Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Favorite Things of 2010

So here's the stuff I liked the most this year. I wanted a little more than a top-10 list -- I had 20 things on here at one point -- but I settled on 11, because 11 is my favorite number, beautiful and symmetrical. Also, of course, 11 is one louder.

You have your own favorite things of the year, right? Drop 'em in the comments.

11. Hungover Owls (Warning: foul language. Also: fowl language.)

It turns out that owls, when you take their picture in the daytime, all look like they're coming off a three-day bender in Vegas. The photos are spectacular. The captions are almost as good. It's one joke, but the joke never gets old.

(Honorable mention: Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things.)

10. "Toy Story 3"

How good is Pixar? This ranks fourth on my list of favorite Pixar movies -- behind "Wall-E," "The Incredibles" and "Up" -- but it probably also makes my list of the top 50 movies of all time. This kids' movie about a bunch of talking toys ends up really being about life, loss, sacrifice, and the pain and joy of growing up. You forget about the skill of the technology because you're so caught up in the story.

9. Super Bowl 44

We watched this year's Super Bowl with a couple of lifelong New Orleans Saints fans. Being a Saints fan has meant the occasional island of hope surrounded by swamps of misery. When you compare histories, Panthers fans have lived like kings compared to Saints fans. Not to mention that Katrina almost destroyed the Superdome and left fans wondering if the team would ever come back.

But last year the Saints had their best team ever, and they made to the Super Bowl for the first time, against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The Saints sprung an onside kick to start the second half, and led by a touchdown late, but the Colts got the ball and started driving. You could almost feel all that history rising up like a raw tide, waiting to drown the Saints one more time.

And then this happened.

I wish I could replicate the sound in our friend Greg's living room right at that moment, as he and his buddies all of a sudden realized that this time fate broke their way, and the freaking New Orleans Saints -- the Saints! -- were about to be world champions.

That sound still rolls around in my bones.

8. Richard Thompson / Loudon Wainwright III (Knight Theater, April 19)

Two of the best singer-songwriters on the planet, in a beautiful new theater with a top-shelf sound system. I saw some other fine shows this year -- Drive-By Truckers, John Hiatt, Marshall Crenshaw -- but this show reminded me why live music moves me more than any other art. And Thompson played "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," maybe the greatest story song of the last 30 years.

(I wrote a longer review of the show over on my personal site.)

7. "Next," James Hynes

I can't remember how I heard about this novel -- a review in Entertainment Weekly, maybe? -- but I picked it up and read it in two long nights. An academic type flies to Texas for a job interview, but becomes obsessed with the beautiful woman next to him on the plane. He follows her around Austin. He remembers old girlfriends. And while all this is happening, something else is happening, just at the edge of the frame.

I won't spoil it any more than that, except to say that once you figure out what's going on, and you ask yourself Is this what I think it is?, you're already hurtling toward the finish, and one of the best last lines you'll ever read.

6. "Oceans"

Nature films have to do one of two things: Tell a compelling story (as in "March of the Penguins"), or show me something I've never seen before. "Oceans" showed me so many things I'd never seen, it was like looking at the sea for the first time. We saw this on a weeknight, and there weren't 10 people in the whole theater, but you could hear all of us gasping, over and over, at the beauty and drama. The scene with the circling dolphins and dive-bombing birds alone is worth the DVD rental. See this with the family, on a hi-def TV, and prepare to be awed.

5. "The House That Built Me," Miranda Lambert
Country radio was better than any other radio this year, and this was the best song on country radio. (Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" is almost as good -- if Fleetwood Mac made a country album, this would be the first single, even though the melody cribs from the Alan Parsons Project.)

"House That Built Me" has got all the pieces: A beautiful lyric built around a play on words, a simple and powerful story, a singer who knows that sometimes pulling back is better. I can hang in there pretty well through most of it, but my bottom lip starts to quiver on the bridge:

You leave home, you move on / And you do the best you can / I got lost in this old world /And forgot who I am...

Sing it, Miranda.

4. "Lonely, stressed and frustrated: Inside the mind of the Pinellas monkey," Michael Kruse (St. Petersburg Times, May 16)

I did a post a couple of weeks ago listing my five favorite stories of the year, but I saved this one for this list, because it stuck with me in a different way. It's not the writing that moves me so much (although the writing is fine). It's the thought behind the writing, and the feeling behind the thought.

A young rhesus macaque monkey has been on the loose in the Tampa-St. Pete area for the better part of two years now. On one level, it's fun -- the monkey has a Web page, and apparently it's now running for mayor of Tampa. But Kruse gets to the universal truth of the monkey on the loose: He's lonely, and we're not meant to be lonely. That idea, and this story, is going to stay with me a long time.

3. The sports-bar videos on Landon Donovan's goal

All of us -- OK, nearly all of us -- fell in love with soccer a little this summer when Landon Donovan netted a last-minute goal to beat Algeria in the World Cup. Just as a sports moment, it was brilliant enough -- goalie Tim Howard's outlet pass, Donovan's shot off a rebound, the USA dogpile in the corner. If you like sports at all, you have to enjoy this.

But in some ways that wasn't the best part. Later that day and into the night, videos started popping up on YouTube of fans reacting to the goal in sports bars around the country. In most of the videos you can't see the TV; you just see the fans going wide-eyed as the USA races down the field, then the agony as the first shot misses, then the screams as Donovan's follow goes in. I posted some of the videos back then, and I'm sure there are plenty more by now. As a sports fan there's no better moment: Your team does something amazing and wonderful, and you're right in the middle of a bunch of people who feel the same way.

Go watch them all, really, but for now, here's Seattle:

2. "(Bleep) You," Cee-Lo Green (WARNING WARNING PROFANITY ALERT... I'll just link this one instead of embedding)

This is the first song in years that made me feel like when I was 12, and a GREAT new song came on the radio, and I would beg my mama to take me to J.M. Fields the next day so I could buy the 45 because even when the radio played it every hour, that wasn't enough. At one point early on the video hit 2 million views on YouTube, and I'm pretty sure that 1.8 million were just me and my friend Joe Posnanski.

You can knock the language, I guess (and there's a clean version if you can't get past the bad words). But this song is so funny, so sweet, so full of joy -- from the guitar lick to the background Ooo-ooo-ooos to that amazing high note Cee-Lo hits coming out of the bridge -- that every time I play it, it makes me laugh, and dance, and try to hit that high note. And when it's done I play it over again.

1. The last shot in Butler-Duke

Sports highlights tend to land in two categories: A brilliant success, or a miserable failure. What you don't see much, as highlights linger over the years, is the near-miss. But the near-miss is the most human thing in sports. All of us have so many moments when we try hard, give our best, but don't quite get there. Those moments stick in our personal highlight reels. Sometimes I think our lives play out based on our near-misses, and what we decided to make of them.

This was one of the best sports years I can remember, from the Super Bowl, to Landon Donovan's goal, to Zenyatta flying from the back of the pack, to the John Isner-Nicolas Mahut ultramarathon at Wimbledon. But the best moment for me was the last 3.6 seconds of the last game of the college basketball season.

Duke -- the best college program of the last 20 years -- played Butler in the final. Butler is a small school from Indianapolis that has beaten some good teams over the past few years, but never got close to a title. But this time they made it to the Final Four (which also happened to be in Indianapolis), then beat Michigan State to make the title game, then played Duke close all the way to the end.

With 3.6 seconds left, and Duke up one, Duke's Brian Zoubek made one free throw but deliberately missed the second, so Butler would have to eat up time to take a shot. Butler's star player, Gordon Heyward, grabbed the rebound. Four dribbles and three seconds later he was at halfcourt. And then he let the shot go.

You can see the CBS broadcast of the last two minutes -- the whole thing is great drama, but you can skip ahead to about 5:00 if you want to see those last few seconds. But somehow a fan video, even though it's blurry and shaky, is what touches me the most.

ESPN did a scientific study of the shot a few days after the game, calculating the angle of release and the speed of the ball, and if I remember right, three inches to the left and it would have gone in. Because of the two teams, and because of the moment, it clearly would've been the greatest shot in basketball history, and probably one of the all-time sports highlights.

Three inches away.

But I've noticed something. They're playing the highlight anyway. I've seen it at least two dozen times in this new basketball season, and when March Madness comes back around we'll see it a lot more. I think we're going to end up holding onto that 3.6 seconds for years and years, because what we saw there was the greatest near-miss in sports history.

Not all of us get to raise the trophy. But all of us have a time when we just missed. Those last few seconds of Butler-Duke were some of the most human moments of 2010. And when I'm too old to remember who won the Super Bowl this year, or what books I loved, I think I'm going to remember that last shot.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Worst list ever.


tommy tomlinson said...

Anon, OK then, let's hear yours...

Anonymous said...

Good stuff, Tommy! That was fun.

Anonymous said...

The first two comments are hilarious. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon 1:26 and you've got to be kidding me about the country music comment. Today's country music is garbage pop music. I don't have a list but one of the top of my head is the return of BC's Mark Herzlich after his battle with cancer. Or how about some of the world's billionaires deciding to give back half their fortunes. Rather than pick stuff that was revelant or insipirational, you picked this steaming pile. It is beyond on me how you get paid for this stuff.

Anonymous said...

young blondes are one of my favorite things too!

Anonymous said...

There are a few sports related videos that give me chills--the autistic kid who made all the three pointers two years ago is one of them. However, the scenes from bars after Donovan hits the goal ranks right up there.

Anonymous said...

Finally...a cute picture to showcase the front page. Who hasn't had enough of ultra-ugly step-monsters and now transgender breakup artists.

Thanks for one of my newly- adopted "favorites"!

Anonymous said...

There should be a list of the top 10 most idiotic commenters on the Charlotte Observer website. Or maybe top 1,000.

randomusings said...

To anonymous 2:14,
You paid him. You paid him when you clicked on the article and the ad popped up at the top of the page. You paid him when you clicked through to the article.

You need to comprehend what you read. The article was titled "My Favorite Things of 2010" meaning "Tommy Tomlinson's Favorite Things of 2010" Not YOUR favorite things, not Anonymous 1:26's favorite things. His.

Save your vitriol for yourself, we don't care to stew in it.

Anonymous said...

Who's the chick on the front page? That's the only reason I even clicked this link!

Anonymous said...

Not a bad list. would have been better if the shot went in, but it was a great game.

Had never heard the song till just now, but nice choice.

We do need a Top 10 There's Your Sign stories from the Charlotte Observer. Been quite the year for that!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed that. I am looking up Next now.
Oceans and Toy Story were just fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Would have been a better list if it were never printed at all.

Anonymous said...

the saints belong on all top lists for 2010!

Anonymous said...

Who gave Al Borland a blog?

Also to randomusings,

If you don't care to hear others criticisms of a journalist then the comments section of newspaper probably isn't for you chief. OH NOOO!!! There are people leaving disparaging comments on Tommy Tomlinson's blog...I better go save him!!!

Anonymous said...

12. "Tonya Jameson's absence from Charlotte.com"

Virginia said...

I really don't understand how people can criticize a person's individual Top 11 list. And this is a blog (look up the definition), not an investigative expose on lists. Tommy is entitled to his opinions, and the point is to expose readers to things they might have missed in 2010 -- things that Tommy liked. If you don't like those things, fine, but come on. Saying it's a crappy list is like telling someone their favorite flavor of ice cream is wrong.

Anonymous said...

Number 13 - the gulf oil spill

Drithe said...

You get paid for this? Wow.

Mark said...

Tommy...you got me thinking, here is my list:

11. Sitting around the wine table at Arthur's
10. Warren-Green joins CSO and moves to Charlotte
9. USC Gamecocks beat Alabama
8. Discovering the music of Quincy Porter
7. Seeing Toy Story 3 2X
6. Climbing Mount Mitchell on a rare clear day
5. Finished reading Being & Time by Martin Heidegger
4. USC Gamecocks win NCAA World Series
3. Granddaughter # 2 is born
2. Granddaughter # 1 is born
1. Youngest daughter is married

* first three happen in space of four months

tommy tomlinson said...

Wow, I go away for an hour to get a haircut and a scrap breaks out... good to see so many people in the holiday spirit :)

Anon 3:30 is right -- getting criticized is part of the gig, and only fair when I spend at least part of my job criticizing others. Having said that, thanks to my defenders for stepping out.

Here's my thought on criticism: If you're gonna do it, fine, but at least put some thought into it. "Worst list ever" makes you sound like Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons. Thanks to Anon 2:14 for at least offering some alternatives -- they didn't make my list, but they're worthy items, worth talking about.

By the way, our online guys get the credit for the giant Miranda Lambert photo... I'm surprised they didn't go for the sure hits of a giant Brian Zoubek photo :)

And FYI, after I filed I realized one glaring omission: the Chilean miners. That was an amazing couple of days, watching those guys surface.

Anonymous said...

Tommy, you seem like a nice enough bloke, if not a little dumb, but Christ man... live a little.

Looks like a list Mr. Rogers or Rick Steves would admit to.

Anonymous said...

Wow...James Hynes...Richard Thompson...Cee-Lo Green...I've been underestimating you, Mr. Tomlinson. Check out Hynes' "Kings of Infinite Space" for a disturbing mashup of Office Space and CHUD.

Eleemosynary said...

Dook sucks. And that song ain't that great.

Anonymous said...

I love the reason you selected a top 11 things. Because, after all, 11 is louder than 10. Props to Spinal Tap!

tommy tomlinson said...

Anons 3:30 and 4:09... I had to go to Google to find out who Al Borland and Rick Steves were. Clearly y'all travel in different circles than I do :)

Having said that, I'm damn proud to be compared to Mister Rogers. This profile of him is one of my favorite stories:


Anonymous said...

Mark, so your saying your daugther popped out twins and then got married? Classy ;)

Anonymous said...

Loudon Wainwright's High,Wide, and Handsome(The Charlie Poole Story) is undoubtedly one of the finest takes on the life and times of NC textile culture ever. The Grammy he received was long overdue. A great CD and history lesson.

Carol said...

Thanks for sharing your list, especially for the column on the monkey. I had missed that story and it's beautifully written and thought-provoking. Much like your columns, Tommy! Here's to more of the same in 2011.

Dr. Jimmy said...

Good stuff Tommy. Have a blessed holiday.

Lynne Stevenson said...

Sadly enough, I don't have a Favorite Thing List of 2010! The best part of all concerning 2010 is the fact that it is almost over. This past year has been filled with many losses, personal and professional. I just hope and pray that everyone has a Christmas and New Year holiday season filled with peace and new beginnings. In my experience, there has been so much death and loss especially during the last six months, that I wish for more births and celebrations in the New Year. I am thankful that I am still here and look forward anxiously to whatever the future holds.

Lisa said...

Tommy, just read "Next" based on your quick review. Wonderful book. Forgot about your comment about the last sentence of the book until I turned to the last page and read it. Now, that' a great read.

Happy New Year!

Penny Auction Bidding said...

Love Toy Story 3!!!