Back when I was a fulltime pop music critic, I used to listen to tons and tons of new music. Then, at the end of each year, I’d list, as critics are wont to do, my favorite albums of the year.
I have a different gig these days, splitting my attention between pop music, movies (my second passion), theater, art, dance, classical, opera and other art forms I never followed closely before.
They cut into listening time. I don’t listen to nearly as much new music as I used to. I haven’t checked out much-lauded new albums by Frank Ocean, Alt-J, Cafe Tacuba, Nas or Kendrick Lamar. Movie-wise, I’ve yet to see “Amour,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” and a slew of others.
But I haven’t lost interest, either. The critic in me can’t let 2012 go without listing my favorite albums and movies of the year. I do favorites, not a “best of.” I’m limiting each to five, with a few honorable mentions, to fit the space.
• Bruce Springsteen, “Wrecking Ball” — The Boss continues to chronicle the American condition on this, his most consistent record since 2002’s “The Rising.” It combines the trad folk earthiness of “The Seeger Sessions” with the political punch of “Magic” on songs that examine the toll that greed and the Great Recession took on us, but reminds us that we will overcome, as long as we take care of our own.
• Muse, “The 2nd Law” — The bombastic British trio’s latest isn’t their best, but they continue to forge new musical and thematical ground on this explosive blast of love songs, self-help appeals and foreboding songs about technology-fueled doom.
• The Royalty, “Lovers” — The jangly retro rock-pop of this El Paso quartet’s Victory Records debut is just plain infectious, thanks to great hooks, singer Nicole Boudreau’s sexy playfulness and Cameron Webb’s deft production.
• Donald Fagen, “Sunken Condos” — There’s not much difference between solo Fagen or his work with Steely Dan, and his first solo effort in six years continues that, with a little more funk (including a cover of Isaac Hayes’ “Out of the Ghetto”) and blues. He’s still singing about older men chasing younger women, but they’ve gone from lecherous on past albums to pathetic on songs like “Slinky Thing” and “The New Breed.”
• Lana Del Rey, “Born to Die” — Critics hate her, but I’ve never cared much about what other critics think. I didn’t pay much attention to the dismissive, hooked once I decided to make up my own mind, rewarded by the “Video Games” singer’s alluring mix of downbeat lyrics, smokey vocals, seductive melodies and inventive production.
• Honorable mentions — “Science of Flight,” Dirty River Boys; “Attack on Memory,” Cloud Nothings; “Babel,” Mumford & Sons; “Blak and Blu,” Gary Clark Jr.; “Mirage Rock,” Band of Horses; and David Bowie’s 40th anniversary reissue of “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.”
• “Moonrise Kingdom” — Wes Anderson’s sweetly nostalgic and artful look at familial dysfunction and young love, set on a fictitious New England as the storm of the century is about to hit. It’s typically quirky but more emotionally impacting than anything the Texas native has done before.
• “The Dark Knight Rises” — The last of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy doesn’t have a compelling villain, like Heath Ledger’s Joker-as-embodiment-of-evil in 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” but his adept ability to reflect the troubled times (terrorism, nuclear threats) while drilling into the Dark Knight’s troubled psyche as he returns to hero status makes for a fitting conclusion and the kind of nuanced characters and intricately plotted storyline that unfold like a good novel.
• “Argo” — Ben Affleck starred in and confidently directed this taut political thriller about a largely unknown part of the 1979 saga of the American hostages in Iran, in which a fake film crew spirited a half-dozen hidden American diplomats out of that roiling country.
• “Beasts of the Southern Wild” — A charmer of a big film with a little star, 6-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, who must fend off childhood fears to survive in a big world of poverty, an ailing but well-intentioned father (baker-turned-actor Dwight Henry in a powerful performance), a missing mother and a devastating flood in this magical post-Katrina debut from first-time director Benh Zeitlin.
• “Looper” — A mind-bending thriller in which time travel is outlawed, but used by Mafia-like mobs to kill people from the future. The always impressive Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a hitman who must kill his older self (Bruce Willis) when he’s sent back in time to be rubbed out. Yes, you do have to pay attention.
• Honorable mentions — “The Master,” “Lincoln,” “Ruby Sparks,” “Skyfall,” “Bernie” and “This Is 40.”