This list has no arbitrary number, and no real parameters other than I’m trying (dimly) to recall all that resonated with me the most, for better or worse, in the bygone year. Plot-related SPOILERS will be discussed, because it’s hard to be specific in praise/critique without acknowledging details. Here’s my not-so-thin-line between love and hate.
- All-Star Superman was perfect in almost every way. Grant Morrison embraced everything Superman inspired, assembling cluttered continuity and archetypical resonances into a heroic ideal distilled to its essence. Frank Quitely continues to be my favorite of Morrison’s recurring collaborators. While there are other artists whom I might prefer in general, Quitely’s unique style and sense of pacing just seems to fit ineffably better.
- The Death of Captain America managed to turn what could’ve been a cheap stunt, into one of the most compelling espionage stories I’ve ever read. As a lefty and contrarian, I’ve never been a fan of the unabashed patriotism and jingoism Captain America’s represented, but Ed Brubaker helped carve out a character I cared about– before shooting him dead and replacing him with his long-lost sidekick. And of course he made me like the resurrected sidekick too, taking the new Captain America into murkier and doubt-ridden places that a stalwart, Hitler-punching Steve Rogers may not have been able to go. Brubaker’s Criminal has consistently been one of the best reads in any given month and his new series Incognito is off to a great start for the best of 2009.
- Fallout 3 destroyed my social life by being 2008’s most absorbing video game experience. GTA IV was good, and even great at times, and Fable 2 was fun in its own right– but nothing beat the bombed-out post-apocalyptic wastes of Fallout’s immense world. Fallout‘s mix of humor, nostalgia, cold-war paranoia, and engaging game-play has kept me glued to my 360 for the last third of the year.
- The Dark Knight was among the best movies I saw in 2008, regardless of genre and my own geekiness. Heath Ledger’s electric performance, the epic cinematography, overarching themes of dodgy morality, and complex plotting made TDK one of the year’s best (especially in IMAX intensity). Iron Man was fun too, because hanging out with Robert Downey Jr. would be fun, but it just didn’t put all the pieces together the way TDK did.
- Let The Right One In was my favorite movie of the year, its frosty Swedish setting sealing the tension within its story of nascent desire and adolescent violence. The fact that it was a teen vampire movie of sorts, puts it into immediate comparison with Twilight and Anne Rice’s libidinous stories, but LTROI distinguishes itself by its emotional naturalism and the fact that in many ways it was a purer and more loyal exploration of the vampire myth.
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was dumber than even I expected it to be. Steven Spielberg managed to crowbar in all his pet obsessions (daddy issues, alien life, and the irrepressibility of youth!) into one of the densest disappointments of the year. Even if the story wasn’t totally inane, the performances were uniformly horrible. Harrison Ford may as well have phoned it in from Spielberg’s favorite alien planet, Cate Blanchett’s horrendous Soviet accent and phallus-envy sword play were a constant irritation, and Karen Allen seemed to be reprising a role as a heretofore unknown and unhinged cat-lady. And of course, one can’t ignore that the story itself was inane. Indy 4 suffered from constant credulity-straining suspensions of disbelief (even the jungle monkeys hate Socialists!) to forehead-slapping thematic platitudes (“knowledge was their treasure!!”), resulting in a multi-million dollar turd that only Spielberg could’ve directed.
- Detective Comics: Heart of Hush by Paul Dini was a story I can’t believe I even bothered to read. I’d generally been enjoying Dini’s run on Detective, but this storyline was a pathetic attempt to bring some gravitas to the character of Hush. Riddled with cliche’s and cheap flashbacks that attempted to give Hush some depth, this absolutely airless ugh-fest compared all the more unfavorably to Grant Morrison’s convoluted but inspired BATMAN R.I.P.
- Mark Millar used to be a writer I enjoyed (The Ultimates, Ultimate Fantastic Four, etc.), but thanks to its big-screen adaptation, I finally read Wanted, and I truly wish I could unread the ugly, hateful, and ultimately pathetic power-fantasy in its pages. Everything of Millar’s I’ve read (or re-read) since has been colored by that story’s shallow characterizations, puerile attempts at humor, and general bigotry.
- Guy Fieri‘s frosted douche-itude and ubiquity is quickly making the often unbearable Food Network, completely unwatchable. I can stomach Bobby Flay’s overwhelming smarminess, deal with Iron Chef America‘s tepid imitation of the Japanese original, and Alton Brown’s cornball moments in return for glimpses of culinary inspiration and opinion rendered smartly and pointedly by folks like Brown, Mario Batali, Masahiro Morimoto, and Jeffrey Steingarten. But Fieri and his chicken-fried personality represent what’s wrong with how our culture relates to food. I’m not saying we need to populate the TV with granola-fed back-to-the-landers, but I’d take anything over his constant shilling of fried mediocrity and quarter-pound diabetes burgers available at TGIFridays.
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was yet another example of overblown cinematic stupidity. Probably the worst film I saw all year (even after I saw a stop-motion bat try to rape his college sweetheart). Worse because of its attempts to appear profound, shoe-horning Forrest Gump‘s treacly sentimentality onto a creepy, ultimately hollow love story. For something so incredibly overwrought The Curious Case… is amazingly careless. The film doesn’t even follow its own internal logic relating to Brad Pitt’s de-aging (starts normal sized baby that’s old, so it should end with man-sized geezer that’s a baby?), and Cate Blanchett gives another overwhelmingly obnoxious performance in a high-profile movie. Adding to its insipidness, the film fails to do anything meaningful with Hurricane Katrina in its backdrop, insulting the hurricane’s victims and its audience.