We reviewed 60 movies (including DVDs) this past year but none of them received the coveted "A" rating (i.e. "Absolutely
fabulous"). However, 36 movies (i.e. more than 50 percent) received a rating of C minus or higher (where C = "Certainly
worth seeing"). That seems to indicate two things: a) going to the movies these days isn’t a complete waste of time;
b) your reviewer isn’t the total curmudgeon that some readers accuse him of being.
The following seven movies, all of which received a rating of B minus or better (where B = "Better than most"), are in
the running for my Best of the Year:
Avenue Montaigne (reviewed on May 2)
A Mighty Heart (June 28)
The Darjeeling Limited (Oct 4)
Into the Wild (Oct 25)
This Is England (Nov 22)
No Country for Old Men (Dec 8)
Reign Over Me (Dec 30)
The best? Well, some of them are big, wonderful, impressive Hollywood products but, given that we are biased in favour
of the small, unusual and off-beat on this website, the award has to go to This Is England.
However, Avenue Montaigne gets a special hug as the movie that carried me on a wave of pleasure from start
A couple of movies need to be singled out for Special Interest:
Le Grand Silence (July 20) – a masterpiece documenting the lives of Carthusian monks in the Alps. At three
hours long, it’s infinitely slow, painstaking and contemplative. Either you get it or you don’t.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (June 8) – A gritty, realistic study of a lonely old man nearing the end of the
And this movie is singled out as providing the Trashiest Fun:
Blades of Glory (March 23) – supremely silly but it works
Somewhat Dissatisfying movie:
The Lives of Others (Feb 16) – not that it isn’t a good movie, just that it didn’t thrill me
as much as it was supposed to; that deadly-serious European approach to high art can be just a trifle stifling.
Most Disappointing Movies:
Little Children (Feb 16) – soap opera without a believable moment
Two Days in Paris (Sept 18) – people who are supposed to be charming and amusing but are extremely
You Me and Dupree (April 14) – actors unable to raise any spark of humanity in totally plastic characters
Of the 38 books we reviewed this year, the stand-out for best fiction is, hands-down, On Chesil Beach
by Ian MacEwan (reviewed June 8) – a short, perfect gem that holds your attention in every line.
For best biography, it’s impossible to choose between Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser (Jan
24) and Confessions, the autobiography of Kang Zhengguo (Oct 4). They're both fascinating character studies
packed with insight into harrowing periods in history, the one a couple of centuries ago, the other in our own times.
The best non-fiction book other than biography would have to be The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein
and Neil Asher Silberman (Mar 8) – in which the authors attempt to see what archaeological evidence, if any, can
be found for the stories in the bible.
The funniest read of the past year was definitely Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (Feb 16).
Hardly a recent book but one that still offers lots of good laughs and very skilfull writing.
Special Mention to Yellowknife by Steve Zipp (Oct 4) – nobody could claim the book succeeds as a whole
but the author deserves credit for his zany creativity and for his guts in pushing the book to the point of getting it published.
Four mysteries stand out as better than most: The Water’s Lovely by Ruth Rendell (May 21);
One Shot by Lee Child, Bangkok 8 by John Burdett and School Days by Robert B. Parker (the
last three all on the page Summer Mysteries 07).
A few disappointments might be noted. Granted it would be more diplomatic simply to let them fade away without further
comment, but the hype surrounding them warrants a reiteration of my puzzlement.
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard (Sept 18) – Ms. Dillard’s adoring fans are legion but I don’t
seem to get her – too much rhetorical/poetical expatiating for me.
Sweetness In the Belly by Camilla Gibb (April 14) – a setting with the potential for an intriguing novel
results in not much more than a Harlequin.
Late Nights On Air by Elizabeth Hay (Dec 30) – woolly writing with no engaging plot or theme
Exit Ghost by Philip Roth (Oct 25) – In spite of my tremendous enjoyment of some of Mr. Roth’s works,
this one struck me as self-indulgent and diffuse. After reading the book, I checked out some other reviews of it. It seems
to me that some of the critics who raved about it were reading a lot between the lines, digging up metaphysical interpretations
by way of an academic overview of Mr. Roth’s work. Me, I prefer to take a book just as it is without all the background prompting
about what the author is trying to do.
Given that we only saw eight plays this past year, there’s hardly any point in picking out a best and worst. In any
case, our experience of Canadian theatre turns out to be mostly disappointing these days. The one play that stands out as
a truly memorable experience was Sur Le Fil (Jan 24), seen in a tiny, upstairs theatre in Paris. On one level,
the play was a contrived, commercial comedy but the two actors put it over with such verve and polish that it made for dynamite
theatre. Not least of the thrill was the palpable sense of commitment and enthusiasm of the audience: all ages and all walks
of life packed into that small space for a rollicking good time. What was most exhilarating about it was the unmistakable
message that Parisians don’t stay home and watch tv. They go out – and that makes for a vibrant theatre culture.
We reviewed 14 musical events this year, just four of them live – and among those four we’re including two
HD live broadcasts from the Met opera to movie theatres. Even in a more crowded field, chances are good that the live musical
event of the year would have been Les Grands Voix with Joseph Calleja and Patrizia Ciofi (Jan
24). As for the HD broadcasts from the Met, I’m going to cheat a little and dip back into the final days of 2006 to
cite the Magic Flute (Dec 27/06). Being present for the first ever live HD broadcast was such a high that it
needs to be mentioned.
From the 10 shows that we reviewed (including the work of innumerable artists), just a few works and individuals that made
a strong impression on me this year:
Some of the most exciting new work I encountered was by Thrush Holmes (reviewed in "Queen Street Stroll"
Nov 22). I especially love the aggressive way he attacks bland, insipid paintings from the past.
Philip Craig’s painting of an approach to the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto (reviewed Oct 4) struck me for
its design and execution, as well as its haunting evocation of some overlooked urban beauty.
At the Toronto Art Expo (on a page by itself, just above the March 8 page in the navigation bar), I enjoyed Julia
Gilmore’s loud, large still lives, the smeary, messy works by David Brown that vaguely suggest
landscapes and cityscapes, and the miminalist but evocative semi-abstract landscapes of R. Hryhorczuk. I still
fondly remember Kelly Grace’s unusual painting of weary people dancing at a wedding.
"Open Water", the show of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, is always the highlight of the watercolour year
for me. From this year’s show (reviewed Nov 22), I remember with special fondness Alan Wylie’s
market scene – a brooding, amazing composition on what is usually a hackneyed subject; Henry Vyfvinkel’s
very simple but startling fall of shadows across the paper; and, of course, the first-prize-winner by Joanne
Lucas Warren, her marvellous "Thιβtre en Plein Air.