20 Jan 2011

The Only Best Movies of 2010 List Worth Reading, For Reals! (Version 3.0)

So here's my top movies of 2010. In years past, I would do a numbered Top 10. I guess as I've gotten older, though, I can see the futility of doing a numbered Top 10 for two reasons:

One, number-ranking movies against each other is always gonna be a little futile. For example, three of my favorite movies of all time are GoodFellas, All About Eve and Toy Story. I can say GoodFellas is the best/my favorite movie of all time, but even this is a little silly considering how different AAE and TS are from it. In short, I just can't bring myself to have to number movies in a list anymore. Why? Because I make the rules on this blog, sweetheart.

Two, a top 10 to me means that all 10 movies are fantastic. This is not always the case. Sometimes there are more than 10 amazing movies out in a given year and sometimes there are less. Therefore, trying to, year-after-year, name 10 because of convention is, to me, a little silly. After all, 10 is an arbitrary number that, because of tradition, gets assigned greater importance than, say, it's equally impressive brother 11 (or it's sister, eight)!

Anyway, rant/justification over. On to the list.

I hardly got to go to the movies at all this year for two main reasons (and then many sub-reasons that stemmed from these two) that, in the interests of anonymity, we shall refer to as Xinlay and Xate. In fact, I only saw two movies in theatres: Inception and Sex and the City 2 (but more on them later). You'll see from my list, though, that I've managed to see most of the "big" or "considered-award-worthy" movies of the year anyway. All I can say is thank Dawkins for my little friend the internet.

The Best Movies of 2010 (in no particular order...well, apart from the first two, that is)

(Joint Best Movie of the Year) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Original. Compelling. Visually-stunning. Feminist. Thrilling. I can't begin to think of all the superlatives this movie deserves. Based on the first of Steig Larsson's Millenium Trilogy of crime novels, Dragon Tattoo was, for me, an instant classic in the way only one other movie was this year. For me, Noomi Rapace gives the single best performance, male or female, of the year in the role of the titular "Girl", Lisbeth Salander.

(Joint Best Movie of the Year) Toy Story 3 - How is it possible that Pixar have managed to make a trilogy of films where the standard has been this high throughout? Even the LOTR trilogy doesn't count being, as they were, made all at the same time and are pretty much all one long movie. I have EXTREMELY high standards when it comes to Toy Story, my favorite animated movie of all time. TS2, while not quite as good as TS, was still inspiring and hilarious. This, though, is even better (again though, not quite at the height of TS, but as close as it's possible to be). Michael Keaton's Ken - brilliantly written and performed. The incinerator scene - sweaty-palm and heart-wrenchingly dramatic. The epilogue - as beatifully written and emotional as anything in the series.

127 Hours - Waaay better than I thought it would be. James Franco = Amazing. I just can't get over what a fantastic job Danny Boyle did with this movie. The fact that most of the film takes place in one confined location with one character and yet Boyle manages to not only keep the audience's attention but also ratchet up the tension is nothing short of awesome. The scene with the arm (you know what I'm talking about) was possibly the most intense scene I've ever seen in a film and realistic as all hell. The editing was also the nuts.

Inception - The very definition of a "smart" summer blockbuster. Great cast (especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard and Tom hardy), brilliant special effects (all the more so because of minimal CGI) and a final half-hour of jaw-dropping cinematic mastery from director Chris Nolan.

Never Let Me Go - Okay, just like 127 Hours, this was far better than I thought it was gonna be. Base on a Kazuo Ishiguro novel, NLMG is a similar meditation on unrequited love, time moving too quickly, a sense of duty, to The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro's most famous (and Booker-Prize-winning) novel. Set in an alternate late-20th-century, this film combines SciFi (it's more Children of Men than Transformers!) and three outstanding performances from Keira Knightley, (new Spider-Man) Andrew Garfield and, especially, Carey Mulligan. Brilliance.

The Fighter - Two words: Christian Bale. Fuck every other review/description of this movie. If you don't know what this film is about, I'm not going to tell you (okay, real-life boxing story). I demand you watch it anyway because of the performance of Christian Bale.

True Grit - It's weird that a lot of critics are calling this the Coens' best or one of their best. Shit, I prefer MANY Coen movies over this...Fargo, Miller's Crossing, Hudsucker Proxy (so underrated it makes me sick), No Country, etc... While I think this is a lesser Coens effort, it still ranks as one of the top movies of the year for me because the Coens are simply of a higher standard than most film makers. As bubblegum a movie as you're ever likely to get from Joel and Ethan.

The King's Speech - Despite all the excellent reviews, all the "OMG it's sooo great" comments from friends, all the award nominations and wins, it's obvious "award" pedigree, etc. Despite all of this pre-knowledge, I was still surprised at just how effing good this movie was. Firth was awesome, but so was Geoffrey Rush (his was a lead role, not supporting...eff the awards circuit!). Special mention to the cinematography. This was possibly the most beautiful film of the year. So many of the shot compositions were like works of art. Brilliant.

Catfish - To say anything of what this movie is about would be doing you a disservice. Suffice to say it's the best documentary of the year and revolves around Facebook. I really can't say anything else about it without spoiling it.

The Girl Who Played with Fire/The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - The next two in the aforementioned Millenium trilogy. Not a patch on Dragon Tattoo, but still two of the classiest thrillers of the decade and Rapace once again OWNS. Special mention, also, to Michael Nyqvist as (the other main character) journalist "Kalle" Blomkvist in all three. A kind of Swedish Daniel Auteiul or James Woods, only a little more subtle.

Restrepo - Film makers Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington spent 15 months with an Army platoon in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan (the most dangerous part of the country). This documentary is absolutely apolitical (I defy anyone to argue otherwise) showing, as it does, nothing other than what it's like to be a troop on the ground. Never before has there been such an accurate depiction of modern warfare.

The Social Network - NOBODY expected a movie about the founding of Facebook to be this good, myself included. However, with director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club) and writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, A Few Good Men) on board, the clues were there. All I can say is that the execution was perfect and a central performance by Jesse Eisenberg (who knew he had it in him?) that was just marvellous.

The movie that's not quite good enough for my "Best of 2010" list, but is better than my "Honorable Mentions" list

Black Swan - This movie is either a fucking masterpiece in every conceivable way, or is a glossy, style-over-substance, psychological thriller/melodrama with some awesome ingredients. The thing is, I'm not sure which it is, though. What can't be denied is that it was totally involving, with brilliant make-up and editing and a central performance which, if this were a Rapace-less year, would be the best of 2010 from Natalie Portman.

Honorable Mentions

I also really enjoyed the following movies this year:

Shutter Island - good ending and masterful directing from the master.
The Crazies - great zombie movie and anything with Olyphant is worth watching anyway.
Why Did I Get Married, Too? - suck it, Tyler Perry, haters. I like his movies (minus the spirituality, of course)
Winnebago Man - great documentary with a brilliant and unique central character
Machete - they fucked with the wrong Mexican
The Town - while still awesome, this would be so much better without the spectre of Affleck's previous and brilliant Gone Baby Gone ratcheting up my expectation
Conviction - Hillary Swank + Sam Rockwell + "The Legal System" = Brilliance.
Winter's Bone - atmospheric, dark and an amazing performance from Jennifer Lawrence in the main role.
The Human Centipede - just a really original, chilling horror movie. FEED HER!!!

Worst Movies/Biggest Disappointments of 2010

Sex and the City 2 - I love SatC and I loved the first movie. This was such a let-down.
The Ghost Writer - Seriously. WTF was all the fuss about?! Boooo-ring.
Kick-Ass - I still liked Kick-Ass, but it was sooo much less than I thought it was gonna be.
Death at a Funeral - Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracey Morgan. All hilarious. Movie? I didn't laugh once.
The A Team - I loved the show. This movie (Sharlto Copley notwithstanding) sucked balls.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse - it was mmmmokay, but as it's my favorite book in the series, it should've been so much better. The worst movie in the saga so far...

Movies I wanted to see but haven't...yet

The Tillman Story
Enter the Void
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Final thoughts

For me, 2010 was a year of great documentaries (as well as the above, Waking Sleeping Beauty, Exit Through the Gift Shop and The Cove [I know, I know, it was 2009, but I saw it this year] were all great), great female performances (Portman - Black Swan, Rapace - The Girl... Trilogy, Lawrence - Winter's Bone, Leo - The Fighter, Swank - Conviction, et. al.), disappointing summer movies (Toy Story 3 was the only genuinely good one) and squirm-inducing scenes (Centipede, 127, TGwtDT, The Killer Inside Me).

16 Jan 2011

It goes Schumacher, Me, Earnhardt Jr. In that order...

Now that I've started writing for my blog again after a year-long gap, one of the most "bloggable" things that happened to me in 2010 was my lucky participation in a "Palmer Race Day" for work.

I work for Vodafone and every now and then a few of us get to take part in corporate-sponsored events. BlackBerry (who of course have a vested interest in keeping all service providers who carry its product happy) offered some people from Vodafone the opportunity to take part in the Palmer Race Day at Bedford Autodrome.

The Race Day involves a day of racing seven sports cars. It's a full day, starting with breakfast, racing four cars, lunch and then racing the last three cars.  The cars range from souped-up sports road cars, to fully-fledged track-only motorsport cars.  For each one, we got to do anything between 10-15 laps on four different race tracks.

Here's what we raced:

Formula Jaguar Racecar
(This was by far my favorite one to drive)

Renault Clio Cup
(A souped-up version of Renault's street car; used for Rally driving)

Caterham 7 Superlight
(The second most fun car of the day, superfast and super hard to handle!)

(Believe it or not, this was the fastest car of the day)

Land Rover Defender
(We got to take this offroad AND shoot paintball guns at targets!)

Porsche 911 JP3
(A bit of a let-down, for me...I went faster in the Clio!!)

Palmer Jaguar JP-Le Mans
(I cannot remember the amount of times I slid off the track in this)

So the Formula Jaguar was by far the most fun for me for two reasons: 1) it was the closest I've ever come (or are ever likely to come) to racing a Formula 1 car and 2) it was the only car we drove that we got to drive by ourselves...in every other car we had a professional in the passenger's seat, giving us instructions.

Another absolutely awesome part of the day was that three of the cars had on-board cameras. At the beginning of the day, we were each given our own 2GB USB stick. When we raced the Formula Jaguar, the BMW and the Palmer Jaguar, we plugged the sticks into the dash and the onboard cameras recorded and saved video of our laps!!

Here are the videos (unfortunately, I can't seem to upload the Formula Jaguar video...I even tried converting it to a few different formats, but still no luck):

First, the BMW M3 GTP...

Next, the Palmer Jaguar Le Mans...

Pretty cool, huh?

So, all in all, a really fun once-in-a-lifetime day. Even the food, both breakfast and lunch, was excellent (as were the constant supply of drinks and snacks throughout the day).

Was it as good as the time I get to fly in an F-15 Strike Eagle when I was in the US Air Force? Probably not, but it was definitely the next best thing.

Thanks to BlackBerry, Vodafone and Palmer Sport for the great experience.

...and, in lieu of the video, a pic of me in the Formula Jaguar...
(I'm concentrating like a mofo!)

The Guardian Kinda Reinforces My Smartphone View...

Just came across this article in The Observer (UK newspaper and The Guardian's Sunday issue) this morning.  A lot of the content seems to echo my earlier post about Android vs. iPhone. I would also say it's telling that the article mentions neither BlackBerry nor Windows 7 Phones. My assumption is that BB is no longer a major player in the smartphone wars and Windows 7 Phones have some growing to do (in terms of everything) before they're able to compete with the big two.


(the bold sections were highlighted by me)

The iPhone: It's chic, smart and cool, but is it about to lose its mojo?

Paul Harris in New York
The Observer, Sunday 16 January 2011

A growing number of tech experts are predicting that the iPhone is in danger of losing the "smart phone wars" to an upstart operating system from Google, in a dramatic reversal of fortune for one of the world's coolest hi-tech products.
For many people the iPhone is still the last word in digital chic. Its sleek style and touch screen changed the way many used their mobile phones.
Next month Apple's device will be launched on a second phone network in the US, making it available to millions more customers. The news has created a huge buzz and some have whispered that Apple might one day become the first trillion-dollar company in the world. So this should be a great time for Apple's irascible chief executive Steve Jobs. Or it would be if not for the growing commerical clout of Google's Android.
"Too late for the iPhone," read one headline last week in a Daily Beast column by tech writer Dan Lyons. Many experts agreed. "Android has taken over from what I can see," said Will Sullivan, founder of the website Journerdism, which is studying the mobile technology industry. Some commercial statistics bear that out. Android phones are now outselling iPhones in the US. Latest figures from the US show the Android and iPhone neck and neck in market share – but with 40.8% of new smart phone sales in the six months to November going to Android and 26.9% to iPhones.
Critics say that the iPhone's launch on the Verizon network is too late and that it relied too long on the patchy service provided by AT&T. That has allowed Android to take off at such a speed that it has left the once cutting-edge iPhone in its wake. "It was almost comical how much people said they hated AT&T," said Rob Jackson, editor of Phandroid, a tech website that tracks the Android market.
But the greater problem lies with the real differences between iPhones and Android. While the iPhone is the whole package of network, technology and phone, Android is an operating system that many different phone models can use. That gives users of Androids a huge variety of choices about how complex (or not) they want their phone to be. Meanwhile, iPhone users are essentially bound to what Apple alone allows them to do and buy.
"Personally, I prefer Android. I like to change things around to suit my needs. But if I was recommending my mom to have a phone I would recommend an iPhone," Sullivan said. In his article for the Daily Beast, Lyons was even more succinct about the limitations of the iPhone. "[It] is a bit like the situation you had with Henry Ford's Model T, where you could have any colour you wanted as long as it was black," Lyons wrote.
Indeed the iPhone has always had critics. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, last year took to his own Facebook page to slam the device for having a poor battery and dropping phone calls. "I got four chargers so I can keep it charged everywhere I go and a landline so I can actually make phone calls," he posted.
But not everyone is writing Apple off. Verizon will open the iPhone to 100 million new customers in the US. There is also no doubting the excitement that many people get from products created by Apple. "It arguably has the strongest brand in tech. It is cool. It stands for more than just a phone. It is a fashion statement. It is a lifestyle," said Jackson.
That is important. For one of the great ironies of the development of the smart phone market is that making phone calls on the devices has been supplanted by email, instant message and chat. A vast business ecology of "apps" has also grown up allowing smart phones to do anything from checking the weather to picking out a local restaurant. In this new world of mobile communications many think it would be foolish to make firm predictions. "So much can change again in five years that I just don't know what will happen," Jackson said.

15 Jan 2011

Doug Stanhope on The BP Oil Spill

This is from BBC2's tv show "Charlie Brooker's Review of 2010"...love it.

The Battle of the Smartphones, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Touchscreen

It was that magical moment in life when your mobile phone (and contract) was due for an upgrade and there were many lovely, shiny new phones from which to choose...

In deciding which new phone to get (I was upgrading from my Blackberry Curve 8900), I decided to look at the top phones currently on the market, the BlackBerry Torch, the HTC Desire HD and the iPhone 4.  Here's how I made my decision:

Since '05, I've only used BlackBerrys. I work for Vodafone, so as well as having a personal BlackBerry, I also have a work BlackBerry. Also, during my time in the US Air Force, I worked in IT from '04 to '07 and was the lead "BlackBerry guy" at RAF Lakenheath (one of the larger bases in the AF).  Thus, I've been able to have and use many different versions of the famed smartphone (including the 6230 [this was the first BB I ever used...it had a *gasp* black & white screen!], 7230, 7250, 8700 [these three were the BBs of choice among Commanders on Lakenheath during '05 to '07], the first "Pearl" 8100, the Curve 8320 [my first work BB], the Curve 8900, the Storm 9500 [ugh!] and the Bold 9700 [my current work BB]).

I've always loved BlackBerry phones and it's true that they were, and still are, the best smartphone around for email (especially for businesses utilising a BlackBerry Enterprise Server).  Also, of major importance for me was that BlackBerrys have full physical Qwerty keyboards.  I type fast, and had never previously been able to find a phone with a touchscreen that allowed me to type fast and not make tons of mistakes.

There are many more things to consider in a smartphone, though. For me, they are:

Screen (size and quality)
Operating System
Ease of Use

It used to be that all were of equal importance and that the BlackBerry was great at some and not so at others.

There were then three paradigm shifts in the past few years to affect not only myself but many smartphone users: the rise of the App, the improvement of touchscreen keyboards and the advent of social networking on smartphones.

It is without question that the variety and quality of available Apps are among the most important things to now consider when buying a new smartphone. Whether it is for communication (Skype, Google Talk), games (Angry Birds, Robo-Defense), utilities (Google Maps, Sat-Nav, Google Translate), etc., Apps used to be a "cool" thing to have...they're now essential. Now, I know that Apps aren't the most important thing for some smartphone users (read: Windows 7 and BlackBerry users!) and that for some, voice quality and signal capabilities (HSPA, 3G, etc.) are still the number-one consideration when buying a new phone, but if call quality is your most important factor, why are you wasting your time with a SMARTphone? Buy something cheaper!

Secondly, the improvement in the usability of touchscreen keyboards is incredible.  Even as recently as the iPhone 3GS, the greatest touchscreen keyboard in the world wasn't as good as the worst physical keyboard.  This is not so, anymore, though. While I would assert that a BlackBerry's physical keyboard is still better than any touchscreen, the gap is nowhere near as big as it once was. The responsiveness of the latest touchscreen phones is fantastic, with the iPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy and HTCs leading the way.

Lastly, the rise of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and, to a lesser extent, the ubiquity of IM applications such as the aforementioned Talk, Yahoo Messenger, Facebook Chat, etc., on smartphones have all put a huge "dent" in the frequency of my personal email use. In short, I rarely use email at all anymore (even on my home PC), except when signing-up for things online, for which you almost always need a valid email address. This means that BlackBerry's key differentiator of being "the best for email" is no longer wholly relevant outside of business use.

(As a side note, it must be said that the great strides made in the last two or three years in smartphone operating systems makes choosing the right OS for your needs an important factor as well)

Anyway, for me and many like me, because voice quality, email capabilities, cameras, network capabilties (such as HSPA, WiFi, etc.) are pretty much the same across most of the high-end smartphones, Apps and the OS are now the top considerations. This then, meant that in choosing a new smartphone, a new BlackBerry was no longer an option (lack of Apps or a cutting-edge OS) and neither were the new Windows 7 phones (lack of a wide range of Apps). So it was a direct choice: iPhone 4 vs. the HTC Desire HD. Why the Desire HD? As my provider is, of course, Vodafone, I wanted to compare the iPhone 4 with the best Android phone Vodafone offers, which is the Desire HD.

Luckily, Courtney wanted an iPhone 4, no question. So, in early December I got her one and was able to play with it and have a really good look at its capabilities before making my decision.

There's no doubt in my mind that Apple's iOS is great. It's user-friendly, intuitive and graphically attractive. This is not say it's without its faults, though.  The complex and sheer number of menus and sub-menus is a little off-putting, and the lack of a dedicated 'Back" button means navigation can be tiresome. 

Apple's Retina Display, though, is simply magnificent and the best display on the market, hands-down. Email is a breeze (thanks to the iOS finally allowing delivery of all email accounts into one inbox, a feature conspicuously missing from pre-iOS 4.0...) and the quantity of Apps is second-to-none.

However (!), Apple have, in my mind, done the unforgivable, and locked their device down so tightly that trying to sync or add/remove media is so fucking complex and long-winded, not to mention that it MUST be done through iTunes, that I wanted to throw the fucking thing out the window when I was trying to put some music on it! You see, I'd made the mistake of setting up the phone using my laptop and iTunes library. So when it came time for Courtney to use her laptop and her iTunes library, I had to metaphorically jump through flaming hoops of solidified dogshit for her to be able to do this.

This was a real turn-off for me and was one of the main reasons behind my deciding to say eff it, and go with Android (the other being the fact that it would be cool for me and the wife to have an iPhone and an Android phone, as opposed to the same phone), meaning that:


...I decided to pick up the Desire HD the very next day. So let's make this short and sweet:

The Good
Display - not quite as good as iPhone 4's, resolution-wise, but still HD and it's bigger
Apps - I would argue the Apps are better because 1) the native Google Apps are awesome and 2) many of the iPhone's paid apps are free here (such as Angry Birds). This is not to mention that Android are right behind Apple in sheer number as well
OS - y'know those issues I was having with the iPhone 4 being so locked down? Non-existent on Android...I can do whatever I want, however I want. Period.
UI - HTC's minimal overlay on Froyo is also very user friendly with the added bonus of having four dedicated keys (Home, Back, Menu and Search) that make navigation around the OS so much easier
Camera - 8MP and better than iPhone 4's
Camcorder - 720p HD (same as iPhone 4's)
Email - choice of dedicated apps OR single inbox (better than iPhone 4)
Speed - with the 1GHz processor and 750 MB of RAM (overkill? Perhaps...) the Desire HD is the fastest phone on the market

The Not-So-Good
Weight - Thing is heavy as shit! (But so is the iPhone 4)
Audio - seems a little low to me, but with HTC Sense (only available on Android phones) the phone knows when it's in your bag/pocket and so rings louder!

The Bad
Battery - I have to charge this damn thing anywhere from two to four (!) times a day!
No Front-Facing Camera - inability to do Video Calling is a big thing

So in the end, the choice was obvious, for me. I say "for me", because after all, that's what it's really about, isn't it? Many people I've spoken to since I got the phone have asked, "Which is better? Android or iPhone?" And I always say the same thing:

If you aren't a tech-geek or smartphone-savvy and you want a smartphone that has all the bells and whistles, you should always get the iPhone 4.

If you know you're way around smartphones and are tech/PC-literate, you should always go for Android.