2008: The Year On Screen

2008 Favourite Movies

With the after-effects of the writers’ strike, and the resulting string of mediocre disappointments, 2008 was not a great year at the cinema. Hollywood continues to play it safe, even in the highly-imaginative realm of sci-fi, and we were bombarded mostly by sequels, remakes and adaptations. It was difficult to pick favourites (that’s why I only chose 5).

1. Dark Knight

The amazing performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker was only one of the many things that worked about this comic book sequel that defied formula. Yes, the visuals were top-notch, especially the IMAX scenes. However, the story was not only complex and involving, but the fact that we were able to delve into the psyches of all the main characters was impressively fresh especially considering how many times the story of Batman and the Joker has been retold.

2. Hellboy 2

This was the most “my kind of movie” that came out this year. Ironically, I’m not a huge fan of main character Hellboy, but everything else from the wonderful creatures to the fantastical storyline had me glued to the screen the whole time. Director Guillermo del Toro is the new fantasy master.

3. Kung Fu Panda

Expecting a run-of-the-mill animated movie, I was delightfully surprised by Jack Black as the titular panda. All the characters were a lot of fun, and the animation was visually awesome. This is the movie that I continually recommend to people because even though it’s done well at the box office, I don’t think that enough adults have given it a chance.

4. Wanted

Another pleasant surprise. This movie (though not without its flaws) was a lot of killer fun. Assassins are always great screen candy and here we had a whole story around a cabal of them. I’m glad that producers whipped out the visual effects to give this one the Hollywood gloss. It kept things from getting too dark or psychologically twisted.

5. wall-e

Despite my love for Pixar Studios, this one barely made my top 5. The robots were adorable, and the animation was great, but the story was a bit too typical and the environmental message a bit too blatant. The fun was all to be had in the visual gags and the smaller bits. The overall story should have been more interesting. Nevertheless, a mediocre Pixar movie is still way above the average film.

Iron Man

Honourable mention goes to Iron Man, not because its success was overshadowed by its batty competitor, but it also lacked a sophisticated story. The flights in the suit were amazing scenes. Robert Downey Jr. was pretty good as the messed-up mogul-inventor Tony Stark, but there was just a bit of something missing that kept this one out of the upper atmosphere.

2008 Favourite TV Shows

TV had no choice but to bounce back quicker from the strike (though the first part of the year suffered from truncated seasons and attempted post-strike recovery). Nevertheless, there was lots to enjoy this year, and I pick my faves by asking myself which ones (of my many shows) would I watch first if they all had new episodes waiting on my Tivo.

1. Supernatural

A banner year for this demon-hunting show first by staying true to its stakes and sending one of its main characters to Hell; then by bringing him back very plausibly by upping the stakes with the introduction of the angels to the equation. Also, this year we delved into the Winchester family’s past, as well as added a couple of humourous spoof episodes. I am truly amazed by how far this show has come from being a pretty-boy X-Files imitator in season one.

2. Battlestar Galactica

The show that gives legitimacy and cred to fans of sci-fi really took their most special element — the Cylons — and used that to bring the show to another level. Not only have they strung us along with the tease of revealing the identity of the last Cylon, but this year the civil war in their ranks really brought a new source of conflict and excitement to the show alongside the normally excellent drama that this show always brings.

3. Big Bang Theory

Yes, this show is a bit formulaic even in its second season, but the geek humour is just off the charts. Being a proud geek myself, I am happy to get the jokes and bust a gut every week. In fact, I really look forward to it.

4. Pushing Daisies

Just when I was really getting into this show in the second season, it goes and gets cancelled. It’s more than just the quirky premise of a guy who can bring people back from the dead that makes this show a tragic loss. It’s the hilariously charming dialogue, completely imaginative characters and excitingly fresh style that makes a viewer miss the very art of storytelling itself. As each week gets better and better, I am dreading the cliff upon which we fans will be left to hang as the end gets ever closer.

5. Lost

What a way to recover! When the story was getting sloppy and the cast was getting too huge (especially given that this show is about a group of plane-crash survivors), they had the guts to introduce the flash-forward and so saved the show. This year, Lost took us for a ride by giving us events in the future and suddenly what seemed to be a dead-end opened up wide. Focusing on the Oceanic Six made us care about the characters again. (It definitely didn’t hurt them in my books to embrace some of the sci-fi elements as well — Hello, entire island disappearing possibly into the past!)

6. Burn Notice; 7. Chuck

Both Burn Notice and Chuck show how much fun can be had on a low-ish budget when clever writing is involved — oh, and also spies. While Burn Notice’s slickly cool Michael Westen is the opposite of Chuck’s bumblingly charming Chuck Bartowski, together they would make any viewer envy the life of espionage and danger. Combine them with the canceled-too-soon My Own Worst Enemy (featuring Christian Slater) and you could consider this the Year of the Spy on tv.

8. Doctor Who

This year, Doctor Who not only held its title as the most hard core sci-fi drama on tv, but its all-stops-pulled finale was a fan’s dream — bringing characters from all four seasons and also its two spin-off series into the ultimate team-up was brilliant. Alongside that over-the-top stuff came the pared-down Midnight, a top-notch episode that gives us a whole new creepy (and a whole new meaning to the echo game — “Whatever I do, you do the same” indeed).

9. The Office

Still one of my favourite comedies, it’s the irony of being so mundane in context (many of us work in offices), yet so out-there in execution (God help us if we know characters as wacky as Dwight or Jan or even Michael or Andy) that makes it so good.

10. Desperate Housewives

The Catherine Mayfair (standout newcomer Dana Delaney) story was kind of a let down, but her presence revitalized the show’s dynamic. Surprisingly, so did the five-year jump forward, which turned the most superficial couple, Carlos and Gabrielle, into the most heart-warming family (he lost his sight and she had to take care of the family when they came upon hard times). This show is still as surprising as it was in season one.

True Blood, Middle Men, Privileged

Honourable mentions go to these three shows which took me by surprise. Well, Middle Men was actually right up my alley since it was about men-in-black style secret agents dealing with the weird, but it seemed like a kiddie show. However, the writing was so sharp and laden with pop-culture references that it really kept the hamster-wheels turning. True Blood was the white-trash southern vampire show that became the new Twin Peaks by wrapping a murder mystery in odd characters and supernatural weirdness. Finally, Privileged seemed like Gilmore Girls with a platinum card, but the characters turned out to be so charming and interesting that I found myself staying up to watch each week.

A relatively uneven year has come to an end, but the best is yet to come in 2009. Stay tuned for the most awesome mid-season ever — and Harry Potter and Star Trek are still on their way! Can’t wait.

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