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OK, here we are with my final “Best-of” list, the Top 10 DVDs of 2008!  To be included on this list, the DVD in question had to contain a high-quality TV show, movie, or special and also a great presentation on DVD, with lots of cool special features.  Behold my list:

10.  Mystery Science Theatre 3000:  20th Anniversary Edition — I adore this show, and this 20th anniversary celebration of its existence just rocked.  On this set, the gang haves fun with four great/terrible films: First Spaceship on Venus (1960), Laserblast (1978), Werewolf (1996) and Future War (1997).  Even better is the inclusion of an in-depth 3-part documentary on the making of the show, from its creation through to its end.  The icing on the cake was the neat tin case that included fun stuff like a little model of Crowe T. Robot, which now sits proudly on my desk.

9.  John, Paul, Tom & Ringo: The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder — This DVD contains three lengthy, rare interviews that Tom Synder conducted with Paul McCartney (in 1979), Ringo Starr (in 1981), and John Lennon (in 1975).  The Lennon interview is the last televised interview that John gave before his death.  Snyder is an engaging interviewer, and these lengthy conversations with 3 of the 4 Beatles are a real find.

8.  The Office: The Complete Fourth Season and 30 Rock: The Complete Second Season — Complete season sets of these two NBC shows at the top of their game were released in ’08, I can’t tell you how many hours of enjoyment I got out of these DVDs.  In the fourth season of The Office, Ryan the temp is promoted, moves to New York City, and falls to pieces; Andy begins dating Angela; Stanley finally loses it with Michael (“did I stutter?”), Michael is deposed in Jan’s case against Dunder Mifflin; the gang creates an ad to run on local television and participates in Michael’s “fun run” towards a cure for rabies; Toby finally leaves for Costa Rica; and of course Michael and Jan invite Jim and Pam over for a dinner party.  Over on 30 Rock, Jack launches a new reality series called  MILF Island; Tracy and Jenna feud over Liz’s attentions; Liz adopts a hippie writer (played by Carrie Fisher) as her mentor; Devon Banks (Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett) feuds with Jack over the top spot at GE; Jerry Seinfeld discovers Jack’s plan to digitally insert him into all of NBC’s new fall shows; Jack falls in love with a Democratic Congresswoman from Vermont (Edie Falco); and while Liz Lemon faces a pregnancy scare, Jack takes a job working in the Bush Administration along … [continued]

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Well, I hope you enjoyed my lists of the Top 10 TV Shows and the Top 10 Movies 0f 2008.

But, you know, EVERYONE writes those sorts of top 10 lists!  So today, I wanted to send some love in the direction of the best comic books that I read in 2008.  2008 was a PHENOMENAL year for comics, with a lot of great material out there.  Here’s what I felt was the best of the best.

15.  Top 10: Season 2 (issues #1-3 published in 2008) — One of Alan Moore (Watchmen, V For Vendetta)’s greatest works of the past decade was the first “season” of Top 10, published between 1999 and 2001.  It chronicled the efforts of a police force in a bizarre city that seemed to be a meeting point for all sorts of fantasy characters from comics, TV shows, and movies.  Although Mr. Moore has not returned for this second installment, talented writer Zander Cannon along with returning artist Gene Ha have crafted a story every bit as weird, complex, and compelling as Mr. Moore’s original.  Ha’s art remains staggeringly complex and detailed, filled with lots of fun surprises in the background for an attentive reader.

14.  Detective Comics #846-850, “Heart of Hush” — Although Grant Morrison’s “Batman: R.I.P.” storyline over in Batman got all the attention this year, it was writer Paul Dini (one of the guiding forces behind the amazing Batman: The Animated Series) who was behind my favorite Batman story of 2008.  Enigmatic villain Hush returns with a complex scheme to take down the Dark Kight, while in a series of flashbacks we learn how the friendship between young Bruce Wayne and Tommy Elliott went wrong.  Throw in Catwoman and gorgeous art by Dustin Nguyen, and you have a classic.  (Collected edition available here.)

13.  Ultimate Spider-Man (issues 116-128 published in 2008) — I cannot believe how much I continue to enjoy this Spider-Man book.  Guided by the incredible writing of Brian Michael Bendis, who has been writing this reinvention of Spider-Man since issue #1, this is everything a super-hero comic book should be.  It is filled with great action, terrific humor, and incredible continuity and character development.  I don’t know of any comic that is consistently more fun, and the fact that such a high standard of quality has been maintained for 128 issues and counting is amazing.  (The entire run of USM is available in collected editions.  Here is the latest.)

12.  Stephen King’s The Dark Tower (issues 1-5 of “The Long Road Home” and 1-4 of “Treachery” published in 2008) — A complex but coherent story and absolutely gorgeous art by Jae Lae and Richard … [continued]

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Top 10 Movies of 2008! — Part Two!

Today we continue my list of the Top 10 Movies of 2008!  Scroll down (or click here) to read yesterday’s installment, listing numbers 10-6 and several honorable mentions, if you missed it.

5.  Tropic Thunder — Ben Stiller’s evisceration of Hollywood actors and their quest to win Oscars by making “serious” movies is one of the funniest films in recent memory.  Somehow Stiller was able to corral an astonishing group of actors and comedians (Jack Black, Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel, Bill Hader, Matthew McConaughey, and many more) into the project, creating one of those special films in which every single scene has about ten funny things going on.  Special attention must be paid to the brave work by Robert Downey Jr. (as Australian actor Kirk Lazarus, a man so “method” that he dies his skin black to become the Afrian-American character Sgt. Osiris) and Tom Cruise (buried under a hilariously hideous hairy fat-suit as studio head Les Grossman), who turn in two of the best performances of the year.  Though not the type that will win Oscars!  (Click here for my full review.)

4.  Religulous — Comedian Bill Maher partnered with director Larry Charles (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Borat) to create this movie in which Maher travels around asking people questions about religion.  You might not agree with Maher’s views, but it is impossible not to respect someone willing to ask straight, tough questions of believers.  (Well, not impossible, apparently, as Maher’s film certainly angered some.)  Maher speaks with members of various different religions and denominations, both religious leaders and common people.  He demonstrates a surprising (to me, at least), gentleness with most of the people he questions.  Whatever your faith, the issues that Maher raises are important ones to consider, and it doesn’t hurt that the film is also absolutely hysterical.  (Click here for my full review)

3.  Man on Wire — This extraordinary documentary looks behind-the-scenes at Philippe Petit’s incredible achievement of walking on a high-wire strung between the roofs of the Twin Towers in NYC back in 1974.  The audacity of Petit’s artistic crime is astounding to contemplate, and this film provides an insightful peek into the years that Petit and his friends spent planning the event.  It also explores a variety of ideas about art and human accomplishment.  Amazing.  (Click here for my full review.)

2.  Iron Man — Director Jon Favreau and actor Robert Downey Jr. created one of the best, most joyful comic book movies I have ever seen.  A fun, funny epic that is also a serious film filled with great character work (as opposed to a camp-fest), Iron Man is everything that a super-hero film should … [continued]

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Top 10 Movies of 2008! — Part One!

In case you haven’t figured this out already, I LOVE movies.

And in 2009, as usual, I saw a LOT of movies.  Today and tomorrow I’d like to celebrate what I feel were the best of the best of the new films released between January 1st and December 31st, 2008.

Before we dive in, though, I want to acknowledge that, even though I saw an enormous number of new films during 2008, there were also quite a few that, despite my interest, I never got around to see.  These include: Synechdoche, New York; Waltz With Bashir; Doubt; The Wrestler; Che; Rachel Getting Married; Choke; American Teen; Hamlet 2; Changeling; Rocknrolla; and Son of Rambow.  So if you loved one or more of those films and want to know why on earth they didn’t make my list, now you know.

As with my TV lists, let’s start with some Honorable Mentions:

Honorable Mention #1 — The Foot Fist Way.  If you, like most of America, discovered Danny McBride this past summer in Tropic Thunder (as pyromaniac Cody) and Pineapple Express (as the indestructible Red), then you owe it to yourself to check out this film.  The Foot Fist Way was filmed back in 2006, but only saw a release (and a very small one, at that) in 2008.  It is written and directed by McBride, who also has the starring role as a small town Tae Kwon Do instructor who is, shall we say, a little big for his britches.  This is a dark, dark comedy — not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of McBride’s it is a spectacular showcase for his abilities, and well worth your time.

Honorable Mention #2 — Cloverfield.  For months now I’ve been meaning to watch this film a second time, to find out if it holds up on a repeat viewing.  I don’t know if it does, but I will say that the experience of seeing Cloverfield theatrically was one of  the best times I had in a movie theatre all year.  You either buy the conceit (that one of the kids is able to film their whole adventure) or you don’t.  I did, and had no problem getting swallowed up in this intense thrill ride.  Incredible visuals, great storytelling — this was a ton of fun, and a clever twist on the giant-monster-attacks-New-York sub-genre of movies.

OK, and now here’s the top 10:

10.  Burn After Reading — A disc containing the memoirs of ex-CIA agent Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) are stolen, and they wind up in the hands of a pair of not-that-bright gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) who, mistaking them for government secrets, try to ransom … [continued]

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Top 10 Episodes of TV in 2008 — Part Two!

Today we continue my list of the 10 best things I saw on TV in 2008!  (Click here to read yesterday’s installment, listing numbers 10-6 and several honorable mentions, if you missed it.)

5.  Battlestar Galactica: “The Hub” (season 4, episode 9, aired on 6/6/08).  Trapped on a Cyclon basestar with Gaius Baltar, cancer-stricken President Laura Roslin begins seeing visions of her long-dead friend (who bought it on Kobol in season 2) Elosha, and Helo is given an order that puts him at odds with his conscience (as well as his Cylon wife).  In one of my favorite moments of the entire fourth season, Baltar attempts to preach to a mechanical Cylon Centurian.  But the emotional climax of the episode comes at the end, when Roslin must decide whether to let Baltar, who she now knows to be responsible for the genocidal Cylon attack on the Twelve Colonies that nearly eradicated humaity, bleed out and die.  In any other show we’d be certain that, by the end of the episode, she’d “do the right thing” and let him live.  In Battlestar Galactica, in which there are never any easy answers or easy decisions, the result is terrific suspense and gripping character drama of the best kind.

4.  30 Rock: “Believe in the Stars” (season 3, episode 2, aired on 11/6/08).  30 Rock has made great use of some phenomenal guest stars in the past (Steve Martin, Jennifer Aniston, Carrie Fisher, Paul Reubens, Isabella Rossellini, Edie Falco, Matthew Broderick, Will Arnett, Rip Torn, and so many others), but Liz Lemon’s hilarious plane ride seated next to Oprah Winfrey takes the cake.  That story-line alone would make this episode a winner, but there is so much more fun to be had as Jack puts Kenneth’s country-boy morality to the test and Tracy and Jenna begin a bizarre social experiment in order to see who has it harder in America: blacks or women.  Best line of the episode comes from Tracy:  “I watched Boston Legal nine times before I realized it wasn’t a new Star Trek!”

3.  Robot Chicken Star Wars Special: Episode II (aired on 11/16/08).  I’m not sure what more can be said that I didn’t already cover in my initial review of this special on 11/24/08.  For 22 gut-busting minutes the Robot Chicken gang mercilessly skewer all six Star Wars films in their second Star Wars special.  The jokes are delightfully random, from the House parody “Dr. Ball, M.D.” (“she lost the will to live?  What is your degree in, poetry??”) to the Cantina Band’s attempt to pitch a commercial jingle (“it works better as an instrumental”), to an awkward meal on Cloud City (Leah to … [continued]

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Top 10 Episodes of TV in 2008 — Part One!

January 21st, 2009

Hi everyone!  Welcome to the first of my four “Best of 2008” lists.  In the coming days I’ll be sharing my Top 10 Movies, Top 10 DVDs, and Top 10 Comic Books of 2008.  Today we kick things off with my 10 absolute favorite things televised during 2008, starting with some honorable mentions and then counting down from number 10.  (Special thanks to TV.com for helping me to find all the original air-dates!)

Honorable Mention #1 — Battlestar Galactica: “Revelations” (season 4, episode 10, aired on 6/13/08).  Plotlines converge in this mid-season finale as the Cylons and the Colonial Fleet race to discover the location of Earth.  There’s been a lot of discussion, over the brutally long hiatus, about the Planet of the Apes ending, but for me it all comes down to the nail-biter of a scene in which Lee Adama orders Colonel Tigh, now revealed as a Cyclon, into an airlock for his execution.  (Why isn’t this in my top 10 list?  I just wasn’t wowed by the “surprise” ending.)

Honorable Mention #2 — The Office: “Goodbye, Toby” (season 4, episode 14, aired on 5/15/08).  Michael is so excited by the imminent departure of his “nemesis,” the sad-sack Toby Flenderson, that he commands his party-planning committee to throw the greatest celebration the Dunder Mifflin office has ever seen.  The Jim-Pam story is a bit of a downer, but guest Star Amy Ryan (The Wire) positively killed, and her storyline, in which she becomes convinced that Kevin is mentally challenged, is pure genius.  (Why isn’t this in my top 10 list?  The Jim-Pam story felt too much like a writers’ device to keep their relationship from moving forward.)

OK, and now here’s the top 10:

10.  Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles: “The Demon Hand” (season 1, episode 7, aired on 2/25/08).  Would that every episode of this uneven show were as good as this one.  In a surprising move, the show reprises a number of storylines and characters from James Cameron’s T2, including psychologist Dr. Silberman (played here by the terrific Bruce Davison).  Sarah and John Connor struggle with her guilt and his anger over her seeming abandonment of him during the years when she was institutionalized, and Agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones), the Jean Valjean of the show, confronts powerful evidence that everything he thought he believed about Sarah Connor might be wrong.  Great drama, great action, great exploration of the Terminator mythos.  I loved it.

9.  Battlestar Galactica: “The Ties That Bind” (season 4, episode 3, aired on 4/18/08).  Lee Adama, now out of the military and serving as a member of the governing Quorum of Twelve, must decide how far his loyalty … [continued]