If we could sum up the final year of this decade in one word, it would be this. It's a theme that's been running throughout the last twelve months. A transition in our government. A transition in our relationships. A transition in our careers...Yes, 2009 saw nearly everyone I know and their mother collectively press the Reset button on their lives - whether they liked it or not - with the hopes of it bringing a change for the better. Bags were packed and shipped off to new cities. Jobs were lost and then placed upon the shoulders of others. Trusts were betrayed, ending long-running relationships. Rights were stripped away, leaving millions wondering whether or not their country is a place where everyone is truly equal. For lack of a better rollercoaster metaphor, emotions were as up and down as they could get.
I believe I speak for most of my friends and family when I say, "We're kinda over you, '09...Where you at, 2010?"
As we bid adieu to the 2000s (shudder to think - I remember the Y2K scare like it was last week), we can't help but reflect on the times we've had. And this past year certainly did not leave us bored - pop culturally speaking of course. Rihanna met the back of Chris Brown's hand. Tiger Woods met the fury of several women scorned. We lost the King of Pop (MJ) and the King of Teen Angst (John Hughes). Jon and Kate equaled so much hate. ER shut its doors for good. We believed a boy was in a balloon. James Cameron believed in glow-in-the-dark jungles on moons. Kanye was a dick - again. Christian Bale blew up on YouTube - literally. Susan Boyle did too - figuratively. Lady Gaga wrote a bad romance. Sarah Palin wrote a book. Paula left Idol. Adam Lambert left his inhibitions at the door. There seemed to be a celebrity death every other week. And before you could say Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, our national health care crisis showed some signs of life, and the world suddenly seemed like it wasn't going to end after all.
As for me, I got around in 2009...so to speak. I reunited with a friend in Seattle. I skinnydipped in Palm Springs (twice). I got sunburnt in San Francisco. I cried in Philadelphia. I had the pleasure of meeting one of my idols in San Diego. I had an epiphany in Boston. I reminisced in New York. And I danced in a flash mob on a casino floor in Vegas.
All without stealing any hotel shampoo or towels.
It's also the last full year of my 20s, and I'm okay with that. Truly. I know the next decade will only be better because the older I get, the wiser I'll become, and with that, the more secure I'll feel and yada, yada, yada. I do feel a change a-comin', and it's not because we're approaching December 31. What I know now is a lot more than what I knew on December 31, 1999. But before I anticipate and look forward to what's to come, let's take one last look, shall we? Because what would a retrospective be without listing the highlights from these past 365 days? A damn, boring shame, that's what.
You knew this was coming...
1. Up in the Air - Here we have a modern classic that will forever be known as one of the most beautiful and accurate portraits of American culture at the beginning of the 21st century. George Clooney is at his devilishly endearing best as a man constantly on the move, sadly confident and supposedly happy with the detached existence he's created for himself. Vera Farmiga (brilliantly sexy) and Anna Kendrick (now on everyone's radar - finally) are the women who enter his life and keep him grounded for the time being.
2. Up - When will be the day when we don't see a Pixar production on a top 10 list? This animated wonder tugged at heartstrings within the first 10 minutes, beautifully narrating a wordless (yet daring) prologue packed with a humanity that was sorely lacking in a majority of films this year, and ultimately showed us that we all need a great adventure in our lives (And no, little Russell was not based on me).
3. Star Trek - A genuinely entertaining popcorn thrill ride that's neither too brainy nor too brain-numbing. And we have maestro J.J. Abrams to thank for that, orchestrating a reboot that admirably succeeded in reinventing a franchise that was once thought dead. Truly the most intelligent spectacle to hit theaters this past summer.
4. 500 Days of Summer - The Annie Hall for GenY, this postmodern love-story-that-isn't-a-love-story beautifully deconstructed the politics of dating and the burning desire to find The One and scattered them to the wind, making us appreciate and fall in love with each little piece of the emotional puzzle we tend to drive ourselves crazy putting together. Throw in the perfect soundtrack along with some gorgeous cinematography and timeless set design, and you have yourself a polished piece of alterna-rom-com bliss.
5. Inglourious Basterds - Tarantino's ultimate revenge fantasy makes the Kill Bill saga look like a glossy Lifetime miniseries, delivering an awesome piece of revisionist history that’s neither offensive nor overly self-indulgent. Melanie Laurent and Christophe Waltz blow their castmates out of the water respectively as Shosanna Dreyfus, a beautiful theater owner with a supersized hidden agenda, and Col. Hans Landa, a Nazi detective who chews every line of dialogue with zest.
6. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire - More than just another one of those triumph-over-hardship stories, Greg Daniels unflinching adaptation of the gritty bestseller introduces us to a life worth fighting for, breakthrough talents in Gabby Sidibe and Mo'Nique...and the color florescent beige.
7. A Single Man - The camera lingers on Colin Firth's face during a scene in Tom Ford's directorial debut (yes, that Tom Ford) during which he receives devastating news over the phone. And in the span of 60 seconds we’re given the privilege to quietly watch as shock, pain and grief etch themselves into every crevice of the actor’s handsome mug. It's a moment that sets the tone for the rest of this melancholic film in which we follow a single day in the quiet life of a closeted college professor who slowly gives in to despair. But the real beauty to be found lies within the journey he takes to rediscover the beauty in life he once lost.
8. Avatar - So, Jim Cameron finally has his Star Wars. That hype? Totally worth it. This stunning sci-fi epic (no videogame, graphic novel or toy adaptation in sight!) plunges us into fully fleshed-out world and never lets go. Brace yourself for the copycats.
9. District 9 - A jolting and daring political/social allegory disguised as a sci-fi actioner; we only get these every so often, usually on television. Neill Blomkamp's directorial debut deserves all the hyperboles it receives and should teach future artists a thing or two about the genre.
10. Duplicity - Or, The Best Julia Roberts Flick No One Saw.
HONORABLE CINEMATIC MENTIONS:
Forever Golden: Betty White in The Proposal.
Most Likely to be Snubbed by the Academy: Hugh Dancy in Adam
Sizzler of the Season: Penelope Cruz in Nine.
Blair Witch Was Scarier, But Still...: Paranormal Activity
If This Were a Comic-Con Top 10: Watchmen
Holy Cameos: Funny People
Trailer of the Year: Tron Legacy
Movies I Wish I'd Seen Because I'm Pretty Sure They'd Make It On This List: Adventureland, State of Play, Fantastic Mr. Fox, I Love You, Man, A Perfect Getaway and The Hurt Locker.
1. Glee (Fox) - Part high school melodrama, part musical, part nighttime serial - all fun. Basically, it's what you'd get if you crossed Mean Girls with American Idol. Trying to name an episode that didn't leave a smile on your face (or a tear in your eye) would be impossible. Ryan Murphy's Little Dramedy That Could (and did) is the most refreshingly original and uplifting piece of television to break out this season.
2. Nurse Jackie (Showtime) - Edie Falco's devastatingly flawed Jackie Peyton cheated on her husband, snorted drugs in the restroom in between shifts at work and flushed the severed ear of an abusive diplomat down the toilet – and that was just in the first episode. This seriocomic series graced television with another memorable heroine for the history books. And kudos to the immensely likable supporting cast, most notably the surprising Peter Facinelli, the wicked Eve Best, the hysterical Merritt Wever, the revealing Haaz Sleiman, and the biting Anna Deavere Smith. Emmys, get ready.
3. Modern Family (ABC) - Successfully reinventing the family sitcom, MF's the first comedy to make us laugh this hard since 30 Rock premiered four seasons ago, giving us something rare: dry sardonic humor and sarcasm with heart.
4. Grey Gardens (HBO) - Jessica Lange and a breakthrough-performing Drew Barrymore shine in Michael Sucsy's sparkling adaptation of the cult documentary.
5. Battlestar Galactica (SyFy) - This series’ swan song let alone was enough to eclipse full seasons of some of the best shows on TV. While this criminally underrated drama bowed out with a thrilling, emotional and shocking finale that left us wanting more, it was the most satisfying and heartfelt goodbye we’ve experienced since Six Feet Under’s haunting exit over four years ago.
6. FlashForward (ABC) - Learning a lesson or two from Lost, this beautifully cast cryptodrama takes a big concept (global blackout!), raises a crapload of questions and steadily feeds us answers as we grow closer to a resolution that promises to mesmerize beyond that mysterious 2010 date.
7. Dexter (Showtime) - John Lithgow? Frightfully good. That jaw-dropping finale? Totally heart-crushing. This insanely clever show I thought would never take off? Proving me wrong.
8. Mad Men (AMC) - A game-changing season for a game-changing television drama that continues seduce, simmer and surprise.
9. Damages (FX) – Not as razor-sharp as its first season, the second case in FX’s legal potboiler still provided some neat twists and great arcs for stars Glenn Close and Rose Byrne. And adding Timothy Olyphant to any show will always get you a spot on my Best Of list.
10. So You Think You Can Dance (Fox) - Season 5 was an absolute stunner, giving us breathtaking performances (and costumes) we’ll never forget and making that other Dancing competition look like the cheesy bargain-bin variety show it truly is. As for that abbreviated Season 6? We’ll just pretend it was all a dream. An unnecessary and lackluster dream.
AND PROPS TO:
Katie Cassidy on Melrose Place - The girl is proving to be a worthy protege of Amanda Woodward.
Kristen Wiig on SNL - Five words: "I'm just so frickin excited!"
GOOD 80s REDOS: V
...AND THE BAD: Eastwick (You're in our prayers, Parenthood).
1. "We Are The People" by Empire of the Sun - Or, what would happen if MGMT and Fleetwood Mac had an Australian lovechild, peppered in some head-scratching lyrics about nostalgia and Godknowswhatelse, and gave us one of the most original and mesmerizing singles of the year:
2. "Give it to Me Right" by Melanie Fiona - Sampling "Time of the Season," Ms. Fiona's soulful debut single is vibrant proof that Canadians know their Motown.
3. Complete Me by Frankmusik – Listening to every track on this Brit’s electrorific debut album is like revisiting 1987 and paying homage to the likes of The Cure, Pet Shop Boys, The Eurythmics and Erasure (MUST LISTENS: "Vacant Heart," "Better Off As 2").
4. "The Fear" by Lily Allen - "I am a weapon of massive consumption/It's not my fault/It's how I'm programmed to function." And so we have another brilliant little ditty from the girl who effortlessly manages to self-deprecate and voice the contradictory concerns of a generation at the same time. Pray she doesn't go away anytime soon.
5. "When Love Takes Over" by David Guetta feat. Kelly Rowland - The high-energy party anthem of the summer was also the dance single of the year. The globally famous DJ from Paris teamed up with one-third of Destiny's Child, and it was an unlikely match made in sonic heaven (RUNNER-UP: Cascada's Gaga-esque "Evacuate the Dancefloor").
6. "The Man Who Can't Be Moved" by The Script - The Dublin trio, headed by a vocalist who's got a croon crossed between John Legend and Chris Martin, broke out this year - and rightfully so. Their debut single is a beautiful anthem of melancholy:
7. "Don't Stop Believing" by the cast of Glee - What could have been the Worst Karaoke Experiment From Hell turned out to be a frown-flipping, spirit-soaring and inspirational rendition that was continually played on Repeat all summer long.
8. The Fame Monster by Lady Gaga - These 8 tracks (call it a bonus LP, call it a whole new album) pulsate with a brilliant energy that's quickly cementing LG's status as the Next Great Pop Star. The 2010s belong to Gaga. And they should. The eclectic entertainer from New York is proving to the world that underneath the metallic-ringed costumes and Kermit the Frog frocks she's got a voice and an influential style that's to be reckoned with. "Speechless," a twangy yet powerful ballad, soars. "Telephone" delivers. "Dance in the Dark" echoes Depeche Mode. "Teeth" is a theatrical foot-stomper. "Alejandro" is an irresistible Latin-flavored love letter. And "Monster" is the tastiest of the bunch that also doubles as a cautionary tale. Overall, the girl makes love gone bad sound so good. And course, how could you not be blown away by her visual interpretation of "Bad Romance," possibly the best music video we've seen since Beyonce told us to "put a ring on it":
9. "Bulletproof" by La Roux - The synthpop duo (Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid) lay down infectious sounds reminiscent of a videogame composition from 1985 and delivered one of the most empowering tracks of the year.
10. "Million Dollar Bill" by Whitney Houston - A welcome single from the Comeback Kid of 2009, who effortlessly gets into this retro groove and makes us "go left, right, up, down":
OTHER PLEASURES (GUILTY OR OTHERWISE):
"Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys - Sinatra would be proud.
"Haven't Met You Yet" by Michael Buble - My song choice for the opening credits to my own personal romantic comedy.
"Fireflies" by Owl City - Planet Earth will indeed turn slowly while listening to this sugary computerized confection from Adam Young, the man behind the love-it-or-hate-it single that made hipsters cringe and 14-year-olds swoon.
"Outta Here" by Esmee Denters - A fun pop track from an artist endorsed by Justin Timberlake...but bought by no one.
"I Did It For Love" by BoA - Trust me and YouTube the video to be blown away by a real dance video from the Janet Jackson of Asia.
And there we have it, kids. Hope the trip back was just as warm and fuzzy for you as it was for me.
Here's to new beginnings, realistic resolutions, new possibilities and sounding less like a cliche-spouting self-help guru.
Happy New Year.