Most columnists and analysts don't do their year in review until sometime in December, but since most movies released early in the year are all but forgotten by year's end, I figure I'd do my part now to keep some of the good ones fresh in people's minds.
Now, I'm not as well read as probably most English majors. I do enjoy reading books, but my level of commitment has fallen drastically over the years. I've been rather obsessed with movies and TV, but the recent Hollywood writers' strike changed that. It actually re-awakened me to novels and nonfiction.
My ears have always been open to music. I'm not a human jukebox like my new favorite sports anchor, Scott Abraham. I stopped listening to Top 40 music stations long ago. Really, all mainstream radio is now foreign to me. Alternative and independent sounds are more to my tastes. With the help of the Internet, things like MySpace Music, I've been able to review so much, and I'd like to share that as well.
So, from New Year's to Independence Day, which is for me the unofficial half-way point of the year, I had a look at all the releases in movie theaters, or made available new to video, as well as new CDs put into music outlets, and all the latest, original hardcovers to hit book stores in that time period. Here's a review of every thing I've seen, heard, and read so far.
THE 2008 YEAR IN MOVIES: I'm sad to report that the first six months were pretty lame for movies. The theaters weren't offering anything really interesting or substantial. The best things for the most part were those late 2007 releases. Last year, by this time, a whole lot more movies impressed me than the number this year.
Deciding which films should go on my best of the year list was more difficult. This year, the titles were more forgettable, and it's more a matter of me trying to find things to pad the ends with. Box office-wise, the movies haven't been performing that spectacularly. At least not as well as last year! High gas prices and a sluggish economy may be contributing greatly, but I still attribute the quality or rather lack thereof as the key reason this time around.
For one, the movie comedies have not been that funny, despite hype to the contrary. So many with so many stars have failed. Martin Lawrence, Owen Wilson and Will Farrell are some, to just name a few, whose comedies all stalled in ticket sales. Even George Clooney's star-power couldn't bring people out to laugh at his slick, screwball, football film, which I rated very highly.
Yet, in terms of horror films, people did come out. Not all of them performed well or were smash sensations, but they certainly did better than the comedies. Cloverfield was a surprise hit. Prom Night and The Strangers, both released in the Spring, also did amazingly well. The cinema was so bombarded with horrors, you'd think it'd be a wash, but no. George Romero even got back in the game with yet another zombie entry.
But, speaking of old timers making familiar films, 2008 marked the return of Indiana Jones, after a near 20 year absence.
In an interview, Steven Spielberg, that movie's director, said he made the film mainly for his kids. He wanted to make a movie that his and others would enjoy. Understandable because movies for kids, for the most part, had no trouble in the box office! Horton Hears a Who, the new Dr. Seuss film as well as the new Chronicles of Narnia film did quite well.
THE 2008 YEAR IN BOOKS: While self-help books like "Women & Money" by Suze Orman, celebrity memoirs like "Audition" by Barbara Walters, and political books like those of Newt Gingrich and Dick Morris were best-sellers, I avoided them like the plague.
I have to note that the biggest bit of news to hit the publishing world so far this year was another scandal involving another memoir. One would think, in the wake of James Frey's memoir, which was brutally attacked for its lies, that memoirists would really be careful, that Augusten Burroughs would possibly relax, but no.
Margaret B. Jones wrote a memoir, published earlier this year, called "Love and Consequences." It was supposed to be an account of her life. It was a wonderfully written piece about how Jones grew up as a half-white, half-Native American girl working as a drug runner in a L.A. gang.
Sadly, the whole book turned out to be a lie. Unlike Frey's book, "A Million Little Pieces," which stretched the truth and exaggerated instances to build drama and intrigue, Jones out-and-out lied about the whole thing, and passed it off as truth.
But, once the shock of that wore off, I think people such as myself could focus on more honest books about gang-life, In what could be considered a spin-off of the wildly popular book "Freakonomics," which I placed on my best of the year list a couple of years ago, Columbia University professor Sudhir Venkatesh penned an interesting assay into a Chicago crack-dealing organization. The book is titled "Gang Leader for a Day."
Yet, by far, one of the most powerful nonfiction accounts, by an amazingly smart and courageous person is the book by former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Her book, released in the United States earlier this year titled "Reconciliation" is an amazing rendition.
Despite having a life marred with strife, and, despite allegations of corruption that surrounded her politics, Bhutto worked tirelessly for women's rights, and her book offers rich and very keen insight into the Muslim religion and culture, while doing an excellent job of bridging the gap between that and Western culture.
THE 2008 YEAR IN MUSIC: Sorry to any heavy metal, hard rock, or even gangster rap enthusiasts. That kind of music is not my cup of tea. Therefore, Rush, or, Disturbed are two bands that won't make it on my best of the year list, despite the latter's amazing record sales.
I've never really been one to pay attention to record sales, but I couldn't help notice the good, if not great sales of several women. If 2008's music could be dubbed anything, it could be dubbed the return of the pop divas.
Large record-selling and Grammy-winning female pop stars of the 1980s and 90s, all had huge comebacks this year. Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Madonna, and Cyndi Lauper, all released their new pop albums within weeks of each other. For most of them, it was a tapping into their dance roots, and for most it paid off.
Early July, the Associated Press had a Q&A with Adele, the British, blue-eyed-soul singer whose debut album "19" is being hailed by critics. In the interview, when asked about her success, Adele said, "I think I'm riding the British wave."
Of course, she was referring to the recent success in America of a lot of British music artists like Radiohead and Coldplay, or more specifically, Amy Winehouse, whose multiple Grammy wins back in February set a standard for many people. In fact, recent reviewers have called Adele, as well as fellow blue-eyed-soul singer Duffy, as the next "Amys."
Yet, in the AP interview, Adele was asked about a comment made by British R&B singer Estelle where Estelle said, "Adele and Duffy ain't soul."
As a British singer herself, Estelle has no room to criticize. Soul music originated in the United States with African-American artists, which combined elements of R&B, jazz and gospel with what could be described as soft rock. True pioneers included Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and James Brown in the 1960s.
If you listen to Winehouse or Adele, their music harkens back to that time and that sound. For Estelle to criticize them makes no sense. The only difference is that Winehouse and Adele, or even Duffy aren't black. It might seem stange to see white people doing as well, or even better at something that blacks started, but we've got to get over it.
Recently I saw a guy named Johnny Dangerous doing rap music, and he's a white, gay artist, and he was actually good. It didn't take away from the fact that Lil' Wayne and Bun B, two new but rather traditional rap artists released albums this year to great record sales.
Nas, whose new untitled rap album is coming out soon, two years ago, proclaimed, "Hip Hop is Dead." I proclaimed a similar death to R&B music last year, but maybe we both were wrong. Maybe it's merely taken a different form and carried on by different people. Yet, it doesn't take away from the music.
For example, one group I really appreciate so far this year is Portishead, a band from Bristol, England, who are practicing what's known as Trip Hop. It's hip-hop music mixed with British psychedelic rock, electronic sounds, and it's great. So what if it doesn't fit a mold?