Leonard’s Favorite Films for 2011


As we are all sharing our favorites films of 2011, here are some of my own off of the top of my head that stayed with me:

1.) Hugo (Directed by Martin Scorsese)

Of all of the films I’ve seen this year, Hugo was the only one that felt more like an Event than just watching a story. The story of a young boy who inherits an automaton from his father and is looking for a way to fix it, it’s simply a beautiful story of discovered paths, creative endeavors, and lost dreams. What makes the movie great is that the story centers on the birth of cinema. Any movie lover, once they see where the story moves is bound to end up with a smile on their faces. Strong performances by Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz help to move Scorsese’s film along, and the vibrant backgrounds are just beautiful. Hugo happens to be one of few live action motion pictures that really demands to be viewed in 3D. I’ve never seen a film use it better, and that statement actually includes James Cameron’s Avatar. Scorsese makes you believe he has a grasp of what the audience needs to see and it’s conveyed so well that I can imagine studios not making Hugo a Thanksgiving re-release next year. It truly is that good, and is my Best Picture Pick, though if Shame won, I wouldn’t be upset.

2.) Shame (Directed by Steve McQueen)

We all have our addictions (be it something that hurts or helps you) and it’s because of this that Shame hit a personal note with me. Sometimes you go into a film just expecting to see a story, only to find what you’re seeing has more to do with you than you previously thought. Last year, Black Swan was that film for me. Right now, with the exception of Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I can’t think of a better Best Actor nomination than Michael Fassbender. His Brandon Sullivan is a tortured soul who on the surface appears to be “normal” in every way, but is driven by his desires. The life he’s built for himself is thrown into turmoil with the arrival of his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan, in an equally strong role), who suffers from issues of her own. Brandon’s sex addiction drives him to different avenues, and the hopes you have that he’ll somehow make it through are picked away by every instance where he falls. McQueen pulls no punches, as the NC-17 rating explicitly displays the life Brandon leads, doing so in such a way that the audience can’t feel any sort of amorous feelings over what’s on screen. Not since Requiem for a Dream have I felt so hurt by a film. Both films show just how far people can fall. Case in point: When the credits came up in the dark on my showing of the film, no one in the audience moved for nearly 3 minutes, and sit in silence. That was the impact it had. Long tracking shots carry the audience with the characters, and I find that McQueen didn’t care about lighting. There is one point where characters speak but the lighting is dim, but it comes across as just real. Other situations have locations that I’ve been to from time to time, so it was easy to relate to. You’re not even told how Brandon and Sissy got to where they are. It’s not necessary for this particular story. The movie basically says, “This is the important part, deal with it.” and damn if that’s not cool. Overall, it’s Fassbender who carries the film and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more films from this pair in the future (note that I haven’t seen Hunger, yet).

3.) Melancholia (Directed by Lars Von Trier)

I’m not sure how to describe Melancholia. I could say that it’s simply a beautiful story about a girl suffering from depression. I could also say that it’s an artful tale about the end of the world. When I really think about it, Melancholia is about reactions (to me, anyway). Kirsten Dunst’s Justine suffers from Melancholia and because of it, her wedding isn’t going as well as her family would like. On the surface, it appears that she is the one the biggest problems, but when a small planet (also named Melancholia) also threatens to collide with the planet, Justine becomes the grounding individual when everyone else around her appears to be losing it, and I found that to be mesmerizing. The one person who everyone seemed to have a problem with (save for her most patient sister and loving fiancée) becomes the person you’d want by your side at the end of all things. The opening of the film may seem a little off-putting with it’s slow motion overture, but these are the moments that as a viewer you should be paying the most attention to. Ironically, it isn’t until the end of the film that you may realize you want to remember what you saw in those opening moments. An easily recommended film that stays with you long after it’s ended. I saw it last week, and it’s still on my mind.

4.) Tinker Tailor Solder Spy (Directed by Tomas Alfredson)

Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy teaches us that the spy game really isn’t full of the fancy James Bond gadgetry. It lacks the Jason Bourne Jujitsu and freerunning. During the Cold War, we knew who our enemies were, they knew us and everyone moved like pieces on a Chessboard. Not willing to risk a third World War (which would undoubtedly be atomic), moves were quiet. Taking place in the early ‘70s, a botched mission that has the potential to reveal a mole within the upper echelon of a British Spy Network brings former spy George Smiley (a remarkable Gary Oldman) into the fray to find out who among the top four members could be the mole. While the film doesn’t move at a great pace (and given the time period, it really shouldn’t), it really deserves a viewing. Although Oldman’s Oscar worthy performance is bound to be noticed, I think that Benedict Cumberbatch also did really well here. Cumberbatch, who I never heard of before until the recent announcement that he’ll be in the next Abrahms Star Trek film, carries his own with the likes of Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds and Oscar Winner Colin Firth with ease, and I’m sure he’ll be a picking up an award or two somewhere down the line for a future role. The film itself is a great thriller, but requires a lot of patience to be really appreciated.

5.) 50 / 50 (Directed by Jonathan Levine)

I already wrote a review for this film. The only thing I’ll add to what I said there is that for as simple as the movie is filmed, 50/50 gets its message out to the audience. The actors keep the film moving forward and Joseph Gordon-Levitt will have you alternately smiling and maybe tearful at some of the emotions he goes through. There’s very little I can say on that. This was just a great film to see.

6.) Sucker Punch (Directed by Zack Snyder) 

Sucker Punch is one of those unfortunate films where for some, the hype for it exceeded what the film gave the audience. I believe that this is partially due to the nature of the story. I think perhaps the audience may have been expecting to see girls kicking ass 24/7 throughout the movie but never run into any actual problems. The real world problems that the women in this movie endure are why the fantasies are made. The near rape sequence in the beginning of the film bothered me to the point that I couldn’t effectively write a review, but scenes like that and others helped to drive home the dangers the characters faced. This (their handling of things) was one of the elements I also loved about Sucker Punch. Viktor Frankl once stated that regardless of what happens to a person, they can choose how they react to a given situation. You can choose to let something hurt you, or choose to hold on your happiness. In Sucker Punch, Baby Doll chooses to hold on to her strength by using her imagination to her advantage. That’s all the fantasy sequences are really about. If it were shown without them, you’d basically have Escape from Alcatraz. Sucker Punch is stylish and in your face. No complaints here with that.

7.) Drive (Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn)

Drive is another movie I reviewed, and while I stand why what I said in that review, I have to note that based on Valhalla Rising, Drive is a stronger film than I previously mentioned. I’ll admit that I’m excited to be able see it again, knowing the tone of the film.

8.) Captain America: The First Avenger (Directed by Joe Johnston)

If you told me that Captain America was worth seeing, especially after I just walked out of seeing The Wolfman, I’d have laughed in your face. Truth be told, I saw Captain America twice in the theatre, I liked it so much. It was a great popcorn movie that didn’t take itself too seriously, yet cemented itself in the Avengers storyline stronger than all of the previous films before it (and that includes Thor). Green Lantern could have definitely learned something from this film.

Lisa Marie’s Picks For The Best 26 Films of 2011


Here’s the final post in my “Best of 2011” series, my picks for the best 26 films of 2011.  I’m just going to let this list stand for itself but I do want to make clear that these are MY picks and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the writers and editors on this site.  You can read Leon’s picks right here and I’m sure that my fellow writers will be posting their own picks over the upcoming weeks.  I’d also like to point out that I have limited my picks to films that I’ve actually seen this year — as opposed to just blindly jumping on the bandwagon of assumption as so many other film bloggers have done this year.* I have yet to see War Horse, Albert Nobbs, The Iron Lady, or We Need To Talk About Kevin, for instance.  However, I have seen both The Descendants and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and no, neither one of them is on my list because, regardless of what the jack-booted thugs of professional criticism may insist, I didn’t feel either one of them deserved to be listed as one of the best films of the year.  Ultimately, watching a movie is an individual experience and every individual opinion is legitimate.

(By the way, I’m doing a Top 26 list because Lisa doesn’t do odd numbers.)

Without further ado, here are my top 26 films of 2011:

1)      Hanna

2)      Higher Ground

3)      Shame

4)      Hugo

5)      The Artist

6)      The Guard

7)      Bridesmaids

8)      Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

9)      Young Adult

10)  Sucker Punch

11)  Incendies

12)  Melancholia

13)  Super

14)  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

15)  Win Win

16)  The Cave of Forgotten Dreams

17)  Martha Marcy May Marlene

18)  Jane Eyre

19)  Terri

20)  50/50

21)  Take Shelter

22)  Drive

23)  Soul Surfer

24)  Bunraku

25)  One Day

26)  Like Crazy

Hopefully, I should be posting reviews of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Incendies sometime next week.

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* You’d have to be made of Stone to claim to be a film critic and yet not realize how unethical that type of behavior is.

Lisa Marie’s 10 Favorite Novels of 2011


Continuing my series on the best of 2011, I now present my 10 favorite novels of the previous year.  For a lot of reasons, I didn’t get to read quite as much as I wanted to over the past year.  My New Year’s resolution — well, one of them — is to do better in 2012.

Without further ado, here’s my list.  All 10 of the novels provided an entertaining, thought-provoking read over the past year and you should read them all.

1) The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagan

2) Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

3) Bumped by Megan McCaffrey

4) The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

5) There is No Year by Blake Butler

6) Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close

7) Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen

8) The Forgotten Waltz by Ann Enright

9) Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany

10) The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Coming up tomorrow: The list we’ve all be waiting for — my top 26 films of 2011.

necromoonyeti’s 10 Favorite Songs of 2011


I want to hop on the bandwagon. It would be a little silly for me to post my real top 10; for one thing, it would include four Krallice tracks. That aside, nearly everything I’d put on it I’ve either posted on this site as a Song of the Day or included in both my review of its album and my top albums post. So to make this a bit different from my past posts, I’m going to limit myself to one song per band, stick to stuff that I imagine might appeal to people who aren’t interested in extreme metal, and keep it on the catchy side. I’ll list a more honest top 10 at the end.

10. Powerwolf – Son of a Wolf (from Blood of the Saints)

As such, my tenth place selection is about as metal as it’s going to get. Powerwolf’s Blood of the Saints might be simple and repetitive, but it’s about the catchiest power/heavy metal album I’ve ever heard. It indulges the same guilty pleasure for me as Lordi and Twisted Sister–two bands that inexplicably pump me up despite being entirely tame. It also offers some amazing operatic vocals and Dracula keyboards, the cheesiness of which can be easily forgiven. Son of a Wolf might be one of the more generic tracks in a sense, but it’s the one most often stuck in my head.

9. Alestorm – Barrett’s Privateers (from Back Through Time)

The only thing I love more than traditional folk and sea chanties is folk punk and metal. When the latter covers the former, I’m in bliss. Alestorm are emerging as the sort of Dropkick Murphys of metal with all their covers lately, and I hope they keep it up. I loved Barrett’s Privateers before what you’re hearing ever happened, and the metal version delights me to no end.

8. The Decemberists – Rox in the Box (from The King is Dead)

The Decemberists really toned it down this year. Where The Hazards of Love could be described as an epic rock opera, The King is Dead sticks to simple, pleasant folk. But Colin Meloy thoroughly researches pretty much every subject he’s ever tackled, and The King is Dead pays ample homage to its predecessors. Rox in the Box incorporates Irish traditional song Raggle Taggle Gypsy with delightful success.

7. Nekrogoblikon – Goblin Box (from Stench)

With a keen eye towards contemporary folk metal like Alestorm and Finntroll, melodic death classics like In Flames and Children of Bodom, and much else besides, former gimmick band Nekrogoblikon really forged their own unique sound in the world of folk metal in 2011. At least half of the album is this good. Stench is the most unexpected surprise the year had to offer by far.

6. Korpiklaani – Surma (from Ukon Wacka)

Korpiklaani almost always end their albums with something special, and 2011 is no exception. The melody of Surma is beautiful, and Jonne Järvelä’s metal take on traditional Finnish vocals is as entertaining as ever.

5. Turisas – Hunting Pirates (from Stand Up and Fight)

I couldn’t find a youtube video that effectively captured the full scope of Turisas’s sound in such limited bitrates, but believe me, it’s huge. Go buy the album and find out for yourselves. Unlike Varangian Way, not every track is this good, but on a select number Turisas appear in their finest form. Adventurous, exciting, epic beyond compare, this band delivers with all of the high definition special effects of a Hollywood blockbuster.

4. The Flight of Sleipnir – Transcendence (from Essence of Nine)

Essence of Nine kicks off with a kaleidoscope of everything that makes stoner metal great, while reaching beyond the genre to incorporate folk and Akerfeldt-esque vocals. A beautifully constructed song, it crushes you even as it floats through the sky. I could imagine Tony Iommi himself rocking out to this one.

3. Boris – Black Original (from New Album)

From crust punk to black metal, there’s nothing Boris don’t do well, and 2011 has shown more than ever that there’s no style they’ll hesitate from dominating. I don’t know what’s been going on in the past few years with this popular rise of 80s sounds and weird electronics. I don’t listen to it, so I can’t relate. But if I expected it sounded anything nearly as good as what Boris pulled off this year I’d be all over it.

2. Tom Waits – Chicago (from Bad as Me)

Bad as Me kicks off with one of my favorite Tom Waits songs to date. It’s a timeless theme for him, but it feels more appropriate now than ever, and his dirty blues perfectly capture the sort of fear and excitement of packing up and seeking out a better life.

1. Dropkick Murphys – Take ‘Em Down (from Going Out in Style)

In a year just begging for good protest songs, Flogging Molly tried really hard and fell flat. Dropkick Murphys, another band you’d expect to join the cause, released perhaps their most generic album to date (still good mind you, but not a real chart topper). Take ‘Em Down is kind of out of place on the album, but it’s DKM to the core, and as best I can gather it’s an original song, not a cover of a traditional track. If so, it’s probably the most appropriate thing written all year. (The video is fan made.)

If you’re interested in my actual top 10, it runs something like this:

10. Falkenbach – Where His Ravens Fly…
9. Waldgeflüster – Kapitel I: Seenland
8. Liturgy – High Gold
7. Endstille – Endstille (Völkerschlächter)
6. Blut aus Nord – Epitome I
5. Krallice – Intro/Inhume
4. Liturgy – Harmonia
3. Krallice – Diotima
2. Krallice – Telluric Rings
1. Krallice – Dust and Light

And that excludes so many dozens of amazing songs that it seems almost pointless to post it.

My Top 15 Metal Albums of 2011


The years I most actively indulge my musical interests are the ones I find most difficult to wrap up in any sort of nice cohesive summary. December always begins with a feeling that I’ve really built up a solid basis on which to rate the best albums of the year, and it tends to end with the realization that I’ve really only heard a minute fraction of what’s out there. I’m going to limit this to my top 15. Anything beyond that is just too arbitrary–the long list of new albums I’ve still yet to hear will ultimately reconfigure it beyond recognition.

15. Thantifaxath – Thantifaxath EP
Thantifaxath’s debut EP might only be 15 minutes long, but that was more than enough to place it high on my charts. The whole emerging post/prog-bm sound has been largely a product of bands with the resources to refine it, and it’s quite refreshing to hear sounds reminiscent of recent Enslaved without any of the studio gloss. That, and I get a sort of B-side outer space horror vibe from it that’s not so easy to come by. (Recommended track: Violently Expanding Nothing)

14. Craft – Void
This is the straight-up, no bullshit black metal album of the year. It doesn’t try anything fancy or original. It’s just good solid mid-tempo bm–brutal, evil, conjuring, and unforgiving. Hail Satan etc. (Recommended track: any of them)

13. Turisas – Stand Up and Fight
Stand Up and Fight doesn’t hold a candle to The Varangian Way, but I never really expected it to. As a follow-up to one of my all-time favorite albums, it does a solid job of maintaining that immensely epic, triumphal sound they landed on in 2007. It lacks their previous work’s continuity, both in quality and in theme, but it’s still packed with astoundingly vivid imagery and exciting theatrics that render it almost more of a movie than an album. (Recommended tracks: Venetoi! Prasinoi!, Hunting Pirates)

12. Endstille – Infektion 1813
Swedish-style black metal seldom does much for me, and it’s hard to describe just what appeals to me so much about Germany’s Endstille. But just as Verführer caught me by pleasant surprise two years ago, Infektion 1813 managed to captivate me in spite of all expectations to the contrary. Like Marduk (the only other band of the sort that occasionally impresses me), they stick to themes of modern warfare, but Endstille’s musical artillery bombardments carry a sense of something sinister that Marduk lacks. The dark side of human nature Endstille explores isn’t shrouded in enticing mystery–it’s something so thoroughly historically validated that we’d rather just pretend it doesn’t exist at all. The final track, Völkerschlächter, is one of the best songs of the year. Stylistically subdued, it pummels the listener instead with a long list of political and military leaders responsible for mass murder, named in a thick German accent over a seven second riff that’s repeated for 11 minutes. It’s a brutal realization that the sensations black metal tends to arouse are quite real and quite deplorable, and it will leave you feeling a little sick inside.

11. Nekrogoblikon – Stench
Nekrogoblikon released a folk metal parody album in 2006 that was good for laughs and really nothing else. The music was pretty awful, but that was intentional. It was a joke, with no presumption to be any good as anything but a joke. They’re the last band on earth I ever expected, a full six years after the fact, to pop back up with a really fucking solid sound. But Stench is good. I mean, Stench is really good. It’s still comical in theme, but the music has been refined beyond measure. Quirky, cheesy guitar and keyboard doodles have become vivid images of little flesh-eating gremlins dancing around your feet, whiny mock-vocals have taken the shape of pretty solid Elvenking-esque power metal, pretty much everything about them has grown into a legitimate melo-death and power infused folk metal sound. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still not meant to be taken seriously, but they’re now of Finntroll caliber. (Recommended tracks: Goblin Box, Gallows & Graves, A Feast)

10. Týr – The Lay of Thrym
I thought By the Light of the Northern Star was a fairly weak album, and because The Lay of Thrym maintains some of the stylistic changes they underwent then, a part of me keeps wanting to say it can’t be as good as say, Land or Eric the Red. But of all the albums I acquired in 2011, I’ve probably listened to this one the most. Týr have one of the most unique sounds on the market, and it’s thoroughly incapable of ever boring me or growing old. Heri Joensen’s consistently excellent vocal performance alone is enough to make them perpetual year-end contenders. (Recommended track: Hall of Freedom)

9. Waldgeflüster – Femundsmarka – Eine Reise in drei Kapiteln
This is some of the most endearing black metal I’ve heard in a while. Intended as a musical reminiscence of Winterherz’ journey through Femundsmarka National Park in Scandinavia, it’s a beautiful glorification of nature that takes some of the best accomplishments of Drudkh and Agalloch and adds to them a very uplifting vibe. Someone made an 8 minute compilation of the album on youtube which does a good job at previewing without revealing all of its finest moments. (Recommended track: Kapitel I: Seenland)

8. Ygg – Ygg
Ygg is an hour-long trance, evoking ancient gods in a way that only Slavic metal can. You could probably pick apart the music and discover plenty of flaws, but that would miss the point. I think that a lot of these Ukrainian and Russian bands are true believers, and that the purpose of music like this is more to create an experience in the listener than to be good for its own sake. This is a spiritual journey, and if it fails to move you as such it will probably come off as rather repetitive and generic, but I find it impressively effective. (Recommended track: Ygg)

7. Blut aus Nord – 777: Sect(s)
I don’t know where to put this really. I could just as easily have labeled it second best album of the year. Dropping it down to 7th might seem a little unjustified, but eh, this is a list of my top albums, not of the “best” albums of the year. There’s no denying Sect(s) credit as a brilliant masterpiece, but it’s an ode to madness. I mean, this music scares the shit out of me, and if that means it’s accomplished something no other album has, that also means I don’t particularly “enjoy” listening to it. (Recommended track: Epitome I)

6. Altar of Plagues – Mammal
I never did listen to Mammal as actively as I would have liked. I never sat down and gave it my undivided attention from start to finish. But it’s served as a background piece for many late nights at work. It zones me in–stimulates my senses without ever distracting them from the task at hand. I don’t feel like I can really say much about what makes it great, because that’s not the sort of thing I’ve considered while listening to it, but I absolutely love it. It’s a big improvement from White Tomb, which was itself an excellent album, and more so than most other releases of 2011 I will probably continue to listen to it frequently in years to come. (Recommended track: Neptune is Dead)

5. Primordial – Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand (track: No Grave Deep Enough)
Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand is by no means perfect. It’s got a few sub-par tracks detracting from the full start to finish experience, but when it’s at its best all else can be easily forgiven. Call it folk metal or call it black metal, whichever you prefer, but first and foremost call it Irish, with every good thing that might entail. The vocals are outstanding, the music rocks out in folk fashion without ever relenting from its metal force, and while the lyrics don’t always make sense, they always hit like a fucking truck. Where they do all come together, delivered with Nemtheanga’s vast and desperate bellows, the result is overwhelming. O Death, where are your teeth that gnaw on the bones of fabled men? O Death, where are your claws that haul me from the grave? (Other recommended tracks: The Puritan’s Hand, Death of the Gods)

4. Falconer – Armod (track: Griftefrid)
Prior to 2011 I’d largely written Falconer off as one of those power metal acts that were just a little too cheesy to ever excite me. Maybe it was bad timing. Maybe I just happened to hear them for the first time while Kristoffer Göbel was filling in on vocals. Or maybe Armod is just their magnum opus–a spark of genius they’ve never neared before. Flawless if we ignore the “bonus tracks”, Armod takes that early folk metal sound Vintersorg pioneered with Otyg, merges it perfectly with power metal, and offers up 11 of the most well-written and excellently produced songs of the year. Mathias Blad’s vocals are absolutely phenomenal. (Other recommended tracks: Herr Peder Och Hans Syster)

3. Falkenbach – Tiurida (track: Sunnavend)
A lot of people might voice the legitimate complaint that Tiurida, Vratyas Vakyas’s first studio album in six years, sounds absolutely indistinguishable from his prior four. For me, that’s exactly why it ranks so high. Vakyas landed on a completely unique, instantly recognizable sound which, alongside Bathory, defined viking metal as a genre, and he’s refused to change it one bit. I fell in love with this album ten years ago. (Other recommended tracks: Where His Ravens Fly…)

2. Liturgy – Aesthethica (track: Harmonia)
Yes, Liturgy. It’s immature, childish, and imperfect, but it’s uplifting in a completely new way. No matter how far Hunt-Hendrix might go to embarrass himself and his band mates, behind all of his pompous babble there just might be some truth to it. (Other recommended tracks: True Will)

1. Krallice – Diotima (track: Dust and Light)
More than the album of the year, Diotima is one of the greatest albums ever made. I can’t fathom the amount of skill it must take to perform with the speed and precision that these guys do, but if they battered down a physical barrier to metal in 2008, they finally grasped hold of what lies beyond it in 2011. They claim that the songs on their first three albums were all written at the same time by Mick Barr and Colin Marston, before their self-titled debut. If that’s the case, then it must be the experience of performing together and the creative contributions of Lev Weinstein and Nick McMaster that raised Diotima to a higher level. It’s not just that they’ve improved in every way imaginable; the songs themselves are overwhelming, breathtaking, and chaotic to a degree they’d never before accomplished. Krallice perform an unwieldy monster that took a few albums to thoroughly overcome. Now they’re in complete control, and their absolutely brilliant song-writing can shine through. With the exception of the dubious Litany of Regrets, this is possibly the greatest album I have ever heard. (Other recommended tracks: Inhume, Diotima, Telluric Rings)