- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2008

Believe it — it’s that time again. There is much to be thankful for, even when the economy seems to be tanking faster than you can say “credit-default swap” and the value of your 401(k) is shriveling like flower petals in heat. Come on, smile. It won’t hurt a bit.

The maturation of action flicks — It’s nice to see big-budget action pictures aspire to something more than popcorn entertainment and even nicer to see audiences responding. “Iron Man” kicked off the summer by blowing away critics and audiences alike, and “The Dark Knight” tackled the complexity of modern life in the age of terror. Even miscues like “Hancock” moved the genre forward in interesting ways.

Jonathan Demme — His return to cutting-edge fictional filmmaking, that is. The Oscar-winning director lately interrupted his focus on documentaries to direct a misbegotten remake (“The Manchurian Candidate”). This year’s “Rachel Getting Married” found the great director getting his groove back. Quite literally: Only Mr. Demme could have woven so many offbeat, multicultural musical performances into a raw, intimate family drama like “Rachel.”

Wolfgang’s Vault — There is a bricks-and-mortar establishment of the same name in San Francisco, but we speak of www.WolfgangsVault.com, the online estate of legendary concert promoter Bill Graham (who was born, in Germany, Wolfgang Grajonca). With a trove of rare concert recordings by the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and many others, it’s simply one of the most pleasurable (legal) music resources on the Web.

Joseph O’Neill — With the exceptionally well-written and sensitive novel “Netherland,” the Dutch-born writer put most native English speakers to shame this year.

Mary Chapin Carpenter — The five-time Grammy Award winner began writing an every-other-week column for us that proves she’s as nimble a prose essayist as she is a songwriter. We’re still pretty excited about it.

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