Tag Archives: Best of 2010

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2010 in Music: #1 Jenny and Johnny – I’m Having Fun Now

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Last year when writing about Neko Case in my post about favorite albums of the year, I mentioned Jenny Lewis and how she’d certainly be on the list if she’d had a new album out. Well, this year she does, a duo album with her boyfriend Johnathan Rice, and here it is at the top of my list. Not really surprising for anyone who knows me.

It’s hard for me to resist Jenny Lewis anyway, but I have to say that this album manages to be a step up from her solo work – bringing Johnny in officially (he was a pretty big part of Acid Tongue) was a good move, their voices blending and contrasting nicely throughout all the songs.

At first listen, it seems much like the several other beach poppy albums out this year, but after a few listens the lyrics show Jenny’s signature combination of wit, hope, and ironic unhappiness. Yet despite songs about being broke, in debt, on depression medication, etc., it’s clear that Jenny and Johnny are having fun now, and she’s as happy as she’s ever been. But her depth of understanding that it isn’t always that way gives the album that something extra that, say, Best Coast’s Crazy For You is missing, and reminds that even though Bethany Cosantino is often compared to Jenny, she still can’t match her role model’s lyrical ability.

There aren’t any official videos from the album yet, and somehow the duo doesn’t come across as well on concert videos as they do live, but here are a few of the better ones I could find. The third one is actually not on this album, but a duet they did on Johnathan’s 2007 solo album. They’ve been doing it at their shows in a much slower arrangement, and it’s gorgeous live.

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My 2010 in Film: Three by Robert Altman

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[My list of favorite films released in 2010 will be going up on Row Three in mid-January, so I want to do something a bit different here. This series will include any films I saw for the first time this year and loved, regardless of release date. It may also include films from this year.]

Director Robert Altman was easily my favorite “discovery” of the New Hollywood marathon I did throughout this year. Discovered isn’t quite the right word; of course, I knew about Robert Altman and had seen a few of his films, but this year I saw several more that I ended up loving completely.

Nashville

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I went into Nashville expecting to just put up with it, a begrudging viewing based solely on the film’s reputation and not any real interest in it on my part. I’m not into country music or politics, and I figured it’d just be a sprawling, overlong, not particularly interesting look at those things. Well, it is set in Nashville among a bunch of country musicians during the build-up to a political rally, but it is anything but uninteresting.

Altman is pretty well-known for his ensemble films, and this one proves why as much or more than any other (though he has plenty of other great examples). Loosely built around a coincidentally timed country music festival and a political rally for the fictional Replacement Party, the film is made up of a bunch of interweaving characters, each of whom has a well-developed and interesting arc. Often films like this suffer from not having time to develop any of the characters, or develops one or two at the expense of the others, making the film unbalanced, but Nashville contains at least ten or twelve characters that all feel real, that all seem to have back stories and arcs, and none of whom steals the spotlight from the others.

There’s the star vocalist recovering from a nervous breakdown, and maybe not quite ready to return to the stage, the waitress who wants to be a singer but doesn’t have the chops, the established trio whose interpersonal strife threatens the group, the gospel singer who feels more and more disconnected from her husband, the determined wannabe who overcomes all odds to get to the rally stage, the overeager reporter who’s equal parts naive enthusiasm and unwitting insensitivity, and several others – stereotypes in a way, perhaps, but they do not feel that way when you’re watching the movie. Everything just feels right and even though it is long, it’s perfectly paced and when the end credits rolled, I was actually sad the experience was over.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller

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This film snuck up on me while I was watching it. It takes a little while to get going, it’s a little low-key and quiet about getting there (reportedly there were sound problems on set that Altman never bothered to fix), and it’s tough at first to identify with anyone. But by the end, it got under my skin something fierce.

It’s truly a revisionist western in the sense that the main character McCabe (Warren Beatty) isn’t a classic western white-hat hero, but he’s not even really a morally complicated hero or anti-hero; he’s almost an a-hero. This is a world in which heroism basically doesn’t exist. The major conflict is purely commercial, and the major shootout isn’t fought in the open streets with the town watching, but sneaking around deserted buildings and through barns while the town is totally unaware.

It’s also not a typical love story, though McCabe and Mrs. Miller (the local brothel owner, played by Julie Christie) are one of those couples that are so clearly meant to be together and yet utterly not as well – they need each other, but for many reasons it wouldn’t work for them to be more to each other than they are. Their interactions with each other somehow carry the weight of tragedy. It’s a sad movie in many ways, but a great one that I can easily see myself revisiting over and over for years to come.

The Long Goodbye

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I’m pretty sure I saw at least some of this movie in an undergrad film course I took, and didn’t care too much for the part I saw. Clearly there was something wrong with me then, because when I watched/rewatched it this year, I loved every bit of it. It’s a take on Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe character that somehow manages to be irreverent, unique, and poke fun at the hard-boiled detective genre while also being loving and true to it.

The homages to classic detective films from the 1940s are peppered throughout, but with a sense of ironic world-weariness that is perfectly ’70s. Elliott Gould’s Marlow is a lackadaisical fellow whose catchphrase is “it’s okay with me,” a statement of bemused apathy that nonetheless is belied by his casual yet dogged pursuit of the truth about a friend of his accused of murder.

The film contains recognizable references to specific classic noir films, but also the detached style of European cinema of the 1960s, making it a quintessential New Hollywood film and perfectly poised to hit all of my buttons, and so it did. This time around at least, it was perfection.

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2010 in Music: #2 Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love

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A new Belle and Sebastian album is something to celebrate, especially when it’s been some five years since the last one. At the same time, any new album of theirs has a lot to live up to, and I couldn’t be happier with this one. I might not put it right up with some of their earlier stuff, but it has certainly meant an awful lot to me this year, in more ways than one.

It’s poppy and retro, with several songs (including the title track, with Carey Mulligan guesting) that would be perfectly at home in a 1960s film, but also with a melancholic undertone on other songs that gives the album as a whole a nicely balanced feel. Every song on here just makes me feel happy, comfortable, and safe.

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2010 in Music: #3 Stars – The Five Ghosts

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It took me only a tad bit longer to get into Stars than it did Metric (both are Broken Social Scene-related bands, Stars sharing Amy Millan and Evan Cranley with BSS, Metric sharing Emily Haines and Jimmy Shaw), but now I’d be hard pressed to choose between them. Thankfully I haven’t had to the last couple of years, since they’re offsetting their releases. This years’ Stars release is not quite a concept album, but is certainly built around the common motif of ghosts, dying, and a nebulous afterlife. All sounds rather morbid, but Stars’ evocative lyricism and intricate instrumentation keep it from being anything but hopeful, especially with Torquil and Amy’s wistful interpretations.

I think when this CD came out, I listened to it non-stop for a month. And I’m still drawn back to it more than almost any other album this year. Even the songs that I can tell I wouldn’t ordinarily like that much stick with me – like “Changes,” which is fairly trite lyrically compared with most of their stuff and pretty spare musically, yet ends up stuck in my head time after time simply because Amy’s voice soars so beautifully on it. I think she could sing her grocery lists and make me love it. Thankfully most of the songs stand up even beyond the vocals.

They’ve got an official video out for “Fixed,” but they’ve disabled embedding. It’s over here. I’ve got live versions of a couple of songs embedded below.

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2010 in Music: #4 Warpaint – The Fool

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This group came out of nowhere for me this year; I think I’d maybe seen the video for the single “Undertow” and liked it well enough, but they offered the whole album for streaming the week before it came out a couple of months ago, I happened to see it on one of the music blogs, and decided to try it out. I listened to the stream ALL DAY. Then bought the album, saw them live, and became a big fan all in the span of a few weeks.

Other than having female vocalists (all female members, in fact), the band is a bit off the track of what I listen to – it’s dreampop, I guess, but with a really kind of introspective yet experimental feel. It’s very well-orchestrated and musically precise, but with just enough of a wild, unpredictable edge, especially in the vocals, to justify their name. And it’s the kind of music that’s totally enveloping without being overwhelming. Listening to it live, it sounds like it’s coming from inside your head somehow.

I love every song on here, but I think the one that really sold me on the album as a whole is the one that’s the most different from the rest – when “Baby” came on, I was blown over. It’s a really simple, almost acoustic song, and that in comparison with the really intricate and full sound of the other songs was like, whoa. They can do that AND this too? And both are awesome? SOLD. I was only able to find a live recording of it, but the sound is pretty good. (Same venue I saw them at, but two days later.) Oh, the “Undertow” video is directed by Shannyn Sossamon, sister of the band’s bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg, and an original member of the band.