John Hult

John Hult

2003 (depending on who you listen to) was either the year when everything was unspeakably awesome or the year when everything sucked.

I’m going to take the middle road and say most everything was really mediocre, though a few things were great and a few things were terrible. This is the way it is every year: one giant sea of crap from which a few pearls arise. When did I start sounding like an old man?

Herewith, then, are ten things that were great this year, five things I’m looking forward to in December and five things that really sucked (in the interest of Norman Vincent Peale-esque positive thinking).

Eight Things that Make Me Happy

1.) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Conservatives say it’s too liberal. Liberals say it’s too conservative. That probably means it’s just right for me! Stewart and his happy journalism pranksters make a mockery of television news. In fact, various international tragedies and the Schwarzzengger campaign have made this a banner year for the show. Triple huzzahs!

2.) Mainstream music worth caring about. The White Stripes, Fountains of Wayne, Damien Rice and Outkast all provided albums I’ll listen to for years to come. Bonus points for “Crazy in Love,” a Beyonce Knowles song so annoying it actually stopped being annoying sometime in July!

3.) DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little. In a rather dismal year for the publishing industry, Pierre wrote the only book I’ve thought about a few times after finishing it.

4.) Big studios start to care again. Between Mystic River, Master and Commander and a few others, it seems the big studios have returned to producing movies for audiences other than teenagers.

5.) Documentaries and (good) indie films score big. Capturing the Friedmans? American Splendor? Lost in Translation? Whale Rider? All good films.

6.) Arrested Development. The funniest new show in many a year arrives just in time to save the television sitcom from itself. There were few funnier moments this year than when narrator Ron Howard described how Tobias (David Cross) ended up with a boatload of gay pirates. Bonus points for reuniting Cross and Bob Odenkirk!

7.) Genre TV worth caring about. There are too many genre shows on TV right now, but there are too many Law and Order series too. 24, Alias and Angel all make my day in different ways and fill in the hole left by the dearly departed Buffy and Boomtown.

8.) The word “huzzah.” It’s making a comeback. Make sure to say it in class!

Four Things I’m Looking Forward To:

1.) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Oh, come on. Like you’re not. Even people who hate this film series can’t wait to see this one so they can hate it even more. Go, zeitgeist!

2.) HBO’s Angels in America. I don’t have HBO. I don’t really like this play. But the reviews have been amazing and the cast looks great. And there are few phrases more promising than “a gay fantasia on national themes.” Well, maybe “Free sundae with any dinner purchase,” but that’s just me.

3.) The next Ben Folds EP. The man is cranking out some of his best work ever in short-form EPs available only on his website.

4.) Christmas. If only because I’m tired of school.

Four Things That Sucked:

1.) Most books. Okay, so they didn’t suck, per se, but they did disappoint. Highly touted new novels from Jhumpa Lahiri, Toni Morrison and Zadie Smith left us saying “meh.” In addition, there was no “The Corrections” style breakout sensation.

2.) The new TV shows. Outside of Arrested Development and a few passable dramas like Joan of Arcadia, network TV couldn’t come up with anything new worth watching this year.

3.) The Last Samurai. Stupid self-righteous Tom Cruise …

4.) Reality TV. Constantly finding new ways to scrape the bottom of the barrel since 2002.

-Todd VanDerWerff

Who rules?

Outkast! Andre 3000’s Love Below and Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx knock the snot out of nearly every record this year. Jet’s Get Born is a decent debut with one really stellar song (“Are You Gonna Be My Girl”), Iggy Pop’s Skull Ring is spectacular, Atmosphere’s Seven’s Travels is predictably fantastic, but for my money, Outkast are bending the music world over backwards with their double album.

Special mention should also go to the Neptunes. Pharell Williams is better known as a singer, but he and partner Chad Hugo have the most magic fingers in pop music today. They even made Justin Timberlake sound good. Their album this summer, Clones, features tracks with Jay-Z, Nelly, Kelis, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris and Dirt McGirt (Ol’ Dirty Bastard). If you haven’t heard this stuff yet, you may need therapy to get your mojo back. What? You didn’t know it was gone? Lawdy, lawdy! I’m afraid you’re a lost cause.

As far as the movies go, the movie that had me the most excited turned out to be the most disappointing so far: Bad Santa. Sure, I want to see The Return of the King as badly as anyone, but chances are you know what that’s about already.

Bad Santa was supposed to be great. It’s a drunk Santa movie, for chrissakes! A drunk Santa movie with Billy Bob Thornton as Santa and the ass-kicking black dwarf from Friday (Tony Cox) as an elf with white ears.

Beyond that, director Terry Zwigoff just came from Ghost World-my favorite movie of 2000-and Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo, The Big Lebowski) produced it. All three of these guys know how to make dark tragi-comedy into high art. Unfortunately, there isn’t much going on with Bad Santa beyond the cheap laughs.

There is hope, however: Anthony Minghella (The Talented Mr. Ripley) directs Jude Law, Renee Zellweger and Nicole Kidman in Cold Mountain at the end of the month. Cross your fingers, film fans.

-John Hult

What’s Rockin’ My Winter

KABOOM!!!!! The stage right bass drum exploded with the force of a hand-grenade, says the Who vocalist Rodger Daltrey. This is how the Who made their appearance on The Smothers Brother’s Comedy Hour in 1967. Guitarist Pete Townsend’s hearing problems might have something to do with the fact that his head was directly in front of the drum when the explosion went off, seriously.