Monday, January 07, 2008

The Doc's Top Fives Of 2007!

I know, I know: most people have gotten their best of lists in weeks ago, but I always find I need at least a couple of days into the current year to get a real handle on the previous one. So I've thought and I've discussed and I've cut & pasted, and finally I have for you my three Top Fives of the year for your edification and entertainment.

My Top 5 Books Read in 2007

I only read 30 books in 2007, none of which were actually published last year. But that's okay, because even though none of the books I read were particularly new, almost all of them were very good. So here are the top 17%, my favourite reads of 2007.

1. The Brothers K by David James Duncan. Not just one of the best books I read this year, one of the best books I've ever read. The deceptively complex story of an American family in the 50s and 60s. Their early lives are shaped by the family’s two passions, baseball and religion. Their later lives are shaped by the family’s own small bundle of insecurities and conflicts, and the overwhelming nightmare of Vietnam. The story is brutally honest and unflinchingly real: sprawling, heartbreaking, touching. Just amazing.
2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (Pere). This was a LONG slog: 117 chapters in 1243 pages, not including footnotes. And it was totally worth it. It’s a story well-told, full of all the things that make stories great: romance, betrayal, revenge, politics, intrigue, humour, and banditry. A few times during my reading I said "Oh no!” out loud to the book, which is a good indication I was getting into it. Juast amazing.
3. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I had a lot of preconcieved notions about the book, as I've seen two film adaptations of it. But Lolita is great, much different than the movies, more psychological and slowly-paced. Nabokov crafts his words with great care and skill, making warm, enveloping sentences and clever word games. He has an uncanny ability to make Humbert Humbert both monstrous and sympathetic, which creates a sense of unease in the reader. And the story is simple but profound. It's not an easy book to read, but it is definitely great.
4. Monster of God by David Quammen. This is a fascinating read about alpha predators and their relationship to both human beings and the ecosystem as a whole. Lions, tigers, bears, and crocodiles all hold important ecological and cultural roles in the different regions in which they live, and this book takes an in-depth look at how these important animals impact the world around them, as well as what can be done to save them. Quammen takes important and interesting digressions into the realms of literature, history, sociology, film, paleontology, and conservation ecology. Fascinating and fun to read.
5. Neuromancer by William Gibson. I finally read Neuromancer this year, during a few quiet afternoons on my honeymoon. Overall, I really enjoyed Neuromancer, although I had a hard time getting through some sections: Gibson has a clipped, brief style and his descriptions were a little difficult. I would have appreciated it a little more if I’d read it ten years ago, as current technology make Gibson’s "futuretech" seem a little quaint, but it was a good story that made for a very interesting read.

My Top 5 Movies or 2007

I saw 24 movies in the theater in 2007, and again, many of them were really good (barring a few exceptions). My original Top 5 list had a few movies that were actually released in 2006, so with a little re-jigging I made an all-2007 list.

1. No Country For Old Men. I already ranted about this one a month or so ago, so if you need a review click here. Otherwise, let me just say: BRILLIANT.
2. Away From Her. This movie is VERY slow-paced, like you might expect from a stereotypical Canadian movie. But I enjoyed the slower pace as it allowed me to focus on the characters and, more importantly the performances. The two stars, Julie Christie as a woman afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and Gordon Pinsent as her husband, are outstanding. Director Sarah Polley’s direction is simple and doesn’t call attention to itself. She focuses on the acting, and her mostly point-and-shoot technique works. She’s got a good eye for the moment, and this is a good film from a first-time director.
3. Juno. Juno has a lot of the trappings of “quirky-indie” movies like those made by Wes Andersen, but they’re not so obvious that it destroys the movie. Ellen Page is brilliant as the sarcastic and witty title character, but everyone else in the movie is great as well (particularly J.K. Simmons). The best thing about Juno is that every once in a while, the movie turns from an almost-too-clever comedy into a moment of very real drama, but the characters are all still the same, it’s just that they’re dealing with real human issues. It makes those moments really effective, and it allows you to feel that there’s more to the characters than just clever one-liners and character quirks. Funny and enjoyable, and a nice counterpart to another one of my favourite movies of the year, Knocked Up.
4. Eastern Promises. In this movie, David Cronenberg shoots things on a very basic and human level, which makes it a little hard to identify with the characters’ situations, although identifying with them isn’t necessarily what you should be doing. But if you think the movie’s going to leave you cold, the performances draw you into it even when Cronenberg’s shots are holding you back. Viggo Mortensen owns the movie: his gangster is sometimes vicious, sometimes almost friendly, and he plays things close to the chest so you never know which is the real him, or what he could change into in the blink of an eye. He's amazing, one of the best performances of the year.
5. Ratatouille. And of course, I cap off my list of mostly dark, mostly indie movies with the Pixar flick. But I had to. Ratatouille has it all: a smart script, beautiful animation, a great cast, and of course, a teriffic director in Brad Bird. Eschewing the stupid “all ages” jokes nauseatingly sappy “you just have to believe in yourself and anything’s possible” self-esteem message, it is fresh, funny, and uplifting. The script’s great, the cast is teriffic, and the animation’s just gorgeous. This movie is easy for anyone to love, even a cynical 28-year-old guy.

My Top 5 Comics of 2007
This was the hardest one to whittle down to five because, in terms of sheer titles, I've read WAY more comics than I have books or seen movies. Because they're so quick to read compared to the other media, it's easier for me to get through a broader range of stuff. But, I'm keeping these as Top 5 lists, so even though there are many worthy contenders that could make a list of ten, they have to not be mentioned here.

1. 52. This weekly limited series started in 2006, but finished up in 2007, and finished up STRONG. Every week, this book something new and usually something really good. The pieces started falling together and the characters really came to life. I'm sure it wasn't easy for people who don't know much about mainstream DC superhero comics to get into, but I loved the ride right to the end. Four writers, a dozen artists, and one amazing story.
2. Scalped. It's been described as The Sopranos on an Indian reservation, and while that's a good one line hook, it's so much more than that. Writer Jason Aaron has a knack for characterization, and fills Scalped with realistic characters that you can care about, or if not care about, at least develop vested interests in. And R.M. Guera, who I was a little sketchy on earlier in the series, has really strengthened his lines and makes each panel full of messy details. The story's just getting interesting, and I'm looking forward to where it goes in 2008.
3. JLA/Hitman. One of the greatest characters in superhero comics gets resurrected in this two issue comics series, telling the story of what happened when Tommy Monaghan, super-powered hitman, meets the most powerful and best-loved heroes in the DC Universe. The action is fun, and John McCrea is as good an artist as ever, but the really great parts are the human moments. Garth Ennis has a reputation for hating superheroes, but the way he wrote Superman was amazing. A great coda for a great series.
4. The Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1. There's been a lot of internet buzz about Spider-Man lately, but when I think back to Spider-Man in 2007, I'm going to remember this book. Writer Matt Fraction wrote this about his book: "If you love Spider-Man and you love love you should buy it." I do, and I did, and I loved it.
5. DMZ. This series, man. It might not be getting any BETTER but it's been staying really good. DMZ has been sticking with a surprising level of consistent quality, even moreso than Fables, which in my eyes wavered a little this year. But the story of the Second American Civil War, and the De-Militarized Zone that is Manhattan, stayed solid, thanks to a great couple of stories and a nice series of one-shot issues that highlighted important supporting characters. If Wood and Burchelli keep this up next year, this could be my favourite Vertigo series of the decade.

So there you have it: my picks for the best that last year had to offer. If you missed out on them and my reviews piqued your interest, then I've done my job. And as always, feel free to leave some suggestions for me and anyone else in the comments. I'm always curious to find out about what quality stuff I've missed out on.


Natalie said...

Is "The Brothers K" an updated spin on The Brothers Karamazov? from your description i saw a lot of similarities. Lolita is one of my favorites and has the best opening paragraph i have ever read. I read Neuromancer this year too and have to agree with you exactly! I'll have to check out some of those films. Good list.

Flop said...

I'm assuming you've seen A History of Violence? I know it's not new, but mention of Eastern Promises always brings it to mind. I haven't actually seen Eastern Promises yet, but it's on my list.

I confess, I didn't particularly like Neuromancer. It was the final novel in a comparative literature course I took several years ago on sci-fi, and I rushed through it shamefully. Although a huge improvement over Ubik, it paled in comparison to A Canticle for Leibowitz, which was also included in that course.

Xeryfyn said...

If you havent read The Kite Runner, I think that you must. It was wonderfully told and drew you right into the heart of teh story.

As for Ratatouille, one of the highlights for me was the history of the rat special feature. So great.

The Doc said...

Natalie, I know that it was inspired by Karamazov, but I don't think it's an update as such. And it's nice to see we have such similar tastes in books.

Flop, damn right I've seen A History of Violence. I think Eastern Promises is just a little better, but my opinion flutters slightly from week to week.

Xeryfyn, I haven't read The Kite Runner yet, but I do think I own it. Maybe I'll pull it off the shelf one of these days.