My Favorites of Everything in 2003
by jill goodheart
Favorite film: Lost in Translation
Sophia Coopola's beautiful and insightful direction combined with a story which is both humorous and moving make this the only film I saw this year that blew me away. Within striking, and sometimes weird visuals of Japan lies this story of two emotionally lost people. And while in another context or with another director these characters could seem self-indulgent or spoiled, all aspects of the film converge to make their story an honest one. Bill Murray gives a performance full of hilarity and tragedy, a feat not to be underestimated.
Fittingly, words cannot do Lost in Translation justice. It's perfect.
Favorite comedy: Elf
I can't remember the last time I saw a film that left me smiling for hours after I left the theater. Will Farrell takes on the elf character without a bit of cynicism or winking at the audience. The story itself, of course, is not why this movie works. It's the comedic timing, sincerity, and the right balance of sweetness of the story's players. And Zooey Deschanel's cabaret voice doesn't hurt things.
Favorite live show: The Lucksmiths at Marge's Donut Den in Wyoming, Michigan
Seeing any band in a donut shop is going to be an unusual concert experience. Seeing the Lucksmiths in donut shop is like a 6 year-old's birthday party. Their witty but simple lyrics combined with their poppy melodies make them the perfect band to play for a donut shop full of indie fans, children, and connoisseurs of sweets.
Favorite album by a singer/songwriter: David Dondero, The Transient
Dondero has been called a troubadour, a 21st century Townes Van Zandt, and a singer of the "white boy blues." He is indeed a traveler, as his album title would suggest. And he does sing what some would call a version of blues meets folk. But none of these are what makes this album so easy to listen to over and over and over again - it's Dondero's raw voice, sincere lyrics, and stories of people he's met throughout his travels. And in addition to the blues, The Transient contains many near-perfect songs, which also celebrate, uplift, and poke fun.
Favorite album by a band: The Decemberists, Her Majesty, The Decemberists
I'm a sucker for a well told story, and this album is full of them. The fascinating lyrics, double entendres, unconventional vocals, and melancholy melodies make this release unforgettable if nothing else.
Favorite song: 'Happy Birthday' by Clem Snide from Soft Spot
I imagine most fathers who write songs about their children create hokey and clichéd garbage. Fortunately for us, Clem Snide's Eef Barzelay manages to stay away from such predictability in "Happy Birthday," written for his new son. Both musically and lyrically, it is full of hope. He has the best kinds of wishes for his child ("I hope that your friends are true and funny and your girlfriends are sweet and wear tight pants") and reflects on how having a child has allowed him to lose his cynicism and doubts. A crescendo about three quarters of the way through the track forces the listener to understand the power this new person has had on his father. It makes me want to run out and have babies (a thought, unfortunately, I sustain only until I walk past screaming children in the grocery store).
Favorite soundtrack Pieces of April soundtrack by Stephen Merritt
As a fan of The Magnetic Fields, I was excited to watch a film that so frequently used Stephen Merritt's love songs to such great effect in this story of a family's emotional and physical preparations for spending Thanksgiving together. Fortunately for me, we were also introduced via the film and the subsequent soundtrack, to several new Magnetic Fields' songs. All beautifully crafted and emotionally sung.
Favorite cover: "Born in the USA" by ballboy from The Sash My Father Wore and Other Stories
Everyone in the US should listen to ballboy's version of the classic Bruce Springsteen. Perhaps their slow, sad cover will finally convince Americans that this song has no place at fireworks displays or other patriotic celebrations. For some reason, it took folks from the UK to play this song in such a simple, clean way that there is no mistaking the meaning of Springsteen's lyrics, yet the cover is not sappy or forced. It's just right on.
Favorite art exhibit Gillian Wearing: Mass Observation, The Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania
Wearing's ability to take "reality" in the form of film and turn it into dance, pain, and therapy is one to be admired and enjoyed. This exhibition focuses on several of her works in the last ten years which begin with the obvious and end with questions about family, society, and art.
Favorite meal: Wilbur's BBQ in Goldsboro, NC.
Feeling a bit like Jane and Michael Stern, we drove out of our way to reach this restaurant, which can only be described as a 'joint.' Being a Kansas City girl, and thus having grown up on the 'red sauce' as an integral part of an barbeque experience, I was a bit taken aback (and somewhat frightened) by the pale, sauce-less pork that was laid in front of me at Wilbur's. My fears were unfounded, I realized, as I took my first bite of the spicy, vinegary, and, well, perfect pork sandwich. Heaven. Though I thought it impossible, the meal was made even better by the only hush puppies I have ever loved - the right balance of sweetness and grease, shaped like little fried bananas. And the Brunswick stew by far exceeded expectations (it was described to us by our waitress as "like soup…only thicker").
Favorite TV show: The Amazing Race 4
Besides re-runs of Seinfeld, there was really nothing worth watching on television this year but the fast-paced, beautifully photographed, nail bitingly suspenseful show, The Amazing Race. This show rises above its "reality TV" genre by focusing on the task at hand: a race around the world, not contrived relationships.
Note: To read the "What We Loved Most in 2003" feature straight through, click here to go directly to the next article.