Wednesday, January 03, 2007

My favorite movies of 2006, some of which are of 2005, because DVDs really mess things up, and most of which are in English, because I speak it good.

This is by no means a definitive list, mostly due to the fact that I find it hard to remember what movies I've seen over the course of the past year, but also partly due to the fact that these are my favorite movies right this second, which could change next second real easy-like, because I'm capricious like that. But who cares? Let's dig in!

The List! The List!

1. Thank You For Smoking - Was this my favorite film of the year? I'm not sure. It was a top 10 movie though, and probably a top 5 flick, too. Aron Eckhart is balls-out in the lead role, and ought to have his pick of just about any part he wants from now on. Sadly, the film loses its way near the end, trying hard to have Eckhart's character learn some bullshit lesson to make the whole exercise a little more palatable. And did anyone else notice that no one actually smoked during the film? Maybe I'm wrong and need to watch it again, but come on. Grow some gonads, you producer types.

2. A Prairie Home Companion - Holy-hellavu good time, folks! Altman might be dead and buried, but he gets to live on and on with this one. A nice note for Garrison Keillor to begin his conquest of the world, too. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin are fantastically funny, as are John C. Reilly and Woody from Cheers. Additionally, it was nice to see Sue Scott, Tim Russell, Tom Keith and Guy's All-Star Shoe band all on the big-screen. Next, Altman's ghost directs that Moody Radio show Unshackled! I can't wait!

3. The Devil and Daniel Johnston - Saddest. Doc. Ever. Okay, maybe not. But still, major bummer/awesome-town music party all at the same time. Some people might call it a tragic tale. I call it way better than most other things you could ever watch ever....ever.

4. United 93 - It wasn't my favorite film of the year, but it was probably the best. Paul Greengrass' real-time account of the morning of you-know-when is so freaking punch-you-in-the-face amazing I want to put it into a confetti bomb and explode it over the universe. *What the hell am I talking about?* Who knows? But this film is the most powerful 90 minutes of the year, and I don't say that lightly. I say it heavily, and with ass-loads of gusto. Whatever. Just go watch it.

5. Brick - This might have been my favorite film of 2006 now that I think about it. Rian Johnson executes a nearly pitch-perfect noir set in the halls of a tripped-out high school where people talk like the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s never happened. It's weird. It's fun. People get killed. Then there's a reveal at the end. Watch it with subtitles though. Even though it's in English, you'll miss half the fun without them.

6. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Another crime film, this one all "stylish" and stuff, whatever the hell that means. R. Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer aren't my favorite actors, but they do bring the funny in this whodunnit action/thriller/buddy comedy. What the crap is this movie about anyway? I couldn't tell you. Some weird coincidences happen and happen and happen or something. But I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. So it's here on the list. Kilmer is especially hilarious as a deadpan, queer private investigator. I even watched the commentary I liked it so much. And even that was mildly entertaining.

7. Little Miss Sunshine - Okay. Yeah. Everyone and their freaking grandma looooooved this movie. But hey, it was good. And funny. And heart-warming. Except for that second-to-last- scene where they all danced to the stripper song. That was just ridiculous. Like the scene in About a Boy where Hugh Grant played guitar. Just ridiculous. It felt like it had been written by a focus group in Orange County. Other than that, I loved it. Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris and Michael Arndt made this little gem for you and me and everyone we know and we should all just say "thank you" and enjoy it and shut the hell up.

8. Inside Man - Spike Lee lights up another joint and we end up with this bank-heist thriller with grad school smarts and a weird tries-to-be-sexy ending that just ends up creepy. But until the creepiness kicks in, good luck not going crazy trying to figure this one out.

9. Dave Chappelle's Block Party - So many jokes! So many good tunes! Road trips to Ohio! I want a block party of my very own so very badly. Michel Gondry is basically my new hero. (sorry, Hiro)

10. Who Killed the Electric Car? - My favorite documentary of the year, WKTEC flies by night and flies by day and flies just about anywhere it wants. They break it down, see, piece by piece, telling you personal stories and public stories about how these normal people with these e-cars that they absolutely loved had them recalled even though there was nothing wrong with them and even though they loved them bad. Hardcore bad. And now there's one left and it's in a museum with its guts ripped out so that no one gets to drive it ever again. Sure, maybe the cars would only work in cities and for errands like to the grocery store and back, and not for trips across half the county so that I can see my friends and family, but still, let these normal people have their cars, GM. Don't be a dick.

Four that could have been awesome:

The Squid and the Whale - Great cast. Great tone. Flimsy script. Too much existential angst.

Superman Returns - So-so cast. Kevon Smith's script was better. Too many Jesus poses. Not enough Superman punching people through walls.

V for Vendetta - Great performances. So-so visuals. Natalie Portman is hot, bald or not. Too dumbed down from the novel.

Everything Is Illuminated - Real good music. Real good pictures. Everything else just doesn't quite gel. Nice to see the hobbit in something else, though.

And 12 more I want to see bad:

  • Jesus Camp
  • Children of Men
  • Stranger than Fiction
  • Little Children
  • Babel
  • The Last King of Scotland
  • The Fountain
  • Inland Empire
  • Volver
  • Three Times
  • The Science of Sleep
  • Pan's Labyrinth

So there you go. It'll change in 10 minutes, anyways, so big whoop if you hate it. But we both know had Superman punched a few people outside of earth's atmosphere and straight into the heart of the sun, this list would be irrelevant, because Superman Returns would have been ranked numbers 1-10 based on that and that alone.

Oh, well. There's always the sequel.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Old/New Music I Rocked To In 2006, A Top Whatever List

2006 was basically a year I used to catch up on things I should have listened to a long time ago. A few things were new/new, but not enough for their own list. Other things were partial new/old, meaning I finally got around to listening to an album I had downloaded months before. Here are some of those things, in some sort of order:

1. Alan Lomax recordings - Southern Journey series, Vols. 1-13 - All of my favorite albums of the year. I went through this awesome folk phase last summer, culminating in these recordings from 50 years ago: Volumes 9 & 10 / 11 & 12 blew me away, the former with hours of shape-note singing, the latter with the Georgia Sea Island singers. I wish the contemporary worship scene would ingest this somehow, giving it untold strength and power, and less Coldplay riffs. Get these albums at any cost.

2. Rachel's - systems/layers
- Oi, this is good stuff. Mostly modern classical, quasi-orchestral stuff, with sort of a post-rock-ish and something-I-can't-quite-put-my-finger-on vibe. Whatever it's called, it's real pretty.

3. Danielson - Ships
- Boom yeah! Danielson sails fast, Danielson sails sure!

4. Sufjan Stevens - Songs for Christmas - The CDs that broke my 5-month downloading fast. Gooodness gracious that man/boy can write, sing and play.

5. Damien Jurado - Where Shall You Take Me? - An album I missed when it came out, my friend Portia burnt me a copy before I saw him in Chicago. It may be his best since Rehearsals for Departure. If not, it's still damn good.

6. Vaughan Williams - Riders to the Sea / Fantasia on Greensleeves - Basically I love this guy, dead though he may be.

7. Jackie Wilson - Reet Petite: The Very Best of Jackie Wilson - Ditto. Only more like wild love.

8. Eric B. & Rakim -– Paid In Full - Rakim, now RAKIM, pretty much lives in awesometown 24/7.

9. Yann Tiersen - Basically alot: La Valse des Monstres / Rue Des Cascades / Le Phare / L' Absente / Tout Est Calme / Les Retrouvailles / Black Session - One of my binges this year, downloading all the Yann Tiersen I could get my hands on. Unfortunately, I had burned none of it to CD before my computer died. But so many good listens while I had it.

10. Buddy & Julie Miller - Love Snuck Up - I like country music sometimes. Buddy Miller is why.

11. The Stanley Brothers - Angel Band: The Classic Mercury Recordings / The Complete Columbia Recordings - The Stanley Brothers are why, too.

12. Over the Rhine - Snow Angels - More Christmas goodies from OtR. This time with less depression.

13. Snowglobe - Our Land Brains - Oh mans, Manserly, I want to be a Elephant 6er.

14. The Apples in Stereo - Fun Trick Noisemaker - Me, too.

15. Clem Snide - Your Favorite Music - I had a little Clem Snide ep that I've been listening to for a couple of years now, but I didn't go out of my way to hear anything else from them until this year. I badly-loved Your Favorite Music for weeks beginning with my trip to Montana last April. Good frontier music.

16. King Geedorah - Take Me To Your Leader - Quirky rap. Hot rap. This deserves a cartoon special.

17. The Concretes - The Concretes in Color - Summer pop done real good. Been awaiting May 07 since September 06.

18. Mi and L'au - Mi and L'au
- Jake downloaded this and good thing, too, because basically it was the best album for listens after 2:00am for all summer long. Where are they from? I forget. Somewhere better than America, though.

19. Danger Mouse and Jemini - Ghetto Pop Life - Catching up on an album I had had for a couple years now, but didn't sit down with head phones until last spring. Spring is nice. So is this.

20. Half-Handed Cloud - Thy Is A Word & Feet Need Lamps - Discovered while searching for the new Danielson album, I think. Maybe not. But this one-man band is pretty much the best one-man band I know, sir.

21. DAT Politics - Wow Twist - Good pick, Paco. Thanks for getting the words out of your mouth.

22. Amadou et Mariam - Tje ni mousso - Africa, my Africa! Amadou & Mariam make me want to run and jump very high. And love animals real bad, too.

23. Sam Cooke -– Night Beat - My favorite soul singer lights it up -- on a studio album!

24. Frank Sinatra - In the Wee Small Hours - I'm taking back Frank Sinatra.

25. Common - One Day It'll All Make Sense - Good for Chicago driving. Another album lost in the computer crash of aught-six.

26. The Clutters - The Clutters - Some rock and roll band I came across. With farfisa hooks.

27. Public Enemy - Yo! Bum Rush the Show / Fear of a Black Planet - Chuck D drops bombs like a fierce sumbitch.

28. The Breeders - Pod - Way better than Bossanova. Frank Black should be ashamed.

29. Elizabeth Cotten -– Freight Train And Other North Carolina Folk Songs - Part of the folk and blues phase I mentioned. Miss Cotten plays meaner than your mom.

30. The Beatles - Please Please Me to A Hard Day's Night - Speaking of moms, my mom used to have all these on vinyl. She saw them live in 1964. I'm very jealous.

31. Method Man - Tical - My first forray outside of 36 Chambers. Bad-love it.

32. Suburban Kids With Biblical Names Â- #3 - Cutesy, indie pop for the kids who were 7 when Belle & Sebastian dropped Tigermilk. Still, surprisingly yummy.

33. Charles Aznavour - Sus Mas Grandes Exitos - In the Yann Tiersen binge, I came across some more Frenchies, like this guy. Would be sexier were I female.

34. Giacomo Puccini - La Boheme - Trying to learn to like opera. Puccini makes it easier.

35. Quasi - When the Going Gets Dark - These guys have been around forever and now I just hear them for the first time and now I just like them for the first time. And forever. Like Over the Rhine, but with knives.

36. Defiance, OH - The Great Depression - Socialist, possibly anarchist, Woody Guthrie inspired folk-punk. Much better than Toledo, OH, as well.

37. Alan Lomax recordings - Southern Journey series, Vols. 1-13 - I'm not kidding. Go get these songs, right now, dammit!

Monday, January 01, 2007

my year in review: onward and upward

It's getting late. Quietly, quietly late. We had our first real snowfall in the valley just the day before yesterday. A few inches in the morning, another inch after noon, and pretty soon we are all covered, all blanketed, now waiting for the warmth of spring, now waiting contently, content to enjoy old mother winter for as long she takes. She ain't snowbird.

This year has taken us to new places (again). This year has brought alot of new faces (again). This year just might have been the best year ever, hard as it was at times, because we are alive and enjoying every second of it. Every damn second of it.

We're waiting for things to happen these days. All sorts of things. Not grasping for newness just for the hell of it every chance we get, but sitting back on our haunches and letting newness happen in its season, in its own time, flowering by night. The early bird gets the worm, yes. But the patient bird looks to the west, and after the storm rolls through, she feasts.

Dark as things seem sometimes, there is a feast ahead. And all creation groins for that day.

I've been reading bits of Isaiah lately, partly because it's poetry, but mostly because it's good poetry:

Man is humbled, and each one brought low, and the eyes of the haughty are brought low. But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness. Then shall the lambs graze as in pasture, and nomads shall eat among the ruins of the rich.

We're making things happen these days. All sorts of things. Piece by piece we're building bridges and laying down roads, plowing fields and sowing seeds. It's tough work, to be sure. And sometimes, hardly rewarding. But pressing on is all we know to do. Pressing on and resting in the shadow of his wings. Press and rest. Press and rest. Festival, sabbath, press and rest. One day we will graze as lambs in pasture. But for now we press. One day we shall feast among the ruins of the rich. But for now we press.

It's tough business this pressing. But that's what his wings are for. That's what his temple is for. That's what you my brother, and you my sister, are for. This pressing is tough business, but we press for a goal.

Not that I have already obtained this or have become perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Straining forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal of the upward call, holding true to what we have attained.

Learning to remember. Remembering to be content.