Friday, December 14, 2012

(whatever) of the year

Yes, its that time of year. The one when I throw you some idea of what I’ve been loving (and one of what I’ve not) over the last twelve months. The list is by no means exhaustive and of course I’ll soon realise I forgot something or other, but mostly its about the things that stayed with me over the twelve months for whatever reason. I don't know whether I'll be here next week or travelling home for Christmas, so I figured I'd get in ahead of the game with these lists:

You can find my top 3 physical books of the year very soon over atPulp Pusher, but since its getting to that time of year, figured you could use some ideas of what I’ve been enjoying this

Top 3 E-Only Books (or the ones you won’t easily find in bookshops, at least in the UK)

1.         1) The Trinity Game By Sean Chercover – deceptively thriller-like, there’s a lot more going on in this smart, fast-moving thriller from the author of the Ray Dudgeon novels. Mixing faith, crime, the supernatural and the cynical, it reminded me a lot of the underappreciated Elmore Leonard novel, Touch. Chercover’s easy going style pulls you willingly along, and just when you think you’ve worked out what the book’s all about (one way or another) the rug is pulled out from under you.
2.       2) Wolf Tickets by Ray Banks – Quick, nasty, brutal. And that’s just the author. All kidding aside, Wolf Tickets is a punch in the throat that will leave you breathless and staggering. Banks has pulled off dual narratives before (notably in his debut, Saturday’s Child) but here he manages to display a chameleonic capacity for voice that leaves you convinced the book was written by two different, concurrent  narrators. Blasted Heath is putting out some real interesting ebooks, but for my money, their strongest author is Banks – a master of voice and one of the few writers who can convince you as to the reality of his gritty, distinctly British urban wasteland.
3.       3) One Dead Hen – Okay, this is a cheat as ODH was a late 2011 release, but considering I only got into the ebook game in September, I’m counting this one. Royston Blake is back after extended leave and is still as anarchically terrifying as ever. Surreal, yet terrifyingly plausible in its own way, Williams’ Mangel novels remain a funhouse-mirror image of small town Britain as seen through the eyes of a perpetually self-deceiving narrator. Far more intelligent than a surface read might suggest, and often laugh out loud funny, One Dead Hen shows that there’s life in Mangel (and Blake) yet. Which is why I’m very, very excited for the next instalment due in 2013.

Honourable mentions: Old Gold by Jay Stringer, Natural Causes by James Oswald, Loss by Tom Picirilli, RIP Robbie Silva By Tony Black, Fireproof by Gerard Brennan and Hard Bite by Anonymous 9

Top 3 Movies

1.       1) Killing Them Softly – The whole 70s vibe of a movie set in the late noughties (as we promised change and tumbled into depression) combined with the brilliant dialogue that could only be delivered from adapting a novel by George V Higgins boosted this to the top of the years movies for me. It’s a depressing, stylised and unexpectedly brutal movie and provides further proof that for all the mainstream shite he does, when he’s allowed to, Brad Pitt can turn in an amazing performance.
2.       2) Argo – How did Ben Affleck go from being a must-avoid name to a must-see? Like George Clooney before him, Affleck’s affected a career turn around by showing his skill as a director and carefully choosing the projects he takes on as an actor. As both director and actor in Argo, he proves that Gone Baby Gone and The Town were no mere flukes by taking us beyond Boston and into this brilliant period thriller that evokes the beats and style of the era in which it takes place. Throw in a scene stealing pair of performances from John Goodman and Alan Arkin and you have a movie that restores your faith in why the cinema was ever worth going to in the first place.
3.       3) Looper – surprisingly good twisty time-travel movie with Bruce Willis and the increasingly interesting Joseph Gordon Levitt playing two versions of the same character. Yes, it probably doesn’t hold up to too much internal scrutiny and the ending is maybe a little pat, while Levitt’s Willis makeup looks a little strange, but the movie’s got a great vision of a believable future and Levitt’s excellent, world-weary performance outweighs any makeup oddities.
Honourable mentions: The Dark Knight Rises (the script was a little loose, but like Godfather 3 it may not be as good as what preceeded, but was still miles better than most other things out there), Avengers Assemble (which should have been a mess and yet somehow came together in all the right popcorny ways), The Grey (unexpectedly meditative and more than a little depressing in its conclusions – not the film you wanted, but the film you deserved), The Awakening (The film that The Woman in Black wished it could be)

Top 3 TV (as discovered by me - - I’m so far behind that I’m catching up with everything in box sets now)

1.       1) Justified (S2) – the series gets off to an awkward start in the first 20 minutes and then settles down to find its own feet. With the introduction of Mags Bennett, the show finds its voice and proceeds to become one of the best TV shows currently on the box.
2.       2) Braquo (S1) – not quite as solid as Spiral, but it’s like that show’s scrappy little brother, making up for its lack of sophistication with supreme confidence and bravado. Comes at you with attitude to spare and characters you should loathe but become fascinated by, this is a Paris that is a million miles away from the tourist destination of your dreams. The French and crime dramas are such a natural fit, and Braquo is the perfect showcase for the grittier side of Parisian life.
3.       3) Mad Men (S4) It always takes me an episode or two to get the rhythms of a new season of Mad Men, but while it may appear to move at the pace of a lethargic snail, Mad Men isn’t about plot so much as it is character. Wallowing in some of the most fascinating characters ever committed to television, you start to realise that character is plot and that what you’re witnessing isn’t slam-bang multi-act plotting, but a slow burn of cause and effect that slots together just as unexpectedly as real life. But, this being the 60s, far more stylishly.
Honourable mentions: Doctor Who (say what you like, Matt Smith nails the character, although I do think the 45 minute episode constraints are beginning to show with some of the plots), Curb Your Enthusiasm (don’t know how I missed this show until now – Larry David is worryingly empathetic), Game of Thrones (I had issues with the first half of the season, but then found myself utterly engaged by episode four or five – and the season ender dropped my jaw. Hope they can continue the late-found momentum in season 2)

Disappointment of the year:

To Rome, With Love – disappointingly bad effort from Allen. Three unengaging and uninteresting shaggy dog stories replete with Italian (and American) stereotypes and a promising cast on autopilot. I loved Midnight in Paris, with its fairytale qualities and qurky sense of historical reinvention. But this was everything people love to hate about Woody Allen, the kind of thing I like to tell people he never actually does in his movies. I have watched a lot of bad movies this year, but I expected those to be so. This was one I went in wanting to love. And I came out feeling disappointed, searching for any excuse to like something about it. But I failed. Indulgent. Nonsensical. Uninteresting. But Rome looks very pretty.


Dana King said...

I've been in the bag for Banks since i read NO MORE HEROES. WOLF TICKETS is on this list deservedly.

I'm also sold on Chercover, and am making my way to TRINITY GAME, though it's been a circuitous route.

Thanks for the comment on KILLING THEM SOFTLY. I was looking forward to this, then several people whose opinions i respect said it wasn't all that, so it got bumped to Netflix. You just put it back on the "go see" list, if it' still around.

Season 2 of JUSTIFIED was great. Graham Yost's greatest accomplishment is creating a Raylan Givens who only superficially resembles Leonard's original creation, and making you believe this is how the character was written in the first place.

Russel said...

Dana - KILLING isn't going to be everyone's bag, but then that's precisely one of the reasons its so damn good. There are so few films now that make the reader work a little, and then along comes KILLING, which is more about what the cast don't say than what they do, and... oh, I loved it. But I accept some people won't. And I'm glad of that; great fiction is and should be divisive.