Thursday, December 30, 2010

Some of the Best: Favourites of 2010

Unlike other critics, I've always kind of enjoyed compiling a list of favourites from the previous years. It gives me a chance to look back on the year and examine what I've read, seen or listened to. Some of what follows was not necessarily part of 2010, but I only got around to it this past year. In fact, one example is over 70 years old. A few I've written about on the blog in 2010, but not all. So, sit back, relax and, hopefully, enjoy.

Favourite Concert:

Jamie Cullum and Imelda May: Massey Hall, March 9, 2010
This was the concert of 2010, in a year where I attended a number of shows (Jethro Tull, Santana, Pat Metheny and Carol Welsman). As I said in my review at that time, Cullum was obviously very confident in his abilities since he nearly let Irish rockabilly singer, Imelda May, tuck the concert under her arm and walk off with it. The fact she didn’t was a testament to Cullum’s skill both as a musician and an entertainer. On that night, through ability and charisma, Cullum managed to make the already intimate Massey Hall even cozier.

Favourite New Books:

If the Dead Rise Not (2010) and Field Grey (2011) by Philip Kerr
It’s a coin toss between either of the Bernie Gunther books I read this year. Technically, Field Grey will not be published in North America until 2011, but I couldn’t wait and ordered it from England. These novels, as I’ve written here and here, are not only exceptional, character-driven suspense/murder mysteries, but – because of Kerr’s superlative research – we are also given a window into everyday life in German before, during and after World War II. By all means, pick up Field Grey when it is published in April, while the prior novel, If the Dead Rise Not, is now in your favourite bookshop.

Favourite Old Book I Finally Read:

Rogue Male (1939) by Geoffrey Household
Told in diary form, the novel tells the story of an unnamed British hunter and sportsman who decides to sneak into an anonymous country to assassinate its unnamed dictator. Well, not really. For this hunter, the ‘hunt’ is the thing, not the actual kill. So, very early in the novel, he finds his prey, lines him up in the ‘scope and pulls the trigger. The gun was deliberately not loaded. Of course, this foolhardy action is seen and he is captured and tortured. He escapes to England, pursued by fascists and fascist sympathizers. Clearly a warning about Hitler, this is one of those ‘what if’ novels that, while you read it from 71 years in the future, you are always thinking ‘why didn’t he load the damnable gun”? The book has been made into a movie twice, once as Manhunt (1941) directed by Fritz Lang, the other time in 1976 as a BBC TV movie, starring Peter O’Toole, under its original title. Household keeps the pace flying along, even during an extended set piece when the hunter is trapped in a small cave by his nemesis. For its time, the violence is also pretty brutal.

Favourite TV Series:

Being HumanSeason’s One and Two (2009 and 2010)
Produced by the BBC, but broadcast here on the Space Channel, this wonderful show lives up to its name (see my review of Season One here). Using the conceit of a vampire, werewolf and ghost deciding to rent a flat in Bristol, the show examines, with wonderful writing and terrific performances, what it means (as the title suggests) to be human. Beyond the touching and funny aspects, Being Human is also frequently genuinely frightening. Look especially to the werewolf transformation scene in Season Two’s penultimate episode for proof. Catch it on DVD (Season One has been released here) or a rerun of Season Two on Space before Season Three starts in April (in the UK, anyway). The only caveat, they did something in the final seconds of the Season Two finale that suggests they might be running short of ideas. Hope not.

Favourite New Movie:

The King’s Speech (2010)
There are several others I’ve not caught up with yet (such as The Social Network and True Grit), but for me it will be hard to beat The King’s Speech. Basic premise is simple: “Bertie”, the future King George VI (Colin Firth), has a terrible stutter that must be cured if he’s ever to be a credible king. With the help of Aussie Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), Bertie manages to conquer his problem (no, that’s not a spoiler, that’s part of history). Everything works here: the script is tight, funny and moving; the acting is revelatory throughout; and director Tom Hooper’s visual choices were spot on (using an 18mm lens to distort the image is a great way to bring us into the woozy world-view Bertie must have had every time he faced a public speech). I could go on, but my colleague, Kevin Courrier, has written an inspired full review that you can read here

Favourite Soundtrack:

Amelie (2001) by Yann Tiersen
The movie itself I actively dislike because I have always hated movies filled with quirky characters and nothing but quirky characters. And Amelie, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is unrelenting. But the music by Tiersen is another story. It is simultaneously jaunty, vibrant, uplifting, and life-affirming. It was the soundtrack, over and over again, I used during the final rewrites this past year of my Paris-set novel The Empire of Death. (Read excerpts here.)

Favourite Sequence in a Movie I Loathed
(Mini Masterpiece within a Mediocre Movie):

The Hotel Sequence in Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010)
Forgetting everything else, my biggest problem with Christopher Nolan’s hugely overrated Inception is that the dreams weren’t nutty enough. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’ve had some dreams that are complete surrealist epics. They make no sense, yet while I’m in them they are perfectly logical. Inception has a few images (the folding Paris scene) that work, but when the last layer of dreams descends into a mountain-side shoot ‘em up, we know we are in the hands of somebody who either doesn’t understand the dream state, or has let himself be co-opted by commercial considerations. The one part, though, that still plays through my head is the dance-like, gravity-free hotel sequence featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. After balletically fighting off baddies, he has to get the rest of the crew into an elevator that he must drop rapidly to the ground in order to jolt his colleagues awake (don’t ask me how an elevator in a gravity-free environment is supposed to drop, but, well, I guess that’s dream logic). He ties a rope around them, and drags them down a corridor as if he were trailing human balloons behind him. Inspired. I also can’t stand his Batman movies and think Memento is a bore…just so you don't think I'm a Nolan hater. 

Favourite Movie in the First Decade of the 21st Century I Watch At Least Once A Year:

Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige (2006)
Starring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Michael Caine, this superb movie looks at two late-nineteenth century magicians who destroy each other’s lives (and their own) while trying to outdo each other. Perhaps the movie isn’t as smart as it thinks (I figured out the ‘twist’ about half way through), but it is so visually exciting, nicely acted and, even though I guessed the ending, completely compelling. And it really is about magic.

Four Songs:
And finally, there are four songs I heard in 2010 (one was released in 2009) that, the first time I tuned into each of them, made me stop whatever I was doing (including in one instance, driving the car – I pulled over) and just listen. They show the diversity of my musical taste and all four are just plain old-fashioned great.

Sugarland’s “Already Gone” (song starts about a minute in after an intro – recorded at Abbey Road Studios)

Cee Lo Green’s “F@$k You” (the song Marvin Gaye would have recorded if he could have got away with in when he was recording Here, My Dear)

Trombone Shorty “Backatown” (again, the song itself begins about one minute and twenty seconds in)

Glen Hansard et al “The Auld Triangle” (Christmas Eve 2010 on Grafton Street in Dublin – A Christmas Busk to raise funds, Hansard and company (including in other youtube posts, Imelda May and Bono) sing an Irish rebel song written by Brendan Behan.

Have a glorious 2011, everybody. Keep reading and let us know what you think about what we do! You've been awfully silent, even though we know a vast number of you are out there reading!

 David Churchill is a film critic and the author of The Empire of Death. You can read an excerpt here. Or go to for more information.

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