Good Guys and Bad Guys and Strikes on TV, These Were a Few of My Favorite Things

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Movie Reviews,   From Issue 674   By: Mark Leffler

26th December, 2008     0

Any year when a Bush Presidency finally ends is cause for lavish feasts and parades. Remember how happy you were in 1992? It was almost as sweet as watching Nixon being sent off to Southern California to walk on the beach and make long distance booty calls to Margaret Trudeau and Nancy Reagan.

So as we watch the curtain fall on 2008, let us pause to give thanks for some of the best moments and achievements in film, on TV and in the world of literature:

Movies: Since the TV season was shortened due to a strike, movies provided a welcome diversion from reruns and reality shows.

When the box office was tallied up, the big winners were movies with heroes in spandex, armor plating and battling inner demons and psychopathic bad guys. Christopher Nolan finally got Batman right and moviegoers jammed the multiplexes in numbers not seen since "Titanic". Before that "Iron Man" became a surprise hit, making Robert Downey, Jr. The Comeback Kid and prompting many to wonder if he could be Britney Spears sponsor in several twelve step programs.

Heath Ledger's death and the early peeks at his incendiary take on Batman's oldest foe, led to speculation that he might garner an Oscar nomination. The Academy loves actors who die and drive fans into the seats. And when we finally got a look at the guy who had the nerve and talent to play a bisexual cowboy (please, no snickering and lame jokes about alternative uses for sterno in a darkened tent) it was some of the most riveting acting seen onscreen since Marlon Brando decided to stay home and order take-out by the gallon.

Robert Downey Jr. grew a goatee and grappled with the vexing challenges of being a superhero with a bum ticker in "Iron Man", which went into production on a sequel as soon as the opening weekend box office was counted up. Everyone expected TDK to be the smash of the summer, but with a hot script and direction by actor/director Jon Favrau ("Elf") "Iron Man" became a sleeper smash on film and later on DVD.

The Dark Knight steamrollered even the latest installment in the "Indiana Jones" franchise, which was another comic book type movie, which reunited Indy and his ex Marion Ravenwood (the still spunky Karen Allen). "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" did boffo box office but was outpaced in buzz and profits by Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale's "Dark Knight".

The satirist Ellis Weiner once observed that "imitation is the sincerest form of theft", so in a year when the movies with the most profits featured superheroes, even flawed ones like Will Smith's lonely alcoholic "Hancock" it's no surprise that the holidays will see two major comic adaptations. Frank Miller's take on The Spirit will feature the look and feel of "300" and "Sin City", both of which were first Miller graphic novels. And the director of "300" brings his digital mastery to "The Watchmen", a late 80's graphic novel about a team of superheroes aging and being killed by a sociopath bad guy who will remind us of a deeply disturbed guy in clown makeup with major family issues.

Many other fine movies featured no superheroes in tights. "Burn After Reading" saw the Coen Brothers return to their black comedy roots and featured Brad Pitt as a man driven to folly by his girlfriend (in a case of art imitating life, but with better dialogue).

"Tropical Thunder" showcased actor/director Ben Stiller and his old pal Downey as overpaid self-centered actors doing a war flick. A certain well known celebrity stole the show with an surprise cameo as a fat, balding movie executive whose foul mouthed tirade via cell phone puts the fear of movie executives into the hearts of Asian mercenaries who kidnap his actors.

And if adults were looking for anything not intended for the date crowd on a Friday night in the suburbs, they could check out "Milk" a biopic about the slain martyr of San Francisco politics, or Ron Howard's depiction of the Richard Nixon interviews with David Frost in the late 70's.

Strangely enough Lindsey Lohan and Angelina Jolie made more money for the tabloids than they did for their agents, leading many people to suggest they fire their press agents, who gave new meaning to the word "superfluous".

Meanwhile, in the world of television, most shows were shut down by a strike, shortening the seasons of fan favorites like "LOST", "House", and "The Office" but boosting ratings of reality shows like "Dancing with the Stars".  

By springtime, most of the shows had returned, but the major news of the year was declining ratings as studios and networks raced to figure out how to make money from internet streaming at sites like www.hulu.com or the network's official websites.

Most of the summer and fall viewers bypassed the Mainstream Media and the increasingly irrelevant world of talk radio, getting their news and commentary from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, whose ratings shot through the roof.

Saturday Night Live posted their biggest ratings in years, largely due to Tina Fey's (below) devastating portrayal of Sarah Palin, winking and sputtering "maverick" and "you betcha" like an NRA mother with Tourette's Syndrome leveling a shotgun at her daughter's high school prom date.

"The Wire" finished its five season run on HBO with a tour de force final season, while "LOST" aired one of the most tightly scripted episodes in the history of TV, "The Constant".

"The Office", "My Name is Earl", and "30 Rock" (Fey's NBC series about life backstage at a sketch comedy show, named for the address of Rockefeller Center, where SNL is produced) locked up Thursday Night ratings in the latest version of "Must See TV".

On AMC, "MadMen" pulled viewers weary of reruns and reality shows like "Dancing with the Stars" and "Extreme Makeover Home Edition". "24" was MIA until a two hour prequel to the 2009 season with Jack Bauer on the lam in Africa, going Rambo on a bunch of machete wielding thugs kidnapping children in a tale ripped from the headlines.

J.J. Abrams debuted a new series, "Fringe", a hybrid of the best elements of his other shows, "Alias" and "LOST". "Desperate Housewives" continued to mine the lucrative demographic of females who managed to wrest control of the remote from their boyfriends and husbands, much like "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Bachelor".

The world of book publishing featured best sellers about serial killers (the Alex Cross novels camped out on the best sellers list, thanks to plugs by the author's neighbor in West Palm, Rush Limbaugh), and political punditry by smug narcissists like Glenn Beck and Anne Coulter and her latest exercise in self promotion, "If Conservatives Had Any Compassion They'd Be Liberals".

New fiction by Larry McMurtry and Robert B. Parker revisited the American West, and Anne Rice continued her authorized biography of Jesus Christ, a carpenter turned self-help guru and motivational speaker, much like Deepak Chopra and Rick Warren. Confused bookstore employees continued to argue whether religious books should be placed in "Fiction" or "Nonfiction".

John Grisham published something that will make millions when it's released as a movie, and the year saw the tragic loss of Michael Crichton, author of brainy science thrillers like "Jurassic Park", "Rising Sun", and "Congo".

Philip Norman's new biography of John Lennon looked back at the life and legacy of the former Beatle, while other biographies and autobiographies did brisk business, leading to a bidding war for Sarah Palin's upcoming memoir" What's Superfluous Mean…..I'm Not Kidding, What Does It Mean…No, Seriously…Why is Everyone Laughing….Oh for Christ's Sake…."

 

Which leads us to my own list of the Best of 2008:

Best episode tie: Finale of "The Wire" and LOST "The Constant"

Best Sitcom: Tie: "The Office", "My Name is Earl" and "30 Rock"

Best Series: "The Wire"

Best Character in a Series: Omar Little on "The Wire"

Best Actress: the chick from "Gia" who plays Juliet on "LOST"

Best Writing: "The Wire" "LOST"

Best Reality: "Big Brother"

Best Soap Opera: Who cares

Best Variety Series: "SNL"

Best News Reporting: "The Daily Show" and "Colbert Report"

Movies: "The Dark Knight" and "Iron Man"

Biggest Left Turn since "From Dusk Til Dawn": "Hancock"

Why Do I Even Pay a PR Agent Award: Lindsey Lohan and Angelina Jolie (tie)

Best Actor in a Movie: Heath Ledger for following up "Brokeback Mountain" with "The Dark Knight" which finally got The Joker and Batman's weird relationship right.

Best Supporting Actress: Gwyneth Paltrow for "Iron Man"

Best Supporting Actor in a Movie: Jason Bateman in "Hancock", for portraying a kind decent person, rarely seen on the big screen. And he should have gotten several for "Arrested Development" anyway.

Best writing for film: "The Dark Knight" by Christopher Nolan

Best Nonfiction: Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens

Best Fiction: Robert B. Parker

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