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Best 11 Films of 2011

Posted by Charles Reece, January 8, 2012 11:25pm | Post a Comment
Last year wasn't too good for movies, but it was great for scores. I can't remember a year where I listened and re-listened to so much music from films: Cliff Martinez electronic-based Drive, Contagion and The Lincoln Lawyer; Alexandre Desplat's The Tree of Life and The Ides of March; Alberto Iglesias' The Skin I Live In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy;  and, probably my favorite of the year, The Chemical Brothers' Hanna (much better than Daft Punk's overrated TRON: Legacy). I'll be surprised if any but Desplat gets nominated for an Oscar, though. Another likely Oscar candidate is Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor's The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, which I really liked, but haven't yet had a chance to listen to it independently of the film. And Jeremy Schmidt's analog sound designs for Beyond the Black Rainbow are amazing (somewhere in the territory of Wendy Carlos' The Shining), but I'm not quite sure what's diegetic and extra-diegetic until an album is released.

As for my list of best films: most of these I enjoyed some parts of, while not exactly the whole. I'd say the overall best of the bunch are Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Meek's Cutoff and Super, but my favorite sequences of the year came from Hanna, Drive and Beyond the Black Rainbow.



13 Assassins - Takashi Miike

I never seem to tire of action films questioning when it's appropriate or moral to use violence. As I previously discussed, 13 Assassins does a good job of critiquing the aestheticization of violence while aestheticizing the violence. 


Drive - Nicolas Winding Refn

Unfortunately, the character of Driver is given more of a heroic purpose than the automaton of James Sallis' novel, but the film is still solid diversionary entertainment. Where it truly excels is in the visual pleasure of the opening chase sequence in which we follow Driver's coolly ritualized movements as he eludes cop cars and a helicopter's pervasive search light. This scene is every bit as great as the more action-oriented one from William Friedkin's The French Connection. After Driver switches cars, the credits roll as he drives around a Michael Mann-colored LA to Kavinsky's emulation of Italian softcore music, "Nightcall." This is icon-creation on a par with John Travolta's strut at the beginning of Saturday Night Fever. Pure cinematic bliss.


Hanna - Joe Wright

This is a fairly average girl with super-abilities tale (Colombiana is another example from 2011), except Hanna's escape from an underground, concrete prison. The rapid cutting and acute camera angles against geometrical architecture create an expressionistic  action sequence that I predict will one day be considered classic.


Meek's Cutoff - Kelly Reichardt

As I previously discussed, some critics confuse arduousness with boring. The difficulty that Reichardt conveys of a few settlers crossing an uncompromising landscape creates an affect of dread that no other Western has before. Usually, there would be a cut with the horses appearing in the next town as the cowboys size each other up. Here, there are no short cuts -- the wide-angled long shots always keep the possibility of death on the horizon. 


Super - James Gunn

For those who think superheroes are our modern day myths (cf. Grant Morrison), you should be mocked (here's my review).


The Skin I Live In - Pedro Almodóvar

Almodóvar applies his abstracted melodrama to body horror. While it's the most sanitized and sterile example of this squishy and sanguinary genre, it's also the most comically perverse.


Carré Blanc - Jean-Baptiste Léonetti

Capitalism as cannibalism is a timeless theme. See my previous (brief) review.


Martha Marcy May Marlene - Sean Durkin

Psychological character studies aren't exactly my cup of tea, but this one about the cult mindset is well-executed and about something that's more interesting than yet another fucking failed relationship (Blue Valentine) or sexual dysfunction (Shame).



Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Tomas Alfredson

The story is so compacted that without having read the book or seen the BBC 5-hour adaptation, its resolution feels like one of Raymond Chandler's, a MacGuffin that's beside the point. I enjoyed the individual look of each character, how most of them were getting on in years, with implied stories of their own. George Smiley's version of events take precedent, but it never comes across as the absolute truth. The film delights in the objects and muted colors of the 70s, when brown was shit, green was puke and orange was burnt. And there's plenty of wide-angled spatial shots that seem to open onto other spaces from where someone else might be aiming a bullet. A beautiful rendition of ugly, late-Cold War paranoia.





Young Adult - Jason Reitman

If you're one of those people who still wishes Duckie had wound up with Andie at the end of Pretty in Pink, Young Adult provides you your pound of flesh. The nerd gets with the popular kid in the most base, pathetic way possible. The film has nothing but contempt for middle America, for both its haves and have-nots. The characters dream of being popular, or of being with the popular, or have ceased to dream altogether. This is nothing but mean-spirited elitism -- as refreshing as being splashed with cold urine. We could use more rom-coms like it.


Beyond the Black Rainbow - Panos Cosmatos

The opening of this film suggests Orwell's Big Brother as he would've actually occurred in early 80s America: a self-help guru on a late night informercial, verbally controlling us over gentle New Age drones. I'm not quite sure what Black Rainbow is about, but it involves an alien mama's boy trying to mentally dominate a telepathic girl in a series of visualized mental duels à la Charles Xavier. Maybe he wants to harness her power for a more effective adspeak. It unfortunately devolves into a conventional "last girl" escape sequence at the end, and is a bit too repetitious in places, but pot will help with all that. Don't miss it if you get the chance to see it.

my top ten movies of 2011...

Posted by Brad Schelden, January 7, 2012 01:45pm | Post a Comment
I finally got my best movies of 2011 list finished. I thought I was really behind this year since it was already January 7th. But it seems that I also posted my top movies of 2010 on January 7th. So it must be meant to be. I am still a bit behind and have not seen everything that I wanted to see yet. I really want to see We Need To Talk About Kevin, Warrior, A Separation and Young Adult. Those might have ended up in my list but I really can't be sure. I also really liked The Muppets and Tree of Life which almost ended up in my list. I did cheat and do a top 12 last year. But I thought I should keep to only ten this year. These 10 movies are the movies that I fell in love with this year. I saw them all in the theater which I still think is the best place to see movies. These are the movies that I can't stop thinking about. The movies that I can't wait to see again...










The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius








Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn







The Skin I Live In
Pedro Almodovar







Beginners
Mike Mills







The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
David Fincher







Bridesmaids
Paul Feig







Midnight In Paris
Woody Allen








Weekend
Andrew Haigh






Shame

Steve McQueen







Attack The Block
Joe Cornish



Ten reasons why last year didn't suck: another Best Music of 2011 list

Posted by Kells, January 1, 2012 12:00pm | Post a Comment
2011, what can I say? A great year for music if not for anything else. So without further ado, I'm pleased to present my very own "Best of 2011" list, because listing is fun (unless, of course, you're on a ship in danger of capsizing). Let's sail on shall we, beginning with the top of the best, old Mr. Natural himself:


Little Wings

Black Grass
Rad

This apple made a monumental leap from the tree in that it was many years in the making. It seemed that Kyle Field, the man behind the Little Wings mystique, had gone on hiatus only to return on his own terms with this juicy bramble of soft melodies, surf-salted served with a side of Lil Wayne-influenced folk-rock jammage. Field spins wooly yarns that sound like a conversation gone unspoken in the moment regaining shape in memory, voiced to oneself longingly. It's introspective almost to a fault, but the overall sound and vibe offers enough volume and warming to light even the darkest reaches of your keep and stay the ghosts of Black Grass' pasts at bay. Without a doubt the best new record and best instore performance of the year.

Little Wings - "Black Grass"



The Sandwitches
Mrs. Jones Cookies
Empty Cellar

If there is one other record that, like the above, remains forever locked in my can't live without it file, it's this little wonder from local SF girl group The Sandwitches. Sounding simultaneously like girls-in-the-garage "golden oldies" and new rock Americana aging backwards in filigree, these ladies cast a lasting spell the likes of which their lo-fi, sun-bleached reverb-drenched contemporaries cannot compete with. Their harmonies are a dream, their melodies artful and unpredictable, often culminating in surprise endings and the lyrics are the stuff "my gournal" dreams are made of.

The Sandwitches - "Lightfoot"




Various Artists
Delta Swamp Rock
Soul Jazz

You gotta hand it to Soul Jazz, they do compilations so right they ought to write the book on how it's done. None of the music is new on this here two-disc collection of "sounds from the South: at the crossroads of rock, country and soul" but it is essential in that as it has been proven in several Amoeba households to make meal preparation and completion more enjoyable as well as addig to the overall success of dinner party enjoyment. I'd include more than one taste of this damn good comp if I could, but Barefoot Jerry deserves the spotlight. Best comp of the year!
Barefoot Jerry - "Smokies"




Blaze Foley
Clay Pigeons
Secret Seven

Emotionally speaking, this vinyl-only, career spanning collection of studio, home and intimate live recordings made between 1976 - 1988 is the exhumed backwoods treasure release of the year in my opinion. From the lauded likes of Townes Van Zandt, Lucinda Williams and Merle Haggard it seems that Blaze Foley's honeyed voice, though largely unheard far and wide, has resonated within the hearts of all who have been lucky enough to have known his music. Thanks to the good folks at Secret Seven there's a little more country to love - I can't hear "Clay Pigeons" or "If I Could Only Fly" without shivering in my skin. Breathtaking!
Blaze Foley - "Clay Pigeons"





Boris
New Album
Daymare

For a band that always earns a lot of attention for their innovative and experimental heavy rock forays, this album, along with the two others they released this year (in the same week!), received mixed reviews due to a shift in sonic leaning toward a more high-impact, electro J-pop aesthetic. While some might be quick to call it pussy, there is no question that Boris maintain a technical stranglehold on their medium as they splash out in new directions. This record is a definite slow-growing ember burning up a myriad of genres.

Boris - "Spoon"




Sun Araw
Ancient Romans
Sun Ark/Drag City

Ever had the urge to take a stroll through a Casio forest, plodding lazily alongside a meandering data stream? Sun Araw's imagineer of epic soundscape mit cosmic dub vibeage Cameron Stallones conjures up this year's, which is to say last year's, most gravity bong worthy heavy hitter, rivaled only by Peaking Light's 936 in my opinion. Still, at the rate this guy keeps slicing off chunks of shaman-level soundtracking for his listener's inner space explorations, administering mind-altaring substances aurally will be trending at an all time high, man.

Sun Araw - Ancient Romans




Little Roy
Battle For Seattle
Ark

And you thought the award for novelty album of the year sould have gone to Loutallica's Lulu - shame on you!

I cannot explain exactly why but this album of reggae covers of Nirvana's patent grunge sounds just fucking works. Hear me now and believe me later when you check it out below.




Little Roy - "Sliver" / "Dive"




Grace Sings Sludge
Last Year's Friend
Secret Seven

From one of the minds that conjures magic as the Sandwitches comes this cassette only, limited release offered by Secret Seven - a collection of home recordings and folksy warblings that ramble freely within their sonic confines like so many wild mares briefly harnessed within innocent fences. The layers Grace achieves on each track, be it quiet chiming, a little harmonica or spectral harmonies, add a gossamer of mystery and are pleasure to peek through as each song unfurls its fabric, some of which are apparently cover tunes. Here's hoping for a reissue.

Grace Sings Sludge - "Last Year's Friend"




Various Artists
West Indies Funk
Vols. 1- 3
Trans Air

The only other compilation to really get my steel drum fetish all hot and bothered this year was in fact a series of three comps put out by Trans Air sailing under the banner West Indies Funk.
Not only are all three of these little gems packed front to back with blazing soul and funk cover jams all rummed-up and sun-soaked but they also feature some deep cuts ripe for a right good airing on your hi-fi. Add to that the bonus Disc 'O' Lypso comp and you can bet your ass you've got a sweaty boogie party goin' on!


The East Side Symphony - "Hot Pants Road"




Veronica Falls
Veronica Falls
Slumberland

I fell pretty hard for this band while compiling material for a Halloween mixtape I make every year for a dear friend of mine - it was the single "Found Love in a Graveyard" that did it. They've got a certain sound that's all kinds of been heard before but in their case "heard it" never sounded so good. In short, they make bucking-the-trend seem so very passé. Plus, they manage to keep their broken-hearted cemetery pop jangly with just enough tambourine behind the barely there girl/boy vocal harmonies that make the whole affair, super 8 video and all, worthwhile.

Veronica Falls - "Found Love in a Graveyard"

Best of 2011 Hip-Hop Part 3: Billy Jam's Picks

Posted by Billyjam, December 30, 2011 09:00pm | Post a Comment
         
      Talib Kweli was among the hip-hop artists to embrace the Occupy movement
  in 2011 - even shooting his video for "Distractions" @ Zuccotti Park

This is the third and final of the Best of 2011 Hip-Hop Amoeblog posts. The first Best of 2011 Hip-Hop installment featured a hundred of the hip-hop album releases that were popular sellers at the three Amoeba Music stores over the past year while the second Best Of 2011 Hip-Hop featured favorites of the year chosen by current and former Amoeba hip-hop department employees  Meanwhile this Best of 2011 Hip-Hop post is this Amoeblogger's personal favorite 30 albums of the year. But before I get to these (all below) first let me briefly mention a random list of a few of the interesting hip-hop news stories or events/happenings that generated attention over the past year.

In 2011 hip-hop lost some great artists and most of them were young; tragically taken from this earth long before they should have been. These included 44 year old, Golden Era hip-hop star Heavy D who died of a heart attack while climbing the stairs to his Los Angeles apartment back in early November. Even more recently, just three weeks ago, Special One of The Conscious Daughters (aka TCD) died suddenly the result of a blood clot. The Bay Area hip-hop community was really shaken by this news but glad to learn that the rapper's longtime partner in rhyme, fellow TCD member CMG (Cash Makin Girl) would continue the TCD legacy and about a week ago announced that she would be (sometime in early 2012) be releasing a posthumous TCD album. A famous Bay Area rapper who didn't die but was rumored to have in the latter half of 2011 was Too $hort. This was around the time that $hort had a run in with fellow Bay rapper Messy Marv who foolishly started a beef (at first on the internet and then in rhyme) with the "godfather of Bay rap."

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My Favorite 2011 Discoveries in the Free Downloads Section on Amoeba.com

Posted by Amoebite, December 30, 2011 05:23pm | Post a Comment
I love being in a song's clutches, whether it's a new single by an established band or the first track from a new artist I've never heard. I know a song has grabbed me when I hit repeat immediately after its final notes wafted through my ears. I especially love it when this happens with artists with whom I wasn't familiar before. It makes me want to dig into the rest of their music, learn a bit about their history, find out where they've been all this time and why haven't I heard of them until now?

This happened with quite a few tracks I first discovered this year in the Free Downloads section of Amoeba.com. Since it's the season of "Best Of" lists and looking back at 2011, I wanted to share some of my favorite discoveries (in alphabetical order):

2 Hearts and Chemicals
2 Hearts and Chemicals - "Coming Home"

2 Hearts and Chemicals is a bi-coastal band featuring childhood friends Eli Lhymn (who is based in LA) and Stephen Biebel (who is based in NYC). Through the magic of the Internet they exchanged tracks created in their individual studios to produce the Coming Home EP. The title track is an ‘80s synth meets ‘90s shoegaze pop soundscape featuring female background vocals by Iameve.

XD Records released Coming Home on November 11, 2011. Download "Coming Home" by 2 Hearts and Chemicals.




Aeroc
Aeroc
- "For Sake"

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