Presented with no guarantees, little explanation, and in no particular order:
Emerge, Fischerspooner - About 20 seconds into my first listen, I knew I’d never grow tired of this song.
Lost in Translation - Sweet, careful, and heartbreaking. I’m eagerly awaiting more like this from Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray.
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - When I first heard about the movie adaptation of LOTR, I did not have high hopes, considering Hollywood’s track record with such things. Happy to be wrong on that one.
Give Up, The Postal Service - My favorite album of the year.
You Forgot It in People, Broken Social Scene - Wonderful, right up there with The Postal Service.
Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond - A convincing thesis on how the world ended up being dominated by Western civilization (although, Diamond says, the jury is still out on China).
Nonzero, Robert Wright - Interesting view of world history through the lens of game theory.
Hey Ya!, OutKast - A great song that doesn’t fit neatly into any musical genre. Could have easily been a rock song done by The Beatles (before you snicker, read the lyrics…they’re good). Rock? R&B? Pop? Whatever. Song of the year.
The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players - Songs inspired by and sung to slideshows purchased at estate sales seem like an easy Gen-X crowd pleaser, but the Trachtenburgs do more here than just warble to PowerPoint…the songs are both smart and entertaining.
Gramercy Tavern birthday dinner - I don’t normally eat fish, but the striped bass at the Gramercy Tavern may have been the tastiest dish I’ve ever had at a restaurant. The coffee cake they sent us home with was just the thing for breakfast the next morning.
Honorable mentions: Microcosmos, Radiohead @ MSG, Pop!Tech 2003, House of Leaves, Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, and a whole bunch of other stuff.