Friday, December 31, 2010

20 + 10 Things I Liked in 2010: Part Three

It's here! Part Three of 20 + 10! It's funny how writing this has clarified some of my personal passions when it comes to pop culture narratives (redemption, genre-bending, character-drivenness). Here's hoping 2011 brings us more pop goodness.

21. Bobby Womack
I don't know if you can say Bobby Womack is having a revival, but he popped up throughout 2010, enriching our ears with his raspy/smooth soul swagger. His version of "California Dreamin'" was featured in the British film Fish Tank, as the soundtrack to a young girl's lost innocence (if you could call her innocent to begin with). Later in the year, Womack showed up again, this time paired with Gorillaz and Mos Def for the propulsive "Stylo" and the dreamy "Cloud of Unknowing."

Which brings me to...

22. Fish Tank
Fish Tank was released in 2009 in Britain, but didn't hit American shores until 2010, and won't be available here on DVD until 2011. It's a rough portrait of a young girl, Mia, living in a council estate and waiting for ... something. When her mom brings home a new boyfriend, who happens to be the scorching Michael Fassbender, the results are predictable - and not quite predictable. While most American movies about kids in trouble involve at least one adult who gives the hurting child a hand up into a better world, Fish Tank's Mia has only other kids to rely on. It's the sort of gritty realism that breaks your heart, makes you nervous, and sparks a tiny ember of hope, all at once. Hopefully, the fact that Fassbender is in every movie being released in 2011 will bring Fish Tank into the Netflix queues of more Americans.

23. Cairo Time
My other favorite film of the year was Cairo Time, and it could not be a greater contrast to Fish Tank. Cairo Time is about the First World problems of a dazed American woman (a stunned-looking Patricia Clarkson) who plans to meet her husband in Cairo and sightsee. When her husband is delayed, she is left in the hands of Tareq, a former employee of her husband's, and a true gentleman, played with a gimlet gaze by Alexander Siddig. Cairo Time is a love story, a culture-clash film, and a travelogue, but mostly it's a story about two people who don't really know what they want out of life and how they almost find out.

24. Fauxlivia/Olivia, Walternate/Walter. And Peter.
Fringe is a show with a lot of geek going on -- it's got a dotty, drugged-out mad scientist (Walter) and an FBI agent with special powers (Olivia). And Peter. Peter's the kind everyman through whose eyes we view this landscape of out-of-control viruses and trans-dimensional typewriters. When the plot began to move back and forth between our world and an alternate-universe version of our world, the show could have spiraled even further into geeks-only territory. Thanks to savvy writing and an amazing cast (most of whom had to play both their regular characters and subtly-different alt-versions of themselves), Fringe actually became more accessible and character-driven. And Peter may have some special powers himself.

25. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
Any kid who grew up on Star Wars or punk music knows that fighting the power is the right thing to do. Fascism must be stopped at all costs. But Suzanne Collins dared to ask the question -- in a "young adult" novel, no less -- : even if our war is righteous, can we come out of it clean? The Hunger Games trilogy, of which Mockingjay is the final installment, has been heralded as the next "Twilight", yet it digs deeper into the human soul than RPattz could ever dream of.

26. The dance scene in Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows
Ooh! Controversy! The interwebs were all a-twitter when rumors of a dance between Harry and Hermione that wasn't in the holy JK Rowling text was filmed for the penultimate installment in the movie series. And it could have been weird, pushing the idea of a love triangle that doesn't exist. Instead, it made complete sense, a moment of respite in a film that is basically an elegy for lost friends and destroyed innocence. As Daniel Radcliffe pointed out in an interview, it's the coolest Harry's ever been, when he comforts Hermione to the strains of Nick Cave's "O Children", setting us up to believe that he's grown up not only into a savior (they're a dime a dozen) but a real man.

27. Florence + the Machine perform live everywhere
You know how, when you were 13, and you liked something and suddenly it became popular, and then people would say, "Have you heard about (insert your favorite thing)?" and you were all, like, "Duh! I invented liking that!" OK. I sort of feel that way about Florence + the Machine. I used to listen to Lungs on MySpace before you could get in the US. (I just wanted you to know how cool I am, in case you were confused). I don't begrudge anyone who has just discovered Florence, though. Her rising popularity has meant stunning live performances everywhere from the VMAs to The Ellen Show, bringing her wailing vocals and pre-Raphaelite tresses to the masses. Go, Florence!

28. The Kids Are All Right
There's always at least one summer movie for adults, and this year, The Kids Are All Right was it. Sure, it's going to get lots of awards love for its great performances and topical subject matter (siblings with two moms find bio-daddy). However, if it existed only for the moment when Annette Bening sings "Case of You" at the dinner table, it would be worth it.

29. The Good Wife gets good
Last season, I really liked The Good Wife, but watching felt a little like eating a bran muffin. It was pretty tasty, but you had to work yourself up to taking that first bite. Episodes languished on my DVR all week, but when I watched them I wondered why I waited. In season two, however, there's no waiting. Aside from Julianna Margulies's wardrobe, one of the best things about The Good Wife is its portrait of a big corporate law firm as a place where moral compromises happen, good guys lose, and sometimes there is no "right." In other words, it's a portrait of the way "justice" really plays out.

30. Internet archives reveal modern life to be a series of LOLs, OMGs, :0 s
The human brain is a pattern maker and categorizer, so no wonder that the internet has spawned methods to organize and disseminate every single element of our lives -- and now that texting has become a main method of communication (USA Today declared 2010 "The Year We Stopped Talking" - OMG! That sounds bad!) not only for teens, but for my mom as well; the internet reveals the hilarious and vaguely sad side of our wired life. With sites like Damn You Auto Correct! and Texts from Last Night chronicling our texts, and Twitter feeds spreading our tiniest most boring thoughts to the world, the alien archaeologists who pick up our radio waves will have plenty to work with. Let's just hope they don't decide we need to be invaded.

Happy New Year's, friends! Thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing 2011 with you!

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