Winners & Losers Of 2008 (Part Four)

Winner:  Radiohead
In October 2007, this English fivesome did something radical.  They released their seventh studio album online and allowed it to be downloaded at any price.  In other words, you could get all 10 songs for free, if you wanted.  But there were two catches:  One, the record was only available in this manner for a limited time.  And two, the sound quality didn’t impress everybody, particularly Trent Reznor.  Nonetheless, the one-time experiment received blanket worldwide coverage.  By New Year’s Day, 2008, the proper CD version was available for purchase in record stores and through online sellers everywhere.  It is one of the finest albums of the decade.
In Rainbows is so compelling, it inspired me to give Kid A another chance.  That record was so challenging and dissonant that only two songs (Optimistic and How To Disappear Completely) initially connected with me.  (Today, the whole album is brilliant.)  Now I understand what the band was trying to do back then.  Like U2, Thom Yorke and his bandmates are all about pushing the very boundaries of their talents to reach new emotional heights with their music.  They’re not above experimenting with noise nor are they against exploring depth in dark lyrical and melodic places.  Although In Rainbows is the prettier of the two albums, it comes from the same well of imagination as Kid A.
Not only has it sold well (it’s been certified Gold in the US) and earned tremendous critical acclaim, it’s the third Radiohead CD to earn an Album Of The Year Grammy nomination.  (OK Computer and Kid A were the others.)  In Rainbows is also up for Best Alternative Music Album (back when it was called Best Alternative Music Performance, the band won this category twice; in 1998 for OK Computer and 2001 for Kid A) and Best Boxed Or Limited Edition Packaging (for its exclusive “discbox” edition).  If that weren’t enough, the mesmerizing single, House Of Cards, is nominated for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group, with the video snagging a Best Short Form Music Video nod, as well.  Finally, the record’s producer, longtime collaborator Nigel Godrich, has a shot at Producer Of The Year.  (In Rainbows has already won an Ivor Novello award as well as a Mercury Prize nomination.)
Getting back to the Grammys, Radiohead will probably win a couple of trophies when the awards are handed out on February 8.  How wonderful would it be if Album Of The Year was one of them?
Loser:  Stephen Harper
For two consecutive federal elections, the leader of the united Conservative Party Of Canada failed to secure a majority for his controversial, right wing party.  In 2004, he lost to Paul Martin and The Liberals.  During the rematch in 2006, Harper could only secure a minority.  Nearly three years later, citing a dysfunctional Parliament, he went to the polls for a third time, the fourth national contest this decade.  It looked like the charm.
It wasn’t.  Thanks to some needless blunders (among them, a much derided 15-second animated video (complete with fart sound effects) of a bird taking a crap on Liberal leader Stephane Dion, disapproval over debating Green Party leader Elizabeth May (Harper eventually reversed himself), lack of concern over the collapsing American economy, two allegations of speech plagiarism, and alienating both Quebec and the arts community by cutting public funding while claiming that such “subsidies” had “actually gone up” and further suggesting that Canadian entertainers were out of touch with “ordinary working people”), he was stuck with his second straight minority despite adding almost 20 seats to his overall total.
Even before the election, Harper was the subject of a number of controversies from the widely loathed Bill C-10 to the revelation that an alleged bribe, namely a $500,000 life insurance policy, was privately offered (and ultimately refused) in 2005 to the late Chuck Cadman, an Independent MP dying of cancer, in exchange for a vote against the ruling Liberals’ budget.  (The matter remains unresolved, as of this writing.)
The worse moment for Harper arrived after the election on November 27th.  In The House Of Commons, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty offered a controversial economic statement.  In that statement, he unveiled the government’s plans “to slash almost $30 million a year in public funding for federal parties”, a huge miscue CTV News revealed a day earlier.  The Bloc Quebecois, The Liberals and The NDP were so furious they not only vowed to bring down the government in a confidence motion but to also unite as a coalition in order to override The Conservatives’ minority status.  Harper hypocritically denounced the move as being against the wishes of the electorate.  (It was later revealed in The Globe & Mail that Harper sought a coalition arrangement with The Bloc in 2004 as did his predecessor Stockwell Day in 2000.)
Sensing immediate defeat, Harper cowardly asked Governor General Michaelle Jean to “prorogue” Parliament which she mercifully granted on December 4th, four days before the planned confidence vote.  (Parliament reconvenes in 18 days.)  If all of this weren’t bad enough, Harper also broke an election promise by appointing 18 people to The Senate.  (In the past, he stated his preference for an elected Senate.)
With Michael Ignatieff in place as the new leader of the Liberals and Harper’s minority status on very shaky ground, what are the chances of the prime minister surviving this crisis of his own making?  I say three:  fat, slim and none.
Winner:  The Pasadena Recovery Center
I never liked Dr. Drew Pinsky until I watched the first season of Celebrity Rehab, one of the best new TV shows of 2008.  The white-haired, bespectacled addictionologist earned my respect by offering compassion, insight, hope and a safe environment for his seriously screwed up patients.  Over the course of two moving, heartbreaking seasons, he helped people like Jeff Conaway and American Idol contestant Nikki McKibbin begin to understand the emotional triggers for their self-destructive behaviour, even if he couldn’t always convince them to permanently leave their drug taking and lingering traumas behind.  At the same time, the viewing audience, particularly those who don’t understand why addicts function the way they do, received an invaluable education about this terrible disease.  It’s not so easy to “just say no”.
Thanks to the assistance of staff members like the lovely Shelly Sprague and Bob Forrest, the program became an excellent advertisement for The Pasadena Recovery Center, the California setting for both seasons.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the facility received a lot more calls this year, thanks to its increased profile in 2008. 
While most “reality” shows are dumb and exploitive, Celebrity Rehab was neither.  To hear Rodney King relive his infamous beating, Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler reveal how he was kicked out of his mother’s house at age 11, Joanie Laurer talk about her fear-based relationship with her mother and watch model/actress Amber Smith shaking from opiate withdrawals while simultaneously attempting (and failing) to relieve her nausea by sticking her fingers down her throat is to experience true reality, the kind you almost never see on American Television.  The downright ugly side of addiction is there for all to see and that’s a good thing.  The more it’s shown as an unglamourous nightmare, the better to deter those with similiar cravings.  Learning about these very sad human beings this year didn’t inspire sarcastic derision and scorn (that Mad TV parody aside) but instead, empathy, respect and undying support.  No matter how many times Conaway flips out or cries or threatens to quit recovery (he’s yet to graduate from the program), we root endlessly for his return to happiness which seems so far out of his reach. 
I found myself tearing up at numerous moments.  Seeing Gary Busey at his most lucid and vulnerable moved me the most.  Despite that terrible brain injury, the root cause of all his paranoia and impulse control problems, he has a thoughtful, unique, sweet personality.  Someone offer him a decent part, already.
Dr. Drew Pinsky deserves all the credit in the world for convincing these lost souls to bare their true selves in public and for convincing us to listen to them.
Loser:  Al Pacino
This universally respected Academy Award winner had a disappointing 2008.  In April, he played a shrink/professor constantly hounded and threatened on his cell phone by an incarcerated villain he helped put away a decade earlier in the critically demolished 88 Minutes.  Out of the 118 reviews collected on the Rotten Tomatoes site, only 6 were positive.  The film made less than 20 million in North America.  Then came Righteous Kill, his third picture with the equally great Robert De Niro.  The film had its fans (Richard Roeper wrote a positive review in The Chicago Sun-Times) but they were in the minority.  The 60 million dollar production only earned back 40 million domestically.  Although the additional international grosses cushioned the blow somewhat for both features, it’s probably a safe bet that when discussions of his legacy come up, as they inevitably will, based on their critical reception, 88 Minutes and Righteous Kill won’t get nearly as much positive attention as The Godfather and Serpico.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, January 8, 2009
1:20 a.m.
Published in: on January 8, 2009 at 1:20 am  Leave a Comment  

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