By Rob Burgess
The run up to the holidays is always a mad dash, and this year was certainly no exception. However, the news generally slows to a trickle during this special time between Christmas and New Year’s Day, hence the preponderance of rehashed “best of” lists like this one. But before I launch into my own rundown of the best this year had to offer, I have a bit of business to take care of: Because this is also my final column before 2013 begins, I just wanted to pause and say thank you. I don’t take lightly the opportunity to present you with 650 to 750 words each Wednesday. I consider it a great honor. I hope you have as much fun reading my column as I do writing it. And now, on to the list:
Best Comedy Film: ‘Bernie’
Equal parts documentary and black comedy, “Bernie” is based on Skip Hollandsworth’s 1998 Texas Monthly true crime article “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas.” Director Richard Linklater (“Waking Life”, “A Scanner Darkly”) knows the quirky denizens of the Lone Star State about as well as anyone, and his loving touch is well displayed here. “Bernie” also showcases Jack Black (“School of Rock”) as titular character Bernie Tiede in his most memorable performance since his star-making turn in 2000’s “High Fidelity”. Fellow Linklater veteran Matthew McConaughey (“Dazed and Confused”) is also hilarious as over-zealous district attorney Danny Buck Davidson. All in all, “Bernie” made me laugh longer and harder than any other movie in recent memory.
Best new Documentary: ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’
Don’t watch this documentary on an empty stomach. The story of Jiro Ono’s daily toil to remain the best sushi chef in the world is delicious to watch. The artistry and elbow grease which comprises Ono’s creations is staggering. (Wait until you see how long they have to massage the octopus by hand.) What truly makes “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” a winner, though, is the film’s deeper exploration of the family dynamics at work in this Michelin three-star-rated restaurant. Ono is well into his 80s and shows no sign of stopping. His work is his life, for better or worse.
Best New (Musical) Artist: Alabama Shakes
I had heard the name Alabama Shakes here and there, but it wasn’t until Dec. 5 when I found out they were nominated for a Grammy Award in this very category that I finally took a listen. The Athens, Ala., group is definitely the real deal, especially lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard. Comparisons to Janis Joplin and Otis Redding aren’t overblown in the least. In fact, she might even be better. I’m sure I’ll be eating my words in five years when Howard is inevitably recruited as a judge on “American Idol” or “Hold On” is used in an anti-diarrheal commercial. But for right now, just enjoy the warm, golden glow of their debut album “Boys & Girls”.
Best Political Writer: Nate Silver
Silver’s New York Times-owned blog FiveThirtyEight was hands down the most essential reading of this election cycle. Every one of Silver’s electoral predictions came to pass Election Day. It wasn’t sorcery that allowed this foresight; it was math. All Silver did was average all available polling data and electoral votes in an easy-to-understand way. All other conjecture about who would win the election was put to rest by simple arithmetic. Go facts!
Best newly-discovered Novel: ‘The Great Gatsby’
I know this book didn’t come out this year. It was originally published in 1925. This year, though, I made a concerted effort to make it through some classics I hadn’t yet tackled. Plus, my wife, Ash, who had already read the book, wanted us to read it together before seeing the Baz Luhrmann film version set to come out next May. I knew that one of my favorite authors, Hunter S. Thompson, would type the entirety of the novel’s text on his typewriter just to glean the feeling of how writing that well would feel. Now I understand why. The prose is, obviously, excellent. And the last lines of the book, with its “boats against the current” ending, belongs in the hall of fame of the English language. It probably already does. I really should have read this book sooner.
Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.