Rules: Nothing not published this year, nothing from GQ, because I work there, and—in the spirit of the assignment—nothing I didn’t first read on my iPhone. (And I realize now, having done this whole thing, that everything on the main list is from a print-based publication, which should not be taken as some kind of a Statement. I still love you, Internet!)
Michael Kruse, Lonely, Stressed and Frustrated: Inside the Mind of the Pinellas Monkey (St. Petersburg Times, May 16, 2010)
Best celebrity profile I read this year, and it’s a write-around. About a monkey. “People who are alone tend to make self-destructive decisions. They might drink too much or not eat right. They start giving up. And the monkey here, he explains, isn’t all that different.”
Mark Harris, The Red Carpet Campaign (New York, 2/7/10)
Reported essay about awards-season swirl and how the pseudo-event sausage of the Academy Awards gets made. The gist: “A good Oscar narrative makes voters feel that, by writing a name on a ballot, they’re completing a satisfying plotline. Only a few of these stories are effective, and every campaign season, movies scramble to own them.” Sprawling yet surgical; managed to make me care, in February, about a subject I’m usually utterly post-give-a-shit about by Thanksgiving.
Rob Tanenbaum, The Playboy Interview: John Mayer (Playboy, March 2010)
Yeah, this is the one where Mayer rendered himself culturally leprous with a few spectacularly ill-advised comments about African-Americans and his weiner— but it’s also the best Q&A with a rock personality I read this year. Speaking as somebody who does this for a living: It’s hard to get something interesting out of a subject who’s reluctant or dumb, but it’s actually way harder to take a quote machine like Mayer— who’s historically used compulsive self-disclosure and meta-acknowledgements of what he knows about the interview process to completely run the table in these situations— somewhere he doesn’t want to go. And, uh, obviously, that’s what happened.
Chris Jones, Roger Ebert: The Essential Man (Esquire, February 2010)
I spent an embarrassing amount of time—like, months—working on a snakebit-from-the-beginning Ebert profile for GQ five years ago. It never ran, mostly because it sucked. Sucked on draft 1, sucked worse on draft 18. (Like Rog once said about certain reviews: “The bad ones take forever.”) So I was all ready to hate this Ebert story just for existing and appearing in a magazine and reminding me of how spectacularly I blew it in 2005—but I didn’t, because it’s so goddamn good it turned off the part of my brain that hates people for being better than me. That part where Ebert gets mad at Disney’s copyright police for taking down YouTube videos of him and Siskel, and because he can’t yell, he makes the font bigger and bigger? “He presses the button again and again and again, the words growing bigger and bigger and bigger until they become too big to fit the screen, now they’re just letters, but he keeps hitting the button, bigger and bigger still, now just shapes and angles, just geometry filling the white screen with black like the three squares. Roger Ebert is shaking, his entire body is shaking, and he’s still hitting the button, bang, bang, bang, and he’s shouting now. He’s standing outside on the street corner and he’s arching his back and he’s shouting at the top of his lungs.” Holy fucking shit.
Joe Hagan, The Return of Governor Moonbeam, And Other Hallucinations From The Golden State (New York, October 10, 2010)
Schwarzenegger, Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman contest the California narrative as the state, fiscally gut-shot by the housing collapse, tumbles broke and stoned into the sea; Hagan weaves Jerry’s free-association and Schwarzenegger’s puny-humans ranting and Meg Whitman’s total carpetbagging bullshit in and out of a bunch of elegant set pieces—the Hyatt-ballroom rally, the pot dispensary, David Boies’ beach house. The obvious comparison to make when you’re talking about a story where a writer tries to comprehend weed-hazy apocalyptic California is Joan Didion, but the real bookend for this one—culturally, decade-wise, whatever—is the series of dispatches Hank Stuever filed from L.A. and Sacramento back in 2003, during the nutsoid recall election that led to Schwarzenegger taking office in the first place. (They’re collected in his book OFF RAMP as one essay, “Recallifornia”; the story about Gary Coleman is here. Read those and Joe’s story back to back, groove on the paradox of Californian perma-decline.)
Honorable mentions, aka “I could have done 15 of these”:
Jay Caspian Kang, The High Is Always The Pain and the Pain Is Always the High (The Morning News, 10/8/10), which I read after everybody else put it on their Top 5 lists, so I’m not counting it, because totally arbitrary rules are rules.
Sean Witzke, Emma Peel Sessions 39 – ‘Have you seen the Lady From Shanghai? Orson Welles… that one makes no sense’ (supervillain.wordpress.com, 7/5/10)
Molly Lambert, In Which We Eagerly Await Aaron Sorkin’s Friend Request (thisrecording.com, 10/7/10)
Michaelangelo Matos, eMusic Q&A: Rob Sheffield (17dots, 8/5/10)
Mary HK Choi and Natasha Vargas-Cooper, On ‘New Moon’: ‘Teenage Female Desire Manifest’ (The Awl, 11/20/10)
Oh, and it’s from 2009, but: Chris Stangl, Ghost Train: The Lost Pauline Kael Review of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) (The Exploding Kinetoscope, 7/7/09)