Top ten lists from our Weekly critics:
1. Funny Games Michael Haneke’s shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 German movie is condescending and confrontational—it’s also a technical marvel, a brilliant horror movie that deconstructs the appeal of horror movies and a showcase for a devastating performance from Naomi Watts. You’ll love it even as you hate what it does.
3. Rachel Getting Married
4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
7. The Wackness
8. Cloverfield Dismissed by some as too gimmicky, and by others as too shallow, this monster movie for the YouTube era has surprising depths to it, both as a meta-commentary on disaster cinema and as an examination of how we deal with catastrophe.
9. Chop Shop Ramin Bahrani’s small-scale naturalist drama about a New York City street orphan and his efforts to build a better life for himself and his sister consistently finds hope amid squalor, while shining a light on the kind of matter-of-fact urban poverty that’s rarely depicted in American cinema. It also features the best kid performance of the year, from Alejandro Polanco.
10. Standard Operating Procedure
1. Paranoid Park
2. Rachel Getting Married
3. Burn After Reading
5. Funny Games
6. The Duchess of Langeais
7. In the City of Sylvia Barely released—just a single week in New York—this French-Spanish co-production, about a young man searching for a woman he met briefly by chance in Strasbourg six years earlier, may be cinema’s definitive take on the fabled male gaze. Nothing I saw all year was as rapturous as the 20-minute outdoor café sequence at its outset, which consists entirely of magnificently composed, almost completely wordless shots of the protagonist sketching and girl-watching.
8. The Secret of the Grain Deserving winner of multiple Césars (the French Oscar) earlier this year, Abdellatif Kechiche’s sprawling ensemble piece plays a bit like an Arabic version of Rachel Getting Married, except the family-frazzling event here isn’t a marriage but opening night of a shipboard couscous restaurant. It starts slowly and a bit aimlessly, but gradually builds to an extended, delirious climax that knocks the wind right out of you.
9. Chicago 10
10. Days and Clouds Another fine foreign film that went all but unnoticed, this one hailing from Italy. To be fair, I can’t imagine many folks having the stomach for it right now, since it’s a scrupulously realistic and appropriately dispiriting portrait of a marriage crumbling in the wake of a financial meltdown. Very low-key, but every moment rings absolutely true.
Jeffrey M. Anderson
1. Vicky Cristina Barcelona Vastly entertaining, brilliantly written, but also a turning point for the Woodster. After years of kicking and screaming, Allen has moved gracefully into old age, and like Ozu, has accepted the inevitable disappointments of life, but has also found a certain comfort in that acceptance.
2. Flight of the Red Balloon
3. Still Life
4. The Dark Knight
5. Burn After Reading
6. Rachel Getting Married
7. Gran Torino More of a cunning coda than an exciting climax, this movie finds Clint Eastwood deconstructing his Dirty Harry image just as he once deconstructed his cowboy image in Unforgiven.
9. My Blueberry Nights Wong Kar-wai’s English-language debut initially seems lightweight, especially because of the casting of Norah Jones in the lead role, but look a little deeper, and it becomes the year’s most beautiful, most profound film about being lost in America.
10. Encounters at the End of the World
1. High School Musical 2, Green Valley High School. GVHS was chosen as one of six schools to participate in a pilot program to develop the high-school version of the Disney juggernaut. The talented students, who normally work with tried-and-true material, had the rare opportunity to participate in the actual creation of a show. One of the artistic “advisors” was choreographer Jared Hunt, whose work demonstrated a rare skill for propelling a story through movement, particularly in the “I Don’t Dance,” number, which was actually better than the filmed version.
2. Las Vegas Philharmonic, Masterworks III concert (Beethoven, Rachmaninoff). Partway through his first year with the orchestra, new Music Director David Itkin programmed the tricky Rachmaninoff third symphony, a work that tests even the most accomplished musicians. The orchestra rose to the challenge and brought the usually staid crowd to its feet.
3. Modern dance, on the rise. Throughout the years, Dance in the Desert, CSN, UNLV and the Nevada Dance Project, among other groups, have industriously performed throughout the Valley. In 2008, both the quantity and the quality of the performances improved dramatically. Additional props go to Kelly Roth at CSN for finding ways to include live music in most of his concerts.
4. Itzhak Perlman, UNLV recital. Some performers are just plain magical. This past January, Grammy-winner Perlman delighted Las Vegas audiences with a recital program that included works by Bach and Strauss. There are other contenders, but Perlman still reigns as the king of the catgut.
5. Metropolitan Opera, live HD broadcasts from Lincoln Center. As there is very little opera in this town, the performances are a welcome injection of the art form into Las Vegas. Now if we could only get the classical-music station to carry the Met season’s weekly radio feed ...
1. The Dumb Waiter, by Harold Pinter, produced by Found Door. This was everything alt-theater should be: taut acting, inspired location (part of the Beckett Fest’s warehouse) and a performance that was both hysterical and deeply unnerving.
2. Little Dog Laughed, by Douglas Carter Beane, produced by Good Medicine Theatre Company. This sharp satire about keeping your soul intact while in the entertainment industry hit on all cylinders—a crisply staged cast fearlessly delivering slashing dialogue with verve and heart in a play that still manages to convey the love that these characters have for each other, even if they have no idea how to express it themselves.
3. Point Break LIVE!, produced by New Rock Theatre Productions. It didn’t find the right venue, but the verve and energy in this show mean that it could have fun forever, except for one thing: Your knee! Your knee, Johnny!
4. Moon Over Buffalo, by Ken Ludwig, produced by Las Vegas Little Theatre. A traditional backstage farce, this show stood out thanks to its crazy momentum (once this show started building laughs, it didn’t stop) and its top-notch cast—Barbara King delivered a wonderful follow-up to her crazed turn in Betty’s Summer Vacation.
5. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare, produced by Insurgo Theater Movement. I have been hard on John Beane and Insurgo, perhaps hitting their missteps harder than praising their triumphs—so despite originally running a luke-warm review, I think this production deserves to be added to this year-end best-of list. Beane excels at images and tableaux, and this gothed-up version of Shakespeare’s classic had some inventive staging and absolutely knock-out costumes, which, when combined, made for some moments I still find myself revisiting.
The year’s best albums as chosen by our critics
1. Erykah Badu, New Amerykah, Part One (4th World War)
2. Fuck Buttons, Street Horrrsing Throbbing noise melodies fused with buried screamo vocals. Amazingly effective background ambiance for both productive work and restful sleep.
3. The Walkmen, You & Me
4. Portishead, Third
5. Times New Viking, Rip It Off
6. The Bleachers, Conjure That’s right, two Vegas discs (see entry No. 9) make the cut in ’08, the first time even one local album has made my top 10. Wake up to the real local scene, Killers and Panic holdouts.
7. TV on the Radio, Dear Science
8. Wolf Parade, At Mount Zoomer
9. Hungry Cloud, Hungry Cloud
10. Boston Spaceships, Brown Submarine Robert Pollard’s best post-Guided by Voices disc, and that’s saying a lot about a guy who cranked out five full-lengths in 2008 alone. Some glorious fist-pumping power-prog, but the real stunner is “Two Girl Area,” which proves Bob’s pop sensibility didn’t dry up at age 50.
1. R.E.M., Accelerate
2. Jack’s Mannequin, The Glass Passenger
3. The Whigs, Mission Control Scrappy, full of no-muss, no-fuss rock ’n’ roll. Scorching guitars echo The Replacements and The Who, while vocalist Parker Gispert’s rasp and eerie organ give the Georgia band an old soul.
4. Alphabeat, This Is Alphabeat Retro-fabulous disco-pop dominates this Danish import. Think The B-52’s and The Human League doing Roxette karaoke at a sparkly discotheque.
5. Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs
6. Damien Jurado, Caught in the Trees
7. British Sea Power, Do You Like Rock Music?
8. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Pershing Springfield, Missouri’s finest makes indie-pop music you can bring home to mom. Mild trumpet accents, heart-melting harmonies and flannel-warm melodies convey just the right amounts of wistfulness and longing.
9. Coldplay, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends
10. Lemuria, Get Better
1. Wolf Parade, At Mount Zoomer
2. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III
3. Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak
4. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
5. Friday Night, Friday Night Composed of gifted emcees Hi-Fidel and Serengeti, duo Friday Night put out a thoughtful and hilarious debut that chronicles a night of wild capers and crazy partying.
6. Mates of State, Re-Arrange Us The husband-and-wife team of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel quit experimenting with sound and made crowd-pleasing pop instead. As inspiring as anything released this year.
7. Black Milk, Tronic
8. The Magnetic Fields, Distortion
9. Vast Aire, Deuces Wild An apocalyptic tour de force, almost good enough to make everybody stop whining for a reunion of his group Cannibal Ox.
10. 9th Wonder & Buckshot, The Formula
The year’s best concerts
1. Monotonix, March 8, Bunkhouse The Israelis’ musical mayhem was memorable in its own right, but frontman Ami Shalev’s outrageous antics ensured this night won’t ever be forgotten. Most insane moment (among many): Shalev’s emergence from the ladies’ restroom with trash basket in hand and subsequent dumping of its grotesque contents over drummer Haggai Fershtman’s head. Fershtman never broke rhythm.
2. Justice, March 20, House of Blues
3. Mark Knopfler, June 26, The Joint
4. Akron/Family, April 20, Bunkhouse
5. Mostly Bears, July 1, Revolution The Tucson, Arizona, trio painted its faces and shirtless torsos in glow-in-the-dark grease, then scared up some of the best modern prog this side of The Mars Volta.
6. Gogol Bordello, March 15, Canyon Club
7. Erykah Badu, June 13, House of Blues
8. Thomas Function, August 26, Double Down The unknown Alabama foursome emerged from the shadows of headliners No Age to produce a lovably fun and fuzzy set of hook-laden pop. Y’all come back soon, y’hear?
9. The Police, May 23, MGM Grand
10. Shearwater, June 19, MGM Grand
1. LA Now, Las Vegas Art Museum. This caliber of work, all of the time. Period.
2 (tie). Untitled, by Catherine Borg, Contemporary Arts Center and Be My Suicide, by Stephen Hendee, LVAM. The dynamic duo of darkness, and two of our best local artists.
4. Bottom for Queen, by Daniel Sameniego, Henri & Odette. Beautiful, elegant, well-crafted, vulnerable. See him locally while you still can.
5. Structuring the Invisible and Amidst: An Exhibition of Recent Coercions, by Brent Sommerhauser, The Clark County Government Center & UNLV Donna Beam Gallery. Sommerhauser never fails to deliver challenging, thoughtful and generous work.
6. Make It Rain, by Curtis Fairman and Jeffrey Gibson, Dust Gallery. You can’t get much more Vegas than this. Part of a great year of art at this space.
7. Israeli Art Now, Naomi Arin Contemporary Art. An truly exciting beginning to Dust: The Next Generation.
8. New-Fangled, Main Gallery. A terrific group of drawings to add to the long list of interesting shows at one of our town’s most daring and sincere spaces.
9. I’m Gonna Live Til I Die, by Yo Fukui, UNLV Donna Beam Gallery. A trickster at the top of the wave of post-Hickey UNLV grad students. NYC is lucky to have him.
10. What It Is, by Thomas Lee Bakofsky, Trifecta Gallery. Fun, funny and really, really smart.
1. Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization, by Nicholson Baker (Simon & Schuster, $30). In this fascinating collage of newspaper stories, diaries and memoirs of the time, Baker re-creates the march from peace to war in America from 1939-41, making a bold case that World War II is an example of how violence only begets more violence.
2. Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill (Pantheon, $24). This wholly unexpected novel turns the city once known as New Amsterdam inside out with the tale of a Dutch banker clinging to his crumbling marriage and family in the aftermath of 9/11. It is a fabulous, deeply enjoyable New York story about the fantasies that prop up daily reality—in other words, a deeply New York novel about that deeply American penchant: new beginnings.
3. Sleeping It Off in Rapid City, by August Kleinzahler (FSG, $26). Yes, this sizable selection of Kleinzahler’s verse will tempt you into thinking hangovers can be pretty, the Midwest is glamorous, and dive bars in Vancouver have a certain je ne sais quoi. More surprisingly, though, Kleinzahler can channel grief and pastoral beauty as well as virtually any poet alive.
4. Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape, by Rajah Shehadeh (Scribner, $15). For the past quarter-century, Shehadeh, a lawyer and writer, has walked in the hills around his hometown of Ramallah. This meditative book, winner of the 2008 Orwell Prize, takes readers along these travels, bringing to life the craggy, wonderful landscape and the political forces that have threatened its very existence.
5. 2666, by Roberto Bolano (FSG, $30). Divided into five sections, which the author originally imagined would be published as separate novels, this massive novel by the late Chilean great is a hugely ambitious crime story with more diversions than late Miles Davis. At the heart of it all: the murder and mutilation of female factory workers in an imaginary border town.
6. The Waitress Was New, by Dominique Fabre (Archipelago Books, $15). In a rain-splattered Parisian diner, customers come and go, and Pierre, a 54-year-old veteran bartender, wonders if life hasn’t passed him by. This little book is the literary equivalent of Barry Levinson’s film Diner: an elegant meditation on the murky undertow of routine and the odd bedfellows it creates for us.
7. Blood Dazzler, by Patricia Smith (Coffee House, $16). Smith brings an incantatory brilliance to the horror of Hurricane Katrina and our government’s shameful response to it in this powerful book of poems. Like in Jacob Lawrence’s magnificent Great Migration series of paintings, there is a gouged poignancy to the progression of these poems. Weather becomes warnings received too late, leads to harrowing rooftop vigils. Smith conjures the voices silenced by rising water—the agonizing choices made by those who barely survived.
8. Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf, $25). Ranging in setting from Seattle to suburban Boston, Rome to the clattering streets of Calcutta, Lahiri’s novels finds its cast of mostly Bengali characters struggling to grow accustomed to their new homes, their new families created by loss sustained in faraway places.
9. The Girl of His Dreams, by Donna Leon (Grove, $24). Book by book, expatriate American Leon has spun a secret history of Venice. Her 17th Commissario Guido Brunetti book, not surprisingly, is bookended by funerals. In between, she delves into crimes against the Romany, political correctness and the comforts of family in times of loss in a story so perfectly balanced it feels like it glides on a dark, still-silent waterway.
10. Senselessness, by Horacio Castellanos Moya (New Directions, $16). The feverish poet who narrates Moya’s devastating novel has one task: to edit the oral histories of torture victims in an unnamed Latin American country. Only he can’t do it. The more he looks at the report, the less sense victims’ testimonies make. All around him, the disregard of his friends feels like insanity.
1. 30 Rock, NBC
2. Mad Men, AMC The period drama about ad execs in the 1960s really earned all of its critical praise in this year’s second season, with a rich tapestry of characters, some devastating dramatic developments and pitch-perfect acting and writing. Plus it looked damn good in a suit.
3. Gossip Girl, The CW Believe it—this teen soap is one of the best-written shows on TV, full of tart one-liners, wide-ranging cultural references and heartfelt romantic relationships. And Leighton Meester, as complex ice queen Blair Waldorf, consistently gives one of the best performances on TV, always maintaining the perfect balance between haughtiness and vulnerability.
4. Pushing Daisies, ABC RIP to this intricately designed and densely written show about a pie-maker who raises corpses, but only for a minute. Clearly too clever and distinctive for network TV.
5. Lost, ABC
6. The Wire, HBO
7. Battlestar Galactica, Sci Fi
8. The Middleman, ABC Family Based on a comic book series that nobody read, this show that nobody watched was a hilarious, endlessly creative mix of cheesy throwback sci-fi and postmodern pop-culture quippiness. Like the similar but more mainstream Chuck, it celebrated all things geeky while telling fun, accessible adventure stories.
9. Friday Night Lights, NBC
10. Chuck, NBC