Thursday, January 22, 2015

Best Female Vocalists: Favourite Voice Edition

In the world of music I think my tastes can be pretty varied. I like lots of bands and solo artists from lots of different genres. While I'm not nearly as eclectic in this as, say, Shane, I still think it's a fair statement. That said, if you were to take gender and suddenly make it a relevant detail within the musical spectrum, then suddenly my tastes don't appear all that varied at all, particularly with regards to singers. My favourite singers, an overwhelming amount of them in fact, are male.

Now I don't believe there are any deep-seated meanings to be found behind that fact. If you do, feel free to continue believing it, but I have no plans to delve into or dwell on it. Instead I thought something I could do here is celebrate those female vocalists whom I truly do adore. I can assure you that despite my earlier comment, the five on this list represent only a few of the female singers I'm a fan of. I decided to strip things down and make them as simple as possible for the criteria: I'd select those women whose voices I like the most. While it's true a prerequisite for this was also producing music I actually like, it's still less important than the first issue.

And with THAT SAID, I'll also point out that in this life so far I believe I have encountered two perfect human voices, one for each sex. These voices are pleasing to me when raised in song but also when simply engaged in normal everyday speaking as well. For the record, those two are David Usher and Mandy Moore, both of whom I would be content to listen to reading the phone book. But since Moore hasn't really produced a body of work that I like so much, she won't make this list even though I've already deemed her voice as "perfect". Maybe that's weird, I don't know, but it's how I've decided to proceed.

5. Holly McNarland
I think it took seeing McNarland live to really drive home to me just what an incredible voice she has. Some of the details of that experience can be found on this list from several years ago. And as I mentioned in that list, it was her set's opening song, "Water", that was the real vocal showcase. I still can't get over how powerful she is. She may be no taller than 5'2 but she has one big voice.

But she sounds great when performing less bombastic material as well. For songs like "Elmo", in the verses anyway, she has a delivery that reminds me a lot of Ani Difranco. Quick and biting. When her lyrics are dark and/or sarcastic, you can really feel that. I don't think there are a lot of singers who can pull that off. For something more heartfelt and emotional, check out "Beautiful Blue".

McNarland has a voice that reminds me of an elastic band with the way it stretches and bends. But never breaks.

4. Amy Milan
This list is dominated by Canadians which you might take as a sign that I just don't look very hard for material and I'm simply presenting what I know best. Not so, I can assure you. It's not laziness or nationalism or any lack of experience. It just is what it is.

Here we have indie rock darling, Amy Milan. A sometimes solo artist but probably known best for her work in bands Broken Social Scene and Stars. It's mostly for her Stars content that I'm putting her here. Her voice has an almost ethereal quality to it that makes me feel extremely peaceful.  No matter the content of the song, there's just something about her vocal delivery that makes me feel a little less pessimistic (to say "a little more optimistic" would be going too far). It also possesses an innocence that helps make certain lyrics come across much better. I don't know how many singers, female or male, could sing lines like "After I am caught, touch turns into fisticuffs" ("Fixed") and not sound silly.

My heart always breaks a little every time I hear her croon: "I dreamed I was dying as I so often do, and when I awoke I was sure it was true" ("Calendar Girl"), not because it sounds sad to me but because it makes me wonder if this is the female version of myself that never was, somehow loosed upon this world in comic book parallel universe fashion, reaching out to me.

3. Plumb (Tiffany Arbuckle Lee)
Well before Amy Lee of Evanescence fame was crowned the goth princess of alternate rock, there was Plumb. Which is something Amy Lee herself is well aware of. The fact is Plumb was someone she looked up to and wanted to emulate. Well, mission accomplished. I'm not saying Lee is just some poor imitation - I even like some of the music she's produced and she's certainly a very talented vocalist - just pointing out Plumb did it first and, in my opinion, does it better.

How highly do I think of Plumb's voice? Highly enough to not even mind the Christian themes and messages found in many of her lyrics. At the very least they're not preachy and exclusive. There's nothing about saying there's a God that loves us all that's offensive to me and that's pretty much all that's really expressed in her songs that are more religious in tone. And lots of songs don't contain any such lyrics at all. Anyway, I realize that by saying that stuff isn't a big deal, I kind of have inadvertently made it into one so let's talk about her voice.

It is a little tricky sometimes to describe such things as singing voices in words but if I had to pick just one to sum up Plumb, it would be "warmth". As this list will reveal, one kind of female vocalist I really can't stand is the kind that seems to just try to imitate males. I know that's kind of an iffy statement and I don't mean to come across as sexist. But I just prefer female singers who embrace their femininity and channel it into their vocals. I'm not saying a female singer can't be edgy or raunchy or whatever in her vocal delivery, I'm not saying things like hard rock and metal vocals should be left to men. All I'm saying is Plumb knows her vocal capabilities and strengths and employs them in her music wholesale. As with Milan, I would apply the term "ethereal" to Plumb's voice. I guess it's pretty clear that's the kind of thing I like. But there's also a versatility there that allows for some very powerful songs ("Better" comes to mind).

Probably my favourite vocal moments can be found in the electronica-esque "Damaged", which, incidentally, is the first Plumb song I've ever heard.  Her delivery there is so spellbinding to me that it's almost hypnotic. One of the very few songs that can put me in a sort of trance.

2. Lights (Valerie Anne Poxietner)
Speaking of "electronica-esque", here's the artist who is entirely responsible for me discovering the genre of "electropop" to actually be to my liking. In some cases anyway. She's also partially responsible for giving me some faith that there are indeed some artists out there producing music that can be heard on Much Music as well as many radio stations that aren't completely fucking terrible.

Several years ago after another sleepless night, sometime between I think seven-thirty and eighty-thirty am, I turned on my tv because I guess I was completely out of other options at that point. I turned to Much because the guide actually said a word that had all but disappeared from programming in recent years: "videoflow". So I decided to see what videos were current. After watching about three (and WAY too many commercials), what looked at first like just another pop video started, with an absolutely gorgeous girl playing around with paint. I'll admit that at first, that was all that grabbed my attention. To call Lights stunning is probably an understatement by most aesthetic standards.

The video was for a song called "Second Go", and yes, it was hot. But...I found I really liked the song too. And that voice - it sounded...almost like the way I WANTED  female vocalists to sound but had never actually heard until that moment. Is that going a bit too far? Probably. But still, it was a pretty big "wow moment" for me and I wanted to get that across. Soon after I would do a little research through youtube and such and the more I learned, the more I liked.

Conversely, I can completely understand where people who hate Lights's voice and vocal style are coming from. They might call it "whiny" or "squeaky" or something and accuse me of only liking female singers who sound like "little girls" rather than "real women". I can understand it but beyond that, I don't really care.

Lights doesn't just sound good with electronic instruments either. Many songs rely heavily on simple acoustic guitars or traditional piano. I actually prefer the scaled down, piano version of "Pretend" to the original. Not sure how to end here so I'll just ask: How catchy is "Up We Go"?

1. Utada Hikaru
Proof that to appreciate a singing voice, always understanding the language it performs in isn't necessary abounds. My own personal proof is Utada Hikaru, J-Pop idol supreme.

Maybe it's because I've reached the end of the list and haven't completed any in awhile that I really don't feel like being articulate anymore. So let's try this: 2002. Kingdom Hearts. Internet. Always heard similar stuff in anime. Absolutely gorgeous. A sprinkling of English language covers. Writes a lot of her own material. Can actually play several instruments. Voice of an angel. Complete infatuation. Fin.

Give "Sakura Nagashi" a listen and tell me I'm wrong.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Must Listen K-Pop Songs of 2014

Today's list serves two purposes: to introduce you to songs you would never have listened to otherwise, and to acknowledge one of my guiltiest pleasures ... K-Pop music. Even though I lived in Seoul for over three years, it wasn't until I returned to Canada that this unexpected obsession began to form. I became drawn to the hypnotic and polished music videos, the vibrant enthusiasm of the performances, and all the absurd details that add charm.

Let it be known that this list is not strictly for the pop genre. While some of my choices here lean more into R&B, hip-hop, and so on, I'm using K-Pop as a blanket term for any popular songs from Korea, regardless of genre. So, open your mind and ears, grab some headphones, and let's get to it.

5. Hi Suhyun - "I'm Different"

Our first song is collaboration between Lee Hi and Lee SuHyun, two talented young singers with unique vocal styles that turned out to be a perfect match. There is a music video for the single, but I decided to post the song alone because the video was made almost as an afterthought when the song became popular, and I feel like its presentation will distract from the song.

The song has a sweet groove to it and there is an uncanny 60's sound to this catchy beat. It doesn't feel overproduced, and the vocals really shine. If you enjoy the vintage sound, you may soon find this on a loop in your playlist.

4. Dynamic Duo - "Summer Time"

Comprised of Choiza and Gaeko, this hip-hop duo has been making sick music for over a decade. When I stumbled upon Dynamic Duo it was a goldmine of incredible songs and collaborations with a wide array of talented artists. "Summer Time" is a good example of their often playful style.

I love the neon hues of the music video and that it looks like some cartoonish detective show where the two members are playing every character. I couldn't say what story they're trying to tell or why it appears to be an endorsement of Dunkin Donuts besides the fact that they share initials. The song is compelling nonetheless. If you find yourself rocking to this beat, you should immediately check out tracks like "Hot Wings" and "Baaam" from their album last year titled Lucky Numbers.

3. SISTAR - "Touch My Body"

Speaking of summer, in July this excellent 4 member girl group released an infectious single that became an instant hit, dominating the #1 spot on all music charts in Korea. I love everything about this song and video, from the inexplicable sax playing Korean Elvis, to the unusual trying-to-remove-underwear-wedged-in-ass-crack-without-using-hands dance move. More than any other K-Pop song I listened to this year, "Touch My Body" sounds catchy and mainstream enough to be a hit on the American music charts. It sounds like pure unfiltered joy, and let's be honest these girls are easy on the eyes.

SISTAR has been around since 2010 and are known for their signature sexy style, but here they are presenting themselves in a more playful, flirty manner. It's just a goofy summer party that had me grinning from ear to ear. After the second listen I welcomed this earworm to lay eggs in my brain, and if this song doesn't win you over I'll gladly eat my watermelon shorts.

2. Seo In Young - "Thinking of You (feat Zion T.)"

Not only is this a relaxing and sweet song, it's easily one of the most beautiful music videos of the year. Seo In Young - aka "Elly" - is a former member of the longest running Korean girl group, Jewelry, and she sounds amazing paired with the soulful voice of newcomer, Zion T. I'm secure enough in my masculinity to say that I often swoon over his songs.

"Thinking of You" is a mellow, yet emotional song about different perspectives of a breakup. You may not understand the lyrics, but the feelings are apparent, and the vibe bittersweet. Combined with the psychedelic and sexy visuals this song captures the perfect mood, and it feels refreshing. I could jam to this all day.

1. Mamamoo - "Piano Man"

I honestly can't get enough of this song or this group. Mamamoo debuted at the beginning of 2014 and I've adored everything they've put out and collaborated on this year. The group is a vocal powerhouse with a wonderful old school but modern style. And yes, a weird name.

"Piano Man" is their most recent single and it has a bit of everything. There are little hints of jazz, swing, ragtime, and big band throughout the song. The more I listen, the more I appreciate the instrumentation and cool piano licks that dance around the vocals. There's a sick rap break from Moonbyul and the harmonies of Solar, Hwasa, and Whee-in give me chills. The music video is packed with energy and it's the perfect example of why I'm finding so much enjoyment in K-Pop. It's lively, creative, and a flat-out wonderful performance.

More than any other Korean group or artist I'm excited to see where Mamamoo goes next. Considering that they're still a "rookie" group, they are truly killing it with each new single and live performance. "Piano Man" is a song that brings the heat and keeps impressing upon repeated listens.

Moving forward I hope to make this an annual list if the hits keep coming. While it's hard to find music that can appeal to a majority of people, I hope that you've found something in this list that put a smile on your face. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Weird Christmas Traditions Returns

Every time I decide to write one of these lists I’m shocked that I can dredge up even more tales of odd and wonderful Christmastime traditions, but here we are again and I’ve amassed five more of the weirdest Yuletide customs from around the globe.

5. Pictures with Santa… and High-Powered Firearms (USA)

In Scottsdale, Arizona hundreds of people from around the community flock to the Scottsdale Gun Club to get a wonderful, traditional photo with Santa. The big man in red isn’t so much the focus of the photos, though. No, it’s probably the $80,000 Garwood mini-gun that the club has setup in the background. This bad boy would make Arnie proud.

At $10 a pop, you and your family can be fitted with your choice of machine guns, pistols, rifles, and racks upon racks of belt ammunition. Don’t worry, I know what you’re thinking, “But, what I really wanted was a picture of Santa with a grenade launcher. Christmas is ruined.” Fear not! Grenade launchers are also available at the club. You can even go classic and get a picture with a good ol’ AK-47.

Described by the club as “… fun from those who support the second amendment and those who don’t”, they state that, “Whether you’re a gun advocate or not, you should have a lot of fun with it.” And who wouldn’t!

I don’t think anything properly expresses the true holiday spirit like a rosy-cheeked child holding a high-powered boomstick, draped in ammo like Rambo.

4. Family Saunas (Estonia)

How many times have you been sitting in a nice steamy sauna, the woes of your day evaporating slowly from your muscles, and thought to yourself, “I really wish I had my family here to enjoy this with.” Well in Estonia, your dreams can be answered.

Estonia has an interesting dichotomy to their Christmas traditions. A blend of Pagan and Christian events are observed. There’s mysticism, spirituality, and Christian themes at play, but everything looks like a very traditional Christmas you’d see anywhere in North America.
The party starts on December 21st for Estonians with St. Thomas’ Day and runs right until the Epiphany on January 6th. In some areas it is stretched out one extra day, until St. Canute’s Day on the 7th. The Christmas Holidays, specifically, are celebrated from December 24th to the 27th.

Known as jõulud, the celebrations have as much to do with the Winter Solstice, and the impending cold and dark, as they do with the birth of Christ. On Christmas Eve many interesting traditions are kept, including fortune telling, but there was one in particular that caught my eye.

After preparing the traditional jõulud feast, and before church services are held, all the Estonian families will find a nice sauna to spend the afternoon together in. How does that all go down? Well first everyone gets naked, bathes, lathers themselves up in honey, and then wile away the afternoon, whipping one another with birch twigs to really massage and clear your skin.

I love spending time with my family around the holidays, I really do, but I don’t want to get naked with them and practice S&M right before church.

3. Danny and his Grandmother’s Cookies (South Africa)

You might think that from a geographical standpoint that South Africa wouldn’t really practice Christmas traditions, but being that it was mostly populated by European colonies, the customs found a home there. From what I can tell, in fact, Christmas is pretty traditional in South Africa. But, like good ol’ Krampus, there’s nothing like a story of absolute terror to keep those kiddies in line.

During the seemingly normal Christmas festivities, families will gather up all of their children on Christmas Eve, to tell the story of a young boy named Danny. You see Danny lived with his Grandmother and in preparing for Christmas and Santa, she had baked a batch of delicious cookies for the jolly old elf. Those cookies were so tempting that Danny couldn’t contain himself, and he ate the whole batch.

So what did Grandma do? Did she tell Santa and have Danny’s presents turned to coal? Nope. Did she scold him for what he’d done and make him bake a fresh batch for the Claus? Wrong again.

No, in a fit of rage she brutally murdered her grandson. Now, his ghost haunts South Africa during the Christmas holidays, reminding young children that they need to be good, practice patience, and not be greedy or their grandparents will take their lives away from them.

2. Las Parrandas de Remedios (Cuba)

Cuba has a pretty interesting history with Christmas. For 30 years it was outlawed by Castro after he declared the government atheist in 1969, and it was only in 1998, prompted by a visit to Havana from Pope Jean Paul II, that Cubans were allowed to practice the traditions of Christmas once again.

One of the more elaborate events in their Christmas celebrations is Parrandas, which is essentially a huge carnival. The most famous Parrandas celebrations happen in the city of Remedios, where Parrandas was first conceived.

The story goes that a priest, Father Francisco Vigil de Quiñones, wanted the townspeople of Remedios to come to midnight masses during the week leading up to Christmas. In order to keep people from going to sleep Father Francisco would send the altar boys from his parish out with pots and pans, which they would bang while singing at the top of their lungs. Eventually this turned into a kind of street party and that tradition has remained until this very day.

Today’s Parrandas is a far cry from the street parties of 200 years ago. There are several events that take place during the carnival, which begins at 10:00PM. The first is rumba dancing with fireworks known as palenques. These fireworks are meant to be completely soundless in their launch, but burst over the crowds of dancers, surprising and scaring them as they dance in the streets below.

In the second event, massive floats are pulled into the city’s plaza, each created and decorated by different cities surrounding Remedios. The floats are decorated in your usual lighting and colours, but also each float has actors who are meant to signify the theme for the year, and a story which is read aloud as their floats make their way to the plaza. There’s one caveat: the individuals on these floats are not allowed to move in any way as the float is moving some 40m. It is considered a “demerit” to the district if the actors move on their floats.

The final piece is a row of 20,000 rockets, which span up to 4 city blocks, and that are lit off and explode in the sky in a volley of fireworks. After the rockets, mortars are launched (for good measure), which are meant to be the exact opposite of the palenques set off at the beginning of the carnival; they are loud and canon-like to announce the end of the festivities.

1. A Christmas of Fear (Iceland)

For most of the the Americas Christmas is a time of warm hearths, music, family, and all those gumdrop dreamin’ kids, but I’ve also found another prevailing element to Christmas outside of North America: fear.

I’ve already visited the Krampus in my previous list, so you know this sort of thing exists, but Austrians have it easy compared to Icelanders, who have to deal with a broad menagerie of monsters trying to eat them at Christmastime.

First there’s the Yule Cat, or Jólakötturinn. A massive, man-eating beast, the Yule Cat is said to prowl on - get this - those who have not received new clothes to wear before Christmas Eve. In what has to be one of the most direct examples of fear being used to drive the masses, wealthy farm owners used to give clothes to the workers who finished their Autumn wool preparations. In order to make sure they worked fast enough, they came up with the Yule Cat and the story that if they didn’t finish by Christmas Eve they’d be devoured by a monstrous beast.

Over time the Yule Cat was enveloped by Icelandic folklore and became the pet of the Giantess Grýla, a gruesome witch who lives in the mountains of Iceland. Once a year Grýla descends from her lofty perch and using her innate ability to detect misbehaving children, she captures bad kids all over Iceland, brings them back to her cave, and makes them into her favourite dish: a nice hot stew.

If that wasn’t enough, Grýla managed to entrap a few husbands along the way. With her third husband, Leppalúði, Grýla birthed a brood of child-eating troublemakers known as the Yule Lads, or Jólasveinarnir. The Icelandic version of Santa Claus, for all intents and purposes, the Yule Lads or usually portrayed as pranksters that cause all kinds of havoc in the countryside. There are thirteen Lads in total, and in many ways remind me of Snow White’s dwarves. Their names describe each of the Yule Lads’ specific traits; there’s Sheep-Cote Clod who likes to torment sheep and sheepherders, Bowl-Licker who, well… lick bowls, Sausage-Swiper who steals sausages, and Stubby… you get the idea.

Although there seems to be a lot of fear-laden tradition here, there is some good. The Yule Lads, for all their mischievery, also reward good children. If a child has been good all year and places their shoes outside their window-sills on the thirteen nights before Christmas Eve, they may receive a present from one of the Lads. If they were bad, though, they might receive a rotting potato! You know, if they don’t eat those children instead.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Shane's Favourite Movies of 2013

Another year, another batch of movies. Here we go.

5. Man of Steel
I went to see this movie on opening weekend, had an absolute blast, then proceeded to watch people shit on for the next several weeks. I recognize the movie has flaws, but this is a very entertaining film that is leagues ahead of Superman Returns. All my life I've waited to see Superman face some epic foes on the big screen and have the large scale battles fitting of a Kryptonian. This movie delivers. When Superman flies some poor bastard 50 miles across multiple counties and through several building, I was cackling with joy.

To the people bitching about the reckless destruction Superman causes while fighting Zod. I say this: I've seen plenty ... plenty of Superman 'saving the day without breaking a sweat' moments. I've almost never seen Superman in over his head. This was an overwhelmed and still inexperienced Superman facing a more powerful foe. As a result his fighting approach feels desperate and messy. And to the people whining about how Superman finally (spoiler!) defeats Zod, I say: How did you expect this shit to end? Zod was energy-humping Metropolis to ruins and had to be stopped. And since Superman was forced to kill the last of his kind, it may strengthen his resolve to preserve all life. That would be ideal if Superman ever faced an evil, but physically weak, mortal enemy. Who could that be?

4. Blue Jasmine
In a not so thinly veiled retelling of "A Streetcar Named Desire", Woody Allen presents to us, Jasmine, a socialite who lost everything, now hanging on desperately to her former lifestyle, and sanity. This is a knockout performance from Cate Blanchett, and the best work from Woody Allen since Matchpoint.

Every time I watch this movie I find new things to appreciate about the performances and the film's jumbled narrative structure. And each time I pick up on subtle pieces of the story that slipped by me before. The movie is filled with amusing, flawed characters, and tells a fascinating story of loss and denial. Plus, as a bonus you get Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay. A pleasant surprise.

3. Gravity
If I were to make a list of the most spectacular and thrilling cinema experiences I've ever had, Gravity would be in the top tier of that list, no question. It is a dazzling, riveting, nerve wracking adventure in space and feels like a real-time struggle for survival in the most inhospitable setting known to man. The sound design and immersive visuals are extraordinary, and if you didn't have the opportunity to see it in 3D at the theatre then I'm very, very sorry. I'm upset at myself for not seeing it a second time.

As breathtaking as it is on the big screen, therein lies the problem. In 2009 I put Avatar as my second favourite movie on the year. However, I have yet to watch it since writing my list, and have yet to feel a desire to watch it again. Gravity feels like a similar situation. I have watched it at home, and while it was still amazing, it was decidedly less amazing. Along with performances from Bullock and Clooney that were just fine, and dialogue that felt cliche and hammy, this film is not without issues. Don't get me wrong, though. I still fucking love this movie. But the massive screen and 3D presentation seems essential to the experience, and completing the director's vision.

For some kids, who are desperately in love with space and didn't see Gravity at the theatre, this will be their Jurassic Park. They will love the film regardless, but maybe 20 years down the road they will have an opportunity to see it in all its glory.

2. Stoker
It should come as no surprise that an entry on this list would come from one of my all time favourite directors. This is Chan-wook Park's first English film, and while it feels a bit restrained at times, it has his trademark style all over it. The story is about the Stoker family where an unstable mother and introverted daughter are coping with a death in the family. When the mysterious Uncle Charlie comes to live with them things grow exponentially creepier as both mother and daughter are drawn to Charlie for different reasons.

I think many viewers will be put off by the film's pacing, and the unsettling "crazy eye" exchanges across the dinner table, but it's all part of the fun of Stoker. It's designed to put you on edge. The film turns having ice cream in a murder mystery, a leather belt becomes a vision of gothic horror, and a piano duet is filled with suppressed sexuality.

Stoker feels like a blending of a Hitchcock thriller and a Korean horror film. I suppose that should come as no surprise since it's from the director of Oldboy. Chan-wook's films are always masterpieces of violence and perversion, and the twisted Stoker family fits right in.

1. Mud
It didn't take long into my first viewing of Mud before I know that I would love this film. It's such a wonderful display of quality filmmaking. The acting is strong all around, with compelling performances from the young cast. The cinematography is gorgeous and captures the dreamy mood of the film perfectly. As for the story, it centers on two boys, Ellis and Neckbone, and their unlikely friendship with a fugitive named Mud they discover hiding on a tiny island. They end up helping Mud reconnect with a lost love, and help him rebuild a boat so he can continue to evade bounty hunters.

You can't help but love these characters. McConaughey gives a honest and powerful performance as Mud, a beguiling role model to the two boys who has a shady, violent past. Ellis (played by Tye Sheridan) gives perhaps the strongest performance; a boy trying to hold onto the idealism of youth while being crushed by the realities of adulthood. Then there's Neckbone (played by Jacob Lofland) who has got to be the most straight-shooting kid ever, and together with Ellis, the most dependable kids of all time. Need a boat motor? You got it. Want us to go ferry a cement truck down the river? I reckon we can make that work. I was entertained by every cuss-filled bit of dialogue between them.

It's a touching film that will grab you early on and refuse to let go. It's a bit of Tom Sawyer, and bit of Stand by Me. A coming-of-age film, mixed with a fugitive on the run film, mixed with a love story. If you overlooked Mud last year, I highly recommend another look.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

MINI-LIST: The Best Adaptations of "A Christmas Carol"

The holidays are all up in your grill and so it's time to whip out another Christmas themed list. This year let's talk about A Christmas Carol: Charles Dickens' story of redemption and enlightening holiday ghosts. It's a story you know like the back of your hand, it's been adapted hundreds of times, and it just wouldn't feel like a proper Christmas without enjoying this classic. So here are the most entertaining ones you should see.

5) A Christmas Carol (2009)

Who's the Scrooge this time? It's ol' rubberface himself, Jim Carrey. He even provides the performances for the three spirits who visit Ebenezer in the night. Talk about saving time on casting roles.
Doesn't this seem a lot like The Polar Express? Yes, it's another 3D motion capture Christmas themed movie directed by Robert Zemeckis where the main actor plays multiple roles.
And you enjoyed that? Yes, actually. Despite the generally unappealing 3D and CG motion capture filmmaking choices, this movie turned out to be quite good and was an entertaining theatre experience. It actually managed to feel new.
What's so special about this adaptation? It's one of the most thorough adaptations of the novel I can think of, and it didn't shy away from dark and grotesque elements in the story. It has scenes that would terrify young children. Corpses, creepy spirits, haunting visions of death and decay. Actually in 3D, it kind of freaked me out.
So does this mean you want Zemeckis to make more movies like this? Oh God, no. I really hope his mo-cap days are behind him because animation really needs to be left to the animators.

4) Scrooge (1951)

Who's the Scrooge this time? It's Alastair Sim, who I imagine didn't need a lot of work to look the part for this movie.
Who? Even though he was in dozens of films, you're not likely to know him from anything besides this movie. It was his biggest lead role, which he even revisited in 1971 to provide the voice of Ebenezer in an animated version.
What's so special about this adaptation? Being one of the earliest and best of the film adaptations, this version has been around long enough that everyone knows it. It's one of the versions that always seems to be on TV this time of year (In fact, as I write this on Christmas Eve, it has appeared on television twice already). It's a straightforward telling of the tale with no gimmicks, great performances all around, and continues to stand the test of time.
What if I can't handle watching movies in black and white? First of all, grow up. Second, there's a colourized version that looks pretty good.
Do you have a favourite scene? Yep, it's when Scrooge wakes on Christmas morning filled with the spirit of love and generosity, accosts his housekeeper on the stairs, all the while giggling and barely able to contain his excitement. Nothing spikes the adrenaline like a visit from the dead, and Alastair truly plays the part like a raving lunatic of joy. Then when he shows up at his nephew's home asking for forgiveness, you can't help but smile to see him welcomed with open arms and begin dancing with them.

3) Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)

Who's the Scrooge this time? You're not going to believe it, but they used Scrooge to play Scrooge. I'm sure it was a tough decision with all the characters in the Disney pantheon to choose from, but after countless meetings and arguments they went with the most daring choice.
Wait ... wasn't the character "Scrooge McDuck" created for this adaptation? No, he was actually created way back in the 1940's for a comic book. So, like some snake devouring it's own tail, you have a fictional character being used to depict the fictional character that they were inspired by and named after. That would be like doing an animated version of Bram Stoker's Dracula for television and then using Count Chocula to be Dracula. It's fucking weird when you think about it.
What's so special about this adaptation? Well, it packs the entire story into a mere 26 minutes of animated excellence.
Only 26 minutes?! I know it felt longer as a kid, but that's the illusion of commercials for you. And yet it tells the story completely, with every important scene and character. Not a wasted frame.
Any favourite ghost? It's gotta be Goofy as Jacob Marley. I'm pretty sure Dickens intended for the tortured spirit that first confronts Ebenezer Scrooge to perform a little slapstick.

2) Scrooged (1988)

Who's the Scrooge this time? The always delightful Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, a selfish asshole and TV executive who hates Christmas, and everything else. Guess what happens.
Wait, so there's no Ebenezer? Nope. But Frank's journey is essentially the same and happens parallel to a classic production of A Christmas Carol that Frank's station is airing live on Christmas Eve.
What's so special about this adaptation? This is easily the most fantastic modern take on the Dickens' story. Taking place in 80's New York, all the components of the original are there but as wildly different forms. Instead of Bob Cratchit, you have Bobcat Goldthwait with a shotgun. Instead of the apparition of Jacob Marley, you have a rotting corpse hanging Frank out a skyscraper window. Instead of a grim reaper, you have a cloaked monster with a television for a face.
Which ghost was your favourite? Definitely the ghost of Christmas Present played by Carol Kane. She is such a cheery, abusive psycho. First thing she does upon meeting Frank is hover across the room and kick him in the nuts. He threatens to rip her goddamn wings off. And the scene where she uppercuts him in the face with a toaster? Priceless.
So does Frank learn the error of his ways, and welcome the generous spirit of Christmas into his heart? Of course! While always an entertaining journey along the way, the real magic of A Christmas Carol is watching Ebenezer being reborn as a new man on Christmas morning. I'm particularly fond of the ending for Scrooged because watching Bill Murray burst out of an elevator screaming, taking the live Christmas Carol performance hostage, and ranting wildly into the camera until he's in tears, is just great. I love how it feels like the ending was improvised, so it's like the actual movie you're watching is breaking down just as the show within the show is being derailed. If you haven't seen this movie, definitely check it out.

1) The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Disney again? That's right, Disney again. Talk about a company that has an obsession with old men in nightgowns. I'm pretty sure they will release some version of A Christmas Carol once a decade until the sun explodes.
Who's the Scrooge this time? Our personal lord and saviour, Michael Caine. If you don't enjoy him in this role, then there is something wrong with you. You will believe in his performance as the cold-hearted Scrooge, fear for him in his darkest moments, and share in his joy at the dawn of a new day. And when he weeps at love lost, you will cry along with him. It's like gravity; you don't have a choice, so don't fight it.
What's so special about this adaptation? Besides the obvious addition of Muppets, this Christmas Carol is a musical. A damn good one, too. The songs are memorable and serve the story well. This should come as no surprise since they were written by Paul Williams, who wrote songs like "Rainbow Connection"? Plus, having Gonzo and Rizzo narrating the story and getting caught up in the adventure is entertaining stuff.
Sounds good, but what about Tiny Tim? How tiny is he in this version?  The tiniest you're likely to ever see. By using Robin the Frog, the audience will feel extra sympathy because he's tiny, sick, poor, AND a frog. Talk about having the deck stacked against you. What's next? Having Tiny Tim fall into a fire when his crutch breaks, just as he's announcing he donated his last good sock to a crippled mouse?
It all sounds interesting, but why is this the best? It takes a lot of talent and creativity to use puppets alongside real actors and make the audience care about them, especially when you're building upon source material so famous. This movie blends music, humour, beautifully designed sets and sequences, charming characters, and never loses sight of the important messages in Dickens' wonderful story. All the highs and lows are there, and the muppets fit in perfectly along the way. If you can only choose one adaptation to watch this Christmas, you really can't go wrong with this one.