Friday, January 27, 2012

Best of 2011

The annual "Best of the Year" list was delayed due to movies that I wanted to see before I made my selections known. A few years ago, I had named Up in the Air as the best film of the year, and then I saw Avatar, which blew me away, so I had to change my list. In 2011, I kept hearing that The Lady (about Burmese Dissident Aung San Suu Kyi) was going to be released, but I saw no evidence of that and once the Oscar nominations were revealed this past Tuesday, the film (if it was released for Oscar consideration) did not garner a single nomination. Perhaps Luc Besson is waiting for 2012? The film is supposed to be released in February (in time for the Portland International Film Festival!). Michelle Yeoh is likely to be my "Best Actress" choice for her portrayal of Aung San Suu Kyi. Since that film will be released in 2012 instead of 2011, I could go ahead and make my selections for 2011 known, once I saw The Iron Lady and A Dangerous Method. So, without further delay, here are my choices for Best of 2011 in the world of entertainment and pop culture:

Best Catchphrase

No statement was as hilarious to me as "Honey badger don't care. Honey badger don't give a shit. He takes what he wants." It was uttered in the Internet sensation of 2011 where a guy named Randall gave his hilariously witty commentary about the daily routines of the world's most tenacious animal, the honey badger. If you ask me, though, the Honey badger sounds kind of Republican.

Best Book

Micro - Michael Crichton (with Richard Preston)

No other book was as highly anticipated this year as the final novel by Michael Crichton, who was working on it when he died in 2008. The novel is so smooth and classically Crichton, that it was difficult for a Crichton fan as myself to know what Crichton actually wrote and what the hired writer, Richard Preston, wrote. Also, this novel has me looking at nature in an entirely new light. Micro is a gripping read, with the kind of gross-out imagery that will likely make me not want to see the inevitable movie when it comes out.

Best Television Show

The Republican Debates

I didn't watch a lot of TV in 2011. Just TV shows that are on DVD (Big Love season 4, Mad Men season 4, Entourage, and Eureka). However, what did capture my interest were the Republican debates. There seemed to be a debate each week, with each debate adding hilarious, "what the fuck?" moments. No other television programming captured my interest or made me laugh as much as these Republican debates. It is fun to watch this hateful political party self-destruct, after bringing so much destruction to America, the world, and people's lives. Hopefully, when Americans head to their polling places this November, they won't forget any of the wackiness of these debates. Based on what was said, not a single one of these candidates are "presidential material." Not a single one of them. This is one television show that I can't wait to see get the ax (hopefully after Florida's primary on Tuesday, last night's debate was the last one).

Best Song:

"Hidden Away Down" by Johnny Clegg

This song is from Johnny Clegg's 2010 release, Human. This song, more than any other in 2011 really held my interest because of the awesome melody and lyrics. Also, I had seen Johnny Clegg in concert in April and he gave a great explanation for this song, which was inspired by the life of Senator Ted Kennedy. The song is about the human tendency to push one's dark side way down and denying it, until it inconveniently emerges to wreak havoc on the person when they least expect it. I consider it to be among Johnny Clegg's best songs. I don't keep a weekly singles chart like I used to (from 1985 through 1995), but if I did, this song would have been #1 on my singles chart for about 12 weeks, which is a rare occurrence. I love it that much.

Best Concert:

Johnny Clegg Human Tour
Aladdin Theater, Portland OR

Best Album / Best Album Cover

Love to Beg by Dana Fuchs

I had the opportunity to hear this album because of my job. Since sometime in the early part of last decade, I stopped keeping track of music like I used to. I actually liked music less and less the further away from the 1990s that we got. Something about music in the past decade is not as good as what I grew up with in the 1980s and 1990s. Since I started working for a music company, I have not listened to a radio station in over a year. When I did listen to a radio station, I was frustrated by the small playlist, where you'd hear the same songs every single day, often in the same order. There is so much great music out there, but how do you discover them if radio stations don't play them? This is where working for a music company comes into play. Since I started working where I work, I've been exposed to a lot of great blues artists. I still don't care for jazz very much, but blues are pretty good, especially this one by Dana Fuchs. She was also the featured entertainer at last year's label conference, with a great concert promoting this album. She has a lot of soul and is often compared to Janis Joplin. My favourite single on this album is "Summersong." It was a great anthem for summer. I'm surprised that this album did not find greater commercial success in the U.S. Dana Fuchs has a higher profile than most blues artists. She played Sadie in the Beatles-tribute film Across the Universe.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Shailene Woodley - The Descendants

Last year, I had a free movie pass to see The Descendants, which I would not have seen otherwise. It didn't sound all that great, and it wasn't. Though George Clooney is likely to win the Best Actor Oscar for his role in this film, for me the stand out performance was Shailene Woodley, who played the oldest daughter and helps guide her clueless father towards the truth and to redemption. She's quite mature for her age, and also, quite attractive (jail bait!). But her emotional performance is amazing. She is an actress to watch. I mean, we're talking Natalie Portman territory!

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Anthony Mackie - The Adjustment Bureau

Mackie was the soul of this film about a mysterious bureau that keeps intervening in the lifepath of a certain, ambitious New York politician. While other members of the bureau just want obedience without question, Mackie's character breaks a few rules to help out his assigned human. He plays it with such cool and with heart, that you can't help but be in awe of him, especially when the film's resolution happens. I served with a guy in the Navy like Mackie. Definitely someone you want on your side. He also played in The Hurt Locker and I hope this is an indication of a promising future for this actor.

Best Actress

Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady

In my list of Best Actress performances (since the early 1980s), this is Meryl Streep's first win (she was named Best Actress of the 2000s, though). She came really close in 2006 with her role as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, but with this iconic role as Britain's first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the only one who could've denied her this honour was Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi (but she's in the running for this slot in 2012). Meryl Streep is definitely the most versatile actress of the Baby Boomer generation (she's the same age as my father). I wasn't a fan of hers until The Devil Wears Prada. Since then, I've come to appreciate her choices and the roles she plays, including the Diane Sawyer-type journalist in Robert Redford's Lions Before Lambs. In The Iron Lady, Streep humanizes the iconic, and conservative Thatcher, who often faced protests and even IRA bombs that tried to assassinate her. She's also up for yet another Oscar (she's the most nominated actress in history. I have a feeling, though, that she's going to lose again this year, this time to Viola Davis who will likely become only the second African American to win Best Actress).

Best Actor

Michael Fassbender - A Dangerous Method

Who is Michael Fassbender? He has come out of nowhere to have an extraordinary year with a critically acclaimed and daring role as a sex addict in Shame and a role as the famous psychotherapist Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method. He's made quite a few films, none of which I've seen, yet he does such a phenomenal job as Carl Jung that I'm taking notice. The scenes with Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud are simply electric and it is extraordinary to watch him as he struggles between his professionalism and his suppressed attraction to a troubled patient, as well as arguing with Freud about why the field of psychiatry / psychology should consider metaphysical ideas. The movie shows the differences between the two men and the woman who comes between them. I hope that Fassbender will be able to catapult himself into more meaningful roles in the future. 2011 was his breakthrough year, and it is always a joy to discover a new actor or actress when a role or a few roles at the same time brings them to greater public awareness.

Best Director

Woody Allen - Midnight In Paris

I've never been a fan of Woody Allen. The few movies I've seen by him were either disappointing or merely okay, but I have to admit that I have not seen many of his films (for example, I have still not seen his best known one, Annie Hall). I have thought of having my own Woody Allen Film Festival and watching them all, but I haven't had a lot of time in the past several months and when I see a movie, his are generally not on my list of really wanting to see. What was different about Midnight In Paris, though, is that he just had to make a movie set in Paris, that was a love letter to the most beautiful city in the world. Then, he had to feature the Lost Generation, which is another interest of mine. All of this made the film an absolute must see for me last summer. It became one of his biggest hits (supposedly his highest grossing film, as well). Great news of all, he's not in this film at all, as Owen Wilson did a fantastic job as fill-in on the neurotic Allen. What truly impressed me about this film, though, is that Woody Allen managed to create a perfect film with a timely message. In fact, you could almost argue that it is less about the Lost Generation in Paris and more about the Tea Party movement in the United States. For those who did not "get" the movie, the take-home message is that the past was never as great as we think it was. Nostalgia is a tricky mental construct. All we have is now and we should enjoy it because someday in the distance future, someone will think that this age or time period was better. After I saw this film, I understood (finally) what makes Woody Allen a great director.

Best Motion Picture

The Adjustment Bureau

2011 goes down as one of the best years in movies that I can ever recall (1989 still remains as the best year in movies during my lifetime). There were so many good releases last year, which was the opposite of 2010. On my blog's left side, you can see the list of my fave films in 2011. No one beats The Adjustment Bureau, though. This film completely wow'd me beyond belief and made me look at my own life in a different way. This was actually the best film I had seen since Forrest Gump in 1994. I've written a review of it last year, so I won't go on too much about this film. Ironically, this movie led me to the Movies and Meaning group that I am a part of (along with the Thursday evening courses offered by the Eastminister Presbyterian Church). When I saw this movie in the theaters last March, I wanted to go somewhere and just think about it, especially in the context of my own life. I also wished that there was a discussion group to see the film with so that we could discuss the ideas in this film. That's when I went online in search of such a group and found it in Meet-Up and signed up. It has been a dream! Now, to find a Lady Love who is similar to Emily Blunt (she's quickly becoming one of my favourite actresses, ever since The Devil Wears Prada). I hope 2012 will have plenty of great films as well. There are at least three that I'm looking forward to: The Lady, On The Road, and another one about young Jack Kerouac (before he became famous). Oh, and hopefully this is the year that Spielberg's Abraham Lincoln film will be released. I've waited for that movie for several years now.

Best Music Video:

"Alane" by Wes

Granted, this song was released in Europe in 1996. However, I did not hear it until 2011 and it became an instant hit to my listening ears. I absolutely love it and when I looked for a music video on YouTube, I was stunned that Wes, the lead singer, looks like my "spirit guide" Shimba (whom I met in a hypnotherapy session in 2003). I think it was his cheerful countenance and his dreadlocks and his African dashiki. The song is irresistible and so is the video (I love the way those ladies dance! And the one with her hair done up like Princess Leia certainly has some mesmerizing moves). Enjoy!

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