1. There's a sort of prevailing wisdom among the kinds of people who have opinions about art that the most interesting stuff going on in a given city's art scene is going on in indie galleries and at underground shows, and that "museum" is more a pejorative than an identifying noun. These folks are partly right; the logistical hurdles that an artist doing something radical and new has to overcome all but ensure that they'll never get something in MoMA or The Met until half the art world already knows about them. But here's the thing: I'm spread too thin by my other interests to check out all the incredible, under-the-radar art events that I know I have access to in NYC, so I mostly stick to museums. I also try to visit a museum whenever I travel to another city. That probably makes me a bit of a dilettante, but hey, I unabashedly love museums. When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio, we didn't have very many museums around, and if we had, it wouldn't have mattered, because my family didn't go to them. I don't blame my parents – anti-intellectualism is endemic there – but we were members of the Kings Island amusement park but not the Dayton Art Institute, a good 40 miles closer to our house.

    So maybe my love for museums is partly because I'm making up lost time. There's still something awe-inspiring and intoxicating about an institution that exists because people want halls of culture and learning to exist outside of just schools and universities. My favorite book as a kid was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I had never been to the Dayton Art Institute when I first read it, let alone the Met, but a great museum seemed like the kind of place I'd want to live if I could choose. Now that I've spent a lot more time in them, I can't say I feel any differently. Now that I live in a city where the arts rule all, I hope make 2014 the year I spent more time at more off-the-beaten-path arts events. For now, here's a roundup of the best stuff I saw at museums this year. (Note: This isn't limited to art museums, even though I just rambled about art museums for a couple hundred words.)

    In January, I was lucky enough to travel to Philadelphia to see the Decibel Magazine 100th Issue Celebration Show with Converge and Pig Destroyer, and while I was there I ran up the stairs (sorry) to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it happened to be the last day of the incredible exhibition Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp. The exhibition was structured around the influence of Marcel Duchamp, in particular his iconic glass panel The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even, on the artists he shared the subtitle with. It seemed a bit haphazard in its curation at first, especially with a player piano jarringly interrupting the silence with John Cage compositions, but as I walked around the gallery, it all seemed to come together. Ever since his heavy-handed presence at the Armory Show in 1913 (more on that later), Duchamp has served as something of a dean for American modern art, and seeing his influence on artists from such a wide range of disciplines was impressive. The exhibition wasn't mere hagiography, either, as the offerings from Cage, Cunningham, Johns and Rauschenberg's works were as big a draw as a chance to see famous Duchamps recontextualized. A spectacular modern dance performance capped off the day and made me awfully glad I made time for the museum.

    Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even

    Back in Indiana (where I lived until August, for those who may not know), I made a point to get out to Fountain Square's Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, a tiny, two-gallery space inside the Murphy Art Center when they brought New York artist Rutherford Chang's We Buy White Albums piece to town. The title of the exhibition doubles as its mission statement; Chang purchases first-pressing copies of the Beatles' White Album and arranges them by serial number in a record store-like setting. Thumbing through the crates to examine how the thousands of previous owners added their own art and handwriting onto the minimalist cover was a thrilling tactile experience that not many museums are able to offer. The icing on the cake was the turntable and speakers that were set up in the gallery, allowing anyone to play any of the copies of the White Album they wanted to listen for differences. "Helter Skelter" always fucking rules, but it really fucking rules when the vinyl is so scratched up that it sounds like a lo-fi sludge cover of "Helter Skelter." (Chang also made an incredible recording of 100 copies playing Side A at the same time: https://soundcloud.com/rc428/side-1-x-100)

    Rutherford Chang, We Buy White Albums
    Moving to New York in August gave me access to more museums than I'd ever known before, and I'm still struggling to make it out to everything I want to see. The first exhibition I fell in love with here was a somewhat maligned one, René Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary at the Museum of Modern Art. The art world brass by and large thought MoMA had a responsibility to make its flagship fall exhibition the work of a lesser-known artist who deserves more exposure, preferably a woman or person of color. Fair enough, but as a dude who likes going to museums, wow! All the great Magritte works in one room! Look, something famous! Now turn your head – something equally famous! And so on and so forth. Magritte takes some flak for being a merely competent painter with little depth beyond the puzzles buried in his work, that once you uncover the puzzle with an "A-ha!" moment, the painting ceases to be interesting. I can't imagine this being further from the truth. His paintings are enchanting, the kinds of canvases you accidentally stand in front of for a full ten minutes, not realizing that a cluster of fellow museum-goers is standing behind you trying to get a good look. Seeing all of an artist's work in one place can be an information overload, but Magritte's work defies boredom, and MoMA arranged the exhibit beautifully.

    René Magritte, Young Girl Eating A Bird (The Pleasure)
    I'm currently reading a short story collection by an author I loved as a kid, and I wouldn't be if it weren't for the great exhibition Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul at the Morgan Library & Museum. Collecting handwritten correspondence, first editions of many of his works, haunting daguerrotypes and an impressive bronze bust, the Poe exhibit serves as a needed reassessment of a figure many of us leave behind in our adolescence. His prose can be clunky at times, but as the exhibition astutely observes, he was a massive influence on plenty of authors who would deal in darkness, from Vladimir Nabokov to Stephen King. (The absence of H.P. Lovecraft from the exhibition's many wordy placards on influence tells you how far we still have to come for weird horror to be a respected literary genre, though a major Poe exhibition is a great start.) Beyond being an encyclopedic record of Poe's life and work, perhaps the exhibition's greatest triumph was its staging: the walls of the room housing the collection are painted blood red. A bit on the nose, to be sure, but it was the kind of choice Poe likely would have made if he were exhibiting his own work, and its boldness paid off in how visible unsettled many of the visitors looked on approaching the crimson room.

    The "Ultima Thule" daguerrotype of Edgar Allan Poe,
    on display at the Morgan Library & Museum
    Just this past weekend I made my first visit to the New-York Historical Society to see a show that had been on my bucket list since I heard of its existence: The Armory Show at 100. The 100th anniversary of perhaps the most important art show in American history is certainly cause for celebration, and I'm glad the N-YHS was able to get the show in what I'm sure was a fevered bidding war with The Met and MoMA. Thanks to the team of historians at their disposal, they unearthed enlightening contemporary accounts that I'm not sure an art museum would have been able to do to the same extent. Of course, the show would be nothing without the art itself, and they also did an incredible job of plucking the key pieces of the Armory Show from museums and private collections all over the world and arranging them in a similar fashion to the original show from Lexington Avenue in 1913. The best thing about this retrospective, though, was the levity that the N-YHS threaded throughout it. Placards called out the outraged collectors who left the original show in a huff. Walls were strewn with quotes from baffled New York Times reviews that couldn't understand why anyone would like this crap. To cap it all off, the last and most avant-garde room of Armory works empties into a room of regal, boring portraits that were put in the same space the week after the original show by J.P. Morgan and other barons, to "restore sanity" to the art scene in New York. Not a lot of art exhibitions leave you concerned about the volume of your laughter. The N-YHS found the perfect angle to approach a now-infallible show, and I can't wait to see what they do next.

    Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2
    Honorable Mention: The permanent collections of Queens' Museum of the Moving Image and Noguchi Museum, and Indianapolis' Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, all impressed me this year, but their special exhibitions were either nonexistent or severely lacking, so they don't get full write-ups. Still worth checking out any of those museums if you get the chance.


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  2. I'm closing in on ten years of making year-end music lists, and every single December, I have a much harder time scraping together a songs list than one for albums. It's true, my tastes veer toward full-album experiences, and I could count on one amputated hand the number of times I've downloaded a single track from iTunes. But in the past few years I've become a bigger connoisseur of hooks, and I've hardly taken the time to revisit albums that didn't catch me with some great moment that I absolutely had to hear again. I think the ritual of sitting through an album front to back – amplified by the ceremonial flipping of the LP, now that I'm closing out my first full year as a vinyl collector – has made the individual song a tougher art form for me to judge.

    That said, five songs this year stood out from their respective albums (four of which will also be on my albums list) and merit a mention in this, my first post of the dreaded year-end season, MMXIII.

    Touché Amoré, "Harbor"
    from Is Survived By (Deathwish, Inc.)

    They've gotten close a bunch of times ("Honest Sleep," "Gravity, Metaphorically," "Face Ghost"), but it feels like these dudes have finally written their definitive song, the one you show someone when they say "So who are these Touché Amoré guys anyway?" Gorgeous guitars, martial drums, and a typically heart-on-sleeve vocal performance by Jeremy Bolm. It's there and gone in three minutes, but like all TA's best songs, it's an epic in miniature. All that talk about an "emo revival" seems pretty dumb when you hear this and realize how long this band has been building toward it.

    The National, "Pink Rabbits"
    from Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)

    The National rarely sound eager to please, but I'm not sure I've ever heard a song that seems to just come to them quite as effortlessly as this one. The piano is fittingly dreary, and Matt Berninger's lyric gives us a few exceptional images ("a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park," for one), but "Pink Rabbits" is primarily about his vocal. It sounds like he's almost too down to muster up the effort to sing, but he stumbles into the most elegant lines his inimitable baritone has ever come up with just the same.

    Phosphorescent, "Song for Zula"
    from Muchacho (Dead Oceans)

    This might be the year's most memorable indie song, or at least the one that got the most moms to pay attention to a cool band. From the first time that percussive bass line cuts through the strings to Matthew Houck's last glorious verse of Johnny Cash steez-bitin', "Song for Zula" is the kind of song that transcends its wistful, specific lyric and winds up on playlists for college parties, weddings and funerals alike. It's a testament to how lived-in and classic the song feels that it should feel appropriate at each.

    Man's Gin, "Inspiration"
    from Rebellion Hymns (Profound Lore)

    Man's Gin's sophomore LP is kind of a mess, which is not a value judgment. I just mean that it's all over the place, that its energy ebbs and flows so much that it's exhausting to listen to, and that it's hard to imagine Erik Wunder playing it without finding his way to the bottom of a bottle, let alone writing it. "Inspiration" is that whole experience in seven brilliant, dynamic minutes. Wunder shredding his vocal cords just after the four-minute mark is the best moment in any song this year, and it lasts almost an entire minute. This is the best possible result of a metal dude going acoustic.

    The Men, "I Saw Her Face"
    from New Moon (Sacred Bones)

    It took seeing The Men play this live multiple times to catapult it onto my list, and then to the very top of it, but this is without question my favorite song of 2013. The studio version is plenty loose – it was recorded live in a single take – but hearing it onstage is a whole 'nother experience, and it serves as a damn good thesis statement of where The Men are as a band right now. There's no grandiloquent metaphors or ironic distance, just earnest feelings —the three words that appear on the lyrics sheet most are "special," "great" and "love." The instrumentation is ragged and jammy, often sounding right on the edge of falling apart into cacophony without ever doing it. Then comes the ending, with its bpm jacked to three times the speed of the rest of the song, the drums hitting harder, the guitars spazzing out, every neck in the crowd whiplashed from an unexpected fit of headbanging. Then, a few measures before it seems like it should, the coda comes in, returning everything to the peaceful, hazy dream the song started with. The Men have been playing an incredible setlist lately, full of great songs from all of their records, but each time I've seen them this year, "I Saw Her Face" has been the number that sells the newcomers and puts a big dopey grin on the faces of the longtime fans. I couldn't be prouder to work with these dudes.


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  3. Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of Evil Twin Brewing is one of the craft beer world's most outspoken voices, and if the firestorm he ignited on Twitter after Goose Island released its annual Bourbon County Brand Stout last week is any indication, he has no intentions of shutting up.

    Exhibit A:

    A bit trolly, for sure, but the hordes of rampaging beer nerds who tweeted back that Evil Twin brews shitty, expensive, and, erm, Danish beers revealed that he struck a nerve. This wasn't the first time he's ragged on Goose Island for their association with their parent company, either, and they've done a poor job of ignoring him. In either an attempt at levity or some seriously petty immaturity, GI's Chicago brewpub tapped a beer in 2012 brewed with sour grapes (seriously) called Screw You, Jeppe. It's all rather silly, and yet the stakes for consumers are actually quite high.

    Here's the crux: Goose Island is a solid (if unspectacular) brewery who sold its controlling shares to Anheuser-Busch. That means they're no longer a craft brewery by any definition of the word "craft," and that means that money spent on their beers lands in the same pot as money spent on Bud Light. Now, if you select what beer you want to buy based purely on how it tastes, this isn't a problem. GI makes a serviceable English IPA, an above-average saison, and, of course, the fabled Bourbon County series (which I haven't actually tasted). In general, their beers are more affordable than Evil Twin's, and they're certainly easier to find. If you want to drink Goose Island, you could do a lot worse from a flavor standpoint.

    But from craft beer's very earliest days, the power of the consumer's dollar has been as much about making a political stand as it has been about buying something tasty. When a tiny group of Californians was enjoying the First Wave of American Craft Beer, they weren't just buying Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale because the beer tasted good; they were buying it because it kept money in the pockets of local small business owners who gave culture and color to their communities, and who used that money to support regional farmers who revolutionized agriculture by coming up with new hop varietals that eventually came to define American craft brewing. Profits were very modest for those early craft brewers, and Johnny-come-latelys with mediocre products who got into the business for profit alone were shunned by drinkers and mostly went under. Craft beer fans, almost by definition, care about what their hard-earned dollar does, and in most cases, they want it to funnel back into the community that they love.

    So that's why I stand with Evil Twin and Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø in this fight. I know that when I buy a bottle of Imperial Biscotti Break, it helps keep the lights on at Tørst, an asset to the craft beer world and to the landscape of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. If I were to buy a bottle of Bourbon County, I'd be supporting a status quo of misogynist Bud Light ads that practically scream "FAGGOT!" at you if you don't adhere to their narrow bros-and-burgers worldview, not to mention the proliferation of horrible beer-like substances that already account for more than 75% of the U.S. market share. (Consolidation isn't automatically anathema to responsible brewing, either. Duvel Moortgat owns Ommegang and now Boulevard Brewing, and despite trading publicly, no one equates their products with mass-produced swill because they've continued to respect ingredients and curated their holdings to reflect their high standing in the craft community.)

    I'm not saying I'll never buy another Goose Island beer again, just as I won't say I'll never eat at McDonald's again even though their business model is repugnant. What I am saying is that I find Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø's stance extremely admirable. It's the kind of stand people in the craft beer world used to make all the time. Fritz Maytag, Jack MacAuliffe and Ken Grossman wouldn't have been caught dead trading stories over cans of Miller Lite in 1979, but the wave of IPOs and consolidations that changed the face of the landscape in the last two decades has softened a lot of brewers' stances. It's refreshing in this splintered era to see another true iconoclast, and we should all strive to follow his example.

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  4. This isn't going to be a deep, insightful blog post, but I thought some people might be curious about the businesses that keep separating me from my money here in New York. For those of you who are in New York and know my tastes, don't hesitate to recommend me a place I don't know about. I'd love to know where you think the best cup of coffee is, and the best order of moules-frites, and the best...everything else. Here's ten places that have my loyalty already.

    Station House, Forest Hills, Queens

    I was so lucky to have randomly found out about this place online while I was still living in Indiana. I went with my girlfriend and her parents while we were still moving into the new apartment, and now we're there once or twice a week. Extensive beer and whiskey lists, specials every day, delicious, unpretentious food, and all miraculously walking distance from our not-so-up-and-coming neighborhood. I don't know that I've ever said a place was my bar and meant it more than I do with Station House. 

    Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, Queens

    Here's a place that made such a strong first impression on me that the second time I went, it was as a volunteer. Best museum in New York for my money, and the screening room that's presented as an added bonus would be the best cinema in New York as well if it were a standalone theater. If you give a shit about film and are in New York City, you have no excuse not to make the schlep to Astoria.

    Brouwerij Lane, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

    If Station House is my bar, then this is my beer store (even though it's also a bar). This hybrid joint is only about two blocks away from my office, and I frequently find myself snagging a six pack, a bomber, or, hey a few pints on the back patio on my way back to the G train after work. Light on the food options, but it is worth noting that they offer half-pints of all twenty draft beers, mostly for three bucks. Killer spot.

    Baker's Dozen Bagels, Kew Gardens, Queens and Greenpoint, Brooklyn

    My girlfriend is something of a bagel obsessive, and we went to Bloomington Bagel Company at least once a week when we were in Indiana. Now that we're going to Baker's Dozen at least once a week, holy shit, BBC was not so good after all. This place, however, rules. A grilled pumpernickel bagel with approximately eight metric tons of cream cheese costs two bucks. Coffee kinda sucks, but what can ya do.

    Crif Dogs, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    Only been once so far but it was godly. Cheap, delicious, deep-fried hot dogs with all kinds of ridiculous toppings combinations (mine was dressed up like an everything bagel with schmear and chives) and great, crispy tater tots. I'm gonna go here, drunk or sober, at least ten trillion times in my life.

    CityRib, Jamaica, Queens

    It's no big secret that I hate Jamaica, but it does have a shockingly good barbecue joint that shares a first floor with my building's lobby. Happy hour has good deals (I'm going in a couple of hours for wings and beer) and the barbecue is actually properly smoked, Texas-style, not just grilled and then covered in sauce like I'd expect from a place in Queens. They won't survive a year in this neighborhood, but I'll throw them some business when I can.

    Biang!, Flushing, Queens

    Flushing is kind of NYC's secondary-market Chinatown, which is rad because I try not to go into Manhattan when I can help it. Biang! is the semi-fancy, sit-down offshoot of the Xi'an Foods empire, but it's kept the same low prices and menu staples. Eat one skewer of grilled chicken hearts and one bowl of noodles here and you'll never go back to a Chinese place with General Tso's chicken on the menu again.

    Radegast Hall & Biergarten, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    A classic Bavarian beer hall with a restaurant menu as well as a self-serve wurst grill, in addition to a robust German draft list. Only been once so far, but anytime I need the very act of being to feel like a celebration, I'm going here. Leave it to the Germans to build the most positive room in Brooklyn. 

    Barcade, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    Barcade is a craft beer bar with classic arcade games and that is all you need to know. 

    Academy Records Annex, Williamsburg (soon to be Greenpoint), Brooklyn

    I bought a limited, engraved, translucent double LP of Incantation's Diabolical Conquest here. Still waiting for another record store to beat that.

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  5. This coming weekend will mark one month that I've lived in New York City. That seems crazy. It feels like I've been here for a couple of days, and that my flight back home to Indiana or Ohio or somewhere is just around the corner, waiting with its peanuts and five-ounce Sprite cups to return me to a life I deserve, replete with lawnmowers and trampolines and that-boy-sure-can-throw-maybe-this-will-be-the-year.

    But that isn't going to happen. I live in New York City — more specifically, I live in Jamaica, Queens. Sometimes it feels like the only thing grounding me in some kind of a productive routine right now is the fact that I live in the worst neighborhood someone like me could possibly live in. Fuck beating around the bush; being white here isn't very pleasant. Growing up a liberal in Midwestern suburbs and attending a lily-white state university made me a passionate defender of racial equality without ever actually exposing me to many black people. In Jamaica, I'm a member of a tiny minority of American whites, and none of my stereotypically white interests are serviced by the businesses in the area. I haven't felt unsafe for a second, but there's a certain double-take and scowl that you get used to while cutting through a park where hundreds of black and Hispanic families are gathered. I've thrown a few privileged-ass fits – when a film screening was canceled for lack of attendance, when I couldn't find the New York Times anywhere, when the best beer I could find in the neighborhood stores was Sam Adams – but overall, I've been humbled. New York is a huge, diverse city that doesn't exist solely to cater to one type of a person. I know that the next time I move, it will be to one of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn I spend all my leisure time in, but I'm grateful to have this experience. Without a trial by fire, it would be way too easy to get complacent, fail, and return to the Land of Meh from whence I came. Living in Jamaica and still loving New York has made me serious about staying here forever.

    The thing that has made me feel the most at home by far has been my new job. I'm working at Sacred Bones Records in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in a kind of marketing/production hybrid role, and every day so far has been an adventure. It's only part-time for now, but I'm confident that I'll eventually be pouring 40+ hours of blood, sweat and tears into this place each week. Sacred Bones is a label that cares about the same things I do in music. It takes its releases very seriously both as artistic statements and as sellable commodities, and the aesthetic that carries through most of its releases make them feel like volumes in a collection, curated by a careful, present hand. The bands they sign are simpatico with this vision, too, and they all seem determined to be someone's favorite band — a quality in bands my colleague Scab Casserole outlined in an essential Invisible Oranges piece.

    That all brings me to my official Eureka! moment that told me everything I'm doing right now is right. I went to a weird DIY space in Red Hook last weekend to see Sacred Bones mainstays The Men play with Wolf Eyes and Amen Dunes. The Men were already one of my favorite bands, but seeing them play for 45 minutes surrounded by their friends, families, former band members, and the people who signed them to a record deal (my bosses) made everything come together. Every band who has ever been my favorite got that way by, as Mr. Casserole describes, actively courting me as a fan. By reaching me at the perfect state of openness and vulnerability, they all burrowed into my heart. Iron Maiden did it first and best, with perfect albums, perfect live shows, and perhaps most importantly, perfect T-shirts. Mouth of the Architect did it by making Dayton, Ohio seem like the most important place in the world every time they played a hometown show. Fucked Up did it by making 20-year-old me feel like 12-year-old me again. The Men have done it by making New York seem entirely accessible to a kid from the Midwest, by dressing in T-shirts and growing out their hair and feeding their sweat to the ground and their monitors.

    The Men are a perfect band because of their imperfections, and because of how little they care about those imperfections. They've released four full-lengths in four years, each flawed and beautiful and teeming with electricity, like the songs couldn't wait to be pushed from their brains to their fingers to our ears. They scream and headbang without any self-consciousness. If you think Brooklynites are all hipsters who are above getting down at a rock n' roll show, I dare you to see The Men play here. They're exactly what I needed to quell any doubts I had about living in New York. I'll be seeing them whenever they play in the city, and I fully expect a few teenagers in the audience to have their lives changed each time.

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  6. It's been less than a week since Kanye West's much-anticipated Yeezus leaked and, subsequently, almost broke the Internet. A week isn't a lot of time to spend with an album before casting judgment on it, but this is 2013, so waiting a full six days to post my thoughts makes me a Johnny-come-lately. (Using the phrase Johnny-come-lately also makes me one.)

    I am, however, confident in broadcasting a few opinions: (1) That Yeezus is one of my five favorite albums of the year so far, along with the new ones by Mount Moriah, Portal, The National and Power Trip; (2) that Yeezus is my favorite Kanye West album; and (3) that the company that Yeezus shares in opinion (1) makes opinion (2) possible.

    Nothing sticks in my craw quite like being called a rockist. I think it's a reductive term used to wave your oh-so-expansive taste around like a Purple Heart while mocking a straw man of your creation for thinking that, I dunno, Queens of the Stone Age and the White Stripes are the most important acts from the past 15 years of popular music. When you call someone who thinks critically about music a rockist, you're suggesting that you're more qualified to have critical thoughts than they are because they don't like the same records as you. This is absurd; the rockist caricatures conjured up by these accusers are on the Kid Rock cruise, and the words 'Best New Music' don't mean anything to them.

    Strip the word of its power to belittle, though, and it's basically true of my tastes. If you expand the definition of rock music to include its most extreme iterations, then yes, I expend 90% of my listening energy on rock, and this has been true since I was a little kid listening to my dad's AC/DC and Black Sabbath albums. While my taste has expanded beyond the sonic boundaries that were imposed on my listening during my youth, certain rock-centric virtues and ideals have stuck, which is why it's very, very hard for me to list a rap record among my favorite albums of any given year.

    One mantra looms large over the judgment of any rock masterpiece: All killer, no filler. This is not true of hip-hop. The intro, the interlude, the skit, the throwaway goof-off track — these are all things that great rap records can get away with, that actually make the world of the album richer and more believable, and that can contribute to its greatness. As someone who never heard a rap song anywhere but the radio until well into his late teens, it's difficult for me to reconfigure my course and see something like the ambling Late Registration as anything but a confused mess. I can appreciate the hell out of "Gold Digger" and "Diamonds from Sierra Leone," but the little rockist devil on my shoulder won't let me call it a masterpiece when Kanye recorded three tracks that he settled on calling "Skit #1," "Skit #2," and "Skit #3." Even the King Crimson-sampling, prog-rap odyssey of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy found room for a stupid Chris Rock bit that derailed its flow, even if it didn't invalidate the handful of bona fide classic tracks elsewhere on the album. (808s and Hearbreaks is an outlier in this conversation, but it seems unlikely to bring rockist curmudgeons to Kanye shows. IF IT'S AUTOTUNED THEN YOU CAN'T SING IT AND IT'S NOT REAL.)

    Which brings us to Yeezus. All 10 tracks and 41 minutes of it burn with fiery intensity. Not a second is wasted on anything but getting inside your skull, be it with a hook or a nasty beat or a batshit lyric. It's without a doubt Kanye's most focused album yet, and I've seen a lot of rap critics rail against it as "tossed-off" or "half-assed." When I listen to it, I hear the opposite. Writing is hard, but editing is a fucking nightmare. Kanye created his first true masterpiece by editing like he wants his next career to be at Random House. I don't want to chalk too much up to Rick Rubin's presence in the credits, but when I listen to Yeezus, I hear more Reign in Blood than College Dropout.

    So yes, Kanye went and made a rock record. He did it using the medium of hip-hop, but it adheres to rock's rules, and it's certain to bring in a bigger audience of rock fans than any of his previous work. (Stop by any metal forum on the Internet for fifty versions of "I've hated everything else he's done, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but this is really good!") It's probably fair to rank it toward the bottom of his discography when looking through the rap prism, but after six days, I know how every song on it goes. For this rockist, that's enough. YNRI.

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  7. We're in the last week or so of the NBA regular season, and awards ballots have been distributed to those who have a vote. That makes it as good a time as any to look over what I predicted before the season started and revise those picks to what my actual ballot would look like if I had one.

    League MVP:
    October: LeBron James, Heat
    April: LeBron James, Heat
    For much of the year this was a two-man race between LeBron and Kevin Durant, with names like Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Kobe Bryant occasionally entering the conversation as a dark horse. Then LeBron started playing literally the best, most efficient basketball anyone has ever played. This is a no-brainer, and if "voter fatigue" gives this award to Durant, it's time to strip every awards voter of their credentials and start over with people who actually watch the games.

    Rookie of the Year:
    October: Anthony Davis, Hornets
    April: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers
    In my defense, I didn't think Anthony Davis would go down with a series of bumps and bruises over the first half of the season, and if he had been able to get into his rhythm earlier, this award may still be his. But that's not to overlook Damian Lillard, who has been so stellar on the offensive end that his status as a minus-defender isn't a problem worth trifling with...at least until Year Two.

    Defensive Player of the Year:
    October: Serge Ibaka, Thunder
    April: Tim Duncan, Spurs
    Hear me out; this isn't strictly homerism. Plenty of ink's been spilled on Tim Duncan's resurgent season, but has any 36-year-old ever anchored a top ten defense so effectively that teams full of 24-year-old dudes call plays that deliberately keep him from getting involved? Furthermore, has anyone who that describes also been third in the league in blocked shots while only recording 30 minutes a night? The degree of difficulty for what he's done puts a borderline campaign for a younger man over the top for me. We may not see what we're seeing from the Big Fundamental this year ever again.

    Sixth Man of the Year:
    October: Manu Ginobili, Spurs
    April: J.R. Smith, Knicks
    Like most blog-educated, new-wave NBA fans, advanced stats and efficiency mean a lot to me. And yet I can't shake the feeling that the Knicks wouldn't be sitting at second in the East -- or even close, really -- if not for the efforts of remorseless gunner and ultimate heat-check chucker Earl Joseph Smith III. If the raison d'être of sixth men is to provide scoring for units that, on bad teams, lack it, then J.R. has elevated sixth man to an art form with his 17.8 points per game -- a figure that's good for 19th in the league overall, forget among bench players. Kneel.

    Most Improved Player:
    October: N/A
    April: Larry Sanders, Bucks 
    I didn't predict this award before the season, partly because I forgot and partly because it's, by nature, unpredictable to determine who's going to make a leap without seeing a minute of meaningful gameplay. Credit Larry Sanders with making my end-of-year vote easy. In his third year, Sanders at times struggled with staying on the floor, but even in limited minutes made an incredible impact on the defensive end, leading the league in blocks while making a backcourt featuring Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis infinitely less disastrous. His offensive game is starting to show some nuance as well, and perhaps someday he'll have an all-NBA appearance in him.

    Coach of the Year:
    October: Erik Spoelstra, Heat
    April: Erik Spoelstra, Heat
    This is as easy now as it was in October. In this day in age, with all the advanced tools available to teams, it's very, very hard to win in the NBA, no matter which players you employ. Spoelstra has made it look effortless. He cracked the code in a way that even brilliant basketball minds like Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich haven't mastered. This award is Spo's to lose until further notice.

    First Team:
    Dwight Howard, Lakers
    LeBron James, Heat
    Kevin Durant, Thunder
    Chris Paul, Clippers
    Rajon Rondo, Celtics

    Second Team:
    Andrew Bynum, 76ers
    Kevin Love, Timberwolves
    Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
    Manu Ginobili, Spurs
    Russell Westbrook, Thunder

    Third Team:
    Roy Hibbert, Pacers
    Carmelo Anthony, Knicks
    LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers
    Kobe Bryant, Lakers
    Deron Williams, Nets

    First Team:
    Joakim Noah, Bulls
    LeBron James, Heat
    Kevin Durant, Thunder
    Chris Paul, Clippers
    James Harden, Rockets

    Second Team:
    Brook Lopez, Nets
    Tim Duncan, Spurs
    Carmelo Anthony, Knicks
    Kobe Bryant, Lakers
    Tony Parker, Spurs

    Third Team:
    Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
    Blake Griffin, Clippers
    Paul George, Pacers
    Dwyane Wade, Heat
    Russell Westbrook, Thunder

    Lots to unpack here. Changed all three of my center picks, for perhaps-obvious reasons. Dwight hasn't been Dwight, Bynum didn't play, and Hibbert took too long to round into form. I hate Joakim Noah, but he's been the reason the Bulls are even good this year, let alone borderline contenders. Lopez has overachieved on a team full of dudes who have done the opposite, and Marc Gasol is a basketball savant. These six forwards were easy choices. They've all added things to their games that weren't there last year, and all their teams are poised to make noise in the playoffs. The guard spots were pretty easy to award as well, especially with guys like Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose out of the conversation. My October picks were garbage. Don't even look at them.

    Anthony Davis, Hornets
    Jared Sullinger, Celtics
    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bobcats
    Bradley Beal, Wizards
    Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers 

    Tyler Zeller, Cavaliers
    Anthony Davis, Hornets
    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bobcats
    Bradley Beal, Wizards
    Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

    I had to make Anthony Davis a power forward since he was listed that way all year and I was stupid in October. That opened up a spot for a center. That center is Tyler Zeller, who has started 49 of 71 games for the Cavs this year and just edges the injury-prone Jonas Valanciunas and Andre Drummond for my ballot. Does that make you uncomfortable? It should make you uncomfortable.

    Dwight Howard, Lakers
    Serge Ibaka, Thunder
    LeBron James, Heat
    Tony Allen, Grizzlies
    Avery Bradley, Celtics

    Joakim Noah, Bulls
    Tim Duncan, Spurs
    LeBron James, Heat
    Andre Iguodala, Nuggets
    Mike Conley, Jr., Grizzlies

    This season in a nutshell. Most everything was unpredictable, but LeBron persists. I feel real queasy about these guard spots, by the way. Could easily go another way and I wouldn't sweat it. Gasol is also right up there with Noah for the center spot.

    So, I'm gonna stop talking about the NBA for fear of jinxing the Spurs, who are definitely going to win the title. Oh, fuck.

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  8. It's Valentine's Day, and while I'm not usually super comfortable with gushy oversharing on the web, I'm willing to break my own rule to pen an ode to someone I've been thinking about a lot over the past few days. Obviously, that special someone is Kawhi Leonard. (I love you very much, Rachael.)

    Let's talk about what it means to be a longtime Spurs fan in 2013. I started following the team the same way I imagine many in my generation did. It was 1999, Jordan had retired, the Spurs had just won the title, little kids are front-runners, and voila, I'm a Spurs fan. I've followed them ever since, in the best of times and in the...OK, so the times have really only been good. And that's sort of a problem. We don't really know what it's like to struggle. Sure, I can talk your ear off about the five playoff exits that have followed our last championship and how each one was based on a different combination of bad luck and bullshit, but you should not hear me out. Tim Duncan has four rings, and I was a Spurs fan for all of them. I ask no pity, and none should I receive.

    But the remarkable consistency of the Spurs built around a foundation of, for much of that time, the same three guys – Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker – has meant Spurs fans have settled into a kind of stasis. We haven't found a new savior of the franchise because we haven't needed one. Role players have come and gone, and we've loved them for their quirks (#LetBonnerShoot, indeed) and their unique skill sets that Gregg Popovich has so perfectly exploited, but if we're being honest, we haven't grown too attached to any of them. We aren't dangling trade bait over the side of the U.S.S. Alamo, but we also aren't going to feel too bad if a Fabricio Oberto here or a Roger Mason, Jr. there goes overboard.

    Yet the rigors of time are setting in for Duncan and Ginobili, and with Parker's 31st birthday coming this playoffs, even his current MVP-caliber season is closer to the end of his career than its beginning. Whether the Spurs run out of gas in the conference finals again this year or push through to face the Heat in June doesn't hinge on the Big Three anymore. It hinges on Kawhi Leonard, a second-year swingman out of San Diego State. I'll admit it feels weird to say so with such confidence, but if you took me to Vegas right now to make that call, I'm betting on Kawhi.


    That's a screen grab of the four most recent stories on 48minutesofhell.com, a popular Spurs blog and ESPN TrueHoop affiliate. You'll notice a certain name in all four headlines. Now, I'm not going to go through the entire 48MOH archive, but I will go out on a limb and assume it's the first time a name other than Duncan, Parker, Ginobili or Popovich has appeared in four headlines in a row. It's a somewhat arbitrary measure of his significance, but it still matters. It has as much to do with lucky timing as anything – Leonard had a breakout 26-point performance when the Big Three sat against Chicago, and he hit a game-winner in Cleveland when Gregg Popovich couldn't wait to get his team off the floor – but the ripples he made with past triumphs at Summer League and with unglamorous but flawless execution of tough defensive assignments are now on the national stage. He deserves the accolades he's gotten and more.


    "I think he’s going to be a star. And as time goes on, he’ll be the face of the Spurs, I think."

    When Gregg Popovich gave this quote two months after last year's playoffs, a lot of people wrote it off as typical media bravado. I'm sure at least five hundred players have been touted as the faces of their respective franchises in the last 25 years, and maybe 40 of those have actually become that. But anyone who knows Coach Pop knows what a straight shooter he is, and I was heartened by the quote. Leonard was a somewhat raw prospect, for sure; when he came to the Spurs, he didn't have a jump shot or any go-to moves, and his perimeter defense was the only thing earning him minutes. His growth since then has been incredible to witness.

    His defense has never been a question. Like the beloved retired Spur Bruce Bowen before him, or Ron Artest in his prime, his defensive assignment tends to be the most dangerous wing on the opposing team. The likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant still get their numbers on him, but he's never bullied, and he can make the wiliest of veterans look downright flustered with his ability to move his feet and wise-beyond-his-years intuition. What's scary for opponents is that now his offensive arsenal is catching up. He went from a liability on that end of the floor to a spot-up shooter to a player who can create his own shot in a year and a half. Even the most coachable players in the NBA can rarely claim a learning curve that quick.

    En route to his career high of 26 points against Chicago on Monday, Leonard unleashed a bevy of moves that only hint at his tantalizing potential. He can hit the three-ball. He can split defenders on the fast break for a transition dunk. He can dribble twice along the baseline and create a short floater for himself. He can take a defender in iso from the top of the key and turn it into an easy layup. In Popovich's system, he doesn't get to do these things when Duncan, Ginobili and Parker are healthy, but seeing how incredibly capable he is of doing them is encouraging. It's easy to imagine that in five years he'll have the offensive range of George Gervin and the defensive tenacity of Bruce Bowen.

    Oh, and then there was this:

    You can't really coach a guy to have ice water in his veins. Kawhi was obviously born with it. When Twitter blew up after this shot, I nearly ordered a customized Kawhi Leonard jersey right then and there. I've never owned a Spurs jersey that wasn't of Tim Duncan or Tony Parker, but I'm guessing some night this season I'm going to have had one beer too many and throw down for a gray alternate embroidered with a stark number "2." I won't regret it in the morning, either.

    Kawhi Leonard is the future of the San Antonio Spurs. He is a future all-star, he is why the Spurs will make the NBA Finals this year, and he is going to prevent a drop-off when Timmy and Manu retire in two or three years. He's the quintessential Spur — perfect for the system, infinitely coachable, reserved in demeanor, and way cooler to fans ten years ago (nice cornrows, Iverson). He's a question mark that transformed into an exclamation point. He's the future, and I can't wait to say I told you so.

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  9.  OK, I'll admit it: I get a little depressed whenever I come back to Indiana after a trip to a big city. I don't hate Indiana, especially not Bloomington, which is about as good as a Midwestern small town can get. It's just that nothing here can compare to the limitless entertainment, education, drinking and dining options in a truly great city.

    I spent four days in Philadelphia and managed to hit (deep breath) Sly Fox Brewhouse and Eatery, Victory Brewing Company, The Prohibition Tap Room, the Union Transfer to see six incredible metal bands, David's Mai Lai Wah in Chinatown, Brauhaus Schmitz, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Wells Fargo Center for a Sixers game against my beloved Spurs, and Pho 75.

    Then I flew back to Indiana and looked over my apartment balcony to see adjacent McDonald's, KFC, Taco Bell, Chili's and Arby's restaurants, across the street from a fucking shopping mall. So don't blame me for feeling a little low today.

    I'll suck it up for long enough to get to the real point of this post, though. I ticked a new box on my must-try restaurant list yesterday when I ate a late breakfast at Pho 75. The bowl of delectably complex broth with rice noodles, thin-sliced raw eye round, beef tripe and all manner of vegetables went down smoothly with a condensed milk-addled iced coffee. More or less, the place lived up to the hype (and justified my seven-mile round trip walk to consume it).

    This got me wanting to reflect on some of the other places I haven't been fortunate enough to eat at yet, but that every errant mention of somewhere online has me scurrying back to their menu, to reviews, and to Yelp odes. Here's the five that have occupied my mind the most, in alphabetical order:

    Barley Swine — Austin, Texas

    If the press is to be believed, no one takes beer-and-food pairings more seriously than Barley Swine Chef Bryce Gilmore. The fine-dining-means-wine establishment is already showing signs of weakness all over the country, but Gilmore has taken the hatchet to it once and for all in Austin, with an excellent wine list kept around just to prove he can do what he wants. I'm willing to let him.

    Incanto — San Francisco, Calif.

    With St. John's venerable Fergus Henderson bowing out from regular duties at his London shrine to nasty bits, the heir apparent for offal wizardry is probably Incanto's Chris Cosentino. More accessible fare dots the menu at the Bay Area hotspot, but when I get the chance to go, I'm going to roll the dice with the strangest thing he's making that day. #yolo

    Marea — New York, N.Y.

    This is a case of a restaurant clawing its way into my imaginary datebook on the strength of one dish and one dish only. Chef Michael White makes a baby octopus and bone marrow fusilli that is basically a pile of all my favorite ingredients on one plate. I will eat it. Oh, yes. I will.

    Prince's Hot Chicken Shack — Nashville, Tenn.

    This is the odd man out on this list, and then again it isn't. Prince's serves up what's allegedly Nashville's best take on a local classic — spicy-as-fuck fried chicken. Like the rest of these restaurants, it entices me because it's unpretentious food made with love and respect for ingredients. The fact that it's literally coming from a shack doesn't change that one bit.

    Zahav — Philadelphia, Pa.

     Chef/owner Michael Solomonov is likely one of the most brilliant people cooking in America today, and his menu at Zahav is a culinary journey through the Jewish diaspora that nods to his influences while making something totally new. Literally everything on this menu is something I want to put in my mouth. I can't even spend too long on the website because I start drooling all over myself. I think I might book a return flight to Philly after I finish writing this to eat here. Fuck.

    Thoughts? I'll probably write about the Bloomington food scene and why I have such a bone to pick with it at some point in the near future, but for now I'm curious what you all think about these restaurants. Have you eaten at any of them? What did you think?

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  10. I'm having trouble writing an intro that I feel sums up this year. Maybe it would say something about how I'm totally over superhero movies, or about how it was a great year for indie movies with little plot, but for some reason, this year seems to defy thesis statements. I'm still not fully convinced that 2012 was a great year for film — at least not for the studios — but here's the ten movies that resonated with me the most:

    1. The Master, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

    To attempt to sum up the plot of The Master is to do it a gross disservice. Over three sprawling hours, Joaquin Phoenix's Freddie Quell and Philip Seymour Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd reveal everything about themselves and each other while remaining tantalizingly unknowable. PTA's best film yet is a parable about fatherhood, power, religion and scheming, but above all, about the animalistic nature of man. With a driving Jonny Greenwood score (the year's best, and a crucial counter-argument to Hans Zimmer's now-ubiquitous bwahhhhhhh approach) and two pantheon performances by Phoenix and Hoffman, Paul Thomas Anderson has given us not a treatise on Scientology as was once rumored, but a glorious dissertation on life itself.

    2. The Comedy, dir. Rick Alverson

    Tim Heidecker is no stranger to elaborate performance art, having spent 2012 running Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule, pretending to run Rolling Stone magazine from his Twitter account, and penning a 14-minute Dylanesque song about the Titanic to "beat the master to it." But the anti-comic's most grandiose act yet was to give one of the year's best performances in Rick Alverson's painful, essential The Comedy. Its title is ironic, since Heidecker's Swanson and his aging hipster crew (including Eric Wareheim, Gregg Turkington and LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy) engage mainly in gross acts of immaturity and emotional detachment, but even the remote possibility of redemption for someone whose chief interests are torturing cabbies, riffing about prolapsed anuses and defending Hitler allows the film to end on a wonderfully open-ended note.

    3. Beasts of the Southern Wild, dir. Benh Zeitlin

    Benh Zeitlin's debut feature is bubbling with life — so much life, in fact, that its exuberance has become its main criticism. But his exploration of a destroyed post-Katrina settlement called the Bathtub needs all the kicking, screaming and roaring it can muster to keep it from collapsing under the weight of its own subject matter. It's a high degree of difficulty, but Zeitlin nails it. His risky casting of non-professionals Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry as a daughter and father trying to keep their relationship from falling apart even as the world around them does pays off in spades. Like many of this year's best films, it wasn't about what the early press made it seem to be about (New Orleans), but it was much, much better for it.

    4. Lincoln, dir. Steven Spielberg

    Unquestionably 2012's Best Movie on Paper, Steven Spielberg's adaptation of a Tony Kushner script based on a Doris Kearns Goodwin book starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones and almost every other living actor basically lives up to its promise. It's not hard to find the similarities between Lincoln's heroic politicking to pass the 13th Amendment and any cause President Obama has sought to further — universal healthcare, gay rights, you name it. Yet Lincoln is a strikingly apolitical call to arms, inspiring through its content rather than extratextual elements read into it by critics. In his portrayal of the sixteenth president, Day-Lewis has successfully humanized the most godlike figure in American history while removing none of the awe we feel in his presence.

    5. Django Unchained, dir. Quentin Tarantino

    Talking about a Quentin Tarantino movie means talking about a whole slew of movies, and the master of homage doesn't disappoint with Django Unchained. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Django, his own Inglourious Basterds, even this year's Lincoln — all play a prominent role in understanding the spaghetti Western QT has long dreamt of making. It's uncouth, crass, and violent, but it never feels insensitive to the racial issues it addresses, even when it drops n-words like bread crumbs on a trail deep into the heart of the antebellum South. Christoph Waltz, Leo DiCaprio and a stoic Jamie Foxx headline a terrific cast that successfully argues that while legislation may be the most effective way to end the scourge of slavery, sometimes blowing up a plantation house with dynamite makes a bigger statement.

    6. The Loneliest Planet, dir. Julia Loktev

    The Loneliest Planet has precisely one plot point, but the way it reshapes the central relationship (Gael García Bernal and Hani Furstenburg) makes it weighty enough to carry the film on its own. It's an excessively hard movie to write about since even mentioning the lone plot point is a spoiler, but it's not giving anything away to say it's the most intimate movie of the year, contrasting its grand backdrop of Georgia's Caucasus range. Most relationship movies don't pick up on the tiny nuances that define the experience of spending your life with another person. Planet makes them mountain-sized.

    7. The Turin Horse, dir. Béla Tarr

    The slow crawl of death – death of a horse, death of two people, death of a way of life – is the sole fixation of The Turin Horse, the final film by Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr. There is no light nor joy in its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, which unfolds in 30 long shots. It's nearly plotless, far more about its atmosphere than what's actually happening onscreen, but the brilliance of Tarr's shots (and the bleak foreboding of its many bad omens) makes it gripping nonetheless. Foremost among its plentiful merits, though, was how it improbably turned me off of one of my favorite carbohydrates: Watch this once, and you'll never want to eat another potato again.

    8. Argo, dir. Ben Affleck

    OK, so maybe it gets a little too Hollywood during the (admittedly thrilling) climax, but Argo is nothing less than the moment when Ben Affleck became one of our great directors — not bad for a guy who was widely assumed for years to be the weak link of the Good Will Hunting writing team. Argo is an instant classic of the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction genre, a retelling of a crazy plot to get six would-be hostages out of Iran during the bearded and bespectacled Carter Administration. Give Affleck credit: when all the pieces come together a bit too perfectly, it's a genuine triumph, not just a string of clichés.

    9. Bernie, dir. Richard Linklater

    Richard Linklater brings out the best in Jack Black. School of Rock was his best role until the script for Bernie fell into his lap, casting him as a sweet (read: closeted) mortician in small-town Texas who kills an old woman the locals all hate — only none of them believe he committed the crime. In mixing Christopher Guest's mockumentary style with his trademark vignette storytelling, Linklater creates his richest world since Dazed and Confused, and a probable future cult classic to boot.

    10. This Must Be The Place, dir. Paolo Sorrentino

    In director Paolo Sorrentino's first feature film in English, Sean Penn cavorts around the American West in eyeliner and a Robert Smith fright wig, looking for a 90-year-old Nazi war criminal. It's a wonder This Must Be The Place got made at all, but we should be grateful that it did. Supporting turns by Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch and David Byrne help to flesh out a movie whose batshit crazy plot points belie its heart-wrenching realness. In a key scene, Penn argues with a preteen over who wrote "This Must Be The Place," Arcade Fire or Talking Heads. It ultimately doesn't matter; he sings the song with the boy just the same. Like the film's lessons, the song transcends generation, yet remains maddeningly elusive.

    Last five out
    The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
    The Cabin in the Woods

    Five I most need to see:
    Searching for Sugar Man
    Rust and Bone
    The Kid With a Bike
    Wuthering Heights
    Zero Dark Thirty

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