I figured I'd recap "The Year in Media", AKA "the best media stuff I've encountered this year."
(This will actually be pretty short.)
It's been a sad truth that I haven't read too many books that impressed me this year.
There were two real standouts. First, the Hadawwy translation of The Arabian Nights was gorgeous -- breathless, exciting, romantic, daredevil storytelling that showed us exactly what to shoot for with One More Night. On the opposite end of the spectrum (but in the same general region, coincidentally), Joe Sacco's Footnotes in Gaza was a patient, sad rumination on a forgotten case of genocide.
There were other books that I liked, but would be less eager to recommend to everyone. Talent Is Overrated led to some interesting thoughts about improv, and The Checklist Manifesto had interesting things to say about fixing failures when the failures are very rare. First Impressions gave me some useful advice about, y'know, *talking* to people, and while I may not have much practical use for the ideas in The Anatomy of Story, it certainly shows an interesting way of looking at screenwriting.
Weird -- I only saw a couple dozen movies this whole year.
Of those, there were two standouts. Moon is every bit the elegant throwback to 70s sci-fi cinema that everyone says it is, and The Hurt Locker is every bit the nail-biter of a war-is-hell movie that the critics fawned over. I also liked Toy Story 3 and Inception quite a bit, but often I found myself admiring the mechanics of those films, without connecting to them emotionally.
Ah, now here I can go on a bit, but I'll limit myself to four things.
The second season of Chuck (1, 2, 3) is one of those rare shows that succeeds not because it's new, or different, or clever, but because it does the same old template very, very well. It's your basic action comedy, where these James-Bond-ish spy stories are used to mirror very mundane, relatable, and emotional problems in the protagonist's life. That basic idea is perfectly normal... but the execution was flawless. They beautifully balanced their episodic storylines against the season-long arcs. They created emotional stakes that really mattered, over and over again. The jokes zinged and the action sequences punched, kicked, and kapowed. The guest casting made me giddy, and the setup for season three was technically brilliant.
Granted, most reports are that season three is a step down in quality. That was inevitable, I suppose.
Let's move on to season two of Dollhouse (1, 2, 3). Ms. innocentsmith has a theory about this show. She figured Whedon had some responsibilities to the Fox network that he badly wanted to set on fire. So he promised Fox a neat, action-sci-fi anthology story where Eliza Dushku got programmed with different personalities and sent off on sexy adventures. Then he pulled a bait-and-switch, gradually shifting it over to a real-sci-fi, Philip-K.-Dick-style head trip with TV's most brutally anti-corporate outlook since Better Off Ted. Season one took the first, tentative steps out of anthology-land; then, season two pretty much went batshit. By the time we got to "The Attic", they were going down swinging, and I was watching a show that was nothing like anything I'd seen before and nothing like anything I'm likely to see again.
Party Down was the best comedy I saw in 2010. Granted, I was biased to like it, what with its Veronica Mars vets and its demimonde of struggling film-biz types, but those who like this show will love this show. The character-based comedy (as opposed to setup/punchline/laugh-track comedy) is hilarious, the plots are finely constructed, and best of all, it's *about* something. The whole time, you're watching desperate people pursue their lifelong dreams long past the point where it makes any sense to do so -- and if that doesn't move you, you may have no soul.
Lastly, there's the LOST finale, which I've only grown to love more as I've seen just how much it's pissed people off.
Be bold; make enemies.
Finally, I have to put in a good word for The Tobolowsky Files, AKA "that 'Ned Ryerson' guy from Groundhog Day tells anecdotes about his life". The podcast's weakest episodes felt a little after-school-special-ish to me, but the other 95% of the episodes are gems, and will make you wish you could tell stories like that.
I also have to put in a special mention for the two awfullest things I encountered this year. "N-Words" was an episode of the usually-solid EscapePod that was so awful, I would advise people to seek it out if it weren't one agonizing hour long. And with Silver City, the great John Sayles made a message movie that had a lot of message, but precious little movie.
On to 2011!
Mood: contemplative · Music: none