Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Time for a mini-rant. I didn't really like the first Mission Impossible movie that much. A lot of people really loved it, but I just didn't see that much more in it than Tom Cruise shooting things and running. It wasn't that exciting, but logic tells me that shooting things and running should normally be very very very exciting. I also had outrageously high expectations because of Brian De Palma and a screenwriting trinity of Robert Towne, David Koepp, and Steve Zaillian. I can see that I was clearly in the minority when it came to not enjoying that film. Mission Impossible II from John Woo was like the first film for me only with a lot more slow motion. The thrilling plots that made up Woo's films like The Killer and Hard Boiled had been replaced with with a very minimal effort to even have convincing dialogue.

Then came Mission Impossible III and I was blown away. J.J. Abrams just managed to deliever an outrageous action picture that had all the components that clicked with my sensibilities. Since I haven't normally enjoyed that many big-budget blockbusters or action movies, perhaps I have a very narrow mind as to what constitutes a good or bad film for that genre (or as some might say, in general). The Bourne films by Liman and Greengrass are a good example. I liked those a lot for the same reasons I like (and hopefully a lot of people people like) most movies- story and character. Just this past year I hated The Green Hornet, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Green Lantern, Transformers 3, Cowboys and Aliens, Conan the Barbarian, and Killer Elite just to name a few. A majority of critics, and whoever goes on IMDB to rate what they had just seen, also hated them. I just feel compelled to remind myself that I'm in a bubble because when I'm not talking to cinephiles on the Internet, I'm taking filmmaking classes with people who obviously have an appreciation for film.

Anyways, this is a long way of me saying that when action-adventure films seem to be the most popular genre umbrella around, it is refreshing when I find a blockbuster-esque movie that I thoroughly enjoy without a shadow of a doubt. It happened with MI IIII and director Brad Bird has also delivered a solid movie with the fourth film in the MI series, sub-titled Ghost Protocol.

Bird literally understands how to make something out of nothing. His first three films were animated and having worked in that field for a long time, he is used to having to create a world from scratch. That helps with jumping into this live-action debut as he has such an understanding for all the aspects of filmmaking and doing his job to be sure that they all flow together as one. For example, the skyscraper climbing scene is so well shot, edited, and directed that I feel Bird's passion for delivering an exciting final product that leads to a flawlessness I don't often think of in this easy-to-detect-CGI age of action blockbusters.

It also helps that the film has a top-notch cast. Simon Pegg demonstrates his great nack for timing as Benji, Paula Patton is beautiful and aggressive as Jane, and Jeremy Renner plays a seemingly moody individual who has a lot more to him. Even the villain played by Michael Nyqvist (and it is great to see him in some American films after wowing audiences in Niels Arden Oplev's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) might sound on paper like he would be one-dimensional, actually seems believable. Yes, he doesn't say or do much in the movie, but I'll be damned if I don't actually take the whole "I'm just a nihlist" reasoning for his actions and actually buy into them. That is because of the whole outrageous tone and mood for this film. It's as clever as it is fun.

However, the man who seems to hold everything together would be Tom Cruise. He is also the main producer alongside J.J. Abrams and with the MI films he has been very active and involved in their stories and style. It was his idea to have a different director for each film and for each to stand on their own. He is one of those actor/producers who just has a clear idea of what he wants to present to audiences, but he never stands in the way of a director having their own vision. It does also help that he is a fantastic actor. As Ethan Hunt, he demonstrates this energy, bravado, and courage to seem believable in circumstances that definitely aren't. He doesn't always give as good of a performance as his efforts in say Born on the Fourth of July or Magnolia, but even in the most seemingly mundane roles does he still inspire a level of confidence in his character.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Final Oscar Predictions for Picture/Director/Screenplay/Acting

Just so I can brag to absolutely no one that I got these correct.

-The Artist
-The Descendants
-The Help
-Midnight in Paris
-War Horse

-Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
-Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
-Alexander Payne (The Descendants)
-Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
-Steven Spielberg (War Horse)

-George Clooney (The Descendants)
-Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar)
-Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
-Michael Fassbender (Shame)
-Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

-Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)
-Viola Davis (The Help)
-Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady
-Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin)
-Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)

-Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
-Albert Brooks (Drive)
-Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
-Nick Nolte (Warrior)
-Christopher Plummer (Beginners)

-Berenice Bejo (The Artist)
-Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
-Carey Mulligan (Shame)
-Octavia Spencer (The Help)
-Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)

-Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
-Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
-Thomas McCarthy and Joe Tiboni (Win Win)
-Annie Mumulo and Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids)
-Will Reiser (50/50)

-Richard Curtis and Lee Hall (War Horse)
-Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, and Jim Rash (The Descendants)
-John Logan (Hugo)
-Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian (Moneyball)
-Tate Taylor (The Help)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

2011 Filmspots Ballot

This is my ballot for the 2011 Filmspots for Over the course of the past year and especially the last month I've put a lot of time, thought, and honesty into my picks and rankings and this is what I ended up with.

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
2. Shame
3. Drive
4. The Descendants
5. The Tree of Life

1. Margin Call
2. The Ides of March
3. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
4. Contagion
5. Drive

1. David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
2. Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
3. Alexander Payne (The Descendants)
4. Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive)
5. Steve McQueen (Shame)

1. Michael Fassbender (Shame)
2. Demian Bichir (A Better Life)
3. George Clooney (The Descendants)
4. Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
5. Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar)

1. Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia)
2. Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)
3. Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
4. Saoirse Ronan (Hanna)
5. Felicity Jones (Like Crazy)

1. Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
2. Albert Brooks (Drive)
3. Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life)
4. Nick Nolte (Warrior)
5. Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)

1. Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life)
2. Carey Mulligan (Shame)
3. Charlotte Gainsbourg (Melancholia)
4. Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)
5. Elle Fanning (Super 8)

1. Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
2. Steve McQueen and Abi Morgan (Shame)
3. Lars Von Trier (Melancholia)
4. Mike Mills (Beginners)
5. J.J. Abrams (Super 8)

1. Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, and Jim Rash (The Descendants)
2. George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon (The Ides of March)
3. Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
4. Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian (Moneyball)
5. Steve Zaillian (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

1. J.C. Chandor (Margin Call)
2. John Michael McDonaugh (The Guard)
3. Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn)
4. Dan Rush (Everything Must Go)
5. John Wells (The Company Men)

1. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
2. John Williams (War Horse)
3. Harry Escott (Shame)
4. Michael Giacchino (Super 8)
5. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons (Hanna)

1. Drive
2. The Tree of Life
3. The Descendants
4. Shame
5. 50/50

1. Hugo
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
3. J. Edgar
4. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
5. My Week with Marilyn

1. The Tree of Life
2. War Horse
3. Drive
4. Shame
5. Meek's Cutoff

1. Drive
2. The Tree of Life
3. Shame
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
5. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

1. Super 8
2. War Horse
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
4. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
5. Drive

1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
2. The Tree of Life
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
4. Super 8
5. Melancholia

1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
2. X-Men: First Class
3. 30 Minutes or Less
4. Our Idiot Brother
5. Like Crazy

Top 10 of 2011

Below are my Top 10 films that I've seen in 2011. I did slightly edit my original reviews to make them appear more concise since you don't have the context of everything I wrote on that particular film in this post (and even then it doesn't edit together as nicely as I'd like).

10. Moneyball
Director- Bennett Miller
Writer- Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian (based on the book by Michael Lewis)
Starring- Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Philip Seymour Hoffman
"The film walks a fine line between being over-inspirational and being inspirational if at all. There are various scenes toward the end that place everything into perspective; there was one moment that I thought brought a great level of depth if you can really get into the movie. Beane is also balancing his life as a father to a young girl and she records him a track that Beane listens to in his car as he drives away. The moment is up to much interpretation, but I found it to be very moving and indicitative of the depth that Moneyball ends up reaching. This movie isn't about baseball. This movie isn't about math. It's really about as human of a movie I've seen in a while."- Taken from my review on 9/28/11.

9. The Ides of March
Director- George Clooney
Writer- George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon (based on the play by Beau Willimon)
Starring- Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, and Jeffrey Wright
"This film features the best cast I've seen so far this year. Gosling continues to amaze and Clooney demonstrates the two traits I've always admired in his most memorable characters- his charm and his cutthroat demeanor. With the caliber of acting giving the materal such strength, I'm still pleased with how Clooney, Heslov, and Willimon have still chosen a great moment to have the story end. It's right when you feel so damn depressed, not out of sadness, but of pity. You see some "tough-shit" cynicism that destroys Stephen's own idealism. Facing reality as Myers does only leaves him where the script leaves its audience, in the realm of ambiguity fueled by many conflicting emotions."- Taken from my review on 10/9/11.

8. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Director- Tomas Alfredson
Writer- Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan (based on the novel by John Le Carre)
Starring- Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Dencik, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Ciaran Hinds, John Hurt, Toby Jones, and Mark Strong
"That is perhaps the great irony of this film. As the story enters its final masterful montage set to a French version of Beyond the Sea, we start to realize that for all of the manipulation and loyalty that these men and women have brought upon each other, what does it ammount to? I think the final moments of the film answers that pretty well by leaving it up to the viewer to decide. This movie could only be described as immersive. You begin to feel like you are a part of this warped world where no one, not even yourself, can be trusted to do what is right."- Taken from my review on 12

7. War Horse
Director- Steven Spielberg
Writer- Richard Curtis and Lee Hall (based on the novel by Michael Morpugo)
Starring- Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, Niels Arestrup, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Kebbell, and David Kross.
"It manages to be an uplifting crowd pleaser in the best kind of way as it never talks down to its audience while still not being afriad to make its points and themes readily apparent. Everything in the movie is clearly defined and the screenplay by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall serves to set up that narrative canvas that Spielberg can operate with. This really is a perfect film for Spielberg to direct. It combines the senses of wonder found his "lighter" work (Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) with the harsh realities of his "darker" work (Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan). Even though the 2010s have only just started, Spielberg has managed to be sure to deliver at least one masterpiece in each decade. Hopefully he has many more left in him."- Taken from my review on 1/15/12.

6. Melancholia
Director- Lars Von Trier
Writer- Lars Von Trier
Starring- Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Kiefer Sutherland
"Aside from the impressive cast (with particular notice to the intense performances of Dunst, Gainsbourg, and Sutherland) Von Trier's grasp on creating intrigue out of the most unique situations cements him as one of the great living cinematics minds that is active in the industry today. From dinner toasts to advertising taglines to the end of the world, Von Trier delivers one of his most impressive narratives to be a part of his devastating and inquisitive filmography. Everything about the film feels like it comes from a purely energetic and creative standpoint of trying to come up with the essential answer to the essential question of "why we are here?"- Taken from my review on 11/18/11.

5. The Tree of Life
Director- Terrence Malick
Writer- Terrence Malick
Starring- Hunter McCracken, Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and Sean Penn.
"The Tree of Life is poetic. It takes the story of a family in a small Texas town in the 1950s and sets that against the creation of the universe. This might be Malick's most ambitious film to date because of how the movie manages to tackle the existence of us all in the lives of a few. Malick, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, composer Alexandre Desplat, special effects supervisor Jack Fisk, and an army of editors have created what is probably the most meditative and spiritual film I've ever seen. I walk away from this film feeling like my life is a small blip on the map of grand schemes, but that one's thoughts and feelings are no less important than someone else."- Taken from my review on 11/20/11.

4. The Descendants
Director- Alexander Payne
Writer- Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, and Jim Rash (based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings)
Starring- George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, and Amara Miller
"All of Payne's films have examined people dealing with the acceptance of their true feelings and even then the movie never manages to villify any of these characters because they are all as flawed as anyone else would be in these given circumstances. In another great performance, Clooney is able to show us a fearful and weary man who is trying to rediscover what his family means to him. He keeps his business and emotions separate, but the two then begin to enter each other's circles. Woodley is fantastic in how sharp of a daughter she can play, which is a rarity for teeenage characters in films. There are moments in the story that will place you on the edge of tears while others that will have you smirk in appreciation of the humor and snarkiness."- Taken from my review on 12/2/11.

3. Drive
Director- Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer- Houssein Amini (based on the novel by James Sallis)
Starring- Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, and Albert Brooks
"Look at the themes and messages, all of which are up to interpretation. I took the movie to be about loneliness and love. There are moments that are so outrageous that you have to step back and try to find some artistry. Either way, Refn and Amini manage to make us really care about these characters before the shooting and car chases start. Drive is full of hidden emotions. When the moments come where those feeligns are laid bare, have fun trying to apply it to yourself and the world around you. Human emotions can be tricky to get a handle on in a story. As an actor, Gosling seems to understand that. He has helped to create a world that is inhabited so richly."- Taken from my review on 9/16/11.

2. Shame
Director- Steve McQueen
Writer- Steve McQueen and Abi Morgan
Starring- Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan
"The visuals, the pace, the script, and the portrayals all come together to reach an emotional depth that mixes the graphic and passionate nature of not only the sex scenes, but of the story that McQueen has chosen for us to inhabit for two hours. On the topic of sex, it was assuring to see this movie treat intercourse as most movies should. Sex is a normal part of our lives. Why shy away from something that most of society partakes in even if it's in private? There is also a courageous (both in execution and content) montage depicted at the end of the film. A descent into madness. The last fifteen to twenty minutes of this movie are some of the most painful that I've seen in a long time. It will probably prevent me from ever sitting through this movie again, but that is a good thing in this case. It means that the intensity of my first experience will just sit with me. In short, I found this to be the most breattaking film of the year, both in a good and bad sense."- Taken from my review on 12/18/11.

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Director- David Fincher
Writer- Steve Zaillian (based on the novel by Stieg Larsson)
Starring- Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara
"This is the sort of story that really benefits Fincher's style. If other directors had worked on the films he made, they would not have the same intensely dark auroas of despair, decay, and cynicism or that stylized aesthetic that unmistakingly belongs to him. Fincher has delivered another film with a story you might not want to enjoy, but is sure to leave an impression with you. I still can't shake off the feeling that certain scenes gave me."- Taken from my review on 12/27/11.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


It is a shame Luc Besson doesn't make movies anymore. He started out strong with Nikita and Leon and then I start to lose interest in his work as I look at his filmography. He has proven to be very successful as a writer and producer, but now it seems he is known more for the directors that work for his company and from his scripts. You have Louis Letterier (The Transporter, Transporter 2, Unleashed, The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans, and the upcoming Now You See Me), Pierre Morel (District 13, Taken, From Paris with Love), and now with Colombiana it would be safe to include Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3, the upcoming Taken 2).

Besson was part of the Cinema du Look movement that clearly, as Wikipedia, puts it better than I could, favored "style over substance and spectacle over narrative." That being said, with films like Leon and I personally think with Unleashed and to an extent Taken, he would sometimes gather a good enough script and some great actors to help elevate what might just be some of the slickest cinematography by itself. Colombiana unfortunately falls on the "just-looks-good" side.

In fact, that is why I'm avoiding discussing the film and just talking about how much I can sometimes dig Besson and his protoges. So basically, Zoe Saldana plays a woman whose family is killed by a crime syndicate in Colombia (hey, that explains the title) so she goes and gets revenge. The first couple of action sequences are fun, but then it gets very repetitive. Thats pretty much it. Nothing to the movie, but that and some forced moments of what I guess was "emotion." I keep looking for something to say and I really don't have much else except "a hot girl fired some cool guns." Not a bad thing, but also not much of a good thing.

I feel like I should go watch Leon, The Killer, Ghost Dog, or the films of Melville or Kitano to really get something out of bullets and blood splatter.

One Day

The classical love story- guy and girl must overcome all of these obstacles, including themselves, that are preventing them from being together, but no matter what they somehow fall in love and live happily ever after until death or at least the end of the movie. With One Day, Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) first meet in July of 1988. We check in on them every year for the next twenty or so years to see how they are doing. What started out as a flirtation leads to friction which leads to love and going back-and-forth and so on and so on...

This is the kind of story that I can see working better in a novel (and it is based on one by the film's screenwriter, David Nicholls, who also wrote the novel and screenplay for Starter for 10). I'm not familiar with the source material, but in a novel there is a lot of space for instrospection where we can better understand characters and their motivations. Here, the explanations for why Dex and Emma act the way they do are weak. They were pretty much born with their flaws and somehow they overcome them as time passes, but we don't really see that. That is the pro and con of the plot device of witnessing a day once every year, we miss out on unnecessary moments, but I wonder if seeing the characters undergo what happens off-screen would be helpful in understanding some of what I can't seem to grasp.

Either way, I end up taking a lot of the movie as arbitrary. Emma is scholarly while Dex is a rich playboy. Emma rises in her career as a writer while Dex falls in his career as a talk show host. Their lives mirror each other for the sake of mirroring each other. Dex acts like Dex because he is Dex and Emma acts like Emma because she is Emma. They undergo some change, but it is all inevitable and predictable when it shouldn't be. In fact, I take more issue with the story than other viewers did with Hathaway's accent. It isn't the best, but eventually I start to ignore that (I'm more impressed at American actress Patricia Clarkson's spot-on "British-isms"). The chemistry between Hathaway and Sturgess isn't half-bad as they are both talented performers, but the characters they are playing only share some quips every now and then and I'm supposed to somehow believe that through their moaning that they will one day be the perfect couple?

Director Lone Scherfig mastered taking a dialogue-heavy script and providing it with the right tone in her previous romance-drama, An Education. As a follow-up to that, this was quite a let-down. Sure, it looked nice at points, but the characters are too one-dimensional and typical for anything to really latch on to. My issue is not sympathizing or relating to them, but feeling anything for them at all.

War Horse

Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, which in turn became a Tony award winning play, Steven Spielberg's War Horse is just as suited for the screen as it was for those other mediums. Where Morpurgo relied on his skilled words and the play relied on talented puppeteers, the movie brings us an actual horse. I noticed this when I was watching the pilot for David Milch and Michael Mann's horse-track show on HBO called Luck that I felt the same way here- horses are such beautiful animals. They were practically designed to be photographed, the way they can look at peace one moment and then be running with such powerful force.

The name of this horse is Joey. Set in the English countryside shortly before World War I, Joey is sold to the Narracott family. Rose and Ted (Emily Watson and Peter Mullan) have to be sure they are ready for the harvest so they don't lose their farm therefore leaving their son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine), to train Joey to be a plough horse. Albert and Joey soon form a bond almost similar to how some might treat a domesticated animal like a dog. Come wartime, Ted still needs money so he sells Joey to the English army much to Albert's dismay. What follows are a series of vignettes.

We see Joey move from a British captain (Tom Hiddleston) who is readying his troops for the war ahead, to a German private (David Kross) who plans to run away from the army with his brother, and to an elderly French man (Niels Arestrup) who is living with his sick granddaughter on a farm of his own. Through all of this, Joey still remains the spine of this story while still having an arc of his own. We see the lives that Joey is affecting and yet we also wish to continue to follow Joey's own story across Europe. As you can see, an amazing ensemble has been prepared that also includes David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Kebbell, Eddie Marsan, Liam Cunningham, and David Dencik just to name a notable few.

The two performances that I found the most involving were those of Irvine and Arestrup. Irvine is a revelation in his film debut. He has such an innocence to him that is especially apparent when Albert signs up for the war effort with the dim hope that he might one day encounter Joey again. As for Arestrup, I've been a huge fan of his work with Jacques Audiard in The Beat That My Heart Skipped and A Prophet. There is a scene where he delivers a monologue while talking to his granddaughter about what happened to her parents and he talks about the war from the perspective of a bird. Arestrup delivers it with such grace and understanding that it brings his granddaughter (and several people that were in my theater's audience) to tears.

The film's beauty extends beyond just its story and characters. This film is shot like a classic Hollywood picture by Spielberg's regular cinematographer since Schindler's List, Janusz Kaminski. Then there is the score by the masterful John Williams. Lately I find that a lot of my favorite movies have commendable scores that are more atmospheric in nature (such as Reznor and Ross' work on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), but Williams is not afraid to have an entire orchestra be playing at any time. Williams has always understood how not to take an audience out of the moment while still telling the story in the music itself. The final moments and shots of the film are a perfect example of all the visual and auditory moments working in sync. We see Joey as part of the shot's composition against an orange skyline as Williams' score ends the film.

This is all of course shepherded by the guiding hand of one of the greatest living American directors. There is a scene where a German and a British soldier both come out from their trenches to help free Joey. This moment has to be somewhat taken for granted as two sworn enemies are working together and making a few jokes and comments about themselves, each other, and the situation... and yet this moment just works. Spielberg is commenting on the beauty of the animal that draws these soldiers out of hiding in the horrific situation of war.

That sums up the essence of War Horse. It manages to be an uplifting crowd pleaser in the best kind of way as it never talks down to its audience while still not being afraid to make its points and themes readily apparent. Everything in the movie is clearly defined and the screenplay by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall serves to set up that narrative canvas that Spielberg can operate with. This really is a perfect film for Spielberg to direct. It combines the sense of wonder found in his "lighter" work (Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) with the harsh realities of his "darker" work (Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan). Even though the 2010s have only just started, Spielberg has managed to be sure to deliver at least one masterpiece in each decade. Hopefully he has many more left in him.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Favorite Comic Books of 2011

There are probably a lot of spelling errors here as this is one of the longest posts I've written. I'll try to catch them when I eventually re-read this. Sorry for any inconvenience.

So, another thing I want to talk about during my little 2011 retrospective would be comic books. My history with them? It was when I think I was either nine, ten, or eleven years old and I walked into a comic book shop and asked what the owner would recommend for a new reader. I had seen the X-Men movie and although I wasn't as taken by it as my friends were at the time, I figured it would be cool to check out the books that I saw action figures, cartoons, and now films become based on. He recommended Ultimate Spider-Man #1 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley.

I checked it out, it was a re-introduction for a new universe of stories featuring Marvel's most well-known characters. I kept reading the Ultimate Marvel Universe, moved onto the Marvel Universe, moved to the DC Universe, moved to Vertigo, then to... well just about everything. With the help of message boards and websites like Newsarama and Comic Book Resources, I've been able to keep up-to-date on what I should be reading from creator-owned books to the characters that have been around since the 1940s (in fact, pretty much all of my list can be even be found on their current retrospectives for 2011).

I divided it up into Marvel/DC and other. Only seemed fair considering the characters owned by the "big two" have been around for such a long time while the other series are all original creations to a certain extent. So here it is.

Title and issue numbers if applicable (regular writer/regular artist)- publisher


Action Comics #1-4 (Grant Morrison/Rags Morales)- DC
Morrison's Superman has moved away from being the all-American character many audiences have known him as and is now a rebellious young adult still trying to find his way. This character is quick to fight and has a certain swashbuckling nature about him that Morales does a great job of capturing with his art. Lex Luthor is also very well-written because his concerns are very similar to the reader. Is this Superman really worthy of being a hero and perhaps one day being the world's greatest superhero? The most radical of the new DC universe interpretations is with the company's flagship character and that seems like a great way to kick-off a new era.

All-Star Western #1-4 (Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray/Moritat)- DC
This new series that replaced Palmiotti and Gray's previous Jonah Hex series, features the gunslinger making his way to the Wild West's equivalent of Gotham City. Although the city is just beginning to become the crime enterprise that it is in the Batman books, Hex still finds plenty of criminals to fight. He teams up with Amadeus Arkham (the founder of the same Asylum) as they fight criminals with bullets and psychology (guess who uses what). Palmiotti and Gray used to write mostly one-shot stories, but now I am happy to see that this series will most likely be made up of some longer and very entertaining arcs.

Amazing Spider-Man #652-676 (Dan Slott/various)- Marvel
As the series moved from the Brand New Day storyline and into the Big Time storyline, Slott remained and in his first couple of arcs he shook up Spidey's supporting cast with a number of deaths and changes. This has pretty much continued throughout the year, but I'm amazed at how every couple of issues there seems to be a major change in the status quo. Slott is taking a lot of risks, but he is also recognizing how large Spidey's world actually is. This all led to the Spider-Island arc in which all of Manhattan gained spider-powers. That story was illustrated by Humberto Ramos who was just one of the many talented artists to work on the book during these past twelve months.

Animal Man #1-4 (Jeff Lemire/Travel Foreman)- DC
Over two decades ago, Grant Morrison took Buddy Baker and turned him into a hero that was as complex as any of DC's more well known characters. Similar to Morrison, but with his own original style of writing, Lemire is telling stories as wierd as they are fascinating. I'm surprised at how well the family aspect of the book mixes and contrasts with the dark horror and the general sense of dread that is occuring in this first storyline. Foreman is taking his artwork to a new level than I've seen from him in the past as the situations that Buddy finds himself in have brought forth some of the most disgusting images I've seen in a while.

Aquaman #1-4 (Geoff Johns/Ivan Reis)- DC
Coming out of the Brightest Day storyline, Aquaman seemed like the perfect character for Geoff Johns to take ahold of and delve into. The man has after all resurrected such properties as the JSA, Hawkman, Hal Jordan, Booster Gold, the Teen Titans, and worked on Flash, Superman, and now the JLA. Johns is very skilled at finding a way to make us truly care about these characters by reminding us what is great about them while still bringing a modern interpretation to their mythos. Along with his Green Lantern artist, Ivan Reis, Johns is continuing the tradition with Aquaman and the book is chock full of great character moments.

Batman #1-4 (Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo)- DC
Snyder moved from pre-New 52 Detective Comics to New 52 Batman without missing a beat. Although it's a new story, the book is just as exciting and crazy as just about everything that Snyder writes. Having seen Capullo on Haunt at Image, I was surprised that he was picked for a book especially considering how his style might not work with Snyder's grim stories. Well, I was proven wrong as Capullo impresses with each newly released issue. I won't delve too deep into what storyline Snyder is revealing at the moment as it is full of shocks and surprises, but it is one of the most interesting takes on Bruce Wayne as Batman from this past year.

Batman Incorporated #3-8 (Grant Morrison/various)- DC
One of the more interesting aspects of Batman's vigilante life that Morrison has played with has been the "League of Bats". A group of international Batmen that Bruce Wayne has been sure to make a part of his new effort- Batman Inc. From a native-American Batman to the original Batwoman, this series is brimming with the kind of outrageous storytelling that Morrison has been known for. The series also introduced me to Chris Burnham whose pencils will be accompanying Morrison's follow-up, Batman: Leviathan.

Batwoman #1-4 (W. Haden Blackman/J.H. Williams III)- DC
Picking up the reigns from Greg Rucka's take on the character (which Williams also worked on), the book is making Kate Kane's war on crime to be as memorable and unique as her male counterpart's. What is perhaps the greatest selling point for this book is the artwork. Williams' pencils are just so damn stunning. The book looks absolutely gorgeous and the designs for each page are always different and stunning. Just when you think he can't surprise you with anything else, Williams manages to come up with some sort of brilliant and stylized interpretation of this group of characters and Gotham City with each and every issue.

Daredevil #1-7 (Mark Waid/Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin)- Marvel
Matt Murdock was a character that over the past volume of stories by Kevin Smith, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, and Andy Diggle- he only seemed to work when his life was being torn to pieces. His ex-girlfriend died, his secret identity was revealed, he became the Kingpin of Hells Kitchen, he went to jail, his most recent girlfriend was driven insane, he became the head of the Hand, and then he left New York. Now, Mark Waid has brought Matt back to the city in a book that is full of joy and features a more brave and fun-loving take on Daredevil. What a welcome change that manages to work very well. The art by Rivera and Martin just pops off the page with their clever designs.

Deadpool MAX #4-12 (David Lapham/Kyle Baker)- Marvel
Similar to when Ennis took the Punisher to the MAX imprint, Lapham's Deadpool is one of the most creative takes on the character that I've seen in a while. Kyle Baker was an unexpected choice as series artist, but his handling of the more comedic and violent moments is what has made his work on titles like Plastic Man and Truth work so well. This book is a constant delight that just might be too insane for Deadpool's usual fans. Lapham has went from PG-13 buffoonery and has taken the character somewhere as R-rated and twisted as it is entertaining.

Detective Comics #873-881 (Scott Snyder/Jock and Francesco Francavilla)- DC
The final run on the title before the relaunch was an intense mystery that was equal parts horror and superheroics. Snyder's story, The Black Mirror, was one of the most thrilling and constantly surprising stories of the year. Featuring Dick Grayson as Batman, this book included new characters for the new readers that might just be discovering the series, but it also harkened back to known Batman tropes and characters when necessary. Everything was only made better by the two artists which is a rare feat, but Jock and Francavilla complimented each other nicely. Normally first arcs or relaunches tend to have the most fresh interpretations on a character, but Snyder managed to pull it all off in the many months before the launch of the new DC universe.

FF #1-13 (Jonathan Hickman/Steve Epting)- Marvel
Coming off the death of Johnny Storm, Hickman turned Fantastic Four into the FF (Future Foundation) and continued their adventures of trying to save the universe, reality, you name it. He has continued to make Franklin and Valeria as interesting as he can and with the addition of Alex Power, Hickman has suceeded in making the kids as interesting as their adult caretakers. At the end of the day, the creative team is sure to let readers know that this book is about a family. Even with one of their number gone for the moment, as long as they stick together, they can always be counted on to save the world.

Flashpoint: Batman- Knight of Vengeance #1-3 (Brian Azzarello/Eduardo Risso)- DC
Tie-ins to big events are normally very missable, but a lot of readers took note of the re-teaming of Azzarello and Risso who had previously delivered the beloved Vertigo series 100 Bullets. Well, everyone's suspicions served them right because this series proved to be one of the most haunting and violent books in mainstream comics. This alternate universe story featured Thomas Wayne as the caped crusader who is now attempting to avenge of the death of his wife and his son Bruce. Surprisingly good; I wish a lot more tie-ins were like this.

Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE #1-4 (Jeff Lemire/Alberto Ponticelli)- DC
Take a crazy-monster that was just re-invented not that long ago by Grant Morrison and give him a cool organization to take orders from and the result is one of the best horror-fantasy comics around. This is like Indiana Jones... if Indiana Jones was Frankenstein. Lemire is a perfect fit for the title as he seems almost like an heir to Morrison's style of storytelling.

Journey Into Mystery #622-632 (Kieron Gillen/Doug Braithewaite)- Marvel
Although Gillen first started having to write a Thor series because Marvel and J. Michael Straczynski parted ways and JMS's story needed to be finished, Gillen has decided to stick with the characters and have a lot of fun with Thor's supporting cast. Loki (who is young at the moment) has to learn about growing up at a time when the Marvel universe is in a bit of turmoil. He is also the god of mischief so that ends up getting him stuck in a few difficult situations. For a book that spent most of the year dealing with the Fear Itself storyline, Gillen and Braithewaite have come up with a series that is equally fun as it is serious.

OMAC #1-4 (Dan Didio/Keith Giffen)- DC
I had such low expectations for OMAC. Dan Didio had not really impressed me as a writer despite my admiration for his skills behind-the-scenes at DC Comics these past couple of years, but he and Giffen seem to have found a character and come up with a story that just clicks. This book is highly entertaining and full of some great action and adventure. I really enjoy the nods to past DC continuity now that everything has been re-set. Something about this book tells me it might be the most revealing when it comes to explaining how this new DC universe is different from the last.

The Punisher #1-6 (Greg Rucka/Marco Checchetto)- Marvel
Following the work of Garth Ennis, Matt Fraction, and Rick Remender is no easy task, but crime and comics veteran Rucka has managed to keep the epic nature of the character's adventures while still being as realistic and gritty as the MAX-imprint work by Ennis and currently Jason Aaron. Somehow, having the character take on street level crime in a universe that is unmistakingly belonging to Marvel has been pulled off. Congrats to the creators.

Punisher MAX #10-20 (Jason Aaron/Steve Dillon)- Marvel
Aaron and Dillon continued to impress with a story about how Frank Castle's return from Vietnam signals that the Punisher was born quite a long time ago. The scenes where we start to realize that Frank might've been using his family's death as the excuse he always needed to unleash his inner demons was one of the more disturbing moments in the character's history. Aaron and Dillon have handled such a complex story with such grace that for those who thought there was nothing much to the Punisher, think again.

The Shade #1-3 (James Robinson/Cully Hamner)- DC
Robinson returns to a character he was well known for writing back when he won over fans and skeptics alike with his awesome Starman series. Now, he works on re-defining the Shade for the new DC universe and with former collaborator Tony Harris on covers and Darwyn Cooke set to work on upcoming issues, I can't wait to see where Robinson takes this story. It has the superhero action and fun concepts that Robinson was known for with the usual great art from Hamner.

Swamp Thing #1-4 (Scott Snyder/Yanick Paquette)- DC
How can Snyder write so many horror series with each one feeling as original as the last? Well he does it again this time by re-introducing a character who perhaps like many readers, has forgotten what made him so great. Alec Holland is having a bit of an existential crisis and his story of exploring who he really is and what his place in this world may end up being is contrasted against William Arcane. Arcane's disturbing and villainous story-arc is just as interesting as Holland's and I look forward to seeing how Snyder and Paquette will choose for these characters to come to blows in the future.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1-5 (Brian Michael Bendis/Sara Pichelli)- Marvel
In the new character of Miles Morales, Bendis has created a unique person to continue on Peter Parker's legacy. This could be seen as a huge risk for the series, but at the end of the day, the creation of the imprint was a huge risk. The whole point of the Ultimate universe was to make it a place where the unexpected could happen with Marvel's characters and with over a decade of stories set in that realm, it makes sense that Bendis would try and mix things up a bit. He is coming up with a great origin story and Sara Pichelli's artwork is a revelation. She is perfect for capturing the spirit of this series with her striking pencils.

Uncanny X-Force #4-19 (Rick Remender/various)- Marvel
Could an X-Force book really be this good? I should never have doubted Remender. This year, with The Dark Angel Saga storyline, the writer has crafted such a brutal and shocking arc that I can't help but wonder how he gets past editorial with being so merciless with these characters. It is great to see a writer taking such risks with the characters in a shared universe as Wolverine's black-ops team is currently going through some of the most dark and heartbreaking stories that I've read in a long time. Even though the series is solicited for the months to come, I keep wondering how certain characters will get out of the mess they've found themselves in due to the tension that is created each and every issue

Vengeance #1-6 (Joe Casey/Nick Dragotta)- Marvel
I unfortunately have never read much of Joe Casey until this year. I've read his occasional miniseries which was always work-for-hire and I've been meaning to check out Godland, but I never understood why he had such rabid followers. Now I do. Vengeance is a series that features a ton of villains... and well some really interesting stuff happens. I'll let anyone who wants to check out the book discover it for themselves. Now I just happen to know why Joe Casey is so beloved. He understands these established characters, but he is anything but conventional in the hoops he puts them through.

Wolverine and the X-Men #1-3 (Jason Aaron/Chris Bachalo)- Marvel
After coming off the events of X-Men: Schism, Aaron has managed to create a book that feels so fresh despite the years of continuity that can often prevent writers from taking risks with these characters. Aaron did so with Schism and now he is taking a lighter, but just as well-written approach with Wolverine's current X-team. The book is an equal mix of humor and thrills and he also has one of the best interpretations of Kitty Pryde that I've seen in a while. With Bachalo on art, I look forward to seeing where the book goes in the coming year.

Wonder Woman #1-4 (Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang)- DC
Another of the more unexpected surprises of the new batch of DC titles. I never would have pegged Azzarello as such a great writer for this character (his past superhero work has varied from a great Batman story to a poor Superman story). He has decided to really have this book embrace the rich and ancient mythology that surrounds Diana and her people. Chiang's energetic pencils only add to the enjoyment because of all of the well-choreographed fight scenes. Wonder Woman is finally the badass warrior that so many other writers have tried to turn her into over the past couple of years.


American Vampire #11-22 (Scott Snyder/Rafael Albuquerque and Jordi Bernet)- Vertigo
It is refreshing to see a great vampire story during a time when there is a bit of a vampire craze going on unfortunately thanks to a series of poorly-reviewed tween movies. Snyder's epic moves throughout American history which serves as a fascinating backdrop for this story about the complicated history of the various vampire groups. Along with guest art by Jordi Bernet, the series also had a spin-off miniseries titled Survival of the Fittest that served to answer some of the questions about the mythos and lore that surrounds the book's universe.

The Boys #50-61 (Garth Ennis/Russ Braun and Darick Robertson)- Dynamite
The absurdity continues in this series as the conflict between the Seven and the Boys reached a boiling point. Russ Braun has done a great job since becoming the book's regular artist to chronicle the adventures of a team of strongmen that have been asked to police the superheroes. Still, it was great to see Darick Robertson return for the storyline that explained Butcher's origin. Not to worry, for such an outrageous book, Ennis still makes sure that the characters are the most important aspect.

BPRD #74-86 (Mike Mignola and John Arcudi/Guy Davis and Tyler Crook)- Dark Horse
I'm surprised how much more interesting I find the BPRD books compared to Hellboy. Then again, they aren't that different. Both are a superhero horror comic book, but I suppose BPRD has such a great group of amazing characters that are smartly written for such a fast-paced book. The Plague of Frogs story came to a conclusion this year and as Hell on Earth begins, it is nice to see that the book has retained its fun as well as its grit. New series artist Tyler Crook has also done a great job of living up to the departing Guy Davis.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 #1-4 (Joss Whedon and Andrew Chambliss/Georges Jeanty)- Dark Horse
The previous series, Season 8, was a stellar book with an ending that included a storyline so shocking that it provided a great deal of controversy and discussion among Buffy fans. With the start of season 9, Whedon and co-writer Andrew Chambliss continue what made Season 8 a success- a great affection and care for these characters. It almost feels like the TV show never ended because the series is just as smartly written and true to form as it has ever been. Plus, it is beautiful to look at thanks to Jeanty.

Butcher Baker the Righteous Maker #1-7 (Joe Casey/Mike Huddleston)- Image
Having really gotten into Joe Casey's work this year with Vengeance, I decided to check out this original series that was getting a great deal of acclaim. This book has such extreme action that I could've sworn that Mark Millar or Garth Ennis was writing it. This is both a parody of their kind of books while still focusing on what makes those types of stories work. As over-the-top and energetic it is, that feeling continues in the back-matter as Casey writes some essays that are as harsh in criticism as they are truthful and funny.

The Cape #1-3 (Joe Hill/Zach Howard)- IDW
Quite possibly the scariest comic of the year, Hill takes a lot of risks in the three issues he has released. This comic is about the origin of a super-villain and Hill is sure to make it anything but ordinary by being sure to include as many shocks as he can. Not that anyone should be measured to their father's standard, but Hill more than lives up to being the son of horror maestro Stephen King.

Casanova: Avaritia #1-2 (Matt Fraction/Gabriel Ba)- Icon
Fraction's Casanova returns and is as odd as it has ever been. The series follows a secret agent who is trying to get back at his evil father as he moves through dimension after dimension to enact some sort of grand plan... or maybe to just have some fun. Ba's great artwork and Fraction's awesome stories are both so inspired and original. The series went on a hiatus as Fraction began working in the Marvel universe. He has now moved the series from Image to Icon and I hope that with the title under the guard of his current employer's creator-owned imprint that the series doesn't go on another break anytime soon.

Chew #17-22 (John Layman/Rob Guillory)- Image
As insane of a conept this series has, the stories only get more and more intense. Layman isn't afraid to "go there" when necessary. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, this is a story about a cop with one of the most ridiculous of powers- he can tell the history of whatever (or whoever!) he eats. You really have to give this a read to understand how surprisingly well the creative team has a grip on such an outrageous idea. As events continued to build on each other, it was refreshing to see Guillory willing to experiment and play around with whatever curveballs Layman would throw him.

Criminal: Last of the Innocents #1-4 (Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips)- Icon
The most recent tale in the Criminal universe is one of infidelity. Brubaker once again suceeds in taking such a wholesome character and turning him into a monster. The book is full of twists that never feel exploitive towards characters who we feel like we've known forever. The series continues to be a master-act of noir writing and penciling that I hope this book doesn't conclude anytime soon.

Echo #28-30 (Terry Moore)- Abstract
Moore's most recent ongoing series concluded this year and proved to be a worthy follow-up to Strangers in Paradise. The characters were well-written and fully developed with fantastic arcs by the end of the series. The suspense was also handled expertly by Moore to the point where I almost was concerned the world would be destroyed. The science behind everything was also very interesting.

Fables #101-112 (Bill Willingham/Mark Buckingham)- Vertigo
Having passed its centennial issue, I'm amazed that Willingham has not run out of ideas for his series. Then again, how could he? There is so much folklore and so many fairy tales in existence, the series can go on for a very long time and it appears that it well. With such a large cast of beloved (and despised) characters, I hope this does not end for a long time. Somehow, with age, the series only keeps getting better and better and better.

Habibi (Craig Thompson)- Pantheon
The most recent work by Thompson since his graphic novel, Blankets, is a story about two slaves in the Middle East where fantasy myths have become reality. Compared to his previous work, this is his darkest and that contrasts brilliantly with his lush artwork. The most important thing about Habibi is that it cements Thompson (as if his previous three books haven't already) as a serious talent that one should keep an eye on and wait and see what he might have to say. With this graphic novel, Thompson explores the idea of love in a place where many have given up and that proves to be an universal allegory for life in general.

Irredeemable #21-32 (Mark Waid/Peter Krause)- BOOM
This is another great work from Waid, but without a doubt it is his darkest. Throughout the series he has played with expectations, only taking the audience to the "oh crap" moments when they would be most effective. That is perhaps the best way to tell this story of a superhero turned murderer. This year was another enjoyable one as we learned about some of the characters' backstories. Be sure to check out the title's spin-off, Incorruptible, if you haven't already.

iZombie #9-20 (Chris Roberson/Mike Allred)- Vertigo
I'm not always crazy about stories that are deemed "quirky", but this one is too good to pass up. This story is about a zombie girl and supernatural friends who solve crimes. This year we learned about a plot to destroy the world that is put into motion by the Bride of Frankenstein. Okay, so this might not sound like the greatest thing on paper, but Roberson and Allred sure as hell do a good job of making it look and read very damn well. For a series where most of the characters are literally dead, each issue is alive and full of energy. Another hit from Vertigo who can't seem to do no wrong.

Locke and Key #22-27 (Joe Hill/Gabriel Rodriguez)- IDW
Hill and Rodriguez continue to deliver a series that is always morphing and evolving as time goes on. It moves between being about the love a family has for each other, the teenage angst the younger characters feel, and being a horror series that delves deeper and deeper into the supernatural as time goes on. What is most refreshing about this series is how it feels so fresh and original with an atmosphere that is as chilling as Hill's other series that also made this list.

Love and Rockets #4 (Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez)- Fantagraphics
While Gilbert continued the tragic story of Fritz Martinez, Jaime decided to conclude the Love Bunglers storyline that has taken up about thirty years of the book. That is perhaps the great thing about the alternative comics movement. These series have been lasting for hundreds of issues (although L&R was relaunched just recently) so you really feel as if you've spent a lifetime with these characters. The brothers seem to love telling stories about characters that make bad decisions as their lives get worse and audiences are all the better for it by experiencing these tragedies. Throw in some great art and I hope the book has another thirty years in it as well.

Morning Glories #6-14 (Nick Spencer/Joe Eisma)- Image
Spencer's story of gifted kids at a school is anything but a re-hashing of the X-Men. Instead, life at the Morning Glories Academy is full of moments that rarely end happily for these characters. After the first arc, Spencer has begun to introduce even more characters, explain more backstories, and like any good mystery he keeps introducing new questions to be answered. Spencer's series reminds me of Brian K. Vaughan's Runaways in how it mashed teen angst with science-fiction/fantasy/horror all while ending on some incredible cliffhangers each and every issue.

Scalped #45-54 (Jason Aaron/R.M. Guera)- Vertigo
As this 'Sopranos on a Native American reservation' epic enters its final act, I can't wait to go back and read this phenomenal crime drama in one sitting. The series is full of a lot of violence, but also a lot of heart as Aaron and Guera have created such memorable and multi-dimensional characters that I can't believe there is some sort of endgame planned for everyone involved in this story. This is sure as hell not the happiest of comics books as many of its characters have already met a dark fate, but the book has proved to be an enlightening experience in explaining how we might all be through with our pasts, but our pasts might not be through with us.

Severed #1-5 (Scott Snyder/Atilla Futaki)- Image
Snyder has created another thrilling book and along with Lemire has emerged as one of the most important talents of the year. The story follows a boy who is looking for his father, but instead he comes in contact with some very dangerous looking fellows. I'll leave it at that as the series is still in its early stages, but assuming Futaki's painting-looking pencils stay with the book, Snyder has another hit on his hands. Now I just have to debate, which of his series has the greatest sense of dread?

The Sixth Gun #8-17 (Cullen Bunn/Brian Hurtt)- Oni
Bunn and Hurtt have done a phenomenal job in melding the two genres of horror and western together. Those who have been fortunate to discover this book have realized how fresh Bunn's sharp writing and Hurtt's detailed pencils feel in an industry that could tire one out very quickly. With Bunn doing some work at Marvel, I look forward to seeing these two continue to have great careers. As with many of the series entering their second years, Bunn has chosen to reveal a variety of backstories alongside the shocking events that are unfolding in the present with each issue.

Super Dinosaur #1-6 (Robert Kirkman/Jason Howard)- Image
To think that the guy who writes people getting bit in The Walking Dead, bloody superhero battles in Invincible, massacres in Haunt, and even more people getting bit in Astounding Wolfman... would do an all-ages book about a dinosaur (tongue-in-cheek reminder: dinosaurs are usually portrayed as violent). Well, Kirkman has made it work with a series that is very exciting with great characters minus the blood and gore that he is known for. Howard's vibrant art improves and gets better with each issue as he and Kirkman have continued to collaborate on Wolfman and now this.

Sweet Tooth #17-28 (Jeff Lemire)- Vertigo
Similar to a series like Preacher or the works of Brian Michael Bendis and Brian Azzarello, Lemire loves to let things build-up until it boils over with a phenomenal climax. This post-apocalyptic series just recently had the talented Matt Kindt illustrate an arc where the backstory to Gus was explored. Lemire's mythos is so rich that I hope this series has a few more years left in it. This is the kind of universe where there never feels like there will ever be a shortage of stories to discover.

The Unwritten #21-32.5 (Mike Carey/Peter Gross)- Vertigo
This is a series about a writer attempting to determine what is reality and what is fiction. It doesn't get much more meta than that. This is one of the more intriguing comics being published at the moment as each issue where a long-standing question question is answered, there another couple of questions to go with what has been revealed. Carey is well known for his two previous Vertigo series, Lucifer and Crossing Midnight, and this lives up to his past work.

The Walking Dead #81-92 (Robert Kirkman/Charlie Adlard)- Image
Another twelve issues means another year of reading about this rag-tag group of survivors during the zombie apocalypse. Just when you think the series is settling down and nothing interesting is going to happen, something new and shocking occurs that will keep you awaiting anxiously for the next issue. With the success of the AMC show, hopefully more readers will check this out.

Who is Jake Ellis? #1-5 (Nathan Edmondson/Tonci Zonic)- Image
Like any good spy story, this series contained what the genre was known best for. It managed to feature some of the best "guessing-game" scenarios of recent espionage fiction as well as still be thrilling. You were kept guessing up until the final entertaining last page. I hope there is a follow-up because there could totally be more to this story and these character should the creators wish to return to the concept. This was a lot of fun and I hope to check out Edmondson's other work at DC.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Top 5 Favorite Scores and Soundtracks

Last year I wrote an article about my favorite scores and soundtracks from 2010. I had a great experience doing that as my writing almost felt more natural and honest. It was fun to try and balance the piece of music on its own against its use and purpose in the film. Ultimately though, I find myself feeling like I'm writing these articles blindly. Here is my knowledge of music on a yearly basis- aside from songs I hear in movies/TV/commercials and recommendations from friends or critics, I have a bunch of random bands and artists that I'm an admirer of, they release new stuff, I listen to it on Youtube on a playlist, and then it sort of just all blends together. I'm moved, but my problem with attempting to analyze or critique a piece of music is I don't know where to start. If I can be moved by it (whether emotionally or literally tapping my foot) and not be annoyed or bothered by it- I liked it. So keeping my tendencies and shortcomings in mind, here are my five favorite scores and soundtracks from the year 2011.


5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II by Alexandre Desplat
This is a somewhat difficult score to evaluate. Desplat is using many of the themes established by John Williams in the first three films. "Hedwig's Theme" in particular is used quite effectively during the film's final 'set-in-the-future' scene. Still, if you go through and actually listen to what is Desplat's versus what is Williams' and Nicholas Hooper's, you can see where he went off and made sure that this series ended on the kind of note it should end on. The film's epic scale is matched by its score whether it is in the action sequences or the character moments.
Sample track- "Lily's Theme"

4. Hanna by Tom Rowlands & Ed Simons a.k.a. The Chemical Bros.
This is a score that goes against the grain similar in a sense to asking Daft Punk to score Tron: Legacy. Then again, this is a movie that goes against the grain. Frankly, only a director with the stylings of Joe Wright can take such a script and embue his auteuristic tendencies on it from start to finish. It makes sense that using an electronic score for such a film would actually manage to play with expectations while only furthering the atmosphere of the film. Whether it is in a scene where a character is running or walking, the constant thumping and synethic noises only help with the films already oft-beat aurora.
Sample track- "Container Park"

3. Shame by Harry Escott
A lot of the music in Shame was previously released. Escott, similar as say Desplat with The Tree of Life, mostly chooses to create a few shorter pieces of music to connect the classical or jazzy music that is completely diagetic (see my #5 Soundtracks pick for more on that). That being said, there are few noticable sequences where Escott's own score is playing while Brandon's neverending life of anguish is being displayed in either long shots or montages. Specifically towards the end of the film, when Brandon slips completely into sex-fueled madness, Escott delivers a piece of music that sounds like it was a classic composition chosen for instead of written for the film.
Sample track- "Unravelling"

2. Super 8 by Michael Giacchino
Giacchino has been a favorite of mine since his work with J.J. Abrams (Lost, Mission Impossible III, Star Trek) and with Pixar Studios (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up). Re-teaming with Abrams, Giacchino does something that another favorite composer on my list also accomplished- a homage to the music John Williams has composed with Steven Spielberg (the other being Desplat working with Williams' score for Harry Potter). I say homage and not impersonation because Giacchino's work is still wholly original as he captures the loss of innocence and wonder that is held in the character of Joe Lamb. Giacchino is an expert at echoing the feelings of a story and its characters just in the music alone with the absence of any sort of image. Working with Abrams only deepens the already established impact.
Sample track- "Letting Go"

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross/War Horse by John Williams- TIE
Perhaps this is me trying to make a comparision where there is none, but these two scores are masterful for the same reason while almost being used in a completely different manner. As to be careful as to not sound nonsensical or hypocritical, I feel that Reznor and Ross' score is more atmospheric (for lack of a better word) in nature. It plays quitely under the action to add a little eeriness. On the other hand, Williams' score is loud and bolstering during sequences of emense cinematographic and emotional beauty. They are both furthering the tone, mood, and themes of their respective films and yet one is sublte and the other is noticable. The important part of what I'm struggling to say is that they both work. The sense of Fincher's grittiness and Spielberg's wonder are only compounded with the scores and that is why I can't seem to pick between the two.
Sample tracks- "What If We Could" (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and "Plowing" (War Horse)


5. Original songs, covers, and that one from Melancholia
It was becoming tough to rank the soundtracks because some movies only had a single original song (for which many organizations give awards for) or a cover while others included a several. Not to say that the movies I'm about to list did not include other music, but the songs I'm going to mention are the 'main attractions'.
"About Today" by The National (Warrior)- A movie that only becomes more affecting as you start to ruminate on its themes of family, loyalty, and betrayal. This song, which plays in the final moments of the film, adds to the moving nature of rediscovering the love and admiration you may have once held for a friend or in this case, a brother.
"Immigrant Song" by Karen O. and Trent Reznor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)- A cover of the hit Led Zeppelin song, now with a woman wailing. A song that is about a stranger coming (or 'immigrating') to a new world is reflective of the characters of Mikael and Lisbeth as they leave their lives of liberal journalism and illegal hacking behind to solve a murder mystery. This song plays over the disturbing opening credits sequence that feels like it could've been for a James Bond movie.
"Love Love" by Take That (X-Men: First Class)- Speaking of James Bond movies, X-Men: First Class was very much almost inspired by those retro-Bond films from both the perspective of its music and story. Instead of gadgets, you just have mutant superpowers belonging to a group of teenagers and their two wards who are caught up in a game of espionage. The song which plays during the end credits references that 'British-pop' sound while still managing to reflect the struggles in the film's narrative.
"New York, New York" by Carey Mulligan (Shame)- The song is performed in a single shot as Sissy sings it at an upscale NYC bar and Brandon sits in the crowd and gives in to tears. The scene is almost being discussed more than the film's open approach to sex and nudity. Is the song saying that there is hope for one like Brandon or is the song saying that he is hopeless? The film has taken a ballad that is celebatory in nature and placed it smack in the middle of one of the most haunting movie-going experiences of the year.
"Tristan and Isolde Prelude" by Richard Wagner (Melancholia)- I'm kind of cheating here. This is not an original song nor is it a cover. Von Trier normally does not like to use music in his film, but this piece of classical music is the only composition that plays in Melancholia and it is used repeatedly. There is something about this that makes it perfect for a film about the end of the world. It both encapsulates the film's beautiful imagery as well as the impending tension and sense of doom that these characters experience.

4. The Muppets
The latest Muppets film, for all its intents and purposes, is what I'd consider a musical. Musical sequences have always been an important part of Muppets-lore, but Bret McKenzie and his collaborators have created about forty minutes of music that celebrates the joyous satire that these characters have become known for. After all, this movie's screenplay by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller is building to the main event of the Muppets putting on an extravagent performance, so the soundtrack plays a very important part in the narrative. Plus, Chris Cooper raps. That can only be a good thing.
Sample track- "Life's a Happy Song" by Amy Adams, Jason Segel, and others.

3. The Descendants
One of the film's most important elements is its use of Hawaiian music. Yes, the film obviously takes place in Hawaii and using a type of music that most can identify as Hawaiian will help establish the films setting, but there is still something about how the music is used. For example, there is a yodeling tune that sounds pretty ridiculous by itself and yet if comments perfectly on Matt's revelation about how he should handle his professional and personal lives colliding. What could be easy-listening music by itself is instead worked into the film's narrative and serves to work alongside the script as a means to give the audience the desired experience.
Sample track- "Hawaiian Skies" by Jeff Peterson

2. The Tree of Life
Like much of Terrence Malick's previous films, the narrative is edited together to almost feel like a never-ending montage. You walk away from his films like you've just been through a dream or a spiritual epiphany. Alexandre Desplat and Malick have chosen a collection of pieces of classical music to accompany a film that is as ambitious as it is heartfelt. Whether it is the wonder of the cosmos, a young boy growing up under a harsh father in 1950s Texas, or a man who is trying to be at peace too late in his life- the soundtrack of The Tree of Life is sure to encompass all that it is intended for a storyline that begs to ask what the purpose of life must be.
Sample track- "The Moldau River" by Stanislav Gorkovenko

1. Drive
The less said about Drive's soundtrack, the better. This is a film that has an incredible screenplay, a fantastic cast, and beautiful cinematography all under the guiding hand of one of the most exciting directors around. Yet, the tone and mood is the film's greatest strength so what better way to present the equivalent of a European art film that takes place in Los Angeles than by making an abstractly artful choice at what songs should play during the film. The film feels like some sort of fairy tale romance with bloody head-bashing. With that vision in mind, director Nicolas Winding Refn, composer Cliff Martinez and sound mixer Johnny Jewel (with suggestions from editor Matt Newman) have gone about crafting a 80s-flavored electronic pop-influencd soundtrack that is as memorable as just about everything else in this masterful drama.
Sample track- "Nightcall" by Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx