Okay. 10 things. With subsections.
1. Best Music Purchase: LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening. My strange return to electronic music this year hit a high with this one: at times beautifully danceable (“All I Want”) and other times beautifully noisy. “Drunk Girls” may be the catchiest single of the year, and is more about slyly admiring the bonding of drunk girls versus the solipsistic behavior of drunk boys. Best lines: “Just 'cause I'm shallow doesn't mean that I'm heartless/ Just 'cause I'm heartless doesn't mean that I'm mean” and “Drunk girls wait an hour to pee”.
1A. Fave Music Purchase: DEVO – Something For Everybody. A high concept album that featured fake marketing research videos and a release party only for cats, this album was more than a comeback for fans; it was a reminder that when Devo’s syncopation is on, and Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale’s voices blend together, you get some damned fine, really fun music. It starts off with four great, ironic and utterly danceable singles – the song “Fresh” features recycled lyrics from other Devo songs and “Don’t Shoot” is as propulsive as anything they’ve ever done – and then gets better, peaking with the final three songs, which are totally unironic, emotionally committed songs that should not work for Devo, but absolutely do. Problem: The CD stalls momentarily with “Cameo”, a song that is either: 1. About Ian Astbury of The Cult and his appropriations of Native American culture; 2. Simply about pop appropriations of Native American culture, or; 3. Completely fucking offensive for fucking offensiveness’ sake. Regardless, the single “Work It” should have been on here instead of this.
1B. Fave Single: “Alive” by Goldfrapp, a spot-on Xanadu soundtrack soundalike that should be played in skating rinks everywhere. It features everything that’s great about early 80’s Eurodisco – a hook that could catch a sperm whale, self-empowerment lyrics, big, fat, bloated keyboards, and a line about one’s jeans being “a little tight”. The video is a hilarious romp through a Satanic ritual designed to bring a now-aerobicized Sandy from Grease back to demonic life via a Goth dance ceremony, interrupted by also-aerobicizing vampires.
2. Worst Music – I haven’t immediately hated any song as much as Owl City’s “Fireflies”, a song with lyrics I have seen quoted in complete sincerity on Facebook. Besides the fact that the music is a complete ripoff of the Postal Service, it attempts to, and I quote myself here, “…commercially recreate the feeling of precious wonder felt by any girl seeing Lloyd Dobler delicately kick the piece of glass out of Diane Court’s way in Say Anything”. It doesn’t mean anything. It wants you to think it does. It wants you to believe that preciousness equals emotional and spiritual yearning and discovery. It features the worst fucking song lyrics of all time: “It’s hard to say that I’d rather stay/ Awake when I’m asleep/ ‘Cause everything is never as it seems”. The video only adds to the horror, as a bunch of old toys come to life as Mr. City plays his Sears-brand 70’s catalog-bought organ, complete with light patterns, while leaning over it in his darned socks. It is a completely commercial attempt to co-opt the dreams of sensitive teenagers everywhere and completely succeeded on a commercial level. And I hate its ass-face. Yes, most pop music attempts to use co-opted emotion to sell product, but rarely is it dressed up as sincerely as this crap. Yeah, it may have come out last year, but it’s still as fucking ubiquitous as ever, which is why it’s still the worst song of the year.
3. Best Saddest Moment: Gotta say, David Tennant’s departure from Doctor Who, while certainly not the best story of all time (with commercials, the pacing drags, without commercials, it’s a dozen times better, but still not that great), does get the epic transition and the idea that the Doctor actually dies when he regenerates completely right. But what seals it for me is not Tennant’s fantastic final line, completely in character for his Doctor (“I don’t wanna go.”), but the teary salute Wilf gives him as he goes off to die. Wilf – an old man with maybe 2-3 years left in him, has done something completely selfless and stupid that, after saving the universe for the umpteenth time, forces the Doctor to sacrifice himself just to save one old man, who did something selfless and stupid. At Donna’s wedding, Wilf salutes him as he’s leaving, and The Doctor gives him a look that, to me, is full of blame and anger. Wilf knows what’s happened, and knows this “wonderful man” may never forgive him.
3A: Best Next Moment: Matt Smith appears in The Doctor’s pants post-regeneration and makes the part completely his in about 2 minutes.
3B: that’s what she said
4. Best Movie I Actually Saw From This Year Released This Year: I don’t go to the movies anymore: maybe once a year. This year, it was Tron: Legacy, and I was deeply disappointed, although my eight-year-old loved it. The best movie I saw was …well, shit. I’ve hit a point where I don’t care as much about seeing newer films as I do about discovering older ones and revisiting old friends. Hell, I cry during the first five minutes of A Matter of Life and Death, and did so again Monday night. I guess the newest film I saw that had any impact on a legitimate critical level – and not the one I will discuss below – was Monsters, which wears its allegory on its sleeve so much that it almost doesn’t work. And I’m sure it doesn’t work for most people, who want a movie about giant monsters and not a very slightly hidden story about illegal immigration, the genuine horrors those people go through just to get across the border, and how aggravation and unthinking violence destroys lives. In case you didn’t get that when watching it, I advise you to think about the sublime ending of the film, where two people trapped in a deserted gas station bear witness to an amazingly beautiful courtship/conversation/mating ritual performed by two computer generated squid/elephant hybrid lookin’ things, and then remember what happened in the first sequence of the film. No spoiler here. It’s overwrought at times, and I wished I cared about the two main characters more, but the thing works fantastically at times, and there’s a supporting performance by a ferry worker that ranks among the best performances ever, as he smiles and continues to insist that the two travelers will pay what he wants eventually, so why haggle? And why get upset? The most suspenseful part of the film is when he eyes a ring given in exchange for travel and sits and eyes, and eyes, and eyes, until he says something so short and natural that it’s funny in spite of itself. Oh, and the director made the film for about 50 grand, most of which was spent on the title critters, which he created on his computer in his bedroom. I just play Starcraft 2 on mine. Movie improved a lot upon re-viewing.
5.Thing I Still Just Don’t “Get” But Which Must Be Great Because My Wife Likes It So Much And I Deeply Respect Her Opinions On Things: Dexter. He’s a fucking serial killer. So he kills other murderers. If that’s what we’re down to, morally, that this sort of thing is okay – and I’ve never seen an episode where this wasn’t portrayed as something okay – then throw Hammurabi’s Code out the fucking window. Hell, let’s just throw every idea we have that’s morally above such behavior in order for society to progress right out the window and just let the planet revert back to the Cro-Magnon era. Seriously. My wife says the show is about the mental damage caused by bad parenting, and I believe she might be right, because I respect her opinion. I still call bullshit on it. But this is highly ironic because….
6. Best Guilty Pleasure and Fave New Movie of the Year I Actually Caught On Demand As It Was In Theaters: Centurion. Damn, I love a good B-movie. You don’t have to think, it doesn’t ask anything else of you than to watch it, and sometimes a great filmmaker can take those limitations and make something great. This is not great. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, but as bloody and violent a movie as I’ve ever seen – and damned if I don’t love it for going as far as it does. This isn’t violence – it’s cartoon violence, so over the top and in your face that it’s like watching any one of Braveheart’s battle scenes if they were done by the old Warner Brothers cartoon crowd and extended to 90 minutes. You’ll see more brain bashing and severed heads than in any performance of Titus Andronicus. There are some great things about it: Michael Fassbender gives an Oscar-caliber performance that holds the whole thing together, and David Morrisey and Olga Kurylenko are great, too. Ms. Kurylenko’s revenge seeking Pict is awesome, especially the way she just jumps right in to the horrific primitivism that is the slow, savage chopping of someone’s head off via a handaxe. If you’ve ever seen a movie before, you know exactly what will happen, and that’s exactly what great B-movies do – fulfill the promise. It turns into a chase film that uses every cliché in the book, from the waterfall jump to the centurions’ amazing ability to hide exactly where and when necessary to escape their foes. So, yeah, it’s more violent than Dexter, and, yeah, I’m being asked to identify with a bunch of Roman soldiers who are evil occupiers and who have – for the most part – earned their fate. The difference is that the film doesn’t try to hide any of it, and isn’t trying to make some point. It’s pure, visceral power that could be even better than it is if it didn’t try to give us so many characters to try and deal with, and if the ending didn’t just…sort of happen. I know my history, so I knew what was going to happen, but there’s a suddenness to it that throws it off, just slightly. Neil Marshall is on his way to becoming the next John Carpenter, and Godspeed.
7. Best Night Of The Week: Thursdays on NBC. Certainly, The Office has declined over time, but how the hell was it expected to keep up the amazing heights reached in Seasons 2 and 3? I still laugh at it, even though the humor’s not quite as smart. However, as of the last episode, Holly, you’re dead to me. New secretary Erin’s blockage of Holly Flax as she tries to explain things to a devastated Michael is the high point of the season, for me. Now, Outsourced? Hate it. 30 Rock? It’s okay, and I laugh, but it’s just not…deep, emotionally, and isn’t intended to be. That leaves the two best sitcoms on the air right now, Parks and Recreation and Community, the latter of which hit it out of the park with the stop-motion animation Christmas episode, which may be among the greatest things in the history of humans, esp. the final, sublime image of the real life actors reflected in Abed’s TV screen, as in a Christmas card. If there was ever a TV show that could actually heal the planet, it might be that one. Parks and Rec. has overtaken The Office in quality, maybe more so than that series' best seasons, and I care so much more about April and Andy than I ever did Jim and Pam, since A & A were never predictably destined to get together (and haven't), unlike Jim and Pam. This season’s high points include the great Ron Swanson, aka Duke Silver (smooth jazz saxster supreme), going to April’s house to apologize for being mean to her, where he runs into her sister and incredibly friendly parents, who have all his CD’s. The sister’s response to his “You must be April’s sister” is to scuttle off hilariously out of the room after rolling her eyes and dipping her head, just like April. And then he apologizes to April with all the sincerity he can muster, which is exactly enough. That’s the greatness of the show – its ability to be alternately hilarious and emotional moving. Also, there's a scene in one episode where Andy dives on and captures a raccoon that is awesome physical comedy, as is the aforementioned Ron Swanson's no-real-reason-to-show-it-except-it's-damned-funny slip and fall on the grass in the background of the season finale. No way will either of these shows last past their third year. Maybe they’ll get canceled this year, if only to make room for more of…
8. The Worst Things On Television That People Seem To Give A Shit About: Reality shows with people who are horrible role models getting shows that seem to turn them into role models and then idiots at home who don’t think begin to act just like them, so now they are fucking role models. Jersey Shore doesn’t bother me so much, because they’re just a bunch of rowdy kids who are taking advantage of an opportunity, and who can blame them? No, it’s the Teen Mom Shows and Blah-Fucking-Blah Housewives of Who-Fucking Cares that get me. Being a teen mom should be about the hardships and problems of being a teenage parent, not getting on the fucking covers of magazines and getting millions of dollars in salaries and product endorsements: the copycat pregnancies have already commenced. Rich housewives who have a shitload of money, yet also the temerity to act as though their lives are anything but troubleless, pointless, vapid-as-fly-farts creations have no business but to be on TV to MAKE FUN OF THEM. Unfortunately, they’re role models now. Certainly, there are rich housewives whose lives are worth following, but none of these are them. Weird moment of the year from this crap? Realizing that one of the “Real” Housewives of Beverly Hills is former Disney child star Kim Richards, who looks almost exactly the same, but who cannot really communicate telepathically with goats; she talks to them out loud on this show, and they are the title characters.
9. Best Reason For Dubbing Ever: the vast amount of Godzilla and Toho-Monster related films I purchased this year, primarily because they’re cheap, but also because watching the dubbed versions with the subtitles on gives you completely different viewing experiences. Also, it’s the best way to understand some of the ways the Japanese deal with the Second World War using pop culture. We bought one titled Atragon, the name of a giant, awesomely beautiful flying submarine, which is as weird to watch as can be, since the captain of said flying sub has been in hiding since the end of WWII under orders from a former naval colleague, and who refuses to fight for the world, but wants to use the sub to start re-fighting the war. As his own daughter and his former colleague desperately try to convince him to use his amazing Japanese product to save the world, and not just Japan’s reputation, the people from the sunken island of Mu attack using Manda, which looks like an old Japanese dragon, but which moves like an old Japanese puppet. At the end, SPOILER ALERT! the captain and his flying sub save the world, and the captured queen of Mu chooses to jump into the flaming water around the destroyed continent. So the captain gets his cake and blows it up, too. Manda eventually shows up again in Destroy All Monsters, which, as film historian David Cook calls it, is the Gotterdammerung of Japanese monster films. His choice of words seems slightly ironic, in regards to one of the other Axis powers.
9A. If you have never seen Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People, find a subtitled and dubbed copy so you can see how a legitimately creepy and serious children’s film about human greed and selfishness can be turned into something nice and fluffy for American audiences. The dubbed, unintentionally hilarious final line uttered by the lone survivor is not even a part of the original Japanese script. That line? “I ate them!” Also, there is a three minute song that consists of nothing but the word “La”.
9B. Damn, I love Inframan. Not Japanese, but a Hong Kong version of the Ultraman series, it contains amazingly cheap and beautiful effects with the usual “hero fights monsters with kung fu until the final moment, when he whips out the new secret weapon the inventor has made for him (Thunderball Fists!) and just blasts whatever monster he’s fighting into fairy dust” motif. The original English dubbed version has some of the greatest lines in history, none of which actually appear in the original version: the main baddie is now named Queen Dragon Mom, and at one point, a scientist actually says, “The situation is so bad now that it is the worst the world has ever seen.” In the first two minutes, post-credits, a giant dragon lands on a road, causing a school van full of children to crash off a cliff – just the driver, the kids get out – and then the film immediately jumps to – with no rhyme or reason -- Hong Kong completely in flames and people leaping out of windows while on fire. That’s cutting to the chase. If I ever teach a film class again, I will figure out some reason to show this amazingly entertaining movie. You are warned.
9B1. Inframan is, as of now, the only film Roger Ebert has ever changed his star rating for, up from 2 and a half to three stars, so it remains better than Mighty Peking Man, made by the same film company (Shaw Brothers), and which contains a scene where five men shoot an attacking lion with pistols about 675 times.
10. I didn’t die this year, which is surprising.
10A. There’s still about a week left in the year.
10B. I am now too old to care about word repetition and the correct use of the word "ironic" when writing ironically.