The year reduced to categories
Here’s some insider information: Usually, publications do year-end lists to make life easier. It’s the holidays, and everyone wants to go home and drown their sorrows in egg nog, so writers bust out meaningless lists to fill space and appease editors and light readers. But this list was hard—harder than writing an actual story. I mean, who the hell remembers what happened weeks ago, let alone at the beginning of the year? Anyway, here are some lists from people who have contributed to SN&R in one form or another over the years. And believe me, they’re profound.
Less was more: 10 great, graciously austere movies of ‘08
Notwithstanding Robert Downey Jr.’s performance of the year in Tropic Thunder, my favorite films of ’08 tended toward the spare and simple, winning me over with eloquent reticence. True, these 10 involve tween vampires, washed-up wrestlers, dingbatty English women, sentient-seeming balloons and anthropomorphized trash compactors, but the point is how much humanity they all contain. In alphabetical order:
1. Ballast. Of his debut feature, director Lance Hammer says, “There is an energetic resonance in the [Mississippi] Delta that moves me, especially in winter. It has to do with the dignity of endurance in the face of sorrow.” Wow, did he ever nail it.
2. The Class (Entre les murs). By now I’d follow the consistently amazing French director Laurent Cantet anywhere. Even—especially—a Parisian inner-city middle school.
3. Flight of the Red Balloon. A dance, a dream, a whirling dervish of Juliette Binoche.
4. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Yes, definitely the best Romanian movie about an illegal abortion you’ll ever see.
5. Happy-Go-Lucky. A surprising, mysterious, buoyantly humanist achievement for filmmaker Mike Leigh and for movies in general. The range of feelings it provokes is astounding.
6. Let the Right One In. A viscerally immediate sketch of adolescence and a stylish, coolly Swedish genre reboot, all without a single false note.
7. Rachel Getting Married. Its warmth and generosity sends a catchy message: American movies don’t have to suck.
8. WALL-E. So what exactly is so “spare” about the latest überanimated Pixar blockbuster? Its nearly wordless first half, which plays like a perfect, universally communicable silent film.
9. Wendy and Lucy. America’s Umberto D., to put it pretentiously. Politically astute and elegantly realized; I think it might be an instant classic.
10. The Wrestler. The best thing about Mickey Rourke’s top-turnbuckle comeback: They’re not faking it.
Jonathan is a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.
The top five TV shows
TV this year was as barren as the arid peaks of Tibet that a certain spectacle in Beijing tried to airbrush out of existence, making watching it about as interesting as Sarah Palin’s views on the Bush Doctrine. Still, apart from the Olympics and election, 2008 left us with a few crumbs to glean:
1. Moral Orel (Adult Swim). This cartoon began as a satire on Christian hypocrisy and developed into something more. Orel always makes the “immoral” decision, because he is too much like his hero, Jesus. The moral education he gets from the fallen world is nothing more than a prosthesis for his severed innocence.
2. True Blood (HBO). I know. Vampire schlock has been overproduced. But Alan Ball is behind this project, and Rutina Wesley is as fun to watch act as Michael C. Hall was in Six Feet Under.
3. Mad Men (AMC). Honestly, this is my wife’s pick, but she swears by the show.
4. Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job (Adult Swim). Dumb sketch comedy intended to invoke nausea at the existential stink of junk culture. Nothing new here, but the Jeff GoldBluMan Group makes me laugh every time.
5. Survivorman (Discovery Channel). Canadian stud Les Stroud survives alone in remote locales for seven days. If fire bundles don’t make you a little horny, you might wonder why you tuned into this one. In any case, Stroud deserves attention as an exemplar of a new cultural archetype: Mr. Manly Soft.
Jeff is an SN&R contributor and blogs at The Brambles (http://bramble.tumblr.com).
Very Sac moments
You can’t really put into plain words a very Sac moment. You just know it when you’re in it, and you react as such—probably not unlike having a journalist throw a shoe at you. Duck, sucka!
1. Zach Hill at Luigi’s Fun Garden. Drummer, composer and producer Hill’s only Sac performance must have been like seeing Charles Mingus in New York City. It’s the only time all year I felt as if I didn’t deserve to be in the audience.
2. Circus Show & Other Atrocities at Verge Gallery. Haven’t been to Verge Gallery yet? Well, the 10,000-square-foot space is the real deal—and could bring the Sac art scene to the next level. The Gale Hart-curated Circus Show was a coup, so check Verge’s official opening on January 10.
3. April 12, 2008. The fourth Second Saturday of the year caught everyone off guard. Let there be a dozen more moments like this in ’09, when thousands of the region’s dwellers unexpectedly converge on Midtown, leaving local officials clueless.
4. The Gallery Horse Cow fashion party. Multiple rooms with live bands, Night Nurse, nudity, never-ending fashion showcases, friends with cold ones, piling into cars and buses in the 2 a.m. chill (i.e., leaving early), crossing the river into Midtown—screw revitalizing K Street; give the cheddar to Vanoni.
5. !!! at Harlow’s. !!!’s new vocalist repeatedly announced during their set how stoked Sacramento should be to have such remarkable musicians call Sac home. And stoked we are.—Nick Miller
I watched more than 200 movies this year, but only a handful were 2008 releases. Since any list of my top 10 of 2008 would be wholly inadequate (I’d be forced to include Cloverfield, which just shouldn’t happen), I instead compiled the 10 best films I saw for the first time:
1. The Wages of Fear (1953)
2. High School (1968/documentary)
3. I’m Not There (2007)
4. Point Blank (1967)
5. There Will Be Blood (2007)
6. The Seven Samurai (1954)
7. WALL-E (2008)
8. Red River (1948)
9. The Third Voice (1960)
10. Overnight (2003/documentary)
Daniel is an SN&R contributor and blogs at The E Street Film Society (www.estreetfilmsociety.blogspot.com).
The year in hugs and strangles
Sometimes you love something so much that you want to give it a big hug. But sometimes you want to strangle stuff, which is pretty creepy. Here’s to that:
1. Silver Darling
2. DJ Rated R and his turntable trickery
3. The people who let me into their driving lane
4. Masullo Pizza
5. The staff at Peet’s Coffee & Tea on J Street
6. Random Abiladeze’s afro
7. The Immortal Technique show at the Boardwalk and the Living Legends show at the Colonial Theatre
8. Tommy Lee’s Tit-E-Cam
10. Midtown on a summer evening
2. Northern California tailgaters and their big trucks
3. Lil’ Wayne and the retardification of hip-hop
4. People who dress like bike couriers in Sacramento
5. Kanye West and his fat, meaningless face
6. The colorful-sunglasses trend
7. The overuse of synthesizers in music
8. Religious zealots with signs
9. Math rock
10. The bouncers at Empire
Top five movies of 2008
No, 2008 wasn’t a terrific year for movies, but there’s always a caveat that goes with a list like this. A number of the studios’ best hopes for the Oscars haven’t opened as we go to press—in fact, some of them won’t even hit Sacramento until after the new year. Still, of the year so far, here are some standouts, in alphabetical order:
1. Appaloosa. Call me a sucker for a Western in the classic mode, but the conventions of the genre can be surprisingly durable and sensually satisfying, as they were here in the hands of stars Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen and Renée Zellweger (Harris also directed with a sure hand).
2. Get Smart. Some critics seemed to think it was disloyal to the memory of the TV show and the late Don Adams to enjoy this Steve Carell-Anne Hathaway update. Too bad for them; there wasn’t a funnier movie all year. Or a better one, come to that.
3. Iron Man. While The Dark Knight was the box-office hit of the year, I choose this one to represent the comic-hero film this year, for its sparkling look, its headlong pace, and especially for the wry, sexy performances of Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow.
4. WALL-E. Among the year’s animated features, The Tale of Despereaux was equally satisfying, but this winner from Disney-Pixar featured a mix of computer animation and live-action backgrounds that was seamless and innovative, and may well represent the wave of the future.
5. Young at Heart. There were a number of fine concert documentaries this year—for example, the IMAX U2 3D and Martin Scorsese’s Shine a Light with the Rolling Stones—but this one, about a troupe of singers (average age 80) performing songs by the Clash, the Ramones, Talking Heads, etc., beat them all. What it lacked in musical edge it more than made up for in humor, heart and sheer love of life.
Jim is a frequent SN&R contributor.
2008’s best gigs
It was an eventful year: Summer brought festivals and their lovers, while winter was a quiet, melancholic simmer. Here were my highlights:
1. Portishead at Coachella
2. Sigur Rós at Greek Theatre
3. Beach House at Cafe Du Nord
4. Flying Lotus at some random San Francisco rave
5. Cat Power at The Fillmore
1. Mirah and Spectratone International at The Press Club
2. Brother at some packed basement show
3. Hottub at Townhouse (R.I.P.)
4. Mom at Gallery Horse Cow
5. Chelsea Wolfe, everywhere
Terra is an SN&R contributor, local musician and artist.