By Dalton Del Don
It’s that time of year again – RotoScoop’s year-end lists. I know you’ve all been impatiently awaiting 2008’s version after last year’s was such a hit. It’s a down time in sports now anyway, so I hope you all enjoy. Feel free to let me know what I got right, what I missed and what I got wrong in the comments.
Frustratingly, many movies I want to see have yet to come my way, so before reading the following list, realize I have not yet seen: “Revolutionary Road,” “Milk,” “Frost/Nixon,” “The Reader,” “Rachel Getting Married” or “Man on Wire.”
10. Iron Man/Dark Knight – Admittedly, I wasn’t nearly as big a fan of “Dark Knight” as most, but I do recognize it was a well made comic book movie. Heath Ledger is of course brilliant, but even as a Christian Bale fan, I couldn’t get over his Batman voice. “Iron Man” was shallower, but in a way, more fun as well.
9. Slumdog Millionaire - Despite many flaws, I was emotionally invested in “Slumdog,” and it was certainly entertaining. But I can’t help but call it overrated – the silly three musketeers ending, the over the top bad guys (“get this sandwich out of my face!”), the dancing during the credits. I thought it would have been funny had Jamal rejected Latika in the end after seeing her scarred face.
8. The Orphanage - Normally I’m against puzzle piece type movies (the gotcha! “Matchstick Men” comes to mind), but this works here. Guillermo del Toro presents a different type of horror film, and one that lingers after viewing. I liked it much more than “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
7. Funny Games - Movies that receive both D- and A reviews are often the most entertaining, because at least they evoke strong emotions, one way or the other. Take “Funny Games,” which reviewers labeled “reprehensible and irredeemable” and also “forceful, unforgettable, and thought-provoking.” Michael Haneke is a talented filmmaker, but this is a movie I’d recommend to only a handful of my friends, as plenty will be turned off by its bluntness. I loved Paul and Peter’s deadpan delivery and back-and-forth – you won’t find killers like this often depicted on celluloid.
6. In Bruges – Nothing like I expected, this subtle and dark comedy is smarter than you think. Billed as a thriller, “In Bruges” is really a film about life and morality, with witty dialogue, strong performances and remarkable scenery. Not bad for Martin McDonagh’s debut feature film.
5. Forgetting Sarah Marshall – I was wrong when I first stated this movie was funnier than “Superbad,” which after repeated viewings on HBO has proven otherwise. Still, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is definitely rewatchable as well and was easily one of my five favorite movies of 2008. It’s genuinely funny and sports a sympathetic protagonist you can’t help but root for. I loved the CSI mocking and Jonah Hill’s character, and there was just so much good dialogue: “What did you think of my demo? Did you GET it?” “I was gonna listen to that, but then, um, I just carried on living my life.”
4. Gran Torino – The former mayor of beautiful Carmel, CA, Clint Eastwood has had his hits and misses (“Mystic River”), but one thing can always be counted on, and that’s I’m going to be entertained. And make no mistake, “Gran Torino” does not disappoint. It might very well be the funniest movie of 2008 – I missed a bunch of lines as the theatre was constantly erupting in laughter. Now, Eastwood is likely after this kind of response with his clear racist overtones, but should we feel guilty indulging? Probably, but for some reason, Eastwood makes it all seem OK. While the two child actors are terrible and on the surface this seems like rehashed territory, honestly, there’s some subtle, perceptive questions being asked here. Of course, there’s also silliness – there’s a drumbeat of USA patriotism in the background of every scene Eastwood is about to kick some ass – but I liked the San Francisco Chronicle’s description of it: “awful but awfully likable.” I could probably watch two hours of Eastwood just growling, and I highly doubt you’ll be more entertained at any other movie this year.
3. Doubt – A movie where little to nothing happens, and in fact, what may or may not have happened isn’t even shown. “Doubt” is carried by strong acting performances from Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. You’ll be instantly captivated by Father Flynn’s opening sermon, and although set in 1964, relevant in any era. Only one other movie will produce more conversation after viewing (more on that later), and the lack of conclusion is what makes it so good. Some will come away sure of the verdict, one way or the other. Others will have doubt.
2. Synecdoche, New York – Only Charlie Kaufman would use a play on words (and revealing plot points) in his title such as this. The city is spelled Schenectady; the title here means something entirely different. Also, the lead character’s surname is a syndrome. For me, this movie’s overall theme was to live in the moment. Forget the past and quit worrying about what might happen in the future. However, probably my favorite aspect of the film is that the general meaning will differ from viewer to viewer. The movie really makes you examine your own life and how you are living it, so inevitably, people will take away different aspects based on their individuality. There may never be a movie that will promote more discussion afterward. At times hard to follow and with no real resolution, I’ll let Roger Ebert take it from here: “The year’s most endlessly debated film. Screenwriter Charles Kaufman, in his directing debut, stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as a theater director mired in a long-running rehearsal that may be life itself. Much controversy about the identities and even genders of some of the characters, in a film that should never be seen unless you’ve already seen it at least once.” Well put. I can’t wait to see it again.
1. The Wrestler – For a movie with not a lot happening, the 1:45 sure flew by. Mickey Rourke is an absolute tour de force, and I’m not sure I’ve ever cared about a character as much as I did Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Rourke obviously tapped into his own personal demons when immersing himself into this character, and the results are mesmerizing. He even dabbled in some method acting, having all but admitted taking steroids to bulk up for the part. “Requiem For A Dream” is probably my favorite movie of all-time, so I’m a Darren Aronofsky fan, but this is unlike any of his other films. If you loved one thing and only one thing in your life, yet your health prevented you from continuing it, would you be able to stop? The wrestling is done right, and there’s a chilling scene in a strip club from the stripper’s point of view that will make you question ever being a patron again. The deli scenes absolutely killed me. And I loved the ending. But then again, there’s nothing not to love about “The Wrestler.”
10. Californication – What “Entourage” strives to be: sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Sure, it’s a bit over the top and at times cringe worthy, but there’s no denying Hank Moody is the man. So is Lew Ashby. Also, I loved Charlie Runkle’s season story line.
9. 30 Rock – This show is good, but it’s also become overrated – like it’s clearly the smartest and best thing on air. For one, Kenneth is absolutely, unequivocally the most annoying character on TV. The show also relies too heavily on its guest stars. Still, it is funny, and the Liz Lemon/Jack Donaghy relationship is gold.
8. Summer Heights High – Chris Lilley plays three different characters in this comedy shot in documentary style, and the results are dry and often hilarious. I can’t even begin to explain what transpires, but Ja’mie’s naivety, Mr. G’s self-centeredness and Jonah’s insubordination are all indelible qualities that lead to catchy tunes and memorable quotes. I said puck you, miss!
7. The Office – Although it’s regressed a bit, “The Office” is still the funniest show on television. The addition of Holly to the cast was a stroke of genius, and it’s too bad she didn’t last longer. It’s a joke the show isn’t watched by more people.
6. Dexter – Like most seasons of “Dexter,” No. 3 picked up as it went along. The writers have done an excellent job of preventing the concept from getting stale, highlighted by the addition of Jimmy Smits to this year’s cast. Smits was nothing short of amazing as Miguel Prado, and watching Dexter finally gain a friend was intriguing. There wasn’t a big twist at the end like in past seasons, but it still set up the future well. It’s a great show, and I’d fault no one for putting it at the top of their year end list.
5. True Blood – First off, I usually hate vampire movies/shows. Secondly, I’m not going to sit here and argue the artistic merits behind such mindless, popcorn entertainment as “True Blood,” but there might not have been a show I looked more forward to each week. From the ridiculously good opening credits, to the ridiculous accents, this show had me constantly wondering what’s going to happen next and wanting more – in a good way. I was a big fan of “Six Feet Under,” so it comes as no surprise I’m a fan of Alan Ball’s newest series (although “American Beauty” was terrible). Lafayette was definitely one of my favorite characters from 2008. You won’t find a bigger “True Blood” apologist than me, but even I can’t back Anna Paquin winning a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Sookie Stackhouse. Sookie!
4. The Shield – The most underrated series ever? “The Shield’s” seventh and final season stumbled out of the block, but once the writers realized they didn’t have much to lose with the end near, the show really hit its stride. The deterioration of The Strike Team may have been inevitable, but it was still hard to watch nevertheless. The Vic vs. Shane showdown was a highlight, and “The Shield” has always been at its best when Mackey was scrambling, something he had to do constantly this season. The scene where Mackey was listing off his past indiscretions was unforgettable and almost enough to make the viewer feel bad rooting for a murderer. Almost. The last scene of the series wasn’t quite on “The Sopranos” level. But it was close.
3. In Treatment – Simply brilliant. “In Treatment” required quite a commitment, as it aired five days a week, following a psychoanalyst and four of his patients (and also his own therapy). Like last year’s superb “Tell Me You Love Me,” this series wasn’t exactly action packed, but investing in these characters resulted in a highly rewarding pay off. An extremely real look at therapy – the process, the healing, the problems with it, the fact the one handing out the advice rarely has his or her own life figured out – “In Treatment” is unique and one of the most important shows on TV. If anyone had a better acting performance than Gabriel Byrne this year, I missed it.
2. The Wire – Make no mistake, “The Wire” is the best show ever, and it wasn’t easy not placing its final season No. 1 on this list. Season 5 may not have been its best, but it was fantastic nevertheless. David Simon’s strong, poignant look at the media was spot on – and ironically, many of the reviews by the very media he was criticizing missed his point, which in turn, proved it. It was impossible not to root for city editor Gus Haynes, and conversely, the antagonist Scott Templeton, played by Tom McCarthy, who incidentally wrote and directed the highly underrated “The Station Agent,” was as despicable as Stringer Bell or Clay Davis in his own right. The ultimate conclusion was satisfying, but “The Wire” will always be missed. The fact this show got continuously ignored come award season shows how much of a joke that system is.
1. Mad Men - Season 1 was very good. Season 2 was transcendent, as in, the best in the history of television. Subtle, rich and powerful, “Mad Men” is unflinching in its realism and attention to detail. Never before have I wanted to read episode reviews to unlock layers of analysis that might have gone over my head. The acting is unparalleled, and although it’s set in a 1960s man’s world, there are some of the hottest women on TV on the show. Don Draper, the protagonist, is pretty deplorable yet inherently likeable. “Mad Men” was better than any movie I saw or music I heard in 2008, making it the best entity of the year.
Honorable Mention: Real Time with Bill Maher, Lost, Ricky Gervais: Out of England – The Stand-Up Special, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Friday Night Lights, Little Britain USA, Boston Legal, How I Met Your Mother, The Sarah Silverman Program, Weeds, Entourage
5. Coldplay: “Viva La Vida” – Listen, I feel embarrassed and ashamed including Coldplay here, but I swear, these guys get a bad rap. I don’t even like most of their singles, but the stigma here is undeniable – I blame the “40-Year-Old Virgin.” But enough from me, I’ll let my friend Chason sum it up best: “As long as I can forget that I am listening to Coldplay, that he is not Chris Martin who wears dumb sashes wrapped around his leg and goes home to perfect Gwyneth Paltrow and a baby named Apple for God’s sake, then i can get into the music…I should like the music more for all those reasons. I hate the rock-n-roll myth of having to be a fucked up tortured soul to make anything good. I should like that his wife bitches him around and makes him eat macrobiotic and he goes to sleep at 10 to care for his fruit baby in the morning…It’s just that outfit on stage and direction of some of the songs fears me of U2 type levels of absurdness.”
4. Kings Of Leon: “Only By The Night” – Pitchfork gave this album a terrible review, but from what I gather, that’s mainly because they think the lead singer is a douchebag. And to be frank, I don’t even like the single “Sex on Fire.” However, there’s some pretty catchy stuff here. “Closer” is definitely one of my favorite songs of 2008.
3. The Black Keys: “Attack & Release” – I’ve been a fan of The Black Keys for a while now, enjoying their old school version of rock ‘n’ roll. Teaming up with Danger Mouse resulted in a surprisingly effective album. One of the best of the year, hands down. I get so fired up listening to these guys, look at what the cameras caught me doing after one of their concerts.
2. Frightened Rabbit: “Midnight Organ Fight” – I just recently discovered this Scottish trio and my life has been appreciably better ever since. Singer Scott Hutchison’s voice is freakin awesome, and his brother is such a badass on the drums, he recently splintered three drumsticks with his powerful pounding just two songs into a recent New York show. The lyrics are good, although bordering on depressing. And yes, “Midnight Organ Fight” is a euphemism for sex. If “The Twist” doesn’t get your heart racing, it’s because you don’t have one. If these guys were born 65 years earlier, chances are you would have never heard of The Beatles. As sure as Tim Lincecum is the filthiest pitcher in baseball, Frightened Rabbit is my favorite new band. They are like Dane Cook at comedy, Brad Childress at coaching, George W. Bush at President, Drew Peterson at innocence, this guy at sanity, and this newscaster at ugly. Only the opposite.
But I’ll let Pitchfork (who is much smarter than Einstein and Stephen Hawking put together) take it from here: “The key here is Scott’s urgent-yet-emotive songwriting. Midnight Organ Fight is full of rousing barnburners that flicker with soul and ballads that ache with masculine vulnerability. He’s wallowing, but Scott’s cracked voice sells every word, and his band’s rousing rhythms and rough-hewn guitar interplay keep the mood from ever getting lugubrious or maudlin. Sure, Frightened Rabbit aren’t the first band to explore loneliness, horniness, or emptiness in song, just like they aren’t the first set of siblings to decide to jam together, but their jangly melodies claw their way inside your brain just the same, making them latest in a long line of Glasgow bands to effortlessly combine celebratory sonics and miserablist lyrics into something singular.” Ya, that.
1. TV On The Radio: “Dear Science” - For once I was blind, now I can see. Forget Proposition 8, can you marry an album? Leprechauns are full of shit, the pot at the end of a rainbow isn’t gold, it’s this album. Like insulin to a diabetic or crack to an addict, Dear Science and self-actualization go hand-in-hand. Guys, if you’re falling a little short in the bedroom, forget Cialis, just pop in this record instead. If you don’t like this album, there’s a good chance you think Zach Galifianakis isn’t funny, Matt Millen was a good hire by NBC, PCs are better than Macs and Florida would beat USC. And if you haven’t yet been captivated by this brilliant LP, as TVOTR states: “I’m living a life not worth dying for.”
That wasn’t the only music I liked this year, so here are some select tracks I also particularly enjoyed from 2008: “Evil Urges” by My Morning Jacket, “L.E.S. Artistes” by Santogold, “Kim & Jessie” by M83, “The Snow Leopard” by Shearwater, “Poison Dart” by The Bug [ft. Warrior Queen], “Time to Pretend” by MGMT, “I Will Possess Your Heart” by Death Cab For Cutie, “The Shock Of The Lightning” by Oasis
As in years past, this section combines the bad with the overrated, as I tried to avoid movies that will obviously be awful. Here is a much shorter compilation of things I didn’t enjoy from 2008:
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button – This pains me since I love David Fincher so much, but I’ve got to keep it real – this movie pretty much sucked. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not terrible, and I was emotionally invested while watching, but it looks like the favorite to take home Best Picture, which is laughable. Watching it, I couldn’t help but compare it to “Forrest Gump” (shrimp boat = tug boat, Vietnam = Japanese sub, feather = hummingbird), so it came as no surprise to later find out the screenplay was written by the same writer. Even Button seemed a little slow if you ask me, although I did find the character affable. And even Cate Blanchett’s “Daisy” was like “Jenny” – an unworthy bitch, really. Were we supposed to root for these two? I mean, they spent like five days together when they were six years old, and she treated him poorly during the two visits in the next 20 years. The makeup/CGI was terrific, no doubt, but I still can’t wrap my head around why Button had to leave her and their daughter because he didn’t want Daisy having to raise him as well when he had a good 20-25 years left before then. Plenty of kids should be so lucky to have a loving father that long. And what did Katrina have to do with anything? And apparently Button’s master plan didn’t work out so well, since Daisy and their daughter apparently had a horribly distant relationship as adults. Who would ever want to see this film twice? I can’t stop complaining about this movie. If you want to see good work done by Fincher in 2008, watch this amazing commercial.
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull – Anyone who has caught any of the old Indiana Jones trilogy on TNT over the past few years realizes just how cheesy the classics really were, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t memorable. I certainly have fond memories of them as a kid. So even though I knew this new version was going to be bad, I just couldn’t stop myself from renting it. Don’t get me wrong, it had its moments (in the tombs), and I watched it all the way through, but it also featured Shia LeBeouf beating cars in a chase by flying through vines in trees with monkeys and some of the worst CGI you’ll ever see. Ugh.
88 Minutes – I didn’t exactly break my rule of avoiding obvious bad movies here, as the family put it on after Christmas dinner, so I had no choice. Actually, this was in the “so bad, it’s good” variety, so I didn’t mind one bit. If there’s one thing I’m going to take away from 2008, it very well might be Al Pacino’s hair in “88 Minutes.” I’m pretty sure it received its own recognition during the end credits. Did this guy squander his career big time, or is it one that has been overrated to begin with? Either way, I strongly recommend “88 Minutes.”
Monday Night Football – For the second year in a row, MNF makes the wrong list, as Tony Kornheiser was as insufferable as ever. At least they cut down on the guests in the booth. Still, this telecast accomplished the impossible in 2008. It actually got worse.
And now, I’ll leave you with my favorite viral video of the year. Hope all of you have a happy and healthy 2009.