Monthly Archives: December 2007

Top Ten Movies of 2007


Here it is: the granddaddy and finale of my listmania month. Aren’t your relieved? Seriously, I’ve spent a LOT of time at AMC, Landmark, and various critics’ screening rooms this year, and the culmination of all that “hard” work comes here at the end of 2007, when I can give proper shoutouts to the best that I’ve seen. 2007 was a remarkable year for American cinema, with celebrated new films from American auteurs like David Fincher (Zodiac), Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood) and Todd Haynes (I’m Not There), not to mention the triumphant return of the Western. Eight of my top ten films are American productions, and six of them deal directly with questions of what it means to be an American. Thus, even as American politics proves more depressing by the day, it appears there is something of a renaissance in our homegrown cinema—and that’s something we can all be happy about.

10) Southland Tales: Richard Kelly’s postmodern cinematic menagerie defies all categorization. It is intensely ambitious (perhaps overreaching), trippy and mind-bending, and certainly the most unique film of the year. It’s about a lot of things (Iraq, religion, America, pop iconography, media, technology, time travel, David Lynch, etc) but, strange as it sounds, feels remarkably cohesive. More than anything, Tales is a cautionary statement about who we are and where we’re going as a culture. And it’s a crazy good piece of pop entertainment to boot.

9) Once:
This summer’s Irish indie import proved to be the feel-good audience charmer of the year. Equal parts Lost in Translation and Before Sunrise/Sunset, Once spins a tight little yarn about music, love, and temporality in the setting of modern day Dublin. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are wonderful as unnamed “guy” and “girl” who share a sudden close connection, and they harmonize beautifully on the lovely original songs that make up the soundtrack.

8) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: The subject matter of this film is compelling enough—the last days of America’s most notorious train robber—but the atmosphere is what makes this a great film. Taking a page out of Terrence Malick’s stylebook, director Andrew Dominik turns this story into a contemplative existential portrait told through images and sound, not so much with words. Brad Pitt does a lot of iconic posing in the film (and he’s nicely tormented), but the real star is Casey Affleck, whose “cowardly” Robert Ford is one of the most striking cinematic performances of the year.

7) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: This French-language film from director Julian Schnabel is a “tale of human triumph” sort of film—about a man (Dominique Bauby) with “locked-in syndrome” who composes an autobiography by blinking his one functioning eyelid. Butterfly is one of the most beautifully shot films of the year, fluidly weaving the worlds of imagination, memory, and dreams into a tapestry of one man’s point of view on a world both tragic and hopeful.

6) Zodiac: This film is a stellar return to form for David Fincher (director of 90s classics Se7en and Fight Club), and one of the most intriguing, taught thrillers of the year. Fincher’s sleek visual style (I might call it digi-age noir realism) is totally unique among American directors, and he has a way of building unsettledness (not necessarily jump-out-of-your-seat horror) that lingers in your mind far after you leave the theater. Zodiac, the tale of an average Joe (Jake Gyllenhaal) who inserts himself into a decade-long investigation into the Zodiac killer, is a gorgeously made period piece (60s-80s), yet feels totally pertinent in theme to our DIY, collective-intelligence culture today.

5) Lars and the Real Girl: This film, which tells the unlikely tale of a man and his life-size doll, is the perfect blend of comedy and artsy drama, and the feel-good film of the year. A lot has been said of Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Lars (which is remarkably humane and believable), but the supporting actors (Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider) are also amazing in this actor’s showcase film. Sometimes the most unlikely, offbeat stories are the ones that surprise you in their deep emotional resonance. Lars is definitely such a story—and the most pleasant surprise of 2007.

4) No Country for Old Men: In a year in which America and its stark western landscapes were on full display, the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men is the astonishing Exhibit A. On one level the film is a pulsating cat-and-mouse thriller (in which the creepy Javier Bardem stalks the hapless cowboy Josh Brolin), but as it progresses we begin to see that it is about much, much more. The presence and subsequent absence of violence at the film goes along reveals a white flag weariness that matches the arid and emotionless Texas landscape. It’s a film that intentionally refuses satisfaction or answers to its audience, leaving us, like the older characters in the films, to stand stumped and disillusioned by the mundane nightmare of the modern world.

3) Into the Wild: This is a film that hits all the right notes. It’s a great true story, beautifully shot in dozens of scenic locations, with top-notch acting, music, editing, and direction by Sean Penn. Emile Hirsch deliver an Oscar-worthy performance as the passionate young Chris McCandless, and Catherine Keener and Hal Holbrook should be recognized as well for their strong supporting performances. It’s a film that packs an emotional wallop, even if you know (or sense) how it is going to end. But far from a downer, Wild is the most stridently alive of any film released this year.

2) I’m Not There: Todd Haynes’ much anticipated Bob Dylan biopic (that isn’t really a biopic) is not at all accessible. For many, it’s probably not even that entertaining. It’s not an easy film by any means, but it is a work of art. There is a lot to admire about the film’s style (cinematography, period costumes, stunning editing) and its acting (Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere and especially Cate Blanchett are amazing), but the brilliance of I’m Not There is far less quantifiable. Just as the film—through the case study of Bob Dylan and the 60s—shows us how identity is an elusive thing in postmodernity, so too does it evade any standard understanding of story and cinema. Like the era in which it exists, I’m Not There is made up of disparate images, moments, sounds, feelings, frustrations—small pieces loosely joined by the fragmenting, universal quest for identity.

1) There Will Be Blood: There Will Be Blood is an American masterpiece–a Citizen Kane for the postmodern Net-generation. It’s a stunning, thoroughly modern work of art that paints a stark picture of what happens when greedy capitalism and power-mongering is bedfellow with something so contrary as Christianity. As the title forebodes, the results—for all parties involved—will not be pretty. Though not a political film in the traditional sense, Blood nevertheless captures the blood-oil-Iraq-evangelicals-capitalism zeitgeist far better than the countless Lions for Lambs-type films have this year. For this and other reasons, it is both the most important and riveting film of 2007.

Honorable Mention: The King of Kong, Juno, The Darjeeling Limited, My Best Friend, Rescue Dawn, The Savages, Into Great Silence, Atonement, Jindabyne, Grindhouse: Death Proof, Amazing Grace.

Top Ten Albums of 2007


There were many, many great albums this year, so it is with difficulty that I construct this year’s top ten list. Any of my honorable mentions could easily take that #10 spot, as could many other albums I don’t even mention. In any case, I obviously recommend all of these albums, which are not only musically and lyrically rich, but also the most unique and forward-thinking of the year.

10) Justice, +: The French duo known as Justice released an album simply titled “cross” (the Christian symbol, not the word) and it took the dancefloor by storm in 2007. The mostly-instrumental big-beat electronica forges an uber-cool soundsystem that may or may not be a concept album (with songs like “Genesis,” “Let There Be Light” and “Waters of Nazareth”… one wonders), but is undoubtedly the best dance album of the year.

9) Waterdeep, Heart Attack Time Machine: This independent, homespun recording from Don and Lori Chaffer is one of the richest, most subtle folk albums of the year. Includes some truly beautiful ballads (“Easy Does It,” “Diana,”) and lots of whistling and finger snapping. Maybe a couple hundred people have actually heard this gem (and you can’t find it anywhere but online), but it’s definitely worth checking out.

8) Arcade Fire, Neon Bible: Not quite the tour-de-force, decade-defining album that Funeral was, but this sophomore album does anything but slump. Featuring some truly epic anthems (“Intervention,” “No Cars Go,” “The Well and the Lighthouse,” “My Body is a Cage”) that utilize more intricate instrumentation and even the occasional pipe organ, Neon Bible is every bit the blood, sweat, and tears catharsis of its predecessor.

7) Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha: Another year, another exquisite album from Andrew Bird—Illinois’ favorite whistling folk hero. Apocrypha is a treasure trove of wordy lyrical passages and fine-tuned musicianship, never predictable but always easy listening. Songs like “Imitosis” and “Heretics” show Bird’s ability to be both weird and classic, and songs like the amazing “Scythian Empire” display his keen poetic grasp of modern American culture.

6) Peter, Bjorn and John, Writer’s Block: This Swedish trio follows in the footsteps of countryman Jens Lekman in concocting an infectious Motown-folk sound, even adopting a name that evokes a 60s folk staple (Peter, Paul & Mary). Their debut album, Writer’s Block, contains some whistling wonders (“Young Folks”), radio readymades (“Amsterdam”) and one of the year’s best overall songs in “Up Against the Wall.”

5) Band of Horses, Cease to Begin: This album is brimful of addictive pop melodies and sweet low country goodness. Sub Pop’s latest iteration of Shins-brand sugar pop/rock offers something less derivative and more musically interesting than most of the bands going this route. Cease to Begin feels a little bit country (“Detlef Schrempf,” “Window Blues”), a little bit rock and roll (“Marry Song,” “Is There a Ghost”), and a little haunting (“The General Specific”) in the way that the gothic South is meant to be played.

4) Panda Bear, Person Pitch: Panda Bear is the side project of Animal Collective’s frontman Noah Lennox, and even though Animal Collective’s weirdly beautiful Strawberry Jam made my honorable mention list as one of the best of 2007, it’s Panda Bear’s Person Pitch that—remarkably—pushes things even farther into the beautiful recesses of new school psychedelia. Lennox, who sounds like the Gen-Y version of Brian Wilson, fashions a painstakingly detailed, nuanced album full of buzzing layers of murmurings, oblique lyrics and repetitive samples. It’s one of the true masterpieces of the digi/DIY post-pop generation.

3) Explosions in the Sky, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone: This album, released early in 2007, has got to be one of the most overlooked triumphs of the year. The Austin instrumental outfit (perhaps most known for its Friday Night Lights songs), makes music that soars and rumbles and bashes you around in its sheer emotional tumult. This latest album shows off an increased compositional complexity (each of the three guitar lines frequently follow separate melody lines) that gives unuttered voice to a variety of universal human emotions.

2) Radiohead, In Rainbows: Though not in the vein of the rock-minded OK Computer or the experimental epic Kid A, In Rainbows is in its own way just as progressive. Though not a concept album in the traditional sense, Rainbows is a strikingly cohesive collection with gorgeous ethereal ballads (“Nude,” “All I Need,” “House of Cards,” “Reckoner”) and a few more Hail to the Thief-era rock songs (“15 Step,” “Bodysnatchers”). On the whole, it’s an album that pushes Radiohead in a new, more sonically soothing direction, while retaining some of the cutting-edge experimentation that has defined the band.

1) The National, Boxer: The National is a New York band that has built upon (and in the case of the beautiful Boxer, improved upon) the brooding urbane sound of Interpol, with perhaps a little more of a toned down, soft stroke. You might say Boxer is the musical equivalent of an Edward Hopper painting. It’s an album for lonesome, alienated city dwellers with cold hands and warm heats, full of catchy love songs (“Slow Show,” “Start a War”) and pseudo dance-rock anthems (“Mistaken for Strangers,” “Squalor Victoria”) to compliment a long night out in the pavement jungle.

Honorable Mention: Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? Burial, Untrue, Animal Collective, Strawberry Jam, LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver, Rosie Thomas, These Friends of Mine, Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala, M.I.A., Kala, Over the Rhine, The Trumpet Child, Feist, The Reminder, Sunset Rubdown, Random Spirit Lover.

Five 2007 Sports Highlights


Lest it appear my blog has no interest in the finer things in culture (i.e. sports), here’s my list of the top moments (or events … or just interesting things) that happened in the wide world of sports in 2007.

Crazy College Football Season
– Kansas and Illinois in BCS bowl games? Division II Appalachian State beating then #5 Michigan? Something was up this season in college football. It was a wild ride in which unranked teams dethroned top five teams thirteen times (a record) and the AP No. 1 and No. 2 teams lost in the same week three times.

Tom Brady and the Patriots’ Perfect Season – Knock on wood, but could this be the second team in history (the first was the 1972 Miami Dolphins) to go undefeated and win the super bowl? They look unstoppable so far… And Tom “Mr. Gisele” Brady is on track to break Peyton Manning’s single season record of 49 touchdown passes. Pretty impressive.

Boise State and the 2007 Fiesta Bowl – No one really thought Boise State had a chance against the powerhouse Oklahoma Sooners on the Jan 1st BCS Fiesta Bowl. But on the first day of 2007, the BSU Broncos gave one of the most remarkable sports performances of the entire year. The trick plays, statue of liberty shenanigans and balls-out showmanship (going for two to win or lose the game with seconds left!) left those of us who stayed up to watch it utterly breathless.

David Beckham moves to the U.S. and no one cares – Talk about a tree falling in the forest! The arrival of Posh n’ Becks to L.A. this summer was a media-constructed mega event… akin to a visit from the Queen or a new baby for Angelina Jolie or something. But almost immediately after Beckham started playing for the L.A. Galaxy he got injured, popping the already-deflated hype balloon. At least Posh had the Spice Girls Reunion tour to fall back on!

Ridiculous Scandals
– Forget the Mitchell Report, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds… my favorite sports scandals of the year were much less predictable: 1) Michael Vick’s dogfighting (dogfighting?), 2) NBA ref Tim Donaghy’s sports betting scheme, and 3) Don Imus’s “nappy-headed h*s” radio comment. You can’t make this stuff up.

Incomprehensible Incarnation (Merry Christmas)


One of my favorite Christmas traditions has always been the Christmas Eve candlelight service. As a child I probably liked it most for the getting-to-light-a-candle aspect (who doesn’t like playing with fire and wax?), though even then I felt the mystical power of seeing one light pierce the darkness and gradually begin to spread throughout the congregation, illuminating and warming the church sanctuary. It was a marvel to behold, especially when—as “Silent Night” or “Oh Holy Night” echoed throughout the candlelit room—I began to fathom the symbolic significance of the whole activity. It was the image of a world-changing light that spread everywhere from one humble little plastic-cup-encased white wax candle. The Incarnation.

This baby—born into strife, squalor, in a nondescript cave—was more than a feared little rebel threat and chink in the armor of the Roman machine. In time this humble little child set in motion a movement that surpassed Rome and all other empires in size, scope, and revolutionary impact. From Bethlehem the light spread through the dark sanctuary of the world, from the Middle East to Europe to the ends of the earth. Within two hundred years Christ’s world-changing life and gospel was being propagated and theologized by major figures in North Africa (Tertullian), Greece (Clement), Turkey (Polycarp), and Rome (Justin Martyr). Against strident opposition and persecution the light spread quickly and caught fire in some places (Europe), ultimately becoming the dominant cultural influence from that point onwards. 2007 years later, now in places like China and Sub-Saharan Africa, the light is shining brighter by the day.

The Christmas Eve candlelight services are more than just a nice symbolic act of remembrance, however. They are the continuation of a biblical tradition of likening Christ to images of light and darkness. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,” wrote the prophet Jeremiah (9:2). “On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.” This was hundreds of years before Mary, Joseph or Jesus were even born, but it was an idea Jesus himself carried on as an adult. “While I am in the world,” he said, “I am the light of the world” (Matthew 9:5).

When I think hard about the Christmas story, beyond the cutesy nativity scenes and pomp and circumstance of it all, my brain begins to hurt. Essentially the birth of baby Jesus is the most metaphysical, reality-defying cosmic event in history. Incarnation is a fun word, but it’s an impossible concept to get your head around. What does it mean that the God of the Universe—the infinite Being of beings, creator and sustainer of all things, apart from time and physicality—became a physical, mortal being in the very creation he breathed into existence? How could it be that a humble Jewish peasant girl could hold within her womb something more powerful than the entire world—the unborn King that Over the Rhine’s Linford Detweiler so eloquently described as “the prism through which the spectrum of history [would] radiate, bend and contort.”

Indeed, the Incarnation is hard to fathom, as are the various other marvels (heavenly hosts, angel appearances, magical stars) associated with the birth of Jesus. Sufjan Stevens tackles the mystery of this cosmic event in his song “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL,” imagining the Incarnation as an alien being making a fearsome arrival in the terrestrial sphere: “The flashing at night / the sirens grow and grow / Oh, history involved itself / Mysterious shade that took its form / Or what it was, Incarnation / Three stars / Delivering signs and dusting from their eyes.”

Perhaps art is our best chance at grasping just what the Incarnation really means. Perhaps in the soft strokes of a brush, or a violin bow, or the elegant assemblage of people and candles, we can best grasp this mystery of God “involving Himself” in creation. Perhaps Linford comes close in his artful articulation of this event—“this concentration of cosmic reconnaissance and holy motion … this violent generosity flung at a speck in the universe, this needle in a haystack unspeakable gift hurled across dark skies toward our not yet beating hearts, this quiet revolution born out of many long conversations around heaven’s fireplace.” It’s a fireside chat about a baby that now involves billions across many millennia.

More 2007 Bests: Soundtracks and Documentaries


Listmania month continues with two more categories: 2007’s best movie soundtracks and documentary films. Enjoy!

Top Five Movie Soundtracks

5) Southland Tales – Moby’s new songs for this trippy film are perfect digi-age homages to the thick sonic layering of Angelo Badalamenti (who scores David Lynch’s films). This eclectic soundtrack also features great songs from The Pixies, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Elbow.

4) Juno – Music is integral to this film, especially the lovely kid-folk tunes of Kimya Dawson (formerly of The Moldy Peaches). The heartwarming duet “Anyone Else But You” features prominently in the film, as do songs by The Kinks, Belle & Sebastian, and Sonic Youth.

3) Once – The modern musical hit of the year produced one of the most enchanting soundtrack albums, featuring the low-key acoustic duets of Glen Hansard (frontman of Dublin band The Frames) and Markéta Irglová (classically trained Czech vocalist and pianist).

2) Into the Wild – Eddie Vedder is the musical voice of early-90s Gen X angst in this wonderful film adaptation of the Jon Kracauer novel. Even if you never liked Pearl Jam you should check out this rich collection of original songs that perfectly compliment the film’s themes of wanderlust and alienation.

1) I’m Not There – Not only the best film soundtrack of the year, but one of the year’s most satisfying albums period. A great two-disc collection of Dylan songs as interpreted by a diverse array of folkophiles like Calexico, Cat Power, Mason Jennings, and Yo La Tengo.

Honorable Mention: There Will Be Blood – Johnny Greenwood’s instrumental soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson’s film is full of paranoia and foreboding… and some gorgeously creepy buzzing noises.

Top Five Documentaries

5) Unborn in the U.S.A. – This is the film Lake of Fire touted itself to be: a remarkably objective documentary about the abortion debate. Unborn examines various aspects of the pro-life movement without indulging in editorial embellishment or cheap-shot exploitation.

4) My Kid Could Paint That – An utterly fascinating film for anyone who’s ever wondered what makes something “art” or who decides what abstract painting is more worthy than another. Whatever you think of the contemporary art world, this is a film sure to provoke.

3) The Devil Came on Horseback – A compelling look at the crisis in Darfur from the perspective of someone (Marine Capt. Brian Steidle) who lived and worked in the midst of the genocide. A truly moving, frustrating look at Sudan’s troubles and the lackluster response by the rest of the world.

2) Into Great Silence – Three hours of near silent meditation may not be entertaining, but it is certainly beautiful and sometimes utterly spellbinding. It really gets you into the otherworldly rhythm of life in a secluded monastery.

1) The King of Kong – This is a fun documentary about nerdy middle-aged “gamers” and their obsession with world records, but it is also one of the most profound cinematic microcosms of Americana to hit the screen all year. Really a must-see.

Honorable Mention: Heima (Home) – This Sigur Ros concert film was never released in theaters, but it’s definitely worth checking out on DVD. A beautiful film about Iceland, the power of live music, and the joy of coming home after a long absence.

The Christmas Card


As Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has “surged” in the polls of late, so has he become the new favorite target of mudslinging and criticism. But he and his campaign have committed to not fighting back with more attack ads. Instead, he recently released a commercial (entitled “What Really Matters”) that takes a step back from politics and simply wishes everyone Merry Christmas. Take a look at the 30 second video here:

The ad began running in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Iowa earlier this week, and immediately drew fire from critics and the media for its blatant Christianity and (gasp!) mention of Jesus Christ as the reason why we celebrate Christmas. But partially because of the controversy (and the convenient buzz machine of Youtube), the video received more than a half million viewer hits in less than 36 hours, setting a campaign record. Within 48 hours it had 669,200 views, and as of today it has nearly a million views.

Doubtless Huckabee’s competitors (particularly Mitt Romney, who seems most incensed by the Arkansas governor’s rise to first place in Iowa) are fuming about this gutsy, brilliant video. As the Republican candidates have poured buckets of money and months of speeches into courting the Christian vote (which in Iowa is 40% of the electorate), Huckabee has usurped it all in one 30 second fell swoop, defining himself as the “authentic” Christian who is unafraid of political correctness and uninterested in a watered down civic ecumenism at this time of year.

But beyond the political significance of playing the Christmas card to appeal to values voters (something other candidates are now copying in their own ads), it’s just really nice to see someone tell it like it is. Christmas is about the birth of Christ—an event that transcends all our petty political quibbling.

When asked by a reporter in a press conference (view it here, starting at 1:35) if he thought the Christmas ad “crossed the line” separating religion and politics, Huckabee responded: “If we are so politically correct in this country that a person can’t say, ‘enough of the nonsense with all the attack ads, could we pause for a few days and say Merry Christmas to one another, then we’re really in trouble as a country.”

The reporter clarified her question: “I don’t think it was the Christmas angle [that was possibly crossing the line], it was the birth of Christ angle. Could you address that?”

“I don’t know what else to call Christmas,” Huckabee quickly responded. “Last time I checked, that’s what we celebrate…. The very word Christmas comes from the contraction Christ-mass, the worship of Christ. Change the word if we don’t want to talk about it, but that’s what it symbolizes and represents.”

Huckabee then went on to defend against the ridiculous claims of the “subliminal message” in the ad—a white cross in the background (which is really a windowpane)—by showing a little bit of his humorous side: “Actually, I will confess this,” said Huckabee: “If you play the spot backwards, it says ‘Paul is Dead, Paul is Dead, Paul is Dead.’”

Seriously, though, in this over-politicized holiday season it is nice to see a genuine (and I do think it is genuine) reminder about what Christmas is really about. Our cynical media and skeptical selves might have a hard time taking a politician’s Christmas greetings seriously, but if we can’t appreciate a little earnestness every now and then (especially at Christmastime), then we really are in trouble.

Top Twenty Songs of the Year


This list is not a collection of obvious singles or hits, but simply the best individual songs (in my opinion) that have come out in 2007. They include flashy pop dance songs, eccentric indie rock, and one or two songs from Sweden. They were the most-played songs on my iPod in 2007, and they are all available to buy ala carte on iTunes (well worth the 99 cents). This is the ultimate 07 playlist!

20) Animal Collective, “Peacebone” – Like nothing you’ve heard all year, trust me. Sample lyric: It was a jugular vein in a juggler’s girl / It was supposedly leaking most interesting colors.

19) LCD Soundsystem “Someone Great” – This mesmerizing 80s-sounding track is a standout on the fantastic Sound of Silver. Sample lyric: I wish that we could talk about it / But there, that’s the problem.

18) Amy Winehouse, “Love is a Losing Game” – Much more chill and old-school than “Rehab,” with a great David Lynch/1950s prom dance sound. Sample lyric: Self-professed, profound, ’til the tips were down / Know you’re a gambling man, love is a losing hand.

17) Band of Horses, “Ode to LRC” – An ebullient little gem from the sweetest-sounding album of the year. Sample lyric: The world is such a wonderful place /La di da, La di da, La di da, La di da.

16) Britney Spears, “Break the Ice” – Britney’s new album was packed full of deliciously produced dance tracks, and this one is perhaps the best. Sample lyric: Won’t you warm up to me / Baby I can make you feel hot hot hot hot.

15) Of Montreal, “A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger” – A wonderfully out-there song with some very danceable beats and memorable lyrics. Sample lyric: I spent the winter with my nose buried in a book / While trying to restructure my character

14) Jens Lekman, “The Opposite of Hallellujah” – A breezy summer tune from a Motown-happy Swede. Sample lyric: I took my sister down to the ocean, but the ocean made me feel stupid.

13) Justice, “Genesis” – When this song lifts off around the 0:40 mark, just try not to dance. Sample lyric: There are no lyrics. Just amazing beats.

12) Kanye West, “Stronger” – The Daft Punk sample makes for the hottest Kanye track in a long time. Sample lyric: You know how long I’ve been on ya? Since prince was on Appolonia / Since OJ had Isotoners.

11) Explosions in the Sky, “The Birth and Death of the Day” – The majestic, heart-soaring instrumental song of the year from Austin’s premier post-rock outfit. Sample lyric: none (instrumental).

10) Rilo Kiley, “Silver Lining” – A great, twangy alt-country tune with silky-smooth vocals by Jenny Lewis. Sample lyric: I was your silver lining, but now I’m gold.

9) Bjork, “Earth Intruders” – Bjork makes a striking(ly odd) comeback with this Timbaland-produced single from her new album Volta . Sample lyric: There is turmoil out there / Carnage! Rambling! / What is to do but dig / dig bones out of earth.

8) Radiohead, “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi” – One of about six Radiohead songs that could have made it on this list. Sample lyric: In the deepest ocean / The bottom of the sea / Your eyes they turn me.

7) Eddie Vedder, “Guaranteed” – This beautiful song from the Into the Wild soundtrack is “guaranteed” to get an Oscar nomination for best original song. Sample lyric: Circles they grow and they swallow people whole / Half their lives they say goodnight to wives they’ll never know.

6) Rufus Wainwright “Slideshow” – Rufus is the king of making the mundane melodramatic, and this epic tirade is a perfect example. Sample lyric: And I better be prominently featured in your next slideshow / Because I paid a lot of money to get you over here, you know?

5) Over the Rhine, “The Trumpet Child” – The most gorgeously urgent and apocalyptic Over the Rhine song since “Changes Come.” Sample lyric: The trumpet child will blow his horn / Will blast the sky till it’s reborn / With Gabriel’s power and Satchmo’s grace / He will surprise the human race.

4) Peter, Bjorn and John, “Up Against the Wall” – You’ve probably heard it on one of those trendy Levi’s 501 commercials, but it’s truly one of the most satisfying songs of the year. Sample lyric: You slap just like a wake-up call / The bruises on the face don’t bother me at all.

3) Arcade Fire “Intervention” – The use of pipe organ in this powerful song is simply astounding. Sample Lyric: Working for the church while your family dies / You take what they give you and you keep it inside.

2) The National, “Ada” – Horns and glistening piano accent the brooding vocals and forlorn Gatsby imagery of this luxurious song. Sample lyric: Stand inside an empty tuxedo with grapes in my mouth, waiting for Ada.

1) Andrew Bird, “Scythian Empire” – An exquisite, timely song that captures the zeitgeist with heartbreaking eloquence. Sample lyric: Their Halliburton attaché cases are useless / While scotch guard Macintoshes shall be carbonized.

Oxbridge 2008: Be There.


As we near the end of 2007 and look forward to 2008, there is one event that I urge all of you to take a look at and consider attending: the Oxbridge 2008 conference. It may sound daunting (the price! England! The weak dollar!), but I assure you that it’s an investment you’ll not find unworthy.

The Oxbridge conference is so-named because half of it takes place at the University of Oxford and the second half at Cambridge (both are beautiful and ancient campuses… highlights of any trip to Britain). The C.S. Lewis Foundation (the sponsor of the triennial conference) organizes the conference every three years around a broad theme that crosses disciplines and interest areas under the umbrella of “mere Christianity.” The goal is to foster a contemporary site of Lewis-era scholarly Christian discourse the likes of which is rarely found in churches today.

I went to Oxbridge 2005 three years ago, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. The speakers, the performers, and the people I met and casually dialogued with made the event utterly priceless and life-changing. For any thinking Christian—whether you are still in academia or are a lifelong learner—the Oxbridge gathering is really a must-do. Where else do you get to encounter several hundred of the world’s most thoughtful Christians (off all denominations, ages, nationalities, etc) who have gathered with the shared purpose of living the legacy of C.S. Lewis in the 21st Century? That is—pondering and discussing how the life of the soul and the life of the mind can be reconciled toward the productive end of a culturally relevant Christianity. Whether you’re talking with someone over a pint at an Oxford pub, or in a café on the edge of the Cam river in Cambridge, the ideas you’ll exchange during this conference will stay with you for many moons.

This summer’s Oxbridge conference deals with the theme “The Self and the Search for Meaning.” It seeks a collaborative discourse about what a coherent Christian understanding of human nature and psychology looks like (or should look like) in this postmodern age we live in. Who are we? What meaning have we? Is there a Self that supercedes our fragmented “selves”? Such questions will make for a most provocative inquiry—in which we probe the “big questions” of identity and existence that lurk within and are rarely explored collectively in contemporary Christian circles.

Speakers slated for this summer’s conference include a wide variety of prestigious authors, academics, psychologists and philosophers, with some big names featured, like Fuller president Richard Mouw, author Philip Yancy, NEA (Nat’l Endowment for the Arts) Chairman Dana Gioia, geneticist Francis Collins, philosopher Richard Swinburne and United Methodist Bishop William Willimon.

At a time when critical thinking worldwide is sinking into digitized oblivion and the worldwide church is in more need than ever of an intellectual wake-up call, something like Oxbridge 2008 is of utmost significance. Beyond an excuse to take that long-sought trip to England/Europe (which for many attendees is the ostensible motivation), Oxbridge is an experience that will undoubtedly enhance your faith and enrich your life. Hope to see you there!

Top Ten Comedies of the Year


For whatever reason, comedies tend to get the shaft come awards season and year-end lists. But there is definitely something to be said for a great comedy film (it’s one of the hardest types of film to do well). Thus, in keeping with the listmania theme of December, here is my list of the ten best comedies of 2007.

10) Waitress: Keri Russell’s gleefully naïve piemaker was one of the funnier female comedic characters of the year.

9) Dan in Real Life: Peter Hedges’ romantic comedy gave Steve Carell a chance to tone it down a bit (even opposite Dane Cook), and the result was a solid, completely satisfying and sometimes hilarious film.

8) Enchanted: This film proved that Disney can do ironic self-referential comedy really well, though the real story is definitely Amy Adams, who gave one of the best comedic performances of the year as Princess Giselle.

7) Hot Fuzz: This British send-up of everything from buddycop action films and Bruckheimer-brand mayhem to Tony Scott-inspired quickcut absurdity was by far one of the most enjoyable comedies of the year.

6) Knocked Up: It was the year of Seth Rogan and Judd Apatow, and this was their crowning achievement. Rare is the film that wins over the elitist film critics, the populist frat of the land, and the occasional conservative Christian (for the pro-life undertones of the film).

5) Death at a Funeral: This great British ensemble pic turns one of culture’s most sacred ceremonies into a circus of comedic insanity and fun British colloquialisms (“are you mental?”).

4) The Darjeeling Limited: Wes Anderson’s film was maybe not as funny as his others have been, but in its own weird “too cool for school” way, Darjeeling definitely packs in the subtle jokes and understated character humor.

3) My Best Friend: This little-scene French film had me smiling ear to ear from nearly the first frame to the last. It’s a joyous, innocent, hilarious buddy comedy with some pretty profound themes to boot.

2) Lars and the Real Girl: Not exactly a comedy in the proper sense, but some of its scenes are definitely among the year’s funniest. Ryan Gosling and Paul Schneider deliver simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking performances in one of the best overall films of the year.

1) Juno: This pint-sized indie masterpiece is yard-for-yard the funniest film of the year, even when at its heart it might feel like a tragedy. It’s all about growing up—negotiating that awkward transition from childhood to adulthood, and Ellen Page (as Juno) makes the whole thing seem effortless and sweetly ridiculous.

Bonus: Top Five Guilty-Pleasure Movies of 2007


5) Beowulf: It may be an offense to the English majors in the room (myself included), but this motion-capture action epic is a whole lotta fun. “I… Am… Beowulf!”

4) The 300: By all means a ridiculous piece of techno-pop fluff (and “the new Braveheart” for Wild at Heart youth ministries everywhere) but this sword-and-sandal epic is undeniably a fun indulgence in cinematic excess.

3) The Mist: Stephen King is always good for some cheap thrills at the movies, and this is no different. The monsters are great, and Marcia Gay Harden plays a deliciously evil Christian fanatic (always fun!).

2) Live Free or Die Hard: Bruce Willis rocks it in this over-the-top action romp. It’s mostly brawn but does have some brain (unlike something like Transformers), and features vintage Bruce moments like the “Yippee Ka Yay (sound of gunshot).”

1) 28 Weeks Later, Planet Terror and Death Proof (tie): Nuance is nowhere to be found in this go-for-broke trio of zombie/musclecar/violent mayhem. Don’t miss the “helicopter as weapon of mass destruction” moment (in both 28 Weeks and Planet Terror) and the insane final car chase scene in Tarantino’s Death Proof.

Top Ten Music Videos of 2007

Thanks to YouTube (and no thanks to MTV), the music video has made a comeback in recent years. To celebrate this very fine form of sonic-visual fusion, here’s my list of the best music videos of 2007:

10) Rihanna (feat. Jay Z), “Umbrella”: Yes the song is a bit ridiculous, but it’s so catchy! And this video is definitely one of the more visually interesting TRL hits in recent years.

9) Battles, “Atlas”: A little bit stuck-in-the-box for indie rock’s most experimental new band, but cool nonetheless!

8) Peter, Bjorn, and John: “Objects of My Affection”: This dizzying (literally) video is equal parts retro whimsy and spacey futuristic atmospherics.

7) Kanye West, “Stronger”: The robo-tech Japanese chic vibe of this video is as hot as the song. Thoroughly modern and yet a little bit 80s. Love Kanye’s sunglasses too!

6) Mute Math, “Typical”: Not the first to shoot a video backwards (remember Coldplay’s “The Scientist”?), but this one is just so much fun to watch. And the song’s pretty good too.

5) The White Stripes, “Icky Thump”: The Stripes continue their streak of awesome videos with this, the title track from their latest album. Features Spanish subtitles and Meg White with a creepy white contact over one eye!

4) Justice, “D.A.N.C.E.”: The French techno band Justice complement a great song with this visually-stunning experiment in digital graphic design. Feels like a font-driven comment on statement t-shirts or globalization or something. Or just a cool-looking video.

3) Feist, “1,2,3,4”: A joyful warehouse dance video that could be subtitled “Polyphonic Spree goes line dancing.” Really, a lovely video for one of the happiest songs of the year.

2) St. Vincent, “Jesus Saves, I Spend”: St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) plays the world’s coolest den mother in this wonderfully kooky video. Features a singing caterpillar, a swamp monster and “sleeping bag escape” merit badges!

1) Chromeo, “Bonafide Lovin”: Chromeo work their 80s dance magic amid a Sims-esque virtual reality world. Watch out for the shockingly pink shoes and the cool digitization effects in the end. It’s like a Second Life disco!

Honorable Mention: Interpol, “The Heinrich Maneuver”: for the most enjoyable twist ending of a video all year!