I’m not much of a list guy. Because it’s universally agreed we’ve just closed out a year, and somewhat more controversially posited that we have in fact, cut the lights and bolted the door on an an entire decade, critics both pro and semi- have been gunking up the interwebs with their lists of the year and decade’s best movies, albums, songs, whatever.
I get it. People read these. Moreover, unless one takes the list-making enterprise to an absurd extreme, lists are the easiest things in the world to write. The biggest problem of writing -- structure -- is already solved for you.
I tend to react more strongly, to movies, plays, albums, and concerts than most people I know. (Yes, I read, but I seldom get around to books in the year they’re published). But to the list-making, I am resistant. Maybe if I’d made a few more lists I’d have got myself somewhere in life by now. But that’s all spilled milk under the bridge.
My skepticism about the value of all these lists hasn’t stopped me from reading them and in many cases quibbling with their authors, which of course is their entire raison. My confederate Glen Weldon has compiled his, um, stickiest -- meaning, he swears, the most memorable -- comics of ’09 over on NPR’s Monkey See. Determined to prove he's the hardest working critic in show business, my pal Ian Buckwalter sneezed at the arbitrary (or worse, Euro-style metric-based) list-of-ten to assemble his top 100 films of 2000-2009. Ambitious, to be sure, but not excessive. It’s only ten pictures per year.
Me, I had half a thought of perhaps calculating which ten of the 60 or so concerts I attended in 2009 were bee's kneesiest. But I shall refrain. It’s not as if there’d be any suspense as to who’d occupy the top spot. All-Beef Interlude: Several of my still-living sacred cows were pushing new product in 2009. I’ve loved U2 and James Cameron movies since I was 11, and both those juggernauts unveiled their much-delayed new opuses in 2009. Neither U2's No Line on the Horizon nor Cameron’s Avatar ranked among their creators' best work, nor were they the embarrassments I’d feared* at various stages of their long, long gestation. (But Bono did write what I think was the best of those ubiquitous Top Ten lists, for the New York Times.) Elvis Costello, who has held sacred-cow status for a mere 10 years or so, released another admirable, listenable album that’s no more essential than 45 other records he’s made. And Bruce Springsteen released what is only the second-worst album of his career. On the upside, it had the No. 1 worst cover.
So without any further ado, here are my favorite everythings of 2009.
Aaron Posner’s Folger Shakespeare Library production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia was the best thing I saw in a theatre this year, a humane, poetic production of a perfect play. I saw it twice, and I wish I’d gone back for more. My review from April is here. Runners-up: Pig Iron’s Hell Meets Henry Halfway at Woolly Mammoth, The Sydney Theatre Company’s A Streetcar Named Desire at the Kennedy Center.
The new album that surprised me the most was It’s Blitz! by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I’d have thought the deemphasis of Nick Zinner’s guitar and the interpolation of Duran Duran-style 80s synths would test my love for this band, but no. As has become my custom, I'll probably spend much of January spinning some of the albums by critical betters deemed '09's best.
My favorite film of 2009 was not Avatar, though I’ll defend that film while acknowledging it’s Cameron’s sloppiest script. As much as I love having Cameron spend hundreds of millions of Rupert Murdoch’s cash on an ecological revenge fantasy that casts the imperialist, military contractor-reliant U.S. as the bad guys, I do wish there was someone in the world who could persuade Cameron that the script he sat on for 15 years, waiting for the technology to catch up -- an objection that is always bullshit -- could use a dialogue polish. Or at least suggest to him that maybe naming your villain Parker Selfridge isn’t a good idea. (“Unobtanium,” however? That's a real thing. Look it up.)
My movie of the year is former Mrs. James Cameron Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. Unless it’s Up. Or An Education. Or District 9. I also really liked Up in the Air and The Fantastic Mr. Foxand Star Trek and Adventureland and I Love You, Man, too.
I haven’t A Serious Man or Broken Embraces yet. But I will.
Two books published this year that I actually read this year were Nicholas Meyer’s The View from the Bridge and Robert Hillburn’s Corn Flakes with John Lennon. Both memoirs. Meyer is the Seven Percent Solution novelist turned screenwriter and director who saved the Trek franchise by making The Wrath of Kahn. Hillburn is the retired Los Angeles Times critic who has four-and-a-half decades worth of the jaw-dropping stories from the pop beat, particularly concerning personal encounters with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and especially Bono and John Lennon. Hillburn’s writing isn’t sophisticated, but his reporting is so incredible it doesn’t matter. Coming soon: My favorite 13 literary memoirs of 2003!
*I suppose it must be because I liked their work so much at the malleable age when I was just starting to develop my own tastes that I, against all reason, still care how their new work is received by the world, as though I were a shareholder in either of these two massive enterprises. Because in 13-year-old logic, if you don't like the bands/video games/teams I like, then you necessarily do not like me. Nick Hornby, among others, has written memorably about the tragic consequences that result when a fellow reaches adulthood without outgrowing this frame of mind.