Friday, December 29, 2006

2006: The year in reviews!

So with the year almost up, I'm going to jump on the bandwagon of every TV show and magazine and take a look back at my favourite bits from the past 12 months. So read on, dear reader, to find out what my, um, favourite bits were!

Because I read so much, this could've been one of the most hard-fought categories. As it turns out, it was actually quite easy to pick my faves...

3. The Motel Life by Willy Vlautin
I know I shouldn't, but I'm often attracted to books by their covers. This is a case in point. Here was a simple yet vivid cover illustration that just pulled me in, and I'm glad it did. Written by the lead singer of Richmond Fontaine, this book focuses on two brothers who flee town after one is involved in a hit and run accident. What follows is a somewhat endearing tale of how they came to be in their present situation, from the heartbreak of their childhood to the hardships of adult life, with each chapter opening with a simple illustration that helps bring life to the drama that unfolds. OK, it's a relatively simple story and quite a quick read, but it was one of those books that I found I'd read only a chapter at a time because I simply didn't want it to finish, and there ain't much higher recommendation than that.

2. It's Superman! by Tom De Haven
Obviously influenced somewhat by Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (which if you haven't read it, do), this novel re-tells Superman's origin story, but from the point of view of if it was set in the depression of 1930's America. This book really surprised me, because quite frankly it could've been a load of old tosh; entertaining tosh, but tosh nevertheless. But instead it turned out to be an incredible novel that really brings to life its settings, and delves into Clark Kent's uncertaintly as he tries to come to terms with his abilities. From the gentle setting of Smallville to the grandiose Metropolis, It's Superman unfolds from humble beginnings to become an epic story of good versus evil that spans the United States and involves everyone from simple gangsters to giant robots.

I can't recommend this novel highly enough - if you've got even a passing interest in Supes give it a whirl!

1. Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories by Gilbert Hernandez
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love the work of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez and their Love and Rockets comics. This book, the companion volume to Jaime's Locas, is the complete collected edition of Gilbert's Palomar stories, and weighing in at around 500 pages, it's a pretty substantial volume of work. Credit these two brothers with showing me that there's much more to comics than superheroes. Palomar is the tale of a town and the people who live in it. Sounds simple? Well there's so much more to it than that, because this town is populated by so many memorable characters and is the setting for numerous complex storylines that run throughout the entire book, covering all aspects of human behaviour. The scope of Palomar is breathtaking, and its complexity demands multiple readings - but give it the attention it deserves and you'll also discover why not every piece of illustrated storytelling should be labelled a funny book.

(Honourable mentions should also go to Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons, and Margaret Wander Bonanno's Burning Dreams which reinstated my faith that a compelling Star Trek novel can still be written)

I like to see a lot of movies, and although I wouldn't quite rate 2006 as a vintage year, there were some absolute gems.

3. Brokeback Mountain
I really wasn't too bothered about seeing this film when it came out, but I wanted to go to the cinema and I'd seen everything else. Thank god I did see it though, because Brokeback Mountain was one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. A touching story, brilliantly realised characters, and the most wonderful scenary I've ever seen in a film. And for those who won't watch it for the simple matter that there's a brief botty-love scene, your loss.

2. The Prestige
This movie, coming so late in the year, really surprised me - it was intelligent, densely-plotted, and most of all incredibly entertaining. There's something to be said for the blockbuster movie that lets you sit back and switch your brain off, but there's also something to be said for the film that demands you engage your brain in an effort to work out what exactly is going on; The Prestige falls into the latter category. Kudos also for the perfect casting of David Bowie as Nikolai Tesla.

An awesome film.

1. Superman Returns
I was expecting BIG THINGS from this film, and not only did it match them - it exceeded them. Just watch the opening credits sequence to get an idea where this movie's coming from; not only does it pay homage to the first two Superman films, it also lets us know that it's moving the game on a bit - I mean, checkout the explosion of Krypton's sun! What follows is the perfect combination of action blockbuster and plot - it ticks all the right boxes with some quite frankly super action sequences, but also tells a damn good story too. And then there's the perfect casting of Brandon Routh as the last son of Krypton (was this guy born to takeover the role?), and a brilliantly nasty Lex Luthor played by Kevin Spacey. Weak links? I could grumble that Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane is nowhere near as sassy, witty, or memorable as Smallville's Erica Durance, but that's a minor quibble, and I look forward to the next time Superman returns.

(Honourable mentions go to: Junebug; I heart this film a lot - it's so good natured, truthful, and at times painful to watch, but it's a delightful little movie that deserves all the credit it gets. Ask me another day, and this could quite easily jump into my top three)

TV shows!
In contrast to the movies, there were some quality TV shows this year. I kinda found it hard to choose, which is why the honourable mentions is quite extensive... (Youtube clips linked via the titles, as blogger/Google/youtube has been acting a bit prissy and may or may not let me embed them anymore!)

3. Boston Legal
Marcosy once said to me that he thought Ally McBeal would've been better without Ally McBeal in it. I also say a dash of William Shatner improves everything. And what was Boston Legal? A new show from Ally McBeal creator David E. Kelley with William Shatner in it - hurrah! OK, so the first season started pretty slowly, but as soon as the Shatner-James Spader partnership got going the show really took flight. By turn funny and thoughtful, Boston Legal is not only brilliant television, but it's also given me a new Shatner catchphrase to quote: DENNY CRANE!

2. My Name is Earl
If you asked me which show I wish I had written, I'd probably choose My Name is Earl. Why? Well first of all it's funny. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it's got real heart - because each episode is all about Earl trying to make the world a better place. Having recently rewatched the entire first season on DVD, I can honestly say that there's not a dud episode among 'em. It's got a great cast too, headed up by Jason Lee who I've been a fan of since I saw him in Mallrats years ago; and I could watch Jamie Pressly as Earl's ex-wife Joy *forever*. I often rate TV shows by how quotable they are; the sheer fact that my brother and I constantly quote My Name is Earl to each other is a sure sign that it's great.

1. The OC
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The OC is great telly. OK, it's a little trashy at times, but that's part of it's appeal - it's fun, dramatic, feel-good TV. It can be both lighthearted and serious, and it crams so many storylines into each season. This year, for example, we've had Ryan and Marissa getting back together, Julie Cooper falling on hard times and moving to a trailer park (comedy gold there), Kirsten leaving rehab and relapsing, Marissa falling for Johnny, Johnny dying, Ryan and Marissa spliting up, Marissa getting involved with Volchak, Ryan getting involved with Johnny's cousin, Summer getting into Brown, Seth NOT getting into Brown, Theresa returning WITH baby, and Marissa dying!


The fourth season starts here in a couple of weeks. I cannot wait.

(Honourable mentions go to Battlestar Galactica, which continues to tell awesome stories that parallel events in the real world; Family Guy which just got ruder and cruder; Smallville for being consistantly entertaining and, in Kristen Kreuk, Allison Mack, and Erica Durance having the hottest trio of ladies on TV; Supernatural, which turned out to be a darker, edgier X-Files for the noughties; One Tree Hill which inexplicably got good again)

I didn't go to as many gigs in 2006 as I have in previous years, but that just made the ones I did go to even more special.

3. Nada Surf
Dispense with all rock-show trappings - check; perform at one of my favourite venues - check; play some of the best feel-good rock I've heard in a long time - check! Nada Surf at the Shepherds Bush Empire back in March was one of my all-time favourite gigs of recent years. Why? Well, they were just endearing musicians - three guys all just having a great time and willing to tell amusing stories to the audience between tracks - quality tunes were played, spirits uplifted, sing-alongs sung. It was a top-notch evening of music, and they instantly earned themselves a place in my list of bands I will see whenever they tour. Great stuff.

2. Muse
2006 was the year I saw Muse twice - once at Shepherds Bush, the next at Wembley Arena. Both shows were amazing for different reasons - the former because, well, it was Muse in the smallest venue I'm ever probably going to see them in, and the latter because a small part of me thinks they're one of the few bands who actually need to play big venues. Either way, both shows were absolutely amazing, and a sure sign that Muse are THE premier rock band of their generation.

1. The Rolling Stones
There's something magical about The Rolling Stones, and one of their gigs is always, ALWAYS a sight to behold - let alone them playing the closest they'll probably get to a homecoming gig at Twickenham Stadium. So they played pretty much everything I could've wanted them to, they performed marvelously, and their stage show was dazzling - but an extra reason why I loved this show so much was the fact that I went to see it with my family. Seeing Mum in absolute awe of the band she's waited over 40 years to see was incredible, and Simon's reaction that he wasn't too bothered by the whole thing UNTIL Keith played that first riff is indicative of just how wonderful the world's greatest rock 'n roll band continue to be.

(Honourable mentions to The Feeling, who I saw THREE times, and who just. Keep. Getting. Better; The Foo Fighters who played Hyde Park and still made it seem like we were all just a bunch of mates getting together to cheer on our local band)

Other stuff!

3. Running
Letting Sweatband talk me into actually running outside for the hell of it was definitely one of the better decisions I've made this year. It's free, it's mostly enjoyable, and it makes me feel like I've done a super-awesome workout. And the sense of accomplishment I felt at completing two 10k runs was almost overwhelming. No wonder I'm seriously considering giving up my gym membership...

2. Moving out
OK, so I may have sort of gone "Um, what the hell am I doing?" that first night (January 1st, 2006) when I finally moved into Sparky Towers, but over the weeks and months that followed I found my own little homeowner's groove. I've always enjoyed my own company for the most part (because I can be frikkin' entertaining), and having your own place gives you space to reflect and chillout. It's kind of like having my own version of Superman's Fortress of Solitude, except replace 'big scary hologram of Marlon Brando' with 'big TV and Xbox' and you'll get a better idea of what I mean.

1. Blogging
Ah, at Glittering Lee's suggestion I'd been thinking about starting a blog for a while by the time I finally plucked up the courage one evening before The OC started. And I'm soooooooooo glad I did. Not only has it saved my family from my endless wittering about the things that I like and do, but no one complains or lets me see that bored, glazed over look in their eyes! Another, perhaps more important aspect, is the fact that I've met some truly amazing fellow bloggers who've introduced me to new ideas, recommended great books and music, made me feel good about the things that I do, and inspired me to, in the words of S Club 7, reach for the stars. You're all, like, totally awesome, and I look forward to reading your blogs each and every day.

Other winners!
iPod Nano - genius! Xbox 360 - a winner from Microsoft?! Yes - intuitive menu system, brilliant online play, and some great games (Star Trek - yay!) Muse, Blackholes and Revelations - OK, it sags a little in the middle, but Muse's latest album can be forgiven for three reasons - Supermassive Blackhole, Starlight, and Knights of Cydonia. Sufjan Stevens, The Avalanche and Christmas Boxset - an album of astonishingly beautiful off-cuts from the Illinois album and a boxset of Christmas EPs that coloured me festive reaffirmed my opinion that Sufjan Stevens is one of the most brilliant singer-songwriters out there. Starbucks card - OK, there's no real point to it, but it just makes you feel important!

And the losers...
...Lost totally lost me this season - I just really don't care why they're all on the friggin' island, and quite frankly they can stay there ... Desperate Housewives - the quality of the first season went flying out the window and all we were left with was Teri Hatcher's stony botox'd visage. Even the sight of Bree with a shotgun couldn't bring me back into the fold ... Orson at the 100 Club in Oxford Street - No Tomorrow was a great song, horribly overplayed, but great nevertheless; unfortunately, none of their other songs are anywhere near as good ... Cars - Disney/Pixar finally hit the skids. I love cars, and I love movies, but this was just a dire retelling of the Michael J Fox movie Doc Hollywood... Xfm - I hate to say this because I love this station sooooo much, but this year they've completely ruined the killer daytime lineup they started 2006 with, and now I have to retune to Capital to listen to Lucio, and retune to BBC Radio 6 to hear Shaun Keaveny (which as it's a digital only station will mean I'll be sitting in the office with headphones on listening to it through my computer, which is just antisocial). The least they can do is put Iain Baker back in his rightful place weekday afternoons.

So that was 2006 in reviews. Agree? Disagree? Anything I missed, hmmm...?


Miss T said...

It's posts like these that make me realise that you write for a living, Tim. I also enjoy them because you have awesome taste in music and books. So far everything your have recommended has immediately gone to my 'favourite' list.

I'd like to add musical arteeests to the list, and give a megasupermaximumnumberonenuclearlaser thumbs up to Sufjan Stevens. I almost love him as much as Josh Pyke, and that is saying something.

Personal faves of his: Chicago and Jacksonville.

Tim said...

It's posts like these that make me realise I can ramble on a bit, can't I? Blimey - have you seen how long it is? Truth be told, it's not quite as coherent as I'd planned it to be as I'm suffering from some bizarre Star Trek-style illness - I'm hazarding a guess at Tarkalean flu. Damn Tarkaleans!

(More on my illness next post)

Also, should add - Josh Pyke should definitely go in the honourable mentions list for putting out a damn fine album that was beautifully short - about 26 minutes? Few people do that these days, and I salute him for keeping it short and sweet.

Look at that - I've gone off on one again... LONGEST. COMMENT. EVAH. (Perhaps)

Will said...

Dude, The Departed was totally the best film of the year. Carry on.

Tim said...

Aaaah... I missed that one. Probably saw Cars instead (fool!). I'll catch it when it comes on FilmFour or something!

Tara said...

I found I'd read only a chapter at a time because I simply didn't want it to finish

I completely understand what you mean about this! I've read a few books that made me read slower just because I didn't want them to end. One of them was "A Girl Named Zippy: Growing up small in Mooreland, Indiana". Very funny, endearing book.

Hey, and I hope you and yours have a very Happy New Year! Here's to more blogging in 2007!

Tim said...

Tara, I'm sooooooo glad you said that because when I read back over it I thought it made me sound a bit special! Ha ha!! Of course, there's also something to be said for racing through a book because it's so good, but I find a book is REALLY good if I start ... slowing ... ... down!

And all the very best for 2007 to you too!

Inexplicable DeVice said...

Great review Tim. I'm glad Margaret WB and Battlestar got honourable mentions.

I was going to say 'what about so and so, or whatsitsname', but realised that it wouldn't be your review anymore - it'd be mine. So instead, you've inspired me to do my own review.

Looking forward to more malarkey in 2007!

missy&chrissy said...

i agree with will, definitely check out the departed when you have a chance...its a great movie. i haven't seen most of the others that made your best of '06 list, but i will have to check them out...

and we're so happy you started blogging too - happy new year sparky tim!

Spider Girl said...

I totally agree with your assessment of "My Name is Earl"--we watched the whole first season in one chunk. Excellent.

Happy New Year!

Tim said...

Inexplicable Device - I loved Burning Dreams, ta for the pointing me toward it. Hopefully MWB will write a few more Trek novels; her, JM Dillard and the Reeves-Stevenses are about the only ones I rate these days...

I'm looking forward to you review of the year - and more IDV mischievousness in the New Year!!!

And don't worry... there's already some malarkey in the planning for 2007...

Missy and Chrissy - I will definitely checkout The Departed, if only because I'm a sucker for peer pressure, and now both you and Will have told me to watch it, so I pretty much have to!

And a Happy New Year to you too - I look forward to reading more Love and Cyanide escapades in 2007!

Spider Girl - Hello!

My Name is Earl actually makes me wish I was trailer trash, which is a pretty good sign of how awesome it is, because I normally wouldn;t wish that on my worst enemy!

Happy New Year to you too!!