Welcome to my third annual best-of list. You’re probably thinking, It’s about flippin time! And, it’s true. I’ve been slacking. But here it finally is, my year-end wrap-up in all its glory. You’re free to disagree. That’s what comments are for.
MOVIES: My Top Ten
First disclaimer: I see a lot of movies, but there is no way I can see absolutely everything that comes out in a given year. So, as always, this list is limited and perpetually in flux. Second disclaimer: Movies are art to me. I’m never expecting to be simply entertained, or for a movie to offer some escape from reality. I’m looking to be challenged, to see from someone else’s point of view, to be inspired. Period. I find myself having to defend a lot of movie watching lately. Okay, here’s what I’ve got:
1. Crash was easily the best movie of the year. It’s a look at race and relationships through the lives of Los Angeles residents, who are connected in a most intimate and unexpected tapestry. The ensemble cast is flawless, and so many moments in the film just sting. And keep stinging months later.
2. Brokeback Mountain appears to be the Oscar front-runner for best picture, and it would certainly be worthy. It’s stuningly filmed and acted—and even though it’s set in the 1970s, it’s the most culturally relevant movie of the decade. Whatever you think about homosexuality—and I won’t go anywhere near that discussion here—this film asks tough questions about love and acceptance that are universal.
3. Murderball is my documentary pick this year. I am always amazed by documentarians’ ability to find the most interesting people. Mark Zupan is just a dream protagonist. Through him, you experience not only the world of quadriplegic rugby, but an incredible range of human emotion. I laughed. I cried. I got angry. I love this movie.
4. RENT After three “legitimate” choices, I suppose my placing RENT—which was universally scorn by critics—at number four requires some explanation. Yes, it has fatal flaws. It tackles big issues (AIDS, homelessness, culture/class conflicts, homosexuality), but it’s shallow. It presents Angel as a savior but barely introduces the audience to him. It references the movie Thelma & Louise, which didn’t exist in 1989, the year RENT is set. But man, these characters are so vivid. I can’t get them—or their songs—out of my head. The stage version won a Tony and a Pulitzer, so maybe my praise is misplaced. Perhaps if I’d seen the stage version, I’d be disappointed with the film adaptation. I don’t care. I’m so buying this on DVD.
5. Walk The Line was my introduction to Johnny Cash. I’d known a little about him and a little of his music, but never his story. Man, his story is incredible. And I cannot believe how amazing Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon were in this. I would not be surprised if both take home an Oscar.
6. Munich was very well-rounded. It had an interesting international cast, good cinematography, killer scriptwriting by Tony Kushner, steady and suspenseful pacing, and great cultural significance.
7. Memoirs of a Geisha made up for in cinematography, art direction, and costuming what it lacked in narrative. Just stunning to look at. Oh, and that John Williams score featuring Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman? Hello, fantastic!
8. Shopgirl/Me And You And Everyone We Know are tied. They’re just too similar: Lonely (but complex and interesting) girl meets lonely (but complex and interesting) man, or men, and a very fragile relationship blossoms. And both movies involve department stores. However, Me And You And Everyone We Know might have the edge for one particular scene in which the main characters are walking down a sidewalk talking about the two-block path as a metaphor for a life-long relationship. Just great.
9. Pride & Prejudice is, of course, one of my favorite stories of all time. I was weary of this adaptation falling very short of the 5-hour BBC miniseries I own and love, and I was pleasantly surprised when it offered something very different but perhaps equally fulfilling. Keira Knightley was a perfect Elizabeth Bennett, though my heart still belongs to Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.
10. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory earns its place on this list for mind-blowing creativity. Who would expect less from Tim Burton and Johnny Depp? The film is pure eye candy (the rich colors; a million oompa loompas acted by one man), and the darker feel was closer to that of the original novel. There you have it. My top ten.
Honorable mentions go to: The Family Stone, Hitch, In Her Shoes, Mad Hot Ballroom, Millions, North Country, Proof, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Now I need to finish watching the rest of the Oscar hopefuls. The Squid and the Whale or Capote, anyone?
MUSIC: Some welcome returns
A year in which both Imogen Heap and Fiona Apple release new work is downright impossible to beat. These two women, along with Beth Hart, have been my ultimate favorite female singer-songwriters for a couple years now. The wait for Fiona’s third album, Extraordinary Machine, was nearly unbearable, with the rumor mill in full swing. Was Sony shelving the disk? Was Jon Brion out of the picture? Did internet leaks ruin its chance of release? Turns out Fiona herself was responsible for the delay. But, she’s Fiona. So we forgive her. The orchestration on the title track is brilliant, and “Parting Gift” is a classic angsty melody reminiscent of her late-90s heyday. Imogen Heap’s second solo disk (after spending some time as one half of Frou Frou) comes seven years after her dark, piano-heavy debut. On Speak for Yourself she retains her Frou Frou electronica experimentations, and it’s rather nice. Playing “Hide and Seek” on The O.C. may have earned her new fans, but “The Moment I Said It” is worth every penny I paid for the UK import. It has since released in the US, but I hear the disc carries some really obnoxious anti-theft software that is making it impossible to play on some computer systems. The rest of my 2006 music picks pale in comparison to the previous two, but I also enjoyed Stereo by 4th Avenue Jones, Jagged Little Pill (unplugged) by Alanis Morissette, Something New by Amber Rubarth, Wreck of the Day by Anna Nalick, Songs For Silverman by Ben Folds, X&Y by Coldplay, In Between Dreams by Jack Johnson, and Nothing Is Sound by Switchfoot. It’s also appropriate to give props to some singles I really liked this year. I’m naming the single and not the album because I either dislike the rest of the album or I’ve never heard it. I’m all about purchasing single songs on iTunes. Probably my favorite was the theme song for the movie (make that the supremely awful movie) Fantastic Four, “Everything Burns” by Ben Moody and Anastacia. I’ve missed Ben since he departed Evanescence. And Anastacia, well, the woman can sing. Another great theme song, “Cozy in the Rocket” by Psapp from Grey’s Anatomy. Nice trip-hop vibe. Okay, one more “theme” song worth mentioning: “Hello Tomorrow” by Karen O. and Squeak E. Clean, from the Adidas commericials. What a funky little track. In the hip-hop/dance realm, I really enjoyed “Lose Control” by Missy Elliot, “Don’t Phunk With My Heart” by Black Eyed Peas, and “Hung Up” by Madonna. And aren’t you glad Daniel Bedingfield has a younger sister? Natasha Bedingfield made a strong debut on pop scene with “These Words.”
TELEVISION: Paging Dr. McDreamy
Um, yeah, can there be a better show than Grey’s Anatomy? I have never been more entertained watching an hour of television. It’s ER with an edge—and a razor-sharp wit. Sandra Oh’s performance is worth watching alone. And Patrick Dempsy? Forget Can’t Buy Me Love; he’s sexier than ever. If you aren’t watching it, you’d better start this Sunday on ABC. Let’s see, what else? Probably the only other new show I enjoyed this year was So You Think You Can Dance. Because both of my sisters were/are competitive dancers, I’ve lived in the dance world for most of my life. The contestants on this Americal Idol-inspired reality show were people my sisters have competed against throughout the years. So, it was really fun to see them all grown-up and on television. And the show did a wonderful job with choreography, costuming, and judging. I hope it will return for a new season next summer. One last thing to say about television: CBS, I hate you for canceling Joan of Arcadia.
BOOKS: Really, I can read
This category is lacking every year. It’s because I just can’t bring myself to buy a book in hardcover. By the time I get around to reading a book, it’s 2 to 3 years old. However, there were two exceptions this year. JK Rowling’s sixth installment of Harry Potter was the best yet. It’s dark and emotional and it leaves you with many more questions than could possibly be wrapped up in just one more book! And for the record, I believe Snape is actually good. I received Everybody Into The Pool by Beth Lisick for my birthday. It’s a collection of autobiographical essays about coming of age in San Francisco and Berkeley, and they are laugh-out-loud funny. You look at the author’s photo on the book jacket, and you can’t believe she went through this stuff. She looks so innocent…
NEWSMAKERS: The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Man, this is long. I’m really getting tired, people! I’ll wrap it up. Hurricane Katrina was just tragic. It certainly overshadows any other news story this year. I was reading the other day that there are still some 3000 people still unaccounted for. Can you believe that? I hope New Orleans—and the rest of America—will heal.
The only other thing I have to say about 2005 is: who the heck is Mao Asada, and where did she come from?