My Top 10 Albums of 2012

10. Band of Horses – Mirage Rock
This album had a slightly new sound from the band that on their previous records.
Favorite tracks: “How To Live” “A Little Biblical” “Shut-In Tourist” “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone” “Heartbreak On The 101”

9. Mumford & Sons – Babel
The highs on this might not be as high as on Sigh No More, but there is a lot of really good music on here.  Glad to have Mumford & Sons back with new music.
Favorite tracks: “I Will Wait” “Lover Of The Light” “Below My Feet”

8. Band of Skulls – Sweet Sour
Some of the bluesiest rock of the year was on this album.
Favorite tracks: “Sweet Sour” “Bruises” “The Devil Takes Care Of His Own” “You’re Not Pretty But You Got It Going On” “Lies”

7. fun. – Some Nights
The best Queen-influenced album in a long time.
Favorite tracks: “Some Nights” “We Are Young” “Carry On” “One Foot” “Stars”

6. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros – Here
I feel like I’m listening to an AM folk station from the 60s when I listen to this band.  In a good way.  A really good way.  I feel like this is the kind of music the Dharma Initiative would have listened to on Lost.
Favorite tracks: “The Man On Fire” “That’s What’s Up” “I Don’t Wanna Pray” “Dear Believer”

5. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Extraordinary Machine remains my favorite album of hers, but this is such an impressive album and I really wish she was more prolific in her song making.
Favorite tracks: “Jonathan” “Werewolf” “Anything We Want” “Hot Knife”

4. Jack White – Blunderbuss
Jack White, completely unfiltered.  Not limited by the structure of The White Stripes, or the collaborative nature of The Raconteurs.  And culling influences from the entire breadth of rock/blues history.
Favorite tracks: “Sixteen Saltines” “Love Interruption” “I’m Shakin'” “Trash Tongue Talker”

3. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
As The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Wye Oak and others have reminded us recently, sometimes less IS more.  This is the hardest rocking album of the year, and the most aptly titled album of the year.
Favorite tracks: “The Nights Of Wine And Roses” “Fire’s Highway” “Evil’s Sway” “For The Love Of Ivy” “Adrenaline Nightshift” “Younger Us” “The House That Heaven Built” “Continuous Thunder” (Yes, that is ALL of the tracks!)

2. The Lumineers – The Lumineers
These guys tried to take back the sound of folk and Americana from British imports Mumford & Sons.  They mostly succeeded.
Favorite tracks: “Flowers In Your Hair” “Classy Girls” “Submarines” “Dead Sea” “Ho Hey” “Slow It Down” “Big Parade” “Morning Song”

1. Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal
The Lumineers mostly succeeded, because this Icelandic group swooped in and caught everyone unawares.
Favorite tracks: “Dirty Paws” “King And Lionheart” “Little Talks” “Six Weeks” “Love Love Love” “Sloom” “Lakehouse”



New Year’s Pop Culture Resolution Suggestions for 2012

This is a list of entertainment (mostly, if not all, TV) I love that I know not enough people have experienced that if you’re looking for something to check out in 2012, you should give it a shot.

1. Mad Men – Four seasons in and every single season has won the Emmy for best drama.  But since it is a cable drama on AMC, I know that there are plenty of people who have not seen this show.  Do yourself a favor and watch.  All of the show is available on Netflix Instant Watch.

2. Breaking Bad – The other best drama on AMC.  Mad Men is a compelling ensemble show while Breaking Bad is spectacular deconstruction of a single character for the most part.  Such a great show.

3. Community – The show is on hiatus on NBC right now.  This is my most favoritest show.  It makes me laugh so consistently hard and it also balances the funny with some genuine sincereity that is incredibly rare for a sitcom.  I know its rapid fire jokes and style of comedy might not be for everybody, but it’s got a great cast and a it’s a wonderfully versatile show.  I love it so much.

4. The Wire – If you haven’t seen this show, you owe it to yourself.  It feels significant.  It’s compelling.  It’s ridiculously layered, but easy to follow.  It’s gripping and heartbreaking and the best show HBO has ever produced.

5. Party Down – A terrifically funny show about a catering business in Los Angeles that employs failed and/or struggling actors.  Only about 20 episodes of this show were made but they are all fantastic.

6. Firefly – If you don’t think Westerns and Sci-Fi can mix well, think again.  Such a shame this show never got a fair shake on Fox.  Speaking of which…

7. Arrested Development – Arguably the funniest show of the last decade.  And with a return of the series planned for 2013 and a potential movie also in the rumor pipeline, what better year than 2012 to dive into this series?

8. Friday Night Lights – This was an outstanding series.  I know for a fact that not nearly enough people watched this show.  You don’t even need to be a big fan of football to really enjoy this show.  It’s more about the characters and the stories they’re involved in than the game of football.  I’m going to miss the story of Coach and Mrs. Coach and their family and friends in Dillon, TX.


New Year’s Pop Culture Resolutions for 2012

This is a list of things that were produced before 2012 that I intend to try and consume during this new calendar year.

1. The Hunger Games trilogy – There is a movie coming out in March.  I will have read the first book by then.  In fact, I have already purchased all three book on my Kindle, it is just a matter of finishing up a couple of other books before I dive into this series.

2. Doctor Who – Among others, my friends the Pinaults have sung this shows praises to me fr quite some time now.  I watched the first episode with Christopher Eccleston a few months ago.  I will watch more in 2012.

3. Deadwood – This HBO series is complete and already queued up for me on Netflix.  It’s just a matter of making it priority.

4. Boardwalk Empire – I want to see at least the first season, which will be coming out soon on Netflix.

5. Homeland – A Showtime series that I heard very positive reviews about and since I don’t get Showtime, I will have to wait for the DVDs, probably sometime in late 2012 as Showtime is notorious for delaying the release of their DVDs for about a year, usually right before the next season’s premiere.

6. Dead Like Me – This is another completed series that has been on my Netflix queue for a very long time.  And it’s available on Watch Instantly.

7. Freaks and Geeks – A show that didn’t even make it out of its first season, but so many people involved with this show went on to be stars to some degree.  Probably one of the most glaring blind spots in terms of shows I’ve missed out on.

8. Twin Peaks (Season 2) – As a X-Phile, I feel like I owe it to myself to see the rest of this show, because of how many times the shows are compared to one another.  But I’m just so anti-Lynch that I have a hard time investing myself in this show.  I need to just bite the bullet and get it over with.  And then I can decided whether or not I want to devote any more of my time to anything Lynchian or just be done with him altogether.

9. Justified – A show on FX that has gotten a lot of positive press for its first two seasons, its third season is premiering sometime this month.  I think my plan will be to start recording the new episodes on DVR and save them until I get caught up on the DVDs.

10. A Song of Ice and Fire – The series of books for the Game of Thrones TV series on HBO.  I loved the first season of the show and I started reading the first book.  Now that the second season is coming up this spring, I want to at least get through the second book before I see the upcoming season.


Handicapping the Suck for Luck Sweepstakes

With a little over 1/3 of the regular season completed, it is shaping up to be an interesting final 11 weeks of NFL football.  And not just for the teams that are fighting for a playoff spot and have a legit shot at the Super Bowl.  There is a special prize awaiting the team with the worst record at the end of the year in the form of Stanford QB Andrew Luck, the consensus #1 pick in the coming 2012 Draft.  The hype surrounding Luck is growing every week, and it is making him out to be the most highly touted, can’t miss #1 pick quarterback to come out of college since Peyton Manning.  I’m not suggesting that teams will blatantly tank their seasons in order to try to get the #1 pick for next Spring by using the term “Suck for Luck” here, but there are a number of teams in the race for the #1 pick and more than a few teams that need help at QB.  And landing an elite QB can turn around the fortunes of a franchise.  Based on a combination of record, overall team talent, division strength, team need, and remaining schedule, I think there are 11 teams that are in play right now for Andrew Luck.  Here’s a look at them:

12. Carolina Panthers (1-5) – They are listed here because of their record only.  The bottom line is that even if they do end up with the #1 pick, they won’t take Luck, because they’ve already found their franchise QB in Cam Newton, who is better than anyone thought he would be this soon.  Even though Newton is a talent, the Panthers still need more talented players on their team.  And even if they wouldn’t be interested in Luck, they could trade the pick to the highest bidder for a pretty big ransom.

11. Cleveland Browns (2-3) – Their wins have come against Indianapolis and Miami.  Not impressive.  Colt McCoy is serviceable as a QB, but they have to play a ball control style of play because he just can’t chuck it all over the field.  They’ve still got two games against both Pittsburgh and Baltimore.  They could climb up this list in the coming weeks.

10. Washington Redskins (3-2) – They may have a winning record right now, but I don’t think any objective observer wouldn’t consider them the worst team in the NFC East.  And they’ve just made a QB change from Rex Grossman to John Beck, neither of whom is a desirable option.  Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if they only won one more game the rest of the year.

9. Seattle Seahawks (2-3) – A well-earned 2-3 with a tough starting schedule.  Still, their lack of talent, particularly when Tavaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst are your QBs, is low enough to keep them in the running for the season.

8. St. Louis Rams (0-5) – Talk about a tough schedule.  Philly, NY Giants, Baltimore, Washington, and Green Bay to open the season?  No wonder they’re 0-5.  What makes it bad, though, is that they’re not even averaging 10 ppg.  Dallas and New Orleans are next, which likely means 0-7.  But then their schedule gets easier.  And the Rams are probably in the same situation as the Panthers, with Sam Bradford as their franchise QB.

7. Kansas City Chiefs (2-3) – The Chiefs are threatening to make a move off of this list.  I thought with Jamaal Charles going down for the season and the way they played the first two weeks that they would be a front-runner in this.  But even though they were the quickest out of the gate due to injuries, they have fallen back to the pack.  And with Oakland this weekend without Jason Campbell, they could be on the move.

6. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) – They dumped their incumbent starter at QB before the start of the season, and handed the reigns over to rookie QB Blaine Gabbert.  He’s shown some flashes, but this is a bad team with a bad coach.  The question is whether Gabbert is the QB of the future for them of not.  If they bring in a new head coach for 2012, he will not be beholden to Gabbert in any way.

5. Minnesota Vikings (1-5) – The Donovan McNabb Era was incredibly short-lived.  He does not have anything left in the tank.  Minnesota plays in a tough division (NFC North), has turned the offensive reigns over to a rookie QB (Christian Ponder), and their only consistent offensive weapon is Adrian Peterson.  That and a decent defense should be worth a few wins, but no more than a few.

4. Denver Broncos (1-4) – The time that America has been waiting for with bated breath is here: Tebow Time in Mile High.  Tim Tebow takes over at QB for the ineffective Kyle Orton.  Denver seems to be in the best position they could hope for.  Tebow is talented and dynamic, but might not be a legit NFL QB.  Lucky for them, Tebow fans and Broncos fans don’t seem to care, because they have worked themselves into such a frenzy over him.  The Broncos are in a win-win situation because they can give the fans what they want by starting Tebow, and make an actual evaluation on him in the process.  If he is a wild success, it’s great for them.  If they keep losing, they can say, “I told you so…” to their fans and move on.  Also, they traded their #1 receiver this week in Brandon Lloyd, the leading receiver in the league last year.  The Broncos are under a new regime in John Fox as head coach.  And, oh yeah, a former Stanford QB is also their president: John Elway.

3. Arizona Cardinals (1-4) – Sure, it may be too early to close the book on the Kevin Kolb Era in Arizona, but it might not be in a few weeks.  So far it looks like they got fleeced by Philly in that trade.  Their division is arguably the worst in the league, so I don’t expect them to win too many non-division games.  And San Francisco seems to have a firm grip on that division, and they’ve got to play them twice still.

2. Indianapolis Colts (0-5) – Of all the years that Peyton Manning has a serious injury that knocks him out for most, if not all, of the season.  This could be shades of the San Antonio Spurs landing Tim Duncan the year that David Robinson was injured.  It’s stunning how absolutely awful the Colts are without Manning.  Not just on offense, but their defense too.  When you play against Manning, he has an impact on both sides of the ball, because opposing offenses have to play against his ability to put up points and move so quickly up and down the field.  Their head coach seems out of his depth even more so than he used to.  Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne look downright pedestrian without Manning.  It’s interesting to see the difference between the Patriots without Brady (11-5 in ’08 without Brady) and the Colts without Manning.  You may think it speaks about the players and their value to their teams.  But it really speaks volumes about the organizations and the value of team depth vs. putting all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak.

1. Miami Dolphins (0-5) – Even though the Colts are bad, I think Miami has a legit shot at 0-16.  They lost their starting QB for the year recently.  Replaced by Matt Moore, who was atrocious in a few starts for Carolina last year.  Their coach is clearly on the hot seat and seems a little combative about his team losing.  Reggie Bush is expected to play a prominent role in their offense, when history has shown he should only be touching the ball 10-12 times per game.  The worst part, though, is that they are awful at home.  For some reason, the Dolphins are 1-11 in their last 12 home game, dating back to December 2009.  That’s unbelievable.  Not playing well on the road is one thing, but not being able to even hold your own at home is not a good sign.  Miami, right now, is the front-runner for Andrew Luck.


Reading in 2011

I have tried to make more of an effort to read in the last few years, with varying degrees of success.  As my current job is overnight and affords me a lot of free time, it’s usually torn between movies, reading on the internet about news and sports and pop culture, or reading books.  Movies have actually also inspired me to get more into books too, as I’ve purchased and have read or intend to read several books that have movie adaptations that have been released recently or are scheduled in the next few years.

One thing I have noticed is that my reading habits have changed.  Sadly, I still read very slowly, which means it can take me a long time to get through a book.  But where in the past I used to read only one book at a time, I’ve developed a habit of reading 3 or 4 books at a time with different levels of involvement for all of them, depending on my mood at the time I’m interested in picking up a book, physical or digital.  As it stands right now, I am currently reading three books with three more that I have started and not progressed in much because I lost interest for one reason or another.  I’m not sure whether this is a good habit or a bad habit.  probably mostly bad, as I see similar traits in other aspects of my life.  For instance, when I come back from the grocery store with a lot of new groceries, I am eager to sample at least a little bit of everything at the very beginning (does this happen with anyone else?).

I used to read one book and not pick up another one unless I completed it or decided to drop it altogether.  But, then again, I didn’t necessarily do a lot of leisure reading growing up and most of my reading in high school and college came from books I had to read for classes, so even then I suppose I was reading multiple books at the same time, just required reading instead of reading for pleasure.  So maybe the conclusion is that my adult self is compensating for the lack of the classroom and homework in my life.

At any rate, I made it a goal of mine to read 25 books this year, which was, admittedly, very ambitious on my part, given that it would require a rate of just over 2 books per month.  I actually started out pretty well for the first couple of months, which is longer than I usually stick with anything resembling a New Year’s resolution.  But as spring turned into summer, my consistency in reading fell by the wayside.  At the rate I’m going, I should end up reading about 15-16 books this year, which is pretty impressive to me.

Here is a list of the 13 books I have read this year, including 2 that I started in December of last year:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King
Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland by Patton Oswalt
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Love Wins by Rob Bell
Religiously Transmitted Diseases by Ed Gungor
At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O’Connor
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Mere Christianity Shepherd’s Notes by Terry L. Miethe

Currently, I am reading the following books:
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The War for Late Night by Bill Carter
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

I have essentially dropped The Turn of the Screw and The Invisible Man, though they remain on my list of books I am currently reading on Goodreads.  I found the writing style of Henry James interminable and The Invisible Man was tough sledding for some reason.  If I were to pick one back up, it would most certainly be The Invisible Man.

A Game of Thrones I will pick up again, probably after I finish Jane Eyre, because I loved the first season of the show on HBO and want to get through the other books before I see any future seasons.  But it is tough sometimes to read something that you have already seen adapted.  I would have had that problem with Pride and Prejudice had it not been for the zombified version of it to read concurrently.

Which is why I am currently trying to make my way through Jane Eyre, which I got for free on Amazon for the Kindle, but am forced to read on my laptop since I don’t actually own a Kindle.  Yet.  There was a very well-reviewed movie adaptation of Jane Eyre that was released this past spring which came out on DVD this summer.  It is currently sitting near the top of my Netflix queue, but I want to read it before I see the movie.

And speaking of movie adaptations, I come now to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  A terrific spy novel by one of the masters of the genre.  The movie is scheduled to come out this November, featuring an all-star British cast.  The trailer hooked me for this movie, and convinced me to read the book.  And I was not at all disappointed.  Tinker is one of the movies I am looking forward to most this fall and winter.  I will definitely be seeing it opening weekend.

My biggest task on the horizon is also related to a movie that has been announced that is scheduled for 2013, Anna Karenina.  Luckily, I have enough advance notice that I can pace myself and try to tackle that one in 2012.  Probably along with 3 or 4 other books at the same time.


10 Movies For Valentine’s Day

A little after the fact, but in response to my previous post, here are 10 movies that would make for good viewing on a day like Valentine’s Day.

10. Away We Go – 2009 – I put two of Sam Mendes’ films in the top 10 list of anti-Valentine’s Day movies, so it’s only fair that I put this movie in the list.  This was as much of a 180 from Revolutionary Road as a movie can possibly be.  A couple, expecting their first child, goes on a trip in search of the perfect place to start their family.  It’s a great example of two people forging their way and finding “home.”  I think the relationship between the two characters is one of the most genuine I’ve seen in a movie.  I love the small stuff between them.

9. Priceless – 2006 – A bartender who is mistaken for a rich man by a gold digger who seduces him, tries to win her heart by beating her at her own game.  Audrey Tautou looks absolutely beautiful in this movie.

8. Before Sunrise/Before Sunset – 1995, 2004 – A man and a woman meet on a train and have one magical night in Paris.  Then, nine years later, they meet again.  I cheated, because this is two movies, but it deserves to be seen as a double billing. 

7. Sabrina – 1954 – Some people will cite Roman Holiday or Breakfast at Tiffany’s as their essential romantic movie starring Audrey Hepburn, but I’d go with Sabrina, even if the age difference between Bogart and Hepburn is a bit awkward.

6. Pride & Prejudice – 2005 – Keira Knightley, nuff said.  Not enough?  Fine.  It’s endearing to watch two people slowly realize they actually love each other instead of disliking one another.

5. Amelie – 2001 – The movie that made an international star out of Audrey Tautou; playing a woman who helps others around her discover love and happiness and undertakes her own adventure to find the love of her life.

4. Stardust – 2007 – A young man ventures into a magical realm to retrieve a fallen star for a girl.  The star turns out to be a woman, and they fall in love over the course of this fantasy adventure.  This film totally surprised me with how good it was.  Felt like this generations version of the next movie…

3. The Princess Bride – 1987 – Westley, Buttercup, Fezzik, Inigo Montoya and others inhabit this classic fairy tale story of true love.

2. Beauty & the Beast – 1991 – A tale as old as time, according to Angela Lansbury.  Belle, lovely young daughter of an imprisoned father to a beastly creature, offers herself in place of her father’s freedom.  As she lives in the castle with the Beast, they fall in love, and he hopes she can break the curse on him. 

1. Wall-E – 2008 – Wall-E is a robot who is left on the planet after human have left Earth because it was too polluted.  His job is to clean up, but Wall-E also collects old trinkets and things in the course of his duties.  When a mysterious new robot, EVE, shows up, Wall-E swoons and his world is turned upside down.


Top 10 Anti-Valentine’s Day Movies

These are not movies you want to be sitting down to watch with a special someone.  These are all variations of love gone wrong, in some of the worst ways imaginable.

10. Bug – 2006 – Ashley Judd definitely plays against type in this movie as a lonely woman who buys into the unhinged delusions of a war vet.  Add The Exorcist director William Friedkin to the mix, and this is one heck of a trippy tale of love gone awry… into the depths of paranoia.

9. Oldboy – 2003 – After being imprisoned for 15 years, a man is released and given 5 days to find his captor and the reason behind his imprisonment.  Over that short time, he also develops a relationship with a young woman who tries to help him.  What follows from there, is a disturbing study on the consequences of actions.

8. Dial M for Murder – 1954 – One of Hitchcock’s many brilliant films.  Nothing goes more against the sentiments of “Be Mine” like hatching a plan to have your wife killed by blackmailing someone else in to doing it.

7. Leaving Las Vegas – 1995 – Two people meet and fall in love in Las Vegas.  Pretty basic premise for a romantic movie.  Except in this case the woman is a prostitute and the man has come to Vegas to drink himself to death. 

6. American Beauty – 1999 – Witness the unravelling of a suburban, middle-America family as the suburban dad goes through the ultimate mid-life crisis, his marriage falls apart, and he lusts after his daughters best friend.  Not the only appearance that director Sam Mendes will be making on this list.

5. Blood Simple – 1984 – First film by the Coen brothers.  Once again, a murder plan hatched because of an unfaithful spouse.  While Hitchcock’s classic has its own unforseen problems arise for the characters involved, this one has a whole other, far bloodier path it follows to its conclusion.

4. Fatal Attraction – 1987 – The worst case scenario for any instance of infidelity.  Ever.  A cautionary tale of the highest degree.  Love the one you are with people.  Or else.

3. Closer – 2004 – Four characters, two male and two female, interact over the course of several years as they drop in and out of relationships with each other.  We are shown pretty much only the beginnings and bitter endings of these relationships.  None of the characters are likeable or redeemable.

2. Audition – 1999 – A widower sets up a fake audition for a movie role as a ruse to find a suitable woman to begin a relationship with instead.  He settles on Asami, a seemingly innocent, shy young woman.  But appearances are deceiving.  Worst-case-scenario for either using manipulation to score a date or dating the quiet, unassuming types of ladies.

1. Revolutionary Road – 2008 – Congratulations, Sam Mendes.  I was going to make Audition the #1, but this movie takes it because it is truer to life than Miike’s J-Horror film.  Slightly more than 10 years after making the “perfect” tragic love pairing in Titanic, DiCaprio and Winslet re-teamed on the screen for this movie of a 50s suburban couple whose marriage disintegrates before our eyes, with their two children in the middle of it all.  Few movies have left me as depressed as this movie did.