As we enter the final days of 2011 and getting ready to eat and drink more in the coming weeks than most Somalian families in an entire year, we can’t help ourselves but look back at the last 365 days that have passed by at the speed of light. Between Kim Kardashian’s failed marriage, the Japan earthquake and the arrival of Rebecca Black, there were still positive happenings this year, and some great quality work from musicians, artists, cinematographers, copywriters and all those folks.
To make sure we all feel a bit nostalgic, here are my personal favorites for 2011.
1. Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch The Throne
In a year flooded by disgusting club beats à la LMFAO and David Guetta, there was still an incredible amount of quality music that was released, and it was kind of hard to pick one winner, but Jay-Z and Kanye West still deserved the top spot. The two hip-hop juggernauts managed to meet the gigantic expectations with their first collaborative album. As self-conscious and ego-tripping as Watch The Throne can be, it still produces this unique sound and energy that make every rhyme about Margiela jackets and Audemars watches forgivable. To quote Kanye, WTT is definitely luxury rap at its finest, by two of the greatest in the game.
Best Track: No Church In The Wild
2. Florence + Machine – Ceremonials
Florence Welch and her band released their follow-up album to 2009’s critically-acclaimed Lungs, and it is nothing short of epic. The red-headed British singer’s voice is grandiose, and the orchestral melodies will fill you with this feeling to go out and save the world. Rarely have I heard such mature music from such a young artist. At 25, Welch is clearly making a statement that she is the new diva of the 2010s.
Best Track: No Light, No Light
3. The Weeknd – House of Balloons
For the record, I hate R&B. For me, it’s always been a cheap excuse for mediocre love songs, performed mostly by talentless good-looking people. The genre needed a new face, a game-changer, and they definitely found it in Toronto’s Abel Tesfaye, better known by his stage name The Weeknd. As the first mixtape of a series of three, House of Balloons established itself as one of the best albums of the year in the eyes of many. With its dreamy vocals and mysterious yet gripping sound, the 9-track EP is sure to surprise you, either by its uniqueness, or by its openly-sexual, drug-focused dialogue that still stays somewhat classy in dealing with these taboo subjects.
Best Track: High For This
4. Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto
It would be lying to say that Coldplay’s sound hasn’t changed since they first released Parachutes 11 years ago, but to say that their music has downgraded in quality is a false statement that many critics are sharing. Mylo Xyloto isn’t exactly portraying the orignal Coldplay, but the content of the album still delivers amazing vocals, powerful synths and catchy guitar riffs that only Coldplay could combine together and make it come out this good.
Best Track: Major Minus
5. Drake – Take Care
It’s very difficult for me to have Take Care steal the final spot of this top 5 from Foster The People’s Torches, but as much as I hate a few tracks on Drake’s sophomore album, the rest of it is just plain incredible. The young Canadian rapper shows us why he’s most likely the biggest rap star on the planet right now, with an impressive flow, deep lyrics and a production team behind it all that understands how to complement all of this with some of the best beats in the business.
Best Track: Crew Love feat. The Weeknd
Foster The People – Torches
The Black Keys – El Camino
The Sounds – Something To Die For
Beginners has a strange feel to it. It is simultaneously funny and sad, but the excellent cast composed of Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent make this bizarre mixture feel completely casual. Hell, even McGregor’s dog would be eligible for an Oscar if the “Best Animal in a Motion Picture Drama” category existed. The scenario is fresh and the script is music to our ears. It is also impressively directed, with a past/present intertwining storyline that is very easy to follow thanks to a great job from Mike Mills.
2. Blue Valentine
Disclaimer: Do not watch this movie if you’re currently having suicidal thoughts. Blue Valentine presents the story of a young couple, divided in two parallel storylines; one showing the character’s encounter, the other one portraying the couple at a later and more difficult stage of their relationship. On top of the stunning NYC cinematography and the masterful directing work, it is Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ performances that make this movie one of the best of the year. Rarely have I seen such convincing acting, and it is a shame that Gosling was snobbed by the Oscars earlier this year, because he definitely deserved a nomination over Jesse Eisenberg. Blue Valentine is a movie like no other.
Let’s keep the Ryan Gosling fest going, because as different as his role is in Drive than in Blue Valentine, his performance is no less stellar. With a very introverted character of little words, it’s Gosling’s body language that make “The Driver” come to life in this exciting drama that could be described as an Oscar-worthy Fast and the Furious. The rhythm and mood of the movie are very special and uncharacteristic of a car-heist scenario, but this is what makes Drive that much more interesting.
This Ben Stiller-produced movie is the story of Oliver Tate, a 15-year-old boy desperate to lose his virginity by his next birthday. Craig Roberts’ debut in feature films shows a promising young actor, and he is surrounded by an equally good cast of both young and older actors. Submarine is sure to make you smile and laugh with its solid and refreshing screenplay.
5. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen has a very particular style of filmmaking, one that can easily be identified in the first few scenes of every single movie he’s made. People could argue that his style hasn’t evolved throughout the years, but he is still a master of storytelling with a very minimalist Allen signature, recognizable by long, wide camera shots, endless dialogues, and screenplays heavily focused on the actors’ ability to render simple but highly developed characters. Midnight in Paris is no exception. Owen Wilson plays the role of a successful Hollywood writer having a career crisis as he struggles to write his first novel. While strolling at night in Paris, he mysteriously encounters artists of the early 1900s, and as ludicrous as this story may seem, Allen directs it in a very fun and enjoyable way.
Shame (I haven’t seen it yet, but I know it would have made the top 5 if it were the case)
BEST MUSIC VIDEOS
1. The Good The Bad – 030
I’m going to cheat a bit on this first-place video, because it was actually released in late 2010, but I didn’t come across it until last winter, and I’ll assume that most of you reading this haven’t seen it either. Warning, this is HIGHLY NSFW, so watch it at your own risks.
It can be hard nowadays to have good music videos for instrumental music, because you’re pretty much obligated to go for a fiction or storylike-video due to the lack of live performance, and we all know that those can easily become cheesy and cheap. Well, Danish rock band The Good and The Bad definitely hit the nail on the head with this one. With this sexually-infused progressive rock melody, director Jeppe Kolstrup managed to produce a video that is just exactly that: sexually-infused. 030 is 3 minutes of love-making between a naked girl and a guitar, and as absurd as it is, it actually makes for a very powerful, sexy, provocative and strangely not out-of-place music video.
2. Justice – Civilization
If there is one band that has rarely failed at releasing top notch music videos, it is definitely Justice. The French duo have dared many things in the past, including the highly controversial Stress, directed by the equally controversial Romain Gavras. For the first single of their album Audio, Video, Disco, Civilization, they tackled a whole different style, going for an all 3D-animated video, presenting a crumbling universe on a herd of frightened buffalos. The animation is just flawless and the art direction is brilliant. They’ve also added stunning sound effects on top of the track, which makes for an even more immersive experience.
3. Tyler, The Creator – Yonkers
I’m absolutely not a fan of Tyler, The Creator, but I definitely admire the buzz that Odd Future is creating with their provocative lyrics, unstable behaviours, and deranged music videos, just like Yonkers. You just can’t buy publicity like this, and Tyler made sure that people would talk about this video, and they did. Even with its simplicity, showing only Tyler on a white background sitting on a bar stool in one long shot, the video managed to reach millions of views in no time because of Tyler’s scary and almost schizophrenic performance.
4. Rihanna – We Found Love
It’s easy to instantly forget any Rihanna video since she releases almost half a dozen of them every year. Since the 2008 David Lachappelle-directed Disturbia, none of them has really stood out from the masses. In fact, the California King Bed video looks like an upgraded version of the ugly Only Girl. For We Found Love, Rihanna hired the services of veteran director Melina Matsoukas, who she had previously worked with on notably Hard and S&M. This was clearly a wise choice, proven by its astonishing 83 million views on YouTube in less than 2 months, but most of all, by the energy and feel of the video. Watching We Found Love will make you want to leave everything behind and recklessly travel the world with the love of your life without any responsibilities.
5. Jay-Z and Kanye West – Otis
What fun, crazy and stupid things can you do when you’re two insanely rich rap stars together ? Well, sawing off the doors and the roof of a $350 000 Maybach is one of them, and The Throne duo did just that in the video for their single, Otis. People could think that, in an unstable American economy, throwing money out the windows like these two guys are doing is clearly out-of-line, but award-winning director Spike Jonze makes it look like just what it is, plain fun by two guys who have enough cash to do anything they want, and don’t have a valuable reason not to do it.
Skrillex – First of the Year
The Getaway Plan – Reckoning
The Weeknd – The Knowing
BEST TV SHOWS
1. Californication – Season 4
I hadn’t seen a single episode of this TV show back in July, before a friend told me I should start watching it, and rarely has my social life suffered as much from this point on. After getting through the first episode, it just became an addiction and there was no stopping it before getting through the 4 seasons. This is definitely the funniest script ever, and David Duchovny plays his total asshole role with such finesse that you completely forget that this is Mulder from The X-Files. The 4th season doesn’t disappoint, with good old Hank Moody and the introduction of fresh new characters, especially the always sexy and charismatic Carla Gugino. Season 5 is starting in January, and it just can’t come fast enough.
2. Breaking Bad – Season 4
TV’s most original show was back this year with its 4th season, again starring Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as the two New Mexico drug dealers who rose to the top of the business. Giancarlo Esposito is once again brilliant in his role of the bad guy Gus, and he’s scary like never before. The season starts off kind of slow, but as you go through the thirteen episodes, your level of excitement will reach its peak, guaranteed.
3. 24/7 – Pens/Caps
HBO is no small player in the TV industry, but fans of their fiction series like Entourage, Game of Thrones or Curb Your Enthusiasm tend to forget that they’re also the top players in sports documentary, and they’ve lived up to their title with 24/7 – Pens/Caps, the behind-the-scenes story of the NHL’s Winter Classic. HBO delivered an unprecedented insider look into two of the hottest hockey teams’ locker rooms, genuine interviews with the players and coaches, and beautiful footage from the hockey games of each of the two NHL franchises.
4. Boardwalk Empire – Season 2
Winning pretty much every Golden Globe or Emmy Award there was last year, it was clear that HBO would provide its audience with a follow-up season to 2010’s best new TV show. Set during the prohibition in Atlantic City, Boardwalk Empire is a fresh look to a time period and location seldom used in TV or cinema, which makes it that much more interesting. Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt, as different as their characters are in the series, are just incredible in their respective roles. Jimmy Darmody is a man of few words, but the body language that Pitt displays to impersonate his intense character is flat-out perfect. I haven’t quite finished season 2 yet, but so far it lives up to expectations, with stellar cinematography and acting.
5. Entourage – Season 8
Allright, let’s be honest, Season 8 sucked. It was the most rushed and incomprehensible series finale ever, but just spending time watching Doug Ellin’s character for 8 final episodes after 7 years of maximum laughter was still worth it. There was a lack of Ari Gold’s crisis and of Johnny Drama’s stupidity, but the 7 previous seasons make this last one deserve the final spot in my top 5.
Game of Thrones – Season 1
1. Swarovski – Cinema Spot
Acclaimed French director Bruno Aveillan has proven to be the master of style of today’s advertising business, and Swarovski used this potential extensively with their 3-minute spot that was broadcasted on Times Square’s screens. Aveillan created an imaginary, dream-like set for this mostly abstract spot that is nothing short of breath-taking. Every image throughout the 180 seconds is a visual orgasm composed of sets, lighting, make-up, models and cinematography that each flirt very closely with perfection. The spot emanates with glamour and luxury, which is what Swarovski aim for.
2. EF – Live the Language
Most educational establishments try to sell you with false dreams and environments in their advertising strategies, and they often all end up doing the same crap. Education First took a completely different approach to encourage students to travel during their studies, with a very human campaign that actually made me regret not going to university. The spots are so genuine that you would like to be friends instantly with every students playing in the ads, and that is something that very few schools or organizations have succeeded in doing. To put the icing on the cake, the spots are complemented with beautiful typography in the various languages of the locations portrayed.
3. Chrysler – Born of Fire
This is where I start my streak of car commercials. Chrysler premiered this extended 2-minute commercial during the Superbowl in February (yes, that must have cost a shitload of money to air). Wieden + Kennedy demonstrated once again their creativity by selling us a somewhat luxurious car with simple, everyday imagery of industrial and urban landscapes, accompanied by, I will dare to say, the most powerful voice-over in the history of modern advertising. I get shivers everytime I listen to it. This is ad-writing at its finest, by one of the best agencies in the world.
4. Volkswagen – The Force
How could one not absolutely love this commercial? Even if he doesn’t say a single word, mini Darth Vader is adorable and the contrast between John Williams’ music and the kid’s absolute failure at using the Force is just too funny. Deutsch’s LA office has done an amazing job at creating a targeted car ad without showing the product before the very end of the spot.
5. Audi – Oomph
Speaking of car ads not showing the product advertised before the end of the spot, here is another fine example by Sam Brown, the mastermind behind Jay-Z’s illuminati-accused On To The Next One video. BBH London treated the Audi A1 with a slick commercial, featuring abstract imagery that reflect the powerful yet light new model from Audi. This is topped by an entertaining soundtrack from the Glitch Mob that accentuates the fast-paced rhythm of this 45-second spot that rounds up the my five favorite commercials of 2011.
Google Chrome – Dear Sophie
Privilège Gym (Yeah, shameless self-promotion here)
So this is it, the 25 most deserving pieces of the year in my humble opinion. Agree, disagree, be amazed, be shocked, be disappointed, but I hope this post has at least made you discovered one thing that may have slipped under your radar during the last 365 days.
PS: This will be my last blog post of the year, and also for a while. We are in the process of completely redesigning the site, and we’re approaching the final stages of the project, so I will see you in 2012 with a brand new look. Happy Holidays!