Ten Kick-Ass Films From 2010

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2010 certainly wasn’t an exceptional year for cinema, but I went to my local picture house a few times and watched many more new releases on DVD. The ten I’ve chosen are evenly split between those I watched at home and those I saw at the cinema and are also finely balanced between adaptations and original films. Some of my favourite directors followed up on earlier successes, but it was my first time coming across three of the filmmakers below. A common theme in many of my choices was the high quality of the female characters on offer and this was matched by some wonderful acting as well. The first film is from Sweden and it introduces one of recent cinema’s more interesting characters. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was actually released in Sweden early in 2009 and throughout mainland Europe later that year. However, it wasn’t given a general release in Britain and Ireland until last year. It is Danish director Niels Arden Oplev‘s fifth film and is the first of three adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s popular series of crime novels. Michael Nyqvist gives an understated performance as disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist who accepts an offer from the head of a wealthy family to delve back into the unsolved case of his missing niece. He is soon assisted by a young computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander, an enigmatic character who is brilliantly played by Noomi Rapace. She certainly plays her part in making this a rivetting and stylish thriller. Inevitably, a Hollywood remake is on its way, though the good news is that it’s going to be directed by David Fincher. Fincher started out directing music videos before making his big screen debut with Alien 3. He then went on to make five thrillers of variable quality, with Seven and Fight Club being the highlights. This year he directed Aaron Sorkin’s fine script of The Accidental Billionaire, Ben Mezrich’s book about the founder of Facebook. The Social Network could have been just an ordinary teen flick, but becomes a fascinating study of greed and power in the hands of Sorkin and Fincher

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Albums for the New Depression

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I must admit that I’d been feeling pretty daunted about choosing ten of my favourite albums from 2010. However, it wasn’t such a bad year for music after all and it actually took me a while to narrow it down to twenty. In no particular order, here are numbers 11-20, with the Top Ten coming tomorrow. Two of my favourite Scottish bands added to that country’s fine melodic tradition with their most recent efforts. Write About Love by Belle & Sebastian and Shadows by Teenage Fanclub were two of last year’s more uplifting albums. Lowering the Tone by The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra is the first of two Irish debuts in my Top 20. The band is largely composed of the Blake siblings from Limerick and their well-crafted Brechtian songs are equally well-performed on their first full-length record. The total running time of these first three records is just over two hours, which is only slighter longer than Have One on Me by Joanna Newsom. It’s probably going to take me a few more years to really get to know the album as only three of its eighteen tracks are shorter than six minutes. In contrast, each of the next three albums are only slightly longer than 30 minutes in length. Contra is the title of Vampire Weekend‘s follow-up to their eponymous debut album and it suffers from the difficult second album syndrome as I feel it’s not as good as its predecessor. Loudon Wainwright III brings his customary wit and way with words to bear on his collection of 10 Songs for the New Depression. He compares the current economic downturn to the one from the 1930s and includes two songs written back then along with eight of his own originals

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The Beautiful Game

The expansion of the World Cup to 32 teams in 1998 also increased the number of competing teams from North and South America to eight. Brazil have won the most World Cups (five) and are the only nation to have appeared at every tournament, a record that will continue in 2014 as they are the next hosts. They have given the sport many of its finest players and probably the best team in the world ever: the 1970 World Cup winners (pictured above). They’ve made it at least as far as the quarter-finals on fifteen occasions since 1938 and there’s no reason to suspect that they won’t make it that far again this time. They shouldn’t have too much trouble getting out of a group that also contains Portugal, the Ivory Coast and North Korea. A good omen for fans of Brazil is that they are the only country that has won the World Cup outside their own continent, a feat they achieved in Sweden in 1958 and again in Japan & South Korea in 2002

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Steady As She Goes

The current season of Later with Jools Holland concludes this week and goes out with a bang. Half of the dozen acts from the previous two weeks hailed from New York City and that trend continues as two of this week’s guests are also based in the Big Apple. Earlier this year, Vampire Weekend (pictured above, bottom middle) followed up their strong debut album with Contra. MGMT (top middle) are a duo based in Brooklyn, NY and are comprised of Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden. Their Oracular Spectacular album contained the hit singles Electric Feel, Kids, and Time to Pretend. Congratulations is the title of their recently-released second album. Crystal Castles (top left) is a Canadian electronic duo made up of produced Ethan Kath and singer Alice Glass whose self-titled second album has just been released. Also from Canada, Metric (bottom left) is the name of a four-piece fronted by Emily Haines, who is also a member of Broken Social Scene and performs as Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton. A year ago, Metric released their fourth album, Fantasies. Corinne Bailey Rae (top right) is a singer-songwriter from Yorkshire who graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Leeds in 2000. Her self-titled debut album was released in 2006 and its musical blend of soul and pop made it a commercial and critical success. Its follow-up, The Sea, was released last year. In two weeks, Tom Jones (bottom right) will turn 70 and he has spent nearly half a century singing other people’s songs. Yesterday, I gave you his version of a Bob Dylan song that appears on his upcoming Praise & Blame album. Below you’ll find the 1988 cover of Kiss by Prince that he did with The Art of Noise, along with Corinne Bailey Rae taking on The Raconteurs, Vampire Weekend doing Fleetwood Mac, and Metric’s version of a track by The Strokes

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