The O-town Scene

December 29, 2011

The O-town Scene - Oneonta, NY

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A glance at this year's top box-office performers might trigger a case of deep cinematic depression, suggesting a fu- ture bounded by "Transformers" sequels on one side and "Hangover" sequels on the other. But this year, I could easily have made a list of Top 20 films, includ- ing "The Artist," "The Way," "50/50," "Of Gods and Men," "In a Better World" and the documentaries "Incendi- ary" and "Cave of Forgotten Dreams." Tough cuts, all. Here's the final list: 1. "Meek's Cutoff" Kelly Reichardt's mesmerizing story of 19th-century settlers traveling to Oregon radically redefined the Western, stripping it to its most raw elements and reinvigorating it with immersive realism. 2. "The Descendants" Comedy, tragedy, satire and human- ism danced a delicate gavotte in Alex- ander Payne's affecting family drama, which starred a dressed-down George Clooney as a distant husband and father trying to reconnect with his family, both past and present. 3. "Moneyball" Bennett Miller's thoroughly satisfy- ing adaptation of Michael Lewis' book featured Brad Pitt as baseball manager Billy Beane in a funny, moving homage to utility players — both on the field and off. 4. "Buck" One of the most riveting films of the year, this gorgeously filmed documen- tary revolved around Buck Brannaman, the real-life "horse whisperer" whose work with horses takes on transcendent, life-healing dimensions. 5. "Beginners" Mike Mills' autobiographically inspired comedy-drama about a grown son and his father was sweet without being Top 10s of 2011 FILMS sappy and used bold visual graphics to give the storytelling verve and punch. 6. "Take Shelter" This superbly crafted thriller featured a career-making performance from Michael Shannon as a man haunted by visions of a coming apocalypse that may or may not be real. 7. "Nostalgia for the Light" Patricio Guzman's stirring documen- tary, set in Chile's Atacama Desert, en- gaged the Big Questions that occupied so many filmmakers this year, including memory, history, cosmic truths and the meaning of life — with the most rigor, insight and poetic lyricism. 8. "The Trip" Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon hammed it up through the gastro-pubs and literary waysides of northern Eng- land in Michael Winterbottom's hilarious picaresque about friendship, ego and the sensuous pleasures of a really great meal. 9. "Drive" Nicolas Winding Refn's quietly contained genre piece actually didn't involve much driving, but it moved nonetheless, propelled by a transfixing lead performance by Ryan Gosling and Refn's unimpeachable sense of style. Even when the film erupted into cartoon- ishly graphic violence, the wheels didn't come off. 10. "Win Win" Tom McCarthy's observantly funny film about a lawyer (Paul Giamatti) driven to comically dark lengths to support his family captured the economic anxiet- ies of the year with compassion and warmth. By Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post If a good pop album is like a sonic bubble bath — a little act of mental hygiene that lets us get away from it all — then a great pop album is like a visit to one of those isolation tanks that cost $75 an hour at the day spa. And who had that kind of money this year? In 2011, pop artists helped us make sense of our world by pulling us deep into theirs. R&B crooners took us on hallucina- tion tours. Rock bands offered tutorials in lucid dreaming. And instead of inviting us into her double-wide for a beer, the most magnetic singer in Nashville tried to get us to sign the lease. Each of the year's best record- ings demanded our time, our patience and the entirety of our imagination. Here they are, ranked one through 10, but almost all equally deep. Close your eyes, pinch your nose and submerge. 1. The Weeknd, "House of Balloons" The last time R&B felt this darkly erotic, it was being made by a tiny purple sphinx from Minneapolis. Abel Tesfaye, the 21-year-old To- ronto singer who records as the Weeknd, already seems every bit as enigmatic as Prince — and his dreamy-druggy-sexy- scary-superlative debut was nearly as seductive. 2. Jay-Z and Kanye West, "Watch the Throne" Instead of blushing over their embarrassment of riches, pop's most intriguing partnership delivered a self-congratulatory opus that was adventurous enough to remind us that they're rap visionaries first, 1 percent bazillionaires second. 3. Pistol Annies, "Hell on Heels" On their debut album, Miranda Lambert and her songwriting buddies go hunting for the contact point between humor and heartbreak. They find it with "Trailer for Rent," a song about an unhappy home available on the first of the month. If it doesn't put tears in your dimples, nothing will. 4. Katy B, "On a Mission" So you think you can dance (and would prefer to do it while listening to a British singer nar- rate youth in 21st-century clubland with an honesty that you wish American pop stars would emulate)? This one's for you. 5. Drake, "Take Care" He's not really a rapper. Or a singer. Drake simply spills his guts at the blurry intersection where words meet melody. On his stunningly self-aware sopho- more effort, he speak-sing-raps, "I think I like who I'm becom- ing." Everyone should. 6. Bluebrain, "The National Mall" The Washington duo's first "location aware album" was POP RECORDS the year's most innovative pop release — a smartphone app that used Global Positioning System technology to trigger changes in the band's music depending on where you strolled on the Mall. It was like using GPS to navigate a dream. 7. Bon Iver, "Bon Iver" There's hard rock, there's soft rock, and now there's this. Listen closely to Wisconsinite Justin Vernon's vaporous bal- lads and you'll hear rock-and- roll sublimating like a block of dry ice. 8. Real Estate, "Days" These Jersey boys pen casu- ally gorgeous rock tunes about suburbia that actually resemble suburbia — they're very clean, sorta sad and way too easy to get lost in. 9. James Blake, "James Blake" Inventive and emotive, this young Londoner's avant love songs sound like they were pressed from an undiscovered corner of the human heart. 10. Fauna, "Manshines" As electronic dance music hyperventilated its way across the United States, this Argentin- ian duo kept things slow and low, continuing their reinvention of cumbia by adding a splash of psychotropic futurism. By Chris Richards, The Washington Post Dec. 29, 2011 O-Town Scene 11

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