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Another year closes on IBNttT and while this blog is still less than two years old, I feel like it’s been steadily improving since its inception.
When I first started it up, I wanted to keep an editorial voice and keep my personal life out of the mix. I strove to develop a unique, editorial voice, but I stopped short of personal anecdotes and opinions beyond critical expression. I can’t say that this blog has morphed into a forum for me to talk about my feelings or anything, but I do know that a combination of reading a lot of tim rogers and coming across Gamers With Jobs and attempting to get a writing gig with them opened me up to a more personal writing style that integrated my life experiences into my work. It’s a style I’m still experimenting with, but it’s nice to see that it’s generally well-received among my readers.
Speaking of the readers, 2009 was also the year that I almost quit blogging. Until Eric installed traffic plugins to the backend, I was feeling like I was screaming into the void and only he was reading. Granted, 2009 was also the year that I actually told some of my friends that I did regularly write on a blog. I still keep this site on the down low for most, but I’m glad that those of you who do frequent the blog continue to read, despite its rather narrow focus on the things I’m interested in (baseball and video games). Knowing that people do occasionally stop by to see the nonsense that I put up here helps me keep on keeping on, so thanks for reading in 2009 and I hope to continue to improve the site in 2010.
Happy New Year,
New Super Mario Brothers Wii is marriage poison.
-Gabe (AKA Jerry Holkins). “The Fullness of Time“
In the past two months I’ve learned one very important truth about my friends: they’re complete jerks. Not in any friendship kind of way, but in the if-it-came-down-to-it-would-they-have-my-back kind of way. It all started with New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Nintendo made an important design choice with the game by giving each character physical impenetrability with each other and allowing (almost) the entire moveset to work on fellow players. In a nutshell, you can push, run into, and jump off of your buddies and you can pick them up and throw them around, but fireballs pass through other players. The result can be total (accidental) chaos or it can devolve into actual, sincerely evil behavior toward your fellow players.
The evil doesn’t have to be obvious, like picking up fellow players and throwing them into a chasm, it can also be little things like taking multiple power-ups “by accident” or “inadvertently” getting in the way of jumps or platforms. In our case, we started off our first session for the night in the first world of NSMBW with a somewhat cooperative nature about us. I showed the other two how we could affect each other’s gameplay (I’d been practicing some a few days earlier at my brother’s house, which I’m not sure I’m welcome in anymore after playing, haha) and then popped us out really quick to play one of the legitimately competitive multiplayer modes. As I expected, putting us into a competitive mode for a few levels carried right on over to the cooperative experience and we were at each other’s throats for the rest of the game. Sometimes the sabotage was deliberate. I distinctly remember Darek picking me up and throwing me into lava when I least expected it. Since we were high up, it was torture to watch my avatar tumble for a few seconds before burning to death. Another time saw us all standing on a narrow platform. Ian suddenly jumped up and butt stomped me, sending poor Mario flying helplessly into a chasm. There was a glimmer of hope late in World 8. Faced with obstacles too tough to tackle while at each other’s throats, a temporary truce was effected and we were able to traverse the level after many attempts. That goodwill continued into the final battle against Bowser and we were finally able to conquer the game.
There is a drastic shift in tone when you go from NSMBW to Left 4 Dead 2, both in how vital cooperative play is and how devastating griefing can be to a team’s chances at survival. Valve crafted the game experience to almost ensure 100% failure when a player is by himself. Every time one of the four survivors is too separated, dead, or incapacitated, the chance of failure rises dramatically, especially on the higher difficulty levels. Playing this game gives you a feel for how your friends might react in a true zombie apocalypse. Consider that there is zero risk to a person’s real physical health in this game. Death just means you have to restart the level. That means that reckless behavior is far more likely, but Valve has crafted a game that still seems to encourage cautious, self-serving behavior in most. Let’s take a look at how some of my friends play to see what their personalities are like.
If there’s one thing that you can be sure of when you play a game with Nolan, it’s that he knows what he’s doing. How can you tell? He will loudly tell you at every chance what you’re doing wrong. Nolan is also very focused on winning at any cost. Exploiting the death system (when you die, you start the next level with higher health, but none of the weapons you had) and optimizing weapon load outs are his main strategies. Unfortunately for me, I can also count on him to let me die if he’s within running distance of the safe room. I could be just outside the door with only two zombies beating on my incapacitated body and I’m pretty sure he would just shoot me to help me die faster. Ruthless.
You know that one guy in a horror movie who’s always too far ahead or behind or too inquisitive? I’m sure you also know who tends to die first in those movies. Ian is always just out of reach or eyesight, which is devastating when you get pounced on by a hunter and it takes him so long to get back to you that you’ve been incapacitated. The opposite situation is also often true, with Ian so far ahead that the team gets there just in time to see him shuffle off of this mortal coil. Like Nolan, if you’re surrounded by zombies near a safe room, he will run inside and bolt the door shut. Expect the only help you might get from him to be a molotov cocktail…thrown at your still upright body, killing all the zombies and incapacitating you before you can escape the flames. Sometimes it’s better not to help…
A player who I feel has developed along the Dan Mesa path of Left 4 Dead playing, I can count on Min to risk life and limb to save me in any situation, provided I don’t tell him to just continue on without me. Min likes to stick with the group and remains mostly aware of the status of the other three players. When the going gets tough, you can count on him to at least try to save the team (or blow them up by accident with a grenade launcher), but if you’ve been getting on his nerves, he may just leave you to die.
The funny thing is that these gameplay styles mostly translate to the personalities of the friends involved. I can’t tell you how many times we’d be walking home from dinner and Ian would suddenly be missing because he was playing with a giant snowball or rushing ahead to beat us somewhere. As to whether or not Nolan would truly let me die in a zombie apocalypse, I can’t really be sure about it without the zombpocalypse occurring, but I’m not that optimistic.
You may notice some games that are missing from this list and are on every other list. Well, I didn’t play everything because I didn’t have the time or the money, so that accounts for some of the big misses like Pyschonauts or Resident Evil 4. Other games are deliberately omitted :cough: HALO :cough:
This list is also way long, but I didn’t want to limit myself to an arbitrary number like 10 or 20, so here it is:
Half-Life 2 (2004, 2006 – Episode 1, 2007 – Episode 2)
There are two divergent paths for shooters in the aughts. Halo and Half-Life. In the first corner you’ve got everything on the consoles since then: Regenerating health, aim assist, silly physics, and general jackassery. In the better corner you’ve got everything that’s come out of Half-Life and the Source engine: more realistic weaponry, realistic physics, and a much better legacy. Say what you will about the future of shooters and the PC market being antiquated, but this is a damn good shooter. I’d call it the best I’ve ever played. Valve has completely mastered the art of environmental storytelling and player manipulation. They can make you look where they want you to look and feel what they want you to feel all without ever wresting control from the player or relying on cutscenes. This game has brilliant pacing and amazing characters that you actually care about. Who’s ever heard of an NPC sidekick that you don’t hate? H-L 2 and its episodes are among the greatest gaming experiences I’ve ever had.
Rock Band 2 (2008)
Ok, so rhythm games are kind of saturated now, but Rock Band 2 is the pinnacle (only because The Beatles: Rock Band doesn’t let players bring their dlc in) of music gaming. It hits at just the right sweet spot, four players, and its filled with music from all kinds of genres. Better yet, the interface and note tracking isn’t sloppy like that other franchise and it’s a fantastic way to get people together for a fun time and even grow as a person. It’s probably the game I’ve played the most since 2008 and a ridiculously fun time.
Left 4 Dead (2008) and Left 4 Dead 2 (2009)
There are a lot of Valve games on this list. The Left 4 Dead series is on it because it has done cooperative, first-person multiplayer right in a way I’ve yet to see done better elsewhere. Everything about these games is top notch, tons of fun, and worth returning to time and time again. Beyond the mechanics, the games also feature great environmental storytelling and fantastic voice acting putting it at the top of my list for the best games of the past two years. Zombies may be getting old, but this series will always feel fresh.
Jonathan Blow didn’t revolutionize video gaming when he released Braid last summer. What he did do was bring indie games (and XBL games, in general) firmly into the spotlight for consideration. A self-funded and self-made game, Braid proved that one man (and one hired artist) could still create a top-notch, professional caliber game. Braid is deep and complex and tons of fun to play, especially when you’ve figured out a tricky puzzle.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2005)
OBJECTION! This game should be higher on the list. Overruled, this list has no numerical ordering.
The Japanese sensation that brought visual novels and a resurgence in adventure games to America may have a niche audience and play real loose with the legal system of the real world, but it’s tons of fun. Just think quirky anime and you’ll get the idea of what playing this game is like. It just feels right to present a damning piece of evidence while Phoenix screams OBJECTION!
Shadow of the Colossus (2005)
I have yet to beat Shadow of the Colossus, but I absolutely love what I’ve played so far. Ueda is among the genius game designers in how well he understands presentation. The game world feels absolutely empty, as it should. All you come across, as the player, are the giant Colossi and man, they are wild. Each one is a dungeon/level to itself and the player is tasked with taking them down to save his love. But what have these giants done to you? Each one I take down makes me feel sad inside and a little empty. I usually find myself thinking What have I done? What did he ever do to me? The best art makes you think.
Final Fantasy XII (2006)
I had my choice of any Final Fantasy game between 9 and 12 for this spot, but I really couldn’t go with anything but the best. X was definitely a close second, but there are just so many things that XII did right in its evolution of the series that I couldn’t pick anything else. Maybe it’s because I’m in love with the world of Ivalice, but everything about this game just grabs me in a way I hadn’t been grabbed since VI. Maybe it was because I wasn’t being assaulted by too many belt buckles and leather by Nomura. It was probably because the story was mature, the characters way less annoying than before, and the battle system was finally revamped and moved into the 21st century. In any case, the best FF game of the decade.
Portal really does everything right. The game gets you acquainted with its mechanics quickly, gets you doing neat things with them right away, and then finishes up with a climactic and cool boss fight all comfortably within the span of 5-8 hours, if you’re slow. With mechanics and dialogue that are beyond brilliant, the only thing that could make this great game better would be to give it a hilarious end credit song penned by Jonathan Coulton. Oh wait, you’ve gone and done that already, haven’t you Valve? Bravo.
Burnout Paradise (2008)
Realistic racing games are kind of boring to me. Until Burnout Paradise, I would have said that I only enjoyed Mario Kart games, and those were starting to wear on me too. Then Criterion put out the first open-world racing game (that I can think of). Burnout Paradise would be tons of fun if all we had to do was run into walls and other cars. The fact that the game is so easy to get online and play (and purchasable as a digital download on the PSN) is brilliant and makes for tons of fun.
Mass Effect (2007)
Shepard. Wrex. It’s brilliant. It really is. Hard science fiction is always tons of fun to me, but when you go and flesh out this world to the nth degree, you’ve got me drooling already. Add in characters I genuinely cared about and enjoyed having in my party and a morality system that was finally free of cheap moral choices and I’d say that Bioware had a genuine hit on their hands. I anxiously await the sequel in January.
Eternal Darkness (2002)
I’m really not a big scary games guy. It’s simple: I’m too jumpy and I’ve got an overactive imagination. Those things don’t combine to make a pleasant gaming experience. Now you want me to play a game that’s actively trying to mess with my head to freak me the hell out? I’d normally say “No thanks,” but I was eventually convinced to try this Lovecraftian horror game and I found myself loving it. The plot is interesting and the characters are neat, but the insanity effects are what stick with me to this day. I can still see that image of Alex lying dead in a bathtub filled with her own blood when I think about it and it still gives me the chills.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009)
You know what? I really loved the old-school Mario games. Those 3D ones are way too easy. This game does it right. What makes it even more awesome is that you can play it with four dudes, making it both infinitely harder and easier while also making it more fun and frustrating. Use the multiplayer mode at your own risk, it may start fights.
Rhythm Heaven (2009)
Scratch-O, HA! The Rhythm Heaven (Paradise in Europe) series is loosely based on the bizarre Wario world, which is totally obvious after three minutes of play, which is great, because that series is brilliant (if stale by now) too. This game features simple rhythm mini-games, but man are they fun AND catchy. As I write this I’ve got the Moai statue song stuck in my head. Go play this.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004, Subsistence – 2006)
I love this game. MGS 2 may be the biggest practical joke (and most significant of the four), but this is undoubtedly the best. The epic cycle of the Metal Gear universe is made clear in this game that does its best to subvert war in every way possible. I do truly find it significant that in a Cold War game focused on stealth action, you can make it through from start to finish without killing one person. Well, almost. Metal Gear Solid 3 is almost heartbreaking when you play it non-violently and the ending still has a strong effect on me to this day. Definitely Kojima’s finest work.
World of Warcraft (2004)
I would give anything to get the time I spent playing this game back, but I definitely can’t deny how truly great it is. We’re talking about a bona fide phenomenon here. The absolute refinement of social engineering to such a degree that escape is nearly futile. Blizzard has truly outdone itself with this one.
Team Fortress 2 (2007)
What a surprise, more Valve. The Orange Box was a groundbreaking offering in value and Team Fortress 2 continues to be a huge part of that. I bought this game at launch back in 2007. Since then they have added achievements for nearly every class, new weapons for nearly every class, new game types and maps, hats, and an item crafting system. I’ve never seen so much free support for a game in my life. It’s no reason that Valve is my favorite developer of all time. They really know how to treat their customers and put out a great game.
The Sims 2 (2004)
Yes, I did create Sims of my friends and family. You’d better believe I killed some of them, turned one into a vampire, another into a werewolf, one into a zombie, and bargained with death to revive another. The Sims certainly don’t feel as relevant as they did at the start of this decade, but man were they a success and tons of fun. Sure, I should feel a little guilty that I spent so much time in what amounts to a digital dollhouse, but I really don’t. It was fun.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008)
If you don’t think that this is the best in the series, you’re wrong and you’re clinging to the past. Tons of characters, great level design, fantastic music, and all the right refinements to the battle system are what makes this great. The fact that I can listen to Snake Eater or the Love Theme from Mother 3 is just icing on the cake.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2003)
This is it, every movie that came out in 2009 (sometimes repeated more than once) to make a pretty sweet seven minute montage. Lord knows I’m a sucker for montages. Enjoy
Neat video concept. I’m a fan.
I’ll be gone from KORB on Vimeo.
In no particular order…
Guess what readers, this post is more or less one giant love letter to Christopher Nolan. With the exception of Insomnia, this list contains every movie the man’s directed since Memento (NOTE: Insomnia is not bad, it’s just not best of the decade caliber). Memento does what Christopher Nolan is known for doing very well. It shifts time and perspective (since each time episode is essentially a different Leonard with no memories of the previous events) just as well here as in future Nolan movies like Batman Begins and The Prestige. If you’ve never seen this crazy exercise in perception and memory, you’re doing yourself a major disservice. Go rent it.
Pixar really has a way of making you care about inanimate objects. Toys, cars, and now a robot. WALL-E has so much charm and character that it’s impossible not to love him (although I know people who do). In what is both a cautionary tale about waste and a love story between two robots, there are genuine characters who speak maybe three or four different lines of dialogue and get the audience to care about their plight like it was an Oscar-bait drama. Pixar’s best work to date.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
You probably didn’t see Robert Downey, Jr.’s best movie of the decade, but you can bet that this movie pushed him front and center for what you might think his best movie was (Iron Man). KKBB doesn’t seem like it should be so good. Its name is kind of generic and I don’t even remember hearing about it before it came out. In fact, I have no idea how it ended up on my movie queue, but it was an instant favorite that I had to share with my roommate. Bonus points to Val Kilmer for his brilliant acting as a sarcastic private detective.
Ghost Town (2008)
My favorite romantic comedy of the decade stars a pudgy British comedian and does not feature one kiss between the two leads. Ghost Town is different, but in all the best ways. Ricky Gervais’ character experiences the same clichéd character development that you’d expect in a role like this, but it still feels fresh thanks to his odd sense of humour. It also features a romantic rival who is not that bad a guy and is one of the few Gervais projects that doesn’t feature extended, super-awkward scenes. Definitely worth watching.
Mean Girls (2004)
I know, it seems really lame for a guy to love this movie, but Tina Fey’s writing is so sharp that this movie can’t help but be good. Sure, it meant that we had to deal with Lindsay Lohan for a long while after, but that’s mostly done with now and we can enjoy Tina and Rachel McAdams and everything else about this movie that’s so well put together. As an added bonus to me, the book the movie was based on was written based on the behavior of girls at the National Cathedral School, a rival all-girl private school to Holton-Arms, which some of my good friends attended, so I’m glad it gives them some bad press.
The Prestige (2006)
Oh? Is it time to praise Christopher Nolan again? How often do you see a movie based on a book that is far superior to its source material? This tale of dueling magicians in 19th century England is engaging and interesting to the bitter end. Most people’s only complaints with the movie have to do with its sci-fi plot twist, but I guess it’s probably because they don’t realize that this movie is not firmly based in reality until about 4/5 of the way in. Regardless, it’s a fantastic story and all of its roles are spectacularly acted. The narrative structure is also unique and interesting as the magicians invade the personal lives of their rivals through their diaries. A definite must see.
There’s one thing that Guy Ritchie does well and it’s gangster films, but, given the choice, I’d say Snatch takes the prize for his best work. It’s funny, has great plot twists, and great, quotable characters.
Should this even count? It may come from the ’90s and portray NYC in the ’80s, but this musical made the transition to film quite nicely, preserving most of its atmosphere and earning its place as one of three musicals on this list.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Who said that fairy tales were dead in modern society? Slumdog Millionaire is just a great movie. The narrative structure that revolves around the interrogation of Jamal Malik and his answers on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? works beautifully and the trials and tribulations of the characters make for great drama. Will you be surprised by the ending of the film? Of course not. Will you be able to resist tapping your toes to the music of the closing number? Only if you lack a soul.
Batman Begins (2005)
Talk about a challenge. Batman movies were absolutely dead before Christopher Nolan’s adaptation. In fact, I’d go so far as to blame Batman and Robin (1997) for killing superhero movies until Spider-Man came around in 2002. All it took was hiring a real director and a close look at the source material to come up with this fantastic adaptation of one of the oldest superheroes in the business. Nolan was right in getting rid of the cheese factor and trying to make the character seem more realistic than he’d been portrayed before. His choice of antagonists, Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul, were great choices in establishing a world based more in reality than the earlier movies created by using Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and Poison Ivy and paved the way for the amazing direction he took for The Joker. Batman Begins is proof that a superhero movie can be as great as other movies.
City of God (Portuguese: Cidade de Deus) (2002)
Powerful in the same ways that Slumdog Millionaire explored its slums, City of God is unapologetic in its portrayal of favela life in Brazil. Splitting up the story into arcs and showing how one man can seize power and create hell through the eyes of an outsider proved to be an effective narrative technique. This movie is heavy, but it’s also quite good.
21 Grams (2003)
Another hyper-depressing movie, this time centered around a car crash with three fatalities and the fates of the people involved: the man who killed the three people, the wife and mother of the two boys and man who died in the crash, and the man who received a heart in a transfusion. I haven’t seen it in years, but it’s quite good (far better than Babel).
Yeah, no high school kid talks like her. Sure, this movie made being a hipster seem cool and caused your friends to act like insufferable idiots. Yes, Michael Cera has gone on to be pretty annoying since this movie and Arrested Development. Beyond all that, it’s still a funny movie with witty, fun dialogue. Bonus points awarded for having Jason Bateman in it.
Garden State (2004)
While we’re on the subject of movies that spawned annoying indie-ness, Garden State did it first back during my freshman year of college. I admit, part of why I like this movie so much has to do with my trek down to Cinemopolis in downtown Ithaca, but I actually enjoyed this movie. I might have a different opinion if I watched it now, but it always seemed to me that Zach Braff didn’t overdo it here with the pretentiousness. It’s also worth stating that Peter Sarsgaard is a fantastic actor in almost everything he does and that this movie proves that Natalie Portman is not as bad an actor as the prequels might lead you to believe.
Casino Royale (2006)
I don’t care what you say, but old-school James Bond was stupid. More of a superhero than a spy, he had ridiculous gadgets and was just plain campy. I think it took Austin Powers for me to fully understand how dumb the whole thing really was. Funny thing about Casino Royale is that its reinvention of the wheel stems instead from a return to source material. The Bond of CR is a brutal killer closer to a sociopath than the suave secret agent that we grew up with. Unfortunately, the second in this new series went and screwed it all up with poor casting and poor cinematography, but I like the direction this new Bond is going and I have high hopes for the future of the series.
Pixar just keeps hitting them out of the park. WALL-E was fantastic and Up came along right after to prove that a movie for children can be just as mature as a movie for adults. I won’t spoil the plot too much, but let’s just say the opening 20 minutes or so will break your heart, if you’ve got one. A truly great cartoon about a man dealing with regret and clinging to his past, but eventually moving on.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The best way I’ve heard this movie described is “A love story that starts after the love is gone.” ESofSM does many things well as it examines the memories of this failed relationship as they are yanked away from Jim Carrey’s mind while he struggles against that very darkness he hired them to create. Another great movie that I haven’t seen in too long. I should pull this out sometime soon.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Since we’re talking about movies that deal with relationships ending, let’s push right on into a completely different type of movie. FSM is on my list because I think that, despite all the ridiculous exaggerations of the peripheral characters, the way that all of the actors interact with each other seems real. It’s a genuinely funny movie with good acting and hilarious situations.
Children of Men (2006)
With a plot remarkably similar to Y: The Last Man in many respects, this post-apocalyptic look at a world scarred by a lack of childbirth is just awesome to watch. Fresh off the success of Sin City, Clive Owen, this time with his natural accent, stars and kicks ass in all kinds of believable ways as he escorts the first pregnant woman in ages to a research vessel. This movie makes the list more for its look than anything else. That last scene in the refugee camp where Clive Owen is chased by the military and the terrorists is stunningly shot. The end scenes also remind me a lot of Half-Life 2. Great movie.
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008)
Strangely enough, I’d never seen anything by Joss Whedon until I saw DHSAB. I wouldn’t quite call myself a browncoat yet, but this movie inspired me to start checking out and loving his work. Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion really need to start alongside each other in more things, because they’re dynamite on screen. This is my favorite musical of the modern age and you should watch it if you haven’t seen it.
The Dark Knight (2008)
One man is responsible for making this film truly great: Heath Ledger. His portrayal of The Joker was beyond amazing. The interrogation scene (and the rescue that follows) still gives me chills every time I watch it. Like no other man in film or comics, Ledger really understood that The Joker is a force of chaos and entropy. It really is too bad that it will never happen again due to Heath Ledger’s sad death. The Dark Knight is the greatest superhero movie of all time.
You’ll notice that this list is weighted heavily toward the end of the decade rather than the early part and that’s all because I didn’t watch much tv in high school (2000-2004). The list is also pretty small because I didn’t have access to most tv shows during my years at the university unless I went and bought box sets (2004-2008).
It may have come out early in the decade, but I was way late to the party, since I first started watching Firefly during the summer of 2008. I’m not what you’d call a Whedonite. To this day I’ve never seen an episode of Buffy or Angel, but, between Firefly (and Serenity) and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, I’ve come to see that he’s a damn good writer capable of creating interesting worlds filled with great characters. Firefly is definitely not the first space opera to hit the airwaves, but it’s definitely one of the few I’ve ever seen to focus on fringe members of society like Captain Reynolds instead of prestigious members of an organized army. The world of Firefly is not that different from ours, save for space, and it feels like an accurate representation of what space would be like in its exploratory infancy. If the wild west was possible on Earth, it seems more than likely that the space frontier would develop similarly. Firefly makes me happy because the crew is amazing. Each character (…minus Simon) is interesting, well acted, and hilarious at any given time. FOX did the world wrong by canceling this show and bringing back Family Guy
Once in a while a great show comes along that revolutionizes the way you experience television for the rest of your life. Arrested Development is that show for me. I didn’t start watching until the third season (final) was set to start, but I fell in love with the show from the first zany episode. One of the leaders in the recent American movement to serialized television, Arrested Development is probably the first serialized comedy I’ve ever seen and that may have been its downfall. Rather than go with the typical American sitcom style of status quo ante episodes and unrelated plots, Arrested Development episodes depended and borrowed heavily from every episode that preceded it, a trait that blocked out potential future viewers who felt like they were continuously out of the loop with the jokes. Those of us who were in on the joke loved experiencing every minute of the Bluth Family’s fall from grace in this show that proves that smart comedy can be hilarious. Unfortunately, it also proved that smart comedy doesn’t sell. FOX canceled it during its third season, tragically ending the best show I’ve ever seen in my adult life.
4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42. Oceanic Flight 815. The DHARMA Initiative. The Others. Jacob. The Smoke Monster. If you know what any of these things are, you know something about the best drama of the decade. I initially avoided Lost because of all the hype. If that seems petty and stupid, that’s because it is. People hear a lot about the show and how it never seems to answer questions or come to any satisfying conclusion, but I think that’s the talk of people unused to these long, serial dramas and the pace at which they move. Of course, ABC wasn’t helping any with the pacing when they were refusing to give the creators a firm end date. Lucky for us, the staff held their ground and told ABC they wouldn’t continue the show without a firm end date. Since then, things have moved along briskly (if confusingly) as the cast tumbles toward the dramatic conclusion of the most puzzling show of the decade. Will we all be satisfied by the ending when it airs in 2010? Expectations are running high, but I’m trying to keep mine neutral to low so that I’m able to enjoy the ending they’ve got planned for us. So long as it doesn’t go out like The Sopranos, I’m game.
The Office (US)
Bringing hit shows to America from across the pond doesn’t guarantee success. The television environment in the UK is just too different for that. Many of the best shows are extremely limited in scope and know when they’ve run their course. The original run of The Office in England comprised 12 episodes over two seasons and one two-part Christmas special. Within two seasons The Office (US) surpassed the episode count of its parent and finally managed to come into its own identity. No longer borrowing from its roots, The Office has stumbled here or there and struggled with the Homer Simpson effect (as I like to call it), but overall blossomed into a fine show all its own with a much happier outlook that reflects American tastes more than anything. Beyond that, Steve Carell has emerged as one of the premier comedy actors in the business thanks to his ability to express very human pathos into his comedic roles. While I personally think that NBC shouldn’t push the show beyond next season, it’s certainly been a funny ride so far.
While we’re already talking about shows written/created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, we may as well progress to the fantastic look at the life of a television/movie extra as told by Ricky Gervais. It’s unclear to me how much of the story is auto-biographical, but one can’t help but get a peek into the difficulties that Gervais must have faced trying to earn notoriety and bring The Office to television while also getting a glimpse into how different The Office could have been if Gervais and Merchant didn’t keep their standards up while chasing fame. Spoiler alert, but the first season deals with Gervais’ character, Andy Millman, and his struggle to both sell his idea for a show (a blue-collar workplace comedy with an obnoxious boss (ring any bells?)) and gain notoriety. Each episode features a cameo by a known (usually) British star in film or television as an exaggerated version of themselves and Andy eventually gains enough attention from the BBC to produce his show. Unfortunately, they turn it into a laugh track, lowest common denominator comedy to attract the highest audience possible and Andy continues to compromise his vision just to hold onto the scraps of fame that he has gained. It’s a sad story with a slightly uplifting ending that’s absolutely worth watching for no reason other than to see Orlando Bloom act like a self-centered jerk who hates Jonny Depp.
This show has really gone and changed from year to year. What started as a satire on suburban misery has really ballooned into a far-reaching comedy tackling some seriously complex issues (maternity, masculinity vs. feminism, maturity, rape, murder, addiction, etc.) without ever getting too dark for too long. Just watching the opening shows how much the show has changed, since “Little Boxes” hasn’t played past season 3 when they, spoiler alert, burned down everything you knew and moved on. While some of the stereotyping jokes have gotten a little old (WE GET IT, SANJAY IS GAY! HAHAHA….MOVE ON), the show does still seem relevant and interesting in its fifth season and the most intriguing developments seem to come where you least expect it: from Nancy’s kids. Let’s hope that the show continues strong into 2010 with some fresh, interesting plotlines as Nancy delves deeper and deeper into a world she used to only scratch the surface of. It’d be nice to see Conrad again too…Extra bonus reason to watch: Mary-Louise Parker is seriously hot for an older lady.
I almost missed the boat on 30 Rock. iTunes gave me one free episode (the one where Jack things Liz is a lesbian) and I thought “Good, but not great” and didn’t watch through the rest of the first season. The critical buzz brought me back for season two and I fell in love with the show. Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin are comedic powerhouses in this, the second best comedy of the ’00s. In fact, 30 Rock and this most recent presidential election have both proved that Tina Fey was probably the only funny thing about SNL when she was still head writer while Mean Girls proved that she’s just plain good at writing. 30 Rock is brilliant in its subversive, but fair humor and takes the best parts of Tina Fey’s improv heritage and applies them to a sitcom that will have you guffawing every episode unless you lack a soul. It’s a must watch.
I love shows that take place in Miami. More than that, I love shows that are unique in premise. Cop shows are a dime a dozen. Shows where the main character is the real villain are harder to come by. If you’ve been living under a rock, you don’t know that Dexter is about a cop who is also a serial killer. It’s not a unique plot in movies/literature/comic books, but it’s one of the few times I’ve seen it on tv and I love it. Dexter Morgan is a sociopath struggling with living with the urges that drive him to kill and staying out of the electric chair. The first season was based heavily on the book Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, but subsequent seasons have had more creative freedom to mold Dexter beyond Lindsay’s strict characterization. I’m a little behind on seasons 3 and the current season, but I feel like the character is maturing rather nicely, if not a little unrealistically (he seems to exhibit more feeling than a sociopath should, but I’m no expert) and the show usually brings me back for more each season.
Bryan Fuller had a great premise on his hands. Ned, the piemaker, could touch dead things back to life, but the renewed life had two rules: If he touched them a second time, they were dead forever and if he let them live longer than a minute, another life would be taken in its place. Abandoned by his father and harboring a power he does not really appreciate, Ned grows up to be a rather distant man who doesn’t let anyone get too close to him. He also teams up with a private detective, Emerson Cod, to solve murders once Emerson spots him using his powers. The status quo he develops (baking pies using rotten fruit that he brings back to life and solving murders for the reward money) comes crashing down when he revives a childhood sweetheart that was his one true love. While the show is often too sweet for its own good, the development of its themes of affection and intimacy (without touching, of course) are both interesting and well done. The storylines were clever and the show was funny, but it was ultimately too expensive to produce for the limited ratings it received and the show died before giving the viewers true resolution with all of its dangling plot threads. Worth watching because it is the most unique show of the decade.
Honorable Mention: Battlestar Galactica
There was so much promise here. The first two seasons of BSG were the best sci-fi I’d seen on television. How can you screw up the paranoia of the Cylon threat and the powerful storylines about a race driven to the brink of extinction? I’ll tell you how: haphazard decisions and haughty religious overtones. The Final Five were not decided upon when the show began. As I heard it, they shoehorned cylon origins onto characters who they never intended to make cylons and the see-sawing quality of the final episodes make that very apparent. When you combine that with one of the stupidest finales in the history of television (let’s just say it goes something like “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”) you’ve gone and ruined what could have been the most significant show in recent science fiction history.
How did I forget The Wire?
The best police serial I have EVER seen. It deconstructs everything you know about television cop dramas by showing you both sides of the fence and the reality that good almost never triumphs over evil. David Simon must have really been affected by his days in Baltimore, because this love letter to the city tells the truth, giant warts and all, about how drugs have destroyed Baltimore and how the police are rendered powerless by bureaucracy to do much of anything about it. The show is a bit of a downer, but the acting is superb and the plotlines (save for one that I really hated in Season 5), will keep you interested through the five seasons. This show is a must watch.
The band never really saw much mainstream success. “Hey Driver” was their most popular song and actually made it into some video games, movies, and got some airtime, but they broke up only moderately more famous than they were when they were first signed.
Five Iron Frenzy
Notable Album: The End is Near/Here (2003)
As a primarily ’90s act, I was hesitant to include FIF in my list of my favorite music of the aughts, but their musical swan song had a major effect on my musical development, so I couldn’t rightly leave them out. Beyond just the CD, Five Iron Frenzy’s farewell tour, Winners Never Quit, was the first time I recognized that a live show was well worth attending. Before that I’d seen music live a few times and listened to a live CD here or there, but found them to be sub par. I was annoyed that the songs varied from the usual pace and intricacies of the album version and seemed to have lower quality. It all changed that night.
The small, intimate club atmosphere put me up close with fans for the first time (my previous concerts had been mega-stadium deals) with a band playing an emotional final tour. I also learned the best part about a live show: the new ways in which a band mixes up their music. I got to listen to the amazing FIF Medley (also on The End is Here), which, aside from it luckily being on a CD, I probably would never hear again. Ever since that night in Orlando, concerts became a part of my musical experience and the effect that FIF had on me is apparent when you realize how much of my music is upbeat, uptempo, and filled with brass sections. They may not be the best band on this list, but they’re one of the most important ones.
Notable Albums: The Resignation (2003), …And the Battle Begun (2006), Mandala (2009)
I didn’t realize what I got when my friend Daniela gave me a copy of The Resignation for Christmas back in 2004. We listened to it and she brilliantly pinpointed “Mastering the List” as my favorite track on the CD, but I didn’t get just how good the CD was for two years, a testament to how music tastes can drastically change over short periods of time. When I finally started listening in earnest in 2006, I think the best adjective to describe the experience was revelatory.
Of all the bands on this list, I think I’ve gone on and on about the Bandits the most on this blog and for good reason. They are talented, their music is rich and full, their lyrics are pretty solid, if not a little too hippie, and their dedication to an organic sound seems unparalleled in today’s overproduced soundscape. If there’s one album on this post that you choose to listen to, it should be …And the Battle Begun. It’s my favorite album of all time (as of 2009) and I don’t think there’s a single stinker on the whole disc.
Their best songs are “Mastering the List”, “Never Slept So Soundly”, “Decrescendo”, “In Her Drawer”, “Only for the Night” (my favorite on the list), “Tainted Wheat”, “White Lies”, and “Mientras la Veo Soñar.”
If there was one criticism I’d have for the band, it’s that they got rid of their horn section between …And the Battle Begun and Mandala. It doesn’t mean there’s no more brass in their newer work, it just means that it’s no longer a regular part of the band. Shame that they’re losing it, but they claim it has allowed them to open up and improve their song complexity.
Notable Album: Mmhmm (2004)
When I think of my freshman year at Cornell, American Idiot and Mmhmm are the soundtrack that plays in the background. I listened to both CDs many times on my way too and from the townhouses and the engineering quad, not to mention through my computer’s speakers. Mmhmm represents the transition from Relient K from a slightly niche, Christian music band to a more popular, mainstream act with its understated message (it seems that they returned to their more obvious Christian references with Five Score and Seven Years Ago) and their sound had matured to the best I’d heard since their debut album.
The album is full of some great songs, but my personal favorites are “High of 75″, because it cheered me up in the miserable Ithaca weather, “My Girl’s Ex-Boyfriend”, because I love sappy love songs, and “Which To Bury, Us or the Hatchet?”, because it resonated with my seriously rocky and messed up relationship at the time. Beyond that, the rest of the album is also great, but I can’t just list all the tracks now, can I?
Notable Albums: Who Killed…… The Zutons? (2004), You Can Do Anything (2008)
This one comes straight from my old high school friend Michelle. A fan of the quirky, indie scene, she recommended that I check out this band of Liverpudlians and I was not disappointed. You almost can’t go wrong with me if you’ve got brass or a saxophone in your band and The Zutons have one saxophonist adding her own distinct flavor to their already distinct rock grooves. Their music is unique and just great to listen to, especially when you get Abi Harding’s voice harmonizing with Dave McCabe’s on a lot of their numbers and the band’s sound has improved greatly from Who Killed on to You Can Do Anything. Their best songs, “Pressure Point”, “Havana Gang Brawl”, “Valerie”, “You Could Make The Four Walls Cry”, “Put A Little Aside”, and “Freak” are all so different, but all so much fun to listen to, even if they’ll probably never get any airtime stateside.
Notable Album: Oh No (2005)
There’s a reason the phrase “sophomore slump” is part of the vernacular and it’s not often that a band not only releases a far superior second album, but does so with a significant change in sound. At a live show I saw them play at Cornell, OK Go outright stated that they were going for a safe, pop sound on their first album to try and appeal to the masses. Listening to it yields some decent tracks, but otherwise, I’d be inclined to agree. It’s cautious and it probably got them a record deal, but it’s not great. In three years, they turned around, completely matured their sound, and launched one of my favorite albums of the decade, Oh No. Almost everyone has heard “Here It Goes Again” or seen the treadmill video and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a person who would rather listen to “Get Over It.” They got that much better.
While I’m mentioning the videos, it’s also worth mentioning that Oh No also represents a creative turn for the band with it’s quirky, interesting, low-budget, high awesomeness music videos. “Do What You Want” has a more typical look, but “Here It Goes Again” and “A Million Ways” have hilariously awesome and indie videos a tradition they’ve melded with budget to create their newest video for “WTF”, which you already know I love. I don’t think that the viral video approach to music videos will take over the industry, but I don’t think you can say that they didn’t start something big with their Youtube-released video.
The whole album is pretty solid, but I’d also like to point out “Oh Lately It’s So Quiet” and “Let It Rain” as great tracks (beyond the ones I’ve already mentioned). They’re two of the slower, more contemplative ones, but they just feel right to listen to.
Fall Out Boy
Notable Albums: From Under the Cork Tree (2005), Folie à Deux (2008)
Yeah, they’re not the greatest band in history, but they’ve got some seriously catchy songs that I can’t help but enjoy. If their songs don’t make your toes tap, I’d seriously question whether or not you have a soul. FOB finally managed to break mainstream with their sophomore album, a CD filled with a neat take on pop and rock that’s just complex and different enough to pique my interests and just safe enough to be ok with the average Joe. Since then FOB continues to push into strange boundaries with its music borrowing from tons of genres and recording some solid tracks. I may not agree with their single selection (:cough: “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” SUCKS :cough:), but I’d say that 80-90% of their albums are filled with great tracks.
My favorites: “The Take Over, the Breaks Over”, “Hum Hallelujah”, “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, a Little More “Touch Me”", “7 Minutes in Heaven (Atavan Halen)”, “She’s My Winona”, “Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet”, and “20 Dollar Nose Bleed”.
Notable Album: Live at Stubb’s (2005)
I had the chance to see Matisyahu my freshman year at Cornell, but I had no idea who he was. The posters were up one day advertising a Hasidic Jew singing reggae and so I chuckled and went on with my day. Little did I know that a year later I’d hear a track from his live album in my ex’s brother Bobby’s car and fall in love with his brand of religious reggae. That’s the catch, of course, if Jewish-themed music offends you, Matisyahu is not for you. Then again, aside from allusions to scripture, isn’t reggae really all about peace and love? Matisyahu’s music may be about the Old Testament God, but its a celebration of love, life, and peace that will undoubtedly make you smile. My favorite songs by Matisyahu are “King Without a Crown”, “Aish Tamid”, and “Chop ‘Em Down”
Notable Album: Wolfmother (2006)
Ever feel like the days of classic rock are gone? You must not be listening to Wolfmother. We’re talking straight up 1970s, Satan’s music here. From their ridiculous throwback album covers to the solid guitar solos, these guys clearly never gave up on the past and they want to bring it to the youth of today. They sound so classic that I didn’t notice for months after playing their songs in Guitar Hero II and Rock Band that the year was post 2000. If you’re ever craving a true hard rock sound, look these guys up. They’ll rock your socks off.
Best songs: “Woman”, “Joker & the Thief”
Notable Album: Light Grenades (2006)
I know what you’re thinking. Incubus, really? Yes, really. Light Grenades was a solid album. Their best work in the decade, really. I happen to really love “Dig”, “Light Grenades”, “Anna Molly”, and “Paper Shoes”. It’s my list, leave me alone.
Notable Albums: Keasbey Nights (2006), Somewhere in the Between (2007)
Probably my favorite ska act and one with kind of an ugly history. If you’ve ever heard of Catch-22, you’ve probably heard their most famous album, Keasbey Nights (1998) and the vocals of Tomas Kalnoky. At some point Kalnoky and the rest of the members had a major falling out and the band mostly split up. Kalnoky started up Streetlight Manifesto and the band gained notoriety quickly while Catch-22 morphed into a new band, but still played Kalnoky’s old songs from Keasbey Nights. Things were pretty dicey and ugly for a time too, because the bands traded lyrical jabs on their subsequent albums and, eventually, it seems that Kalnoky decided it was worth re-recording one of the seminal albums of third-wave ska, hence the Streetlight Manifesto edition of Keasbey Nights. As the owner of both editions of the album, let’s just say that the extra time and money made an already good album great. Kalnoky’s music work in Streetlight is sharp, the horns are solid and the guitars are great, creating a sound that you can’t help jamming to. Their best work comes out in “Riding the Fourth Wave”, “Keasbey Nights”, “Would You Be Impressed”, and “Somewhere in the Between”. Ska can be hit and miss, I know that most people don’t like it, but you’ve gotta check these guys out, they’ve refined the genre to its best.
Notable Album: Costello Music (2006)
The UK makes the list again with Scottish rock band The Fratellis. Their music is so full of energy and that unique, intangible British music quality that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the band after playing their songs in Rock Band for the first time. “Henrietta”, “Chelsea Dagger”, and “Ole Black ‘n’ Blue Eyes” are my favorites from the disc, but there are plenty more where that came from with a mix of wild rock and slower, British-sounding songs to break up the beat and calm the heartbeat. A band definitely worth checking out.
Jarabe de Palo
Notable Album: Adelantando (2007)
I’ve listened to a lot of Spanish music in my lifetime. It’s a byproduct of my heritage, but most of what got airtime when I was a kid was salsa, merengue, the occasional bachata, and (nowadays) reggaeton. While they’re all plenty fun genres to listen to, there’s not a whole lot of innovation to be found in the strict confines of their musical definitions. Then Daniela went and introduced me to yet another great band, Jarabe de Palo. They’re not what you’d call typical Latin music, in fact because they’ve gone and formed a rock band and it’s actually not half bad. It’s actually pretty common to see other countries try and adopt American musical styles, but the results are usually pretty ghastly. Thankfully, Jarabe de Palo avoids this common shortcoming of foreign rock and is actually some pretty great music. His best tracks (that I know) are “Me gusta como eres”, “Dejame vivir”, and “Estamos prohibidos”.
Notable Albums: Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow (2004), Thing-a-Week 1-4 (2006)
In 2007 I played a game by Valve called Portal. Aside from being one of the best games in the history of gaming, it also featured one of the greatest songs in gaming at the end, “Still Alive”. That same Christmas, my ex-girlfriend’s brother (he makes a reappearance) showed me a youtube video of Coulton playing “RE: Your Brains”. Both were great, but in the hustle of the season, I failed to take notice of Coulton until about April or May of 2008. On a whim, I decided to check out Coulton’s work and bought his entire collection off of his website without listening to most of it. That day I took notice of the greatest Internet folk sensation to ever grace the web. Coulton’s music is mostly nerdy love songs and he himself has claimed that he needs to make an effort to write fewer melancholic love songs, but he’s also got songs about completely random things, like a tall tale about baseball’s first commissioner and how he dealt with the Black Sox Scandal, Kenesaw Mountain Landis (in a song appropriately titled “Kenesaw Mountain Landis”) or one about the trials and tribulations of being a clown (“Bozo’s Lament”). Perhaps his greatest undertaking was his Thing-a-Week challenge, where he took it upon himself to write and produce one song every week, which actually produced some of his most famous songs like “RE: Your Brains” and “Code Monkey”.
Other than the songs I’ve already mentioned, my favorites include “Screwed”, “Skullcrusher Mountain”, “Madelaine”, “Mandelbrot Set”, and “When You Go”, but I could list 10 or 20 more songs that are just as fantastic. Even better is that Coulton is all about Creative Commons and he understands the internet. He’s got an option to pay him some cash if you’ve already stolen his music and he’s more than happy to let you remix it or use it however you want, so long as you credit him. He’s truly a product of the Internet and a great musician to boot.
2007/2008 also brought two big concepts that changed the way I dealt with music and time. One thing, podcasting, is arguably not music, but it’s audio-related, so it’s worth mentioning. Before I had an iPod, I occasionally walked around campus with a CD player, but I mostly didn’t listen to much at all. After I got one and started getting podcasts, the way that information was relayed to me made a fundamental change and now I was learning about all of my hobbies and passions during my dead time walking around campus (and driving to work once I graduated). It’s pretty amazing to see that in a few short years which podcasts I’ve settled on and which ones I’ve moved on from as I struck a balance between too much (and a diminished ability to listen to anything but podcasts) and too little.
The other major musical revolution of the decade was the rise of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I first played Guitar Hero back in the summer of 2007 and I immediately fell in love. When word started to trickle in about Rock Band, I was initially skeptical, since I believed it to be a knockoff (I later learned that it was the true evolution of the series put forward by the true innovators behind the magic, Harmonix), but I eventually came around and pre-ordered the special edition for my xbox. That game meant a lot to me and it even changed some fundamental things about me. It’s also been one of the best ways for me to gain access to new music and has widened my musical tastes considerably.
Back to bands!
Notable Album: Dawn Metropolis (2009)
I get why people might be skeptical about chiptunes. It’s 8-bit music coming out of retro sound chips and nine times out of ten, people use it to just remix video game music. Imagine my surprise when I read an article about Anamanaguchi on Kotaku by Leigh Alexander detailing how this Brooklyn band was making great strides. Their music is top notch and stands out from the crowd because they don’t just play a 1985 NES, they’ve also got a drummer, guitarist, and bassist thrown in there. The music may take its cues from some of the conventions set forth by the game composers of the 1980s, but their music is completely original and super catchy.
My favorites: “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues”, “Tempest, Teamwork, Triumph (at Sea)”
Notable Albums: サンボマスターは君に語りかける (Sambomaster is Talking to You) (2005), 僕と君の全てをロックンロールと呼べ (Call everything that we (you and I) are ‘Rock n’ Roll’) (2006)
What’s an article on this blog without some sort of tim rogers mention? It was this year that I read “changing the world in japanese” on his blog LargePrimeNumbers, a treatise on rock music, Japan, and, most importantly, how Sambomaster was one of the most important bands playing in Japan. Listening to the track he had posted on that article, Romanized as “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru”, I saw precisely what he was saying and became an instant Sambomaster fan. From that sandpaper, gravely voice to the emotion that is so obviously apparent through the language barrier, Sambomaster’s music speaks to a deep part of me. The guitars are stellar and interesting, the drumlines are solid, and Takashi Yamaguchi’s vocals just resonate and feel so right.
My favorite story about the band is that I’d actually heard their music back in 2005 as the fifth opening to the Naruto anime. I had no idea what the band was called or what the song was, but when I heard it, I immediately called it my favorite opening of the series and filed it in the back of my mind. Imagine the joy that returned to me when I was reading about Sambomaster on tim’s site and I downloaded and listened to “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru”. As I recognized Yamaguchi’s distinct vocals and guitar style, I immediately began researching whether or not the same group was responsible. I was right and I’ve been smiling about the band ever since.
Ok, I know I’m way behind on this “of the Decade” project, but bear with me, the winter is the hardest time for me to keep on top of things and I’ve been dead tired all week long.
OK Go may or may not actually appear on my Best Music list, but I can guarantee you that their music videos more than deserve to be on the list. This latest one is pretty catchy and a great concept. Enjoy!
OK Go – WTF? from OK Go on Vimeo.
You guys like Best of the decade lists? I know I do, but I also don’t have the depth of knowledge to really examine what the true bests were nor do I have the desire to rank them. Instead, I’ll probably write about the things that made the most impact on me over this past ten years (a wildly long span of time in which my tastes have all shifted, changed, or matured).
Expect me to look at the books, music, games, movies, and maybe tech/tech trends/websites over these past years that have had a major impact on me, possibly starting tomorrow, but maybe Thursday instead.