TIME’s Favorite Cultural Moments of 2011

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Left to Right: NBC; Everett; Paramount Pictures

Gilbert Cruz, Entertainment Editor

1. The opening credits to American Horror Story

I’m a big fan of David Fincher’s Seven, and this is a credits sequence that flagrantly rips off from that film’s dingy Nine Inch Nails/serial killer vibe. Not a surprise given that the same group that worked on that movie’s opening worked on this show’s. Every week, when I was on the fence about whether or not to continue watching this glorious mess of a series, it was this approximately 60 seconds that sucked me in every time. With its abrasive water-dripping and chainsaw-punctuated soundtrack (co-written by a former Nine Inch Nails member) to its disturbing pig fetus in jars imagery to the creepy vintage photographs (what is it about vintage photographs?) to the fantastic choice of typeface (Rennie Mackintosh, for those curious), this short film worked its magic every single time.


2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo teaser trailer

I’m a fairly preppy, fastidious guy, so I’m not sure what it means that I also loved the very dark teaser for Fincher’s version of the Stieg Larsson novel. Set to the Trent Reznor (more Nine Inch Nails, who I don’t even like) and Karen O cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” I first saw this clip in bootleg form on my tiny iPhone screen while riding in the back of a car. The quality was terrible. Yet the extremely simplistic (yet effective) manner in which each visual cut is timed to a drum hit, the yowling of Karen O, and the ominous first-person perspective that slowly, but unstoppably, approaches that white mansion — it was all so very entrancing.


3. The piano part on Eleanor Friedberger’s “Roosevelt Island”

It was this summer when Friedberger’s Last Summer came out, and I felt no shame in listening to an album with so obvious a title. I had never been able to penetrate much of the music from quirky duo The Fiery Furnaces, which is made up of Friedberger and her brother Matthew. But the wonderful poppiness of this, her first solo effort, made it my summer album. At first, I thought my favorite song would be the near perfect opener “My Mistakes” — it was bouncy and jaunty and if I was going to sweat my ass off in the middle of July, I might as well do it while bouncing to something jaunty. Then I heard “Roosevelt Island,” which for me seems to exist only as prelude to the piano part that arrives at 4 minute and 25 seconds. The bulk of the song has this hard, earthbound funk thing going on, and then the piano arrives and the song and me and everything seems to just float up into the sky.


4. This line from The Adventures of Tintin:

“He’s a light sleeper on account of the tragic loss of his eyelids. Aye, that was a card game to remember.”

Craig Duff, Director of Multimedia

1. A Masked My Brightest Diamond

When Shara Worden set out to create her latest recording with her project My Brightest Diamond, she had a few rules, according to her label’s website:

1) Every sound would be created acoustically.
2) She would play as infrequently as possible.
3) If she did play, the instrument must fit in a suitcase.

At the CMJ festival record release party for the album, All Things Will Unwind, the classically-trained singer and songstress stayed true to all three. At an intimate Brooklyn venue on stage with yMusic, the gorgeously hip chamber ensemble that backs her on the album (they’ve also released a notable recording this year, Beautiful Mechanical, featuring several pieces in collaboration with indie acts), Worden added some percussion, strummed the autoharp and plucked the mbira, an African thumb piano. The tunes and words on Unwind resonate deeply with these economic times (“When you’re privileged, you don’t even know you’re privileged. When you’re not, you know.”), but it’s the theatricality of Worden’s voice and stage presence that most connect and surprise. In the first song, she had the audience doing a round on the chorus “love binds the world.” Soon after, she donned a Japanese goddess mask, a mysterious disguise from behind which her lush vocals rang out. It was the first of many quirky moments of a brilliantly quirky show and album.

2. A Cunning Little Vixen

I have a thing for foxes. Growing up in the rural Midwest, it was a thrill to spot them on occasion in the woods or fields nearby. I love that Robin Hood in the Disney version is a fox (voiced by Brian Bedford). And I laugh out loud when I think of the Fantastic Mr. Fox as imagined by Wes Anderson. I’m also a fan of a great orchestra doing bold things. So when I learned that Alan Gilbert would lead the New York Philharmonic in The Cunning Little Vixen, the Janacek opera about the life of a female fox called Sharp-Ears, I was excited. (Even more so having seen the previous season’s triumph in the staged version of Ligeti’s Le Grande Macabre.) From the first bars of the score, as the forester enters and the woods come to life with vivid creatures designed by director Douglas Fitch, I was enchanted. When soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian sings her first bars as the vixen, her ears perky and tail flowing behind, I was totally hooked. Beautifully played by the orchestra, the production only further proves that the choice of the Philharmonic’s native son, Alan Gilbert, is taking the orchestra places few others would venture. And we get to go along.

3. Kate Bush F@%ks a Snowman

Kate Bush fans (myself included) have had a good year. Her song “Wuthering Heights” enjoyed a hilarious reprisal in the Steve Coogan road movie The Trip. In May, she released her re-tooled Director’s Cut of songs from two earlier albums (The Red Shoes and The Sensual World). And, just as the autumn leaves were turning brown, Kate breezed in with a wintry swirl of an album: 50 Words for Snow. In the title cut, she convinces Stephen Fry to list the 50 words (in a few different languages) for the snow that falls constantly across the album’s seven songs lasting more than an hour. Listing words should not be surprising to Bush fans. This is, after all, a woman who sang the number pi to 150 decimal places on her previous album of original material. Fans will also recognize how she assumes characters – be it a falling snowflake, or a lost dog of the same name. In one tune, she shags a snowman. Let’s just say the affair doesn’t last.


Keeping a leisurely pace, with snowy dustings of piano and percussion, the album’s highest point is in a duet with Elton John. In the song “Snowed in at Wheeler Street” Bush and John are timeless lovers, first connecting in Ancient Rome and surviving calamity after calamity over millennia, including the Holocaust and 9/11, but somehow finding it hard to stay connected. The moment John goes an octave higher in the chorus, pleading “I don’t want to lose you again,” it’s the most emotional and impassioned phrase he’s sung in more than a decade.

4. Lady Bracknell’s Entrance

Brian Bedford is not the first man to inhabit the frocks of Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. But on his first entrance in the Roundabout Theatre Company production (by way of the Stratford Festival in Canada) it is clear that his is a singular performance. This is not an actor in drag playing a campy rendition of Wilde’s overbearing matron. This is an actor fully immersed in a character (as well as some rather large dresses and hats). And on her first entrance, when the Lady’s eyes first notice the young Jack Worthing, a man she deems unworthy of her nephew’s company, the palpable upper crustiness crumbles the soul.

5. Gérard Depardieu Does Berlioz

There is a moment in Lélio, or the Return to Life — the lesser-known follow-up to Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique — when the narrator (the artist/protagonist of the original symphonie) turns around to speak to the players and singers on stage, directing, complimenting and admonishing them: “You, gentlemen, who occupy the last steps of the risers, stand guard against your tendency to delay!” It takes a large presence to say that to an orchestra like the Chicago Symphony, especially with a giant like Riccardo Muti standing at the podium. Happily, for those of us attending the double bill of Lélio, preceded by the Symphonie Fantastique, French actor Gérard Depardieu was as big as a chateau. Big enough to take over Carnegie Hall from a small addition to the stage furnished with an armchair. The barrel-chested actor ranted and lamented in French as English subtitles read out the translation overhead (not always to pace… sometimes the laughs came before the lines were even uttered in French).

A quick glance at the program notes for Lélio gives an immediate clue to why the piece is rarely performed: it’s a collection of works stitched together with a somewhat flimsy premise. But in the hands of such a charismatic actor standing in front of one of America’s best orchestras (some say the best), it was a delight.

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