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Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Year in Review: Films

This past February I detailed the 25 films to look forward to in 2011. Looking back at my list, I accurately predicted some—Moneyball, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and The Muppets—but many…or most…of the anticipated flicks turned out to be monumental busts or critically panned, like Sucker Punch, Green Lantern, and Battle Los Angeles..

Not entirely surprising, the year’s most well-reviewed and award-season-worthy films turned out to be the ones flying relatively under the radar. But what were 2011’s best films? Ask any Twihard and they’ll say Breaking Dawn; ask the Potterites and they’ll tell you to give the Best Picture Oscar to the entire Harry Potter franchise. Needless to say, “best” is always debatable. Still, here’s my round-up of the top movies of 2011.

Rarely do comedies, especially raunchy, R-rated ones, get their due. This year, though, Bridesmaids changed all that. While Judd Apatow applied his usual formula to the plot, the result was vastly better than any of his previous works. Many critics spent all their time talking about gender and how this film proves that women are, in fact, quite hilarious. But to focus purely on that actually discredits this film.

MovieFone says it best: “Bridesmaids proves that no joke is too raunchy and toilet humor knows no gender. While critics were too busy talking about what this movie means for ‘women in comedy,’ Bridesmaids simply did one thing: tell great jokes. Above and beyond everything else this year, this movie united its audience; man or woman, young or old, the overwhelming majority of viewers laughed their asses off at it, and turned it into a monster hit.”

If any comedy deserves to receive a Best Picture nomination from the academy, it’s this one.

Full of unexpected surprises, The Descendants, directed pitch-perfectly by Alexander Payne (Sideways), dishes out laughs and tears. It’s George Clooney’s performance, though, that truly makes this film. Many say this is the performance of Clooney’s career (with Batman & Robin coming in as a close second—kidding!) What draws me to this film, though, is the screenplay. The story is engrossing and relatable from start to finish.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
My favorite film of 2010 was David Fincher’s The Social Network. No surprise then that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made my year in review. Granted, I was once a skeptic of this film, but I have since been converted. Honestly, I was hook, line, and sinker as soon as I saw the trailer. The film, though, does live up to the hype, including Rooney Mara, who is a complete revelation as Lisbeth.

So why see this film if you’ve already seen the Swedish version? According to Entertainment Weekly, “Fincher and his splendid cast…do what the 2009 Swedish film version couldn't: They tease out the full mythological grandeur of the material. They have made a 21st-century vision of women who recoil from, or take revenge on, the men who fear and loathe them.”

The Artist
A black-and-white silent film set in Old Hollywood is now the favorite for awards season? If you’re wondering how, look no further than the director and his cast. As Rolling Stone puts it: “…director Michel Hazanavicius has style to burn and unexpected soul. Jean Dujardin is stupendous as the screen idol who resists talkies until a perky starlet (Bérénice Bejo) convinces him that art should never be afraid to embrace new forms.” This film, though, teaches us to appreciate old forms. It is also a complete crowd-pleaser—go ahead, try not to smile while watching The Artist.

This film is currently the Best Picture favorite for the Oscars. If it were to win, it’d be the first silent film to take home the award since 1927’s Wings

2011 might very well be the year of Gosling. He breaks up street fights, loves his dog, and has inspired a few internet memes. He also stars in many solid films, one in particular being the super-cool Drive. While Gosling doesn’t say much in this flick, he puts on an amazing performance. The film also boasts several awesome car chase scenes and a great soundtrack. It’s also completely unexpected: “Drive looks like one kind of thriller in the ads, and it is that kind of thriller, but also another and a rebuke to most of the movies it looks like,” says Roger Ebert.

It’s true: Martin Scorsese directed a family-friendly movie based on a book and shot in 3D. And surprise! It’s phenomenal. Based off The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Hugo is Scorsese’s love letter to cinema. It enchants and delights; the typically unnecessary 3D effect is quite effective; and most importantly, it “reminds us all of why the movies are a place to see dreams come true.”²

The Help actually didn’t make that many “best of” lists—not compared to the rest of the films in this recap, anyway. But I saw it; I liked it; and I completely understand why there’s Oscar buzz circling around Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. In addition to their (and Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard’s) brilliant performances, this movie has a great plot arc, solid dialogue, and as much humor as heart.

There was some controversy surrounding it, as MovieFone points out: “…there are a lot of reasons The Help shouldn't work—mostly because it puts Hollywood gloss on the civil rights movement and hedges a bit into white-savior myth territory." But social implications aside, "this is just old-fashioned moviemaking of the highest order.”

I did not like Vicky Cristina Barcelona, so I was a bit nervous about this flick. However, after many good reviews, I gave it a whirl and was more than pleasantly surprised. I loved it. Touted by many as Woody Allen’s best film in years, Midnight in Paris is at once a love letter to Paris and a fabulous daydream for lit majors. It also pokes fun at people’s disappointment with modernity and their subsequent nostalgic yearning for past golden eras. I'd yearn, too, if it got me a trip to Paris and a chance to hang with Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, and Josephine Baker.

Talk about Oscar bait. However, this film released pre-award season, so it has since been frequently overshadowed. While it probably won’t be up for Best Picture, Clooney may find he has some competition in the Best Actor category. Brad Pitt hits it out of the park with his performance as eccentric and flamboyant Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane. And director Bennett Miller, doing his first film since Capote, sticks to the book and, according to The Chicago Tribune, “has asserted his rightful place on the shortlist of excellent American directors.”

War Horse
War Horse is a movie you see during Christmas weekend. It is family-friendly and cinematically gorgeous. It is light-hearted, yet it tugs hardcore on your heartstrings. And it makes you leave the theater wanting to be a better person…and wishing you had a pet horse. Perhaps these are the reasons it has been so well-reviewed. It may also be the reason it hasn’t made that many “best of” lists. It intentionally runs you through an emotional ringer, and it is schmaltzy, but in the best way possible—a throwback to a time when people put aside their differences for the greater good. In 2011, that idea is quaint; perhaps War Horse will remind everyone that quaint isn't always bad.”³

Deemed “the sleeper hit of the year” by MovieFone, Beginners stars Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor convincingly playing father and son. This semiautobiographical drama is immensely original and very smart. “The movie isn't for every taste,” says Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly. “But that's exactly what I love about Beginners: It's as true to its own character as the men in this optimistic tale are to theirs.”

Elizabeth Olsen steps out of the shadow of her sisters and all their zany adventures. This movie about identity is carried by the performances of Olsen, who plays a girl who escapes a cult, and Winter’s Bone’s John Hawkes, who plays the cult’s sinister leader. Raw emotions and dread fill this movie, and many have touted it as, coincidentally, this year’s Winter’s Bone. Here’s hoping it skyrockets Olsen’s career like Bone did for Jennifer Lawrence, who happens to star in my most anticipated movie for 2012, The Hunger Games.

Honorable Mentions…
I know I’ve neglected so many fine films in my recap, so I’ll take the easy way out and quickly list some “honorable mentions” for 2011: Weekend, A Separation, Young Adult, The Muppets, My Week with Marilyn, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Shame, Super 8, Attack the Block, Margaret, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Margin Call, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and even though they’ve made just as many worst lists as they have great lists, I’ll tack on Tree of Life and Melancholia.

What titles do you deem the best of 2011? What are you most looking forward to in 2012?

More Best of Lists
The 10 Best Movies of 2011(Rolling Stone)
Top 20 Movies of 2011 (Roger Ebert)
Highest Scoring Movies of 2011 on Rotten Tomatoes
The Best Films of 2011 (The New York Times)
Best Movies of 2011 (Slate)
10 Best Movies (and 5 Worst) of 2011: Lisa Schwarzbaum's Picks (Entertainment Weekly)
10 Best Movies (and 5 Worst) of 2011: Owen Gleiberman's Picks (Entertainment Weekly)
10 best movies of 2011 (Chicago Tribune)
10 worst movies of 2011 (Chicago Tribune)
Best Movies of 2011 (MTV)
The Year's Best Movies (WSJ)
At the movies: Top 10 in 2011 (Click on Detroit)
Best films of 2011 (Miami Herald)
Year in Review 2011 (MovieFone)

Happy New Year! See you in 2012!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 Year in Review: Music

Once again it's time for our Year in Review series. Here, Danielle Desmond, our lead music selector and CD standing order expert, tackles the best of 2011's music.

If the technology world had to pick one stand out person for 2011, they would say Steve Jobs. If the music world had one, chances are you would hear the name Adele. She raked in six Grammy nominations, made the cover of Billboard’s year end issue, and has hit number one on Billboard's Top Artists, Top 200 Billboard Titles, and Hot 100 Songs lists. Needless to say the 23-year-old British pop star has rocked 2011 with her heartfelt and soulful hits, “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You.”

I can’t give Adele all the credit for 2011, though. Katy Perry’s sophomore album, Teenage Dream, tied Michael Jackson’s Bad for most number one hits on one album, and Billboard named Taylor Swift Woman of the Year. Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, the Black Keyes, and Florence + the Machine all topped the Billboard Charts in 2011 as well.

Moving from the charts to the arenas, 2011 also marked the year of unforgettable tours. From U2’s 360 and Bon Jovi to Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, this year proved to be quite a year for concerts. So much so, in fact, Randy Phillips, president and CEO of the world’s second-largest promoter, AEG Live, called 2011 “the biggest year in the history of the company” (Billboard Magazine). The tour I am anticipating, though, happens to hit in 2012—the rumored Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour.

Moving onto children’s music, our little listeners don’t know how good they have it. Kidz Bop 20—an album of kid-friendly renditions of hot hits from the radio, performed by young performers—was a big winner this year amongst the kiddos. So much so, that it earns my recommendation as the most family-centric album of 2011. Other albums that were huge this year for children include Disney Princess Fairy Tale Songs, Disney Lullaby Album, Dan Zanes’ Little Nut Tree, and any of the Rockabye Baby Lullaby Renditions. I’m sure all of the aforementioned titles made many car trips easier and definitely more enjoyable for both parents and children.

A surprise this year was the breakup of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers R.E.M. After 31 years of unforgettable music, they said goodbye. However, they didn’t leave us empty handed. The band released a two-disc greatest hits album, Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage, in November. I believe the old saying is when one door closes, another opens, and this is exactly fitting for the music industry that had chart-topping breakout artists arise in 2011.

Country music band The Band Perry’s hit “If I Die Young” played on pop and country music radio stations over and over again, earning the brother-sister trio nominations at the American Music Awards for Country’s Favorite Album and Favorite Group. Indie pop band Foster the People had everyone whistling their ever-so-clever tune “Pumped Up Kicks,” which was very popular on and charted on the Billboards almost instantly.

So which breakout artist should you be on the lookout for 2012? I’d say Yelawolf, James Blake, Christina Perri, JCole, Katy B, Civil Wars, and Lana Del Rey.

Moving onto Broadway, 2011 marked a major year for new cast recordings. From Godspell to Anything Goes, Midwest Tape has all the Broadway musical soundtracks., including the new smash show The Book of Mormon. Written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, The Book of Mormon hit NYC in March of 2011 and has since won nine Tony Awards. ‘‘These [musical] numbers are witty, ridiculous, impeccably executed and genuinely stirring,” said Ben Brantley of The New York Times. It’s definitely a musical that will have you crying—tears of laughter, that is.

And now let’s remember 2011’s biggest musical meme: Rebecca Black. Remember her? Who doesn’t? “It’s Friday, Friday. Gotta get down on Friday!” Okay, that’s enough of that. Makes you wonder, though, what musical meme will match that of Black in 2012.

Moving now from the interwebs to television: American Idol had two challengers this year, and I am not talking about Dancing with the Stars. The hit program on FOX wasn’t the only show that had America calling into vote. NBC’s The Voice premiered in April with hot celebrity judges Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton. And FOX's The X Factor premiered this past summer. Both The Voice and Idol provided America with new talents such as Scotty McCreery (American Idol winner), Javier Colon (The Voice winner), and Dia Frampton (The Voice runner-up), all of whom have had successful albums released this year. The X Factor's winner, Melanie Amaro, nabbed a $5 million recording contract with Syco Music and Sony Music, the largest guaranteed prize in television history. Her album is slated to release in 2012.

The Voice returns to NBC on February 5 after the Super Bowl, while American Idol premieres January 18. Some TV critics are wondering, though, with the successful debut of Simon Cowell’s The X Factor and The Voice, will American Idol still be a fan favorite?

Look out Glee! Because the musical TV show I’m predicting will be a hit for 2012 is Steven Spielberg’s  SMASH, starring Catherine McPhee from American Idol, Debra Messing, and Angelica Houston. SMASH takes place in New York City and is based around a group of actors putting on a new Broadway musical. SMASH premieres on NBC February 6. Watch the trailer below.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame added a few members to their family. Inductees for 2011 included Alice Cooper, Neal Diamond, Dr.John, Darlene Love, Tom Waits, Jack Holzman, Art Rupe, and Leon Russell.

In order to truly appreciate this year in music, we have to remember those whose talents we’ve lost. The music industry mourned the death of talented singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse. Amy passed away on July 23, 2011. Winehouse was the first British woman to win five Grammys. Her last album Lioness: Hidden Treasures was released on December 6.

Yes, we have heard a lot in the world of music this year. Most of whom we hope will not go way in 2012. I know I’m hoping to fill my music collection with more Adele, Florence & the Machine, Nicki Minaj, and Lana Del Rey (watch her new single "Video Games" below).

Well, that’s my music recap for 2011, and 2012 it is just around the corner! What new music and tours are you hoping for this year?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011 Year in Review: Audiobooks

Once again it's time for our Year in Review series. Here, Reece Churilla, one of our audiobook selectors and marketers, tackles 2011's audiobook releases.

From the shifting paradigms of scientific discovery to the rise of digital devices that gave us new modes of expression and communication, 2011—now nearing its eventful end—has come to represent a lightning-paced span of great change and transition. At once, separate revolutions carried the year in retrospect: a shift in social awareness spawned the Occupy movement, and eBooks powerfully proved a dominating force in the publishing stratosphere.

We will remember it as a time of healing from tragedy, in the reflection of ten years after 9/11, and in the moving story of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who showed us that no degree of brutality could trump the strongest willpower; that regardless of our differences, love and hope are our greatest unified virtues.

Although much of the publishing world has focused on its own evolving industry, it’s necessary to acknowledge the spectacular writing produced this year. What’s more, we should emphasize the enduring importance of librarians and the precious role they play in our society, our communities, and even within the curious minds of children who find sanctuary in our libraries, while budgets continue to be slashed and operations halted.

Audiobooks are recognized as a staple of libraries nationwide, but they are much more than vocalized books: They are the accompaniment of an old friend on a long, solitary drive, or an entertaining voice to enjoy at the gym; the gentle teacher to youth and the disabled—or any audio lover, really—opening the doors to the heart of imagination. Indeed, one would find it difficult to select the top audiobooks from a year’s worth of tremendous releases, but I’ve put together a list of favorites that exhibits the absolute best qualities of today’s spoken word.

At 25, Tea Obreht became the youngest author ever to win The Orange Prize for her debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife, which was also a finalist for The National Book Award. Obreht stormed into the scene with this tremendous tale of Natalia, a young doctor, who seeks to uncover the truth behind the death of her grandfather in an unnamed Balkan country reeling from war. AudioFile praised the audiobook, calling it “superb listening.”

New York Times Best Selling author Ann Patchett—the dazzling writer behind the memorable Bel Canto—echoes the adventurous peril and mystique of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with State of Wonder, a gorgeous novel that has proven a mainstay of the Best Sellers lists since its release. The title garnered an AudioFile Earphones award, and Library Journal gave it a starred review.

One would be hard set to find a single yearly recap that didn’t include Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, but don’t quote me on that! Regardless, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s latest effort is an outright gem with starred reviews from PW, Kirkus, Library Journal, Booklist, and 4 out of 4 stars from USA Today. Simply put, this title is a wonderful addition to Eugenides’ immaculate oeuvre, and the audiobook (another Earphones winner) does justice to the text.

According to The Guardian, Haruki Murakami is considered “among the world’s greatest living novelists,” and 1Q84, the author’s magnum opus, does not disappoint. (While on vacation in Tokyo, I had the opportunity to read Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, a tender love song to coming-of-age in Japan in the 1960s and 70s.) The magic and enchantment of 1Q84 springs to life in the audio tome and leaves listeners transformed.

My final pick for fiction is a nod to the inner nerd in me. Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One remains the year’s quintessential sci-fi yarn, because of its elaborate story rife with '80s pop culture references! USA Today called it, “Enchanting…Willy Wonka meets the Matrix.” Neither reference is actually from the '80s, however, who doesn’t enjoy a bit of cyberpunk nostalgia in their audiobooks?

In the non-fiction realm, I marketed an armada of memoirs this year, but it’s Tina Fey’s Bossypants that takes the cake. Surely, everyone agrees, right? Hilarious comedian and SNL Dominatrix Tina Fey humorously reveals her personal story, while offering advice to aspiring females looking to make it big in a male-dominated industry. In fact, she is so funny that the audiobook is up for a Grammy.

I’m a fan of raw and rugged writing—Donald Ray Pollock, anyone?—and the memoir Townie by Andre Dubus III aroused in me dual sensations of disgust and admiration. Dubus, author of House of Sand and Fog, chronicles his evolution from dysfunctional youth to acclaimed writer, following in the footsteps of his father who left his family when he was 10. The author’s candid reading captivates in audio.

The final biographical selection may be the most poignant, and that is Gabrielle Giffords’ and husband Mark Kelly’s Gabby, a painfully honest account of the congresswoman’s path to recovery after miraculously surviving a gruesome shooting. It is truly a moving and life-instilling portrait of love and perseverance. Giffords herself reads the final chapter of the audiobook.

David McCullough has created a legendary work of art all his own in illuminating the untold story of the countless artists that embarked for Paris between 1830 and 1900. The Greater Journey delves deep into this profound epoch of cultural diffusion, earning starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus, among a sea of praise across the board. Pulitzer Prize-winning McCullough has a knack for historical non-fiction, and the audiobook is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Rounding out the true-life genre is Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, another historical masterwork that lit up The New York Times Best Sellers list. Where McCullough channeled old-time Paris, Larson meticulously gives descriptive form to Berlin in 1933, during Hitler’s rise to power. Larson transports you to this precarious era, wonderfully articulated in audio by narrator Stephen Hoye.

Children’s & Young Adult
Yes, the success of The Hunger Games has inspired a new wave of dystopian literature for young adults; however, you won’t see any of that here. My favorite youth audiobooks of 2011 steer clear of prescriptive despair, angst-ridden supernatural pining, and even vampires—although there is a heavy dose of fantasy.

Franny Billingsley’s Chime, a National Book Award Finalist, puts a spin on the classic fairy tale with this darkly alluring story about a teenage witch, Briony, who desperately fights to save her ailing sister’s life. Billingsley deftly imagines Briony’s world, weaving an unforgettable fabric of redemption that rings true to teens today. In audio, Susan Duerden commands the narration with a winning performance. The audiobook received a starred review from School Library Journal.

Newbery Honor author Gary D. Schmidt penned Okay for Now as a companion to The Wednesday Wars, but it actually stands alone as a beautiful novel. The book follows fourteen-year-old Doug Swieteck, the new kid in town just trying to get by while the whole world seems to be against him. Despite Doug’s circumstances, Schmidt carries the plot with bright optimism and humor. Okay for Now was also nominated for The National Book Award, and Booklist called the audio adaptation a “grand-slam production.”

No super sleuth is more ubiquitous and clever than Sherlock Holmes, so clever, in fact, it begs the question: How has Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved detective persisted for over a hundred years? While it may first appear “elementary”—and sadly without Watson—Andrew Lane’s Death Cloud explores a teenaged Holmes on the heels of a thrilling murder mystery. With a bit of romance and much adventure, the revamp is an engaging introduction to the character. School Library Journal noted the similarity to Doyle’s original work, awarding Death Cloud a starred review.

I did a double-take when I read that John Stephens, author of The Emerald Atlas, was also the executive producer for Gossip Girl, but it makes sense when you consider the cinematic pacing of Stephens’ astonishing fantasy debut, the first in a projected series. Three orphans are charged with fulfilling an ancient prophecy in a magical world wrought with enchantment and whimsy. The audiobook received stellar reviews, a treat for audio lovers of all ages.

And in our modern age of physical superficiality and aggressive, black-eye-consumerism, Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens is like a cathartic breath of fresh air. After all, what could possibly be more appealing than a story about a group of beauty pageant contestants stranded on a deserted island? Well, to answer that question, the inclusion of a dreadlocked alien-monster with a shoulder gun, clawed fangs, and heat-vision picking them off…but that’s not in this book.

In fact, Bray’s satirical romp is much more tongue-in-cheek. What makes the audio a must-listen is the author’s over-the-top reading, a performance that is “absolutely brilliant,” according to Booklist. For a taste of Bray’s humor, check out this funny book trailer:

If you haven’t already, I urge you to check out the audiobooks that stood out for me this year as well as any I may have missed in this recap. There were too many splendid productions to rave about it all in a single post, so feel free to express your picks for your favorite audio releases of 2011 in the comments section below.

Happy listening, and happy holidays! 
-Reece Churilla

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hollywood Foreign Press Announces Golden Globe Nominees

The Golden Globe Awards are presented annually to recognize the year’s best films and television programs. The 2012 event officially got underway on December 15 when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced this year’s award nominees.

You can view the full list of nominees here. The Artist raked in six film nominations, while The Descendants and The Help came away with five. On the TV side, Downton Abbey and Mildred Pierce each led with four nominations, while Homeland pulled in three. It was a good haul for HBO and Showtime (26 nominations) and new shows (7 out of 10 best series nominations).

As always, though, the most interesting chatter revolves not around who got nominated, but who got left out. There weren’t too many surprises in the film categories. One interesting note is that Ryan Gosling was nominated for his performances in The Ides of March and Crazy, Stupid, Love, but not for Drive. The hilarious Melissa McCarthy, who just picked up a SAG Award nomination, didn’t make the best supporting actress category for her performance in Bridesmaids. However, her costar, Kristen Wiig, did receive a nomination.

The TV nominations saw a little more of the zaniness that is the hallmark of the Golden Globes. Brand new shows like American Horror Story, Boss, and New Girl garnered series nominations, while heavyweights like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead (a personal favorite of mine) did not. Previous actor/actress winners Jim Parsons, Chris Colfer, and Katey Sagal are all absent this year, although Parsons’ Big Bang Theory costar Johnny Galecki received a nomination instead.

So, who’s going to win? My crystal ball is a bit hazy, but here’s how I see the major categories shaking out:

Best Picture – Drama: The Descendents will probably win, but don’t count out The Help.

Best Actor – Drama: Tough call with all the heavyweights in this category; I’ll go with George Clooney in The Descendents.

Best Actress – Drama: The smart money is on Viola Davis in The Help.

Best Picture – Comedy/Musical: I’d be surprised if it’s anything other than The Artist.

Best Actor – Comedy/Musical: The Artist is going to have a big night; Jean Dujardin takes home this award.

Best Actress – Comedy/Musical: Michelle Williams, for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn.

Best TV Drama: Boardwalk Empire, which won last year, will be hard to beat. Nonetheless, I’m going with another HBO hit, Game of Thrones.

Best TV Comedy: Glee won last year, and Glee will win again this year.

Best Miniseries/TV Movie: PBS gets a win with Downton Abbey.

Of course, another intriguing question surrounding this year’s Golden Globes ceremony has nothing to do with the awards themselves: which celebrities will host Ricky Gervais skewer with his rapier wit? We’ll all find out when this year’s ceremony airs January 15, 2012, live on NBC.

SmartBrowse "2012 Golden Globe Nominations" at to shop the movies and TV shows that were nominated. Let us know what you think of the nominees and our predictions in the comments section below.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

SAG Awards Packed with All-Star Performers

Yesterday morning, Judy Greer (The Descendants) and Regina King (Southland) stepped up to the podium at the Pacific Design Center’s SilverScreen Theater in West Hollywood to announce the nominees for the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. The awards honor outstanding performances in 2011 in five film and eight primetime television categories as well as outstanding action performances by film and television stunt ensembles.

The 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will air live on TNT and TBS on Sunday, January 29 at 8 p.m. EST from the Los Angeles Shrine Exposition Center. An encore performance will air immediately following on TNT at 10 p.m. EST. They’ll hand out the stunt ensemble awards from the red carpet before the show.

According to, out of the top industry accolades presented to performers, “only the Screen Actors Guild Awards are selected solely by actors’ peers in Screen Actors Guild.  Two nominating panels—one for television and one for film—each composed of 2,100 randomly selected Guild members from across the United States, chose this year’s actor and stunt ensemble honors nominees.”

The award categories are stacked with fine performances—from George Clooney in The Descendants to Melissa McCarthy of Bridesmaids to the entire cast of The Help—that it’s hard for me to speculate on any shoe-ins, at least for film—except for Michelle Williams’ stunning portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. Many believe she is a surefire bet to win.

As for television, I have my fingers crossed for the much-deserving Broadwalk Empire star, Steve Buscemi, to win the Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series sward.

And while I know some people may love the ridiculousness that is Glee, I am pulling for any other comedy ensemble to win the big award over that not-that-funny show-choiring cast. What surprises me, though—and what I consider a major snub—is that Parks & Recreation is missing from all the comedy categories. Hands down, it’s the funniest show on TV.

Looking at the stunt ensembles, Southland deserves the SAG for TV. That is not only one of the best shows on TV, but also one of the most realistic. In fact, I’m a little surprised it isn’t a nominee for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.

What do you think? Who do you think was snubbed? Who do you think should win? Share your views in the comments section.

, and shop our collection of the nominees here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bridging the Digital Divide

There has been a lot of attention paid lately to class inequality in our society. Instead of focusing just on income disparity, though, it helps to look also at factors that contribute to it. One of those, as pointed out by Susan P. Crawford in a recent New York Times editorial, is Internet access.

Crawford makes the point that activities such as job searching, health care, education, commerce, and communication are increasingly moving or, in some cases, have already moved online. For the 200+ million Americans with high-speed Internet access at home, that increasing menu of opportunities is fully available. Those with slow or no connections, however, are likely to fall behind.

The problem is that, in most cases, those without high-speed Internet access are already behind. As Crawford notes, just 40% of households with an annual income below $25,000 have high-speed access. And it’s not solely a case of being unable to afford it; for many, the current U.S. Internet infrastructure simply does not reach them. Cable companies that provide the majority of Internet access often don’t serve rural areas, for instance—the companies don’t want to make the investment necessary to reach areas that provide so few customers. Residents of these areas must make do with slower dial-up, satellite, or wireless connections, if they have any at all.

The solution for many, of course, is the public library. Unfortunately, as Crawford again points out, this is only a partial solution. “Nearly half of librarians say that their connections are insufficient to meet patrons’ needs. And it is hard to imagine conducting [an online] job interview in a library.”

Of course, even at this late date, some question whether the ubiquity of the Internet is a good thing. In another New York Times editorial, Quentin Hardy makes the claim that the Internet is “ruining everything.” The gist of his argument is that the vast array of voices on the Internet, from experts and non-experts, makes it hard to discern what information is useful and what information is not. I would also point out that information on the Internet can also be elusive—a link that works one day may disappear the next, making it difficult or impossible to find what you’re looking for or even prove it existed in the first place.

However, the horse is out of the barn, so to speak, and it seems unlikely that Internet usage will be scaling back anytime soon. In fact, more and more people are coming to rely on it for such tasks as, oh, let’s say…Christmas shopping? This year’s “Cyber Monday” (the Monday following Thanksgiving) was “the biggest day for online shopping in U.S. history” at $1.3 billion in sales (up 22% from 2010).1 Even as so many decry the decline of “brick and mortar” stores, the convenience of online shopping is seemingly winning over more and more people (or at least their dollars) each year. It should be noted, though, that Black Friday sales increased 6.6% this year to $11.4 billion, so brick and mortar advocates can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief on that score.2

Has there been an increase in patrons using the Internet access at your library? What types of online activities do patrons engage in? What can be done to make sure everyone has an equal opportunity for access as more and more services move online? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Hot This Week: December 12

While a couple new titles appear (or old favorites reemerge) on all our lists, none see any sort of major changes. It must be the busy holiday season...or a light week for new releases.

  1. Super 8
  2. 30 Minutes or Less
  3. Friends with Benefits
  4. Our Idiot Brother
  5. The Smurfs
  6. Conan the Barbarian
  7. The Change-Up
  8. Crazy, Stupid, Love.
  9. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part II
  10. Captain America: The First Avenger
  1. Michael Buble, Christmas
  2. Adele, 21
  3. Justin Bieber, Under the Mistletoe
  4. Drake, Take Care
  5. Nickelback, Here and Now
  6. Mary J. Blige, My Life II...The Journey Continues (Act I)
  7. Rihanna, Talk That Talk
  8. Andrea Bocelli, Concerto: One Night in Central Park
  9. Now 40
  10. Lady Antebellum, Own the Night
Fiction Books
  1. The Drop, Michael Connelly
  2. 11/22/63, Stephen King
  3. Explosive Eighteen, Janet Evanovich
  4. The Litigators, John Grisham
  5. Kill Alex Cross, James Patterson
  6. The Best of Me, Nicholas Sparks
  7. V is for Vengeance, Sue Grafton
  8. The Scottish Prisoner, Diana Gabaldon
  9. Micro, Michael Crichton
  10. Zero Day, David Baldacci
Nonfiction Books
  1. Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
  2. Killing Lincoln, Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  3. Being George Washington, Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe
  4. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
  5. Jack Kennedy, Chris Matthews
  6. Catherine the Great, Robert K. Massie
  7. Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
  8. Back to Work, Bill Clinton
  9. Boomerang, Michael Lewis
  10. Then Again, Diane Keaton

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Midwest Tape’s Holiday Picks

Looking to get your patrons into the holiday spirit? Below our selection experts break down their must-recommends for the festive season.

Danielle Desmond, Music Selector
Justin Bieber, Under the Mistletoe
Michael Buble, Christmas
Carole King, A Holiday Carole
Jackie Evancho, A Heavenly Christmas

Erica Messinger, Audiobook Selector
The Christmas Wedding, James Patterson & Richard Dilallo
A Christmas Story, Jean Shepherd
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (narrated by Simon Prebble or narrated by Jim Dale)
The Nine Lives of Christmas, Sheila Roberts 

Amanda Adkins, DVD Selector

What are your picks for the holidays? What festive titles do your patrons request the most?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Midwest Tape Weighs in on Grammy Nominees

Our new Music and CD Standing Order expert Danielle Desmond marks her debut into New & Views blog posts with a recap of the 2012 Grammy nominees.

‘Tis the season for Grammy Nominations! The 54th Annual Grammy Nominees were announced Wednesday, November 30, on CBS. Grammy Winner and Hip Hop legend LL Cool J hosted the concert event, which included performances by Lady Gaga and Jason Aldean, who did a revamped version of “Dirt Road Anthem” with guest star, Ludacris.

Kanye West led the nominees with lucky number 7; behind him with a tie for 6 noms were Adele, Bruno Mars, and the Foo Fighters. 

Critics everywhere were buzzing that Kanye was snubbed for the biggest nomination of them all, Album of The Year, for his highly praised My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Thus, the big question on everyone’s mind: Will Kanye rush the stage on February 12 when Album of The Year is announced and declare that he had one of the best albums of all time?

Check out a few of the nominees below. The bold nominees are our Staff Picks for the winners. For a full list of Grammy nominees, visit

Album of the Year
Adele, 21
Foo Fighters, Wasting Light
Lady Gaga, Born This Way
Bruno Mars, Doo-Wops & Hooligans
Rihanna, Loud

Record of the Year (Artist Award)
Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”
Bon Iver, “Holocene”
Bruno Mars, “Grenade”
Mumford & Sons, “The Cave”
Katy Perry, “Firework”

Song of the Year (Songwriter Award)
Kanye West, “All of the Lights”
Mumford & Sons, “The Cave”
Bruno Mars, “Grenade”
Bon Iver, “Holocene”
Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”

Pop Vocal Album
Adele, 21
Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer
Lady Gaga, Born This Way
Bruno Mars, Doo-Wops & Hooligans
Rihanna, Loud

Best Pop Solo Performance
Adele, “Someone Like You”
Lady Gaga, “You and I”
Bruno Mars, “Grenade”
Katy Perry, “Firework”
Pink, “F***in’ Perfect” 

Even if she doesn’t win all six of her nominations (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Pop Vocal Album, Best Pop Solo Performance, and Best Short Form Music Video), Adele Blue Adkins deserves every nomination.
Midwest Tape Staff Pick: Overall Favorite

New Artist
The Band Perry
Bon Iver
J Cole
Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday
Midwest Tape Staff Pick: Best New Artist

Rock Album
Jeff Beck, Rock n Roll Party Honoring Les Paul
Foo Fighters, Wasting Light
Kings of Leon, Come Around Sundown
Red Hot Chili Peppers, I’m With You
Wilco, The Whole Love

Red Hot Chili Peppers, I'm With You
Midwest Tape Staff Pick: Best Rock Album

R&B Album
Chris Brown, F.A.M.E.
El DeBarge, Second Chance
R. Kelly, Love Letter
Ledisi, Pieces of Me
Kelly Price, Kelly

Chris Brown, F.A.M.E
Midwest Tape Staff Pick: Best New Artist

Rap Album
Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne
Lil Wayne, Tha Carter IV
Lupe Fiasco, Lasers
Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday
Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Country Album
Jason Aldean, My Kinda Party
Eric Church, Chief
Lady Antebellum, Own the Night
Blake Shelton, Red River Blue
George Strait, Here for a Good Time
Taylor Swift, Speak Now

Lady Antebellum, Own the Night
Midwest Tape Staff Pick: Best Country Album

So those are our Grammy picks. What are yours? Share your thoughts on the Grammy nominations below in the comments section. You can also shop the full list of 2012 nominees on our website now.