The Best of 2002

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The year that was has long since gone, leaving in its wake a trail of good, bad and mediocre music and movies to serve as bread crumb paths to memory. Since choosing the “Year’s Best” music is nearly impossible for the sheer number of albums released and seeing all 237 films eligible for Oscar consideration is a punishing task all its own, The Collegian has conceded to difficulty and agreed to disagree on personal favorites.

The following dialogue was conducted through e-mail over the course of a week. Our panel of “experts” includes me, your Arts & Entertainment Editor, Todd VanDerWerff, Collegian Opinion Editor and sometime Theater Director, and Matt Stassel, KSDJ’s Music Director and sometime star of the station’s “Jacked-Up Morning Show.” Enjoy, discuss, disagree, and let us know what you think. The arena of digression is located at [email protected]

John Hult: Since it’s probably the coolest area of the Arts to talk about and we need to get people hooked into this little story, we should probably start by talking about music.

To me, any list of the best albums of 2002 has to begin with Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I know Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising is high on a lot of lists, but in my mind, it never even comes close to the stylings of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.

Also, one can hardly avoid Eminem, who had the best single of the year with “Lose Yourself.” The Eminem Show ranks pretty high on my list of the best albums, too.

Matt Stassel: I totally agree with Foxtrot as one of the best albums of the year bar none. I bought it early–on a whim–I had only heard of the band but never the music. Hot Hot Heat’s Knock Knock Knock was really good too, a throwback to eighties bands like the Cure and Duran Duran, but still pretty original and a great listen.

I have to say that Eminem isn’t one of my favorites, he’s tolerable, but the whole anger thing doesn’t do it for me. However I respect him for saying something, anything, in contrast to most popular rap/hip hop artists. If you can point to a message in any one of the new rap/hip hop artists’ songs that isn’t ‘gettin’ money buying a car and hitting it with bitches’ I promise I will tear my own tongue out of my head and eat it.

I also can’t get enough of the Doves’ The Last Broadcast or Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head. Both are fantastic CDs with great songs. Coldplay is, well, Coldplay. The Doves’ CD melts together folk, late sixties rock, pop and others I probably don’t know about yet.

Todd VanDerWerff: First of all, I believe that picking the “best music of the year” is somewhat ludicrous, given that there are approximately 93,000 new pieces of music released in a given year (and I’m not making that figure up). No one person can listen to them all.

On to my personal favorites. . .

I would agree that “Lose Yourself” was the best single of the year. No other song this year combined that sense of urgency, that lyrical ability, or that musical proficiency. Some might argue for “Without Me,” but I’ve always found that song a bit annoying. Anyway, I must confess that I don’t listen to 93,000 albums a year, but nothing I did hear was quite as re-listenable as Beck’s paean to loss and heartbreak Sea Change.

I was quite high on Bruce Springsteen this summer, but when I listen to the album now, I skip over a few tracks, as opposed to listening to the whole thing like I do with Sea Change. I still think “You’re Missing” is his best song ever and the second best song of the year, after Eminem.

As far as Wilco goes, I enjoy the album, but I don’t quite see what the fuss is about. I still like Summerteeth better.

JH: You’re right about lists. They really don’t say much, and most critics don’t seem to like them. Personally, I think the lists are more about comparing notes and having fun than actually picking “the best.” That being said, I think we can do better than the Grammys. Not that it takes much…

As far as Sea Change goes, I think Beck got a lot more credit for that album than he deserved. People seemed to say “oooooo, the absurdist genius boy is being earnest…he’s never done that before, wow-wee!” and that was enough. If a line like “desert wind cools your aching head” were stuffed onto a Jewel song it would be further proof of her contrivance. But since someone we like means it when he says it, we’re supposed to think it’s deep.

In terms of earnest artists with a former following, I’d say Tori Amos’ Scarlet’s Walk, Paul Westerberg’s Mono/Stereo double album and Elvis Costello’s When I Was Cruel each said more about relationships than Sea Change.

MS: I can’t say much about Sea Change. However, I have talked to people that said the same things though. As far as rock goes, the best album was Queens of the Stone Age, bar none. They just pull you in and make you want to work on cars or something. I have a soft spot for good heavy stuff and they’re up there with Slayer, Prong and Tool.

As songs go I liked Norah Jones’ “I Don’t Know Why” I saw her on some late night show– Letterman or Leno or Conan or something. She sings like getting your back scratched by your girlfriend’s soft yet sharp fingernails, or something similar to that.

TV: I don’t mind Beck’s sometimes banal lyrics. After all, John Lennon took a trite little couplet like “Yesterday/all my troubles seemed so far away” and turned it into musical brilliance. In my mind, it’s not the lyrics but how you use them. Jewel tends to have very under-produced albums, which leave her lyrics out in the open for everyone to laugh at. For me, the difference between her albums and Sea Change is in the production. Sea Change sounds like the desolation one feels after a break-up and therefore, we buy into it.

Another job of production I admire is the job the Neptunes did with Nellie’s “Hot in Herre.” It’s a terribly written song with basically no melody and incredibly stupid lyrics. The Neptunes surrounded the song with a swirl of seductive summer come-on and turned it into THE song of the summer of 2002.

I’ve seen “The Streets” listed at the top of a lot of critics’ lists, but haven’t heard them. Have either of you? I listened to The Roots Phrenology on your recommendation, John, and really enjoyed it. It would certainly be one of my top albums of the year as well.

The Dixie Chicks proved that they’re willing to do something daring with their bluegrass-tinged Home. I’m not quite sure what to make of The Hives and The Vines, but I’m glad people are listening to something other than Avril Lavigne.

Speaking of Lavigne, her “Sk8ter Boi” is catchy, infectious, well written musically, atrociously written lyrically, and everything that’s wrong with pop music right now. It’s all surface, no depth.

MS: I just have one comment about Lavigne. I saw her in Newsweek, and the headline was, “Anarchy on MTV? Tough Gals, Rejoice.”

Anarchy? My god, they found her in a mall singing Christmas songs for f—‘s sake. I’m a little crude sometimes but F—!

You have to read this article–if this stuff is true, there are millions of idiots out there lining the pockets of producers. Music and movies are a tragic medium of art. XXX and Lavigne are what the populous get when they stop thinking. Maybe it has always been like that. Even the Beatles made good music though, because they loved it. Lavigne is a fraud. She is a voice, that’s all. I don’t know, I just couldn’t give up my own identity to get rich like she did. Here’s a little excerpt of the article to get you interested:

“Lavigne was only 15 when Arista discovered her. She had no idea how to make an album, and sang only cover songs. Her debut took a lot of work–by fine producers, Arista CEO L.A. Reid and a team of pop professionals known as The Matrix. Lavigne (who co-wrote the songs on Let Go) now wants more independence, hoping to make her next album in the ‘kick-ass’ style of Nirvana–a band she barely knew existed back in Napanee.” Wow

TV: I think we’ve all beaten the Lavigne to death. I would like to comment that Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head grows on me every time I listen to it. I suspect I’ll like it better in five or six years when the world has finally ended. I also really like the Doves.

Anyway, as an all too clumsy segue… wasn’t this a great year for movie music? Punch Drunk Love, Far From Heaven, Adaptation and Signs all had excellent scores.Even if the movies sucked, the music backing them up was excellent this year.

JH: Yes, indeed, a fine year for movie music. I think that Catch Me If You Can had the best stuff overall. One exception: Nickelback’s “Hero” from Spider-man. Tie Chad Kroeger to the front of a truck and run him into a wall, I say.

Just to finish up on music, though, I would say that a.) The Queens of the Stone Age probably did have the best rock album of the year, although the Soundtrack of Our Lives’ Behind The Music was a close second, b.) The Streets’ Original Pirate Material is a great album of electronic beats combined with snappy London hip hop slang–take a listen, Matt, then let me know how that tongue tastes, c.) The Neptune’s own In Search Of… as N.E.R.D. wasn’t as fun as “Hot In Herre,” but close, and d.) You can never say too much bad stuff about Avril Lavigne

I also dig the hell out of the music from Gangs Of New York, particularly the march at the beginning, the dirty beats just following it during the first brawl and “Paddie’s Lamentation,” which plays over the scene that sends the Irish from the citizenship desk table to the Union army boat. Gangs was my favorite movie this year, too, but I haven’t seen Adaptation, Chicago, The Hours or Road To Perdition.

Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone outdoing what is probably the most accessible picture Scorsese has ever done. Daniel Day-Lewis is absolutely incredible, the sets, costumes and environments created were as complete as any period piece I’ve seen save Barry Lyndon, and Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t suck. Amazing.

Jack Nicholson was amazing in About Schmidt, too. Crazy casting, though–apparently, at some point Alexander Payne said, “I’m looking for an older actor to star as a dull, depressed, subdued retiree and widower,” and then picked famously overacting Jack Nicholson.

TV: I hate that damn Spider-man song, though it was a fine superhero movie. In re: pop music, I’m very pleased that The Soundtrack Of Our Lives somehow picked up a Grammy nom.

As those awards get more and more ridiculous in the top categories, they get a little hipper in the sub-categories.

Perhaps by the time I’m an old man, no one will make fun of them anymore. Yeah right.

As far as movies go, I dug Gangs of New York until the third act, where Miramax made Scorsese chop a bunch of stuff out.

The third act makes literally no sense but I can’t lay out why it doesn’t work for fear of spoiling a very good movie.

If the extended three-hour cut ever surfaces, this movie will take its place as the rightful best movie of 2002.

Having said that, 2002 was a good year for movies too. 2002 seemed to be a good year for everything in the world of the arts. Sept. 11 really seemed to revitalize a lot of artists, proving to them that there were still things to make passionate art about in this world of ours.

Adaptation never misses a beat as it tells an oddly quirky story that ends up being a touching rumination on the need for change, the comfort of formula, and the question of whether making art or being happy is more important.

It’s a bizarrely brilliant piece of work, though I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone.

I would recommend About Schmidt to everyone. I really liked Alexander Payne’s Election, but this blows that out of the water for narrative and character depth. I do worry that Payne is a bit too condescending towards the family of Schmidt’s daughter’s fiancee, but I think he pulls off the tricky task of making them both clueless and sympathetic.

MS: I have to say that I always forget about the music in movies, because I get so wrapped up in the flicks.

I wanted to see The Pianist–it’s unfortunate, that so many movies like that won’t get to Sioux Falls. Fraility was one of the best movies I saw this year. I don’t quite know what to think about About Schmidt–it was good but it seemed moot.

It didn’t make me question or feel really anything at the end. It was kind of predictable in the sense in that the widowed old man is looking for some kind of purpose and finds it in the boy he’s writing to, but I figured that out on his first day of retirement he when he picked up the phone and called Child Reach.

His character is kind of a baby, which makes him unappealing. The content of the movie and the deeper messages were appealing but I didn’t like the way that they were handled.

Maybe it wasn’t such a bad movie after–just a little dead. I want my characters to take a stance and not just be an empty form or sketch of a human.

Give me Adam Sandler’s character in Punch Drunk Love (another one of my favorites), who cannot hide from himself and is in the end accepted for who he is any day. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was another, Gangs and Road to Perdition were beautifully shot, The Ring was the scariest movie I’ve seen since the Exorcist, Solaris made me think and Super Troopers made me laugh.

The Good Girl was really the best thing I’ve seen Jennifer Aniston in. All in all, I’d say it has been a pretty good year for movies.

Good news however–the Sioux Falls Film Society took my ten dollars and another $999,990 and started renovating the State Theater in downtown SF, here comes SF’s first indie theater. Huray!

JH: The State Theater renovation is probably the best news for Eastern SD filmgoers this year. Brookings has even more.

Although it never features films in their initial release, The SD Film Series at the SD Art Museum shows little-known material for next to nothing, and SDSU’s Modern Languages Department shows foreign films for free.

That plus State University theater doing things like The Laramie Project on the main stage and giving people like Todd the chance to work with the Experimental Theater Program in the Pugsley Studio make the coming year look very promising.

TV: I would argue more vociferously for my beloved About Schmidt, but maybe it’s just tuned in to a certain wavelength that I pick up on, whereas

I don’t pick up on ones like the swell of support for Talk to Her. (I thought it was a nifty little movie but I have NO thoughts about it being the best of the year.)

I do agree that things are perking up in South Dakota.

I hope the SFFS keeps to the gameplan and brings more independent films to South Dakota.

I am encouraged, however, by the way both Century and West Mall 7 have picked up some of the bigger indies.

Sioux Falls, Brookings, and Vermillion are slowly becoming nice little arts towns, with Sioux Falls aspiring to be one of the nicer “arts cities” in the nation.

It’s also encouraging to see the explosion of independent theatre groups in both Sioux Falls and Brookings.

It’s taken a good long while for the arts to penetrate our fair state, but now that they’re here, let’s hope they don’t go away.