I'm back, sort of. The virus was drawn out of me and I've returned from the realms beyond thought and time, unfortunately I've forgotten the mystic visions I sort of remember having while I was fever-dreaming and the accompanying shamanistic wisdom I gleaned from them. Just as well, as I had a lot of, you know, reality to deal with, such as squeezing in a showing of Return of the King and Christmas shopping, which had truly become last minute, before my parents annual holiday visit to New York. (I like to move them to the center of the action whenever there's an orange alert so I can scare 'em real good, because I'm in collusion with the Bush administration on this).
Now that I'm back to something closer to my normal routine, I've relapsed into the nervous disorder that makes one want to blog. I thought about doing some year-end best and worst-of lists, but I've always sort of disliked list-based writing. Instead, I've decided to do the more meta, more blog-like thing, and comment on general trends I'm seeing in such lists so far, to be updated later, when I've read stuff like the massive and massively engaging/enraging Village Voice year end survey of movie critics.
One trend that's been annoying me is a slight underrating of The Return of the King. It's great that film critics have embraced these films as they have, which surprises me, and the film has made a number of top 10 lists and received a smaller number of best-of-the-year awards, but it still isn't quite getting its due. A hundred years from now this film series will be remembered as a landmark of cinema for adapting faithfully yet not slavishly a great work of literature previously thought to be inadaptable, for utilizing to the utmost and expanding the technical capacities of the medium in its day, for being a logistical feat of collaborative art-making of unparalleled and possibly never to be duplicated ambition, and for being a great, epic work of popular narrative art and spectacle which is a full realization of the true traditions of great film dating back to Metropolis, Birth of a Nation etc. In short, it is a masterpiece. Films which are praised now for dealing with some political or social issue of the day, for using some voguish experiment in narration, will be forgotten.
Another annoying trend is some underrating of Lost in Translation, which is the only other film I think deserves to be thought of in nearly the same category as Return of the King, though the two films are obviously about as different as they could possibly be. Accompanying this underrating is the fact that many reviewers are acting as if Bill Murray's, admittedly brilliant, performance was the one thing that made the film great, and are completely forgetting Scarlet Johannson's luminous, poetic, understated work. It was a story about the relationship between two people and it wouldn't have been a great film if both leads weren't equally great. Once again, reviewers are bemoaning the lack of good roles for women, but at the same time they're completely ignoring this role, written by a female writer/director, which is one of the most complex, smart, multi-faceted and subtle female characters seen on film in some time, and was beautifully realized by a woman of 19. I suspect that when these reviewers say that there were no good roles for women this year what they mean is that Meryl Streep didn't get to try a new accent and Nicole Kidman didn't get to put on a new hideous prosthesis.
In music, I'm seeing some predictable backlash against the great Outkast double album, particularly the André 3000 disc, justly hailed as the best. I still agree with all of the original encomiums about it, and my enthusiasm for it has barely dimmed at all. I'm tired of the "Hey Ya" single, but I simply get tired of all ubiquitous Top 40 singles that follow you from the pharmacy to the oil-changing place. It is a valid criticism to say that one wishes André's singing voice was a little better. He doesn't have the vocal chops or distinctive style of say, Prince, but the very fact that people raise this criticism at all shows the league this guy is in. I don't mean to say that he's like Prince at all stylistically, just in terms of ambition and talent, though thankfully he seems to be far less crazy. And I happened to love the cover of "My Favorite Things". It was the good kind of non sequitur, and doing it drum n' bass style was inspired and original. Now critics are trying to talk up the Big Boi album as if they weren't the ones who virtually ignored it to begin with. In the battle of the singles, I thought "The Way you Move" was better than "Hey Ya" to begin with, and I'm still not sick of it, though the former's use of rapping and falsetto soul singing seems to mean that it's consigned to some sort of "urban" radio ghetto. Big Boi's album was clearly less ambitious and varied but it's still one of the best straight up southern hip-hop albums in years. Even the guest appearances are great and aren't just marketing ploys. It's marred only by a couple descents into cliché, and the stupid politics of the political song, but what great album in any pop genre isn't?