Before we dive into Christmas and New Year, before we leave this godforsaken year behind and only speak ill of it, if we speak of it at all, the Rude Pundit wants to show himself that it wasn't all terrible, that there were moments, culturally, of great beauty, of cathartic intensity, of sublime emotion. Amid all the terrible news, one can still find grace:
1. In a single day in April, at the Brooklyn Museum, you could go into one area and see the amazing, passionate protest works of "Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties." Then you could head into the atrium and be overwhelmed by "Submerged Motherlands," enormous works by the artist Swoon that exist in a world after the flood - Katrina, Sandy, the 2004 tsunami, or the next one. And then you could wander the rest of museum and see a career-spanning exhibit of the Chinese dissident and art celebrity Ai Weiwei in all his provocative, frustrating, and occasionally beautiful glory. That was one hell of an afternoon of art.
2. The Rude Pundit is still regularly listening to Lost in the Dream by the War on Drugs months after its release. It's a late night ride out of cities and into deserts and then back again, light and stars and light again. Deeply melodic, sometimes meandering, sometimes hook-filled, the band creates a rarity in the time of Spotify random playlists: a cohesive album that gets better the more you listen. But if you want to fill your speakers with great cuts, you should add "Miss Teen Massachusetts" by Skaters and "Eyes of the Muse" by King Tuff.
3. The moment in the Soho Rep's production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' An Octoroon when a black actor in white face abused a Latino actor in black face and a white actor in red face (as in "redskin") was subversive, hilarious, and confrontational, especially when the Rude Pundit looked around at the nearly all-white audience laughing at jokes about slavery. It's going to be remounted at the Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn in February and March. If you live up here or you're gonna be visiting, get your tickets. (Famous people performances that hit hard in plays the Rude Pundit has always wanted to see live: Holly Hunter and Bill Pullman as fucked-up versions of Ozzie and Harriet in David Rabe's classic Sticks and Bones; and Michael Shannon desperately trying to come up with meaning for life and death in the half-hour monologue that ends Eugene Ionesco's The Killer.)
4. Yeah, Jack White's nearly three-hour performance at the Bonnaroo Music Festival was insane and great and epic. But at one of the smaller stages the day before, the Cloud Nothings tore everyone's fucking face off with blistering, thrashing bass and guitar, savage drumming, and yowling vocals, with a frenzied, moshing crowd urging them on. It was cathartic rock and roll, as intense and sweaty and perfect a show as you could hope for surrounded by filthy kids in a stinking tent in a big, open field. (Runner-up insane moment: Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant climbing to the high balcony of Terminal 5 in New York City and swan-diving into the crowd.)
5. Broad City said everything that Girls is trying to say but does it by making you laugh your stoned ass off and not want to throw your remote at the TV. Silicon Valley was Big Bang Theory with writers who give a shit about more than selling "Bazinga" shirts. BoJack Horseman was one of the most satisfying long-games on TV. You have to make it halfway through the season before you realize "Holy crap, this isn't just about funny anthropomorphic animals. It's about deep sadness. And funny anthropomorphic animals." Also, it's got the best theme song on TV.
6. Nothing this year matched the sheer intensity of the film Whiplash, in which teacher J.K. Simmons abuses greatness out of drummer Miles Teller. No action film was more thrilling, no horror film was more frightening, and no ending was better. In fact, the last ten minutes of the movie may turn out to be one of the great scenes in movie history, a visceral, morally complex vision of what it takes to make music. You left the theatre feeling exhausted and ready to do anything to create art, even bleed. (Runner-up: The Babadook, which was about dread and depression manifested as a creepy-ass monster.)