Archive for December, 2009

Unabated to the Quarterback, Week 16: Don’t quit, don’t even quit

“For where there is no battle there is no life.”

—F.W.J. Schelling

I had that quote all set up to use at halftime of the Giants-Panthers debacle (which we’ll get to later) before realizing that it would work even better for what transpired in that other New York football team’s game.

For many, the signature play of the Indianapolis Colts’ decade did not take place in their overwhelmingly forgettable Super Bowl XLI win over the Bears;* rather, it was in the 2004 Divisional Playoff game in New England, when Dominic Rhodes had the ball ripped out of his hands by Tedy Bruschi. “They don’t want it!” Bruschi yelled, pointing to the ball as he jogged to the sidelines.

*To substantiate my “overwhelmingly forgettable” claim: What was the score? Who really deserved MVP? What was the key play, and who made it?

That has long been the perception about the Indianapolis Colts: They don’t want it as much as New England or San Diego. On Sunday afternoon in Lucas Oil Stadium, Jim Caldwell proved all the doubters true. In pulling Peyton Manning and several of his starters from the second half of a tight game with the New York Jets, Caldwell—and it should be noted that the coach was simply acting under the orders of GM Bill Polian—took the coward’s way out.

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Aught Lang Syne: The Top Ten Movies of the Decade

Despite my general negativity about movies of the Aughts, there were still plenty of great films released this decade (although I think a Top Ten list of 90s movies would probably omit films that could be #1 on this list). I’ve already provided a list of the ten funniest films of the decade, and there were other great comedies that didn’t make the list. Today, though, we turn our attention to the dramatic category. As Josh has already declared, though, genre concerns can be distracting, so I will not be bound my technical genre classifications. Consider this a list of films I like for “dramatic” reasons: 

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Aught Lang Syne: A Bad Decade for Movies

Commercially speaking, the Aughts were an excellent decade for film. Even in poor economic conditions, box office records continued—and still continue as we speak—to be broken. Box Office Mojo’s list of highest grossing films is littered with movies from the Aughts. Much of this is due to inflation, of course, but even on an inflation-adjusted list of all films to pass $100 million in gross, 273 of 665 films—or 41%—come from this decade alone.

For those who make their living off of movies, then, there was plenty to be happy about in the Aughts. But for the audience, for those who like to watch daring and innovative films, the decade was surprisingly disappointing.

Of course, painting in such broad strokes is always a tricky game, particularly for something as ingrained and multi-faceted as film. Unlike television, cinema has been established as a medium for serious art since before I was even born, so the Aughts couldn’t really see a general creative leap of that sort. Unlike music, in which production costs are lower and output generally faster, film cannot experience the kind of rapid flourishing and integration of entire genres. Continue reading

Monday Medley

What we read while pondering Meyer and Manning’s respective “leaves of absence”:

  • Some argue that the premise behind this whole Aught Lang Syne feature–that the new decade begins in 2010–is misguided. They’re wrong.
  • A few Mondays ago, we linked to an interview with famed Russian translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. In case that didn’t slake your interviews of literary translators thirst, here’s The Mookse and the Gripes with Chris Andrews, who has done most of the translating of Roberto Bolano for New Directions Press (although NHP did not have the rights to The Savage Detectives or 2666, which Natasha Wimmer translated for Picador and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, respectively).

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and the Condensed Epic

In its review of fiction in the Aughts, New York Magazine implicitly compares The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao—the decade’s “signature novel”—to Infinite Jest—“the big buzzy signature meganovel of the nineties.” According to Sam Anderson, Junot Díaz’s 2007 novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize, represents the Aughts’ literary downsizing, from 1000-page epics like David Foster Wallace’s to 335-page condensed ones like Díaz’s.

Díaz certainly is a meticulous writer and editor: It took him 11 years to write Oscar Wao after his breakthrough 1996 short story collection, Drown. It can take that kind of time, however, when your ambition, like Díaz’s, is to relate the story not just of a single protagonist, but of his lineage and indeed, the culture that created it. In this way, Oscar Wao is a condensed epic: the tale of the de León family as a representative of the Dominican Republic during the Age of Trujillo. It’s a project that would take most writers twice as many pages and Wallace 10 times as many.

The first thing you notice when reading Díaz though is the smoothness of his prose. Liberally using Spanish words and expressions,* Díaz infuses his language with that Spanish quality of words flowing one into the next. There is an effortless fluidity to his prose: Continue reading

The Corrections and the Big Novel

In James Wood’s influential review, “Human, All Too Inhuman,” of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, he discussed what he calls “the littleness of the big novel.” His point, put somewhat crudely, was that as the ambition of novelists grows to include encompassing the entire geographical, political, and philosophical spectrum, works of fiction end up losing their humanity. As Smith herself said, “It is not the writer’s job to tell us how somebody felt about something; it’s to tell us how the world works.” As a result, Wood claims, the movement that he termed “hysterical realism” produces work that “knows a thousand things, but does not know a single human being.” 

About a year after Wood’s condemnation of contemporary fiction first appeared in The New Republic, The Corrections was published. Jonathan Franzen’s novel certainly does not lack the kind of ambition Wood talks about: The Corrections spans cities, countries, and continents, covers multiple generations, deals with financial disasters and Eastern European political instability, looks at modern academia and middle-class suburbia. In short, the book does seem to know a thousand things.

And yet Franzen’s story remains wholly grounded and deeply personal. At its heart, The Corrections is a story of a Midwestern family, the Lamberts. The Lambert patriarch, Alfred, is a stubborn, straight-laced, intelligent, and principled man who is suffering from early but unmistakable signs of senility as the novel begins. As Franzen puts it: Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: Top 5 “Other” Games

We’ve already been pretty extensive in breaking down the top 10 games of the decade in the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball, college basketball, and college football. But we haven’t yet addressed all those other wonderful sports out there that don’t quite provide us with enough memories for a whole top 10.

Our Top 5 “Other” Games considered events from sports such as golf, tennis, soccer, hockey, the Olympics, college baseball, volleyball, the WNBA, lacrosse, and even the Little League World Series. To trim it down to five, however, we had to cut a few memorable events, most notably Usain Bolt’s victory in the 100m dash at the Olympics (or his 9.58 a year later), Syracuse’s last-second comeback against Cornell in the 2009 Men’s Lacrosse Championship, Texas’ 25-inning 3-2 win over Boston College in last year’s College World Series, the Flyers’ five-overtime win over the Penguins in 2000, the Hurricanes’ buzzer-beater against the Devils in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, and two marathon tennis matches involving Andy Roddick–the first in his quarterfinal victory in the 2003 Australian Open over Younes El Aynaoui (4-6, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, 21-19), and the second in his 2009 Wimbledon final loss to Roger Federer (5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14).

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