUT BACK ON FUNDING! YOU WILL REGRET THIS!"), it's important to note that Carcetti's decisions are also coloured by matters of race, favors owed and promises made, and an eye towards a gubernatorial run in two years. While they're is a tendency to moralize at times--in fairness, this seems practically unavoidable when dealing with the profoundly fucked up public school system--this show is about as nuanced as they come.

4. The ending music. Now...before you say "hey! He really only has three reasons and has pathetically tacked on a trivial fourth one"--hear me out. It's called "The Fall" and was composed by a guy named Blake Leyh, who also did some work on the (in my view) extremely underwhelming Across the Universe, which I saw on the weekend. You can hear "The Fall" here. (Go on. It may or may not be my ring tone.) I will go as far to say that it's the best end credits theme I've ever heard. What I love most about it is that it kicks in two or three beats before the episode fades to black, which never ceases to be awesome.

That's all I have for now. Stay tuned for a blown out Wire vs. Sopranos comparison as soon as I finish all Wire eps.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"Of course you'll have a bad impression of New York if you only focus on the pimps and the C.H.U.D.s..."

A Weekend at the Movies: Last weekend was the first one in ages that I wasn't bogged down with school stuff--ah, semestered system, how I love you in early January...--so I managed to catch four movies, far more than my usual average of zero.

Now, I tend to steer clear of movie reviews--strictly speaking, these are the very first to appear on my blog--for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to:

1. There are so many professional reviewers out there that I feel like I have very little to contribute.

2. I have several friends who are much more adept at movie reviews than I, and I'd prefer not to highlight the disparity, thank you very much.

3. My sense is that I won't be able to review terribly well without giving away vital plot points. My standard answer when asked about a movie is typically "go see it, then we'll discuss" (which actually seems fairly pretentious in print--damn) and that policy is probably best applied to the blog as well, but I'm starved for non-list related content, so here we are...

On that admittedly less-than-confident note, off we go:

Atonement (Friday night): B+. Should I be weirded out by the fact that Atonement the book--which is, arguably primarily (next to, you know, the whole "love conquers all" angle), a meditation on the writing process--actually works much better as a film? Maybe a bit, but there's no denying that it does. I picked up the book in O'Hare Airport in December because I knew I wanted to see the movie and I'd heard great things about McEwan. Now, there's no denying that the man can flat-out write. In fact, the problem might just be that he's too good; has too much to say. Time and again I would be struck by something and say (not literally, of course) "wow, that's eloquent," but I also found myself zoning out on occasion. The best way I can describe his style is that everything he writes is interesting, just not entirely necessary.

The film, on the other hand, fairly zips along, especially in the first act. I loved how Joe Wright (this year's snub in the Best Director category --apparently, every year, the Academy just assumes that one of the five Best Picture nominees mysteriously directed itself) played with the narrative: showing scenes out of order or the same scene from a different vantage point. The second act, set in Dunkirk, while visually arresting, was, for me, the dullest stretch. The final act is probably the strongest (though the less I say about it here, the better.) The performances are uniformly strong--McAvoy, Knightley, and newcomer Saoirse Ronan are all excellent--the soundtrack is gorgeous, and the story is compelling, yet, somehow, when you add it all up, it's not nearly as good as you think it should or could be. This is precisely the kind of that should linger with you days after seeing it, but, my guess is, it won't. I like it and I'm not disappointed that it's up for Best Picture, but it doesn't have the impact of a No Country For Old Men, or even Michael Clayton.

(Saturday afternoon): A-.
I have to say: it was kind of awesome. Before we went to see it, Carrie, Taylor, and I wondered aloud what the monster would like and how long into the movie they'd wait before showing it, with Carrie and I speculating that they might go the Lost route and simply refuse to show it (I was concerned that the monster was going to be underwhelming). But, no, in retrospect, that would've sucked. As it turns out, the monster is pretty scary (and its offspring? Legitimately terrifying. Seriously: pants-poopingly frightening--and wouldn't that look good on the back of the DVD? "Pants-poopingly frightening."). And the film itself? Really hangs together, frankly. I like how they knew they had about 85 minutes (actually, more like 81: much like Return of the King, the film hits its original, superior ending, but then decides to keep going; but unlike ROTK, they went on for 4 instead of 40 minutes) worth of material and didn't try to pad it out to 110. On the whole, I really enjoyed it. The partygoers in the opening scenes even listened to good music (and Architecture in Helsinki).

At any rate, since there are a ton of reviews out there (and everyone basically knows the gist of the movie), I'm going to limit myself to commenting on the three major criticisms that I've heard about the film:

1. The main characters are idiots (roughly halfway down the page here): no, not really. Obviously, staying in the city--which the gang ultimately elects to do in order to save Beth, Rob's true love--isn't the most ideal decision, but, beyond that, the methods they use to retrieve her (sticking to the subway tunnels when the monster is above ground, moving back up once it's clear--very, very clear--that the tunnels are no longer safe) are beyond reproach. And anyway, it's a fucking monster movie. Reviewers should be jubilant that the leads aren't trying to reason with the beast. To put this complaint into perspective, in that same item, the remarkably petty TMQ also complains that the timeline is completely unrealistic, as there's no way that the government would act so swiftly in trying to kill the monster. To which I say: good point! Leaving out a marathon House Subcommittee meeting on the feasibility of nuking a 100,000 ton sea-dwelling killing machine is totally unforgivable! I take back what I said about liking the movie because it was short. I want--nay: demand--the 14-hour director's cut!

2. Too much shaky-cam:
Um...probably a little. Then again, at least they stayed true to the concept. No doubt people would fault director Drew Goddard if Hud (the character with the camcorder and the film's informal narrator) thoughtfully composed each shot. I didn't actually find this too distracting and, in many ways, it was actually kind of refreshing to see a monster movie entirely from a commoner's perspective, even if this means jettisoning the requisite scene where it dawns on the fictional President that everyone is doomed (best example: Superman II).

3. Too 9/11y.
Sigh...I firmly believe that people leveling this complaint are either: being completely disingenuous or totally unimaginative. Regarding the first point: I get--and I think the filmmakers probably deliberately played up the fact (or deliberately failed to downplay)--that certain scenes eerily resembled stuff from September 11th, particularly in the first twenty minutes, but, really, I don't see how this is even remotely avoidable. I really don't. Does this mean that disaster movies can no longer be set in New York? This strikes me as patently absurd. It would be one thing if one character saw the monster and said something ridiculous (for instance: "wow, and I thought 9/11 was scary!"--in other words, attempting to trivialize the tragic), but to show fictional characters being unsettled by unsettling events that happen to be set in NYC is...fine by me.

Regarding the second point: on the other hand, Cloverfield really doesn't have that much in common with 9/11. Without being flippant, one event involved airplanes flying into buildings and real people dying, while the other involves an...enormous sea monster that shits out creepy spider babies! COME ON!!

(Saturday night): A+.
I mean, yeah, it's inexcusable that it took me so long to see this (I think Shuk had just gone to see it before we saw McGowan's near no-hitter in July). But, wow, what a movie. (And a killer soundtrack, too.) The story is amazingly ordinary: boy plays music, boy meets girl that plays music, boy plays music with girl (believe me, I'm barely simplifying it at all), but it's just so wonderfully executed. Case in point: it contains two scenes that are simply the most authentic (and thus, completely riveting) things I've seen on film all year.

The first occurs early in the film when the girl (played by Czech musician Marketa Irglova) takes the guy (played by Glen Hansard, the lead singer of the Irish band The Frames) into a music shop to play the piano for him. He proceeds to get out his guitar and, in roughly a minute, shows her the structure for one of his songs ("Falling Slowly"--which, in a surprise turn, actually received an Oscar nomination). And then they just play--at first tentatively, then more assuredly--in one, uninterrupted, four minute shot. The second scene happens near the film's end, when the guy and the girl (they actually don't have names in the movie, so it's not simply a matter of me being super-lazy) and three other background musicians are laying down their first track. While warming up, they sound awful--which, come to think of it, is kind of a cinematic cheat, since there's no indication, either before or after, that they're anything except great--and the producer begins to roll his eyes and whips out a magazine to keep himself occupied. Then, the session starts, and Hansard begins to belt out a lovely ballad (called "Lies"). And, once again, it's riveting--partly because the music is outstanding and partly because Hansard and Irglova are just so goddamn likeable that you're desperate for them to succeed. Again, it's presented (more or less) as one continuous four-minute shot, but the scene, for me, is made by the one cut about halfway through. It's to the producer, who slowly looks up in wonderment, as if to say "these guys are fucking terrific."

There's actually a third, equally wonderful scene in the film, but: SPOILER ALERT. Seriously, DO NOT HIGHLIGHT THE FOLLOWING TEXT UNLESS YOU'VE SEEN THE MOVIE. During the scene where the guy finds out that the girl is married, he asks her if she loves her husband. She, of course, replies in untranslated Czech. Well, it turns out that her reply is "no, I love you." Which is fantastic and heart-breaking all at once, since the guy never finds this out. Upping the cool factor still more is the fact that this scene was, allegedly, improvised and Irglova ad-libbed the line, meaning that Hansard--who, not surprisingly, does not speak Czech--didn't know what she'd said either. I've yet to tell this story without the person I'm telling it to responding with "awwwww."

Anyway, I can't really do this one justice, so I'll stop, but if you haven't seen it: do.

American Psycho
(early Sunday morning): D.
Didn't get in 2000 when I saw with Misha in the theatre...don't get it now. Misha swears this is because, during the incredibly creepy/uncomfortable threesome scene in Patrick Bateman's apartment, the two guys that sat behind us in the theatre made it roughly 100 times more awkward by shouting out (repeatedly), "yeah, give it to them Bateman. Give it to them hard" (were I more of a man, I would have unleashed a Constanza-esque opposite-inspired "shut the hell up or I will shut you up. And if you don't believe me, just try me, because I would LOVE IT!"--to this day, maybe his finest moment), but, no, that's not it. I just don't think it's a very good movie. In fact, I'll go one step further: I see no reason why the movie should have been made at all. The book, written in '91 but set in '87, is virtually unreadable--like seriously awful...there's a five page (repeat: five page) stretch where Bret Easton Ellis describes absolutely everything in Bateman's apartment in what I recall being one seemingly interminable sentence (not unlike this one!)--so why did it seem like a good idea to make it in 2000? As an 80s parody, it feels pretty half-hearted, probably because the decade itself is so easily mockable (I'm still not quite sure on what level I'm supposed to appreciate Bateman's stilted-but-apparently-supposed-to-be-seen-as-off-the-cuff lectures on Phil Collins, Huey Lewis, and Whitney Houston--I told you, I don't get this movie!); as a drama, it's too silly; and as a thriller, it's not gripping.

As an added kick to the groin, after re-watching it with Taylor (who enjoyed the first hour, but professed to be completely baffled by the last thirty minutes), I researched the making of the movie and discovered that Mary Harron (the director) and Guinevere Turner (the co-screenwriter) both swear up and down that Bateman actually killed everyone he's shown to have killed in the film, even though many of actions late in the film--dropping the chainsaw on the prostitute, Paul Allen's apartment serving as a corpse depot, Bateman exploding multiple police cars by simply firing a gun at them, how he escapes the office (never shown) after his final rampage--are completely and utterly fantastical. I'm sorry, but the only way the movie makes sense at all is if Bateman's actions are mostly (if not entirely) in his head. But, whatever, I don't care enough to get too upset.

(The one running subplot that I've always enjoyed is that Bateman--allegedly a criminal mastermind--is a ridiculously bad liar, especially when confronted by the seemingly unsuspecting detective, as played by Willem Dafoe. As far as gags go, it's a good one.)

(Incidentally, for a much better Ellis adaptation, check out 2002's underrated-though-by-no-means-great The Rules of Attraction--no, not the Brosnan-Moore vehicle, the one with James Van Der Beek. Dawson is undeniably disturbing--and not simply because he's alarmingly hydrocephalic--as an emotionless drug dealing college student (who just so happens to be Patrick Bateman's brother, Sean). There's a scene (probably no more than three minutes long) somewhere late in Act Two where Kip Pardue rapidly narrates his summerlong trip to Europe that is worth the price of a rental alone--plus I've always found the ending to be rather clever.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"That Night, Fate Wore a Cummerbund...of Suspense"

Golden Globes Preview: Hot on the heels of my brilliant NFL Playoff prognosticating (no, I'm not done bragging about it) and largely ignoring my middling performance in the Yahoo! College Bowl Pick 'Em (don't ask) and my disastrous Emmy projections (sadly, available here), here are my Golden Globe picks. Stay tuned for a forthcoming TV Year in Review (probably in the next couple of weeks) and a Movies Year in Review (likely not until February, since I need to go see many of the major award contenders--specifically: Atonement, There Will Be Blood, Juno, and several others--before I can pass judgment). I'll also be kicking off my Best of the Decade series in the next few weeks. First up (by popular--and, by "popular," I mean, "received 7 votes"--demand): the 1990s.

Should've been nominated in green; should win in blue; will win in red. If it's just red, that means I think it should and will win (comparatively rare).


1. BEST MOTION PICTURE DRAMA: I've only seen four of these (AG, NCFOM, MC, and, just this weekend, EP), though I read Atonement in Ireland. No Country is my favorite (and, in my view, the best movie of the year). I also loved Michael Clayton, and Eastern Promises was much better than I was anticipating. Gangster left me feeling cold--it just wasn't that original, or, for that matter, interesting. All of that said, there seems to be a groundswell for Blood, even though it might prove to be too dark for Foreign Press voters. I just get the feeling that Country isn't going to win.

American Gangster
Eastern Promises
The Great Debaters
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

2. BEST MOTION PICTURE MUSICAL OR COMEDY: haven't seen any of these (except for the unnominated flicks I've added; re: Superbad in particular: I never cease to be annoyed by the snobbery of these Award committees...funny is funny, and that's really all that should matter), so I can't really comment. Would love to see Juno get it, but it'll probably be Sweeney Todd.

Across the Universe
Charlie Wilson's War
Sweeney Todd
Knocked Up

3. BEST DIRECTOR: I hate that they combine this into one category, but so be it. The Coens direct the shit out of Country. Enough said.

Tim Burton, Sweeney Todd
Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Ridley Scott, American Gangster
Joe Wright, Atonement
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

4. BEST ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE DRAMA: Strong category, aside from yet another incredibly overrated performance by Denzel (honestly, the best thing I've seen him in this decade is probably Deja Vu). Up until Saturday night, Clooney was my pick, but Viggo blew me away in Eastern Promises, which is the kind of performance that commands your attention (except for the full frontal nudity during one fight scene, which commands that you hide your eyes). Regardless, there doesn't appear to be any stopping the DDL train. This'll be his.

George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
James McEvoy, Atonement
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
Denzel Washington, American Gangster

5. BEST ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE DRAMA: Blanchett will get a supporting actress win, so we can forget about her (plus The Golden Age--amazingly--is supposed to be atrocious). I think Christie will win this, though Knightley, much to Carrie's consternation (she has an irrational hatred of young Keira), might sneak in.

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away From Her
Jodie Foster, The Brave One
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
Keira Knightley, Atonement

6. BEST ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE MUSICAL OR COMEDY: Apparently PSH is brilliant in The Savages, but I don't see anyone stopping Depp. Hey, did you know that Depp had no formal musical training prior to this film? Oh, you've heard that 65,000 times in the past month? My bad. (Ryan Gosling is always terrific, but I'm guessing he was better in Half-Nelson.)

Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl
Tom Hanks, Charlie Wilson's War
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages
John C. Reilly, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

7. BEST ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE MUSICAL OR COMEDY: Combined age of the five nominees here is around 100, with 65 of those coming from HBC (kidding). No clue here, as I haven't seen any of these. Page winning would be awesome, but they're probably more inclined to go with the younger actress with a bit more experience (translation: the Hollywood Foreign Press is hip, but not that hip).

Amy Adams, Enchanted
Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray
Helena Bonham Carter, Sweeney Todd
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Ellen Page, Juno

8. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE: What a great collection of actors here, and John Travolta. Wilkinson almost deserves this award solely on the basis of his opening monologue in MC (fantastic), and I've been a big fan of his since In The Bedroom, but this absolutely has to go to Bardem, who literally could not have been better in No Country. Has to.

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
John Travolta, Hairspray
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton
Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad

9. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE: isn't Julia Roberts almost a dude at this point? I'm a little creeped out that she's supposed to be this bombshell in Charlie Wilson's War. Pretty strong category here, but it's basically impossible for Blanchett to lose, so we should just move on.

Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Julia Roberts, Charlie Wilson's War
Saiorse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

10. BEST SCREENPLAY: Philosophical question: having read the novel and having seen the film and knowing that the two are virtually identical (as in: some scenes in the film are taken, word for word, from the book), can the Coen brothers really win for best screenplay? The short answer is, of course, yes (and they'll be a shoe-in for the Best Adapted Screenplay come Oscar time), but, at the same time, there's no denying that the degree of difficulty isn't quite there for the two of them: the source material is just so good. I'm hoping they win, but I get this feeling that the HFP wants to reward Sorkin (who wrote, in case you've forgotten, A Few Good Men before moving on to create The West Wing, Sports Night, and--shudder--Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip). We'll see.

Diablo Cody, Juno
Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men
Christopher Hampton, Atonement
Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Aaron Sorkin, Charlie Wilson's War
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton

11. BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: I know, I know, Ratatouille is supposed to be terrific. I just can't shake the notion that The Simpsons Movie (which I have seen and was good but by no means great) is considerably funnier.

Bee Movie

The Simpsons Movie

12. BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM: Sorry, Kite Runner, you're disqualified. Try reading the category name before entering next time. I'm excited to see Diving Bell and Persepolis, but the former--by virtue of its Best Director nod--should win.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Romania)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (France/U.S.)
The Kite Runner (U.S.)
Lust, Caution (Taiwan)
Persepolis (France)


13. BEST DRAMA TV SERIES: give me a fucking break, Hollywood Foreign Press! You've nominated seven shows and this category is still terrible. Hoping to start Damages this week (really, what isn't fascinating about a show about filing a class action lawsuit?) and I have feeling it's the best of the bunch. Hoping to catch the rest of Mad Men this month too (my parents are quite high on it) and it'll likely win. But really, this category is a joke. I'll limit my remaining comment to the only show I actually watch on this list: please stop rewarding House for subpar seasons--it'll only encourage the writers to get lazier and lazier with their storylines.

Big Love
Grey's Anatomy
Mad Men
The Tudors
The Sopranos
Battlestar Galactica

14. BEST MUSICAL OR COMEDY TV SERIES: Mixed bag here, with two extremely strong shows (30 Rock and Extras), one very good show (Pushing Daisies), one that's a shell of its former self (Entourage), and one downright stinker (guess). Just as an aside: am I to believe that Showtime blew its entire marketing budget on The Tudors and Californication and thus had no money at all to promote Dexter. Because, really, that's the only possible way those two shows get nominated and it doesn't. If so: well done, morons. I'm torn between Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais here. Both are at the top of their game, but I think that--given she's on network television--the degree of difficulty is much higher for Fey (I'm still amazed that lemon party joke got through, even if I didn't get it at the time--thanks, Ryan), than Gervais, so I'm inclined to with 30 Rock.

30 Rock
Pushing Daisies
The Office
How I Met Your Mother
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
South Park

15. BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES: I've actually worn myself out with all this Dexter being snubbed talk these past few months, so I'll just say: Hall clearly deserves to win...but I know he won't. (My guess: the new guy in the category...even though his character is a pretty big asshole.) Let's move on. Fun fact about Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: everyone in Ireland hates his guts (granted, this is all coming from my very unscientific poll of me asking people about him). He's like the male Kirsten Dunst over there.

Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Hugh Laurie, House
Bill Paxton, Big Love
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, The Tudors
James Gandolfini, The Sopranos [am I missing something here? Is the show not eligible?]
Matthew Fox, Lost

16. BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES: Holy God! Probably easier to list who wasn't nominated here. And yet, there's not much to get excited about here. Probably a three-horse race between Close, Falco, and Field (who won the Emmy in the same category and whom I'm ignoring from this point forward)--you could make an argument for Hunter here, though I've never watched the show. Though my sense is that Close's body of work this season was stronger than the other two (if only because Falco was--comparatively--given little to do in the final season), I still think Falco wins it, if only for her devastating argument with Tony (when he tells her that he hopes her spec home collapses--in one single blow, totally undermining everything she'd done in the past year).

Patricia Arquette, Medium
Glenn Close, Damages
Minnie Driver, The Riches
Edie Falco, The Sopranos
Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters
Holly Hunter, Saving Grace
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer

17. BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL OR COMEDY TV SERIES: This is the easiest one to summarize by far: Baldwin, by virtue of the scene where he acts (in character) as every single member of Tracy Jordan's immediate family, deserves to win hands-down. Gervais was great, but it shouldn't even be close. (And Duchovny? Get the hell out of here. I love you, but even you can't save this show.)

Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Steve Carell, The Office
David Duchovny, Californication
Ricky Gervais, Extras
Lee Pace, Pushing Daisies

18. BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL OR COMEDY TV SERIES: Hmmm...good category (although they jumped the gun with Applegate--the show was barely even on the air when the nominations came out). I like Friel quite a bit on Daisies, but I've gotta go with my girl Tina Fey here.

Christina Applegate, Samantha Who?
America Ferrera, Ugly Betty
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Anna Friel, Pushing Daisies
Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds

19. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A SERIES, MINISERIES, OR TV MOVIE: Have I mentioned how much I hate that they do this category this way? How do you judge a supporting actor in a sitcom (who might get 7 or 8 minutes in his featured episode) with someone who is in a four or eight hour miniseries? Lots of silly snubs here, but, of the lot of them, Danson is likely the best, but Sutherland--who, in fairness, deserves a better show--may well win.

Ted Danson, Damages
Kevin Dillon, Entourage
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Andy Serkis, Longford
William Shatner, Boston Legal
Donald Sutherland, Dirty Sexy Money
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
Henry Ian Cusick, Lost
Michael Emerson, Lost
John C. McGinley, Scrubs
All three of the young guys from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia [but probably Charlie]
Eric King, Dexter [who, interestingly, seems to have learned how to act between S1 and S2]
Keith Carradine, Dexter

20. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A SERIES, MINISERIES, OR TV MOVIE: Hard to get too excited about this one. Pressly is always good for a laugh.

Rose Byrne, Damages
Rachel Griffiths, Brothers & Sisters
Katherine Heigl, Grey's Anatomy
Samantha Morton, Longford
Anna Paquin, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
Jaime Pressly, My Name Is Earl
Colby Smothers, How I Met Your Mother
Sarah Chalke, Scrubs [she deserves to be nominated at least once]
Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost

5 Days
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
The Company
The State Within

And that's that. Now all I have to do is sit back and wait and see how wrong I am. Good times.
Recap: the results are in and I was cool (read: "mediocre") 11 of 21. Can't say I'm surprised about Piven beating out Sutherland, but Duchovny getting the nod over Gervais, Baldwin, and Carell is driving me crazy. Was it the part where he threw up because he was so high? If so, I understand--that's a skill you can't teach.

Friday, January 11, 2008

"You Can't Wear Blue in Knuckle Beach, Which is Hard, Because Jeans Go With Everything..."

Kid Nation Season Finale Running Diary (Aired: December 9th, 2007)

Coming at you live from my new laptop (which is awesome) and using Vista (which is, um, idiosyncratic). This aired over a month ago, but I was away, so it's only coming online now. Here you go, Robbie.

Comments for the uninitiated--which, if the Nielsen ratings are any indication, comprises nearly everyone--in blue.
8:01: The pre-credit teaser suggests that there will be big surprises tonight. My prediction? Gold stars for everyone or gold stars for town council. A much less likely surprise: an impromptu and controversial Calvin Klein shoot.

For the uninitiated, Kid Nation makes a very big deal about giving out a real* gold star--worth $20,000--at the end of each episode to a deserving child (or, more often, to the child with the most convincing sob story). What I discovered quite recently is that all kids received $5,000 for appearing on the show (even, presumably, little Jimmy, the eight-year old from New Hampshire who fucked off after a mere 96 hours, netting $1,250 a day in the process).

Another interesting tidbit: the show was filmed during the school year, so all the kids had to get a month off in order to participate. What the fuck, CBS? I won't lie, I'm a big fan of the show, but is it not enough that you've probably run afoul of any number of child labour laws? Did you really have to run the show during the school year? July was too jampacked for your filmcrew? This rankles me.

* - really? At $887.50 an ounce, a $20,000 gold star would weigh slightly less than a pound and a half. Meanwhile, the star that's handed out is about the size of four dinner plates stacked together, yet is easily liftable by even the smallest recipients. If it is real gold, there's no way it weighs less than 5 kg (also: if that's true, George Mitchell may want to investigate Bonanza City.)

8:04: The kids seem positively stunned that their job board (where the kids' teams are broken down into four classes: upper, merchant, cooks, and labourers) is on fire. Gee, I wonder how that happened? Some of them are officially spazing out. Relax you guys, I don't recall dirt being especially flammable.

8:09: That crisis averted, we move on to the show's host (the forgettable but entirely harmless Jonathan Karsh, who apparently doesn't even merit his own in-show chyron--I had to look his name up--but is actually an accomplished indie director) burning the town journal. The journal was consulted at the start of every episode by the Town Council--aka the four kids, one from each team, who acted as the local government--the conceit being that it contains the recorded thoughts of the founders of Bonanza City way back in, I think, the 1860s. Invariably, the week's entry outlines the theme of the current episode. It's also fairly clear that the producers are pretty much making it up as they go along, as not two minutes after many kids observed that the city was starting to resemble a landfill site, the town council read an entry saying "garbage was a big problem for us" and so forth...What's not entirely clear to me is if the kids think the journal is real. I'm leaning towards no, but if the answer is yes: they may want to carbon date that ink. Did they make a copy of it first? Shouldn't they have? Lesson learned: reading is stupid, kids. (History, too.)

8:10: ...and it's already Lord of the Flies. Great. Kids raiding stores, practically shoveling candy into their mouths (including a comically oversized swirly lolly pop--not unlike the one Kramer had in the backwards episode of Seinfeld--that is very probably a prop and thus inedible--that kid is going to be extremely disappointed.)

8:12: a little mini-rang ("this is just sickening. Sickening") from Zach, or, as I like to call him "the oldest 10 year old ever." Dude, it's a fucking set, why don't you live a little, man?

As is custom on the show, near the end of each episode, each Bonanza resident comes in to tell the Town Council who they think deserves the gold star. Most of the kids are good-natured about it and will nominate a hard-working peer, but some others insist on subverting the process and often see fit to nominate themselves, which drives me crazy. (Mostly because I think it's redundant. Obviously, every child would like to win the star for him or herself, but it would be pretty damn boring if the nominating segment resulted in each of the 40 participants receiving one vote. A much better strategy to me always seemed to be to nominate one of the Town Council members--everyone loves to be flattered!--but, as far as I know, this has never happened.) Anyway, Zach is one such kid, having put himself on the block at least twice. Last week, in pleading his case, Zach got a little teary and during (but mostly after) his speech, a couple of the older kids on council (notably Greg: the blue team's 15-year old bully who might be on steroids) questioned Zach's sincerity (which seems to have predicted the events in New Hampshire roughly a month later). Anyway, Zach left, then stomped around outside for a couple of minutes muttering under his breath about the council, then, in an unprecedented move, returned to the nomination room and proceeded to lose his shit in front of council, essentially calling them insensitive jerks. Now, in Zach's defense, Greg (whose improbable last name is actually "Pheasant") is a two-faced shit, but that doesn't excuse his meltdown. Was it great TV? No doubt, but I think it endeared Zach to few people.

Anyway, it's pretty clear the kids are hellbent on destroying the city. As George would say, "it's like Thunderdome!"

8:13: ...but they still get served gruel for dinner in the mess hall? Kids, THERE ARE NO RULES. Order yourselves some pizza. Honestly...

8:14: Karsh (the host), introduces the non-showdown (in showdowns, the team that finishes first gets the best job, upper class, the team that finishes second gets the second best job, merchants, and so on--those jobs determine your salary and are changed roughly every four days, i.e. after the next showdown) reward challenge for this week.

8:15: and the reward challenge out the last gold star? The fuck? Karsh polls the masses while Council decides. Someone nominates ADHD Mike from the red team. Whatever. Laurel (whom, Carrie and I both agree, has the most chapped--chaptest?--lips of any living person we've ever seen), inexplicably, think Sophia should get ANOTHER gold star, despite having done virtually nothing from winning her first star weeks ago. For Christ sake, Laurel, there are ACTUAL POOR CHILDREN (they're the ones that perk up when they see the gruel) on this show! Purchase a clue.

8:16: DK (insert Nintendo joke here) wants to give everyone a star. He's overcome with emotion. Come on, DK. That's why they pay you the big bucks to be on Town Council: to make these tough decisions. (Wait...)

8:20: And, in an upset, sucky baby Zach--who not three days ago accused Council, collectively, of being unfeeling martinets...albeit not in those words precisely--ends up winning the gold star, then proceeds to cry AGAIN (Rob must be loving this episode). In an even more surprising turn, Carrie, who is a mortal lock to laugh uproariously at crying children (see my LLWS running diary from the summer), is actually happy he won. Awww. I suppose I am too. He has worked pretty hard.

On that note, onto the:

6 Most Awkward Kid Nation Moments:

6. The Arcade Fiasco: unequivocally providing the answer to the question "hey, what would happen if we gave the kids the choice between something totally lame [a library] and a kick ass arcade complete with DDR terminals? Would the kids still play in (and around) the dirt, forage for food, and maintain the drinking water supply or simply play video games until they nearly died of starvation?" Nothing undermined the conceit of the show more (or made it more boring) than this. Oddly, it took Sophia--who wasn't on the Town Council--stepping in and saying "hey, maybe we should shut this whole thing down" before the arcade was boarded up.

5. Crygate:
previously discussed.

4. Anjay blocking Taylor from leaving the cabin: Here's what you can't have on show comprised entirely of children under the age of 16: an older boy preventing a younger girl--granted: a complete bitch of a younger girl--from leaving a room that she wishes to leave. It only lasted about 15 seconds on screen, but my oh my was it uncomfortable.

3. Anytime anyone called home (after getting a gold star): Suspiciously, the parents just never seemed excited enough, even though, so we're told, this was the only time they got to talk to their child for nearly seven weeks. This leads me to believe that the kids--off-camera--were in regular contact with their parents. Either that or the parents were feeling residual guilt for having already spent their kids' $5,000 ("sweetie, I totally thought you were kidding about going to college...").

2. The Stand-up Comedy stylings of Olivia: Best known for her irrational and unrelenting hatred of poor Anjay (which apparently stems from her running and losing against him when he was up for re-election on Day 16), Olivia delivered an excruciating set during the talent show, which can most charitably be described as a more wooden version of Cliff Clavin's stand-up act, but with more raunch (kidding about that last part.) Yet, somehow, the kids ate it up. (I didn't realize that four minutes of anti-Anjay behaviour was enough to sustain a career.) This was never properly explained to me (she was painfully unfunny) and it's why I demand that there be a Hills-like Kid Nation aftershow should it return for a second season.

1. Bible Camp: As discussed in an earlier entry, this occurred back on Day 12, when the kids--clearly tripping on shrooms--chose a collection of religious texts over a 9-hole miniature golf course, then proceeded to hold regular meetings and read over the various texts. I still think this was totally rigged by the producers ("look how well-behaved the kids are! Clearly, this show isn't irresponsible in the slightest! Look, he's reading the Koran. Tolerant, too!") Aside from that one day, the bible camp never came up again.

8:23: In trying to assemble that list, clearly I've missed something, because: GIRL FIGHT!! Featuring the token Asian girl...and Emilie (9), the child spy sent by PETA. (She went ballistic near the beginning of the season when it was decided that the town needed to kill four chickens for food. Now, without being too unkind, let's just say that her not insubstantial heft suggests that she's probably not sticking to veggies at home. OK, that was still pretty unkind.)

8:25: The chyron informs us that it's Day 40. Last day!

8:26: The big news of the day? Three $50,000 gold stars will be awarded. So...when you said that they were all gone, you were just lying, right?

Alex, the pocket-sized 9 year old Asian boy that won the star last week is told to pick up one of the stars and asked how heavy the star is. Verdict? Heavy!. This leads to an extended discussion between Carrie and I about Alex's frankly weird post-star speech last week, where he basically said: "fuck you all, I don't even really need this. My parents are rich! Rich, I tell you!!" I Still think it was better than giving it to creepy Jerred, who everyone apparently thinks is brilliant because he talks about crazy science shit all the time (last week it was a teleporter). Dudes, TALKING about shit doesn't mean you'll be able to invent it. Check me out: a robot that makes omelets for you; a machine that lets you relive one day though the eyes of any historical figure; prescription car windshields, so I can drive without contacts (wait...that last one is kind of awesome...)

8:30: Before we get to the three stars, it's time for some sort of chore challenge. ZZZZZZZ.

8:31: Sophia raspily interviews (too many menthols? I wouldn't put it past her. She's 14 going on 74.)

8:33: Karsh, holding a stopwatch, says the kids only have 40 minutes to complete the remaining two tasks (then shouts, gratingly: "HURRRRRRY!") Chill, dude, they're on pace.

8:34: DK, up to this point one of the most athletic kids on the show, inexplicably can't move and carried across the line Byron Leftwich-style. Drama Queen.

8:35: The final task of the challenge, which--for reasons surpassing comprehension--involves dismantling a log cabin, moving it half a mile, then re-building it on the other side is rather curiously edited by producers. (The crux of all the challenges is as follows: if all four teams finish in an hour, the kids get to select between two rewards--one practical, one enjoyable. If they don't finish in the hour? No reward. I'm skeptical about how rigorously they adhere to the one hour structure since, without fail, each competition comes down to the final minute, which seems far too convenient for me.)

8:36: With only a minute to go, it's going to be a tight one (you see?). But then, all of a sudden...victory! I call bullshit on this whole challenge--as if they weren't going to let them get it.

8:37: As a bonus reward: the kids get to see their parents. The hell? Nice enough moment, I guess, but they couldn't have done this on Day 20? Big fucking deal, they were going to pick the kids up at the airport tomorrow anyway.

8:38: Just as an aside: it would've been much better if DK's dad yelled at him for lollygagging during the challenge

8:40: requisite parental tour of the grounds. Of course, all parents act mock horrified at the lack of cleanliness in the cabin (as if it's EVEN CLOSE to agreeing to send your kids off for six weeks--during the school year--to appear on a CBS reality show. Way to claim the moral high ground, mom and dad!)

8:45: The completely disingenuous/two-faced Greg makes some sort of breathless speech about integrity. Whatever. I'd be way more convinced if you weren't such a dick roughly half the time you're on air.

8:47: Gold star time! And recipient #1 is...Sophia. Morons! Because she got the arcade closed down? Lame. (Juicy development: # of black winners thus far? Zero. Stay tuned, as that won't last.)

8:49: Recipient #2 is...Morgan, who distinguished herself by not whining about shoveling dirty garbage in today's competition. Morgan--hilariously--actually admits in her speech that she hasn't really been working very hard. Morgan's dad thanks the Town Council. Greg bullshits back what an honor it was to know her and then Morgan's dad starts SLURPING Greg. God, shut up. Mr. Morgan, you might want to hold off on that one until you get the series on DVD. Disgusting, really.

8:51: Migle...whom I know nothing about (literally; like they should have put her on milk cartons after the first five weeks), wins the third star. Well, that was anti-climactic. She looks positively stunned ("I didn't even know I was on this show!" Neither did we, Migle. Neither did we.)

8:52: Requisite hope for our future speech, care of Mike's mom. Nice enough moment. I wonder if she knows how profoundly weird her child is. I think she does.

8:53: grrrr....take of your stupid toque already, Greg!!

8:54: And it's official: these kids think that these kids are pretty great. Who am I to argue?

8:55: and it ends super-abruptly. Hmmm. No reunion show? No stunning confessions that Kid X was coked out the entire time? Romance? The bleach thing?? Give me something! No? Alright. That's it I guess. Barring the strike extending longer than six months (which? Nooooo!), this is probably it for KN. In which case: Goodbye, Kid Nation! I'll admit that I was about you: bright, mostly decent kids (except for Greg--Greg's the devil), engaging format, fairly entertaining.

If the show does return, might I suggest child star Kid Nation (featuring, no doubt, Queen Dakota Fanning ruling with an iron fist)? Come on! Has to be better than Celebrity Apprentice...

Thursday, January 3, 2008

"Boys Becoming Men, Men Becoming Wolves..."

Seriously, if I ever try to add images to a post in the future, feel free to shoot me in the face...

Also: in the words of Frank Costanza: "I'm back, baby!"

2007 Music: A Completely Objective Year in Review

I first did this when I was living in Korea in 2005 for Sarah's blog (you can download that list right here).

The original test is lifted more or less (more) completely from my '05 post on the subject and is as follows:


1. To qualify, a album needs to be good (more or less) from start to finish. Pretty straightforward. Needing to skip a track here or there is acceptable, but I'm not willing to consider an album that consists of a hit track surrounded by 11 or so forgettable tunes. The absolute best thing about a consistently good album is that, after repeated listens, I'm always finding new tracks, meaning the CD actually improves over time.

2. Along those lines, the album needs to have staying power. It's always pissed me off that the Oscar nominations often come down to when certain pictures were released (i.e. films that are released at the start of the year are at a decided disadvantage because they are not fresh in the minds of the voters). The best example of this is Crash (for me, the best film of the year...and by a wide margin) that somehow only got two Golden Globe nominations and is likely to get screwed over with the Oscar nominations, too. [Note: OK, so it turns out I was wrong about this one. Damn you, hindsight!] Yet, with music, I think this kind of makes sense. If you're not coming back to an album from, say, February, it's probably not as good as you initially thought. This factor really worked against a couple of albums on my list (specifically Coldplay and, to a much lesser degree, Bright Eyes).

3. As always (and it's so obvious it's barely even worth mentioning), this list is horribly biased. For as long as I can remember, I get into a groove of listening to a certain CD while doing a specific activity and I will, from that point forward, forever associate said activity with said CD. Needless to say, these albums will have a special place in my heart. This year was no different. I listened to the Bright Eyes double disc and more or less constantly for a month while studying for the LSAT in my backyard. And Speak For Yourself, Set Yourself On Fire, and Funeral were in heavy, heavy rotation my first month in Korea.

[In case you're curious, other permanently linked CDs: a month long stretch in 2004 where I almost only listened to Let Go by Frou Frou, New Slang and Caring is Creepy by The Shins (for reasons I'd rather not go into); writing a 35 page paper in 2002 while holed up at my aunt and uncle's house (I was house-sitting) while only listening to A Rush of Blood to the Head (I named the paper after the album), Avalanche by Matthew Good, and Rocking the Suburbs by Ben Folds; Dr. Dre's The Chronic and Snoop's Doggystyle in the summer of 1994 (when I first discovered drinking); and my earliest (and most embarrassing) memory of this: listening (on tape!) to Amy Grant's Heart in Motion (specifically Every Heartbeat, which I positively adored when I was 12) while reading Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent wayyyy back in 1991. Good times.]

At any rate, I realize that I probably cannot rationally rank these albums, so they'll probably be a bit higher on the list than they perhaps should be. I'm fine with that.

While I neglected to compile a list for '06, my top 10 would've been:

1. Boys and Girls in America by the Hold Steady
2. Silent Shout by The Knife
3. Eyes Open by Snow Patrol
4. Everything All the Time by Band of Horses
5. 9 by Damien Rice
6. Show Your Bones by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
7. The Eraser by Thom Yorke
8. Return to Cookie Mountain by TV on the Radio
9. Carnavas by Silversun Pickups
10. The Life Pursuit by Belle and Sebastian

With that, onto 2007 albums:

Things I wish were a bit better: Icky Thump by The White Stripes (saw them live this summer at the JLC--thanks, Misha!--and they, predictably, fucking rocked. But they rocked in large part because they played a lot of old stuff, including a couple tracks from my favorite album of theirs, Get Behind Me Satan. IT had some cool riffs but also several tracks that I felt compelled to skip they were so bad. On the whole, the album didn't do much for me); Spirit If... by Kevin Drew (everyone who knows my taste in music knows that I'm completely in the tank for Broken Social Scene, so I had high hopes for this solo effort. The result? A not bad but not nearly as sonically pleasing sound. Rarely a week goes by that I don't listen to a BSS album, but I think I've run through Spirit If... twice (if that) since it came out.); Year Zero by NIN (cool concept, great build-up, weak album. Too noisy by half--yes, I realize it's a NIN album--and a step back from With Teeth, Reznor's terrific '05 disc); Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace by Foo Fighters (love "The Pretender" as a single, but I'm not blown away by this--I think--completely unmemorable album. 5 Grammy nominations? Really?? This breaks my rule of acknowledging the Grammys as anything other than a ridiculous farce, but: I'm kind of disappointed by this. Why give this album so much cred while ignoring the vastly superior Skin and Bones acoustic double disc?), The Boy With No Name by Travis (meh); Sky Blue Sky by Wilco (meh plus).

Things I wish were a lot better:
All the Lost Souls by James Blunt (it was probably wrong of me to like Back to Bedlam, but, dammit, I kind of did, but his follow up album was impossibly bad); Hospital Music by Matthew Good (utterly unmemorable, which is about as critical as I can be of someone who is responsible for three albums--Underdogs, Beautiful Midnight, and Avalanche--in my all-time top 50. He seemed to mail this one in, which is pretty disappointing.)

Five that just missed the Top 20:

25. Cease to Begin by Band of Horses: There's a fine line between having a nice voice that conveys beautiful things and that just happens to be high-pitched and...simply being screetchy. On Everything All the Time, Ben Bridwell landed squarely on the pretty side of things, and the result was an outstanding album. Here? Well, I think you know where I'm going with this. Just a bit too shrill for my liking. (Note: I think this is what has prevented me from totally embracing My Morning Jacket. They produce--as Ryan is fond of saving--tons of tasty riffs, but I'm still hung up on the vocals.)

24. Hvarf/Heim by Sigur Ros: Sorry, Sarah! While I dig the instrumentation, I've come to dread the vocals (there's only so much Icelandic falsetto and I can handle).

23. Close to Paradise by Patrick Watson: OK, Polaris Prize, maybe it's time for you to pack it up. It's bad enough that the-virtually-unlistenable-to Final Fantasy (seriously, give his album--the improbably named He Poos Clouds--a shot if you don't believe me) took down the '06 award over four far worthier candidates (The New Pornographers, Metric, Wolf Parade, and, of course, Broken Social Scene), but now Watson's OK-but-hardly-memorable record has beaten out Feist and Tegan and Sara for this year's award? Madness. [Note: Rob notes on this blog that this album came out in 2006 and dammit if he isn't correct (Oct. 3, 2006). Nevertheless, I'm keeping it here. So there.]

22. Magic by Bruce Springsteen: sorry, Shuk! This one just doesn't quite do it for me. Is it wrong that I'd rather listen to the Hold Steady's Boys and Girls in America (where they're essentially ripping off Springsteen) than the Boss himself at this stage? Oh. Also: the fact that Entertainment Weekly named this album the best of '07, like, almost out of hand, really drives me crazy. (Imagined editors meeting: "ok, we need to do a top ten for the year--did Paul McCartney, Springsteen, Santana, or Steely Dan release an album? They did!? Awesome. No, no, I don't need to listen to them--I'm sure they're terrific discs. Now, let's just throw on Kanye to show that we're totally hip and we're halfway home! This is, like, supereasy! Who wants to order Chinese?")

21. In Our Bedroom After the War by Stars:
great, great title; sleep-inducing album. This is especially disheartening in light of their previous effort (Set Yourself on Fire) being my absolute favorite album of 2004. This, in turn, brings up a troubling trend, mainly: I can't quite call it a Sophomore Slump since several of these artists have been around for a while, but it's like that. The following artists released albums in '07 that were markedly inferior to their previous album: Sigur Ros, Stars, Spoon, Bloc Party, Fountains of Wayne, The Arcade Fire, Editors, Band of Horses, Jose Gonzales, The White Stripes, Matthew Good, Kenna, Nine Inch Nails).

(Finally...) The Top 20 Albums:

20. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga by Spoon: not quite drinking the Kool-Aid (I wanted to say this once before the expression completely jumped the shark. Wait...that already happened? Shit.) on this one yet. While I don't begrudge Spoon their success--far from it, as I was thrilled to see them on SNL--they've been better. Yes, "The Underdog" is a terrific song (but better than "I Turn My Camera On"? Surely not), but the rest of the album? Not so much. In fact, in places, it's extremely aggravating (see: "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case," which I flat-out despise.) I'll stick with Gimme Fiction (especially) and Girls Can Tell, thanks.

19. The Shepherd's Dog by Iron and Wine:
When I was first introduced to Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine)--his slowed-down cover of "Such Great Heights"--I was significantly underwhelmed, and, consequently, steered clear of his first two albums. But this new one, which is far more upbeat, has made me re-consider everything else he's done.

18. Neon Bible by the Arcade Fire: what the hell, Arcade Fire? What. The. Hell? This wasn't supposed to happen! Neon Bible was supposed to be as good as (or, let's be realistic, slightly weaker than) Funeral, thus securing their position as "Canada's Best Band By Far." But, for whatever reason, this didn't happen. When I was perusing my iTunes library, I noticed something interesting with regards to Neon Bible. Go on, click on the link. Notice anything unusual? Anything? (Hint: check the play count). Everything I write for the remainder of this paragraph will simply be a verbal representation of those play count numbers, but I'll go ahead anyway: aside from "Keep the Car Running" (and, to a much lesser extent, "Intervention"--and, I suppose, "Black Mirror"), this isn't a very good album. Some ten months after first I first listened to the disc, I'm still trying to come to grips with this.

(Also worth noting: this is one of the most critically-acclaimed albums of the year--with an overall score of 87 on Metacritic, it's their 7th-highest rated album of the year--which leads me to conclude either (a) reviewers haven't heard Funeral or The Arcade Fire EP--admittedly unlikely--and are thus unaware of how good this band can be; (b) they have heard the other albums and are simply overrating this current one; or (c) I'm being way too tough on the band.) (Note: it's three weeks later, and I'm absolutely positive it's (b).)

17. Wincing the Night Away by The Shins: No New Slang here or (even better) Caring is Creepy, but, surprisingly, this album is probably their most consistent offering yet. Now all they need is for Zach Braff to take another stab at directing (anything that keeps him away from the set of The Ex 2 is fine with me).

16. Last Light by Matt Pond PA: Bonus points here for also releasing If You Want Blood in '07, a listenable, if unremarkable EP. He may not be everyone's favorite--fun fact, if you mention MPPA's cover of "Champagne Supernova" on one of the OC soundtracks to Rob, he'll turn on his heels and stalk away--but he's turned out to be a pretty strong singer/songwriter (I do believe that even Rob enjoyed this CD). Pitchfork shit all over this one (giving it 3.7--note: not out of 5) and, in the process, reveals that Pond, in fact, now lives in Brooklyn (liar!), but despite all that I like pretty much everything on this disc, except for the excruciating"Taught to Look Away," where he does a duet with (I had to look it up) Neko Case (who is usually much better--and, to be fair, I think it's mostly Pond's fault) of New Pornographers fame, that is so bad that I've taken the virtually unprecedented step (at least for me) of deleting it from my iPod.

15. Proof of Youth by The Go! Team:
Still got it. I feel like this could've been packaged with 2005's Thunder, Lightning, Strike and would not have seemed at all out of place, which suggests that (a) they haven't really evolved as a group, but also: (b) TYS kicked some serious ass, so how can being mentioned in the same breath as it be a bad thing? I continue to be really impressed by this highly energetic band.

14. Alive 2007 by Daft Punk:
I'll come clean: I'm new to the Daft Punk scene...and kicking myself for not jumping on their bandwagon much earlier.

13. Is Is by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs:
Question: why did I put an EP on this list? Answer: shut up, that's why. Would be higher if it was longer, but I can't really fault a group for releasing a five-track album when every track kicks ass.

12. War Stories by Unkle:
Carrie introduced me to Unkle a few weeks back, and I'm very glad she did. Currently, I'm addicted to "Burn My Shadow," which features vocals from Ian Astbury (and a very cool Sawesque video starring Goran Visnij). Think of them as a better version of The Good, The Bad, & The Queen and you're on the right track.

11. All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone by Explosions in the Sky:
Furthering my theory that EITS is incapable of delivering a bad (or even average) album, this is another gem. My biggest complaint is that it isn't longer (I'll save you the trouble: that's what she said). This Austin quartet ("trio" sounds cooler, but such is life) remains my go-to "listening to while reading" band.

10. We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank by Modest Mouse:
something that I listened to constantly for the first two months after its release, but then came back to infrequently the rest of the year. There's an album like this--awesome out of the gate, but lacking in staying power--every year...and, for whatever reason, MM gets the title this year. Regardless, it's a solid outing, with "Dashboard" being one of my favorite five tracks of the year--go on, tell me you don't love driving when this song comes on in the car. I dare you.

9. The Boxer by The National:
before you ask: yes, it is mildly disconcerting that their lead singer sounds eerily like the frontman from the Crash Test Dummies (According to Wikipedia, Brad Roberts was CTD's lead singer, though I have no idea if this is true or not. Fun fact: also from Wikipedia: CTD's "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead", which appeared in Dumb and Dumber and is my favorite Dummies song, was actually a cover of XTC's 1992 tune of the same name. For whatever reason, I'm always shocked when songs that I assumed to be original turn out to be covers.) But, that aside, this is a terrific album, with particularly well-conceived lyrics (I'm partial to "Fake Empire" at the moment, but it changes from week to week.)

8. An End Has a Start by Editors:
I seem to like these guys more than...pretty much everyone else, which is a bit puzzling. No matter. I think this is a very solid follow up to The Back Room.

7. Easy Tiger by Ryan Adams:
I know, I know, I'm totally in the tank for this guy, but after two of his three 2005 albums turned out to be somewhat--much to my consternation--terrible (Jacksonville City Nights and 29), and a quiet (especially by his standards) 2006, I feel like I can wholeheartedly recommend this one. Bonus points for RA since he released an EP (Follow the Lights) late in the year that was also first-rate. And yes, this does fulfill my contractual obligation to mention him in every post.

6. Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem:
"I'm totally open to arguments that this album should be five places higher or off the list entirely as, months later, I'm still not quite sure what to make of it--although, in the last month, I've listened to this album more than anything else. Bonus points because LCD also released 45:33 (otherwise known as the Nike running track), which totally kicks ass" is what I wrote in November when I first placed this album at #14. I've been coming back to this album two or three times a week for the past two months...and it keeps getting stronger and stronger, as there are four or five tracks that could legitimately be considered great. To me, this is the breakthrough album of the year.

5. In Rainbows by Radiohead:
hey, remember Radiohead? Used to be one of the best bands in the world then got really pretentious and released three albums that were virtually indechiperable (indeed, practically unitelligible: see 1999-2004)? That must ring a bell. Turns out that they're still capable of being brilliant. Though this CD wins the "Gayest Album Title" in a landslide, that's really the only (semi-)legitimate criticism I can come up with, because, otherwise? It's technically perfect.

4. A Weekend in the City by Bloc Party: [Bias alert!] I've read all or parts of a half-dozen "Best Of Music" lists and this album is conspicuously absent from all of them which is both a shame and completely unfair. It seems pretty clear that people are comparing this--obviously unfavourably--to Silent Alarm (which I will do in just a second), and failing to acknowledge that it stands up just fine on its own. For my part, it actually physically pains me to rank this even this low, but I'd be lying if I said that it deserved to be higher. I've come to loathe the criticism that an album is "too polished" (unless it's applying to boy bands), mostly because I think it's something you say when you review something knowing full well that you want to hate it but then it turns out you actually kinda like but you still feel the need to say something snarky, so I'll steer clear of saying that outright, but there's no denying that Silent Alarm (their first release, which was my album of the year for '05, and one of my favorite CDs ever) had a rawness, a kinetic quality, a passion to it that A Weekend in the City undeniably lacks. It's not so much that AWITC is too polished so much as, compared to its immediate predecessor, it's a little lifeless (which is different, I feel the need to point out, than "dull"). For instance, there were three songs on Silent Alarm that I fell in love with at three different points over a year and a half ("Banquet," after hearing it on Shuk's radio show in the early summer of '05; "Plans"--particularly an acoustic version I stumbled upon--in Australia in early '06; and "This Modern Love" in the summer of '07, after it popped up unexpectedly in the season one finale of Howq I Met Your Mother. Barring some sort of miracle, there's roughly a 0% chance of this happening with AWITC).

As this is shaping up to be the most downbeat review of a Top 5 album ever, I feel compelled to move on to the things that I really like about the album: when you feel like brooding, there's nothing that can top this album. (That's it? Really?? It would appear so. I honestly can't think of anything else at the moment except to say that it's a really good--if not great--album that deserves more credit than it received.) Bonus points to the band for releasing the competent, if unremarkable, Flux EP, this fall. I don't exactly want them to become a techno band, but, based on the lead track off the EP, it certainly seems as if they could pull it off if they wanted to.

3. The Reminder by Feist:
For most of the year, I thought that this would easily be my favorite album of '07, but it got passed in Q4. Nonetheless, this is a terrific disc. The Reminder also has the dubious distinction of inspiring the single most hilarious criticism of an album in 2007, courtesy of my father. Earlier in the year, I burned a copy for mom and dad, expecting them to love it, only to have my father inform me that, while he enjoyed it, he found that there was entirely "too much rhythmic clapping on the album" for his liking. And, really, how can you argue with that logic?

2. Challengers
by The New Pornographers: Other than A Weekend in the City, I was looking forward to this album more than anything else...and I'm happy to report that it did not disappoint. There isn't a weak track here, not to mention several standouts: Myriad Harbor, My Rights Versus Yours, and Challenger (which is so good that it was one of only two songs this year that I listened to for an hour straight at one point--the other one is coming up.)

1. The Con by Tegan and Sara: Believe me, I'm probably as surprised (or more) as you are that this ended up at #1, but I have to say: it's really, really fucking good. What's more: there's absolutely no reason it should be, considering that the two girls composed and recorded this album in different time zones. Regardless, it's terrific, with the track "The Con" being, in my estimation, an absolutely perfect song. (Go on, put it on, I know you want to.) From it's poetic opening ("I listened in, yes I'm guilty of this you should know. I brokedown and wrote you back before you had a chance to"--which conveys so much more than you'd ever expect a song to), to the build up ("I'm capsized on the edge of safe.."), to the killer escalating refrain ("nobody nobody nobody") I could (indeed have) listen(ed) to this song all day. And the entire album--a mere 37 minutes long--is pure bliss. I just plain love it. (shut up, you're babbling.) As an added bonus, since I assumed that I didn't like T+S prior to this year, I now have the pleasure of going back and listening to their entire catalogue. (Score!) One standout is their excellent cover of Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" off of Songs for Christoff. I highly recommend.