December 31st, 2008
10:56 AM ET

Everybody's a critic movie reviewer Tom Charity adds his list of the best - and worst - movies of this past year to the throng of such postings. “WALL-E” tops Tom’s list, and you’re welcome to post your No. 1 film of 2008 at

Critics are often roasted for their preferences, but Tom makes the valuable point that part of a critic’s role is to act as a guide - not to offer the final word on a film’s value, but to offer an informed opinion on what’s out there. Hundreds of films were released in 2008, many of which barely got into theaters (and certainly not in theaters outside of major markets). At the least, a reviewer can say, “Check this out.”

Of course, critics are a contentious bunch - even among themselves. (Perhaps especially among themselves.) There’s some infighting going on in the film-reviewing community over the addition of Ben Lyons to “At the Movies.” Lyons, who with Ben Mankiewicz replaced Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper on the long-running review program, has been attacked for being a “quote whore” and “an imposition.” There’s even a “StopBenLyons” Web site.

At the very least, Lyons appears guilty of hyperbole; even Will Smith probably wouldn’t call “I Am Legend” “one of the greatest movies ever made.”

What are your thoughts on movie reviewing? Offer your comments below or send them to Keep in mind, though: Not everyone sees eye to eye. Or, as the Rutles put it, “One man’s civilization is another man’s jungle (yeah).”

- Todd Leopold, Entertainment Producer

Filed under: movies
December 29th, 2008
09:42 AM ET

Delaney Bramlett, 1939-2008

Delaney Bramlett, who co-wrote songs such as “Superstar” and worked with a who’s-who of rock royalty, died Saturday. He was 69.

According to a Reuters report picked up by The New York Times and other outlets, the guitarist and vocalist died in Los Angeles following gallbladder surgery.

“I held him and he held on up until the last breath with which he went in peace to the light and on into eternity,” his wife, Susan Lanier-Bramlett, said on Bramlett’s Web site,

Bramlett was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi, in 1939. After becoming part of the house band for the ABC rock ‘n’ roll show “Shindig” in the mid-‘60s, he met and married Bonnie Lynn O’Farrell, a backup singer for Ike & Tina Turner, in 1967, according to The pair formed Delaney & Bonnie, which became Delaney & Bonnie & Friends in 1969.

Bramlett’s biggest success followed. Eric Clapton joined the band for a short time, and Bonnie Bramlett co-wrote Clapton’s hit “Let It Rain” with the guitarist, with Delaney producing and greatly influencing the sound of Clapton’s first solo album.

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends also supported John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band for a short stint, and George Harrison was known to take the stage with the group. A couple of the Friends, Carl Radle and Jim Keltner, joined Joe Cocker and Leon Russell’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour; Radle later became part of Derek and the Dominos.

Delaney & Bonnie had their own hits in 1970 and ’71, including “Free the People” and “Never Ending Song of Love,” the latter of which hit the Top 20.

Bramlett also co-wrote “Superstar” with his wife and Russell, which became a No. 2 hit for the Carpenters in 1972 and was later covered by Sonic Youth for the “If I Were a Carpenter” compilation. Sonic Youth’s version was featured on the “Juno” soundtrack.

The Bramletts divorced in the early ‘70s. Delaney Bramlett struggled with alcoholism and became a born-again Christian. In recent years, his albums included “Sweet Inspiration” and “A New Kind of Blues.”

- From news reports

(Editor's note: As a commenter has noted, Bonnie Bramlett, not Delaney Bramlett, co-wrote "Let It Rain" with Eric Clapton, according to credits on Clapton's self-titled solo debut. The above story has been changed to reflect that information.)

Filed under: Music
December 23rd, 2008
11:07 AM ET

'Cause it is my favorite holiday (song)

The Waitresses’ "Christmas Wrapping" may be the most unlikely of Christmas tunes, a New Wave-infused song that has become a holiday standard. It's a six-minute short story of a young woman who opts to sit out the holiday season  -  in terms of length, practically the "American Pie" or "Stairway to Heaven" of holiday entries.

Even its origins are offbeat. In 1981, the band -– best known for "I Know What Boys Like" –- had to contribute to a Christmas album at the request of its record label president. The group was reluctant; songwriter Chris Butler even penned some of the lyrics in a cab on the way to the recording studio. In August. And the title isn’t even part of the song’s lyrics, but rather a play on words: lead singer Patty Donahue spits the lyrics out so fast, she practically raps them.

But, in an instance of life imitating art, the song -– like the guy the singer is pursuing in its lyrics - stuck around.

Throughout “Christmas Wrapping,” Donahue -– "a rough, tough girl," Butler remembered of the late singer in a 2005 interview - laments over a missed opportunity regarding a guy she’s been "chasing all year." The pair had made various attempts to go out on a date throughout the year but a number of obstacles kept them apart, namely sunburn, car trouble and scheduling woes. But (spoiler alert!) with a little Christmas magic, she runs into the guy while buying cranberries at a grocery store on Christmas Eve.

I first heard the song during the holiday season of 1995, when I was in high school working at a Gap Kids in a suburban mall. Grunge was still very much en vogue and plaid flannel covered the shelves, so the holiday mix tape that blared from our speakers was edgy as well. It included Christmas songs from the Eels, Annie Lennox, and - yes - “Christmas Wrapping.”

The song filled me with pleasure. I am a Christmas nerd. Friends say my holiday parties are "like Christmas threw up," I have to see "The Nutcracker" at Lincoln Center every year, and I even had a Christmas-themed wedding last year complete with red plaid taffeta bridesmaid dresses and candy-cane martinis.

And yet, Butler has said he wrote the song because "for years I hated Christmas." All the frenzy he saw, he said, "wasn't about joy. It was something to cope with."

Well, if "Christmas Wrapping" is Butler's proverbial "bah humbug," I'd love to hear his material after he's been visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future - because, ironically, while this holiday gem helped Butler express his feeling about the holidays, it helps me cope with people who don't like Christmas. So thanks, Chris, Patty and the band: “Christmas Wrapping” helps make this time of year.

- Katie McLaughlin, CNN

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Filed under: Music
December 19th, 2008
11:56 AM ET

Not the best of 2008

Given the mountain of movies, TV shows, records and books released in 2008, I would be foolish to make a list of the "best of" the year. I will leave those lists to others.

"The Dark Knight": It should be nominated for best picture.

What follows is simply a list of favorites from the year just past. Feel free to contribute your own favorites, either in the comments or on

"The Dark Knight": Though Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster occasionally suffers from popcorn-movie overload, the serious issues - how do you fight terrorism? How do you cope with a world gone mad? - and the terrific performances by Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Heath Ledger give the year’s biggest movie a depth few others attempted. It should get a best picture nomination. Really.

"Man on Wire": James Marsh’s documentary on Phillippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the Twin Towers is thrilling, sad and ultimately triumphant.

"Wall-E": I didn’t think much of the human characters, but the sublime interplay between Wall-E and Eve - or Wall-E and anything - is worth double the price of admission.

As for films just opening, I have high hopes for “Frost/Nixon” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” among others … but I’ll have to squeeze them in over the holidays.

"Dear Science," TV on the Radio: I can’t remember the last time I agreed with Rolling Stone magazine. But this will do it.

"Harps and Angels," Randy Newman: I hadn’t paid attention to Newman’s work in years - "Land of Dreams" may have been the last one - but this album, with Newman’s bluesy half-sung vocals, has the sharp observation of his best work. Newman sounds like he’s given up on the world, but he hasn’t lost his sense of humor - or a touch of anger.

"Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8," Bob Dylan: Perhaps this shouldn’t count - it’s a collection of alternate takes and unreleased songs from the last 20 years - but Dylan makes even his most familiar work sound fresh. May he continue for many more years.

"Nixonland," Rick Perlstein: Perlstein can be occasionally glib in his history of the 1960s and early ‘70s, but as he connects the dots from the crisis of the cities to the Vietnam War to the era’s culture clashes, what emerges is a brilliant picture of a country falling apart – and how a shrewd politician like Nixon could take advantage of it all.

"Pictures at a Revolution," Mark Harris: The five best picture nominees of 1967 wouldn’t seem to have much in common, but as Harris’ terrific book illustrates, they tell a story of how one Hollywood gave way to another.

"John Lennon: The Biography," Philip Norman: I started Norman’s book wondering what he possibly could add to the story of the Beatles – one he told so well in "Shout!" more than 25 years ago. I finished in admiration of his abilities to give new perspective on Lennon’s life - and grieving all over again for Lennon’s death.

I’d also like to give nods to books from previous years I finally read, including William Goldman’s "The Season" (1969) (a beaten-up paperback I found in a Chicago bookstore and bought on a whim), Jeremy Larner’s "Nobody Knows" (1970), Junot Diaz’s "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" (2007) and Alan Weisman’s "The World Without Us" (2007).

OK, your turn. Have at it.

- Todd Leopold, Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Books • movies • Music
December 11th, 2008
01:07 PM ET

What do you think of the Golden Globe nominations?

What an odd set of Golden Globe nominations. But then again, it’s been an odd year, with two of the year’s best films - “The Dark Knight” and “Wall-E” - also two of the year’s biggest financial successes. Yet neither received much attention from the Globes. (Send us an iReport on what you thought of the nominations.)

Heath Ledger - deservedly - gets a nomination, but that’s it for “The Dark Knight.” “Wall-E” gets shoved into the best animated film category; apparently, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association didn’t want to also give it a best comedy or musical nod. (“Wall-E” may face the same problem from the Academy Awards.)

Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” picks up a bunch of nominations (including best comedy or musical), but none for Mr. Allen - not even a screenplay nod. Sean Penn gets a nomination for “Milk,” but there’s none for director Gus Van Zant or the film itself. “Doubt” has its entire cast nominated, but can’t squeak into the best drama category. (In the case of “Doubt,” many critics would agree: the film has earned praise for its acting, but writer-director John Patrick Shanley has been criticized for his direction and the stagier elements of his Tony Award-winning script.)

So what did you think? It’s been pointed out over the years that people are more willing to watch awards shows if they have a rooting interest. That’s not necessarily a reason for nominating box office successes, but this year - when “The Dark Knight,” in particular, has earned high praise from critics - it’s strange that the HFPA would leave it off their list. (Let me add that I haven’t seen many of the nominated films, some of which haven’t opened in Atlanta yet, so I’ll reserve judgment on their quality.)

So, at the least, the Globes are risking alienating possible viewers. And yes, awards shows are supposed to honor "the best" - but if you think politics and popularity doesn't enter into nominations, you're living in a different world.

Add your comment below or send us an iReport .

Filed under: Celebrities • Golden Globes • movies
December 5th, 2008
11:59 AM ET

Your views: David Archuleta hot, Grammys not

David Archuleta received no love from the Grammy voters.

Yes, the “American Idol” runner-up’s debut album didn’t qualify - it came out last month, about six weeks after the Grammy deadline - but his single, “Crush,” did. But Mr. Archuleta didn’t get nominated for “Crush,” nor did he earn a pick for best new artist.

However, iReporters love him.  (At least, we think they do. At least one of the tributes seems rather … unserious.) iReporters also love Avi Buffalo, Tesla and My Morning Jacket.

What iReporters - and blog commenters - don’t like is the Grammys.

“The sorry state of the music industry is reflected in the nominees,” writes Eric Schultz. (VinceCapece responds, “It’s not a reflection of the sorry state of the music industry … it’s a reflection of the sorry state of the music business! Excellent musicians and songs and albums abound, but the music business pushes garbage on us day in and day out.”)

“I haven’t cared about the Grannies since they gave the first ‘Best Heavy Metal Album’ award to Jethro Tull,” adds DavidT.

“There were some very good albums that were shut out (only my opinion) completely this year for reasons beyond my wisdom,” says Nobody, who describes him- or herself as a longtime veteran of the business.

And there were several commenters upset at seeing the Jonas Brothers up for best new artist.

But the Grammys did well in some ways, wrote a few people. Though opinion was divided as to the worthiness of nomination-leader Lil Wayne, fans were glad about some nominations.

“A category that doesn’t get too much attention, ‘Best Folk Album,’ this year has a nominee that is so well-deserved it defies words. Kathy Mattea’s ‘Coal”’is a collection of coal mining songs and I would defy a listener to go unaffected after carefully listening to the words of each song,” writes Sue L.

“Happy that They Might Be Giants got a nod … even if it’s in best Children’s Recording,” says Julie.

Besides, writes Benst1, it’s about the show, not the winners.

“I do not care who is nominated and who wins a Grammy award. I do love to watch the show, because they showcase all types of music and because they did away with the useless host/master of ceremonies, so they can focus on the music. The Grammys are not as important as the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, or the Dupont-Columbia Awards for Broadcast Journalism, but, they are a lot more fun to watch.”

However, Beavis won’t be watching. “Music died with Tiny Tim,” he writes. And that was 12 years ago.

- Todd Leopold, Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Music
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