2009's cultural landscape has been a year of fresh faces mixed in with returning ones. Though there are many things I enjoyed this year, I'd like to take this opportunity to highlight a few specific people and releases that I believe will have a particular cultural impact well into the next decade. If you disagree, then please utilize the comments section below. Don't be a dick though. It's not that I'm wrong so much as we're both right.
Dexter was killer this year, as good as its first season, and featured John Lithgow in the most frightening role of his career.
I think it was the strongest returning show this television season, followed closely by It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which hit a fifth season stride after an up-and-down fourth season. The category of 2009 series premiere is more interesting.
Though Modern Family, Community, and Eastbound and Down put up fights, it was FX's The League that blew me out of the water this year. Never before have I watched a show that so succinctly represents relationships between men that are founded on and strengthened by insult. The League is destined for greatness.
I'd like to pay special attention to Susan Boyle's performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" on Britain's Got Talent. Though she could fall under the music umbrella -- her album is simply spectacular -- I think her rendition of the Les Miserables classic is a testament to the potential power of reality television. To this day, her performance is the only thing I've ever watched that has brought me to tears.
Honorable mentions to Mitchell Hurwitz's doomed Sit Down, Shut Up and MTV's silly Jersey Shore.
James Cameron's Avatar is the most jaw-dropping film I have ever seen. Walking out of the theater, I felt as if I had just watched Lawrence of Arabia or Star Wars for the first time. I cannot emphasize how awesome and special this movie -- go see it now.
Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino's finest film since Pulp Fiction. Based on its meta-theatrical final line, "this might be my masterpiece," I think that Quentin agrees with me. It is a grand artistic statement that fictional film has the power to change the course of real history.
The strangest, most ambitious collaboration of the year goes to Spike Jonze and Kanye West for We Were Once a Fairytale. I will describe the story arc, for it would seem absurd on paper, but it is only fourteen minutes long and simply too weird and prophetic of Kanye's MTV shenanigans to be missed.
Why did no one see Greg Mottola's Adventureland? His follow-up to last year's breakout Superbad, Adventureland (image, above left) is a more layered, well-crafted, and subtly funny film. Too bad I'm the only one who saw it in theaters.
"Summertime Clothes" by Animal Collective is my single of the year. I have vivid memories of driving down Vermont country roads with my friends, listening to this song on repeat, each time deriving something different about the structure or harmonies or production values. Though this song unfolds through multiple listens, it somehow sounds clear and simple on the first. "Summertime Clothes" is Animal Collective at their accessible best.
Runner-up single of the year goes to "Lisztomania" by Phoenix.
I think Why There Are Mountains by Cymbals Eat Guitars is the most exciting debut LP of the year. Though they wear their influences on their sleeves, there is such energy on tracks such as "And the Hazy Sea" and "Indiana" that their pilfering from such bands as Pavement becomes irrelevant. I cannot wait to hear Cymbals come into their own.
Honorable mention debut album goes to Girls' Album.
Joshua James is the best kept secret of 2009. Completely under the radar, James released the fantastic Build Me This in September. The record, eclectic but classifiable, is like Sufjan Stevens covering Josh Ritter. It feels like an anachronism to modern times and production values, an album that Bob Dylan could've stumbled across in a Village record store just before his transition to electric. Keep your eyes peeled and ears open, for if any cosmic balance exists, Joshua James will be a household name imminently.
Festival of the year goes to All Tomorrow's Parties New York. Compared to the rest of the festival circuit, ATP NY is like summer camp. Nowhere else can you screen movies with Jim Jarmusch, play poker with Steve Albini, or watch Wayne Coyne watching Bradford Cox. And then there's the line-up, which seemingly gets better each year. Animal Collective, Dirty Three, Sufjan Stevens, Caribou, the list goes on and on. Iggy and the Stooges just signed on to perform Raw Power at ATP 2010. I'll be there.
Dave Longstreth and his Dirty Projectors have spent the past decade making challenging, polarizing music. This changed with Bitte Orca, a record that struck the balance between accessibility and dazzling technical proficiency, a record unlike anything else I've ever heard. Said vocalist (and Longstreth's girlfriend) Amber Coffman, "we've got a lot of momentum right now, we're gaining a following, we're just going." 2009 has been the year of the Dirty Projectors, and the next decade should be no different.
Mr. Kritzer travels the globe -- or at least NYC -- looking for revelatory moments of musical bliss.