10. Susan Sontag, perhaps the last of the celebrity intellectuals and certainly one of my two or three favorite contemporary thinkers, passed away. Unfortunately, her legacy is linked to her controversial post-9/11 essay, which probed when the nation needed to be soothed. At her best, "Notes on Camp", "On Photography", she's a fearlessly iconoclastic thinker with the erudition to cross disciplines without sounding like a bluffer. Rare that. She's also a hardcore cinephile who's done much to promote the idea of film as art, and I'll miss the Susan Sontag presents...Japanese film series. (The last one is playing at LACMA in April, which will include Imamura's Pigs and Battleships, a movie I haven't seen. Also some rare Naruses I'm eager to catch.)
09. My mom got me a nice cardigan at Maggie Cheung's store, Izzue.
08. The Thai island of Phi Phi, known as a tropical paradise where they shot Virginie Ledoyen's The Beach, is completely destroyed.
07. For the upteenth time I butchered "Hey Ya" at noraebanh (Korean karaoke) while entertaining some visiting pals. However, I made it up for that with a thumping rendition of "Ice, Ice Baby." Serious flow.
06. At age 87, my grandfather still felt fit to give me a tour of the 101 Mall in Taipei, another fantastic shrine to luxury goods that also shows off Asia's facility for skyscraper design and engineering. In feel similar to the Time-Warner mall in New York, but grander in size and scope. While dining, I kept thinking of better uses for the talent and money involved in creating this behemoth, but that was soon replaced by our shared admiration for the babes that served us our pasta.
05. I saw 2046 (in a cinema in Taipei), loved it, then thought about it some more and decided it was probably Wong's Kar-wai's least successful effort since As Tears Go By -- the film ultimately works better as a collection of great scenes. But I can't wait to see it again.
04. "'The sea had always been Selvam's sustainer and his friend. But the noise bothered him as he gazed into the clear sky and limitless horizon beyond. Then he noticed something that made his stomach churn. A thin black border had appeared on the horizon; it seemed to be thickening, growing. "I stood up and started shouting at my wife to run ..." Selvam recalled, speaking feebly. "I clung to a tree but soon realized that the huge tree had been uprooted." He survived. But his wife and three children, his home and many of his friends were gone, and he was surrounded by corpses—"some," Selvam said, "had their heads smashed." From Newsweek.
03. Spent New Year's Eve in downtown Los Angeles, at a four-block party.
02. Year-end movie nerd polls and summaries. Due to the composition of critics and a taste for pre-emptive strikes, Slate's annual Movie Club exchange of leading critics have been roundly booed this round. Annoying Armond et. al. may be, they make for interesting reading nonetheless, and cathartic for Dogville-haters (among whom I count myself -- half of me, anyway). For most of you this is old hat, but there's the annual Village Voice movie poll of alt-weekly/internet critics. Finally Sideways is stopped...by Before Sunset, with Eternal Sunshine taking second. A host of my movie nerd buds contributed to this poll and the comments. I'm surprised at how popular Dogville and Tsai Ming-liang's anemic Goodbye, Dragon Gate Inn are here. But I'm glad that so many people are remembering Crimson Gold, easily among the best pictures of the year but criminally underpublicized, even by the film's many admirers. (For anybody interested, I may have a top 10 by the end of next week, once I catch up to The Incredibles, The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, Raja, and Birth.)
01. At least 150,000 people, and certainly much more when the rubble is cleared, perished some hundreds miles away while I was chowing on some noodles. Our embarrassment of a leader spent three days clearing brush before finally making a statement, though at least he now understands the opportunity to repair America's image (along with just doing good) by providing some real help.
I don't think I'll blog much more about the tsunami, as I don't want to trivialize the devastation by writing about one dude's reaction. I do want to share one interesting thing I read in The Economist, the idea that because the tsunami hit not only coasts of poor countries but also cut through hugely popular resorts for Westerners like Phuket, this disaster brought more attention and sympathy from the Western world than it would otherwise, and thus more aid. (As someone who's been to the Thai resort islands, though not those outlying the Western Thai rim, I can't help but focus on both the Western travelers (especially backpackers) and the Thais in the tourism service industry, given my experience with those types of folks and having no experience with the denizens of Southern India, Sumatra and Sri Lanka, besides the expats.) Additionally, I found The Economist attempts at ranking the toll of the tsunami in the roster natural disasters -- is this the worst disaster in history? Or just the worst tsunami? What about the Chinese earthquake in 1976? -- crass and tasteless. (What's the point of comparative death-counting?) I'll leave this topic with the ever-invaluable John Powers' piece this week in LA Weekly, on media coverage, how to make sense of a tragedy of such a catastrophically unfathomable scale, and of course Western guilt in watching tsunami coverage the last two weeks with a mixture of terror, empathy, and morbid curiosity. Waz also made some points on the movie nerd reaction to the tsunami here.