Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 In Review, Part 1 (The No-Music Section)

By the grace of God, I've decided to break up my 2008 Best-Of into two chunks. The first, contained here, is everything that doesn't have to do with the year in music. You may notice that I also haven't touched upon books at all; that's because my favourite title of the past 365 merits a post to itself, and that will be up soon. This is a bushel of fully arbitrary categories that is grander than planned; originally it was going to serve as a quick opening act for the music gunk, but has sort of taken on a life of it's own. Anyway, enjoy. Nay, tolerate. Oh, and apologies for any crummy HTML-ing; I'm a rank amateur.

Favourite Movie: Iron Man. There's an saying amongst actors that the next role is always the best one, which is probably true unless you're Seann William Scott. Coming off of a show-stealing performance in Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey Jr had palpable momentum, and he really makes this picture (well, that and the special effects). I honestly can't believe that a superhero flick takes my top spot, which has never happened before, but there you go.

I should point out that I haven't seen Doubt yet, though, which has 'Year's Best' written all over it. At the moment, Religulous is probably runner-up.

Worst movie: Juno. Yes, I know it came out in 2007, but it's so obnoxiously mannered and rotten that it carries over an extra year for further ignominy. Diablo Cody must be stopped.

My hipness knows no plausibility.

Best commercial: Shamwow! is legendary, but a bit overexposed at this point, plus Russell Oliver and Lastman's Bad Boy (yes, that Mel Lastman: Toronto's two-term mayor) have already been kicked upstairs to Hall Of Fame status. It's crazy how 95% of unintentionally hilarious spots have their roots in airing on channel 87 during The Sopranos - it's kind of serves as the Book Of Genesis for bush-league advertisements. This year's winner, however, actually aired the other day on the Big Ten Network while I was watching a college basketball game. The Italian-American Defamation League is going to have field day with this one; the tipping point / best part comes when the complaining guy starts gnawing on a convienently located slice of pizza.

Most distressing commercial: Disaronno Amaretto, which features the two most unabashedly randy figures to ever appear in small-screen advertising. The woman orders a drink before proceeding to, apropos of nothing, lick at and slobber over an ice cube. Subtle. The bartender looks like a date rapist. Where's Bob Barker selling the value of spaying and neutering when we really need him?

Best forgotten outrage: CBC losing the Hockey Night In Canada song. Don't get me wrong, I always loved it, but does anybody even notice or care anymore? I'm a traditionalist at heart, but the furor was a bit embarassing. The most satisfying facet of the entire brouhaha was passionate anti-tax crusaders hypocritically up in arms about maintaining a jingle that cost significant bucks for the public broadcaster with each airing.

Hidden TV gem: Bill Moyers Journal. The timeslot is horrific for those of us with Seattle PBS (Friday night at 9 PM), but all episodes are available online. Moyers is one of my journalistic heroes; granted, he skews left (which is fantastic for me), but he has no tolerance for wasteful spin and cuts right to the beating heart of any given issue. This is the anti-CNN partisan jamboree.

Media find of the year: Dave Dameshek. What a fella; I first discovered him when he made a cameo on Bill Simmons' podcast late last year to promote his Los Angeles ESPN drive-time radio gig. Seeing that, despite being an incurable sports geek, I hold sports radio in roughly the same esteem as Madonna or a punctured testicle (after all, besides the enjoyable Don Taylor and Barry Macdonald, the old grey ladies of the Vancouver scene are the over-serious, moronic likes of Bob Marjanovich, Dan Russell, and Fat Fat David Pratt), Shek's show was a revelation. It's smart, not lunkheaded. Give him a try; to those who've heard me use the phrases 'hooey and applesauce' or 'a thin slice of heaven,' they're completely plagarized from Dameshek.

Best sports moment: Without a doubt, Trevor Linden's jersey retirement night earlier in December.

That 1994 Canucks team probably provided at least three of the top five moments of my (extremely happy) childhood, and I still smile and get goosebumps when I hear the inimitable Jim Robson on that clip. As we all know, he did play, and nearly singlehandedly willed Vancouver to victory in game seven back at MSG. Enjoy your retirement, Trev.

Honourable mention: Kevin Garnett finally winning an NBA title (his teary, post-game interview in the immediate aftermath of Boston's clinching win has polarized people in a way not seen since Sally Field's 'you like me, you really like me' Oscar speech, but I thought it was off-the-cuff and fantastic), A.J. Burnett leaving the Blue Jays (don't let the door hit you on the way out, jackass), Cam Wake's reign of terror on the BC Lions defensive line (the fact that he wasn't CFL MVP is criminal). I'm holding off on the Sundin signing until I see how the 'Nucks react to it, though it should be a great thing.

Worst sports moment: Calgary winning the Grey Cup. Not only do I despise the Stampeders, but no crowd deserved a home Cup win more than Montreal fans; Canadian football is thriving in Quebec right down to the grassroots like nowhere else in the country.

Honourable mention: Seattle losing NBA basketball (even though I kind of hate the NBA, I follow it in spite of myself), the Bengals finishing 4-11-1 (it's bad enough that they were terrible, but they had to get a TIE! In FOOTBALL! Pigskin draws are my most hated outcome in all of sports), my hockey pool team continuing to exist.

Thanks for coming out, Ocho.

Worst sports playing surface: Bronco Stadium at Boise State University; the turf is blue. I have the Humanitarian Bowl on TV as I type this, and it's actually a bit painful on the eyes to watch the game. I'd hazard that somebody steamrolled the Smurf's village and had football markings painted on top, only Papa, Brainy, and company would almost certainly set up shop somewhere more interesting than Idaho. The runner-up is the ice surface in any NHL sun-belt city; the upside of the financial meltdown is that it could lead to bankruptcy in the feeble, warm-weather markets, which would mean sweet, sweet contraction. 21-24 NHL clubs would lead to near-optimal puck, I'd guess.

The Smurfs do Idaho; Peyo as potato-socialist.

Best channel find: Game TV (channel 155 on digital cable for those in the Vancouver area), which mostly airs old game shows, and is the best illustration I've seen yet that the pre-irony era might as well be vacuum-sealed. Here are my favourite two case-studies:

Supermarket Sweep: Essentially a half-hour commercial, albeit one with a toothy host lording over. A pack of brand-saturated contestants show off their consumerist bona fides by answering questions about shopping before racing through the store in spree-like fashion to procure as many products as possible. I loved this show when I was a kid, but you can't go back; the women are all heavily made-up born-again Christians, and mullets bob to-and-fro amongst the males.

Game On: I actually remember this sports quiz show from the late nineties, and it's an ideal petri-dish of classic game show culture floundering in the overly self-aware late nineties. The two co-hosts are a perpetually chattering, quite possibly coked-up male quizmaster and an icy, leggy blonde-for-hire who spends most of the twenty-two minutes perched on a stool making sarcastic remarks and glaring contemptously; I can't possibly convey how entertaining this is. If I had my way, there'd be a marathon every night (though I'd guess that less than ten episodes were actually filmed).

Speaking of game shows, I was flipping to Million Dollar Password the other night during commercials in the football game, and unfortunately bore witness to Regis Philbin giving Betty White a neck-hickey during banter time; I only wish I was making this up. The entire ordeal can basically be boiled down to high-school earth sciences, specifically plate tectonics; a billion-year-old continent encroaching upon aged oceanic crust. Tangentically (and bizarrely), Adam Carolla was also peripherally involved.

Best polysyllabic excuse to call in sick: Neurasthenia. I first read about this in a Don Murray-penned piece on the CBC website; apparently it's a 19th century diagnosable malady that's been widely discredited. The condition arose, it was said, as a 'result of exhaustion of the central nervous system's energy reserves by modern civilization.' Um, can we find a way to re-credit this; like, everybody would be on disability. Shit, just trying to find a parking spot in South Granville would reduce me to a certifiable case.

Best evidence of Canadian media decripitude: Scaremongering around a potential governing coalition. Granted, civics education in Canadian schools is weak, but this was deliberate skewing of parliamentary reality so media titans could maintain the status quo in which they have a vested interest. I'm a lefty, and thus think that complicated problems have complicated solutions; we can't just bludgeon an idea or concept with the 'separatist' epithet until it goes away. Harper should be embarassed, and could be were he capable of feeling actual shame. This fiasco is going to make up a post in the near future, so I'll cut it off there.


Most prescient quote to describe 2008: Ralph Nader’s father, Nathra, opined years back that 'capitalism will survive as long as socialism is used to save it.' Another apt citation came from economist William Krehm, who got right to the brass tacks when he stated that deregulated banking is 'governed by mathematics of the atomic bomb.' Years back, I subscribed to the Globe And Mail, and once a month the Report On Business magazine was included with my paper. Once per year, there was a piece on the 20 top CEOs. It was literally nauseating to read; doughy, white fat-cats were celebrated as 'mavericks' for essentially screwing with the livelihoods of the hoi polloi - layoffs were a celebrated as some sort of tidily quantifiable abstract figure, like sports stats. Doesn't the bailout and ensuing hoarding of taxpayer money by the financial institutions go to show that big business is essentially playing with house money, and that they know they're not going to lose? What's so 'independent' and 'mavericky' about that? The dismal science, indeed. More to come on this.

Oh, and before the commie alarm starts ding-a-linging, I believe in capitalism, albeit a regulated one in the vein of the Nordic countries. They must be getting sick of all of those 'Best Place to Live' designations year after year; colour me socially democratic.

Scariest deficit: With apologies to the financial meltdown, the ongoing dignity deficit. Reality television and the fame reflex forces forward unabated, and every week seems to bring a fresh tent city outside of electronics stores for the latest new gadget. Imagine if we were preoccupied with things that are even marginally important.

Anyway, on that preachy point, this is the end of part one. My music lists, which are the real pride and joy, should be up over the next few days. Happy New Year, all!

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