Artists of the Year

John Cassavetes said that if you create it specifically, it will be understood and appreciated universally. Listen closely to the singer's universality. She is definitely Haley Bonar, no maybe about it.

Ali Selim is the writer-director of Sweet Land.

Brandon Flowers

Gary Taxali

BY DIABLO CODY

Brandon Flowers brought back the ascot. Actually, he didn't just bring back the ascot, he brought back the sentiments we associate with ascots. Grandiosity. Verve. Panache. Foppish, sloe-eyed braggadocio of the type possessed by Billy Zane's character in Titanic. (Just swap ominous strings for synth licks.)

Fittingly, Flowers almost brought his own ship down this year when he boasted to Giant magazine that his likable show band, the Killers, had just recorded "one of the best albums of the past 20 years." This remark had the unwanted effect of rendering said album the industry equivalent of the cocky sophomore kid everyone wants to pummel senseless. Hipsters who had begrudgingly embraced the Killers' first record were now feeling far less charitable.

Even if Sam's Town had lived up to Flowers's grandstanding, one suspects that it still would have been pulped by eager bullies. The album was unabashedly ambitious: Like the blighted Vegas landscape that inspired Flowers, Sam's Town—gorgeous as it was—sounded gaudy, overcrowded, and a little windy. Rolling Stone delivered the expected critical spanking (how dare a new band imitate the Boss?) and fans of the Killers' candy-coated debut felt neglected. Even Flowers's new, "serious" facial hair fell under intense scrutiny.

But really, what's so bad about swagger? What's wrong with a goofy mustache, or bragging to the press, or too many saxophones? Humility is more overrated than Radiohead. In the '60s, geniuses like Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, and John Lennon believed that they were crafting masterpieces and had no qualms about matter-of-factly informing us thereof. Who needs false modesty now? Sam's Town kicks ass because it tries too hard, blows its own horn, and struts like the rent is due. Just like Brandon Flowers.

Diablo Cody is a screenwriter, the author of Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, and TV critic at City Pages.

Deborah Eisenberg

BY DYLAN HICKS

Magazine and newspaper copy gets ever shorter, in deference to Americans' alleged paucity of time and attention. Yet, paradoxically, in today's lit biz one's commercial prospects dim as one's word counts decrease, putting short-story writers just ahead of poets among the widely unread. Fortunately, several masters of the form, unswayed by publishers' pleas and generally supported by teaching gigs and grants, see the short story not as apprentice work but as a life's pursuit. Deborah Eisenberg is at or near the top of that pack.

Twilight of the Superheroes, released in early '06, collects six of Eisenberg's recent stories: the flawed title tale, set in New York around 9/11, and five near-perfect companions. These stories tend not to lead toward climaxes or epiphanies—Eisenberg on epiphanies: "There's something about the idea of it that I simply reject"—but that's not to say that they lack suspense. The pleasure isn't in seeing her heroes proceed from point A to Point B, but in seeing Eisenberg color in their outlines.

In "Like It or Not," Kate, a divorced American schoolteacher, visits an old friend, an Italian aristocrat she met decades ago at a college "to which Kate had been sent for its patrician reputation and its august location, and to which Giovanna had been exiled for its puritanical reputation and backwater location." In Italy, a titled art-and-antique dealer escorts Kate to the coast—it's something of a blind date—where he proceeds to seduce or be seduced by a young woman not much older than Kate's students. Eisenberg doesn't create cheap drama by having Kate discover the seduction—she doesn't need to; loneliness permeates the story and infects all. And when the author takes on the bachelor aesthete's point of view, she's just as knowing.

Eisenberg is a chameleon and a surveyor. In Twilight she brings to life the poor and the superrich, urban and rural, male and female, gay and straight, young and old. The collection ends up being a rather thoroughgoing portrait of contemporary existence, and though the stories cover big social themes—death and domestic abuse, schizophrenia and 9/11—the drama almost always has the subtlety of a slice of life, only you're given the whole pie.

Dylan Hicks is a Minneapolis writer and a frequent contributor to City Pages.

David Lynch

BY DENNIS LIM

As you may have heard by now, David Lynch loves digital video. He loves it with the boundless zeal of a new convert and the reckless wonder of a kid in a toy store. At 61, in self-exile from an industry that increasingly seems the focus of his obsessions, he also sees it as a lifeline, a chance for independence, a hedge against film's increasingly obvious mortality. Inland Empire, his monstrous, wondrous three-hour trawl through the broken psyche of a Hollywood star heroically embodied by Laura Dern, marks the beginning of an unshakable commitment to DV, a medium the director is wont to describe, somewhat controversially, as "beautiful."

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