Sunday, January 04, 2009

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

These hiatuses are becoming too much of a habit. My blogging energies and impulses are waning seriously these days, and yet I like having this outlet, and I like the body of commentary, slight as it may be, I’ve accumulated over the past few years. So – here’s to a more engaged 2009 from Tosy and Cosh!! Let’s see if that’s one resolution I can keep.

I don’t know that I saw enough movies, or read enough books, or heard enough albums, in 2008 to compile lists for all of the pop culture kinds I partake of. But a top ten total pop culture things I love? That’s easy:

10. The Art of Noise, by Alex Ross
The classical music critic for The New Yorker wrote a compelling, readable, and very layman-geared accounting of 20th Century classical music. He makes a marvelous case for atonality’s strengths and weaknesses, in the process neither trashing or exalting this oft-maligned development. A great book for any music lover.

9. Kill to Get Crimson, Mark Knopfler
Knopfler’s fifth solo album is easily his best, a folksy, tuneful, and quietly beautiful effort that features some of the laid-back vocalist’s best singing in years. As Knopfler ages, he only grows more assured and confident, and you can hear him caring less and less about popularity with each album.

8. Life Death Love and Freedom, John Mellencamp
Mellencamp’s best since The Lonesome Jubilee, which from these quarters is high praise indeed. The easy pop sentiment of his past few albums is replaced by a weary and resigned look at death and the end. Not a happy album, by any means, but a stark and unforgiving one that doesn’t hesitate to look death in the eye and see sadness and loss, not closure.

7. Iron Man
A caveat – I’ve yet to see (all of) The Dark Knight. That said, this is probably the best superhero origin movie yet (I’d still give Spider-Man 2 a light nod overall), with the core classic elements of the character seamlessly integrated into a more modern-feeling whole. Perhaps more importantly, though, is the way the film, and its leaked epilogue, lay the seeds for a compelling and integrated Marvel film universe that will culminate in the coming together of the Avengers on screen. I’m as excited for these next movies (Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers) as I am for anything coming down the pike in the next few years.

6. The Given Day, Dennis Lehane
Lehane’s long-awaited novel, a fictionalized accounting of the 1919 Boston police strike is a sweeping historical epic sprinkled with finely drawn real-life characters who provide just the right amount of verisimilitude. What surprised me most, being as ignorant as I was of the historical realities at play, is how unafraid Lehane is to withhold easy answers and endings for his characters. Characters we started to see as one-dimensional villains are anything but, and our heroes are pitted with character flaws that provide resonance and heartbreak. A great novel.

5. Breaking Bad
This strike-shortened series is being forgotten in most year-end tallies, which is a shame. Bryan Cranston’s Emmy for the series was very well deserved, as he limned for us the journey of his character from meek chemistry teacher to calculating drug dealer. This was a dark, harrowing first season, and I am very eager to find out where they take this character next.

4. Mad Men
As assured and subtle a series as I’ve ever seen. Deadwood and The Sopranos had this same kind of subtlety and slow-moving feel, but each had bursts of violence to give the slowed-down, so-subtle storytelling flashes of oomph. Not so with Mad Men, which cops to very few fireworks and treats even those few it indulges in with cool calculation. Jon Hamm is the find of the last two years with his remarkably nuanced portrayal of a man playing a part. Just a great series.

3. Lost
After a satisfying but somewhat muddled third season, season four was a tight, focused blast that played with the show’s underlying skeleton without discarding it. And in the midst of this quick run of very serialized episodes were some remarkable stand-alones, with The Constant, especially, reaching heights of romantic expression I don’t think we ever expected to get from Lost.

2. Tell-Tale Signs, Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan took the cast offs from four great albums to make an album that should have felt as much a hodgepodge as the No Direction Home soundtrack did (in a good way), but instead felt like another great album. With each new effort in these later years of his career, Dylan cements further his reputation as the rock era’s most important voice, and certainly it’s most lasting one.

That WALL-E won’t get nominated for Best Film, simply because it’s animated, is a travesty. This is one of the great all-time films a gorgeous and gorgeously realized parable about the preciousness of human contact and relationships, of the importance of connecting. For 50 more reasons I loved this film, scroll down.

Until Whenever

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