December 19th, 2008
11:56 AM ET

Not the best of 2008

Given the mountain of movies, TV shows, records and books released in 2008, I would be foolish to make a list of the "best of" the year. I will leave those lists to others.

"The Dark Knight": It should be nominated for best picture.

What follows is simply a list of favorites from the year just past. Feel free to contribute your own favorites, either in the comments or on

"The Dark Knight": Though Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster occasionally suffers from popcorn-movie overload, the serious issues - how do you fight terrorism? How do you cope with a world gone mad? - and the terrific performances by Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Heath Ledger give the year’s biggest movie a depth few others attempted. It should get a best picture nomination. Really.

"Man on Wire": James Marsh’s documentary on Phillippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the Twin Towers is thrilling, sad and ultimately triumphant.

"Wall-E": I didn’t think much of the human characters, but the sublime interplay between Wall-E and Eve - or Wall-E and anything - is worth double the price of admission.

As for films just opening, I have high hopes for “Frost/Nixon” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” among others … but I’ll have to squeeze them in over the holidays.

"Dear Science," TV on the Radio: I can’t remember the last time I agreed with Rolling Stone magazine. But this will do it.

"Harps and Angels," Randy Newman: I hadn’t paid attention to Newman’s work in years - "Land of Dreams" may have been the last one - but this album, with Newman’s bluesy half-sung vocals, has the sharp observation of his best work. Newman sounds like he’s given up on the world, but he hasn’t lost his sense of humor - or a touch of anger.

"Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8," Bob Dylan: Perhaps this shouldn’t count - it’s a collection of alternate takes and unreleased songs from the last 20 years - but Dylan makes even his most familiar work sound fresh. May he continue for many more years.

"Nixonland," Rick Perlstein: Perlstein can be occasionally glib in his history of the 1960s and early ‘70s, but as he connects the dots from the crisis of the cities to the Vietnam War to the era’s culture clashes, what emerges is a brilliant picture of a country falling apart – and how a shrewd politician like Nixon could take advantage of it all.

"Pictures at a Revolution," Mark Harris: The five best picture nominees of 1967 wouldn’t seem to have much in common, but as Harris’ terrific book illustrates, they tell a story of how one Hollywood gave way to another.

"John Lennon: The Biography," Philip Norman: I started Norman’s book wondering what he possibly could add to the story of the Beatles – one he told so well in "Shout!" more than 25 years ago. I finished in admiration of his abilities to give new perspective on Lennon’s life - and grieving all over again for Lennon’s death.

I’d also like to give nods to books from previous years I finally read, including William Goldman’s "The Season" (1969) (a beaten-up paperback I found in a Chicago bookstore and bought on a whim), Jeremy Larner’s "Nobody Knows" (1970), Junot Diaz’s "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" (2007) and Alan Weisman’s "The World Without Us" (2007).

OK, your turn. Have at it.

- Todd Leopold, Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Books • movies • Music
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