Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009: The year in reviews

Good lord! It's that time of year again whe-

Y'know what? Every year when I come to write this year in reviews post I pretend to be surprised that the end of the year has crept up on me like this. Each and every year. You'd think I'd be organised by now, wouldn't you?

(don't answer that)

Well, organised or not, it actually IS that time of year again - time for THE YEAR IN REVIEWS!



03. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
I actually received this book for Christmas last year, but kept putting off reading it because I found myself buying other books I wanted to read more, and also because it was just so darn huge that I was worried I might drop it on myself in bed and suffocate. Still, around the middle of the year I finally got around to picking it up (good bicep workout) - and soon fell in love with it. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is all about a mute boy who grows up on an isolated farm where his parents breed dogs. As he grows Edgar develops a unique bond with the dogs, but into his happy little life comes a dodgy uncle, and soon after his father dies … and then the young boy sees his father's ghost. For such a long book, David Wroblewski did a remarkable job of keeping the story alive and enthralling, especially when Edgar runs away from home and the whole thing takes a completely different, highly unexpected turn. It's riveting, powerful stuff (who'd guess that I would get emotional over the death of a fictional dog!?) and I genuinely didn't want Edgar's story to end.

02. Things the Grandchildren Should Know by Mark Oliver Everett
Remarkable autobiography from the frontman of the band Eels. I read this back at the beginning of the year (another Christmas '08 book) and even now I can distinctly recall passages from it - it's THAT memorable. Why? Well, because basically Mr. E (to give him his stage name) has been through so much in his life - the deaths of his parents, his sister's suicide, a plane crashing on his neighbourhood to name just a few examples - that you're suddenly grateful for all the good in your own life. But what's most amazing is that all this sadness is relayed to the reader in such a startlingly honest, open, and humourous manner. I liked it so much that after finishing it I immediately went out and bought a load of Eels albums. Terrifically life-affirming.

01. October Skies by Alex Scarrow
Yet another book I received for Christmas last year (I did read some other great books later in the year - honest!). I went into this based on what sounded like an interesting premise, and finished it thinking it was one of the best thrillers I've ever read. October Skies takes place in two different time periods - a wagon train of settlers in the mid-1800s who find themselves snowed in while traversing a mountain range, and a journalist in 2008 who finds the remains of their camp. What makes this book even more gripping, though, is a supernatural element that comes to bear on the isolated travellers, and a threat that reaches across the centuries to threaten the journalist. October Skies is exactly what I look for in a thriller - exciting, quick prose, a mystery that actually gets you thinking and keeps you in suspense, and a superb resolution. It had me on the edge of my seat throughout: I loved this book.

(Honourable mentions go to Mother, Come Home and Let Us Be Perfectly Clear by Paul Hornschemeier who is right up their with the Hernandez brothers as one of my favourite graphic novelists EVAH; A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers which, like Things the Grandchildren Should Know, is another autobiography marred by tragedy but which against all expectations is a life-affirming joy to read; The View From the Bridge, an excellent and honest autobiography from Nicholas Meyer, the director of Star Treks II and VI and an incredibly intelligent man I've long admired; and the Star Trek: Early Voyages Omnibus from IDW Publishing that collects all 17 issues of the actually rather good Marvel comics charting the Captain Pike era, which sadly ends on an epic cliffhanger that will never be resolved)


03. Up
In all honesty this position should've gone to Where The Wild Things Are, a movie I'd been looking forward to for AGES and which I really did love when I finally got to see it a couple of weeks back. But back in October Disney/Pixar's Up came along and buggered everything, well, up. Y'see, I've not really enjoyed the most recent Pixar films; Wall•E was great until he left Earth; Ratatouille simply didn't appeal so I've yet to see it; and I hated Cars - which is odd because up until that point I'd liked most of the Pixar movies and I love cars. So I went into Up with expectations rather low, buoyed only by the fact that I was interested to see how the 3D worked. I certainly did not expect such an incredible, emotionally-involving movie that genuinely made me care about an old man, a chubby boy scout, and a talking dog named Dug. Don't believe me? Just watch the opening scenes of Up and tell me that the story of Mr Fredricksen's life - told in just a couple of minutes - doesn't leave you with a tear in your eye.

02. (500) Days of Summer
I think I've harped on enough about this movie since I first saw it in September for me to just shut up here and tell you that you really should see it when it hits DVD in a couple of weeks time. I saw it three times in the space of two weeks at the cinema, and I'll be buying it on the day of release, mark my words.

01. Star Trek
Oh, like you couldn't have guessed what would occupy the top spot! Star Trek, Star Trek … to be honest, I went into this film with a little trepidation: would it violate the precious cannon that I and my fellow fans hold so dear? Would it be a simple popcorn action masquerading as our cherished franchise? Four years after Enterprise was axed, would Star Trek die one horrible, final death on the big screen while all the naysayers pointed and laughed. No. It did none of these things. And while it may be too early to say whether the film will enjoy such longevity and affection as Star Trek II, for example, what J.J. Abrams and his team did was to revitalise and reenergise our beloved Star Trek for the here and now. And more importantly, they made it relevant - not only to the hardcore fans, but to a more general audience. Never before has Star Trek looked so alive and vibrant and realistic. I loved every minute of this movie, and by setting it in a parallel universe (screw you reset button!) populated by a wonderfully talented cast taking over the iconic original series characters, Abrams has perfectly set the scene for Star Trek to boldly go again and again for many years to come. The only question is: how will they top this one?

(Honourable mentions go to the aforementioned Where The Wild Things Are which was so brilliantly done and an obvious labour of love, and … actually, that's about it. I thought most of the summer blockbusters were totally 'meh' this year, and nothing else really sticks out, so I'm not going to force the issue and instead just leave it there)

TV shows!

03. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
I've watched rather a lot of this vile little sitcom this year thanks to iTunes popping the first four seasons and the new Christmas special up for sale, and quite frankly I love it. It's the antithesis of all those mainstream Friends-style comedies; the characters - and I mean ALL the characters - are loathsome individuals, the hijinks they get themselves into are brilliantly conceived, and quite frankly the whole show is genius. I've previously highlighted how awesome I think Charlie Day is, but I've also come to realise just how great the other cast members are as well. If you like your comedy dark and filthy, and abhor laughter tracks, you should totally check out It's Always Sunny.

02. Family Guy
In the last couple of months I've watched the latest Family Guy boxset and, just today, I saw the latest Star Wars special, Something Something Something Dark Side, which had me giggling like Peter Griffin being tickled. I know there are a lot of Family Guy haters out there who claim that both The Simpsons and South Park are better, but quite frankly I disagree; the most recent episodes of those two shows that I've seen have been pretty dull, while Family Guy, rather like It's Always Sunny, just gets more vile, more dirty, more puerile, and, yes, more funny with each passing year. Admittedly some of the jokes do get recycled over and over again, but in a way that's part of the appeal - you're almost waiting for Cleveland's house to be demolished and him to slide out of the bath, for Meg to be cruelly dismissed by Peter, or for Stewie to say something utterly disgusting. Each to their own, I suppose, but in my opinion Seth McFarlene and the Family Guy writers are comedy geniuses.

01. Smallville
Smallville is one of those shows that I kind of take for granted. I don't actually watch it on TV any more, I just get the boxsets, blitz it in the week before Christmas, then don't really think about it until the following year. But after watching the eighth season just last week I've decided to give the series its dues: this is a quality show. While many other series might stumble in their later years, Smallville has remained remarkably consistent over the eight years it's been onscreen, and it shows no signs of letting up yet. This latest season introduced the character of Doomsday who, in the comics was pretty much just a monster that beat the living crap out of Supes; here, though, Doomsday was given a human aspect that truly brought an otherwise one-dimensional character to life. Smallville's writers do a fantastic job of playing story arcs out across an entire season, perfectly juggling serious drama with more comedic moments. It should also be noted that I actually only realised the other day that aside from Clark and Chloe, the entire cast has changed from the first season, and it's the show's interpretation of characters like Green Arrow and Lois Lane that have helped it stay fresh and interesting - and most remarkably of all, allow me to watch it without realising that Kristin Kreuk is no longer in it.

(Honourable mentions go to Boston Legal, which bowed out with a perfectly formed finale that brought closure to the characters of Crane, Poole, and Schmidt; Flight of the Conchords, which deserves recognition purely for the episode 'The New Cup'; 'Chuck' and 'Supernatural,' two shows that are consistently entertaining; and Birds of Prey, the short-lived Batman spinoff from 2002/2003 that I downloaded from iTunes and actually rather enjoyed!)

As with last year, I actually didn't go to too many gigs this year, so I'm going to list my top three albums again. I kinda think that makes more sense anyway. Even if I go to a gig every day next year I think I'll stick with albums as the category.

03. The BQE by Sufjan Stevens
Ah, good ol' Sufjan returned this year with a new album - but to the crushing disappointment of many it wasn't the latest in his 50 states album project, but was instead an instrumental album inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (and yes, you're right - that's a road). In the hands of anyone else it's likely that an album about a road would inspire nothing more than an aneurysm in anyone that listened to it, but Sufjan Stevens has created a truly beautiful orchestral piece. And I mean piece, not album; The BQE is one of the few albums I will listen to only in its entirety - no skipping through a track here or there, and no listening to tracks in isolation. It's a remarkable, uplifting, joyous piece of music, and one that I urge you to experience for yourself.

02. Gorilla Manor by Local Natives
I discovered Local Natives when their track 'Airplanes' was given away as an iTunes free download of the week. I listened to it, liked it, then left it to languish in my iTunes library. A few weeks later I saw they'd done a free session for Daytrotter, so I downloaded that (and you can too HERE), and it's then that I thought 'this is a cracking little band.' Shortly after that I downloaded their album from iTunes, and subsequently listened to it on constant rotation over the next couple of days. It's a fantastic debut - 12 beautiful, melodic, catchy songs to suit every mood, all wonderfully played with real instruments and a real passion. They even write a blog. I'd love to see them live - and seeing as they're touring over here next year maybe I'll get the chance.

Fantastic facial hair too.

01. The Californian by The Californian
I was saying just the other week on the rundown of the tracks on my 2009 mix CD how much I love this album, and ain't nuttin' changed since then. This is a simply awesome collection of demos (DEMOS!) from an unsigned band that in my opinion stand head and shoulders above the vast majority of signed acts doing the rounds at the moment. I really do not know how or why some A&R person hasn't signed this band up. I would if I had the money and a record label. On the basis of these awesome songs (I say again: DEMOS!), The Californian's forthcoming EP will be just about the best thing EVAH. As with my mix CD post, there doesn't appear to be any youtube videos of The Californian (how enigmatic!), so I refer you instead to their Myspace page, which features some wonderful new songs, and their blog.

(Honourable mentions go to Flight of the Conchords second album, I Told You I Was Freaky, and Jason Mraz, Joseph Arthur, and Priscilla Ahn, all of whom I saw perform live this year, and all of which blew me away with their incredible talents)

Other stuff!
Top of the list has to be Clubbie, the awesome little Mini Clubman that replaced my much-loved Cooper S and has swiftly become by far my favourite of the three Minis I've owned, and protected me superbly when an idiot in a Peugeot 206 crashed into me - which leads us onto … Bikram yoga! If you'd told me at the beginning of the year that I'd be addicted to a form of sweaty yoga practiced basically naked in a room heated to 40 degrees I would've laughed in your face, but addicted I am. Bikram yoga did wonders for helping me get my back and neck back into shape after the accident, and I simply cannot conceive of not having it in my life now: I'm a true convert, and really can't express how amazing I feel after every class. Elsewhere, my Apple-addiction saw me get an iPhone 3GS (just like my old iPhone but FASTER) and an Apple TV, which seamlessly lets me watch films and TV shows downloaded from the iTunes store on my big telly - good times! Kudos also to the George Lamb show on BBC 6Music that kept me massively entertained between 10 and 1pm each weekday before George and the team were shuffled off to weekend breakfast at the end of November; if you ever meet me and Yazzle Dazzle for coffee and we start call each other "rudegirl" or respond to birdsong with the line "what's that Schrubert?" you've got Lamby to thank for that. Finally, friends, family, and everyone that takes time out of their day to read the nonsense I write here - your comments and company always brighten my day, and it's a pleasure and a privilege to have you in my life.

And the losers…
Top of the list has to go to the aforementioned accident, which really knocked me for six, and that terrible day when my Big Bro's new car was stolen. On the plus side, while the car was sadly discovered written off, the cops have been excellent and Big Bro has a lovely new motor. Elsewhere, and far more trivially, Heroes and My Name is Earl both just lost me this year; the latter's been cancelled, and I'm sure the former will be following soon. Both shows had brilliant concepts, and both utterly lost their way. Doctor Who also annoyed me this year with a number of dire specials padded out by the doctor shouting and running around too much; hopefully the new doctor, Matt Smith, and the new show runner Steven Moffat will renew my appreciation and affection for the series. This leads nicely on to the new Muse album (which was preceded by a single that sounded like the Doctor Who theme tune) which proved to be a horrific mess that had the unfortunate effect of completely turning me off all their previous albums. Cinematic hopes were dashed when the vast majority of the summer blockbusters - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in particular - turned out to be rubbish.

Aaaaaaaaand … that's yer lot! At least I think it is. No doubt I'll publish this and then have an 'OHMYGOD I FORGOT ABOUT-!' moment. Anyway, beautiful trophies of precious metals and shiny jewels presented by Autumn Reeser to the winners, half-full cans of well-past-their-sell-by-date beans and meat of indeterminate origin presented by Paris Hilton to the losers!


Inexplicable DeVice said...

May I just say: District 9?

I'll comment properly later/tomorrow, but I'm in full on panic mode as I attempt to churn out a review post (as demanded by you and the otheres) of my own.

Alex said...

Tim, thanks for your wonderful review of 'October Skies', it put a smile on this author's face to see a book so thoroughly enjoyed. I hope I can tempt you to read my other thrillers (do a search on 'Alex Scarrow' on Amazon)

Anyway, merry xmas

Alex Scarrow

Tim said...

Inexplicable Device - Yeah, I liked District 9, but I didn't think it was as wonderful as everyone else thought it was. Certainly not to the point that I feel compelled to rush out and buy the DVD, which I always use as a way of determining how much I enjoyed a movie.

Alex - Hello! My pleasure, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read! And yes, I certainly am tempted to check out some of your others - just need to work my way through the mountain of books I got for Christmas before I can even think about letting myself loose in a bookshop!!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you too!

Tara said...

I bought "I, Alex Cross" for my mom for Christmas, because we both love that author. She's a rapid reader and was finished by the end of the day after Christmas. She's gonna pass it onto me now so I can read it.

I'm glad that you loved Star Trek so much! I think that might be one of the movies I watch again on New Year's Eve.

CyberPete said...

I watched the video to the first single off the new Muse album. I didn't care for the song but the video is awesome.

I liked Transformers 2, some friends of mine and I watched it at the movies and we laughed a lot. Very unintentionally funny. Josh Duhamel is hot!

Loved your year in reviews. It makes me want to do one myself.

Tim said...

Tara - Bloomin' heck, your mom doesn't hang around with books at all, does she? My Dad's a bit like that. I often tell him he should slow down and savour the story!

Cyberpete - I don't think I've seen the video … I'm rather anti-Muse now, sadly. As for Transformers 2, I'm glad you found something you liked in it - it's more than I did!!

Anonymous said...

Tim, I see you're a bit hacked off with Dr Who. You're right, it all has gotten rather silly. Steven Moffat will be the ONLY reason I give it a go in the new year. Meanwhile, if Who-esque stuff's your bag, thought you might be interested in this:-



missyandchrissy said...

wow, i think i have to go hunt down sufjan's album because the actual BQE is SUCH an awful horrid road i have no idea how it could inspire beautiful music!

Tim said...

Alex - Yeah, just a bit! I think I've reached over-saturation point with David Tennent, and I've come to the conclusion that Russell T. Davies just isn't a very good writer. That being the case, Matt Smith and Steven Moffat could be just what the, er, doctor ordered!

I like the sound of Time Riders - I'll pick up a copy in Feb!

MissyandChrissy - You need to get the album, listen to it while driving down the road, then report back as to whether it changed your opinion of the BQE!

Dinah said...

Awesome stuff, I do love year-ends in review, and you're so good to keep notes! This makes me want to do something like would probably take me until about February to put it up, though.

I did love Star Trek, and I love that you loved it. And I still watch Family Guy, sometimes it's quite funny and most times it's ridiculous, but I like it.

wordless words said...

You have a tallent for blogging. And I feel privileged to get to read it! :)

Tim said...

Dinah - I love that I give the impression that I keep notes - it makes me sound almost … professional!? Nah, I figure if something made such an impression on me throughout the year to still be in my mind after Christmas it deserves a place on the list - which explains why the honourable mentions in the film category is sorely lacking!

Wordless Words - Ah, bless you - you're too kind!!