Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Danny's BEST OF 2010: The Year In Movies


- There was a point in time, around the early summer of 2010, where it was easy to look at the slate of movies in the theaters and just think: "are you kidding me?" During a summer that saw remakes of The A-Team and The Karate Kid, that saw endless sequels, that saw a movie based on, of all things, Marmaduke ... it was easy to think that maybe, just maybe, Hollywood had hit rock bottom. It's easy to become disillusioned. You flip through the trades and browse the entertainment blogs, and the sheer number of lame ideas that get greenlit can be pretty staggering. Seemingly every movie ever made is being remade. Every toy or game or cartoon that anyone has even ths slightest bit of nostalgic affection for is now groomed to be the next blockbuster franchise. When does it end? When do we stop turning old board games into movies? When do we stop remaking movies for no good reason? Are we really living in that cynical of an age, where ideas that are that bad - so bad that anyone with a shred of taste can see that they are bad - are put into production solely in the name of a quick buck? If so, then why not take this to its logical extremes? Slinky - the movie! Connect 4 - the movie! I smell franchise! While we're at it, let's remake E.T., remake The Princess Bride, remake Chinatown, and Pulp Fiction, and Memento! Let's remake Citizen Kane! So you had to ask yourself: would the first year of this new decade be the start of a new golden age of storytelling, a new era of great movies? Or would it simply be more of the same old crap? During parts of 2010, it was easy to look out into the cinematic wasteland, shrug your shoulders, and long for better days gone by.

That said, it's easy to be cynical. And sadly, too many people in Hollywood are so stubborn in their cynicism that they forget to love movies. When I scroll through the comments section on Deadline Hollywood, for example, it just seems like a neverending parade of vultures. The weekly box office reports are filled with venom being spewed by readers about this movie or that movie. It's easy to be brainwashed into thinking that everything sucks, that every movie is a failure, that the only true measure of success is the almighty dollar.

What may ultimately be more difficult, but certainly far more rewarding, is to remain above all else a fan of movies. Maybe you're a film geek - a fanboy or fangirl who lives for movies that thrill and amaze. Maybe you're an aspiring filmmaker who looks up to certain directors or writers or actors. Maybe you just love a good mystery story, or a great romance. I say this because, even amidst the clutter of crappy sequels and pointless remakes, 2010 had an abundance of great films that any true film fan could get excited about.

I loved THE SOCIAL NETWORK. It pretty much blew my mind. But how many times have I had to hear it dismissed as "that Facebook movie" ...? The film gained early awards buzz, so therefore the backlash started early, therefore, said the cool kids, it must suck. It was too talky, it didn't stick to the facts, Jesse Eisenberg was unlikable in the lead role. The movie was a critical favorite, but sometimes the backlash can be overpowering. And I don't get it. That's not how I think about movies. I think about the acting, the writing, the directing. I think about the story being told, and to what degree it affected me and made me think or feel, about the lasting impression it made. To me, The Social Network was the most profound, the most intense, the most thought-provoking filmgoing experience of the year. It left me floored. That's all that matters.

I've heard people say that INCEPTION was overrated, that it was too confusing, that it was too weird. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD didn't make as much money as was projected, so therefore it must have been a creative failure. TRON LEGACY's opening weekend was soft - clearly, further proof that the movie sucked and that it was a poorly-conceived idea in the first place. THE RUNAWAYS was a box-office bomb, so let's not even put it in the discussion of the year's best films.

I'm the first one to call a movie out for being overrated or ill-conceived, but enough with all the cynicism. Enough with the failure to distinguish between a movie's quality and its box-office numbers. I was so frustrated by this trend in late summer that I wrote an entire blog post about how misguided the conversation was with regards to Scott Pilgrim. Somehow, the movie became a symbol to some of everything that was wrong with Hollywood. Reviews of Scott Pilgrim became a forum for stodgy critics and commentators to vent about everything from Hollywood's misguided obsession with fanboy culture to unfounded hatred of star Michael Cera. While people like me were praising Scott Pilgrim as one of the year's best, calling it the best film yet from director Edgar Wright, haters came out of the woodwork to slam the movie. I think that's a big reason why there was such a vocal contingent of Scott Pilgrim supporters - because, somehow, the consensus seemed to arise that the movie was a dud, even though that consensus was reached less by legitimate criticism and more by the increasingly bitter stream of cynical entertainment pundits. And yet, where some only see a box-office bomb, I see a great-but-hard-to-market movie that has already become something of a cult-classic in its own time.

Still, I do want to emphasize that I'm not in favor of forming an opinion simply as a reaction to others. Sometimes, it can be tough ... when I see dozens of overenthusiastic Facebook status updates proclaiming the new Harry Potter movie to be some sort of ultimate cinematic epic, well, it's easy to simply want to rebel against that hive-mind mentality. In the case of the penultimate Potter movie, I went in open minded, but came away unconvinced - I had been entertained, but ultimately somewhat frustrated with the movie, and also frustrated that so many people seemed to simply project their own ideas of Harry Potter onto the film. They were watching the Harry Potter movie play out inside of their own heads as much as they were actually watching what was onscreen. This is the kind of fan culture that I myself am not a fan of - getting excited about a movie just because it's the thing to do. I don't get the concept of loving a movie or a franchise unconditionally. But while that is an unnecessary extreme, that doesn't mean that it's wrong to let yourself enjoy a movie for what it is. Case in point: I saw a number of early Tron Legacy reviews that expressed severe disappointment with the movie. But again, a lot of those reviews were colored by a set of preconceived notions that had little to do with the film itself. Movie-industry types resented the fact that Disney spent so much cash hyping up a movie that perhaps catered largely to fanboys. Meanwhile, jaded film snob types seemed to go in expecting some some sort of high-brow mindtrip, forgetting that Tron was always, at its core, Disney-style escapist entertainment. As for me, I went into the movie with my expectations slightly lowered, but walked out of the theater feeling totally pumped-up and excited by what I had just seen. I'm not sure why the movie fell flat for some people, but for me it was a visually-stunning, uber-fun adventure that, in my humble opinion, kicked a fair amount of ass. Plenty of people have tried to convince me otherwise, but sometimes, you've got to go with your gut - and my gut told me that, for me, the new Tron was one of the year's most enjoyable in-theater experiences.

What's more, sometimes seeing a film with little to no preconceived notions can make the experience that much more rewarding. I went into THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT not really knowing what I was in for. As it turns out, I loved the movie, and I was blown away by the quality of the performances in the film. One night, I happened to see a list of the year's best movies that ranked WINTER'S BONE at the very top. On a whim, I rented the movie from iTunes without knowing a thing about it - and I came away highly impressed with the movie's artistry and its stunning lead performance from Jennifer Lawrence. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP was another one that was a really pleasant surprise. Banksy's is-it-real-or-not documentary takes a number of unexpected turns that made it a must-see movie of 2010. On paper, THE KING'S SPEECH seemed like it might be sort of stuffy and boring. In actuality, it was a hugely entertaining movie, featuring truly great performances from the likes of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. It's a movie that everyone should check out, because ultimately, I think it's a real crowd-pleaser. Similarly, I thought THE FIGHTER would be a somewhat conventional boxing movie - a straightforward underdog story in the tradition of Rocky. So I was surprised to discover that The Fighter was quirky, funny, and if anything, more of a character study - with a memorable, award-worthy performance from Christian Bale to boot. I don't know if anyone expected LET ME IN to be quite as badass as it was, given that it was a remake of a beloved cult-classic Swedish film. But somehow, Let Me In topped the original and was one of the year's best - a great template for how to do a respectful remake that stays true to the concepts and sensibilites that made the original work in the first place. It's too bad that the movie was so overlooked in theaters. FOUR LIONS was another movie that more people need to see. A biting satire of terrorism, this British comedy - which saw only very limited release here in The States - was one of the year's most unique and timely movies, not to mention one of its funniest comedies. And how about HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON ...? I went in expecting a pretty run-of-the-mill animated film from Dreamworks, but what I got was one of the best and most captivating animated movies in years. In fact, it was the best overall year for animated movies in a long time, with several different animation studios delivering exceptional movies in 2010.

There were some great surprises in 2010, but when I look at the year as a whole, I think that what made this a great year for movies overall was the fact that we got a number of memorable films from several of today's very best filmmakers - working at or near the top of their game. David Fincher blew me away with The Social Network, arguably his best film since Fight Club. Christopher Nolan brought pure cinematic ownage this summer with Inception, arguably his best film since Memento. Edgar Wright made his best and most inspired film ever in Scott Pilgrim, and The Coen Bros. added yet another quotable classic to their incredible filmography with TRUE GRIT. Danny Boyle once again showed why he's one of the most visually inventive directors working today with 127 HOURS. And man, Darren Aronofsky knocked it out of the park with BLACK SWAN, a return to the kind of surreal mind%$&# that put him on the map back in the day. Finally, Pixar did it again with the superlative TOY STORY 3. While I don't consider Pixar to be as infallible as some, I couldn't help but be won over by the sheer ambition and brilliance of their latest film. Even TANGLED, which I wasn't really anticipating, ended up being a nice blend of old-school Disney storytelling with new-school, cutting edge CG animation.

And so, even as there is reason to be cynical about the overall state of film, there is also plenty of evidence that great filmmaking is alive and well. You might not always find validation for this in the box office returns, but look, at the end of the day, great movies tend to find a way to make their money back. Even if they don't, well, there's nothing wrong with being a fan of something that not everyone gets or buys into. I mean, isn't that what being a fan is really all about? It's not about jumping on a bandwagon, it's about finding something that speaks to you as an individual. Sometimes, in an age where the internet forms this giant, all-encompassing peanut gallery, it can be hard to remember that. All I can say is - don't let the rampant cynicism that's out there keep you from enjoying the movies that speak to you. Seek out the good stuff. Champion it. And don't be afraid to like (or hate) something just because it isn't the popular thing to do. And that holds true whether your measuring stick for popularity is box-office returns, critical consensus, or just your own small circle of friends. As you'll see from my list below, there are plenty of movies that struck a chord with me that, at the same time, simply didn't work for others. Some movies on my list won't be up for any Oscars, but had that certain something that, for me, just pushed the right buttons. Other movies on the list aren't films that I was eagerly anticipating, per se, but they're movies that I'm glad I took a chance on, because they expanded my cinematic horizons. And yeah, some of the movies on my list just plain ruled it, and that's that.

So here we go ...



- In theory, I wouldn't have thought that a movie about the creation of Facebook would leave me with chills, feeling floored, breathless, and basically in awe of what I had just seen. But that's what happened with The Social Network. Because with this film, writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher crafted a story both personal and epic in scope. On one hand, it was a fascinating story about how the single biggest social media revolution of the last few years came to be. On the other hand, I found the movie to be a cosmic-level reflection of our times, and of my generation. We all want to make an impact, to change the world. But when this idealism mixes and clashes with corporate realities, with self-involved narcisissm, with the basic human desire to live a fulfilling life filled with meaningful connections and relationships - what happens then? Featuring a career-defining performance from Jesse Eisenberg, and a couple of incredible supporting turns - most notably from rising star Andrew Garfield, The Social Network takes the story of Facebook and turns it into a of-the-moment parable of epic proportions. Sorkin's dialogue has never been sharper, and Fincher's direction has never been more confident - he imbues even small moments with a near-apocalyptic intensity. The pulsating soundtrack, the atmospheric cinematography - it all adds up to a story that takes place at the intersection of Harvard Square and the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it. Of all of the movies I saw in 2010, this was the one that, to me, made the biggest impact, the most lasting impression. I know that a lot of critics are calling The Social Network the movie of the year, and I know that all of those accolades can lead to a backlash. But to me, the praise is well-deserved. The Social Network was the year's best and most essential film.


- The great savior of the summer of 2010 was undoubtedly Inception. In a summer filled with lowest-common-denominator garbage, here was a movie that displayed mind-blowing ambition. Here was an action-packed, twist-filled blockbuster that was also an original story, a singular vision. Christopher Nolan has proven himelf to be a master of the movie-as-puzzle genre, and Inception was perhaps his most thought-provoking and conversation-starting mindbender to date. The movie was incredibly layered - literally, the narrative took us to multiple levels of the dream-world that intertwined like the ultimate logic puzzle, the ultimate game. And, more subtextually, Inception worked on multiple narrative levels. It was an action movie, with some of the most visually-intense action set pieces ever seen (the zero-gravity hotel fight, anyone?). It was a heist movie, with all the classic sort of characters and plotting you'd get in that particular genre. But Inception was also a movie whose story folded back in upon itself - a self-aware movie about movies, about reality vs. fiction, about the nature of ideas. Pretty grandiose stuff, and months after the movie's release, people are still debating - what did it all mean? Whose subconcious was "inception" really being performed upon? Did the coin stop spinning or did it drop? One thing's for certain - Inception is a movie that people will be talking about for a long time to come.


- Watching Black Swan is like experiencing a waking nightmare. You're never quite sure what's real, what's not. You are slowly going down the rabbit hole, never sure what horror waits around the corner. But Black Swan is a dark dream that stays with you, that haunts you, because somewhere amidst the murky blackness is that essential element of truth. All of us wonder - like Natalie Portman's character in the movie - are we capable of becoming the proverbial black swan, if called upon? What would we do to achieve success? And at what price? Black Swan is one of 2010's most striking films - Natalie Portman knocks it out of the park, and the rest of the cast is also exceptional. Meanwhile, Darren Aronofsky creates a visually-stunning, surreal film that sucks you in and doesn't let go. This movie will creep you out, it will disturb you, but the ride that it takes you on is a journey to the dark side that is a memorable one indeed.


- After becoming a fan-favorite with genre-bending comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, director Edgar Wright has created his best movie yet with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. To me, this was a revolutionary movie. Adapted from the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, the film translated the aesthetics, visuals, and storytelling shorthand of comics and videogames into live-action in a way that no other movie has before. The result was a movie that struck a chord on an almost instinctual level with anyone who's ever picked up a controller. The movie was a nostalgia-trip and a love-letter to geek culture, but it was also a great commentary on how pop-culture can shape our lives and how, in turn, we can transpose our own lives into the trappings of a movie, or comic book, or videogame. And that's why each of Scott Pilgrim's victories against Ramona Flower's Seven Evil Exes becomes an almost transcendant moment. We get a thrill from games because the rules, the dangers, and the rewards are so gloriously clear. Save the princess, defeat your enemies, achieve victory. Scott Pilgrim imagines a world where the conventions of games apply to our own personal challenges and conflicts. It's a hilarious, action-packed, visually-inventive movie - a rock n' roll romance that is full of epic win.


- Here, to me, was probably the single most underrated and unjustly overlooked movie of the year. This is a movie that deserves to find an audience though, because it's simply a kickass rock n' roll story that any fan of rock will thoroughly enjoy. The Runaways is the story of Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, and a group of punk-rock girls who, for a brief moment, took the world by storm. In an era before Courtney Love, Gwen Stefani, The Donnas, or Paramore, The Runaways broke the mold and paved the way for women to rock just as loud and hard as their male counterparts. The movie tells the tale of The Runaways' rise and fall with style and flair, and stars Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning really do a fantastic job as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie respectively. In addition, the great Michael Shannon steals the show as the band's demanding, slightly-insane manager - and it's a shame that he'll probably be completely overlooked come Oscar time. What I loved most about The Runaways though is that it out-and-out captures the rebellious spirit of rock n' roll - making great use of the music of The Runaways and Joan Jett to tell a story that's both cautionary and inspirational.


- This year, there are a lot of fantastical, over-the-top sort of movies on my Best Of list, but The Kids Are All Right was a smaller, slice-of-life movie that still managed to make as much of an impact on me as any of the year's big-budget blockbusters. The thing that sticks out to me first and foremost about the movie is the phenomenal acting - from the entire cast, but most notably from the two leads - Julianne Moore and Annette Bening. The two actresses together craft an onscreen relationship that feels real, that feels lived-in. And as conflicts arise and a wedge forms between them, the result isn't some contrived Hollywood melodrama, it's subtle, nuanced, and because of that, all the more affecting. The Kids Are All Right is about two women in a non-traditional relationship with a non-traditional family. And yet, the movie's themes are universal - regardless of your own background, I think people will come away from this one recognizing something of themselves in the movie's characters.


- Toy Story 3 took a lot of people by surprise with just how dark it was willing to go, how far it was willing to raise the stakes for its animated characters. But here's another thing about Pixar's latest - it was a pretty fantastic action / adventure movie. Animated, yes, but that didn't make the direction of the set pieces any less thrilling or well-choreographed and staged. If anything, Pixar used the lack of limits in animation to create a movie that was often a visual thrill ride. The movie had one of the best Big Bads of any blockbuster this year - Lotso the Bear - whose tragic origin was an inspired bit of classic villainy. By that same token, Toy Story would not be what it is without its great cast of characters, and this third film marked the end of their journey - but also a new beginning, of sorts. Pixar brilliantly ensured that the Toy Story movies grew up alongside their audience, and in doing so created a movie that was funny and action-packed, but also surprisingly poignant.


- Sometimes, a movie seems so predisposed to be Oscar bait that it's easy to just dismiss it as too stuffy, too dry, to truly be a great film. But The King's Speech is a surprisingly funny, human film that really won me over. It may be stating the obvious, but this is not simply a film about overcoming a speech impediment. Instead, the narrative works on multiple levels to really add up to something special. On one hand, yes, it's about a proud man trying to overcome a personal challenge out of a sense of pride and duty. On the other hand, it's about that same man - a royal - having to put his trust in a "commoner" - the eccentric therapist who might be the only man who can help him to overcome his condition. It's about the unlikely friendship that develops between a man who would be king, and a man who is middle class. Finally, the movie also functions as a fascinating historical account of pre-World War II Britain, portraying the way in which the royal family was evolving at the time and how, while their political power was waning, they were still looked at as important symbols of the country's strength and heritage. With so much depth to its story - and absolutely amazing performances from Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush - The King's Speech should be right up there on any list of the year's best.


- It's funny ... although I had a couple of issues with True Grit, it's a movie that I've only come to appreciate more as I've gotten the chance to discuss it with others. As I said in my review, True Grit, like so many Coen Bros. films, is so rich and layered that it's impossible to soak it all in with just one viewing. And as I've been discussing the film, people keep bringing up this scene or that scene that they loved, and all I can do is agree - "you're right, that *was* a pretty amazing scene." The fact is, sometimes Coens movies are less about telling a straightforward story, and more about just creating a certain kind of micro-universe inhabited by all manner of interesting characters. True Grit is perhaps a little more straightforward than some of the brother's previous films, but at the end of the day, there's that same sensation that they've created this quirky world for us to visit and revisit - a left-of-center version of the Old West, populated with washed-up gunslingers, scheming outlaws, and crazy witchdoctors. As Liz Lemon said: "I want to go to there."


- Comedian Patton Oswalt recently wrote an editorial for Wired magazine lamenting the death of the geek. He claimed that pop-cultural passion, once the sacred domain of nerds and geeks, has spread to everyone, where now everyone is a geek, in their own way. People are arguing on internet message boards as passionately about Real Housewives as they are Star Wars. Well, maybe so, but maybe Tron Legacy is one last great geek movie. It has its share of haters, from mainstream critics to jaded hipsters. But it also has that intangible quality of awesomeness that spoke to me. It had that spark of unbridled imagination. It had insane visuals, an incredible soundtrack from Daft Punk, iconic characters, intense action. It just had a sense of fun and adventure that was, to me, infectious. It's that same sensibility that made the classic geek movies of old into cult favorites. Some people just couldn't look past the flaws, never got what made those movies special. But for others, there was that spark of imagination that was irresistable. Tron Legacy had that, and for me, it was the most purely fun, geek-out-worthy movie of the year.


11.) LET ME IN

- Was there any more of a breakout star in 2010 than Chloe Moretz? In one year, the young actress played a sadistic kid-vigilante and an ancient vampire. Not bad. To that point, as good as the Swedish original, Let the Right One In, was, it didn't have the benefit of a tour de force performance from Ms. Moretz, or the similarly talented Kodi Smit-McPhee in the lead. I am a fan of the original film, but I have to admit that Let Me In eclipsed it, becoming one of the best horror movies I've seen in years.


- I remember that my brother and I went to see this movie sort of randomly, without much in the way of expectation. Sure, Kung-Fu Panda had shown us that Dreamworks Animation was capable of creating something special, but How To Train Yor Dragon took things to a whole other level. This was just an out-and-out great movie, with a cool mythology, fun characters, spectacular action and flying sequences, and some of the best use of 3D I've yet seen. The movie becomes increasingly epic as it progresses too. When it ended, my brother and I simply looked at each other, somewhat shocked by what we had just seen. We were both thinking the same thing though ... "now *that* was a movie."


- Winter's Bone is one of those breakout movies where, after seeing it, you immediately begin to anticipate what its stars and director will do next. Director Debra Granik creates such a vivid sense of place, of atmosphere, of character, in her haunting portrayal of life in the Ozark mountains - it really makes the movie come alive. At the same time, star Jennifer Lawrence comes out of nowhere to deliver a true knockout of a performance, as a determined teen on a mission to find her missing father. And John Hawkes, as her grizzled uncle? Well, he's just plain badass.


- At the end of the day, The Fighter is less about boxing and more about characters. And so the film is elevated immensely by some of the year's best performances. Mark Wahlberg is great in the lead role. Amy Adams is funny and likable and does a bang-up job overall. And Christian Bale? This is Bale doing what he does best - 100% inhabiting a character and delivering something that is less acting and more complete immersion. He helps make The Fighter into a funny, quirky underdog movie with heart and character to spare.

15.) 127 HOURS

- I don't know if Danny Boyle will top Slumdog Millionaire anytime soon, but 127 Hours is still a worthy follow-up. In its own way, it's like a mini master class in how to take a premise that might seem confining and restrictive, and make it as visually interesting and as emotionally gripping as possible. With James Franco anchoring the film with his everyman charm, Boyle zooms and pans his way around the actor, making the severity of his predicament all the more intensified. Still, Boyle never lets his various tricks overwhelm the reality of the character's situation - during the movie's biggest moments of pain and of joy, he simply lets the story tell itself.


- We saw a lot of movies this year that posed the question of what is real and what is not - and Exit Through the Gift Shop was one of the most fascinating examples of that trend. What starts out as a simple documentary about underground street artists takes a strange turn when the documentarian ends up becoming the subject of the movie, transforming himself into an avant garde artist known as Mr. Brainwash - a legend in his own mind, but to us, clearly sort of a joke. Was this guy for real? Was this all a hoax? Regardless, this is a fascinating look at the fine line between art and trash.


- I'm really glad I got the chance to check out Four Lions, and I hope that more and more people will see it as it becomes available on home video, etc. Because this a movie that you see, and you have to talk about. It's a risky, dangerous comedy - a scathing satire about would-be terrorists and what really motivates them to become "martyrs" in the name of Islam. But, this isn't a one-dimensional comedy - there's some really dark and affecting stuff behind the laughs. To me, Four Lions was so refreshing though because we just aren't getting a lot of movies like this. There's a lot of escapist fantasy, but not a lot of movies that deal head-on with weighty issues like terrorism in a real-world fashion. Sure, you say, but it's just a comedy. Well, sometimes, comedy is the best way to get to the heart of a given issue - and Four Lions is a great example.


- Is Ben Affleck the next great drama director? I wouldn't have thought so, but The Town went a long way towards proving that hey, it just might be so. The Town was quite simply an excellent crime flick. Not only was the movie set in Boston, but Affleck captured the hard-luck feel of the city with his story and characters. In addition, The Town had some unexpectedly turbo-charged action sequences that were among the year's best. Finally, this was a movie that featured yet another off-the-charts performance from Jeremy Renner, who I think is one of the absolute best actors working today. Renner's overall intensity helped elevate The Town from very good to great.


- Here was a movie that came and went somewhat underseen and underappreciated, and I'm not sure why. It reteamed the Bourne crew of Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon, and honestly I think this one tops any of their previous collaborations. Because Green Zone maintains Greengrass' trademark action and gritty intensity (and yes, his shaky-cam), but it also tells a riveting story that serves as a scathing critique of Bush-era foreign policy. Maybe that's why people were afraid to overpraise the movie, but personally, I found its message to be important and profound. Green Zone is a movie about how we went to war in Iraq under false pretenses. It's unapologetic about it. And it makes its point efficiently and powerfully. To me, that deserves a lot of praise.


- It's been great to see Disney animation make a comeback in the last couple of years. Having been overshadowed by Pixar for the last decade, Disney's in-house studio is once again showing that it still has what it takes to make the kind of timeless family films that had made it such a cherished and revered institution. Now, I was a fan of last year's The Princess and the Frog, so I was disappointed that Disney was already abandoning hand-drawn animation with Tangled. But Tangled really wowed me. Its animation was a brilliant mix of old and new - it looked stunning in 3D while retaining the expressiveness and style of old-school Disney flicks. The movie had a healthy dose of that classic Disney magic, and I wholeheartedly enjoyed it.


- Here's another one that I thought was underrated. Maybe it's the Pixar effect - critics these days want every animated film to have some deep subtext to it. While Pixar's efforts are always appreciated, sometimes I enjoy an animated film that's just an over-the-top roller-coaster ride, and that's what Megamind was. It had some awesome visuals, cool action sequences, and the story was a fanboy-friendly riff on all sorts of classic comic book characters and conventions. Also, some people may not realize that this was a comedy - and a really funny one at that. This was definitely a case where the big-name voice actors - people like Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, and David Cross - added a ton to the film.


- Kick-Ass the comic book was a fun experiment in subversive, over-the-top action, with a killer premise - what if an ordinary teenaged geek, here in the "real" world, decided to become a self-styled superhero? Kick-Ass the movie was the rare example of a movie that outdid its source material, bringing the comic book to life in a nitro-burst of bullets and bravado. I think the plot of Kick-Ass sort of falls apart in a few places, but the movie makes up for it thanks to the sheer awesomeness of Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl. The shock value of seeing a pint-sized, sweet-looking twelve year old girl - who has been trained from birth to be a deadly warrior - carve up criminals while spouting unprintable profanities? Kickass indeed.


- Speaking of kickass, how enjoyable was Machete? Okay, so maybe Robert Rodriguez and co. tried a little to hard to make Machete into the ultimate B-movie badass, but still, this had to be one of the year's most glorious grindhouse pleasures. Just watching Danny Trejo bust heads in a leading role was pretty great, and the movie's eclectic cast was a movie-lover's delight. Really though, Machete turned out to be one of the year's funniest comedies. I mean, was there any greater one-liner this year than "Machete don't text." ...? I think not.


- While I'm on the subject of B-movies, director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday) is quickly establishing himself as a modern-day John Carpenter, creating a string of gritty yet over-the-top genre films that only ever-so-slightly let the audience know that the director is aware of the level of craziness he's putting on screen. In some ways, Centurion plays it straight - it's a violent and grim story about members of the Roman Legion who have been stranded behind enemy lines. But Centurion is also delightfully happy to crank things up a notch. While other directors might have had the legionairres pursued by more mundane enemies, Marshall gives us Etain - a warpaint-wearing femme fatale who is unable to speak, but very much able to brutally hunt you down and cut your head off. Now that's what I'm talking about.


- Okay, so maybe this is my oddball pick of the list. But maybe not. Maybe The Wolfman was actually a pretty badass reboot of the classic Universal horror franchise, and maybe people were simply too cynical and too jaded to care. But I know that I am not alone in my admiration for this movie - because there are elements in it that promise a great new era of evil for the Universal Monsters. I think of The Wolfman's awesome asylum sequence - that to me was everything I want in a movie like this - it was creepy, funny, gothic, bizarre, and just plain fun. I think that The Wolfman was a victim of a bad release date and poor marketing. But for me, it made me want more - Dracula, Frankenstein, The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Just cast Sir Anthony Hopkins in all of them - the more he hams it up, the better. On that point, I still maintain that The Wolfman was classic cheesy-horror fun.


- Youth In Revolt

- Legend of the Guardians

- Iron Man 2

- Daybreakers

- Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

- Robin Hood

- Salt

- MacGruber

- Cyrus

- Harry Brown

- Splice

- Paranormal Activity 2

- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

- The Crazies

- Greenberg

- Hot Tub Time Machine

- It's Kind of a Funny Story



- Man, was I ever hyped up for The Expendables. In theory, it was the ultimate action movie - an old-school throwback that united some of the biggest names of the past and present for two solid hours of kicking ass and taking names. I had every reason to believe that this movie would be the real deal. Its star and director, the one and only Sly Stallone, was in the middle of a comeback and a hot streak. Rocky Balboa defied the odds and was a great capper to the storied series. Rambo was a similarly well-done exclamation point for its iconic franchise. Now, The Expendables seemed poised to complete the trifecta. At the San Diego Comic-Con this past summer, the hype reached fever-pitch levels. My friends and I attended The Expendables panel at the show, and Stallone's larger-than-life presence, coupled with footage that legitimately looked awesome, had me primed and ready for some old-school, hardcore action. But as it turned out, The Expendables was merely decent at best. The plot was nonexistent, the characters were weak, and even the action was choppy and largely unimpressive. Other than a brief moment of action-hero-nirvana, in which a game Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis cameoed with Stallone, the movie was just plain unremarkable, and even boring. Stallone seemed out of his element, Eric Roberts couldn't carry the role of uber-villain, and Mickey Rourke seemed to be in another movie altogether. It made me wonder if Stallone should have closed the book on Rocky and Rambo and then simply called it a day.


- How do you screw up what should have been an epic Arabian adventure filled with magic, mystery, and sword-fights? I don't know, but somehow, it happened. While most videogames don't seem like they'd translate into good movies, Prince of Persia was an exception. All of the ingredients were there for a swords-and-sandals equivalent of Pirates of the Carribean, and that's exactly the impression the trailers provided. This could have been the best movie based off of a videogame to date, and the start of a great new franchise. Instead, it was one of the year's biggest duds.


- Like Prince of Persia, CLASH had all the ingredients to be badass. And you know, there were little moments scattered throughout the film that hinted at the awesome action movie that could have been. But as a whole, Clash was uninspired and bland, with a bare-bones story, personality-deficient characters, and a total lack of flow to the plot. To add insult to injury, the movie gained notoriety for being perhaps the year's most blatant example of a quick 3D cash-in, charging theater-goers extra cash for a hastily-assembled post-film conversion job. Really, Clash just made me want to go home and play God of War, because when the best thing about a movie is someone yelling "release the kraken!", you know you're in trouble. Now, would I mind seeing more CLASH movies if there was a better script and creative vision involved? Not necessarily. But as a franchise-starter, Titans was fairly weaksauce.


- Steve Carell and Tina Fey, starring together in a bigscreen comedy? Seems like a match made in heaven. And yet, Date Night felt beneath both of the sitcom stars. At their best, The Office and 30 Rock are two of TV's most inspired comedies, and yet Date Night felt completely by-the-numbers. What made the movie extra frustrating was the fact that there were those little moments, where it was clear that the two stars were riffing and going off-script, that were genuinely very funny. But those moments only made you wish that Carell and Fey were starring in something a little more suited to their well-honed comedic sensibilities. Date Night, sadly, ended up being a fairly dim movie starring two of comedy's brightest stars.


- Here was an interesting case where a film's marketing campaign seemed to promise something that the movie never actually ended up delivering. Catfish was very mysterious, very intriguing. I had heard that it was a documentary about a Facebook romance gone wrong, but supposedly there was some big twist, some shocking reveal, that would make this a can't-miss thriller. Ads compared it to some sort of new-age hybrid of Hitchcock and reality TV. I was definitely curious to see what this movie was all about. Turns out, the movie is actually did a great job of building that initial suspense, creating an almost Blair Witch-like atmosphere of unsettling creepiness. But ultimately, the movie's narrative arc turned out to be disappointingly mundane - less the realm of Hitchcock and more the realm of some Dateline special. It was always going to be hard for the movie's twists to live up to the hype, but sadly, they didn't even come close.



- An abomination, plain and simple. Skyline is an excercise in pain, and sets a new standard for crappiness. I don't care if this movie made money - it was a failure, and should probably never be spoken of again.


- I actually felt embarassed for Jude Law and Forrest Whitaker while watching this. This movie was vile, wretched, almost so amusingly bad as to be unintentionally funny ... but not quite. Ugh.

3.) RED

- The fact that this film was actually nominated for Golden Globes makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Rarely have I seen so many big stars simply sleepwalk through a movie.


- Maybe I just missed the boat on this one, because I saw some people actually compare it favorably to the great District 9. I found Monsters to be dull, vapid, and uninspired. I never knew that a movie about giant monsters could be this boring.


- I am a fan of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, yet this movie casts them in roles that take advantage of exactly zero of what makes them stars. This movie also had the dumbest "twist" I saw in a movie since ... well, since Repo Men, to be honest.



- Look, I've already talked a ton about Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Machete - those two are so obvious in this category that I'd be wasting time talking about them any further. I mean, in many ways Scott Pilgrim is ALREADY a cult classic, playing at midnight showings at theaters across the world and creating a loyal fanbase of foaming-at-the-mouth fanboys. So let me take a moment to extoll the virtues of Daybreakers, one of the most insane sci-fi / horror movies I've ever seen. Sick of the touchy-feely vampires of Twilight? Well, check out Daybreakers - it's got vicious, murderous vampires who have created giant meat-processing factories where they harvest humans for nourishment. Yep, in the world of Daybreakers, the vampires, led by corporate tycoon Sam Neil, have won. Well, mostly. Willam Dafoe plays the bat$%&# insane, crossbow-wielding leader of a human resistance movement. And Ethan Hawke is the vampire with a conscience torn between the two. Yes, this movie is really that badass, and some of the twists the plot eventually takes left me both shocked and amazed. A perfect midnight movie.


- I showed Splice to a group of friends at my annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, and it went over swimmingly. I mean, in this movie, Adrian Brody clones an animal-human hybrid from the DNA of his wife, and he and his new freak-of-nature pet/daughter GET IT ON, in one of the freakiest sex scenes in movie history. Splice is actually a pretty cool, imaginative movie, but some of the places it goes are downright WRONG. And for that, I give it props.


- I never was all that into the MacGruber sketches on Saturday Night Live, but just trust me on this one - MacGruber the movie is, perhaps unexpectedly, hilarious. The movie takes advantage of the longer format to create an all-out parody of 80's action movies, and the results are awesome. And the casting is spot-on, from Powers Boothe as MacGruber's craggy colonel to Val Kilmer as the nefarious nemesis. Okay, so maybe MacGruber isn't for everyone, but to me - someone who grew up with a love for the absurdity of 80's action flicks - this was one of the funniest movies of 2010, and one I'll likely rewatch many a time.



1.) Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network

2.) Colin Firth - The King's Speech
3.) James Franco - 127 Hours
4.) Jeff Bridges - True Grit
5.) Michael Caine - Harry Brown


1.) Annette Bening - The Kids Are All Right

2.) Natalie Portman - Black Swan
3.) Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
4.) Julianne Moore - The Kids Are All Right
5.) Kristen Stewart - The Runaways


1.) Geoffrey Rush - The King's Speech

2.) Andrew Garfield - The Social Network
3.) Christian Bale - The Fighter
4.) Jeremy Renner - The Town
5.) Michael Shannon - The Runaways


1.) Chloe Moretz - Let Me In

2.) Amy Adams - The Fighter
3.) Barbara Hershey - Black Swan
4.) Marion Cotillard - Inception
5.) Mia Wasikowska - The Kids Are All Right


1.) David Fincher - The Social Network

2.) Daren Aronofsky - Black Swan
3.) Christopher Nolan - Inception
4.) Edgar Wright - Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
5.) Joel and Ethan Coen - True Grit


1.) The Social Network
2.) Inception
3.) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
4.) The Kids Are All Right
5.) Black Swan
6.) True Grit
7.) The King's Speech
8.) Toy Story 3
9.) Winter's Bone
10.) The Fighter

- And that about wraps it up. Pretty epic, huh? In any case, would love to hear your thoughts, comments, and critiques. Feel free to comment. And, since this is likely my final post of 2010 - HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone, and as always, thanks for reading.

Danny's BEST OF 2010: The Year In GAMES


- In 2010, the videogame industry was in a state of transition, and I think it's very much to-be-determined where things go from here. This past summer, I was lucky enough to attend the annual E3 Expo, and it was once again an amazing experience - complete sensory overload. There were a ton of great-looking games on display from all of the major publishers, and yet ... you couldn't help but look around and wonder if the gaming industry as we'd known it was slowly but surely going away. Were the genres that all of us grew up with giving way to a new breed of "casual" gaming? Were games being dumbed-down in order to appeal to mom and grandma? Was there room for both gimmicky motion-control games as well as deep interactive narratives? In theory yes, of course, there's no reason why everyone can't have the types of games that appeal to them. But in practice, it was clear at E3 that the big players in gaming would now be devoting A LOT of their time and resources to attracting this newly-sought-after group of "casual" gamers. It was clear that top development teams at Sony and Microsoft - rather than working on the next big blockbuster games - were instead being tasked with developing content for the Move and Kinect. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with those devices, and they can be fun in the right context and with the right games. But I think gamers had cause to be nervous that their hobby was being marginalized by an oncoming wave of motion-control shovelware. Increasingly, it felt like the "hardcore" games were getting more complex, more demanding, more insular, to the point where the learning curve for a new player and the time commitment necessary was simply too high. At the same time, casual games were getting so simple that they lacked challenge or depth. But it's not just that ... because, let's face it, the reason I put "casual" in quotes is because most of the time, the term is just a euphemism for crap.

In any case, I think what most gamers want, regardless of where they fall on the scale of casual vs. hardcore, are just great games. That can mean anything from Guitar Hero to Tetris to Halo. Good games are good games, and everyone wins when they are released. In 2010, a testament to this could be found in the downloadable games sphere, where arcade classics, retro-styled games, serialized episodic games, and indie art-games could all be found and purchased with a couple of quick button presses. Some of the coolest games of the last few years have been downloadable, from last year's epic 2D adventure Shadow Complex to this year's retro-arcade-style-beat-'em-up, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game, which like the movie was full of epic win. In 2010, I could even download the old-school, six-player X-Men arcade game directly onto my PS3 ... aka, my life was complete (actually, that will happen when I can get The Simpsons arcade game, but you get my drift).

But here's the thing ... even though E3 left me feeling a little burnt out on all things Move and Kinect, I am feeling a lot better about things going into 2011. Having had some time to catch up on some of 2010's biggest releases, I am encouraged - as long as games like Red Dead Redemption and God of War III are being made, I am a happy gamer. And, looking at what's in store for 2011, oh man, there is some sure-to-be-amazing stuff on the way. Uncharted 3. Batman: Arkham City. Little Big Planet 2. Mass Effect 3. Twisted Metal. LA Noire. Nintendo's 3DS console is on the horizon, and I can't wait to see what the Big N has in store for their latest piece of hardware.

And when I look at franchises like Uncharted, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Little Big Planet - I am encouraged. These aren't "hardcore" or "casual" games - they are just awesome games, period. Relatively easy to learn. Difficult to master. Great worlds, characters, stories, and gameplay - and that, my friends, is what it's all about.

I do sort of worry about the rise in iPhone and mobile gaming. While there are some innovative, fun games out there, I worry about a.) the lack of quality control, and b.) the lack of a true gaming push from Apple and others. Until Apple creates a device that is designed specifically to faciliate great gaming experiences (and sorry, but a touch screen won't cut it), I have serious reservations about counting the iPhone and iPod as a legitimate competitor to Nintendo or Sony. I feel like iPhone development is currently motivated simply by the device's huge user base, and not because there's anything inherently great about the experience that it offers. Some very clever games have felt 100% natural on the iPhone (Angry Birds is a great example), but most have not. I think Apple could be a great contributor to the gaming space if they dedicate themselves 100% to it. If Apple wants to create a gaming console, it would be a very interesting entry into the market. But do I want a platform on which gaming is still a relative afterthought to be a key player that sucks up development time and resources? Not really.

I still think that gaming is the future. When I look at a game like Uncharted, and I see how it eclipses every big-budget adventure movie of the last few years in terms of the overall experience it offers, I feel good about where games are at and where they're going. But games won't realize their potential through gimmicks, no matter how novel they may seem. There is a landfill somewhere filled with Power Gloves, Power Pads, and U-Force controllers that can attest to that. It's the overall experience that counts. It's the fluidity of gameplay, the immersion factor, that means the most.

There is definitely reason to be cautiously optimistic about the future of games. And there was plenty to play in 2010. So, keeping in mind that there are way more games out there than any one man can play, here are five games from 2010 that kept my thumbs busy and my imagination active:



- Rockstar Games continued to push the boundaries in 2010, creating an open-world Western adventure that features one of the most immersive, fully-realized worlds ever seen in gaming. This is the complete Wild West experience in game form - shoot-outs, saloons, outlaws, lawmen, horseback riding, and the open range. This is a game where you can uphold the law, break the law, or just ride around the vast countryside and admire the view. While there are times when the control can feel a little loose, the sheer magnitude of what you as a player can do in the game is insane. I'm still amazed that Rockstar took an underperforming franchise in a genre (Western) that was rarely seen in gaming and created *the* must-play game of 2010. I can't wait to see what happens when Rockstar takes a similar concept and applies it to 1940's Los Angeles in the upcoming LA Noire.


- God of War I and II on the Playstation 2 were some of the best action games of all time - balls-to-the-wall experiences that just kept bringing the pain. God of War III is quite simply God of War on crack. From its opening moments, the game propels you into the heat of epic man vs. god battle. The graphics are absolutely sick - perhaps the best and most impressive yet seen on next-gen consoles - surely the best this side of Uncharted. But to me, what makes God of War so incredibly fun is that the controls are near-perfect. So many action games feel too loose, to twitchy. Especially when we're talking 3D, action games often feel like you're only semi-in control of the action. Sure, God of War III can be a button-masher, but the instant response time means you feel directly responsible for the carnage being unleashed onscreen. Action gaming at its finest.

3.) NBA 2K11

- I'm not a diehard sports gamer, and I have to admit that I get annoyed with the fact that it's long been standard practice for new entries in the major sports franchises to get released EVERY year, usually with only minor upgrades from the previous edition. So when a sports game actually comes out that feels like something all-new, I sit up and take notice. And that's what happened with NBA 2K11, a basketball sim that feels like *the* definitive basketball sim for this generation. The game looks amazing, it controls like a dream, AND it's got the career mode to end all career modes - the ability to play through some of the biggest games and moments in Michael Jordan's career. And not only can you play as the classic Bulls, but fans who grew up with 80's and 90's basketball can select vintage versions of The Blazers, Jazz, Hawks, Celtics, and more. Now that's badass.


- If you're like me and grew up with arcade beat-'em-ups - games like Final Fight, TMNT IV, X-Men, River City Ransom, and more - then Scott Pilgrim is a highly-concentrated dose of retro goodness. The game looks like I dreamed games would look when I was 10, filled with gloriously colorful pixel art and hi-contrast hand-drawn backgrounds. The music is pure 16-bit-style goodness, and the in-game cut scenes will make those who grew up on Super Nintendo weep with joy. The game perfectly captures the spirit of the Scott Pilgrim comics and movie as well, filled with little touches that will make fanboys smile (The ability to summon a pissed-off Knives Chou to wreak havoc on badguys? Awesome.). Scott Pilgrim is the perfect example of what a great downloadable can be. For the low price, this one is also a must-buy.


- One thing that makes me a little sad about the current gaming landscape is the overall lack of high-profile made-in-Japan games. Back in the day, I grew up on a steady diet of Japanese weirdness, and with so many games now coming from America and Europe, I miss those unique Japanese sensibilities that characterized videogames in the 80's and 90's. Well, Bayonetta is the personification of the classic genre of "100% insane Japanese action game." From the makers of Devil May Cry, this game has you controlling a shapely, glasses-wearing witch who takes down legions of monsters with swords, guns, magic, and her hair. Yep, it gives whole new meaning to the term "whip that hair." Despite the crazy aesthetic trappings though, Bayonetta is just a great, full-throttle action game, very much in the tradition of DMC.

SPECIAL MENTION: It was released in early 2009, but in 2010 I finally got around to playing through RESIDENT EVIL 5. I'll admit, at first something felt a little off to me about the game. Perhaps it was just difficult to readjust to the older RE control scheme after playing games like Uncharted with much less-restricted motion. But once I adapted to the controls, I found RE to be just as intense and rewarding as previous entries in the storied series. With some of the best graphics I've seen on the PS3 and some unique co-op gameplay elements, I'm glad I took the time to revisit RE5.

SPECIAL MENTION: I know that one game that's conspicuously absent from my list is MASS EFFECT 2, which has been heralded as one of the best games of 2010 by numerous websited and publications. To be honest, I am dying to play this one, and I do in fact own it. Only problem is, I'm still slowly but surely working my way through Mass Effect 1. I kind of put it on the backburner for a while, I guess. But, rest assured, I'm eager to continue on with the series at some point in the new year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Danny's BEST OF 2010: The Year In ROCK


- For the last few years, music has become an increasingly fragmented business, to the point where you would think it'd be hard for there to be much in the way of critical consensus. And yet, as I read through various best-of-the-year lists, I see more and more me-too tendencies from critics who want to jump on the bandwagon for whoever the "it" bands of the moment happen to be. I find this odd, since music is so subjective. And yet, so much music criticism is less about the critic's own gut reaction and more about what is cool, what isn't cool, and so on.
So here's a statement that is, I'm sure, decidedly uncool: In 2010, I enjoyed music from some of the big critical darlings. I dug Arcade Fire, The Black Keys, and The Dead Weather. But my favorite new album of the year, by far, was THE SCORPIONS' Sting In the Tail. Yes, The Scorpions, the German metal band, most prominent from the 70's through the early 90's, best known for rockers like "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and "Winds of Change." Every year, it seems that like-minded friends and I long for a great new rock album that feels like real, classic, rock n' roll. And lo and behold, this was it. From start to finish, Sting In the Tail rocks and rocks hard, with several great arena-rocking anthems that are right up there with anything from the Scorps' heyday. So laugh if you want, or give the album a listen. Maybe you'll think it's cheesy, but maybe you'll be rocking too hard to instant classics like "The Best Is Yet To Come" or "Raised on Rock" to care. Not bad for the final album of a forty-year-old rock n' roll band. Seriously, "The Best Is Yet To Come" is the best arena-rock single in years - if this doesn't have you pumping your fist, nothing will. All in all, Sting in the Tail is straight-up rock n' roll at it's finest.

The sheer awesomeness of Sting In the Tail was to me a big highlight of rock in 2010, although a couple of other old-reliables put out cool new music as well. TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS' new album, Mojo, was a pretty solid release, though I didn't like it quite as much as the band's previous album, Highway Companion. Still there were at least a couple of great tunes to be found on the legendary Petty's latest. Meanwhile, SLASH put out a pretty unique new album - containing an eclectic variety of rock songs, each sung by a different vocalist, with talents ranging from Ozzy to Kid Rock to Fergie. It was definitely one of the year's best and most interesting rock albums, though it did make me continue to wish that Slash and Axl would put aside their differences and just reform GnR already.

Lest you think I'm stuck in the past, I really dug some of the new stuff out there this year, although I do think that, overall, it was a disappointing year for modern rock. I think about the latest albums from bands like Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, My Chemical Romance, and The Gorillaz, none of which I really dug. And the less spoken about the ill-fated Stone Temple Pilots reunion, the better. In fact, reading the excellent "Whatever Happened To Alternative Nation?" series of articles on The AV Club made me all the more nostalgic for the days when great new rock n' roll seemed to burst out of the radio and MTV with regularity. To be honest, not a lot of new rock bands came on the scene this year that really blew me away. Nowadays, Modern Rock is sadly something of a niche genre, and modern rock that, well, rocks, seems to be getting harder and harder to find. But back to what I did like, I've been a longtime member of the ARCADE FIRE bandwagon, and while I wasn't *as* into their new album as I was Neon Bible, songs like "Sprawl II" were most excellent and held onto that deep, rich, sound that put the band on the map, making them one of the best new bands of the last couple of years. THE DEAD WEATHER also continued to impress with a new lineup of bluesy, Led Zeppelin-esque tunes. I'd still rather have a new White Stripes album, but hey, the Weather do indeed rock pretty hard. On the other hand, I'm still not entirely onboard THE BLACK KEYS bandwagon, but I can definitely admit that "Tighten Up" was one of the year's catchiest, grooviest new rock songs. Speaking of which, I have never been a fan of 30 Seconds to Mars, but I have to admit that I often found myself singing along whenever the radio played "This is War," a fun song, even if I still can't stand most of the rest of their music. Same goes for Florence + The Machine. I laugh whenever someone says that a band that just arrived on the scene is their "favorite," but I do see a lot of potential in this unique group. "Dog Days Are Over" was huge in 2010, and with good reason -- it's a great tune.

As far as pop music goes, I think most of it is crap these days. That said, a few bright spots like Rihanna keep me interested. And of course, there are guys like CEE LO GREEN who are technically making pop songs, but are also doing whatever the hell they want in the genre and seeing success from it. And hey, even if she didn't have a new album this year, I include Lady GaGa in that category as well. What can I say, I like originals and eccentrics (well, to a point). And hey, I'm definitely not immune to the fun of a totally-stupid-yet-ridiculously-catchy dance-pop song, like "Dynamite" from Taio Cruz. But, one of the most unlikely sources of pop music stardom in 2010 had to be ANTOINE DODSON - a kid from the projects whose TV News-broadcast warning to local criminals - autotuned by internet savants The Gregory Brothers - turned into the viral internet music sensation of the year. What the Gregory Brothers did with Dodson's words is pretty incredible. While the gimmick is already starting to wear a bit thin, I still get a huge kick out of how they took Dodson's outspoken personality and made his cry of "hide ya' kids, hide ya' wife" into the year's most quotable song lyric.

Finally, there was a lot of good music this year that came from the world of TV and film. For example, I don't know if there was any song I found myself humming more over the last several months than "Gunfight Epiphany," aka the awesome theme song to the sadly-cancelled TV show Terriers. In addition, there were some incredible movie scores in 2010. From Trent Reznor's work on The Social Network, to Hans Zimmer's epic Inception score, to DAFT PUNK's techno-tronic Tron Legacy soundtrack. I've been a longtime fan of Daft Punk, so hearing their moody grooves coupled with the fantastic visuals of the film made for a sensation of near-sensory overload. While the soundtrack does not exactly function as a traditional Daft Punk album, at least a couple of the tracks are, in their own right, kickass electronica-powered singles. The one-two punch of "End of Line" and "Derezzed" is definitely a highlight. One additional music highlight from the world of movies and TV - the awesome and underrated flick THE RUNAWAYS from early in the year. This rock n' roll fable detailed the early days of proto-punk girl group The Runaways, the same band that eventually gave birth to the solo careers of Joan Jett and Lita Ford. The movie 100% captured the spirit of The Runaways' and Joan Jett's music, and reinforced, to me, why it is that like Joan I love rock n' roll. Plus, stars Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning did a surprisingly great job of covering the band's tunes - their version of "Cherry Bomb" is not bad at all.

Of course, 2010 for me was also a year where I saw some amazing live music. It was one thing to hear The Scorpions' new album, it was another thing to see the band live in LA during their farewell tour. The Scorpions absolutely kicked ass, and looked like anything but a band that was ready to retire. Certainly, they went out with a bang. I also saw one of my all-time favorite rock bands, the mighty Aerosmith, live for what I hope is not the last time. Despite seeming slightly worse for wear, Aerosmith still rocked and put on a great show. I only hope that Steven Tyler and co. can forget all things American Idol and get back to being a badass rock band. This year, I also kicked off Halloween season the way I'd always wanted to: by seeing Alice Cooper himself live and in person. It was awesome seeing the legendary shock-rocker in person, and more awesome since he was co-headlining his tour with the one and only Rob Zombie. Seeing the gruesome twosome together was a one-of-a-kind musical moment. I saw Conan O'Brien's live show, which saw the king of late-night perform many a hilarious musical number, even dueting with Jim Carrey at one point. Finally, I can proudly say that 2010 was the year that I finally saw the man, the myth, the legend - Weird Al Yankovic! - live in concert. Seeing Weird Al at the OC Fair was everything I hoped for and more - an epic all-ages show that had multiple generations of Al fans going nuts. Call me crazy, call me weird, but dammit all, Weird Al put on one of the biggest and best concerts I've ever seen. But as The Scorpions say: "the best is yet to come."

With all that said, here are my probably-controversial picks for the best songs of the year ...


1.) The Scorpions - "The Best Is Yet To Come"
2.) The Scorpions - "Raised on Rock"
3.) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - "Something Good Coming"
4.) The Black Keys - "Tighten Up"
5.) Daft Punk - "End of Line" / "Derezzed"
6.) Arcade Fire - "Sprawl II"
7.) The Scorpions - "The Good Die Young"
8.) Robert Duncan - "Gunfight Epiphany" (Theme From Terriers)
9.) Slash featuring Fergie - "Beautiful Dangerous"
10.) Antoine Dodson and The Gregory Brothers - "Bed Intruder Song"
11.) Florence + The Machine - "Dog Days Are Over"
12.) The Dead Weather - "Hustle and Cuss"
13.) Cee Lo Green - "$%&# You"
14.) The Scorpions - "Lorelei"
15.) 30 Seconds to Mars - "This Is War"
16.) Rihanna - "What's My Name?"
17.) Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - "Don't Pull Me Over"
18.) The Scorpions - "Turn You On"
19.) Taio Cruz - "Dynamite"
20.) Slash featuring Myles Kennedy - "Back From Cali"

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Danny's BEST OF 2010: The Year In COMICS


- It's an interesting and exciting time to be a comics fan. Last year at this time, I named The Walking Dead to be not only the best comic book of 2009, but the home of the best serialized storytelling in all of pop culture ... period. Now, as 2010 comes to an end, The Walking Dead is STILL the best thing going in comics and pop culture, but it's also become a mainstream phenomenon thanks to AMC's hit new series. As surreal as it seems to have a zombie-horror comic book adapted for TV, it makes sense in a roundabout sort of way. For several years now, Hollywood was rushing to make comic book characters and series into the next big multimedia franchises. At first, the scope was mostly limited to the big, iconic superheroes. But once Spiderman, Batman, and The X-Men were accounted for ... what then? It was at that point that Hollywood began to dig a little deeper - suddenly, the great works of comic book fiction were being tapped for adaptation, as the darker, more adult books of the 80's and 90's were mined for an audience that was, perhaps, now ready for them. Even Watchmen - Alan Moore's classic story, long thought unfilmable, was filmed. But what then? Thankfully, we are now at a point where the coolest, freshest new comic book concepts can gain acceptance from the public. And thankfully, there have been some great comics out there to represent the medium and what it's capable of. Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim, and yes, The Walking Dead -- some of the best, most interesting series of the last few years are being looked at by filmmakers, and they're being adapted for movies and TV as is - in adaptations that are actively trying to capture the spirit of the original material. What I like about this - and I guess this is my main point here - is that it shows that comic books are still a thriving medium full of new ideas and great stories. Yes, there will always be a place for beloved characters created in the the 1930's, 40's, 50's, and 60's ... but the real lifeblood of the comics medium is the new stuff. The stories that have the freedom to go anywhere, to shock and surprise you, the stories not beholden to five decades of convoluted continuity. Look, there are certain writers - Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison - who have that uncanny ability to brilliantly craft new stories that make use of decades-old continuity. What Johns has done with Green Lantern and The Flash over the last several years is amazing. What Grant Morrison's done with Batman recently deserves credit for being so unlike anything that's come before. But I also wish that more of the big-name creators would follow the leads of people like Brian K. Vaughan, Robert Kirkman, Jeff Lemire, and even Mark Millar. Do a Batman or Superman or Spiderman story, sure. But also do new stuff, new characters, new stories. Show people that there's much more to comics than the same old superheroes we've seen over and over again.

To that end, some of by favorite reads of 2010 included original works like Ex Machina, The Walking Dead, Invincible, Irredeemable, Sweet Tooth, Fables, and Joe the Barbarian. I'd urge anyone to check these books out in their collected editions - something like Fables or The Walking Dead makes for an awesome gateway into the world of comics. At this point, however, those books are very much established. And sadly, Ex Machina came to a close this year. But, that's why it's such a great surprise when something like Sweet Tooth seemingly comes out of nowhere and fills the void. Writer / artist Jeff Lemire has really created something special here - a post-apocalyptic adventure that is quite unlike anything I've ever read before.

On the other hand, I can admit that I am a big fanboy / geek and still get a child-like thrill from seeing a great, mainstream superhero story done well. Maybe that's why Grant Morrison's run on the Batman books throughout 2010 has been so riveting. It's strange, trippy, mind-bending, and decidedly different, all the while playing very much within the established world of Batman and DC Comics. Paul Cornell is a another guy who's really given some new life to some of DC's oldest books. His run on Action Comics, in which Lex Luthor serves as the protagonist, has been gold so far. It's also been a good year for the at-times-controversial Judd Winnick. He's delivered an extremely solid bi-weekly adventure in Justice League: Generation Lost that's helped to ressurect the beloved, 1980's-era version of the team. Still, I suppose you might consider 2010 to have been a down year for superhero comics overall. Without a huge, earth-shattering "event" like last year's Blackest Night, there weren't a ton of books that had that absolute, must-read feel, with Morrison's Batman stuff being the lone possible exception. There were definitely some high-profile bombs this year, from the poorly-received redesign of Wonder Woman's classic duds to a plodding Superman story that saw him wandering the country on foot - big on heavy-handed lessons, short on excitement. Still, there was plenty of good to outweigh the bad.
In any case, whether we're talking old characters or new, established books or rookies, I think that comics fans can take pride in knowing that this is the medium where so many great ideas are coming from. Hollywood gets to cherry-pick the best of the bunch to adapt for film and TV, but there's still a great pleasure to be had in picking up a comic book or graphic novel and seeing a writer and artist's vision transmitted directly from them to you. In fact, 2010 saw the digital-comics revolution take a giant leap forward, as the iPad's release promised an exciting new avenue for comic book publishing. The scarcity of comic shops has long been an issue in terms of getting books mainstream exposure, but now, the biggest titles from Marvel and DC are instantly-downloadable with the wave of a finger. As more comics see digital releases day-and-date with print, it's going to be an exciting time for the medium. Sure, nothing will ever beat the simple pleasure of curling up with a paper-and-ink comic, but with so much great stuff out there, this is perhaps the best way to get new readers to sample comics and get exposure beyond the comic shop regulars. Of course, even digital comics still need great stories and characters. Luckily, there are any number of outstanding comics from the last year that fit the bill.

So without further ado, here they are ... (With one disclaimer: as I say in my TV wrap-up, I am only one man, and can only read so much. To that end, there are of course going to be gaps. So feel free to chime in with your picks for the best books on the stands!)



1.) EX MACHINA #50

- The final issue of Brian K. Vaughan's Ex Machina turned out to be one of the best final issues of a comic series I've ever read, and the best single-issue read of 2010. For several years now, Vaughan has crafted an incredible series in Ex Machina - a blend of politics and sci-fi that read like the best HBO drama not on the air, except with the added benefit of the stellar art of Tony Harris, who pencilled every issue of the series. Ex Machina told the story of Mitchell Hundred, a man granted a strange power by which he could communicate with machines. In the world of Ex Machina, Hundred fashioned himself into a blue-collar hero known as The Great Machine, but he became a true hero to the world on September 11th, 2001, when he used his abilities to prevent the second tower of the World Trade Center from collapsing. From that point on, Hundred decided to ditch the superheroics and get into politics, becoming the new mayor of New York City. And that was Ex Machina's focus - on Hundred, on his politics, and on the moral and personal dillemnas he had to wade through as mayor. Sure, there was also the ongoing mystery of his powers and the strange beings who granted them, but Ex Machina was about much, much more than that. And with issue #50, all of that came to a head. Vaughan threw us a major, major curveball with this one, and it was shocking and poignant. What if the Mitchell Hundred that we thought we knew for all these years was not the real Mitchell Hundred at all? How well did we really even "know" him all this time, anyways? Ex Machina's final issue turned the entire series on its head, and delivered a truly mind-blowing ending to one of the best comics of the last decade. Rarely if ever have I read a comic like this and just had my jaw hanging on the floor. This issue was a stunner, but it was also bittersweet. After delivering a similarly great ending to Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina #50 marked the end of the line for Brian K. Vaughan's *other* great ongoing book, and also marked the fan-favorite writer's last comic book work for the immediate future. Vaughan has made waves in movies and TV (writing some of the best episodes of LOST, for example), but man, here's hoping he's got more comics stuff up his sleeve.



- Last year's pick for best comic book series is once again at the top of the heap. The Walking Dead is simply that good, to the point where, literally, with each new trade paperback edition I start reading and do not stop until I've reached the end. You can't stop. The story is too unpredictable, the characters too well-written, the stakes too high. Even when writer Robert Kirkman slows down the pace, that element of ominous dread still looms large. In 2010, Rick Grimes and the surviving members of his group found themselves in a walled town that almost seemed too good to be true. Kirkman could have gone the easy route and had the town hold some dark secret, but instead, he focused on the slowly-evolving cast of characters, and used the relative tranquility of the new community to show that Rick and co. are not the same people they once were. In a way, Rick himself was the villain in recent months, acting irrationally and violently in the name of protecting his friends and family. And by going in that direction, by not providing easy answers or resorting to cliches, Kirkman showed that The Walking Dead is still the best and most vital book on the stands. Viewers of the TV show: check out the comics. Seriously, if you think that the show's been intense so far, well, read the books, because man, you ain't seen nothing yet.


- Sweet Tooth is a classic sort of adventure story, but it's also, in its own way, weird as hell. In this post-apocalyptic saga from writer/artist Jeff Lemire, a mysterious plague has wiped out most of humanity. What's left of the population lives in fear - of the plague and from the violent tribes that roam the country. Meanwhile, what's left of the government stays locked away in fortified bunkers and labs, desperately seeking a cure to the plague. The key may lie in a group of children that have been born since the outbreak - mutants who are part human, part animal. They seem to have immunity, and so they are valuable commodities. The story follows Sweet Tooth, a young boy - with antlers - who had been living in isolation in the woods with his father. When his father dies, Sweet Tooth wanders off into the wilderness, where he's hunted by the government and the gangs. His unlikely companion is Jeppard - a grizzled badass who wants revenge on the government for kidnapping and ultimately killing his pregnant wife in their quest for a cure. I know, it sound insane. And it is, in the best way possible. Sweet Tooth combines a gripping story with great characters, Lost-like mystery, and kickass action to deliver one of my favorite reads month in and month out. Published by Vertigo, the home of Preacher, Y: The Last Man, and Fables, Sweet Tooth is shaping up to be the next great comic in the tradition of those series.

3.) BATMAN by GRANT MORRISON (Batman, Batman & Robin, The Return of Bruce Wayne, Batman Inc.)

- In 2010, Morrison continued to work his magic on Batman & Robin, teaming up with a couple of astounding artists, from Frank Quietly to Frazier Irving, to deliver the offbeat adventures of the new dynamic duo. For those who haven't been keeping up, Bruce Wayne was dead for much of 2010. In his place, the original Robin - Dick Grayson - assumed the mantle of the bat, and fought crime alongside a new Robin, Damian Wayne. Damian was a character who has defied the odds and become a fan-favorite. The son of Bruce and Talia Al-Ghul, Damian's existence was kept a secret from his father until recently. But just as Damian was liberated from his mother and taken under his father's wing, Bruce was killed in action, leaving Dick Grayson to train him to become the new Boy Wonder. Of course, Bruce could only stay dead for so long (this is comics, afterall), but Morrison brought him back in spectacular fashion in the Return of Bruce Wayne limited series. That eventually spun out into Batman, Inc. - in which a resurrected and rejuvinated Bruce Wayne travels the world, creating a new army of international Batmen in his employ. Even for me, a guy who prefers his Batman grim n' gritty, this was some really fun stuff. Fun, though sometimes frustrating, I'll admit. But even so, Morrison's Batman books were and are one of the best reasons to frequent a comic book store, and Batman, Inc. is definitely one of the most promising new books on the stands going into 2011.


- To be honest, it's been pretty frustrating to have gone for a couple of years now without a mainstream Superman book that features Superman in the kind of big, epic adventures that make him, well Superman. It seems like these days, Superman is either off brooding and learning lessons about humanity, or else wholly absent from his own titles. And yet, as much skepticism as I had about an Action Comics that starred Lex Luthor, writer Paul Cornell has made this into one of DC's must-read monthly titles. The book mixes action, humor, and character to make for a great read, and Lex has rarely been more entertaining. We even saw Lex have a near-death experience during which he met up with Death - the goth-girl Neil Gaiman version - in what was a memorable story indeed. As much as I am tired of the overall state of the Superman books these days, Action Comics has been a huge bright spot. Bonus: it's featured a great Jimmy Olsen back-up feature to boot, with some of the best / wackiest Olsen stories we've seen in a long while.


- There's no question, Fables was slumping early on in 2010. After the "Witches" storyline, which was really well done, things just seemed to drag on and on, with a neverending buildup for the impending battle with new villain Mr. Dark. The Rose Red storyline, while it had its moments, also felt very overlong and drawn-0ut. But luckily, Fables rebounded in a big way. The book finally began to gain some momentum, and that momentum paid off in the giant-sized issue #100, a massive epic (seriously - it was a monster!) that was a pleasure to read and look at. I am continually amazed at the art of Mark Buckingham, who fills each page of Fables with expressive characters, fluid action, and detailed borders that give the book that little something extra. Meanwhile, the spin-off book, Jack of Fables, had a great year, often eclipsing the mothership. And it did it without its title character -- well, sort of. For the last year, Jack's been focused on the son of Jack (also named Jack), as he sets out in search of adventure across distant lands. Jack explored many genres, but my favorite was a sci-fi tale that riffed on old serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Plus, Jack had its usual incredible covers from the legendary Brian Bolland, which are usually worth the price of admission alone.


- The big "event" series of this year was supposed to have been Brightest Day, but while that book has struggled to find its rhythm, JLA Gen Lost has been hitting it out of the park. Writer Judd Winnick has crafted a great serialized adventure story, bringing back key members from the 1980's version of the League to take on the revived and more-evil-than-ever Max Lord - their former leader. This bi-weekly book has had great action matched with fun characterization. Stalwarts like Booster Gold and Captain Atom have rarely been handled this well, and even the new Rocket Red has been a welcome addition to the team. This has been the superhero book with the biggest action, the most widescreen feel, the best cast of characters, and the most killer cliffhangers of 2010.


- Mark Waid is one of the greats when it comes to superhero comics, but given how much he's played in the DC and Marvel sandboxes, it's always fun to see him dabble with new worlds and new characters. And that's what we've got with Irredeemable - a dark and entertaining take on the DC Comics universe that's at once familiar and original. The basic premise of Irredeemable is simple: what if Superman (or in this case, a Superman-like hero named The Plutonian) goes to the dark side? In this world, he has, and he has earth's entire populace at his bootheel. The other remaining heroes have gone underground, the world's governments have handed over their authority. This is some crazy, epic stuff. Interestingly, Mark Waid has also crafted a companion piece - Incorruptible - in which one of earth's worst supervillains decides to become a hero in order to stand up against the Plutonian. A great, fascinating concept, and Waid is a master of making sure that character always takes precedent even in the middle of the universe-shattering plot.


- A monthly Zatanna comic written by Paul Dini? Yes, please. Dini, the man behind Batman: The Animated Series, has made no secret of his longtime love for DC's resident mistress of magic, and his affection for the character shines through in this long-time-coming comic. Dini just has that knack for telling simple yet involving stories, and he definitely knows his magic. He gives the book a fun yet foreboding quality, and isn't afraid to throw in some cheesecake sex appeal to boot. Zatanna can be a tricky character to write, but Dini has so far put her into a number of entertaining plotlines. So much so that I can say without question that, since the inception of this series, my backwards-reading abilities have improved significantly.


- Gail Simone continues to make Secret Six one of the wildest rides in comics. Following the misadventures of six work-for-hire criminals, the book never shies away from exploring the darkness within its central characters. In 2010, the book benefitted from the fluid, dynamic art of Jim Calafiore, as well as guest-writer stints from the likes of John Ostrander, who made The Secret Six's masked marksman, Deadshot, such a great character back in the day on Suicide Squad. With a great lineup of vile villains at its core, and a string of boundary-pushing, genre-bending stories throughout the year, this was another year in which Secret Six proved that it can be good to be bad.


- With all the chaos in the Bat-books in 2010, one constant was Red Robin, which was consistently well-written and expertly-drawn throughout the year. It also once again highlighted the fact that Tim Drake is one of the most interesting, well-rounded characters in mainstream comics, and writer Fabian Nicieza does a great job of building on the foundation established by others like Chuck Dixon and Geoff Johns. In 2010, Batman's former sidekick waged a one-man war on crime, butting heads with Ra's Al Ghul, The League of Assassins, and the teenage gang leader known as Lynx. He struck up a romance with the daughter of Wayne Enterprises' Lucius Fox, and had a heartfelt reunion with Bruce Wayne upon his return. Meanwhile, the art from Marcus To has been clean and ultra-solid. It's a flashback of sorts to the heyday of the 90's Robin comic when Chuck Dixon and Tom Grummet worked their magic, and I've really been enjoying what Nicieza and To have been doing.


- Booster Gold (by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Chris Batista)

- Streets of Gotham (by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen)

- The Flash (by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul)

- Green Lantern (by Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke)

- Batgirl (by Brian Q. Miller and Lee Garbett)

SPECIAL MENTION: I'm not fully caught up on INVINCIBLE yet, but I've been getting more and more into this series over the last year, slowly but surely making my way through the trade paperback collections. Robert Kirkman's (The Walking Dead) *other* ongoing series is an awesome, modern spin on classic superhero storytelling. Since it's all new characters, Kirkman is free to do whatever he wants with them. People can live, die, hook-up, or turn evil as he sees fit, so you never know what's in store. Meanwhile, there's a great mix of humor and satire with moments of genuine chock and awe. When Kirkman cranks up the action, the usually-light Invincible can become a brutal and violent book. As with The Walking Dead, however, Kirkman always puts characterization first. In this case, that mix of great characters and epic superhero action makes for one of the true must-read books out there.



- I said earlier that the overall direction of the Superman books has been a little frustrating of late, but in a larger sense, I think a lot of people have been waiting for the next great Superman story that can compare with Grant Morrison's already-classic All-Star Superman from a few years back. Well, this year did see a truly great Superman story, but it wasn't in the monthly titles and it wasn't as hyped up as All-Star ... but it does get my highest reccomendation. That story was Superman: Last Family of Krypton, an "Elseworlds" story (basically a "What-If?"), that tells the tale of a young Kal-El who is not rocketed to earth from the doomed planet Krypton alone, but with his mother, father, and siblings in tow. Skillfully penned by Cary Bates and expertly illustrated by Renato Arlem, the story imagines a world in which Jor-El and Lara of Krypton quickly become earth's biggest celebrities - its top scientist and most-respected spiritual guru respectively. This new dynamic puts an interesting spin on a young Kal El's eventual decision to become Superman, and also sets up a new role for Lex Lethor as a trusted advisor to the House of El. It's a fantastic story, a decades-spanning epic that is full of big action, emotion, and bursting with intriguing ideas. This was the best Superman story of the year, and one of the best in a long time.


- At first, I was definitely skeptical of yet another Fables spin-off, but writer Chris Roberson proved me wrong by crafting a great rollercoaster ride of a series, fashioning fairy-tale icon Cinderella into Fable's own version of James Bond. While Fables has diverged a lot from the kind of book it started off as, From Fabletown With Love reminded me of why I loved Fables in the first place, putting a modern, often subversive spin on the classic characters we all know so well, and deftly mixing fantasy and reality to create a unique sort of story. There are some great twists and turns in this story, and the eventual reveal of the villain was one of the year's most fun surprises. A new Cinderella ongoing is now in the cards, and given how fun this miniseries was, I for one am psyched.


- As fascinating as it can be to see Grant Morrison's take on mainstream superheroes, I also really enjoy when he can just go balls-to-the-wall with his own characters and concepts, indulging his propensity for mind-expanding weirdness without he or us worrying that he is screwing up continuity or stepping on other writers' toes. Joe the Barbarian has been vintage Morrison weirdness, but there is a very real and poignant story at its core. In the real world, we meet Joe, an eleven-year-old kid spending the day alone in his house. Joe has Type-1 diabetes, and it's acting up. As Joe struggles to make his way from his bedroom to the kitchen to get his medicine, his mind enters a vivid fantasy world where he is Joe the Barbarian - the chosen hero on a great adventure to save a dying kingdom. The book is a total mind-trip, and it's beautifully rendered by Sean Murphy, who's scratchy art conveys both the mundane nature of the real world and the strange, surreal quality of Joe's fantasy kingdom. With the eighth and final issue on its way in early 2011, I'm eagerly awaiting the series' sure-to-be-memorable conclusion.


- One of the big breakout writers of 2010 was definitely Paul Cornell, who has brought his uniquely British humor and wit to Action Comics, Batman & Robin, and to one of the most fun miniseries we've seen in a while, Knight & Squire. A few years ago, Grant Morrison reintroduced the concept of a league of international Batmen - Bruce Wayne-approved costumed adventurers who kept their respective countries safe from evil. Britain's protectors, the Knight & Squire, quickly became fan favorites. In this miniseries, still in progress, we've seen England's dynamic duo get into all sorts of trouble, but the highlight so far was surely issue #3, in which a deranged science experiment brings Britain's most notorious monarchs back to life, with the reanimated kings quickly conspiring to take back England for their own. A hilarious story, I'll admit that I even learned a thing or two about British history. See kids, comics can be fun AND educational!


- I suppose I'll start by saying that the Detective Comics storyline, "Batwoman: Elegy" that started in mid-2009 and ran through February 2010, was one of the truly great superhero storylines of the last couple of years, and part of an amazing run on Detective by writer Greg Rucka and artist JH Williams III. Now, the incredible JH Williams is back, with a prelude to his upcoming Batwoman series, and once again, his astounding artwork alone is worth the price of admission. And it turns out that the guy can write, too. In fact, all indications are that Williams will continue to make Kate Kane one of the most interesting and unique characters in comics. And now that Bruce Wayne is finally back to mix it up with her a bit, things should get interesting - as was evidenced in this #0 one-shot. In any case, Williams upcoming work on Batwoman is surely one of the big things to look forward to in 2011.


1.) Robert Kirkman (Invincible, The Walking Dead)

2.) Grant Morrison (Batman Inc., The Return of Bruce Wayne, Joe the Barbarian)

3.) Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Superboy)

4.) Geoff Johns (The Flash, Green Lantern, Brightest Day)

5.) Judd Winnick (Justice League Generation Lost, Power Girl)

6.) Paul Cornell (Action Comics, Knight & Squire)

7.) Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges (Fables, Jack of Fables)

8.) Brian K. Vaughan (Ex Machina)

9.) Cary Bates (Superman: Last Family of Krypton)

10.) Paul Dini (Streets of Gotham, Zatanna)


1.) Frank Quietly, Cameron Stewart, and Frazier Irving (Batman & Robin)

2.) Mark Buckingham (Fables)

3.) Sean Murphy (Joe the Barbarian)

4.) Fernando Pasarin (Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors)

5.) Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead)

6.) Renato Arlem (Superman: Last Family of Krypton)

7.) Marcus To (Red Robin)

8.) Lee Garbett (Batgirl)

9.) Tony Akins (Jack of Fables)

10.) Tony Harris (Ex Machina)

SPECIAL MENTION: Brian Bolland, for his always-incredible cover art on Jack of Fables.