“Pork and Beans” by Weezer and “So What” by Pink. 2008 was a really great year for “fuck you” songs, as the general frustration of the world with stupid bullshit finally hit its boiling point, and these were two of the best. Weezer’s song was “Fuck you, I’m a nerd” and Pink’s was “Fuck you, my marriage didn’t work out and who are you to comment.” They both had fantastic hooks (Pink’s “na-na-na-na” in particular will burn itself into your brain) and great musicality, and while Weezer’s video might have been a love letter to internet geeks, Pink’s video had Pink dancing naked and chainsawing down a tree, so at best the “best video” contest between these two is a wash.
The Incredible Hercules. Let’s face facts: 2008 was a remarkably shitty year for Big Two superhero comics. Other than the tail end of All-Star Superman‘s glorious twelve-issue run, what was there? “Event” comics repeatedly failed to impress (something which, at this point, should surprise absolutely nobody) and most superhero comics held up as this year’s exemplars of the form (Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider, say, or Geoff Johns’ work on Green Lantern, or Abnett and Lanning’s writing on Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy) are barely more than what should be expected out of the form – competent, entertaining storytelling that isn’t particularly revolutionary. The one bright light in all of this was Incredible Hercules, a comic which takes the mythological scope of Walt Simonson’s Thor and marries it to a humourous style not unlike that of Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League International (with the same core of pathos that that latter title had). Constantly wonderful and only getting better with time.
WALL-E. The single best film Pixar Studios have ever made – and considering this is the studio with Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles under its belt, that says something. Confident enough to wed most of its storytelling to physical comedy – and physical comedy created by a junky little robot no less – the scope and ambition of WALL-E is only more breathtaking. Yes, Andrew Stanton and company walked it back in public, claiming that it wasn’t “about” consumerism and the ecological destruction of the planet. The rest of us knew ass-covering bullshit when we heard it.
Nation by Terry Pratchett. Nobody knows how many swings at the plate Pratchett has left in him at this point, so that makes this home run of a book all the more glorious; a book which manages to be horrifying without being gory, romantic without being crass, sad without being melodramatic, spiritual without being moralistic, and praiseworthy of science without being annoyingly self-satisfied. As it is a Pratchett book, it is of course also very, very funny and clever throughout, and its message – of the possible comingling and even necessary interdependence of science and religion – is timely and welcome.
Leverage. God, how did John Rogers pitch this and ever have any trouble? “It’s Ocean’s Eleven versus evil corporations who screw over the little guy.” Why did it take so long for someone in Hollywood to throw money at him to get it made? But finally it happened, and this show is a glorious triumph – funny, exciting and most of all you never, ever have to watch it in Idiot Mode because the characters are doing stupid things for stupid reasons. Leverage is a show where the characters, at their worst, do smart things for stupid reasons. Or stupid things for smart reasons. And that makes all the difference.
Furr by Blitzen Trapper. I like music with energetic beats and operatic ambition, so the fact that I’m putting simple, folky, gentle Blitzen Trapper on my “best” list should serve as notice to how brilliant this record was. The title track is a love song about a werewolf, for crissake – just saying that should prepare you for some of the shittiest filk imaginable, but instead Blitzen Trapper makes it work, avoiding cute jokes and writing pure, eloquent poetry, and sounding all the while like a young version of Bob Dylan backed up by The Band. Just fantastic.
Berlin: City of Smoke. Jason Lutes’ epic continues to be absolutely fucking staggering. You should read this comic. Enough said.
In Bruges. Tanked at the box office, as people expected from the shitty advertising campaign that it would be another Lock, Stock-lite English gangster caper film, but instead this was by turns a funny and solemn story about two gangsters (in Bruges) taking cover after a crime gone horribly wrong, a crime that left scars. The comedy comes from razor-sharp dialogue; the pathos from absolutely brilliant work by Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, and a story that inverts the usual heh-heh-we’re-gangsters tropes and unabashedly, without moralizing, points out that the criminal life really, really sucks at your soul. The best directorial debut of the year, by a country mile.
Northlanders. Brutal, vicious, and utterly fantastic Viking stories that only served to once again remind comics fans of why Vertigo still matters if you’re not interested in medium-dark fantasy (along with the equally fantastic Scalped). Totally hard-ass and uncompromising about both the virtues and flaws of the Viking world, and the lack of an overarching supernarrative means that Brian Wood can do what he does best – stories more connected by theme than by plot. (With Vikings in them.)
Fallout 3. Everybody else has already said everything that could be said about this game, so I’ll just throw in a backhanded compliment: the game is so crazily chock-full of content that I maxed out at level 20 when I was less than a third of the way through the main plot. Dear Bethesda: please to patch game to give more levels please.
Bob on Survivor. You have to love it when a 57-year-old physics teacher (and clearly still a very fit one) dominates the competition challenges over people half his age and invents multiple realistic-looking fake immunity idols to keep himself in play. Bob was the runaway fan-favorite of Survivor: Gabon and easily one of the most dominant players in years, his only failing being an early willingness to trust the wrong people (which merely made him all the more sympathetic).
The Boys. The next time somebody tells me that Garth Ennis just likes to take the piss out of superhero comics and that’s the only reason he’s writing The Boys, I will make them read #15, wherein Annie, undergoing a severe crisis of faith, demands that God give her a sign He exists, and leaves the church disappointed and on the brink of collapse when nothing happens – and then promptly runs into Hughie, who of course is exactly the sign she asked for. Then I will beat them to death with a lead pipe because I am sick to fucking death of people whining about shit that isn’t true. Be forewarned.
The Battlestar Galactica board game. An ingeniously designed board game, featuring the standard cooperative-survival mechanics one would expect given the setting, but with a brilliant twist: some of the players are actually Cylons and they are secretly trying to destroy humanity. The game’s system is designed to make hiding and striking against humanity a thing of subtlety and play-skill; if you’re really good you can even set up other players to take the fall for you, framing them as Cylons using nothing more than your own ability to lie. Similarly, it takes true observational skill to ferret out a really good Cylon player, as well as time your incarceration of them properly. Yes, it’s kind of a shame that Boomer sucks compared to most of the other characters, but other than that this game is seriously just about perfect in its execution.
Chuck. With a promising mini-season start last year, Chuck was already a solidly entertaining little show, but now? Far and away the most improved show on television; the plots are more clever, the dialogue snappier, the action higher quality and the unrealized romance between Chuck and Sarah satisfyingly boiling away behind a thousand actually-good reasons for them to not be together. Also good: the elevation of the Buy-More supporting cast to credits-level importance. Last season I was worried Chuck might waste them in favour of the annoying guy who plays Morgan. This season – well, less Morgan! That’s a start.
Metropolis by Janelle Monáe.
I trust that was self-explanatory, but if it wasn’t – that blend of nu-funk, futuristic soul and utter batshit craziness (it’s a concept album! Set in 2719!) is like what I think Legion of Super-Heroes should be if it were transposed into musical form. And she’s an obvious music nerd. Any other P.Diddy “discovery” diva-lite would want to be all pretty and sexified in their debut video. She wants to be Robot James Brown. How awesome is that?