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"Art and love are the same thing. It's the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you."

Thursday, December 31, 2009

All You Need is Love 2009

My personal pop culture experience is all about love.

Every year I fall in love with music, television, books and movies. It is a blind, burning love that I can't always explain. Try to engage me intellectually on Lost, Harry Potter or My Chemical just can't be done. I love them so much that I can't always articulate why (and will probably get upset when you differ on their level of perfection).

So instead of developing a list of the Best of 2009, I will present you with a near-comprehensive list of everything I truly loved in 2009. I'll try to explain why but it will probably end up sounding like I am gushing over my son's first soccer goal.

In no particular order:

Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley in District 9)
"Fook you, man!"
Was there a better hero for 2009? In a time in which we are coming to terms with both a globalized world and beauracracies that seem to pop up like acne (and about as pleasant), Wikus was the most appropriate protagonist in Neill Blomkamp's alien yet familiar universe. Wikus is really nothing more than a fast-talking South African nerd and a slave to the white men in black suits he works for. Sharlto Copley (who came out of fucking nowhere in this flick) plays his decent into the alien and bizarre marvelously and realistically. Hearing him pronounce "fuckin' prawns" in his thick South African accent is nearly worth the price of admission for District 9. Pleeeease 2010, bring me more Sharlto Copley.

Allan Hyde (True Blood)
"I am full of joy, I want to burn."
I can't remember the last time an actor has captivated me so much with so little screentime. For those of you saying Allan Who? never fear. Up until about 3 minutes ago, I knew Allan Hyde merely as "that kid who played Godric in four episodes of True Blood." In one of the strongest seasons of television this year, Hyde stands out among the excellent True Blood cast. His Godric, is a 2,000 year beast residing in the body of a Nordic teenage hottie. Hyde plays the most powerful creature in the New World...and you buy it. He also plays the gentlest and most non-violent creature in the New World...and you buy it just as much. Such is the power of his performance that I nearly (NEARLY, I said) cried at his decision to make a deadly date with the rising sun...despite the fact he only had around a half-hour of screentime overall. *Fun fact* Apparently, Allan Hyde does the Danish dub of Ron Weasley's voice in Harry Potter. Wikipedia don't lie.

"I wish I had a boyfriend..."
I'm not referring to the actual biologically distinct section of humanity known as "females" when I say "girls" (they could make this list every year), but rather the San Franciscan indie band. I dare you to listen to "Lust for Life" and not dance or grin like an idiot. As a matter of fact, give it a try. Then watch the NSFW video..

John Lithgow (Dexter)
"Hello...Dexter Morgan."
Who knew you had it in you, John? After doing his time on Third Rock for the Sun, Johnny Lithgow had garnered a reputations as a comedian first, actor second. Well mark my words: that Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama series soon to be on his shelf will make people think otherwise. Lithgow's Arthur Mitchell a.k.a "The Trinity Killer" in season 4 of Dexter might be the most exciting thing to come out the year in television. Trinity is absolutely horrifying...but more horrifying than his actual deeds is our favorite serial killer protagonist's fascination with him. Dexter's own insecurities regarding his ability to be a father and a husband lead him down a demented path in which he thinks he can learn from Trinity and his relationship to his family. But every Dexter spends trying to learn from Trinity is a second spent NOT killing Trinity. This of course leads to....something very, very bad.

Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds)
"You know something, Utivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece."
Inglorious Basterds is the best film of the year. There, I said it. It is also Quentin Tarantino's second best the very least. I have nothing more to say on the matter.

Lady Gaga
"I want your psycho."
Stefani Germanotta a.k.a Lady Gaga might just be the smartest person in America. Here is a woman that understands what Western pop culture wants more than anything else: celebrity. And that's what she made for us. Lady Gaga is a simultaneous parody and celebration of American celebrity culture and we all love her for it. Of course it doesn't hurt that she knows how to churn out exciting pop hits like a mofo. "Bad Romance" in particular nails the concept of an aggressive, all-consuming love and infatuation so perfectly that I couldn't say it better myself. Though I did try. And don't think because she embraces the kitsch and poppy side of music that this gal can't sing. Exhibit A:

David Yates (Director, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)
"Severus, please..."
Believe it or not, Harry Potter movies are not very easy to pull off. David Yates, himself can attest to that. His first Potter effort was the fifth film. Order of the Phoenix, the book was a sprawling epic tale of political repression, coming-of-age angst and the thin line between good and evil. Order of the Phoenix, the film...was just a film. Apparently, Yates learned all the lessons he needed from the fifth film, however, because his direction of the sixth was about as close to perfect as I believe a Harry Potter movie can be. The story ran as smoothly as any cinematic adaptation of a semi-episodic novel can and Yates added little quirks to clue in the audience as to what they should and shouldn't be watching for (loved Malfoy's little experiments with the birds). If Yates improves this exponentially in the final two Potter films, we might have something very special on our hands.

Zach Galifinakis (The Hangover)
"I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolfpack."
Thank God this dude finally got a breakout role.

"Last name Ever, first name Greatest."
I love Drake this year for several reasons. First, he is perpetuating the new trend in popular music of starting on the Internet, gaining some dedicated fans, then busting loose on mainstream America. Second, "Best I Ever Had" was stuck in my head for 37% of the entire year. Third, it confirms to us that Jimmy from Degrassi is a-okay and out of his wheelchair

Sin Nombre
“A psychic once told me: you’ll make it to the U.S.A. Not in God’s hands…but in the hands of the devil.”
This was the only Indie film I saw all year that was actually worth watching. Read my review, then go find it.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
"Flip, flip, flip-adelphia!"
Have you ever wondered what Seinfeld would look like if it were written by anarchists? Wonder no more! It's Always Sunny is the most consistently funny thing on TV right now.

"Sometimes being special sucks."
I'll be the first to acknowledge that the first season of Glee was rather uneven and disappointing at times. But the show has two things going for it: Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester and mind-blowingly amazing performances. In the iTunes and Youtube age, Glee is a godsend. There is no reason that it can't last as long as the Internet does. If that's the case, I only ask Ryan Murphy that he continually recasts and finds new kids. Here is my favorite song from the first half of the first season. Try not to weep.

Airborne Toxic Event - Sometime Around Midnight
"And the piano's this melancholy soundtrack to her smile."
Speaking of things that make me this video. Lord knows, I can't or I'll destroy my MacBook with the cascade of bittersweet tears that will undoubtedly fire out of my eyes like sprinklers. The Airborne Toxic Event really only has 3 or 4 solid songs, but this might be the most beautiful and genuine thing I've heard all year. And for an indie band from Los Angeles, "genuine" is not something one would expect.

Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad)
"737 down over ABQ"
The second season of Breaking Bad was almost indescribably good. Part of this can be attributed to the remarkably patient storytelling about one man's decent into...evil/selfishness/practicality? But even more can be attributed to the phenomenal acting duo of Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn a.k.a Walter and Skylar White. Cranston has received his fair share of acclaim and awards and rightfully so. His Walter is a fascinating character study of what a man thinks he needs to do to be a "man." Less heralded, but no less important, however, is Anna Gunn. How does one's spouse react to a cancer diagnosis followed by a sharp and suspicious change in behavior. Anna Gunn acts her ass off to give the audience a compelling depiction of just how a spouse does act. Breaking Bad.

Kid Cudi
"Please save a kid that needs some help."
I dedicated a whole blog post to Dat Kid from Cleveland but one point bears repeating. In a genre known for false bravado, Kid Cudi deserves credit for letting his "I can be an insecure pussy" flag fly. Of course, it doesn't hurt that "Man on the Moon" is simply a sick album.

Cast of Community
"I have to plan in advance how to live in the moment."
I've noticed something about the state of comedy recently. No, not that it sucks. Comedy is no more or less funny than any other time that I can remember. Comedy is, however, much less conflict based than I can remember. Most of the comedies of television right now, and all of the comedies on NBC are based on the interactions between friends and peers and not the inherent conflict between those same peers. The American version of The Office originally tried to follow its British father's example by putting its characters in awkward scenarios. By its second season, however, The Office had transitioned to humor based off its characters hanging out and interacting with each other. It was basically Cheers set in a paper company. Parks and Recreation went through a similar (and successful) transition from its first to second seasons. Here is what gives me hope for Community's survival. Community understood from episode one onward that people want to see friends on television comedy. How else did Friends go for a mind-numbing ten seasons? The characters of Community fight and bicker, but the audience never doubts for a moment that deep down they are still a mini-community (har har) of their own.

21st Century Breakdown (Green Day)
"Red alert is the color of panic, elevated to the point of static."
One of the best kept secrets of the year is that Green Day's follow up to 2004's widely acclaimed "American Idiot" is actually slightly better than its predecessor. 21st Century Breakdown listened to Jay-Z's pleas for American music to "get violent," and did him one better. This is an album about revolution. Not the music revolution or the love revolution but the revolution where shit gets set on fire and people die. What are we rebelling against? No fucking clue. All we know is that Christian and Gloria are our youthful guides into destruction and that our little revolution is probably going to fail. But that can't stop the listener from screaming and throwing Molotov cocktails along with the album's protagonists.

House: Broken
"Successes only last until someone screws them up. Failures are forever."
House has followed a strict formula for five seasons. Patient comes in, patient exhibits bizarre symptoms, House fixes patient while undergoing some type of life lesson...which he will inevitably ignore. The formula works but unfortunately formulas are by their very definition: boring. House broke its own formula in grand fashion for the season six opener of the show titled "Broken." The result could have been excellent...or disastrous. By its inclusion on this list, you know I believe it to be awesome and you certainly should too. "Defiant mental patient" storylines are generally overdone but the House crew makes this one work like gangbusters. By putting him away in a mental health clinic, the viewer better understands what it's like to be the frustrating ball of madness that is Dr. House. And by giving House a worthy intellectual adversary (a cool-as-hell Andre Braugher), House also better understand what it's like to be the frustrating ball of madness that is Dr. House. Kudos to the House team for getting their character healthy...and still keeping him interesting.

Mark Pellegrino (Lost)
"It only ends once. Everything that happens before that is just progress."
The character of Jacob was doomed to fail on Lost. His name has been whispered for two seasons and his eventual arrival had been greatly anticipated. He had been built to be a God. Anything short of a 5-story dragon shooting fire out of its eyes would be disappointing. Merely one little-known actor should have been disappointing. Someway, somehow, Mark Pellegrino pulled Jacob off and he wasn't disappointing in the slightest. He was extraordinary and one of the bright spots in the best season of Lost yet. Pellegrino oozes sophistication and mystery, whether he's in the back on a taxi in, sitting on a park bench in front of a tall building, or wearing a tunic and speaking pedantically on a mystical Island. Simply put: Mark Pellegrino nailed an un-nailable role. Who knew Paul from Dexter had it in him?

Empire State of Mind (Jay-Z and Alicia Keys)
"Don't bite the Apple. Eve's caught up in the in-crowd."
A World Series Championship and the year's best song? The Empire State did very well for itself in 2009.

Kristen Stewart's Cautious, Awkward Smile
Happy New Years, everyone.


Anonymous said...

Other than the fact that Kristen Stewart made this list... I love that you love most of this because it's all awesome. Including Girls [the band] whom I had never heard of before but am now slightly addicted to. [Should that have been "who" or "whom"?] ANYWAY. Good post, man! :)

Alex Menrisky said...

Mark Pellegrino deserves every award known to man for Jacob. And hear, hear to Lady GaGa's actual talent.

But I still don't think Green Day is everything it's cracked up to be.

Woozie said...

Any kitschy pop star namedropping Hitchcock films and Sylvia Plath on a dance album deserves a toast in my book. That and the Phantom of the Opera/black feathery thing she wore to the VMA's was twelve different kinds of awesome.

A.G.B said...

Sarah, stop with the Kristen Stewart hate! And I really have no idea the correct grammatical usage of "who" and "whom" either. Oh well...we're only Journalism majors.

Alex, I remember a certain someone who dressed up as Billie Joe Armstrong for the HTC thingy. Yeah, I went there.

Bobby, sometimes I worry about the future of American pop culture. Then I remember Lady Gaga exists and I calm down.