Another holiday season has come to a close here at the ancestral manse. Today in a rare burst of energy I took down the tree and the somewhat austere decorations I’d thrown up around the front door. The cats watched it go with the same blank puzzlement they’d accorded its arrival. Unlike us, they have no sense of time passing, no reference with which to mark another year gone by. They have no vague unease at things undone, of possibilities wasted. They do not rue overeating and overdrinking. Perhaps somewhere in the periphery of their feline minds, they’ll miss not having ornaments to bat to the carpet, but that’s about it.
We’re not so lucky. Like Janus, the Roman god for which this month is named, we gaze forward and we gaze back, ignoring the present. There’s a reason lists are so popular at this time of year. It’s the reassurance of enumerating the things we’ve done, the hope in adding up the things we mean to do. Also, for writers, it’s a lot easier than coming up with an original idea.
In that spirit, here’s my own very short little list (which I’ll be updating over the next couple of days as I think of stuff):
Best fiction I read in 2007: Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell. Sixteeen-year-old Ree Dolly sets out to find her drug-dealing dad and finds blood relations are no match for the code of silence that rules the Ozarks. Woodrell’s sharply-drawn characters are harsh but human, and exude not a droplet of false sentiment.
The worst: Promise Me, by Harlan Coben. Series character Myron Bolitar blusters his way across New Jersey delivering cringe-inducing one-liners (or, more often, two- and three-liners) to an array of one-dimensional antagonists. There’s a plot about missing girls, and a pair of preposterous assassins, but it doesn’t matter. The book is a mess.
Best two movies I saw in 2007: Michael Clayton and The Lives of Others. Even those who hate George Clooney will appreciate the clever, nuanced writing that elevates this tale of corporate murder and coverup. I still think Tilda Swinton deserves an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a desperately ruthless executive, but her name doesn’t seem to be coming up very often. Speaking of nuance, The Lives of Others was one of those Netflix surprises — you hear a friend recommend a movie, and you check it out, not expecting very much. This story of police-state surveillance in 198os East Germany works as both a thriller and a deliberately-paced character study. You don’t see that very often. Watching this, I was struck by how refreshing it is to see a movie that doesn’t have big-name American stars, and a script rewritten to serve more as a celebrity “vehicle” than a real story about real people.
Worst movie (well, the worst of those considered good by most critics): Ratatouille. If you’ve seen one of these animated, fun-for-the-whole-family, celebrity-voiced confections, you’ve seen them all. Haven’t you? These things are all good, technically, and they can be fun in the way stuffing your mouth with cannoli is fun, but they are not art. Finally, Ratatouille is another formulaic cartoon about finding one’s dreams, and I am no longer amused.