Music

When 'Pirates' Becomes the Pirated

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Central Pictures Corporation

If you were one of the 9 million people who illegally downloaded “Fast Five,” it might not occur to you that 2011 was a magnificent year at the movies. And you wouldn’t be interested in any of the myriad 10-best lists, let alone one you’re about to read from some obscure critic. This is not about fancy art films with subtitles being more legitimate than Hollywood blockbusters. If you pride yourself on being a movie buff, you would insist on seeing “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” in Imax. Then you would agree that 2011 was indeed awesome. But since you already know movies like “Hugo,” “A Dangerous Method,” “The Tree of Life,” “Melancholia” and “The Descendants” to be great, this list champions films that need a little cosmic extra push.

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The Age of Innocence Lost

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Magnolia Pictures

Full disclosure: Due to a professional detour, I saw fewer films in 2010 than in any of the previous 14 years. No self-respecting critic or dedicated movie buff would stand for that, and to change it is a top priority for the new year. But for this annual list-making exercise, it means there are a couple more sentimental favorites in place of critically defensible choices.

Musically, the oversaturating trifecta of Lady Gaga, Eminem and Justin Bieber effectively drove me to the thriving scenes in Japan and South Korea. Unadulterated pop music is making a comeback on a global scale, but folks in Asia craft it exceptionally enough to truly transcend any language barrier.

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Finding Neverland

MOVIE REVIEW
Michael Jackson's This Is It (2009)

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Kevin Mazur/AEG/Getty Images

Genuine tribute or cynical money making ploy? That question has surrounded “Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” since the project — a compilation of rehearsal footage and behind the scenes interviews accrued during the run-up to Jackson’s planned 50 dates at London’s O2 Arena — was announced shortly after the King of Pop’s death. By keeping the film shrouded in secrecy, first showing it to most critics last night and at a courtesy screening this morning, Sony Pictures and AEG Live did little to stem the tide of suspicion.

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Die Fidelity

MOVIE REVIEW
I Need That Record! (2008)

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Brendan Toller/Unsatisfied Films

Independent record stores — as with most independent retailers — are dying out. Small chains simply can’t compete with big-box or Internet retailers on price or the “long tail” — the ability to stock small amounts of the majority of items, which sell only very small numbers. But what they lack in mainstream success, the smaller shops make up for with a synesthetic shopping experience that simply can’t be replicated elsewhere. Some call this heart, others authenticity, still others community spirit.

Director Brendan Toller taps into the longing for this experience in “I Need That Record!” via the owners of Record Express and Trash American Style, two shops near his hometown in Connecticut. Record Express’s closing was the impetus for the film, in which Mr. Toller went on a road trip to other small record stores in Illinois, Ohio and Massachusetts to discuss how the music industry and retail markets have changed, and what small store owners are doing about it.

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Got the World on Six Strings

MOVIE REVIEW
It Might Get Loud (2009)

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Eric Lee/Sony Pictures Classics

One could argue that in his latest film, Davis Guggenheim — the Academy Award-winning documentarian behind “An Inconvenient Truth” — has outdone the impressive accomplishment of imbuing an Al Gore slideshow with riveting dramatic heft. For “It Might Get Loud,” he’s assembled Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, three musicians who have never been especially prone to talking about themselves or their craft, and gotten them to candidly face his cameras and do just that.

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Yelp It From the Rooftops

MOVIE REVIEW
Echoes of Home (2007)

Christian_Zehnder
Polyfilm Verleih

Folk music has a difficult time of it in this modern world. There’s the need to preserve the old sounds and traditions, but also the need to make them relevant to people now. Without contemporary interest, the music is reduced to museum status and the performers to archivists, but when the music is moved forward into a modern style, it becomes something new and more uncategorizable.

“Echoes of Home” is about three Swiss musicians who are caught between these two conflicting needs. The traditional music of Switzerland is yodelling – the perfect way to ensure sounds and messages are carried across the enormous mountain ranges, and up and down the valley. But this specific need of theirs speaks to something wider within their culture. As demonstrated by the eager mature students featured in an evening class, yodelling seems to be an excellent way for the proper, polite Swiss to really let rip.

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Setting Off the Heavy Metal Detector

MOVIE REVIEW
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2009)

Robb and Lips
Brent J. Craig/Anvil! The Story of Anvil

“Anvil! The Story of Anvil” documents the tragicomic story of Anvil, the band of Canadian heavy metal rockers that showed some promise in the 1980s before lapsing into relative obscurity. In the best tradition of such ventures, however, it’s really about much more. The film is not a musical hagiography, or an apologia for the band and its commercial failings. It is instead a hopeful testament to the power of unrelenting optimism and the contentment that can come from refining the definition of success.

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B.I.G. in Life, Bigger in Death

MOVIE REVIEW
Notorious (2009)

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Phil Caruso/Fox Searchlight Pictures

It is fair to question whether the life of Christopher Wallace, also known as Biggie Smalls or the Notorious B.I.G., would even be worthy of a motion picture were it not for the East Coast-West Coast blood feud that ended in his death. That’s a blasphemous sentiment to many, and it is certainly not meant to detract from the fact that he achieved success from nowhere or that he was a terrific rapper. It is, rather, an observation inspired by George Tillman Jr.’s intermittently entertaining but thoroughly conventional Biggie biopic, “Notorious.”

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Was It Overdose or Was It the Pistol?

MOVIE REVIEW
Who Killed Nancy (2009)

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Peace Arch Entertainment

The death of Nancy Spungen – the drug addict, part-time prostitute girlfriend of Sex Pistol’s bassist Sid Vicious – will always be a much debated footnote in the history of punk. The assumption (and indeed the conclusion of a much-maligned investigation by the N.Y.P.D.) was that she was murdered by a heroin-addled Sid, who predictably had no recollection of how Spungen ended up stabbed to death in their dilapidated hotel room bathroom. Sid’s untimely death a mere four months later meant a trial never happened and the police closed the case believing Spungen’s murderer to have met his own sort of justice. Predictably, speculation over what really happened in room 100 of the Hotel Chelsea on the night of Oct. 11, 1978 has been rife ever since: Did Sid really murder his girlfriend – was he even physically capable of such an act – or was it the result of a bungled robbery? It is this uncertainty that Sid Vicious biographer Alan G. Parker attempts to unravel with this frustrating examination of the events leading up to Spungen’s murder.

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Before You Forget

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Stephen Berkman/Roadside Attractions

The annual ritual of best-of lists can seem arbitrary, obsessive-compulsive or even narcissistic. When any aspiring critic can set up a blog or a Flixter account to get his or her two cents in, do readers even care if a critic has credentials or expertise? Do people even read movie reviews anymore, when they’ve become reliant on listicles or quotables that appear in ad copies and on Rottentomatoes? As publications around the country rush to meet the bottom line to appease shareholders, some of the most brilliant and erudite voices have become orphaned in the process. Those who are serious about a career in film criticism have probably all paused to ask whether this is still honest work or just a frivolous pursuit.

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