BEST OF 2010: Come the change of the year, a powerful list-making urge strikes deep in the heart of critics and pundits—which means most all of us who are unnaturally, magnetically drawn to culture. There’s a sense of tidying up and mental housekeeping in the culture-addled brain, and some vanity involved, to be sure, given the accepted pomposity of suggesting “my opinions can whoop your opinions.” But best-of lists also serve a valuable function, putting into retrospective perspective the dizzying thicket of the past year now lost to history.
Here, then, is our annual best-of exercise in films and records, a tidying-up of what came before, clearing the decks for the 2011 onslaught.
This year, the American movie house was a mostly depressing or resoundingly mediocre place to be (although movie addicts are a hardy lot, able to find something to enjoy, or mock, in whatever splashes on a big screen). A dubious merit award, for instance, goes to The Tourist, the most irredeemably god-awful Hollywood 2010 flick, confirming suspicions that Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp are two of the planet’s most overpaid artists, and that the integrity of the Golden Globes is highly suspect. A genuine merit award goes to Robbie Robertson and his boss, Martin Scorsese, for packing Shutter Island with the greatest wealth of challenging contemporary classical music—Cage, Ligeti, Penderecki, and Ingram Marshall’s foghorn angst—of any Hollywood film in memory.
Two of the greatest American movies this year—Toy Story 3, from the blockbuster world, and Winter’s Bone, the indie jewel—lacked the physical presence of high-profile actors. High-impact acting this year included Natalie Portman at the epicenter of the fever dream/melodrama Black Swan and Mark Wahlberg in the surprisingly fine The Fighter. Our man Jeff Bridges drawled and prevailed real good as Rooster Cogburn, too. And Inception sent us head-tripping without a hangover. In Santa Barbara, we generally get a hearty blast of cinematic inspiration starting in late January, courtesy of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Increasingly some of the best SBIFF films never return for regular theatrical runs (though some show up in UCSB’s Arts & Lectures film series), making the festival even more of a go-to wingding.
BEST FILMS OF 2010: Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky); True Grit (Coen Bros.); The Fighter (David O. Russell); Jack Goes Boating (Philip Seymour Hoffman); Animal Kingdom (David Michôd); Inception (Christopher Nolan); Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik); Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich) … and from distant shores, thanks to the virtual travel agency of SBIFF, the delectably dry witted Ashkan, The Charmed Ring and Other Stories (Iran; Shahram Mokri) and the poetic cinema dream of Katalin Varga (Romania; Peter Strickland).
BEST RECORDINGS OF 2010: Katy Perry, Teenage Dream (Capitol); Beach House, Teen Dream (Sub Pop); Sleigh Bells, Treats (Mom + Pop/NEET); Los Lobos, Tin Can Trust (Shout! Factory); Janelle Monáe, The ArchAndroid (Wondaland Arts Society/Bad Boy/Atlantic); Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me (Drag City); Christian Wallumrød Ensemble, Fabula Suite Lugano (ECM); Bad Plus, Never Stop (Emarcy); Jason Moran, Ten (Blue Note); Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes, Double Portrait (Blue Note); Henry Threadgill, This Brings Us To, Vol. II (Pi); Bill Frisell, Beautiful Dreamers (Savoy); Kris Davis, Ingrid Laubrock, Tyshawn Sorey, Paradoxical Frog (Clean Feed).
TO-DOINGS: One of the pleasant sneak-attack jazz moments of 2010 was the night the guitar trio known as New West came to town, at SOhO, after releasing an album with cameos by the great young jazz singer Gretchen Parlato. The combined and conjoined guitar work of young players John Storie, Perry Smith, and Brady Cohan is something to behold, as they navigate through originals and known material with a deft, layered guitaristic purpose and invention. They’re back in that brick house on Sunday, January 16.
BLUES NEWS: Harps, of the blues sort, are the thing when Mark Hummel steers his well-known “Harmonica Blowout” back to SOhO tonight (Thu., Jan. 13), with Rod Piazza and former Santa Barbaran blues titan (and now War member) Mitch Kashmar.