Thursday, January 07, 2010

Genres & Judgments: The Best of 2009

This is late, very late, so big apologies if any of you were actually waiting for it. I'm hoping my insane amount of technical problems from the year, especially the last two months, are behind me and I can post with more frequency as in September and October.

What follows are my picks for the album, comic book, tv series, novel and film of 2009.

Album of the Year
Yonder Is the Clock - The Felice Brothers [Team Love Records]
I don't really listen to a lot of new music any more (most of the music I discovered this year came out before 2009 when I looked back), which I suppose is why I enjoy the brothers' Felice so much -- their sound is largely of a century past. But to write them off as merely a folk/rock act sells them too short. This is not a bunch of guys that tried to capitalize on the O, Brother fad from a few years back. These boys live it on the road with accordion, washboard and fiddle in tow. They even have an album available for purchase only at their live shows that was recorded on a two-track in a chicken coop.
Unlike a lot of contemporary folk, hailing from the Catskills as opposed to Appalachia or the Bayou gives them a distinctly unique sensibility to that old-timey sound. With song subjects featuring the star of Bethlehem, sweeping porters and not one, but two songs about chickens on Yonder, they place you in a long-lost mindset where Honus Wagner and the steam engine ruled the land. But then they'll throw in a reference to Adderall, and suddenly you're transplanted to the now via the past.
In short, Yonder Is The Clock is a remarkable musical achievement.

Mainstream Comic Series of the Year
The Invincible Iron Man - Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca [Marvel Comics]
I've had to take a hiatus from comics this year due to my finances, but this Iron Man comic was the hardest one to give up, not to mention the last. What Fraction has done to a character conveniently pushed into the spotlight by an excellent movie is impressive. Tearing him down from the heights of Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and making you care each step of the way was no small task. All it's done is make me more excited for the coming sequel film as well as care about Iron Man, which I certainly did not before this series.
Also, it's nice to see that my prediction of Fraction becoming the next big thing in comics is firmly cemented 3 and a half years after the fact. It's going to be a hard task not picking up the new Casanova issues about to hit shelves.

Independent Comic Series of the Year
Criminal - Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips [Icon/Marvel Comics]
While I did eventually force myself to give up The Invincible Iron Man, I haven't done so with Criminal. It's the only monthly I CANNOT put down. In part because of the unparalleled level of crime fiction you get in each issue (it's my favorite genre, so I look for it in all mediums; nothing is consistently better), but also because of the extras included in the back pages. The trades don't include these essays on the best film, comics and novels that crime fiction is included in, so Brubaker and Phillips have ingeniously forced my hand.
The best news is that the mini series format shows no signs of slowing down, and allows for new readers to jump in with a new storyline. If you do that, make sure you visit the previous stops in the Criminal-verse.

Television Series of the Year
Battlestar Galactica - Season 4.5 [SciFi Channel]
This was a tough decision, a testament to just how good some shows have become, but ultimately I have to give it to BSG. The finale may not have been perfect, but damn was it close. Easily the best science fiction show ever forged, it accomplished exquisite social commentary in a post-9/11 world on religion, the role of the military and government, and the significance of humanity, among other topics, while never losing an ounce of entertainment value.
In a roundabout way, it will live on through Caprica, a prequel series that will begin later this month. Its pilot was strong and showed promise as a worthy successor to one of the greatest television series ever made.

Novel of the Year
My Dead Body - Charlie Huston [Del Ray]
The fifth and presumably final chapter in the Joe Pitt Casebooks, Huston's vampire-noir series, came out late this year in deliciously bloody fashion. Huston is far and away my favorite writer right now, so I'm majorly biased here.
This series is about a litany of colorful vampire clans battling for territory and general survival in New York City with the lone wolf Joe Pitt caught in the middle of all them, creating havoc more or less in the name of love. Unlike some of the more popular vampire stories out there right now, Huston tackles the need for feeding, the science of vampirism and even AIDS head-on. But he doesn't lose sight of love, even amid a hail of bullets and double-crosses.
Many people seem to classify him as a prose Tarantino, a description with some merit, and before seeing Inglourious Basterds this year, I had sorta ignored. To me, Huston is like Cormac McCarthy with a genre flair. He embraces horror, science fiction and violence with much more ease than what I've seen in my limited exposure to McCarthy but still is able to evoke the same resonance with an outstanding individual voice and flow of words.
My Dead Body will probably be the last installment, but it concludes inconspicuously. I wouldn't be surprised to see more tales emerge from this universe if it ever gets captured on film.

Films of the Year
Star Trek - J.J. Abrams [Paramount Pictures]
Inglourious Basterds - Quentin Tarantino [Universal Studios]
I've been trying to pick between these two for a couple of months now, and I just can't. Together, they filled all my requirements from a movie. Star Trek was the thrilling, yet wondrously crafted popcorn movie that made you want another installment. Basterds was a full-blown cinematic masterpiece that got better the more days went by. Both were made by directors who are at the top of their game, yet will probably only get better. The combination made for a superb year.

The Rest of 2009's Top Films:
3. District 9 - read my review here (scroll down)
4. The Brothers Bloom
5. Thirst
6. Taken - honorably mentioned in my most-underrated list
7. Anvil: The Story of Anvil
8. Watchmen
9. Avatar - read my review here
10. Up

2009-Released Films I Didn't See, But Wanted To:
The Road
(500) Days of Summer
The Hurt Locker
Sherlock Holmes
Public Enemies
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
State of Play

2009's In-Theater Experience Shit List:1. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
2. Year One
3. Terminator Salvation
While I'm always hoping for something new and unexpected, I am confident that the contenders for next year's list will include Iron Man 2, Vampire Weekend's Contra, and Mad Men - Season 4.

Got other ideas on what to look out for next year? Tell me in the comments.

With that, bring on 2010!

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