Faves, 2008

As always, at the end of the year one has trouble remembering anything that happened in the early months. I don't know if I even saw any new movies before the spring (aside from the Oscar-season movies of '07 seen last January, which we certainly don't need to think about now), and the writers strike killed much of the TV season. Film consumption in '08 for me was mainly older movies I was writing about, and much of the TV consumption was binges of seasons several years in the past (mainly The Wire and Six Feet Under). I am not one of those cinephiles or completists who waits until seeing all the late fall Oscar bait before making a list, though I expect at least a couple of the releases to come this season will impress me.

Many of the following appeared previously at Fraktastic.

And the short version of what follows is: my favorite thing of '07, Mad Men, is also my favorite thing of '08.


Rachel Maddow's new TV show. I don't watch to watch very much of it, and like reality TV competitions, cable news is exasperating without a DVR. The phoney visuals of TV news (the fakey-fake hair and makeup, the conservative wardrobe which she likens to an assistant principal's) make her seem like she's playing dress-up, which works in her favor because we sense a more authentic self beneath the facade of official appearance. See how much more natural she seems on Leno (where many guests seem not natural).

FFFFOUND!, the invitation-only social image bookmarking site, is the place I most eagerly spend open-ended lengths of time when I'm at my computer and don't feel like doing what I should be doing. Here are some gorgeous or cool, random-ish images I found just now (ish b/c each is within a handful of links of the next): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

The Visitor despite its bizarre representation of academia (is there a representation of academia in movies and TV that is not in some way bizarre?). A message movie that isn't preachy, and a very sad one.

The Boston Globe photoblog The Big Picture, e.g., sets of the Olympics opening ceremonies, Obama campaigning, Mumbai under attack. The size of a photo matters a lot online. (Some longtime fave photoblogs are Daily Dose of Imagery, which I like in part for its Toronto content, and The Sartorialist, who is an institution.)

This Recording
, e.g., impersonating Devendra B, recapping Gossip Girl amidst references to Baudrillard, Mulvey, and The O.C. and 90210, reviewing The Wackness in a way that makes you appreciate how much better the review must be than than the movie (I haven't seen it). TR is a masterpiece of blogging as its own critical and aesthetic form, integrating images, text, links, music, and ideas in a way no other medium can. More importantly, it has established a voice and style of its own despite being a group blog with contributions from a large number of writers. It is hip without being snobby and clever without being too cute or at all snarky, and it offers an excellent snapshot of the tastes of the contemporary young cultural elite, which range from celebrity culture and TV melodrama to indie rock to the traditionally legitimate arts.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, one of the few good things to come of the strike as far as I can tell.

Fleet Foxes
, the new music I have been listening to most obsessively in the past few months, rich with vocal harmonies and acoustic strumming. They remind me most of all of Crosby, Stills and Nash but I cannot imagine them ever singing anything as earnestly hippyish as "Teach Your Children" or as simply pretty as "Helplessly Hoping." Also check out the Swedish artists First Aid Kit covering the FF song "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" on the YouTubes.

Wall-E. For weeks after seeing Wall-E, Leo and I would call and respond, "Wall-E!" "Eve-uh!" "Wall-E!" "Eve-uh!"

The Wire season five. The representation of the news biz was a disappointment (fraudulent reporters out for personal gain aren't among the really big problems facing the press) but the storytelling as ever was state of the art. I rate Wire seasons, first to worst: 1, 4, 2, 3, 5. I admire the show's social and intellectual mission but the characters make it great.

Stuff White People Like
, incl the book. E.g., "White people hate stuff that is ‘mainstream’ - so they go to film festivals where they see movies that every other person in their demographic wants to see. It’s a pretty sweet way to rebel." And, "White people love ethnic diversity, but only as it relates to restaurants." And, "The number one reason why white people like not having a TV is so that they can tell you that they don’t have a TV." And, "Regardless if you are vegetarian, vegan, or just guilty about eating meat, all white people love Sushi. To them, it’s everything they want: foreign culture, expensive, healthy, and hated by the ‘uneducated.’" And, "The most horrific recent example [of irony] is Trucker hats, that shockingly went from mainstream in the 80s to Ironic in the early 2000s back to mainstream, at which point they are no longer rare or unique. Once something reaches this stage, irony cannot be restored for 10 years." And, "Being in graduate school satisfies many white requirements for happiness. They can believe they are helping the world, complain that the government/university doesn’t support them enough, claim they are poor, feel as though are getting smarter, act superior to other people, enjoy perpetual three day weekends, and sleep in every day of the week!" Some say it was better when it was called the Preppy Handbook. But every generation deserves its own instance of precious self-mockery. The genius of SWPL is the very quality some people find to be its biggest flaw: that it is not actually about white people per se, but about an elite segment of the North American population that is young, affluent, and especially rich in cultural capital. It's part of the faux-naive voice of the blog and book, which comes on earnestly how-to, that it mistakes this demographic group for white people. Satire is all about finding the voice. (Honorary mention here to Hipster Runoff, another satire of stuff white people like, e.g., future of the music video.)

The whole family of Google products has a central place in my life (the original Google, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Book Search, Google Scholar, and of course Blogger and YouTube). When I encounter people using alternatives to Google, like Mapquest instead of Google Maps or Hotmail instead of Gmail, I admit feeling a little disappointed, though I'm not a confident enough snob to give them my opinion. I have faith in Google, though I also have doubt about my faith. My faith is that Google will continue to improve my life, and wants mainly what I want, which is easy access to information. My doubt is that Google knows everything about me and one day this will spell doom, or perhaps some form of humiliation. An excellent overview of Google's achievements in comparison to those of their rivals, especially Microsoft and Yahoo, is Randall Stross's Planet Google: One Company's Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know.

FiveThirtyEight for a few weeks in October and Early December.

This American Life
on the housing and financial crises.

NYT interactive graphics, e.g., Olympics medals through the years, home prices, Presidential election voting.

Rachel Getting Married
, the wedding scene with the Neil Young song and the return of Debra Winger, and especially Anne Hathaway and Rosemarie DeWitt (Midge from Mad Men season 1) as sisters with a troubled relationship.

Michael Pollan in the NYT mag on food and politics.

Girl Talk, Feed the Animals. Useful to listen at least once or twice with its Wikipedia entry nearby, but certainly not on the first go, when at least half the fun is the recognition game. My favorite bits in Girl Talk are always the combinations of classic rock riffs and raunchy hip-hop lyrics, like Styx singing about the long arm of the law while Dr. Dre responds, "Bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks." It's like GT has access to rock's racial and sexual unconscious, which is expressed in the rap idiom mashing up against the melodies and harmonies of popular song forms.

She & Him
. I see that Paste has called this the best of the year. They must have a bigger crush on Zooey Deschanel than the rest of us.

Vapire Weekend in general, "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa", song and very retro video in particular.

La Blogotheque: direct cinema vs. MTV.

Devendra Banheart's "Carmensita" video with his ex-squeeze Queen Amidala.

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, and of course, 30 Rock. "I want to go to there."

Weezer, "Pork and Beans" video, a lovely little mash note to the tubes in its native idiom of affectionate quotation. (Related: I am aware of all internet traditions.)

Beyoncé, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)", song and video.

Jezebel's WWJJD (What Would Judge Judy Do?) entries.

Most of the election-themed viral videos made me want to turn away but some were really funny, esp It's Raining McCain and the McCain's Brain series. In other words, sincere videos about my candidate didn't do it for me. Mocking videos about his opponent did. (Related: Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle.)

Literal "Take on Me." The genius of this is that it acknowledges how far the meanings of the visual video narrative exceed those of the song, and reverses the anchoring function of sound in relation to image. I could do without the subtitles, but on first viewing they emphasize the silliness nicely.

Muxtape, RIP.

Hulu, long may it live. (YouTube in HD is nice too, but it's still YouTube: disorganized, ugly, vulgar, and where the people are.)

In Treatment. A novel concept in some ways, but that only gets you so far. What makes this show work, aside from the repetitions of little details here and there day after day in that same therapist's office, is the conflicted protagonist played by Gabriel Byrne, at once so good at listening to other people's problems and so bad at facing his own.

Mad Men, a show whose episodes can only be deleted when the DVDs arrive. Every character gained dimensions in season two, especially Don, Betty, Pete, Peggy, and Joan. Don became a real bastard without losing our sympathy, and Pete became likable enough that in that incredible scene between him and Peggy in the finale, we almost wished she hadn't told him what she did. It also became clear that, despite the title, it's a show about women. My favorite episode was "The Jet Set," when Don runs away in California and encounters the characters of Bonjour Tristesse and Antonioni. That was audacious and beautiful. My favorite moments would make a very long list, but here are a few: Jimmy insults Mrs. Utz, Don does that violent thing to Bobbie Barrett, Betty pukes in Don's new Caddie, Joan is raped by her fiancé on Don's office floor, Bert Cooper tells Harry what to make of his Rothko, Peggy gets an office of her own, Kurt comes out, Father Gill sings the folk song, and oh I must stop. Every scene and episode is still its own exquisite object to admire. My fave intepretation of the show is the illustrations by Dyna Moe. Someone you know would probably love to receive her 2009 Mad Men calendar.

Favorite things I haven't experienced in 2008 -- I believe they would be my faves, I just haven't encountered them yet.

Dexter, Weeds past season 1, Californication (no Showtime here); The Shield (no excuse).

Kanye West's music, blog, etc.

The most recent crop of superhero movies.

Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife, the book about Laura Bush. I haven't read it but I love it, based on what I have heard.


Previously: last year's faves.

Bonus linkage: Film Studies For Free offers an A to Z of scholarly film and moving image blogs.

Question to ponder: why do people feel the need to memorialize a year before it has ended?

Final thought: slow blogging is awesome.