Quite a lot happened in 2011, but SSA is a culture blog, so I’ve prostrated myself before the gods of the blogosphere and fulfilled their wishes by deciding to do a list-post: the best of the past year in film, books, music, and a few other related phenomena. So, here we go!
Drive: I loved this film in every way imaginable. It was like a beautifully constructed homage to a world that never was. Forget the performances and the tension and the slow-burn, this movie is all about a Los Angeles of Refn’s own making.
Moneyball: I love baseball, and I love statistics, and this movie married the phenomenon of sabermetrics with an old-school feel-good narrative with pure delight. It could’ve used a little more math, but still…
13 Assassins: The first half of this film is pure Kurosawa samurai-lore: gather up a bunch of misbegotten ex-warriors and take down a fascist pig. The latter half? Oh my god, just mayhem. You have to see it to believe it.
Attack the Block: The absolute polar opposite of Cowboys and Aliens, Attack the Block focuses on a group of London teenagers protecting their neighborhood from an alien invasion. The narrative presents itself in the form of the Exodus, and represents everything that I love about B-films.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Yeah, it’s a big budget flick, but the fact that I sat in a theater with a bunch of regular Joes rooting in unison for a Marxist uprising against humanity makes this movie awesome.
After the Postsecular and the Postmodern: This anthology edited by Anthony Paul Smith and Daniel Whistler, if there is any justice, will be considered the quilting point of future academic success for those interested in continental philosophy of religion. The aforementioned author’s editorial introduction is a fine work all on its own.
Debt: the First 5,000 Years: Graeber’s genealogy of debt is a really fascinating work. The overturning of the perceived origin of money in the thought of early capitalism is more important than can be stated. A truly seminal work.
Hegel and the Infinite: From the awesome Insurrections series, this anthology on contemporary Hegel studies features some duds, but the essays by Adrian Johnston and Bruno Bosteels are very illuminating.
The Kingdom and the Glory: I just got this for Christmas, so I haven’t finished it yet, but I think I’m finally coming around to Agamben. I can’t wait to relate the stuff on the economic/immanent divide to Barth.
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind: Okay, so this is cheating a little since this book came out 30-something years ago, but I read it for the first time this year and it has absolutely changed my view of consciousness studies. Jaynes theory of the breakdown of the bicameral mind affects every layer of philosophy and psychology, and I hope to spend much of the next year figuring out exactly how this plays into my thinking.
Tom Waits – Bad as Me: Another Tom Waits album, another killer set of tunes. Think early 90s Bone Machine-era Waits, but with a lot more guitar (and funky guitar, at that) upfront in the mix. Highlight: “Hell Broke Luce”
Mastodon – The Hunter: Not their best album, but they are the best metal band in the world, so they deserve a place. Seeing them live for the first time this year was a bewildering experience. Highlight: “Dry Bone Valley” (where drummer Brann Dailor takes the mic well)
Battles – Gloss Drop: The future, the shape of rock to come.
Wild Flag – Self-titled: I was a huge Sleater-Kinney fan, so the idea of this band had me excited. Luckily, they broke the curse of all-star groups and produced a really well-conceived album. Highlight: “Future Crimes”
Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts: Sonic Youth is my favorite band of all-time, so its natural that Moore’s solo work would appeal to me. His meandering atonalism is what made me want to play guitar in the first place, and his acoustic transition has only improved his songwriting. Highlight: “Blood Never Lies”
J Mascis – Several Shades of Why: My other favorite guitarist in the whole world also made a transition to the acoustic guitar, and while his blistering solos with Dinosaur Jr are what make my blood boil (seeing them live for the first time this year was the highlight of my year), his songwriting is an underrated part of his arsenal. Highlight: “Several Shades of Why”
(Note: I have yet to dig into the new-ish albums by The Roots, Bjork, or TV on the Radio, otherwise they may have made the list).
Breaking Bad: This season of BB was amazing. From beginning to end, the ultimate tragedy of Walt’s downfall was obvious, but watching it happen, piece by piece, along with arguably the greatest villain in television history in Gus, was an absolute treat. This might be the most chilling scene I’ve ever seen:
Misfits: The British show about ASBO superheroes deals with the dynamics of adolescence in a way that no other show can. See the episode where Curtis becomes a woman to see what I mean. Also, it’s hilarious.
Sons of Anarchy: the first half of the fourth season seemed a bit directionless, moving from biker-gang-spat to unexplained-internal-racial-tension without apparent motive, but the latter half got back to the Shakespearean familial dynamics and biblical violence that it does best.
Game of Thrones: It took me about six episodes to figure out each character’s name and place in the story, but once I did everything started rolling. Plus, the cliffhanger included dragons: ’nuff said.
Jeremy Ridenour on The Incarnation as God’s Leap of Faith
Gary Williams on The Myth of the Jaynesians
Dan on Occupy Corinth
Corey Robin on Fear, American Style
Necessary Agitation on Why Communists Need Moon Bases
Adam Kotsko on being Traumatized by Religion
Technically this isn’t a blog post, but it might be the best comic I’ve ever seen, so it deserves its own place of honor.