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PopMatters Picks: The Best TV, Film, and DVD of 2008

PopMatters concludes our week-long special highlighting the best TV, film and DVD of the past year with the 30 Best Films of 2008 and Best Complexities in 2008.

Edited by Bill Gibron / Produced by Sarah Zupko

 


Schedule for features…


Monday, January 12:
TV: The 30 Best TV Shows of 2008
TV: Top 10 TV Guilty Pleasures of 2008


Tuesday, January 13:
DVD: The Top 30 DVDs of 2008
FILM: Top 10 Film Guilty Pleasures of 2008


Wednesday, January 14:
FILM: The Top 20 Female Performances of 2008
FILM: The Top 20 Male Performances of 2008


Thursday, January 15:
FILM: The Top 20 Foreign/Independent Films of 2008
FILM: The 20 Worst Films of 2008


Friday, January 16:
FILM: The 30 Best Films of 2008


In 2008, there was very little gray area. Either you achieved or you didn’t. Either you found a way to win over a reluctant regular viewer, ready to bail on you and everything you stand for, or you simply lost the audience forever, never to gain back their often fickle affections. Don’t believe us? Look at last year’s celebrated series Heroes. Who would have thought that, 12 months after sitting at number eight on PopMatters list for 2007, it wouldn’t even make the ‘08 cut? Of course, it probably does stand as this season’s biggest disappointment. Or how about Pushing Daises? Last year, it took our number one slot. This year, while it’s still ranked, ABC went and canceled it. The claim, of course, was ratings. So it’s clear that now, more than any other time in entertainment, studios and their overpaid suits are struggling to make sense of what a future former fan really wants. Of course, the prolonged writer’s strike didn’t help, but when dealing in such definites and extremes, money and market share remain monochrome.


It’s the same for cinema. This was definitely a year for a love/hate reaction to what was playing at your local Bijou. Mike Myers tried to revitalize his comedy career and ended up delivering one of the year’s biggest motion picture atrocities. Similarly, acting greats Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro paired up for the first time since 1995’s Heat, and the resulting Righteous Kill stunk up Cineplexes from Maine to Hawaii. Thankfully, greatness didn’t go unnoticed. Audiences couldn’t get enough of Christopher Nolan’s Batman revamp, pushing The Dark Knight ever closer to beating out billionaire Titanic for the all time top box office slot. Jon Favreau did something similar for Marvel, Robert Downey Jr., and comic book geeks everywhere with his superb Iron Man adaptation. Even Will Smith managed to take a weak superhero premise and turn it into commercial gold. Hancock was one of 2008’s unexpected hits—and it had a lot to do with the man behind the virtual mask.


Certainly you can argue over some entries that seem to sit on the fence. Was the latest installment of archeologist Indiana Jones’ aging adventures really one of the year’s worst, or simply a financial stop-gap for a producer who doesn’t know when to quit? Does the failure of American remakes of foreign comedies (like Kath and Kim) prove that certain humor just can’t translate, or does the success of HBO’s Little Britain USA prove otherwise? Is the horror film really dead—considering the number of garbage genre films currently filling theaters—or does something like the French New Wave of nastiness (Inside, Ils) or Swedish sensation Let the Right One In still give macabre mavens reason to hope? Whatever the case, 2008 is clearly a case of no middle ground—either you engaged the consumer with your attempt at creative invention, or you took an express elevator to direct to DVD Hell.


Hopefully, within is medium maelstrom, we can make some sense. Some of PopMatters’ choices here may appear obvious. Others will definitely have you scratching your head in slack jawed disbelief. More than a couple will be controversial. Many will seem so obvious as to resemble a blatant bandwagon jump. In the end, however, each represents the staunchest staff belief in either its quality or lack thereof. There’s always room for argument, but very little position for fence sitting. Either you loved WALL-E or you were bored. You thought Sex and the City: The Movie was smart and snarky, or you despised every pandering, Prada-intoned minute of it. It was just that kind of year. You either “got it” (Funny Games) or didn’t (Blindness). You either cried (Marley and Me) or cringed (Star Wars: The Clone Wars). In any case, here are the picks for 2008. As with everything attached to this unsettled year, the final choices seem fairly black and white.


Bill Gibron

Thursday, January 15 2009

The New Classics - The 30 Best Films of 2008

Unlike previous years, where classics came crawling out of the celluloid woodwork with regular reckless abandon, 2008 was more calm… and considered. That's not to say that choosing 30 top titles was hard. The difficulty in placing them in some manner of rank order suggests the actual depth of quality involved.


Best Complexities in 2008

The most remarkable films of 2008 were small, smart, and complicated. While they're surely worth seeking out for their own pleasures, they also represent the sort of movies that will find theatrical releases even harder to manage in the shrinking economy.


Wednesday, January 14 2009

Outside the Lines - The Top 20 International/Indie Films of 2008

With many indie/international films receiving more and more mainstream approval from unfamiliar audiences, many of the titles here could be considered part of the overall 2008 Best Of. But their individuality and multicultural appeal keep them a quality concept apart.


OMG - The 20 Worst Films of 2008

There's bad, and then there's 2008 level bad. You know this list is looking down into a deep dark bottomless pit of cinematic despair when Mike Myers' shameful Love Guru didn't even make the Top 20!


Tuesday, January 13 2009

Tough and Tender - The Top 20 Female Performances of 2008

Twenty talented ladies, 20 performances worthy of multiple little gold men. Unfortunately, as in all years, someone has to come out on top. But after looking over this impressive list, picking the preeminent turn of 2008 seems almost impossible.


Iconic - The Top 20 Male Performances of 2008

Like the gladiators of old, 2008 resembles a battle of formidable acting gods, especially when looking over the 20 choices presented below. Indeed, if anything, choosing a winner requires more of a leap of faith than any amount of critical skill - they all were that good.


The Best Television Performers of 2008

More than anything, though, I wish all those political pundits would take some time off, to rest and let their vocal cords recuperate. That truly would make for a happy new year.


Monday, January 12 2009

Off the Radar - The Top 30 DVDs of 2008

Oddly enough, while the major studios continue scratching their heads over how to sell yet another new format (Blu-ray) to disinterested consumers, several outside distributors made sure that this would be a digital year to remember.


Celulloid Culpability - Top 10 Film Guilty Pleasures of 2008

Like comedy or music, one's choice in cinematic pleasure can be very personal - and very peculiar. Take this tantalizing list of shameful indulgences. You can argue over their artistic value, but their individuals rewards definitely speak to those who champion them.


Sunday, January 11 2009

Back to Basics - The 30 Best TV Shows of 2008

The Year in TV was a lot like the US economy: struggling until summer and then tanking under the hope of a 2009 comeback. Still, our staff found 30 solid reasons to be cheerful come entertainment investment time.


As Charged - Top 10 TV Guilty Pleasures of 2008

If television is indeed a vast cultural and artistic wasteland, then the 10 examples of culpable amusement selected by our staff must represent something significant -- or perhaps we're just way too addicted to the old boob tube.


‘But Every So Often, A Miracle Happens’ - A Send Off for Moral Orel

It's Art Clokey vs. the Antichrist at Adult Swim as we say goodbye to one of the best, most brazen stop motion animation efforts ever. God only knows why this show isn't coming back for another sensational season.


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