Five faves for '05

Let’s get a head start on all the end of the year retrospective lists. What five artistic experiences were tops for you in '05? By “artistic experiences,” I’m trying to cast the net as widely as possilble – I’m guessing a lot of people are going to be listing books and movies, but CDs and TV shows are eligible, as are live performances, art exhibits, magazine articles, etc. – anything you partook of this year that made you giddy with delight.

Let’s not get too anal about this – '05 copyrights aren’t required, so if it’s a movie that came out in December of 2004 but you didn’t see it till January – or, hell, if it’s a book that was written in 1804 or 1904, but you didn’t read it till this year – go ahead and list it.

Here’s my five, in no particular order:

Best live musical performance: blues-rock guitarist Billy Hector, back last summer. A friend of mine has been a fan of his for years, and he finally took me along, to a show in a local bar in south Jersey. God bless America, the guy can play. If you have a chance to check him out, definitely do so.

Best book: I’ve touted this in several reading threads, but I loved The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa. It tells the story of Gauguin and his socialist rabble-rousing grandmother in alternating chapters. Fascinating and really well done – it got me looking long and hard at Gauguin’s work, which I’ve never been particularly enamored of.

Movies – I saw a whole lot of really excellent movies this year (just off the top of my head: House of Flying Daggers, Million Dollar Baby, Constant Gardener, Grizzly Man, Pride and Prejudice, Brokeback Mountain, etc. etc. etc.), so I’m going to pick two movies for my list:

Best movie of serious quality: Capote. I’m not sure why this won a spot on my list – excellent acting, serious examination of the role of the artist, etc. – it just had a resonance that other movies I saw didn’t.

Best movie that was just plain fun: Bride and Prejudice. Sue me. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Best TV show – okay, if you had any respect for me left after the Bride and Prejudice confession, you’ll lose it now: Dancin’ with the Stars. Cheesy fun that didn’t pretend to be about anything but cheesy fun. As I said a moment ago – Sue me. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Perfect summer entertainment.

So – what’s on your Top Five list for '05?

Best overall arts/entertainment/escapist experience: discovering the Whedonverse. Yes folks, 2005 was the year I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time, and got hooked on the weird, wonderful mythos Joss Whedon created. I watched all seven seasons of Buffy (and bought myself the complete series DVD box set), all five seasons of Angel, the only season of Firefly, and saw Serenity twice in the theater. Buffy and Angel are my favorite TV shows of all time, I am extremely fond of all the actors and writers from all three shows, and I can unabashedly say that Joss Whedon Owns My Soul.

Yes, I had a lot of free time this year due to many professional and personal ups and downs. Watching good TV helped me through a lot of rough times, and was a lot cheaper than getting into drugs.

Best concert(s): a tie between Social Distortion at a mid-sized venue (the House of Blues) and Jonathan Richman at a small club (the Social in downtown Orlando). I wasn’t even familiar with Richman until I saw him live, but now I’m a big fan. Both great shows.

Best movie: Sin City, far and away. Even if I hadn’t loved Frank Miller’s gritty graphic novels, this movie would have instantly won me over. As a fan of Miller (and Rodriguez, and Tarantino), I watched the whole bloody thing with a huge smile on my face, ecstatic to see such a labor of love, such a flawless adaptation from the printed page to the screen. That said, I also loved Batman Begins, Walk the Line, Serenity, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Kung Fu Hustle, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and a handful of other good films.

Best bands: 2005 introduced me to the Decemberists, the Be-Good Tanyas, the Detroit Cobras, and the aforementioned Jonathan Richman. All tops. For old favorites, I delved deeper into the back catalogs of Tom Waits, Belle and Sebastian, Johnny Cash, the Shins, Neko Case, the New Pornographers, the Raveonettes, and Magnetic Fields.

Best new comics read: my most pleasant surprise was the Palomar hardcover, the complete collection of Gilbert Hernandez’s “Heartbreak Soup” stories from Love and Rockets. It’s a $40 book I found on sale for $4, and picked up as an impulse buy. Really beautiful stuff. I also discovered Dan Slott’s hilarious She-Hulk series this year, belatedly read John Ostrander’s outstanding and ahead-of-its-time Suicide Squad series from the late '80s, and enjoyed the tragic and heroic death of my lifelong favorite superhero, Blue Beetle, in the one-shot Countdown To Infinite Crisis.

These are what I’ve seen this year; I usually don’t see films in theaters, so some of these are a few years old.

Best book I read this year: *The Carpet Makers * by Andreas Eschbach. Science fiction doesn’t get any better. Breathtaking and superb from start to finish.

Best Movie: Crash. One of the best in years, a series of intertwined stories centered on race and prejudice, filled with both rage and triumph.

Best TV Series: Arrested Development

Best Documentary Film: While March of the Penguins had its charms, it was surpassed by The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, mostly because of the delightful surprise at the end. The parrots all have their own distinctive personalities, and you really become involved in their lives, most especially Connor.

Best ConcertMoody Blues, Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

I loved this movie too.

Best live concert: The Derek Trucks Band. I try not to rave too much about these guys on the boards because I’ve written about them, but nobody out there moves me like this band does. I saw them at Town Hall in New York City on November 12, and it may be the best concert I’ve ever seen. I saw them again two weeks later and experienced what might be the best single guitar solo I’ve ever heard. I almost feel guilty for expecting this band to be as good as it is - and they keep improving.

Best DVD purchase: Aeon Flux boxed set. The movie, I’m told, sucked, but I’m glad I spent the money on this set containing all the Liquid Television shorts and the ten full-length episodes, which are deep, weird and wonderful.

Best theatrical experience: The Tempest. Twice this month, I saw my best friend produce and appear as Ariel in this show, my personal favorite. Good artistically, sure, but also very fulfilling on a personal level.

Best comedy: The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I didn’t think they made them this funny anymore. A hilarious, fall down and hurt yourself laughing movie with some heart, a believable-ish story and a good lead character. It was so good I even liked Paul Rudd in it.

Best drama: Hotel Rwanda. I saw this movie in January, when I was finally semi-employed again and did my best to live at the Cineplex. One of the most moving, horrifying things I’ve seen in a long time. Don Cheadle should have won the Oscar for Best Actor, and I say that as someone who liked Ray a lot.

I’ll have to think about the rest of the five, but I know the concert highlight was Eric Johnson sitting in with Steve Miller (and Kenny Wayne Shepherd), especially the 20-30 minute rendition of “Fly Like An Eagle”. I never knew a song like that could be played like THAT!! We’ve all heard this song about a billion times, but not like this. Never like this.

Which concert is that? Is it out on DVD?

Best movie of the year: Serenity
Best album of the year: Picaresque by The Decemberists
Best TV show of the year: Rome, unless Deadwood counts.

While we’re here, Sam, I should probably mention you for ‘Best Recommendation.’ You’re always talking up the White Stripes and I’ve always been reluctant to get into them, but I got White Blood Cells about a month ago and I really liked it. I’ll get some of their other stuff when I have time.

That’s great. Glad you liked it. Try De Stijl and Elephant next. Those three are the White Stripes’ best discs, IMO.

Those two were next on the list. (I’ve got a few other things to listen to first, and I’m still bleeding money from holiday shopping.) Took me long enough, didn’t it?

Nah, it was live in OKC this summer. I’d love to see it again on DVD, though, I’d even settle for audio only. Where’s “Instant Live” when you need 'em?

(Err… were you talkin to me or Marley?)
And Marley, I’ve seen Derek Trucks Band a couple of times (but not this year) and I know what you mean. He’s already as good a musician as anyone I’ve ever heard, and he’s only 22. (or so)

Like Big Bad Voodoo Lou, this was the year of Whedon for me. I’ve been a card-carrying Browncoat since late 2004, when I was first introduced to Firefly via the DVDs, but never bothered to check out Buffy or Angel until this summer… when I tore through the full runs of both series in less than four months. That is damn good television!

Therefore, it’ll come as no surprise that my Best DVD Set of the year is the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Chosen Collection. All seven seasons of the show for $120, in a market where an individual season normally costs $30-$100? I’ll take it!

Best TV Series: Veronica Mars, no contest. The brains, wit, and heart of Buffy wrapped in a meticulously-drawn, perfectly paced high school film noir setting.

Best Movie: Serenity, which would’ve probably been my favorite even were this not the Year of Whedon. Combines the funniest dialogue I’ve heard since, well, Firefly, with fantastic sci-fi action that boasted more thrills and better direction than anything George Lucas had to offer, believably three-dimensional characters, and wow I’m gushing. But Serenity really did wipe the floor with my already unreasonably-high expectations.

Best Album: Three-way tie between Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-titled debut, The New Pornographers’ Twin Cinema, and Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods.

I’m going to have to check these guys out. I know you’ve mentioned them before, but I always have a “they can’t possibly be that good” reaction. (Plus my taste in music is estremely quirky.)

Onto the wishlist they go – for after I’ve recovered from this week’s $700 car bill.

Best live performances - Coachella Festival: Coldplay, Weezer, Bauhaus, Wilco and a slew of other people I have already forgotten

Best CD - Guero by Beck :cool:

Best book - The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion

Best fun movie - Sin City

Best serious movie - Crash

Favorite Movie: Millions by Danny Boyle. This is an easy choice. I’ve seen just about everything and King Kong or Capote is a close second but nothing compares to the emotions that this one pulled out of me. It’s a creative way of telling the story of how two kids deal with the death of their mother.

Favorite Song: James Blunt’s Your Beautiful. This song makes me think of a particular girl I love but isn’t able to love me back.

Favorite DVD purchased: I bought a special edition of “To Kill a Mockingbird” which has a series of old posters along with an interview with Gregory Peck (and, obviouisly, the movie itself).

Favorite Book: Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt.

Favorite TV Series: Scrubs

Favorite mainstream book: The English Passengers by Matthew Kneale, recommended by Twickster. :wink:

Favorite fantasy book: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson, who is also my new favorite fantasy author, supplanting George R. R. Martin

Favorite TV comedy: My Name Is Earl – although around here, it’s considered a documentary

Favorite TV drama: Deadwood

Favorite movie: Serenity

Sorry, I’m going past five:

Favorite TV network: Turner Classic Movies – it’s a national treasure

Man, I did not keep up this year. For me, the best TV was watching 10 weeks worth of** NYPD Blue** a week. Two hours every morning, knitting and coffeeing in prep for the rest of the day. Second best TV show ever. Finally saw the final season. Man oh man.

Best movie experience was parbly the Val Lewton retrospective on TCM. Finally got to see the withheld Ghost Ship, the rare Bedlam, and added those and Cat People, Curse of the Cat People, The Seventh Victim, The Body Snatcher, The Leopard Man, and ***I Walked With a Zombie ***to my personal dvd collection. The man had a quirky thing for B-movie-type titles; I can’t think of another bunch of movies with such a discrepancy between the lameness evoked by the titles and the breathtaking greatness of the films themselves. Val Lewton produced some of the greatest masterpieces of atmosphere and story ever to come out of Hollywood.

Music, hadda be Kate Bush’s resurrection. Too old and lazy and broke to have gone out much this year, but Spiritualized at the Showbox a couple years ago is still ringing in my ears, so I’ll use that for this slot.

Book, again, not keeping up. Had to be getting my reading group to read Hunger, by Knut Hamsun. What an incredible masterpiece for the ages. That and rereading Halldor Laxness’s *Independent People *with the group. Arguably a greater book–at least in my personal universe–but *Hunger *engendered a better discussion among the group. We reluctantly moved onto the next title only after several weeks of continuing to bounce new ideas (and very old ideas) off of Hunger. Has to be one of the single most influential works of the last couple centuries.

He’s actually 26 these days. :wink:

Yeah, that’s a better reason than the one I gave; my praise of them gets so effusive, I figure people can’t take it seriously. But they’re not an expensive ticket, and I don’t know how anybody can see them and not, at a bare minimum, have a really good time.

If I were to buy an album – yeah, I’m showing my fogeyhood by the very concept, I know – which one should I start with?

Not at all - the problem is that with the turnover and evolution they’ve had, there isn’t really a representative studio album. (The new one will fit that bill when it comes on on February 7.) Until then, go with Live at Georgia Theatre. It’s a live double album, and it’s going for mighty cheap these days. The performance is two years old, but that’s the only one with their current singer, and it’s the closest to what they’re doing right now. You might also like Soul Serenade, which is very cool. It’s their jazz album, all of one piece and one mood. No vocals except a guest appearance from Gregg Allman.