Despite all of this, there were a few decent things in 2004 that made the otherwise miserable year worth living. As much as we hate them, what new year would be complete without a list of the favorite things from the previous one?
I watched a lot of movies in 2004.1 I have no idea which were the best, but when I try to think of my favorites, nothing comes close 2 to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It had everything that I could ask for in a piece of cinema: innovative storytelling, arresting visuals, stellar acting, all in service of a fantastic and heartbreaking story. I regret that I saw it only once.
Others that come to mind include Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban which I loved pretty much without reservation and even saw twice; In America, a 2003 movie that I didn't see until 2004 that falls into the categories of movies with landmines that I liked anyway; Saved!, which wasn't the movie that I wanted it to be, but I can forgive some warm-fuzzies in exchange for the brilliant first twenty minutes; Off the Map, a surprisingly beautiful story about New Mexico, depression, and art; Before Sunset another example of 2004 as the year of the successful (and better) sequel that says something great about getting older; the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou which I loved simply because it felt like an xmas present from Wes Anderson; I ♥ Huckabees, even though I'm afraid to see it again to find that I don't like it as much as I think I did. I saw most of these months ago, maybe after a few weeks I'll decide whether A Very Long Engagement or the Aviator should be on my list (I'm leaning more toward the former than the latter).3
(1) Among others, I haven't seen Hotel Rwanda, Million Dollar Baby, Vera Drake, or Tarnation, which are likely to be quite good, too.
(2) except, maybe, Bad Education which I saw today and though was excellent, for many of the same reasons (great looking, interesting narrative structure, continually surprising) except in a film noir.
(3) Last Life in the Universe, the Dreamers, and the Incredibles, probably deserve mentions just for looking superfantastic, being haunting and confusing, and transcending videogameyness (respectively, and sometimes overlapping), too.
On the other hand, I probably didn't listen to enough music,4 and I certainly didn't buy enough CDs. As I made a list of the albums that I liked most, I was overwhelmed with guilt for not having actually purchased them. Really -- I didn't expect to like some of these at all. Rather than order them, here are a few that got stuck on permanent repeat on my iPod that still haven't grown tiresome: Good News for People who Love Bad News - Modest Mouse goes to the majors and didn't disappoint. Antics - Interpol eventually convinced me that they avoided the sophomore slump; Hot Fuss - the Killers, I still feel like I should hate this album, but I still can't help myself. In a Safe Place - the Album Leaf demonstrated that Americans can make music that could be mistaken for a product of Iceland (of course, it was recorded there with help from Múm and Sigur Ros. one hell of an exchange program if you ask me.); Our Endless Numbered Days - Iron and Wine, in which something great -- in the shape of gorgeous quiet music -- arrived from the Deep South; Talkie Walkie - Air, for anyone who doesn't know why we shouldn't discount "Old Europe"; the earth is not a cold dead place because even if it wasn't released in 2004, it still introduced me to explosions in the sky early in the year; i before e, because a post-breakup Carissa's Wierd album is more than I ever expected; and Live in Japan: February 19th, 21st, & 23rd 2003 - the Microphones, because Phil Elverum live is something really special, too.5
(4) As an illustration, I still haven't heard the new CD from the Arcade Fire, which everyone seems to love (5) And I like Franz Ferdinand and still haven't quite fallen in love with the Firey Furnaces, but I'm sure it will hit me eventually. These are after all, favorites, not bests.
I probably watched way too much television. As much as it kills me to write this, Fox definitely gets the "network that I'd rescue if there was only room for one on my cable package" award. Airing (and renewing) Arrested Development would have been enough to win this hands down. It is just flat out brilliant all around and almost every episode has a golden retriever in a wastebasket moment. But among the sea of crap, the network has an embarrassment of riches with the o.c., 24, and the Simpsons. Luckily, I'm not in the position of being forced to watch only Fox and there was plenty of other good television to go around. the Daily Show kept me from feeling completely insane about current events; I wasn't able to cancel my HBO thanks to Curb Your Enthusiasm, Six Feet Under, and the Sopranos; and ABC's new drama Lost has me hooked.
the number of books that I read is so small that it's embarrassing. Of those that I read, only a few were published in 2004. With that in mind (i.e., I recognize it's not much of an "award" to make my best of list), I did really enjoy oblivion by David Foster Wallace and Looking Forward to It by Stephen Elliott and would recommend them wholeheartedly. I will try to read more in 2005. Really.
For periodicals, which maybe took time away from reading (books), I can't say enough about the Believer. Yes, it's eight dollars an issue, but I haven't run across one that hasn't had something worth the cover price. Not to mention that this year featured CD and DVD issues. the Stranger gets an honorable mention, for bringing back A. Birch Steen (who seems to be on his way to being killed off in 2005) and for it's "do not despair" cover / urban archipelago feature that helped a lot in the post-election mourning process.
All of this gushing doesn't mean that we can forget about the sucktastic things that went down in 2004, but it reminds us why we managed not to drive it off a cliff. Here's hoping that we find similarly good stuff in 2005.