In no particular order, and for no particular reason, here are a few of my favorite things from the world of culture in 2011. (Caveat: not a “best of,” mind you, just some stuff I liked.)
(Book) The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier- Imagine our pain, physical, psychological and emotional, illuminating from our bodies. If we saw each others pain, would we become more empathetic human beings? Or take it all in stride? That, to me, is the central question raised in Brockheimer’s (dystopian?) novel. And amid all that pain, there is love, represented by a book of declarations that no one seems to want to let go of. Love, somehow, can be more important to hold on to than pain, it seems. Yet we often choose the opposite.
(Film/Film Review) Poetry / Review of Poetry in the New York Times- There are several things that can draw you to a film: word-of-mouth recommendations, favorite directors or actors, enticing trailers or great reviews, et al. Earlier in the year, it was a single review of Poetry by Manohla Dargis in the New York Times that made me want to see it. It was one of the most beautiful and well written reviews I could recall. When Poetry finally arrived at The Belcourt some months later, it was for me one of the most highly anticipated films of the year (take that, War Horse). It was heartbreakingly beautiful. Thank you, Manohla.
(Film) The Artist – So entertaining I saw it twice, and brought my sister along the second time. She, for whom “black-and-white silent film” does not scream “must-see,” loved it.
(Concert) U2 360 Tour at Vanderbilt Stadium – It was everything I wanted it to be, and saved me from having to admit I had only seen U2 on the awful PopMart Tour. They brought the stadium rock show, and I was redeemed. Hell, I even enjoyed “Even Better Than The Real Thing,” a song I always skipped on Achtung Baby. And classic U2 songs aside, I forgot how much I like that song “Stay (Faraway So Close).”
(Band/Show) The David Wax Museum at the Americana Music Association Festival – The best part of attending a festival of any sort is discovery. I might be late to the game, but The David Wax Museum’s gig at the Station Inn was the find, and highlight, of the Festival for me. Thoroughly unique and highly entertaining. This year, I seemed to be really interested in things that made me happy. They made me happy. As does the video for “Born with a Broken Heart.”
(Art) Norma Jeane #Jan25 at the Venice Biennale — I got lucky this year and was in Italy at the same time as the Venice Biennale, which has long been a dream of mine to attend. One of the few personal blog posts I wrote this year was about the exhibit by the alias known as Norma Jeane:
It’s an interactive installation meant to break down and transform over time as visitors engage with it. It started as a tidy block of plasticine in late May (see the picture below of how it started) in the colors of the Egyptian flag: black, white and red, and its title, #Jan25 (#Sidibouzid, #Feb12, #Feb14, #Feb17…) refers to some of the most popular hashtags on Twitter during recent Egyptian and Arab world uprisings. You can still make out some of the block in the pictures, but you can also see how complete and creative chaos have taken over the room. Visitors are encouraged to take apart the block and for the most part, do whatever they please, even take some of it with them, as long as they don’t leave it in another exhibit. The result is overwhelming and moving. And sometimes it’s funny, even though what Norma Jeane is getting at is nothing but. There are love notes, “I was here” type creations, and humor.
Check out the rest of the pictures on the original post or over at My Modern Met, which was kind enough to publish them as well. And speaking of, My Modern Met may be my favorite web site discovery of the year. It’s a daily dose of beauty and inspiration.
(Film) Midnight in Paris — I’m not sure there’s a film more tailored-made for English majors then this one, but its themes are universal, even if you studied finance. Charming, witty and funny, its a film for anyone whose ever had romantic notions about living another time. And it reminds us that the time to truly live, and the one most romantic, is of course, now. Owen Wilson is excellent in it, and the over-the-top stereotyped portrayals of famous writers and artists, especially Hemingway as played by Corey Stoll, are wonderful and hilarious. The whole cast is spot-on perfect.
(Art) de Kooning: a Retrospective at MoMA / Sanja Ivekovic: Sweet Violence at MoMA — With 200 works, the Willem de Kooning retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art is overwhelming, not to mention trying to take it in with thousands of other people. But MoMa does an excellent job in his presentation, and you go from room to room, it’s like getting an art history class on abstract expressionism, from the master of the form. If I lived in NYC, I’d have to go back once a week for awhile, during quieter times, to really soak it in.
At the same time I saw the de Kooning retrospective, MoMa had just begun the Sanja Ivekovic exhibit, the first major museum show for the artist from the former Yugoslavia. I knew nothing about Ivekovic, but was immediately intrigued. Like de Kooning’s returning to abstractions of the female form, Ivekovic has turned to appropriating glamour magazine advertisements and celebrity magazine photos to make powerful statements about culture and feminism.
(Book) The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White and the Birth of a Children’s Classic by Michael Sims — Sims’ delightful (this really is the best word for it) book is not only a story about how E.B. White came to write the beloved children’s book, it’s also about the writing life. It was probably the most enjoyable thing I read all year. And then I followed it by re-reading Charlotte’s Web, which was a close second (only because I read it before).
(Film) Le Quattro Volte – More like a video installation, Michelangelo Frammartino’s film has almost no dialogue as it traces the cycle of life in one small Italian town in Calabria. You’re not really sure what you’re watching at first, but then it starts to make sense, and you can’t turn away. It thrives on anticipation. Like life does, I guess. Yet, there are also times when it’s genuinely funny. Like life is, I guess.
(Film) Kinyarwanda – Every year at the Nashville Film Festival, there’s an indie film that really gets inside me. This was it. Alrick Brown’s film takes place during the horror that was the genocide in Rwanda, but he focuses his story on faith, reconciliation, forgiveness and absolution. There’s one scene. In a mosque. A young girl who feels responsible for the death of her parents asks for absolution from a priest. It might be one of the most moving moments I encountered in a film all year.
(Magazine Profile) Chris Jones profile of Mark Kelly in Esquire – Astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of representative Gabrielle Giffords, had a hell of a year. I read a lot of magazine profiles, but Chris Jones’ profile of Kelly really struck me. It’s not very long, but it’s incredibly tight and packs in more than I would think is possible in a short magazine profile. Kelly is a great American. And Jones is a great American writer.
(Film) Bill Cunningham New York - The Style section is the first part I open when I get my New York Times on Sunday. Which means Bill Cunningham’s street style photos are some of the first pictures I see each week. This warm and entertaining documentary by Richard Press reveals a man who lives to work and loves what he does. And he rides a bike. And it’s really inspiring.
Some songs I liked: “A Road Song” and “I Hate to See You Like This” from Fountains of Wayne; “Positive” by James Maddock; “Cry Cry Cry” and “Heavy Boots” by Nicole Atkins; “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele; “Closer to the Edge” by Burlap to Cashmere; “There’s a Starbucks (Where the Starbucks Used to Be) by John Wesley Harding… great video too;
Happy New Year!