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01.26.09 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW

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1. FOOD Shake Shack
Step down Pop Burger, Shake Shack is officially the place to go when the munchies hit. Seriously, the best, most juicy, delicious burger you will ever eat (don’t take offense Westville, yours has different merits). Add to that some delectable cheese fries, the right balance of crisp to crunch and salted splendidly. Finish it off with any of their incredible shakes, and well, you’ll just be happy. No other word for it than happy. And with a new outpost on the UWS, you can actually sit down inside, a nice alternative to being freezing while waiting in line and sitting in Madison Square Park.

2. TV United States of Tara
This new Showtime comedy is starting strong thanks to a script from Juno creator/writer Diablo Cody, a wacky but intriguing idea from creator Steven Spielberg, and most of all the incredible cast. John Corbett brings his usual swagger and charm to the husband role. Rosemarie DeWitt, hot off her turn in Rachel Getting Married, plays the dejected sister with a balance of bitch and heart. But the true reason to tune into this oddball is Toni Collette playing three personalities beyond the character of Tara, a teenager, a Donna Reed-esque housewife, and the most incredible transformation into a homophobic redneck. It’s too early to say if this show is actually going to offer more than a gimmick, but so far I say definitely tune in just to see the gimmick in action.

3. STAGE Garden of Earthly Delights
Martha Clarke has created a shocking and seductive interpretation of the famed Hieronymus Bosch painting of the same title. Filling a stage with simulated naked humans (real humans, simulated nudity) the piece moves from harmonious and delightful frolics to moments of sheer horror, such as a man being repeatedly beaten by a drum, women being raped, attacks from mythical creatures, an eye being gouged out, a woman being impaled by a stake and hurled around the stage, etc. It is through ingenious stagecraft, harnesses, subtle lighting and the use of natural wood props that all of this horror can be created with not much more than movement. This is a sight to behold, an absolute must-see.

4. MOVIE Revolutionary Road (2008)
I was captivated by much of this film, a large part of that coming from my love and knowledge of the book. Kate Winslet radiates throughout the film. Leonardo DiCaprio (who I was less than pleased with in the casting) turns out a harrowing and splendid depiction of a trapped man; the birthday scene alone should have made him worthy of a nomination. And the overall structure is interestingly difficult, throwing the audience into a bad relationship only to give us the glimmer of hope in the middle that there could be some salvation just to watch it all be destroyed again. Sadly it was the soundtrack that truly distracted me. Thomas Newman seems to have created some bastardized hybrid of his previous work, something akin to Angels in American Beauty. He could use a new idea, and Sam Mendes could learn how to integrate music into the natural flow and evolution of what was otherwise a relatively emotionally captivating if harsh film.

5. MOVIE Harold and Maude (1971)
It is a shame how long it took me to see this fantastic classic film. The meet cute, at a funeral no less, of a morose boy and a nearly 80-year-old woman who lives life to the fullest provides a beautiful meditation on existence. Beginning as a darkly funny relationship comedy the movie quickly turns from sarcastic to deeply moving, in large part to the sheer joy of watching Ruth Gordon command the screen in her offbeat performance. And with the songs of Cat Stevens acting as a soundtrack it becomes quite easy to see how this film has entered the realm of classic.

6. MUSIC Folie a Deux Fall Out Boy
Patrick Stump’s voice sounds excellent on these thirteen new, upbeat and musically addictive tracks from the Chicago band. The first single, “I Don’t Care,” is perfect pop, with those yelps and a rocking bass line, it almost sounds like a male answer to P!nk’s “So What.” But just so you don’t think it’s all the same stuff over again, there are songs like “Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown” with a heavy ‘80s sound and the stripped down piano ditty, “What a Catch, Donnie” featuring guest vocals from Stump’s vocal doppelganger, Elvis Costello. But check out “27” for that classic Fall Out Boy sound that just makes me want to jump up and down dancing in my apartment.

7. MOVIE Frost/Nixon (2008)
Thanks to a host of Oscar nominations I decided I needed to see this film. While Ron Howard hasn’t done much to make this subject more captivating, he was blessed with an excellent piece source material (Peter Morgan’s stage play remains very much intact if a little less immediate in film form) and two wonderful performances (also maintained from the stage play). Frank Langella is poignant channeling the downtrodden president hoping for some possible salvation, embodying the character rather than mimicking the man. The supporting cast, including Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell and the lovely Rebecca Hall, is also up to the challenge, even with limited material. I just wish the whole thing had a bit more spark and sizzle rather than being so drawn out (I personally imagined the film being more like an electrifying episode of The West Wing when I saw the play… but hey, no one asked me to direct).

8. MOVIE The Visitor (2007)
Continuing in my need to see all things nominated, I rented this little gem to see Richard Jenkins performance. But the film, from the writer and director of that great indie, The Station Agent, has a whole lot more to offer, and though small tackles some large issues of how our country deals with immigrants in a very personal and convincing way. With music acting as the great unifier between a Syrian immigrant and the curmudgeon of a professor played by Jenkins, the movie sails from a hard to fathom collision of worlds to demonstrate a very human drama of people trying to survive and learning how to live. A few heavy-handed patriotism shots aside (yes we get it, the American flag is often betrayed by our un-American actions) the film is a delightful slice of New York filmmaking.

9. MUSIC Volume One She and Him
She is Zooey Deschanel (whose singing I enjoyed in Elf, but was wary of a full CD) and He is the fantastic singer/songwriter M. Ward. Together you get something truly worth listening to. She and Him has an old school sound, aided by their song selection. They take on Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and slow it down, swing it a bit and let Deschanel’s voice shine over stripped down orchestration. They even Hawaiinize the Beatles’ classic “I Should Have Known Better.” I’m very curious to see how this duo develops as even the new compositions keep true to the sound, especially in the wonderful doo-wop tune, “Sweet Darlin’” written by Deschanel and Jason Schwartzman of all people.

10. MUSIC Audience of One Heather Headley
On the first listen of this album, I was immediately turned off by the pure and simple devotion to Jesus on every single track. I certainly have nothing against songs of praise, in fact I listen to quite a bit of that music, but it’s not exactly why I listen to Ms. Headley, first of the Broadway world and more recently of R&B. After a couple more listens, I began to remember that I would pretty much listen to her sing anything (and when I sing along, I simply replace Lord with Baby and everything works out much better). Ranging from modern hymns to gospel songs, this CD actually has a lot to offer. But I still say, Ms. Headley, get yourself back to the Broadway stage, it’s time.

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