It is once again that time of year, folks. Time to reflect on what has passed in the old year and to look ahead at what’s to come in the new one. At some point today most of us will ruminate on the victories of 2010 and lament the defeats. Most of us will lay plans for 2011, set new goals, and maybe get on that diet we’ve been putting off. TV will run its typical slew of newsworthy moments as a video collage set to a sweeping musical score, and you will be inundated with clips of war and famine, and reminded to be thankful and ashamed (in some cases) for what you have. And perhaps we should be ashamed.
But here at The Sound and Fury we’ll have no such commie talk. We remain steadfast in our dedication to frivolity and things that keep us in good humor. It’s not that we are turning our backs on the uglier side of human society. We’re simply content letting the professional media handle the nasty bits. Besides, negativity is all around us. We know that the ills of the world exist. We are saddened by them. But we’re still entitled to a little bit of fun now and then, aren’t we? Now, on with the show!
Let’s talk books, shall we? It’s a good place to start and should be a short subject to tackle considering the abysmally small amount of them I actually managed to read this year. Even if the quantity of books read found itself to be lacking, certainly the quality of the ones read made up for it.
Ken Scholes’ debut novel, Lamentation, restored my interest in the fantasy genre in much the same way that Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind did in 2009. Some of the more seasoned genre bloggers might chide me for the above statement considering my narrow scope of experience with fantasy, but I stand by it. My attempts at reading some of the more popular fantasy series’ (Jordan’s Wheel of Time, Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant, and Abercrombie’s The First Law to name a few) didn’t turn out so well. Scholes, however, eschews the black and white of the typical fantasy tropes (the hero’s journey and the quest) for a grayer look at political intrigue and incestuous aristocratic in-fighting. Lamentation (the first of five books in the Psalms of Isaak series) is also notable for answering the burning question “Whodunit?” at the very beginning of the novel, while still managing to be suspenseful and interesting throughout. It takes a skillful writer to let the cat out of the bag that early and still hold the reader’s interest for the duration of the book.
For fans of science fiction and fantasy (there’s some blending of the two here) there is no better bang for your buck than Ken Scholes’ Lamentation. I only hope the next four can maintain this level of awesome.
Watchmen, the film, made last year’s list, and so it is only fitting (and in keeping with my hesitance to jump on bandwagons and thus always ending up late to the party) that Watchmen, the book, make the list this year. A friend loaned this gem to me after we discussed our shared love for the movie (Thanks, Andy. You’re one of the only other people I know that liked it.), and I simply ripped through it. Watchmen spoke to me on so many levels it would have been hard not to like it. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ cynical look at the Cold War era is so densely layered with 20th century nostalgia, social commentary on a myriad of hot button issues of the time, comic book in-jokes, discussion of nuclear armament, and the violent tendencies of man that it would be an insult to try and review the thing in a paragraph.
If you’ve never read a comic book, or even if you’ve read a thousand but never have read this one (I’m talking to you, David), pick it up. The ending is…less inspiring than the rest of the book, but it’s not enough to capsize the thing as a whole. I’ll read this one again and again.
I opened myself up even further this year to different movie genres, exploring foreign films and film noir more than ever before. I got caught up with some old films that I’d never seen before, some of them memorable and some not, and I discovered the world of Asian cinema. I know, crazy huh? If it weren’t for the internets and Netflix, foreign film in the States might still be relegated to people who hang out in coffee shops and wear black beanies, goatees, and tinted eyeglasses.
The Good, The Bad, and The Weird is a fun, violent, Korean take on the spaghetti westerns of old. That’s right, I said Korean. Trust me, within minutes you’ll be laughing hysterically at the antics of The Weird, and wondering why you never knew that their were Asian counterparts for Prince (The Bad) and Lou Diamond Phillips (The Good). It’s always a little dicey stepping outside of what you’re accustomed to. The quickest way to ruin a foreign film for me is to dub in American voices over the real actor’s lines. This never turns out well, and fortunately The Good, The Bad, and The Weird does not fall into that trap. It’s good fun, and well worth the time to find it and watch it.
I got my first real taste of film noir courtesy of a pre-requisite for a book on screenwriting that I was reading. I had never seen Casablanca, and I don’t think I have ever watched a film and had so many “Aha!” moments. You almost have to see this movie to even get the references and jokes that so many other films have used to allude back to it. Films like Sin City, Cypher, Blade Runner (the only film in this list that I didn’t see for the first time in 2010, and a favorite of mine), and Goddard’s Alphaville (which in turn heavily influenced Blade Runner and others of its ilk) owe some debt to this film and to the genre of noir. Casablanca is as good as everyone makes it out to be, and should be required viewing for any self-respecting film fan.
Director Nicholas Winding-Refn has the distinction of having two films on the list this year, but for very different reasons. His crime/biopic, Bronson, has to be the most original movie I saw in 2010, and is a study in tension building. It’s a tight rope act that threatens to snap just as soon as the viewer thinks it’s safe to relax. Slick and atmospheric with a heavy, electronic soundtrack, Bronson is one to see. Winding-Refn’s Valhalla Rising, on the other hand, is a strange, disturbing picture that I might have liked, if I hadn’t already seen the earlier, much smaller film Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America. The films are so similar in theme and style (even the ambient soundtrack is similar) that it is hard not to come to the conclusion that Winding-Refn stole copiously from director Matt Stone. With that conclusion in hand, I’d have to declare Valhalla Rising the least original film of 2010. Having said that, it is worth noting that directors notoriously beg, borrow, and steal from one another. Tarantino has shamelessly admitted to doing this many times, and it’s apparent in so many other works that the only reason it’s more damning in the case of Valhalla Rising is that it’s borrowing so heavily from a film that’s only been out for a few years (Severed Ways came out in 2007). I’m not sure how much time needs to pass before stealing becomes borrowing, but three years seems to be cutting it pretty close. And as much as I seem to be knocking Valhalla Rising and Winding-Refn, I recommend that you rent both films and decide how you feel about it. Valhalla Rising left me pondering its vague implications for days afterwards, and that’s gotta count for something.
Mark Romanek’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go is an unflinchingly beautiful look at isolation, love, and the human condition through the eyes of characters that have been deemed by society to be unworthy of the term human. It’s haunting in it’s austerity, and it’s sad. But it asks us to question the morals behind our science, and it makes us think. And any movie, good or bad, that can make us stop and think has merit. (Valhalla Rising?)
I feel like any discussion of films from 2010 should include at least some mention of Tron: Legacy, Black Swan, and True Grit. Tron: Legacy I’ve seen, and I recommend it. I think it makes this year’s list on the sheer spectacle of the thing. But unlike last year’s Avatar, I feel like Legacy has a little more merit in terms of the overall theme and philosophy of the film. As for the other two, I haven’t seen them yet. Rest assured, thought, they are on the list!
When I was a wee high school lad I was in a rock band, and had aspirations and delusions of grandeur. I knew we’d hit the big time. There would be cars, girls, and money. But then reality set in, and none of that really happened at all. Even if I had been talented enough (and I wasn’t), though, now I realize that I could never lead the life of a rock star. But music is ever a part of my daily life, and I try to be as open to new artists and genres as I possibly can.
I have my son to thank for the first CD in this short list. He introduced me to the world of Celtic Punk Rock with a burned assortment of Flogging Molly songs and then really broke me in at one of their concerts. I was a convert after that. But in 2010 he gave me the Pogues’ album, Pogue Mahone, and it has since become one of my favorites. Pogue Mahone is punk. It’s rock. And it’s folk. But really, aside from all of that category nonsense, Pogue Mahone is just good music.
I flirted around with bluegrass for quite some time before I really gave it any real consideration. The musician in me recognized the relationship between bluegrass and the traditional Celtic music that I’d been listening to for the past 5 years, but I just never got around to giving it a real chance. Freshman singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz’s album, Song Up in Her Head, was just the push I needed to dive in headlong. Jarosz’s voice is like the church bell to the sinner, offering musical redemption at just one listen. The string instruments are arranged and played so deftly that they sound like silver captured in an MP3 file. Taking cues from influences as disparate as The Dixie Chicks and The Decemberists, Jarosz and company manage to craft a debut album that couldn’t be any better than it is. I highly recommend it.
On a personal note, I’d like to add that this year has been as challenging as it has been rewarding. I was laid off from my job in September and am now registered as a full time student for the Spring semester. I never saw that coming. I feel truly blessed to have this opportunity, this life, and the people around me to share it with.
This year I am the father of an amazingly talented, wonderful 16 year old young man. I can’t wait to see this kid set the world on fire. You inspire me to keep learning and doing the things I love, son.
I am also in the third year of my marriage to a gorgeous, enormously gifted (check out her website here), and hard working woman. Without her, I’m not sure where I’d be. But I know where I am now, and that’s lucky.
My parents celebrated 35 years together, and they are an inspiration to me in my relationship and in my life. Thanks to them, and to all of the friends and extended family who have been supportive this year. You guys are awesome.
So that’s it, folks. The end of the line. The last of the Mohicans. I hope you enjoyed my Year in Review. And whether you agree with my picks or not, please share your point of view in the comments section below.