Slate is having the yearly movie club that I enjoy tremendously. Everyone’s top ten is coming out in anticipation of award season. I didn’t get to the movies much this past year. Netflix was a heavenly savior. The best movie I saw was made in 2003 and won’t be released in America until later in 2005: Chan Wook Park’s Old Boy. So consider this belated news or early warning: Holy Shit. Old Boy is a hammer blow to your temple. It is what David Fincher can only dream of making. It shakes your complacent, warm, soupy ass out of the futon and hurls you out the window. And yes, my descriptions are all physical because this movie has a physical and visceral impact. The hallway fight scene, shot in one side-scrolling take, has humor, pathos and gut-wrenching physicality. The story, a brilliant mindfuck, is simply about vengeance. But vengeance tempered, nurtured, plotted, planned and executed with immaculate preparation, training and patience. Ok, I will stop. This is, after all, a “best of” post. Other notables of 2004, in no order of preference:
- Eternal Sunshine – which deconstruced memory so poignantly.
- Harold & Kumar – which was laugh out loud funny. I just saw Kumar on Angel Season 3 playing some swami guy with an exposed brain. Hopefully, he will get better roles after H&K.
- The Incredibles – which I just saw and confirmed that Iron Giant was no fluke and Brad Bird is a genius storyteller.
- The Corporation – in the YEAR of documentaries, nothing was as good as this. Brilliantly satisfied my leftist needs. Also, I have not purchased any non-Organic milk since.
- A Very Long Engagement – Merchant & Ivory should watch this to see how a period film should be made. Forget the movie, my inner historian loved every single detail about France in WWI – the railway stations, the cafes, the pubs, the libraries, the streets, the ships. Most excellent.
- Los Angeles Plays Itself – didn’t see it but really, really wanted to. Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote about it like 10 times in the Reader and made me hate life for missing it.
Pitchfork, tinymixtapes, and many others that you can see here have told you this already. But, here it is once more: The Arcade Fire’s Funeral is the best record of 2004. The damn thing has been in constant rotation at home, in the car, at the office and I am still not sick of it. Will Butler has supplanted my crush on Colin Meloy. Like many other good rock records of the year it harkens back to three or four influences (people say Neutral Milk Hotel or early Bowie or whatever) but creates its own sound and space. The closest comparison I can think of is a few tracks from Stephin Merritt. Complex instrumentation, melodious, catchy as all hell and very, very depressing. Just buy the damn thing, if you haven’t already. Some other notables, in no particular order:
- Not Going Anywhere by Keren Ann – Move over Cat Power, I have a new addiction.
- Scissor Sisters by Scissor Sisters – This record made me laugh and singalong every song. Brilliant summer record. And Take Your Mama Out Tonight is the sickest date song. I love it.
- Franz Ferdinand by Franz Ferdinand – Until Funeral, this was the best record of the year and it still has amazing pop songs. Moacir deconstructs the record nicely. And I totally picked the assassination motif, dude.
- Van Lear Rose by Loretta Lynn. If only for Little Red Shoes.
- i by Magnetic Fields. i love thee. I Die is amazing.
- Hot Fuss by The Killers.
- Since We Last Spoke by RJD2. Excellent coding music.
- The Tipping Point by The Roots. Not their best but better than their last few ones.
- Blueberry Boat by The Fiery Furnaces. I didn’t like it as much as everyone else did but I liked it more than I thought I would like it. Any record that forces me to listen repeatedly is a winner.
Didn’t read much this year. I cannot even remember what I read that was not all about my research. But that has been the case since grad school started. We read so much but it all goes into pre-sorted bins. There was no Murakami to make me break all rules (there is one coming soon, though). Sad. Sad. Anyways. The best thing I read this year, for the first time since I was a teenager, was Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. As a colonial novel, it has lots to piss the poco crowd but I loved every sweaty, dusty minute in the ancient and wise India of Kipling. Highly recommended. The rest…
- Aimee Phan’s We Should Never Meet. Yes, she is a CM friend. But, don’t you love the title alone? and the titled story is just haunting. Her sense of location is so exquisite. Lovely words. Go buy it. More CM cronies will be debuting this year, so at least I will read something!
- Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was recommended by Vu and lived up to its recommendation. I finished it in one saturday afternoon and you have no idea how happy that made me feel. Go Vu.
- Mitchell Duneier’s Slim’s Table is not from 2004 but I just got around to reading it. It is an ethnography set in a Hyde Park restaurant. One of the best things about race in America.
- Sussana Clark’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I haven’t finished it yet. But damn good so far.
- Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers.
- I have concrete plans to read Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found soon as well as the Philip Roth.
- The NewYorker. Excellent writing this year. Led by Seymour Hersh’s brave reporting.