I was inspired by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll’s list of the 10 Best Things of 2008 to create my own list. In alphabetical order, they are:
1. Barack Obama: Like, duh.
2. Chicago: Spent a few extremely rainy days there in September, found it charming and hospitable. Lots of art and comedy and culture. Not sure I’d want to live there; don’t have much of a tolerance for wind and cold, and finding a decent burrito was a problem. But for the most part, my kind of town.
3. Ginger Ale: A really tasty beverage, and healthy for you too, or at least healthier than a lot of other things you could pour down your throat. Ginger beer is also cool, but should be approached with caution.
4. Go Away White, Bauhaus: A new album from Bauhaus at this late date seemed like a gift; a great new album seemed like too much to ask for. Nonetheless, after some initial skepticism, I came to love it. There’s just something magical about this combination of people, and they did a nice job of mixing a slightly slicker updated sound and traces of Tones on Tail/Love and Rockets with classic Bauhaus mega-gothitude.
5. The Guy Who Threw His Shoes at the President: I can hardly imagine a better parting gift for the Worst President Ever than footwear aimed at his head. It’s too bad that Muntadhar al-Zaidi had to take a beating for it, and too bad that W. displayed such highly evasive skills, but you have to appreciate the gesture.
6. Jon Carroll: I’ve never met Jon in person, but I feel like he is a close personal friend. I have been reading his column on an almost daily basis for about 20 years and he is one of the few reasons I continue to subscribe to the Chronicle. I recognize that newspapers are an anachronistic and doomed medium, but I am powerfully attached to the look and feel of an actual paper with my morning coffee. Someday soon this will no longer be an option, and life will go on, but in the meantime…consarn it, what the hell was I talking about?
7. Let the Right One In: By far the best Swedish vampire movie I’ve ever seen. I didn’t think there were any surprises left in the bloodsucker genre, but this one had me slack-jawed and tense for its entire running time. I might quibble a bit with the ending, but for the most part Let the Right One In is a marvel: Flawlessly acted, beautifully shot, well-calibrated in tone and pace, and deeply twisted in that special Scandinavian way.
8. Pop Down the Years, Knox Bronson: Many years in the making, this debut vocal album by my old friend is a truly unique combination of old-fashioned songcraft and up-to-the-minute production, mixing acoustic warmth with a cool electro-savvy sensibility. It has so far failed to make him rich or famous, but the upcoming follow-up — the instrumental release The Seasons — may rectify that.
9. Southern Utah: The chain of national parks across the bottom half of the Polygamy State — Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, and Zion — are stunningly beautiful, though occasionally overrun with that nuisance we call Other People. But as lovely as they are during the day, with their sweeping vistas and crazy colors, they may be even more amazing at night, when the total lack of light pollution reveals a sky crowded with stars and a Milky Way that really earns its name.
10. The Wrestler: I’ve long held a grudge against director Darren Aronofsky for subjecting me to Requiem for a Dream — not a bad movie per se, but one that very effectively achieves its goal of shoving you face-first into a stinking morass of human degradation. So it took some convincing to get me to think about seeing his new movie, which by the way stars Mickey Rourke, whose own crimes against cinema and human decency are well-documented. But The Wrestler is a real achievement, sort of a cross between Requiem and Rocky that leavens Aronofsky’s brutal truth with some genuine compassion. Aronofsky doesn’t flinch from depicting the horror of his violent, low-rent milieu, but neither is he afraid to risk his auteur cred by flirting with inspirational-sports-movie cliches. Rourke is as good as advertised, mixing vestigial cockiness with damaged vulnerability to create a bizarre but believable character. Marisa Tomei, a long way from My Cousin Vinny, is also great as a stripper approaching her sell-by date. And as a bonus, The Wrestler ends exactly where it should, going not one frame past its ideal length.
…and, OK, one more:
11. You: If you’re reading this right now, you’re doing me a favor, and I know your time is valuable. So thanks for reading, and thanks for being you, and here’s hoping 2009 is a superior year for all of us.