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HIGHS 'N LOWS OF 2010
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NOVEMBER 22, 2017
Nov 3/17
Oct 5/17
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.

In some ways, this is an easy list to compile. No need to do any laborious search through the year’s reviews to find the memorable movies, books, plays, etc. That’s because the memorable ones are the memorable ones. If you remember them for their outstanding virtues or their flaws, then they’re on the list.

Movies

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 Tu Ma Mre (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.

 

Books

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 years.

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 (Mar 17).

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

Theatre

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).

 

Art

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.

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com