Friday, December 31, 2010

Best of 2010

At the end of each year, there are a million and one "Best Of" lists.  2010 is no different.  Below are a few of the more amusing "Best of 2010" lists I found.

Best of Pop Music 2010
Each year, DJ Earworm makes a mashup of the top 25 pop songs of the year.  Accordingly, this years mashup is supposed to be the best ever.

Best Movies of the Year - according to Tim Charity. These aren't the top grossing films, but awesome films that you should hunt down and watch.

1. "Carlos"
Few films pack as much information about the state of the world as this high velocity thriller about the notorious '70s terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, aka Carlos the Jackal. I was lucky enough to catch the full 330-minute TV version, not the 160-minute feature released in U.S. theatres. Directed by Olivier Assayas, this is a fascinating dissection of how the Cold War, the Palestinian problem and oil potentates laid the fault lines for today's political tensions. It's Jason Bourne with a Ph.D. in political science.

2. "True Grit"
A classical western except for the prodigiously eloquent and determined teenage girl at its center, "True Grit" finds the Coen brothers keeping a tight rein on their sometimes snide comic inclinations. "True Grit" is folkloric in its hard-nosed evocation of a place and time where the prospect of sudden death is a constant factor, but where a young girl of redoubtable principle and pluck can still stir acts of remarkable self-sacrifice in even the hardest hearts.

3. "Shutter Island"
Leonardo DiCaprio made two intriguing dream projects back to back. "Inception" was an impressive demonstration of Christopher Nolan's command of time and space, but Scorsese's gothic nightmare was an altogether deeper and more troubling excavation of the repressed. Critically lauded and a commercial hit, "Shutter Island" still seems underrated -- the film's real twist is that it's an even better movie on second viewing.

4. "Toy Story 3"
A brilliantly inventive and surprisingly suspenseful escape movie conjured from the fearsome prospect of consignment to the toy box in a day care's toddler room. Pixar's long-lived series' abiding separation anxiety is funneled into a succession of ingenious feints and evasions, climaxing in an apocalyptic vision of the gaping inferno. (In 3-D, of course.)

5. "127 Hours"
There was no more exhilarating movie experience than Danny Boyle's intense nail-biter about trapped climber Aron Ralston. The story's built-in restrictions inspire the "Slumdog" director to his giddiest heights, and James Franco delivers one of the performances of the year as a young sensation-seeker forced to confront his imminent extinction.

6. "Mother"
Korean soap actress Kim Hye-ja makes one of the movies' most unconventional amateur sleuths in the latest idiosyncratic thriller from Bong Joon-ho ("The Host"; "Memories of Murder"): a street herbalist convinced that her mentally challenged son is not the murderer he has been made out to be. Her investigation is unorthodox, intuitive and ultimately agonizing.

7. "Winter's Bone"
Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, this features a breakthrough performance from Jennifer Lawrence as 17-year-old Ree Dolly, traversing the Ozark hollers in search of her father to persuade him to meet his court date and save the family farm from the bail bondsmen. Debra Granik directed this bleak, desolate picture of a community scratching by. Like Mattie in "True Grit," Ree has no power here except the moral authority she insists on.

8. "The Social Network"
This enthralling account of the birth of Facebook is a masterly piece of storytelling from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher. It's a portrait of a petulant prodigy to put beside "Amadeus," and as class conscious as "The King's Speech," but very much of the moment. Only time will tell if it endures as well as some of Fincher's previous efforts.

9. "Let Me In"
Hard to say what the audience was for Matt Reeves' Americanization of the acclaimed Swedish vampire film "Let the Right One In." In any case, they didn't show. But this superb chiller honored the delicacy of the original in its subtle shading of childhood horrors and its wintry evocation of Los Alamos, while delivering two or three terrific set-pieces.

10. "Exit Through the Gift Shop"
Is this a fake documentary about real artists or a real documentary about fake artists -- or a bit of both? Credited to the pseudonymous British street artist Banksy and to his French-American acolyte Thierry Guetta (aka Mr Brainwash), the film is a slippery comedy about authenticity in art, as witty and devious as Orson Welles' "F For Fake." The camcorder footage of Space Invader, Shepard Fairey and Banksy himself creating guerilla art high above slumbering cities is priceless.

Best Book Club Picks - according to Lynn Neary of NPR
Parrot And Olivier In America
By Peter Carey; hardcover, 400 pages; Knopf, list price: $26.95
This novel is a riff on Alexis de Tocqueville's famous book Democracy in America, and, like its source, it is an insightful look at post-revolutionary America. But it is also a delightful romp with of two of contemporary fiction's most memorable characters. There's Olivier, a sickly and overprotected young aristocrat raised in the ever-threatening shadow of the French Revolution, and Parrot, the son of an itinerant British printer, who suffers an early tragedy that spins his life in unexpected directions. When the two become unlikely companions, they bicker and grumble their way through America until finally realizing that this new world really is entirely new and completely different. The aristocratic Olivier thinks he has found love. The plebeian Parrot wonders if this is a place where he can finally rest. For those who like to fall into a big, sprawling novel and get lost, this book is for you.

By Dolen Perkins-Valdez; hardcover, 304 pages; Amistad, list price: $24.99
Of the many inexplicable aspects of the institution of slavery, one of the hardest to fathom is the relationship between slave owners and the slaves they took as mistresses. It is this relationship that Dolen Perkins-Valdez explores in the novel Wench. She sets her story mostly in a resort in the free state of Ohio, revealing a little-known slice of slave life — the phenomenon of Southern slave owners vacationing with their mistresses. The false air of normalcy and the tantalizing proximity to freedom that results has a profound effect on four women whose lives are utterly dependent on the mercy and whims of their owners and lovers. For one of these women, the hint of freedom is also an invitation to escape, upending the carefully constructed lives of both owners and slaves. This is a fascinating and tragic story that is also a compulsive read.

Faithful Place
By Tana French; hardcover, 416 pages; Viking Adult, list price: $25.95
In Faithful Place, Tana French takes readers into a corner of Dublin where families do their best to suffocate dreams and cops are to be avoided at all costs. Detective Frank Mackey escaped from there long ago, but the discovery of a body in an abandoned house brings him back to the old neighborhood. When the abandoned body turns out to be a girl Mackey thought had jilted him on the night he ran away years ago, he is forced to face his past and the family he hoped he had left behind forever. French has a way of creating characters whose own lives are as mysterious as the crimes they are involved in solving, a reason her books can be interesting even to readers who are not normally attracted to detective stories. Faithful Place is as much as study of the complexities of family relations as it is a crime novel, and as everybody knows, families are endlessly fascinating and always surprising.

The Imperfectionists
By Tom Rachman; hardcover, 288 pages; The Dial Press, list price: $25
This kaleidoscopic look at a Rome-based English language newspaper is both hilarious and surprisingly moving. Through a series of interlocking stories, we glean the life of a newspaper from its heyday to its decline. From the young publisher who inherited his role and has no idea what to do with it to the obit writer who discovers his own ambition in the worst of possible ways to the avid reader who is years behind in keeping up with the news, we fall for this cast of characters and the paper that has sustained them over the years. If you still harbor a secret love for the days when news wasn't delivered instantaneously, and also accept the fact that the people who brought it to you were neither villains nor cardboard heroes (but merely flawed humans), then you may find a place in your heart for The Imperfectionists.

Sunset Park
By Paul Auster; hardcover, 320 pages; Henry Holt, list price: $25
At a time when lawns are littered with for sale signs and lives are being devastated by foreclosures, it's noteworthy that a writer like Paul Auster would use the nation's housing crisis as a backdrop for his latest novel. As Sunset Park opens, its main character, Miles Heller, is working for a company that "trashes out" foreclosed homes, getting rid of the things families left behind in their haste to abandon what they once called home. Heller has been living in self-imposed exile from his own family in New York, but soon enough circumstances force him to return home. He takes up an offer to squat rent-free in a dilapidated house with a group of young people and is reunited with his estranged father, who has longed for his return. All this provides Auster with the material for a meditation on the meaning of home and the fragility of life with, or without, a safety net.

Best of Animals in the News
A bizarre three-horned cow has proven itself to be a cash cow for a farmer in Baoding, in China's Hebei province. The 2-year-old cow was born with a small bump on its head that has grown to be nearly 8 inches long and now resembles a rhino's horn.

Looking almost like a bronze statute of a human, this chimp, named Guru, lost all of his fur to a disorder called alopecia, a disorder than can also affect humans.

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