Tag Archives: best of 2011

Best of 2011: Movie Edition, Part 2

Are you excited? Because you should be! Here are my favorite movies of 2011, numbers 5 through 1.

Toy Story 3 — I love Pixar all day long. Still, I was nervous for Toy Story 3. Many film franchises have trouble maintaining quality, especially when the first film wasn’t necessarily intended to have sequels. As it turns out, I should have had more faith in John Lasseter and the Pixar gang. They avoid the pitfalls of many sequels because they aren’t afraid of change. Pixar sequels are never a rehashing of old jokes. Toy Story 3 finds Buzz, Woody, and the rest of Andy’s toys being donated to a daycare center as Andy prepares to leave for college. Do they meet fun and inventive new characters? Heck yeah! Are they put in situations that test their friendships in new ways? Oooooh yes.

The Social Network — Believe the hype. It’s that good. Particularly Jesse Eisenberg is that good. I loved Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, but I think that Jesse Eisenberg would have been equally deserving of that Oscar. Sure, Firth had to put on a speech impediment, but if you watch Eisenberg’s usual on-screen persona, his transformation for this film is equally impressive. (I actually did that and wrote about it here.) Maybe The Social Network is particularly relevant to my generation because Facebook is such a big part of our lives. Or maybe it has something more universal to say about the nature of genius and success and friendship. Either way, I love it.

Once — This was a movie that crept into my heart and wouldn’t leave. I had to watch it with subtitles because the Irish accents are sometimes very thick, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment in the slightest. IMDB describes Once as a modern-day musical, and that’s fair enough. It’s about a street musician who meets an immigrant woman, and they proceed to make beautiful music together. That’s not a euphemism — they literally form a band. And of course, there’s plenty of complication and quiet heartbreak. It’s a musical in the sense that they play a lot of music, but people with an aversion to characters bursting into song in the middle of a conversation have nothing to fear. Except for being absolutely charmed.

True Grit — Yes, I have already written a post extolling the virtues of this movie. But here it is again because it’s hands-down one of the best movies that I’ve seen this year. Sometimes I really like the Coen Brothers, and this time they rock my socks off. Their gritty directing style is perfectly balanced by the warmth of the actors’ performances. I’m particularly excited to see what’s next in Hailee Steinfeld‘s career. Even if you think you don’t like westerns, give this one a chance.

The Town — Why do I love watching bank robbers so much? Why do I love movies set in Boston? I have no good answers to these questions. I just do. This movie has everything I need: a little action, a little heart, and an amazing cast. Having never before seen Jeremy Renner act, I was especially taken with his performance. Standing next to Ben Affleck, he seems almost diminutive, but Renner steals every scene he’s in. And speaking of Ben Affleck, he directed this flick. His career seems to be making a resurgence, and I’m happy to see it. I just can’t root against someone who co-wrote Good Will Hunting, is married to Jennifer Garner, and seems like a generally swell guy. My number one pick might not be for everyone, but it works for me.

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Best of 2011: Movie Edition, Part 1

We have arrived at what I consider the main event. Why? Because thanks to Netflix, I’ve seen many movies in the past year and was able to come up with a competitive top 10. For your viewing pleasure, here are numbers 10 through 6.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — I was late to the party, but man, was I happy to get there. Kate Winslet is kooky and awesome! Jim Carrey can act! And most incredibly, I watched this movie seven years after its release, and it still felt fresh. More lengthy musings are available here.

Tangled — It’s a well-documented fact that I’m a sucker for animation in general and Disney/Pixar in particular. Hence the studio’s first appearance on the list for this surprisingly delightful movie that brought me back to my Disney-princess-loving childhood. Even my mom gives it her seal of approval. (Not to point fingers, but one of us got choked up at the end.) Once again, you can read more in this post, if you so desire.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance — I had the opportunity to watch many wonderful films when I took Intro to CAMS last winter. (And, okay, a couple really boring films too.) It was hard to pick which ones belonged on this list. It came down to a choice between two Jimmy Stewart films, and even Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t enough to beat Liberty Valance. I mean, Jimmy Stewart is awesome always and probably one of my favorite human beings to watch on-screen. I just love the physicality of his acting. The way one side of his body goes limp during the shoot-out? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve bored describing that scene. And I haven’t even mentioned John Wayne! Just go watch it, please.

The FighterOkay, it’s no secret to the girls who lived with me that I was going through a Mark Wahlberg phase last spring. Like, I thought it was really funny to watch YouTube clips of interviews from his Marky Mark days. On the list of Bostonian men who are close to my heart, he is second only to Matt Damon. But I digress! I don’t like boxing even a little bit, which is all the more reason to take me seriously when I say that I looooooove this movie. There’s a reason that it won both supporting actor and actress Oscars. This cast is phenomenal. I especially have to give credit to Amy Adams for playing against type and nailing it.

Inglourious Basterds — I’m a little embarrassed that I like this movie because it’s so violent. Then again, it got its fair share of Oscar nods, so judge me if you will. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Quentin Tarantino rewrite history. We’ve all seen World War II movies, but never like this. It’s a potent mixture of humor and violence and poignancy. Anyone who’s seen the film will remember the first scene. Christoph Waltz, as an officer responsible for locating Jews in Nazi-occupied France, is interviewing a dairy farmer concerning the whereabouts of his Jewish neighbors. The scene goes from slight discomfort to horrible realization for the viewer, and it will have you hooked for the next two hours.


Check back tomorrow for the top 5!

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Best of 2011: Book Edition

I wish that I had read enough books this year for a top 10, but that just wasn’t the case. I mean, I read more than ten books, but most of them weren’t worthy of the list. And I suspected that you didn’t want to hear about the Christopher Marlowe plays that I read for a class last winter. You will notice that three of my five choices are young adult novels. What can I say? I know what I like.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

John Green has become a very big part of my life. He and his brother have been exchanging video blogs since 2007, and an entire community has grown around their videos. My friend Jenny told me about the “vlogbrothers” months ago, but I didn’t really investigate until after reading Katherines. Now my Christmas list contains John Green’s two other novels available in paperback. It’s already evident to me that he’s one of the great talents in young adult literature today. Katherines got its blog moment in the sun here. For the purposes of this list, I will just reiterate that it is intelligently written with an engaging premise and hilarious characters. Any YA lover (or book lover, really) will appreciate this novel.

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen is an author about whom I can probably never be impartial. After all, she has been near and dear to my heart for 10 years now. What Happened to Goodbye was one of the most highly anticipated books in my reading life this year. While I can’t count it as her best work, I will say that it definitely lives up to her past novels. This book focuses in part on the world of restaurants. As a hardcore Dessen fan, I know that the behind-the-scenes knowledge comes from her days as a waitress at the Flying Burrito. I would recommend the book to Dessen fans of yore, along with her other two most recent novels.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I have to say, I’m a sucker for this kind of story. The kind where most things seem almost normal, except for the one detail that makes it all feel horribly wrong. At first glance the narrator could be a woman reminiscing about her days at boarding school. However, from the first pages Kathy makes references to more mysterious aspects of her world. The novel is slow-moving, but Ishiguro is adept at doling out enough hints to keep the reader interested until the full purpose of the boarding school children is revealed. Written in a beautiful and impressively subtle style, it raises many questions about morality in medical science and the nature of personhood.  There’s also a lovely film adaptation that I would recommend — after reading the book, of course.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I reviewed this book very recently on the blog, so I won’t go into much detail here. Suffice to say that I have great respect for what Margaret Atwood has done in this book. It reminds me of her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, but for all that they both portray dystopian futures, Oryx and Crake has a very different vision. I, for one, found it wildly compelling.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

There was really no contest for number one. I could have easily included the entire Hunger Games Trilogy on this list, but instead I picked my favorite book in the series. In keeping with the unintentional theme of the book list, it’s both young adult and science fiction. Collins uses the best facets of the YA genre to her advantage, presenting fast-paced novels that still manage to be thought-provoking. There’s a rebellious teenage girl and a love triangle, but there’s also a critique of the voyeuristic tendencies in our culture, particularly a fascination with other people’s suffering. I like Catching Fire the best because it deepens the characters and complicates relationships before the action-packed third installment. These are books that inspire passion in readers. They were certainly my most exciting reading experience of 2011.


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Best of 2011: Music Edition, Part 2

Here they are, looking just a little smug. My favorite songs of 2011, numbers 5 through 1.

Brett Dennen, “Comeback Kid”

This year Brett Dennen released his fourth album, the amusingly titled Loverboy. The album as a whole is great, but the immediate standouts to me were “Sydney (I’ll Come Running)” and “Comeback Kid.” They both featured sassy lyrics and a sing-along-worthy chorus. “Sydney” was my initial favorite, until “Comeback Kid” worked its way into my heart and stayed there. The lyrics are the perfect blend of cheeky and hopeful, and the tune is relentlessly upbeat. I defy you not to be singing “Na na na na na na / That’s my dog” by the end.

Meredith Fierke, “Train’s Song”

I had the pleasure of meeting Northfield, MN, native Meredith Fierke while doing a piece for my creative nonfiction class this spring. In the process of researching for the story, I bought her day album The Procession on iTunes. The assignment eventually ended, but my appreciation for her music did not. “Train’s Song” is one of her best, and it also happens to be the only one posted on YouTube. My other favorites are “Make You Real” and “Backyard.” They’re the kind of songs that demand a second listen.

The Temper Trap, “Sweet Disposition”

On top of being one of my favorite movies in recent years, (500) Days of Summer brought some excellent music into my life. Most excellent of all is “Sweet Disposition.” I love the way it builds momentum. I love the way it never lets up until the final seconds. Once you get to the point of understanding the lyrics, you will find them subtly romantic and equally hypnotizing.

Lady Gaga, “You And I”

Forget the absurd music video. Forget that horrible radio edit with “Minnesota” dubbed in over “Nebraska.” The album version is Lady Gaga at her piano chanteuse best. It must be said that piano chanteuse is my favorite Lady Gaga persona. I have the entire Born This Way album, and while most of the songs took time to grow on me, “You And I” was a favorite from the start. It cannot be denied that the woman has pipes. It gives me some serious karaoke urges, but I know I wouldn’t be able to pull it off.

Josh Ritter, “Kathleen”

Score one for Carleton a cappella groups. I first heard this song at an Exit 69 concert, and I was nothing short of smitten. Can you be smitten with a song? I proceeded to listen to it more than any other song this year, so I’m saying yes. It’s musically compelling, but the lyrics are what truly sets it apart. Even before my English major days, lyrics were an important part of my listening experience. “Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied,” he sings. It doesn’t get much more beautiful than that.

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Best of 2011: Music Edition, Part 1

And so it begins. Prepare yourself for five straight days of the Best of 2011. I’m kicking it off with my ten favorite songs of the year. Here are numbers 10 through 6.

Billy Bragg & Wilco, “Way Over Yonder In the Minor Key”

I have a weakness for alt-country music. I first heard this gem in the movie Love and Other Drugs, then again months later on The Current. The second time around, something resonated with me. It could be Billy Bragg’s voice or the pleasure of joining in the refrain of “Ain’t nobody that can sing like me.” Sometimes a simple song is all I need.

Elliott Smith, “No Name #3”

Good Will Hunting has been one of my favorite movies for years. In 2011 I finally invested in the soundtrack. (A used copy, of course.) The album hinges on six beautiful tracks by Elliott Smith. All are subtle and haunting, but “No Name #3” is decidedly my favorite. There’s something about the way he sings “Everyone is gone / Home to oblivion” that makes it the perfect soothing song.

Ingrid Michaelson, “Parachute”

Okay, I technically heard this song back in July of 2010 when I saw Ingrid in concert. I’m still including it though because I didn’t take much interest in it until 2011. Anyone who has heard her albums knows that Ingrid is a hit-or-miss type of songwriter. Her hits tend to be lyrically simple (like “The Way I Am“) and insanely catchy (like “Parachute”). Supposedly Ingrid didn’t record “Parachute” at first because she thought it was too poppy for her. Something must have changed her mind, and we have this pop confection to show for it.

Gillian Welch, “One Little Song”

Did someone say alt-country? Gillian Welch’s Soul Journey album was one of my best finds this year. That is to say, I found it at a used music store in Uptown. I already featured this particular song once, but it deserves a second mention. I love the way it flows effortlessly between verses. Most of all, I love the message, which is that there’s always a song left to sing.

Robyn, “Indestructible”

My love for Robyn is already welldocumented on this blog. I was familiar with “Dancing On My Own” and “Call Your Girlfriend” when I bought her album Body Talk. Then I discovered a new favorite in “Indestructible.” Like all of Robyn’s best songs, it has real emotion behind the electronic beats. I highly recommend it for rocking out in the car, preferably while driving to happy hour with your coworkers.

Check back tomorrow for the top 5!

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End of the Year Extravaganza

Where have I been????

Well, for the last three days I’ve been sick with strep throat. Before that I was merely wrapped up in the usual holiday madness. But now I am back because the end of the year means something very special here at Courtney Coherent:  Best of 2011 Lists!

The lists will be presented over the last two weeks of the year. Right now I can promise a Top 10 for movies and music and a Top 5 for books. Other ideas might pop up as I continue working on them. An important detail to note is that these lists will not be excluded to movies, music, and books that were released in 2011. Let’s face it — I don’t have the cash to consume that much brand-spanking-new media. Rather, any item that I encountered for the first time in 2011 is eligible to be on a list.

I’m certainly having fun writing the lists, and I hope that you will have fun reading them.

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