Now that I write sports for a living — it still feels weird to say that — I’ve talked a lot about my favorite sports moments of the year. I’ve already written about the stadium shaking in Gainesville and the moments right after the Alabama-LSU game and Johnny Football beating Alabama. So I left sports off this list. The one common thread among all these things is, they moved me — made me laugh or cry or think or sing along. Sometimes all at once.
It wasn’t until weeks after we saw this movie that I understood what I liked most about it. I grew up on those great ’70s detective shows — “Mannix,” “Barnaby Jones,” and of course “Rockford Files.” “Argo” is set in 1980, and that look is what got me — the washed-out lighting, all those wide lapels and shaggy haircuts. There are lots of other things to love about the movie. It’s a thriller, but (almost) all the violence is offscreen — the tense moments center around ordinary things, like whether someone will pick up the phone at a crucial moment. It’s like an Hitchcock movie in that way. It’s never wrong to put Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston in a movie. Ben Affleck is just right for his role. It’s all based on a true story. But what I’ll remember is the way the film looks. “Argo” is basically the best “Mannix” ever made, and that’s a big compliment.
9. LCD Soundsystem + Miles Davis
So many people make so many mashups these days that just about every song has mated with every other somewhere on YouTube. But after seeing this, by Alessandro Greenspan, I never want to hear “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” in any other way. And I never want it lip-synced by anyone other than Kermit the Frog.
8. “Call Me Maybe”
For that keyboard riff in the chorus. For the twist at the end of the video. But mostly for that one line in the bridge:
Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad
That’s a line for anyone who’s been in love with the perfect idea of someone who just hasn’t come around yet. That’s a great pop lyric.
7. “Somebody that I Used To Know” (Walk Off the Earth cover)
Somehow I saw this before I heard Gotye’s original. I still like this version better. I’d pay to see a band play a whole set this way. “And now, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody…'”
6. “Steal Like an Artist“
At the beginning of the year I gathered a bunch of books on one shelf with the intention of reading them all in 2012. I ended up reading five of the 25, which is right at the Mendoza Line. What happened this year is the same thing that happens every year — I’d walk through a bookstore and new books would just stick to me, like I was made of Velcro. Austin Kleon’s book stuck early on, and it’s the one book I’ve kept nearby all year. This book is for all of us who fear that whatever creative work we’re doing is just theft from those who came before. The truth: it IS theft, and great artists have stolen from one another throughout the centuries — expressing old ideas in new ways is exactly how art gets made. This book will free your creative soul.
5. “Parks and Recreation“
Full disclosure: I’m praising the work of friends here. Chris, from Esquire and ESPN the Magazine, is the best longform journalist in North America (I have to say it that way because he’s Canadian). “Animals” is the story of his that got the most attention this year — it’s about the men who had to hunt down the animals that escaped from a private zoo in Zanesville, Ohio. I know of at least three other big magazine pieces on the same story, but no one understood it the way Chris did, and no one else put the reader so deep inside it. There’s one paragraph, about a bear and a hunter and a camera that measures body heat, that breaks my heart every time I read it.
Having said all that, I enjoyed “The Honor System” even more. It starts off as the story of a stolen magic trick — a European magician has ripped off a trick made famous by Teller, the silent half of Penn and Teller. (In this story, Teller speaks.) But soon the story rounds a sharp bend, and then another, and by the end it’s not clear if the trick is on Teller, Chris, the reader, or some combination of the three. I’ve emailed Chris about the story and I’m still not sure. But I am sure it’s an amazing feat of storytelling.
I’ve also, improbably, become friends with Michael Schur — former writer for “The Office” and “Saturday Night Live,” co-creator of Fire Joe Morgan, frequent Poscast guest, and, occasionally, Mose Schrute. Mike is now executive producer of “Parks and Recreation,” which tops all those other things (even Mose). “Parks and Rec” is something rare and remarkable — a comedy about nice people who like each other and care about the world around them. So many comedies center on jerks, or stupid people, or conflicts that would never happen in real life. That’s easy money. What’s hard is making a show that tilts the mirror just a little sideways, but is still cramp-in-the-side funny and earns its occasional moments of drama. I’m not sure “Parks and Rec” will ever be ranked with “Cheers” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” But it’s working the same ground. And it’s creating something beautiful.
Of all the music I never got to see live, I miss those great Memphis soul acts — Otis Redding, Sam and Dave — the most. Brittany Howard and the guys come as close as I’ve heard, and Brittany throws in a little Janis Joplin just to show off. “You Ain’t Alone” is the one that hooked me — if you don’t love this live version, me and you can’t be friends.
But the track I keep coming back to is their cover of Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times.” Please, y’all, come play in Charlotte. Or anywhere near. I’ll drive.
In many ways, the opposite of “Parks and Rec” — last season featured an Oxy-gulping villain, the murder of a thug named Devil, and a pig-butchering knife put to brutal use in the finale. But “Justified” also has dry, dark humor — it has to, it’s based on books by Elmore Leonard. And the characters are so deep and rich and well-acted that you’d watch just to listen to them talk to one another. Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens and Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder are fantastic, and Dickie Bennett’s hair — played by Jeremy Davies’ hair — should get a special Emmy every year. The new season starts Jan. 8, the day after the college football season ends. Somebody up there likes me.
OK, this is sports — but it’s also Bill Murray, and Bill Murray crosses all boundaries. Here’s the setup: Murray is co-owner of the Charleston RiverDogs, a minor-league baseball team in the South Atlantic League — or as most fans call it, the Sally League. The Sally League inducted Murray into its Hall of Fame this year, because when you can put Bill Murray in your Hall of Fame, that’s what you do.
So Bill Murray gets up to give his induction speech. He’s wearing a ridiculous outfit and he starts cracking jokes in exactly the way you would expect. But then he tells a story about the first time he saw Wrigley Field. And then he talks about the best corn dog he ever had. And then he gives the players advice that just happens to sum up his own life and career in one perfect Zen sentence: If you can stay light and stay loose and stay relaxed, you can play at the very highest level, as a baseball player or as a human being.
May we all love something in our lives as much as Bill Murray loves baseball, and may we all find our own ways to express that love. Happy New Year, everyone.
Honorable mentions: Justin Heckert on the girl who can feel no pain. Michael Kruse’s TED talk. Bill Simmons and Jonathan Hock on Alfred Slote. Tig Notaro’s set. The LA Times’ space-shuttle timelapse. Seinfeld’s coffee with Michael Richards.
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