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…
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 clichés 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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.