As 2009 winds down, it's only natural for people to look back on the year that was. In a lot of ways, pop culture wise, I think 2009 will be remembered as a bad year. Not because of the quality of the music, movies, video games, etc, but rather because of all of the tremendous loss. We said goodbye to icons like Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and John Hughes, people that not only were part of pop culture, but literally shaped and defined it. But I'd rather remember the good stuff from this year, so without further adieu, here's my list of "Best of '09."
Best Album In a year where U2 releases a new record, it's usually a safe bet that I will select that as my album of the year, and their effort, No Line on the Horizon, didn't disappoint. (It was actually just selected by Rolling Stone as their record of the year.) But a band that was barely on my radar before this year snuck up on me and snatched the title away from Bono and the boys. I first discovered Phoenix when their track 'If I Ever Feel Better' appeared in an episode of Entourage so I was intrigued when my co-worker Johnny Hockin had a link to the new Phoenix single on his blog. That track was '1901,' which quickly became one of my most played songs on iTunes and set me up for their excellent album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The band masterfully blend pop hooks, guitar rock and glorious synthesizers for an electronic 80's pop sound that I'm so pleased to see making a comeback. With apologies to U2, this year belonged to Phoenix.
Best Movie Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are was my most anticipated film of the year and it did not disappoint. (My initial thoughts can be found here) Many people questioned how a movie could be drawn from that source material (there are only nine lines in the original book) but Jonze made a movie that's more about childhood and the magical things we leave behind as we grow up then it is about the Wild Things. However, that being said, it was a flick I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival that really struck me and earns the title of movie of the year. Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, (original thoughts here) which tells an incredibly (almost eerily) timely story of a corporate bag man that travels from city to city laying people off while living an increasingly disconnected life before he meets a woman who makes him reconsider his path. The film is anchored by fantastic performance from George Clooney, Vera Farmigia and Anna Kendrick. I absolutely loved this movie and highly recommend it.
Best Video Game This was a great year for video games with titles like Batman: Arkham Asylum, inFamous and NHL 10 providing me with hours and hours of gameplay, but one title stood above all of them. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was a game I was eagerly anticipating literally since the moment I completed the previous installment and the game delivered on every front. Several months ago, I was fortunate enough to travel to LA to check out the game in progress, and I also got a chance to play the Beta before the game was released thanks to my buddy at Sony PlayStation (thanks Kyle!) but nothing prepared me for how good this game was when I finally got my hands on it. Here's a bold statement: this isn't just the best video game of '09... it's the best video game ever. (My original post on the game can be found here)
Best Concert I got a chance to see Phoenix live twice this year. Once was a truly epic concert in Toronto at the appropriately named Phoenix Concert Hall and the second show was in New York at an MTV Video Awards pre-party. Both were fantastic (especially the Toronto show) but the U2 360 tour, which touched down in Toronto in September was literally unlike anything I'd ever seen before in my life. I actually saw Bono and The Edge perform the night before the concert at a taping of the Elvis Costello show Spectacle which was an incredible musical experience (thoughts here) but the full show - and the incredible stage they performed on and the jaw-dropping production values of the tour - left me literally in awe. I've seen U2 live fifteen times and I was amazed that at this stage in their career they are still able to deliver a show that knocks you on your ass like this one did. The band are returning to Toronto next September. I'll be there.