I'll be posting later in December about my favorite things of the decade (yeah, I'm a list maker) but I think I'll follow Patti Abbott's lead and list five things I loved this year.
TV: "Castle" - If I have to pick a Favorite Among Favorites, this is it. I have not been as entertained as I am with this show in a long time. The chemistry between the leads is gold and clearly the star of the show. That the sophomore season is tightening the writing is so much the better.
Honorable Mention TV: PBS's "Little Dorrit" - While not new for 2009, it was new for us Americans. I considered "Bleak House" to be the quintessential modern Dickens presentation. Well, it now has company.
Books: Gabriel Hunt at the Well of Eternity by James Reasoner - I haven't had this much fun reading a new* book in a long time. Well, in at least a year (since Don Winslow's The Dawn Patrol and Christa Faust's Money Shot). Highly entertaining with its whimsy on its sleeve, the adventures of Gabriel Hunt is my favorite new* book of the year.
Honorable Mention Books: Trust Me by Jeff Abbott - Like I wrote in my review, sometimes summer blockbusters arrive in bookstores. This thrill-a-minute roller coaster of a book propels you from page one to “The End” faster than pretty much anything. Of all the books I read this year, this was the one I couldn’t wait to start reading again.
*This was the year when I finally read some classics: Treasure Island and Tarzan of the Apes. Reading these books made me feel twelve years old again. They have already vaulted into All-Time Favorites status. I also read The Man of Bronze (Doc Savage #1) and saw how much fun it is to read his adventures. Together, these books have already had an influence on my writing.
Comics: Wednesday’s Comics - A 12-issue mini-series, this title was published in the summer and was printed on paper the size of newspapers. The art and writing talent alone was enough to bring in readers (Azzarello, Gaiman, Bermajo, Kubert). The presentation, the tactile feel of newsprint under fingers, made it a joy to read.
Movies: Star Trek - When I saw the first trailer, I, a Trekkie, went “meh.” I saw the second one and I thought the show would be pretty good. By the third, I was making plans to take off work a half day and see this thing on the IMAX. Yowza what a movie! It didn’t bother me in the least that it screwed with all that we knew before. This new cast was stellar, the show highly entertaining, and I laughed so much more than I ever expected.
Honorable Mention Movies: Sherlock Holmes - Yeah, I know I haven’t seen it but it’s the movie that’ll make me break my Don’t-See-Movies-On-Christmas-Day Rule. I know I’m going to love it. It’s just a matter of time.
Music: Since I’m limiting myself to things released this year, this category, ironically, is the most challenging. Thanks to NPR’s survey of the best music of the decade, I’m currently digging in a huge way The Bad Plus’s 2003 CD “These are the Vistas” but it’s an old record. The year started with Andrew Bird’s “Noble Beast,” one of the most intellectual albums of the year. It’s opening track, “Oh No,” makes me want to start whistling better. In a year when Springsteen releases a record, he’s usually the default winner. “Working on a Dream” is a good record but not the best of his 00s releases. This was the year The Decemberists followed up their spectacular album (“The Crane Wife”) with “The Hazards of Love.” It’s a good CD but not my favorite.
Late this year, I’ve got a strong contender from an unlikely source: classical. The Orange Mountain Music (free at Amazon) samples some of the best (?) works by Philip Glass (see Honorable Mention #2). Glass has been a mystery to me for almost his entire career. I love this collection and have already scoured my local libraries to find two full albums of material. I especially appreciate that he writes for saxophone.
The one CD I can pretty much cast my ballot towards is Roy Hargrove’s first big band CD, “Emergence.” This record, eleven tracks in all, is a rich blend of old and new. On certain tracks, “Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey,” you’d think you were in the 1940s. Other tracks, like “Tschpiso” and “Requiem,” remind you that you are firmly in the 21st Century. Hargrove, however, never forgets when he comes from, as you can tell in the opening track, “Valera,” that pays homage to Miles Davis’s “Nefertiti.” I don’t usually listen to instrumental music on the daily commute and I almost always listen to my music on random. This CD changes things. I let it play. And play. And play.
Honorable Mention Music #1: Radiolarians II by Medeski, Martin & Wood - David Cranmer posted a link to “Amber Gris” on his blog and I was hooked. The odd time signature leaves you off-kilter with a beat that pushes you towards the end. The rest of the CD is a smorgasbord of rhythms, sounds, and textures sure to suck you in and leave you wanting more.
Honorable Mention Music #2: John Adams “City Noir” - If you needed the reason I actually downloaded that Philip Glass compilation, this is it. I happened upon an episode of PBS’s “Great Performances” when they showed the debut concert of the LA Philharmonic conducted by the exciting Gustavo Dudamel. The second piece was Mahler’s First Symphony. The piece that got me listening was the work Dudamel commissioned from Adams. “City Noir” is that wonderful type of modern classical music: melodic, with rhythms that were born in the 20th Century, and yet different enough that you know you’re not listening to Mozart. I recorded the rebroadcast of “Great Performances” and have watched it a couple more times. I eagerly await the release of the John Adams portion of the concert (oddly, not available but the Mahler part is). If it’s released in 2010, I already have a strong contender for Best CD of 2010.