One could try to rhyme 2008 with cheap words like "great" and "celebrate," but they wouldn't do any justice because this year was so full of sweet and sour morsels that flavored our lives from January through December - it would require a ginormous task force to take one snapshot of all twelve eventful months.
Lucky for you, I'm up for the challenge...
Our dearly departed Heath Ledger became immortalized in the second-biggest motion picture in history. Miley Cyrus got naked. The 90s came back with a well-coiffed vengeance (the NKOTB reunion, the 90210 reboot, Neil Patrick Harris mania). Katy Perry kissed a girl...and a whole lotta people liked it. Gas reached five dollars a gallon. iTunes reached its 5-year anniversary. China rocked the Summer Olympics. A Depression rocked economy. Rihanna became Chris Brown's boo. Mariah became Nick Cannon's (explain that one to me again). A "man" got pregnant. A hockey mom saw Russia from her house. And while Indiana Jones dusted off his iconic fedora and Carrie Bradshaw dusted off her signature Manolos, Ed Hardy continued to dominate the fashion scene dressing the douchebag population of America.
As for me? I got to see my name printed in Variety for the first time (albeit, in a thank you ad). I took my first shot at a feature screenplay. And before you could say "seven-hundred billion-dollar bailout," I saw more friends come and go in this city known for its constant flow of transients. I hit several red carpets, suffered from film festival fatigue, became an activist, and finally ditched Hotmail to join the rest of the population on Gmail while adjusting to a life that became as busy as a whore during Japanese Businessmen Week (it's the new Fleet Week). Topping it all off - I, along with many of my fellow Angelenos, "Baracked" the Vote in November and witnessed the start of a new era for this red-and-blue-colored crock pot we call the U.S.A.
Now, on with the show (as promised)...
FILM FAVES OF '08
1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - David Fincher's exquisite and operatic saga proves to be a benchmark in cinematic artistry. Seamlessly blending elements from Forrest Gump and Big Fish, this fantastic fable (adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story) literally shows a life flashing before our eyes while asking us to reflect on our own in between each brief moment in time. Brad Pitt is at his humblest and Cate Blanchett is at her most graceful, while Taraji P. Henson stands out as Benjamin's unconditionally loving adoptive mother.
2. Milk - No other film this year has been more uncanny in its relevance and importance than Gus Van Sant's poetic tribute to San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk. Sean Penn's performance isn't just a performance; it's an unadulterated act of physical, emotional and mental being. His portrayal of the slain civil rights leader - framed by a shining supporting cast - is one to behold. Academy, embrace him now.
3. WALL-E - Just when we thought Pixar couldn't do any better, along comes the most precious trash compactor we've ever laid eyes on. This stunning and provocative achievement deserves the adjectives "Kubrickian" and "Spielbergian" in all of the praises it's received thus far. Hands down, one of the best animated films in recent memory.
4. Hamlet 2 - For once, a lewd and rude laffer that doesn't have to rely on sex-starved stoner buds to milk laughs from the audience. Steve Coogan's high school musical-comedy about drama hit all the right notes. And the fiercely funny turns from supporting gals Catherine Keener and Amy Poehler didn't hurt either.
5. Frost/Nixon - Frank Langella's performance, while bordering on satirical at times, explodes in the film's anticipated climax during which a chilling admission of guilt (and brute ego) from an American president is made on live television, confirming the fears of cynics across the country. Michael Sheen effortlessly slips into the role of charismatic talk show personality David Frost, a 1970s Ryan Seacrest if you will, who at one point gets in over his head. And the verbal tennis match between these two men, sharply staged by Ron Howard, crackles at the first word uttered in that Los Angeles living room.
6. The Dark Knight - Chris Nolan's electric sequel helped fanboys around the world feel vindicated, bringing to the masses a multi-layered popcorn masterpiece that transcends the genre. Consider it a fired-up blend of Scorsese and Stan Lee, a crime saga soaked in moral ambiguity, tortured psyches and structured corruption.
7. Doubt - A holy trinity of actors (Streep, Hoffman, Adams) set the screen ablaze in John Patrick Shanley's tight adaptation of his own Pulitzer prize-winning play, a verbal battleground on which no code of morality (or authority) is left unquestioned. A major "Brava!" goes to Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller, the desperate mother who would do anything to protect the future of her allegedly abused son. Her scene in the park with Sister Aloysius is so riveting, so heartbreaking, we almost forget Meryl is standing right next to her.
8. Australia - Baz Luhrmann's grand throwback to sweeping romantic epics is just that: One giant, old-school, wartime-set stunner starring two of the brightest marquee names in modern cinema. Call it overstuffed, call it too melodramatic - it's supposed to be. And let's not forget Brandon Walter's breakout performance as Nullah, the "mixed-blooded" child who unites our heroes and represents a tribute to the nation's controversial Stolen Generation.
9. Cloverfield - Blair Godzilla Project jokes aside, J.J. Abrams & Co. managed to do the unthinkable - create a monster feature that slipped under every Hollywood radar and then unleash one helluva thrill ride that reinvigorated the genre.
10. Trick 'R Treat - Normally when a movie is put straight to DVD, it's a huge red flag about the quality of the film itself. NOT in this case. Shame on Warner Bros. for chickening out on fully distributing a horror film that has so much potential to break out and put all of those Asian remakes and 80s "re-imaginings" to shame. Not since the original Scream 12 years ago have we seen such an original and clever horror film that delivers the screams (and laughs) and revels in turning genre cliches on their bloody heads. Mike Dougherty's atmospheric web of terror is Short Cuts set on Halloween night: Four different storylines, showcasing an ensemble cast, intertwining and coming together in a time-jumping twist of an ending that leaves you wanting more (OTHER HORROR BESTS: Let The Right One In and Teeth).
HONORABLE MENTION: The Fall - Shot in over a dozen countries over several years, Tarsem Singh's ambitious fantasy-drama about a hospitalized silent-movie stuntman (Lee Pace) and his exotic tall tales is a visual feast. Justine Waddell, as Pace's bedside sidekick, is absolutely adorable, heralding the trend of using child non-actors to convey an authentic innocence.
WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF CALLED, IT WANTS ITS PLOT BACK: Revolutionary Road
DAWN OF A NEW JOHN HUGHES ERA: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and The Wackness
REALLY?: The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Pierce Brosnan's singing in Mamma Mia! and Saw V
BEST ROM-COM OF '08: Definitely Maybe
SCENESTEALERS OF '08: Bette Midler in The Women, Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder, and the cockroach in WALL-E
SOUNDTRACKS OF THE YEAR: 21 and Slumdog Millionaire
TRAILERS OF THE YEAR: Star Trek, Watchmen, The Strangers and all of those fakes preceding Tropic Thunder
TV FAVES OF '08
1. 30 Rock (NBC) - What other comedy on television can cleverly pull off stunt casting (the Oprah twist was classic), master the art of deadpan sarcasm (Alec Baldwin, you're the king) and bring back the cast of Night Court for an impromptu reunion? Answer: none.
2. John Adams (HBO) - Lavish, richly written and beautifully shot...This is what network TV miniseries were like in the 70s and 80s - and should be today. Paul Giamatti brilliantly leads a giant ensemble in this Emmy-winning epic that not only reminds us of our roots as a country, but also attempts to bring back a national pride we've almost lost.
3. Pushing Daisies (ABC) - Bryan Fuller's short-lived gem shall continue to shine long after its gone, thanks to its crisp writing, charismatic cast and unbeatable production design. Pity those who never had the chance to experience the wonder and magic of one of TV's most entertaining hours.
4. Chelsea Lately (E!) - The former Girl Behaving Badly kills with deadpan one-liners in round table discussions that would make the ladies of The View blush. And it's on a network that showcases and celebrates the very celebretards she makes fun of. Isn't it ironic?
5. The Starter Wife (USA) - Like a cold glass of bubbly, Debra Messing's miniseries-turned-series is an effervescent jolt the cable net needed amongst its caravan of eclectic crime solvers. Who wouldn't want to have manic Hollywood
6. The Real Housewives of New York City (Bravo) - Call me biased (I knew women like these growing up outside the Big Apple), but last season's group of gal pals had me at the first "Oh my Gawd." I wanted to slap Alex. I wanted to fly off to Paris with LuAnn. I wanted Ramona to dress her age. And I wanted Jill and Bethenny to get their own sitcom. Bravo, please bring them back.
7. Mad Men (AMC) - The plots are too complex and too realistic to easily sum up. This Emmy winner is about the individual scheming behind the scenes of advertising, the struggle of women against gender roles and social limitations, the difficulties of marriage, the collision between religious and capitalist, sexist and hippie and establishment and youth culture ideals of the 1960s...it's a mouthful. There's no hook to make it easily understandable and appealing in one sentence. And that's what makes for outstanding television.
8. Brothers & Sisters (ABC) - A drama about a close-knit, upper-middle class family that eats weekly dinners together and works together - and it doesn't make you want to vomit? Watching this show is like curling up on the couch with a chenille blanket and a cup of herbal tea. Topical and relevant without being preachy, WASPs have never been so engaging (*And we cannot wait for the mysterious Ryan to finally make an appearance later this winter).
9. True Blood (HBO) - The backwoods bloodsuckers of Alan Ball's TV follow-up to Six Feet Under are a sexy, intriguing and treacherous group, and the hillbilly spin on old lore is a welcome change to the vamp landscape.
10. Swingtown (CBS) - This summertime sizzler had a Showtime premise but a network TV ethic. Still, we were mesmerized (Look, Jake Hanson grew a porno 'stache!). Applause goes to Miriam Shor as an uptight Pollyanna who'd give DH's Bree Van de Kamp a run for her prized blueberry cobbler. *ALSO: Best New TV Theme Song of the Year - Liz Phair's fabulously retro and deliciously catchy "Give it Up."
AND THREE CHEERS FOR: Saturday Night Live (NBC) - From Tina Fey's wicked turn as Sarah Palin and Jon Hamm's John Ham to Adele's classic performance and Justin Timberlake's homage to Beyonce, the sketchcom had a ball in the first half of its 34th season. And Kristen Wiig: We're not worthy.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT: Skins (BBC America) - "Daring" and "provocative" are just two of the many words repeatedly used to describe what may, at first glance, seem like the British version of Gossip Girl. It's so much more...These kids make those boys and girls at the CW look like home-schooled Mormon muppets.
MUSIC FAVES OF '08
1. "Time to Pretend" by MGMT - It's the Anthem for the Aughts, a song that has managed to encapsulate the chaotic decadence and schizophrenia of the decade, encouraging an already numb generation to embrace recklessness and "to live fast and die young." Cocaine good! Office jobs bad! And we owe it all to these two techno-jungle rock dudes from Brooklyn. Tongue may be firmly planted in cheek, but this is one seriously epic song. To experience the magic in all its psychedelic glory, watch the video.
2. "Black & Gold" by Sam Sparro - Part Prince, part Depeche Mode, part George Michael, this breakout Aussie is responsible for the most addictive track of the year, an existential electro-soul single that never gets old the more times you play it on repeat (look for the money shot at 1:20):
3. "Mercy" by Duffy - Dusty Springfield would be proud. Another soulful white chick imported from the U.K. croons to a beat reminiscent of "Stand By Me" and makes us want to slip on some go-go boots and break out some Nancy Sinatra vinyl. Forget the vapid remix and that retooled, Americanized video and stick with the moodier original (two words: flaming dancers):
4. "Dangerous" by M. Pokora featuring Sebastian - This instantly irresistible track from France's answer to Justin Timberlake sounds like the distant cousin of last year's ultra-hot "The Way I Are" (the Timbaland collaboration ain't a coincidence).
5. "Fascination" by Alphabeat - No, this isn't a lost track from High School Musical 3. It's Wonky pop, a term the Brits coined to describe sugary uplifting rock that's loved by both pop purists and the hipster set. This Danish group is a pop band - but with an indie ethic. And America needs to get in on the fun (Other must-listens: "Boyfriend" and "10,000 Nights of Thunder"):
6. "American Boy" by Estelle featuring Kanye West - Mr. West proclaims his love for the Brits ("because most of this press don't f**k with me") on this glossy-groovy collab with the U.K. version of Lauryn Hill, a sista with a penchant for passports and peacoats.
7. "Green Light" by John Legend feat. Andre 3000 - Legend's most club-friendly single is an energizing 21st-century Ziegfeld folly tickled by Andre's flirtatious stream of consciousness.
8. "Bonafied Lovin'" by Chromeo" - The 80s are brilliantly revisited in this electrofunk gem produced by the French-Canadian duo behind 2004’s She’s In Control. Be sure to check out their video, a great homage to Dire Straits.
9. "Hometown Glory" by Adele - The 20-year-old Etta James fan from South London hauntingly croons over her piano and pines for better days long gone. Melancholy never sounded so beautiful.
10. "Just Dance" by Lady GaGa feat. Colby O'Donis - The best dance track of the year is also one of the most refreshing pop singles delivered by the former queen of the NYC club scene, a platinum blond bombshell who also gave us a superfun album Fergie and Gwen wish they had released.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: "Magic" by Robin Thicke, "The World Should Revolve Around Me" by Little Jackie, "Save the Lies (Good to Me) by Gabriella Cilmi, "So What" by Pink, Darin's Flashback and Coldplay's Viva La Vida
YEAR OF THE DIVA: Madonna's Hard Candy, Mariah Carey's E=MC2, Britney Spears's Circus, Leona Lewis's Spirit, Pink's Funhouse, Beyonce's I Am...Sasha Fierce, Janet Jackson's Discipline, Christina Aguilera's Keeps Gettin' Better: A Decade of Hits, Cyndi Lauper's Bring Ya to the Brink, Donna Summer's Crayons, Taylor Dayne's Satisfied, Jennifer Hudson's Jennifer Hudson, Carly Simon's This Kind of Love.
THE GREATEST GUILTY PLEASURES OF 2008
"Damaged" by Danity Kane - I'd like to know what would happen if I did have a first-aid kit handy.
Sex and the City: The Movie - Three words: Brooklyn Bridge scene.
"Work" by The Saturdays - Girls Aloud, look out.
Mamma Mia! - A musical. Based on ABBA songs. With sequined bellbottoms.
Shane Mercado's version of the "Single Ladies" video - Crop top and underwear notwithstanding.
Pencils down. Champagne glasses up...
Here's to a fine '09,