Time keeps moving. It just keeps going–like a freight train headed for a deadly, explosive collision. 2012 was not my best year–most of it sucked actually–but that’s alright, most years aren’t my best years. In fact, out of all the years that ever were, most haven’t been favorable to me. At any rate, I have the time to delve into some shit to distract me from the ever approaching, crippling onset of severe depression that is real life. Let me not be the cynical asshole of the party for once, let’s delve into something much less gloomy.

I think the most revelatory moments for me this year involved realizing how much I miss my family and also how much I no longer feel too strongly about hip-hop music. It was a pretty seamless shift to be honest, listening to so much of any kind of music over and over would make anyone go crazy. Yeah, there’s a lot of variety and all types of unique artists out there but after awhile it all becomes of blur of noise over the same exact 808. So while I’m quick to state that Kendrick Lamar’s chilling portrait of Compton life Good Kid, m.A.A.d City is one of the best records made this year and one of the best rap records I’ve head in a long time, that’s not really saying much. I’ve listened to lots of rap records in the past few years and I don’t remember much about most of them–even the ones I liked. It’s not their fault, it’s the generation we live in. Music has become disposable… in all genres yes, but rap has been affected the most. So while Big Boi, Killer Mike, Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson had solid releases, it’s hard to fathom me remembering much about them a year-plus from now (Joey maybe).

On the whole, some of the best music I heard this year wasn’t from this year… and the stuff that was from this year are too sparse or obscure. As far as full albums go, it was a pretty average year. Jessie Ware, Fiona Apple, Kendrick Lamar (as mentioned above) and How To Dress Well made highly enjoyable music this year. On the R&B front, only 4 acts stick out in my mind as worth discussing–Frank Ocean, Miguel, Solange and D’angelo. Miguel had a strong return with his second album Kaleidoscope Dream; an album that continues to grow on me with each passing day. D’angelo gets a shout-out for the simple fact that his return to performing for fans and audiences was perfect–because it was on his own terms. He didn’t have to parade himself half-naked to a gaggle of people who only give a shit about one song of his; he went out there, brought the funk and catered to his own style. I’ll be forever jealous for never getting the chance to see it this year. Then we get to Frank Ocean and Solange, a pair I lump together because they both made two of the most buzzworthy releases in R&B. Truth be told, I will give Frankie his credit. Channel Orange was one of the best albums of the year. That being said, personally, it didn’t do much for me. I recognize it’s good, soulful, passionate and experimental enough to separate it from anything else released this year–it just didn’t affect me like it probably should’ve. Now if I were to pick my favorite R&B record this year, it would have to be the baby Knowles True EP. Before you start, I’m not trying to be a contrarian. I genuinely like Solange a lot and to compare her to her sister musically would be silly–inevitable–but silly. Beyonce’ will always be the Cheerleader Summa Cum Laude Prom Queen of music but Solange is like the black sheep sister who goes to that art school across the street, the one who got you into all your favorite obscure bands and movies that you’ll never convince to marry you because “that’s just not her style”. This just so happens to be my type of girl.

Movies were better this year than last, even the most mundane-seeming had its enjoyable moments (s/o to Premium Rush). Movies like The Avengers proved you can still have a fun, light-hearted superhero movie and it will be just as great as the super-serious new dark tone everyone wants to turn their comic book movies into. Speaking of which, despite the fact Christopher Nolan seemed to be exhausted after Inception and just went into auto-pilot and completely phoned it in with The Dark Knight Rises, once you chose to ignore its plot holes and decided against taking it as seriously as it begs you too, you find that it still makes for a grandiose yet fun movie. Tom Hardy as Bane will forever be the second best idea followed closely after Bane having that voice of his. Despite not getting to see The Masterduring its theatrical run, its divisiveness doesn’t surprise me. Paul Thomas Anderson has slowly but surely found himself turning into a new sort-of Stanley Kubrick, in the sense that they both made films in order to derive some sort of specific reaction–be it positive or negative. To me, I always figured The Master would be the Synecdoche, New York of this year. A movie too chaotic to just be discarded. It had to be dissected and deciphered by anyone who watched it, whether they hated it or not. Speaking of divisiveness, the two biggest harborer of critical commentary came at the end of the year. Zero Dark Thirty, while being a critic favorite, incited controversy about its subject matter (the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden) from both the conservative and liberal sides of the aisle–much the same way the director, Kathryn Bigelow, received the same type of controversy for The Hurt Locker. Then there’s Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western set during slavery. As you can imagine, the film has garnered its own share of animosity for its historical inaccuracy and it’s overall depiction of slavery. Basically, Quentin Tarantino is facing controversy for being Quentin Tarantino… you know, the same guy who did the exact same thing with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust in Inglorious Basterds. This then leaves me thinking, since not much was really said about that movie but a lot is being said about this one, I can only assume one of three things is happening: 1) nobody’s ever heard of Quentin Tarantino 2) a bunch of people are too in their feelings about the idea of using slavery as a backdrop for a story about a black bounty hunter killing slave masters rather than it being some overblown history lesson or 3) the subject hits a little too close to home here in America. At any rate, the movie I enjoyed the most this year had to be Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s finest movie since The Royal Tenenbaums. From the intense attention to detail to the color scheme and the character studies of young love and adult insecurities, it was classic Anderson. Anderson’s schtick may have lost some of its luster, but he still knows how to put together a wonderfully ecstatic indie faux-fairy tale.

Television continue to ride its golden-era out, with some of the best seasons of some of the most unique shows. 30 rock, after having slump season after slump season, went all out for the first half of its shortened final season; proving to be just as irreverent, tightly constructed and hilarious as it’s always been. Community experienced controversy after controversy, with the departure of showrunner Dan Harmon and the eventual departure of Chevy Chase, but still managed to have another wonderful and imaginative season–a season that served as a fitting end to Harmon’s tenure. Meanwhile, Parks & Recreation continued to be the best show on NBC’s (mostly) stellar Thursday night block.  Louie C.K.’s boundary-pushing character expose continues to be art disguised as comedy. Louie has almost perfected the act of making its audience just as unsure about things as Louis C.K. himself seems in each episode, while also challenging the notion of success and, as always, the bitter fight between happiness and depression. Speaking of which, Mad Men produced one of its most divisive seasons after being gone for 2 years. I fell on the camp that loved this season, a season which took the characters to dark places–in both reality and within themselves. If one word could be applied to this season, it would be worth. The worth of your soul, the worth of a spouse and the worth of self were all regular questions implied in episode after episode. Maybe that’s why I like it so much, the question of worth makes a regular appearance in my life as well. Speaking of the worth of souls, Breaking Bad continued to be the best thing on television. With an 8 episode half-season, Breaking Bad packed in as much as it could before its eventual finale in 2013; at times it proved hit or miss but when it hit it hit hard, providing some of the best television seen this year–including the gut-wrenching end to “Dead Freight”. The resolution to Breaking Bad in 2013 already makes that year awesome in my book, but the prospect of no more new episodes is a bad omen for 2014.

2012, much like real life, was uneven and maybe in the long run won’t be much to remember. Eventually nostalgia will be kind to it–like it is to every year, no matter how shitty. For me, it will be the year I got pushed to my absolute limit and came out stronger… but still not strong enough. It was the year I needed the best in entertainment to take me away from the life I was living and make me happy to be alive. It didn’t always succeed but it had a pretty good batting average. Here’s to 2013, let’s hope it’s a good one.

As we celebrate Veteran’s Day today, for those of who are off work, take notice of a couple of these films about war:

Apocalypse Now

The definitive war movie from Francis Ford Coppola. The story of Martin Sheen’s growing disillusionment in the hunt for a renegade Special Forces Colonel (Marlon Brando). Whether you find it a work of art or just overrated, overlong nonsense, it would be pretty hard not to admit that it’s worth watching at least once. There are plenty of “War Is Hell” Vietnam movies but none do it as well as Coppola; it’s eloquent and rife with philosophical quandary–plus it has Robert Duvall talking about surfing and napalm!

The Deer Hunter

Another great Vietnam movie, Michael Cimino tells the tale of a trio of Russian-American steel workers and their service in the war. Let’s be honest, this is the Russian Roulette movie, the film with that epic scene where Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken get into a game of death with the Viet Cong. Some of the most intense scenes in a movie about war–which says a lot–and helps amp up an already gripping tale of friendship and survival.

Born On The Fourth Of July/Platoon

The Oliver Stone double-header! Stone has always been an… uh.. interesting, to say the least, director. His movies–most of them at least–are never bad but are always short of being thought as the great pieces of cinema they so often try to be. One thing both of these movies does well is capture the story of disillusionment and the corruption of young innocence thanks to war. With Platoon you have Charlie Sheen’s doe-eyed innocence coming into contact with the plight of soldiers fighting for their survival and with July you get Tom Cruise going full-out traumatized by his experiences in the Vietnam War and having his legs blown off. Both movies, despite their flaws, work within the confines if the story they are trying to tell.

I could have easily picked the 1999 dark comedy Election, Alexander Payne’s fantastic film about dirty politics and awful people all set in a high school (it’s certainly the better movie), but instead I chose to go with this mostly ignored and underrated little gem from Chris Rock.

First of all my choice to pick Head Of State, about the first black president to run for office, has nothing to do with the fact that we are currently in the midst of an Obama reelection–it really isn’t. Instead, it’s to bring attention to a movie that deserves a little more of it. Head Of State is a mess of a movie; at times it hits all the right notes and at other times it’s eye-roll inducing and sloppily put together, but when it hits it hits hard. The social commentary, the parody of political campaign life, Robin Givens being crazy, any scene with the late great Bernie Mac plus random musical segments by the late Nate Dogg, this movie is right up my damn alley. Ultimately that’s what saves it from being another awful Chris Rock film like Down To Earth or Death At A Funeral.

There’s plenty of it that’s egregious–usually I automatically hate any movie that has a scene where old white people dance to rap and use slang–which is what keeps me from calling it a successful movie. What I will say is that it’s a competent film that takes its mess and finds the diamonds strewn about, plus how do you hate a movie where Tracy Morgan plays a character titled “meat man”.

When it comes to spoofs and sending up tropes, few are as talented at it as Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The duo behind South Park, Baseketball, and Team America: World Police, are skilled at taking whatever society is praising or being warped by this week and completely shitting all over it. With Team America, the two of them, along with South Park writing partner Pam Brady, go after the post-9/11 landscape of a country trying to “police the world” and the critics and defenders these actions came with.

Released in 2004, Team America World Police is a marionette starring satire of big budget action movies and a reflection of the global politics taking place at the time. The story follows the escapades of a team of paramilitary policemen attempting to save the world from terrorist attacks and often causing more damage  then preventing. When the team loses their fourth member, Carson, the team scrambles to replace him by hiring an actor named Gary to infiltrate the terrorist homebase and find out where they’re keeping WMDs.

Team America is quick-witted and sharp in its deconstruction of the action movie while poking fun at both the pro-America and peace & understanding rhetorics that were heavy at the time. From the fake music scores permeating throughout to the by-the-numbers action film structure it abides by, Team America tackles every joke it can make. The marionettes themselves, while carefully designed and structured, always make sure to never let you forget that they’re still puppets.

Revisiting the movie, I’m instantly reminded of America in 2004. While it is indeed a movie very much of its time (the appearance of Kim Jong-Il is dated enough already), for the most part it acts as a capsule of that time.  I remember vividly how “controversial” it was because of the puppet-on-puppet sex scene and it’s amusing to watch it now and think that the MPAA had a stick up its ass over something as silly as that. What has stuck with me the most is the original music made by Matt and Trey, who have an uncanny ability to make great–and hilarious–music. “America: Fuck Yea!”, “What Would You Do?” or even the one about how Pearl Harbor sucked (which it did) are all just as good as some of the best songs to come out of South Park, and they’ll probably be stuck in my head for next month after this past rewatch of the film.

Team America: World Police works as a film because it never tries to take itself seriously, yet there is still love and affection given to its team of well-meaning yet sometimes counterproductive secret agency. In pure Matt & Trey fashion it, of course, comes with a lesson (a lesson expressed through a dick-pussy-asshole metaphor); is it the most agreeable thing in the world? Probably not. But that’s not what’s important, what is important is that Team America tries to make the case that those pro-war  advocates are just as necessary as the anti-war brigade and that the two groups need each other. Team America is crue and ridiculous but most of all it is hilarious and well worth seeking out or enjoying again.

The idea of family is one that has been permeating in my mind a lot lately–for the past year really. I guess that’s what happens when you move away from them to explore life on your own. As I try to figure out things for myself, I realize how much I yearn for the seemingly simplistic days of a world before responsibility and despite how much bad there was in our family, I miss them and yearn to get closer as each day passes. Which brings me to The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson’s de facto family case study. The cracked relationships between family members is nothing new for Anderson–he touched on it in his two previous pictures Bottle Rocket and Rushmore and has touched on it ever since. What makes this one the top-tier, other than specifically being about a fractured family, is it seems to be the most personal. In the commentary for The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson explains that the writing process started when, longtime friend and collaborator, Owen Wilson suggested he write about his parents divorce. Anderson admits he started out that way but as the story progressed it took a life of its own and went into a new direction–although it’s not hard to see that some autobiographical elements are sprinkled throughout.

Now, more than ever, this film resonates with me. With its themes of heartbreak, self-destruction,familial turmoil and peaking at an early age, I watch Anderson’s whimsically gloomy affair with brand new eyes. I watch it and see my own family, not because the events are familiar but because the themes are. From the opening scene with Alec Baldwin’s grizzly deep and straight-laced narration telling the tale of the family from “the house on Archer Avenue” over the organ instrumental of “Hey Jude” to the bittersweet sort-of-happy ending, The Royal Tenenbaums is a candid slice of upper crust Americana that somehow finds semblance with anyone from a dysfunctional setting. Its usage of color, infiltration of obscure pop and punk music of the 60s and 70s, its calculated and meticulous direction and focus–sometimes reminiscent of french films–it’s all standard Andersonian theatrics and it’s a credit to him that, although at times it straddles the line of self-parody, it’s still wonderfully poignant to this day.

Anderson’s expose on rich kid blues and genius families that aren’t so genius, has been standard watch for me since I first saw it on television years ago. It was the movie that introduced me to his filmography, a collection I instantly fell in love with and still love to this day. Anderson’s focus on the relationships made between people, family or otherwise, and the dysfunctions that ensue are unique and artfully rendered. I urge you all to watch it again (or for the first time) along with me this weekend and together we can all search our feelings and curse Wes Anderson for actually making us like Gwyneth Paltrow. (Even if it’s only for two hours.)

There’s a difficulty with Looper, the newest film from writer-director Rian Johnson, that matches the difficulty with time travel. It’s a messy and often convoluted difficulty, yet somehow, it works-both the science and the film. Looper stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, the titular looper, a hitman in 2044 for the mob of 20 years further in the future where time travel has been created. Joe’s job consists of executing people who are sent back by the mob until he comes in contact with himself 30 years from now, played by Bruce Willis, on a mission to find a man known as the rainmaker. It’s messy and yet, like Johnson’s last Gordon-Levitt starring feature Brick, there’s a method and beauty to the mess. The film dabbles with the ultimate science fiction tool, time travel, and plays with it on unique levels. The film tackles the issue of what time travel means to the nature of things; the alternate realities you create and what happens when you ruin that cycle made out for life. Not to mention the subtler issues that start in the background then make their way into the foreground, like telekinesis and the cycle of troubled pasts found in the film through different characters. It’s a film that incites debate-from its plausibility to the timeline it sketches out. Plus, it’s pretty gutsy for an action movie like this to completely switch lanes and have the final hour mostly take place on a farm managed by a gun-toting and hard-shelled Emily Blunt, with her brilliant and disturbed child. Looper is dark, violent, frightening and, surprisingly, really funny-but above all this, it plays with your mind a little, leaving you unsure of what exactly happened. People will argue about it, for both good and bad reasons, and different theories can be made about what took place. That’s the beauty of it, it’s a rough film to digest but it is one that will leave you trying to piece it together. Comparisons to different sci-fi films are inevitable, but the first thing that pops to my mind when I watched it was the movie Inception, not because they’re that similar but because they both play with reality to a degree that leaves you unsure of whether or not you have the answers at all.

Overall Rating: A-

I’ve been obsessed with this movie since I first saw it. I love everything about Nicholas Winding Refn’s ode to a stuntman/getaway driver: from it’s kitsch 1980s era synth-pop soundtrack to its glamorization of a Los Angeles that seems to be lost in time. Not too mention Ryan Gosling at his Gosling-est, in full-on puppy-dog eyed “hey girl” mode. You can’t deny the guys appeal as a leading man and his performance here is especially impressive as he doesn’t even say much, just stares into your soul for about 90 minutes.  Since I first saw him in the 2006 film “half nelson”, where he played a coke-addled inner city teacher trying to save a student from falling into that world, I knew Ryan Gosling was destined for hollywood greatness. What I liked about him was that he reminded me of the old 1960s-1970s hollywood star that I loved; provocative and effortlessly cool. Like Taxi Driver-era Deniro orCool Hand Luke-era Paul Newman, Ryan Gosling was THAT guy for this generation, and to be perfectly honest there aren’t many of those around right now. And as forDrive, I mean it’s one of those movies that makes you feel uncool if you’re not into it. Easily the most snubbed movie of the year by the yearly Hollywood “jerk-off” awards fest, the movie has some of the best cinematography and music that’s been seen this year and let’s not forget a deliciously diabolical performance from Albert Brooks of all people. I try not be THAT guy who’s all if you’re not into this then you’re just not cool, but seriously, if you’re not into this then you’re just not cool.

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