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

Monday, December 13, 2010

All You Need is Love 2010

Come one, come all to my second ever "all you need is love!"

As I explained around this time last year, I like to focus on things that I truly love in popular culture, rather than gripe over things that vex me...and there are many (I'm looking at you, Chelsea Handler). And what better time to compile a list of things that I loved during the year than the end of the year when we are all with our respective families, saying what we're thankful for and arguing about whether this season of Dexter sucks or not (hint: it doesn't).

So without further ado, here is the (mostly) complete list of things I loved in 2010.

Kanye West - "Runaway"
"Let's have a toast for the douchebags."
Of all the pop culture milestones in 2010, none of them performed quite the miracle that Kanye's epic and artsy video, Runaway, did. Runaway was a 34-minute Youtube video...that I actually sat through. And I'm glad I did. People have been itching to put the "King of Rap/Pop/Autotune/Whatever Crown" on Kanye for the better part of the decade but 2010 marked the year in which he finally gave us all an indisputable reason to. The enormity of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a wonderful achievement in and of itself but it is the Runaway video that I find most impressive. Rarely has someone matched the aural mood of music with the visual mood of a video as well as Ole' Mr. West. In the internet age in which we can't watch 2 minutes of cat bloopers without getting bored, Kanye took his damn time and made it all worth the while.

Danny Pudi and Donald Glover (Troy and Abed in Community)
"Troy and Abed in the morning!"A great void was left in my life when Scrubs went off the air. For more than 8 years I subsisted myself on the bromance of J.D and Turk just as much as air and water. I thought I would never again see a finer pairing of buddies on network television. But just when I had given up all hope, Danny Pudi and Donald Glover came to the rescue as Troy and Abed on Community.

Yeasayer - "Ambling Alp"
"Stick up for yourself, son"
Never has something so inherently hipster created something so infectiously poppy and wonderful.

Christopher Nolan (Inception)
"You're waiting for a train."

Shortly after watching Inception, I was reminded of John F. Kennedy's famous proclamation about our lunar ambitions: "We choose to go to the moon...not because (it) is easy but because (it) is hard." Now I normally don't think of dead presidents after I see a film but I normally don't see films as good as Inception. Film-making in general is difficult. It's difficult from a technical perspective and it's difficult from a creative perspective. That's why I find it so admirable that Christopher Nolan chose to make a 100-million dollar blockbuster so much more difficult than it could have been - both for himself and the audience. Inception takes the very basic and well-worn heist movie structure and then puts it in a dream...and then puts it in another dream...and then puts it in another dream...and then puts it into raw, unoccupied dream space. It's far more complex than any heist film needs to be but it's also more rewarding than most heist films ever are.

Jesse Eisenberg (Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network)
"I'm talking about taking the whole social experience of college and putting it online."
I've long suspected that Jesse Eisenberg rocks. He was subdued but spot-on in one of my favorite movies, The Squid and the Whale. And then he went on to establish an older-Michael Cera archetype in the two 'Lands (Adventure and Zombie). If I'm thankful for anything in 2010, it's that America got to see that Eisenberg was the real deal once and for all in The Social Network.

Toy Story 3
"Where's your kid now, sheriff?"
It's a rule: if you make me weep like a dying walrus in a theater, you get on the Lovelist.

Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
Nobody listens to full albums anymore - or at least that is what lazy cultural analysts like to say when they notice that iTunes sells a single or two. Thankfully for all of us, Titus Andronicus still believes in the Album with a capital "A." The Monitor is commendable not only in it's scope - it's the story of a kid leaving New Jersey, interwoven with snippets from the Civil War - but also it's soul. Each song is far longer than conventional wisdom demands, but instead of feeling like a drag, it feels like Titus Andronicus is constantly filled with boundless enthusiasm and just can't quite bring themselves to stop the fun on any given song.

Mad Men
"Who is Don Draper?"
I've always respected Mad Men as being one of the most well-done shows on television but season 4 is the first season in which I've considered it a personal favorite. Thanks to the decision to finally start breaking away the cornerstones in Don Draper's life, Matthew Weiner and his writers are clearly in the midst of an incredible creative renaissance. Most shows lose steam by season 4, Mad Men seems to just be getting started.

Arliss Howard (Kale Ingram in Rubicon)
"Intelligence is incomplete. That's the nature of it."
Oh that other AMC show that no one seemed to like! I was one of the detractors for the first half of Rubicon's first (and now only) season but I came around near the end. A large deal of credit can be attributed to Arliss Howard and his portrayal of the shifty Kale Ingram. Kale was that one indecipherable character with murky intentions that every conspiracy thriller needs and Howard played the part like he knew how lucky he was to get it.

Big Boi - "General Patton"
"Stay so fresh and oh so motherfucking clean"
There's epic. There's Epic. There's EPIC. And then there's "General Patton." Often times, my complaint with modern rap is that the beats are just too dainty. Most artists seem to like to keep the music subdued so that their lyrics are the centerpiece of the song. Thank God, Big Boi had the cojones this year to quit messing around and push the petal to the metal. Sir Lucious Leftfoot was an awesome album but Big Boi deserves particular love for blowing out my ear drums with General Patton.

H. Jon Benjamin (Sterling Archer in Archer)
"Lying is like 95% of what I do."
Some people just have that voice. H. Jon Benjamin is one of those people. He injects secret agent Sterling Archer with a nasally whine that is at the surface discordant but still seems to fit so perfectly. H. Jon Benjamin should just clear space in his trophy case for now for whatever Emmy exists for voicework.

My Chemical Romance - Art is the Weapon
"Louder than God's revolver and twice as shiny."
With Kanye's "Runaway" and My Chemical Romance's "Art is the Weapon," it was a good year for the album trailer. I do love My Chem's album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys but nothing can quite compare to the pure adrenaline rush that was watching the "Art is the Weapon" trailer for the first time.

"Nobody does it alone, Jack."
The ending of Lost was such a monumental experience in my life that it deserves it's own space to be discussed. One day, I will be able to think about the final eight minutes without weeping and I will write about it. Until then - enjoy Michael Giacchino's score.

Michael Pitt (Jimmy Darmondy in Boardwalk Empire)
"You can't be half a gangster, Nucky. Not anymore."
I considered including both of Boardwalk Empire's Michaels here (the other is Michael Shannon who plays Prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden) but I decided that Mr. Pitt deserved his own space. There were so many directions that Boardwalk Empire could have gone after it's pilot episode. It's a testament to Michael Pitt's acting ability and realistic Prohibition era appearance that the show has continually increased focus on his Jimmy Darmondy. In a show with so many established legendary figures (Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Johnny Torio, Arnold Rothstein, Nucky Johnson) with already established histories and character arcs, it's important to have the wide-eyed and ever-changing Darmondy on the ground to take the audience along with him.

Vampire Weekend - "Giving Up the Gun"
"In all the years since I saw you last, you haven't moved an inch."
Again, 2010 was the year in which I discovered that hipsters had tremendous pop sensibilities. There has to be that one catchy song on the playlist that everybody knows the words to and God bless Vampire Weekend for giving us it in 2010.

Adam Scott (Party Down, Parks and Recreation and Eastbound and Down)
"Are we having fun yet?"
Sometimes I think half of being a good actor is knowing what projects to attach oneself to. Exhibit A is the wonderful career of Adam Scott. You know him as Will Ferrell's douchey brother in Step Brothers. I know him as...well, everything else. He put the douche-hat back on in Eastbound and Down as Kenny Powers' conniving agent. He put the professional-hat on as a city employee in Parks and Recreation. But most important of all - he was the emotional and comedic center of one of my favorite shows of the year, Party Down. Mr. Scott is quickly reaching "I'll-watch-that-guy-in-anything" territory and it's mostly thanks to his excellent taste.

Kid Cudi - "Erase Me"
"I keep on running, keep on running and nothing work."
One of the more welcome trends in recent popular music is the synthesis of all different sounds from different genres. One of the most apparent examples in 2010 was Kid Cudi's first single from Man on the Moon II, "Erase Me." Erase Me sounds more like a 90's pop song than it sounds like a song from rap's new "It" kid. Aside from Kanye's verse near the end this could have been released by Everclear in 1996. That may not be everyone's idea of a good 2010 song but it's certainly mine.

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
"I want to hold her hand and show her some beauty before all this damage is done."
I listened to no album from beginning to end more times than "The Suburbs" this year...and that's impressive because "The Monitor" had a 6 month head start on it. Maybe I'm biased, but stories, struggles and songs from the suburbs are what I've been raised through experience to enjoy the most. And it's to Arcade Fire's credit that they - a motely collection of Canadians, Texans and Haitians - were able to speak to my own sensibilities as a child of suburban sprawl. Really, really good stuff and really, really catchy stuff.

Breaking Bad - "One Minute"
"I'm just not the man I thought I was."
Almost every minute of Breaking Bad's third season was brilliant this year. But one minute in particular - at the very end of an episode entitled (what else?) "One Minute" - was particularly amazing. Excessive violence is standard operation procedure for most television shows. Breaking Bad, however, has a gritty oftentimes bloodless realism that is far more gut churning than the rest of the pack. The quiet stark and terrifying scene is a master class in building tension and then releasing it in such a way the audience still doesn't quite feel settled.

The Gaslight Anthem - "Old Haunts"
"God help the man who says 'if you'd have known me then.'"
It helps me sleep at night knowing that there's someone out there fighting hard to keep the old timey Bruce Springsteen spirit alive.

The Walking Dead - "Days Gone Bye"
"I'm sorry this happened to you."
To those paying close attention, you'll notice that every one of AMC's four original series appear on my list. I honestly can't think of another network that's ever been on a hot streak quite like AMC. And now that they've found they're biggest commercial success in The Walking Dead, the future looks bright. The Walking Dead's entire first season was vastly entertaining, if a little uneven at times but the pilot episode "Days Gone Bye" was pitch-perfect. Nothing quite captures the mood of a zombie apocalypse as well as a sheriff shooting a little girl in the face within the first 6 minutes of the show. And it only gets better from there. Honestly it's probably my favorite television pilot since Lost in 2004.

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