Picking best of lists for a decade is hard enough for one person, let alone two. While our year end lists (which will begin tomorrow) are pretty solid, each of us had at least one thing for each list that didn’t make the cut. So, we present to you, our honorable mentions:
Michael: Wii Sports
When Nintendo announced the Wii, the gimmick of the motion sensor controls was revolutionary in gaming. While Nintendo has struggled to keep up with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, there was a time when Wii Sports, the free game that came with the system, was the most popular and addicting video game out there. Using custom avatars to play baseball, golf, bowling, tennis, and boxing, Wii Sports got players off the couch and into heated matches that could go on for hours. The games aren’t too challenging, but the competitive nature of them, combined with the novelty of having actual control over the movements of you characters was a winner, especially with families. Wii Sports has faded a bit as the novelty of the Wii has, but there still are few things less entertaining then holding your own Wiilympics.
Jonah: Katamari Damacy
With its absurdist concept and whacked-out gameplay, Katamari Damacy was an unlikely candidate to become a gaming phenomenon, but its success marked a new chapter in independent gaming, while its sense of humor provided a nice middle ground between dour shoot-em-ups and cartoony Mario games.
Michael: Richard Russo – Empire Falls
Stuck at a dead end in a small town is not a new theme, yet in Empire Falls, Richard Russo makes it his own in a compelling story of a man forced to face his past, present and future through the power of one woman who’s controlled it all. The book centers around Miles Roby, a restaurant owner in a town depressed by the loss of a textile plant, who has a smart and precocious teenage daughter, an eccentric father, a soon to be remarried ex-wife, a millionaire widow, Mrs. Whiting, that controls his life and the town, and dozens of other townspeople. But Russo doesn’t stop there, delving into Miles’ relationship with his dead mother, her relationship with Mr. Whiting, and even high school bullying. In the end, Empire Falls is a profound exploration of life in a small, closed community, and how we handle the disappointment of ourselves and others.
Jonah: Michael Pollan – The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Fast Food Nation has all the flash and muckracking, but Pollan’s more sweeping book, framed as an examination of the preparation of four meals – ranging from fast food to a meal prepared entirely of food grown, hunted, or gathered by Pollan himself – takes a critical look at what we put on our dinner plates and the hidden cost in environmental damage and hormones. Sustainability may have replaced organic
After Freaks and Geeks was dumped by NBC and before he became the king of late 2000′s comedy, Judd Apatow served as executive producer on the short lived Undeclared on Fox. The show, about an awkward college freshman and his friends, saw Apatow and protegee Seth Rogen honing the one-liners and improvisation that would lead both of them to success with films The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. The show is a bit dated in some parts (Seth Rogen bragging about his flat screen monitor, main character Stephen losing an important disc), it rather perfectly captures some elements of college and transition so many students make from their high school to college selves. The show debuted after 9/11, not a prime period for comedy, and was bounced around the Fox schedule before being canceled. But there’s a lot of great material in Undeclared which, especially for fans of Apatow, should not be missed.
Jonah: The Middleman
Marooned on a network that no body cares about and tragically cut short due to a total lack of interest, The Middleman‘s blend of whimsy and nerdiness made for one of the most fun seasons of television ever. With great performances from Matt Keeslar and Natalie Morales, lightning fast dialogue, and a charming b-movie feel, The Middleman was a throwback to an earlier era of escapist television, but with a post-modern sensibility firmly entrenched in the modern day.
Michael: Nicholas Cage – Adaptation
Of late, Nicholas Cage’s career has mostly been full of popular fluff (National Treasuer, Ghost Rider), but with his Oscar nominated role in Spike Jonez’ Adaptation, he shows off some really great acting chops. Playing actual screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and his fictional twin brother Donald, Cage plays both the neurotic and confident characters with the same amount of intensity. So much attention was placed on Kaufman writing himself and his neuroses into the script, but the way Cage takes them in and sheds whatever image you had of him is more impressive. Though Chris Cooper and Meryl Streep also shine through in this movie, Cage is front and center giving it all in a truly memorable performance.
Jonah: Thora Birch – Ghost World
Because its set in such a peculiar, idiosyncratic universe, it would have been easy for Ghost World to descend too far into irony and parody. And it would have, were it not for the brilliant actors who inhabited Daniel Clowes characters. While Steve Buscemi gives the film a heart and Scarlett Johansson gives it a smirk, its Thora Birch who centers Ghost World. Her Enid treads the line between disatisfaction, aimlessness, and yearning, without falling into easy, sneering charicature. The result is a character who is a microcosm of the slightly surreal, but not unrecognizable teenage wasteland that Ghost World is set in.
There were certainly a lot of fantastic films over the last 10 years, and even choosing a honorable mention was incredibly hard, but my choice goes to one of the most haunting movies I’ve ever seen. Directed by Gus Van Sant, Elephant is the story of a school shooting told in the most intimate and minimal way possible. Van Sant moves his camera through the school, following a series of students (played by real high school students) as they go through their arbitrary day to day activities. By the time the shooters appear on screen, the film is nearly half over, and very little explanation as to why they go through with such a terrible act makes the film even more frightening. The roving camera and sparse score intensify the film, filling you with a sense of dread from the first shot until the terrifying last. Van Sant struck gold in the 2000s with Milk, and rightfully so, but Elephant shows an auteur letting his camera try to tell a story that words often fail to.
Jonah: Spirited Away
Most of this decade’s greatest animated films have been influenced by Hayao Miyazaki, so it’s only fair to honor the man himself with what could well be his masterpiece. A tender, whimsical piece of filmmaking that doesn’t condescend or idealize childhood, Spirited Away is in many ways Miyazaki’s most emotionally charged work. The spirit world of the film is richly detailed and fully realized, but the film’s real triumph is building a protagonist who actually resonates with what I was like as child.
Michael: “NYC” – Interpol
With the guitar echoing and Paul Bank’s deep voice filled with reverb, “NYC” is a song that floats from the speakers rather than blasts from it. Released less than a year after September 11, the song is an ode to hipsters who realize it’s time to resurrect the city they’ve leaned on for so long. This may seem like too deep of a reading into it, but “NYC” is not even a typical song by Interpol’s standards. The guitars float and echo and the song reaches a plateau rather than a peak before descending down again, a resolution of either success in fixing the city or a loss of interest. Either way, the song stays with you far longer than anything else like it.
Jonah: “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal” – Of Montreal
The break-up album is nothing new in rock and roll, but Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyed succeeded due to Kevin Barnes’ naked, emotional honesty, nowhere more so than on the records centerpiece song. He throws himself into chemicals, religion, and, ultimately, a number of unfulfilling sexual encounters, but its the album’s epic, stunning nervous breakdown/dance party that still resonates today. A sprawling ode to alienation, “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal” is an unflinching documentation of clinical depression set in a dance club, the moment where you can hear his psyche cracking and breaking. For just under 12 minutes, Kevin Barnes earned all the over-enthusiastic Bowie comparisons.
Michael: The Wrens – The Meadowlands
By the time the Wrens released The Meadowlands, even they had begun to give up the dream of rock glory. After their hostile label head halted production of their previous records in the mid-90s, their small following dwindled, and The Meadowlands arrived seven years after their previous record, Seacaus, with most of the band going back to day jobs to make ends meet. These seven hard years produced an album that is equal parts anger, regret, and longing. The Meadowlands is the sound of growing old and realizing not all the same opportunities are available anymore. Many of the songs went through various versions before the ones present on the record, but the final product is powerful and a testament to the greatness of a band that had been off the radar for too long. From the pulsing personal narrative of “Everyone Choose Sides,” to the regret ladden “13 Months in 6 Minutes,” and the bitter “Hopeless,” The Meadowlands is an over looked classic from a band that deserves more than what it got.
Jonah: The Avalanches – Since I Left You
A group of foreigners made a record in 2000 that shook listeners, tore down old walls, and presaged the direction music would move in this decade. No, I’m not talking about Kid A (yet), but instead The Avalanches’ Since I Left You. The record is a hazed-out, dreamy triumph, whose eclectic charm coheres in a way that other sample-based music can sometimes feel too piecemeal. The result is an album that feels like its own creation and not just a spin through someone’s record collection. From the joyous start of the title track to the memorable Madonna sample in “Stay Another Season,” Since I Left You feels like the start to an adventure, and in a way, it was, since it served as a launch pad for a lot of what followed in the next ten years of music.