2008 Pop Culture Year-In-Review

The Best and Worst Pop Culture Moments of 2008
   for me, at least

movies | television | celebrities | books | music

Favorite New Film

WALL•E WALL•E — Even all these months later, my affection for the film continues to resonate. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, full of joy and life, comedy and tragedy. That it’s a computer-animated entity still astounds me, and that I would come to love the little robot with such great endearment is a pleasure I am happy to accept. So few movies make me feel as good as WALL•E has made me feel, both at the time of viewing and in retrospect. I simply adore everything about it and look forward to revisiting the film again and again throughout my life. There are only a few other films I can say that about.

Best Film
I Saw This Year

Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON — As I looked back over all the films I’d seen throughout 2008, which are many in number, I could not name a single other film that is better than Benjamin Button. In story, in character, in acting and cinematography, no other film can measure up to the standard that Button presents. It is truly the entire package. That I do not name it my “favorite” film of the year lies only in the fact that I cannot watch it continually as I can WALL•E or some others; it is simply too intense and has too many layers to work through in viewing. Honestly, it can be exhausting if not taken in small doses. It should be savored, allowed to rest in the heart, and it should be pondered over time. Benjamin Button is that beautiful film that should be revisited every year or two, giving yourself enough time and distance to find it fresh and new upon each visit. It is the kind of film that will be labeled “classic” one day, and it simply should be treated as such.

Favorite Film That Wasn’t Actually All That Good

Hayden Christensen in 'Jumper' JUMPER — I’ve got no problem admitting that my love for this film is based solely on my love for Hayden Christensen. No shame at all. The film is my kind of movie, with great locales, super-cool action shots and a little romance on the run. And the premise was so intriguing. It just failed to rise above the clichés, is all. But some of my favorite films in life are emotional favorites, sentimental choices. And Jumper now holds a prime spot on that list. I will not apologize, and I gladly offer it as a suggestion to people who are interested in 90 minutes of fun. No great thought required. And for those of us who enjoy a movie solely for its cast, well, this is one of Christensen’s best yet. Not for the performance but for the man himself. Don’t take it too seriously.

Film I Loved But May Never Watch Again

James McAvoy and Keira Knightley in 'Atonement' ATONEMENT — I do not dispute the magnitude of this film, nor do I feel it is unworthy of multiple viewings. It is an extraordinary film with supreme performances and heartwrenching scenes. It is everything I look for in a film, in fact, and it features a favorite actor in Keira Knightley and my newest discovery, James McAvoy. I do not intend to discredit the film in any way. It’s simply not something I am led to watch again. The most difficult part for me is how I felt after the intitial (and only) viewing. Not just sadness or depression, as others in the cinema mentioned as they rose from their seats, but rather I felt enveloped by a sort of shadow. Everything about the film seemed to penetrate my spirit, and I simply felt overwhelming despondency and a little polluted, to be honest. From that pivotal moment where Robbie typed out his emotions on the ill-conceived letter, my entire being felt tainted. It was not simply the vulgarity of the language, either. It was everything that came after. I simply never recovered from that initial shock. And though every moment of the film has great beauty in it, and though I found its central romance soaring and legendary, I have no desire to return to the film. It’s an unusual state for me, but true nonetheless. I loved Atonement but won’t mind if I never see it again.

Most Surprising Movie Moment

Robert Downey, Jr. in 'Iron Man' ENJOYING IRON MAN — I resisted Iron Man, having no desire to see Robert Downey Jr. or to watch a story about a comic book character to whom I’d never been introduced. I’m a sci-fi girl and I love a good comic genre film, but this one didn’t appeal. Even after all the acclaim began pouring forth onto Downey, it just didn’t interest me. But one tiny final scene in The Incredible Hulk changed everything, and I gave in. I am still surprised at my great enjoyment during those hours. I’m shocked at my rediscovery of Downey, who hasn’t interested me since his early films in the ’80s. But here it is, months later, and I still proclaim the greatness of Iron Man. Besides Downey, much of this credit goes to director Jon Favreau, of whom I am a big fan. I anticipate the sequel with great excitement, and I have learned a valuable lesson about not judging a film based solely on first emotion.

Favorite DVD Viewing

Will Smith in 'I Am Legend' I AM LEGEND — There was no reason for me to love this film, or even to like this film. It’s essentially a zombie flick. But Will Smith managed to elevate everything in the movie to atmospheric levels of greatness. He is astounding. The story is riveting. The inherent fear-of-the-unknown is encompassing. And when we finally see the creatures that humanity has become, it is one of the most satisfying revelations in any film I’ve seen in years. I Am Legend speaks to me on so many levels: the power of love, the determination of sheer will (no pun intended), the case for humanity’s unconditional redemption. I find something new in every viewing, more beautiful and unnerving and profound each time. Movies are not made like this today, and as such, we tend to overlook them. We tend to miss the point. But I Am Legend is worth the extra look, the time for study. It still astounds me that people discredit it based solely on its “failure” to frighten. It’s scary on a completely different level than most of us like to consider. And that is its genius.

Worst Film
I Saw This Year

Al Pacino in '88 Minutes' 88 MINUTES — I saw this film solely for Neal McDonough’s involvement, being a convicted serial killer trying to bring down Al Pacino. McDonough is always so good as a villain, but now I understand that McDonough alone will not save a film. And though he was good in the role, McDonough totally and completely creeped me out. Creeped me out! That an actor I love so much would cause me to return home and lock all of my windows in the crisp spring season was horrifying to me. His performance actually put fear in me and made me feel vulnerable in life. Thankfully, 88 Minutes is an easy movie to forget.

Pacino is horrible, just overbearing and scenery-chewing in his performance. And he’s unoriginal. The man seems to be playing the exact same characters again and again and again, and he’s not improving at it. How does such a beloved acting icon give such terrible performances? And why do we still get excited at the prospect of any new film from the actor? He’s just not evolving as he ages. And this film is a prime example of that. I did enjoy it while sitting in the cinema, if only for the little mystery of who was torturing Pacino, but it has no value as a feature film. It’s not even as good as an episode of Criminal Minds. And it should have been. I rarely see a movie I don’t like, simply because I won’t waste money or time on something that doesn’t strike an emotional spark in me, but this year I was duped. If nothing else, it will make me more cautious of seeing films solely for the actors involved.

movies | television | celebrities | books | music

Favorite New TV Series

Rufus Sewell in 'Eleventh Hour' ELEVENTH HOUR — What a difference a role can make! Prior to this series, I had no appreciation and no interest whatsoever for lead actor Rufus Sewell. I had seen him only in a handful of British films and generally portraying unlikable characters. I made the classic mistake of confusing his characters with his person, and simply never investigated his other roles to find the depth of his talent. In Eleventh Hour, Sewell is charming and self-deprecating even in his brilliance. And it is because of Sewell that I have come to love the series. While it is a simple procedural similar to many others on television, Sewell’s presence brings a depth and a warmth that so many others lack. It has been my greatest surprise of the 2008 tv season.
  Timothy Hutton in 'Leverage' LEVERAGE — I rediscovered Timothy Hutton a couple of years ago on the short-lived series Kidnapped, and with this new series I realized again how much I enjoy him in these older years. Leverage is the kind of series that I absolutely adore, complete with capers and humor featuring a cast that I love. I especially love seeing my beloved Christian Kane back on television and playing an unexpected role. It’s so much fun to find a series that excites me every week but doesn’t require anything more than simple attention. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a break from mysteries.

Most Welcome Return to Series TV

Neal McDonough NEAL MCDONOUGH in Desperate Housewives — I abandoned Desperate Housewives after its first season, finding absolutely nothing of interest beyond that. But then they cast McDonough as a broken and psychotic man, something he plays so well, and I was back to the soap opera. Though I gave it a good try, I still ended up forwarding through most of the hour each week and watching just enough to keep up with McDonough’s role. Oh, the things I’ll do for those who bring me joy!
Wentworth Miller and Sarah Wayne Callies DR. SARA TANCREDI on Prison Break — Season Three of Prison Break lacked something palpable with the loss of Dr. Sara (played by Sarah Wayne Callies), so having her suddenly “resurrected” for the 2008 season was most welcome. She adds a depth to the story, a gravitational center for all the madness that goes on and especially for the primary character of Michael Scofield. Dr. Sara brings a softness to the edges and gives the entire series heart, both of which were sorely lacking in the previous season. I’m not alone in saying how grateful I am that the producers put aside their issues to bring the actress back, and I believe she is doing some of her finest work because of it.
  Kevin McKidd KEVIN MCKIDD in Grey’s Anatomy — I wasn’t privy to McKidd’s role in Rome, which seems to be his claim to fame, but I was a big fan of 2007’s Journeyman series, and it was all due to Kevin McKidd. In the fall of 2008 he joined the cast of Grey’s Anatomy and, in my opinion, has revitalized the series with his presence. He certainly has given spark to the Christina Yang character. McKidd’s character of ex-soldier (and field medic) Hunt has given him opportunity to play gravelly, angsty, edgy, and I am more impressed than I ever was before. The Hunt character cements my affection for McKidd, and I’m thrilled to see him each and every week, for however long this will last.

Most Surprising TV Moment

Zachary Quinto in 'Heroes' LEARNING TO LOVE SYLAR on Heroes — Sylar is the villain, plain and simple. The first two seasons of Heroes established this irrefutable fact clearly and definitively. Villain. Evil. Unstoppable. Irredeemable. Until now.

The first half of Season Three explored the origins of the Sylar character, and we learned that he was actually a victim in many ways. There was a crisis point in his transformation where he desperately struggled to quash his murderous desires, where he wanted nothing more than an ordinary life without supernatural abilities. But The Company sought him out and put his struggle front and center, encouraging him to give in to the evil urges. It’s true he made a choice, but he was faced with dueling desires of love and evil. Instead of being asked to love, he was driven to murder. And this was the crushing blow to his sanity.

What surprised me the most this fall is how much I came to relate to Gabriel (Sylar’s former self). I was saddened for him and longed for him to find some balance and some resolution to his inner chaos. Ultimately, I want him to have resolution for what was done to him, even if that means some form of vengeance. Even at the end of this season’s first half, when Sylar chose wrath over the possibility of happiness and normalcy, I was excited to see the return of his original self. Suddenly, I like Sylar! I’m rooting for him! Even his evil self brings me joy because I can see the wrecked humanity within. I want him to find some justice. And that is so strange since he is seen as the tormentor. I have to credit my change of perspective to the writers of Heroes and to Zachary Quinto for his riveting performance this season. I’ve never been so shocked by my own opinions as I have been in Season Three. And it is Quinto who will lead me to a new Star Trek movie. He truly deserves all the praise.


TV Series
That Finally
Reeled Me In

Jon Krasinski in 'The Office'

Jeremy Sisto and Jesse L. Martin in 'Law & Order'

I couldn’t find much to love in The Office, having no tolerance for Steve Carell’s humor and little interest in the showcases given him on the series, but I finally decided to watch some of the old episodes in succession to make a valiant attempt. My initiation began with Jim’s employment in the Stamford office, and that led to a great affection for his character and for the romance between Jim and Pam. Were it not for them, I wouldn’t give The Office any time at all. But I eventually continued and caught up on the entire series, and now I make it a point to DVR each new episode. I need the option to skip the Michael diatribes, but I have also found quite a few episodes worth watching in their entirety. What I never realized and now appreciate most of all is the vast talent of the supporting cast; in my opinion, they are the heart of this show and make it worth watching.

Law & Order never appealed to me before this year, and it took a favorite actor to bring me to it. While I’ve always found Jesse L. Martin to be interesting and engaging, the format of the L&O series just didn’t appeal to me, and since half of it doesn’t focus on the detectives, I just didn’t care. But when Jeremy Sisto joined the cast last fall, I took another look. And then this year’s inclusion of Anthony Anderson, whom I loved in last year’s K-Ville, really put the spark into the series for me. While both actors are completely underused, I have found the series to be somewhat revitalized and much less stodgy. Perhaps this comes from Sam Waterston’s lesser role this season? Regardless, I have developed an appreciation for the current incarnation of Law & Order and I never thought that would happen.

movies | television | celebrities | books | music

Favorite New Discovery

James McAvoy JAMES MCAVOY — Technically, I “discovered” McAvoy in 2005 when he played Mr. Tumnus (my favorite Narnian, next to Aslan) in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but that role didn’t really allow him to shine as he’s come to do in the years since. I only saw his films this year, beginning with Atonement and continuing through The Last King of Scotland and Wanted. It was Wanted that sealed the deal, of course. It is all that I love in a film, and his character of Wesley brought me pure joy through his personal journey. McAvoy burrowed deep under my skin, and I began to seek out his earlier roles until something new comes along. I am surprised to learn that I’ve been seeing him for a few years now: as the love interest in Becoming Jane, who I fully remembering being taken with, and as Paul Bettany’s younger brother in Wimbledon, which was also quite a memorable role. But I overlooked him. Something didn’t quite register until 2008. Now, of course, I add him to my ever-growing scrapbook of actors to watch for. And having McAvoy in that group truly brings me great joy.

Celebrities On My Radar in 2008

       Colin Farrell     |     Wentworth Miller     |     Edward Norton
      Colin Farrell, Wentworth Miller, Edward Norton

      Christian Kane   |   Hayden Christensen   |   Shia LaBeouf
      Christian Kane, Hayden Christensen, Shia LaBeouf

       Jason O’Mara    |     Damian Lewis     |     Gabriel Macht
      Jason O'Mara, Damian Lewis, Gabriel Macht

movies | television | celebrities | books | music

Best Book
I Read
This Year

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE by Jonathan Safran Foer — This book has continued to resonate with me, long after it was completed. It is just quirky enough to stay highly interesting and off-kilter for much of the story, but there is a trail of puzzle pieces winding through every chapter, begging you to pick them up and make sense of the larger picture. In the end, you do see the grand image, but what stayed with me was the main character, a young boy who was dealing with the death of his father in the World Trade Center. His heartbreak and his determination to make sense of the pain is the center of the book and the center of every character within. I recommend it to everyone I know, always looking for one more opportunity to talk about it. It is a true treasure that I never expected.

Book That Wasn’t Worth Any Of My Time

Everyone Worth Knowing EVERYONE WORTH KNOWING by Lauren Weisberger — I looked forward to reading this book from the author of The Devil Wears Prada, assuming it would be just as much fun and even more telling of the lives of the Manhattan elite. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past a few pages before it was clear that Weisberger could not duplicate her success. Whereas the first book was wicked and funny, this sophomore effort is simply trash. On the first page I was assaulted with unnecessary profanity that wasn’t warranted in the story. There was no development before being hit over the head with an unlikable character. I tossed it aside immediately and moved on. Quality fiction doesn’t have to “edgy”. It just needs to be good.

Most Disappointing Reader Moment

An Irishwoman's Tale by Patti Lacy   Playing for Pizza by John Grisham

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer   The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Look Me In the Eye - My Life With Asperger's by John Elder Robison   The Broker by John Grisham
THAT I COMPLETED ONLY SIX BOOKS THE ENTIRE YEAR — Once upon a time I was a reader. An avid reader. But 2008 proved to be the Year of Television for me, and my reading just dropped away. I spent months on the same titles, just picking them up randomly but making no true efforts to read habitually. And that is sad, because I’ve been a reader since my youth and my best friends were always found on the pages of books. I hope the next year brings a shift in motivation. I truly enjoy the hobby and there are so many titles left to explore.
movies | television | celebrities | books | music

Favorite New Music Artist

Little Voice by Sara Bareilles SARA BAREILLES — I fell in love with her first radio single, “Love Song”, simply because it’s such a catchy tune. Good pop fun. Then I listened to her entire album and realized that Bareilles is my favorite kind of musician, the singer-songwriter brand that relies more on simple instrumentation and her voice than on over-production and synthesis. And that is such a welcome change for the state of current popular radio. I rarely find new secular artists to enjoy anymore, reverting to my old favorites of Sarah McLachlan and Norah Jones and the like, so finding Bareilles restored my faith in music. At least for a time. And her album, Little Voice, as well as her previous collection of the same songs in original form, Careful Confessions, are mainstays on my playlist. It’s been a long time since an entire album found its way there.

Favorite Radio Single

We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. by Jason Mraz I’M YOURS by Jason Mraz — From the moment this song begins, I cannot sit still. If I’m driving, which is the very best way to listen to this track, I am bobbing my head and bouncing my shoulders. It’s such a fantastic, feel-good song, and I never get tired of hearing it. It reminds me so much of Israel Kamakawiwo`ole’s amazing version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, which brings a smile to my face every time I hear it. Some songs are just classics. “I’m Yours” is destined to be one for me.

Longest-Running Musical Obsession

Wicked WICKED: Original Cast Recording — I’ve never seen the stage production, other than brief clips on television, but I am infatuated with the music of this show. I’ve developed a great fondness for its stars, Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, solely due to their voices on this recording, and I now long to see the production live. The soundtrack is on a constant loop, permanently fixed in the iPod, and I listen to it almost daily. I find such joy in it, and I cannot help but move in rhythm and mime to every track. It’s a phenomenon that I’ve embraced fully. No guilty pleasures here.

Most Unnecessary Comeback That I Couldn’t Resist

The Block by NKOTB NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK — I tried to let this one pass me by, knowing full well that it was a fleeting moment in pop history. But I have invisible strings connecting me to Donnie Wahlberg, and my history with NKOTB prevented me from turning away. Like a train wreck. I crashed headlong into them, once again. But this time was nothing like the last. I’m almost embarrassed for them, for their attempts to revitalize what they are too old to be doing. The value of NKOTB did not lie in the music but in the phenomenon. That ended in the ’90s, and it’s a fun little bit of trivia now. You simply can’t recapture that kind of moment. And you certainly can’t do it when you’re 40 years old and acting like you’re 22. It’s not pretty. It wasn’t pretty at all, this year.

I did find the album itself somewhat enjoyable, even in its outrageously suggestive lyrics and over-produced sound. But it’s danceable, and I always enjoy that. It makes house-cleaning go a little faster. (ha!) But that does not make the album a good one, and it’s certainly not something that should be repeated often. I’d like for these guys to leave music to the younger generations who are paving creative roads. I’d like for them to return to that in which they excel. Donnie, just make movies. You’ve become very good at that. Joe McIntyre is brilliant on Broadway. Danny Wood makes a great producer. Just stick with that. Let’s leave the past in the past.

movies | television | celebrities | books | music

film, television and celebrity images came from Internet Movie Database
music and book images can be found at Barnes & Noble

About Jules Q

sharing stories of life, faith, and love for pop culture

Posted on 31 December 2008, in Lists I Keep and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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