January 20, 2009

Best Of Arts and Entertainment 2008

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It’s been a big year in the world, all said — Obama is on his way in, Bush is on his way out and the Shiba Inu Puppy Cam generated more viewers than there are people who voted in the last election. The Academy Awards this year are heavy on late entries; critics were overwhelmed by over 20 films released in the holiday season. True, some of them were barely watchable (see: Frank Miller’s Spirit) while others were at once thought provoking and inspiring, offering us something uplifting in a time when we could all use a little lift.

So we hope you enjoy our choices for the best in film, fashion, music and mayhem, and as you reminisce, perhaps you’ll find that 2008 wasn’t such a terrible year after all.

In Bruges
In Bruges is great for a number of reasons — it’s smart, it’s got great acting and it’s filled with funny British accents. But the thing I enjoyed most about the film was how it took a rather standard premise — two assassins on the run flirting with death — and turned it into a vehicle for serious reflection.
In Bruges proves that even the old tricks can produce new results. And if violence is off-putting — as well it should be — then all the better. We don’t want our works of art to be easy. – T.H. 9/7

Milk has “Oscar” written all over it. Penn delivers a masterful performance, full of hope, humility and honesty, but he does so without succumbing to Hollywood cliché. Never does the actor turn Milk into a saintly martyr (his personal and romantic struggles show him to be otherwise), but portrays him as someone cautiously willing to take on the leadership role he was so inadvertently thrown into, delivering to his team of supporters the political voice they so desperately yearned for. Milk is an inspiring film worth every minute. – G.B. 1/11

Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog Millionaire is a riotous, colorful fairy tale of epic proportions, filmed with the greatest of tenderness in the dirtiest districts of Mumbai. It’s a tale worthy of the epic poets, about a boy growing up and his fated love for the girl of his dreams. Story lines so tragic that they may have bogged down other filmmakers in despair become instead sparkling jewels found in the mud-splattered gutters that make up India’s largest city. – A.L. 1/19

Synecdoche, NY
Kauffman’s characters begin so high-minded that they are inevitably overwhelmed by their vicissitudes, each groping toward art or love as a form of salvation, and thereby neglecting to salvage their own empty shells from the onrushing tide of life. The film’s closing sequence implies that everyone wants to keep going even though each of us knows there is inevitable devastation ahead, through a lonely golf-cart ride around the rubbish-heaps and bonfires strewn inside a skeletal warehouse that once held Cotard’s outsized yet entirely mundane drama. – W.C. 1/19

It’s amazing how much a futuristic garbage-compacting robot can say without saying anything at all. Wall-E is at once a story about love and an ambitious cautionary tale, managing to strike the perfect balance of animated adorable-ness and poignant social commentary about a familiarly indulgent, over-consuming society. If we don’t stop exploiting the Earth now, who knows? Maybe we too will be slurping down liquid hamburgers in our personal flying lounge chairs. If nothing else, Wall-E makes it clear that this isn’t as good as it sounds. – R.G. 1/20

1. Indiana Jones
2. Hancock
3. The Happening
4. Jumper
5. The Love Guru

Our favorite trends of 2008:
1. summer scarves
2. embellished headbands
3. liquid leggings
4. lumberjack chic (flannel shirts)
5. riding boots
6. boyfriend sweaters / jeans
7. biker jackets
8. tuxedo jackets
9. vests
– R.G.

MGMT, Oracular Spectcular
Synthesizers and acronyms have always been the stuff of golden pop music, but it took the disco-drenched beats of MGMT on their LP Oracular Spectacular to really shock us like an electric eel. “Time To Pretend” has become the rousing anthem for dreams of drugs and stardom. Here’s hoping there’s more to come.

Lil’ Wayne, Tha Carter III
Given that Weezy gives away more free music than Napster, Carter III was a surprisingly strong studio release from the Birdman-smooching rapper. Whether shaming us with his soliloquy skills on “A Milli” or reminding us to make like E.T. and “Phone Home,” Lil Wayne once again showed rap the way of the future.

Santogold, Santogold
While Santogold has frequently been compared to M.I.A., she is anything but. The singer, Santi White, has been outspoken about wanting to distinguish her music from her race: Santogold (the album) is full of indie love songs and electronic dance themes, that have a distinctly different vibe from mainstream hip-hop.

Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreaks
We debated including this album in our “Best of” feature; no doubt Kanye’s vocal skills don’t compare to many other artists who released albums this year. However, his willingness to experiment even at his most emotionally vulnerable is admirable. Besides, “Heartless” and “Amazing” are pretty damn catchy.

Coldplay, Viva La Vida
Apparently Chris Martin’s creative gifts go beyond idiosyncratic/borderline-abusive baby names: he and his British buds provided yet another album of soothing, sleep-inducing songs to warm hearts the world over and fill the air with sighs. French Revolutionary War costumes or not, the musical complexity of this album is an impressive achievement.

“And I always thought I was fly like I had a pigeon on my back.”

New Pornographers, April 13th State Theater
“The band plays like a divinely-inspired assembly line: each musician is talented enough to cover all the bases. The magic of their performance was the feeling of unexpected inspiration, a sudden moment when these seven musicians simultaneously found genius. I’m not sure where they got the name. The music of the New Pornographers isn’t impoverished scenes of naked flesh. It is, instead, wholesome, good for the heart and technically polished. And, of course, we can’t forget that cute girl on the keyboard.” – Ann Lui, Sun Staff Writer

Soullive, February 21 State Theater
“Things got positively crazy when Soulive got out on stage. This trio, originally from Woodstock, N.Y., have made their name in recent years as supremely talented jazz-funk musicians with a knack for both the groove and the solo.Besides the energy and the enthusiasm, one thing that distinguished Saturday’s show from your standard rock concert was the frightening level of musicianship. Everybody up on that stage has got some serious chops.” – Ted Hamilton, Sun Staff Writer

Don Giovanni, February 21 State Theater
“A “historically-informed” staging of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni at Risley, as well as a program by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra in Bailey, filtered the past through the terms of the present. I wondered whether what we hear often tells us more about how our ears have been conditioned than it does about the music itself.” – Will Cordeiro, Sun Staff Writer

Related Content:
The Art of Violence – In Bruges

Harvey Milk Biographical Film Among the Best of 2008

Slumdog is Mumbia Movie Magic

Putting the Meta in Metaphor – Synecdoche

New Pornographers and Okkervil: A Class Act

Don Giovanni