1. Favorite Book: The Goldfinch
When Goodreads emailed me my "Year in Review" last week I felt like a complete failure. I have finished exactly four books this year. I am deeply ashamed of myself but I'm placing the bulk of the blame on Donna Tartt's shoulders. How can a book be so whimsical and also so heartbreaking? So evocative? So tangible? It's a great feat of storytelling but it's also a sensitive meditation on life and death and the ways that we connect with the art that we love. How was anything else I started reading this year going to measure up to all of that?
2. Favorite Concert: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, DAR Constitution Hall
Ok, not gonna lie, this was actually the only concert I attended this year. But it was really, really great. Not as good as the one at the Ryman in 2013 (because acoustics) but still better than pretty much anything I've ever experienced. Nick Cave is phenomenal. A great singer, songwriter and performer. Even under less than perfect circumstances he never fails to impress.
3. Favorite Hike: The Old Stone House Ruins, GSMNP
I'd read accounts from fellow hikers about going "off trail" and finding these ruins. I was a little hesitant to stray from the designated path but it turned out to be much easier than I expected. And what a payoff! Astonishingly beautiful ruins situated in the heart of a rhododendron thicket. It doesn't get more storybook than that.
4. Favorite Internet Distraction: My Sad Cat
I love the way Tom Cox marries sadness and humor so perfectly. I fully believe in the absurd narrative, and the oddly appropriate personalities, that he's created for his felines. The Bear speaks to my soul.
5. Favorite Knoxville Moment: The TAMIS "Say it Loud" Screening at ETHC
If you were there for this amazing, one-of-a-kind screening last September you'll understand how powerful, indeed magical, that night was for Knoxville. If you weren't there I'm not sure I can adequately describe it. Just know that TAMIS is doing great work and making an effort to tell the complete story of Knoxville's history. And for that they should be celebrated.
6. Favorite Meal: Dyer's Burgers on Beale Street, Memphis
Burgers cooked in grease that's over a hundred years old. That either appeals to you or it doesn't. If you understand the language I'm speaking, by all means, get thee to Dyer's. You won't regret it.
7. Favorite Movie: Boyhood
Richard Linklater is one of my favorite directors and Boyhood is one of those movies that was hyped beyond belief, given the unique manner in which it was made, but managed, for me, to transcend its gimmick and become a truly powerful moviegoing experience. Like a lot of Linklater's best movies it's dialogue driven and nothing truly spectacular ever happens but it's all about the journey, man. Watching Ellar Coltrane's Mason grow from a boy to a young man (so seamlessly that you barely realize it's happening) on camera feels like a minor miracle of filmmaking. As the credits rolled I was flooded with emotions because it felt like, in a few brief hours, I had laughed, cried, grown and lived for years with Linklater's characters.
8. Favorite Museum Experience: Baltimore Museum of Art
They let you sit on the art! Enough said.
9. Favorite New Obsession: Perfume
I really, really love scent. I'm kind of obsessed with it. I think it's powerfully evocative and intoxicating and I have had such a good time investigating this phenomenon this year. Thank goodness there are places like Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, that create hundreds upon hundreds of intriguing scents, inspired primarily by movies, mythology, seasonal celebrations and literature, and offer them for very reasonable prices.
10. Favorite Performance, Female: Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
I adored the book when I read it. I thought the movie was the book's equal (it maybe even improved upon the source material) and Rosamund Pike was the Amazing Amy of my dreams. Cold, calculating, complicated and endlessly entertaining. She gave an intricate, complex performance that held my interest at every turn (and the infamous scene with Neil Patrick Harris cemented her reputation as one of the great modern-day femme fatales).
11. Favorite Performance, Male: Blake Berris, Days of Our Lives
Blake Berris proved, this last year, that soap operas can tell stories that are every bit as powerful, impactful and brilliant as any you'll see on the most celebrated prime time dramas. His Nick Fallon was maddening, pitiful, intelligent, heartbreaking and utterly fascinating. The fact that Berris delivered consistently great work on a daily basis for months on end speaks to both his work ethic and his tremendous talent. We need more fine, sensitive performers like Berris. He's marvelous.
12. Favorite Phenomenon: Serial
I was late to the Serial party but I finally got on board, played catch-up and went nuts for it like almost everybody else did. Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes unintentionally humorous but always fascinating.
13. Favorite Single Moment of the Year: When Blake Berris Walked Over, Sat Down and Talked to My Friend Gayle and Me During the Cocktail Party at the Atlanta Days of Our Lives Fan Event
Imagine your favorite fictional character of all time. The one you love above all others. The one you love as much as the real people in your life that you love. The one, if you're as self-centered as I am, that you love as much as you love yourself. Imagine the actor who portrayed that character walking over to you while you're sitting in a crowded hotel ballroom, teeming with hundreds of other fans, sitting down next to you and your friend and striking up a conversation. Imagine you're so starstruck, so intoxicated (literally and figuratively) that you can barely form sentences. And even though you may have behaved rudely, or been mildly inappropriate, your bad behavior is overlooked and met with patience, charm and kindness. This is why I will always adore Blake Berris. Even when I did the wrong things - like drink out of his cocktail or yell at him to get off of his cell phone - he just continued to be his gracious, generous, wonderful self. He is not only a fine actor but a fine human being.
14. Favorite Style Icon: Tilda Swinton in Only Lovers Left Alive
Tilda is always fabulous but in Jim Jarmusch's hip, melancholy vampire romance she's even more Tilda-rific than usual. Her hair, her clothes, her calm and cool but always empathetic and sensitive demeanor. She is a goddess. If I ever grow up I wanna be just like her.
15. Favorite Taxidermy: The Red Fox in the Shoe Department at Bass-Pro Shop
I love good taxidermy. I love foxes. This little one is so beautifully rendered that I was hard pressed not to tuck him under my coat and take him home with me when I saw him last week.
Biggest Loss: Philip Seymour Hoffman
This still hurts so much. I can't look at images of Hoffman or clips from his movies without tearing up. He was one of our finest actors and I imagine his absence will continue to be felt for years to come. I can take solace in the wonderful work that he's left behind but I'll always miss him.