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Friday, December 31, 2010

Best of Television 2010

I fell behind on several critically acclaimed shows this year (some which apparently bounded back to their best seasons ever I've been told, but alas, won't be on this list due to my slack) but of all the shows I manage to keep watching in time, the ensemble comedies seemed to have bounded back with a vengeance.

Here are my picks for the Best of Television for 2010
(With the ranking from the three previous lists (Best of 2009, Best of 2008/ Best of TV - Fall 2007/ Winter 2008 Season) in parenthesis.):


1. Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC) - (1, 1, 3)

New team, new kids, new problems, same Tammy, same Coach Taylor, same clear eyes, same full hearts, still can't lose.


2. Breaking Bad (AMC) - (Favorite But Not Caught Up)

We know drugs creates a lot of drama but who knew it could also be so funny? Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul are intensely brilliant together as the drug-making odd-couple.


3. Community (NBC) - (Not Ranked)

Inanity at its best, with attention to details while going for the comedy gusto.


4. The Good Wife (CBS) - (Not Ranked)

A perfected balance of procedural law cases and personal drama with a strong ensemble AND guest cast.


5. Modern Family (ABC) - (3, New)

Delightfully heartwarming with some charming zingers.


6. Cougar Town (ABC) - (Not Ranked)

Nicely settled into older friends who like to drink, and drunk friends can be very very funny.


7. Parks & Recreation (NBC) - (Not Ranked)

Another tight comedy ensemble that only seems to get better as they've finally figured out their awkward workplace rhythm.


8. Better Off Ted (ABC) - (9, New)

Sadly, this terrific workplace comedy that skewered big corps and their minions never found an audience but hopefully will live on with DVD.


9. 30 Rock (NBC) - (8, 5, 4)

Still insane, still completely all over the place, but still getting in the laughs.


10. Bored to Death (HBO) - (Not Ranked)

A show that stars three folks I tend to think of as annoying, but totally lovable and hilarious here in this pseudo-detective noir comedy.

11. Nurse Jackie (Showtime) - (5, New)

12. Party Down (Starz) - (Not Ranked)

13. Ugly Betty (ABC) - (11, 7, 9)

14. Lost (ABC) - (2, 2, 1)

15. Glee (FOX) - (4, New)

16. The Big Bang Theory (CBS) - (10, 20, Not Ranked)

17. Bones (FOX) - (13, 15, 15)

18. Greek - (abcFamily) - (17, Not Ranked)

19. Desperate Housewives (ABC) - (15, 13, 18)

20. The United States of Tara (Showtime) - (6, New)


New Shows I Enjoy:
Sherlock (BBC)
The Walking Dead (AMC)
How to Make It In America (HBO)
Life Unexpected (The CW)
Raising Hope (FOX)

Most Overrated New Show:
Boardwalk Empire


Shows I Still Enjoy But I've Totally Fallen Behind On:
Mad Men
Fringe
Dexter
True Blood
Leverage
Damages
Burn Notice
Supernatural
Men of a Certain Age
Being Erica
Royal Pains
White Collar
Parenthood

Great Shows I'll Miss:
Lost
Ugly Betty
Better Off Ted
The New Adventures of Old Christine
10 Things I Hate About You
My Boys

Shows I Haven't Seen Yet
Terriers
Treme
Justified
Rubicon
Big Love

______________________________________

Best of 2010 Lists:
Best of Music 2010
Best of Television 2010
Best of Stage 2010
Best of Movies 2010

Previous Best-of Lists:
Best of 2009 Lists:
Best of Music 2009
Best of Television 2009
Best of Stage 2009
Best of Movies 2009

Decadeworthy - The Best of 2000-2009 Lists:
SYTYCDworthy (w/ Videos) - List Format
Theatre of the Decade
Best Films of the Decade
Favorite Films of the Decade
Television of the Decade
Television of the Decade - 1 Season Wonders

Best of 2008 Lists:
Best of Music 2008
Best of Television 2008
Best of Stage 2008
Best of Movies 2008
Best of Television Fall '07 - Winter '08 List

Best of 2007 Lists:
Best of Music 2007
Best of Television 2007
Best of Movies 2007
Best of Stage 2007
Best of 2007 (The Final Wrap Up)
Best of Television Fall '06 - Winter '07 List

Best of 2006 Lists:
Best of Music 2006
Best of Television 2006
Best of Movies 2006
Best of 2006
Best of Television Fall '05 - Winter '06 List

Best of 2005 Lists:
Best of Television 2005
Best of Movies 2005
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


More After the Jump...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best of Music 2010

Every year people claim it's the worst year for music and that everything new is total crap, and every year I defend them (I'm not sure who them is but I do). This year, all the music was basically the worst. So even though I have bad taste in music and enjoy the schmaltzy and pop, even I could barely muster up enthusiasm for new music this year. So this might not be so much a "best" list as "favorites" list this year.

Here are my picks for the Best of Music 2010:

1. Hedley - "Perfect"

Perfect mix of rock ballad and schmaltz without losing the edge or the crisp vocals by Jacob Hoggard, who hasn't sounded better.


2. Florence + The Machine - "Dogs Days Are Over"

It didn't require a dance song to have the coolest beat around in a song. (Though technically released in 2009, it's here on this list since it didn't hit it big until this year)


3. Darren Criss on Glee - "Teenage Dream" w/ The Warblers, "Hey Soul Sister" w/ The Warblers, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" w/ Chris Colfer

Love or hate the show, Darren Criss automatically became many's teenage dream when he made quite the entrance with an infectious interpretation of Katy Perry's song that only improved the song itself. Then he managed to make the lame "Hey Soul Sister" song into a delightful ditty, then warmed our hearts when he and co-star Chris heated up a Christmas classic. (The other newcomer Chord Overstreet came close to making the list with his renditions of "Billionaire" and "Lucky")


4. Young Artists for Haiti - "Wavin' Flag"


The remake of the current K'naan hit, in support of the Haiti crisis, was the gathering of (Canadian) artists at its best, and avoided the bloated and overwrought that usually accompanies recent attempts at these group songs for charities. Partly coinciding with the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, it sort of became an anthemic song of national pride (with the original version of the song doubling also for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa).


5. Taio Cruz - "Dynamite"

Throw your hands up and celebrate one of them most fun songs of the year!


6. Take That - "The Flood"

Robbie Williams rejoined Take That after mending fences with Gary Barlow and the reformed group created an epic song for their return.


7. Kylie Minogue - "All The Lovers" Video

Kylie on top of a wonderfully zippy pop ditty in a video that manages to show enough skin to be a soft-core porn video yet remains sensual yet romantic and hopeful.


8. Lady Antebellum - "American Honey"

Need You Know became the big crossover hit of the year, but I had already placed it on last years list. Lady A's second single managed to ooze country charm and a slick nostalgic sound to Americana.


9. Janelle Monáe feat. Big Boi - "Tightrope"

Even with the song being used in an overplayed ad, the song remains a tight.


10. Bruno Mars - doo-wops & hooligans Album

With catchy singles like "Grenade" and "Just The Way You Are" and an album full of pleasurable pop ditties, Mars delivers a debut full of great mainstream poppy, dancey, easy-access melodies.


The Worst of Music 2010:

There were a LOT of choices for this, but easily by far the worst offender is:
Black Eyed Peas - "The Time (Dirty Bit)"
If I need to even explain why, then we can no longer be friends.


Here's the list in video format:

1. Hedley - "Perfect":



2. Florence + The Machine - "Dogs Days Are Over":



3. Darren Criss and the Warblers from Glee - "Teenage Dream":

"Hey Soul Sister" w/ The Warblers:

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" w/ Chris Colfer:



4. Young Canadian Artists for Haiti - "Wavin' Flag":



5. Taio Cruz - "Dynamite":



6. Take That - "The Flood":



7. Kylie Minogue - "All The Lovers" Video:



8. Lady Antebellum - "American Honey":



9. Janelle Monáe feat. Big Boi - "Tightrope":
Video Here


10. Bruno Mars - :
"Grenade":

"Just The Way You Are":


______________________________________

Best of 2010 Lists:
Best of Music 2010
Best of Television 2010
Best of Stage 2010
Best of Movies 2010

Previous Best-of Lists:
Best of 2009 Lists:
Best of Music 2009
Best of Television 2009
Best of Stage 2009
Best of Movies 2009

Decadeworthy - The Best of 2000-2009 Lists:
SYTYCDworthy (w/ Videos) - List Format
Theatre of the Decade
Best Films of the Decade
Favorite Films of the Decade
Television of the Decade
Television of the Decade - 1 Season Wonders

Best of 2008 Lists:
Best of Music 2008
Best of Television 2008
Best of Stage 2008
Best of Movies 2008
Best of Television Fall '07 - Winter '08 List

Best of 2007 Lists:
Best of Music 2007
Best of Television 2007
Best of Movies 2007
Best of Stage 2007
Best of 2007 (The Final Wrap Up)
Best of Television Fall '06 - Winter '07 List

Best of 2006 Lists:
Best of Music 2006
Best of Television 2006
Best of Movies 2006
Best of 2006
Best of Television Fall '05 - Winter '06 List

Best of 2005 Lists:
Best of Television 2005
Best of Movies 2005
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


More After the Jump...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On The Bright Side - Candide - Musical Review

Candide - Sidney Harman Hall (Shakespeare Theatre Company) - Washington, D.C. - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
By Leonard Bernstein, Directed and newly adapted from Voltaire by Mary ZImmerman
Runs until Jan. 9th 2011


I can see why Leonard Bernstein's Candide has historically been difficult to stage and why the book is problematic to get right. Based on Voltaire, the story of a young man named Candide goes EVERYWHERE, in an epic sprawling tale that crosses the earth and beyond. In this new take on the classic musical (one where I've actually never heard any of the famed music), artsy director Mary Zimmerman (the brilliant Metamorphoses, one of the best of last decade) takes on her first musical by re-writing the book (with permission from the Bernstein estate) and putting her directorial mark on the often-difficult-to-stage-show.

All I can say is that Mary Zimmerman is brilliant. Since I've never seen Candide before, I'm not sure what she's changed in the book (though some of the more modern sensibilities within the text and jokes seem to be nice updates), but I found Candide enthralling from beginning to end. It's still a sprawling tale that goes EVERYWHERE but Zimmerman smoothes over the narration interludes and the jumpy plot and with some spectacularly simple yet ingenious staging (incorporating miniatures, puppets, changing scales), Zimmerman's Candide is a theatrical feast of epic proportions!

Geoff Packard (Rock of Ages) makes a wonderfully gullible and lovable Candide. Packard's charm, lovely voice, and floppy blonde hair makes him an easy-to-like central figure. As the world (and Zimmerman) throws Candide around the stage and in various situations, Packard never loses our empathy.

Candide's reciprocated love and devotion for Cunegonde (a lovely Lauren Molina (Rock of Ages)) ends up getting him thrown out of the Baron's house he grew up in, and where Dr. Pangloss had taught him about living optimistically (and that the everything happens for a good reason). Expelled and alone, Candide ends up being used and abused by the nasty world, and where accidents and circumstances move Candide along the world, while he attempts to remain true to his old teacher's optimistic teachings.

The story brilliantly takes Candide through a long journey that dissects the theory of optimism, and makes barbed points about pessimism, and even takes Candide and his valet Camcambo (an amusing Jesse Perez) into a perfect world of red sheep and where children play with precious stones as they were toys, but without spoiling too much of the story, there's a wonderful balance to the tale and Zimmerman manages to cull the meandering and long story into a theatrical journey.

There are so many wonderfully superb sequences and scenes, that the flow of Zimmerman's Candide improves upon the often choppy story, easily moving from one situation to the next, one country to another. With a beautiful design that essentially uses one standard set, intricately revealing set pieces hidden within that pop out as needed, the simplicity manages to creatively whisk the audience away to a completely new worlds that Candide is thrust upon.

The ensemble cast is superb, including Erik B. BLochtefeld as Cunegonde's uncooperative brother, and Larry Yando as the Philosopher teacher. Candide may have been cut out from the Baron's life, and away from Cunegonde, but as the fates would have it, everyone in his life seems to meet again along his path of discovery, as he soon discovers life is both good and bad, and just is.

This new revival of Candide feels both fresh and invigorating, historic and yet modern. Zimmerman's entire production is quite chilling and yet comforting as we join Candide on his journey in life, and through the world.


Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


More After the Jump...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Awardsworthy? - Movie Reviews

It's movie award season and the studios are blanketing the cinemas with "important" fare to get those noms. Here's some more films that will potentially (actually, probably) join The Social Network and Toy Story 3 onto those nomination lists. Though are they actually awardworthy? (Warning, Reviews may contain spoilers)

The King's Speech = B+
Written by David Seidler, Directed by Tom Hooper

It has all the elements for the Oscars. An underdog story, who happens to be royalty. It is a historical piece (so hence old costumes and old props), which happens to be the history of royalty (castles as sets), and yet, it is still modern enough (for us to relate and recognize) that happens to have recognizable royalty that are still alive today (Queen Lizzy the 2nd makes an appearance as a child). And Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth are simply superb as the speech therapist and the man that is to become King George V (and father to Queen E II). Helena Bonham-Carter is lovely as Firth's wife.

Colin Firth gets the Oscar bait role of underdog who will be King with a STUTTER. It's not an obvious mental handicap but as Kate Winslet would say, it's enough to win an Oscar, and Firth's performance manages to be completely believable and lovable, all the signs to Oscar gold. Rush tries to help Firth's King, amusing vignettes ensue, and Rush's speech therapist ignores the difference in social class levels between them, giving the audience some nice moments where Rush gets to stick it to the rigid social hierarchy.

There's also a nice Pride & Prejudice reunion between Firth and Jennifer Ehle, as well as seeing Dumbledore Michael Gambon (as King George IV) hang out with Slytherin's Pettigrew's Timothy Spall (as Winston Churchill) and Bellatrix Lastrange (HBC). Plus Guy Pearce as the abdicated King, and Eve Best (Nurse Jackie) as his mistress/wife.

It's a great uplifting film with winning performances by all, beautiful sets and cinematography and some terrific humourous moments, but in the end, it just feels like a really well produced, well acted, TV-movie of the week, with the underdog (true) story never feeling weighty enough for its production values. This is the Oscar choice for old people.


Rabbit Hole = A
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, Directed by John Cameron Mitchell

This is the story of a lovely looking couple who has lost a child, and the emotionally crippling aftermath. The film, based on Lindsay-Abaire's own play, is a beautifully observant and quiet film that cleverly starts months after the tragic incident, and under Mitchell's mature pacing and intelligent directing, Rabbit Hole really gets to breathe through all the grief and sorrow.

Aaron Eckhart (Erin Brokovitch) and Nicole Kidman put in devastating and smartly underacted performances. Ok, Kidman's plastic surgery, made even more obvious in the lack of makeup in this role, is a bit odd to watch in this many close up scenes, but her performance manages to get through the botox, so you know her performance is outstanding.

Sandra Oh (Grey's Anatomy), Tammy Blanchard (in upcoming How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying on Broadway), and Dianne Wiest keep the acting standards high. Miles Teller is wonderfully understated as Jason, the teenage boy who accidentally killed Eckhard and Kidman's son. Teller and Kidman's moments together are stunningly simple and effective with both actors giving tremendous performances without the need for the obvious.

I was very impressed with Mitchell's film version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (based on the musical he wrote and starred in, which I also enjoyed), and while I thought Shortbus was an interesting experiment, I had my doubts about him directing Rabbit Hole. I'm truly impressed with his work here, with nothing showy or overdirected to elevate this simple story of living life after a tragedy.

Reviews of True Grit, Black Swan, The Fighter below:

True Grit = A-
Written and Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, based on the book by Charles Portis

Look, I just don't love westerns. They bore me, and I don't care about revenge and gunslinging and all that. So for the Coen Brothers to make a Western remake (though it is apparently less of a remake of the John Wayne classic as it is a remake of the book that film was originally based on) and make it interesting enough for me to enjoy it, says a LOT.

The Coens have returned to the source book and made the remake by re-positioning the movie with the teenage girl Mattie Rose back at the centre of the story, out for vengeance on her father's death. Hailee Steinfeld is superb as Mattie Rose and holds the film together with her pluck and no-nonsense charm. She avoids being cute and all the trappings of young actresses are bestowed on these roles and Steinfeld's performance feels both real and sharp.

Set against Steinfeld's Mattie is big ol grumbly softy Jeff Bridges' Rooster Cogburn, a no-nonsense bounty hunter, making Cogburn and Mattie a wonderful odd couple on this trek to find Mattie's father's killer (basically a cameo from top billed Josh Brolin). Add in a third wheel with Matt Damon as LaBeouf, a Texas Ranger after the same outlaw, and we get a surprisingly funny and heartfelt road trip tale of revenge. Fun stuff!

The excellent Bridges gets to throw in an almost undecipherable drawl (subtitles would seriously help), and his performance is superb, but the film still belongs to Steinfeld for me.

I loved the Coen Brothers signature mix of humour and tense drama into their take on a western, and it's all great until a seemingly rushed finale, and a story appendage (the hole part) that feels a bit tacked on to move the story to its final denouement (which is a nice moment).


The Fighter = A-
Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson based on the story by Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson and Keith Dorrington, Directed by David O. Russell

Kudos to director David O. Russell for making this fresh and honest looking bio-pic about fighter Micky Ward and his struggle to succeed whilst living under obstacles of an overloving, if troubled family, particularly a drug addicted brother Dicky Ecklund and know-it-all mother. The end story if essentially one big feel-good Hollywood pic, yet The Fighter seems as far removes from Hollywood as you can; an amazing feat considering it stars the hunky Mark Wahlberg as Mickey Ward.

Mark Wahlberg is terrifically understated here, easily keeping the movie grounded as Melissa Leo and Christian Bale get the showier roles as his white trash family. Leo is hysterical as Ward's mother, along with the gaggle of sisters who seem to become Leo's chorus.

Christian Bale totally transforms (again) into the gaunt looking Ecklund, the former fighter now undone by years of drug use. Even Bale's hair looks different, and Bale's performance is both over-the-top and yet realistic (especially when compared to the real Ecklund shown during the credits). Even his body contorts itself differently and Bale even nails the addicts swagger and cadence, all while his bulging eyes want to pop out into your face.

Amy Adams gets the more subtle role of Ward's girlfriend (and eventual wife) and her scenes with Walhberg are sweet without being syrupy, and give the film some of the more quiet moments to balance Bale and Leo's performances. Adams still plays a far rougher and lowered-class girl than she usually does, but her warmth just glows through no matter what (as DameJames has said, Amy Adams is like a basket of kittens).

Mickey O'Keefe (Ward's trainer, playing himself) and Jack McGee as Ward's father, team up with Adams' to pull Ward from the control Ward's mother and brother have on Micky Ward, and the family and backstage drama is a fascinating counterbalance to the intense and brutally realistic fight scenes (cleverly filmed in live TV footage camerawork).

This could have easily been a schmaltzy formulaic film with its underdog story and success-story ending, but both Mark Wahlberg's commitment (as producer and star), and David O. Russell's intelligent directing (much like his fantastic Three Kings), keeps The Fighter feeling original and new.


Black Swan = A-
Written by Mark Heyman, Andrew Heinz, and John McLaughlin, Directed by Darren Aronofsky

The layers shown in this film, at both the narrative level, to the production level, is simply too numerous to properly take in during one viewing. Director Aronofsky has made a beautiful film about the internal struggles of an artist trying desperately to reach artistic perfect, and has amazingly dressed it up as an artsy pulp thriller.

Natalie Portman is stunning as Nina, a ballerina on the cusp of stardom, as she gets the lead role in Swan Lake, all while her life starts to mirror the story itself. Her mother (a very creepy Barbara Hershey, very far from Beaches), her rival ballerinas (including Nsenia Solo from Life Unexpected), her future (Winona Ryder as the pissed-off prima-ballerina Nina has ousted), her coach/director (the always over-the-top Vincent Cassel) and her latest competition (Mila Kunis, as the newest ballerina rival, who seems to look an awful lot like Nina herself), all are seemingly trying to block or conspire against Nina's rise to perfecting the leading role in Swan Lake.

Portman is perfection in the role, and all the mirrors and multiple angles we see reflected cleverly adds a mysterious chill to Nina's unravelling. Using Swan Lake as a template is pretty meta and interesting way to plot the story (although since I was the only one in my group that knew the ballet, I was also the only one that seemed to have anticipated the plotline, and figured out and understood the story as we left the theatre) though my only quibble is with the tightness of the entire film, as the 3rd quarter of the film felt it dragged on a bit and could have edited out a few seconds from all the scenes. (Though maybe it's because I had a feeling how it was all going to end and at that point, just wanted to get to the terrific final scenes of Nina's ultimate moments).

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


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