2011 Highlights

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2011 Highlights

Highlights of 2011

As usual, these are highlights of the items that were new to me in 2011, not necessarily new in 2011. Additional reading notes are here, movies here.

Reading

  • The Road. McCarthy. In some ways the actual story here hasn't really stuck to me that well. A kid and his dad walk across America and have various problems... Some of the imagery is really good though, like taking supplies from the wrecked ship. Much of it is appropriately vague and hard to discern, particularly the troops of horrors wandering the countryside, difficult to make out exactly what's going on, blurred like intense heat waves on the desert horizon. Mostly though, I like the language. Especially at the start the words and grammar are made up, broken, jumbled, unfamiliar, rocky, exactly like the world they capture so well.
  • The Terror. Simmons. Simmons is very up and down. His most notable books are truly great and imaginative, though they tend to end weakly. Several of his books are complete crap---surprisingly radical, uninformed Republican fantasies/nightmares. Terror is imaginative yet impressively rooted in real world details. Everything matches up, from people to geology to coordinates and dates, and yet it's a crazy fantasy horror story. It also includes a number of real, developed characters, particularly the commanders. Fans of historical fiction and sci-fi/fantasy should definitely read this.

Movies/TV

Going with my top three movies or shows from this year, I cite:

  • Breaking Bad. Seasons 1--4. Obviously this is super popular, and I think it's a great contender for one of the best shows around. Walt's descent captures a classic tragic arc in a slick product that's never gratuitously violent or offensive, simultaneously driving from slapstick to dark, dark humor and amazing tension. Many of the other characters also have great arcs and depth to them and their decision making. Absolutely fantastic show.
  • Sons of Anarchy. Seasons 1--3. At times it's hard to decide if this show is all good, or if it's just reveling in biker cache and glorifying lawlessness and violence. However, I'm inclined to believe it's actually very strong. All of the actors do a good job, and a fair number of serious plot arcs and internal family and character dramas are covered.
  • The Parking Lot Movie. Quiet and fairly unassuming, this documentary excellently captures those academic everymen who are, depending on how you look at it, either just a bit too apathetic or too smart for their own good.

Honorable Mention

  • Super 8. Really nice execution and story but straightforward in many ways, but the stories around the dads really pulls it together to put it up a notch.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs The World. There are some weird elements to this, but otherwise it's just such a great mashup of video games, movies, music.
  • Kick-Ass. This ended very weakly and somewhat illogically---guns solve everything!!!---but was otherwise a great geek movie.
  • The Fog of War. Great documantery interview with Robert McNamara.
  • The Royal Tenenbaums. Wes Anderson at his finest.
  • True Grit. (2011) Excellent, modern but traditional Western.
  • Broken Flowers. Bill Murray at his finest, in a surprising movie.
  • How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog. Branagh brings an unexpectedly Shakespearian quality to what I expected to be a straight comedy.
  • Cloverfield. I thought this would be really terrible, but it's actually fairly memorable over time.
  • Troll Hunter. This could have ended more strongly, but it's super original and well done.
  • Hunter Prey. Amazing for independent, low budget sci-fi, and a great follow-up to Enemy Mine.
  • Southland Tales. Stops short of being amazing, but a lot of zany elements are there to put together something incredible.

Music

For me 2011 was a great year of new musical discoveries. Top albums in no particular order:

  • Battleme: Big Score (folk rock).
  • Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (alt rock). For a change of pace in the 21st century, an actual album, with a concept theme throughout. All good songs, but absolute best are The Suburbs, Ready to Start, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), and of course particularly We Used to Wait. An absolutely moving album.
  • The Jezabels: Dark Storm (alt rock). Every song on this short CD is incredible. Great lyrics and folk rock music with a dark skein to it lending an innovative, different feel.
  • Jay Ungar: Waltzing with You and Harvest Home (folk instrumental). Both albums are extremely good, and many people will recognize Bonaparte's Retreat and Ashokan Farewell but especially good are the more obscure Cows on the Hill and La Chanson de Mardi Gras.
  • Richard Thompson: Action Packed: The Best of the Capitol Years (folk guitar). Great guitar album, with a mix of rock and quiet pieces. Almost all of it is great, but the very best are 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, I Misunderstood, and certainly Beeswing.
  • Ryan Bingham: Junky Star (folk). Good traditional styled folk songs, the best being Junky Star and Hallelujah, both of which are very emotive and much in line with the style, tone, and pathos and imagery of Bill Morrissey.
  • Florence + the Machine: Lungs (alt rock). Almost everything on this moves and carries a lot of sonic power. Surprisingly dark and innovative imagery complements this to really set it apart. Personal favorites are Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up), effectively arguably the story of a human sacrifice, and the depressed, obsessive, fatalist My Boy Builds Coffins.
  • Lady Gaga: The Fame and Fame Monster (pop). I actually really love Lady Gaga's whole lifestyle routine, and her music pretty much lives up to it. I think she tends to not fall into typical pop tropes and her songs have a good bit more variety both musically and lyrically. Poker Face is incredibly clever with all of its puns, and I also especially really enjoy Telephone.
  • Adele: 21 (alt pop rock). Basically every song on here has great lyrics and amazing, powerful delivery wisely and ably supported by fairly stripped down musical support.
  • Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer (alt rock). A lot of the imagery I find disquieting, but there's no doubt that this is an idiosyncratic, thematic, excellently constructed album.

Top singles in no particular order but grouped by genre:

  • Loch Lomond: Wax & Wire (folk).
  • Ray LaMontagne: Beg Steal or Borrow (folk rock). Great music for running away to California.
  • Alice Cooper: I'm Eighteen (classic rock).
  • Roll Deep: Do Me Wrong, Good Times, and Remember the Days (British hip-hop).
  • Fitz and the Tantrums: MoneyGrabber (modern Motown pop).
  • Bruno Mars: Runaway Baby, Liquor Store Blues, and The Other Side (pop). All of these are musically catchy, supported by somewhat oddball, clever lyrics, especially Other Side.
  • Nicki Minaj: Moment 4 Life (pop).
  • Chromeo: Night by Night, You Make It Rough, Don't Turn the Lights On (pop).
  • TV on the Radio: DLZ, Dancing Choose (alt rock). DLZ features in what be one of the most strategic, well done deployments of matched music in TV, at the close of season 2 of Breaking Bad as Walt cements a turn to the dark side as he encounters the wannabe meth cookers in the hardware store parking lot.
  • The Naked and the Famous: Young Blood (alt pop rock).
  • Of Monsters and Men: Little Talks (alt rock).
  • Band of Horses: Lamb on the Lam (In the City) and Is There a Ghost (alt rock). Both very haunted.
  • Deadmau5: FML, Moar Ghosts n Stuff, Ghosts n Stuff (feat. Rob Swire) (dance/DJ). The sequence of the three of these is incredible.
  • Killaflaw: Set Me on Fire (dance & DJ).
  • Basshunter: All I Ever Wanted (dance & DJ).
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