Thursday, January 21, 2010

Top 10 Movies: 2002

How fitting that the second year of the millennium (but, again, not the decade) was dominated by sequels -- three of the top four grossers were follow-ups: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (what's with the long titles?). All made over $200M. None of them were particularly excellent (although one did crack my top 10 -- guess which one!). The rest of the box-office list is littered with sequels (or the soon-to-be-coined "threequels"): Austin Powers in Goldmember (secretly kinda awesome and probably my favorite of the three), Men in Black II (abjectly dogshit), Die Another Day (crappy). Even the top-grosser, Spider-Man, spawned two sequels of GREATLY varying quality (and an upcoming reboot -- already? seriously? -- that better not have the douchefag from High School Musical or the douchefag from Twilight), further propagating the sequel syndrome that we're still suffering from today. Critically-speaking, 2002 featured the sequel to one of the worst Oscars in recent memory. It was another snoozefest as the big winners (Chicago, The Pianist, and The Hours) beat out more-deserving candidates (Gangs of New York, Adaptation., and Road to Perdition) in nearly every category. Brody over Day-Lewis? Somebody named Ronald Harwood over Charlie Kaufman? For real? This actually happened? I can't wait until they reboot the Oscars and start handing out retroactive awards.

Moving right along, my top-10 list is sequel-free (with one notable exception) and awards-bait free (with one notable exception). There's some good genre films, some under-appreciated work by major directors, multiple sword fights, and two controversial "adaptations." The only thing that's missing is zombies. Apparently. Here are my ten favorites:

Honorable mentions: Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore's last -- only? -- good film), Ghost Ship (so not kidding), Orange County (the best Farrelly brothers movie they never made), Resident Evil (again, not kidding -- Paul W.S. Anderson knows a thing or two about atmosphere (Event Horizon), The Ring (still the scariest movie I've seen in theaters).

Never saw it: City of God. I should probably rectify this soon.

10) Minority Report
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Scott Frank and Jon Cohen
Starring: Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow

I'm going to try to keep these write-ups a bit shorter, at least this far down the list. Anyway, Steve Spielberg doing a science fiction neo-noir? Based on a Phil Dick story? With Tommy Cruise? Sign me up! I understand the hate for Cruise the celebrity, what with the Scientology and couch-jumping, but he's still a badass movie star (until recently anyway). Also solid here are a pre-coke Colin Farrell and That Guy Hall-of-Famer Neal McDonough (so creepy). The film is a technical marvel (photographed by the Oscar-winning Janusz Kamiński and also won the Sound Editing Oscar), if not exactly a narrative masterpiece. A final note: This film is about 10 to 150,000 times better than the next Cruise/Spielberg collaboration, War of the Worlds.

9) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Elijah Woods, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis

"Oooh, look at me, I'm Aragorn, watch me fall off this cliff!" I'm not usually picky about adaptations -- I understand that things sometimes have to change when going to a different medium -- but that particular plot invention did not sit very well with me. It took what was largely an action-oriented picture and brought it to a screeching halt, not to mention the fact that we had to sit through more of Liv Tyler's miserable impression of an elf (one of my only casting issues with the film). I also took great issue with the seizure-inducing editing in the Helm's Deep battle sequence. I think it was a Transformers-esque case of technology not up to par with the director's vision. Those two major flaws aside, the weakest entry in the Rings trilogy still has a lot going for it -- beautiful landscapes (it could be argued that New Zealand is the real star here), top-notch performances from Astin and Serkis (how cool would it have been for him to get some Oscar love?), some iconic scenes (Sméagol/Gollum's moonlit monologue/dialogue comes to mind), and, of course, this gem:

8) Road to Perdition
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: David Self
Starring: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig

I actually only saw this for the first time very recently, but it made quite an impression on me. I think it just might be Sam Mendes's best film. It's easily my favorite anyway. American Beauty is excellent, but it doesn't hold up quite as well 10 years later; Jarhead is probably my second favorite (although Deakins is the real star); Revolutionary Road was mediocre at best (and tedious at worst); and Away We Go, while a welcome foray into a more comedic direction, was too simplistic. Road to Perdition packs serious dramatic weight, boasts a plethora of great performances, deconstructs the gangster genre, and features the last work of the late, great Conrad Hall. I'm quite curious to see what direction Mendes takes in his reunion with Craig -- the next Bond film.

7) Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Directed by: George Clooney
Written by: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Sam Rockwell, George Clooney, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts

My friends and I have this totally straight thing where certain actors, directors, and (rarely) writers achieve "boy status." We'll say things like, "Brad Pitt's my boy" or "Mark Strong is almost at boy status." This probably comes from Old School and Will Ferrell's iconic "You're my boy, Blue!" The exact ins and outs (there's gotta be a better way to say that...) of boy status are unknown; it's kind of a "you know it when you see it" thing. Anyway, I bring that up because George Clooney is my boy (he might even be my #1 boy, but that's a whole other debate). Sam Rockwell is my boy. And, sure as shit, Charlie Kaufman is my boy. He might even be the only writer that has yet achieved boy status (although Bill Monahan might be up there if not for a certain misfire... we'll call it... how about... Sum of Untruths). So yeah. Three boys in one movie, encompassing the director-writer-lead actor triumvirate? I'm not sure this has happened before or since. Add to that Chuck Barris's batshit crazy "autobiography" of which this is an "adaptation" and cool stylized visuals, and you've got yourself one helluva motion picture.

6) Catch Me If You Can
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Jeff Nanthanson
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken

Very much a modern-day (well, it mostly takes place during the '60s) picaresque, full of whimsy and humor, Catch Me If You Can is very much in the Indiana Jones/Hook vein of Spielberg's oeuvre (I do love that word). The movie just oozes charm, from Tom Hank's funnily-accented FBI agent to Leo's "Do you concur?" to the locale-hopping montages. Christopher Walken is excellent as Leo's father in a role that has always reminded me of his character in Pulp Fiction, minus the whole watch thing. The film also looks pretty interesting next to Confessions on this list -- what with all the forgeries and lies and double lives and government agents. I give this one the higher ranking because it's probably the "better" film of the two. And it doesn't have Julia Roberts.

5) Gangs of New York
Directed by: Martin Scorcese
Written by: Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, John C. Reilly, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson

...and here's the previously-mentioned awards bait. This was very nearly the apex of the "Please Give Me an Oscar" stage of Scorcese's career, although not nearly as egregious as 2004's The Aviator. That said, it's a damn fine film that, while probably a little (a lot?) long, could have -- and perhaps should have -- won some major awards. Scorcese himself was a near miss, and I still say that D-Day was robbed -- robbed, I say! -- for his iconic performance as Bill the Butcher, easily one of my favorite performances of the decade. And look at that supporting cast! Gleeson was incredible, Reilly showed a menacing side that we might not get to see again now that he's in the Ferrell/McKay stable, and Neeson and Jim Broadbent showed why they're some of the best in the business. Oh, and something about Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz (the movie is not good because of them, although Leo is pretty decent here). And what's with that U2 song on the end credits? Yuck. Final point: This film wouldn't be on this list if it weren't for Day-Lewis.

4) Hero
Directed by: Zhang Yimou
Written by: Feng Li, Ben Wang, and Zhang Yimou
Starring: Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi

Okay, Hero didn't actually get released in the U.S. until 2004, when it was released under the ridiculous moniker Quentin Tarantino Presents Hero. I actually saw this sometime in 2003 because my girlfriend at the time got some sort of pirated copy or something (she was Chinese). I was immediately blown away -- I still hadn't seen much Asian cinema at the time (although the movie is even better now that I have). Leung and Cheung steal the show (as they are wont to do), as Chris Doyle's (one of the only boy status DPs) absolutely GORGEOUS cinematography. Pure spectacle. The political ideology the film espouses my be controversial (ditto 2007's similar The Curse of the Golden Flower), but anyone that watches this for politics is watching for the wrong reasons.

3) Adaptation.
Directed by: Spike Jonze
Written by: Charlie Kaufman & Donald Kaufman
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep, Brian Cox

When I was thinking about what to say about this movie, it occurred to me that I might have actually seen this movie at the now-defunct Harkins Poca Fiesta 4. MAN, that place was a dump. Some of my friends probably have TVs bigger than the screens there. Wow. Anyway, that place was beat-up, run-down, pretty much all around crappy... but not without a certain charm. Kind of like Chris Cooper's character in this movie. (Yeah, I know that segue was tenuous... very Matt Berry-esque of me.) Regardless, Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of orchid thief John Laroche, the main character of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief, the book of which this film is supposedly an adaptation. Meryl Streep probably should have won an Oscar for her portrayal of Orlean herself. Nic Cage was up for an Oscar for his portrayal of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and his fictitious brother Donald. And Charlie Kaufman himself DEFINITELY should have won him an Oscar for his completely bonkers -- yet funny, touching, and smart -- script about how hard it is to adapt a book about flowers. Genius stuff, really. Final note: Brian Cox almost steals the entire movie in his scenes as screenwriting guru Robert McKee. It's a good thing he didn't succeed, or no one would have seen this brilliant movie. And Cox would probably be on the run from the law, which would suck, because he's awesome.

2) Punch-Drunk Love
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman

Gotta love it when comedic actors go dramatic. Some of my favorite movies of the decade -- this, Lost in Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- feature noted funny men in more serious roles.  I wonder, though, if we think these movies -- I probably actually more mean the performances -- are so good because there's an element of novelty to seeing, for example, a man who once fought a penguin for nudey magazines showing a powerful range of emotion. Or a man who once tried to blow up gophers with dynamite looking forlorn and world-weary. Or Ace Ven-fucking-tura himself conveying real, painful heartbreak. I don't think it's a case of novelty. I think it's rather *because* these men debase themselves so thoroughly on a regular basis that they're able to tap so deeply into those emotional veins. Whatever the case, Happy Gilmore showed himself capable of someday winning an Oscar in this film (and in Reign Over Me, and in Spanglish) if the right role comes along. Someday it might -- it nearly did for Murray, although it may already have for Carrey. The last thing I want to mention (although there are many more that I could have) is Jon Brion's absolutely berserk score. It compliments Sandler's emotional turbulence so well it's scary.

1) 28 Days Later
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Alex Garland
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston

No offense (which means I can say anything I want) Danny Boyle, but FUCK YOU. Claim what you want, but this is a zombie movie. You can call them infected all you want, but this is a fucking zombie movie. Yes, you use the controversial "zoombie" in lieu of the traditional, shambling Romero zombie, and *I guess* technically they're still alive, but they run around en masse trying to bite (eat?) humans. THAT'S A ZOMBIE.

Rant over. Regardless of nomenclature, calling this a zombie movie might even be a misnomer, since it's more about social commentary than blood and guts (although it does not hold back in that department). Maybe this is one of the best post-apocalyptic movies of all time (although, this time around, the apocalypse is localized to Britain). Whatever genre you decide to peg this movie into, it's one of my favorites of the decade. The sheer amount of talent involved is ridiculous -- Boyle (no stranger to crossing genre lines) speaks for himself, but Garland is an amazing novelist (The Beach is totally, unappreciatedly genius) and screenwriter (this, Sunshine), and John Murphy is easily one of my favorite film composers (along with the aforementioned Brion, Clint Mansell, and Phillip Glass), and Murphy is definitely boy status. This is just a perfectly-made film; I'm not sure there is a way this film could have been better. It's rare to come across a film like that. From the haunting shots at the beginning of a deserted London to the frantic chase sequences to the climactic escape from the military compound, the film is shot, scripted, acted, and scored perfectly. That's why it's #1 here.

That, and because it's a zombie movie.

Well, I only mildly succeeded in the whole "shorter" thing -- this was closer to 2500 words than 3000. So that's good. Well, whether you found it controversial or conformist, I hope you enjoyed reading. I'll tackle the albums of '02 in due time. Until then...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Movies of 2009

Now, it's movie time. No, not the seminal video rental store in the Village of Oak Creek where pretty much all my high school friends worked at, but time to bust out my top movie list. I'll keep this simple -- ten that missed the cut (alphabetized), then top 10 proper (ranked). Again, no times for write ups now (probably when I finish this damn thing). Enjoy.

Near Misses
(500) Days of Summer
The Brothers Bloom
Drag Me to Hell
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
A Perfect Getaway
A Serious Man
Star Trek
Up in the Air

My Top 10 Movies of 2009
10) Adventureland
9) District 9
8) Pandorum
7) Watchmen
6) An Education
5) The Hangover
4) Zombieland
3) The Hurt Locker
2) Avatar
1) Inglourious Basterds

Finally, and because I can't make this point clear enough, The Single Worst Film of 2009, Bar None:

Where the Wild Things Are

I had no expectations -- literally, none -- and I was floored at how godawful it was. I spent much of the last 35-40 minutes staring at the ceiling and waiting for it to be over. Just completely uninvested. The technical achievements were notable, and I think no worse of the (considerable) talent behind it, but let this be a lesson in hubris to filmmakers -- some things are unfilmable... and first and foremost among these things is a children's book with less than 15 sentences TOTAL between its pages. Just not enough story. It would've been better to go avant-garde and abandon any pretense of narrative (and you know Jonze could pull it off). Instead, 100 minutes of temper tantrums of the quality you can find at any toy store in America. They should've just called it Angst: The Movie or The Invention of Emo. Rant over.

Again, thanks for reading!

Music of 2009

I don't have the time to do write-ups now, but I wanted to post my Best of 2009 lists. First up is music. I've listed 25 albums, but only the top 10 are ranked (the rest are alphabetical). I've also listed my list of favorite songs that would fit onto one of those silly compact discs. Again, should be a pretty good mix of critically acclaimed and ignored, elitist and populist, and maybe even a little wizard rock. I've also included a list of albums I was underwhelmed with. Feel free to weigh in:

Top 25 Albums (Or, My Favorite 25 Albums), 25-11:
Bob Dylan - Together Through Life
Brand New - Daisy
The Bravery - Stir the Blood
Dredg - The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion
Four Year Strong - Explains It All
Fun. - Aim and Ignite
Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3
The Lawrence Arms - Buttsweat and Tears [EP]
The Lonely Island - Incredibad
Muse - The Resistance
New Found Glory - Not Without a Fight
Paramore - Brand New Eyes
The Parselmouths - Spattergroit
Passion Pit - Manners
Thrice - Beggars
Top 10:
10) Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
9) Set Your Goals - This Will Be the Death of Us
8) Franz Nicolay - Major General
7) The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love
6) Metric - Fantasies
5) Brendan Benson - My Old, Familar Friend
4) Tegan and Sara - Sainthood
3) Meg and Dia - Here, Here and Here
2) Lucero - 1372 Overton Park
1) Big D and the Kids Table - Fluent in Stroll

The following is a list of albums that, for whatever reason (well, I'll actually give you the reasons), I was underwhelmed by this year. Some probably just require more listening, but I was let down initially. Here's my "All-Meh" Albums of the Year:

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (I just don't get this band - Zzzzzzzzz)
Arctic Monkeys - Humbug (Album title captures all too well its mood)
The Dead Weather - Horehound (A few standouts, but a LOT of filler)
Eminem - Relapse (Just... not good. At all... lost his edge)
Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown (Can you go back to writing good pop-punk songs, please?)
Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything to Nothing (I tried... and tried, but this record doesn't do much for me)
Silversun Pickups - Swoon (The band is a one-trick pony... with one leg)
Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures (definitely need to listen to this one more... but it just seems like another QotSA record)
Weezer - Raditude (Fun enough, but Rivers has spent his cachet by now)

Finally, the songs. Rather than trying to rank them (harder than albums), I've just included my 'Best of 2009' playlist. Fits on a CD or an iPod! Here it be:

Big D and the Kids Table - "Not Fucking Around"*
The Bravery - "I Have Seen the Future"
Brendan Benson - "A Whole Lot Better"
Chuck Ragan - "Glory"
Death Cab For Cutie - "Little Bribes"
The Decemberists - "The Rake's Song"
Dredg - "Saviour"
Foo Fighters - "Wheels"
Franz Nicolay - "Nightratsong"
Fun. - "All the Pretty Girls"
Jay-Z (et al.) - "Run This Town"
The Lawrence Song - "The Slowest Drink At The Saddest Bar On The Snowiest Day In The Greatest City"*
The Lonely Island - "Like a Boss"*
Lucero - "What Are You Willing to Lose"
Meg & Dia - "Black Wedding"
Metric - "Gold Guns Girls"
New Found Glory - "Listen to Your Friends"
Paramore - "Playing God"
The Parselmouths - "Being a Veela Is Easy"
Passion Pit - "Little Secrets"
Phoenix - "1901"
Tegan & Sara - "The Cure"
Thrice - "The Weight"

*One of these is the best song of the year. For the life of me, I can't decide right now. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2001 playlist

Here are some of my favorite jams from 2001 that you could hypothetically burn onto a compact disc. If, you know, people still actually listened to those things. Listed alphabetically (according to iTunes anyway):

Alien Ant Farm - "Smooth Criminal"
Ben Folds - "Annie Waits"
blink-182 - "Anthem, Pt. 2"
Bob Dylan - "Mississippi"
Brand New - "Jude Law and a Semester Abroad"
Gorillaz - "Clint Eastwood"
Green Day - "Poprocks and Coke"
Incubus - "Wish You Were Here"
Jimmy Eat World - "A Praise Chorus"
Lostprophets - "The Fake Sound of Progress"
Rx Bandits - "VCG3"
Saves the Day - "At Your Funeral"
The Shins - "New Slang"
The Strokes - "Last Nite"
System of a Down - "Chop Suey"
Tenacious D - "Tribute"
Tool - "Schism"
Weezer - "Island in the Sun"
The White Stripes - "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground"
311 - Amber

Top 10 Albums: 2001

Before I get started, I need someone to explain something to me:  What is the deal with The Strokes?  I mean, I've heard The Strokes. I enjoy The Strokes (to an extent). I understand that they are the prototypical "New York" band that paved the way for many a hipster act. What I don't understand is how they are widely considered one of -- if not the -- best bands of the decade. I find their 2001 breakout album, Is This It to be ironically-titled... because that's exactly what I thought when I first listened to the record. "Okay... is this it?" I didn't get it, and I still don't, even though I've since softened my stance on the band. But still... pleasant-enough tunes, monotone vocals, and an excess of style a transcendental band do not make.  Good jukebox fodder? Yes. Better than most of the stuff around in the late '90s/early 2000s? Absolutely. But a best-of-decade, generation-defining band? Sorry, but no. Oh, and I'm not too crazy about the Radiohead or Shins albums released this year either. Sorry.

Moving on, 2001 was an interesting year -- this list features an eclectic list of solid releases from '90s stalwarts and early stuff from some of the new decade's finest. This is also the year I graduated from high school and started at ASU, so it was interesting to see how my taste in music started to diverge. Here's my top 10:

Honorable mentions: blink-182 - Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (I actually really like blink... a late scratch from the top 10 though), Green Day - International Superhits! (still my favorite Green Day album, if only for the inclusion of J.A.R.), Lostprophets - The Fake Sound of Progress (ah, remember nu metal?... this record is actually pretty good though), Lucky Boys Confusion - Throwing the Game (a pop-punk gem), 311 - From Chaos (this band is better than they get credit for), Weezer - Green Album (another late scratch from the top 10... "hip, hip").

10) The Strokes - Is This It
Produced by: Gordon Raphael
Standout tracks: "Someday," "Last Night," "Hard to Explain"

I know, I know. I just spent the entire intro to this entry trashing The Strokes. But what can I say, Is This It is a hard record not to like. It's actually a pretty excellent collection of toe-tappers and bar jams. The mood lifts when any of its singles come on the juke, and it's even kind of dance-y, so it's not entirely out of place in trendier uptown joints. It's even good driving music. It's just a fun, versatile record. They even throw a little Tom Petty homage in there. Okay, so they actually pretty much lifted the riff from "American Girl," but Mr. Petty is on record as saying he doesn't mind, so it's all water under the bridge. This *is* a good record... just don't try to tell me it's capital-g Great.

9) The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
Produced by: Jack White
Standout tracks: "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," "Fell in Love With a Girl," "I Can't Wait"

One of the great, underrated things about 2001 is the influx of "The" bands. The Strokes. The White Stripes. The Vines. The Hives. It seemed like every new, catchy, vaguely-garage rock band that came out was a "The" band. Lazy band-naming or homage to the British Invasion bands of the '60s (Beatles, Kinks, Byrds, Who, et al.)? You decide.

At any rate, The White Stripes were easily the best of the bunch, and a band that has a legitimate claim to being Band of the Decade -- and this was the record that introduced most people to them. While it's not their most accomplished record (that would be 2003's Elephant), White Blood Cells is definitely a highlight in their oeuvre. It's loud, raw, full of big, Zeppelin-esque riffs and concussive rhythms. "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" is easily the best album opener of the year, announcing an album that's proudly, aggressively lo-fi -- simple, unfettered rock 'n' roll.

8) Rx Bandits - Progress
Produced by: Chris Fudurich
Standout tracks: "VCG3," "Analog Boy," "Babylon," "Who Would've Thought"

 The Bandits' 1999 release Halfway Between Here and There was a fairly stereotypical (although pretty darn good) third-wave ska record, full of bouncy horn lines and songs about girls. Their very next release two years later, Progress, however, was a complex, genre-bending mini-masterpiece full of songs about technology, social injustice, and politics. Say what? In two years, the band went from an unremarkable Drive-Thru records band to a socially-conscious, indie-ska-jam band (I still don't know what to make of their live show). To put this into another context, it would be like The Beatles releasing Sgt. Pepper's immediately after Please Please Me. Rarely has a band transformed so drastically from one album to the next. Whatever the cause, I'm glad they did it. My iTunes is full of unremarkable third-wave ska acts, but there's hardly anything in it like Progress.

7) Incubus - Morning View
Produced by: Incubus and Scott Litt
Standout tracks: "Circles," "Wish You Were Here," "Are You In?"

There was a time (probably most of the early part of the decade) when Incubus was my favorite band. I'm not sure how I got into them (I just spent about 10 minutes trying to remember how I even heard of them... couldn't do it), but S.C.I.E.N.C.E. was the first record of theirs I got a hold of. I just loved its electro-funk-rap/rock craziness. This record was about as far from that vibe as I could have imagined when I played it for the first time. I didn't care though -- one of the things I've always loved about Incubus is their refusal to stick to one particular sound (although I think their newest effort, Light Grenades, is largely derivative of earlier material... namely, this record). Morning View, then, is their "mellow" record. It's full of deliberate, textured jams that play to the band's strengths -- Mike Eizinger's crafty guitarwork, DJ Kilmore's wonderfully subtle work on the turntable, and, of course, Brandon Boyd's unparalleled ability to not wear a shirt. Kidding... (not really, that guy can not wear the shit out of a shirt) but he's actually one of my favorite rock vocalists. Although it's not my favorite, or even the best, Incubus record, Morning View is still damn fine listening. "Wish You Were Here" (yeah, yeah, not nearly as good as the seminal Pink Floyd track) is one of my favorite songs of this year and one of many excellent love songs the band has written.

6) Tool - Lateralus
Produced by: Tool and David Bottrill
Standout tracks: "Schism," "Parabola," "Lateralus"

A couple months back, I had one of those legendary, 4:00 a.m. drunk conversations about music with a couple friends after a party had died down. These are always a tricky proposition -- tempers flare, the line between opinion and fact becomes skewed, and outrageous assertions are made. Sometimes, the police become involved (this seriously happened once). Fortunately, police involvement was not necessary on this occasion -- we all managed to agree that Tool would go down as one of the best, most important bands of our generation. Years down the line, they'll probably be remembered as one of the defining rock bands of all time. They'll probably be inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame (whether or not they care is another question entirely). This record is a large reason why -- tribally powerful and artfully complex at the same time. It has everything from cat-squeezing ("Mantra") to the Fibonacci sequence ("Lateralus"). It also has some of the best drumming of all time, courtesy of Danny Carey. A true classic album. Does it get any more epic than "I know the pieces fit" over and over? The only reason it's not higher on the list is because, to me, it's just not something I can throw on any old time. I have to be in a specific mood to listen to Tool... that's not the case with the rest of the albums on this list.

5) Tenacious D - Tenacious D
Produced by: The Dust Brothers
Standout tracks: "Kielbasa," "Tribute," "Fuck Her Gently"

"Inward Singing." "Cock Push-Ups." "Drive-Thru." All classics.... and those are just the skits! It's not often that the so-called "filler" tracks on an album can be described as classics. But c'mon: "One is all you need." "A JUNIOR Western Bacon Chee. I'm trying to watch my figure." Eminently quotable and hilarious. And then there are the songs! Show me someone who doesn't know all the words to "Fuck Her Gently" and I'll show you a dirty, dirty liar. And do I even need to mention the genius of the line "Dianetics, your buttcheeks is warm"? Finally, there's "Tribute," which might actually be my favorite song of this year. A perfect blend of homage and hilarity. (There always seems to be one word that pops up too many times in a given entry... "homage" is it this time.) This album is just the perfect hybrid of laugh out loud comedy and balls-out rock. Literally.

4) Brand New - Your Favorite Weapon
Produced by: Mike Sapone and Brand New
Standout tracks: "Jude Law and a Semester Abroad," "Failure by Design," "Last Chance to Lose Your Keys," "Magazines," "Soco Amaretto Lime"

The last four albums on this list are all important records to me for various reasons. They'd all be in serious contention for Top 25 of the Decade consideration. First up is Brand New's debut record, Your Favorite Weapon. I was introduced to Brand New by a girl in an English class my junior year of ASU, and the record she showed me at Hoodlums in the M.U. (R.I.P.) was Deja Entendu (which immediately blew my mind). What I'm trying to say is that I didn't hear YFW until after the fact. I was sort of leery, to be honest. From what I had understood, YFW was basically a pop-punk record, whereas Deja was (is) probably one of the most accomplished albums of the decade (sort of like the leap between the Rx Bandits albums). What I didn't know, and what I found out, was that YFW is one of the best pop-punk records of all time. Sure, it's mostly three chords of angst and songs about girls, but it has a certain panache and underlying current of genius that just isn't there is most (or any) pop-punk records. "Last Chance to Lose Your Keys" is probably the best, most authentic song about girl problems ever ("It's girls like you that make me think I'm better off / home on a Saturday night / With all my doors locked up tight / I won't be thinking about you, baby"). "Soco Amaretto Lime" is one of the best slow-jam, singalong album closers around. I could go on (I haven't even mentioned "Jude Law"), but I'll stop here. A *remarkable* pop-punk record that definitely anticipates Deja if you listen close enough.

3) Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American
Produced by: Mark Trombino and Jimmy Eat World
Standout tracks: "A Praise Chorus," "Your House," "Sweetness," "If You Don't, Don't"

Jimmy Eat World is one of my favorite bands of this decade. (I know, they've been around for a while, but they are definitely a product of the 2000s.) That much I know. What I don't know is what my favorite Jimmy record is. Clarity is their most iconic and perhaps most influential. Futures is their most musically accomplished. Chase This Light is their catchiest. What, then, does that make this record? Their biggest? That's obvious, but it doesn't really say anything about the songs not named "The Middle." Their best? That's a question you could ask four (or five) different people and get four (or five) different answers to. Too subjective. Honestly, I'm not sure how this record fits into the band's catalog or how it will be remembered, but it settles in on this list nicely at #3. The singles (you know them all, and know them well) are uniformly excellent, perfect pop rock masterpieces. The album tracks are the ones that make this album worth listening to again and again though. "Your House" is one of the most heart-rending songs I've heard... "I had you once / Oh, I can't forget that / Sometimes I wish / I could lose you again." Yikes. "If You Don't, Don't" is probably one of their most underrated songs -- so, so great, yet I never hear anyone talk about it. All I know is that it's gone on more than a few mixes I've made. "Hear You Me," "The Authority Song"... I could go on, but, again, I won't. Like I said, I don't know how this record will be remembered, but I know it will.

2) Saves the Day - Stay What You Are
Produced by: Rob Schnapf
Standout tracks: "At Your Funeral," "Jukebox Breakdown," "As Your Ghost Takes Flight," "All I'm Losing Is Me"

I'll be honest with you: I have probably four other Saves the Day albums on my iTunes. I'll also tell you that I've can count on my fingers and toes the amount of times I've listened to them all *combined*. Why? Because I know, with complete, utter certainty, that they aren't -- can't be -- as good as this record. Again, why? Because none of them contain the song "At Your Funeral." Here's another Hoodlums story: My freshman year at ASU, I spent most of my time in my dorm, playing Madden 2002 or Final Fantasy X, drinking Pepsi by the 12 pack, masturbating to dial-up porn, having awkward roommate moments, and watching whatever college-oriented music video channel ASU had access to. Anyway, the video for "At Your Funeral" came on one afternoon. I was blown away. Hoodlums had one less copy of Stay What You Are by dinner time is what I'm trying to say. *That's* how good this song is. If you don't believe me, I've included the video below. Watch it. Love it. The rest of the album is almost as amazing as that song, full of quirky little three-minute gems about teenage tragedy, awkward silences, and obsessive (and perhaps murderous) ex-lovers. In short, there's something everyone can relate to. Now, watch this video:

I really do miss the old days sometimes.

1) Ben Folds - Rockin' the Suburbs
Produced by: Ben Folds and Ben Grosse
Standout tracks: "Annie Waits," "Zak and Sara," "Rockin' the Suburbs," "The Luckiest"

Ben Folds is solely responsible for me being the person I am today. Okay, that's not exactly true, but if you buy into the whole hyperbolic "music is central to my being" shit that people post in their facebook interests, then the statement is pretty close to the truth. That is to say, Ben Folds is pretty much the reason that I'm not still listening to shitty nu metal and power pop. I somehow stumbled into a little record called Whatever and Ever Amen (I think I saw the video for "Brick" on this weird show on MTV2 where a bunch of parents would watch videos and decide if they would let their kids watch... I don't think "Brick" passed the test... too depressing) and I was not the same after that (get it??). I very much doubt there's a more influential record to me. At any rate, this is about Rockin' the Suburbs, Mr. Folds's first record after he dropped the Five (actually just two other dudes) responsible for Whatever et al. It's also the second best record in his catalog, after... oh, that should be obvious. Here, Folds shows the same combination of rollicking smart-aleck tracks (the eponymous track, "Zak," "Fired") and emotional, introspective compositions ("Still Fighting It," "Fred Jones, Part 2," "Luckiest") that endears him to his many legions of fans and irritates his many critics.  He may never release a record as good as Whatever again, but I love him for trying (and this one comes close). This (along with many of the other records on this list) was the soundtrack to many a drive to and from Sedona. Oh, nostalgia. Mr. Folds has a lyric on one of his later records goes a little something like this: "[Kids today] get nostalgic about the last ten years / before the last ten years have passed." So true. Thank you, Mr. Folds, for the memories, and for saving me from nu metal.

Wow, I managed to keep this one under 3000 words... huzzah! Maybe some of these albums spark a memory or two for you as well... good ones, I hope! Good night, all... until next time.