In order to see 2010 off, Natalie and I agreed to do personal end of the year lists. After some discussion, we arrived at eight categories: movie, song, album, concert, book, food, trip, and moment. Yes, 2010 is already past but, as this endeavor isn’t bound by New Year’s resolution, we’ll just have to chalk it up to “better late than never.”
A couple quick rules. There are no repeats. In music, the favorite song cannot be from the favorite album. Favorite trip cannot include favorite moment. And I took the liberty, indecisive as I can be, of adding runners-up.
Best Movie: Inception
It’s a real feat to thrill your viewer while forcing them to think. Not moralistic depth-diving, just pure intellectual derring-do. Frankly, I haven’t had as much fun at a movie since I don’t know when. Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi action movie about thievery and intrigue within dreams was inherently cerebral, but the director knows how to do smart dynamically. Actor Joseph Gordon Levitt shed “the kid from Angels in the Outfield” moniker that I’ve for so long known him by and, in one physics-defying, topsy-turvy fight scene, made for the best action sequence since at least the Bourne movies’ earthy smackfests. It also takes delicacy to pull off the “it was all a dream” meme, but Nolan succeeds by incorporating it all into the film’s plot, leaving the viewer free to debate whether or not Leonardo DiCaprio was dreaming but unanimously decided on whether it was a thrill of a movie. It most certainly was.
Runners up: The King’s Speech, Toy Story 3, True Grit, The Social Network
Best Song: “The Dog Days Are Over,” Florence + The Machine
Not my favorite song of the year but, except for maybe a particular expletive-laced Cee-Lo Green song (my first pick, but we’re trying to keep this blog G rated), it’s hard to single out a song that had such equal amounts of popular appeal and quality. Flo is eclectic without being alienating, as evidenced by the range of her songs on her album, Lungs. She uses her hearty pipes on “Dog Days,” an almost-warning of the power of happiness. Similar to my second pick, it seems fitting (if not a little earnest) in this Great Recession day and age: the old standards of happiness have fallen, and if only we’re willing to simplify and reconfigure, happiness is sure to “come like a bullet in the back.”
Runners Up: “Little Golden Age”- Wolf Parade; “Little Lion Man”- Mumford and Sons; “Animal”- Miike Snow; “All I Want”- LCD Soundsystem
Album: The Suburbs, Arcade Fire
So much good music this year, but this really is no contest. Every song on this album is a contender for best song of the year from the critic favorite, “Sprawl II” to the punkish “Month of May.” It would be easy to treat the suburbs tritely, but Arcade Fire understand the many facets of those tract home peripheries; songs about returning home or memorializing cul-de-sac neighborhoods are on par with songs about escape or mundane garage mouths. My personal favorite, “Half Light II: No Celebration,” ruminates on the debt of children to their parents, of young generations to old, and, conversely, of old generations to those that carry on. “Pray to God,” Win Butler sings, “I won’t live to see the death of everything that’s wild.” It’s apologetic, it’s brooding, but at the same time, it fires with a reserved hopefulness.
Runners Up: Brothers (The Black Keys), The Wild Hunt (The Tallest Man on Earth), Gemini (Wild Nothing), Beat the Devil’s Tattoo (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), Eyelid Movies (Phantogram), Harlem River Blues (Justin Townes Earle), Treats (Sleigh Bells), So Runs the World Away (Josh Ritter)
Concert (tie): Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros/Avett Brothers
I couldn’t pick between the two. We saw Edward Sharpe twice, actually, but it was the first that will remain pristine in my memory. The first was at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a weekend-long extravaganza of folk, country, rock, and recreational drugs. While we tried to duck under the wafts of weed smoke, we enjoyed the quirky, psychedelic presentation of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a motley group of desert hippies that channels Ennio Morricone, Johnny Cash, the Allman Brothers, and others; throws them in a burlap bag scented with mountain sage; and dances like dervishes to what comes out. Against the backdrop of beautiful Telluride, there was no beating it…except for maybe the sincerest, most earnest country/folk/rock (notice a trend?) act of contemporary day. The Avetts are a thing to watch, the lone band that I can think of in which every slip up, every faulty string is turned on its head and assumed into performance. There are no mistakes with the Avetts. The result is four to five band members having good, honest fun playing for a crowd that honestly can’t imagine anything as good.
Book: The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman
Tom Rachman’s novel is unique, at least among my recent reads, in that it is both an easy read and enhanced by its literary slant. Oriented around an English newspaper headquartered in Rome, the book alternates among the paper’s various writers and editors, all at once exploring the foibles of expats, artists, professionals, and journalists.
Food: Braised chicken thighs with fennel, carmelized onion
Natalie made this for me a few months back and the memory is still on my tongue. Using chicken thighs, fennel, olive oil, onions, and only an ounce of all the culinary magic my fiancée possesses, she whipped up one of the best tasting dishes I’ve ever had, and that is hardly an exaggeration. Recipe here.
Trip: Denver to DC
After the proposal, the new job and move to DC has been the biggest event for us this year. It was one of the major impetuses for this blog, three days of excitement, nervousness, and Red Bull. Going Denver to the District, we traversed Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and Maryland. And an entire blog’s worth of posts was the result: a Honda Accord packed to the gills, suicidal birds, tourist traps, crucifixes in flatbeds, the foibles of our GPS “Shirley,” a visit to Nana and PopPops (Natalie’s paternal grandparents), Deliverance-esque stretches of West Virginian road, and more, all to the soundtrack of Ira Glass and This American Life. One of those moments we already know we’ll look back fondly on and wish we were back, the open, unknown road before us.
Moment: The Proposal
No contest. 2009 was the year I met my future wife and fell in love. 2010 was the year I began to make good on that realization. In February 2010, I took Natalie to San Francisco. She’d never been there before, even though Scott Mackenzie’s “Are You Going to San Francisco?” was one of her favorite songs. Ostensibly for a visit with some friends, we endured a half-dozen delays and setbacks (ask us about it sometime), finally arriving at one of those rare moments, almost self-aware of how important it is, when everything comes together in a serendipitous “life is sweet” epiphany. In this case: a guy, a girl, a ring, a wonderful weekend, and a singular future. It’s already a non-contest for 2011 as well—May 28, 2011, “The Wedding.”