I try to write a blog entry a week–two, some weeks–but my file of potential blog ideas is still overstuffed. So in the interest of creating the illusion of progress, I'm going to semi-regularly "pick the low-hanging fruit" as we used to say when I worked in the corporate world, and digest-ize a handful of blog entries that can be dispatched in a paragraph or so. Like:

1. HD Addict

My mom often talks about what it was like when my grandparents first got color TV, and the whole family would gather around the set to watch whatever was being broadcast in color back in the early '60s–which was pretty much pro wrestling and Rocky & Bullwinkle. Now that I've gotten a high-def TV and an HD cable package, I know what she's talking about. I've never been much of an audio/videophile, but the difference between Lost in HD and Lost as I used to watch it–recorded in TiVo's "Basic Quality" off of a basic cable signal–is like the difference between looking through a Coke bottle and looking through a picture window. It's so pronounced that I can't imagine ever going back.

It's not just the way that bright colors pop in HD, either. Once I toned down the TV's settings from how they were originally–that garish "display quality" of HD sets on showroom floors–I noticed a much wider range of hues than my old set got, and a visual depth that makes a small room and a basketball arena equally scan-able. Now I'm hooked on that look. I'll watch dirt-dry Discovery Channel travelogues, just to drink in the clarity of HD. Last weekend, I spent a half hour watching a Fox NASCAR broadcast, because it was loaded up with graphics, and nothing looks better in HD than graphics. Sports and live events–like the Grammys and the Oscars–are, it seems to me, increasingly being designed for HD, with extra lights and superfluous splashes of color. The whole TV world is starting to look like SportsCenter, and while I'm not sure how I feel about that from an aesthetic perspective, as a passive consumer, I'm eating it up.

2. The Arcade Fire Grows Up

One of the most common questions we get for "Ask The A.V. Club" is whether there are any reviews–positive or negative–that we wish we could take back. I believe we're working on a tag-team response to that question right now, and while I'm not sure what my answer's going to be, I've been thinking a lot this past week about a passing comment I kind of regret. In reviewing The Decemberists' Picaresqeue two years ago, I closed by writing, "Where before the band had too-obvious elements of David Bowie, Robyn Hitchcock, The Smiths, The Pogues, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Belle & Sebastian bubbling to the surface, now The Decemberists is its own entity. It's what The Arcade Fire wants to be when it grows up."

In some ways, the dig at The Arcade Fire was a way of making up for my original review of Funeral, which I wrote well before the band became one of the biggest names in mid-'00s indie-rock, when they were just another unknown quantity in my promo stack. Because they were on Merge, I moved them higher up in the pile, and when I got around to playing Funeral the first time, I basically liked what I heard, though, as I wrote in the review, "The nostalgia-steeped-indie-rock-orchestra pool was pretty much drained before The Arcade Fire dove in." They struck me as a good band, but minor. Then, a month or so later, Funeral was topping year-end lists, and I began to wonder if I'd profoundly underrated the record, or if I hadn't poked at it enough. I settled on the latter.

I still think Funeral is too fussy and too oblique, and that Picaresque is a "better" record. (Though I'm losing my taste for those kind of comparatives, to be honest.) But having spent several days driving around listening to The Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, I no longer think they're a minor band. I started this post before reading the fray over in the discussion section of Kyle's Neon Bible review, and now I'm almost afraid to talk about The Arcade Fire at all, because I understand where some of the naysayers are coming from, and I don't want them coming at me. Like The Decemberists, The Hold Steady, and a lot of other recently acclaimed alt-rockers, The Arcade Fire are attempting something grand, and that pretension understandably rubs some people the wrong way. Also, Neon Bible's relentless emphasis on terror and transcendence seems a little on-the-nose, and not so much deeply felt as calculated. Still, musically, this record's a lot clearer and cleaner than Funeral, and while it's hardly cutting-edge, Neon Bible makes me feel good. I no longer want to underrate any band that can do that.

3. Best Picture Revisionism

During TCM's "31 Days Of Oscar" festival, I watched American Beauty for the third time in my life. The first time was in a full theater the weekend it opened and, swept up in the pre-release hype, I bought the premise and the bit. It all worked for me. The second time I saw American Beauty was about a year later, on DVD, when the post-Oscar backlash was in full effect, and with the voices of all the naysayers ringing in my head. I found the movie much hollower. If you'd asked me two weeks ago what I thought of American Beauty, I probably would've rolled my eyes.

But you know what? When I watched American Beauty last week, some of the original sympathy I had for the movie came back. Not all–Alan Ball's script still scores too many points off exaggerated targets, and strains for poignancy–but some. And it's largely due to Sam Mendes, who in the wake of the underrated Jarhead has established himself as a first-rate image-maker. The movie's heightened style and saturated colors make a lot of its case, casting suburbia as an oppressive kind of utopia that would be a lot more enjoyable if the people who lived there could let themselves relax. It's not the Best Picture of 1999–not in the year of Fight Club, The Limey, Toy Story 2, Election, The Insider and Three Kings–but it's gotten kind of a bad rap over the past several years, mostly because it is facile, and it was a big award-getter. Time initially wasn't kind to American Beauty, but as the decades slip by, its dated Clinton-era anxieties might seem increasingly quaint instead of irritating. And those images will still look searingly clear.

As long as I'm confessing unhipness, I may as well cop to my opinion of another much-maligned Best Picture winner that I think is perversely underrated: Forrest Gump. Yes, that "box of chocolates" line makes my teeth hurt, and yes, the skipping-through-history shtick is shallow and reductionist. But the task of deflating some boomer myths is one worth doing, and there's something at once parodic and poignant in the idea of a big dumb metaphorical guy missing what everyone else thinks is the point of the times they're all living in, while holding to the ideals of romance and family that sustain a culture. Plus, Robert Zemeckis's direction is remarkably assured, and even lyrical. In recent years, he's become kind of a favorite of mine, because his technical proficiency comes packaged with a taste for whimsy. When I watch Forrest Gump–and to be honest, I haven't seen it in about five years, and even that was a partial viewing on broadcast TV–I watch what Zemeckis is doing more than I watch the hero.

Maybe that's best to treat movies like American Beauty and Forrest Gump. Like songs by The Police: Don't pay attention to the words, just listen to the music.

(Next up on the Best Picture revisionism schedule: Rain Man. Loved it when I was in high school. Groaned at it 10 years later. Now I'm looking to see how it strikes me in the wake of Barry Levinson's near total meltdown as an auteur. I'll let you know how it goes.)

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