The best of culture (my own view)

July 29, 2021 • 12:45 pm

When I said earlier today that I preferred Van Gogh’s version of “Noonday Rest” to Millet’s original, some wiseass came along and asked me to expound my “theory of aesthetics” that could justify such a decision. Of course I have no theory of art; I know what moves me, and I could give reasons if I’m forced to think about it. But those reasons could simply be post facto justifications for my emotional reaction to a work of art. And of course different theories will lead to different rankings. It’s for that reason that I’m wary of any supposedly “objective” reason why one work of art is better than another.

But that got me thinking about my favorite aspects of culture, which I’d normally label “the best”; but of course saying “the best” automatically means that it’s your own subjective opinion. These are matters of taste, not science.  So I’m going to list off the top of my head the best books, movies, music, and so on—meaning those works I like the most. Regular readers of this site will already know most of my opinions.

I’ll give links to the works, and on another day I might choose different works.

Best painting ancient: The Isenheim Altarpiece, by Matthias Grünewald.  (1512-1516). Yes, it’s religious, and all about Jesus, but the images of the crucified Christ and the “atomic bomb” Resurrection are fabulous.

Best painting, modern: Almost any van Gogh painted during the last two years of his life.

Best movie, American: The Last Picture Show, directed by Peter Bogdanovich (1971)

Best movie, non-American: Ikiru (“To Live”), directed by Akira Kurosawa (1952). (Second place: Tokyo Story, directed by Yasujirō Ozu; 1953).

Best novel: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1878)

Best novella or short story: The Dead, by James Joyce (1914)

Best memoir: Out of Africa by Isak Dinisen (Karen Blixen; 1937). It’s the prose, Jake.

Best biography: This is a tie. The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro (four volumes, one to go); tied with The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill by William Manchester. Two volumes published, but Manchester died before he could complete the third, which would have begun with Churchill becoming Prime Minister and leading Britain during WW!!. The trilogy was finished by someone else, and I haven’t read the third volume. Everybody’s hoping Caro finishes volume 5 before he passes on.  Second place is also by Caro: The Power Broker Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1974).

Best rock song: Layla by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon, as performed by Clapton with Derek and the Dominoes (1970): the electric version, and only before the slow part begins.  Watch here.

Best rock group (best oeuvre): The Beatles, of course.

Best jazz song: This is a hard one. At the moment, I suppose Ellington’s version of Take the A Train, written by Billy Strayhorn. On another day it might be Potato Head Blues by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven (1927), and yet on another day it would be the heartbreaking version of But Beautiful performed by Art Pepper live on the “Friday Night at the Village Vanguard” album.  You won’t find it on YouTube, and the version you’ll hear there is, according to my theory of aural aesthetics, inferior. In fact, I’ve just changed my mind and have moved Pepper into first place. It’s a fabulous song: a musical wail of pain.

Best jazz group (best oeuvre): Duke Ellington between 1940 and 1942.

Best piece of classical music. I don’t know from classical music, and will give no opinion.

Those are my choices and I have no theories to buttress them. You are welcome, nay, encouraged, to list your own choices.

122 thoughts on “The best of culture (my own view)

  1. Jeez, best jazz song? If I only had one jazz tune to listen to on a desert island? Where to start? Impossible choice.

    I guess I’d tend toward the complex in order to be able to continually find more and more in the tune, but that’s very different from just what moves you. For complex, I’m down to two choices:

    Tiger Rag, by Art Tatum – possibly the most technically virtuosic performance on any instrument in jazz history

    Dance of Maya by the Mahavishnu Orchestra – my brain is pulled in two opposite directions when the two themes of this tune are played simultaneously at the end.

    For pure love, though, I’d have to choose something from McCoy Tyner, who was my first great musical infatuation. I guess Sahara (title tune from the album) because I always visualize huge Norse gods, riding horses many miles in height, streaming through the clouds when the intro is finally done and the theme/head arrives. Another colleague who I played this tune for remarked how powerful the melody is when it is merely two major triads arpeggiated downward, and he’s right to be amazed at that.

    I guess that’s not a single tune, huh? OK, I’ll take Sahara.

  2. At the risk of violating Da Roolz, and in the absence of any knowledge of the original poster’s history at WEIT, I took their query at face value and thought our host’s response was a little harsh. But as I say, there are things I’m unaware of.

    Nonetheless, it’s brave of PCC(E) to put his choices out there (here?). I don’t think that I could assemble such a comprehensive list!

  3. With few exceptions, I don’t have a list of singular Best of anything in mind. Each category will have a longish list of things I really like, and no doubt the list would grow as I think on them.

  4. Here is a tentative partial list of my Bests.

    Best modern joint biography: “Brave Genius” by Sean B. Carroll (Albert Camus and Jacques Monod).
    Best neo-classical musical work: “Capricorn Concerto” by Samuel Barber
    Best 20th century classical work evoking nature: “Tapiola” by Sibelius
    Best ground-breaking innovation in classical music: Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”.
    Best jazz re-imagining of a classical work: “ReWrite of Spring” by Lars Møller and the Aarhus Jazz Orchestra
    Best Paralyzingly Funny Theater Experience: The Reduced Shakespeare Company
    Best movie of all time: “The Seventh Seal”

    1. Hard to beat that, and a blast to play! Although my favorite piece of “classical” music (really it’s romantic, I think) is Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto.

          1. Rach “Isle of the Dead”. Rach also qualifies as the only classical composer with the height to qualify for a basketball team.

            1. I’m old, my music even older, maybe snobbish, but, if you have 3 hours:

              Bach: Mass in B Minor (baroque)
              Beethoven: String Quartet in C# Minor, Opus 131 (classical/romantic/unclassifiable}
              Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde, 1st, and especially last movement, Der Abschied (late romantic)

              I am a visual art moron—but, Velazquez?

  5. Best painting: Fighting Temeraire (not a very original choice, admittedly).

    Best rock group: Metallica (obviously)

    Best rock album: Shogun, Trivium (makes up for the un-originality of my painting choice).

    Best classical piece: Allegro’s Miserere

    Best traditional-music piece: Suo Gan

    Best film: Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

    1. Why is it obvious that Metallica are your best rock group? Is it something you’ve told us before? Are you a member? Or are you trying to pretend that they are so good that they are obviously the best and nobody could think otherwise. If it’s the last, you are objectively wrong. There are many rock groups that are better than Metallica (in my opinion).

      1. It was a slightly tounge-in-cheek comment about attitudes of Metallica fans, and echoing PCC’s “of course” about the Beatles, and wryly acknowledging the utterly subjective and personal-taste nature of any such judgement.

        And, anyhow, the “best rock group” just obviously has to be a metal band, and Metallica have long dominated that genre.

        1. I realised why you put “obviously” in after I had gone through my answers and found Jerry had put “obviously” in for his choice of a band that might not even fall under the definition of “rock”.

          Domination doesn’t necessarily imply being the best. The best metal band is Iron Maiden…


  6. Ok, I’ll weigh in on just two: best rock song and best novel.
    The song is “Peace of Mind,” by Tom Scholz, who is a genius, IMHO.
    The novel (I know, it’s dated and kids today can’t relate) is “The Catcher in the Rye,” which is the only novel that that I have actually read, and laughed out loud at, more than 3 or 4 times. Salinger was most definitely NOT a genius, but he wrote a wonderful book.
    Of course, I chose these two because I had no choice.

    1. I read Catcher in the Rye in one sitting/lying in the bathtub, with my little brothers banging on the door. There was another bathroom downstairs, but little brothers will be little brothers.

      1. Year 1, 1963, undergrad in math, physics, chemistry, I, already an atheist, was ‘press-ganged’ (at St. Mike’s-sub-UToronto) into taking RK—Religious Knowledge, of all things to be confessing to here! The prof was a very interesting ‘rebel’ priest, Father Belyea. But he made his courses into English Lit. courses. This had the problem of evil as its theme, and right there along with Dostoevki’s Crime and Punishment, the Book of Job, some Graham Greene, was
        —Catcher in the Rye!

    2. I guess it’s true that some writers only have one book in them and that would describe Salinger. I too loved Catcher in the Rye and was extremely disappointed when I read his other works. I don’t think I even finished all nine stories in Nine Stories.

        1. My freshman year English prof said that Invisible Man was the best novel ever written. I though he was referring to the HG Wells story. I thought, “It’s a good, but hardly the best novel ever written.” I’m glad I didn’t say this in class.

          1. It is a very good book (Ellison’s, I mean); I still remember Ras the Exhorter–>Ras the Destroyer all these years later. I’ve never read anything else by Ellison.

            1. Ellison created a number of memorable characters in his novel. Rinehart and Clifton also come to mind. How Clifton lost his faith in the Brotherhood by being the first to realize he was just a tool and later got killed was a tragedy that has stuck with me as well.

    3. I read “The Catcher in the Rye” twice. The first time I loved it so I decided to read it again a few years later; for some reason, the second time Holden Caulfield really irritated me.

    4. I didn’t think that The Catcher In The Rye was funny at all. It was one of only two books that I had to read at school for English Lit. that I actually enjoyed so it must be pretty good.

  7. Most of my taste would be considered middle-brow, but I’ll give it a shot.
    Best Classical Painting: Bruegel’s Landscape with the fall of Icarus
    Best Modern Painting: Something from Dali
    Best American Movie: Citizen Kane
    Best Non-American Movie: Cinema Paradiso
    Best Novel: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
    Best Short story or novella: Hills Like White Elephants by Hemingway
    Best Memoir: This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolf
    Best Biography: The Lost City of Z by David Grann
    Best Rock Song: I’m going to agree with you on Layla though I loathe Clapton
    Best Rock Group: Pink Floyd
    Best Jazz Song: I don’t know jazz at all so I’ve got to go with Take 5 from Brubek or Kind of Blue by Davis
    Best Classical Piece: Claire de Lune by Debussy, There’s something so universal about it, that when I hear it I feel like I’m reading a biography of everyone who ever lived.

    1. “There’s something so universal about it, that when I hear it I feel like I’m reading a biography of everyone who ever lived.”

      That’s a beautiful way of saying it..

  8. Best painting ancient, no opinion

    Best painting, modern: Guernica by PIcasso.

    Best movie, American: probably agree on The Last Picture Show, although a more recent film Carol is a favourite.

    Best movie, non-American: Blow Up, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. (Australian: Goldstone, directed by Ivan Sen.)

    Best novel, Oranges are not the only fruit by Jeanette Winterson.

    Best novella, no opinion

    Best memoir: no opinion

    Best biography, no opinion

    Best rock song, Sweet Little Sixteen, Chuck Berry live at the Newport Jazz Festival.

    Best rock group, Neil Young with Crazy Horse.

    Best jazz song: too many to choose.

    Best jazz group, Louis Armstrong All Stars.

    Best piece of classical music. An die Musik by Franz Shubert.

  9. Best piece of classical music: Bach – Violin Partita No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006 — and I especially like the performance of Hilary Hahn.

      1. Almost nothing of J.S.Bach is substandard. But I guess I go for the grandiose stuff, at least in terms of length and number of performers. Not just Bach—Berlioz Requiem, Mahler’s 8th, as well as the big Bach and Beethoven Masses. And Art of the Fugue. And Diabelli Variations of Beethoven plus last 3 sonatas, quite comparable in quality to Bach’s extended keyboard works. And, as has been said only half-jokingly, Verdi’s best opera might be his Requiem.

        Where’s the opera category, Jerry?

  10. And I don’t know from rock and don’t much like “modern” pop music — aside from the Beatles or, Simon and Garfunkel.

    Favorite books: Joyce “Ulysses” and Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s rainbow”, both of which I have read at least 3 times and will probably read again. I agree about “The dead.”

    I agree about Ellington, but my favorite jazz album is Miles Davis’s “Kind of blue”. How can you beat Davis, Coltrane, Adderley, Evans and co.?

    Best old painting: There is a Bellini Madonna in a church near the Piazza San Marco in Venezia which is absolutely breathtaking.

    Classical music: The choice is vast, but the best would have to be Bach, either the preludes and fugues (Das wohltempierte Klavier) or the marvelous Goldberg Variations. Reminds me that Woody Allen used to think the Goldberg variations were something Mr and Mrs Goldberg did in bed.

    I also loved “Brave Genius” by Sean B. Carroll, about the friendship of Monod and Camus. I”d forgot that the preface to “Le hasard et la nécessité” is the closing paragraph from “Le mythe de Sisyphe”, my favorite work of philosophy.

    1. Kind of Blue is the consensus pick for greatest jazz album, so you’re right, you can’t go wrong there.

    2. “..Woody Allen used to think the Goldberg variations were something Mr and Mrs Goldberg did in bed.”

      Coulda’ been, it was commissioned by (Count?) Goldberg to be an aid at bedtime–but I think for sleeping. Was there a Mrs. Goldberg?

      And maybe that was what was getting up Jean Paul’s nose in ‘Le Blog de J.P. Sartre’—one entry about a dream, a bug on a log, and Camus…. But the best was a mistaken Harbinger of Death–turned out to be the UPS delivery man dressed in black. Now I’ve spoiled the joke.

  11. Painting: the Fighting Temeraire, Turner
    Modern(ish): For and Against, Kandinsky
    Novel: 1984, devestated me as a teen, as did
    Film: the Wicker Man, but amazing integral music
    Also: His Girl Friday, bliss!
    Foreign: yes, Cinema Paradiso
    Short story: Shooting an Elephant, Orwell
    Jazz song: Is you is or is you ain’t my baby, Louis Jordan (not that one)
    Jazz piece: On a Turquoise Cloud, Ellington
    Rock song, Tom’s Diner, Susanne Vega
    Biog: Blake by Peter Ackroyd
    Classical: Bach Well Tempered Clavier, all life is there
    Classical performance: Horowitz playing Rachmaninov Piano Concerto no 3 in 1978, astounding, and it’s on YouTube
    Also Pollini playing Chopin’s Etudes, stunning

    1. I love Martha Argerich playing Rach 3, which I’ve heard live. Oscar Peterson played the other half of the concert. Bliss!

  12. One of the best pieces for organ: Toccata and fugue in D by Bach
    One of the best violin sonatas: Sonata nr 4 for violin and Harpsichord in C minor part 1 ‘Siciliano’ , BWV 1017.
    About the best choral : The Halleluja chorus from The Messiah by Handel (the ‘And with His Stripes We are Healed’ from the same Messiah may be even better, but is very short)
    One of the most haunting pieces of piano music: Gnosienne no 1 by Erik Satie
    One of the best film sound tracks: Schindler’s List by Williams
    About the best pop song: Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles
    One of the best ‘spacey’ pop pieces: Pali Gap by Hendrix
    Ag no, there is too much I didn’t mention, the Te Deum by Charpentier, The Air on a G-string by Bach (I particularly like Chang’s version) the double concerto for 2 violins in D minor BWV 1043 ( I particularly liked the with Menuhin and Oistrakh from 1958), Palladio by Jenkins, Asturias by Albeniz, The Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, and so on and on and on….
    This whole ‘the best’ thing gets more and more difficult the more things you think of.

  13. Well, there are some wonderful and interesting suggestions above, and they indicate just how diverse are our individual tastes. Indeed, our tastes may well change over time. I am currently re-reading ‘Ulysses’, and at the moment I think it’s the greatest novel ever written. This winter I plan to re-read Anthony Powell’s ‘Dance’ sequence of novels, and I expect by about next February I will be thinking that there’s nothing to beat them. I don’t expect anyone else to agree with me about either.

    BBC Radio 4 has a long-running (over 70 years!) programme called ‘Desert Island Discs’, in which guests are interviewed about their lives while being asked to name the eight records they would take if they were to be marooned on a desert island. Many Brits of a certain age have played the game of imagining their own selection. My personal eight have never stayed the same over the past 50 years. (They have all, however, included Bach’s Mass in B Minor).

    I think it’s a cause for celebration that we can appreciate such a range of artistic creation between us, and that we can learn so much from each other about what really matters.

    1. “I think it’s a cause for celebration that we can appreciate such a range of artistic creation between us, and that we can learn so much from each other about what really matters.”

      Absolutely! What a group!

        1. I think just about every book on my “to read list” has been recommended by WEIT readers, and the host, of course. 😉

    2. It still going. I subscribe to their podcast. And highly recommend it. Fascinating and pretty revealing sometimes

    3. Loved Ulysses and really looked forward to Powell’s series (I think I bought them all), but somehow couldn’t even finish the first one. Somehow just found it annoying. Strange, huh?
      I’m 2/3 of the way through Proust’s 7-volume masterwork, en français, at a rate of about 3 pages/night. Hope to finish it before I expire.

      1. Bon courage! I read them all in 1980-1981. Took me about a year, but it was well worth it. I will never read the whole thing again though. The 1 next-to-the-last books left me pretty cold.

        1. Merci pour le courage. I meant to say I was 2/3 through volume 2, 27% through the whole shebang, according to Kindle. Reading on Kindle with the built in French dictionary is a great help.

  14. Best painting, ancient: No idea, but the Löwenmensch figurine (aka the Lion-man of the Hohlenstein-Stadel) is an amazing piece of sculpture and is apparently the oldest-known animal-form example in the world.

    Best painting, modern: Turner’s Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water, and going by the Lead. Although anything else by J.M.W. Turner at his peak would suffice.

    Best movie, American: Not sure if Hitchcock counts, but if so then Vertigo or perhaps Rear Window?

    Best movie, non-American: Similarly, I’m dubious about how the categorisation works, but I’d go with Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

    Best novel: An impossible category – my choice changes constantly and I lack our host’s decisiveness!

    Best novella or short story: Ditto.

    Best memoir: Perhaps Welsh poet and writer W. H. Davies’ remarkable The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp. He also wrote the poem “Leisure”:

    Best biography: Not a genre I often read. I’ll go with Glyn John’s Sound Man because of his wonderful anecdotes about recording with so many of the pop/rock greats (The Rolling Stones, the Who, the Beatles, Eric Clapton…) He claims not to have done drugs and so remembers the sixties, despite being there.

    Best rock song: Can’t narrow it down – too many to choose…

    Best rock group (best oeuvre): Live: When you’re in the audience and in the right frame of mind, almost any! (And regardless of genre, too.) On record: I’m pathetic, and can’t pick one. Looking at my (limited) vinyl collection, Queen could be up there – which came as a surprise to me!

    Best jazz song: Not a genre about which I have a sensible opinion. (Given my responses above, I fully accept that that might apply to all genres…) Maybe Louis Jordan (and his Tympany Five)’s “What’s the Use of Getting Sober (When You Gonna Get Drunk Again)”. It’s true, to know me is to love me…

    Best jazz group (best oeuvre): Quintette du Hot Club de France? I can’t do with four left-hand fingers what Django Reinhardt could do with two-and-a-half.

    Best piece of classical music: John Cage’s 4′33″, if that counts? My wife listens to Classic FM, which appears to stand for “Classic film music” as far as I can tell… Anyway, anything by John Williams (the film score dude, not the classical guitarist) seems to count as “classical” these days – as does the music from various recent movies, in an apparent attempt to prove that the genre didn’t die in the 19th century… (My tongue is firmly – well, partially – in my cheek.)

  15. Okay. My two cents.

    Best Classical Painting: The Creation of Adam. Michelangelo
    Best Modern Painting: Impression, Sunrise. Monet
    Best American Movie: The Godfather
    Best Non-American Movie: The Seven Samurai
    Best Novel: Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky
    Best Short story or novella: The Heart of Darkness. Conrad
    Best Memoir: Autobiography of Malcom X
    Best Biography: LBJ. Caro
    Best Rock Song: Bohemian Rhapsody. Queen
    Best Rock Group: Doors.
    Best Jazz Song: What a Wonderful World. Armstrong
    Best Jazz group. Miles Davis Quintet
    Best Classical Piece: Piano Sonata #32. Beethoven

  16. I have whatever the equivalent of a tin ear is if you apply it to paintings. Visual art doesn’t move me the way it does others.
    Now, music on the other hand…I’m surprised Beethoven’s late string quartets haven’t weighed in. The opening minutes of the Grosse Fugue make me shake my head, imagining what reality the poor man was living.
    I suppose “Lawrence of Arabia” counts as a foreign film doesn’t it? It’s simply remarkable.
    For many years I have considered Robert Altman’s “Nashville” to be The Great American Movie, with its truly timeless themes of political demagoguery, sex, gun violence, fame, and of course the music business. My vote for best American comedy goes to Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment,” which, as one critic remarked not long ago, just gets darker and funnier as the years go by.

  17. I struggle mightily trying to pinpoint a single favorite of anything, so I made a list.

    My favorite ancient artists (don’t know if they’re considered ancient) are Hieronymous Bosch and Caravaggio. Talk about two different styles!
    Favorite modern artists Escher, Dali
    Favorite movies Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner, Life of Bryan
    Favorite novelists Marquez, Dostoevsky, DeLillo
    Favorite short story writers Hemingway, Lovecraft, and who can forget Jackson’s The Lottery.
    I haven’t read enough memoirs or biographies to have a favorite.
    Favorite rock song is too difficult, but my favorite rock album is Hand.Cannot.Erase by Steven Wilson, though I love anything by him and Porcupine Tree.
    Favorite band, The Beatles
    Favorite jazz song “Moanin’” by Art Blakey, esp. the version on Blue Note with Lee Morgan on trumpet and Bobby Timmons on piano.
    Favorite jazz group is probably Miles Davis with the group(s) he chose for “Bitches Brew”.
    Favorite classical music Dvořák‘s “Slavonic Dances”

    I see that Jackson was the only woman to make my list…so I’m going to give a shout out to Katharine Hepburn, Mary Cassatt, Carole King, Sylvia Plath, Chrissie Hynde, and Gilda Radner.

    1. Glad to see another Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree fan here on WEIT! The best musician/band nobody has heard of. Hand. Cannot. Erase. is phenomenal, and was my introduction to SW/PT. Fell down that rabbit hole hard!

      1. And from some of the banter I’ve heard from SW during his live shows, I think the Beatles are his favorite band as well…at least his favorite pop band. Have you seen him live? I saw him for the Hand.Cannot.Erase. tour in Seattle; it was beyond incredible. Yes, that SW/PT rabbit hole is deep! LOL!

        1. I’ve been fortunate to see him three times. Once for HCE, and twice on the To The Bone tour. (The first leg didn’t have a stop in my city, so I traveled to Seattle to see it. Second leg came to Vancouver, so naturally I had to go again!)

          My regret is that I didn’t know about Porcupine Tree while they were still together. I would have loved to have seen some of those tours.

  18. Best pop song in my lifetime….. Sugar Sugar. It was the #1 Billboard song of the year in 1969. Think about all the incredible music that was released then. Sugar Sugar sold on the strength of the song and the production alone. There was no personality behind the song, nobody to be a talk show guest, or interviewed by Rolling Stone or Tiger Beat.

    It is just the best example of pure pop music I can imagine. My favorite song?……. Probably not. But like Walking on Sunshine, (another pop song masterpiece), Sugar Sugar *always* has me turning up the radio, and singing along.

    I am always impressed by anything involving Lalo Schiffren, but I vastly prefer his music as part of a movie, and not just music to listen to.

    1. Agreed. Sugar Sugar was one of the songs on the soundtrack of my family road trips. Pure pop candy, and an unbeatable toe-tapper.

      Along with Walking on Sunshine, another piece of pop gold is Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget about Me.” Both of these songs are volume-up singalong songs par excellence.

  19. I loved seeing recently that the Rolling Stones’ Keef Richards was interviewed by telephone and his answer to the question “Whose music do you listen to most?” (or something along those lines) was misheard and appeared in print as “Motorhead” – in fact he had said ” Mozart”…

  20. Those are all good choices, in my opinion, although I would have made slightly different selections on all but rock band and jazz song.
    I do think that what I consider ‘best” tends to change over time, although I do return to some past choices from time to time, particularly in the case of music or film. I have a music playlist that goes with me almost everywhere, and plays in the shop whenever I am there. I regularly add songs, and remove ones that I get tired of. The list seems to average about 1K songs. But some of the songs have been on there for decades, and I just don’t seem to get tired of them. “Free Bird”, and Beethoven’s 7th (Berlin Phil.) come to mind in that respect.

  21. I would think Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is the obvious choice as best classical music. To narrow it down a bit, pick the last movement (Ode to Joy). And I do know classical music, having experienced it as a performer for almost 70 years.

      1. Is there a way to attach a photo? I have a great one for marilee./Users/joedickinson/Desktop/Ode to Joy copy.jpg

    1. It’s certainly my number one for classical. I keep an eye on my local symphony and if they have it on the calendar I try to go. I understand that most critics find it overplayed to the point of cliche, but I don’t care.

  22. I will only make entries for a few categories:

    Best American film: Days of Heaven, directed by Terrence Malick
    Best foreign film: Kagemusha – The Shadow Warrior, directed by Akira Kurosawa

    Rock song: Time Has Come Today – The Chambers Brothers

    Memoir: Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell

    Not sure what category for this, but have to give a strong nod to A Sand County Almanac – Aldo Leopold.

    1. Yes, “Days of Heaven” — gorgeous film. And Saint-Saens’s dreamy “Aquarium” is haunting in the story.

    2. I almost chose Days of Heaven too. Malick has never topped that, though I thought Tree of Life came close-it was just too all over the place.

      1. I kinda liked Tree of Life, but thought his next film, To the Wonder, was incredibly cheesy. I can’t remember what I thought of Days of Heaven.

  23. Picking a “Best” in serious matters like serious music is impossible, of course, which is why very much narrower categories are required. For example, Best symphony which wasn’t performed until 20 years after composer’s death leads us directly to Schubert’s #9. Or Best deaf composer enables us to choose LVB over Smetana or RVW.

    Another few related categories occur to me.

    Best folk-rock with nautical association: The Day the Ship Goes Down (Oyster Band)

    Best film about music with a persuasive speculative idea: “Immortal Beloved”.

    Best music film to scare children: “Fantasia”. A woman I know had childhood nightmares for
    years due to the “Night on Bald Mountain Sequence”. As for me, I have adored Bach, Beethoven,
    Mussorgsky, and Stravinsky ever since seeing the film in childhood—and I rewatch it every couple
    of decades in adulthood.

    Best film about marine biology: “Finding Nemo”.

    Most depressing novel about History: “Russka” by Edward Rutherfurd

  24. Best painting ancient: Gwion Gwion rock paintings sometimes known as The Bradshaws. These are a series of rock art from the Kimberly region of NW Australia. They have an extremely chequered past with claims of appropriation by amateur archaeologists and their use in supremacist narratives regarding Australian Aborigines but their beauty and mystery shine through across a span of 12,000 years.
    Best painting, modern: El Carnaval De Arlequín by Joan Miro (1925).
    Best movie, American: Apocalypse Now (1979)
    Best movie, non-American: Spirited Away (2001)
    Best novel: Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en (1592)
    Best novella or short story: The Masque of the Red Death, by Edgar Allen Poe (1842)
    Best memoir: Not sure I’ve ever read a memoir.
    Best biography: I haven’t read many but I did enjoy One Crowded Hour: Neil Davis Combat Cameraman 1934-1985, by Tim Bowden 1987
    Best rock song: Roadrunner by the Modern Lovers 1972
    Best rock group (best oeuvre): The Monkees. They embody everything about rock n roll; manufactured and over-marketed catchy renditions of black music repackaged for suburban whites.
    Best jazz song: Lots to love here but greatest would be Strange Fruit although my personal fave is much later, Blue Valentines by Tom Waits.
    Best jazz group (best oeuvre): Tiny “Mac” Grimes and his Rocking Highlanders.
    Best piece of classical music. Rhapsody in Blue George Gershwin or Brian Eno’s Ambient 1 from Music for Airports

  25. My two cents.

    Best ancient painting : that would be a mammoth in the Pech-Merle cave (la grotte du Pech-Merle).

    Best recent painting ; The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch. (Apparently these delights are earthly only in English.)

    Best comic book artist : obviously Franquin. Nobody in the world can pull a fake Franquin (see his Gaston Lagaffe panels for instance).

    There are a lot of movies that I find great (well, not enough that I can watch a new one every evening) and I can’t for the life of me give a ranking. Metropolis ? Otto e mezzo ? Andrei Rublev ?

    Best underrated movie : Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Is there anybody here who saw that movie and does not think it is underrated ?

    Best song : maybe The man who sold the world, by Bowie.

    Best play : Ivanov I guess.

    Best novel : The Joke, by Kundera.

    Making that list is way harder than I thought it would be.

  26. My favorite ancient art is the Lascaux tableau. The artists have really captured the spirit and the dynamism of the animals that were such important parts of their lives.

    My favorite book was Einsteins’ “layman’s explanation” of Special Relativity. It is hard to imagine a book that can shake a person’s worldview more than that one. Close second: “Walden” and “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau; I read a paperback version that contained both of these when I was in high school and they changed my life completely. I would hate to have grown up without reading them.

    Best singer/songwriter: I’m surprised no one mentioned Joni Mitchell. Best album: Blue

    1. I know Lascaux, but I’m not sure what you mean by “the Lascaux tableau”. Is it the one with the aurochs ?

      1. Damien, I just meant the work as a whole, all the individual scenes taken together. If I had to choose one, it would be the Hall of the Bulls.

  27. Best memoir: A Walker in the City. Alfred Kazin

    Best singer: Van Morrison

    Best song: Madame George. Van Morrison

    Favorite movies: Lagaan – The villagers in an Indian village challenge
    the British to a game of cricket to settle a tax dispute.
    King of Hearts
    Everything is Illuminated

    Best classical music: Sleepers Awake also called Wachet auf by Bach

    1. Everything is Illuminated was wonderful (book and movie). Loved the seeing-eye Border Collie (Officious Seeing-Eye Bitch, iirc) for the blind taxi driver.

  28. Best Novel: Cry the beloved country (Alan Paton)
    Best Non-fiction: West with the night (Beryl Markham)
    Best Painting (old): piazza san marco by Canaletto
    Best painting (more recent): Sunflowers by Van Gogh
    Best Movie (american): Once upon a time in the west tied with Shadows (J Cassavetes)
    Best Movie (non-american): Lost Sex (Shindo) tied with La Bataille d’Alger
    Best jazz performance: Lament (Chet Baker)
    Best jazz performer: Stan Getz (“we’d all play like Stan if we could” – J Coltrane)
    Best classical music piece: Requiem (Mozart)
    Best classical music (part): Adagio from Mozart clarinet concerto (I prefer by David Shifrin or Sabine Meyer)
    Best choral piece: Lux Aeternam (Voces8)

    NB: “best” means what I like most…

  29. I thought that Once upon a time in the West was Italian.

    La bataille d’Alger is for sure, the original title is La battaglia di Algeri.

    1. “I thought that Once upon a time in the West was Italian.”
      It is. C’era una volta nel West, directed by Sergio Leone.

      1. In any case, sphaghetti westerns are an untolerable instance of cultural appropriation that should not receive any praise whatsoever.

  30. Best Films (Non American) – Three way tie
    Kurosawa – Desu Uzala
    Herzog – The Mystery of Kasper Hauser (Every Man for Himself and God Against All)
    Lean – Lawrence of Arabia

    Best Folk Group – Fraser & Debolt (No one will either agree or even know who they are I believe).

    Best Classical Piece – Anna Moffo Rachmaninoff, ‘Vocalise’

    That’s it for now.

  31. Some good suggestions here already.

    My own picks:

    Band The Clash
    Jazz album “Again”, Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass
    Painting: Rain Steam and Wind by Turner (may.have misremembered the title)
    Film The Third Man
    Poem Five Bells – Kenneth Slessor
    Short story An Adulterous Woman, Albert Camus

  32. I hate rankings outside of sports and the use of the word best, since nobody has read all the books that have been written, heard all the music, etc. But I try. I use best in the sense of favourite of mine. Obviously if one asks me in a month the list would have changed.

    Best painting ancient: Allegory of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti

    Best painting, modern: I do not have a preferred painting.

    Best movie, American: I can’t say.

    Best movie, non-American: The seventh seal, by Ingmar Bergman

    Best novel: Very difficult. Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu; Cervantes, Quijote; García Márquez, Cien años de soledad; Max Frisch, Mein Name sei Gantenbein; Michail Ossorgin, Quiet street ; Kundera, La plaisanterie (The joke).

    Best novella or short story: Something by Borges or Boccaccio.

    Best memoir: I do not think I have ever read any

    Best biography: I only have red few and none impressed me.

    Best rock song: I can’t say.

    Best rock group (best oeuvre): Pink Floyd until The Wall, what follows is rubbish.

    Best jazz song: My favourite things in various versions by John Coltrane with or without Miles Davis; or Blue Monk.

    Best jazz group (best oeuvre): Miles Davis’ groups from the second half of the 1950s until Bitches brew.

    Best piece of classical music. Lacking musical education, it would be some Italian baroque music (17th century).

  33. Not a fan of favourites – I find lots of things interesting really, & very different.

    Best painting ancient: Lascaux!

    Best painting, modern: Vinternatt i Rondane by Harald Sohlberg

    Best movie, American: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly – or is that Spanish?

    Best movie, non-American: Night of the Demon, Dana Andrews starred, directed by Jacques Tourneur -creepy…

    Best novel: Fuglane by Tarjei Vesaas…

    Best novella or short story: Not a short story fan but Concrete Island by J G Ballard is very good & very modern…

    Best non-fiction (substitution for a category lacking above): Herodotus -hugely readable & entertaining.

    Best biography: reading The Song of Simon de Montfort by Sophie Therese Ambler. Very good.

    Best rock song: maybe LA Rain by Rose of Avalanche

    Best rock group (best oeuvre): The Sex Pistols obvs!

    Best jazz song: hate jazz!

    Best jazz group (best oeuvre): 🤮

    Best piece of classical music: variable – Sibelius 5th Symphony maybe.

  34. OK, I’ll play.

    Best painting ancient: The Mona Lisa. Yes. You know how everybody says it’s so unimpressive and small when you see it in real life. Well I did see it in real life and they are wrong.

    Best painting, modern: Van Gogh is also my favourite painter. I’m also going to sidestep choosing an individual painting.

    Best movie: I really can’t say. I’ve seen many good movies and movies that I enjoyed. For best I think I’m going with The Good the Bad and the Ugly, or maybe Life of Brian. For favourite, I’d have to say the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

    Best novel: I have read a lot of novels I enjoyed and several that were supposed to be good but I found quite tedious. Catch 22 stands out for me in the former category. Also The Princess Bride

    Best novella or short story: No idea

    Best memoir: Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger in the Hoffman translation. It’s the memoir of a German soldier who survived on the Western Front in WW1 from almost the beginning in 1914 until the end.

    Best biography: I’m going to cheat and say Shout! by Phillip Norman which is a biography of the Beatles.

    Best rock song: I’m going to stick with John Peel: Teenage Kicks.

    Best rock group (best oeuvre): If we are allowed to count the The Beatles as a rock group, it’s them. If we are using a strict definition it’s clearly Queen.

    Best band of any sort not including The Beatles: Talking Heads

    Best jazz song: I really don’t get on with jazz – something quite short.

    Best jazz group (best oeuvre): I really don’t get on with jazz – some group that plays very short pieces and not many of them.

    Best piece of classical music. Beethoven’s Ninth isn the obvious one, although I don’t do classical music much.

  35. Too much changes over time, so it’s impossible to call any one thing “the best” or “my favorite”. But if you define these as what smacked you up the side of your head so profoundly that years later you still get a stirring in your soul thinking about it, then two things come to my mind immediately:

    Best painting, modern: “All Night Rain” in the collection of the Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, by an artist whose name has now completely slipped my tongue. I first saw it at least 40 years ago, and stared at it, immobilized, for at least 30 minutes. Recalling it now still sends shivers down my spine.

    Best piece of classical music: The flippant answer is anything by Bach. But the St, Matthew Passion for two orchestras, double chorus, boys’ choir and soloists reduces me to a puddle of emotion by the end. From the perfection of the polyphony of the opening chorus, where you have the orchestras playing these churning, boiling motifs, over which comes the two choruses doing their lines of melody and dialogue, and then the childrens’ choir coming in floating over all singing the verses of the chorale “O Lammed Gott Unschuldig”, through the heart wrenching anguish of Peter singing “Erbame dich” to the final chorus, a lullaby-like keening for both Jesus in the tomb and the congregation who has finished the musical journey. This is musical perfection.

    1. Agreed on the St Matthew. It’s so dramatic, as you well explain. After “Wir sitzen uns mit Tränen nieder”, the final chorus, you too are sitting down crying. You fell completely emptied.

  36. My two cents worth: Best novel–“Lonesome Dove”. Larry McMurtry paints the most vivid word pictures ever in that book.

  37. ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ by Finnish symphonic rock band Nightwish at their Vehicle of Spirit tour, Wembley, London. It’s around 20 minutes long, but don’t switch off at the curtain-call, because Richard Dawkins appears onstage and recites Darwin to the sell-out crowd! Magical music, magical background video. Enjoy!

  38. I don’t know if it is an American film or not, but my favorite film of all time is The Lion in Winter. Both Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn were fabulous. She won another Academy Award for her performance.

  39. I was surprised that Beethoven’s 9th didn’t dominate the choice for best classical piece (I’ll add my vote here for it), or that unless I missed it, Beethoven’s 5th hasn’t yet been mentioned at all.

    As for the rest, my tastes are so relentlessly popular and bourgeois that I will spare everyone else a list.

  40. Thinking about this over the last couple of days, it made me realise how ignorant I am about so much. So in my very limited experience…

    Best painting ancient: Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights
    Best painting, modern: Probably something by Dali. The Persistence of Memory perhaps.

    Best movie, American: Torn between Pulp Fiction (1994) and A Clockwork Orange (1971)

    Best movie, non-American: Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai) (1954) or Metropolis (1927)

    Best novel: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

    Best novella or short story: Animal Farm by George Orwell

    Best rock song: Tough to choose between David Bowie’s Space Oddity and Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit

    Best rock group (best oeuvre): Pink Floyd

    Best piece of classical music: Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring

    1. +1 for Catch-22! I saw/heard Stravinsky conduct Rite in SF from the front row (friends of my parents’ treated me.)

  41. I agree with you about Van Gogh. My favorites of his are Starry Night and any of his wheat field paintings.

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