Our Favorite Things

Some great year-end recommendations from you SashaCastel.com correspondents. Not necessarily stuff that came out this year, just things we consumed/read/watched this year. We’re not picky about years and things around here, we’re not the Oscar selection comittee.

Al Maviva

1. Top CD: Carbon Leaf, Echo Echo or Alive, availablehere Why this band isn’t a monster success is beyond me. They appeared at the Grammys a year ago and sorta kinda had a hit with “The Boxer”, but they’ve been big on the D.C. club circuit (including Dewey Beach) for a few years now. I guess melody, harmony, mandolin, electric guitars, celtic rhythms and sparkling, witty lyrics just don’t matter for the charts – but y’all might like them. The last two recently issued CD’s from relatively major artists that I really liked, from current groups, were Kid Rock’s “Cowboy” and Pink’s debut album. So I tend to pick up a lot of older music, like Django Reinhardt, Miles Davis, and ancient blues recordings… when I pick up a new one, it’s worth it. Honorable Mention: The Rainmakers. An awesome band I used to catch all the time in Kansas City. They stood out, even on that hopping music scene. For a real treat, click here http://www.rainmakers.com/aandv.html and download their video for “Downstream”. It totally rocks, even 15 years on – and they’ve got some new music out so they fit into the “best of the year” review.
2. Book: The Buzzing, by Jim Knipfel. Just ‘cuz you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It doesn’t mean you’re right, either. The Buzzing is a good read, pulp fiction for smart people by a guy who knows as much about semiotics, hermeneutics and deconstructionism as Pynchon – he just isn’t a pretencious, show-offy fuck like Pynchon is. A well crafted read.
3. Movie: About Schmidt. Jack Nicholson plays out of character in this ode to those who lead lives of quiet perspiration. He’s an ex-insurance underwriter, a solid citizen, and basically one of the oxen that hauls the heavy loads for society — and it’s not a condescending portrayal of the middle class, just a slightly sad one. There’s a lot of oxen and cattle themes in this movie… but just so you don’t get depressed, the “free” bohemians in the film come off like self-indulgent wankers, and steady-Eddie Nicholson comes off pretty well. Also, bonus points for Kathy Bates, who flaunts all that she’s got, including a delicious, fertility goddess-sized belly, in a hot tub scene with Jack. For an unattractive woman, I find her strangely attractive…
4. Movie: Adaptation. Spike Jonze and his collaborator, screenwriter Charlie Kauffman, follow up Being John Malkovich, a movie that asked very serious questions about the nature of gender, of personal identity, and of our life cycle, with this movie about making a movie about making a movie about a book about flowers that in the end is just a book about writing a book. In other words, the framework is frivolous art for art’s sake. But there is also a pretty good human drama too, led by Nicholas Cage. He plays a screenwriter, Charlie Kauffman, who is plagued by writer’s block over adapting a book about people who hunt for orchids, while his twin brother (also played by Cage) is a happy idiot who pens a monstrously stupid screenplay for a hit adventure film. Cage doesn’t have a lot of range. Basically he plays a full range of “anxiety”, ranging from mild heartburn level, to hemmorhoid level, to having a heart attack level. In this respect, he’s supplanted Woody Allen. All that now remains for Cage to do is adopt a 15 year old Asian girl and then marry her, and to convert to Judaism and move to Manhattan so that his neuroses become explicable. But I digress. It’s a funny film, and even showing for free on HBO right now. Spike Jonze also gets bonus points here for his Ikea ad, with the lamp. “Don’t be stupid. It’s just a lamp. Lamps don’t have feelings. The new one is much better.”
5. TV Series: The Wire. Without a doubt, the best TV I’ve ever seen. It’s what “Homicide” would have been if it wasn’t restricted by network considerations. Slow developing, multi-strand story lines. Gritty, complex characters. A two-detective reconstruction of a murder scene that took ten minutes, where the only words spoken were 31 permutations of the word “fuck”. And the City of Baltimore, one of two cities in the U.S. I am absolutely and deeply in love with, is the best character in the show. She’s an old broad you meet one night in the bar, she’s had a few too many smokes, a few too many drinks, and a few too many men… but you like her and become a friend at once, and you realize she’s a good woman done wrong, repeatedly, but she’d still be a catch for a man of a certain age. That’s what Baltimore is like, and I completely understand why producers of edgy dramas are drawn to the city… Never mind the fried fish, sushi, Oyster shots and $4 32 ounce craft brews at Cross Street Market – all things that H.L. Mencken used to swill, in the same little bar he used to swill them. Anyhow, I believe the first season of The Wire is out on DVD now, and I’m hunting for it.
6. Car: Glen Reynolds’ RX-8. Okay, there Glen. I’ve said it. It’s the car of the year. Now will you shut the fuck up about it?
Scott Wickstein
Lord Of The Rigs: Return of the King
Master and Commander was a very entertaining movie that I really enjoyed.
Sasha Castel
1. The Seven Myths Of Gun Control by Richard Poe
2. Law & Order: The First Season
3. A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich
4. A Mighty Wind
5. Chicago
6. Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir
7. Islam Unveiled, by Robert Spencer
Major Sean Bannion
The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’ud from Tradition to Terror– Stephen Schwarz
The River War – Winston Churchill
Reflections on a Ravaged Century – Robert Conquest
American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy – Andrew J. Bacevich
Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Requires a Pagan Ethos – Robert D. Kaplan