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Wednesday, 16 January 2008 00:00

Recommended diversions

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Since in this age of home video, I seldom get to see many of the best movies of any given year until the following year — when they are finally released on DVD — please consider the following list of 2007’s best movies not only subjective but likely to change once I get around to seeing “Juno,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “Atonement,” among others. Still, I can at the very least highly recommend the five movies listed further below. The list of best albums is twice as long and could be longer still — lots of good stuff this year.

Albums

The National, Boxer — Every year, some band I don’t know anything about comes along and produces an album that ends up moving me so much that I obsess about it for months, playing it over and over until I know it note for note. Such a profound connection between the music and listener is ineffable, so I’ll spare you the purple prose that would be no more useful — or interesting — than describing an intense dream. I’ll just say that this was easily the most affecting album I heard all year, and I haven’t talked with anyone who’s heard it that didn’t also love it.

Arcade Fire, Neon Bible — A follow-up to their widely praised debut. Their sound is dark, brooding, and expansive, but thrilling and literate, too. Another great album.

White Stripes, Icky Thump — I like all their records, but this may be my favorite. After a period of experimentation, Jack White returns to the basics — and has some fun in so doing.

The Apples In Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder — Although they’ve been around awhile, I never heard of them until trying this after an enthusiastic review I read somewhere. Somewhere between power pop and psychedelia, I really have no idea how to describe their sound except to say that it is their own. Lots of good songs on a longish album.

Public Enemy, How You Sell Soul — Has it really been nearly two decades since they provided the juice for Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing”? Even though Flavor Flav has become a reality television cartoon, they continue to make excellent records.

MIA, Kala — More textured and complex than the dancier Arular, it was nonetheless the primary soundtrack for family living room dancing this summer, and an iPod favorite.

Richard Thompson, Sweet Warrior — I recommend just about everything he’s ever done, literally dozens of albums going back nearly four decades. His guitar playing alone is worth the price of admission, and his albums with Fairport Convention and especially his ex-wife, Linda, are all classics. His solo records have been spottier, but this one’s a winner top to bottom.

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand — Not what I expected, especially in terms of a sonic landscape that is spookier and more ethereal than anything either of these legends-in-their-own-genres has ever produced. I mean, what is an Alison Krauss album without a mind-numbing, pristinely clean dobro break from Jerry Douglas? It’s a love it or hate it affair, and I love it, especially the Townes Van Zandt cover.

Bruce Springsteen, Magic — Ready made anthems, grungy sound. I like listening to it better in the car than at home.

Jason Isbell, Sirens Of The Ditch — Formerly of the Drive-By Truckers, Isbell may have released the best pure roots rock record of the year, and he can write to boot. His song “Dress Blues” is the best I’ve heard on the very real consequences of the war in Iraq. A little over-produced, but still affecting.

Movies

“No Country For Old Men” — The unlikely team of Cormac McCarthy and the Coen brothers is not so unlikely, when you think about it. As so many have already said, it is their best since “Fargo,” perhaps even better. It may win a bunch of Oscars, and it may also launch yet more movies based on McCarthy’s books, which are surely among the best in American literature. Blood Meridian is on the way, The Road soon to follow. Please, someone, take on Suttree.

“Once” — Unless you have not a romantic bone in your body, you’ll get caught up in this little indie love story/musical in spite of yourself. If your body is full of romantic bones, you’ll want the soundtrack, too.

“Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” — At 83, Sidney Lumet can still turn out a winner. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei may get Oscar nominations.

“Away From Her” — A beautiful, heart-wrenching love story at the other end of the spectrum from “Once.” In the latter, see how love begins; in the former, how it endures, in spite of everything, even Alzheimer’s.

“Knocked Up” — Judd Apatow is the hottest thing in Hollywood right now, having followed up “40 Year Old Virgin” with this movie and “Super Bad,” both released this year. All of them are hilarious.

— By Chris Cox

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