Monthly Archives: December 2009

My Top Ten in 2009 Pop Culture

2009 was an unusual year for me with relation to my beloved pasttimes. For the first time in my life, I favored holding out for DVDs rather than heading to the cinema during the opening weeks of a movie, and of the films that were released, very few seemed interesting in the first place. I did not complete a single book all year, though I attempted a few, and my music taste was a complete reversal of the past 20 years of my life. For a long time I blamed these things on the devolution of entertainment, citing such tastemakers as American Idol, Jerry Bruckheimer and Oprah for the continued dumbing-down of audiences and ever-shortening attention spans of consumers. And while I still believe they are a large part of what is wrong with entertainment and the popular choices in America, I also wonder if some of it can be contributed to my shift into the middle years of life. I’m just not interested in what is popular right now. Still, I don’t believe it has as much to do with how old I am as with how inferior entertainment has become compared to what I have always known in my life. Sure, that makes me sound like my parents, but I’ve begun to see what they meant by it. And I, like them, won’t apologize. 2009 did not even provide me enough good things to compile my usual year-end review, so I offer instead my personal Top Ten in Pop Culture. These are the things that made my days more fun this year. And here’s to a better 2010!

my personal #10 of 2009 Pop Culture NCIS:LA — Favorite New Television Show.   Like movies, I’m finding less and less of interest in new television series, preferring instead to keep up with old favorites. What makes NCIS:LA so special to me is that it actually improved upon the original by adding great, quirky characters… and LL Cool J. And sure, the premise is a stretch, focusing on the “investigative” element and making the “Navy” part almost irrelevant, but it’s great fun and there is more chemistry between Chris O’Donnell and Cool J than between most male/female counterparts on television. And that’s truly refreshing to see.
my personal #9 of 2009 Pop Culture “Empire State of Mind, Part II (Broken Down)” by Alicia Keys.   I found very little music during this year that I can foresee as standing the test of time… or, at least, becoming part of my Life Soundtrack. But this song by Alicia Keys is likely to do just that. I will always remember the first moment I heard it — on a live telecast from Yankee Stadium during the World Series, and not before then because I had already given up pop radio by that time — and since I’m not a fan of Jay-Z, I was happy to find that Ms. Alicia reworked her portion of the song and added it to her 2009 album. “Empire” is just one of those songs that never gets old and sounds just as smooth live as it does from the CD. Definitely one of my music highlights for the year.
my personal #8 of 2009 Pop Culture Battlestar GalacticaSeries finales of Battlestar Galactica and Prison Break.   With television executives notoriously finicky and ever-more-jittery each year, it’s very rare for a series to get a complete run and be able to wrap up their stories to conclusion. Thankfully, two of my long-running favorites were able to do just that this year. Battlestar Galactica had a long-term plan in place, allowing its producers to set their own timeline and go out on their own schedule. Prison Break was not so fortunate but they were given sufficient notice and allowed to create a finale that satisfied their story. Neither of these series featured the completion I hoped for, neither actually measured up to my own personal expectations, but I was happy to finish the ride and do so at my own pace, thanks to DVR. I held onto the final 8 episodes of Prison Break until mid-summer, in fact, just because I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the characters. BSG, on the other hand, felt much more urgent to me, and though a bit disappointing in some areas, did feel complete by the end. I love that I can forever revisit either of these series at any time and watch their stories from beginning to end without ever feeling cheated. And in the current state of entertainment, that is a rare gift indeed.
my personal #7 of 2009 Pop Culture Terminator Salvation — Favorite Film of the Year.   Now don’t get me wrong; by no means do I believe that Terminator Salvation was the BEST film I saw in 2009. Absolutely not. That category belongs to such movies as District 9, Julie & Julia, (500) Days of Summer, and Slumdog Millionaire, which was technically from 2008 but I saw it this year. Instead, what puts Terminator at the top of my list is that I loved it the most. It’s the one film that I will likely watch again and again and again throughout my life. The reason for that is simple: it took a story that I remotely enjoyed (with its just-tolerable Schwarzenegger) and elevated it beyond its origins; it featured two remarkable actors who didn’t step over each other in their performances (Christian Bale and Sam Worthington); and it surprised me with the layers of the story it told. I would now actually look forward to more Terminator sequels, which I couldn’t say prior to this film. And for me, that’s the criteria for a favorite. Pure and simple.
my personal #6 of 2009 Pop Culture Google Reader.   What I ever did before RSS readers, I honestly don’t know, but Google’s version has changed the way I use the internet. Which I think is pretty cool. I say, let everyone, everywhere start a blog! It’s never been simpler to keep up with them.
Twitter.   Whereas Facebook is great for the keeping-up with people, Twitter is the best for those of us who love at-the-moment interaction in concise posts meant to invite conversation. Or at least comments. Never before has it been easier to get tidbits about celebrities, for instance, and certainly not from the celebrities themselves. But Twitter has opened that door to Hollywood in a way no other social medium has before. And for pop culture enthusiasts like me, that’s pure joy.
Country Music.   Back in January, when I first began stepping my toes back into country music, I never would have dreamed it would last all year. But my ever-increasing irritation with the lack of good pop music (and far too much American Idol influence) led me to keep listening to country radio, which I discovered was far better than anything I heard on my last foray into the genre during the mid-90s. Country music is now much closer to what I loved as a child, and the artists are once again “artists”. Aside from the Disney element (read: Taylor Swift), there are some really great artists coming out of Nashville these days, and I have found great love for the likes of Sugarland, Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, and even Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, after much holdout on my part. My car radio rarely leaves the country stations anymore, and that suits me just fine. So I look forward to continued enjoyment of the genre and finding even more artists to love in years to come. Not to mention the release of a far-too-long-overdue album by Christian Kane in 2010. Because, in the end, all credit for “going country” ultimately belongs to him.
Clayne CrawfordClayne Crawford.   It’s been far too long since I “discovered” an actor and set out to watch every single role he ever played, but Clayne Crawford made me do just that. He captivated me in 2009 like Colin Farrell and Neal McDonough did years before him, and I spent all summer and fall tracking down all of Clayne’s work. I discovered that I’d been watching him in TV guest spots throughout the entire decade without once really zoning in on him. It took a fight scene on Leverage, against real-life best friend Christian Kane, to make me really notice him, but that’s all it took. Once I tuned in, I was hooked on this Alabama boy with the long country drawl and high-wattage smile. 2010 looks to continue my interest, as he’s already filmed TV roles in 24 and Burn Notice, as well as several movies coming to DVD early in the year. I’m always excited for more opportunities to see the actors I love, but I’m even more excited when they begin getting better roles and more exposure. 2010 looks to be that kind of year for Clayne Crawford, which is just a huge bonus for me.
The World Champion New York Yankees.   I’ve been rooting the Yankees on for most of my adult life, and I’ve stuck with them through some terrible post-seasons and even worse ridicule from friends and family. But I knew my devotion would pay off in ways that Cubs’ fans never see: a return to Champion status. This year was pure delight for this baseball-loving girl, and the post-season was simply icing. I loved seeing my favorite players Derek Jeter and Andy Pettite return to glory with their team, and I especially loved seeing Alex Rodriguez finally get his head into the game and leave his baggage off the field. I’m a Yankees fan, and I never apologize for that. How fun to finally be able to back up my devotion with more than just a love of the game!
GleeGLEE — Most Surprising Favorite of the Year.   When the first episode of Glee aired in May, I watched because it seemed such an unusual addition to the television landscape. A teen drama filled with musical interludes? How would that ever fly in the current TV climate? By the end of that first hour, I was intrigued but not hooked. Then, as summer progressed and the network aired innumerable promos for its fall return, I began to find myself looking forward to it, even anticipating it with excitement. When it finally did return, it came with a bang and began to invade all areas of my pop culture world. I downloaded the songs from every episode. I replayed specific scenes from the week. I talked about it at work the day after each airing. And I fell more and more in love with the characters (as well as one of the lead actors, Matthew Morrison) and the purity of what the show had set out to do. The beauty of Glee is that it never takes itself too seriously. And the talent of its cast, both musical and dramatic, is richer than any talent/variety/reality show that has ever been on the air. The stories told are relevant and current, but each one is presented with enough subtlety that I never find offense, even when the topics go against my own personal beliefs. Glee is simply a joy to watch, and more than the show itself, the music of Glee is better than anything that comes out of the industry today. I can’t imagine there will ever be another show that can duplicate what Glee has created, and I absolutely love being along for the ride.
Honorable Mention:
Flash Forward — I didn’t really want to jump into another convoluted serial like Lost, but the premise of this show hooked me immediately. And thankfully, its producers have a plan mapped out, so I felt much better about tuning in. So far, it’s been great fun, and I love getting answers without waiting years for them. I think I even like it more than Lost, simply for that reason.
The Blind Side — I really dislike sappy movies, and all those true stories of sports teams/coaches/athletes overcoming great odds really do bore me. But The Blind Side did a great thing in its trailer: it showed the unsentimental Sandra Bullock characterization of Leigh Ann Tuohy. In the end, I loved the film for telling a great story without schmaltz and for the subtlety that Bullock showed in playing such a formidable woman. I hope she’ll play more roles like this that allow her to rely on acting over physical comedy. She’s far better than we ever get to see her play.
Big Bang TheoryThe Big Bang Theory — Friends told me to watch this sitcom for years but I never listened. For one, it’s a sitcom. And I dislike sitcoms. But I finally gave it a chance this year because of its sci-fi-geek elements, because of its in-jokes for nerds like me. This was the rare occasion when I was wrong in my first impression of a series. Of course, I have read that Big Bang Theory didn’t actually get its legs until the second season, so had I begun watching from the beginning I might never have stuck it out. But now I can see its greatness, and I love that the humor is not stupid nor dumbed-down like most sitcoms on TV today. I am convert, and I have apologized to everyone I ignored in the past. It truly is a great comedy with fantastic characters. Which is rare and such a treat for me.
Dark Blue — Typically, summer series are not meant to be that good, so when one of them transcends my low expectations, I am very excited. With Dark Blue, I was hooked for good within its first ten minutes, and the remaining episodes of the season just drew me further and further in. Each hour is like a mini-movie, complete with undercover ops, gunplay, explosions and interpersonal character drama as good as anything I’ve seen in the cinema for years. Dylan McDermott surprised me the most by being dark and gritty and very convincing as a detective with questionable ethics, and Logan Marshall-Green grabbed me immediately with his steely, in-your-face persona. Not to mention the surprise guest appearance by Clayne Crawford! Dark Blue‘s weekly stories are pure crime drama, and the series was a perfect second hour to my beloved Leverage on TNT. Of all the shows I look forward to returning, those are the two I miss the most. Bring on the new year!

images from YahooTV, WireImage, and Internet Movie Database

movie round-up: Fall 2009

Easy Riders, Raging BullsDecember 31, 2009 / Turner Classic Movies
As a true film buff, I always felt I should know more about the films of the 70s, that I should be a bigger fan than I am. This documentary, based on a book by Peter Biskind, traces the history of filmmaking from the collapse of the Studio System to the rise of auteurs like Scorsese, Coppola, Bogdanovich, and Altman, followed by the young upstarts Spielberg and Lucas, who took films to a blockbuster level. It is a fascinating history told by the directors, screenwriters, actors and producers of those very films, and yet it showed me exactly why I never really developed an interest in much of their work. The era was defined by art that was fueled by drugs, and quite a lot of the “art” isn’t my taste at all. No longer will I apologize for not being so familiar with the films of the early 70s, nor will I feel inferior because I don’t care for Easy Rider or Nashville or Midnight Cowboy or Raging Bull. These are simply not of interest to me. But hearing the history-makers speak of those days and their experiences while making these films is truly fascinating, and this documentary is something every film lover should see just for the history it provides.
DefianceDecember 30, 2009 / DVD viewing
Defiance is one of those films that provides another perspective on the Jewish experience during World War II, but thankfully, this story is one of fighting back and taking charge. It is the powerful true story of hundreds who fled to a forest in Belarus and hid from the Nazis for almost three years. Centered on four brothers who took charge of the masses as they came together and formed a community of survivors, it is an important element to the overall impression that history has of Jews during that time. The central performances by Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber (a personal favorite of mine) are phenomenal and truly carry the film. This is a movie I look forward to sharing with my niece and nephews when they begin to study this period of history.
District 9December 29, 2009 / DVD viewing
Every critical review said District 9 was one of the year’s best films, but how do you find love and excitement for a story about insect-like aliens forced to live in an internment camp in South Africa? Honestly, you don’t even try because the film itself takes you to that place. What begins with unrelatable imagery becomes a heart-wrenching story about segregation and racial prejudice that is relevant to any society. District 9 is a cautionary tale, yes, but it’s also so compelling and so unique in its presentation. I agree that it’s one of the best of 2009, and if you can stomach it, it should be seen by everyone.
Angels & DemonsDecember 29, 2009 / Pay-Per-View
I never cared much to see The Da Vinci Code but Angels & Demons seemed much more about the mystery with less offensive religious story than the first installment. And I pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this second film! I’m sure a great lot of that is due to Ewan McGregor, not to mention always-favorite Tom Hanks, but in the end I was pleased with the film and actually looking forward to watching Hanks again in this role.
(500) Days of SummerDecember 26, 2009 / DVD viewing
Every good thing you’ve heard about (500) Days of Summer is true, and then some. It is a sweet, sad, funny, enchanting film with one of the best performances ever from Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And it’s the kind of film that you just don’t want to discuss too much for fear of ruining the experience for others. Highly recommended, and certainly one of the best films I saw in 2009.
The Brothers BloomDecember 26, 2009 / DVD viewing
I wanted to see The Brothers Bloom from the moment I first read about it, but somehow it kept slipping my mind when it came out. I’m so happy to have finally made the time for it is enchanting and adorable. Adrien Brody and Rachel Weisz bring such heart and such sweetness to the story, and Mark Ruffalo is uncharacteristically caddish, which was just as much a treat. I can’t say enough about this film. It’s truly lovely and something I look forward to seeing again and again.
The Blind Side November 27, 2009/ Movies 14, McKinney Texas
I’m not a fan of these kinds of movies, so I was happy to see that Sandra Bullock played it with little sentimentality and a lot more subtlety than she could have for such a formidable woman as is Leigh Anne Tuohy. I really enjoyed The Blind Side, and highly recommend it. Very little schmaltz, very little sap, but a great lot of heart.
Star TrekNovember 20, 2009 / DVD viewing
I’ve never liked the original Star Trek series nor any of the films it spawned featuring Shatner. I did like The Next Generation, however, and I am a big fan of JJ Abrams. So, with my limited interest in the mythology and my great faith in Abrams, I gave the Star Trek reboot a try. I LOVED IT! Never before have I found any sympathy for Kirk, but I did in this incarnation. And the casting of Zachary Quinto + his fully realized performance as Spock was the brilliance of the entire project. Every other person was perfectly cast, as well, and as long as Abrams is on board, I will follow this crew into the unknown.
State of PlayNovember 14, 2009 / DVD viewing
This film had masterful storytelling, powerful performances, and good suspense throughout. Not often does a remake (or retelling) measure up to its source, but in this case State of Play was more than adequate. Very, very enjoyable! And once again, I am reminded how much I love Russell Crowe, in any shape or any state.
UnknownNovember 8, 2009 / DVD viewing
I first rented Unknown only to watch the Clayne Crawford scenes, but found myself interested in the entire story. The performances were actually pretty good by all involved, including Jim Caviezel, Barry Pepper and Greg Kinnear, and the story took a little twist at the end that surprised me. Much better than I ever dreamed this film would be!
AttractionSeptember 15, 2009 / DVD viewing
I thought I really wanted to see Attraction, as it starred some actors I really like, but it turned out to be pure garbage. I used the fast-forward button more than I watched the film, and I was actually embarrassed to have rented it. Not a good thing. Ever.
12 MonkeysSeptember 13, 2009 / TV broadcast
Not sure why I waited all these years to watch this film, but it is definitely a great one. Bruce Willis is mesmerizing, and Brad Pitt is actually acting, which is always a treat. I truly loved 12 Monkeys!
Steel City September 10, 2009/ DVD viewing
This movie didn’t interest me at all on first viewing, and I found myself skipping forward to Clayne Crawford’s scenes then skipping ahead again. But when I watched Steel City with director/cast commentary, it really came alive. Now I can watch it and enjoy it as a film, seeing the artistry that I first missed. It is definitely a film with more layers than are obvious on first glance.
For Your ConsiderationSeptember 5, 2009 / Starz
Not the best from this troupe of players, but For Your Consideration is good fun nonetheless. It’s just the perfect balance of ridiculata and good humor.
The Wind That Shakes The BarleySeptember 5, 2009 / Starz
Incredibly fascinating story about the struggles of a divided Ireland in the early part of the 20th century. Cillian Murphy, among others, is astounding. The Wind That Shakes the Barley is an excellent film!
We Own the NightAugust 15, 2009 / Starz
This is another one of those films I always intended to see but never quite made time for. It’s not as good as I hoped but I did enjoy Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. Mark Wahlberg, on the other hand, was more or less his usual self, and I had enough of Eva Mendes from her first scene. In the end, I think We Own the Night is one of those films that could wait for cable viewing.
300August 15, 2009 / Starz
The idea of 300 was much more impressive to me than the desire to watch it, thus my waiting all this time to finally make time for it. Much as I enjoy a good historical action flick, I just couldn’t get excited about this one. I tried. I really did. But I found it heavy on the design and lighter on the acting, not to mention the storytelling, at times. I finally found myself playing it in the background while doing other things around the flat. Rarely do I divide my time between any movie and other tasks, which tells me 300 just wasn’t my kind of film. Although the scenes of the outnumbered Spartan army head-to-head against their formidable Persian foes was spectacular and the best parts of the movie.
The RuinsAugust 15, 2009 / Starz
I don’t watch anything remotely in the horror category, so The Ruins is not a film I would ever voluntarily watch. But when I realized Shawn Ashmore was part of the cast, I decided to give it a try on a cable viewing. It’s still not a good movie, but I loved Ashmore in it. And sometimes that’s really all I need in a film.

the perfect post-Christmas day

This day after Christmas is a perfect day for…
a little clean-up
a little putting-away
a little shopping
a little bit of reading

This is definitely one of my favorite (and best) gifts from 2009.
Thanks ever so much, Cerella!

and a whole lot of kickin’ back!
post-Christmas my favorite part about this photo? You guessed it: everything pictured was FREE.
Truly the perfect cap to a great Christmas season!
Now, if I can just get the smell of turkey out of my belongings…

Documenting the days of Christmas was inspired by Ali Edwards’s December Daily project and the Holidays in Hand class by Jessica Sprague.