Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Contrarian's Favorites for 2009

You’ll note I didn’t title this the “Best of ’09.” There’s no such thing as the best. There’s only what you like and don’t like. Here’s the music, movies and television I’ve enjoyed most this year.


Favorite Song: Mirrorball, by Elbow, from the album, The Seldom Seen Kid

I heard this song early in ’09 on Internet radio and was immediately captivated. What’s it sound like? Think Peter Gabriel. Think Massive Attack – at their most melodic.

An opening loop of repetitive keyboards and guitars gently rise and fall like sirens in the distance before lead singer Guy Garvey’s chalky voice breaths, “I plant the kind of kiss, that wouldn’t wake a baby.”

Mirrorball is as lush and beautiful a love song as you’re likely to hear these days. Set in a cityscape, the poetic lyrics describe how everything ugly is seen anew after falling in love:

We made the moon our mirrorball,

The streets an empty stage,

The city sirens violins,

Everything has changed.

The album version is the best by far, but on YouTube you can watch Elbow perform Mirrorball in the Abbey Road studios with the BBC orchestra. If you like Mirrorball, also try the track, Weather to Fly.

Favorite Album: Hold Time, by M. Ward

M. (Matt) Ward is one of those folky/rocky/country artists that there seem to be a lot of in the alternative music world lately, but none as talented and lovable.

Ward’s guitar work, mostly acoustic, is hook-heavy and highly proficient, backing his trademark echo-affect vocals. Hold Time is packed with diverse gems; the rollicking rockabilly ode to Jesus, “Fisher of Men,” the folky and optimistic, “Shangri-La,” the brilliant folk-rock of “Jailbird,” the joyful stomp and shout of his Buddy Holly remake, “Rave On,” and the haunting little classical guitar etudes Ward sprinkles throughout his albums.

Honorable Mention: Last year there was a growing assortment of young alternative bands who build their sound around harmonies, inspired by the Beach Boys, The Hollies and perhaps even Crosby, Stills, and Nash, but in many cases with up-to-date touch. Some recommended download samples:

-Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear

-He Doesn’t Know Why by Fleet Foxes

-Forever by The Explorer’s Club (you’ll think you found an unreleased Beach Boys track)

-My Girls by Animal Collective


Not sure why, but other than Lost, I watched no hour-long dramas regularly this year. Can’t get into any of the CSIs. Tried HBO’s Big Love, but that failed, too. Loved the first few episodes of HBO’s True Blood, but the whole vampire thing just got too silly. Even tried a few episodes of Mad Men, and while the costuming, staging and acting are as wonderful as the critics say, the show is so cold and cynical I couldn’t take it.

All my favorite shows this year were half-hour comedies.

1st- Curb Your Enthusiasm: This HBO show follows Larry David, the real life co-creator of Seinfeld in his fictional daily life. This year Larry resolved to stage a Seinfield reunion show as a ploy to get his ex-wife back. He convinces the original cast members to appear as themselves working on the reunion show. It is rude, funny, and priceless. Seeing the old Seinfeld sets recreated and hearing the old gang act out what would actually make a pretty damn good Seinfeld show made for my favorite show this year.

2nd -The Office: This show continues to be inventive and clever, parodying with painful accuracy the American office worker. (my kids tell me that if you don’t recognize yourself as one of the characters, you’re Michael)

3rd- Bored to Death: Jason Schwartzman (who you’ll recognize from The Darjeeling Limited) stars as a struggling New York writer who moonlights as a private detective. Also stars Zach Galifianakis (the bearded nerd in The Hangover) with hilarious performances by Ted Danson. Well written, well acted, and a loads of goofy fun.

Runner Up –Glee: You’ve probably read and heard enough about this show. Good, original television.


My two favorite films this year are both animated and both brilliant.

Up: It’s not often a film is so universal in it’s appeal that it can entertain a 5 year old, a teenager, a 45 year old, or an elderly viewer all at the same time.

If you’re like me, animated clips of an elderly man with balloons tied to his house looks like a promo for a PBS children’s show, put that our of your mind and just watch it. It will touch your heart and put a very big smile on your face.

Avatar: I had my guard up against this one as well. But halfway through the 3-D version I was reaching out for the insects fluttering in front of my face and wishing I could fly on dragons. It reminded me how Star Wars made me feel when I was a teenager in the ‘70s. You leave wondering if perhaps you just saw a glimpse of a revolution in.

And like Star Wars, the plot of Avatar is as trite as an after school special, but it so thoroughly transports you to a new and amazing place, immersing you in compelling reality that can’t possibly exist and is so brilliantly conceived and executed, you’ll forgive the plot shortcomings.

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