Monday, December 31, 2007

Best Movies of 2007

Until November, The Queen was the best movie I had seen in 2007, and it's not on this list because it was released in 2006. (That's why Helen Mirren won her Oscar back in the spring.)

Because I don't go to movies as often as I'd like, I'm currently inadequately prepared to write a 2007 Top 10 Movies list, so this is a Top 5 with some honorable mentions and other lists.

1. Juno. This movie was made for me: quirky yet believable characters, smart snappy dialogue, a darling low-fi indie soundtrack, half the cast of Arrested Development, and a Rainn Wilson cameo. How could I not love this? My one complaint is that Juno, the protagonist, does seem to be a bit too witty to be 16, but that is counterbalanced by her kid-like behavior. Covering themes of growing up, familial commitment, and just surviving high school, this is the best film I've seen all year.

2. Lars and the Real Girl. I thought about this movie for days after I saw it. This bizarre film, about a young man who falls in love with a life-size doll whom he believes is a real woman, is heartwarming without ever becoming sappy. Other critics might disagree with that sentiment, but Ryan Gosling as Lars was one of the most touching (and admittedly awkward) performances of the year. I hope he's not forgotten come Oscar time.

3. Once. I heard about this movie on NPR for about six months before I finally saw it, but it lives up the pretentious public radio hype. It's a low-budget drama about some Dublin street musicians who record an album. That's it. There's a guy and a girl. They (sort of) fall in love and record some beautiful songs, but it doesn't have a Hollywood ending. Refreshing, beautiful, and simple with a soundtrack to match.

4. Ratatouille. Okay, this was probably the best movie I had seen until November. Personally, this is my favorite Pixar movie to date. Remi the rat is my hero, and how could I not love a movie about food and cute animals set in Paris?

5. Superbad. I almost gave this spot to The Darjeeling Limited, but on further thought, I laughed more during Superbad. I laughed a lot. I was also disgusted, but I laughed a lot. Michael Cera is perfectly awkward, and Jonah Hill is … gross. And they captured high school more realistically than most teen movies. And then there's McLovin…

Honorable Mentions:
The Darjeeling Limited
Charlie Wilson's War
The Namesake
Kabluey (I saw this one at the Austin Film Fest earlier this year. It's an indie comedy that has yet to get wide distribution. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Fox Searchlight to pick it up.)

Biggest Disappointments:
Knocked Up
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

As for the disappointments, I will only say this: I'm disappointed Chuck and Larry was ever made and more disappointed in myself for seeing it. As for Knocked Up, I direct you to my friend Alison's blog, where she has an excellent analysis of both this film and Juno in regards to unplanned pregnancy.

Finally, here are the movies I want to see, ones that will probably be nominated for a zillion Oscars and make my list seem a little irrelevant:
Sweeney Todd
I'm Not There
No Country For Old Men

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Indie Music Year-in-Review

It is the Top 10 List time of year, and I tried coming up with my own Top 10 Best Indie Records of 2007. It proved difficult. For one, there are several albums I have yet to hear. When it comes to indie music, there are too many bands and too little time and money.

Also, this was a year of highly anticipated new releases from artists who are becoming more and more (gasp!) mainstream. As always, there were interesting trends. It was a good year for Canadians, electro-pop, and fittingly, Austin bands, so let's begin:

1. My favorite would have to be .... honestly, Feist. Despite her domination of gadget commercials (video iPods and Chocolate phones), her album The Reminder is masterful in both its lyrical maturity and variations of mood and style. It ranges from downright catchy to ethereal and pensive, her voice always stunning. If this is where mainstream music is headed, I'm following.

2. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky. In a departure from the experimental electronic and static-filled sound of previous recordings, Sky Blue Sky mirrowed its name in a refreshing return to simplicity. From the minute I heard the first single Impossible Germany, Unlikely Japan, I knew Tweedy and company had done something great, if rather Dead-head.

3. Okkervil River, The Stage Names. This Austin act has come into a lovely maturity and created something of a masterpiece with this latest effort. Layered and witty, it takes subtle Southern rock influences and fuses them with an easy indie pop sound. It makes the hometown proud.

4. Architecture in Helskinki, Places Like This. Experimental and chaotic as ever, this Australian band's latest effort seems to be from another planet yet surprisingly accessible. Poppy and catchy, strangely melodic and filled with ethnic beats, it's a 10-track roller coaster ride - quick and thrilling.

5. Iron and Wine, The Shepherd's Dog. With a great departure in style, Sam Beam has miraculously added percussion to his gentle vocals. Lyrically, the love songs are missing, but the story-telling is taken to new heights. While I was initially disappointed I wasn't getting another dreamy lullaby-filled album, I've been quite pleased with the new sound.

6. The Shins, Wincing the Night Away. This one wins for best title of the year, although I still struggle with Wincing's sometimes lyrical ambiguity. However, The Shins gain further credibility by handling mass success brilliantly and creating a stark, jarring album. The proof is this: It came out in January and I'm still listening to it regularly.

7. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible. I was worried about this one. Their first album, Funeral was too genius, too good, too big, too hyped. How could they possibly follow it? By making a powerful album with a lyrical political punch. An all too-telling critique of society, Neon Bible takes Springsteen-inspired rock and mixes it with the art school sound that made Arcade Fire such a hit in the first place.

8. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. I can't get the song The Underdog out of my head, and that's a prime example of Spoon's lasting appeal - catchy, solid rock music. I once heard Spoon described as "just a good band that makes good albums" and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga holds to that reputation.

9. Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight. I must admit, this one has grown and grown and grown and grown on me. On first listen, I hated the disco-inspired lyrics and music, but Jenny Lewis' voice can overcome anything. However, it has enough depth and surprises to stand on its own and not on Lewis' hype.

10. Lily Allen, Alright, Still. Okay, this one only technically counts, seeing as her music has been around for a good year and a half and she's a little too huge to be indie. But the album was finally released State-side in January, and her ska and reggae influenced bubblgum seems too sweet on the surface until you realize just how witty and cheeky she is.

Of the smaller acts I discovered this year, the best had to be Bishop Allen and Man Man, both based out of the Northeast with 2006 releases that I only discovered recently. However, they are distinctively different, with Bishop Allen having a lovely pop sensibility matched with creative story-telling, while Man Man is an insane, high-energy conglomeration of shouting and instrumentation. With constant touring and some recognition (Bishop Allen's catchy "Click, Click, Click" has been featured in a camera commercial) both have made it into the larger indie consciousness in 2007.

Overall, it was a good year for indie music, and I'm sure 2008 will be equally entertaining and thought-provoking.

[Note: Several excellent artists have released new albums this year that I have yet to hear, including Beiruit, The New Pornographers, Jose Gonzalez, Josh Ritter, and Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah! When I finally get around to these and others of 2007, I hope I can add a 2007 Year-in-Review, part two. For now, I'll stick to my criticism thus far.]

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Recycle Right

Every time I take my plastics to my apartment complex's recycling bin, I am overwhelmed by the smell of garbage. I'm more disturbed by what is carelessly tossed into this bin. It smells like a garbage can because it is treated like a garbage can.

I wish I could get a megaphone and walk around the complex, informing my neighbors of their recycling mistakes. They are not helping the environment by throwing "unaccepted" things into the recycling bin. The municipality will only throw them away at the center. I also wish most people would realize it's better for everyone if they rinse out their recyclables before chucking them.

But I know the megaphone would do no good (and probably get me in trouble with the leasing office). People have to motivated on their own. So, I'll do what I can by telling those who will listen. That would be you -- I hope you care.

Here are some things I know about recycling:
  • Most municipalities, even progressive ones like Austin, only take certain items. Mine only takes the following: 1 and 2 plastics, newspaper, "clean" paper, and aluminum. It does not take: glass, poly-coated or any other type of cardboard, plastic bags, and 3-7 plastics.
  • It is important to check the plastic type. The type number is at the bottom, inside the recycling sign. My municipality only takes 1s and 2s, so things like yogurt cups and styrofoam are not accepted.
  • There are several recycling drop-offs around town that will take items the city does not take. Whole Foods takes cardboard and plastic bags, Ikea takes batteries and light bulbs, and a near-by, privately run recycling center takes glass and poly-coated cardboard.
  • Poly-coated cardboard is cardboard covered in plastic. This includes almost all packaged food boxes (cereal, cookies, mac and cheese, frozen dinners, etc.) and these get thrown away all the time. Or worse yet, thrown in with the newspaper.
  • Reusing is the best way to decrease your carbon footprint. It takes far less energy to reuse a piece of glass or plastic than it does to recycle it. (Although, recycling a product uses less energy than creating one does.)

So, my dear friends and readers, if you care about the earth and want to lessen your daily impact, recycle correctly. It's easy: rinse out everything, make sure it is accepted by your municipality, find alternative drop-off locations for other items, and reuse as much as possible. It's easy, I promise. Remember, I am self-proclaimed as lazy and I can do it.

[Note: If Kathryn reads this, she should have self-satisfaction knowing: 1) she is doing more than any person I know to decrease her daily impact and 2) she has made me aware of many of the issues pointed out in this post. Kathryn, I rarely will give you reason to be more smug, but this time, it's well-deserved.]