Michael Murray's 13 Cultural Highlights From the Past Year
Please forgive this indulgence. This is a personal list, one that has little to do with what I think the best movies of the year were. Instead, its is a grab bag of stuff-- in no particular order-- that came to my attention over the last year that I really liked.
1. Denver, the dog video.
This got a lot of play in our household. The video has a hurtin' country sound to it, managing to convey the perfect mix of pathos, sincerity and love from which all dogs are ultimately composed.
2. Michael Fassbender
I'd seen Michael Fassbender in movies before 2011, but I never realized it. This changed after X-Men: First Class. In this terrific movie Fassbender completely seized the screen, and watching was like bearing witness to the defining sex symbol of a generation emerging through lust and smoke. I then saw Jane Eyre, another excellent film, in which Fassbender brooded, glowered and blew-up the joint with his untameable passions. And then, as if to completely detonate his sex symbol image, he starred in the lifeless Shame, where naked, he did everything a movie star possibly could do, as if to once and for all demystify his sexuality and get on with what's likely to be a thrilling career.
It was funny and everybody liked it.
4. Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye
This video had received almost 20 million views before I saw it, and watching I felt as if I'd been transported back into some cool realm in the 80's. When Gotye stretches his voice, ascending to sound like a perfected and non-irritating version of Sting, and then Kimbra peels herself off the wall and begins to sing like some sexy time hybrid of Miranda July and Nina Simone, everything falls into ideal synch. It's moving, and I swear, there is not one woman I've shown this video to who hasn't become transfixed, watching it again and again and again.
I love an action film that cares about beauty. Although the experience of watching it was like being fired out of a gun, the movie still took time to pause and linger over magical images, and in an unexpected way perfectly captured the thoughtless adrenalin that's catapulted so many 18 year-olds across Europe.
6. Talking It Up
I met a guy at a party who was a film Professor at a college in Toronto. In conversation he told me that he hosted a little talk show that he aired only on Facebook and YouTube called "Talking It Up." It was his aspiration to increase the quality of his guest each week until he finally reached Justin Bieber, the pinnacle. I have no idea what I expected, but when I watched it I was utterly charmed and have been tuning in ever since.
7. The Interrupters
This documentary from the war zones of Chicago is an unsentimental look at people who have risen from violence and now seek to protect their communities from the rage, frustration and murder that's passed like a virus through their people. The movie is sobering, heartbreaking and inspirational.
8. Brad Pitt
I've always loved the guy, and he was easy and perfect in Moneyball. He never looks like he's acting, which I think is the greatest virtue a thespian can possess. He also managed to add a splash of dignity to Terrence Malick's bloated corpse of a film, The Tree of Life. I am a massive fan of Malick, but his latest movie sucked. It was over-wrought and congested with arty clichés that would put an "American Idol" contestant to shame, but Pitt, well, he was the film's one grace note.
A friend of mine, having perhaps grown a little weary of his life in Toronto, traveled to the Congo with the intention of setting up an NGO in support of at-risk youth. He did this, amongst many other things, but he also happened upon the remarkable story of an ex child soldier and one-eyed boxer. In spite of my friend's complete inexperience, he made this story into a film, which just boggles my mind. The movie and the story are incredible, but so is the lesson that you can wake up one day, as my friend did, and decide to do something different, and from that any wonder might blossom.
10. Bill Cunningham New York
It's an excellent movie that follows New York fashion photographer Bill Cunningham as he chronicles the life that flows through the city. It's all fashion-based, of course, but it's done with an artist's mandate rather than a commercial one, capturing the life of fashion as it manifests in the natural world of Manhattan, instead of the aggressively polished images shilling at us from billboards and magazines.
In a different time, somebody like Cunningham might be considered a saint. He is single-minded and egalitarian, having completely given his life over to fashion in an utterly pure, even manic way, pushing aside all other branches of the human experience. His story isn't exactly a sad one, for he seems so sparked, so alive within his passion, that one doesn't feel sorry for him, but still an aura of melancholy, of loss, really, enshrines him like a halo.
11. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
12. The Trip
Funny, poignant, brilliant and effecting buddy film.
13. The Occupy Movement
It feels like a revolution, like a sincere uprising coursing as much through the arteries of social media as the streets of the world. It's exciting and I can't wait to find out what the New Year will bring, and may it bring you all health, happiness, prosperity and unexpected adventure!