Here's some of the stuff I enjoyed in 2006:
The Decemberists - "The Crane Wife"
While I can't decide if this is better or worse than their previous album, "Picaresque," I've enjoyed listening to this one trying to figure it out. It takes their progressive tendencies to a new extreme. Although it's not perfect throughout, after the buoyant closer "Sons & Daughters," you'll be happy you stuck with it.
Neko Case - "Fox Confessor Brings The Flood"
The alt-country diva with the reverb-drenched voice of an angel delivers her best songwriting yet.
The Hold Steady - "Boys & Girls In America"
Probably the best album of the year. A vibrant, exciting party album that pumps with the blood of the E Street Band.
Belle & Sebastian - "The Life Pursuit"
This stellar follow-up to "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" takes Belle & Sebastian further from their roots of pretty odes to bookish girls. Their newest album expands their sonics--they even get a little funky!--and lets them have some more fun.
Regina Spektor - "Begin To Hope"
Of all things, I'm starting to hear this one on commercials. This charming album by the quirky songstress delights at every turn. Don't believe me? Download "Fidelity" on iTunes and tell me I'm wrong.
Honorable Mentions: The Islands - "Return To The Sea"; Ghostface - "Fishscale"; Justin Timberlake - "FutureSex/LoveSounds"
Stranger Than Fiction
Although this is far from the technically "best" movie this year, this is right up with Little Miss Sunshine on the "left-the-theater-with-a-shiteating-grin" meter.
Little Miss Sunshine
If you haven't seen this one yet, for heaven's sake do NOT watch the commercials that unjustly give away the ending. This is another imperfect movie with a great cast and a lot of very touching scenes.
What's left to say about this one, really? An insanely funny movie that shows both the best (fawning politeness) and the worst (rampant racism and sexism) of America.
Geek out! It's Batman (Christian Bale) vs. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in a battle of magic!! Yes, magic. Another winner with a great, convoluted plot from director/screenwriter Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins).
Children of Men
Alfonso Cuarón's latest shows us a shockingly real dystopian future where no child has been born for almost 20 years. There's a lot to love here, from the intricate tracking shots to the flawless acting to the level of detail in every shot. You have to see this movie.
Honorable Mentions: Talladega Nights, Brick, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, Inside Man, Thank You For Smoking
Shawn Of The Dead "Trust Me, It's Fun" Recommendation: Slither
Still to See: The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima
Refuse to See: United 93, Lady In The Water
Biggest Letdowns: Pirates 2, Superman Returns
Biggest Surprises (positive): Casino Royale, Mission Impossible:3
I'm Starting To Worry about Pixar: Cars
Thank god they ran this one straight through. While the show is as ridiculous as ever, season 5 was a stellar return to form. You all know the rules: Do not call, IM, or email during 24 time.
Wow, did this go places no one expected. This is the best comedy on television. Between Dwight's megalomania and Jim's constant mugging for the camera, every moment of this show is funny—-there are even lots of inside jokes for long-time fans. Even better, the show rebounded from a potentially disasterous "joining of the forbidden couple" ending of the second season by firing on all cylinders with additions to the cast and an even stronger focus on uncomfortable humor (the episode this season where Oscar is outed publicly outdoes season 2's Christmas Party episode by a large margin on the squirming in your seat scale).
Yeah, I admit it. This spunky show has the best teenage detective and the most touching family dynamics broadcast television. Hopefully it can last a few more seasons or else Kristen Bell will be forced into horror B-movie obscurity.
Colbert Report/The Daily Show
The funniest, most important hour of television ever, and it's on 4 nights a week.
Although it feels like it ended eons ago, it was just last May that Arrested Development left us for good. And it went out with a bang, delivering the endless inside jokes and endless bad puns that the fans loved. Forget being too smart for prime time; FOX executives are too stupid to live.
Yet Unseen: Heroes, Battlestar Galactica, Studio 60, The Wire, 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights
I Gave Up On: Lost, Grey's Anatomy
Annoying Trends I Have Noticed This Year
CBS's failure to broadcast all football games in HD
For shame! I want more pretty pictures!
Magnetic Security Tags inside CD Jewel Cases
I still buy these albums in discs (not from iTunes) to have the album experience, including the art. Get that freaking sticker out of the way!
The Papyrus Font Is Everwhere!
Check it out: you can't escape the Papyrus font! Here's a note to everyone looking for an interesting typeface: If your font of choice is all over places like Bible.org, you're not edgy or cool. Sorry to break it to you.
A Fun New Website To Read
Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About
This is as the title advertises. What the title doesn't tell you is that it's written about an insane German woman from the point of view of a charming, dry Brit. Brilliance all around.