Back in 2003, I reviewed the year, and this week I noticed I hadn’t written a new annual review since then. This seemed like a terribly long time for people to have to wait to hear what I think about mostly irrelevant stuff. As I cranked out the list this time, I noticed I don’t have much of a clue about what da kidz be into, yo. Is this because 2008 has basically been shit, or is it just that I’m getting older and can’t be arsed? I think you’ll find that the answer is a bit of both, but mostly the latter. So. There are a million lists in the naked city; This is one of them.
Politics, International • The US Presidential Election This is a doozy, I know. It’s rather comforting to know that the most powerful man in the world is more prone to discussion with other people rather than the voices in his head. Bound to disappoint by not being the second coming of Christ asfter all, but at least he probably won’t be outwitted by a pretzel.
Politics, International • Sarah Palin Sees Russia From Her House
“As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where– where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border.” And the republicans still lost the election. Go figure.
Politics, Domestic • Norway Commissions the Joint Strike Fighter
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Norway decided to go with the American Joint Strike Fighter rather than the Swedish-built Eurofighter. Ultimately, it proved to be a political no-brainer because: 1) The JSF was cheaper and better specced, 2) Norway loves country and western music, and 3) the USA has long been building superior instruments of destruction while the Swedes have perfected nude badminton. This last point proved so overwhelming that even SV (aka Socialist Left) was forced to concede with little more than a grumble.
Music • Albums
Marit Larsen, The Chase
Larsen’s sophomore effort gracefully follows in the steps of her solo debut from 2006, Under the Surface. Larsen is without doubt one of the best pop songwriters around, writing melodies that lodge themselves effortlessly in your noggin while her often dark lyrics belie the sweetness of the tunes. Mixing accessibility and complexity is no mean feat, but Larsen makes it seem so damn easy. The Chase received uniformly strong reviews and deservedly so.
AC/DC, Black Ice
If it ain’t broke, crank it. CRANK IT!!!
Roger Joseph Manning Jr, Catnip Dynamite
Manning’s second solo effort isn’t as immediately accessible as his first, but he certainly hasn’t lost his touch. He weaves a coherent whole out of wildly eclectic styles, writing everything as well as playing all the instruments himself. My one complaint is that he tends to let the songs go on too long; hardly a hanging offense, but he would do well to rein in his excesses at times. Catnip Dynamite has only been released in Japan so far, so look for it in the import section of your local music establishment, provided such a place still exists, what with kids and their MP3s and get the hell of my lawn.
The Raconteurs, Consolers of the Lonely
Bluesy guitars fuzzed out to the point of agony, Jack White’s screechy vocals…hey, what could go wrong? As it happens, very little. Consolers of the Lonely goes in a myriad of directions, but stays firmly rooted in Americana.
The Submarines, Honeysuckle Weeks Partly because I fell hopelessly in love with Blake Hazard when I saw The Submarines perform in October, but also because this is a great batch of pop songs.
Slipknot, All Hope is Gone
In the year of Hope and Change, masked metal nutters Slipknot went into the studio to make a stunning album that straddles menace and melody with equal deftness.
Martha Wainwright, I know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too
Martha Wainwright gives us the female counterpoint to papa Loudon’s wryly self-confessional songs. Loudon is still my favorite, but with both Rufus and Martha proving themselves equally skilled with music and lyrics (and every bit as prone to oversharing as their illustrious dad), I’m sort of glad the Wainwright-Roche clan had a fucked-up family life.
American Music Club, The Golden Age
Mark Eitzel in a good mood. I know, crazy, right?
Music • Singles
The Killers, Human
“Are we human…or are we dancer?” Human makes the list simply because it takes a certain kind of person to sing a ridiculous line like that with real conviction. Kudos.
Coldplay, Viva La Vida
My general antipathy towards Coldplay notwithstanding, Viva La Vida is unlike anything I’ve heard on the radio this year. (That’s a good thing) More orchestral pop than rock, the nearest thing I can think of off the top of my head is perhaps XTC’s glorious Apple Venus. I suspect the lack of focus on the band means that Chris Martin is going solo soon (seriously, do the other guys even have names?), but if he keeps putting out stuff like this, I’m all for it.
Kid Rock, All Summer Long
Technically, this is just the main hook from Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London spliced to the hook from Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama with stoner lyrics about stoners getting stoned thrown on top. It’s not exactly rocket science to figure out that two parts of awesome stay awesome when combined into a whole, but still.
Weezer, Pork and Beans
OK, the whole Internet meme stuff is getting pretty old, but Pork and Beans should put a smile on your face anyway.
Ben Folds, You Don’t Know Me
Folds returned with a typically half-assed solo album in the shape of Way To Normal, but he’s too deft a songwriter not to knock one out of the park every once in a while. You Don’t Know Me, which also features indie songbird Regina Spektor, is a peach of a single. With interweaving vocals floating over a heavy stomping beat and lilting strings, Folds conjures up a vast gulf between two people and chronicles both male self-doubt and passive aggression. “Why the fuck would you want me back?” he sings forlornly. Songs like these, maybe?
Music • Pleasant surprise
Metallica, Death Magnetic
Metallica managed to pleasantly surprise when nobody expected them to. While they’ll never again attain the heights of Master of Puppets, Death Magnetic is not to be trifled with. Especially notable is All Nightmare Long for capturing the purest distillation of James Hetfield’s vocal stylings on tape thus far. (Audio clip forthcoming once I figure out how)
Infotainment • Political Advertising on TV
It looks as if Norwegian political parties will at long last be allowed to advertise on TV. I always wanted to reduce reasoned political debate to vapid soundbites thought up by marketing teams. Thanks, Court of Strasbourg!
Obits • George Carlin
Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.
The Dark Knight, Iron Man
I suppose these should get one post each, but they sort of belong together. The Dark Knight was THE event movie of 2008. The hype surrounding it was almost on Star Wars-like levels. The premature death of Heath Ledger, who plays the Joker no doubt helped the buzz; not undeservedly so, mind you – The Dark Knight is Ledger’s movie, pure and simple. He turns in a wonderfully unhinged performance as chaos personified – Nicholson’s 1989 Joker was a more calculated evil – that even puts the usually impressive Christian Bale in the shadows. Oh yeah, Two-face is in there as well, but whatevs. The movie is overlong (2 1/2 hours), too intellectual for its own good (What causes evil? Or good? 9/11! Surveillance!! 9/11!!!) and often incoherent, threatening to reduce Batman to a bit player in his own movie. Even as a comic book fan, I can’t quite fathom why anyone would take the idea of a billionaire playboy who dresses up as a bat to fight criminals at night this seriously, but the sum of The Dark Knight is greater than its parts.
Iron Man is also a comic book movie, but where The Dark Knight wallows in post-millennial angst and anguished moral choices, Iron Man straps on a pair of rockets and flies off to defeat the terrorists before heading home for a cold brew. Stuffed to the brim with cool gadgets, Iron Man also benefits from a cast far more talented than it really deserves; Robert Downey Jr is perfectly cast as boyish millionaire genius Tony Stark, Gwyneth Paltrow makes the first appearance in years where she seems to have fun and a bald, bearded Jeff Bridges exudes more sleazy menace than a dozen Lex Luthors and Mitt Romney. Most importantly, shit blows up real good. Don’t forget to look out for Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson’s cameo as Nick Fury after the credits.
Two Irish hitmen go to Bruges. Wackiness ensues wherein people get hurt and die. Fat Americans and Belgian skinheads are mocked, and a racist midget espouses racial apocalypse theories, which is pretty awesome. Granted, it’s not profound, but it’s very funny in a violent and scatological way. Colin Farrell gets to show of his chops against both Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, reminding us he’s a fine actor when he’s not busy being ripped off his tit.
Kautokeino-opprøret (The Kautokeino Rebellion)
The best Norwegian movie of the year. (In fairness, I haven’t seen De Usynlige yet, but given the collective hard-on afforded the resolutely average Hawaii, Oslo a few years ago, it’s bound to be overrated.) Nils Gaup’s movie deals with the sami uprising of 1852 against corrupt local authorities; it’s a story of pride, injustice and defiance. Well acted, solidly scripted and beautifully shot on location in Troms. What’s more, it’s all true, a nice reminder for us Norwegians not to be so smug about our own history all the time.
This animated movie details the life of a girl growing up in Iran before moving to the west, and looks at cultural identity and deracination. The animation is wonderful, like nothing else out there, hewing very close to the style of the original comic book. I’m not very knowledgeable about Persian art, so I won’t attempt to make any sort of statement, but as we’ve become accustomed to the benign hegemony of Pixar, it’s great to see other innovators out there. An animated feature for adults for once is also very welcome.
…speaking of Pixar: Can they do no wrong?
The Band’s Visit
This fish-out-of-water story about an Egyptian marching band who gets lost in an Israeli suburb is subtle and wonderful. What I liked the most was the whole “hey, we’re not so different after all” vibe. People touching the lives of others in small ways is hardly innovative as far as storylines go, but it has an added patina of sweetness coming as it does from a place where intracultural violence seems to be (at least to an outsider) a part of everyday life.
Be Kind, Rewind
This is a love/hate affair. As a movie buff, I loved it – mostly because it’s a valentine to moviemaking, homespun inventiveness and the sort of sense of community that hasn’t really existed for a couple of decades. French director and professional man-child Michael Gondry’s plot devices are pretty fucking stupid, but once it gets going, the easygoing charm of the actors will most likely win you over. Fittingly, you can only rent this hymn to shitty videotape technology on DVD. Movies • Guilty Pleasures
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Sublimely Ridiculous McGuffin This got a lot of shit for “raping the childhood of a whole generation,” but since my enjoyment of Raiders of the Lost Ark isn’t compromised by a lesser sequel, I’ll just state that I enjoyed this. The plot should have gone through more revisions and the movie as a whole doesn’t hold a candle to the first three, but it’s an enjoyable slice of hokum.
An appallingly ridiculous movie that takes such glee in lovingly serving up explicit carnage while simultaneously condemning it that I simply can’t help myself for loving it – it’s like Reagan never died or left office. “Live for nothing or die for something,” drawls Stallone as he once again blows scores of yellow people the fuck up. A true guilty pleasure.
I love the fact that the Wachowskis were willing to squander what remaining goodwill they had from The Matrix on this, and I enjoyed every CGI-saturated, monkey-burdened frame of it. The storyline is nearly non-existent, the characters so thinly drawn that The Phantom Menace takes on an air of Tolstoyian gravitas, and the cars have karate fights in mid-air; I really can’t think of any other movie as neatly summed up by its title than Speed Racer, except maybe The Streetfighter. I can’t quite recommend it, but if two hours in a soulless place devoid of anything but prime colors and digital speed blurs sounds like your thing, you just hit the motherload.
Movies • Most Pointless Award
The Incredible Hulk Ang Lee’s much-maligned Hulk from 2003 is better than its reputation, and where Hulk had giant mutant killer poodles (ponder that for a second) and a gloriously deranged Nick Nolte chewing the scenery wth aplomb, the best The Incredible Hulk can come up with is a turd-colored CGI Tim Roth. Trends • Male Bashing Women – they’re everywhere! There has never been a harder time to be born with a pair of testicles than Right! This! Minute! The plight of the white male knows no bounds, and what with the entire system is rigged in the favor of women, it’s getting to the point where a guy can’t even buy sexual favors on the street for fear of being stigmatized as some sort of pervy loser. Author Mads Larsen, who has written several books around the controversial axiom that it’s easier for a woman to get laid than a man, saw the writing on the wall and recently left the country for South America, where men are still men and women don’t talk back. There’s a real debate to be had about gender roles, but I suspect this isn’t it.
Trends • Stuffing Your Pants Into Your White Socks
It’s difficult to top the sartorially questionable practice of wearing pajamas in public, but you somehow raised the bar, guys.
Dep’t of Criswell • Predictions For 2009
A natural disaster will occur. A famous person will die. Norway will fail to qualify. Tim Burton will work with Johnny Depp. Bill Kristol will be wrong about everything. George Lucas will enrage rabid Star Wars fans. Dan Savage will give advice on what you regard as deviant sexual acts, and you will read it anyway.
So, In Conclusion… Please cast the lovely Paula Marshall in more stuff in 2009. Thank you.