Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Albert Nobbs (2011)



6/10
When men dress up as women in the movies, it is almost always in a comedy or farce; think Some Like It Hot, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Tootsie.  However, when the situation is reversed and the film concerns women dressing up as men, the movie is habitually a drama bordering on tragedy: Yentl, Boys Don’t Cry, and Osama.  Perhaps men trying to pass themselves off as women are just funnier and more outlandish, but the reasons behind it are usually not as urgent.  In Albert Nobbs, Albert (Glenn Close) is the head waiter at an upscale hotel in 19th century Ireland.  He appears to be middle-aged and has been passing himself off as a man since he/she was 14.  His livelihood and future in the midst of immense unemployment and desperate surroundings depend on maintaining this deception.
I use the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘his’ because nothing about Albert is female except for the some well hidden physiology.  Albert is extremely adept at passing as a man.  When he speaks at all, his voice is low.  His hair is short, he is impeccably dressed, his manners are irreproachable, and he does nothing whatsoever to call any attention to himself.  As any man-servant should be, he is invisible.  Working in the hospitality industry is just a means to end for Albert though.  He lives such a spartan lifestyle because he hoards his money underneath his floorboard to one day soon purchase a shop and become a respected tobacconist.  He is close; he has identified the vacant shop, has planned its layout, and can almost feel the escape which will come when he is his own boss.       
Albert knows something is missing in his grand scheme though; he is lonely.  In the beginning, he does not recognize he is missing anything important until he is forced to share his room one night with a man, Mr. Hubert Page (Janet McTeer).  Through a contrived sequence, Albert is revealed as a female to Mr. Page and only later on learns Mr. Page is also a woman.  Using what look like camera tricks and perspective shots, Mr. Page is a towering and bulky workman.  He is also married to a woman.  This bit of news tremendously confuses poor Albert.  How is it possible for two women to be married to one another?  It is obvious that Mr. Page and his wife are in a lesbian relationship; however, Albert would not even know what that word means.  Albert comes across as asexual.  There has never been a chance in his life to conceive of intimacy so all feelings and aspects of that persona just atrophied away. 
Now that Albert’s eyes are opened to the fact that there are women out in the world who are married to each other, he sets his eyes on the lowly but young and desirable chambermaid Helen (Mia Wasikowska).  Helen knows just how pretty she is and becomes smitten by the newly employed handyman Joe (Aaron Johnson).  Not only is Albert stunted in the intimacy realm of life, but his social skills are also not as fine tuned as the younger set who now aware of Albert’s infatuation with Helen, may try to use those feelings for their financial gain.
While the story of Albert Nobbs is on the weaker side and not particularly engaging, the acting, specifically by Close and McTeer, is fascinating.  There is a scene where Albert and Mr. Page try on some dresses and take a walk outside.  For Albert, this is the first time he has worn a dress in probably 30 years.  The immediate discomfort but growing acceptance and then utter joy on his face is a wonderful scene as he experiences some long repressed feelings while ecstatically running on the beach.  McTeer’s performance is equal to Close’s in every way.  She/he looks 100% like a man dressed up as a woman when he puts on that dress.  The makeup department for this film is spot on, much better than J. Edgar and The Iron Lady.  Even though they did not have to age the characters as those aforementioned films did, transforming two women into men so effectively as they do is worth the price of admission alone.
Director Rodrigo Garcia, who happens to be the son of novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is becoming known as the go-to filmmaker for involved and complex stories about women.  He also directed Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, Nine Lives, and Mother and Child, all recognized as thoughtful films with strong female leads.  Glenn Close co-wrote the screenplay and brought with her a long experience of understanding Albert since she played him in the 1982 stage production. 
I recommend Albert Nobbs to enjoy the performances and to witness the forceful presences of Glenn Close and Janet McTeer and their convincing portrayals of the opposite sex.  The story is not as compelling as one would wish for a period piece such as this, but it is nevertheless overshadowed by the acting.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Iron Lady (2011)



5/10
The first major Hollywood effort to document Margaret Thatcher’s life made a strategic error.  Instead of focusing on the Iron Lady kicking butt in the 1980s in the extremely male dominated arena of global politics, The Iron lady chose to focus on Margaret’s mid-stage dementia with haphazard flashbacks to the major themes throughout her life.  Casting the world’s greatest living actress, Meryl Streep, was a very wise decision but even she cannot make up for the dreadful script which spotlights the wrong era in the Prime Minister’s long and eventful life. 
Margaret Thatcher was Great Britain’s first female Prime Minister when she entered 10 Downing St. in 1979.  Her beginning as a grocer’s daughter, a rare female parliamentarian, and finally Conservative Party leader are briefly examined in the film, but only superficially.  Instead, an older Thatcher putters around her apartment conversing with her dead husband, Dennis (Jim Broadbent), and making statements which sound like she still considers herself Prime Minister.  Think of a Ronald Reagan biopic; do you want to see Reagan as Governor, running for President, and meeting with Gorbachev or do you want to see Reagan in full blown dementia trying to remember his name? 
Meryl Streep is a very convincing Margaret Thatcher.  It makes quite a statement that an American actress was chosen over a native Brit but perhaps that is because the director, Phyllida Lloyd, also directed Streep in Mamma Mia.  She plays a younger Margaret just as well as she plays stooped over and shuffling Margaret.  For the audience; however, the film is just so much more intriguing to watch young Margaret develop her ideas about helping yourself vs. help from the government and responding appropriately to terrorism (IRA), etc….  Politically, there are quite a few parallels to current issues from Margaret’s 1980s platform of government austerity measures, deficit spending, and combating unemployment.  Unfortunately, these policy vignettes are egregiously glossed over to hurry up and get back to another senile Margaret episode.
The Iron Lady takes advantage of various ways to emphasize the oddity of a female rising so high within the British government.  There are a few montages where the zoomed-in camera pans across a line of dark suits and then abruptly stops when it hits an almost neon blue blouse and skirt.  On Margaret’s first day in Parliament there is a very similar shot panning across uniformly black dress shoes until it halts on a pair of black and white heels.  Margaret gets a few monologues in Parliament as she spars contentiously with opposition leaders and holds her own.  Her best speech is in response to the Falkland Islands War and Britain’s decisive victory over Argentina.  The 1982 war gets a few more minutes of screen time than her other major political moments, but it still feels rushed and choppy because by now the audience realizes the film does not want to be in the past, but wants to stay with Margaret in the present. 
What a shame that Meryl Streep’s fascinating performance is wasted on such a lackluster script and meandering film.  While I do not recommend The Iron Lady, I do not argue harshly against it exclusively due to Streep’s virtuoso performance.  I recognize this film for what it is; a wasted opportunity to profile an interesting world leader who attracted the acting talent she warranted, but not the story. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Underworld: Awakening (2012)



3/10

It is rare for a movie franchise to make it to a fourth film.  The Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises had it easy, Star Wars technically started on its fourth installment and Harry Potter had its stories directly handed to them.  The Die Hard series had to work for it but held its head above water while the Alien series fell off a cliff when Alien: Resurrection hit the screen.  Underworld: Awakening is following in the footsteps of the Alien franchise.
There is brief “remind me of the previous three films” montage at the beginning for those of you who have forgotten the story throughout the years and then Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is back in her familiar gargoyle perch surveying the dark city around her.  Unlike Underworld: Evolution, which picked up right where the original left off, Awakening jumps forward a bit to a time when human beings are now hunting both vampires and lycans.  These purges are wiping out both species with ruthless effectiveness and extinction may be close at hand.  Selene and her hybrid (both vampire and lycan) boyfriend Michael are both wrapped up in it and then comes the big flash forward.
Selene wakes up 12 years later from a block of ice after being thawed out in a maximum security laboratory.  It seems she has been studied, poked, prodded, and subjected most likely to everything in between by its chief scientist Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea) who says he is looking for a cure for both vampire and lycan afflictions.  A pre-teen girl known as Subject 2 (India Eisley) is responsible for her release and becomes the catalyst for the chase sequences in this Underworld iteration between vampires, lycans, and humans.
Just as the story in Alien: Resurrection was only scarcely attached to its previous episodes, Underworld: Awakening is also much more detached than its predecessors.  The vampires and lycans we are familiar with are gone, except for Selene, so now we watch her latch on to a new ad hoc crew including the vampire David (Theo James) and police Detective Sebastian (Michael Ealy).  Not everything has changed though, Selene conveniently finds her old black leather fetish outfit to the enjoyment of this film’s majority male audience.
Awakening is also the first installment in 3D whose effects are needless and actually hurt the film.  The Underworld atmosphere is already dark and rainy; the 3D makes it that much darker which exceeds the fine line of “too dark”.  Seeing it in IMAX; however, is worth the extra bucks because of the bass.  Lycans must come with their own attached sub-woofers with a tremendous low end because every time one is on screen the bass goes into overdrive which is a small consolation to make up for the weak 3D. 
The Underworld films were never particularly strong, but the first and third films (the prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) were enjoyable.  Awakening joins its cousin Underworld: Evolution in the reduced discount and throw away Underworld bin.  The story is frail, the screenplay is sloppy, the characters are forgettable, and Underworld: Awakening should be avoided at all costs.   

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Artist (2011)



10/10

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) has a dream halfway through The Artist with real sound.  He sets a glass down on the table and it makes a noise.  The phone rings, the dog barks, and it all sounds so harsh and shrill.  Both George and the audience wait for George to wake up and end these horrible noises.  Please, take us back to the wonderful world of silent film in black and white whose only sound is the soothing cinematic orchestral score. 
Yes, The Artist is silent.  The actors are moving their mouths but only every now and then does a dialogue screen pop up for the audience to read.  The effect of this throwback is a mesmerizing masterpiece.  Just as Hugo was homage to the earliest films and George Melies, The Artist celebrates the late 1920s silent film era and appears so accurate it most likely could have been released in 1927.  The giveaway is that everybody in the movie theater on screen is smoking.  Nobody in Hugo’s Parisian train station was smoking which is good for the kiddies, but kills authenticity.
George is the silver screen’s golden boy.  His motion pictures make a ton of money, the audience loves his swashbuckling heroes, and his incredibly well-trained Jack Russell Terrier usually stars right along side of him.  Through a series of unlikely events, an aspiring actress, a perfectly named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), appears on his studio lot as an extra and they develop a noticeable level of chemistry together, though there is no sign of adultery because this is 1927.  George is a married man and while he may be distant from his wife, there will be no vow breaking here.
If you are familiar with Singin’ in the Rain, then you know what is coming – the talkies.  George takes one look at an early prototype of an actress speaking on screen and laughs at is as a gimmick.  Nothing could replace silent film and besides, the audience, “his audience”, would never stand for it.  How wrong he is.  Soon enough, studio boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) fires George choosing to begin the era of sound in film with fresh faces, such as Peppy Miller. 
The depression strikes, George blows through his savings on one last ditch attempt to save silent film, and he is done for.  He is not alone though, his reliable dog is with him as well as his now unpaid chauffeur Clifton (James Cromwell).  Peppy is never far either.  She remembers who was responsible for her meteoric rise and is perhaps playing some Fairy Godmother role in George’s life even though she is much younger. 
The plot seems a bit thin and silly as I write this, but it comes across as much deeper than it sounds.  George and Peppy are wonderful on screen together and The Artist is just so much fun to sit back and watch.  The doubters will naturally stay away from it no matter what anybody writes; the combination of black and white and silence is just too scary to think about sitting through even though this is leagues above the common denominator. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Certified Copy (2010)



8/10

Be careful if you prefer your movies wrapped up in a pleasant little bow with an obvious beginning, middle, end, and with all questions and conflicts answered and sorted out.  Certified Copy raises hundreds of absorbing and metaphysical questions, none of which will be answered for you at the end.  In fact, the audience is cerebrally supposed to do the heavy lifting here.  If you see this with your significant other or a friend, plan on dedicating the hour post-film to declaring and defending your arguments on who the couple is, where they are in their relationship, and what is the truth. 
Writer/director Abbas Kiarostami is not teasing his audience as some viewers might accuse him; rather, he is challenging them.  If you do not want to work in your movie going experience, go to your local multiplex and watch the latest forgettable wide release.  However, if you are intrigued by piecing together intellectual puzzle pieces, Certified Copy will give you as much of a contest of wits as the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.  From the setup; however, there are no signs at all that this film will be anything other than a modern, romantic European dialogue driven movie.  This is Before Sunrise in a small Tuscan village with middle-aged characters instead of Vienna seen through the eyes of naive early-20s backpackers. 
The man, James Miller (William Shimell), is on a book tour in Italy because unexpectedly, his work has become quite popular with Italians, even more popular than in his native England.  His premise concerns original art versus its copies.  Why are originals valued and exalted more than copies which may be even better than the original it was forged from?  Furthermore, why does having the knowledge of whether or not a piece of art is actually the original change the viewer’s perception of it?  Is it not just as beautiful? 
The unnamed woman (Juliette Binoche), goes to see James lecture about his book, buys six copies, and leaves her phone number and address with his friend because she is obviously smitten.  She runs an antique shop which she uses as her pretense of getting him to visit her and then since it such a nice day outside, they take off in her car to another picturesque village.  They spend the rest of the day chatting, arguing, walking, drinking, and introducing enough questions and plausible alternatives for the meanings of their conversations to make the audiences’ minds sort out a Rubik’s Cube while watching the second half of the film.     
Did James and the woman meet for the first time today?  Well, they shake hands, introduce themselves, and ask about each other’s lives.  On the other hand, after an elderly trattoria barista mistakes them for a married couple, they begin to act like it and their conversation shifts.  Are they playing a game or have they really been married for 15 years?  She complains that he fell asleep last night on their 15th wedding anniversary because he no longer loves her.  He counters that he was just tired and brings up/invents a time she fell asleep at the wheel with her son in the backseat because she was tired, not because she did not love him. 
That is just an example of the philosophical back and forth which covers the film’s second half.  During one second, I was sure they were married, but immediately after, I was second guessing and was just as sure they were play acting.  The two characters reacting to each other’s verbal barbs are the main cues I was looking for.  James is cold, mostly stoic, and becomes angry at small inconveniences.  She feels much deeper; at least she lets it show on her face, is on the verge of crying frequently, and is upset at his prolonged absences from their marriage.  Perhaps James is just a stand-in for her real husband?  Binoche deservedly won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her ability to either convince the audience these two people just met or convince them that they have known each other for decades. 
I urge you to take the Certified Copy challenge.  There are some pauses and waits during particular scenes but instead of growing impatient, use them to your advantage to try and make sense of what is happening so later on you can present and defend your arguments, just like the lady and James. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hugo (2011)



10/10
Hugo is a thank you letter from Martin Scorsese to motion pictures, specifically the first motion pictures and their early pioneers.  Using the inquisitive adventures of a young, orphaned French boy, Scorsese leads us into a much broader and surprising area than where the setup begins.  Furthermore, Hugo is in 3D which at first thought seems an odd medium from the director of The Departed, Gangs of New York, and Raging Bull.  The polished result and gimmicky tricks of 3D do not resemble Scorsese’s gritty and realistic cinematography preferences.  It turns out; however, Scorsese is proficient in both mediums.  The 3D effects in Hugo are perhaps the best I have ever seen.
Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a recent orphan scurrying around the Paris train station in 1931 maintaining its myriad clocks while dodging the watchful eye of the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen).  Hugo’s father (Jude Law) was an accomplished watch/clock tinkerer and before he passed on, transferred much of knowledge and skill to young Hugo.  Unlike other fictional orphans though, Hugo is having some trouble taking care of himself.  He is quickly outgrowing his childish clothes, he frequently has trouble pilfering food, and his lack of schooling is starting to show.  
Hugo’s loitering ways and incompetent shoplifting efforts not only keep the Station Inspector alert, but they also catch the eye of Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), a toy shop owner in the train station.  Through Georges, Hugo meets his granddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), an extremely precocious girl who loves books, always tries to fit in new learned vocabulary into her sentences, and finds the orphan boy running the station clocks to be a very intriguing friend.  All of this is just setup though while leading towards the true purpose of Hugo. 
Papa Georges is not who he appears to be.  I will not disclose who he is, but film aficionados will most likely figure it out early on.  Hugo’s father used to take him to movies which instilled in Hugo a love of the medium as well; he considers them dreams during the daytime.  The discovery, eventual realization, and reaction to Georges are the film’s highlights and are what will stay with the audience rather than Hugo’s exploits.  Scorsese’s appreciation of early motion pictures is infectious and will hopefully inspire the kids in the audience to seek out old movies and remind their parents of what once was.
The characters in Hugo are truly fun to watch as they weave in and out of the train station and its hideaways.  A particular highlight is Cohen as the Station Inspector.  He receives some quality screen time as he attempts to professionally safeguard the station and maybe even impress the local flower girl.  Moretz as Isabelle is also quite good.  She shows here she may very well break out of her current child actor status and become a much more accomplished actress. 
Because Martin Scorsese wanted to share his affection for early motion pictures and found a great script to deliver his message, he has once again made one of the best films of the year.  Both children and adults will love this movie regardless that a child is its main character or that it is in 3D.  I highly recommend Hugo and encourage you to just sit back and enjoy it.

Bill Cunningham New York (2010)



10/10
Bill Cunningham can’t be bought.  He is there to observe and to take pictures, not to consume the fancy meal or mingle with the celebrities; a line which most individuals in his position would most likely blur.  Bill has a section of the Sunday New York Times Style section where he will point out a new clothing trend he sees on the streets, what people were wearing at a recent evening gala, or just profile an interesting looking person.  I used to skip over this section every week; however, now that I know about Bill from the excellent documentary Bill Cunningham New York, I will never skip over this section again.
Even though Bill is now 80 years old, he still dons his signature blue jacket every day and rides his bicycle all over Manhattan searching and taking pictures.  If it is raining, he will duct tape a garbage bag over his shirt.  He is searching for interesting clothing and it does not matter if a celebrity is wearing them or not.  A major separation between Bill and other photographers is he is just fine not taking a celebrity picture; he does not care at all about a person’s fame level, just in their choice of clothing. 
Bill is usually the first to notice a new trend.  While frequenting street corners, crosswalks, and the outside of department stores, he will immediately stop his bike (sometimes in the middle of traffic) to snap a few shots.  During the first week of August, he happened to notice that a lot of New Yorkers were wearing black and made that a his column’s focus.  Bill has become a celebrity on his bicycle as he cruises the streets and there are many influential people, who Bill could care less about, who crave his attention.  There are interviews from Anna Wintour, Tom Wolfe, and other very powerful people in the fashion industry who will also take time out of their day to find out what Bill knows.
Even though he has the power to affect clothing trends, until very recently, Bill lived in Carnegie Hall as one of the few remaining visual artist tenants before the final lot of them were evicted to new premises.  He slept on a cot in what could be described as closet space surrounded by dozens of file cabinets containing his life’s work.  If Bill thinks he has seen something before, he is pretty sure he can go back and find it.  One example is of a designer who revealed a new collection only for Bill to find a 1972 photo montage of an eerily similar line. 
Bill Cunningham New York is a documentary I was not eager to see because I assumed it was just about the fashion world.  I was completely wrong.  It is not about fashion, it is just about Bill and his routine which is completely absorbing and perhaps the best documentary of the year.  It is also the second documentary this year dealing with the New York Times as it was released just before Page One: Inside the New York Times.  Now that I have seen them both, there is a reason the story on Bill Cunningham is on the short list of 15 documentaries which are eligible for this year’s Best Documentary Oscar.  If it happens to win, it will not matter very much to Bill.  He will be doing what he does every day, riding his bicycle to find the next interesting pair of shoes. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Young Adult (2011)



8/10

I always wondered what happened to that girl from high school.  You know the one, her locker was right next to yours for four straight years, but she never knew your name.  She spent more time staring into the pocket mirror attached to the inside of her locker than at any of her classmates.  She was homecoming and prom queen, she was socially above the common man, and all she wanted to do was see your small town in her rearview mirror as she escaped to the big city after graduation.  Luckily for us, director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody have reconnected (they first worked together on Juno) to let us know exactly what happened to that girl from high school.
Mavis (Charlize Theron) is now 37, lives in Minneapolis, and is a ghostwriter for a young adult series (think Sweet Valley High) whose popularity is in severe decline.  She wakes up every morning severely hung over from the night before, ignores her pocket-sized dog, and always has a dating website open on her web browser while she attempts to writer her next chapter just in case she gets a notification of a potential match.  In other words, Mavis is not doing very well.  An unexpected e-mail shakes her out of her stumbling stupor one morning when a birth announcement arrives from her long ago high school ex-boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson); he is now the father of a brand new baby girl.
Events are now set in motion as Mavis impulsively packs a suitcase, drives a few hours to her old and small hometown, and aims to break up Buddy and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser).  With no evidence whatsoever, Mavis just knows Buddy is unhappy in his marriage and longs to be rescued by the one girl he was meant to be with, Mavis.  She considers the institution of marriage as a disease, a problem which can be cured through a quick divorce.  Mavis also brings her old habits back to town with her; she continues to wake up slobbering drunk every morning, wears revealing clothes which would not only seem out of place in Minneapolis, but downright foreign in small town America, and whether intentionally or just plain out of habit, talks down condescendingly to anyone who never left town the way she did.
While guzzling one of her many double whiskeys at a local dive bar one night, Mavis runs into Matt (Patton Oswalt), a guy who she barely remembers from school.  Matt reminds her his locker was right next to hers for four years and through a combination of proximity and drunkenness, Matt becomes Mavis’s confidant concerning her plans for Buddy and her overall expositions about love and marriage.  Matt repeatedly attempts to point out the blatant flaws in her thinking, but there is no getting through to Mavis when she is on a chosen course. 
As expected from a Diablo Cody screenplay, the dialogue is smart and snappy although Mavis is far from Juno.  Juno was a realist who made sense of her confusing and difficult situation through sharp diatribes pointed at those around her.  Mavis is a dreamer bordering on bipolar whose diatribes are more intentionally harmful than witty.  Charlize Theron is wonderful at bringing to life Mavis’s shifting emotional phases from ecstasy when thinking about her future with Buddy to devastated when her wistful fa├žade is accidentally punctured by reality now and then. Patton Oswalt is also effective as a wounded sounding board and fellow tortured soul.
Mavis’s life peaked in high school when she was the most popular girl in school and was the most popular she would be in her entire life.  However, Mavis never realized high school ended, people moved on, and her popularity changed.  In her mind, nothing has changed in 20 years and she is still the town’s prima donna.  This makes for amusing scenes between her and the local town’s people, but it usually turns awkward quickly for anyone in a conversation with Mavis which lasts for more than the standard “Hi, how are you?”  Something is not right with Mavis and it may be more than the alcohol problem and lonely Minneapolis life. 
Following Mavis’s (mis)adventures to an endpoint is fascinating wondering how far she will go to win back her man and whether or not she will learn anything from her visit home.  Please go check out Young Adult for a sharper and truer version of the big city person goes back home motif and also find out really happened to that impossibly popular girl from high school.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Best Songs of 2011



I was about to open with "2011 was a great year for music," but isn't every year a great year for music?  I guarantee you I could find awesome songs from every year (from the mid '50s onward at least).  I compiled my 'Best Of' list the other day to make my annual year end CD to torture my wife and friends with and now I share it with you. 

It was not as hard to make the CD this year as opposed to years past when I would agonize over which two songs I had to cut to whittle it down to 17 or 18 songs.  This year I actually had to really dive into my 2011 playlists and find the songs which I had on repeat most of the time.  I don't think this is because 2011 had two or three less amazing songs to offer, but perhaps my tastes grew more attuned to what I consider to be worthwhile or maybe I just didn't listen to the same amount of different music than I did in in past years (but I highly doubt that is the case).

Making a year end CD is only in part about which songs I consider the best from the past 12 months; they should really define the year.  When I listen to this CD in 5, 10, or 15 years, I should be able to remember where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with when a particular song hit the scene.  Nowadays, when I play a CD I made back in 2001, I still remember my apartment on 7th Ave. talking music with John over coffee, what classes I was taking, and what girl I was focused on at the time.  Any credible self-made compilation should make you do the same thing.

So here we go:

1 - Matt & Kim - Block After Block - The best song from their Sidewalks album.  Anyone who hears this song will nod their heads up and down to the beat and if they listen to the lyrics, they will most likely reminisce of their younger days hanging around town with their friends.  The video shows Matt and Kim running around New York City with their friends, setting up impromptu concerts, and then breaking it down when the local constabulary notices them disrupting traffic.  If you are not familiar with these two, they are a dance punk duo from Brooklyn and made my 'Best of 2010' list with "Daylight".  They just keep getting better and better. 

2 - The Lonely Island feat. Akon - I Just Had Sex - Comedic songs usually do not last too long after their original novelty wears off.  This song, first performed on Saturday Night Live, is still funny and is actually a pretty good song musically.  The Lonely Island is Andy Samberg, Kiv Schaffer, and Jorm Taccone, and they've been using SNL as a platform to showcase their comedic videos for years now; think "Dick in a Box", "Motherlover", "Jack Sparrow", etc...  This song is just a pure celebration of guys who can't figure out why a girl would ever have sex with them. 

3 - The Naked and Famous - Young Blood - These newbies are an indie band from Auckland, New Zealand.  This is the strongest song from their debut album but it is given a run for its money from their second single "Punching in a Dream".  Turn this song up to 11 and stay tuned hopefully for a follow up album. 

4 - Lil Wayne feat. Cory Gunz - 6 Foot, 7 Foot - One of two hip-hop songs on this CD, by far and away the best hip-hop beat of the whole year, and the first single from Tha Carter IV.  The song samples Harry Belafonte's "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song" which is an odd sample but it works as a great transition between verses. 

5 - Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks - This songs went viral this year as Foster the People, an indie band from Los Angeles, burst onto the scene and on every radio format available.  If you actually pay attention to the lyrics, it is not really about a kid shooting up his school, it is about his thoughts about doing that.  Frontman Mark Foster says it is about a troubled youth and is a commentary about gun violence amongst youth.  Dark subject matter certainly, but set to upbeat music you can't help but dig it. 

6 - The Head and the Heart - Ghosts - I saw these guys at the Moore Theater in Seattle in April and spent a few weeks before hand absorbing their album to get ready for it.  There are a lot of great songs on this debut album but "Ghosts" takes the blue ribbon by a nose.  Kate prefers "Rivers and Roads" but that is a bit too slow for my tastes.  The Head and the Heart are an indie-folk pop band from Seattle, met at an open mic night at Conor Byrne in Ballard (great bar), and are signed to Sub Pop.

7 - The Lonely Forest - Coyote - The Lonely Forest, an indie band from Anacortes, WA, made my 2010 disc as well with "We Sing In Time" and I've seen them twice now (2010 at Seattle Center and 2011 at The Crocodile Cafe).  "Coyote" is slower than "We Sing In Time" but is deeper lyrically and even though this is the second time I've put a Lonely Forest song from their Arrows album on a year end CD, Kate feels I am still neglecting her favorite song of theirs "I Don't Want to Live There".

8 - Beastie Boys - Make Some Noise - The best song, and third single, from their new album Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 is the second hip-hop song on this album.  A truly funky and hypnotic beat show the world that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees are still in top form. 

9 - TV on the Radio - Will Do - This art rock band from Brooklyn released another remarkable album in 2011, Nine Types of Light, and "Will Do" is without question the best song on it and is also its first single.  This album is also bassist Gerard Smith's final album since he died of lung cancer 9 days after it was released in April.  "Will Do" is a slow burner, contemplative mood-setter, and great song to sit back and read to. 

10 - M83 - Midnight City - M83 is French musician Anthony Gonzalez and "Midnight City" is the best song from the double album he released this year Hurry Up, We're Dreaming.   Unfortunately, you may be familiar with it from a Victoria's Secret commercial since that company licensed it to sell bras.  "Midnight City" is electronic/dream pop and is about Gonzalez's observations of downtown Los Angeles. 

11 - Cults - Abducted -  Cults is a brand new indie band from Manhattan and released their debut, self-titled album this year on Lily Allen's label.  Most people dig "Go Outside" as the best song from this album because XM Alt Nation and XMU have had it on constant rotation, but "Abducted" is just so much stronger and I think gets overlooked because the radio gives it nowhere near the same amount of attention. 

12 - The Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie - With a new album, I'm With You, and a new lead guitarist, RHCP are still relevant and excellent as ever.  Rain Dance Maggie is the album's lead-off single and is powered by a killer bass beat from Flea.  Anthony Kiedis says there really is a Maggie but names have been changed to protect the innocent.

13 - The Glitch Mob - We Can Make the World Stop - I heard this song on KEXP and discovered that The Glitch Mob is an electronic outfit from Los Angeles.  I don't know anything else about them except that "We Can Make the World Stop" is a fantastic song which makes me want to pay attention for anything else these guys release. 

14 - Florence and the Machine - What the Water Gave Me - An indie pop band from England led by front lady Florence Welch.  They released their second album, Ceremonials, this year and the first single "What the Water Gave Me" is sort of a soaring art rock compilation which is right up with TV on the Radio with music to lay back and relax to. 

15 - Ladytron - White Elephant -  Another KEXP-aided discovery for me, Ladytron is a Liverpool based electronic band who released their 5th album this year, Gravity the Seducer.  Even though this is their 5th album, this is the first time I've heard them and wonder why it has taken this long.  "White Elephant" has a catchy melody, airy vocals, and is just a pleasure to listen to over and over again.

16 - Grouplove - Colours - Grouplove are an indie band and their song "Colours" from their debut album exploded this year in the same fashion as "Pumped Up Kicks", just not as big.  I expect Grouplove to become much more well known than they currently are because a second single "Tongue Tied" is currently in the Billboard Hot 100 which should go a long way to waking up mainstream audiences to the fact that they could be the next huge alternative band to catch fire. 

17 - AWOLNATION - Sail - "Sail" is electronic rock and yes, AWOLNATION is supposed to be capitalized.  Aside from the annoying capital letters, "Sail" is a mesmerizing, darker song which oddly references "Come Sail Away" by Styx in the lyrics.  AWOLNATION is also on the verge of gaining much wider notoriety from the mainstream.

18 - Manchester Orchestra - Virgin - This is the perfect song to end a compilation CD with because of its chanting chorus which stays rattling around in your head long after the song is over.  Manchester Orchestra is an indie band from Atlanta who released their 3rd album, Simple Math, this year.  "Virgin" gets over-shadowed by the song "Simple Math" I suppse because the album takes its name from that song people assume it must be the best song.  While "Simple Math" is a great song and would most likely make an expanded version of this list, "Virgin" is just so much stronger and deserves must wider airplay.