THE TOP TEN OF 2012

1love-for-levon-3-600x-1349361870This year that is fast disappearing will not be remembered in these quarters with very much warmth. It was a fairly hideous, sickening year, the year that I felt I got old. But like all good things, the bad ones come to an end as well, and thanks to some much appreciated end of the year action by Richard Plepler, Steve Koepp, David McCormick and others, we begin 2013 on an upswing, and with hopes for better times to come. In the meanwhile, here are some jewels, personally chosen and wholly idiosyncratic, recovered from 2012:
1.) Love for Levon. Without a doubt, everything about the tribute concert to Levon Helm–reporting the story, meeting the people involved, attending2searching-for-sugar-man-poster_large the event, the reception to the article, what may happen yet–turned this into the best thing that I was involved with this year.
2.) Searching for Sugarman. This modest documentary about a real-life Cinderella made my heart leap with joy. A very 3carly-rae-jepsen-jimmy-falloninspirational story.
3.) Call Me Maybe. Carly Rae Jepson‘s unassuming, sweet, girlish, flirty hit was attractive enough, but the way it went viral and enveloped everyone from the US Olympic Swim Team to Colin Powell was delightful. The song never failed to bring a smile to my lips, especially in Jepson’s collaboration with Jimmy Fallon4choir_2238852b and the Roots.
4.) The dauntless, rain-drenched performance of the young people of Royal College of Music Chamber Choir during the flotilla of the Queen’s Jubilee was simply stirring, especially when they sang “Land of Hope and Glory.”
5bill_clinton_dnc_cc_120905_wg5.) The presidential campaign as a whole this year was a fairly tedious affair, but the rousing Democratic convention, driven by one splendid speech after another culminating in Bill Clinton‘s masterful dissection/deconstruction/destruction of the GOP position was fairly brilliant, just as the Republicans’ ceaseless rhetorical self-destruction–“Oops”, “Nine, nine, nine”, “I like to fire people”, “legitimate rape”, “the 47 percent”–was the best long-running comedy series on TV.
6.) The Giants Win the Super Bowl. Just as in 2009, 6manningham_catchthe inconsistent Giants managed to win four–or in this case, six–games that they could win but were not likely to, and managed, one play at a time, to walk off with the hardware.
7he-hour7.) The Hour. A splendid, sophisticated, intelligent BBC series about a ground-breaking TV news magazine being produced in the early fifties. I love the way they can combine news judgment, inside baseball, and messy personal situations. Dominic West, Ben Whislaw and Romola Garai are just terrific. We also liked the posh Downton Abbey and the relentlessly vulgar The In-Betweeners. (I must say, I haven’t seen Homeland yet.
8.) Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel. Having loved Wolf Hall, 8809-11booker2_full_600I feared its sequel would suffer by comparison. I shouldn’t have worried. Other enjoyable books this year: Watergate, by Thomas Mallon; Passage of Power, by Robert Caro; The Long Road to Antietam, by Richard Slotkin.
9.) I went to Lincoln fearing a Spielbergian historical romance, full of longing gazes and quivering lips and swirling strings. But while there was some of that, it wasn’t enough to 9lincoln-daniel-day-lewissicken the whole deal. I give total credit to screenwriter Tony Kushner for his decision to hang this pageant on a moment that has been largely overlooked by historians, the passage by the House of Representatives of a constitutional amendment outlawing slavery. Historians undercut the importance of that moment because there were other ways to accomplish Lincoln’s end, but that’s not the point: whether or not the vote had significant is irrelevant10Superstorm_Sandy_Keel-1_t618, it is a perfectly splendid motor for an historical drama.
10. Superstorm Sandy. “There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at with no result,” Winston Churchill once said. I have no reason to dispute him, but I can tell you this: it’s a humbling thing to realize that the killer hurricane has come and gone and that you’ve been missed.

CHRISTMAS EVE

100_0674100_0663100_0666100_0668100_0670100_0672
100_0665100_0670100_0671100_0664100_0669100_0679100_0684100_0688100_0676100_0686100_0693100_0678100_0694Our annual get-together was held this year at the home of Paul and Marcia Buckhout. At Paul’s suggestion, this year’s entertainment was given over to story-telling. After a little bit of reluctance to talk about oneselves, many of us donned the green story-teller’s cap and plunged in. As usual, fun was held by all.

BOND, THE TEMERAIRE, AND TENNYSON

James-Bond-SkyfallMy latest, in The American Interest:

About ten minutes into Skyfall, the new James Bond film, I was already in love. Not because of the long, opening chase scene, which among its obligatory demolishment of fruit carts and motor vehicles, did feature one brilliantly iconic moment when Bond smartly straightens his cuffs after the narrowest of escapes. No, the moment I succumbed came shortly after the chase ended, during Daniel Kleinman’s splendid opening titles, as Adele sang the film’s title song. As the female sihouettes swirled into one another and Adele’s big, brassy, bravura voice asserted itself over the soaring strings and propulsive beat, I was transported into the heart of Bondlandia, where I was once again a 13-year-old fanboy, watching Maurice Binder’s sensuous opening titles, listening to Shirley Bassey’s dramatic, dominant voice, and waiting for Sean Connery to prowl onto the screen like a tuxedo-clad panther. From Skyfall’s early moments, director Sam Mendes showed that he had captured the essence of the signature Bond movies, and happily, for the next two hours plus, he never relinquished it.

temeraire-tugged-to-her-last-berth-to-be-broken-upThe opening chase, the elaborate titles, the anthem—Mendes keeps these Bond movie traditions, and cannily lets others go. Unlike the films of the Connery and Roger Moore eras, the number of women in the film falls below regulation harem levels, and the most important female character is Bond’s boss, a stout, sharp-tongued civil servant who probably hasn’t been seduced since Brezhnev was in his heyday. Q is back, but Mendes shrewdly reinvents him as a young computer nerd who disdains the Hammacher Schlemmer-style exploding gadgets that were a signature feature of Desmond Llewelyn’s long, fusty tenure as Q. Other Bond indicia are firmly in place. The scriptural “Bond, James Bond’’ signature introduction flows in naturally, and the essential “shaken, not stirred’’ instruction receives a clever twist. The fanfare of John Barry’s “James Bond Theme”, a brilliant brass and bass guitar-based totem of Swinging London, nudges into the picture a couple of times, but isn’t deployed in its entirety until fairly late in the film, when 007 takes the tarp off his still gleaming Aston-Martin and roars into the night.

You can read the rest here.

HAPPINESS IS. . .

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100_0659. . . listening to Allison Moorer and Steve Earle, Jon Levanthal and Rosanne Cash, and Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams sing songs about love, longing and happiness, at the Rubin Museum of Art on December 8th. Highlights: Larry and Tersea singing “If I Had My Way,” Allison singing a song about Alabama, and the entire cast singing the Bee Gees chestnut “To Love Somebdy.”