Oh, how could I have gotten so far into the new year--six whole days!--without writing a Best Of 2006 post? This sort of thing is mandatory for people who write, even nominally, about what most libraries term "performing arts."
Trouble is, I've been busy doing other things this year, so the amount of time spent seeing movies, listening to music, or, to paraphrase Criswell, even watching television--it's all been pretty limited. Life is messy, and tends to get in the way. So I really can't tell you what the best things of 2006 were, only the things that I crossed paths with and loved.
Favorite album: Three choices here. First, Rabbit Fur Coat by Jenny Lewis and The Watson Twins. There's been grumbling in some circles that the countrified sound of this album is a mere affectation, the dabblings of a hipster dilletante. But the sound matches the content here, a warm cushion for Lewis' ironic tales of heartache and despair. Plus, boy she has a purty voice.
Speaking of ironists, as one of the founding geniuses of Steely Dan, Donald Fagen has always struck me as pop music's equivalent to a Coen Brothers film--technically dazzling, brilliantly written, but always a bit cold around the heart, coming close to the precipice of real emotion, then backing off with an ironic aside. But on his third solo album, Morph The Cat, Fagen finally admits to real human emotions, in great songs like Brite Nightgown, The Night Belongs To Mona, and especially Mary Shut The Garden Door, a brilliant evocation of creeping conservatism, both cultural and political. Fagen hasn't lost his sense of humor (Security Joan), and the musicianship is, of course, beyond reproach. The closest thing imaginable to a sentimental Steely Dan album.
And finally, one of my all-time favorite bands, Sparks, had a new album, Hello Young Lovers, and anything new from these guys is always a treat. In a perfect world, Dick Around would have been a smash hit single, but obviously, this isn't a perfect world.
Best TV show: Easy. The final run of Arrested Development. No contest.
Best movie: There were so many movies I didn't see this year, I'm almost embarrassed. L'Enfant played for a week here, and I totally missed it, which is made worse by some of the movies I actually did see this year. Yes, kids, I paid money to see The DaVinci Code. All I can say is, I'm sorry.
There were a lot of movies I enjoyed--Talladega Nights, The Proposition, The Prestige--but only three really stood out. First, Casino Royale, which got mostly good reviews, but I'm convinced would have been better received if it hadn't carried the baggage of being a "Bond film." Then again, for us fans, the last scene plays beautifully precisely because it is a Bond film. A matter of expectations, I guess.
Second, A Prarie Home Companion. Robert Altman's meditation on mortality broke my heart when I saw it in its initial release this summer. I haven't rewatched it since Altman's death--I'm sure it would be emotionally overwhelming. In any event, a perfect final statement from one of America's finest artists, and a long-time hero of mine. Too bad he's gone, but thank God he was here.
And finally, Clint Eastwood's Flags Of Our Fathers is simply the best film ever made about the effect of war, never questioning its necessity, but simply, profoundly showing how its very existence ruins lives, of the living and the dead, of the survivors and their families. Here in the hinterlands, I haven't had the chance to see Eastwood's companion piece, Letters From Iwo Jima, but it would have a long way to go to top this.
As for the worst in all these categories, they are, of course, legion. Make your own list.