The end of another dear year is here, I fear. 2008 was a hell of a good year, marking the end and beginning of a number of eras. It's also been a hell of a bad year, marking the end and beginning of a number of mortgages. On a personal note, WorldsGreatestCritic.com finalized its two-year string of seasons, including the 2008 Winter of Weird (a season which brought my use of Garish Backgrounds to a new artistic low). This, of course, marked the completion of my reviews of every single entry in the list of Video Nasties! After an April Fool's joke that indicated my retirement, we kicked into a barrage of Ultra-Indie reviews.
So, after my veritable BUFFET of obscure horror flicks that managed to find themselves banned in England, followed by my gorging on the flicks that are so independent, they've yet to be discovered, might I say that I've found myself a bit out of touch? Might I add... is there anybody out there?
Thus, I've found myself at odds with most reviewers out there and even a good deal of the public (well, more so than usual). From ill-advised remakes to re-envisioned classics, I've panned more than a few, while praising a great many others that have been widely misunderstood and/or forgotten. Following are my picks for the Best, Worst and Inexplicable of the past year. If these aren't quite matching with your own opinions, might I remind you that you don't come to this site because you give an Eff-You-See-Kay what I think, but because I crack you up. Sit on it and spin counter-clockwise if you can't handle it.
So without any further ado (and "ado" seems to be what I'm best at), here are the Top 8 of 2008!
The Venture Bros.
What started as a farcical, adult-oriented spoof of Jonny Quest and other classic, but too-serious, shows from Hanna-Barbera has evolved into one of the best comedies on television. Albeit a very specialized and remarkably esoteric comedy. From a rummage sale attended almost exclusively by super-villains to a near-Rashomon episode of perspective based memory to an evil love triangle, extra dimensions, ill-advised super teams, resurrection by clones and more Bowie references than you could shake a powder-blue Stanza at (including a near-verbatim account of the "Major Tom" incident), this show has been both a hilarious send-up and an engrossing saga.
2008's third season of The Venture Bros. virtually threw the "Formula" out the window, focusing on a heapin' H.E.L.P.in' of flashbacks (tying the divergent storylines together in surprising and cracked ways) and a furthering of the warped episodic nature of the overall series. Rusty meets his nerdy equal in the veldt after almost becoming a Super-Villain himself, Billy Quizboy discovers his past, Brock goes Rogue (well, more rogue) and the real Jonas, Sr. is revealed... again and again and again. All that and Doctor Girlfriend lounges around in her bra and panties... and an even more revealing new costume. If you're a fan, fear not, a new season is expected in 2009. If not, it's high time... Check out The Venture Bros. is a great show in any season (so far).
Yeah, big surprise, I've got Lost on the list again, however, Lost remains one of the most incredible shows ever made. This constantly evolving show seems to follow no true formula, aside from "Mystery" itself. Just when the idea of crash survivors on an Island started to get "familiar", the hatch blew open and we met Dharma. Just as that enigma got engrossing, the focus switched to The Others. Just as it seemed certain that the Island would never be found and the castaways never rescued, we get our first "Flash Forwards" confirming that both happen.
While some of the audience has fallen off with the increasingly developing mythos (miss an episode and you've missed a lot) the great thing about Lost is that it doesn't exist purely as a cash cow but to (how radical) tell a quality story very well. Now if we could only find out... where'd that Island go?
Pixar consistently has achieved amazing things in their movies (whether long or short). Without question they still hold the high-bar when it comes to computer animation, but there's a lot more than just photo-realistic surreality. Even more than the eye-popping visuals, the key to a Pixar Flick is the writing! Wall*E proves that one beyond belief. With nearly half the movie playing as a virtual silent film, an incredible story is already unfolding... and its a story that only gets better as the action progresses the plot. A lonely robot falls in love and improves Humanity. How can it be this good? Pixar is beautiful, but the beauty is in the fact that, unlike many productions out there, the incredible CGI exists to further a well-written screenplay, as opposed to the screenplay existing only to prop-up the CGI!
2008 in Politics:
- Barack Obama: Amid the strange political landscapes that have emerged over the past decade here in the USA, it's not only rare to find such a success story... it's rare to find such a success story that has this much joy in the telling. One hundred forty-three years after Slavery was abolished, the United States of America has elected its first African American President! Further, "race" itself was barely even a player in this unfolding saga that gave voters someone to believe in, rather than just "the lesser of two evils". Barack Obama is our first Black President and he was elected on his own merrits with plenty of other choices out there.
It's about time!
Why go on? This speaks for itself!
- SNL: The stand out in many minds for this year in Political Satire was Tina Fey's hysterical, yet dead-on impression of GOP Veep Nom Sarah Palin, but the list doesn't stop with her name. Amy Pohler's Hillary Clinton laughed louder than the viewers and her incredulous Katie Couric made for a funny counter-point for Fey's clueless Palin. Darrell Hammond is still the go-to guy for Political Impressions, bringing John McCain to un-self-conscious life, while Fred Armisen's Barack Obama managed to be satirical without falling on tired cliches while Jason Sudeikis's Joe Biden managed to hold his own against Fey's Palin with a fair dosage of recognizable Bidenisms. Special credit should be given to Seth Meyers as both co-anchor (with Pohler) of "Weekend Update" and as head writer. Many of the best moments not only came from him, but actually came full circle as some of the SNL Sketches were mentioned in the Democratic Primary Debates.
It's also a credit to Clinton, Palin, Obama and McCain that even during some of the heaviest satirizing of their mannerisms, personalities, actions and politics, each of them managed to appear on the show (often in self-deprecating skits) at least once.
- Meet the Press: In over sixty-one years of broadcasting, the longest running television show in history has had many hosts and anchors. None have added quite the personal touch that Tim Russert. During this high-stakes political cycle, Meet the Press was forced to continue without Russert who passed away on June 13th of this year. Over the years he was present through a number of incredible stories, including the 2000 Election, the emergence of the phrases "Red State" and "Blue State", September 11th, the Iraq War and the CIA Leak Scandal (during which Russert himself became part of the story and appeared on Meet the Press not as the host, but as an interviewee) all the while showing bias toward no one, save the Buffalo Bills. NBC didn't hesitate to pay tribute to Tim (along with most of the competing networks) and they reluctantly kept the show going with guest anchors like Andrea Mitchell and Tom Brokaw before David Gregory was named as Russert's permanent successor. "Successor", yes, because Tim has no "Replacement".
Marvel Movie Unity:
Since Comic Book inspired Movies have gone from occasional anomalies to surprise successes to almost guaranteed Blockbusters, Marvel Entertainment has added something amazing to their properties: Continuity!
After years of legal wrangling resulted in successful Marvel films from various distribution companies, Marvel has consolidated their licensed properties under the "Marvel Entertainment" banner and has begun to unify the many series into a single universe. This started with Paramount's Iron Man and continued into Universal Studios' reboot of The Incredible Hulk. Future films will include Ant-Man, Nick Fury, Thor and Captain America, all leading up to a planned assembly of The Avengers!
Strangely, DC Comics has been owned by Warner Bros. (who distributes all their films) since 1969 and movies based on their characters are still more about reinvention than inspiration and continuity is rarely even considered between film series. Marvel, despite being distributed by multiple film companies, has managed to consolidate their continuity and create a single unified universe. It's just too bad Punisher: War Zone sucked!
Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I realize I am, have been and will be in the resounding silent minority with my opinions of Lucasfilm Animation's first theatrical release. Okay, I'm out of touch, they suck, it's for kids, kids suck, may mynocks feed on our collective power cables! We're all nerf herders, I get it, I get it, I get it.
That said, really, look at this movie! Such care was taken in the construction of every frame that anywhere one looks on the screen is packed with things to see. Listen to the sounds here. Not just the voices, but the foley used for all the different things you see. Check out the lightsabre duels and pay attention to the details of the military action. If the story doesn't do it for you, surely you can acknowledge how well produced this film is.
In this Pixar world, why do the characters look so much like action figures? After all, didn't Pixar itself start as a division of Lucasfilm? Aren't the live-action Prequels packed with photorealistic CGI characters? The answer is twofold, but simple. The producers of the television show Star Wars: The Clone Wars (for which this film is, essentially, a theatrical pilot) chose to preserve the look and feel of the previous animated series (called Star Wars: Clone Wars), which was hand-drawn. Further, the show (and film) was never meant to work on a weekly basis with near-to-life animations of the films' cast. Much like Pixar's The Incredibles gave a great story with unrealistic and cartoonish characterizations of humans, The Clone Wars gives us living action figures. Take a look at the way the sand interacts with the characters and you'll better note the intent. Further, note the light and shadow and the very reflections we're given and appreciate the quality of the animation. Oh, but it's for kids, I can hear you say. So what? Get over it. Go chop off some arms while playing Knights of the Old Republic on X-Box! I just did!
Who knows how future viewers might respond to this film, but with many of the same critics who lambasted the film saying good things about the television show, it might be better appreciated as a companion piece at a later date. If not, I'll remain standing out here by myself... in the right! (Yeah, I'm kiddin'. I'm strictly left wing.)
This series about ordinary humans being granted superhuman powers isn't based exclusively on original ideas from creator Tim Kring. It owes a lot to the bleak futures predicted in X Men comics, borrows a bit from the conspiracy theories found in The X-Files and its "giving powers to everybody" sub-plot from this season feels more like picking up where The 4400 left off than an awe-inspiring breaking of new ground (the fact that one of the first Newbies to be injected with "the Catalyst" was 4400 alumnus Chad Faust means that SOMEBODY knows this). This is all the more reason to recognize Heroes for its success as a television series.
After surviving a curtailed season (and deleted sister series) due to the Writer's Guild strike, Heroes has developed its "Villains" story line with some amazing episodes that have flashed us backwards and forwards in this increasingly changing timeline, while showing us some very introspective studies into the nature of good and evil. That's not even to mention the revelations, like the significance of "The Eclipse" and the question of who remains a hero (or villain for that matter) if their powers are gone.
One word of warning to the fictional characters from Heroes: Watch out who you sleep with. If nothing else, this 2008 season has shown us that everybody is related to everybody. Just ask the adoptive mother of the serial killer who thought he was her biological mother, which would have made him the biological uncle of the cheerleader whose real biological uncle whose powers resemble those of the serial killer's much more than those of his brother (who is the cheerleader's biological father) and his own pops, who once was lost but now is found and has played an integral role in the lives of the parents of all the heroes while standing against the horned rimmed glasses guy, who is the adoptive father of the cheerleader and recently teamed up with the almost uncle of said cheerleader as he tracked down another biological uncle of the cheerleader who is the brother of the cheerleader's biological mother, all of whom were recently held captive by the cheerleader's grandmother who started this whole run-on sentence! No, really, go on and ask her.
Trust me, in 2008, Last is definitely not Least!
It's amazing that a science fiction TV Series that debuted in the winter of 1963 could produce some of the best hours of television within the year 2008. It's a feat worthy of a Time Lord! The fourth season (of the second series) has done something I thought would be impossible: It improved itself!
With a progressive and modern air, coupled with a strong knowledge of and respect for the show's inventive (and, occasionally cheesy, I affectionately state) science-fiction roots, the show has guided us through time and the Universe with three hot, cool and funny companions, two versions of The Doctor and a resurgence of the Daleks, the Cybermen and even The Master! The fourth season added the comedy of Catherine Tate as Companion Donna Noble, featured living "baby fat", the Doctor's daughter and a frightening surreal library (with a key to the Doctor's past and future)! Not only do we see that the always funny comedienne Catherine Tate can handle drama, but we also see (again) the great range of David Tennant, whose portrayal of The Doctor has become the favorite of many fans. The man is fascinating to watch and is a worthy anchor to the show and successor to the name.
The two-part season finale was nothing short of awe-inspiring with its great script (by Russell T. Davies), killer special effects and superb acting and directing. The surprise twists were only one of the many high points of these episodes, but man, oh, man, were these twists surprising. Not only did this event finish off the fourth season, not only did it bring together the previous companions of Rose, Sarah Jane, and Martha with Donna but it also brought together the casts (and continuity) of the Doctor Who spin-offs The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood! Throughout all of this spectacular action, story, acting and special effects, the underlying theme (and the one we're left with) is the true loneliness and desolation of being a Time Lord. It's a condition that Tennant portrays perfectly without a single word. Doctor Who is not to be missed!
Honorable Mentions in 2008 go to ABC's Pushing Daisies, Del Toro's Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Universal Studios Hollywood's The Simpsons: The Ride, Miller's The Spirit and to WorldsGreatestCritic.com's ME for finishing off the list of Video Nasties with 74 in-depth (and humorous) reviews for each of the banned films.
See you in the next reel!