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TOP 10 SUPERHERO MOVIES

In top 10 on 05/04/2011 at 8:00 am

Thor: "It's hammer time, bitches"

Every year it’s the same thing: a whole new squad of superheroes flies into movie theaters. But this year you can start your own Justice League with all the superheroes showing up onscreen. There’s X-Men: First Class, Green Lantern, and Captain America: The First Avenger. And those are just the ones coming out this summer. It all kicks off on Friday, when the God of Thunder brings his big, badass hammer to the big screen in Thor. We can’t wait. In anticipation we’re running down our 10 favorite superhero movies.

1. The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan’s 2008 Batman movie truly transcends the comic-book genre. For starters, there’s Heath Ledger’s terrific performance as the Joker.  Then there’s the story and Nolan’s taut direction. It doesn’t get better than this.

 

2. Batman Begins

Nolan’s first Batman movie is super too. He retells the Dark Knight’s origin with plenty of style. But he also shows off some intense action sequences. Plus, you get to know the man behind the mask.

3. The Incredibles

Pixar’s 2004 hit about a family of superheroes trying to make a go at it in the real world goes deeper than most live-action movies, with issues of loyalty, responsibility, and individuality.

4. Kick-Ass

What happens when your superheroes aren’t so super? According to this bloody, foul-mouthed movie about kids playing dress-up, you get your ass kicked. And you bleed. A lot.

5. Iron Man

The sequel is loud and obnoxious. But the first one from 2008 is everything a superhero movie should be: big, explosive, and totally awesome. It’s a lot of fun to watch too.

6. Watchmen

Zack Snyder’s big-screen version of the greatest comic book of all time is long, unwieldy, and thoroughly mesmerizing as it tells the story of a group of old superheroes investigating the murder of a colleague.

7. Spider-Man 2

Spidey is one of the most popular superheroes out there, and director Sam Raimi captures his longtime appeal in the first two movies in the series (the less said about the third the better).

8. Spider-Man

Next year’s reboot is supposed to wipe away everything you know about this 2002 movie. Why? It’s faithful, exhilarating, and loads of fun. Plus, the Green Goblin is totally badass.

9. Superman

By modern standards, this 1978 movie about Krypton’s favorite son seems a little corny. But Christopher Reeve is the perfect Man of Steel, and the film perfectly captures the comic’s head-spinning exuberance.

10. Unbreakable

M. Night Shyamalan’s often overlooked follow-up to his breakthrough movie The Sixth Sense stars Bruce Willis as a maybe-superhero who survives a terrible train accident. Think there’s a twist? Has Shyamalan made crappy movies since?

TOP 10 CIRCUS MOVIES

In top 10 on 04/20/2011 at 9:00 am

“So, big guy. Team Edward or Team Jacob?”

Monkeys. Clowns. Peanuts in paper bags. What’s not to love about the circus? (Besides the smell, dancing poodles, and clowns?) Surprisingly, there haven’t been a ton of movies set at the circus. Not so surprisingly, there have been very few good ones. Water for Elephants, which stars Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in a love story set under the big top, opens on Friday. We’ll let you know if it’s any good. In the meantime, here are our 10 favorite circus movies.

 

1. The Elephant Man

Every movie David Lynch makes is like a freak show. So it’s fitting that his best movie is set in the actual world of freaks and geeks. It’s based on a true story, but that doesn’t make it any less surreal.

2. La Strada

Felliniesque is pretty much film-speak for “circus-like.” The great Italian director sprinkles carnival imagery in so many of his movies. This one goes all the way in its love story about a boorish strongman and a young girl.

3. Big Fish

Like Lynch and Fellini, Tim Burton makes movies suited for a sideshow. One of his best traces a dying man’s life through the tall tales he’s told over the years. You don’t need the circus story to smell the sawdust.

 

4. Freaks

It inspired the Ramones. It pissed off censors. And it remains one of the most disturbing movies ever made. This 1932 thriller stars a bunch of real circus freaks who get even with the bullies who attack one of their own.

5. Wings of Desire

Wim Wenders’ gorgeous, elegiac rumination is about an angel who falls in love with a circus acrobat and gives up his immortality to be with her. The backdrop adds to the mystique.

6. The Circus

Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 silent feature came between The Gold Rush and City Lights, two better movies. But this comedy about the Little Tramp at the circus has its moments. Plus, monkeys! Lots and lots of monkeys!

7. Dumbo

Unlike most of the movies on this list, Disney’s 1941 cartoon about an elephant with ginormous ears makes the circus seem like a happy, fun place, not a breeding ground for moral corruption.

8. 7 Faces of Dr. Lao

The Odd Couple’s Tony Randall plays seven different characters (eight, if you count the cameo as an audience member) in this whimsical story about a traveling circus and the mysterious guy who runs it.

9. The Greatest Show on Earth

This overblown 1952 epic, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, won a Best Picture Oscar and comes closest to what most people think of when they hear the word “circus.” Charlton Heston plays a big-top big shot.

10. Big Top Pee-wee

In the follow-up to the way better Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, the circus comes to Pee-wee, literally blowing in next to his farm. Harmless fun. I know you are, but what am I?

ST. PATRICK’S DAY PLAYLIST

In top 10 on 03/16/2011 at 8:00 am

There are plenty of reasons to love St. Patrick’s Day. Like the green beer. And, um, the green beer. Ireland has also given us many great artists over the years, most of whom sound even greater after a pint or two (or three or four) of Guinness. Here are 10 of our favorites, plus the album of theirs you should be listening to during your St. Paddy festivities this week.

 

Van Morrison

Morrison is the ultimate Irishman: he gets pukey-drunk onstage, he often slurs his words, and he can be a belligerent prick. He’s also one of the world’s greatest singer-songwriters, an R&B folkie who has soul to spare.

For your St. Patrick’s Day Playlist: Astral Weeks is his best album, but it’s slow, acoustic, and not very celebratory. Plus, there’s a song about scoping out high-school girls. Not cool. Go for 1990’s Best of Van Morrison instead.

 

U2

If you didn’t know U2 were Irish, you’d swear they were American. They’ve explored our nation’s mythos more than once on record. But there’s a strong sense of Irish brotherhood that cuts beneath their rattle and hums.

For your St. Patrick’s Day Playlist: The Joshua Tree. It’s the album that bridges their early enthusiasm with later-day pretensions. It’s big, beautiful, and the key moment when a band of Irish punks became global rock stars.

 

The Pogues

No band says “Let’s get totally fucked up on St. Patrick’s Day” like the Pogues. You get the feeling that every page on their calendar reads “March 17.” Bonus points: they recorded the best Christmas song of all-time too.

For your St. Patrick’s Day Playlist: Rum Sodomy & the Lash. The title of their 1985 album warns you what you’re in store for: dirty limericks, plaintive ballads, and traditional singalongs to spill your Guinness to.

My Bloody Valentine

These distortion-lovin’ Dubliners pretty much invented shoegaze, which is about as far from festive Irish music as you can get. But they paved the way for noise-pop, dreampop, and other alt-rock subgenres since the early ’90s.

For your St. Patrick’s Day Playlist: Loveless, their second and final album, from 1991. Beneath all the guitar noise are some lovely melodies just aching to get out. Listen hard, and you can hear their Irish peeking through.

 

Sinead O’Connor

Sure, she pissed off a lot of people by doing un-Irish things like badmouthing the Pope. But O’Connor’s a sentimental traditionalist beneath that tough-punk exterior. Her voice aches with the spirit of her homeland.

For your St. Patrick’s Day Playlist: I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, her second album and only No. 1. It’s still an amazing record, filled with heartbreaking ballads, undisciplined rage, and scar-revealing self-reflection.

 

The Chieftains

The most popular Irish traditionalists are also one of the world’s best folk groups. Their songs are filled with the sounds of Ireland: uilleann pipes, tin whistles, and bodhrán. They’re like a less-rowdy Pogues, with better teeth.

For your St. Patrick’s Day Playlist: Irish Heartbeat, the 1988 album they made with Van Morrison. Play this one for Irish old-timers: it’s filled with unpronounceable traditional tunes like “Tá Mo Chleamhnas Déanta.”

 

Thin Lizzy

They perfected the twin-guitar attack. They sounded like Bruce Springsteen. And they were led by a black guy. That’s not very Irish. But Thin Lizzy had a hit with “Whiskey in the Jar.” You really don’t get more Irish than that.

For your St. Patrick’s Day Playlist: Jailbreak. It’s the one everybody knows for a good reason: it’s loaded with the band’s best songs, including “The Boys Are Back in Town” and the title track. Great drinking music too.

 

The Frames

Frontman Glen Hansard is better known as the male half of NPR faves the Swell Season. But he never would have made the indie hit Once if it wasn’t for these underrated Dubliners. Way louder and cooler than his other band.

For your St. Patrick’s Day Playlist: The Cost, from 2006, the same year he filmed Once. Two of the album’s songs were recorded by the Swell Season, including the Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly,” way louder and cooler here.

 

The Undertones

These mostly forgotten punks spit out teenage anthems that weren’t nearly as nihilistic as the music their U.K. peers were making. They were from Derry, the city where Bloody Sunday went down, so there’s still some anger.

For your St. Patrick’s Day Playlist: The Undertones were a better singles band than album band during their late-’70s/early-’80s heyday. So go for the Singles = A+B’s or Teenage Kicks: The Very Best of the Undertones sets.

 

The Cranberries

The Cranberries were one of the hugest alt-rock bands of the ’90s. But singer Dolores O’Riordan is Irish through and through, a nice Catholic girl from a large family (she’s the seventh kid) with a voice as big as Belfast.

For your St. Patrick’s Day Playlist: We’re gonna go with 1994’s No Need to Argue, because it contains the Cranberries’ best-ever song, the wall-rattling “Zombie.” “Ode to My Family,” an Irish alt-lullaby, is on there too.

TOP 10 MOVIE BROMANCES

In top 10 on 02/21/2011 at 8:30 am

Movie bromances go back years, all the way to Rick and Captain Renault’s cuddly “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” bond in Casablanca. But lately there have been a rash of movies celebrating the love that no woman can break. With this week’s opening of Hall Pass – in which best buds Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis take a break from their wives to hang out with each other – we look at the Top 10 onscreen bromances.

1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

One of the original bromances, this 1969 buddy western pairs Paul Newman and Robert Redford as outlaws who trade quips and manly glances between gunfights. The iconic final scene stands as a benchmark of bro-loyalty.

2. The Shawshank Redemption

Andy and Red’s prison bromance starts tentatively – as prison bromances usually do. But by the time the two kick back on a beach at the end of the movie, their mutual respect and allegiance has been well-earned.

3. Superbad

Jonah Hill and Michael Cera play high-school best friends whose friendship is tested during one wild night of their senior year. They fight, they try to get laid, and they get covered in menstrual blood and vomit on their path to enlightenment.

4. The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The heart of this movie isn’t Steve Carell trying to get laid for the first time. It’s his friends who help him try to get laid. You know how I know you’re gay? You envy the relationship between Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen.

5. Shaun of the Dead

Nothing says bromance like two British guys whacking zombies in the head with cricket bats. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s bored pals spark up their lives, and their friendship, after their entire town is taken over by the walking undead.

6. The Lord of the Rings

Take your pick — there are many solid bromances in the Middle Earth trilogy: Pippin and Merry. Legolas and Gimli. Even the original nine-man fellowship. But the strongest is between Frodo and Sam – Hobbit bros to the end.

7. Wedding Crashers

Even though this 2005 turns into a chick flick at the end, it kick-started the modern-day bromance movie. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn crash weddings to pick up girls. Of course it’s just an excuse to show how much they dig each other.

8. Reservoir Dogs

An ensemble bromance (they even give each other nicknames!) that launched Quentin Tarantino’s career and showed moviegoers that you don’t need any women onscreen for a touching  relationship. Never mind they all end up killing each other.

9. Good Will Hunting

A real-life bromance inspires this movie bromance written by and starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Two Boston buds help each other with the hassles of work, school, and dating Jennifer Lopez (though we could be wrong about that last one).

10. I Love You, Man

It’s not a great movie, but it sums up the essence of bromances more than any other on this list. Just look at that title. Paul Rudd (what guy doesn’t want a bromance with him?) needs a best man for his wedding. Enter Jason Segel.

A VALENTINE’S DAY PLAYLIST

In top 10 on 02/11/2011 at 8:30 am

Marvin Gaye, thinking about doing something nasty to you

A good Valentine’s Day playlist should feature a mix of fast and slow songs. It should build mood – take it easy at first, slide into something a little more daring, explode near the end, and come down with ease. It shouldn’t last more than an hour. And it should include plenty of songs about sex. Especially that. Here are some of our favorite songs about getting it on.

1. “Let’s Get It On” – Marvin Gaye

It’s the one everyone goes to, and for good reason. Gaye’s 1973 classic is pretty much the R&B legend saying “Hey, baby, let’s fuck” for four minutes straight. But it’s the sexiest come-on you’ve ever heard. Frankly, Gaye could be singing about finding us a better rate on our mortgage, and it would still put us in the mood. That the song is about sex makes it all the much sweeter.

2. “Ignition (Remix)” – R. Kelly

It’s the song where Kelly croons “I’m about to take my key and stick it in the ignition.” He’s not talking about his car. But the song is a celebration of sweaty fun – whether it’s on the dance floor, at a backstage party, or in the bedroom with a couple of groupies. Dude’s a freak, no doubt about it. But this is his greatest song, all about getting freaky and not caring who’s there.

3. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” – Def Leppard

Of course you’re gonna be sticky sweet after they shake the bottle. Duh. The Lep’s 1987 ode to down-and-dirty sex doesn’t really hide its intentions, even if it is a little confusing (“livin’ like a lover with a radar phone”?). The band’s best song is heavily processed through oodles of digital filters, but its raw carnal energy manages to seep through anyway. One lump or two?

4. “Sexual Healing” – Marvin Gaye

Yep, him again. Gaye was one horny dude. And on his last big hit, he pretty much uses the ol’ I’m-gonna-die-if-don’t-have-sex-soon trick. Lyrically, it’s not very subtle (“open up and let me in”), but it’s dripping with musical winks (check out those trickling synths). Stick around to the end, when Gaye tells the girl there ain’t no way he’s taking care of business by himself.

5. “Work It” – Missy Elliott

What’s Missy saying during the backward part of the chorus? Some guesses are dirtier than others (though the truth may be it’s just the other part of the chorus reversed). Still, the fact that it might be something nasty further bolsters this song’s sex drive. More obvious: “Love the way my ass go bum-bump-bum-bump-bump/Think you can handle this badonk-a-donk-donk?”

6. “Love to Love You Baby” – Donna Summer

The original disco queen pretty much has a 16-minute orgasm on this 1975 classic. Really. There’s not much more to it than Giorgio Moroder’s sputtering synth riff, which rides a steady groove while Summer moans and groans on top of it. For 16 minutes. (Time magazine once counted 22 orgasms.) Perfect for your mix, especially when things really start to heat up.

7. “Sledgehammer” – Peter Gabriel

You didn’t think this song was about a hand tool, did you? You know, the one that looks like a giant hammer? The onetime Genesis frontman wants to nail something all right, but it’s not, um, a nail. Like Marvin Gaye, Gabriel isn’t very discreet: “Open up your fruit cage, where the fruit is as sweet as can be.” Meanwhile, his old bandmates were singing about illegal aliens.

8. “Like a Virgin” – Madonna

Quentin Tarantino summed it up best in his Reservoir Dogs script: “The pain is reminding a fuck machine what it once was like to be a virgin.” We’re not exactly sure if that’s what Madonna had in mind on her first No. 1 hit. But the way she “oohs” and “aahs” (not to mention the way she writhed around onstage at the MTV Music Awards in 1984) tells us it’s pretty darn close.

9. “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)” – Rod Stewart

Stewart’s never been a tactful guy (go back and listen to his kiss-off to a groupie on the Faces’ “Stay With Me”). But he’s positively lecherous here. “Spread your wings and let me come inside,” he commands the “virgin child” he’s singing to. Eww. That’s Stewart’s girlfriend (and former Bond girl) Britt Ekland saying something in French at the end of the song. Oui!

10. “I Want Your Sex” – George Michael

In a public bathroom? In a park? Apparently it doesn’t matter to the ’80s hitmaker. This song from Michael’s first solo album is his sorta clunky way of saying, “I want to have relations with you.” “Sex is natural, sex is fun, sex is best when it’s one on one,” he sings. Sure, it’s a tribute to monogamy. But it’s also a declaration to getting it on – whenever, wherever you feel like it.

TOP 10 MOVIES FOR VALENTINE’S DAY

In top 10 on 02/11/2011 at 8:00 am

Sexy movies are about more than Sharon Stone flashing her cooter or Demi Moore covering herself in clay. They’re about the romance at the center of the story that drives it. If all you want is a pile of writhing flesh onscreen, watch a porn flick. Those people are pros and know what they’re doing. We’ll take a movie that burns its sexy a little more subtly any day — except for those days when we’re horny and alone.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet play a couple who literally erase all memories of their relationship and of each other after they break up. But they still manage to find one another and fall in love all over again in Michel Gondry’s 2004 mindblower. True love is being with the exact person you should be with – even if that person drives you nuts most of the time.

2. Titanic

Kate Winslet again, and this time she hooks up with Leonardo DiCaprio for a love that was doomed from the start. Of course it didn’t help any that they were on a big-ass boat that was about ready to smash into an even bigger-ass iceberg. James Cameron’s three-plus-hour Oscar hogger is filmmaking at its most epic. We still get chills watching DiCaprio’s final sacrifice for his love.

3. Brokeback Mountain

Ang Lee’s understated love story proves that even cowboys get the blues and need to be held by another cowboy from time to time. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal don’t know how to quit each other, and their secret relationship leads to one of the most devastating movie endings of the past decade. This is love at its most raw, tragic, and unforgiving. Yippee kai yay.

4. Body Heat

Back before William Hurt became a grumpy old man and before Kathleen Turner sounded like a grumpy old man, the pair fired up the screen as lovers who have more than sex on their minds. Well, actually, sex is on their minds a lot. But when it isn’t, they’re plotting to kill Turner’s rich husband. Double-crosses, Mickey Rourke, and plenty of body fluids share the screen.

5. Once

A love story without sex? Without even a kiss? What kind of love story is this? It’s a great one, about two musicians (played by real-life singer-songwriters and later couple Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová of the Swell Season) who make beautiful music together. And that’s all they make, because she’s married and has a kid. Hansard is a gentleman throughout.

6. Say Anything …

What kid growing up in the ’80s and ’90s didn’t think Lloyd Dobler’s boombox-hoisting move was the most romantic thing in the world? Try listening to Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” without thinking of Dobler’s tuneful declaration of love. It’s a typical loser-boy-loves-pretty-rich-girl story, but star John Cusack and Cameron Crowe’s smart script pull it off.

7. Before Sunrise

Yeah, it’s Ethan Hawke and some French chick talking about shit for an hour and 45 minutes. In Europe, no less. But writer/director Richard Linklater perfectly captures the first whiffs of love, when probing conversations and secret glances are the ultimate turn-ons. Before Sunset — the sequel, which came out nine years later in 2004 – is pretty good too.

8. In the Mood for Love

Set in Hong Kong in the early 1960s, two neighbors (he’s a newspaper editor, she’s a secretary) bond over their shared love of noodles and martial arts. It’s a purely platonic relationship … until they find out their spouses are having an affair. Even though they promise not to head down the same path of infidelity, love and passion kinda get in the way of things. Quietly sexy.

9. The Graduate

This 1967 classic is a cultural milestone on so many levels, and it still resonates today. College grad Dustin Hoffman hooks up with his girlfriend’s mom, forging a torrid and often comical affair that causes major headaches for everyone involved. It winks at sex, the suburbs, and late-’60s principles. Best of all, Oscar nominee Anne Bancroft unveils the original MILF here.

10. Y Tu Mamá También

It’s a combination road-trip movie and coming-of-age story about two horny teenage boys and an older woman. You can guess what happens. But this ain’t no Porky’s-style romp. Director Alfonso Cuarón (who also made the excellent Children of Men and one of the best Harry Potter movies) gives Y Tu Mamá También a big heart, strong relationships, and, yes, plenty of sex.

TOP 10 CONCERT MOVIES

In top 10 on 02/07/2011 at 8:30 am

You may know someone who’s excited about Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, a 3D documentary and concert movie opening on Friday. And there’s a really good chance that someone is a 13-year-old girl. But for those of us with more, um, mature tastes in music, there are plenty of great concert films that put you in the front row. Here are our 10 favorites.

1. Gimme Shelter

The Rolling Stones played a free concert at California’s Altamont Speedway in 1969. They hired Hell’s Angels as security. Bad move: the bikers ended up killing someone on camera. It’s more than a great concert movie; it’s a portrait of a culture on a drugged, downward spiral.

2. Don’t Look Back

Bob Dylan gets bitchy with the press, fellow musicians, and British fans in this document of his 1965 tour. He’s not very likable here, but he is enigmatic and downright brilliant at times. The “Subterranean Homesick Blues” cue-card scene is a career highlight.

3. The Last Waltz

Neil Young is high! Neil Diamond rocks! And Van Morrison slurs his way through a sloppily brilliant set. The Band performed their last concert (with help from friends) in 1976, and director Martin Scorsese was in their face and backstage.

4. Wattstax

Think of it as kind of a funky Woodstock, with a ton of great R&B artists from the ’70s (including the Staple Singers, the Bar-Kays, Rufus Thomas, and a totally awesome Isaac Hayes) playing an outdoor show in front of dancing fans in Los Angeles.

5. Neil Young: Heart of Gold

Jonathan Demme’s intimate look at Young’s two shows at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in 2005 was filmed just months after the singer-songwriter was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. He plays some older classics, but it’s the new acoustic ones about mortality that resonate.

6. Woodstock

It’s three hours of hippies and mud, but it’s also one of the most visually striking depictions of an era ever caught on film. Some music holds up (Jimi Hendrix), some doesn’t (Sha-Na-Na). Woodstock is about the ’60s at its peace-and-love peak. A perfect companion to Gimme Shelter.

7. Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll

Berry is charming, reflective, and cantankerous as he prepares for a 60th birthday blowout headed by Keith Richards. Famous fans offer praise and live support, but the rock & roll pioneer – onstage and off – shows everyone  why he’s a legend.

8. Stop Making Sense

Jonathan Demme’s other great concert movie stars Talking Heads and David Byrne’s big-ass suit. It starts small, but after 20 minutes, almost a dozen musicians are onstage. Demme sets up his cameras and lets the band play, with no fancy tricks. And they’re positively electric.

9. Block Party

Dave Chappelle takes over a Brooklyn neighborhood for a free show featuring pals Erykah Badu, the Roots, Kanye West, and the Fugees (who hadn’t played together in seven years). It’s a lot like a small-scale Wattstax updated for the hip-hop generation.

10. Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!

The Beastie Boys handed out cameras to fans at a 2004 NYC show. The result is one of the most freewheeling concert movies ever made. Some audience members focused on the group, some focused on the people around them, and some focused on themselves.

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2010

In top 10 on 12/17/2010 at 12:11 pm

Inception: a wild ride

If 2010’s best movies weren’t messing with your mind, they were almost daring you to sit through some potentially dreadful premises. The behind-the-scenes startup of a website. A psychological thriller revolving around ballerinas. A historical drama about a guy’s speech impediment. A film centered on some dude whose arm is stuck underneath a giant rock for 90 minutes. Each served as foundation to the year’s most riveting films.

1.  Inception

Director Christopher Nolan turns the world upside down, literally, in this stunning epic about a group of “extractors” (led by Leonardo DiCaprio) that penetrate people’s dreams to get to their innermost secrets. As they go deeper and deeper into their target’s dreamworld, things twist, turn, and – like the top that serves as the movie’s pivotal imagery — almost topple. It’s a brilliant and stylized work that challenges you to make up your own mind about what’s real and what isn’t.

2. Toy Story 3

Pixar’s best-ever movie accomplished two near-impossible feats: It’s the rare third movie that’s better than the first two outings in the series, and it made grown men cry (though most of us blamed it on those damn dusty theaters). Solid storytelling, great new characters, and one of the warmest and most touching endings ever put on film are just the start of Toy Story 3’s charm. Just try keeping your eyes dry when Andy plays with his toys for the last time.

3.  The Social Network

You can thank David Fincher for making the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg more than just a biopic for the computer age. The Fight Club director turns it into a fast, thrilling look at a college kid, with way too much time and money on his hands, who also happen to be a wily (and, no irony lost here, friendless) businessperson. Who knew geeks writing code and deposition hearings could be so exciting?

4.  Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky has made movies about obsessive people before – Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler. But in this one, obsessions take on a life of their own, as an emotionally fractured ballerina (played by a terrific Natalie Portman) lands her dream role – which happens to overlap with her total mental breakdown. In a quieter way, it’s just as much of a mindfuck as Inception, and its ending will leave you just as baffled.

5.  Kick-Ass

It’s based on a comic book about a makeshift superhero who has zero superpowers, and many of its scenes make all the villain-fighting stuff seem not only irresponsible, but incredibly dangerous (these heroes bleed – a lot). Still, these kids have guts – especially Hit-Girl (played by scene-stealing 13-year-old Chloe Moretz), a tiny fireball who busts heads and breaks faces as the embodiment of girl power. Often funny, occasionally obscene, and very kick-ass indeed.

6.  127 Hours

No surprise that 28 Days Later … director Danny Boyle could pull off this movie’s climatic scene with squirmy brilliance. But he also manages to make a movie about a real-life rock climber whose arm gets pinned beneath a boulder a truly fascinating piece of filmmaking. Credit also goes to James Franco, who plays a shaggy-haired dude you wouldn’t mind spending five days trapped in a canyon with. And that ending is one of the most emotionally stirring of the decade.

7.  The King’s Speech

Albert, Duke of York – who eventually becomes King George VI of England – dreads speaking in public because of his stammer, so he reluctantly begins working with a speech therapist. That’s The King’s Speech in a nutshell. Exciting stuff, no? Surprisingly, yes. Unknown director Tom Hooper’s period piece is short on stuffiness and long on great acting — especially Colin Firth, who injects his royal highness with humor, self-consciousness, and a spark of common vulnerability.

8. Shutter Island

Leonardo DiCaprio messes with your mind (again) as a U.S. marshal looking into some strange things happening on a remote prison for the criminally insane. Martin Scorsese is somewhat restrained in his first thriller, but he stages the movie’s twists with reserved style — even if you’ll probably figure it all out about halfway through. And unlike his other mind-blowing movie this year, DiCaprio gets to show off some acting chops here.

9.  Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

This explosion of comic books, indie rock, and video games is the most geektastic movie of the year – a celebration of everything that’s in the way of you and a hot date. Based on a series of graphic novels, the movie plays like a Mortal Kombat-inspired fever dream, as a 22-year-old bass-playing nerd takes on his new girlfriend’s “seven evil exes” with powers straight out of classic video games. A great double bill with Kick-Ass.

10.  Winter’s Bone

The backwoods folks in this indie hit are scary — Deliverance scary. Actually, they’re much more frightening because they seem so real. Debra Granik’s deliberately paced thriller sneaks up on you, as a 17-year-old Missouri mountain girl (a terrific Jennifer Lawrence) searches for her dad, who skipped bail after putting the family home up as collateral. Along the way, she meets vicious meth cookers who don’t like her snooping one dang bit.

TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2010

In top 10 on 12/15/2010 at 3:40 pm

Kanye West: douchebag, asshole, and creator of the year’s best album

So many artists aimed big this year. They made grand thematic albums about 21st century detachment. They made sprawling concept albums about the Civil War. And they made ego-fueled albums about their out-of-control egos. That sound you hear is 2010 busting out of its tiny shell, exploding redneck badasses, ragtag punks, and Kanye juice all over your ears.

1.  Kanye West — My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

West has made huge, ambitious albums before. But this one pulls in so many sounds, sources, and guests, it’s like he shuffled through dozens of different iPods for inspiration. Indie folkie Bon Iver, hip-hop legend Jay-Z, prog icons King Crimson – they all play a major part in West’s beautiful, dark, and twisted fantasy. The album’s scope is large, taking in everything from fame to blame to West’s oversized ego.

2.  LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

Like Kanye, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy shuffles in a lot of different sounds to power his latest opus. There’s a New Wave homage, an indie-pop twirl, and plenty of dance-floor burners that are way deeper than your average Deadmau5 song. Murphy is a lot like a know-it-all music critic – but one who can actually write songs and play an instrument. Smart, sassy, and filled with huge hooks, this is one groovy happening.

3.  Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

These New Jersey punks sound like a drunken mash of the Clash, Pogues, and Bright Eyes. Their second album is about the Civil War, with an Abraham Lincoln speech, epic-length songs, and a concept revolving around one of the Navy’s first warships. But The Monitor is also about some of the year’s smartest songwriting and getting shit-faced drunk on the weekend. The album’s catchiest song is called “Theme From ‘Cheers’.” Everybody should know their name.

4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Indie rock’s favorite Canadian collective went big this year, debuting at No. 1 with their most sprawling album. The theme has to do with family, community, and keeping it all together under crappy circumstances. Frontman Win Butler takes his band to the arenas with The Suburbs – literally and figuratively. There are monster-sized songs here, from “Half Light” to “Ready to Start.” And of course there has to be a song called “Sprawl.”

5.  Drake – Thank Me Later

Drake’s dilemma in 2010: recording songs about how much fame sucks before his debut album even came out. In all fairness, the 24-year-old rapper did star in the TV show Degrassi: The Next Generation. But how many people watched that? Not nearly as many who bought his hit record. Drake rapped a lot about the hassles of celebrity on Thank Me Later: the strange faces sharing his bar tab, the headaches the following day – generally just being Drake.

6.  Jamey Johnson – The Guitar Song

Johnson is a former Marine who looks like he’d kick your ass for referring to him as a former Marine (once a Marine, always a Marine, right?). This two-disc concept album is divided into “black” and “white” parts, telling the story of a country-music star on his way down. Johnson is at once the most traditional and unconventional guy in country music these days, combining classic honky-tonk stomp with Lynyrd Skynyrd swagger.

7.  M.I.A. — Maya

There was major backlash against the one-time It Girl this year, but her third album is loaded with the bold, skittering beats that made her other records huge hipster favorites. As she gets older, 35-year-old Mathangi Arulpragasam is becoming even more outspoken … if that’s possible. Her extreme political views nearly capsize Maya at times. But it all bounces back on the beats – some of the most striking and audacious of her career.

8.  Robyn – Body Talk

Swedish dance dynamo Robyn prepped us for her album earlier in the year with a pair of EPs that include some of the songs that ended up on the full-length. But when the songs are as terrific as “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do,” “Dancing on My Own,” and “Hang With Me,” who’s complaining? Robyn is all about robot love – the circuits and wires becoming entangled in an orgy of sparks. Body Talk sounds something like that.

9.  The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

Frontman Brian Fallon is probably sick of all the Bruce Springsteen comparisons by now. But that’s what he gets for making an album that shares the Boss’ affinity for classic-rock hooks and lyrics about busted-up folks looking for one last shot of redemption. The best songs on the Gaslight Anthem’s third album take a right turn at the light and end up somewhere near the darkness on the edge of town.

10.  Cee Lo Green – The Lady Killer

The anchor here is the insanely catchy kiss-off single “Fuck You” – quite possibly the cheeriest song to ever have an expletive in its title. But the rest of the Gnarls Barkley singer’s third solo album is just as good. There’s a lot going on here, most of it wrapped in old-school R&B sounds and Green’s sweet, vulnerable voice. Plus, his cover of Band of Horses’ “One One’s Gonna Love You” kills.

TOP 10 SONGS OF 2010

In top 10 on 12/14/2010 at 2:20 pm

LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy is about ready to dance himself clean. Really.

TOP 10 SONGS OF 2010

The song that tops this year’s list is heavier than everything below it. Even “Fuck You” sounds like a sunny summer day next to Kanye West’s epic-length tribute to dickheads. “Runaway” certainly doesn’t sound like anything else released this year, but it’s an appropriate launching point to the 10 songs you should add to your playlist. So, raise your glasses …

1.  Kanye West Featuring Pusha T — “Runaway”

Hip-hop isn’t the most self-effacing of genres. In fact, you rarely find a “Creep”- or “Loser”-style slab of self-reflection among all the club-hopping and coke-pushing. So when West hoists his glass and proposes a toast to the “douchebags” and “assholes,” knowing very well he’s at the head of the table, it’s a pivotal moment indeed. And that’s just the first half of this nine-minute song, which freefalls into a guitar/AutoTune/noise mashup of epic proportions.

2.  LCD Soundsystem — “Dance Yrself Clean”

It takes more than three minutes for the first cut on LCD Soundsystem’s third album to make itself known. It slowly builds, barely audible, until it erupts in a storm of synths, drums, and voices that’s all about redemption on the dance floor. This Is Happening is all over the place. “Dance Yrself Clean” is the cut that not only signals the album’s intentions, but also holds it all together.

3.  Cee Lo Green – “Fuck You”

The year’s catchiest tune paired with the year’s best (and most direct) kiss-off. Gnarls Barkley’s singer gets all bitchy after his girlfriend leaves him for another guy. “I see you driving round town with the girl I love, and I’m like, fuck you,” he sings in that sweet, warbling voice. We’ll take Cee Lo’s word that he’s crushed, because he certainly doesn’t sound all that bummed out.

4.  B.o.B Featuring Hayley Williams – “Airplanes”

The whole rap-verses-with-pop-choruses thing is sorta played out (see “Love the Way You Lie” below), but this collaboration between the alt-rapper and Paramore’s frontwoman was inescapable for good reason. B.o.B rolls through the hassles of fortune and fame (“Somebody take me back to the days before this was a job, before I got paid”), with Williams soaring in on superpowered wings for the song’s monster hook: “I could really use a wish right now.”

5.  Drake – “Over”

Yeah, we know — fame sucks. Pop stars have been bitching about it forever. And yeah, Drake was bitching about it before his hip-hop career hit the stratosphere. But over a beat that’s part celebratory, part resignation, he sings, “I know way too many people here right now that I didn’t know last year/Who the fuck are y’all?” in a voice dripping with grief. In a genre that rarely reveals vulnerability, “Over” sounds like a quiet achievement.

6.  Eminem Featuring Rihanna – “Love the Way You Lie”

Eminem sealed his comeback with this monster hit about a really lethal relationship. Who do we root for? They’re both victims, and they’re both abusive a-holes: “Next time I’m pissed, I’ll aim my fist at the drywall/There will be no next time … If she ever tries to fucking leave again, I’m gonna tie her to the bed and set the house on fire.” Be sure to check out part two on Rihanna’s album.

7.  Katy Perry Featuring Snoop Dogg – “California Gurls”

Of course Perry released this right at the start of summer. And of course it sounded great on the radio. That was the plan all along. “California Gurls” is aural cotton candy: overly sweet, fluffy but oddly substance-free, and it will make parts of your body hurt if you ingest too much. But it’s loads of fun, and the part where Snoop drops in after Perry name-checks him is all chewy meta.

8.  Ke$ha – “Tik Tok”

In a little more than three minutes, Ke$ha compares herself to Diddy, brushes her teeth with a bottle of Jack, and kickstarts a party with her mere presence. Ke$ha’s debut song introduced us to one of the year’s most polarizing artists. Nope, she can’t rap, and she’s about as deep as a Little Tikes kiddie pool. But this is where all the sexy kids hung out in 2010.

9.  Yeasayer – “Ambling Alp”

These Brooklyn indie poppers are way more accessible than many groups coming out of Hipster Central. Their second album, Odd Blood, is filled with vintage synth-pop riffs and gooey hooks. And none is as insistent as the one driving this word of advice from father to son. It’s a song of hope, perseverance, and self-reliance (“stick up for yourself, son, never mind what anybody else done”) that even too-cool-for-you d-bags can get behind.

10.  Taylor Swift – “Mine”

Parts of Swift’s third album show the scars from growing pains. But the first single is a shimmering slice of Big Pop about fairy tales coming true – the sort of thing we loved about her before she started dating famous people. “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter” is a great line from a singer-songwriter who got a little too close this year to realizing just how much growing up sucks.

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