BEST MOVIE: MONEYBALL
I walked into the theater fully expecting to hate it.
Based on the inspiring Michael Lewis book , Moneyball shows how Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane changed baseball by evaluating players using…. wait for it…. quantitative analysis. OK, not exactly a cinematic concept. I was picturing Brad Pitt, pulling a Russell Crowe, writing batting averages and RBI’s on his office window.
But the book means a lot to me and I was sure Hollywood would mess it up, mainly because its main theme is that your gut instincts are not to be trusted.
This flies in the face of Hollywood tradition as movies usually encourage us to lead with our hearts. Fall in love, trust your feelings, make impulsive decisions and everything will work out in the end.
Amazingly, Moneyball did not sell out. Aaron Sorkin’s script is just as crisp and compelling as his work on ‘The Social Network.’ Brad Pitt actually turned in a memorable performance. Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman deliver great supporting roles. And best of all, the movie inspire us to take big risks in life. Not with our hearts, but with our minds.
RUNNER UP: A BETTER LIFE
This tiny indie movie tells a powerful tale of an East L.A. gardner’s relationship with his son. Deserves a top spot on your Netflix queue.
WORST MOVIE: A DANGEROUS METHOD
Keira Knightley plays a mentally ill woman caught in a love triangle between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. It may sound like a workable concept, but absolutely no heat shows up on screen. Instead we are treated to endless, talkie, overwrought scenes. Keira Knightley is completely exposed as just another pretty face Her portrayal of a woman in the grips of madness was ludicrously, laugh out loud bad.
Hard to believe David Cronenberg, who directed A History of Violence and Crash (the good one, not the lame Academy award winner) could be responsible for this mess. He should have heeded the advice Freud famously gave his patients, ‘If you can’t do it, give up!’
BEST TV SHOW: BREAKING BAD
Around a year ago, tired of hearing my friends raving about BB, I decided to give it a try . I watched the pilot, liked it, and then started watching every episode in order. Within 6 weeks I was sleep deprived but all caught up and completely in love.
Breaking Bad is a true American classic. Possibly my favorite show of all time.
It’s what happens when a network lets talented creative people do what they do best without interference. After all, Breaking Bad breaks every false premise most networks accept as storytelling dogma:
1) The protagonist is unlikable
2) The protagonist is not seeking redemption (at least not yet)
3) The protagonist was a hard working, quiet family man when the series started and he was miserable. He is now a criminal mastermind and seems far more at peace with himself.
4) There’s no love story (with the exception of Jesse’s girlfriend in season 3)
5) The cast is not particularly good looking.
6) There are few “big” moments. Breaking Bad is a slow burn.
If you’re not on board yet, make a New Year’s resolution and get started. It’ll cost you some sleep but will be well worth it.
WORST TV SHOW: PAN AM
This is what happens when a network does not let talented creative people do what they do best.
The show was supposed to be network TV’s answer to Mad Men. Instead it is a living, breathing testament to why the network model is dying.
Pan Am follows every simple-minded premise too many executives believe comprise a hit show (i.e.; good looking cast, lots of big moments, continuous conflict, lots of sex and love triangles etc…) But as Henry Lee famously said way back during the OJ Simpson trial, ‘Garbage in. Garbage out.’ Operate under a set of faulty assumptions about what makes a show work and you get dreck like this.
Granted, I only made it through two episodes but the show was utterly unwatchable. Sure, the girls are great to look at and there are some nice, scenic shots but it’s all in service of complete nonsense. The plot lines are designed for an audience with the emotional maturity level of a ten year old.
Many have called this the golden age of TV. There are so many excellent, cinematic TV series to chose from. But the networks haven’t caught on, and are still trying to program for a broad, mainstream audience which doesn’t exist anymore. It’s already been broken up into hundreds of little pieces. And shows like Pan Am will do not nothing but make them drift even further away.
2011 was a very mediocre year for music. There were a lot of albums I liked (The Strokes, Rome, Beastie Boys, Dum Dum Girls, Cage the Elephant, Radiohead, the Horrors) but no classics. I doubt I’ll be listening to any of these records in five years. In fact, I still have Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs in heavy rotation, so nothing knocked my socks off this year.
The best of the 2011 lot might be The Kills’ Blood Pressures. Haunting, atmospheric, cool; this is music you can’t listen to until the sun goes down. The album sounds a little bit like Mazzy Starr with better instrumentation and more edge.
BTW: If you’re looking for a good gym workout CD, try Watch the Throne from Kanye and JayZ. A couple of the songs are total duds, but overall it has great energy, and will carry you through your half hour elliptical session.
WORST ALBUM: RHCP/I’M WITH YOU
First off, I’m sure there were plenty of worse albums released this year, but my expectations for the Red Hot Chili Peppers are sky high. To me, By the Way and Californiacation were classics, two of the best albums of the new century.
‘I’m with You’ is not a terrible record. The songs are light, catchy and radio friendly, but the edge is gone. With the release of Californiacation, RHCP had reinvented itself as this generation’s Nirvana. The songs were melodic, introspective, and had tons of depth. You could feel the pain of heartbreak, recovery and the melancholy of lost youth in every cut.
But now RHCP is just another easy breezy band, looking to cash in on their marquee name. The songs are as easy as a beautiful day in LA. But while Anthony Kiedis used to sing to lonely people under the bridge, his new songs are for the beautiful people shopping on Robertson.
This collection of interconnected short stories about people who work in a failing newspaper is stunning.
The stories are deceptively simple, but pack a huge emotional wallop. Tom Rachman is able to capture the dichotomy between the strong face people put on at the office and their emotionally weak and needy home lives. With amazing sensitivity, Rachman portrays the vulnerability and pain of each of his characters.
No one reads newspapers anymore, but The Imperfectionists will make you nostalgic for the days of the daily rag.
WORST BOOK: THE CLINTON TAPES
This is what happens when you take what would make a really good magazine article and try to turn it into an 800 page book.
Long winded, repetitive and meandering, reading The Clinton Tapes felt like reliving the 90′s in real time.