I know I may be a little bit late on the whole end-of-year "Best of" list bandwagon, but I come from the school of Do Something Whenever. So here it is: My Favorite Junk of 2008. Note that I'm not calling it a "Best of" list, because I just didn't get around to experiencing enough movies, videogames, music or comics to really proclaim something the absolute cat's meow. But I do have my favorites. And away we go:
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
It's nice to hear some melody, harmonies, and engaging singing again, isn't it? This album is the definition of timelessness, as it blends folk with Beach Boys harmonies and sounds like a lost gem. This is a startlingly good debut, and lead singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold is definitely a great talent. I don't know how many times I've listed to "White Winter Hymnal."
The Fireman - Electric Arguments
I'm a little biased here because I love Paul McCartney's entire body of work; I've always felt that his highs and lows are equally fascinating, because his curiosity for music theory and his virtuoso playing are always interesting. Anyway, forget the lows. Ever since 1997's excellent Flaming Pie, McCartney has been on a creative tear, with 2005's Chaos and Creation in the Backyard featuring some of the best songs of his career. And while his new Fireman album (made with producer Youth) isn't quite a masterpiece, it's a return to the McCartney who could make some weird, loud stuff. (Remember, it was Paul who put the otherworldly tape loops on "Tomorrow Never Knows.") Whether on the incredible rocker "Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight" or the folksy, Ram-esque "Two Magpies," this record is more interesting and daring than most of today's bands are capable.
Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See It
This was the biggest surprise of the year. Raphael Saadiq, formerly of Tony! Toni! Toné!, has turned out what I think is a real classic R&B album; not in the garbage 1990s R&B sense, but real R&B, meaning The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and The Drifters. Sure, it's retro in the vein of Amy Winehouse, but lyrically, musically, and production-wise, it's a knockout. Each song on this album would be a Top 10 hit in a fairer world. Listen to it and remember why you love Motown.
From character design to story, this is, somehow, Pixar's best film to date, and gets my vote for best children's film of all-time. Absolutely magical from start to finish, mixing a heartwarming love story with a startlingly strong anti-corporate message, this is a movie that will last forever.
The Dark Knight
So much has been said about The Dark Knight that I almost feel guilty about showering even more praise on it, but that would be a disservice to it. Never mind lumping it in the "comic book movie" category; this is top-rate, artful film-making, dressed up with superheroes. Yeah, the whole bombs-on-the-boats thing at the end is a little weak compared to what came before, and Christopher Nolan's disjointed style can be confusing, but don't let that spoil everything this film accomplished. Heath Ledger turns in a performance that we'll talk about for the rest of our lives; the film asks some tough moral questions and doesn't give us easy answers; and it's tragic, something most blockbusters don't even try.
I've always been a fan of Ben Stiller -- including The Cable Guy, which I'm convinced will someday be hailed as the work of brilliance it is! -- and Tropic Thunder is possibly the best work of his career. It simultaneously lampoons and salutes the more inane aspects of Hollywood and acting, and the whole cast is hilarious throughout. Of course, Robert Downey Jr. deserves an Oscar nod.
Grant Morrison's run on Batman was a little hit-or-miss for me, but I thought Batman: RIP redeemed the entire run. Spooky, weird, and endlessly captivating, Morrison reminds us why we love this guy so much, and why we'll miss him.
Yep, another Grant Morrison book, but this one was never, ever hit-or-miss. All-Star Superman, now finished after 12 amazing issues, is the best Superman story of all-time, and don't let anyone tell you different. Morrison takes everything about Superman, mixes it up a little, and gives it back to us in new, exciting ways. Everything about it -- especially the climax, featuring a super-powered Lex Luthor and a Superman who never gives up -- will make you feel like a kid again, as you find yourself in awe of the best superhero there is once again.
I don't remember this coming out in single issues, but I spotted the trade in a Borders one day, and it was just calling for me to use my gift card on it. And I'm glad I did. This collection of stories about con-artists, losers, and relationships will break your heart. It actually gets better once Brian Wood drops the superheroics from the mix, but overall, this is some of the best sequential storytelling I've come across in a long time.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
The reason I bought a PS3, and it was worth it. The graphics are stunning and the story is a fitting end to the saga of Solid Snake, who is still badass in his old age. There is some typically weird Japanese stuff, such as Snake gripping the privates of a statue while evading capture, but altogether, this is a great Metal Gear game. It makes some great advances -- a stellar first-person view, the ability fire weapons while lying on your back, etc. -- and is just the right length. Things get bigger and bigger, and the story more and more interesting, until it all ends with an awesome fistfight. Apparently there's a Metal Gear Solid 5 on the way, but how can it ever match this, without Solid Snake and/or creator Hideo Kojima?
Grand Theft Auto 4
I'll come right out and say it: I did not finish this game. But I played enough of it to realize that this was something special. From the fully realized recreation of New York (Brooklyn in the hizzie) to the smart, funny script, this lived up to the hype. Oh, and it's insanely fun.
Mario Kart Wii
Mario Kart Wii received some negative reviews, and I really don't get it. Nintendo added motorcycles (!), online (!), Mii support (!) and more classic tracks (!) from past Mario Kart games. Really, what's not to like? It controls perfectly with the Wiimote and nunchuk (forget the pack-in steering wheel), and the courses are just as imaginative as ever. I love this game, and still play it.