Friday, December 31, 2010

Best of 2010

Here we are again, at the end of yet another year. A time for reflection about all the events that happened during this rotation around the sun. What I will remember most about this year in the world of entertainment is that it is without a doubt THE WORST YEAR FOR MOVIES in my lifetime. All year, I kept waiting for a slew of movies that I wanted to see, like in years past, when I have more films on my "to see list" than I have time or money to see. This year, the number of movies I wanted to see was manageable, though many months went by before a movie was released that I actually wanted to see. At least some of them, I was able to see for free: Extraordinary Measures, the Green Zone, the Karate Kid, and Dinner for Schmucks. In fact, Dinner for Schmucks is far and away the worst movie I saw all year, which is a shame because Paul Rudd is such a likable actor.

Because a lot of the movies I saw this year weren't memorable, I have no clue who I would select for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, so those categories don't appear on this year's list. Without further delay, here are the books, phrases, TV shows, music and movies that made my BEST list...

Best Book

The Politician by Andrew Young

No other book riveted me as much as this insight into the nightmarish job of working for a politician who kept making demands of his loyal political aide that went far beyond the realm of professionalism. I recently found a used copy of Game Change, about the 2008 election, at the main library and bought it. As I skimmed through it, I came across a passage where someone on the Edwards campaign had said of aide Andrew Young: "If John asked Andrew to wipe his ass, he would say, 'What kind of toilet paper?'" Ouch. Anyhow, The Politician definitely cured me from ever wanting to serve as a political aide, the job I had considered among my top dream jobs (just behind "published novelist").

For 2011, I have a number of political books (and non-political) to read, due to gifts from friends and ones I picked up in used book sales recently or at a book signing: Divided We Stand (about the 2000 election), Game Change, Going Rogue (that's right, I finally found a used copy of Palin's ghostwritten novel), Decision Points (a gift from a friend of mine in Atlanta), To Kill a Mockingbird (the first book I had read in school that really interested me), The Law of Attraction, The Art of Nonconformity, Beyond the Secret, and Career Renegade.

Best Thing I Did All Year:

San Francisco vacation / hiking the Golden Gate Bridge

Nothing nourishes my soul as much as traveling does. Especially ones of a longer distance. Unlike a lot of people I know who prefer to get to their destination as soon as they can, I've long been a "journey" person. There is something spiritually deep about seeing as much scenery as possible. I love it. When I had a car, I actually preferred longer drives (over 8 hours) because I had so many cassette tapes I wanted to listen to during my journey and three 60 or 90 minute cassette tapes were usually inadequate for me!

What the trip to San Francisco did for me, besides meeting the husband and children of one of my favourite college friends, was relax me and answer a question in the back of my mind. In 2006, I had planned to move to San Francisco, but switched to Portland out of a fear of running out of money in America's most expensive city before I landed a job. Four years later, I wanted to see if I still had a dream to live in San Francisco. As much as I loved walking around the city, admiring the architecture and the steep hills, I have to say that I really felt deep within my soul that I had made the right decision in moving to Portland four years ago. There is no regret about making that switch. It was settled.

My absolute favourite thing that I did on this trip was walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, which I had wanted to do on my last trip to this city in 2004 but the weather was not good then. It was a long walk, but well worth it. I even got a kick out of calling my former supervisor while I was in the middle of the bridge and threatening to jump (a joke for old time's sake). My sense of humour dies hard! I was in no danger of jumping, because I was intensely happy for the first time in four years. Yep, the vacation to San Francisco was definitely the smartest decision of the year for me.

Best Celebrity Crush:

Joan from Mad Men

What can I say about Joan (played by Christina Hendricks)? She is the 21st century version of Ginger from Gilligan's Island. The way she speaks, the way she walks, her clothing styles, and her mannerisms all exude feminine seduction appeal. I had wondered if there was a real woman out there who embodies the "je ne sais quoi" quality of Joan, and lo and behold, at my work there is a young lady who kind of resembles her! Mark that down as another example on my checklist of manifesting a dream job.

Best Quote:

"I don't think about Sarah Palin" -- President Obama to Barbara Walter

Need I say more? Its advice we should all take in 2011 when Republicans candidates start announcing their exploratory committees for the 2012 campaign. The runner up quote of the year is by the frustrated airline passenger who told a TSA Agent: "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested!" It would have likely have been my favourite quote if had used another word than "junk." I'm not a guy who disparages the most important body part for a man. Mine is not "junk." If he really feels that way about his, there are surgeons standing by that will take care of that for him!

Best Song / Best Music Video:

"Greatest Day" by Take That

Even though this song was released as a single in the United Kingdom in November 2008, it was never released in the United States and thus, never charted nor played on American radio. That's a shame because the melody and message sure beats anything that has played on the radio for the past two years! I discovered this song on YouTube in August and was immediately taken in by it. When I went to visit a lady who claims to have the ability to tap into people's "akashic records", one of the things she told me was that I needed to have a new song for myself. For the past decade, I had adopted U2's "Stuck in a Moment that You Can't Get Out Of It" (mostly because it is purely brilliant in its melody, arrangement, and lyrics) as a personal anthem. No wonder why I was "stuck" in a job I hated for so long. As much as I love that song, I really needed a new song to motivate me in the morning, and I found it with "Greatest Day." I love how the song builds its melody. The intensity just grows and grows until it "explodes" with a force of positive energy vibrational blast.

Once I discovered the song, I made a point to listen to it several times a day, and when I didn't have access to YouTube, I would sing the lines in my head: "This could be the greatest day of our lives..." That line has magical qualities, because it presents an openness to possibility. If you wake up each morning and listen to the song as an invocation to the coming day, you will walk out of the house in an expectant mood, open to whatever comes into your awareness. This song is the front-runner to be played at my wedding someday (December 22, 2012 is my target date. Bride to be announced once I meet her and develop a serious relationship). In the meantime, this song is my "official song of the new decade."

Best Album / Best Album Cover Design:

Human by Johnny Clegg

Since discovering the music of South Africa's pride and joy Johnny Clegg in 1990, no other musician has touched my soul as deeply or for such a long period as him. This CD is his first North American release since 1993's Heat, Dust and Dreams. I had to find alternative means to acquire the three CDs and one remix album that were released in Europe and Africa in the years in between. One thing that has been true for me is that each year that he has released a new album (1990, 1993, 1997, 2002, 2006, and 2010), it has been quite a good year for me. I await his new releases with a kind of heightened anticipation that few other musicians receive (U2, Madonna, Keb Mo, and Enya are the others), yet Clegg has never let me down. His talent is amazing and his sound is completely distinct. When he experimented on his 2002 album with the kind of electronica that Madonna, Cher, and Chris Brown are known for, it was refreshing at the time but had a short shelf life. I simply cannot get enough of his classic sound: the mixture of western rock with African tribal rhythms and his signature "hum-oh-hum" chanting.

I reviewed this album earlier on my blog. Check it out if you want to read more about what I think of it. Simply put, no other album touched my soul this year as much as Johnny Clegg's. In 2011, he will go on his first tour of North America since 2004. I can't wait. Let's see if I can manage to get backstage for the third time.

Best Television Series:

Mad Men

Although I have not seen Season 4 (I will when it is released on DVD) yet, the cliff hanger at the end of Season 3 had me considering getting cable just to watch this show. There is no other television show quite like it. Don Draper is the most charismatic character on any series at the moment and in Season 3, it was great to see his reaction when his wife Betty finally confronted him about the past that he had hid from her for so long. The scene where they have their first honest conversation with one another is just impressive beyond words. This is compelling drama at its finest. The acting is top tier, the storylines and script truly riviting.

Other shows I watch include: Entourage, Eureka, and Brothers and Sisters. I will finally watch the remake of the V series, now that season one is on DVD. I also want to see what all the hype about Glee is about. I only saw one episode on Hulu and I can understand its appeal. So many of my friends on Facebook really love this show, so I'm curious to see more. But, it would be fluff next to the high quality that is Mad Men. I'm so enthralled with Mad Men that I'm contemplating using it as the theme for my Christmas newsletter in 2011 as well as my birthday celebration theme in Las Vegas next year. And now that I have met my new office's equivalent of the Joan character, it will be quite easy for me to imagine that the company I work for is a real-life Sterling Cooper firm. At my last job, one of the things that annoyed me this year was that someone had complained about my Mad Men calendar and I had to take it down. My guess is that some obese lady at the office felt inferior when she saw a photo of the gorgeous Joan and complained to a manager. I also learned that no one at that office even heard of the show Mad Men. Doesn't surprise me. The series is far too intelligent, stylish, and high-quality for the likes of the low class people who populate that office environment.

Best Actress:

Naomi Watts, Fair Game

Australian actress Naomi Watts took on the role of real life Valerie Plame in the film adaptation of the outed CIA-operative's book by the same name. She plays a tough lady whose job is to monitor the activities of terrorists around the world. To be good in such a job, you can't be a nervous little Nellie, afraid of one's own shadow. When she tries to enlist an Iraqi woman to get information on Saddam's nuclear program from a brother who worked in the Ba'athist government, the distrustful lady asks Plame how she keeps her lies straight or how she can live with herself for telling lies all the time. Plame's response is: "By remembering the reason for the lie." I thought that was a very profound answer. Its the principle behind the idea: what would you do if you were hiding a Jewish family and Nazis came to your door asking if there were any Jews in your house? According to losing Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, she would tell the truth (which would get them all killed) because her God apparently does not tolerate any kind of lie, even ones that save lives.

Another impressive part in the film is when Plame tells her husband, Joseph Wilson, that she had always been strong and was the only student in her training class who did not have a breaking point. But the personal attacks leveled against her by the Bush Administration, essentially ruining her career (CIA agents are expected to be anonymous because once it becomes public knowledge, their effectiveness in their jobs is non-existent), pushed her to the breaking point.

Its simply great to see such a smart, tough role for a lady. I doubt that Sarah Palin would be as tough as Valerie Plame. I didn't know much about Plame before this film, but I'm a huge fan now. Watts better get an Oscar nomination for this.

Best Actor:

Sean Penn, Fair Game

In the past decade, Sean Penn is on a roll with the choices he has made. He had played a mentally handicapped man in I Am Sam, he won his first Best Actor Oscar for his chilling role in Mystic River, he directed the film version of Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild, he won his second Best Actor Oscar playing openly gay City Councilman Harvey Milk, he traveled to Iraq on the eve of war and to Haiti this year where his unflattering comments about Wyclef Jean might have killed that rap / hip hop singer's chances to become Haiti's president, and now he plays Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who decides to wage a one man war against the Bush Administration after they trashed his and his wife's reputation to change the story about their lies about Saddam's non-existent nuclear weapons program.

I had met the real Ambassador Joseph Wilson in 1997 when I did my two week Reservist Duty at Vaihingen, Germany where he was in his last week as a liaison for the military command. I also met him in May 2008 when he spoke at Portland State University on behalf of the Hillary for President campaign. I've also seen him interviewed on enough shows, so when Sean Penn channels him, he truly becomes Joseph Wilson. Its quite the contrast between Harvey Milk and Joseph Wilson. Only a truly great actor can pull off playing different real-life characters and make you forget the actor beneath (Tom Cruise doesn't really have the ability to disappear into the role. Whenever I see a Tom Cruise movie, I never forget that I'm watching Tom Cruise in a Samurai costume or Tom Cruise in a Nazi uniform). Penn convinced me that he was Harvey Milk and that he was Joseph Wilson.

What I love about this role and the film is that Joseph Wilson represents the rare breed of individual. When wronged, he's not afraid of the consequences for telling the truth, no matter how difficult people in power will make things for him. This year is remarkable in that we had two pretty big "Fuck You's" to the Bush Administration: the Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame battle with the Bush Administration over the lies regarding yellow-cake uranium from Niger and the Pat Tillman documentary about a truly great American hero that the Bush Administration tried to misrepresent in death to cover up the tragedy of a friendly fire casualty. Simply put, the Bush regime "misunderestimated" Joseph Wilson and the Tillman Family. They will not sit down and shut up. Their tenacity in asking the tough questions to a lying regime is the true mark of the kind of heroes we should emulate and admire.

I don't think Sean Penn will get a nomination for this film, though. The criticism I read in a few film reviews stated that because Penn's politics are similar to Joseph Wilson's, it hardly seems like he's acting. That's hogwash, though. Penn truly does resemble Wilson in how he looked in the role and the way he speaks. However, having won two Academy Awards in the past decade, I agree that another actor deserves the honours next year.

Best Director:

Christopher Nolan, Inception

This director has an impressive track record: Memento, The Prestige, two of the best Batman films ever made, and in the year of sucky movies he released this decade's answer to The Matrix, the most thought-provoking film of the past decade: Inception. The film was incredibly complex and layered. I did not find it difficult to follow as some filmgoers did, but I guess its because I have long had the ability to think on different levels. In a word, he has created one of the most intelligent movies I've ever seen. I love movies that challenge your thinking, rather than the ones where you can actually feel your brain cells dying as you watch the dreck (which would be Dinner for Schmucks this year or any Jack Black movie).

Would this film have gotten made if Nolan hadn't raked in the dough with his mega-hit The Dark Knight? When a director's film becomes a huge, profitable success, they will find their dream pet projects greenlighted. Steven Spielberg is rumoured to have a "one for the studio, one for me" kind of arrangement (for every crowd-pleaser like Jurassic Park, he makes a Schindler's List). Director Richard Kelly (of Donnie Darko fame) should follow that kind of policy instead of making strange movies that are guaranteed to not find an audience.

With Nolan's track record, I will likely see anything he makes. I can't wait for his Shadow of the Bat, the next installment in the Batman saga. I also hope that he continues to look for great material to turn into intelligent films for audiences tired of the dumbing down of movies. As Inception proved this past summer, when a film appeals to an audience's intelligence, people will go see it in theaters and have intelligent conversations afterwards to discuss what they experienced.

No other director this year deserves the honours of Best Director than Christopher Nolan. Here's to a long career of interesting film selections. Please do not let ego destroy your talent, the way it happened for M. Night Shyamalan, whose films I will no longer pay to see. Keep making smart choices and audiences will show up, especially if we have another dismal movie year like 2010 when the audiences were hungry for a great movie experience such as Inception.

Best Motion Picture of 2010:


I saw this Russian film at the Portland International Film Festival earlier this year and it has maintained its hold on my psyche like no other movie in 2010. It was difficult to name one film as my absolute favourite since I also loved Fair Game and Inception. However, the reason why I place Hipsters at the top is because this movie presents a great truth about human nature. The movie is about a group of Russian teens in the 1950s Soviet Union when communism was an oppressively conformist society. In their rebellion, these teens wore colourful clothing (against the drab gray that everyone seems to prefer) and called each other by English version nicknames. Guys combed their hair in fancy pompadours that would make Elvis envious. Their fit of rebellion includes sneaking into dance halls to let loose in swing dancing and western pop music, evading the prying eyes of the Communist Youth League.

The movie is a musical, in the Russian language and won the Russian equivalent of Oscar last year for Best Picture. The movie never found a distributer in the United States, which is a shame, and even worse, its still not available on DVD. I so want this movie in my collection. The message is powerful. It was hilarious to see the Communist Youth officers accuse the hipster youth of being "capitalists" and decadent. Sound familiar? Take the most rabidly conservative American who thinks that any criticism of U.S. foreign policy is an indication that you are an unpatriotic "commie." As one who has been called "commie" by many conservatives all my life, I can relate well to these Soviet "hipsters" who were also ostrasized from the conservatives in their society. That's the nature of humanity. Most people are sheep and conform to the standard propaganda of their culture. Those who fall outside of the culture are accused of being "the other", which happens to be the main rival. Thus Bohemians like me get called a "commie" and hipsters like them get called a "capitalist." The truth is that people like me and people like them are beyond nationalistic categories. In fact, we would find a common solidarity in each other. We would all be hipsters, ostrasized from our respective closed-minded and conformist societies.

I so love this film (and the songs in Russian) that it has the potential to be on my Top 25 Favourite films of all time (I haven't made an actual list beyond the Top Ten). The message is so accurate and true and the film absolutely nails it with the ending, where the people on the streets of Moscow timelapse from the conformist gray of the 1950s to the multi-cultural diversity of Russia today. The Hipsters of the 1950s faced a lot of scrutiny and personal risk, but their nonviolent cultural revolution blazed the trail for the independent and free Russia that today's youth probably take for granted. As a generationalist, I feel a strong kinship for anyone my age who grew up in the drab conformity and confinement of communist Eastern Europe, because that political system collapsed around the time we came of age. I often wonder what it would have been like if I had been born in that society (without changing the year I was born). Hipsters gives me a glimpse of who I might've been.

I really hope that this movie will be released on DVD (so far, its only available under a different region code, making it inoperable on an American DVD player, and its only available in Russian without English subtitles). This is about as perfect as a movie can get and thus deserves to be recognized as the best movie that I saw in 2010.

Hope 2011 will have a great selection of movies, albums, songs, and books. This is also the year that I would love to finally land a literary agent and have my novel find a publisher for a nice sum of money. I'd love to see my Navy novel not only on bookstore display tables, but also a film version playing at a theater near you and good enough to be nominated for Oscar. Happy New Year!

1 comment:

Julie said...

"Hipsters" sounds intriguing!
and it reminds me of the zazous in occupied France :