Hey there! Welcome to 2010, everyone. Man, what a ride 2009 turned out to be. While it's certainly true that a majority of my time during the year was spent honing my diaper-changing skills and not basking in the glow of a movie theater screen, or sticking my nose in the pages of a good book, I did manage a little bit of time to be entertained. Here's a list of a few movies, television shows, and books that I dug in 2009:
STAR TREK: I would like to preface this by saying that in the grand Wars/Trek debate, I will always side with Star Wars. It doesn't matter to me that George Lucas went and Jar Jar-ed the new trilogy, the original three will forever be awesome. That said, I frakkin' loved J.J. Abrams' take on the world of Captain Kirk and the ragtag crew of the Enterprise. It was just the summer blockbuster I was looking for (and the only one I was able to see in the theater...G.I. Joe doesn't count). It had everything - action, lens flares, a Beastie Boys song. Star Trek was pure excitement, and I loved every minute of it.
UP: Pixar, you've done it again. They are the only film studio pushing the boundaries of storytelling, continually creating films with the unlikeliest of protagonists. A rat, a robot, an elderly curmudgeon. I don't really cry while watching movies. The last time I flat-out bawled was when Fievel couldn't find his family in An American Tail. With Up, I had a giant lump in my throat in the first ten minutes. It's beautiful, original, and heartbreaking. Plus, there's a talking dog named Dug. Well played, Pixar.
MAN ON WIRE: One of the best heist films I've seen in a long time. "What?" you're saying, "Isn't that the documentary about the French dude that walked on a high wire between the World Trade Center buildings?" You're right. But the hour of the film dedicated to the conceiving, planning, and orchestrating of the actual event is nothing short of amazing. The film never touches on the tragic loss of the Twin Towers, but instead marvels at the beauty of their creation, and the awe-inspiring destiny of one man.
DRAG ME TO HELL: Sam Raimi's movies used to be gritty, ballsy exercises in filmmaking. They were low budget genre flicks heavy on style. Then he went and got all famous. I suppose directing Spider-man films will do that for your career. Raimi never lost his style completely, though (the scene in Spider-man 2 of Doctor Octopus waking up to discover his metal creations were adhered to his body is solid proof). With Drag Me To Hell, Raimi returns to his roots with a fun, disgusting horror film. The car scene alone is worth the price of admission. Sure, Hell is a lot slicker than Raimi's early work, and the effects are over-used, but come on! A possessed goat and a flooded cemetery? Glorious.
DISTRICT 9: I thought I had a clue what this flick was about going in: a metaphor for racial oppression, with insect-like aliens in a militarized zone known as District 9. But that is just the foundation for the Kafka-esque story of a government employee who must evict and transport millions of aliens from their slumlike existence in Johannsesburg (where their ship mysteriously appeared twenty years prior). It's gritty, gory science-fiction shot in a cinema-verite style. Wholly unique and engaging to watch.
ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL: Most of the time, underdog stories are uplifting films about someone reaching their potential. Anvil, an 80s hair band that rocked the stage alongside Metallica, Scorpion, and Bon Jovi (huh?), have been trying to make a name for themselves for over 20 years. This documentary isn't so much about their triumph as it is about their perseverance in an industry that is constantly evolving. Watching them struggle to sell a style of music that's been outdated for over a decade is frustrating. But in the end, Anvil taught me a very valuable lesson: "Lips will show us the way." Oh, Lips is the guitarist. He's pretty awesome.
TV was more my speed in 2009. With the little man spending much of the day looking adorable, finding two (sometimes over two) hours to watch a movie was difficult. And trips to the theater? Forget about it. Plus, I'll admit it, television is kind of a hobby of mine. Here's what burned through our TiVo this past year.
LOST: Seriously, there was no way I was going to start a list of top TV shows and not mention Lost first. For four seasons, the show relentlessly teased viewers with visual clues and karmic coincidences. But in season five, they finally let their freak flag fly. Every episode toppled into the next, leading to a mind-altering, time-traveling season of surprises (and one ginormous bomb named 'Jughead'). Lost's final season starts in just a couple of weeks, and I'm already missing it. Sigh...
MAD MEN: On the surface, Mad Men seems like a show where little happens. Often, the episode description is something as blase as 'Don gets a new secretary.' But don't be fooled. Men smolders like a cigarette in Don Draper's ashtray. The language, the style, and the attention to detail are all impeccable. Season 3 was dark, brooding, and in my humble opinion, the strongest yet.
GLEE: I didn't have time for another new show. I told myself "I'm sure it's good, but I can't get invested in any more television." Yeah, that worked well. And honestly, as a full-fledged high school drama nerd (yes, that includes musical theater and no, I will not sing anything for you), it's pure 'Nerdvana.' Between Jane Lynch's brash wit and Lea Michele's powerful singing chops, this show is bringing it. Glee, you had me at 'Don't Stop Believin'.
COMMUNITY: Another new show, but NBC wedged it perfectly into my Thursday night line-up. The cast is lead by the deprecating Joel McHale (if it wasn't for McHale's other show, The Soup, I'd have no clue how much terrible television is actually out there. I'm looking at you, Wendy Williams and Steven Seagal: Lawman) and includes the refreshing Chevy Chase, whose comedic timing is back where it belongs. The entire cast of fairly unknown actors (Alison Brie makes the list twice, as prudish Annie on this show, and as prudish housewife Trudie on Mad Men) is strong, and the simple premise lends itself to a slew of ideas. I hope Community sticks around for a while, if only for the chance to see Chevy Chase in a Beastmaster costume again.
SUPERNATURAL: As my friends can attest, I'm a glutton for shows on The CW. Well, I used to be. But the premise of the show is basically 'The Hardy Boys meets The X-Files,' so come on, it's almost mandatory for me to watch. What started as a 'freak of the week' premise has evolved into a show teeming with angels, demons, and nothing short of the Apocalypse. It's clever writing (a pulpy author of Supernatural novels turns out to be a prophet of the Lord), its ability to fluctuate between tongue-in-cheek episodes to those of, quite literally, Biblical proportions, and its revolving menagerie of ghouls and creeps make this show a wild ride in a souped-up black Impala.
CHUCK: It's fun, nerd spy formula and hilarious writing make it a treat to watch every week. Also, 2009 saw the comeback of not only Chevy Chase (who made a villainous turn on Chuck), it also introduced Chuck's father, the one and only Scott frakkin' Bakula.
HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: It'd be easy for me to say I watch it for Willow, for Nick Andopolis, or for Doogie. But really, HIMYM is a clever love story that's as much about the journey as it is about the desitnation. The show's ability to tinker with the viewer's expectations makes for some pretty solid writing. Oh, and Doogie's in it.
2009 was the year of the library. Thanks to that little ol' place filled with free books, I was able to introduce myself to some authors I had not read before. Good thing, too, cuz they were all pretty solid.
HOGDOGGIN' by Anthony Neil Smith: Great noir rumbles along like a freight train, its characters and events leading to a single, inescapable fate. To follow them on that journey is to marvel at their tragedy. Hogdoggin', a sequel of sorts to Smith's Yellow Medicine, is like a gritty game of chess. You don't know where the pieces will end up, but you know it ain't gonna be pretty.
Side Note: I had the opportunity to meet Neil, a swell fella, around Jen's due date. Neil made me promise that if she had the baby that day, I'd name the boy 'Hogdog.' Thankfully for us (and more so for Alex), she waited another day and a half to go into labor.
HEAVEN'S KEEP by William Kent Krueger: The latest installment in Krueger's Cork O'Connor series starts with a plane carrying Cork's wife Jo disappearing into the harsh Wyoming Rockies, sending Cork and his son on a mission in an unknown land. I won't go into too many details, by suffice it to say, Keep is Krueger at his heartbreaking best, a novel unlike any others in the series, a book that fills you with dread and hope at the same time.
THE POET by Michael Connelly: I remember when this came out. In fact, I'm pretty sure I had a copy of it that I never read. Well, in 2009, I finally got around to it, and what the hell was I waiting for!? The story of a Denver reporter (ironic side note, I brought this book along and read it on a trip to Denver without knowing its Rocky Mountain setting) crackles along, and even when I thought I'd figured out the twist (there's always a twist), Mr. Connelly was still two steps ahead of me. I love when I discover a new author who has about twenty or so other books published. It's like panning that first piece of gold.
THE CLEANUP by Sean Doolittle: Just another typical love story: Boy meets girl. Girl accidentally kills abusive boyfriend. Boy helps girl hide the body. Doolittle's novel about a regular guy getting in over his head rips along at a brisk pace, reminding me of classic Hitchcock flicks like North by Northwest and The Man Who Knew Too Much. I'm looking forward to seeing what other tricks Mr. Doolittle has up his sleeve.
UNDER THE DOME by Stephen King: Okay, this isn't totally fair. I haven't actually finished Dome yet, but it's on the list because, by all accounts, if I'd been reading any other book, I would have been done by now. But Dome clocks in at 1027 pages, a monstrous book that's as ambitious as The Stand. Overflowing with characters, Dome is more than just a book about a town with a glass dome surrounding it; it's about the characters that inhabit the town, and how they react to their situation. I was fortunate enough to see King this past November at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. He spoke with author Audrey Niffenegger, a ho-hum Debbie Downer. King was marvelous, though, and if he'd been alone, I think the conversation would have been juicier. Still...pretty frakkin' cool.
Like I mentioned earlier, I was able to try a few new authors this past year. Here are a few others I enjoyed:
STALKING SUSAN by Julie Kramer: A fun mystery with a female Minneapolis television reporter as its protagonist. A well-written story filled with interesting characters.
THE FURY by Jason Pinter: The fourth in Pinter's Henry Parker series, this easy to access series follows a young newspaper reporter who always seems to get in over his head.
WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead: A young adult novel about time travel, coming of age, and the $25,000 Pyramid. Yep, you read that right. Elegantly-written and heartbreaking.
Well, that about does it (until I think of something I should of put on this list, slap my forehead in frustration, and then edit the post). I wish you all happy viewing and happy reading in 2010!
Until next time,