Archive for the ‘Top Ten Lists’ Category

MY TOP MOVIES OF 2012

December 27, 2012

I didn’t see as many movies as I have in previous years, although that mostly means I saw less bad ones. Here’s the cream of the crop…

10.  “ARGO” – I didn’t love this as much as many of my friends, because I felt the “everything that could go wrong, almost did” of the final moments was overly manipulative, but I did enjoy the tense setup and the Seventies feel of the movie, thanks to evocative production design and cinematography (and mustaches… don’t forget mustaches!).

9.  “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” – One of the most overlooked movie stories of the year was the lack of successful romantic comedies. This was the best one by far.

8.  “TED” – How could this movie be the biggest surprise of the year when Seth McFarlane has been making us laugh for years?

7.  “ZERO DARK THIRTY” – An exciting, engrossing film that shows the strike on Bin Laden was even more courageous because the government didn’t know for sure he was there.

6.  “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” – While I prefer my Batman movies to have a little more Batman in them, this was still a fitting end to what is sure to stand as my favorite movie trilogy.

5.  “FRANKENWEENIE” – Loved the shout-outs to old monster movies, but mostly I liked it because Sparky the dog was so cute.

4.  “FLIGHT” – Even more than the tense emergency landing scene, the plight of Whip Whitaker trying (or not) to overcome his addictions has stayed with me since I saw the film.

3.  “JACK REACHER” – I’m a big fan of the Lee Child source novels, so it was a huge relief to see Tom Cruise pull off a believable portrayal of my favorite righter of wrongs. But more than that, the film was the kind of action movie laced with humor and mystery that we don’t see enough anymore.

2.  “LINCOLN” – My pick for Best Picture and needless to say Best Actor. Like “Zero Dark Thirty,” you knew how the story ended (in this case, with the passing of the 13th Amendment)  and yet it was still thrilling.

1.  “THE AVENGERS” – The most fun movie of the year. Writer/director Joss Whedon made the challenge of blending the six stars look easy. The final battle set a standard for superhero action that will be hard to top. Your move, DC!

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My Top Songs Of 2012

December 27, 2012

After a few years where country music dominated my listening hours, pop music came back this year and took all but one spot on my yearly top 10.

10. Of course, that’s because I don’t consider TAYLOR SWIFT country anymore. Taylor rocked out on “Red” with songs like “State Of Grace” and the title cut, but my favorite was a character study called “THE LUCKY ONE.”

9. You might not know it, but year after year, RICK SPRINGFIELD puts out albums full of great rock and roll. His latest, “Songs For The End Of The World,” is highlighted by “OUR SHIP’S SINKING.”

8. The “Now” series makes it easy to collect pop music’s most popular singles. One of my friends buys the English version of the series, “Now That’s What I Call Music.” While many of the songs have typical house music oriented arrangements, I usually find a few future pop classics that haven’t been released in the U.S.yet. This year, my discoveries included Little Mix’s “Cannonball,” Jessie J’s “Domino” and this song that’s just breaking in the States, “PICKING UP THE PIECES” by PALOMA FAITH.

7. How could I not love a song called “SPRINGSTEEN”? While there’s not a lot about Bruce in it, this country smash by ERIC CHURCH was melodic and nostalgic.

6. Here’s a song I missed out on until I heard it thanks to my job as a researcher on “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 2013,” where KARMIN will be performing their Top 20 hit, “BROKENHEARTED.”

5. “American Idol” alumni brought us some great music this year. I loved Phillip Phillips coronation song, “Home,” and Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away,” but the original was still the best, as KELLY CLARKSON dominated the airwaves with “STRONGER.”

4. Another one of my “Now That’s What I Call Music” discoveries, this artist is finally getting some attention in America thanks to his hit, “The A Team,” and an upcoming tour with Taylor Swift. But wait until you hear “LEGO HOUSE” by ED SHEERAN!.

3. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN wrote it to commemorate the closing of Giants Stadium, but to me this song came to symbolize the tough times people have faced this year, but still fought on. “Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you’ve got, bring on your WRECKING BALL!”

2. The spirit of Motown lives in the English girl group STOOSHE’s “BLACK HEART.”

1. It was one of the most popular and most played songs of the year, yet I never got tired of it. Who didn’t sing along with this in the car? The catchiest chorus of the year came from CARLY RAE JEPSEN’s “CALL ME MAYBE.”

POP CULTURE HIGHLIGHTS OF 2011

December 28, 2011

Here’s my annual list of what excited and entertained me in the world of show biz this year:

10. What was my most exciting surprise star sighting of 2011? Was it running into Mark Pellegrino in the hallway of the Convention Center at the San Diego Comic Con and asking him to sign my “Lost” DVD (if I had known then how much I would enjoy his work on “The Closer” this year, I would have embarrassed him with praise!)? Was it standing in the buffet line at the after-screening party for “Take Me Home Tonight” and slowly realizing that the guy in front of me in line was Zac Efron (hey, he had a buzzcut, so he wasn’t that recognizable)? No, the most exciting surprise sighting was exploring the huge ballrooms at the Rio in Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker, walking along aisle after aisle and not spotting anyone famous, only to stop at a table and realize I was staring at Phil Hellmuth, the bad boy of poker! I didn’t see any tantrums though, as Phil seemed to be in a good mood, talking and laughing with his fellow players. Must have been the lack of TV cameras…

9. I have long wished that Barry Manilow would put out one more great album with the kind of varied music of his classic seventies albums. I had to wait through five straight CD’s of covers, but on his latest album, “15 Minutes,” Barry did just that, and included a soaring ballad that belongs with his best called “Bring On Tomorrow.” And let’s give an honorable mention to Richard Marx, who also released some great new songs on his “Stories To Tell” album, “When You Loved Me” and “Loved.”

8. This year I was hired to write a TV show, “The Greatest Duets: It Takes Two,” for PBS. The show was hosted by Kenny Loggins and I got to have lunch with Kenny, an artist whose music I have enjoyed for years.

7. Another artist whose work I have enjoyed for years is that of my friend Ernie Halter. It was great fun this year watching as Ernie added to his fanbase, thanks to Justin Bieber! First Justin covered Ernie’s song, “Come Home To Me,” at a concert and then he attended one of Ernie’s shows and sang it with him. And thanks to the spotlight Justin gave Ernie, Ernie gained a lot of new fans, including just under half a million followers on Twitter. Pay it forward, indeed!

6. I was very happy to see USA bring one of my favorite authors’ books to TV with the movie, “John Sandford’s Certain Prey.” More please!

5. While I always enjoy attending the finale of “American Idol” each year, this year had special significance, even though no one knew it at the time. It was the final performance by saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who was featured on Lady Gaga’s “The Edge Of Glory.” I listen constantly to my Springsteen CD’s and Clarence was a huge part of making Bruce’s music come alive. RIP, Big Man!

4. Another one of my musical heroes is Elton John. While I have never interviewed him, I did get a chance this year to ask him a question at a press conference promoting a film he produced, “Gnomeo And Juliet.” And I was rewarded with a long thoughtful answer about Elton’s influences and his constant search for great new music.

3. Another big Comic-Con highlight came at a panel hosted by Entertainment Weekly’s “Lost” writers Dan Snierson and Jeff Jensen. They were interrupted by a guy in a stormtrooper’s uniform, who was revealed to be “Lost” producer Carlton Cuse, who was soon joined by the second half of the Darlton team, Damon Lindelof. Between a long Q&A and the reveal of a hilarious “lost” “Lost” scene, it was a grand goodbye to a great show.

2. While I may never see another show I love as much as “Lost,” I have to give props to all the great series on FX I discovered this year. First I got into the second season of “Justified,” which was full of great acting and engrossing plots. Then a few months later while on vacation, I was up late and saw a few episodes of “Louie” and instantly loved the show’s surrealistic brand of comedy and drama. Truly amazing. And just a few months ago, I saw “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” for the first time and thanks to reruns on FX, Comedy Central and syndication, I’m already caught up with every episode. “Seinfeld” but with even worst people? I love it! Now if FX would only greenlight “Powers”…

1. I took my annual trip to Las Vegas to work on the Academy Of Country Music Awards as well as the special “Girls Night Out” and was wowed by Carrie Underwood’s one-two punch. First she did a surprise duet with Steven Tyler at the ACMA’s on “Walk This Way” that was the highlight of the show and then turned around and topped that performance the next night with her stunning rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” I also have a few more personal highlights from working on the shows, including meeting the great John Fogerty (okay, he just thanked me when I got him some water, but still!) and getting to speak to another of my favorites, the shockingly tall Vince Gill, when I happened upon him sitting outside the rehearsal room. Do I now have some Vince Gill autographed CD’s? Of course!

TOP TV SHOWS OF 2009

December 25, 2009

While I see a lot of movies thanks to my job covering movie junkets for the Interview Factory, the truth is I enjoy the TV shows I watch more than all but just  two or three of the movie I see each year. Here’s what I loved in 2009 (and you’ll notice I loved so many shows, I made the list a Top Twelve):

12. “PSYCH” – I just started watching this show in the last year. It has a lot of things going for it, with the fast talking chemistry between stars James Roday and Dule Hill first and foremost. I first got hooked thanks to a terrific tribute to slasher movies, and have since been impressed by some of the mystery plots, which are actually a challenge to solve.

11.  “CRIMINAL MINDS” – I stopped watching this show early on during the first season and only recently tried it again… if by try, you mean watching it non-stop thanks to the omnipresent re-runs on Ion and A&E. The show is the television equivalent of the thriller books I read, and does a good job of coming up with varied plots week after week. This is the kind of show where the actors could easily get bored and you have to admire the way they bring their A game every epiosde. And one more thing: producer Edward Allen Bernero is the Joss Whedon of serial killer thrillers. Whenever he writes and directs an episode, the show is at it’s best.

10.  “AMERICAN DAD” – As much as I love “Family Guy,” “American Dad” pays more attention to each week’s plots, making the show more reliably funny. The fact that I can actually remember the plots (including a hilarious satire of “Apocalypse Now” set at a golf course recreation of Vietnam) proves it.

9.  “FRINGE” – Here’s a show that’s really improved in it’s second season, thanks to making Joshua Jackson’s Peter a full partner to Anna Torv’s Olivia. With John Noble’s Walter Bishop the most enjoyable to watch eccentric genius on TV and a new focus on the show’s mythology driving the action, “Fringe” should keep rising up this list in the years to come.

8.  “HOUSE” – While some critics and viewers haven’t enjoyed the revolving door changes of House’s staff, I haven’t minded it, as it gives House a different cast each week to bounce ideas off of and bother. Add in more time for fave characters Wilson and Cuddy and the continued great writing of House’s quips and you’ve got a show that continues to be a lot of fun every week.

7.  “MONK” – In recent seasons, the mysteries may have gotten easier to solve, but the writers continued to find interesting situations that forced Monk to battle his phobias. But this is on the list for the perfect way “Monk” ended, giving closure to one of the most likable casts on TV. Seeing Adrian wear something different  in the final scene warmed my heart.

6.  “CSI” – Thursday night at 9 is TV’s biggest battleground. I watch three shows at that time, so I’m glad that “CSI” is on Hulu. Yes, I miss Gil Grissom as much as the next fan, but every week the show serves up an intriguing mystery with great production values.

5.  “AMERICAN IDOL” – This year’s exciting duel between Kris Allen and Adam Lambert made “Idol” more exciting than ever, but the real surprise was Paula Abdul’s final year as a judge had her making the most sense on the panel.

4.  “24” – “24” tried a new format this year. Rather than trying to string a threat along through too many episodes, the show became almost a series of mini-movies (my favorite: “Die Hard” in the White House). “24” also seemed to have fewer stupid plot points with even the White House intrigue and the coming of Kim Bauer adding to the fun.

3.  “BURN NOTICE” – While this is one of USA’s top rated show, I often run into people that have never heard of it, and that’s a shame. “Burn Notice” has a retro feel in that it mixes the plotting of “Mission Impossible” with the likable cast and tropical feel of “Magnum P.I.” Just pure fun…

2.  “SUPERNATURAL” – Here’s my nominee for most improved show. While it’s always mixed exciting horror movie type plots with outstanding comedic episodes, the past two seasons have seen the show raising it’s game with the rising of Lucifer and subsequent battle against the devil. And in the midst of all the end of the world seriousness, they haven’t stinted on the comedy with recent episodes showing the Winchester brothers visiting a “Supernatural” fan convention and surviving being trapped inside various hellish TV shows.

1.  “LOST” – Not just my favorite show of the year, but perhaps my favorite show of all time (oh “X-Files,” what could have been!). I probably spend more time reading about “Lost” on the internet than I spend watching other shows! Let’s just see if they can stick the landing this coming year.

I’ll admit the fifth season brought us some illogical plot turns like why Juliet, Sawyer and Kate got off the sub or the method the 815’ers used to get back to the island, but it also brought us the usual great acting from Terry O’Quinn, Michael Emerson and company, interesting time travel conundrums and yes, answers! But while I think I finally have a handle on what’s been going on these past five seasons, I don’t think the surprises are over yet. Bring it on, Darlton!

TOP SONGS OF 2009

December 22, 2009

While it usually takes an interesting lyric I can relate to for me to like a song, this list of my faves from the past year shows that a catchy melody certainly helps. As usual, country hits lead the way, with six of the ten showing at least a hint of twang.

10.  HER DIAMONDS – Rob Thomas

Heard this once while driving through Pennsylvania and started singing along with the chorus immediately.

9.  PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME – Pink

Like it came through a wormhole from the eighties!

8.  PLEASE DON’T STOP THE RAIN – James Morrison

A friend of mine always buys the CD’s that come out under the “Now That’s What I Call Music” banner in England. Unlike the American versions, the British ones are two CD’s and usually provide either a great dance remake of an old song or some fun unheard in America blue eyed soul, like “Dream Catch Me”  by Newtin Faulkner from 2008 or this gem from the singer that previously scored with “Wonderful World .”

7.  “DIDN’T YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I LOVED YOU” – Kellie Pickler

I’ve loved this song since 2006, when it appeared on Kellie Pickler’s first album. It was never released as a single, but Kellie gave the song another shot on her latest album and it finally become the hit it deserved to be all along.

6.  “THEN” – Brad Paisley

While Brad has been churning out clever hits about such up to date subjects as the internet and tabloid celebrity, he hasn’t forgotten how to write an affecting love song, and here’s the proof.

5.  “I RUN TO YOU” – Lady Antebellum

Just a catchy fun song that’s great to sing along to.

4.  “KISS A GIRL” – Keith Urban

Another country star who’s superb on both rockers and ballads, this showed the uptempo side of Keith’s personality.

3.  “FALLIN’ FOR YOU” – Colbie Caillat

I found Colbie’s “Breakthrough” to be a big step forward from her debut album, with this song leading the charge and bringing back the sound of California rock to the radio.

2.  “FIFTEEN” – Taylor Swift

For those that complain Taylor just isn’t country enough, try to remember that great country songwriting is in the details, and no writer this year has put more of the details of real life into their songs than Taylor. Plus she’s no slouch at coming up with a memorable melody. I can’t wait until her songs catch up with her age and take on a more adult perspective.

1.  “BEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE” – Kellie Pickler

A song I never got tired of hearing. And what do you know, Taylor Swift had a hand in writing this one too… as well as “You Belong With Me,” “The Best Day,” and a number of others that make this without a doubt the year of Taylor Swift…

TOP TEN POP CULTURE MEMORIES OF 2009

December 21, 2009

Credit where credit is due: Whitney Matheson of USA Today’s Pop Candy blog put together a list of her Top Ten Pop Culture Memories of the past year, which included parties, screenings and concerts.  Loved the idea,  so I copied the idea. Here we go…

10.  “THE AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS”:

Not quite as fun as the 2008 version, when I hung out during the show with friends who were hunting autographs and photos to impress their kids in the dressing room hallway. We  spotted such stars as Mariah Carey, the Jonas Brothers and Coldplay, who were more than happy to pose.

Still, the AMA’s make the list because this is the year I realized that with a Production Pass, you could just take an empty seat in the back of the hall during the show. But that wasn’t good enough for one of my friends who used to help coordinate the audiences for big events like this. He asked one of the staff to sit us in the front row for a while, and while we only made it to the third row (they were saving the empty front row seats for Marc Anthony as his wife Jennifer Lopez was about to perform), we still were darn close for J. Lo and Whitney Houston…

9.  “THE AMAZING RACE”:

I had the chance to spend a week in Dubai this year, so I loved seeing the two episodes of the Race that were shot in the Emirates. Like the contestants, I visited the Burj Dubai, the Gold Souk, the indoor ski resort Ski Dubai and the Madinat Jumeriah resort. I didn’t make it to that fateful water slide, but unlike Mika, I would have went down it if I had…

8.  “THE ACM ALL STAR JAM”:

While I was in Las Vegas to work on the event you’ll read about at  # 2, I got a chance to attend “The Academy Of Country Music Awards.” And while it was a great show, the real winner was the one that wasn’t on TV. Every year the ACM hosts an informal concert right after the Awards in a ballroom at the MGM Grand. And while I missed an appearance by Kenny Chesney because of a late dinner, I really enjoyed what I did see, including John Rich, the Zac Brown Band and best of all, the newly crowned Entertainer Of The Year, Carrie Underwood in the most no holds barred performance I’ve ever seen her give…

7.  THE “TERMINATOR SALVATION” PRESS DAY:

For years, I’ve been filling a copy of “The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told” with the autographs of everyone who has added to the legend of the Dark Knight, whether in comics, movies or television. So far I have fifty autographs (including the late Bob Kane, the creator of Batman who was the first person to sign the book) and not one person has personalized it by writing “Thanks, Brian” or anything like that. I’d like to keep the book pristine in that way, but it bothers me that I might have to skip getting someone’s signature for that reason. Which brings me to Christian Bale…

I’ve never seen Christian Bale sign anything without asking for a person’s name to personalize it. I brought my “Batman” book to two previous interviews with Mr. Bale, yet never brought it out for that reason. But there I was sitting beside him at the “Terminator Salvation” roundtables and I decided to chance it. Sure enough, he asked who he should make it out to. I said, “If you wouldn’t mind, could you just put your name?” Christian said, “How do I know you won’t put this on E-Bay?” Fortunately, one of the other interviewers piped up and said that would never happen, as I’ve been getting the book signed for years now. So Christian actually signed it and I breathed a sigh of relief. Now let me point you to my auction on E-Bay… Never!

6. THE “AMERICAN IDOL” FINALE:

This was just a great day, starting with lunch with Neil Sedaka and my friend Fred Bronson, great seats for the finale at the Nokia Theater (with the Kiss appearance and the announcement of the winner being the highlights) and ending with the “19” party which featured appearances by not just this year’s contestants, but many from past years. I especially enjoyed the moment when Kris Allen’s father was telling us about how people were already leaving messages on their porch for Kris and David Archuleta piped in and said, “That’s nothing. We have people walking right into our house!”

5.  TERRY FATOR AT THE MIRAGE:

This year I went to my first Cirque Du Soleil show, “O,” at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. In spite of all the raves I’ve heard over the years, I certainly wasn’t bowled over. I found the show unfocused, meandering and not all that exciting. But that same week, I did see a show I loved, Terry Fator at the Mirage. I had never seen Terry during his winning season on “America’s Got Talent,” so I was amazed by his ability to sing without opening his mouth. Terry proved to be a master impressionist and a great singer all at the same time, combining great music with plenty of laughs…

4.  “STAR TREK”:

I have been a “Star Trek” fan since high school, and while I wasn’t too worried that J.J. Abrams would screw up the reboot as I really liked his work on “Mission Impossible III,” I never imagined this new “Trek” would be so well done, so exciting and respectful to what came before. I literally had tears in my eyes watching it, because I was so happy the movie was so good…

3.  THE “LOST” SEASON FIVE FINALE:

I love “Lost” more than anything else in pop culture right now. The Season Five finale was a true game changer, with answers revealed in the opening scene, and one of the biggest “Lost” shockers ever when we learned John Locke wasn’t quite John Locke. I can’t wait for Season Six to start…

2.  “GEORGE STRAIT: ACM ARTIST OF THE DECADE ALL STAR CONCERT”:

I was the researcher on this show and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed working on a project so much. First I got to stay a week in one of my favorite places, Las Vegas. Then I got to attend the rehearsals by each performer as they worked out their songs with the house band. It was like having a private concert by the greats of country music, including Brooks & Dunn (Ronnie Dunn’s voice in person is amazing!), Alan Jackson and Keith Urban.

I was especially pleased when Taylor Swift arrived at the rehearsals and read her script for the show. She was extremely happy with it, and after she learned it was because I had done a phone interview with her about how George Strait had changed her life, she came over and gave me a hug.

But as nice as that was, it was nothing compared to sitting in the audience at the concert and watching performer after performer show their love for the man known as King George. They did it through their words and they did it through their music.  Truly an unforgettable evening…

1.  THE “LOST” PANEL AT COMIC-CON:

It was exciting enough that I actually made it into the “Lost” panel without staying overnight in line, but I never would have guessed how entertaining it would be. Kudos to the “Lost” production staff for working so hard to make this a special occasion for the fans, complete with funny videos, revealing videos and great guest appearances by the actors. Michael Emerson’s interruption of Jorge Garcia was probably the funniest thing I’ve seen all year, and it may have been topped by Nestor Carbonell’s Christian Slater impression. And it bears repeating: I can’t wait for Season 6! I wonder if anything will be able to beat out the “Lost” season finale for number one on this list come next year…

THE BEST INTERVIEWS OF 2008

December 24, 2008

Here’s a list of the interviews I enjoyed the most during the past year. I only included interviews that were live and in person, which leaves out some memorable phone interviews by the likes of Nelly Furtado and Katy Perry. Oh, and I think it will be more interesting if we countdown to number one. Shall we?

10. Kate Hudson & Matthew McConaughey, “Fool’s Gold”:

For once, I didn’t mind it when two stars were paired up. They had an easy chemistry together that made for a fun interview.

9.  Ashton Kutcher & Rod Corddry, “What Happens In Vegas”:

Ashton was very funny, especially when telling a story about how he was watching an old episode of  “That 70’s Show” at a hotel, making the maid think he was a bit conceited.

8.  Paris Hilton & Christine Lakin, “The Hottie And The Nottie”:

Notable because I sat next to Paris, who I had never seen in person. Turns out co-star Christine did most of the talking. When the interview was over, there was a moment when Paris stood up but didn’t leave the room. I think she was waiting to see if anyone wanted an autograph, which I thought was thoughtful of her.

7.  Matthew Fox, “Speed Racer”:

The “Speed Racer” interviews took place in the Long Beach Convention Center, while time trials for the Long Beach Grand Prix went on outside. So every minute or so, there was a loud vroom noise. But I didn’t mind because not only did I get to ask Matthew a question about his work on “Lost,” he became the second “Lost” star to sign my Season One “Lost” DVD set.

6.  Sarah Michelle Gellar, “The Air That I Breathe”:

Totally charming in person, plus she gave a memorable defense of her decisions to appear in unusual roles in small indie projects.

5.  Sir Ben Kingsley, “The Wackness”:

One of the world’s greatest actors gives a 20 minute class on being a great actor.

4.  Jason Castro, “American Idol”:

I sat in on Fred Bronson’s interviews with all of this year’s “Idol” finalists and I enjoyed listening to Jason the most. Yes, David Cook’s thoughtfulness and smarts explained why he was doing so well choosing songs and David Archuleta’s sweetness and love of music shone through, but Jason’s laidback persona was the most enjoyable of all. Plus it was amazing to hear first hand the story of how little he had performed before he reached the “Idol” stage and even more amazing to hear his hints that he was ready to go home.

3.  David Duchovny & Gillian Anderson, “The X-Files”

Mulder & Scully, together again…. even if they did disagree with the basis of my question about how after all the times Mulder saved Scully on the show, it was nice to see the tables turned in the movie (David insisted Scully was always coming to Mulder’s rescue during the series’ run).

2.  Kristin Bell, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”:

My first chance ever to interview Kristin, who was as lovely and funny as, well, Veronica Mars. Plus she signed my Season One DVD set of “Mars,” making up for the fact I had nothing to get autographed when I found out Kristin was doing a signing at the San Diego Comic-Con a few years back.

1.  Russell Brand, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”:

Like many Americans, I had never heard of British comedian Russell Brand before I saw “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” which was one of my favorite movies of the year,  in no small part due to Brand’s hilarious performance. But I assumed that the outrageous rock star persona in the film was an excellent acting job, never thinking for one second that what was on the screen was actually close to the real Russell Brand. But Russell walked in the room in all his leather panted glory and proceeded to give one of the funniest interviews ever. In the radio room, we try not to laugh when the interview subject is talking but this was one day when we had no chance not to!

MY FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2008

December 14, 2008

As my loyal readers know, my job covering movie junkets  lets me see many movies for free every year. In fact, the only movie I paid to see this year was “Iron Man.” Fortunately, most of the movies I wanted to see (the big summer extravaganzas), I got to cover. Unfortunately, I also had to see a lot of very bad movies for the job, making it a lot easier to come up with a “Worst Of 2008” list. You ‘ll see that list in an upcoming post.  I’m still haven’t seen many of this year’s Oscar hopefuls, so there aren’t many of those in my top ten. Not that I like many of the Oscar hopefuls each year anyway…

Without further ado…

1.  “THE DARK KNIGHT” – I loved how director Chris Nolan set this in the real world, full of breathtaking shots of Gotham City. Exciting action and a lot to think about to boot. Plus if you think a movie is only as good as its villain, this was the best movie ever!

2.  “FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL” – “Tropic Thunder” may be funnier overall, but this gets the nod because of the well done romantic arc  (even I would have picked Mila Kunis over my beloved Kristin Bell in these circumstances) and the use of Hawaiian locations.

3.  “IRON MAN” – I have friends who enjoyed this more than “The Dark Knight” because of the comedic scenes. I think the comedy and Robert Downey’s gleeful performance has obscured the fact that this too was an example that superheroes done seriously are superheroes done right! You will believe a man can fly…

4.  “TROPIC THUNDER” – Loved the Hollywood jokes as well as the well directed action scenes. And yes, it’s just comedy but Ben Stiller got some of the year’s most daring performances from Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise…

5.  “FROST/NIXON” – I was fascinated by the give and take between the characters. A true thriller without a punch thrown or gun shot…

6.  “THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” – An exciting stew of everything I like about martial arts movies featuring a great fight between the masters Jackie Chan and Jet Li…

7.  “GET SMART” – The surprise of the year. I thought this was going to be terrible, and it turned out that everything taken from the TV series didn’t work. Steve Carrell played a smarter Maxwell Smart, but that didn’t stop him from getting into hilarious trouble. And like “Tropic Thunder,” the actions scenes worked well.

8.  “RAMBO” – And speaking of action scenes, I have to admit I enjoyed seeing Sly mowing down the bad guys in the violent finale. A true trip back in time to the 80’s moviewise…

9.  “QUANTUM OF SOLACE” – A bit of a disappointment when compared to “Casino Royale,” thanks to jittery editing in the early action scenes and a villain who really shouldn’t be able to go toe to toe with Bond in the final fight. But hey, I love action movies and the sheer immense rediculousness of the action and Daniel Craig’s emotionally closed-in portrayal of Bond made it enjoyable…

10.  “HANCOCK” – Yes, this movie was not as good as it could have been. But I still enjoyed the idea of a homeless, lost superhero and the centerpiece fight between Will Smith and Charlize Theron was a knockout…

MY FAVORITE SONGS OF 2008

December 13, 2008

I’m currently working as a researcher on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” As part of my work, I’m scanning the internet for “Best of 2008” lists, and that reminded me to put together my own. First up, my favorite songs of 2008.

What fascinates me about this list is that in recent years, most of my faves have been songs I’ve heard on country radio. This year, just two of the songs have been country hits, and one of those was also a smash on the pop and rock charts (you’ll also notice that the only song among the ten that wasn’t a hit single is a country album cut). So 2008 goes down as the year when pop music came back!

Here’s the list:

1.  “Love Song” – Sara Bareilles

I think my first exposure to this song came when I saw the clever video late at night on VH-1, but it was hearing it on the radio that made me a fan. This wasn’t the only catchy song on her album either.

2.  “Tattoo” – Jordan Sparks

Love her vocal on this. Her duet with Chris Brown on “No Air” just missed out on making my top ten.

3.  “Bleeding Love” – Leona Lewis

I admit it… I didn’t think much of this song when I first heard it (which was before it started getting airplay in the U.S.). I thought the song was too simple. But it grew on me after I heard it a few times on the radio and after that, I never once grew bored with it even after months of saturation airplay.

4.  “Love Don’t Live Here” – Lady Antebellum

With Keith Urban’s new album yet to be released, I didn’t have one of his patented love ballads make it into my top ten this year. So this was my favorite country song of the year, a great rocker that’s perfect to sing along to in the car.

5.  “Better In Time” – Leona Lewis

Did I mention that Leona Lewis’ album “Spirit” was my favorite of the year? This is what Mariah and Whitney used to do: put out albums where every song is a killer, there’s plenty of diversity among the music and you can sing along to every one. Oh, and in a brief meeting with Leona at the American Music Awards, you could tell she was a real sweetheart.

6.  “Hot N Cold” – Katy Perry

Speaking of great female pop music, this artist is the closest thing we have to the glory days of Cyndi Lauper and the Bangles. Fun stuff!

7.  “The Time Of My Life” – David Cook

I liked this song the very first time I heard it, which was live at the Nokia Theater during the “American Idol” finale. But it was always a joy to hear it whenever it came on the radio.

8.  “Love Story” – Taylor Swift

While I enjoyed every single off of her debut album, I think she topped it with her new one. The sky’s the limit for her!

9.  “Very Last Country Song” – Sugarland

After Sugarland’s amazing release, “Stay,” last year, I had high hopes for their new album but found it to be a disappointment… until I heard this song at the end of their album. An ingenious lyric and a great vocal!

10. “All Summer Long” – Kid Rock

I might not have heard this song much here in L.A., but I heard it plenty on my annual visit to my hometown this summer. Perfect music for tooling down the country roads!

LIVETIME

April 3, 2008

Back when I was in high school, while my friends were heading off to see Peter Frampton or the Rolling Stones at stadium concerts in Philadelphia, I stayed home. In fact, the only times I went to concerts back then were the two times I won tickets in a radio station contest to see Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Chicago.

During college, I went to my first stadium concerts and often attended summer concerts at amphitheaters near Baltimore and Philadelphia.  But after I moved out to Los Angeles and started working for dick clark productions, I really upped my concert going because I was often given free tickets, enabling me to see just about every act I ever wanted to see. So here now is a list of my all-time favorite concerts, followed by my top ten favorite concert moments.

1.  Neil Diamond – The Greek Theater – 1987

In addition to  an amazing list of songs (which you can hear for yourself on the live album, “Hot August Night II”), the thing that impressed me most about Neil’s show was how he gave every single song a special added touch, whether it was a string quartet rising up from under the stage on one song or a laser show to illustrate his “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” medley.

2.  Eagles – The Rose Bowl – 1995

I first saw the Eagles perform back during my college years at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, but this concert beat it, thanks to the inclusion of one of my favorite songs, “One Of These Nights,” in addition to every other hit they ever had.

3.  Bryan Adams – The Forum – 1987

A man, a guitar and one hit after another. Sometimes simple is better.

4.  Bruce Springsteen – L.A. Sports Arena – 2007

There was a time when the closest I got to a Bruce Springsteen concert was a review in Rolling Stone. This was the epic three hour concert I always heard about and towards the end, I was ready to say enough already… until he turned on the lights and brought out the big guns of “Born To Run” and “Rosalita.”

5.  Paul McCartney – The Forum – 1989

An actual Beatle doing Beatles songs, plus the best of Wings. Unforgettable!

6.  Barry Manilow – Astor Theater (Reading, PA) – 1976

My first Barry show, with the set list from “Barry Manilow Live.”

7.  Rick Springfield – Universal Amphitheater – 2004

I saw Rick a few times in his eighties heyday, but the fact he still plays every one of his hits and puts his all into every single one made this more recent concert especially memorable.

8.  The Doobie Brothers – Maui Hawaii – 1981

I went on a post-graduation trip after college to Hawaii. While in Maui, the Doobie Brothers were playing a concert on the neighboring hotel’s tennis court. I don’t think I’ve ever been closer to the stage.

9.  Chicago – Universal Amphitheater – 1986

Bouncing back from the loss of Peter Cetera, Chicago went out on the concert trail without an opening act, doing a three hour “Evening With Chicago” that was terrific.

10.  Simon & Garfunkel – MGM Grand Garden -2003

Perhaps the last chance to see a classic duo reunited doing all their great songs.

THE GREATEST CONCERT MOMENTS:

1.  Maria McKee and Lone Justice singing “Wheels” – The Palace – 1986

Back in the eighties, the alternative papers in L.A. praised the work of cowpunk band Lone Justice. I got on the bandwagon early, catching the band at a local club before they even had a record out and immediately falling in love with the voice and charisma of singer Maria McKee. I’ve never seen an artist give as passionate a performance as Maria, and she was never more emotional than when she sang the ballad “Wheels.” In fact, the only way she could have showed any more emotion is if she had actually ripped her heart out on the stage.

2.  Paul McCartney singing “Hey Jude” – The Forum – 1989

The closest I’ll ever get to seeing The Beatles. I can still hear the entire Forum singing “La la la la la la la”…

3.  The men’s restroom during intermission at a Gloria Estefan concert – The Greek Theater – 1988

So I walk into the men’s room to do my business when a guy inside one of the stalls sings, “Oh eh oh eh” and every guy in the place answered with “Oh eh oh eh ah!”

4.  Paul Young singing “Everything Must Change” – The Wiltern – 1985

A great concert by Paul Young, fresh off “Every Time You Go Away.” The highlight came when Paul climbed up into the lighting equipment. No harness, no ladder, no net.

5.  Utopia’s encore – Merriweather Post Pavilion – 1977

I’ve been a big Todd Rundgren fan since high school, so I attended this concert based around the “Ra” album. The stage set was overwhelming, featuring a huge sphinx and laser lights, but what I’ll always remember is after the last song, the lights came on and some janitors came out to sweep up the stage. Then the janitors peeled off their uniforms and revealed themselves to be the band ready to rock out on the encore! What a great surprise!

6.  Collin Raye singing “Love, Me” – Orange County Fair – 2002

My first chance to see one of my all-time favorite singers. Naturally this was his last song of the evening, and he let the audience do most of the work. A very beautiful moment.

7.  Elton John singing “Empty Garden” – Merriweather Post Pavilion (Columbia, MD) – 1982

The lyrics to this tribute to John Lennon include the words, “Now we pray for rain and with every drop that falls, we hear your name.” Wouldn’t you know that just at the moment Elton sang those words, it started raining?

8.  Lisa Tucker singing “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” at “American Idols Live” – Staples Center – 2006

Every time I’ve attended one of the “American Idols” concerts, I always come away impressed by a singer or two who wasn’t all that good on the show but somehow shines on the concert stage. Lisa’s performance of this Elton John classic is the best example. She left the audience stunned by her talent.

9.  Billy Joel’s introduction to “The Entertainer” – Lehigh University (Allentown, PA) – 1974

I’ll always remember that the audience brought back Billy for so many encores, he was forced to play the instrumental “Root Beer Rag” a second time. But the most memorable moment came when Billy played the intro to Elton John’s “Bennie And The Jets,” muttered how he’d never turn into that kind of star and then played “The Entertainer.” Little did Billy know that someday he’d be just as big as Elton…

10.  Vince Gill – Irvine Meadows Amphitheater – 1994

Both opener Trisha Yearwood and Vince gave great performances, but the highlight was when Vince brought a fan out of the audience to propose to his girlfriend. She said yes, and was rewarded with Vince serenading them.