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In the Year 2000…20 Favorite Films of the Aughts

This past decade in film was kind of underwhelming, but through all the fat, I’ve managed to pick my 20 favorite.  I have to admit, most of the selections here I picked from my DVD collection, but that only makes sense, because why else would I buy them?  So, this isn’t Ebert’s list, or the ghost of Siskel’s….this is mine.  Who the hell am I?  Thanks for asking…

I’d also like to point out that you won’t see one selection from 2009.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been to the movies much this year, so I have failed to see some “possible choices” like Inglorious Basterds or District 9. I did see Star Trek however, and thought it was actually kind of awesome…

Like my 20 Favorite Albums… post, I’m using the one film per director rule.  I was very close to including Grindhouse on the list, but at the last minute remembered Kill Bill.  I also chose not to put Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny on the list since Tenacious D got the # 1 spot on albums.  It is one my favorites though.

So, without further distraction, here’s the list of my 20 favorites films that came out between 2000-2009: (SPOILERS AHEAD)

20.  Land of the Dead (2005)

Land of the Dead is living dead mastermind George A. Romero’s big budget zombie-fest.  There were a few problems with the film, and one was the story, which just wasn’t as interesting as the survival tales of Romero’s previous three Dead films (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead in case you were living under a rock pillow).  Why does it make my top 20?  Because it’s a big budget Romero zombie flick!  Slightly better than his 2007 effort Diary of the Dead (which got lost in its editing), Land…brings to the table smarter zombies, a nefarious villain in Dennis Hopper, and Dead Reckoning, a military transport turned weapon.  It also had the courtesy of not being too cheesy or over the top (well, for a zombie film), unlike this decade’s other zombie contenders, Dawn of the Dead (Remake) and ZombielandLand also featured Romero’s trademark satire; this time a take on the zombie apocalypse in a post 911-world.

19.  Rescue Dawn (2006)

Rescue Dawn kind of came out of nowhere;  a war film with a big star (Christian Bale) that didn’t really have a large budget or release.  It’s not so much a war film as it is survival, taking place in the jungles of a war-torn Vietnam.  Then, there are the camp scenes, where regular comedic-actor Steve Zahn steals the show as a frantic POW.

The movie is elevated by its cinematography; its natural force pulls you into the setting.  The characters do the rest.  And, when the film ends and the main character is rescued, it makes it that much better, because you were along for the experience.  And that makes it kind of uplifting.

18.  The School of Rock (2003)

Quite possibly Jack Black’s finest moment in film, The School of Rock is a funny and touching movie that celebrates the best of three worlds:  the children’s film, comedy and rock and roll.  All of the characters shine (especially the kids) and Jack Black is a force to be reckoned with as the maestro; teacher by day, slacker by night.  Ultimately, the children change him, and he changes the children, and it’s a big, fat, sappy hug at the end.  Oh, but what a hug!

17. Kill Bill Vol. 1/2 (2003/2004)

Ok, I know I’m cheating here (and I will later on, too – spoiler alert), but I’m going to count the Kill Bill films as one selection.  One cannot exist without the other.  If Kill Bill Vol. 1 was a standalone film, then there would be many questions left unanswered.  If Kill Bill Vol. 2 was standalone, there would be many questions…

Quentin Tarantino’s revenge-epic is many different things; an homage to 1970’s Asian and grindhouse cinema, a mash-up of styles (split screen, animation, music, violence, color, etc.) and a weird sense of feminism.  Ok, so maybe Tarantino isn’t a feminist the same Joss Whedon is, but  it would be remiss to deny that aspect.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 kicked ass both times I saw it in theaters and is just an explosive, exciting picture.  Kill Bill Vol. 2 is a little more low-key, a little more laid-back, but full of intense scenes (coffin, anyone?) that lead up to Kiddo killing Bill.  (SPOILER ALERT:  She kills Bill.  But, it’s kind of underwhelming).

16.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine…is the kind of film that sticks with you for days after watching.  It also deserves multiple viewings.  It’s brilliantly written by Charlie Kaufman, and directed by Michel Gondry, and their talent together is worthy of the Kaufman/Jonez team (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation).  Kaufman and Gondry also worked on Human Nature together, another amazing slice of cinema.

Everything is top notch here, from Gondry’s directing style, to the soundtrack selection and most of all, the acting.  Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson and Kirsten Dunst all make the story come to life and emerge as believable.

Eternal Sunshine…isn’t worth explaining, it’s worth seeing.  Go see it now, if you haven’t.  You won’t forget it.  Your mind won’t let you.

15.  Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale pumped new blood into the struggling Bond franchise and woke it up like a shot of adrenalin to the heart.  Daniel Craig’s Bond was a different kind of Bond, a more vulnerable Bond.  This made for an interesting story.  There was also the romantic tension, the tension of the card game, and the stunning set pieces.  Also, the explosive action sequences.  The opening chase scene has to be one of the best action sequences of the last ten years, if not more.  Some short-changed this movie, but that’s because they’re afraid of change.  Open your mind and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

14.  The Dark Knight (2008)

There’s not much to say about The Dark Knight that hasn’t been said already.  Heath Ledger’s performance is worth the price of admission.  There’s also Aaron Eckhart, who was overshadowed by Ledger, but still pulled off a worthy performance, full of sadness and tragedy.  The story and theme are equally interesting, and the set pieces make Gotham come alive.  Batman Begins changed what a superhero movie could be in terms of story and structure, but The Dark Knight changed them in terms of moral ambiguity and character.  I hope Nolan and co. do make another Batman film, but where can they go from here?

Of course the backlash is, we’ve now got legions of fanboys asking “Why so serious?”.  Well, if there’s one thing I never do, it’s let the fans get in the way of the product (I’m looking at you Star Trek franchise).  I also read comic books.  Do the 40-year-old virgins of the world turn me away from comic books?  Hm….excellent segue into # 13…

13.  The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)

The 40 Year Old Virgin jump started the careers of three major forces in modern comedy:  Steve Carrell, Seth Rogan and Judd Apatow, turning them from cult status (Freaks and Geeks, The Daily Show) to box office champions.  The movie’s also hilarious; and even with all of the dick jokes, there’s an underlying theme of love.  Who does Steve Carell’s character ultimately lose his virginity to?  Not the drunk chick or the skank, but the lady he loves.

12.  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

In my opinion, the best Western to come out this past decade was The Assassination…  Not to say it was the only good one – The Proposition was decent (Nick Cave wrote that one, he did the score to Assassination), Appaloosa had its moments, and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma was actually a pretty good film, but The Assassination had everything going for it:  brilliant script, score, cinematography, direction, set pieces and acting.  And I refer not only to Brad Pitt (Jesse James), but also to Casey Affleck (Robert Ford) who proves he has the acting chops in the Affleck family.  It’s a tragic tale about envy and legacy, and Jesus Christ!…what a beautiful film!

11.  No Country For Old Men (2007)

This was a Coen brothers film?  Where are the Coen trademarks like quirky characters and dialogue, or larger-than-life situations?  No Country was a change of pace for the Coens (probably most similar to their debut film – the thriller Blood Simple) in more than one way.  It was the first of their films to be based on a novel (yeah O Brother, Where Art Thou was based on Homer, but really more inspired than based).  There wasn’t an emphasis on score (a minimal score reminiscent of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “The Body”).  It was also mindblowingly intense…a real thriller with a truly evil villain.  Some of the film seemed a bit confusing (like Josh Brolin’s offscreen demise), but what it lacked in coherency, it made up for in suspense.

10.  Shaun of the Dead (2004)

When I first saw Shaun of the Dead during its inital U.S.-theater run, I have to admit I was pretty let down.  I had read some over-hyped reviews on a film forum I frequented (try saying that one, three times fast:  Film Forum I Frequented) and I guess I was expecting a different kind of zombie-comedy; one that I think could be compared to Zombieland. I wasn’t expecting a great movie…just a gory film with jokes.  During that first viewing, I didn’t see the greatness of it…it just all felt mediocre.

A year or so later, K.’s mother lent us Spaced (British comedy series featuring writer/actor Simon Pegg, actor Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead), and after falling in love with that show, I first saw the genius of Shaun of the Dead.   I re-watched it, and saw a completely different film.  The creators (Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright) love their zombie films (and their action films according to 2007’s Hot Fuzz), but they also love a good story with real emotion.  It wasn’t just a “romantic-comedy-zombie-flick”, it was a film that had zombies in it but also characters going through emotional turmoil; and not only because of the zombie apocalypse, but because of their “real world” despair such as relationship trouble.  Oh, and the zombies don’t run…always a plus in my hypothetical book.

9.  The Departed (2005)

More than just a long “Gimme Shelter” music video, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed is a moving web of lies, that wraps you in with its deceit and depravity.  Most of the characters are first class scumbags only in it for themselves, and only a minimal few prove otherwise by the end of the film.  But, these liars and con artists (not literally) pull us into their world and we can’t help but watch.  What will Frank Costello aka Jack Nicholson (played by Jack Nicholson) do next?  How deep will Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) go?  Where does Colin Sullivan’s (Matt Damon) loyalty belong?  What the fuck is up with Dignam (Mark Wahlberg)?  The actors bring the characters to life and into the Boston P.D., and the Boston mob, and the city itself.  It’s a Scorsese classic (already) and earned the filmmaker the Oscar he so rightfully deserved (in the past for better films).  But, did he really need the Oscar?  Of course not.  No award (at least in the entertainment business) can vindicate a filmmaker’s talent.  The filmmaker has to prove this with their movie, which Scorsese has done countless times.  Who cares if he gets a shiny, naked man statue?

8.  Mulholland Dr. (2001)

David Lynch is a rare sort of filmmaker.  He seems to only make movies for himself (self-indulgent?), but they always end up connecting with an audience (some more than others).  No matter how strange or bizarre the ride may get, you usually want to stay and see it out until the end.  Something in his work resonates, and stays buried inside your subconscious.  They’re like paintings.

Mulholland Dr. is like a bright, neon-lit painting, but scattered about are very dark and mysterious blotches.  It’s up to us, the viewer to connect the dots, to scratch at the surface and understand ourselves what the film means.  As stated before, like a painting.  There’s no dictation of what the film means.  To some people, this is an experience; to others, a  chore.

On the surface, Mulholland Dr. is about a young actress-to-be moving to Hollywood, who coincidentally meets a strange woman with amnesia.  It takes a dive into a dark world with hitmen, strange cowboys, freaky midnight magic shows, dumpster monsters and two star-crossed lovers in tangle.  About 3/4 into the movie, it makes a sudden and drastic shift, and plays with our senses, as characters turn to be not who we thought they were.  It’s a weird, wild ride, but in the end, worth for the viewing experience alone.  It’s also worth multiple re-watchs, so you can figure your own theory in your head.  It’s not homework, it’s thinking, and that’s just as important as diet and exercise.

7.  Wall-E (2008)

Who else but Pixar could make you feel for a trash compactor?  Fuckin’ no one else is the correct answer.  Since Toy Story (another brilliant film!), Pixar has been on the forefront of modern animation – but not just in terms of style, technique and presentation, but story!  They know how to tell a good story.  They don’t make “children’s films”, but films for people…we can all relate to the trash-compactor robot.  It displays human emotion:  loneliness, sadness and then love, and finally triumph.  If for some reason you’re not watching Pixar films because you think they’re “for kids”, then you, sir or ma’am, are an idiot (as Dwight would say)!  Do yourself a favor and pick one up (Toy Story or Wall-E will do just fine).

6.  Children of Men (2006)

Children of Men took the “dystopian-future” Sci-Fi subgenre and turned it on its head, creating a future so bleak, mankind was well on its way to extinction.  The cinematography takes you there, which make the intense “action sequences”  seem too real.  There’s also that extended single shot at the end which raises the level of fiction authenticity to downright terrifying.  In the end, however, a glimmer of hope is revealed and all could be right in the world again.  Like many films on this list, it’s full of despair, but there’s that guiding light of hope.  And isn’t that part of human nature? Times are hard, economically and ecologically, but we hang on to hope, for a better day, better month, better year.

5.  Zodiac (2007)

David Fincher’s Zodiac is an intense thriller full of intrigue, but there’s no real ending, no killer caught, no problem solved…and this is how it is in real life.  The Zodiac was never caught.  There were suspects, but nothing ever proven.  The movie doesn’t try to answer the question of “who was the Zodiac” (although it points a stiff finger at one particular suspect), but instead gives us a glimpse inside the frantic world of ambitious journalists and misconstrued cops.  There’s also the cartoonist working for the paper who would become one of the leading Zodiac experts.  We see how the Zodiac Killer ruined his life, without ever laying a finger.  The movie exists within its own universe and story, and us, the audience, are in for the ride.  It’s one that’s not necessarily satisfying, at first, anyway, but look further, and you’ll see Fincher hit all of the chords:  cinematography, score, writing, directing…all constructed in such a classy way, that Zodiac rises above all other “serial killer flicks” and becomes a masterpiece.  The viewer gets sucked into the warped story and lives there, probably their whole life.

4.  Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Like any good fantasy, Pan’s Labyrinth is escapism at its core; a little girl lost in a fairytale that brings her purpose and joy because her real life is too painful to bear without it.  Her mother is sick, she has a wicked stepfather (in the form of a brutal Spanish military captain), and so the world of the labyrinth she escapes to is a world worth living, where she is important; a princess in fact.  And even though the “fantasy world” has its share of danger (she has to go through many deadly obstacles to prove she is the princess), it’s still a welcome alternative to the terrible truth.

The movie ends with Ofelia, our princess, dying at the hands of her stepfather, but we see her in her after-life, claiming the throne of princess along with her biological father and mother (who passed on earlier in the film).  Did this really happen in the world of the movie, or were the labyrinth, the faun, the pale man all figments of her imagination?  It’s up in the air.  Was it just her death that brought her happiness, or was she truly reunited with her parents as the royal family of the underworld?  A great fantasy, Pan’s Labyrinth plays with our emotions and never lets up.

3.  Serenity (2005)

So, when Joss Whedon’s Sci-Fi/Western series Firefly got cancelled by Fox, the world pretty much died.  Okay, sorry for the dramatics…I meant the world in Firefly died.  A vast world that should have been explored throughly through many seasons.  It only got one.  It’s like it didn’t even have a chance.  Whedon went back to Buffy and Angel (casting Firefly alumni in these shows) and I can only guess forgot about Firefly for the time being.  This was in 2002.  Three years later, a film would come out – Serenity – the big budget, epic Firefly movie!

Serenity is everything you could possibly want in a Firefly movie, and more.  Obviously, all of the great actors/characters are back, but there are also reavers (seen for the first time), River finally finding her full potential, and unexpected Whedon-y deaths.  It all comes in a nice glossy package reminiscent of a summer blockbuster.

Serenity, this time around more sci-fi opera than space western, was a mighty feat in its own right.  Based on the facts above, cancellation and all, Whedon and Co. managed to make a big-budget action/adventure flick.  With help from DVD sales, an Emmy (for Outstanding Visual Effects) and fan support, Serenity came to be, and damn, was it all so worth it.

2.  Almost Famous (2000)

Almost Famous is great for a lot of reasons:  it’s a testament to its time (early 70’s), featuring a classic rock soundtrack and the Led Zeppelinesque fictitious band Stillwater.  There’s also an oddball love triangle-thingy between a 15-year-old rock journalist, a groupie, and Stillwater’s guitarist.  The film is full of memorable scenes such as the impromptu sing-along of “Tiny Dancer” on the tour bus or the unbosoming near-death experience on the airplane between the members of Stillwater.  At the center of it all, the 15-year-old journalist, based on writer/director Cameron Crowe’s own experience as a young journalist for Rolling Stone.  It’s kind of feel-good film, a comedy/drama, but it really shouldn’t be classified.  It’s simply a story with heart that transcends any need for genre labeling.

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King) (2001-2003)

Remember when I said I’d cheat again?  Well, I saved it for # 1.  However, counting The Lord of the Rings trilogy as one pick seemed logical.  Yes, they are three separate films, but all part of the same story.  That’s why it’s acceptable, for me at least, to condense all three down to the same selection.

The Lord of the Rings were to the 00’s as Star Wars were to the 70’s; powerhouses in the fantasy genre.  They were both epic trilogies that struck gold at the box office.  Additionally, there’s the “quest” or “hero’s journey”, Luke Skywalker and his quest to become a Jedi and defeat the Galactic Empire, or Frodo and his quest to rid the ring and save Middle-earth.

There’s no denying the technical skill put into LOTR, such as the set pieces, costumes and action sequences.  It’s no wonder why Peter Jackson monopolized the 2003 Academy Awards.  Yet, there’s a wonderful journey as well, based  on the books written by J. R. R. Tolkien.  Sidebar:  Led Zeppelin used to sing about LOTR.

LOTR also has a slew of great characters; from wizards, elves, hobbits, orcs, humans and all.  Peter Jackson assembled the ultimate cast (and crew for CGI) to bring Tolkien’s characters to life.

LOTR gets my pick for favorite film of the past decade because it happens to surpass my expectation of what a movie can be.  There’s an epic journey at the heart, massive action and battle scenes, and the revelation that this is larger-than-life.  LOTR reminds me of why movies were made in the first place…to escape.  LOTR is among the best when it comes to storytelling as escapism.  It’s also an achievement in film, and rightfully so, for all of the heart and soul obviously put into this “labor of love”.  Maybe that’s why audiences responded to it.  Or maybe it was only the “fight scenes”?


In The Year 2000….20 Favorite Albums Of the Aughts

As 2009 comes to an end, I’ve decided (like countless others) to commemorate the event by proclaiming my favorites in music, movies and TV.  First up, is music.  Before I start the list, I’d like a chance to defend my choices.  First, I really don’t listen to much “new music” or better stated, “modern music”.  I rarely listen to the radio, and if I do, it’s an oldies station.  When I accidentally hear what’s considered popular today (music in a store or what they use in TV shows), I kind of cringe.  Some examples include Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”, Britney Spear’s “Womanizer”, Pink’s “I’m Gonna Start a Fight”, or anything by Coldplay, or any emo act.  In this blogger’s opinion, it’s rubbish.  Factory-made music for the eager consumer.  But, that’s just what it sounds like to me.  A million fans can’t be wrong, can they?

Secondly, the small amount of “modern music” I do listen to is really only taken up by a small percentage of bands.  I decided when starting the list that I wouldn’t have any repeat offenders, so I found myself scouring my music collection (both CD and mp3) to find my favorite albums made after 1999.  At some points, I felt as if I were reaching, but then I’d discover another album long forgotten and it would take the spot.

Thirdly, this is a list of my “favorites”.  WordPress was free, and I’m allowed to write whatever the hell I want (not like anyone’s paying me what to say), so this is my list.  It’s not a Best Of, or Greatest, it’s Favorite. But, when thinking about it, my favorite translates to what I think were the greatest or best albums of the aughts.  It’s not going to look like a mainstream critic’s list.  It’s not going to look like a Pitchfork or Rolling Stone or Spin list.  The list isn’t self-conscious.  It doesn’t care what the hipsters or scenesters think.  It doesn’t have a reputation to uphold. It is what it is.  So, if you care in the slightest about this blogger’s opinion (and really, why should you?), then unbuckle that seat belt because you’re in for a dangerous ride free of society’s vindication of what’s considered popular.

20.  Tool – 10,000 Days (2006)

Yes, I’m picking 10,000 Days over Lateralus. It was only fair. Lateralus is an album I really don’t listen to all that much. I can’t even find a reason why other than I listen to Aenima more than any other Tool album, but considering the Tool discography after 1999, I listen to 10,000 Days the most. Its two opening songs (“Vicarious”, “Jambi”) match the two opening songs of Aenima (“Stinkfist”, “Eulogy”) as far as album openings go. While Aenima is far more consistent, 10,000 Days still pulls some punches with “The Pot” and “Roseta Stoned”. 10,000 also has its fair share of weird, tripped-out experimental instrumentals, which on most occasions, I skip. But the best songs are really really good. When I saw Tool live in Cincinnati – 2007, they opened with “Jambi” which definitely brought on a new appreciation for the song, and the album as a whole. While Lateralus maybe the better album (will the music gods call shenanigans on me?), I listen to 10,000 Days more, therefore making it my favorite by Tool in the 2000’s.

Best Songs: “Vicarious”, “Jambi”, “The Pot”

19.  David Gilmour – On an Island (2006)

David Gilmour or Roger Waters?  Why does everything in life have to narrow down to a blank or bank?  Elvis or The Beatles….or better yet, Lennon or McCartney?  Jagger or Richards?  Who’s the better band member?  You can only have one favorite, so choose wisely!  Often is the case with Pink Floyd, a band who suffered a terrible break-up splitting the creative forces, and to some extent, the fans.  Are you in the Gilmour Camp or the Waters Camp?  I ask, instead, who cares?

I like both of the chaps.  They’ve both produced some of the best music this side of the moon…or…uh…this side of the wall!  Who cares if they hate each other?  They’re both brilliant musicians.  And it’s actually quite easy to see that Gilmour is the better guitarist while Waters is the better songwriter.  In my opinion, I mean.

So….to segue into the actual point of this list, David Gilmour’s On an Island is a guitar legend’s guitar album, which showcases all of his craft we’ve already come to love.  Some of the songs sound a little like Pink Floyd, but that’s forgiven.  It’s still quite moody and trippy (well, like Floyd), but it is its own, if not only for the title track, which is haunting and beautiful.  The fact that Crosby and Nash (sans Stills) do the backing vocals only adds to the beauty.  If you haven’t heard this album, hear it!

Best Songs: “On an Island”, “Take a Breath”

18.  Jack Johnson – Brushfire Fairytales (2001)

I’m really not sure whether or not it’s cool to like Jack Johnson.  On one end, he makes some fine, folky pop that’s easy to mellow out to.  On the other, his songs can be heard at your local grocery store (always hear his voice at Kroger’s), sometimes on the radio, and most definitely coming out of the cars of the douche bags you went to high school with.  But this is all okay.  I mean, the man did the soundtrack to the Curious George flick!  Well, I haven’t actually heard any of the songs or seen the film, but it’s Curious George!

There are really only two Jack Johnson albums that I listen to.  Aside from the aforementioned Brushfire Fairytales, On and On is frequently in rotation between me and K., the girlfriend.  But Brushfire Fairytales is the better album because it has the better songs, the better melodies, the better “flow”….Ugh…”flow”?  Well, how about the album flows together more than On and On?  Does that make sense?  Not really.

Brushfire Fairytales is a mellow experience from start to finish, and perfect for cruising on a rainy, summer day.  Apparently, it compliments the beach, but I wouldn’t know.

Best Songs:  “Inaudible Melodies”, “Flake”, “Bubble Toes”

17.  Gomez – How We Operate (2006)

What a great band, what with all the singers and the blues/pop sensibilities.  How We Operate operates on many different levels; a brilliant album that can be both cheery and sad.  Not much else to say about it, other than there’s a banjo.  That will be all.

Best songs:  “How We Operate”, “Cry on Demand”

16.  Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero (2007)

Better than NIN’s previous aught-released With Teeth, the concept album Year Zero served well as a template for Trent Reznor to create spooky beats, industrial riffs, and paranoid lyrics.  Say what you will about NIN, but Trent (because well, NIN is Trent) is a studio wizard, a mastermind, who consistently sharpens his craft with each release (except for With Teeth, which was plain average).  Like The Fragile was to The Downward Spiral (which was bloody brilliant, by the way) in the 90’s, Year Zero is to With Teeth.  In 2008, The Slip came out, which was decent, but nowhere near the excellence which was Year Zero, which supposedly, Trent is in talks with HBO about a possible mini-series based on the album.

Sidenote:  You need to see NIN live!  Now!  Oh, you haven’t?  Well, I think you’re shit out of luck, then….apparrently they recently finished their “Goodbye/Farewell Tour”.

Best Songs:  “The Good Soldier”, “Me, I’m Not”, “The Great Destroyer”

15.  Bauhaus – Go Away White (2008)

From out of nowhere came Bauhaus’s first studio album (and proclaimed last album) since 1983.  A lot had happened between ’83 and ’08, like the rise of alternative-geniuses Love and Rockets (basically Bauhaus sans front man Peter Murphy) and Peter Murphy’s semi-successful solo career.  Did people forget about Bauhaus?  Probably…

But there were always the fans, holding out in hopes for a new album, and probably more so, a “reunion tour”.  The 2000’s were full of reunions, from the Pixies to Portishead, so why not Bauhaus?

Go Away White is a solid album…but it doesn’t sound too much like Bauhaus’ early 8o’s records.  That’s obvious, though…it’s not the early 80’s anymore.  All 4 musicians have grown and evolved since the early days, and this album focuses on that shift.  To some, it may seem a tad indulgent (like the studio banter in “Mirror Remains”).  It’s good though!  Peter Murphy is at his most Bowie-esque and the band plays a sound similar to Love and Rockets meets Bauhaus.  Now, the tour never did happen (I think they may have played a handful of shows), but the band left us this album.  Some may want to wipe it out of their memory completely and stick with Burning From the Inside as their last album, but Go Away White seems more like the farewell album.  I think the fans were lucky enough to get it, so I don’t feel the need to complain.  Thanks Bauhaus!

Best Songs:  “Too Much 21st Century”, “Mirror Remains”, “Black Stone Heart”


14.  Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)

Arcade Fire managed to make an album full of depression and despair, but also highly uplifting.  The Canadian mega-band released this, their debut full-length, in 2004 and the rest is history.  Their sophomore effort, almost as good as Funeral, Neon Bible came out in 2007 to mostly positive reviews, and the band has performed with likes of legends such as David Bowie, David Byrne and Bruce Springsteen.  The album was named Funeral after some of the band’s family members passed, and it shows; an album about death, life, and growing up.

Best Songs:  “Neighborhood # 1 (Tunnels)”, “Neighborhood # 3 (Power Out)”, “Rebellion (Lies)”

13.  Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007)

Who is this Spoon band?  They’ve been around since the early 90’s, and up until Ga… had released five studio albums.  I can’t say much for the previous releases because I haven’t heard enough (I have them all on my Ipod, just haven’t really listened much), but the goofily-named Ga is outstanding, a feat of rock and roll with pop sensibilities.  It’s addictive music.  You can’t escape it.  It burrows up inside the deepest regions of your memory and attacks at the most rare moments.  That’s why you need a copy of Ga… in your car, or on your Ipod, because you never know when the Spoon Syndrome will strike!  Now, listening to their previous efforts, they really don’t sound as good as this one.  Maybe this was the album Spoon found their sound, hit their stride, and blew our minds.

Sidenote:  The best song on the album, “Don’t You Evah”, is actually a cover of a song by a band I’ve never heard of.  Sorry for the disrespect, but I don’t want to ruin Spoon’s version.  It’s that good!

Best Songs:  “Don’t Make Me a Target”, “Don’t You Evah”, “Rhthm & Soul”

12. Flight of the Conchords – I Told You I Was Freaky (2009)

The reason I Told You I Was Freaky outranks FOTC’s self-titled debut is because all of the songs on FOTC had been heard previously as live performances…and the live performances were better.  So that made FOTC a bit disappointing.  But not I Told You I Was Freaky.  It was near perfect.  Of course, you’d have to be a fan of the show to truly appreciate it, but that means absolute zilch to me, since I was.  From the opening parody of rap music (“Hurt Feelings”) to the closing chorus of angels doing it (“Angels”), I Told You I Was Freaky is a delightfully fun and hilarious album.

Best Songs:  “Hurt Feelings”, “We’re Both in Love With a Sexy Lady”, “I Told You I Was Freaky”

11. David Byrne – Look Into the Eyeball (2001)

It’s obvious that David Byrne, nor the rest of the Talking Heads, can ever amount to what they achieved in the late 70’s/early 80’s.  Talking Heads were such an amazing and monumental band that pretty much any band can’t come close to matching what they had in the magical days.  David Byrne can try though, right?

Look Into the Eyeball, in my opinion, is Byrne’s best solo effort.  It’s just a collection of great songs, ranging from funky, catchy, poppy and tragic.  Byrne is at his best when he’s trying to get you to dance, rather than think, and this album proves that.  Byrne’s 2008 collaboration with Brian Eno was good – very good, even, but I choose Look Into the Eyeball as Byrne’s aught-darling.

Best Songs:  “U.B. Jesus”, “Like Humans Do”, “The Accident”

10.  Tom Waits – Real Gone (2004)

Tom Waits continue his role as rural champion (as evidenced on Mule Variations), with Real Gone, an album featuring songs that sound like they could be about barnyard murder mysteries, big city dance moves, and anti-war protests.  This is not the Tom Waits of yore; the drunken bozo who stumbled onto a piano.  This is the modern Tom Waits; a family man who lives in Northern California, and also, makes really good music.  Artists evolve all of the time, and since the 80’s, Tom Waits has been doing it regularly.  While this isn’t his greatest accomplishment, it’s a solid effort that reminds us (the fans) that Tom Waits still has it.  Thank God.

Best Songs:  “Hoist That Rag”, “Sins of My Father”, “Don’t Go Into That Barn”

9.  Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Dig Lazarus Dig!!! (2007)

Dig Lazarus Dig!!! is one of the best from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in years, and towers over their other albums released in the aughts.  Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus was decent, sometimes even great, but some of the songs fell short (mostly on They Lyre… disc).  On Dig Lazarus Dig!!!, Nick Cave and Co. let their colors shine and record a rocking album that seemed to rejuvenate the band’s live show, something I witnessed myself in Chicago in the fall of ’08.  In other words, they fucking rocked the house.  My girlfriend had the luck to get front row, but a fat fangirl blocked me from moving up, so I had to settle with second row.  Oh well…still an awesome show from a truly awesome and original band, which this album proves.  From the hyper-chant opening of the title track, the psychedelia of “Today’s Lesson” and “Midnight Man”, and the tenderness of the slower songs like “Moonland”, “Hold On To Yourself” and “Jesus of the Moon”, the album just kicks ass.  No other phrase to explain it.

Best Songs:  “Today’s Lesson”, “Hold On To Yourself”, “Midnight Man”

8.  Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf (2002)

This album features Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri, Dave Grohl and Dean Ween!  There are others as well, but I felt the need to list those musicians.  QOTSA is always interesting, mostly due to Josh Homme’s guitar playing and song writing, and on Songs for the Deaf, QOTSA show they’re a true rock band in the age of pop radio.  This album is near perfect and suitable for driving at night.

This was also QOTSA’s most successful album, after scoring a hit with the addictive “No One Knows”.  I also happen to think this is their best album, and they still haven’t topped it.

Best Songs:  “No One Knows”, “A Song for the Dead”, “A Song for the Deaf”

7.  My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges (2008)

Z maybe the better album, but my money goes to Evil Urges, an album that is quite personal to me.  In the summer of ’08, when the album came out, K. & I took a trip to Gatlinburg and this was our soundtrack.  Then, we had the priviledge of seeing MMJ live in their hometown of Louisville, which was an amazing experience.  So, this album captures a wonderful time in my life, and I relive it each time while listening.

To me, this album is perfect, from the opening title track to the epic closer, “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2”.  Jim James and Co. just let loose, ranging from indie-rock, funky psychedelia and country-tinged alternative.  What a joy to listen to!  And the experiences I’ve had with it make it that much better.

Best Songs:  “Evil Urges”, “Sec Walkin”, “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Prt. 2”

6.  Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica (2000)

“Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” alone makes this album one of the best of the aughts.  There’s more though, as Modest Mouse paint their sonic landscape around desolation, loneliness and people.  The arrangements, at times psychedelic, mixed with Isaac Brock’s unique vocals and lyrics all paint the grand picture.  There’s a theme here and it’s cold.  And we meet asshole bosses, zombie consumers, TV junkies, emotional voyeurs and a pack of wild dogs along dead cities and star-lit nights.

This album came out before Modest Mouse would find their slice of mainstream success with the hit single “Float On”, and it kind of represents the end of an era for the band.  After The Moon…, Good News For People Who Love Bad News would come out, and with it, a shift in their sound.  They still remain an excellent band, and one of the better out there today, but their early material was an example of music as poetry; cold and distant, but also beautiful and personal.

Best Songs:  “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes”, “Paper Thin Walls”, “I Came as Rat”

5.  Brian Wilson – Smile (2004)

So, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys recorded most of this album in the 1960’s, but it was ultimately scrapped and left only to be heard by hardcore fans with bootleg access.  The aughts changed this, as Wilson re-recorded and finally released his masterpiece, Smile.  There’s much to hype up about this album, from the arrangements to the harmonies to the subject matter and to the psychedelic thread keeping it all together.  Brian Wilson may have been a crazy person (literally), but he was also a musical genius, and the Beach Boys without him have suffered miserably.  That’s okay, because this sounds kind of like a Beach Boys album (well, technically…) with Wilson in charge.

Best Songs:  “Heroes and Villains”, “Surf’s Up”, “Good Vibrations”

4.  Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001/2002)

The drama surrounding the making of this album was enough to warrant a compelling documentary (I Am Trying to Break Your Heart), and that’s the reason the years above are years.  The album was completed and ready for a 2001 release but the label refused to release the damn thing!  Wilco ended up streaming the entire album for free online, and the album would find a new home and release date in 2002.

Enough about the background information;  let’s dive into the music, shall we?  It’s weird, experimental, arty, with a dash of pretension, but also catchy, poppy and extremely infectious.  There’s earth-shattering truth on this album.  There’s pain and pleasure and despair and happiness all rolled into a compact sushi sizable for your stereo.

Sky Blue Sky, Wilco’s 2007 release, also has a personal place in my memories, when I bought it on vacation in the Gulf Shores that same year.  But Yankee Hotel Foxtrot reminds me of all recent and past summers, and of driving around in the sun, listening to “Heavy Metal Drummer”, or even winters, driving around in the snow, listening to “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”.  Whatever the season, Wilco is there for you…

Best Songs:  “Jesus, Etc.”, “Heavy Metal Drummer”, “Pot Kettle Black”

3.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Once More, With Feeling Soundtrack (2002)

Well, if you’ve seen Buffy‘s Season 6 musical episode, Once More, With Feeling, then you know why this soundtrack belongs on the list.  Listening to the album is as much fun as watching it, and sidebar:  seeing it performed by actors (unfortunately not the Whedon originals) is super-fun as well.

There’s even some bonus content here, such as Christophe Beck’s scores for Hush and Restless.  I really wish they would have included Giles’ “Exposition Song” from Restless, but oh well…We also get to hear Whedon and wife’s demo version of “Something to Sing About”.

Not much more to say about OMWF, other than if you’re a fan of Buffy and you don’t have this, what the hell is wrong with you?  From the opening anti-Disney number, “Going Through the Motions”,the Scooby’s group song, “I’ve Got a Theory”, Tara’s love ballad, Spike’s love-rock lament, “Rest in Peace”,  through the Giles/Tara ballad, the demon’s jazzy send-up, and the epic “Walk Through the Fire”, this album/episode is pure gold.  Someone give Mr. Whedon an actual Emmy.  Or a Grammy!  Shit…

Best Songs:  “Rest in Peace”, “Standing”, “Walk Through the Fire”

2.  Ween – Quebec (2003)

Quebec finds Ween at a more depressing state in their lives, and as they push the boundaries of their previous studio efforts, they also dig deep down in a dark side…a dark brown side.  It’s not all fun and games, though.  Okay, yeah it is.

This is Ween’s darkest hour, but it also has its sunny side, too.  Just look at “Hey There Fancypants” and the album opener “It’s Gonna be a Long Night”.  But between and after these tracks, the songs tell a sad story that really isn’t a story at all.  What’s it all about?  Drug addiction?  Gambling?  Adulthood?  Sexuality?  Failure?  Maybe all…

Quebec ranks so high on my list, first and foremost, because Ween is probably my favorite band.  If this was Best Albums of the 90’s list, I may have picked The Mollusk as Number 1.  And I truly believe Ween is still one of the most interesting bands out there, and Quebec really shows that.

Best Songs:  “Zoloft”, “Chocolate Town”, “If You Could Save Yourself (You’d Save Us All)”

1.  Tenacious D – Tenacious D (2001)

Tenacious D is the greatest band in the world, right?  Well, then their album would have to be the Greatest Album in the World, right?

Whether or not the above question is true, the D’s self-titled debut is my favorite album from the aughts, and it’s a satirical exercise in rock and roll music.  And the studio band helps at some points, helping “Wonder Boy” find an identity, “The Road” to sound like arena rock, and Sabbath-like riffing finding a suitable home on “Dio”.

Basically, what it comes down to, is that it’s a fun album, from start to finish.  It brings joy when listened to.  When an album can do that, it’s special, whether or not the word “fuck” is used more than 250 times.  Some people find comfort in rap music.  I’ll stick with The D.

Best Songs:  “Tribute”, “Explosivo”, “Karate”

Honorable Mentions:  Fantomas – Director’s Cut, MF Doom AKA Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain, Rob Zombie – The Sinister Urge, Mindless Self Indulgence – You’ll Rebel to Anything, Tech N9ne – Anghellic