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The Things, Various In Nature, From The Year 2003, Combined From Lists Respective To Format, Liked By Me Most

 

As I write this, it is the first day of the new year, 2004. I've made all of my usual lists - the Top 13 Albums of 2003 and the Top 13 Movies of 2003. But here I've mixed them all together, thrown in my three favorite books published in 2003, and cut the list off at 20. It's kind of like the Must List in Entertainment Weekly, except for all of the obvious differences that I don't really want to get into here....
1. Over The Rhine - "Ohio" - I never expected them to make an album I would love this much. After they made "Films For Radio", I guess I assumed that "Good Dog, Bad Dog" would have to remain my favorite album of theirs. I was fairly content with that idea, because I love that album. But they spent some time touring with The Cowboy Junkies, and I'm not sure how I feel about the Junkies these days, because they really seemed like they were tripping on something the last time I saw them in concert, and I guess I can hope that it's just a psychedelic phase they're going through, but then Over The Rhine made "Films For Radio", and all of a sudden I'm left wondering if touring with the Junkies might have been a bad idea, because now OTR is starting to sound like the new Junkies too. But with "Ohio" it seems that OTR is assuring me that they will continue to make the sort of albums that delight me, and that they themselves will not be satisfied with merely being one of my 20 or 25 favorite bands. They want to be bigger than the Cowboy Junkies. They want to be bigger than U2. In fact, they want to go neck-and-neck with the band at the very top of my list: The Innocence Mission.
2. The Innocence Mission - "Befriended" - It may be true that Over The Rhine won the battle this year. But they're still not threatening to win the war and become my all-time favorite band. The Innocence Mission are simply wonderful, and they have consistently been making music that I find so fulfilling and so refreshing and so significant for quite a few years now. I was very much looking forward to the release of "Befriended", and I have been richly rewarded by this offering. It is accessible poetry and delicate passion and a treasure that I find satisfying each time I listen to it.
3. Lost In Translation - It's hard to remember a time when I wasn't a big fan of Bill Murray. I will watch movies based solely on the fact that Bill Murray is in them. Sometimes I get burned - "Osmosis Jones" and "The Man Who Knew Too Little" didn't really turn out to be what I had hoped. Sometimes I get surprised - "Rushmore" and "Ed Wood" showed me new things to love about movies and proved to me that Bill Murray is able to do even more than funny bits. But "Lost In Translation" shows me a sort of brilliance that I didn't know Bill Murray possessed. So now I'm an even bigger fan of Mr. Murray, plus I'm watching movies because Sofia Coppola directed them (my reward = "The Virgin Suicides") or Scarlett Johansson was in them (my reward = "An American Rhapsody"). So I've got that going for me, which is nice.
4. Michael J. Nelson - "Death Rat!" - If his name sounds familiar, it's because Mike used to be Mike on Mystery Science Theater 3000. If you're looking for a silver lining on the cloud that is the demise of MST3K, consider Mr. Nelson's new career as an author. "Movie Megacheese" and "Mind Over Matters" were very enjoyable books, written as humorous observational essays - which you might could expect from the guy who was the head writer for a show that thrived on zings and quips. But "Death Rat!" is not a collection of humorous observational essays. It is a novel, and it says so on the cover. Once you get past the cover, you find many pages of a very funny and odd and wacky story about a guy named Pontius who also wrote a book called "Death Rat". So the book called "Death Rat!" that Mike wrote is a very good book that I could easily recommend to anyone who was a fan of MST3K. The book called "Death Rat" written by fictional character Pontius doesn't really exist, so don't go trying to read it.
5. A Mighty Wind - "This Is Spinal Tap", "Waiting For Guffman", and "Best In Show" are all movies that fit into a particular category that I don't know what to call. They are improvised, which means the lines aren't scripted. But these movies do have writers, which means that something is written to set up the characters and the situations and the scenes and whatever else. And it just so happens that all three of these movies, plus "A Mighty Wind", was co-written by Christopher Guest. And since Guest co-stars in all four of these movies and directed the latest three, perhaps I should just call them Christopher Guest Improv movies or something odd like that. But if I do that, then the term might get shortened to "CGI", and then people will get confused because there's already such a thing as CGI movies, but that sort of CGI refers to computer animation, and then people might accidentally see "A Mighty Wind" expecting some life-like dinosaurs instead of some improvised comedy, but in the end I don't really care because I don't care much for movies with life-like dinosaurs in them, and often I don't have much in common with people who would prefer to see a movie with life-like dinosaurs instead of a brilliant movie like the aforementioned "A Mighty Wind".
6. Ben Folds - "Sunny 16" / "Speed Graphic" - These are the first of three EP's that Ben Folds is putting out in fairly quick succession. At some point after the release of the third EP, Ben will release a full and proper album comprised of songs from these three EP's. So I kind of feel justified in combining both of these EP's into one spot on the list, whether or not the naysayers are willing to permit it. These ten songs present a continued demonstration of Ben's skill and wit and disarming depth - a depth of feeling and a depth of honesty, harsh or otherwise. Piano music is born anew in his... uhh... well, I guess I'm no Will Ferrell.
7. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King - I read the LOTR trilogy when I was in college - and it wasn't an assignment! Mike D. and I used to speculate and dream about those books being made into movies. I think we also had conversations about it in USENET newsgroups (there wasn't a World Wide Web back then). Back then it seemed to me that it would be very hard to put it all into movie form in a way that would be true to Tolkien's books. So now that Peter Jackson and associates have gone and done it, I am absolutely amazed. I very much appreciate the extraordinary lengths that they all went to and the great pains they have taken. Those are some incredible movies.
8. The Weakerthans - "Reconstruction Site" - I don't know who these people are, but I find them intriguing. The first time I listened to this album, I thought it was darn catchy. The next time I listened to it, I accidentally paid attention to some of the lyrics to the song "Plea From A Cat Named Virtute". It's a very funny song to someone like me, and probably more poignant to people smarter than me. The rest of the songs have really great lyrics as well, but I don't really know how to explain them or describe them, and I've been writing for half a day now and I'm only on number 8, so I think I'm just going to stop talking about this album now.
9. School Of Rock - Jack Black rocks, and he's quite unabashed. In fact, I can't remember the last time he appeared to be the least bit abashed. That's why Jables is my hero - you just can't abash this guy. It often makes for good hilarity, like it did in "High Fidelity" and "Orange County". But do you remember the first time you saw "High Fidelity", and it got to the end of the movie, and Sonic Death Monkey was about to do their song, but now they were called Barry Jive and the Uptown Five, and they started their rendition of "Let's Get It On", and JB started to sing, and all of a sudden he knocks the whole world down with the fact that he's a really good singer! Do you remember that? Wasn't that completely awesome? Well, that's why I thought "School Of Rock" was the perfect movie for Mr. Black to really make his mark. And I for one think he made it work to perfection with his amazing ability to not only rock you, but also to move you. Does that do anything for you? That's levitation, Holmes. Rock.
10. David Sacks - "Language Visible" - It's probably not very cool to include a reference book on your list of favorite things for a given year. But if you're just now figuring out that I'm not very cool, perhaps this is your first visit to my web site. Regardless, I really enjoyed this book about all of the letters that make up our alphabet. I had always wondered about the alphabet, and why "W" is called "double-U", and why "W" is used as a vowel in some words, and why "Y" is sometimes a vowel and sometime a consonant, and why in the world do we have a letter "Q", and other such things. So this book was right down my alley.
11. Finding Nemo - If Pixar makes it, then I'm probably going to love it. Actually, if Pixar makes it and it's longer than five minutes, then I'll love it. The short they made with the old man playing checkers or something like that (I don't remember exactly) was cute and nice. But the one about the old lady rabbit, where she gets in the oven, and there's something about an angel - I didn't get that one at all. Even after I listened to the commentary that explained it, I was left with only questions. That, of course, has terribly little to do with "Finding Nemo", which was a great movie. I will say I was surprised at how good this movie was, even though I'm a fan of Pixar movies that exceed five minutes in length, because I think I was expecting them to finally hit a lull with this fish movie. But they didn't - this wasn't a lull at all. In the end, that's all I can say - this was a really good fish movie.
12. Bleu - "Redhead" - As I get further down this list, and as it gets later into the night, and as I get more tired of typing, it's likely that I'll have fewer interesting things to say about each thing on this list. So I already regret my commentary on this particular album, because I really enjoyed it for quite some time. "That's When I Crash" and "Searchin' For The Satellites" are my favorite songs, but there are another half-dozen songs that I liked almost as well as those two. It's catchy, and it's rock, and I'm going on to talk about number 13 now.
13. Old School - Every time Will Ferrell comes into scene in this movie, I start to giggle. And that's usually a pretty good preparation for the full laughter that follows most of the time due to the hilarity that keeps coming up. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure that Mr. Ferrell more or less carried Saturday Night Live on his big hairy back while he was a cast member, because it's hard to find much that's funny about that show since he left.
14. Gillian Welch - "Soul Journey" - One of the benefits of living in Nashville is the fact that there is a lot of music being made here. If you happen to like any of said music, and consider yourself to be a follower of the nearby musicians creating said music, then there's a pretty good chance that you'll get a unique opportunity to see said nearby musician perform in a concert setting familiar and beloved to both you and said nearby musician. I should really just get to the point - Gillian Welch did a series of three concerts at the Belcourt Theater celebrating the release of "Soul Journey". I went, and it was great, and the album is great, and Gillian is great, and her name is pronounced with a hard "G" instead of a soft "G" like I thought, so I don't talk about her as much as I used to, because I'm afraid I'll pronounce her name "Jilian" again and look like a dork, and then realize it and get embarrassed, and I really don't need that in my life right now, so please just leave me alone won't you.
15. Dan Brown - "The Da Vinci Code" - This book came highly recommended, and it was highly worth being so highly recommended, and I'm sure you've all heard of it and possibly even read it, so I'm really bringing nothing new to the conversation at this point.
16. The "Lost In Translation" soundtrack - See number 3 on this list for my thoughts about the movie. After I saw the movie for the second time in the theaters, I went straightway to the nearest record store in search of the soundtrack. I was very much hoping that the soundtrack would help me recapture the mood and the feeling of watching the movie, and it did, and it does. In the late 80's and early 90's, I was aware of bands like My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus And Mary Chain, but I didn't listen to any of them. And I don't know if I would have enjoyed the music back then, either because I didn't have this movie as a frame of reference, or because I was still too much of a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. Maybe it's only because I've been knocked down several notches that I like either the soundtrack or the movie. It's hard to say, and by the time you're reading this I've already finished this thought and moved on to number 17.
17. X2: X-Men United - Take a look around this website. I dig superheroes, and this was a fine specimen of a superhero movie. Next.
18. Seabiscuit - If you want me to say it, I'll say it - I liked a movie about a horse. I didn't think I would, but I did, so how about that. It turns out to be more than just a movie about a horse. It's a really interesting story about a few different folks who hit some pretty hard times but came together and there was acceptance and understanding and then there was also the horse, of course, otherwise they wouldn't have all come together and actually made something of themselves. So maybe they could have called this movie "The Fellowship Of The Horse", since all these people came together and became remarkable because of the horse, just like the people came together in the Lord Of The Rings and became remarkable because of the Ring. That's really not a very good idea at all, but it kind of takes your mind off of the fact that I'm trying to explain why I liked a movie about a horse.
19. Jack Johnson - "On And On" - Since I don't listen to music on the radio, I wasn't aware of the fact that the whole world already knows and likes Jack Johnson. I thought he was a little-known, under-appreciated guy with a knack for making great songs for acoustic guitar. But a lot of people know the song "Bubble Toes", so I was certainly not the only one who noticed when "On And On" was released. It's a great album, but I'm a little distracted at the moment, because I just noticed what's next on my list, and I'm not sure at all how I'm going to explain that one, so I may as well get to it.
20. Patty Loveless - "On Your Way Home" - I didn't used to care much for Patty Loveless. She's been making music so long that she was one of those country musicians that I didn't want to listen to back when I didn't want anything to do with any country music. In my mind, she was lumped into that group of country musicians that you could identify by just their first name - Reba, Garth, Trisha, Wynonna, Billy Ray. But a year or so ago I heard some of her bluegrass, and was very pleasantly surprised. That girl can sing. So I've changed my mind about her, and now I consider her to be my kind of country. And I really do like this latest album of hers. End of list, I'm going to bed.

 

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