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Best Music of 2008

Cadillac Records tops the list for best soundtrack of 2008. Cadillac Records tops the list for best soundtrack of 2008.

12/24/2008

If you're sick of Rolling Stone, check out Paste magazine, a very cool publication. Andy Whitlock, the magazine's senior editor, blogged in December about his favorite music albums. Despite his mag's dedication to music, specifically indie rock, Whitlock said that even he didn't have a chance to sample the thousands of albums released this year.

Yes, there's too much music and too little time. Everyone knows my focus is cinema not the recording industry, and you may be asking. What does a film critic know about music? And I reply, if Stephen King can make a list of his favorite albums, so can I!

Besides, anyone who knows anything about movies knows music can and most times is an integral element. Maybe it was only I, but last year was a banner year for music in movies, in that we saw a surge of movie musicals.

We saw John Travolta shake and shimmy in Hairspray and Johnny Depp opens a few vocal chords, in more ways than one, in Sweeney Todd. Yes, we saw a lot of actors belt it out last year. But, for the most part, they kept it confined to their movie roles. 2008, however, was a different story. Granted the idea of rock stars wanting to be actors and actors wanting to be rock stars is not a new one, it came to a head this year.

Of course, one of the biggest success stories is Will Smith who went from rap star to the biggest movie star alive. Miley Cyrus, the daughter of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, is also one of the biggest, recent success stories of singers-turned-actors.

But, really, how many success stories can you count of actors-turned-singers? Remember the album that Eddie Murphy did. Generally, movie stars who try to be music stars don't work. It doesn't stop them from trying, however.

Not that he wants to be a rock star, but have you noticed that Clint Eastwood is a really good composer? Eastwood did the musical score for his last few films. For his latest movie Gran Torino, he even adds his vocals to the mix.

I doubt that Eastwood's going to cut an album and tour with a band anytime soon. He's not going to abandon the movie biz for the music one. Yet, the same can't be said about Joaquin Phoenix. On October 27, Phoenix announced he was quitting acting to be a musician full-time. I suppose winning a Grammy for doing Walk the Line (2005) went to his head. Good luck to him, even though I never really liked him as an actor anyway.

Most actors don't go that far. They don't up and quit. Most have made music a past time or just another line on their resume. This could probably be said for Scarlet Johansson and Zooey Deschanel, two actresses who both released albums this year.

Johansson did an album covering Tom Waits songs. Deschanel did something a bit more original and a bit more folk and jazz sounding. It wasn't just a past time for Will Oldham, though. His stage name is Bonnie "Prince" Billy, and, acting is more his past time than music.

The same could be said about a ton of rappers. I think I've probably lost count of the number of them who have crossed over to become thespians, most of whom would kill me if they heard me call them that, but two black comedians who act and occasionally try to rap released albums this fall. Yet, Jamie Foxx and Wayne Brady dropped their discs more in the R&B pool. Foxx's is more urban contemporary, uptempo and hip-hop dance-infused, while Brady's is more traditional and classical.

In a year, where you had so many white, British people from Winehouse to Adele to James Hunter trying to co-opt black music, much in the same way Elvis did, it was nice to see Brady as well as Raphael Saadiq, a non-actor, proving that there are young black folks who can do the music of "old" black folks.

In Brady's case, he's a black actor who I'd say was suited to be a singer. In Terrance Howard's case, I'd say he's one black man who needs to stick to acting. Howard's album Shine Through It was the height of horrible. It was a mess of gigantic proportions. I have no idea what he was going for, and his voice didn't seem to work with the style he wanted to embrace.

It was by far the worst album to come from an actor, and if any of this has taught me anything, it's that the best music typically comes from those whose sole purpose is to make music, those whose true passion and whose true means of expression is music. Musicians who are only true musicians!

Of the hundreds or so that are out there, here are the best of 2008...

Best Soundtracks / Movie Scores

CADILLAC RECORDS by Various Artists

NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST by Various Artists

BOLT by Various Artists

WALL-E by Thomas Newman

THE DARK KNIGHT by Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard

MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS by Norah Jones & Gustavo Santaolalla

Best Pop / Electronic

HERCULES AND LOVE AFFAIR by Hercules and Love Affair

WHERE YOU GO I GO TOO by Lindstrom

ROCKFERRY by Duffy

SANTOGOLD by Santogold

BRING YA TO THE BRINK by Cyndi Lauper

SEVENTH TREE by Goldfrapp

Best Folk / Country

FOR EMMA, FOREVER AGO by Bon Iver

GOSSIP IN THE GRAIN by Ray LaMontagne

JUST US KIDS by James McMurtry

VISITER by The Dodos

LOVE ON THE INSIDE by Sugarland

ROOK by Shearwater

Best Rock / Alternative

DEAR SCIENCE by TV On the Radio

IN RAINBOWS by Radiohead

MODERN GUILT by Beck

VAMPIRE WEEKEND by Vampire Weekend

ONLY BY THE NIGHT by Kings of Leon

WE STARTED NOTHING by The Ting Tings

Best Rap / Hip Hop

LEAVE IT ALL BEHIND by The Foreign Exchange

THE RENAISSANCE by Q-tip

RISING DOWN by The Roots

MURS FOR PRESIDENT by Murs

AND I LOVE H.E.R.: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK by Danny Swain

THE ODD COUPLE by Gnarls Barkley

Best R&B / Soul

THE WAY I SEE IT by Raphael Saadiq

ALGEBRA by Algebra Blessett

THE ORCHARD by Lizz Wright

JIM by Jamie Lidell

FEARLESS by Jazmine Sullivan

THE HADLEY ST. DREAMS by Solange Knowles

PEBBLE TO A PEARL by Nikki Costa

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