Thursday, April 29, 2010

The 30 Best Musicals

OK, so I’m a straight guy who likes musicals…shoot me! I just feel that it is a unique art form that began in America and has produced some of the best songs ever written, from composers/ lyricists like Rodgers & Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Lerner & Lowe, Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne, Jerry Herman, Kander & Ebb, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Schwartz, Marvin Hamlisch, William Finn, Andrew Lippa, Jonathan Larson, Joe DiPietro, Jason Robert Brown, Elton John, and Adam Guettel.

It’s hard to rank musicals because they vary greatly based on the era in which they were first produced. Instead, I will attempt to list chronologically the musicals that were the best and most important. Your choices may be different, but here are mine:

(1943) Oklahoma: While it may seem corny today, this Rodgers & Hammerstein show launched the “modern” era of musicals by combining diverse musical styles, a complete story line, and dances intended to move the story forward. Based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs, this show features tunes including “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” and the title song.

(1954) Peter Pan: By filming the stage version of this show and broadcasting it on TV every year in the 50s and 60s, this show did more to popularize Broadway musicals than any before it. A musical version of a play by J. M. Barrie, it featured one of the greatest stars Broadway has ever know in Mary Martin. With music by Mark “Moose” Charlap and lyrics by Jule Styne, classic songs include “Never Never Land,” “I’m Flying,” and “I Won’t Grow Up.”

(1956) My Fair Lady: It was an ambitious idea to turn George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” into a musical, but it worked, especially given the talents of Rex Harrison and a young Julie Andrews. The Lerner & Lowe score includes “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and “On the Street Where You Live.”

(1957) West Side Story: Perhaps the best musical of them all, Arthur Laurents wrote the book for this show that took Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and set it on its ear with amazing songs combining the music of Leonard Bernstein with the lyrics of a young Stephen Sondheim, including “Maria,” “Tonight,” “America,” and the remarkable “Tonight Quintet.”

(1959) The Sound of Music: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s last great musical (book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse) was a triumph onstage and a huge movie success. Although most of us are more familiar with the Julie Andrews version, the original Broadway cast, starring Mary Martin, was in many ways more simple and pure. Besides the title song, it features “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” and “Climb Every Mountain.”

(1960) Oliver: Based on Dickens’s Oliver Twist, this was the first hugely successful musical to come from Great Britain. The songs by Lionel Bart include “Where is Love,” “Consider Yourself,” and “I’d Do Anything.”

(1962) Stop The World - I Want To Get Off: Another British musical, this featured the amazing work of Anthony Newley, who both co-wrote the book and songs (with Leslie Bricusse), and starred in the show, belting out great numbers like “Gonna Build a Mountain,” “Once in a Lifetime,” and “What Kind of Fool Am I.”

(1964) Funny Girl: Launching the career of Barbra Streisand, who won both the Tony and the Oscar for the lead role of Fanny Brice, this comedic musical was based on a book by Isobel Lennart with songs by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill including “I’m the Greatest Star,” “People,” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

(1965) Man of La Mancha: Cervantes’s Don Quixote may be the most popular and respected works ever written in Spanish, so converting it to an English-language musical required a bit of dexterity by Dale Wasserman and musical integrity by Mitch Leigh & Joe Darion. Others have played the role, but Richard Kiley owned it. Songs include “I, Don Quixote,” “Dulcinea,” and “The Impossible Dream.”

(1966) Mame: This Jerry Herman musical, based on Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis, and converted into a musical play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, introduced Angela Lansbury to most of the Broadway-going public (although she had previously appeared on Broadway in “Anyone Can Whistle”). It featured liberating songs like “It’s Today,” “Open a New Window” and the title song.

(1968) Hair: Not so much a great play as a happening, Hair galvanized the American psyche and produced several top ten hits. James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot composed and penned a musical that featured rock & roll, drugs, nudity, and offensive language, and it shook up Broadway. Songs include: “Aquarius,” “Hair,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “Where Do I Go?” and “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In).”

(1970) Jesus Christ Superstar: Although Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote this after “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” they recorded it first, as a rock opera. Originally condemned by the Catholic church and scorned by the religious right, it is a fairly straightforward retelling of the Synoptic Gospels while drawing on Fulton J. Sheen's Life of Christ. Great songs include “Pilate’s Dream,” “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” “Gethsemane,” and the title song.

(1975) A Chorus Line: Michael Bennett based this show on actual interviews he had audiotaped with dancers. He then enlisted James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante to write the book and Marvin Hamlisch & Edward Kleban to write the songs. After months of testing, what emerged was an amazing musical about the lives of dancers in a Broadway chorus line. Songs include “At the Ballet,” “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love,” “Nothing,” “What I Did for Love,” and “One.” The touching 2008 documentary, “Every Little Step,” describes the development of this musical masterpiece.

(1979) The Falsettos Trilogy: This is actually three musicals—“In Trousers” (1979) “March of the Falsettos” (1981), and “Falsettoland” (1990)—all by William Finn and all dealing with the life of a gay man and his relationships with those around him, including his son. They feature some amazing dialogue and outstanding songs including “Love Me for What I Am,” “Four Jews in a Room Bitching,” “I Never Wanted to Love You,” “Holding to the Ground,” and “What Would I Do.”

(1982) Cats: Although not the most coherent play, this musical, based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, contains the outstanding ballad “Memory,” performed amazingly by Betty Buckley. The music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with additional lyrics by Trevor Nunn, also includes “Jellicle Songs For Jellicle Cats,” “Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat,” and “Mr. Mistoffeles.”

(1983) La Cage aux Folles: Based on the 1973 French play and movie of the same name by Jean Poiret, this musical features amazing Riviera-style, gender-bending dance numbers and outstanding Jerry Herman songs including “Song on the Sand,” “I Am What I Am” (performed amazingly by George Hearn), the title song, and “The Best of Times.”

(1986) Les Misérables: Alternately rousing and emotional, this musical based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel with music by composer Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, and Herbert Kretzmer, contains some of the most memorable scenes ever staged, including those for “At the End of the Day,” “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Master of the House,” “Stars,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?,” “On My Own,” and “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”

(1990) City of Angels: This is one you have to see to believe. In the book by Larry Gelbart, a shy, somewhat reclusive screenwriter pens film noir movies about a daring detective, including characters based on actual people he knows, so the same actors play the characters in his life and in the movie scenes. The writer’s scenes are lighted in full color while the detective’s scenes are lighted and the characters garbed in black and white. On Broadway, there were more than 60 set changes…the most visual play I’ve ever seen. In addition, the excellent musical numbers by Cy Coleman and David Zippel include “With Every Breath I Take,” “You’re Nothing Without Me,” and “Funny.”

(1996) Rent: It took me some time to warm up to this rock opera based on Puccini's La bohème, but the songs by Jonathan Larson are outstanding, and “Rent” shook up Broadway the same way that “Oklahoma,” “West Side Story,” and “Hair” had done before it, tackling difficult issues like homosexuality, AIDS, and the disillusionment of a new generation. Great songs include “One Song Glory,” “Tango: Maureen,” “La Vie Bohème,” “Seasons of Love,” “Take Me or Leave Me,” and “What You Own.” However, the real tragedy was that Larson died of an aortic aneurysm days before its opening.

(1996) Ragtime: The book by Terrence McNally was based on the 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow about three families from very different backgrounds and how their lives intermingled amidst triumph and tragedy. It’s a big show and a beautiful story that in many ways relates the history of the American experience. Musical numbers by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens include the title song, “Wheels of a Dream,” “Sarah Brown Eyes,” and “Make Them Hear You.”

(1996) I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change: This little off-Broadway gem by Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts features scenes and songs about love from young dating to meeting at funerals, and everything in between. Featuring only four actors, it is delightful for anyone who has ever been in love, with songs including “I Will Be Loved Tonight,” “The Baby Song,” and “Shouldn't I Be Less In Love With You.”

(1997) Songs For A New World: More of a loosely structured song cycle than a traditional play, the show consisted of four performers and the songs of Jason Robert Brown. It sounds simple, but these are very good songs, including “Opening: The New World,” “The River Won't Flow,” “Stars and the Moon,” “I'd Give It All For You,” and “Hear My Song.”

(1997) Children of Eden: With Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Schwartz completes the trio of the most prolific musical songwriters of the last 40 years, and this show, although never making it to Broadway, is among his best. As scripted by John Caird, the show explores the relationships between parents and children, drawing on stories from the Book of Genesis. The songs include “The Spark of Creation,” “A World Without You,” “Lost in the Wilderness,” and the title song.

(1998) Parade: With a book by Alfred Uhry and songs by Jason Robert Brown, this is not your standard song-and-dance musical. Rather, it tells the story of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager who, in 1913 Georgia, was wrongly accused, tried, and convicted of raping and murdering a thirteen-year-old employee. The real-life case led to the founding of the Anti-Defamation League. With a cast headed by Brent Carver and the amazing Carolee Carmello, songs include “Do It Alone,” “This Is Not Over Yet,” and the outstanding duet, “All the Wasted Time.”

(2000) Aida: Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang, adapted Verdi’s opera into this musical with songs by Elton John and Tim Rice. It tells the story of an ancient Egyptian love affair that was never meant to be. Elton John’s music in this show was among the best and most interesting since Bernstein’s West Side Story. Clearly the cream of the Disney musicals, it featured a great cast including Heather Headley, Adam Pascal, and Sherie René Scott, and includes “Every Story Is a Love Story,” “My Strongest Suit,” “Elaborate Lives,” “The Gods Love Nubia,” and “Written in the Stars.”

(2001) Urinetown: There are not enough actual musical comedies on Broadway, but this show was among the funniest. Written and composed by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis, this tells the absurd story of a world where water is scarce and people must pay to urinate. What ensues is a hilarious show that makes fun of itself, with excellent songs including “Follow Your Heart,” “Run, Freedom, Run!” and “I See a River.”

(2003) Wicked: As scripted by Winnie Hozman, this story of the Wicked Witch of the West is based on Gregory Maguire’s book that draws on character’s from Frank L. Baum’s classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. With show-stopping performances by Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, it features songs by Stephen Schwartz including “No One Mourns the Wicked,” “Popular,” “Defying Gravity,” and “For Good.”

(2005) Billy Elliot: Lee Hall wrote this show as well as the 2000 movie on which it is based. He also shares songwriting credits with Elton John. Premiering in London in 2005, this musical features superb choreography by Peter Darling through which much of the story is told. Songs include “The Stars Look Down,” “Electricity,” and “Once We Were Kings.”

(2008) In The Heights: Originally written and staged by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes as a senior thesis project at Wesleyan University, this show tells the stories of Dominican immigrants in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood. Combining Latin beats, superb tunes, and intelligent rapping, this is a beautiful musical filled with positive energy. Songs by Miranda (who also starred in the show) include “It Won't Be Long Now,” “The Club,” and “When You’re Home.”

(2009) Next to Normal: I have yet to see this show, but the score by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey is outstanding. The story concerns a mother who struggles with bipolar disorder and the loss of her son, and the excellent songs include “Maybe,” “I’m Alive,” and “I Am the One.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Best TV Shows of 2010

As the second season of 2010 is coming to a close (there are now three seasons per year), I'm adding several shows. If you’ve missed many of the episodes, you can download them, buy the CDs, or watch them online at various sites like

  • The Good Wife: With a stellar cast that includes Julianna Margulies, Josh Charles, Christine Baranski, Matt Czuchry, and the wonderful Archie Panjabi, as well as recurring guest roles by the likes of Chris Noth, Joe Morton, Alan Cumming, Gary Cole, Peter Riegert, David Paymer, Martha Plimpton, Joanna Gleason, and Dennis O’Hare, this new CBS series may be the best thing on television, combining long-term character development and episodic intensity.
  • Parenthood: Based on the excellent movie of the same name, Jason Katims has produced and written an outstanding family dramedy that is simultaneously real and entertaining. Add to that an outstanding ensemble including Laren Graham, Peter Krause, Monica Potter, Craig T. Nelson, Dax Shepard, Bonnie Bedelia, Erika Christensen and Mae Whitman, and you have an NBC show that will win a lot of hearts.
  • The Pacific: First, Spielberg and Hanks gave us “Saving Private Ryan,” then “Band of Brothers.” I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I think “The Pacific” on HBO is better than either of those efforts. Each riveting weekly episode starts with actual US WWII combatants recounting their experiences with regard to that episode’s subject, followed by a superbly filmed and acted story tracing the 1st Marine Division’s trek across the islands of the Pacific. The individual marines’ stories combined with the intense majesty of war make this miniseries unforgettable. Now that it has ended, it will doubtless pop up on commercial TV. If you missed it the first time, be sure to catch it.
  • Supernatural: Each episode is a weekly horror show wrapped around the larger story of two brothers, played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, as they confronted issues related to good and evil. It was supposed to come to a stirring conclusion this season, but it has been extended, which could account for the somewhat tepid season finale and the strange twist at the end.
  • Modern Family: Reinventing the half-hour comedy series is not easy, but by combining a sitcom with a mockumentary and making it about a multi-dimensional family, this ABC show has accomplished that task. The beauty is that it portrays its characters as stereotypes while skewering the concept of stereotypical characters. Although it occasionally overreaches, it has fast become TV's best comedy.
  • In Plain Site: This is starting to look like a West Wing reunion, with star Mary McCormack being joined for extended guest appearances by Josh Malina and Alison Janney, to go with an already accomplished cast that includes Lesley Ann Warren and Broadway standout Frederick Weller. The USA Network show revolves around two marshals with the Witness Protection program, but sparkles with McCormack’s prickly performances.
  • V: Vastly better than the 1983 miniseries on which it is based, this ABC series about seemingly friendly aliens with a hidden agenda features Morena Baccarin, Morris Chestnut, Joel Gretsch, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Scott Wolf. It is an enjoyable modern riff on the old alien attack genre.
  • Human Target: Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I enjoy an action show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s how I describe this Fox show about a do-gooder with a checkered past, played by Mark Valley. While he is good in the lead role, the supporting performances by Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley are outstanding.
  • House: Yes, the lead character, played by Hugh Laurie, each week crosses lines that no actual doctor would be allowed to cross, but it is still entertaining to see how this unpleasant, albeit funny, character will solve the Fox series’ weekly illness while pissing off everyone with whom he comes into contact.
  • Medium: I always enjoyed this show about the crime fighter, played by Patricia Arquette, who communicates with the dead, but moving to CBS seems to have given it new life, particularly with regard to her children, who also share her gift/curse.
  • Caprica: While it is the prequel to Battlestar Gallactica, this Syfy series goes places where its parent show never imagined, particularly a virtual world where some characters have taken on lives of their own. Occasionally slow and convoluted, this show is intellectually captivating.
  • True Blood: Despite the addition of several cast members including Dennis O'Hare, this season of the HBO supernatural and erotic series has not been as good as Season 2. However, it remains one of the more intriguing shows on TV.
  • Madmen: Now in its third year, this AMC show keeps getting more interesting, and the character of Don Draper/Dick Whitman, as played by John Hamm, is among the most complex that TV has ever seen. The show is simultaneously uncomfortable and irresistable.
  • Entourage: With the addition of several new reality characters, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and real-life porn star Sasha Grey, this HBO show has gotten edgier, although not necessarily better. This season focused more on the characters around Vince--Eric, Turtle, Ari, and Johnny, with mixerd results, although still worth watching.
  • Weeds: I know many of you stopped watching this show years ago, but let me tell you--it has gotten better. Now, the Botwin family is on the run from Nancy's Mexican druglord husband whose campaign manager was killed by her youngest son. Assuming new identities and shedding some old characters has rejuvenated this Showtime series.
  • Lie to Me: Sure, the gimmick of reading faces to learn the truth gets old at times, but the exploration of the complex lead character, played by Tim Roth, is fascinating. His performance is overlooked by Emmy voters, but it is riveting on a weekly basis, making this Fox show a gem.
  • Royal Pains: While the premise is light--kind of like Marcus Welby for the new century--the lead character, played by Mark Feuerstein, is believable. Add in a supporting cast that include Campbell Scott, Marcia Gay Harden, and Henry Winkler, and you have a USA Network series that's worth a look.
  • Covert Affairs: Also on the USA Network is this highly enjoyable spy series. Featuring Piper Perabo, Kari Matchett, Peter Gallagher, Anne Dudek (formerly Amber on "House"), and a scene-stealing supporting role by Christopher Gorham, I would view this series as a guilty pleasure if it wasn't actually so good.

So, that's where we are at so far this year, as some shows return and some other "third season" shows make an appearance. I will update this list again by year's end.

The Best Albums of 2009

Every year, someone who has read my “Best Albums” list comes up to me and says, “I don’t know anyone on your list.” If you say that this year, I can only respond by asking, “Whose fault is that?” Indeed many of the top albums of 2009 were recorded by artists who have been in the forefront of music for at least the past decade. Even some with debut albums have made big splashes. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy sitting around and listening to James Taylor and Billy Joel as much as anyone, but there is so much new and exciting music going on that artists like them and others of that ilk are just a small fraction of today’s wealth of recorded music options.

There’s another point to be made here: If you are still buying your music solely on CDs from music stores, I have a leisure suit to sell you. Most of the download sites, like iTunes, are free to install on your computer. After that, you can download individual songs for around $1 each, rather than buying entire albums from which you’re realistically going to listen to three or four songs. Sure, there are some complete albums worth owning, but they can be downloaded for less money than buying the CD. Then, you can burn CDs right from your computer to listen through your home or car music system. For those who believe that compressed music doesn’t sound as good as CDs, I’ll say that you probably can’t tell the difference unless you’re powering Wilson speakers with Classé amplifiers, in which case you can afford to buy all the CDs you want.

In terms of trends for 2009, quirky female vocalists are in vogue, as are performance artists. Also hot are Canadians and New Yorkers, with less new music coming from the West coast than at any time in the past 20 years. As usual, I’ll issue the disclaimer that my tastes tend to run toward alternative rock, R&B/soul, and inventive pop music, so if you are a fan of Classical, Country, Rap, Death Metal or Traditional Folk, you will probably be disappointed with this list.

In 2009, there were 125 albums worth listing, so I numbered the top 50 and left the rest for “Honorable Mention.” The numbering is somewhat random, because on any given day, I might want to hear any one album ahead of any other. With that said, here they are in ascending order:

50. The Avett Brothers: “I and Love and You” Combining folk, bluegrass, and Rock & Roll, the Avett Brothers hail from North Carolina and have released nine previous albums, but this is their first major label release. It is also one of their best and includes jewels like “Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise,” “Kick Drum Heart,” and the title track.

49. Neko Case: “Middle Cyclone” Formerly with the New Pornographers, Canadian vocalist and drummer Neko Case has released eight albums containing everything from alternative country to punk rock. This is her best-known effort to date, and it includes gems like “This Tornado Loves You,” “The Next Time You Say Forever,” “People Got a Lotta Nerve,” and “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth.”

48. Say Anything: “Say Anything” The brainchild of Los Angeles singer-songwriter Max Bemis, Say Anything can best be described as pop-punk art-house rock with interesting hooks and provocative lyrics. Although this is their fourth album, it is the first to be eponymously named. Outstanding cuts include “Do Better,” “Less Cute,” and “She Won’t Follow You.”

47. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: “The Pains of Being Pure at Heart” Although this, their first album, was self-released by the band in 2007, it didn’t come out into general release until this year. With it, this New York quartet introduced us to its infectious brand of indie rock, including “Young Adult Friction,” “Everything With You,” and “A Teenager In Love” (not a remake the old Dion classic).

46. Muse: “The Resistance” The English alternative rock band Muse, with its lush, wall-of-sound production and superb songwriting and musicianship, has released four previous albums, and although this is not as amazing as their classic, “Absolution,” it still shows why Muse is among the decade’s best bands. Listen to “Uprising,” “Resistance,” “Undisclosed Desires,” and “MK Ultra.”

45. The Catalogue Kings: “Astronauts and Angels” Although this is a new band, these are not young men. What they are is very talented, and lead singer Ian Hewitt sounds a lot like Elton John. The songs on this album are well-crafted and well-played, and they include “Here Is the News,” “Angels and Sirens,” and the beautiful “Long After the Rain Falls.”

44. Erin McKeown: “Hundreds of Lions” Originally from Virginia but now living in Northampton, MA, this Brown University graduate began her career as a folk singer, but she has progressed to this, her eighth album, on which she uses a variety of instruments to create a rich sound that compliments her outstanding songwriting skills. Songs include “Santa Cruz,” “The Foxes,” and “28.”

43. Rihanna: “Rated R” In 2009, Rihanna received the kind of publicity no one wants as a victim of domestic abuse. The Barbados native emerged with her fourth album, perhaps her best to date, including “Russian Roulette,” “Hard” (with Jeezy), and “Photographs” (with

42. Fanfarlo: “Reservoir” The London-based Fanfarlo was formed in 2006 by Swedish musician Simon Balthazar. His recipe is to write interesting, imaginative songs, then use a variety of instruments including horns and violins to play them. It works on this album, their first, which includes “Ghosts,” “The Walls Are Coming Down,” and “Finish Line.”

41. Josh Reichmann Oracle Band: “Crazy Power” A Canadian indie-rock singer-songwriter, Josh Reichmann released his first album using the pseudonym Jewish Legend. On this, his second album, he hits all the right notes with songs like “Sea At Night,” “Runes,” and “Shivering Black.”

40. Meg & Dia: “Here, Here and Here” Meg and Dia Frampton, from Utah, formed their band in 2004 and released two previous albums before this beauty, which straddles several musical styles and includes “Going Away,” “Hug Me,” and the title song.

39. Eugene McGuiness: “Eugene McGuiness” This unusual collection by the British singer-songwriter is his second album and draws upon a variety of influences ranging from the Kinks to Arctic Monkeys. It includes standouts like “Fonz,” “Those Old Black and White Movies Were True,” and “Not So Academic.”

38. Toxic Avenger 2009 Cast: “The Toxic Avenger Musical” The best musical theater album released in 2009 is this jaunt based on the 1984 cult classic comedy horror film. The cast does a nice job with campy but well-written rock songs including “Who Will Save New Jersey?” “Hot Toxic Love,” and “You Tore My Heart Out.”

37. Julian Casablancas: “Phrazes for the Young” The lead singer and songwriter of the Strokes, Julian Casablancas ventured out on his own with this effort which shows the artist’s depth and musicianship. Songs include “Out of the Blue,” “Left & Right In the Dark,” and “11th Dimension.”

36. Maxwell: “BLACKsummers’night” A Brooklyn native and one of the founders of the neo-soul movement, Maxwell returned to recording after an eight-year absence, picking up right where he left off with this beauty, featuring “Bad Habits,” “Pretty Wings,” and “Fistful of Tears.”

35. Ingrid Michaelson: “Everybody” A bright star in the New York indie pop scene, Ingrid Michaelson just keeps getting better since her 2005 debut. With this, her fourth album, she shows maturity and artistry through songs like “Everybody,” “Sort Of,” and “Mountain and the Sea.”

34. Blue October: “Approaching Normal” This Houston-based band has grown considerably from its emo-rock beginnings, leaving behind many of its contemporaries with smart songs that go beyond traditional rock genres. Those songs include “Say It,” “Been Down ,” “Jump Rope,” “Kangaroo Cry,” and the beautiful ballad, “Blue Does.”

33. Weezer: “Raditude” Weezer is the most dependable American alt-rock band, with every album containing several gems. This effort is no different, as Harvard alum Rivers Cuomo (who is recovering from the band’s recent bus accident) and his bandmates conjure up hummable tunes like “I’m Your Daddy,” “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To,” “The Girl Got Hot,” and “Can’t Stop Partying.”

32. 30 Seconds to Mars: “This Is War” Lead singer and actor Jared Leto (“My So Called Life,” “Fight Club”) fronts this band, which released two previous albums. Some have criticized them for abandoning their prog-rock roots for a more complete U2-like sound, but there are some excellent cuts here including “Kings and Queens,” “This Is War,” and “Vox Populi.”

31. Allison Iraheta: “Just Like You” Although Kris Allen and Adam Lambert finished ahead of her on American Idol, their debut albums pale in comparison to that released by third-place finisher Allison Iraheta. Her natural rock voice is perfect for songs including “Scars,” “Trouble Is,” and “You Don’t Know Me.”

30. India.Arie: “Testimony, Vol. 2: Love & Politics” I love India.Arie for her purity—both in her soul and her sound. The Denver native has taken neo-soul to new heights, and this, her fourth album, is an extension of her inner beauty and gorgeous voice. It features “He Heals Me,” “Therapy” (with Gramps Morgan), and “Chocolate High” (with Musiq Soulchild).

29. Gossip: “Music for Men” This indie pop-punk trio is fronted by Beth Ditto, who is very large and very talented. The group’s fourth album is loaded with edgy, well-written numbers like “Dimestore Diamond,” “Heavy Cross,” and “Love Long Distance.”

28. Bishop Allen: “Grrr...” Originally from Brroklyn, Justin Rice and Christian Scudder formed the group while attending Harvard University, naming it after Bishop Allen Drive. On this, their fourth album, they really hit their stride with inventive lyrics tied to well-written tunes that are slightly reminiscent of early They Might Be Giants. Songs include “Dimmer,” “The Ancient Commonsense of Things,” and “True or False.”

27. Tegan and Sara: “Sainthood” Canadian sisters Tegan and Sara Quin have released five previous albums, but on this one, they trade in a bit of their edginess for a more well-rounded sound. Nevertheless, their songwriting and musical skills are still on display with songs like “Hell,” “On Directing,” and “Alligator.”

26. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: “It’s Blitz” The art punk trio from New York is one of the best and most consistent acts of the 2000s, having released three albums and several EPs during that period. This album features more of their angular rock riffs on songs like “Soft Shock,” “Heads Will Roll,” and “Zero.”

25. Andrew Bird: “Noble Beast” Proficient in the violin, guitar, mandolin, and glockenspiel, Chicago’s Andrew Bird continues to produce his own unique brand of marvelous music on this, his fifth solo album, which includes “Fitz and the Dizzyspells,” “Effigy,” and “Not a Robot, But a Ghost.”

24. Anjulie: “Anjulie” Her parents are from Guyana and she was raised near Toronto, but her music is universal and infectious on her first, self-titled album. It’s hard not to hum along with her light, lovely voice on outstanding pop songs like “Boom,” “Crazy That Way,” and “Love Songs.”

23. Lady Gaga: “The Fame Monster” Stefani Germanotta (aka Lady Gaga) is as much a performance artist as a recording star. A New York native and former student at NYU’s Tisch School, she burst on the scene last year with her album, “The Fame,” and she followed it up in 2009 with “The Fame Monster” on which she performs more of her dance-oriented grooves on songs like “Monster,” “Speechless,” and “Telephone” (with Beyoncé).

22. Chrisette Michele: “Epiphany” Combining R&B, jazz, and pop, Chrisette Michele Payne applies her effortlessly beautiful voice to every song she records. This is her second album, and she is quickly rising to the levels of some of the best song stylists. Pay attention to “Epiphany (I’m Leaving),” “What You Do” (with Ne-Yo), “Blame It On Me,” and “I’m Okay.”

21. Mark Mallman: “Invincible Criminal” On this, his ninth album, Minnesota’s Mark Mallman really hits his stride with well-written, well-played songs that remind you why you like to listen to music. Those songs include “Eternal Moonshine,” “You’re Never Alone In New York” (with Craig Finn), “Light the Dynamite and Fun,” and “In These Times of Harsh Economy” (with Shannon Frid).

20. Shakira: “She Wolf” Since Alex first introduced me to the music of Shakira Mebarak, I just can’t get enough of her hip-shaking, tremolo-filled style, and this album is no exception. The Columbian born artist is beautiful, philanthropic and enormously talented. Her sixth album includes “Did It Again,” “Good Stuff,” “Spy” (with Wyclef Jean), and “Give It Up to Me” (with Lil Wayne).

19. Green Day: “21st Century Breakdown” Even though this album is not so amazing as 2004’s “American Idiot” (very few are), it is certainly one of the year’s best from a group that has proven to be one of the most resilient and evolutionary groups of the past two decades. Pay attention to songs like “21st Century Breakdown,” “Viva la Gloria!” “21 Guns”, and “American Eulogy: Mass Hysteria / Modern World.”

18. Florence + The Machine: “Lungs” British songstress Florence Welch has hit all the right notes with her debut album of soul-inspired indie rock. This album defies definition or categorization. Just listen to songs like “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up),” “You’ve Got the Love,” and “Falling,” and you’ll understand.

17. Laura Izibor: “Let the Truth Be Told” Another debut artist with a soul-inspired sound, Laura Izibor is a Black woman from Dublin, where she won a 2006 Meteor Music Award while still in high school. This is an outrageously talented young woman who produces many of her own songs and possesses a voice that makes you stop and listen. Songs include “Don’t Stay,” “Shine,” and “From My Heart to Yours.”

16. Benjy Ferree: “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Bobby Dee Bobby Dee” A singer-songwriter from Maryland with an unusual style and daring approach to music, Benjy Ferree wrote his second album about Bobby Driscoll, a former child star who eventually died in 1968 as a 31-year-old, homeless drug addict. I know what you’re probably thinking, but the album really works, as is evidenced by songs like “Fear,” “The Grips,” and “Zipperface Blues.”

15. Wonderlick: “Topless At the Arco Arena” Jay Blumenfield and Tom Quirk released their first album as Wonderlick in 2002, and they waited seven years to release this, their second album, which includes background vocals by Spark singer Wendy Allen and magician Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller). It was worth the wait for songs like “Everybody Loves Jenny,” “This Song Is a Commercial,” and “F**k Yeah.”

14. The Bird and the Bee: “Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future” Greg Kurstin and Inara George draw on their jazz chops for this electronic music collection comprising their second album together. The resulting sound is simultaneously trippy and rootsy with songs like “My Love,” “Ray Gun,” “Love Letter to Japan,” and “You’re a Cad.”

13. Richard Swift: “The Atlantic Ocean” Having performed under aliases including Dicky Ochoa, Company, and Onasis, Richard Swift has been writing and performing interesting, thoughtful music for years, but this may be his best effort. Sounding at times like an offshoot of the Beatles, it includes “Bat Coma Motown,” “R.I.P.,” “A Song for Milton Feher,” and the title song.

12. Elizabeth & The Catapult: “Taller Children” New York-based Elizabeth Ziman wrote a series of insightful, jazz-oriented songs and asked her friends Dan Molad and Pete Lalish to join her trio to perform this debut album. Her songs seem to make you stop whatever you’re doing and listen to them, including “Momma’s Boy,” “Race You,” and the beautiful “Golden Ink.”

11. Asa: “Asa” Born in Paris and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Asa’s vocals are triumphantly universal and remarkably infectious. This, her bebut album, includes “Jailer,” “360°,” “Fire On the Mountain,” and “Peace.

10. Rodrigo y Gabriela: “11:11” Wow! If you haven’t heard this Mexican duo play their inspired brand of acoustic guitar, you are in for a treat. You’ll be amazed that two people can make all that music—it’s like the first time you heard Simon and Garfunkel and realized that two people could sound like a choir. Well, this sounds nothing like Simon and Garfunkel, or anyone else for that matter, but it is very impressive...even the percussion is mostly made by them banging on their guitars. This, their third album, includes “Hanuman,” “Buster Voodoo,” and “Santo Domingo.”

9. God Help the Girl: “God Help the Girl” Scottish indie band Belle & Sebastian created this side project with a bevy of vocalists led by Catherine Ireton. Written mostly by Stuart Murdoch, it tells the tale of a bored young woman named Eve who goes out to find some adventure. All the songs are good, but standouts include “God Help the Girl,” “Perfection As a Hipster,” “I’ll Have to Dance With Cassie ,” and “A Down and Dusky Blonde.”

8. Dirty Projectors: “Bitte Orca” A project of Dave Longstreth, who recorded an album under his own name in 2002 before forming this entity in 2003. Since then, he has recorded eight albums, some of which are longer than others, as well as recording with the likes of David Byrne and Bjork. This is Dirty Projectors’ best album, with a German name meaning “Please Whale.” It contains gems like “Cannibal Resource,” “Two Doves,” and “Stillness Is the Move.”

7. Alicia Keys: “The Element of Freedom” Alicia Keys is one of those artists (along with Beyoncé and Joss Stone) who could sing the phone book and I would listen. Fortunately her songwriting is good too, so she can forgo the phone book. This album, released at the end of the year, is another example of why Keys is at the top level of the R&B food chain. It contains beauties like “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” “Empire State Of Mind (Part II) Broken Down,” and “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart.”

6. Zee Avi: “Zee Avi” This album’s worth it just for the story behind it. Zee Avi (originally Izyan Allrahman) was born in Borneo, a teenager in Kuala Lumpur, and a student in London before posting some songs on YouTube and being discovered, indeed swamped with record label offers. And yes, she is that good..unique songs that use every note in the scale in very different ways, complimented by her sweet, perky voice. Listen to “Bitter Heart,” “Honey Bee,” “Just You and Me,” and “Darling.”

5. Regina Spektor: “Far” The Moscow- born New York anti-folk goddess is one of the most influential artists working today. Indeed, many of the other artists on this list owe part of their sound to Spektor’s offbeat tunes, quirky lyrics, and piercing vocals. Each of her five albums during the decade is slightly different from the others, but they all contain that intangible that is uniquely hers. The songs on “Far” include “Laughing With,” “The Calculation,” “Eet,” “Folding Chair,” and “Dance Anthem of the 80’s.”

4. Devendra Banhart: “What Will We Be” Born in Houston and growing up in Venezuela before settling in California, Devendra Banhart released his seventh album since 2002. The music is unclassifiable, combining folk, psychedelia, and indie rock, but it is all very good. Songs include “Can’t Help But Smiling,” “Baby,” and “16th & Valencia Roxy Music.”

3. Animal Collective: “Merriweather Post Pavilion” Originally from Maryland, this group has released eight studio albums during the 2000s, and I do mean studio albums. The intricate production and experimental use of synthesizers and other instruments, combined with Beach Boys-style harmonies on this album, create a beautifully lush sound that can wow even the most casual listener. Songs include “My Girls,” “Summertime Clothes,” and “Brother Sport.”

2. Melanie Fiona: “The Bridge” This Canadian R&B singer-songwriter has produced one of the year’s most affecting debut albums. Combining clear R&B vocals with classic soul sounds, and even some sampling of 60s and 70s hits (I’m sure the Zombies don’t mind the royalties), the album simultaneously draws from new world and throwback music. Oh, and the girl can really sing too. Listen to “Give It to Me Right,” “Sad Songs,” and “It Kills Me.”

1. Kelly & the Kellygirls: “Modernism” In a year when American Idol should have been won by a gay man, the year’s best album is a little-known debut gem by an outwardly gay band from Toronto that combines horns with guitars and clear precise vocals with smart, infectious tunes. There’s no gimmick secret...just incredibly good songs being played and sung flawlessly and with a gusto that has disappeared from much of the rock world. I can’t help but smile when I hear songs like “Two Hundred Degrees Fahrenheit,” “Big Heart/ Big Tears,” “X,” and “City On Fire.”

The following deserve Honorable Mention (alphabetically by artist):

A.C. Newman: “Get Guilty”
All Time Low: “Nothing Personal”
Animal Kingdom: “Signs and Wonders”
Arctic Monkeys: “Humbug”
Ari Hest: “Twelve Mondays”
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour: “Fruit”
Bif Naked: “The Promise”
Boys Like Girls: “Love Drunk”
Bruce Springsteen: “Working On a Dream”
Club of the Sons: “Young Quanta”
Dashboard Confessional: “Alter the Ending”
Deborah Anderson: “Silence”
The Decemberists: “The Hazards of Love”
Eels: “Hombre Lobo”
Gary Go: “Gary Go”
Girls: “Album”
The High Strung: “Ode to the Inverse of the Dude”
Imogen Heap: “Ellipse”
Jay Brannan: “In Living Cover”
Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard: “One Fast Move or I’m Gone”
Jesse Harris: “Watching the Sky”
John Mayer: “Battle Studies”
Joker’s Daughter: “The Last Laugh”
Joss Stone: “Colour Me Free!”
Joy Jones: “Godchild”
Karmatest: “Sand in Sand”
Kings of Convenience: “Declaration of Dependence”
Leslie Mendelson: “Swan Feathers”
Lily Allen: “It’s Not Me, It’s You”
Linda Draper: “Bridge and Tunnel”
Manchester Orchestra: “Mean Everything to Nothing”
M. Ward: “Hold Time”
Mariah Carey: “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel”
Matisyahu: “Light”
Maximo Park: “Quicken the Heart”
Mayday Parade: “Anywhere But Here”
Melinda Doolittle: “Coming Back to You”
Melody Gardot: “My One and Only Thrill”
Mika: “The Boy Who Knew Too Much”
Morrissey: “Years of Refusal”
Norah Jones: “The Fall”
The Ofersures: “New Songs for Old Friends”
Oksana Grigorieva: “Beautiful Heartache”
Oleta Adams: “Let’s Stay Here”
OneRepublic: “Waking Up”
The Orange Peels: “2020”
Owl City: “Ocean Eyes”
Papercut Massacre: “If These Scars Could Talk”
Paramore: “All We Know Is Falling”
Passion Pit: “Manners”
Placebo: “Battle for the Sun”
Puddle of Mudd: “Volume 4: Songs In the Key of Love & Hate”
The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus: “Lonely Road”
Relient k: “Forget and Not Slow Down”
Reverie Sound Revue: “Reverie Sound Revue”
Rhett Miller: “Rhett Miller”
Rob Thomas: “Cradlesong”
The Robert Cray Band: “This Time”
Ryan Shaw: “In Between”
Sean Paul: “Imperial Blaze”
Single File: “Common Struggles”
So Many Dynamos: “The Loud Wars”
Soundmonsters: “LoveHate Sounds”
The Sounds: “Crossing the Rubicon”
St. Vincent: “Actor”
The Swell Season: “Strict Joy”
Third Eye Blind: “Ursa Major”
Tom Waits: “Glimmer and Doom”
U2: “No Line On the Horizon”
Vedera: “Stages”
The Veils: “Sun Gangs”
We Are the Arsenal: “They Worshipped the Trees”
The Whitest Boy Alive: “Rules”
Wilco: “Wilco”
You Me At Six: “Take Off Your Colours”

The Best Movies of 2009

The Best Movies of 2009
by Reid Fishman

As we closed out the decade, I’d have to say that 2009 was not the best movie year we’ve had recently, with most of the top movies showing up in the last month or so. However, with that said, it should be noted that 2009 was a strong year for comedy and a stellar year for science fiction, with films that will likely revolutionize the genre.

I also want to point out that my reviews often differ wildly from those of traditional film critics. They view film as an art form and, as such, tend to look for movies that are unusual and unsettling, whereas I like to be entertained and care about the filming technique only to the point that it enhances that entertainment. As such, many of the movies on my list get less than raves from most critics, and I simply dislike movies where bad people do bad things to each other with little or no redemption. That’s why, over the years, you’ve not seen me list movies like “Closer,” “Notes on a Scandal,” or this year’s “A Serious Man.”

Finally, I need to mention that I wrote this without having seen a few movies that I want to see, including “The Hurt Locker” and “Broken Promises,” which might have otherwise appeared on the list. So, here are the films I currently consider the Twenty Best of 2009:

20. Adventureland: Directed by Greg Mottola and starring Jesse Eisenberg, Ryan Reynolds, and Kristen Stewart with outstanding supporting performances by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, this movie is set in 1987 and tells the story of a young man whose father loses his job, forcing him to cancel his European vacation and work through the summer after his college graduation at a local amusement park. What could easily have been a silly farce is instead a well-told story of love and friendship.

19. I Love You Man: This edgy comedy from director John Hamburg stars Paul Rudd as a nice, tame man whose fiancé, played by Rashida Jones (daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton), encourages him to find some male comrades. He eventually befriends a laid-back investor played by Jason Segel, and that relationship tests the bounds of friendship in a variety of ways. Throughout the film, there are enough uncomfortably humorous moments to make this movie both enjoyable and memorable.

18. Funny People: This dramedy by director Judd Apatow tells the story of a very popular comedian and film star (think Adam Sandler) played by Adam Sandler, who faces a near-death experience and takes on an assistant/protégé, played by Seth Rogen to help him recapture his roots in both comedy and love (Leslie Mann). What ensues is a touching (although a tad too long) portrait of a life behind the celebrity image.

17. The Answer Man: This overlooked little gem stars Jeff Daniels as a reclusive author with a bad back and Lauren Graham as a chiropractor who helps to ease his pain, both physically and emotionally. Well-written and directed by John Hindman, it’s the kind of adult romantic comedy you rarely see anymore.

16. The Blind Side: Yes, it’s hokey, and yes, it’s another movie about a poor African American getting saved by well-meaning white people, but it’s also a true story that is well-acted, primarily by Sandra Bullock as the unorthodox mother figure. Directed by John Lee Hancock, this movie is simultaneously entertaining and heartwarming, and the real people it portrays have validated its authenticity in most aspects.

15. It’s Complicated: Admittedly, this comedy is more relevant to my (boomer) generation than it might be to younger audiences, and it certainly plays out like a TV sitcom, but it also has two or three moments that are absolutely hysterical, and I know of very few other modern comedies that meet that threshold. Starring the wonderful trio of Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin, perhaps the best comic performance is turned in by John Krasinski as the often-surprised son-in-law.

14. Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino’s retelling of World War II could benefit from tighter editing and a little less banter, but it is nonetheless a brilliant black comedy starring Brad Pitt and Diane Kruger about Jews intent on taking down the Third Reich. As with most of Tarantino’s films, it also draws in many ways on his love of movies.

13. Invictus: With more flaws (particularly the somewhat sappy ending) than his greatest films, Clint Eastwood has crafted a beautiful portrait of Nelson Mandela, played by Morgan Freeman, and his single-minded desire to unify South Africa’s post-Apartheid population. Matt Damon is also superb as the captain of the rugby team that Mandela enlists in this effort.

12. Up: A beautiful, animated film from Disney’s Pixar Studios, this tell the story of an older man, voiced by Ed Asner, whose wife has died. He embarks on a great adventure, only to learn too late that he is to be accompanied by a nine-year-old boy. A wonderful voice cast, featuring Christopher Plummer, adds to the beauty of this movie which is at times sad, but mostly hopeful.

11. The Hangover: This outrageous comedy, directed by Todd Phillips and starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, and Heather Graham, is rude, crude, and just plain funny. Be aware that there are some gross-out scenes, but the story is generally good-natured and includes a bit of mystery, as well as a surprisingly effective performance by Mike Tyson (yes, that Mike Tyson), as himself.

10. Sin Nombre: My favorite foreign language film of 2009, this daring movie, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, is set mostly in Mexico and tells the story of young love amidst relentless gang violence. It is a powerful, interesting, and well-told story that shows how difficult it can be for some people to seek and attain new lives for themselves.

9. Whip It: The fun quotient on this movie is really high. Directed by Drew Barrymore (her first directorial effort), it stars Ellen Page as a young woman groomed to compete in beauty pageants who begins competing instead in roller derby. The story could have easily come off as slapstick, but it works, in part, because of outstanding supporting performances by Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis, Eve, Jimmy Fallon, and Daniel Stern.

8. Away We Go: I don’t get why some critics didn’t like this Sam Mendes dramedy, starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as an out-of work couple, expecting a baby, who are “trying out” different locations where they might possibly move. With great supporting performances by Jeff Daniels, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Allison Janney, Chris Messina, and Catherine O’Hara, this was a very enjoyable, mature, affecting movie with genuine warmth and character.

7. Star Trek: The first of three sci-fi flicks to appear in my top seven, I thoroughly enjoyed watching director J.J. Abrams tell a fine tale about the beginnings of the Starship Enterprise and its well-known crew. Chris Pine, and Zachary Quinto head a terrific cast that actually includes Leonard Nimoy as an older version of Mr. Spock (the plot is too complicated to describe here). Suffice it to say that if you’ve ever watched an episode of Star Trek, then you will likely enjoy this movie.

6. An Education: It’s rare that you can say with some degree of certainty that a star is born, but in the case of Carey Mulligan, this is that opportunity. Although she first appeared in 2005’s “Pride and Prejudice” and has had several film and TV roles since, this is indeed her breakthrough performance in a film, directed by Lone Scherfig and written by Nick Hornby, about a young woman who meets and falls in love with a charming rogue played perfectly by Peter Sarsgaard. Supporting performances by Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams, and Emma Thompson help make this film memorable.

Here is where my dilemma begins. On any given day, I might consider any of the next five films to be the year’s best. While none of them is as good as last year’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” they are all groundbreaking in some way. So, here is my thinking today (it may change tomorrow):

5. District 9: Directed by Neill Blomkamp and set in South Africa, this sci-fi film is an allegory for Apartheid, told in a semi-documentary fashion about aliens who land on Earth and are assigned to a colony, known as District 9, which is more like a refugee camp. When the humans try to relocate the aliens, tensions mount. Newcomer Sharlto Copley does an amazing job as the human in charge of the relocation who is infected with a virus that begins to change him into one of the aliens. Overall, it is a movie unlike any other I have ever seen, and it works on so many levels.

4. Avatar: 2009’s other outstanding sci-fi adventure, James Cameron took years and an obscene amount of money to make this movie. While the script and story are familiar and somewhat pedestrian, it is a visual masterpiece, in 3D, that will change the future of movies. I won’t try to explain the premise here, and the acting by Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, and others is acceptable but not outstanding, but I didn’t care, and neither will you—this movie is eye candy in the purest sense, and I look forward to seeing it again and again.

3. Up in the Air: Jason Reitman is on a roll, coming off directing “Thank You For Smoking” and “Juno,” and into this outstanding movie about loyalty, commitment, and the shallowness of corporate greed. But this film isn’t about the plot—it’s about three characters and their faults, and how those faults have the capability of corralling those characters into lives they may not want to lead. Played brilliantly by George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick, this is a comedy only so much as the absurdity of the characters’ lives allows us to laugh at their situations. I don’t mean to sound obscure, but the nature of this movie defies any easy attempt at description. Just see it.

2. Precious: I refuse to use the official title of this film, which includes an advertisement for the book and its author, but that’s about the only thing wrong with the movie. Set in 1987 Harlem, it tells the story of a large black teenager who has been abused by her parents and ignored by almost everyone else until she enrolls in an alternative school where her life starts to change and the details of her abuse begin to unfold. With outstanding performances by Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, and Lenny Kravitz, and an Oscar-worthy turn by Mo’Nique, this could have been a bitter tale, but instead is a story of resilience and hope.

1. Nine: Here’s where I disagree with the film critics, because I feel that this is the most complete and entertaining movie of 2009. In 1964, Federico Fellini released his classic “8½,” about a womanizing movie director who retreats into his memories and fantasies. Filmed in black & white, much of the original movie occurred in flashbacks focusing on the main character’s youth from the time he was 8½ years old. In 1982, the story was staged as a Broadway musical called “Nine,” which I saw and did not like, but could not fully explain what was missing. Having seen this movie, I now understand that because the musical was based on a film about a movie director, it works much better as a film than as a play, including its use of black & white flashbacks similar to those in “8½.” Even forgetting all that and just looking at this particular movie, it includes a superb lead performance by Daniel Day Lewis and supporting performances by Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Stacy Ferguson (Fergie), and Sophia Loren, all of whose parts have been updated to make them less like sex objects and more like strong women. I thoroughly enjoyed this film’s choreography and direction by Rob Marshall with the understanding that the dance numbers are supposed to be manifestations of the lead character’s imagination. So, suspend disbelief and see “Nine”...I don’t think you’ll regret it.