The PCWEI Best of 2009 Awards

Tonight another year silently slips into the past like mime into quicksand. And to celebrate, here’s what those of us a PCWEI think are the best things to remember about 2009:

Best Movies

10. The Brothers Bloom (watch trailer)
I’m a sucker for a good heist movie, and director/writer Rian Johnson puts one together with The Brothers Bloom. It’s got a certain Dirty Rotten Scoundrels feel that’s tough to beat, and Rachel Weisz is great.

9. Drag Me to Hell (watch trailer)
Director Sam Raimi gets back to what he does best, tongue-in-cheek horror, with Drag Me to Hell. It’s smart, funny, and actually kind of scary.

8. Zombieland (watch trailer)
Zombies are very big lately, but Zombieland is the first zombie movie I’ve actually liked since 28 Days Later. It’s a fun ride.

7. The Hangover (watch trailer)
“What do tigers dream of when they take their little tiger snooze?” I’m not sure, but it made me laugh. The Hangover was far and away the funniest movie I saw this year.

6. Moon (watch trailer)
I’m a big fan of Sam Rockwell, so a movie that features him as just about the only character appeals to me. Set it on the moon, and make it a claustrophobic psychological thriller and I’m hooked.

5. The Hurt Locker (watch trailer)
Hollywood has been searching for it’s first great movie about the current Iraq war, and it finally found it in The Hurt Locker. The secret to its success is that it isn’t about the war; it’s about the soldiers. The trailer makes it look like an action movie, but in reality it’s a psychological drama about human connections, or the lack thereof.

4. Up (watch trailer)

The montage towards the beginning of Up would make perhaps the greatest short, silent film of all time. It perfectly encapsulates the lifetime of a couple, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, and does it without a word. It succeeds at being both incredibly heartwarming and completely devastating. I have watched it twice, and both times I’ve been turned into a quivering, sobbing mess on my couch.

3. Where the Wild Things Are (watch trailer)
Like Up the best scene in Where the Wild Things Are is at the opening. Max’s snowball fight is fun and poignant, and masterfully executed. That’s not to say the rest of the movie is bad. It’s far from it. But the opening scene sets up everything you need to know for the rest of the film, without cramming it down your throat. Spike Jonze proves once again that he’s one of the most interesting directors working today.

(read my full review)

2. 500 Days of Summer (watch trailer)
The relationship at the heart of 500 Days of Summer vacillates between sublime and painful, but through each twist and turn it was consistently relatable. I would venture to guess that most men can see pieces of themselves in Tom, and can empathize with his struggles. That’s what makes this movie so effective to me.

(read my full review)

1. Inglourious Basterds (watch trailer)
Much like The Hurt Locker, the trailers for Inglourious Basterds made it look like an action movie. It has some action sequences, but for the most part it’s a drama about three very different characters and how their lives intertwine. Tarantino excels at making movies that have elements of art films and popcorn flicks, mixed and balanced perfectly, and Basterds is his best example yet. The opening scene in the LaPadite’s farmhouse and the scene in the tavern are pure art house fair, masterfully done. The Hugo Stiglitz sequence and the movie’s climax are more action-oriented, and seem more at place in a summer blockbuster or B-movie. Yet the two marry perfectly together, and that’s the true brilliance of Inglourious Basterds.

(read my full review)

Best Cover Songs

10. “Whispering Pines” – Roman Candle, originally by The Band
9. “Atlantic City” – The Hold Steady, originally by Bruce Springsteen, from War Child – Heroes Vol.1
8. “Nebraska” – Deer Tick, originally by Bruce Springsteen, from their Daytrotter Session
7. “Rave On” – M. Ward, originally by Buddy Holly, from Hold Time (read more)
6. “Waiting on a Superman” – Iron & Wine, originally by The Flaming Lips, from Around The Well
5. “Still Crazy After All These Years” – Deer Tick, originally by Paul Simon (read more)
4. “Poker Face” – Molly Lewis, originally by Lady GaGa (read more)
3. “Jockey Full of Bourbon” – Joe Bonamassa, originally by Tom Waits, from The Ballad Of John Henry
2. “Crazy on You” – The Decemberists, originally by Heart (read more)
1. “Creep” – Homeless Mustard, originally by Radiohead (read more)

Best Songs

20. “Better” – Justin Armstrong – Home to Me
19. “Gunpowder” – Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears – Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!
18. “True or False” – Bishop Allen – Grrr…
17. “Polite Dance Song” – The Bird & The Bee – Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future
16. “Now We Can See” – The Thermals – Now We Can See
15. “Snaggle Tooth Mama” – Those Darlins – Those Darlins
14. “Fire Escape” – Diane Birch – Bible Belt
13. “The Ballad of John Henry” – Joe Bonamassa – The Ballad Of John Henry
12. “People Got a Lotta Nerve” – Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
11. “Blood Bank” – Bon Iver – Blood Bank
10. “Marrow” – St. Vincent – Actor
9. “Lalita” – The Love Language – The Love Language
8. “Two Weeks” – Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
7. “Percussion Gun” – White Rabbits – It’s Frightening
6. “Fitz & Dizzyspells” – Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
5. “The Sweetest Thing” – Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career
4. “E.H.M.” – Golden Bloom – Fan the Flames
3. “Penn Station” – The Felice Brothers – Yonder Is The Clock
2. “Aint’ No Rest for the Wicked” – Cage the Elephant – Cage The Elephant
1. “Wild One” – Those Darlins – Those Darlins

Best Albums

Bowerbirds - Upper Air10. Bowerbirds – Upper Air

After three albums I still have no idea how to categorize Bowerbirds, but I know I’m looking forward to whatever they do next.

White Rabbits - It's Frightening9. White Rabbits –It’s Frightening

No sophomore slump for White Rabbits. Their followup to Fort Nightly is tighter and more polished, and shows a solid progression.

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone8. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

With a voice as good as hers Neko Case would probably show up on this list no matter what songs she sang. But when the songs are as good as the ones on this album she’s a lock.

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest7. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Veckatimist may well be the Pet Sounds of our generation. It doesn’t quite live up to the Beach Boys’ classic, but it certainly cements Grizzly Bear as one of the most talented bands of the era.

Bishop Allen - Grrr...6. Bishop Allen – Grrr…

It’s not quite as good as The Broken String, but Bishop Allen proved they can still write catchy, singable tunes.

Andrew Bird - Noble Beast5. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

Andrew Bird is one of the most interesting musicians around, and Noble Beast is an album that manages to be both interesting and enjoyable.

Camera Obscura - My Maudelin Career4. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

It wouldn’t be a PCWEI top ten without a band from Scotland. Fortunately Camera Obscura made their best album yet, so it’s not hard to find a spot for them.

The Decemberists - Hazards of Love3. The Decemberists – Hazards Of Love

When Hazards of Love came out I thought it was a slam dunk for the top album of the year. I listened to it about 40 times, finding new layers each time. But when I tried to listen to it again recently it didn’t hold up nearly as well.

Those Darlins - Those Darlins2. Those Darlins – Those Darlins

The three feisty chicks at the center of Those Darlins have managed to bring a punk attitude to what’s basically country music, and it makes for the most fun album of the year. I can’t wait to see these gals live.

The1. The Felice Brothers – Yonder Is The Clock

The Felice Brothers don’t get a whole lot of press, but I can’t figure out why. Their music is raw and accessible. Their songs tell stories that are easy to relate to. They fused all of that together into an album that is extraordinary from start to finish.

Honorable Mention – Antlers, The Dead Weather, Golden Bloom, Justin Townes Earle, M. Ward, The Bird and the Bee, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, The Thermals, Levon Helm, St. Vincent, Wilco, and Son Volt.