Mon 08 Jan
This is a little late, but in December, the lists came out—best of’ lists, what’s in and what’s out lists, lists of New Year’s resolutions etc. So I figured, what the heck, I may as well make a list. I mean, that’s kind of what Internet content is all about— realizing the compulsion to express an opinion, regardless of intrinsic value — right?
The best show of the year. As twisted, infuriating, suspicious and numbingly boring as it was at times, it was political drama of the highest order. It may not be entirely wrong to call it a national embarrassment — and I am still depressed and incredulous that we’ve elected the apotheosis of every dumb frat boy that’s ever annoyed the shit out of me to office — but there’s something to be said for a peaceful transfer of power in spite of such a dramatic rift in popular opinion.
It wouldn’t even take a worst-case scenario to imagine that the very capable director Ang Lee would have succumbed to the enormous star power he assembled for this kung fu masterpiece.
Imagine how bloated an epic Western starring the likes of both Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts could be, and you’ll understand the skepticism in my stomach when I first heard that Lee had brought together not only the iconic Chow Yun-Fat (the first and closest approximation that the twenty-first century has to the likes of Cary Grant and Gary Cooper) and the New Deal heroine Michelle Yeoh, but also the deft artistry of martial arts choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping (who also directed Iron Monkey. Watch it now!).
And imagine that not only did Lee reign them all in like a master, but also spurred all of them to turn in the best work of their careers, and you’ll understand the immense, sustained shout of joy that overtook me when I was able to finally watch this film.
One day, when Napster has been completely co-opted by the long, knotty arm of the major labels and all that’s available for download on the Internet are US$5.95 SDMI versions of Backstreet Boys songs, we’ll all look fondly back at the year 2000. We’ll pine for this lost pocket of history, when people were given the ability to sample music at random, the chance to subvert the archaic legal worldview of old media music monopolists, and the late nights spent exploring the underbelly of a million strangers’ music collections. Cue sentimental music (in MP3 format).
Still the leading visual design journal in its native United Kingdom, and for the rest of the world too, I’d say. Eye features consistently engaging, thoughtful articles of admittedly varying quality. But its ability and willingness to document is head and shoulders above its peers.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more elliptical film from 2000. The constituent parts of Edward Yang’s touching and nuancedlook at Taiwanese life are tiny, insignificant trivialities, mundane moments within mundane lives. Yet their sum is a film that feels grander and more momentous than an opera, a glorious, often heart-wrenching cascade through human disappointment. Eight-year old Jonathan Chang, as a wonderfully tacit, wide-eyed observer of life, turns in probably the second-best child performance ever committed to film (for the best, see Jess Bradford in Soderbergh’sKing of the Hill).
Halfway through this cartoonish, formulaic second installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise, I clenched my fists together, gritted my teeth and silently mouthed the words, I’m so happy that they made this film! And I was.
This was the best actioner of the year, a tour de force in pyrotechnic blockbuster-making. It’s also a curious magnifying glass on John Woo’s career. He has always been a comic book artist of sorts, a kind of Jim Steranko — or better yet, the Moebius of action filmmakers. That is, he brings a hyper-stylized, foreign sensibility to a cliché-bound genre.
But that foreignness is only periodically in sync with Western audiences: the first time I watched this film, in the States, many in the theater scoffed at Woo’s balletic use of slow motion, his digressive, often perversely pointless lingering and his unflinching commitment to irony-free sentimentality. When I watched the film in Asia a month later, no one laughed — they all sat and watched it appreciatively. LikeCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, what I really loved about this movie was its uncompromising execution of Asian storytelling conventions.
A serviceable tale of a young man’s heartbreaking first romance and his tentative foray into adulthood, finally translated into English from Murakami’s native Japanese after much anticipation. The real reason this novel made it on this list is that it introduced me to another Murakami work, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which was by turns thrillingly delivered and frustratingly — and I’d also say contrarily — oblique.
That novel is simply the weirdest book I’ve ever read. I don’t necessarily hold that opinion because the narrative, which follows a man’s attempt to win back his estranged wife while falling in with a crowd of metaphysical sphinxes, is exceedingly bizarre. It isa bizarre plot, but it’s just as often too conveniently obscure as it is genuinely inventive. But for me its true oddness lies in the fact that, even months after finishing it, it still lingers in my brain, and I cannot decide whether or not I enjoyed reading the damn thing.
Ambient’s not dead, maybe. Ten tracks of electronic gray matter, compiled judiciously by the ~Scape label. I listened to this consistently for six months straight. Like the best of my old Seefeel records, I played this record whenever I worked, whenever I wanted to slip into another place away from the bastards.
Rocketed to Earth from the doomed planet Krypton, David Boiesnow fights for truth, justice and the American Way — everywhere. Whetherit was DOJ v. Microsoft, RIAA v. Napster or the Florida recount debacle, it just staggers me that a single human being could be so integral to the character of so many landmark legal struggles.
A fascinating look at the legal implications of moving into a Net-based society. Lessig, who figured prominently in the Department of Justice’s anti-trust suit against Microsoft, takes a jaundiced view ofInternet cheerleading, the notion that since the Net is decentralized and apparently uncontrollable, it is also inherently democratic. His argument is lucid and unnervingly dark, a kind of wake-up call to those who would place a blind faith in the wont of an increasingly market-driven cyberspace to forge a naturally fair society.
Never mind the now-yearly churn of Beatles hype, which this past holiday season began to sour the Beatles fan in even me. This movie transcends all that idol worshipping. It’s roughly one hour and twenty minutes of pure exuberance. I’ve watched it on video maybe two dozen times since high school, but this year’s theatrical re-release featured a beautifully cleaned-up print and crystalline theater sound — I felt as alive and electric as I did when I saw it for the first time.
Really released in October 1999, but I didn’t get my hands on a copy until February 2000. Tabitha Soren’s husband penned this definitive dotconomy chronicle, the best one, the one to beat. Lewis posits that the new economy is merely an extrapolation of Jim Clark’s DNA, the man who struck gold twice with Silicon Graphics and Netscape. Exceptionally well-written and frequently hilarious, The New New Thing reads like a thriller, a bracing account of the rise of our once ‘irrationally exuberant,’ now-sobered economy.
Exceptionally smart, told with great and sure economy, and shiny as a diamond. Even if you’re skeptical of the usually histrionic Ethan Hawke in the title role (he actually turns in a pretty competent performance), you should know that Bill Murray as Polonius is worth the price of admission alone.
Undiminished in its dark beauty, even after half a century. The DVD includes an optional vocal track of Graham Greene’s original treatment, read in time with the movie.
Fünkstorung know how to make noise — a painstaking, brutal, lovely, escapist, fantastic and, er, brutal kind of noise. Michael Fakescha and Chris De Luca release their highly anticipated follow-up to 1999’s extraordinary remix compilation, Additonal Productions. The album clocks in at just under an hour, but I wish I had yards and yards more of it.
I caught the Oscar-qualifying run of this latest Coen Brothers extravaganza in New York just before leaving the country, and I’m incredibly glad that I did. This is the most fun I had at the movies all year, and not just for the fact that I saw it on a great first date with a great woman I fell for.
The most useful Web site of the year, and the great enabler of my ramblings.
Okay, I admit that I didn’t really get to see the prospectus exhibit at the current Guggenheim Museum until Tue 02 Jan, but it was close. I’m incredibly excited about the promise of this new Frank O. Gehry structure, though also trying to keep expectations low — who knows if they’ll really be able to pull it off?. At the very least, walking through the exhibit, viewing the reference materials, studies and working models sent a thrill through my spine.
Luke Haines is the loner kid in the big classroom of rock stars, the one who sits in the back of the room cracking wise about the teacher, the jocks, the whole institution of school. Yet he turns in the most consistently sterling papers. His second Black Box Recorder outing is the most pristine pop of 2000.
That was the good stuff. There was a lot of bad stuff, too. But one of my new year’s resolutions is to focus on the positive, so I’ll keep my list of disappointments brief. In no particular order…
Our economic, cultural and emotional attachment to theidea of rock’n’roll as a sustainable institution is getting desperate, and not alittle pathetic. Both Radiohead and U2 delivered albums that promised to reinvent and rejuvenate, but the former was less interesting than the source material from which it cribbed, and the latter was little more than an over-thought feint of passably hummable tunes. And don’t get me started on the self-destructing bombast of Oasis’ weak Hail Mary, or the Wings-era McCartney-isms of Richard Ashcroft.
Aside from the fact that I used my mobile phone more than ever this year, wireless still ain’t here. Just ask the half dozen of my friends who bought and then let languish their Omnisky wireless modems for Palm connected organizers.
Steven Soderbergh is the most superhuman of directors working today, in my humble opinion, but he’s still finding his footing in the world of big-budget Hollywood films. He broke through to the big time with Erin Brockovich which was much smarter than the average box office feel-good flick, granted. But it was painful to watch him try and re-educate Julia Roberts’ fundamental misunderstanding that grandstanding and acting are the same thing. At least he hasn’t scaled back his ambition. If anything, he scaled it up to admirable proportions for the mostly excellent but still notably flawed Traffic. All that said, I’m still waiting with bated breath for Ocean’s Eleven”. That’s gonna rock.
It took me weeks, starting Sun 17 Dec 00, to compile this list, and to collect all the links and bits of artwork for it from around the Web. The hardest and most fundamentally dishonest thing about lists like these is that generally they aren’t compiled progressively, through the course of the year, but rather in a mad rush at the close of November (at best) or December — or in my case, into the new year a bit. Given that, I freely admit that this list is heavy on the media that floated across my radar in the last six weeks or so. Hey, I’m doing this for free, here.