31 December 2011

War of the Months: December

Well people, it's been a long and arduous year but we've finally come to the finale of the War of the Months, our year-long look at the biggest and best films that have been released each month of the year. Today on the last day of December, which means it's time for one more round of useless analysis.

December: Snowy Summer

December is a great month. It's usually filled with some really big blockbusters that for whatever reason don't really fit in the Summer Season. It's a more confined month that really allows a flick to seize the zeitgeist, whether it be Lord of the Rings, I Am Legend (2007), AVABAR (2009), or whatever. It's also this spot for a lot of movies aiming for Oscar glory because the releases can be as fresh in the minds of potential voters as possible. This often involves a lot of the bigger Academy-leaning films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2009) or True Grit (2010). It's a time when kids are home from college or their lives or whatever and go check out some films with their families or old friends. In this sense, December Blockbusters tend to be a lot more mainstream and digestible than some of the wilider summer movies. Transformers do not belong in December, but something like Meet the Fockers (2004) or Tron Legacy (2010) certainly does.

December Box Office: Christmas Money

There has been one December that nabbed over a Billion bucks, that being in 2009 on the backs of not only AVABAR but also Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Alvin and the Chipmunks (2009). It also involved some holdover sleeper hits of the year such as The Blind Side (2009) and The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009). As for the biggest December grossers of all time, these flicks read like a who's who of epic franchises. I Am Legend leads the pack followed by AVABAR and a bunch of Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong. It's the Fantasy, Peter Jackson month, baby. It's films do tend to have more of a slow burn because while the month has a lot of Box Office Attention, it's not necessarily focused on a single weekend. It's more of a thing to do for a bunch of friends that are hanging out after not seeing each other for a while.

December Quality: There and Back Again

There are a tremendous amount of great December flicks. It's a time when studios are trying to prime their movies for Oscar bait and the bigger films that are released here are generally of a much higher quality than typical summer crap. This has been far more often a recent trend, so this Month tends to skew with more recent movies, but nevertheless, Here is our Top 10:

#10: Gangs of New York - 12/20/2002
#9: O Brother, Where Art Thou? - 12/22/2000
#8: Children of Men - 12/25/2006
#7: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - 12/19/2001
#6: The Royal Tenenbaums - 12/14/2001
#5: Black Swan - 12/03/2010
#4: Gran Torino- 12/12/2008
#3: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - 12/20/2011
#2: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - 12/17/2003
#1: There Will Be Blood - 12/26/2007

There are so many other great films that deserve mentioning for this month. This includes some great old comedies such as Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Christmas Vacation (1989), Dumb and Dumber (1994), Mars Attacks! (1996), and the Wes Anderson duo, Rushmore (1998) and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). We've also seen a lot of sci-fi epics such as the Terry Gilliam films 12 Monkeys (1995) and Brazil (1985) as well as the underseen The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009).

More often than not though, December is a time for big serious drama. From JFK (1991) and Schindler's List (1993) to Jerry Maguire (1996), As Good as it Gets (1997), Titanic (1997), and Good Will Hunting (1997) to the more recent Catch Me if You Can (2002), The Last Samurai (2003), Brokeback Mountain (2005), The Wrestler (2008), and Frost / Nixon (2008). There are plenty of high-profile biographies as well, such as Chaplin (1992), Ali (2001), and The Aviator (2004).

Rounding out December is a collection of random films that all have some great significance. From the westerns  Tombstone (1993) and True Grit (2010) to Fantasy epics like  Pan's Labyrinth (2006) and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002). There's also 80s classics Platoon (1986) and Scarface (1983). Finally, a collection of my personal favourites, Shadow of the Vampire (2000), Cast Away (2000), Ocean's 11 (2001) and Adaptation. (2002). Phew. It's tough to leave any of these flicks out of a post concerning December.

So now that this is the final entry of the War of the Months, it's time to declare a victor. Let's look at the biggest movies released in each month of the year:

January: Cloverfield (2008) - $40,058,229
February: The Passion of the Christ (2004) - $83,848,082
March: Alice in Wonderland (2010) - $116,101,023
April: Fast Five (2011) - $86,198,765
May: Spider-Man 3 (2007) - $151,116,516
June: Toy Story 3 (2010) - $110,307,189
July: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011) - $169,189,427
August: The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) - $69,283,690
September: Sweet Home Alabama (2002) - $35,648,740
October: Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) - $52,568,183
November: The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) - $142,839,137
December: I Am Legend (2007) - $77,211,321

Now for a ranking of the Top Grossing Months in order of Best to Worst:

#1: July
#2: June
#3: December
#4: January
#5: May
#6: November
#7: August
#8: March
#9: April
#10: February
#11: October
#12: September

Now for the Best Films Released in each month of the year:

January: Smokin' Aces (2007)
February: Taxi Driver (1976)
March: The Big Lebowski (1998)
April: Mean Girls (2004)
May: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
June: Jaws (1975)
July: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
August: Inglourious Basterds (2009)
September: Goodfellas (1990)
October: Pulp Fiction (1994)
November: Network (1976)
December: There Will Be Blood (2007)

Well that's it folks. There is more Monthly Movie Data here now than you could have ever, every possibly wanted or asked for. Hopefully you now understand much more about when and why movies are released where they are and will be able to go with the seasonal flow a bit smoother. Or something. Happy New Year!

2011: Looking Back on Looking Forward

Way back last January we here at Norwegian Morning Wood posted the 11 Things We're Looking Forward to the Most in 2011. At Year's End now it's time to look back on what we looked forward to and see if any of it was worth it. A cursory glance suggests we were waaaayyy off. Let's start with #11:

#11: Battle: Los Angeles (03/11/11) - Terrible. What a mishmash movie that could never quite get its act together. Some impressive battle scenes that showed up already in the trailer, but outside of that, this was not worth the wait. At least it was better than Skyline (2010) in the fact that it didn't make me want to punch babies until my knuckles bled.

#10: Drive Angry (02/25/11) - I didn't actually even end up seeing this. From what I heard it wasn't all that great, although Amber Heard is still a babe. Nothing can slow the Cage down though, if Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) means anything. Something's got to pay off the IRS, after all.

#9: The Thing (10/14/11) - Some people liked it, but this prequel just couldn't faithfully emulate the spirit of the original or add anything new to the concept, which is something all great remakes, sequels, or prequels need to do. The original The Thing (1982) after all, was a remake itself. You just can't touch classics like this and put this little into it.

#8: Cowboys & Aliens (07/29/11) - Can you believe we looked forward to this? It's starting to look like a trend here. This had everything nerdy going for it, a superb cast, a good director, and an intriguing genre mash-up. It could never get past those surface details though and ended up getting beat-out at the Box Office by The Smurfs (2011). Ouch.

#7: Sucker Punch (03/25/11) - haha fuck!

#6: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (07/15/11) - I think this was a worthy capstone to the Harry Potter Experience over the past decade, but there were some glaring problems and leaps of logic that the sheer emotional catharsis of the series ending couldn't cover over. All in all it was a very cool flick though and as far as Harry Potter films go, taking this and Part 1 together makes the most complete of any film in the series.

#5: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (07/01/11) - A tremendous improvement on the second installment and one of the better Alien Invasion flicks of the year, Transformers 3 really does capture the oppressive mood of a technologically superior occupation (stay with me here), even if the first half's awkward Sam and Rosie moments are pretty forgettable. These movies are at their best when they stick to the explosions, although admittedly Optimus Prime is just too awesome to contain and the rest of the Autobots still suck complete balls.

#4: Year of the Portman - This wasn't as big a deal as it seemed like it would be. She wasn't a huge presence in THOR (2011) and her other movies bombed hard. No Strings Attached (2011) was actually decent, but it left almost no pop cultural impact. Nothing else major except some Dior ads the rest of the year. Not great.

#3: Detox by Dr. Dre (February?, 2011) - "Kush" and then...wait was this even released? Last January this was slotted for February 2011? Are you kidding me, Dre? "I Need a Doctor" isn't even that good! Maybe that's why it's "back to the lab again." Keyshawn Johnson would give a big "C'MON MAN!" for that!

#2: The Return of Parks and Recreation (01/20/11) - Thank goodness, finally something on this list that turned out better than we even expected. This is not only one of the funniest shows on television, it's one of the best written, character-driven and genuinely warm and fuzzy half hours on the tube. It's that rare show where every single character is awesome and likeable and the humour doesn't come at the expense of anyone. Not even Jean-Ralphio.

#1: THOR (05/06/11) - This was pretty awesome. I enjoyed THOR tremendously despite the rampant commercialization, Avengers-tie ins, and worthless Kat Dennings characters. It kicked off Summer, along with a nice string of Marvel Property hits and could have easily slipped into Green Lantern (2011) territory. Ouch. I'm not sure a sequel is as necessary as Chris Hemsworth's ubiquitous presence in The Avengers (2012), but it's inevitable.

30 December 2011

Best of 2011: Movies

Alright folks, we are wrapping up our Pop Culture Look-back at 2011 today with everything movies. From trailers to posters to moments to the actual films, we've got it all covered here. There were plenty of good flicks that came out of 2011, from a Top 10 at the Box Office that includes only Franchise Films to an Oscar Race that looks ridiculously bereft of any really popular flick besides The Help, it was quite a year for cinema. Let's start innocuously enough with the three greatest posters of 2011:

The Ides of March is very cool, slightly unsettling, and displays a good indication of the character relationships through a clever juxtaposition:

This relatively low profile film about Saddam's little boy, The Devil's Double contains a great performance by the dude who played Tony Stark's pa in Captain America along with a poster that looks like Kanye West's house:

Finally, the sexy, iconic poster for Bridesmaids gives us the allure for one of the year's best films, every expression screams that this isn't a chick flick nor is it your typical Apatovian Comedy.

Most Entertaining Films of the Year:

Now this time of the year every website and critic has their own best of list, and usually it's filled with either films no one has ever heard of or films that we've only heard of because we've seen them on other lists all over the place. I've always wanted to buck that trend by exclaiming a love for certain films and moments that were just fun in the theater. These didn't really challenge audiences intellectually but there were certainly a good crop of mass-produced studio crap this year that shouldn't really be in the running for any serious best-of list. Thus, here were some of my favourite movies and moments of the year, plenty of spoilers ahead. Luckily, because it's 2011 we can do goofy shit like Top 11s of everything. Let's do the Top 11:

#10: The kid's homemade movie at the end of Super 8
#9: Justin Timberlake gets wet after his awkward dry hump of Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher
#8: All of Jason Sudeikis' pick-up lines in Hall Pass
#7: "What would you do without me, Prime?" "Let's find out!" from Transformers: Dark of the Moon
#6: Tom Cruise scales the Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
#5: Magneto moves the Satellite Dish to thunderous laughter and applause in X-Men: First Class
#4: Thor shows how powerful he really is vs. the Destroyer from THOR
#3: It happened again - The Hangover: Part II
#2: Captain America goes on his first mission after touring Europe in Captain America: The First Avenger
#3: "Harry Potter...the boy who lived...come to die" from Hairy Pothead and the Breastly Swallows: Fart Poo
#1: "Am I a man? Or am I a muppet?" from The Muppets

Top Actors and Actresses of the Year:

This year was easily dominated by two actors and actresses. For the dudes' side Ryan Gosling transformed into the talk of Hollywood with a charming role in Crazy, Stupid, Love., then wowed us in two Oscar-worthy flicks in the political thriller The Ides of March and gave us a new iconic scorpion-jacket wearing stoic bro in Drive. Michael Fassbender also had a landmark year, after Jane Eyre, he shifted accents around but maintained a tortured focus as Magneto in the excellent X-Men: First Class he provided us with one of the best performances of the year in Shame as well as A Dangerous Method. Other dudes of the year include Justin Timberlake, Johnny Depp (is there ever a year where this guy isn't one of the biggest names?) and George Clooney (likewise!)

As far as the ladies go, Jessica Chastain has been acknowledged as the Queen of 2011, though she hasn't really been mainstream outside of The Help. She's quickly become a go-to actress for high-profile critical hits like The Tree of Life and Coriolanus, among a ton more. This was also a great Year of Portman, although she tended to be overshadowed in THOR, Your Highness was a dud and No Strings Attached proved to be the weaker of the two "Fuck Buddy" movies this year (that winner being Friends With Benefits). Other big actresses include Olivia Wilde, Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence, although Jennifer's hype is more for Oscar notice from Winter's Bone (2010) and anticipation of The Hunger Games (2012).

Top Films of the Year:

It hasn't been an exactly obvious year regarding the best movies, although there were certainly a large number of high-quality action films, most of which had Marvel Comics tags on them. That said, the big Oscar buzzes are coming out of most of the following, which include a healthy mix of mainstream flicks and the typical quieter artsy pics. Before we get into NMW's Top 11, I want to mention a handful that didn't make the cut but are probably high on other lists. These just aren't our style: Beginners, the best Father-is-Gay movie in years, Midnight in Paris...we've never been big on 21st-Century Woody, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, this is just begging for Oscar now, Shame, so sexy, My Week with Marilyn, inspired Michelle but not much else, The Iron Lady, inspired Meryl but not much else and finally, Moneyball, baseball is bad enough without sabremetrics. There is also this weird indie existential, meaning-of-life trilogy of The Tree of Life, Melancholia, and Another Earth. And Meek's Cutoff. None of these made my list. Let's dive in now to our Top 11:

#11: A Dangerous Method, one of the more intriguing films of the year
#10: Hugo, Scorsese does a kids film like he does every film: excellent
#9: The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, somehow this worked out. How did this work out?!
#8: The Descendents, Clooney has become the perfect screwball actor with just the right mix of sad and goofy
#7: The Artist, also how is this leading Oscar contention right now? I'd love the postmodern ramifications of a silent, black and white film winning it all in 2012.
#6: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Feel-Bad Movie of the Year
#5: Bridesmaids, comedy of the year, the game changer, and finally the launching pad for Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig
#4: Attack the Block, otherwise known as a clinic in how to handle subaltern alien invasions that every film from Skyline (2010) to Battle: Los Angeles can learn from
#3: Rango, one of the most beautiful and uniquely animated films in years that featured an intriguing existential character study, spectacular
#2: Drive, Go Scorpions!
#1: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the best cast flick in ages that leans on Gary Oldman, the way it should be

Lastly, we'll look at the best trailers of the year, because half of these won't come out until 2012. We only have nine because we only thought nine really stood out, which is the best reason to make a list ever, no arbitration here. Clearly. We have divided these up a bit:

Great Trailers cut from Terrible Films:
#9: Battle: Los Angeles, because it takes a lot to cut a trailer this good for such a shitty movie.
#8: American Reunion (2012), which hasn't come out yet but somehow it actually looks funny. The American Whatever movies have certainly had some diminishing returns - do we dare hold our breath?
#7: G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2012), one of the coolest trailers of any film of the year, the first Joe wasn't actually terrible, and adding The Rock and Bruce Willis (they really should have kept that underwraps, that would have been a surprise cameo better than Bill in Zombieland [2009]) legitimizes it so much. Oh Fuck - Cobra's got the Whitehouse! It's as if it's predicting a Rick Perry Election!

Great Trailers that Build Anticipation:
#6: The Avengers (2012), reminds us of those old Spider-Man 2 (2004) or X2: X-Men United (2003) trailers that really captured that boiling excitement of finally seeing these heroes on the big screen. Even with each character's movie already established to see everyone sharing the screen together with promises of a nasty Loki villain and plenty of explosions and a tumultuous inner-Venger dynamic, the trailer does well to prove that The Avengers will be worth the hype.
#5: The Dark Knight Rises (2012), I don't have a problem with Bane's speech. It seems fine. Already Bane has been established as a villain much different than the maniacal Joker, instead someone cold and thinking that by all indications will destroy the Batman. The only thing in this trailer that makes it seem like Bruce can succeed is the film's title - quite the Nolanesque meta-dichotomy to ponder going into this one.
#4: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the climax of this trailer is outstanding, demonstrating a ten-year history of character development, outstanding action and a final duel between Harry and Voldy, as Potter casually calls him "Tom" you know that he has fully embraced his destiny and no longer fears death or Voldemort, a big part of the film. It's the kind of trailer that I watch and then want to see the film afterwards, even though I saw it months ago.

Great Trailers that Demonstrate the Emotional Content of the Film:
#3: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a sharp, well-performed rendition of "Immigrant Song," harsh cuts and an eternally bleak atmosphere perfectly encapsulate a tease for this film
#2: Prometheus (2012), with visuals and extreme emotional content that demand attention, if the film is anything like this trailer it should be one of the best original (or part of Alien, whatever) flicks of 2012.
#1: Shame, with an trailer that adeptly captures the spirit and tension of the film along with Fassbender's character by splicing around a single scene, this the Best Trailer of the Year. Also be warned that this contains boobies.

Well people, that's it. That was 2011. Stay tuned as we look ahead at 2012 and all the other crap coming down the pipe. Happy Old Year!

29 December 2011

Best of 2011: TV

Once again folks we are looking back on the wonderful Year of 2011. It's fairly predictable what the Best Shows of 2011 were and Norwegian Morning Wood probably isn't going to give you any surprises. That said, we have a few superlatives here to get into.

Best New Drama: It's incredible that HBO keeps doing this, but Game of Thrones delivers everything you could ask for - a compelling, intriguing plot, intense visuals, strongly fleshed out characters and a taste of a richly developed universe.
Best Episode: "Baelor"

Best New Comedy: Somehow the most refreshing new series and one of the more enjoyable shows of the year has been FOX's New Girl, starring the ever-loveable Zooey Deschanel with an otherwise gang of generally traditional sitcom characters, but with a good amount of heart and genuine laughs.
Best Episode: "Bells"

Best Returning Drama: Walter White has risen to new heights in this year's Breaking Bad, a show that seems to be outlasting its contemporaries like Dexter and Mad Men in creative flow. The whole series is a strikingly deep and addicting character study performed by an actor in Bryan Cranston who is suddenly getting noticed.
Best Episode: "Crawl Space"

Best Returning Comedy: While shows like Louie, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Community had incredibly strong seasons this year, Parks and Recreation takes the cake as the smalltown, feel-good show of the year. It's emerged from both the shadow of The Office and 30 Rock to become the best NBC has to offer, regardless of who is paying attention to it.
Best Episode: "Fancy Party"

Best Show to Return after a Ridiculous Amount of Years: No, not Charlie's Angels. Beavis and Butt-head finally came back to us, with almost no change at all to its characters or structure. It's also been one of the more consistently hilarious shows on MTV or any station and somehow these metal-loving dudes seem more relevant than ever. Somehow.
Best Episode: "The Rat"

Best SNL Host: There are always struggles, but Jason Segel and Florence + The Machine were a Muppet-filled delight this year. It's rare that a host is this game for masturbating on a Temper Pedic or getting the best laughs by impersonating Andre the Giant. It also starred a live talking frog.

Weirdest: F/X is really plunging into the original series territory and with American Horror Story they've put up a bizarre show that has somehow sustained itself for at least one season (It helps that main characters can die and come back as ghosts without others noticing), but it's a unique concept show that struggles finding the right tone.
Best Episode: "Smoldering Children"

Most Disappointing: The second season of The Walking Dead, while it had its moments seemed to spin its wheels more than anything, although the resolution to the entire season's storyline has tremendous ramifications for its cast of increasingly unlikeable characters. The aforementioned Dexter has also seemed to have collapsed and while The Office still pulls some funny moments, it needs to die pretty soon.
Best Episode: "Save the Last One"
Well, that Turned out OK: One of the biggest storylines of 2011 was Charlie Sheen's very public departure from Two and a Half Men. It seemed like an insane choice to replace him with Ashton Kutcher but as it would seem, the Kutch brought both a refreshing stride to the show and some of the best ratings in its history. Way to go, Kelso.
Best Episode: "Nice to Meet You, Walden Schmidt"

Most Underrated: I think that amidst CBS shows the style, heart, and character-driven insanity of How I Met Your Mother needs to be recognized. It's a solid show that has somehow flown under the radar for years and is now entering syndication. It is a very digestible show and has the potential to just be on in the background for years to come. That said, Ted just needs to find his wife already. This season was exceptional, though.
Best Episode: "A Change of Heart"

Best New Animated Show: I can't get enough of the absurd, angry and educationally nerdy China, IL on Adult Swim. Brad Neely's mind has been successfully transferred to a freeflowing visual medium with catchy songs, insane predicaments and an impressively deep voice cast that includes Hulk Hogan and Jason Alexander.
Best Episode: "Prom Face/Off"

Best Returning Animated Show:  Also on Cartoon Network, Adventure Time is the single great Children's show of our age. It lacks the snark or meta-obsession of its contemporaries. It's also full of loveable characters, earnest fun and some wonderfully silly animation. It ran with its premise thoroughly in its second season, developing relationships and storylines while always putting silliness first.
Best Episode: "Memory of a Memory"

Best Episode of the Year: Although Parks and Recreation has been NBC's more consistent show this year, Community's "Remedial Chaos Theory" was the best twenty-minutes of television put on screen this year. Read this over at the A.V. Club for a much more in-depth review, but it pulled off an unprecedented 7-timeline splintering of a relatively simple narrative allowing its characters to organically play off each other, sometimes for very homely results, other times unleashing a Dark Universe that just has to return before Community's inevitable cancellation next fall.

Well that's all of 2011's Television. There was also Jersey Shore, J. Lo on American Idol, Kelsey Grammar in Boss, every musician with a good career this year on The Voice, and finally, finally Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) on basic cable television. The world needed this. Here's to 2012!

28 December 2011

Best of 2011: Music

Hello once again folks to this week's lookback at the best, biggest, and brightest bulbs of 2011. Today we're reminiscing about the Modal Nodes of the past year, the songs, the albums, the trends, music videos and everything else we can think of. This really was a big year for a handful of artists and it's difficult to talk in depth about all of them, so let's tear this apart piece by piece:

Song of the Year: "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele

Unfortunately I am so completely numb to this track because of its incessant overplaying, but it had both the critical success, longevity, and popularity to heartily secure a top spot for the year, even if LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" beat it for Summer Jam. Now, there were certainly a ton of songs emblematic of 2011 but let's go through just a handful:

Runners Up:
"I Just Had Sex" by The Lonely Island
"Firework," "E.T." and "Last Friday Night" by Katy Perry
"Black and Yellow" by Wiz Khalifa
"Buzzin'" by Mann ft. 50 Cent
"Moment for Life" by Nicki Minaj ft. Drake
"Born this Way" by Lady GaGa
"Just Can't Get Enough" and "The Time" by The Black Eyed Peas
"Look at Me Now" by Chris Brown
"Down on Me" by Jeremih ft. 50 Cent
"Grenade," "The Lazy Song" and "It Will Rain" by Bruno Mars
"How to Love" by Lil Wayne
"Give Me Everything" by Pitbull
"Till The World Ends" by Britney Spears
 "Tonight I'm Lovin' You" by Enrique Iglesias
"On the Floor" by Jennifer Lopez
"Party Rock Anthem" and "Sexy and I Know It" by LMFAO
"Moves like Jagger" by Maroon 5 ft. Christina Aguilera
"Superbass" by Nicki Minaj
"S&M" and "We Found Love" by Rihanna
"Someone Like You" by Rihanna

Now for The Best Singles of 2011:
"Fuck You" by Cee Lo Green
"Changing" by The Airborne Toxic Event
"The Dog Days are Over" by Florence + The Machine
"6 foot, 7 foot" by Lil Wayne
"The Show Goes On" by Lupe Fiasco
"Make Some Noise" by The Beastie Boys
"Pumped up Kicks" by Foster the People
"Paradise" by Coldplay
"Walk" by The Foo Fighters
"Yonkers" by Tyler the Creator
"Lonely Boy" by The Black Keys

Album of the Year: 21 by Adele

Adele gets the Number 1 Album of the year but there were certainly some other bright spots. The Red Hot Chili Peppers launched a very complete set of songs with I'm With You and the Beastie Boys set new white rapping heights and some incredible beats with Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two. Adding to an assault on the rap world was Kanye and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne collaboration, which would seem to defy almost every common way to release and promote an album, a truly charitable and humble gesture if not for the incessant lyrics about how awesome and rich they are. Lastly we have GaGa's Born this Way, which I believe is an album that will last longer than it appears, although upon first listen it doesn't appear to be anything worthy of its own hype. The songs are very wide-ranging in blending genres while also catered more and more to a very specific audience. Time will tell. Finally, to finish off the year Coldplay gave us Mylo Xyloto, possibly their last album and more than likely their greatest.

Artist of the Year: Adele

With the Top Track and Album of the year, Adele owns 2011. Katy Perry put up an extremely strong fight but essentially Adele was able to nab the title because her songs aren't terrible. There were plenty of other chick competitors from Dev and Nicki Minaj to GaGa who seems to be putting out a greater amount of niche hits rather than strong mainstream work like Katy Perry. There were also strong revivals for Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Jennifer Lopez. Yep, it was pretty wacky. Throw in a few decent hits by Kelly Clarkson and we might as well be traveling ten years backwards in musical pop culture. Towards the end of the year, Beyoncé and Rihanna also surged to push the Pop Queen Title of 2011 into blurry distances, but by that point "Someone Like You" simultaneously secured Adele as the Queen Bee.

Three of the hugest old-but-not-that-old rock groups in the world also all had great years. The Foo Fighters may have enjoyed the most success early on although Coldplay ended the year fantastically, while the Red Hot Chili Peppers delivered one of the most listenable albums of the year along with the mild hit "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie." It's pretty notable that all three of these groups delivered some tunes as good as they've ever done. All of these guys are dwarfed commercially, tho certainly not critically, by Maroon 5 who had a banner year, halfway due to Adam Levine's presence on NBC's only hit that isn't Sunday Night Football, The Voice. Cake also put forth a new album, which has some great tracks but didn't make all that big of a splash.

New as a solo artist but certainly not the industry, Cee Lo Green had a tremendous year that he has mostly turned into a couple TV Gigs. We can also mention Cali Swag District coming through for Hip Hop as well as Flo Rida whose "Good Feeling" got huge at the end of the year, incredibly giving Rida a Winter Jam-worthy track. Lil Wayne and Drake seem to always be present, as are Kanye and Jay-Z who collaborated on one of the better albums of the year, Watch the Throne. Blink and you'd miss Dr. Dre this year.

There were some other artists who had had only small hits before 2011 but really landed on everyone's radar, including Cobra Starship, The Black Keys, Gym Class Heroes, and Cage the Elephant.

New Artist of the Year: Adele

Adele is sweeping everything, clearly. There were tons of these kinds of pop/rock chicks that seemed to rise out of no where like Christina Perry, Skylar Grey, Demi Lovato, and The Band Perry all vying for those Sara Bareilles-type music. Alongside Adele with quality far superior to any of these chicks though is Florence + The Machine, which seem to come straight out of Stevie Nicks' linen closet. We were also treated to Dragonette's fantastic voice on Martin Solveig's "Hello." With Solveig and David Guetta it seems as if we've somehow arrived in the DJ age, which is...terrible.

Concerning Hip-Hop DJ Khaled, Tinie Tempah, and New Boyz all had pretty big years, but I don't see any of these cats lasting all that long. Rather Wiz Khalifa seems to be this year's B.o.B., with enough talent to rap alongside the big boys. Big Sean is in about the same boat, and if these rappers need to do anything it's to try to differientiate themselves. Much less mainstream but Tyler the Creator is probably the best artist to come out of 2011, tho his variety of emotionally intense and verbally abusive metal-hop isn't likely to catch radios on fire.

This was actually also a great year for rock bands. The only success story better than Adele may be Foster the People, whose "Pumped up Kicks" should propel them into rock relevancy. Other quality rock artists include Young the Giant, The Joy Formidable, Hollywood Undead, and The Naked And Famous. There is a certain airiness to some of these cats and it's tough to say if any of them will be relevant in 10 years' time. Superheavy, a new band full of...very old people, is one of the funkier sounds to come out of the year, but I'm not going crazy over anything they've done. My favourite new band of 2011 by far is The Sheepdogs, if only because I also want to grow a thick beard, listen to nothing but Allman Brothers and live in Saskatchewan.

Music Video of the Year: "Make Some Noise" by the Beastie Boys

For any further proof you need, check this out. Some of the other great vids of the year are all very different, but equally awesome. "Lonely Boy" by The Black Keys is a bizarre single-take dance trip, far better than the similar-themed "Lotus Flower" by Radiohead. Tyler the Creator's "Yonkers" is one of those videos that really hits you the first time you see it and is a tremendous exclamation of this dude's arrival on the rap scene. The last really great vid this year is Beyoncé's "Countdown," which is crazy in every sort of good Beyoncé-type way.

We also got Rebecca Black this year. Irreplaceable.

27 December 2011

Best of 2011: Video Games

Hello folks, we've somehow already come to a whole year's end here and so naturally we need now to look back and examine the best, brightest and best pop culture spots of 2011. We start here with the greatest Video Games of 2011. In many ways, 2011 was a landmark year for video games, there were certainly some great ones that rise to the top, but more and more it does seem like the most popular ones are becoming very repetitious, although the best here are truly something else.

More and more video games are bridging this gap of interactivity between people and visual media. Video games are catching up steadily to movie technology and games like L.A. Noire really found a niche. That said, video games should be used to act out fantasies in more personal ways that movie cannot (a major reason for their popularity among the nerdier population), and I have no fantasy about interrogating L.A. criminals.

The end of the year featured two dueling army games, Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, that seem over-hyped but largely retreads of ideas that are no longer innovative. Fun for sure, but nothing that pushes boundaries. This year featured many more outstanding sequels than original ideas, including threequels for both Resistance and Gears of War, neither of which succeeded their originals in quality.

Of course, there were many games that played to their franchises' strengths while delivering a very fresh and engrossing experience. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was slick and challenging along with pushing the storyline to follow-up the brilliant Deus Ex (2000). Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception was also able to pull off a very cool addition to its series. Portal 2 added some needed spiciness to one of the more intriguing puzzle games ever made, and is one of the few games designed for a massive audience that doesn't involve heaps of gratuitous violence. Likewise The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is one of the most involved installments in the Zelda series and serves well with more advanced motion controls, although the technology has not yet been perfected, and the Wii is close to being pushed as far as it may go.

There are really only two contenders for Game of the Year, though. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is less of a game than a way of life - something to devote one's entire living experience to with great rewards to reap. Like killing dragons and gaining HP. Much more rewarding than going outside. The game is insane though, and does more than any game has previously (except perhaps for other games in the Elder Scrolls series, naturally), which is truly establish a universe to roam around and live in, even to read fictional history books through. It's an incredible experience, but loses points because it's nigh impossible to casually play among friends or just to waste five minutes before you need to leave somewhere. That's still what Mario Kart is for.

The other strongest game of the year is Batman: Arkham City. It's not really fair that Batman gets everything awesome, is it? It gets the dual bonus of being incredibly fun and easy to play as well as a coherent storyline steeply deeped in both the Batman Mythos as well as character development from the previous Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009), both being obviously darker spiritual successors to Batman: The Animated Series (including voice actors and certain characters' storylines, such as Mr. Freeze and Harley Quinn). It's a cohesion that continually satisfies Batman fans and casual gamers alike.

First Impressions: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011), otherwise known succinctly as M:I:IV-GP is by and large one of the superior action films of the year. It's interesting that somehow the Mission: Impossible franchise has largely enjoyed some of the better action film writers and directors leave their marks in its 15 year history, above and beyond the typical nostalgic-TV-series-to-movie bullshit treatment. It's successful because these directors hold their films to a high standard and despite Tom Cruise's insane personal life and reputation, he rarely appears in a poor movie.

Mission: Impossible is Tom's franchise. It's his Rocky series or his Terminator series, tho he has taken some healthy breaks in between each installment, helping not to crowd things all that much or really push things only for nostalgia. In fact, neither M:I:IV-GP nor Mission: Impossible III (2006) has many winking callback moments that plague other travesty late-period franchise installments such as Terminator: Salvation (2009). It feels fresh as its own film as much as an installment in a trilogy.

Tom is an Insane, Insane Man

M:I:IV-GP rests soley on the Cruise. While the 49-year old not only still miraculously looks fully capable of believably performing all the stunts he pulls, he...actually does perform all of those stunts. That's really him dangling from the Burj Khalifa (with some ropes deleted in post-production), but it's also him running, jumping, and kicking ass all over Russia and Mumbai. He brings this insane, fearsome energy to his role, it seems like he's always on the brink of madness, even when he's coolly smiling or undercover.

This could diminish any other movie, but it really works here. Ethan Hunt is no longer the semi-retired, calm and collected dude from M:I:III. They brought his character to some dark places (although they magic marker-erased it by the film's end, a stumble which is largely the film's greatest fault) and this simultaneous tired craziness along with an unyielding focus towards his mission (even while on the absolute brink of Armageddon) makes Tom the perfect dude to play this role.

One Day Every Franchise will Feature Jeremy Renner

Supposedly also the new Jason Bourne, as well as Hawkeye, Jeremy Renner is tempting overexposure in a very large way and is looking at a big 2012. His role here though is interesting. He's like this amalgam of Tom Cruise's action credentials and Simon Pegg's comic relief character. He serves as this running commentary of how insane everything else in this movie is, heartily questioning Tom's antics and even their enemies' subsequent reactions. While the franchise has become too bloated with characters indoctrinated in their own insane world, Renner actually serves somewhat as the audience's connection to the other characters and provides an outlet for those "what the hell was that?" questions.

In general though, this film doesn't paint is heroes as super at all. Nearly every plan gets a chink in it and it seems like nothing goes well (which Tom later comments on). Whether it was showing Tom's age or just showing that his character is human, there is also a great deal of mis-timed jumps and landings that really knock him around. This is a great film to watch if you really want to seem Tom Cruise get his ass kicked. Like, Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) is still able to do everything that he did in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Tom here is sloppy. He needs to go to the hospital...a few times. It's not like it makes the film realistic or anything, there are certainly some goofy script problems (like the precisely inconvenient sandstorm), but there is a greater human touch than the typical actioner revival.

In Soviet Russia, Kremlin Bombs You!

I don't think any of these spy movies are the same after the Cold War ended. For some reason having that enemy that was so clearly defined who also acknowledged us as an enemy just made for lots of really great stories. The Soviet Union also worked because they didn't even really do anything to us either, it's not like you were offending anyone or bringing up a national tragedy to feature them as evil dudes in a movie. Nowadays it's difficult to pinpoint another omnipresent threat, which is weird because there's real dudes out there like Team 6 doing badass covert stuff more important than any movie.

That said, it's tough to find a good international enemy. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) went back in time to fight the Nazis, Iron Man (2008) got away with killing some fictional group of bad brown people, but nowadays Bourne fights his own government and Bond fights a group of mysterious unattached Europeans. M:I:IV-GP interesting brings back the Russians as the big bad, although they only chase our hero due to a frame up. This film and GoldenEye (1995) interestingly deal with the espionage remnants of a Cold War Hangover.

What Else?

That dude from Slumdog Millionaire (2008) was unnecessary. Paula Patton is hot. The technology was ridiculous. I don't even have a smartphone. Brad Bird, welcome to live action, glad to have you stay. I really thought that Tom Cruise was starring in a Prototype movie when I first saw this.

17 December 2011

The Long Halloween Vol. III: National Maple Syrup Day

Hello folks once again to the third installment of The Long Halloween, Norwegian Morning Wood's annual monthly look at special holiday viewing for the more festive days of the year. Now, in years past I have divulged the best things to watch on Thanksgiving or Christmas or what-have-you, but that was getting pretty stale. This is the Obscure Edition, where we'll go over the best stuff to do on the most random holidays we can think of.

Today, December 17th, is National Maple Syrup Day. You know what that means - it's time to drink Maple Syrup as fast as you can:

That's about the best I got. Using your big brown lips, wrap your mouth around that bottle, relax the throat and let it slide down your gullet. Naturally there is plenty more to do with Syrup than chug it. You could fill up a swimming pool and take a dip, use it for sensual lotion with your lover, or even put a little in your hair to get that special extra sparkle.

Other than Super Troopers (2001), any Canadian film will do really. I'd call the Canadian High Mark Strange Brew (1983), but anything with hockey, beavers, or well...maple syrup will do. It's time to get sticky, folks. This is obviously the most important and fun December Holiday ever.

02 December 2011

First Impressions: The Muppets

I had the distinct pleasure of spending a wild Thanksgiving Evening in front of a giant screen that displayed The Muppets in all their glory in one of the best films you'll see all year, The Muppets (2011). This film hits on all levels, it's a spectacular tour de force of action, excitement, humour, and sunshiney triumph. There are certainly spoilers to follow in these first impressions, so beware, folks.

The Muppets was a risky venture. There's something holy about those little puppets. It's not like they've ever taken themselves seriously, but there's less of a Blessid Failure to the franchise. Everyone esteems the property in regards to the famed reputation of its creator, Jim Henson as well as its consistently wholesome and funny yet absurd and self-deprecating signature brand of comedy. Disney handed this to Jason Segel, whose movie career has been often explicitly dirty as well as an absolutely untested director in James Bobin, who really only has episodes of Da Ali G Show and The Flight of the Conchords to his credit. Mix in Nicholas Stoller, the mind behind Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) and Get Him to the Greek (2010) and you've certainly got one of the wittier underdog teams in Hollywood but how well could they handle the Holy Muppet Property?

Somehow this is a direct result of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, one of the most underrated comedies of 2008. A single strange Dracula Puppet Scene is apparently enough to convince Disney that you're fully capable of carrying an entire Muppet movie. It turns out it was a pairing Muppet fans could only dream of. It's almost like a Heath Ledger-Joker thing. It's an absolute "what the hell" casting moment that turns out to be incredible.

Despite what Frank Oz may think, this film honours the previous works while providing its own hilarious beats, jokes, and development. It's simultaneously a throwback to earlier comedy films and a very fresh experience in its own right. What's the last movie you saw with songs like this, anyway? Thank Bret McKenzie, another alum of The Flight of the Conchords to the witty songs that inspire a few chuckles without resorting to constant innuendo, slapstick or other cheap laughs. After carefully listening to the tracks you can actually hear the Conchords influence, especially comparing Tex Richman's rap (awkwardly but sincerely performed by Chris Cooper in what may be the film's one weak moment) to something like "Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros." There's that quick, confident lyrical stream applied to Muppet songs, which is a wonderful pairing.

Of course, the greatest song in the movie is "Man or Muppet," which has already received some Oscar buzz, and would certainly be deserving. It's both hilarious in is sheer goofiness, the excellent cameo, and the fact that it actually moves the plot forward. Jason Segel also has the uncanny ability to harmonize with his Muppet brother Gary (voiced by relative Muppet veteran Peter Linz). It's the kind of track that is still stuck in my head today.

There's no sell-out here. CGI is limited in order to place these Mop-Puppets in the actual world and not break the connection to the audience. Miss Piggy and Kermit's drama feels real because they up there interacting with each other, just as real as Jason Segel and Amy Adams, as well as dear Gary, of course; the bridge between the Man and Muppet Worlds. The film's really all about these characters growing up and finding at times they need to move away from each other while understanding their deep need for each other at the end. It's a greatly interwoven character dynamic.

All in all, The Muppets rejects a lot of crazy plot devices or brash humour that abounds in other current forms of children's entertainment. It's an incredibly positive experience, even at times when the character's fates are at their bleakest. It's a classic story of raising the cash to save their own theater from Chris Cooper, who is a slimy villain as they come. It's a simple plot full of complex characters. The Muppets have always succeeded because of the firm belief, set forth by Jim Henson, that the characters should be treated as if they exist in the real world. Therefore it is not really just for children, but for anyone. The Muppets hold to this difficult standard and deliver a film that is truly enjoyable for all ages, while certainly not being broad enough to water down its aforementioned signature comedy style.

The film deals largely with this concept directly. In their own meta-way, the Muppets confront the fact that they have not worked in years and don't seem to be on anyone's radar in this time of Tween Idols and flashy animation. The film reminds us how good and funny the Muppets are and how assured they are with their own role in the pop spectrum.They are constantly aware of how stupid their antics may be and their commentary on it allows them to emerge triumphant instead of wallowing in it. It's an absolutely brilliant film on every level and one of the most satisfying experiences I've had at the movie theater in years.

Also here is a much-needed link to a playlist for all the film's songs.

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