Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Best of 2009 (part 1)

I'm starting a "Plenty for All" tradition here tonight, listing my favorites from the past year. These lists are of course culled from things that I read, saw, or listened to and were released in the year 2009. Let's begin.

Best Album of 2009
In any given year I'm likely to be listening to more old stuff that I haven't heard before than newly released albums, but out of the 174 albums I purchased this year, there are bound to be more than a few that were also released this year.

5. Cave In - Planets of Old
An EP, but worthy of mention nonetheless. Cave In is as schizophrenic a band as there has ever been and in their career they've played metal, space rock, pop, psychedelia, and have ultimately arrived at this weird fusion that paradoxically still rocks. "Planets of Old" is very much a continuation of the sound Cave In brought us with 2005's "Perfect Pitch Black", a mix of all the above stylistic influences and a brilliant EP, even if it was only available on vinyl.
4. And So I Watch You From Afar - s/t
I heard these guys on the cover CD to an issue of "Rock Sound" last spring and the track that was offered was more or less a mathy post rock song. When I finally obtained the album as a whole I realized that they were much more. Sounding something like a more metal version of From Monument to Masses except without the electronics, And So I Watch You From Afar may have created a new genre if Stadium Post Rock is a term people will accept. The album is prententious as anything with plenty of reverb and a couple instances of faux live cheering in the midst of songs, but I'll be damned if it doesn't rock, while still being an at times mathy post rock album.
3. From Monument to Masses - On Little Known Frequencies
I didn't even know that this album had been released until I chanced upon it used at CD Cellar in Falls Church Virginia not more than a month after it had hit the shelves. Quite simply this is From Monument to Masses doing what they do best, epic post rock with a mix of live instruments, electronics, and samples.
2. Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown
I had purposefully ignored Green Day until this year when my Dad insisted I borrow "American Idiot" and "21st Century Breakdown" from him. Yes, it's still mainstream rock that gets confused for punk, but it's a concept album and you can't deny that it's catchy.

1. The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love
I had written off The Decemberists after their first major label album "The Crane Wife" failed to impress me. I wrote them off as sell offs and then they released "Hazards of Love" this year and I kept hearing how good it was. Ultimately it was the lure of the concept album that got me to check it out and I was ultimately glad I did.They manage to execute perfectly on all fronts and have created something that while perhaps not a cash cow, will certainly be remembered as a landmark record in the future.

Best Film of 2009
This was an awful year for film, absolutely awful. I was saying the same thing about 2008 as well until the final 4 months of the year produced some amazing films. 2009 had no such saving grace and most of what I've seen this year has been disappointing. One need only look at the lackluster choices for the year end awards to see how bad it is. And it wasn't that there weren't any independent films or daring projects, it's just that most of them weren't that good.

5. Star Trek
I was skeptical as any Trek fan would be, but J.J. Abrahms ended up making one hell of a film that while toying with the origins of the franchise, still managed to preserve the sanctity of all that had come before. One question remains though. What's with all the lens flares?
 4. Zombieland
This movie was an instant classic that could have been an instant flop. After seeing so many trailers for the film I had pretty much written it off. I figured that they were just showing me the most interesting stuff in the trailers and that there wasn't anything else worth watching. Man was I wrong. The Bill Murray scene alone is worth the price of admission. Ultimately, in the genre of Zombie-Comedy, "Zombieland" is second only to "Shaun of the Dead"
 3. Avatar
I would call James Cameron's films a guilty pleasure if the man wasn't so damn good at making films. Yes, he's an action film maker, but unlike Michael Bay, Paul WS Anderson, and their ilk, Cameron understands pacing, emotion, and just how to tell a good story. The effects serve the narrative, with Cameron, not the other way around, even in such an effects laden film as "Avatar". I was not disappointed when I left the theater. Avatar is James Cameron doing what he does best and I hope he doesn't make us wait another 10 years before he does it again.
 2. Goodbye Solo
This is a tough film to describe. It is essentially about a cab driver (Solo) who has a fare that asks him to take him to this park where there's a cliff so he can end his life in a couple weeks. Solo and the man make a deal and the rest of the film sees solo trying to persuade the man not to kill himself, while they both get involved in each other's lives. Yeah ... I'm not doing it justice, because it's really good. Even more astounding is the fact that the cast are non-actors, a bold decision by the director that actually pays of in some marvellously genuine performances.
 1. [500] Days of Summer
If you haven't seen this movie, see it. Maybe I'm biased with this one, because not only have I been in the situation presented in the story before ... I'm ALWAYS in this situation. "[500] Days of Summer" is not a romantic comedy, it's a romantic tragedy where Joseph Gordon-Levitt's main character tragically falls in love with Zooey Deschannel's manic pixie dream girl character and the end result is heartbreak. This movie is about what relationships are really like for nice guys who fall in love with girls who are ultimately, more involved, and more interesting than they are. One would like to think that the main character's efforts towards the end of the film to become more involved and interesting will ultimately pay off, but the movie doesn't bring us quite that far and I can't speak from experience on how that works out yet.
 That's all I've got for now though. I'll be back tomorrow with books, games, and whatever else I can think of to write about.

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