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Best Stuff of 2011

They say blog posts that feature numbered lists – top tens and fifteen things white girls say on Facebook, etc. – are really popular and garner more traffic. Hell if I know why.

So, I planned on doing my top ten books of the year but it turns out I don’t think I’ve read ten books this year – okay, I’m exagerrating. I’ve read more than ten this year. But not many more.  The big irony of becoming a novelist is that all that time I used to have for reading? Now that time is allotted for writing.  Of those I did read, I can only think of a few I’d want to tout.

And so, I’m giving you a mixed bag of all the things I’ve enjoyed this year, movies, books, music. Websites, even. Maybe. And they may or may not have been released this year. But I saw/read/listened to them this year, and so I’m using ’em. Capische?

And awaaaaaay we go.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

I thought this was going to be an utter crapfest. I mean, after the travesty that was Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, I had lost all hope for the franchise, one of my beloved childhood memories. And, so, I watched this not thinking it would do anything more for me other than alleviating my boredom for a couple of hours. Boy, was I surprised. And, dang, those apes really can act! I mean, you could tell when they were happy, you could tell when they were sad, you could tell when they were angry enough to throw a car at you. I can’t even begin to imagine the number of bananas they had to have on set to keep that cast of apes satisfied. “Here’s your motivation in the scene – you really want to throw poo at him! Really really bad. But you can’t. And you’ll get a banana if you make it look like that! Okay, Mr. Jingles? A banana!”

 EXORCISMUS

Man, do I have a softspot in my heart for any movie or television show that features that ole crazy debil. But in past years I’ve been terribly disappointed dem damned debil movies. Movies like End of Days, or The Last Exorcist, or both of the Exorcist prequels. Boy did they stink. Spawn, and Little Nicky and even The Rite (which wasn’t THAT bad, but not that great either). Lots and lots of really bad movies featuring Satan.

So, when I saw Exorcismus on Netflix Stream Instantly, I knew I was gonna watch it, but I didn’t go in with high expectations. I thought it was going to be utter crap, actually. (This is a recurring theme in this list – exceeding expectations.)

Exorcismus is a very intimate and frightening look at what happens when disbelieving atheists have a child and that child gets possessed by the real levitatin’, eye-rollin’, profanity spewin’ debil.

On the one hand, this could easily be considered a remake or a “reimagining” of The Exorcist – it trundles down the rails of the exact same plot as the original – yet it manages to become new. The presence of the atheist parents, the natural rebelliousness of the teenage girl contrasted with the profane and abberant behaviors of Old Scratch, these all bring new questions and resolutions to this old story, reinvigorating it.

Not the last you’ll see of dat ole debil on this list, I reckon.

 

BLACK RIBBONS

This was released in 2010, but I just got wind of it a month ago and since then it’s been in heavy rotation. Black Ribbons is a collaboration between Shooter Jennings (son of the late, great Waylon) and Hierophant. A throwback to the concept albums of the seventies a la Pink Floyd or Yes, where all the tune tunes work together collectively to flesh out a theme/politcal message/storyline. Black Ribbons does a good job of doing all of these things. It’s a bizarre mesh of country, rock, techno, dystopic notes, and it’s got Stephen King in there, playing the part of Will O’ Wisp, a radical disc jockey on the verge of being shut down by the oppressive and corrupt government.

From the Wikipedia entry:

“Musically, Black Ribbons is a mind-blowing opus that completely obliterates genre distinctions. On this unprecedented work, twanging dobros coexist with Nintendochipsets; brutally assaultive passages alternate with moments of unabashed tenderness, and surreal Floydian soundscapes float above smoking slabs of whiskey-soaked southern soul. It’s an electrifying thrill ride across a dense, dark and gloriously decadent musical landscape.”[4]

Take a listen. It’s pretty freaking amazing.

 

SCOTCH

‘Nuff said. Cheers!

 

 

 

SUPERNATURAL

I didn’t want to like this show. It seemed trite, cliched, and created for the absolute lowest common denominator. Two pretty boy stars running around in a muscle car, fighting dat ole debil (told ya he’d be back). Of the sentence, “Two brothers fight the devil,” it was the last three words that stirred something in my black heart and convinced me to give it a try. So I grudgingly started watching, and it was rough in spots, but as the seasons went along the writing only got stronger, the characters deeper – though I’ll say this, the big brother, Sam? That guy can’t act his way out of a bag full of community theater. Pure eye-candy for the ladies, really. But the other brother, Dean – that actor is the heart and soul of the show. And the crotchety old mentor – he’s pretty damn good too.

Fun show and I look forward to it every week. Another bonus, seasons have twenty one episodes.

PARKS AND RECREATION

I’d just typed the end of The Incorruptibles and I was in between writing books in early summer and the $2000 HD televison we’re still paying off was sitting there, staring at me, taunting. DARING ME. BEGGING ME to watch it. And because I’m a kind hearted soul, I decided to put it out of its misery and make sweet love…I mean, watch it.

So, I was in the mood for something light hearted and I didn’t want to make a commitment to some TV show that had a bajillion seasons. I’d tried The Office – both the UK version and the US version – and neither did much for me.  I’d seen a clip for P&R on Huffpo, featuring Aziz Ansari and it was quite amusing. Enter Parks and Recreation on my Netflix Stream Instantly queue.

Why did I keep watching? Two words.

Ron Fucking Swanson.

Wait. Okay that’s three. Three words. Ron Fucking Swanson. Libertarian. Cocksman. Lover of scotch.

BOB SCHNEIDER

You don’t know who Bob Schneider is. That’s okay, not a lot of folks do. He’s a multi-instrumentalist songwriter from… you guessed it… Austin, Texas, who’s been touring since the early nineties. He’s written a crime noir musical called FUCK ALL YOU MOTHERFUCKERS (more affectionately known as FAYMF) and is a prolific songwriter. This year, he released two albums, A Perfect Day and Lovely Creatures. He often tours around the south, and hits Little Rock regularly. His show is not one to miss, if he’s with the full band or if he’s doing a solo acoustic show.

 LA HORDE

Another movie discovered through Netflix Stream Instantly which is one of the best reasons to have the online service. With NSI, you’ll be exposed to movies you’d never see otherwise. And this one, La Horde, is very very Fronch monsieurs et madamoiselles, hon hon, oui oui, j’aurai toujours faim de toi tout le monde est à moi je l’ai gagné dans un jeu de cartes et maintenant je m’en fous c’était gagné trop facilement and more like that except that La Horde has 100% less Gordon Sumner aka Sting and 1000% more zombies. Yes. French zombies.

Premise: four corrupt cops break into a high-rise housing project to take vengeange on the Nigerian drug dealers living on the top floor who just happened to have killed their partner/lover/friend/brother, respectively. Lots of reasons to be mad, really.

During the course of the assassination attempt, all Hell literally breaks loose and, you guessed it, zombies! Lots of zombies.

This movie is ultra-violent, just like I like ’em, and very very bleak. Taking Jean Paul Sartre to the next level. Postulate: Hell isn’t other people, Hell is other people, zombiefied.

There are lots of memorable scenes in the movie, but my favorites are the two roof scenes. And there’s one in the parking deck near a column that’s pretty brutal.

Laissez les bons temps rouler, y’all.

STEVEN SAYLOR’S ROMA

Some of you know that I loves me some Roman history and loves me some ancient Roman drama. I, Claudius and Gordianus the Finder, Marcus Didius Falco and Decius Caecilius Metellus, Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series and Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars. Ovid’s Metamorphosis and Herdotus’ histories. HBO’s Rome and even that crappy CBS drama Empire or Showtime’s boobs/dongs/assfest also known as Spartacus. It don’t matter. It can be the Roman Republic or the Roman Empire, I’m happy as a lickerfish plucked from the virginal Tiber. Byzantine Rome? Eh, okay, I guess.

Anyway, Steven Saylor has made a career from writing about Rome, setting a series of mysteries featuring Gordianus the Finder during the end days of the Roman Republic. In Roma (2008), he tackles the Rome’s origins as a community of salt traders nestled a valley surrounded by funny hill. It wasn’t known as Rome then, it was called RUME, which had something to do with a woman’s breasts. For anyone who’s read my as yet published book The Incorruptibles, the name Rume bears some significance and I was very surprised and pleased to find it in Roma.

Roma depicts the history of Rome from its earliest days until the assasination of Julius Caesar. It’s a sprawling massive read, yet he keeps it intimate and fascinating (wink) by focusing on the sons and daughters of two families.

Yes, I know it wasn’t released this year. But this year is when I read it.

NATIONAL RANSOM

This was released in October of 2010, but I didn’t buy it until January of 2011, so it’s going in this list. Don’t judge me!

What do I have to say about Elvis Costello that hasn’t already been said? For me, Costello’s output is consistently excellent over a career spanning 40 years.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVbeDqT7MzM&feature=related

 

DEVIL

Released in September 2010. *Sigh* Okay, obviously, I’m really about a year behind everyone else. I just don’t rush out and buy stuff the moment it’s released. Those days are over for me. I rarely see movies in the theater – if you don’t count kids movies – and my TBR pile is outlandishly tall. I just don’t have time for everything! Okay? So I’m putting stuff on my list that’s old. Fine. I’m just a horrible listmaker.

Okay. Devil.

I thought it could’ve been better if they called it Debil (because I think that’s funny).

Making his last appearance on this list, Old Scratch is back.

Everybody loves to hate M. Night Shymalamadingdong. But remember when The Sixth Sense came out? And then Unbreakable (which was awesome too) and then Signs (which was far less awesome but still had some good moments) and then he had a series of micro-strokes in the prefrontal cortex of his brainmeats and gave the word his next two movies, the names of which escape me because I never saw those pieces of crap, the word on the street being so harsh against them. (And, additionally, any movie with Mark Wahlberg automatically has a strike against it in my book.)

So we have another case of not expecting much as I queued up the DVD for Devil. I think you can understand why, even though M. Night Shymalamma’s name was all over this movie that I rented it anyway, can’t you?

Dat’s right. Dat ole debil.

It’s a locked room mystery set in an elevator. And one of the people in the elevator is the DEVIL! Now that’s what I call big fun.

CITY OF THE LOST

Full disclosure, Stephen Blackmoore is a friend of mine. Or at least I claim him as a friend, I don’t know if he reciprocates. I didn’t know  him very well when he asked me to read City of the Lost, so I made my initial judgement on its merits without the messy obligations of friendship and fellowship. Luckily, the book was freakin’ awesome.

In essence, it’s a crime noir novel with a dead man as the central protagonist. There are some remarkable similarities to The Maltese Falcon, however, where that might bother some folks, I love it. When I can find some touchstone in a novel, some reference or thread that allows me to see the author’s mind and intentions more clearly, bing bang, you got me, bucko. Anyway, I blurbed it, I thought it was so good. And the blurb went a little sumpin’ like this:

For a debut author, Stephen Blackmoore knows perfectly well how to snatch up his readers and barrel away with them from page one. In Joe Sunday, he’s created the perfect hard-boiled anti-hero – an inexorable protagonist who’s short on tongue-wagging and long on visceral brutality, yet is totally sympathetic due to his singular narrative voice. Oh, yeah. He’s also dead. CITY OF THE LOST is one hell of a fast and thoroughly enjoyable ride. The perfect book for fans of crime noir, urban fantasy, and horror. One of my favorite reads of the year.

EAST BOUND AND DOWN

Konichwa, bitches.

I’m kinda strange in that I don’t care about any sports, save my beloved Arkansas Razorbacks. I don’t watch basketball – except the Razorbacks – I don’t watch football – ditto – I don’t watch baseball.

But I do love low brow humor, the dirtier the better. Cheech and Chong, the Farrely Brothers, anything with Jon C. Reilly or Will Ferrell in it, you’ve got me, movie-wise.

So, there’s this show called East Bound and Down and it has this guy in it, Kenny Fucking Powers. Do I need to say more? Just watch this clip.

RAISING STONY MAYHALL

More zombies! This time all literary and heart-felt and stuff. Daryl Gregory (it’s okay, you can trust him despite his two first names) has written a zombie novel to end all zombie novels. This does not mean that This Dark Earth won’t be released next summer, it totally will – PREORDER HERE! It just means, damn, I’m glad I didn’t read this book while I was writing TDE or otherwise, I’m thinking major depression and liquor-binge, lying in bed like Brian Wilson did after hearing Sgt. Peppers. This book is the Sgt. Peppers of zombie novels. I said this about it at the SF Signal:

The last book I read that converted me to an advocate for the author and all his works was Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory. Despite being a “zombie” novel, this book is by turns touching, hilarious, thoughtful, exciting, philosophical, silly. All of it borders on genius. Set in an alternate reality where the occurrences in Night Of The Living Dead were real and that film was actually a documentary, we trace the growth of a foundling baby who, it turns out, is a zombie, but unlike any undead came before. His story takes us through his childhood and adolescence with a sensitive yet deft hand, toward adulthood and rebellion and finally a kind of martyrdom. Truly an amazing and wonderful book. It takes all the conventions of the zombie genre and turns them on their head, breaks them down and shuffles them about, allowing us to see the subject matter and tropes of the genre in a whole new way. Like he did with demonic possession before in Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory has crafted in Raising Stony Mayhall a novel that transcends genre and approaches universal themes and questions about the human condition with a mastery of storyform that leaves this author breathless and a little – okay, a lot – jealous.

11/22/63

What can you say about Stephen King? He’s the master of popular fiction and the reason that horror novels are even a genre. He’s a national treasure and he should get more recognition for what he’s done for literacy and letters in this country.

So, 11/22/63 is the story of Jake Epping who discovers the existence of a “rabbit hole” in the back of a diner that leads to a sunny summer day in 1958, when all the world was new, and young, and gas was 15¢ a gallon, beef was 20¢ a pound, men still wore hats, there was no internet, no smart phones, everyone smoked. The diner’s owner convinces Jake that the only rational thing to do with the rabbit hole is save JFK by killing Lee Harvey Oswald.

Shenanigans ensue.

Great book and King sticks the ending.

EARTH: A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race – Jon Stewart

There aren’t many things I look forward to more than checking out the daily clips from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Remember when Craig Kilborn was on it? You remember that guy named Craig Kilborn? Well, he was kinda tall and mean-spirited and he would… wait a sec. That’s not important.

Earth. The earth is dead, mankind gone, and so Jon Stewart has written the “user’s guide” to the human race in hopes that passing aliens will reconstitute the human race from our DNA.

 

PRETTY GOOD GUY – Chris Knight

Not Chris Knight from the Brady Bunch. And this album was released in 2001. Sheesh. I know. But this album is fantastic and I can’t believe I’ve lived a decade without knowing about it.

 

BAD AS ME

Tom Waits. Is this as good as Rain Dogs, Heart Attack and Vine? Real Gone? Nope.

But it’s still better than the rest of the crap that was released this year. And it WAS RELEASED THIS YEAR!

 

I SELL THE DEAD

Jesus H Christ, this movie was released in 2008? Damnation.

Another Netflix Stream Instantly discovery. And thank Cthuhlu I found it, because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have a number one for my list.

I could talk and talk about this movie. But instead, just watch the freakin’ trailer. And don’t let the kid who was in The Lord of the Rings discourage you, he’s really good in this one!

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