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Top Things

Monday, December 24, 2007
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Is it ten already?  This is some good shit.Seems I haven’t really done much for this page in the last little while. Sure, my various vanity projects are burning up the Internet, but that’s no excuse for neglecting the first-born, is it? But the thing is, I really don’t want to spend too much time or energy writing something up for The Culturatti Proper. I need some kind of nothing to write about, something that won’t require any thought, something that could probably be dictated into my computer microphone in under half an hour and converted through one of those speech-to-text programs which have made the lazy into the most productive members of our society. But there’s no kind of written article that requires absolutely no effort to produce, is there?

Oh, but there is. The list. And here we are, breaknecking towards the end of ’07 . It’s December: list season is upon us.

''Great accomplishment through idiocy'' has been my motto, too.Still, in writing a list, there are still a few actual authorial decisions that need to be made. Things like topic, and order. Topic’s not too tough; you just pick some medium you’ve partaken of at least ten times over the year, and then check the various critickly websites to see which items everyone’s expecting to find on year-end lists. Then you need to rank them, but this, too, is easier than one might think, because ultimately, it doesn’t matter at all what order you put them in. No one cares, no one will remember, and it’s all arbitrary opinion anyway.

On the other hand, I’m not looking for easy work here, I’m looking for no Perhaps ... banana.work. So I’ve decided to make do without topic or order. These aren’t the best movies or albums or, god help me, plays of 2007. They’re the best whatevers. And I’m not putting them in any particular order, either, not even alphabetical. As an added bonus (for me), I’ve kept no requirement that items included need to have been released in 2007. If I first got my hands on it this year, it’s eligible enough for me.

So I present my list of Best Things for 2007. Perhaps you’ll disagree with some of my choices; perhaps you can go fuck a butter tart. It’s all the same to me, because it’s just a list. It’s the closest thing to meaningless you can do with language.

Death Note
Manga by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

The premise is retarded: if you write someone’s name in this mystical notebook, they die. The execution is one of the most original suspense/thriller/mystery/twisty-turny stories I’ve encountered in a very long time. The thing that makes this 12-book series work so well is that writer Tsugumi applies the strictest of rules to that retarded premise. The two main characters, a genius teenager named Light and a genius genius called L spend the story engaged in logic fights; Light uses the Death Note and tries to cover his tracks as he commits mass murder, while L tries to figure out how the murders are being done and who’s doing them and how he’d be able to prove it even if he knew. It’s the most bizarre cat-and-mouse I’ve ever witnessed, but it’s thrilling and unique and I had a bunch more stuff written already but WordPress seems to have lost it all.

Damn WordPress. If I had a Death Note, I’d write in “WordPress.”

No Country for Old Men
Film written and directed by the Coen Brothers

Not since Judd Nelson has a jean jacket been so terrifying.

If I’d decided the movie itself didn’t belong, I still would’ve given a slot to Javier Bardem, for best acting, or best crazy-eyes, or maybe best hair. But the movie belongs, devious focal point misdirection and all. Between shot dogs and Josh Brolin the film’s great. You could remove the heavy, semi-hidden theme of the whole thing, and just evaluate it as a series of scenes, and it’d still be great, because its individual scenes are all great. Remember Tommy Lee Jones? The one who used to be compelling on-screen (as opposed to utterly bored)? I’m pretty sure he’s in this movie, though it’s hard to say because it’s been so long. Oh, and to return to Bardem: if the movie weren’t on the list, and for some reason he weren’t on the list, his word would be on the list. Bardem’s Anton Chigurh gets word-of-the-year, in my book. That word: Friend-O. It’s friend, with an ‘O’.

The Shield: Season 5
Television series created by Shawn Ryan

We all agree, as a base assumption, that Michael Chiklis is super-awesome, yes? Good. And we were surprised-but-delighted when they squared him off with Glenn Close in Season 4. That was mega-awesome, wasn’t it? It was. So it was tetra-awesome to learn that Forest Whitaker would be coming in for Season 5, for some off-squaring of his own. But we had no idea, and neither did the English language, as I’ve been unable to find a prefix suitable to describe it, just what variety of awesome his presence this year would be. And just the year as a whole — too awesome for prefix.

The Orange Box
PC game by Valve

It was a given that Half-Life 2: Episode 2 would be great, though I wasn’t really expecting them to top themselves. But they have; in many of its sequences, character moments, and sci-fi ideas, Episode 2 is better than any of the previous Half-Life entries.

''I can totally see up that girl's dress.''So good for them on that, but what I really want to talk about is Portal. Also included in the Orange Box package (along with a literal bunch of other stuff), this first-person puzzle game is something extraordinarily special. And it’s not even the key technology of the game that makes it so, though that technology is great: shoot a hole on one wall, shoot the other end of the hole on the ceiling, walk through the wall hole, fall out the ceiling hole. It’s the stuff of Looney Tunes, jammed into a serious science fiction universe (the Half-Life universe, actually).

But as I said, that’s not what makes Portal great, that’s just what makes Portal really cool. The greatness comes mostly from the character of GlaDOS, a hilarious, passive-agressive computer intelligence, who oversees the series of tests which the player is required to perform. But there’s something wrong with GlaDOS, and the way the game slowly reveals just what that is, is grand. This is a short game — it took me about 3 hours to get through the first time, less than 1 hour the second — but that’s perfect; it’s the game equivalent of a short film, its story ill-suited to the usual 10-12 hours such a game runs these days.

Final note: this little game became a fast Internet sensation, and deservedly so. There are 207,000 Google hits for “Weighted Companion Cube” in quotes. And the Weighted Companion Cube is a big block, nothing more. This genius little game has made a pop idol out of a damn block. I believe the block is booked to tour with Ashlee Simpson this spring.

Lost: Season 3 Finale “Through the Looking Glass”
Television episode written by Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof
Directed by Jack Bender

Carries the weight of the world on his chin.Lost may have hit some snags along the way (what the FUCK was with that episode where Hurley and Sawyer were trying to catch a noisy frog?), but it came back and then some. Seriously, whatever bullshit they dealt us in season 2 and in the first half of season 3, they made up for it as 3 wound down. But the last episode is something special. It executes a nice little trick/twist (which I kinda saw coming, but oh well), but it’s a trick/twist that paints the entire series in a whole new light, and not a “what the island is” kind of light, something much heavier. It’s an absolutely brilliant episode, a bit of genius serialized storytelling, and a redirect so perfect I have to wonder if this wasn’t the moment they’d been building the entire series towards from the start. (Kinda hope not, because they still got questions left to answer.)

Sam & Max Season One, Episode 5: “Reality 2.0”
PC game episode developed by Telltale Games

I’ve already waxed adulatory on Sam & Max, so I don’t need to go into too much detail here. I have to single out the fifth episode though, because it’s just so damn meta. By this point in the series, we’ve already become familiar with the characters and settings which surround Sam & Max’s freelance police office in the city; here we get to enter a nefarious “virtual” version of said city, where everything has been given an extra layer of video game sheen: hit points, jumping for coins, +2 swords, etc. So many hilarious bits and new characters here, and the most clever final boss battle since Banjo-Kazooie, where Reality 2.0 begins to collapse but you still need to finish the job, text adventure-style.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215
Nintendo DS game developed by Cing

Already waxed on this’un, too.

The Colbert Report
Television series written by a bunch of lazy, striking bums

Of course I’ve been watching this since the beginning in ’05, but I’m still in awe of this guy’s accomplishment. I actually don’t want to get into it, because it just makes me feel inadequate and sad. So I’m going to go über on this easy, and stick a list within my list. Top Things from The Colbert Report this year:

  • It was the French flag before Colbert got comfortable.Broken wrist, WristAwareness, pain killer addiction, and all associated
  • Run for president in South Carolina
  • “But some people don’t want to see Harriet Tubman in a space train.”
  • Knut
  • Arch-rival Korean pop star 비
  • “Who’s been fucking the coral reefs?”
  • Formidable Opponent. Always Formidable Opponent.
  • And bears. Always bears.

“Walking With a Ghost”
Song written and performed by Tegan & Sara

The album So Jealous came out in 2004, but since I was trapped in a limbo of shallow imitations of America’s most shallow pop musicians at the time, I don’t think I got to hear this song until a few months ago. Tegan & Sara, Canada’s best evidence for biological determinism, have put together a perfect little pop song here: it’s great, and it’s so simple. F#m D E E-D. That’s it (oh, maybe they move it up a fifth for a bit, but whatever). Lay a few vocal patterns over it, adjust the instrumentation for the different sections, and you’ve got a song there, friend-o. Warning: unintelligibly artsy music video ahead:

“Rock Island Line”
Song written and performed by Lead Belly

You think 2004 was reaching back a little far for a best of 2007 list? How’s about 1937? I found this one on a Woody Guthrie/Lead Belly album which probably could’ve made it on the list in its entirety, but I need to single out this wicked little song. A very simple structure, with an incredible chorus and verses so quick and simple they feel more like asides. I tried to find a YouTube of it, but surprisingly, there was no video footage uploaded of Lead Belly himself playing it, and all the covers out there ranged from decent (Johnny Cash) to sucky (John Lennon) to decent-but-performed-by-nobodies-but-at-least-there’s-a-bit-of-boob (this guy). This version’s pretty good, but it’s still not quite doing justice to Lead Belly’s own rougher, less up version (the song starts around 4:30):

The Commitment
Book written by Dan Savage

Dan Savage’s The Kid, his autobiographical tale of adopting a child with his boyfriend, is one of my favorites and probably the book I’ve recommended/given to more people than any other. The Commitment is the sequel, covering the will-they/won’t-they issue of two fellas gettin’ hitched. It’s just as loaded as its predecessor: so many great scenes; interesting talk of politics and morality, with varying opinions from Dan’s boyfriend, parents, siblings, and 6-year-old son (who is adamantly against gay marriage); Dan’s own sober, not-always-what-you’d-expect insights. And it’s just about as funny as books get. From now on, my recommendations/gifts will be handed out in two-packs.

The Fountain
Film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky

To his credit, graeme is a graceful wrong.

The Areas of My Expertise
Audiobook written and read by John Hodgman

You know him as the PC, or maybe as the Daily Show’s “Resident Expert,” and while John Hodgman is all these things, he is more. A former literary agent (Bruce Campbell’s literary agent, to be exact) and a freelance columnist, he put out this book The Areas of My Expertise a couple years back. It’s an all-encompassing almanac of things he made up, and in written form it’s pretty funny. But hearing the man read it himself is so much better — if you know his voice, you already know what I’m talking about. On top of that, he’s inserted all kinds of little gags that would only work in audiobook format, and he’s brought in a couple of friends. Paul Rudd reads a list of “jokes that have never gotten a laugh,” and Hodgman pally Johnathan Coulton, musician and Internet sensationalist (see Thing a Week and the closing credit song from the aforementioned Top Thing, Portal, called “Still Alive”), is a continual presence, serving up gags and great musical ditties, Costello to Hodgman’s Batman.

Math's not his strong suit.

And that’s it. Nothing else of note happened this year. laebmada

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. James17930 permalink
    Monday, December 24, 2007 11:15 pm

    I always had a feeling you were Lady Daemonica.

    As for T&S — one of the most overrated musical acts of our time. Their music is so boring and saccharine that by rights they should be consigned to a streak of #28’s on the CHUM FM Weekly Top 30.

    Instead they both get those ugly ‘hipster chick’ haircuts and some tattoos and suddenly they’re the GREATEST THING EVER and wank-objects to a new generation of Elvis Costello wannabes.

    Agree with you about Savage — ‘The Kid’ is a great book, and I want to read his others. The Hodgman was pretty funny too — I may have to steal that at some point.

  2. Tuesday, December 25, 2007 9:34 am

    You know, I held my tongue about all your Matthew Good wank.

  3. James17930 permalink
    Tuesday, December 25, 2007 11:04 pm

    Why? I thought part of the point of writing stuff on here is so we can debate.

  4. Thursday, December 27, 2007 10:16 am

    I’ve always found debate about music to be pretty dull and pointless. All it really comes down to is “I like it” vs. “I don’t like it.” It’s like arguing over what the best colour is.

  5. James17930 permalink
    Thursday, December 27, 2007 10:40 am

    Burgundy!

  6. Thursday, December 27, 2007 12:42 pm

    Well duh.

  7. James17930 permalink
    Thursday, December 27, 2007 1:39 pm

    Okay, but seriously — I smell a collaborative post here. We’ll do a T&S pro-and-con.

  8. Thursday, December 27, 2007 3:14 pm

    Uh, yeah.

    Con: “I don’t like ’em.”
    Pro: “I like ’em.”

    Con: “I think they have ugly hipster haircuts and tattoos.”
    Pro: “I think they have ugly dyke haircuts and tattoos.”

    It’ll be a compelling read.

  9. James17930 permalink
    Thursday, December 27, 2007 11:31 pm

    You know there would be more to it than that.

  10. Friday, December 28, 2007 12:04 am

    Yeah, but it’d all be dancing around the basic idea of one of us liking it and one of us not. Notice I’ve never written anything about music on this site of ours — it’s because I find describing music in words to be a futile endeavour (and not just my own efforts, but reading others’ as well).

    Music’s not tangible enough; any discussion ultimately ends up being a bunch of descriptions of how it makes the person feel (which is fine as accompaniment to something of substance about the topic, but not when it has to be the bulk of the discussion). Or else it’s irrelevant details about the artists or their fans or the music culture as a whole, things that are entirely beside the point when you’re talking about the art itself. Or you can go into the lyrics, but when you get to that point, you’re more talking poetry than music.

    The other tact would be to go into serious detail on the music, the math of it. I do find that stuff interesting, but it’s almost entirely removed from issues of quality. Really, the only things I wrote of any significance in either of my two little song write-ups up there were on the music-as-math side of things, and those bits didn’t speak to whether the songs are good or bad or what.

    I just don’t find much value in going on about music. Once you’ve said “This is a good song, you should listen to it,” you’re pretty much said it all. Anything more is blabber. (Blabber, which can be of use when speaking to someone in person; I just don’t have much interest in reading or writing blabber.)

  11. James17930 permalink
    Friday, December 28, 2007 12:40 am

    “Or else it’s irrelevant details about the artists or their fans or the music culture as a whole, things that are entirely beside the point when you’re talking about the art itself.”

    That’s pretty much what I was going to write about — how the hipster cult has elevated T&S into a place not deserved by their actual artistic endeavours. You’ll notice I never said they were bad, just OVERRATED. How their songs could easily be sung by Faith Hill and no one would notice anything out of place.

    And now we’ve pretty much done it anyway. Yet another ‘post-within-the-comments.’ I love it!

  12. Friday, December 28, 2007 10:17 am

    I couldn’t really comment on that anyway, because I don’t have a clue what their hipster cult status is. But I can’t picture Faith Hill singing any of their stuff. They make little pop songs; she’s a balladeer (real word!).

    Maybe their newest stuff is ballad. Don’t know, haven’t heard it.

  13. James17930 permalink
    Friday, December 28, 2007 12:09 pm

    Okay, Shania Twain then (added bonus — they’re both Canadian).

  14. Friday, December 28, 2007 12:39 pm

    Have you ever heard Tegan & Sara?

  15. James17930 permalink
    Friday, December 28, 2007 2:37 pm

    Yes — I have them on right now. ‘Time Running’ — it’s got quite a new country jangle to it.

    As I said, I didn’t say they were bad. Just overrated.

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