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02.16.09 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW

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1. BOOK The Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk
Telling the story of Buster “Rant” Casey through interviews with childhood friends, parents, historians and a whole host of characters, Palahniuk creates a world that is at once hilarious as it is scarily apocalyptic. Rant becomes patient zero in the spread of a rabies epidemic that potentially threatens the world like SARS. Interestingly, while everyone is focused on trying to understand Rant’s purpose, you end up with a complex picture of what would happen if the world became divided into people who come out at night and people who exist only during the day, how the government could use a national epidemic to create hysteria and allow for outrageous control methods in the name of protecting people. It’s a vision of the future that I hope had more in common with our previous administration and is a far cry from what we’re getting with this new era of hope and change.

2. MOVIE Coraline (2009)
I am a diehard fan of all things stop motion animated, so it is no wonder that this film fascinated and left me in awe for the sheer audacity of what they have achieved. Seriously, some of the things they were able to animate without CGI is just incredible. I wish I could say this was an instant classic along the lines of The Nightmare Before Christmas, but sadly the storyline here just doesn’t quite captivate like the visuals. It’s all very familiar, from the loner child in a new house and town to the “be careful what you wish for” moral. But this is still worth seeing, especially in 3D and just to enjoy the comic voices of Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French who are criminally underused in this film.

3. CONCERT The Dang-It Bobbys and Lücius at Bar 4
Tucked into a small Park Slope bar (at least that’s where I think I was, I don’t understand Brooklyn) came the sweet sounds of two new-ish bands. The Dang-It Bobbys mixed sweet guitar melodies with bluegrass, country and hints of jazz to excellent effect. The plucking of Luca Benedetti on a guitar is mightily impressive and Kris Bauman’s voice is well suited, clear and soaring. Lücius took the stage next, two girls with beautiful voices (it’s the Indigo Girls setup but sounds more like Ingrid Michaelson duplicated) backed by a great band. The songwriting is impressive as are the clever arrangements, moving seamlessly from folkier harmonies to catchy pop to alt-rock and jazz. I would definitely say these are two bands worth seeing live and worth watching as they inevitably gain notoriety.

4. OPERA La Rondine
This rarely produced later Puccini work is a true gem. A quick opera (yes, they exist) that follows party girl Magda as she realizes her desire to leave her life as a kept woman in favor of true love, only to find that she can’t so easily turn her back on the life and fortune to which she has grown accustomed. This Puccini score isn’t filled with take-your-breath-away arias, but rather a constant mood piece, with small moments of glorious sung love, comic asides and torment. Interestingly enough, despite the very distinct Paris setting, the score is filled with Asian influences, from specific chord progressions to actual sung melodies that are reminiscent of the tones of Eastern music. It’s a fascinating piece, and an interesting companion to the well-known Puccini works that fill the canon.

5. ALBUM It’s Not Me, It’s You Lily Allen
Indeed it’s the same Lily Allen, but the production is bigger, lusher and way more interesting than the funny patter songs that filled her first album. She is still making ridiculous rhymes and saying slightly outrageous things that stand in distinct contrast to the happy-go-lucky sound of the music. A prime example of this is the upbeat, cheery tune “F*** You.” You’ll find yourself singing along, unaware of how much swearing is coming out of your mouth. And for something a bit subtler and emotionally warm, the breakup song “I Could Say” is quite beautiful. But my favorite is the gypsy influenced tune, “Never Gonna Happen,” endlessly catchy and produced to perfection with clapping and accordions.

6. STAGE Equus
Yes, Harry Potter gets naked. But more importantly, this play was a captivating two and half hours of stage traffic, taking on questions of burgeoning sexuality, of bestiality and of the incredible potential for adulthood and adults to crush true passion. The sparse stage, a square within a circle, transforms from the stables to a beach with simple changes in lighting and sound. The horses are at once well-toned men and undeniably horses thanks to some evocative choreography and brilliantly crafted metal headgear, bringing out the raw sexuality of the acts committed. Richard Griffiths, as usual, gives a spot on performance in the role of the psychologist. And happily enough, Daniel Radcliffe holds his own, taking on his dark role with bravado, with or without clothing on.

7. DVD Yentl (1983)
It took 25 years for this to come out on DVD (ok, so DVDs weren’t around back then, but it certainly feels like forever waiting to see this movie in lush full remastered widescreen). The story of a Jewish woman who wants to learn and must become a man to do so is beautifully told by Mrs. Streisand, the lush golden visuals capturing turn of the century Eastern Europe as if from the paintings of the time. Mandy Patinkin and Amy Irving fill out the cast with spot on performances, both portraying the perfect Jewish man and woman respectively, creating the ideal contrast to Babs girl/man ugly duckling. The Michel Legrand songs are some of the best musical numbers written and are stellar showcases for Streisand’s voice. And the DVD special features demonstrate quite clearly how talented Streisand is as a director, using her role as the lead actor to get the performances out of everyone else and how devoted to the process she was in bringing her dream to the screen. Inspiring…

8. ALBUM Elijah Drop Your Gun Mieka Pauley
The CD starts out real quiet in the singer/songwriter genre but soon busts out into rocker chick. But don’t be fooled by these generic labels, Pauley has way more to offer. Her vocals move from sultry and smoky into full out alt-rock yell, which all creates a soulful songstress, with flecks of Eva Cassidy and Patti Griffin. It is so nice to hear a woman singing backed only by guitar and drums, letting the songs take center stage. Check out the title track, which modulates through moods beautifully and the opener, “Be Like a Man,” which is quite catchy. And what makes it all the better? The full album is available for free download on Amazon.com.

9. MOVIE Waltz with Bashir (2008)
I saw this many a week ago, but failed to include it on any of my top ten lists, which is a huge oversight. This film was gorgeous from start to finish simply in the technical realm. But more intriguing was mixing documentary with such a heightened art form as this graphic stylized animation. The film becomes less a simple retelling and restructuring of a narrative, but more a digression on how we remember and more importantly how hard we try to forget. This film interrogates the harsh realities of war in the Middle East as much as it interrogates our own approach to life and memory. The animated dream sequences are haunting; they’ve really stuck with me and are perfectly matched with the fantastic soundtrack from Max Richter.

10. MOVIE The Incredibles (2004)
I seriously believe that some of the best movies of the last decade have come from the house of Pixar, and this is no exception. I loved this in the theater and I have loved it repeatedly on DVD, it just gets better each time. And as is true with so many of the Pixar films, I think it is so beyond brilliant for adults, sometimes to the point that youngins might not even understand. The undertones of marital squabbles, of having to hide what makes you special, of never being appreciated in the work place, this movie packs it all without ever banging you over the head with a message and all the while giving you the ride of your life. Seriously, when will the Academy wise up and allow the true art of animation to take home a Best Picture rather than relegating it to its own niche category (WALL-E was better than any film in this years stable).

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