(SHORT NOTES) Really Happy Stuff: 2011 Movies, TV Shows, and Acoustic Songs. And a Little Spike Jonze Word Vomit.

I should consider changing the name of my “Really Happy Stuff” section to “Really Happy Stuff (and Possibly Some Really Sad Stuff, Too)” because not everything on this week’s list makes me happy. Actually, some of it makes me kind of not happy.

1. Being John Malkovich DVD extras

These make me kind of not happy. (See, I told you it wasn’t all Happy with a capital “H” this week.) Charlie Kaufman has a brilliantly twisted mind, as reflected in any of his movies. Therefore I shouldn’t have been surprised when watching the DVD extras on Being John Malkovich, which are just as odd as their creator. One feature includes a potentially insightful interview with director Spike Jonze during which Spike looks like he’s going to vomit uncontrollably at any moment. As you can imagine, this kind of takes the attention away from the words coming out of his mouth and places it, well, on other things. You’ll have to watch it for yourself to see how the interview ends.

(He vomits. And it’s really, really gross.)

2. Fish Tank, 2009 (directed by Andrea Arnold)

Thanks to shuffle mode on iTunes, Bobby Womack’s rendition of “California Dreamin’” blasted out of my speakers this morning. The song reminds me of one of my favorite movies that had a limited release in 2010 and came—then quickly went—with just a small rustle of the indie curtain. The movie follows 15-year-old dancer Mia (played brilliantly by newcomer Katie Jarvis) as she tries to grow up under the eyes of her neglectful mother/Mom’s sexy boyfriend (Michael Fassbender, Inglourious Basterds). One quiet scene finds Mia and her mom and sister dancing side-by-side to Womack’s “California Dreamin’” as if they’re trying to hold on to something that wasn’t ever really there—family, or at least something like it.

It won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, in addition to dozens of other awards from them good ol’ Brits. A DVD release date is unfortunately TBD. In the meantime, check out the trailer below.

3. Late December/Early January Oscar Buzz Movies

In spite of a relatively slow 2010 at the box offices (Sex and the City 2. Cough. The Tourist. Cough.), I love the heart tuggers that find their way into theaters at the beginning of the year, which is usually the time of the flops.

Let’s use 2010 as a case study. We got Mel Gibson’s Edge of Darkness, The Wolfman, and Repo Men, which was a sad flop for me because I really, really like Jude Law and it’s never fun seeing a favorite actor stuck in a bad movie.

And so, in early 2011, look out for three Oscar hopefuls tackling love in all its pain and glory:

  1. Another Year (directed by Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky) – Follows married couple Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Mary (Lesley Manville) through the four seasons as they’re surrounded by friends and family stuck in unhappy relationships. How happy. 🙂
  2. Blue Valentine (directed by Derek Cianfrance, known for his TV docs and shorts) – Follows the deterioration of couple Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams). The movie is being released after years and years of setbacks and intense pre-production, during which Gosling and Williams lived together in a house to learn their characters inside and out. That’s what I call commitment.
  3. Biutiful (directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Babel) – Something about love and fate. Whatever. Javier Bardem is in it and his character’s name is Uxbal. It’s gonna be good.

4. Somewhere, 2010 (directed by Sofia Coppola)

This movie should be included in the above Oscar hopefuls, but I decided to give it it’s own paragraph to allow for a mini-review.

I love when you go see a movie and it feels different from the other movies you’ve seen recently, when you know there’s a brilliant creative hand hovering over everything you’re seeing onscreen. I also love when filmmakers break genre conventions and in turn make the audience uncomfortable. Sofia Coppola, as expected, does this repeatedly in Somewhere, her latest film about a famous actor (played by the rugged Stephen Dorff) in L.A. who’s routine of sex-eat-sleep is interrupted when his daughter shows up at his door. She’s the master of the slice-of-life portrayal of people just sitting and going through the motions (see The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette and Lost in Translation), which means you get long shots, few cuts, and lots of slow zoom-outs. But the people in the theater didn’t like this. They fidgeted and grunted and some even left. But stick it out and I promise you’ll get a character study that’s worth your green stuff.

5. Winter TV preview

TV, TV, TV. It ran away from us in December, but it’s back and shining brighter than ever starting this Sunday. Two things about Winter TV are making me happy this January:

  1. NBC Comedy Thursdays (in this order): Community (returning), Perfect Couples (from executive producers Jon Pollack and Scott Silveri of 30 Rock and Friends, respectively), The Office (returning), Parks and Recreation (thankfully returning!!!), and 30 Rock (returning).
  2. Showtime Sundays (in this order): Californication (returning), Episodes (new, starring former Friends star Matt LeBlanc as former Friends star Matt LeBlanc), and Shameless (new adaptation of a British series starring William H. Macy as an alcoholic father to a quirky clan of children).

6. 2011 Movie Preview

The lists are out and predictions are already being made about what will sink or swim. In any case, every Friday on my calendar this year is filled with at least one movie I’d like to see. (The math side of things: It would cost me about $650 to see one movie per week while living in New York City. This makes me not happy.)

We also have a theme emerging, as it seems that 2011 will be the year of prequels, sequels, quadrilogies, and other -ilogies: X-Men: First Class, Rise of the Apes, The Hangover 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, Cars 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Scream 4, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, Thor, Green Lantern, Green Hornet, and Captain America.

So, in short, look forward to a lot of green things, animals, and movies with a semicolon and/or hyphen in their titles (i.e., The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1).

7. Acoustic Versions of Songs

I’ve heard this line from my parents and grandparents on countless occasions: “Everything on the radio sounds the same.” And they’re right, more or less. Songs that have been digitally manipulated tend to blend into one auto-tuned track. (Think Cher’s “Believe” on crack.) So, what makes me happy is when chart toppers with said auto-tuned hits release acoustic versions of their songs. Stripping the music down to guitar and vocals allows artists to let this thing called talent shine through. Taio Cruz, for one, just released an iTunes Session album on iTunes featuring an enjoyable acoustic version of his 2010 hit “Dynamite.” Jazmine Sullivan also makes the list even though she hasn’t released any acoustic tracks. Nevertheless I think she’s the best example of a contemporary artist with an old school, pre-auto-tune sound a la Lauryn Hill. Listen to “Holding You Down (Goin’ in Circles).” It’s refreshing.

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