Sean’s Top Ten Films of 2008

2008, in my mind, was a remarkable year for film for two reasons. One, there were a hell of a lot of comic book movies. Two, it seems like most of the critically admired films never made it to anything even close to wide release. Ultimately, out of the about 45 films I saw last year, there were plenty I liked, but only two that I loved.

Of the movies I was not able to see, the top of my list would be Happy-Go-Lucky, Let the Right One In, My Winnipeg, and, of course, Synechdoche New York. Oh, and I haven’t seen Revolutionary Road yet, either. Honorable mentions to Redbelt, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Incredible Hulk, Ghost Town and Iron Man. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was originally on this list, until I realized I had two number 6s. Both documentaries I saw this year were awesome, Man on Wire and Young @ Heart.

Oh, and I’m not doing a bottom 5 list, because no other movies I saw belong on the same list and Star Wars The Clone Wars and The Happening.

Top 10 Movies 2008

10. Paranoid Park
Paranoid Park shows the story of Alex, a sullen, teenage skateboarder with a dark secret. As he tries to sort through his memories of one night at the eponymous skate park, director Gus Van Sant treats us to a surreal, engaging little film. I liked it a lot.

9. Zack and Miri Make a Porno
My favorite Kevin Smith film yet. What he does here is so much more sophisticated than what we’ve come to expect from him, Zack and Miri is a very well put together film. What pushes it over the edge is the great cast and absolutely hilarious writing. Yes it’s sexually explicit and extremely vulgar, but these characters make it seem like the most natural thing in the world.

8. Slumdog Millionaire
Quickly becoming one of the most overrated films of the year, Slumdog still deserves much of the praise that has been heeped upon it. Hell, I know I’ve recomended it to plenty of people. Did those people see the film? Mostly, yes. But it took some of them a while. After they saw it, they told me they liked it. I was all, “yeah, it’s good.”

7. Frost/Nixon
A fun little film about stickin’ it to Dick. I just reviewed the film a little while ago, and I still like it! Frank Langella totally steals the show in the second act, pretty much relegating the rest of the cast to reactionary roles. Really nice performance. Like I said, my biggest complaint is the choice to use those weird interview cutaways. Ron Howard, you fool! You foolish fool!

6. Gran Tornio
Clint Eastwood is back and he is pissed. Over his lengthy career he has done a crazy amount of work on both sides of the camera, and here is channeling some of his best work. It’s just too bad the rest of the cast can’t really live up to his performance.

5. In Bruges
Remember a year or so ago, when everyone was all about In Bruges? We should have kept that going, because I was all about that movie (two posters!). Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell are just a great team on film, with both of them turning in some of their best performances. The whole film is just so quirky, how can you not love it?

A lot of praise has been heaped on Sean Penn for his performance in this film, but if you ask me it was James Franco who stole this show. But what do I know? Penn is great in this biopic which unfortunately succumbs to some of the cliches of the genre while at the same time telling a compelling and important story.

3. The Wrestler
Mickey Rourke turns in the best performance of his career, and maybe one of the all time greats. I’m not joking, I really think he was just in a completely different league than his co-stars. The film’s weakest link is its writing, with a few key scenes ringing just a little to false. But, damn, what an emotionally powerful film. Who would have thought, after all of this time, that wrestling is real?

2. The Dark Knight
What can I say that everyone else isn’t already saying? The Dark Knight is straight up the best Batman movie ever made, and most certainly among my favorite movies. I’d almost go as far as calling it a perfect film, but the Two Face scenes at the end of the film are just a little too rushed. If the movie had ended at that shot of Batman standing in the debris, then, damn, I don’t know how amazing it would be. But Nolan pushes the film farther, giving us a satisfying conclusion, along with that cheesy but fantastic speech from Gordon. Great, great film.

Really, The Dark Knight should be my number one. I am all about that film, and will probably come back to it more than WALL-E. There’s just one problem; WALL-E kicks too much ass. One of the most straightforward, beautiful stories in years. This little robot reminds us that even the littlest creatures can make a difference. I honestly can’t think of a single thing I would change about this movie, which is why it’s here, at the top of the list.

Inauguration Domination

I’m gonna post my top ten films of the year in just a second, but before that I thought I’d throw up a quick recognition of the Presidential Inauguration that just occurred.

Um, what can I say that hasn’t already been said a million times by now. For the first time in our history, someone who is not white holds the highest office in the land. That is something I am unbelievably proud of, and I hope something that future generations can look back on and ask, “what took them so long?”

Almost more important to me, George W. Bush is out of office. For good. He got in a helicopter and flew away. Cheney too. They’re gone. In their place, we have a charismatic, inspirational new hope. How about that?

Oh, and how about Obama messing up the oath itself? That was so tense. I think most of the press is ignoring that though. For now, at least. Let’s focus on the positive.

Things have changed, and they’re not going back. Yes, we can make a difference.

On the Horizon

Happy Martin Luther King day! Nothing much going on here at Cat Fancy but I though I’d fill everyone in on some random points of interest. In the fashion of last week’s “Best Albums of 2008” list we’ll most likely post “Favorite Movies of 2008” this week, though I don’t imagine there’ll be much diversity between those lists. There’s some album releases coming up including Franz Ferdinand’s long awaited third album titled Tonight: Franz Ferdinand on January 27th (Here’s the video to the first single if your curious Ulysses). Also due out on the 27th is the latest release from Bruce Springsteen Working on a Dream. Colin’s been prepping for a Springsteen retrospective, which should prove to be the most epic Cat Fancy “Retrospecticus” yet.

I was surfing around and I also noticed that U2 has released the cover, track listing and announced a release date (February 27th in Ireland and unfortunately March 3rd here in the Us) for their upcoming album No Line on the Horizon. If you look around youtube you can already hear the lead single “Get on Your Boots” which is pretty interesting (The music video to that should hit the web on January 29th). Aside from that I can’t think of any other announcements. Everyone will probably be talking all about the inauguration tomorrow, so that should be fun, Otteni out.

John’s Top Ten Albums of 2008

Hey, hey, hey! Looks like it’s my turn to whip out my top ten favorite albums of 2008. My list is probably not as hip or diverse as Sean or Colin’s, but out of what I heard these were the tunes I enjoyed. So without further ado, here’s a list of stuff about things that I think sound good.

10. Louis XIV – Slick Dogs And Ponies
A lot of people seemed to dislike this album, but Louis XIV is an odd band so I’m not surprised. Many complain that their lyrics are misogynistic or sexist, but as the band has time after time stated, they’re just having a laugh and don’t mean anything by it, it’s just rock and roll. All the reviews I read never divulged much further than the lyrics, which is a shame because despite it’s imperfections there’s some surprisingly unique material on Slick Dogs And Ponies. Some of the highlights include the excellent ballad “Hopesick”, the Glam Rock charged “Guilt By Association” and “Air Traffic Control” which is probably one of my favorite singles of the year. The production may be a little sloppy from time to time and it’s certainly not as memorable as it’s predecessor, but I rather enjoy it’s raw presentation. Not to mention that this material sounded fantastic live when I saw them open for The Killers in 2007.

9. Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs
Death Cab albums tend to wear me out after awhile, but Narrow Stairs has such a lush and polished feel that I couldn’t resist it’s indie charm. Ben Gibbard’s innocent voice is a beautiful guide through some of these catchy compositions, especially at the beginning. I love the first four tracks but honestly find the rest occasionally forgettable and a little lacking in exciting melodies, but it all sounds so serene that I still enjoy the overall experience. With the direction this band is moving in I have nothing but high hopes for the future and can’t wait to see what they dish out next

8. The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
Taking on a more traditional rock approach; Jack, Brendan, Patrick and other Jack show off their bluesy side with Consolers of the Lonely, an in your face slice of Americana rock that I found to be a pretty satisfying followup. I’ll admit at first I wasn’t to taken by it, but after listening to it on a returning trip from a Seaside it won me over. Riding along the highway while pumping up this album is probably the best way to enjoy it. Brendan and Jack’s song writing doesn’t seem to blend as well taking on a more southern styling but given that they’re both talented song writers, the album doesn’t suffer much. Not to mention it had that surprise release date, that was pretty darn cool.

7. Coldplay – Viva La Vida
I’ll admit this one took me awhile to get used to. As a matter of fact I probably didn’t give it a really thorough listening until September. I’m not sure why it took so long but as time went by this highly atmospheric album eventually grew on me and as of today I’m a definite fan. From it’s otherworldly into to other songs of a sprawling nature, it’s a unique piece of music. It’s reverb drenched instruments and soaring psychedelic compositions have in my eyes made this quite an impressive departure for this veteran group and hopefully this band will continue to be full of surprises.

6. Kaiser Chiefs – Off With Their Heads
: Brit pop lives on! Off With Their Heads is the latest offering from this rowdy Leeds quintet and is another exciting, high energy dose of Power Pop. Off With Their Heads may not be as melodic as the Chief’s first album or as heavy as their second, but it’s definitely got the tightest grooves and was a nice addition to the slew of albums to come out this past “Rocktober”. Whether the Chiefs will ever obtain any more popularity than they already have seems unlikely, but I enjoy being among a small group of people I know who enjoy them, it’s like a secret club.

5. Metronomy – Nights Out
: Overflowing with infectious beats and radio friendly pop, this mostly one man dabbling into electronic nirvana is perfect for dancing the night away. I get the impression from listening to Metronomy’s songs and from watching their wacky videos, that they must be having a pretty good time and that definitely rubs off on to the listener. Joseph Mount’s studio wizardry is really something else, so hopefully they’ll obtain a bigger following in the states someday. If not, than that sucks.

4. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
My favorite album yet to come from this Kentucky quintet. Evil Urges contains some of the most compelling and impressive musicianship I’ve seen from any modern alternative rock act. Jim James pours his heart out through howling vocals and soulful lyrics and is an excellent leader to a very talented group. My Morning Jacket seem to have no problem drifting from soft ballads to head banging rockers and I just can’t get enough of it. As someone who enjoys dabbling with music, I find this album to be truly inspiring.

3. Oasis – Dig Out Your Soul
An orgy of hard rock, memorable melodies and psychedelic perfection. This veteran Brit Pop band has really evolved since their raunchy debut and given us a really great album. Noel’s new batch of songs are some of his most unique compositions yet with all the inclusions of strings, heavy guitars and even sitar. Hey, even the rest of the group bans out some pretty sweet tunes (especially Liam’s beautiful “I’m Outta Time”.) I can’t think of a dull moment nor a wasted opportunity on Dig Out Your Soul… This is a rock album of epic proportions.

2. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
The sheer simplicity of this band’s instrumentation has really left an impact on me. Bright n’ bouncy keyboards with inventive percussion, acrobatic guitars, rounded out by throbbing bass and garage rock vocals make for a truly excellent album. Throw on some clever, preppy lyrics and occasional strings and you got yourself an instant indie classic. I can’t think of a single song I dislike and I’ve probably listened to this album the most out of all my entries, it was a definite contender from the start. The only problem now is how they’re going to make a followup that’s even half this good?

1. The Killers – Day & Age
The Killers are basically my favorite modern band. They’re skilled musicians, they got a fresh and unique sound and their songs are catchy and memorable. Lead singer/keyboardist/head songwriter Brandon Flowers crafts tune after tune of inventive and melodic compositions that slowly transform into crisp, multi layered Pop/Rock triumphs. Dave Keuning’s Edge inspired guitar work echos and floats above exciting electronic waters while bassist Mark Stoermer and drummer/occasional Earl look-alike Ronnie Vannucci Jr back it up with a powerful rhythm. It was a close year but Day & Age shot it’s way to the top the day I bought it.

Best of the Rest
Weezer – Weezer (The Red Album)
: This almost made the list not because it was really great, but because it was just a lot of fun. After a few run-of-the-mill albums it was refreshing to see Weezer get back to their off-beat ways. “Pork and Beans” is probably the best example of Weezer’s return to quirkiness and I would of liked to see even more of that on the album. Some of the more straightforward tracks such as “Everybody Get Dangerous” or Brian Bell’s insufferable “Thought I Knew” are well kind of lame, but I’ve gotten used to em. I still have high hopes for where this band might continue to go, but for now I’m okay.

Kings of Leon – Only By The Night
: These guys are always on the cutting edge of the rock scene but compared to their past few albums I was disappointed with their latest batch of songs. There’s some good tunes near the starting like “Closer” and “Sex On Fire” but by the time it get to “Use Somebody” I find myself dying of boredom. I’ll still keep my ears peeled (If ears can be peeled) regarding the Followill clan, but I’d like to see em try something a little more energetic or accessible next time.

Beck – Modern Guilt
: I’ve continually tried to get into Beck, Modern Guilt being the first Beck album I’ve ever purchased and I do enjoy the album but there were a lot other contenders for me, so it just falls short. I like to think that this album will lead me to check out future Beck releases, but if not than I’ll always enjoy this.

Sean’s Top Ten Albums of 2008

2008 was a hell of a year for music. Checking my library, I listened to about 40 albums last year, which is quite a lot for me. Now comes the hardest part, when I narrow down those albums to my very favorite ten.

It certainly was a struggle to pick these ten, and I’d like to give a shout out to a few albums that almost made the list. There’s Death Cab for Cutie’s Narrow Stairs, which is probably my favorite album from that unfortunately named group. Also The Killers’ Day & Age, The Gaslight Anthem’s That ’59 Sound, Sigur Rós’ Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust, and Songs in A&E by Spiritualized where quite good. Peter recently recommended Drive-By Truckers’ Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, and I certainly see the appeal there. Another album Peter recommended was Wolf Parade’s At Mount Zoomer, that’s good too.

Top 10 Albums 2008

10. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
One day Peter, John and I went to Silver Platters and Peter decided to just randomly buy some albums. One of them was that latest Mars Volta album, which may have reduced the number of pitches I can hear any more. I couldn’t handle that intensity, and I assumed Vampire Weekend would be just like that, so I put it to the back of my queue. Eventually, I gave the album a proper listen and I was all, “this is hella catchy.” I stand by that.

9. TV on the Radio – Dear Science
One night Peter was all “hey duder, TV on the Radio – Dear Science.” So I gave it the D/L and as usual, I tried to act as cool as possible, saying shit like “it’s fine.” Or something like that. But Dear Science is not simply fine, it’s great. Really, really great. Thank you Peter, for if it were not for you, I would not have downloaded this until I saw it on a bunch of other top ten lists. You saved me those months.

8. Kings of Leon – Only by the Night
This one doesn’t have to do with Peter. Like I said in my review, if this whole album could keep up what KoL have going in the first few tracks, this would be even high on the list. But don’t misunderestimate my tastes, I still like plenty of songs from both the front- and back-end of this album. It’s just, I was all about “Sex on Fire” and I was hella pumped to get my hands on the album. Hype’s a double-edged sword, am I right?

7. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
Hey, did you know I found out about this album on Colin’s MySpace page? Yeah, I know, right? Like, who uses MySpace any more? And, you know, why didn’t Colin just tell me that there’s this awesome album out there called Stay Positive? Maybe I just ignored him and he did tell me about it. I don’t know anymore. Anyway, it rocks.

6. Los Campesinos! – Hold On Now, Youngster…
Awesome high energy rocking is the name of the game. Hold On Now, Youngester… is the name of the album. Los Campesinos! is the name of the band. I think they’re British though. They kind of sound British, but you know, it’s hard to tell when everyone’s singing. I guess I could look it up, but I don’t really want to. Is James Cromwell British? Might be… I don’t think so though. He could pull it off.

5. Murder by Death – Red of Tooth and Claw
I still haven’t gone back and listened to the other Murder by Death albums, but I don’t need to with this grande bastardo. Red of Tooth and Claw maintains a bad ass cowboy rock feel from beginning to end, something I never thought I’d get to write. Just about everything on this album is done ridiculously well, so pick it up!

4. Beck – Modern Guilt
For some reason I got the impression there was a lot of anti-Modern Guilt sentiment going around. I have no evidence, that’s just the feeling that I had. Beck’s latest album is definitely one of my favorites, with a shocking supply of catchy tracks. Make it your iPod’s new best friend.

3. Coldplay – Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
Colin already explained why this album kicks ass. You know, the risks, the more worldy sound, blah blah blah. I mean, when you’re the biggest band in the world, any move you make is going to piss some one off, so you might as well make it worth it. Coldplay pulled that off in 2008, and still are yet to disappoint me.

2. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
What a surprise this album was. It’s just really… mesmerizing. These guys put together one of the most pleasant albums I’ve ever heard, it’s just a joy from beginning to end. Plus, like two of the guys graduated from LW a year before we went there. Fleet Foxes has recieved a lot of praise and I’ll be damned if they don’t deserve it.

1. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
With this album, My Morning Jacket was all “screw you genres, label this!” And iTunes just labeled it “Alternative,” like they do for pretty much every album I buy there. Seriously, what are all these albums an alternative to? Anyway, Evil Urges was the album I kept coming back to this year. Colin says that by now MMJ are like the American Radiohead. That’s a little balls to the wall, but I’ll allow it. These guys just keep putting out fantastic albums and I keep enjoying it.

Colin’s Top Ten Albums of 2008

Well, Sean gave me the go ahead to post my list of the top ten albums of last year today with the intention of him and John posting theirs tomorrow and Thursday, so here they are my picks for the best albums of 2008.

10. R.E.M. – Accelerate
I really haven’t paid much attention to what these alternative rock pioneers have been up to in recent years, but after hearing the exhilerating single “Supernatural Superserious”, I’d thought I’d check it out. The album shows R.E.M. returning to much more guitar driven sound, in fact I don’t think R.E.M. have ever rocked
as hard as they do on this album. And although I can’t say I’m all about every track on the album, I will say that if the whole album was as awesome as the first four tracks it’d probably be the best album of the year.
9. Kings of Leon – Only By the Night
After the release of Kings of Leon’s great Because of the Times LP last year, this album was definitely a pleasant surprise. KOL pretty much keep doing the kind spaced-out alternative rock they did with the last album, but I had no problem with that. Only By The Night definitely show that they’re one of the most interesting young bands around, even with an album like this that was recorded and released in such a short amount of time.

8. Ra Ra Riot – The Rhumb Line
Though their name makes them sound more like a punk band, the debut album by this indie band is loaded with tons of soaring melodies layered with some lovely string arrangements. Seeing as though the Ra Ra Riot’s drummer died before the album was finished, many of the songs such as “Winter ’05” and “Dying Is Fine” take on a new resonance whether it was intended or not. Although that’s not to say the album isn’t also filled much more joyously upbeat songs such “St. Peter’s Day Festival” and “Too Too Too Fast”.

7. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
With incredibly catchy melodies and some unique instrumentation it’s not hard to see how these guys acheived their virtually overnight success. Each song is tight and to the point and the album runs at a very brief 35 minutes, but it just adds to the addictive nature of these songs. Also, I really enjoy the lyrics of many of the songs, which paint a very vivid picture of college campus life.

6. Coldplay – Viva La Vida
Though I’m sure Viva La Vida may have been a little bit of a polarizing record for some Coldplay fans, I respect the band for really mixing it up with their latest release. I mean the main problem I had with their last album despite having a number of great songs on it, was that there were quite a few in which I’d say they were “playing it safe”, and trying to please everyone. With this album producer Brian Eno brings out the best in Coldplay by introducing an element of world music to their sound in much the same way he did with The Talking Head’s 1980 classic Remain In Light, and I think they’re all the more better for it.

5. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
I got hooked on this Brooklyn-based band after hearing this album (their fourth), which shows them perfecting their enjoyable brand of heartland rock. Songwriter Craig Finn continues to load his songs with anthemic choruses while referencing everyone from Joe Strummer to John Cassavetes. And although the band looks quite a bit nerdier than your average rock n’ roll band, they bring each song to life with relentless energy.

4. Brian Wilson – That Lucky Old Sun
This thoroughly enjoyable follow-up to Smile provides the same feel-good vibe you’d expect from the man behind the Beach Boys. Wilson’s blissful musical arrangements combine perfectly with lyrics that help to paint a very sunny picture of Brian Wilson’s lifelong home of Southern California, and show truly what a great musical force Brian Wilson can be when in the right frame of mind. Let’s hope that we’ll be getting a few more gems like this one from him in the coming years.

3. Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs
While no longer riding off of their indie buzz, Death Cab definitely surprised me by showing that they may have much more staying power than anyone could have anticipated for a band like this. Though Ben Gibbard continues to perfect his songs about romantic longing and heartbreak, the band shows a refreshing will to toy with their sound on this fairly eclectic collection of songs.

2. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
Considering my infatuation with My Morning Jacket’s prior album and their mind-blowingy prowess as a live band, Evil Urges was without a doubt the album I was looking most forward to last year. And this album definitely lived up to my expectations as these guys continue show ingenuity as a band. It seems almost as though MMJ are bent on destroying the preconcieved notion that a band should only stick to one genre as they introduce elements of electronica and R&B/funk to their sound that was already known for it’s eclectic mix of Southern rock with elements of prog and some jam band sensibilities. In my eyes these guys have earned the title of the “American Radiohead”, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

1. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Real Emotional Trash
Though I’ve always been somewhat of a fan of ’90s indie heros Pavement, I was really blown away when I heard this latest album by their former frontman. Real Emotional Trash is filled with Malkmus’s always playful lyrics while he fuses his typical indie rock leanings with a somewhat psychedelic/classic rock vibe that allows Malkmus to show a surprising virtuosity as a guitarist, while The Jicks serve as a fantastic backing band. There are definitely some longer cuts on the album, 4 of the songs break the 6-minute mark including the title track that clocks in at over 10-minutes, but the album never gets boring, Malkmus and the Jicks are always ready to break into something new and exciting at any moment. Ever since I first heard Real Emotional Trash back in March I’ve kept coming back to it time and time again, and for me that’s the mark of any great album.

Requiem For A Wrestler

The Wrestler

    It’s only every once in a great while that you get to see a seemingly washed up actor give an incredible career-resurrecting performance that people will be talking about for years, and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler certainly gives one of those performances.  Director Darren Aronofsky also shows a remarkably amount of versatility with this heartbreaking but supremely engaging character study which has already become one of my favorite movies of 2008.

The Wrestler tells the story of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a once famous wrestler now doing small time matches just to get by.  When he has a hard attack he is faced with the challenge of quitting wrestling and trying to survive in the real world.  The plot may seem fairly simple in concept, but it gives us a very compelling journey of a man that cannot seem to get his life together, whether it entails reconnecting with his daughter (played impressively by Evan Rachel Wood) or working in the meat department of a grocery store.  
I found the movie to be so effective because Randy “The Ram” is the kind of character you can’t help but root for, and the movie is made all the more tragic by the fact that he never seems to be able to do the right thing.  And even though the movie plays off of many of these big revelatory moments between The Ram and his daughter, or love interest Cassidy (a stripper played excellently by Marisa Tomei), the film never falls into gushy sentimentality, it seems very heartfelt and honest, and much of it is thanks to Rourke’s perfomance that certainly contains elements similar to his personal life.
Another great revelation is Darren Aronofsky, he’s certainly known for a much more stylized approach to his movies, but he shows an impecable amount of ability in a small character-driven movie like this.  And even though there are a few traces of Aronofsky’s signature touches, they all hit just the right notes in bringing us closer to the protagonist.  He also gives us what has got to be the most brutal cinematic depiction of professional wrestling ever put to film.  So basically I’d say The Wrestler is a triumph for all involved, I think Rourke undoubtedly deserves an Oscar for his performance and I highly recommend seeing this film.