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The Good, the Bad, and the Truly Ugly: A Very Subjective Look at 2005

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Okay, 2005 is almost history. I have taken a few moments to look back at the year and comment on things that happened. This post will be rather pastiche in nature, mixing up sports, politics, movies, music, and whatever else I think of as I’m writing. I apologize in advance for the subjective nature of the piece, but it is strictly opinion and not based on a formal critique or scholarly research: just what I like and don’t like about 2005.

THE WINNERS

What I’ve found this year is that when I like something, it really seems very good to me. For example, I loved Wedding Crashers, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Capote very much. This is an odd combination, I know, but they just stood out in a rather tepid year for movies. Each of these films delighted me in different ways. Although I know Philip Seymour Hoffman will (and definitely should be) nominated for playing Truman Capote, I also feel that Johnny Depp deserves recognition for his amazing turn as Willie Wonka (because of my 4 year old, I’ve seen it at least a half dozen times and his acting gets better and better). This film is just a delight, and I think I’d like to make a law that Tim Burton-Johnny Depp-Danny Elfman should be required to make films together for the rest of their careers. Oh, and Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, and Steve Carrell made me laugh until my sides hurt. That is definitely good, if not for an Oscar, at least for notice that they are some of the funniest actors out there.

I liked only a few books that I found time to read. I am becoming a harsher critic than I used to be, but only because time seems more at a premium for me than ever. If I’m going to invest the effort to read a six hundred page book, it better be worth it. My favorite books this year were Our Endangered Values by Jimmy Carter, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice, and One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner by Jay Parini. Each of these books were worth the effort and then some. Rice’s is the only work of fiction that I truly enjoyed this year, and I think more than anything else it is her evolution as a writer and person that inspires me. The only thing you’ll find here remotely resembling her vampire books is solid writing, but even that has lost its flowery tendencies and is thus more illuminating. Carter’s book is necessary reading in this chaotic moment in time, when what we treasure as a national way of life is being eroded by the bigger political picture and military concerns. Carter has always been a voice of decency and intelligence and he continues to be in this volume. Parini’s work on Faulkner is simply the best book I’ve read about the great writer I admire so much. It is assiduously researched, beautifully written, and stands out not just as a biography but as a fine piece of writing. It is the best book I’ve read this year.

In politics I tip my cap to Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman. Not that I am advocating their candidacies or politics, but I think they stand the true test of character that many politicians lack. While I may not agree with them on many things, I honestly feel that their courage and fortitude are refreshingly necessary and compelling in this age of political party whores. Senators McCain and Lieberman don’t bend to the likes of Ted Kennedy or Bill Frist; they take a stand based on their convictions and speak compassionately and honestly. I don’t know many other politicians about whom I can (or would) say that.

I look at sports this year and think someone somewhere should honor Lance Armstrong with some kind of award for inspiration and fortitude. He has accomplished a great deal in the Tour de France these past seven years, and he has made his country proud. Oh, well he does get to go home to Sheryl Crow every night. That may be award enough. Also, high fives should go to the Chicago White Sox who chased the ghost and beat it. Two “Sox” teams have won two years in a row, so now I think 2006 will be the time for my New York Mets. Goodbye, Mike Piazza. You were a class act and then some (as well as Mike Cameron). The Mets will not be the same without you. Also of note is Larry Brown’s return to New York, though at this time (Knicks are 7-21 as I am writing this) things are not going very well. Still, the idea of Brown with the Knicks has to be the best one since they made Willie Randolph manager of the Mets. Love to see those hometown guys come back where they belong.

Other winners in no apparent order are: Mike Lupica (consistently brilliant sportswriter for NY Daily News), Cindy Sheehan (for her bravery and chutzpah), Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen (for giving us the gift of albums this year), Darrell Hammond (a very under appreciated mega-talent on Saturday Night Live), Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (the best comedy duo since Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis), Kiefer Sutherland (man, do I miss 24), and most notably, the people of New York City (who, despite a transit strike a few days before Christmas came out on top as the most resilient and resourceful citizens of this nation).

THE NON-WINNERS (I don’t like the word “Losers”)

The worst movies of the year were (based on what I saw) The Dukes of Hazzard, War of the Worlds, and King Kong. These were just excruciatingly bad films in my opinion. I can say confidently that the people involved in these projects have better things ahead of them because it couldn’t get much worse. I usually adore Stephen Spielberg movies, but he just swung and missed with War of the Worlds. I found it long, difficult to accept (like Cruise finding a car that works when no other cars are working), and the ending is rather forced and ludicrous. That said, the special effects are amazing, but that’s not what makes Spielberg’s best films (Jaws, Indiana Jones, Schindler’s List) work: it’s a great story and fine acting, notably missing here. I remember watching The Dukes of Hazzard on television back in the 70s, and all I could think after watching this stinker was “Denver Pyle’s rolling over in his grave.” What was even worse was the last film I saw this year: King Kong. Peter Jackson seems to have learned nothing from directing the Lord of the Rings trilogy. While Naomi Watts is gorgeous and easy to watch, the rest of this is a laborious (and way too long) mess. I don’t like love stories that much, especially when a big ape happens to be the male lead.

The worst books I read this year were Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian and Edward Klein’s The Truth About Hillary. Kostova’s book is just an overblown attempt at being something like The Da Vinci Code meets Moby Dick and Jane Eyre. I don’t like this sort of novel when a modern writer tries to get away with exposition and filler that only someone like Herman Melville could get away with (and maybe because it was back in the 1800s). As for Klein’s book, it seems to be a very concerted effort to trash a public figure with “truth” we’ve mostly heard before. Most of it is rehashed stuff from tabloids, evening news, and comedian’s jokes. I’m not a Hillary Clinton supporter, but this book will make even those who dislike her feel sorry for her.

Speaking of Senator Clinton, she makes my list of political non-winners along with the senior senator from New York, Charles (Chuck) Schumer, Tom Delay, and Mr. George W. Bush. Senators Clinton and Schumer are here because of waffling on their opinions about the Iraq War. While they rightly note that funds for fighting terrorism should be diverted to places like New York or Washington that need it most (more than say Boise, Idaho), their incessant hedging about their support for the war in Iraq is frustrating. My grandmother used to say “&^%$ or get off the pot” (a sweet old lady, to be sure), and these two senators from New York seem consistently constipated. Mr. Delay has made the unfortunate decision not to completely resign from office, and I think this will be a major loss for the GOP in 2006 (not that it makes me sad in the least). Finally, Mr. Bush has repeatedly tried to reinforce the notion that everything he is doing is right, good, and just (as in the word “justice”), but I fear where we are going with this whole war on terror. Yes, we need to fight this war (and it is a war; I’m not denying that), but how we go about it must be as important as winning the damn thing.

In sports there are two big names that resonate in this category: Rafael Palmiero and Ron Artest. I don’t know which one should be number one, so you decide. Mr. Palmiero sat before the cameras and denied ever using steroids. I am afraid his straight-faced delivery would be perfect for politics, but in this very serious matter Mr. Palmiero’s obfuscating his own use of the substance really stands out as a sports low point for me. Ron Artest comes close to this level of unsporting like conduct because of his despicable behavior. It should not just be over with the Pacers; it should be over period. Players in baseball, basketball, and all sports should be held accountable for their actions on and off the field or court. If not, it is sending a resounding message to fans (especially kids) that this kind of thing is sanctioned and worth emulating. Oh, and my beloved New York Jets make this list for putting me through another painful season. The good news is they just might get Reggie Bush (but I’m not counting on it).

Other non-winners include people who are somehow important in the vast configuration of things. The problem is, I have no idea how or why they have reached this level of significance (meaning I don’t know what they have done or accomplished to make them so noteworthy in the public eye). So here it goes for people I just don’t care hearing about and wish they would disappear from the radar:

-All reality TV people (they are not stars)

-Nick and Jessica

-Tom and Katie (oh, sorry, “Kate”)

-Brad and Angelina

-Britney and Kevin

-Ben and Jen

-Eminem and Kim

-Ashton and Demi

-Mary Kate and Ashley

-Dr. Phil

-Star and Al

-Paris and Nicole

-Paris and Paris

-Paris and Stavros

-Jennifer Wilbanks

-Jacko (what has he done since Thriller?)

-Lindsay, Hillary, and all their compatriots in the anorexia club

-Beth Holloway Twitty (nothing against this poor woman, but why did she get so much attention when countless other mothers are missing children we never hear about?)

I’d like to end by noting the passing of a few people who were important in many people’s lives; they either made me laugh, cry, think, or just enjoy life a little bit more: Rosa Parks (forever an inspiration), Peter Jennings (the classiest news anchor around), Don Adams (Get Smart), James Doohan (Star Trek), Bob Denver (Gilligan’s Island), Richard Pryor (comedian) and the guy from the Dunkin’ Donuts advertisements (you know the guy who used to say, “time to make the donuts”). I think he was also Sam Breakstone (for the cottage cheese company). Rest in peace.

Happy new year to all and to all a healthy 2006!

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • http://nightdragon.diaryland.com Mark Edward Manning

    You know, Victor, maybe it is time for your Mets (and I’d certainly love to see New York under the domain of another winning baseball team), but they’re not really cursed. The two Sox teams that were beat their curses. I think it’s time the Cubs or the Indians beat theirs. Or, as I’ve hypothesized in the past, if we seem to be going back in time – 1918 to 1917, both history – we might go back further to 1916 when the Red Sox won it all! Don’t even get me started on the 2006 baseball season, I’m so looking forward to it.

    I’m incensed that Raphael Palmeiro got off the way he did. Hopefully his chances at Hall of Fame status are ruined …

    “All reality TV people – they are not stars!” Amen to that, brother!

    Re: Mary Kate and Ashley, LOL! When, oh when, will those two take the permanent vacation from the spotlight that the rest of us so richly deserve?

    Lastly, Sen. Lieberman is one of my political heroes too, a straight-talking, Scoop Jackson Democrat who says what he feels and is not tied down by the extremist (read: majority) faction of his party.

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    Thanks for your comments, Mark. Lieberman is really a refreshing guy who speaks honestly about issues. I can’t imagine that he has “minders” to make sure he is saying the right things (like lots of other politicians). He and McCain are true leaders, the kind I used to think we had more of. They are definitely presidential timber, but the trouble is the electorate doesn’t want that kind of person anymore (or so it seems).

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    I love this piece, Victor — please consider making it a regular column!

    I wasn’t thrilled by this version of Wonka, though I believe that Depp is very nearly always great. Crashers and Virgin both absolutely stand-out because they were allowed to actually take risks and break formula-rules… and of course Carrel and Vaughn and Wilson were all perfect in doing what they do.

    Totally agree on Lupica — he’s always been far and away my favorite sports writer. No one does it better.

    This piece has been chosen as a Blogcritics.org Editor’s Pick of the Week, Celery Sticks and the Post-New Year Story Cornucopia edition, congrats!

    You’ve just earned yourself the right to nominate your favorite story (for the period of 1/4 – 1/10) for next week’s Editors’ Picks column. List the link, the story title, and the author in the comments area of this week’s column, and of course tell us why it deserves to be honored!

    Thanks and congrats again ~ EB

  • http://www.fotolog.com/butki13 Scott Butki

    Great summary, Victor. You are always a pleasure to read.