Artists of the Year

Besides which, you are the best white-girl dancer of all time. Disco is back!

Michaelangelo Matos is a freelance writer in New York and a frequent contributor to City Pages.


Scott Wright

Charlie Kaufman

My pick for artist of the year is Charlie Kaufman. You know him best as the screenwriter of Being John Malkovich; you are soon going to know him best as the screenwriter of Adaptation. Not only did Charlie have two movies released this year (the other being Human Nature) but Adaptation may be the smartest, funniest, and most subtle script ever written. That's right, I said EVER, bitch!

I am not going to spend this space giving you examples of HOW the script is great--that's not what this is for. You just have to take my word for it or see the movie and start understanding yourself. This is just an appreciation for something that is so unique and well-crafted that if it were a dessert it would be one of those annoyingly decadent two-story chocolate towers composed of sculpted dioramas of a cut-away view of the Globe theater during a production of Richard III all covered in flakes of real gold.

That's how good this script is.

It might be one of the highest forms of flattery (when lauding a script) to say, "Yeah, the movie's great. Smart direction, great acting. Yes. But I'm telling you, after you see the movie, get a copy of the script and read it. Just read it. You will understand how fucking genius it truly is." Isn't that strange? I'm asking you to just read the script. In fact, don't even see the movie. The movie actually gets in the way of how good the script is. Not to take anything away from director Spike Jonze, who did another great job. But, like Being John Malkovich, the story is the script.

The ideas here are unlike anything we've paid 10 motherfucking dollars to see, or, God forbid, have even thought of on our own. Any douchebag with half a pea brain can linearly think up the plot to the next Vin Diesel or Sandra Bullock piece of shit on his lunch break, but NONE of you will ever have the imagination and patience and discipline to think out, craft, write, and then rewrite the movie script that will be used as a model of innovation and expansion of the form for generations to come. Suck on that, people.

David Cross is one half of the duo Mr. Show; his album Shut Up You Fucking Baby came out this year.


Leonard Cohen

It's a stretch, i know, to nominate a sixtysomething songsmith as artist of the year, when he has given audiences no new product beyond a career retrospective, which is, in addition, the second such compilation on his CV. But the genius of Leonard Cohen is that in addition to the other accessories of the pop life he's sloughed off--a band, a touring life, a singing voice--he's quietly shown most notions of artistic novelty and authenticity to be shams of the first magnitude. As other troubadour-cum-prophets of the pop world yank decades-old tour tapes out of the attic (Bob Dylan's Live 1975) or push themselves into the front rank of 9/11 recovery therapy (e.g., the unfortunately tumescent-sounding Springsteen anthem "The Rising"), Cohen ranges way out on the periphery, worrying over unfashionable struggles of private conscience, rubbing the worn talismans of religious belief, puzzling over the desires that haunt him in spite of it all. And while other singer-songwriter types undertake evermore manic stabs at self-reinvention, Cohen has quietly assumed the mien and look of a Hollywood producer gone to seed. (He has always been a near-doppelgänger of Dustin Hoffman, and it's hard these days not to think of Hoffman's deal-maker-cum-regime-fixer in Wag the Dog when you see Cohen, resplendent in open-shirted Angeleno suits and tinted aviator shades.)

What's more, his October 2001 release, Ten New Songs, has stayed in the front rotation of my playlist far longer than any other pop offering of the past year. In a typical counter-commercial flourish, Cohen had followed up the release of his penultimate record, The Future, with a five-year hiatus from recording, most of which was spent as an acolyte at a Buddhist monastery. He emerged with much of the material for this record, which despite its occasional stylistic lurches into Eurocheese synth-and-drum-machine production values, does indeed retain the feel of a spiritual homecoming. But given the fugitive, wisecracking, self-narrating spirit of Cohen, it does not translate into pure and blissful repose. "I smile when I'm angry," he announces in the opening track, "In My Secret Life," and then with equal assurance he declares a few lines later, "I'd die for the truth."

At times, Cohen's love affair with the big paradoxes does get to be a little much: "May everyone live," he croaks in "Here It Is," "and may everyone die," to which, I suppose, we're encouraged to reply, "Hey, thanks." But the spare, expectant mood of Ten Songs--of Cohen, as he says, "confined by sex" and "in formless circumstance"--is entirely persuasive. And, completely by accident, several of the record's guiding metaphors--of war, gambling, leave-takings and abandonments--probe the condition of the nation with much more acuity than a thousand Boss anthems. "Don't really have the courage/To stand where I must stand/Don't really have the temperament/To lend a helping hand," he muses timidly in the album-closing "The Land of Plenty," and then concludes: "For the innermost decision/That we cannot but obey/For what's left of our religion/I lift my voice and pray/May the lights in the Land of Plenty/Shine on the truth some day." Amen.

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