Thursday, December 31, 2009

Favorite Films of the Decade

I usually reserve my year end lists to music but being as it's the end of a decade I can't resist compiling a list of my favorite cinema.  It would be nice to suggest that these are truly the greatest films of the decade but there are so many films I didn't see in the theater it's impossible to be comprehensive so below is a list of some of my favorite film experiences of the last 10 years.  I don't know how critics decide what is a #3 vs. a #8 on a list like this so these are in no particular order.

Zodiac - David Fincher always creates something interesting but this film is a masterpiece of tense procedural serial killer mayhem.   Robert Downey Jr. has reestablished himself in the minds of most cinema goers over the last couple of years but this is my favorite performance of his and Jake Gyllenhaal holds his own surrounded by one the great supporting casts of all time.  Special kudos to the strong cinematography, a hallmark of any Fincher film.

In Bruges - Surprising comes to mind with this madcap gangster, buddy, thriller.  Especially with Colin Farell giving one of his best performances.

Layer Cake - Daniel Craig can be given credit for making James Bond relevant again (even if Quantum of Solace was a disappointment).  But it was Layer Cake that upped the ante for British Crime Dramas.   Michael Gambon gives one of the great villainous speeches at the end of the film. 

Bourne Identity - I'm settling on the first in this series even though I loved all of them.  These movies redefined modern action an somehow gave it a paranoid cerebral feel.  After Good Will Hunting the smart money was on Ben Affleck to become the next big movie star.  All these years later Matt Damon has turned out to be one of the best and savviest film actors working.  

Lord of the Rings - It's fashionable to bag on this sprawling film series now but there is no getting around how monumental of a task it was to translate the books into an enjoyable cinematic experience for readers and a modern film audience that had no knowledge of the books.  That it turned out to be a transcendent trip is all the more surprising.  I don't know that there has been a better job done of casting the principle actors in recent memory.  Particularly Viggo Mortenson and Sean Astin who seem to me to be the heart of this film.

Amelie/A Very Long Engagement - While Amelie is considered syrupy by some a little lightness about the random kindness of a strange girl from Paris was just what was needed in the early 2000s.  Engagement, also by Jeunet, is a complex tale of love and sacrifice set during the Great War.  It's also a great introduction to Marion Cotillard as a prostitute assassin to die for.

Michael Clayton - On paper this film shouldn’t have been as good as it was.  But with knockout performances from Tom Wilkinson, George Clooney, and Tilda Swinton, it was the corporate thriller of the decade.

Children of Men - The look of this film had me from the first frame.  it doesn’t hurt that the cast is great and the ending perfect.

Almost Famous - Ensemble acting at its finest in this piece about 70s rock and roll culture and coming of age.  There are great actors here (Frances McDormand, Billy Crudup, and Philip Seymour Hoffman) and average actors who upped their game (Jimmy Fallon!) .   Everything Kate Hudson has done since this has been pretty much shit but she’ll always have a special place in my heart as Penny Lane. 

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
One of those films that you know is a masterpiece while watching it and spend the last half hoping it doesn’t blow it.  It doesn’t.  Great performances and gorgeous to look at.  Proves once again that Brad Pitt is underrated as an actor.  Also one of those great films that I can only watch every once in a while.

Lost in Translation - Middle-aged ennui meets youthful potential in a striking film from Sofia Coppola.  And it has one of the best endings ever.

Wonder Boys - A gem of a film about the tortured lives of writers that toys with the cliche and then shatters it.  It also made Michael Douglas watchable which is a great feat.  Great supporting actor work from Tobey Macguire, Frances McDormand, and Robert Downey Jr.

Wes Anderson...I’m torn.  Anderson belongs of the best of list for his singular cinematic vision.  But it’s hard to decide whether the flawed masterpiece, The Life Aquatic should be here or the earlier Royal Tannenbaums.  Or, should it be the Fantastic Mr. Fox?  I’m holding off on including any late 2009 film on a list of the best of the decade because it feels too soon to make that judgement.  So, Life Aquatic it is.  But I reserve the right to change my mind.

Honorable Mentions:
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Unlike anything else I've seen 
The Incredibles - The best of the Pixar creations followed closely by Up
Brokeback Mountain - Heartbreaking
The 40 Year-Old Virgin - Man-Child raunchiness with a sweet spot

And because we are in the age of great cinema created for the small screen I feel it necessary to mention a few of my favorite television shows which were as good if not better than much of what was playing down at the cineplex:  Deadwood, State of Play, Bleak House, Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, 30 Rock, and The Office (both Brit and U.S. versions).

Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy Bicycle New Year!

I suppose it's a bit too late for a Christmas present but this calendar from the Swiss Institute of Contemporary Art would make a great New Year's gift.  It features photos of prominent New York artists on their preferred mode of transportation:  The Bike of course!   The month of December features one of my favorite photographers (Cindy Sherman) and musical (etc.) artists (David Byrne).  For other images from the calendar click here.  Definitely worth a peek.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Morning Music - The Strokes

A blistering version of You Only Live Once.  If you look closely you'll see the Flaming Lips in a few shots of this performance from the Strokes.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Satire Just For You!

Ah, nothing like a good laugh on Christmas morning.  I love that many of the commenters on YouTube don't get the joke.

Or, if you prefer, an "old" favorite's thoughts on how an atheist can survive Xmas.

Merry Xmas

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Lazy Sunday at the Nevada Museum of Art

The mormon crickets are even larger than the ones I ran into on my bike tour this summer. ever feel like someone is watching you?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Morning Music - The Snowman

I heard this song at my school's holiday concert and immediately had a sense of deja vous.  I'd forgotten about the film The Snowman from back in the 80s and this beautiful and melancholy song.   Gorgeous!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Stir Crazy, or...Getting Back on the Bike!

Jeff over at OutYourBackDoor has been scanning old copies of a comic book called Cat. 3 that I had never even heard of before.  While it is not exactly Watchmen it is definitely worth taking a look at if you have any interest or background in cycling.  The above image pretty much captures how I'm feeling right now with all the snow on the ground.  Except change the word "Training" to Riding.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wednesday Night Pick Me Up - Katy Perry

Generally I'm of the opinion that modern pop artists (modern as in post-Beatles) should give up on the idea of covering other songs and focus on writing their own material.  There are of course notable exceptions.  But we are so far beyond the early to mid 20th century when pop music was dominated by singers who kept reinterpreting other artists songs.  American Idol has done nothing to convince me that covering is a good thing.  Just when you think we should have a rule against covers someone does a first-class take on a different artist's song.  This is a new, and surprising, example.  It doesn't hurt that Fountains of Wayne are top notch songwriters.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Copenhagen, Climate, Fashion, and Bicycles!

It seems that with the Copenhagen climate talks going on it is a good time to revisit one of the best sites on the web:  Copenhagen Cycle Chic.   Too bad the talks aren't going as well as one of my favorite websites.  The stakes couldn't really be more important since recent reports suggest that this is the warmest decade on record.  Here's hoping that all parties get their heads out of their a***s!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dead Boy Riding

This series of 1950s bicycle safety cartoons are cool and creepy at the same time.  Funny that you don't see this kind of in your face bike safety propaganda being published by generally respected institutions anymore.   These images were produced by a police department.  For more go here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Monday, December 07, 2009

A Reno Bike Station?

With plans in the works to create a light rail in Reno perhaps it is time to start looking at developing something similar to Washington DC's new bike station.  Certainly it would not be an eyesore as some of the bike parking often claimed to be around stations in Amsterdam.  The DC station:
houses over 100 bicycles in 1,600 sq. ft. of free-standing ultra-modern glass and steel design, is part of a growing network of Bikestations and related transit centers springing up in cities across the U.S. that are planned, implemented and often operated by Mobis Transportation/Bikestation. As a completely secure facility available by membership, Bikestation Washington, D.C. represents this new approach to alternative transportation. The facility will be staffed 66 hours per week and available to members 24/7. In addition to secure bike parking, the facility also provides a changing room, lockers, bike rental, bike repair and retail sales. The Bikestation location at Union Station allows commuters to take public transportation to the station, pick up their bicycles and go to work, shopping or entertainment.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sunday Morning Music - Cheap Trick

I pretty much hate masturbatory guitar solos.  What could be more boring?  Well, maybe masturbatory drum solos.  However, this is still on the short list of greatest power pop songs ever.  It's a lesson on how many pop hooks you can cram into 3 minutes.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Happy Birthday to Dennis Christopher

Breaking Away is considered the "Citizen Kane" of bicycling movies.  But don't let that fool you.  It's a GREAT film period!  Today is the star, Dennis Christopher's bday, and it seems a bit strange because even though he continues to work as an actor (he had a great supporting part in Deadwood) it is the actors who played his best friends that are are more likely to be considered household names.  Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, and Jackie Earle Haley (who recently had a great performance as Rorschach in Watchmen) are more well-known.  Anyway, do yourself a favor and watch this gem of a film.  Below is an excerpt from Roger Ebert's original review of the film and it is spot on.

 "In a summer of big-budget movies that are insults to the intelligence, here's a little film about coming of age in Bloomington, Ind. It's about four local kids, just out of high school, who mess around for one final summer before facing the inexorable choices of jobs or college or the Army. One of the kids, Dave (Dennis Christopher), has it in his head that he wants to be a champion Italian bicycle racer, and he drive. his father crazy with opera records and ersatz Italian....

"The whole movie, indeed, is a delicate balancing act of its various tones: This movie could have been impossible to direct, but Yates has us on his side almost immediately. Some scenes edge into fantasy, others are straightforward character development, some (like the high school quarterback's monolog about his probable future) are heartbreakingly true But the movie always returns to light comedy, to romance; to a wonderfully evocative instant nostalgia.
"Breaking Away" is a movie to embrace. It's about people who are complicated but decent, who are optimists but see things realistically, who are fundamentally comic characters but have three full dimensions. It's about a Middle America we rarely see in the movies, yes, but it's not corny and it doesn't condescend. Movies like this are hardly ever made at all; when they're made this well, they're precious cinematic miracles."

Guitar or Percussion...I don't know which one I'm more impressed with