Welcome to this gala end-of-end-of-year event. First off, it's a special presentation of The year in Internet video:
- The single best media value of 2009 is Chrontendo. About 30 hours
of video reviews of Famicom and NES games. My consistent exercise
- Academic runners-up: David
Blight's incredible class on the Civil War and Reconstruction, and
J. Bradford Delong's economic history of the
20th century, which is really more like "J. Bradford Delong
talks about whatever he wants and then tests you on it," but which is full of interesting stuff.
- Surprise dark-horse entertainment: bobtwcatlanta's
Youtube channel, full of engrossing television ephemera from the
80s and 90s.
- James Rolfe continued to entertain with his AVGN videos
(best episode of 2009: Michael Jackson's
Moonwalker, posted before Michael Jackson's death made it cool/tasteless to
do Michael Jackson-themed web videos). But if you can't stand Rolfe's
scatology-obsessed Nerd character, you should at least watch his
amazing documentary of a life spent making films, Cinemassacre 200,
which only has one F-bomb right at the beginning.
- Infomania's Viral Video Film
School and Target:
Women also continued their runs of excellence.
- Another noteworthy workhorse: the mega-agglomeration of That Guy With The Glasses, which at this point has a couple dozen web "shows", transformative works all. They're hit or miss, but I've found maybe eight that I really like, and I let those accumulate in browser tabs until I've got enough to get me through a thirty-minute run.
- Now on to miscellaneous one-offs. The Match Game 1977 School Riot, in which the mannered high civilization of The Match Game collapses into anarchy and warlordism. (Don't know how TMG worked? Invest a couple minutes in some boring video of TMG working properly, and then you can enjoy both this video and the excellent Saturday Night Live parody "It's A Match".)
- Music videos: One from the 80s that uses "Sinistar" as a metaphor for a bad
relationship. One from TMBG. OK Go does it again. A rerun of "Wishmaster Misheard", revealed in 2009 to have been created by our friend Lucian.
- Music videos featuring unrelated pop culture characters: The world-famous Bohemian Rhapsody Muppets turns the unwieldy, huge Muppets cast into a strength. Four Super Mario World levels, one for each part in Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now".
Film: I don't watch a lot of movies. I think I only went to the theater four times in 2009: to see "Star Trek", "Moon", "My Winnipeg", and "Ponyo". Most of the time Sumana and I watch movies at home. That said, the Crummy.com Movie of the Year is "University of Laughs", a 2004
Japanese movie that I've been looking for since 2005. (We
eventually imported it from Yes Asia for an exorbitant sum.) It's an
awesome film. Like, imagine "The Five Obstructions", except instead of
Lars von Trier playing a funny prank on you, it's a police censor
and your livelihood is on the line. And the film is hilarious. We saw
it with Lucian and couldn't stop laughing. Between this movie and
"Game Center CX", I'm coming to appreciate how dependent is Japanese
humor on body language. Truly, this is the real secret of manzai.
Runner-up: the thematically similar "The Lives
of Others", which won a lot of awards and you probably don't need me
telling you how great it is. If for some reason you demand that I give the 2009 award to a film released in 2009, then I give it to "Moon", despite its huge plot holes.
Television: After Battlestar Galactica ended in disaster, I watched only one TV show: the ultimate Sumana/Leonard guilty pleasure, USA Network's Psych. The show's silliness continually breaks the fourth wall and the old dictum how "if it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage". The "Tonight's Episode" episode titles are the clear spray-on preservative that gives the icing on the cake its gloss.
Food: Is food a "medium"? I say yes, and give appreciation for three New York restaurants that started in 2009 (or very late 2008): Vesta and Bare Burger here in Astoria, and Dos Toros (Mission-style taqueria!) near Union Square.
Books: I read 88 books in 2009 if you count the one I created, which I'm going to because that means I read exactly twice as many books as in 2008. I made a special effort to read more books this year, and it
definitely succeeded. The Crummy.com Book of the Year is "Mason &
Dixon" by Thomas Pynchon. Reread of the Year: my mother's copy of Stephen Jay Gould's
"Bully for Brontosaurus", the book that originally introduced me
to evolutionary theory (a ringer, it was practically my only
reread of the year). "The Complete Dying Earth" was amazingly
fun, as mentioned
earlier. I also had a really good time with two espionage books:
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "The Zimmerman Telegram".
I can recommend two books from 2009 that you've never heard
of. First, "Monday Begins on Saturday" by the Strugatsky brothers,
obtained from Susan McCarthy. Second, "A Time of Gifts" by Patrick
Leigh Fermor, which sat on my wishlist for 4 years after I heard about
it on Crooked Timber. It's a book where I start every tenth paragraph
thinking "This is it, the purplest prose ever, there's no way Fermor
can pull out of this nosedive!" and by the end of the paragraph I'm
like "Good show, old chap! Pip-pip, what?"
Worst book that I read all the way through in 2009: Reward for
Retief, one of Keith Laumer's last novels. (My LibraryThing
review: "Man, what a train wreck. Give us more Groaci!") I read it all
the way through because I'm a Retief completist and because I admired
Laumer for continuing to write after his stroke. Objectively speaking,
he should have stopped in the mid-80s, but I'm sure he needed the
money. Keeping a midlist author on your publication rolls as he passes
his prime is not the most efficient method of wealth transfer, but
it's a time-honored one.
I read about 150 individual short stories (ie. not part of collections), from magazines, writing group, and the TE slush pile. There is no Crummy.com Short Fiction of the Year this year because I recuse myself for conflict of interest. Also I can't really think of one, though you can't go wrong with Jack Cady's "The Night We Buried Road Dog".
Video games: I was talking about this with Kirk. Here's the thing. When I read a book, even a book I don't like, I learn something about writing. But when I play a video game, even a good game, I don't usually learn much about game design. There's probably fifty games I spent at least an hour playing in 2009, but I can only think of one that was both as stylistically interesting and as viscerally enjoyable as, say, "A Time of Gifts".
People who love movies might make a similar distinction. There are really interesting movies, there are really enjoyable movies, and every once in a while there's a movie with crossover appeal, the first movie to tell a really fun story using some previously introduced innovation. I think comparing video games and movies is a sucker's game so that's as far as I'm going to take this analogy.
When I think of 2009 games that are pure fun I think of a lot of entries in series: the "Metal Slug" anthology I picked up, "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" in multiplayer, Mega Man 9, the DS Grand Theft Auto game (I really love sandbox games, but most 3D first-person games make me nauseous, so I liked having a modern GTA I could physically play). All of these games combine a close allegiance to some longstanding series with solid implementation and attention to detail. I also think of "Retro Game Challenge" and my "Cave Story" replay, games that are just a collection of well-executed callbacks to older games.
When I think of games I that have a lot of innovation I think of "Scribblenauts", an amazingly creative game that has huge, huge conceptual and implementation problems. I think of "Barkley: Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden", a game that presents a deadpan sarcasm I can't remember seeing outside of interactive fiction, but objectively speaking not a game I want to play all the way through. I think of "Treasure World", a game that I was obsessed with for a couple weeks but which is not technically a game at all.
"Spelunky" is the only game I played in 2009 that I would consider fully successful in both enjoyment and innovation. It took the least popular aspects of roguelike games (permadeath and extreme dependence on randomness) and made them crowd-pleasers by incorporating them into a preexisting genre (super-difficult platformer), introducing roguelike replayability to people who hate ASCII graphics and turn-based keyboard controls.
The fact that I'm describing Spelunky in terms of other games and genres implies that it's not all that innovative. But creativity is almost always the combination of two preexisting things. The ideas in this year's innovative titles will be synthesized into 2011's crossover hits which will lead into 2015's soulless cash-cows.
OK, time to start work on the New Year's Eve party. Happy new year!