Dilettante's Diary

Stand-outs of 2008

Home
Who Do I Think I Am?
Index: Movies
Index: Writing
Index: Theatre
Index: Music
Index: Exhibitions
Artists' Blogs
Index: TV, Radio and Misc
Restaurants
OCTOBER 5, 2017
Sept 21/17
Aug 3/17
June 16/17
Mar 21/17
Feb 26/17
Feb 9/17
Jan 30/17
Dec 19/16
Dec 11/16
Nov 20/16
Sept 17/2016
Aug 21/16
July 17/16
June 29/16
June 2/16
Apr 23/16
Feb 28/16
Feb 1/16
Jan 27/16
Winter Reading 2016
Dec 15/15
Nov 19/15
Fall Reading 2015
Oct 29/15
Sept 16/15
Sept 4/15
July 29, 2015
July 1, 2015
June 7/15
Summer Reading 2015
May 19/15
Apr 30/15
Apr 19/15
Spring Reading 2015
March 23/15
March 11/15
Winter Reading 2015
Feb 20/15
Feb 8/15
Jan 29/15
Jan 20/15
Highs 'N Lows of 2014
Dec 19/14
Dec 2/14
Nov 10/14
Oct 29/14
Fall Reading 2014
Sept 17/14
Summer Reading 2014
Aug 22/14
Aug 8/14
July 11/14
June 16/14
May 28/14
Apr 30/14
Apr 16/14
Apr 2/14
March 21, 2014
March 13/14
Feb 11/14
Sept 23/13
Favourite Works: 2004-2013
Two Novels by BARBARA PYM
Sabbath's Theater by PHILIP ROTH
July 18/13
Summer Reading 2013
June 19/13
May 30/13
Spring Reading 2013
May 10/13
Apr 18/13
Mar 29/13
March 14, 2013
The Artist Project 2013
Feb 25/13
Winter Reading 2013
Feb 7/13
Jan 22/13
Jan 12/13
A Toast to 2012
Dec 19/12
Dec 16/12
Dec 4/12
Fall Reading 2012
Nov 17/12
Nov 6/12
Art Toronto 2012
Oct 23/12
Oct 4/12
Sept 28/12
Summer Reading 2012
Aug 26/12
Aug 8/12
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2012
July 14/12
June 28/12
MIMC
May 27/12
May 20/12
May 4/12
La Traviata: Met's Live HD Version
Apr 21/12
Apr 6/12
Mar 22/12
Mar 9/12
The Artist Project 2012
Academy Awards Show 2012
Feb 26/12
Feb 11/12
Jan 23/12
Jan 15/12
Jan 7/12
Dec 20/11
Dec 12/11
Nov 27/11
Nov 18/11
Nov 7/11
Art Toronto 2011
Oct 22/11
Oct 17/11
Sept 30, 2011
Summer Reading 2011
Aug 11/11
July 28, 2011
July 19/11
TOAE 2011
June 25/11
June 20/11
June 2/11
May 14/11
Apr 29/11
Toronto Art Expo 2011
Apr 11/11
March 24/11
The Artist Project 2011
March 11/11
Feb 23/11
Feb 7/11
Jan 21/11
HIGHS 'N LOWS OF 2010
Jan 17/11
Dec 21/10
Dec 6/10
Nov 11/10
Fall Reading 2010
Oct 22/10
Summer Reading 2010
Aug 9/10
Aug 2/10
TOAE 2010
July 16/10
The Shack
June 27/10
June 3/10
May 5/10
April 17/10
Mar 28/10
Mar 17/10
The Artist Project 2010
Toronto Art Expo 2010
Feb 22/10
Feb 3/10
Notables of '09
Jan 11/10
Dec 31/09
Dec 17/09
How Fiction Works
Nov 24/09
Sex for Saints
Nov 11/09
Housekeeping
Oct 22/09
Oct 6/09
Sept 18/09
Aug 23/09
July 31/09
July 17/09
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2009
Toronto Fringe 2009
Zen Wrapped In Karma Dipped In Chocolate
June 28/09
June 6/09
Myriad Mysteries 2009
May 10/09
CBC Radio -- "The New Two"
April 14/09
March 24/09
Toronto Art Expo '09
March 1/09
The Jesus Sayings
Feb 8/09
Jan 26/09
Jan 10/09
Stand-outs of 2008
Dec 24/08
Dec 4/08
Nov 16/08
Oct 27/08
Oct 16/08
Sept 26/08
Sept 5/08
July 21/08
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 08
July 5/08
June 23/08
June 4/08
May 18/08
May 4/08
April 16/08
March 26/08
Head to Head
Feb 26/08
Feb 13/08
Jan 30/08
Jan 17/08
Notables of 2007
Dec 30/07
Dec 8/07
Nov 22/07
Oct 25/07
Oct 4/07
Sept 18/07
Aug 29/07
Aug 8/07
Summer Mysteries '07
July 20/07
June 28/07
June 8/07
May 21/07
May 2/07
April 14/07
March 23/07
Toronto Art Expo 2007
March 8/07
Feb 16/07
Feb 2/07
Jan 24/07
Notables of 2006
Dec 27/06
December 11/06
November 28/06
Nov 8/06
October 14/06
Sept 22/06
Ring Psycho (Wagner on CBC Radio)
Sept 6/06
August 12/06
July 18/06
June 27/06
June 9/06
May 23/06
Me In Manhattan
May 2/06
April 12/06
March 17/06
March 9/06
Feb 16/06
Feb 1/06
Jan 11/06
Dec 31/05
Dec 12/05
Nov 25/05
Nov 4/05
Oct 24/05
Sept 7/05
Sept 16/05
Sept 1/05
Aug 10/05
July 21/05
Me and the Jays
July 10/05
June 15/05
May 18/05
April 27/05
April 18/05
April 8/05
March 21/05
Feb 28/05
Feb 21/05
Feb 4/05
Jan 28/05
Jan 19/05
Jan 5/05
About Me
Dec 20/04
Dec 5/04
MOVIES
BOOKS
RE-READINGS
MYSTERIES/CRIME books
VIDEOS and DVDs
PLAYS
OTHER STUFF: Art Exhibitions, Concerts, etc.

Here at Dilettante’s Diary we don’t like to hand out spurious titles such as "Best" and "Worst". After all, when we’re talking about subjective responses to works of art, there are no such absolutes. So let’s say the following list is offered simply as a round-up of some memorable experiences in the various art forms that we talk about here. (Note: not all the works cited first appeared in 2008. The point is that they featured prominently in my artistic year.)

MOVIES

For sheer entertainment, for perfection in what it is, it’s gotta be Mamma Mia!(Dilettante’s Diary: July 26/08). We know that some people preferred the stage version but so what? If you can leave your high-brow artistic standards at home, you can’t resist this glorious package of fun.

Next up, for entertainment value, would have to be Slumdog Millionaire (DD: Dec 4). Some aspects of it struck me as implausible, but it’s a very well-constructed, slick movie.

For some discerning viewers The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Jan 30) was one of the outstanding movies of the year. While admiring the seriousness of the intent and the skill of the execution, I found it rather uncomfortable to watch. And yet, on re-reading my review, it turns out that the movie has left reverberations in my mind, enough so to make me want to watch it again.

Among smaller movies, one that unexpectedly made a strong impression on me was Lars and the Real Girl (Feb 13). The premise is weird but makes good points about the strange business of being human. Another little gem was And When Did You Last See Your Father? (June 23). In a beautifully under-stated way, it expresses some of the enigma of the father-son relationship. Boy A (Sept 5) presented a poignant portrait of a young man trying to adjust to the outside world after years in prison because of his involvement a childhood crime.

It seems we’re developing a fondness for goofball comedies here at Dilettante’s Diary. You might think some of them beneath our notice but, artistic pretensions be damned, we need a few laughs these days, don’t we? The following examples may not have earned our highest ratings but each of them offered special treats in the way of script, character and/or acting: Role Models (Nov 16), Step Brothers (Sept 5), You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (June 4) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (May 4).

In a category all its own was Kenny (March 26). An out-and-out hoax, it fooled me completely but the egg on my face doesn’t stop me from congratulating everybody involved on a job well done.

The most over-rated movie for me was There Will Be Blood (Jan 30). I couldn’t stand the striving for epic "This-Is-America" resonance. Not to mention the egregious over-acting that (not surprisingly) garnered an Academy Award.

My most exasperating time spent in a movie theatre this year came thanks to My Winnipeg (July 5). One tries to be open to artistic experimentation but for me this nonsensical, self-indulgent weirdness was excruciating.

In case you're wondering, we didn’t see everything this past year. (Nobody’s paying us to waste hours of our life in dark movie theatres, you know.) A couple of missed movies now on my list for DVD viewing are Tropic of Thunder and Tell No One.

 

BOOKS

The novel that rocked me this year was Roberto Bolao’s The Savage Detectives (June 4): wild, diffuse, unable to be restrained within the covers of a book, but just like life – hilarious, sad, imaginative, confusing, high-spirited and beautiful.

Another read that rates highly: What Is the What? by Dave Eggers (Oct 27). The genre is a bit ambiguous because it’s a novelized version of the supposed autobiography of a real person, written not by that person but by someone else. Never mind. It’s an important story of a young boy’s walk from war-torn Sudan to refugee camps in Ethoipia, then Kenya.

The non-fiction book that I enjoyed the most was unquestionably The Judgement of Paris by Ross King (Jan 30). An account of the decade that gave the world Impressionism, it’s a model of what this kind of book should be: a brilliantly clear and engaging explanation of how the artistic developments of the time inter-acted with political developments.

Brad Warner’s books Harcore Zen (Feb 26) and Sit Down and Shut Up (yet to be reviewed) need to be mentioned because they’re the ones that have most influenced my thinking this year. Mr. Warner has started me on a serious contemplation of Buddhism. So serious, in fact, that I’m still pondering the contents of the second volume, the long-promised review of which will appear on Dilettante’s Diary soon, I hope.

A non-fiction book that deserves mention because the reading of it belied its unprepossessing aspect is My Lobotomy by Howard Dully (June 23). With no self-pity, Mr. Dully tells the sad story of what happened to him as a boy. It makes you wonder about medical practice and parenting issues even in our own day.

In the "Who-ever-thought-they-could-make-a-book-about-this?" category, an award goes to Charlie Wilkins for In the Land of Long Fingernails (Nov 16). A memoir of the author’s summer as a teen working in a graveyard, it has much of the bittersweet charm of a coming-of-age novel.

Given that humour is the bread of life around here, we have to single out a few works in that category. It’s hard to choose which of David Sedaris’ books we liked best, but I’ll opt for Barrel Fever, his collection of short stories (May 18). Published in 1994, these pieces may not have the polish of some of his more recent work, but they’re unforgettable for the youthful, indiscreet expression of a defiantly outrageous gay sensibility.

Another book of humour that cannot be passed over without mention is I Am America (And So Can You!) authored by Stephen Colbert and various cohorts (July 21). Although it’s more a compendium of short riffs than a continuous read, the acrobatic display of so many types of humour, mostly notably the wicked satire, is amazing.

On the other hand, the book that I found most annoying – in fact so much so that I had to give up on it – was Being Shelley by Ann Wroe (June 23). This attempt to explore the poet’s life from "inside" produced nothing but an incoherent jumble for me, although I have to allow the worthiness of the artistic goal.

Armistead Maupin’s Michael Tolliver Lives (Sept 5) stands out as an example of what happens when a very successful author tries to spin out yet another take on his well-worn subject: an empty, superficial self-congratulatory ramble purporting to be a novel.

Another book that might be mentioned on the debit side is Graham Swift’s novel Tomorrow (March 26). Not that it’s a terrible book exactly, but it’s disappointing to see such an accomplished writer producing something so contrived, gimmicky and unsatisfying.

Seasons on Harris by David Yeadon (May 18) sticks in my mind for the odd fact that, although the writing bugged me enormously, I loved the material. In fact, my memory keeps re-visiting scenes that he described in this account of a year in the outer Hebrides.

 

PLAYS

We didn’t, alas, get to many plays this year. The stand-out was definitely the clever, funny and well-crafted The Faith Show! written by and starring Madeleine Donohue and Ben Clost, an entry in the Toronto Fringe Festival (July 5).

Since, however, we have a close familial connection to that one, we’ll have to choose something else as the most impressive piece of theatre, so I’m going with another Toronto Fringe Show – Hockey: The Musical! by Rick Wilson and Justin DeMarco (July 5). Some people may have found the story a bit corny – the outing of a gay hockey star – but I found the energy and polish of the production, especially the testosterone-fuelled singing, irresistible.

Since we have a soft spot for actors, and since we know people involved in many of the shows we saw, we won’t mention any disappointments or duds in that department this year.

 

MUSIC

We enjoyed several of the Met Live HD broadcasts in movie theatres, but the one that pleased us the most was Gaetano Donizetti’s La Fille du Rgiment starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez (April 16). Ms. Dessay’s singing is very good but her flippant, in-your-face comic acting is something you rarely get from a coloratura soprano. The singing of Senor Florez is phenomenal. On top of that, the ebullient spirit of the production and the witty up-dating to an early 20th century setting made for a great afternoon.

In a completely different vein, the Met’s HD Live Broadcast of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (March 26) marks the first time that I sat through a Wagner opera, with the somewhat unexpected result that I could begin to feel the fascination with the genre.

The musical event that came as a pleasant surprise this year was That Choir Remembers, a concert conducted by Craig Pike (Oct 27). "That Choir" consists of a bunch of actors who get together on Sunday nights to sing just for the fun of it, but they produce amazingly beautiful music. (Full disclosure: Again, we have a family connection!)

 

ART

In a way, this category is the easiest one in which to chose the year’s stand-outs. You may have been looking at an artist’s work for some five or ten minutes and yet, here you are several months later, with a vivid impression of it in your mind. Several artists I discovered this year had such an impact on me.

But first, some favourites from previous years that we were happy to see again. At the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition (Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2008) it was good to re-visit the marvellous encaustic abstracts of David Brown. As examples of the fine art of watercolour, Micheal Zarowsky’s dazzling landscapes are always a feast for the eyes. Tim Daniels’ pastels and oils never disappoint: with solid composition and expert technique in his landscapes and still lives, he achieves extraordinary beauty without falling into cloying sentimentality. And the exuberant creativity in the paintings of Thrush Holmes, some of them incorporating neon lights, always lifts my spirits.

I was excited to find in the TOAE the work of two artists in particular who were new to me. Scott Pattinson paints abstracts that manage to express tumultuous explosions of colour and shape without sacrificing an underlying sense of organic coherence. In the landscapes and city scenes by Cam Forbes, you get an endearing sense of the fleeting immediacy of the scene, a quality that’s often lacking in more studied, pretentious works these days.

Several artists also made a lasting impression on me in two competing shows, Toronto Art Expo and The Artist Project ("Head to Head" a page of its own). I always enjoy the bold, flamboyant still lives of Julia Gilmore. The minimalist black and white compositions of Burigude Zhang provide a moment of respite in the sometimes overwhelming visual stimulation of these shows. James Lane’s abstracts, although swirling with energy, have an elegant line that, to me, suggests an oriental influence. Natasha Barnes, produces abstracts that combine dynamism and control to great effect. Up close, Paul Ygartua’s huge paintings look like abstract jumbles but, from a distance, you discern objects bursting with life. I could spend hours delving into the brooding atmosphere of Dan Ryan’s murky landscapes. The meticulously-detailed cityscapes of David Holden have an erie effect of emptiness and bleakness. And I’m still haunted by the large, ominous portraits by Paul Robert Turner.

As usual, "Open Water", the annual show of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour included many magnificent works (Nov 16). I drooled over many of them but the one that drove me wild with envy was "Journey Home VI" by Keiko Tanabe. A view from the platform of a railway station, it combined, in a way unique to watercolour, dramatic structure and lighting, with airy distant effects, to convey a  vision of the city in a style that I've been trying to achieve for years!

A follow-up to our note about Canadian Sheryl Luxenburg’s winning of the gold medal in the American Watercolour Society’s show (April 16): Apparently the painting stirred up considerable controversy around issues of originality and legitimacy of the medium. According to a note posted on the AWS website in September, the painting has been withdrawn from the Society’s travelling show and from the website until the questions about it can be resolved.

 

TV, RADIO and MISCELLANEOUS

The big – indeed, cataclysmic – event in this department was the CBC’s drastic cutting back of classical music on Radio Two in September and the launching of the face-lifted "New Two". This transmogrification of Radio Two radically affected the lives of many of us. I have been giving the new regime a few months to settle in before committing thoughts about it to Dilettante’s Diary. Watch for a review of the "New Two" soon.

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com