Posts Tagged ‘Aught Lang Syne’

Aught Lang Syne: The Sporting Decade

The defining sports game of this decade occurred at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 3, 2008. That night, in a game that moved about as quickly as the clock in Tecmo Super Bowl, the New York Giants upset the unbeaten New England Patriots, 17-14, to win Super Bowl XLII.

It is debatable whether Super Bowl XLII is the single best game across sports in the Aughts; however, it is almost certainly the game that crystallizes the two competing movements in sports this decade: the quest for historical transcendence and the ascension of the postseason underdog.

Sports are too broad and diverse a subject to write a coherent essay that addresses what happened in the Aughts. Too much happened to be melded into a sustainable theme or argument. And although for many the story of the Aughts is what occurred off the field—be it scandals surrounding performance-enhancing drugs, referees, or personal conduct—to me, the defining narrative of sports in the Aughts is of those two competitors in Super Bowl XLII: the unbeaten Patriots and the pedestrian Giants.

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Aught Lang Syne: The Ten Funniest Episodes of Television

Our look last week at the decade in television focused mainly on dramas. But the creative advancements in the medium were not limited to that genre; it’s only more obvious there. The Aughts have been a great decade for comedies as well, seeing such brilliant shows as Arrested Development, The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and many others. There are plenty of reasons why comedies have been so good during the Aughts, and we touched on some already, but the same principles that applied to dramas are at work here: The people making TV realized that there is an audience that actually likes shows that are unconventional, smart, and formally innovative. We’ve seen shows embrace the documentary structure (The Office, Modern Family, etc.), plentiful flashbacks (How I Met Your Mother), third-party narration (Arrested Development), and political satire (South Park). A slew of new comedies from 2009—Community, Parks and Recreation, Modern Family—bode well for the continued success of the sitcom.

Comparing comedies, though, is a little trickier than comparing dramas, since they don’t generally tell one consistent story. Even seasons often contain no “narrative arc,” and, if they do, it often has little to do with the actual comedy. As a result, comedies are much more susceptible to uneven seasons and bad stretches than dramas. Instead, we’re going to compare episodes. And unlike previous lists, we’re going to put a strict cap, of one, on the number of times a single show can appear on the list. Other than that, though, the parameters are pretty loose: Of any show, no matter how long it lasted or where it aired or on which network, these are the Aughts’ ten funniest episodes of TV: Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Ten Funniest Movies of the Decade

Yesterday we gave you the definitive list of the funniest comedians of the decade. Today, NPI continues its look at the comedy of the Aughts by looking at the ten funniest films of the decade. Evaluating comedies can be tricky. Is the sheer number of laughs more important than the overall quality of the movie? This list aims to balance those concerns: It is a list of the funniest films, and not the best comedies, but at the same time, the best comedy often comes out of a good story. So what is the funniest film of the Aughts? Well, here’s the list:

10. Meet the Parents (2000)

Time has been a little unkind to Meet the Parents. An unfortunate sequel, the overexposure of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, and a rather disappointing decade from Robert De Niro all conspired to reflect poorly on this film. These considerations, however, are generally unfair; they ignore the fact that Meet the Parents was one of the Aughts’ first great comedies and that Stiller was one of the best comic actors of the first part of the decade. Meet the Parents showcased his ability to play the understated, slightly belligerent everyman that he would later tone down to a bland, traditional romantic comedy lead. This, combined with De Niro’s excellent and persistent deadpan, led to some truly great comic scenes, like the discussion of “Puff the Magic Dragon” in the car and the lie-detector scene. Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Funniest Comedians of the Decade

Comedy is a broad subject. It’s not confined to any one medium, genre, style, or format. It’s hard to define and almost impossible to quantify. But here at NPI, we take comedy very seriously. The comedy of the Aughts in particular will always have an important role in shaping our senses of humor. So today we present a list, in no particular order, of people who helped to truly shape the comedy of the decade. This is not a list of people who were funny once or twice, but people with a body of work that is both rich and impressive. This means that a lot of people had to be cut. Great stand-up comics (Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari), some hilarious supporting comic actors (Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman), and even some groundbreaking comic teams (Flight of the Conchords, Stella), couldn’t make the list. And that’s because the following individuals/groups reached a level of success, both in terms of popularity and quality, that helped define the comedy of the decade.

The cast of Arrested Development

Arrested Development has the funniest ensemble cast in the history of comedic television, and it’s way ahead of whatever’s at #2. Tim has already extolled the virtues of Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth, but the fact is that the main character is about the sixth-funniest cast member on the show. Michael Cera gave a breakout performance for three years as George Michael, completely selling every awkward quirk of the character, including (and especially) his love for his cousin. David Cross played Tobias’ obliviousness and physical awkwardness to perfection, conveying every sexual inadequacy and illicit implication (“She said ‘single,’ right?”). Will Arnett made a magician named Gob come off as arrogant, creepy, and sympathetic. Portia Di Rossi played Lindsay’s self-righteousness and laziness as mutually coexisting. Jeffrey Tambor, as the family patriarch, managed to make the character so memorable that they had to keep him as a regular, even though he was supposed to remain a guest after the pilot. Tony Hale’s Buster, Jessica Walter’s Lucille, and Alia Shawkat’s Maeby, rounded out the cast, ensuring the show didn’t have a single weakness. Even guest stars, like Henry Winkler, Ed Begley, Jr., and John Michael Higgins, manage to turn their characters into memorable comic stars.

Most important, though, was the way the cast interacted. Plenty, if not all, great comedies have breakout characters and star performers, but few entire casts have had the chemistry that this cast had. Exchanges between Michael and his son, for example, are so great not just because of the dialogue and each character’s eccentricities, but because of the interplay between the two characters. Their ability to talk over each other, fill in each other’s awkward gaps, and respond nonverbally to the other’s lines are as funny as anything in the script. Continue reading

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and the Modern Memoir

“Everything that happens to us leaves traces, everything contributes imperceptibly to our development.”

—Goethe

There’s a hardcover edition of Dave Eggers’ first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, in which the text of the story actually starts on the book’s cover. There is no title page or copyright or About the Author; the story comprises the entire book, literally cover to cover.

I point this out because A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius does the same thing, albeit less obviously. Eggers’ memoir also starts on the front cover, what with its over-the-top title and  overtly pretentious cover art (by Komar and Melamid). In other words, if I’m judging this book by its cover, I’m guessing it’s written by Eckhart Tolle.

Once inside, the book includes a page that simply says “This was uncalled for” before a copyright page that includes a “sexual orientation scale,”* a “Rules and Suggestions for Enjoying this Book,” a preface, and an acknowledgements section that runs 25 pages, outlines his main themes, and concludes with a drawing of a stapler.

*With one being perfectly straight and 10 perfectly gay, Eggers gives himself a three.

One of those Eggers-elucidated main themes is “The Painfully, Endlessly Self-Conscious Book Aspect” which he immediately concedes is “probably obvious enough already.” This theme itself is broken into a second part: “The Knowingness about the Book’s Self-Conscious Aspect.”

Now, when you’re reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and you get to this part, where you haven’t even started the “text” yet, you have an important decision to make. If you scoff and find Eggers’ theatricality a bit smarmy and think “Enough already” or “Get on with it,” then you should probably stop there. He has alienated you, and you will not like him. But if, like me, this is essentially what you yourself would like to write one day (although now noting that your acknowledgements page will have to pay debt to Eggers’, adding another layer of self-consciousness), A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius might just live up to its title. Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Decade in Nonfiction, Part I

Last week, NPI gave an overview of fiction (in two parts!) of the Aughts. Yesterday, Josh pointed out the popular economics trend in this decade’s nonfiction. Today, Josh and John are going over (in two parts!) what they believe are the biggest nonfiction books of the Aughts.

America: The Book – Jon Stewart and The Daily Show writers

I bought this book for a good friend at a surprise birthday party in high school, as did another friend of mine unbeknownst to me. My copy was not kept since I didn’t write a note inside mine. I considered frowning. But, this situation nonetheless demonstrated the book’s appeal.  America: The Book is funny and representative of the politically satirical form of comedy that Stewart engendered in the Aughts through The Daily Show. The book is filled with little tidbits like: “Were you Aware? Cloture is something all Senators seek when a piece of beloved legislation dies.” There are also asides written by Stephen Colbert and Ed Helms. But, America: The Book is insightful as well as humorous; if a scholar in a future decade wanted to understand the American political climate in the early 2000s, this is one book he should examine, particularly the chapter on The Future of Democracy.

–Josh

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It - Paul Collier

In this book, development economist (and a former lecturer of mine) Paul Collier looks at the most impoverished countries in the world (home to about one billion individuals) and asks why they are experiencing so little growth. Explanations seem to occur in fours in the Aughts; there are four development traps that each of these countries typically suffer from: the conflict trap, the natural resource trap, landlocked with bad neighbors, and bad governance, particularly in small countries. While many of Collier’s suggestions are difficult to implement, the most promising is that trade policy needs to lower trade barriers for the Bottom Billion, giving preferential access to their exports. Another important highlight of this book is his attack on the misguided policies of NGOs and other charitable organizations. Ultimately, Collier popularized and integrated his important and informative empirical studies into one of the Aughts’ best development nonfiction books of the decade.

–Josh

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Aught Lang Syne: The Golden Age of Television

Probably the best illustration of television’s place in the culture at the beginning of this decade are the routes taken by its most prominent auteurs to the field.

David Chase, the creator, head writer, and executive producer of The Sopranos, settled for a career in television when he was unable to break into film; when Fox didn’t pick up the pilot, Chase planned to re-edit it and release the first episode as a film. Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing, was a screenwriter for plays and films; The West Wing was actually developed from unused plot elements from his script for 1995’s The American President. Joss Whedon, creator of cult hits Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and others, originally wrote Buffy as a film. Friday Night Lights, of course, was developed loosely from the film—and book—of the same name.

And, of course, David Simon and Ed Burns, the creative duo behind The Wire (as well as The Corner, Homicide, and Generation Kill) came directly from the subject matter they would be writing on: Simon as a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun and Burns as a homicide detective, and later a school teacher, in Baltimore.

In short, good TV was something that seemed to happen by accident. Accidentally or not, though, the television produced during the Aughts was better than anything that came before it. Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Decade in Literature, Part I

In addition to our Aught-themed Sunday Book Review, which we began last week, NPI is presenting a more general look at fiction of the decade in which we look quickly and some of the most significant works of literature published during this decade. This is Part I of a two-part series.

2666 — Roberto Bolaño

 The epic of the Aughts (so long as we’re not counting The Wire), 2666 affords Bolaño the posthumous chance to opine on death in all its forms: from the corporeal to the metaphysical. His characters are deep even when they are fleeting, and his style (in Natasha Wimmer’s translation) ranges from florid to hard-boiled. In contemplating his own legacy, Bolaño pretty much ensured it. 

–Tim

 

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon

I’ve already expanded on my high opinion of Michael Chabon’s novel about the Golden Age of Comic Books; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay presents a compelling portrait of what it’s like to create fantasies in an era of global turmoil—a particularly resonant story of the Aughts, even if Chabon’s novel came out in 2000. While he deals with themes like evil and fantasy, however, Chabon is adept at depicting a rich setting of New York City in the 1930s.

– John S

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Aught Lang Syne: The Worst of the Decade

Now, the raison d’etre for NPI’s look back at the last decade is to emphasize the cultural highs that the Aughts offered to those who lived through them. We are not here to condemn, and call the Aughts “the decade from Hell.” And so far we’ve stuck primarily to things from this decade that were truly awesome.

But, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the evil that decades do lives after them; the good is oft interred within their bones. This decade wasn’t all fun and games, and I’m not even talking about historical disasters, like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Mumbai, the tsunami, and the economic meltdown. No, this post is reserved for things that are truly detestable: bad songs, bad movies, and bad TV shows.

It seems pointless to waste words criticizing Cavemen, Gigli, and Paris Hilton’s 2006 album Paris—those horses have long since been dead and buried. Instead, this post will be about things that received inexplicable attention, unjustified praise, and undeserved popularity.

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Aught Lang Syne: 25 Best Songs of the Decade

So you thought we were done discussing the music of the decade? Well, think again. We didn’t get to what is arguably the most important list of all: The Best Songs of the Decade. When Tim introduced Aught Lang Syne last week, he discussed how certain cultural events will always be linked to events in our lives. Songs may be the best example of this phenomenon. Unlike albums or even music videos, which are generally experienced individually, we tend to listen to songs in groups: They’re on the playlists at the parties we go to; they’re in the background of the bars we drink in and the restaurants we eat at; they’re the songs we dance to when we go to clubs; they’re on the radio when we take road trips. In short, they are the soundtrack of our memory. These are the songs that we will inevitably remember when we think of the Aughts.

Of course, out cultural memory does not always have the best taste: It will probably be impossible to remember the Aughts and not think of the Black Eyed Peas, but God knows I’ll try. What follows, then, is not an attempt to capture the most popular, memorable, or iconic songs of the decade; it is merely a list of the 25 Best Songs. Nevertheless, it is often difficult–and generally undesirable–to dissociate a song from the positive memories of the context in which you heard it. So even without actively trying to incorporate these qualities, the Best Songs of the Decade will inevitably include some of the Most Popular, Most Memorable and Most Iconic.

Anyway, on with the list: Continue reading

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