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11.30.09 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW

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1. EVENT Thanksgiving

Holidays about food are always a great concept. Skirting around the more thorny issues of the day, such as Native American relations, it really has become a day and weekend of giving thanks for the things we all too often don’t stop and think about. Primary among that would be family, for all the insanity that they provide, there’s an undeniable joy in finally sitting down at the table, warmly lit by candles, and remembering that when the rest of the world dies away, you still have something pretty damn amazing surrounding you. And that overly sentimental concept continues throughout the weekend as you reconnect with schoolmates that you figured had been long forgotten and all the other trappings that remind you that while you might have moved away and found a whole new life, there’s still 18 starter years that directly created everything that came after it. Never forget your roots, at least for one long weekend of the year.

2. ALBUM Fame Monster Lady Gaga

I have an admission to make: up until this point I really haven’t been much of a Lady Gaga fan. I certainly appreciated her in the pop sense (yes, that was me bouncing around in some darkened club to “Just Dance” well before it became ubiquitous). Then I got lost in all the hype, the crazy outfits and constant wardrobe changes that make Cher concerts seem tame and slow paced. Thanks to this new album, or EP for that matter, I have come around to actually respect the woman’s undeniable talent. “Bad Romance” has all the enjoyable pop of previous radio hits, but Gaga demonstrates some real strong songwriting ability on catchy tunes like the ABBA-esque “Alejandro,” the guilty pleasure of the Beyonce duet, “Telephone,” the ridiculous lyrics but awesome dance beat of “Monster,” and my personal favorite, the hip-hop influenced “Teeth.” But I was most intrigued by the countrified ballad of “Speechless” that could be equally at home in the voice of Kelly Clarkson or Pink (that would be a compliment, in case you wondering).

3. SONG “Nothing on You” by B.o.B. featuring Bruno Mars

Some songs make you sit up and take notice and this one even more so because it’s so not my style. I know you’ll all be shocked when you click the link and it doesn’t take you to a singer/songwriter plucking some sensitive guitar strings. But this hip-hop has something for everybody. The excellent melody is instantly sing-able, flowing nice and easy, back and forth, into the rapped verses, sounding like more intelligent Sean Kingston, minus the ever-present auto-tune. I’m sensing this kid is going to be huge, so feel free to say that you heard it here first.

4. RECIPE “The Grasshopper” (my version)

Who needs to go to the admittedly delicious Tipsy Parson for an eight-dollar dessert when you can recreate it in your very own home (approximately the same cost, five times as much food)? A quick glance through epicurious.com netted some excellent options on creating mint chocolate mousse. I went with a cream based mousse, unlike my usual egg white version. But the real secret to this recipe is the crispy cookie crunch. Take oreos, remove the white filling, crumble it all up and mix it with 14 ounces of melted semi-sweet chocolate. Flash freeze it (that’d be 15 minutes in the deep freeze) and then chop it into crunchy delicious bits. Make a layer in the middle and a layer on top to create extra crunchy goodness throughout each bite. Take a candy cane, pulverize it to a fine powder, dust that over the cookie topping and you have a serious dessert that everyone will think is too complicated to attempt because it tastes so darn good.

5. MOVIE Charade (1963)

Things don’t get much better than a Stanley Donen directed film starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. From the groovy opening titles to the sardonic wit that pervades the film, it’s the latter that makes repeat viewings more than bearable, but actually revelatory. Getting past the surprisingly worthy twists and turns of the thriller portion of this film, you’re left with talent that you simply do not see on the silver screen anymore (clearly in evidence with the slightly terrible remake, The Truth About Charlie). Hepburn and Grant crackle and sizzle, gleaming as only movie stars of a certain era can. And let’s not forget to think of that other star of the film, Givenchy, creating yet another incredible grouping of clothes that as outlandish as they should seem, suit Hepburn’s slender build incredibly and in turn make every frame even more sumptuous.

6. FOOD Stella’s

I actually don’t really like this diner on any level, and yet I found myself there three times over the course of two days, which I think makes it culturally significant if none too pleasing. It’s pretty much a mainstay for the Chicago set, originally known as the Wheel Around before having a makeover, and provides the usual buttery delights of diner fare. But I cannot deny some sort of enjoyment in familiarity and in a never-ending cup of coffee… enough to sit through three different meals, jacked to the hilt, and enjoying the company more completely for it.

7. ALBUM Help! The Beatles

Does it really get better than that title track? Well, honestly it does when listening to the rest of the album and amazing other hits like “Ticket to Ride” with that indelible beat pattern and the over-covered but always classic “Yesterday.” Even the lesser know tunes like “The Night Before” and the George Harrison penned “I Need You” are set to impress. But my personal favorite shall remain the lyrically beautiful tune of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” produced almost like a medieval ballad for the modern age with its guitar, flute and tambourine accompaniment, and always finding its way directly into the soul, no matter how many times I’ve listened to it.

8. FEATURE Genius Playlists

The genius function on iTunes and now the iPod was something I was always skeptical of. How can a program really pick the perfect 25 songs to match one song of my choosing? As usual, the answer is, don’t question an Apple created program. Using your own library as a resource, iTunes pulls together excellent selections, if a little unimaginative. Going retro, the list generally sticks to the same time period, not branching out for sound-a-likes of the modern era. But going with a more modern selection, you are quick to rediscover old forgotten favorites and songs you’ve never heard. So abandon any attempt to figure out the clearly complex algorithm that makes the choices and sit back and rest easily in the smart capable hands of your more intelligent listening device.

9. MUSICAL The Addams Family

Nathan Lane’s comic face is a perfect foil for Gomez, Bebe Neuwirth has the slinky seductive cool movement to embody Morticia and Jackie Hoffman, well, she’s just Jackie Hoffman and thus fantastic as grandma. But even with these seemingly excellent elements all appearing on the same stage, something was decidedly missing, paramount in this particular instance would be the music. Andrew Lippa failed to write a single song that I would even consider humming on the way out. The script is funny enough but with a few too many winks at the audience to ever really spark the same wit of the comic book or more recent movie versions. And there is some definite confusion over whether this was a kids’ show or an adults’ show (consistent references to pot would lead you to believe it’s the latter, but if it was really for adults, they could have given us more). The show is saved by a more cohesive second act with songs that are at least comprehensible, and one must marvel for a moment at the excellent use of puppets care of the always-ingenious Basil Twist.

10. TV MOVIE Bye Bye Birdie (1995)

Thanks to the return of this ridiculous show to Broadway, a memory was sparked of the TV version from my childhood starring Jason Alexander and Vanessa Williams. Thanks to my Roku, I was able to instantly satisfy my curiosity and found myself completely engrossed in this highly flawed but enjoyable work of musical theater translated for TV. While the director often tried too hard to make the show filmic (would the camera please stop moving during “Put on a Happy Face”) failing to let the material speak for itself, there is much joy to be had in Alexander’s exasperation and Williams’ seductive and able turn as Rosie. It’s an absolutely delightful musical, that really does seem created for the high school stage, but why ruin it with high schoolers when you can have Tyne Daly spouting hilarious racism instead.

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