Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Best of 2009: singles

Okay, this "Best of" Week has stretched into "Best of" Fortnight and then into "Best of" 3/4 of a Month thanks to illness, car trouble, and other things taking up my time and sapping my motivation. Thus, after posting all of my favorite songs last year, I'm reverting back to simply listing my favorite singles. Honestly, right now I don't want to comb through all of my 2009 albums and find links to a few dozen songs.

So, here are the singles* that floated my boat last year, in no particular order. I purposefully excluded songs from my '09 Top Ten albums, except in a couple of instances. Ooooooh, mystery!

Jay-Z: "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)" - His "Run This Town" is gathering all of the accolades, but this song contains a much needed message. Auto-Tune really does need to die a painful death.

Julian Casablancas: "Out of the Blue" - "It's pretty much the Strokes with more synths" is a comment/complaint I've heard about his solo release. So what? That's actually an improvement for the band. This song's great. I admit that when I first heard it I thought it was by Phoenix. (I'm bending the rules a slightly since this song was officially released as a single yesterday, but it did come from an '09 album.)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: "Zero" - No big Yeah Yeah Yeahs fan am I (Karen O and the band's general artiness vibe is a turn off), but I am really feeling this song, especially her orgasmic chorus.

Passion Pit: "Sleepyhead" - Another slight cheat since this is an '08 single, BUT I didn't include it on my '08 list AND it was also put on the band's '09 debut album. So there.

Matt & Kim: "Daylight" - This is the sound of a summertime stroll through the city.

Major Lazer featuring Nina Sky and Ricky Blaze: "Keep It Goin' Louder" - Temporarily forget what I said in the Jay-Z entry above. The "I've got the girls in the truck six chicks deep..." line is infectious. Hey, I like pop music. *shrug* And this is the freakiest video I've seen in a long time; you'd think it was for an Aphex Twin song.

Codeine Velvet Club: "Hollywood" - This song from the Fratellis side project is absolutely perfect. Maybe my favorite single of the year.

Au Revoir Simone: "Another Likely Story" - I love these ladies. Even though the video's pretty summery, the song gives me a deep wintertime vibe.

fun.: "At Least I'm Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)" - So I like Queen-influenced indie pop. This song needs to come to Rock Band post haste so I can (badly) belt it out.

Florence + the Machine: "Kiss with a Fist" - Who knew domestic abuse could sound so catchy? (This is another '08 single on an '09 album.)

Little Boots: "Remedy" - Again, loves me some pop music. And she's adorable.

Kelly Clarkson: "Already Gone" - Is she still hipster-approved? Screw it. I don't need my tastes validated by someone in skinny jeans.

Asher Roth: "I Love College" - I'm only including that because, though it doesn't reflect my college experience per se (where are the shout outs to a committed relationship, "Mystery Science Theater 3000", and wine coolers?), it makes me nostalgic for those days. Plus I feel compelled to inject a bit more testosterone in this list after the last few entries.

Note: Facebook users, kindly click on "View Original Post" to see the above videos. Man, I wish FB would embed videos when it posts things from Blogger.

*Officially released as such.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Happy Burns Night!

Well, it's ol' Robbie's 251st birthday and, though I'm a bit short on haggis, I'll be celebrating by imbibing a dram or two of scotch with my trivia team at the Patrick Henry Pub, scrambling to answer general knowledge questions, and reciting my favorite work by Scotland's most beloved poet*: "See my vest, see my vest made from real gorilla chest..."

*Next to the Proclaimers, of course.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Best of 2009: album cover

Neko Case: Middle Cyclone - Though I haven't listened to this album (yet), I absolutely love the cover. Whether or not there are any songs on it about beautiful women wielding swords while perched atop muscle cars has yet to be determined.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Best of 2009: movies

While 2009 wasn't a terrible year for movies, it wasn't the best one, either. I didn't catch all of the films that I wanted to, but of the ones that I did see, these are the best:

1. Inglourious Basterds - Tarantino's return was all I hoped it would be. Well, almost all, as I was expecting it to focus more than it did on a Dirty Dozen-esque band of soldiers. Brad Pitt made me laugh and Christoph Waltz was outstanding.

2. Watchmen - I may be the only person to hold it in such high regard, but I really dug this extremely faithful adaption of the funny book. Saying "it could've been worse" is not high praise...but, really, it could've been much more worse.

3. Up - Pixar magic.

4. Up in the Air - Jason Reitman magic.

5. The Hangover - Hands down the funniest movie of the year and it still holds up on repeat viewings. I'm glad the world is finally discovering the genius of Zach Galifianakis.

6. Moon - Sam Rockwell gave an excellent performance as a man isolated in space (or is he?). It's a shame that he seems to be getting overlooked this awards season.

7. District 9 - Who would've thought that a relatively low budget South African alien flick would be better than most of the ludicrously expensive Hollywood blockbusters? Or more poignant than all of the Oscar bait?

8. Star Trek - Before this I had never seen a full episode of the series or any of the movies. I'm no Trekkie, but I had a blast watching this. Not enough Simon Pegg, though.

9. Zombieland - Obligatory Zombie Movie In Micah's Top Ten. This was the second most fun I had in theaters all year.

10. Taken - Liam Neeson is the Irish Jack Bauer.

Scariest movie I've seen in a long time:
Paranormal Activity

Jeers for not getting a wide release and thus I didn't get a chance to see it:
The Slammin' Salmon

Great parts, lackluster whole:
Where the Wild Things Are

Good, but didn't meet my sky high expectations:
Big Fan

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Best of 2009: video games

Like I am with books, I rarely play games during the year that they are released. This is due mostly to limited free time and my damned thriftiness. (Hey, I like to wait until a price cut. Sue me.) But this past spring I procured an Xbox 360 and the amount of gaming that I've done has increased greatly. As I played catch up with a console that's already a few years old, these are the ten or so titles that stood out the most (and I played enough to make a qualified evaluation):

Rock Band 2 - By far, this monopolized most of my Xbox 360 time this year. Developer Harmonix has put a lot of care into achieving its goal of having this be not just a game, but a platform. Thanks in part to a promotion with Pepsi over the summer, I've downloaded tons of songs of widely disparate genres. (Simon and Garfunkel! The Pixies! Kelly Clarkson! Gorillaz!) I used to fly the Guitar Hero flag, but now that I've seen the light I'm squarely a part of Team Rock Band.

The Beatles: Rock Band - Simply a beautiful game that utilizes the best pop music in recorded history. Based on my own personal experience, this is THE game that bridges the generations. During one session I was holding down on the fake plastic guitar while my mom and grandma were taking turns singing. The only gripe that one could have is that, even with the DLC that fleshes out Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper, and Rubber Sole, there aren't enough songs. Bring on Revolver!

Marvel Ultimate Alliance - Yes, I'm a Marvel fanboy, so my opinion of this game is heavily biased. But I think that I can say in confidence that this is the best Marvel game that I've ever played. Snikt! Bamf! Loser!

NCAA Football 10 - College football season is a wonderful thing and so is this game. This was my first introduction to the current generation of sports games and I was wowed.

LEGO Rock Band - Pretty much just a LEGO skin over top of Rock Band, but therein lies its charm. And, hey, 45 more songs to play (The Zutons! Ray Parker, Jr.! T. Rex!), so I'm not going to complain about the lack of inventiveness.

LEGO Indiana Jones - Yet another licensed LEGO game. Yet another success.

Viva Piñata - Sure, it's a kids' game, but sometimes you just want the serenity of tending to your garden and making your piñatas get it on.

The Incredible Hulk - I've barely scratched the surface of this game's story, but I've spent countless hours smashing up New York City. Really, it's a great stress release.

Civilization Revolution - Once I started a campaign of world domination, I could kiss the next five hours of my life goodbye. It's like when I stumble upon a "Law & Order" marathon on TNT.

Scene It! Box Office Smash - No one can best me in a head-to-head film trivia competition. Yes, that is a challenge.

Xbox Live Arcade Games:
Peggle - An immense time suck and more addictive than crack cocaine.

Xbox Live Indie Games:
Miner Dig Deep - It's like Dig-Dug, but without any antagonists. All you do is, uh, dig deep for minerals and jewels. Sounds simple because it is. It's also really fun.

I Maed a Game With Zombies In It!!!1 - Quite possibly the best dollar that I've ever spent* and a great way to kill a few minutes. Plus, the very meta song that runs through it is totally bitchin'.

Solar - Extremely relaxing, this is something that you can start and just zone out on while listening to music or podcasts.

*Next to Father Guido Sarducci's "100 Balls on the Christmas Tree", of course.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Best of 2009: television

It's been said that we're in the new Golden Age of TV and I can't really dispute that. While the majority of programming is utter crap (thank you, reality television), there are more quality shows on currently than any other time that I can remember.

My television list is a bit different than others out there because I include only shows which had seasons that began and ended during the calendar year. I never understood how one could proclaim a show one of the year's best when half of its season hasn't even aired yet. So that would explain the absence of such programs as "The Office", "Community", "Parks and Recreation", and "30 Rock" (though the TGS crew has had a rocky season so far).

With that out of the way, here is what I deem the best television produced in 2009 (in no particular order):

"Breaking Bad" - The second season of this drama about a terminally ill high school chemistry teacher turned aspiring drug kingpin somehow managed to ratchet up the intensity of its stellar first season. In fact, the most gripping TV scene of the year happened on this show. By watching Jessie's strung out girlfriend choke on her own vomit, any hope Hank had of returning to a sense of normalcy at some point had vanished. If you're not watching this show, you should.

"Eastbound & Down" - Hands down the funniest show of the year and the year's best debut. I'm convinced that Danny McBride can do no wrong. (Note: I have not seen Land of the Lost.)

"Dexter" - John Lithgow totally owned his role as the Trinity Killer. And that ending? Wow. Just wow.

"Mad Men" - Sometimes this show's glacial pace can be frustrating. And it should be mandated that Christina Hendricks should be in every frame of every episode. My criticisms end there, since everything else regarding the show is perfect. I am eagerly awaiting the exploits of Don Draper's new ad agency next season.

"24" - Jack Bauer and company rebounded greatly from their horrible sixth season. Blood new (Special Agent Freckles!) and old (Tony!) and finally ditching LA (DC!) worked wonders to refresh the show.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" - The whole "Seinfeld" reunion aspect was a bit misleading since it only occurred in a handful of episodes. Having said that, the extreme meta moment of real life Larry David playing TV Larry David playing Jason Alexander playing real life Larry David was well worth the wait.

"Flight of the Conchords" - While not hitting the giddy heights of its brilliant first season, New Zealands fourth most popular comedy folk duo provided plenty of laughs.

"The League" - Not having played fantasy football or being a huge fan of the NFL, I was afraid that the humor of this new improvised show would be lost on me. Luckily, pro football's just the set up to the exploits of five scheming friends.

"Michael and Michael Have Issues" - I love the State. Within that troupe, I love Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter, so this show had me with the first episode.

"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" - The gang produced the most consistently funny season since the early days. Don't agree? Consider: a road trip, the World Series, a suicidal Frank, beer pong, the D.E.N.N.I.S. System, and Kitten Mittens.

Rule Britcommia:
"The Inbetweeners" - It's like an English Superbad.

Television equivalents of a beach read:
"Royal Pains"

Good try:
"The Goode Family" - My expectations for Mike Judge's takedown of Whole Foods liberalism were high. Unfortunately, they weren't quite met.

Terrible, terrible try:
Sit Down, Shut Up - Given all of the "Arrested Development" talent involved (and Kristin Chenoweth!), the funny simply was not brought.

You'll be missed, I'll tell you what:
"King of the Hill"

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Best of 2009: DVDs

What makes a great DVD? Sure, the content of the movie/show/concert/whatever itself is imperative, but more important for whether something is to be deemed a success on the format is the audio/video quality, packaging, and the scope and depth of the bonus features. Here are the shiny discs that I think were the best to come out in 2009:

The State: The Complete Series - I have been waiting years for this to come out and when I finally had it in my hands it did not disappoint. This 1990s sketch comedy time capsule has it all: 90 minutes worth of unaired sketches, the original pilot, interviews, outtakes, deleted scenes - almost all of which have commentaries attached to them. Well, it's not quite complete, as most of the original wall-to-wall 90s alt rock, pop, and hip-hop soundtrack has been replaced with generic music (though that was created by the guy who composed the show's theme song and other incidental music, so it could've been worse). But, hey, if that's what it took for this awesome show to finally get a DVD release, so be it. Definitely dip your balls in this one.

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut - The one complaint mainstream audiences had with this film is that at 162 minutes, it was too short! Okay, not really, but this expanded version fleshes out the dense story and stretches out the run time to 215 minutes by extending scenes, putting deleted ones back in, and most notably inserting chapters of the animated "Tales of the Black Freighter" throughout the movie. Director Zack Snyder's old 300 buddy Gerard Butler gives voice to the comic book buccaneer trying to stop a ship of pirates from terrorizing his home, which parallels the movie's narrative. Also among the plethora of bonus content is a faux documentary about the Minutemen and the entire Watchmen motion comic.

The Office: Season Five - Like with all of this consistently funny show's DVDs, the season five set is a must-have for fans and gives you a lot of bang for your sitcom buck. Each episode seems to have almost another episode's worth of scenes taken out. And unlike most DVDs' deleted scenes, the ones left on this show's cutting room floor are actually worth watching and are as funny as what made it onto air.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season Four - Aside from the show being hilarious, I consider this one of the year's best solely for the inclusion of a full length live performance of their instant classic musical episode "The Nightman Cometh". You've got to pay the troll toll if you want to get this boy's hole boy's soul.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno - Writer/director Kevin Smith loves the DVD format and tends to pack his movies' sets to the gills with deleted scenes, outtakes, and featurettes and this is no exception. Yes, Z&M wasn't one of Smith's best efforts (though it does have 2008's single best cinematic image in Elizabeth Banks' O-face), but its DVD is up to par with all of his other ones. The only thing lacking is the standard highly entertaining "Kevin Smith and pals" commentary, which was omitted because the film's disappointing box office put him in a pot-hazed funk and he didn't want to dwell on the production at the time.

Note: There was a smaller than usual pool to choose from, as I slowed down my DVD purchases greatly this year in anticipation of the Great Blu-Ray Upgrade (projected for 2010).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Best of 2009: books

This was an embarrassingly light reading year for me. The reasons for my lack of motivation were twofold. First, in the spring I got an Xbox 360, which heavily competed for my free time. Second, I was unable to attend the annual family get together in Hilton Head over the summer, where I normally knock out 4 or 5 books. So, as my reading pile grew (I was still buying books), my time spent reading dwindled.

It should be noted that I rarely reads books the same year they come out. I'm a slow reader and I seem to buy so many that I tend to get behind. Add to that all of the older books that I never got to and those recommended by others, it's hard to keep current. So my list does not reflect a true "Best of 2009", but these are the best that I read this year, in no particular order:

Breathers: A Zombie's Lament by S.G. Browne - Once you've read a certain number of zombie books, you find that they become formulaic and tend to run together. One needs a hook to distinguish itself. World War Z had one by matter of factly filtering the zombie apocalypse through an oral history text. Browne does it by crafting a romantic comedy told through the undead's point of view. This was a fun read, though a certain overused literary device got very grating after about the third use. You'll never look at venison the same again. The good: it's being developed into a film. (Yay!) The bad: Diablo Cody's attached to it. (Boo!)

Our Dumb World: The Onion's Atlas of the Planet Earth, 73rd Edition - Exactly what you'd expect from the Onion: hilarious commentary and general ridiculousness. Only this time their comedic tools are maps, stats, facts, figures, and history. Highly recommended if you need a good laugh.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons - I can't believe it took the then-highly anticipated feature film adaption to get me to finally read this. And I'm glad I did because you practically have to have a working knowledge of the story in order to follow the movie. But I'm even happier that I gave it a go simply because Moore and Gibbons somehow made a work about costumed vigilantes during the Cold War seem timeless. I don't know how I made it this long being a self-respecting comic book geek without having read it.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown - Another "read it before the movie comes out, yo" book. Better than The Da Vinci Code, Brown created yet another intense page turner. (Short chapters! Abundant cliffhangers!) Sure, some parts were groan-inducing, but overall it was a nice way to spend my time at the beach.

See, I told you that it was a light year. But I'm hoping that I'll be more of a bookworm in 2010.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Song to close out the weekend: "Heavens to Purgatory" by the Most Serene Republic

While looking at some Los Campesinos! videos on YouTube, I got a "yo, check this out while you're at it" recommendation for the Most Serene Republic's "Heavens to Purgatory". And you know what - I do like it, though the video creeps me out a little.

Monday, January 04, 2010

You choose the Crush of the Year

This worked so well last year that I thought that I'd do it again. It's time once again for you, dear reader(s), to select the Crush of the Year.

The rules are mostly the same as they were last year:
1) Vote by leaving the name of your pick in the comment section of this post (either on Blogger or Facebook). No votes via e-mail, text, phone, different posts' comments sections, or other methods will be counted. I do this so that there'll be a virtual paper trail of people's clear intentions. No hanging chads around here.
2) No justification of your choice is required, but if you want to explain why you opted for a particular candidate, feel free to do so.
3) No write-ins.
4) You may only vote once regardless of location (that means no voting on both Blogger and Facebook).
5) Only the candidates listed below are eligible to win.
6) Should no Crush receive a plurality/majority of the votes, I shall choose the CotY. In fact, I reserve the right to lay down my tyrannical fist and institute my own pick, no matter the voting results. But I probably won't. But you never know.
7) Void where prohibited. (Likely Utah.)
8) Voting ends when this post leaves the front page of the blog.

Presenting your candidates for 2009:Organize your community and get out the vote! Rally your friends, family, and co-workers to push the virtual lever for your favorite Crush. Strong arm them. Bus the homeless and elderly in with the promise of a hot meal. Scour the graveyards for names. Pay off ACORN to do your bidding, if necessary. It's the Chicago way!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Song to close out the weekend: "King of Yesterday" by Jude

For me, New Year's is all about despair and regret, so why not enjoy a song - Jude's "King of Yesterday" - about living in the past?

Friday, January 01, 2010

Two thousand one zero party over. Oops. Outta time.

As much as I loathe New Year's, I feel compelled to make some resolutions. So in addition to the standard "get in shape, you slob, and also sort your life out while you're at it" ones, here are a few more (in no particular order):

  • Get better at responding to e-mails (including Facebook messages and posts). Two day delay, tops.

  • Start AND finish at least one these epic-length books: The Count of Monte Cristo, Gone with the Wind, The Stand, or Atlas Shrugged.

  • Start AND finish at least one of these epic-length video games, including their DLC: Fallout 3 or Grand Theft Auto IV.

  • Finish compiling the mix CD that I promised a friend of mine.

  • Watch all of the various Britcoms that I've already procured. I kept promising and promising to blog about them, but obviously didn't.

  • Read more of the Bible. I've really slacked off in this department.

  • Post more substance here, less lazy YouTube hit and runs. Hopefully, that'll get people to actually, you know, read this blog (no offense to my three regulars).

  • Create a super secret online Christmas thingamajig.

  • Totally revamp this blog's layout and name.

In the meantime, I've got a lion in my pocket and, baby, he's ready to roar.

Credit due to the Sun for the pic of post-NYE boozy Brits.

Pixelated Pigskin Prognostications: The Rose Bowl

Here it is, folks. The Big One. The capper to the 2009 college football season*. After a bit of a rest, the Great Xbox 360 Swami is ready to give one final prediction via CPU vs. CPU match before devoting itself to Rock Band and Peggle until the fall.

Ohio State 41, Oregon 26

And that's all she wrote.

*At least in my eyes. Who cares about those other teams?