Happy 2011, Solid State! I trust everyone had a safe and fun New Year's Eve.
In the hubbub leading up to the last day of the year, I plumb ran out of time to finish off my 2010 ramblings last week. (2011 Resolution #1: find a way to squeeze a few more hours out of each day. There's gotta be a way.) So before we kick 2011 into high gear, I thought I'd take the opportunity to pass along a few more random favorites from the year that was. Only this time, we're expanding our gaze beyond music and looking at some stuff beyond the typical Solid State bailiwick. So without further ado, randomness!
You've perhaps heard Birbiglia as a semi-regular contributor on Ira Glass' radio show/podcast, "This American Life." That's certainly how I was first introduced. But over the last year or so, he's quite possibly become my favorite standup comic. His latest album, My Secret Public Journal — he also writes a blog of the same name — was easily among my most listened to albums in 2010. Not just comedy albums, mind you. Albums, period. I gave my sister his new book, "Sleepwalk With Me," for Christmas, and then read the whole thing, cover to cover on Christmas Day. More storyteller than jokester or satirist, Birbiglia has a rare gift for exposing the subtle absurdities of his own life in a way that connects almost universally — or at least to awkward, self-deprecating white guys from New England … ahem. Anyway, dude is hilarious. Here's a clip from his most recent comedy special. And by the way, he's performing in Montreal this weekend.
Is it just me, or was 2010 kind of weak year for film? There were very few flicks that really stood out to me over the last 12 months — though I have yet to see the Coen Brothers' take on "True Grit." I have high hopes for that one.
"Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World" seemed to fly under most moviegoers' radars, which is a shame. Witty, creative and a must for anyone who grew up playing video games in the 1980s and 1990s, it was easily my favorite flick of 2010. Maybe not the "best," per se. But I loved it.
The film centers on Pilgrim (Michael Cera playing, um, basically the same character Michael Cera always plays), a geeky dude in a bad band who, in the aftermath of a bad breakup — and while stringing a long a high school girlfriend, no less — falls in love with the mysterious Ramona Powers. The thing is, to win Ramona's heart, he must defeat "The League of Evil Exes," a motley collection of Ramona's past seven lovers. In other words, it's kinda like dating in Burlington … hiyo! The battle scenes between Pilgrim and the increasingly bizarre Exes are outlandishly inventive. (The showdown versus Ramona's bass-playing vegan ex-boyfriend Todd is especially satisfying.) And the soundtrack is pretty killer too.
I've made no secret of my adoration for ESPN columnist Bill Simmons in these pages. But in 2010, Simmons seriously upped his game. He has always been an entertaining writer and host, but this year he seemed to take a step beyond humorous sports columnist to rising media icon. He had a NYT bestseller ("The Book of Basketball," a mammoth tome, but a great read and surprisingly well argued), produced possibly the most interesting and ambitious series of sports documentaries in history ("30 for 30") and continued churning out great columns week in and week out.
But his podcast, the BS Report, was really where Simmons shined. The mix of sports musings and cultural analysis was pitch perfect all year long, and his lineup of guests expanded from the usual parade of sports-obsessed buddies (Jack-O, Joe House) and sportswriters (Dan LeBetard, Mike Lombardi) to include some fascinating folks from film, music and media (Chuck Klosterman, Jon Hamm, Seth Myers). Don't let the fact that ESPN cuts his paycheck fool you. There is more to the BS Report than just sports. (OK, there's still a lot of sports. But it's wickedly entertaining, I promise.) When I grow up, I want to be Bill Simmons.
2010 was the year I discovered Tom Franklin. I devoured two of his early novels — the gritty "Hell at the Breech," and the astounding, impossibly violent "Smonk" — before turning my attention to a beautiful collection of short stories, "Poachers," over my recent winter break. Fans of local author Creston Lea would particularly enjoy the last. The Southerner writes in a vein very similar to Lea's "Northern Gothic" style. Franklin possess a keen eye for the fragility and, in many cases, futility of subject's lives, painting their portraits with equal measures of kindred empathy and cold prejudice. His latest, "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter," sits perched atop the stack on my nightstand for 2011.