Friday, December 30, 2005

My Favorite Movies of 2005

As they compile their best-of lists for 2005, it’s like critics are trying to keep themselves employed by convincing everyone we really should have gone to the movies more often this year. So many top 10 lists I read this month included a variation on “this year was much better than everyone thinks.”
Nah, it really wasn’t.
For the majority of 2005, there was absolutely nothing worth leaving the house for, especially with ticket prices going through the roof (nearly $10 apiece here in the D.C. suburbs). I just can’t afford to spend every weekend at the movies, so when I go, it better be worth it.
Thus, for the majority of this year, I just stayed home. The spring and summer were filled with total crap; by comparison the end-of-the-year Oscar push proved worthwhile, but now there are so many movies out at the same time, I can’t afford to go to all those, either (when will the studios learn?).
So, here’s to making the best of a bad situation. There were a few gems this year, but all in all, this list pales in comparison to 2004 (for reference, click on the February 2005 link on the right side of this page). And this is by no means an objective list; these are simply the movies that made me glad to be in a theater in 2005. It’s sad I couldn’t even come up with 10.

1. “Walk the Line”—It’s not overstating things to say this film changed my life by turning a mild interest in Johnny Cash into a full-blown obsession (in the good sense of the word). Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are absolutely stunning as the Man in Black and the love of his life, June Carter. By putting Cash’s classic material up on the big screen and blasting it in surround sound, his brilliance was finally brought home to me and my eyes were finally opened to an artist I’d been missing all these years. What more can you ask for from a movie?
2. “Serenity”—I can’t remember when a creator was better to his fanbase than Joss Whedon and his “Firefly” devotees. This is a farewell kiss to the faithful, and it’s a joy from start to finish. Taken in context with the TV series, this is one of the best space action epics of all time, and certainly the best of 2005 (sorry, George, you suck now). Nevertheless, “Serenity” was a box-office bomb and thus sealed the fate of Captain Reynolds, River, and the rest. But they’ll never be forgotten.
3. “Cinderella Man”—I really don’t understand why this fantastic biopic of Depression-era hero James Braddock wasn’t better received. It can’t all be because Russell Crowe threw a phone at somebody, can it? Come on, people! Combining the best elements of “Million Dollar Baby” and “Seabiscuit,” this is one of the greatest boxing movies of all time. Love him or hate him (most hate, I know, but I don’t), Crowe is the best big-ticket actor in the business, and ditto for Renee Zellweger. Meanwhile, Paul Giamatti, playing Braddock’s manager/trainer, gives his third straight Oscar-worthy performance (that probably will go unrecognized by the Academy for the third straight year).
4. “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”/”King Kong”—I liked the latter much more than I expected and the former wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, thus these two fantasy epics met in the middle ground. Director Andrew Adamson (“Shrek”) got just about everything right in “Narnia” (how special is Georgie Henley as Lucy—what a find). But he got Aslan very, very wrong, and that’s a big, big problem. Peter Jackson, on the other hand, made no missteps with his own CG beast, and the magnificently realized ape shows this filmmaker is now officially the best in the business. I didn’t write full reviews for either of these films, but I gave “Narnia” an A-, “Kong” an A.
6. “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”—Yeah, I can’t believe it’s even on the list, much less this high. But this has got to be one of my most pleasant surprises of all time. Despite all the Brangelina hype, the two megastars are spectacular in this near-perfect popcorn flick. Laugh-out-loud funny, clever, and full of eye-popping action, the only thing that tarnishes this excellent summer blockbuster is its ridiculously over-the-top finale. I’ve even watched it again at home, and this violently dysfunctional couple was just as fun the second time around.
7. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”—The best of the four movies so far in this billion-dollar franchise was so good, it finally made me want to read the books for myself. Thrilling, funny, touching and epic in scope, director Mike Newell came through big-time.
8. “Batman Begins”—Also the best installment of its respective franchise, “Begins” is great for the first two acts and unravels in the third. As Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale leads the strongest cast of the five Caped Crusader flicks, and indie legend Christopher Nolan effectively brought the series back from the dead. And then he lost his head with that ridiculous terrorism subplot and an outlandish conclusion. Ah well, at least there’s promise for a sequel.
9. “Elizabethtown”—I don’t know how or why Cameron Crowe fell out of favor with the mainstream media, but his charming ode to the classic American road trip was excessively reviled by critics. Orlando Bloom wouldn’t have been my choice for the lead role, but Kirsten Dunst and a killer soundtrack cover a multitude of sins.

On my to-rent list for 2006:
“A History of Violence”
“The Constant Gardener”
“March of the Penguins”
“Sin City”
“The Squid and the Whale”

Thursday, December 29, 2005

'Brokeback Mountain'

“Brokeback Mountain” is a fine, at times gripping, film, featuring a set of outstanding performances and artful, restrained direction from Ang Lee.
But it is not a great film, nor does it deserve its status as the odds-on favorite for picture of the year.
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past couple months, you know what “Brokeback” is all about: Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal star as two cowboys who spend a summer together and end up falling in love. Such a movie is a stone-cold lock for controversy, but it is undoubtedly one of the best (if not the first) major motion pictures to depict homosexual men in a realistic, non-“Queer Eye” manner.
Hollywood and those that cover it have basically decided “Brokeback” is THE movie of 2005. It continues to rack up best-picture awards from various film societies, and is the best-reviewed movie of the year. Many critics have taken the position that the homosexuality is secondary to the overall story—it shouldn’t matter to us whether this movie is about a gay relationship or not, they claim, because it’s not about gay love, it’s about true love.
That theory is bunk, and this deficiency keeps “Brokeback Mountain” from transcendence.
The movie opens in Signal, Wyoming, in 1963, where we first meet Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal), both looking for summer work as sheepherders. They are hired and sent up Brokeback Mountain with their “cargo” (one of several beautifully shot scenes by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto), left to their own devices for a week at a time in between supply runs. So, yeah, they have some time on their hands. On one particularly frigid night, they sleep in the same tent for warmth and Jack pulls Ennis’ arm over his body; at first Ennis reacts with revulsion, but Jack quickly presses his affections and the two have sex. (For those wondering, although the sex is quite aggressive, the filming is tasteful.)
Did that feel like an abrupt summation? Well, the movie does, too, and that proves to be its undoing.
I wasn’t looking at my watch, but it felt like the sex scene was about 25 minutes in, at the most. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for getting acquainted with these guys, much less allow them to get to know each other. From that first summer, “Brokeback Mountain” follows the lives of these two socially-crossed lovers for the next 20 years of their lives as they both marry, father children, and continue to see each other several times a year in a series of trysts back up the mountain. This portion of the film is too long, while the first part is too short.
No, this movie is all about the fact that these two characters are gay, male lovers. All of the tension is created by Ennis’ resistance to Jack’s plea for the two of them to settle down on a ranch together and live happily ever after. They’re “stuck,” Ennis says, not because he doesn’t want to leave his lifeless relationship with his wife, but simply for fear of “coming out.” As a child, Ennis was exposed to a violent scene of bigotry in which a gay man was sadistically murdered simply because of his sexual orientation—Ennis is literally scared to death of suffering the same fate.
If this movie was a love story between a man and a woman, it would fall flat. But Ennis’ and Jack’s homosexuality distracts us from the lack of depth in their affair—it makes for compelling drama, sure, just not the drama we’ve been promised. In the end, there is very little in the way of explanation for why these two lovers would risk their families and, in Jack’s case, drive 14 hours one way just for a few days together. Other than the sex, of course, but they could find that elsewhere (Jack does, in fact, but he still “can’t quit” Ennis—why, nobody knows, including, apparently, the two characters).
And we are also distracted by the amazing acting on full display in this movie. As the stoic Ennis, a man more of grunts than words, Ledger gives not just the performance of his career, but of a lifetime. It’s nearly impossible to believe the man so fully inhabiting this character is the same blonde-haired Australian pretty boy from such flops as “The Four Feathers” and “A Knight’s Tale.” His vocal delivery is reminiscent of Billy Bob Thornton’s Karl Childers from “Sling Blade” (without the mental retardation, of course), and he speaks as much with his body as his mouth.
As Ledger’s counterpart, Gyllenhaal does not provide quite the same revelation, but he certainly holds his own. Meanwhile, supporting actresses Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway are fantastic (in that order) as Ennis’ and Jack’s wives, respectively.
But in the end, “Brokeback Mountain” still comes off as an agenda-driven film, and I go to the movies for entertainment and hopefully a little enlightenment, not full-on preaching (which is why I haven’t seen “Syriana,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” or “Crash”).
Grade: B

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Somebody Shoot Me

This will probably guarantee I never get a "real" movie critic job, but I'll press on …
After tonight's Wizards game (they finally won, what a shock), I was just flipping around a little bit before heading to bed and for some reason came across "The Charlie Rose Show." He was sitting around a table with four other rather strange-looking people and it took about five seconds to realize they were film critics talking about the movies of 2005.
I've made it pretty obvious that one of my "dream jobs" would be reviewing movies for a living—unless it turned me into a version of one of these leprechauns. If I wake up one day 10 or 20 years from now and I look and sound like these circus freaks, someone, please shoot me.
Since I came very late to this depressing little party, I only caught two names: Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly) and A.O. Scott (NY Times). Schwarzbaum actually was the most sensible and least pretentious of the four (also the only woman on the panel, but I don't know if that has any bearing or not). I typically trust EW's reviews more than most, and she seems to at least have her pinky toe in mainstream culture (evidenced by her "A" review of "King Kong").
Scott, on the other hand (a mousy little creep of a guy), was abominable. He came right out and admitted that the only movies he likes are the "small" budget films—that no one outside of New York or LA ever sees, of course. His top three movies of the year are two documentaries and one Italian film. Give me a freakin' break.
Look, I'm all for artistic expression and trying to raise the level of the motion picture above that of, say, "Cheaper By the Dozen 2," and I am certainly not a neophyte when it comes to "indie" movies. But I'm also a person who believes it's more difficult to make a big-budget film like "Spider-Man 2" emotionally resonant than, say, "In America" (which I LOVED). I have a love and respect for both types of films, and can enjoy them equally, if differently.
These self-absorbed windbags need to spend more time outside of darkened rooms with flickering lights, because they've lost all sense of relevance in mainstream culture. If you're so pretentious and arrogant that you can't bear to praise a movie that has a modest chance at becoming a hit, then I have no use for you (which is why I never read Scott's work).
And that is why I've tried to loosely model my reviews after Roger Ebert who, though I disagree with him as much as I agree, is one of the few critics who accepts movies for what they are, and judges filmmakers by how well they accomplished what they set out to do. That's why he can give the same rating to "Capote," "King Kong," and (gasp!) "The Passion of the Christ" (the only four-star review I found for this one, by the way, save for mine). He's one of the few big-timers that still gets it: Movies are allowed to be fun, and we shouldn't turn our noses up at those who do them well.
I guess I should have known better tonight, because when I found the show, three of the four (not Schwarzbaum) were trashing "Walk the Line" and continuing to praise "Ray." That tells me all I need to know.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bittersweet Revenge

Amidst all of Sunday night’s Redskins euphoria (and it was euphoric—I'm still stunned) a lot of people in this city probably missed two of its most beloved athletic stars sticking it in the eye of the hometown pro basketball team.
University of Maryland legends and current Portland Trail Blazers Juan Dixon and Steve Blake combined for 34 points to down their former team, the Washington Wizards, in front of a barely-there crowd in Oregon late Sunday night. It was sweet justice for Juan and Stevie, who were unceremoniously dumped by the Wizards in the offseason after giving nothing but their all for three and two years, respectively.
Wizards coach Eddie Jordan and GM Ernie Grunfeld—it was explained to us, the stupid fans—wanted more size in the backcourt. Dixon and Blake are just too small to fit in here, you see. So the Wizards went out and got two journeymen guards, Antonio Daniels and Chucky Atkins. Never heard of either ’em? I didn’t think so. Because they’re no different than a million other guys who have wandered through the NBA.
Juan and Steve, on the other hand, are hometown heroes who still receive standing ovations in D.C., even though they now play for the opposing team. Daniels and Atkins are two veterans that have done absolutely nothing in this league of any distinction, other than managing to stay in it.
Dixon and Blake were never given a fair shot by Jordan, who, apparently, is the first coach in the history of this duo’s combined careers not to absolutely love these guys. Juan received irregular minutes at best in his tenure with the Wizards, and Blake was lucky if he saw the floor once a week. I’m convinced it was all about ego for Jordan—he wasn’t about to let the fans tell him how to coach his team, and he got rid of the heroes wouldn’t have to hear the “We want Juan!” chants anymore.
So how’s that working out for you, Coach?
Playing without three starters, Portland nevertheless dismissed the Wizards Sunday night, led by the former Maryland duo playing together once again in the backcourt down the stretch. Washington’s Gilbert Arenas hit a three-pointer to cut it to one with a couple minutes to go, but Dixon and Blake combined to run off seven points in a row and put the game on ice, dropping the Wizards to a pathetic four games under .500.
If the Wizards don’t make the playoffs this year, Eddie Jordan should be fired. He’s been a mediocre coach that has stuck around because expectations were so low, making the second round of the playoffs last season was the equivalent of winning the NBA championship around here.
But Jordan has made as many mistakes with this team in his three and a quarter seasons as he has made good decisions. No one can figure out his rotation (Juan said as much this season), and he runs his stars into the ground (Arenas is continually ranked among the top minutes played in the league). He and Grunfeld essentially blew up a backcourt that last season was arguably the best in the league. I was never a big Larry Hughes fan, but the team undoubtedly misses him this season. And the Wizards certainly miss Dixon’s instant offense off the bench, as neither Atkins nor Daniels have shown any propensity that they can score and hit outside shots with any consistency (Daniels is hardly even playing nowadays).
Guys like Juan Dixon and Steve Blake—who make up for the lack of natural ability with heart, smarts, and passion—don’t come along nearly as often as faceless roster-fillers like Daniels and Atkins (heck, Dixon is outscoring the latter duo all by himself this year). The Maryland stars made coming to Wizards games worthwhile; last time I checked, professional sports teams do need fans every now and then to pay their salaries—it’s not like MCI is selling out every night.
But even more than all that, Jordan said cutting Dixon and Blake was all about winning. Well, what have you done for me lately, Coach? I thought the Wizards were supposed to be better this year after making the playoffs for the first time in two decades. Dixon singlehandedly won three or four games for Washington last season—including a clutch performance in the PLAYOFFS against Chicago—but for some reason that didn’t matter to Jordan. His ego is too big for his size and his success.
At first I questioned why Dixon and Blake went to a rotten organization like Portland. But new coach Nate McMillan has a mind to turn that whole team around, jettisoning the chaff (like, I assume, Darius Miles), and moving forward in a new, positive direction. If that is the case, he knew exactly what he was doing by bringing in Juan and Stevie. They’re not good enough to make up a starting backcourt in the NBA, but they’re two guys that every team in the league—teams with any sense, anyway—should want. All they wanted was a genuine chance to show what they could do.
No matter what the Wizards go on to accomplish this season and beyond, losing Dixon and Blake will always be an open wound. And it should be. The Wizards got exactly what they deserved tonight.

Monday, December 12, 2005

My 22 Favorite Bands, as of Dec. 12, 2005

This is an ever-evolving topic that never seems to get old—or complete. I have a hard time adding some bands to my list, because I tend to go for longevity and "legacy" over anything else, but my fall concert tour cemented the status of some bands that were starting to wilt. And, I'm so into Johnny Cash right now, just putting him on the list was reason enough to update. (I reserve the right to forget some, no matter how hard I try.) Here goes …

1. U2—The concerts cemented their status at the top. The live show wasn't as good as No. 2's, but nobody's are.
2. Pearl Jam—Philly was incredible, but I'm still nervous about the next record.
3. Led Zeppelin—I listened to the radio on Saturday for the first time in I don't know how long, and for some reason heard three Zep songs. Yep, I still knew the words to all three.
4. Bruce Springsteen—Great year for The Boss. I wish I could have gotten to more than one show, especially on the last leg when he really started digging into the back catalog, but those tix were steep.
5. The White Stripes—Their performance on "The Daily Show" was great; the "Conan" appearance sucked. Pretty much sums up how I feel about "Get Behind Me Satan."
6. Dashboard Confessional—I'm really curious to find out what the next album is like. I wonder how long Chris Carrabba can hang on to his older songs now that he's hitting his 30s.
7. Wilco—Jeff Tweedy solidified his status on this list all by himself in November.
8. PJ Harvey—Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any way she can ever surpass “Stories.”
9. Johnny Cash—Rising like a rocket ship. What have I been doing all this time?

THE REST (these are in no particular order)
10. Pink Floyd
11. Ryan Adams
12. Smashing Pumpkins
13. Ramones
14. Franz Ferdinand
15. The Who
16. Otis Redding/Al Green
18. Coldplay
19. Sleater-Kinney
20. Flogging Molly
21. Uncle Tupelo
22. Fall Out Boy

Alkaline Trio
At the Drive-In
The Beatles
Collective Soul
Dave Matthews Band
Foo Fighters
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
Rage Against the Machine
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Saves the Day
Stone Temple Pilots
The Tragically Hip
Paul Westerberg

And then there are those staples that don’t deserve a spot on the list but I just couldn’t live without. It’s more like I acknowledge how great they are and love their music, but it doesn’t reach out and grab me the way it does others.

The Clash
The Doors
Bob Dylan
Marvin Gaye
Green Day
The Rolling Stones
The Sex Pistols
Neil Young

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Welcome Home: The Sounds of 2005

After a seven-year absence, the D.C. area welcomed me back with open arms in 2005 in many ways, including (and especially) live music.
In the year and a half I spent in South Carolina, I attended a grand total of three shows (one of which I had to drive BACK to D.C. for); in 2005, I tripled that number. And we’re not talking about some no-name bar bands here. No, these were the real deal—it was like the music gods conspired to provide me with a dream lineup for my return to a place I never stopped loving, no matter how many miles and years I was away. It was essentially a who’s who of my favorite artists and bands: U2 (twice!), Pearl Jam, Springsteen, Dashboard, Jeff Tweedy, Ryan Adams, Billy Corgan, and Coldplay (and I could have seen The White Stripes if I hadn’t been so picky about them playing a ridiculously large venue like Merriweather Post). There’s almost nothing I’d rather do than go hear my favorite bands live and in person, and there probably will never be another year as special as this one. By the time it was over, I was referring to my musical journey as “Schooly’s Tour 2005.”
But there was more music in my ears than what I heard in concert. Back in April, I was given my very first iPod (U2 Special Edition, no less, thanks to my generous wife and family), and it basically never leaves my side. Ironically, I bought fewer CDs this year than in the past, but most of what I did purchase really stuck in my head. Any glance back through my site will basically tell you what I liked and didn’t like from an album perspective, so instead I’m going to run through the individual songs I just couldn’t get enough of in 2005. (Considering the iTunes culture in which we live, a list like this gives me pause, because I hope we never see the day where the album goes away. I still much prefer CDs to digital downloads, but that’s an issue for another column.)
You’ll notice right off the top that not all of these songs were actually released in this calendar year (much less this millennium), but everything on this list made an impact on me during one incredible run of music. Unless noted otherwise, I highly recommend you check all of these out, along with the albums they’re on.

“Bad,” U2 (from 1984’s “The Unforgettable Fire”)—It sounds hokey, but somehow I just knew I would finally get to hear this legendary song in person when U2 came to town this year. I could almost feel it, even when I bought my tickets way back in February. So, more than any other song, “Bad” dominated my musical landscape in 2005. I listened to this beautiful, haunting masterpiece more than any other song this year, and, sure enough, I got it. They waited until the very last song on the second of back-to-back nights in D.C., but U2 closed Night 2 at MCI with a fantastic, full-throated version of “Bad.” It was like a dream come true. Seriously.

“Cocaine Blues,” Johnny Cash (from “The Legend” box set, released this year)—I am coming so late to this party, it’s ridiculous. The Man in Black isn’t even alive anymore (our loss), but the fantastic biopic “Walk the Line” set fire to a spark I’d been nurturing for a few years. I can’t get enough Johnny Cash now, and I could have picked any number of entries for this slot (“I Walk the Line,” “Jackson,” “Ring of Fire,” or his intimate cover of U2’s “One,” just to name a few). But “Cocaine Blues” was the song featured in my favorite scene from the movie: the concert at Folsom Prison.

“Crown of Thorns,” Mother Love Bone (as performed live on 10.3.05 in Philly by Pearl Jam)—An all-time favorite from 1992’s “Singles” soundtrack was pulled out of the hat for one of the best concerts of my life. An epic written by MLB frontman Andrew Wood before his untimely death, it’s a momentous song for PJ, and Eddie told us as much that night. Played for just the sixth time in Pearl Jam’s history, Ed said they save it only for special occasions. I’m still floored I was in the building for this one.

“I Predict a Riot,” Kaiser Chiefs (from 2005’s “Employment”)—Sure, they’re a bit of a Franz Ferdinand knock off, but this song is infectious and subversive at the same time. A great little tune.

“Let It Ride,” Ryan Adams and The Cardinals (from 2005’s “Cold Roses”)—Adams returned to his alt-country roots in a major way this year, and the results were stellar. “Let It Ride” is not only the best track on a great album, it’s one of the prolific songwriter’s best of all time, and that’s saying something.

“Let’s Call It Love,” Sleater-Kinney (from 2005’s “The Woods”)—The absolute, stone-cold lock highlight of a magnificent Sub Pop debut, “Let’s Call It Love” is S-K’s best song, even with five minutes of instrumentation at the end. Simply brilliant.

“Long Time Comin’,” Bruce Springsteen (from 2005’s “Devils and Dust”)—Springsteen’s latest solo album isn’t chock-full of classics by any means, but I fell in love with this song instantly and it hasn’t diminished one bit with time. The story of a father who’s smart and humble enough to realize when he’s been wrong, this is redemptive, mature Springsteen at his best. One of my all-time favorite songs, Bruce or otherwise.

“My Doorbell,” The White Stripes (from 2005’s “Get Behind Me Satan”)—The cool kids say “Satan” is the Stripes’ best album, but I just don’t get it—and I’ve really, really tried. “Get Behind Me Satan” is without a doubt the most over-praised album of 2005. “My Doorbell” is the catchiest of what, after repeated listenings, I still find to be a bunch of atonal, unmelodic, messy songs that comprise my least favorite Stripes record. Here’s hoping this is just a brief detour.

“Out of Control,” U2 (from 1980’s “Boy”)—I’ve made no bones about the fact that this has been U2005 for me—I’ve listened to more U2 this year than all other bands combined. Last year’s new album, “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb,” in part was a return to the band’s roots, so I decided to do the same by delving into their first album, “Boy,” which I had never given a fair shake. Tucked in the middle is “Out of Control,” U2’s first single, and I simply couldn’t get enough of it. I know, I know, every U2 fan already loves this song, but I came way late to this party, too (try 1998), and you can only get to so much. Anyway, I grew to love “Out of Control” just in time because, once again, they pulled this rarity out for Night 2 in D.C., too.

“Remember the Mountain Bed,” Woodie Guthrie (as performed by Jeff Tweedy on 11.12.05 at Messiah College in Pennsylvania)—I could have chosen several highlights from a great night with the Wilco frontman, but this beautiful number stuck out from all the rest. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know it prior to checking setlists in the days leading up to the show, but it comes from Wilco’s collaboration with Billy Bragg to write melodies for a batch of unfinished Guthrie songs. Tweedy’s solo acoustic performance of this song is even better than the full-band version found on “Mermaid Avenue,” and it was the undiscovered gem of the night for me.

“Save Me,” Remy Zero (from 2001’s “The Golden Hum”)—Where did this one come from, you ask? No, I didn’t get tipped off to the now-defunct Remy Zero through the “Garden State” soundtrack, but you’re close. This summer, my brother told me I HAD to check out “Smallville,” the television show that reimagines the story of Superman’s youth. I had resisted this series simply because it’s on The WB, and I just assumed it was aimed at people much, much younger than me and wouldn’t resonate. Wow, was I wrong. The show is a revelation, and “Save Me,” written long before the pilot was ever produced, is absolutely perfect for the opening credits. It’s really spooky how perfectly the song and the show fit together—much like A3’s “Woke Up This Morning” and “The Sopranos.” “Smallville” is, overall, an uplifting tale, and every time I listen to this “Save Me,” those feelings come rushing in all over again.

“Speed of Sound,” Coldplay (from 2005’s “X&Y”)—I had resisted this band for the longest time—mostly because of the overwhelming hype that surrounds them—but “Speed of Sound” and its accompanying video are spectacular, and they finally broke through to me. This was my song for the summer, and it went everywhere with me. Whenever I hear it, I will always think of planes, trains, and automobiles—windows down, warm breeze blowing on my face—and the terminal at Heathrow in London. Long story.

“Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down,” Fall Out Boy (from 2005’s “From Under the Cork Tree”)—Probably the best song from one of the year’s best albums. Fall Out Boy mastered the art of pop-punk with their sophomore effort, and they’re a rare example of a band that deserves every ounce of publicity they’ve received this year. I’ll say it again: If you don’t own this record, what are you waiting for?

“The Fallen”/”Do You Want To,” Franz Ferdinand (from 2005’s “You Could Have It So Much Better”)—This opening salvo from the Glasgow quartet’s unbelievable second album is just too good to break up. Forget the sophomore slump; FF is here to stay. This is my favorite album of 2005.

“Wake Up,” The Arcade Fire (from 2004’s “Funeral”)—Okay, so this song got a big, big bump from U2, who used it for their walk-on music during the Vertigo//05 tour. Every time I hear it, I see Bono popping up out of nowhere at the tip of the ellipse, arms outstretched as confetti falls from the ceiling, anticipation at a fever pitch. The lights going down is one of my favorite concert moments (no matter the show). The killer riff and chorus in “Wake Up” capture that vibe perfectly.

“Wreck on the Highway,” Bruce Springsteen (from 1980’s “The River”)—I’m naturally drawn to uptempo songs and The Boss’ double-album classic is packed with them, so it’s easy for me to see why “Wreck” got lost in the shuffle. So thank goodness for 5.14.05: Springsteen’s stop at the Patriot Center in Virginia during his Devils and Dust solo tour. Performed for just the second time in 20 years, “Wreck” made its tour debut at this stop (on piano, no less), and it stopped me dead in my tracks. First off, Bruce’s vocal was crystal clear since it wasn’t battling for space alongside the E Street Band. Drawn in by his voice, I focused on the lyrics for the very first time, and they blew me away. Like the narrator, I, too, am occasionally wracked with anxiety wondering how I could possibly handle the news of my wife’s death; that feeling is captured perfectly in this song. Springsteen’s performance of “Wreck on the Highway” that night is my answer to anyone foolish enough to ask me why I go to so many concerts. That song went from obscurity to favorite in the span of a few minutes. You can’t get an experience like that anywhere else.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Juan and Stevie, You Have Nothing to Worry About

Michael Wilbon can be full of pretentious hot air sometimes, but his column in today's Washington Post about Juan Dixon and Steve Blake is simply fantastic. I suggest everybody read it, because it basically explains why I have three different Dixon jerseys hanging in my closet. Man, I miss those guys.
Check it out: