Thursday, January 7, 2010

My 20 Favorite Things of the Decade



Instead of doing a traditional countdown of the best films of the decade (for that you can see the Question of the Day feature that was posted in the last week or so) I thought I would change it up and just list some of the things that made me extremely happy the past 10 years. I think people may be a bit "listed" out right now, and I like doing something more personal than just listing movies I loved…which is an exercise I take pleasure in, but for that just look at my top 10 lists for the past 10 years (check the labels on the left side of the blog). So here are my 20 favorite things (movies, sports moments, music, books, etc.) of the past 10 years…





20) The Return of Horror 

Neil Marshall's The Descent was a return to horror movies with a brain. Sure, the film was visceral and relied on some good old fashioned monsters and jump scares, but the first half of the film is a Don't Look Now type of cerebral horror film where we feel the dread and uncertainty that the main protagonist feels. It's rare for a horror film to get me this excited, but Marshall's film was the first since Craven's New Nightmare to evoke what makes the horror genre my favorite. There were other great examples of the genre this decade: The Devil's Backbone, Bug, The Orphanage, and this years fantastically goofy and fun and altogether brilliant Drag Me to Hell. For all of the drek and bile that the genre produced this decade (Hostel, Saw, multiple remakes of classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and Black Christmas) it's amazing that the horror film came out relatively unscathed and intact (unlike the post-slasher era in the 90's). I guess the genre is need of another jumpstart, but I am just glad that even some of the mediocre horror films like The Strangers are showing promise. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the next ten years as the economy can assure us of two things: that there will be sequels and remakes because they guarantee money (I'm actually kind of curious about the re-launch of A Nightmare on Elm Street), and that there will be some innovative horror films because they can be made on the cheap and studios like taking chances on them because they reward is usually quite high when you gamble on a horror film (Paranormal Activity).





19) "The Simpson's" DVD Commentary

One of the great things about DVD's is that they provide filmmakers or the creators of a television show to comment on their work. Often this leads to insightful commentaries where the filmmakers will point something out that you never noticed before. Ah, but this is "The Simpson's" and their DVD commentaries are an irreverent delight. A lot of the commentaries consist of creator Matt Groening; directors extraordinaire David Silverman, Mark Kirkland, Brad Bird, and Jim Reardon; show-runners Al Jean, Mike Reiss, David Mirkin, and Mike Scully; and special guests like Dan Castellaneta (Homer), Julie Kavner (Marge), Nancy Cartwright (Bart), and Yeardley Smith (Lisa), Hank Azaria (various voices); and special guest stars like Jon Livitz, John Waters, Jeff Goldblum, Conan O' Brien, and more. Whew. These commentaries are hilarious, insightful, and on Seasons 3 – 6 (the Al Jean/Mike Reiss and David Mirkin years) just a joy to watch. Why? Because the makers are usually re-watching the show for the first time since they created it, and a lot of the episode is them just reliving fond memories or watching the episode and laughing at their own work. When you've seen all the classic episodes and know all the beats, it's actually a lot of fun to watch the commentaries. And for nerds like me we can never get enough inside information about the show. Some of the best commentaries (because of how they make fun of people like me for listening to the commentaries) are the Mike Scully ones. Scully is often accused (wrongly I might add) of ruining the show for turning it into a (gasp) cartoon. The truth is his seasons (parts of 8, 9-12, and parts of 13) are some of the series most underrated. Some of the more boring commentaries are by beloved show-runners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein (Seasons 6-7 and parts of 8). I actually tend to think those seasons are some of the more overrated ones. For "Simpson's" nerds such as me these DVD commentaries are a cornucopia of useless knowledge and I'll continually plop down 30 bucks to buy these DVD sets for the commentaries alone. Check out the commentary tracks on the two most controversial episodes amongst the staff: "The Principal and the Pauper" and "A Star is Burns"…great stuff.




18) "King" Felix Hernandez

The pitching phenom for the Seattle Mariners is a must-see attraction every time he takes the mound. Even when the M's were unbearable to watch the last couple of years, every 5 days there was a reason to have hope as an M's fan. He's a superstar. And with him and Ichiro (the most exciting player in baseball) on the same team and playing at a high level, there's always a reason to watch…even during the Bavasi years (shudder). All hail the king.




17) The Blood Brothers  

The Seattle post-everything group was something to behold in the 00's. Every album was different and every album pushed what we hardcore fans understood the genre to be. Their brilliant Burn Piano Island, Burn was the jumping off point for what would be a career that didn't overstay its welcome. As the band grew (Crimes was fantastically accomplished album when held up against Burn Piano Island, Burn) so did their listeners (in both age and tastes), and they understood that. Calling it quits in 2007 the band left us with their most brilliant album Young Machetes. If you were ever curious what the Beach Boys may have sounded like were they hardcore band living in Seattle then you may want to check out the standout track "Huge Gold AK-47". I would also recommend you check out "Trash Flavored Trash", "Love Rhymes with a Hideous Car Wreck", and the brilliant "Giant Swan". One of the great bands to come out of the new-Seattle movement that lasted from about 1998-2007.




15) The West Wing  

Aaron Sorkin's groundbreaking drama was something to behold for its first four seasons…then the wheels fell off for Sorkin (both in his relationships with the studio and his life). What started out as a show with writing comparable to Mamet turned into an "E.R. in Washington" type show in its fifth and sixth season (John Welles, Mr. E.R. himself, took over producing duties) as characters began bickering about idiotic clich├ęs instead of seriously and intelligently discussing the issues. Oh, and there were also lots of interoffice relationships under Welles. Those two seasons aside, the show really picked back up at the end with the additions of Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits as opposing candidates looking to become the next president. The show is one of those classical dramas were each viewer identifies with a different character. Martin Sheen was just about perfect for Sorkin's idealized version of the president, Jed Bartlet (he did the same thing in his film The American President with Michael Douglas) and Bradley Whitford was even better as the snarky, better-than-everyone-else Asst. Chief of Staff. The late John Spencer was warm and endearing as Leo, the Chief of Staff and resident father figure, and more often than any other actor on the show Allison Janney stole scene after scene as the Press Secretary. However, my favorite character was far and away Toby, the incredibly intelligent and often dour speech writer played to perfection by Richard Schiff. I think Sorkin must have loved this characters the most, too, because he often gave Toby the biggest ethical dilemmas to dissect. Just a great character on what was easily the best network show of the decade.



14) Jeanette Winterson Novels

One of my favorite authors had a pretty great decade. Still trying to match the brilliant of her highly influential postmodern love story The Passion, Winterson went back to the well with The Powerbook…an amazing novel about the digital community and its links to storytelling and all the positives and negatives that come with it. Winterson also had interesting forays into children literature and science fiction (2007's The Stone Gods, a stunningly good novel for the its first half), and in between was another attempt at historical/mythological love story in the entertaining but heavily flawed Lighthousekeeping. Still, The Powerbook is one of the must-read novels of the 00's, and even when Winterson fails she's still more interesting than a good portion of people publishing books.




13) The Seattle Mariners Tie All Time Wins Mark with 116

I remember at the time thinking that surely this Ichiro player couldn't make that big of a difference…that, and seemingly having the stars aligned, made for what is the greatest season ever for Mariner fans. Sadly, no one really talks about it outside of the Northwest because the M's did their typical postseason nosedive (DAVID FREAKING JUSTICE!).




12) RiffTrax

I love the snark, and it elated me to no end to know that the guys that did "MST3K" decided to continue doing delivering their snide comments while watching movies. Sure Mike Nelson's show created a generation of nerdy, smart-ass moviegoers…but for those of us who love the whole so-bad-it's-good angle it was a match made in heaven. Other "MST3K" members (the original cast that is) released more traditional "MST3K" fare with "Cinematic Titanic" where they riff on older B-movies instead of the modern releases that Mike and co. riff on with "RiffTrax". I could also throw in "Cheap Seats" here as the Sklar Brothers are indebted to Mike Nelson and company. Their show used the same method of making snarky comments, but this time watching obscure sporting events that ESPN used to air. Put altogether and it was great to have a decade where I didn't have to worry about not having "MST3K"-like shows around. The best "RiffTrax" would have to be The Wicker Man.




11) At Least One Film by Terrence Malick

That film would be The New World, and boy is it a good one. This just made me glad I didn't have to wait 20 years like fans had to for The Thin Red Line.




10) David Milch

"Deadwood" may be the show of the decade (sorry "The Soprano's"), but everyone has talked about that show and highly innovative, entertaining, and richly layered the vulgar and bloody western was. I'd prefer to talk about Milch's follow-up "John from Cincinnati", a show that was just as layered as "Deadwood" but dismissed far too quickly. The show about a deadbeat surfer, his family, his prodigy of a son, and a mysterious figure named John all inhabit a small California surfing community. There's a lot going on here for one season, and even though the odd language and the mystical elements of the show scared off a lot of viewers the show definitely deserves to be re-examined under a less hyped lens (really all people wanted out of Milch was another "Deadwood"…they got it, just not in the way they envisioned). I'll be re-examining the show on the blog in the next month or so. Truly one of the most underrated pieces of entertainment this decade.




9) Rick Bass

Probably the best writer of his kind since Thoreau or Thomas Merton. His deeply contemplative, socially conscious, naturalistic short stories are some of the best writing I've had the privilege of coming across this decade. His short story "The Hermit's Story" is one of the best I've read, rivaling Faulkner's "The Bear" as one of the deepest short stories about man and their relationship to nature, and how that relationship can tell us a lot about each other and ourselves that we weren't aware of. Go read it now…he's an amazing talent with the voice and sense of urgency of an activist without being too pushy or showy about it.





8) Michael Mann

No other filmmaker (except for Tarantino, but more on him later) gave me more to love about the movies this decade. From the underrated Ali to the even more underrated (and freaking fantastic) Miami Vice; Mann has tweaked and evolved his aesthetic, cementing his status as the king of digital filmmaking. His 2009 gangster film Public Enemies is one of the perfect films of his oeuvre, and a clear reason why he remains, along with Terrence Malick, the visual poet of American cinema. Probably my favorite Mann moment this decade is the "coyote scene" from Collateral. There's a lot going on in that one, dialogue-less moment, and it elevates a rather ordinary moment between a hitman and the reluctant accomplice into an artistic stratosphere not normally associated with action movies.




7) Portugal. The Man

This Alaskan rock band created one of the great post-hardcore albums of the decade…and that was on their first try. As they evolved their sound they started becoming a weird postmodern jazz/funk/blues/whatever band that was willing to play outside of their comfort zone and create memorable rock music. Their sophomore album Church Mouth is a hooky album that is unrelenting without being overbearing…it's 15 tracks of awesomeness. However, their 2007 effort Censored Colors, is one of the special albums that you feel fortunate to come across. It's a smooth, intertwined album where each song bleeds into the next. It's not a concept album, that would almost be too easy for this band, but an album by a band that understands how to evoke a specific mood by meshing all of their sounds together. This isn't a band that's worried about compiling an album full of singles; they want you to listen to the entire album because that's the only way you can truly appreciate how each song makes the other work. By the end you're completely unaware of the fact that the final five songs just passed you by. It places you in a state of reverie that few albums can, and it's probably one of my five favorite of the decade. Their follow-up The Satanic Satanist, just a year later (this band puts out an enormous amount of material, which makes it even more amazing that they continue to impress with their albums), feels more like a B-sides to Censored Colors, but it's impressive no doubt.




6) Ian McEwan

If there's an author who had a better run this decade – Atonement, Saturday, and On Chesil Beach – I'd like for you to point them out. All three, especially Saturday, are brilliant novels. If you haven't read McEwan don't be dissuaded by the accolades and the aesthetes who praise his work; his writing is both easy to understand and richly layered. That's what makes him such an amazing author: his ability to evoke a classical aesthetic while always sprinkling in postmodern elements into his story.




5) Football Coaches and their Rants

Oh boy. I just love post game rants that make coaches looks like out-of-control asses, instead of the composed leaders they are supposed to be. So many to think of here…click on the links to watch some good videos.

"They are who we thought they were…and we let 'em off the hook!" That gem by Denny Green, then coach of the Arizona Cardinals, might be my favorite of the decade.
 
How about Dan Hawkins reminding his players' parents that it's "DIVISION ONE FOOTBALL! IT'S THE BIG 12. THIS AINT INTRAMURALS…go play intramurals brother."

How about the now infamous "I'm a man…I'm 40!" nonsense.

Or how about the University of Michigan women's basketball coach…that one is gold.

Thanks to all the coaches out there for making it a memorable decade for postgame watchers like myself.




4) Gatsby's American Dream

Just scroll up and re-read what I wrote for Portugal. The Man and add a few more genre tweaks to their music style and you have a sense of how I feel about this innovative band from Seattle. They created the decade's most hilarious album – a self-titled effort that lampoons the record industry and all the young, image-before-music bands that make millions while hard working bands get the shaft – rich with literary allusions and insider jargon…it doesn't hurt that it's also the catchiest record of the decade. Another band, like Portugal. The Man, that loved to mess with their rhythms and timing, striving to create something that the listener had never heard before but all the while sounding familiar enough as to not scare uninitiated listeners away. It was a delicate balance, and Gatsby's American Dream walked the tightrope successfully. For the attentive listener you'll be able to hear variations of earlier songs off of Ribbons and Sugar and Volcano, their second and third albums, throughout their self-titled effort. It's an amazing bit of self-reflexive mash-up, and they pull it off with tremendous success. Download the track "We'll Remember it for You Wholesale" off of Gatsby's American Dream. Sadly the band disbanded in 2007, but there's always hope they'll be back. Most of the members have formed the pretty-good Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground.




3) Four Moments from Quentin Tarantino

Like the aforementioned singled out directors on this list, Tarantino never fails to surpass my unsure expectations. After the long hiatus between Jackie Brown and Kill Bill there were a lot of rumors floating around about his next picture, Inglourious Basterds. However, he decided to re-work an idea that Uma Thurman had brought to him, and thus is the very abridged origin of Kill Bill. But I don't want to spend time talking about his great movies of the decade (and all of them were great)…I want to talk about four specific moments that showcase QT's talents.



Two come from Kill Bill and the other two from his 2009 masterpiece Inglourious Basterds. The first two I'm thinking of can both be found in Vol. 2. The Bride has been buried alive and must find a way out of her coffin…flashback to her meeting her mentor. Not only is this a great homage to classic kung-fu movies, but it also fleshes out the characters a little bit more in what has been, up to that point, strictly a revenge action picture. Tarantino slows things down in during this flashback, and we begin to see what made The Bride such a bad ass assassin. This little vignette is so absorbing that we forget we're in flashback until we cut back to Thurman in the coffin and she begins to punch her way out of the box. The image of her climbing through the dirt is one of the best of the film. The second moment is the amazing end to the film. Bill and The Bride's conversation (especially the moment where he talks about superheroes) is one of the best bits of dialogue Tarantino has written. The end is campy fun, but also poignant as Tarantino gives The Bride her happy ending: a bird's eye shot of The Bride curled up on the floor hugging a stuffed animal and weeping with joy. It's one of the only times Tarantino has elicited such poignancy.



The other two moment, from IB, are similar…one is a moment of dialogue like the end of Kill Bill, only here it comes at the beginning of the film – a 24 minute dialogue between two people that rivets the viewer and sucks us into the story – and is aided by the beyond brilliant performance of Christoph Waltz. The other moment is probably the most popular of the film: the tavern scene. No scene this year – or perhaps this decade – has exhilarated me more. It's a scene that makes me smile for its entire manic and taut 30+ minutes. You may think manic is a weird word to describe a scene where a bunch of people play a guessing game in a tavern, but if you've seen the movie then you know why that's an apt word. The scene is as tense as it gets building and building and building some more until you're at your breaking point. After all the build up the pay off is a brilliantly brusque bloodbath (alliteration!). It's the perfect example of Hitchcock's quote: "Always make the audience suffer as much as possible." When you watch the scene and begin to understand the subtext of the game they play, only then does it begin to move beyond the visceral. It's one of those scenes that define an era of film.




2) New York Times Crosswords

After watching the documentary Wordplay I was hooked. I began doing easy crossword books from NYT (Monday and Tuesday puzzles) and just blitzed through them. After about a year of getting acclimated to crosswordese and learning that a Google search here and there isn't necessarily cheating, I decided to up the difficulty a bit. I've just now started doing medium puzzles (Wednesday and Thursday) with some amount of regularity, but even those are getting hard as you have to re-learn a lot of vocab and how they take normal Monday and Tuesday clues and simply make them harder to decode. I absolutely cannot do a Friday or Saturday puzzle. But I love Sunday puzzles. They're actually not the most difficult (that would be Saturday), rather they're a mixture of Wednesday – Friday clues, making solving a Sunday puzzle a fun experience on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I finally began timing myself during the summer and was able to solve a Monday puzzle in under five minutes. My goal is to be able to do a Monday puzzle in less than three minutes. I have a lot of work to do.






1) (Non-Movie Answer) The Oregon Ducks in the Rose Bowl
(Movie-Related Answer) The Year 2007 in Film

What a year it was for my beloved Oregon football team. No one thought they would win the Pac-10 by two games and make their way to the Rose Bowl. The big bowl game didn't quite turn out the way we were hoping (they ran into a highly motivated Ohio St. buzz saw of a defense) but how can any Oregon fan complain about how this season unfolded. It's certainly the most memorable of my life…yes, even more memorable than the 2001 Fiesta Bowl. It may sound weird to remember more fondly a year where your team lost its final bowl game (in 2001 Oregon crushed Colorado to finish the season #2 in the country), but there was just something about this team that made you love them more than any other Oregon team. Almost all of them return next year (they only lose five or six seniors)…so here's to hoping that I'll have another reason to place them atop a list in 2019.

Arguably the best year since a handful of years from the 70's (although 1999 gives 2007 a good run for its money) it was a year that contained some of the most memorable films of the decade: There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Eastern Promises, and Zodiac. It also contained a multitude of quality pictures: Michael Clayton, Breach, The Orphanage, The Lookout, Gone Baby Gone, Bug, Knocked Up, Into Great Silence, Atonement, Juno, Inland Empire, The Simpson's Movie, Talk to Me, The Hoax, Into the Wild, I'm Not There, No End in Sight, Ratatouille, Superbad, 3:10 to Yuma, and The Darjeeling Limited. Whew. That list speaks for itself (am I forgetting anything?)…what a year.

17 comments

  1. Kevin, like you I'm a fan of both Milch (ever since his days on NYPD BLUE) and Mann (since the original MIAMI VICE, and the still unsung CRIME STORY). So it is with great pleasure that I tip you off to the story that Mann is going to direct the pilot for Milch's proposed HBO series, LUCK, about horse racing culture.

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  2. Tony:

    That is great news! Hopefully by the time that airs I'll have HBO, hehe. Thanks for the link.

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  3. Whoa, whoa, whoa, David Simon's about to release a new show, the sequel to Band of Brothers is coming, Martin Scorsese is directing the pilot of a show that sounds like his oeuvre put on TV AND Michael Mann is directing something?

    *Note to self: get job, buy HBO.

    And I love this list. The Simpsons DVD commentaries are an inspired choice. Sometimes they're as funny as the episodes themselves, and I only own the certified classic seasons so that's no mean feat. The Futurama ones are just as good.

    I would see your West Wing and raise you a Joss Whedon. I admit that I completely fell behind on Dollhouse this season, so I can't say whether it finally kicked into high gear just before cancellation (oh don't even get me started), but Angel was and is the best spinoff I've ever seen despite its middling 3rd and 4th seasons and Buffy, for my money, had its best seasons after the the popular 2nd and 3rd, with its 5th and 6th ranking in the top ten of my favorite TV seasons.

    Always nice to see the QT love. I've reached the point now where I can't even remotely think of him as just a reference-happy chucklehead like I used to; not after Basterds.

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  4. Jake:

    Yeah, HBO is looking pretty attractive now. I might have to spring the few extra bucks a month and get it. I'm glad your also a fan of the DVD commentaries for "The Simpson's". You're right, sometimes the commentaries are funnier than the episodes. I haven't listened to the "Futurama" commentaries. I need to buy those DVD's.

    I never got into Whedon's stuff. I came to "West Wing" through DVD, after it was off the air, and usually that's how I like to watch TV shows. I'm not much of a watch-while-it's-on-the-air type of television fan...I tried doing it with season three of "Deadwood" and I nearly killed myself, hehe. It's too hard for someone like me to wait week to week to watch something.

    And yes, QT has really matured as a filmmaker. His films, amazingly enough, are becoming more enriching film-going experiences despite the fact that the genre's he's riffing on are very specific. I never thought I would find something universal amongst his kung-fu allusions in Kill Bill and his B-grade war film homages in Basterds (not being a fan of either sub-genre)...but to my delight I was able to enjoy both films to an extent I wasn't prepared for. I think those two films are easily two of the ten best this decade.

    Thanks for the comment.

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  5. Yeah, with Milch and Mann teaming up and Scorsese directing a pilot, I may have to break down and get HBO as well. Damn, what an impressive line-up that is.

    And good call on 2007 in cinema. That WAS a pretty great year for film.

    And, as always, nice to see you givin' props to Mann and the under-appreciated MIAMI VICE. I plan to tackle that film on my blog real soon.

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  6. Thanks for stopping by, J.D. I enjoyed your list of 25 films of the decade. Great stuff.

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  7. Awesome that you gave Rifftrax the credit it so rightly deserves. I can't imagine my comedy life without Mike Nelson (and the Sklar brothers, as you gave them the appropriate credit).

    Glad you got the football coaches in there as well. Go play intramurals brotha. You might as well have put Iverson in there, as that one is a great meltdown.

    Also, I'm obviously out of the loop on the whole MIAMI VICE thing. It has its merits, but I can't get behind it as the great film that you and JD and so many others tout it to be.

    And one last thing -- I've seen every episode of Deadwood, The Wire, and The Sopranos and never for one second subscribed to HBO. It's cheaper just to rent the DVDs (or I guess there are other ways to watch as well).

    Now, things you obviously forgot:

    -- Phil Hendrie

    -- Seahawks in the Super Bowl

    -- Brandon Roy

    -- The last year of WCW Nitro

    -- Chris Jericho

    -- Sheamus and Hornswoggle

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  8. Oh, and yeah, Whedon is a like it or leave it kind of writer. I liked Buffy back when I watched it on reruns and Firefly was a criminally underrated series. I think what annoys many about Whedon is the over-zealous allegiance of many of his fans who think he can do NO wrong. He's far from a perfect writer, but he does have a knack for crafting well plotted and paced long-term story arcs, a talent that seems to be lacking from too many TV writers nowadays.

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  9. Troy:

    Obviously I omitted some of the more esoteric things we like such as Phil and Jericho (although I am mad that I forgot about Nitro) for stuff that more people might be interested in, but I'm glad you brought them up in the comments. And this list would have been too long if I started getting into athletes I love...which is why I made one exception for King Felix, but I guess Roy would be just as worthy.

    I haven't seen "Firefly", but I know what you mean about certain people thinking a TV producer can do no wrong (ie those who thought "Studio 60" was a good show because of their love for Sorkin)...hell, I certainly do it with filmmakers like Mann, so I can relate.

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  10. I really enjoyed this and I've been itching to get back here and leave a comment. I'm a fan of some of the same things you are: West Wing, Mann, The New World, crossword puzzles and, of course, I love my Ducks!

    (In fact, just today I exchanged business cards with an Oregon alum who stopped me at the grocery store because of my Oregon sweatshirt. Then, in my building, I was getting off the elevator and a young woman said, "Oh, Ducks! I come from a long line of Beavers. If my mom was here, I'd have to fight you.")

    Where was I?

    Oh, crosswords ... wanted to say something there ...

    For a while I was doing crosswords on my daily Metro ride to work, but now I use that time just to read, or jot down notes for the blog, or just to rest. But I always bring along the big Sunday crossword from the Washington Post Magazine and work on that over the course of the week. I almost never finish the entire thing (I never look things up when I get stuck; I just quit), but I love the challenge. I love the number of times I get to a point where I think, "I don't know anymore," but then I continue to think about it, and I get one, and then another, and then another.

    Also, I have to share that right around the time Wordplay came out, Will Shortz was the voice on my home answering machine (mine and my then-girlfriend's that is). Long story short, she'd gotten on NPR's the "Puzzler" and made a joking nod to "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" in requesting Shortz perform a recording. He was happy to do it. Anyway, for a few years there we had quite a few people hang up too quickly, thinking they dialed the wrong number, but it was as nerdy-cool as it gets.

    Lastly ... Next time I'm out in Oregon, we must hook up. I was delayed by the East Coast snowstorm and that complicated my latest trip. But I plan to be out to Eugene twice in the spring. I'll keep you posted.

    Here's to a great new year and decade!

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  11. Jason:

    That story about Will Shortz is awesome. "Nerdy-cool" indeed! I know what you're talking about with coming back to puzzles after you feel stumped...in my opinion that's what makes crossword puzzles a timeless entertainment. They're constructed by brilliant people who understand the half the fun is giving the solvers clues they know they can get -- parceling them throughout the puzzle -- but still making them hard enough to wear they have to try and connect areas of the grid that are giving them trouble.

    There's no greater feeling then putting down the puzzle and coming back to it and being able to solve more clues. Another set of eyes help, too. Often my wife and I will do a Sunday puzzle together. Since she is fluent in Spanish she helps me out with a lot of the Spanish clues they like to throw in there.

    Have you ever timed yourself? It's actually kind of fun on an easier puzzle. As for the more challenging puzzles...I have this giant dictionary put out by the NYT that has all of the crossword words in it. It's amazing how much you learn doing these puzzles. They are a lot of fun.

    And yes...let me know next time you're in Oregon. It would be great to get together.

    One last thing: were you a fan of Sorkin's follow-up series "Studio 60..."? I just couldn't get into it.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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  12. A crossword dictionary...Grandpa would be appalled!

    Try out the GAMES Magazine cryptic crosswords sometime if you want a reason to be driven insane. They really are just for those guys who are in the crossword tournaments and it boggles my mind that anyone could solve one.

    (Although I do keep a running tally of how many times I have to look in the back for an answer on really, really hard crosswords)

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  13. Kevin: I've never timed myself. The puzzles I would do on the way to work were something that I could usually polish off in about 20 minutes, assuming my head was into it. Not sure I've ever done any puzzle in less than 10. But I'm usually doing them first thing in the morning, and I'm not in speed mode yet. It's a good mental warm-up for the day.

    As for Studio 60 ... I watched about 10 minutes of an episode but found it odd. And by the time I was going to give it another chance, I heard nothing but negative reviews, so I just decided to skip it.

    BTW ... Not sure when, but I'm hoping to do a special little tribute to West Wing sometime in 2010. It'll take some time to do, so not sure when I'll get to it. But sometime this year, I'm sure.

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  14. Troy:

    I have a whole book of Cryptic Crosswords...can't do 'em, they're too hard, hehe. The dictionary is there to help you learn the words. It sounds odd to use a resource like that, but with something like crosswords puzzles where you have to learn a whole new way of looking at words, they're a bit necessary. Plus I read somewhere that even the really good solvers use Google or a dictionary every now and then.

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  15. Jason:

    I've only time myself with the easier puzzles. Mostly I do the puzzles for enjoyment, and honestly timing myself just adds stress to something that should be fun and fulfilling. Rarely do I time unless I really feel like challenging myself and I'm not concerned with the overall enjoyment or entertainment value of the puzzle.

    I felt the same way about "Studio 60". I look forward to your tribute on "West Wing"...I'll have to re-watch some key episodes in preparation for that so I can leave comments that are productive to the conversation (it's been a while since I've seen the show).

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  16. This is a really cool idea...

    I adore your taste in literature. Have you ever read Haruki Murakami? if not start with 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle', then 'The Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World'. I think you'll love them if you are unfamiliar.

    My ten would look something like this (granted I am a former Clevelander).
    10. Cleveland Browns return 1999-2000 season. Produce 2 winning seasons in next ten. Ouch.
    9. Obama beats McCain, restores my faith in Americans, albeit short lived.
    8. Seeing my first Godard and Melville(s) on the big screen.
    7. Every former member of The Clash made music again (except ol' Topper), sadly Joe Strummer passes. The Who made a new record (if uneven), and start work on another. All reasons to be happy (except Strummer passing obviously)
    6. Lars von Trier, every film he made this decade was terrific.
    5. Robert Rauschenberg: Combines. At the Met. http://www.metmuseum.org/special/se_event.asp?OccurrenceId={6E31DECE-D293-4EB0-BBB8-3A78F4EA2EC1}
    4. David Cronenberg adult period; nothing but serious films for adults that are also very accessible. 'Spider', 'History of Violence', 'Eastern Promises'. And the terrific short, 'Suicide of the Last Jew in the World'. Can't wait for him to tackle DeLillo.
    3. Explosion of Internet news blogs. Finally the left awakens.
    2. Netflix
    1. LeBron James

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  17. Thanks, Jamie. I really like your list, too, and of course a few of those things are interchangeable depending on geography (i.e. sports). I'll write down the titles of those books and put them on "to read" for this summer. I specifically like you number nine and two. I really disagree with your number six (but then you knew that already, hehe), and I absolutely love your choice for number four. Great stuff. Thanks for the comment.

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