One especially gloomy January morning a few months back, on the ropes after the holiday season and vexed by the milk-gray skies above Vancouver, I decided on a whim to make a list of one hundred things--places, books, stories, games, albums, etc.--that I love in the world. (Because this blog is the equivalent of a New Jersey Turnpike filling station, here are links to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the 100-Things posts.)
Now that it's over--you'll find entries 40 thru one below--I'm pronouncing my experiment an unmitigated success. Proof of said success: I'm smiling 60-percent more often these days. And, as you well know, I am not a natural smiler, not by a long shot. My face usually doesn't work this way. (Vic's face does. Mine doesn't.)
So exactly why did it work, and work so well? I think it had everything to do with the way that my "research" figured into my day to day life. Is the Spicy Miso Ramen at Motomachi on Denman Street list-worthy? I went back to the restaurant on a recent Sunday afternoon to find out. (Answer: It is.) Did Warren Zevon's "Tenderness on the Block" merit a place on the list? Well, I figured I'd best give it a few listens, to make sure. (Answer: It's great.) Does Chris Smith's American Movie hold up a decade after its release? Better dig out the DVD and give it a watch. (Answer: Sure does.) For three months straight, I was eating food that I loved, listening to music that I hadn't listened to in years, re-watching great films, re-playing great video games, re-reading great stories and novels--all in the name of cutting-pasting together my 100-Things list. Every entry on this list, I came to realize, taught me a little bit about the world, and more importantly, who I am in that world.
Though the list is officially complete now--I actually finished it late last week--I'm still discovering things on an almost daily basis that are probably deserving of spots. (Example: The three fights that Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti fought in 2002 and 2003.) (Example: David Foster Wallace's great Harper's article, Shipping Out.) Indeed, the 100-Things list seems to have achieved a kind of critical mass, and now appears to have an oddball gravity all its own, perpetually attracting even more positive thoughts and feelings (as well as novels, games, documentaries, etc.) in its direction.
Because a good part of my daily life as a writer and a critic involves consuming bad movies and bad games--some days, it honestly feels as if I have a sewer pipe connected to my face--that an experiencing, or rather a re-experiencing, of these quality entertainments--entertainments with soul, and depth; entertainments with intelligence and heart--not only worked to hose out my sullied palette; it also helped me to remember, a hundred times over, why ever I got involved in this whole damn writer-critic business in the first place.
Finally, to quote every character in Killzone 3 who says this particular phrase at least once in the game's final three-hour stretch: Let's finish this.
40. Rome, the HBO series, in its entirety.
39. The Advance Wars series on Game Boy and DS.
38. Danny Boyle's 2002 film 28 Days Later. Zombie greatness, rivaled only by [see: number six].
37. Sudoku puzzles. Which I loathe and love in equal parts.
36. Settling into a five hour-plus plane trip surrounded by an inexhaustible supply of games, books, and movies. Sometimes I honestly think, I hope this plane never lands...
35. "Random Rules" by Silver Jews, which features this opening line: "In 1984 I was hospitalized for approaching perfection..."
34. Jarhead, Anthony Swofford's terrific memoir about the Gulf War. Pair it with Tobia Wolff's In Pharoah's Army and voila, you've got a nice, war-y double-feature.
33. Tom Waits' "Postcard From a Hooker in Minneapolis."
32. Spielberg's 1981 movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was so completely knocked out by this movie that a few hours after seeing, I recounted it scene for scene and line for line from start to finish, to a neighbor kid. That remains the sole instance I've ever done that in my life. Also: What a complete dork I am.
31. Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.
30. Tetris, any version. Recently started playing this on the DSi--Tetris Party Live, which you can pick up for about $5--and my come-on-long-skinny-one obsession began all over again.
29. "Going For The Gold" by Bright Eyes.
28. Pixeljunk Monsters, Dylan Cuthbert's masterpiece.
27. One Story, a Brooklyn-based magazine which publishes one short story every couple of weeks and sends it to you through snail mail. (Though, from what I understand, they now have an e-reader-friendly version, too.)
26. Alfonso Cuaron's great 2006 film, Children of Men.
25. The Mountain Goats' terrific song, "No Children." ("I hope I cut myself shaving tomorrow/I hope it bleeds all day long.")
24. Sergio Leone's "Man With No Name" trilogy.
23. Valve's Half-Life series.
22. George Sprott 1894-1975 by the cartoonist Seth.
21. Capcom's Dead Rising series.
20. "You Don't Need" by Jane Siberry. One of the few songs that can always leave me kind of misty eyed by the end.
19. Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenross. "You see this watch? This watch costs more than your car."
18. id's Doom, which did two things to me: 1. It nearly made me fail out of graduate school, because I was playing it obsessively; 2. It was the first game that I would see on the insides of my eyelids when I'd go to sleep at night.
17. The Evil Dead Trilogy. Sam Raimi would go on to make many bland, large-scale entertainments, but this no- to low-budget trio of zombie movies are his finest--and B.C.'s finest--work.
16. The Devil May Cry series. Numbers two and four were awful, but one and three are two of my favorite games of all time. Thus, the DMC Rule: Even-numbered games are terrible; odd-numbered games are great.
15. When We Were Kings, Leon Gast's 1997 documentary about Ali and Foreman's 1974 bout in Zaire. Ali: "I'm young, I'm handsome, I'm fast, I'm pretty, I can't possibly be beat."
14. The first three quarters of Goodfellas. It sort of goes to hell in the home-stretch, but at that point, what has come before that was so good that I'm almost always in a forgiving mood.
13. Paul Verhoeven's masterpiece Starship Troopers.
12. Strange Brew (1983), a movie that introduced the word "hoser" to the U.S. public school that I attended.
11. Peter Jackson's Dead Alive. I saw this in a theater in Chicago with a girlfriend. She's no longer my girlfriend. And not because I took her to this movie. Well, maybe part of it is because I took her to this movie. (Sorry, Amy.)
10. Merle Haggard's "Misery and Gin," the single greatest song about self-pity ever written.
9. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I read it about once a year. It's great, and it makes me miss New York (and wish that I'd gone to a prep school), and it's proof that John Hinckley has good taste in books.
8. 2006's Casino Royale. I was in the middle of a life transition a few years back when I popped this DVD into my laptop late one night. I stayed up until dawn watching it. What a movie.
7. The Punch-Out!! series. Even as I type this, I can still hear the theme from the NES version. (Doooo-de-doot-doot-doo-doot/dooooo-dooooot/dooooooo-doooot, etc. etc.)
6. Dawn of the Dead, George Romero's 1978 masterpiece.
5. The fourth quarter of the New York Giants' win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in 2008.
4. Let It Be, the 1984 album by The Replacements, in its entirety.
3. Egg sandwiches from any deli in New York.
2. Any Seinfeld re-run.
1. Mad Magazine. I'll let Robert Boyd speak for me, because I could not say this any better than he does: "[Mad Magazine] instilled in me a habit of mind, a way of thinking about a world rife with false fronts, small print, deceptive ads, booby traps, treacherous language, double standards, half truths, subliminal pitches and product placements; it warned me that I was often merely the target of people who claimed to be my friend; it prompted me to mistrust authority, to read between the lines, to take nothing at face value, to see patterns in the often shoddy construction of movies and TV shows; and it got me to think critically in a way that few actual humans charged with my care ever bothered to." [Well said, sir.]
Cue the medal ceremony music from Star Wars, as well as two, maybe three beatific smiles from Princess Leia.