This summary of the Japan I have come across since coming here in 2001 through today is by no means exhaustive and even now as I drink my 11.3% Trappistes Rochefort while rereading this, I am likely cringing at what I have left out. That said, how about we end the year with a few of the best media out in the last year? This list, also by no means definitive, nor even ranked, per se, is, but rather, just a few of the films and albums that made their way across my desk the last twelve months. So agree or disagree, love or hate, writhe in agony or dance in joy, here are the following things we loved about 2009:

Decade of Best Media

Documentaries

  • The CoveLouie Psihoyos – “The Citizen Kane of environmental documentaries.”  Read the interview.
  • Food, Inc.Robert Kenner – Ever notice how the room gets silent when you ask, “What’s in this?” Yeah…Read the Review.
  • HomeYann Arthus-Bertrand – Multi-million dollar production released for Free to the public, because that’s just how bad it is.
  • TysonJames Toback – Don’t call it  a comeback, but in a way, yes it is. Great documentary film-making at work here.
  • Soul PowerJeffrey Levy-Hinte – The soundtrack alone should make you want to get up and get down, if not the sheer power of African Soul, James Brown or Muhammad Ali.
  • The End of the LineRupert Murray – Murray looks at a controversial subject close to Japan’s heart: fishing, which is to say overfishing.
  • The Yes Men Fix the WorldAndy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno – If only that we may watch them at work while the world ends, I am less jaded that it is happening.
  • No Impact ManLaura Gabbert, Justin Schein – The power of the individual has never been so obvious. This is you and me and all of us. Or it should be.
  • The Age of StupidFranny Armstrong – “We knew how to profit, but no to protect.”

Best Film

Decade of Best Media

Hurt Locker directed by Catherine Bigelow

  • The Hurt LockerKathryn Bigelow – Hands down the best movie of the year, probably the last five. Guy Pearce explodes in the first five minutes…!
  • Taken – Pierre Morel – Liam Neeson is an older, wiser Jason Bourne who, with Morel’s understated yet well-paced direction, Kicks. Some. F’n. Ass.
  • Lesbian Vampire KillersPhil Claydon – The title alone should make you run to whichever dark place it is you see films…the fact that it delivers on so many levels while ebing so perfectly self-deprecating only makes it rock harder.
  • UpPete Docter, Bob Peterson – The closing film at TIFF (Tokyo International Film Festival) needs no more heralding from me. The folks at Pixar know their stuff.
  • District NineNeill Blomkamp – Out of nowhere, and with a no one cast, Blomkamp, with Peter Jackson as producer, probably made the alien / action film of all time, mostly because its so pertinent to humans.
  • Inglourious BasterdsQuentin Tarantino – Despite his weird obsession with Eli Roth, Q is still the man, still delivers and somehow makes over-the-top violence acceptable to even my grandmother. How…?
  • 9Shane Acker – Despite a bevy of talented celebrity voices this Tim Burton produced full length animation feature feels like the best non-speaking silent film of the last 50 years.
  • Men Who Stare At GoatsGrant Heslov – George Clooney continues to be the man who can not make a bad film.
  • A Serious ManEthan Coen, Joel Coen – Like Clooney, the Coen brothers can not make a bad film, even with an unknown cast masterfully portraying the intimate and mundane details of the life of a put-upon Jewish man, duh.
  • The BoxRichard Kelly – Director of Donnie Darko is back in a big way after the esoteric Southland Stories. To Push or not to Push the Button, that is the question…
  • A Single ManTom Ford – Just good honest story-telling (via Christopher Isherwood) about that onetime rarest of rare things: a polite British homosexual in Los Angeles.
  • Harry BrownDaniel Barber – Michael Caine is channeling his Get Carter swagger at the tender age of 77.

Film Honorable Mentions

  • NotoriousGeorge Tillman Jr. – A movie titled after the Hitchcock classic could only be about Biggie. Great casting, good performances and of course, the music makes you want to bounce.
  • MoonDuncan Jones – The first feature length from David Bowie’s son somehow manages to deliver on many of the promises in the trailor (thanks to Sam Rockwell), a feat not easy to do these days. What’s next?
  • Star TrekJ.J. Abrams – He didn’t screw it up and it was good that Leonard Nimoy signed off on it. The green Orion Slave Girl is also Scarlet in G.I.Joe.
  • PandorumChristian Alvart – Not sure what did it, but it seems Dennis Quaid is back in Inner Space, D.O.A. form, though it could be Alvart’s distopian setting or that Quaid with a beard just works.
  • Bad LieutenantWerner Herzog – It took me two times, at my friend’s urging, to get through it, but Herzog’s brilliant use of reptiles and Nicolas Cage’s over-the-top performance is actually classic. Why is Val Kilmer in this movie?
  • AdorationAtom Egoyan – Egoyan reminds me of a mixture of Gus Van Sant in the 90s and Mike Leigh in that he could be a huge Spelberg-ian director if he wanted, yet chooses to do these always well-done, personal, very homemade feeling films largely about existential themes of isolation in society.
  • Capitalism: A Love StoryMichael Moore – What can we say about Moore other than he’s just a normal schlub who decided it was time to get off the couch and speak up to the corporate takeover of America. Agree or disagree with his politics, if only there were more like him taking a stand, any stand at all.
  • Woody Harrelson for being everywhere in 2009, including 2012, The Messenger, Zombieland, and the soon to be released Defendor
    Disappointing
  • Whatever WorksWoody Allen – Coming off of two very successful and well-made films featuring Scarlett Johansson, why center your next episode of New York life around Larry David?
  • Next Day Air – Benny Boom – Holy Racial Stereotypes batman! I can’t believe I actually watched the entire 84 minutes of this (Mos Def is in two very disconnected scenes).
  • Public EnemiesMichael Mann – I don’t know what’s more depressing: how easy it is to pause the disappointing DVD you’re watching to take a piss, surf the internet for porn, or make yourself some guacamole or the fact that in actually paying to go to the theater for a “cinematic experience” you get Mann’s digital video version of The Untouchables. Except for Depp, Ugh.
    Haven’t Seen Yet Could Possibly Be Amazing
  • Sherlock HolmesGuy Ritchie
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – Terry Gilliam
  • The InformantSteven Soderbergh
  • Gentlemen Broncos – Jared Hess
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox – Wes Anderson
  • The RoadJohn Hillcoat

Best Music

Decade of Best Media

Peaches Live at Fujirock

  • Bitte OrcaDirty Projectors – This album blows everything else out of the water.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus MozartPhoenix – I used to be embarrassed to say that I pretended to listen to them, but now actually it’s cool to say that. French Pop is the new old French Pop.
  • The EcstaticMos Def – Mos can act. When he’s not rapping, I mean. When he’s not rapping, he can act, but having seen the horrible Next Day Air it doesn’t seem like he can do both simultaneously. Keep rapping.
  • VeckatimestGrizzly Bear – “Two Weeks” is the best non-guitar song in how many years I don’t know, that alone deserves all the accolades, plus they sound better live.
  • BromstDan Deacon – The inset photo on this album was taken by yours truly, at the McCarren park Pool live set Deacon did with Devo last summer. Oh, the album’s good too.
  • DragonslayerSunset Rubdown – It’s almost embarrassing how much my Last.fm profile says I listened to them when this album came out. No wonder they told me to shut-up when they played here live.
  • Post-NothingJapandroids – The new No Age is – get it – two guys on guitar and drums, but somehow more Lo-fi and with a better name, plus they dig the drone…
  • xxThe xx – Laid back seductro-new wave makes me want to get funky in a red-lit room.
  • Oohs & AahsSay Hi – Kindy poppy stuff with good lyrics that your girlfriend won’t mind listening to more than once, and if you’re a woman, well, you’ll like it, I think, but I’m single so who knows…
  • Sometimes I Wish We Were an EagleBill Callahan – Since the demise of Smog I’ve had a hole in the place where Bill Callahan’s voice should have been, but now it’s full again. He is the new Leonard Cohen.
  • My Maudlin CareerCamera Obscura – The new Scottish Belle & Sebastian (I’m sure they hate that) that I like more when the woman sings.
  • Merriweather Post PavillionAnimal Collective – Though I like disliking them (thanks to two shoddy live performances…possibly their only two) it’s tough not to admit that this album is pretty good. That’s all though.
    Honorable Mentions
  • Popular SongsYo La Tengo – Anything from YLT over nine minutes is instant gold, so thankfully that’s 1/4th of the album.
  • FarmDinosaur Jr. – The reunited trio seems to have lost whatever enmity there was and have produced in their last two recordings more joy than previously existed.
  • Yours Truly, The CommuterJason Lytle – This album is great. Just listening to it now makes me want to move it up to the more impressive list.
  • EmbryonicFlaming Lips – It’s like an old man playing shuffleboard on the Titanic who used to be the ace shuffler and could bed any number of bored socialites has just lost his edge and gotten too cerebral with his stroke: still pretty good, but pushing the puck a bit too far here, not enough there.
  • Dark Night of the SoulSparklehorse – I have been a fan of Mark Linkous for years and I love the idea of this album, but somehow its too disparate parts seem like a bad Grease Soundtrack.
  • Real EstateReal Estate – Real Estate are loaded with seemingly unlimited potential and I don’t hate singer/guitarist Martin Courtney’s voice…so that’s something different than Vampire Weekend or Fever Ray…ugh.
  • Two SunsBat For Lashes -I don’t really get it, but it’s dark and unobvious so maybe if I listen again in 2010…
    Live Shows
  • Patti Smith – Fujirock
  • Peaches – Fujirock
  • Brother’s Sister’s Daughter (Mike Watt w/ Jim O’Rourke, Yuko Araki & Hirotaka “Shimmy” Shimizu) – O-West
  • Mass of the Fermenting Dregs – O-East
  • Yo la Tengo – Encore at Osaka Quattro
    Websites
  • Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis
  • Laurel Canyon Conspiracy Theory that makes a bit too much sense.
  • Cheese or Font – Pretty straight forward. You will be wrong.
  • Radiator Heaven – Great movie reviews. I mean he reviews great movies.
  • Burn Magazine – Rarely do I recommend you read another magazine, but this one’s pretty good.
  • Candy Collective – Again with the recommending of another magazine, but this one really rocks, and they’re Scottish so I assume they know their whisky.
  • Please Find This – The all-too popular South African photo blog.
  • 50mm – From Art Director Sean Wood