Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best and Worst 8 of 2008

As we reach the end of 2008, I'd like to look back and reflect on what I consider the Top 08 Best and Worst Stories of '08. While not personal stories (e.g., the saga of our well water), they are my personal take on what counts as the "Top" stories; that is, they may or may not be that important to the Real World, but they were all notable to me personally. Also, I kind of had some order in my mind as I wrote them, but I didn't really intend for the order they are listed to be important (note: I didn't number them), so don't read too much into it.

The Best

The Election
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were at the top of their respective games this fall, with the election providing them with all the material they could have hoped for. Even SNL, with Tina Fey's brilliant Sarah Palin impression, rose to heights it hadn't reached in a long time. Thanks to these folks, the election was hilarious and fun. Though the icing on the cake for me was definitely the Real-World side of it: Barack Obama won. I don't really want to get into a discussion of politics, but whatever your political leanings, it is at least historical that after 42 white people at the head of the country, we finally are starting to show our true colors.

The Dark Knight
This summer, The Dark Knight swept the nation and the world to reap the second highest box office take of all time (disregarding inflation), after Titanic. But not only was it successful, it was also really good. With some brilliant performances, tough moral dilemmas, and overall topnotch storytelling, Dark Knight earned significant critical notice. Heath Ledger is poised to earn an Oscar nomination, perhaps even the award, for his portrayal of the Joker, and who knows, The Dark Knight might become a dark horse and earn some Oscar recognition itself.

LOST is good again!
After a disenchanting second and third season, Lost got back on track in Season 4, bringing mind-bending flash-forwards, touching drama, and new mysteries with each question it answered. And in the season finale, they frickin' moved the Island! I am awaiting Lost's return in its penultimate season most anxiously.

Battlestar Galactica Season 4.0
Speaking of huge cliffhangers, in BSG, they found Earth! It's frakkin' there! And it's... not as we remember it. BSG's last season was split in half by the writers' strike last year, so the final ten episodes will be showing this winter/spring. This show keeps me on the edge of my seat even more than Lost, so I really can't wait for this one to come back.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
Joss Whedon (and his brothers). Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day. Singing. About an evil super-villain. The concept is both utterly wacky and perfectly brilliant at the same time. The three-installment movie came out hilarious and touching and catchy, and they put it up online free of charge this past summer. And then they made a DVD with great extras including Commentary: The Musical with more varied, catchy, and insightful songs. Dr. Horrible is further proof that unorthodox business models can be successful. Never before have horses seemed so frightening, nor has taking over the world seemed like such a sweet gesture.

Mass Effect on PC
So I guess Mass Effect first came out in 2007, but it wasn't on PC until 2008, so it didn't enter my radar until this year. And what a great game it is. BioWare knows how to make a good game, and this one had a strong main storyline, interesting side quests, lots of tough and important choices, fun characters, impressive acting--from both the voice actors and the animated characters--good combat, and a brilliantly imagined sci-fi world (well, galaxy). The most smooth and enjoyable game I'd played in a while. I hope the planned movie version won't tarnish its image (unlikely, but we won't have to worry about it for several years at least).

Adorable, innovative, moving, challenging. Pixar, which has consistently delivered great animated films, outdid even itself with this masterpiece. People had questioned whether kids would be able to make it through the long period at the beginning which had practically no dialogue and only a lonely, dirty robot in a world junkyard, but as someone who took three young boys (one of whom has ADD) to see the movie, I can attest to the fact that even the kiddies were riveted throughout the film. A beautiful movie that deserves every award it gets.

Diablo III, SW:TOR MMORPG announced
This summer brought two computer game announcements that made me squirm in my seat with excitement. Blizzard would finally be coming out with a sequel to Diablo II, and BioWare is making a sort of sequel to its Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic game. We've been fed selected footage of Diablo III, and it looks pretty cool. TOR is said to have more story content than all of BioWare's previous games combined (that's a lot!), but it has yet to reach a stage to have much to show. I am excited for these two games, though without a release date for either, I think they will both be a long time coming.

The Worst

Heroes sucks
The characters in Heroes act out of character, the plot contradicts itself, very little makes actual sense within the world they've created, and every week the point of the show's existence becomes less and less clear. Its first season was good, making a superhero TV show water-cooler gossip worthy. The second season was considerably worse, but we were promised that the third season would redeem it. They didn't deliver. Still, there's hope yet, as first season collaborator Bryan Fuller returns now that he's free of other commitments because

Pushing Daisies is canceled
Oh, ABC. I know you tried. Still, I am bitter that you canceled one of the few truly unique shows on network TV. It is whimsical, adorable, bright, clever, funny, and sweet, with a great cast, great creative team, and great production. It is just so tragic that it had to go. I guess we can blame it mostly on

The WGA strike
The writers' strike began in 2007, but it carried over into 2008 enough to really screw things up for TV shows. The spring was full of reality shows and reruns and--actually, I'm not sure what it was full of, since I mostly wasn't watching because I knew there wasn't anything worth watching. Even when the strike was over, most of the networks decided not to bring back their shows until the fall, feeling that coming back for four or five shows in the spring would seem disjointed and not be worth it. CBS, which did bring its shows back for a few spring episodes, got to feel all smug in the fall, when its shows regained their audiences and the other networks' shows didn't. This was the death of Pushing Daisies, which had been a modest success with audiences and a critical darling. Other shows I watch, such as Chuck and Heroes, also took serious hits to their audiences. It is unclear if they will ever regain their pre-strike numbers. And with a SAG strike looming, who knows which shows will be able to survive 2009?

Watchmen litigation
In February 2008, after filming of Warner Bros.' movie adaptation of the famous graphic novel Watchmen was complete and the film was in post-production, 20th Century Fox filed a suit against Warner Bros. alleging that Fox actually had the copyright to the Watchmen movie. On Christmas Eve, a federal judge ruled that Fox indeed had the right to distribute the movie. Worst case scenario is that Fox will prevent the movie from ever being released. Hopefully, they'll settle to take a chunk of the profits from a movie they hadn't shown any interest in making since maybe the early '90s.

The Death of Flagship Studios
I've been sort of silent on this matter, saddened and perhaps embarrassed that I let myself get hooked on a doomed game, but I am a fan of Hellgate: London, and this summer's news that its fledgling producer had folded was unwelcome news indeed. Flagship was started by a handful of the people who had been major players in the development of Diablo II, and Hellgate: London was designed to have all the appeal of the Diablo games with the absorbing action of a first person shooter. Furthermore, while HG:L would function completely as a single-player game offline, users could play multi-player online for free (though a monthly fee would give you considerable bonus content). My brothers and I enjoyed hours of "sibling bonding time" chatting about random stuff while slaying countless demons. The game wasn't perfect, with lots of bugs and scenery that could get a little monotonous, but they were continually fixing bugs and adding new scenes and content. And, in my humble opinion, the action was considerably more entertaining than that of Diablo II. Unfortunately, bad luck and bad business did the company in. The servers will be shut down on January 31, 2009, and my brothers and I, and all the others who have come to love this game, will have to find something else like HG:L. Unfortunately, there is not at present anything quite like it.

Sarah Palin
Sure, we owe her for the memorable and hilarious Tina Fey impression, and it's not cool to beat up on the loser, but please, Sarah Palin, go away. I really don't think we've seen the last of her, and that seriously worries me.

Heath Ledger's death
Lots of people died this year, of course, and you can't really compare tragedies, so singling out one death for my Worst list is somewhat unfair. But I really liked Heath Ledger. The fact that he was one of the most respected actors of my generation made me feel somehow invested in his career, and his death on January 22, 2008 was heartbreaking. By age 28, he had already racked up more varied and notable performances than some stars do in a lifetime, earning an Oscar nod for his performance in Brokeback Mountain and giving another Oscar-worthy performance in The Dark Knight. But his career was just beginning, and in addition to promising more and even better future performances as he matured, he was looking into directing and taking part in other aspects of the creative process. He was adorable and charming, with a beautiful little daughter that he loved. He was a movie star but a serious actor who was not as much of a tabloid topic as he might have been; he managed to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that catch many other young stars. Basically, he was one of the ones who had it together. And boy was he talented. But his shocking accidental death cut it all off. It was devastating and tragic.

The economy
And all the other crap going on in the world--you know, wars and things that really matter. I'd like to think that it can't get any worse, but it could. Hopefully 2009 will make most things better. But either way, we'll have Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert finding ways to make us laugh through--and even about--our troubles. Here's to 2008!

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