Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Top 30 Pop Culture Moments of 2010: Part 3 (#10-#01)

2010 was a fairly good year for popular culture. I finally learned the secrets of LOST, got confused during Inception, complained a lot about remakes and 3D conversions, went all meta with Community, and finally decided I love Kanye West. These are just a small sampling of the things I loved about this year. What follows are my list of the 30 best pop culture moments in 2010. These are not a list of my favorite shows/movies/albums. They are simply my favorite snapshots that occurred in the world of entertainment and are the things I will always remember most. For those unlucky enough to have missed Part 1 and Part 2, please go enjoy those first. Lastly, major spoilers will occur in this list (mainly for Harry Potter, Toy Story 3, Red Dead Redemption, Piranha 3D, and LOST).

10) Blackface debate
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia seemed to always fly under the radar as it tended to be too hit or miss for it to be considered one of my favorite shows. Luckily that all changed this year when they had what is probably their best season in about 3 years. The best of which was the episode "Dee Reynolds: Shaping America's Youth." I would typically choose the parts making fun of juggalos as my favorite but nothing can top the epic debate that Mac, Frank, and Dennis have about blackface. I can't remember that last time I've laughed out loud so many times during a small scene. Having them each come at the topic from different angles (offensive, non-offensive, "it's all in the lips") was brilliant. While the words they were saying hading me laughing uncontrollably, it was the fact that all three were so passionate about their opinions that really made the scene work. I highly doubt this scene will ever be topped during the rest of this show's run. It's hard to think of something funnier than Mac asking "In the Lord of the Rings movies, Ian McKellen plays a wizard. Do you think he goes home at night and shoots lasers into his boyfriend’s asshole?”

09) Toys Get Trashed
Pixar has been on a roll for a long time. I've enjoyed every movie they have made and I was eagerly anticipating Toy Story 3. After Wall-E and Up, I was expecting another masterpiece from the best studio currently making movies. However, after the credits rolled on Toy Story 3, I couldn't help but feel let down. Something about the movie just didn't click for me and I wound up feeling the movie didn't prove it's need to exist. Having said that, I was absolutely blown away by the scene near the end of the movie as the toys are being led on the conveyor belt towards the fiery pit ready to destroy them. What amazed me the most was the instead of playing it for laughs or quick edited action before having the toys rescued to safety, the writers decided to maintain a very serious tone throughout the whole scene. We see each toy's expression go from fear to acceptance as they all join hands and decide that if they have to go out, at least they are going out together. I actually sat in my seat, fighting back tears, wondering what my reaction would be if this was the actual ending of the movie. I sort of knew they couldn't all die but I wouldn't put it past Pixar to have at least one of the toys fall into the pit. Thankfully in the end, this is still a kid's movie and so at the very last minute, the toys are rescued by the little alien guys (using a giant claw of course). I've never wanted to stand up and cheer more during a movie. I may not love Toy Story 3 like I love a lot of the other Pixar movies, but it was still a great experience.

08) Ben Linus and John Locke, Together Again!
For those reading this who know me, it comes as no surprise to see this so high on the list. I've been loving LOST for a few years now (I was a late bloomer to the show but when I started watching between the 3rd and 4th seasons, I became quickly obsessed) and there was nothing that I anticipated more in 2010 than the series finale. While Desmond had long been my favorite (as evident by the name of this blog), I also had a real soft spot for any scene featuring both Ben and Locke bouncing off each other. To me, they were the shows most interesting dynamic. It was sort of sad knowing that every scene they shared together after "The Life and Times of Jeremy Bentham" from season 5 wasn't truly "Ben" and "Locke" sharing a scene, but always a different spin on their characters (whether in the sideways world or The Man In Black's embodiment of John Locke). So it was with great relief that they took the time to have one last epic Ben/Locke scene before it was all said and done. I may not have enjoyed the final reveal that the sideways world was some holding pen after death, but as the months have passed since the finale, I've become more comfortable with what the overall message of LOST was: We may go through a lot in life, and we won't always know the answers to the biggest mysteries, but all that matters in the end are the people we kept close throughout it all.

07) The Last Act of Arcade Fire's The Suburbs
I actually wasn't a fan of Arcade Fire before listening to their latest album The Suburbs. I know to most music fans that's a sin but I just never made the attempt to get into their two previous albums (Funeral and Neon Bible). But once I started listening to The Suburbs, I became an instant fan. It's easily the best album of the year and I would even go so far as to place it in my top ten of all time. But what really places it so high on the list is the closing section of the album, specifically the last four songs: We Used To Wait, Sprawl I (Flatland), Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), and The Suburbs (Continued). This is as close to a perfect ending I have ever heard in an album. I doubt there is any song I listened to more in 2010 than Sprawl II. No matter what my mood was, it was always a perfect match for this song. On it's own it is a great piece of music, but within the confines of the rest of the album, it's amazing. I sadly still haven't gone back and listened to Funeral or Neon Bible yet because every time I decide to give it a try, I realize I still would just rather listen to The Suburbs instead. Maybe once my love for the album dies down a bit I'll be able to discover the greatness of those two as well.

06) Assemble the Minions!
The minions are the sole reason I am obsessed with the movie Despicable Me. As far as I'm concerned, they were the best new characters in 2010. Everything about them is just awesome, from the way they look, to they way they sound, to the way they are each given their own mini story/personality. I'm glad that they caught on as it seems like we will be seeing more minion nonsense in years to come through mini-movies while we patiently wait for a full length sequel. While there are many scenes that could go here, I had to chose the scene where we are first introduced to these fantastic yellow creatures. Gru yells for the minions to be assembled and we are then taken on a long tracking shot down into their lair. Getting to see the hundreds of minions all interacting with each other and spreading the news to gather is filled with so many wonderful little gags. I already loved these things on first sight, but once I found out they had an aerobics class, my love was then taken to a whole other level. It also helps that one of them is named Dave.

05) Dobby the Hero
A Harry Potter movie made me cry. I'm not sure what caused it but the death of Dobby really pushed certain buttons for me. I am not what you would call a die hard Harry Potter fan (never read a book and I've only seen each movie once, with Deathly Hallows Part 1 being the first in an actual movie theater) and I wasn't even a fan of Dobby the character the first time he showed up earlier in the franchise. But the way they made him so likable and fragile, mixed with his heroic turn and eternal optimism, made for a very emotional death scene. It's comical now, realizing that the death of a CG house elf can make me cry for the first time in almost 2 years (Up was the last time before this). The beautiful burying scene that follows wrapped it all up so perfectly. I still wish that was the last scene of the film and that the "Voldermort has the wand!" capper wasn't needed, but I understand it's a kid's movie so it needed to end on a big cliffhanger to get people ready for the finale next year. The Deathly Hallows Part 1 was an excellent movie (Top 5 of the year for me) and I'm really glad that it contained a scene so powerful that it made it this high on my list. It's refreshing to realize the seventh movie in a franchise can so easily be considered it's best.

04) Defying Gravity
Everything about Inception worked for me. I fell in love with right at the opening scene and consider it the best science fiction movie since Children of Men. Looking back, I do have a few small complaints about the amount of expository dialog early on in the film, but I truly believe that it was necessary due to the complexity of the premise. However, out of all the mind-bending sequences in this movie, nothing tops the zero gravity fight scene that Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character Arthur has in the hallway of the hotel. It's one of the coolest achievements I've seen in years and both times I saw the movie in a theater I was left with a big smile on my face the entire sequence. I still may not be able to tell you what I think the whole movie means (though I lean towards 3/4 of the movie being Cobb's dream as his team tries to force him to get over his feelings regarding his wife's death), but it doesn't really matter because the experience of watching the movie is so perfect. I believe (and hope) that Inception will be a genre classic for years to come.

03) Waking Up To a War Zone...of Paint
Now that LOST is over, Community is the greatest show on TV. It's is the perfect mix of character based plot and reference driven jokes. Nothing sums that beautiful mix up better than last years epic paintball episode "Modern Warfare." What starts as a normal episode of Study Room bickering ends with Joel McHale's Jeff Winger going to his car to take a nap as the school wide paintball tournament is about to begin. Once the opening credits roll however and we cut to Jeff waking up in his car, the episode morphs into a spot-on homage to action/post-apocalyptic survival films. The way they turn Greendale Community College into a paint splattered and deserted wasteland is stunning. I love the beginning scenes of Jeff slowly meeting up with his group as he tries to comprehend just what the hell is going on. The best of which is when Abed takes Jeff to the safe room where Troy is waiting for them (decked out in warrior gear of shoulder pads no less). As Troy sees Jeff and realizes he is still in the game, the look on his face is priceless, which is then followed by the spot on line reading from Donald Glover as he exclaims "Jeff Winger! You son of a bitch!" and gives him a big welcome back hug. It's a cliche line we've seen a hundred times in movies but the way Community plays it so straight, I couldn't help but just sit back and smile as I knew I was in good hands for the remainder of the episode. LOST's The Constant will always be the epitome of an hour long episode of TV. Community's "Modern Warfare" is now the same for the half hour format.

02) John Marston's Last Stand

Red Dead Redemption is the best video game I have ever played. The summer of 2010 will always be remembered as the summer where I spent countless hours roaming around the expansive map of Red Dead Redemption hunting wild animals, playing long games of poker, and looting dead bodies for some spare cash. Red Dead Redemption had a lot of great things going for it. Everything was perfect, from the visuals, to the missions, and everything in between. But what really made it such a great game to play was the main character, Mr. John Marston. It was the best fully formed character I had ever seen in a video game. I really dislike the trend of making main characters in video games silent nobodies as a way to make you feel like it could be you or whoever you want to imagine the character as. Luckily, Red Dead Redemption's makers got it right and knew that for a story to really matter, you first had to care about the main character. It's fun riding along in the game on horseback and killing random people, but in order for it to transcend the simple sandbox format and become a true masterpiece, we had to care about every mission we completed because it felt like we were one step closer to getting John Marston where he needed to be, which was with his family. This is what made the very end of Red Dead Redemption so satisfying. Most games would end with the hero making it back to his family (...and roll credits!). But Rockstar made an amazing decision to keep the game going, allowing you to see John Marston attempt to live a boring, normal life with the family he thought he wouldn't get to be with again. Of course, one's past is never truly behind them and sure enough, just when I thought the game would end on a quiet note of his family coming together as a unit again, we are given the final cut scene of John Marston's last stand. I saw John Marston die roughly 200 times during the course of the summer, but seeing it done in a way that was actually part of the story and so final (until the Undead Nightmare reboot) was such a powerful scene, especially for a video game. The fact they added a playable epilogue of his son Jack getting revenge simply made it that much more amazing. If you own a 360 or PS3 and didn't play Red Dead Redemption this year, you made a mistake.

01) Lake Massacre
Piranha 3D was the best time I ever had in a movie theater. I knew going in I was going to enjoy the movie, but I had no idea how amazing it would actually end up being. I guess before continuing any further I should note that that I love over-the-top gore in horror movies that don't take themselves too seriously and Piranha 3D is the best example of that I have ever seen. Sure the movie isn't the most well made, or the best written, or the best acted, and sometimes the 3D conversion made things look a bit murky, but I'll be damned if during the last half of the movie, I didn't care about any of those things. I'm not trying to say the movie is so bad it's good, like Troll 2 or The Manitou. It's also not in the lame group of films that try so hard to be "kitschy bad" that they end up sucking all the fun out of the movie because it comes across as too forced. Piranha 3D is simply an insanely fun horror movie made by people who love insanely fun horror movies. That's why I consider the whole lake massacre section of Piranha 3D (pretty much the second half of the film) to be my favorite pop culture moment of 2010. Once the piranhas are let loose, the movie becomes scene after glorious scene of gory kills. Making everything better is the fact that most of the victims are annoying "Spring Breakers" who are not sympathetic due to their overall douchy-ness (though that may just be my bias against those types of assholes talking). Bodies are destroyed in so many different ways that it never gets repetitive. Every time I think the movie just did something that could never be topped, they top it in the very next scene. I can't remember the last time I've seen this much carnage on screen. I'm really curious to see how this all translates when viewed at home in 2D instead of the large 3D screen in the theater. No matter how less epic it feels the second time around, I'll still always have the memory of seeing it for the first time, and loving every second of it.

You're Welcome,

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