Top 10 Movies
1. Inglourious Basterds
A Spaghetti Western set in Nazi-occupied France and directed by Quentin Tarantino—it’s difficult to think of anything that could improve upon the sheer awesomeness of the concept. That is, until Christoph Waltz’s Colonel Hans Landa makes his first appearance. From the film’s electrifying opening scene on, Waltz owns the film as a Nazi officer nicknamed “The Jew Hunter,” slipping from charming to ruthless as easily as he bounces between English, French, and German. Brad Pitt and Mélanie Laurent are not too shabby either, as the leader of the titual Basterds and a Jewish movie theater owner, respectively.
Between the farmhouse interrogation and the barroom card game, there can be no doubt that, while Tarantino could use a spellchecker, his talent for dialogue has not diminished in the least. But for those left unsold on the film, remember: it’s downright un-American not to love a film that boils down to a troop of Jewish-American soldiers hunting down and scalping Nazi soldiers in their quest to assassinate Hitler.
2. District 9
About an hour into District 9, when Wikus Van De Merwe becomes the world’s most valuable biological weapon, the film swiftly makes the transition from an allegorical faux-documentary to shoot ‘em-up thriller. And at that point—even if it becomes a bit too Halo-meets-MechWarrior for some palettes—District 9 establishes itself as a great movie. When you can satiate the needs of sci-fi junkies, human rights activists, and Die Hard fans all at once, you have arrived, my friend.
3. Star Trek
JJ Abrams is an asshole. He saw the challenge in this year’s Star Trek—reboot a classic but dated franchise with a lot of baggage—and hit it out of the park, making everyone else look bad. All you need for a good movie, apparently, is an engaging story, characters worth caring about, (attractive) actors who can play them well, believable special effects, and writing that stirs the audience. Slap on those pointy ears and snap to your best Vulcan salute, Star Trek’s a hit. What has everyone else been doing, anyway?
Believe it or not, Up is not about the pedophilic friendship between a senile widower and his Cub Scout boy toy. No, it’s about a lonely old man who takes an underage child down to South America. Awkward May-December relationships aside, Up is a wonderful film—flying houses and talking dogs tend to easily win over audiences, after all. Pixar’s reputation was strong before Up, but now the production company is looking damn near invincible. Just ease up on the tear-jerking scenes next time, for the sake of all male viewers worldwide.
Director Hayao Miyazaki’s latest animation is really a children’s film, an exuberant little story about a boy who falls in love with a goldfish who turns into a little girl. But Ponyo’s childlike simplicity is what makes it so delightful—Miyazaki’s bright and colorful world gives the viewer the perspective of a child, making it seem like a toy boat is a viable means of transportation and the idea of falling in love with a talking goldfish is entirely plausible.
6. The Hangover
We’ve all suffered through a hangover or two, but unless you had some Rohypnol mixed with your Jägermeister, the preceding night was probably not as hilarious as the one in The Hangover. Following the consequences of an especially debaucherous bachelor party, The Hangover has tigers, Mike Tyson, and naked Asians—exactly what everyone wants the night before their wedding. With a cast of comedy heavyweights, including Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper (COL `97), and newcomer Zach Galifianakis, this Hangover is significantly more enjoyable than the ones you’re accustomed to.
7. Where the Wild Things Are
Spike Jonze came under criticism for adapting a children’s book into a movie too frightening for children. That decision, however, is precisely what makes Where the Wild Things Are so unique. The film masterfully explores how it feels to be nine years old, neglected by your siblings and frustrated with your parents: it’s not all jump rope and miniature cars. The monsters Max encounters and the organic imagery of the forest they inhabit are moody and terrifying—finely crafted manifestations of his emotions.
9. (500) Days of Summer
(500) Days of Summer’s plot is, as the opening sequence will tell you, fairly typical: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, girl moves on, et cetera. But (500) Days sets itself apart with the creative and artistic techniques used by the filmmakers to show the inner thoughts of our love-struck protagonist—like the excellent Hall & Oates-accompanied dance sequence which puts us inside his head with cheery choreography and cartoon animation. You make my dreams come true.
10. Funny People
Contrary to expectations, Funny People isn’t that funny. But that’s just because we all saw “funny” next to “Judd Apatow” and expected formulaic man-children to amuse us with regressions from the demands of adulthood. Instead, we confronted death and a main character that never got the girl (turns out, the funniest people aren’t always the happiest). The best jokes, however, come at a surprisingly self-aware Adam Sandler’s expense, lampooning a cinematic legacy of questionable conceits and childish prattle.
Top 10 Albums
1. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion
Internet hype can be a risky game—if you’re a brash and untested band, you can squander what little respect you’ve earned faster than you can say Raditude at a Wavves show. And while it may be true that Merriweather Post Pavilion received more than its fair share of attention in January, that’s no fault of Avey Tare, Panda Bear, or Geologist. This is a band that sings about pushing the snooze button, taking a stroll on a hot summer evening, and the headaches associated with purchasing your first home—not exactly “let’s go platinum” topics. From the saccharine melodicism of “Bluish” to the ready-for-the-dance-floor polyrhythm of “Brothersport,” the eager aesthetic that runs throughout the majority of Merriweather is one the trio hasn’t captured before, and probably won’t attempt to capture again—a sublime tour de force of joy, love, and the perpetual anxieties of aging. What will come next from this camp? Animal Collective’s ability to keep us asking that question is a large part of what makes Merriweather such a triumph.
2. Girls, Album
Album, the debut release from Girls, is one of those rare musical gifts that gets better with every listen. While the seemingly simple instrumentation may take you back to early Beach Boys-era surf rock, the wounded voice of front man Christopher Owens carries the album’s themes of lost love. If you’re short on time, just put on “Hellhole Ratrace” to get the full experience—like everything else on Album, the slow-building chords aren’t challenging, but the message is rousing.
3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz
The best part of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is their contradictions: Karen O’s huge, pleading eyes as she sprays beer on the mosh pit; the spiky guitars and the soaring crescendos; those pounding drums that drop right when the chorus hits and the feelings overwhelm. On It’s Blitz, that precarious balance is maintained throughout the entire record, the plaintive expertly mixed with the propulsive. It’s exhilarating and exciting, like a perfectly taut wire, made all the sweeter by the possibility of falling.
4. Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest
Throughout the year, Grizzly Bear has flirted with mainstream success with their third studio album, Veckatimest. More accessible than the critically beloved Yellow House, the lush orchestration is still there, except now it’s accompanied by a more coherent pop sensibility. Listen to breakout-song “Two Weeks” to see Grizzly Bear’s experimental inclinations channeled into an earworm of a song. That just about sums up Veckatimest: honing and fusing the past several centuries into a contemporary masterpiece.
5. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca
When it comes down to it, the critical success of Bitte Orca can’t be entirely attributed to David Longstreth, the Dirty Projector’s founder and frontman. While Longstreth’s erratic arrangements, sweeping, off-kilter guitar work, and pastel singing voice carry their fair share of the weight here, it’s really the talent of singers Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian that make this album special. Take away the transcendent bombard of soul that defines “Stillness is the Move” and let’s see how far “arrangements” really get you.
6. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Phoenix’s fourth album is a swooning collection of power pop perfection, aural Prozac to combat the melancholy of everyday life. The album kicks off with the dangerously infectious “1901,” introducing us to the tight guitarwork and lovably odd cadence of French-born Thomas Mars’ English, and only builds from there. Wolfgang is full of songs meticulously crafted enough to pull in the music nerd, but still accessible enough to merit a place on party playlists.
7. Decemberists, The Hazards of Love
The Hazards of Love was originally supposed to be a musical play, and it’s easy to see why: each character in its convoluted storyline is voiced by a different “actor,” and the dramatic plot is full of unrequited love and deceit. It works much better as a concept album, though, as Colin Meloy and his Decemberists move the action forward with dark, bluesy riffs for the scary parts and syrupy country ballads for the love scenes. It’s a beautiful, melodic epic that’s more ambitious than anything the band has done before.
8. Bill Callahan, Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle
Thirteen albums into Bill Callahan’s career, it’s not surprising that he’s still churning out fantastic, self-deprecating folk songs like “Jim Cain.” No, what’s most remarkable about the awkwardly-titled Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle is just how pristine it sounds (this is the guy who gave us Sewn to the Sky, after all). Callahan’s masterful songwriting doesn’t sound at odds with this new spaciousness—if anything, his melodies sound even better now that they have room to breathe. Time to get some new headphones.
9. jj, jj n°2
With a population of only 9.2 million, Sweden has produced a disproportionate number of pop stars, including ABBA, the Hives, Jose Gonzalez, and Peter, Bjorn & John. Yet few have heard the best music to come out of Scandinavia in recent years. The twenty-eight minutes of jj n°2 are a blend of house-inspired synths, soothing drum tracks, and ambient female vocals reminiscent of Stars. They may choose to remain anonymous, but jj’s beautiful soundscapes give away their country of origin all too easily.
10. Real Estate, Real Estate
This little known New Jersey band isn’t exactly what you’d expect from the Guido State. From the excellent opener, “Beach Comber,” Real Estate brings to mind carefree summer days spent in a sleepy beach town. The rest of the band’s first album contains music just as delightful as the opening track, although most of the songs admittedly have a similar psychedelic-pop sound. If cold weather’s got you down, put on some Real Estate and go back to the untroubled days of summer.