1. "Dumb" comedies that weren't
This was a bad year at the movies. Of course, I haven't seen a lot of the year-end Oscar bait yet. I have to say that very few of those films feel really compelling. As I looked through the list of films released in 2010, a couple stood out: The Other Guys and Easy A. Nope, not high art. But there's something sweet about going to the movies with medium expectations, thinking to be mildly diverted by a buddy-cop film or a teen movie, and then laughing your ass off. Both of these films earned their laughs honestly with smart writing, game actors, and plots that teased the edges of their genres while still working within their constraints.
2. "The Suitcase" episode of Mad Men.
Last year, I almost quit Mad Men. I was so fed up with Don Draper's downward spiral that I just didn't think I wanted to be feeding it into my brain anymore. And then ... this season began with the words "Who is Don Draper?" and I was sucked back in. It wasn't until this episode's marvelous duet for Jon Hamm and Elizabeth Moss, however, that I began to love the show again. As Don and Peggy struggled to write a suitcase ad, they acknowledged the true connection that lies beneath their working relationship, the truth of knowing another and being known. Redemption is a journey, friends. Pack Samsonite and choose your traveling companions wisely.
3. "Tightrope" by Janelle Monae (feat. Big Boi)
My dad always loved classic R&B and soul, and Janelle Monae's "Tightrope" takes me back to the songs he loved, while remaining utterly modern. And even better than the music, is the brilliant old school dancing in the video.
4. The end of Lost
Sometimes over the last few years, it seems that the art of story-telling has gotten a bit lost as, in our po-mo world, stories fold back in on themselves, twirl around, and dance the limbo. We might admire many of these works, but really care about them? Not so much. But Lost did something special. Combining post-modern meta-commentary, time-shifting stories, and a rip-roaring great yarn, Lost might have been what Dickens would have written if Dickens had grown up on comic books. No matter what you thought of the finale, Lost kept us questioning and questing, like its heroes, until the very end.
And speaking of Charlie Dickens ...
5. Oprah chooses A Tale of Two Cities for her Book Club
When I was in 10th grade, I was in love with Sydney Carton, the drunken, be-pony-tailed antihero of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Ah, I've always loved a man searching for redemption (see #2 above). A Tale ... has a little something for everyone - rich characters, revolution, prison, courtroom scenes, a love story, mistaken identity, and the best first line and last scene you could imagine. Oprah will have more people reading this book than all the 10th grade teachers in the world ever could.
6. Parks and Recreation
Poor Outsourced. Even if it wasn't lame, it didn't stand a chance of being beloved by the hipster crowd -- it replaced our dear Parks and Rec. Thankfully, Parks will be back this January, because its second season, which ended in June, took the comedy into the realm occupied by early episodes of The Office and 30 Rock. Focusing on the workings of a small-town parks department staffed with a lovable bunch of weirdos, Parks manages to be topical (parks director Ron Swanson fiddled while Pawnee burned ... ahem, fell prey to state budget auditors who closed the government), sweet (slackers April and Andy found romance), and just plain nuts (pasta-loving children's entertainers, anyone?)
And to make Thursday nights "must-see" again, Parks and Recreation was paired with ...
Community might be a whole new genre of television -- the pop-culture-riff comedy. Its detractors write it off as a string of references to other media. Well, welcome to the 21st Century, folks, where conversation often takes the form of movie quotes and real life feels familiar because we saw this scene in a movie once. What elevates Community is that all the wackadoo (paintball action movies, zombie plagues, stop-motion animation) is grounded in characters who truly care for one another and who would spiral into their own self-obsessed neuroses without each other.
8. Eminem and Kanye are still pissed off
I don't know why I worried, but I was a little concerned that tragedy and recovery (for Eminem) and multiple public lashings (for Kanye West) might somehow soften two of hip-hop's angriest Angry Young Men (now more like Elder Statesmen). Ah ... I didn't have anything to worry about. Along with new albums from each of them, 2010 brought epic videos and awesome live performances on awards shows and television - all couched in the burning anger - at themselves, society, women, themselves again -- that have made them great.
You haven't seen Ondine. It was released for a few moments to a couple of theaters and to OnDemand. You can now see it on Netflix Instant. Ondine is a slight little Irish fairy tale about a fisherman who catches a woman in his nets, a woman his daughter believes is a selkie, or seal woman. It's a classic Gaelic tale, translated to modern day. Ondine won't change your life, but it boasts beautiful coastal vistas and a genuine and touching father-daughter relationship at its core, brought to life by Colin Farrell and Alison Barry.
10. Netflix Instant/OnDemand "Now in Theaters" feature
Speaking of Netflix and OnDemand -- I saw some of my favorite new releases this year in the comfort of my own home. Sure, it's greener and cheaper to watch a movie at home, but it also allows people who aren't in "select" cities to see smaller indie fare that they would only get to see on DVD, at the same time as big city folk. It's a brave new world we're living in.
Coming tomorrow! Part Two of 20 + 10 Things I Liked in 2010