2010 miscellany

December 30, 2010 § 1 Comment

I don’t feel up to writing a handful more song reviews now, but I still want to make a post as part of my year-in-review before I vanish off to Gloucestershire, as 2010 is almost over and I want to cram in as much fun as I can. So this is a miscellany – the things I liked this year that I can’t construct a list out of. In the next couple of weeks I hope to finish my year in review postings – I want to write a few more track reviews and make you all a mix on 8tracks, and I also want to write about my favourite books of the year (which is why I haven’t included those here). I hoped to finish it all before the year was out, but it doesn’t seem like that’s possible. Ah well. 2011’s going to be terrifying for me (my final exams, hopefully I’ll get a degree, hopefully I’ll move somewhere else and get a job and other things)… I may as well start it by looking backwards.

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main regret

(photo by bobaliciouslondon)

Not going on any of the student protests.

I supported them, but didn’t go on any because I got too nervous at the idea – I figured I would have been no fun, one extra person wouldn’t have made much difference since it was clear that lots of people were already going, I hate being in a big crowd of people that I can’t escape from… the actual conditions of the protests themselves sound like the kind of thing that would have just made me cry from some kind of overpowering fear of nothing in particular (although obviously the violence from the police means that protesters did have something to fear, and they went anyway, because they had to).

Basically, protests are not for me, but. You know. They were important. They are important. And I feel that I should have gone.

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radio shows I love:

Lauren Laverne’s show (on 6music),

Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service (on 6music),

All Songs Considered (on NPR),

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me (on NPR),

Just A Minute (on Radio 4),

Shaun Keaveny’s breakfast show (on 6music),

Huw Stephens (on Radio 1),

Tom Robinson’s shows (on 6music).

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favourite new magazine

issue 1!

Oh Comely. I got given a copy of this at a garden party run by the women’s campaign at my university this summer (the event itself was wonderful, with nice food and a school sports day-style “olympics”), and have bought each issue since (although I’m still searching the most recent one out). It’s beautifully designed, and the articles in it are interesting, well-written, and not just about fashion or celebrities or anything else. They review toasters, they did a long piece in the second issue about which unlikely things will make it through the post and which will not (basically, unwrapped porn), they interviewed Emmy the Great, had a piece about homebrewing from a kit, a feature over a few pages about a handful of writers’ ex-best friends, and they profile illustrators and artists… It’s not a massively taxing read, and sometimes I wish the articles were a bit longer, but that’s all. I just want more of it.

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tv shows I watched and loved, to varying degrees


How I Met Your Mother (okay, season five was shit, but I’m enjoying the new one so far),

True Blood,

Man vs. Food,

The QI Christmas Special (although QI is VERY variable),

The Trip,

You Have Been Watching (pretty much just most things with Charlie Brooker, really),

Horrible Histories (the video above is a song from it. I think it’s the BBC’s best sketch show).

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favourite clothes wot I bought

I know, right. Clothes. But just look at these trousers! I got them in Zara, and they cost slightly more than I’d usually spend on trousers – but it was worth it. I wear them almost all the time (and when I’m not wearing them, I’m wearing some blue cords that are cut in a similar way). They’re comfortable and they’re more interesting than skinny jeans, while being almost as versatile and less likely to make my legs feel horrible and squeezed. Also, when I wear them with a comfy jumper I feel like I’m dressed as an old man. Yay.

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favourite photo that I took

I liked a lot of the photos I took in Rotterdam, too (more on that below), but I like this photograph of a streetlamp on New College Lane. Largely for the lighting, but the lamp itself is nice too. Especially when you walk past it on wintery evenings, and it beams through strange heavy fog. Click here to see it bigger.

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favourite foods I had never eaten before

Hot and sour soup
Ohhh, it’s so good. Especially when you have something less hot after having the soup as a starter, and your mouth slowly cools down through the meal. It just tastes so good.

Lamb
Well, I’d always hated it before. Then I had some slightly minted skewers done on a barbecue down by the river, and they were wonderful. When it’s done right – minted, well cooked – it’s just so good. Maybe I’ll try some seafood soon and realise that I love it. Who knows.

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favourite stately home visit

I’m so sorry. I’m now of the age where I like visiting big old houses (YES, I even belong to the National Trust now), and Snowshill Manor is a particularly strange one. It’s kind of like the Pitt Rivers Museum, if it was all just crammed into one dark house that was really meant to be lived in. It had cabinets that I could barely see into, machines that I didn’t understand, toys, whole suits of samurai armour, bicycles, musical instruments… It was brilliant.

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favourite holiday

hello tom

My boyfriend and I went to Rotterdam by ferry – I suggested the trip, booked it, got out guidebooks and mostly decided where we went. I’d been to Holland a few times before, but always when I was much younger, or on a school trip. I could probably have been more adventurous with our itinerary – on the last day we meant to go to the tax museum (!) but ended up just playing chess in the communal area of the hostel we’d stayed in, but by that point we were tired and kind of aware of the march of time. But while we were there we got to go to the Boijmans museum in Rotterdam (it’s my favourite art museum, it’s so great), we visited the sex museum in Amsterdam (definitely less fun, it was hideous), we ate in the same Moroccan restaurant two days running because it was so delicious, and we found a Waterstone’s in the middle of a foreign city, just selling English language books.

We got to just wander by canals. We got stupidly lost in a strange bit of Amsterdam while it was raining. We didn’t get to visit the cat museum, so I have a reason to go back one day. It was just fairly exciting having to sort everything out – although at times (like when trying to buy a train ticket from Rotterdam to Amsterdam, jesus christ they’re expensive) I did kind of wish somebody else would just tell us what to do. But you know, it was our first holiday by ourselves. We had fun. At some points Tom just stopped still and said “We’re in Rotterdam!”

I even enjoyed the ferry.

tracks of the year, #2

December 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

Here’s the second part of my list (in no particular order!) of my favourite tracks of 2010. The posting of these might slow up for a while, since I’m off to Gloucestershire for a week on Thursday (if the trains are working) and probably won’t pack my laptop, but I’ll try my best to get as many of these done before the new year rings in as I can, anyway. Leave a comment if you agree/disagree/want to share anything with me!

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Janelle Monae – Oh Maker (buy album here, or the track here)

I could easily have picked other songs from The ArchAndroid to write about, but there’s already been a lot of attention paid to Tightrope and Cold War (especially its video, which I love), and this is my other favourite, although it’s more understated than the others – at first, anyway.

At the start, Monae sings over an acoustic guitar, and it feels almost out of place on her album, like she’s suddenly made a retreat to something safer, less interesting. But what starts off quiet and slightly droning – like the rainy day that it describes – suddenly becomes loud, showier than it was at first, and the images that she uses are unexpected and expansive without being jarring or pointless. She asks if the addressee knew that ‘this love would burn so yellow / becoming orange and in its time / explode from grey to black then bloody wine’. The lyrics don’t show off – but they also avoid sounding like anything staid, like any other pop songs.

I know that The ArchAndroid is meant to be part of a wider science fiction narrative that Monae has constructed, and it’s often been referred to as a concept album, but this track, and the other great songs on here, stands alone; the story of love and destruction that it tells unfolds, restrained and sad, amid quietly changing styles of production and instrumentation.

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Metric/The Clash at Demonhead – Black Sheep (buy Scott Pilgrim soundtrack here, although it’s got the Metric version on. As far as I can tell, you can’t buy the version with Brie Larson singing anywhere. Boo!)

I prefer the version of this that’s used in the Scott Pilgrim film (which is where the video clip above is taken from, although it’s an extended version of the scene), with Brie Larson singing, over the version that’s just done by Metric, although both are good – it’s slightly less produced (although obviously it still doesn’t sound much like a live performance), and I possibly prefer Larson’s voice. I’m not even sure when Metric put this out, but the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack came out this summer, so I feel justified including it here. Every time I listen to it, I just think, how could I not?

It’s got such a great opening – in the film it works really well having Envy start it with “hello again, friend of a friend”, considering what you’re about find out about Ramona and Todd on bass’s relationship – but, just thinking about the song by itself, I love the way that the vocals sound kind of staccato, almost spoken. It sounds like a challenge. Not sure quite what the lyrics mean, if I’m honest (and neither do the people over at songmeanings.net, but then they never do), but when I hear her sing, it’s clearer. It is a challenge.

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The Hold Steady – We Can Get Together (buy album here, or buy the song here)

Surely the year’s most surprising namecheck has to be in this song, when Craig Finn sings about 90s indiepop heroes Heavenly. But it doesn’t feel like he’s just referencing them for the sake of it – part of their story gets woven into the song, and they become a way of remembering somebody else, somewhere else, something that they are a reminder of.

I don’t think this is thought of as one of The Hold Steady’s best albums – I certainly haven’t got through it much – but I keep returning to this song. I think it’s the opening – there’s something about the repetition of ‘heaven’ in it that tugs at me. Most pop songs seem to rhyme, and so does this one – but when words, or parts of words, are deftly repeated, it helps something paint itself inside my head. These are the two lines that open the song:

She played “Heaven Isn’t Happening”, she played “Heaven Is a Truck”
She said Heavenly was cool, I think they were from Oxford…

It shows a kind of sideways thought process, a way of remembering different things that ‘she’ liked through word-association, rather than by thinking about all of the songs by one band that she liked, or the music that she used to listen to the most. It doesn’t feel like wordplay, but the repetition still helps it become memorable, still works like internal rhyme. The backing vocals (on the studio version) that go ‘baa-baa-baa’ are beautiful, and fade out at the end after the rest of the song has finished – they’re never overpowering or too insistent, which makes a lot of difference in a song, like this, that is not a big dumb pop anthem; it’s too clever for that. Not that there’s anything wrong with those songs; but this one talks about other bands and their myths of origin, about growing up and old, about imagining what you can’t really remember. It’s about listening to music, without being self-congratulatory, nostalgic without being shit.

I listened to it so many times this summer that I’ve created a whole kind of internal life around it; when I hear it I just imagine being in Oxford, sitting on Headington Hill, listening to it on repeat, even though that never even happened.

tracks of the year, #1

December 27, 2010 § 2 Comments

I spent a few days thinking about how best to present a review of the music that’s been released this year; I had to compose a personal top ten as part of a staff poll at the student paper I sometimes write for, but I’m not very happy with it and don’t necessarily want to write about each of them. I do really get into a small number of albums, but the only one that’s really grabbed me this year is Los Campesinos!’s Romance is Boring (it’s only a fiver at the moment!), and writing about ten albums as if I know them and have considered them intimately when I like a handful of songs from each would be dishonest and probably kind of boring. Instead, I’m going to write a series of track reviews, in no particular order, followed by a simple list of a top fifteen or so once they’re done. Here are the first few reviews – I hope you like them. As always, leave me a comment if you agree/disagree, or want to discuss anything further. More reviews will follow over the coming week – I’m not sure how many track reviews I’ll write in all, I’ll probably keep writing them until my spotify ‘best of 2010’ playlist dries up (or I do).

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Meursault – Crank Resolutions (buy the album here, and there’s a free download of the track too)

I saw Meursault at Truck festival this summer (which was, for the most part, a dreadful experience). I saw a lot of bands there, but I think their set – early in the day, shorter than I wanted – was my favourite. They can repeat one phrase over and over again, and make me feel like I’m being punched in the stomach. This song is a good example; it’s emotional and upsetting, as he sings, slightly broken, ‘as they carry you away’, but it’s not histrionic or overblown. Meursault are never sentimental, but they’re sincere, in a lovely, sad way. The instrumentation is sparing; this makes it all the more moving when the electronics are there, when another member of the band doe sstart playing. It all matters. When he sings “I broke down – on New Year’s Day – and I mixed my drinks – and I lost my way”, and when he yells out after the line ‘they carried you away’ repeats, it makes me ache.

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Darren Hanlon – Scenes From A Separation (buy album here, and the song here)

This isn’t the single from Hanlon’s latest album; that’s All These Things, and there’s a charming video for it that’s worth watching. But I think this is the better song; while the other one is a duet (although Hanlon sings more), this is just him, singing about a relationship breaking up. It’s a break-up song, but it feels quiet, not overpowered with grief; the song starts with the lines ‘we earmarked our August vacation / as a fine place to fall apart / then heard that a trial separation / was a quaint idea for a new start’, and it almost starts to feel safe, as if everything was planned, as if no emotions were involved. But as the song develops, it becomes clear that this isn’t the case; towards the end, Hanlon sings the lines ‘I wouldn’t trade one heartbroken minute / for a year’s worth of dull happiness’. He can see the relationship and its end for what it was; he and his partner did fall apart, he was heartbroken – but it was still worth it, for what he felt and experienced. It also allows him to sing, at the very end of the song, that although, he’s moving on, he knows that the person he addresses is ‘worth mourning for’. He can see the good and the bad in what has passed; this is why no one emotion overpowers him. But there’s still a quiet pain in the song, even as he sings about what he has learned. It takes time.

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Kanye West, feat. (a fuckload of other artists but mostly) Nicki Minaj – Monster (get the album here, and get the song free here)

This song contains possibly some of the most ridiculous lyrics of the year, and not in a good way – who can forget Jay-Z saying “everybody want to know what my achilles heel is / LOOOVE, I don’t get enough of it…”, or Kanye West’s ‘put the pussy in a sarcophagus’? But Nicki Minaj just makes this song. Listen to it all the way through once – the rest is still competent, and quite funny in places, although Bon Iver grates – but then, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself going back to 3:35 over and over again in order to hear Minaj start her onslaught. She changes her voice’s tone, pitch, accent from line to line, she’s sweetly sarcastic, then she shouts, and then she screams.

Her writing and timing make her untouchable. She addresses an unnamed adversary, incredulously: ‘so, let me get this straight, wait, I’m the rookie / but my features and my shows ten times your pay / fifty K for a verse, no album out? / yeah, my money’s so tall that my barbie’s gonna climb it / hotter than a middle eastern climate’, turning masculine chart-rap’s lyrical obsession with money as a shorthand for status and dominance on its head. But apart from all of this; she’s gloriously fun. She raps about cheesecake and barbie dolls, she shouts that she wears ‘gold teeth and fangs / ‘CAUSE THAT’S WHAT A MOTHERFUCKING MONSTER DO’, and she blithely spells out ‘f-u-c-k’ in a way that had me just repeating it in my head, mindlessly. You’ll want to hear it again. She packs so much in as she steamrolls over what is ostensibly Kanye’s song; it’s instantly catchy, and dense enough to reward twenty, thirty, forty rewindings.

films of the year, pt.2

December 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Here’s the second part of the list of my favourite films of 2010, with the best two that I saw. It’s gone midnight here in the UK, so if you celebrate it, I hope you’re having a good one. Anyway, onto the films. As before, there are probably spoilers here, if you care about that.

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2. Dogtooth

something's about to go very wrong here

I’ve seen this film discussed a lot elsewhere, and it was number 1 in the (excellent) list over at Tiny Mix Tapes. I went in not knowing much about it, though – it wasn’t a particularly high-profile release – all I really knew was that it was meant to be about some parents who taught their children the wrong meanings of words. But it’s so much more than that – the film is about a family who exist in their house and garden, and only their father can ever leave. The three children are now grown up, but they still act like they’re pre-pubescent; the two girls have no idea what sex is (the parents get in a woman to have sex with the son, setting the events of the film in motion, as apparently his sexual urges are difficult to ignore), and they aren’t allowed to watch anything that hasn’t been taped by the family of themselves. Their world has been reduced to a tiny, enclosed area; they are told that outside their home there is only wasteland. The ocean is reduced to their sofa.

The film that results from this premise is beautifully shot – the scene towards the end where the two sisters dance is one of the most incredible and visually powerful parts of a film that I have ever seen. It’s disturbing, and upsetting, and although it seems to be often read as a kind of allegory or commentary on the world around us, it’s not reductive, and it’s not simplistic. It contains one awful, horrible, moment of blunt violence, and it contains Frank Sinatra songs that are played to the children, who believe it is their grandfather singing. When the father wants to have fish for dinner, he puts fish in the swimming pool. When planes fly overhead, the parents throw toy planes into the garden and pretend that they have fallen out of the sky. And when the older sister discovers something about the world outside – that the world outside exists – she tries her hardest to understand, and it doesn’t seem like she ever quite makes it. I can’t even begin to discuss here the extent of the problems and fragile moments that Dogtooth encompasses. It’s wonderful and horrible, and it doesn’t try to be beautiful all the way through. That’s why it works. Some people have described it as an offbeat comedy. Don’t believe them. There’s nothing comedic at the heart of this film; there’s nothing funny about the older sister’s despair and attempted escape, about the way that she and her siblings have been utterly ruined.

1. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

stacey pilgrim and her little brother

So, finally, this is my top film. It was probably the most visually exciting and individual of all the films I saw this year, except probably Toy Story 3 (Pixar are still the best at computer-generated animation, and it was stunning). Toronto in the snow looks kind of amazing, and the bright colours and wonderful sets were all perfect. Some reviewers seemed to find the film and its visual concerns irritating, as if they saw the video game tics and features that pop up throughout it as somehow separable from the rest of the story, or unnecessary. But video games are integral; the film works so well because it functions both as a film that tells the kind of story you can imagine a video game telling, and because it functions as a film about the ways in which video games make people think. The story can just be fantastical, and I find it the most enjoyable when I just think of it like this; but it is also about the reference points that an entire younger generation of people use when they think about what’s happening around them.

I saw Scott Pilgrim twice, unlike any other film on this list, and I’d like to see it again (why wasn’t it released on DVD in time for Christmas?!) – it depends so much on the small, intricate details, and it really rewards rewatching, deep engagement. It’s also just so funny, and it often caught me by total surprise. Kieran Culkin as Scott’s roommate Wallace totally steals every scene that he’s in – he has the best lines, and delivers them with a perfect mixture of self-awareness and surrender to the role. Ellen Wong is great, too, as Knives Chau – she goes from being a very young high school pupil, whose relationship with Scott is chaste but still weird, to being angry and powerful. There are so many great characters who only play smaller parts in the film – Anna Kendrick as Scott’s younger sister (although she still calls him little brother, because she is so much more grown up than him) is wonderful, as are Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, Alison Pill…

Scott Pilgrim’s funny because it’s not afraid to play around with various genre conventions, because it knows what people think about, what people care about, and shows how that affects them. But it’s a great film because it does not necessarily like its main character. Scott is not shown as particularly wonderful – he’s a dick to his girlfriends (he doesn’t even dump Knives Chau before he starts seeing Ramona, and Wallace has to practically force him into even bothering at all), he’s too caught up in his own projected ideas of what other people are like (he’s obsessed with Ramona before he even knows her, and he’s excited about dating Knives because she goes to high school, not because of who she is), and he doesn’t have a job or do much with his life at all. I believe that the film makes his personal, numbing fecklessness quite clear, and is critical of it. But it’s still fun, and exciting, and it shows in extensive detail exactly how great and weird and terrible all the people around him are and can be, too. It’s a film about being shit and living inside your own head, and about the problems that can cause. But the inside of your head can be great and fun. You just have to realise that it’s not always the best place to live.

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So, now that that’s done with, here’s a list of films that I didn’t see this year that I wanted to:

Youth in Revolt, Winter’s Bone, Tiny Furniture, Easy A, Life During Wartime, Made in Dagenham, Tamara Drewe. Never Let Me Go and Black Swan, too, but I don’t think they’ve had a UK release yet, so hopefully I’ll still get to catch them. Do leave a comment if you want to discuss anything I’ve said here, or if you want to disagree with my order/my reasoning. Next, I’m hoping to write something about my favourite songs of the year.

films of the year, pt.1

December 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’m going to split this list into two posts, because it’s reaching unwieldy proportions. This first part is about two unlisted films, and then numbers 5-3 on my list of films of the year. I’ll conclude the list tomorrow.

Now that I’ve got my podcast list out of the way, it’s time to turn to one of the more typical topics for these lists – films of the year. I’m going to say straight away that I don’t get to the cinema that often, and I can’t promise a top 10, but I have a top 5 and some comments to make about the other films that I watched this year. Because of the way that films have various different release dates depending on where you are, and depending on whether you can make it to film festivals or not, a handful of these may usually be thought of as films that came out in 2009. I don’t live in London and can’t usually make it to films on limited release, so as far as I am concerned anything that was on wide release in the UK in 2010 can be included here. The order of these films, as in most of my lists, is fairly arbitrary – the ones I’ve actually numbered are all great, I liked them a lot, and they’re worth seeing. Although, I’d make sure you’re prepared for the film at number two. Leave some time after it to have a think and read/watch/do something cheerful and happy before you go to sleep. The films that I’ve written about, and haven’t numbered? Well, we’ll come to that now.

Oh, and these reviews contain spoilers. In case you care about that.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Inception

I’m afraid I can’t include this in my actual list – it’s certainly not one of my favourites of the year, and I don’t think it can possibly be one of the best films when considered objectively, either. It’s beautiful, and the way it was filmed, and the ideas behind it, are exciting. I love how they’ve thought out the concept of dream architects, and the different layers of the unconscious (it’s bullshit, but quite fun, elegant bullshit). But I tend not to like thrillers, especially not thrillers that have massive, stupid, gaping plot-holes (see the image that I’ve inserted below – once you’ve read it, you can never go back), and certainly not when their deepest concerns are with money and big business.

oh, plot holes.
The film is not about Cobb’s relationship with his kids, or his dead wife. It’s about him making some money for somebody else, which is, because of some tired film conventions, the key to him getting back to his kids. It’s a film full of characters that have boring, lacklustre convictions and motives, devoid of compassion or any believable reason to lack it. It’s about stupid, overblown plot machinations that the writers haven’t even had the grace to fit to their own internal logic. It’s capitalist to its core, and it’s stupider than it should be because of it.

Also, it’s too long. But the actors are mostly quite good, even though almost all of their parts are humourless and underwritten. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, especially, can do better than this. But he’s committed, which makes a lot of difference. it’s not quite unbearable.

At least it’s well made.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 1

oh, remus.

A lot of people have been talking about how the book really should have just been made into one film, because it doesn’t feel like there’s enough material here to hold it together. I don’t quite agree – I think that there was a lot of good material in this film, and I’m glad it had time to breathe. I loved the camping scenes, I loved them travelling around a darkened, empty vision of sad, rural Britain. I especially loved the scene in which Harry and Hermione dance to Nick Cave’s otherworldly, booming voice; nothing is alright or fixed because of it, but it’s kind of important anyway. But it does feel weirdly uneven; the film also contains a stupid, shambling heist in the Ministry of Magic, an unnerving scene in which lots of different characters polyjuice themselves into looking like Harry and feel disgusted with their borrowed bodies, and a ridiculous opening in which Voldemort and his followers sit around a massive table, and drain the scene of any menace it could have had.

I like the Harry Potter books, and I know these scenes are mostly based on what J.K. Rowling has written. I often like films that veer wildly between totally different tones, too, but somehow these just don’t work. It’s because the film is kind of trying to be a children’s film, still, despite everything. But it also wants to be grown up and smart and sad. J.K. Rowling’s book, I believe, does manage this, but the film just… doesn’t. One of the most terrifying parts of the book, when Bathilda Bagshot is revealed to be a possessed, rotting corpse, just doesn’t work onscreen – the whole sequence is a bit limp. What is scary when being read at 4am, when the reader has space to imagine everything exactly, intimately, is not what is scary in a film. The film is at its best when it shows the characters struggling with what has to be done, when it is not trying to be funny and becoming an atonal exaggeration in the process; the filmmakers are not, it seems, as adept at weaving together vastly different moods as J.K. Rowling. They don’t give the viewers enough imaginative space to allow the scenes to exist alongside one another.

I imagine the next film will be more of the same, but I’ll still go along and cry stupidly when Remus dies. And there’s enough good stuff here – the beautiful animated retelling of the fable of the deathly hallows, the shots of the forest, inside the tent, the radio – that I’m excited about seeing more.

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5. A Single Man

So in America this film came out last year, but it only got a wider release here in about February. I actually only saw it last month at the Magdalen Film Society, but I’m glad I finally got around to it – it’s beautiful. It’s such a quiet, non-verbal film – so much of the story is shown in the way Colin Firth moves, the way he arranges his things. I thought Nicholas Hoult was quite a weird casting choice, and it almost didn’t work, but his scenes are with a great mix of uneasiness and just utter, utter sadness and despair, which feels right. I just wish looking at him hadn’t jarred me out of the film quite so much. Julianne Moore is pretty great, but mostly as a foil to Colin’s George, as she is ridiculous and strange and he is… not. Not quite. Not any more.

My favourite parts of the film might be his memories – all tinted, faded, bright colours, all movement, all glimpse and then nothing. And oh my god, the conversation he has on the phone – it makes me want to curl up and wait until I can stop thinking about it. It’s just too painful to bear.

4. Toy Story 3

"we're number 4 in the list! how wonderful!"

I saw this in 3D. What a waste of money that is – I wear glasses already and resent having to perch another, clunkier pair on my stumpy little nose as well, and after a few minutes I couldn’t even tell that it was 3D anyway. However.

This is the first children’s film in ages that really shook me up, really made me forget the kind of conventions that the writers and filmmakers were working within. The scene where they all hold hands in the incinerator tore at me, and I really felt like the characters were in danger. I genuinely thought, for a horrified minute, that it might all go wrong – that they might be destroyed, together. They held hands and just stared at this insurmountable obstacle, the fire before them – and it wasn’t what I’d expected. It wasn’t anything I was prepared for. My problem with a lot of books for younger readers, a lot of films for younger viewers, is that the danger often doesn’t ever seem real. The plots never have convincing points at which everything could fail, and everything could go wrong. But this film got it right. It could have failed them, and they could have been destroyed. But somehow they were saved. It felt miraculous, precarious; it didn’t come across as some kind of big, blustering filmic destiny. And that’s right. That’s how it should always feel.

3. The Social Network

I haven’t seen, as far as I know, anything else that Aaron Sorkin has ever written or been heavily involved in, so I wasn’t particularly aware of his writing style before seeing this. It works really well, and manages to be full of incredible one-liners without seeming too mannered, too much. Jesse Eisenberg says his fast, sharp lines like he’s trying to be dead-eyed, like he’s trying not to care. Except that he does care, about some things, but he’s not sure how or why or what to do about it. He puts in an incredible, awkward, complete performance around the smart phrases that he wrings out, and that’s why the film’s great; because there’s so much beneath the script, and nothing is neglected. It’s easy to sound smart and dickish; it’s harder to get beneath that. Andrew Garfield is wonderful, too, at being cocky and wounded and struggling to deal with what’s happening around him, and his loss of control. I’m not sure about Justin Timberlake, which is a shame since this is a film that so heavily relies on its actors’ performances, but I think he just about pulls it off.

It’s possibly a bit too long for a film that’s really about some guys suing another guy, but it’s never really boring, and it rarely ever feels like it’s even about that. Because it’s about relationships (but not in a naff, stupid, ‘let’s look at the facebook-generation’ way), it’s about young people and capitalism now, and it’s about being smart and curious and not understanding what the people around you care about, and why. Before I saw it, before I was told that I needed to see it, I thought it would be boring. I’m so glad that I was wrong. Inception’s plot requires this big, capitalist MacGuffin for the plot to be able to hang together even tenuously, and its arbitrariness shows. But here the hyper-capitalist reality that the characters exist in is important, as it is both the film’s frame and the root of many (but not all, or even most) of the divisions between them. It’s critical, it’s funny, and it’s important, too.

picture perfect forever #1

December 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

One thing that I’ve discovered this year that I now love fairly deeply is the Flickr Commons. It’s basically a searchable archives of copyright-free photographs (and illustrations, maps, etc.) held in museums’ collections from around the world. There are a lot of really old photographs here – the one above is from, as the link says, 1893. And it’s beautiful – I’m fascinated with the 19th and early 20th century world fairs, expositions, etc., and here you can see the beautiful, ornate structures, temporary monuments to the manufacturing and electric industries, and they’re perfectly sharp, unmoving. Below them, the people are a blur – it’s a tell-tale sign that it’s a long exposure, that this is an old photograph. The people seem more transient than the structures around them – but the people would have mostly outlived the structures that tower over them. All that beauty for a large, industrial fair; a temporary exposition. Incredible.

I’m going to make a series of posts looking at my favourite photographs from the Flickr Commons. If you want to suggest one, leave a comment or drop me an email.

podcasts of the year

December 23, 2010 § 3 Comments

I listened to podcasts before this year, fairly sporadically – I think I downloaded Daniel Kitson’s “podcast” a year and a half ago, after I saw him support The Lucksmiths at their last gig in London (I say “podcast” because really it’s just an old Edinburgh show that’s been cut into four parts and put on itunes for free), and I downloaded a handful of BBC podcasts towards the end of 2009 to listen to while doing other things, which didn’t really work. But last Christmas, I started listening to Adam & Joe – I realised that to properly take them in, I needed to listen to them without trying to read things, without constantly checking twitter or whatever else I had on my computer screen at the same time. This fairly basic realisation meant that, this year, I fell hard for the format. I love listening to people talk about interesting things for half an hour. I even like them when they talk about boring things, as long as the people talking are funny enough. So here’s my list of the best podcasts I’ve listened to this year – I’ve put them in some sort of ranking, but it’s fairly arbitrary. They’re all great, and they’re all worth listening to.

SPECIAL MENTIONS

The Adam & Joe 6music podcasts

adam vs. joe

Only three or so new podcasts went out this year (their special Glastonbury shows), although a few old ones are currently up for download as some sort of small present from the BBC, and there’s a new show airing on Christmas day (with the podcast following later on). The small level of their output is why they’re only getting a special mention – they’re not really a 2010 concern, unlike the other podcasts on this list. But Adam & Joe podcasts are the ones I listened to the most this year – they’re the ones I listen to when I can’t sleep, when I need cheering up, when I’m feeling groggy and sad and not particularly alert. They don’t have guests, they don’t usually pick a particular topic to base a show around – it’s just like sitting in the pub with two old friends, and listening to them talk. I’ve listened to some of them over and over again, I’ve listened to some of them while walking around Oxford, laughing stupidly and earned myself strange looks from strangers in return. They’re great. The blog post that announced their Christmas show, and the video that Adam and Joe filmed for it, seemed to strongly imply that this was it for them on 6music – that this was one last return to the station, and after that, no more. I hope that we’ve got it wrong. I hope they’ll come back for another run. But even if they don’t, we’ve still got the podcasts.
Daniel Kitson Podcasts

daniel kitson

As I say above, these aren’t really podcasts, and this year wasn’t the first time I heard them. But I listened to this whole show while walking through rural, hilly Devon, and there’s something about it that just got into my head. The things he talks about – his best friend Sam, his discovery of the way that failure can be exquisite, and his relationship with food, as well as many others – have really affected the way I think about things. I find myself quoting him when I’m trying to articulate concepts, I find myself seeing things differently to how I did before. And it’s just a beautiful show. The recording’s also incredibly, incredibly quiet – even when my iPod’s volume is turned right up, it’s sometimes hard to hear everything he says. One to listen to through headphones when walking somewhere quiet, or when curled up in bed while everybody else is asleep.

3. Little Atoms

tim minchin & rebecca watson

This is a podcast of a show on London’s Resonance FM., based around secularism and ideas of the Enlightenment. They usually get one guest in per show to talk about topics that are loosely related to this – sometimes they’ll be talking to scientists, sometimes comedians, and lots of other people besides. They also record shows with lots of shorter interviews backstage at Robin Ince’s Nine Lessons & Carols for Godless Children and other similar gatherings of nerdy people throughout the year – their special show from this year’s Big Libel Gig is great, especially when they ask all of the guests to libel one another, and they take to it with the amount of glee that you’d expect.

Their archive is fairly awe-worthy – you can click through to see any appearances made by particular guests, and often the most interesting speakers have returned lots of times. I’ve listened to a lot of their shows, but I’ve barely even scratched the surface of what they’ve done – next year I need to return and listen to more of their podcasts that feature guests I haven’t heard of. Their podcasts are available through both iTunes and their own website, which is wonderfully convenient, and there’s a new one available every week (although they’re currently on a break until January the 14th).

2. The Bugle

john oliver & andy zaltzman

Possibly the best thing that’s ever been part of The Times, and luckily it’s one of the few things that they make that didn’t disappear behind Murdoch’s paywall earlier this year. The show’s tagline is “audio newspaper for a visual world”, but really it’s a satirical look at the week’s news, with a focus on the stupid things that various world leaders have done, international sports events (Andy Zaltzman also does shows about cricket for the BBC, and has a blog about it too), and giant penises that have been graffitied on roofs and lawns the world over.

Andy Zaltzman’s extensive lists of puns and general, tenuously held-together bullshit that dances around various topics are wonderful, as with each new sentence he bulldozes over John Oliver’s cries of pain and anguish, but the best bits are when they just gleefully discuss whatever the most ridiculous items in the papers have been this week; it’s like having Reuters Oddly Enough read to you in the funniest way possible.

I love when they respond to listeners’ emails, and the current, strange war of words between the show’s listeners and the new producer, Chris, has produced one of this year’s most admirably shit websites; the running joke becomes funnier, and meaner, with every passing week. It’s a weekly show, although sometimes when one of them is busy they put up a compilation instead of something new, but they often include material cut from previous weeks in these so it’s always worth the download. If you go to the rss feed then you can download loads of past shows at once, and hoard them in your mp3 player like a greedy child.

1. Robin Ince and Josie Long’s Utter Shambles

i love you, robin and josie

This podcast is less prolific than the others that I’ve written about – it’s not really weekly, and currently there are nine in this series (although there’s another lot available on iTunes from a couple of years ago, and there’s an episode with Edgar Wright that Robin said he was hoping to put up before Christmas). It’s more like Little Atoms than The Bugle, because each week Robin and Josie are joined by guests, but it’s more of a general, knockabout discussion than either of the other shows are; people often talk over each other, and sometimes it descends into wondeful, clattering chaos. Guests bring in objects to talk about every week, as do the show’s hosts, but really it’s just a discussion of whatever topic comes to mind, or whatever the people talking are currently most concerned with. This is wonderful. The Mark Gatiss episode becomes an involved, wonderful discussion of horror films, while Jon Ronson and his son spend ages talking about public baths, and Ben Goldacre complains about people taking photos of him outside burrito shops with wild hair and posting them on Twitter.

Josie Long often talks about politics and feminism, as well as things like crafts and zines, and although it’s impossible to really pick, this is often my favourite part of a particular episode – it’s nice to hear funny, smart people talk about the sorts of things that concern me, and then go on to discuss a million other things I hadn’t thought of as well. I think this podcast is genuinely educational, especially when the discussion focuses on film and books, while also being incredibly funny and warm. It was hard to decide what order to put these podcasts in, but really, this had to win. I hope they continue to produce these next year.

~

Podcasts that I also enjoyed this year include The Hackney Podcast, The Infinite Monkey Cage, and Richard Herring’s As It Occurs to Me. I know that I also need to try The Sound of Young America, This American Life and Answer Me This!, but let me know in the comments if you have any more to recommend (or if you want to disagree with my list, but I’ll probably disagree with you in return). 2010 was the year of podcasts for me, but there’s so much more that I still need to listen to. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to catch up with them all, but I look forward to trying.

Where Am I?

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