Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009: Winners and Losers

Well, 2009 is almost over, and it was quite a year. Michael Jackson died, and Donny Osmond won on "Dancing With The Stars." George Walker Bush ended his Presidency bailing out Wall Street and Barack Obama began his Presidency doing the same thing. Bryan Adams turned fifty on November 5, and Ryan Adams - who turned thirty-five on November 5 - married Mandy Moore. (I turned forty-four on November 5, but I remained single.) Swine flu caused a bigger scare than the prospect of Iran getting the bomb. And President Obama became the second consecutive U.S. President to be accused of lying by someone named Joe Wilson.

Anyway, it's that time again, the time when I look back for hopefully the last time on the outgoing old year and pick my winners and losers of the year. I had a hard time picking winners, mainly because this was a bad year for a lot of people and places, but I managed to come up with a dozen of them. I actually had to eliminate a few choices as I went back and forth. I had the same problem with picking the losers, trying to decide who made the bigger strikeouts among the fourteen or so choices I made (they came more easily than the winners) before whittling them down to twelve. As with every list of winners and losers I've made since 2004, this is a subjective list, and shouldn't be taken as the final word. But I think I came up with solid lists.

Here are, in no particular order, my choices for the winners of 2009:

Sandra Bullock. America's newest Hollywood sweetheart had such a good year at the box office, CNN is calling it her best year ever, and I won't argue. After her summer hit movie The Proposal (which grossed $300 million in box office receipts), she is stirring up Oscar talk for The Blind Side, a true story about a white Southern woman who adopts a black teenager who makes it to the NFL. And she's been nominated for Golden Globes for each movie.

The New York Yankees. They began the 2009 baseball season in a new stadium and ended it with their first World Series win in nine years and their 27th win overall. They also became the only team the win the Series twice in the past decade apart from their old rivals the Boston Red Sox.

Taylor Swift. Hip-hop rules the charts? You wouldn't know it from the success of Swift, the young blonde country and western singer who, being more like Carrie Underwood than Carrie Underwood herself, had the bestselling album of the year, Fearless.

Chevy Chase. Coming full circle by accepting a sitcom role on NBC's "Community," the venerable comedian and "Saturday Night Live" veteran returned to television and proved himself quite ready for prime time in one of the best new sitcoms of the year.

Patricia Heaton.
Her career looked moribund after a failed sitcom on Fox and a anti-stem-cell research political ad that backfired on her, but Heaton came back in a big way this year with "The Middle," about an Indiana housewife/car saleswoman keeping her complicated life and dysfunctional family going. It's the best new ABC sitcom that isn't "Modern Family."

Ed Schultz. Talk radio's prairie populist got his own MSNBC show, and he used it passionately to help lead the cause for health care reform. Schultz provided a meat-and-potatoes approach to liberal commentary that contrasted nicely with the Washington insider role of Chris Matthews, the clowning of Keith Olbermann, and urbane wit of Rachel Maddow.

Sonia Sotomayor. A wise Latina who proved wiser than the clueless white guys who opposed her nomination to the Supreme Court became the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and is easily expected to make a big mark on the Court for reasons other than her ethnicity or her sex.

Illinois. The Prairie State is suddenly in a position of major importance. It counts among its voices in Washington a new President, the deputy Senate Democratic leader (Richard Durbin) and the Secretary of Transportation (Ray LaHood). Plus, they got rid of Rod Blagojevich.

The Beatles. The Fab Four's catalog was remastered for the first time since it was originally issued on compact disc in 1987 and 1988, and sales of the new CDs - plus the success of the video game "The Beatles - Rock Band" - reflects well on the durability of their music. It doesn't reflect well on the inability of popular music to produce an act of similar quality and innovation since 1970, though.

Ford. America's second largest car company avoided bankruptcy and a federal handout, and it even made a profit in the third quarter. It was the only American automaker with a modern lineup of fuel-efficient cars to sell when the cash-for-clunkers program was in effect, and Ford made the most of it.

Sergio Marchionne. The leader of Fiat is soon getting his car company back in the U.S. market for the first time since 1984 with a stake in Chrysler and a lineup of new, interesting cars - due in a couple of years - that will likely put both companies in a solid position. And if you wish you could have owned a Fiat 500, relax - the retro version will soon be here.

Vampires. "True Blood." The "Twilight" saga. "The Vampire Diaries." Suddenly it's good to have movies and TV shows of new blood whose characters suck. :-D With a resurgent interest in vampires, can limited DVD editions of Dracula - both the 1931 and 1979 versions - or The Hunger, Fright Night, or any other 1980s horror movie starring someone named Sarandon be far behind? Don't bother with the garlic, this craze won't die even if you drive a stake through its heart.

And now for the other side of the coin . . . the losers.

Conrad Murray. Being the doctor who was administering to Michael Jackson when he died can't possibly be good for your career.

Toyota. The fall from grace of Japan's largest automaker was as unpredictable as the idea of a Japanese car company becoming America's bestselling auto brand must have been back in 1958, when Toyota entered the U.S. market. The firm lost nearly five billion dollars in its fiscal year, and 3.8 million vehicles were recalled due to poorly designed floor mats causing unintended acceleration. Even the Lexus brand - now marking its twentieth anniversary - saw its quality slip. To mix an old Toyota slogan and a Star Wars line, oh, what a bad feeling I've got about this.

Jon Corzine. Despite a severe recession and unpopularity with his policies, the governor of New Jersey put up a valiant fight to save his job, but in the end, Garden State voters decided that New Jersey was in such a bad situation, it was better to take a chance on an undistinguished prosecutor with a bad driving record and a Bush-style economic agenda.

NBC. The network once as proud as a peacock looks ready to go the way of the dodo, and the decision to hold onto Jay Leno by giving him a prime time show and letting Conan O'Brien take over "The Tonight Show" was certainly dodo-brained. O'Brien's late-night college-boy humor proved to be a wrong fit for an earlier, more mainstream time slot, and Leno has been accused of losing his edge as he tried to retrofit his own comedic approach for a prime time audience at 10:00 PM Eastern. Meanwhile, NBC's dramas in the 9:00 PM Eastern slot are tanking against other shows, and the network is about to be taken over by Comcast. Even the network's fortunes of the Fred Silverman era weren't this bad, and then they got cheated out of airing the 1980 Olympics. Even with the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, NBC remains the network NoBody Cares about, despite "Community."

The New Jersey Nets. The Nets set a new NBA record for the most consecutive games lost from the start of a basketball season - eighteen - before finally winning their nineteenth game. Then they lost their twentieth. Uh, guys? We in New Jersey have thought it over, and . . . you're free to move to Brooklyn. Go, already. And take your losing streaks with you. Enjoy your Jay-Z-financed, Frank Gehry-designed arena, if it's ever built. Don't let the Holland Tunnel toll gate hit your backsides on the way out.

Bonnie Hunt. The quirky comedienne appeared to have a hit show at last when her afternoon talk show began a second season this September. Then, earlier this month, it was announced that it would soon end production. She will not become the next Ellen DeGeneres. With two failed sitcoms to her credit already, Hunt must know what we've already figured out; we shouldn't look forward to spending any more life with Bonnie.

Magazines. It was a bad time to be in the magazine trade this year. Among the 428 magazines that folded in 2009 where prestigious titles like Gourmet, Domino, and Modern Bride (all published by Conde Nast), Metropolitan Home (published by Hatchette Fillipachi), and Southern Accents (published by Time, Inc.). The rock magazine Blender went to an online-only edition, but don't you rap fans start chanting "Hip-Hop Hooray" - Vibe met the same fate.

Iranian democracy. Even though Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadenijad won more votes than could have been cast in many areas of the country in his bid for a second term, the mullahs who actually run Iran certified his victory and returned him to office. The crackdown that has been conducted against dissidents since is beginning to make Chinese martial law seem benign by comparison.

California. The state is running out of water, the legislature can't agree on a budget to solve the state's fiscal crisis, Arnold Schwarzenegger's approval ratings are lower than the box office numbers for his movie Junior (the one in which he played a pregnant man), and the state was represented in the Miss USA pageant by a bottle-blonde right-wing sex tape star with more plastic than a Honda Civic before she was forced to relinquish her title. All that glitters isn't golden.

Fritz Henderson. After replacing Rick Wagoner as the CEO of General Motors when Wagoner ran GM into the ground, Henderson immediately got to work to change the automaker's way of doing business . . . and went from messiah to pariah within eight months. Henderson couldn't keep up with the changing climate in the car market, and reform came too slowly. Except for one thing - he put the proposed sale of Opel to a Russo-Canadian consortium on a fast track before realizing that was the one change other GM executives refused to make.

Gay marriage. Repealed in Maine, having failed to pass in New York, legislation to approve it on borrowed time in New Jersey, same-sex marriage has been losing ground despite high hopes for its acceptance. True, the District of Columbia approved it, but Washington, D.C. laws are subject to review by Congress, which is full of Republicans and conservative Democrats who don't like the idea of same-sex marriage very much.

Nia Vardalos. The My Big Fat Greek Wedding star had two big fat movie flops. Everyone hated I Hate Valentine's Day, and My Life In Ruins showed her career in the same state.
Tiger Woods. The emperor has no clothes, and where women not his wife were concerned, that was one of his troubles. When companies like Tag Heuer drop his endorsements, it's because they can't afford him - but not financially speaking.

That's it for this year. Let's see who wins and loses in 2010.

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