No question that The King’s Speech reigns supreme here. (See review on page dated Dec 21.) Since we
recognize, however, that it might appeal to a somewhat specialized audience, a couple of more mainstream offerings might be
mentioned. The Social Network (on the page dated Oct 22) is well worth all the fuss. One that doesn’t
rank quite as high but still rates special mention for its merits is 127 Hours (Dec 6).
Given that we’re partial to low-budget, independent movies here at Dilettante’s Diary, a couple of them
should be noted. Winter’s Bone (July 16), a very realistic saga about scrabble-poor locals in the Ozarks
proved to be a revelation in every way. While Down Terrace (Dec 6) wasn’t as amazing, it’s a very
worthy kitchen-sink type of movie about the banality of crime. Think of both of these movies for DVD rentals. As with The
Father of My Children (Nov 11). I had problems with the structural balance of it as a whole, but it offered some compelling
studies of human affairs. Greenberg was notable in the same way (April 17). Ditto for The Last Station
(Feb 3). Mid-August Lunch made for a very pleasant midsummer Italian treat (July 16). In The Young Victoria,
you got more than you might have expected from the typical historical costume drama (Jan 11). The Secret in their Eyes
offered something unusual: a gritty murder mystery with a shocking discovery that was also very funny (May 5).
Probably my worst experience at the movies in 2010 was Avatar (January 11). In a way, though, it’s
not fair to condemn that movie, because I really shouldn’t have tried it, having had a pretty good idea beforehand that
it wasn’t my type of thing. Sort of like asking a vegetarian to review the fare at a Keg Steakhouse. Same could be said
about my take on Inception (Aug 9). Movies that might have been expected to please me but didn’t were
Body (Feb 3) and I Am Love (Aug 2). The latter thrilled a lot of the high-brow critics but it
was too self-consciously arty for me. In spite of all the hoop-la about French-Canadian culture, I couldn’t love J’ai
Tué Ma Mère (Feb 22). Exit through
the Gift Shop seemed like an attempt at brilliant ingenuity somehow gone wonky (June 3). I was hoping against hope
that Get Him to the Greek might be the rare goofball comedy that would come through for me but my hope was given
a sound thrashing and sent packing (June 3).
However, given that such hopes never die completely, I’m glad to report that Easy A (Oct 22) and Life
As We Know It (Nov 11) offered more than the previews led you to expect. As for Cyrus, I wouldn’t
know whether or not to call it a comedy but it explores some intriguing relational stuff – if you can get past the awful
beginning (July 16).
Generally, when we go to the movies, one of the main things we’re paying for is to see how actors handle the material.
That’s why we don’t go in for documentaries much here at Dilettante’s Diary. However, a couple of
docs did make a strong impression this year. My favourite at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival was This Way of
Life (May 5), a fascinating look at a Maori couple raising a large brood of kids in a free-spirited way somewhere
in the wilds of New Zealand. As for docs in wider distribution, Restrepo (Aug 2), a harrowing look at a close-knit
group of US soldiers in Afghanistan was shattering.
As you probably realize by now, we don’t specialize in the latest bestsellers here at Dilettante’s Diary.
We prefer to get to a book when all the hype has died down (and when it’s more likely to be available at the library).
However, one of the very recent books that we did read and that struck us as an astonishingly good achievement was Emma Donoghue’s
Room (on the page dated Dec 6). On the other hand, Ian McEwan’s Solar was disappointing,
not least by way of comparison to several of his other books. (See the page titled "Fall Reading.")
Among the less recent publications, the standout of this year’s reading of novels was definitely Andrew O’Hagan’s
Be Near Me (see "Summer Reading"), a very moving portrait of a man who makes some bad decisions that bring on
the contempt of others but who retains an admirable dignity in the eyes of this reader. Also in the novel category, Benjamin
Taylor’s The Book of Getting Even is an quirky little gem (Summer Reading). Another slim, polished example
of literary perfection, of special interest to royal watchers, would be Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader (Summer
Reading). Reaching way back into the archives, so to speak, we came up with Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s
stunner (Aug 9). It amazed us that we had, largely because of preconceptions, missed this phenomenal masterpiece all these
Of course, not all novels read this year provided unmitigated pleasure.Trauma, by Patrick
McGrath, I found to be inadequate in almost every respect, in spite of high praise for it from other readers (Summer Reading).
A couple of comic novels stand out as somewhat problematic, in that I found them to be filled with brilliant and ingenious writing
but not quite hanging together as novels: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (Fall Reading) and The
Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis (Fall Reading).
The non-fiction best read in the scientific or intellectual vein would be The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard
Mlodinow, a look at how our determination to find patterns in the events of our lives causes us to skew the truth (Summer
Reading). Barrie Wilson’s How Jesus Became Christian provided tons of material to ponder but I found the
book a bit iffy in terms of some of its assumptions and its structure (Fall Reading). Another look at Robert Pirsig’s
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, some forty years after its much-heralded publication, made me wonder
if any of its fans had actually finished the ponderous, murky thing. (Summer Reading)
Several fine entries vie for precedence in the memoirs category. Among them: Christopher Plummer’s In Spite
of Myself (June 3), The Birthday Party by Stanley Alpert (Fall Reading), In the Blood
by Andrew Motion (Fall Reading) and Under the Holy Lake by Ken Haigh (Summer Reading). But I’d have to
give the top honours to Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, mainly because of the unforgettable impact and
international ramifications of his report on being a child soldier in Sierra Leone (Fall Reading).
Not many biographies appeared on my list this year but Frederick Brown’s Flaubert made for a thorough
immersion in 19th century French culture (Fall Reading)
The mystery that impressed me the most was Jean-Claude Izzo’s take on the seamy side of Marseille in Chourmo
(Summer Reading). Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories also struck me as something special in
the mystery genre (Fall reading). Lee Child and his hero, Jack Reacher, have rapidly become our fave's in the thriller
line. Since the three of them that I read this year were all so good, it wouldn't be possible to chose the best of them: 61
Hours (Dec 21); Gone Tomorrow (Apr 17) and Killing Floor
Some disappointments in the mystery department: The Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong became tedious
and implausible in spite of the exotic Shanghai setting (Summer Reading); and Troubling Love, pseudonymously
authored by one Elena Ferrante, presented the mad obsessions of a mind that was no fun to inhabit (Fall Reading). Christian
Jungersen’s international hit, The Exception, had some good things going for it in the way of politics
and ideas but it didn’t work for me as a mystery. (Fall Reading) I abandoned, without finishing, two mysteries
that gave the impression that their highly-successful and well-known authors were washed up: Fire Sale
by Sarah Paretsky (Mar 17) and The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard (Aug 2).
Probably the most irritating book of the year was The Shack, the spiritual schlock fest by Wm. Paul Young.
(On a page of its own, listed just above the June 27 page.) A person would have overlooked this hugely successful bestseller
as being intended for a different kind of reader – except for the niggling implication throughout the book that we scoffers
should really get on board. Apparently, even some people who are more believers than I am shared something of my response
to the book: my review was re-posted by the on-line Catholic newspaper New Catholic Times at: www.newcatholictimes.com
We didn’t get to many plays this year but we did see some good ones. The fact that some of them involved friends
or family shouldn’t preclude their being mentioned as highlights: ac-‘TOR, a Fringe play written
by and starring David Strauss; (July 16); ‘Art’ at Canadian Stage (Mar 28); the Dora-nominated production
of The Dining Room in the intimate setting of Campbell House (Jan 11); and Driftwood Theatre’s al fresco
production of Twelfth Night (July 16).
This is the one category that calls for a re-visit of the reviews to refresh one’s memory. That’s because,
in the case of most works of art, we’re talking about an exposure of a couple of minutes at most, compared to the hours
spent with any book, movie or theatrical production. Still, a quick look at the reviews brings some vivid works to mind.
Some of the artists have been mentioned often here. To name some of the newer ones, then:
In "Toronto Art Expo," the loose, impressionistic landscapes and cityscapes of Michel Beaudoin were
very satisfying (on the page Toronto Art Expo 2010). Moving on to "The Artist Project," David Lidbetter’s
paintings gave a distinctive take on the Canadian landscape (The Artist Project 2010); and from the same show, the depictions
of human sexuality in the works of Simon Schneiderman made an indelible impression in their crude, primitive
way (The Artist Project 2010).
To cite just two artists from the "Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition": Charles Wakefield’s series of paintings
of Toronto’s Don Valley Brickworks have a unique approach to the urban scene, as do Jerry Campbell’s
paintings (both on the page titled TOAE 2010). Among many excellent works from "Art Toronto," the ones that still leap out
at me are the kooky paintings of Simon Carter. On first viewing, I was skeptical about their childish and almost
defiantly ‘non-artistic’ quality. And yet, they’re the ones that remain most vivid in my memory. That must
mean something! (on the page dated Nov 11).
Applying the same criterion to "Open Water", the annual show of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, I would
have to cite the male nude by Daniel Barkley, a work that struck the viewer by force
of its astounding technique and its glowering mood. Inevitably, perhaps, in a show that shows so much excellence in realistic
painting, some of the more abstract works were memorable, particularly those of: Jeanette Labelle, Bianka
Guna and Pat Fairhead. (Nov 11) Torontonians were lucky enough to get two CSPWC shows this year. From
the 85th anniversary show at Robert’s Gallery, it’s again a work tending towards the abstract that
I remember most fondly: Ray Cattell’s amazing pools of colour and light that just barely suggest a landscape
of some kind. Many watercolours in a more representational style dazzled me but one of the most striking was Yaohua
Yan’s very loose but astoundingly deft touch in the rendering of a bagpiper in a castle courtyard.
It reminded me much of the work of the late Ming Zhou, one of the most gifted watercolourists ever to live in
Toronto. Happily, the Roberts Gallery was showing a retrospective of his work simultaneously with the CSPWC anniversary show.