Keeping in the spirit of this blog -- in which I write about my haphazard interests as inspiration strikes -- I decided to simply do a "Top 10 Stuff of the Year" list, rather than a Top 10 books, films, or albums list. Another reason to approach it this way is that I haven't seen 10 films I loved, or liked 10 albums that much this year. Part of that is me just not keeping up, but another part of it is that it has been a somewhat lackluster year in film and music, for example, not withstanding some stellar stand-outs. This also frees me up to highlight things that didn't necessarily arrive this year, but which I discovered or appreciated this year. Many of these things I've already blogged about, and so I'll mostly just quickly describe what was great about each thing and link to other more in-depth posts. Without further ado:
The Top 10 Things of 2011
10. Lakers Meltdown
Though I don't expend much energy following sports these days, as an avid, lifetime Laker-hater, I felt compelled to include their getting swept earlier this year in the playoffs in the top 10. Not only did the Mavericks sweep them, they did so in spectacular fashion, blowing them out by 36 in the fourth game, sending the Lakers into a pathetic temper tantrum. Kobe humbled, Phil Jackson sent into retirement, the dynasty very likely reconciled to at least a near-future of mediocrity; the sound of that legacy crashing with a thud is sweet, joyful music to my ears.
Though the thrills are somewhat tawdry and cheap, this stylish flick by Nicolas Winding Refn is one of the better of its kind that I've seen in recent memory. Ryan Gosling plays a part-time mechanic, part-time Hollywood stunt driver, and part-time robbery getaway driver that gets embroiled in a situation with a host of shady characters which explodes into violence. There's not a whole lot to the film, especially with Gosling's playing it in such a stoic fashion, but what it lacks in depth it makes up for in flair and pizzazz.
8. The Republican Primary Campaign
This is something I imagine 99% of the populous won't understand -- and I fully sympathize with your antipathy or apathy, whatever the case may be, I assure you -- but as a political junkie I have enjoyed following the campaign. Whatever it says about me, I religiously watched every televised debate but watched almost no other television this year -- you might have noticed the conspicuous lack of anything television related on this list. From Cain's downfall to Perry's flub to Newt's late rise to Romney's steady presence it has been interesting and disheartening, compelling and disappointing.
7. The Expired Dictator
While I think the Obama administration has been a travesty, at least he gave the go ahead to kill Osama bin Laden. It's hardly a feat deserving of much credit -- any president that didn't sign off on it would be incompetent -- but he is a Democrat and conceivably could have backed off on the War on Terror altogether, but he didn't, so that's at least worth a small amount of recognition. Gaddafi and Kim Jung-Il also met their demise this year. Of course, the rate at which evil replaces evil in this world is often astonishing, so these developments may not have any significant, lasting impact, but the passing of these wicked men is something to be thankful for.
6. Google (Google+, Google Currents, Google Music etc.)
I'm not really much of a tech guy, and while I'm sure there were probably much more significant developments in the tech world, I mostly enjoyed the rolling out of these excellent Google products. I just finally got a smartphone this year, so these products having Android apps to go with them made Google a noteworthy contributor to my universe this year. Google Music? Upload your entire MP3 library and have it accessible from any browser anywhere. Delightful. Google+? The best social-networking experience available (though it still doesn't have enough of an active user base to be the runaway best, it is the most enjoyable to use). Google Currents? A slick, aesthetically and functionally pleasing way to read online news, blogs, articles, and essays. Total cost? $0. The technological age has a lot to be said for it, and Google is near the top of that list for me.
5. The Attributes of God by Shai Linne
Highly related to entry number three, Shai Linne's Holy Hip-Hop album The Attributes of God was released in November of this year, and is by far the best rap album that I have heard this year. Titled and patterned after the book by A.W. Pink, The Attributes of God is an album-length meditation on just that: the attributes of God. His goodness, faithfulness, justice, wrath, love and grace, to name a few. Each attribute is addressed in a separate track (though there is some cross-pollination, of course). Shai Linne spits creative, incisive reformed theology of such high quality it's somewhat unfair to classify the album as "just" a hip-hop album. It's a legitimate theological treatise and an intense act of worship. Provocative, wise, and relentlessly christcentric, the album was unlike anything I had ever heard (though it led me to Lampmode's back catalog, where there were other similar gems). To add to the revelation that the album was, even aside from the content, the beats and rhymes themselves are more impressive than anything the secular rap world currently has to offer, and it isn't even really close.
4. Tim Tebow
Try as I might, I was unable to resist the magnetism of the Tim Tebow phenomenon. A strange confluence of events on and off the football field led to one phenomenal football story as Tebow led the Broncos to a 6-1 streak while winning in bizarre, seemingly miraculous fashion week after week, and praising Jesus while doing it. How could this story not send me into fits of rapturous ecstasy, especially when Tebow's humble glorifying of the Creator of the universe actually raised the ire of critics? What's not to love here?
3. Holy Hip Hop / Lyrical Theology / Reformed Rap
I've said almost all that I can say on this topic in my previous post. To summarize: I discovered Lampmode records -- most notably the rappers Shai Linne, Timothy Brindle, and Evangel -- along with the whole Holy Hip-Hop movement this year, opening up a new dimension of hip-hop to me, as well as providing a tool for spiritual education and edification. Not only are these guys making extremely intelligent, Christ-centered, theological music, but they're doing it with a very high level of skill, making the exact kind of hip-hop music that I enjoy. Hallelujah!
2. David Bentley Hart's Writings
If I make a similar list to this in years to come, I expect this to be a mainstay right near the top (especially with him having at least two big projects coming up soon). The Eastern Orthodox theologian's massive erudition as it relates to history, culture, language, and religion, and his penchant for being a delightfully acerbic polemicist are some of the reasons he's my favorite living writer. Not content to merely excoriate Christianity's facile critics and make significant contributions to high theology, he also displays a great amount of literary creativity, humor, and wit in many columns which may fully blossom in his upcoming short story collection.
1. The Tree of Life
I've written more about this film than any other subject this year, so I'll spare you too many more adjectives of adulation. But the gulf that separates The Tree of Life from every other film released this year is titanic. The scope and ambition of the film is gargantuan as it tackles the subjects of the universe, humanity, death, sin, family, existence, and God deftly and without pretension. Through the prism of the life of one family, as remembered by one man, the mystery of the exquisite savagery, grace, and beauty of the universe is explored and unraveled. I will be marveling at this work of art for some time to come.