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December 31st, 2008 WW Editorial Staff | Featured Stories
 

The Year That Was

2008 was all about blind pilots, homeless orators, bravo winners, bad dancers, shirtless fans and some guy named Barack.

     
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In a year when the presidential race and international economic meltdown hogged all the media headlines, it’s easy to forget just how fascinating 2008 in Portland was in its own right. So we’ve counted up our favorite foods, great shows, terrible movie moments and sports triumphs to say goodbye to the year that was.

Five Local Albums We Love*


Willy Vlautin and Paul Brainard, soundtrack to Northline.
As an audible companion to Portland author Willy Vlautin’s latest book, the record grabs you by the gut and pulls you into its pages. “Jimmy Bodie” is a nauseatingly powerful portrait of a character with no way out—vast, eerie, slowly churning. The chorus sounds like the whispered groan of a thousand ghosts, and it haunts indefinitely. The fluidity of the album can’t be missed, seamless thanks to Paul Brainard and his whistling, restless slide guitar. This one stays with you. MARK STOCK.PHOTO: VIVIAN JOHNSON

Starfucker, Starfucker (Badman)
Starfucker’s Josh Hodges has remarked that he started the trio (it was originally a solo project) two years ago as a conscious deviation from the meditative style of his folk-pop group, Sexton Blake. The interim has seen such a perfect execution of that about-face it’s hard to imagine Hodges performing anything but Starfucker’s flawless dance-pop sound bites ever again. The band’s marquee sound is a candy-coated menagerie of bubblegum synthesizers and steadily thumping eighth notes where one hook ends only to make way for another. Hodges and company have been able to distill that mania and bottle it into one of this year’s finest LPs. SHANE DANAHER.

Danava, UnonoU (Kemado)
Famed concept artist Syd Mead’s cover illustration for Danava’s sophomore album shows 21st-century swingers hanging out by their sleek super-hot rods. It’s this retro futurism that informs not only the short barnstorming rockers on the first two album sides, but also the more ambitious analog synth and string-driven showpieces that culminate in side 3 masterwork “One Mind Gone Separate Ways.” Danava has often been pegged as part of some ’70s revival, but Danava main man Dusty Sparkles really pushes an alternate future timeline that includes Logan’s Run, Ziggy Stardust, Holy Mountain and 2001: A Space Odyssey. If bands like Black Sabbath and Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come were using their original gear today, this is what Sparkles’ imagination tells us they would sound like. NATHAN CARSON.

Blind Pilot, 3 Rounds and a Sound (Expunged Records)
There’s an unquantifiable quality to the interplay between Blind Pilot frontman Israel Nebeker and his longtime friend and drummer, Ryan Dobrowski. It’s some John Coltrane/Elvin Jones-type spiritual shit. 3 Rounds and a Sound crystallizes their magic, and few bands have a better control for mood. That the Portland outfit manages to create unforgettable tunes with a minimal tool set—it’s standard folk-pop instrumentation with the occasional trumpet blast—should be enough to convince a handful of Portland coffee-shop singer-songwriters to give up. I mean, you don’t learn to sing like Nebeker from taking a class or even listening to Bill Withers records, you’re just born with a desire to get whatever’s inside you out. CASEY JARMAN.

Au, Verbs (Agoo)
Verbs really shouldn’t work. Constructed by Luke Wyland and a cast of friends, it’s a record of contradictions: Subtle, almost ambient pieces blend into frenetic, maniacal group choral chants; voices flutter in and out of the mix, airy woodwinds mix with bouncing pianos and triumphant, stomping percussion. Though certain tracks—zany single “RR vs. D” and the opening one-two punch of “All My Friends” and “Are Animals”—stand out, it’s an asymmetrical pop record best consumed as a whole. It turns out Au’s self-titled first album was a dry run for one of the best local—and hell, national—releases of the year. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.

* Because we couldn’t limit ourselves to just five albums, our picks continue here.

Top Five Moments Onstage


The puppets in Theatre Vertigo’s The Long Christmas Ride Home.
Paula Vogel’s drama of abuse, marital strife and the far-reaching consequences of childhood trauma calls for its three child characters to be portrayed by puppets. For Kristan Seemel’s production, Jason Miranda and Nancy Aldrich crafted uncanny, underage doppelgängers of actors Amy Newman, Gary Norman and Kerry Ryan. The result: creepy as hell, but riveting. BEN WATERHOUSE.

The set and lighting design in Portland Center Stage’s Sometimes A Great Notion.
Scenic designer Tony Cisek and lighting designer Dan Covey, faced with the challenge of accommodating a house, a mountainside, a tree-felling and a river for Aaron Posner’s adaptation of the novel by Ken Kesey, created a towering pile of green-painted timber (almost 6,000 feet of it) and alternately dappled, spotted, sprinkled and flooded it with a striking palette of lights. Their craftsmanship stood up to Kesey’s prose. (BW)

Sharonlee McLean in Coho Productions’ The Receptionist.
Working reception is a dull way to make a living. You have to talk to dull people, entertain the whims of your dull superiors and spend long stretches doing nothing in particular. In Adam Bock’s workplace tragicomedy, McLean had the part nailed, switching in and out of her telephone voice in midsentence and flipping her head mic up and down like a defensive visor, simultaneously bored and bitchy. She was perfect. (BW) PHOTO: WIN GOODBODY

The climactic fight in Third Rail Rep’s Dead Funny.
Terry Johnson’s black comedy pits a neglected wife against her husband and his friends, all of whom are inexplicably obsessed with unfunny English slapstick comedians like Benny Hill and Sid James. After an hour or so of vicious sniping, backbiting and nostalgic re-enactments, a pie fight breaks out. An entirely believable pie fight, executed with grace (sort of) and impeccable timing by the cast. I hadn’t laughed so hard in ages. (BW)

Broadway Rose’s Les Miserables.
Who’da thunk a theater of modest means in Tigard could pull off one of the biggest, boldest, longest musicals ever to come out of the West End? Artistic director Sharon Maroney, that’s who. Though it suffered from a few wobbly sets and a tiny orchestra, B’way Rose’s enormous production, with a cast of 24, was impeccably sung and emotionally potent. So where, as a company, do you go from Les Mis? You take on Madonna—next summer Maroney’s producing Evita. (BW)

The Five Best Things We Put In Our Mouths


Beijing Hot Pot’s pork dumplings.
The family behind this new D.I.Y. soup house makes their own noodles and hand-forms each of their delicate pork dumplings. A dip in aromatic broth lends each packet’s skin a silky texture, while their innards goosh porky, scallion-tinged perfection. ($24 for a fully loaded two-person hot pot, $6.50 for dumplings. Beijing Hot Pot, 2768 SE 82nd Ave., 774-2525). KELLY CLARKE.

Meat Cheese Bread’s roasted mushroom sandwich.
A funky, steaming pile of fungus on a housemade herb roll, dressed with goat cheese, sherry-cured onions and frisée—it’s impossible to eat this sandwich without getting your hands completely covered with mushroom juice, but you’ll be happy to lick the paper plate clean. Why? Because this vegetarian sandwich is the new best roast-beef sandwich in town. ($6.95. Meat Cheese Bread, 1406 SE Stark St., 234-1700). (BW)

Tastebud’s peach-and-pancetta pizza.
New rule: Grilled peaches ought always to be paired with peppery arugula, mozzarella and salty house-cured meat atop a bubbly charred brick-oven-fired crust. ($22, seasonal. Tastebud, 3220 SE Milwaukie Blvd., 234-0330). (KC) BENJAMINREEDPHOTOGRAPHY.COM

Saraveza Bottle Shop’s Caesar salad.
This lemony, garlicky, in-your-face anchovy wallop of a romaine salad—creamy, peppery and Parmesaned within an inch of its life—ain’t for the weak of heart. Then again, neither are Saraveza’s beers.... ($5. 1004 N Killingsworth St., 206-4252). (KC)

Nuvrei’s chestnut bûche de noël.
Pastry chef Marius Pop spirals layers of light, tender sponge cake with raspberry jam and luscious chestnut buttercream. A masterful holiday mouthful. ($28, serves 4-6 people. Nuvrei, 404 NW 10th Ave., 546-3032). DEEDA SCHROEDER.

TOP FIVE MOVIES, PERIOD*
1. Synecdoche, New York
It may say something about the mood of the cinema that the year’s most fortifying movie was one with the message that you’re going to die and nobody will notice. Or maybe it says something about Charlie Kaufman: He settled into the director’s seat and immediately made it clear that he hasn’t been kidding all these years. Synecdoche is a massively divisive film, with painful themes that many viewers don’t want to acknowledge. They will—though by then it will be too late. AARON MESH.

2. WALL-E
On the other hand, everybody loved Pixar’s latest, and I won’t argue. Oozing charm like a leaky oil can, the forlorn trash compactor on an abandoned planet consoled himself with tacky dance numbers from sunny Hollywood schlock. May all our futures be that lucky. (AM)

3. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Woody Allen garnered a few headlines for making a movie with a Johansson-on-Bardem-on-Cruz threesome, but the audiences who actually saw it know better: It’s the director’s ultimate statement about how we’re all left one-on-one with our own personalities. (AM)

4. Great Speeches in a Dying World
I don’t know how this movie ended up so high on my list—it’s based on the gimmick of encouraging homeless people to memorize famous soliloquies, a feeble premise at best—but here it is. I can’t shake how fully Seattle-based director Linas Phillips transcended pity to confront lives that are nasty, brutish and, against all odds, eloquent. (AM)

5. Milk and Snow Angels
Yes, I’m cheating, but the latest films from independent cinema’s grand old man, Gus Van Sant, and its wunderkind, David Gordon Green, are perfect mirrors of each other: flawed in their final execution scenes, but packed with depictions of spontaneous happiness—kisses, grass, dancing and birthday cakes. Those tiny consolations. (AM)

* Five movies that almost made the list: Ballast, Burn After Reading, Paranoid Park, Cthulhu, Pineapple Express.

To see other takes on Movies of the Year, check out Screen!

Three Local Books We Devoured


Bearing the Body, Ehud Havazelet
One of the most brilliant aspects of this Oregon Book Award-winning page-turner is the way it locates its central event—the death of Daniel Mirsky—in an unrecoverable and largely inscrutable past. Now it’s up to Daniel’s brother, Nathan, and his father, Sol, to discover what they can about Daniel’s lost life in California, while exploring the complex history of their own relationship. JOHN MINERVINI.

Omega the Unknown, Jonathan Lethem, Farel Dalrymple
Local artist Dalrymple worked with novelist Lethem to rehabilitate this intelligent, surrealist Marvel hero comic of yore. But Marvel or no, this is less Cap’n America than Philip K. Dick: Parents have circuits and spares, sanctioned heroes are media whores corrupt as mafiosos, and identity is always unglued. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Lavinia, Ursula Le Guin
Poor Virgil kicked the bucket before he could write more than a few sentences about Lavinia, the second wife of Aeneas. (According to Virgil, she blushed.) But that proved to be more than enough material for Ursula Le Guin, whose novel picks up where The Aeneid left off. A mature work, Lavinia is possibly Le Guin’s best, laying emphasis on themes like destiny and meta-ontology. (JM)

Three Politicos Who Struck Out*


Oregon’s Republicans:
Other than the University of Washington’s winless football team, no group in the Northwest had a worse 2008 than Oregon’s GOP. The party lost five seats in the Oregon House, as well as statewide races for secretary of state and treasurer. And the GOP couldn’t even field a candidate for attorney general. If you need more proof... HENRY STERN.

U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith:
Smith (R-Ore.) became the first incumbent Oregon senator since 1968 to lose a re-election bid. Smith lost in the November general election to Democrat Jeff Merkley, who parlayed a lot of help in the May primary from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to beat activist Steve Novick for what would prove to be a very valuable Democratic Party nomination. (HS)

Bill Sizemore:
Bill Sizemore went 0-for-5 in his crop of ballot initiatives this year. As if that weren’t bad enough news for the state’s initiativista, Sizemore also did a brief jail stint for contempt of court.

* In local politics, that is—things for that Barack Obama guy turned out OK. (HS)

Three ’08 Songs That’ll Lift Greg “The Depressed Giant” Oden’s spirits


Department of Eagles, “No One Does It Like You”
With so much pressure being put on the (broad) shoulders of Mr. Oden, he needs something to lighten the mood. This exuberant slice of ’60s California pop from Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen is bouncy but not too upbeat—so Oden won’t, you know, sustain another frightening knee injury. “I laughed so hard I fell down/ I cursed these legs I walk on,” Rossen sings. Who knew he wrote a song about the NBA’s best center prospect? MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.

T.I., “No Matter What”:
Oden has had a rough year, but he’s got nothing on Atlanta rapper T.I. After a conviction in October ’07 for possession of firearms, T.I. was forced into house arrest—but he emerged triumphant. “No Matter What” is self-help hip-hop at its best, riding Danja’s spacey production and boasting a chorus that Oden should pay close attention to: “I ain’t dead (nah) I ain’t done (nah)/ I ain’t scared (of what) I ain’t run (from who)/ Still I stand (yeah) no matter what here I am.” (MM)

The Shaky Hands, “We Are Young”
For all the nit-picking about Oden’s play this year, we have to remember he’s still only 20 years old. Portland’s own Shaky Hands’ “We Are Young” is all about living in the moment and enjoying your youth—something Oden should really consider. Listen to Charles Barkley and have some fun, dude! (MM)

Three Big Sports Moments


Blazermania Returns
Portland’s only big-league sports team heads into 2009 with its best chance to make the playoffs since 2003. And with Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez all still young and improving, the Trail Blazers may be poised to do something in 2010 they haven’t done for a while—contend for a championship. HENRY STERN.

Not so fast, OSU
Oregon State’s football team had its fans poised for their first Rose Bowl trip since ’65. Alas, “65” proved unlucky for the Beavers when Oregon hung 65 on the Beavers in a 65-38 Civil War rout that left OSU fans canceling plans for Pasadena—and instead making Sun Bowl plans in the “magic” city that is El Paso. (HS)

Paulson’s Pitch
Merritt Paulson, son of U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and owner of the minor-league Timbers and Beavers, pitched a plan this year in which he’d get a Major League Soccer franchise in exchange for $85 million from city taxpayers to remake PGE Park into a soccer-first stadium and build a new baseball park elsewhere in town. (HS)

Three Stories We’ll Be Hearing More About In ’09


Number Crunch
“Cut me, Mick, I’m bleeding!” says the Oregon budget. The recession all of us are soon to feel—if not already—is making its way to our state in the form a $1 billion projected shortfall. DAN GREEN.

Reporters Overboard
As the economic plague permeates our lives, some were soaked much quicker than others. The Oregonian, Portland’s largest news outlet, tossed 45 full-time employees and 10 part-timers into the choppy financial seas, with buyout life rings, according to an Oregonian newsroom employee who wished to remain anonymous. (DG)

Faith vs Flu
Oregon’s faith healers lose two children from the Followers of Christ church after refusing them medical attention. Neil Beagly, 16, died from an infection of a blocked bladder and Beagly’s 15-month old niece, Ava Worthington, died from untreated pneumonia. God is good. Doctors are better. (DG)

Three Crappiest Movies Of ’08


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
All he had to do was crack a whip, wisecrack, kill commies, and let the theme song do the work. For about an hour, Dr. Jones made nostalgia tingle. Then there were CGI monkeys. And aliens. And Shia LeBeouf. Their treasure was knowledge? Here’s some knowledge to treasure—never leave moviegoers halfway through a hand job. AP KRYZA.

The Happening
Plants make people commit suicide in elaborate ways. Marky Mark runs away from the wind. “Mother of God, what kind of terrorists are these?” a woman drolly says as a lion eats a willing zookeeper. It’s M. Night Shyamalan, lady. We need to stop negotiating with him at the box office. (AK)

Funny Games U.S.
A finger-wagging director self-remaking is somehow more obnoxious other horror remakes. At least Shutter knew it was beating a dead horse. In 1997, Funny Games was an effective, albeit pretentious, commentary on media violence. Director Michael Haneke remade it shot-for-shot. Those who lapped it up then are the only ones who saw it anew. It’s the same movie. Suckers. (AK)

Three Signs That Classical Music Still Lives


Indian Classical Music Survives
Both local presenting organizations, Kalakendra and Rasika, which looked moribund last year, returned with some of the most enthralling concerts of the year. BRETT CAMPBELL.

Classical/Postclassical Music Escapes
Classical and postclassical musicians—from Portland Cello Project, Classical Revolution PDX, Opera Theater Oregon, Nico Muhly, Lucas Ligeti and Portland New Music Society at various clubs to the year’s most impressive event, Third Angle at the Halprin landmarks—eschewed conservative concert halls to bring new sounds to younger, hipper audiences. (BC)

Hip Music Invades:
The Oregon Symphony brought Antony & the Johnsons and Thomas Lauderdale to the Schnitz—and was rewarded with its biggest audiences. (BC)

Top Fake Headlines Of ’08


1. Last surviving native Portlander dies at 24

2. Swarthy Spaniards Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez bring fiery Mediterranean spirit to Blazers, defy their race’s slothful nature

3. Campaign ad alleges Jeff Merkley raped Gordon Smith ETHAN SMITH

Three Moving Cinematics Deaths


Ballast
The suicide shadowing the desperate people of Ballast is fleetingly displayed, but I haven’t been able to shake this pathetic sight of quiet death (maybe because it was echoed by an infamous Internet event): a body curled up in bed, seemingly sleeping, but lifeless. CHRIS STAMM.

Inside
It was a little-seen French horror shocker that went straight to DVD in the U.S. My nightmares thank me daily for this small mercy. The indelible finale, in which a charred psychopath performs a combination C-section/homicide, would have been unbearably hellish on any screen larger than my television’s. (CS)

The Strangers
Director Bryan Bertino caps 80 minutes of the best American horror I’ve seen this decade with a grisly double-murder committed in glaring morning light. Not only is the carnage wrenching and oddly beautiful—uncommon qualities in horror—but I wanted Liv Tyler to survive, which is just downright rare. (CS)

Top Two Audience Injuries


On Friday, April 11, at the opening-night performance of Artists Rep’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire, actor Mic Matarrese (Stanley Kowalski) threw a plate with slightly more force than intended (“That’s how I clear the table!”), striking Just Out columnist Floyd Sklaver in the face. Sklaver’s response: “Fuck. I’m OK.” But the ceramics weren’t flying just there. At the following evening’s performance of Northwest Classical Theatre’s production of Timon of Athens, an unnamed audience member was struck with a plate accidentally hurled by Elizabeth Young (Timon). Remember, folks: The essence of live theater is danger. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Best Shoeless Shuffle


Chefs, painters, programmers and other non-dance types—stripped of their shoes and inhibitions—entered a small room four at a time to perform in Tahni Holt’s Information Studio this summer. During this videotaped movement experiment, which unfolded in 20-minute segments throughout the weekend, participants donned headphones and followed Holt’s prerecorded instructions on how to execute mostly pedestrian tasks (crumple paper with your feet, walk to Square 9, etc.). Tasks intersected, headphone cords tangled, giggles erupted and the choreography looked different every time. HEATHER WISNER.

Best Visual Arts Show Of ’08


Local artist Sean Healy’s Life in Black and White at Elizabeth Leach in September was a rigorously conceived, immaculately executed evolution for this deeply introspective artist—and featured tigers, to boot. RICHARD SPEER.

To see Richard's full take on 2008's Visual Arts scene, click here.

Three Reasons To Love Oregonians


We’re Gullible:
As evidenced by the woman in Sweet Home who got caught up in a Nigerian email scam and lost $400,000. Janella Spears, against the warnings of family, police and bank representatives, gave insane amounts of money to scammers who couldn’t even spell. SAMANTHA HERMAN.

Our Men Can Have Babies
Thomas Beatie and wife Nancy, of Bend, are expecting their second child in June. Thomas Beatie had the first child the natural way, which was aided by the fact that he kept his female reproductive organs after undergoing testosterone injections and surgery to remove his breasts. Global media frenzy and Oprah ensued. (SH)
We Heart The Transgendered
Enter Stu Rasmussen, mayor of Silverton, who has 20 years of political experience, strong roots after living in Silverton for 60 years, and a great new rack. In keeping with Obama’s rally cry for change, Stu was elected Nov. 4, 2008, gaining national attention as the first transgender mayor in the U.S. (SH)

Three Alarmingly Ignored Medical Conditions Caught On Film


Potential Face Rot
When you first glimpse Harvey Dent’s ruined face in The Dark Knight, looking like a rain-slicked knot of jungle vines, it’s shocking. But he’s soon up and about, abruptly and unconvincingly, thanks to a pep talk from the Joker. Fine, but get some gauze on that already! It’s going to get infected, geez… ANDY DAVIS.

Magnet Failure
Iron Man’s another comic-book movie, but again I worried about the threat of infection and, you know, just the generally sketchy nature of that whole magnet device in Robert Downey’s chest. As he’s hopping right up after the world’s dirtiest surgical procedure, I also kept wondering just how that thing is supposed to stay put. (AD)

Bunions
Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman’s bravura miasma, is rife with medical worries, but the creepiest ailment in the film is also the most alarmingly ignored. The bulging, irritated red and yellow skin underneath the straps of analyst Hope Davis’s foot as she lounges on the couch, pointedly displaying yet ignoring her problem, somehow sums up Synecdoche’s rancid, despairing take on life with other people. (AD)

Best Thing To Happen To Portland Fashion


Ay Dios mio! It was almost as exciting as the Obama election! In October, Portland’s own Leanne Marshall (Leanimal) went from being a sweet-’n’-shy PDX indie designer to being crowned the winner of Bravo’s Project Runway. LAURA SHINN.

Lamest Thing To Happen To Portland Fashion


Within days of winning Project Runway, Leanne Marshall announced she was moving to New York. Insert Pac-Man dying sound here. (LS)

Best New Fashion Label Name


No Star, Portland’s best hipster T-shirt company, branched out into conventional fashion with a line of tailored men’s jackets. And they called it La Merde (iamlamerde.com). And their clothes are indeed the shit. (LS) PHOTO: BRAVOTV.COM


Most Amazing Sports Feat Of 2008


Thursday, Dec. 18. Blazers vs. Suns at home. Brandon Roy breaks 50 points. And this happens: A big, black man strips off his shirt and starts play-slapping the ass of his dancing female seatmate. In solidarity, four or five surrounding fans undress and join the party. It makes NBA on TNT and manages to disgust Charles Barkley. Portland wins 124-119.
 
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