THE best stuff of 2008, and no arguing now January 5, 2009Posted by Marco in Angry Robot Media.
Well, another year over, and a new one just begun. (Hmm, sounds familiar…) So I poked our Lee and our Chris to get me a Top Cool Things of 2008 list or three, and rattled one off of my own. Then I flung them together with some pictures off the interweb. As you’ll see, we all took somewhat different approaches to this one. Anyway here they all are. Sorry.
Marco got the ball running when he mithered …
The “Most engaging books I read last year, and yes I know some of them came out in 2006″ category —
• Lauren Beukes – Moxyland
• William Gibson – Spook Country
• William Heaney – The Memoirs of a Master Forger
• Rohan Kriwaczek – An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin
• Ian MacDonald – River of Gods
• Richard Morgan – The Steel Remains
The “Most entertaining movies I saw and yes shut up! shut up! about Iron Man cos I haven’t seen it yet” category —
• Batman: The Dark Knight
• Hellboy II
• In Bruges
• Tropic Thunder
The “Most mindblowing records I heard last year, and yeah yeah, so what if the Gala Drop isn’t properly out till next February?” category —
• Boredoms – Super Roots #9
• Fovea Hex – Neither Speak Nor Stay Silent
• Gala Drop – Gala Drop
• Portishead – Third
• Lindstrøm – Where You Go I Go Too
• White Rainbow – Sky Drips Drifts
Then Chris turned his scientific brain to the matter in hand and pronounced…
Top 5 genre moments 2008 in no particular order:
• Hellboy and Abe, drunk, crooning and in love, while the Golden Army are waking up.
• The first hour of Gears of War 2 – out in the open air, amongst the sound and fury.
• Scott Westerfeld’s Extras: a dayglo burst of ideas and story that made grown-up books look dumb and dull.
• MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular – sci-fi pop that was good enough to divide opinion clean down the middle (no easy task).
• Fringe – Breakneck and high-tech; mad scientist; Casey from Dawson’s Creek. Cool by numbers.
And then… well, then new assistant editor Lee decided he would show us what he was made of. You can tell he’s used to this sort of thing. Brace yourselves now…
When Marco asked for a Best Of of general… you know, stuff from 2008, I thought it would be a cinch as I’ve already published my year’s “Best of genre” awards over at my other internet home, but on further inspection, there were few (if any) categories where I mentioned at least five contenders, and some of the categories needed to be removed for the purposes of this list, some needed to be combined, and some are not there at all. Anyway, I like to eat waffle, but not read it, and I’m sure you’re the same, so without much in the way of further ado (though I’m sure the words inside these parentheses count as “further ado”, but never mind that for now) here’s my “2008 5 Best Of…”
We’ll start with the big guns – Best Most Enjoyable Genre Film of 2008
It’s been a pretty healthy year for films for both genre and non-genre movie-goers. For a horror fan, however, there was very little to choose from, and not a single horror title makes this list. The four runners-up are (in no particular order):
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Yes, seriously. This had such bad press on its theatrical and DVD release that I really didn’t have high hopes for it. However, with my expectations lowered to Spiderman 3 levels, when I eventually saw it, I had great gollops of fun with it (my spellchecker is telling me that “gollops” isn’t an actual word, but this is my list, so my language applies).
Surely a winner in any other year? Superb performances all round (especially from Downey Jnr, who nailed it, even as early as his screen test), and top-notch effects mask a relatively plot-light movie, but this film was never about plot, it was about character, it was about establishing the ground rules, it was about looking goddamn cool! And it did all of that, with enough character and cool left over in the charcter/cool bucket to fill a dozen more Hollywood movies!
Arguably Pixar’s best film to date, knocking even Monsters Inc. into the also-ran box. An extremely close contender for top spot this year, but there can be only one (as Highlander told us; ignore the sequels – they don’t exist; La-la-la-laaa-laaaa, I can’t hear you…)
Oh, how I wanted this to be better than it was. I’m a big del Toro fan – he’s a master visionary, with more style than the rest of the industry combined. Style was on show here, in spades, but the underlying plot was weak and insipid. It was the supermodel of genre movies. Looks fantastic, but really no substance. (If any supermodels are reading this, I’m not talking about you, of course – it’s the other ones. Yes, her. Isn’t she just so shallow?)
And the winner? … The Dark Knight
A predictable choice, perhaps, but I never claimed to be enigmatic. This film has it all, but special mention has to go to the outstanding performances by everyone concerned (in particular, Ledger, Eckhart and Freeman excel). Before Batman 3, though, can someone please provide Christian Bale with some cough medicine? His Batman voice is just plain ridiculous!
Ok, that was the Top 5 movies, and this is taking far too long, and I’m sure you’re not going to wade through all that gubbins for the other categories, so let’s just dispense with the commentary for the runners-up, and leave it on for the winner in each category, shall we? Good. Glad you agree.
Top 5 Books
In no particular order…
• Ramsey Campbell’s The Grin of the Dark, published by Virgin Books. This book made me remember why I love horror.
• Adam Neville’s Banquet for the Damned, published by Virgin Books. A superb horror debut.
• Allyson Bird’s Bull Running for Girls, published by Screaming Dreams. An outstanding collection of short stories by an exciting new talent.
• Contract by Simon Spurrier, published by Headline. Ok, technically it was published at the back end of 2007, but it’s my list, and I’m including it! A great debut from one of the UK’s most popular comics-writers. Contract proves that crossover novels work.
The winner is…
Tiny Deaths by Rob Shearman (published by Comma Press). The book (deservedly) won the “Best Collection” award at the World Fantasy Awards at the end of last year, and is quite possibly my favourite collection, not only of 2008, but ever. The stories are not all genre (though there is a heavy [urban] fantasy bias). Where the collection succeeds is in quickly building believable and empathetic characters, caught up in unusual situations (such as the man who dies, gets sent to Hell, and finds himself sharing a cell with Hitler’s pet dog). If you enjoy short stories, buy this. If you don’t, buy it for someone who does.
Top 5 Pop Songs
Ok, going off-genre for a minute. 2008 was the year I started listening to pop, again – largely through having to drive to work every day, and getting caught in heavy traffic. This top 5 (by virtue of being heard almost exclusively on Radio 1 over the last 12 months) is therefore made up mainly of pop, and while I’m aware that the artistes mentioned have no doubt paid their dues in working men’s clubs, cruise ships, and supporting more famous bands for the last umpteen years, I am favouring newer acts, some of which appeared for the first time in 2008, as if by magic (there – I knew I’d managed to make this list genre, somehow). Not exclusively newer acts, though. Great though some of these songs undoubtedly are, 2008 will also go down as the year that gave us Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy” – a song so bad that if the music police actually existed, they would come for her in the middle of the night, truncheons and tasers at the ready, and lock her up without trial. But they don’t. Damn!
Again, in no particular order:
• Sara Bareilles for “I’m Not Gonna Write You a Love Song”. Clearly a lie, and she only really had this one hit this year, but it was catchy, and she has these eyes that you just can’t help yourself falling into! A dangerous thing when she’s behind a TV screen, and somewhat tricky on the radio, but there you have it.
• Gabriella Cilmi for “Lessons to be Learned”. Unsure why I like this one so much, as it’s not a perfect singalong song, but she has an interesting voice and I’d like to hear more.
ª Coldplay for “Violet Hill”. In a long and successful career, Coldplay managed to top their previous best with this – an impressive feat.
• As is evident from the above list, I am not “down with the kids”. In fact, it was only a very short time ago that I thought “street cred” was some form of futuristic currency. It is with this in mind that I present the fourth of my almost-but-not-quites. I hate to admit it, but I dismissed Leona Lewis because she was the winner of a reality TV show. In retrospect, that was unfair (though I will do it again, I am sure). She released a number of songs this year, culminating with her amazing interpretation of Snow Patrol’s “Run”. A fantastic voice, and though the videos that accompany her songs are quite frankly rubbish, she is entirely watchable. And listen-to-able.
And the winner is…
• The Script for “Man Who Can’t Be Moved” and “Breakeven”. I seem to remember reading an interview somewhere that said these guys were Irish, but quite frankly, I’m not interested enough to go back and check. They’re producing the kind of pop (and the kind of vocals) that made the Police popular in the 80s and 90s, and they’re managing to not sound cheesy while doing it. When you first hear them there is nothing outstanding about these songs, but like all great songs they grow on you, and get better with subsequent hearings. They almost – not quite, mind you, but almost – make up for Beyonce releasing that goddamn song!
OK, my final Top 5 for the year – Top 5 TV programmes
You know, I’m going to be somewhat controversial here, and include non-genre shows, but even more shockingly (and you may want to sit down for this part) I’m going to include shows that predate 2008. I’m even going to include one show that wasn’t even featured on TV! My criteria for this category is “shows that I began watching for the first time in 2008”. This includes DVDs that have sat on my shelf for a while, as well as ones I only got around to watching this year.
• Joss Whedon did it again. In the summer of 2008 he released (as in internet-only production) a 3-part, 45-minute (in total) superhero musical. Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was an unmitigated success, and became iTune’s most popular download shortly after it was removed from the show’s week-long free-to-view website. In December the production was released on DVD exclusively through Amazon.com, and immediately became one of the site’s top 5 selling DVDs. The genius of the DVD was that it included 2 commentaries, including one completely new musical – Commentary – The Musical. It deserves a place in this Top 5 just for that! If this were a purely 2008 genre list, this would have won.
• Deadwood Season 1 had been sitting on my DVD to-watch shelf for some time before I got around to watching it, and when I did I couldn’t stop, buying season 2 before I’d even finished watching the first box set. I’m not a fan of westerns, but Deadwood is compelling television, and responsible for a slight increase in my swearing output during 2008.
• Doctor Who enjoyed its best year in 2008. This was the year without a bad episode (though there were some less than perfect moments, the episodes were all top notch). This was also the year that gave us Catherine Tate as companion, and the fury that met with her casting from “fans” of the show who year after year pronounce the shows as dead because of some casting choice or other. For the record, she was great (see also “The Tate Debate” over at HubFiction.com – you’ll need to do a search as it was written some time ago).
• Battlestar Galactica rarely disappoints, and 2008 was no different.
As it’s my list, and I’m only going to skim through them, I’m going to add in a few extra shows. Pushing Daisies was great fun, Chuck was far better than it had any right to be, and The Sarah Connor Chronicles, while not as good as most people hoped, was better than most people expected.
And the winner for 2008? The West Wing.
Yes, yes, I know. It’s not a 2008 show, and it’s not even genre, but bear with me.
This is a show that I missed when it was first broadcast, and I didn’t want to start watching it part way through its run, so I kept waiting for Season 1 to be dropped in price on DVD, but it never was (and I was damn sure I wasn’t going to pay full price for a show 6 or 7 years old). Then, once day while looking for it in my favourite DVD shop, I saw season 1 at £35, but next to it was a Seasons 1 -7 box set for £50. Clearly the action of a disgruntled soon-to-be-ex-employee (after all, £50 is a crazy price for a 44-DVD box set) I picked it up and waddled to the till (I was going through my penguin phase; don’t ask). I was hooked from episode 1, and it has quickly become my favourite TV show. Brilliant writing, brilliant direction, and note-perfect performances. If only Aaron Sorkin wrote for genre television. *sigh*
So, those are my Top 5s for 2008. Let’s face it, you’re no better off than you were, but at least now you have somebody else you can ridicule. ☺