PopMatters Picks: The Best TV, Film, and DVD of 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 Kim and Kath) 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 this 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

PopMatters