TODAY'S PAPER
35° Good Morning
35° Good Morning
Entertainment

2009's best in movies, music, TV and theater

Dianna Agron, left, and Naya Rivera sell cupcakes

Dianna Agron, left, and Naya Rivera sell cupcakes at the Glee Club's bake sale in the "Wheels" episode of "Glee" on Fox. Photo Credit: Fox

RAFER GUZMÁN'S MOVIE PICKS

1. "A SINGLE MAN"

Designer Tom Ford's directorial debut is the year's most beautiful film, with an unforgettable performance by Colin Firth as a gay man who's losing his will to live.

2. "THE ROAD"

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee, as a man and his son, handle nearly every scene alone - fitting for a movie that addresses nothing less than the end of humanity.

3. "THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS"

Werner Herzog's semi-insane film noir, starring Nicolas Cage as an unhinged cop, upends all expectations. Even knowing that, you'll still be surprised.

4. "AVATAR"

James Cameron's epic may or may not revolutionize cinema, but it definitely breaks new ground in special effects, computer animation and cinematography. Not bad for what's essentially a hokey sci-fi flick.

5. "AN EDUCATION"

Featuring a great actor you already know, Peter Sarsgaard, and one you'll be seeing more of, Carey Mulligan, this is the rare coming-of-age story that actually does impart wisdom.

6. "THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE"

Steven Soderbergh encapsulates the shallow 2000s in this mercilessly insightful indie film about a high-priced escort (Sasha Grey, a well-known porn actress) surrounded by prostitutes of all stripes.

7. "FANTASTIC MR. FOX"

This stop-motion charmer has all the hallmarks of Wes Anderson's best movies: wry humor, inventive visuals and a terrific cast in the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray

8. "THE BROTHERS BLOOM"

Rian Johnson's overlooked gem is a movie lover's movie, brimming with cinematic flourishes and wonderful performances from Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Weisz as con artists and marks - but which is which? 

9. "DARE"

This little-seen movie stars Ashley Springer, Emmy Rossum and Zach Gilford - all delivering top-notch performances - as three high-schoolers whose wobbly psyches collide. One of the smartest and most honest teen movies in years.

10. "DISTRICT 9"

This movie about aliens in South Africa combined sci-fi, political allegory and nifty effects to create something refreshingly original. Who says popcorn movies can't be smart?

 

GLENN GAMBOA'S MUSIC PICKS

1. MIRANDA LAMBERT, "REVOLUTION" (Columbia)

Country's next superstar comes across as the smarter, sassier older sis to Taylor Swift and the one set to carry the torch with Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris. Miranda Lambert's "Revolution" erases gender and political lines ("Only Prettier") and sweetly recasts religious fervor ("Heart Like Mine") with a wink, a smile and a "Bless your heart."

2. JAY-Z, "THE BLUEPRINT 3" (Roc Nation)

Jay closes out the "Blueprint" series with the strongest edition yet, showing that he can bounce between his most effective takedowns ("D.O.A." and "Off That") and his most mainstream anthems ("Empire State of Mind") without breaking a sweat. Hits from this will stretch well into next year.

3. PHOENIX, "WOLFGANG AMADEUS PHOENIX" (Glassnote)

Indie rock that reflects "Breakfast Club"-like optimism and synthesized sleekness without compromising on big-picture epics ("Love Like a Sunset") and classical ambitions.

4. KELLY CLARKSON, "ALL I EVER WANTED" (19 / RCA)

Clarkson takes the esteem issues, the feelings of betrayal and longing, that sank her previous album and dresses them up in pop finery to create an approachable, radio-friendly package that also includes some creative and intellectual heft.

5. FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE, "LUNGS" (Universal)

In the fine tradition of Kate Bush, Florence and her Machine combine lush backdrops and ornate vocal twists to tell elaborate literary tales ("Rabbit Heart") or extraordinarily simple ones ("Kiss With a Fist").

6. IDA MARIA, "FORTRESS 'ROUND MY HEART" (Island Def Jam)

Norwegian pop that kicks you in the head or tries to charm your pants off - often within the same song.

7. TAKING BACK SUNDAY, "NEW AGAIN" (Warner Bros.)

The Rockville Centre-based rockers boldly experiment with new rhythms ("Sink Into Me") and new harmonies ("Carpathia") with great success, but it's the way they keep honing and improving their own brand of rock in "Where My Mouth Is" and the wrenching "Everything Must Go" that impresses even more. 

8. GLASVEGAS, "GLASVEGAS" (Columbia)

Glasvegas welds girl-group melodies to Jesus and Mary Chain atmospherics to lighten the mood and construct poignant anthems, such as "Daddy's Gone" and "Go Square Go."

9. PASSION PIT, "MANNERS" (French Kiss)

The Bostonians filter their synth-pop through world beat, British big beat and, seemingly, a blimpful of helium that makes New Order-ish dance numbers like "The Reeling" sound uplifting and lighter than air.

10. SHAKIRA, "SHE WOLF" (Epic)

A wild dance-pop ride into the delightfully loopy brain of Shakira, complete with talk of lycanthropy and actual howling at the moon, that shows how adventurous superstars can actually be. Awooooo!

 

VERNE GAY'S TV PICKS

1. "BREAKING BAD"

Spectacular acting and writing . . . a harrowing and deeply, insistently moralistic tale . . . plus, a season finale that sent my jaw tumbling to the floor. 

2. "MAD MEN"

When AMC submits the episode where Don finally comes clean to Betty to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for best drama consideration, another gold statue is assured. Best of all, Jon Hamm should finally get to take one home, too.

3. "GLEE"

So much to praise, so little room here in which to praise. At least a second season is an absolute certainty and it wasn't always. 

4. "30 ROCK"

Ho hum. More praise for TV's funniest, brightest, smartest comedy. 

5. "THE OFFICE"

(At least) two great episodes made this an especially memorable year - the fifth-season finale, and Jim and Pam's wedding. 

6. "TRUE BLOOD"

A strange and intoxicating brew, this erotic bloodfest, but also addictive, atmospheric and endlessly entertaining.

7. "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM"

In which we discover a new facet of the genius of Larry David - to reunite the "Seinfeld" cast and stretch the whole thing over an entire season, hilariously. 

8. "LOST"

A splendid penultimate season that set up the final season.

9. NEWCOMERS

"Modern Family," "Parks and Recreation," "FlashForward," "The Good Wife" (as well as "Glee") are your best newcomers in a very good year for newcomers.

10. "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH CONAN O'BRIEN"

Maybe the only critic's list in the country to include this show in the top 10, but - surprise - this is a consistently funny program.

 

LINDA WINER'S THEATER PICKS 

1. "RUINED"

Lynn Nottage's beautiful and hideous Pulitzer Prize-winning play-with-music tells the shattering story of brutalized women in the war-torn Congo. (Closed) 

2. ANGELA LANSBURY AND ROSEMARY HARRIS

At the risk of lumping together great actresses on the upside of 80, how lucky we are to have watched Harris as the thespian matriarch in "The Royal Family" (just closed) and Lansbury playing madcap "Blithe Spirit" (closed) and elegantly sardonic in "A Little Night Music" (Walter Kerr Theatre).

3. "GOD OF CARNAGE"

With James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels, Yasmina Reza's bad-behavior domestic comedy was brutally entertaining. With the new cast, including Christine Lahti and Jimmy Smits, it's less dazzling but still amusing. (Jacobs Theatre)

4. "BRIEF ENCOUNTER"

The beloved 1945 movie weeper is reinvented - with grand imagination and respect - into part cabaret, part multimedia cinematic invention. The production by the British Kneehigh Theatre, is at Brooklyn's St. Ann's Warehouse through Jan. 17.

5. DAVID CROMER

You can still see the amazing touch of this Chicago director in an intimate "Our Town" that will make you think you've never before seen Thornton Wilder's classic. (Barrow Street Theatre) The heartbreak - and the crime - is that Cromer's wonderful production of Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs," closed in a week. Sorry you missed it.

6. "A STEADY RAIN"

Keith Huff's dark, moody cop drama wasn't wildly original, but the Middle American pulp fiction gave Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman a monologue showcase for tight, mean, gorgeous acting. (Closed)

7. "WAITING FOR GODOT"

John Goodman, Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin and John Glover were theatrical and existential bliss in Anthony Page's revival that honored Samuel Beckett's masterwork by living fully in the futile inertia of his great mortal joke. (Closed)

8. "HAIR"

Diane Paulus' exuberant revival may oversell at times, but it is a lovable, important, achingly timely piece about the horrors and marvels and the wild fun of young social change. (Al Hirschfeld Theatre)

9. "THE STARRY MESSENGER"

Matthew Broderick, as a depressed astronomer, gave an exquisitely detailed portrayal of another of his passive characters in Kenneth Lonergan's quietly marvelous, leisurely profound and humane serious comedy about overlapping lives in Manhattan. (Closed) 

10. "LET ME DOWN EASY"

Anna Deavere Smith, who pretty much invented documentary theater, offers another one of her perception-shattering excavations - this time about death, dying and the health-care crisis. She steps under the skin of people she has interviewed and turns a tough topic into vibrant entertainment. (Closing next Sunday at Second Stage.)

More Entertainment