Friday, December 28, 2007

The Best and Worst of 2007

Since I started this blog two and a half years ago, I have taken the opportunity at year’s end to compile the best and worst of the past twelve months’ pop culture.

It’s that time again.

As in my lists for 2005 and 2006, I’m only including things I’ve experienced directly. Thus, in the categories that follow you won’t find any mention of animated films, Joel Osteen’s feel-good Christian books, or Kelly Clarkson songs.

On to the winners—and losers—in the third annual best and worst of the year list:

Best movie of 2007: Breach. If you didn’t believe it already from films like American Beauty and Adaptation, this thriller will convince you that Chris Cooper is in the top tier of current actors. And the fact that it’s almost entirely a true story makes it even more riveting.

Best movie of 2007, runners-up: A three-way tie for second place: National Treasure: Book of Secrets, which is cheesy as hell but fun, making this Nicolas Cage series the Indiana Jones franchise of this generation; The Golden Compass, which showed that special effects can contribute to a film instead of detracting from it; and (a surprise pick, even for me) I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, which featured a priceless Dave Matthews cameo and was much more human and much funnier than I’d expected.

Worst movie of 2007: Music and Lyrics. This dud starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore tried so hard to be clever … or at least interesting. It failed on both counts.

Best TV show of 2007: Scrubs, which wins hands down. I praised the superb writing last year when it won, so this year, I’ll ask a rhetorical question: Is any actor as perfect for a role as John C. McGinley is for Dr. Perry Cox?

Best TV show of 2007, runner-up: House. I’m not a doctor, and medicine has almost no interest to me. It’s a testament to the writing of Scrubs and House that these are the only two shows I come close to watching regularly.

Worst TV show of 2007: TMZ, which I flipped by and suffered through for several minutes. Few things are as shameless and useless as a show in which paparazzi report on themselves and glorify their stalking of celebrities. The decline of Western civilization continues.

Best blog of 2007 (general): Lisa B in Da City. A tough call—many of you entertain, amuse, and inform. But Lisa gets the nod for her witty approach, wide-ranging interests, and entirely pleasant attitude. Keep the good stuff coming!

Best blog of 2007 (general), runner-up: The Art of Getting By. Janet wins the second place ribbon this year, just ahead of about ten others.

Best blog of 2007 (music): The Metal Minute. Ray writes about metal, primarily, but it’s worth reading for the energy behind the text even if you’re not a fan of the genre.

Best blog of 2007 (music), runners-up: Layla’s Classic Rock Favorites. Writing about music that clearly comes from a love of music. And Heavy Metal Time Machine. Metal Mark has changed formats, with many more interviews and reviews. It doesn’t work as well for me, but it does for him—and that’s what this blogging thing should be all about anyway.

Best album of 2007: Dream Theater’s Systematic Chaos. Not as hard as the band’s Train of Thought album, but still an impressive progressive metal statement.

Best album of 2007, runners-up: Rush’s Snakes & Arrows, which is the band’s best effort in many years; Queens of the Stone Age’s Era Vulgaris, which doesn’t match the group’s best material of the past but still kicks ass (as well as 99% of the other music out there); and The White Stripes’ Icky Thump, which is just damn fun to listen to.

Most catchy song of 2007: Finger Eleven’s “Paralyzer.” When this song first came out in March, I thought it was oddly reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out”—and a damn catchy song. It’s finally become a hit, and it’s still catchy.

Most catchy song of 2007, runner-up: The White Stripes’ “Icky Thump.” Classic rock riffs aren’t dead yet!

Worst song of 2007: Hinder’s “Lips of an Angel.” Ugh. I feel ill just typing it.

Best book of 2007: ’s Andy Roddick Beat Me With A Frying Pan. This book about eternal sports questions is one the funniest things ever written. Even non-sports fans will find themselves chuckling at Gallagher’s chapters about things like average Joes trying to hit off of professional baseball pitchers, fat people defending the goal in hockey, and basketball players trying to make change off the top of a backboard.

Dumbest moment of 2007: Larry Craig’s airport bathroom incident. I wasn’t there, and I don’t know precisely what happened. I don’t need to. This was a creepy event, no matter what the details were.

And a new category …

My Prediction for 2008: More essays about the 80s in this blog. I’ve been revisiting some of the underappreciated aspects of that decade. And in 2008, I’ll have some things to say about it.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Back in My Saddle

I have not been myself lately. In fact, I’ve been kind of boorish.

You see, my alter ego has been standing in for me for a couple of months now while I’ve been busy. It’s a trite, overused literary technique, but we all resort to gimmickry sometimes.

Now I’m back. And it’s good to be here.

Why? Let me give you some small reasons why it’s good to be alive in December 2007.

(1) Jamie Lynn Spears. The little sister of white trash poster girl Britney Spears is pregnant. And she’s 16 years old. This restores my faith in the fertility of America’s young women.

(2) My health. Despite some odd ups and downs in recent years and my lackadaisical attitude lately toward exercise, I'm feeling great. Thanks to my organs, bones, and assorted other biological stuff—I owe you one.

(3) In fewer than eleven months, the U.S. presidential election will be over. Not soon enough, I know … but at least now there is a light at the end of this very disheartening tunnel.

(4) The iPhone. A touch screen device that enables instant access to the Internet, e-mail, a camera, my phone, a notepad, my calendar, maps, movies, and my favorite music is not essential in any way. But it sure is nice.

(5) Podcasts. Geeky, I know. But recently I’ve become a fan of several podcasts, particularly on skepticism and astronomy. What a great way to keep the brain in good shape while doing other things.

(6) Holiday shopping. Yes, mall parking sucks. And sure, the crowded stores can get annoying and drive anyone toward online purchases. But there’s something special about walking around shoulder-to-shoulder with your fellow human beings to find gifts that will make other happy.

(7) You. Even with my irregular posts, split personality issues, and my extended absence from most of your sites, you’re still reading my words and commenting here. And I appreciate it.

Let me know what YOU are grateful for.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Snow Job

As many of you know, I live near the nation’s capital.

Washington is a town that is good at many things. Like grandstanding. Scapegoating. Self-aggrandizement. Blaming others for your own mistakes.

Not to mention incomplete sentences.

But one thing will NOT appear on a list of things Washingtonians do well: winter driving.

I learned to drive on snow and ice, so I’m a bit of winter driving snob. Maybe it’s because of my Midwestern background that I get so pissed off at people who become idiots when there’s a dusting of the white stuff on the roads.

Let me illustrate.

Yesterday morning, I had to drive five miles to a client office. It had been snowing lightly for about half an hour, creating a dusting on the roads and a few slick, icy spots.

I need to get on three roads—only three—to make it to my destination. Yet it took me 50 MINUTES to go five miles because of these lapses in Washington area drivers’ knowledge of winter driving:

Leaving snow on one’s car when driving: This is the norm around here. Most people in the area don’t seem to mind that they’re creating a blinding wall of flying snow for the cars behind them.

Keeping one’s headlights off: If the sky is gray, the ground is turning white, and precipitation is falling, turn on your headlights! This really isn’t a difficult concept … so why were more than half of the cars coming at me driving in the dark?

Understanding the links between speed, traction, and slopes: Going full speed up or down an icy slope is a bad idea. I get that. But folks here go way, way too far the other way. Many of them try to go up a frosted slope at about 2 mph, and then wonder why they stop moving and start to fall backward. Here’s a hint—to go uphill on a slippery hill, use the gas, not the brake.

Somebody save me. I’m surrounded by idiots.