As our year-end Best in 2011 Pop Culture listings take shape, we’ve found some odd, off-the-wall nominees for a quirky Honorable Mention category. We’ll give you a few each Wednesday to tide you over until the Best Of lists are revealed.
Best Use of 3D in a Film: Cave of Forgotten Dreams — Richard Clark
3D film and a documentary about a cave: It’s pretty difficult to defend the existence of either of these things, but seeing is believing in this lone case. Werner Herzog, the master of suggestive, subjective documentary film making finds his latest muse in the Chauvet caves of Southern France. These caves contain some of the earliest known forms of artistic expression, and at first glance, it’s nothing spectacular. We’ve seen cave paintings before: Guys stabbing animals, running from animals, worshiping animals . . . animals being animals and cave guys being cave guys. Traditionally, people think of these paintings primarily as ways to study previous civilizations and gain spotty, speculative knowledge about their experience. What’s the point of spending a whole movie focused on more of the same?
But this is far beyond more of the same. The third dimension provides us with an opportunity to view the paintings as they were meant to be viewed: on the curves, the crevices, and the slopes of the cave walls. We see how the paintings played with depth, angles, and how they interact with light. Warner does spend some time talking about the ancient civilization that created these paintings, but spends even more time gazing at them in wonder. A significant portion of the film is spent in silent observation of still images that dance, mingle, and interact as the camera pans across them. What justifies this film’s existence is that it’s not a historical excavation as much as it is an appreciation of the artistic experience — something that is apparently as ancient as man himself.
Best Album I Couldn’t Write To: tUnEyArD’s, WHOKILL — Jonathan Sircy
When you pop in the second tUnE-yArD’s album, WHOKILL, it’s hard to do anything but listen. You get the sense that Merrill Garbus is already multitasking enough for the both of you. The album demands you acknowledge it. The music is so dense and frenetic that if you have it on as background music, it will make you feel like you’re watching a movie that’s slightly out of focus. Once I took the time to hone in on the music, the image suddenly became clear.
Garbus plays her ukelele with abandon. She has an unbelievably dexterous voice that goes from supple to gritty in a heartbeat; its only limit is Garbus’s imagination. And it’s not just the instrument here. Garbus has things to say. The album’s lyrics are introspective but not myopic. She’s trying to figure out how to live in America in 2011, with all the white-liberal-guilt and body-shame and personal heartbreak that can include. And, oh yeah. The answer to the album’s titular question? That would be one Nate Brenner, the bassist, who absolutely kills it on this album (particularly on “Gangsta,” “Bizness,” and “Doorstep”).
Best Worst Song Remake in a TV Spot: “Poop! There It Is!” — Erin Straza
Old songs never die — they simply become the inspiration for atrocious advertising jingles. Take the 1993 classic by Tag Team, “Whoomp! There It Is!” Luvs took that song and abused it further by renaming it, “Poop! There It Is!” The (thankfully) animated spot depicts babies competing in the Heavy Dooty Championship. All three competitors turn their little bums to the cheering crowd and give the Luvs diapers (with Ultra Leakguards) all they’ve got.
It’s no wonder this little gem-of-a-spot has been awarded the Worst Ad in America for 2011 by those polled through the Consumerist. The worst part about the use of Tag Team’s tune is that it gets stuck in your brain. I realize that is the goal of a good jingle. Recall-wise, this ad may be a marketing success. But taste-wise, the song is a total fail. No one wants a jingle about poop stuck in on the brain.
Best Use of Violence in a Game: Shadow of the Colossus — Drew Dixon
I’ve been thinking a lot about videogame violence this year: how games tend to cheapen it and how it could actually be meaningful. Where is the Saving Private Ryan of videogames? Where is the game that depicts violence for what it actually is—namely destructive and costly? While this year saw the release of many stellar games, I am not sure it really produced many memorable or nuanced moments in the realm of violence.
Shadow of the Colossus is game about slaying giants. You play as “Wanderer,” a boy by most people’s accounts, charged with the task of slaying 16 giant mythical creatures. While each battle possesses a certain epic feel, the subsequent victories feel more and more troubling rather than gratifying. Wanderer’s violence against these giants is not provoked by the Colossi themselves. The Colossi are peaceful until attacked, Wanderer often has to shoot arrows at them or slash them with his sword just to get their attention. What drives Wanderer to kill these creatures is not any noble desire to protect others, but a selfish hope that slaying these creatures will unleash a mystical power that will resurrect his dead lover. Instead of making the player feel powerful and accomplished, each battle with the Colossi feels somber and tragic.
Wanderer’s violence doesn’t empower him nor is he rewarded by it. Shadow of the Colossus is the most memorable violent game I have played because its violence is attended with far reaching, tragic consequences.