Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Best Stuff I encountered in 2011
no matter when it was actually released awards

The votes are in and tallied. Here's my picks for Best Stuff I Encountered in 2011 No Matter When it Was Actually Released. The envelopes please....

Book non-fiction
Charles Foran
"...it illuminates the life of a great and complex Canadian and a great and complex love." — Albert Schultz, artistic director of Soulpepper Theatre Company.

And a footnote. Charles Foran is the Globe & Mail's go-to guy for anything about my favourite Irish writer, the somewhat obscure Flan O'Brien. I had long intended to scan and send him an artefact stored deep in the cardboard box that is my archive: the playbill (back) from a show at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1975, The Brother, based on O'Brien's writing. And the guy emails me back a very nice note. Thanks for the praise for Mordecai and "especially" for the copy of the playbill.  I now get to call him "Charlie".

Runners up:

Under an Afghan Sky — A Memoir of Captivity
Mellissa Fung
In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts — Close Encounters With Addiction
Gabor Maté
Arrival City — The Final Migration and Our Next World
Doug Saunders
All the Devils Are Here — The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis
Bethany McLean, Joe Nocera

Book fiction
Let the Great World Spin
Colum McCann
"One of the most electric, profound novels I have read in years." ― New York Times reviewer Jonathan Mahler. Won the 2009 National Book Award for fiction and the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. One of the story lines follows Philippe Petit's high wire walk between the WTC towers in 1974. Another follows Irish ex-pat brothers 110 stories below in the NYC mean streets. There's a terrific documentary on Petit's "artistic crime of the century", Man on Wire. Read the book first though, if you haven't seen the movie.

Runners up:

The Gathering and The Forgotten Waltz
Anne Enright
A Star Called Henry — Book 1, The Last Roundup Trilogy
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha

Roddy Doyle
The Sisters Brothers
Patrick DeWitt
Half Blood Blues
Esi Edugyan 

2009 Chateau Pesquié Terrasses  

Robert Parker — Rating: 90 points for under $20. It was the only one in the category and it's, ah... very nice indeed.

"Another of my favorite estates in the up-and-coming Cotes du Ventoux appellation… Composed of 70% Grenache (from 60-year-old vines) and 30% Syrah (from 30-year-old vines), aged in neutral oak, and bottled unfined and unfiltered, this 10,000-case cuvee hits every sweet spot on the palate. Tasting more like a Chateauneuf du Pape than an inexpensive Cotes du Ventoux, this dense ruby/purple-colored wine offers up scents of licorice, black cherries, raspberries, pepper, and meat juices. Medium to full-bodied with a structured, well-delineated mouthfeel, good freshness, a heady finish, and firm, but well-balanced tannins, it should drink nicely for 2-3 years." 

— Robert Parker


The White Ribbon
Michael Haneke

What a wonderfully twisted gothic wee thing this is. Long black Calvinist overcoats and dresses in rural village suffocating under the cold eye of the Baron land-owner filmed in a dream-like black and white. A dark study of tensions erupting from just below the surface of repression and abuse in Calvinist Northern Germany. Portents of Nazism and later the Baader Meinhof urban guerrillas of the the 1970s and 80s.

Runners up:
Tree of Life
Terrence Malick
Amarcord and I Vitelloni 
Frederico Fellini
Rear Window
Alfred Hitchcock
Volver and All About My Mother
Pedro Almodovar

The Bright Mississippi
Allen Toussaint
... Allen Toussaint’s first solo album in more than a decade... Produced by friend and frequent collaborator Joe Henry, the record includes songs by jazz greats such as Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Django Reinhardt, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, and Billy Strayhorn. Toussaint and Henry created a band of highly regarded musicians for the sessions: clarinetist Don Byron, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist David Piltch, and percussionist Jay Bellerose. Additionally, pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redman each join Toussaint for a track.

Runners up:
Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden
Used to be Duke
1954 Johnny Hodges Orchestra
Stan Getz and The Oscar Peterson Trio
1957 With Herb Ellis and Ray Brown
Amarcord Soundtrack
Nino Rota
It's probably been too long since you last saw Amarcord. It's a masterpiece.