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02.01.10 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW

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1. PLAY Time Stands Still

Elegantly written, emotionally raw without being melodramatic, this play brings together such a wonderful quartet of performances that I found myself transfixed for what felt like a very quick and efficient two hours. It’s one of those rare instances where I actually wonder what happens to these characters, before and after the curtain, so real and gracefully realized. Laura Linney channels her hard edge beautifully into the role of a wounded photojournalist unable to abandon her need for adrenaline. Alicia Silverstone, playing a variation on her now classic role as Cher in Clueless, is pitch perfect. But my heart was truly with Brian d’Arcy James whose performance was so layered that his quick emotional ups and downs felt so very alive. A quietly thrilling play with few missteps… A-

2. ALBUM The Courage of Others Midlake

Another excellent week of music lies ahead with a new entry from this folk rock band hitting streets on Tuesday. Taking a page from the more psychedelic oriented Embers, departing a bit from their more straightforward beginnings, this album is a sonic beauty from the first song to the last. By the fifth track, the excellent guitar based song “Fortune,” the album takes a turn to a more focused sonic palette, guitars, both acoustic and electric, mixed with heavy percussion playing underneath swirling melodies and incredible harmonies. I cannot pick out any focus tracks because, believe it or not, this is that rare album that deserves a complete listen to fully appreciate the talent… A

3. MOVIE Broken Embraces (2009)

The combination of Penelope Cruz and Pedro Almodovar should be nothing but amazing as it has been in the past, but in this case it was simply dull. There are many beautiful moments, haunting visuals and intriguing plot lines, but by the end of the two hours it all seemed unnecessarily complex. The twists and turns of these fragmented lives did not add up to the amazing results of Almodovar’s previous works. Cruz is stunning, the soundtrack is pitch perfect, but it all seems like fluff when there’s no backbone of a narrative to support it all… B-

4. ALBUM Heartbeat Radio Sondre Lerche

This is an awesome album of catchy tunes, hook filled and cleverly produced with fantastic strings throughout. The title track is an excellent dig at modern music making and marketing, the radio playing the same song over and over again, the high presence of auto-tuning, all thrown into a totally radio friendly lark. “Like Lazenby” is a beguilingly odd send-up to one of the greatest songwriters, Burt Bacharach, with a melody that is deceptively simple with those Bacharach codas tacked on to simple choruses, and the orchestration adding that quintessential groovy theremin. Download “If Only,” a song that has been on repeat all week long, for that sunshiny infectious upbeat sound that has shades of the excellent work Lerche did for the soundtrack to Dan in Real LifeB+

5. ALBUM The Sea Corinne Bailey Rae

This is definitely a more mature effort on the sophomore CD from the young chanteuse. The tragic death of her husband has inspired a whole new depth to her songwriting, even on the more high energy pop-oriented tracks like the intoxicating “Paper Dolls” and the rocking “The Blackest Lily.” The middle of the album sags into forgettable territory, but she comes back strong with the jazzy aching “Diving for Hearts.” The title track, “The Sea,” a grooving tune set to a strumming harp, is a sweet and tender goodbye that perfectly encapsulates the album, a nice listen that, like her first effort, struggles to stay present in your mind… B-

6. FOOD Delicatessen

It’s all about the tuna tartar appetizer. This has become a ubiquitous dish on menus around the country, but when it’s done right, there’s simply nothing better. This particular dish was made with a bit of Asian flare from the finest of raw fish, lightly seasoned with cilantro, sesame and a bit of yuzu soy served on paper-thin chips. Sheer heaven! My entrée of pappardelle with meatballs was well prepared if not awe inspiring. And the surrounds are quite relaxing and warm, turning it into the swankier and more attractive cousin to Chelsea’s Cafeteria. A lovely night of eating… B+

7. MOVIE Daybreakers (2009)

Falling somewhere between gross out horror, slow-motion blood splatters and decapitations, and visually compelling sci-fi narrative, this film could have been excellent had it not gotten so bogged down in its own logic, or lack thereof. The premise is pretty amazing, a blood-sucking race uses up all the natural human blood available and with no synthetic alternative, descends into cannibalistic madness and worldwide famine. An excellent allegory for our current depletion of natural resources and a fertile ground to discuss the inequalities of the moneyed over the poor, it all gets too convoluted with Ethan Hawke lost somewhere in the middle of it all as one of the few vampires that is sympathetic to the human plight. Rent this, definitely rent it… B-

8. ALBUM Need You Now Lady Antebellum

So we might be approaching country-pop overkill, but when it’s this fun to listen to, there’s really no such thing. The title track is a perfect last-call-at-the-bar song, achingly filled twang but still rocking enough to uplift. These guys are awesome at light country rock, with the toe-tapper “Stars Tonight” (complete with yelling chorus) and “Perfect Day.” Like Sugarland and Gloriana, the real gimmick here is the mix of male and female voices, but I would argue that L.A. does it better, using the opposing voices to add drama and a big boost of sexuality, especially clear on the ‘90s sounding “Our Kind of Love.” It wont change your life, but it certainly will make your day better… B

9. TV Models of the Runway

Last season I was mightily unimpressed with this Project Runway spin off, but this season has gotten oh so much juicier. Sure, there’s nothing inherently interesting about these girls gallivanting about the city and strutting on the stage, and the muted catfights at the house are by far less thrilling than what happens during America’s Next Top Model, but it’s all about the last ten minutes of the show when the designers make their choices. For once in the short history of Project Runway, designers actually seem to understand the importance of picking the right model! And thanks to that, all the backstabbing stealing of models, the flashbacks to Nina Garcia dishing on model behavior, becomes actually watch-able. No, this is not good TV, but with a TiVo, it makes an excellent seven minutes of viewing pleasure… B

10. MOVIE The Brothers Grimm (2005)

It’s never dull to watch a Terry Gilliam film. Illogical and absurd of course, but there’s enough in this visual stunner to make for good watching with fun references to famous fairytales and the surprisingly enjoyable dry wit of the titular brothers, Matt Damon playing the pretty boy and Heath Ledger playing the introvert. Some of the visual effects don’t seem to be as advanced as Gilliam’s imagination, forcing the audience to fill in the blanks. And even more unfortunately there’s not much more than the visual to grasp as the story gets lost in its own mythology that pales in comparison to anything the actual Brothers Grimm ever wrote… C+

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