It’s been another exciting year, and we want to thank you all for reading and, if applicable, posting comments on our blog.  Once again, we would like to close out the year with some summary remarks about good and bad stuff related to film, music, books, politics, and family.

Best Film Experiences:

  • Jim:  Shutter Island and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  Though these are films in different genres, they are both superbly directed, well-acted, and have compelling stories.  And both films successfully transport the viewer into an alternate reality (or two).  But while Shutter Island leaves you questioning your perception of the world, Dawn Treader inspires you with the hope of transcending it.  Oh, and Toy Story 3 was brilliant, too—transporting the viewer in still another way.
  • Amy:  No Man of Her Own, Emma, and Tangled. In reviewing my viewing choices this year, I must acknowledge that my standards have lowered a bit this year.  These films are a bit more movie than film but great nonetheless.  No Man is a fab film noir starring Barbara Stanwyck.  While there are enough adaptations of Jane Austen’s Emma to sink the Titanic, this one is excellently done and it’s two discs long!  I just took our two youngsters to Tangled a few days ago as an act of love and ended up laughing (and crying) along with them.

Worst Film Experiences:

  • Jim:  This is an easy call: Greenberg.  What a colossal waste of time.  Yet, this reviewer at A.V. Club recommended it, while admitting that this film, like all of director Noah Baumbach’s comedies, is “plotless, self-consciously literary, and populated by characters who flat-out suck from the time they roll out of the bed until they angrily switch out the lights at night.”  He’s right about that much.  But he also finds the film to be “hilarious” and “a pleasure to look at.”  I wonder if we watched the same film.
  • Amy:  Inception.  Maybe this film doesn’t deserve to be called the worst I watched, but it was such a disappointment that I am placing it in the worst experience category.  I anticipated a smart and mind-bending experience.  What I got was an action movie with a side-serving of love story.  I actually fast-forwarded several sections of shoot-me-up.  A close second is The Last Air Bender.  I only make it second because I couldn’t actually make myself watch this much anticipated live action version of our most beloved Nickelodeon show.  I had heard it was awful and made the kids watch it.  Even they hated it.  M. Knight Shyamalan, you’re killing me!

Best and Worst Musical Experiences of the Year:

  • Jim:  Josh Ritter’s So Runs the World Away and Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs.  I actually purchased both of these CDs on the same day, so I spent the next month in musical bliss, bathing in the musical beauty.  For the most part, I avoided stinkers, due mainly to my careful research before purchasing new music.  But what I could not avoid was hearing the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” everywhere I went.  Blecch!
  • Amy:  I am starting to sense a pattern of shallowness in my aesthetic sense this year.  I am sensing a New Year’s resolution coming on. Anyhoo, my musical selections were mostly limited to good workout music (“Stuck to You” by Nikka Costa, “Strip Me” by Natasha Bedingfield and “The Way I Are” by Timbaland).  I have just purchased albums by Rosanne Cash and Emmylou Harris, which I hope to enjoy in the New Year.

Jim’s Favorite Sports Moment of the Year: Two of my three favorite NFL teams playing in the Super Bowl.  Well, the run-up to the Super Bowl was actually more satisfying than the game itself, which at times felt like watching my kids fight.  I was sad for my Colts but thrilled for my Saints, with whom I have suffered as a fan since the early 1980s.  Who Dat!!!

Jim’s Most Disappointing Sports Moment of the Year: All of the LeBron James summer free agency hype, culminating in an hour-long ESPN James announcement TV special.  LeTacky and LeShameless.  My interest in the NBA and respect for ESPN have declined faster than the U.S. economy.

Amy’s Best Eating Experience of the Year: While attending a conference with Jim in Atlanta, we “attempted” to visit the Atlanta Art Museum.  We sighed with regret as we took an afternoon siesta and mumbled something about going to the Art Museum.  We didn’t make it to the museum, but we did make it to the restaurant adjacent to the Museum.  I had rabbit with pumpkin ravioli.  That’s right—rabbit and let me tell you, Bugs Bunny was tasty!

Amy’s Worst Eating Experience of the Year: If we are talking overall experience, it would have to be an ill-fated family trip to Cracker Barrel.  The bad side was the service, which was horrible and slow; also, the food was cold and the manager snapped at me when I pointed this out.  The up side was that, in the end, our dinner was on the house.  I also hosted a dinner party at which I unfortunately served grey soup; not a shining moment in my culinary career.

Satisfying Reads of the Year:

  • Jim:  Howard Storm’s My Descent into Death was the most engrossing and inspiring book I’ve read in years (see my May 30 post).  Keaton, the classic Buster Keaton biography by Rudi Blesh, was also excellent (see my August 8 post).  I also enjoyed numerous short stories by Flannery O’Connor.
  • Amy:  The Help by Kathryn Stockett and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley were both great book club selections this year.  I spent a good part of the year reading books with Bailey and Maggie so for tween boys I recommend the Gregor the Overlander series or Mr. Popper’s Penguins and The Moffats.

Political High Point of the Year: Kicking (a lot of) the bums out of Congress in November.  We’ll see how many of these newly elected folks turn out to be bums as well.

Political Low Points of the Year: Amy’s low point was the day after the November elections when she had the sinking feeling that all the newly elected Senators and Representatives would prove to be just as disappointing as the bums that we threw out.  Jim’s low point was the passing of Obamacare in March.  Already two U.S. District Court judges have struck down part of the health care law as unconstitutional (portending much bigger legal wrangling to come).  What a mess.

Good 2010 Memories of Our Kids:

  • Bailey learning to play guitar and his ability to imitate us with frightening accuracy.
  • Watching Sam finish first in the Fairmount James Dean race for his age group
  • Maggie having her first spend-the-night at a friend’s house.  Coincidentally, this was also the quietest night of the year at the Spiegels.
  • Andrew declaring himself the “King of Potato Wedges,” among other things.  He also is now fully potty trained—a major family milestone, to be sure.

Favorite Backyard Adventures of the Year:

  • Jim:  Installing a zip-line and watching the kids’ creative uses of it (not including Sam’s inadvertent back flip and landing on his shoulders)
  • Amy:  The raised bed in which we planted cucumbers, carrots, and onions.  The cucumbers dominated impressively.

Most Satisfying Shared Experiences of the Year:

  • Jim:  Eating at the 1280 Restaurant in Atlanta—the $18 scallops were worth every bite (which is saying a lot, as they averaged out to over $3.00 per bite).
  • Amy:  Any of our several family bike rides—the back of my bike is finally toddler free!  A close second was the camping trip the kids and I took to Indiana Dunes State Park.  I was so proud of myself for going, proud of the kids for being such troupers and amazed at the beauty of Lake Michigan.

New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Jim:  To read ten books in New Testament and historical Jesus studies; also to stop biting my nails (without having to forego following sports).
  • Amy:  To run a 10K race and read at least six books by C.S. Lewis (and not just his fiction).

Happy 2011 everyone!

8 Responses to “The Best and Worst of 2010”

  1. Kathy Alwood


    Just gotta say I love you guys and the beautiful way you love life – glad to be reading your blog again. Happy New Year from Dublin!

  2. Kaitlyn Dugan


    This post was a delight to read – I always enjoy your year-end highlights!

    With that said, I need to offer my thanks to Amy (you have to be proud of me, I wrote out Mrs. Spiegel and then deleted it! I’m getting there!) for offering her workout songs. I’m always looking for new songs to add to my running playlist and I somehow never heard of the song mentioned by N. Bedingfield. It’s awesome!

    HNY – Cheers!

  3. Xan


    Thanks, as always, for the interesting posts.

    Though, I must admit, the idea that Inception is merely an “action movie with a side-serving of love story,” strikes me as unduly harsh on Nolan and friends. In point of fact, I think Inception is one of the year’s best – count me a wholehearted Nolan fan! Just think about the role of mirrors in Inception… I am hard-pressed to find anything as thoughtful in a Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, or Nick Cage film; true action movies with a side-serving of love story.

    Just one more opinion… 🙂

  4. Marc Belcastro



    I think I agree with Xan regarding Inception. Before I saw it for the first time—I confess to seeing it three times at the cinema—I expected an intriguing film given the provocative trailers and the fact it’s a Christopher Nolan film. Upon seeing Inception, I found that my high expectations were actually exceeded. (Now, perhaps you’ll suggest that my expectations were either deficient or not high enough. This may well be true.) It seems to me that the film did indeed deliver a “smart and mind-bending experience.” It’s one of the most clever and creative films I’ve seen in a while. At any rate, it generated several conversations among my family (but that also may just be further evidence of the above deficiency).

    As a small, subtle example of Inception’s creativity, this
    short clip
    is worth a listen, if you haven’t heard it already.

    Regarding your criticisms, I think that the action and love story are central elements of Inception. Instead of being incidental details or unnecessary distractions, they appear to be intrinsic to the form (or fabric) of the story. Further, Dom’s relationship with Mal introduced some important features to the story and the advancement of the plot, not to mention more depth. 🙂

    With respect to Xan’s other comments about Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, and Nick Cage, I simply can’t figure out what he’s talking about. He clearly has failed to apprehend the true substance and brilliance of their work.

    Yet another opinion . . . 🙂

    — Marc

  5. Xan


    The lyrics of the song alluded to in the clip, supplied by Marc, are translated as follows (obviously, the translation may not be perfect; but, I think it gets the point across):

    No, nothing at all, I regret nothing at all
    Not the good, nor the bad. It is all the same.
    No, nothing at all, I have no regrets about anything.
    It is paid, wiped away, forgotten.
    I am not concerned with the past, with my memories.
    I set fire to my pains and pleasures,
    I don’t need them anymore.
    I have wiped away my loves, and my troubles.
    Swept them all away.
    I am starting again from zero.

    No, nothing at all, I have no regrets
    Because from today, my life, my happiness, everything,
    Starts with you!

    The lyrics are somewhat relevant to the plot of the film; interesting…

    — Xan

    • Amy


      perhaps my dislike for the action is a matter of taste rather than quality. i still say nolan refuses to make a definitive statement. i may have a dislike for action but i loathe ambiguity and, dare i provoke you both further and say, cowardice. sorry boys, i ain’t buyin’ it but i acknowledge your right to disagree…this time.

      • Marc Belcastro



        I accept both your apology and your provocation. =)

        If your dislike of the action is a matter of taste rather than quality, I suppose the sensible thing for me to do would be to recognize that as a perfectly respectable expression of taste, which I do (this time). It seems inevitable that even people with refined and discerning taste will acknowledge something’s quality without also finding it appealing. Out of curiosity, what is it about the film’s action which didn’t attract your favor? And/or, what kind of action does attract your favor?

        You also mentioned, “i still say nolan refuses to make a definitive statement.” That’s interesting. Would you mind elaborating? Were you speaking specifically about Inception or about other Nolan films?

  6. Eric Sague


    Dr. Spiegel,
    I just purchased my first Josh Ritter album, So Runs the World Away, because it made your “best of” list. I’m only ten minutes into it right now, but so far I can definitely thank you for the recommendation. Would you believe that I hadn’t really heard of him before this post?

    I also bought the full Radiohead discography and some U2 this year. All of the recommendations that I deemed “pretentious” three years ago in Aesthetics class eventually were able to slip past my emocore sensibilities onto my most played list. Sunny Day Real Estate will forever be in my heart, but Arcade Fire is in my cd player.


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