Favorite films of 2013

In 2013 I saw 28 new movies — maybe fewer than you, but more than the average moviegoer’s six or eight — and as usual at this time of year, I’ve ranked them. (I’ll include a 29th, “Inside Lewyn Davis,” which I saw Jan. 5.)

Plenty of high-profile movies passed me by during the year, including “The Butler,” which looked too corny, and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which is too long, and I haven’t made it to “Her” or “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” yet. I’ve listed everything, letting you see what I watched and what I didn’t. Our tastes may differ radically, or they may be close enough that some title here will appeal to you. Feel free to comment either way and to list your own favorites.

My top 10, in roughly descending order: All is Lost, Much Ado About Nothing, Frances Ha, Dallas Buyers Club, Nebraska, Before Midnight, 12 Years a Slave, The Way Way Back, Inside Lewyn Davis, Fruitvale Station.

11 to 20: Machete Kills, Enough Said, Don Jon, Captain Phillips, The World’s End, Gravity, Blue Jasmine, In a World, Zero Dark Thirty (a late 2012 release), American Hustle.

21 to 29: Hunger Games: Catching Fire, 42, This is 40 (a late 2012 release), Django Unchained (ditto), Oblivion, Iron Man 3, When Comedy Went to School, Thor: The Dark World, Man of Steel. (It was cinematic Kryptonite.)

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Column: Supporting the LA Philharmonic from the 909

Sunday’s column is about the Foothill Philharmonic Committee, a venerable nonprofit that raises money to support the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The committee, a community affiliate of the Phil, was founded in 1958 at the behest of Dorothy Buffum Chandler herself and shows we’re not all a bunch of low-culture slobs out here (although most of us are, admittedly).

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Column: Lou Reed was more than leather and darkness

I blogged about Lou here the other day and expressed the hope that I could squeeze in a column on him this week. And so I have: Sunday’s.

It’s all right, but it’s tough to write about someone you admire, and I wish I’d had more time because after sweating over it half the day, filing it at 3 p.m. Friday, only then taking lunch, all I could think about were the things I’d left out.

For instance, “Songs for Drella,” his 1990 album collaboration with John Cale, should have made my favorites list; it’s a concept album about Andy Warhol, their friend and patron from their Velvet Underground days. I gave Reed’s music, as opposed to his lyrics, short shrift. And why didn’t I take a looser, funnier and more personal approach? “The Velvet Underground” is such a meaningful album for me.

In other words, I wish I could’ve scrapped it and started from scratch. (Which doesn’t guarantee the finished column would be better, of course, only different, and maybe worse.) With newspapers, as with a lot of things in life, you do the best you can in the time allotted, and then you let it go. I hope I at least gave newcomers an idea why Lou Reed was great, and that for those who already know, that I didn’t embarrass myself too much.

(By the way, I took a new photo of my Lou Reed collection for the column, adding two boxes and an LP at the bottom that I’d forgotten in my blog photo. Later, at the office, I realized I could have added a DVD and three or four books. Hah!)

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Lou Reed (1942-2013)


I might be among the world’s least likely fans of Lou Reed, who died Sunday at 71. (This Associated Press obituary is very good.)

He famously devoted a song to heroin; I’ve never even tried pot. He was as New York as Woody Allen; I’m a small-town guy who’s only been to NYC once. He walked on the wild side; I walk on the mild side. (What we have in common, perhaps, is walking.)

But after Dylan, I may own more Lou Reed records than anyone else in my collection, both solo works and his ’60s band, the Velvet Underground. (See photo above, although I actually forgot a couple of box sets and albums.) His music had a lot of range, from dissonance and experimentation to ballads that reflected his love of doo-wop and other classic pop forms.

His lyrics often explored the grimier side of life, yet the college-educated Reed wrote about all sorts of things, far more so than about anyone else you can likely name. One favorite, “Doin’ the Things That We Want To,” is a paean to the plays of Sam Shepard and movies of Martin Scorsese. He’d been on my mind lately because of his elegiac track “The Day John Kennedy Died.”

My album choices would be the VU’s “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” “The Velvet Underground” (their third album), “Loaded” and “Live 1969,” and his solo albums “Coney Island Baby,” “The Blue Mask,” “New Sensations” and “New York,” although if my house were burning I’d try to grab a bunch more. Of course a novice could probably get by with a best-of or two, but which ones? Most are either too much or not enough or, like “The Essential Lou Reed,” kind of a jumble.

On vacation two weeks ago I picked up “Between Thought and Expression,” his out-of-print solo three-disc boxed set, used, for an absurd $10 (Boo-Boo Records in San Luis Obispo probably wishes it had this back). It’s the only chronological best-of and has the stray track “Little Sister”; I’ve kept my LP copy of the otherwise-forgotten “Get Crazy” soundtrack solely for this song. The box also gave me “Satellite of Love” and “Perfect Day,” two of his catchiest songs but ones I didn’t own. Buying it, I felt like my collection was complete — and, as it turns out, just in time.

He had some weird or terrible albums too, and the Upland-based band Wckr Spgt prankishly released a cassette last year in which they covered some of his biggest misfires, like “Egg Cream,” “Disco Mystic” and “Original Wrapper.”

I could write a column about Lou, but may not get to it, what with an Upland City Council meeting tonight that ought to take precedence. (If I do write one later in the week, this post may be something of a dry run.) I never met him, never saw him in concert, but he’s been an important figure in my life anyway. All tomorrow’s parties won’t be the same.

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James Brown in Ontario, 1967


The Godfather of Soul, Soul Brother No. 1, Mr. Please Please Me, Mr. Dynamite, i.e., James Brown, performed at Ontario’s fabled Royal Tahitian nightclub in 1967, down at Whispering Lakes golf course in the dairyland. This show was mentioned in a 2010 column and blog post of mine about the nightclub at the point when the building was due to be torn down. My blog had the above image, from a Royal Tahitian poster. The club, which opened in 1960, closed later in 1967 due to losses.

Recently, reading the booklet for the deluxe edition of James Brown’s “Live at the Apollo Vol. II” (yes, I’m a fan), I spotted the image below, a full itinerary for his 1967 tour, which includes the Ontario show. He played San Diego and Oakland before hitting Ontario for six or more shows — the tour info has him there through July 19, whereas the Tahitian schedule had him leaving July 16 — and then leaving for Las Vegas.

Reader Wendy Wrider left this comment on my original post:

“I was 17 in 1967 when I came down with a group of teenagers from Big Bear Lake to see James Brown. He did all the classic moves, down on his knees, all the capes put on him by the Flame members.”

Imagine seeing James Brown in Ontario, in a 1,000-seat nightclub, six shows daily, each with, as the ad put it, a “cast of 30″!


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Record swap is Sunday

The twice-annual CD and Record Expo takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Pomona College’s Smith Campus Center Ballroom, 170 E. Sixth St. in Claremont, an old-fashioned show where dealers sell vintage vinyl, compact discs, posters and DVDs from behind card tables. Admission is $2.

(This was to be an item for Sunday’s column but I cut it for space. No point letting it go to waste, right?)

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At architecture shows, these walls do talk


Did you know Pacific Standard Time, the Getty-sponsored series of museum shows about Southern California art history, is back this summer? Not many do, it seems. This time the focus is architecture, roughly 1930 to 1980, and 10 arts institutions are involved. I’ve been to two so far, with hopes to see more. Friday’s column has more.

Above, a view of the A + D Architecture and Design Museum show, focusing on Beverly Boulevard; below, a model of the Ray Kappe house at the Kellogg Art Gallery show at Cal Poly Pomona.

el pollo 007

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My Alfred Hitchcock film festival at the Ontario library concludes Thursday with his best-known film, “Psycho,” from 1960. The film’s Wikipedia entry has much useful info. The screening begins at 6:30 p.m. at the library, 215 E. C St. (Hitchcock famously instituted a “no late admission” policy during its theatrical run. We won’t do that, but you won’t want to miss a moment.)

Admission is free. And don’t shriek too loudly — they’re runnin’ a library there.

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