Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006: A Myopic Retrospective

Since everyone and his sister's best friend's tennis coach is doing a year-end wrap-up, I guess I'll do one, too. This despite keeping an admirable distance from most of the trends, mores, and events that kept pop culture in a lather over the last twelve months. It might be time to change the name of this Blog if I maintain this pace.

I could barely count the number of first-run movies I saw in 2006 on both of my hands, watched relatively little television, read one fiction book (boy, does it hurt to pony up to that one), and heard less new music this last year than I had since I was a grade schooler, so this could be easy. Then again, with my propensity to windy meandering, it might not be. So be it; here go a few of My Favorite 2006 Things.

Favorite TV: Heroes, NBC's revisionist superhero saga, was my favorite boob tube destination by a landslide. Sharply written, well-acted by an appealing and relatively unknown cast, and deft in its gradual (and still ongoing) unravelling of its central mystery, it's managed to unite fanboys and non-obsessives alike in communal devotion. Here's to hoping that other superhero works (films and TV alike) follow in its formidable and smart footsteps. Honorable mentions go to the third season of Project Runway (don't snicker: It's reality TV that largely eschews the usual genre histrionics by celebrating--get this--creativity and resourcefulness) and the second season of The Closer, an old-fashioned cop show elevated immeasureably by Kyra Sedgwick's first-rate work as a Southern police officer transplanted to LAPD homicide duty.

Favorite Movies: I've got a massive list of 2006 movies that I'd love to see, but it sure as hell ain't gonna happen by December 31. Among what I did see, the feature that impressed me the most was Sacha Baron Cohen's merciless, hysterically funny mockumentary Borat. Just thinking about it makes me snicker right now. Honorable mentions: Slither (a near-perfect--and sadly ignored in the theaters--pastiche of old-fashioned gooey-monster hijinks and snarky wit) and Mel Gibson's erratic but frequently mindblowing Apocalypto. If that's not diverse enough for you, cut me some slack: I saw diddly in a theater this year.

Favorite Music: Return to Cookie Mountain, the stunning sophomore CD by DC art-rock outfit TV on the Radio, swirls together a pot of disparate elements--Beach Boys-cum-doo-wop harmonies, primal rhythms, spastic samples, shoegazing sonic immersion, ferocious but never obvious socio-political conscience, and a downright cinematic expansiveness--to form that ultimate pop music rarity: a completely original sound that still connects emotionally. Everyone who thinks rock and roll has lost its ability to surprise, galvanize, and move a listener needs to hear this--to paraphrase the band, they'll teach you things that'll blow your mongrel mind.

I also dug Gnarls Barkley's St. Elsewhere, the joyously wiggy collaboration between Goodie Mob rapper/crooner Cee-Lo and producer/DJ Danger Mouse, for adroitly wedding everything-but-the-kitchen-sink grooves with Cee-Lo's oddly soulful voice.

The Black Angels' Passover, meanwhile, knocked it out of the park with the most deliciously primal bacchanalian fire-and-brimstone rock throb I heard all year. If the Velvet Underground and Black Sabbath locked bodies with a demon-possessed fire-and-brimstone prophet in a stoned tryst (all to the accompaniment of a pissed-off gorilla pounding out a ribcage-rattling backbeat), it might sound something like this. Best cruising disc of 2006 by a speaker-pulsing country mile.

Other nice things: Thom Yorke's solo bow, The Eraser (that anguished voice swaddled in claustrophobic electronics worked on me); Cheap Trick's nifty return to power pop form, Rockford; and White Stripe Jack White's insubstantial but agreeably rocking side project, The Raconteurs' Broken Boy Soldiers.

DVD Goodness: Fans of horror, sci-fi, and trash cinema of all vintages and styles found plenty of avenues for fueling their addictions this year. Casa Negra Entertainment (a subsidiary of Panik House, ace reissuers of Petri Dish subject Sex and Zen) took a digital bow with pristine reissues of several underrated Mexican horror films of the fifties and sixties. Blue Underground continued its gold-standard presentations of exploitation, horror, and Italian crime cinema. And for the most wonderfully exotic and strange, Mondo Macabro continued to fill the bill and then some, presenting everything from Bollywood vampire flicks to Indonesian shoestring Conan rip-offs with heaps of amazing extras.

Dark Sky Entertainment likewise rang this geek's bells with a varied and tasty tassel of chillers (the notorious 1964 monster opus The Flesh Eaters), sci-fi (Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster), biker flicks (the long-unavailable Hells-Angels-in-'Nam classic The Losers, starring Petri Dish fave William "Big Bill" Smith), and euro-trash (the wicked Jayne Mansfield/Cameron Mitchell heist flick Dog Eat Dog). These guys'll win some major bonus points next year with a deluxe reissue of Italian horror maestro Mario Bava's 1966 gothic wonder Kill, Baby, Kill! in March.

And the preceding two paragraphs lay bare what occupied most of my time-wasting in 2006.

Things I'm Looking Forward To in 2007:

Seeing Casino Royale, Pan's Labyrinth, Curse of the Golden Flower, Volver, Letters from Iwo Jima, and Spider Man 3.

Hearing new long-players by The Shins, The High Dials, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Reading at least one fiction book a month. I think I can, I think I can, I know I can, I know I can...

Happy New Year, everybody.

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