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Best of 2004


Let's review what got us going in the worlds of literature, music, film, and television over the past year, shall we?
This post is not definitive and I'll probably add more stuf to it as I think of it.


Probably the most fun and revelatory experience for me in the theater this year was, amazingly, a freakin' cartoon. The Incredibles singlehandedly revived an interest in animated film (albiet tentatively). It was just so much fun.

I happily continue my love affair with Netflix, including it's assistance in my participation with the greatest fad in home viewing, TV shows on DVD, the most notable (for this forum) example being catching up with the entire Farscape series. I also discoverd the hilarious Da Ali G show and plan to get into quirky comedies and police/law shows at some point.

Of course the greatest DVD release for me was the completion of the Babylon 5 series... duh. Coupled with some custom DVD cover art, it's just awesome to have. Criterion had an outstanding year with their continued and even improving excellence in putting out some great cinema, the Looney Tunes vol II came out ("kill the wabbit...") and, of course, The Return of the King walloped us with another 89,000 hourse of ass-kicking DVD goodness.

The medium to ignore, for me, for the most part. However, here are the few highlights I enjoyed:

- The Sopranos's last season was controversial but I love its meditative pace.

- Deadwood just kicked some serious ass and when the hell will it come back I miss it? It forces us to deal with the difficult question, "Am I a bad person for kind of liking Al Swearingen?"

- 24 was kind of a mixed bag, but I don't think I could ever really hate this show, it's just too much fun to watch.

- Enterprise: talk about a swing in quality! 2004 saw the hieghtened stupidity and merciful end of the Xindi.

- The Daily Show is a more reliable source of intelligent political analysise than all the other cable news networks combined. Think about that.

Best TV moment of '04: John Stewart on Crossfire.

The Da Vinci code proved that people are more interested in fake history than real history. Meh.

I spent the year reading Dickens. Mailer, and Terry Goodkind's continued self-absorbed but entertaining mish-mahs of Ayn Rand and Robert Jordan.

Jenna Jameson released a book called "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star." I, however, still prefer her filmwork for that lesson.


Best new album: Marillion, Marbles

Paid for in advance by hardcore fans like me, this album continue their unique songwriting skills. My reaction to it was that of approval and interest upon first (and second and third) listening. Then I had to leave it for a while. Then saw them in concert (amazing show). Now am revisiting it and fully "grokking" it.

Best "older" music discovery: The Grateful Dead
Yep, I'm becoming a dead-head. This year's release of Beyond Description, a 12 CD monster box set documenting the entirety of their officially released albums from 1973-1989 continues in the tradition of their previous monster set from Warner Brothers. After this, it will be onto the live stuff!

Best archival music find: Mosaic records
These lavish jazz box sets are revelatory and gorgeous.

General music collection obsession of 2004: box sets
Yes, love 'em! From Mingus to Hendrix to Parker to Ella, amazon.com marketplace and ebay allow me to hunt for these things at affordable prices. Biggest box set acquired: Ella Fitzgerald Complete Songbooks (16 CDs).

Older bands with kick-ass records this year: U2, Fates Warning, Wilco. Brian Wilson's "Smile" is getting smashing reviews.

Best rock concert attended: Marillion
Best jazz concert attended: Joe Lovano quarter (with Hank Jones on piano, the real reason I went). Also was the first date with current girlfriend.

Video games:
This the year I finally got myself a consol and have tentatively returned to gaming with a Playstation 2. In retrospect, regret not getting and XBox, but don't even play much after acquisition of girlfriend and Mosaic box sets.

Bablyon 5 related:
Am currently re-watching series, this time with sister, my first ever successful addition to the fan base. Still lovin' it.
For me, film and DVD intersect, because my favorite of the year wasn't released on screen in my area, and I had to wait for the DVD. That film is Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman, directed by Takeshi Kitano. A good film, not great, but a whole lot of fun, a fitting update of the Zatoichi film series from the 60s. Lots of good guy vs bad yakuza, all to save the poor, innocent, (or, not-so), townspeople, with lots of swordplay, and CGI blood, all to avenge the wronged.

Television, I agree with you on both points about John Stewart. I liked the Xindi arc on Enterprise, but like the two newer arcs at least as much.

I think my favorite TV, and I don't really watch any drama series', except Enterprise, and HBO's Carnivale, is Carnivale. I have rewatched the last six eps, in anticipation of the new season starting on 1/9, and I am really impressed by how well they hold up to a second viewing, how unpredictable they are, and how much new detail I pick up on in the second viewing. It has taken me this long to see that many of the underlying themes are actually things in the news today, it is that subtle, and that slow to reveal itself.

I do like Ali G., more so now that I have seen him interviewed about what he is trying to do with his show. One quote: "I've got about 30 seconds to prove (to his interview subjects) I'm the stupidest person in the world." I'll admit I feel pain and embarassment when watching him, but I love it anyway.

I was going to post a separate thread, but I'll just say here that I, and a couple of friends, will be having a B5 marathon tomorrow, at my house, with my new 56" DLP HDTV. We will finish the 4th season, and try to see as much of the 5th as possible. The only other thing we may watch is the Japanese horror film Ringu.

MY favorite new music of the year, I heard at my favorite music festival, the Wheatland Music Festival. It is a group called The Mammals, lead by Pete Seeger's grandson. I bought the CD, and love it.
How can you not like Al Swearingen?

uh... 'cause he's an evil bastard?
A funny evil bastard, but still, an evil bastard.

Jade, thanks for reminding me about Zatoichi. I've been meaning to get into that stuff. Netflix has a 17 disc series(!). Does that mean there were actually 17 movies about this dude?

And, I remembered what was actually my greatest cinematic experience this year: finally seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen.
On the TV side:

24 and The Sopranos both followed the same pattern for me. I started watching their season, messed up and missed a couple episodes (what moron at Fox or F/X decided to discontinue the practice of F/X having "encore showings" of that week's episode of 24?), and once I was behind in the story I stopped watching altogether. Maybe I'll catch up with the DVD's some time.

Also, I liked a couple British shows on BBC America. Of course these were both shows in about their fourth series that I had liked since I stumbled onto their first series. On the comedy side I like Coupling. The Americanized NBC version was aweful, but the British original is brilliant (or, at least I find it funny). I missed the character of Jeff (actor was afraid of typed as that mad Welshman character), but the fourth series was fun anyway.

On the drama side, the fourth series of Waking the Dead just concluded on BBC-A a few days ago. That "cold case unit" based series always is very densely plotted, and the fact that BBC-A edits the original BBC version down so that commercials will fit means that American audiances really have to be paying attention and connect some of the dots themselves. In at least one episode this season the resolution of one of the several murders involved in the case was *extremely* nebulous (the one person that we are most certain did not commit that one is the person who committed all of the others). I really wish that they would just give it a longer time slot so that the entire story can still be shown with the commercials added. Still it is quite interestng to watch.

In music:
The most fun new / current band that I discovered this year was a fairly obscure band out the Vancouver area: The Clumsy Lovers. Their web site describes their music as "ragin' bluegrass caltic rock". I describe it as what happens when you start with a rock & roll rhythm section (drums and electric bass guitar) and then, instead of using the usual guitars or piano (or maybe saxophone), have the lead melodies etc. carried by a fiddle and a banjo.

Of course, when I went to see Eric Clapton this summer I also happened to discover the band that he had opening for him: The Robert Randolf and the Family Band. They're a pretty high enrgy outfit too.
www.allmovie.com lists 26 Zatoichi films starring Shintaro Katsu as Ichi, the first film being 1962's The Life and Opinion of Masseur Ichi. The last was 1974's Zatoichi's Conspiracy. There may have been more. There is also a 1989 version I have never seen, and the 2004 (or 03) film I rave about, by Takeshi Kitano. Ichi is a blind masseur, yakuza gambler, master swordsman! One entry in the series is Zatoichi vs Yojimbo, starring Toshiro Mifune. I haven't seen that one in a few years, but all of the films made in the 60s have been running on The Independent Film Channel, on Saturdays, over and over, for a couple of years, and I've rewatched them. They aren't Kurosawa class, but they are very entertaining.

I know you have said you don't like Japanese films that aren't period films, including Kurosawa, but I wish you would check out Takeshi Kitano's Fireworks, or (Hana-bi, in Japanese.) I bet that film would blow you away, and be the exception to your rule. Don't bother with his US film Brother though.
My best of 2004...

The only sci-fi show i've watched in any detail this year is the new Battlestar Galactica, which i'm loving in spades. The first season is way better than the mini series!

None sci-fi stuff I like, the Long Way Home with Ewan Mcgregor biking across Russia was also great.

I caught some of Nip Tuck, that was great. Still love Six Feet Under, even though it is shown at silly times in the UK.
Little Britain, Coupling and Two Pints of Larger are great comedy.

Supersize Me was great. Shaun of the Dead was also very good. Spiderman 2 also did the business. Hellboy was suprisingly ok, and I-Robot acceptable.

Babylon 5 of course. The Star Wars DVD's were also great, despite Lucas's accursed tinkering... The ultra extended Return of the King is also worth the pennies.

I've read loads, although not the Da Vinci code. Warned off by poor prose after having a quick look.

I discovered George RR Martin, and am eagarly awaiting his next book in A Song of Fire and Ice. Unmissalbe stuff.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime was also great, very moving.
United Kingdom by James L Lovegrove is a great vision of post apocalyptic middle england!!
Fast Food Nation and Reefer Maddness by Eric Schollser are good non fiction. Al Franken is also a page turner.

Discovering old Iron Maiden and AC-DC albums in spades. Seeing Ash play at the Reading Festival and the Chillis in London was great. Who killed the Zutons is probably the best
new music i've heard in a while.

Also got a four disk Hendrix box set in funky purple felt for Xmas. This was great.

And my worst...

Chronicles of Riddick. A huge letdown. Just toss. Followed swiftly by Troy in the slackness stakes....

Stargate Atlantis. Pap.

Orcs by Stan Nicholls. A great idea ruined by average writing.

I want to kill all of Maroon 5. They really bug me.
Hmm, I would have to say that the best thing I saw on TV this year was The Wire. This show has been just so fantastic to watch. Sure, you can't miss an episode if you want to keep up with the story. With a product this good, though, you never want to. I hope HBO decides to re-up this for another year. If you have the money, definitely go out and get the first season on DVD.

As for music, my best is older stuff that I have recently gotten into. It seemd I am on a bit of a country streak right now, which is quite shocking. Not anything new, though. I've picked up quite a bit of Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson this year. My vinyl collection has grown with several additions from Clifford Brown, John Coltrane and Dave Brubeck.

My favorite book from this last year was called Shadow Divers . It's about a small group of divers who found a U-Boat back in 1991 where there shouldn't have been one, at least according to all the records. It's really a good read.
Good boy! Which albums?

Well, for Coltrane I picked up a Giant Steps re-issue. To say it's great is like saying Oxygen is only a mildly important part of breathing. Unfortunately, that was all for Coltrane. The stores that I frequented had more, but the records were in pretty bad condition.

For Cliffor Brown, I got everything I could get my hands on. First there are two imports from Japan (Clifford Brown All Stars and Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street). Then there was a couple of French recordings (The Clifford Brown Quartet in Paris and a "Best of" record for Brown and Roach). I also picked up an album entitled Pure Genius, which was released in 1982. It has a bunch of private recordings that he had done over the years with Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, et al. I haven't had a chance to listen to this one yet. I recently had to move from Denver back to Minneapolis. My turn table was a casualty of the move. Right now, I'm too poor to buy a new one. The Brubeck records I got were Time Out, Live at Carnegie Hall, and Dave Digs Disney.

In off-topic I was talking about yourmusic.com They have a box set of the complete Pacific and Blue Note Clifford Brown recordings (4 CD) for $19.99. I'm familiar with about half the music on it so I can't wait for it to come.

Giant Steps has lots of chords.

If you're feeling spend-thrifty, seek out the complete Atlantic Recordings box set, which has that and My Favorite Things, Ole, Coltrane Sound, Coltrane Jazz, blues songs, and album he did with Don Cherry, etc.

Another best of 2004:
Best pop single: American Idiot, Greenday. That song kicks my ass everytime I hear it.

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